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

Bio

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

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


Most Recent Posts

Reprise


Twang.

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

Twang. Twing. Twing.

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

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

Twang.

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

Twang. Twing. Twing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The violin stopped. “Why yes it is.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes please,” Hujaya answered.

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

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

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

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

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

“Is there anything I can do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A god visited me in my dreams!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Squall Whisperers, Minstrels


"This is grave news."

"A terrible omen."

"Are you sure, Pyouroff?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And how many were there?" Kirrethi asked.

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

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

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

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

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

"What about your storm spirits?" Hapena asked.

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

"I know," Pyouroff said.

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

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

The Stormbards all shook their heads.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

"How about the big stone monster?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were some mumbles and shaking heads.

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

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

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



"Pyouroff."

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

"Pyouroff."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How about we blind it with a mist?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolla looked at the puddle. "Why?"

"Because I'm busy playing music."

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

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

Wolla shifted his feet awkwardly. "I guess."

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

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

"Pyouroff?"

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

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

"I have a plan for the rock monster."

Kirrethi perked up. "That is good news."

"Come, the councillors are gathering."

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

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

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

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

The councillors looked to each other.

"Is that it?" Bonyapo asked.

"Yes," Pyouroff said. Bonapyo seemed disappointed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Matricide


Collaboratively written by BBeast and Lord Zee




Fire. Burning bright, burning hot.

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

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

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

KILL.



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

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

She was close.

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



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

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

SCREEEEEEE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.

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