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Rocks are, as far as inanimate objects go, objectively quite nice. The best kinds are the smooth ones, the ones with a nice even color to them and were probably hauled from some river, tumbled to the perfect shape over the ages. So naturally, there were few things that you could find deep in the woods that were better than a wide, sturdy rock of superior make, preferably with a touch of deep green moss atop it. One of those things, however, would be several wide, sturdy rocks of superior make, stacked on top of eachother.

And that was all Forral could think as he ran through the mountain trails.

The hot day didn’t bother Forral much as he dashed along between the pine trees, the Cord of Summons for Tinmine clutched in his hand. All that he focused on was spying the next stack of stones that marked the seldom used path. Each time he passed a cairn he made sure to run his free palm over it and appreciate the odd power the waymarkers seemed to hold. They dutifully guided the young boy, having been put up many years ago and never once failing.

Maybe he could make some of his own cairns once he joined the Grand Army; Forral would be doing all kinds of exploring and adventuring, surely someone would need a new path marked!

Forral had been running for about an hour, taking breaks whenever he needed. He had filled a waterskin at the point where his path diverged from the creek so he didn’t have to worry about dehydration. Speaking of which, he reached for the skin and took a large swig, running all the while. His water was about half-empty now but he felt he was about halfway to Tinmine, so it probably wouldn’t pose an issue.

The ground beneath his feet turned rocky as the trees began to thin. Forral was higher in the mountains now and his breath was coming harder. He ignored hsi short breath, pushing through. He needed to deliver this Cord as fast as he could so that he could prove to Taev that he was responsible. Forral felt like he was making good time and, indeed, he was ascending the mountain far faster than any other runner would have, but that wasn’t quite because he was swifter than other people.

The cairns lead Forral around a large chunk of granite and into a crag. The path was still wide enough for a wagon to cross, but now a sheer, rocky slope shot off the side of Forral’s route. The young boy passed, his chest heaving. His head felt fuzzy as he peered over the edge of the path, although he knew that he could usually run further than he already had, so he wasn’t that tired, despite how much his legs felt like stones.

Maybe he should rest a little, just in case. Forral peered across the large gap that had opened up in the mountains. Who knows how many feet down, pale green dots that he knew must be treetops dotted the valley floor. He didn’t know if they were so hard to see because they were miles beneath his feet or because his vision was tunneling.

As he heaved his gaze upwards, pushing through the dizziness, he could see the many switchbacks that would bring him around the valley walls and up the otherside. A thin trail of smoke danced across over the mountain crests on the other side of the gash in the land: Tinmine.

Forral tried to steady his labored breaths, determination filling him again. He could see his destination now. Forral took one step, gearing up to throw himself into another dash, but before he could even start the blood seemed to rush from his brain and his vision closed.

As the rocks skid from beneath his heel and a numbness filled his extremities, Forral suddenly remembered hearing somewhere that you should always climb mountains slowly. The Altitude sickness made sure that Forral wasn’t fully conscious of his peril as he slid and tumbled off the canyon wall.




The smell of cedar. A dull ache. The feeling of tumbling down a hill despite not moving. A soft humming dancing at the very edge of thought and the taste of wet dirt in the mouth. A sharp stabbing pain.

The boy’s eyes shot open. His eyes focused and unfocused, not moving, as the sharp stabbing continued, he could feel the pain radiating from his hand, but he couldn’t see it. He couldn’t move it. He couldn’t move anything. He could hardly even think, but he could still see.

He saw soft grass. A tree trunk. It hurt to breathe. Orange needles littered the ground around the trunk, fending off any young green things. Two legs, gnarled, bloodied, and shattered. His head was tilted downwards, he couldn’t see much. He couldn’t move. A speck! A moving speck. His eyes latched onto it. An ant. Large and red, a green shard of foliage clasped in its mandibles.

His eyes moved now, slowly, tracing behind the ant hauling its load. The small thing was coming closer. A second stabbing pain, joining the first. The ant meandered closer, passing his foot, marching ever onwards. He had to turn his head to follow the small thing. It crawled up his hand. He could see his hand now.

The ant was not alone, two other ants, just as big and just as red, were biting and stinging the back of his fist. The third ant seemed to notice this and dropped its leaf. He felt tears welling in his eye as the betraying ant clamped down on his hand, sending a third shoot of pain.

There was a flutter of wings and the pain was gone. A small sparrow had appeared, gobbling up the three ants and now was perched on his hands. His eyes drifted up to meet the bird’s. They were deep and dark, endless yet cheerful wells of ink.

“Forral,” The voice came from nowhere, “Get up.”

Forral felt like his soul was being punched in the face and he slammed back into his body. He flailed in place for amomet, his heart pounding and a strangled shout escaping his lips, but then whatever had just happened passed. He was merely leaning against a tree like it was another day.

Where was he?

Forral stood up. His feet brushed aside the scattered pine needles which pricked his skin a little. Forral looked down and frowned. His shoes were gone and, despite the fact that he had been lying in the dirt, his feet were incredibly clean. In fact, all of him was oddly clean. He patted himself down, finding that his roughspun clothes were gone, replaced by a simple, woolen robe that hung loosely on his body and nothing else.

Had he been robbed? That wouldn’t explain why he was so clean, or why he didn’t remember how he got here, wherever here was.

“Hello!” He cupped his hands and shouted, “Where the hell am I!”

The only response Forral got was his echo, bouncing countless times back and forth. This was a helpful response, however, as it answered his question. He was in a canyon. But how was he in a canyon?

Forral gazed upwards, he couldn’t see the sun but the sky was not red, so it was either morning or late afternoon. It was hot, so it was probably the afternoon. He looked up and down the canyon. It was about a hundred feet wide and much longer, he couldn’t see an end down either direction. He also couldn't see any path up or down or anything that could tell him how he got down to where he was.

Had he fallen in? The canyon walls were at least eighty feet, probably more. There would be no way to have come out of a fall like that unscathed, let alone washed up and in strange clothing.

‘Well… fuck,” Forral muttered, scratching his head as he looked around.

Forral shrugged, figuring someone must have brought him down here so there had to be a way to get back out. Until he found an exit, he didn’t have anything that was in his control to worry about so he might as well just pick a direction and start walking. He chose left.

As he strolled through the pine trees, trying to ignore the feeling of the needles jabbing the bottom of his feet, Forral couldn’t help but notice how strangely calm he was being about this whole situation. By all measures, he should be panicking, but something was suppressing that urge and Forral was grateful, if a little perturbed.

Regardless, Forral made his way through the canyon. There was a small stream running through the center which fed all the pine trees. He couldn’t see any animals bigger than a bird, but there were definitely a lot of birds. Almost every tree he passed had at least two bird nests in it. For there to be so many birds, there must not be anything big enough down there to eat them.

As he walked, Forral scanned the walls for any crevices or slopes that he may be able to climb to get out, but he found nothing. Eventually, once the sky began to darken and warmth was quickly leaving the canyon, he found something.

The cave looked like it had been carved by some water flow that had long disappeared; it seemed incredibly smoothly cut and out of place among the jagged rocks of the Anchor Mountains. It was dark inside but also dry and would probably be warmer than lying out in the dirt for the night. Forral crept into the cave, suddenly worried that there might be something inside. The tall mouth quickly dipped into a low ceiling but most of the cave was still illuminated by the dim light from the darkening sky. The ground was solid stone and almost completely flat.

The air smelled like animal, not too strongly but it was still there. Forral hopped it wasn’t fresh and slipped himself into a small indent in the cave wall. The stone was cold and he curled his knees to his chest, wrapping the simple robe he was wearing over his legs. Like a wave, exhaustion hit him and he drifted off into a restless sleep.




When Forral opened his eyes not much changed. In the pitch dark of the cave, he couldn’t even see the tip of his nose. It was the dead of night, but something had woken him up. Forral would have stood up to investigate, but some sixth sense kept him rooted in place.

He sat motionless, listening intently and trying in vain to peer through the gloom. His nostrils flared, the smell of animal hitting him harder than when he had entered and, finally, he heard it. What he had first thought to be the wind brushing by the mouth of the cave, was something else. Long, slow breaths dragged themselves across the stone cave. The steady rise and fall was so subtle and so dragged out that it could easily be ignored as background noise.

But still, the breaths of something large and sleeping echoed through the small cavern in the cliffside. Forral was frozen, his mouth drying out. HE had to fight the urge to swallow, as that may make noise. The young boy tried to muffle his breathing and rise to his feet, moving as slow as his jumpy muscles would allow.

He couldn’t see anything so he had no idea what was in the cave with him, but he could still feel its presence, bubbling outwards like a warm balloon, pressing Forral against the cave wall and squeezing the breath in his chest. He was standing now, so now he could begin to make his way out. Forral inched along the wall, arms outstretched to keep his balance. He only moved when whatever it was in the cave drew a breath in, when it was the loudest. As Forral inched his way closer to the exit to the cave, both the light and the noise of the beast grew.

Forral could make out a large shape barely a shade darker than the rest of the cave, rising and falling. It was larger than him, larger than even a Stonebird, although he still could not discern any details of the creature. Its hot breath pooled outwards, steaming against Forral’s toes, as if to remind the boy that its jaws were right there, just waiting to be woken up and snap.

His knees wobbled and his muscles screamed, every fiber of his being was urging him to leap into action or to flee, but Forral had to fight it. The beast kept on sleeping and he kept inching onwards. He could see it now, the outside world. A cloud must have been covering the moon because now the world shone silver, just a few feet away. The mouth of the cave was so near and it was all Forral could do to not make a dash at that instant.

The sound of a bird call split the night. It sounded like a bird being attacked by something and squawking one last, harsh time. The sound rang through the cave and shook Forral, his heart plummeting. He felt no pity for whatever bird had just been killed, because the breathing had hitched.

Forral’s body iced over as he tried to become one with the stone wall. The short, curt inhale of someone waking up was followed by a long, sighing puft of air. Forral screwed his eyes shut as the beast stood up, the sound of claws scraping against stone etching themselves into Forral’s ears. The boy made the mistake of turning to look at the creature.

The tall, dark silhouette filled the cave in its entirety, looming like the specter of death itself. It hadn’t seemed to have noticed him, but still, eight feet off the ground, Forral saw two glinting amber orbs, shining forth from the gloom. The thing yawned, revealing a gaping maw filled with glinting, curved teeth that glistened with saliva, reflecting the moon.

Blood pounded in Forral’s ears and hundreds of chemicals flooded his blood. His eyes darted between the beat’s terrifying amber wells and the jaws that could surely sever an arm in a single snap. He felt his leg twitch, his robe rustling. The beast turned its gaze towards him and then suddenly Forral’s feet were pounding against dirt and the night air rushing by, bounding like a rabbit away from the cave.

A shadow passed over the moon and plunged the world back into darkness as his feet carried him away from the cave. Forral heard the beast get startled by his sudden appearance, but only in the basest part of his mind, where all thought had been shunted. Likewise, as he thundered blindly through the canyon floor, he heard a growling bark that shook the trees. Forral barreled into something hard and shaggy, thudding backwards and falling to the ground. How the hell had it gotten in front of him!

Forral tried to get up but an enormous, clawed paw shot down onto his chest, pinning him to the ground. Forral screamed, tears openly flowing, The thing’s snout descended and hovered above Forral’s face. Boiling breath washed over Forral as the beast opened its jaws. He tried to bat the thing’s face away, but it wasn’t affected, it just hovered there, breathing deeply.

“Why can’t I smell you,” A deep, gravelly voice hissed out, “Why do you not have a scent.”

Forral was momentarily frozen. Had it been the thing that spoke? The clawed paw pressed into his chest.

“Well?! You aren’t Him, you are clearly mortal! Why can’t I smell you,” the creature growled, its jaws still placed directly above Forral’s neck and dripping with spittle.

“Y-you can talk!” Forral gurgled out, his eyes never leaving the terrifying maw.

“I have been able to talk since before your sniveling species learned how to stack two stones together,” The beast sneered as the moon reappeared from behind the inky clouds, illuminating Forral’s attacker.

The beast’s shaggy gray fur was matted and unkempt. Its barrel chest cut a strangely proud shape against the night sky and Forral could see a long tail swishing behind its strong haunches. The creature’s wolf-like face was curled up in a vicious snarl, its orange eyes blazing with rage that seemed ill-suited for the beast. Despite the fear coursing through his veins and the fact that he had never seen the once-regal being before, Forral felt a rush of recognition and even sadness as he gazed upwards at the monstrous visage.

Forral was speechless, a turbulent whirlpool of emotions, some not even his own, spiralling inside him. He felt the claws dig into his chest as the beast leaned down closer to Forral. Soon, all the boy could see was the snarling face of Toog, the First Hound.

“Now tell me, who the hell are you.”






Instigation


The day was blisteringly hot and it was one of the only days where Forral liked to acknowledge his Almanaki blood. He had never once suffered a sunburn like all of his entirely human friends. Sure, he lacked the russet skin his mom had, but he was still darker and his tan seemed to rise up like a wave to meet any amount of sun. Now, he was no full Almanaki, so this was a mild tolerance, not the same kind of biological power that allows a person to go for a week without water all while radiating body heat through highly efficient sweat.

Forral was simply immune to the sluggishness hot afternoons bring on and tended to sweat far less, a trait he was silently thankful for as he looked at the young man who was gulping down water so fast that the stray droplets gushing down his chin almost matched the ones coming down his brow. He looked absolutely miserable, on the verge of collapse. Having to run all the way from Stagwood. The long looping cord he wore around his shoulder marked him as a runner, and given that a couple of the loops were cut, he had already visited a few villages before Harri.

“What news do you bring?” That was the Taev,a garying veteran with a build that one could describe as a once tall, now weathered mountain as well as the de facto head of Harri. The runner was leaning on him as he held the skin that the boy was gulping from, “Is it good or bad? We won’t be able to handle Trolls so you better say it’s good.”

“Not Trolls,” The young man gasped between mouthfuls of water, “The Grand Army is headed for Stagwood.”

“That’s a relief,” The village leader sighed, “Which Hand is it? Tasslman Vem or had Clokman Houmir finally decided to return to his post?”

The boy shook his head as he stood up and took the waterskin from Taev.

“The runner from Loggerbrook said it was the Vir himself.”

“The Vir!” Taev was taken aback, “Does that mean that the campaign against the Ndarian’s is done? But why would he come out to the Western territory, the Almanaki haven’t tried anything for over thirty years!”

“I have no idea, I’m not the Vir,” the runner declared as he slipped the multi-colored coils of cord off his shoulder, measuring out the loops, “Which town is this?”

“Harri.”

“Harri? Then you’ll need two cords,” The runned produced a knife and sliced two lengths of braided rope, one red, one silver, and handed them to Taev, “If I recall, you are supposed to have a runner that goes to Tinmine?”

“That is correct,” The village leader took the ropes, “I suppose we are the red?”

“Yep,” The runner tossed the remaining cords back over his shoulder, “The Vir was two days from Loggerbrook this morning, so he should be about three from Stagwood. When he shows up, twenty able bodies from Harri need to be waiting for him with that cord. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to make it to Redbrook by nightfall.”

With that, the young man took off again, running out of the town just as fast as he ran in. a giddiness filled Forral as he watched the runner dash into the distance. The Vir himself. Forral hoped that Taev would choose him to go join the Grand Army.

The older man began barking orders at the villagers, already preparing for when he would need to send out the Harri Convoy the next day.

“Ormond, you run down to Festam’s farm down by the marsh, I know her two boys have been raring to join the Grand Army for years now. Toscgond, you start preparing equipment for the road. And Broun, where is Broun?”

The tiny center of Harri was bustling as the people who had been there when the Runner arrived dispersed to either do their given job or spread the word. Soon, volunteers would begin arriving at Taev’s house to try and be picked to join the Convoy. Luckily, Forral was already there.

The fourteen year-old marched up to Taev, who was discussing something with another older man who Forral didn’t know that well. Forral was a small kid and only went about half way up the old warrior’s chest. Taev and his companion were deep in discussion and hadn’t noticed Forral’s approach. The boy stretched himself as tall as he could go and then tried to catch their attention. They still didn’t notice him. Forra sighed and tapped Taev on the elbow.

“What!?” The older man growled, angry, before he looked down at Forral and softened, “Oh, hey Forral, are you here because you know where Broun is?”

‘What? No!” Forral scrunched up his brow, briefly forgetting why he had gotten Taev’s attention in the first place, “Why do you need Broun?”

“He’s our town runner,” Taev briefly turned back to his original talking partner and said a few quick words. He went away and the town leader turned back to Forral, “I figured he would need to leave rather quickly if he would want to get back before the Convoy leaves tomorrow. So if you could go fi-”

“Broun’s going with the convoy!” Forral interrupted, bouncing up and down a little in place. Excitement was bubbling up in him again, he couldn’t wait to go and serve the Vir in the Grand Army with his friend, “That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about!” Forral assumed the most soldierly position he could manage, “I am here in the Grand Army, in the name of the Vir!”

Taev looked the boy up and down, a frown dressing his face. Forral thought he saw the older man’s gaze rest a fraction of a second longer on the line of trimmed feathers on his brow.

“Maybe next time,” Taev declared, patting Forral on the shoulder with his heavy hand, “Right now I need you t-”

“Why not!” Forral shouted, throwing away Taev’s hand, “Broun is going! I should get to go too!”

“Broun is older,” Taev crossed his arms and looked down, “And he-”

“Only by two years!” Forral interrupted again, throwing his hands in the air, a pleading look entering his eyes, Is it because I’m small? I’m not done growing! By the time I’m done training I’m sure I’ll-”

“Forral!” The village leader boomed, rising to his full height. The boy cowed, Taev let himself soften back up and use a gentler tone, “It isn’t just age or size, Forral. I don’t really know how to explain this to you, but it is just that-”

“My mother is Almanaki,” Forral hissed, not waiting to hear what Taev was going to say.

“No, that isn’t at all what-”

“Yes it is! Of course it is!” Forral fumed, his hair seeming to stand up as he raged, “You don’t think I’m good enough!”

“Forral, stop.”

“No, I won’t! You just don’t want to admit it! People are always making comments! And you always dance around the subject, but it was your idea for me to trim my feathers! You know I used to like my feathers!” Tears speckled the corner of Forral’s eyes and his jaw clenched so hard that his temples bulged, “Admit it, you just don't want me to go because you hate me!”

At that last part, Forral threw down his foot in an angry stomp, his voice booming louder than a fourteen year-old should be able to and the ground itself shaking slightly. Neither he nor Taev took note of this as the two stared each other down.

“I don’t hate you,” The elder growled through gritted teeth, ‘But this- This right here- is exactly why I’m not sending you to the Vir’s army.”

Forral shrunk down, all the energy that had been swelling up in him dissipating in an instant. The angry tears that had been about to fow were dammed up as they changed and lost their heat. Taev sighed and looked down at the dejected boy. Forral went to slink away but Taev caught his arm and softly turned him back around.

“Hey, kid,” Taev started, as Forral tried to shakeaway, “Just because I’m not sending you with the Convoy tomorrow doesn’t mean you can’t still prove yourself.”

Forral looked up at him, quickly wiping the corner of his eyes. His face was hardset and it was clear he didn’t believe Taev. Taev slipped the silver cord the runner had given him out of his pocket and held it out for Forral.

“Someone still needs to deliver this message to Tinmine,” The man declared, “And since I still don’t Broun is, I think it would be good for you to deliver it.”

“You want me to do an errand for you,” Forral frowned, looking down on the cord with disdain.

‘Well yes,” Taev conceded, “But it is an important errand. Part of the reason I trust Broun to go to the army is because he was such a responsible Runner.”

Forral snatched the cord from Taev, his face still furrowed up in mid anger, “Fine, I’ll take it. And when I’m back, I’ll prove that I can go join the army”

The two maintained eye contact for a while longer. Neither openly showed any of the emotions darting behind their eyes.

“Do you remember what a silver cord means?”

“At least five men and a cart laden with as much ore and tools as possible.”

“Don’t get lost.”

“I know the way, Broun has talked about it before.”

“Along the ravine until you hit the creek, then follow the cairns up the mountain.”

“I just said I knew the way.”

With that, Forral broke the stare and dashed away, the message cord clutched tightly in his palm.

“Make sure to give that to Altor!” Taev called after the boy, “He is the head miner! And don’t forget what the Silver Cord means!”

Forral didn’t respond and Taev stood and watched the determined figure run through the hot air towards his destination. Taev knew his counterpart in Tinmine knew what the cord meant and he knew that Forral wouldn’t forget. He just wanted the boy to feel like he was outshining the expectations of him. Taev sighed as Forral vanished over a hill. He shouldn’t have sent him, he should have found Broun and made the runner do his job. But the village leader hoped that this would maybe let Forra blow off some steam and accept that he was never going to be sent to the Grand Army, at least not while he was still in Harri.

Taev looked after everyone in his town, and he knew a lot more about each and everyone one of its inhabitants than he let on. He knew that Forral’s parents, Halmond and Alla, were fugitives from something and that, for one reason or another, both were terrified of someone very close to the Vir. Taev could not in good conscious send Forral towards whoever that may be.




Four days hard march from Harri, the small city of Woodcrest was swarmed by small gray tents. The orderly lines surrounded the walls of the city and stretched into the farmland surrounding. The sound of many shouts, hammering ringing, and stoenbirds calling filled the air. The Grand Army had besieged the city, raiding all its stores and draining the resources like locust. All the while, volunteers and conscripts from Woodcrest and the surrounding settlements poured into the camp, bearing their Cords of Summons.

Woodcrest would strain to support the Grand Army and indeed the Army would hurt the city for a few years to come, robbing it of resources and men. But every single citizen knew that they were far safer suffering terribly trying to maintain the army for two days than if they refused at all. Hofmar Qull-Born laughed to herself as she sipped from her chalice and looked down at the scene from the tower of Woodcrest’s lord.

Behind her, the fat man who was like all the other fat men in Virfeild blubbered and prostrated in front of the Vir. When the Grand Army was on the other side of the nation, he would declare himself King of Woodcrest and maybe even war against his neighbors. But the moment true power returned, he was reduced to a snivelling chick, peeping incessantly to try and dissuade the fox from eating it.

Hofmar turned around and went back to the lavish table that had been prepared for their arrival. The Vir, of course, sat at the head, a silent pillar in the room roaring with the sounds of many soldiers reveling. His tall, broad form cutting the air around him like an obelisk thrust in defiance against the gods. He was in his full battle regalia, as he always needed to be. The gray at his temples and age creeping into his eyes seemed to add to the power his handsome face radiated. He did not seem to be listening to nor caring about the lord of Woodcrest, just smoldering into the middle distance. He did perk up when Hofmar slid back into her seat at his side.

“It is good that you chose to come with me on this expedition,” The Vir rumbled curtly before turning back to the lavish steak that had been set in front of him. He did not smile as he said it and nor were the words ones of praise, but Hofmar knew the man well enough.

“It’s honestly my pleasure,” She smiled as she snapped for someone to refill her wine.

It was the lord’s wife who came to do it. She was far too pretty for him and had clearly been dolled up just to show off to the Vir, “Thank you dear.”

The woman bowed slightly and murmured some platitudes, but Hofmar couldn’t help but notice the steeliness set in her eyes. She clearly hated having to do this, to be paraded about. Hofmar had to stifle a laugh as she saw this determination. Sadly, the lord’s wife had made the mistake of not seizing power when she had the chance. Now her defiance was wasted. Hofmar found it oh so pitiful. Still, the woman was pretty despite her passive nature, the witch may need to visit her later.

Hofmar sent the woman away and turned back to the Vir, who was slowly chewing the meat set in front of him.

“So,” she began, “Do you have any specific reasons for coming out to the Western province besides a regular subjugation round?”

“If I did, I wouldn’t need to tell you,” The Vir growled as he choked down a bloody chunk of meat.

“Well, I’ll have you know I happen to have an errand to run around these parts,” Hofmar laughed as she watched him eat. He hated meat, yet that was all people ever served him, “Just a little something I have to pick up.”

“Is it important?” The Vir grunted.

“If it was, I wouldn’t need to tell you,” Hofmar laughed as she took another draught of wine.

The Vir looked up from his slab of steak, his brow knitting together and eyes smoldering. Hofmar sighed, he was such a child sometimes. She snapped her fingers and the steak vanished, being replaced with an enormous steamed gourd, crowned with all kinds of spices. The Vir looked shocked at his food and then looked around at all the other generals and such who were at the table.

“Don’t worry, everyone else still sees the meat, you can maintain your image,” Hofmar finished her glass and stood up and began walking for the exit, running her hand along the back of the Vir’s chair and onto his shoulder, “I’m going back to the room.”

There was a pop and the witch disappeared, teleporting away. She loved this life, and she wasn’t about to give it all away because she had made a deal with a god. All Hofmar needed was to pick up the boy and make sure he joined the Grand Army. All those soldiers blindly followed their leader, and once Iternis’s favorite mortal joined the army, then the god would be unable to make her leave.

Hell, if she eventually made the kid the Vir, she could live large for the rest of eternity.




The Making of a Legend


Iternis looked down onto Galbar. He had thrown himself across the branches of a large tree in his personal realm, the rough bark catching at the strands in his robes as they fluttered in a wind he had made just to make the sitting a little more pleasant. Down on the planet, things were playing out as they always had. People lived and died, all the while running around looking for things that they did not have. It was quite trivial and he, as a god, was above it all. But oh how longed to be in the thick of it, all the meaninglessness, all the struggle and pursuits of pleasure.

Iternis sighed and stopped the wind, having ruined his mood. He plopped down from the tree and cast off his flowing robes. He had grown to appreciate more simple clothing as time had gone on, the robes gave him an air of mysteriousness that he no longer enjoyed to have. Down planet-side, he could hear all the mortals blabbering, calling out to him for aid or a safe travel, but almost never by name. Anyone who knew Iteris knew him as a folk hero from old legend, not as a god. The only mortal he had ever explicitly shown himself to be a god to was the witch Hofmar. Iternis smiled at that one, she was still desperately trying to ignore the job Iternis had charged her with and it was quite amusing to see her try and come up with increasingly elaborate excuses to not help the boy she swore to protect.

Speaking of the boy, he should be about old enough now. All the other gods had created their avatars in an instant, thrusting out their will into the world like it was just another part of their arm. Iternis felt like that was cruel. He longed to be able to walk around Galbar again, probably more so than the other gods, but he also knew that he couldn’t. Creating a being that was forced to follow his command just to fulfill the god’s nostalgia would be cruel. Sure, he could create a mindless puppet, but that seemed almost worse. He had decided that he would meerley give some mortal all the choices he no longer had. Iternis supposed he may try to take the boy’s memories for himself at some point, make a copy so he could live out his avatar’s life without ever going to Galbar, but that was long in the future.

Iternis kicked a clump of grass that exploded at incomprehensible speeds away from the ground and spiraled into the endless void of Iternis’s realm. He had gone and gotten nostalgic again. The god’s mind drifted to his very first creation, Toog, and his heart plummeted. He had made the loyal dog so that Iternis could not track or control him, he didn’t want a slave to be his first creation, but that meant that Iternis had no way of finding him now. Guilt racked Iternis as he remembered the way he had abandoned his companion that had loved him so much.

The God of Journeys had left because he had wanted Toog to go on without him. Their departure was inevitable and Toog had clearly wanted to live like a hero, in the world’s spotlight and Iternis knew he was holding the dog back from that. But Iternis had also forgotten that Toog had always wanted, more than anything, to be with him. Iternis punted another chunk of grass into the void and watched it until it vanished from even hsi godly vision.

He had ignored Toog’s prayers to him because he thought Toog would be better off without him. It was only when Iternis realized he was worse off without Toog that Toog had stopped calling out for him. And for two thousand years, Toog had been silent and Iternis wasn’t even able to seek him out to apologize.

Iternis shook himself out and let out a large sigh, he needed to do something, he needed to not be thinking.

Itenis whirled back to the tree he had been sitting in and, before he even stopped moving, he sliced it straight off at the trunk. The wood slammed into the ground and shed all its leaves in an instant. He needed to make something, a gift for the mortal world. Something that would see every nook and cranny of Galbar and maybe even find its way to Toog.

With a wave of his hand, Iternis shore all the bark and twigs off the trunk, turning it into a long, twenty-five foot cylinder of hardwood. He spun his finger and the lare dowel rolled, shedding wood like dust until all that was left was the frame of a thin boat. The wind danced along the sides of the boat, carving intricate images of all sorts of animals running, swimming, and flying along the rims. Iternis raised his hands upwards and fine furs and tanned animal skin sprung from the ground, wrapping themselves around the frame and stitching themselves together.

Next, Iternis snatched two young saplings from the ground and instantly they grew into mighty paddles, eight feet long. The wood was perfectly polished with smooth handles of ivory that were incapable of splintering or giving blisters. The god laid the two paddles across each of the two cockpits in the shallow boat. Iternis took a step back and looked at his masterpiece, glowing a golden brown in the light and looking so beautiful it couldn’t be anything but divine.

Now all that was left was to bless it. Iternis rested his palms on the hull of the incredible ship and began to let his godly energy leak out into it. This boat would be able to go anywhere, allow any rider to explore the entire world. It should be given to who ever needed it the most, Iternis scrunched his eyes as his mind began to drift. This boat should take it’s user to wherever, whoever, they need to see most. It should be able to deliver someone to their destination, no matter what. If only Iternis could use it, if only he could paddle his newest creation to find Toog again.

Emotion welled up in the god again, he had been unable to keep it down. He needed to find Toog again, to make up. More than anything, he needed someone to talk to. The other gods were gods, who revealed in their divinity so they wouldn't get it. He couldn’t just make some creature that would be trapped in his realm, that would be cruel. He needed, more than anything, to have a friend again. Someone who would always pursue what they wanted, so he could help them and not make the same mistake he had made with toog. Someone who was sure enough in themselves to be able to tell a god when they had made a mistake. Someone who would have almost as much love in them as Toog had.

While Iternis was moping about like an exceedingly wet blanket, he had forgotten that he was still leaking his power and divine will into the kayak. Too much of his spirit poured out for it to remain a mere artifact that held part of another's consciousness. Iternis’s musing filled the expertly crafted vehicle and soon began to manifest in ways that the god had never intended.

A single somber tear rolled down Iternis’s cheek and splashed onto the polished wood of the kayak

“Holy shit, stop with the melodrama!” A shrill yet booming voice yelled out, “I don’t need your tears all over me!”

Before Iternis could process what the voice said, the kayak shot away from under his hands, causing the god to stumble and almost fall on the ground. The boat sped away, its paddles whirling through the air on their own accord and propelling it through the air. The ship eventually banked and made a wde, but quick, turn to circle back and pass by the befuddled god once more.

“You, sad sack!” The voice shouted again as the boat whizzed by, “Is this all there is in this place? A bunch of lame trees? Where the hell is the ocean!”

“Wha-” was all Iternis could say before the voice continued.

“There isn’t even a stream here! How the hell am I supposed to go around being the best boat in the goddamn world if all there is is trees and a lame guy!”

The boat turned so that the very front was pointed directly at Iternis. Iternis just stood there, trying to work through everything that was happening in his mind.

“Ugh, you’re unbearable. I know you’re a god, but you are acting like a straight up village idiot right now,” The voice continued, exasperated. The boat turned away from the god and began flying around through the air again, “Where is the exit to this boring place. You’re so lame I won’t let you near me so I have to go find some other, cooler people, to ride me.”

“You.... are the boat,” Iternis said slowly.

”Damn straight ‘m the boat!” The kayak responded, their paddles still launching them through the air, “In fact, I’m The Boat! The name’s Kanoe. Now send me to that Galbar place you were thinking of when you made me, it seems way more interesting than this dump.”

“Why are you sentient,” Iternis frowned and crossed his arms, “That wasn’t the plan.”

“Oh, gee thanks, for saying I’m a mistake,” If Kanoe had eyes they would be rolling them, “I’m exactly what you wanted, with your mopey, self-pity induced internal dialogue. Just get over Toog or try harder to make up.”

“Wait, you know what I was thinking?”

“Uuggggghhh!” Kanoe held that out for about thirty seconds, “Only when you were making me! Was I really that much of a mistake? Forget you, I’m ditching this shitshow!”

“No, you’re not leaving!” Iternis exclaimed angrily, “You need to stay so we can work this whole debacle ou-”

Kanoe the Kayak ignored their creator’s indignant shouting and zoomed off, using a bit of the excess power Iternis had left on them to shatter a break in the realm and squirt themselves out into Galbar. In an instant, Kanoe was unleashed on the world and Iternis was left alone, confused and not the least bit perturbed. BUt maybe Kanoe had a point: Iternis had been being a bit of a mopey sad sack…







Introductions


As far as places to grow up in, Harri was not the worst. There were plenty of trees and nice meadows to play in, the farms aways made enough food, and the stream that gave the town its water came directly from the mountain side and was clear as the skies were every summer day. The biggest downside, however, was that it was almost insufferably small. Exactly one hundred and twenty-four people claimed to live in Harri. About half of them were single families that had staked out some swath of land in either the rocky hills surrounding the town or tried to build in the marshes down river. The idyllic valley that housed the actual village and the rest of the people could be circumnavigated in less than two days.

For children in Harri, friends were slim pickings. If you wanted to ever see a new face, all you could do was make the walk to Horfon’s Crossing and hope that some traveler decided to take a shortcut when passing between Redbrook and Stagwood. This isolation forced the children of Harri to examine all their options and begrudgingly accept that they had to be friends with everyone they could. even the Alminaki kid. They made do; at least they weren’t stuck in Tinmine!

So thankfully, Forral’s Alminaki blood did not mean he was abused by the other children. Sure, that combined with the fact that he was named after a bird, meant that he was relentlessly teased. But when do you expect children to not relentlessly tease each other? Since Forral could play the game and relentlessly teased back, there was little excuse to exclude him from the communal teasing and mild abuse that children call friendship.




“You seriously don’t want to leave Harri?” Broun laughed as he pushed aside a low hanging branch.

“I never said that!” Tongold exclaimed as she picked her way through the soft forest floor behind Broun, “I just don’t think I will ever be able to leave, so I might as well start putting down roots!”

The two humans strolled up the wooded wall of the valley, the morning sun shone watery light down into the cool shade. It would be a miserably hot day, but right now it was a wonderfully pleasant morning. Broun was sixteen and browned by long days working in the sun. Tongold was a plain looking girl half a year younger than Broun, but when she stood just right in the light, Broun could see the shining radiance that he had been the first, and so far only, to see. Neither had ever left Harri and both were climbing to the most beautiful part of the valley.

“You’re never going to be able to leave?” Broun turned around and began walking backwards so he could face Tongold, “The Grand Army is probably going to come by this year or next, if you want to leave Harri that’s the way to go.”

“Like I’m going to join the army!” Tongold scoffed and smiled, “Besides, I’m not a man. There is no reason for me to enlist.”

“Just because you can only list as a Rouman doesn’t mean you shouldn’t join,” Broun suddenly lost his footing since he wasn’t looking where he was going, his arms pinwheeling in the air. Tongold caught him in her arms and the two laughed, Broun continuing like nothing had happened, “Plus, there is a woman on the Vir’s Council, that could be you!”

“It could, except she’s a witch,” the girl rolled her eyes as she threw her friend out of her arms and at a tree, “Plus, the only women who join the Grand Army are either rich heiresses, barren, or whores.”

“Hey, my sister is a Rouman!” Broun growled in fake indignation.

“And she enlisted when you were a baby,” Tongold countered and scrunched up her face, “She could be a whore for all you know.”

Broun just shrugged and started walking again. They fell into silence. The pair continued their climb up the side of the valley, winding through the lush trees and up to the stony overlook that was both the most secluded and impressive part of the valley. AS they approached their destination, Broun turned back Tongold and, with a smile on his face, began to talk.

“So, even though you think you’re fated to be stuck in this lame valley for all eternity,l wasting away like a dying tree-”

“That’s uncalled for!”

“I’m not finished! Even though you think you’re stuck here, I think there is something very important in this valley, something that will make it all worth the while!”

“Oh really,” Tongold sighed, unimpressed with his speech, “And I suppose that is why you’re dragging me all the way to the Lookout.”

“Precisely!” The trees had sputtered out to the occasional shrug and the cliff ledge was almost in view, “Now close your eyes, it's a surprise!”

“Really, you’re doing that whole bit?” Tongold still made a show of shutting her eyes, despite her complaint. Broun still put his hands over her eyes as a double measure before guiding her the rest of the way.

“Why can’t I just walk myself?” She asked as she stumbled over a rock, reaching to push away her friend’s hands.

“Hey, no peeking!” Bround laughed as he elbowed away her arm, “I’ll tell you when!”

Tongold sighed but gave no further protest. Broun led her all the way to the spot where the verdant grass made a beautiful bed that crowned the clifftop that overlooked all of the picturesque valley. Waiting there in that special spot was… nothing.

“Dammit, Forral!” Broun cursed under his breath, where the hell was all the stuff?

“What was that?” Tongold tried to open her eyes, “What went wrong?”

“Nothing, I just need to fix something,” the boy tried to hide the frustration in his voice, “Just keep your eyes closed a little bit longer.”

Broun dashed away from Tongold, looking through the grass. Where in the world was all the stuff? Forral was supposed to set up the scene an hour ago! The damn kid was ruining his chance. Broun continued rooting around in the grass, hoping to find all the stuff he had planned just hidden all while Tongold impatiently called out. Eventually, he accepted the fact that he would just have to improvise and kicked a rock to vent his frustration. The stone tumbled off the cliff

As Broun turned back to his friend, the gears whirring in his brain, the rock hit something with a resounding thwack that was quickly followed by a yelp which inturn was followed by an angry shout:

“Hey! Watch where you’re kicking those things!” The voice welled up from down the cliff.

“Who was that?” Tongold dropped her hands and rushed with Broun to look over the cliff edge.

There they saw, clinging to the cliff face like a spider, a small fourteen year old boy. He had his sandy hair tied back and out of his face, revealing a line of closely trimmed feathers and a small gash on his brow. He wobbled a little bit as the wind caught on the large sack that was haphazardly strapped to his back by jury-rigged rope.

“Forral?” Tongold shouted in surprise, “What in the world are you doing down there, that’s a hundred foot drop! You could be killed!”

“Well, before Bround so rudely hit me with a rock,” The quarter-Almanaki grunted as he started scaling the rocks once more, “I was trying to climb to the top of the Lookout before you two got there.”

Forral was a swift climber and closed the distance in a very short time, the other two teenagers helped haul him onto stable ground before interrogating him further.

“Why did you need to beat us up here? Why didn’t you just walk around like a sane person!” Tongold huffed, “And what is even with the bag? Did you just want to be even more reckless.”

“I’m glad to see you care about me, Mom,” Forral scowled as he sat cross legged and began unwinding the full sack, “This bag was the whole reason I had to climb in the first place.”

“What is the bag even for?” Tongold sat back and crossed her arms.

“Yeah!” Broun piled on, “And why did you need to get it here now?“ Then, through his teeth, “And not earlier like I asked.”

“Calm down there, don’t start a landslide,” Forral said, “Let me work and then I’ll be gone!”

Quickly, before either of the two people could respond, Forral began pulling things out of his sack and arranging them. First, he threw a cloth over a medium sized stone on the cliff top and just as quickly produced a loaf of bread, a small flask of wine, and two wooden cups.

“Forral, what are you doi-” Tongold stated but the boy just held up a hand and continued working.

He took the crumpled flowers that Broun had spent the last week picking and weaving into a lovely garland and placed them between the food. He put the small candle in the center of the garland, lit it, and went back into the bag for the last thing.

“Broun, is this the surprise?” Tongold chuckled, turning to face her friend, smiling, “Did you get Forral to set all this up?”

Broun was smiling sheepishly at his crush, rubbing the back of his neck, “Maybe, I just wanted to show you that Harri wasn’t all bad-”

The two continued talking, but Forral tuned them out, too busy staring down into his hands. In each palm, shielded from his two friend’s views, were a half of a statuette. Broun hand carved it from wood, he had spent months on it. It was a gift for tongold, for when he finally told her he loved her. He had poured his heart into crafting it and it even almost looked like here! Somehow, it had been split in two while Forral had been climbing.

Forral uselessly clunked the two pieces together, as if just touching the breaking point would fuse them back together. He had ruined it, Broun would be so mad at him. He scrunched his eyes tight, trying not to show his distress to the other two, squeezing the two shards together. Maybe he could just put it back in the bag and hide it?

“-Forral!” Someone called, breaking him out of his reverie.

“Wha-” The boy looked up, blinking.

Broun and Tongold were hugging, sharing the bread and laughing, it had been Broun who had called him.

“Show her the thing I made!” Broun’s eyes lit up with pride and Tongold’s with excitement.

“Oh… right.”

Forral stretched out his hands, still squeezing the small figurine together, hiding the split with his palms. He paused for a little, cringing away before he even showed his mistake. Eventually, under the eager eyes of his two companions, he sighed, closed his eyes, and opened his palms. As he did so, he felt a twinge in his gut, preparing to be berated, but also another strange sensation, dancing all across his body.

“Oh, it’s beautiful!” he heard Tongold cry as the idol was snatched from his hands.

Forral let out a noise of confusion and opened his eyes. Tongold held the figurine, somehow completely repaired, more than repaired really, it was now polished and smoothed like it had been made by an expert. She had thrown herself around Broun’s neck and was hugging him deeply. Broun laughed and squeezed Tongold back as Forral sat in amazement.

“Hey, Forral,” Bround chuckld, tearing his gaze away from Tongold and tearing Forral out of his stupor“Could you give us some, uh….Privacy?”

“Yeah, sure.”

And with that Forral stood up and started walking quickly down the mountain side, taking the regular path, walking too quickly to stop and think about how that figurine had magically repaired itself.


The Conniving Witch


Hofmar Qull-Born was riding back home and she couldn’t help but be reminded how much she hated the Gardens. Everything was so lush and verdant, not a single crag or rocky mountainside to be seen. She knew that the Gardens were a place of great life and peacefulness, but some base feeling within the witch really wanted to believe that there was a dark evil lurking under the idyllic landscape. There wasn’t, but things would be more interesting if there was.

Luckily, her wonderful mount, Forral, was carrying her away from the wretched place of loveliness and back to the foothills of the Anchor Mountains, where the Stonebird had been born and the Vir’s council was currently residing. Usually, Hofmar always stayed by the Vir’s side whenever he led the Grand Army into her home province, but a very important matter had pulled her away: a rival had been born. Well, more specifically, a rival had been born ten years ago and Hofmar was only just now finding out.

Hofmar smiled fondly as she remembered the girl. She had just started to reach the cusp of womanhood, which was a great feat for a witch that dared to be born in Virfeild. For all One Hundred and Forty-Eight years that Hofmar had reigned as the Vir’s personal witch not a single one had ever made it past eight before she had come to remove them as threats. This girl, Houll was her name — Hofmar had made a point of remembering it — might have been able to escape her for so long simply because she lived so far into the Gardens where the Master Witch never went if she didn’t have to, but she liked to think it was because Houll was smart.

Houll had put up a good fight too, not good enough as Hofmar had still won, but she had been a strong child. Most times, Hofmar killed any of the witches who had had time to come into their power (The others she usually just took out their tongues and eyes) but something and made her decide to let Houll live. Hofmar was even kind enough to let her keep an eye. It would take about forty years for Houll to get strong enough again to fight Hofmar, but by then the elder witch would probably have grown bored with working for the Vir. It is always smart to start planning for your retirement early.

Trying to keep the Vir from listening to any of those mana-loving bastards was hard work, Hofmar mused, mages from all around Virfeild wanted to bend the ear of their leader, to try and confine him to some arbitrary rules an old god had made. Well, the Vir was already obsessed with the god of arbitrary rules, Tekret et Heret, so it was more of the fact that Hofmar was a witch and follower of Qullqiya that she worked so hard at her job. She would want those damn sing-songy druids to replace her before some stuffy mana wielder in long robes way to ornate for his ability.

As the stonebird Forral thundered across the land, soft soil turning rocky, Hofmar began to doze off, trusting her mount to know the way. Out of the night, a great ripple of energy washed over the drowzing witch, almost knocking her off the stonebird. If she hadn’t attuned herself to magical surges in an attempt to rat out young witches, she probably would have dismissed it, but something incredibly powerful had just released a tone of magical energy into the world. Hofmar tugged Forral’s reins towards the epicenter of the energy, somewhere far to the Western outskirts of Virfeild territory. She was still a little tired from defeating Houll, but given the size of that magical disturbance, she probably couldn’t afford to wait before killing whichever being, young witch or otherwise, had made it.

As Hofmar snapped the reins, Forral squawked in both resistance and exhaustion but the witch forced her onwards. It was a long ways to the Western border and Hofmar didn’t have time to waste. She released some of her magic to make Forral not feel the ache from running and try to speed up the journey. The mana exploded out of Hofmar and sent a shock wave of energy around her and her mount that contracted backwards into the muscles of the stonebird. The pulse increased the stonebird’s speed tenfold and shook the ground, startling a flock of songbirds, one of which flew after her. Spriling in the air, the small creature flew faster than a regular songbird should be able to and for much longer.

She tried to ignore the bird at first, assuming it was just an animal, but the longer she rode and the longer it followed, the more she became convinced it was something more. Was it a spy sent by another witch? Or maybe a druid? It was certainly not natural. Hofmar released another pulse of magic to augment Forral who let out a great squawk of pain as her muscles bulged large, creaking louder than the trees bent by the shock wave.

The stonebird shot off at an incredible speed and Hofmar had to hold tightly to the beast’s neck to not be thrown off. She hadn’t wanted to use that spell on Forral twice, but between the bird and that pulse she had felt, she was getting a little on edge. She needed to figure out what was going on. After a moment of rest, clutching onto Forral’s neck, Hofmar looked up to see if the bird was still following. Instantly her eyes locked onto the tiny songbird flying noiselessly alongside of her, seemingly uninterested in confining to natural flightspeeds. Now, the bird had somehow produced a sprig of some plant life, the tip smoldering in flame that the wind could not put out.

“Begone!” Hofmar shouted over the rushing air, hucking a fireball from her palm at the bird, “I have a child to go kill, I don’t need some feathered bastad tailing me the whole way!”

“I was a little worried that was what you were doing…” a disappointed voice echoed through Hofmar’s mind as the fireball washed over and past the bird, leaving it unscathed, “I would kindly ask you not to do that.”

Before Hofmar could even be surprised, the sprig the bird had been carrying exploded into a flash of white light, so bright that it felt like a thousand punches on every part of Hofmar’s body that it touched. The witch let out a rather undignified “oof” and slipped off Forral's saddle and thudded against the ground. By the time the ringing in Hofmar’s ears faded, the stonebird was already out of sight, however, the witch didn't wait for the ringing to stop before acting. She exploded to her feet, casting a quick cyclone that spun around her, ejecting any and all things too close to her.

“Show yourself!” She screamed in anger, hands raised and already steaming with magic. She narrowed her eyes as she caught a glimpse of a feather flying away and immediately lobbed a ball of roiling gray mist at the bird, “Who are you!”

The mist bounced off some invisible barrier and deflected into a large mossy stone which began rapidly eroding and decaying until an area the size of a wagon wheel had aged into dust.

“I’m certainly not an innocent bird!” the voice chided her, still sounding from within her own skull, “That nice sparrow was just doing a favor for me. There's no need to kill the poor woman, she’s got a full nest of hatchlings back home!”

“What do you want?” Hofmar spat, crappling her hands together, instead of a noise coming from the action, an explosion of crystals that took the shape of a glaive, “And what are you willing to do to keep me from killing you!”

The voice within her mind laughed, “I doubt you could kill a god.”

Hofmar narrowed her eyes, whoever the hell this was clearly had an ego. If they thought themselves a god they would be easier to topple.

“As for what I want,” the voice continued, “Is simply for you not to go kill a child you know nothing about.”

“Oh yeah?” Hofmar humored the voice as she scanned all around for some magical energy; the bastard had to be projecting from somewhere, he couldn’t be acting remotely because he had deflected her mist ball. If she could just find him... “What’s in it for me!”

The voice paused then finally chuckled, ”Well, I suppose I won’t kill you right now as long as you promise to wait for about twenty years before you try and kill the child.”

Where the hell was this guy? He had clearly used magic but there was no direction she could sense that could have been the source of it.

“I think I’ll take my chances ‘god’.” the witch sneered, trying to goad her assailing, “Why don’t you come out here so I can prove that!”

“You know,” the voice sighed, “I really wish I could. But I can’t. Infact, that child you are trying to kill was going to be my solution to that predicament. Since, I can’t show you my power in person, this’ll have to do.”

“What in the world are you rambling ab-” Hofmar’s dramatic complaint was interrupted by a sudden bursting of power.

Like a dam shattering and water crashing over and over until the village can see the flood coming but do nothing but know how small they were, that is how Hofmar felt. The untapped energy blew over the witch, tearing at her and taking away bit by bit until she found herself lost in the power. She had not been even touched by the god but she felt herself being stripped. The whole world seemed strange and unfamiliar, even though nothing besides her perception had changed. She forgot who she was or what the world was. She lost all sense of self and direction. She was reduced to a no one and truly lost. Until she wasn’t.

Hofmar slammed back into herself, regaining all that she had lost, gasping for breath.

“How did you enjoy being a true Wanderer?” The god asked, the question actually seemed genuine, no ill in his voice.

“It was terrible, if I’m being honest,” Hofmar groaned, leaning over and puking.

“I’ve got to say, you handled being stripped of all your ties to the world fairly well,” the god conceded, “And I suppose you have a good reason not to go kill that child now?”

Hofmar wiped the vomit from her mouth and straightened up. Her entire demeanour shifted, she put on the posture and face she used when talking to the Vir, whenever she needed to do a negotiation.

“So,” she began cordially as if dismissing all the events that had happened before, “You are a god. I thought Y’all were gone for good.”

“We were. Now we’re back,” her target responded flippantly, “And I’ll be gone again as soon as you promise not to not attack that child. If you disagree, I’ll leave too but then you might not be “you” anymore…”

“What is your name, are you one of those Eight that the druids worship? I don’t think you are Tacsret or Kwael.”

“That was an abrupt change of subject, but if you must know, I am Iternis,” there was a brief apparition of a man in a flowing cloak appearing with a flourish, but just as she processed it happening she became positive that it was nothing but a trick of the light.

“Iternis?” Hofmar was a little taken aback, she had never heard of a god named that before, “Like Ternas and Toug? Those folk heroes the peasants like so much?”

“First of all, his name was Toog. Second of all, I… wasn’t quite as active in the whole “being a god” thing in those early days,” Iternis conceded, “Besides, I don’t see why the God of Journeys has to justify himself to a mortal like you.”

“You don’t,” Hofmar deadpanned, “You chose to.”

“Okay, maybe I have missed talking to mortals a little in these 2000 years, but either way, just don’t try to harm that child if you value your ability to form connections with people, places or things.”

Hofmar felt the god’s presence fading quickly as he turned his power away from the witch. She was losing her chance.

“Wait!” She called out, even instinctually reaching out her hard, even though she was talking to a voice in her head. She then recompose herself, “I have a proposition.”

She waited in silence for a while, trying to feel if Iternis would return. Moments ticked by and she felt nothing. A few choice insults for the god ran through her mind for the God of Journeys as she started to give up, looking around for her stonebird before realizing it was long gone.

“You don’t think you can use your godly powers to give me back my ride! That was my favorite stonebird!” She shouted into the open air not really directed at the God of Journeys. She scowled, gave a great huff, and then punted a pebble into the boulder she had partially destroyed earlier. The pebble exploded into purple flames and finished the poor rock off, “I guess I’ll just have to find some other god to make a deal with.”

“What kind of deal were you looking for?” Iternis’s voice shook out again, and Hofmar tried to keep from smiling.

“My first demand, I want immortality, real immortality,” She instantly broke out into her demands, “I don’t want to join one of the branches of Witchery so I can live forever only to become irrelevant after two hundred years. I also want you to augment my magic in whatever way you can, I don’t want to be killed by some random mage who wants to depose a witch.”

“Are you done yet?”

“No,” Hofmar crossed her arms, “But if you want to interject you can.”

“You know, mortal, you are quite ambitious. I have a brother who would really like you,” Iternis stated,” And I do find this whole “irreverence” thing amusing, but what could you possibly offer me to make you worth the while?”

“Well, you don’t want anything to happen to this kid, right? I’m not the only thing in these parts that would want to kill a very magical baby, just the first to show up. I could keep the brat safe until they can fend for themselves.”

“You know I could make a horrible monster to protect him with its life with a flick of my hand?”

“Sure,” Hofmar shrugged, “Or you could get me to do it.”

There was a pause and then hearty laughter. There was a blinding flash of light and Hofmar felt the same power as before washing over her, but this time it was giving instead of taking. She gasped as she felt the mana contract and pulse around her, growing more attuned to the magic of the world. She felt so large and powerful, like if she saw a leaf fluttering in the wind she could tell you exactly all the places it could land; every high she had ever felt paled in comparison to this feeling right now. She fell to the ground in jnoy and because her knees could no longer hold all the power.

“Consider yourself hired,” the God of Journeys boomed, “Go to the town of Harri and guide the small boy born to Halmond and Alla-”

Iternis prattled on with commands, but Hofmar was too caught up in the feeling of the divine. She had done it! She had gotten a god to give her their power. Sure, it had never been her goal, it had never even crossed her mind until the moment she realized Iternis was actually divine, but it still felt like she had accomplished some life goal.

“I just have to protect the boy?” Hofmar asked, surprised by both the excitement and new power within her voice, “And when he dies, of old age or some unavoidable fate, I can keep my powers, I will be free to do what I will with them as I please.”

“Sure, if you say so.”

“Great! Just bring back Forral- my stonebird- and I’ll be on my way!”

“Oh, you don’t need her, you can find your own way!”

“What!?” the color drained from Hofmar’s face, her finally coming down from the high of gaining more power, “She is my favorite bird.”

“Too bad!” Iternis chuckled, “I’m sure you could find another ride around her somewhere, I think my gift would make it easier.”

“If you want me to do this for you! You nee-” Hofmar began fuming before suddenly her throat seized up, no sound coming out. She tried to continue to complain more but each word she tried to squeeze out made her throat feel any tighter. She wasn’t choking or anything, but panic still boiled up within her.

“Look, lady,” Iternis sighed, if she could see him he would probably be giving her a very exasperated smirk, “I’m only giving you this job because I think it will be entertaining. I know you think you are a super powerful negotiator and are super charismatic, but the only reason you always come out on top. You need to get used to being the smallest fish in the pond.”

The spell trapping Hofmar’s throat ended and she started gasping loudly, jsu to hear herself making noise.

“Also, if you were just planning on taking your new responsibilities lightly, you should know that if you ever try and abandon your duties, I will strip everything from you just like I did before and you will be left as a no one, wandering Galbar forever,” Hofmar could feel Iternis’s prescense fading again, as if he were walking away, “and if you were thinking that you could just wait the 70 years for the kid to die and then be scot-free, you should know the kid is going to be immortal too. You’ve got a long eternity of work ahead of you.”

Iternis silencing Hofmar’s voice a second time didn’t even shoot the tirade of curses and insults the humiliated witch was throwing out at him.




In the small town of Harri, Alla the Half-born was cooing over her two week old baby as her husband, Halmond, was busy stoking a fire. Suddenly, the door slammed open. Alla yelped in surprise and cradled her unnamed baby to her bosom as a haggard woman filled the door frame. She looked about forty and was covered in all manner of mud and twigs. Her hair was a storm of caked dust and frazzled strands. Her clothes looked like they had once been nice but had been destroyed by miles and miles of foot travel.

“Where’s the damn baby,” the stranger croaked as she stumbled into the small shack.

Alla stood up and retreated with the baby in the back of the shack as Halmond took up a wood axe and leapt between his wife and the witch.

“Who the hell are you!” The young man shouted, brandishing his weapon.

“Hofmar Qull-Born, Tasslman of the Vir’s Council,” The very disheveled witch growled, waving her hand and causing the axe to revert back into a tree sapling, “Now where i-”

“Hey!” Halmond laughed, going in for a hug, causing Hofmar to scurry backwards like a scared cat, “You’re my quadruple great aunt! We’re family!”

Hofmar pathetically batted away the young man’s hands, “I’m a lot of people’s quadruple great aunts! Now, I have had a very terrible last two weeks, so could you just please show me the baby.”

‘Why do you want my baby!” Alla pulled further away from the woman, ignoring Halmond’s sudden change in demeanor and shooting the witch a furious gaze.

“Because,” an exasperated Hofmar shoved Halmond aside and took a step forward, “they are a child of great destiny and I have been charged with protecting them.”

Hofmar’s dirt covered hands reached out for the child who instantly began to cry. Alla retaliated by kicking the witch in the gut.

“Get back you fiend,” she shouted, “A child is safest with their mother!”

Hofmar doubled over, thrown completely off balance, and toppled to the floor. She groaned in pain for a short while as Alla’s words sunk in. A child is safest with their mother.

“This is good, gooood,” Hofmr muttered on the floor, biting her thumb furiously in thought as the others looked on at her in befuddlement, “If a child is safest with their mother, then it would be harming the kid to take it away from its mother. Even more, if I’m in the picture I could hurt the motherly bond, so really, to best protect the snot nosed brat, I should have nothing to do until it’s a snot-nosed adult! Iternis could hardly punish me for trying to give the brat the best childhood possible!”

Hofmar sprung to her feet and bolted for the door.

“Goodbye, goodbye!” She shoved Halmond aside, a frenzied look in her eyes “Find me when the little shit is fully grown, until then I will be desperately trying to live my normal life!”

“Wait!” Halmond leapt after Hofmar, grabbing onto her before she could make it out the door, “The baby hasn’t had his recognition ceremony yet!”

“And that’s got nothing to do with me, goodbye!”

“No, you should be the one to name him!”

“What!?”

“What!?” Halmond’s wife let out a similar cry of indignation, “She is just a crazy wanderer who broke into the house! Why would you let her be the one to Recognize our child!”

“No, she is Hofmar Qull-Born, look what she did to my axe!” Halmond tried to reassure his wife, “And if our son is recognized by a Tassleman of the Vir’s Council, things will surely go well for him!”

“I’m not doing that,” Hofmar stated bluntly as she made another break for the door, but Halmond once again blocked her path.

“You said you were charged with helping out baby,” he pleaded, ignoring the witches and his wife’s complaints, “If you aren’t the one to Recognize him, you’d be hurting his chances at a great life.”

Hofmar was about to just use her magic to destroy the door and make her escape, but Iternis’s threat came back to her. Would this count as forsaking her duty? The witch growled in frustration and turned back around.

“Fine, I’ll do it. Show me the baby” Hofmar beckoned for Alla to life the tiny boy up so she could see him. The baby was a hideous little thing, granted all babies were disgusting, Hofmar just hoped this one was exceedingly so, “Today, we recognize this young man, born to Halmond and Alla,” Hofmar tried to get through the rights as quickly as possible, doing the bare minimum to satisfy the parents, “May he grow ever stronger to best serve the Vir. Under the watchful eye of Tacsret et Haerad, God of Rulership and Contracts, I, Hofmar Qull-Born, Recognize you as... “ This was the worst time to blank on a name, “Forral!”

“But that’s a girl’s name!” Halmond protested.

“It’s also the name of one hell of a stoenbird,” Hofmar countered as she pushed past the young man and threw open the door, “Now goodbye.”

With that, Hofmar shot off into the night, happy to get that over with and content that she had just managed to secure roughly sixteen years of peace before she was forced into the eternal labor she had foolishly signed herself up for.





Iternis


Iternis smiled as he leaned back on his hands in the center of Antiquity. Although no air blew in the collosal structure, the God of Journey's could still feel a swirling liveliness in the sacred place as all his siblings poured out of exile and milled around the field. This was not the victory he sought for the last two millennia, but it was a close second to truly going back to Galbar. Iternis sent his mind away from his body in Antiquity and gazed all across the land for the first time in ages.

The god looked down at all the mortals, all the small beings, and saw how they were trapped. Not by chains or walls, although some were, but by mountains, oceans, and distance. So little had changed or moved since he himself had walked those lands. In some places, he saw mortals trying to break the gaps between them, through boats and trails but still, too few dared to leave what they knew because the only way they could would be on foot. They were so bound, yet he could still feel their yearning.

“I have neglected my duty,” Iternis declared to himself, determined to right that wrong.

Mortals longed to be able to go over their horizons, to seek out grander and better things that their home could not offer, but too many times nature stood in their way. Iternis could sense in the minds of a few mortals a desire, one that some had already acted on. A desire to try and tame nature to help them. Iternis sent down his voice and whispered in the ears of many thousands of mortals, urging them to seize the beasts of their land and to tame and use them for their own desire. That desire to see past the horizon.

His power moved over Toraan, starting in the very north. In the ice and snow, humans began to lash their sleds to the large shaggy beasts that wandered those lands. The Boreal Stags, with their long fur, graceful legs capped with wide hooves, and endless strength were brought into the fold, perfect for trudging through the deepest of winter or clamoring through the rocky highlands. Further south, in the Plains of Sol and the Gardens, Iternis’s voice whispered and encouraged the mortals to breed their livestock, the gentle giants of the Quillats. Under Iternis’s watchful eye, a new creature was created by those humans, sleeker and faster, that the humans of the prairies soon began using in teams to pull chariots across the fertile lands.

In the mountains, Iternis watched as a young dwarf snuck through the blackest of nights, an egg the size of a child clutched in his arms. He would raise the Stonebird as his own until the day that he would ride it through the mountain side. The God of Journeys laughed as he saw that already there were Alminaki whooping in joy as they soared through the Blood Basin on the backs of the Desert Mantas.

In Mydia, Goblins and Night Elves alike rode on the backs of Baqualo, large hearty beasts that could traverse the land and sea with equal ease. On Kubrajzar, two siblings had already been tamed by the mortals there, large humped beings that wandered the dry places of the continent so Iternis just spread the Camel to all those who would sue it. In the highlands, Iternis showed the mortals the humble Yak and soon it too became a grand tool for journey.

Finally, Iternis goaded the bravest of mortals to leap into the vast rivers of Kubrajzar and wrestle with the enormous serpents, the Kubjran Eels. The great animals were fifteen feet long and traveled from the ocean, up the rivers, and over mountain tops to breed in the lake valleys of the Kubrajzar Mountains. Now they pulled the barges of mortals up and down the great rivers and along the coasts.

Iternis snapped back into himself, tired from spending so much time influencing Galbar. He smiled to himself, looking at all the mortals taking the images he had planted in their minds and watching them act on them. Soon, Galabr would seem so much smaller and their lives would see so much more.

Iternis chuckled to himself.

“Let them ride”




Incarnation


Nestled in the foothills of the Anchor Mountains, overlooking both the verdant Gardens and the vast Blood Basin, on the outskirts of the small town of Harri, which inturn was on the outskirts of the domain of Virfeild, the young Halmond tenderly encouraged his lover, Alla, as she was giving birth. As a whole, it should have been a happy and beautiful scene, as all births should be, but this particular trial was soiled just a little by the fact that no midwife would come and the mother was half Alminaki.




“My father had lived a relatively easy life. When he was born, seventeen years earlier, none other than the Western Winvir, Olmon Red-Vein, recognized him as Halmond during his Naming Ceremony. His uncle was the Lord of Garren and had served under Olmon back when he had merely been a Birman. This, in addition to my triple-great grand Aunt, who was a Tasslman and the Vir’s personal witch, meant that my father had both great expectations for his military career and everything he could ever want.”

“My mother was not so lucky. Her father was a wandering Alminaki who stayed with her mother, a peasant, for exactly ten months. After their daughter, Allakamina, was born, he was driven off because he refused to join the Grand Army and forsake his ties to the Alminaki for his wife and daughter. My grandmother decided that she was willing to sever her ties with him and the foreighn sounding part of their daughter’s name. As the now named Alla grew older, she took to always trimming the saffron feathers that lined her brow but she had a very hard time hiding the russet colored skin her dad had given her.”

“Neither of their lives could have possibly prepared them for the wonderful- but ultimately disastrous- happenstance of meeting each other. It had happened the summer before last. For Halmond’s sixteenth birthday, his father had sent him to live with his cousin, working for his stay and training for his eventual enlistment. Alla happened to be working as a servant in Halmond’s cousin’s household, tending to the lord’s young daughters whenever he and his wife were serving their term in the Grand Army. They were both young and my father was handsome and confident, except in my mother’s presence, while she was kind yet driven and ambitious. The two seemed to gravitate towards each other and, since the Grand Army had just left the Western Territory the summer before, both had few responsibilities and lots of free time to sneak off into the woods.”

“The Winter had been an oddly cold one and Halmond had injured his leg, forcing him to have to spend most of his time alone in his room, which was near the servant’s quarters. Alla was all too eager to try and help Halmond recover, as she did know a little about healing. Halmond stayed in that bed for quite a while, even with Alla constantly visiting him, sometimes even during the night! It was no surprise to anyone who listened to gossip when come spring time my mother was pregnant.”

“Being from a reputable family, my father wasn’t supposed to get married or have children until after his first term in the Grand Army, and he would be (preferably) married to former Rouman, not a half-breed servant girl. Halmond’s cousin, out of the kindness of his heart ot maybe just wanting to avoid the scandal, was willing to hide the fact that the whole affair had happened as long as Alla either got rid of the baby or, if she wanted to keep it, leave their house forever and claim she didn’t know who the father was.”

“My mother took the second option and was forced out of the only place that had ever offered her stability. It was an unfortunate shock to my dad's side of the family when it turned out that he actually cared for Alla and quickly followed her into exile. The two travelled together away from the heart of the Western Territory and towards it’s fringes, trying to survive while hiding from my grandfather, who had been sending men to try and bring the wayward son home. They didn’t know where they were heading, besides away. Eight months into their journey, when they had just left the town of Harri, Alla’s water broke.”

“The contractions started soon after and my parents found themselves in an old abandoned hut with no water, no medicinal herbs to help the birth, and certainly no midwife. On that autumn night, several miraculous things happened that coincided with my birth. If you were to believe my father, which you shouldn’t, it was my birth that caused them.”

“First, my father swore he saw hundreds of shooting stars, streaking across the sky all while my mother was in labor. A tremendously significant event that I have already seen at least three times in my lifetime.Second, (and least miraculous) the Anchor Mountains failed to shake, even though they had been resting for twenty years to the date. Evidently, my father liked to think that the birth of one child fought off a ritual tragedy that was never as punctual as the tales liked to tout. Lastly, my mother swore she had seen a soft, golden light fill the entire room, accompanied by godly singing. While I would usually dismiss this whole sale as simply her hallucinating from the pain of giving birth, my father corroborates the story so I only dismiss it part sale.”

“Either way, it was apparently incredibly poor singing, so it may have just been a passing woodsman with an exceptionally bright lantern. All three non-events supposedly marked me as a child of great destiny, as foretold by no one and heralded by two teenagers, desperately trying to convince themselves that their lives would turn for the better. As of yet, I don’t suppose they have and besides that one time I managed to not be killed by a flock of angry stone birds, I don’t think I’ve had anything remotely resembling a great destiny.”





Company


The pleasant thing about traveling through portals is that, for however short a time, you briefly get to cease to exist. For mortals and the less observant of gods, this period of time is so short that they are either incapable of or not bothered to go about perceiving that it had ever even happened. This gives very overworked and stressed minds a brief respite from all the worries and troubles of existing. The problem is, not existing quickly goes back to existing and all those problems punch you in the gut like a ton of bricks, sending you pinballing back to square one of Not Having a Good Time. And, as it happened, square one was exactly where Iternis was as he tumbled head over heals through the portal and into Antiquity.

Iternis skid face first along the marble floors of Antiquity, his gray cloak fluttering about like the most useless of sails in the middle of a summer storm. The god ground to a halt, and lay on the floor for half a second, groaning. It was strange to feel pain, he hadn’t had to deal with unexpected outcomes for so long. The fact that his nose felt like it had been torn off and his palms were shredded by the stone flooring made Iternis exceptionally happy.

Iternis sprung to his feet and with a very excited look about him, his eyes flying around wildly and his body being forced to follow.

“Hey! It’s me! Is anyone here!?” Iternis bellowed at the top of his lungs as he scrutinized every corner of the enormous arena.

Iternis took a deep breath to shout again but then his eyes locked onto something, onto someone. Specifically, a very naked, very shiny someone who was walking away from a portal. All the breath ran away from Iternis and he was briefly frozen in place. That quickly faded, however, and the god let out what could only be described as an excited squeal and then exploded into a cloud of small songbirds and swarmed over to the unclothed god in a blur.

Tekret et Heret hardy had time to react before the frenzy of feathers that had suddenly filled his vision coalesced into a man with a wild look in his eyes who tackled the God of Contracts, wrapping his arms around his waist in a desperate hug, babbling the whole time:

“...Oh thank the Lifeblood, another person! It’s been so long! So Long! I’m Iternis, I don’t think we’ve met! It’s been 2000 years! I’ve been working so hard! Two Thousand years!” Iternis’s words ran together as he clutched tightly to the first soul he had gotten his hands on, tears starting to well in his eyes and his voice cracking, “I shouldn’t’ve counted, it made it feel so much longer! I was alone! For so Long! But I’m Here! We’re here! Seven Hundred and Thirty Thousand Days! I’m so happy! I'm free! I’m so happy, so happy--” at this point Iternis had collapsed into a sobbing ball of relief slumped against Tekret with his face buried in the other god’s stomach as tears of joy freely slid down his face, “Anyway… How are you?”

In lieu of a reply Tekret started lightly smacking Itneris’s head while demanding, “Damnit, get, get off me what are you even doing you ridiculous-”

After about the twentieth smack, Iternis released his vice-grip hug on Tekret and slumped into a puddle on the floor.

“I’m sorry,” He blubbered, trying to wipe away his tears, “I just thought I’d never see another person again. It’s been so long. Have I mentioned that?”

The naked god glared at his sibling and huffed, “You thought you’d never see another person? What? Right now I’m wishing I could never see another person! Did you do that!?” Tekret demanded, pointing at the nearest rift, “Because if you did, oh do I have words for you.”

“Did what? The portal?” Iternis blew his nose into his robes before continuing, “I wish! I had tried for so long to make a way back to Galbar or even just to find another god! I just could never do it, I just found this one and then I made it real big and then I fell through it and then I was here and then I saw you! Hi, I’m Iternis.”

He extended his hand which only had the slightest bit of snot on it.

Tekret glared at the hand, at Iternis, and with a massive sigh grabbed the Iternis’s hand and pulled him to his feet before actually shaking it. “Tekret et Heret,” The porcelain god began, a hint of annoyance in his voice, “God of Rulership and Contracts. And what do you even mean, you thought you’d never see a person again? Just because we were cut off from Galbar didn’t mean we couldn’t see it. Influence it. Are you seriously telling me you spent two thousand years trying to break through the Lifeblood’s resistance and get to Galbar, instead of doing your job, whatever that is?”

“Well…” Iternis flicked his robes around as he talked, “My job can’t really be done from afar. And even when I could see people, I couldn’t see people, if you get what I mean. I’m the God of Journeys and of Travelers, I can’t be that if I myself am not travelling! I was stuck in an empty cage with nothing to do and no one to talk to! So of course I spent my whole time trying to get out!” He paused, as if he was going to go on but decided to just fall back into a lean on the floor with a harumph.

There was a long silence as Tekret stared at Iternis, wordlessly. The God of Rulership and Contracts worked his mouth, but time and time again words failed him. Eventually he just joined Iternis on the floor and muttered, “Two. Thousand. Years. I spend two thousand years doing my job, keeping mortals to their oaths, teaching their rulers, recording every fucking agreement ever made, and you did nothing but fail to get out of your own realm. Oh. Oh my. They all did that, didn’t they. That’s why I never heard about them. Two thousand years of work, and I was one of the only ones who even...”

The alabaster god held his face in his hands and yelled.

Iternis slipped so that he was laying flat on his back and twiddled his thumbs as he watched the God of Contracts and apparently Being Overworked scream into his hands. He waited a while for the stress to die down a little before talking.

“If it is any help at all,” The God of Journeys began, “I’m pretty sure that I am not a good case study of what everyone else did. I… probably handled it worse than everyone else. Counting each day as it went by certainly didn’t help it go swimmingly… I’m sure someone out there was doing their job?”

Iternis went to pat Tekret’s back to comfort him but decided that that role reversal was probably not what the god needed. He settled for drumming the ground awkwardly.

“What about that Fe’ris fellow,” Iternis offered, “He seemed like a very industrious fellow, did you meet him before?”

“Fe’ris?” Teket asked, “I haven’t heard a thing about the man since he threatened me two thousand years ago. Not a peep. If he’d been doing something someone would have noticed! Ambition. The God of Ambition. If that ridiculous bat didn’t do a single thing I swear I’ll-”

The god stopped, and for the second time that day fell into breathing exercises.

Iternis layed next to Tekret the whole time, watching his heaving chest. After Iternis felt the other god was sufficiently calm, he sat back up and looked Tekret in the eye.

“Hey man,” Iternis started tentatively, “I know this isn’t my place, but... You seem a little stressed out. I know you value work and all, but have you considered taking a vacation?”

“A... Vacation?” Tekret’s voice shook, “Have I considered...”

Hands. Face. Yelling. Breathing exercises. Tekret, for the third time that day, went through those motions. The breaths failed to come and hitched in his throat. A deep flame burst out of his chest and flushed into his face, all that was holding it back was the smallest of corks, plugging up a volcano. The god exploded to his feet, screamed, “Fuck!”

And stormed off, leaving a bewildered Iternis alone, again.


Banished and Trapped


Iternis was alone when he felt it coming. He had been walking through the terrible crags of the southern pole, not a single soul to see him as he wandered the ever changing lands. He knew Toog was looking for him, or at least he hoped. He also hoped that the dog had moved on, living a full life like he wanted and not continuing to bind himself to Iternis.

Regardless of how Toog was faring, Iternis had felt it coming. He guessed that most of the other gods would be caught unawares, but there was no way that the force he had always dreaded would escape his senses. He could feel, in his very being, the Lifeblood preparing to descend on the world. There wasn’t much he could do about it, either the Lifeblood would destroy Galbar or it would destroy him. Iternis didn’t know what he would do given either outcome. If he was destroyed, what would happen? Thaa would also be destroyed, so who would guide his soul? Did gods even have souls? And if Galbar were destroyed, what would he have to live for then?

Iternis fell to a kneel on the ground and tried to make his presence as small as possible, hoping that maybe the Lifeblood will somehow overlook him.

It hit like a tidal wave. The power of the Lifeblood crashed over Galbar, pounding against Iternis’s very being, drawing him in and destroying his connection to Galbar. This was it, this was his end.




All in all, Iternis found not-existing very strange because, as it seemed, he was still existing. Iternis looked around and found himself suspended in an infinite dark void. Given that he was still thinking, despite the lack of a surrounding, he figured the Lifeblood hadn’t snuffed him out of existence and instead had done something else.

Iternis let out a burst of energy, one that flowed much more freely that it did on Galbar, and created a tiny sapling which floated through the endless space. Well, at least he still had his powers. Thinking he had just been teleported extremely far away, Iternis closed his eyes and tried to navigate back to the planet. He pictured the planet in his mind's eye with ease and, raising his hand to open a portal, took a step forward, heading back home.

Before his foot could even cross the threshold, Iternis was doubled over in pain. He felt the crashing sensation booming over him again and again, the Lifeblood assaulting his very being for trying to step onto Galbar. Iternis was launched from the portal, all of his energy being sapped by the Lifeblood. The gateway fizzled out of reality like a door being slammed in his face.

The reality set in. He was trapped.

Iternis hovered in place, feeling like the endless void was a series of walls, closing in. He could still see Galbar, he could see it changing, Toog having to go on without him, but he couldn’t do anything! He couldn’t even see any of the other gods, so he knew there was no way back.

The other gods. What if they were trapped like him? Could he reach them?

First, Iternis tracked down the sapling he had made and then summoned a plot of dirt for it to grow in. He made sure the Sapling would grow in size each year that passed on Galbar, so he would know exactly how long it was taking him, then he set to work. He started by trying to find Fe’ris or Yamat, two gods he had met before, to try and contact them. When the tree grew larger than a mountain, he gave up and tried for Oraelia, Gibbou,Boris, any being he had ever felt a whiff of power for.

He toiled on and on, working against reality and fighting the Lifeblood. The tree grew until it was bigger than the Tree of Genesis. Desperately, he tried to tear holes in space but was only met with the same prison void. The tree was so large it stretched on beyond sight in both directions. Iternis tried to shape his own land, a pale imitation of Galbar, around the trunk of the tree in the hopes that it would release some spark that would allow his escape. The tree grew on.

After two thousand years that felt like ten million, Iternis found it. He didn’t even make it, only stumbled upon it in his efforts. It was a portal, a tear in space that led away from the space that had held the god for so long. The portal was miniscule, barely larger than two atoms pushed together, but nothing could escape Iternis’s gaze in his realm.

The god threw himself against the portal with all his might, forcing the tear to widen. Iternis forced the tiny spec larger and large until he could get his hands through it. Ge gripped the tear in reality with all his might. He had to get out, he needed to get out. To see someone else, anything else. Iternis flung his arms apart, widening the tear in space and tumbled forward into Antiquity.


Departure


Toog winced slightly as one of the small goblin children decided to use one of his ears as a rope to swing on. While it was nice to take a rest now and again, he couldn’t fathom why Iternis had chosen to do so around so many tiny nuscances. If they had stopped in that enormous settlement, Sanctus Civitas was what those mantis people had called it, Toog would at least have a nice bed to sleep in and Iternis could have thrown about his godly status to get some good food or something.

Toog sighed and stood up, sending a cascade of squealing children flowing off of his back, the bravest few tried to hold on by wrapping themselves up in his fur but a quick shake dislodged them. He actually didn’t care about all that luxury, he mused to himself as he picked his way through the tumbles of playing kids, he felt like Iternis seemed stressed about something and deserved some pomp for once. Toog padded over to his God, who was currently taking the form of a beautiful goblin man and had been entertaining the older children for hours now.

Toog wordlessly moved around behind Iternis and lay besides him. A few of the goblins were startled by his sudden appearance, but most were too enraptured by Iternis’s story to notice. Toog had heard all of the god’s stories before, but each time Iternis was able to spin them in a new way, usually not a factual way, but a way nonetheless. They were all about the clever and incredibly handsome god Iternis and his savage and undefeatable mount Toog, facing against the forces of evil and playing all sorts of tricks on the cruel or powerful. Toog never really liked being called savage, but the mortals seemed to eat up those tales.

As their travels went on, Iternis had begun spending more and more time among the mortals and Toog, as a side effect of most people being terrified by a giant talking beast, had taken to being mostly quiet around mortals. He sort of missed the old days, when it was just the two of them, doing all the things that made up the stories Iternis tells now, but he also enjoyed these new, slower days.

Toog didn’t know why Iternis had given up all the daring exploits and his godly duties of creation, but he still loved his master and would follow him anywhere. Even if they were going to keep fading into this steady life of mediocrity. He would accept it, but he still didn’t get it; Iternis had even begun avoiding other gods. They didn’t stay in Sanctus Civitas because the god had seen one of his brothers. And before even that, when crossing the ocean from Toraan to Mylia, Iternis had taken the long way to avoid some great ocean deity.

As Toog lay, listening to Iternis’s voice, he found himself steadily drifting off to sleep.




Iternis lay next to Toog, staring up at the setting sun. Toog’s flanks rose and fell steadily in dream. The children had dispersed, called by their parents to go eat supper or do some other chores, and now the God of Journeys was left alone in the clearing, all the goblins living their mortal lives. A faint seabreeze flowed from the beach and into the light forest just to rustle Iternis’s feather crown. He let out a great sigh and stood up. Iternis cast one look back at Toog and smiled warmly before setting off to the ocean front.

He climbed the short embankment that shielded the goblins’ camp from the worst of the sea breeze and slid down the other side, stopping only when his feet plunged into the sand. He walked in silence, swishing his robes back and forth absentmindedly with his hands. He paused when he took a step into the water, the warm ocean lapping at his toes. Iternis let out another sigh, this time intentionally over dramatic.

The god chuckled at himself and then kicked a pebble into the waves. The small stone shot off at an incredible speed, skipping across the water until even Iternis’s godly eyes couldn’t see it.

“That was quite the trick,” A feeble voice laughed from behind the god.

“Oh, uh…” Iternis jumped, startled, and turned around to see a wizened goblin standing on the embankment, a cane made of cork holding up his shaking body, “I didn’t see you there, lost in thought.”

“Clearly,” The old man laughed as he hobbled over to stand by Iternis, his toes in the waves, “What has got you so somber looking? You’re still young, you don’t even have to worry about your hips falling off your damn body!”

Iternis smiled at the old man’s joke then turned back to the sea.

“The inevitable, I suppose,” he said.

“You’re afraid of death?” the old man scoffed, “I should be afraid of death, not you. You are still in your prime, I have hardly done all that wanted and I’ve already pushed my luck by turning thirty!”

“Thirty?”Iternis was taken aback, “That is a rather short life.”

The old goblin shot Iternis a funny look.

“Lad, you’re a goblin too,” He declared, “I’d like to see you make thirty.”

Iternis looked down at his body, forgetting that he was in the form of a goblin and laughed.

“I suppose… Say, old timer, can I ask you some advice?”

“What else are old coots good for?”

Iternis smiled a little but it quickly faded.

“What would you do if you knew something terrible was going to happen,” the god began, his voice growing tired sounding, “And it was just because of what you are? And at first, you were okay with it, and you decided to just live and do everything despite the fact that that doom was impending. But soon, you didn’t want to ever stop. So you tried to change what you were, because maybe if you changed and stopped doing what you were doing, you wouldn't have to leave. If maybe I had just stopped doing it soon, or given up even more, I wouldn’t have to leave. Even now, I know that I still am what I am, no matter how much I pretend not to be, and that still means I will have to leave…”

Iternis trailed off, watching the clouds race by in the blood red sky. They floated, trying to outrun each other, unaware that soon night would fall and blott them all out. The old goblin was silent for a while too.

“Son,” He began slowly, “I don’t think I know exactly what you're going through, but I do know that you can’t change what you are. You can change what you do and how you act, but not what you are. You and I, we’re goblins. We won’t ever be able to live as long as the other races, so we will never be able to do all that we want to do. And sometimes that just means we need to do what we can do and try not to drag others down with us.

Iternis smiled ruefully, “That is a very grim outlook on things.”

The goblin shrugged, “That’s just my outlook on things.”

The two fell into another silence. They stayed still for a long while, until Oraelia had fallen all the way below the ocean line. Iternis opened his mouth to speak but paused and cast a look back in the direction that Toog was sleeping. He looked down at the water and then decided to speak.

“Old Timer,” the god sighed, “If you could do anything, anything at all, before you died. What would it be.”

The goblin sighed and looked out over the pitch black sea. The waves continued to gently touch the two’s feet and then retreat only to sneak back for another touch.

“I would want to see what’s over that horizon. I’ve never left this island; I would want to be able to pick a point across the waves and just start walking until my legs gave out. Just so that I could see what I wanted and my daughter wouldn’t have to worry about caring for such a decrepit man like me for the last few months.”

Iternis turned to the goblin and looked him in the eyes. He reached into his robes and, for the first time in a very long time, released some of his godly energy. He tore a large swatch of the fabric off in an instant. The cloth exploded and frayed until it turned into a spiral of thread. The fabric swarmed over to the old Goblin, startling him and causing him to stumble backwards. The fabric wove itself around the cane that was clutched in his hands and wrapped his bare, knobbly feet.

“Wha-” The goblin began to shout before shuddering as new strength flowed into him. The fabric on his feet condensed into intricate sandals and his cane grew into a staff covered in tassels that fluttered in the wind.

“Go,” Iternis commanded, “Go and fulfill that dream, walk the seas. These gifts will let you do it. But first, go tell Toog, my loyal hound, that I told him: “I love you”, “goodbye”, and “I’m sorry.””

At that, Iternis exploded into a flock of birds for the first time in forever, soaring off over the ocean and leaving the goblin standing aghast on that beach.







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