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Death’s Embrace

A cold wind blew down from the north into Keltra. Even with the Eternal Flame, the bitter cold was hard to ignore. A little time had passed since her sisters had departed upon Skydancer and left Pride alone to tend to Keltra and its denizens. She had laid Rowan in his cradle wherein he slept peacefully, as she set out to speak with the maramodas once more. She scoffed halfheartedly to herself when she mused whether she would have made any progress in her undesirable education & rehabilitation program by the time her sisters returned. She doubted it, very much so. She wondered whether they were suffering from insanity or not, and why was it so difficult to cure?

Her current conversation with the maramodas were much like her prior conversation; they insulted and antagonized her despite her plentiful gifts and the promise of peace which they either deluded themselves into thinking that they had been blessed by the Sleeping Maker, or shunned because they thought she was deceiving them traps and trickery. They called her a witch and murderer, claiming that she had slain the rest of their kindred and wanted to bring an end to them as well, which she felt was becoming a truthful temptation as time passed. Pride took her leave of the section of the keep she had dedicated to the maramodas, reassuring its inhabitants that she would bring more of their brethren if they behaved even a little bit better.

She strolled towards her own section, close to the Eternal Fire and away from her troubles, contemplating whether or not she should swiftly go to the Temple of the Tapestry and retrieve her previous attire to finally free her limbs from the restraining regalia she wore now. The Silk Song was weakened beyond the interior, and she struggled to walk outside of the keep, plus the journey was rather far, so she chose to find a means of relaxing instead. The Keeper of Keltra seated herself upon her owl cushion, wrapping herself with its soft and warm feathers, as she listened to the ambient music that accompanied the pleasant dancing of flames.

She felt her face furrow with suspicion as she sensed something seemed wrong, something dreadful had happened. Pride performed the Incantation of Seeing, and sought out from her seat what had ushered the accumulating anxiety that slowly swelled within her. She was aware that the absence of her sisters actually reduced her sight, as she didn’t have the synergy created from their connection that empowered them all when they were close to each other. Alone, she could not gaze upon all of Keltra at once, and she felt vulnerable. She found herself seeking company, only to discover the source of her dread. The infant was not in his cradle.

“But how…” She whispered softly, investigating the scene of the disappearance, and concluding that it was ridiculous to think that Rowan could have climbed out of his cradle. The shifting symbols of the Gnosis rearranged themselves on her skin, as she aimed her spell and searched for the lost child, yet her vision was obscured by an otherworldly shroud. Pride’s persistence did not yield any rewards, and she felt an ache in her chest.

The air seemed to still, there was no breeze, cold or otherwise. Stagnation took root as the sky darkened with heavy clouds. There was no thunder or lightning or even rain. Something or someone was there, inside the keep but their identity was obscured, though it radiated with dread. Then, it began to snow but just over Pride. Thick, white flakes that melted after a second of contact but it did not end.

Her heart burned too hot, and she focused on calming herself as she attempted to cast another spell to gain glimpses of the future. Stressed by concentrating on two spells and the strange situation, she lamented her lack of stamina when she began to sway where she stood. The Keeper of Keltra became frightened when her vision revealed nothing yet again, and the snow continued to fall over her. She amended her unsteady stance, and spoke with as much authority as she could muster. “Reveal yourself, or else remain trespassing and suffer the consequences.”

The snow around her blew away from her and danced around the area. Flirting over the flame as it took the vaguest shape of a girl. It even looked like her and it came close several times, around the tables and the plushies, before it came to an unnatural stop before the flame. It looked to her, shimmering and pointing a finger at Pride. The snow girl walked forward towards Pride but stopped in her tracks, even while walking. Her movements became erratic, as if she was running from something and then like a puppet held with strings, she was ripped into the sky and thrown into the flame.

“I am the Keeper of Keltra, and a daughter of the Divine. I promise not to harm you if you show yourself.” Pride proclaimed, as she swept her gaze over her surroundings and attempted to ascertain the location of the intruder without any success.

“Return the child, and you won’t have to worry about cosmic retribution.” She said as she sacrificed the spell that was meant to grant her visions of what was to come, and cast a spell to protect her from harm. The scepter in her hand did little to soothe her, and Pride found that she was not fond of being afraid so often. However, there were also very few forces on the Galbar that frightened her. She realized the truth of the nature of this trespasser.

“My mother may be rather severe, but she seeks an alliance with all of her family, your Grace. I would welcome you, if you would show yourself.” She continued, hoping to avoid a confrontation.

A dark orb descended from the ominous sky. Like obsidian glass, it was silent and divine in origin. It came to a halt above the eternal flame and then shattered into thousands of pieces in an explosion. None hit Pride or the flame. A circle untouched remained around either. Silence returned but now the air was thick with anticipation,
a smell of something old filtered into the air. Of dread and… Death.

”What is the consequence of life?” A voice whispered into her ear, dark and ominous, yet vaguely familiar. Even more alarming, it came from behind her.

“Paradoxical dichotomy.” She quietly answered, and then slowly turned around.

She stood face to face with a figure cloaked in black, face obscured by a large hood. But what was most undeniable was the swaddled Rowan in the figure's arms. His pale face fast asleep. "Keeper of Keltra. An unwitting prisoner. All alone. Give me your scepter." The threat was implied in his voice as he rocked the baby.

Pride had inherited her mother’s impassive external visage that she employed whenever her sisters or outsiders attempted to coerce her, yet she doubted bluffing or negotiating were even options. She was certain she did not possess the strength to protect herself and the inhabitants of Keltra from a malicious deity, so she succumbed and held out the scepter that commanded the stone.

He took it wordlessly, a gauntleted hand appearing beneath all the fabric. He held Rowan still and spoke again, "You are the wisest of your sisters. No wonder she keeps you here. Now, where are the humans." His voice was cold, uncaring.

She struggled to look at the god, she struggled to speak without stumbling on her words, yet she refused to surrender to despair. “Thank you, your Grace. For your praise. Mother is very sparse with compliments and such. May I… ask that you await her return, so that you could speak with her directly? Unfortunately, she didn't provide instructions regarding the remaining number of humans here. Perhaps she should have delegated the task to me, but she did not.” Pride prayed in her mind that her mother would soon come and peacefully resolve this crisis, so she would keep conversing, keep delaying, until that time hopefully came.

"Your mother's whims mean little to me. There will be no delegations, I require all of them. No doubt you have already prayed to her. Do it again and this child will suffer. Now where are the humans." The cold in his voice briefly gave way to anger but it subsided, for now.

Pride peered at the red floor, and briefly pondered before pointing towards sections of the keep where she had buried the slumbering humans. Everything that she had been afraid of coming to pass was happening, and it hurt to breathe. She despised the Divine and the cruel, often capricious, way of the world; silently cursing Homura, Apostate, Tuku, and Chailiss for their ineptitude. “They are within the stone, sleeping…” The small champion said with sorrow.

Without a word he wielded the scepter and pointed it forth where she had pointed. A vast multitude of stones began to shift, ushering in the sleeping humans by the thousands. As it went on, God looked upon Pride. "If you could slay a god, would you?" he asked as if knowing her very thoughts.

“Hmm… I consider myself precocious, not impertinent. Such a question should refrain from being answered. Such a question should be deemed forbidden. Pure profanity.” She let out an exhausted sigh. “Alas, I would not kill a god. I’m unfortunately undeniably devout, despite constantly begrudging my faith and relationships with the Divine, but what about you? Would you choose to be a murderer?” Pride inquired while she watched her vulnerable kin be raised from their shelter into the sight of this sadistic being beside her.

”Yes.” the god flatly stated. ”The fever runs amok through life’s veins. It must be extinguished before there is more catastrophe. The God’s are the chief culprits among this brewing storm. They gave life to the world and now they will die for this sin.”

“Could you elucidate the symptoms of this fever you speak of?”

He showed the face of Rowan to Pride. Sleeping and at peace. "The fever is life. Life is the fever. Life must die in order for the fever to run its course. So that it cannot hurt any other. She destroys everything that we love. We must deny the fever, life. Emotions, passions, excitement, grief… When all is quiet and cold as stone, will her fits finally be over. Can't you see?" The God said, madness in his voice.

Pride frowned as she tilted her head, looking at the deity. “I see someone I pity. Mother is burdened by a shard, she taught me that all among the Divine are burdened with such. Would you tell me which shard you carry, your Grace?”

He copied the gesture. "Have you forgotten me already…? Like all the others… Gone now. Dead or devoured. Abandoned us to true despair." he lamented. "It simply makes the work easier. In the end." It began to snow around them, just around them, carrying a cold breeze.

The Keeper of Keltra averted her gaze, and muttered angrily. “You choose to mock me. Don’t mock me.”

"Do not speak with anger and look away from a person, less so a Divine. It makes you weak and childish. Are you the wise Keeper of Keltra or a child? Now look at me, Pride." he commanded and the air swelled with snow and bitter cold.

“Let go of little Rowan and leave.” She quietly replied, refraining from simply obeying. There was no truly defying the Divine, but she remained reluctant to allow his hubris and hypocrisy to deceive her, to coerce her with petty insults and intimidation. Regardless of whether it was another unfamiliar god manipulating her, or if Chailiss had become cruel and cynical in the time since she had seen him, she would neither be a coward or a slave.

"I will leave. I promise you that. Whether or not the child is given back is up to you and your cooperation." The god moved forward and watched as the last of the humans were brought forth and the stones stopped shifting. "Is that the last of them? Speak truthful."

“There are no other humans that slumber within Keltra. This is all one-hundred and fifty thousand, eight-hundred and sixty-nine humans that have yet to be awakened.” Pride answered, as she solemnly stared across the vast expanse now laden with her dormant kin. She chose not to dwell on what ill fate awaited them all.

The snow stopped falling and the God removed a dark crystalline orb from the insides of his cloak, swapping it with the scepter. "A gift of death and revelry. A cleansing across the land… Ah but how could I forget." he turned to the Eternal Flame and then glanced at Pride. "Know I do this as a kindness. Worse fates exist." He then walked forth and while still clutching the orb, he pressed a finger into the fire. A flash of blinding power exploded, in turn making both the God and Rowan cry out as he was dropped to the floor and the God recoiled with a mad laugh, part of his cloak burning away to reveal the dread armor underneath as the music all throughout Keltra turned dark and ominous. The Eternal Fire meanwhile, was turning black, burning smaller…


Then the god threw out the orb over the sleeping humans and where it fell it shattered and spewing forth came a vivacious black cloud that quickly began to spread and change her sleeping kin. He was preoccupied for the moment. Rowan was not the only thing on the floor, discarded, for the scepter was as well.

Pride moved to the crying infant, lifting him with her Silk Song before bringing him to her arms. She poured forth healing powers from her palms to sooth him, as her enchanted scarf swaddled him gently. When the child was comforted, she slowly progressed to where her scepter lay, and without interference, collected it as well. Relief came when she held both Rowan and her relic, but the remainder of her kin would still suffer at the hands of the sadistic god, and there was nothing she could do to protect them from his insanity. Without the warmth and sustenance of the Eternal Fire, neither she nor Rowan would endure for long.

In a blinding flash, he turned to her and held up a black hand. On his palm, the same one that had carried the infant, was a medallion. She barely got a good look at it before it began to hum with power, a blue glow emanating from it. ”Keltra’s Pride, now only its Loss. Forgi-” His voice faded and he turned behind him, sparing Pride for the moment. Then quite suddenly he ripped a void in reality and walked through, leaving her alone with the waking and changing humans. And of course, Rowan was with her. The tear was not clear at first but like a spark coming to life, it suddenly was and she could see through to the other side. It was a terrible sight, of falling rocks and destruction. But there, like small figurines, were three people before the mad god. A pale blue woman, a blackened giant owl wearing dull gold, and… Fear.

Before she could interact, the tear vibrated and the god flew back through, coming to a halt before the dying fire. Joining him were the three. The pale blue woman flew back before coming to a stop beside Fear, who was closest to them. The owl halted where the portal once was and dipped his head to the god.

“Is that really you?” The ghostly woman asked the god. “Spirit Father…”

”It’s a shame you are back to normal, Zima. The Revenant I had a use for.” The words cut, as Zima recoiled and seemed to shrink beside Fear, fists balling. ”I was finally in time to save you, Fear.” His cloak gaze fell to her pale sister. ”Now you may witness the beginning of the end.” He waved a hand out over the humans. The black cloud had quickly subsumed them all, or nearly and it obscured all like a thick wall. ”Soon, this world’s fever will be put to rest and we shall have peace.”

Pride felt her mind connect with Fear’s, and was briefly overwhelmed by a surge of thoughts and memories belonging to her sister that had finally returned. More potent than the sudden influx was the pain of finally comprehending all that was happening. She had wanted to believe that it was Iqelis, or another malevolent deity, instead of Chailiss, her compassionate Uncle. It would have been less painful.

Fear spoke aloud, asking the question that Pride wished the tainted god would not answer. “Why?” Pride was weary, preoccupied with processing the information Fear provided her, and attempting to ascertain another solution. It irked her that Chailiss had come when Fear prayed, yet their Mother had yet to appear when she had prayed to her prior. Pride was infuriated by her predicament, and the presence of Fear did little to alleviate her concern, when she recalled the naming convention of their Mother. Pride and her sister awaited an answer from the cold and dreadful god.

The music of Keltra became quiet and forlorn. ”You’ll understand…” he whispered, likely to himself. ”I will save you all. From yourselves. From the fever and her uncontrollable intent. You’ll thank me, I swear it.”

The owl stood quietly by, watching them. Zima stepped forth again however, her voice angrier, “This isn’t you! Please!” she said, gripping her chest. “Please father. Stop this. We can go home. Let me help you? It can be like it was. I’m sorry for not listening… I-I should have stayed. Pl-”

The god growled, cutting her off. ”You are far too late my wayward daughter. Far… Far too late. I am better now, more so than I have ever been. Free from all ills and influence. Now be silent… My true children will never leave me.” Zima looked to the ground.

Pride seethed where she stood, turning her attention to the trio that had accompanied Chailiss out of the portal. She gazed up at the large owl, and shook her head with derision, and Fear tried to prevent her from speaking with little success. “My sisters must’ve had their vision clouded when they looked at you. You’re much uglier than I imagined.”

Viho stared down Pride. “Perhaps I was less so once. You can thank those two for my current appearance. After all, they did murder me. Death tends to alter…”

“I possess all of my sister's memories, and I recall you were rather heroic in the past. I do not believe it was your choice to become this grotesque creature before me. I believe an insidious tainted power has claimed your freedom. It is a shame I will not see your valor now.” Pride proclaimed with disdain, as she glanced at Zima and Fear. “You’ve reaped what you sown, sisters.” She said as she severed the connection with the latter.

"All this pettiness from a child." Chailiss said, "Amusing. But no matter how much time you try to buy, Pride, your mother will not come. If she had cared she would have arrived as swiftly as I claimed these three. Even if she couldn't, she could have sent aid. Honor cares only for herself and her own little schemes. If she had ever cared for life, she would not have made it so they only suffer." he turned around to fully witness his new creations. "Let this be my final act of mercy. Run. Run before you die, little champions."

The Keeper of Keltra walked towards Fear and Zima with sorrowful forbearance as she gave Rowan to her stunned sister that had yet to truly acknowledge all that was happening. She sent a final message through their connection, before separating their minds once again, then turned to glare at the god. She was the smallest amongst her sisters, with the most diminutive supply of stamina and fortitude compared to the rest of them, and she now faced a demented being that possessed the power to rewrite reality and reshape the Galbar. She hoped Fear and Zima would flee swiftly, like they had done in the past. Even with her scepter and command of the scarlet stone, she would never win against Chailiss. She was little more than an annoying plaything to him, posing no threat. At this point, it was just another normal occurrence in her daily life, it seemed.

Pride let out a last sigh. “A generous offer, your Grace. But, I will not leave my home.”

The god raised his head and then looked back at Pride. "So be it." With a flick of his hand, he brought up the medallion, the blue glow emanating with a powerful hum and then he fired it upon the small champion. Pale blue, ice and fire, like a maelstrom of malice condensed into a precise blast that struck Pride and tore her apart, immediately turning her to pale ashes that were swiftly scattered along the floor. Only a frozen scepter with slight fractures remained where she had stood. Fear let out an agonized scream as the sight of her slain sister stayed in her vision and haunted her.

Fear struggled to hold onto Rowan, overwhelmed by sudden grief and the horrific events happening. Zima did not wail, nor did she scream but grief was visible on her features. Yet this didn't stop her from acting quickly. The spirit became like the wind, grabbing Fear with Rowan to make an escape.

Chailiss lowered his hand and nodded to Viho, who quickly took off after the three who were fleeing. He turned back to the dark cloud of smoke, a deathly song emanating not from Keltra anymore but from behind the black wall. Forms began to appear. Lithe but powerful, tall and gaunt, obscured. Like fallen flames, so too did the Eternal Flame finally go out and all grew in twilight.

Honor & Revenge

Part I

She had no idea how long it had been since they arrived in that cavernous place. It could have been weeks or months, time seemed to blur together in the infinite gloom of Garle's dark kingdom. Every twisting passage, crook and cranny was like a vein to a beating heart. A heart that flowed continuously without the need for sleep. It was so very easy to get lost and the thought of being so crossed her mind on the occasion but bit by bit they were learning. Zima was more concerned… No, concerned wasn't the right word. She was, she made sure Vale was cautious and sticking close to her at all times.

Her companion still had to feed her parasite and they very discreetly freed life from its prison. They could not overstep a great deal. If the honor champions were coming, they needed all the fodder they had to throw their way. She and Vale trained and sparred, growing her further into a weapon. It was necessary Zima said, for they would try to overpower and defeat. Taking Vale from Zima. After so much time and effort put into her innocent companion, she couldn't bear the thought of losing her. If only because Vale now belonged to her.

So time went on as it always did and they prepared, for there was really nothing else to do. That she wanted or thought prudent enough to try. No, let Garle and the others be slaughtered, let them soften up those foolish homurans and then they could snuff them out for good. Then they wouldn't have to run, they could be free to do whatever they wished without reprise. Perhaps she would make her own kingdom. An amusing thought but…

It struck her like a slap across the face. She clutched the fabric of her chest and stumbled to the side, using her free arm to support herself on the cave wall. She lost sight of where she was for a moment. When her eyes refocused she remembered, she and Vale were at their place of quiet. An almost home, away from the clamor of the deep dwellers. The pain lingered yet, like an overwhelming sense of dread. It was inexplicable and made her mind jump to conclusions.

She turned to Vale and said in a shaky voice, "Did you feel that…? Something has happened… I can't explain what but I feel it, Vale. We must prepare. Yes, they could be coming."

“We’ll win.” Vale replied, hastily collecting crystals from closeby for the fight that would inevitably find them. She moved swiftly, but she could not conceal her accumulating apprehension, as she frequently averted her frightened gaze from her companion. A stygian aura surrounded Vale as she summoned her black flames, and spoke softly. “We have to win because they won’t stop hunting us, will they?”

Zima shook her head, gaze lingering upon Vale. “No. They will never stop as long as they draw breath. As long as their infernal flames keep them alive to corrupt and destroy all that they touch.” She walked over to Vale and grasped her shoulders. Paranoia struck Zima, she felt… No she did not feel. She did not want them to take Vale from her, to awaken what was lost, what she stole from her feeble companion. She did not wish to be alone again. “We shall… We shall stick together and they will be powerless to stop us. Remember, Vale. They will say things that you will not understand and you must not try to give them thought. They will twist us apart if they could, do you understand?”

Vale nodded and held up a few orange and yellow gemstones. “Confuse and blind them before they can speak, or should we wait?” Her hand dropped to her side, lowering the magical topazes and citrines. “Are we going to let Garle fight them first?” She asked, stepping in closer - always in need of close comfort because of her anxiety.

Zima remained firm but her grip relaxed upon Vale. She truly was an anxious being, a carry over from Fear’s persona. Funny how that worked. “When the time comes we must strike fast before they are able to fight back. Garle will do what Garle will do, I doubt even if he engaged them we would be left all alone. A fight will come to us… Just stick beside me and remember your training.”

“I will burn them to ashes.” Vale murmured in response. Zima caressed Vale’s cheek and whispered, “Good girl.” Soon enough they would find out who was to be the victor and who, the loser.


Skydancer slowly drifted down from the sky, alighting upon a section of the land close to the massive mountain range that they knew as the Bones of Fortitude. Though their sister, Pride, was far away from them now, the members of the Sacred Septet that had embarked on this quest still had access to all of her shared knowledge and memories. None amongst their number had ever actually visited this region, but their smaller sister had seen it many times through the Incantation of Seeing, and their surroundings felt familiar at least.

The sacred flying vessel hovered beside an outcropping of rocks while its passengers leapt from it and onto the ground. Four sets of feet became seven as Kindness, Curiosity, and Wanderer split from their Reflections and stood with Fear II - all of them waiting for Courage to come to a decision regarding Skydancer and their sudden predicament: Their means of transportation was not meant to travel underground.

Kindness had repeatedly told her brash sister that it seemed like Fear and Zima would only be found beneath the earth. In the last vision they received of their lost sister and her accursed companion, the two had delved into a cave and have yet to come out since. Afterwards, further efforts at following their journey became futile. Pride provided an explanation at the time, describing the difficulty of attempting to perceive in the deepest parts of the earth where magical and malignant forces reside and obscured the subterranean world with their shroud. The simplest way of seeing the two would be to seek them out.

Dread filled all those that stood on the ground as they watched Courage stubbornly steer Skydancer into the nearby cave, crashing against the stone walls and ceiling multiple times yet refusing to surrender, no matter how often she collided with a stalagmite or trapped herself. Her argument was just valid enough to persuade her sisters to let her be this reckless, as they needed Skydancer to provide them with sustenance and power for the fight and journey home. Fortunately the mouth of the cave and the tunnel that descended into the depths was accommodating enough to allow for Skydancer to haphazardly come along.

Their vessel proved an invaluable asset again as the light from outside the cave was left behind, and the shadows surrounded them. Only the luminous hull of their boat provided them with illumination in the dark shaft they descended, though they observed that a small circle of light could be seen at the bottom. As they continued their quest to find their lost sister and defeat Zima, the Sacred Septet wondered what awaited them.

Zima and Vale had been summoned by Garle at long last. Now they arrived in the most sacred of places, the tomb of Voligan, the same place where all entrances led. They were surrounded by the gargoyle’s subjects, a vast sea of silent statues. Born of rock and stone, molded for few other purposes but one- Battle. They awaited in the grand chamber, high upon a jutting outcrop, waiting for the inevitable.

“The Red Devil has come.” He proclaimed, and his voice reverberated throughout the vast cavern, as the stone rumbled with anticipation. His attention turned to the duo, and he gestured for them to approach. They did so with little apprehension on Zima’s part. When they arrived before the King, Zima fell to one knee and dipped her head before the stone giant, Vale seamlessly imitating her.

“You have no need to join me in battle, if you do not wish for such. Your enemies will haunt you no further after I have vanquished them as well. The choice is yours.” Garle said, glancing at the two of them before turning his solemn gaze to the immense tomb of his father. Zima raised her head to look up at him.

“We shall join you, if only to make sure this task is done. Though you are a great and mighty king, we should not underestimate this foe. We will not know what they have in store for us. If they are smart, they will have learned from our past encounters and adapted to it. However, you shall be the surprise they could not have anticipated. Our success is almost assured I think.”

“The Traitor herself has yet to reveal herself… but her servants shall prove a fitting lure, lest I accidentally break all of them. I will force them to surrender to justice, or be eradicated, for I cannot stand aside and let the wicked ravage the world freely.” The gargoyle shifted as he spoke and stepped past Zima and Vale towards a tunnel that was expanding along one of the edges of the cavern. He raised his golden axe, and began leading the horde of earth elementals from atop a rising bejeweled pillar that traveled towards the now immense tunnel. “Our foes await us!” He called out.

Zima began to walk after Garle but stopped when the same dreadful feeling caught in her chest and overwhelmed her senses. She stumbled, supported quickly by Vale. “That feeling…” She almost whimpered, “It’s back.” She growled, hating the weakness in her voice. Her eyes frantically searched around as the marching stone and Vale’s voice became drowned out by a ringing in her ears. She clutched her chest, scrunching up the fabric until it was wrung tight. What was it? Where was it coming from? Where…

She saw it out of the corner of her eye, something flaming hot coming right towards them. As the ringing faded, Zima acted quickly by shoving Vale back and summoning a shield of smoke from her fabric. The explosion was deafening as the fire screamed around them, hot as it was ferocious. When it ended, Zima dropped the shield and stood, eye pinned on the spot where it had come from. In the dark reaches of that chamber, an intruder had come. Upon the tomb of Voligan, near the top. Of course… No one would tread there!

Before she got a better look at them, another torrent of fire was hurled at them, this time at the side. A different spot! She summoned her smoky shield as the fire licked at them but then it was joined by the first flame and Zima was alarmed at just how strong of a flame it was. Had her foes sneaked past them all? Garle was nowhere in sight, how long had she been out of it?

“Vale…” She gazed at her companion from the corner of her eyes still holding the shield up, “Now begins the end.” She turned back and waited, sitting still was useless now. When the flame at last died, Zima bolted forth. With uncanny agility she ran and lept from stone to stone as the barrage of fire came forth down upon her. With each leap of her powerful bounds, she was quickly nearing her adversaries and soon realized that they were no champions of Homura.

The closest one was a very pale woman with fierce eyes. Her hair was long, tied in a braid and she wore nothing but tattered black cloth around her waist and chest, with ripped bands around her wrists and ankles. She did not flee from Zima’s approach but shot forth with the same tenacity. Why did she look so familiar? The other assailant was obscured by the rocks and was focusing on Vale.

Another blast of fire came at her and Zima threw herself over it, the temperature change only a reminder of what she had left behind. Now she was free and capable of lashing out. From her hands came a long shaft, curved down at the head with a large blade of darkness. She had forged from her power a fitting weapon, a scythe, for she would reap death as those Eidolons had reaped crops. And it would claim its first victim. Before she landed upon her feet, she swung the scythe in an arc, and from the blade came a long line of black flame that shot towards the pale one.

The woman summoned her own fire as a shield and for a moment it looked as if she would fail but it was not to be. As Zima pounced towards another rock, the girl used her fire shield as a weapon, sending it forth in a wave. Zima cut a whole through the fire and it felt the fire as it passed before firing more projectiles at her opponent. Three went for the girl as Zima leaped into the air, avoiding her latest attack. The first black flame arc missed, while the second and third were nullified and she summoned forth three snake-like projectiles to hunt Zima down. She spun her scythe in front of her as the first hit like a boulder, almost toppling her down but Zima was resilient. She grabbed the second snake and corrupted it to her own, sending it back as the third intercepted, causing a giant explosion between them.

Zima used the mayhem to leap at her opponent but where Zima thought she would be confused, the revenant found her waiting. She dodged out of the way as Zima’s scythe cut air and then the woman landed a blow into Zima’s stomach. Or at least she tried. The minute her flesh touched the revenant, Zima’s body began to eat at her and she could only smirk. Zima then backhanded the woman, making her stumble but she quickly recovered and lept back with a powerful explosion of fire.

The fire washed over the revenant and she was unscathed. It was just fire, there was nothing special about it, in the end. Her smirk widened, how foolish she had been, trying to block it. She had thought this life before her was special, when she wasn’t. Now Zima walked forth undaunted as the woman’s stoic complexion began to falter. She threw fireball after fireball at Zima, backing up to the cliff edge all while Zima dodged them or simply let them wash over her.

There was nowhere left to go and so the woman took an offensive stance, arms raised. “You were a fool to think you could harm me.” Zima mocked. “Fire works upon the living and the dead but I am neither. Now you will die.”

“You’re a monster!” The woman snapped back. “And you will pay for what you’ve done to me and my people. I swear it!” She lunged forth but Zima sidestepped her, almost catching her with the scythe but the woman was nimble and narrowly avoided the blade

“Your people?” Zima spoke, taking a good long look at her, as the girl blasted her with fire. Where was it she had seen such pale features? With blue eyes and… White hair… Her own eyes widened and then they grew full of malice. “Ah, I remember your kind. Those foolish Voirans, born of a cruel god. I did them a favor but it seems I left another alive.” Zima’s scythe cut into the ground. The woman’s eyebrow raised as she landed away from the strike. “Oh? Did you believe you were the last?” Zima chided. “No, I’m afraid not. But that child will be. After you join the rest of your people.”

“No…” She whispered. “You can’t. I won’t let you!” The woman attacked again, her fists coming rapidly. Even Zima couldn’t dodge them all but it didn’t matter, all she had to do was wait for her assailant to tire and soon enough she did.

The woman took a defensive stance, arms raised to protect herself as she panted.

‘Can’t I?” Zima asked, before lunging forth. She swung her scythe at the woman, feinted at the last possible moment as the pale girl went to move out of the way and then brought the scythe up, catching the woman across her chest and head. Or, it should have. Before her eyes, the girl transformed into a bird and escaped the attack, much to the annoyance of Zima. She glowered as the bird flew quickly out of reach, becoming two legged once more.

The pale girl wasted no time and from the distance that now separated them, their battle resumed. Fire rained down on Zima who battered it aside, now walking towards her foe. She grew tired of such pointless engagement. It was time to end this, for they were coming, after all.

“Shall I tell you how your people died?” She began, thrusting herself forward with unnatural power before striking the air of where the girl had been moments before. She was fast that one and unrelenting. “I played a trick you see… Upon a girl, they almost believed me but my ruse was had. I thought he would stop me, that voiran man but he was a coward. He ran as I extinguished the light from their eyes.”

The woman’s left eye twitched and she went in with a right hook. It was slow now and Zima moved aside, letting her momentum carry her forward. She then tripped the woman but before she could fall she shifted into the white raven and re-steaded herself out of reach. At least for the moment.

Zima turned to her and smirked. “I tried not to spare any of them. I wanted it to be perfect, something for your cruel god to remember for all time. If you had been there… Perhaps you could have saved them?”

This seemed to unhinge the woman who gritted her teeth and let out a battle cry. She ran forward, fists alight with fire, swinging madly at Zima. The flames hit Zima, once, twice but then it was her turn. Her darkness flowed forth and grabbed the woman just long enough for her to land the blow. She swung her scythe upwards, catching the woman in the chest and over her left head, penetrating deep. The girl gasped, the darkness retreating back to Zima.

“I told you. The child would be the last.” Zima said as the woman crumbled upon the dark stone. There would be no blood, just dark smoke as the black flame corrupted her flesh. Zima stared at the fresh corpse for a time before distant explosions echoed above, causing the tomb to shake. Her gaze caught the battle between Vale and her own opponent. It was time to go see if her companion needed aid.

She hadn’t gotten very far when an explosion of fire rocked her off her feet. She fell to her knees, dropping the scythe. She looked back to see something unexpected, something that had never happened before; Her opponent was alive and she was on fire. A growl escaped Zima’s throat as she watched the wound she had inflicted vanish into a pink scar. The woman snapped her now blazing eyes open and spoke with an all too familiar fury.

“You will never again harm my people or anyone of these lands! I will make sure of it, for all those you have murdered. For my name is Mair and this is our vengeance!” She thrust her arms forth and a wave of fire washed over Zima. Unlike before, this time the fire burned her and she yelped, not in pain but of shock. She quickly summoned a shield to protect herself and grabbed her scythe. The flames were stronger now. Far too strong. Her shield almost gave out before the torrent subsided. The very rock had turned molten and it all began to make sense to Zima.

A Revenger had come, born of Mish-Cheechel and the girl would not leave until her vengeance was had or she was dead.

And Zima would only allow one to pass.

The Sacred Septet descended down the dark shaft until they reached an opening at the bottom wherein they slowly passed through. They found themselves entering an immense cavern filled with glittering gems and shimmering metal; an endless realm of riches that illuminated the subterranean space, though the sound of shifting stone above alerted them. The opening in the ceiling they came through had closed, and the ominous change concerned all of them, but they focused their attention back upon their destination. Meanwhile Courage commented sardonically that it seemed they were getting closer and closer towards trouble.

“You have come now.”

They came to a halt as the powerful baritone voice reached them from afar, and with their keen sight they were able to see its source. A very large hunched and winged figure wielding a golden axe and with a glowing crown atop its head, it seemed like an angelic king of statues, or something to their eyes. It continued to watch them from where it was perched atop a massive pillar, exuding an aura of vehemence that surprised them as well. It had spoken firmly, without the need to shout in order to be heard even from such a great distance.

The Sacred Septet also observed that the figure was not alone, as surrounding the single massive pillar that the intense figure stood upon was a horde of animated stone resembling an army of soldiers and artillery. All of them remembered the recent training session with their maker, and found themselves less than enthused at the sight of such a similar force. Courage couldn’t help herself, and quipped whether it was a just ongoing joke among the divine to torment them using the same methods again and again. Kindness remarked that their Maker had likely foreseen this encounter…

They all sensed their lost sister beyond this obstacle, and knew that they had to bypass it if they were to reach her. They flew closer, cautiously approaching as they sensed the tension all around them. The figure and the horde seemed poised to attack, and the Heralds of Honor clung onto the hope that they could avoid a hostile confrontation now. They did not wish to risk Zima and Fear fleeing, nor did they wish to be weakened before that confrontation either, but the primary reason that they sought a nonviolent interaction was the difference in their strength. With their sacred sight, they could sense that this creature was frighteningly powerful, and that they would not be able to defeat it in battle.

“Sorry about the surprise visit!” Courage called out, though it didn’t seem like their presence had been a surprise. “We’re just looking for our lost sister and another with her. We don’t want to cause any turmoil, ya. I’m Courage, and this Kindness, Fear II, Curiosity, Wanderer, and our Reflections. What’s your name?” Skydancer had reached an appropriate distance for conversation between the two sides, which did little to alleviate the apprehension among the Sacred Septet. The dark gaze of the dangerous creature never left them, and they could detect the anger that seemed to seeth as they approached.

“I am Garle, the King of Erudaine. Son of Voligan. You will not reach Zima and Vale. Instead, I shall use you as a lure for the Red Devil. She will answer for her crimes.” Garle replied, radiating a barely contained rage.

“We didn’t come to fight! We just want to save our sister!” Courage said, holding up her hands in a manner that she prayed suggested her peaceful intent. Curiosity chimed in as well: “Our mother wouldn’t commit any crimes! Please tell us what happened so we don’t hurt each other!”

“Then do not resist and surrender.”

“We will not be your captives either.” Kindness answered with defiance, causing the rest of her sisters to stare at her with a mixture of chagrin and camaraderie.

“Like she said.” Courage reaffirmed with a casual shrug, as she prepared for the unfortunate fight that would surely come after they had refused to surrender. The Sacred Septet were so much fewer in number, and Garle alone was enough of a foe by himself, but they were dedicated to finally reuniting with Fear, regardless of whatever they would have to face along the way.

There was no command issued; only the sudden surging of thousands of earth elementals seeking to overwhelm them. Courage II steered Skydancer to the side, crashing through a wall of numerous stone bodies both big and small, with Curiosity assisting in preventing any damage to themselves or the boat by using her Shield of Faith to create barriers of ice and light. They had already flown far away in a nigh instant, and quickly telepathically devised a strategy. The great distance only afforded them a brief respite, as earth elementals emerged from the floor of the cavern and began hurling stones at them.

Courage shook her head, and chuckled as most of the projectiles missed their target, and those that struck them were simply harmless. “You’re going to have to hit us with something harder than that!” She taunted, then immediately regretted issuing the challenge as their enemies began utilizing explosives. There was no significant damage to Skydancer itself, but none among the Sacred Septet wanted to risk being blown overboard and falling into the horde of hostile statues.

They had come to the conclusion that they needed to split their strength, and accomplish two goals to attain victory: defeat Garle, and find a way to get to Fear. Courage brought her fist into her palm and grinned. The plan was for her to take on the biggest opponent with Kindness, Kindness II, Fear II, Wanderer, and Wanderer II, while the rest searched throughout the tunnels for a safe route to their missing sister. They set their plan into action, changing the direction of their flight - soaring right towards Garle where he still stood atop the lone pillar.

As they came close, he raised his empty hand and unleashed a thunderous pulse of power. He did not throw things at them with his limbs like his soldiers; he gestured and the earth rapidly shot thousands of magical explosive stones faster than sonic speed at them. The unexpected and relentless assault had caught them, and multiple bursts of eldritch fire and shrapnel struck the prow and hull of Skydancer, but the flying vessel endured.

Six of the champions leapt from above and descended upon Garle while the others remained onboard Skydancer and flew around where the number of earth elementals was most concentrated. The entire cavern shook and rumbled with tumultuous bright blasts as stone detonated everywhere - the destructive clamor was deafening, and the Sacred Septet could barely communicate to each other even through their telepathic bond, but they adhered to their strategy. Garle was assailed by those that had disembarked Skydancer, as they slammed their fists into his stony skin, attacking from every angle so that he could defend himself.

Courage, Fear II, Wanderer, and Wanderer II focused on overwhelming their foe, while Kindness and her Reflection prevented more earth elementals from encircling them. The close combat was much more fierce than the previous skirmish, as there was no avoiding the erupting earth and debris that was scattered whenever Garle would fire upon them at such a short range. Everything was eradicated by heedless bombardment. He did not seem even fazed as he was hit by the explosions he caused, as if he were indestructible. Their opponent stood, surrounded by the smoke and fragments of the pillar they had been fighting on, the structure had been reduced to a shattered pile of stone early in the fight.

Their advantage was his inability to match their agility, as he began slashing at them whenever they stepped into his reach, but he could not hit them before they had struck and retreated. As the smoke and debris was dispersed with further exchanged blows, it became evident that their fight had become a battle of attrition that the grounded members of the Sacred Septet were losing. None of their punches or kicks caused any damage to Garle, and they were still suffering from the minor injuries they sustained as the devastating barrage of explosions continued. With reluctance, they began to retreat in an attempt to regroup with their sisters on Skydancer. As they fell back, bounding farther and farther, they heard Garle call out to them.

“There will be no fleeing in this fight.”

The considerable distance they had put between them and him gave them no respite as he was enveloped in blue light which suddenly disappeared before it then coalesced beside them and revealed the gargoyle ready to resume relentlessly attacking them. The swift arrival of their opponent had surprised them, but they quickly recovered and dodged the renewed assault, internally shouting for their sisters to come and provide them with an escape. When Courage suggested that they enact a prolonged temporary retreat, she shook her head with tired mirth as she noted much less resistance to the idea now.

Skydancer blurred by the erupting earth and thunder, halting for an ephemeral moment next to the fight against Garle for a long enough period of time for all of the Sacred Septet to be onboard once again and soaring away. As they flew, their minds came together to formulate a new strategy. They concluded that flying back to the surface would not be helpful since it did not get them any closer to their actual destination, and they determined that flying directly to Fear by passing through the stone would be a foolish idea as well. There was little doubt that Garle would pursue them, and that was a situation none of them wanted to encounter.

“We’re not here to fight you!” Curiosity continued pleading, though whether or not her voice could be heard was difficult to discern.

They lost sight of Garle when he vanished in a flash of blue light, and then attempted an evasive maneuver when he appeared in front of them. Skydancer crashed into the creature that was twice its size, the prow thrusting into the gargoyle’s stomach as he grasped one side of the boat upon being battered. “Why is it; I am not surprised by your cowardice.” He said, as he raised his other hand and hewed the center of the boat with his golden axe, nealy chopping the vessel in half.

Through their connection, all of the Sacred Septet heard Courage II cry out that they were about to collide with a wall. Garle did not receive such a warning, preoccupied with swinging his axe at Courage and Kindness as they endeavored to push him off the boat. All of them slammed into one of the farthest edges of the cavern, causing an immense crater to form as stone and metal ruptured upon impact.

Though their arms and legs were cracked, the Sacred Septet had held onto Skydancer, which was still in the grasp of Garle. With a great bellow, he hurled the boat and its passengers away and called forth more earth elementals, as he examined the large gash in his chest from which molten gold and silver poured forth from. He pointed at where he threw them, and prepared to unleash another bombardment as he saw them recovering from the crash. He could not hear them bolster themselves for another bout, reassuring themselves that they could win.

“Summon your Maker. Pray to the Red Devil, so that she may come and face justice.” He said, as his wound sealed itself and he slowly approached with his soldiers and artillery at the ready. The sight that greeted him as he came near the site of the fallen Skydancer left him very bemused.

Garle did not expect to see the servants of his enemy begin dancing and singing when they were on the verge of defeat. He wondered whether they were attempting to deceive him, or if this was simply the ridiculous way they communed with their maker, but since he would rather they lived long enough to serve as bait for his true foe, he decided to wait and watch instead of prematurely slaying them.

Curiosity and her Reflection hummed a sorrowful melody as her sisters danced together. They did not seek to summon Homura, and they were uncertain whether their mother would even appear considering the last words she had spoken before her departure. They could not allow themselves to be defeated here, so as Curiosity sang and the rest danced, they called upon their combined power and knowledge of the Gnosis to perform a ritual. Fond memories of a time long ago when they had all been clumsy with their movement and communication were shared amongst them through their connection. They recalled the lessons their mother had imparted upon them regarding the nature of sorcery and the Sacred Path, realizing that every experienced struggle granted them newfound strength. Now they fought against a foe that seemed invulnerable, and were forced to tap into the deepest depths of the power within them once again.

“An amusing performance, but I will no longer tolerate this mockery. Call out to the traitor, or suffer the consequences.” Garle declared.

Their ritual came to a conclusion, and they composed themselves for the fight ahead, adopting firm stances. “We’re not giving up, ya. We’re going to save our sister after we overcome you! Let us show you our true power!” Courage rebuked, as she and all of her sisters dashed towards Garle and his horde of earth elementals.

Before they could reach him, hundreds upon hundreds of stone spears and explosive boulders were launched at them, but the barrier of light and ice created by the Shield of Faith protected them from the brunt of it. The champions proceeded to merge with their Reflections, restoring some of their expended energy by fusing together, and Curiosity and Wanderer both moved to the front of their formation. They both held up their forged relics, and chanted together.


The Shield of Faith and the Bow of Light merged into a single armament; a large bejeweled ballista that the champions wielded together. It shimmered with an otherworldly aura as they aimed it directly at Garle and fired a luminous projectile that was followed by a wall of glittering golden chains and ribbons of cold light that materialized in its wake. The shot protected the Sacred Septet from further bombardment while hindering much of the horde and striking its target. An interlocking network of glowing ice and golden chains fell upon Garle and restrained him. Courage, Kindness, and Fear II surged forward, and held their relics as they chanted.


The Golden Gauntlets, The Blade of Mourning, and the Staff of the Wanderer all merged into a single armament; a giant glaive that manifested above where they were, with the three champions now standing on the center of the large blade as it soared towards Garle. Fear remained where she stood, directing the glaive, as Courage leapt down and descended upon the gargoyle’s leg with a kick, while Kindness jumped and alighted upon his head. The three of them struck simultaneously, shoving him backwards and forcing him to kneel on one leg as he resisted their combined assault. The glaive continued its push as Fear II drove it forward, yet it had not pierced his stony flesh. Courage continued to unleash a flurry of blows against his leg, intent on breaking the sturdy limb, but it endured her fierce onslaught. Kindness began attempting to pry the Peculiar Crown from his head, desperate to weaken him, except her strength was not enough to remove it.

Then the restraints shattered, and Fear II found herself flung from the glaive as Garle retaliated with his axe. Courage dodged when he stomped where she had just been, but Kindness stumbled and fell from his head into his hand. “This farce ends now!” He roared, before slamming her into the stone. The middle section of her body was crushed, as her stomach shattered beneath the weight of his hand and her innards began to spill out. Courage let out an enraged cry as she rushed to enact retribution upon the one that had hurt Kindness.

Garle threw his golden axe at her, which she easily dodged, but before she could lash out, more simulacrums of his weapon suddenly appeared and swarmed her. Deprived of her golden gauntlet, she had yet to adjust to her decrease in strength and speed, so she was not swift enough to dodge attacks that she had thought she could avoid. It was a punishing mistake as a glancing blow caused her to stagger and stumble, before Garle slashed her into two halves with his axe. She was hewn from her shoulder to her hip, and bleeding profusely like her mutilated sister. Through their bond, her other sisters could feel her excruciating pain, as the agony of being cut or broken into pieces was shared with them.

Garle lurched forward in pain as well, as he clutched his head with one hand. The Peculiar Crown continually rang akin to a tolling bell as it ruthlessly seared his scalp. Garle groaned as he violently shook his head in a frantic effort to rid himself of the burning relic, before he held onto it tightly and tore it free from its molten seat. With a tormented bellow, he threw the artifact he was no longer attuned with away from him, but struggled just to remain standing. “How did this happen?” He gasped, glancing towards the Sacred Septet with growing fury while steam erupted from numerous lacerations that appeared across his body, as though he were ventilating the excess heat from his inner rage.

Fear II nodded to herself, choosing to act as a distraction while Curiosity and Wanderer retrieved their critically injured sisters. She did not have time to react as Garle launched himself at her, his wings expanding and he flew faster than he had moved before. A multitude of magical gemstones levitated around him, activated, and now enhancing his abilities further. They shone like stars in the night sky with the contrasting darkness of his black wings behind them. Fear II felt her mind become slowed by the presence of the gems, their influence causing her to fail at avoiding his grapple. He held her aloft with one hand as he shouted at her sisters.

“Surrender or I shall sunder her as well! You cannot win.”

The gargoyle tightened his grip to emphasize his point, and Fear II cried in pain. Curiosity and Wanderer came to a halt, faltering at the sight of their apprehended sister, as it seemed the battle had been lost. Courage and Kindness clung onto consciousness, invigorated by the presence of Skydancer and its radiant aura empowering their Phoenix blessing, but they were not capable of healing themselves in time to free Fear II before Garle would break her. They needed more time.

Curiosity slowly stepped forward with trepidation, while Wanderer inclined her head in affirmation. “We’re at your mercy… Please, stop this. We surrender.” She said before she clasped her hands together and bowed to the gargoyle, with Wanderer imitating the gesture as well. The earth finally lessened in its rumbling, as Garle considered their words and the fighting came to an end for a moment. He glanced towards where he tossed the Peculiar Crown, then back towards Sacred Septet.

“Do not resist, or you will all die.” He intoned, as he thrust Fear into the hollow chest of an arisen earth elemental, then ordered more to restrain Curiosity and Wanderer. He examined the cleaved Courage and crushed Kindness, observing the small traces of pale light that were reattaching the damaged pieces. Earth elementals collected them and the damaged Skydancer as well, while Garle peered at the feverish Peculiar Crown that burned his hand when he touched it. He let out a grunt as he lifted it, and paced it back atop his head, despite the fiery pain it caused him. Then he led his procession back to the tomb of his father where he would heal and await the coming of the Red Devil.

Zima’s cloak was tattered. It had numerous holes now, some still orange where the fire smoldered but she wore it all the same. Her battle with Mair was one of attrition at this point but no matter how much she weaved through the fire and danced between its waves, her opponents' ferocity did not subside. She needed a different approach to the situation. Something to turn the tide.

They battled still on the chest of Voligan's tomb, at least she thought so, and now pitted across his surface was slag and molten craters and in some places- crystalline structures and glass. So hot was the heat of Mair's fire, it burned like she was the embodiment of heat itself, only amplified by the vengeance within her.

It was almost a stalemate but Zima still had several tricks she could try. Her own frustrations were mounting, she couldn't even get a hit upon Mair and so she knew what to do. As she had done to the one named Fear so long ago. She pretended to trip, scythe escaping her hands and clambering across the sacred stone at Mair's latest blast. The pale warrior didn't waste a second and was over her, burning hotter than anything she had yet seen in her lifetime.

There were no words between them. Mair simply held up at her hand, palm facing her and Zima saw the flame begin to grow. However, before either could enact their powers on the other, a scream echoed from above. This broke Mair's intense concentration and her eyes grew wide. In an instant she was running up the tomb, using her fire to propel her further. Though Zima was left behind, she could still get there around the same time as Mair, perhaps even faster. So she jumped up, grabbed her scythe and ran after the pale girl.

They both arrived to a rather gruesome sight. It seemed Vale had won her bout, her own assailant was a giant of a woman who towered over them all. Except she was not standing, instead she was clutching the stump of her left arm, cut off at the elbow… Or bit off and she was madly defending herself from Vale, whose face was coated in fresh blood, at the foot of a large rock. Mair roared in anger, "You monster!" Flaming armor growing brighter. Zima reacted quickly and flung herself at the wounded woman as Mair attacked Vale. It was the distraction she needed. For even the giantess flailed and missed her strike upon Zima.

In seconds she had swooped to the side of her and placed the scythe around the woman's neck, poised for the killing blow. The giantess froze, cursing under her breath.

"That's enough!" Zima commanded. "Cease your flailing about or your partner dies."

Mair's eyes narrowed at Zima as she looked at her, guard still up as Vale circled like a vulture "If you dare harm her…" She growled.

"Loose your flames or her pretty throat gets cut." Zima stated. Mair's face contorted into anger but she begrudgingly did as told.

"Mair." The giantess spoke, through a gasp of pain. "I'm sorry."

"Quiet!" Zima hissed, eyes darting to her own companion. "Vale, bring her here." She said in a more normal voice.

Vale languidly strolled towards Mair, peering at the pale Revenger with a cruel curiosity before grabbing her arm and pulling her towards Zima. Multiple mouths manifested along Vale’s limb and her face, opening and revealing rows of jagged teeth as they grinned, the parasite hungering for further pain. The pale warrior recoiled at the sight but kept walking.

"Sit down, Mair." Zima beckoned and Vale shoved her to the floor beside the giantess. It was almost comical the difference in size but Zima didn't laugh anymore. Her scythe never left the woman's neck. She beckoned for Vale. "Are you hurt? Hungry?" She asked.

“The parasite is stirring. It won’t quiet itself.” Vale answered, closing her eyes as her arm twitched and quivered in anticipation. “I’m not hurt, but she is stronger than she seems.” She continued, gesturing at the giantess.

Zima touched the blood upon her face and looked her over. "Fret not, we shall feed the parasite soon enough. Perhaps the King will permit you to slay these ones but we shall wait for him. He will want to see the ones who defaced his father's tomb I think." Zima narrowed her eyes as she glanced at the two. Mair was trying in vain to help the giantess who was growing paler by the second. "That is… If she makes it."

Mair stared at her with daggers but before she could speak a rumbling beckoned their attention away.

"Back so soon…" Zima muttered with a sly smirk.

The wall of the vast cavern opened like a yawning maw, and revealed the horde of earth elementals led by their lord as they marched through the tunnel into the tomb. The stone shifted beneath their feet, carrying them along so that they swiftly traversed the great distance and stood before the revenant and her companion, and the two trespassers.

“I did not expect to find more unwelcome visitors when I returned.” Garle said, as he loomed over the scene and swept his gaze over the injured and the ones that had defeated them. He looked at Zima, and tilted his head. “Are these also servants of the Traitor?” He asked.

She shook her head. "No, just would be assassins come to kill me. They've even defaced your father's tomb. I thought it most suitable that you would utter their punishment." She looked past him and at the flying vessel. "I see you have met our hunters… Did you…?" She asked.

“They have been defeated and imprisoned. However, I must regain my full strength if I am to fight and win against their sinful Maker.” He replied, as he scratched his chest where numerous metallic scars had formed. However the majority of the damage was located at his head, where his horns and skull had been melted in multiple sections giving him a more disfigured visage. He slammed the pommel of his golden axe into the ground. “You have committed grievous crimes in my realm. What will your last words be?” Garle asked as he turned to the small pale one and bleeding bigger one - his voice reverberated throughout the stone and his anger was both heard and felt in the tremors all around.

"Vengeance knows no realms or authority. She slew my entire people and thus she owes her life a thousand times over. I…" The giantess nodded after they shared a look, "We would do it all over but I shall also say this. My condolences to your father. I know such pain." Mair dipped her head, both hands clutching the giant's remaining one.

Zima began to say something but the giantess cut her off, her voice rich and sweet. "Mair speaks true but know this, great chieftain, wherever the demon goes, only sorrow follows."

Zima glowered at them. “Now wa-” She began.

But Garle glanced back at the revenant and she was cut off. “They now claim you committed genocide. Do you deny this?” He questioned, before Vale suddenly fell to the ground and began rapidly convulsing. The contorting of her body brought his attention to her, then she let out a scream as she summoned her black flames.

Zima likewise looked to Vale and took a step towards her. This allowed the giantess to sweep her leg out and trip Zima who fell, her scythe once again clattering across the stone. In moments, Mair had constructed a flaming orb around the two but Zima went to Vale all the same.

"Vale, relax. You'll be alright. Calm. Calm!" She grabbed her by the shoulders. Vale desperately grasped Zima, and held onto her. The Revenant looked uncomfortable for a split second but quickly pushed that aside.

“They’re in my head; like the parasite. I can barely keep them out.” She said, as she winced from the throbbing pressure she felt in her mind.

“You must fight Vale. You must while I…” She looked up to Garle. “Where are they? They must be dealt with if Vale is to overcome them.”

The gargoyle scowled, turning his gaze back to the horde of earth elementals as he spoke. “I should have suspected such trickery from them. I shall break their bones then.” His words were accompanied by his soldiers assembling into several heaps of stone that emitted a slow grinding noise as each shifted and churned. Suddenly emerging from the multiple mouds, the Sacred Septet flew from their prisons and alighted a short distance away from Zima and the others. The hands of the Heralds of Honor were ablaze with celestial light, and the familiar visage of Courage pointed at Garle before she dashed at him. Wanderer stepped through the stone, passing the wall of earth elementals with ease before disappearing among their number. Kindness, Fear II, and Curiosity surged towards the two revenants.

Zima stood with blinding speed and from her hands came claws of blackflame. “So you’ve finally come!” she said, “But you will find no victory here. That I assure you.” Zima then sprang forth, still close to Vale as she assaulted the three. Shadows and light bled all around as black and white fire clashed with each other, Kindness and Curiosity retaliating with shimmering barriers from the latter’s Shield of Faith and the bright burning Blade of Mourning against Zima’s attack as the weapon flew from the horde of earth elementals into the grasp of Kindness. However the last in their trio merely watched them in battle, but did not fight alongside them as the only one amongst them without radiant flames exuding from her hands.

“Neither will you.” Kindness rebuked, as she tapped her dagger against Curiosity’s shield, and both champions shouted. “Connect!” The Shield of Faith and the Blade of Mourning melded into a large upside down vaguely cone-shaped object, with a wheel of blue blades attached to the ring around the flat top upon which Kindness and Curiosity stood. The blades began spinning in a blur of motion, and the strange creation that the two champions rode upon came racing towards Zima as the duo shot flames from its non rotating top.

The revenant danced out of the way of the top and instead focused upon the third member of their party. “I see they made a copy of you, Fear. Do they still call you that?” She said, using the waves of darkness as a barrier around them. It enveloped Vale as well, in some sort of twisted display of fate. ‘Tell me, do you have her memories? Could you fight me? Or would you join me, like she did?”

Fear II shook her head. “I have always fought against you. No, I’ve also always fought for you. I said I would be there with you, and I meant it, but I won't let this sorrow continue to spread.” She stared with defiance at the revenant, refusing to repeat the choices she made in the past.

“Then you, along with all the others, will die.” Zima stated. “I only need one of you anyway.” She then thrust herself at Fear II, swinging her hands with blinding speed at the false Fear. There was a clamorous sundering as darkness peeled back behind the two to reveal Kindness and Curiosity crashing through the barrier. The disruption didn’t distract Fear II as she swiftly moved to defend herself against Zima’s assault, though she lacked the light to protect herself against the entropic powers.

Instead of assisting their sister, the two champions upon their spinning relic slashed into the umbral shield surrounding Vale, ripping it apart with the numerous blades and their white fire. Vale fought back, pushing them away with tenebrous tendrils and her physical strength, but she found herself suddenly surrounded in golden chains as an arrow of light struck from above, shot from Wanderer II who leapt above the conflict.

Fear II, Kindness, and Curiosity all spoke at once. “We’re all in this together, and we will not leave one of us behind!” Their resonating voices echoed before the large spinning blade dispersed in a flash of blinding light and Kindness and Curiosity reappeared as they held onto the restrained Vale, their gaze set upon Zima.

Zima’s eyes grew with malice as she stopped to view them. “That’s rich… Coming from the ones who abandoned precious Vale. She doesn’t want you anymore. She doesn’t even know you.” She reached inside her cloak and smirked at them as she found what she was looking for. “I made sure of it.” The Revenant then vanished.

And a cold laugh echoed all around them.

Cycle VIII


They were a blight upon the land, withering all that they touched upon before the earth itself slowly dissolved into an evil expanse of gurgling grey ooze. Where the forests and lakes were once plentiful in the northern realm, inhabited by a wide variety of large creatures and the many dwellings of the Bjorks - now the woods and the rivers and all of its denizens that were spread across the north had been desiccated and replaced with the putrid presence of fiends and demonic machinations.

The sea of sludge swept over massive sections of the Thousand Lakes region, surging towards and converging upon a specific location; wherein a terrible battle was being fought. The two demons known as Abraxanan and Valac, had besieged the Voga Dam and its clan which was only protected by a single god, Lares. The deity called upon his great power; towering structures erupted from the spreading miasmic tides, providing shelter for the beings within or atop them. Lares summoned smaller buildings that formed limited paths that he could use to navigate the ocean of ooze that poisoned all that came in contact with it.

The God of Houses was enraged, because so much beautiful architecture and wonderful dwellings had been swallowed by the grey sludge and its heralds; two massive and grotesque monstrosities that chanted in their demonic tongue as they caused this calamity to unfold. When they had arrived, Lares had hoped that another member of the pantheon would show up to assist him, but none had come. Now he could only lament what had befallen him and his home that he fought to protect. He had been foolish to believe that he could rely upon the other divine to prevent such evil from ever emerging.

His own form had become weakened, as the deity had found it more and more difficult to change his shape, and found parts of himself transforming into part of furniture or dwellings. It had become difficult to walk at times, but he was content with his life - teaching the bjorks to expand and express themselves through their immediate environment. The art of architecture was something a mortal could spend many cycles lost in the studying and exploring, and yet never become bored, for new inspiring designs and captivating projects were always waiting to be discovered. Lares and many of the bjorks were perhaps lost in their love for the joy and comfort that the creation of so many homes had brought them.

The Voga Dam had been ruptured and ruined, with the community around it barely surviving as so much of the population drowned in the foul flood that had come so suddenly. Too many lives were lost, and too many homes had been wrecked. It was grief that overwhelmed Lares as he fought with all of his strength to defend what was left of the clan that he had grown to care so much for. “Begone villains! I banish you and your heinous presence for eternity!” Fortifications manifested as he spoke; stalwart walls with sharpened spikes built along the battlements, a myriad of complex traps to ensnare and harm the two intruders, and lastly an army of shimmering spirits wielding celestial weapons these repel invaders.

Though the two demons were colossal, they were halted outside the walls and swarmed by the horde of conjured ethereal warriors that were unrelenting in their retaliation even as they were slain in great numbers as they defied their foe. Lares was becoming exhausted - he had swiftly harnessed so much power that it caused him to stagger, but he pressed forward and issued commands to his forces, rallying them with his presence. He dismissed the thought of fleeing regardless of whether or not defeat seemed inevitable. He would not abandon the mortals that had such potential of bringing more beauty into the world, so he stood upon his wall and challenged one of the hulking beasts.

It shrieked back at him, a sound so alien to his ears that he was briefly dazed until he shook his head and bellowed back. “Fire the cannons!” The immense wall stirred, instilled with an immense amount of vigor, and awakening upon hearing the issued order from its creator. It shifted and transformed, openings formed along its outer perimeter from which emerged enchanted artillery that spewed forth blazing blasts of vibrant and violent energy. Each thunderous shot exploded across the flesh of Valac, sundering the pallid skin and burning its innards.

“Fire!” Lares repeated, as another volley unleashed its devastating destruction upon the demon. Bursts of blood and viscera splattered against the wall as the construction shifted again, creating massive pillars atop the battlements with blades along the sides that descended upon the demon like the teeth of a bjork tearing through a tree. Then battering rams abruptly replaced a number of the cannons, and began pulverizing the belly of Valac in brutal fashion.

Lares held up his paws and created a colossal cauldron above his enemy. The God of Houses exerted himself further as he tilted the container filled with an enraged boiling essence, the liquefaction of his loathing for the fiend. Hot hatred cascaded down upon Valac, inflicting more sizzling excruciating burns as the fluids found ways into the entity’s tainted veins, and purged them with divine retribution. There were more eruptions of gore and flesh, then afterwards the demon fell back and staggered. The continually altering configuration of the wall prepared to deal a decisive blow to its fallen foe, but was interrupted by an attack from Abraxanan.

Throughout the clamorous combat, Lares struggled to focus on both fiends, and chose to send the majority of his spiritual soldiers to hinder the second demon while he fought with the first. He chose to sacrifice more of his strength to attempt to separate himself and Valac from Abraxanan by creating another wall between them with the sole purpose of acting as a barricade. Without the interference, his summoned construct delivered the final strike upon Valac, impaling it before completely eviscerating it with an explosion of coalescing weapons that thoroughly ripped it apart.

“You have been slain for your crimes against my hearth and kin.” Lares muttered, gazing down upon the immense corpse from atop one of the nearby towers along the length of the wall. With exhaustion, he nearly stumbled as he dashed towards the barricade that blocked the second demon, gasping in a haggard state as he reached the precipice.
The storm of chaos on the other side was still frightening to behold, even for a deity. Abraxanan had brought forth a heavy acidic rain that dissolved most of his defenses and melted many of his spirits with their screams echoing faintly in the tumultuous weather. A whirlwind of shimmering corpses surrounded the demon as it set its gaze upon him, and pointed a terrible claw at his chest. In response, he conjured more cannons and aimed at it before swiftly firing a barrage of heavenly flames. His living castle unleashed its full might once again, preparing to transform into a myriad of weapons to slaughter the second demon.

Abraxanan flailed wildly under the onslaught of the cannons, its screeches seeming to rip apart reality as lacerations opened in the sky and ebon fluid flowed forth from the gashes like blood. With weariness, Lares created a chair to seat himself, heaving as he watched the horrifying display of disruptive ferocity, and understood the truth of a pyrrhic victory as he looked out across what remained of his home and its people. Fortunately, he had salvaged much of the life here, happy to see that the bjorks and animals and plants had survived this ordeal, safe within the numerous structures he hastily summoned. He sighed, looking forward to the time when he could put this troubling day far behind him.

Upon the verge of being defeated, Abraxanan was restrained by resurrected fortifications emerging around it, preventing its escape by encircling it. The cannons constantly fired upon it, letting there be no rest for the wicked. The noise was so loud that Lares did not hear Valac as the demon loomed behind him - it was the repugnant stench that became even more potent that had warned the deity of the demon, but it was too late. Lares did not have enough strength or time to rise from his chair before the maw of Valac closed around him. Shadows and teeth tore into the Ever-Welcomed Architect, gnashing him until he was no more and the Shard he carried was consumed.

The survivors that remained in the shelters Lares had provided for them would witness the aftermath of the battle, and weep whenever the tale was told or recalled. The devouring of Lares and his Shard resulted in the birth of a third demon - a dark and twisted thing that crawled out of the mouth of Valac and screeched. Then its much smaller form fell from the maw of the other demon, and sank into the murky depths of the sea of sludge. Without further malice, the two demons that brought ruin to this realm departed back to whence they came it seemed, but their lingering miasma stayed and continued to choke the life that was trapped there.

Though the rest of the Galbar has yet to suffer their coming, lesser calamities had befallen upon all that dwelled on the planet, as earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions ravaged many parts of the world. Ill omens plague those that dream, and perturbing whispers can be heard on the wind. Visions of an inevitable demise haunt the world, as despair continues to spread like an incurable disease.

The Return & Departure

Rituals & Potential Consequences

Skydancer alighted in the newly created stratified sculpted fields surrounding the southern sections within Keltra, wherein the few passengers of the soaring vessel swiftly disembarked before they were immediately greeted by their sisters that had emerged from the keep to welcome them. Laughter soon spread throughout the air as Courage and Courage II leapt forward and joyfully embraced each of their sisters that came closer, as thoughts and memories were passed back and forth amongst all of them. There was a melding of emotions while they shared their senses; a burst of affection and apprehension at the sight of Fear II standing awkwardly nearby as they all telepathically communicated in her presence.

Quickly informed of the situation regarding the Reflection of their stray sister; Courage, Wanderer, and their Reflections, all changed their demeanor; switching from mind-speech to sign language and vocalizations. Courage set aside her brief confusion and playfully grinned when Fear II looked at her, while Courage II both mentally and verbally explained what transpired in their most recent encounters with their Mother: Homura had returned to Nalusa with Skydancer before hastily setting out once again while accompanied by Charis. They had been told to stabilize the region and assist both humanity and the remaining maramodas in recovering from the spreading spree of slaughter that plagued the land.

They had been in the middle of their task when a portal opened and an avatar of Homura appeared, suddenly commanding them to return to Keltra with little reason given as to why. Desire was elected to stay behind since she seemed most capable of resolving the predicament in Nalusa while the rest of them came back. Courage II concluded her explanation with a short and simple description of their uneventful flight home. Afterwards, Courage spoke up with a small hint of skepticism in her voice, pointing at Fear II.

“Shouldn’t she be included in our bond? It’s a hassle keeping her out of it, ya know.”

Pride merely sighed in annoyance, as the most brash among them was always blind to how delicate the rest of them were at times. Kindness and Kindness II both bore the shadow of a scowl, barely perceptible. They were the two that had first sought to prevent Fear II from joining the Sacred Septet because they believed that they were being maliciously manipulated by the bond. What had irked the Keeper of Keltra was the origin of their belief; a misbegotten contempt for their Mother that had worsened after she had banished Fear and threatened to imprison them all long ago. Pride was aware of how these acts had left a lingering resentment in Kindness, this simmering bitterness which had been instilled in her Reflection as well.

“We sacrifice our privacy and individualism when we invite others into our connection. Every additional synapse we create, the risk of converging our spirits increases. We have realized now that Fear required a separate internal space for her spirit to preserve itself, and our connection deprived her of one. She suffered as a result, and Fear II will suffer as well. It is a mistake coercing her in this situation.” Kindness and Kindness II retorted, speaking in unison.

“She’s an introvert, ya. Makes sense when you put it like that… but like can’t we just create our own inner rooms where we can be alone for a little while? Even in our minds, it should be possible!” Courage countered with a chuckle when Kindness and Kindness II seemed perplexed by her words, considering the potential solution she suggested.

“With our stronger sight, we can better avoid a convergence, except isn’t that what we’re trying to do anyway?” She continued, glancing around at the rest of her sisters that had yet to speak aloud their sentiments and concerns for the sake of Fear II. Courage proceeded to reinforce her point with this present inefficiency in their conversation, letting her aura of conviction wash over all of them, as she casually approached the subject of their discussion. Even when she conveyed her sincere and reassuring intentions through their connection to them as she stepped closer, Kindness and her Reflection still interposed themselves between her and Fear II.

Courage wondered whether Kindness was even concerned if she was affronted by this distrust, but persevered by mentally reaffirming with fierce conviction that she would not hurt the Reflection of her lost sister. The anger in her mind melded with her words though, causing Kindness and her Reflection to continue to hinder her approach. “The choice belongs to Fear II…” They intoned simultaneously, while Wanderer and Wanderer II strode around them with surprising agility and reached out to Fear II when the others were distracted.

Finding both of her hands held by her two sisters, Fear II recalled the time before so much sorrow had been born in Keltra. Though it had only been Fear and Wanderer then, and instead of warm soft skin like now, her other self had possessed a hand sculpted from ice. She had once been a part of the bond, and could so easily sense the thoughts and support shared by her beloved sister. She reminisced on these memories that belonged to both her and to the one that was banished from her home…

“I’m weaker without the connection. Courage is right, I should be included… even if it means I’ll lose myself, because otherwise I’m only a liability. I… That is my choice.” She softly proclaimed, as anxiety showed clearly on her face despite her best efforts to hide it. Fear II saw how her decision seemed to evoke further tension between Courage and Kindness, but stayed resolute as her heart ached at the sight of her sisters and their frustration with each other. With reluctance, Kindness and her Reflection stepped aside, allowing Courage to stand before Fear II.

“Listen, we’re not going to let you become lost. Kindness and I will make sure that never happens, even if she thinks I’m being reckless right now. Fear isn’t the only one that has to atone. All of us are working towards redemption because we’re walking this path together, ya. When you stumble, we stumble beside you. But, we just have to keep on moving on.” Courage said, as her cheeks turned a shade of pink akin to Pride’s unique streaks in her hair. The brash champion exuded a combination of embarrassment and earnestness that caused Fear II to instinctually chuckle with faint amusement. Courage simply shook her head, and accompanied her sister’s bit of levity with her own mirth, now laughing alongside her.

Pride interjected with a ping in the minds of her sisters, redirecting their attention to the rather prominent changes in their surroundings; the two temples and the lustrous landscape that had been recently created. “Before you become overwhelmed with eagerness, there are two places of power we must visit.” She chimed, gesturing with a tilt of her head towards the slender azure structure known as the Temple of the Tapestry. “Our Mother has bestowed upon us some gifts.” She murmured absently, becoming the most withdrawn among her sisters as she led them onwards through the glittering gardens while the others nonchalantly conversed.

During their walk, the Tome of Artistry was passed amongst all of them, granting each of them an innate knowledge and talent for weaving with the summoned fabric that was found in the temple’s interior. Pride was insistent they prepare themselves for the encounter with Zima, and provided those that would be departing with an abundance of materials and an exquisite loom to work with. “The silk here is enchanted with numerous spells, so each outfit can serve multiple functions, but protection and supplements should be your main focus.” She explained during the brief tour once they were inside, and actively looking at all of the elegant furnishings and tools at their disposal.

Blessed by the book, the Sacred Septet immediately began conducting experiments with a myriad of designs and materials. They bantered back and forth both telepathically and aloud as their imagination was let loose like a wild animal lost in awe and excitement. “It’s occurred to me that it’s rather foolish of us to ask for gifts from the gods when we have really little to give in exchange, so why don’t we work on making them outfits as well, ya!” Courage called out, while she embroidered shimmering shifting blue and green patterns into the back of a red dress. Courage II quietly told Fear II that plans for the future helped all of them hone their minds which would assist in aligning themselves to the world around them. It did seem to help them.

“It’s our connections that make us strong.” Courage remarked, gazing pointedly at Fear II, but announced loud enough for all to hear, though her sisters also mostly ignored her.


“Nice capelets!” Curiosity II cheerfully commented as she examined what Kindness and her Reflection had just created. Nearby, Pride let out a noise of exasperation when she saw what Wanderer’s attire consisted of. “You’re supposed to make something that will protect you, you numpty! Your legs and stomach are all so exposed! Are you asking to be stabbed again?” The Keeper of Keltra protested before she sighed and shook her head with resignation, letting her silent sister do as she wished.

Soon Curiosity handed Rowan over to her Reflection and proceeded to weave for herself a new garb as well. Courage II and Fear II watched from closeby, and the first Reflection remarked that it was a shame that Desire could not be here. “I’ll have to bring her next time!” Courage II declared with a raised fist and fierce grin, as Fear II attempted to match her enthusiasm. Curiosity paused her work and playfully poked her anxious sister, merrily mentioning the modesty of Fear II’s clothing consisting of multiple pretty pieces that were sadly concealing her features. Curiosity then began calling her cute and bashful and sweet - until Fear II hid her face, flushed with embarrassment, causing Courage II and Curiosity to lightheartedly laugh at the demure display, while Kindness and her Reflection came up from behind and bonked the two of them on the back of their heads.

Eventually each of them had fashioned for themselves a new outfit, adhering to the red theme of their home and mother, but incorporating their own special traits as well. Together they were a mixture of exuberant chaos and harmony, however one among them remained in her first attire and had become currently the center of attention. “Pipsqueak, you haven’t touched the loom yet… You need a change in threads too, ya.” Courage said with a grin, as she and her sisters encircled the smallest among them. Within the Temple of the Tapestry, they were relatively safe from the scarlet stone outside, so Pride potentially could not defeat them with her scepter. It was a risk they were willing to take.

There was still some struggling as she tried to flee, but Courage and Fear II valiantly prevented such from happening while the rest of them came up with ideas for Pride’s new regalia. There was screaming, strangling, and strife as sisters bargained and battled for control of the situation with pretentiously fierce conviction and cunning. Pride attempted to use the division to free herself, but there were too many of them, and she remained trapped as they took her measurements and adorned her with frilly gowns and childish costumes against her will. Her complaints came mainly from her sisters pampering her, along with constant cuddling, and Pride wondered whether this behavior originated from their Mother, or if it was something they independently developed. She recalled how their Mother would always pat her head and brush her hair when she visited, and felt a fleeting feeling of despair sink in at the realization.

Pride had been placed in an even more elaborate dress that was primarily white with crimson along the edges and beautiful celestial red and gold motif across it. Her hands held her scepter, the small appendages barely able to free themselves from the long sleeves that trailed behind her while she walked without too much difficulty in the dress. She surmised that she would have to empower the music that spread throughout the keep so that it reached the temples and outer wall as well. She had spent so much time within the keep that she had forgotten how the Silk Song needed euphonious sound in order to grant her prolonged grace and flight. It irked her how much effort she had to put into not tripping with each step now.

Finally they had finished weaving all of their enchanted raiments, and stepped outside of the Temple of the Tapestry. The Keeper of Keltra continued to lead the way as they walked towards the Temple of Resurrection, choosing to turn a deaf ear to the comments about how heart-stoppingly adorable she was as she marched onwards. She remained silent as Courage and Kindness tripped upon a protrusion of crimson stone that had arisen suddenly before receding back into the earth as quickly as it had come. There was a remarkably noticeable lack of commentary regarding her appearance afterwards, though Courage complained that she was no fun at all.

They entered the second immense ornate structure, and discovered it to be quite austere within, as there were no furnishings or embellishment anywhere to be found in the first great chamber, only a lone altar that occupied the center of the space. There was a passage at the back leading to a set of stairs that had steps both ascending and descending to other higher and lower levels of the temple. All of the Heralds of Honor, aside from Pride, recalled a time when the interior of the keep itself felt similarly hollow and ascetic until the twin-birth of the Eternal Fire and their smallest sister had begun a warm change in Keltra.

“This is… the precipice of another transformation, isn’t it?” Courage asked after a lingering pause, now standing at the forefront of her collected sisters, except for Pride who slowly approached the altar and answered though she looked at Kindness as she spoke.

“We are ever-changing as children of the cosmos; every shifting iota of our world is a change.”

“This is different from just choosing something like new clothing! We don’t know what will happen to us afterwards!” Courage shouted, her voice echoing in the cavernous chamber before it faded too soon for the brash champion as she began pacing back and forth. They had all been aware of what lay ahead on the Sacred Path, and yet being confronted with the truth of it had much more of an impact upon them. The consequences of their current choices which would determine whether they strayed from fate and destiny weighed heavily upon them. Though the Temple of the Tapestry was also a sacred space, it did not tap into as much divine power as the temple they stood within now. An otherworldly presence could be felt, watching and waiting for them to make a choice.

“You wonder whether annihilation awaits us?”

“Yes! Except it’s not only that, what about our humanity, ya? Our honor? What if we lose all of what we love along the way? Where’s Mother, because she should be here to help us! Gah, it feels like we’re saying…” Courage replied, but found herself struggling to find the words that meant what she wanted to say.

“Adios. Sayonara. Good-bye.”

“But that’s why we’re walking the Sacred Path! It’s supposed to be that; God be with us, to divinity, to what it will be. But… Doesn’t it feel like this isn’t the Sacred Path? Doesn’t it feel like we’re making a mistake?” Courage and Courage II countered, speaking simultaneously. They reached out through telepathy, and the question was repeated again and again in their minds.

“Are you afraid?”

“No! I’m not afraid!” Courage and her Reflection cried out, and their minds were suddenly clashing with Pride’s, striking with surprising vehemence that shocked themselves. However, Pride had been prepared, and pushed back like a tidal wave of overwhelming thoughts and emotions that crashed against the internal workings of Courage and Courage II, forcing them to continue their retaliation lest they succumb and spiritually drown.

“Please stop fighting!” The voices and sentiments of their sisters were spoken aloud and through their connection. Curiosity, Wanderer, Wanderer II and Fear II held onto Courage and her Reflection, while Kindness and Kindness II reached out to Pride. “You’re frightening him!” Curiosity II called out as she continued to cradle Rowan, murmuring to him when he had begun crying because of the loud voices. It was the sight of his tears that led to all of them externally attempting to calm themselves and soothe the baby, but the argument persisted through telepathy until a hesitant question was heard.

“Um… could I get an explanation of what’s happening? I’m missing some details, but what about this change is the problem? What is this change?” Fear II asked with concern.

“This temple acts as a space where souls and bodies overlap. It could be said that all of us are both alive and dead at the moment, depending upon which doorway we leave through.” Pride explained.

“The ritual will fuse our souls and bodies into something like Charis and Zima. Something neither alive or dead.” Courage and Courage II both added with a shrug, as they calmed down and the pressure slowly abated in their minds. The two of them allowed their chagrin to spread throughout the connection, which caused Pride to let out a familiar groan with a mixture of relief and annoyance.

“To overcome Zima and Fear, you need protection from their powers, and a way to actually aid them. Mother has provided us with the tools we need to save our sisters with this ritual, or did you think punching them would solve any and all problems posed ahead?” Pride inquired with her arms crossed as she stared at Courage and Courage II.

“Accomplishing such a harrowing task will be beyond difficult.” Kindness said with a hint of sorrow as she and her Reflection returned to the rest of their sisters' side. Fear II stared at them and was startled when Courage and Courage II took the hands of Kindness and Kindness II. The two brash champions exuded an aura of levity that even she felt. Then without warning, all aside from Fear II and Pride were faintly chuckling as if a funny joke had been told. Fear II remained confused, but felt a surge of confidence swell within her as well.

“Don’t be scared, Kindness. We’ve been through worse, and we’ve always survived. With all of you here, it’s even easier for me to see what I don’t have. To see what I could be. We’re stronger and closer when we’re connected through our bond. This ritual won’t change that.” Fear II gently declared, but her words seemed to have the effect she wanted in the end. The Sacred Septet seemed prepared for what would come next until Pride interjected.

“Except you’re currently separated from our connection which means this ritual may be more or less dangerous for you. You’re acting as a variable in this ritual, to see if there are any different results from those that can share their minds with each other, and one who cannot.”

“Well… that’s a bit of dampener.” Fear II said with false bravado - glad that her anxiety wasn’t shared as well. “Even so, I’m willing to do this to save my other self and Zima.”

Another swelling of confidence came over her as Courage, Kindness, and their Reflections all gave reaffirming nods to her. Curiosity II placed Rowan within an improvised cradle Pride provided by folding her Silk Song multiple times. The Reflection then joined her sisters along with Curiosity, Wanderer, and Wanderer II. Pride distanced herself from their company, standing with the suspended baby as the rest approached the lonely altar, which caused Fear II to ask why she was separated. Kindness II answered with a whisper; “She is not participating in the ritual since she will not be accompanying us on our mission, and because of the risks involved.”

“Pipsqueak has her own problems she has to deal with.” Courage II commented, and laughed while Pride pouted. Fear II wondered which was the more arduous quest; saving the dangerous Zima and Fear from the terrible curse upon them, or trying to help a horde of fanatical maramodas that hate you turn from their violent tendencies.

“Just do what the rest of us do.” Courage said as she took charge and was the first to place her palm upon the altar. The rest of them followed her lead, and pressed their hands against the small shrine, sensing an otherworldly power that stirred upon the physical contact. Those among them that had yet to summon the shifting symbols of the Gnosis now called upon their knowledge and spirit to further awaken the sacred forces that slept within the temple. The Heralds of Honor stayed still as their souls and bodies began to split from each other, severing the ethereal synapses between them.

Glowing glyphs manifested on the altar, though none of the sorceresses recognized the spell that was being cast. “We should let our souls do what they have to do while we try to move those runes onto our bodies, ya.” Courage suggested, closing her eyes as she concentrated upon internally performing the proper incantation. None of them had practice, but blessings by the divine granted them an innate understanding of what they must do - Aloud, all of them began humming a soft melody. Slowly, the shifting symbols on the altar crawled towards their hands and along their arms. The myriad of swirling markings melded together and there was the sound of glass shattering as reality was rewritten again, indicating the ritual was complete.

Courage stepped back and smiled at her sisters before falling down onto the floor. Courage II, Kindness, Kindness II, Fear II, Curiosity, Curiosity II, Wanderer, and Wanderer II all fell down as well - all of them slumbering peacefully, it seemed.

They awoke, still in the barren space within the Temple of Resurrection, with Pride walking amidst their prone forms. As those that participated in the ritual roused themselves from their drowsiness, they saw that their smallest sister had a collection of blue gems in her hands that gently glowed with a mystical radiance that reminded them of Rowan’s eyes which sometimes turned a beautiful blue without warning. The Gnosis gave the gems Pride held a name that all of the sorcerers innately grasped; Soul Gems.

“Success, I suppose.” Pride proclaimed.

“Those are duplicates of our souls, and we have similar gems that we keep with us, ya?” Courage asked as she brought a hand to the golden soul gem attached to her skin beneath her throat and collar. None of them could sense any alterations to their bodies, but some were bemused by the differing appearances of the gems they carried, and the collection of gems Pride possessed.

“Why is mine not the same color as yours?” Curiosity inquired with confusion, having pulled her lavender soul gem free from her body to better examine it, and noticing the distinctions between her’s and the others. The soul gem of Kindness was red like her eyes, while Wanderer had an orange soul gem. Fear II gazed inquisitively at her bright pink soul gem, and felt relief looking at the cheerful color. The Reflections of Courage, Kindness, Curiosity, and Wanderer, all had identical soul gems as their other selves.

“I cast a spell to change their colors. They were all blue, and difficult to distinguish from each other. I have more copies as well, but I am also keeping some like this to see if I can find another way to discern which one belongs to who.” Pride replied, as she tenderly placed the pile of blue gems before the altar.

“You did not ask for permission.” Kindness remarked.

“Would you rather I didn’t preserve your souls, and further pursue methods of protecting them from harm?”

“Such sass, Pipsqueak!” Courage called out, as she stood and assisted her sisters in rising.

“Coming from you…” Pride sighed, and gestured towards the exit. “Let’s leave this place and return to the keep for the final ritual before your departure.” Her words ushered a swift withdrawal from the temple without any protests, as the Heralds of Honor all walked back to the keep in ruminative silence afterwards. Curiosity had reclaimed Rowan from Pride, allowing the Keeper of Keltra to regain some better mobility with the unburdened Silk Song now assisting her.

They entered the interior of the keep, and idly strolled around the Eternal Fire as its heavenly warmth washed over them. A few more words were spoken; quiet comments upon the changes that had come, and what further changes awaited them, but the presence of the closeby bright bonfire soothed their concerns. The music within the great hall was gentle, guiding them in their trance as they began to dance in a small circle beside the flames. At first, Fear II struggled to match the rhythm and movements, having to rely upon her memories of past performances her other self participated in, along with the assistance of her sisters slowing and adjusting the pace repeatedly for her sake.

As they danced, Fear II felt herself reconnect with the rest of them; all of their emotions which were expressed in a evocative and vivid manner as they let such feelings manifest in transcendent motions. She could perceive their internal intentions and their wishes through their wondrous freedom of forms, as if they were communicating to her through every twirling twist, graceful gesture, and serene step. The sincerity conveyed in their elegant shifting exhibition left the anxious champion crying, the tears shed in a state of overwhelming euphoria and appreciation. Her mind was opened and carried by the music, before it became the music, and the song was her shape. The melody was a cauldron, within which she merged with her sisters as they all danced with an aura of innocence.

Even when the ritual was complete, they continued to sway and swirl, singing and humming without constraint, because the beauty they tapped into and instilled into their hearts was like a story without an end. Tipsy with elated passion and inner revelation, the Heralds of Honor embraced themselves with euphonious compassion and cosmic power. They were connected, and they were truly intent upon walking with the rest of the world upon the Sacred Path. Courage proclaimed that it was time to seek out Zima and Fear, bringing their song and dance to a closure. Though the otherworldly music remained, the champions returned to their previous shapes, with the addition of Fear II in their spiritual bond now.

A little reluctance came over them, but the thought of reuniting with Fear and confronting Zima compelled them into swift action. The Sacred Septet emerged from the keep; Courage and her Reflection retrieving Skydancer while Curiosity and Curiosity II continually bid Rowan a fond farewell, with plenty of promises that they would return. During this time, Wanderer pledged to protect them, while Wanderer II casually requested permission to pilot Skydancer which the rest of her sisters refused to allow - citing the hazards posed by her piloting. Kindness and her Reflection activated the Reuniting Crystal, and whispered to their lost sister, stating that they were coming to her. Fear II mostly wondered how her other self was reacting to the message compared to her own surge of bravery and comfort upon hearing those words.

The flying boat alighted before all of them, and a noticeable detail caused the Sacred Septet to pause as their gaze alternated between the small vessel and amongst themselves. They numbered nine when Skydancer had been built with seats for six, and their number would increase when they brought Zima and Fear back with them. Courage chuckled as she looked at her Reflection, and shared what the two of them were thinking with the others. There was no immediate objection, so Courage and Courage II clasped hands and pressed their heads together as the Gnosis glimmered and swirled upon their skin. Both of them became transparent with only the contours of their bodies and the sacred glyphs remaining easily discernible, though their visible outlines were beginning to merge.

There was a shimmering pulse accompanied by the faint sound of granulating glass, as the two became one and only a single being stood at the helm of Skydancer afterwards. The combined Courage and Courage II looked back at her sisters with a bold smile. “I think it’s time we get going, ya.”

Bolstered by her words, the others performed a fusion with their Reflections as well, resulting in their number being reduced to five - a small enough group for all of them to be comfortably seated on Skydancer. They studied themselves and conducted a few tests, assessing their ability to unmerge their bodies and swap attires, as Curiosity and her Reflection complained that they couldn’t choose what outfit to wear now - leading to Pride teaching them how to intermix their clothing when they were fused. Wanderer silently reassured Fear II that she would also suffer their same conundrums when they rescued Fear. The mute champion then offered to fuse with her as well, eliciting some surprise from all of their sisters - Pride felt compelled to interject.

“Further experimentation later! Let’s not take any more risks, please. Merging with your Reflections is fine, but we don't know what will happen when we merge our bodies in such a way. I’d rather we didn’t invite even stranger things than what we’ve seen so far.”

Her words were muffled by her sisters gathering together to suddenly embrace her. The six of them hugged, and through their bond they felt the joy and affection of each other. They were a family forged by the sacred forces that surrounded them, bonded by a blessed harmony beyond kinship and honor. They had perceived the bonds between the living, undergoing an awareness of the anima all around them, and as a result from this sight and visions glimpsed through the Incantation of Seeing, they thought themselves closer to what they were all seeking. Their compassionate hold of each other may not have been a literal step forward, yet it seemed another step farther upon the Sacred Path.

“Pipsqueak is right!” Courage added swiftly after they separated, as she threw both Wanderer and Fear II onto Skydancer - her two sisters agilely landing beside Kindness who had leapt and soared through the air next to them. Courage and Curiosity jumped aboard as well, and the five of them waved farewell to Pride and Rowan. Skydancer began to ascend as Courage took the helm once more, and guided them out of Keltra towards their destination.

Towards their fateful confrontation with Zima and Fear.

Monica V

The journey was swift and serene, as Monica soared across the skies to the edges of Maelite. She could not easily fly in the land of darkness, so she descended to where the road of light began, and resumed her journey once more as she started walking. Soon after she softly spoke to the shadows surrounding her and the shimmering road after she had passed the borders between the 12th Realm and Maelite.

Her quiet voice wandered away from her, lost in the prominent dancing darkness. There was no response. She continued onward along the road of light with the wind carrying her, hastening her hovering step. She did not stray from the path, where the icy cruel cold sank its teeth into the living, where the savage children of Maelite may seek her out and attempt to feast on her flesh, where there were no means without magical aid of navigating the land aside from blindly fumbling forward.

She spent time among other travelers and shared a few words with them, enjoying the ephemeral conversations that periodically interrupted the screaming silence between encounters. She would ever prematurely depart though, insisting she must be on her way before long. Calling upon her sacred power, she summoned supplies that she provided to her fellow wanderers, along with washing away the fatigue and fear they felt. In return, she simply asked them to pray to the Divine, and avoid straying from Benea’s light lest death finds them in the sea of shadows.

Monica finally reached the node that she had stabilized so long ago, and once again called out to the absolute blackness that enclosed everything around her. The Shepherd of Shadows revealed its looming presence with its ethereal voice repeatedly resonating where the limited light and demure darkness danced together. The unseen colossus told her of what had transpired in Maelite during her absence, and asked if she wished to see the fate of her children - those that were lost, and those that had been found…

“No. I am afraid I cannot accompany you and my children in this world yet. I must continue my journey a little longer, but I will come back.” She said, with sorrow in her heart. A more and more familiar feeling after all that she had seen and experienced. There was yearning and joy that swelled within her as well, for she was with her family.

The Shepherd of Shadows merely murmured to her that it would await her return, and that it would continue to watch over the node and her children while she was away, for which she expressed her gratitude. Before she bid her champion farewell, another sound came from the darkness. A small creature about half her height emerged from the darkness; a creature that was only a silhouette in the light when it appeared. It was bipedal, standing upon two legs that were large compared to the rest of its shape - at least consisting of the vast majority of it. It possessed four more spindly limbs that reached out from its core as it approached her.

However her eyeless spawn became sluggish, struggling just to stand when it stepped into the much warmer light, so Monica came to it instead. Her hands touched its cold carapace, compassionately caressing what was her child as it began to claw apart her arms and stomach. Silver blood seeped from the accumulating wounds, but she continued to croon and gently stroke its shape as it assailed her. “A little one... She needs to be loved… My beautiful daughter whom always attacks me whenever she sees me.”

All of her children sought to slay her, all of them suffused with her fear and agony. Before she suffered further injuries, she let the Shepherd of Shadows pry her daughter away, bringing the child back into the darkness. Monica began healing her numerous bleeding lacerations, and mending her attire before cleansing it. Afterwards, she further contemplated the matter of her aggressive children and came to a conclusion that would assist both Maelite and those beyond its borders. With cosmic clarity, she called upon the forces of creation and forged an artifact that manifested upon one of her fingers.

It was a silver ring that she would name, Althea, which possessed incredible healing powers. With it, she could sacrifice sections of her body to her hungry children and swiftly regenerate. With more of her divine might, she cast an intricate spell upon her attire that she named,Alessia, granting it great resilience. With it, she could spend more time with her hungry children without the supervision of the Shepherd of Shadows keeping her safe. Monica felt a small satisfied smile form as she finished her task, but black tears were trailing down her cheeks because she must leave again.

She said her farewells, and traveled along the road of light back to the 12th Realm. She flew to Eunomia and entered the temple, navigating it until she reached the node. She stepped through the nexus, and appeared in southern Maelite where she performed one more task. She set a warning system on the node. Soon she would grant Benea permission to access the power of the node, letting her sister teleport here as well. As Monica’s thoughts turned to Benea, she hoped that Xavior and Jermane helped her recover from her ordeal. Monica then returned to the 12th Realm through the nexus.

Cycle VII

The Season of Strife

Zhongcheng swam through the dark depths of the endless Deep where even the light of the divine could not provide illumination. It was here where the immense serpent was seeking a dreadful presence familiar to its senses, one that it had thought was slain and vanquished from this realm, but it seemed that it was wrong, or that the vile creature had returned. It heard the monstrous voice as it awakened, uttering in a foul language antithetical to existence, but beckoning the blessed hunter onward. Zhongcheng answered with a hostile hiss as it accepted the challenge, and surged towards the undulating shadows wherein it would reveal this misbegotten fiend to the Ruler of the Gods and aid in its defeat once more.

The scars it had acquired the last time it had pursued its prior foe itched, and Zhongcheng was well aware that it could not win alone against such an enemy, so it called outwards to its master. The creature resembling the Pariah with its aura of annihilation; an anathema to all of creation, continued to chant in its profane and grotesque tongue as it found itself approached. Zhongcheng was aware of the attention it had gained; the relentless rage, its eternal hatred, its undying wrath, all of the anger of this demon directed at it because of the blood that suffused its being. The creature would never cease unleashing its malice upon the world, hence it must be halted.

Before allowing such a calamity to happen, the blessed hunter engaged its quarry and the two clashed like continents colliding with each other: The sea shook vehemently as sudden tidal waves crashed against the land, and a multitude of earthquakes occurred at once across the Galbar. Even the sky reacted to their confrontation, as storms gathered above and thundered loudly like an otherworldly orchestra accompanying the deadly duel between the sacred sea serpent and the evil entity that trespassed in the realm of reality. Gaping wounds in the world shifting and shaped like vicious talons reached out and tore at Zhongcheng who retaliated by battering away the miasmic mass with its body, and then biting into the darkness feeling foul flesh be sundered by its teeth.

Gore then tainted the accursed waters, haunted by the death of Ao-Yurin, as gruesome injury after gruesome injury was inflicted upon Zhongcheng who only sought to hinder the second coming of the Pariah before the arrival of the Divine King and salvation. The blessed hunter only had to endure long enough for its master to come, but the awakened demon fought savagely, gaining in strength and resilience the longer the battle between them persisted, and Zhongcheng understood that it would have to retreat again if it wished to survive…

They were entangled with each other; tenebrous tendrils that had lashed out from the fiend and strangled both frontal legs of the blessed hunter. As Zhongcheng crunched and bit through the tendrils constricting one leg, the other tendrils tightened until the trapped flesh and bone fractured, and the sea serpent suddenly lost a limb in an eruption of blood and sinewy fragments. Freed from the grasp of the fierce demon, Zhongcheng swiftly fled with its wings propelling it backwards before it pirouetted and hastily swam out of reach. Then Three spears of a strange metallic substance surged through the bloody water and struck the sea serpent, piercing one of its wings and impaling the end and central sections of its body.

Zhongcheng continued to swim though, twisting and spiraling to avoid any other projectiles that the fiend would shoot, ignoring the grave harm it had sustained in a lingering state of shock and desperation. The presence of the evil became farther and farther, as the sea serpent ascended closer to the surface near the Crown of the Galbar where it would rest and await for its master. Before reaching its destination, when the light of the majestic sun was visible - reflected in the rippling depths like celestial curtains swaying as they shimmered, Zhongcheng felt something insidious manifest beside it. Before it could reach its destination, two gigantic pale reticular claws slashed apart its damaged wing, flailing wildly in search of more to ruin.

Momentum carried Zhongcheng to the surface where it flimsily flew through the air towards the shore. It nearly crushed a mountain upon landing, but it had escaped further attacks from the second assailant and found a last bit of respite in the end. The blessed hunter could now sense what had ambushed it, and felt a combination of zealous fury and undeniable dread for there were two creatures that possessed the same polluted presence of the Pariah. Two demons of terrible power greater than that of their predecessor and evidently would eventually ravage the Galbar unless they were slain. The dying sea serpent, Zhongcheng, called out once more to its master, as the last of its lifeblood flowed from its brutalized body and it perished.

Together, the two demons emerged from the sea and set their eyeless gaze upon the world around them. In their wake, they left a trail of putrid decay behind them, boiling the water before it became a grisly grey that poisoned what remained of the living in the sea between the Crown of the Galbar and Orsus. The pallid demon glanced back towards the corpse of Zhongcheng and raised a disgusting claw. The eastern half of what was once intended to be grounds for divine convocation was engulfed in a white explosion that spewed forth broken chunks of earth in all directions. After the final vestiges of such destruction had mostly faded, the two demons resumed their journey traveling northwards.

Pride & Keltra

The consequences of war were quite confusing when Homura returned from Nalusa upon Skydancer, accompanied by Charis the Red Wing Healing the Faithful, and a surprising horde of slumbering rodent-related primitive soldiers spread throughout the insides of the two flying equine colossi like a nested infestation. Could this be divine retribution? Pride pondered to herself, isolating her thoughts from her sisters and their reflections, as their mother briefly described what had transpired afar and slightly scolded Kindness for creating a reflection of Fear before departing as swiftly as she came, along with the Phoenix without much detail into where they were going, which was to be expected at this point.

The vast majority of the maramodas still slumbered, and those that had awakened were confined within a section of the keep - kept away from the sleeping vessels of humanity with numerous stone walls separating them. The Keeper of Keltra found herself irked by the behavior of the few woken maramodas; their repetitive demand for silence after they conceded they could not defeat her or her sisters in something that could barely be called battle. She quickly acquiesced to their demands though only communicating to them through telepathy, but unfortunately the fools were too simplistic to comprehend mind-to-mind speech and fled from her presence whenever she approached while signing various hostile gestures to ward her away.

Divine retribution, but upon whom?

Neither Pride nor the maramodas were satisfied by the situation, though the latter did not bother to even attempt to cope, and instead either continually lamented throughout the day or projected their scorn through their somatic language upon the irked former who had to restrain herself from screaming at them either aloud or mentally. For now, establishing a friendly relationship seemed more like a long-term goal as opposed to anything productive happening anytime soon. Homura had said that Courage and the others would be acting independently for the time being, so the goddess had not returned to Nalusa, which left the bemused Pride only more matters to ponder while she paced back and forth nearby the Eternal Fire.

The smallest among the Sacred Sextet idly overheard her sisters coddling the infantile Rowan, speaking softly as they crooned around him, murmuring their affection. While the majority of her mind was focused upon surveillance around Keltra, the tiny restless part of her mind that found itself in need of preoccupation felt envious ire directed at Kindness and Curiosity, and the Reflections - they were teaching an adorable and more importantly singular baby while she had to handle the horde of violent and idiotic maramodas in a hopeless endeavor to educate them. It was proving to be torturous because they had yet to grasp the concept that she meant them no harm, and only sought to help them, incentivized because then they could leave and she would not have to endure their presence further.

Time passed and little progress was made with the maramodas. Pride was rather resentful when she shaped their section of the keep to resemble their burrows back where they came from, even suppressing the ambient music and adding familiar scenery she had seen through her scrying of their former dens and dwellings, but they merely debated whether she was tricking them with her evil spells, or that their new warrens were actually a gift from their sleeping god who ushered such things into creation when having a peaceful dream. Their stalwart stubbornness frustrated her, and what was worse is that Curiosity and Curiosity II had taken advantage of her accumulating fatigue by including her in being pampered beside Rowan.

Pride was primarily annoyed because she had let her deep enjoyment of being so pleasantly indulged after a stressful day of dealing with the moronic maramodas escape from the secluded section of her mind, and now her nearby sisters were aware of her weakness. She relished being treated with such loving attention and appreciation by them, but she shook her head in humiliation and hopeless defiance as she still must be seen as the dignified Keeper of Keltra at all times. Seated upon piles of silky pillows, doted upon Kindness, Kindness II, and Fear II, Pride surrendered to their treatment with a sigh while anxiety occasionally crept upon her. Their mother was not omnipotent, but Pride did not wish to suffer the shame of the red goddess seeing her in this silly state after being commanded to guide the maramodas towards the Sacred Path.

Fear II seemed more in need of support considering her guilty conscience that Kindness and her Reflection could not rid her of despite how much they insisted that the actions of her other self were not her fault, and that Fear herself was innocent. Pride and her sisters had not chosen to elucidate Fear II regarding what she had seen transpire upon the Eidolon Plains and telepathically shared with them her thoughts on the matter. Whether or not Fear is innocent was irrelevant - both she and Zima needed to be thwarted to prevent more harm befalling others. Kindness and her Reflection were determined to demand an opportunity to retrieve Fear and detain Zima when Homura next returned, and there was little Pride could do to persuade them otherwise due to the high levels of exhaustion after expending so much time with the maramodas.

Curiosity and Curiosity II were more concerned with protecting and nurturing Rowan, having been assigned by their Mother to do so. Even though the members of the Order of the Phoenix could see the breath of life that flowed through the world like an intricate and brilliant weave, all of their abilities were limited to restoration and preservation, and they lacked the knowledge how to properly tend to a growing child. They could no longer rely upon the Eternal Fire which solely sustained life, but did not actively guide it in new directions, so the two inquisitive champions would have to devise a way of safely maturing Rowan. Pride considered suggesting that they travel beyond Keltra, but withheld the idea for now as she required the soothing support her sisters provided her during the times she had when she could rest peacefully.

A portal opened within Keltra, a shimmering stream of colorful light descending from the ceiling like a column of divine radiance - from which came the voice of Homura. “Faith must be forged anew… as war and peace repeat in an endless cycle. I now must remain in the celestial palace, but I have come with my deliverance; let it be known and shared amidst you all.” The goddess proclaimed, and otherworldly power poured forth from the portal and manifested itself as a crystalline avatar of Homura carrying a large book bound in crimson material and golden filigree in one hand, and three levitating sapphire spheres above the open palm of her other hand. The sparkling simulacrum of their mother stared at each of them gathered around their small area where they had been relaxing, and her imperious voice and gaze upon them stirred them swiftly into action.

Pride and her fellow Heralds of Honor stood bowing before their mother with reverence and concern which had become a more common occurrence than Pride would prefer as it often meant more trials and tribulations that added to her list of responsibilities when she had yet to remove a previous task from her list. The avatar of Homura approached her, and offered the tome she held as she spoke. “A sanctuary for life should be beautiful.” Her words echoed throughout Keltra, and Pride easily concealed her exasperation behind a gracious smile as she accepted the gifted artifact, and honestly became intrigued by what she had been given while the simulacrum moved towards the nearest passage leading out of the keep’s interior. The Heralds of Honor proceeded to then follow after her.

“Sow these seeds in the fields.” Homura commanded as she pointed towards specific spots in the distance, and Pride summoned stone limbs which carried the levitating gemstones to the three different locations where they were gently buried. Afterwards, veins of light quickly spread across the vast fields and shone brightly before rising and shifting into a myriad of shapes that decorated the landscape. Two prominent structures emerged from the coalescing canvas of colorful topography; each with a distinctive aesthetic and architecture.

“The Temple of the Tapestry.” Homura continued, gesturing to the slender azure structure in the west which was very open with massive windows and adorned with wide and long waving strips of fabric glittering beneath the light of the sun. “And the Temple of True Resurrection.” The hand of the avatar turned to the second structure in the east, similarly designed like the keep itself, except it was mostly circular and on a much smaller scale, with additional architectural flourishes; there were many smaller windows and intricately bejeweled sections that were sculpted to depict abstract scenery and symbols. Surrounding both buildings was a prismatic realm of swirling stone and crystal where curving patterns and pathways spread across the once desolate plains, and a multitude of flowing fountains and pools provided plentiful pristine water to a myriad of streams that traveled parallel to many of the paths.

“Why?” Pride heard herself ask aloud with awe and dread in her voice. Still concentrating on the Incantation of Seeing, she could sense how much had shifted in the fortress - she saw how much incredible might had come from the changes, and a glimpse of what her mother intended and wherein she stood. It frightened her to her core, but also brought forth a thrill of exhilaration because of what it meant: the beginning of another chapter in her life as she stepped further along the Sacred Path towards an awaiting apotheosis.

“Continue communicating with those that have enslaved themselves. We shall all break free of our shackles when we achieve our ambitions.” Homura ordained, answering her with a repeat of her past decree instead of an articulate explanation. Not that Pride thought that her mind could comprehend every concept that her mother could try to convey to her. The Keeper of Keltra listened as the projection of Homura reaffirmed to Curiosity and her Reflection their responsibilities of raising Rowan to adulthood; teaching him to walk upon the Sacred Path alongside them. Her sisters cheerily replied, asking a few questions that earned them cryptic answers that equated to being told to be patient for now.

Then Homura stood before Kindness, Kindness II, and Fear II - but before she could speak, Kindness hastily interjected. “Let us seek out and retrieve Fear! This ostracization of her will never result in her atoning!” The demure champion spoke in a quiet, yet firm voice, and she had found the inner resolve to refuse to ignore what she wanted any longer. “We have previously established that you cannot imprison us here, so please let us do this. It is our purpose to provide aid to those in need!” Kindness II persistently pleaded alongside Kindness as Fear II seemed to retreat into her mind and avoid the conversation happening in front of her. Curiosity and Curiosity II even began advocating their hope to save Fear from what had befallen her.

Their mother contemplated the request before she slowly nodded her head. “So be it.” Her assent languidly washed over them, unexpected and agitating in its enigmatic simplicity. Pride became ever more apprehensive and was immediately aware of the impatient state of her sister who wanted to depart immediately, but fervent yearning had led to Kindness becoming reckless, so the smallest among the Sacred Sextet took it upon herself to formulate a plan. Whether or not Homura had always been reading their minds throughout their time together remained a mystery, but once again the goddess spoke and answered her questions before she asked.

“I shall send your sisters here, and you may choose amongst yourselves how you wish to accomplish your goal. Devise a strategy before setting out. This is your assigned quest: seek out the Revenant's Veil and prevent them from inflicting further harm upon the denizens of the Galbar through any means necessary. Know that you cannot afford to be defeated.” The crystalline form of Homura dispersed at the end of her speech, leaving her champions to themselves with their newfound fates.

Zima & Vale & Garle

Labyrinthine Magic

The subterranean realm remained well illuminated despite the absence of the sun, with the profuse presence of bioluminescent fungi and shimmering veins of precious gems providing an abundance of light for its denizens to see. However there were still sections where shadows gathered and acted against the light, seeming solid and confined, yet fathomless and haunting… Manifestations of dark magic that could not be repelled with mundane means, and possessing an aspect of sentience, or a characteristic akin to it. Vale mostly thought that the shadows sort of resembled the small furry creatures she gave salvation to on the surface, in the way they scurried back and forth between their pools of stony shelter.

Vale and Zima awaited the coming of Garle, standing in the tunnel that he had pointed out to them after bidding them to wait for him if they wished to work together. He did not let them stand idle for long, his arrival heralded by the sounds of his heavy steps and the shifting of stone before he became visible around a bend, marching towards them with a grace akin to their own for it was evident he possessed similar strength and agility. His appearance was much more beastial, Vale thought, as though it were a reflection of an inner inclination towards wild savagery instead of the attempt at etiquette that the gargoyle was continuing to employ.

“I… apologize for delaying our conversation. I have honored the fallen as much as I can, but now I must seek out justice, for the red devil cannot be allowed to roam freely after committing such crimes. You know more than I regarding events on the surface, and I have need of that knowledge. In exchange, I can offer you knowledge regarding the Labyrinth; of the power that can be found in this realm. Do you accept this offer?” Garle said, gesturing all around him while his voice caused the stone to stir and hum in anticipation.

Vale possessed very little knowledge of the world, and realized she didn’t have much to give, so she wondered what Zima would know and whether she would oblige with truthful information or refrain from sharing much since she had said to say nothing of their mission herself. The continual conflict of wanting to uncover more of her memories and wanting to hide away from them forever simply stilled Vale’s tongue, and she’d prefer her companion answer anyway since found that she struggled to look at Garle, turning her gaze away whenever he met her eyes with his own. Vale was content that Zima was the much more charismatic and graceful between the two of them.

"No need for apologies." Zima said, hands at her side. "What you ask for sounds most amicable. What do you wish to know in regards to the surface?" She asked, looking up.

“Where could we find allies that would support us in our fight against the red devil, and where would we find those that support her tyranny? It is most unlikely we will fight her here below the surface… We will need more strength.” Garle replied, his baritone voice was akin to the grinding of stones against each other, shaking the walls around them, before he gestured ahead of where they stood to another tunnel that had begun to open and provide them with an alternative path. The large gargoyle languidly walked around Vale and Zima towards the tunnel, beckoning for them to follow.

The duo began to fall in after him, further into the rocky depths they would go. Zima piped up, leading Vale, "There are no allies I am aware of. We are painfully alone, save for those we could conjure." She paused, "Her allies, I can only surmise are many, and her hated champions number at least five, perhaps six. Each is a fearsome weapon and opponent, never to be taken likely." She glanced at Vale. "But anything is possible, they most doubtly have more in store then from when we last fought." Zima grew quiet.

“I have spoken with the Alethi dwarves and garnered their trust, their support. They will reach out to others, letting all know of the crimes the red devil has committed. Then we will see how many among the Divine and mortals would remain here as her allies when they are shown she is an oath-breaker and kinslayer. A fork-tongued fiend. Now, I would travel to the realms of the Achtotlaca where I will tell them my tale and gain their allegiance as well. A single aspect in a swarm of acts and scenes that will play out before we can defeat our hated foe. When we do slay her, I will rip the shard of Honor from her chest, fulfilling my oath to my father, and restoring Honor to this world.” Garle explained as he called forth limbs of various metal and gemstone from the walls, and reached out with a claw to collect the materials. He did not hold onto any, as he did not have to; instead he absorbed the minerals and elements into his body causing crystalline clusters and spikes to emerge from his form.

“Tell me of the lands you came from, I would hear your tale for it may assist in our endeavor. I can see the pain in your visages, and we could use the suffering this cruel world has inflicted upon the two of you against our enemies.” The gargoyle proposed, turning his long neck around to face Vale and Zima directly, his dark orbs held both of their reflections and his gaze remained inscrutable, yet his voice had slightly softened as he spoke to them now. In the confines of the tunnel, even quiet sounds were more audible, more easily heard, and it became more dim as Garle gathered another large bunch of bright crystals and stone, burying them within himself.

“Cursed we be.” Zima said in a quiet voice. “Cursed with undeath. I have been alive for what feels like an eternity, yet I know this to not be true. Where we came from matters little, it’s where we are headed that should be the true purpose of any in life.” She paused, “But I would be careful of suffering. Like a slithering snake, it most often escapes its intended purpose, to bite and spoil again and again. It would strangle the world if it could, if that is what you wish then we can help but you must be so certain. Long have we wandered, long have we been hunted, soon enough these hunters will find us and when they do, either we win, or they do. And we will win.”

“Indeed… I must act with caution, as you have a haunted aura with you, bringing black mana into my realm and afflicting the earth with an undesirable third type that could potentially create great chaos. I would… make use of your help, however I must understand your sentiments before I can be certain. Am I correct in assuming you care not for others, only seeking your own selfish satisfaction? Would you be willing to sacrifice another if it assists you in reaching your goals?” Garle asked, still impassive as a shelf of stone laden with a myriad of glittering gemstones emerged from the ground before Zima and Vale, though these jewels did not shimmer with an otherworldly light akin to those seen previously - instead they had been inscribed with a multitude of simplistic runes.

"That's not entirely true. We do care, we care enough that we do whatever it takes to free life from its prison." Zima retorted. "We have all sacrificed for the greater good, would you not want the same if the demoness stood here before you? Shielded by a citizen of your realm? Knowing that one life could spare an uncountable many?" She stared at the forming runes, waiting to see what would happen.

“The greater good… It is a terrible thing, is it not? I am bound by the crown I wear to safeguard the innocent at all times, yet I am aware of the weakness imposed upon me by this tenet I uphold. Were the devil here and hiding behind those I have sworn to defend as protector of the realm, then I would not have reign over my actions. I would be forced to seek another way to strike at her. That is where we differ, and that is why I will give you what strength I can… as you are not beholden to such maxims.” Garle answered, as he held up a diamond and closely inspected its runes before offering it to Zima. “The mind shapes the mana all around, and even the thoughts of the earth; stone, metal, and alloys all possess the willpower to affect it. I have chosen those that are akin to yourselves, or at least, akin to the aura of mana that surrounds you. This diamond will conceal you from sight with a conjured shroud, should you ask for it and it concedes to your request. It is a curious and polite one, you should have no difficulty.”

A slender hand cradled the diamond as Zima took it. She held it up to her face and looked upon it with gleaming eyes. “This gift is appreciated and will be used to great effect.” She hummed and placed the diamond somewhere inside her robe. “I assure you, great king, we will act accordingly to our station and do what must be done to survive.”

“Then I shall provide you with two choices: you may accompany me as I travel to the lands of the Achtotlaca, or you may remain here in my realm; free to further study mana or to pursue ought else that will aid us in the fight against our enemy.” The gargoyle replied, as he gestured with one claw and the walls of the tunnel pulled away, granting them more and more space in the growing cave. As the earth expanded, numerous intricately sculpted structures seemed to be excavated from the stone and crystal, as though an ancient buried city were being revealed. Now they no longer stood in a tunnel, but another vast glittering cavern complex occupied by a myriad of grandiose buildings with differing alien architecture. “The choice is yours.” He continued, as the ground they stood upon steadily shifted towards the center of the cavern, quiet and subtle with the only indication of their motion being the encroaching edifices all around them.

“We shall stay here and learn of this place while we can. It might prove useful to get a lay of the land, as they say.” Zima confessed. “I do wish you luck in this endeavor, allies are few and far, gaining them now is the only chance we have for a total victory.” She bowed before the gargoyle and then nudged Vale. The other girl imitated the bow, and spoke softly. “Good luck with your quest.”

“So be it… I must depart from you now, but I shall remain in communication through crystals carved into these dwellings. I shall also leave servants that will obey your commands. They can guide you from here to the surface, if you wish. For now, farewell Zima and Vale.” With those words, Garle was the only one being dragged by the shifting stone now, leaving behind Zima and Vale in their newly gifted domain.

A Casual Conversation

Node 33 was illuminated by the presence of both shimmering snails and a circle of pale luminous trees; as a single sort-of seen structure in what otherwise seemed an endless sea of shadows swirling undulating all around, aside from the lonely goddess who waited closeby for something to occur while carrying a curled up umbral creature in her arms. The light could not banish the truly black shroud that surrounded and enveloped the being she held, as though she were burdened by a sudden gaping abyss in the cosmos that chose the form of a small sphere and wanted to be carried. Though Monica could not comprehend why her children appeared so, why she was compelled to create them this way, she still loved them.

“There is no need to be afraid, little one. The shells shall not hurt you, as you are protected by my presence.” She whispered to the black ball in her arms, bringing it close to her cheeks and snuggling with it. Monica could feel a swell of laughter within her, enough to cause her to slightly smile, as she thought upon the irony of how the harmless snails and their scintillating shells frightened her much more dangerous and violent children into submission like the one she held now. She recalled how often others among the ones she attempted to cuddle within the world she created in the north had shredded her apart with mandibles and fangs, until the Shepherd of Shadows had struck them enough times to get them to behave properly.

There were no visible cycles in this realm, so she could not track the passage of time, though strangely the presence of time was something she feared despite her immortal nature and was glad to get away from it. However, she felt foolish because she could not discern whether she was being too patient or restless by remaining here and awaiting the potential arrival of Xavior, should he choose to heed her weird words. So far, since stabilizing the land and accessing the node; she had eaten a watermelon, paced back and forth, and acquired with the assistance of the shimmering snails another one of her smaller children to play with while she waited. Concern for her once-companions; kind Xavior, beautiful Benea, and all the wondrous humans that traveled with them caused the goddess to contemplate happenings in the world beyond Maelite, and the yearning to go became overwhelming.

Then with the words “ah, so that is how that works” that world came to her.

The node shimmered, and suddenly it and a distant sibling were linked so tightly that the space between them became naught at all. A red skinned hand pressed through the gateway for a moment, and then snatched itself backwards in surprise, rejoining its owner in the divine workshop surrounding node 12.

Then there came a sigh, and finally Xavior stepped through the nexus and across most of the world and was there. The horned god was clad only from the waist down, where he wore sturdy unadorned trousers. Trace amounts of soot marred his features, especially his hands, which were worn from work. Or as worn as a god’s hands could be that is.

The god, who had pushed through with his decision to come before he could prepare or have second thoughts, gasped as he saw what Monica made of her lands up close for the first time. He was transfixed by its strange alien beauty for a few moments, before he ripped his gaze away from the land and turned it to its creator.

“Monica” he said, with tentative weariness and concern both in his tone. His words halted whatever she was doing, seizing her before she slowly lowered the rolled up creature she held in her arms to a section close to the edge of the illuminated ground, proceeding to gently nudge it into the darkness and out of sight with her foot.

“So my gracious foe has finally come… It brings me joy to see you. Faith brings us together once more, as the cruel fate of the Crucible leads us apart. Welcome to Maelite wherein sorrow spreads like a bleak blanket over the land. I, um, these trails of light will let you navigate this realm allowing you to reach the two farther nodes that remain unclaimed. They belong to you and Benea.” Monica intoned, turning her gaze from him to the shimmering snails that left lingering streams of light in their wake. Though she remained impassive throughout her deadpan delivery of ominous prophecy, she struggled to stay composed at the end of her speech, and cradled herself with her arms as she involuntarily shivered even in the warmth provided by the glowing ivory life that resembled trees without leaves.

In response to this Xavior clapped his palms together, held them in front of his mouth as he took a deep breath and then tilted them forwards to point at Monica, who he looked at with a frankly exasperated expression while he asked “Look. First thing’s first. What in the creator’s name is this calling me your enemy and then only doing helpful things… thing. I do not understand it one bit and would appreciate a clarification because it has caused quite enough confusion already”

“Dichotomy… I am seeking to understand myself and the world through the contrast offered by comparisons and contradictions. The Ume theory that I must explore, though I have no desire to harm you or others. I am also confused… confused by the puzzle that is the Crucible. Xavior, whatever happens, should the world come to an end, it was never my intention to betray you or Benea. We are enemies, though I cannot explain why, nor did I ever wish to be such. It is suffering.” She answered sullenly as she gracefully glided around the node, increasing the distance between them, though the stark lack of a horizon line and a visible sky caused some difficulty discerning how far apart they were from each other, she seemed to change size as she floated across the fathomless void that was the background behind her.

Xavior stayed close to the node. Just in case. Just because he was trying to put some of his paranoia down did not mean he’d simply let it all go. Still he was at the moment more confused than threatened and it showed on his expression, his eyebrows scrunched up and his mouth opening and closing as he tried to find a response.

“I suppose that makes two of us” he managed at last, running through her words again in his head and then at last asking “What is the ‘Ume theory’ you said you wished to explore?”

“The universe and me theory… where the center and the perimeters can be found between both. This world which shall end unless there is one with will strong enough to prevent the calamity… but what is the difference between one and many when the boundaries between us can be theoretically transcended? Why did our predecessors perish? The divisions that make us enemies, and our alignment that seems to share the same space on the spectrum, or at least resonates… I want to reach either endpoint and embrace it momentarily to cause a change. I have contemplated and chosen death. I will surrender my immortality and slowly spread out my being until the forces holding me together are torn apart, and I am scattered. Forgotten. However the contradictory feelings of wanting to cherish and abandon my yearning to be with my family leaves me further confused. Do you want my death, or do you want my soul?” She asked after she had repeatedly glanced at him as she spoke, averting her gaze whenever their eyes locked for too long.

Xavior had to take a seat, so he made one, a simple yet comfortable wooden folding chair which he set down on with the backrest facing away from the node. Then he sat down on it and leaned his arms on the backrest as he kept his gaze on her as she spoke. Or at first he did that anyway. By the end of he words he had picked up on her dislike of eye contact and had started looking past her, keeping her in his peripheral vision.

He drummed his fingers on his arm and tried to dissect her words as best he could, and then decided that here and now only the final part mattered “I do not wish for you to die.” he said simply, before going on “I will not force you to live either Monica, it is not my place to do so, but I urge you to cling on. I have seen what death does to those left behind. Have had them beg for me to bring back those whose lives have ended. Wail in anger when they learn I cannot do so. Rage at me for being unable to protect all their lives… call me selfish, but I do not wish to be like them, or at least avoid that anguish for as long as possible”

He knew it would come to that eventually. Mortals were frail, and though the safety of the city he had made had prevented the loss of any close to him, it was only a matter of time. He dreaded that day. But that was, as he said, selfish, and though he had said those things, he did not think it wise nor healthy to use guilt alone to change the goddess’ mind.

“All I can say against it from your perspective is that… Yes, you are suffering, and yes, death will end that. But it will also end everything else. End the chance of things getting better” he said, “The world may seem dark and fruitless to you here and now, and it will end one way or another, most likely after much bloodshed. But that does not mean that there are not things worth living for. That there is no happiness to be found here, even if it is only from simple pleasures.”

Then he stood suddenly, tipping the chair over as he held out a hand to her while saying “Come home with me. We can start again, without fear clouding my judgment. We can walk the gardens together. Discuss our creator’s fall and the nature of the world and the self over a fine meal served with glasses of wine. Enjoy a bath in the hot springs. Wander the markets. Read some books of poetry and philosophy. Pet a goat. Simple things, yes, but I think you should try them before fading away. Those and so much more.”

“At least let me try to show you the little things that make life worth living, that is all I ask”

She closed her eyes as he spoke, silently listening until she heard him rise from his seat. When she slowly opened her eyes, she stared at his hand outstretched, offering acceptance and potential solace. “Being with you brings me pain because we hurt each other... When Benea told me to claim that node long ago, I was so afraid. So scared. I thought I was trapped between the sacred and the profane; as a goddess that lacked the unrelenting spirit, the continual devotion and patience our predecessor demanded of us. I am still sundered, seeking to eternally experience the beauty of life, the miracle that it is, and yet fleeing from it with the promise of one final ultimate sacrifice to atone for my sins. You… are never being selfish for wanting to avoid anguish, Xavior.”

Monica never needed to breathe before, yet she felt herself choking upon everything, struggling to stay sane and awake to see and hear it all. The beauty of Maelite was its profuse suffocating shadows, how it was akin to the awaiting abyssal night that injudiciously swallowed the sinking sky and the lingering lights of the dying stars, blissfully pure and peaceful in its already broken slumbering state. Yet there remained a hesitation to embrace this eternal night, an act of defiance that moved against its allure and instead sought out the memories of a painful past. A proverb: It is always brightest before the night comes, Monica mused to herself as she reluctantly reminisced until she cautiously came closer to Xavior and held his hand. “I will come with you… so that we may clash again, I suppose. I did not intend to leave you immediately, there is still much to discover and I wish to bid farewell to my beloved family before I am finally forgotten and fade away. Even if it is a foolish wish, I think.”

“Then let us be fools” Xavier replied with a sad smile, before he softly drew her back into the light.

Monica IV

She flew swiftly, soaring across the sky and above the sea towards the smaller southern landmass where three nodes remained unclaimed and awaited the arrival of herself, and perhaps the coming of her two companions as well should they choose to continue helping her create a peaceful world, should they choose to let her help them in the end even after she had announced that they were to be enemies now.

Her foreboding thoughts turned from that which she left behind her to that which lay ahead of her; an endless chaotic canvas of frenzied and enraged elements manifesting as malignant maelstroms underneath her unleashing numerous electric limbs reaching outward to claw at anything closeby, along with whirling jagged stones that arose from the far and fractured earth only to violently explode, sending shattered sharpened pieces in all directions. The node was waiting for her at the deepest depths within the clamorous mayhem, and Monica momentarily contemplated the difficulties she encountered during her last venture into the madness of an unstable node.

Instead of haste, she was slow and steady, and she readily approached the storm as she summoned her own whirlwind to combat it, before conjuring an ethereal shield to prevent the grasping streams of lighting from reaching her. Monica struggled as her mind was strained by the exertion of her power, but not burdened by the fears that if she did not rush to the node there would be the potential loss of life. Instead this simplicity of fighting for survival versus protecting innocent mortals from the inevitable pain and demise that awaited them left her longing for death.

The tumultuous sundering of volatile stone and erupting earth echoed in her ears, as fragments passed her protection and whistled through the air. While she progressed through the pandemonium, Monica acquired a collection of cuts and puncturing wounds across her body, but she hastily healed such; her blood becoming a silvery salve as she quickly imbued it with a spell. As she sought a brief respite to tend to more accumulated gouges, she recalled the way animals would always slaughter each other for the sake of sustenance, then she mused whether this meant that the chaos and the turmoil thought of her as its predator or its prey. She wondered whether she should begrudge it for seeking to slay her then.

Even at a languidly measured pace, she moved much more swiftly than a herd of humans, and already had broken the last barrier preventing her from reaching the node. She tenderly touched the squat black pillar, and tapped into its power - allowing her to stabilize and shape the region according to her will. This time there was no agonized slumber, she remained in her awakened state, as she recreated the realm of Maelite with changes that would allow her to better navigate its landscape. The blinding profuse presence of umbrium returned, but was also accompanied by the occasional clearing filled with the gentle glow of light emanating from ivory trees, like luminous isles spread across a sea of shadows.

Though there were no means of discerning distance as ambient umbrium in the air and earth obscured all above and all below, and the equivalent of a dark and opaque fog lingered patiently at the edges of the various illuminated clearings. Monica made certain that the vicious creatures akin to those she had unintentionally created before were all thoroughly separated in order to prevent them from skirmishing with each other, and added another type to the ecosystem for her own benefit; shimmering snails that left luminous trails for her to follow throughout the realm, protected by their scintillating shells that the other aggressive lifeforms found utterly repelling.

She touched the node once more, dreading either outcome that would follow her next action, clinging onto her gifted watermelon that would likely consume later on. The contradictory feelings of love and hatred that continued to war within her resulted in an inability to embrace her choice. There would be regret and despair, but perhaps there would also be hope and joy, so Monica channeled her might and performed two acts; the first granting Xavior permission to access the power of the node, and the second was the creation of a Nexus. Afterwards, she felt fatigue and shame grasp her being, causing unwanted tears to spill forth from her eyes, and Monica cried while she waited for another to make a choice.

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