The endless, sandy beaches of the Kubrajzar deserts baked in the sun, almost to the point where one could wonder whether water could even exist nearby. Had the sun had its way, all the water would’ve likely boiled off this beach a long time ago. Except for the odd brave bird scanning the seas for anchovies, life was rightfully absent from this large slice of wasteland. The waves lapped weakly at the deserts, and the moisture they left behind seemed to disappear in an instant. Salt and oceanic refuse coloured the beach a murky gray, and it all it all just looked like the most hostile place on the planet, save for a few others.
And it was there one could find a corpse. A corpse? No! It was very much alive, give or take a few heartbeats and exhausted wheezings. He had done it, the madman: Twilight had swam across the largest ocean in the entire world, and he swore to himself and anyone who was listening that he would never do it again. His sea-salt crusted eyelids cracked open to reveal bloodshot eyes looking up at the burning fate awaiting him if he decided to walk forward. While not optimal, he also had no idea where these drighinas were - they could be living in the desert for all he knew. He dragged himself around in the slushy sand until his legs remembered how to stand. Then he cupped seawater into his hands, purified it and drank deeply. These divine powers were coming in handy, even if their owner bugged him about using them responsibly every now and then. What did she know about responsibility anyway.
The avatar rose up slowly and stretched out. He had done this all on his own. He was his own man, and nothing could stop him now from completing his mission and learning the secrets of worldsong!
He heard it too late, all things considered. A distant noise, hardly audible over the lapping waves, rapidly resolved itself into the familiar sound of a woman screaming, "aaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHOHNOOOOWATCHOUTDOWNTHEREEEEE!"
Had he been mortal, his every bone would have broken and he would’ve rightfully been pronounced dead on the spot. However, considering he was in fact part deity, he managed to get off the hook with only a mild concussion and an aching back. He had been flattened against the sand once again, though, brought low by the weight of another, presumably female creature. Wheezing for air, he struggled to produce words one might say in a situation like this, such as “hello” or “how’s your day” or “get off me, dumb bitch”.
The dumb bitch, having had her fall cushioned by Twilight, wasn't more than a bit stunned. She lay on Twilight, looked up at the desolate landscape around her, and only after a good minute did she bother to check on the man under her. Or get off him. Despite her shaky legs the woman got to her feet, took a few deep breaths, and began lightly kicking Twilight, "Are you uh, alive? Hello? Helllllllo?"
The man groaned and slithered weakly around in the sand. With every kick, he whimpered angrily until he finally said, “YES! I’m alive! Stop kicking!”
"Oh, good. Great. Whew," She eyed Twilight's sand caked face for a moment before, eventually, asking, "Sorry are you Twilight? I'm supposed to meet a Twilight."
The avatar dusted his face free of sand and got to his feet. ”Pfft! Pwah, eh! … Yeah, I’m Twilight. Who’s askin’?” He beat the sand and leftover kelp off his clothing.
The woman stopped, hesitated, and slowly pointed to her face, which bore an increasingly concerned expression, “...Me? I’m asking?”
Twilight sucked in deeply. ”I understand. I realise this. It may have crossed my mind that it is, in fact, you - the only other person within what I can guess is a radius of forever - who is asking. If you would allow me to explain for a moment, that phrase is merely a way of asking…” He cleared his throat. ”WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU WANT?!”
“WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST SAY THAT,” The woman screamed back before, rather suddenly, deflating and protesting half heartedly, “It’s not my fault existing is so stressful! That fall wasn’t even a quarter as fun as I thought it would be, and then you start asking crazy questions and yelling at me. This is terrible.”
After a moment spent moping she let out a huff, stood up a little straighter, and held out a hand, “But I’m Kesheret. Which is long, so you can call me Kesh. Or K. Errrr, no, Kesh works. Anyway my Mom, or Dad I guess? Momad? Damom? Look Tekret is mad at you and sent me to tell you to go grab a sword and give it to a guy.”
Twilight froze. ”Oh, uh… That so. See, I was hoping it’d take him, her, it some time to, y’know, find me and give me something to do in order to, uh, repent. I’ve kinda got plans already aaaand, y’know, not too keen on being a delivery boy just yet.”
“Wow,” Kesheret regarded Twilight incredulously, “Seriously? I’ve been alive for like, a week, and I already get that's not how this works. Uhhh, but if you’re insisting well... I guess I can let mom know? I mean her first idea was to just have a whale swallow you, and oh! Oh! I did suggest she curse you with impotence. Maybe that one?”
Twilight flinched. ”W-well, I would just have Gibbou uncurse me! How’s that, huh?!” He looked up to the sky. ”You’d do that, right?” No response. He deflated and made hard eyes at Kesh. ”Look, look, look…” He pursed his lips. ”You said you been alive for a week, right?”
“Weeeeeellllllll,” Kesheret pursed her lips in thought, turned around, and started counting on her fingers before nodding to herself. Task done, she turned back to face Twilight with a flourish and proudly declared, “Nine days!”
Twilight scoffed in exaggeration. ”Nine days! Why, that’s plenty old enough to think for yourself, missy. C’mon, think for a minute - what has your mad-dom ever done for you?”
“Uhhhhhmmmm, made me?”
Twilight clicked his tongue in disapproval. ”Rookie mistake, kehd. Sure, they might’a done something dumb like that - like -making- you, but what have they done for you lately, y’know? Like, when was the last time they gave you help when you were in trouble? Or the last time they invited you out for a cup’a tea? Nah, nah, you gotta stick it to the man, ‘cuz the man’s never gonna look out for you. You get me, sister?”
“Well, one: I’ve never actually been in trouble, though that does sound fun. Uh, two: not sure what tea is? And pretty much every day Tekret was with me she was a lady.” Kesheret took on a contemplative expression for a moment before finishing, “Also I don't think I’d want to stick things on Tekret even when she’s, he’s a man? Kinda sounds messy.”
Twilight smirked. ”So y’see… You -could- get me to swim aaall the way back and, what, receive, like, empty thanks and another mission… Or…” He hooked his arm around her neck and gestured at the horizon. ”... You could try aaall the things you said you’ve never tried before - and more - if you do a liiittle bit of duty shirking.”
Kesheret ducked out of Twilights hold, turned to face him, and threw a thumb over her shoulder, “Sword’s on the other side of the desert. Which is where I’m going, to try all those things. Because unlike some, vaguely fish smelling people, I don’t piss off gods and get duties to begin with.”
With that Kesheret set off, took her first long steps into the blistering heat of Kubrajzar’s wasteland, promptly stopped, squinted in an effort to see anything other than sand and hesitantly added, “Buuuuuuut if you want to tag along, I won’t tattle?”
”Not tattling? Now you’re speaking my language. Buuut I have something I need to do first - I gotta find a drighina. Promise it won’t take long - I’m just tryna learn the secrets of the worldsong. A week or two max.”
A woman's head turned one way, then the other, and after seeing nothing but water and sand she concluded, “Well, no drighinas here. So uh, I was gonna go that way?”
She pointed into the desert, “Do you have a preference or? I don’t know if the uh, ‘world song’ has a directional bias, but I’m pretty sure I don’t.”
Twilight shrugged. ”I heard they live by the sea, so… I saaaaay we go that way.” He pointed due north.
“mMMmMMMmMMMMMMmmMMMmmmMMM, ok?” Kesheret mimicked Twilights shrug and set off....
It was a beautiful day on Galbar, or a horrible windswept one. Or it was blistering. Or freezing. Quite frankly Galabr had more climates than was worth mentioning. The lifeblood wasn’t a fan of minimalism, really. Anyways the point is, somewhere someone was having the day of their lives. It was beautiful, where they were.
That person was, in fact, having the best day of anyone on Galbar. Why? Well, a god on high had made a mistake. It wasn’t something that happened every day, or every century, but the gods were as far from infallible as their creations. Age brought wisdom, yes, but nothing removes that particular stain of intellectual dishonesty which begins with ‘Well I thought it was a good idea’.
Because it was not a good idea. It was a terrible idea. The god who’d done it was entirely aware of this. In the future they’d defend themselves, if it came to it, but really they’d done it to see what happened. What happened was not good. Well, not good for certain people. For one person it was effectively the greatest thing that would ever happen.
You see, Tekret Et Heret, the god of Rulership and Contracts, the King Maker, had lost something. Well, it wasn’t lost so much as thrown at Galbar with a reckless abandon. Tekret had, as was their fashion, created something in the hopes that it would help some would be king or queen. This time though, they'd decided to leave it around and see who found it.
King or Queen, it was just a title after all. Often a good King was one who just blundered into it. That was the theory anyway. The execution had come up short. Extremely, terrifyingly, short. For Tekret had created an artifact of terrible power, something which could change the fate of nations.
It had been meant for a man or woman to change the world, or at least a corner of it. Instead, it had landed in the hands of Gregory. Gregory was, as it happened, the most alcoholic man currently alive, or close enough that the competition was essentially a toss up. He’d imbibed so much liquor that he was half blind, yellow in the face, and utterly destitute.
At least, until a ratty old book had fallen from the sky and knocked him out. Had Gregory been a smarter man, he might have thrown the book away, after all it was clearly trash thrown from a window. Sadly, Gregory was stupid like a fox. He’d opened the book, learned what it was, and using a finger covered in gutter filth written something in it.
This was how Gregory, a man with maybe a year or two of life left in his frail body, became Supreme High Lord King Emperor Man The Best of his shitty impoverished Mydian village. How did this happen? Well, he wrote it. Gregory had, through absolutely no merit of his own, stumbled upon the Book of Law.
Unfortunately, he had once been a better man and so knew how to write.
He wrote that he was in charge.
Tekkie throws an artifact at Galbar. It goes poorly. Now Supreme High Lord King Emperor Man The Best rules over a Human hamlet on Whakarongo.
-5MP Book of Law: [Iron Decree V] The Book of Law is a tome that will turn anything written in it into Law. Disobeying Laws written in the book is extremely difficult, and will result in severe pain for the duration one is committing a crime (as seen by the book). One must be made aware of the law before the book takes effect. Its influence extends nearly ten miles.
The real problem, she reckoned, was that she’d never been good at vacations. Oh sure, if Illyd Dyll were to actually arrive and poke his head into her portal he’d see her lounging on a plush chair with an umbrella woven of solid gold keeping the light away from her face, but that didn’t change the fact that she wasn’t on vacation anymore. Tekret et Heret, the god of Rulership and Contracts, was back at work. At least, in her head.
New contracts, agreements, and some oaths were being filed away in thousands of amber palaces all around her. Sometimes she’d go out and file them herself, but that had always been an affectation. She’d done it because, well, there hadn’t been a reason not to. It was better than just sitting there. Now though? Well the beach was as good a place as any to watch the world, file away its agreements struck, and meddle with it here and there.
Her talk with Artifex had reminded her why she’d even bothered for two thousand years. The work wasn’t always great, and she’d have loved to dump the filing on another mind, but playing with things down below? Finagling to see her vision for an orderly and righteous society end up on top? There really wasn’t anything like it. Building a world.
Sure she made a mistake here, an error there, but that was the fun. Not even the gods could see the future, and why would they ever want to? As embarrassing as her follies had been, they’d helped her learn. She knew where to let the mortals have free reign now. That, and where to push.
Now, she was about to do just that. Not to shift the fate of civilizations, or to impact countless lives, but to give her more time to do those things in the first place. Cadien had been right, an Avatar would ease her workload, but something like that could never really choose to help her, and if even if could why would it?
So, she reasoned, the answer was simple. Foist the boring parts of her job, the filing mostly, onto someone who could choose. Who could be compensated. She was a god of Contracts, so why not contract the work out? Give a mortal this or that in life and in exchange get a soul to help with the work when they died. It was a raw deal, but she didn’t doubt there were an abundance of people who’d take it.
The upside was most of the ones who’d agree probably deserved an eternity filing away contracts. The downside was they might not be the best workers. Thankfully, that second bit could be fixed. After all, once their souls belonged to her, who's to say she couldn’t tinker with them.
It was a good plan, in her opinion. There was, however, a problem. She was trapped up here, and while she could spy around with her Seers there was a limit to how useful they were. Especially when it came to finding out what mortals wanted. Especially what they wanted bad enough to sell their souls.
It was probably one of the usual things. Wealth. Power. Sex. The issue was which mortals wanted which one of those, and how badly. No, it wasn’t a task a god could do efficiently. Oh Tekret didn’t doubt she’d be able to do it, but it would just be more busywork in an effort to reduce busywork.
That didn’t make sense. So then, she had to find an agent. Someone who would do that busywork for her. Of course that agent would be better compensated than the ones they’d be getting to sign away their souls, but it wasn’t a position she’d offer just anyone. After all, whoever took it would have to be immortal. Those few who had that little blessing on Galbar were problematic, in that they tended to stick around and remember all the gods little fuckups. Some were the gods little fuckups. So faith and loyalty were important.
Almost as important as not being boring. Again, forever was a long time. Tekret had absolutely no intention of blessing one of her less interesting servants with eternal life. Some of the priests... She shuddered at the thought of having to answer their questions forever. Oh she was a god of Order, but that didn’t mean she wanted to discuss nothing but tax systems for a few thousand years. The idea was enough to make her blood run cold.
Not that she had blood, really. Or could get cold. Mostly, she just snapped her fingers and was wearing a warmer sundress. If such a thing could be said of sundresses at all. So, Tekret reflected, she needed an agent who was faithful, loyal, and interesting.
A tall order, but she had someone in mind.
She grit her teeth as she felt it, the sting of the lash upon her back. The feeling of blood forming rivulets that ran down her naked shoulders and onto the floor. It hurt, but that was precise why she did it. Again, she brought the lash against herself and winced at the pain. Some in the House of Order called her mad, but only out of ignorance.
She bore them no ill will. Not anymore. The anger she felt at their gibes and taunts was carried away with her blood. She had started this ritual for penitence, but peace hadn’t been hard to find. The weight of the world, anger, resentment, sorrow. All of it could be banished with the lash. Pain was an excellent focus.
Satisfied with her work, even as her bloodshot eyes ran with tears, Hesari brought the lash to her basin and cleansed it of blood. It was a mark of the House of Order’s status that every member had a basin, and enough water to fill and drain it as they pleased. She knew it was more than she deserved, but unlike some of her brothers and sisters she did not take such gifts for granted. She paid for her comforts. Every week.
She found a small clay jar and filled it with water before using it to wash her back and cleanse her wounds. They were light, but deep enough to scar. The patchwork of pallid raised skin across her back spoke to that. When the blood no longer ran and she could see the wounds she applied a smear of oil to each injury, sealing it from the world.
With a pained sigh she picked up her robe and began to get dressed. It hurt, but her body felt lighter for the abuse. It was something she needed these days. Even craved. The only problem was that she could not do it forever, or even for long it seemed. She might be called upon, and there would be no room for injury or weakness if that were to happen.
She prayed it didn’t. Tekret et Heret had intervened before they were needed in the past. No true servant of Order would shirk their duty if it came to it, however. Everyone in the House of Order was aware that Ketrefa had become rotten, many of them had played a hand in furthering that rot. They had sought redemption, though. She had sought redemption. Now it fell to them to excise the disease if called upon.
It was rare, a thing that had happened only twice in written history, but the House of Order knew its duties. One word from their god and they would tear the King of Ketrefa off his throne and find another. Blood would run in the streets. She had to be ready, if it happened. Even as she hoped that it would not, that Tekret would correct the King’s weakness before she was ever needed.
So, she wondered if she should stop this ritual. To be ready. Then again, she had seen some of the other priests. The House took in criminals and killers like her, but the cult was not closed to normal folk. They were soft, weak even. She envied it, but it was a gift she had willingly surrendered long ago. Her place was to be hard. The militant arm of a faith that professed no martial capacity.
“Awfully dramatic, don’t you think?” A playful woman's voice interrupted Hesari’s thoughts, and her head whipped around looking for the trespasser. If one of her peers had gone so far as to mock her in her own room she would-
“But that’s why I’ve always liked you kid. You never played games, trying to get around your vows, you gave yourself to me entirely.” The voice echoed in her mind.
Hesari’s blood ran cold. Was it now? Had her god come to her to deliver a verdict on a kingdom? She spoke, haltingly, “Holy one. I- Is it time?”
“Mm,” The voice mused, “No, not for that. Not yet. I’m here for you kid. You’re eh, faith, hasn’t gone unnoticed. I’ve got a job for you, if you’ll take it.”
“Me?” Her breath caught and she reflected upon her life. It had not been a good one. She had been callous, even evil, and now this? It was beyond her in every way, and both she and her god knew she wouldn’t refuse, “I will. I’ll do anything you ask.”
“Knew you would kid. This will hurt a little, but hey you're used to that aren’t ya?”
Before she could ask a question she felt the scars on her back stretching, burning, tearing. She bit back tears and in her mind she began to see what her god was doing. On her back a contract was being written, her scars the ink it was penned with. She could not see the contract, but at once she understood it. Her god's dilemma, her part in it. She felt an entire new world opening up to her, but only halfway.
She understood as much as she needed to. For the rest? She still needed to sign. It wasn’t a question of how. She reached for her lash, and in one motion savaged her back with it. The gashes it left were brutal, deeper than she had ever cut, but they mended at once and formed into her name, written in a script none in the world but she understood.
Her mind exploded. She grasped things she had struggled with all her life, and she knew at once that what limited her now was knowledge, not ability. Moreover, she blinked and found herself little more than an apparition. Her god had changed her in every way, and as she blinked again she returned to the world as an agent. A proxy for her god.
She breathed heavily, “Thank you. I understand it. I can do it for you.”
The voice faded to a whisper as it bade her farewell, “I know. Be seeing you kid.”
Hesari, as she discovered when she revealed Tekret’s visit to the rest of the House, was not the only one Tekret had visited that day. After a thousand years Tekret et Heret had formally blessed his faithful in the Highlands, declaring them his chosen servants and approving their doctrine. Every member of the House, from all across the Highlands, had heard it be done.
Moreover, their patron had left them with a gift. Knowledge of the script that graced Hesari’s back, and the power it held. Across the Highlands priests of the House began to pen contracts that could never be broken. Or, more accurately, not broken without consequences. The House of Order had earned their gods trust, and so gained some of the divines power.
It was a poor gift, compared to hers.
Tekkie is bad at vacations. It is known. Thankfully Tekkie remembers that work is cool, well most work. Some work sucks. What do we do about work that sucks? Easy, we get other people to do it. Sadly, these other people can’t be avatars. Avatars can’t really choose, soul fragments they are, so they’re right out.
So who’s in? Idiot mortals who sell their souls of course! They can’t complain! Thaa might, but better to ask forgiveness than permission. Tekkie doesn’t want to go buying souls though, so he appoints a HEAD SHOPPER and gives her some really cool blessings to go do that. Ofc he’ll have to pay the people, if she can’t, but that’s not a biggie.
Oh, also the House of Order, Tekkie’s cult in the highlands, can now pen magic contracts. Actually, all of Tekkie’s cults can! Cool.
-2DP Enhanced (Granted Tekret Cults Ability to Pen Inviolable Contracts) Trained members of the House of Order (and all other Tekret worshipping cults) will now be able to create inviolable contracts. These are agreements with baked in consequences for violation, agreed on before they are signed or spoken. Consequences manifest in anything from minor curses to death. These contracts are written in a new, holy, script.
-1DP [Agent of Order I] Hesari has entered into a contract with Tekret et Heret, and the god of Contracts has used her flesh to record their agreement. Her back is covered in writing, made from scars. As an Agent of Order Hesari has become immortal and is now able to see through the Seer birds as her patron god does, albeit only ones that are nearby. Within a few hundred miles at most.
-2DP [Mind of the Master II] Hesari is granted vastly expanded cognitive abilities that tie in with a sharpened ability to learn and comprehend information. With this boon not only can she quickly become a scholar in many fields, she can rapidly learn Mana Magic and access Mindcasting.
-2MP [Ethereal Transition II] Hesari gains the ability to push herself out of the world, as the Seer birds do. In this state she is effectively a ghost, able to fly and phase through walls, but utterly incapable of interacting with the world. Transitioning between this state and her normal one can be done with a thought, provided Hesari can still her mind.
It was whispered everywhere, from the dank and dirty streets of slums beyond the wall all the way to the very halls of power themselves. Men and women of status hushed their voices as they spoke it under the light of illusory braziers. Street rats and cretins spoke it in the darkness, and even there they were careful. Cautious. For it was not a word you could utter freely. Everyone in Ketrefa, the great city, knew the word and what it referred to, but that didn’t mean they could speak it aloud. That terrible word.
The guards were always listening for it, and their orders were clear. None could be allowed to know. Even if everyone did. Because the truth was so terrible it would rock the very foundations of their society if anyone had the courage to speak it aloud. So, they whispered, and they whispered this: The queen is dead, slain by her young daughter. A witch. An abomination that called down fire from the sky.
Even now, if one was particularly brave, you could see the damage. The blackened and collapsed western wall of the Azure Palace, standing high atop its artificial hill and screaming what happened without words. Nobody could know. Everyone knew. The truth was written in ash and blood, reflected on each and every face. Citizen or slave.
It was a terrible thing, and within the ash covered walls of the blue palace itself, a decision had to be made on what to do about it.
Magical light reflected off the worn face of the Royal Steward, and as he spoke the deep lines of his face shifted and cast shadows of their own, “My king I feel for you, you must know this. I have known you since you were a boy. The pain you experience now is unbearable, maddening, I understand, but you cannot take out your grief on your daughter. This, this tragedy, was not something she meant.”
“Yefe,” The King of Ketrefa, a handsome man whose young features were darkened by rage, smoldered from atop his gilded throne, “Do not speak to me like I am a boy! Old fool, a twisted thing like my so called daughter, cursed in the womb, intends nothing. It just destroys. I want the abomination dead, before the sun sets.”
“There are ways!” Yefe pleaded, “I have heard of witches growing into their power, learning to control it. Traders from the south have brought us stories, we can look to them for guidance. She need not be a danger.”
In one motion the King stood from his august seat and smacked his old teacher across the face, sending the elderly man to the ground with a cry. Looming above him the King of Ketrefa, rightful Sovereign of all Mankind, spat darkly, “She will not be.”
The king drew a gilded bronze dagger from a sheath at his waist and stalked towards the throne room's entrance, wicked intent writ on a once admirable face. The noble court, those few of them who were trusted enough to have been summoned to this gathering, scattered and made way for their incensed lord. Eyes fell upon Yefe and none mustered the courage to gainsay their ruler. All but one held their tongues.
A young man wearing a shirt of bronze mail stepped into the king's path and spoke without invitation, staring nervously at his rulers feet, “My lord it should not be by your hand. She is of impure blood. A monster.”
The audacity of his servant struck the King like a blow, and he halted at once. Eyes burning with indignation, grief, and hatred bored into the man obstructing King of Ketrefa’s path. Amurat the third, sole living child of a dead king who bore the same name, came within a hair's breadth of shedding the blood of a member of his court. Only recognition of the man before him held the King's blade at bay.
“Move aside, Trehe,” Amurat uttered the name like it was a curse, “That you are not dead is only due to the closeness of our families. I will forget this one treachery, for the sake of my wife. Your sister. But only if you move aside.”
“I cannot,” Trehe uttered the words, voice shaking as if he did not believe them himself, “You are my King, and I will not allow you to dirty your hands. I ask you to use mine. The blood of a monster will not taint a lesser man like me. The Queen is dead. I beg you, brother, allow me to avenge her.”
Silence overtook the court. Neither man nor nature moved, and for a moment it was as if time itself had stalled. Slowly, wordlessly, a drawn blade found itself scraping against its sheath. The King scowled, nodded, and turned away before speaking, “Then see it done, and know that when it is we will be brothers no longer. Do away with the filth that binds us.”
Trehe blinked, straightened to look at the King’s back, and muttered, “I will.”
He fled the throne room, and all that could do so joined him. Only one remained. Amurat’s eyes fell on Yefe, his eldest advisor and stalwart friend, now cradling his bruised cheek and leaning against a nearby pillar. The King spoke and his words could have chilled bone, “I repudiate you, Yefe. Never enter my presence again. I will not be merciful twice.”
Yefe gazed into the eyes of a boy he’d helped raise, looking for the man he admired, who could be turned away from the awful path he’d stepped onto.
The old man recognized nothing.
As the sun crept towards the horizon two harnessed Quillat’s led a wagon out through the western gate of Ketrefa. It passed in silence, without challenge. Sitting in it was Trehe, the youngest man to ever be made Captain of the Gates, and a cadre of his closest men. Across from them, blindfolded, gagged, beaten, and chained was a young girl. Barely older than three.
Trehe’s niece. She had not moved since she was loaded into the wagon, and Trehe held back tears as he beheld the reason. Her legs, while not broken, were beaten black and blue. Her naked feet were reddened and bloody. The only sign she was alive was her roughspun tunic heaving with her shallow breaths.
Nobody spoke. There were no words to speak. The wagon led Trehe and his men to the foothills and the dark forests therein. They knew their duty, their terrible task. None wanted it, but all felt the weight of responsibility. The necessity. Each was armed, and as they regarded their weapons there wasn’t a one who wondered if that weight was enough. For before them was no monster.
Just a girl.
A girl that, for all the abuse she’d endured, made not a sound until the wagon stopped at the edge of the wood. Even then, she only whined through her gag as the wagon rocked and aggravated her injuries. Such was her terror.
The men that had accompanied Trehe looked at him, some opened their mouths to speak, but they could not. Not if they couldn’t meet his eyes. They tried, surely, but in the end none had the strength. Trehe stood alone as he lifted the frail girl out of the wagon and led her into the wood.
He held her carefully, caringly, and walked past the trees. Past the thick undergrowth that scratched at his face. Only when he was deep in the forest and the light had all but died did he stop. The girl was laid on the ground, the man knelt, and a blade was drawn.
She must have heard it, for despite the agony of the action she tensed. Just a girl. A baby. Three years old. Trehe thought of his sister, of the King’s fury. He spoke softly, sharing the words with a little girl he’d loved as if she were his own, “It would be a mercy, Qashat. Look what they’ve done to you. It... It would be better.”
She stirred at the voice, recognizing the man who’d brought her here, and she squirmed. It was too much. The blade clattered to the ground, and Trehe began to weep. He pulled the gag from his nieces mouth, undid her chains, and lifted the girls blindfold. She had her mother's eyes. Blue like the great river in spring. She stared at her uncle as he cried, and that she didn’t do the same made him weep more.
“I can do nothing for you,” He choked on the words, “Nothing. I can’t even free you from the torment they’ve put you through."
She stared at him, and her voice came out in a pained whisper, “W- Why?”
It was a question too great for a child to ask, let alone understand the answer to. It was a question too great for Trehe, for though he was a man he’d barely passed his twenty second year. He closed his eyes and bitter words escaped his lips, ”Because you’re different. Because you can do things. Because... Because you killed her."
Her eyes, her mother's eyes, stared back at him with all the pain in the world. The Captain stood, and a single hope filled his chest, “But it wasn’t your fault. You can’t be blamed for it, for being born. I am an excuse of a man for being unable to say that when it mattered. I’m so sorry.”
He turned, and spoke the last words the young witch would hear for years, “Live, Qashat. Please. Live.”
The girl’s uncle bloodied his knife on his own arm, tied the injury with a rag, and fled. Then, she was alone. Injured, unable to walk, betrayed and left to die with a worthless wish. Qashat, heir to the throne of Ketrefa, once a princess who would rule the greatest city in the world, finally cried.
As her tears streamed down her face the bruises on her body faded, cuts mended, and her strength returned. She didn’t understand it. How could she? All she knew was that she was alone.
The man who’d been her uncle would not return.
Ketrefa, the great city of the Highlands, is in shock. The Queen is dead, and rumor has spread far and wide that she is dead by the power of her three year old daughter. It can only be that the King sired a witch. In the palace the truth of this is known, but only Yefe, advisor to the King and his father before him, is willing to speak on the girl's behalf. The old man is beaten for it, and the King resolves to kill his Abomination offspring himself. He’s stopped by his brother in law, Trehe, Captain of the Gates. Trehe tells the King that he cannot sully his hands and reign with impure blood, and begs the king to allow him to avenge his sister. The king accepts.
Trehe leads a party to kill the girl. They bring her, beaten as she was by the palace guards, to the forest outside the city. The others with Trehe can’t bring themselves to hurt her, and so he leads her into the woods alone. He prepares to kill her, but can’t do it. So, even knowing it would be kinder for her to die, he unbinds her and leaves her in the woods. When he is gone the girl, Qashat, is healed by her power.
Tekret et Heret, the God of Rulership and Contracts, a divine being whose intervention had changed the course of fate and bent the rails of destiny innumerable times, was deeply upset. What could upset such a being? How could the immortal warden of order and steward of civilization become so agitated?
The answer was simple. His vacation was ruined. Worse, his vacation had been ruined by a gaggle of his, as he now realized, incredibly lazy siblings. The portal opening on his beach had been unfortunate, but it wasn’t the death stroke. It’d derailed his vacation, but, as Tekret now understood, it had been a surmountable problem. An annoying one, yes, but nothing compared to the realization that he was in the minority that had done literally anything of consequence for the last two thousand years. That had been devastating, really.
Deep, deep in his divine soul Tekret wished to turn back time. To look Illyd in the face, turn around, and bury the portal in a mountain of sand. Oh the God of Unsolicited Apples and other Foods had been nice, if a bit parochial, but would Tekret have sacrificed the meeting, the pie, for his vacation? Yes. Absolutely.
Alas, not even gods had that power. Tekret was damned to live in the present, a present where he’d given into despair and rage too early. A present where the unimaginable indolence and stupidity of his fellow divines had been presented to him in as clear terms as could even be imagined. It... Sucked.
Two thousand years of work, of managing a world that seemed to be falling apart at every moment, and Tekret was rewarded by his planned century off being cut short by ninety seven years. The god wanted to cry, a little. He also wanted to scream, both at himself and his siblings. As it was, he had done a lot of screaming. The crying, well, that bit could wait.
With a heavy sigh Tekret looked around and, in the absence of a better idea, decided he might as well catch up with the rest of his family. Not that he was overfond of them at the moment. However, when your parent is an unthinking mass of creative energy devoid of limits and with a known inclination to send its children on time outs, well it pays to take the time you’re given.
“Alright then,” Tekret pursed his lips and glanced around as he spoke to himself, “May as well start with Cadien. Humans still worship him, so he might have done something interesting in the last two thousand years.”
Just then, Cadien landed directly in front of him. “Did I hear someone mention my name?” the God of Perfection asked.
“What the-'' Tekret flinched and glared at the other god, who was frankly almost as naked as he was, “Watch it with the jumping! Honestly. Have you even heard of walking?”
“Obviously I have,” Cadien shrugged and rolled his eyes dismissively. “This is just faster. Anyhow, were you looking for me?”
“Well, yes,” The alabaster god sputtered, “I just wasn’t expecting you to come flying at me like a damn arrow. Ugh. Fine, ok, Cadien! God of Perfection! Worshipped by Humans across the world.” Tekret exhaled and, slumping ever so slightly, managed to ask, “How... Are you?”
“Quite good,” Cadien said with a nod. “Though I have to say, I’m a bit surprised you know my name. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“No,” Tekret agreed, “But the Humans still seem to like you, and I’ve been busy enough with them for the last two thousand years to know what you’re about. Or, well, at least what they think you’re about. You are a bit... Smaller than they depict.”
“Well, I’d hope they still like me. I did have a hand in giving them such complex thoughts and feelings in the first place. I also played a role in creating the Goblins and the Merelli. As to my height… eh. Didn’t really want to tower too much over other gods and mortals. And after the Separation, there wasn’t much reason to change it, was there?”
“If you weren’t reaching for things there wasn't,” Tekret muttered bitterly before changing tack with an obvious cough and explaining, “But really, you have to wonder where they ever got the idea you were fifteen feet tall with muscles bigger than horses then. That mosaic in Ketrefa really is... Something.”
“Now, whyever would you need to reach for things?” Cadien asked curiously. “Can you not jump, or fly?”
“Obviously,” Tekret sighed, “But after getting distracted and flying through walls enough times you learn your lesson. Sometimes just reaching for the damn thing is enough. No need to strut. Not like there’s anyone to admire it.”
“Hmm. Is everything alright? You seem quite on edge.”
An ember flared in Tekret’s chest, and was smothered just as quickly. His vacation was dead, suffocated in the crib. With a resigned tone he explained, “No, everything's not alright. Not at all. I spend two thousand years working without so much as a minute of rest, and just when I finally think things are in a state where I can take a measly century off a damn portal opens on my beach and I find out that the entire pantheon spent their time throwing a hissy fit try to get out of their realms or taking naps.”
“Have you spoken to the entire pantheon already?” Cadien asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Do I really need to?” Tekret complained, “You’d think after two milleniums of watching countless mortals, keeping tabs on every ruler to ever be born, I’d hear something about what the others were up to. Oh sure there were mutters about a few here and there. The Humans still like you, after all, but others? I haven’t heard a peep about Fe’ris, that ridiculous bat, in millenium! God of Ambition. Ambition. I bet his ambition was to sit on some gaudy chair and do nothing!”
“Alright, stop.” Cadien held his hands out as if he was prepared to stop a rolling boulder. “Are you familiar with every mortal race? I highly doubt that. And have you considered it possible that some gods might not have very many worshipers, perhaps because they didn’t make their presence known, or perhaps because their influence is more subtle? And have you considered that some didn’t exactly take the Separation in stride? Hmm? So mayhaps it would be better to speak with the other gods and find out why you know so little about them, instead of making such baseless assumptions?”
“Am I familiar with every- Are you not?” Tekret stared blankly at Cadien, “We’ve had two thousand years man. Even if you don’t hear every damn agreement they make. Two. Thousand. Years.” The alabaster god pinched the bridge of his nose, and spoke with an uncharacteristic levelness, “What... Precisely have you been doing these last few millenium, Cadien?”
“Sitting on a gaudy chair, of course,” Cadien said. “Also responding to prayers. And delivering the occasional blessing. Worked on my realm a lot too. Didn’t quite feel like two millennia to me, though. I think time passed faster for me, or something. Anyhow, I stand by what I said. There’s no need for such assumptions.”
Gears, seized by sheer incredulity at the situation before him, began to turn in Tekret’s head. Gaudy chair. Occasional blessing. Time passing faster. The horrible conclusion was inevitable, unavoidable, inescapable. Cadien, God of Perfection, Scion of Mankind, had been occasionally dozing off and waking up to a prayer or two for millenia. Tekret added it to his list of things to cry about, later, and answered haltingly, “Fine. Fine. Maybe at least some were working. I shouldn’t assume. Right. Sure.”
“Good,” Cadien nodded sternly. “And in the future, do try to take more regular breaks. Instead of one century of rest after two-thousand of years of work, perhaps try one year of rest after twenty years of work. Otherwise you’ll just burn yourself out, and end up… well, the way you are now, which will do even more damage to your productivity. Nobody made you work that long, so please, don’t get so angry at others because they didn’t hold themselves to standards they weren’t even aware of.”
“They’re not my standards,” Tekret miserably answered the God of Laziness and Unhelpful Platitudes, “There’s just work. It has to be done. It’s that, It’s just that simple.”
But, the God thought. But.
“But you might be right about... Breaks. Obviously not every twenty years, but I understand the exaggeration. Maybe I can just, just take my vacation in bits. Every so often,” Tekret's posture relaxed a bit and he nodded, “Alright. I’ll, uh, I’ll talk to the others. See what they were up to. Maybe I’ve just been listening to the mortals too long. Some real company couldn’t hurt. Anyone that doesn’t kick it after tripping would be good to talk to. Yeah, yeah.”
“Excellent!” Cadien suddenly smiled again, clapping a hand on Tekret’s shoulder. “If you ever need some company, or a change of scenery, then feel free to visit my realm. Oh, and I do have an idea that might be able to take a bit of the workload off your shoulders, so keep an ear out for that.”
That pulled Tekret out of it, perhaps more than anything the God of Perfection has said so far. A way to ease his workload? That... Tekret suppressed his embarrassment before it ever reached his face. He hadn’t thought of that. He’d just been so busy, right from the start. Was that the benefit of napping for who knows how long? Had Cadien done it for a reason?
With renewed vigour Tekret nodded, “I will. Eagerly.”
With one final nod of farewell, Cadien, turned away, and leapt. No doubt heading toward another unsuspecting target.
“Yeah,” Tekret muttered as he watched him go, "He’s definitely never heard of walking."
Tekkie is UPSETTI SPAGHETTI. The vacation is ruined. The other gods are nincompoops. He just wanted to go back. Back to the vacation. Back before all this happened.
But there’s no god of time, and Tekkie knows that the lifeblood is a dick who might seal the gods off from each other again at any time. Yeah, Tekkie made that connection. Big daddy lifeblood ruined his vacation. Anyway knowing his siblings, useless or not, are still his siblings Tekkie resolves to talk to them.
He thinks of Cadien, because Tekkie still likes Humanity. Cadien fucking yeets himself into Tekki’s personal space at the mere mention of his name and freaks Tekkie out, rude. Anyway they talk and Tekret is like my vacation is ruined the other gods are idiots and Cadien is like, your vacation isn't dead you just need to take more regular breaks. Also Cadien says the other gods aren't idiots and Tekkie should talk to them.
Tekkie accepts the break idea, but is dubious about the other gods competence. He also concludes that Cadien was probably napping for a few centuries, or more, between the occasional burst of usefulness. Nevertheless Cadien kinda talks Tekkie down a bit and they end on a good note. Mostly. Oh and Cadien tells Tekkie that he has an idea on easing the gods workload. THAT gets Tekkie’s attention and potential respect.
Cadien leaps away again, and Tekkie really struggles to keep that respect in place. Learn to walk, dude.
Squinting, Illyd Dyll continued his wobbling walk away from Cadien and the Bat-God, eyes fixated on a particular rip through reality. He couldn’t see much through it, perhaps a beach? Then all of a sudden a tall, entirely naked, man with alabaster skin and hair jumped out of the rip, angrily barking about someone ruining his rest and threatening to beat them senseless.
Illyd’s eyes widened as he flinched backwards, holding up a single apple in defense of himself, “Woah! Hold on, now!”
The naked man pointed at Illyd and continued his tirade, “Was it you! You... God of....”
“Something?” The porcelain man paused and scratched his head, righteous fury fading as he struggled to remember the god in front of him, “Wait who are you?”
“I’m Illyd Dyll,” Illyd cleared his throat clear of his initial fright. He took a moment to observe the angered man and decided on the next course of action with a polite yet small and sheepish smile, “What’s wrong?”
The naked statue of a man stared at Illyd for a second, and wordlessly held out a hand in confusion before, emphatically, gesturing to the portal behind him and shouting again, “What’s wr-? That! That’s wrong! I spend two thousand years doing my damn job, not one break, not even for a single stupid minute, and then, then I take a vacation.”
He paused and exhaled, before bellowing and all gesturing wildly, “And one of my idiot siblings goes and does that. I. Am. On. Vacation. You don’t just kick down a man’s door without asking! It’s not right!”
“I don’t know about any of that,” Illyd Dyll gave a curt nod, “But seems to me that you owe it to yourself AND your vacation that you go on and get back to it!” He nodded again, and pushed the apple forward, “How ‘bout a lil snack, a lil nibble, and you go right back to your business. Don’t ye worry about the lil hole; I’ll put up some stones.”
“No,” The man huffed, “No it’s ruined. It’s ruined and someone ruined it and when I find out who oh you better believe they’ll be getting what's coming.”
The god took a few deep breaths, and then kept doing that for a frankly inappropriate amount of time, long enough for Illyd Dyll to swap out his apple for his harp -- an idle pluck here and there while he waited. When the man finally seemed to have calmed down he sighed and held out a hand, “I’m Tekret Et Heret, God of Rulership, Contracts, and the livin- No not that. Just the first two. Damn, it’s been a while since I spoke to another god. Can’t believe I used to introduce myself like that. Pretentious.”
Illyd plopped an apple right into the waiting palm, “Yer hungry, I can tell. I get a little whippish when my stomach rumbles, too. But as I said before: I’m Illyd Dyll, nice to meet you friend.”
Tekret stared at the apple, at Illyd, and then shrugged and took a bite. After a moment savouring the fruit he noted, “That’s pretty good. Don’t think I ever ate when I was down there. Or up here. Actually I don’t think I’ve ever eaten. Huh. So, Illyd Dyll, what are you the God of?”
“Now see, that’s the interesting thing,” Illyd Dyll plucked at his harp, “Ye saying yer the God of Rulerships and Contracts -- but so am I, ain’t that wild?”
“Yes,” Tekret deadpanned while rolling his eyes, “Wild.”
Illyd Dyll accompanied Tekret with a warm chuckle -- as if he was sharing it with the god, “I’m jus’ pullin’ yer leg. Thought a little joke might clear the mood around here.”
Tekret seemed to deflate, a little, “Sorry, sorry. It’s been... A while. Actually I don’t think anyone has ever told me a joke. Told myself a few, though. Can’t say they were much better than that.”
The naked god glanced at the other portals and asked, “You been through any of those yet? See what the others have been up to for the last few thousand years?”
“If I’m bein’ honest,” Iylld Dyll plucked at his harp in thought, “I didn’t even realize that much time had passed; it’s no short of a wonder or a credit to your intellect that you managed to count that long -- but to answer your question: I’m jus’ along for the ride, recently stepped here myself.” He got lost in a few notes before suddenly brightening, “Oh but ye know what? I did meet a great guy named Cadien, he should still be here -- even. Right over yonder.” Illyd jabbed a thumb behind himself.
“You didn’t realize?” Tekret narrowed his eyes, “You don’t mean to say I was the only one actually working, for the last two millenium? Do you? That can’t be what you’re implying, Illyd. I mean look at you, god of unsolicited apples, people probably needed those. Right?”
A pained expression took hold of the marbleesque god’s face, “And Cadien, God of Perfection! The Humans obviously would have needed him too, he had to have been swamped. Just swamped. Had to be.”
“Now now,” Illyd Dyll slung his harp back over his shoulder and raised his palms, “I can’t rightfully speak for anyone but myself. As far as myself, though, all I remember is a pleasant plucking or two, a nibble there and a bite here -- and one fantastic nap under the sun. Ever have a pumpkin?”
“A... Pumpkin?” Tekret looked positively despondent, and wistfully looked back into his portal at his beach, “No I uh, I don’t think I have.”
“Oh boy, you gotta try one, you have to!” Illyd Dyll looked around ,”No vines here tho- oh!” As if willed -- which it was -- a massive green vine suddenly pushed out of the stone floor and curled around the two. In a span of seconds it matured, thick orange pumpkins bursting out of their buds -- full and ripe. “Well now would you look at that!”
A chalk white hand reached out and, struggling to actually grasp the sizable pumpkin, just scooped a handful out of it like it was butter. Tekret took the chunk and bit into it, rind and all. After a moment of concentrated chewing he swallowed and commented uncertainly, “Maybe, uhm, stick to the apples.”
“Yer eatin’ it all wrong, friend!” Illyd Dyll shook his head and snagged a pumpkin from the vine. He tossed the pumpkin in the air where it floated obediently and instructed, “Ye gotta give it a little zap-a-doo and some razzmatazz, or it’s gonna be all chunky and bitter. Do it right and ye got one of the thirty seven spices of life. Watch see.”
The god stuck his tongue between his teeth in concentration and then with a quick crunch and a soft sizzle, the pumpkin squished into a warm paste. Illyd scratched his chin, and long sugary canes popped out next to the vine, shedding a white powder and bombarding the mush. Illyd Dyll snapped, “I jus’ had an idea!” Next thing the two gods knew, a flash of golden wheat was growing alongside the rest, its plentiful grains whisking around the paste until with a flash of light a wholesome pie remained.
Illyd Dyll nodded twice, “Enough for sharin’ too.”
Tekret’s white eyes skipped between the pie and Illyd, and he let out a half hearted chuckle, “God of Food then? Well, if you’re going to share I’ll try it. If I can’t have my vacation at least I can discover food.”
“Grab a slice, friend!” Illyd Dyll smiled warmly, the pie splitting into two and floating to each.
The God of Contracts grabbed his and took a bite, freezing as he did so. He savoured the taste, and then devoured the rest of the slice in short order. A small smile crept its way onto his lips and he thanked the other divine, “I can’t say you’re bad at what you do, Illyd. Thank you. I... May have needed this.”
“D’aw, well think nothing of it,” Illyd’s slice was already gone, his fingers already back to work on his crooked harp, “Hey, ye see any trees around here? I gotta set up my hammock.”
“Trees?” Tekret asked incredulously, as he looked around at the barren arena they stood in, “I... Haven’t seen any trees.”
He bit his lip and eyed Illyd for a moment before shrugging and pointing behind him with his thumb, “There’s a few palms on my beach, though. I think I might linger here a moment, see if the others have ah, been doing something for the last while. Anything, really. But you can use my trees, if you want to.”
Illyd Dyll narrowed his eyes, his smile growing cheshire, ”Are ye invitin’ me over to yer place?” The arguably shorter god burst with energy and slapped his bag back over his shoulder, ”You sneaky beetle, I think that’s a wonderful idea!”
Tekret pursed his lips, but nodded, “Just, please, stay on the beach. I’ll be back before long.”
”I’ll wait around here until you wanna come, feels weird going in alone,” Illyd Dyll dropped his bag again, ”Probably just string the hammock here on... something ‘nd we’ll cross paths on yer way back in. Easy peasy.”
The naked man nodded, and then glanced at the arrayed portals before adding, “Sure. Now I just need to find out who...”
A small fire lit in the gods eyes as he strode off, once again muttering about his vacation. Now, though, he was also occasionally rambling to himself about pie. An improvement, on the whole.
So we follow Illyd Dyll on his curious quest where he finds Tekret, God of nudity and yelling at people. Illyd calms him down and they have a rather slow and pointless chat but Illyd thought it was nice -- then Tekret invites him over ( after learning that he can bake ) but they both mutually decide to stay in Antiquity for now. That’s totally how it happened. The end.
Perhaps, Tekret reflected from within the endless void, this was for the better. When Fe’ris had found him, for he had been a man at the time, Tekret had only just begun to glimpse those earlier memories of his. Now that he’d had time to ruminate on them the God of Contracts no longer felt indignation at the lifebloods actions. They were necessary. It was Tekret’s classic refrain, and perhaps now it rang true more than ever.
From the beginning the gods had been... Flawed. Tekret certainly was. No matter how he tried, the god could never truly pierce the fog that enshrouded their memories from when they were one with the lifeblood, but he’d seen enough. He’d driven the lifeblood to create intelligence before it was ready. That life had paid the cost.
It was all he needed to know. The details, lost as they were, mattered less than the reality. Gods were dangerous, and for all they saw more than any mortal their perception was fundamentally limited. They could never see the consequences of their actions. Even for those born of divinity the future was an impenetrable mystery, and one which they only rarely predicted correctly.
Yes, this isolation was for the best. Tekret still saw through the eyes of thousands of Seer’s, heard the oaths and agreements of countless mortals, but now was limited in his ability to meddle. If the same rang true for the others, and Tekret knew it did, then the world would be shielded from the ignorance of gods. Even as it derived some benefit from their power.
The God of Contracts could respect that.
Things, she reflected, had gotten out of hand rather quickly after her banishment from the world. She was Tekret Et Heret, and today she was a woman wearing a rather interesting dress she’d seen a mortal sewing below. It was... Cumbersome, if attractive. Thankfully the god hadn’t need of her arms and legs or the work would have been impossible.
Oh and the work. It was endless. It was everywhere. Literally. She’d made her realm to expand as she needed it, a world on the inside of a growing sphere, but she’d never expected it to grow this quickly. The idea to keep a copy of every mortal contract here, to ease the burden on her mind, hadn’t accounted for mortal’s propensity for utterly ridiculous nonsense. Or how quickly they were breeding.
She huffed, and yes she’d taken to wearing a face here. It was hard to monologue to yourself, or huff, without a mouth after all. The inside of her realm, her great sphere, was lined in an uncountable number of amber buildings, archives holding the records of every agreement ever struck. At least half of them were filled with garbage. Yes, on reflection perhaps she shouldn’t have been counting pinky swears but she was the God of Contracts! It was her damn job to count pinky swears!
“Even if I did stop cursing the children breaking them...” She winced as she spoke to herself.
That had been a bit of a disaster. A demographic crisis, really. She’d only wanted to teach the idiotic toddlers a lesson, how could she have anticipated a little curse like clumsiness for a few years would kill so many? She sighed, again, and filed away more contracts. The work never ended.
Once upon a time she’d cared deeply for every single mortal life. Funny, how hearing ten thousand oaths to kill someone else a minute degraded your belief in the fundamental good of people. Just like cursing the children for that century had degraded her belief in mortal, well, durability?
Anyway, she had too much to do to worry about a few broken eggs here and there. Those breaking contracts made in her name demanded her personal attention, and consequently distracted her from the endless work of maintaining the archives. They tended to find their curses rather brutal. Not that they were always lethal, that was obviously unhelpful. Well maybe not obviously. Again, it took about a century to learn she was being too hamfisted with those.
Plagues had an unfortunate tendency to spread. These days she tried to make the punishments a bit more topical, ironic, even proportional. She bit her lip and admitted, “Ok, rarely proportional.”
Look, if another god ever asked, and they wouldn’t because they were all trapped like her, she was just doing her job. Even when she’d summoned a bit of wind to blow that idiot king off the horse he was giving a speech on the necessity of his war against a people he’d sworn friendship with from. Even when he’d survived the fall to find himself being treated by a displaced member of that city. Even when she’d whispered in that medicine man's ear to mix up a few bottles.
She was a god! How could she know it took months to die from that poison? It was hardly her fault. Thaa would sort it out anyway. Probably? Did souls still go to Thaa? If not there was a very smelly ghost wandering the world. Incontinence. That was a punishment she’d never try again.
He lounged on the beach and basked in the light of his vault. Today, and yesterday, and most days for the foreseeable future, were part of Tekret Et Heret, God of Rulership and Contracts, century off. The rulership bit was new, but a god had to entertain themselves. Besides, order was doing pretty well. The whole crown thing had worked out well. Sure he’d missed a few, well almost all, species, but he’d gotten a couple! The interesting ones really. Well save the Mantarin, but Artifex had spoiled them to a ridiculous extent anyway. Honestly, Tekret had made a wall but he hadn’t made a wall like that. Some days he wondered how it didn’t go to the bugs heads.
It probably did. Not his department. Mostly. He yelled at the water before him, “Even if it was, I’m. On. Vacation.”
Yep. Vacation. He had a beautiful beach, a copy of one he’d seen through a mortal on Mydia. It took up what was, by this point, an infinitesimal speck on the inside of his great sphere, his archives. It was also growing, as he got bored of a section and added a palm tree here or a solid platinum beach house there.
Sometimes, when he was a woman, he’d try a sundress from here or there. In this form though? Well he took the mortals example. Clothing was a mistake. Especially on vacation. He was absolutely not going to be wearing pants on vacation. That was against the idea of vacations.
Which, to be fair, he only barely understood. He was still doing basic maintenance of his realm in the background of his mind, but the meddling? The interference? Nope. None of that. All the kings and queens didn’t work on vacation, so he wouldn’t either.
He felt vaguely guilty about that, but he’d been at it for what? A thousand years? Two thousand? Every god deserved some time off. He’d even deliberately put up a mental wall between the part of him that was managing his realm, hearing mortals, working, and the part of him lounging on his beach.
He’d been on vacation for three years now, and he was honestly considering extending it for a century or two. Was a hundred years of not having to really listen to ignorant babies swear to eat their vegetables so they can play outside, only to throw them out the window, enough? Maybe... Two hundred would be good.
It was then that, on his beach, during his vacation, a him damned portal opened up.
As it happened, a very angry naked man barged into antiquity and with a shaking fist shouted, loud enough for all the gods to hear through their own portals,
“You do this now?! You break two thousand years of isolation the second I decide to take a fucking rest? I swear to me that I’m going to punch whoever couldn’t wait one, just one, stupid century to pull this nonsense!”
Tekkie is ok with exile. The gods are dangerous, dontchaknow. Of course, two thousand years of dealing with everyone's bullshit in isolation takes a toll. A rather large one. Tekret has loosened up. Maybe a bit too much.
Look gods have to get naked and shout that their neighbours occasionally. It’s normal.
A nervous energy had overtaken the tribe as they returned from their errands. Some hauled back the bodies of game, like one group that struggled with the bulk of a plucked Quillat, or baskets of fruits and nuts, but all carried a handful of heavy stones or a number of long saplings cleaned of their branches. All knew what their Chieftess had decreed.
The only question was the details, and it was these they waited for. The men and women of the Walled Haven did what work they could as they awaited the last of their people, and a promised explanation of what precisely had happened and what would be done. Many eyed the newcomers who had precipitated their Chieftess declaration of dominion over the tribes between the Haven and the World's Anchor.
They all knew there was a monster, but the world was a dangerous place. Some, privately, questioned whether this was an attempt to expand the tribe by force. It had happened elsewhere in the past. Still, they did what work they could as they waited. Their lives would be changed by whatever happened next, and not one of them wasn’t anxious to learn how.
The sun had just begun to set when the last hunter returned. A great fire was lit near the center of the wall and the days labours were hastily finished. Nearly three dozen men, women, and children gathered around the roaring blaze and cast their gaze upon the one who had brought them here, the god-named Chieftess, Ataket.
She sat uneasily on one of the rounded river rocks that had been dragged into the haven. There was a moment's hesitation, but her eyes met all of her people, before settling on a newcomer. “I have been brought terrible news,” She began, “Our newest kin have told me that a monster prowls the south, some weeks journey away. A monster whose very steps shake the earth, and who devoured their entire tribe before their eyes. A monster they call Thunder. Those who were here know that I have refused to leave the countless tribes ignorant of this monster to become its prey.”
“I believe that if we leave them to their fate we do nothing but weaken ourselves. This Thunder eats, and so it’s like any other creature. I will not allow it to grow fat and strong before it reaches our walls. More than that, I refuse to let children, our very first children, perish.” There was a murmuring at that, but by and large it was one of agreement. Many had newborns by now. The thought of allowing some monster to devour the first progeny of Humanity was beyond unthinkable.
Before any could question her though, Ataket forged on, “Vintr, one of the survivors who brought word of Thunder, has revealed something else to me though. Thunder is not alone. Smaller creatures, perhaps the cursed spawn of Thunder, prowl the grove not more than a half days walk from here.”
At that many regarded the saplings and rocks, and they understood. Some began to craft spears right there, drying them before the fire. Ataket nodded, and added, “We all know what must be done. Tomorrow I ask all who are able to hunt join me. Before that, though, I ask Vintr, who has lost much to these beasts, to tell us of them in detail.”
The Chieftess met Vintr’s eyes from across the fire, and the tribe followed. The young man hunkered down somewhat at the attention, only truly manning up when he realised they weren’t going to look away. The straightened himself back up and walked closer to the fire. He wheezed, cleared his throat and spoke, “These creatures, people, may look similar to people - but they are as far from us as can get. What our village was attacked by - what we encountered in the woods - these are terrors of creation sent upon us by, by the cruelest of gods!” He struggled to control his breath and from the shadows behind him, a palm extended forth and wrapped itself around Vintr’s shoulder. It was Kefir, who gave Vintr a reassuring nod.
“What he’s trying to say is that those seeking to kill these monsters must steele themselves for whatever may come,” Kefir warned. “We will thankfully not encounter Thunder again, I believe. He returned to the mountains last we saw him; however, the… ‘Ranglefant’, as my daughter Kaia heard it call itself, lives in the woods to the south. We saw what the sun did to it - it turned a man-eating monster’s palm into a pool of blood. We think, we think that it can be killed if exposed to the sun.”
“The sun?” One young woman asked, “How can it be a threat then? The sun touches everything.”
An older hunter scoffed, “There’s more below ground than above Eshe. I’ve seen caves that don’t seem to end, myself. I would bet my balls that the damn monsters are climbing out of those godsforsaken holes each night to attack people.”
Ataket eyed the man, who was around her age, “Is there such a cave in the groves around us, Berut?”
“Eh,” He shrugged, “I couldn’t say, Chieftess. I’ve found dozens, but I hunt farther afield than most. The Quillat herds avoid the wooded areas. No point prowling over the groves if I’m out for them.”
“I see, “Ataket sighed, “Then we comb over the grove that our newcomers found the creature in. Anyone who comes across a cave entrance should gather others before they investigate. Like Kefir said, we have to be ready. It will be dangerous.”
Temet, always the more contentious member of the tribe, spoek up, “Which is why you shouldn’t be joining us! We agreed on this. What if the creature kills you, chieftess? Who will greet the gods if they return?”
“Another!” Ataket yelled, “Because I will not greet them as a coward, Temet. I have told you this already, and I will say it to every last one of you. The god Tekret granted us protection from this world, but they didn’t do so to see us cower behind their power like frightened children! The wall is tall, yes, but I will not allow its strength to replace our courage. I will hunt at first light, and I expect any who are capable to join me.”
There was a roar of approval, this time even from Temet. Chastened twice in a day he might have been, but Temet had worse records than that. Besides, the Cheiftess wasn’t wrong. Danger or no, these monsters couldn’t be allowed to prey on Humans. They would die for the attempt.
The tribe of Ataket would see it done.
The next morning, a party had set out the gates towards the grove. Led by Vintr, the band was prowling the grove of the ranglefant, sweeping its area for any sightings or presences of enormous humanoids. The grove was overall a crown jewel of peace - sweet birdsong and insect chitter almost invoked a sensation of calm and tranquility about the whole forest, offset only by the increasing frequency at which the band’s members sighted heaps and piles of white, meatless bones belonging to all sorts of animals.
Come to think of it, none of them had seen any beast or creature larger than a toad in here… The culprit could of course be a predator - a stray leon from the Prairie to the west who had decided to move to cooler lands; however, with the context of their search in mind…
Vintr noticed an unnatural heap up ahead and motioned for everyone to hide. He crept over to Berut and pointed at the heap, which appearance seemed less and less like that of a heap the longer one tried to discern its nature.
“That’s it,” he whispered. “See those thin vines? That’s its hair.”
The old hunter nodded with a muffled grunt. He readied his spear and motioned for the rest to do the same. A few of the hunters motioned behind the group, suggesting they get the rest of the tribe before they try to assault the beast, but Berut only shook his head.
“No,” he hissed, “The others will get in the damn way. Spread out, we box it in and kill the thing where it’s sleeping.”
“Very well. I’ll go from the other side,” Vintr replied and started sneaking across as low as he could. The heap seemed to move somewhat with the new noises entering the soundscape, even letting out a slight, thunderous snore. There was no doubt about it - this was a living creature. Vintr crouched down behind a stone opposite of the troll from Berut and signalled his readiness. A few more hunters had followed him, too, it seemed.
Berut stilled, though veiled by the undergrowth his spear, held by tough weathered hands, pointed right at the creature. There was no signal, nothing that would alert the beast. When everyone was ready Berut exploded from the thicket that concealed him, muscles straining to put the whole of his strength behind the spear. He raced at the Troll in an explosion of motion, and in the span of a second more hunters than not had followed him.
The grove’s peace was broken as a ring of spears closed in on the foul creature. The rumbling snore came to a stop and the creature woke to life as a series of spears stabbed at his skin in a flurry of attacks. The troll screamed, “AAAAAAAAH!” and started wafting his colossal hands around, swatting away those too careless to keep their distance.
One of the hunters ventured too far into the Ranglefant’s reach and caught a terrible blow to his chest. The loud thump was followed by a sickening crack, and the man wailed as he flew into a nearby tree with a sizable dent in his chest. His cries were a terrible thing, but the attackers did no more than flinch. Berut stabbed at the troll whenever it turned away from him in its panic, but found his spear inflicting little more than flesh wounds on the flailing beast.
With a curse Berut yelled, “Aim for the eyes and push it out! Get the damn thing out of the forest!”
The monster jumped backwards to get some distance between itself and its assailants. It reassumed its stance into one much more defensive, and shaped his mouth into a weary smirk. It was clear that the ambush had taken a large chunk of his stamina, and blood was pouring out all over. “You’s… You’s smart, you lil’ pests. Go at me while I’m sleepin’ - must f’hink yeself really clever roight about now. But guess whot, ye lumps. I’ve got anuvvah trick up my sleeve.” With that, it spun around and started sprinting away, the earth trembling with its every skip.
Vintr gave chase, and the hunters followed him. Berut hesitated, and shouted after them as he followed, “Watch for pitfalls! If it can talk it can set up a damn trap, be careful!”
Vintr paid the warning no mind. The troll's laughter echoed through the forest as he dove deeper and deeper into the foliage - it was almost unreal how quickly one could lose track of something so large. Vintr reached a temporary halt in the thick tree growth, but it was far from a clearing - the canopy above was as dense as the soil below. It was a miracle that any light broke through at all. Vintr had no time to consider it, though, before a crippling pain called out from both legs as the troll’s hand trapped him tightly and retreated away from the clear space.
“Now we’re goin’ to be real quiet, alright,” he whispered menacingly and placed a thumb the size of Vintr’s head over his small mouth. Outside the foliage, the hunters came to a stop as they lost sight of their quarry.
One realized Vintr wasn't with them, and called out for him. He waited, and when there was no reply a few of the others followed suit, only stopping when Berut caught up with them. The old hunter, panting, chastised the group, "Keep your mouths shut! Stop and listen. That thing was leaving a trail, and so was Vintr. If it ended here they're not far."
The others stilled, and brought up their spears. They spread out, keeping each other in sight as they prowled through the underbrush. Berut knelt down and inspected the foliage, picking up branches and leaves every so often. He turned them around in his hands, smelled them, and even tasted a few. The old hunter picked up on something and started to wander. Absorbed in his task, the man didn't realize he'd lost sight of the others until he paused and looked up.
It was only when he met the faint eyes of a terrified Vintr, peering out of the brush, that Berut realized his mistake. He saw the troll's thumb over the man's mouth and looked up. In the span of a breath Berut glanced up into the dark foliage, saw the glint of an inhuman eye, and lunged at it with his spear while he screamed, "Run boy! Run!"
The troll giggled and hopped backwards, tipping over a few trees in the process. Vintr was still stuck in his hand, unable to break loose no matter now much he struggled. “Oh, now,” cautioned the troll, “don’ be runnin’ away from ol’ Ranglefant now - you ‘n me got a dinner togevva’ in a bit, don’ we? Rooooiiight afte’ these lil’ flies’ve been dealt with.” With a growl, the troll charged forward and sent a fist the size of a human body down towards Berut with meteoric velocity. Vintr tried to bite his way out of the opposite hand’s grip, but the skin was like stiff leather.
The hunter pushed himself to the ground and rolled, the fist catching his fur tunic and bruising his side as it was ripped off his body. He exhaled sharply and scrambled to grab his spear from the ground. The older man's muscles rippled as he hurled the spear at the Troll's face and dove at it.
From his side he pulled a long bone knife and tried to jab it into the Ranglefant's hand as both he, and the spear, flew at the troll. The stab was successful, and it distracted the troll for just long enough that the spear rammed into its cheek. It squealed and dropped Vintr, who fell to the ground with a grunt. The troll staggered back and, with a whimper, pulled the spear out. It had made a surprisingly large wound, and it was bleeding something fierce. The troll glared at Berut. “A’roight… Dinner can wait. One fly’s bein’ extra annoyin’...” With that, the troll charged at Berut with both hands ready to crush him.
A lifetime spent hunting had made Berut strong, quick, and tough. Age had whittled away at all of that. The hunter tried to dodge the troll, and though he avoided its grasp a meaty hand still slammed into his naked chest. He wheezed and collapsed, barely managing to pull himself up before falling again and spitting up blood.
He met Vintrs eyes and, lungs all but crushed, mouthed for the young man to flee. There had been a commotion, and the others would be near enough to find the newcomer before the Ranglefant did. Then, as the troll rounded on him, Berut grasped his knife and hurled himself at the monster again.
The troll had once again been distracted for too long - and this time was his last. The knife dub itself deep in the troll’s belly, blood ushering forth like a red tide. It clutched its wound, but other hunters swarmed in from the back and dug their spears deep into the troll’s flanks. The ranglefant staggered, gritting its teeth so the air quaked. It tried to speak, but all that came out of its mouth was blood and gore. Finally, it fell backwards, tipping another tree in the process. It let out its final breath thereafter.
The group gathered around the dead monster, and the body of what for many had been their mentor. Berut had felled the troll, but breathed his last before it had. Vintr was checked on, and a somber silence overtook the hunters.
Eventually a pair of hunters group departed, and returned near an hour later with Ataket and her party. The Chieftess had been told, but she approached wordlessly to see for herself. The troll, a colossal mound of flesh and stink, and Berut, still clutching the knife that had ended the creature.
She disregarded and monster and knelt beside the man. A minute passed, or an hour, and when she finally stood it was with wet eyes and a simple curse, "You should have waited, you brave old idiot."
With that she made her way over to the shaken Vintr and put a hand on his shoulder as she spoke, "He died well. For you. For all of us."
“My chieftess, I-... I’m so sorry. I couldn’t control myself, I--...” Vintr hung his head in disappointment at himself.
"No," She shook her head, "He could have called for the rest of us. He could have brought a partner when he went after you. Berut made his own choices Vintr, you have nothing to apologize for."
Her eyes burned and she addressed the gathered hunters, both those who'd fought and who'd only arrived with her, "None of us brought this creature here! It came to hunt us, to kill us, and I won't allow it. We've killed one, today, and it won't be the last! I won't stop, we won't stop, until there's not one left alive!"
Vintr raised his head again and nodded firmly. “Yes, chieftess!”
A few days later in a nearby grove...
“So, you heard Jonesey carked it the ovva’ day?” said Lars the Ranglefant, pouring himself a cupful of swampy water. Marseley the Ranglefant dropped her bowl of porridge.
Lars shrugged and took a long swig. “‘Pparently got in some big trouble with the local ‘umans. ‘E ‘ad a real bad run-in wiff some--...” Lars was interrupted by the smash of a stone bowl against a nearby tree, felling it over instantly. Marseley screamed.
“Bloody ‘umies! They killed Jonesey!”
“Aye, ‘s whot I said,” Lars added with a frown. Marseley tightened her fists and tore the bark off a nearby tree.
“This ain’t roight. One of us - gone? No, Lars, mate… This ain’t right…
… This is war.”
Ataket and Vintr brief the tribe on the troll threat, and after some debate it is decided that they should go after the troll hiding in the nearby grove. The next morning the eldest and wisest hunter in the tribe, a gruff man named Berut, accompanies Vintr and a band of hunters into the woods. Ataket leads a separate party.
Berut and Vintr encounter the Ranglefant asleep, and rather than call for Ataket’s aid Berut decides he’s better off with his band of more experienced hunters. They attack. The troll fights back, and manages to kill one of the hunters before fleeing. Vintr, possessed by rage and vengeance, runs after the troll despite Berut’s warning that it might be leading them into a trap. The hunters follow, but lose Vintr, who is captured by the troll.
Beruts band splits up and looks for the troll, keeping each other in sight. Berut finds the hints of a trail and follows it, accidentally losing the others. He finds the troll, and Vintr, and engages in a personal battle to free Vintr and kill the troll. The struggle is brutal, and Berut only barely manages to free Vintr before he is fatally wounded. Using the last of his strength the old man lunges at troll and cuts open its belly, killing the beast but never living to see his accomplishment.
Ataket arrives later, and assures Vintr he isn’t to blame. She weeps for her old pal, and declares her intent to kill every living troll. Mankind is at war.
So too, are the trolls. News of the Ranglefant’s death spreads, and the seeds of an eternal conflict between Humanity and Troll-kind are sown.
Every day, there were more of them. Humans, Alminaki, Reshut, Dwarves, Elves, Lapites. They lived, grew, and perhaps more vitally, reproduced. Minds young and old, small and great, they ventured out into the world and in doing so they made accords, promises, contracts. Tekret Et Heret heard every one. That was the nature of the God of Contracts, but it was also a curse.
For Tekret knew the names and conditions of more people than the god could possibly keep track of. It was not her place, to know everything, that was for another god. One Tekret knew of, even if they had never met. That was the case with many of her siblings. Almost all of them, really. The God of Contracts had much to do, and little reason to seek out her siblings.
Tekret sighed, as best the god could without a mouth. She regarded her form, a woman's today, and wondered what it would be like to be more. To know more. Of course, such questions also weren’t her place. They belonged to other gods. Those who were born from desire and ambition.
Still, perhaps there was another way. It was not the God of Contracts place to know everything, but how could she help Mortals keep to their agreements if she didn’t know when they were about to err? Perhaps the solution was simple. It was not her place to know, but that didn't mean she couldn’t create something else to fill that gap.
The feminine alabaster statue that was Tekret stood and held out a hand, waiting. Time passed, a day, a week, and then a small songbird came to rest on the appendage, after all the faceless white figure hadn’t moved any more than the trees around it. The bird was a beautiful thing, vividly red and black, and the god wondered if what it was about to do was acceptable, whether twisting such a creature to serve its purposes was right. The songbird could sign no contract. It could never agree, and for a god of agreements that stung.
It didn’t change a thing, though. Tekret wasn’t bound by a code, even if she tried to set an example. With a thought the bird stilled, and the god did her best to comfort it. What was to come next would not have been pleasant, had Tekret allowed the songbird to feel any of it.
The animal slowly began to shift, its wings growing long and the beautiful colors fading from its feathers. Its beak shunk until it vanished, and its tiny neck grew long. Its eyes doubled, then tripled, and its ears began to hear the most distant sounds. Finally, it began to fade from view. Only once it was the barest shimmer on the wind did the fading stop. She ran her hand through the space it occupied and nodded.
Her little seer was done. With a thought she bound it to her forever, and then pulled many thousands of them from the very ground. They were peculiar, ethereal creatures with unnatural dimensions. Things that fed on the energies that already flowed through the world, rather than the flesh of other animals or the leaves and stems of plants. They would seek out those who struck grave contracts, and they would watch. Listen. Wait. And their creator would watch through their many eyes.
The illusory flock took flight and sought out those who’d struck the gravest contracts. In their absence, Tekret stood. She didn’t feel it right, but it was necessary. So much was necessary. There had to be order, even if the road to it wasn’t always pleasant.
She took a step, and then the porcelain figure of a god was a man. He was no less the same entity, but sometimes the shift helped him think. He still wondered if he’d done the right thing.
That was the point, though. If you never considered your actions, how could you ever be sure of your goals? There had to be an order to things. One that he would help the mortals forge. Knowledge would be necessary to accomplish that.
Of course, for all the knowledge the Seers gained, they also gave some away. For other gods were watching. Ones who were of interest to the Seers, who had forged their own pacts.
That was fine, Tekret mused. It might be that the time to meet the others had come after all.
Fìrinn’s senses were, for once, completely absent from the world at large. It was fully engrossed within the reflections at play deep within the Tairseach, as if searching for something that had just escaped its notice. The same scene, reflected through the tapestry and ultimately into the mirror before it, ran over and over and over again as if in a perpetual loop. It could not for the life of it work out just where the first ray of sunshine mortalkind had perceived had ended up. Given the gap between its creation and mortals seeing the sun for the first time there was limited information to go on, and sifting through the multitude of experiences that each mortal offered in slumbering supplication to the Tairseach was a time consuming process--and that was generously phrased.
Without a sound its senses followed as best it could what was, by its reckoning, a memory from the mortal who had actually seen the hallowed beam--and it was frustrated again and again by how imprecise and imperfect mortal perception truly was. It was a good thing indeed that Fìrinn had been willed into existence, for without it it was quite certain that mortalkind would simply misplace their food or their water or their years and die as unfulfilled as they had been at the moment of their inception.
Then, suddenly, there was something new--a sight it had not seen before, fluttering gently within the reflections of the holy anchor. It was a shocking enough revelation to snap Fìrinn from its brief reverie and back to reality, where its body was suddenly facing a small songbird that seemed by its reckoning to be vying for the God of Truth’s attention.
“Ah. You must be the herald of one of my siblings. No mortals may find this holy site, and thus you are beyond mortality. I wonder which of my brethren seeks to visit this hallowed isle?” Fìrinn mused, mostly to itself, before the world changed and it was peering deeply into the depths of the Tairseach once more. Whatever presence wished its recognition would do so in person soon enough, of that it was quite certain.
By the reckoning of gods, it took some time for the ethereal songbirds master to arrive. Tekret Et Heret was not an existence that worried overmuch about timeliness. The white figure of the god had walked here, over land and water. Only now did they arrive. They displayed no identifying characteristics, and spoke in a way that seemed to be all voices and languages at once, “Fìrinn. I have heard your agreements. I know you have seen me. I believe the time has come for us to meet in truth.”
“Tekret et Heret. I was wondering when you would arrive, yes--your work has aligned reality with Truth. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” came the response, an odd juxtaposition against Tekret’s many voices as one, as Fìrinn spoke not with words at all but with the clarity of intent. It emanated from the God’s body in waves, reflecting through the Tairseach, and settled deeply within the androgynous form behind Fìrinn.
“May I assist you? I am given to understand that there are certain rules of hospitality amongst mortals when one visits another’s home--I am afraid I do not quite understand the extent to which such pleasantries must be offered amongst we gods. Nonetheless, I shall endeavour to align your reality with Truth should you wish it of me.”
The response was warm, compassionate even, and spoke of not quite admiration but perhaps a nascent fondness within Fìrinn’s mind. As the twin more aligned with the ideals of order, the God of Contracts would generally find a warm reception with the God of Truth--such was their divine natures at play.
“I appreciate the gesture, Fìrinn, but these are early days,” The many voices played off each other, “I can accept no hospitality for, lacking a home, I could offer none in return. Perhaps another time. I take as much pleasure in this meeting as you do, however. You averted disaster with my name, and so allowed the work of creation to continue. I have come to offer my thanks. That, and an assurance that your contract with the Tree of Genesis will hold my attention for so long as it endures. It is... Foremost, in my mind.”
Fìrinn’s body remained totally motionless, but its reflection within the Tairseach gave a solemn nod to Tekret.
“I regret only that such a contract was necessary. Its act of careless destruction almost had drastic consequences which might have beyond the Two-as-One’s capacity to contain--and I must admit that I am not used to such a… conservative response. I have only ever sought to align reality with Truth--that a being would refuse cooperation and communication by default is something that even now I fail to understand. Perhaps, in time, the mysteries of the Tree of Genesis will reveal themselves to me. I am gladdened to know that an extraneous force will keep the peace when my attentions are turned elsewhere.”
Fìrinn reached out with its true arms, grasping gently the sides of the Tairseach, and tilted it ever-so-slightly that it might gaze upon the great Tree in the distance and the pattern of the Tapestry could be revealed to Tekret. Fìrinn’s mantle gestured at the other God, beckoning it to look within the reflection, that they might gaze upon the wonder that their word and influence would help preserve.
“Though it is only your nature to keep and honour contracts, I might offer you and yours a boon to aid in the service you provide for us all. Your songbirds might benefit from a connection to the Láidir Suíomh, that they gaze upon the Truth of would-be oathbreakers. It may free up at least some element of your senses, or perhaps offer protection to their purpose in your absence.”
The featureless god approached and gazed into the reflection. Or at least, directed its senses in that direction. It was a difficult thing, to discern the mood of an entity devoid of colour or outward emotion, but it was clear the reflection, and the offer, touched the god by its reply. Rather than a discordant choir a single resonant voice echoed in, “That is a great gift, Fìrinn. I would accept it gladly. My work is great, and I fear expanding by the day. You question how an entity could refuse cooperation by default, and once I felt the same. It is a notion I have been disabused of quickly. I hear the agreements of all that live, God of Truth, and I regret that more are made in bad faith, or as matters of last resort, than otherwise. Your interaction with the Tree of Genesis has only convinced me that such behaviour is as natural among gods as it is among mortals.”
Tekret Et Heret waited a moment, longer, gazing into that which was everything and nothing, before adding, “This is a meeting I should have pursued sooner. I should endeavour to meet all our siblings. Perhaps if they know I am there to aid them such misfortune can be avoided in the future.”
Fìrinn realigned the Tairseach with its proper position as Tekret spoke, setting it down with a gentleness and sereneness that one might not expect a being which ordinarily did not move to ever possess. As it did so, its mantle unwove its form and the cobalt threads wound their way around Tekret’s featureless limbs before settling to the ground beneath it and weaving themselves into a triquetra. It pulsed with an unseen light, quaking and vibrating at the edges, until a column of blinding effulgence registered on the surface of the Tairseach and engulfed Tekret’s reflection completely.
“It is done. Your Seers are at one with the Great Weave, and they might know the Truths of mortals who break their solemn oaths. I would warn you that the tapestry also provides a reason as to why the mortal’s Truth required it break that oath, but such concerns are, I think, not for you. The reasons they choose to forswear their bargains matter to you little, I wager--only that they were broken at all. Still, the reflections of these interactions shall be entombed within the Tairseach for all eternity. You may visit my sacred isle and peruse these reasons, if it is something you might desire? Perhaps the context of another’s Truth may aid you in finding your own.”
Fìrinn took another moment to focus deeply within the mirrored surface before it, its mantle seeming to snap back into place as it did so.
“Alas, I only provide context and understanding. It is my twin that deals with dreams and imagination--perhaps his assistance might be something you seek in the future? Our wills are unified; if you speak my name, he will aid you.”
“Perhaps... In time,” Tekret nodded to the other god, “I am more than content with what I have been given. Again you have my thanks, Fìrinn. I fear we both have much to do, however. The work of the world weighs on us, in that I feel we are alike. I must return to mine.”
“You have much to do, yes. I also see every contract that every mortal makes, but much of it is able to simply glide past my perception and into the Tairseach. I do not envy the amount of attention you must pay to such small details. Still, it is a smaller job than aligning all of reality with its most Truthful self--a fact that makes me glad I have my twin and steadfast allies such as yourself. Never hesitate to call upon me if it will enable you to become your truest self, Tekret et Heret--I will always aid those who aid Truth.
Alright look at this:
Tekret is being a lady. Wild. Anyway Tekkie is about thinking about stuff and is like ‘damn i gotta know more’ so they make some birds. Cool birds. Ghost birds. Tekkie can see through them and use them to see what others are up to.
Speaking of, what is Fìrinn doing? They swore a contract didn’t they? A bird flies on by and Fìrinn is like ‘wassup my bird homie’ and Tekkie is like sick and drops by. They talk about work and Fìrinn gives Tekkie’s birds the ability to actually tell why people are doing the wackass shit they do.
That’ll probably help. Anyway they decide to get back to work.
Being a god is busy. WORKIN’ NINE TO FIIIIIIIIIIIVE
1MP - Created the Seer, an ethereal songbird with no beak and many eyes that watches those who swear grave oaths or agree to the most significant of contracts which are not already foremost in Tekret’s mind. These birds are non-physical, but vaguely visible if looked for. They appear as an outline in the air that shimmers and shifts.
Tekret is deeply connected to the ghostly birds and can see through their senses.
-0MP (Discounted by Perception Portfolio) - Confer an extraordinary ability upon a species (Seers) - Attunement to the Collective Unconscious to enable Seers to track mortals through their thoughts and experiences should they break their oaths, as well as to understand the reason (from their perspective) why they did.
It was surprising to her, how word spread. When her tribe had first tasted the fruit of intellect, gained their wisdom and used it to elevate her to Chieftess, they had been eight. Now? She led a group of just over thirty. Some had been wanderers, those who had survived alone until the fruit of the gods had freed their minds. Others hadn’t even tasted it, at least until her people had found them. What surprised Ataket though, was how many had come for her.
The great wall was a boon, surely, but every story it appeared in also featured her. The one who was chosen by the gods. Who wore their favor on her head. She felt at the Opal Crown and pursed her lips in thought. The god who had given it to her, who had crafted the wall, had told her it would preserve her wisdom. What that implied, she didn’t know. It was still enough to have kept her awake at times.
All she did would be remembered. If not by the crown, then by the people around her. Her name travelled along with news of a great safe haven, and she didn’t doubt that soon it would be known across the highlands. That was daunting. She wondered if she lived up to the stories. If she could ever truly live up to a leg-
Well, she thought, probably not. Legends didn’t stub their gods damned toes on stupid fucking rocks. She knelt down and rubbed the offended digit. Oh Cadien had made her and her people beautiful, down to the last feature, but the god clearly hadn’t considered giving them something like shoes. Which, Ataket reflected, she should probably be wearing.
They weren’t more than pelts inverted so the fur was on the inside, but a shoe was a shoe when it came to stubbed toes. Still, she enjoyed the grass within the walls. It was different from everything else in the world and nothing made her feel more alive than walking on it. Because it was hers.
She breathed deeply and adjusted the heavy serpent skin tunic she wore, trying her best to keep it straight. It was a futile effort, but it couldn’t be said Cadien had left his people without a sense of style. Besides, a Chieftess should always look her best.
Gods know the rest of her people didn’t. It wasn’t necessarily that they didn’t try, just that they hadn’t the time she did. They went to hunt, forage, do a million other things, and she waited here. Because all of that wasn’t her role. That hadn’t actually been Ataket’s decision, and it still rankled.
Her people had become enamoured with her, and thus had decided that she was to rule, not labour. Couldn’t have a Chieftess chosen by the gods themselves getting hurt. After all, what if Tekret returned and she was gone? What then they asked?
It was… Fair, but also boring. A few of her people milled about, skinning earlier kills, sorting the berries one of the stupider tribesmen had gathered because they were pretty rather than edible. Food couldn’t be wasted, even when it had to be extracted from a basket full of poison.
Especially when it seemed more people arrived with every passing day. Ataket heard a commotion at one of the openings in her wall, and wasn’t surprised to see more new faces. More people meant more foragers, more hunters, true, but this many? She worried about that.
After all, it had been her who swore to lead her people well. With a short, and above all else silent, sigh she set off to meet the newcomers. Perhaps staying within the wall wasn’t a waste, if it meant she was there to ensure these things went smoothly.
A few hours earlier...
“Daddy, I’m tired,” Kaia wept as she dragged her visibly sore feet across the empty plains. Kefir, who was a few paces ahead of her, stopped, turned and approached her. He squatted down and said, “Alright, Lil’ Kai, but this is the last piggyback today, okay? Daddy’s also getting tired.”
“Okay…” mumbled Kaia and climbed on. Kefir felt his legs scream as she stood back up - they had been walking for days now without a proper rest. They couldn’t afford to wait, just in case the troll returned. Even further ahead stood Vintr atop a hill, scouting the lands ahead. Kefir drew a heavy breath and stepped up next to him, eyeing the horizon.
“How’re we doing?”
Vintr pointed at a gray spot on the horizon. It looked almost like a mountain, but there was an uncanny mechanicality to it, almost as if the stone was sculpted in some way. “That’s it. The chieftess’ camp.”
“What… Are those stones?”
Vintr shrugged. “Supposedly, they were made to keep danger out.”
“Made? Do you mean… Did the gods grant it to them?”
“Probably.” Vintr knelt down and took a sip of a racoon stomach fashioned into a water skin. “I reckon we’ll be there by midday. Luckily, we’re on the right side of the river, thank the gods.”
“We’ll need to stop halfway,” Kefir groaned. “Kaia can’t last until midday - not on foot.”
Vintr frowned, but eventually nodded. “So be it. We’ll set up camp by that small forest.” He pointed to a small grove between their hill and the distant stone anomaly. “Think you’ll make it?”
“I’ll manage,” Kefir reassured and the trio continued on. The Boreal Highlands were tough on the exhausted travelers, its uneven and soft terrain betraying their balance on multiple occasions. It took them some time to reach the grove, a little longer than expected - the sun was already reaching its zenith by the time they set up camp. Kefir laid himself down in the short grass and groaned deeply. Kaia picked at the small saplings at the forest border and Vintr made himself comfortable up against a tree.
“Kaia, don’t stray too far now,” Kefir ordered quietly. The girl blinked down at him and mumbled, “Okay.” Kefir nodded back and gave Vintr a knowing stare. The young man shrugged and rested his hands behind his head before closing his eyes. Kefir, too, found his lids grow heavy and eventually fell asleep.
It is perhaps the most unfortunate thing that children tend to be quite active when their parents aren’t, and this is exactly what was happening to Kaia. The little girl had been ordered not to stray too far, but what was the definition of ‘too far’? Having sat on her father’s back, she was quite well rested already, and thus strolled into the woods to get out of the sun for a moment. The canopy blocked out a fair chunk of the sun, so Kaia could relax her eyes and look for tasty forest treats without fear of burns.
Oh! There was a berry! She hopped over, picked it and popped it in her mouth. Mmm. It was sweet and filling - better than the sorry kind they had found on the way.
There was another one! There sounded a quick snap as she tugged it off its stalk and ate it whole. She could do this all day - her mother had taught her which berries could be eaten and which could not, and returning to this daily routine almost made her forget that she would never see her again.
Oh! There was a mushroom! A big and fat one, too. Over a fire, that could potentially feed all three of them for a short time. She skipped over, grabbed its stem with both hands and pulled--
Kaia let go and rolled backwards. The mushroom moved away from her, atop something that seemed like incredibly long strands of moss and grass. No… That wasn’t grass.
“Bloody ‘ell,” sounded the deep, groggy voice. “Whot gives, ay?” Kaia’s quivering eyes traced the strands until they lost their verdant colour and became golden blond. The strands continued for several metres, which became even clearer as the thing they were tied to stood up, revealing what Kaia had mistakenly believed was a rock to be a tall humanoid with arms reaching all the way to the ground. It dragged its hands along the moss-grown floor as it turned to see what had awoken it. Its small, beady eyes locked onto the small child and it smacked its lips. Out of its absurdly long hair stuck the mushroom she had tried to pick, along with various other plants and fungi - its silhouette looked nothing short of monster-like.
“Woss this, then? A li’l snack out for a walk, is’sit?”
Kaia couldn’t answer. The more she looked at it, the more it resembled Thunder, only smaller. The troll snickered.
“Now, usually, I’m a bit o’va picky eate’.” It began strolling around her pensively in circles, hand folded together and dragging behind its back. “See, I dun go after ‘umans - they usually pretty terry-toriol ‘n all tha’, so gettin’ to snack on ‘em’s no easy task for an ol’ ranglefant. No, no, no, sir-ee. Ain’t nuffin’ easy for us trolls.”
The ranglefant stopped between Kaia and the forest border. “But when the snack comes to me, well… Tha’s just askin’ for it, innit.” The troll raised its enormous hands and approached the girl slowly.
“KAIA!” came a shout from behind and the troll spun around, just in time to get a spear lodged in its shoulder. “AH, SHAIT!” it shouted.
While it was busy attempting to tug it back out, Kefir swooped in around it, picked up Kaia and back off towards the forest border. There, Vintr waited with another spear, which he sent flying towards the ranglefant as soon as his two companions were behind him. It struck the troll in the belly and incited another pained howl. The ranglefant staggered backwards and grimaced.
“You’ve done it now,” it snarled and set forth into a wild charge after the humans. The trio ran as far as they could, but the troll was so much faster. Kefir and Kaia broke out of the forest and onto the plains. Behind them, Vintr came sprinting with a hand at his heels. The troll closed its palm.
But Vintr was too fast for it. Instead of snatching itself a human snack, the ranglefant’s hand followed the human out of the forest, straight into the eye of the sun.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” screamed the ranglefant, and Kefir, Kaia and Vintr all stared on in horror as the troll’s hand immediately blistered and ruptured, blood pouring explosively out of rashes that formed all over its exposed skin as though an invisible force was cutting at it with a knife. It retracted its hand as fast as it could, but was evidently in deep pain and weakened significantly. “Damn you,” it cursed, “how’d you know?”
The trio said nothing. They didn’t want to risk it. Like the wind, they set off on a run towards the distant city, their fatigue all but chased away by fright and adrenaline. Meanwhile, the troll hissed painfully to itself and retreated deeper into the little grove.
The many arrivals seemed almost to overwhelm the trio, but nothing could shake them from their mission now. Two encounters with those monsters were more than anyone deserved. Kefir approached the nearest who seemed like locals and asked almost desperately, “Forgive me, but is your chieftess present? We bring urgent news!”
“What news?” A voice rang out from just beyond the gathering. A tall woman, older than Kafir by enough years that her hair had begun to grey in streaks, approached the group clustered at the walls opening. There was no doubt this was the Chief, for atop her head was a band that shimmered with every colour under the sun. A symbol new to the world, but unmistakable in its way. She eyed the exhausted new arrivals and repeated herself to their faces, “What news brings you here, strangers?”
The three bowed curtly and spoke, “I am Kefir, hunter of Teskal’s tribe - or what’s left of it. This is Vintr, son of Somr and this is my daughter Kaia. We bring terrible tidings from the south.” He took a pause to recover his breath and Vintr took over. “Our village was destroyed in its entirety by a giant - a terror of the night we know only as Thunder.” Kaia’s eyes fell to the ground.
The Chieftess’s eyes widened and she questioned the trio, “Destroyed? In its entirety? How far south was this? A day's journey? Several?”
“About a week or so, if my count is right,” Vintr answered. Kefir nodded. “We’re the only survivors that we know of. The monster leveled our lay-tos and ate what men, women and children its clumsy feet didn’t accidentally step on.” He squeezed Kaia’s shoulder, who had started sobbing again. “My wife didn’t make it, and neither did his family.” He nodded over at Vintr, who nodded solemnly. “We know your village already has many mouths to feed, but we beg you - allow us to seek refuge here. We have nowhere else to go.”
There was a terrible silence as not only the Chieftess, but every member of her tribe present regarded the three strangers. Cool blue eyes flicked between the three, and at last the woman spoke, “You are more than welcome here, Kefir, Vintr.”
“And you,” She leaned down and met Kaia’s eyes, “ All of you are welcome. I put no conditions on your stay here, you have endured enough.”
“But!” The Chieftess stood tall and bellowed, eyeing her own tribe, “If this Thunder is coming from the south, it will reach this safe haven. It will reach us. I will not wait to see if our gift will repulse it. Fetch everyone, all the hunters and foragers. Tell them to bring fresh saplings and stones.”
The tribesmen and women stirred and began to abandon their work or leisure. Many left wordlessly, making all haste, but one man looked to the Chieftess and asked, “Are you certain, Chieftess? The god did not answer your wish to see us die fighting some distant monster that could well pass us by. Remember your oath.”
The tall woman glared at him and snapped, “I do, Temet. I swore to lead my people well, to the best of my ability. These outsiders are my people now. More than that, I claim every last living person between here and the southern mountains as my own. I will not leave them to be devoured by a monster. If you would, then flee. I will not sit by and let a coward hide behind my walls.”
The man looked furious, but only at the indictment of his own behaviour. He grit his teeth, but nodded and left with the others. Within moments few remained but for the Chieftess and her new visitors. She held out a hand to Kefir and spoke more softly, “I am Ataket, outsider. Welcome to my tribe.”
Kefir and Vintr both bowed as low as their fatigued bodies allowed them to. “We thank you - thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” Kefir shepherded his daughter towards one of the tents so they could get some food. Vintr remained and bowed again to Ataket.
“Chieftess, if I may… We encountered more of them on the way - barely half a day’s walk to the south.”
Ataket cursed, "More creatures like your Thunder? And so close? I hadn't even thought to ask if… And I've already sent my people out. Damn. Damn it all."
The chieftess kicked at the ground and scowled, "I have to warn them. They can't be far yet, even the runners should be in sight of the wall."
Her eyes went to Vintr and she asked the question, "Do you have any strength left in you? I'd warn them alone, but I must reach all of them and you've fought these monsters before. If we come across one I'd be glad of your company."
“Please, chieftain - allow me to finish. This monster was a lesser one; while similar to Thunder, it was much, much smaller, and much hairier. Also, we, we think we managed to uncover their weakness.” He pointed to the sky. “The one we encountered south of here reacted painfully to the sun. I saw it myself - its hand burst open with blood and gore as soon as the light touched it.”
“I, oh,” She paused and exhaled, “Most of the tribe will have returned by then. That’s good. Good. Did you see where it came from? Where it goes in the day? If we could find it while it slumbered, even this Thunder... We could kill it.”
“We don’t know where Thunder lives - it could be in the mountains to the south or the forest in between - or anywhere for that matter. However, the other giant lives in a small grove to the south of here, hidden from the sun. I can guide you back there if we can assemble a warband.”
“The tribe won’t be back until this evening, at best,” Ataket mused, “I hate leaving it, but we can’t do a thing until they return. Alright, then on tomorrow's first light. We root it out of its hole and pull it from the grove and into the light.”
She eyed Vintr and went on, “I’ll need you to tell the tribe about what you saw when they return. Can you do that?”
“Yes, chieftain,” he replied diligently.
"Then today we wait," She spoke gravely, "Tomorrow, we hunt."
Ataket has a tribe, a wall, and things are going well. She doesnt really leave the wall because her people are like ‘What if ya die and the god wants you?’ which is fair. Still she’s a bit bored and honestly worried if she’s living up to this whole ruler thing, She knows she isn’t, honestly.
Anyway some people come, talking about trolls. That’s bad news. Real bad. Old Attie decides that she aint about letting kids be eaten and tells the tribe the gather. They’re gonna protect everyone! Well, everyone not eaten. Some disagree, but she’s the head honcho with the fancy headgear and you dont argue with bling.
So the tribes goes out, then Vintr, this refugee feller, says ‘oh by the way there was one like a half day away.’ and Attie has a minor heart attack and is about to run after everyone. Vintr is like ‘naw its not as big as the big bad one, no worries. Also light kills em’. Crisis averted! Anyway Attie is like ‘aight well we still killing it, but tomorrow I guess. After everyone is home’.
Vintr promises to tell a story about trolls to the whole tribe. Cut scene.