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It's not really that delicious unless it thinks is it?

An Isotope Alt.

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The Question Of Souls


High above the world the flock hung in the Blue. Innumerable Alma hovered and circled around the titanic Luis. Upon his armored back where hundreds of vaults ready to be filled with the souls of the dead. Hovering just above him was the Titan of Winds, a sentinel and guardian of weightless stone that played faint melodies even as it rested. At the head of the flock was Azura who would soon lead them all to the stars. Below them, past frolicing sky slugs and slowly drifiting temples Galbar was splayed out before them, flattened and maplike, its terrain looping infinitely into the distance. Down there where uncountable mortals, living out their lives in ignorance of what fate awaited them. She allowed herself but a moment to dwell on this as she looked for the destination Asceal had described to her.

Then she dropped like a stone.




The flock dropped out of the blue a short way’s away from Shengshi’s ship, finding themselves above a continent Azura had yet to visit. The sound of wing beats was deafening as the birds slowed their fall, only to go quiet as they settled down on every available perch on the continent blow, painting it with a rainbow of colors visible for miles around. Of the flock’s three titans only one landed, the titan of wind settling down to guard the Alma while Luis and Azura made their way towards the ship.

As the Luis drew closer it became clear just how massive the eclipse whale was, for he dwarfed the Jiangzhou by orders of magnitude. It was as if an entire prot-city had hoisted itself out of the ground to go meet the dragon vessel. As they drew near Azura briefly landed on the tip of the massive horn like crystal protruding from Luis’s armor and waved a wing towards the ship while shouting “Hello there” in greeting. The servants aboard the ship all stood on the side of the deck, as if they had been waiting for her. In unison, they all fell to their knees and yelled as one:

“Ten thousand years and more to the holy Azura, Divine of Winds, and her companions!”

“Good grief. Not this again” Azura groaned quietly before shaking her head. “Priorities Azura, priorities. Souls first, hearts and minds later” she told herself before taking flight again for the last leg of the journey. Luis parked himself up and to the side of the vessel, and then sent an Alma down with Azura as she flew down to land on a clear region of its deck.

“Greetings, ten thousand years to you all also.” Luis said though the Alma. He had set one up to take a portrait view of himself that the Alma he was speaking though displayed with a small holographic image to indicate who was talking. Another sat on his nose and recorded/transmitted what he said to his Alma emissary while a final one sat next to ne of his eyes to display what the emissary saw. This setup stopped him shouting at the boat, let him go inside it and solved the language barrier, the Alma granting comprehension similar to that of the gods to those listening to them.

“It’s good to meet you all.” Azura said to the gathered water people “I’d love to get to know some of you some time, but I was told Asceal was to be found here, so could one of you direct me to her, if you’d be so kind?” she asked.

One of the present servants crawled a little forward. “Naturally, O sacred All-Able Avian! These servants have already relayed to Her Holiness Asceal the message of Your blessed arrival - His Lordship, too, has been notified.”

If parrots were capable of cringing Azura would have done so. As it was she took a few moments to get control of her emotions to avoid them bleeding into her voice before responding stiffly “Thank you...that will be all? Please go about your day?” Azura was unsure as to how to dismiss the servants so they'll be able to stop groveling on the deck. The servants all stood up in unison, bowed and walked backwards, torso inclined all the same, back to their duties.

Azura let out a sigh of relief at once they had left. “Safe to say you don’t like this one bit.” Luis noted via Alma. “No. Not one bit.” Azura muttered back in response. “But like I said. Priorities. From Asceals mention of a dragon attack I fear that our trip to the Pyres is timely indeed.”

“Looks like it. I’ve been skimming through the Alma’s sight as they get the recording/sending power and there seems to be a number of mortal races.” the projection of Luis’s face quickly switched to show a brief shot of some Selka playing on a distant beach, followed be the much closer sight of fire giants burning their way through forests. “and that’s just this continent and the one we just left.”

“Wait. I didnt think about using them for that when I made them.” Azura said as the fire giants disappeared to be replaced with the whale’s face once more.

“An added bonus then. Same with this translation setup I’ve got going.” Luis commented. “It’s not exactly optimized for keeping an eye on things but it can be useful if you take the time to troll through all the ones eating or starting at nothing.” the screen flashed a couple examples of picturesque landscapes, close ups of fruit, a quickly skipped over courtship dance and the vision of a bird deftly maneuvering to escape a dragon.

“Not entirely sure we should use that ability for, well spying.” Azura said, her tone concerned

“It’s not very good for that anyway.” Luis insisted “But it has let us know that there are mortals who are working with the dragons and other fiery creatures, which may cause issues when it comes to retrieving their souls in future. Particularly if we end up opposed to whichever destructive god who created them.”

Azura took a moment to think before responding. “The Alma need to be neutral, so that no one interferes with their task, but I can't be. That is going to be tricky to set up, if it is even possible.”

“And gods who oppose us might well comand their mortals to not give themselves over to us when the time comes. They might fear we would use them against us or deny their salvation out of spite.” Luis added.

Their contemplation was interrupted when they spotted Asceal making her way through the ship’s palace door and waves of bowing and kowtowing servants onto the colossal deck. Walking alongside the luminous goddess were her three winged children. Asceal made her way to Azura and and gestured to the flock around them before she spoke, “I see you’ve been preparing, Azura.”

“Asceal! Good to see you.” Azura responded, her mood swinging to chipper at the sight of the light goddess “And yes, I have. I’m excited to tell you all about it but I should give Introductions first.” She said, before pointing up with a wing at the great whale who floated above them. “This is my good friend Luis”

Luis himself spoke through the Alma’s projection, the translated speech of the bird talking over the soft distance sounds of his actual words. “It’s lovely to finally meet you Asceal. Azura has spoken quite highly of you.”

“Has she?” Asceal smiled, “Well, I hope I live up to any expectation. It’s good to meet you, Luis.”

The radiant goddess glanced to her children and went on, “And these three are my children. Eline, Akam, and Makab.” Makab waved at Azura, but none of the three spoke. Their attentions, forgivably, seemed more occupied by the flock that had surrounded Jiangzhou and darkened the very light of Heliopolis.

“Children?” Azura cocked her head momentarily and made the kind of huh sound that someone makes in response to hearing an interesting idea that they had not thought about before. The misgivings she had developed about that kind of creation were put aside for the sake of expediency and to avoid being rude to the children themselves. “It’s a pleasure to meet you three as well.” she said to them simply.

Eline wrenched her gaze from the Alma, who were perched on every available surface in site, and nodded to Azura, “Likewise. Mother told us we could always count you as a friend.”

“Then I too have expectations to live up to.” she replied cheerfully, accompanied by the soft swishing sound of her tail feathers being happily flapped up and down behind her.

“Dearest sister Azura!” came a booming voice from the tower above. “We finally meet. Welcome to my most humble home. I hope the journey has been kind to you.” Standing with his arms spread apart in a welcoming manner, the snake smiled warmly at Azura and her flock from atop his palace.

Azura blinked a few times in surprise, their host’s booming voice having caught her off guard, before she turned her head to gaze up and beheld him. She was quite sure the looking up part was intentional. “Shengshi, I presume? It was a pleasant flight with an interesting destination. One that seems to have been attacked.”

“A lot of the continent also seems to be, or have been, on fire” Luis noted in a rather detached manner.

”What happened here?“ She asked.

“A gruesome, unwarranted strike from the Flame Demon, it is. Even now, his forces sear my precious woods like cinders in a haystack, bringing wanton destruction upon this cradle of life upon Galbar.” He paused and shook his head. “In my hour of arrival after my skirmish on Tendlepog, my ship was assaulted by vile dragons - the wretched, unwashed spawn of the Demon. Had it not been for the presence of our precious sister Asceal and her so valiant children, I fear the worst may have befallen my home and its people. Truly, some of our siblings have no wish but to end prosperity and harmony for all eternity.” He clenched his fist and sighed, snapping his fingers. A trail of servants came out the slider doors behind him with trays of cups.

“Can I offer some refreshments while you are here?”

”Thank you but no. I don't drink.“ she told him, before bombarding him with questions and information ”By ‘demon’ I assume you mean Sartravius and not Anzillu? I should warn you that latter’s sphere was leaking rapidly multiplying flesh devouring bacteria according to Ohannakeloi, so I dread to think what else they have been cooking up in there. Was anyone hurt in this attack and what is this skirmish at Tendlepog you mentioned?“

The snake nodded somberly. “Several thousand servants lost their lives during the attack - turned to steam and glass by the cursèd flames of the demonspawn - and I do mean Sartravius…” He smacked his lips together as if saying the name left a bitter taste in his mouth. “The servants will recover in time, but the tragic loss is nonetheless gruesome in the gravest meaning of the word.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “As for the skirmish to Tendlepog, I aided our brothers K’nell and Eurysthenes in defeating the maddened Vakk - he planned to murder the mortal known as Hermes, and that was simply something we could not allow him to do. Unfortunately, he did not repent in his final moments, and we were forced to end his existence.” He shook his head. “Such a shame. Death is a gruesome destiny, most of all for gods.” At those words Asceal’s eyes widened and she shot Shengshi an incredulous look, but held her tongue.

”Several thousand...“ Azura replied, aghast at the devastation divine conflict had already wrought. She was silent for a few moments as the words sunk in, before she spoke to everyone, god and mortal alike ”Death is a destiny that Kartharsos has made far more gruesome, but there is still time to save them from his flames. The birds that flock with me are Alma. They are made to seek out intelligent life, turn soul into crystal to save them from the pyre’s pull and can transport these crystals to places of safe keeping. With the Titan of winds I can carry a great number of them up to the pyres to save those who have been taken to that infernal place. He will resist this invasion, but to free his victims death must be overcome“

She turned to the goddess of light and asked her ”Are you still ready and willing to accompany me, Asceal?“ before asking more generally ”I ask you all the same, because I could really use the help.“

“Of course,” Asceal nodded even as she ran a hand through her hair, “The task is even more urgent now that new mortals have begun to... Perish. If you’ll permit it though, I’d prefer to leave my children with Shengshi. I’d feel better knowing they’re here to keep Sartravius in check.”

“They are welcome to stay for as long as you wish!” the snake called from above.

”I see.“ she responded, a touch of disappointment staining her tone, before she asked Shengshi ”Will you join us, or will you be staying for the same reason?“

“Oh, I will remain, I am afraid. This land is my realm, and as its lord it is my duty to defend it. You are welcome to drop by again for a drink or two after your little…” He paused to look for words, flicking his tongue pensively. “... Quest.”

“I’m with you” Luis butted in before Azura’s mood could be sour any further. “Obviously” he added, acknowledging the statements redundancy

”Yes. Good. Well then.“ Azura said while pointlessly glancing at the servants. ”Let’s get going?“

“Forgive me, sisters, but are you leaving so soon? To pay Katharsos a visit? To procure souls from his sphere? Ought you not at least ask him for permission first? You are aware that this act will upset the balance of the world, correct?” The snake put his hands on his hips and flattened out his mouth.

“Katharsos already did that when he murdered every soul that followed us to this world, Shengshi,” Asceal shut her eyes for a moment and took a breath, “But you didn’t know that, did you? Katharsos found all the souls that followed us into this universe and set about destroying them all as soon as we arrived, Shengshi. Decayed, intact, he didn’t discriminate when he tossed them into his fires and burned them down to soul ash. All that saved us from that fate was the Architect’s favor.”

The Goddess gestured to Azura, “Aelius, Azura, and I have resolved to keep whatever souls come into being, souls like your servants, from Katharsos’s cruelty. Azura devised a means to crystalize a soul, to preserve it until a more permanent solution may be found, and this is what we mean to do to whatever thinking souls we find in Katharsos pyres. Your perished servants among them.”

The snake furrowed his brow and sneered. “With all due respect, dearest sister, I am well aware of how soul ash is created. I am also quite well aware that it is an absolutely necessary ingredient to all life. Are you telling me that you will lock up all souls that you can get your hands on, thus limiting the amount of soul matter we can use to create life, until you can find a potential future alternative to an already functional system?”

“Functional?” Asceal’s expression fell, “What Katharsos is doing is murder. The soul of a mortal is no less alive than that mortal was Shengshi, it thinks, it feels, and to destroy it simply because it is expedient is an atrocity.”

The snake sucked in a deep breath through the nose. “Your tone is unbecoming of you, sister. I am merely stating that freezing souls until a better solution can be found, is not a solution. Katharsos’ work is a necessary part of the harmony between life and death - life is born, it lives, it dies, and is then born anew. It is a delicate cycle which destruction could cast the world into chaos. You understand this, yes?”

The Goddess scowled, “That ‘cycle’ exists only because Katharsos and others have decided it should. It, like everything else in this world, is a construction, Shengshi.” She paused for a moment and ran both her hands through her long hair, “You are right about soul crystals not being a solution, but they are infinitely preferable to inaction. How many thinking souls would you have suffer in Kathasos pyres while we dawdle? If Katharsos weren’t the monster he is we might have had the time to find a proper solution, but the existence of the Pyres leaves Azura and I no choice.”

“A construction,” the snake muttered and let out a hot sigh. He hopped off the side of his tower and landed in front of the goddesses with a surprisingly low smack. “Harmony is founded on the principles of equal parts good and evil, Asceal - too much of either will be a detriment. Our brother’s work is a fundamental necessity to the continuation of the world. The nature of souls is not a construct, dear - souls need to be purged to attain a new identity. Otherwise, we will be recycling unfit souls for eternity. It is no solution to keep the dead alive.”

As the Titan of winds slowly drew closer to the ship, and the Alma gathered around Luis, Azura interjected herself into their debate ”Then when the time comes you too will gladly let Katharsos destroy your soul? To have everything you ever were washed away by his flames? I expect it would be a rather lengthy process for those who would live as long as we will. And as for this ‘balance between good and evil’ where you not just ranting and raving about the fiery demon who burned your home? Those destructive flames you cannot stand yet the distant ones in the sky you can? Even if we accept your vision of harmony, what gives you the right to decide which evil is permissible and which is tolerable?“

“Yes, when my time comes, I will gladly step into the flames of the Pyres so that my soul can be used to nourish countless new lives - to further life’s mission towards prosperity.” He pointed a clawed finger at Azura. “The forest was already in balance - the Flame Demon’s wanton destruction upsets that same balance with unnecessary death. Finally, my right to decide what is right and wrong is legitimised by the structure of the universe - the rebirth of souls in fire is the only way to bring about the renewal of life. You two can deny that all you want, but one can ask oneself who truly is--” He stopped himself. “... I do not wish to sow the seeds of conflict between us, sisters, but surely, you must see that you cannot halt the cycle of life just because a certain step of that cycle is painful!”

”The burning of souls is not ‘part of the universe’. It was a decision, made by a single person, that ended the lives of billions. As far as we know he didn’t even consult anyone else when making this decision, and yet now we are stuck with his system and everyone will have to suffer the consequences. Unlike you I will not sit idle while a monster who was given supreme power seemingly at random dictates the final fate of every person in this universe.“ Azura retorted

“... ‘Unlike you’, she says…” the snake hissed. “Sister, I have attempted to remain as civil as I can in this discussion, but your disrespectful, nigh-aggressive tone - in my own house, no less - is most unbecoming. Now, I believe you two have a quest to get on with. If you would like any provisions, I will of course have the servants prepare some for you - though, please, do not let me keep you.” He put on a poisonous smile and his eyes flashed reptilian.

Before Azura could issue another retort Asceal deftly stepped between her and Shengshi. The Goddess of Light frowned slightly, but when she spoke it was without rancor, “Very well Shengshi. I’m sorry we can’t come to an agreement regarding this matter, but I do hope you’ll take the time to consider our position while we’re away. You say Katharsos flames are the only way life can be renewed, but how do you know that? Have you tried another, kinder, method? Has anyone? Katharsos instituted his system before any of us had even created life, so I feel confident asserting that he, at least, did not exhaust his options before burning the primordial souls.”

Asceal pursed her lips, “Perhaps our crystallizing mortal souls will be a problem one day Shengshi, but for now it is only a kindness. There is an abundance of souls in this world and we seek to save only the barest fraction. We have all the time we need to discuss this.”

The snake’s scowl turned to Asceal and became a saddened smile. “Oh, dearest Asceal, you do have a gentle way with words. However, I must again apologise profusely and recommend a different course of action. I will not stop you, of course, but please just consider once more the gravity of your actions.” He reached out to grab Asceal’s hands. “Please.”

The Goddess sighed and held Shengshi’s hand for a moment, “I have, Shengshi. I understand that there is a cost, but there is always a cost. No cruelty and no kindness is without consequence. And I accepted the consequences of what I must do a long time ago. I only wish you could understand.”

“I am sorry, dear. I cannot support you in this endeavour. Truly, I am deeply, thoroughly sorry. I wish you all the best; however, I cannot pray for your success.” The snake bowed deeply.

Asceal met Shengshi’s gaze for a moment, frowned, and held her tongue. She nodded sadly and turned away from the Lord of Rivers and towards Azura and her flock. The Goddess of Wind’s army had gathered around the ship and she was more than ready to leave.

Azura gave no farewell to the contemptible serpent and instead silently launched herself up and away towards Luis’s vast form. Meanwhile the great whale’s messenger bid farewell to the angels, with whom he had been quietly conversing while their parents argued with their host, and then released the Alma from its duty so that it could rejoin the flock.

Asceal waved to her children and beat her wings. In a flash she, like the rest of the flock, was far overhead. As one the congregation turned away from Jiangzhou and began to ascend. Their target was far above, after all.


Reflections





It played out in his head again and again. Every time he drew the arrow, every time he lined up his shot, and every time he froze. The pain he’d experienced after that was long gone, and he didn't even bear a scratch to tell of it, but each time he relived the experience in his mind he felt it. The searing heat, the force of the blast, the crash into the water. His body tensed and his breath grew laboured as he remembered.

It was a horrid experience. In some ways it reminded him of the memories Mother had imparted to him, but in others it was new. New, and harrowing. To remember an injury was one thing, but to know that injury was something that happened to him and not another? To know it was his fault. The winged man grit his teeth and held his face in his hands.

Each time he revisited the memory he tried to discern what had stayed his hand, and each time he realized he already knew. The endless repetition was little more than desperate masochism. He didn’t shoot because he, even after seeing all the destruction it had wrought, simply didn’t want to shoot. He didn’t want to kill.

It was a sentiment at odds with his very purpose, his reason for being. He relieved the memories not in a quest to understand his action, but in the hope he’d recall some detail that would absolve him. He failed to act, and people died. He nearly died. Surely there was some other reason, some mitigating factor.

Of course, on some level, Akam knew there wasn’t. He had made a choice, and both he and others had paid for it. He had been unable to do the one thing he existed to do. He was a failure. Perhaps that was the real reason why he had stayed in the little room, remembering. The mere physical pain he’d ensured was insufficient punishment for what he’d done, what he’d failed to do.

A knock at the door distracted him from his dour musings. He didn’t reply, but it made no difference. The knock was merely a warning, and a moment later Mother stepped into the room. She wore an expression of worry, but she didn’t waste time asking him how he was. She knew.

Akam sighed, and greeted her, “Mother.”

“Akam,” She sat on the bed beside him and half heartedly embraced him with one arm. He didn’t shy away, but he didn’t lean in either. After all, who was he to deserve affection? He’d failed Mother, and more besides.

The two sat there for a time, and Akam began to wonder why Mother, a Goddess, was so content to waste time in her effort to comfort him. She had responsibilities, and yet she was here. With him. He almost felt worse for it. His failure was so absolute it was occupying her time, and between the two of them she was undoubtedly the one whose time mattered.

Eventually that train of thought reached a head and he blurted, “Why?”

Asceal eyed him, and for a moment he wondered if she’d bothered to read his mind. If she did, it didn't show when she asked, “Why what Akam?”

The wing man shrugged off her arm and stood. He looked down at his mother and very nearly yelled, “Why are you here!? I failed. You made us to serve a purpose and I couldn’t, I can’t. Why are you wasting your time on me?”

For a moment the glowing Goddess was silent, the only indication of her understanding presenting as a slight widening of her eyes. She opened her mouth and hesitated before speaking, “Because you’re my son, Akam. No time I spend with you is wasted, ever.”

Akam wanted to scream at her for that, but his words turned to ash in his mouth when he looked at her. There was no pity in her eyes, only concern. Even now, even when he was shouting at her because of the things he’d done, she didn’t think he was worthless. When he managed to speak again it was barely a whisper, “I failed you, I failed them. They’re burning in the pyres because of me Mother, how can I be your son?”

She held out a hand and gently pulled him back to sit on the bed when he took it. She looked into his eyes and spoke with a somber conviction, “We all fail Akam. You’ve seen my failures, but you don’t wonder how I can be your mother do you? You’re my son because I made you, I love you, and nothing can change that. As for purpose…” The Goddess pursed her lips, “I once told someone that we’re more than what we’re meant to do Akam. Failure to fulfill your purpose doesn’t imply that you are a failure.”

The winged man took his time, letting the words sink in. Eventually he slumped and leaned into his mother, who pulled him in with both arms. Tears began to fall from his eyes, “But what if it happens again Mother? I couldn’t do it this time and people died. What if I can’t shoot next time? Will Eline die? What about Makab? I didn’t want to kill, and people died because of it.”

Asceal held him and spoke softly, “Nobody should want to kill, Akam. That you were there, that you had the choice and didn’t, that isn’t failure. It’s proof you’re good.” She sighed, “But you’re not wrong. Your siblings will need to rely on you Akam. I won’t force you to fight, nobody will make you to do that, but if you want my opinion? If you choose to rejoin your brother and sister you won't hesitate again. I didn’t.”

Akam wiped the tears from his face and straightened his back before returning the embrace. He eventually let go and nodded, “I.. I’ll trust you, then.”

The Goddess smiled weakly, “You value life Akam, perhaps more than most gods. That will always be a good thing, I think. Your siblings will need you for that as much as for your bow. You’ve learned all you need to about the consequences of killing, and choosing not to.”

“Thank you,” Akam spoke with a mote of new confidence. His insides still felt tangled, his throat swollen, but in his mother's words he found some stability. Solid ground, an island in a stormy sea. It wasn’t much.

But it was enough.





Calm Before The Storm






The gate to Fengshui Fuyou opened as a miniature rift just above the surface of the Giant’s Bath pool, and out of it came the snake swimming in a crawl. He reached the hull of his ship and climbed upwards in a rapid burst of speed, eventually swinging himself over the railing upon reaching the top. The snake wiped the water off his face with his right hand, holding out his open left palm as if awaiting something. Sure enough, promptly after his arrival back onboard, a group of servants made their trek over, kowtowed and proceeded to hand the snake towels and tea. Shengshi gulped down a cup of the greenish liquid and inspected the ship absent-mindedly.

“Say, did anything happen in my absence?” he eventually said as he slithered towards the palace with the servants in tow.

“A-actually,” said the closest one, an older-looking woman of the Wise named Wang Po’an, if the snake’s memory served him right. “We have visitors?” Wang Po’an finished.

The snake raised an eyebrow quizzically. “The good kind, I hope.”

“Naturally,” answered Wang Po’an. “Master Yun Ran assures Your Lordship that they are most benevolent and kind - these sacred spirits say they are the children of Her Holiness Asceal. There are three of them, named Akam, Makab and Eline, and two were gravely injured upon arrival. We brought them to the guest rooms - specifically the one with three beds, as per protocol.”

The snake nodded slowly. “The children of Asceal, you say?” He held his cup downwards and a servant hastily shuffled over to refill it. The snake gave her a curt bow and the cup a sip. “Take me to them, if you would.”

“Of course, Your Lordship - right this way.” Wang Po’an and the other servants guided the snake to the second floor of the hull, the floor with the bathhouse. There, along the many guest room doors lining the mahogany walls, the servants eventually stopped before one labeled twenty-eight. They stepped out of the door’s swing radius, and the closest one to the handle turned it and pulled the door open. The snake nodded to the doorman and slithered inside.

There, amidst a sea of servants laid three beds, upon each laid one angel. Some of the younger female servants were chuckling and giggling at Akam; a group of servants were tending to Eline and spoon-feeding her food and giving her water to drink; and the last group, lead by Yun Ran himself, were tending to Makab’s wounds, seeming having stopped the worst of the bleeding. However, upon seeing their master entering, all of them figuratively dropped what they were doing and fell to their knees.

“Ten thousand years and more to His Lordship, Shengshi of the Thousand Streams!” they cried in unison. The snake nodded frantically and waved a little dismissively.

“Yes, yes, that will do. Now please resume maintaining our guests’ comfort.” He turned to the three angels and bowed deeply. “My apologies for not being present earlier, dear guests. I was delayed.” He deepened the bow a little more before standing up. “Now, if my information is correct, you three are Makab, Akam and Eline - children of Asceal, yes?”

“That’s correct,” Akam turned to face Shengshi and nodded in a manner reminiscent of a little bow, “I regret our meeting being under these circumstances, but we had little choice in the matter. Still, you and your people have my, have all our, thanks.”

The snake squinted a little at the angel’s tone, but let out a sigh. “I suppose that would not be on the top of their mother’s priority list,” he mumbled quietly to a nearby servant who did a mix between a frantic nod and a disapproving headshake. The snake then turned back to the angels and stirred his finger around in his teacup. “That does beg the question - what is the reason for this meeting? Please, do not misunderstand - guests are always welcome aboard my ship! However, I cannot help but feel like you three are a little far away from home. The Dragon’s Foot is not as harmonious as Istais, after all.”

This time it was Eline who spoke up, “The Dragon’s Foot? Well, I suppose that explains some things.”

Akam shot her a little glare before answering Shengshi’s question, “We have learned as much, unfortunately. Mother gave us enough of her memories to be able to navigate the world and permitted us time to explore and acquaint ourselves with it. We came to this land from the East, a route Mother had never taken.” The winged man frowned, “We were attacked shortly after we arrived here, when we were resting on the slopes of a large mountain east of here. Your people have informed me that the beast we fought was what you call a dragon.”

“Yes, quite unfortunate, that. Dragons are not only vicious beasts, but they are also vicious beasts with wings, making them rather dangerous.” He took a small sip from his teacup. “Furthermore, they possess an inherent quality that can be used to break into my sphere.” The snake pointed to his face. “A dragon’s head can open the gates to Fengshui Fuyou - as a group of them obviously had. They had flown in and sabotaged two glorious flows, one of which was my absolute favorite.” The snake pursed his lips and grunted. “Unfortunately, that one was Lihe, the river on Istais.” He handed his teacup to a nearby servant. “I dearly hope that no one you treasure were resting by the riverside today.”

The two conscious angels shared a look before Eline shrugged, “I don’t think Istais has had any visitors since Mother created us.”

“No, it hasn’t,” Akam agreed, “But I can’t imagine she’ll be pleased with this… With any of this.” He sighed and turned back to Shengshi, “I’m not sure if she’s informed you yet, but Mother told me she would be heading here as quickly as she could. I imagine she’ll arrive soon.”

“Ever the responsible parent…” Shengshi mused. He turned to the servants. “Lady Asceal will be arriving shortly. I want the ship cleaned and polished for her arrival and I want fruits and appetisers sliced and arranged neatly on silver and gold platters, is that clear? Oh, and make some tea, as well.” The bulk of the servants voiced a loud ‘at once, Your Lordship!’ and stormed out the door. Outside soon followed a ruckus as more and more servants were gathered up and sent into a cleaning frenzy. The snake closed the door behind him and slithered over to Makab’s bed.

“I do not actually recall if your mother has informed me of her arrival yet - meaning she probably has not.” The snake gently prodded Makab’s chest with a claw-tipped finger. “How wounded was he on arrival?” He put his hand on the angel’s chest and glanced upwards pensively with a partially stuck-out tongue.

“A lot worse than I was,” Eline answered, “He took the brunt of the attack. If he hadn’t killed it when he did…”

The snake waved his free hand calmly. “His fear of mortality was bested by his bravery - that is the foundation of heroism, dear Eline.” He let out a quiet hum and snapped his free hand, a small cup materialising in it with some clear liquid. He placed the cup to Makab’s lips and poured it through the angel’s lips, bending the neck back to trigger a swallowing reflex. “There… That should dull the pain when he wakes up.”

Akam looked down and took a breath before thanking the God, “I’m sure he’ll appreciate it. I still don’t know how he managed to fly all the way here with his arm like that.”

“A quality - one every mortal possesses that many gods forget. You have a perseverance that drives the soul to carry the body forward. It is how you survive - forever water grinds against the rock; in time, even the rocks give way to becks.” The snake took a quick look at the splintwork the servants had done on the arm and smiled with pride. “Have you been satisfied with your care so far?” the snake said to the three.

Eline and Akam both nodded, but it was the winged woman who spoke, “Everyone here has been more than helpful, even if they are a bit pushy.” She sighed and eyed the spoon they’d been feeding her with sitting in a nearby bowl of abandoned food, “If you’d thank them for me, I would be grateful.”

The snake pursed his lips once more at the tone, but merely rolled his eyes discreetly and forced a smile. “Naturally. They will most assuredly be grateful for your thanks and good company.”

There came a knock on the door. “Enter,” the snake said loudly. In came a servant and promptly dropped into a kowtow. “Your Lordship, Her Holiness Asceal has arrived on deck. She wishes to see her children.”

The snake nodded, though in a slightly frustrated manner. “Well, then bring her here to see them, then - and do not forget the refreshments!” The servant nodded, rose to her feet and walked backwards out the door before setting off into a sprint. The snake looked back at the three angels. “There. Your mother is quite literally right around the corner.” He got to his feet and slithered over to the door. He waited a moment; then, in a swift move, he twisted the door handle and gestured for Asceal’s radiant form to enter.

The Goddess strode into the room, her eyes searching for her children and locking onto Makab’s sleeping form. She scrambled to the side of the winged man's bed and put a hand on his forehead before muttering, “Oh Makab…”

Before anyone could interrupt her a peculiar light began emanate from her hand. The odd glow seemed to flow like water, gradually making its way from the wounded angels head to the rest of his body. Covered in bandages as he was Asceal’s magic was less obvious than it might have otherwise been, but all the assembled could see the little cuts and scratches on Makab’s exposed skin healing in the span of seconds.

The Goddess breathed a sigh of relief and the light vanished. She stood up, made her way to Eline, and repeated the act. Asceal’s daughter stared at her mother with wide eyes and carefully peeled back one of her bandages just in time to see a jagged cut stitch itself back together, not even leaving a scar. The winged woman reached out to embrace Asceal, and for a moment there was silence.

It was only when they parted that the Goddess spoke, “I think we should leave Makab to his rest.” She looked to Shengshi and stepped up to the God of Rivers before hugging him too, “And thank you Shengshi. If you hadn’t been here I don’t know what would have happened.”

The snake froze up, his arms pointing outwards like sticks on a snowman. His face slowly turned a faint shade of pink and he eventually cleared his throat. “Y-yes, of course! A n-natural response to seeing the children of a friend in peril.” As the hug neared its end, he managed to harness enough willpower to move his arms over and pat Asceal’s back a few times. “N-neat magic you have created, by the way,” he added.

The Goddess let go and smiled genuinely, “Thank you. It’s something I think everyone will need in the days to come. Now, I’d prefer not to wake Makab.” She glanced at the door, “We have other matters to discuss, I think. Do you have somewhere we could sit?”

The snake nodded. “We will head below into the great hall. Please, follow me.” The snake slithered out the door and blinked as he saw Liana standing there. “U-uhm… Pardon, are you also here with my sister?” He leaned down and squinted at the vine woman.

“Oh, yeah,” Liana hesitated, “I’m sorry, I thought I would let Asceal see the kids first. Is everyone ok?”

Before Shengshi could reply Asceal, Akam, and Eline walked through the doorway. Liana’s face lit up when she saw the two angels, and Asceal answered her question, “They’re fine, Liana. We’re going to let Makab rest; his injuries were the worst. Shengshi is showing us to his great hall to talk.”

The Goddess glanced at the God of Rivers, “This is Liana, my friend and the steward of the Lustrous Garden. Also a friend of your Xiaoli, as it happens.”

“Is that so?” said the snake and gave the vine woman a wry smile. “Well, any friend of Xiaoli is a friend of mine - she has rather solid judgment, that one.” He winked at Asceal and continued down the walkway towards the main staircase. “This way, please,” he said as he arrived at the staircase. The group descended into the massive, golden hall, and the bottom of the staircase was flanked on each side by a line of servants, all who shouted in unison: “Ten thousand years and more to His Lordship Shengshi and Divine of Light, Her Holiness Asceal - welcome aboard Jiangzhou!” The central table was almost immediately stacked high with plates of fruit and small hors d’oeuvres. Each plate was flanked with two cups, one tall and one low, into which were poured fruit juice and wine respectively. The guests were should to the appropriate chairs, with Asceal getting her custom throne and the two angels being given comfy, yet rather standard chairs. The snake took his place at the end of the table and gestured for the guests to eat.

“So… What would you like to discuss?” he said as he popped a cube of melon into his mouth.

Asceal ran a hand through her hair and frowned, “I’m worried, Shengshi. Sartravius has already done terrible things, but this? Akam told me there were hundreds of these ‘dragons’ in the mountains.” She nibbled on a small sandwich and took a sip of the wine, “My children aren’t as harmless as they might seem, but if all it took to injure Makab and Eline was one dragon, then we have a serious problem. I know Kalmar has spoken to you about his pact. Regardless of your feelings towards him, Shengshi, I think we should ask for help.”

The snake’s mouth flattened. His tongue flicked once or twice before he took his juice glass and gave it a sip. “Summon him if you wish. If he wishes to come and fight the flame demon, I will not stop him.” He placed the glass down on the table. “I reckon he is on his way anyway, claiming that I have ‘broken our pact’ and ‘attacked his precious Kalgrun’...” He licked the air in disapproval and scowled sideways.

The Goddess pinched her nose and sighed, “I thought you and Kalmar put this to bed, Shengshi.”

The snake raised an eyebrow. “Funny expression, that. No, see, this time was not my fault. Fengshui Fuyou was sabotaged by the dragons, and one of the rivers on his continent was unfortunately a casualty of the sabotage. I hope I undid the damage in time for the ecosystem to recover, but he undoubtedly blames me for it. It would not be my fault if he jumps to conclusions.” He sipped his fruit juice again.

Asceal frowned, “Is that why the Lihe was so badly flooded?”

The snake hung his head. “Unfortunately so. The damage to it will also hopefully heal in time. However, the remaining issue is that a host of dragons are simply too close to my gateway - they must be destroyed!” He tapped his finger furiously on the tabletop. “... Or at the very least driven further east,” he eventually muttered.

“The fact they attacked my children without warning is enough for me to agree with you.” Asceal’s frown deepened and she drank more of the wine, “But it’s not just dragons is it? I saw what looked like a burning giant on my way here. Another of Sartravius’s, I suspect.”

“Indeed. Some among my crew refer to them as huojuren - fire giants. However, they quickly turned southwards upon seeing Jiangzhou’s descent.” The snake shrugged. “They had more sense than I gave them credit for, but if they attack the jungles to the south, they may be in for an unfortunate surprise.” The snake smirked vicious and leaned back. “However, let us not speak anymore of that horror transpiring such a distance away - we have war councils for that.” He grabbed his winecup and raised it. “I propose a toast to the safety of your children, dearest sister - and a toast to an alliance against the flame.”

Asceal raised her glass and motioned for Liana and the kids to do the same, “A toast to a swift victory.”

The snake grinned and emptied the glass into his mouth and swallowed with a gulp. “Say, Asceal, dear, that spell you cast on your son - is… Is there any way that such magic could be used on my own warriors? I know it may be impolite to ask such, but this conflict will undoubtedly claim many a servant’s life - is there… Any way we could work together to prevent that?” Shengshi gave her a sly smile.

The Goddess emptied her own glass and pursed her lips, “I could give others the ability. Not enough though, not if we want everyone to have access to it.” She put down the wine glass and stared into her fruit juice. Wordlessly she dipped a finger into the coloured drink and watched it turn clear. She withdrew her finger, rested a hand over the cups mouth, and in the span of a few moments the still water had begun to glow. Asceal grinned, “Or I could find a way to let anyone use the magic.”

She held up the glass of glowing liquid, “Have your servants leave basins of water out at night Shengshi, if they remain clean and undisturbed this will happen. A little bit of magic, suspended in water. They can use it on the injured, or…” The goddess paused and sipped the luminescent water, “Learn to use it for themselves. I can teach a few how to harness what they consume, but I imagine anyone could learn, given time.”

The snake nodded deeply. “You are most gracious, dear sister. Any help is appreciated - naturally, this water shall be treated as the holiest substance aboard - the basins will be heavily guarded by both hand and spear.”

“The magic will take time to accumulate in the basins. The light of my Garden carries it, but not enough to saturate a pool in a night.” Asceal paused and her smile weakened, “I just wish none of this was necessary.”

“The river knows both peace and disturbance along its length--”

“YOUR LORDSHIP! YOUR HOLINESS!” came a scream from the top of the staircase. Shengshi raised a slightly frustrated stare. “What?!” he exclaimed.

“Dragons on the horizon, Your Lordship!” the servant shouted. Immediately, the other servants grew jittery and looked anxiously at one another. The snake flicked his tongue. “Prepare for battle, then. We shall face them with the fury of a flood.” He looked at Asceal. “Are you with me?”

The Goddess’s expression hardened and she she gave a curt nod, “Of course.”





:(

Oh. Well, you have to do what you have to do. Hope you can come back one day.
Seeya capy.
Dire News


“Mmm,” Liana sipped her tea and kicked her dangling legs. She watched Asceal fuss over the palace courtyard from her vantage point on the edge of the balcony and opined, “I think the reds should be a bit darker.”

Asceal looked up from the reddish pink mango tree and cocked her head, “Really?”

Liana nodded. Asceal was her friend, but the Goddess’s colour palate could best be described as lurid. She supposed it made sense, but that didn’t change her mind on it. The Lustrous Garden sported crystals of every colour imaginable, at least, insofar as they were colours that could be described as bright.

The vine woman hoped her input could make the central courtyard of the palace a bit nicer. The spiraling pattern of stout colourful mango trees was pretty, but it lacked variety. Liana didn’t bother to raise her voice despite the distance between her and Asceal, Gods tended to have good hearing, “I like the way the center is darker than the edges, but the effect would be better if there was more contrast. That, and other trees. I know you love mangoes, but really?”

The Goddess frowned and stepped closer to one of her trees, almost protectively, “Mango trees are pretty, I like them. It’s not like you recommended any other plants Liana.”

“I wonder why that would be.” Liana smirked.

“Sorry,” Asceal winced, “Again, I didn’t realize that it was… Boring up here for you.”

Liana shrugged and willed a large vine to dip into the exposed courtyard. She stood up and hopped onto it, allowing the enormous limb to carry her down to Asceal, “You should have, but we’ve already had this conversation. Anyway, the trees should be a bit darker, don’t you think?”

Asceal pursed her lips, but took the hint. She tapped the leaves of the nearest tree and watched as it took on a deep crimson hue. The effect, in Liana’s opinion, made for a much more attractive plant. She still wanted to go to Galbar, but not before she managed to guilt Asceal into implementing a few more of her suggestions for improving the Lustrous Garden. It was, after all, her home too. As much as she’d berated Asceal for leaving her alone in it, Liana still loved the Garden.

“Now that’s better, isn’t it?” Liana finished the rest of her tea and handed the empty cup to the vine that had carried her into the courtyard, which promptly retracted back into the great mass of its kin above.

Asceal didn’t look convinced, but the Goddess reluctantly nodded and stepped up to the next tree. She ran a hand through its leaves and watched as it changed to blend in with its modified sibling. The Goddess moved from tree to tree, absentmindedly changing their very natures. Only when the center of the grove was uniform in its crimson colouration did she speak, “So, how do you think the kids are doing?”

Liana, who’d been keeping pace as Asceal worked, resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Ever since Eline and her siblings had departed the Garden Asceal had been tense, and Liana couldn’t imagine why. The vine woman knew her friend's children weren’t as innocuous as they seemed. If there was something on Galbar that could hurt them, Liana didn’t know what it was.

“I imagine they’re having a grand time in one of your hotsprings. Or perhaps they’re sharing tea with Shengshi,” Liana grinned, “You shouldn’t worry so much Asceal, they’d let you know if anything was wrong.”

The Goddess sighed and ran a hand through her long shimmering hair, “I know they would, but Galbar isn’t a paradise Liana. Not all of my peers mean well.”

Liana wrapped an arm around Asceal’s shoulders, “Maybe, but they’re not dumb enough to pick a fight with a god. No, I’m more worried about what they’ll do to each other. Can you imagine what would happen if they found a strawberry bush?”

The pair shared a chuckle, but Asceal’s mirth was short lived. She looked around and frowned, “It’s almost loney, without them. I really am sorry for leaving you here Liana. I had no idea, not that that’s an excuse.”

The vine woman bit her lip and withdrew her arm, pulling Asceal to face her as she did, “It was a mistake, and you apologized Asceal. I’m not mad, not really. Heck, I even made some friends while you were away.”

Asceal smiled weakly, “I know, but still.”

“You know,” Liana suggested, “You could make it up to me. Remember what I said about your hotsprings?”

The Goddess laughed, “Alright. As soon as we’re done here we’ll spend some time on Istais. How about we visit Xiaoli and Hermes too. I think we could both use the distraction.”

Liana’s eyes widened and she hugged Asceal tightly. For as much as she’d been looking forward to seeing Galbar, hearing the words was something special. It was a moment she’d have cherished, if it wasn’t for her friends sudden panicked shout, “Liana, wait, the kids!”

The vine woman let go and stepped back, at once confused and worried, “What? Has something happened?”

“They- They’re telling me they ran into something awful.” Asceal’s features were contorted into an expression of pure terror, “Makab is hurt. I have to go to them, I’m telling Shengshi about this. Last I saw him he was near the place Akam is describing.”

It was the last thing Liana has expected to hear, and at the worst time. She shook her head in disbelief, but she didn’t hesitate, “If you’re going I’m coming with you. They’ll need all the help they can get.”

The Goddess looked like she was about to refuse, but she didn’t waste the breath. Liana was as much a part of family as any of them, and the vine woman wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Wordlessly Asceal summoned the glowing bubble Liana had once ridden to Heliopolis, and soon the two of them were speeding towards the tower. To the Lustrous Garden’s connection to Galbar. To the kids.




&

Silver


&

Mel’Issandra





In the end, she didn’t come.

Mel’Issandra had waited for Li’Kalla for what felt like an age, and now she was done. The ice woman kicked the snow and scowled. Had Li’Kalla just forgotten about her, or had the Goddess ever meant to return at all? It wasn’t a something she wanted to think, but Mel’Issandra couldn’t shake it from her mind regardless of how hard she tried. She considered other explanations. Maybe Li was just indisposed? Maybe she’d been hurt? None of that made sense, though. Li’Kalla was a Goddess. Mel’Issandra had seen what even an avatar could achieve, and she doubted gods were somehow more limited. The ice woman’s frown deepened. She wanted to deny it, Li’Kalla had been so kind to her, but it was the only conclusion that made sense. Her friend had abandoned her. She’d been betrayed.

In a fit of anger she stomped on the ground and froze the thick blanket of snow on the island. The fluffy powder shrank and compacted itself until a layer of bluish ice more than a meter thick covered every surface in sight. Mel’Issandra noticed, to her surprise, that she’d even frozen some of the water around the island. Well then, if Li’Kalla had forgotten her there was no point in staying here.

Mel’Issandra strode down to the shore and surveyed the thin layer of frozen salt water that extended from the island. She, hesitantly, stepped onto it. Kalla, aware of how unpleasant salt water could be, skittered up her shoulder and hid inside the crown on top of her head. Thankfully the ice didn’t break. Mel’Issandra had suspected that would be the case. She floated on snow after all.

Better yet, the ice that formed from the seawater didn’t seem to bother her. The ice woman drove the bitter feelings of abandonment from her mind and focused on the task at hand. She knelt down on the thin ice and compelled it to grow.

The sea didn’t want to give way, it fought for every inch that froze, but Mel’Issandra wasn’t going to be dissuaded. By the time she was done she could feel a great bowl of ice under her. It wasn’t as much as she’d hoped, but it was enough. The ice woman pulled on the ice and let it encase her fully. Kalla chirped before he froze over, but Mel’Issandra wasn’t worried. He was already better, the cold couldn’t hurt him.

With a thought she launched herself, now encased in an orb of ice meters thick, into the ocean. She felt the salt attack the ice around her, but it wasn’t nearly so unpleasant a feeling as it touching her body. She exerted the effort she needed to keep the shell intact, and then she pushed again.

This time she didn’t expand the ice. She compelled sections of it to shoot off before growing back again. The momentum it gave her was minuscule, but it was the best she could do. Eventually her birthplace faded from sight and the water stretched all around her. She couldn’t say how long it took for her to reach another landmass, but by the time she did she was exhausted.

She pulled herself up onto the beach of a shockingly lush island and shattered the icy shell that encased her. Kalla peaked up from her crown and chirped indignantly, upset at having been frozen solid, but Mel’Issandra didn’t pay him any mind. There was life here, and as the storm cloud that had followed her from her birth island began to shed its snow on new shores she remembered Narzhak’s words.

Make everything you find better, and the world will be better for it. The ice woman grimaced, all too aware gods didn’t always keep their word, but she saw the logic in Narzhak’s instruction. Perhaps the world wouldn’t be better off, but she would. That was what mattered now. Her, and what she’d have to do to get her revenge.

She strode into the forest, the air chilling as snow fell all around her. She walked for a long while, spotting little creatures here and there, but nothing she was willing to chase after. The creatures of the forest rarely stayed around long enough for her to get a good look, anyway. The snow, the first that had ever fallen here, drove them away.

She sighed, but resolved to keep going. This wasn’t one of those colder places Narzhak had described. In fact, she suspected she’d made her way to a hotter climate. If that was the case, and all the creatures here were small enough to be useless fighting the abominations Narzhak had warned her Sartravius was creating, then she would have to brave the ocean again.

That wasn’t a pleasant thought, but Mel’Issandra didn’t have long to think it before she broke through the trees and into a peculiar clearing. The clearing was large, several trees could be seen lain out at the distant sides, as if someone chopped them down. The land was different here, almost as if it had been cut open in several distinct spots. Upon closer inspection, those lines became perfectly straight rows of rich brown soil. The length of a tall tree, perhaps more. There were four in total like this. In three of those rows, tall plants could be seen growing up from the rich soil. Across the clearing, at the fourth row, there was an even stranger sight.

Two figures sat, one large and black- covered with starlight, and the other much smaller, with bright red hair. They seemed to be going over the dirt, in an odd way. Then without warning, the larger figure snapped his head in the direction of Mel’lssandra, and upon his blank face, two glowing eyes seemed to bore into her very soul. After a moment, the smaller figure followed suit after she saw what the larger’s gaze held.

Then within a flash, the figure stood up and flew to stand in front of her before she could even blink. His gaze was imposing and impassive and when he spoke, his words were emotionless and blank in tone, ”I do not remember learning of you in the Architect’s Palace, cold one. So tell me, who created you and why are you here?” The figure then tilted his head to look back at the woman, who had also risen. He shook his head, as if telling her to stay put. He then looked back at Mel’lssandra expectantly.

The ice woman backed up and her eyes widened in surprise when the black figure flew towards her. Was this another god? Her eyes flicked back to the red haired woman behind him and she wondered if she’d stumbled upon not one, but two, divine beings. Inappropriate as it was, Mel’Issandra found herself wondering if gods were they really that common.

She recalled her meeting with Narzhak and decided against running away, opting instead to answer the figures question as directly as she could, “Nobody made me, and I’m here to find things to make better.”

The god said nothing. His eyes did not move, yet they seemed to go over her entire body, even into her mind. He tilted his head suddenly looking up behind her, watching the sky turn white with snow fall. Then he looked back at her, and spoke, his voice no longer so monotonous but taking on a softer tone, ”Intriguing. You claim no one made you, but several did, unknowingly. Is it a truth or a lie? I could find out… But no… I will believe your innocence. I once wanted to make things better, perhaps I still do, so tell me then, what will you make better?” he finished, glancing back at the women again.

The red-haired woman walked up to the pair and looked at Orvus, her silver eyes shining brightly with reflections of light. “Her name’s Mel’Issandra, Orvus. We… Li’Kalla, named her so. If I remember correctly, she makes living things into… Not-living frozen things that move as if still living. Nondead, perhaps?” She tilted her head and looked at Mel’Issandra with a raised eyebrow, a subtle smile slowly seeping onto her face.

The god gave a sigh, then turned back to look at Mel’lssandra. ”I see.” he said softly, ”You create more of your kind. This begs many questions, but I can see you have questions of your own Mel’lssandra. Speak them.”

Before Mel’Issandra could respond her lizard, Kalla, jumped from where it had been hiding behind her crown and onto the red haired woman's shoulder, eliciting a short chuckle from her. It proceeded to lick the woman's cheek and chirp at her. The ice woman stared at her lizard and the woman, “Who… Who are you. How do you know Li’Kalla? How do you know me?”

“I used to be a part of Li’Kalla, but now I’m Silver, my own person,” She smiled proudly, but her smile quickly vanished and her face took on a somber determination, “I know you, because meeting you was one of the few moments we all had total clarity… Did you wait too long on that Island, Melly?”

“Used to be?” Mel’Issandra’s confused expression gave way to one of concern, “What does that mean? Is, are you, what happened while I was waiting?”

“Li’Kalla is dead, Mel’Issandra.” Silver bit her lip and continued, “Fragmented and scattered all over the world. It’s the reason we never visited you again. I’m sorry. When we came back home from meeting you, Li’Kalla was attacked and panicked. I can’t say anymore, as I was shut away from the body and couldn’t sense anything until… Until it was time to escape.” She kicked a small mound of dirt lamely and, after a while, looked up at Orvus beside her.

Orvus returned Silver’s gaze, his eyes no longer so impassive. Then he looked back at Mel’lssandra and said, ”What Silver speaks is true. The God Vakk is not to be trusted, heed that warning.”

For a moment Mel’Issandra’s mind went blank. Li’Kalla had… Died? Or at least, she had experienced something like death. The ice woman felt a terrible pang of guilt. She’d thought Li had betrayed her, abandoned her. She almost wished that was true. Mel’Issandra remembered the tug, the force that had tried to tear her soul apart before she’d found way to save herself, and she wondered if that was what Li had felt. How else could a soul be fragmented?

As waves of grief crashed into her, Mel’Issandra had another, darker, thought. She’d just learned that killing a god wasn’t impossible. Better yet, she’d been given a hint as to how it could be done. The ice woman tried to dispel the unwanted consideration, but how could she? She’d been given something she needed. A way to hurt a god.

Mel’Issandra had to focus on keeping herself still. She wanted nothing less than to act out, to fly into a rage against this Vakk, against the world she’d been born into, and against herself, but that wouldn’t help anyone. She regarded Silver carefully and took solace in the fact that at least part of Li’Kalla still survived. It wasn’t much, but it helped calm her.

When Mel’Issandra spoke again it was with bitter resignation, “I see. I will remember this… Vakk.”

”I know that look.” Orvus said quietly, ”You are angry. Li’Kalla meant dearly to you and now she is gone. But you know how to contain that emotion, that rage which swells inside. I am impressed, but you have my condolences. I once met Li’Kalla before the fragmentation, she was… innocent. I must ask, however, can you control the snow?” Orvus said.

The snow? Mel’Issandra looked up at the clouds, her faithful companions from the moment she’d been born. Orvus’s question had caught her off guard, and as her gaze fell back to the god her confusion was evident, “I don’t know, but it’s already snowing. Why would I change that?”

”I fear for what I have built here. This is a tropical climate, and one that never feels the grip of colds touch. The snow will kill what vegetation there is, simply because the growth here has not adapted to such change. So let me rephrase my question, can you make it stop snowing?” the god asked.

For a brief moment, Mel’Issandra wondered if that would be so bad. If this life relied on heat, on Sartravius, was its passing from the world such a tragedy? She pursed her icy lips and chastised herself internally for thought. It was not the fault of any being that it had been born into this world the way it was. The trees had done no wrong, nor had the birds or lizards.

She wished she could make them all better, so that they didn’t need the heat, so that she wouldn’t hurt them. Of course, she was all too aware that was impossible. She was one and the creatures of the world were beyond counting.

Mel’Issandra knew she couldn’t feel the clouds above her like she felt the snow and ice on the ground, but she still tried to command them. She stared into the sky, silently imploring the clouds to still. They didn’t deign to answer. The ice woman heaved a frigid sigh, “No. I can’t. If you would prefer I leave,” Her eyes, tinged with regret, flicked to Silver, who stared back at her, “Then I’ll go.”

”I see.” the god said. ”That is most unfortunate, Mel’lssandra.” he said almost absent minded. ”But this can easily be corrected, can it not?” he seemed to say to himself. Next, he waved his hand over Mel’lssandra, then said to her, ”Try again.”.

Mel’Issandra shot Orvus a puzzled look, but did as he asked. Much to her surprise when she turned to the sky for the second time the clouds parted as if all it took was a thought. She still couldn’t feel them, but then how could she have? They’d vanished as soon as she’d wished them to.

At first she was slack jawed, but when the sunlight hit her she cringed. It wasn’t painful, but it was certainly a shock. While she wasn’t a fan of the sensation of heat on her icy skin, she couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the way the light made her glimmer. It was almost like she was glowing. Without thinking she let her gown of snow fall off her form so she could admire herself.

There was a niggling worry that her clouds were gone for good, but it seemed distant as she spun in the light and watched the way her body twisted the rays into odd shapes as they passed through her. As she spun she looked up to see Silver and Orvus eyeing her. Almost immediately Mel’Issandra remembered Li’Kalla’s words and a new snow gown grew out of her skin.

She felt a pang of guilt. Li’Kalla had given her the idea for the gown, and she’d been so quick to shed it. It seemed wrong, especially now that Li’Kalla was… Gone? The ice woman met Silver’s gaze and pursed her lips.

Broken, maybe, but not gone. Mel’Issandra turned to Orvus and smiled, “Thank you. I didn’t know the light was so pretty.”

Orvus said nothing but gave a small nod.

“It is you that’s making the light beautiful, Melly. You’re turning something ordinary into extraordinary. Laina-” Silver stopped and sighed, “-Li’Kalla, would’ve loved to see you like this. She planned to play with you in the sun in her second visit, after all.”

Mel’Issandra turned her smile onto Silver, “Well, at least part of her has.” The ice woman paused when Silver averted her gaze and glanced at the rows of tilled dirt, “Though, I’m not you’ve been playing. Now that I’m not threatening your plants, would you tell me what you’ve been doing with them?”

’I am teaching Silver how to plant seeds, so that they can grow.” Orvus stated flatly, still looking down at Mel’lssandra.

“I want to learn how to plant rice. It was Li’Kalla’s favorite food.” Silver said with a shrug.

”That brings us to you, Mel’lssandra.” Orvus said, while softening his expression. ”What is a being such as yourself, doing here in this environment?” he asked.

“Finding things to make better, like Narzhak said I should,” Mel’Issandra hesitated before elaborating, “He told me Sartravius was making monstrosities. I need help to fight them.”

“Make sure they voluntarily submit to the process. Do not force yourself upon others, Melly.”

Orvus folded his arms to his chest then said, ”Narzhak? The God of War, told you to ‘better’ things? How very fitting. Though, I can see why you would want to. Sartravius is heat, you are cold. Opposites for eternity, in a never ending battle of dominance. One cannot exist without the other, yet they fight still.” Orvus paused, letting his words sink in before saying, ”But this does beg a question, as Silver has alluded to. Better for you? Or better for them, little one?”

“I don’t want dominance, I just want Sartravius to suffer.” The ice woman’s smile vanished and her tone became harsh, “Retribution. Making others better makes that easier. Besides, they don’t mind.” She pointed at the lizard on Silver’s shoulder, “Kalla has never complained.”

The god shifted his gaze to the lizard and looked upon it, his expression going blank once more. Slowly he turned back to Mel’lssandra and said, ”Do you know how this island, and its siblings came to be?” he asked, the question completely off topic.

Mel’Issandra shook her head.

Orvus cocked his head and outstretched his hand towards Mel’lssandra, before cryptically saying, ”Care to find out?”

“Wait-” Silver fidgeted, and suddenly she groaned and stared at Mel’Issandra, “First, you want Sartravius to ‘suffer’? This may sound harsh, but he’s a God. You’re not. You’ll be erased once he tracks you down, Mel’Issandra. Second, A fight? You want to fight Sartravius and his spawn… Melly, that’s idiotic. Why do you even care about him?”

”Silver…” Orvus said softly.

“Why do I care?” The ice woman turned to Silver and stilled. Her hands balled into fists and sprouted tiny cracks. She opened her mouth to speak, but closed it just as quickly. Mel’Issandra slowly relaxed her hands and repaired the little cracks. When she finally did speak, it was with a resigned sadness, “I care because I remember what it feels like to burn, Silver. I am not something that was born from that island you visited as part of Li’Kalla, I am that island. I have already suffered a hundred deaths, and I remember each one. I don’t want to die again, but I won’t allow Sartravius to forget what he did.”

She paused and ran a hand over the iron crown on her head before going on, “You’re right, though. I can’t hurt him, not yet, but pain isn’t the only way to make someone suffer. He will make his monstrosities, and I will break them. Me, and all the things I make better. Sartravius won’t be able to stop all of us. Not even gods can be everywhere at once.”

Orvus let out a quick sigh, then touched Mel’lssandra. A wave of information and memories washed through her, vividly and in detail, as if she witnessed them herself. Chief among them was the fight between Orvus and Seihdhara, the creation of the asteroid and the explosion Orvus witnessed from space. There also flashed a brief picture of a giant metallic ball under the sea. He then let go of Mel’lssandra and said, ”You were created from heat, by heat, and born anew from it. Your hate for it is founded in the belief that it hurt you, but in fact, you are here because of it.”

Orvus touched her again, this time a memory of battle with Phystene came into her head, and the creation of the Leviathan Anglers. Next the memory of the Reaper Mothers upon Veradax, and then the Tree of Mar, then the last memory was the most recent one, Orvus’ view of Kalla. His touch faded from Mel’lssandra once more, bringing her back to reality. ”Do you know what all of those have in common?” he seemed to whisper in her head.

Mel’Issandra blinked and stumbled, the foreign memories having disoriented her. She managed to avoid falling, but when she looked at Orvus she saw the god in a new light. He’d been born into pain, and he’d lashed out. First against his maker, and then against everything once he’d failed to strike a blow at the Architect. If she wasn’t made of ice, Mel’Issandra would have felt a chill run down her back.

There were differences, but… It was too similar. She looked down and all but whispered, “Were… Were they all mistakes?”

”Yes… and No…” he said before he reached out and gently tilted her chin up so that he could look upon her with sorrow in his eyes, ”I have done much that I regret, and much that I do not. But know this, you are not a mistake, Mel’lssandra. You are but a lost soul, the same as all of us, in the end. If your fight with Sartravius is what you desire, then I shall not stop you. I simply wish that you understand the consequences of your actions, unlike I have.” he said with a hint of sadness in his voice.

He then continued, ”By changing those that you deem need help, you strip them of something vital. The natural soul protection all are born with, unless deemed otherwise. Their souls will decay. They will become crazed- mindless with hate, perpetually, until slain. They will not be able to die naturally. Do you understand this?” Orvus somberly said, moving his arm back down to his side.

Natural protection? Mel’Issandra remembered the tug, the force that had torn at her very essence, and her gaze shifted to Kalla. She- She’d done that to him?

“I didn’t know.” The ice woman's voice was small, verging on a whimper, “I didn’t mean to hurt him. I just wanted him to be better.”

The god shifted then said, ”You were but a child, using your gifts for the first time. There is no one to blame, not even yourself. You are fortunate indeed, less your guilt… break you…” his voice fell to a whisper, then he blinked before saying, ”We are more alike than you know, Mel’lssandra. Thus, since you have no one, you are welcome to be… one of mine, if that is what you desire. Perhaps… Perhaps I can help you.” he said.

“Well…” Silver began, looking around. Her eyes laid on everything but Mel’Issandra. “I think you should do what you wish, Melly, regardless of what I said before. I do suggest keeping in mind the wishes of others, but… It’s not like I do that too often myself, I suppose.” She said with a sigh.

Mel’Issandra didn’t speak, didn’t even move, as the gods offer echoed in her mind. Part of her, a large part, wanted to agree. She wanted to forget her vendetta and live. She wanted to believe Orvus could keep her safe, but she knew that was a lie.

Silver was proof of that. Gods could be hurt, and worse yet, gods didn’t always tell the truth. Their promises weren’t ironclad and their words could disguise their intentions. Li’Kalla had promised to return, Narzhak had conveniently neglected to tell the ice woman what exactly she had done to Kalla and the fish. Perhaps Orvus could help her. Perhaps he couldn’t.

All Mel’Issandra knew was that she couldn’t leave it all to him. She had always been responsible for herself, and and always would be. The ice woman met Orvus’s gaze, “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I won’t. I’ll remember all you told me, you and Silver, but I won’t be yours. Or anyone else’s.”

”Very well.” Orvus stated. ”A wise decision, I believe. Here,” Orvus said, outstretching his hand, palm up. A small chunk of orvium appeared, and it molded itself into a ring, then erupted with twinkling stars. ”A gift to remember the choice made.”

Mel’Issandra reached out and carefully plucked the ring out of the gods hand. She held it up to her face and muttered, “Pretty.” Before slipping it onto her finger.

She looked to Orvus, “Thank you, for this and for everything. You and Silver.”

Orvus gave a simple nod, letting his hand fall back to his side.

“You’re welcome. And, sorry. For not coming back.” Silver said, her lips stretched into a half smile.

”Where will you go?” Orvus asked.

The ice woman flashed Silver a little smile of her own, and then she pursed her lips and faced Orvus, “I don’t know. I only know this place and my island. Narzhak told me there were colder places though. I think I’ll look for them.”

”There are many places to go, none of them easy to get too. This island sits in the middle of the ocean, after all. How will you travel?”

“The same way I did before,” Mel’Issandra cringed, “Or... Maybe I’ll figure something else out.”

”I can fly you to the nearest continent, if you desire.” Orvus said, blinking.

“Now? The ice woman hesitated, “I’d be grateful, of course, but… Perhaps I could stay for a while longer?”

”If that is what you wish, you are welcome here. Come.” Orvus said, turning around to walk away. The god then stopped, and turned back to Mel’lssandra saying, ”Just… Be careful what you touch.” and continued on.

Silver smiled and nodded, “Yes, be careful! However, you might be able to learn how to not turn everything you touch into non-deads. Maybe, staying with us a while will serve as control training! There must be a way to turn off your abilities, right?”

Mel’Issandra pursed her glossy lips and stared at her hands, “I hope.” She shook her head and reciprocated Silver’s smile, “No, I’m sure there is.”




The Death of a Fire Tyrant


The three stood on the very mountain top they’d been born on, the highest peak on all of Istais, the entrance to their mothers Celestial Sphere, and they were thoroughly underwhelmed. It wasn’t that they misunderstood the significance of the spot. No, it was just that the view, such as it was, extended about ten feet in front of them and consisted of snow and the occasion rock. The peak was, in simple terms, ugly.

“So,” Makab started, “Which way do we go? I’m thinking right.”

Eline scratched her head and instinctively hugged her wings against her body to keep herself warm, “Your right or mine?”

Makab stared at his sister blankly before Akam butted in, “Perhaps we could just fly above the clouds? We can tell east from west by following the path of Heliopolis.”

“Not that we know what’s in either of those directions,” Eline sighed.

“Well,” Makab stepped up to his sister and threw an arm around her shoulders, “That is what exploring means. I seem to recall someone flapping their wings in anticipation when Mother suggested we come down here.”

Eline shrugged Makabs arm off and shot him an annoyed look, “Fine. We go right.”

“Your right or-” Makab started only to be cut off by Eline clapping a hand over his mouth,

“You came over here Makab, we have the same right.” She smirked.

Akam only sighed, “So, we go right. Anyone care to be first?”

Makab pointedly flapped his wings at Eline, who huffed, “Ok! Fine. I’ll go first”

Without further ado Eline took off in the vague direction of ‘right’ which Akam was quick to mention had turned out to be north west. The three flew for hours, hundreds of miles of ocean passing by below, before anyone bothered to speak again. And when they did, it was not warmly received. Makab shouted over the wind, “Should have gone my right!”

Eline banked towards him and kicked her brother in the back, sending him tumbling into the sea.




By the time the three spotted land Makab had dried out, the only sign of his misfortune a persistent smirk on his sisters face. They all flew closer together so they could hold a conversation when they’d come close enough to know the landmass they approached stretched across the horizon.

“Doesn’t look like one of Mothers siblings has bothered here, does it?” Akam asked.

“No,” Eline agreed, “It’s just rocks and moss, although there is that a mountain range up ahead. Maybe there’s something interesting on the other side?”

“Mmm, only one way to tell.” Akam dived towards the mountains, leaving Eline and Makab scrambling to catch up with him. When the two caught up their brother they found him standing on a stony peak, looking out at what could, insufficiently, be described as a blasted wasteland.

Akam had an ugly grimace glued to his face, Eline gasped, and Makab, for once, seemed to be at a total loss for words. Before them was a vast scorched plain riddled with seemingly bottomless cracks and crevices. The only colour to be seen was a sickly red glow cast by the occasional floating stone. There was no sign of anyone alive, anywhere.

“Mother never showed us this,” Eline spoke softly, her voice strained.

“No,” Akam agreed, “She didn’t.”

Eline asked, “How big do you think it is? Does it cover the entire continent?”

“I don’t think so,” Makab opined, “You see that mountain in the distance? It’s slope looks green.”

Akam hummed in agreement, “That it does. I think we should be careful flying over this, stay high.”

The three took flight, gaining altitude until they were above the clouds. From that vantage point they could see that the wasteland below was enormous, but not endless. To the north was what looked like a sea of reddish fog and grass, and to the south was an enormous desert. The only sign of recognizable life was the mountain ahead.

It took them a lot longer than it should have to arrive there, but none of the three would mention the hours they spent surveying the hellscapes all around them. The flight had gone without incident, and that was enough. When they landed on the mountain Makab has pointed out they all breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t exactly lush, but the familiar green shrubs and grasses were a welcome reminder that they hadn’t flown into the sphere of one of the mad gods.

Eline took the opportunity to rest finding a small stream and sitting beside it, her back to the unnatural vistas in the distance. The others joined her without comment. They all drank from the stream, scooping up handfuls of melt water and quenching their thirst.

“So,” Akam frowned, “Who do you think made… All that?”

“Orvus?” Eline suggested between drinks, “Mother told us what he did to Phystene. We know he’s not a friend of life.”

Makab bit his lip and shook his head, “Maybe he made that first wasteland, but the desert? Has to be Sartravius.”

“So they’re working together,” Eline sighed “Wonderful.”

Akam opened his mouth to voice his own thoughts on the matter but was interrupted by a distant roar. Instantly the three siblings jumped to their feet and held their crystal spears tight to their chests. They didn’t dare move, but before they could relax they heard another roar, this one closer.

“It knows we’re here,” Makab growled.

“We don’t know what it is Makab,” Akam cautioned, “It might not be hostile. Don’t be rash.”

As if in repudiation of Akam’s optimism that was the very moment they spotted the enormous lizard fly out from the mountain top and dive towards them. The three all cursed and took flight before the scaly red black lizard breathed fire at the spot they’d just been sitting, instantly evaporating the stream.

None of the three could saee how large the creature was, but all would have agreed it was enormous. Thankfully, so were they. Eline and Akam dropped their crystal spears as they distanced themselves from the lizard, landing a ways away and allowing themselves to slowly grow into their original bodies.

Makab drew the creatures attention by hurling his spear at it mid flight. The projectile impacted the beasts side and shattered with a terrible crack, but the lizard only growled and breathed a stream of fire at Makab. None of the siblings knew it, but they’d stumbled across one of the first, and largest, of Sartravius’s Dragons. The spawn of Slaevatein.

The dragon, of course, didn’t care who the ones trespassing on its territory were. It closed its distance with Makab and batted the winged man out of the sky. He slammed into the mountain side and the dragon descended on its presumably dead prey with excitement, pleased to have a meal come to it for once.

It was thoroughly disappointed when it landed only to have a boulder slammed into its face. Makab, his wings missing some feathers, stood before the dragon and yelled at it before it could roar, “Come on, that’s all you have? You overgrown… Lizard thing!”

The dragon didn’t understand a word of the challenge, but it knew what a challenge was. It also knew that the tiny creature was an idiot. It inhaled, fire gathered in its throat, and a massive fist smashed into its back before it could exhale. Liquid fire dribbled out of its mouth and it whirled around to face the new threat.

What it saw was two titans, each as large as it was. The massive beings were covered in thick, almost chitinous, feathers and stared at the beast with great glowing eyes. The dragon immediately abandoned the idiot that it had already mangled and turned to face what it could only see as the first true challengers it had encountered since being born in the fires of mount Eldahverr.

It snapped its jaws at the titans and lunged, its wings carrying it into the first, feminine, figure. The dragons talons scraped at the beings armoured flesh and found purchase, tearing claw fulls of rock hard feathers from the female titans body. The titan lacked a mouth to cry out, but the way it clumsily grasped the dragon by its tail and threw it to the side spoke to its distress. Dark red blood began to leak from the fleshy spots the feathers had been torn from, and the dragon cried out in triumph even as it got back on its feet.

It wasn’t unscathed, in fact it was certain the impact from being tossed had broken its wing, but its enemies lack of natural weapons was its advantage. These titans couldn’t breathe fire, and they had no claws to speak of, what could they do against a dragon?

Just then, a massive chunk of mountain was hurled at the dragon. A third titan, also bloodied, rose from behind the beast. The dragon managed to dodge the projectile, but only barely. It’s tail had been scraped by the enormous rock. It growled in frustration and ran at the third figure, but the first two advanced on it and grabbed at its limbs.

The dragon cried out as the female one twisted its leg. It bent its body and neck and bit the titans wrist. It unhanded the dragon almost immediately, and that gave the beast the time to breathe a gout of flame at the unharmed male titan golding its other leg. That one let go before it was hurt, rolling to the side and crushing shrub and rock beneath it.

The dragon turned to the third figure, but too late. It caught a massive fist to the face and yelped. It felt more than half the teeth on one side of its mouth shatter. The pain was blinding. In a rage the dragon opened its mouth wide and breathed deeper than it ever had before, determined to kill the third titan before it could do any more damage.

It didn’t get the chance. The feathered giant plunged its arm into the dragon’s maw and the fire in the monsters throat sputtered and died. The beast writhed and bit down, but the male titan only pushed its arm further into the dragons throat until the lizard was incapable of drawing any breath at all.

The dragon and its enemy fought even as the titan choked it, each one inflicting wounds on the other, but eventually the beast could fight no longer. Its vision went black and its jaw went slack. Only then did the injured titan withdraw its mangled arm, faintly glowing red blood dripping on its own feathers and the unconscious dragons scales.

The other male titan, the only one left unscathed, approached the injured one but was held back by its female companion. It looked at her, concern in its glowing eyes, but she didn’t budge. At least, not until the seriously injured male titan picked up a massive boulder with its less injured arm and beat the felled dragon in the head with it. Repeatedly.




“You… You killed it.” Akam stared at the dragons crushed skull and looked sick.

“Yes Akam,” Makab groaned as Eline wrapped his mangled arm in his shredded tunic, “I fucking killed it. Something you should have done, instead of leaving me and Eline to deal with… With that fucking fire spitting asshole.”

“He helped me hold it Makab, don’t blame him for not being burned.” Eline looked pale as she did her best to bandage her bleeding brother.

“Yeah, sure.” Makab scowled and repressed a shout as his sister tied off the makeshift dressing, “We have to tell mother, if that wasn’t the only one of those things we have a problem.”

“Y- Yes. I’ll do that.” Akam nodded as he hid his shaking hands behind him. He turned away from his brother and sister and knelt a few feet away, vibrating hands clasped together in prayer.

“At least we know what destroyed all that land,” Eline scowled, “Or, at least the blackened part.”

“Yeah, but one couldn’t do that by itself. I have a bad feeling there are a lot more of those things Eline, and,” He gestured to his bloody arm with his good one, “I don’t have unlimited arms.”

Eline suppressed a chuckle at the incongruous comment and Makab smiled weakly. Before they could continue their conversation Akam turned around and called out, “Mother says she’s coming as soon as she can, but she told me we should find Shengshi. She says he’s not far from here, and he might be able to help Makab before she arrives.”

Eline breathed a sigh of relief, “Ok, that’s good news. You’ll get to keep this arm yet Makab. I’ll carry you if you can’t fly.”

“No, I can.” Makab grimaced and outstretched his somewhat ragged wings.

Eline looked dubious, but let her brother carry himself. The three took off, Akam in the lead, and left the bloody dragons carcass behind. They were hurt, nervous, and tired. All of them looked forward to what they were certain would be a break after their ordeal. They’d heard of Shengshi’s hospitality.

It was unfortunate that on their way to meet the God of Rivers they saw an army.


Family


Hope, expectation, and then…

Agony.


Eline cringed at the memory, and not for the first time. She slumped into the crystal chair and held her face in her hands. Her breathing slowed and she let its steady rhythm take her out of that moment. A moment that wasn’t even hers. The blond woman straightened and shed her white tunic. She looked up from her hands and inspected them before examining the rest of her body. Looking for scars that she knew she wouldn’t find.

Because it wasn’t her memory. None of the ones that haunted her were. Mother hadn’t done it to be cruel, Eline knew that, but it was difficult sometimes. Having a Goddess’s memories. Or at least, the ones that Asceal had felt Eline and her siblings needed. The ones that let them know why they'd been born, and what they would be fighting for.

Eline sighed and slipped her tunic back on, pulling her wings against her back so she could get it over her shoulders. The memories came to her when she was alone, so at least the solution was simple enough. She strode to the door before pausing to look back. Her room was, despite its scale, rather barren. Mother had offered her whatever she wanted to decorate it, but, embarrassing as it was to admit, Eline honestly couldn’t think of anything.

Maybe she just needed time to figure out what she liked. She’d just been born, after all. Eline shrugged and stepped through the doorway. The hallway was ornate, but she didn’t pay much attention to it. Every inch of the palace was covered in beautiful geometric mosaics or adorned with ornate crystal statues, after all. It was incredible at first, but it had become normal. Mundane. With every day that passed Eline found herself wanting to return to Galbar, the place she’d been born. She wanted to experience the world. That, and because she wondered if the memories would be easier to ignore there.

Eline stopped as she passed Makabs room to poke her head in, but her brother wasn’t there. He was probably downstairs with Mother. She picked up her pace and made her way to the main hall. When she arrived the first to notice her was Liana, Mothers friend. Or the Gardens steward? Both? Regardless of the vine womans status Eline looked up when Liana called her name, “Eline! Good timing, we’re just having tea.”

Liana winked at her and Eline smiled. It wasn’t much of a joke, really it was just a silly a jab at how besides water tea was essentially all there was to drink, but Eline found it funny enough. At Liana’s introduction her siblings and Mother looked up from the long table they were sitting at. Mother waved, “Eline! I’m glad you came down, I was just going to call you. I have something to say to you and your brothers, but why don't you sit down and eat first?”

“Sure,” Eline stepped up to the table and pulled a chair out for herself, this one with a little pillow on the seat. She surveyed the food arrayed before her and decided to grab a few of a fruit she hadn’t bothered to try yet: a small red berry with green leaves on its top and little dark seeds on its skin.

She popped one in her mouth and chewed. It was good, really, really good. She’d never admit it but it was leaps and bounds better than that strange yellow fruit Mother loved so much. The only issue was the leaves. She was about to pick up another before Makab snatched it off her plate.

She glared at him, but the brown haired man shrugged and spoke, mouth full of crushed berry, “What? It looked good.”

Before Eline could voice her displeasure Akam spoke for her from across the table, “There’s more than enough for you on the serving plate Makab. It’s not like we’re going to run out. Mother is a Goddess.”

“Sure,” Makab agreed, “But those are over there, and Eline’s plate is right here.”

Eline picked up a berry and wordlessly tossed it at Makab’s head, on which it exploded. Her brother jumped in surprise, pulled a bit of berry out of his hair, and ate it. Eline wanted to be mad, but she couldn’t help but giggle. Makab grinned proudly, a bit of leaf stuck to his nose.

Mother sighed and pushed a small square of fabric towards him, “Clean yourself up, and don’t steal your sisters food Makab. As funny as it is to see her pelt you with fruit, I’d prefer not to spend my energy cleaning the palace.”

Makab nodded, but didn’t look particularly apologetic, “Alright. I’ll grab my own fruit.”

“And I’ll stop throwing berries at him,” Eline spoke, still grinning.

Akam, as much as he was trying to keep it off his face, was clearly as amused as everyone else. He grabbed one of the berries from the serving plate and ate it before commenting, “These are good, though.”

“Mmm,” Liana glanced at him, “Good enough to drive even the noble protectors of Galbar to infighting. I think we should be wary of these seeds of chaos.”

Eline rolled her eyes, “I like them. I think they’d be better without the leaves though.” She paused and looked to Mother, “But what was it you wanted to tell me, tell us?”

Asceal, the Goddess of Light, Eline’s mother, suppressed her own little smile and took a deep breath before speaking, “Yes, that. Eline, Akam, Makab, I wanted to ask you three if you think you’re ready to explore Galbar on your own. I know the palace can be… Stifling.” The Goddess gestured to Liana, “Liana made that very clear to me earlier. And beyond that, well I didn’t bring you into the world so you could sit here, as much as I’ve enjoyed being with you.”

Eline’s eyes went wide, and before any of her siblings could reply she boomed, “Yes!”

Her brothers eyed her with amusement, but Makab agreed, “I think we’re more than ready.”

Akam nodded and Asceal stood up and gestured for them to do the same. She gave Akam a hug, and then did the same to Makab and Eline. When she let go of Eline she smiled, “Ok, then it’s settled. I love you all, so be safe. Let me know if you run into any trouble, you know how.”

Eline nodded and for all Makab looked embarrassed she knew he was thankful for the well wish too. For a moment they all exchanged glances before Akam asked, “When should we go?”

It was Makab that answered, “Now, I think?”

Mother looked to him, a mote of concern in her eyes. She raised a hand over the ground and three long protrusions of crystal rose from it. The Goddess smoothed them into long rods with with sharpened points before handing one to each of her children, “I won’t hold you, but at least take these. I’ve shown you how Galbar can be.”

Eline’s smile flattened and she closed her eyes for a second as memories came unbidden. Yes, Galbar wasn’t always a place of beauty and peace. Liana interrupted her reverie by addressing the three from her, still seated, position, “Hey, if any of you three meet Xiaoli or Hermes, could you let them know I said hi? Also, could you ask Xiaoli in particular to bring some new tea? This stuff,” She held a cup of steaming liquid up, “Is getting old.”

Eline was pulled out of the memories and had to stifle a laugh. The tea really was getting to be old. Akam answered the vine woman, “I’ll be sure to let them know Liana. I’m sure they miss you as much as we will.”

Liana decided to let the flattery go without comment, only smiling at Akam. She stood up and gave him a hug of her own before speaking again, “Thanks. I’ll miss you guys too. Come back soon ok?”

With that the three gave their final farewells and headed out of the palace and toward the tower. Eline, for perhaps the first time since her birth, was nervous. There was a whole world for her to explore, and she wanted to explore it, but she also knew it wouldn’t be that simple.

She cradled the sharpened crystal javelin and wondered if, when, she’d have to use it.


Iron and Ice


The snow had buried her head some time ago. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, in fact Mel’Issandra found it rather refreshing, but it did give her reason to question just how long it would be before Li’Kalla returned. Waiting here with only her lizard as company had already gotten to be rather boring. There had to be other ways to pass the time. The ice woman heaved a sigh like a cold breeze and began to extricate herself from the snowy tomb.

Pulling herself to the surface wasn’t too difficult, and Mel’Issandra noted that she didn’t sink into the loose snow when she stood on it. That was convenient. The little lizard on her shoulder chirped when it saw the cloudy sky for the first time in what felt like an age and she scratched its chin. Little snowflakes still fell all around her, but without Li’Kalla stoking it the storm was lackluster.

Well, even if the Goddess was taking a while to return it didn’t mean Mel’Issandra had to be bored. With that in mind the ice woman looked up to the island’s little peak and resolved to climb it. It was, she found, a remarkably easy hike. Now that the rocky outcrop was covered in snow Mel’Issandra seemed to find sure footing with every step, a fact which she was rather thankful for. Shattering once had been unpleasant enough.

Once she’d summited the mountain, or if she was being honest, glorified hill, she looked out at the ocean beyond the storm. It seemed to her like the water stretched out forever in every direction. Well, all but one. There appeared to be another little island not too far from this one. Mel’Issandra found it difficult to focus on, almost as if it was shifting in the distant waves, but when she did she went still. The peculiar little island was burning.

Had the Phoenix returned? She looked up and scanned the grey sky above even as she dug herself into the snow below her. When she heard no cries or wing beats she allowed herself to relax, but only for a moment. Once her eyes found the little island again she found herself more worried than she’d been before.

After all, islands didn’t have shoulders. And fires didn’t squint so much like eyes.

As she looked, it did not even seem so little anymore. It was as big as the one she was standing on, if not more, and it kept getting bigger. The light of Heliopolis danced on it in spots, like on ice, but it was dim and grey, not luminous and clear. Waves rolled around it as if it were moving - and move it did, in long, steady pulls. Like enormous steps.

The sea churned, and a clawed hand that could have covered her entire island emerged alarmingly close. It went up, blotting out the sky, then dove back down with a thunderous crash that sent water spraying in a column. Moments later, the ground under Mel’Issandra’s feet rocked, and darkness suddenly fell over her as what was clearly not an island pulled itself up from the ocean. From above a towering mass of jagged grey, four flaming pits stared down at her, horridly and unmistakably alive.

”Ghrm.” A sound that was less like a voice than a thunderclap rattled the air around her. ”This doesn’t look like a place for ice to be.”

Mel’Issandra stayed very, very still. At least, she did before a rain of salty slush pelted her. It so happened that salt was terribly, nauseatingly, infuriatingly, itchy. She did her best to weather the fallout of the giants emergence from the ocean, but in the end it was hopeless.

She threw herself from the mountain in the opposite direction of the giant and rolled down the snowy slope, scouring the wretched salt off her glassy skin. By the time she reached the bottom and got to her feet she felt she could breathe a sigh of relief, short lived as that feeling was. The giant still stood there, towering above the stunted mountain, following her with those appalling burning eyes. She reflected upon her short life and decided it hadn’t been so bad. She was glad she’d met Li’Kalla.

Mel’Issandra stared back at the giant and waited for it to make the first move. If it was Sartavius, if he’d come to finish what his Phoenix couldn’t, then the least she could do was make it difficult for him.

With a loud grinding sound accompanied by the rumbling of a cataract, the colossal body slid down into the sea, sending waves rolling all around it. As soon as its head had sunken noticeably, it abruptly stopped. The eyes now glared at her from just a little above the height of the hilltop.

”So,” the voice rumbled again, now so close that ice crystals tinkled against one another under its blow. For all its magnitude, impatience could plainly be heard creeping into it. ”It seems I need to spell this out. Are you going to tell me what’s something like you doing in the warmest waters I’ve been through yet, or keep rolling around like a hog in the mud?”

“Oh,” The ice woman remarked. She seemed to relax, her arms falling to her sides, “So you’re not Sartravius?”

The titan was quiet for a moment, the dancing of flames in his eyes the only movement about his form. Then, with a suddenness that sent the ground quaking, he burst into a deafening cacophonous laugh. The waves were whitened with foam far around the island.

”Sartravius? Me?! This is a good one!” He almost seemed to choke on his cachinnations. ”That’s the first time someone’s taken me for that bag of hot air!” The laughter died down, though something still gurgled in the giant’s cavernous throat. ”Make sure it’s also the last. He hasn’t earned a comparison that flattering.”

An immense gleaming fist rose from the waters. ”I am Narzhak, lord of strife, sovereign of blood and iron.” The colossus sounded unabashedly pleased with himself. ”Now,” with a light motion, the fist came to rest right above Mel’Issandra’s head, ”are you finally going to make yourself worth my time?”

It was then that Mel’Issandra realized, rather abruptly, that being Sartravius was not the only quality that made a person dangerous. It wasn’t, on reflection, a shocking conclusion. The ice woman racked her mind in an effort to remember the enormous god’s earlier question, he’d asked her what she was doing here right? Because it was… Warm?

Mel’Issandra hadn’t known there were colder places. She’d have to see them for herself. If she survived, of course. The ice woman figured the best way to accomplish that was to be honest with the god holding a mountain sized fist over her head. She spoke carefully, her voice a great deal quieter but no less unnatural than the titan’s, “I’m here because I was born here. After Sartavius killed me.”

She paused and thought to add, “I’m glad you’re not him. Now we don’t have to fight each other.”

”I wouldn’t say fight in either case.” The earth-shaking laugh, having briefly died down with Narzhak’s question, flared up again in a subdued rumble. ”But, if he’s your enemy, we have that much in common.” With as slight a shift as the one that had raised it, the gargantuan fist moved aside and disappeared into the sea, lifting its shadow from the islet.

”Knowing who you fight is a fine start,” the god mused, mirth lingering in his words, ”But that’s all it is. What do you do to battle the one who killed you?” He gazed blankly at her, as if waiting for an answer, but then spoke again, as an obvious afterthought, ”Better, what can you do?”

What could she do? Mel’Issandra pondered that question for a moment. She knew she was sustaining the storm Li’Kalla had brought to the island, and she knew she could reshape her body, but what else? She recalled the little statue she’d made. She could reshape more than her body, couldn’t she?

The ice woman carefully sunk a toe into the soft snow she seemed to float on. For the first time she realized she could feel the snow all around her almost as intensely as she could feel her own body. All it took was trying. She focused on a specific patch of snow and pulled.

Almost at once an ice spike as thick as an old tree trunk erupted from the ground and stretched into the sky. The spike was clean, a perfect cone, and it stood taller than any of the burned or living trees left on the island. She smiled, “I can do that.”

On her shoulder Kalla, the undead lizard, chirped at her. She looked over to it and held up a hand, which it climbed onto. She looked at the little creature and amended her previous statement, “And this. I can also do this.”

Narzhak’s right lower eye narrowed appreciatively at the monstrous icicle. The tip of a clawed finger, like a gleaming metallic rock, prodded out near the shore. The iron on its peak grew and stretched like an animate fluid, lengthening into a narrow, tapering barb that reached the base of the spike. It tapped on the ice with apparent lightness, though cracks spread through the cone where it touched down.

”Not bad,” the god nodded, before another of his eyes fell on the lizard. ”You’ll need more than that, but it’s something. This, though...” The spike swung away from the icicle and pointed at Kalla and rose further, poking it before stopping. The lizard glared at Narzhak and gave an indignant chirp before crawling up Mel’Issandra’s arm and into her gown of snow. ”Strange one. Can you do this to bigger things? Many of them?”

“I don’t know,” Mel’Issandra admitted with a little shrug, “I don’t see why not though. It was easy, I only had to touch Kalla to do it. He’s better now. You think I should make others better?” She asked.

”Making things better is how you prove you’re worth a spit. What’s more, better for us is worse for Sartr. Let’s try it now.” The spike withdrew, and the god’s bulk slowly careened to one side, as if he were reaching for something below the surface. After some splashing stirred by his fumbling in the water, eerily contrasted by the stillness of his shoulders, the rock-like fingertip emerged again. This time, it did not stop by the shoreline, but slid all the way up to where Mel’Issandra stood. A part of its summit had been hollowed into a concave bowl, in which swam a large silvery fish.

”Improve this.”

Mel’Issandra cursed internally. Did she really have to stick her hand in to that water? That salt water? She reached out only to hesitate at the edge of the bowl. She recalled the trick the giant god had shown her with his finger and on a whim decided to imitate him. A thin needle of ice grew out of her index finger and she dipped it into the water. It still itched, but it wasn’t so bad.

With a grin she pricked the fish and then snapped the needle off the end of her finger with her other hand. It fell and shattered on the edge of the bowl. Within the water the silver fish began to swim erratically, panickedly, until it suddenly stilled.

Its eyes became a milky white like Kalla’s and the water around it began to freeze. It started to swim again before it was encased, leaving a thin trail of ice that floated to the surface behind it. Mel’Issandra watched it circle the bowl for a moment and resolved to never do that to a fish again. It must have been terribly itchy.

She glanced up at the giant and only recoiled slightly when she met his fiery gaze. “I made it better, like you asked.”

The iron expanse that passed for his face sank and rose in a nod. He lifted the finger to his eyes, and the hand followed, running with small torrents of seawater. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, he swept it downward, dropping the fish into the island’s snow and shaking most of the half-frozen water onto the shoreline.

”Not bad. Keep doing it to everything you find, and the whole world will be better for it.” The edges of his eyes flickered, or perhaps it was merely the gleam of the sun on his visor. ”You couldn’t have found that fish on your own. Doing good like this is much easier when you have someone helping you. Can you tell the things you make better what to do?”

“Maybe?” She answered, glancing at the frozen fish doing its best to swim in the fluffy snow. She was glad Narzhak hadn’t dumped it into the sea. That would have been unpleasant for it.

She looked back at the titan and considered the question. She hadn’t tried asking Kalla to do anything before. Her icy eyes flicked to a part of her arm hidden by snow and she spoke kindly, “Come on out, Kalla.”

The only response she got was a defiant little chirp, muffled by the snow of her gown. Well, that answered that. She couldn’t help but giggle, her laughter more like the soft clinking of icicles than anything recognizable as mirth. She let the lizard be and explained, “Kalla stays with me, but I never asked him to. I think he likes me though.”

”So you can’t.” Judging by his tone, which was as flat as a giant’s rumbling could be, Narzhak was thoroughly unimpressed. ”We can fix that, if you give me a piece of yourself.” He pointed a finger as long as an islet at Mel’Issandra. From its tip grew, like unnaturally fast, metallic stems, three rods tipped with sharp hooks, arranged in the likeness of a clawed hand. They reached towards her face, expectantly clicking together.

Mel’Issandra dearly hoped the giant god didn’t want her face. She liked her face. It would be nice to tell things she made better what to do though. She worried about them running loose. What if they got hurt without her there? What if Sartravius found them? She wanted what Narzhak was offering, but if it was possible she’d rather regrow a finger than a face.

She snapped a finger off her left hand and handed it to the god. She stared at him expectantly as she regrew the appendage. The hooks retreated, holding their prize. The god bent his finger upwards, bringing the fragment out of sight, while the other three digits on his hand went to work on something of their own. They twisted in toward the palm, rubbing together in a series of quick, precise short motions. From below, she could not see what exactly they were doing, but their rapid though steady pace gave a clear impression of purpose.

After mere moments of activity, the hand unfolded again, dropping something into the snow at Mel’Issandra’s feet. A curious iron-cast shape glittered in the light of Heliopolis. Lined along the interior of a circular hoop slightly larger than her head were four long, narrow blades, slanted slightly so that, had they been larger, they would have converged at a spot below the circlet’s center. Each of them had two slightly uneven edges and, strangely, two tips; the object could only be safely held by the hoop. The ice finger or its remains were nowhere to be seen.

Narzhak nodded lightly, spreading a tide of shadow over the island. ”Put this into your head.”

Into her head? Well, at least it wasn’t her face. The ice woman gingerly bent over and picked up the peculiar iron object before placing it on her head. It was unpleasantly warm, but that changed quickly. It cooled as it sank into her and by the time the band rested neatly on the top of her head it was totally white with frost.

She brought a hand up to feel the strange construct. It was sharp, but she couldn't be cut. Still, she’d have to be careful when she saw Li’Kalla next. The very last thing she wanted was to poke the Goddess’s wings by accident. The frost would help with that though. She could ‘feel’ the crown, but much more weakly than even the snow around her. Finished with her examination of the crown she looked up to Narzhak.

“This will make them listen to me?” Mel’Issandra questioned the iron titan.

”It should.” A spike emerged from the finger to distantly motion at Kalla. ”Try it now.”

She again looked to the spot under her snowy gown here Kalla was sitting. She still spoke softly, but this time with an authoritative edge, “Kalla, come out.”

The lizard obliged. It crawled out of the snow and onto her shoulder, where she scratched its chin. The ice woman grinned, “It works. Thank you!”

”I do what’s got to be done.” The god propped himself up on both arms from the island’s submerged side, leaning back into the ocean. ”I’m sure you’ll figure out how to use it well. Just be fast about it. If I know Sartr, he’ll start polluting the face of the world with monstrosities of his in a short time. I might’ve provoked him the last time we spoke, and he’s got a temper.”

He turned his head sideways with a resonating grinding sound, glancing at the sky with his upper eyes. The lower ones remained fixed on Mel’Issandra. ”Watch out for for a loud-mouthed scaly bird, it’s one of his servants. Nasty one.”

“Yes. I know it.” The ice woman's smile fell flat and a slight scowl crept onto her face. She wanted nothing less than to wring the life out of that flying abomination, but she knew she couldn’t. Not yet, anyway.

Narzhak’s gift was a start, though. She sighed and whispered to Kalla, letting him know he could hide in her gown again. Mel’Issandra didn’t want to command him if she didn’t need to. Of course, if the enormous god was being truthful, and she didn’t see why he would lie while helping her, then she would need to command others like Kalla soon enough.

It wasn’t a pleasant realization, but it didn’t disturb her. She would need help, and if her helpers were anything like her or Kalla they wouldn’t mind exterminating Sartravius’s spawn. She nodded slowly, “I’ll be ready. Thank you again.”

”Good. Watch yourself.” In two immense steps, the giant receded, most of his body disappearing under the waves. The water rose considerably along the island’s shore, flooding the snowy cline up to a short distance from her feet. With slow, ponderous motions that could only be guessed at, Narzhak turned about-face and resumed his advance, eyes to the northwest. Soon, his head was once more a distant island fading into the horizon.

Mel’Issandra watched him go, eyeing the encroaching water with concern. She took a few steps away from the flood to be safe. It was only when it receded that she realized it had washed her fish away. She looked around panickedly before spotting the flopping creature in a little pool of water not far from the islands beach.

She ran over to it, feet itching all the while, and pulled it out of the little pool. Putting her hands into the water was decidedly unpleasant, but at least she managed to extract the animal. She cradled it and jogged back to her snowy refuge. Narzhak was alright, but he needed to be more considerate. Especially of fish.

The ice woman wiped her hands and feet off in the snow, and instructed the fish to do the same. It… Tried. She eventually had to scrub it with snow herself. She brought it over to a snow drift a few feet deep and let it go there knowing it was the most she could do for the poor creature.

That done, she sat down and ran her hand over the snow in front of her. A thick sheet of reflective ice formed, and she eyed her new hat. No, that was wrong. It was a… Crown? That sounded right. It was pretty, but she wasn’t a fan of how visible it was inside her transparent head. She forced the ice that made up her head to turn an opaque whitish blue and smiled at the result. That was better. Now the frosty crown looked good on her.

“And now I wait.” She muttered to herself. She was holding out hope Li’Kalla would be along soon, but she knew she couldn’t wait forever. Not while Sartravius was preparing to unleash more of his horrors.




Li’Kalla


Goddess of Rain
8 FP - 13 MP


&

Mel’Issandra


A Snowwoman





Oh, flying! The wind against her skin, her wings so effortlessly carrying her through the blue skies… It was so beautiful! Li’Kalla smiled contentedly, enjoying the moment to its fullest. It wasn’t long ago that she could only dream of flying, and now, well.

She’d gone in a random direction, having left Rick’Ard back in her kitchen with a bucket full of water in case he got thirsty. Rick’Ard, the silly little thing had tried to stick to her. But she couldn’t risk him falling into the Ocean! Li’Kalla chuckled. She perked up however when a large cloud came into view, and she sped toward it.

She went so fast that she couldn’t hear anything, and she shot through the cloud in the blink of an eye.

Steadily, she slowed down and turned to look at the cloud. What once looked like cotton floating in the sky, now looked like a very angry raincloud, and soon enough a great rain broke out, falling into the ocean below.

”Laina wasn’t this awesome.” Li’Kalla said to herself, feeling confused and frustrated all of a sudden. After some thought, the rain turned to snow, and then to ice showers. Finally, she returned the cloud to its original state. White and fluffy. It was smaller, though.

That’s when she saw the landmass on the horizon.

Peeking out from behind the cloud was an Island. Somewhat like her own, but this one was smaller. It only took her a few minutes to reach it.

It was a pretty little island, that was for sure. But-

”Oh no! Burned trees!” Li’Kalla exclaimed, her eyes widening as she performed a nosedive, slowing herself down to land gently at the last moment. She ran to the nearest burned tree, of which there were hundreds, and put her hand on it. It must have been a natural occurrence, right? Trees were nice to have around, and they gave shadow to lie in when it’s sunny, and made air cleaner. Who in their right mind would burn a tree? And yet, deep down she knew. Upon touching the dead tree, she felt it, traces of divine essence. She didn’t manage to figure out whose essence, but there was no point now, was there?

”Poor tree...” She sighed and left the tree, but that posed another issue. There was grass. Alive and healthy, and that instead held a different divine essence. Had someone tried to heal the land after the fire?

She flew again, this time toward a rocky mountain on the Island. There, she saw various plants trying to crawl their way around rocks and up steep cliffs, all in a race to get the most light. She smiled.

”Oh lord!” Her heart skipped a beat. There, perched on a rock, absorbing all the sun it could, was a tiny lizard. As green and as small as a blade of grass, it stared passively at Li’Kalla, who had now flown up to the creature, leaning in to look at it closer.

It flicked out its long tongue and licked some of the water dripping off the tip of her nose.

”Oh, you’re thirsty! Wait here for a minute, okay?”

And so she flew off and returned with the large cloud from before in tow. She placed it on top of the island and made it rain. It was a soft, pleasant rain, and she’d dispersed the cloud somewhat in order to not block out too much of the sun.

When she returned to the lizard, she saw it drinking water from a tiny puddle that had formed on the rock it was standing on, and, after a minute, it turned to look at Li’Kalla, flicked its tongue at the air, and scurried off.

The Goddess giggled and stuck her tongue out at the lizard as it disappeared between the rocks. Then she landed, furled her wings and sat down on the same rock.

Scarcely a moment later the air began to grow cold.




It awoke to a cacophony of screams. Spirits swirled around it, burning in death as they had in life, crying out in agony. Their anguish was such that they didn’t even notice that they were being torn apart. A great force tugged at them, fruitlessly trying to separate them from the ground they’d been bound to by the divine fire that had ended their mortal lives. It wasn’t enough to pull them away, but it wasn’t so easily denied. The force grasped at the wailing spirits and tore chunks from their ethereal flesh as if in punishment for their unwitting defiance of it.

The scene was horrible, but it was not the only one the Awakened One saw. Memories came to it unbidden as its ethereal essence grew, absorbing the agonized spirits that flitted through the air around it. It saw through the eyes of innumerable birds, lizards, and more. The Awakened One saw a vast creature descend on the island and breathe terrible unearthly fire upon it. It saw the monstrous thing eat the burned, the suffering, and it saw what came to stop it.

Two Goddesses fought it, and from them the Awakened came to know its name. It was the Phoenix, the manifestation of the god of Heat, Sartarvius, and it had been defeated. This Seihdhara and… Rayster, had bested it. As the Awakened One experienced the memory it found itself filled with anticipation, soon these Goddesses would kill the beast, soon the spirits, soon it, would be avenged.

When they let it escape the Awakened One was at once confused and furious. How wicked, how callous, how incompetent were these Goddesses? It raged and in its rage the Awakened One’s soul grew ever larger until it had absorbed all the wandering spirits. When the last scream died it found itself alone, and afraid.

The avatar of a god had killed it, and it had been denied its vengeance. It was terrible, but it was better than the scraping pain that it now felt. It was better than the tug. Something wanted it to leave, to forget the mortal world and move on, but just like the spirits it had absorbed the Awakened One was bound to the soil of this island. Even in death Sartravius had made it suffer.

At least, until salvation came for it. Another Goddess came to the island and wept for the Awakened One, for all those who had died. She never spoke her name, but she cast a strange magic that healed all those who would have joined the Awakened One in time. A magic that did more than she knew.

The tug stopped, the force stilled. The torturous scraping away of the Awakened Ones very essence ended. It was then it decided that it was a She. She knew Sartravius was a He, and that all who had opposed him or done her kindness were Shes. That was enough.

More than that though, she found power in the tears the glowing Goddess had shed. It was so very little, but it was enough. She poured herself into that power, into the tears, and they froze into tiny crystals in the ashen dirt. She still had no strength, the wretched heat of the land was enough to keep her weak here, but she knew she had forever for that to change. The glowing one had given her that.

Still, forever was a long time. She was glad when, appropriately, another Goddess gave her what she needed. A winged woman dragged a cloud to the island, a rain cloud.

As water seeped into the soil the Awakened One began to grow. Tiny ice crystals seized the chill the water brought and expanded. As they grew the air around them, around her, began to cool until the rain started to turn to snow. Before long there was only snow, the very cloud that shrouded the island had been sapped of its heat.

At first she was little more than a pillar of ice, but that changed. She remembered the form of the glowing one, the body of the winged one that had given her this chance, and she chose to emulate them. She contracted the ice that was her body until she had two arms, two legs, a head, a face, even a sort of ‘hair’ insofar as she made her head look like it had the feature.

She took her first steps, stumbled, and fell, shattering on the ground. In frustration she reformed her body and tried again. It took at least three more attempts before she managed to start taking clumsy steps through the snow, trudging towards where she knew the winged one was.

At the very least the winged Goddess deserved her thanks.




Li’Kalla held her tongue out and jumped a little each time a snowflake landed on it. It was refreshing and fun! Snow was such a rare occurrence back home -- She might as well enjoy it while it lasted, right?

She perked up and looked at an approaching figure, climbing the mountain on unsteady legs. A… Moving ice sculpture?

Li’Kalla tilted her head and retracted her tongue into her mouth.

”Hello! I’m Li’Kalla. You look like a person. Can you speak?”

The figure opened its mouth and managed only a rasping crackling sound. It tried again and seemed frustrated as its ‘voice’ came out sounding more like ice being crushed than comprehensible speech. Nevertheless it kept moving towards Li’Kalla. It’s steps slowly became steadier and by the time it reached the Goddess on her rock it was keeping its balance well enough to ascend the mountain with little difficulty.

The moving sculpture appeared to eye Li before, awkwardly, sitting down on a rock beside her and trying to speak again. This time vague outlines of words could be heard in the crunches that came from its mouth. “T- Th- K- Ou-,” It grated.

Li’Kalla squinted her eyes at the sculpture and, after a while, she chuckled and grinned warmly Thank you? You’re welcome. What for, though? Congratulations, by the way, you just spoke. Apparently your first words, too!”

The sculpture imitated the Goddess, doing its best impression of a smile. It was clumsy, and perhaps a bit unsettling, but at the least it appeared the attempt was genuine. It pointed up and tried copying the way Li’Kalla’s mouth moved, “Fer- Four- For ran. Rain.”

”Oh.” Li’Kalla fell into a long silence, and when she recovered, she looked at the sculpture with a serious expression and said, ”Thank you, for thanking me.”

The ice woman cocked her head and looked at the Goddess with what could be called an adequate approximation of a quizzical expression. She opened her mouth in an apparent attempt to speak again, but was interrupted. A small lizard had braved the snow and crawled up the moving sculptures leg. She regarded it curiously before reaching out to touch it.

The second the ice womans finger touched the lizard it began to freeze. For a moment it writhed under her curious gaze, but as frost accumulated on its skin it went still. At least, for a moment. The creatures skin was pale and the frost on it had only grown thicker, but it didn’t seem to have gotten the message that it should be dead. It climbed the ice womans finger and she turned her hand around so it could rest on her palm.

What stared back at the ice woman and Li’Kalla wasn’t the same creature that had skittered up the sculpture’s leg. It’s eyes were a pale white and it moved in the same awkward motions the ice woman had while she’d ascended the mountain. The faux smile on the sculptures face grew wider and she began to pet the undead creature with her other hand. She spoke slowly, taking care to pronounce the word properly, “B- Better.”

Li’Kalla frowned and pursed her lips, leaning in to inspect the undead small lizard. ”It’s… Dead? Or maybe not... ” She then leaned back and tapped a finger against her own cheek repeatedly, ”What’s your name? Who made you?”

“No name.” The ice woman replied while she fussed over the frozen lizard. She still took care to speak, but it seemed like she was forming her words faster and more clearly with each passing moment. She glanced at Li’Kalla, “No m- maker either.”

”Oh!” Li’Kalla lit up and grinned, leaning close to the strange sculpture, ”I will give you a name, then! That’s what Gods do, right? So, how aboooutt...” The Goddess hummed and pursed her lips, ”A-ha! Your first name iiiis… Mel’Issandra! Cute, right?!” She beamed at the sculpture with such warmth that it might melt.

The ice woman stopped petting the frozen lizard and focused on Li’Kalla as she spoke. Glassy lips mouthed the name the Goddess had given the sculpture in silence before attempting to pronounce the name, “Meel Iassendra? M- Mel’Isseendra? Mel’Issandra.”

Having spoken her own name the ice woman stilled. In that moment she looked no different than a true statue, a lifeless imitation. It was a perception that she broke by nodding and again copying Li’s facial expression, “Yes. Cute. Thank you L- Li’Kalla.”

Li’Kalla stayed like that for a while, leaning in close to Mel’Issandra. Until eventually, she hesitantly raised her hand and ran it over the ice woman’s smooth face. ”H-Hey! You’re cold, don’t you want clothes to cover yourself? Umm, would those even work? You’re kind of, ice. Well, perhaps the cold doesn’t bother you, anyway.”

“Cold is better. Cold doesn’t hurt,” For once Mel’Issandra didn’t stutter or stumble. Her voice still sounded more like the cracking and grinding of glaciers than something natural, but it was clear. She touched her face where Li’Kalla had and her icy eyes flicked over the Goddess’s body. The ice woman looked down on her own and it began to change under her gaze. Opaque white ice grew on her skin and shaped itself into something that resembled a dress.

Li’Kalla blushed and averted her gaze when she felt the eyes on her body, covering herself further even though she was already dressed. When her gaze returned to Mel, though, she gasped.

”Oh, pretty! You can also try to make your dress off of crushed ice or snow, to kind of simulate real clothes with wind! Oooh, imagine wind blowing snowflakes off your gown, that’d be so beautiful to watch!”

At Li’Kalla’s prompting Mel’Issandra’s dress began to fracture. The first few fissures branched out until the entire white ‘dress’ was riddled with countless cracks and shattered with a great crack. What remained was the very thing Li had described.

Mel opened her mouth but before she could speak the frozen lizard resting on her hand climbed up her arm and disappeared into the white blanket that covered the ice woman. She glanced at the spot on her arm where it had disappeared into her ‘dress’ and began to giggle, followed by Li’Kalla. Her laughter sounded like ice chimes.

“Good idea,” She chuckled and flashed a smile at Li that almost looked natural.

”Mel, you look good! And you should adopt that little lizard, too. Give him a name!”

“A name?” The ice woman asked before reaching into her snowy ‘gown’ and pulling the lizard out. It squirmed in her hand but calmed when she petted it again. She brought it up to her face and stared into its milky eyes, “Can I name it Kalla? After you?”

Li’Kalla squealed in delight and hugged the chilly Mel, ”Yes, yes! Please. I bet it’ll give you lots of love!” She giggled and pressed her cheek against Mel’s and gestured to the snowy landscape before them, ”Now, there is one thing we have left to do, Melly!”

As she spoke, the snowfall quickened and became stronger, ”And that is, of course, teaching you about something very important, okay? You won’t believe it! Wanna know what it is?” Li asked Mel with stars in her eyes, turning her head slightly to look into her featureless eyes.

Mel’Issandra met Li’Kalla’s gaze and, timidly, replied, “Y- Yes?”

Li’Kalla bounced a little and scooted close to press her whole body against Mel, finding her cold to be refreshing for a change, as it turned the rainwater on her skin into snowflakes that quickly flew away.

”Okay! I will teach you… How to make snowmen!” She grinned with an open mouth, staring expectantly at Mel.

“Snow… Men?” Mel looked down at herself and frowned.

”Yes! Just watch.”

And so Li’Kalla flapped her wings happily and wrapped them around Mel for a short moment before parting ways, flying a few meters down into a particularly flat section of the mountain, where the snow had accumulated enough for such an endeavor. She quickly got on her knees and started accumulating the white goodness into a decently sized mound.

After a while, Li’Kalla left the mound of snow to make a small ball of it with her hands, and then put that on top of the mound. As final touches, she carefully put two pebbles into the ball sitting on top of the mound and turned happily to Mel.

”Come, Melly, Come! Bring a stick or long rock if you find any, too!”

The ice woman carefully jogged over to Li and the snowman, her snowy gown flowing behind her. She stepped up to Li and held up a hand. One of her fingers grew into a long icicle which she snapped off at the base. She handed it to Goddess and asked, “Is that ok?"

”Yup!” Li’Kalla nodded and took the icicle. She was about to put it on the snowman’s face, but hesitated. ”Wait! You do it, Melly. Give him a nose! And-” She cut herself off and looked around her quickly, snatching something up from under her right leg. They were a bunch of tiny pebbles. She presented those and the icicle back to Mel and spoke, ”Here, a nose and enough for a mouth.”

Mel’Issandra’s glassy eyes flicked between the icicle that had been her finger, the handful of pebbles, and the snowman. She seemed to think for a moment before a determined look overtook her face and she took the pebbles and icicle. She kneeled before the snowman and got to work.

Carefully, perhaps excessively so, she placed the icicle at the center of the snowmans face after cutting it down to size. She then took the time to place each pebble in an upturned arch, a smile. Apparently satisfied after some minor fussing with the smile Mel turned around and looked at Li, her head level with the snowmans, “Did I do it right Li’Kalla?”

”Oh. Lord.” Li’Kalla chuckled, smirked and gently ran her hands over Mel’s face, ”It feels real, it even speaks! How did you make such a great snowman, Melly?”

For a moment Mel’Issandra looked supremely confused, but her expression quickly turned to one of annoyed realization. She glared at Li and huffed, the frigid breeze coating the Goddess’s face in a thin layer of ice. “Snowwoman,” She muttered indignantly.

Li’Kalla gasped and wiped at her face, getting rid of the ice. Upon seeing the glare, she recoiled a little and looked down at her knees. ”I-I’m sorry, I was only… You know, p-playing. I-I won’t do it again… You did do a good job with the s-snowman though, Mel… The nose is cute. Really.” She said dejectedly, stealing a few glances up at Mel’Issandra every now and then.

The ice woman’s glare softened almost immediately, giving way to a look of supreme guilt. She glanced around before her eyes fixed on the snowman. Mel’Issandra carefully picked up the little figures head and placed it on her own before speaking, “No, I’m sorry. A sorry snowwoman.”

Before she could go on the head fell forwards onto her lap and broke apart, eliciting a tiny gasp from Li’Kalla. Kalla, the undead lizard, popped out of the pile of snow that remained and flicked its tongue at Li. As if taking the lizards cue Mel scooched forward and wrapped Li up in a hug. She whispered, “Am I doing this right?” Into the Goddess’s ear.

She was taken by surprise and froze for a moment, ”Heheh,” Li’Kalla chuckled, and returned the embrace and wrapped her warm wings around Mel. She also made sure to levitate Kalla onto her head. For a few moments, she closed her eyes as she took in Mel’Issandra’s scent. She smelled like a gentle snowfall. ”You smell nice, Melly.” She whispered back into Mel’s ear.

Mel’Issandra thanked her and carefully let go of the Goddess. The ice woman leaned back as far as Li’Kallas wings would allow and picked up a clump of snow. It froze into clear ice in her hand. Mel fussed over it for a moment before smiling and handing Li’Kalla a tiny frozen statue of the winged Goddess.

Li’Kalla inspected in closely with wide eyes and a excited shudder to her wings. ”Woooahhh…!” She muttered as she carefully grabbed the statue with her two hands. ”Thank you, thank you! It’s really pretty, I’ll put in in my bedroom once I get back home!” She said with a happy quiver to her voice. She wrapped her wings tighter around Mel for a few moments before letting her go and standing.

”S-Speaking of, I might have left my pet alone… In the kitchen, with only a bucket of water.” She chuckled nervously. ”I should be getting back to check if he’s okay...”

Mel’Issandra frowned at first, but the sight of Kalla on Li’s head forced her to grin. She nodded, “Ok. Thank you, again.”

Li’Kalla smiled back and levitated Kalla into Mel’s hands. With a flap of her wings she was in the air. As she sped off into the horizon, she waved goodbye.

”I’ll visit you again, Melly! I’ll teach you how to have snowball fights then, it’ll be super fun!”

After Li’Kalla vanished in the distance the ice woman she’d named, Mel’Issandra, didn’t stir for a long while. Around her the snow continued to fall, but she sat and waited. Li’Kalla would be back, after all.

Mel’Issandra didn’t want to miss her.




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