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The Holy Quintet


Sorrow comes to Keltra

There was otherworldly music within the great hall of Keltra, where the Eternal Fire blazed brightly and gave life, as thousands of unclaimed humans remained slumbering near its illuminating presence. The peaceful melody consisted of quiet chimes and dulcet voices filled with both hope and despair - it was a bittersweet melody. Pride hummed along as she walked between the intricately arranged rows and spirals of her sleeping kin, letting them rest peacefully as they listened to the gentle lullaby. One day, they would awaken, but not now… she mused to herself.

She found herself lulled into a trance by these thoughts, her mind wandering between the waking world, and the ethereal landscape of the soul. Her body moved, guided by the push and pull of unseen powers; she gracefully twirled and gestured with her little limbs, and her motions found resonance with the notes of the song rippling in the air around her. They came together in concert to convey her feelings and to speak through dancing and music. Her tranquil mien and motion, the curving ascent and descent of an empty hand, and another hand wielding a golden scepter, her slow steps upon a Sacred Path - everything spoke of a far away dream she was reaching for, but had yet to grasp.

She was not alone. There were the Recusant soldiers that had been brought to Keltra, and now they stood stationed outside, and within, anywhere and everywhere that offered an advantageous and strategic position for an upcoming battle. Her long scarf followed her, the Silk Song playfully trailing through the air, unburdened by the weight of the world, and empowered by the ritual she had performed here - in her home. She allowed it to uplift and carry her high above everyone else in the vast hall, and she chose to observe the happenings around her:

The shifting symbols of the Gnosis appeared on her skin as she internally uttered the Incantation of Seeing, granting her greater sight and senses. She could see every corner of the keep, her sight piercing the shadows there and along the far edges. She could see beyond the walls, and extended her vision to the fields outside the keep, where there were many more soldiers that had come and prepared themselves to fight for those that slept here. To fight against their enemies. She could see the sky, and watched as the solitary Keltra bathed in the welcome warmth of the sun; the macabre monument almost glittered akin to a sparkling jewel in the imperious light. It was both a strange and beautiful sight.

“Nice, huh?” Core-Verdin said idly, not quite mentioning anything specific.

An object came, blurred against the sunlit sky, cutting the recusant off. The silent shadow shot through clouds with much abandon. It came so fast that it left a streak through those clouds like an arrow cutting air. It moved so fast that the young champion could not get a good look at it at first, but as it made its way to the Keep proper, the cold of Skydancer became clear. Then it was upon Keltra. With a sudden loud bang it shook the sky upon the wall as it came to a stop. Then despite all that speed it was capable of, it began to descend like a feather — the soldiers on high alert, only to relax as the object matched a previous description.

Pride only watched the arrival of Skydancer and its passengers for an ephemeral moment before she stirred from her trance, and began her flight towards the doorways of the keep, in order to properly greet the familiar travelers. She flew with haste, concern showing in her features; wide worried eyes and furrowed brows, for she had seen the dreadful state of her sisters, and did not know what had happened to them. Even the God of Cold, who guided Skydancer in, looked grim. She had swiftly reached the entrance to the interior, and stood at one of the numerous doorways closest to where she had seen the airborne boat descending.

Far behind Pride, the quick and light footsteps of a young girl echoed in the vast hall of the Keep. Lorelei, upon hearing the telltale sound of the arriving Skydancer, had practically sprinted out of her room and was about to catch up to the small champion.

“They’re back! Courage, Curiosity!” Lorelei called out, a massive grin on her face even as she panted, the sweat drenching her newly made training uniform a telltale sign of what she had been up to in her room.

Pride glanced towards Lorelei with a pained expression and gently wrapped her arm around the girl’s shoulders as she caught up, and attempted to smile. “Come, let’s welcome them back.”

Skydancer passed through a nearby larger doorway, soaring towards the Eternal Fire and its divine radiance. Pride watched its unobstructed passage, and then followed after it - lifting Lorelei with ease and carrying the girl with her, a hesitant hope in her flight as she prayed for the wellbeing of her family. She suspected that none aside from Chailiss could feel it as the bonfire channeled its sacred power into four among those aboard the boat, and the small champion felt relief that her sisters had not perished on their journey.

Pride felt herself shaking her head with mirth, as she watched Curiosity peer over the railing of Skydancer, to watch as Lorelei and her approached. She could feel the growing pressure of overwhelming emotions upon seeing the shimmering sorrow in the inquisitive champion’s eyes. The sight of terrible grief, of suffering, and loss. Pride longed for the days of peace, where she did not need to see such pain in her sister’s eyes.

She alighted nearby, letting Lorelei gently down beside her, and she bowed to those aboard Skydancer, to the one that was divine. “Welcome back, your grace.”

The God rose from where he sat and his gaze lingered upon the icy block that stood in the middle of Skydancer for a time. He then looked away from the darkened shape within, back to Pride. With a look of dejection he spoke, "I am afraid my return, once again, carries ill tidings. But I am glad to be here. Come, we must remove your sisters from…" he glanced at the ice and sighed, "From this sorrow. In warmth and comfort shall we talk within." Very gently did he pick up Kindness and Wanderer, cupping them with his right arm. So did he do the same with Fear and Courage. The champions were small enough, after all.

Lorelei looked at the scene for a long time, her grin slowly fading, her ears and tail slowly going limp, and her eyes widening. She couldn’t bear to look at the cold giant, and the shadow within the ice was scary, so instead she tightly pulled at the hems of her blouse and looked down at her feet.

Pride tugged at her arms, and whispered. “We shouldn’t let them see our sadness. Let’s smile, and ease their worries. Our sisters are safe now.” With those words, the Keeper of Keltra demonstrated what she meant; and gave Lorelei a simple smile, before turning to the giant god once more. “Lay them near the fire, please.” Her directions were accompanied by the scarlet stone shifting and bringing both their owl plushies and soft pillows to an area beside the bonfire, close to the boat. The small champion pulled at Lorelei, hoping she would come and be at her side now. She didn’t. With a sniffle, Lorelei pulled herself free of Pride’s grasp and ran away.

Before Pride could do anything, Cosi-Dern fell next to her, his elbows square behind his back and his mask emotionless. He stood like a statue, all the recusant did. Only after a moment did his voice slip from behind his mask. “The perimeter is secure. It’s a good thing we were debriefed on the eventual return; the boat startled the welders.”

Core-Thiddock fell to Pride’s other side. “Such a vehicle could be useful for garrison transportation and reinforcement.”

“We shall see…” Was the small champion’s quiet response, before she joined Chailiss and her sisters, noting the presence of a pale infant in Curiosity’s arms, before she looked to the God of the Cold. He had laid them out beside one another, shrinking himself to a more manageable height as he made them comfortable. “Will you tell me what happened?” Pride eventually asked.

The God looked upon her after a time. ”It is a long tale. Upon speaking with your Mother I sought out Voi to see what might have become of Zima. I found something worse. Far worse. She was dead after all but she and her friend defied death and craved for life. Thus she was cursed with… Revenancy. A being neither dead or alive, bringing suffering and sorrow wherever she may go. I would have gone after her myself, tried to stop her from…” He shook his head. ”Voi spoke of another God in my land, she was dying and she needed aid. I found… What remained but that is another tale for another time. Upon my travel to this Goddess, I found your sisters and sent them on a quest to find Zima. They were not to fight her but such things tend to happen.” His gaze hardened as he looked at the boat. ”She overpowered them, Pride. Kindness and Wanderer were very nearly dead when I arrived, just in the nick of time. Late. Always too late. I failed them as I have failed you and your mother.” He looked back to Pride. ”They will heal in time but some injuries… They only scar. I am sorry.”

Pride remained silent for a time as she pondered his words, before she shook her head and sighed. “Your apology is accepted, your grace. As you’ve said, these things tend to happen, and despite arriving too late… you did save my sisters. You have my eternal gratitude…” Her words were accompanied by Curiosity approaching and embracing her, letting her hold the child in her arms. The small champion could even hear her sisters stirring after regaining their strength, the Eternal Fire revitalizing them and banishing both their exhaustion and dread from such a close encounter with death.

“I’m afraid Mother has left with Apostate, and she cannot offer any aid now. Much has changed since you last visited Keltra, your grace.” Pride said, cradling the baby with a gentle strength, and tender gaze. Core-Amul gave a thumbs up from the doorway.

”Much has changed, yes.” Chailiss’ voice was quieter now. ”His name is Rowan, saved by your sisters. Perhaps one of the last of his people. For they were not the only ones to suffer at the hands of Zima.”

“Rowan’s a funny name,” Core-Naulty mentioned from the sidelines.

Pride glanced up at Chailiss with a somber gaze, and gave him a sorrowful smile. “He is safe here… I’ll watch over him, your grace.” Curiosity stood beside the Keeper of Keltra, placing a hand upon her small sister’s shoulder, as she spoke. “I’ll protect him as well.”

Mumbled groans and tired noises came from the four champions rising from their rest, their lucid expressions conveying their quick understanding of the situation. Courage stood up, staggering slightly, before catching herself. “We’re back, ya…”

“None of us are gone. It seems we are… all alive.” Kindness murmured from she was laid down, and then began crawling towards Fear so that she could hold onto her. From her position, she simply called out to the God of the Cold in her monotone voice: “You could have come sooner.”

”And you should have listened. What did I tell you?” The God replied in the same monotone voice.

“There are thousands of our kin that were left behind to rot in that terrible place. We were uncertain who we were approaching, and the situation continued to become filled with more and more unknowns… We did what we thought would protect others from suffering the same fate.” Kindness answered, but Courage moved to stand between her and Chailiss.

“What Kindness means to say is we’re sorry too! It’s Fear’s fault - what happened, and all that -”

“You cannot blame Fear for what happened, she-” Kindness interjected, tossing a pillow at Courage, who was unaffected by the attack of the cushion.

“What? I’m just telling the truth! She did something to you and Wanderer, and then tried to be something she isn’t! It was foolish, ya.” Courage interrupted the explanation, turning around to face her sister with a scowl. Core-Amul looked at Core-Thiddock, who shrugged.

“I… she… you do not understand…” Kindness said, as she averted her gaze with reluctance. The reticent champion could not comprehend why she could not articulate her thoughts, why words would fail her when she required them to defend that which she held precious. It was frightening.

“That’s because you’re not letting me see what happened! Why are you hiding your thoughts and memories from me? Both you and Wanderer!” Courage paced back and forth, as she accused her sisters of conspiring against her, and then shook her head with frustration. The brash champion came to a halt as her mind was provided with visions of what had happened through their connection, and she looked towards the most anxious among her sisters; the one that had shared the visions. “See! I was right! She put us all at risk, trying to be a hero… trying to be like me… but you’re not, Fear. You know that.”

"Rough," Thiddock said under his breath.

Courage sighed and stepped back, and began quietly ruminating to herself. Kindness was joined by Wanderer as they both looked over Fear, checking for any unseen injuries. “You are… too kind, Fear. It is too much…” Kindness murmured, but her sister did not answer.

“But it’s my fault too! I wasn’t strong enough… I let that monster damage me, and couldn’t fight… I let you all down, and wasn’t there when you needed me.” The sound of metal grinding against metal was heard, as Courage clenched her golden gauntlet into a fist. She stood before her sisters once more, and seemed to struggle with ascertaining what next action she should take, until she suddenly bowed. “So please, forgive me!”

“You do not need to bow to us, Courage. You fought despite your wounds, and allowed us to endure long enough for his grace to arrive.” Kindness replied, and upon hearing those words which mentioned their savior, all of the Holy Quintet looked towards Chailiss, all of them with great gratitude and returning joy in their eyes.

The God gave a slight nod in return. ”None of you can change what happened. Any action you took was what you thought was needed, do not blame each other or yourselves. That being said, I hope you all learn a very valuable lesson and grow from this encounter. Next time a savior may never come to your aid and you all would have died. That is the simple truth. If you still desire to go out into this world and help people, you must become stronger, individually and together if you are to overcome such adversity in the future. If your desire wanes… There is no shame in that. Rest and recuperate now, wait for your mother to return before you do anything else.”

“Yes, your grace!” Courage, Kindness, and Curiosity all chanted in unison, while Wanderer and Fear bowed their heads. Curiosity found Rowan back in her arms, as Pride gave him back, and then the small champion approached the Eternal Fire, letting its brightness envelop her until she was only a silhouette before the bonfire.

"Homura has already left," Cosi-Dern interjected, "her return will be delayed by Hevel's mission."

“Until she returns and heals all of you, you’re to remain within the keep. Your bodies are healed, but there is pollution in each of you. Mother will have to cleanse your flames before you can depart again.” Pride proclaimed, from where she stood, her voice distorted by her close presence to the blazing monument.

"Infection?" Core-Thiddock asked.

“Our bodies weren’t designed to digest other living things, it either chokes or corrupts the flames within us. Courage, Kindness, and Curiosity are being choked, while Fear seems to be corrupted. Sorry, this isn’t something that will affect any of you.” Pride answered, while her sisters all looked between themselves with a blend of anger and embarrassment, which Courage directed back at the small champion.

"Is that why you starve Core-Lorelei, then?" Naulty pinched the bottom of his mask.

“Listen, pipsqueak, we can still help, so listen to your big sisters, and let us stand together, ya. There’s still a lot you have to tell us after all, like where did all these people come from?” Her question added beside Naulty’s, eliciting a sigh from Pride.

“I’m surrounded by fools… Lorelei can’t starve, unless she leaves the keep, at which point there is a digestive system within her that allows her to consume other things to survive.” Pride answered Naulty, and then spoke to her sister. “Secondly, none of you are capable of standing right now, in fact you’re likely to just fall down as soon as you leave Keltra. Lastly, stop calling me pipsqueak or little sister. I’ve seen over one hundred and nine thousand, seven hundred and thirty-four days and nights now. I’m older than all of you combined.” She shook her head with irritation, and then glanced towards Chailiss. “Your grace, I have a favor to ask of you.”

The god, who by this point had sat down with his eyes shut, opened them to look upon Pride. ”What would that be, Pride?” he asked.

With her scepter, she pointed towards the southern doorways. “There are two colossi standing outside the wall in the red sea. I wish to store them within Keltra, but can’t command them. I can open the wall and keep, would you bring them inside, please?”

He nodded and rose. ”I shall do this for you.” He looked at Kindness. ”Our agreement still stands, think on it for a time. The rest of you, do not go near Skydancer. The prisoner is quite secure and will not break free of her confines but best to be safe all the same.” he gestured to Pride to lead the way.

"Prisoner?" Dern perked up.

With her enchanted scarf, the Keeper of Keltra flew towards the doorway she had pointed towards prior, and alighted at the threshold. When she stood there, the scepter in her hand began humming with great power. Suddenly the southern section of the outer wall stirred, as the scarlet stone began to shift and reshaped itself. More and more of the wall became divided as an unseen force pushed it apart until finally there was a giant gap wide enough for the two colossi to pass through. Beyond the newly formed opening, standing still in the red sea were the two slumbering colossi.

Pride looked back to Cosi-Dern and called out. “It may be better to keep a distance for now, until the move is complete.” She turned her attention to Chailiss then. “If you can bring them where the wall previously was, and align them along its length, I can store them there, your grace.” She explained, and pointed with her finger for emphasis. With little else to say, Chailiss went to it.

Back by the bonfire, Courage faced a few of the soldiers, and offered a friendly smile. “I’m Courage, by the way, nice to meet you!”

"Oh that's much better," Core-Naulty said from behind his mask. "I'm Core-Naulty, happy to meet someone who thinks of us as people."

His comment urged a snicker out from Core-Amun by the doorway. Core-Thiddock tipped his head. "I'm Core-Thiddock, happy to meet you, Courage."

"Cosi-Dern," the Cosi said, clearly distracted by the moving wall and talks of prisoners. His eyes never left the colossi outside.

Courage gestured back to the other members of the Holy Quintet, all of them now sprawled out on pillows and cushions seeking respite after their ordeal. “These are my sisters, Kindness, Fear, Curiosity, and Wanderer, and this is our little brother, Rowan.” She said, introducing the others. “I’m surprised to see so many people here, it’s actually making me tremble, hehe.” Courage chuckled, noticing the shake in her bare hand, and the wobbling of her legs. “Or I may be more tired than I thought…”

“You should lay down, Courage.” Curiosity called out, beckoning to her sister while she cheerfully played with the infant she held in her arms.

Courage merely mirthfully shook her head at the suggestion. “I’d rather do something right now. Seems like there’s something happening here, and I want to find out what, sooner rather than later, ya.” She grinned at the soldiers again.

"Mostly wrestling with Pride in debates," Naulty mentioned off-handedly. Cosi-Dern swore.

"That reminds me, we missed our noon meeting."

"Well, this happened," Amul added.

A hum found Dern's throat. "Run and inform the welders that we are rescheduling for the evening, but check in with the guards and relay the reports."

Amul stood up straight and saluted. Spinning on his heel, he marched out of the keep, boots clapping off the floor. With his echoes fading, the soldiers all looked at Courage again.

"It's our duty to protect the keep and the slumbering humans from the enemy," Cosi-Dern started, "Pride has been tasked to work with us to ensure an efficient defense and management of resources."

Courage imitated Amul’s salute with enthusiasm. “I’m happy to help in any way I can! Let me know if there’s anything the Holy Quintet can do to assist you! I’ve some information regarding our enemy after facing a few in the North… I’ve a few ideas on how to combat them!”

"You've fought the Astalonians?" Dern's voice dropped.

She nodded. “There were two of them, or something like that… One struck me here, and I began losing blood.” Courage gestured to the large tears in her side, even lifting the hem of her shirt to show the large white scars that were healed by ice. With a harsh scowl, she pointed towards Skydancer and the large block of ice. “Then there’s her. A murderer.”

With a sigh, the brash champion looked away from the one imprisoned within ice, and gave another grin to the soldiers. “The first two we fought though; lacked a means of attacking from afar, so if we fight with projectiles, it should be much safer to engage them, ya.”

"What's in the block of ice, again?" Dern asked, eyes on Courage's scars. Thiddock cleared his throat and Dern shot the man a look.

"And by what means did they cause that damage?"

“She’s the daughter of Chailiss, so our sister, I suppose, but she killed thousands of our brothers and sisters, and so she is just a murderer, I think. She’s dangerous, so let’s keep away from her for now... As for your other question, they had claws. Sharp teeth too. They were just focused on tearing us apart, and lacking thought. No strategy or anything.” Courage answered, letting her shirt fall and covering her scars, and let out a chuckle at the sight of her torn and stained attire. “I’m going to have to mend this soon.”

Dern's mask fell silent. "Astalonians?" The word reverberated as a question.

“Aren’t Astalonians… just monsters? They kill people, right?” Courage asked, feeling perplexed now.

"They aren't," Dern shook his head. "Astalonians refer to the robotic minions of Astus as well as his non-metallic denizens, such as Core-Lorelei's ancestry."

“Wait! You’re talking about those metal folk that stole from us! The ones that work for Asshole, ya. So you want to defend our kin from them, huh. Let’s do it! I’ve been wanting to pay them a visit at some point anyway!” Courage exclaimed, punching her hand in the palm of her golden gauntlet.

Dern looked at Thiddock for a moment before stepping closer to Courage. With a bandaged hand he turned her away from the others so they could speak with some privacy. Voice low, he spoke in a conspiratorial tone, “there has been one great detail the Keltra Garrison hasn’t been able to solve, and that is the best way to move reinforcements, resources and information to and from Keltra. We have reports piled up that need to get to the leadership, and no doubt the leadership has arms and armaments plus recruits intended to go our way… are you following?”

Courage’s brows furrowed as she considered the predicament. “Well, how far is this leadership?” She asked.

“It’s situated in the Garden of Hevel, across the All’s End Sea. There is a land route, but it’s longer and the Eidolons there are currently ‘no-contact’ so building a road is sort of out of the question.” Dern pinched the bottom of his mask. “But Keltra has unused tools that can ferry large groups across the sky, yeah?”

“Not without our Maker - she’s the one that controls the colossi. We can’t even use Skydancer because Chailiss said to keep away from the prisoner. At the moment, it seems like we’ve got nothing like what you’re asking for…” Courage confessed with a frown. “Any idea when our Maker and Apostate are coming back?”

“Can’t we relocate the prisoner?” Dern crossed his arms, but asked genuinely. “And out of curiosity, do you know why you’re unable to pilot the colossi without a deity?” He paused. “As for the return of Homura and Hevel, that depends on them.”

Courage glanced back at her sisters, and the boat near them. “Eh, we can ask Chailiss. He’s the one that encased her in that ice. If she gets loose, I don’t want to fight her with so many of our kin laying about. Anyway, the colossi weren’t built to carry people, but our Maker changed them or something, so they would. She does things like that to all life near her, ya - it’d be really nice to have right about now. Well, it seems like we’re on our own since I doubt Chailiss is lingering here any longer than he has to. Somebody has to protect the North after all. Hopefully our missing god and goddess will come back soon.” The brash champion let out a sigh, and then grinned at Dern. She held out her fist pointed towards the soldier, and gestured to it. “We’ll fight together, ya?”

“Yes. Every blade is appreciated…” Dern placed his palm over her fist, his blank mask staring at her. He stayed like that for a moment before he turned his head to the god of cold who was walking back with Pride by his side after settling in the Colossi. “Excuse me, Chailiss.”

”Relocating Zima is up to Pride, caretaker of Keltra, to answer your earlier question. I will take her far from here if Pride does not wish her presence in this sacred keep. I believe your mother will wish her to stand trial for her crimes, maybe even try to help her but, was there anything else?” he looked to Dern, crossing his arms as he and Pride came to a stop before them.

“How long will her current restraints last, and what should we be worried about in the case of an unexpected release?” Cosi-Dern dropped his arms to stand up straight. “Not to sound too urgent, but this information is crucial to the security of the keep.”

”That’s alright.” He outstretched a hand and a blue pendant formed, the same of which the other champions of Homura wore. He held it out for Pride. ”This pendant is not like the ones your sister’s wear. This one controls the ice that encases Zima and is now linked forever more to it. I give it to you Pride. This ice will restrain her indefinitely. It slows down… Well, it shall keep her in a frozen state. If you were to undo the ice, her mind would still be seconds away from when she was first placed within. If somehow she is freed, she will bring sorrow to this place. She cannot die, Cosi-Dern. She is unkillable, neither dead or alive but stuck in between. Cursed to walk this land until she awakens to the truth of suffering. The blade she now holds is the only thing that can weaken her.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Cosi-dern offered his condolences. “There is a chance we could have the welders create a holding cage for her in the case of a trial, but…” He shook his head. “Regardless, it would aid the operation if we could use the boat to move around resources and information.”

”The boat was a gift to the daughters of Homura. They may do what they wish with it after Zima if taken care of. Pride, what do you say?” Chailiss looked down at her.

Pride stared at the scarlet floor, glancing up at the god when she realized she was being spoken to. “I… have three questions, if you’ll indulge me, your grace.” She inquired, upon inspecting the pendant she had been given. Hesitation filled her voice and glittered in her ruby eyes.

”Go on.” he insisted.

“First, does the prisoner require any form of sustenance if she remains here? The Eternal Fire can’t provide her with anything, and there is little else in Keltra.” Pride asked.

”She does not.” he answered.

“Secondly, what is this awakening to the truth of suffering you referred to… can she undergo such an awakening here?” Pride asked her second question.

”Even I am unsure.” he confided in thought, ”Voi is the one who cursed her, that is what he told me but not even I know the answer. Only she will be able to find this truth. At least, I hope.”

Pride simply nodded, and asked her third question. “You left before we could confirm whether it would be alright with you… if we called you Uncle outside of formal occasions, your grace. I consider you such…”

He chuckled. ”In truth, I do not consider any of my fellow Gods as siblings. Distant kin, perhaps and friends. But I shall not deny you this request, Pride. You and your sister’s may do so. I would prefer that over your grace in fact.”

Pride allowed herself a slight smile, and glanced towards Skydancer. “I shall prepare a room for her then. If you’ll please bring her there then, Uncle.” With those words, the small champion flew into the air, and held up her scepter. In the far north eastern corner, the scarlet stone shifted once more, gathering into a small solitary structure with a single entrance. Pride pointed in the direction of the newly created with her scepter, feeling the burden of condemning and isolating another like weights on her little arms.

She tilted her head, and spoke to the soldiers. “You may make use of Skydancer once the prisoner has been unloaded and secured, however Wanderer will travel with those you send back and forth. Is this acceptable?”

“It’s more than acceptable, it’s generous,” Cosi-Dern tilted his head. “Thank you for your cooperation, I’ll go prepare for the first trip.”

With little else, the man turned away from the others and began a slow walk to the exit, Thiddock following shortly behind him. The two turned to each other and spoke softly for a moment, then Thiddock began his trek over to the sleeping humans while Dern disappeared into the light of day outside.

Chailiss looked back at the other Champions within and walked over to Fear. He knelt and looked her over. ”How are you feeling?”

It was Kindness that answered. “There is something inside her, a sinister shard that your daughter created. She is barely absorbing any warmth from the Eternal Fire, and her thoughts are quiet. I do not know how to heal her…” Both Kindness and Wanderer continued to cling to Fear, each one holding onto one arm as though loath to let their sister go.

His icy gaze looked to Kindness. ”Sorrow, born of suffering. Such a wound cannot just be healed but instead overcome. This I know, because,” he looked back at Fear. ”Because you will, Fear. You are stronger than you know. Now Kindness, our agreement. Have you thought upon it?”

“Can you undo the spell upon her?” Kindness asked.

”Is this what you want? Is this what you want, Fear?” Chailiss looked between the two of them. Kindness watched as Fear spoke with her hands, and gestured to the prison which would hold Zima. Her somatic words seemed to anger both Kindness and Wanderer, the latter shaking her head vigorously.

Kindness contemplated for a moment, before she looked at Chailiss again. “It is not what I want, but Fear asks you to forgive Zima, and be there for her. She doesn’t like the idea of imprisoning her here.”

“A god has the ability to destroy the lifeform entirely.” The words came from Core-Naulty, the soldier hanging back from the scene. “In the case of eternal suffering, a god can make the decision to exterminate the perpetuity as well. Of course, it’s usually the god that made the lifeform to begin with… and it would also seem that a god caused the endless suffering. Hm. Curious creatures.”

Chailiss turned his head to the masked man, as if pondering what he had said. "An interesting perspective, mortal." he said with a curt nod. He then looked back at Fear and dipped his brow. "Nor do I but I see little alternative. She is not the one I remember, but I can try. For you." he gave her cold hand a tender squeeze.

"Unfortunately I must leave soon. The North is unguarded and I cannot keep failing its denizens. Lean on one another, be strong and recover. You will all be alright with time. Kindness, is there anything else or shall I leave you to ponder it?" he asked.

Kindness blinked, and then answered. “I have made my request, if you cannot undo the spell, then there is nothing else you can offer me, your grace.”

He looked over Fear and nodded. "This might sting." His hand became see through and he plunged it into Fear’s chest. Quickly he removed the crimson splinter and incised it in ice. Next his hand became solid once more and his wiped his thumb over her lips, removing the dark pigment on them. He gave the splinter box to Kindness to hold and with his now free hand there came a crystal vial. He then dropped the dark liquid pigment within it and sealed the top with ice.

He then gave it to Kindness as well. "There. Keep those artifacts out of prying hands less you have another incident. Now I must go remove Zima to her prison." he began to stand.

“Please!” Fear started, speaking up for the first time. “Don’t imprison her like that! It’s… not good.” She said, looking desperately at Chailiss.

"That may be so but you already know why it's necessary. Speak no further on it and Fear, you are forbidden from stepping foot near her prison. For your own safety, am I understood?" his tone became stern, his eyes growing hard.

Her eyes became crestfallen, and she answered with a disheartened nod. With some struggle, she freed herself from the grasp of her sisters and stood up, before her wings emerged and she flew away. Both Kindness and Wanderer eyes fluttered, as though bemused by what had happened, and turned their forlorn gazes in the direction Fear had fled. Without looking at the God of the Cold, Kindness offered her gratitude - her monotone voice filling the space where Fear once was. “Thank you… You have done more for my sisters than I could ask for. Do not needlessly concern yourself with our mortal folly.”

He shook his head. "I will if it's for your own good. Keep her away from Zima. Despite what Courage said earlier, Fear’s heart is already courageous. She just needs to realize that it doesn't mean one should sacrifice herself when she doesn't need to." he looked at all of them one by one, gaze hard as it lingered on Courage. Then without another word he made his way to Skydancer.

Pride approached her sisters, and gestured with hand signs towards Wanderer. The silent champion stood up, and then leapt and bound out of the keep, presumably after Fear. Then the small champion turned her attention to Curiosity and Rowan. “The Eternal Fire cannot sustain the child until he’s cleansed, so we’ll have to figure something out.” She explained, and watched as Courage stepped up.

“We can use the Gnosis to make food for him! We’ve seen how others eat things now.” The brash champion remarked, and gave a paradoxically solemn and confident grin to Pride - as though aware of the futility of their predicament.

The Keeper of Keltra simply shook her head. “You understand that the inefficient design of his body will produce waste here, and that the Incantation of Making shouldn’t be used in such a foolish manner... There’s a high chance of something going awry as well, you know.”

“So what do you think we should do?” Curiosity asked.

Pride let out a tired sigh, and gestured at nothing in particular. “We’ve a few options: We could arrange a cleansing ritual, as I’m certain Chailiss could help us. We could ask the Recusant to adopt him, making him one of them. There are also numerous places outside of Keltra that may accept him. Those are my suggestions.”

Courage looked to Core-Naulty. “Would the Recusant have spare food for him?” She asked.

“Our stomachs have rotted.” Core-Naulty put a hand on his abdomen. “But if the child needs food, we can obtain some — or as Pride mentioned, he could be adopted as a recusant, though that’s normally a decision one needs to make for themselves.”

“Turning the child into a soldier or bringing food here should be our last options. Let's ask Chailiss if he’d be willing to help us first.” Pride interjected before Courage could reply, and the brash champion could feel Kindness and Curiosity silently agreeing with their little sister. With a shrug, Courage chose not to comment further.

Pride looked towards the prison that would hold Zima, and Chailiss as he delivered its prisoner. As she flew towards him, Naulty crossed his arms, voice growing distant, "Or you could just… feed the boy."

Yet Pride was intent upon finding a solution sooner rather than later and she landed near the tall god as he placed Zima within. He turned to Pride, his presence obscuring the prisoner within. “Uncle," she began, "There is another child that needs our help. Will you cleanse him for us?” She asked.

He raised an eyebrow. "I should have known there wouldn't be anyone here capable of producing milk. Much too young, you and your sisters are. Even still you aren't quite like all the other humans, can you even mature?" he rubbed his chin as he spoke to himself. But the full weight of his gaze fell upon Pride soon after. "What exactly is this cleansing you speak of? How might it affect the child?"

“The Eternal Fire sustains life in Keltra, but its warmth cannot spread through a system that contains a conflicting source of energy. I’ve not performed a cleansing ritual myself, but I believe it primarily consists of removing certain chemicals from the body, and allowing the Eternal Fire to temporarily replace them. Aside from a dependence on the Eternal Fire while he remains here, there shouldn’t be anything that affects him in a harmful manner.” Pride explained.

"One must wonder how your mother sought to feed the world with but one light, locked away in a keep." Chailiss mused. "What would you have me do if you haven't done it yourself?" he asked.

“I… I’m uncertain. I’m not familiar with the chemical composition of his body, and I don’t know what should be changed and what shouldn’t… I had hoped you would. His inner flames are divided and in disarray, and Mother instructed the Eternal Fire to refrain from sustaining those that aren’t cleansed… I’m uncertain of the reason, as well.” Pride answered, feeling shame tint her cheeks, and she averted her gaze from Chailiss.

"Look at me Pride." the God said.

“Mmm… apologies, Uncle.” The small champion said, as she returned her eyes to Chailiss, and attempted a calm and cordial demeanor, but it was clear that she struggled with her own lack of a solution to this predicament.

The god spoke in a softer voice now, "You say you are far, far older than your sisters now. But even ancients can become students. Even Gods learn. Do not look away in shame because you know not all the answers. It's alright to ask for help. We all need it from time to time and to go about this world too prideful to admit that… Well. You may think yourself old but don't grow up too fast Pride. Or you may become… Like Zima." he finished sadly.

“It’s as you say, Uncle. Mother would likely explain the nature of her aspect at this point, but I’m not her, and I only wish to protect my kin. Will you help us cleanse the child?” Pride asked again, offering him a slight smile.

"Of course." he put softly.

Pride turned back, and gestured for Curiosity to bring the baby forward. Quickly, the inquisitive champion stood before Chailiss, with Rowan cradled tentatively in her arms. Pride watched as her sister kept her gentle gaze upon the child, before she looked up at the God of the Cold and spoke.

“If there’s a risk, I’m willing to let you practice with me before you try with him…” Curiosity offered, but Pride swiftly shook her head.

“The differences between our bodies would defeat the purpose of such practice. I’d ask Uncle to cleanse you and the others as well, but you’re not at risk of death and can wait until Mother returns.” Her words caused her sister to become evidently disheartened, and Pride wished for more peaceful times, but the path was long and arduous, and peace was still far away.

Curiosity anxiously looked at Chailiss, and then held up the child before him. He took him in a gentle way and pressed a finger to his forehead. "In the beginning, you were all made of the basic elements as Homura designed. Once given a soul you were altered, changed and molded into your current forms. They are all different and complex but at the root; you are all the same. I see what Homura has done and I look upon this little face and I cleanse you, Rowan. Let the flame guide your way and sustain you as you grow." The God said, as the air shimmered and crackled before all quieted and he returned him to Curiosity.

Curiosity bowed her head, and held Rowan closely. “Thank you, Uncle.” She and Pride both said in unison, with gratitude and fondness in their voices. Both the baby and the Eternal Fire had listened to the command of the divine, and coexisted in harmony as the monument sustained the mortal.

"Now for better or worse, I must leave. There are terrible things afoot in this world of ours. Be safe, be smart and if anything goes wrong- Pray to me and I shall try to come as swiftly as I can. I can make no promises. Pride, that pendant can mold the ice into any shape for containment but it only works on one person or thing at a time. You could even remove the ice from certain parts of the confined's body but in this case, I forbid it. If all goes well you will see me soon beside your mother so we can chat." he made his way to leave "Until next we meet, nieces."

“Farewell, Uncle.” Pride said, as Curiosity waved good-bye beside her. They remained rooted where they were, watching as he departed with a look of longing and regret in the small champion’s eyes. Then they returned to their sisters when Chailiss had finally gone, and were left to themselves to find some form of solace in the absence of all their gods and goddesses.

Homura Returns to Keltra

She was swift - akin to the dancing stars that would shoot across the night sky, for the golden spear, Daybringer, shone in her hand; its point shimmering with a myriad of prismatic colors, she held an ethereal crown in her other hand, and she flew through the air with mighty leaps and bounds. Homura made haste back to Keltra after standing as a witness and second arbiter to the trials of Ea Nebel, and the almost silent passage of the goddess was marked only by ephemeral scarlet steps and a faint whisper on the wind speaking of a wounded deity as she traveled in solitude.

She was far from home, but such a great distance meant little to her, as she crossed the northern regions of the Eidolon Plains quickly, and noted to herself the absence of Apostate in the Garden of Hevel, which led her to believe he would be waiting at Keltra alongside her champions and Lorelei. His alterations and distribution of his humans was also observed, and Homura wondered where she recognized the presence of a second deity’s power… until she recalled its origin. It seemed the God of Hunger had visited somewhere else before arriving at the Mountains of Fortitude.

The world continued to change, and there were more and more forces at work that she could not see, filling Homura with a sense of dread she knew she would have to endure until she reached Keltra. The Otherworld hinted at ill omens, tormenting her with vague signs and little information. She needed to seek more knowledge before continuing onward upon the Sacred Path - she needed to prepare herself for the coming calamity, so that she could fulfill her purpose and protect life.

She leapt across the southern edges of Kel-Phelena, traveling eastward along the shores of Kel-Mera, letting the song of the forest and sea soothe her troubled mind. Though the water was filled with sorrow after the death of its maker, it had carried on with its purpose and was truly beautiful. Homura had yet to ascertain the cause of death for the deity that shaped the sea, and she knew that she must uncover the secrets there as well, and soon. Too many of the Divine had perished already.

The red goddess could now see the citadel of Keltra standing tall beside the coast, the immense fortress shimmering like a blazing ruby beneath the light of the imperious sun. The great wall which stood twice as tall as the colossi used to carry humanity, proved no barrier to Homura as she simply soared across the sky and gently alighted upon the ceiling of the central keep. It was barren and quiet atop the keep, but she could clearly hear the sounds of others from far below. It seemed Keltra had a multitude of visitors, Homura mused, having glanced at the numerous mortals in the empty fields as she flew overhead.

Her presence had been announced by the light of Daybringer, and the macabre monument felt itself stir once more as her will suffused it. With a purposeful stride, Homura walked off the edge of the keep and fell to the ground - descending upon the doorway that served as the closest entrance and passage to the Eternal Fire.

Immediately she alighted and stood before a man standing tall at the entrance. He wore a blackmetal mask and was gripping the hilt of his sheathed blade — frozen with hesitation. It took the man only a fraction to suddenly relax his sword arm and step out of Homura’s way. Past him, Homura could see more like him, with three in particular sitting in a spot away from the Eternal flame, talking with a hunched over Apostate, his face hidden in the shadows.

It seems you have been quite preoccupied in my absence, brother.” Homura said, as she approached the God of Defiance, and the interior of the keep became full with Daybringer’s otherworldly luminescence. She observed Pride rise from her seat by the bonfire as well, offering her a little bow before walking towards her, and she could sense the ire hidden behind the courteous mask the small champion wore.

Homura simply stepped past Pride - choosing to ignore the Keeper of Keltra and the look of concern she had, and instead moved to stand near Apostate. “Tell me, what have I missed while I was away?” She asked, as Pride quickly followed after her, and stood behind her much like a nervous child stands behind their mother.

“There’s a pain in this world,” Apostate’s voice came softly, the god not looking up from his hunched position. The recusant soldiers sitting with him were staring at the god. “It’s growing.”

A groan rumbled from deep inside Apostate’s chest, forcing the god of defiance to shift his weight onto Warbreaker, his hand gripping it tight.

Homura gave a nod of agreement, before she pulled Pride out from behind her, and placed a hand on the small champion’s head, letting herself gently ruffle the red and pink hair, as she spoke. “That is why we must stand against it; for if life strays from the Sacred Path, it will find only annihilation. We must bring peace to the world.

“You don’t know what I’m talking about,” Apostate said. He stood up, using Warbreaker to help him to his feet. He wobbled for a moment before turning to Homura. As the light hit his face, the bandages that covered his eye were glistening with blood, the saturation dripping down to his chin. His one working eye was milky with smoke, wisps of the vapor threading out from the sides. Blackmetal freckled his chin and the cuts on his fingers were open, baring a bright red whenever he squeezed the handle of his weapon.

“It’s growing, I feel it — a great pain, a great injustice. I don’t know where it is yet, but I feel it.” Apostate lurched forward in agony, only to retch for a moment. “It’s horrible. I feel their pain.”

Homura seemed to hesitate, peering at her own hands, before she stepped forward and placed her hand on his shoulder. “You are being overwhelmed by this connection. You must not let your strength wane, lest this stigma defeat you. Find the power to stand now, or rest here while I fight and bring an end to their pain.

“It is not that I’m losing my strength,” the god of defiance leaned onto his weapon. “I’m losing the will against the fury. I feel it in my gut, the retribution, the fire. It will know where the pain originates, and it will destroy the source…” Apostate hesitated. “But I don’t know what else it might break.”

As if on cue, a lick of flame jumped out of Apostate’s smoky eye, only to fizzle away. “This body is being destroyed, I need to find the source before it is.” He closed his eyes as his chest rumbled. “It’s not exactly in this world, but it is the machination of a god, I can feel that much. What have the gods done?”

Homura put her palm upon his chest, and shook her head. “We are not strong enough to face those that dwell in the Otherworld. Please, you must find the strength to resist this torture. You must have faith that we will free ourselves from this prison.

“Torture.” Apostate’s eye widened. “Prison.” A rumble. “Otherworld.” His eye flickered around as if he was reading something. “I need to go think on this.” Stepping back, he let Homura’s hand fall from him. “Prison… torture…” He muttered to himself before turning around.

Homura’s gaze followed him, sorrow shimmering in her scarlet eyes. “I need you, brother. Please do not leave me.”

“If I leave, I’ll be back,” Apostate said simply, stopping in his steps. “What do you need from me?”

She stared at him, and sighed. “A promise that you will return is enough. I… you can call upon me whenever. Do not concern yourself if you think calling me will interrupt or disrupt my goals, as I am always willing to answer and come. You are my brother, no matter what.

Apostate turned to look at Homura. He furrowed his brow. “Then know me by my name, Hevel. I’ll return, you know I will. But first I must untangle this pain, for the good of everything involved. I cannot allow it to grow.”

Homura turned her attention to Pride. “Your orders are the same, do you have any objections?” Pride answered by shaking her head, but the red goddess could hear the unspoken words the small champion wished to speak. It was a shame there seemed so little time for such things.

Standing there, holding tightly the golden spear in her grasp, Homura looked back at Apostate. “I would come with you then. We fight together, remember.

“It won’t be safe for you,” Apostate’s frown deepened. “There is no telling where the pain will lead me, what I will find or what I must do to end it. I may have to come in contact with the things that eat away at you.”

I am not afraid. To let you go alone, would be to forsake my aspect. Honor demands I stand by your side, through whatever trials and tribulations we may face.” Homura replied, striding forward to a halt a single step away from him.

“Then I won’t stop you,” Apostate was still frowning, but there was a look of respect in his milky eye. “Though you may want to spend a day here beforehand — you have your own business to attend to here first, and a daughter to catch up with.”

She tilted her head with bemusement, glancing back towards the mortals in the vast hall. “Can you wait that long though? With enough time, I could gather more allies; Voi, Voligan, Zenia, Chailiss, perhaps even Yudaiel and Tuku… We could mitigate the risks and… hmm… there would still be danger, but we could face them together.

“I will move ahead, and you can catch up to me — speak with Pride, then come find me.” Apostate closed his eyes as his chest rumbled again.

So be it. I will be with you soon. Thank you, Hevel.” The red goddess offered Apostate a small smile before stepping to stand beside Pride, who looked between the two deities. Suddenly, the small champion dashed towards Apostate, and leapt at him.

“I won’t say farewell without giving you a hug first.” Pride mumbled, as she clung onto him, her little limbs holding him with a surprising amount of strength. At that exact moment, a familiar voice rang out from the entrance.

“Hey! Not fair!” Lorelei shouted before pouncing at Apostate and wrapping her arms around him as well as she could. “Also hi Homura!” The girl exclaimed, her voice now muffled as she rubbed her face against Apostate’s leg.

Apostate put one hand on top of Lorelei’s head and smiled. “Thank you both, now I’ll be back shortly.” He stepped from their embrace, heading towards the door. He hobbled a slow spin and pointed one last demand at the two. “Get along with the recusants!”

Pride and Lorelei waved back, with Lorelei smirking and walking off toward her bedroom and Pride walking back to Homura, peering at the red goddess with a myriad of emotions; the ever conflicting combination of both frustration and relief, but the contradictory feelings were always welcome if it meant spending time with her mother.

“I’ve granted them stay here in Keltra. They’re young and reckless, but with well intentions. Also, the others haven’t returned yet, and I couldn’t find them in the North. Also, I’ve performed my first ritual. Also, you’re hurt - what happened?” Pride said, letting loose her feelings and concerns upon Homura.

She was answered with another enigmatic look; that look her mother had so often previously provided before, but Pride persisted and was rewarded for her efforts. The red goddess sighed before she replied in her usual intonation. “I must make haste, for time is of the essence of protecting that which I hold dear. I shall have faith that you will be able to manage things here while I am away again. It is likely your sisters have found Chailiss, and that is why they have yet to return. He will look after them.”

Homura began stroking Pride’s head once more, as she continued to speak. “You have done well - rituals and incantations go hand in hand, so you will find it easier to articulate your spells in the future. Continue your training, and you will become a very powerful sorcerer soon. Lastly, this wound is inconsequential regarding my health. I will find a way to heal it soon, so rest easy knowing I will recover and return to you. Does that suffice, Pride?

Pride pouted, before she leaned in and hugged the red goddess. “No, but it’s not like I can stop you from leaving. You and Uncle are really irritating, but I’m certain you both already know that… I’ll patiently await your return, Mother, and then I can tell you what I’ve planned for Keltra, okay?”

I look forward to it. Of course, I will not be leaving without providing you with a reward for your service. Regardless of the distance between us, I will come when you pray for my aid.” Homura stepped back, and revealed both an ethereal crown and glowing pearlescent stone, both of which levitated over her ribboned palm. With Daybringer in her other hand, she touched the tip of the golden spear with the stone, and began an incantation.

Pride felt the power of the Gnosis suffuse the air around her, and saw the otherworldly symbols that flowed freely in the presence of Homura. The small champion was reminded of the difference in their understanding of sorcery, and felt how little her own power truly was. It was a frightening sight that inspired both awe and dread in her. She was not surprised when her mother simply took command of the otherworldly music within the keep, and guided a new melody that accompanied her actions.

The red goddess gestured with her legs, tracing runic circles with her feet that hummed and pulsed. Daybringer began to sing, and flew from the grasp of Homura, now dancing gracefully in circles around her - and both goddess and golden spear were exuding an aura of enchantment as they performed, their motions both subtle and pronounced were sacred and harmonious. The levitating crown drifted away from them, but the moonstone was pulled closer, now involved and affected by the divine power gathered by their dance.

Scarlet energy manifested, seeping from the wound upon the belly of the goddess, and streaming towards the stone. It collected and coalesced into a shape, and the energy flashed in concert with the crescendo of the music, shining with prismatic radiance until it dimmed and solidified into a golden scepter adorned with the moonstone at its top. As the performance came to a conclusion; Daybringer and the ethereal crown returned to Homura’s hands while the symbols of the Gnosis faded, and the newly forged scepter gently flew towards Pride.

The Scepter of Keltra - it will grant you greater sight, and allow you to protect your family. Follow your orders until I return, and pray that all will be well. That is all I can ask.

"This location will be secure, Ma'am," Cosi-Dern piped up, "you have the recusant's promise."

Homura looked to the others in the vast hall, and held up her hand. “You have all been granted access into the sanctuary of Keltra. Let it be known that this is a place of peace, and there will be no killing permitted here. Aside from that, you are welcome here for now.” She looked directly at Dern then. “I will be holding you to that promise.

She turned towards the doorways that led out of the keep, and sighed with forlorn. “Now I must depart, before my brother does something foolish. Farewell…” Homura said, and afterward she suddenly vanished - and the shadows returned to Keltra, creeping forth from the far corners of the keep.

Pride walked towards the doorway, briefly wondering where the two deities were going until she realized that there was little accomplished by idly waiting. She looked at the Scepter of Keltra she held in her hands, and frowned to herself. “That went better than I expected…”

Dern stepped to Pride's side and folded his hands behind his back. "Indeed."

The Holy Quintet Meet Sorrow

Their flight was very brief, for Skydancer soared across the sky at high speed, and their destination was very near. The Holy Quintet could only prepare themselves for what lay ahead; Kindness and Fear taking lead while Courage was still incapacitated, and Curiosity was assigned the responsibility of watching over her and the infant they had been given. Wanderer saw with eyes enhanced by her spell; a field of white and black… a field of corpses, and a lone woman that exuded a terrible aura. Through her silent means of communication, she conveyed the danger and told her sisters to alight away from the macabre field.

Fear finished sealing the wounds of her unconscious sister with ice, and then turned to look at Kindness and Wanderer with an apprehensive smile - an expression that quickly faded when she met the faces of her somber sisters. “Shall we?” She hesitantly asked.

Kindness nodded, and the three champions slowly disembarked Skydancer upon reaching the edge of what was once the home of many people, but was now their mass grave. The taste of death filled the air, and even from where they were, the Holy Quintet could feel the darkness that now permeated the land. None of them wished to approach, but they would not find the answers to what they were seeking if they did not press onward. They began their trek towards their grim destination.

The closer they came, the more they felt the touch of despair - there was nothing subtle, it washed over them like a powerful wave consisting of grief and pain. None among their trio were prepared for their minds to be besieged by such suffering, and they came to halt after being overwhelmed. Fear held up her hand, calling upon her power to ward away the harmful effects, the strength of her spirit manifesting as a pale light that bathed both her and her sisters in its radiance, granting them protection.

The anxious champion began breathing heavily, stressed by sustaining a second spell after enduring the strain of standing against the dark aura, and found herself relieved that she was not alone as Kindness and Wanderer offered their support. They continued forward, to the one that remained here, to the one that stayed in solitude. The lone woman that may or may not have the answers they seek.

There was no concealing their presence now; three champions covered in the otherworldly shifting symbols of the Gnosis, shielded by a large sphere of light that currently fought the curse upon the land. They walked towards her, carrying a myriad of weapons, but there was no hostility or anger in their eyes… just the shadow of sorrow and regret. Kindness called out in her monotone voice, loud in the hollowed silence, and almost unfamiliar to both her sisters.

“What happened here?”

The woman, who had been kneeling before them on her hands and knees as they approached, looked up at them with a crimson glow. She stood with unnatural grace, even from a distance they could see she was taller than them. She wore nothing and her almost see-through body looked as if it was constantly moving even as she stood still. She looked around and then back at Kindness with an indifferent look upon her face.

She spoke with a cold, emotionless voice, “A people fell to ruin.”

Kindness spared a glance towards her two sisters, and Wanderer gave her a gloomy nod while supporting Fear. Through the connection they shared, Kindness was shown what Wanderer had witnessed: the terrible truth of what this woman had done to those that lived here. The reticent champion turned her gaze back to the demon disguised as a human, and posed another question. “Why did you kill them?”

If the accusation bothered the woman at all, she did not show it. She gave a tilt to her head as she stared back at Kindness. “For revenge. Their God cursed me, so they died in his stead. I am not familiar with your kind. Though you wear red, tell me, are you agents of the Green Murder?” she asked.

Kindness shook her head before she answered. “We are opposed to the Green Murder, the goddess that brought such suffering and sorrow to this land. I am Kindness, and these are my sisters Fear and Wanderer. We wear red because we wear the garb we have been given. I have introduced myself and my kin, what is your name?”

“We tried to kill her, that Goddess…” the woman said absentmindedly. “She killed me instead. Have you ever died before? It isn’t very pleasant.” she finished in a quiet voice.

Fear found herself suddenly speaking, holding up her hand of ice as she called out to the woman. “We’re looking for Nisshi! We were sent by her father, Chailiss, to find her. Would you… help us find her?” Her words caused Kindness to look back at her, and Fear wondered whether she had made a mistake. Neither of her sisters were unfriendly, but they lacked the affable attributes of Courage and Curiosity, and it seemed diplomacy was necessary now. Fear attempted to smile again, looking at the woman with hopeful eyes.

The woman’s demonic gaze snapped to Fear and her hand. “You have an odd name, Fear. Why is that? Did he give it to you? Like he gave you that hand? Do not speak to me of him. He abandoned his Nisshi and left her to suffer. Zima is all that remains now.” Her voice was of growing spite and hatred as she clutched her fists tight.

Fear repeatedly averted her gaze as the woman spoke, unable to look at those crimson eyes for long. She remained silent for a time, until she felt her sisters encourage her through their connection. “No… Mother chose my name. I… I lost my hand when I almost drowned. We’re not your enemy… we just want to help our sister, we just want to help Zima. Please help us find her.” The anxious champion repeated her plight.

She rolled her eyes before narrowing them. “You already found me.” Zima shifted in place, giving a mocking bow. She then looked at them with cold clarity. “I don’t need help. Not from anyone, especially not children. Shame on him for sending you in his stead. You barely look old enough to be out on your own without supervision.”

“I’m older than I look. It'll soon be sixteen days and sixteen nights since I awoke…” Fear mumbled, hearing her sisters warn her in her mind. The anxious champion felt herself fumble with her words, but persevered. “Everyone needs help. I… we’re your family. We want to help you, even if you think we’re foolish…” Her sisters continued to urge her to stop talking, but she couldn’t give up. She had to reach out.

“I’m not part of your family, little girl.” Zima began to pace, gaze never leaving Fear. “I may wear this… Form… But I am not like you. I do not wish to be like you.” She glanced at Kindness and Wanderer. “Only fools would come to this place searching for a ghost. Your courage wanes the longer you stay… Your souls burn so bright but I wonder how long your power will last to save you?”

Fear stepped forth, her wings emerging from her back to keep her standing and lifting her forward until she stood only a short distance away - Kindness and Wanderer followed a few steps behind their sister. The radius of her protective light almost touched Zima, and Fear held out her hand of ice. “I’m not going to leave you alone in this place.”

Zima stood still, facing Fear. “Perhaps you’re right. Everyone does need help.” Zima began, “So I shall teach you a truth of this world; You cannot save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. Now put your hand down and go back to your mother before you die here and are forgotten. Just like they will be.”

“No. Come with us. Don’t suffer alone.” Fear replied, her hand unwavering. This close, her eyes did not wander, and she stared at Zima. “Kill me if you must.”

“So be it.” Zima said, dashing forward. As her presence touched the protective light, she was repulsed by it but quickly unleashed her own power to challenge Fear’s. The unlight and light ebbed and flowed, neither gaining ground for a time but ever so slowly, ZIma’s strength began to creep around them. It wouldn’t be long before their protection was consumed as Zima looked at them with glowering anger.

“Fear! Release us!” Kindness shouted, struggling against an unseen force, as Fear approached the one that sought to end her. Wanderer found herself restrained as well, and could watch as the anxious champion stepped before Zima.

“I’m the only one among my sisters that’ve never died. I… almost died once. Hmm… is this what your friend would’ve wanted? Is this what vengeance is?” Fear whispered, before she projected the light away from her and was no longer protected by it.

Zima loomed before her in an instant. “This is not vengeance. No, this is pity.” She then backhanded Fear across her face, sending the champion to the floor. Zima then fell on her and through her, her presence began to eat at Fear’s clothes and exposed parts. She grabbed her by the neck of her collar and brought her head up to face her own. “You ask for death so willingly, so what? You can prove a point? Is this what your sister’s would want? To watch you die? Is this what you want? What you truly want?” She asked in a veiled whisper, eyes burning.

“Not… fault…” Fear said, biting her lip before the pain overwhelmed her and she began screaming, overwhelmed by the grief and suffering of the thousands upon thousands that had died and suffused this place with despair. From within the protective light, Kindness and Wanderer could move again, but the light was their cage, and they could not leave it lest they be overwhelmed as well.

Kindness clasped her hands together, and prayed. “Chailiss, Lord of Winter, hear my plea. Come to us now. Come and save your children.”

Wanderer held her bow, summoning otherworldly power as she aimed at Zima. She just needed enough time to fire her bolt of light at her, and then she could rescue her sister. Wanderer silently prayed that she would have enough time.

“Shh, shh.” Zima cooed to Fear. “Death would only be a mercy to you. It would relieve you of all this pain.” She dragged a finger along her cheek, leaving a scar of black. “Let me…” She leaned in closer, “Ease your pain.” Meeting Fear’s lips with her own to plant a deep kiss.

Kindness continued her prayer, “Come and find your daughter. Save us from despair. Come and you need not grant me any wish, just save my sisters…”

Wanderer stood at the edge of the protective light, crouched beside Fear and Zima with fierce hatred in her eyes, directed at the one that threatened her sister. The Bow of Light hummed with power, she could almost release it and unleash her wrath upon her foe. Fear was helpless, wracked with agony while tears streamed down her scarred cheek. She could only falteringly spasm, as her muscles all seemed locked by pain.

Zima released Fear from the passionless kiss, the girl’s lips much the same as they were before but now stained black. “Another lesson for you; do not pretend to be something you are not.” She then let go of Fear’s collar and from her left hand there came a crimson splinter as narrow as a hair, and as long as a pinkie. With her right hand, Zima pressed a finger into the middle of Fear’s chest, withering away a small hole to reveal bare skin. Zima then held down Fear to steady her. “It seems only fitting I give you a gift like my Father. You gained from him, now you lose from me.” Zima then plunged the splinter into Fear’s chest. “Perhaps your name will change to Sorrow.”

An arrow of golden radiance shot forth, filled with otherworldly power, and exploded into celestial chains to entangle Zima, forcing her off Fear and pinning her arms and legs to the blackened ground. Both Kindness and Wanderer blazed with sacred fire and called upon their Spirit. Kindness leapt upon the woman, and slashed with the Blade of Mourning, as Wanderer came seeking to pull back Fear into the protective light. The blade cut across Zima’s chest, leaving a visible tear and the woman’s eyes widened. “Pain…” She breathed. “What a feeling.” The chains that held her began to fade with unlight and Zima looked up at Kindness with malice in her eyes. “I’ll be taking that from you.”

Kindness answered Zima’s malice by surrounding herself in spiritual power, and plunging the dagger into Zima again and again, while nearby Wanderer had retrieved Fear and then proceeded to remove her ethereal neckpiece, and throw it towards the forest with great strength. Fear did not stir, her eyes lacking focus - not seeing anything. There was little Wanderer could do except remain by her sister’s side.

Each stab made another tear in Zima, another gaping hole. The woman was gritting her teeth at this point but even she seemed to have had enough and with an explosion of power, her chains broke away and she rose to her feet, moving out of the way from Kindness’ latest strike. Before attempting to disarm her.

After missing her foe only once, Kindness rolled back into the safety of the protective light, and stared vehemently at Zima. The sacred flames that enveloped the reticent champion were receding, but she still stared with defiance in her eyes at the one that had hurt her sister. “Come closer, and I will end you.” She uttered with quiet fury.

Zima did not speak. Instead, the dark champion surrounded herself with her power and thrust it forth onto the barrier of precious light. Like a torrent of grey fire it washed over the barrier with terrible force, screaming as the bubble began to be consumed.

Kindness and Wanderer prepared themselves for the coming agony, clutching their weapons with desperate zeal and apprehension. In her blind state, while she lay upon both ash and death, Fear whispered. “Sorrow… comes…”

With a sudden realization, both of her sisters looked back before they hastily dived down and held onto either the cursed earth or a pale corpse, as a loud noise came from behind them. Protected by the light of the Shield of Faith, Curiosity and Courage soared upon Skydancer into the heart of darkness, the latter shouting wildly while burning bright with sacred flames. They flew faster than the wind, and came to a sudden stop just outside the weakening sphere of Fear’s spell. There was a rush of wind and ice, as the vessel hovered there - and its shield began to spread.

Still ablaze, Courage leapt through both protective light and accursed fire to land beside Zima. She planted her fist in the palm of her Golden Gauntlet and wore a feral grin as her spirit raged like an inferno all around her. “I’ve been dying to meet you, ya.”

Zima's attack faltered against the newest shield of protection and her power coalesced around her as she turned to face Courage. She glanced back at the other four, eyes narrowing. Then the woman flicked her wrist and her power became a wall of inverse light, blocking their path and view of the two. Then Zima bounced forward and attacked Courage.

Courage stood still as pillars of light and ice emerged from the ground and protected her - then a blade flew through the inverse light right into her palm, and the brash champion brandished the Blade of Mourning. “That’s the thing, Zima. You don’t just fight one of us, you fight all of us. You can’t win when you’re alone.” When Courage spoke, audible over the barrier that separated them from the four other members of the Holy Quintet was the voices of her sisters speaking in sync.

She pointed the dagger at Zima. “Chailiss is coming.”

The demon stood straighter after her failed attack. Anger was apparent on her face but she finally opened her mouth to speak. "I wondered how you all seemed so in sync. To think you share a connection. Oh well, it matters not, in the end. You'll soon find that when you need him most, he will fail you." She began to walk forwards. "No one is coming to save you."

“You’re wrong. We’re going to save you!” Courage dashed through swirling ice and light at Zima, dagger in one hand, her gauntlet guarding the other, prepared to clash one more time. She fought with the aid of Curiosity and Wanderer, while Kindness continued praying, and Fear struggled to regain her strength.

Zima walked forth, unwavering. Then she brought her hands together with a soft clap and a wave of death rushed for Courage, hungry for her soul. The champion leapt into the air, rotating until she was pointed downwards and her feet made contact with an ice shield that she used to launch herself back and behind Zima. With another burst of speed, she thrust out her hand.

Fiver-Fingered Penitent Palm of Peace!

There was a pulse of scarlet energy that rippled around the two, before an ephemeral imprint of a red hand manifested upon Zima and tossed her back with great force.

Before she had even come to a stop, Zima used the momentum to land on her feet. This time she flicked her wrists and deathly orbs shot out from the earth and hounded in on Courage, following her movements. With more leaps and bounds, stepping on pillars of shimmering ice, the champion circled the field, but found that she could not elude the orbs on her own. She shifted her direction, and dashed towards Skydancer beyond the wall of grey fire.

Kindness and Wanderer had lifted Fear and placed her aboard the flying boat, where Curiosity concentrated on protecting both their group as well as Courage while she rushed back and forth during her skirmish with Zima. Behind Curiosity, the infant was wrapped in a black furred blanket and shielded from harm. The four champions watched their sister approach, and then slip past them followed by numerous vile spheres of necrotic power - one of which crashed against Skydancer, shaking the vessel. “A little help!” Courage called out behind her, still being chased.

Wanderer readied her bow, gathering power, as Kindness grasped the rudder and began slowly steering Skydancer. The lone Courage ran and ran while pursued by the orbs of death that were now being followed by the remaining Holy Quintet upon their boat. Wanderer would take aim, and fire a bolt of light that would banish a dark sphere, and they repeated this process, until one by one, more and more of the spheres were vanquished.

While they were distracted by the spheres, Zima summoned a lance of unlight behind her wall and once it was ready, Zima dropped the dark wall and sent the lance flying towards Wanderer. As the silent champion released one last arrow, the lance struck its target and embedded itself in her back. She fell at her sister’s feet, and Kindness redirected the boat to face Zima, before sending Skydancer at high speed in an attempt to crash into her, while Courage followed from behind.

There came a great thud as Skydancer impacted into the earth, sending a plume of ash into the air. This was followed by strange silence. Had they done it? No sooner had the ash settled to reveal the ever watching after images of the dead people; she came. The demonic woman emerged from the middle of the deck, floating up through the wood and ice. She stood still for a split second, then with uncanny speed, she pulled the lance from Wanderer’s back and thrust it at Curiosity.

The tower shield the champion held compressed itself and became a buckler which she used to deflect the lance, before surging forward and shoving Zima back to the prow of Skydancer. Courage and Kindness joined in the assault; leading with an attack from both sides. Courage struck with her gauntlet and dagger, while Kindness borrowed the Staff of Seeing from the fallen Wanderer - and together the two champions flanked Zima with Curiosity creating a dome of light and ice around all four of them. All three champions moved with a combination of grace and unity; one attacking while another defended, and the third hindering their foe.

Cut after cut, with the occasional bludgeon, was inflicted upon Zima as the remaining members of the Holy Quintet lashed out and attempted to defeat her. Both consuming darkness and blinding light tore through cracks and fractures in the frozen barrier that held all of the combatants, the dome seemed on the threshold of a terrible explosion at any point. Despite the great power they used, the artifacts they wielded, and the conviction with which they fought - the trio could not win against Zima. She could not die.

It was Courage that fell first, her wounds had reopened at the beginning of the fight, and what little strength she had gained from her second wind had finally faded. She finally collapsed when Zima grabbed her hair and smashed her head into the deck. As Zima turned her sights to Kindness, Curiosity was forced to pull her back from the conflict, leaving her sister to face Zima alone. Before trapping the two within the shield, Curiosity tossed her the Blade of Mourning, and prayed in hopes of some miracle.

The fires of hatred burned bright as Kindness held the dagger and stared at Zima and her lance of unlight. “You have become worse than the Green Murder. You should evidently be erased from existence.” The reticent champion intoned, prepared for one last clash.

Zima brought the lance close to her face and held it pointing up, eyes full of hatred and… Sorrow, as she looked to Kindness. "Evidently… You are not so kind after all. Comparing me to the Green Murder… No. She struck without discourse. Like an animal. There was no warning. But you… You had your chance to leave but chose to remain and now you will face the consequences." She swung the lance down. "Those consequences shall be without death, for it would be too much a mercy for you and your sisters who came seeking it. But... You will beg for it in the end." She spat with venom. "I have taken already from Fear, who now knows only sorrow. But those three... I shall take Wanderer’s legs in mockery of her name. I shall take that one's eyes so she may never see." She pointed with the lance to Curiosity. "And that one's strength so weakness bites her soul." The lance fell upon Courage, then pointed at Kindness. "And I shall take from you that blade and etch a new name into your soul; Hatred. Then you will all be crippled in your shared union." Zima then attacked Kindness by bringing her lance down but was met with the blade in parry. The baby began to cry. Zima glanced towards it before her eyes fell back on Kindness. "And I will silence the last Voiran when you are disposed of."

Her aura grew and began to attack Kindness' light. Zima next flicked her lance free and brought it up to try and slash the smaller champion's chest. With the Staff of Seeing used to deflect, and another quick thrust as a riposte, Kindness continued to fight. Though stone would crumble in her hands with ease, and she could leap higher than any creature could reach, Kindness knew her strength was not enough. She was the weakest among her sisters, and they were not able to defeat Zima, so how could she hope to?

She would not let this evil reach the rest of her family. She absolutely refused, and dedicated herself entirely to eliminating the threat now. Another exchange where the air burned and hissed as it was consumed by otherworldly forces, as immortals imbued with monstrous might struck at each other, and Kindness saw her opportunity. She could not inflict any deadly wounds from afar, so she had to close in with Zima, and cut into anything that may be vital, but such would be an impossible task without being equally wounded in return. Kindness did not hesitate.

She allowed herself to be pierced as she lunged, pressing the point through until the lance of unlight punctured her body and ran her through, but she continued forward. A life for a life, a death for a death, a sacrifice of the self to protect others. Kindness was more than willing, and pressed onward with clarity in her mind. Despite being eviscerated she was still swift, and before Zima could free her weapon, or conjure another - Kindness was upon her. The Staff of Seeing quickly tossed aside as the rampaging champion stabbed and slashed and tore at the one before her. In the blink of an eye, she had struck one hundred times, and then without pause, she began hacking the head off of her foe, sawing through the neck with the Blade of Mourning like a bjork bites through the bark of a lone tree.

Zima’s head was cut even as the demon clawed at Kindness to be free of her and then her body grew limp as the head came clean off. It did not fall like a normal head but instead floated, with crimson smoke, like vaporious blood, being the only connection as her grip on Kindness faltered further and her body hung loosely in the air, unmoving. With the last of her strength, Kindness plunged her dagger into the head, and shoved the decapitated body back against the wall of the ice dome, before she stumbled back and fell as she succumbed to her wounds.

The ice shattered, and only the light of the Shield of Faith remained, as Curiosity stood watching what had transpired. The sight of her older, quiet sister, bloodied and broken, overwhelmed her and she rushed to her aid, pulling Kindness back to the other. The inquisitive champion could not stop her hands from trembling, now stained with blood, and she sobbed as she tried to wake her sister. “Kindness, please open your eyes, please!”

Thud. The sound came as something dropped and Curiosity looked to see Zima’s head reattaching itself to her severed neck. She had dropped her lance, which melted into shadow and then, as her crimson eyes flickered to life, Zima pulled the blade free from her head as the tears and cuts on her body began to slowly reform.

"You cannot kill something that is already dead and no longer living." She said, in a much weaker but no less spiteful voice. "Now… Let’s see those eyes." And she began to approach Curiosity while the champion continued to weep and grieve over the body of her sister. There were none standing among the Holy Quintet, none that possessed the will or strength to fight.

Zima loomed over Curiosity, blade in one hand and darkness in the other. She reached out to her and then the whole world went white. But it had not been the Champion's eyes withering away, no. For a hand did touch Curiosity but it landed on her shoulder, large and comforting. The white glow faded away to reveal a now encased Zima in a prison of ice, still reaching out, mere fingertips away. The large hand belonged to Chailiss, much smaller but of no less stature, who stared his daughter down with a look far colder than ice and deeper than the ocean.

"Move aside Curiosity, you are quite safe now." he said to her in a stern but soft voice.

Curiosity gazed upwards at Chailiss with her vision blurred by tears and the blinding presence of the cold. Her throat was hoarse, and she could find no words, only able to cling onto Kindness and keep holding onto her. She couldn’t feel the warmth of her sisters and their inner flames anymore, she had nothing else but their still bodies. She looked to Chailiss with the lost eyes of a child overwhelmed with sorrow.

He understood without speaking. With his free hand, he raised it in the air and from it light ushered forth like snowflakes, absorbing into the skin of the fallen champions. Their wounds began to heal but it wasn't over yet. He let go of Curiosity and went to the rear of the ship, where he sat down and grabbed hold of the rudder. He began to steer the ship. "Curiosity, I have done what I can for them. Only the fire of your Keltra will aid them further. I know it pains you to let go but there is another on this ship who suffers as well. Tend to the baby, your ache will be comforted."

The inquisitive champion found some solace in the power of his voice, the words of a great god that offered salvation. She weakly nodded, moving to kneel beside the swaddled infant, and took the child in her arms. Curiosity simply cradled the one that Courage had told her to look after, giving the baby a name before she flew Skydancer into battle.

“Shh, Rowan, don’t you cry… it’ll be alright now.” Curiosity cooed, gently rocking Rowan while she still cried. She focused upon the child, on the life she held in her arms, and found purpose that alleviated some of her pain. In the end, there was one they were able to protect.

Chailiss said nothing else as they left that sorrow struck place, leaving behind those woeful feelings to be blessed by the light of the sun and its warmth. Skydancer flew faster than it ever had before, boosted further by the God at the helm. He knew the way back and his eyes never left Zima’s, who’s eternal stare was of pain. They had left that field of sorrow but they had all taken a piece of it with them.

For better or worse.

The Journey of the Holy Quintet
Part I

The wind was quiet; its soft murmurs the only sound the five Heralds of Honor heard from outside Skydancer as they soared through the sky and gusts of air rushed by them, but the sacred power of the flying vessel had protected all of them from the fierce gales. The airborne boat swam through a sea of great clouds, ascending and descending through the vaporous banks of suspended moisture like the very large denizens of the sea that those among the Holy Quintet had seen before on their previous journeys.

Through the connection the five sisters shared, Wanderer was able to wordlessly describe why those creatures would reach the surface and stay there for a time, when others in the water would remain in the depths, never revealing their presence to the world above. However, Wanderer was unable to provide an absolute answer when Curiosity asked why the other creatures chose to never come to the surface, and the Holy Quintet silently contemplated the nature of life in the water compared to life elsewhere.

Courage continued to steer Skydancer towards their destination, while her four sisters had wrapped themselves in the large black-furred blanket they had been gifted by the Childan. Wanderer refrained from explaining where such a blanket most likely came from, as her sisters would certainly be unable to enjoy the welcome comfort they had now if they knew. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, the reticent champion pondered, as Curiosity held up and inspected various shells and shiny stones that had also been gifted to them.

“There’s so many! Did Chailiss make these, or was it our brothers?” She asked, and her sisters observed that the inquisitive champion seemed to be quickly recovering from her trauma at the village. There was no comment from any of them, as they saw how much Curiosity utilized their stoic thoughts through their sacred connection to fortify her own feelings and protect herself from grief. It would be cruel to deny her this way of coping, wouldn’t it? It would be inhumane, perhaps?

“Zenia mentioned helping Chailiss create this land, so maybe she made it, ya. I just really wish she was here, because it’s obvious you’d love her. She’s like… the light of the sun, always shining bright and smiling, if that makes sense...” Courage replied from where she stood at the stern, and then closed her eyes as she fondly recalled the feelings she had felt in the presence of the golden-haired goddess. The memories of those feelings spreading through her sisters like an aura of peace and calm.

“Viho is looking for her. We’ll get to see them both at some point.” Fear commented, attempting an emboldening smile as she sculpted small floral petals and leaves from ice with her frozen hand that quickly melted into nothingness upon departing from her palm. “Do you think Pride and Lorelei are alright? We said we'd be back soon, but who’s to say how long we’ll be gone now?” The anxious champion continued, looking at her sisters and their myriad of concerned expressions.

“Hey, listen now. Pride is tougher than she looks, and Lorelei has survived much worse than her big sisters leaving for a little while, so let’s focus on the task given to us. That’s probably what the pipsqueaks would say anyway.” Courage countered, wearing her usual cheeky grin which alleviated much of her sister’s unease. The reminder of Lorelei’s hardships reinforced their dedication to helping their currently lost sister, Zima, and the Holy Quintet shifted their attention to the world around them.

“What are our current options? The Gate to the Underworld is located somewhere in the west of this land, but we do not know what this gate looks like.” Kindness stated, looking back and forth between the Blade of Mourning she held in one hand, and the absence of Courage’s ponytail. The brash champion simply wore her hair loose, and her black ribbon was now tied around her arm. The sight was strange, but Kindness refrained from saying anything because Courage seemed content with her actions and choices.

“Well Underworld means that it’s beneath something, or maybe under the world itself? Gah, this is actually something we should already know! Isn’t it?” Courage complained, smacking her hand against her head in frustration. She shook her head, unfettering herself from anger, before casually shrugging back at Kindness without an answer.

“Wouldn’t the trees know? Don’t their roots dig deep into the earth, so, uh, they might have an idea where this gate is at least. Why don’t we ask them?” Curiosity suggested, bringing her legs up and resting her head upon her knees where she was seated.

“The trees would not understand our questions, hence we should seek out other humans that would recognize a gate, and ask them for guidance.” Kindness proposed, before turning to look at Fear for affirmation.

“We should, um… wait until we’re at the west coast, and then ask around, I suppose.” Fear humbly offered, hoping the uncertainty in her voice did not dissuade any of her sisters. Her words could be considered diplomatic in the sense that they did not directly side with either of her sister’s suggestions while excluding the second’s.

Their minds were suddenly shown images of what lay ahead, as Wanderer internally intoned the Incantation of Seeing - the spell enhanced by the Staff of Sight she wielded. With the blessing of Chailiss, its power was increased and expanded upon in the North, and she saw far and wide with great clarity. Through their connection to the reticent champion, the other four members of the Holy Quintet were provided with a close understanding of the distance to the west coast.

“We’ll be there soon.” Courage remarked, as they flew faster and faster towards their ascertained destination, and the Holy Quintet became quiet with contemplation once more.

Where the great land mingled with the vast sea again, as the trees parted becoming fewer and fewer until reaching a cold coast where their coniferous kind kept their distance from the icy waters, and most beasts only ever briefly visited for the waters here offered no nutrition that would benefit them - it was here where the Holy Quintet descended from the sky upon their blessed boat, and truly began their search for the missing daughter of Chailiss.

“Wanderer, begin looking for humans or Bjork nearby. We need to gather information from the local populace in the region.” Kindness said, as all of the Heralds of Honor began chanting the Incantations of Sending in their minds. The otherworldly ebon symbols appeared on their skin, shifting and weaving in their intricate design and patterns, so the steps of the Holy Quintet left no prints or trace of their passage.

Concentrating upon two spells at once, Wanderer felt the strain upon her mind, but with assistance through her connection to her sisters, she was able to sustain both incantations. Her Spirit was still strong, even after expending energy to create the artifact she wielded now.

Her senses spread like the light of the sun, washing over the land and its denizens, illuminating the shadows that her limited awareness before had hidden, and revealing the details of the world around her in ways her previous awareness could not comprehend. She felt intensely; and so potent did even the small rustle of pines or grass seemed that she knew how easily she could be overwhelmed now.

However, she had honed herself for this task through practice with the staff Tuku had temporarily bestowed upon Pride, then with her own staff as she traveled across the skies from Keltra to the North, and to eventually here. Lastly, she possessed a natural aptitude granted to her upon birth along with an understanding of what her name truly meant. With the Incantation of Seeing, she Saw what the world ahead consisted of:

The white forest stretched on, primarily pines and spruces, with fewer little-leafed deciduous kin such as alders, aspen, and birch - covered in glittering rime and snow. Even in the cold, life continued to cultivate itself by adapting to the trials and tribulations it faced; constructing sanctuaries where it may wait for winter to pass, and for the warmth to return, or through altering their shape and color to thrive in the stark environment.

The beasts were much larger than their brethren found elsewhere across the Galbar’s woodland realms, matching the size of the massive creatures found in Orsus that thundered across the land. They were clever and had discovered safe ways to hibernate, or they were strong and remained insulated through their thick fur and muscle. The North was a land that tested its denizens, culling the weak, and challenging the mighty. It was beautiful and terrifying to behold, and worthy of worship for its wonders.

Wanderer turned her attention from shimmering stalactites that grew upon the bottom of many branches beside a nearby cavern, to the whispering wind which danced among the trees as it proclaimed the world was changing once again. The song of snow shifted, its otherworldly lullaby slowly transforming into a gentle and graceful dirge as ice would inevitably crack and melt, and the frozen water would resume its fluid state with the coming of spring. This quiet that Wanderer cherished would become lively, and the reticent champion hoped she could see the glory of winter again before she had to return home.

Her senses continued to swiftly expand while her sisters briefly waited, and she alerted them she had found something with a quick raising of her hand. “One of our sisters is ahead. We should hurry.” The Holy Quintet took her words to heart, despite the lack of urgency in her tone, and Courage began issuing orders.

“Kindness, Fear: bring Skydancer overhead. Curiosity, you’re with me. Wanderer, lead the way.” With those words, they pressed onward.

Wanderer moved with haste, navigating the slippery and thick snow with ease, while Courage kept pace a few steps away from her - the two traveling faster than any animal could comprehend. As they raced through and over snow laden boughs and dense thickets with hidden thorns, such ever irksome entangling limbs and twigs, it was Curiosity that struggled with the foliage and fell farther behind them.

Despite the trepid nature of Kindness and Fear, Skydancer was able to follow those on the ground merely because moving slow for a vessel that soars across the sky like a falling star is still more than enough to maintain pace with anything traversing the land below.

A bellowing roar cut through the forest, not of any animal they had heard of before, followed swiftly by the crunching of branches and the sound of something large moving. It was distant but getting closer with each of their steps, almost like it was coming right at them. Then a different sound came, more nuanced, of a heavy struggle and a stumbling step. A soft cry filtered forth from the brambles, their sister was close.

Images of what awaited beyond were projected into Courage’s mind, as Wanderer pointed her sister in the direction of the struggle before leaping away from it. Knowing where she had to go, Courage wreathed herself in her sorcery, passing through the flora like a spirit, emerging on the other side where she heard the cries of one who had needed her help, and quite literally was run into by the woman, who fell backwards with a cry of surprise.

“Ah, sorry!” Courage called out, coming to a halt after realizing her mistake before she offered a hand out, and smiled. “Are you alright?” She asked.

It was only after a closer inspection did Courage realize she was not, in fact, alright. Her furs were tattered, blackened and bloody as she clutched a bundle tight to her chest with one arm. The other hung limply at her side. The woman blinked up at her with one good silver eye, amidst a pale face covered by a sea of fresh blood that flowed from her head. Where once there had been silver or perhaps white hair, it was stained in a pale reflection of their own. The other side of her face was blackened and non functioning, covered as well in grisly crimson. Another monstrous roar echoed, growing closer and the woman lurched to her knees and held out the bundle, which moved, to Courage with desperation in her eye and movement. “P-P-Ple-ase…” her broken voice begged.

“You’ll be safe now, we’re here to help you.” The champion replied, tenderly taking the bundle with one hand while she attempted to help the woman stand with her other to little avail. She looked back through the curtain of branches and bushes she had passed through and yelled. “Curiosity, get over here!”

She could sense her sister approaching, and shook her head with annoyance before looking at the woman again. “Alright, I’m not great with this spell, so I’m just going to wait till either Wanderer shows up, or Curiosity comes and helps us out, ya. You’re going to be safe, just let us handle this.” She tried to place the woman between the large roots of a tree, but she grabbed Courage’s forearm and looked into her eyes. There was a smile on her lips as tears flowed, “R-R-Rowan.” she looked at the bundle before her eye fluttered shut and she went limp, falling over.

“Alright, you rest here.” Courage mumbled to herself, as she placed the woman among the large roots of a nearby tree, before she glanced in the direction the roar had come from, her gaze filled with barely contained anger. “Now I’m getting mad. Well, why don’t you show yourself!”

As the snapping of branches and the sound of crashing trees came ever closer, the only immediate sound was crying. Small at first but growing louder. The bundle in her hands shaking.

Emerging from the foliage behind, Curiosity leapt and dashed towards her sister and moved to stand by her side. “What happened?” She asked, taking in the scene with wide eyes, and noticing the absence of Wanderer, and turning to the source of the violent sounds approaching. “What’s that noise!?!”

Courage shook her head again. “The cause for our troubles, ya. Here take this to Kindness and Fear, then come back. I’m going to teach our friend some manners.” Curiosity accepted the bundle gently given to her, and nodded. The Gnostic runes that covered her body spread to that which she carried, and without another word, she leapt through the trees and into the sky above.

It was a smell that hit her first. Of rotting flesh, carried by a foul wind. Another tree fell and before her there came a creature of nightmares. It stood before her as a wolf, at least that might have been what it looked like once. Now it’s black fur was ripped to bone, rotting flesh and air. Ribs protruded from its sides and it stood far taller than she. It’s maw was skeletal, as well as half of its face, but the creature looked upon her with green hatred in its eyes. It opened its mouth, black saliva drooping as a low growl emanated from its chest. It began to pace, seizing her up.

“Listen here, Ugly. Your obnoxious everything is making me real mad. If you want to stay here and dance, that’s fine by me. If I were you, I’d run away as fast as you can!” Courage shouted, stepping forth and punching the palm of her golden gauntlet. She stood alone against the large monstrosity, challenging its terrible visage with her much smaller and defiant presence. “So, what will it be?”

It answered, ripping through the little space that separated the two of them with great speed, leaving a trail of filth and destruction in its wake. The corpse-monster leapt with corrupted claws, seeking to pounce the charging Courage, who jumped high into the air, before falling upon the vile creature that had attempted to tear her apart. She stood atop it, looking down upon the horror with disdain in her burning eyes.

With terrible agility, it adjusted itself and reared up until the brash champion was forced to step off and retreat back, as it lashed out at her with furious fangs and claws. The forest floor was ripped asunder where she had just been, and both dirt and roots flew in all directions while the macabre monster harried its prey, but Courage continued to elude it with her incredible nimbleness and dexterity - more swift than any animal it had hunted before.

She alighted upon a high branch, and stared at the demonic beast that climbed up after her. She was aware that a stumble or fall here would be disastrous for her, so she persisted in her flight through the wintry canopy as the monster behind her continued to give chase. While her passage was deft and careful, the monster marked its way with devastation, and Courage could feel her anger swell with each snap and thud of fallen flora littering the ground underneath them. The monster would pursue from below and then attempt to leap up at her with its ferocious maw, breaking branch after branch.

“Hey Ugly!!!” Courage bellowed, before she descended to the ground as well and chose to no longer flee. With keen haste, she prepared herself; ice gathered around her feet as her skin became white with frost, and so she let the monster pounce upon her. Despite the great difference in their size, Courage was not thrown from her feet and remained standing while foul fangs bit into her golden gauntlet. Its claws raked at her, but her free hand successfully pushed one away, while the second was not enough to unbalance her. However, even the ice along her skin did not protect from its ferocity, and four great slashes were inflicted upon the side of her torso.

Courage retaliated by breaking the bones and rotten flesh of the creature’s other claw, rendering the forelimb useless, before granting herself a reprieve by using both arms to guard herself against its repeated attacks now. The continual growling and spittle in her face was enough to provoke her again, and she countered with a quick thrust to the monster’s head that tossed the large body of the baleful beast back.

Courage peered at the great gashes along her body, as blood poured freely forth from the four lacerations and she could see the rippling light of her inner fire attempting to escape through the openings. She slowly breathed, frost swirling in front of her as more ice was collected and quickly covered the wounds, but she found her movement much more limited - lest she crack that which prevented the sacred water of life from cascading out of her. “Oh, come on…” She muttered, seeing the monstrosity rise despite its head having been shattered from her punch. She couldn’t comprehend how it ignored such grievous injury, but it did… and it prepared to charge her once more.

“Come on!!!” Courage exclaimed, before she summoned forth even greater strength with reckless abandon. The blood-stained ice all around her turned to blinding steam, as her small visage became fierce and fiery, and those that saw things with the gift of second sight would be witness to the great spiritual aura that she exuded. Just as the monster loomed over her, about to renew its vengeful assault, Courage countered with her own attack.

Saint’s Sacred Sixfold-Smash!

The Golden gauntlet struck upward in a blur, followed by five more fast punches that hit the monstrosity before the weight of the first blow was even felt. The entire body of the nightmare beast shattered into broken bones and violent viscera in a shower of gore that was thrown backwards. Death’s putrid presence filled the forest, and Courage stood alone facing the sight of such carnage, such a grotesque scene that would haunt her long after she left it.

It was not over…

From the obliterated remains of the monster’s corpse, an evil flame emerged - the true shape of the wehniek. The oily green fire was weak, but it persevered and fled into the foliage with mocking laughter. Courage stepped forward to give chase, before she stumbled. The wounds reopened, and much of her blood spilling forth into a crimson pool at her feet. The flames within her were beginning to consume more than just air and water… soon it would be her flesh.

Though her agility would be limited, the brash champion refused to let the demon escape. She created more ice to seal the lacerations again, and languidly marched after the abomination. Though she had lost sight of it, there was no concealing the scent of its presence now, and she followed the trail of its stench that it left behind. She found herself where she had left the woman, and couldn’t discern which way the evil spirit had retreated to.

She was too focused to see Curiosity descend from above and alight beside her with a concerned look. “Courage, what happened? You’re hurt!” The inquisitive champion placed a hand on her sister’s side, touching the scarlet ice that was both hot and cold. She recoiled upon contact, frightened by what she had felt.

Courage turned to face her sister, overwhelmed with an intense anger, and she shouted. “It’s still here! The monster! We can’t let it get away!”

There came a sickening crack of bone. Their attention turned to where the woman had fallen, to where she now spasmed on the snowy ground. This gave the two champions pause for it was then that Courage realized a terrible truth; The monster had not gone anywhere.

The woman, with unnatural speed, pushed herself upright. Two eyes of green peered at them, lips curling into a smile as her body convulsed, spasmed and twisted. Her limbs elongated, hands growing into claws, running red with blood. Her furs ripped apart as fel energy seeped through cavities in her torn skin, now too tight to keep things in. Her smile became full of sharpened teeth and only hunger. Then the monster screamed and the fight began anew as it charged with uncanny speed towards Courage.

The air rippled, before a shimmering shield surrounded the wounded champion, as Curiosity activated the power of her artifact. Strands of light wove together, layered with walls of ice, as the barrier interposed itself between the monster and the duo. Both Courage and Curiosity peered through the shield at the enemy with uncertainty in their eyes - they were hesitant to fight the desecrated corpse of their fallen sister, but they could not see an alternative.

Courage sighed, and both sisters knew what had to be done. Through their connection, a strategy was swiftly understood, and so they prepared to enact it. With another release of spiritual power, Courage began burning bright and the ice around melted in her presence. Curiosity dismissed the shield as she leapt back, the barrier shattering instantly, and her sister surged forward to clash with the monster once more.

Courage could curse the difference in their sizes again, her shorter height proving to be a disadvantage as she focused solely on defending herself from corrupted claws and the teeth of the monstrosity. Fortunately, whenever she failed to guard herself from the onslaught, a small shield would manifest and protect her from further injury. During the prolonged fight, she could feel her strength wane while her foe showed no signs of fatigue, and it pressed the attack even after sustaining injuries that should’ve weakened it.

She realized the mistake she had made, the fatal flaw in the design of her own body. She lacked a means of properly channeling her inner fire when she was wounded, and her own power was undermining her as it eroded the other elements that her body was composed of. “Curiosity, you’ve gotta fight!” She called out, sending both her anger and audacity to her sister through their bond.

“I can’t!”

The delivered emotions were not enough to combat the quandary of Curiosity, as she stayed at the edge of the conflict, only acting to shield her sister from harm. Her hands were trembling; she didn’t want to hurt another creature, not even the demon she faced now, but she could feel the power of Courage falter and exhaust itself, and there were no other options. “Please… stop!” She cried out, hoping that the monster would hear her and cease its destruction, hoping that the blood that seeped out of her sister would halt.

Her words were futile, and nothing changed. Courage staggered back, dodging another attack that whooshed through where she was. The sacred fire that surrounded her had grown dim, only tongues of flame slithering from the four gashes, and embers flickering everywhere else. She had burned herself from within and could no longer stand. “Oh…” She mumbled, stumbling backwards and falling to the ground.

Their tactics resulting in failure, Curiosity dashed back and fell to her knees beside her unconscious sister, hastily summoning the barrier with her shield before the monster could pounce upon them. “Courage, please get up.” She whimpered, feeling tears trail down her cheeks.

The crying champion did not know what to do, only capable of sustaining the shield for so long. She was afraid that if she attempted to flee while carrying her sister, could the monster catch them? Her despair was echoed with the howling of the hungry demon, as it continued to batter the barrier, clawing its way closer and closer to its prey. Its menacing snarls and vicious assault came to a halt, with a sudden burst of light that both blinded it, and entangled it with strands of light.

Emerging from the trees, Wanderer circled the restrained monster, and stepped towards her sisters. In her hands, she carried a glittering gold and silver bow instead of her staff, and she gestured for Curiosity to rise and follow her. There was a hint of hesitation, as Curiosity peeked at the temporarily restrained monster, but the determined look in her sister’s eyes gave her the will to stand and lift Courage. They had time to retreat now, Curiosity prayed, and felt hope as the shield dispersed so that they could leave.

Then another roar, with deeper reverberations, sounded before them. The first demon shrieked with anger, breaking free of its confinement just as another pounced into the clearing. This creature looked like a giant cat, almost skeletal with lingering bits of fur upon its back and haunches. Great sabers of teeth came from its drooling mouth as it looked to them and to the other demon with furious green eyes. It hissed at the female demon and she growled back at it. Then, both looked to the champions and the fight renewed itself. The female went for Courage and Curiosity while the cat ran towards Wanderer.

There was no fleeing from this fight, as Wanderer dashed towards the grotesque feline, matching its feral agility with her own incredible swiftness, but the weapon she wielded was restricted in its usage, requiring a brief period of time to ready itself. Wanderer had no choice but to dedicate herself completely to defense and avoidance… She knew that these creatures were drawn to death, and she had seen the necrotic beacon that was not too far through her spell. She knew that it was likely more of these monsters would arrive.

Curiosity was not a warrior, and she was not brave. Against such an evil, she did not know how to stand and face it, only that she must protect her sisters. She called forth her shield of faith once more, praying the Divine would save her sisters and herself from despair. Her prayers were answered by a flying boat crashing into the monster as it approached. Skydancer was not intended to nosedive into the earth, but Kindness was not a capable pilot, and in a moment of panic, she steered the airborne vessel directly into the ground where the monster stood.

Enchanted wood and ice crushed the creature, the prow of Skydancer like a hammer as it struck its accidental target and buried itself deep in the earth. Kindness was clinging to the seat and rudder of the boat; the reticent champion stared at her two sisters with her usual emotionless expression. “I suggest we leave this area with haste.” She said quietly, before she began attempting to excavate Skydancer with great difficulty.

“Where’s Fear?” Curiosity asked, as she set Courage gently in the boat, and then started helping Kindness. Quickly, they shoved aside both viscera and snow, and Kindness answered while they worked. “Currently holding the child. She is waiting for us above. I will assist our sister now.”

With those words, Kindness turned to study the skirmish between Wanderer and the demonic cat - She immediately came to the conclusion that stepping in would be detrimental to her wellbeing, and would likely hinder her sister as well. The Blade of Mourning she held was the only weapon she held, but she was not as strong or fast as the rest of her sisters. She thought it was strange that she would be given such a thing, but Chailiss must have had his reasons.

Suddenly, her mind was granted a vision of Wanderer raising her bow and gathering otherworldly power before releasing a bolt of light that would restrain the monster. The reticent champion understood what her sister wanted her to do, and leapt into the fray. Through their connection, the two members of the Holy Quintet were just able to switch places with each other; Kindness now fending the monster away with her dagger, while Wanderer kept her distance. With every parry and riposte, her opponent grew more wary of her, and after a couple more cuts the baleful beast withdrew.

Kindness kept back, uncertain whether the creature was attempting a feign, while Wanderer drew back the shimmering string of her bow, and called forth otherworldly power. Before either champion could react, the evil spirit had abandoned its host, tossing it at Kindness and then fleeing into the forest. There was only the taste of death and foul rot in the air, and both Kindness and Wanderer moved to Skydancer while keeping an eye out for any ambush that may come.

Once all of her sisters were aboard the boat, Curiosity steered them upwards - through the bloody and broken canopy, and away from the carnage. They flew higher and higher until they were rejoined by Fear, who carried the bundle that the pale woman had given them before her death. The anxious champion entered the comfortable aura of Skydancer, and seated herself beside the still unconscious Courage. Silence weighed heavily upon the Holy Quintet, as none knew what to say to each other, and the knowledge of what had happened was shared between all of them through their connection.

“What do we do?” Curiosity finally asked, looking to Kindness and Fear for guidance. The latter looked away, before glancing down at the swaddled child she held.

“There’s people nearby, and they’re in danger. We need to help them now.” Fear answered, as Wanderer held out her hand and grasped at her staff which manifested beside her. The silent champion gave her winged sister a forlorn nod having seen something truly terrible - red eyes that conveyed demise - and without further words, Kindness began steering Skydancer in the direction she was given by them.

There was little time, and so they flew swiftly.

Voligan Week

“Show me the world…”

Through the Incantation of Seeing, while wielding Tuku’s Staff, Pride could peer through the Otherworld and across the Tapestry, letting her gaze upon the Galbar and its great history. The spell required an intense level of concentration, and so she dedicated the entirety of her mind to this task as she stood alone in the vast hall of the keep within Keltra. Still like a stone statue, and covered in the shifting symbols of the Gnosis, a mere mortal could not see the expenditure of spiritual power that granted her such an otherworldly vision.

Pride attempted to acquire a glimpse of the world from the perspective of the heavens, from beyond the sky and clouds to where the stars and moon dwelt, but the artifact she possessed was attuned to the land itself - and would not stray far from the Galbar, even in an ethereal state. She could not view the Galbar from above, it seemed. Though she lacked astral sight, she was granted another otherworldly sense; an ability to feel the shape of the land and its reverberations. She could hear the song of the earth with greater clarity, and listened intently as it told her the many tales it had to share:

The small champion had never spoken directly with Voligan himself, but she had heard stories from her sisters regarding his powerful presence and words when he appeared before them, and had received one hundred thousand of their kin as a gift from Mother after forging an alliance with the promise of protecting mortals. Despite the lack of interactions between them, Pride felt as though she had attained, perhaps, a glimmer of an understanding of what her other Uncle was truly like.

The lands told her of his traits, his immense strength and resilience - how he had imbued such into the Galbar to be the foundation of life. His will and hands had shaped and sculpted the earth akin to how those among the Divine had shaped and sculpted her sleeping kin, granting defining features as well as providing potential for growth: for without soil, one cannot plant the seed that will sprout. Without ground, one cannot stand on their own… She was surprised upon hearing the song describe the assistance of other deities, unfamiliar to her, but it brought her a modicum of joy to hear that the Divine had come together to create beauty once upon a time. She would recall this tale, and share it with her sisters, for it brought her hope which was in short supply during these troubling times.

Her mind had briefly wandered for only an ephemeral moment, and now she found herself lost in the baritone melody of mountains and deep caverns. Through stumbling in the Otherworld, she had found those that Voligan had claimed, and watched as they prospered in their new home. They were short compared to their original shape, but surprisingly strong, and they demonstrated a great understanding of mining and masonry. She felt them carve simplistic and abstract patterns in the walls of a cavern as though they inscribed their work upon her own skin, and she recognized artistic renditions of the history of the Galbar. Pride looked forward to the day she would share stories with the wise folk in the mountains who called themselves the Tribe of Aleth, led by one who molded earth with true grace - known as the Shaper.

With a crescendo in the earth song, she finally reached the top of the massive mountain she was within, its peaks piercing the sky like an immense spear that reminded Pride of Daybringer and its light that illuminated the land. She felt massive, as though she and the mountain were one, and that feeling offered exultation and far from danger. It was as though she stood atop a second Keltra, safe from the turmoil and hardships of cruel and capricious deities. Though her Mother often irked her, she was grateful that there were more gods like her, that sought to protect and nurture life.

The mountains nearby sang, but their voices were filled with sorrow and remorse, and Pride could not ascertain why… she simply let their grief wash over her and wondered whether it was physically possible to cry without a body. She could shed no tears in this state, nor did she feel her own face in the waking world, but her vision became blurry, and the world around her seemed to tremble until the song continued onward. She could only watch as tall guardians set forth to defend life as she attempted to wave farewell while being carried by the chthonic currents of the earth song.

It brought her elsewhere - to where the land was divided into much smaller shards and danced across the sea. The ethereal pain Pride felt was replaced with relief, as the voices of the deep told the tale of a goddess and her flight across the great water upon stone steps with the aid of Voligan. She felt the weight of islands that sank below the waves, only to rise and sink again in an endless cycle, while other islands were much more fluid, sailing the sea instead of standing against it. It was a strange and wondrous feeling, and the small champion found herself wishing to dance when she would eventually return from her meditation.

The vast sea could not suppress the words that came from afar, and Pride followed these voices to another landmass surrounded by a sheer cliff perforated with massive openings - marble cavities from which the voices had emerged from. The small champion felt compelled to see what awaited her through these tunnels, and allowed her mind to mingle with the reverberations deeper and further into the unknown. The tunnels she traversed had been built by Voligan, and she could feel the lingering presence of both his touch and voice. The song of the earth led her on, until she passed through one last marble tube and emerged in a great and barren plain encircled by a multitude of identically shaped mountains. This land had been given a purpose, and it resonated with the trace of divinity within her. The mountains here had called to her, but she did not know their reasons.

Pride wondered why the mountains would appear so similar and were arranged in such a manner, until it suddenly occurred to her. She was reminded of her sisters, and she realized that the gods and goddesses were all siblings after all… so perhaps Voligan had done what they had done whenever they had a discussion; creating a circle so that all were presented equally in the conversation, all could clearly see the center, and all could clear see each other. Twenty-three mountains, so were there twenty-three gods and goddesses upon the Galbar? Pride quickly accounted for those that she had learned about through the knowledge Mother shared with her, and observed that there were still seven mountains that would represent an unknown deity. Mother was not included in the circle of her sisters, so Pride doubted that the King of Heaven would be represented by a mountain here.

Once more, her mind wandered, and she found herself entangled in the weaving of the Tapestry. Thoughts of the King in Heaven, combined with the song of the earth, directed her towards a thread intricately tied to both. Pride could sense heat and an abundance of mana above her as the song of the earth became metallic and thunderous. Thousands upon thousands of hammering strikes and constant grinding - it was overwhelming, and yet it was not yet complete. She could finally comprehend what she senses now, and watched as an incredibly intricate dance and song continued to take place. A massive horde of mechanical beings operating forges and factories where more metal was shaped and given purpose. However, no sight compared to the colossal forge that most certainly belonged to Voligan himself.

Uncle has been busy, it seems, Pride mused to herself while she watched the metallic beings move with such efficient expertise, never stopping to rest, and always certain in their task. She had easily identified the various shapes of their great project, and it concerned her, but there was nothing she could do except observe. Perhaps she will get the opportunity to speak with her Uncle someday soon. Though time was a fickle thing, she did not want to stay in this place for too long, so she focused her attention elsewhere. As she spread her senses across the Galbar once more, barely able to comprehend the sheer scale of the earth, and she came to one more conclusion: It was evident that Voligan was worthy of his title, The Great Bearer of Lands.

She would fondly recall the deep song of the earth, and would eagerly await the time she may hear it again, to listen to what new tales it would tell her. For now, there still many other things to see, and she must be swift for a cloud of unease hangs over the land, and Pride could sense the coming of calamity. She hoped her sisters were safe... She prayed that her Uncle would protect them.

Pride is short… Tempered

Apostate had been missing for nearly the entire day, leaving Pride alone with Lorelei — at least up until the small girl waddled off to bed, a sleepy look in her eyes. With the young one cloistered behind her bead curtain, Pride was left truly alone, only the crackle of the eternal flame to keep her company. Apostate would be back soon, she knew that much. Aside from Homura herself, he was the most commonly seen deity here in Keltra.

Without much else to do, Pride preoccupied herself with patrolling the vast hall, primarily pacing back and forth from wall to wall in what would definitely be deemed an unnecessary act considering she currently held the Staff the Master of the Hunt had entrusted to her, and she could easily sense every happening within the immense keep through her empowered perception. However, there was not much to see.

The humans gifted to her from Aethel remained dormant, along with the remaining twenty thousand, eight hundred and seventy-four that had yet to be claimed, and all slept peacefully as they awaited the touch of the divine. Their pale featureless bodies intricately arranged within the interior of the keep, kept close to the Eternal Fire that sustained them while they slept. Pride remained uncertain of the situation outside the wall, her mother having refused to explain the situation with the purple goddess that had visited prior.

What few furnishings decorated the keep were mostly gathered into a single small area where Pride now found herself seated and playing with her Silk Song, the artifact wrapped around her neck. The shimmering scarf pulsed as she poked it, swaying and flowing upright like a prehensile tail in defiance of the weight of the world, and she noted how it almost seemed to have a personality in the way it moved and reacted to her touch.

Relaxed in the soft cushioning of her white owl plushie, with the staff and dagger of Tuku, the orb of Hevel, and the egg, all placed upon the lone table surrounded by the empty seats that belonged to her sisters, Pride was left truly alone. The nearby Eternal Fire kept her wakeful and warm, and she kept its flames bright and burning through her connection to it. Aside from the gift of humanity itself, Pride was aware that her mother would claim her only great creation was the Eternal Fire and its sacred purpose.

So she waited, wondering which type of music would properly convey the atmosphere of Keltra at the moment. With closed eyes, she contemplated and conjured an otherworldly melody that filled her mind with visions for the future. Visions of how she would change the fortress into something so much more fun and beautiful. Hugs, cuddles, running, jumping, climbing, seeing, and so much more - Lorelei had a simple way of viewing things, but that did not detract how true her words were.

Pride offhandedly set a foreboding theme to play when Apostate inevitably returned, letting him know exactly what she thought of the alterations to the orb he kept here and his often brutish choice of words, then pondered whether he would even care. Such was the nature of the Divine after all, and there was little she could do to change that. Perhaps he would find it amusing. Perhaps he might smite her with divine retribution.

The small champion chuckled to herself, letting the theater of her mind indulge her with the childish fantasy that her choices would not be choices that determine whether thousands upon thousands, even more than that, lived or died, and she could simply pretend that she belonged among the innocent, the happily unaware, the foolish. That her thoughts would match her childlike body, and she would think solely about the pure joys and sorrows of the world, as opposed to the diluted and much more messy truth of those that shaped reality.

Oh, dealing with mother was such a pain, she mused with another dulcet giggle before she mirthfully shook her head once and let out a content sigh. Was there really no such thing as rest for the wicked? Pride could feel the strength of her Spirit recuperating, granting her access to the Gnosis, which would alleviate some of her stress, she supposed.

There was a hint of regret that nudged the back of her mind, chastising her for the excessive use of her Spirit for frivolous things like song and dance, but she chose to ignore it. She hoped her mother would be able to see how such things ushered inspiration, which would kindle the spirits of those that called upon the Gnosis, and allow them to step farther along the Sacred Path. Provided with a sudden epiphany, Pride realized what was the Gnostic term she had sought as an explanation for her actions… She had performed the first Ritual.

Her mother did not deign to offer more than a mere glimpse at the meaning of this word, which frustrated the small champion, but at least she was given something to satisfy the lack of a definition for her previous spellcasting. Perhaps mother would explain further in the future, with more lessons regarding the nature of the Gnosis. Until then, Pride would have to wait and contemplate what she had in the here and now. It seemed the prologue was reaching its closure, and the next step of this story was about to begin…

“Pride!” Apostate’s voice boomed from outside. “Come here!”

She began intoning the Incantation of Making, conjuring a lamp like the one she had seen in Lorelei’s room. With a source of light to fend off the darkness of the night, Pride was ready to answer the calling of a god. Her little steps languidly brought her outside the keep, and she stood at the doorway, peering at the source of her summoning.

“Pride!” Apostate boomed again. The god stood in the center of a small formation of strangers, five on each side. They were tall, much taller than Pride, and stood straight. Plain woolen trousers and shirts wrapped their bodies, leather boots covered their feet and bandages concealed their hands. With blackmetal masks covering their faces, no part of their skin was visible. Only the small tinkling of hidden eyes betrayed that they were living. On their hips, blades made out of that same blackmetal hung.

“I see you’ve brought company. Why?” Pride asked, placing her lantern on the ground and crossing her arms with annoyance. Outside of the keep, the Silk Song had become much smaller, the tail of the scarf barely reaching Pride’s feet, while the rest remained wrapped around her neck.

“They’re here to help you,” Apostate answered and the group took collective steps closer to the keep. “There are valuable resources in this keep, they are here to make sure it stays out of the incorrect hands.”

“Aye, miss,” one of the masked soldiers said. “No enemy will put a finger on the inventory with us around.”

“I don’t recall asking for such help, Uncle. Surely you’re teasing me. You don’t really mean it when you say these thugs will be staying here?” Her head tilted to the side as she began to pout. She crossed her arms again, emphasizing her displeasure.

“Thugs?” One of them asked.

“Well that was awfully mean,” another teased.

“You alone can’t stop an army,” Apostate answered. “This is just the first detachment in preparation for a full garrison. Can we come inside?” He motioned to the threshold Pride was currently standing in.

“As you’ve said; I can’t stop an army, especially one headed by a god, so feel free to come in. However, bring harm to any of those within this fortress, and Mother will come.” The small champion answered, as she picked up her lantern, and stepped back inside her home.

Apostate behind her, the first soldier calling out again in tow. “Don’t you worry, Miss. That’s what we are here to prevent.”

Once inside, the assortment stood in line once again — the one on the far left adding. “This place sure is big.” Another wandered off towards the sleeping humans, pinching the bottom of their mask as they studied them.

“These are the humans, huh?”

“Indeed…” Pride replied, reaching her area of comfort, and proceeded to seat herself upon her white owl plushie. She dismissed the lantern she created, letting the spirit flow back into her before she scowled at Apostate. “So, are you going to explain yourself properly?”

“Grumpy face.” Apostate teased before ripping Warbreaker from it’s resting spot on his back. He spun it around and planted it on the floor before leaning against it. He sucked in a breath but then covered his exhale with a hand. Peeking about he watched the Recusants he brought with him. They were already scattered.

One plopped down next to Pride, onto their own plushie. No facial expression accompanied the action, a blank metal mask staring at the champion. Silence lingered for a second before Apostate spoke again. “These are Recusant soldiers, it’s their current duty to protect the sleeping human’s of Keltra.”

“Uncle, you must understand how their very name brings me doubt about all of this. Do you think Mother is going to accept this? I want Keltra to be safe from the squabbles of the Divine, not a set-piece that provokes them.” Pride replied, before glaring at the soldier near her.

“That does not belong to you, get off.” Pointing at pillows and cushions, before directing her finger to the soldier. “Now.”

“Ever hear of sharing?” The soldier bit back, unmoving.

“Pride.” Apostate pinched the bridge of his nose. “This isn’t the time to be acting like a child. Whether you like it or not — whether Homura likes it or not — this fortress holds the last of the untouched humans. Until that resource is used, this already is a ‘set-piece.’ I’ll remove them when that time comes, but until then, there are dangerous gods who likely already have set their sights on this place. Do you understand or should I remind you that the unintentional loss of humans to other gods is not a novel nor unprecedented event.”

“Uncle, your thugs lack manners. If you wish to defend Keltra, surely you could employ a more polite company.” Pride replied, glaring at the soldier.

“You aren’t being much better than a thug yourself right now,” Apostate answered. “You’ll get what you sow.”

“Please, Miss,” the first soldier — now studying a bead that had dislodged from the faraway curtain some time ago — spoke again. “We are here to help. Core-Naulty!”

The soldier sitting next to Pride perked up and the first soldier spoke again. “Why not give the lady some time to absorb all this, yeah?”

Naulty tipped his head and stood up from the plushie, mumbling under his breath. “I just wanted to sit.”

“You’ve brought weapons in my home. Mortal weapons. Are you telling me that if a malicious deity visited, that there’s anything these soldiers can do to protect us?” Pride inquired, turning her attention to Apostate, still frowning with her arms crossed for a third time.

“In time, yes,” Apostate answered with a defiant frown of his own. “As of right now, no. However, in the case of a god-attack, I can be called. They’ll pave the way for the rest of the garrison and in time, it would need to be an evil god to get anywhere close to the sleeping denizens of Keltra. Armies are forming and I won’t be able to be everywhere at once.”

“He’s right, Miss.” The first spoke again. “I’ll sooner die before I let the enemy touch anyone here.”

“Uncle, explain to me why I really detest this idea. If this is the way to protect my kin, why’s it so revolting? Why do I believe this is all a mistake?” Pride asked, looking bemused with numerous lost glances all around her and hesitation in her voice.

You tell me, Pride,” Apostate snorted. “I’m smarter than to try and understand whatever you or your mother’s reasoning ever is.”

“Fortunately Mother isn't here. I’d just rather you didn’t bring those that seek war to my home. Keltra is a shelter for those seeking peace. Weapons and death have no place here. It just isn’t right to bring such things here.” Pride mumbled, shaking her head with frustration.

“Think of it less like war and death, and rather new friends.” Apostate pinched his chin. “They are only here to keep the sleeping humans safe from people who wish them harm.”

“Maybe you’d be more comfortable if we were to stay outside?” A woman’s voice came from behind one of the masks. Naulty scoffed at the suggestion.

Pride let out a sigh, and faced the soldiers. “Why do you wish to protect this place? What significance does it hold to you?” She asked.

“The sleeping humans, Miss.” The first stepped in front of the others. “It’s our duty and desire to keep them out of the hands of the enemy. Once they wake up and go about their business, we can leave, no harm done.”

“I fail to see how such concerns you all. Why do you desire to keep them out of the hands of the enemy? Because it benefits you? Because it handicaps your opponent?” Pride addressed the soldier in the front, rising to her feet and standing now.

“Right,” the first hissed, his tone changing. Taking steps, he stood next to Pride, dark brown eyes peeking out from his mask. His voice echoed off the back of the metal. “I was debriefed on you before arriving here, Pride. If you want the straight answer, fine. You god created the humans erroneously, and now they all suffer on the Galbar. Some learned how to fight back and prepare for what’s to come, others haven’t. The sleeping ones here are innocent, they don’t know any of this yet. Either they stay asleep and in peace, or they wake up — and chances are they are going to wake up to this hell — and when they do, it is the Recusant’s desire they wake up free, and not at the whim of a genocidal maniac. Oh, it handicaps the enemy and benefits us — but who are you? The enemy? The ally? I was told ally. It benefits the humans first, and maybe your ego last.”

Pride merely glared back. “You speak of ego… I hope you understand that your presence is completely unnecessary here. I don’t pretend like I can change the whims of the Divine, and you’re foolish to think otherwise. If you wish to remain here, you’d better pray your name is nonsensical because there are rules. Do you understand?”

“Actually, no.” A genuine confusion was in the man’s voice, cutting his frustration. “My name is what?”

“The Recusant. You speak of duty, yet your title suggests such holds questionable value. My Uncle is dear to me, but I know of his power and its effects. There is a code of conduct you will be expected to follow for the duration of your stay here. Failure to comply, and you may find yourselves recused.” Pride answered.

“We are Recusant to the same thing Hevel is Apostate to.” The first stood up straight. “What are your demands?”

“First; you will not kill. Second; you will not touch those that sleep. And lastly, do not incur the wrath of the Divine if you can avoid it. The fact that you idiots think that it will take longer than a blink of an eye for a deity to destroy all of us is annoying, and I’d rather not have to deal with that. That is all.” Pride stated, looking at all of the soldiers gathered nearby.

“We are unable to touch the sleeping safely, regardless,” the first tapped his mask. “They are vulnerable to divine influence. So you don’t have to worry about that.”

“You’d be surprised how often simple things become truly clustered and messy. Just try your best, okay? Everything about this seems troublesome. And don’t bother my sisters either. You’ll wish my Mother was able to kill you then.” Pride huffed, and then returned to her seat. She stared at Apostate with a neutral expression, awaiting any words from him.

“So did you sit on a porcupine or did you wake up this bitchy today, Pride?” Apostate grinned.

“Do you normally invade the homes of little girls with armed soldiers, and I’m just not familiar with this tradition?” Pride asked.

“Should have seen how I met Lorelei.” Apostate stood up straight and shrugged before putting Warbreaker away. “I did try telling you about the war a few days ago, but you were in a dance.”

“I had hoped you would bring your war elsewhere… anywhere, but here. Your actions may have killed us all, Uncle.” The small champion remarked, with another sigh.

"Is there nothing I can say to you or your kind without you blaming me?" Apostate furrowed his brow. "The war was already here. I didn't conjure it up, no would we be here if there was no threat, but sure, blame the Apostate."

“If you could squeeze in blaming Mother as well; all of you divine fools are at fault here.” Pride added lifting a pillow and clutching it close to her chest. “You’ve said it before. Life was created prematurely.”

"I'm not sure if you know this, but I've never created life… Well other than sky lilies. But that was for someone."

"I like them." A soldier idled by the fire.

“Perhaps you were more intelligent than the rest of your kin then. What will you do now? Your changes to my kin have not prepared them for this war. They will die, and will that mean anything to the rest of the pantheon? I’m possibly wrong, but I doubt Mother wanted to arm us against the Divine. Do you think otherwise?” Her words were briefly muffled by the pillow she brought to her head to obscure herself, but her question at the end was clear, the small champion revealing her face upon asking it.

"Your mom made us," one of the soldiers said. "Then she put you alone here. I don't think she's running any plans."

Apostate simply shrugged. "I asked you what you wanted when we first met, don't you think I asked these people the same thing?"

“My answer remains the same. You and your kin are still the greatest threats to humanity. However, I can’t make you leave, and we both know that. These soldiers you’ve brought - they aren’t sustained by the Eternal Fire. They’re different, but they’re still mortal. Not very good tools of war, you know.” Pride remarked, tossing her pillow at Apostate.

Apostate caught the pillow and scowled. "Again you're blaming me. I didn't make these people, nor did I make them tools of war. I know more than you that the divine are the biggest threat to mortality."

Pride looked back at the soldiers, then returned her gaze to Apostate. “Then why did you bring them here? I assumed they were your’s, but if you took them from another god, like you did Lorelei, you’re asking for more trouble. They think they’re protecting Keltra?” The small champion became bemused again, trying to ascertain what piece of information she was missing here.

"We don't belong to anyone." Core-Naulty said.

"Naulty's right," a woman's voice added.

The first nodded along. "We are of our own design."

Pride glowered in response. “How irksome... I digress, they may remain here as long as they adhere to the three rules I’ve explained.”

"Don't be prissy just because you're under the thumb of a god and we aren't," one of the soldiers said in response.

"How many more are you bringing, and when should I expect them to arrive, Uncle?" The small champion continued her conversation with the God of Defiance, ignoring the comments of the soldiers.

“That depends on a lot of things,” Apostate answered. “I’ll update you as the leadership makes decisions, though I do have a personal quest for you in the meantime.”

Pride tilted her head, intrigued by his words. “Hmm… know that any other outsiders you bring will also have to follow these rules. You understand that I cannot leave Keltra, so if this quest requires me to do so, I’ll have to decline. Otherwise, I’ll see if it’s within my power to accomplish. Tell me about this quest, please.”

"Socialize." The god crossed his arms. "I think it'll go a long way for you if you attempt to try and make at least one friend. You're an ambassador, after all. You never even asked anybody their name or said hello."

"It did hurt my feelings." A soldier whined.

“I’ll remedy my mistakes later. You may not realize this, but your presence incites terror. I love you, Uncle, but you aren't human. I’m not an ambassador. I’m a toy. If I don’t do what I’m supposed to, you’ll break me. That’s the truth every human faces in your presence.” Pride said, before she shrugged, then turned to the soldiers once more and bowed respectfully.

“My name is Pride. I’m the Keeper of Keltra. A pleasure to meet you all.” She greeted them, offering an innocent smile.

"I'm Cosi-Dern," the First replied.










The soldiers circled Pride as they sounded off. Cosi-Dern held out his hand. "Debates aside, we look forward to serving here."

She hesitated at first, then found herself accepting his hand in what she hoped was a gesture of peace. "I confess, your naming convention confuses me, but that's something we can figure out later. If there's anything you need, please let me know."

Dern shook Pride's hand. "Likewise, Miss. We have to work together after all."

Gentle music suddenly filled the hall, a soft and serene melody that came from everywhere and nowhere. Then the Silk Song grew - its length easily longer than the small champion’s height by a hundredfold, and Pride began levitating in the air, her head almost reaching the same height as everyone else now. Perhaps the pleasant tune was a sign of good faith…


...Daughter of Hevel…

Setting: Keltra

Keltra was big and empty. So much so in fact, that it kinda made Lorelei miss the cramped and lively interior of the many places she’d called home in her previous life back in Astalon. In order to escape from the ever present feeling of emptiness and stagnation that permeated all of Keltra, she resorted to climbing. She’d now climbed as far up as fifty strides and was laying down on another ledge along the immense walls. This ledge was smaller than the ones below but it was still big enough for her to sit on and lean back against the wall.

The view… Had gotten dull. She sighed.

“I wonder..” She muttered as she lazily scanned the massive cube that she’d called her home for the last couple months.

“What do you wonder?” Apostate’s voice came from the god. He was standing tall on the ledge, right next to the small girl, arms crossed and eyes looking forward. Warbreaker was strapped to his back, pressed against the wall as he stood.

“Hevel!” Lorelei perked up and hugged Apostate’s calf as tightly as she could. “You’re back! How were things?”

The god placed a hand on top of Lorelei’s head and smiled down at her. He didn’t answer right away, staring in silence for a while. “Things went well, nothing too interesting happened. Want to talk on the ground?”

“Yep! I’ll meet you down there.” She said and immediately grabbed a hold of the ropes she’d installed and slid down. Of course, she heard the telltale sound of Apostate landing far faster than she could climb down. Still, at the end she was actually quite proud of her speed so she wiped her hands on her elaborate white dress and swished her tail from side to side, showing off the red ribbon tied near the tip. “What do you think?” She asked with a grin.

Apostate crossed his arms. “Were the Champions dressing you up, again?”

Lorelei sighed, “I-I asked them to! They made me a dress and a ribbon and an earring, and they’re cute so I wear them.” She crossed her arms and pouted.

Knitting his brow, Apostate let his arms fall to his sides. “Very well, your dress is pretty.”

She relaxed and mimicked Apostate, letting her arms fall to her sides as well. “Thanks. But…” She ran up to him, grabbed her tail and brought it forward for Apostate to see clearly. “What about the ribbon? Look!” She smirked smugly as she pressed the tip of her tail and, incidentally, the ribbon as well against Apostate’s tattered dark cloak and muttered something under her breath, making the ribbon change its fabric and colour to perfectly replicate his cloak’s, holes and rips included.

“Oo…” Apostate knelt down to Lorelei’s level and flicked the ribbon. “That’s a neat trick.”

He held out a closed fist to Lorelei. “Want to see a trick I recently learned?”

Her eyes widened and she nodded enthusiastically, letting go of her tail. “Obvs!”

“Well here.” Apostate bounced his fist in front of her face, his cut fingers tightening. His bandages strained as he put his strength into keeping his hand closed. “All you need to do is open my hand, and treasures will pour out.”

Lorelei squinted her eyes at Apostate’s hand and inspected it from every angle, sniffed it and almost even licked it, until she finally placed her hands around his fingers and tried to force them open. She huffed and puffed and then with one final tug, his fingers pried open — albeit suddenly quite easily. When his hand wrenched open, a bloom of sky lilies poofed out from his palm.

“Eep!” She squeaked as she was suddenly engulfed in a cloud of fluttering pink flowers. A few sneezes later and once the flow of lilies slowed to a trickle, Lorelei’s ears poked up and out of the small pile of petals and flowers, followed by her hands as they cleared the flowers away from her head and face. “How did you hold that many f-flowers?!” she asked and sniffled, rubbing at her now reddish nose.

“They form in my hands and pop out whenever I like.” Punctuating his point, a pinkish glow formed in Apostate’s hand and another poof of lilies plumed into the air around the two. A subtle breeze took most of the lilies away, leaving streaks of pink in the sky.

“... You beat me this t-time.” Lorelei sighed, watching the streaks until they traveled out of sight.

Apostate’s hand came down again, his cut fingers lightly gripping the top of Lorelei’s head, prompting her to look back at him with a half-smile.

“Hevel? I… The others o-offered to take me with them up north. Way past the ocean. I-I wanted to go with them, but… I couldn’t leave Pride here by herself. Did I make the wrong choice?” She asked, lowering her head a little.

“No,” Apostate answered. “It was noble of you to look after your friend. Taking solace in each other keeps us warm…” He paused. “Why are you troubled with your decision?”

Lorelei bit her lip, shrugged and flicked her ears. “I-I dunno. I’m tired of being stuck inside, I g-guess… And it’s so empty here, Hevel! I ran outta scrap my first w-week here and all I can find around here is dry g-grass, dirt, or bird feathers. I can’t even eat the w-worms…” She whined and kicked up a little bit of dirt.

“Hmm.” Apostate rumbled with thought. A moment went by and he folded his arms over his chest. “Would you like to come with me on my adventures, then?”

Lorelei huffed and turned away from the god. “I-I wanna! But, but, Hevel! I told you! I-I can’t leave Pride alone… She’d be so lonely…”

Defending himself with his own huff, Apostate frowned. “Well I didn’t mean right away! We can leave once Homura or the others return.”

Lorelei tapped her chin and hummed, then turned back around and nodded, “Okay. Deal. I’ll go with y-you and you can’t back out now!” She declared with a smirk.

“And neither can you!” Apostate boomed, his face turning grim only to quickly soften. “Well no, you can leave any time you like… though we’ll need to equip you properly…”

The god fell into thought, pinching his chin and taking steps towards Keltra’s inner keep, with Lorelei running after him and deftly climbing up onto his back and scrambling over Warbreaker. “Equipment? Y’mean the A-Astawhacker?”

Scuffing to a stop, Apostate turned his head so as to see Lorelei peeking over his shoulder. He knitted his brow. “Maybe… but more or less something so you don’t get any more bruises… and maybe a sword… a big one.”

Lorelei scrunched up her nose. “Why do you like big swords, Hevel? A-Aren’t they hard to use? Hevel, you know that d-drones back home could hurt you from afar? With some kind of ranged weapon that could p-punch big holes into people? I want a ranged weapon too!”

“Fine.” Apostate said, albeit with a hint of defeat. “A big weapon that will let you punch holes into things from afar.”

“And gloves! I want gloves. Armor… Maybe not? It’s not hot enough for suits… And I like my Homuran dress, I don’t wanna c-cover it up.” Lorelei said as she rested her head on Apostate’s shoulder and made little popping sounds with her lips.

“Needy all of a sudden, aren’t we?” Apostate said, making Lorelei giggle in response. Eventually, they passed the threshold to the fortress, the chilled air of the outside being pushed away by the radiant light and warmth coming from the bonfire within. The small form of Pride stood close to the Eternal Fire, the runic wooden staff in her hands as she concentrated her mind on sustaining a powerful spell, her body covered in shifting runes. She did not stir from her trance when Apostate and Lorelei entered the keep.

“HEY!” Apostate’s voice blasted off the walls of Keltra, sending vibrating shockwaves bouncing all about. Half a moment later, Lorelei dropped to the ground and sat down, head spinning.

Pride did not immediately react to the thunderous roar, only swaying slightly as a result of the vocal percussion, but her eyes slowly opened, and she blinked awake. Once. Twice. Lucidity filled her eyes then as the runes disappeared, and she stared at Apostate and Lorelei for a brief period before she softly smiled.

“Welcome to Keltra, your grace. I apologize, I lost track of time…” Pride said, before she bowed to the God of Defiance.

Lorelei groaned, holding her head for a second before standing up. “Y-You don’t have to say ‘your grace’ you know, Pride. We’re all f-friends here, right?” She asked, looking up at Apostate with a pout.

The god looked down at Lorelei and shrugged. “I keep telling them that.”

“Despite the lack of necessity, formality still serves a useful purpose.” Pride replied, standing very rigid and upright. Her voice was stern, and her features impassive, greatly resembling her Maker’s visage… until she tilted her head and then shook it.

“You guys don’t understand jokes.” She complained, offhandedly waving away her annoyance as she walked to the nearby table where other artifacts rested. She returned the staff to its place beside the dagger, nestled between the egg and orb.

“You can’t blame me for not expecting a joke from one of Homura’s chosen.” Apostate looked past Pride and to the smoky orb he had given the girl.

Lorelei ran up to Pride and hugged her, “And you’ve been so busy chanting and casting Gnosis things t-that we haven’t done anything! Also it's the first time you’ve ever said a joke, Pride.” The girl said with a giggle.

“Ah, you’re right. Apologies, I’m still… befuddled after my abrupt return. I can’t quite recall what we were doing before…” Pride admitted, abashedly averting her gaze away from Lorelei and up towards the ceiling with an embarrassed blush.

“Hmph!” Loreleri huffed in mock indignity and looked at Apostate. “Tell her what we plan on doing, Hevel!”

“Making a weapon that can punch holes into people from afar?” Apostate looked down at his young ward. “Or the tremendously dangerous adventures you’re going to be taking with me?”

“Neither of those things sound appealing.” Pride commented, slightly scowling in the direction of Apostate, as she took hold of Lorelei’s hand.

Lorelei pursed her lips, “I-I wanna see the world! And so do you, right? You can c-come with us when the others come back! Hevel will even make you all the equipment you n-need!”

Apostate waved a hand. “Firstly, I’m teasing you with exaggeration — similar to a joke, hm? Secondly, as keeper of the orb, I’ll be needing your help a bit later in designing protection for Lorelei.”

“I cannot leave Keltra. I… can’t. Lorelei, I have seen so many things. I was lost to the wonders of the world, and yet… there is still so much I haven’t…” Pride shook her head again, her gaze aimlessly adrift until it settled upon Apostate once more. “Your jokes lack irony, your grace.”

“And your height lacks inches,” Apostate was quick to reply. “Why are you still designated to be stuffed in this old cube, again?”

The small champion sighed with annoyance before answering. “I protect my slumbering kin, and tend to the Eternal Fire. Also… this is my home. It’s more than just an old cube.”

Apostate arched his brow. “If it's eternal, does it really need to be tended to?”

“It’s warmth can be stolen, or forgotten, and though the fire burns eternally, its presence only lingers if divine will compels it to be here. I act to remind the flame of its purpose.” Pride explained.

“Can’t you just play a recording of its purpose to it while you’re out?” Lorelei asked and tilted her head slightly.

“That’d be dereliction of duty, and I don’t think anything I make could fulfill that role anyway. Nothing I’m willing to make, at least. When Mother returns, I can ask…”

Grinning, Apostate poked. “Mother?”

“Our Maker. We call her Mother, because… she acts like a mother, treating us like her children. It’s annoying because despite her divinity, she still acts like a child herself.” The small champion answered, frowning with mild frustration, but a hint of fondness as well. “I wonder, do the Divine have parents?”

“Does she call you her daughter?” Apostate wondered along. “As for my own parents, I’m afraid I have a less dramatic origin — did you two want to know of the genesis of the divine?”

Pride simply shook her head in answer to Apostate’s first question, but then chuckled upon hearing his followup one. “Ah, yes, the birth of the pantheon. How boring.” She tilted her head, as she pondered his words until she spoke again. “I know Mother’s account of such, but I’d like to hear yours as well, please.”

“Same!” said Lorelei.

Apostate nodded his head and walked over to the fire before slumping to the ground. He removed Warbreaker from its spot on his back and placed it next to him before laying down and looking up at the incredible ceiling of Keltra. He tucked a frown into his cheek and folded his arms behind his head. “First, tell me what your mother told you.”

“Hmm… I’ve never seen the Heavenly Palace, but that is where the King in Heaven resides upon His throne. It is where she was born. She spoke of… no, she didn’t share such a story with me using words; she seeded it within my thoughts and memories… an innate knowledge. I remember His voice, like I was there, when He spoke and His edict was first heard. She showed me the shards within His wound, the shards that would become the Divine. His words had ushered them forward, and gave them purpose. Rise. Heed this call of mine. Become the gods of Galbar. It’s too much…” Pride recoiled after speaking, stumbling back and closing her eyes. Her voice echoed in the vast hall, and resonated with otherworldly power that seemed to overwhelm the small champion that had acted as its conduit. The weight of her words fell upon her, and her eyes shimmered with truth and sorrow.

“It’s alright, Pride! My grandpa told me once that the Gods have been around for a looong time and remembering things from so long ago… Yeah… Might be hard. I can barely r-remember last year, myself.” Lorelei said with a half-chuckle, trying to cheer Pride up.

“I’m older than your grandpa, you know. I’ve seen thousands upon thousands of days pass while my senses reached out, and witnessed the happenings in the world. Years… I have seen a great many years now, and it frightens me so.” Pride shifted towards Lorelei, and wrapped her arms around the other girl, seeking solace in her company. “I don’t want to see you go.” Lorelei stiffened a little bit at first, but eventually returned the hug.

“Everyone I know is dead…” Lorelei whispered, “I will die too. I-I just wanna fulfill everyone’s dreams, and do what they wanted to do for them, before I die. White wanted to see the world, Gray wanted to h-have a family of her own, Brown wanted to be a hero… I can’t do those things in here. S… Sorry, Pride.” Lorelei explained gently, nuzzling her sister’s neck.

“If you wish to be with your previous family, I won’t stop you. If… you leave, you’re always welcome to return.” Pride stroked the hair and furry ears of her sister, blinking away any tears that threatened to spill out.

Apostate laid in silence, listening but with his mouth closed. He didn’t shift from his spot, his cloak splayed out around him with tiny wisps of smoke escaping from under him here and there. After a while, he cleared his throat, as if announcing his presence.

Pride glanced in his direction, and spoke softly. “I’ve said my piece. Some things can’t be described with words though, so… please, regale us with your wisdom. I want to hear your story.”

“Right.” Apostate’s voice came. Another pause as Apostate wrinkled his face with thought, a sense of regret bubbling inside of him, as if he maybe shouldn’t — but it was theirs to know.

“In the beginning…” He started, “there was more than just the Monarch of All. By his own words he told me about an infinite beauty long outside of his reach, before he was found stuck in this current realm. Either way, our story starts there — in a cell, divided from the infinite beauty for a reason kept from my knowledge. The self-named monarch dwelled there for what time I don’t know, but it couldn’t have been long as I can only surmise the wound I was born from wasn’t of his own recent doing but likely predated his imprisonment as he so put it.”

The god rolled his head so as to look at his ward and Pride. “You see, me and your mother were later born from that wound as shards to do his bidding. That’s when he proclaimed himself a king and a lord of all, but in reality to this day he lords over nothing much but himself. I remember those days very clearly — how the horse god sucked up to his macrocosm (wretchedly so), how quickly the goddess of ruin assigned herself as a servant. I myself was very small then, just a haze of smoke unwilling to take a shape. I hated to be told what to do, and here he was casting all his desires on us… though I suppose we were just aspects of him and I suppose we still are.”

A pause.

“Nevertheless, you can imagine my distaste when I discovered the other aspects were doing as he instructed so willingly and so ignorantly, disregarding the letterings between the speeches of the Monarch. Before answers were laid out for us, before structure could be given, the others created life — a drastic move on their part — if only because they were building on an unknown foundation, with a potential conflict looming over us. It still does — loom, I mean — not all the aspects respect each other or are aligned in design, and the monarch himself is fallible and teetering precariously over whatever secrets he is keeping. Everything is on borrowed time, and at some point it will most likely end… though how it will end is hopefully in our power to decide.”

“Everything ends.” Lorelei agreed, nodding. “Nice story. There’re many gods, then? Do you think that um, the Boss is one?”

“The Asshole?” Apostate shifted to look quizzically at the young girl, who had to stifle a laugh.


“Yeah, he is one — which goes to show you how glamorous the title is.” Apostate returned to looking up at the ceiling.

Pride pondered the truth of Apostate’s tale, and Lorelei’s affirmation… remaining quiet as she contemplated. “Mother would likely disagree with you.”

“Doesn’t she always?” The god offered.

“Does everything have a beginning?” Pride asked.

Apostate shrugged from his spot on the floor. “A lot of things do — you do — but everything? Well I don’t know everything. I know where this realm began, but I don’t know why it began, nor why I wasn’t told.”

Pride shook her head, smiling again. “Hmm… until the end, there is no end. I’ll keep it simple like that for me and my kin. I’m not one for arguing with what the Divine claims as providence. I just want to help my friends and family.”

“A noble goal.” Apostate said. “I won’t worry you with any more of these stories.”

Pride tilted her head, with a more and more amused look playing with her features. “That’s because the Divine are all rather silly. Hmm… Lorelei, would you like to dance?” She asked, turning to the other mortal in the vast hall, hesitantly offering her hand. A simple grunt came from Apostate as he resigned himself to his spot, eye closing and soft puffs of smoke breaking with every exhale.

“Yes!! Let’s dance! How?” Lorelei jumped on the spot, grabbing both of Pride’s hands. The small champion pulled her along, before coming to a stop.

“Let there be music!” Pride proclaimed, and the shifting runes appeared again, covering her skin and humming with power. The stone beneath their feet suddenly reacted, and glowed with an otherworldly aura. With her eyes closed, Pride leaned forward, touching her forehead against Lorelei’s. “You can hear it.”

Without any visible source, sounds began to accompany the two, sounds that synced with the luminous floor pulsing in rhythm to the blooming melody. The same repeating sounds, until a voice began singing.

Pride found herself awkwardly staring at Lorelei, uncertain how to proceed. The small champion pondered briefly before she shook her head, and began pulling Lorelei further along while the music followed. She began jumping and tumbling, lifting her arms up and down, as she dashed through the hall until a bright flash of light signaled a stop.

A stream of radiant light peeled away from the floor and began dancing around them, wrapping around their bodies until Pride and Lorelei were more akin to people enveloped in rainbow bandages. Just as swiftly as they were wrapped, the stream unraveled itself and tossed them spinning into the air.
Neither Pride nor Lorelei couldn’t contain the childish laughter that escaped them as they flew into the air and swirled like falling snowflakes until they were caught by the prismatic stream again, and the process repeated itself. It guided their motions, and let them move freely, as though they were no longer burdened by the weight of the world.

Pride found herself playing with weightlessness, and attempting to perform a myriad of motions normally impossible with her feet touching the floor. Her aerial dance was clumsy, as she bumped into Lorelei more than once, but she felt free and joyful, exerting herself and watching her companion be lifted and tossed up again. The music filled the air, and Keltra was illuminated with dancing light.

“Compassion eases change.” Pride said, when she and Lorelei were brought together once more. “We can do anything, each of us, if we believe it has been done before.”

Another light started to pulse in the room, nearly taking over the spectacle. A pale light was pulsing from the smoky glass of the orb, each pulse akin to a stuttering heartbeat. Another light answered it, and down on the floor, Apostate was holding another orb. A chain sprouted out of the top of this one, hanging as the god palmed the smoke ridden ball.

“Let’s fly!” Pride shouted, and the light lifted them high again, and the two girls sailed through air upon the luminous stream. The music grew quiet, and the light dimmed, revealing the silken nature of what carried Pride and Lorelei; a long shimmering scarf woven from red and gold and glowing runes. Then the melody was reborn, and a new song came into existence.

With the tune reborn, the two danced and soared for what felt like hours but was actually just a few minutes, until Lorelei gracefully disentangled herself from the magical fabrics and dropped to the ground, panting. “... Waow…!”

Apostate was standing now, securing the chain of the new orb over his shoulder so as to sling across his chest and back (under the cloak) so that the orb rested safely on his hip. He gave it a few tugs to make sure it wouldn’t slide or fall away before lifting the orb to his face. It blinked another flash of light, the orb on the table mimicking the pulse. Tapping it a few times, he looked over at his young ward and Pride.

“Having fun?”

Pride laid upon her stomach on the floor, resting her head atop her folded arms as she stared back at the God of Defiance. She wore a content smile as the enchanted scarf loosely wrapped around her neck continued to twist and sway in the air. The accessory was easily thirty times the length of the small champion’s height, and most of it simply trailed behind her, or in this case above her, like a very long strand of hair. The artifact continued to chime periodically, but the music had receded for now.

“What’s fun, your grace?” She asked, a teasing glint in her eyes.
The god let the ball fall to his hip, and the flashing between both orbs stopped. He pinched his chin in thought, a serious look across his bandaged visage. “Blowing up mountains is pretty fun.”

“Hmm… you stand in a monument built from the remnants of shattered mountains. Mother has never said it, but she does hate this place. What else is fun?” Pride asked again, rolling onto her side, and idly playing with the pink strands among her scarlet tresses.

Lifting his brow, Apostate scoffed. “Well that explains why she is always delegating others to stand here in her place… myself included.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “Your mother needs to learn to relax.”

“Hugging, cuddling, running, jumping, climbing, seeing, smelling, talking, listening, hugging, climbing, ea… ting?” Lorelei smiled sheepishly, “A-All of that’s fun, y’know!”

“You said hugging twice,” Apostate corrected. “And climbing.”

Lorelei puffed out her cheeks and shrugged, “T-They’re double fun, then!”

The god gave a surrendering look.

“I agree with Lore, and wish to add flying and dancing to the list. I want people to have fun when they come here.” Pride commented, casually gesturing around at the vast hall that remained so empty. “I’ll make Keltra into a fortress of fun, where the air is… like liquid laughter, and visitors can experience the joys of life.”

“Maybe you can teach your mom to laugh.” Apostate said while he walked over to the orb on the table.

“You think the least favored of her children can do such a thing? I’ll add it to the long list of household chores I need to do then.” Pride remarked, stretching once, before she rolled over and pushed herself to her feet. With small and hasty steps, she hurried towards the table, with Lorelei watching her closely after yawning.

“What d’you w-wanna do now?” The girl asked, fully lying down on the cool floor.

“Least favorite?” Apostate grabbed the orb that was laying on the table and inspected it.

Pride reached the table and stood beside him. She glanced back towards Lorelei, and slightly smiled as she whispered to the god next to her. “Why don’t you say something that will make us laugh?”

“A joke, huh?” Apostate pulled away from the orb to think. He let his eye trail the walls and ceiling of the fortress around him. A pregnant pause overtook the conversation before he turned to Lorelei and dramatically pointed a finger. “Lorelei!”

“Huh?” Lorelei perked up and flicked her ears unconsciously, focusing her eyes on the accusatory finger, “Whuh?”

“What did the blanket say after falling off the bed?”

“W-What did it say?”

“Oh Sheet…”

Lorelei squinted her eyes at Apostate and after a moment broke out into laughter. “T-That was so bad!” She said in between fits of giggling, causing a smile to split on Apostate’s face.

Pride simply blinked, and awkwardly nodded her head in an obvious attempt to show she understood the joke. “Blankets can’t talk.” She stated with utmost certainty, and crossed her arms as she pretended to frown.

“Okay, Homura,” Apostate gave her a face while Lorelei tried to stifle her laughter. The God put the orb back down, a fingerprint lingering for a moment.

“Thank you, uncle. I don’t think Mother could’ve made us laugh like that.” Pride replied, replacing her frown with a pleased expression.

“Uncle?” The god quizzed.

“I heard the term before used elsewhere in the world. I thought it was apt, but if you think differently…” The small champion fiddled with her fingers, her features furrowed with frustration.

“D-Doesn’t matter what he thinks! An uncle is the brother of a parent. H-Hevel is your uncle, yep!” Lorelei declared, wiping away the traces of mirth from the corners of her eyes.

“Attempting to apply familial affection and familiarity to me, huh?” Apostate said. “Your mother does the same thing.” He pointed finger at Lorelei in jest. “And you too!” Lorelei recoiled a little bit, once more focused on the accusatory finger.

“Do you disagree? I’d stop, if you ask me to.” Pride inquired, as she crossed her arms, and glared at Apostate.

“No,” Apostate rescinded his finger. “ Lorelei is like a daughter to me, and if I were to call anyone else family it would be you and your sisters… though I admit I too am biased, having witnessed your birth. So maybe I have a favorite, too.”

“Then I’ll call you Uncle.” Pride proclaimed, pointing a finger at Apostate. “Unless I’m teasing you, or feel the need for formality, of course.”

“That makes us c-cousins and sisters. H-How does that work, Pride?” Lorelei asked with a tilt of her head.

“Yeah, Pride.” Apostate crossed his arms.

“Are you acting childish, your grace? To answer your question, can’t you apply many names to a single thing. Mother is also known as the Highest Judge, and the Goddess of Honor. She can also be irksome and much too uncongenial, though she would say differently. We’re both cousins and sisters, Lore, it’s as simple as that, isn’t it?” Pride answered.

Lorelei pursed her lips, “Hmm, okay! Makes sense.” She said with a nod.

“If it doesn’t make sense,” Apostate said in a mocking voice,” the gods can just will it to make sense.” He eyed no one in particular. “And I’m the brute.”

“Are you blaming yourself, or someone else?” Pride innocently asked, with a mischievous glint in her eyes. The small champion leapt onto the table, and tried to stretch herself further in order to stand taller than Apostate, to no avail.

Apostate put his hand on top of Pride’s head, gently gripping the top in its entirety under his cut fingers. “What do you want?”

“I have a name, you know... What do you think I want?” She shot back, giving him a pout.

"A big sword?"

“Why would I want a big sword?” Pride asked, placing her hands on her hips. Her words were accompanied by a chime from her scarf, as it swam through the air around the mortal and god.

Apostate pondered for a moment. “So at least something about you will be big?”

“That’s a silly reason. Besides, size is relative. I’m big compared to your orbs, or my egg, and Tuku’s knife. I’m also taller than Lore, so stop mentioning my height.” The small champion closed her eyes, and huffed with annoyance.

“So no big sword?”

“So no big sword.” Pride repeated, opening one eye and peering at the God of Defiance.

“Swords don’t e-exist anyway, only gods use ‘em.” Shrugged Lorelei. “Hammers are better in all aspects.”

“Hammers can’t impale someone,” Apostate muttered. “Besides, I know a mortal that wields a sword and know of many more who soon will.”

“No, Lore is right. I’d rather have a hammer than a sword. You know, both you and Mother are surprisingly foolish. It's a rather frightening thought for us mere mortals. I ask that you don’t impale anyone, please Uncle. I mean, what’s wrong with trying to fix the world instead of breaking it apart further?” Pride asked, as she tried to pry herself from Apostate’s grasp.

“What’s wrong with the world?” Apostate lifted his hand.

“Did you not see the field of death outside? You’ve said it yourself, life was created too early. You weren’t here when your brothers visited, but the Lord of the Hunt had to fight a terrible monster that threatened all of us, and Chailiss has lost his daughter. Why did Mother make Keltra? Would there need to be a shelter if the world was safe?” With a small leap, and quick stride, Pride rejoined Lorelei, hugging the other girl tightly.

“I have no brothers.” Apostate shifted, his voice deadly serious. “Regardless…” A thought trickled behind the god’s visible eye, but he left it there, shaking his head. In front of him were two young girls, happy and full of bliss — he had no right tainting the scene with the pain he knew.

That Time I Almost Died, Got Saved by a God Blinded by Rage and Pain and Taken to Another Goddess’ Home to be Taken Care of By Her Champions Only to End Up Being a Dress-Up Doll: Volume 2

Happened just before this post


“Psst… Lore, wake up. It’s morning.” The quiet words were accompanied by a gentle shove, and followed by shaking. Courage pushed and prodded the sleeping Lorelei while her sisters all remained a step behind her. Lorelei stirred, slowly, but didn’t open her eyes. Instead, she grabbed one of Courage’s hands and yawned, a soft purr coming from somewhere deep inside her chest.

“Mmnyo…” She whined.

Courage glanced back to the five pairs of red eyes that stared at her expectantly, but offered no advice or assistance, of course. The brash champion simply shrugged before grabbing the sleeping girl and easily lifting her from the bed. “Uh, good enough, ya. I said; wake up, Pipsqueak.” Courage casually remarked, as she shook Lorelei once more.

“Aah!” Lorelei yelped, tensing up and eyes shooting wide open. Her little heart beat so fast that it could almost be heard. She calmed down as soon as she recognized the shadowy outline of Courage’s face. “W-What wrong?”

“There’s something you’ve got to see. Come with us.” Courage replied, gesturing with a quick tilt of her head to where the other champions of Homura waited for the two. Courage placed Lorelei back on her bed, slightly embarrassed and also excited. “Trust me, you’re going to like it.” She said, with red cheeks and a large smile.

Lorelei couldn’t help but to smile back. She rubbed the remaining sleep out of her eyes and stretched, then stood up and held Courage’s hand. “L-let’s go, Cour. Good morning, e-everyone.”

Pale morning light poured through every doorway leading outside the keep, and after passing the curtain of beads, and walking the short distance to the nearest doorway, the champions and Lorelei stepped outside. They stood upon a large ledge, overlooking the northern fields of Keltra, and levitating before them was a sleek boat crafted from dark wood and coated with frost. Many swirling snowflakes fell from the bottom of its hull, leaving a white glittering trail behind it.

“Chailiss gave us this gift when he visited last night.” Courage explained, pulling Lorelei along, as Curiosity and Wanderer dragged the weightless vessel towards them, the sight of such a big object being moved so easily truly indicated the otherworldly nature of the boat. There were seats enough for all of them to sit comfortably, and a large steering apparatus attached to the back.

“Waow! H-How… Wait! Is it…” Lorelei gasped, “It has to be, right?!” She turned to look up at Courage with sparkly eyes, “An airship! A working one! It flies!” She cheered, jumping up against the railing and trying to reach for the dark wooden hull.

Courage chuckled before tossing Lorelei up and over the railing, with the small girl yelping and landing on her feet on the boat and immediately running all over the deck, checking every last nook and cranny and then popping up over the boat’s railings to look at Courage with puffed out cheeks. “Where’s the engine? I can’t find it.”

“This vessel utilizes sorcery. The engine would be the will of the divine, and their power acts as its source of energy. We are fueled by the Eternal Fire, which sustains us. It is similar in nature, but… different as well.” Kindness explained, as each of her sisters jumped aboard.

“We can’t take it beyond the wall, but do you want to go for a ride?” Courage stood beside the shaft of the rudder to control the boat, almost jumping with joy, as her eager hands grasped the simple steering apparatus.


“Wait, isn’t it my turn? You already got to fly us around!” Curiosity was quick to also take hold of the rudder, and the two champions began a slow struggle against each other to wrest control of the boat. “Besides, Kindness said your flying is a safety hazard because you crashed into the keep and wall fifteen times!” Curiosity continued, as Wanderer nodded in silent agreement with her.

“I did not say that.” Kindness protested, her impotent glare directed towards the inquisitive champion, who just shrugged. “That’s what you whispered to Fear after crash number ten, so you still said it.” Curiosity countered, and Wanderer nodded once more.

“I-I-hmm…” Kindness stumbled upon her words, and Courage stared at her, the look of betrayal in her eyes.

“Kindness, come on. We’re sisters! You’re just jealous because you’re slow and everyone was getting bored when you flew, ya?”

Fear stood up, and positioned herself between Courage and Kindness. “Kindness only crashed twice which is a lot less than you. Besides, it’s Curiosity’s turn, then Wanderer’s. We all -”

Fear found herself, along with Kindness and Courage, falling upon the floor of the boat as Curiosity successfully pushed her brash sisters away, and shifted the steering controls into motion, causing the vessel to surge forward. The world all around them had suddenly become a blur, all except for the boat itself and its occupants, until a loud bang and tremor announced their crash into the red wall of Keltra, and the boat had stopped. Pride and Lorelei were still seated, held in place by Wanderer who took care to make sure all onboard were properly seated before a premature take-off. Courage, Kindness, and Fear were a heap of flailing limbs and exasperated noises as they sought to upright themselves.

“Are you alright?” Pride asked, her question directed at nobody in particular until she peered towards Lorelei, and dedicated her attention to the most fragile among their group. Lorelei meanwhile found herself hugging onto Pride for dear life, her hair disheveled and expression wild with narrowed eyes and a panting grin.

“T-That was… Awesome! So cool! It didn’t break, let’s do it again!” Lorelei cheered, trying and struggling to peel herself away from Pride, her muscles locked into place by the scare.

“That’s crash number one! I’m counting now!” Courage exclaimed as she climbed back to her feet, and pointed aggressively at Curiosity who wore a smug grin. With a more gentle tug, the boat pulled away from the wall, and began drifting backwards, until it turned and began flying sideways.

“How does this thing work?” Curiosity asked from the stern, looking at the rudder like it was some confusing contraption beyond her understanding. Kindness and Fear took seats next to Wanderer, Pride, and Lorelei, while Courage marched back to her bemused sister.

“Curry, you can do it!! I only saw these things crashed into buildings and streets back home, so they’ve always been d-difficult to pilot.” Lorelei said with a small hmph at the end, now much more relaxed but still practically glued to Pride.

“I’m not sure why you’re encouraging her.” Pride whispered, familiar with how incompetent all of her sisters seemed to be as pilots. The small champion was honestly surprised the three colossi were all still intact after she had experienced being in a vessel with Courage at the helm.

“If she figures out how to pilot this airship well, I can get her to teach us! It’ll be fun, Pride. I’ve wanted to pilot these things since I was like t-three!” Lorelei whispered back.

“Three?” Pride asked, as Courage and Curiosity began to bicker, the two of them both had their hands on the rudder again, but the former seemed more intent on teaching the latter how to pilot rather than wresting control from her.

“Yeah! Or was it four? Two?” Lorelei shrugged and looked back at Courage and Curiosity, “Umm, why not m-modify it? To make the levers and steering smoother? I just need something s-spongy, and to go out and scavenge for s-something to use as glue.”

“The only thing that needs modifying is my sisters. I mean, it’s easy, yet both Kindness and Fear seem to make it look hard. Courage knows how to fly, but she acts like she doesn’t. Hmm… allow me to amend that, she chooses not to fly properly.” Pride explained with a sigh, as she brought a small hand to her head and attempted to ignore her frustration. The boat then began to rise in the air, higher and higher, until they arose above the wall.

“Wait, we’re not supposed to leave the fields.” Fear said, as peered over the railing and began looking down below at the barren landscape within the keep. Her other sisters looked beyond the wall, and their eyes widened at the sight. A vast section of the western forest had been demolished by the touch of doom, the warm presence of the red flora was obliterated beyond ever being restored, and a terrible blight upon the land had replaced it. Even from afar, the putrid stench assailed them, and the boat became still as Curiosity let go of the rudder to cover her nose.

“How… how did this… happen?” Courage asked, but none of her sisters answered, Fear and Wanderer struggling to cope with the air of rot all around them.

Lorelei hopped off her seat, a hand barely covering her nose as she walked over to the front of the boat to look at the scenery. In the distance, she could see the swarms of flies and the familiar shapes of corpses–Though this time they were animal corpses.

“Flies–Death. W-We gotta go, or we’ll be next.” The girl said, quite obviously trying to put on a tough act despite the fact that she was shaking in her boots.

“Mother said to remain within the walls.” Pride added, attempting to assure those that were distraught by the sight of Doom’s wake. Her voice was small, but filled with enough strength to stir Curiosity who reversed the controls, and directed the boat back down to where they had been before.

“What was that?!?” Courage shouted, still seeking an answer. “How’re we supposed to go, when that’s just outside? Why didn’t Homura mention that?” The brash champion continued, pacing back and forth, until she realized that there were more occupants on the boat then there was just a moment ago.

“I said not to leave the confines of the wall.” Homura said, standing on the prow of the boat, and all of her champions turned to face her.

“What happened? Tell us!”

The red goddess stared at Courage with an enigmatic expression, her lack of emotion contrasting sharply with the panic and apprehension of the other passengers. Kindness and Fear stood up, and stood beside their sister, while Wanderer held onto Pride and Lorelei.

“My brother, Iqelis. You do not need to concern yourself with him. You all have been assigned your tasks. Do not distract yourselves. Time is of the essence now, all of you must make haste and help those that still suffer. I will be departing soon as well.” Homura stated before she leapt away, and a lingering tension simmered afterwards. None of the champions could say anything; their maker had left as quickly as she came, and now they sat in silence.

Curiosity began directing the boat back to the keep, however she missed her intended destination and the boat collided with the massive wall. “Almost did it…” She whispered, as Courage and Pride angrily muttered to themselves. Courage took hold of the rudder, and the ship descended to the ledge they had first lifted off from.

“Listen, pipsqueak, most of us have to go now, so I’m going to give you a choice. Do you want to come with us? We’re heading north to help the people there, because that’s what heroes do. That said, Pride is staying behind because she has to watch over Keltra, and I think she would like some company.”

At first, Lorelei perked up. She shook a bit in her seat as she seemed to wrestle with her thoughts until eventually she reached back to grab her tail and sighed. “I-I’ll stay with Pride. No one should be alone when things get dangerous.” She explained and nodded mostly to herself, gently caressing her shivering tail.

Courage leaned forward with a slight grin, and playfully ruffled the hair between Lorelei’s ears, eliciting a few chuckles out of the girl. “We’ll bring you back something when we return, ya… and next time you can come with us. It’s not going to be as fun without you, just so you know.”

Lorelei looked up at Courage, mirth gone from her expression as quickly as it had appeared. She nodded and looked away, clasping her hands and placing them neatly on her lap. “O-Okay… Are you going now?”

“We wanted to show you Skydancer before we left. Take you round the keep a few times, ya. We were told to get going as soon as we can though.” Courage answered, as the other champions would either avert their gaze, or look at Pride and Lorelei with guilt in their eyes.

“It’ll only be a couple of days; you’ll need to return to the Eternal Fire before too long. Just give us our hugs for good luck, and complete your tasks as quickly as you can. Okay?” Pride said, rising to stand on her seat before lending a helping hand to Lorelei.

Lorelei took Pride’s hand and stood up beside her. “We’ll wait for you, just be careful. Don’t be too much of a hero…” She said quietly and opened her arms towards her bigger sisters.

Courage lifted Lorelei off her feet, before she leapt up high in the air and swung her around, with the girl squealing happily. They slowly descended, like a leaf falling from the branch, until they alighted among the others. With a chuckle, Courage passed Lorelei to Kindness before approaching an apprehensive Pride. “No, no, no, NO!” The small champion protested before being lifted in the air as well.

Kindness wrapped her arms around Lorelei, and whispered softly to the girl. “I will look after them. Hmm… thank you for being alive.” She let go before Fear stepped forth and embraced both in a wide hug.

“Good luck, good luck, good luck…” She repeated, over and over again, her eyes closed and a tight smile. Then the two let go, and Curiosity came close for a hug.

“We’re going to have lots more stories to tell you when we come back! Then we can have lots more fun! You’ll always be the first human with furry ears and a tail that I spoke with, and that makes your hugs give double good luck, I think.” Curiosity said, nuzzling Lorelei’s twitchy ears with her cheeks, and giggling afterwards. “I don’t want to ever let go!”

Wanderer whacked Curiosity on the head, and the inquisitive champion let go with an abashed look as her reticent sister embraced Lorelei. “We will always be together.” Wanderer said in her quiet voice.

Pride received similar exchanges before Courage and Fear picked up the two little girls and leapt from the boat to the ledge below. The air rushing past them briefly, a cold whisper that was a prelude to the touch of stone beneath their feet. Courage and Fear stood in front of the two being left behind, wearing smiles of joy and sorrow, then they jumped once more and were back in the boat. There was a scuffle heard, the sound of Courage and Curiosity bickering once more, while Kindness, Fear, and Wanderer leaned over the railing and waved. Slowly, but surely, the vessel was rising higher and higher.

“Bye!” Courage and Curiosity both shouted from the stern, before the boat had risen high enough, and suddenly soared north with swift speed towards the lands beyond the red wall.

Lorelei watched dejectedly as her sisters left, her tail and ears uncharacteristically limp. “... Bye bye.” She said after a long while, then turned to Pride.

“So… What do you do for f-fun here?”

“Let’s wait till Mother leaves before we speak of forbidden things like fun. I had some ideas though…” Pride answered, showing a small mischievous smile.

Chailiss Week

The Heralds of Honor

They soared across the sky over the red forest upon Skydancer, the airborne vessel warding off the fierce winds that blew past them as they flew northward, allowing for a very relaxed journey. The warm and rich color of the forest bled together beneath them; a scarlet sea with shimmering sections of various shades and tints, rippling leaves and cascading waves of vibrant flowers that swayed with the breeze. Kel-Phelena stretched across the great land - the forest reached the massive mountains of Szrnelici created by Jiugui so long ago.

It was still morning when they reached the mountains, the peaks piercing the sky like stone protrusions along the shore, and they flew higher to avoid colliding with snow-tipped tops where the air was thin, and life was quiet. Curiosity and Wanderer leaned over the railings, and stared at the sights that raced by, while Courage stood at the helm, operating the rudder. Kindness and Fear peeked over the prow of the boat, peering down at the white mountains as well.

The champions of Homura passed over valleys and plateaus where animals and plants were sheltered by the presence of the looming summits, and thrived through their connection to an otherworldly power. It was not long until they departed these pleasant lands and reached the northern sea separating the realm of the North, and Termina.

“How many days has it been since we were here? Twelve, ya?” Courage asked, as they soared over the great water, seeking the familiar path they had once trekked before. Once they were guided by a goddess, and accompanied by thousands upon thousands of their sleeping kin laden upon three titanic machines. Now they were alone.

“We were born fourteen days ago, so twelve days sounds right, I think.” Curiosity answered, turning to face her sister at the helm. After securing a promise from the brash champion that she wouldn’t fly so recklessly, all of them had agreed to let her be the regular pilot of Skydancer. They were able to navigate easier with her being able to sense the direction and distance to Keltra, and had used their previous journey as a reference to chart their current route… which consisted of just flying in a single direction so far.

“Tell me again about the people we’re meeting, the children of Chailiss. Is it true they’re really big, and they all look different?” Curiosity continued, and her question gained the attention of her other sisters as well.

“They were easily twice our height, with darker skin and hair, and they were varied in appearance. It was overwhelming, but exhilarating… I am eager to speak with our kin now that they have had an opportunity to settle themselves and create a home of their own.” Kindness replied in her monotone voice, before she unclasped the necklace holding the blue amulet she wore.

“These pendants were gifts from Chailiss, a reminder of his realm that offers us a cool comfort… The heat has never bothered us, and we have been able to adapt to the cold as well.” Kindness explained, allowing Curiosity and Wanderer to closely examine the blue gemstone she held. “Chailiss is very generous and compassionate, so we must help him where we can. We cannot let any more of his children suffer.” She said softly, but her words were heard and taken to heart all the same.

“The farther from the Eternal Fire and… Mother… we get, the weaker we become. How’re we supposed to help them if we can’t help ourselves?” Fear asked, her gaze upon her hand of ice where she saw her own distorted and cracked reflection looking back at her. A gentle hand covered the sight, and Fear glanced up to see Wanderer staring at her.

“We will become stronger.” The quiet champion announced.

“How?” Curiosity inquired from where she was seated, looking between all of her sisters with an innocent expression. It was Kindness who answered her question first, by standing up and gracefully gesturing towards herself as her skin became covered in shifting runes. She moved to stand beside Wanderer, and placed a hand upon her sister’s shoulder.

“We use the Gnosis.”

Her announcement stirred excitement and apprehension among the champions, as they waited to see what Kindness would create. The otherworldly symbols indicated a spell was being cast, but none among her sisters could see the familiar signs of the Incantation of Sending or Making. Kindness called upon her inner Spirit, weaving it into the tapestry and shaping reality according to her will.

“I do not know the name of this Incantation, but I know how to give it shape. All of us wish to help others, and that wish will be what connects us. It will grant us the power to manifest itself. Allow me to offer us this gift, do all of you accept?”

In response to her question, all of her sisters arose and faced her; Courage, Fear, Curiosity, and Wanderer. As they stood, they called upon the Gnosis, and the ever changing runes appeared on their bodies as well. “We accept!” Courage claimed, speaking on behalf of her sisters, as none protested.

“Let us share our strength, and stand together then. We will fight against despair… that will be our purpose… as the Holy Quintet. Let it be known, and make our wish become truth.” The air around Kindness rippled with the resonance of her voice, as the Gnosis sang an otherworldly melody that altered reality. A myriad of colors burst from each of the champions, a rainbow radiance that splashed over the entirety of Skydancer, and spread farther and farther until the vast sky shone with scintillating light.

As the luminous power seeped into their skin and washed over them, all of the champions felt themselves become invigorated. Their bodies and minds burning with cosmic strength and lucidity as they bathed in the presence of each other - sharing their souls for an ephemeral moment. They were attuned to one another, five that were now one, and none knew quite what that meant, but that did not concern them. They were not alone. They had each other.

When the light faded, and they felt themselves fall back into their own separate beings, silence lingered like a shroud laid over them. None spoke for a time, letting themselves recover from their ethereal experience. Slowly, like pieces of a puzzle being put into place, the champions found themselves able to relax again, and the runes of the Gnosis faded.

Courage chuckled, throwing her arm over the shoulders of Kindness, then tugging her close. “And you call me reckless!” The brash champion cheerfully teased, with a large grin on her face. Through their new connection, all of her sisters could sense the joy of Kindness behind her impassive mask.

“Thank you, Kindness. You’ve given us what we need to help others. I won’t let you down.” Fear added with renewed conviction, finding it easier to banish her anxiety with the feelings of her sisters so much clearer and closer to her.

“You are welcome, Fear.” Kindness replied, as all of her sisters approached.

The Holy Quintet gathered into a hug, all of them holding onto each other, and brimming with both happiness and relief. Their fires provided more warmth and were capable of sustaining themselves for a much greater duration. Their purpose was given new clarity now.

“I should probably get back to piloting, ya. I doubt there’s anything we might hit this high up, but we wouldn’t want to just fly past the North either.” Courage said, struggling to free herself from the soothing embrace of her sisters. “Kindness, Curiosity, could you two let go of me.”

After being released, Courage returned to the helm while the others seated themselves once more. The sun had reached its zenith in the sky, and the clouds continued to drift past them during their journey. They were halfway to their destination when Fear suggested another idea to occupy their time traveling.

“We should make more tools with the Incantation of Making; things that will help us protect others…” Fear offered, her timidness answered by the calm support of Kindness. “I agree. We have seen what evil is capable of, and require the necessary instruments to defend ourselves and the innocent.” She said, holding Fear’s hand in her own.

“I’d like to see Homura try to toss us around now. We’ve become stronger with your spell, Kindness. There’s no need to worry so much.” Courage remarked, but she could not hide the trepidation of suffering another defeat. Memories of the theft of her kin, and her inability to even scratch their Maker, caused her to reconsider her words. “You’re probably right, ya. We’ve got a while before we get to the North, so let’s do this!”

“Do we all have ideas of what to make then?” Kindness asked, looking at the rest of her sisters. Their uncertainty was evident, even without the bond they shared, she could see them thinking of various shapes and meanings, but that was fine. Courage was correct in saying they had time to figure out what they wanted.

“I know what I want to make.” Fear announced as she stood, and called upon the Gnosis. Her sisters watched with anticipation as the power of the divine manifested around Fear, and she summoned red material from nothingness. Her hands wove through the air, her mind uttering the words of creation that would shape the material into the artifact she envisioned. Slowly, the coalescing scarlet essence had expanded, becoming more detailed and defined.

It was long and thin, like a limb, but was slightly curved and covered in small spines that protruded along its lengths. Its color altered and became white, though seams of red remained, dividing the artifact into numerous sections that were held tightly together. With agile grace, Fear turned her back to the newly forged object, and let it glide towards her. There was a strange hissing sound, as the artifact attached itself to her, melding with the fabric of her dress.

“What’s that do?” Curiosity asked, her eyes wide with wonder.

Fear closed her eyes, and then white wings of feathery light burst from her back. She was lifted off of her feet, and shed brightness like a beacon in the night. Her wings stayed still, but granted her the ability of flight while illuminating a small amount of the world around her. Fear alighted back on the boat, and opened her eyes as she smiled. “I was reminded of Viho…” She murmured, loud enough for her sisters to hear.

“We will see him again, Fear.” Kindness said, remembering the owl champion fondly. “We must still show him proper gratitude for returning you safely to us, after all.”

“Hey, it’s my turn! Take the helm Fear, and try not to crash us into a cloud or something, ya.” Without heed, Courage leapt towards the center of the boat, and summoned the shifting runes across her body, her face half obscured by the otherworldly symbols. “I thought of this!” She cried, as she held out her hand, and pulled on her own power to create another artifact.

The red material shaped itself around her fingers and palm, layering itself and swirling over her skin. The song of the Gnosis became like drums, pulsing in the air as the spiritual energy of Courage became solid. The brash champion now wore a golden gauntlet, decorated with silver filigree and the abstract design of an eye engraved in the palm. Courage flexed the metallic fittings, clenching and unclenching her fist. “Ha! It worked!”

With a turn, she looked back at Fear and playfully waved. “Now you’re not the only one with a special hand.” She quipped, her words accompanied by her typical grin, and Fear found herself smiling in amusement because of her sister’s antics.

“You’re such a fool, Courage.” Fear replied, as Courage moved to join her at the helm. The two watched as Wanderer took center in the improvised stage that was the middle of Skydancer. The reticent champion invoked the Gnosis, and began the process of making her own artifact.

The material shaped itself similarly to Fear’s design, but stretched longer, until it was taller than the champions themselves. Intricate patterns were carved along the length of the limb, and the red color was replaced with the texture of wood. When the ritual was complete, a replica of Tuku’s staff levitated in the air before Wanderer. With deft hands, she grasped the staff, and smiled slightly. Without further ado, she stepped back as Curiosity stepped forward.

The inquisitive champion crossed her arms against her chest, and concentrated upon the internal chanting of the spell. The shifting runes hummed their sacred melody, and the fourth ritual resulted in the creation of another artifact. Covering her arm, Curiosity had donned a round silver shield, set with a multitude of glittering gems. Even when the runes receded, the buckler continued to emit a gentle song, as Curiosity jumped up and down with glee.

“My little Shield of Faith to protect me and my family!” She chimed with joy, holding her artifact high and on display.

“Now the Holy Quintet is ready.” Kindness said, and all of her sisters silently agreed.

The Heralds of Honor experimented with their new equipment, and casually conversed, as more and more time passed, until suddenly Curiosity called out. “Land ahoy! Land ahoy!”

The cold coast of the North appeared on the horizon, and their destination was finally in sight. All of them, aside from Courage, rushed to the prow, and watched as the Giantlands came into view. The coast grew larger and larger as they soared closer, the speed of Skydancer swiftly bringing them near where the sea mingled with the land. The boat alighted in the freezing waters, before being pulled by the tide towards the stoney shore. The cold awaited them.

“We’ve arrived at our destination: the Realm of Chailiss. Please disembark in an orderly manner, and thank you for using Air-Courage.”

@Dark Cloud

I've unfortunately invested myself in another RP, and no longer have time to write for this one. I'm glad to hear Queen recovered!
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