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Cats are Worms


III


“W-What’s this thing, Wanda?” Lorelei asked and stuck her nose into the flower she had pointed at. She took a deep whiff and immediately felt her heart skip a beat when her throat locked up, then she coughed and sneezed all over the flower. “Waghh…”

“A flower.”

A bright spot of red on a blade of yellow grass called her attention. She jumped over to it and sniffled when the little insect spread its wings and bumped against her forehead. “W-What’s that, Wanda?” She asked again.

“A ladybug.”

Lorelei flicked the insect off her forehead and got to digging a small hole on the ground. After a moment, she saw worms wiggling around and grabbed one. It looked pretty different from the ones back home since it wasn’t made of metal to begin with, nor was it as hot to the touch. She hummed to herself before putting it on her tongue and quickly spitting it out. “W-Wanda! Is that really a worm?”

“Yes.”

Lore rolled to the side and threw herself head first into a bush. From inside her hiding spot, she stared at Wanderer with wide eyes, her ears twitching in futile attempts to swat away the leaves around her head. “Look! You can u-use these things to hide! What are they?”

“Leaves.” Wanderer approached the bush and stuck her head in, which Lorelei took as an opportunity to lick the tip of her nose and snicker.

“Wanda why are you c-covered in squiggles? They’re moving too. T-They’re so much more complex than Gray’s! I think my brother would’ve liked you.” She found herself asking, a familiar feeling of… Emptiness, was it? Surging inside her chest. She lifted one of her hands and poked at Wanderer’s cheek.

“The marks of sorcery. They appear when I concentrate on a spell. Perhaps I will meet your brother during my travels.” Wanderer said, and Lorelei looked away while barely holding her lip back from quivering. “One day I will explore the whole world. Do you want to come with me when I go?”

“Ah! Uhm, yeah! I do! I wanna see the fields of ice and the oceans of sand, you know. I-It was my… It is my dream!” Lorelei nodded, finding the courage deep in her heart to look Wanderer in the eye once more. After a moment of awkward silence, Lorelei couldn’t help herself from looking away again and fiddling with her hands. “Y-Your face is very close. Usually everyone pulls away when I l-lick them. You’re not getting another one yet.” Lorelei explained quietly and pushed Wanderer’s head away with a palm, then stood up and walked out of the bush herself, her hands curled nervously into the somewhat loose fabric of her dress.

“It is my dream to see the stars.” Wanderer said, peering upwards to the sky beyond the scarlet canopy, before her gaze turned back to Lorelei. “I want to soar across the sky, and see things never seen before.”

“You saw me. The other sisters, Homura and Apostate saw me too… But other than you all? No one knows I e-exist. So right now you’re looking at a very r-rare breed of Homuran! One that has never been seen before! Except uhm, for e-everyone who’s already dead, but they don’t count!” Lorelei said, forcing a smug smile onto her face complete with closed eyes, until she half-opened one to look at Wanderer’s expression.

Wanderer was smiling, before she stepped back and twirled like a rose flower falling from above. “You are more than a very rare breed of Homuran. You are a flower that sparkles, a glittering gem from a far away dream, born in this beautiful world. You are Lorelei.” Wander gracefully leapt towards Lorelei - who let out a tiny gasp - and leaned in close, their noses almost touching again, but did not say another word.

Lorelei’s vision blurred.She felt tears welling up in her eyes. She knew that trying to wipe them away would be futile, so she just let them go. Eventually, some of them found their way to the corners of her mouth and prompted her to lick Wanderer’s face again. “Y-You get another one. Lucky, t-they aren’t as wet as a dog’s.”

“I do not really know what a dogs is, but it seems unlucky. I would like to see a dogs, and more of the animals and plants found throughout the world. I think it would be fun.” Wanderer said.

Lorelei pursed her lips, deciding that perhaps telling Wanderer that the only dog she had ever known was also the dog they ate was not a great idea. “Y-Yeah! They’re friendly and excitable and very ummm, fulfilling?” She fruitlessly tried to kick up some dirt with her foot and wiped away her tears. “I can’t kick up d-dirt. I am a ghost.”

“So am I.” Wanderer also kicked the ground yielding the same results.

“We are ghosts.” Lorelei sighed. “S-Should we haunt Fear?”

“She may become angry if we try. I would lose against her in a fight too. We should haunt Pride because she cannot fight back if we are seen.” Wanderer suggested.

“No! Not Pride, she’s mine! Let’s haunt Homura,” Lorelei smirked, “she w-won’t expect it.”

“I would also lose against her in a fight. I do not know if I can win against Apostate, and I am uncertain I wish to test that. His smoke can be frightening.” Wanderer shifted to lay on the ground, and look up at the branches and clouds high above. Lorelei almost immediately skipped over to Wanderer and lied down in such a way that she was half beside her and half on top of her.

“It’s kinda cold. It’s a family t-tradition to share body heat when the AC limiters break. One time we all slept together and it w-was very warm and cozy. I liked the heartbeats and the tight hugs.” She sighed and wrapped her arm around Wanderer as best as she could and nuzzled her shoulder.

“Hmm… Winter is coming. I have only heard stories about snow and a land so cold your breath appears in front of your face. The Eternal Fire keeps us warm, and connects us to our other selves. I have not slept for a while now, but I recall seeing things when I was not awake. I want to go to sleep again, and remember the feelings I felt in the past.” Wanderer murmured, and closed her eyes. Lorelei did not.

Instead, she stared at Wanderer’s face for a long enough time that her vision started to get brighter and sharper as she felt her pupils widening. Her tail swished around until it finally plopped onto her adoptive sister’s arm, and she felt a great desire welling up inside of her chest… The desire to slap.

She stayed like that, barely holding her instincts back as she watched Wanderer’s breathing settle into a slow, relaxed rhythm and her muscles relaxed.

It was too much for her little heart to take, and before she realized it she’d placed her palm, fingers spread wide apart, on Wanderer’s face.

“Hmm?” Only one eye opened, as Wanderer looked at Lore with curiosity. Lorelei twitched a little then quickly straddled Wanderer’s torso and put both of her hands on her big sister’s cheeks, unable to hide her sheepish grin and saucer-like eyes.

“Hii, I couldn’t h-help it. Sorry. It was a slap or a bite.” Lorelei explained, starting to gently knead her sister’s face.

“Hmm…” Wanderer answered, her features difficult to decipher as they were twisted and pulled, but even her enigmatic expression managed to remain both blank and docile, as though she had fallen asleep with her eyes open. It didn’t bother Lorelei though and she kept kneading away.

“Let’s hide, Wanda. Let’s hide or I’ll b-bite you. We can’t sleep out in the o-open. It’s dangerous!”

“Hmm…” Wanderer seemed to contemplate her words, but did nothing more as her eyes closed and she snored. It didn’t take more than two snores for Lorelei to bite her shoulder, recoiling with a whimper when she felt all the force behind her bite reflected back at her teeth.

“We gotta hide!” Lorelei repeated and whimpered again, shaking Wanderer’s shoulders. Breathing was starting to feel more difficult and she looked around quickly, her ears covering all of her blind spots. “He’s s-still looking for me, probably…!”

Wanderer still slept, but she began humming a quiet melody. Her arms wrapped around Lorelei with sudden speed and pulled her close, eliciting a small squeak from the girl. Softly she sang, “For one so small, you seem so strong. My arms will hold you, keep you safe and warm. This bond between us can't be broken... I will be here, so don’t you cry.”

The symbols that covered Wanderer’s face slowly receded, and though her eyes remained closed, she smiled as she hummed, and held onto Lorelei, who started to sob and sniffle. She seeked refuge by nuzzling against Wanderer’s neck, her entire body quaking with every single sob. “L-Liar… Everyone w-who’s told me t-that… Has died… Everyone is gone. I wanna s-see them again… But t-they’re gone… Don’t go too, please…!”

“I will be with you. Courage, and Kindness. Fear, and Curiosity. Pride. All of us will not leave you. Mother would be angry with us if we did, so you never need to worry about that happening, ya?” Wanderer said, imitating Courage with a wild grin and much more lively eyes, before her expression drooped, and she was back to quiet Wanderer. Lorelei hugged Wanderer as tightly as she could, trying to find some solace in her big sister’s embrace, some slight escape from the terrifying shadows of memories that lay behind everything she looked at.

“I-I’m sorry… I wanna be b-brave and strong like all of you, b-but… I’m scared… I wanna hide…” She sobbed again, “...I-I’m a worm…”

“I do not know what a worm is, but I know that you are Lorelei. Have faith, you are stronger than you think.” Wanderer said, gently stroking Lorelei’s hair. “You should ask Mother to make you stronger. Hmm… you would be like the rest of us that way.”

Lorelei said nothing and merely kept crying until she exhausted herself, letting Wanderer’s embrace and affection lull her into an uneasy sleep.



Homura

(Wait this isn't Homura's POV)



Amid the scattered wattle and daub homes of the humans, the untouchable center of the garden of Hevel remained quiet. Even in spite of the chattering and activities all around the sacred spot — even this late at night —, the small sanctuary behind the statue sat at peace, as it always had since the day Apostate was born. The god himself was currently in between two mighty oaks, wrapped up cozy in the embrace of a hammock hung between the two. Only his nose poked out from the cocoon of cloth, that and what parts of Warbreaker refused to fit in the bedding.

The hammock had a gentle swing to it, paddled by a wafting breeze and perpetuated by the soft breaths of the god of defiance, tiny puffs of smoke exiting with each quiet exhale. Both his eyes were closed, summoning him in a world of darkness where only the pricks of his ears painted the world around him, that and the subtle burn of his deep burden. Even with the natural ability to feel the pain of the world around him, though, all was quiet and so was he.

A familiar light pierced the peaceful darkness, announcing the arrival of a familiar presence. There was nothing subtle about the aura of divine power that approached, the way it hesitantly stepped forth and carefully shaped itself to the lay of the land, and avoided the mortals that walked upon it. The two things seemed to contradict themselves; carrying a bright golden spear that illuminated the world all around with celestial radiance, while also refusing to touch or disturb even a single blade of grass as she came closer.

Apostate shuffled inside of his hammock, refusing to open his eyes and pulling Warbreaker closer. He made a face. “Homura… even the stars above aren’t as bright as you.” He wrenched a single eye open, the night sky blurred past the new wave of light from the goddess... “Can’t you shut off the light?”

The light receded, as Daybringer became smaller and smaller, until the spear sank into the skin of her palm, and the darkness of the night returned. “I apologize, I did not mean to agitate you, or your people.” Homura said, peering over her shoulder at the many people she had passed through on her march towards the God of Defiance. Despite her words, her expression conveyed no repentance, merely impassive as usual.

Turning, the God of Defiance poked his head out of his hammock and looked the goddess over. “Have you tried sleeping yet?”

She tilted her head in confusion, and then sighed. “I do not think I am capable of entering an unconscious state, brother. I am always awake.”

“You’re a god,” Apostate said in response. He fell back into his hammock to stare up at the sparkling night sky. “Yet you seem to like restricting yourself.”

Only the wind shifted as she stepped closer, and stood beside his hammock, her red visage on the peripheral of his vision. “Whether or not I enjoy my limitations will not change the fact that they exist, and I must accept them until I can overcome them. I have wandered the realm of dreams, but I have little reason to stay in such a state for any long period of time, so why should I bother sleeping?” She asked.

Apostate shook his head and gave the goddess a long sideways glance. He almost knew she was going to say something along those lines, and the unfazed stare that she returned his with only reminded him of her stubbornness. With a kick, the god tumbled out of his hammock to land on his feet, Warbreaker falling into one of his hands. Now standing next to Homura, he pulled the opening of the hammock wide.

“Go on, get in.”

“Fine.” She stepped forward, her form passing through the material of the hammock, until her shape seemed to distort like a flickering flame, and in the blink of an eye, her body was laying sideways in a stiff imitation of his previous position. She then regained her mass, and the hammock reacted to the sudden weight, sinking slightly while she found herself struggling to find a comfortable means of resting. It was evident she did not know how to relax, as she frowned with frustration, looking up at him with angry red eyes.

“Homura, do you know what hopeless means?” Apostate teased. “You like to dance, right? Try finding a calm rhythm to match the sway of the world around you. In and out like a soft breeze.”

She closed her eyes, sighing again, and attempted to appear comfortable while laying down. Regardless of how pleasant and snug the hammock was, performing its intended role with ease, the red goddess resisted relaxation and thwarted its every effort to appear inviting. No, it was definitely Homura herself that did not seem inviting, and it would be wrong to blame the hammock for her obstinate nature.

Rolling his eyes, Apostate blew a small river of smoke from his lungs, the gentle waft pushing the hammock into a gentle swing. While it swung, coating the scene in a haze of hevel, Apostate spoke.

“Would you mind if I told you another metaphor that you will likely over-criticize until it was pointless for me to tell you of it?”

Her hostile expression lacked any true malice as she replied. “Go ahead. Perhaps it will help me understand why I must suffer this ordeal.”

“Consider this a two in one. Think of a tree — it stands tall only because it has a good foundation, strong roots, and it only stays standing against the elements not because it is simply sturdy, but bends in the wind. Likewise, you are the roots of so many things, and if you can’t relax, how can you expect those who rely on you to be able to? Secondly, if you can’t let the wind bend you here and there, you’ll snap — and snapped roots are a rather useless tree.” Apostate pushed the hammock with another gust of smoke. “You did good, Homura, now try to learn how to rest — if not for you, then you know.”

She shifted, looking away from him. “An apt metaphor, but you have made a mistake. I am not the roots of any tree. I am the earth that holds it, the light that feeds it, and the wind that bends it…”

“Uht!” Apostate interrupted, “not in this metaphor you’re not.”

Silence reigned for a moment as she contemplated his words, until she answered softly. “Perhaps… I am a snapped tree then.”

Apostate tucked a frown into his cheek. “Just shh for a little while and look up at the sky.” The god himself plopped down into the grass below. “While it’s quiet.”

Unfortunately she did not follow his request, and spoke again. “I cannot. There is little time.” She offhandedly reached out towards the heavens above her, but grasped at nothingness, opening and closing her wrapped hand. She let her limb fall limp by her side.

“You never did tell me about the ribbons on your hand,” Apostate mentioned idly, as if changing the subject.

“Hmm… another error of mine. If you wish to know, merge with me once more.” She replied, almost whispering. He could not see her face, but he could hear the hesitation in her voice. Reaching out, Apostate’s hand turned into a river of smoke, pooling around the hammock, but this time, little flakes of black metal floated inside the stream.

“Whenever you’re ready.”

There was only a brief existence of a barrier between them, until it faded, and the fire within Homura opened itself to him. There was no blinding presence and scorching heat, only a warm light swirling and coiling itself all around the inner being of the Goddess of Honor. Seven ruby serpents swam in the light, but did not react to him, as they receded further into the depths. She shared her senses and her memories with him then:

Her return to Keltra and the last time she spoke with Lorelei. Her journey to the Monarch’s palace and her request to become His emissary. Her conversation with Chailiss, and her plan for the north. Lastly, her interaction with Iqelis and Ea Nebel, and her reason for traveling westward, along with encounters with more members of the pantheon. All of this, he felt and saw as though he had been there beside her, but her thoughts remained elusive.

“There is still so much you do not know…” Her voice echoed all around, it reverberated through him, and slowly painted more scenes: The calamity he had stood against during his birth, soaring through the sky in all directions, more massive than it had been, but Homura attempting to intervene with the last of her strength before it spread further. She could not overcome it on her own, but she was not alone. Two images; Chailiss and his box, and Apostate’s statue of himself.

Then he saw her explore the familiar land that had been devastated, where she encountered Iqelis, and through their powers mingling gave birth to a woman with divine blood pulsing through her veins. He watched and listened, as Homura watched and listened to Iqelis, Voligan, and the newly named Ea Nebel wandered the desert. She kept her presence hidden, until Ea Nebel had departed upon her metallic boar.

Memories of the time both Homura and him were in Keltra appeared, while she was performing the ritual to cleanse Lorelei of the contents deemed polluted within her. A vision of the same ritual being performed on Courage manifested, as Homura cleansed her champion as well. Then he watched as Homura washed Lorelei’s strange suit in the red sea beside Keltra, as the dried puke and grime was removed, the goddess looked at her hands and saw that her skin had been marred. Small stains like rust spread across her palms, and the Goddess of Honor gasped with sudden pain before she hastily covered the stigma with red ribbons.

“You have seen it now… Please leave my mind.” She said softly, her sorrow and shame seeping into him like the pain of the oppressed, but her thoughts remained shielded from him. The silent theater of her inner being was becoming more and more closed, as though the lights were being turned off one by one, and silence smothered the area.

The smoke snapped away from Homura, flooding back into Apostate and hitting him in the chest, forcing a loud gasp from him. His chest rumbled and he let out a groan. Things were still piecing together in his mind, mingling with his own memories of Homura, and how she reacts to the things he presents.

“I see…” His words were slow.

“My mistakes are many, and I will suffer the punishment for my foolishness.”

“What mistake?” Apostate’s eyes were now lingering on Homura’s hand.

“I thought such a thing was nothing to be concerned about.” The red goddess replied, hiding her hands beneath her back, before she attempted to lift herself from the hammock with grace, managing to somewhat accomplish that goal. She stared meekly at him, unable to hold her gaze upon him for long. “I have another favor to ask.”

“What do you need?” Apostate asked, his voice much gentler than usual.

“Please look after them. My champions are not ready for the cruelties of this world, and I do not wish for them to suffer because of me. If she ever asks you what I would have named her, tell it would have been --- Tell her that. She must walk upon a terrible path, but I cannot help her.” Homura said, bringing a hand up to hide her face as she spoke.

“Hope,” Apostate suggested, “you need to have hope. Your malady is not finality, but merely a reaction you have to the world around you.” He stood up tall, a fiery coal burning behind his bandaged eye. “Do you know what I say to things that push such oppression on others?”

“I would assume you hit them with your sword first before assailing them with various metaphors about plants.” Homura replied, letting her hand fall, and the impassive mask returned once more.

“Almost,” Apostate admitted. “First… well now no, you ruined it.” Apostate gave a defeated frown. With less energy in his voice than before he finished. “I say I won’t move and then defy them.”

“Hmm… that would have been my second answer.” She replied as she moved to lean against one of the tall oak trees. “Do you know why I did not mention you when I spoke to our Lord?” She asked, referring to the vision she showed him; of her encounter with the Monarch of All.

"You couldn't bear the thought of me wasting my metaphors on anyone else?" Apostate pinched his chin in thought. "Homura, I should be shocked."

“That would be the second reason, but my first reason is equally foolish. Our brother, Voligan, has been chosen to act as our Lord’s Champion. I thought that a much more appropriate way of introducing you would be through a duel with Voligan which will prove your strength. Regardless of the outcome, I think this way benefits us all. Do you object?” Her head leaned a little to the as she peered at him curiously.

"You want me to go beat up Voligan?" Apostate crossed his arms. Without pausing to think, he answered, "very well."

“The third reason is more complicated, but put simply, I think it would be better if you remained here attending your current task. The Garden of Hevel is situated in an advantageous position which requires proper protection. My duty takes me north where I will offer guidance to the people there, but this land also needs aid. Warbreaker was named such for a reason, so I hope that upon my next return, it will be love and laughter, not blood and corpses that litter the plains. That reminds me, I have another favor, if you will indulge me one more time. Daybringer is not attuned to Warbreaker yet, could you provide it with that power?” Homura asked, holding out her palm where a tiny golden spear, softly glowing, emerged and stood proud - despite how small it was (just like Homura).

“Sure.” Apostate reached out with a hand, finding the ruby gem that dominated the spear. He gently tapped a finger to it, a small wisp of smoke engulfing the jewel as he spoke. “Homura, I understand the more pragmatic reasons… but you make me curious… as in, why do you care so much about proving me strong to the Lord of Lords?”

“You currently lack any titles, brother. Our power primarily comes from our Lord, and he rewards more power to those that prove worthy of such. If you wish to survive, then you must acquire more titles. That is the simple answer, and I hope it suffices.” Homura replied, letting her weapon recede back into her palm.

“Simply put, you care.” Apostate fell into silence for a moment. He suddenly looked at Homura’s ribbons. “Hold out your hands.”

“I would rather you explain your intentions.” She replied, holding her hands out despite her words.

Apostate shook his head and gently positioned her hands so they were cupped together with the palms up. “Yeah, but this is a surprise.”

Cupping his own hands, he gently placed them over Homura’s, creating a small shallow between the two. He pressed his hands tight over hers, to make sure the only cracks were the tiny spaces between the bumps of their cupped palms. He knitted his brow in concentration, summoning a small ambient glow hidden by their hands. It pulsed a white light, slowly bleeding into a flowery pink.

A gentle fluttering feeling brushed against the rough bandaged palms of Apostate, and flickered over Homura’s own beaten hands. The gentle flaps and flutterings grew in number, tickling both their skins until the head of a lily, flush with pink petals, came fluttering out from the cracks between their hands and fingers. A pleasant fragrance followed and soon a flood of the strange sky lilies were pouring out from their combined hands, leaving a streak of dancing pink in the nightly breeze around them. It swirled about, engulfing the scene as Apostate continued his concentration, the myriad of flowers seemingly unending.

Homura stood there, confused, but she said nothing as more and more flora flowed from their clasped hands. An abundance of a flower she had never seen before, soaring all around her, and she appreciated the aesthetic, but she did not understand the purpose of this act. Her features furrowed with bemusement, and she continued to watch Apostate.

Apostate’s face screwed with more concentration, until with perhaps a defeated tone, he asked, “is this helping at all?”

“A little. Your effort brings me relief, but… this will not immediately change what has happened. I appreciate it, brother.” Homura looked away, and pulled her hands back, the final stragglers fluttering from their released grip. Apostate let his hands fall to his sides, and a contemplative look overtook him.

“I’ll fight Voligan, and I’ll take his title.”

“It will not be easy. I… I should go. I must make my way to the mountains in the west. One of our own is buried there, so I am told. You should visit Lorelei in Keltra, look after her for a time, as I cannot protect her when I am away.” Homura said, slowly stepping backwards.

“Wait.” Apostate held up his hand. “Are you sure it’s safe for you to go looking for the body with your condition?”

“If I am in danger, I will call upon you. I can only hope you answer my prayer. Hmm… besides, I am stronger than I look. There is no need to fret so much.”

Apostate crossed his arms defiantly. “I never fret.”

“Then neither of us need to be concerned. We will meet again, brother. Until then, farewell.” Homura said, and Daybringer reappeared returning to its original size, as she stepped farther back. The goddess was surrounded by a serene aura, it seemed her time with Apostate had soothed some of her wariness.

“We will.” Apostate gripped the handle of Warbreaker out of instinct. “And we will find a way to cure your affliction.”


Aethel & Homura



While it was true that Aethel would have been interested in witnessing the first ever magical ritual performed by mortals on a larger scale, the simple fact was that his attention had been… elsewhere for sometime now. Something that they had lost a long time ago and hadn’t been able to locate had… revealed itself somewhat.

It was no longer within Tuku’s possession and thus the measures in which the lord of the hunt had hidden the stolen branch of the Tree of Harmony seemed to have faded with his absence… but while Aethel may have understood themselves a fickle beast, but once they started on a task they liked to see it through to the end.

Now that the Rattus were largely equipped to handle mortal affairs and survive on their own to an extent that Aethel was happy, they had opted to go for a walk and track down what was rightfully theirs. Lands, animals and oceans just flew past him, but in the end they reached the land where the missing branch had been seemingly abandoned… inside of what appeared to be a rather interesting looking fortress.

The circular red wall surrounded a lone keep atop a hill, where the land was barren, and the presence of another deity was so profuse that it had seeped into the forest that grew around the fortress, and flooded the nearby sea. A myriad of red hues, from the flowers, to the branches, to the water, and the stone. Close to the fortress were three massive machines, and a vast section of the land that had become putrid and stained with ebon oil that choked any life that attempted to regrow there. The presence of another deity lurked in its aura of decay.

Standing on the wall, watching Aethel, was a lone figure wielding a golden spear that shone with celestial light. Her aspect revealed itself, and the Goddess of Honor called outward, her voice clear and easily heard despite the distance between them. “I am Homura, I have no intentions of harming you.”

Looking back up at the now named Homura, Aethel couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow of their small, bipedal form as their arms crossed their chest. “I am Aethel. Normally when one intends no harm, their first instinct isn’t to openly be wielding a spear. I know you’re trying to be polite, but I feel like it should be mentioned that you’re sending something of a mixed message.

“Allow me to amend my statement then. I have no intentions of harming you, unless you are my enemy.” She replied, and her voice was neither hostile or friendly, nearly emotionless when she spoke.

With the matter being cleared up, Aethel seemed to relax slightly as their crossed arms dropped away. “Okay then. Glad we were able to clear that up. Misunderstandings are troublesome after all. As to why I am visiting you, Tuku seems to have left something here that he originally stole from me and I would like it back if you don’t mind sister.

“Hmm… I assume you are referring to the wooden staff he carried. It is imbued with your power, but I require more evidence to prove that you are not attempting to deceive me. Our brother has entrusted it in the care of my champion, and therefore entrusted it in my care. If you can provide more evidence, then I will return it to you.” Homura answered.

There was a moment where Aethel just… blinked up at Homura before a frustrated groan escaped him. “That’s not fair! The only four witnesses of Tuku’s stealing of one of the branches of my tree are myself, Tuku, the mother of rats and one of the early hawks, the latter two both long gone and the hawk being Tuku’s toady anyway. I mean seriously, who promotes someone to be their symbol because all they did was spy on the rat that you told to steal for you in exchange for the ability to have children without her dead husband? It’s not exactly a test of loyalty or skill.

All I can offer to you is the truth, just as any claim that Tuku offered that isn’t arranging the theft of that branch is a lie. Why should my word by valued less than his?

“You have accused our brother of a crime. He will now stand trial, and if you are speaking the truth, he will be punished, and you will be given that which belongs to you. I will speak with him, as well as the other two you have mentioned. Until then, it would be foolish of me to simply believe the words of one I do not know. I promise you, Aethel, that if you have been wronged, you will receive proper justice, I speak as the Highest Judge of the Monarch, and His Emissary.” Homura said, while her voice and expression remained neutral.

For a moment, Aethel looked frustrated and angry… but then something she said seemed to calm them a little. They were still clearly tense, but there was an assurance in the way that they stood now as they gazed up at Homura. “I do not care that you are the highest judge of the Monarch, or his Emissary. But you have given your personal word to see justice done and I will hold you accountable to that.

With the matter settled for now, Aethel seemed to relax a lot more as they openly started to look around. “I like what you’ve done with the place by the way. I don’t care what anyone says, there is nothing wrong with knowing what you like and decorating your home how you want it.

Homura stepped back, out of sight, but still easily heard. “You are welcome to come inside, if you wish. I am afraid I must leave soon, but we can arrange for you to visit another time. I will require your attendance during our brother’s trial, but there are other matters to discuss. Your beautiful work on Galbar first and foremost.” She said, moving farther and farther away.

Thank you for the invitation. I would love to join you, even if only briefly.” Aethel answered completely honestly, walking forward before leaping up to the balcony that Homura had been standing at before intending to follow and join her. “For what it is worth, I am sorry for arriving like this. I was merely following my lost branch and I didn’t know where exactly it was going to be when I caught up with it.

The wall was as wide as the colossi that stood outside it, and Homura walked from its outer edge to the inner edge. Despite her mention of a hasty departure, she leisurely strolled towards her destination. “There is no need to apologize. I understand your frustration, and hope I can alleviate it soon. I would like to use this time as an opportunity to verify that we have been discussing the same artifact, so I appreciate your patience. I apologize for my own behavior, my creations and I have been recently threatened by our brother, Iqelis, and I do not take kindly to such.”

They reached the inner edge of the wall, standing upon the red precipice and facing the lone keep atop the hill in the center of the barren fields. “I digress, it is proper for me to express my appreciation of what you yourself have created. Defining the realm of dreams, and another source of ambient energy that mingles with the rest of creation. Such is work worthy of praise.” Homura said, turning to face Aethel with an authentic look of respect.

For their part, Aethel appreciated the flattery. “Why thank you sister! It is nice to have one’s work be appreciated. Though I must confess that aside from your beautiful fortress and your giant colossi, I am not that familiar with your own works upon Galbar. Then again, I am somewhat easily distracted and prone to letting my mind wander so I may have just missed it.

In relation to Iqelis, the smaller deity answered “I have yet to meet them myself, though I do remember Ruina’s warning of them from such a long time ago. At any rate, I am sure that the display that resulted in the altercation between the two of you was entertaining for the Monarch of All to witness if nothing else, so do take comfort in that.

Homura turned her gaze towards the heavens, and pondered the words of Aethel for an ephemeral moment before she spoke again. “I am afraid that I have yet to begin my work. I did not create the colossi, and this keep was forged from a calamity caused by our siblings and their petty conflict. I have created the gift of humanity for all among the pantheon, which I will show you when we step inside. I have created my six champions, but their beauty is their own. I have created only one monument that I consider to be the result of my work. I will show it to you as well.” With those words, the red goddess leapt from the wall towards the keep itself.

The bipedal equine god quickly followed, landing beside her as they continued the conversation as if they hadn’t just leaped “It’s okay. There is nothing wrong with taking your time and planning out what you’re going to do. I’ve been known to do it from time to time after all. Though I am curious why you’re keeping your… humans you said? I am curious why you’ve got them locked up in your fortress rather than letting them loose in the world to figure out their place in it. At the moment, my Rattus are currently dealing with an unexpected issue of what was clearly a herbivore that lived on the opposite riverbank from them violently responding to their efforts to use the river to transport themselves and supplies. I’m curious to see how they handle it in the end.

Homura walked through one of the many doorways, entering the scarlet structure. Ahead was an otherworldly light, akin to the orange glow of flames, but imbued with the essence of the divine. It spread its warmth which was absorbed by the stone and the wind, invigorating all it touched. Homura spoke and her voice echoed in the tunnel they traversed. “Humanity still sleeps, awaiting the will of the Divine to awaken them. They are kept here where they are safe until I can properly deliver them to the rest of our kin. They will be an instrument of our desires, shaped by our preferences, and guided by our decree. However, they are also fragile, and require a source to sustain their inner fire.”

Sister, a watercraft resting on the shore might be safe from what the Rattus call the water monsters, but being on land is not what a watercraft is for. Leave it there long enough and the reeds that make it up will rot and decay to the point where even if you did push it into the water, it would just sink.” Aethel countered softly.

The two deities stepped out of the passage and into the vast hall where the Eternal Fire blazed brightly, illuminating the thousands upon thousands of sleeping humans, along with a small area occupied by pillows and large white owl plushies. Placed upon a nearby table is an egg and an orb held in chalices, a sheathed dagger, and the carved branch of the Tree of Harmony. There was little else in terms of activity, aside from a small, childlike effigy of Homura approaching them.

“Welcome to Keltra, your grace. My name is Pride.” The small champion said, as she respectfully bowed to Aethel.

A bow that was quickly and respectfully returned. “My name is Aethel. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Pride. Even if my visitation will be brief.” Aethel responded… before their gaze turned towards the branch that had been carved into a staff. “That’s the branch Tuku stole for sure. I would recognize it anywhere… even if he has altered it.

“Pride, the staff Tuku entrusted to you is not to be removed from this hall, even should he come back and demand it. Inform him that it is confiscated until the matter of its ownership is resolved, and he may speak with me if he takes umbrage with that. That is all.” Homura ordered as she approached her champion and then dismissed her. Pride merely bowed once more, looking between the two deities once before walking towards the area where the pillows and table were.

“Those that sleep are dormant vessels. There remain two hundred and ten thousand, eight hundred and seventy-four in my possession. I offer you up to ninety thousand, if you wish to claim some. I will also deliver them to wherever you like, but that may take some time considering my other obligations at the moment.” Homura said, as she knelt beside one of the sleeping humans. Its pale form lacked any facial features, aside from narrow slits for breathing.

A generous offer Homaru, but one I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline.” was Aethel’s surprising answer. “As I said, I’ve already made a people in the form of the Rattus, while also having some ideas for some caretakers for the ocean of dreams… an environment that I’m afraid that humanity is ill suited to be the template for, if only because they were originally of the material world. They would simply not have the inherent adaptability required in order to properly maintain and move around within a mental realm. But that all being said.. Why don’t you take those nine thousand humans for yourself? After all, why should the other deities get to decide what shape all of your creations take?

“Humanity is my gift. Not something I intended to bestow upon myself lest all of our kin ultimately refused to claim them. I have proven I am not worthy of being considered divine, and so I will only offer my guidance and aid to mortals. Keltra and the Eternal Fire is a shelter for them, not a home. Perhaps that will change in the future, but my current intentions are to set humanity free upon Galbar, to serve our Lord, as we do.” Homura answered, turning her attention back towards Aethel.

Aethel for their part had lifted a fist to their mouth and bit down on some of his fingers in order to stop himself from laughing. They couldn’t help it; Homura had just told them the funniest thing they had ever heard in their existence but they didn’t want to disrespect her when it was clear that she was trying to be serious… even though it just made the situation funnier. Closing their eyes for a moment as they breathed deep to collect themselves enough to talk properly, Aethel opened them again as they removed the fist.

Very well sister. In light of what you just said, I believe I will accept your offering of nine thousand humans so that I can give them a good home with someone who will look after them. A concern I’m sure you’ve had with some of our siblings who have accepted your gift before.” Aethel offered in a calm and respectful tone… before they turned away from Homura towards her tiny champion who was lurking nearby the fire. “Pride my dear, would you come over here for a second?

Pride nodded her head as she spoke. “Yes, your grace.” Then she trekked to where Aethel stood, tossing a single glance towards where Homura stood in silence, before looking up at the God of Magic.

Clearing their throat, Aethel smiled as they offered “It seems to me that it has become a custom for visiting deities to offer you and your sisters a gift… and to fail to live up to that custom would be rude of me. I have recently come into the ownership of nine thousand humans that I don’t have any plans for… so rather then just letting them linger here or twisting them into some brutish form designed to help them impose their will upon other species, I am instead going to offer them to you and your sisters to do with as you wish. Granted, I suspect you would need to ask your mother or some other deity you’re on good terms with in order to alter them in a manner you all desire, but they are yours all the same.

“Hmm… that’s a generous offer, your grace. Permit me a moment to ponder it before accepting, please.” Pride replied, turning to Homura. “Mother, would the Eternal Fire sustain nine thousand humans?” She asked.

The Goddess of Honor began walking towards the burning monument, her back to Aethel and Pride when she answered. “The Eternal Fire can sustain more than a million humans within Keltra, but its range is limited to within the walls. You have also misheard me, I offered ninety thousand humans, brother, but if nine thousand is all you wish to claim, then so be it.”

Aethel blinked slightly… before pausing as they actually thought about the earlier conversation. “Oh, so you’re right. I guess I did mishear. Pride, my gift has been increased to ninety thousand. Might as well ensure that whatever species you and your sisters create has the numbers to withstand the odd misfortune.

“Thank you, your grace. I happily accept your gift. I’ll tell my sisters as well when they return.” The small champion replied, bowing once more. She arose, and smiled at Aethel, exuding innocent joy as her mind seemed to race with all the new possibilities.

“If you wish to awaken them, Pride, you must travel farther on the Sacred Path. I will not awaken them for you.” Homura said, moving to stand behind Pride, and placing her hand on the small champion’s shoulder, but this did not cause the loss of any excitement. “Yes, Mother.” Pride chimed, still smiling.

Nodding their head slightly, the poofy mane swayed from the motion as they answered “Well either way, I look forward to seeing what you and your sisters create. But I believe I should take my leave… your mother did say that her time was short and she had other affairs to take care of and I don’t wish to overstay my welcome.

“I will inform you of when Tuku will stand trial, but you are free to come back and visit again, brother. I hope to one day visit your people, and see what wonders they have created. Until then, farewell.” Homura said, absently stroking Pride’s hair while she spoke.

And I would welcome you and your daughter's dear sister. I’ll try and give you more of a heads up if I intend to visit you in the future.” Aethel offered, combining it with a small bow as they turned to walk towards the exit and depart… before they suddenly stopped and snapped their fingers, as if remembering something. “Oh, I almost forgot! There was one thing I was going to ask you, Homura.

Turning back to look at their sister, Aethel was interested as they asked “Have you encountered your counterpart yet?

“I have. He awaits outside. Have you encountered yours?” Homura inquired after answering.

There was a small blink… before Aethel shook their head. “Sorry, let me explain that better. Have you encountered the deity whose core shard is that of dishonor? After all, the concept of honor doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In order for there to be an honorable course of action, there must also be a dishonorable one. Was just curious if the Monarch of All had given that shard form or if it was still directly a part of his being.

“Allow me to repeat myself. Dishonor waits outside.” Homura said, letting go of Pride who looked between the two deities with growing discontent. The small champion silently excused herself, returning to her feathery seat, while Homura simply stood facing Aethel.

For a moment there was silence… before Aethel smiled and answered “Thank you for answering my question. I’ll see myself out and I hope to see you again soon.

“Indeed.”



The Monarch of All
&
Homura



The far away words of her brother, who had announced himself the chosen champion of the Monarch of All, had reached the Goddess of Honor, and she felt the sudden weight of dread descend upon her after hearing that another member of the pantheon had been slain by one of their own. Her mind simply could not comprehend why many among her siblings were so blind to the needless damage they were inflicting upon all of creation by their impetuous behavior.

She stood alone outside the citadel of Keltra, and lifted her gaze to the heavens where the imperious sun illuminated the vast sky, the shifting sea, and the resilient land. Daybringer shimmered with colorful joy beneath the warm radiance of the greatest among stars that acted as the gateway to the King in Heaven’s celestial palace. She sensed as the world trembled while the Divine fought each other, and it irked her that they could be so careless. They should be focusing on the act of creation, not the immediate destruction of each other.

“Your Imperial Majesty, I must speak with you. Please grant me an audience now.” Homura called outwards, then stood in silence awaiting an answer.

And so there were no words, no sound other than the bridge between the heavens and the Galbar opening itself to allow Homura to enter with the gates of the Divine Palace being open to her. Yet, as she walked through the hallowed halls, the Monarch of All was not to be found sitting upon His throne, a fact that was strange but she could feel His presence all the same. Following it, she came across a garden of glass with its pathways laid out and the bronze tree standing opulent upon its center. But there He was, standing wordless as if He did not know that Homura was standing behind him.

For an ephemeral moment she was able to appreciate the wonder of that which had been cultivated all around her, and she could discern the touch of the one that had created the Eidolons, the one that was known as Avros by the horned ones of the plains.

This ever changing garden stood as evidence that the Divine were capable of creating great beauty, and Homura hoped that the others among the pantheon would strive to achieve such works of art.

Then the brief time of thoughts was over, and the Goddess of Honor deeply bowed before the Monarch of All.

“My Lord of Creation, O Ruler of Reality, I have come with a request. I ask that you choose me to act as your Emissary.” She spoke softly, for she did not wish to break the tranquil silence that had washed over her when she stepped into the courtyard, yet her voice was clear and easily heard.

The words seemed to stir the Monarch of All, His head turning slightly to acknowledge that He had heard Homura but did little more than turn back to look upon the bronze tree. There was yet more silence before the Creator of the Gods reached and grabbed one of the fruits to look upon it. After a moment, He spoke in a soft tone, still not having turned to face the would-be Emissary.

”You seek to become my Emissary? Why is it that you wish to join my side, Homura?”

“It is gratitude, your Imperial Majesty. I cannot remain idle or distracted when I could be serving you in a greater capacity.” She answered, still bowing before the King of Heaven. Her sacred inner flames danced with great passion, burning brightly with conviction that conveyed both her devotion and strength. It promised completely that she would fiercely fight for the Monarch of All, that she would eternally obey the Monarch of All, that she would sacrifice herself for the Monarch of All.

“As your Emissary, I would rectify the ignorance and profanity of that which my kin has created on Galbar. The Bjork in the north pray to the Singing Maker who has already abandoned them, and now there are those that curse our existence. The Eidolons of the south do not understand the truth of the world, and offer no proper praise or respect to the Divine. So much of life has become dedicated to the pursuit of solely satisfying both sinful and carnal desires in a cycle which will result in life ultimately consuming itself instead of traversing the Sacred Path as an expression of your will.” Homura continued, after feeling compelled to offer an explanation.

”Then perhaps you might just be the only one not merely seeking to gain more power, Homura.”

The Monarch of All’s words held a touch of animosity to them, none of which was directed upon the goddess but rather to her many peers. He finally turned to look down upon Homura, His presence still commanding all attention as the glass reflected all of His light back to Him. In but a single step, He appeared closer to her, not even a foot length away as He continued to gaze down. His arms were still folded behind His back as He spoke to her in a more raised tone, as a superior would to their subordinate.

”You would be the one to bring the mortals back into the light - MY light. Do you understand that some mortals may wish to cast away my gaze forever? To live in the dark wallowing in their own desires?”

“I believe that those mortals have been led astray, and that their lack of enlightenment, their aversion to salvation, originates from both ignorance and malicious machinations engineered by an external evil. I believe that all of life truly wishes to celebrate and uphold the virtues of creation. That the appropriate attitude towards the wonders of this world you have shaped for life to exist within should be appreciation, your Imperial Majesty. All other actions and beliefs are motivated by self preservation; a remnant of their love for you, despite what others may claim.” She answered with unwavering faith towards the towering one before her, the one that had given her the gift of life and meaning. She could not accept being unworthy, so she must succeed His expectations and adhere to His decree. That was her purpose, she recalled with cosmic lucidity.

”And what are you prepared to do, should these machinations prove too powerful for you to convince the lost lambs to come back to the fold?”

Her hand came to her chest, and closed in a tight fist. Her other hand held onto Daybringer, and sought to soothe the shimmering star within the golden spear. As the Monarch of All remained looming over her, it was not a shadow that was cast upon her, it was His glorious light that passed through her being and granted her the inner resolve to find further strength in His presence.

“I will not fail you, Great Lord of Creation. I am not alone, and though the work is indefinite, I readily embrace the challenge. I am a divine warrior, and I will fight back the insidious threat of nihilism. I will protect creation from the workings of an infernal annihilation. I am the Goddess of Honor, and I stand defiant against the forces seeking to unravel reality, and usurp your throne. Our enemies speak of our inevitable defeat, but they are wrong. Your reign is eternal, and you will be victorious. I am ever-prepared to follow your edict, your Imperial Majesty.”

”Then let it be known, Homura, that you shall be the Emissary of the Palace and you shall let all know to not stray from my light.”

The words of the Monarch of All resonated throughout the chamber as He allowed His hands to spread out as the proclamation spread throughout the Divine Palace. He no longer looked upon his judge, but into the air as power surged from His very core and entered Homura’s very soul as her new position gripped her. The power was overwhelming at first, more than what she would need but such was His reward for unquestioning and unyielding loyalty to the great Lord of Reality. Once it was all said and done, He gazed down upon her, and gestured with an upwards hand before He spoke softly.

”Rise o’ loyal Homura and know that you will speak my will and ensure that none will stray from the path again.”

“Yes, your Imperial Majesty!” Homura stood straight and steadfast as she answered, brimming with fiery resolve reflected in the many mirrors of the glass garden, but there in that space, the brightest mirror shining with cosmic clarity was her eyes in which the Monarch of All Himself was reflected and seen. Though mortals and even demi-divine were unable to fully bathe in the true glory of the Monarch of All, they would know His will, and know His wondrous radiance, and they shall be replenished with reverence and gratitude. With regained strength, life will walk the Sacred Path once more.

”Now go, my Emissary, my Highest Judge, and let them know my path! My will be done!”

The Goddess of Honor bowed once more, before she departed the heavenly palace, and began the journey back to Galbar. With renewed purpose as an instrument of His will, she would follow the divine command of the Monarch of All and bring beauty to a world that had forgotten its origin. There was an indefinite amount of work to do after all.



Yoliyachicoztl Week

Fear - Wanderer - Pride



“I’d rather not.”

Fear now found herself confronted by her two sisters in the great hall of Keltra, where they stood by the Eternal Fire, surrounded by sleeping humans and large white owl plushies. Wanderer and Pride stared at her with a hint of disappointment, but both had yet to give in to their anxious sister’s refusal. The small champion currently held both the staff and dagger left in her possession by Tuku, Master of the Hunt, while he rested after his battle against the Pariah.

The two artifacts seemed too large in her little sister’s hands, Fear thought, but she decided not to share this information aloud. She really wished the others would return soon, but they had another whole day until they were expected to be back. Homura would have given them tasks to perform, Courage and Kindness would have provided either a better distraction or form of entertainment for Wanderer and Pride, while Curiosity would most certainly have been eager to participate in the duo’s request. Fear was most certainly not eager and her company did not seem to understand that.

“We should all learn to expand our awareness. This staff will help us do that. Come on, Fear, we want to do this with you.” Pride persistently continued, applying her most potent technique of pouting which forced Fear to avert her gaze elsewhere lest she succumb to her sister’s manipulative look.

It was dark outside, and Lorelei seemed to only gain enough energy from the Eternal Fire to stay awake for the day, as Homura herself would have to teach the child how to fully tap into the power of the bright monument. Fear was tempted to stand outside and gaze upon the sea of stars that filled the night sky, but she was worried her sisters might try something dangerous without her, so she remained inside while attempting to ascertain what exactly Pride was proposing.

“Wanderer and I have almost found out how to use the Incantation of Seeing, and we want you to join us… Pretty please.” Pride said, stepping into Fear’s view once more, coaxing her with that cute and childish voice she possessed. The sound of Wanderer’s footsteps from behind her informed the anxious champion that she was entrapped now.

“Someone should… stay alert and watch for visitors though. If all of us are looking elsewhere, we wouldn’t even realize if someone comes, right?” Fear countered, attempting to remain steadfast, and hoping her logic would prove sufficient for her sisters. There was a quiet moment where Pride contemplated her words, and Fear simply waited.

“Hmm… I suppose you’re right. Then you’ll watch over us?” The small champion stepped back, and smiled softly, but Fear knew she was saddened by the answer she had received. It was fortunate that the Eternal Fire kept them in a serene state, because none of them had really recovered from what their maker had shown them. Fear absently nodded while her mind drifted and her gaze fell upon her hand shaped from ice. Memories of Viho watching over her pulled her from her forlorn thoughts, and she smiled at her sisters. She considered the owl champion to be another part of the family and she wished he were here.

“Then let’s begin.” Pride proclaimed, stepping next to Wanderer so that the reticent champion may take hold of the staff as well. “And you don’t need to put your hand on my head, sister.” Pride complained as Wanderer rested her palm atop the small champion’s head, ruffling some of the soft red hair.

Together the two of them waved the staff, and then tapped the ground. Fear saw very little differences in the way the two held themselves, aside from keeping their eyes close and their slightly strained expressions as they focused, they seemed to simply be standing there and doing nothing really impressive. Fear let out a sigh, then began her watch.



The two minds of Wanderer and Pride had traveled far throughout the night, as their senses continually expanded through the sacred staff they held, and its power further strengthened by the presence of the Eternal Fire which provided the once upon time branch of the Tree of Harmony with a profuse supply of mana as a result of all the localized and abundant life thriving so much.

As time passed, they became more and more attuned to the land, so they listened to the whispers of the world, its voice which was like music to their enhanced ears. It then suddenly dawned upon them, the music of motion, as the earth danced beneath their feet. They could feel the stone shifting, changing, drifting, like clouds in the sky, and they wondered whether there was more water even deeper underground.

The earth happily offered to sate their curiosity, and guided them towards the riches hidden beneath the surface. They were carried along vibrations and an invisible weight that became more potent the farther they descended. They could not see, only touch and hear the earth all around them until they had peered too far and found a lack of it.

For a moment, it seemed they had stumbled upon nothing… until sounds reached them once more, and they realized what they were hearing was a hollow space underground. So they listened and felt along the ceiling and the walls, until they sensed the shape of the tunnel they had found themselves in. From afar, it reminded them of the unseen drums beating while Homura danced. The two were also surprised by the heat they felt. It was almost incomprehensible, the stone seemed to forget its shape and become like water...

The tunnel was occupied, and though they could not see what moved around them, they could feel its very large shape and heat pressing against the earth. It was alive, and burned with greater heat than they had ever known. The temperature washed over the two, hotter and hotter, beautiful like the blazing sun. Pride could feel herself wanting to explore and further understand the contour of this creature, the nature of its being, but she felt her mind reel as Wanderer recoiled and forcefully pulled her back.

The small champion could not comprehend what she was sensing as they retreated so swiftly, retracing their passage at blinding speeds, back through the earth, back across the land, back beyond the red wall, until they were back in the keep of Keltra and had both let go of Tuku’s staff. Their senses returned to their much more limited capacity, and Pride felt as though she were even more tiny after the educational experience.

She looked to Wanderer, annoyed that her sister had so hastily ended the experiment and without any warning. Her annoyance turned to concern when she saw Wanderer cling to herself, her eyes remaining tightly shut with terror. Pride reached out, until she was gently holding the reticent champion’s arm. “Wanderer, what’s wrong?”

Fear noticed the two had stirred from their long trance, and placed a cold hand upon Wanderer’s shoulder. “What happened?” She asked, hoping one of her sisters would explain their distressful awakening.

Wanderer grasped Fear’s hand of ice, and brought it to her forehead, before she slowly relaxed and she opened her eyes. Pride watched the interaction, and felt relief upon seeing her sister recover from whatever had seemingly caused her pain, until she recalled their ordeal two days before.

“You’re afraid of heat…” Pride whispered, and looked to Fear. Her sister nodded her head in agreement with the evaluation of their sister’s reaction. Wanderer spoke then, her voice which she rarely spoke with… was quiet and hesitant.

“Don’t tell the others. I would rather they didn’t know. And… Thanks, Fear.” The reticent champion closed her eyes again as she held Fear’s frozen appendage against her skin, letting the cold seep into her.

“Anytime, sis. Can one of you tell me what you saw?” Fear asked, feeling a small smile emerge now that Wanderer had been soothed, and nobody seemed in danger.

The sun was rising once more, and morning meant that Lorelei would soon awaken. The others were expected to return later in the day, and Pride would explain the strange sight of burning creatures that dwelled beneath the land. A wondrous new world of strange new life awaited them, and Pride found herself filled with thoughts about the fire too fierce to comprehend. The inner fire of Galbar.


Homura

Heralds of Honor


They stood within the quiet keep, beside the warmth and light of the Eternal Fire. The hall had become so much more empty after hundreds of thousands of its denizens had found a new home, every step and breath felt more heard, more impactful. The remaining humans that slept were arranged on the smooth floor, all far from the bonfire, but still illuminated by its presence. Their pale forms were devoid of distinguishing features, while they waited for the ones that would awaken them one day.

Homura remained silent, as her champions shared their stories with each other - there was much laughter, and an abundance of tears and apologies, but primarily it was relief they all felt. Relief that they had been reunited after all, and were able to enjoy a conversation like the one they were having:

“What happened to each of you? Your hand is made of ice, Fear, and you had to be cleansed by our Maker, Courage. Both of you could have been lost forever… such terrible thoughts afflicted me. Why? Why did you not wait?” Kindness asked, keeping her sorrow repressed behind her controlled tone, and impassive mask, but she had begun to silently cry after questioning them.

“I lost it when I tried reaching out to Courage…”

“I had to eat something in order to survive, else I’d have drowned…”

Both Courage and Fear could only find a few more words to describe their experiences before they concluded with how they had arrived back at Keltra. They had not returned on their own, and both would have perished had nothing come to save them. Kindness wondered why the world worked in such strange ways, cruel and compassionate, taking and giving, without warning, without a care for its inhabitants, it seemed that way to the quiet champion.

“We cannot stand on our own yet. Please, do not heedlessly put yourselves at risk like that again. I cannot endure the thought of losing the two of you again. We stand together. No more foolish divisions between us. Understood?” The crying champion said when neither of her sisters seemed able to continue, and an awkward silence had lingered for too long. Both were hesitant to speak, as shame strangled their tongues, but they persevered and answered their sister with resolve once they realized they knew what was important to them.

“I promise… not to do something like that again.”

“Ya, I’ve learned my lesson. But… we’ve got to go help those that were taken. What if they’re in danger? We’re supposed to protect them!”

Courage felt the fire within her simmering with anger, aware that she had let the thieves get away, and then almost caused the loss of both herself and her sister. The fire demanded that she take action, and help those that she felt she could save.

“Our Maker has said that we are to let it go for now.” Kindness interjected, considering what to say to her reckless sister before continuing. “We will wait; were her words. Perhaps we can persuade her later, when the others return.” She suggested, hoping that the mention of a plan for the future would calm Courage.

“Fine! Fine. It’s our time to listen to you, right?” With a sigh, Courage let the flames of frustration diminish, until she gave Kindness one of her wild grins.

“Thank you, Courage. Your words mean a lot to me.” Kindness said, answering the liveliness of her sister with a small smile.

“Gah, don’t say it like that. I’m just wanting to fix my mistakes, and make up for them now. Anyways, where are the others? I can’t believe they just took our colossi.” Courage could feel her cheeks heat up with embarrassment, and chose to hide her visible reaction by looking away. Neither of her sisters felt the need to mention that subtlety was not something the Courage ever utilized, or perhaps even understood.

“Our colossi?” Fear asked, with a chuckle that teased her brash sister.

“You know what I meant.” Courage replied, regaining her composure with a mock glare before playfully shoving Fear away. The anxious champion realized her mistake after pushing back, and began running around Kindness in an attempt to avoid Courage’s mighty retaliation.

“They should return soon. They must hurry if we are to deliver our kin to Apostate by tomorrow.” Kindness explained, ignoring her sister’s antics. She thought it was fortunate that there were no other deities around, and that their Maker chose not to complain about their childish antics.

She did not want to ask what the red goddess was pondering at that moment, for the quiet champion had still not forgiven her, especially when she had expected an apology at least. Instead, the goddess continued as she had before, and seemed to pretend that the potential loss of her heralds never happened. Kindness did not consider herself to be more compassionate than anyone else she had encountered in her travels, but for her Maker to demonstrate such an evident lack of any compassion had proven infuriating for her.

“There’s still so much we missed. Come on, Kindness, what’s happened while we’ve been gone?” Courage asked, prodding her now after she had successfully enacted her retribution upon Fear.

Kindness did not know why her smiles remained deep within her where others could not see them, but she would still feel them. “You have yet to meet Pride…”



There was a loud crash in the distance, the roar of the sea as something massive stumbled in its waters. Kindness recognized the sounds of the colossi, and knew that their brief time of respite was over for now. She knew it by the look in the eyes of her Maker when she turned towards the trio.

“Your sisters have returned.” Homura announced, then stepped outside the keep to watch as her remaining champions came back from their journey through the realm of shadows to the lands of Orsus.

Courage became excited, while Fear showed her apprehension by repeatedly averting her gaze from both of her sisters. Kindness took hold of her hand, while Courage led the way to the exit, exclaiming her desire to reunite with Curiosity and Wanderer, and introduce herself to the newest addition to their family.

They could see the other Heralds of Honor leaping towards them with haste, one of the twins carrying the small shape of Pride in her arms. Kindness felt concern well up within her at the sight, and silently prayed nothing had happened during their trip.

“We’re back!” Curiosity called, holding an exhausted Pride in her arms. All three of the newcomers seemed weary, diminished in some way, as though they were not touched by the light around them, or that the color of their shapes had been suppressed somehow. Wanderer held onto a wooden staff, while Pride clung to a knife in her hands.

“We almost didn’t make it. The colossi were being difficult, and Pride felt more and more tired as we walked.” Curiosity explained, as she and Wanderer alighted before Homura and the trio beside her. The inquisitive champion appeared to be the least affected by fatigue, and looked to the Goddess of Honor for guidance.

“Hmm… come inside. You all deserve rest.” Homura said, gesturing with a tilt of her head towards the closest doorway. Like a shepherd, she followed all of her champions as they entered the keep.

They gathered around the fire, but there was nowhere to sit, nowhere to really rest. Without any alternative, Curiosity laid her exhausted sister upon the floor beside the Eternal Fire, and seated herself next to the small champion. The others seated themselves nearby, and allowed the serene melody of the flames soothe them for a moment. Curiosity and Wanderer could already feel their strength returning.

“You were gone longer than expected. I was mistaken regarding the intentions of my brother. I underestimated how long you would be away, and for that, you have suffered. This was not my first mistake, and I doubt it will be my last, but I hope each of you will accept my apologies.” Homura began, her voice resonating with the dancing light in the vast hall. Whether it was intentional or not, the words of the Divine were incredibly difficult to ignore.

“Now that we are all together, there is much I must explain regarding the way of the world, and how we will continue to tread farther along the Sacred Path.” Homura continued, waving her hand through the air, conjuring red runes that encircled her fingers, then her hand, and then along her arm.

“If we cannot protect each other, how can we protect the lives beyond these walls?" The red goddess questioned both herself and her champions, as Daybringer shortened to the length of half her arm, and she waved it around to emphasize her speech. “Even I cannot, with all the power of divinity flowing through me, prevent calamity from suddenly striking. I cannot prevent the suffering of the innocent, and the spreading of death and despair.” She continued, letting the weight of her words settle upon those that heard them.

“I have been a fool, and I have let harm befall those I wished to keep safe and happy. I ask that you forgive me for the common crime of incompetence. I promise to protect each of you from the cruelty of the world, so I have decided that all of you will remain here until I have removed all of the threats and dangers.” Homura proclaimed.

“What!?!” Courage shouted, rising to her feet. Kindness and Fear arose as well, seeking to quell the outcries of their sister, while Curiosity stared at the goddess with confusion. “What do you mean?” The inquisitive champion hesitantly asked, alarmed by the sudden tension and turmoil.

“In order to prevent further pain and suffering, I shall keep all of you here in Keltra. You will have comforts provided to you, and will want for nothing. You will be safe. Please, you must understand that this is for your own good.” The red goddess answered, remaining seated, as Courage was pulled back by her two sisters, and brought back to the floor.

“That’s not why you made us! We’re supposed to help ya! We can’t do that trapped here!” Courage exclaimed, striking the stone floor with her fists. “Ow!” She cried, finding that the stone was more resilient than she thought.

“You’re just going to leave us?” Fear felt dread, wondering if this was her fault… if their Maker was leaving because she was a burden… a nuisance. She had to find a way to prove herself, quickly, before it was too late.

“I will return often. There is no need to be afraid.” Homura answered, before she stood up. She wore a small smile that seemed more like a shadow, it lacked the joy of a proper smile, and did not reach her eyes which were filled with regret.

“You anointed me Keeper of Keltra, so I can just say that everyone is allowed to leave.” Pride countered, the conviction and intimidating intent she wanted in her words was lessened by the arms of Wanderer wrapped around her head. “Sister, now’s not the time.” The small champion complained.

“You still serve me, Pride. If you prove to be a poor servant, I will choose another to be Keeper.” The red goddess warned with a calm tone that greatly perturbed Pride. None of the champions were changing the decision Homura had made, but they could not surrender.

“She’ll only be persuaded by strength! We must unite against her!” Pride proclaimed, as she pointed the sheathed knife she held at her Maker.

There was silence as all remained still after the small champion announced her challenge. Homura shook her head in disappointment.

“I grow tired of the act of defiance. There is no point in this -”

“Whoever fights beside me shall get free hugs for a day!”

Pride interrupted the Goddess of Honor, and her words stirred Curiosity and Wanderer into action. Both champions lunged towards their Maker with hands stretched out to tackle her. Homura repeatedly stepped back to avoid being grappled by the two, dodging swiftly, and warding them away with Daybringer.

Kindness let go of Courage, and charged as well. Leaping over her two sisters and her Maker, then alighting on the other side, before attacking Homura from behind. Fear could not keep Courage back by herself, and the brash champion freed herself from Fear’s grip, before she also joined Curiosity and Wanderer in their assault.

Their fists and feet became streaks of red light as they punched and kicked with all of the strength they could muster, the air hissing as it became heated by their incredibly fast movements. However, Homura was faster, and not a single attack landed upon her. From every side she was being assailed by her champions encircling her, and she found herself trapped, and with reluctance, she began to retaliate.

The blunt end of Daybringer struck Curiosity in the stomach, sending her flying deeper into the vast hall, then with a swirl Homura hit Kindness with the shaft of her spear, and kicked Courage in the face. Both champions were tossed aside from the force of the blows, and only Wanderer stood facing the goddess.

The silent champion attempted to punch Homura, but her fist was caught in her Maker’s hand, and Wanderer could do nothing as she was swung and thrown back. “You cannot defeat me, enough with this nonsense.” The Goddess of Honor stated, feeling frustrated that it had come to this.

“Doesn’t mean we’re going to give up.” Courage answered, rising to her feet, and ready to fight once more. Her sisters that had been flung similarly stood again, refusing to lay down in defeat.

“Going to have to hit a lot harder than that, ya know.” Courage taunted, with a wild grin.

The brash champion ran to Curiosity, and the two shared a look, quickly formulating a plan. A simple plan: Throw the other at the goddess with as much strength as possible. Curiosity leapt into the air, and Courage positioned herself beneath her, so when the weight of the world pulled the inquisitive champion back down, her feet gently alighted upon her sister’s palm. Then Courage leaned back before hurling her sister towards Homura at mach-speeds.

Meanwhile, Kindness and Wanderer worked together to distract the goddess, focusing on striking her from opposite sides. Homura did not step back, or shift her footwork at all, only a single hand to fend off their attacks. When Curiosity came soaring towards them faster than their eyes could perceive, accompanied by a thunderous boom that echoed throughout the vast hall, it seemed as though they may finally land a hit on Homura.

The goddess deftly caught Curiosity, before she proceeded to use the now disoriented champion as a weapon to smack away Kindness and Wanderer, followed by Courage as well. Then Homura smashed Curiosity into the floor.

Fear could only watch as her sisters were all easily defeated, and found herself struggling to find a solution to this terrible situation. Her thoughts were interrupted by Pride calling out to her.

“Fear, throw this at her!” The small champion commanded while she was preoccupied with protecting an egg, directing Fear’s attention to a dark orb.

The five fighters facing the goddess regained their strength, and continued to their battle, swarming her relentlessly, then desperately. They coordinated their attacks, and fought together like one cohesive force, dancing the rhythms of combat. Fear sought to aid them, and aimed the orb directly at her Maker.

She threw it, and it soared towards its target, creating an ear-piercing whistle as it flew. Unfortunately the orb had struck Courage in the back of the head, causing her to fall on the ground and trip Curiosity. The orb fell onto Wanderer’s foot, and the silent champion became still. Kindness was the only one to remain engaged with the Goddess of Honor, but she posed no threat by herself. Fear watched, mouth agape as her contributions had only harmed her sisters.

“Enough with this nonsensical farce. Your futile resistance will not change my mind.” Homura declared, as she hit the floor with the bottom of Daybringer. The strike unleashed a great boom that pushed the five champions away.

“You can’t make us stay here.” Pride argued, as Courage stood up and added, “We can… do this all day.” Her defiant words ushered her sisters back to their feet, and they prepared themselves to fight once more.

“We shall see how long this foolish opposition lasts then.” Homura remarked, as her Heralds of Honor rallied against her.



Though she would never say it aloud, the Goddess of Honor really regretted saying those words. The sun had descended long ago, and the darkness of night blanketed the land beyond Keltra. They had been fighting for too long, and Homura knew that she was late now. The fourth day had passed, and it would take another day just to reach the specified location Apostate had described.

Unfortunately, she could not see a way to resolve her current predicament either: Courage, Kindness, Fear, Curiosity, Wanderer, and even Pride had fully committed themselves to fighting her, but were unable to harm her, however, she seemed unable to overcome them as well.

Every time she beat them and tossed them aside, they would rise again and repeat the process of being beaten once more, again and again. Homura had immediately realized that they were sustaining themselves through the power provided by the Eternal Fire, but she was surprised to discover that they were also tapping into her own power. Unless she destroyed them, they would simply regain their strength and continue to fight her.

“Enough!” She called out, and the attacks finally came to a halt.

Pride had climbed atop her shoulders, and was trying to stab her with that knife Tuku had given her. Fear and Courage had wrapped themselves around her legs, which was annoying, while Kindness and Curiosity had taken hold of her arms so that Wanderer could whack her with that stupid staff. They had become a heap of entangled limbs, and Homura wanted to be free of this idiocy.

“Do you surrender?” Pride asked, threatening to try to stab her again if she gave the wrong answer. The Goddess of Honor did not know how to prevent her creations from simply leaving once she departed to go deliver the sleeping humans to Apostate. She needed her champions to promise that they would remain here.

“I cannot surrender. Listen to me. Your actions will only bring greater suffering, so please do as I say to prevent needless pain.” Homura said while Pride seemed to consider which eye to stab with her knife.

“No… I think not. I propose an alternative: Why don’t we negotiate?” The small champion suggested.

“Hmm?”

So an armistice was held, and Homura stood before her six heralds to hear their demands. Despite the fact that they had fought for the entire day, there was no damage to the keep itself, and the heralds seemed completely fine. Pride expressed her thanks when the only thing that had been in danger, the egg Tuku had given her, was protected from their battle by a barrier Homura had created.

“We’re not your prisoners. You can’t keep us locked away here. We want to help you too, and protect the world from evil.” Pride started, her sisters nodding in agreement. The small champion was currently held by Fear, the bigger champions proposing they each take turns for the day of free hugs they had been promised.

“You do not understand the dangers out there. When the world is ready for you, I will allow you to explore it. To help it grow.” Homura said, rejecting what Pride had said, with words that insisted there was no room for argument.

“But nobody can change that alone. Didn’t ya say that before!” Courage countered, her tone suggesting that she would be ready to fight again.

“If I must sacrifice myself, then I will. None of you… should face death, or know despair. It would be too much.” The red goddess answered, though it seemed she spoke to herself as much as she spoke to her champions.

“We’re not afraid!” Fear cried out, as though the words of Homura stabbed into her chest and exposed her weak heart. The anxious champion could hear herself whispering in her mind; the goddess was referring to her, the cowardice she continually expressed, and her constant failure to live up to the expectations of her Maker.

“You will be. I will let you taste an iota of the suffering you could endure in the outside world then.” With that statement, the light of the Eternal fire seemed to fade, and shadows that had claimed the edges of the vast hall crept closer and closer, until their looming presence was akin to a sea of darkness all around.

“You would be broken...” Homura said, and Curiosity screamed in agony as her limbs burst in a sudden shower of gore and viscera that sprayed Wanderer and Kindness who had stood close to their inquisitive sister. Curiosity fell to the ground, soaked in her own blood, and a puddle of what was once her arms and legs. Her screams swiftly came to halt as her ribs ripped out of her chest, and more of her innards erupted outwards.

“You would be burned, or perhaps boiled…” All of the champions were still too stunned to react, and could do nothing when Wanderer began to scream like her sister had. The blood that stained her began to steam, and she fell to the floor as well, spasming and squirming helplessly. Kindness dropped to her knees, trying to comprehend what her senses were telling her… Curiosity and Wanderer were dying.

“You would be defiled.” The stone beneath Kindness sprouted hands that grasped her, groped her, and strangled her. Their fingers sank into her skin, and tore apart her clothes. She could not break free, and only struggled in vain as the hands continued to scar and choke her. Their fingers and palms cracked, and released a grotesque sweat that seeped into the wounds where they held her.

“AHHH!!!” Courage charged towards where Kindness was restrained, and began tearing away at the hands that assailed her sister. No matter how many she tore off, another would replace it, and Courage could not find the strength within her to overcome the army of stone appendages. Neither the Eternal Fire or the Goddess of Honor was supporting her, and her Spirit seemed so far away. She had nothing that could save her sister.

“You’re wrong!” Pride bawled, shaking with terror and grief. She had stumbled after attempting to take a step forward, and fell onto the floor. She managed to feebly push herself up, before pointing a trembling finger at Homura. “Why?” She asked while she wept, the large tears trailing down her face.

“You would be devoured.” The red goddess continued, and the floor around the small champion shifted as well. It split beneath her, turning into a many sharp toothed maw that trapped Pride between its teeth. It crunched her legs, and Pride joined the cacophony of screams that echoed in the darkness, as she desperately tried to pull herself free with her little arms. Crunch. She was pulled in deeper. Crunch. Deeper.

“Pride!” Courage yelled, calling out to her sister, reaching outwards with one hand that was too far to offer salvation to Pride. Pride tried to reach out to her sister, wanting to be touched, wanting to be saved, she didn’t want to die here. Courage could do nothing as she watched the floor consume the Keeper of Keltra, with another crunch, and all that remained was Pride’s hand before that too was eaten.

“You would be betrayed.” Homura stood behind Fear, caressing the one champion that had remained completely still throughout the ordeal. Her hands stroked Fear’s arms, soothing them, and invigorating them. A serpentine blade appeared in the hand of the anxious champion, and the red goddess whispered into her ear.

“Fear! Fear! Help me!” Courage called out to her sister, as Homura stepped back, and watched. The champion with a dagger approached her sister, then leapt upon her like a ferocious animal, stabbing and stabbing, over and over again, until Courage was dead. Fear fell back, dropping the blood stained blade onto the floor.

“Please don’t kill me! Kill me! I did it, like you asked. Courage… please no… I’ll do anything you ask, just don’t hurt me! Why!?! Why…” Fear swayed back and forth, she stumbled and warred with herself. She was overwhelmed by the chaos and death all around her.

“You would drown in despair.” Homura said, staring at the carnage, at the horrifying scene she had described. Everything that she was afraid would happen. That she could not prevent. Her heart ached, and she only wanted to end this. To be free of that which frightened her terribly so. She performed a simple gesture; a lackadaisical wave of the hand.

The shared ideabstractions of the champions all dying faded away, and all six of them were standing where they stood before each of their torturous demise. Though their wounds had vanished, their minds recoiled from the pain they had suffered. The Heralds of Honor had found their resolve shaken.

This was not what Homura had wanted to achieve, and she hated seeing the hurt in their eyes. She wished that there were other ways to make them understand, but she could find none. “I did not want this… I only wanted you to comprehend what a terrible fate awaits you outside… Now you understand.”

There was no rest for the wicked, and she was a devil that had too much work to do. An infinite amount of work. Would they forgive her when all was done, and they lived in a world where they would not be subject to the suffering they had just endured.

“No… That’s just wrong, ya know.” Courage managed to speak, straining with every breath, as she placed a hand over her chest, remembering the piercing pain of the dagger Fear had used to stab her, but that was not real, and there were no wounds. She looked to her anxious sister, who stared at her own hands like she did not recognize them. Fear could see her own distorted reflection in the shimmering ice of her frozen hand, and it stared back at her with horror.

“The war is coming, it has already begun, and-”

“It doesn’t matter! You’re wrong!” Courage shouted. “We would still stand with you! We would still fight! We are all you after all, idiot!” Her interruption caused Homura to become silent, and it encouraged another to speak up.

“If you left, we’d be missing one member of our family.” Pride stated, gesturing to her sisters, before continuing. “We’re supposed to stay together. Rely on each other. If you left now… we’d always be sad. I’d rather face the unknown, even the horrible fates you’ve described, if the time we have now… is filled with love.” The small champion said, hoping her words reached her Maker.

“I will not allow you to die-”

“You are alienating us. Can you not see the hypocrisy of your actions? You wanted to unite the world, not divide it, yet you are distancing yourself from us. Keeping us away and locked in a would-be prison. We will not accept your selfish desire to save us.” Kindness interjected, silencing Homura again. She stared stoically at her Maker, before turning to Fear, and whispering words of comfort along with putting a hand on her shoulder.

“I just want all of you to be happy.”

“Do you love us?” Curiosity asked, approaching the goddess, and looking at her with wide and inquisitive eyes, seeking a meaningful answer. She would only accept the truth, and nothing else from her Maker.

Homura had withstood their hours of assault, then she had briefly retaliated with the terrible crimes the evil in the world would commit against them, and yet they still refused to accept her offered sanctuary. She was outnumbered, not matched in strength, but unable to overcome their resistance to her wants. She was fighting against herself, six simulacrums of herself to be exact.

Much like before, they were using her own power against her, tapping into her presence and the presence of the Eternal Fire. Their words were infused with the essence of divinity, and their sorrow was suppressed by an aura of perseverance. Homura could see Courage weaving resilience and hope on unseen threads through her sisters and herself. She had to admit she was impressed by her reckless champion.

“I… do. You know that.”

“Then be more gentle. Show us compassion, not cruelty. Be our mother, not our Maker, please.” Pride pleaded, approaching the goddess, and accompanied by all of her sisters. Homura could see that all of them were confused and uncertain about their relationship towards her. They wanted her affection and approval, but she had been an aloof deity that refrained from showing her more mortal characteristics.

Another mistake she had made then… Homura realized.

“You’re too far from us. We want you to feel the fire within us. Talk to us, and hold us when you’re sad.” Curiosity said, fiddling with her hands, wanting to peel away what felt like an unseen barrier between them and their Maker.

Wanderer simply threw Pride at Homura, letting the goddess easily catch the small champion who had let out a quick gasp upon being tossed. The stern scarlet eyes locked onto Wanderer before turning to Pride. Without warning, Homura found herself being hugged, as all of her champions surged towards her, embracing her with their arms.

“So be it…” The red goddess relented when she found that she could not refuse their requests any longer. She would just have to become stronger to protect them from the danger of death and despair. She has to succeed.

“You did mention something about providing comforts.” Pride murmured, enjoying the fact that she was probably in the most comfortable position of their group hug.

“The power of the pipsqueak has become too strong.” Courage teased, and internally celebrated their victory over the Goddess of Honor.



“There is little time, but I will eventually teach you this spell. The Incantation of Making. It is one of the most difficult spells in Gnostic Sorcery, but it is also one of the most powerful.”

Homura spoke and slowly danced as streams of light swirled around her. Shimmering runes appeared on the floor near them, and the light soared towards those otherworldly symbols. Manifesting from seemingly nothing, a soft red carpet covered the floor, then numerous pillows to lay upon.

The champions leapt onto their new decorum, and relaxed in a hastily gathered together pile of pillows. All except for Fear, who asked the goddess a question.

“Hmm… of course.” Homura answered, and a large plushie of Viho suddenly appeared. The other champions took notice of their sister’s request, and asked for more to appear until each of them had their own white owl to rest against. Pride was also given a table to keep all of her accumulated artifacts upon.

“Rest now, all of you. You are exhausted, and require a respite. I shall watch over you.” The red goddess proclaimed, letting her words lull them into slumbering state with a simple enchantment, though it seemed some stayed wakeful for a moment longer.

“Good night, mother.” Pride, Curiosity, and Fear said.

“Ya, what they said.” Courage added.

“Hmm… good night.” Homura replied, finding that she still struggled to say the words, even though it was what she wanted.

This is something she would have to practice, she realized. That… and she was definitely late and she expected Apostate would disapprove.



Homura & Tuku


Kindness - Curiosity - Wanderer - Pride





Pride gazed into the large fire looming before her, and felt its warmth seep into her, filling her with otherworldly vigor and joy. The Eternal Fire shed its light upon the sleeping humans gathered and the lone champion watching over them, all gathered around it, as it protected them from the great shadows that skulked in the edges of the vast hall.

Time had passed since Homura had departed with her two sisters to deliver more of her kin to another deity, and another day had passed after Tuku had visited and promised to return. Pride patiently awaited when both would come back, and she could stop worrying about what may happen when the god and goddess would finally meet. Hopefully they would not fight, neither seemed like they would be hostile to each other, the small champion thought to herself.

Her gaze wandered to the two dreaming champions of Tuku, and she hoped that even if their makers could not get along, such would not be the case for their creations. Pride looked down to the egg atop the orb, both resting on her lap, and she preoccupied herself with imagining what a bird is, and what it might look like, sound like.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of far away steps, deep and echoing, as well as familiar. Pride sighed as she caressed the egg, and waited for the red goddess to arrive. She did not have to wait long, as soon the resonant footfall came to a halt. Shortly afterward came Homura, followed by Wanderer and Curiosity, striding towards the small champion with purpose.

“Welcome home, sisters. Welcome, Goddess of Honor, Highest Judge of the King in Heaven.” Pride hastily set down the egg and orb beside her, and then bowed to those that had entered the hall.

Curiosity let out gleeful gasp as she was greeted by the small champion, and looked to her Wanderer beside her. “Is she going to say that every time we come back, you think?” She asked.

Homura held up a hand before Wanderer could answer, and her attention was focused upon the two sleeping forms of Griph and Suyai. “You have had company since we left, Pride?

“Your brother visited. He said he’d be back today, and wanted to speak with you. I ask that you refrain from fighting him while my kin sleep peacefully in these halls.”

Homura stepped forth, approaching the two champions of Tuku, and examined them closely. After a moment of quiet observation, while Pride was being assailed by her two sisters, the red goddess turned and settled her gaze on her own creations.

Then we shall wait and see what my brother has to say.” Homura said, and approached the Eternal Fire as her champions stepped aside. Her hand reached out, and the flames flickered differently in reaction to the close proximity of the divine.

At that moment, the sound of a sharp cut echoed through the chamber, far from anyone, out of thin air. It was quickly followed by the sound of someone landing on the ground. The figure of Tuku had suddenly appeared among them, sheathing a raw energy knife as they stood up. ”Ah. Seems I have been late. I am sorry. I was summoned to some duties by father.” they could have moved in other ways, but after a battle the god just did not desire to have to deal with the suffocating hallways of the citadel again.
”Hello again Pride. And you must be Homura. Greetings. I have been searching for you, sister.” the god approached her in a casual fashion, assuming without much basis that she was not that different from Pride.

Homura turned to face the newest arrival, and proceeded to bow. Her three champions followed with respectful inclinations to the God of the Hunt as well.

I am Homura. It is a pleasure to meet you, Tuku, Master of the Hunt.” The red goddess said as she straightened and smiled softly.

“Welcome back, your grace.” Pride said as well.

Homura studied his steps, and demeanor as he approached, keeping a tight hold of the golden spear in her hand, ready to fight, despite her inviting smile and welcoming words. The two champions beside Pride watched Tuku with awe, having seen the God of the Hunt for the first time, and remained quiet.

The movement did not go unnoticed but it did go unanswered. ”Have you ever been to the eastern continent Homura? To the lands some gods call Orsus? Beautiful land, but lacking in sentient life. It is of my interest to change that, even if those untamed lands will never be quite as populous as these.” the god of the hunt skipped the chase and went directly to their point, standing right in front of the warrior goddess.

I assume Pride has informed you of my intentions. As Master of the Hunt, you are welcome to claim as many humans as you deem necessary. I unfortunately have not had the opportunity to visit this Orsus yet. The lands and seas nearby have taken much of my time, and Galbar is so large that it will undoubtedly take me so much longer before I have truly explored all of it.

Tuku nodded ”Oh we did talk a lot about the topic and she explained it all to me quite well despite my rude behavior at first. She received all my questions and even a few of my worries over how you have been binding these batches of humans to this or that god. Last we discussed, and the impasse we reached, was transport. I plan to bring a hundred thousand to the east and I have the method to travel but not the method to haul. Apparently you have been using these giant things, but Pride did not know how to operate one, thus, I was asked to wait till today.”

I can deliver your humans to the land across the sea, but it shall require some time and patience, as I have been delayed in my task by our brother, Apostate. He has challenged me to a duel, and also requested humans of his own. I promised that I would deliver his gifts two days from now.” Homura began to walk around the large bonfire, leaving her three champions behind.

”In all honesty, I have no idea who that is. But I will not bother you too much. There is something I wanted to show you, something that makes it possible for your… colossus, to make the trip without the sun moving more than a little bit in the sky. It's a secret of mine, something I discovered in my tracking of prey and what not, but I thought sharing it with you might be a way to repay you for granting me a family in the form of those two that sleep by the fire.” the god explained.

Is this a method mortals can learn?” Homura asked.

”Indeed. The first one to cross it was not a god nor a man, it was a measly tiny rat. Walked straight from Orsus to the source of Mana in the south pole, back in the same day.” the god looked away from the fire, focusing on the distant dark sky. ”However. Even I can only truly traverse it with my knife and walking staff in hand, one to break the barrier and the other to show me the paths. The rat traveled carrying a relic of mine that shone a light at the correct paths.”

Hmm…” The red goddess had walked the perimeter of the bonfire and had returned while considering what Tuku had said. “I am afraid I struggle to understand all of what you have described. This method of transportation requires an artifact then?”

”Think of it as a forest in a mountain path at a stormy night. Not truly blocked off, but you’d have to be insane to go in unprepared.” the god turned back after skygazing. ”My desire is to make a monument to serve as an entrance and map through this path, from here, all the way to the other side of the ocean. Those that are well prepared and with the necessary skills would be able to use it.”

So be it. You wish to forge this monument here then? Or elsewhere?” Homura asked, and glanced towards Curiosity and Wanderer. “You two begin carrying the promised humans onto the colossi.” She ordered, and the champions hastily departed with swift bows and words of farewell. Pride stood still, attentively holding her gifted egg and orb.

The god nodded. ”To be completely honest, this building, this Citadel, to me, is incredibly unsightly, but that is my personal view and I am not the only view of this world. Its qualities are true, this can be seen even in the other side, I do not know how this was made but it must have been quite violent for it to influence the fissure. In those dark paths this area shines like a lighthouse, so perhaps… I thought it would be good to make this the first entrance, so those who get lost and unsure can always turn back and avoid greater harm” he said as he knelt and started to survey the ground of the area, looking from the wall to the fire, seeing how the lights danced around it.

If this is how you wish to transport the humans you have been given, then I do not object. Do you have any objections, Pride?” Homura inquired, looking between Tuku and the small champion.

Pride found herself startled by the question, certain that neither deity would bother asking her opinion. “Hmm… Keltra is certainly lacking proper décor, but I’d like it if such a monument was built here. I can see its usefulness.” She said, then both her and her maker looked to Tuku, awaiting his answer.

”I am sorry… I guess the word monument gives a different idea, no?” the god sighed, having prepared a small stone pillar, about half the size of a standing man if not lower. ”Hopefully you are not too disappointed, dear Pride, but it is ready.” they stood back and showed the altar of grey stone, it seemed to not hold any particular power? At least it didn’t seem to open any gate to the between world or whatever the god of the hunt had been babbling about.

“How does it activate?” Pride asked as she approached the altar to closely examine it. Her round eyes widened with wonder, and looked to the God of Hunt for an explanation.

The god seemed to smile under the mask, he approached her and pointed at the shadow that was cast against the red wall by the pillar. ”Observe.” they grabbed a small metal object from a bag, something called a “key”, most keys would be used by inserting then into a lock, but this one, was merely left atop the altar. As that was done, there was a rush of cold wind into the room, humid and with smells unlike those of this land, the shadow of the pillar turned darker and deeper until it felt like there was nothing left of the wall, only the shadow.

Tuku approached it and grabbed at the side of that shadow door, taking one step into the dark and nodding as it seemed their design worked. ”Come take a peek. Don’t worry, you won’t fall.” he told Pride.

Stepping farther away from the light of the Eternal Fire, and into the umbral stretch beyond, Pride followed Tuku, and looked at the dark door before her. “I wouldn’t fall, you know.” She whispered, evidently trepid, but attempting to appear stoically unfazed by what she saw.

The door itself wasn’t dark, it was the world beyond it that was, a boundaryless expanse of darkness, yet, it was not a complete void. Colorful shining root-like tendrils crossed the land from horizon to horizon, maintaining their vibrance despite the lack of light. Sounds were muffled and echoed through the void like howls, and looking back, she would see that the Eternal Fire was now a blurred image, the flames dancing in a sluggish manner, as if time out there was slightly slower.



“It’s cold, but not… bad.” The small champion commented, walking farther and farther, looking at the strange sights so unfamiliar to her. She found herself drawn to the roots, and leaned close to one of the unknown life, sniffing it.

“My name is Pride, what's yours?” She asked, speaking to the colorful vegetation.

As Pride attempted to greet the root, she would almost hear it talking back, each had such a unique texture, from sandy and brittle to cold and porcelain-like, they each whispered in winds that carried their own smell, the wet smell of a rainy jungle and the wetter still smell of ocean trenches full of life. There were small vibrations that could be felt, the heartbeats of countless creatures moving by, young vigorous beats, old worried beats, and sometimes she would feel the familiar fire of a living human. With all this, it was almost as if these roots were looking back at her and saying something, outside, its voice was too faint and spread out, but here it was all condensed, and one could almost tell it wanted to tell her “Hello, I am The Galbar”.

Tuku meanwhile was a bit startled that she was trying to talk to it as if it was a friend, the god had never had the time to stop and hear the roots like Pride just had, he brushed it off as just cute childish behavior, not realizing that their ways of assuming too much as an adult was what was wrong here. ”I don’t know exactly how this came to be, but it seems to have been formed as gods arrives and shaped the land, entire continents and seas were moved at once, mana stormed through the land and divine power drowned the world as it shaped each and every detail of it. In this whole process, some of the land, mana and power moved in the wrong direction, not up or down, not left or right, not forward and backward, it crossed a boundary and ended up here.”

They pointed back to where they had arrived, the door back to the normal world, though from this distance it was possible to get a better overlook of how Keltra shone in this dark world, the shadow reflection of the brick walls were overgrown with shining red vines, that spread outward and connected to the roots. The god wasn’t lying when they said it was easy to see it from within this between-world. ”I can’t quite explain how it formed this web, but it did, and it connects the world together. It's easy to find areas a god has shaped, especially if they did it with great power.”

Pride smiled softly as she listened to the ethereal music the roots shared with her, before her gaze wandered to the bright walls of her home. “You said Keltra was unsightly, your grace. Is it because the stone there doesn’t sing? I can hear the serenade of the sea and the song of Kel-Phelena from afar, but the walls and keep are always silent... I don’t know why.”

She looked back upon the seemingly endless horizon, as the luminous roots spread far and wide, leading into the unknown world. She was enraptured with its beauty, and yearned to see what awaited her beyond, but she could not leave her kin behind. She could not leave Keltra abandoned and unguarded.

"Keltra was built on ideals of eternity, to withstand time and decay. Nothing wrong with it, I guess, but to an extreme such earnest steadfastness can go against the natural flow of things." they then looked at the void along with Pride. "We should go back, gather the others and the humans."

Pride followed the Master of the Hunt back through the doorway and into the huge halls of the keep, where Homura had waited for them. There were less sleeping humans arranged around the bonfire, Curiosity and Wanderer having come and gone, carrying them to the three colossi.

The stern gaze of the red goddess peered beyond her champion and her brother, at the otherworldly realm behind them. “Could you tell me more about Orsus and our siblings that are found there?” She asked Tuku.

” It is centered around a great mountain chain that makes it possible for the continent to have many types of climates, most of them occupied by dense forests inhabited by fierce beasts. It is a rough land, shaped by many gods but always steered towards being nature at its most majestic, not most tamable. Still, most of it is inhabitable by people who can prove their worth, why, there are already sentient beings in there, including an off-shoot of Humans, the elves, of Zenia... “

The god side glanced as if the dancer was to be found around the corner, before sharing a bit of gossip. ” Not to be rude but, their situation is exactly what made me desire to oversee this exchange myself. Humans too bound to a god, it worries me for the future but there are worries even for the here and now, as many seem outright incapable of even feeding themselves without divine intervention”

” The only area where I am afraid sentients will never take root is the core of Orsus, the eternal wildlands. It’s a shifting land that can at times be a forest under blizzards and other times a hot steaming swamp, it is meant to test hunters and be my personal hunting ground, the land itself repelling, hmm, let’s say unworthy poaching?”

Zenia has turned her humans into elves? They are incapable of feeding themselves? This is troubling indeed. You are the God of the Hunt, and humans are innate hunters. I ask that you teach them, and guide them, so that they do not stray from the Sacred Path.” As Homura spoke, her champions returned, accompanied by another champion identical in appearance to Homura, aside from the blue amulet she wears around her neck.

Brother, this is Kindness, and the other two you had previously met are Curiosity and Wanderer. They foolishly forgot to introduce themselves before.” Homura said, as Kindness bowed, and her two twin sisters hesitantly copied her.

“An honor to meet you, your grace.” Kindness offered, her voice quiet and sorrowful. She arose from her bow, and looked at the God of Hunt with lifeless eyes, and then proceeded to walk towards the nearest sleeping human and easily lifted the still being in her arms.

Wanderer and Curiosity did the same, and stopped when Homura struck the ground with the end of her golden spear. A ringing sound echoed throughout the keep.

What are the three of you doing?” The red goddess spoke softly, but her voice was as sharp as the weapon she wielded. It penetrated the air, and pierced them.

“We’re, uh, moving our brothers and sisters… like you asked.” Curiosity answered, and looked nervously to her sisters for assistance. Kindness kept still, as inanimate as the dormant vessel she held. Wanderer only offered her a useless gesture with her free hand, signalling Curiosity was on her own.

You waste time continuing that way. Carry them upon a slab. It will be much faster.” Homura stated, and struck the floor once more. It was only slightly less loud.

From afar, the red walls groaned as they rippled and shifted like the waves washing along the shore, until they parted and a massive opening that led to the south shore was made. At the freshly created entrance, a familiar stone slab awaited the three champions.

“Could you not have done that sooner!” Curiosity exclaimed, while Wanderer shook her head with frustration. The three champions set off towards the slab, bringing the sleeping kin they carried with them.

Homura nodded towards Tuku, and gestured towards the two sleeping champions that had been left untouched. “I am curious; why have you kept those infused with your being in such a state?” She asked.

Tuku looked at them and then sighed. ”They are reflections of my own being, infused with all of my essences. However, I do not desire for them to experience divinity, and matters of divinity, I want them to live like mortals and mingle among them. This first generation of mortals… they are still too close to us, they saw gods with their own eyes and hear their words in their own mind. When generations come to pass, when the first humans are born from the land and are put to rest in the land, when mortals create roots with this world, that is when they will awake. Until then, I will leave them sleeping in the deep wilds, waiting to be found.” the god explained.

”Also, about the elves and whatnot. You do not have to worry as I am aware of the issue. This is why my gift to these humans will not be a gift of my own making, but I will bring forth all the knowledge of the animals who cross the lands and give them a sample of that. I want them to feel as if such wisdom was earned not whispered by a god, to know that if animals could learn to survive in the land by themselves, so can they. he explained to his sister.

You would shun your humans? Teach them to ignore the divine? I do not understand; surely you are not suggesting that they should abandon the Sacred Path?” Homura spoke with disbelief and tilted her head in confusion as she looked at the God of the Hunt.

The god stood eerily still for a moment, then slowly turned to face, no, stare at Homura. ”No.” the god simply declared, she was wrong and at first he didn’t care to explain. ”Look. We are gods they are mortals, the way we perceive the world may as well be as distant as that of the flying bird and the diving fish. Brute force, sister, is not the way to do certain things.” a certain sense of deja vu filled Tuku Llantu’s mind.

”You cannot drag them kicking and screaming into what you call ‘the path’. Not only will you end either with the tame and coddled like the elves, or worse, you might end up creating resentment. I do not understand the point, what is the worth of mortals if all we are to do is to brute force them to do as we wish? To me, this is equal to skipping the hunt, just summoning the already cut and cooked meat. I want these mortals to find me through their own effort, not because I glued their eyes to me, otherwise, sister, I would need little more than puppets without will.

Brute force? Skipping the hunt? I do not coerce my creations, nor do I advocate slothful behavior. I am the Goddess of Honor, and a servant of the King in Heaven, therefore I am bound to these mortals and they are bound to me. Cooked meat? I cannot believe you would compare the journey upon the Sacred Path to something so profane and perverse.” The small goddess flared with red radiance, her eyes ablaze with cold fires burning, as she stood close and ignored the difference in their height forcing her to look upward.

You are God of the Hunt. You seek your prey with the utmost devotion. You overcome the greatest of monsters. You do not turn your gaze away from that which you seek. The Hunt is sacred. I have seen too many of our kin taint it by suffering a mortal affliction. They surrender to their enemy, and lay their throats bare before that which frightens them, like cowards. Do not say that you will retreat. Do not say that you will perpetuate this cycle that will lead to our destruction. Please.” Homura’s shouts became filled with anger, she shook with rage, but desperation and despair festered within her, and she found herself pleading with her brother.

The hunter god continued to be still, any intentions permanently masked. ”Incredible, I did not expect us to have a third seer sibling. I have been going to extreme efforts to make coexistence possible, putting myself in harm’s way to stand at the frontier between conflicting ideas, do not take me for a fool nor insult me saying my viewpoint is what will lead to conflict, because I believe the opposite. Our siblings grow too attached, too bound, each driven to their own little corner of the world, their little kingdoms full of little people who praise and worship then, small delusional worlds custom made for their ideals. What will happen when these worlds touch, dead sister? What will happen when humans who only know one god meet humans who only know another god? Gods seem so far less able to solve conflict than mortals, less fear of hurt, less knowledge of death, you say a few words and they start burning with rage and suspicion.” Tuku wasn’t even trying to hide the sheer disgust in his tone now.

Then they sighed, and looked up. ”I cannot stop you. At the moment you are stronger than me in my prime, and I am far from that, had a busy few days, was hunting a god slaying leviathan with our father, took a lot out of me. Not that I think such frivolous matters are the concern of someone who is oh so worried about safekeeping this world, so I will skip the details. If you say I cannot take these humans, I will not, and so gone will be my plans of a land of thriving free folk, of free nations not bound to a god but free to worship the whole pantheon, of people who the gods will have to make themselves worthy of worship instead of binding their very survival upon it. Your call really sister, I have nothing to offer in bargain.”

You speak unfairly. I was not called upon by our Lord to fight. You also contradict yourself, claiming to seek harmony when you isolate yourself from the mortals. This is wrong. However, I also agree with you. Our siblings have been poisoning the minds and bodies of all life on Galbar. Resentment will fester, and it will lead to conflict. Our names will only be curses upon mortal lips. I seek to prevent this.” She looks down at her hand, peering at the palm, along her fingers, the hand of a goddess shaped like a mortal’s.

We have a responsibility. Our strength. Our knowledge. We can guide mortals along the Sacred Path, and find what awaits us together. Or… we can create a world where our names have been forgotten, and mortals are consumed by greed and hatred.” She shook her head, the thought of such a world sickening her. Hurting her far worse than any attack could. She looked back up at the God of the Hunt.

You have protected this world from annihilation. I count you among my kin, and I love you, brother. Humanity does not belong to me, they belong to our Lord, as we all do. However, I would hope that you offer your wisdom to them. I cannot stop you either.” Homura found emotion had left her voice, and her words felt hollow. She could not find herself hoping that any among the Divine truly cared for Galbar and its inhabitants. She would proceed on her journey mechanically and impassive, as conviction and passion would not sway any.

The words did have an effect on the god of the hunt, who rubbed their temples with one hand and held up a grunt. ”Sister. You know what is the most infuriating part of you? That you are not hateable like some of our siblings. Your soul shine with good intentions, despite the fact you are such an unfathomable brat. I love you too, a bit.” They threw the hand back, over their shoulder. ”But I think you understood it all wrong, I will not exile myself, never said I would, I just… look, yes we have our strength, our knowledge, but what about them? What about mortalking’s own strength, their own knowledge. It isn’t worthless, right? I have not forsaken mortals, I have been teaching a few under my direct tutelage, bound to me by oath. I just don’t want to be a god-governor of the east, daddy to all the mortals there, because sincerely that isn’t what I want to do and that isn’t what they need.”

They stepped back, relaxing their posture. ”I guess it isn’t the time yet to talk about this. The world is too young and comparatively mortalkind is barely an embryo. There will come a time, after we both meet our fair share of failures, that this conversation will make sense. Until then, well, this topic will just bring anguish.” they looked around the fire, finally stopping to stare. ”Just... you know, don’t go about trying to plant a whole forest before you have even nursed a single plant. Try to step back from thoughts of world conflict a bit sometimes, okay? Once I was so focused on aiming at a distant deer, that I missed one that was grazing right by my side.”

I once allowed myself to believe that I had become paranoid, and required relaxation. I chose to temporarily ignore the coming conflict, and calamity struck. I have already failed, and two-hundred thousand seeds will never grow because of my complacency. I have lost two of my heralds, another mistake, and then there is the accursed kinslayer among the Divine. I have been a fool for too long…” Homura blinked, and swayed. She stumbled forward, then stepped back, but couldn’t balance herself and fell onto the floor.

Pride, who had remained silent as the deities spoke, dashed forwards as fast as her little legs could carry her. “What’s wrong?” She called out, and kneeled beside the seated goddess that stared blankly forward. Tuku followed along, if they had regretted this conversation before now they truly felt like it had gone to all the wrong places, they stayed behind Pride, letting the creation of Homura handle their own goddess.

The sound of a stone wheel grinding against the earth was heard from the entrance of the keep, as the trio of champions tasked with transportation of the sleeping humans returned. They stopped at the sight of the two deities and their sister, but did not intervene when Pride held up a hand, silently ordering them to stay back.

“Your grace, you’ve fallen? Tell us what’s wrong, please.” The small champion asked, glancing between her maker and the hunter with confusion.

I killed them. I let them die, and it is my fault.” Homura said, her voice filled with regret and bitterness. “I am not a goddess. I am a devil that only offers empty promises. Only lies.”

Pride shook her head, and let out a sigh of frustration. “And you think I’m a child. You said it yourself, our sisters will come back. I don’t know about the others, but you’ve protected us so far. So please stand. You look like a coward, whimpering like that, your grace.”

“What happened?” Curiosity asked, and Wanderer whacked the back of her sister’s head.

We cannot offer you salvation, for we bring only torment and a premature demise to your kind. I fought to protect you all, but I am the poison that threatens existence.” Homura continued, speaking mostly to herself, it seemed.

Her champions contemplated their predicament, pondering solutions between each other as they communicated with small gestures and expressions alone. Kindness remained still, while Curiosity and Wanderer continued their task. Pride looked to Tuku with slight shame.

“It seems our Maker needs a nap. If there’s anything we can do to assist you, please let us know.” Pride proclaimed, and gestured with a tilt of her head for Kindness to approach. The quiet champion stood nearby, ready to help.

The god merely answered by petting the head of the young champion. ”It is fine. Once again, I can wait if necessary. I should not have pushed this topic.” they explained, before moving away and resting their back against the nearest wall.

Pride frowned slightly upon being treated like a child, and sighed once more. “Kindness could you carry her… somewhere? Take her back to the colossi, I suppose. She needs rest.”

Kindness leaned down and attempted to lift the goddess, but Homura stood up and marched out of the keep on her own. Neither Pride nor Kindness said anything to stop her from leaving. Curiosity paused as she watched her maker depart.

“It’s not your fault.” The inquisitive champion said to nobody in particular, before resuming the process of loading her slumbering kin upon the stone slab.




Time passed, as Wanderer and Curiosity came back and forth, over and over again until the vast hall was almost devoid of sleeping humans near the entrance. Curiosity found herself idly commenting on mundane happenings, and conversed with both the dreamers and her sister, though the two remained equally silent throughout the interaction.

Pride found herself standing beside Kindness, holding her sister’s hand, and looking to the doorway where Homura exited from. No words were spoken while they waited for the return of the goddess. The light of the Goddess of Honor had vanished during the day, and she could not be found.

Throughout the darkness of the night, the champions worked, and the fields of Keltra were illuminated by the radiance of Daybringer and arrival of the red goddess that stood atop the wall. Homura watched while her champions slowly completed their task, but kept to herself when they would look to where she perched herself.

Finally, Curiosity and Wanderer returned without the slab, and looked to the God of Hunt and their two sisters. “It’s done!” Curiosity exclaimed, and Wanderer nodded in agreement.
“We await your command, your grace.” Pride said to Tuku.

The god nodded and stepped forward after staying still for almost the whole previous day. ”Take me to them, I will open a portal of enough size, should be easy now that the monument created a permanent opening. It should be a quick ride despite the distance thanks to my shortcut.” they explained and waited to be guided, readying up their hand over the knife that looked like solid energy.

Pride looked to Kindness, she approached the quiet champion and held her hand. “I will be heading out for a bit, could you watch over Keltra and our Maker while I am gone, please.”

Her sister simply nodded, and Pride smiled with joy. Her gaze turned to the egg and orb she had placed near the bonfire, and knew that they would be well protected in her absence. She was eager to actually see the colossi herself, after only hearing their tumultuous passage and seeing a section of one briefly through the opening Homura had created in the wall.

Curiosity and Wanderer bowed to Tuku once more. “If you’ll follow us then, your grace.”

The two champions led the god and their small sister to the three colossi that stood outside the walls of Keltra, like statues that rose from the red sea. Their massive forms were connected to the shore via sturdy bridges that allowed the champions to carry the stone slab laden with the sleeping humans back and forth.

When the group passed through the rift in the wall, the bridges began burning, until ash drifted in the air, and slowly merged with the three machines. Afterwards, Curiosity grinned with excitement and turned to Tuku.

“We can direct the colossi to wherever you need them to go.” She said with enthusiasm.

The god nodded, “Then get ready, once I make the cut, simply move forward, from up here it will hard to see, but don’t worry, you will know when you cross the barrier, as Pride can attest” the god would normally rush about but they took their time, leaving plenty of room for the champions to get ready before they jumped from up the “head” of the colossi, dagger in hand, and dove down apparently cutting at the air itself. A faint pillar of blurry light and a cold wind could be felt by the champions but it was unclear for all but Pride what Tuku had really done.

Curiosity was the first to direct her colossus forward, and the massive machine stepped towards the light. Like passing through an unseen curtain, the champion and colossus passed through the barrier and vanished. There was nothing that indicated where they had gone, and only the crashing waves of the sea where they had been were signs that they had even existed.

Wanderer followed after, striking the forward point of the crown, and directing her colossus to pass through as well, disappearing as well. Pride stood beside her, watching as her silent sister hit the pillar again, and again, learning how she controlled the colossus.

The two colossi would safely move into that world of darkness, most of the roots being large enough to support the massive machines with some room to spare. The image of the shore, blurry and with slowly crashing waves, stayed visible a bit more before vanishing into darkness, though the tangle of shining red roots that was Keltra as well as the door was still visible, as Tuku intended.

The god for his part had quickly climbed back to one of the collosi, raising his staff, he planned the route ahead since they would need to only traverse wide enough roots. ”We will be following the turquoise path for the moment, do not worry, this is probably one of the safest methods of travel in all of The Galbar, if you listen to me. Slow steps, I don’t know if these giants can be rushed but I don’t want to risk damaging whatever these roots are.”

Curiosity and Wanderer gazed upon the new realm with wonder in their eyes, the inquisitive champion looked to the God of the Hunt. “The colossi won’t step on the plants here, will they? We still haven’t learned how to hold the Incantation of Sending for very long, and we can’t affect the colossi yet.” She asked, questioning the risk of safety of those in their way..

The god shook his head. ”It looks like a plant yet it is far denser than most rocks, the weight of the colossi won’t be a problem if it takes one step at a time.” they added, laying on their side atop the machine now, far more at home here among the dark and the echoing howling ‘wind’ than at Keltra, that was for sure.

“Slow and steady it is.” Curiosity said as she began the process of leading the colossus forward, and the second one followed once more. The two titans moved slowly, as slow as two mountain-sized creatures could go, and their journey through the umbral land had begun.

As they traveled, Pride and Wanderer started to sing, and the sound of their voices reached far and clear across the otherworldly realm. Curiosity smiled to herself, and wondered what awaited them beyond the sea of shadows, at the end of the turquoise path. Tuku meanwhile would from time to time raise their staff and clink it against the colossi itself, taking note and then returning to rest calmly. The group would march past a maze of blue and green roots, always staying true to the path Tuku selected whenever the roots started to tangle, one time a cloud of darkness overtook them, making the path foggy for a little while, though the god, still with the divine pathfinding staff, merely guided then past it with ease.

Finally, the turquoise path started to thin up, the colors around then started to flourish again, and, off in the far horizon, a brilliant white fog could be seen. ”That is where I live, the fog exists both here and in the real world, quite interesting. I would invite you there for a feast but I know your time is short… and I am not sure the Colossi would do well in the fog. Still, don’t be strangers, you three.” he stood up and clinked the staff. ”Our trusty path is getting too thin and slippery, let's see… there, up the pink path, I recognize the dark clouds as Zelios’ influence so we will arrive by the bay. Beautiful place really, very central too, good spot to land the humans upon this side of the world.” the god explained and then slid downward, jumping between roots before pointing to them just which of the many pink paths he referred to.

The two colossi walked up the chosen path, and at the summit, with a last overlook of the maze of colorful paths, a new portal was cut open, leading to the shores of Orsus. They reappeared as swiftly as they had vanished, stepping forth and wading through the sea nearby.

The sun atop of them had barely moved downward, the travel which would take so much time by the sea had been reduced to a stroll that was done before the sunset. They were right at the borders of the dark seas of the Bay of Zelios, as they had seen by the dark fog within the maze, though the colossi themselves were still by the bright tropical areas of the continent, a flock of flamingos taking flight as they walked ashore.

”Say, do you three prefer to travel together or would splitting up be an option” the god asked, already atop the colossi again.

“What do you have in mind?” Pride asked in awe after seeing the much more lush landscape and vibrant creatures that dwelled there. The champions had taken a moment to enjoy the view, embracing the new smells and sights that delighted their senses.

“What are those? What’s that? Oh, look there!” Curiosity commented as she pointed out various scenery that captivated her attention. With wide eyes, Wanderer ingrained the images of what she saw in her mind, and noted to herself that she would have to come back to fully explore all that she had seen.

”There are places where humans are to be delivered both in the north and south, these are, of course, two opposing directions. I was wondering how we should approach that. I thought about going farther north but, well, the maze of roots gets too tangled, it would be hard to traverse with the colossi”

“Can’t we use the Incantation of Sending?” Wanderer asked.

“We would have to stay together then. None of us can sustain the spell for long, and only a god could include the colossi. It’s a choice then, north or south?” Pride explained.

“Can we go south?” Curiosity chimed, excited.

“I would like to visit the north.” Wanderer softly added.

Pride simply sighed, both of her sisters proving to be difficult. The small champion turned to Tuku, seeking a solution. “Let’s let our guide choose.”

The masked god chuckled at this altercation. ”I see? To be fully honest, I do not actually see, but you three seem to somewhat know what you are saying, so, I say we go south first, since it's far closer to here.”

“South it is!” Curiosity exclaimed, and began leading the procession southward along the coast. Wanderer and Pride found themselves mentally shrugging, and the second colossus began following the first.

Past the coastal forest were many mountains that although not quite as large as the ones that defined the horizon line of this land were still a long trek upward, made easier by Tuku’s tracking of the best paths. Soon the lushness of the forest, still visible in that stunning panorama that could be seen from the mountaintops, would be left behind as they entered dry high altitude plains, rocky and hilly stretches broken by arbored little oasis and forests. Great beasts roamed the land but they all fled from the colossi, even the apex predators.

”And here we are, this location should provide for them to spread to all of the southern lands quite easily. What do I have to do now?” the god questioned, stopping by a moderately lush and sheltered zone nested among the hills.

“Our Maker told us to lay them upon the ground last time, so we should do that again, right?” Curiosity suggested to her sisters, and the other two nodded in agreement. Pride offered an encouraging smile, and gestured for the other two champions to begin unloading.

“By the way, how many should we drop off here?” Curiosity asked Tuku, while Wanderer patted Pride on her head, much to the small champion’s annoyance.

”Half” the god explained, then looked over to a certain human. ”And if you allow me, I will take one of my two champions, the younger girl, and arrange a location for her to wait to be awakened he added, picking her up in his arms and looking over at the horizon and starting to leap off the colossi.

“Give us some time, and we’ll have it done, your grace!” Curiosity said, as the God of the Hunt departed, and with the assistance of Wanderer, began the process of unloading fifty thousand sleeping humans safely onto the ground. They leapt back and forth each carrying one at a time, while Pride watched them with amusement, and mild frustration.

The small champion looked at her little hands, and recalled the difficulties she had just moving the humans around the keep. She did not understand how her sisters seemed to carry their kin so easily.

Time passed, and soon the task was complete. Scattered across the area were fifty thousand sleeping humans awaiting to be awakened by the will of the Divine. The three champions eagerly sought to see what would happen, none of them having witnessed their kin stir from their slumber before.

“I’m so excited!” Curiosity chimed in anticipation.

Tuku returned not too long after that, the god now no longer carrying his own slumbering human, they looked at the conglomeration and nodded knowing it was their time to do it. ”May the wilds share their wisdom with you” he said to sleeping humans and waved their staff in the air. An aurora of images, memories of the many predators and prey of the region, started to fall upon their figures, the colors slowly sticking to the humans, leather tan to their skin, but the eyes and hairs ranged from black like a gentle shadow to the whole rainbow of colors of the wild, beiges and yellows, red and amber, even white and light blue, from the memories of the creatures from under the shadow.

Tuku had imbued upon them aspects of the nearby lands, yet they would all start here, a hazy memory of still young minds. He wondered how they would react but soon the answer was given. Fear.

Why it was obvious, they had seen all animals escaping the colossi, so why wouldn’t they all run from the exact same towering giant they had vivid memories of tearing the land apart as it traveled. Groups started to form based on the reactions to this fear. Some hid in the shadows of the trees and vanished, some took the chance to run far past the thorny bushes while others had the courage (even in fear) to trek a rocky cliff-path, people forever gone from these high plains.

Five thousand however, one tenth, stood still, having seen the goddesses and the masked entity in the shadow of the colossi even among the initial chaos, they bowed to them. “W...who.” one of the leading man said, confused.

”Us? Gods and God-servants. I am Tuku Llantu, warden of the wild, this is the last time I will speak to most of you. I am not your lord nor your commander, survive for yourself. But the question of who is “who you are”. You are humans, creation of the goddess Homura. Her domain is that of Honor, and you will do good to remember that and make her proud.” Tuku felt terrible having to give these random creatures commandments, it just felt wrong but he could not go so far against Homura’s wishes as to just leave them all in the shadows without further context.

”If you three have anything to say, say now. I am leaving. There is still the north to deal with.” the god added in a lower, less “commanding”, voice to the champions, before he turned and started to leave.

“My name is Curiosity, these are my sisters; Wanderer and Pride. It’s so nice to meet you!” Curiosity said with a wide smile as she introduced herself. Her small sister stepped forth afterward.
“I am Pride, Keeper of Keltra. I extend to you all an invitation to visit, should you ever desire to do so. I would be glad to welcome you, brothers and sisters.”

Wanderer remained silent, but bowed respectfully to the awakened humans. Without further ado, the trio leapt back, soaring through the air until they alighted atop their respective colossi.

The humans, of course, hazy as their minds still were, may have mixed a few words when trying to listen and could do little but nod and gaze in awe as the gods left on the backs of the giant creature.

”Good work to all of you. Though next time, I think I will keep the memory regarding the colossi inhibited from the animal wisdom I extract. Nobody got hurt this time but I would not like to risk our luck.” the god told the trio as they climbed.

“Why didn’t you use the Gnosis?” Curiosity asked, a quizzical expression on her face after returning to the crown and readying herself to move the colossus once more. “Wouldn’t that remove the risk?”

Pride had yet to use the spell she had learned outside of practice, but she had wondered whether the colossi were supposed to leave such a path of violent change in their wake as well. She did not think the land would welcome them were it not for the presence of the God of the Hunt with them. She knew she did not like the sight of fear in the eyes of those that awoke.

Tuku’s mask almost felt like it smiled back at Curiosity. ”It would, yes. But there are things I want to test, and as such it has to be a gentle approach. And, well, while they were scared, they still were all skillful enough to hide in the forests, climb mountains and so on. I can rest assured that even if I were never to look at them again those humans would still master their land and survive.” the god of the hunt added, laying back. ”So, off to the north it is? Thankfully there are a lot of plains in that direction, once we get past the swamp and mountains under the shadow ring, it should be a far easier travel time.”

Curiosity nodded in understanding, finding most of her concerns alleviated by Tuku’s words. “Makes sense. Well, off we go then!” She said, before striking the forward pillar of the crown.

Once more they resumed travel, Wanderer and Pride temporarily falling behind as the small champion attempted to drive the colossus, but failed to strike the pillars hard enough. Shamefaced, Pride let Wanderer continue to command the colossus forward.

The sky above suddenly darkened, and the group would find itself walking in a passage between a swamp to the east and hills to the west, trees with pale white flowers seemed serene against the faint light left, while swarms of bugs that seemed to shine with colorful lights traveled as the colossi brought noise to this quiet land. Some even seemed to fly by the champions, attracted, no doubt, by the flame-like aspect related to Homura.

Curiosity pointed towards the sky. “What is that ring of darkness?” She asked, and her sisters expressed similar interest.

”A creation of the god Zelios.” the god answered lazily, before realizing again that the answer was probably shorter than necessary. ”I don’t know exactly why they made it, sincerely, never saw the man. But I like it, it's pretty, do things need a better justification than that? Creates a lot of unique hunting grounds and inspires many unique creatures. Some humans will come to live in these lands, you know? I added memories of the creatures from here in the mix so some of them could. I wonder how that will turn out.”

The heralds of honor hummed in amusement with Tuku’s answer, and expressed their agreement. They laughed when Wanderer mentioned she wanted to walk along the ring, and took a moment to ponder what sort of god Zelios might be.

At some moment Tuku left and didn’t even warn the champions, though as he returned, it quickly became obvious. They had gone past the darkness, into the dry plains up ahead, though it still had colorful trees, here the sun shone fiercely, almost blindly so, it didn’t help that the heat was enhanced by the metal coating of the colossi. It was for this reason the god had left, as they had picked the leaves from a gigantic swamp plant, each serving as an umbrella to each of the champions, all three proclaiming their gratitude after briefly enduring the fierce temperature.

Finally, the sun started to be tamer, clouds amassed and a gentle rain started to fall. They would hear the crashing waves again, but this time not from the west as they were used to, but the north, they had reached the edge of Orsus, not too far from the land where the elves had been delivered, here was a lush forest that with the rain had been blanketed in a cold mist.

”We are here.” the god of the hunt declared. ”We can stop now.”

The colossi came to halt, and three champions gathered themselves around Tuku. “Shall we unload them now?” Curiosity asked.

”Aye. This is a good location, safe from the rains that will surely come in the next hour.” then, instead of laying back again the god looked at Pride. ”Hey, would you mind coming with me for a moment while the other two do their work?” last time Pride had not been able to help so the god was aware it wouldn’t change the operation.

“Okay.” The small champion said before she looked to her two sisters, both of them had already begun carrying their sleeping kin down to the land below.

Tuku nodded and, picking up his other champion, started to walk with her deeper into that misty forest. ”So. I will be honest. My mask doesn’t let me show emotions, but, as you may have seen, I am barely able to stay up. I have been doing a lot as of late and got involved in a battle that was, hmm, quite monumental if I may say so!” the god boasted without a hint of shame. ”I am afraid, if I return to the lulling darkness of that world, the maze of roots, you know, I will just fall asleep and not be able to help you three navigate back to Keltra. But I do not feel good about bringing you three halfway across the world and just leaving you here because I need a nap.” the god entered a clearing and started cutting a bolder until it became a stone platform, letting his champion rest upon it and marking it so no forest creature or weather would dare to get close to it at risk of making enemies with the god of the hunters.

”And you know. Those two are always so busy making those big things move, and I thought, well, Pride is free, maybe she would like to be the navigator for the way back to Keltra?” having his hands free now, the god picked both his walking staff and the knife and offered them to the small champion. ”Not that I am doing this just because you are the one without a job at the moment, it is also that you seemed sensible to the winds and the sounds back when I first showed you the roots, right? Seems like a hint of talent to me.”

The little champion’s eyes widened once more, her mouth hanging agape as she beheld both the staff and knife. “Are… you certain, your grace? I… I’m honored. I shall not let you down!” Pride promised, standing as tall as she could, and accepting the two artifacts.

Tuku seemed to smile despite the mask. ”Aye. Quite certain Pride. Why don’t you try to use the staff now to see the best path to return to your siblings? Just, wave it, tap it against the ground, it should help you focus on all the little sensory clues the world gives you, the way the wind travels between leaves and branches, the weight of nearby rocks, the paths left behind by the beasts that prowl, it should all become clear to you, young flame, and the path forward will reveal itself tangled between all these hints, not unlike those roots in the other side.”

“Thank you, your grace.” Pride said, and then did as she was instructed. She waved the staff, then tapped it against the ground. The sounds all around her suddenly vanished, and the air felt heavy, for a moment the small champion did not know what to do, concerned that she had fumbled somehow, until the weight had been lifted, and Pride could feel the presence of the world push gently against her being.

She let out a breath, and allowed the feeling of the wind caressing her skin and tugging her hair to overwhelm her. Her mind could not truly comprehend the thousands upon thousands of whispers that tickled her ears, and shimmered all around her. She heard the song of the earth through the soles of her boots, as the ground seemed to pass through the material and touch her feet. She suddenly realized how deep the earth was, how much stone and soil there was beneath her.

Pride closed her eyes, and wore a childish, gleeful smile, as she swayed where she stood, using the staff to keep balance. “Oh land, so much, it’s so much.” She murmured to herself, enchanted by the magic of nature, enraptured in a moment of cosmic lucidity.

The god noticed how immersed and somewhat lost she was, not exactly what he requested but there was no trouble in that, placing humans down took a lot of time so they were not at a rush, eventually, he was sure, among that myriad of sensations she was now fully perceiving, their voice and step, or perhaps that bright light of their would soon shine upon her vision, as he had seen when he used the staff.

Darkness descended upon the land as the sun set over the western horizon, and throughout the second night, the two champions unburdened the two colossi until fifty thousand sleeping humans were once more ready to be awakened. Curiosity and Wanderer felt their strength strained, and were both exhausted after their task.

Pride felt herself regain control of her senses after hours spent listening to the plants and animals, and seeing the colorful trails that spread throughout the world. In the darkness of the night, she could see a far away light, akin to the blazing sun, except it rose from the west, not the east. The small champion knew that it was Keltra, and had mapped the path home in her head. She listened to her sisters, and found that they were finished.

With hesitation, she let go of the staff and stepped back, looking back at her immediate surroundings. She looked upon the God of the Hunt, and found she had forgotten how to speak. She shook her head, until she recalled where and what she was. “Will you come back to Keltra? You are always welcome there, your grace.” She said with reverence in her voice.

”Oh! Welcome back.” the god teased as the girl woke from her trance-like state, before nodding. ”I do plan to. Family means something to me, and that is what we are. Me and Homura, we disagree about some serious business, but for lighter conversations I think we could very well be friends. In the same vein, all of you are invited to my home too, it's… way, way smaller, but I guess in some ways that makes it sort of cozy?” he laughed and then clapped his hands.

”So! That was quite a long time surveying the land, did you find the path to your siblings?” he asked.

“I was afraid I almost lost myself, but I’ve found them. They’re waiting for us to return, I think.” Pride answered, taking hold of the staff, but refraining from tapping into its power again.

”I imagine, it can be overwhelming but I had trust you would do well. So! Once you cross into the fissure, you will need to look for Keltra, it is quite far but in that empty, condensed world, it should be quite easy to track it, it also helps you know how it looks, with those bright flame roots and what not.” the god explained as he started to leave, having no idea that Pride had already done so much more than that.

“I’m happy, your grace. Thank you for believing in me. I hope for a quick recovery, and eagerly await our next meeting.” Pride said, looking in the direction she knew her sisters waited. “Farewell, Master of the Hunt.” The small champion whispered to herself.

”I am pretty sure we are going in the same direction still, Pride. I need to get the humans, yes?” the god laughed and patted her in the head like an annoying aunt or uncle would. ”But yeah, you take care too, got the impression that you and your siblings are a tad overworked. I need to hibernate for a few seasons after all this.”

“May I have a hug? Um… our Maker doesn’t really do that, and I… would like one, please.” Pride asked quietly, timid beside the God of the Hunt.

The god looked down and was a bit shocked. ”SHE DOES NOT?” he coughed. ”Ahem. Sorry. Its just that… I was so sure…Ah but forget that. Here. You can have one for free, young flame.” the god leaned down and tried his best to give a warm comforting hug to the small champion, for once, that façade of wood covering his body felt like a massive barrier, it was meant to express nothing but cold indifference, fit for a hunter but sometimes, Tuku was a person too. ”My fourth gift to you huh? Please do not grow spoiled.” he stopped and let go. ”And you know, if I may speculate, I bet your sisters would like these hugs too..”

“Thank you. And I promise I won’t get spoiled, and I’ll hug my sisters too.” Pride said, and despite what Tuku was made of, things like shape or texture could not interfere with a child’s love for their family.

And so, with trip back to the clearing where the humans were, Tuku Llantu repeated the process as the champions got ready to leave, an aurora of memories descended upon them, minus the ones of scary big metal creatures, and soon the humans would start to gain colors, thoughts and movements. These were paler than the highland ones, though the hair and eyes were still either as black as Zelios’ night, dark greens and blues like the damp moss of the forest under the fog, and sometimes, bright like the many vivid colorful flowers of the region.

Tuku bowed to the trio and thanked them once again. ”Thanks for helping me with this, Curiosity, Wanderer. Let me handle filling these mortals in on the basics of the world, you three look worn down. I have gifted my relics to Pride, so she should be able to find a path back to Keltra, let her take the lead and she will lead the Colossi on the fastest path, I am sure of it.”

“Anytime, your grace!” Curiosity replied, while her two sisters repeated their meager words to the nascent humans. Afterward, the trio bid farewell once more, and returned to their positions atop the two colossi. Pride opened a rift into the realm they had traversed before, and the champions began their journey home.



Journeys II





Fear could see the three colossi from afar, their immense forms marching across the vast sea, traveling to unknown lands. The timid champion could see her sisters led by their Maker continuing onward as they left her behind where she stood on a desolate shore in solitude. They did not need to come back for her. They did not need to see her again. Fear knew this, but the pain in her chest did not recede.

Her gaze drifted to the waves that washed along the stony shore, splashing against her red boots before receding back into the sea. The process repeated itself, again and again, and Fear listened to the song of the sea for a time, letting it soothe her hurting heart.

She wondered where her own journey would take her, if she would have the opportunity to reunite with her family and return home, or if she would remain alone and adrift until the darkness she had known finally claimed her.

Her contemplations came to an end when she heard a distant bellow, and felt the stone beneath her feet shake. She looked towards the horizon where she saw the three colossi once more, seemingly as lost as herself.

She watched as they reared back and floundered in the water, as violent waves assailed their legs and threatened to topple them, but she was too far away to do anything to help! She stared aghast as the creatures were battered and broken against the raging sea, and terrible creatures that had emerged from its dark depths came and tore them apart.

There was nothing she could do as cruel winds ravaged the last colossus that stood defiant against the storm, until it was eventually eroded and turned to nothing more than rust and rock that was swept away.

Fear fell to her knees, and wept. She cried as pieces of the great colossi were carried to shore, scarred fragments of her own colossus, and that of her sister’s. Their shattered innards, and smashed crowns, scattered all around her.

She cried as her sisters were carried to shore, pale and lifeless, all of them drowned after being overwhelmed by the tempestuous ocean and horrible monsters of the world. Fear could not look away, seeing their empty eyes stare blankly back at her, accusing her of her own failure to remain at their side.

“Where are you?” The corpse of Courage had asked her, her voice hollow.

“Maker, please save me…” Fear prayed with desperate tears, hoping Homura would come. Hoping that not all was lost, and she could be saved.

Then she had awakened.

Warm within the feathery cradle of Viho, the timid champion found herself relaxed after she had abruptly awoke, and that no more tears would come. She was grateful for the respite, and found herself seeking more comfort in the soft and gentle wings of the owl champion.

“It was just a dream.” She murmured to herself.

“Yes,” Viho’s voice came to her, “Just a dream. I heard you tusseling about, wondering if you would wake. Now here you are.”

“I’m sorry if I kept you awake. I didn’t mean to.” Fear answered quietly, feeling a little ashamed that her nightmares were becoming a burden for someone else. She didn’t want to impose further upon the one that had pulled her from the darkness, but she could not help feeling like she had no other options.

“Do you know how long we have been here?” She asked.

“You did not wake me.” He replied with a small chuckle. “I sleep when I need to and wake when I do not. As for your other question, we have been here upon this stone for a few days since you were rescued. And, I have some bad news.”

Fear let out a little “oh.” when he had explained his wakefulness, then found anxiety spreading through her like a cold fire upon hearing there was more misfortune to be had. She felt herself shaking with dread, recalling the horrifying visages she had seen in her dreams.

“Fear… I can feel you shaking. Take heart, little one, there is still time for action. These eyes of mine see dark clouds upon the horizon. It might be another storm. It might not. It might hit us if we stay here. It might not. I know you wish to wait for your Maker but Fear, we must make a choice now. Either we stay and hope for the best, or we leave with certainty.”

Fear considered his words for a time, hesitant to make a choice, to make a mistake. “She is likely busy with the others. Courage and Kindness need her more than me. I’m not alone right now.” The timid champion concluded and arrived at a decision.

“We should leave.”

Viho gave a bob and stood to full height, stretching out his legs once more with a groan. “Your decision is wise, Fear. We shall find your homeland together and all will be well, you will see. Now, have you ever flown before?” he asked.

“No…” Fear answered, and realized what he was suggesting. Her eyes widened, and she became much more aware of the sound of the waves all around. Flying over the sea, walking on the wind with wings. “I’m not afraid though.” She replied, speaking to both herself and Viho.

“Good. There is nothing to be afraid of about flying… Well only if you don’t have wings but we won’t think about that, now will we?” He said as Fear could feel him moving. “You shall climb upon my back, as I do not wish to carry you within my talons. It would be unsightly, I think. Come Fear, Say hello to the world.” He unfurled his wings and raised them high, letting the light in.

Fear closed her eyes before the light shone on her, then slowly opened them to see what had awaited her. The outside world was bright and dark, clouds filling the sky above with the white mingling with the grey, an omen of the coming storm. She did not want to greet such a world.

The sea was restless, in anticipation of the tempest to come as well, and Fear felt the winds pushing against her skin. Despite his words, the timid champion was very much aware she lacked wings, and should she fall, it would mean her demise.

With reluctance, she began climbing the much larger owl champion, until she was clinging to his back. She held tightly, her hand of ice, shimmering in the light of the day, and called out to him.

“I think I’m ready!”

“Before we take flight Fear, what should our heading be? Do you have any recollection of your homeland and where it might be?” Viho asked, climbing to a high point.

“We were following the rising sun, so Keltra would be the other way, right? The forest and sea are both red like me, so there’s that too. Does that help?” Fear offered, looking skyward to see the sun, which shone brightly from one direction. She looked in the opposite direction, and saw drifting clouds and an endless sea. Hopefully home was beyond the horizon. At least the unknown is better than the approaching storm, she thought to herself.

“That will do, look for red, shouldn’t be too hard.” He unfurled his wings once more and flapped a couple times. “Alright Fear, hold on tight and don’t look directly down if you are afraid of heights. Here we go.” Viho said with a bit of excitement in his voice. It had been some time since the Owl had flown after all. With a few flaps of his silent wings and before Fear could even blink, they were falling- then they were flying!

Up up up they went, wind ruffling feathers and hair as they took to the sky with general ease. Viho took a sloping path up into the air, well over the water below and before long he was evening out and coasting along an unseen air current. The world above was truly something special.

Fear was reminded of the colossi and her view from atop their crowns, watching as the world passed by while they wandered in all directions. They had traveled so fast on their massive machines, that often the timid champion had to hide herself behind the glowing pillars lest she become overwhelmed by the sight, or swept away from the wind.

Clinging to Viho, despite not being in control anymore, she felt more secure and connected to the owl champion than her colossus. She stared outwards at the vast stretch of water reflecting the cloudy sky above, and noticed a scarlet shimmer on the horizon. Hope filled her as she realized that her Maker had left her a path that would leave her home.

“That way! That way! Keltra is that way!” She called over the rushing winds, wondering whether Viho could hear her.

Viho angled them in flight as he looked upon the path of red. Despite the wind, Viho spoke to Fear as if he was right beside her. “Excellent eyes Fear! Are you sure this path will take us to Keltra?”

“It’s my Maker! She’s guiding us!” The timid champion answered, feeling a glimmer of hope blossom within her. Her family was waiting for her. Homura had answered her prayers, and Fear found herself wishing she could fly even faster.

“That’s Kel-mera, Keltra must be that way!” She continued, ignoring the small voice in her mind that warned her this might be a trap, or worse, another dream filled with horrible visions. She latched onto her memories of her sisters, their voices, and she latched onto the words of Viho. The Divine may be powerful, but they created mortals for a purpose.

“Then take it we shall!” Viho exclaimed and banked to angle them further towards the path. “You see Fear, we were meant to follow this path. If we had stayed upon the rock, we would be pathless. This is good!”

Fear felt conflicted upon hearing those words, but kept her thoughts to herself. She would have been happy to remain there for longer, and let go of the shame she felt after failing her Maker, her sisters, and her sleeping kin. She wouldn’t have to face them if she simply stayed swathed in the warmth of Viho’s feathers. But she couldn’t deny the part of her that wanted to be reunited as well. To see pride in her Maker’s eyes, and hear the laughter of Courage, and the gentleness of Kindness.

“You’re right.” She murmured softly, glad that she would not be alone when she returned as well. Soon she would see them again.



Jiugui & Homura


Jiugui had retrieved his buzz after waking up from his post-death experience. He had toured the Nalusan lands in a giggling stupor, followed by maramodas who eagerly danced and laughed along with him. Jiugui found that he enjoyed their company very much, and they shared stories around the campfires in the night and choired under the sun during the day. An absolutely lovely bunch were they - Jiugui named them the tribe of Joy, and selected the most joyful among them to be chieftain. He named him Laff Awt-Lout, which he shortened to Lawl. Lawl accepted his name by rolling on the ground in submission, which cracked Jiugui up mightily. Other names followed soon: Lawl’s mate, Raphl; the designated fig schnaps brewer, Kehk; the master huntress, Lemau - the list went on. The tribe of Joy soon numbered 150 named individuals, and Jiugui said onto them:

“Be fruitzful like a good liqueur - no, waiz, be fruizful ‘n muldiply! Spreaz joy all aroun’, ‘n turn this land inno a giand pardy plache!” The maramodas had cheered alongside him, chanting, “Party, party, party!” And then Jiugui had moved on without them, travelling the world once more in solitude, just him and his wine cup.

It took little time before he arrived at the edge of the badlands, and an edge it certainly was. Almost like a border drawn on a map, the Nalusan sands simply stopped, blowing a little inwards but barely a few feet over an endless brown flat of stone and dirt. It was as though the land was an empty slate, hardly worth a thought or a fart in the wind. Jiugui rubbed his eyes with sweaty hands. “Blimey,” he blurted out and took a shot to curb his amazement. He reached out a foot and tested the soil - it was compact at least, perhaps too much so. He placed both legs on the other side of the border and took a deep breath. The ground screamed its horrible, unspeakable lack of purpose. It was yearning, starved for identity - anything! A simple plant, just please, anything!

Jiugui smirked. He wasn’t one to turn down such a request. He pulled up the arms of his robes, but just as he was about to unleash his power, he felt something. The drunk god’s instincts clocked into overdrive as even they weren’t so groggy as to not be able to sense another presence. Something was coming, something powerful. Jiugui took another shot for courage and closed in on the presence in a staggered sneak.

The red goddess strode ahead of a procession consisting of three massive machines vaguely shaped like the horses that roamed the Eidolon Plains, and her presence was similar to the rising sun as it painted the sky with the colors of dawn. She held in her hand a golden spear tipped with prismatic light, and swiftly marched towards the drunken god. Her eyes shone fiercely. Jiugui, slowly realising he maybe - just maybe - had been spotted, cleared his throat way too hard and ended up coughing once or twice before bowing deeply with hands stretched straight out before him and saying, “Hail, honourzed colleague! Wha’z brings you ‘ere at sush high speed?”

She suddenly stopped and arced her spear skyward, signalling to the three titans that followed her. The colossi ceased their march, and the red goddess resumed her brisk walk towards Jiugui with purpose in her stride. Homura came to a halt before the drunken god, respectfully bowing in response to his greetings. “I am Homura. I mean no harm to you, brother, unless you should mean harm to me. I had been following the stench of many grotesque creatures that had traveled to these lands, when I sensed your presence. What is your name?”
The drunk god raised his cup to her and, remaining bowing facing the ground, he conjured forth a second cup and floated it over to her. “Honourzed Lady Hom’ra,” he slurred respectfully, “This hummel servand isz but a lowly goblin’n comparizon wiff yoo - its name isn’ worthzy. Sozzy for thze stink…” he apologised and sniffed for emphasis.

“There is no need to apologize… It is I whom should seek your forgiveness.” She hesitantly took the cup and analyzed its content, the physical manifestation of Jiugui’s aspect, so sweet and tempting, but strange and terrible as well. She did not sip, simply holding onto the drink for the time being, and continued to speak. “I unfortunately have no gifts to offer you, as I have just finished delivering all that I had with me to our sister whom resides upon the moon. Allow me to remedy this, and meet with you again, so that I might offer such gifts as well.”

Jiugui remained bowing and slurred, “Oh, do nozz worry, muh Lady!” Only then he straighten up and smile from ear to ear. “A true giffd iz never giffen wiff the expectashun of anythin’ ‘n return.” He took a sip of his cup. “Pray tzell, wha’s stink you followin’?” He sniffed his pit as discreetly as he thought he could, lifting his arm high up and snorting deeply in the fold of his robe. “Nozz mine, righ’z?”

Homura blinked bemusedly, as if she could not comprehend the words he spoke before shaking her head in answer to his question. “No, your scent is… unique, and a source of… something… sacred. The stench I refer to originates from mortals, and their continual acts of cannibalism which pollute the world. It seems the beasts beyond the sea have come here to spread their sickness. I had hoped the great sea would prevent them from reaching so far.” Her gaze turned to the north, and she sighed with sorrowful regret before her attention shifted back to Jiugui.

“What brings you to this desolate place, brother?” She asked, and shook the wine within her cup, as if curious whether or not the liquid would suddenly react violently to the motion. She peered into its depths and saw her own small reflection staring back at her.

Jiugui thumbed over his shoulder into the far horizon. “Came wessfrom. Nice place, but the sky’z really weirr there fussomreesn.” He squinted and shook his head. “Cannibal morzals, huh… That ain’d very pioush, iszit? Sure ain’d noble!” He made a disapproving ‘prrt’ with his tongue. “Consizer zhem ALL denouncéd,” he declared and threw an arm into the air that undid his balance somewhat. Recuperating slowly, he mumbled, “Wasseylooglige? Mayyyybe I’fe seen’um?”

“Mortals have many shapes, but the most grotesque that I have seen are the bjork. Creatures capable of being what I envisioned for humanity, but disrespectful towards all that is sacred. If their madness is not healed, only death and despair await them, and I cannot allow any of our creations to suffer such a cruel fate. Our brother Chailiss, and I, have sworn to protect them, but there are others among the divine that work against us. This Singing Maker and Green Murder, who bring only strife in their wake. They must be brought to justice.” Homura stands still, as if untouched by the hand of time, while she speaks and her voice resonates with both conviction and otherworldly power. The golden spear she held began to shrink until it seemed to have completely vanished in her palm, and she held out her now empty hand towards Jiugui.

“Brother, let us promise to work together to protect all of creation and prevent its demise. Only together can we truly serve the Monarch of All, and enjoy the greatest of gifts that He has given us.”

Jiugui took her hand humbly and offered her another bow. “Why, thass all I came ‘ere t’doo, muh Lady! This hummel servant of Hish Impeeral Mashesty, urrp! ish noffin’ - NOFFIN’ - if nod a puhtector of all creaashun.” He squeezed his nose with his free hand and rubbed the mucus on his robes. “Ooof, ‘scuse me… Shay…” He looked around and gestured widely. “Why don’ we cuhmemm… Cuhmemorih… Coh-mehm-mo-rate dis occashun by makin’ somethin’, huh? Since you ain’ thirsdy, howbouda treat?”

“Hmm… What do you have in mind? I am afraid I must make haste as I have promised one of our brothers that I would deliver his humans within three days from now, but it seems only proper we honor our first meeting.” After clasping hands, Daybringer regrew in her grasp, and the red goddess silently watched as Jiugui stained his robes with the strange slime that came from his nose. She looked at the cup she held in her hand with a stoic expression, and took a single step back from the drunken god.

“Oh, don’ worrzy, id’ll jush be a lil’ snack-- oop!” As he bent forward to make a table out of the brown ground, he accidentally spilled wine all over the ground. Where the wine dropped, rich, flowery grass spawned and then spread for kilometres in every direction as far as the eye could see. Intermittently, thick bushes of broadleaf forest popped up on the horizon, as well. And then, most importantly, the area filled with wine plants like fruit trees, berry bushes and grape stalks as far as the eye could see. Jiugui blinked at the ground and scratched his head. “You seein’ green or am I havin’ a sztroke?”

“I see, you are Phelenia, father of the forests. Wine which is born from the fruits of your creations, I understand now. You are not what I expected, but your contributions to Galbar are all beautiful.” Homura nodded her head sagely, as she correctly assumed the drunken god’s identity. She slowly wandered the green fields that had grown, her feet left no tracks, nor disturbed a single blade of grass. She looked back at Jiugui and smiled softly, “Your verdant children are perhaps the most beautiful aspects of life that I have seen thus far.”

Jiugui threw himself back up and staggered back some, smiling almost as broadly as he was wide. “Why, zhank you, muh Lady.” He bowed and catapulted himself forward again. “Can’d ‘ave wine wizhout fruitz ‘n creashuns to share ‘zem wiff. Now, le’s see aboud magin’ a lil’ table… ‘N hup!” With that, Jiugui dug his hands into the soil and pulled upwards. However, he very much miscalculated the amount of strength he was putting into it, like when you crush the foot of the wine glass when putting it back on the table sometime around four in the morning. Within the next second, him and Homura stood atop an enormous mountain, their sweet conversation kept professional by a cool breeze and now about a foot of snow. Jiugui hid his face in his hands. “Alash, I am mush too inebriaded for thish, you gozza escoos me…” he wept in drunken shame.

“Why drink until you are like this? Why succumb to its dizzying influence? Could you not abstain from alcohol, or at least moderate your consumption? If you are humiliating yourself without reason, you should stop, brother.” Homura tossed aside the cup, the wine within spilled forth like blood on the snow, and she placed a hand upon Jiugui’s shoulder. “You do not need to ask for my forgiveness, for you have done nothing wrong. However, it does hurt me to see you like this… would you be willing to come with me to Keltra, perhaps I can offer you a place to rest?”

Jiugui suddenly frowned and all his tears dried in a flash. He straightened himself and only staggered minimally and said, "I drzink becoz is my thing - liddle Jiugui was meantta drzink, so drzink he will. I may be inebateded, buzz a zober Jiugui is like an evol Lady Hom'ra: Unnajural." He offered a polite smile, took Homura's hand and squeezed it amicably. "Now, le's head down, shall we? A place like dish isn' one for snacks!" The spherical man trundled around Homura and towards the slope of the mountain.

“I find your words concerning, brother. To indulge in such an addiction and proclaim it is necessary seems so wrong... it is akin to drowning yourself in water, or being buried beneath the earth. Why would anyone advocate such? However, I do not claim to understand the nature of wine as well as you, so perhaps I have failed to see the meaning of this erratic behavior.” Homura followed after Jiugui, continuing to contemplate his words, and leaving behind small shimmering scarlet steps in the snow as she walked. Her gaze had wandered to the three colossi and her champions that awaited her, ascertaining their safety after the massive mountain had manifested so near to them.

Jiugui waved a finger in the air. "Ah, buzz wine's so mush more than jusz the buzz afferwars." He tumbled down the mountainside until he reached the bottom, his wine spilling everywhere. The droplets flew for thousands of kilometres and spread the mountain into chains that spanned the entire region. The snowmelt from all the mountains gathered into great rivers that greened the land even further and poured out into the sea to the north. Jiugui lifted his head out of the snow and shook his head free of frost. "... I'm okay!"

As the earth had surged skyward, thousands upon thousands of spires and peaks piercing the sky above, Homura soared towards the three colossi before the spillage of wine could reach them. Her red radiance shone upon the machines, and seeped into their forms, filling them with ephemeral divine power. The eruption of wine had reached them, and splashed upon the land all around. Great mountains arose from beneath the massive hooves of the colossi and the machines were suddenly carried upwards, though their bodies did not truly touch the summits nor the slopes they now stood upon.

Homura looked where Jiugui had fallen, and swiftly returned to him. Her light receded back into her small form, and she offered her hand helpfully to the drunken god. “Our brother would be impressed with what you have done, I imagine. Though travel between Keltra and the lands of the west will be much more difficult for most mortals now.”

"Will id? Aw, shucks…" The ball of man rolled back up to a seat. "Eh, I'm sure dhey'll be fine…" he brushed some snow and dirt off himself. "Mordals'rrrre smard, they, uh, will find a way."

“Indeed. However, we should be wary of drastically altering the landscape in their presence. They are fragile and require our guidance, not our imprudence or apathy.” The goddess simply stood nearby, watching with an enigmatic expression as Jiugui sat up and cleaned himself. “Will they remain smart when they drink? Will wine help or hinder their progress, I wonder?”

Jiugui shrugged. "Jiugui wouln't know. All my good creashuns 'ave been maye unner influence." He grinned playfully. "I'm sure id'll be fiiiiine." He had another cupful of wine. "Haven' heard anythin' about crazy drzunks yet, anyway." He then looked over at the mountains. "Oh, loog, a goat!"

The greenery and mountains hadn't come alone; the flora was quick to be joined by birds in the mountains and broadleaf trees. In the hills and on the slopes of the great range, goats, lynxes, wolverines and foxes crawled out of holes and caverns in the stone. The broadleaf forests soon were full of insects, deer, elk, owls and wolves. The grass plains filled with bison, rodents and aurochs. Finally, the rivers filled with salmon, trout and amphibians and the snows atop the mountains sported forth lemmings, hares and reindeer.

Jiugui smiled. "How shweet."

Homura turned her gaze upon all of the animals, and she tilted her head in curiosity. “More creatures that roam the earth, fly across the sky, swim through the water, and embellish the great garden that is Galbar. However, they all resemble the beasts I have seen in the north, and I fear their spirits, their minds, and their bodies, all seeking to satiate themselves. Are these creatures considered sacred, Jiugui?” The red goddess asked.

The red-skinned god shrugged again. "Wha's shacrednesh to a goad? To a lemmon? Wha's diff'rent in a worl' where everrone Iive to sashate themselfs and a world whur err'one live to sashate others? In one, you's a hero for helpin' others; in the ozzer, you's a mizer for thinkin' 'bout you's own good. The norf, yeah, I been, but the worl' there's one of hardy creashurs who make the most uvva hard life. Sure, some gozza thing of dhemselfs 'n dheir own, but who elshe will eff nod dem, amiride?" He had another sip. "Whevver dhese creashurs're sacred 'r nod isn' ub to me, I thzink; dhey can decide dat for'emselfs," he said with a small, dismissive wave.

“You claim that you are a protector of all creation, and yet you fail to make a choice. You are a god, Jiugui. You cannot ignore your responsibility…” Homura halted herself, and realization dawned upon her. “You are the Singing Maker. You are the one that has made the bjork, and then abandoned them! Their suffering has spread like fire and will burn more of the world unless it is prevented from persisting farther. You have not guided them. You have not protected them. Why should I believe your words when your actions speak differently?” She seethed with rage, breathing heavily, and struggling to stay still as she spoke. Her eyes blazed with bitter flames, seeking any answer that may ease her aching heart from the seated Jiugui.

Jiugui waved calmingly. "Ogey, it seems I may've upsed you - my deepes' apologies." He bowed deeply. "Bud ash yoshelf, muh Lady - whad cou'd I, lil' Jiugui, teach mordalidy? What good ish my guidanshe when I dun' even rember wherrre I em." His mouth flattened and he offered her a deadpan frown. "His Impeeral Mashesty wouldna wand me tellin' morrals how ta behave; you wouldn' wand that." He nodded understandingly. "Truss me, I agree. Likewishe, I'd prolly cause more death dhen life if I ever swore to protecc, whell, anythin'." He bowed to her again. "Dhis hummel servant ain't made fe' war 'n order; only drinkin' 'n joy."

Homura remained silent, as his slurred words only seemed to beget more sorrow and anger in her. An aura of otherworldly might exuded from her, but she did not move, and did not speak. Jiugui sighed and straightened himself up.

"Deary me… Sheems I may've ruinéd the mood quite udderly," he lamented quietly. Looking around, he picked his nose discreetly and flicked away a booger which, upon contact with the ground, became a blooming, yellow flower. "How'sh aboud we do a lil' raincheck on dat lunch, huh? Wouldn' wunna keep ya if you're in a hurry," he asked with a small smile.

“Hmm… I would like that. You are… always welcome in Keltra. I must make haste, our siblings are waiting, and I do not want to disappoint them.” Homura breathed out, and felt shame sear her skin, burn into her heart, and remain there as she turned to leave. “Until we meet again, my beautiful and broken brother.” She said before she walked back to the three colossi and her champions.

"Alwaysh a pleashur, muh Lady," said the little drunk with yet another bow, safely hiding any reactions to his freshest moniker. "Wish you all a pleasen' journey, 'n say hi from lil' me to whomeverrr you's visidin'!" He waved with a hand that had been drowned in his silken sleeve.


Homura

Kindness - Curiosity - Wanderer - Pride


Kindness awoke to her two sisters, Curiosity and Wanderer, looking over her with concerned expressions. The grey sky above and the far away song of the sea were different from what she remembered before falling asleep. Less lively and hollow, like the world had become smaller while she slept. The two familiar faces that gazed upon her with worry were only facsimiles of the faces she had hoped to see again, and Kindness winced from the pain inside her. Her head seemed so heavy, and brittle, as though it might tip over and shatter at any moment.

The quiet champion saw that she had been brought back to Keltra, and laid down in the large fields that encircled the towering keep. The massive red walls surrounded her, and she could not tell which way the sun had risen... she felt so lost.

"Kindness... are you hurt?" Curiosity asked, gently placing her hand upon her sister's head. Her touch stirred Kindness from her thoughts, and reminded her that she was not alone. There were others that still needed her.

"No. I am unhurt." She answered, but she struggled just to speak. She realized she may have just lied for the first time. It did hurt. More than words could describe, but she would not impose her pain upon others.

"Where's Courage and Fear?" Curiosity continued, and her words struck her sister as cruel, but Kindness knew that there was no malicious intent in the champion always asking questions... she just wished that she had any other answer aside from the truth.

"They are gone."

"Gone? What do you mean? Where did they go? When are they coming back?" More and more questions spilled forth from Curiosity while Wanderer remained silent. Kindness found the weight of words too burdensome and closed her eyes.

She opened them to see... a child approaching her and her two sisters. Another human, but not one of the ones she had seen with Chailiss. No, the red-haired girl was much smaller than those in the north, even shorter than the three champions themselves. She seemed similar, but there were strands of pink among her long tresses and the fringe above her face. She also wore an attire akin to their own, and carried in her tiny hands was a black orb that shimmered in the light of the sun.

"I am Pride. A pleasure to meet you." Pride announced, and bowed her head towards the trio as she greeted them.

"What is that?" Curiosity excitedly asked, pointing at Pride with a look of awe.

"Cute..." Wanderer answered, as both she and Curiosity moved without thinking, and found themselves pinching the small champion's cheeks. Kindness could only blink with confusion while she watched her sisters interact with what she knew to be Homura's newest creation.

Her gaze drifted further beyond the three mortals to the imposing keep, to the sight of the celestial light that poured forth from every doorway and window. The light of the divine... and the red goddess that stood at the entrance.

Anger boiled within her when she looked at her maker, and the recalled the words she had said; the lack of compassion for her champions as the red goddess ignored her pleas. Kindness saw the absence of pity in her maker's eyes, and felt rage knowing that the one with the power to save her sisters had simply stood there and did nothing. Why didn't you save them?

Her attention turned back to the three before her, as Pride struggled to free herself from the grasp of Curiosity and Wanderer to no avail. "She's so round and soft!" Curiosity exclaimed, while the small champion attempted to smack her with the black orb. "Cute" Wanderer said again while she nodded in agreement with her sister's comments. Pride also attempted to hit her as well, but the orb she held was too heavy.

"No! No touching me!" She said as she stumbled and dropped the heavy orb upon the toes of Curiosity.

"AAHHH!!!"

Curiosity fell back as she held her right foot in her hand and tripped. She spasmed in agony, gasping while she clutched the injured part of her body. Pride picked up her black orb with a smug smile. "Do not pinch my cheeks, or I will drop this on you again."

The small champion turned to Wanderer with a threatening look, and saw a surprising expression of joy on the other champion's face. She stomped her foot on the ground in a (non)threatening display. "The same for you!" She stated, and was appeased with the nod of acceptance from Wanderer.

Pride then looked to Kindness, still sitting where she had woken, and approached her sullen sister. "And what is your name?" She asked, and her dulcet tone was unlike any of the voices that Kindness was familiar with. A new sound. Pity was all she felt for the one who called herself Pride, as she knew that her maker was a merciless being, and the child was nothing more than a toy to the deity. All she knew was that she could not bear to lose this little one to the cruelty of the world.

"My name is Kindness." She answered, and stood up before bowing to the small champion. Curiosity still writhed and shook on the ground while Wanderer stood over her.

"What's wrong with you? Your eyes are leaking, wait, you're crying... why?" Pride asked as Kindness came closer and closer.

The crying champion hugged Pride, holding onto her while fighting to keep back the tears. There was little the girl could do when she was engulfed in the arms of her bigger sister, and complained, "I said no touching... no, hmph!" until, "Fine! Fine..." and she allowed Kindness to hold her.

They stayed like that for a time, and only parted when Homura had approached them. The red goddess looking between her four champions with keen eyes and a cryptic mask. She was inhuman despite her appearance, moving with divine grace and precision among them. In her hand, she held Daybringer, and the golden spear was a symbol of her power, her authority.

"There is much to be done... Kindness, Curiosity, Wanderer; this is your little sister, Pride. She shall protect Keltra while we continue our journey." Homura proclaimed, and her lingering silence afterwards invited their questions.

"What happened to Courage and Fear? Wait, you really mean we're going with you?" Curiosity asked.

"Where did Apostate go?" Wanderer added softly.

Kindness said nothing as her sisters sought answers, wondering whether their maker would reveal the truth of her insidious nature or not. How she had abandoned those that followed her, and was evidently only concerned with delivering her gifts to her fellow divine. The quiet champion seethed as she considered why she had bothered helping Homura scatter her kin across the land and sea when they could have all lived here in Keltra... their home.

"The sea has claimed your sisters. You two will be joining your sister and I by controlling the other two colossi. Apostate has departed already, but we will meet him again in four days when we provide him with his promised humans."

"How could you leave them!?!" Kindness challenged Homura, enraged after she heard such a indolent answer regarding the loss of Courage and Fear from the goddess. "You were supposed to protect us!" She cried with an accusatory finger pointed at her maker. None of her sisters said anything, stunned by this sudden act of defiance in front of the deity.

"They chose to go. I honored that choice. Ask yourself, Kindness, why did you not go with them? Why did you stay still and silent as they set forth? You are still a child; one that has now known the loss of loved ones. Know this, we cannot change what has happened, and we cannot allow grief to consume us. I promise you this small solace, young and foolish Kindness, you will see them again. Your souls were all bound together upon your birth."

Homura's words both kindled the flames of rage and stirred something she had forgotten... hope. Kindness remembered the terrible pain of thinking she would be alone at sea for eternity, that she had lost everyone and was adrift in a hostile world that taken all that was precious to her. Now, she hoped once more. Held onto to the words that her pathetic maker had promised.

"If you lie, then I will never forgive you, and I will continue to curse your name until my last breath. This I promise." The cold fire in her eyes focused upon the red goddess, and Kindness could feel the ire behind the impassive mask her maker wore. She allowed herself a small smile as she had attained that small strike upon Homura and her pretentious attitude.

"So be it."

The tension in the air did not alleviate afterwards, and the other champions found themselves apprehensive about what may happen next. The first to speak was Pride. "How annoying. Well I will return to the keep. You pests can be on your way now." She said dismissively, before turning back to the aforementioned keep behind her. She came to a halt as she was lifted from the ground by Homura.

"No, before we depart there is a matter I must remedy. I have yet to teach you the secrets of your spirit, and the art of sorcery." The red goddess said, holding an annoyed Pride while her remaining champions became intrigued.

---


"The Gnosis is difficult to understand as a mortal, and requires both intense discipline and acquired wisdom. Knowledge is the practice of making language conform to the world, as opposed to sorcery, which is the practice of making the world conform to language. We cannot see the words that weave reality into the tapestry, but we can influence them." Homura explained to the four students seated before her.

"As a goddess, I am gifted with an innate understanding of the Gnosis. I can create and manipulate the world around me with greater ease while you will have to struggle to achieve even simple spells that define the world around you. The meaning of the words is essential, and though you need not articulate them, you must understand the essence of what you are attempting to convey. If your spirit is illiterate, you cannot comprehend the Gnosis." Her hands gracefully gestured and motioned in the air, as symbols appeared and shimmered. The mystical markings hovered and shifted in a myriad of shapes and sizes, humming quietly with otherworldly power as they encircled the champions.

"I shall bestow upon you my understanding of the Incantation of Sending, but only a piece of it. Every Incantation consists of the principle of the spell, and the many shaped forms that spell takes. Memorizing a single shape is much simpler than memorizing the entire principle. I will teach you how to walk in the Otherworld." The symbols suddenly shattered, and then reappeared upon the flesh of the four champions that winced with pain as this happened. Seared into their skin, the symbols shifted and spread until much of the the four champion's bodies were inscribed with the markings.

"To assist your minds, I have taught your bodies as well. When you call upon sorcery, the incantations shall reveal themselves to you."

Kindness stood up, and examined her arms and legs, watching as the inscriptions altered themselves. Black and serpentine, twisting and turning, the markings captivated her. The other champions were just as enchanted by what had happened, and preoccupied themselves with looking at themselves. The quiet champion saw that the markings reached their faces as well, dark swirling shapes contrasting with their pale skin and scarlet features.

"Sustaining any spell will exhaust you, so you must discover your limitations before you weaken yourself in a perilous moment, and suffer the consequences of ignorance." Homura said.

The champions quickly found themselves more and more fatigued after walking for a few moments while the markings remained visible. Pride was the first to surrender to the strenuous exertion, and Wanderer followed quickly after. The two sat down breathing heavily as their markings vanished, and then watched as Kindness and Curiosity continued to stand.

"I'm going to be the last to fall, you know." Curiosity chuckled while Kindness struggled to just stay standing. The quiet champion felt her legs burn, and her shoulders ache, as if she were burdened with a great weight on her back. She looked at her cheerful sister and could not understand how she simply stood there without expressing a hint of exhaustion.

"No... I... am..." Kindness gasped out, and stepped towards Curiosity.

Her sister continued to smile, but there was sorrow in her eyes as well. "You can do this."

"Do... no... me..." Kindness couldn't breathe, and fell before she could reach Curiosity, but her sister dashed forward to catch her. The markings upon them vanished as well, and the victorious champion held her exhausted sister with tenderness.

"You don't have to worry. You'll become stronger, Kindness."

Homura spoke from where she had observed their contest, and all of her champions turned to look at her. "Honor is sacrifice. Walking upon the Sacred Path will be arduous, but we will not stray. You have learned how to walk in the Otherworld, but before you attempt to wander far, you must train your endurance. For the journey ahead, I shall sustain the spell. Now, you have all done well. Go and rest in the warmth of the Eternal Fire. It will restore your strength."

The red goddess dismissed her champions with a wave of her golden spear, and then pointed towards the keep. Her exhausted students slowly stood and began the trek back to the lonely building. None of them spoke, too tired to try to converse, so they simply marched onward until they reached their destination.

When they entered and stood before the blazing bonfire that is the Eternal Fire, all four of them found themselves quickly reinvigorated. Its bright light seeped into them and reached their inner fires, joining with it and connecting them to the power imbued in the monument itself. It was peaceful, and each cackle and flicker of the flames lulled them into relaxation.

They all seated themselves nearby and watched the fire for a time as they were told to rest, and in the balmy presence of the Eternal fire they found their concerns and aches had faded away.

"Wanderer, you're smiling!" Curiosity said with excitement, pointing at her sister lost in her feeling of content. Curiosity herself had felt her lips tug upwards, and joy blossom in her chest. She looked to Kindness with Pride sitting in her lap, and felt more safe and happy than she had ever thought would be possible.

Homura was quiet when she found all four of her champions sleeping peacefully, and allowed them to enjoy their brief respite.

As the sky darkened, Kindness awoke to the wind caressing her cheek and tugging her hair. She atop one of the colossi among the columns of its crown. She frantically looked to see if Courage and Fear were beside her, but realized she could not hear the roar of the sea, and it was night, not day. Her return to Keltra had not been a dream. Their deaths had not been a dream...

She could hear the more gentle waves washing against the stony shores of Keltra, and saw the other two colossi stationed nearby. She could see her sisters, Curiosity and Wanderer waking upon their own colossi as well.

Homura appeared beside her, illuminating the head of the colossus with the tip of Daybringer. "It is time we continue. Show your sisters how to guide the colossi, and follow me." Without waiting for a reply, the red goddess leapt and soared through the sky westward.

Kindness did as she was told.


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