Status

Recent Statuses

11 mos ago
Current I'm now a professional physicist. Isn't that awesome?
6 likes
1 yr ago
Exams are done! I'm free!
2 likes
2 yrs ago
"Life is complex - it has real and imaginary parts."
2 likes
2 yrs ago
Science doesn't rest
2 yrs ago
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


Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans, Storms and Ice


A blue-haired vallamir man walked along the beach dragging his net towards the sea. He walked past other vallamir who were tending to their own nets, patching holes or replacing lost stones. The tune of a wooden flute drifted across the pack of vallamir working on the beach. Near the water lay two logs. One had been carved out to be hollow with an opening in its top side. The other was in the process of being carved out using tools and techniques of woodworking 'borrowed' from the people nearer the so-called Capital.

The man threw his net into the crude canoe and started pushing it towards the water. A blond-haired vallamir joined in, and together they pushed the boat through the sand and into the water. They kept pushing the boat past where the waves broke, then hauled themselves into the boat which rocked precariously but managed to stay upright. They picked up paddles from inside the boat and rowed to deeper water, although never too far from shore.

The two vallamir fishermen scanned the water with their keen eyes for any sign of fish. They spotted a few silver glitters beneath the waves and dropped their net overboard. After a little time they pulled the net back up, water streaming out from around the flopping silver fish. They pulled the net into the boat while carefully balancing to avoid capsizing their simple vessel. They emptied the net into the boat and inspected the catch.

"It's a start," the blond vallamir eventually declared.

"Lessee if we can get a second net-full," said the blue-haired vallamir.

"Shall we head back to shore first, Jo?" asked the blond.

"Always the cautious one, Yan. It'll be quicker to do it now," said the blue-haired one named Jo.

"Don't get too cocky. Remember when we flipped the boat with a whole load of fish in it? We spent ages trying to catch them again."

"Come on, that was an accident. It won't happen again. There's plenty more of Ashalla's bounty to catch."

They rowed a short distance in their search for more fish, then cast their nets into the water again. After some time more fish snagged into the net and they pulled it up and dropped the fish into the boat. They then rowed back to the rest of their pack on the beach. The other vallamir ran up to help them pull the boat through the breakers and onto the sand. The fish were then carried in armfuls and reed baskets over to the cooking fires to be smoked.

Other fishing boats were starting to come in, and grey clouds were approaching from inland, but Jo headed back to his boat with his net and beckoned for Yan to follow. A vallamir woman who was weaving fibres called out, "Jo'Pallan, are you heading off again? You should be helping to cook."

Jo seemed a little exasperated. "We won't be long, Lupa dear. We'll catch a few more fish before the weather turns. I've gotta good feeling about this one."

"You always say that, Jo," the woman said, but Yan and Jo had already pushed their boat into the sea. She shook her head and went back to her weaving.

Yan gave a little chuckle as they climbed into the boat. "Sometimes I wonder who's really your missus: Lupa or Ashalla."

Jo gave Yan a playful push. "Hey, at least I've got a missus. When're you going to find a girl?"

Yan picked up his oar and started rowing, looking out to sea. "I'll get one when I'm ready."

"Pftsh. Don't give me that. I know you've got your eyes on someone."

Yan looked up at the sky. "You'd better get rowing if you want to catch some fish before the rain comes."

Jo rolled his eyes, but picked up his oar and rowed anyway. "Come on, you can tell me. Is it Juni? Or maybe Vermi. I saw you chatting with her the other night. Hm?" Jo watched Yan closely for any reactions, but Yan stayed stone-faced. A cheeky smile stretched across Jo's face. "Oh, I know. There's one woman you just can't keep your hands off. You stare at her big curves and feel how wet she is. You like to get deep in her."

Yan gave a questioning look. "What are you talking about?"

Jo's face cracked into a crazy grin. "Ashalla."

Yan stared for a moment, then punched Jo on the shoulder. "You dirty man. If Lupa heard you talking like that she wouldn't let you near the beach ever again." Despite himself a little smile crept onto Yan's face as Jo laughed.

They kept rowing a little further then cast out their net. Around them fell the first drops of rain. After a little bit of waiting they felt something tug at their nets. An exchanged glance was the signal to pull the net up. They strained against the weight. Jo hazarded a look overboard.

"They're bigguns."

"Watch the balance, Jo!" Yan shouted, leaning the other way to stop the boat from tipping.

Jo leaned back to keep hauling the net, but the fish swam under the boat. The two fishermen tried to pull the net back, but they leaned too far forwards. An errant wave pushed the dugout past its tipping point and the boat rolled over and dumped the fishermen into the sea. Their heads surfaced above the waves a couple seconds later and they paddled in place.

"'I've got a good feeling about this one,' huh?" Yan mocked.

"Hey, look on the bright side. Now we're both in her," Jo said with a wink.

Yan rolled his eyes, then his gaze settled on a point behind Jo.

Jo looked down at the water around himself. "Ah shit, I dropped the net. It'll be down here somewhere. Help me find it, Yan."

Yan's face had gone pale and his eyes were wide.

"Yan?" Jo turned around and the colour drained from his face.

Towering behind them was a mound of water as large as an open-ocean wave. On this wave were arms, curves suggestive of a woman's torso, and a face which looked down at the two men with a scowl.

There were a few seconds of shocked silence until Jo managed to stammer, "A- Ashalla. Merciful, gracious, marvellous Ashalla. It's a- er- honour." Jo crossed his fist across his chest and bowed his head. Yan did the same. Ashalla did not speak. In the pregnant pause, Jo continued. "So, er, what brings you here?"

A voice like the distant breakers said, "I heard a couple of fishermen talking about me."

Sheer panic plastered itself across Jo's face. "Oh, that, ha, just banter, nothing serious, fooling around, ha. Unless..." Jo looked up at Ashalla's face, then shrunk back.

Ashalla leaned forwards. "Do you think I am a joke?" interrogated a voice like a cracking glacier. Icy terror gripped Jo's chest.

"No no no, not at all! You're very serious. Pretty too. No joke there, nope. We were, er..."

"Dreaming," Yan finished.

Ashalla leaned back as Jo and Yan stared on in fear. Her gaze moved over to the capsized boat. A wave gently brushed over it then flipped it upright. "You would not be the first mortal with such dreams," said a voice like a receding wave. The vallamir released a breath they hadn't noticed they were holding. "Tell me about this boat."

Jo and Yan grabbed their oars which were floating nearby and swam up to the boat. "This? It's our boat. We go fishing in it every day when the weather's not too bad. Sometimes a bit unsteady, but it works," Jo said.

"How was it made?"

In a coordinated move, Jo and Yan climbed into the boat from opposite sides. "We- the pack- cut down a tree, sawed off the branches then chopped out the inside so we'd have somewhere to sit and put our fish."

Ashalla stared off towards the shore while tendrils of water lapped at the boat, inspecting every cut and groove. After a long, low rumble, she said, "You have the power to shape wood to your will, yet this is the best you have devised? Inadequate." Ashalla's gaze scanned the coast once more. "Many more vallamir have arrived on this beach since I first spoke to the vallamir, yourself among the new arrivals. What drew you here?"

"Well, there wasn't much food on the land when you appeared and taught our pack about nets and string and stuff. It was such a great gift and it saved us from starvation. Even when the land grew back, there was something alluring about the water. When I heard of others like me, of course I joined them," said Jo.

"There is something about fishing, it's not like the raw rush of the hunt, it's more peaceful. There's serenity when on the water," Yan added.

There was the blast of a horn from the beach. The fishermen turned their heads and saw that the vallamir on the shore had noticed Ashalla and assembled a band.

"Return to your pack," Ashalla instructed. The fishermen picked up their oars and paddled back to shore. They pulled their boat onto the sand and joined the rest of the vallamir. Ashalla flowed up to the beach shortly afterwards. The ensemble of musicians included horn players, flautists, drums, rattles, stringed instruments, and a choir. When Ashalla approached, the choir sung out with the backing of the musicians.

"Who is the mistress over the waves?
Who granted fish and food which could save?
Who taught music for singing with glee?
Ashalla did, goddess of the sea!"

Ashalla burbled at their song. "Mortal vallamir, what a wonderful welcome. It is clear that you love the ocean. So I shall reward your faithfulness by allowing you to live even closer to the sea."

She reached out a thick pseudopod towards the half-finished boat sitting on the sand. The water engulfed it, and blades of ice churned within the globe of water and clouded the water with sawdust. When Ashalla withdrew her limb, the crudely hollowed log had been carved into a proper canoe. The ends tapered into points which curled upwards. The profile was narrower than it was tall. "Take inspiration from the form of the fish. The fish's body is slender and pointed so as to swim speedily through the water."

Thin pseudopods whipped out over the heads of the vallamir into the forest behind them. They withdrew carrying long branches and lengths of rope. Ashalla lashed two long branches of equal length onto the boat perpendicular to it, then on either end of those long branches she affixed a log parallel to the boat. "The fish's fins stabilise it in the water, ensuring it stays upright."

Ashalla withdrew a short distance to allow the vallamir to marvel at the creation and inspect it up close. After she thought they had had enough time, Ashalla said, "There is more. I have heard your prayers about the difficulties brought by some of the people of the land. I could allow you to make the sea your home."

The vallamir looked at each other. Their faces showed excitement, surprise, confusion, and fear. Chatter and discussion rose quickly. Yet Ashalla's voice spoke above the din like a crashing wave. "If you desire such a thing, bring me an offering of as much lumber, rope and coarse fabric as you can gather. Bring also many water-tight vessels. Do not be meagre in this offering if you wish to benefit from it."

Then Ashalla receded back into the ocean and disappeared. Her commands hung in the air over the vallamir. Some went to inspect the outrigger canoe again. Others looked to each other, then talking resumed and amplified. There was debate over whether to take up this offer, and how to go about doing it.

In the height of the arguments, Jo'Pallan spoke up. "Ashalla has given us almost everything we have, one way or another. She gave us food when we needed it the most, so in a way also gave us our lives. She has given us this life here by the sea. Everything Ashalla has done has been to help us. No one else cares for us. Li'Kalla lives with her 'holy' valthumir far inland and doesn't care for us. Other packs roam Be'r-Jaz killing and stealing and worse. We would be stupid not to accept Ashalla's offer."

The vallamir were swayed by Jo's words. So they made plans immediately to determine how they would obtain the supplies for the offering.



It took many days of work. The sound of stone axes chopping through trees echoed through the surrounding forest. Logs that were too large to carry were pushed towards the beach on rollers. Vallamir stood guard with spears and slings, alert against any rival packs who might accost them during their holy task. Others reaped the fields of fibrous grasses which they had planted - another technology 'borrowed' from the inland vallamir - and spun the threads into rope and cloth. A few prepared wooden bowls, mud-lined baskets, leather sacks and hollowed gourds which could store water.

With so many people working on gathering the supplies, there were only a few people left to fish and gather. There had been initial concerns that they would run out of food during the project, but the fishermen found that their catches were unusually bountiful. Such a clear sign that they had Ashalla's blessing boosted the vallamir's morale and the work carried on with fervour.

Eventually, they had collected what they thought would be enough. Dozens of logs lay across the beach, along with coils of rope and stacks of cloth. The musicians struck up a celebratory tune as the supplies were pushed into the sea.

The offering drifted for a few moments before the waves spoke. "You good and faithful servants. As promised, your faith shall be rewarded."

Suddenly the ocean rose in a great mound of water, lifting the offering with it. The logs were engulfed, split, chopped, shaped and joined, along with the rope and cloth. The vallamir watched the flurry of creation in awe. Then the creation was finished and Ashalla receded.

Floating in the water was a massive wooden structure, easily the size of a village. Indeed, there were huts stacked in the structure and walkways connecting them. Lining the bottom of the structure were shapes like the canoe Ashalla had made earlier, providing a foundation which could float and move through the water. The cloth had been stitched together into great sheets and were tied to poles.

"Come! Behold your new home on the ocean."

With barely a moment's hesitation, the pack of vallamir rushed to the water and swam to the magnificent structure Ashalla had made. On the boards which made the floor of the floating village, the vallamir walked around and soaked in every detail. Already some claimed certain rooms as their own. Others inspected the network of knots and ropes which held the large sheets. Some found the bowls and baskets had been placed into a few rooms and filled with fresh water. A few discovered the mechanisms which twisted a large wooden fin beneath the water. Others found the places where rowers could sit. Some found where smaller boats could be tied to the great structure. A couple climbed up a post which gave an unrivalled view of the surrounding ocean. A few found space where a great net could trail behind the floating village.

Ashalla's watery form rose up beside and above the village. "Here is your new home. Take good care of it, and it shall take care of you. Carve your stories on its walls as a reminder to the future generations."

Jo'Pallan stepped forwards on the deck, crossed his fist across his chest and bowed his head. "Ashalla, thank you. Thank you so much. We could never repay such kindness." Ashalla burbled as Jo continued. "But... um... there is a lot here which is confusing."

"I will stay with you for a few days, to teach you how to use your new home. I will show you the ways of travelling the seas and surviving on them. I will teach you how to create other ships to sail the ocean," Ashalla said. "But your first lesson shall be how to capture the wind to move this vessel. Watch."

Tendrils of water reached out to the cloths on poles and pulled on the ropes. Suddenly the fabric unfurled like the wings of a bird. The wind caught in the sails and with a jerk the floating village glided across the water away from the coast. Ashalla let out a burble as she sunk back below the waves.

Yan walked up next to Jo, staring at where Ashalla had been moments before. "We are like droplets compared to her," Yan said in with awed breath.

Jo chuckled. "You should be a poet, Yan." Jo turned back to the floating village and looked at the vallamir scurrying around, inspecting the sails and watching the ocean. "Droplets. Hm. I like it."

Confidant


Deep underwater was a cave, hidden from any prying eyes. Outside the cave was the darkness of the Abyssal Rift, but within this inconspicuous niche was a faint prismatic glow. Crystalline fragments of the Lustrous Garden lined the floor of the cave in a geometric mosaic, casting their light about the cave. In the center of it all a soul crystal sat on a shallow stone pedestal.

The water in the cave shifted subtly, and behind the pedestal condensed a icy statue of a selka woman sitting cross-legged. The frozen lady reached out with both hands and picked up the soul crystal. The crystal began to glow dimly, and a small apparition of a selka man appeared above it facing the lady.

"Oh Delphina my beauty, only goddess of the sea, have you come to visit me?"

"Oh Ippino my dear, sole mortal to hear, my thoughts and my-" The aqueous voice hesitated in its poetry, then finished quietly, "fears."

"Oh? Well, I am humbled that you would speak to me so intimately. It sets my heart aflutter- well," the apparition of Ippino looked down at himself and through his translucent hands. "It would if I still had one."

Ashalla's icy face did not meet Ippino's eyes. "You're normally more talkative. Something must be bothering you," Ippino said.

"There is."

Ippino's apparition sat down on his soul crystal. "Would you like to talk about it?" he asked gently.

Ashalla was motionless for a few long seconds, then said, "Orvus has fallen. He was one of the few gods who I thought would be able to match me in combat, yet was gravely wounded by a mere mortal." The last word was emphasised with the sound of cracking ice. "He was then dragged off by a mere fragment of himself to the dark-moon, where Orvus lay incapacitated for ten years while this fragment, Abraxas, prepared to rain desolation on Galbar."

Shock plastered Ippino's holographic face. "That is dreadful! How horrible! Although, did you stop Abraxas and save Orvus?"

"Yes." In the water around them moving ice sculptures depicted the events around the Mar tree and the battle against Abraxas. "Abraxas had unleashed his forces on the world. Arae and I went to stop him. But Kalmar had gone on ahead and alone. While Kalmar was able to awaken Orvus, he was overpowered and gravely wounded by Abraxas. Arae tended to the wounded while I fought with Abraxas. We threw our divine strength against each other. It may have been Abraxas' territory, far from sea, but Abraxas was only a fragment of the God of Desolation. I could have dealt with him myself. At least..." Ashalla hesitated again, then continued softly, "I could have probably beaten him."

"It is important to know your limitations. You can't always do everything alone," Ippino suggested.

The water in the cave quivered with rage, shattering the icy diorama around them, and Ashalla's voice roared like a maelstrom. "I am a god, Ippino! I am not limited as you mortals are. Reality bows to my very word! I would have defeated him myself, if Orvus had given me time."

Ippino's apparition recoiled and cowered in fright. After the water had stilled, Ippino's face creased in confusion. "Defeated who?"

"Abraxas, fragment of Orvus. He had gravely wounded Kalmar and was sending harm onto Galbar."

"That is dreadful! What happened?"

"The power of Abraxas was tied to that of Orvus. In order to stop Abraxas, Orvus sacrificed his own divine power and became mortal. Killing Abraxas was then trivial. But I do not understand why he would make such a sacrifice."

Ippino thought for a few moments. "Could it be so Abraxas could be defeated?"

"It made it easier, but was not required. When I asked him why, he said that he was tired of godhood. That godhood did not suit him. He said it was all his fault. Then he departed for his family."

Ippino pondered this for a little longer. "I've seen similar things. People tire of doing the same thing all their life. A person will seek out new things as they progress through their life. Especially as they grow old, things they used to do will grow less appealing, or they'll be less capable of doing them."

"He was a god, Ippino. Gods do not grow old."

"They might not suffer the frailties of age, but I can't imagine what I'd do with my life if it was unending. When I was finally graced by your beautiful presence I felt as if my life was complete. Although, it sounds as if this... uh..." Ippino held up a hand vaguely as though searching for a word.

"Orvus."

"Yes. It sounds as if Orvus was also living with guilt. He probably did something which made him feel unworthy of his godhood. I've seen in my time parents leave their children or chieftains leave their tribe because they felt as if something they did made them unworthy to hold that position. Could Orvus have done something?"

Ashalla rumbled, then eventually answered, "He was concerned for the harm and damage he had caused by his divine power, both directly and indirectly. Why that would be cause for him to surrender his divinity, I do not know."

A worried look crossed Ippino's face, but he took the time to choose his next words carefully. "Not everyone has such great self-control as you. He was probably concerned about further harm. Was there anyone Orvus would have wanted to protect?"

"Orvus has a mortal family. And there was also the harm which had befallen Kalmar, which he said was all his fault."

Ippino appeared surprised. "Did something happen to Kalmar?"

"He was gravely wounded when fighting Abraxas, representative of Orvus, in his effort to stop Abraxas from unleashing further harm on Galbar. Arae was unable to heal his wounds at the scene of the battle. They carried Kalmar away, although..." There was a pause, then the icy statue representing Ashalla lifted her head and called out. "Kalmar. Kalmar, if you are alive, respond."

Ashalla held that position in silence for a long time, waiting. Nothing came. A chill approximating sadness came over the cave.

"No answer." A tremble sat beneath Ashalla's voice. "Kalmar is likely dead. They could not save him."

"Dead? How?"

"Killed in battle while defending Galbar from Desolation. I thought Arae would have found a way to heal him, but it seems she did not."

"If there was a chance to heal him, couldn't you have done so?"

Ashalla glared at Ippino, who shrunk back, but then went back to a neutral expression. "It was likely some property of the wounds, the draining of Kalmar's essence by Abraxas, the will of Desolation imposed on him. If a god wills another god to die, then it simply becomes a matter of whose will is stronger." Ashalla then cast her gaze downwards. "But that is my fear. Li'Kalla was broken by Vakk. Vakk was slain by K'nell, Eurysthenes and Shengshi. Kalmar was killed by Abraxas. Orvus was gravely wounded by Laurien, a mortal."

"A mortal wounded a god?" Ippino interjected.

Ashalla's answer was almost a whisper. "Yes. She used a sword formed by Orvus' own power, but she was mortal nonetheless. That is what makes me afraid. The evidence suggests that us gods are not as immortal as I first thought. I know that I am strong. I would not succumb to such a fate. But... they likely thought the same thing, yet they also fell."

Ippino's apparition reached out and touched Ashalla's face, his hand refracting as it passed into her ice. "We all have to come to terms with death at some point. People try to deny it, they try to find ways around it, they get angry and depressed, but eventually they must accept it."

Ashalla stayed within Ippino's touch for a few moments, then drew back and decreed, "No. I am not bound by your constraints. I am immortal and mighty. They had forms mimicking mortal creatures - their first weakness. But 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 lowered the soul crystal back towards the pedestal. "Your perspective has been of value. Goodbye, Ippino. Until we next speak."

"So long, Delphina, until you next humble me with your magnificence."

Ashalla released the soul crystal and Ippino's apparition disappeared. The lady of ice then melted away and the cave was empty once more.


Squall Whisperers, Minstrels


When Hujaya awoke, it was to deep, reverberating notes which sounded like distant peals of thunder and the crackling of a fire closer by. Warmth irradiated the side of her face, competing with the mucus running from her eyes. She felt a fur blanket draped on top of her with Delfon snuggled into her arms, breathing softly. Behind her, laying against her body, was the familiar feel of Kaleo, who was also sleeping.

Hujaya opened her eyes blearily. The reddish glow of a fire was just outside her peripheral vision. The sky was the blue-grey of dawn, with clouds and smoke obscuring the stars above. She opened her eyes a bit wider and carefully moved her head to look around. She saw selka, some sleeping, some sitting vigil beside the dying. A faint colourful glow came from an alma perched near the camp, although she was pretty sure it was a different alma to the one she had seen previously. A campfire was not far from Hujaya. A hunter sat beside it, tending to the flames, his bow lying nearby. And across from the fire was Sulingu, her eyes closed as she softly strummed chords of thunder.

Very carefully Hujaya wormed her way out from between Delfon and Kaleo. She rubbed her eyes then crawled over to the campfire. "Good morning," she said.

The hunter gave her a brief glance. "Morning."

Sulingu did not open her eyes, but she said with a slight smile, "You're up early."

Hujaya cocked her head and gave a little smile in return. "And you're up late."

Sulingu's chest quivered briefly in a silent tired laugh. Hujaya continued, "I should take over and let you rest."

"Eat and drink first. I can go a little longer," Sulingu answered.

Hujaya climbed to her feet and cast her gaze about the camp. The hunter by the fire lifted up a dried gourd from his hip to Hujaya. "Here."

Hujaya reached out and took the gourd. "Thanks." She lifted the opening to her lips and drank of the water within. When she had slaked her thirst she returned to water gourd to the hunter.

"The food is stored over there," the hunter said, twisting around to point towards the chieftain's tent. "I'm heading out soon to find some more."

"Thank you," Hujaya replied. She walked towards the tent and through the opening. Inside was Lilut kneeling beside his father, who lay there with skin blackened and eyes softly glowing while staring blankly upwards. Wetness running down the sides of the marred selka's face and remnants of mashed food around his lips revealed that someone had tried to feed him. Lilut held his father's hand silently and looked up at Hujaya's entrance with weary eyes.

"Oh, sorry, I was just..." Hujaya started to say, glancing over to the stockpiles on the other side of the tent.

Lilut waved a hand. "No, it's... go ahead." Lilut turned his attention back to his father.

Hujaya hesitated for a few moments then went to sit beside Lilut, sharing in his vigil. Lilut did not move, but he did soften. They sat silently for a few minutes, with the only sounds being the Lightning Lyre, the crackle of the campfire, and the chieftain's breath growing fainter and less frequent. Then Lilut broke the silence. "Thank you." Hujaya looked to the boy, who continued, "Thank you for helping us. You and Sulingu and Kaleo."

Hujaya looked away from Lilut and down to the dying chieftain. "I only wish I could have done more."

A rattling breath came from the selka. "Father!" Lilut exclaimed and leaned down to put his face beside his father's. The selka sank into his bedding, his eyes dimmed and his head rolled limply to the side. Lilut sobbed and a fresh wave of tears flowed from his eyes. Tears welled up in Hujaya's eyes and dropped to the dirt.

There was movement at the entrance to the tent. The alma walked up to the recently deceased selka, dipped its head towards the body and began to glow. Wisps of faint blue light danced through the air above the body and coalesced into one of the sockets on the alma's frame. Lilut reached out to touch the soul crystal of his father, although Hujaya's brow furrowed as she noted the odd colouration of this crystal. A few similar crystals were already embedded into the alma.

Behind the alma came those selka who were awake. Each of the members of the tribe came in, laid a comforting hand on Lilut's shoulder while looking over at the chieftain's body and at the alma who stood impassively beside it, then moved on to allow the next person their turn. Hujaya took her leave at this point, going over to the food stockpile. She noted how little food was left and gave a worried glance over to the people of Lilut's tribe - for they were indeed his tribe now. Hujaya took a fistful of nuts and a few strands of dried kelp and walked out of the tent.

Sulingu was standing there, softly strumming the lyre and peering in through the crowd. Exchanged looks of sorrow were enough to tell her what had occurred. Together they walked back to the campfire and sat down. Hujaya ate her meagre meal while Sulingu continued to play the song which kept the Mar motes at bay. They watched the hunter leave the chieftain's tent, grab his bow and arrows and solemnly set out from the camp. Soon Hujaya had finished her meal. Sulingu and Hujaya performed the change-over of the Lightning Lyre, and Sulingu went to find somewhere to sleep while Hujaya played the lyre into the new day.



The day wore on with the constant background of the Lightning Lyre's inescapable music. More of the marred passed away during the day. The alma from the morning departed with a full collection of soul crystals and another one of the prismatic birds took its place. Many of the mourning selka spent the day performing the funeral rites on the bodies. Pits were dug in the sand of the beach, the bodies lowered into them, and the graves filled back in with a few stones laid on top to mark them. The Stormbards provided music for the burials and Hujaya gave some words of comfort.

As evening came, a new issue presented itself to the tribe. The hunter, whose name was Karaji, had not returned and food stocks were dwindling. A few selka went out fishing and returned with a small catch, but not nearly enough to feed the whole tribe. Many selka went to sleep hungry.

The following morning Karaji returned. He brought with him the bodies of a few marred animals, no better than carrion, but also another tribe of selka. Chieftain Lilut and the other selka went to meet them. That tribe was in a similar situation to Lilut's tribe - their territory had been overrun by the Mar plague and many of their number had been afflicted. Yet when they heard the music and saw the circling storm, they decided to seek the source since it promised safety from the plague. They were quite happy to discover the Stormbards here.

Karaji and the new tribe gave some good news. Bushfires lit by the fire birds had burned away the marred forests and pushed the plague far away. After much deliberation and careful consideration, Hujaya, Sulingu and Kaleo decided to stop playing the Lightning Lyre since the Mar plague was no longer a threat. But the new arrivals brought with them a new problem.

"I wanna food!"

Hujaya sighed wearily. "We don't have any food for you."

Delfon stamped his foot. "Wanna food! Wanna food!"

As Delfon threw his tantrum, Hujaya looked out across the camp. All the regular food had been eaten. There was the meat from the creatures which had succumbed to the Mar motes, yet it was also blackened with blotches of white and grey such that no one believed it to be safe to eat. But if they could not find more food soon they would be forced to either find out or starve. The selka were able to catch some fresh fish from the sea, but the sea was almost as diminished as the land.

After Hujaya had managed to calm Delfon, she went to talk to Kaleo and Sulingu. "We have to help these people."

Kaleo stroked his whiskers thoughtfully, then suggested, "We could catch them some food. But the tricky part is that the plague has killed all the food nearby."

"Then we move the tribe. They-" Hujaya hesitated for a moment, then pushed on. "They don't have any reason to stay any more."

"We could go up-beach, the way we came," Sulingu suggested, "The fire-birds burnt down the diseased forest, and it shouldn't be that far to where we were before finding the plague."

Hujaya considered it for a few moments. "Delphina-willing, we should be able to find some food there. She would not leave us to starve. Let us tell the chief."

The Stormbards went to Lilut with their plan, who called in Karaji the hunter to hear the plan too. They all agreed that this was the best course of action. The call was made for everyone to pack up camp and the tribe was ready to move a little while later. The selka walked and swam up-beach, carrying their tents, bedding and few belongings with them. They walked past a dead forest, marred and burned. Eventually, the trees were just burned, with no evidence of the plague. Then, finally, they found greenery. Yet their stomachs were still grumbling and their legs were growing weary; they still had to find enough food to feed everyone.

The Stormbards, Karaji and a couple other hunters split off from the rest of the tribe to go hunting. Hujaya strummed a single chord on the Lightning Lyre and a few squalls arrived seconds after the reverberating note. To keep the squalls nearby, Sulingu played her flute, Kaleo tapped on a drum, and Hujaya played on Sulingu's lyre.

Karaji gave the Stormbards a skeptical look. "How is that noise going to help us catch any food?"

"I am yet to find a beast who can outrun the wind itself," Hujaya answered.

Karaji looked to the swirling wisps of cloud and wind, then back to Hujaya. "I hope you're right," he said, before turning his attention back to the terrain around him.

They walked for another hour or two through the forests until they found a trail. Trampled grasses and snapped branches revealed that a herd of large mammals had moved through here recently, likely fleeing the fires. Karaji knelt down by the tracks and inspected them carefully. "Boars. Quite a few of them. They probably aren't too far. It could be dangerous, though, since boars are quite aggressive."

"We have Delphina's strength on our side. We can handle a few boars," Hujaya answered. Karaji did not answer but followed the trail, with the others following behind him.

After about another hour, they heard the grunts of boars up ahead. The hunters went ahead of the Stormbards to investigate, then returned with their report. "There's at least four of them, probably more."

Hujaya nodded as she continued to play the lyre. "We'll circle around to surround them, then set the squalls on them. You can then finish them off once they've been brought down."

Karaji's eyes widened. "All of them? That's-" He shook his head. "Fine. You've known what you've been doing this far."

Kaleo set out to the left while Sulingu circled out right, each taking a squall with them. Hujaya stayed put and waited for a shrill flute note from Sulingu a few minutes later, signalling their advance. Their music picked up from a gentle ditty to a more energetic tune. The treetops rustled as the squalls were stirred into action. Hujaya walked forwards until she could see the boars, as well as Kaleo and Sulingu on the far side of the herd. The boars noticed the three selka approach and the weather close in and were beginning to move when Kaleo struck his drum hard and the song began.

Kaleo and Hujaya sang out, their voices meeting in harmony and driving the squalls forwards with a terrifying surge of wind. The gale threw the boars off balance, then when the squalls reached Sulingu she danced in a circle, sweeping the squalls around her and sending them back as one towards the boars. The mighty wind picked up one of the boars and hurled it high over Hujaya's head into the forest behind them with a crash. The squalls split around Hujaya and circled the singer once before being sent rushing at another boar who was thrown into a tree with a squeal. One of the panicking boars charged towards Kaleo, yet a drum roll and baritone note intercepted the boar head-on with the squalls, sending the boar tumbling head over tail.

The squalls continued to bounce between the three Stormbards, their forceful winds hurling the boars about like leaves until none were left standing. The hunters killed the battered boars by knife and spear, then as the Stormbards were calming down the squalls to send them away Karaji said, "That was terrifying, but you've impressed me."

Hujaya motioned for Karaji to wait. Only after the squalls had been safely sent away did Hujaya answer. "I told you we had Delphina's strength."

"I don't doubt that. It's not the sort of hunting Arryn taught us, but by Kirron it's effective."

Each selka picked up one of the boars and they walked back to where they had left the tribes. It was approaching evening by the time they returned. The selka cheered when they saw the hunters and Stormbards return with a bountiful haul of boar. Karaji set down his boar, got the tribe to gather up some firewood, then sat down with his bow, a straight stick and a concave rock to light a fire. Hujaya and Kaleo set down their boars and reunited with Delfon, who had been left in the care of Lilut's tribe. Delfon was happy to see his parents, but more happy about seeing that they had brought food and it was all Hujaya and Kaleo could do to make Delfon wait for the food to be cooked first before eating it.

Soon a fire was lit, which was spread into multiple fires. The boars were butchered and their meat roasted over the open flames. Lilut approached the Stormbards and said, "Thank you. This should be enough food to feed us all for many days, more than enough to establish ourselves here. You have our gratitude."

Hujaya smiled sadly and bowed her head. "Thank you. It was the least we could do, and only by the power of Delphina."

Kaleo heard Hujaya's tone and put a hand on Hujaya's arm. "We can't do everything," he said softly.

Lilut said, "I know you wanted to do more, but you have done all that you could, and that is more than we could have hoped for on our own."

Lilut walked over to one of the cooking fires and collected a piece of roast pork. He hoisted the meat above his head and announced to the tribes people, "I would like to dedicate this feast to Delphina and her servants, Hujaya, Kaleo and Sulingu. We have all lost much in the last few days, but if it were not for their devotion and compassion we could have lost so much more."

Lilut then proffered the meat towards Hujaya. Hujaya hesitated for a moment, then stepped forwards when nudged by Kaleo and accepted the offering. "Thank you again," Lilut said. Then he turned to the rest of the tribe and announced, "Eat!"

The selka feasted into the night, with music in the air and gratitude on their lips. Though grief still weighed heavily on their hearts, their spirits were buoyed by the fresh hope they had been given this day.


Squall Whisperers, Minstrels


"Listen to history's tale,
About Hoshaf the accursed.
Selka mourn and cry and wail,
For this chieftain was the worst."

The light of the bonfire cast deep shadows across Pyouroff's face, with theatrically wide eyes staring across the audience of Hyummin people. Behind him were several younger selka. Two beat a foreboding rhythm on large drums, one rattled a gourd filled with stones, and another twanged a haunting tune from the string of a bow held in his mouth.

"His fall began with desire.
The girl he loved loved his friend.
Since this friend drew Hoshaf's ire,
Hoshaf struck and brought his end!"

A few gasps escaped from some of the pups as Pyouroff leaned forwards and shook his fist.

"Hoshaf Thumfaten did find,
In this scene of death and grief.
Twisted was Thumfaten's mind,
He planned to make Hoshaf chief."

A more aggressive drumbeat grew beneath the sinister melody.

"Violence cemented their claim,
Their allies fought their own clan.
Spreading lies in Kirron's name,
Here the Dawn of Blood began."

"Hoshaf was a chief so cruel,
His own people he enslaved,
No one dared defy his rule,
Hoshaf took all that he craved."

The beating of sticks joined the song, like the sound of spears beating against shields.

"One day Kirron's own bloodkin,
Found Hoshaf on the coastline.
He encouraged Hoshaf's sin,
And gifted weapons divine."

Pyouroff took a step forwards and leaned towards the crowd, the shadows across his face deepening. The selka at the front of the audience took an involuntary step back.

"This power Hoshaf did flout.
All tribes would obey his will.
When Thumfaten voiced his doubt,
Thumfaten Hoshaf did kill."

"Hoshaf wanted his friend's wife,
To seize her and kill her young.
As she fled she lost her life,
But Yupilgo saved her son."

There were murmurs of recognition from the crowd, particularly those belonging to the Grottu. Pyouroff continued his performance.

"Hoshaf, bloodthirsty, enraged,
Formed up a villainous horde.
A war on selka was waged.
Many died to this dread lord."

"Hoshaf marched to the Hyummin,
Nothing would stop Hoshaf's want.
With weapons of the bloodkin,
Hoshaf's power he did flaunt."

There were a few frightened gasps from the crowd, but more whispered in excited anticipation.

"Yet this fight was his demise.
He thought he could never fail.
Then came Ippino the Wise,
Whose fire made the horde turn tail."

There was a victorious cheer from some of the audience. Pyouroff paused briefly to relish the moment. The music then softened to the denouement as Pallamino recited the final verse.

"The violent will never know,
When the roles will be reversed.
Hear the message of this show:
Don't be Hoshaf the accursed."

There was applause at the end. There was always an applause. Yet the haunting tale lingered with them, the music, poetry and theatre causing the song to stick much more stubbornly than words alone. While for many it was a chilling story from their history and no more, some were caught more strongly by the message behind Pyouroff's song.

Two such people were having a hushed conversation to the side as the rest of the audience dispersed to their shelters and beds.

"He is undermining the tribe. Something must be done," hissed one, an imposing man dressed in sharkskin and wearing a necklace of teeth which once belonged to some terrifying beast.

"Kirrethi, it's just a song," said the other, a smaller man by comparison but still with an athletic build. He also wore sharkskin, although not as much as the first, and had a necklace with a few shark's teeth on it.

"Don't you give me that, Rennelo. It is quite clear what he's trying to do. How many new songs has he sung about how dreadful it is to fight and put your own tribe first?" the one named Kirrethi scoffed.

The second selka name Rennelo sighed. "You're right; Pyouroff is being very deliberate in the lesson he is trying to teach. But he's only one man, one voice."

"You've seen the crowds, how he commands their attention. You know as well as I do that you only need one charismatic voice to sway the whole tribe," Kirrethi said. "The youths aren't as keen on training as warriors. And his words have weight with the other family leaders."

"And what would you want more warriors for, Kirrethi? To take what you want? To claim what you desire?"

Pyouroff, whose hearing was exceptionally sharp despite his age, had sidled up to the two selka unnoticed. Their heads snapped around in surprise at Pyouroff's interruption. A snarl formed on Kirrethi's face but quickly twisted into a forced smile. "To protect the Hyummin's interests, of course," Kirrethi answered curtly, then added, "From people like Hoshaf."

A sly smile was on Pyouroff's face. "Well, I hope that the Hyummin's interests don't involve what belongs to other tribes. The K'nights don't take kindly to such intrusions."

Kirrethi huffed, "Of course not." Pyouroff's stare did not believe him.

Kirrethi looked out across the Hyummin tribe with is many selka settled across the flat beach. "We are growing, Pyouroff. The bounties of Delphina and Kirron have fed us well so far, but there is coming a time when it will not be enough. Surely you can see that."

Pyouroff's smile soured somewhat, then softened again. "I've told you of the Ubbo tribe, have I not? When they were short on fish, Arryn messenger of Kalmar, another of Kirron's bloodkin, came to them and showed them how to hunt food on land. Perhaps you need a bit more faith."

Kirrethi's eyes narrowed, but before he could answer Rennelo spoke first. "We thank you for your advice, Pyouroff, although us Korsachi are quite capable of managing our own affairs."

"Without your meddling," Kirrethi added.

Pyouroff waved a hand. "Of course, of course. Don't let the words of a wise, well-travelled old man bother you," Pyouroff said as he turned to leave. "Goodnight, Kirrethi, Rennelo."

As they went their separate ways, Pyouroff passed by one of the musicians as he was unstringing his musical bow. "Do you really want to be aggravating the head of Korsachi?" the young man asked.

"Someone's got to. May as well be me," Pyouroff said with a wink. Yet despite his confident exterior, there was visible weariness in his frame. "Well, I'll be heading to bed. Goodnight, Yup."

"Goodnight, Pyouroff."



The Lustrous Garden had made most of its journey through the sky when a voice stirred Pyouroff from his sleep.

Pyouroff.

Pyouroff moved slowly, stretching old, aching limbs. When he opened his eyes, though, he did not see the beach where he had laid down to sleep, neither did he see the stars or the blue sky. Instead he was completely surrounded by thick fog and darkness. He sat up quizzically. Despite the confusing situation, he still had his wits. Beneath him was the bed he had fallen asleep on, surrounding by sand, so that at least was familiar.

"Who's there?" he asked.

Delphina.

Pyouroff's eyes widened. He hadn't heard Delphina's voice for decades, not since she had appeared to the Hyummin and taught them of music. He looked around, trying to see his goddess, but could not see more than an arm's reach away from himself.

Come.

A path opened in the fog. Pyouroff crawled to his feet and slowly walked down the path. Although the fog was still opaque, Pyouroff made an effort to orient himself. If he was oriented correctly, this direction led to the ocean. His elderly pace quickened in anticipation.

The path indeed opened to the sea. Yet rather than seeing the light of the moon and stars dance beautifully in the ocean, a dark cloud covered the sky and more fog surrounded the empty scene like the curtains of a tent. The sea itself was uncannily calm.

I have come with a warning of an approaching danger.

Across the water from Pyouroff, a figure emerged from the fog. It stood on two legs and had four arms with a long tail. Its horned head looked from side to side, like a predator sniffing out prey, then its head snapped towards Pyouroff, light glinting off four eyes. A shriek chilled Pyouroff's spine and the creature ran towards Pyouroff, leaning its torso forwards and with its long tail flicking out behind it.

Fear rooted Pyouroff to the spot as more similar figures burst from the distant fog. Some were smaller, some were larger. Their shapes and faces varied, some Pyouroff might have described as bear-like, or fox-like, or wolf-like, or even selka-like. Some ran on their two legs, while some made a loping gait on four or six limbs. All, however, were terrifying with claws, horns, teeth and menacing eyes.

In his terror Pyouroff did not notice more figures appear in the near-darkness between him and the monsters. They were selka. The selka saw the monsters and turned to flee, but were not fast enough. The monsters lashed out with their viscous claws, liquid spraying out from the selka where they were slashed. Some selka fell, collapsing into the ocean below them, while some were dragged off by the monsters into the fog.

As the slaughter continued, a new being entered the scene. This one was four times the height of a selka and appeared to be made of crudely hewn chunks of stone or ice. Spikes covered its body. The large being lumbered over to the selka on its lanky legs and swatted out with a long arm, an unlucky selka reduced to a spray and a splash. It continued to lumber forwards in its unstoppable advance, swinging arms scattering all in its path.

Pyouroff then saw one of the monsters break off from the massacre and run towards him. Pyouroff tried to back away, but tripped and fell backwards onto the sand. He tried to scramble backwards as the beast came closer. He could see clearly every detail of its form as it hurried closer, its rippling muscles, its glistening teeth, its twisted horns, its elongated claws. The thing pounced. Pyouroff screamed and covered his face, waiting for claws to rip into him.

It never came.

He opened his eyes and found the scene as empty and featureless as when he had first arrived. Pyouroff was trembling and breathing heavily as he sat in the sand.

Remember this scene. These monsters will reach the Hyummin in four days.

Pyouroff gaped, then stammered, "De-Delphina, please, spare us from these terrible beasts!"

I have already acted against these creatures. If I had not, you would be overwhelmed. Yet I do not allow you to face trials you cannot overcome. Now stand.

Pyouroff climbed to his feet, still trembling.

What was your oath, Pyouroff?

Pyouroff knew the oath well. He had made all his apprentices take it as he had done. "To always worship you, who gives me my strength. To use my power and skills to show your strength, and create beauty wherever I go. And to teach others as I was taught."

If your strength comes from me, why do you fear?

Pyouroff opened his mouth, closed it again and hung his head. "I am sorry, Delphina."

They will arrive in four days. Show all my strength through you.

The fog lifted and the clouds parted, and Pyouroff was looking out upon the open ocean under the night sky. A shiver ran across his body. Then he heard footsteps behind him.

"Pyouroff. I heard you scream. I thought- well-"

Pyouroff turned to see Yup running towards him. Yup was clearly relieved to see Pyouroff unharmed. Yet when Yup saw the terror in Pyouroff's face, evident even in the darkness of night, Yup slowed to a stop and anxiety entered his own voice. "What happened?"

Pyouroff took a deep breath to steady himself. "Delphina visited me and gave me a most terrible vision. Gather the others. I must speak to them."


Squall Whisperers, Minstrels


Much had changed in the past decade.

Pallamino the Third had stayed with Hujaya, Kaleo, Sulingu and Pyouroff for a couple years, learning the ways of the Stormbards, before deciding to set out independently. He parted with the blessings and goodwill of the other Stormbards.

Shortly afterwards, Pyouroff chose to settle back in his home village among the Hyummin, his age catching up to him. There he found a few more selka to apprentice as new Stormbards. Pyouroff had also become a source of oral lore among the Hyummin, his age and experience qualifying him as an elder.

The romance between Hujaya and Kaleo blossomed into love and eventually children. They had a boy, a selka toddler named Delfon who travelled with them in their nomadic lifestyle. Kaleo had learned how to play percussion to fill the absence left by Pyouroff.

Sulingu was still travelling with Hujaya and Kaleo, and she was now a fully grown woman and effectively family. Sulingu was still as graceful as ever, and she had also learned the lyre from Hujaya.

Hujaya, Kaleo, Sulingu and Delfon had spent the last few years travelling the coast between Hyummin and Ubbo. The increased aggression and expansionism of the Hyummin had not gone unnoticed by the Stormbards. What the Stormbards could do about it was limited. As Hyummin natives, they did not want to fight against their own people. Yet neither did they want to fight for the Hyummin against the people of other villages, for the Stormbards had travelled broadly and made friends broadly. The Stormbards did not wield much political power, so did not have the ability to directly lobby the Hyummin. But what they did have was cultural influence and stories. They shared songs of the downfall of the Grottu, reminding the Hyummin of the dangers of warfare.

In spite of this, the travelling Stormbards lived fairly peaceful lives, sharing with selka the beauty of music and the stories of Delphina. It was not until now that they had a chance to truly show Delphina's strength.



"I wanna food!"

Hujaya sighed and looked up at Heliopolis. "You've already eaten recently. It's hardly past midday."

"Wanna food!" pouted Delfon.

Hujaya looked pleadingly at Kaleo. Kaleo knelt down, grabbed Delfon, picked him up and gave the toddler a stern look. "Delfon, what does Kirron teach us?" On getting nothing but a mutter, Kaleo continued slowly, "We have to earn our fun. What have you done to earn your food?"

Delfon muttered, "Hungry. Feet hurt."

"You need to get stronger, Delfon. We walk a lot. Look, how about if you don't complain again between now and afternoon, you can have the rabbit's leg. Deal?"

Delfon considered this for a few moments, his eyes going to the butchered smoked rabbit's carcass tied to his father's side. "Okay."

Kaleo put Delfon down on the ground. "Good boy."

Sulingu watched the scene with a smile, then continued with her lilting gait. Hujaya and Kaleo sang a little travelling song behind her to keep Delfon occupied as they walked. Sulingu was a short distance ahead of the others when she crested a small hill and stopped in her tracks. Her hand went to her flute. "H-Hujaya. Y-you need to see this," she stammered.

Hujaya and Kaleo stopped their song and ran up to the hill beside Sulingu.

"By Kirron's whiskers," exclaimed Kaleo.

"What happened?" Hujaya asked, her mouth gaping and eyes wide.

Before them the trunks and branches of the trees had turned black and their leaves turned white. The grass and undergrowth had withered and turned grey. On the ground lay dead birds, similarly blackened. A few birds still stood on the branches, their feathers grey and eyes dimly glowing. White motes drifted about like some kind of sickly ash. Before their eyes one of the motes settled on a healthy tree and sunk into its bark, a grey blemish spreading from where it entered. The forest was completely silent, with no sounds of life.

Delfon reached the trio, and Kaleo held him close protectively. They stared silently at the scene, unsure what to make of it. Eventually Sulingu said, "I don't like it."

Hujaya's eyes went towards the coast. "There's a village not far down-beach from here." Sulingu and Kaleo knew well the intent behind Hujaya's words. "Let's find a squall and move."

The Stormbards pulled out their instruments - Kaleo his drum, Sulingu her bone flute, Hujaya her lyre - and played the Song of Calling as they walked hastily around the blighted forest. Delfon was quiet, knowing not to interrupt his parents while they sung to squalls and also subdued by the grim atmosphere. Hujaya offered a silent prayer to Delphina, and soon they had a squall. They made the squall dance around them, keeping the miasma at bay.

With trepidation they walked towards and along the beach. They knew a tribe lived around here somewhere, and every step they went without seeing another selka made them more anxious. Then they heard a sound which made their hearts sink: wails of grief. "No," breathed Hujaya, and she quickened her pace, the others rushing behind her.

A sorrowful sight met Hujaya's eyes as she rounded the top of the sand bank. In the camp of the selka lay the sick and dying, black and white blotches covering their fur like a pox. Those who were still healthy knelt beside their loved ones, trying to administer the simple remedies they normally used to no avail. Some of the ill thrashed about where they lay, while some simply stared soullessly into the sky above with glowing white eyes.

Hujaya saw their plight, and in an outpouring of grief she sung,

"Selka sorrowful, selka crying,
I came here and saw your plight.
Although I cannot save your dying,
Delphina's winds can stop the blight."

Sulingu and Kaleo crested the sand bank behind Hujaya, with Delfon struggling along behind them. Sulingu gasped, her flute playing stopping. Kaleo kept beating his drum. Sulingu, remembering herself, stepped forwards and gracefully swept a semicircle in front of herself, directing the squall to blow over and around the camp.

The selka looked up as the Stormbards approached and the wind blew about them. A boy in his mid teens stood and to meet Hujaya. His face was streaked with more wetness than the usual residual sadness from living on land. "Hello, Hujaya. I'm... not sure whether it is good or bad you have come now."

Hujaya recognised the boy, for she had met this tribe only a couple winters ago. This was the chief's son. "Well, we're here now, Lilut. Where's your father?"

The boy looked over his shoulder to one of the marred lying on the ground, and he sobbed as fresh tears welled up in his eyes. "Oh, I'm so sorry," Hujaya said. She pulled Lilut into a hug to comfort him as he cried for his father.

"Hujaya," came a gentle reminder from Kaleo, who along with Sulingu was still trying to find a pattern for the squall to settle into. Delfon hugging onto Kaleo's leg did not help matters.

Hujaya sighed. "Coming." She stepped back from Lilut and gave a tuneful hum as she inspected the scene. She then strummed a chord on her lyre which made a melancholy sound when combined with her humming. The squall shifted its orbit to match the new resonance. With Hujaya and Sulingu controlling the squall, Kaleo was able to take a break to comfort the frightened Delfon.

As the Stormbards ensured the squall kept the perimeter of the camp clear of sickly motes, the people of Lilut's tribe recounted how about two days ago they had seen the first of the motes blow in from across the sea. Several of their number had fallen deathly ill, and the plants had also started to wither. Nothing they had could treat the illness, not even eye-fish scales. They had moved from where they had been before, but the blight had spread, and now there were more sick selka than healthy selka. They had been faced with the choice of abandoning their dying to flee for their own safety, or staying put and risking further infection. Now that the Stormbards had arrived, they could wait around and deliver the last rites. An alma had arrived and sat nearby, watching the dying selka from a respectful distance.

Hujaya, meanwhile, was sitting down and playing a sombre melody on her lyre. The combined strain of watching the squall and hearing the tragedy which had befallen Lilut's tribe showed on her face. "Why? Why must it be like this? If only we had gotten here sooner. Then we could have stopped it." Hujaya buried her face in her hands. Sulingu snapped up in alarm, scrambled for her own lyre and picked up the melody where Hujaya had abruptly stopped. The squall wavered only briefly in its flight.

Hujaya looked up only to gesture around at the perimeter set out by the squall. "We can only protect those this close, and we can't even heal them. And how many other tribes are there who are also suffering this blight?" Hujaya lamented. "Why, Delphina? What have they done to deserve this? How can we show your strength when all we have is a puff of wind?"

There was a distant screech of a pyrgerakia. Yet it was something else that made Hujaya raise her head.

Give me your lyre.

Hujaya blinked, a look of confusion on her face. "What?"

Give me your lyre.

Hujaya trembled as she looked down at her lyre. She had made it herself years ago. It was what she had been playing when Delphina visited her. She had replaced the strings a few times, and it was of rather simple design, but it was her most treasured possession. There were a few moments of hesitation and reservation. Then she stood up and walked towards the ocean.

"Hujaya, what are you doing?" called Kaleo, but Hujaya did not answer. She waded until the water was up to her knees, then she slipped the lyre's strap over her head and lay the lyre on the water. A wave receded past her, dragging the lyre out to sea. She watched as it became more distant, standing there as the waves lapped around her legs, questions and doubt buzzing inside her mind.

Suddenly, the sky was split in half by a bolt of lightning which seared purple blotches into Hujaya's vision. The deafening thunder made her stagger as it rumbled through her bones. By the time Hujaya's vision had cleared, Kaleo had rushed to her side and held her arm. "Hujaya, are you alright?"

Hujaya looked at where her lyre had been, where the lightning had struck. "My lyre..." She could see her lyre being carried by the waves back to shore, but it had a faint blue glow. As it got closer, they saw that it crackled with sparks and hummed with electricity.

Cautiously, Hujaya reached towards the lyre. There was a faint crackle and a prickling sensation in her fingers when Hujaya touched it and she drew back her hand reflexively. On realising that she was unharmed, she reached out again and picked it up. The strings glowed electric blue and thrummed with power. Hujaya looked to Kaleo beside her, and back to Sulingu and the other selka in the camp behind her, who were watching on with fascination. Hujaya slipped the strap of her lyre back over her head, then cautiously brought a finger to a string and strummed it.

Thrumm-umm-umm-umm-mm-m-m...

The sound carried from Hujaya, past the camp and over the horizon like thunder rolling across the sky. The squall orbiting around the camp broke from its path to circle around Hujaya, until Sulingu's music called it back. All the selka looked on in awe.

Kaleo's whiskers twitched. "I think you called more squalls."

Hujaya looked up at the sky. There indeed appeared to be a few squalls flying in the distance. She strummed a few more strings on her lyre.

THR-THR-THRUMM-UMM-umm-umm-umm-umm-umm-mm-m-m...

The squall circling the camp sprayed raindrops across all the selka gathered. A few seconds later, the distant squalls reacted, surging ahead with a burst of speed. A huge grin stretched across Hujaya's face. She looked back at the camp, then along the beach. She started to wade back to shore. "Clap me in, Kaleo."

Kaleo looked at Hujaya for a few moments more in awed silence. Then he clapped once, a second time, then four claps in a row, Hujaya skipping in time with Kaleo's clapping. Then she played her new lyre and sung.

"Praise to Delphina, her power she gave,
Now I can show you the tricks which can save.
With this lyre I have Delphina's great might,
So look and see a most marvellous sight."

The Lightning Lyre's melody filled the air with electricity and otherworldly tones. Its sound carried for an enormous distance, but despite its apparent volume Hujaya's voice could still be heard clearly.

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

Two more squalls appeared, and Hujaya sent them into an outwards spiral centred on the camp. Their orbits grew wider and wider, expanding much further than anything the Stormbards had done in the past.

"With my playing I can command the sky,
That blue place where the birds, clouds and squalls fly.
No distance is beyond Delphina's reach,
My song is heard on the sea, land and beach."

Even more squalls arrived and joined the others, making counting them difficult. Hujaya sent the squalls spiralling in an elliptical path which stretched up- and down-beach over the horizon, covered a good stretch of ocean, and pushed inland slightly while keeping the blighted trees outside the perimeter. Overhead storm clouds formed from the squalls' presence, spiralling around with Hujaya in the eye of the storm.

"With my playing I'll keep the blight away,
No more selka here need to die this day.
As far as can been seen my song is heard.
Praise to Delphina, my prayer she answered."

There was a cry of a pyrgerakia as a flare of fire swooped down and set the trees just outside the blighted forest ablaze. The legion of squalls which had been summoned by Hujaya pushed against the flames, fanning them into the marred trees. Slowly the marred trees burned down, and Hujaya pushed the perimeter set up by the squalls further inland.

Minutes ticked by to hours and the day gave way to night, but still Hujaya played with notes of thunder. Kaleo had hand-fed Hujaya and gotten her water, but the extended performance exhausted her. Hujaya's fingers ached. Her movements grew weary. Her eyes drooped.

"You have to rest, Hujaya," Kaleo said, concern in his voice.

"I can't stop. They're counting on me. Them, and everyone else I can reach," Hujaya replied.

"And what will happen to them when you pass out while controlling a hurricane?"

"If I stop now, the blight will come back."

"I could play," Sulingu offered.

Hujaya thought for a few moments, then said, "Okay."

Kaleo helped Hujaya slip the strap of her lyre off while she continued to play. Sulingu stood close beside Hujaya. "You ready?" Hujaya asked. Sulingu nodded. After Hujaya had struck a chord at the end of a phrase, she passed the instrument to Sulingu, who took only a moment to start playing the next phrase. The notes fell uncertainly for a few seconds as Sulingu reacted to the initial jolts of electricity and adapted to the new sound, but she settled into Hujaya's previous melody quickly enough.

Hujaya flopped down to the ground in exhaustion. She barely had time for a single breath before Delfon clambered on top of her. "That was wow, mum! And loud! And windy!"

Though she was tired, Hujaya giggled and gave Delfon a kiss on the forehead. "It was," she concurred. She hugged her child to her chest. "Now, it's past time for you to sleep. Let's get some rest." Hujaya yawned and closed her eyes, drifting off to the melody of the storm.



Thunderbird


The desperate pleas of mortals rose to the ears of their gods. Fire raining from the sky. Dreadful plagues. Terrifying monsters of dull grey flesh and wrathful stone. And Ashalla deigned to answer their prayers.

Thunderbird, go.

The Thunderbird's head lifted from the floor of her nest with a crackle of static electricity and she scanned the horizon. A storm was blowing in from the north. In the nest around her sat eggs of mottled ruby and sapphire, young pyrgerakia who were chirping thunderously at the coming storm, and the burnt and broken bones of megafauna. Snuggled up beside the Thunderbird was the Phoenix, his warmth radiating across the whole nest. He lifted his beak and looked to the Thunderbird with a questioning chirp.

The Thunderbird looked back at the Phoenix, then looked at the storm. "Coo caw," she answered, a breeze rustling through the nest.

The Phoenix gave a forlorn crow. "I understand what it is like to be called by your god to duty. It is a heavy burden to bear."

"Cooo." The Thunderbird snuggled closer to the Phoenix and nuzzled his beak, her eyes showing the same sadness as the Phoenix.

The Phoenix nuzzled the Thunderbird in return, then stood up. The wind of the coming storm had reached them. "You must go, my beloved. I shall protect the nest and the young."

The Thunderbird stretched out her wings, sparks jumping between her midnight blue feathers, and she walked to the rim of the nest. The Thunderbird turned her head back to the Phoenix with a "Coo-oo."

"I will be here waiting for you when you return."

The Thunderbird looked back out towards the southern horizon. The storm clouds rolled overhead, rain pouring down on the nest, and the wind rustled her feathers. She then hopped off the edge of the nest and with a mighty thunderclap the Thunderbird was airborne, the wind carrying her through the sky.



Pyrgerakia, burn the blight.

Forests covered much of Atokhekwoi, and normally these places were havens of life. Yet now patches of desolate grey broke out across the continent like a pox. A Mar mote would infect one tree, then more Mar motes would bud from the corrupted tree as it was warped into the image of the Rooted Decay. Even with the original Mar Tree now dormant, these blighted forests continued to spread.

There was an ear-splitting cry, as loud as thunder, and two flares of light took to the sky and flew towards a blighted forest, while all other creatures fled. They flew through the blue sky above and were met by a couple squalls, who wrapped around the wings of the pyrgerakia and flew with them. The pyrgerakia circled a few times above the withering forest below, then with a screech they dove towards the edge of the forest. As they dove the squalls spiralled around the avians, keeping the Mar motes at bay.

The male pyrgeraki dove in first, becoming like one of the flaming meteors which fell across the sky, streaking through the trees outside the marred region and set them ablaze. The female was close behind. She flew outside the line of fire, and flapped her wings to blow the fire towards the marred forest.

The bushfire flared against the power of decay. And though the Mar motes were a supernatural plague, the trees they infested were still wood so could burn. And burn they did, smoke rising into the sky as flames consumed the forest.

Similar scenes played out across Atokhekwoi, where pyrgerakia driven by the divine command turned their flames against the power of Desolation. As the fires burned in opposition to the plague, a pall of smoke covered the greatest continent. The sun turned red as it rose and set through the smog, perhaps only fuelling the fears held by the mortals of the continent, but in doing this many Mar outbreaks were contained.

Fall of the Jotundar
Rise of the Iron Giants


Long ago...

A storm gathered on the eastern horizon, its clouds almost as dark as the smoke above the Nanhe jungles. Across scorched earth, smouldering charcoal and fresh basalt marched the jotundar, led by the mighty Vulkandr. Buoyed by their victory over Chuanwang and the words of their god, they did not fear the clouds. They did not fear the thunder. But then the first drops of rain fell.

To the boiling constitution of the jotundar, water was a dangerous thing. A light spattering they could manage, but when the heavens opened up with a deluge like nothing ever seen on Galbar, they feared nature's wrath. Squalls dove from above and shoved jotundar around with powerful gales, precipitating on them all the while. Vulkandr bellowed and projected out an aura of searing heat, which boiled away the rain, staved off the squalls and invigorated the jotundar. Although the land around them flooded and the flames in the jungle were suppressed, here the fire giants stood, clustered together and willing to wait out the storm.

Yet they did not have such a luxury. From the east came another thundering, this one rumbling along the ground like a stampede. The heavy rain limited visibility, so the fire giants were left to wait anxiously, fearing what this new sound was while Vulkandr stood tall and firm. Then they saw it, a mighty beast of steel, low to the ground and charging on six legs, its head lined with sharp teeth and two sweeping horns pointed straight towards them. Vulkandr stomped a foot to the ground, cracks surging towards the charging Leviathan then erupting with lava. Yet the molten rock did nothing to slow or harm the beast.

Vulkandr let out a mighty bellow and charged headlong towards the Leviathan. Bolstered by their leader's courage, the jotundar charged too. The Leviathan growled but did not slow. Moments before the two colossi clashed, the Leviathan exhaled a large cloud of scalding steam which engulfed all the giants and obscured their vision. There was a sickening crunch, a roar of pain from Vulkandr, then pandemonium broke loose.

Many jotundar were killed in the ensuing chaos, mostly by the claw or horn or mouth of the Leviathan, but some were crushed by Vulkandr as the giant was pushed about by the Leviathan. Vulkandr's fire was useless against the Leviathan, who was undeterred by any magma which Vulkandr could produce. Any jotundar who attempted to approach the Leviathan were swiftly cut down by a flailing leg or tail. And as the colossi battled horn to fist, the squalls closed in.

The fire giants had no weapons with which they could fight this battle. Some jotundar prayed desperately to Sartravius for aid, but they received no answer. The jotundar watched helplessly as Vulkandr was bitten and gored by the Leviathan, molten ichor spraying from the titanic battle. Utterly outmatched, morale crumbled and the jotundar fled in all directions. Some sought shelter under the canopy of the jungle, hoping to hide from the merciless rain. Some ran to the east, trying to get as far from the battlefront as possible. Many succumbed to the elements. They fled with the incandescent light and violent tremors of the battle behind them. Those which made it beyond the storm heard the roars of Vulkandr peter out, and a long, victorious guttural growl.



The light of Heliopolis shone down from the blue sky onto the jungle below. Flocks of luminescent birds painted the blackened ground ruby, amber, emerald and onyx. Saplings were already breaking through the ashen dirt, and fresh shoots were branching out of the trunks of blackened trees. The flooding rains which had soaked the land the previous day had uprooted a large number of trees, broken limbs and trunks strewn across the ground.

A new river, bulging with floodwater, had formed along the border of the jotundar's flames. And this river flowed through a new lake, round like a crater and ringed with coarse obsidian. Within the lake, currently submerged under the floodwater, were the remains of Vulkandr, hot sulphurous gases eternally bubbling up through the lake. And at the edge of the lake, just within the water, lounged the Abyssal Leviathan.

The squalls had long since departed. Some had pursued the fleeing jotundar, either to douse any more flames they might cause or just to harass them. But with the fires gone the purpose which bound them together was gone with it, and the continent-spanning storm had disintegrated as quickly as it had formed. There was still a heightened population of the spirits, with quite a number flitting around the Leviathan and spooking the Gardeners, but nothing like the storm of the previous day.

The Leviathan lazily strode out of its lake and, in a single bite, consumed a body of a jotundar which was lying on the ground. Its armour plating was battered in places. Its middle left leg hung at an odd angle, the Leviathan walking in a slanted gait to compensate. And a piece of its armour on its back near its neck flapped loosely as it moved, blood caked around it.

Still hungry, the great beast lumbered forwards and ate another of the many jotundar corpses. An emerald kea landed nearby and hopped closer curiously, but was frightened away by a puff of steam. The Leviathan ate some more. It was about to return to Vulkandr Lake when movement on the eastern horizon caught its attention.

A wave of moving shapes was squirming in the distance, fast approaching. Though indistinct from afar, there was something in their motions, an irregularity of wavering and twitching, that struck an observer’s eye with a dimly sinister quality. Towering in their midst was a gargantuan bestial figure, glinting with a metallic spark in the daylight. Though the shadowy mass swirled and crashed chaotically against each other, the vast thing seemed to be driving it forward with a furious onslaught.

As the multitude grew closer, the faces of the turmoil raging within it grew clearer to the Leviathan’s sight. At the fore, snapping and lashing furiously backwards, but in full retreat, was a swarm of horrific beings the likes of which had never been seen under Heliopolis. They moved as a storm of jagged shells, stomping down in a cacophony of twisted segmented limbs. They thundered with thick, swollen stumps, scrabbled on gnarled spiny claws, crawled on oozing fleshy tentacles, keeping pace with each other despite the organic disharmony of their bodies. Despite their flight, their ranks bristled with fearsome living weapons. Serrated pincers lunging, envenomed stinger tails darting, carapaces splitting open to reveal toothless abysses of muscle that spat caustic bile. Their very presence breathed a shadowy taint of dread into the daylit air.

Following hot on the horrors’ trail came a pack of blunter, brutish shapes, less unnameably hideous, yet almost as fearsome in their coarse ferocity. Hundreds of wild boars of all sizes and hues, brown, black, grey alike, bristling and foaming with battle-rage, rushed time and again against their monstrous foes. They surged like waves, now falling back as their momentum spent itself, then gathering their strength and charging again. Some stumbled as vicious pincers snapped through their legs, veered aside as spikes gouged out their eyes, fell to the side covered in steaming gashes from chitinous blades. They bled from myriad wounds, spat crimson foam, shrieked and withered under corrosive barrages, but they pressed on, snapping spiny legs and tearing open plates of crustacean armour.

Spearheading the herd was the colossal being that had loomed over the others in the first glimpses. A swine of impossible size, as tall as the Leviathan itself and almost as thickly armoured with an iron hide, led his kind with a storm of huffs and grunts. Streams of thick dark blood flowed down his snout and legs where the aberrations’ claws had found vulnerable points, and one of his great recurve husks was chipped. Yet, either for his sheer magnitude or the fervour that burned in his tiny bloodshot eyes, he indefatigably covered ground, as uncaring of his own injuries as of those of his foes. Alone among the pursuers, he never seemed to lose wind. Every time his pack lagged behind to catch their breaths, the horrors encircled him from all sides, chittering and gnashing their rage, but unable to stop the pounding of titanic hooves that crushed their bodies in sprays of ichor.

Seeing all this, the Leviathan rose to its feet. The scent of blood and sweat was carried by the wind to the Leviathan’s nose, and the great beast inhaled deeply. It shifted to take the weight off its wounded leg, then it advanced. It took a few seconds for the Leviathan to find a good five-legged gait, but once it settled into the gait it picked up speed. Its thunderous footfalls accelerated until they became like a landslide.

The chitinous horrors saw the approaching beast and screeched in rage. A glob of caustic bile splattered against the Leviathan’s armour, who grunted in pain as it started to eat away at the iron and slip between the cracks. As more globs splattered nearby, the Leviathan exhaled a billowing cloud of steam, hiding its exact position. The cloud of steam continued to charge until it crossed the front line of the monstrosities and scalded their flesh.

Then the Leviathan collided with the monsters. Chitin was crushed against steel and blood sprayed out as the monsters faced the horns, teeth and claws of the Leviathan. The pincers and stingers of the horrors flailed futilely against the Leviathan’s armour as it overran them.

The Leviathan carved a path through the monsters, but turned before reaching the boars. Dozens of the monsters were forced to a stop before the Leviathan’s flank and were overrun by the herd of boars moments later. The Leviathan now charged across the swarm of monstrosities, its terrific speed able to keep pace with the swarm and the herd. The horrors were crushed in their dozens, coating the Leviathan in blood, gore and bile, and just as many were slowed down enough for the boars to swarm them and bring them down.

The swine pursuers wasted no time in taking the opportunity. Their bodies, punctured and torn as they were, bore down in weight on the hampered monstrosities, crumpling their shells through their mere bulk. A final attempt to bristle with claws and spikes availed the skittering beasts little, as those enemies they slew weighed down all the heavier. Caught between a bulwark of iron scales on one side and a living avalanche of fur and tusks on the other, they were ground down with the stolid brutality of a stampeding herd.

The giant packleader, who had huffed curiously at the Leviathan’s approach, seized a slower moment in his charge to dig his hind hooves into the ground and turn aside, narrowly avoiding crashing into the larger beast. His beady eye ran over the reptilian titan with a surprised glimmer, but was fast to turn back on his quarry, or what remained of it. Most of the abominations were by then lying in shattered heaps, mires of their ichor polluting the soil. Stragglers were sent flying with goring blows, or unceremoniously stomped on with armoured hooves.

Before long, little was left moving on the scene. The surviving boars fell to the ground, wheezing and steaming with exhaustion. Here and there, segmented legs sticking out from mangled bodies at odd angles twitched with deathly spasms. The razor-furred giant dropped on his side, sending a quake through the earth, and lay panting, eyes fixed on the Leviathan.

Casually, the Leviathan walked closer. Sections of its iron armour were now corroded, and some fresh blood sizzled out of old wounds which had reopened. Boars which had lay down to rest quickly scrambled to their feet and moved out of the way of the lumbering titan. The Leviathan stopped a short distance away from the giant boar and sniffed deeply. The iron which coated the great boar was similar to the Leviathan’s own, and his scent held some familiar traces.

The Leviathan gave the boar a rumbling grunt of acknowledgement. The hog lifted his head from the ground, dripping foam from around its mouth, sniffed the air and replied with a tired huff. The Leviathan then turned around and sauntered back towards Vulkandr Lake, where it slid beneath the water with a hiss of steam.



Some hours had passed, and already the battlefield had grown a little clearer. A good number of the surviving boars, rested enough to stand again, had risen and wandered off towards where intact plant life could be glimpsed in the distance. The stench of the slain horrors had worsened in the warm air, festering into something offensive even to the rugged nostrils of the wild swine. Together with the smell of damp ashes left after the Leviathan’s struggle with the jotundar and their leader, it drove them off to seek less tainted ground.

Other boars, however, were less daunted by the foetor. A number went sniffing and prodding around the carcasses of their kin, digging the ground around them with their tusks. Some few trotted further, going to poke the remains of the jotundar sprawled on the shore of the newformed lake. They waded into the shallows, rebuffed from swimming further by the scalding steam still wafting up from the surface deeper ahead. Vulkandr’s corpse continued to radiate residual heat, and the water almost boiled over where the Leviathan was submerged.

Still many remained lying, asleep or staring dully at the soil. They were no longer breathing as heavily as before, but the exhaustion of the long chase had not yet dissipated. The monstrous leader was among them, awake and resting on his bent legs rather than the flank. Though almost immobile, his eyes ran along the ground, trying to pick out something that just narrowly eluded them. He sniffed, almost angrily, and looked again. The earth did look a little loose around one mound -

Something burst out from the ground in a spray of soil and ichor. An almost amorphous fleshy mass darted out from its burrow, splitting into a pair of tooth-lined jaws, and engulfed a sprawled boar in a moment before withdrawing. Another shapeless horror rose from below further in the field, claiming another victim, not fast enough to rise to its hooves. Squeals sounded around as the herd stirred from sleep and scrambled to get up. The leader was already rushing to where the first being had vanished, plowing a trench with its snout as he ran.

The Leviathan burst out from the lake with a wave of scalding water, but slowed to a halt when it could not see any enemies. It let out a low growl and prowled forwards, alert for danger. As the boar patriarch rooted around in the dirt where the first monster had vanished, the earth burst open near where the second had been and swallowed another boar. The Leviathan pushed off with a great burst of speed and charged, but by the time it had made it there the horror had burrowed deep beneath the earth again. The Leviathan snapped in frustration at empty air.

Its irritation at the elusive foe was echoed by loud, angry grunting where the giant boar was tossing up mounds of dirt. Each sweep of his snout piled up another mound near a rapidly deepening pit. As if taunting him, the creature rasped and scratched from belowground nearby, but did not show itself beyond darting out for the moment of a blink to lash at its pursuer’s legs.

Then, not too far from the Leviathan, the earth burst open again. A boar skidded away from the snapping maw which had appeared, but a tentacle lashed out and pulled down the boar as the horror retreated again. The Leviathan thundered over, but the horror was quick and was out of reach of the iron beast’s jaws by the time it arrived. The Leviathan took a deep breath, shoved its snout into the hole left by the horror, and exhaled. A great torrent of scalding steam filled the burrow, forcing its way through every gap in the dirt. A cloud of steam rose around the Leviathan and hissed out of fissures in the ground.

With a horrific screech a terrible mass of tentacles and mouths burst out of the ground, hurling clods of earth. Steam trailed behind it, and many patches of its flesh were raw, peeling and oozing. The Leviathan wasted no time in charging this horror and latching on with its mighty jaws.

At the same time, the first monstrosity hurled its mouth out from the ground behind the great boar. Perhaps trying to act in concert with its twin, it snapped onto his hind leg, teeth grinding and dripping as the sharp edges of the metallic fur cut into it. However, by that time the rest of the pack had shaken off its slumber and begun to crowd around its leader. The wormlike terror’s leathery hide, exposed as it twisted out from the earth to follow the kicking of its prey, was pierced and hooked by goring tusks and gnawing teeth. Ichor flowed thickly, and though the wounds were little more than a nuisance for the imposing monstrosity, the dozens of gashes stung one more than another.

The horrid jaws released their prize and whipped around, snapping through the spine of one of the stubbornly swarming swine. Yet no sooner had they closed that the leg they had been holding reared up in an iron-shod kick that smacked the monster’s tubular body against the ground. Dazed, it tried to retreat under the earth, but both its speed and the advantage of surprise were lost. No sooner had it disappeared that a push of the enormous snout scattered its cover; before it could withdraw again, a mouth larger than its own bit into its hide. The struggle became frenzied, as the creature’s rows of writhing limbs battered and flailed, hissed and gnashed against the tusked horde bearing down on it.

Meanwhile the Leviathan continued to grapple with its foe. The nightmarish monster twisted and writhed as it tried to pull away, but the Leviathan’s grip was ironclad. The Leviathan thrashed about, tearing its teeth deeper, and ran around, dragging the monster across the ground and denying it a consistent purchase. The monster reached around with its mouths to try to bite into the Leviathan, but its teeth found no grip on the Leviathan’s armour plates. It thrashed with its tendrils, and one whipped into the Leviathan’s eye. The Leviathan recoiled from the blow, and its jaw loosened just enough for just long enough for the horror to tear itself free and slither away.

The other abomination was less fortunate. It struggled to pull its body loose from its captors, but too many teeth were holding it fast. The more it snapped and crushed, the more tears and gashes opened over its bulk. Finally, the giant boar’s mouth locked over its midsection. The creature’s forking heads shuddered and collapsed into the pit, now carved into a wide gouge by the violence of the struggle. They gave some last surges of spiteful life, snapping at the crowding swine, then fell still, a rasping hiss dying in their throats.

Shaking its bloodied snout, the giant trudged out of the pit and trotted towards the Leviathan, who was growling at the pit the surviving horror had escaped through. The giant boar wheezed and gave a half-hearted dig at the soil, then heavily hung his head to the side. The Leviathan gave a wide-mouthed yawn and scratched a spot behind its neck with a leg. The Leviathan’s gaze lifted up to the eastern horizon, then it looked sideways to the boar patriarch and grunted.

The swine reclined his head, licking up rivulets of dark blood that ran down his snout, and answered with a huff of his nostrils. He then scraped the ground with his teeth as if in acknowledgement or farewell and trotted off towards where the remainder of his herd was throwing soil onto the corpse of the monstrosity. In time, the blemish on the world’s face would disappear.

With the patter of heavy feet, the Leviathan walked off towards the horizon, where the ocean and Abyss awaited it.



Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans, Storms and Ice


Ashalla pulsed through the ocean. She needed to find Shengshi, for there were important matters that she needed to talk to Shengshi about. But a taste she had thought she would never taste again stopped her in her tracks.

A storm gathered overhead, dozens of squalls flickering into existence, as a watery pseudopod lifted a single fish from the water. Its scales were marred by blotches of white and black and it swam in idle lifeless circles in the quivering limb. The storm and sea which was Ashalla cast her taste further, and she found that there were similarly afflicted plants and animals, and also many tainted white motes.

The storm above intensified. A bolt of lightning seared the world in half and struck the infected fish in Ashalla's grip, obliterating it. In the sea around her, the kelp which had been infected snapped frozen then shattered into a billion shards, stopping them from spreading the decay.

"He had said it would not make any more," roared a voice like a hurricane. Yet the plague she now witnessed made the previous blight seem like a gentle trickle. Lightning fell like rain, the thunder roaring with Ashalla's fury, each bolt destroying a Mar mote. Yet the motes were far more numerous than Ashalla's lightning bolts, and the lightning soon abated. "This must cease."

At a whim, the water which Ashalla touched bloomed with microscopic plankton; billions of cheap living beings holding minute souls. A Mar mote drifting past was attracted to the algal bloom and entered into one of the creatures. In seconds the single plankter's soul frayed away and the creature withered and died, but in doing so the Mar mote had been expended. More motes drifted past and were absorbed by plankton. Ashalla swam and created more plankton. Many of the Mar motes would be carried by the winds over the ocean and never touch the plankton, but many more would be absorbed by this sacrificial buffer of life, reducing the grim harvest of the Mar Tree.

Before Ashalla could get far, she saw a dreadful sight in the sky. Lines of fire streaked through the heavens. Meteors, falling from Veradax. She had seen them before, but never in such numbers since the shattered moon had been created. Many of the lines of fire winked out as quickly as they had appeared, but Ashalla watched as one line kept falling, punching through the Blue then streaking down to the horizon like a bolt of lightning. There was a bright flash where it landed, and several seconds later a shockwave tore through the water where Ashalla was, followed by a fiery-hot blast wave in the air. As a billowing cloud of steam rose and spread from the point of impact, a tsunami washed outwards. Yet as the wave passed Ashalla it was stilled by her will.

The meteors continued to fall. That one which had struck before with enough force to level a city was an outlier - very few meteoroids of that size or larger were close to Galbar yet - but Ashalla still felt the smaller impacts and tasted the moon-dust and orvium.

Ashalla was not too concerned for the damage this bombardment would cause to her ocean. The water absorbed the impacts and rebounded gracefully. In a few hours the only evidence of even the largest meteorite strike would be the rock sitting on the ocean floor and a slightly higher concentration of dust in the water. But this was an assault on her domain all the same, and it stoked her rage even more.

Ashalla looked to the sky, and there she saw the full moon of Veradax in all its darkness, thin streaks of fire radiating around it. The moon hovered above the Maelstrom, currently hidden from view far beyond the horizon. The Mar motes, asteroid bombardment and broken promise were each a reason in itself for Ashalla to be spurred into vengeful action. So Ashalla swam towards the Maelstrom, plankton and squalls in her wake.


Ashalla

Goddess of Oceans, Storms and Ice




It was a beach of dark black sand, on a tropical island on the rim of the Eye of Desolation. There was the normal sea life, including dolphins and iridescent schools of fish and coral reefs, but there were also three iron carrionfish prowling the waters near the beach. Lone iron carrionfish were rare enough, but to have a group in one place could only mean one of two things. And these fish were not here to mate.

“What have you found?” asked a voice like a rising tide.

The metallic sharks turned their noses towards the shore. The sea then rose, crawling up the black sand like the tides. Then, as the water washed over one patch of sand which appeared the same as all the others, it stopped and quivered. A couple of squalls peeled off from the water and flitted away. The water gathered up before the spot and rose into the form of a woman. “What happened here?” shuddered a voice like a falling glacier.

She had tasted ichor, belonging to none other than Orvus, soaked into the sand. The remains were no longer visible, but the spilt divine essence was still strong. Proportional to Orvus’ size, it seemed to be a lot of ichor, implying a grievous wound. Ashalla’s head twisted up towards the heavens. “Orvus, where are you?” she called into the aether, but received no response.

Ashalla soaked through the sand to try to find more clues. She detected the divine essence of Katharsos, as distinctive as it was, but that scent appeared very stale, so it seemed improbable that Katharsos’ presence and Orvus’ wounding were coincident. Yet, search as she did, she could find no trace of any other divine essence. Perhaps Katharsos had done this to Orvus, and his essence had faded faster than she expected. Or perhaps some other god had done it and managed to conceal their own essence.

Ashalla lifted her head and looked inland. There were mortals on these islands, made in the image of Orvus. Perhaps they held more clues. Ashalla receded back into the sea and swam around the island in search of mortals. Eventually she found a small family of three nebulites enjoying a shallow beach. The mother held her small baby between her legs, letting the warm water run over her, to various giggles. Ashalla’s watery form rose out of the sea, her imposing gaze looking down upon the Nebulites. “Mortals, tell me: where is your god Orvus?”

Instinctively, the female nebulite of pink and purple swirls, her hair the same color but glowing softly, grabbed her baby and scooped her up into her arms protectively as she looked up in awe at Ashalla. The male, a nebulite of gray with blotches of white stars, went to stand beside his mate from where he had been sitting. The baby began to cry at the sudden commotion and the woman began to coo to it. The male then stepped forward and said, "Orvus is… Gone... your Magnificence." He said slowly, in a sense of awe.

“Do you know what has happened to him or where he went?” Ashalla interrogated.

The male began to speak but the female interrupted, "Your holiness, we do not know where my father went or what happened to him. Many think he… Abandoned us. Laurien said he told her he was needed somewhere and so he left. That was… Ten years ago." Her voice was soft, unsure of itself, and a hint of sadness sounded.

There was a long, low rumble from Ashalla. This story was not adding up. Eventually, she said, “So Laurien claims to have spoken with Orvus before he… left. Where is Laurien?”

The two Nebulites shared looks with each other as the woman rocked the baby. The woman then looked up at Ashalla and said, "Why, she left not long after. She went to protect those that his Holiness Shengshi took. I am not sure where she is now, your Magnificence."

Ashalla rumbled again, then asked, “Is there anyone else who might know more?”

The woman shook her head. “No one here… Though, it might not hurt to ask my sister, Arya.” she said.

“And where is Arya?”

“Most likely at her house, your Holiness. Would you like us to guide you there?” the woman asked.

There was a brief rumble. “Yes.”

The woman smiled, and grabbed the hand of her mate. “Please follow us.”

They led Ashalla through a very worn path, passing other Nebulites as they did, who all stopped and stared upon Ashalla’s watery form, some even bowing. The path took them through the jungle which teemed with life, and before long the Marble Star rose into view. They entered into a very large expanse of farmland, makeshift houses, and bustling society of a fledgling nation. Like before, every single Nebulite stopped and stared upon seeing Ashalla. Before long they came before a cozy looking house of mahogany, far more intricate than the others, but slowly beginning to see wear.

The woman gave her baby to her mate, and then ran up the porch steps and knocked on the door. There was a long silence before the door opened to reveal a Nebulite of inverse colors. She wore a simple, white dress and she looked very tired.

“Ava? What’s wron-” Arya began, before her gaze fell upon the form of Ashalla. Ava giggled and moved out of the way, letting Arya out. She made her way slowly to the top of her stairs before she kowtowed and said, “Holiness Ashalla! Welcome to the Eye.”

Ashalla’s gaze scrutinised Arya for a few moments. “The last of the Zhengwu…” she muttered. A tendril of water snaked up next to Arya and licked the spiral on the back of her hand. She rumbled for a moment, then said in a voice like a river, “I seek Orvus. And I also seek Laurien, who should know more about where Orvus is.”

Arya seemed to stiffen. Whether at the mention of Zhengwu, the tendril of water, or her family, it was hard to say. She looked up at Ashall and blinked. “I… Have no idea where either of them are, I’m afraid. They both abandoned us, and neither even said goodbye.” she said with emotion in her voice.

Ashalla huffed, and started to turn away. “Unfortunate. I will have to seek them out myself.”

“Your Holiness, why are you searching for them?” Arya asked, her eyebrow raised.

Ashalla stopped and her head twisted back to look down upon Arya. After a pause, Ashalla answered, “It is not for you to know.”

Arya took a step forward. “What? Why can’t I know? Even if… Even if they did leave… I believe I have a right to know why her Holiness Ashalla is asking for them,” she said, her voice wavering between calm and desire.

Ashalla answered with a voice like sneering frost, “A right? You have no rights other than those us gods deign to give you. This is not a matter for mortals.”

“But… But they’re my family… Please. Please your Holiness!” Arya pleaded, taking another step down the porch.

Ashalla continued to stare down the nebulite, a low rumble coming from her. “You knew K’nell?” she eventually asked.

Arya paused. ”Yes… I was his Ward.” she said softly.

“Do you know where K’nell and his continent are?”

”I do… But I can’t… I shouldn’t tell you…” Arya said defeated.

Ashalla rumbled softly, then said in a voice like a trickling brook. “I was good friends with K’nell. I was disappointed when he left without telling me where he went.” Ashalla paused to let her words sink in. “I propose an exchange. If you tell me what happened with K’nell, I will tell you what I know of what happened to Orvus.”

Arya looked upon Ashalla in contemplation. After a moment, her shoulders slumped in defeat. “Come inside,” Arya said sadly, walking back up the porch steps. Ashalla dwarfed the house, but she flowed up to the door anyway, and some of her water poured through the doorway as a large pseudopod. The end of the pseudopod sculpted itself into a humanoid form.

Arya led the way through the rather barren house. There was some furniture here and there and hanging along the walls were several artifacts. A large sword of orvium, a spectral dagger, a tattered cloak of stars, a small flute, and a small bell of starlight. A pseudopod stretched from Ashalla to lick each of the artifacts. Eventually they arrived in a kitchen of sorts, with only a table and some counters. Arya sat down across from an empty chair, and beckoned for Ashalla to sit. Ashalla flowed onto the seat, then looked at Arya expectantly.

She sighed and leaned back into the chair. “As you know… Tendlepog, and K’nell are gone. With them also went most of the Dreamers, but some remained… I don’t know where they are, either…” she chuckled sadly before taking a deep breath. “My mothers went with… You might have met them, Hermes and Xiaoli? It’s what they wanted, I guess, but they never told me. After all, He didn’t want anyone to know… Not yet… Maybe not ever. Only my loved ones… That was it and yet… It’s such a burden,” she said, her eyes watering. ”But I’m getting off topic, aren’t I? You see… Your Holiness… K’nell combined Tendlepog and his Sphere to create an alternative to the pyres. He called it an eternal paradise. Heaven. None of them are coming back,” she whispered.

“So that’s what happened. He didn’t want some dreams to end…” A melodious laugh issued from Ashalla with an undertone of burbling. “While Azura has been working tirelessly and enlisting the help of other gods to find a way to save the dead, K’nell achieved it single-handedly! My congratulations to him for taking charge of the natural order. Although, what role does the green mark in the sky have in this?”

Arya expression turned to slight surprise at Ashalla’s laughter. After a moment of blinking the girl said, “It’s called the Moksha and is far more specific to the Dreamers who remained, than to any of us. One need only to dream into it, to know it’s true purpose.”

Ashalla huffed. Then she said with a voice like rolling waves, “You have fulfilled your part of the bargain. Now it is time to fulfil mine.” Ashalla receded from the chair and flowed back towards the door. “Follow.”

As Ashalla withdrew from the house the rest of her form turned to cloud, puffing up and swallowing the village before rising above the ground. Ashalla then flew away from the settlement. Arya followed quickly, flying into the dark cloud. Her small voice then said, “Your Holiness, please, you cannot tell anyone about what K’nell did. If not for me, then for him.”

“You wish for me to keep secret a major shift in the structure of Galbar, the fate of a god, and an alternative to the Pyres - an enigma which is occupying the time and resources of several gods?” Ashalla asked incredulously.

Arya frowned, visibly. "I… It does sound selfish doesn't it… I was unaware that others were working on a solution but… I don't think they can unlock Heaven for everyone. Not unless someone tells them how to get there," she said.

The clouds around her rumbled. “Why do you not tell them?”

"K'nell did not think they would understand why he did what he did. I don't really know what to think anymore," Arya said again, her voice conflicted.

There was a further rumble. “There is some wisdom in K’nell’s caution. I shall exercise discretion in the matter.”

"Thank you, your Holiness."

The clouds then parted, and a beach of black sand stretched out below them. “Here is the place.”

Arya landed amid the cool sand and looked around before looking at Ashalla in confusion. "What am I looking at, your Holiness?" she asked.

The clouds spoke, “You cannot see it with your mortal senses. But Orvus’ blood soaks deep into these sands, crying out in silent anguish. He was gravely wounded here, yet I know not who did it, or where he is now.”

Arya was silent for a long time, her eyes wide as she stared at the beach. "He… He… didn't abandon us…" she said falling to her knees. "I don't understand who, or even why something like this would happen, your Holiness."

“Laurien was the one who had informed you of Orvus’ departure, or so I’ve been told. She may have witnessed something, so she might hold the answer,” Ashalla said.

"I don't know where she is… But his Lordship will," Arya said, blinking away tears.

“So I’ve been told,” Ashalla said.

The clouds above changed from dark shadows to a melancholy grey, and Arya felt the presence of the goddess leave the place. As the rain closed in around Arya, she whispered, "Thank you… For telling me," before her black tears joined the rain.


© 2007-2017
BBCode Cheatsheet