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Current I'm now a professional physicist. Isn't that awesome?
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"Life is complex - it has real and imaginary parts."
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Science doesn't rest
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Reason Reified, Lord Logiker, Sciencomancer Superbus

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).


Most Recent Posts

Water and Fire


"I am not bound by your constraints. I am immortal and mighty. ... I have absolute power over my own form. I have overcome many of my initial weaknesses and shall continue to do so. Only another god could possibly kill me, and only if they can overpower me. And who can overpower the whole ocean? As long as I am the strongest, I cannot die."
Ashalla


~~===~~

In the land of rain, there was a place which had recently been scoured by a storm unlike any on Galbar. It had been sunny for a while afterwards, but now rain returned to the land around the Hollow. Distant thunder rumbled within the vast clouds and rain turned the bare soil back into mud.

This new rain was Ashalla. Attuned as she was to water and storms, she had sensed the cataclysm which had taken place here from afar. When she arrived and found not a single rain cloud above Be’r-Jaz, she feared the worst. As her raindrops tasted the desolate landscape and found a pool of Li’Kalla’s ichor, her suspicions were confirmed.

Clearly, Li’Kalla had gotten into a fight. Her essence lay thickly over this place. In this fight she had conjured such a vast amount of water that everything that used to be here was washed into the large pit. It was an impressive final move, even by Ashalla’s standards, marred only by Li’Kalla dying.

The divine essence mixed into the mud and the air included that of Li’Kalla’s murderer. The essence was unfamiliar to her, and much of the essence had been washed away, but she recognised part of the scent and it made her tremble in rage. The Demon. Some spawn of Anzillu, that putrid fiend, had made it here and killed Li’Kalla. It seemed that the Demon was still active and dangerous.

As great as Ashalla’s rage was, in this place it was eclipsed by her horror at the vast circular pit. The fabric of the Spheres warped around it, as though it were a Gateway. But the horror was that whatever water passed through the opening of the pit ceased to be part of Ashalla. The clouds above the pit parted as Ashalla recoiled from it. Then, cautiously, Ashalla drew closer once more.

Looking at the pit more closely, she could see the faint shimmer of a Seal covering the top of the pit. This clearly marked the pit as the Architect’s doing. A probing tendril of water stretched down from the clouds and touched the Seal. The tendril quivered and drew back in pain, its tip losing cohesion and falling into the darkness. This was a Seal which kept out gods, or maybe kept them in. Regardless, it meant that there was something very important which the Architect was hiding down there.

Suddenly the deep darkness of the pit was illuminated by a harsh white light brighter than Heliopolis and as loud as a hundred thunderstorms. The clouds above the pit arced with a blinding amount of lightning, casting a spotlight on everything below. After a few seconds darkness returned, but Ashalla had seen all she could. Scattered on the cave-ridden walls were the remains of a city and the tunnel seemed to descend even deeper than her lightning could illuminate.

So mortals used to live above the pit, before Li’Kalla’s fight, and likely explored the pit. Unfortunately, with the mortals all dead, it would be difficult to ask them what they had found within the pit.

There was a third divine essence on the scene, although from its sharpness it had come after the great flood. It had undertones of Orvus, but was gentle and sweet. Ashalla guessed it was Arya. Perhaps she would know more about this place.

A movement in the heavens brought Ashalla’s attention away from her investigation. A new moon had appeared, slowly growing closer as it arced across the sky. Ashalla watched its trajectory for a few moments. Then her clouds withdrew from the pit to follow the falling moon.

~~===~~

Above the fresh hole in the world, in the place once known as the World Scar, clouds of dust were replaced with clouds of water. The clouds released their stores of rain, pouring into the hole. Raindrops evaporated as they came close to the walls, still searing with great heat, but as the steam returned to the clouds more rain fell. Myriad little waterfalls snaked down the walls of the hole, crossing through each of the Chthonic Spheres towards the Core.

It was not long until the water reached the Core, crossing the open Seal to enter the hollow sphere. The water dispersed into mist and cloud, stretching out to begin to fill the empty space. Above the rain continued to pour, water continued to trickle into the Core, and the cooling stone of the tunnel creaked and groaned.

Yet the water was not alone. An orb of flame floated within the Core, gently trembling. It was Katharsos, yet he had no face. He was packed together tightly, wrapped into that perfect fiery sphere as a child might curl into the fetal position, trembling.

A voice like the whistle of wind spoke from the clouds within the Core, “Katharsos? What happened here?”

“SUFFER.”


Pain.
“SUFFER.”


Agony.

The memories and sensations would be seared into the god’s mind forever, yet he was still wracked by even the faintest echoes left of Amphiboles’ terrible power.

“SUFFER.”


Defiance...freedom!

Finally, with one last shudder he shook himself free enough to regain his power to speak. An opening gouged itself into the sphere of fire that was his body, complete with teeth and a tongue, that he had at least a mouth even if not a full visage.

“I found them here,” was his cryptic answer. A panting of sorts broke his sentence for a few moments before he could offer more strained words.

“The Architect. Narzhak. And all the missing bits of souls...trapped in that accursed thing.”

Katharsos was not alone within the void of the vast cavity that was Galbar’s empty Core. There was one other object, cracked open but not totally shattered, bright and splendorous in its luminance, even if its remaining power now was only a fraction of before when it had been blinding.

A wisp of cloud brushed against the device, and immediately the rest of the cloud in the Core started to coalesce, slowly spiralling inwards towards the device. A voice like pattering rain asked, “What did this thing do? And what were you doing here?”

“I think that it was a vessel, and that this whole place was a drain of sorts. I came searching for the power behind the phenomena of soul decay, and found it here in that thing. The Architect was here, and yet he appeared as no more than a decrepit, skeletal corpse.

“When I arrived, he was here siphoning from that thing’s power. I tried to stop him, but could not overpower both he and Narzhak, and ultimately failed. The Architect -- cursed be his name! -- drank of the souls and was restored. Then he turned his attention and ire unto me, and he smote me with a power the likes of which...there are no words. And then he fled, with Narzhak in tow. I can only imagine that this was what he planned to do all along.”


The clouds gently rumbled in thought, joining the sounds of trickling water entering the Core and creaking stone above the Core. “Some of the others have created structures which generate divine power from the worship of mortals. Perhaps this is a similar structure, but on a much grander scale.”

Two motes of lightning like eyes appeared in the thickening clouds surrounding the device. “The Architect has departed Galbar, with Narzhak following him. He announced as such, and his passage up to the Barrier was clearly felt. There was mention of a key. Some may leave Galbar to follow the Architect or find a new world of their own. Some may stay here to reside with their creations. What do you intend to do now, Katharsos?”

He had some trepidation and could not answer right away, as not even he had contemplated that yet.

“This device must be shattered. With that done, my role would become obsolete, and my pyres could be extinguished. Souls could reincarnate, or simply have eternal life. And I could move on,” he eventually realized aloud.

The clouds which were Ashalla contracted around the device even more closely, obscuring it from view. She could taste the residual anima mundi left in the device, and though it was but a figment of a veneer of what had previously been there the power was still invigorating. Intoxicating.

The creaking and groaning of stone above the Core grew louder as Ashalla declared in a voice like rolling thunder, “I will not let you destroy this device, Katharsos. I am claiming the Core.”

“By what right?”

“Mine.”

From above the hole into the Core came a crashing sound like a shattering mountain, followed by the roar of a million waterfalls. An ocean had burst from the walls of the hole leading to the Core, the walls which passed through the Chthonic Spheres, and now billions of tonnes of water flooded down into the Core. The deluge fell upon Katharsos and yet passed through him like a ghost, for his otherworldly flames needed no breath and couldn’t be drowned. He remained calm before the storm and her madness, reforming into the likeness of the goat-legged sun once more and casting down his eyes in disappointment.

“You have no right to farm the beings of Galbar and harvest their spirits as though they are nought but grain. No being does; not even He did. And you lack the power to do it, too. In case you have forgotten, the souls of the dead are doomed to go where I guide them. Now that is their blessing, for I shall not let them suffer this fate!”

With a kick of the five legs he propelled himself upward, toward the gaping hole in the Core where entire oceans poured in. He spun around to face the wound directly, and then unleashed his radiance. The light blasted into the waters and created a great, whirling maelstrom of magical power that pushed upward even as the physical water was unfazed and surged down. There was a second great Vortex of Souls now, but rather than doom, this one represented salvation. A great net that would hold back the Core’s grasping tendrils and prevent them from tearing away bits and crumbs of the souls within other Spheres, and a great updraft powerful enough to carry any stray souls away.

“Abandon this folly, Ashalla. Even if you were to overcome me and claim my power over the dead, if you were to undo the net I have woven, it still would not be enough. Do you know what the others did to me, invading my Sphere in the name of saving the souls? They would come for you, too, if you were to succeed here.”

The water seethed and clouds broiled in rage. The crashing water roared, “You dare defy me!”

The water flooding around Katharsos tightened and grasped hold of his ethereal form. Though the water of course could do little, the divine power that animated and controlled it was palpable and real enough to Katharsos. Dozens of giant icicles froze around the fiery god then thrust towards him. The five flailing legs kicked and batted at them from all angles, knocking aside many but getting scraped and impaled by a few. Where the ice poked holes in his fiery form, the flames simply flared back into place to reform the wound a moment later.

There can be no logic here. No civility. No peace.

The lion’s maw snapped open and a massive ray, nay, river of ghastly soulfire poured out toward Ashalla and the accursed siphon that she’d stolen. He spewed forth the unholy flames with such power that it had begun to propel him back, upward through the waterfalls, toward the edge of the flooding Core where his second Vortex of Souls raged. Refracting off the cascading waterfalls were many orange lights akin to the gentle glow of fireflies, but these had been the lights that lit the Sky of Pyres. And the little stars were growing larger, and closer.

The growing globe of water around the siphon froze solid as the soulfire struck, forming a protective barrier. The flames ablated away at the ice, but the descending water was more than adequate to replenish that which was lost.

The falling stars did not escape Ashalla’s notice, eliciting a fizz of alarm in the water of her form. The flow of water into the Core slowed and stopped as the gushing oceans coming from the Abyss were directed upwards, where the water plugged the hole and froze. Then, with Katharsos now in air, a massive bolt of lightning arced from the hole to the globe of ice, tearing through Katharsos’ ethereal body before slamming into the ice behind with explosive effect. The Greater Sun was unfazed, however. He breathed. He calmed.

“Death is close,” he stated as fact, hoping the gravity of his words could cut through Ashalla’s madness. “The Sky of Pyres has enough flames to fill this entire Core and incinerate us both, and I have called them down from the heavens. We could yet flee, but I will not allow you to take that thing away from here, even if it means staying here to bar your way until we perish.”

The water, having finished creating the barrier of ice, resumed its downwards flow. “You would dare kill yourself for this?”

“Since the very first days of this world, the Architect has had me burn untold numbers of souls. Their screams haunt me. And I know now that it was all for nothing, that I was just a part of his evil scheme. This fate would be my redemption, and I would gladly suffer it.”

High above, the flames of the Pyres reached the top of the barrier of ice with a violent explosion of steam. The orange light of the Pyres refracted through the ice and cast a fiery glow onto Ashalla below. Then a voice like a drop of water, barely audible over the turmoil, conceded, “Then your will is greater than mine.”

The water surrounding the device receded from the device and flowed upwards, surging up the waterfall and towards Katharsos. The current which was Ashalla flowed past and through Katharsos and then out of the Core, the fiery God of Death close behind. The water and Katharsos pushed through the fissures in the stone wall and into the Abyss as the flames of the Pyres burned through the ice and flooded past, near instantly filling the entire Core and creating a blazing inferno of smokeless flame. As the soulfire came into contact with the siphon, the residual anima mundi inside was once again ignited to explosive effect, and the Core and all the Chthonian Spheres above shuddered. It was enough flame to utterly blast apart the damaged siphon and reduce it to nothing more than a molten slag that sprayed outward like some horrible hail, and to eventually vaporize it into oblivion.

The shockwave close on their heels as it followed through the Gateway, Ashalla and Katharsos flew with all the alacrity their divine forms could handle. Pillars of stone crumbled and the floor of magma was churned up behind them as the shockwave passed. But eventually the blast front dissipated, leaving Katharsos and Ashalla in the quiet darkness of the Abyss.

Ashalla and Katharsos travelled in silence for a while, Ashalla invisible in the water while Katharsos’ ethereal flames cast a glow which was dwarfed by the deep darkness around them. But, as it turned out, Katharsos was not the only source of light in the Abyss. Incandescent fissures in the floor cast a faint red glow. On and around the pillars of stone which filled the Abyss were dots of coloured light, twinkling like stars and moving about.

Eventually Ashalla broke the silence, although it was in a voice as soft as the subterranean currents. “You defeated me.”

Katharsos wanted to think that he’d made her see reason. But of course, he was not so naive. It was through force and threat of violence that he’d made her see, not words and logic. But it had been justified. “Peace and meditation make the world so much clearer. When I dispel the turmoil and find a true purpose, I become strong. Yet if I had a choice I would never fight. I think it a base thing, beneath us. If only others could see.”

On any other occasion, Ashalla would have huffed at such a suggestion. But instead there was just a low, thoughtful rumble, mingling with the muffled churning of the Abyss. Eventually she said, “I wanted the Core so that I would be the strongest and unkillable. But I had overlooked other forms of strength. You are right that, if I had won there, I would have made enemies with all the gods I consider my friends.”

Katharsos’ glow had begun to attract the life of the Abyss. Fish of various alien shapes swam near to his light, seeking warmth and food. “There is strength in raw power. But there is also strength in having allies. I had desired the former, but...” The water around Katharsos stirred, jostling the fish who blossomed with bioluminescence. Rippling points of lights danced around Katharsos and each other. ”...the latter is less lonely.”

“Solitude begets madness,” the other god softly concurred, “and I sense wisdom in your words. I think that you have found the truth.”

Among the glowing fish basking in Katharsos’ radiance, an eel slithered up and snapped its mouth, snuffing out one of the lights. The other lights scattered, although soon returned on the other side of Katharsos.

“What will you do now?” Ashalla asked. “The Pyres have been extinguished. The souls of the dead need not be burned.”

“I hadn’t decided. A question like that is worthy of much contemplation. I have a yearning to leave this plane, yet perhaps that would be rash.”

“Many other gods have left in one way or another. Some with guilt. Some with a lack of purpose. But do not follow them, for that is weakness.” Ashalla grabbed hold of the soul of the recently deceased fish, which had been floating away, and held it up before Katharsos. “You guided the souls of the dead before. Now they need guidance more than ever. Perhaps in this way you could earn the redemption you desire.”

Bemused, he asked, “And what sort of guidance would I offer? What need have the dead, or even the living, for gods?”

“Gods create. In the beginning you created the old cycle of life, death and rebirth where fraying souls were burned and their ash was used to create new life. Now that souls do not fray or burn, the step of rebirth has been disrupted.” Ashalla offered the fish soul to Katharsos. “Where shall the souls of the dead go now, God of Death? Will you create a new path for them?”
“I did what I thought I had to do, that there could be life. Just as you flooded the world and made the first oceans, that there would be water. But a river can flow down a hill with or without your hand. So too is it with I and souls; they could find their own path in death, to the next body and to life anew, or to enlightenment and finality.”

Ashalla huffed. “Or they might become lost and confused. But I am not the most knowledgeable on these matters. You should speak with Azura. She has been spending much effort in trying to redefine death, and now she will be needing to adjust to the latest changes. She may benefit from your assistance. And you may benefit from her insight.”

“She stole away into my Sphere and made off with a great deal of souls without so much as trying to discuss such things with me, so I doubt that she has any desire for speech. I imagine that an exchange with that one would be wont to turn to bloodshed, and I’ve long since lost my appetite for violence. Would you believe that in a past life before a past life, I once revelled in it and burnt others for sport?

“Chicanerie be damned! I need neither mask nor wit. Ashalla, I’ve lived three lives now and found happiness in none. In each one I subjected myself to the whims of a duty placed upon my shoulders, be it by myself or some master. Yes, I think it time now for me to leave. To cease being flame, and make like wind. To find my own way and at last leave the past behind. I think then I might find peace. There is only so much that one can do, and I think that in staving you off from that siphon, I did enough. That is as close to redemption as I shall ever get. It is time that I slough off my hesitation, abandon my guilt.”


Ashalla rumbled, then answered, “If that is your will, then so be it.”

He broke her gaze, feeling smaller with the uncharacteristic passion that had consumed him for that moment now gone. But then he cast his sight back toward her after a time and finally nodded. “So we shall part, then. I have never been one for goodbyes, so I don’t think that I will say anything to the others. If ever it is fate’s will, perhaps you or they will find me once again, back in this place, or in another one far, far away. Farewell, Ashalla.”

He cast his eyes upward, peering through the black depths and the Spheres Chthonic and Celestial, and he soared in his ascent. Katharsos, the Greater Sun, climbed the sky and made his way past the dark and empty Sky of Pyres to the Barrier, where he found the Door and its Key left behind by Amphiboles. He turned back one final time, and whispered, “Farewell, Galbar.”

Then the rays of soft light leaving his body gripped the Key and turned it, and he passed through the portal and into what lay beyond.

~~===~~

In the land of rain, there was a place which had once been scoured by a storm unlike any other on Galbar. Yet now the Vallamir were rebuilding their city around the enigmatic pit they called the Hollow. Their work was watched by the rain clouds gathered above them, although the rain always seemed to avoid falling onto the Hollow itself.

Ashalla had asserted herself into the power vacuum left by Li’Kalla’s absence. She had gathered up all surviving Vallamir who knew anything about the Hollow and brought them to that place. She promised wealth, glory, honor and power to any mortals who were bold enough to explore that accursed hole.

Already the expeditions were yielding results. The explorers found many magical trinkets, little relics of divine engineering. These were evidence that the Architect had been tinkering, or perhaps that the Architect had once had mortal servants down here, or perhaps that there had once been other beings who could create such devices. There was life down there which the mana-sensitive delvers discerned lived off some intangible vitality which suffused the Hollow. And the most advanced expeditions had discovered a second Seal, which was not the bottom of the Hollow but simply a boundary between the upper layer and the layer below. The caves of the upper layer were just the beginning of the Hollow’s mysteries.

Ashalla had also been studying the Seal over the Hollow and comparing it to the broken Seal around the Core. Although the siphon had been utterly destroyed, Ashalla had still flooded the Core, partly to protect it from the likes of Anzillu or Sartravius (she shuddered to think what would happen if the Demon managed to infect Galbar’s Core), partly in the hope that it would still have some residual use. She learned that the Seals were not indestructible. Given time and energy, Ashalla would be able to peel back the Seals over the Hollow and lay bare its secrets.

Ashalla was determined to uncover what the Architect had discovered about the secrets of divinity. Although the way of soul ash and fraying souls was closed to her, there were bound to be other paths to ascension. She would find those paths and take them, such that her immortality would be unassailable. This was Ashalla’s will, and her will would be done.




The final Gerrik-post has been made, after much delay. It feels good to have it done.

Gerrik Far-Teacher

Level 10 Hain Hero
36 Prestige


circa 14 years Post Realta


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerrik grunted but did not answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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

"Fiberlings," answered Gerrik's voice.

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

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

"We could study it," Elword suggested.

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

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Unlikely."

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

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

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

"Of course."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, Stone Chipper."

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

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

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

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

"Twice?" Gerrik asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, Stone Chipper," Elword answered.

"And Gerrik, are you ready?"

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

"Good. Now, the Eenal Bow."

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

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

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

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

"Yes, Stone Chipper."

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

"I am, Stone Chipper."

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

"Yes, Stone Chipper."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

A few years later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elword nodded. "Good. Meeting dismissed."

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

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



In Mahz's Dev Journal 7 mos ago Forum: News
Hey, I was thinking, maybe you could let people upload images with just the link? I think it'd b easier for some people like that. Of course, people would probably still be allowed to upload using the normal uploading way, but for people who can't upload, maybe they could have a different option too.


If you have the image link, you can just wrap the link in image tags. You don't need to import it into the Guild to use it in a post.
[img]<image link>[/img]

Although, if you're wanting to link external images to your Roleplayer Guild image albums for the sake of having them in the album, that's a separate matter.

Squall Whisperers, Minstrels, Wind Blades


A narrow band of cloud hung low in the sky over the inland border of Hyummin and stretched out to touch the sea. The sound of music wafted around it and rain fell heavily on the land. Pyouroff, Kirrethi, Joluri and the K'night they had spoken to earlier walked around the working Stormbards and inspected the sodden mud.

"I've got to hand it to you, Pyouroff, this barrier of mud will be a substantial advantage," Kirrethi said, "It will stop not just the rock monster but also the Eaters, such that our bowmen, slingers and spear throwers can attack them with impunity."

"Thank you, Kirrethi," Pyouroff said.

"Of course, we have to make sure they actually go through the mud," Kirrethi said. He looked past the wall of rain to the forest beyond where some selka were hacking away at leaves and undergrowth and stacking them in piles. "We hope to be able to funnel them in, although we must also be prepared for if they slip around and flank us. You'll give our fire-starters favourable wind to minimise those odds."

"Squalls don't like fire, but we'll do what we can," Pyouroff said.

The K'night walked towards the mud and stuck a foot in it. He hefted and swung his new weapon into the mud. The weapon had a long handle made from a sturdy tree branch, giving it plenty of reach. At its end was fastened a heavy rock which tapered to a chisel-like point, which embedded itself into the mud with a squelch. The K'night raised his weapon again with a grunt. "Trapping the thing in the mud won't help much if the mud stops us from fighting it too."

"Once it stops raining we'll plant down some grass mats which should give us a bit more grip but be of no help to something as heavy as it," Joluri said. The K'night grunted, unconvinced.

"You'll also have the squalls. In the slippery mud it should have a harder time keeping its balance than on dry land," Pyouroff added.

"I hope you're right," the K'night said.

Joluri looked over the works once more. "Tomorrow's the day," she said. She turned to Pyouroff. "Any idea when tomorrow?"

Pyouroff shook his head. Joluri sighed. "Then we'd better be ready for them to arrive any time. I'll make sure we have people on watch tonight, although pray they do not attack under cover of darkness." Joluri walked off.

Kirrethi looked up at the sky. "Come Pyouroff and Gorban," he said, addressing the K'night, "There's still plenty of daylight left for drills. There won't be time for practice tomorrow." The three selka walked away from the mud and back towards the village.



It was a long and anxious night. Every movement in the plants set the watcher on edge, yet nothing came.

The Stormbards, soldiers and K'nights were roused at sunrise. Antoru had stayed awake, softly playing her lyre throughout the night to keep several squalls nearby. When the others awoke she handed the squalls over to them and went to rest, for with her injury she would not be able to join them in battle.

The soldiers took up watches, tended to their weapons and checked the ropes. The K'nights of Tyuppa meditated over their clubs and talked of victories past. The Stormbards checked on the mud and rained some more water into it. As the hours stretched on, though, the people settled into restless anxiousness.

Pyouroff saw this and called together some of the bards. A little while later, a song rose up in the village.

"Rise up soldiers, where's your heart?
The battle is yet to start.
Be brave, there's nothing to fear,
For our gods are with us here.

"Monsters we have faced before,
Beasts, raiders, armies and more.
All those battles we have won,
To these foes the same'll be done.

"Kirron's heart beats in our chests,
Our foes will end second best.
Be brave, there's nothing to fear,
For our gods are with us here.

"Delphina's storms blow all round,
She'll drive our foes to the ground.
Be brave, there's nothing to fear,
For our gods are with us here.

"Rise up soldiers, where's your heart?
The battle is yet to start.
Be brave, there's nothing to fear,
For our gods are with us here."

The song had roused the attention of the village. The K'nights looked towards the Stormbards and picked up the chant.

"Be brave, there's nothing to fear,
For our gods are with us here."

Some of the soldiers picked up on the chant as well.

"Be brave, there's nothing to fear,
For our gods are with us here."

Soon all the soldiers were repeating the chant and even some of the villagers.

"Be brave, there's nothing to fear,
For our gods are with us here!"

The chant roared through the Hyummin and their spirits soared. Even the squalls rallied to the chant and thundered in affirmation. Eventually the chant died down and people returned to their duties, yet where there was fear before there was now courage and determination.

All was quiet until evening. The watch had lasted so long that some of the selka were starting to express doubt. "Perhaps they are not coming."

"Delphina would not lie to us. Stay alert," Pyouroff retorted.

Then, in the shadows of dusk, a distant crash, as though a tree had fallen, and faint beastly snarls. Murmurs rose through the selka until Kirrethi barked, "They're coming! Positions!"

The soldiers were well-disciplined, quickly forming ranks of shields, spears, slings and bows. The K'nights stood between the ranks with their new stone-cracking heavy clubs. Pyouroff walked over to a log drum, raised his sticks and beat out a rhythm. The low thumps of the drum carried across the assembled selka. Each of the Stormbards took up their instruments and reined in their squalls. And they started a chant among the soldiers.

"We are strong, we won't fear,
For our gods are with us here!
We are strong, we won't fear,
For our gods are with us here!"

The snarls came closer and some selka could see shadows moving in the forest. The chant drove on.

"We are strong, we won't fear,
For our gods are with us here!"

In the shadows appeared two pairs of glowing red eyes. Moments later there was a swarm of the terrifying eyes. Yet there was no room for terror in the midst of the chant.

"We are strong, we won't fear,
For our gods are with us here!"

The monsters broke through the tree line at a ravenous sprint. Kirrethi's command cut through the ranks. "Volley!" Arrows and sling stones arced through the air towards the Reaper Spawn. Some missed their mark in the darkness. Some bounced off the Spawn. A couple of the Eaters stumbled, but none fell. Nevertheless, the chant persisted.

"We are strong, we won't fear,
For our gods are with us here!"

"Keep loosing!" barked Kirrethi. The arrows and stones continued to fly. One Eater collapsed when a stone struck its knee. Then looming out from the trees came the Ihokhur, its heavy steps landing with reverberating thuds and its one eye glowing a sinister red. The Ihokhur was barrelling forwards in a full charge with long strides. Some of the weaker-willed soldiers cowered at the sight, but the K'nights bellowed out the chant even harder.

"We are strong, we won't fear,
For our gods are with us here!"

The foremost of the Reaper Spawn reached the waterlogged ground and their charge was slowed as they were forced to wade through mud. The Ihokhur planted one foot in the mud which sunk deep and its momentum carried it forwards while its foot was pinned to the ground. The towering beast of stone crashed headlong into the mud with a splash. A cheer rose from the selka.

"We are strong, we won't fear,
For our gods are with us here!"

K'nights rushed towards the Ihokhur. Another volley of arrows and sling stones flew over their heads and struck the Spawn who were wallowing in the mud, who were easier targets now that they were slowed. With a crescendo of music a pair of squalls blew along both sides of the Ihokhur, picking up a few of the Reaper Spawn and sending them tumbling backwards. Meanwhile Yup's musical bow twanged through the din and brought down fog upon the Ihokhur.

A long stone arm reached out past the mud to grip dry land. The Ihokhur started to lift itself, but Gorban the K'night dropped his weapon heavily on the monster's hand which fractured and split. There was a soundless screech of pain felt in everyone's souls as the Ihokhur crashed back into the mud.

Two more K'nights ran forwards, making their way across the grass mats over the mud leading to the Ihokhur. Yet through the fog wreathing the Ihokhur's head shined a red light which stared directly at one of the K'nights. The Ihokhur's other arm swung down from above at one of the K'nights who dived aside. The Ihokhur then rolled onto one side to prop itself up with one arm and lashed out with the other arm at the other K'night. There was a grisly crunch and a scream of pain as the heavy stone hand closed around the K'night's shoulder. The Ihokhur then lifted the K'night and brought him down on the other K'night, who managed to roll out of the way and scramble out of the mud at the last moment but had dropped his weapon.

The Ihokhur pressed down with the arm holding the K'night, crushing the hapless selka and lifting itself up. There were gasps from the watching selka and a couple of the Stormbards even faltered in their tunes, although Pyouroff's booming rhythm was able to keep the squalls in check. Yup pitched up with his musical bow and the squall wreathed around the Ihokhur's head spun tighter. In harmony with a flute and horn beside Yup two more squalls descended and all three Stormbards commanded their squalls to slam the Ihokhur back into the mud.

"I don't think the fog's working," Pyouroff shouted across to Yup.

"We have other problems," Kirrethi said, then bellowed, "Eaters on our flanks!"

After the first lines of Reaper Spawn had gotten stuck in the mud, the rest had circumnavigated the mud. Archers and slingers launched their projectiles at the Spawn while the other soldiers scrambled to cover the exposed flank. Two archers took flaming arrows and shot at the piles of grass, lighting them on fire, which delayed a few of the Reapers as they went around this new hazard. The music of the Stormbards made a sharp crescendo and several squalls met the charging Reapers, lifting a few of them into the air and throwing them. Those Spawn landed with a few thuds and did not get back up.

The Reaper Spawn then clashed with the line of spears and shields. A few were impaled against the spears. The rest clawed against the shields, a couple of selka toppling backwards and getting mauled by the Reapers. Squalls blew around the melee, slamming into the monsters and throwing them away.

Meanwhile the K'nights and a few brave soldiers were dealing with the Ihokhur. While the Ihokhur wallowed in the mud nets were thrown over its spiked limbs and a lasso thrown over its neck. It pawed at the nets clinging to its spikes as it rose to its feet. It pulled one off with ease, but as it was going for the next Gorban rushed up and drove his pick into the side of the Ihokhur's leg.

The Ihokhur turned in a fury towards Gorban but it was thrown off balance when a team of selka pulled on the lasso around its neck, causing its fist to swing wide. Gorban exploited the Ihokhur's imbalance by swinging his pick at the Ihokhur's arm, creating more fractures in the stone. The Ihokhur swung back and Gorban was just slow enough in dodging that some of the spikes caught him, knocking him down and gashing his flesh. The Ihokhur's attention was pulled away from Gorban as the team of selka continued to pull on the rope. With no firm foundation the Ihokhur was unsteadied by the pulling. The Ihokhur half walked and half crawled forwards. Another K'night moved in to strike its outstretched hand, but the Ihokhur withdrew the hand before the pick fell. The K'night retreated back out of reach as the Ihokhur set foot on dry land.

"Rock monster is out of the mud!" announced Kirrethi.

"We can flank it now," grumbled Gorban as he dragged himself out of the mud with his weapon.

Meanwhile the number of Reaper Spawn was dwindling. The Stormbards' training was being used to devastating effect, flinging Reapers away like rag dolls. A few Stormbards danced and sung behind the line being held by the soldiers, their proximity affording them greater precision in striking out against the Reapers. The soldiers suffered heavy casualties in the fighting, for the Reaper Spawn were ferocious and hardy enemies. When a soldier was knocked down and wounded, a squall would blow the Reaper away and another selka would drag the wounded away. Yet despite the challenges, more than a few spears and arrows found their mark.

Now that the Ihokhur was past the mud, though, the Stormbards needed to split their efforts. Some continued to strike against the Reaper Spawn, trying to finish off those who remained, while others turned their attention to the Ihokhur. Numerous soldiers also shifted roles from bombarding the Reapers to harrying the Ihokhur, running to pick up ropes.

The Ihokhur charged towards the selka who had been pulling the rope around its neck. They dropped the rope and scattered sideways. Some more selka ran towards the Ihokhur, carrying a long rope between them stretched out to trip the Ihokhur as they ran past. One of its feet stepped over the rope but the other one got caught. The Ihokhur did not fall or stumble, although its charge was slowed as its foot dragged against the weight of several selka. They ran behind the Ihokhur and crossed each other, tying the rope into a loop around its leg, and they continued to circle to tighten the rope.

The Ihokhur reached down with one hand and pulled at one end of the rope, dragging selka along until they let go. But while it was not looking a K'night ran up from the other side and swung a pick into its leg. The Ihokhur roared silently and swiftly swatted an arm at the source of its injury, striking the pick and splintering the handle of the weapon.

At this moment a flurry of squalls buffeted the Ihokhur, trying to take advantage of its damaged leg. But the Ihokhur was not easily toppled. The Ihokhur stretched out its arms to balance itself, and a few selka rushed in to attempt to lasso them. One lasso made it over its wrist, caught on a spike and tightened itself, but the Ihokhur pulled hard on the rope, dragging the selka up close. The Ihokhur then reached down, grabbed the selka, crushing bones and organs, and picked it up.

The Ihokhur inspected its surroundings. There were two K'nights with pickaxes remaining, who were standing on opposite sides of itself. There was a tugging at its leg as the rope continued to tighten. The wind whipped around it and selka scurried in circles. The Ihokhur considered its position for a moment. It then hurled the body it was holding at Gorban to its left and charged towards the K'night on its right.

The K'night stood his ground and raised his weapon. The wind blew past the Ihokhur and the rope around its neck whipped outwards where a selka was able to catch it. More selka joined that one in holding the rope and moments before the Ihokhur reached the K'night that team of selka pulled the Ihokhur one direction, aided by the blowing squalls, while the team of selka with the rope around the Ihokhur's foot pulled in the opposite direction. The Ihokhur stumbled and the K'night side-stepped around the Ihokhur and struck its flank. Gorban caught up to the Ihokhur and struck it from behind. The blows sent more cracks through the Ihokhur's legs. Meanwhile a very localised rain cloud formed above the Ihokhur's head.

The Ihokhur turned to face its attackers, ropes hampering its movements, and swung out with an arm. The K'night sidestepped and struck the arm with his pick. The K'night hastily withdrew as the Ihokhur twisted further to attempt to strike the K'night. Gorban struck the Ihokhur from behind again, prompting the Ihokhur to turn further and lash out with its arm. Gorban had already moved, but a lasso was waiting and snagged the Ihokhur's arm.

Having twisted around so much, the Ihokhur had become somewhat entangled. To compound its issues the Stormbards had drenched the ground on which the Ihokhur was standing, turning it into slippery mud. A strong yank from the rope teams along with a helpful shove from the squalls brought the Ihokhur down to one knee, with its unbound arm steadying itself. Its other arm was pulled tightly away as a K'night closed in and delivered a powerful blow to the Ihokhur's stabilising arm. The Ihokhur crumpled down into a heap. Pressing his advantage, the K'night brought his pick down on the Ihokhur's head.

Another soundless roar bellowed out as a fracture snaked through the Ihokur's head. Desperately it lashed out with its free arm, sweeping the K'night off his feet. The Ihokhur then raised his arm and brought it down on the K'night, crushing bones and driving spikes through flesh. It then used that arm to saw through the rope around its neck, while kicking wildly with its free leg to break the rope around its other foot. With two of its restraints broken, the Ihokhur rolled towards the crew of selka pulling at its arm. They attempted to scatter but most were not fast enough to escape being crushed.

The Ihokhur stood up, albeit wearily for it was holding itself together against many fractures. Gore dripped from the spikes adorning its body as its glowing red eye, now with an erratic flicker, scanned the selka around it. It settled its gaze on Pyouroff, who was still beating his thunderous rhythm. Pyouroff seemed unarmed, vulnerable and of substantial moral value to the selka. With an instinct for cruelty, the Ihokhur charged.

The selka between Pyouroff and the Ihokhur scattered. The Ihokhur's momentum seemed unstoppable. Pyouroff knew he was too old to run even if he wanted to. But behind the Ihokhur, still with his pick, was Gorban. The two selka made eye contact and in that moment Pyouroff devised a desperate gambit. "To Gorban!"

Pyouroff changed the pattern of his drum beats and the other Stormbards shifted their tune too. Squalls wrapped around Gorban. Pyouroff did not break eye contact with the K'night and through that gaze Gorban could sense Pyouroff's intent. Gorban ran forwards. As he ran the squalls lifted him up and blew Gorban through the air. Carried by the wind of the living storms Gorban soared towards the Ihokhur with a forceful crescendo. The music struck its climax the moment Gorban's pick made contact with the back of the Ihokhur's head.

There was a crack and a flash of red light as the Ihokhur's stone head split in half. The animation left the rock creature's body and it collapsed to the ground in a pile of rubble barely a meter from Pyouroff and his drum.

Gorban scraped past the Ihokhur's shoulder as they fell, gouging himself on its spikes. The squalls only partially softened the K'night's fall as he landed heavily just past Pyouroff, pick still in hand. Selka rushed over to attend to Gorban.

Kirrethi's commanding voice called across the battlefield. "We have slain them all! Victory for the Hyummin!" Kirrethi raised his fist into the sky and shouted a victorious cry. The soldiers, at least those who were not too heavily wounded, did likewise and a cheer swept across the tribe.

The Stormbards maintained their discipline and briefly refrained from celebrations as they calmed down their squalls. As Pyouroff slowed his drumming he glanced anxiously over his shoulder to where Gorban was lying, covered in blood. Selka were hastily bandaging his numerous wounds. The one other surviving K'night knelt by Gorban. "This'll be one big notch on your club."

Gorban grimaced. "Yeah. But pray we never have to fight another one." He looked over to Pyouroff and raised an arm to gesture to him. "Nice trick there. Bet no K'night has flown before."

"Make that two notches for you, then," the other K'night said.

Gorban attempted to laugh but instead cringed in pain. He patted the K'night on the arm. "Go help the others. I'm in good hands here."

Torches were carried through the battlefield and impromptu campfires lit as the last light faded and the stars burned overhead. Selka tended to those who were wounded, while alma circled down and collected the souls of those who had been slain. There would be many bodies to bury in the morning, and some were already undertaking the grisly task of gathering the bodies. The healers would also have a tireless night.

The atmosphere was a strange mix of mourning and elation. Numerous soldiers had been killed and many more had been wounded. The number of the dead was likely to rise as the more severe wounds took their toll. Few selka did not have a friend or relative who was affected. Yet they had also overcome an impossible foe. The soldiers shared in their camaraderie. A small group of Stormbards had broken into song, lifting the spirits of those around them. The councillors walked through the village, comforting those who were mourning and congratulating those who had fought. Kirrethi made a special point of going to a few of the Stormbards and complimenting them on how finely they had handled themselves in the battle and how marvellously they had exemplified Delphina's strength.

Meanwhile, Yup approached Pyouroff, who seemed about ready to fall asleep. Yet the elder Stormbard spoke first. "You did good out there, Yup."

"We couldn't have done it without you, Pyouroff."

"Sure you could have." Pyouroff swept his gaze across the battlefield. The dim light was a minor mercy since some of the slain had horrifying injuries, but Pyouroff had watched it all unfold. A haunted look was on Pyouroff's face.

"It would have been a lot worse without our help," Yup said.

"That's what Kirrethi's saying to some of the others." Pyouroff shook his head disdainfully.

"Should we go and say something?"

"There's nothing more we can say. They have seen battle now. No words will be stronger than that." He watched Kirrethi from a distance for a few moments more. "War shows strength, yes, but there is no beauty in bloodshed." Pyouroff yawned. "I'm tired."

"It's been a tough day."

"Emotionally and physically. And I'm not as young as I used to be. You join the others in celebrating. I need some rest."



I am also considering wrapping up Gerrik's arc. I've figured out a way to do so without the tedium of writing through the political drama that is Fibeslay. Although it might be a long time before I have time to write it.
Holy crap, is this still going?


Not really, no. Kho's latest post was a bit of a surprise.

We're currently wrapping up the sequel, Mk 3 (which is still going), and are planning Mk 4.
Reprise


Twang.

Hujaya plucked the strings of the new lyre. She had spent the last couple of days carving the wood and she had just strung it. Now she was adjusting the knots and tightening the strings to get it in tune.

Twang. Twing. Twing.

Kaleo walked over and touched Hujaya’s shoulder. “I’ve just put Delfon to sleep. Leave that to tomorrow.”

Hujaya put the lyre down on the ground. “Okay.” She tilted her head up and kissed Kaleo. They walked over to the bundles of blankets which were their beds for the night. Hujaya and Kaleo lay down together, snuggled close. The stars sparkled above. Soon the darkness of sleep overtook them.

Twang.

Hujaya plucked the strings of the new morin khuur. She had spent the last couple of days carving the wood and she had just strung it. Now she was adjusting the knots and tightening the strings to get it in tune.

Twang. Twing. Twing.

Kaleo walked over and laid his hand on Hujaya's shoulder. "Sleep is here. Leave that for tomorrow."

Hujaya put the instrument on the ground. “Okay.” She tilted her head up and went to kiss Kaleo but as her face went to his, instead of the expected resistance her face passed through a cold breeze.

Forcing a blink, she found herself staring at an endless grey fog -- all else but herself, her instrument and her seat swallowed by the opaque blight. She picked up her instrument, stood up and turned on the spot, trying to find anything in the fog. “Kaleo?” she called out.

The only response she recieved was a hallowed silence -- something sweet slowly scrambling it. It was a low trumpet horn laughing through the fog, following an alien melody. The invisible notes of the instrument seemed to cut through the oppressive fog, urging her onward and inward to the mercy of the blinding mist. Through the mist she went, following the strange sounds. She started to hum along to the music, her sweet voice mingling with the trumpet’s sound.

Just as she found harmony with the trumpet, an abrupt stop and violent strike of a foreign instrument replaced the trumpet -- the sound of a bow striking a violin accompanied by a grainy laugh. The fog itself seemed startled by the sudden change and with a great vibration it retreated in all directions, leaving Hujaya alone in an orchard of mossy headstones under a grey sky.

A lone figure in a gentleman’s suit sat upon the tallest gravemarker, a stringed instrument tucked under the silhouette of his chin, a wild bow striking out violent notes. Hujaya looked around in confusion at the alien scenery, the strange clothing and the odd instrument. Yet there was something alluring about the music and she walked closer. She lifted the morin khuur she held and drew the bow across the strings to form a long chord. This was also an instrument she had never played or seen, but Hujaya didn’t seem perturbed by that detail.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” The grainy voice swirled behind her ear.

“I’m…” Hujaya started then trailed off as reality caught up to her. The chord squeaked and faltered. What is this instrument? How did I get it? Where is this place? Who is he? This feels like a dream. She turned her head to look for the source of the voice but found nothing there. “Is this a dream?”

The violin stopped. “Why yes it is.”

Hujaya seemed to grow only more confused. “I’ve never had a dream like this before.”

“I assure you that you have,” The disembodied voice swirled, “We all have, sometimes it’s just hard for them to stick -- if you could excuse the colloquialism.” A cheshire grin grew on the gentleman's face, nearly splitting it.

"It's in these dreams you discover the answers you've always wanted -- though sometimes the head doesn't like what it hears and as you awaken." A popping sound bounced on the air, "It's as if you never heard the truth."

Hujaya looked around herself again. Then she looked the gentleman up and down. “Who are you?”

"Who but the Lord of your dreams?" K'nell answered, "Of all dreams."

Hujaya blinked. “Okay.” Her eyes settled on the violin in K’nell’s hands. “What is that instrument? I’ve never seen one quite like it.”

"It is the violin, it's cry is unique to each individual copy of itself -- much like the mind," K'nell answered simply. He paused the voice now originating from his wide grin, "Do you want to know how to craft such an instrument?"

“Yes please,” Hujaya answered.

“I could show you, but I could show you much more than that,” K’nell flashed a cheshire grin that broke through the fog, “Tell me Hujaya, what questions itch in the back of your mind?” He looked her over as if examining something unseen, “What greater purpose is there to your life, to your beloved’s life -- to all your lives... to Galbar. What is the why and why is the what. Sure, I could show you how to build a violin, in the same way that I can show you the mechanisms of existence itself.”

“I show everyone Delphina’s strength and beauty,” Hujaya recited. Then she slowed down and thought more carefully. “I, we, help others. We have this gift and we are to share it and use it.” Hujaya looked at the cheshire grin, that unnerving smile, and the significance of what K’nell was suggesting dawned on her. She looked around at the scene around them; thought it was foreign she could sense the melancholy nature of the place. “And yet we all die. We do the best we can with what time we have, but in the end we go to the pyres or are carried away by the soul-birds to wait, a fate with no certainty. Except Ippino, who’s now with Delphina.” A soft smile came onto Hujaya’s face as she added, “Perhaps I’ll ask Delphina to take me too when my time comes.”

"Perhaps you may," K'nell offered, "But what of the others? Shall they be condemned to their fear of the unknown?"

Hujaya grew sombre. “It seems like they will,” she said glumly.

“And I suppose you won’t do much about that, will you?” K’nell sat back and began to pluck at the strings of his violin.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Is this the first time this question has come to bear?” K’nell looked past the frame of his instrument, almost idly. He waved a hand suddenly, as if banishing an old habit, “Nevermind, but hear me as I answer: There is plenty that you can do -- there always is.” He placed his violin at the foot of the grave he sat on, “You are mortal; a surprising and ingenious group of creatures. A mortal once taught me a great many things about existence, you know, so now let this immortal teach you a great many things about your own.”

He waved his hand and the fog that wreathed the scene rolled away to reveal the twinkling . blanket of the night sky -- black and infinite. Across the center a green nebula scarred it wide. Pointing his violin bow at it, K’nell spoke matter of factly, “An exit. An end to your time in the pyres, an end to death, an end to the unknown. Any and all are accepted by its gates and on the other side is paradise -- it is as simple as I say and I ask for nothing in return. Know my name as K’nell, the God of Sleep -- know that I feel love for mortalkind and that is your ticket in. Simply meditate upon the nebula in the sky, and let your worry fall to my feet. Upon the day you die, you will find yourself on the other side.”

Hujaya stared at the green nebula for a few moments as a look of wonder grew on her face. “You’re offering a life after death, one with hope?”

“To any who choose it,” K’nell answered, “It is a choice that cannot be forced, but one that should be made aware.”

“Oh thank you!” Hujaya ran forwards and hugged K’nell. The embrace lasted only a second before she remembered that K’nell was a god and she backed away with an expression of embarrassed shock. Awkwardly she bowed down. “Thank you K’nell God of Sleep. You are so kind.”

K’nell dipped his head slightly, “Now the question remains to how kind you will be.” Straightening the front of his clothes he stood up, “Know that I hear all prayers, but my own voice may be too soft for the unfaithful to hear. My answers will come, and I shall now go. I must make my leave of Galbar once more, as you surely will when the time has come -- as all who have felt Moksha will.” He looked back up at the nebula and mouthed the word ‘Moksha’ once more, inciting a strange pulse of light. Another pulse and a blinding dawn was cast across the gravestones. K’nell looked back down at Hujaya through the light and cast a cheshire grin, “How kind will you be?”

Hujaya opened her eyes to the blue-grey sky above, with the light of the morning sun cast across her face. As memories of the dream lingered in her head, she knew in her heart that the dream was real. Hujaya rolled over to Kaleo next to her and prodded him awake excitedly. “Kaleo, Kaleo, wake up!”

Kaleo grunted. “What is it?” he asked wearily.

“A god visited me in my dreams!”

Kaleo stopped, then rolled around to face Hujaya and propped himself up on his elbows.

“He was called K’nell the God of Sleep,” Hujaya continued. By now Sulingu had been woken by the commotion and was also listening. “He told me there was a way for us to not go to the pyres when we die, or to be taken away as a crystal to some unknown place. The green nebula in the sky, it’s a pathway to paradise, a life after death.”

Kaleo’s eyes widened. “That is incredible. But how would we get there? We can’t fly.”

Hujaya smiled and shook her head, her eyes growing misty. “That’s the beautiful thing. K’nell said all we have to do is meditate upon the nebula, Moksha, and let our worries fall at his feet. It’s a free gift, given because he loves us.”

Kaleo looked at Hujaya for a few moments, then embraced Hujaya tightly. “This is wonderful. It’s so simple I can hardly believe it.”

“But it’s true. I know it in my heart.”

Kaleo kissed Hujaya’s forehead. “I know, my love, I know.”

They held the embrace for a few moments longer, until Sulingu rushed over and hugged them too. “This is great news! We have to tell others,” she said.

“Yes, yes we do. And we must be kind as K’nell was kind to us,” Hujaya said. She stood up. “We need a song to mark this occasion. And we need to tell Delfon.” Hujaya picked up her lyre. She inspected the instrument for a few moments, running a finger along one of the strings. “There’s another thing. K’nell had a strange yet beautiful instrument. He called it a…” Hujaya rolled the new word around her mouth. “...violin.”



The shadows of dusk rippled off the waves of the sea as the Lustrous Garden peeked up from below the horizon. In the water knelt Hujaya. She was praying.

“Delphina, I have something to tell you. I was visited by K’nell the God of Sleep in a dream. You probably know him. And he offered us something too incredible to refuse. Life after death. An alternative to the pyres and the alma. All I have to do is meditate on Moksha and lay my worries at K’nell’s feet. And I’m going to tell everyone I can. But I don’t want you to be mad, Delphina, that I will be talking of another god. I will still continue to uphold my vow to you.”

In the water swirling around Hujaya she could just hear a voice. Peace, Hujaya. K’nell is a friend of mine. If he wishes you to tell others of his paradise, you may.

“Delphina!” Hujaya exclaimed with a gasp. She looked around at the water around her, although there appeared nothing out of the ordinary. Hujaya then frowned slightly. “If you know K’nell, did you also know of his paradise?”

Yes, answered the voice of swirling water. Anticipating the follow-up question, she continued, K’nell wished to keep it a secret until he was ready. It was his prerogative to give you the news, not mine.

Hujaya bowed down, her face just above the water. “Of course, Delphina. Thank you.”

Hujaya straightened up and sat in the water for a little longer, silently listening to the gentle sounds of the tide lapping about her. As sunlight faded from the sky a distant green cloud appeared among the stars. Hujaya looked upon it and smiled.



Squall Whisperers, Minstrels


"This is grave news."

"A terrible omen."

"Are you sure, Pyouroff?"

Pyouroff stood before the five councillors of the Hyummin tribe, gathered in the dawn light. A few of Pyouroff's apprentices, including Yup, stood behind him, and the assistants of the councillors stood behind them.

"Yes. Delphina herself told me, and she was very clear. It is a deadly threat we face, but one which she says we can overcome."

"I have heard of such creatures." It was Joluri who spoke, matriarch of the Kilppundu family. "Distant stories of tribes up-beach and inland being attacked or even wiped out by murderous grey beasts or towering monsters of stone. It seems the stories were true."

"Perhaps the star-fall stirred them up," suggested Bonapyo, patriarch of Gorjapi.

Kirrethi patriarch of Korsachi crossed his arms and crinkled his brow. "Describe these creatures again."

Pyouroff closed his eyes as he recounted the scene. "They were tall beasts, about this high." Pyouroff gestured an arm's length above his head. "They had six limbs, all with terrible claws. They had sharp teeth and four eyes and a long tail and horns on their head. They ran fast and tore apart selka flesh with ease. They remind me of some of the creatures of Kirron. Then there was the big one, four times the height of a selka, which appeared to be made of chunks of stone covered in spikes. It lumbered around with a form similar to a selka. It swung its heavy limbs and flattened all in its path."

"And how many were there?" Kirrethi asked.

Pyouroff closed his eyes again and his finger moved as he counted in his head. "There was only one of the tall rock creatures. As for the others, it was hard to count them, but I saw one or two-score." Kirrethi grunted, then silently contemplated with a scowl on his face.

"What shall we do?" asked Hapena matriarch of Lornun.

"We will need to prepare our warriors, which is something I'm sure Kirrethi can handle," said Wakino patriarch of Punuphu.

"It would have been better if we had more warriors, but four days is not enough time to train a novice to be able to fight enemies such as these," Kirrethi said, "My greater worry is the stone monster. We have no weapon or defence against such an enemy."

Eyes turned expectantly towards Pyouroff. He looked at the councillors, then said, "I do not claim to be as cunning as Ippino the Wise, but I might be able to figure out something to tip the odds in our favour."

"What about your storm spirits?" Hapena asked.

"The squalls... I doubt even they will be effective against the stone creature, but they should work on the others. I will ensure my Stormbards help in whatever way they can."

"We should also send word to the K'nights. They will likely be able to help," Joluri said.

"If this horde is coming, it will likely pass through other tribes to get here. We should prepare to help those selka who are displaced," Bonapyo said.

"That's worth keeping in mind, but the first priority should be surviving these monsters," Wakino said.

"Councillors, I think we are all in agreement that we need to urgently act on this information which Pyouroff has given us," Joluri said. The other councillors gave their assent. "Good. Then let us plan so that we may prepare."



The barks of selka accompanied the thuds of wood and stone against wicker and leather as the soldiers of the Grottu and Hyummin ran their drills. Kirrethi prowled along the lines of sparring soldiers, shouting orders and corrections.

Meanwhile, Pyouroff had gathered with his Stormbards a safe distance down-beach, away from the rest of the Hyummin. There was some apprehension in the group. Yup spoke up.

"You were opposed to us fighting in the past."

"I know," Pyouroff said.

"When Kirrethi sees what we are capable of, he'll try to get us to join the warriors."

"I know," Pyouroff answered sharply. He took a deep breath in then continued, "But Delphina has given us this strength to be used, and now is our time. Does any of you wish for your kinsmen to be slaughtered?"

The Stormbards all shook their heads.

"Then we learn to fight. Call the squalls."

The Stormbards split off and played the song of calling, returning a short while later with a few squalls held in their thrall. Pyouroff paced before the musicians. "We already know how to use squalls offensively. That is what we do when hunting. But there are two more things we must learn. One is to use squalls defensively. It's one thing to slam a target with a mighty gale. It's another to not also knock over your friend who you are trying to protect. The other is to push the limits on controlling squalls. Normally when the squalls get too frisky we ease them off and come back later. If you do that in a battle, you leave people to die."

The Stormbards all watched Pyouroff, at least while they were not focusing on the squalls. Pyouroff stooped down, picked up his drumsticks, and walked over to a log drum. "I don't pretend to know the answers. I've never done this before either. But we'll learn together." He raised his sticks. "Ready?"

The Stormbards variously nodded or said 'yes'. "Good. Let's start with a barrier along there." Pyouroff gestured along an imaginary line down-beach of them. He struck his sticks together four times then brought them down to his drum. And together the Stormbards composed a new battle-song.



Joluri was speaking with a muscled selka leaning on an engraved bone club. The K'night nodded gravely.

"Eaters. The K'nights up-beach have battled with those creatures before. A dangerous adversary," the K'night rumbled.

"What can be done about them? Would we be able to warn the other tribes and gather reinforcements?" Joluri asked.

The K'night stroked his whiskers with a frown. "Eaters are fast. It may be too late for some of the further tribes. But the nearer ones, yes. I can alert any K'nights I can find, but we are spread out. We would be lucky to find any more K'nights of Tyuppa than those already in Hyummin and Grottu."

"How about the big stone monster?"

The K'night was silent for a few moments, then answered, "I have not heard of any K'night defeating those creatures."

Joluri's face was grim for a moment, then turned into a sly smile. "Perhaps this is an opportunity, then, for you to be the first to get that mark on your club."

The K'night gave a brief chuckle. Then his gaze caught on something behind Joluri. Joluri looked behind her.

"Ah, Pyouroff." She then noticed a selka being carried in a stretcher by the other Stormbards. "What happened?"

Pyouroff looked at the injured selka then back to Joluri. "We were training with the squalls when one of them slipped out of our control. Poor Antoru here was thrown into a tree before we could calm the squall down."

Antoru held the side of her hip in pain as the Stormbards carried her towards the village. Pyouroff stayed standing near Joluri.

"You're training for battle?" Joluri asked, surprised.

"Yes."

The K'night grunted in approval. "I knew we could count on you when it mattered, Pyouroff."

Joluri glanced towards Antoru again. "I hope you won't have any more accidents."

"I hope so too. Such are the risks of bringing squalls into battle," Pyouroff said.

Joluri was contemplative as she watched Antoru be carried into the healer's hut. She had gone hunting with Stormbards a couple of times. She knew the terrifying strength the storm spirits had. It was a brutish form of hunting which left meat bruised, bones broken and hide damaged, but there was no doubt as to its lethality. And against a foe as deadly as these 'eaters', it was just the boon they needed.

"We are most grateful for the aid of you and your Stormbards, Pyouroff," Joluri said.

"Thank you Joluri. Now is the time for using Delphina's gift." Pyouroff turned to leave.

"One more thing," Joluri said, "Have you got any plans for the stone monster?"

Pyouroff paused and the K'night straightened up slightly from his position leaning on his club. "Not yet," Pyouroff answered.

"Shame," the K'night said. He picked up his club and slung it over his shoulder. "Keep thinking. Let me know when you figure something out. Meanwhile, I'll go send out some messengers." He nodded to Joluri and Pyouroff before walking away.



"You call that a shield line? My grandmother could get past that line!" shouted Kirrethi.

"Hup!" The soldiers deepened their stance and braced their spears. Kirrethi walked up to one of the soldiers and shoved his shield as hard as he could. The soldier staggered slightly but stayed standing. Kirrethi nodded approvingly.

Pyouroff walked towards Kirrethi with his Stormbards behind him. One of them was playing a flute and a squall orbited around her as a cloud. Kirrethi looked towards Pyouroff. Then he turned back to his soldiers and barked, "Attention, soldiers! Pyouroff has something he wants to tell us." Kirrethi turned to Pyouroff with a smug grin on his face.

"You need our help to fight the eaters," Pyouroff said.

There was a twitch of displeasure on Kirrethi's face, but he pressed back. "So you, Pyouroff the pacifist, finally admit to the necessity of force."

"Kirrethi, your ears must have been clogged with sea-water during my songs. To defend one's home from attackers is a noble thing."

Kirrethi hesitated for a moment as he composed a riposte, then remembered the onlookers and thought better of it. "Indeed. Together we can defend Hyummin from outside threats today and into the future. If what I have heard of your abilities are true, then there will be none who can stop us."

"With the threat we face, let us hope that is true." Pyouroff looked at the Stormbards behind him then back to Kirrethi. "We are quite ignorant about the art of war, but you are ignorant about our magic. Yet if we want to survive this coming battle we need to cooperate. Squalls are fickle things; they can't simply be ordered about like soldiers. Yet they have ferocious strength if used properly."

"So in battle and training you and your musicians will take orders from me."

Kirrethi and Pyouroff stared each other down for a few seconds. Reluctantly, Pyouroff said, "We will defer to your combat expertise, yes."

A smirk formed on Kirrethi's face. "I thought so." He turned to his soldiers and barked, "Soldiers, watch the Stormbards closely. They are going to show us what they are capable of." Kirrethi turned on his heel to face Pyouroff and ordered, "Pyouroff, give us a demonstration of your magic."

Pyouroff winced at the order, although the Stormbards were already moving into position. Pyouroff strode in front of the assembled soldiers. "If you want to fight alongside us, we have one rule. Never interrupt a playing Stormbard. This is not a self-absorbed ego-boost," Pyouroff shot a glance towards Kirrethi. "We can only control the storm spirits while we play music. If we stop playing music, the storm spirit breaks free and will attack everyone, including us. Do you want to be thrown into the sky by a storm spirit, soldiers?"

There were some mumbles and shaking heads.

"I said, do you want to be thrown into the sky by a storm spirit?" Pyouroff barked.

"No, Pyouroff," the soldiers replied in unison.

"Good." Pyouroff turned to the Stormbards. "You may begin."



"Pyouroff."

Pyouroff was staring off into the sky, his mind elsewhere.

"Pyouroff."

The voice dragged the old selka out of his thoughts. "What is it, Yup?"

"Are you alright? You've barely touched your fish."

Pyouroff looked down to his lap. He had picked some of the skin off his breakfast, but it was quite uneaten.

"I've never known you not to eat," Yup added.

"Hm, right," Pyouroff said distantly. He peeled off some of the fish's flesh and put it in his mouth. "I've been thinking all night about how to beat the rock monster."

"Ah," Yup said. Yup thought for a few moments, then suggested, "Could we blow it over?"

"Probably, but we wouldn't be able to lift or throw it with the squalls. We need an advantage slightly better than just knocking it over."

"Oh." Yup paused his eating to think a bit more deeply. "Could we rain on it?" he suggested tentatively.

"And what would that do? It's a rock."

"How about we blind it with a mist?"

"But then we wouldn't be able to see it either. Hmm, unless we keep the mist close to its head. That could help. Any more ideas?"

Yup ate the last bite of his fish as he thought. He eventually shook his head.

"Oh well. Tell me if you do come up with any. Get the others ready for training. I'll stay and think some more."

Yup got up and left, leaving Pyouroff to finish his breakfast. He picked up the fish bones and carried them down to the shore. He cast the bones into the water and prayed, "Delphina guide us."

He watched the bones bobbing on the water's surface. If the bones were a bit heavier they would have sunk. Like a stone.

He looked down at his feet in the soft, wet sand. Already his toes were buried in the sand just from his weight. He pushed down one leg and it sank to his ankle. He pulled it out of the water-logged sand with a plop.

Realisation dawned and he pulled out a pair of rattles. He ran down the beach looking for a squall, called one in and returned to Hyummin land with the squall in tow. He walked along the ground inland of the Hyummin, checking the soil. When he found a patch he was satisfied with he gave the rattles a shake and the squall released a brief deluge. He led the squall back to the beach and let it fatten itself on sea water. Then he took it back to the patch of soil and got it to rain on that spot again.

He repeated this process a few times before a selka who was out collecting hay, curious about what Pyouroff was doing, approached the Stormbard. "What're you doing, Pyouroff?"

"Ah, Wolla, good timing," Pyouroff said without ceasing his playing, "Come stand here and tell me how it feels."

Wolla looked at the puddle. "Why?"

"Because I'm busy playing music."

Reluctantly Wolla stepped into the puddle. "It's muddy and soft."

"If it were wetter and something really heavy stood on it, do you think it would sink?"

Wolla shifted his feet awkwardly. "I guess."

"Excellent! Thank you for your help." Pyouroff slowed the shaking of his rattles and hummed a soothing tune until the squall flew away.

Pyouroff hurried back to the village. He found Hapena first. "Hapena!"

"Pyouroff?"

"I've figured out a way to stop the rock monster. Gather the others. I'll get Kirrethi."

Pyouroff found the training soldiers and Stormbards and signalled to Kirrethi. However, Kirrethi ignored Pyouroff for a few minutes as they continued the current exercise. Only after the exercise finished did Kirrethi acknowledge Pyouroff. "What is it, Pyouroff?"

"I have a plan for the rock monster."

Kirrethi perked up. "That is good news."

"Come, the councillors are gathering."

Kirrethi turned to the soldiers. "Take a break." The soldiers relaxed and put down their weapons. The Stormbards dismissed their squalls.

Pyouroff beckoned to Yup. "Yup, come with me."

They walked towards the council meeting point, where the other councillors were also gathering. Once everyone had arrived Pyouroff was beckoned to speak.

"I have come up with an idea for dealing with the rock monster. It is heavy so it will sink in mud and water-logged sand. We can cause heavy, localised rain which can create patches of water-logged soil. If we lure the rock monster into such a patch it will become stuck and more vulnerable. We could also cover its face in clouds to blind it."

The councillors looked to each other.

"Is that it?" Bonyapo asked.

"Yes," Pyouroff said. Bonapyo seemed disappointed.

"It might not kill the beast, but it definitely helps. A trapped beast is often as good as dead," Joluri said.

Wakino raised his hand. "I have also been considering this problem. I've been designing a weapon which could effectively wound stone. A really heavy chisel, or something. The main thing I was worried about was that such a weapon would be quite heavy and slow. Being able to immobilise the monster would solve that problem."

The councillors looked to Wakino, then to each other. "We're in with a chance now," Bonapyo said.

"Wakino, get some of those weapons made," Kirrethi ordered.

"We'll also want as much rope as we can get. The mud will help, but combined with nets and snares we should really be able to stop it," Joluri added.

"I'll need to get some Stormbards to make the soil waterlogged," Pyouroff said.

"We'll need to pick the area carefully. I also want to prepare some areas to burn," Kirrethi said.

"This is very good," Jolrui said, "Let us continue preparing. We have less than three days to be ready for battle."



Matricide


Collaboratively written by BBeast and Lord Zee




Fire. Burning bright, burning hot.

Noises. Thousands crying, roaring, screaming, running… Burning.

Blood. Scarlet rivers, ripped flesh, broken bones, fresh meat.

Kill. Kill kill kill. Kill the small, kill the large, kill the slow, kill the fast, the winged, the scaled, the horned, the spiked, the weak, the strong. Kill kill kill. Kill them all.

KILL.



Rain fell upon the scorched earth. Peals of thunder rattled the ground and a pair of heavy taloned feet landed in the mud. A beak nudged some nearby bones, broken and gnawed.

There was a sad croon. A deep inhale through the nostrils. Crackle of static electricity.

She was close.

There was a thunderclap and the beast returned to the storm.



The fire came down from the North, whipping life into a mad dash of fury and pain. What followed next was like a black wave of malice. They seemed to flood the world, burning the world as they went, stepping over corpses new and old. They moved in legion, like a giant stain upon the land, and to the south they went, closer and closer to the coast. Their Queen, their mother moved in the middle, anger pulsating throughout her stance. She wanted her enemy to pay, but she would not let that get in the way of the greater prize. Their prey was the world, and they hungered for it.

Yet behind them a storm was brewing, dark clouds mixing with the pall of smoke. Thunder rumbled behind the reaper spawn, growing louder as the storm drew closer. As the first drops of rain fell upon the malevolent horde, an ear-splitting cry rattled their bones.

SCREEEEEEE!

The black horde froze, and one by one red eyes began to look upon the storm that was behind them. Azadine looked up, letting out a small vocalization. Her body went rigid as she sniffed the air. Something had brought the storm.

A midnight blue bird dove out of the clouds. Just above the ground the bird beat her wings with a deafening CRACK of thunder, stunning the spawn nearby before landing heavily in their midst. The great bird’s beak stabbed downwards, snapped one of the blackened creatures in half with a single bite then threw back her head to swallow.

The reaper spawn who hadn’t been concussed by the Thunderbird’s landing showed no fear or hesitation in swarming towards this new foe. The Thunderbird flapped her wings again, sending a wave of thunder which stopped the monsters in front of her in their tracks. Behind her the screeching mob of beasts got closer and arcs of scarlet lightning shot from their heads to the Thunderbird. Yet the bolts of lightning sparked harmlessly across the Thunderbird’s lustrous plumage. The Thunderbird spun around with a hop and batted the spawn with a wing, electricity jolting through the spawn and causing them to drop convulsing to the ground. The Thunderbird advanced with another thunderous wingbeat and tore into the reaper spawn with beak and claw.

Another vocalization erupted through the storm, a metallic shriek of fury. The Spawn around the Thunderbird began to retreat slightly, making way for their Mother, who came with speed and anger. The Thunderbird turned to face Azadine and released a screech which would deafen most creatures and flapped its wings, sending concussive thunder towards the Reaper. The Reaper Mother took the blow directly and crumbled back at first, before digging into the ground with her claws, and gripping onto what she could to stand up.

Azadine drifted slightly, before her eyes focused back on the Thunderbird, and Azadine ripped up boulders with her two long arms and threw them at the bird. The Thunderbird squawked in alarm and flew skywards, one boulder flying lower while the other grazed her flank with a shower of sparks. The Thunderbird took a moment to steady herself then swooped towards Azadine, talons outstretched and thunder rippling ahead of her.

In a flurry of movements Azadine tensed her body, going low as she looked up at the Bird, eyes pinpoints as she pounced to meet the bird in mid air, long arms poised to rake the Thunderbird’s flesh and her small arms going for the bird’s talons. Azadine’s claws met their mark, claws sinking into the Thunderbird’s flesh and hands grappling against the Thunderbird’s feet, yet immediately electricity surged through Azadine. The Thunderbird let out a deafening screech and flapped her wings frantically, pummelling the Reaper with concussive thunder.

With a growl of frustration as her flesh burned, Azadine's grip let loose from the Thunderbird and she dropped as the thunder pummeled her back on the ground with a loud crash. Reaper spawn immediately began to swarm over her as a form of protection as the Mother slowly got to her feet.

Blood dripped from the Thunderbird’s sides where Azadine’s claws had slashed her flesh and crimson stained her midnight blue feathers. Yet the Thunderbird did not relent. She dropped down towards Azadine with talons outstretched, a wave of thunder rattling through the Reaper Spawn as she pinned a couple of spawn under her electrified feet. A beak pecked down and tore away at the blanket of beasts, trying to get to the Reaper Mother.

A long, knife like tail whipped around the corpses of the spawn and struck the Thunderbird in the side as Azadine let out another wail. The Thunderbird squawked and staggered sidewards off Azadine under the unexpected blow, flapping her wings with peals of thunder to stay upright. The Thunderbird turned to face the Reaper Mother and watched the Reaper’s tail warily.

With a flurry of thunderous wingbeats, the Thunderbird leapt towards Azadine again, talons outstretched to grapple the Reaper. Buffeted by the force of the wing beats Azadine staggered and the Thunderbird managed to sink her talons in her chest, pinning two of her arms. Azadine screamed in fury as electricity coursed through her.

The spawn went into a frenzy, throwing themselves at the Thunderbird recklessly and without care, although most could barely scratch her before falling to the ground from electric shock. Azadine meanwhile flailed with her two good arms, ripping into the bird as the giant avian pecked at Azadine. Azadine relented as the electricity began to take its toll, removing herself from the bird and retreating underneath a horde of spawn. The queen glared at her foe but made no moves to attack.

The Thunderbird stood unsteadily for a few moments, rain mixing with fresh red blood soaking her midnight blue feathers. Almost casually she flapped her wings and sent the reaper spawn around her staggering to the ground. The bird glared back at the queen, scrutinising the Reaper and her spawn. The Thunderbird squawked her ear-splitting cry and flapped her thunderous wings in challenge, sparks leaping defiantly from her feathers.

The Queen answered with her own metallic scream, back arched and tail whipping into a frenzy. She still made no move towards the bird, however. The Thunderbird prowled around the Reaper in a wide arc, eyes watching the bladed tail carefully.

Suddenly the Thunderbird ran directly towards the Queen, but at the last moment flapped her wings and came to a stop just out of reach of the Reaper’s tail. The wave of thunder washed over the Reaper as the Thunderbird hopped backwards a few steps. Her spawn took the brunt of the concussive force but it was enough to catch Azadine off guard, as she stumbled backwards awkwardly, eyes never leaving her foe.

The Thunderbird took to the air with a mighty wingbeat, then she dove towards Azadine. The bird feinted right before swerving left, electrified claws outstretched to grab the Reaper with a flurry of thunderous wingbeats. She fell for the feint, and was grabbed by the bird and electricity coursed through her veins as she screamed furiously. It was the rage that became paramount in her dire situation, as adrenaline coursed and she sent out her own flurry of blows with her free claws and tail.

The Thunderbird held on through the slashing of Azadine’s claws. The avian’s wing beats and screeching disoriented the Reaper and electricity seized her muscles, making it difficult to attack with any accuracy.

Then there was a grisly squelch and a blossom of pain and coldness. The Thunderbird looked down to find Azadine’s bladed tail in her abdomen and her eyes widened in shock.

Yet the Thunderbird gripped tighter, more desperate now than ever to keep the Reaper in her clutches. The Thunderbird cried out, a final surge of lightning arcing across her feathers and into Azadine. Her eyes burst into flame as the current scorched her body, rippling her insides into but burnt flesh, and charred bone. Slowly her flailing weakened, until the last nerve in her body was destroyed and the Reaper Mother died with it.

The Thunderbird finally let go and staggered away a few steps. Reaper spawn swarmed towards her and with her electricity spent the spawn were able to attack her. Lethargically the Thunderbird swept a wing, a ripple of thunder staggering the spawn, yet more came to avenge their mother. The Thunderbird took flight, escaping the reach of the spawn, but her flight was unsteady and she crashed down a few moments later. The spawn closed back in and she tried to fend them off with wing and beak while backing away. Then her legs gave out, she fell to the ground, and the reaper spawn closed in.

Yet they were interrupted by a rumbling in the ground. The spawn looked up, screeched in rage and ran elsewhere, their attention torn from the Thunderbird. The Thunderbird lifted her head a fraction. Through fading vision she saw an army of giant red crabs charging forwards to meet the reaper swarm.

“Caw…” The Thunderbird’s voice trailed off into the wind. The crabs might have been too late to save her, but they would finish her mission. The Thunderbird’s head dropped back down and the world slipped into darkness.


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