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With Astella’s departure from the central mountain, out to explore the world, I’Iro took over many of the responsibilities that were previously in the hands of her friend while creating many new ones under her own projects to best understand mortals, the mind and the realm of dreams.

For the humans living in the annex town to the City of Embassies the changes were noticeable, gone was the cute clutz goddess who they could tease around, instead they had to deal with the pale, always blank faced I’Iro, who while sounding well intentioned still had the habit of unsettling the mortals with her habit of staring at them with a blank face. However, she was also an efficient manager, with her crowd of robot spiders she immediately focused on improving the situation of aspects such as hygiene and building safety for the humans within the area.

This was however taking a toll on the goddess, memory and the ability to multi-task were extraordinary but she was merely one entity, bound physically to one place, to have to look after the Mons Divinus, to prepare the first classes and theories to teach in the academy, to analyse and collect samples and data so she can best understand the world… All this at once was just too much.

Nevertheless she carried on. She had handpicked a few mortals from the town to come to her academy, and she had slowly started to teach them the basics of what she called Mimicry.

You see. The most common type of what you call magic within this world is very dispersed. Inactive. Sort of background radiation. To say it in terms that might be familiar to you just imagine the humidity in the air when morning comes. The advantage of this type of energy is that it is abundant. Its disadvantage is that it holds no property of its own. However. That very factor can be turned into an advantage as well. the goddess explained to the three dumbfounded mortals with her typical distant and controlled tone.

She opened one hand and created a pristine and crystalline barrier with her hand. This was an object made from divine energy, but she was able to create a similar one, a barrier that looked like green glass, with that sort of background radiation magical energy she had mentioned before. With a strong willpower and a consistent ability to visualize objects within your mind one is able to arrange this propertyless energy into a copy of a simple physical element. Thus the name Mimicry. To create a small wall section is the easiest of the things you can do with such a technique.

The humans started to try to copy the goddess, yet the results were null at the first few attempts. You were chosen because you can notice the alien energies within this world. The issue here is that you cannot visualize the shapes within your mind. Here. An exercise. Move your hands in the air then stop them as if you were touching a wall. Try to make sure both of your hands are aligned as if they were touching a real wall. This should help you to learn how to broadcast your mental image into the world. she wished for a moment that such things were as easy as the manifestation of fear Alzria was able to perform.

Standing far in the back, at the edge of the garden on the path stood a strange, rounded figure that was not nearly alike a human. It had two legs and two arms but seemingly no head or neck. It clutched a metal staff in its left hand and two squirrels were playfully moving across its body. The thing had so far stood so still that it could’ve been mistaken for a statue. Until suddenly its arm stretched out and its flat palm reached out just like I’Iro had explained. With seemingly no effort at all a small, thing, uncreative, flat glass wall shimmered into existence in front of the palm. The creature itself displayed nothing. No fear nor excitement.

The goddess noticed the act of a barrier being created but was immediately confused as it did not seem to come from the direction of her human students, but from behind her, in the grass covered ramp that led to the garden where she was lecturing. Turning around she finally noticed the entity observing her, she raised a hand telling her class to wait for a moment and moved to approach it. Greetings. she said in her own mechanical, aloof tone. I have not met a being similar to you before. Are you a new arrival at this location? Feel free to identify yourself.

“Greetings. I am called Thallin.” The creature introduced itself. Twin lights on its upper body lit up brighter now, going from a barely visible glow in the sunlight to the intensity of two candles. The two squirrels playing over its body stopped and now looked at the goddess that approached. “I haven indeed only just arrived. Sent here under the principles of exploration.” Its mouthless voice was surprisingly less mechanical sounding than I’Iro’s voice. Yet at the same time it wasn’t entirely human either. It dropped its arm and the glass-like barrier instantly vanished. “May I enquire to whom I am speaking now?”

I’Iro extended her hand so the squirrels could use her to get off Thalin if they so wished, she was unsure if that would work but with Snowy it often did, even if the cat often preferred to climb up to her head instead of going back to the ground. That this entity was sent by a god she had already guessed, it was good however that the entity was meant for exploration. I am I’Iro. I function as the Goddess of Dreams. You are currently at Mons Divinus. The source of all water and core of the shard. This structure behind us is my yet to be named academy. It is one of the many constructs within the City of Embassies that serves as the meeting ground of the divines.

“It is a great honor to meet you I’Iro, functioning goddess of dreams.” Thallin said. Inside it was already etching the memories and the knowledge within those memories into its mind. Even though the goddess had said only a few things, it answered tens of questions the golem had. The squirrels, for their part, crawled up his body and sat on his shoulders. They had an equally curious and fearful look in their eyes. Thallin paid them no mind. His gaze shifted towards the outstretched arm. For a second there was a silence. One could’ve called it uncomfortable, though a golem knew not the meaning of such a word. Eventually he spoke up: “Forgive me, I’Iro, functioning goddess of dreams. I am unfamiliar with this custom. What is expected of me right now?”

I’Iro spent a tense moment with her hand hanging in the air. Would it be petty to invent something on the spot? Perhaps. But it would certainly serve diplomatic needs to leave a good impression. Ah. My apologies. It is just custom for two beings to shake their hands upon meeting. Do not worry however as it is understandable such habits are not widespread yet. the goddess improvised. One question I have to ask you however. Is the identity of the deity who has sent you. It clearly is not one of those that I have met in my travels through the world.

Thallin took I’Iro’s, started shaking and then never seemingly stopped. “I was sent by Uwné, god of crafting. In his name I am to apologize. For he is not as mobile as he would have desired. Thus he sends us as his emissaries and explorers, in honor of the one that made us.” The squirrels, meanwhile, made their dance of curiosity down the arm with which Thallin was still shaking I’Iro’s hand. Eventually carefully moving onto the goddess. “Your wisdom provides me with illumination. Which in return reveal more questions. You speak of more gods. Could you speak of them more?”

It is fine to stop after just two or three shakes. I’Iro requested while perfectly keeping up with the infinite handshake loop she had programmed. And of course I can share with you my knowledge of the gods. However... I must say my database is still missing some entities. Nevertheless. One moment.

She turned back to her class of three who was looking at them with curiosity and made a little movement for them to know today’s class was postponed, with that solved she turned back to the construct and, upon freeing her hands, started to condense the information she knew within a small crystalline device.

First the gods she had met in person, Astella, Lonn, Orynn, Arira, Alzira. Then the gods she had heard of second hand, Wyn, Chakravarti, Ze’kelia, Algrim and the nameless god represented within the shard by An-Clastophon. Finally, some of her own musings over the gods that were likely but that she had not met in person or heard of yet, such as the storm god. This was all condensed in a type of code more fit for mechanical entities than the simple uttering of words. Upon her work having been finished, she offered it for the emissary to take and absorb.

The golem took the crystal in his hand. It took a moment for him to parse the information to a more manageable flow. He found the information stored within to be exceedingly important. With this much information, he had little choice than to return to his maker soon. If it was lost it would be a setback of unforgiveable proportions. In the end he had consumed all the information on the crystal shard he had be offered and then with a small motion offered it back.

“I thank you I’Iro, functioning goddess of dreams. This answers all questions I was set out to find answers to.” Under normal circumstances he would’ve bid its farewell. Perhaps he would have walked through the city a bit more before setting forth to go back. However, something strange gripped him. It came from within. He was told to discover things and for whatever reason he felt as if he could answer more questions. Questions he was not explicitly told to ask.

“The barrier you and I created. That which you call magic, what is it exactly?”

This was a deeper question when asked by another being touched by the divine. She had picked up the word because mortals seemed to understand it, but it was clear it was not the perfect fit for this situation. With the apocalypse and the fraying of Galbar many forces have entered into this world. These forces do not act in accordance with the laws of physics within this world and as such mortals often call them magical. This word is also used for native illogical acts such as the very existence of gods and further blurring the lines there are forces that were once foreign to this world but that have now made it their home much like many animals and plants.

The goddess summoned a barrier of her own, before spreading it out, isolating a very small section of it which she enhanced. This in particular is made with the leftover most minuscule sub-particles that have seeped in with the many trespassers. They are weak orphans yet also unbound by laws. It is no more magic than shaping clay is. What we do is to merely entone our minds upon these particles and to force upon them our will. I’Iro hoped this more visual representation would be satisfactory to the emissary. This is merely one of the many branches of the knowledge I call Alien Chemistry. The study of elements from other planes. Mortals have the terrible habit of shortening it to Alchemy. she sighed.

I am at the moment just starting to study these. With your master being the god of crafting… I am sure it would be good to have easier contact with him here in the Mons Divinus. Perhaps he could be interested in upgrading an emissary to an ambassador? If not. Well it cannot be helped. I am sure contact will still be possible later on. It is my plan to set up long distance communication between gods in some sort of scheme that would look like a cobweb… or maybe a net… no… It is close to a lacework.

“I cannot speak in his stead. Not yet, at least.” Thallin said, and he did not add his own opinion to it. In truth he didn’t have an opinion. He was not made with the goal of having an opinion. Yet he did have his own thoughts. “You have provided me with invaluable information. Forgive me I’Iro, functioning goddess of dreams. I must beg my leave. My maker must know of this place, you and your kin. Farewell.” With those last words he turned around and started walking away. Slowly but constantly. The squirrels that had mostly stood rather still to observe the strange goddess quickly climbed off of her and pursued the golem. It was pretty easy to catch up with him.

I’Iro simply nodded and waved, though the golem wouldn’t see it as he had turned around, it didn’t matter as the goddess could easily guess Thallin did not care about that aspect of formality. Still, this had been a success by all of her metrics, hopefully the creator deity of the emissary would see the value in all that was being done in the city.

As it moved away, the goddess’ thoughts however strayed her thoughts from the recently arrived and departed entity and instead recalled over the words it had given her when explaining its purpose. It was an elegant solution to the issue of having many spread out tasks to be fulfilled, she could finally dedicate herself to teaching these mortals without worrying about missing out the chance to study far off places. Her eyes turned to a nearby spider-drone as it worked on the gardening. That would do nicely.


The sun once again marked the passing of time. Days went by. Then weeks. Then a month. Then, eventually, the squad looking figure holding a staff and with two playful squirrels appeared again at Mons Divinus.

It did not take long for someone to come greet the visitor. A woman wearing a simple functional dress, her eyes covered by what looked like some sort of opaque visor.{Greetings. It is good to see you have returned. Oneiro will be waiting for you in the central meeting area. You can see it 45 degrees to your right.} The person spoke in a manner similar to I'Iro, however far less versatile, as soon as she finished she turned around and guided the golem into the core of the City of Embassies.

I’Iro would come to greet Thallin as soon as he entered the central area. Unlike her embassy, this area did not reflect any god in particular, with eclectic choices of architecture as it was designed to be a common ground. Greetings. It is good to see you again. If you returned… I take that you have an answer from your master deity? the goddess questioned, tilting her head slightly.

“Indeed I have!” Thallin exclaimed. “I shall recant the overjoyed words of my master.”
”You are Thallin. My emissary and now my ambassador to this city of embassies. Let it be known that you speak as a representative of me.”

The words came from Thallin but were not his voice. For sure. The divinity of it was unmistakable though. “As my master commanded I have returned. There are many things to be agreed upon I’Iro, functional goddess of dreams and steward-apparent of the city of Embassies. But my lord has commanded me to thank you first.” A compartement of where a human would find his stomach opened up. Revealing a polished black wooden box. The golem took it out and opened it to show the goddess its content.

On a pillow of soft, purple velvet laid a circlet of white-metal. It was a simple yet beautiful thing. The flowing, thin metal looked more like a thick woven thread than metal. Yet it was sturdy. Those threads flowed like water towards the center piece, where they curved around it. The center piece itself was a moonstone that wrapped around a smaller opal like a crescent. The opal itself was a beautiful and impossible piece of blue, turquoise, green, red and very small specks of silver and bright violet.

“A gift from my master. Made to the likeness of the great mage moon. Its metal is polished exonite. A metal found in my master’s land known to draw the magical energies towards it. He and I both hope it is a worthy gift for a goddess.” Thallin offered up the circlet and bowed as much as a golem of his make could.

I’Iro’s eyes shone with curiosity as she extended her arms and took the piece of jewelry into her own hand, observing for a moment its unmatched beauty but also taking notice of its possible functional purposes. She bowed back to the golem I thank you and your master Uwne for this gift.

Turning slightly to the left, she called to her side the lacemeister, the humanoid woman-like figure that had greeted Thallin before, to come hold the circlet for her. It was good that it now seemed that her and Uwne were on good terms because her project with them had been greatly derivative from observing the golem. It is good to meet you. Ambassador Thallin. There are a great many locations to set up an embassy here. In the form of both prebuilt rooms within this central area and a wide selection of satellite open fields where structures could be raised according to the needs and preferences of a deity.

“That brings me to my second point.” Tallin said as he rose up again, with the help of his staff. “My master has requested a location somewhere close to the water. Specifically the river that flows south-west from here. A small plot would do. Nothing big. But we should hurry. My kin will arrive any moment to begin construction.”

I’Iro was more aware of what he was referring to at this time than when they first met and she already expected him to claim an area of his own, knowing the general area of the god from the golem’s path she had considered this one scenario, among countless others. I do not think any other god has picked the plots to the southwest. There is plenty of property on both sides. My own academy is to the south so if the plot is east of the river it will be somewhat adjacent. To the west of the river however it is entirely open space… if a bit muddy from how close it is to the massive flow of water that goes directly west into the jungles. I’Iro conjured two holographic images of both of the mentioned plots.

Thallin took a moment to think on it and in the end he found it best to stay adjacent to the academy. Only an hour later the other golems arrived. They didn’t talk or interact with anyone but Thallin. They all carried carts with various materials. Wood, plaster, stone, green shingles and seeds had all been carried up to Mons Divinus. To be used for the small but cozy little embassy. The golems worked as tirelessly as they had travelled. Days passed and more arrived. Carrying more finished goods and seeds. Benches and chairs were brought up as well. Carpets were rolled out and seeds were meticulously planted to grow flowers and hedges. Later still came the saplings of strange trees that had not existed before. Trees Thallin called Khariaths and Steelbarks. Khatem flowers were planted as well. If one didn’t know about I’Iro’s spider servants, one would’ve assumed the building was completed in record pace.

It is a beautiful facility you have built here. said the goddess when she noticed the construction seemed to be finished. The humans too seem to like it. It even had the effect of distracting my alumni during our lessons… Something that really did not result in the better control of their minds for the purpose of Mimicry constructs. she chuckled softly as she walked into the central garden overlooked by the construction.

“I do apologize for that.” Thallin said as he watched the last tables being set. Of course, in the coming years they would be replaced again and again by creations of the mortals. Such was the nature of crafting. There would always come something created more practical or beautiful. He then turned towards I’Iro. “When we first met you taught me the custom of greeting one another of these people. Would you honor me to show you the custom of greeting from the land I come from.” With an arm he motioned towards one of the adjacent, open buildings. With a view of the river. The open curtains showed the low table and a handful of chairs surrounding it, and on top of the table stood a few gold-veined clay cups and a simple porcelain teapot.

Ah. Yes. You did promise me there would be a beverage in the inauguration. I do not have a habit of drinking anything yet your description of what a tea is left me greatly curious.

And so Thallin led I’Iro to the tea parlor. Where a freshly plucked Kathem flower waited next to the pot. With great care the golem prepared the tea for him and the goddess. Though he couldn’t taste it himself, the mortals had endlessly sworn by how well it smelled and tasted. To that end, he hoped the goddess would enjoy the taste as well.





Astella stood there, elbows leaned onto the thick balustrade decorating her office’s balcony. She was breathing in the air--Pure, clean, refreshing. For the first time since she came to this world, she could see the fruits of everyone’s labour. The world was becoming livable again, its fate was no longer certain... and most importantly, the people living their lives far below in the streets of the recently finished City of the Gods had begun to smile. They were healing, their open wounds scarring and fading.

That was what she wanted to do, she realized some time ago. To feel involved and loved, to feel like she actually mattered in the hearts and souls of the ones blessed with mortality.

She was happy. Really, as soon as the last chair in the meeting room had been assembled and the last toilet installed, she felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted off her shoulders. And yet, she also felt a void in her heart.

Lazily, she turned her sight towards the Wellspring well off into the distance, her sight allowing her to pinpoint the location of her pedestal easily enough. She’d been so excited then about the possibility of showing her fellow Gods what she was capable of, and yet the only ones who came to visit after the Wellspring had been unclogged had come by and left as if they didn’t care at all about the project.

She sighed, slumping further onto the balustrade.

If only she could do more for the humans under her care. More than just providing a healthy ecosystem for them to hunt and gather and farm…

Her thoughts were interrupted as she felt a familiar presence sneakily jump onto the balustrade and walk up to her. It was Snowie. The cat (she’d grown a lot over time) affectionately rubbed itself against Astella’s arm and shoulder while purring. Astella chuckled weakly, each laugh feeling like a stab through the heart, and then wrapped her arm around the clingy cat.

Life wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. But at that moment with a whirlpool of emotions raging on inside her chest and a purring, sleepy cat snuggled up against her as she watched the sunset, Astella felt alive.


It had been a regular day that day. She’d watched the sunrise and along with it, the peoplerise. After that, she’d made her rounds walking through the streets while greeting people and giving out a helping hand whenever possible. As soon as she had finished chatting with Lilac and his family at their bakery and had begun to make her way towards Old Angea’s Smithy, something unexpected happened.

She stumbled on a spidercrab, one of I’Iro’s workers.

Of course, such a thing wasn’t enough to make a Goddess fall flat on her face, but she did scratch her hands and knees.

”Ow...” Astella muttered to herself as a child quickly ran up to her and helped her up. After she dusted herself off, they flashed smiled at each other and the kid ran off, leaving Astella to observe the Spidercrab as it slowly turned around, the fine layer of rust on its joints flaking off and causing sparks.

The lights behind the Spidercrab’s eyes shone meaningfully. It had been sick for a while, much like its siblings, but the fact that this one was actually moving was a surprise to Astella. She squinted and confirmed the microscopic number imprinted one centimeter above its right eye.

”Ah! M4CK13, it’s you!” Astella grinned and dropped to her knees despite having injured them just a few seconds ago. She carefully grabbed the Spidercrab and lifted it up to her eye level, admiring how, despite its old and withering body, it still tried to move.

“01 APPROACHING. END OF MISSION. SHUTDOWN BY 01 IMMINENT. CURRENT USER, 02-” The little robot’s speech suddenly cut off as the lights behind its eyes blinked rapidly, then settled on a low intensity. “CURRENT USER, 02, ‘GOOD JOB’. NOW HIBERNATING.”

And just like that, the small robot went limp and silent and its lights turned off.

Astella softly lowered the robot to the floor, made of carefully constructed stone bricks by M4CK13 and its army of siblings. She ran a hand through her hair, sweeping it back as she let out a shaky sigh. After a moment, she looked at her hands. Soft, as if she hadn’t just fallen to the ground. As if she hadn’t put years of work into building the entire city along with the Spidercrabs.

She hunched over a little as her breath caught in her throat. Her eyes watered and she shivered almost imperceptibly. All around her were the signs of a world that had moved. The Wild had become Civilized. Adults had become elders, children had become adults, and new life had been made. Buildings were being used, memories were being made, lives moved on, and yet she looked the same as always. Stuck, like some sort of living, moving statue, like a symbol rather than something truly living.

And then she heard a familiar flapping of metallic wings. A sound she hadn’t heard in a long, long time.A gentle turquoise light filled the location, most humans surprised as they had never seen the goddess of dreams and her loyal dragon before, it hovered over them before landing gently in the main plaza. I’Iro looked around her with a sense of amazement, clearly more towards the human town rather than her own meeting ground project. After the initial surprise, she kept looking for something, before she finally found Astella at the entrance of the Central Plaza, standing there with wide eyes and slack jawed. I’Iro waved in a timid, or rather, robotic way, to which Astella responded by dashing up to I’Iro.


”IRO!!!!!!!!!!” She shouted as she basically tackled the robot Goddess to the ground, wrapping her in the biggest, strongest hug she could… Which wasn’t much by God standards. ”Iro, Iro!! I missed you so much! Where were you?!?! Why were you gone so long??? We have to catch up.” She asked rapid-fire while quickly wiping her eyes.

The goddess of dreams was extremely casual about being tackled to the ground, in all honesty her metallic body had really only dealt damage in the fall to the poor floor, taking none in return. She stared at Astella for a moment, placing one arm around Astella for stability, the expression was the typical deadpan. Oh greetings Astella. It has truly been a long time. Has it not? I intended to return earlier but some matters took my attention… she stopped as soon as the goddess cleaned her eyes. Ah! Were you distressed? Did something bad happen while I was away? I am very sorry for I think my behaviour here was selfish. I should not have left this task only to you and my workers.

Astella smiled sweetly and shook her head, giving a single sniffle before grinning. ”N-No, don’t worry! I was just so happy to see you again that my eyes started sweating.” She explained as she carefully got off I’Iro and stood up, then offered her a hand. ”Sorry about the whole tackle thing, I didn’t hurt you did I? I gotta work on taming my emotions...”

I’Iro took the hand but was way too heavy for Astella’s small frame to pull, and getting up almost made the two goddesses crash down again. Oh. That is a peculiar term to refer to crying. Nevertheless. Fret not for I am completely unhurt. I did not feel anything really. she smiled despite the completely cold tone and content of what she had said. Well. Returning to your question. I have been exploring the continent. I delved into many ruins. Almost died in one by touching an ancient corrupted device. In another I unleashed a wave of cold that could have freezed the continent. It was thankfully tamed and now we have winter once a year... I met many humans that were quite peculiar. Well the one called Maydly is not really a human anymore. She reminds me a lot of you. Unpretentious and sweet but also energetic.

Astella listened intently to I’Iro’s recount of her adventures, nodding when appropriate and cooing in surprise and worry in several parts. Finally, I’Iro turned her head slightly to the humans that now watched them. It seems the Mons Divinus Embassy City project has developed in unexpected ways. It seems some gods have moved by as well.

”Oh! That, uh, yeah. It wasn’t in the plan. Orynn came by with Ze’Kelia and dropped a few hundred humans here.” Astella pursed her lips and waved at the humans. Most of them waved back, but they all had their sights set on I’Iro. Finally, Astella addressed them. ”Alright people, this-” She began and motioned towards I’Iro, ”Is I’Iro, Goddess of Dreams. You can pray to her about that topic all you want. As usual guys, hands off and no weird business. Give our guests respect! She’s also my best friend so if you annoy her I will make you wet your pants by making a monster chase you from here to the foot of the mountain.”

Many of the humans chuckled, and many spoke at once trying to get I’Iro’s attention..

“Hi I’Iro!” said a woman holding a newborn.

I’Iro waved back looking at the baby with curiosity. Greeti…

“Welcome to the City!” Exclaimed a muscular man, striking a confident pose.

The goddess tilted her head in confusion as she was cut off Oh. Thank y…

“Want some traditional bread?” Asked a young adult holding a basket of fresh bread and trailed by two boys.

Bread? Ah. It is food. Well I have never eaten anything before but…

“Hello Goddess.” Said an elderly man with a slight bow of his head, careful not to lose his balance.

Her eyes widened a bit. So many people at one. She bowed back to the elder and opened her mouth to speak...

“You made the spidercrabs! Can I have one? Astella won’t let me touch them!!” Asked a young girl.

The drones? Well first I must do maintenance to them, Then maybe… she stepped back, overwhelmed.

After a moment, Astella turned toward I’Iro and sighed, smiling. ”You don’t have to do anything, you know. It’s up to you.”

The mechanical goddess nodded in agreement. Well. I know. But still… Nevertheless. They are so friendly and casual up here. It is quite incredible. Most mortals I have met were very shy or scared. I have never seen any mortal treat gods like family before. But here they seem so casually fond of you. And you. Equally. To them. I’Iro observed as the mortals continued to make requests.

Astella grinned, grabbed I’Iro’s hand and pulled her towards the Central Structure, waving a hand at the curious humans. ”Alright, introduction time’s over! Now I will proceed to have a sleepover with my best friend so don’t bother us! See you guys around!” She exclaimed before scooting up to whisper into I’Iro’s ear. ”You really think so? I’ve tried my best to get them to see me as just another person, ‘cause, you know, that’s what we are, right?”

I’Iro had learned to not even resist when Astella pulled her around, it was utterly futile. She took a little while to answer because she was distracted with the sight of the central structure, it was nice to see it turned into reality. I do believe my assessment reflects reality. Yes. While your second one is up for a more philosophical debate I too agree with you on that. But clearly many gods do not. Even ones with good natured hearts still see mortals as tools rather than individuals. It is… Hard. Actually. To become familiar with mortals. I have been trying very hard to do so in my travels but the existence of godhood makes the relationships inevitably unequal. So to come here and see what you have done. The honest bond you have with these people. It is quite inspiring.

Astella stopped walking for a moment, hugged I’Iro tightly and then continued. ”I love you, I’Iro.” She said as they walked up the steps to the Central Structure’s Entrance and entered the massive building. ”It’s not easy to keep relationships like they are, though. I’m terrified of new Gods coming to visit and ruining my work by treating the humans like garbage or slaves. I don’t think I could handle having them look at me with fear… Not after… Not after what we’ve all seen throughout these harrowing years.”

I also greatly cherish your company Astella. she replied, and although she was also looking over the structure she paid close attention to all that was said. While the worry is understandable I question if it is wise to feel defeated before the event even happens. I cannot understand the philosophy perfectly but some mortals I met would bring up the fact you are worsening your current good times with fears of future bad times. the mechanical goddess let out a small sigh, speaking the words of others was a hard task even with her perfect memory.

And nevertheless, it seems a few gods have already been here while I was away. This makes me believe you are underestimating your own ability to stay connected to mortals. she gave two gentle pats on Astella’s shoulder, trying to encourage the other goddess.

Astella pursed her lips, but after a moment looked up at I’Iro with a half-smile. ”You might be right. Maybe I should try to travel some, like you did. I’ve heard some rumours about incredible lands up north and to the southwest. Have you heard anything about the ‘Hellspring’ or the land of Mirrors?”

I’Iro shook her head. I have not heard of either, the areas I visited were mostly the swamp to the southeast which is impressively populated for our times. Arira’s paradise and the cold lands far to the south. they stopped near a window that overlooked the whole embassy city, even though it was half populated at the moment and even less so if you didn’t count humans, it was an impressive sight. And I definitely recommend traveling as a way to both relax and broaden your horizons. In fact. I am going to stay here for some time working on some theories I have in my mind. As such if you wish I could lend you Nalmepror.

”Really?! Are you sure you won’t need him? I don’t even know what he eats!” Astella perked up, grabbing one of I’Iro’s hands with both of hers. ”I could see so many things from above without having to deal with the stench or tragedy. It sounds like a dream come true! How long could you lend him to me for?”

I’Iro tapped her chin. Well… It is a bit hard to speak of time when all the metrics are unstable. I will be making my embassy here and selecting a few humans to study so that I will need to talk about uhm. About one human gestation period? Maybe two. If you come back within that timeframe it will really not be a problem. Speaking of which. Have you built an embassy? Is that big oppressive one with all the gold and stairs yours?

Astella rolled her eyes and slumped onto the balustrade. ”Not in a million years. That is Wyn’s, the one who came by and implied our work was ugly and inadequate, and also insulted the humans. I don’t actually have an embassy yet. I was thinking of maybe settling for a floor in this building.”

I figured it was not yours. The design is exaggerated and it feels too focused on overwhelming and belittling others. It is no surprise that the creator is so chauvinistic… Ah but I should not be talking such things about someone I have not met just because her architectural design is anathema to my own. With that said it does raise an issue with your idea of taking the floor of this building. If we overtake too much of the central meeting ground it will increase the probability that other gods might feel alienated. This goes against the core concept of our idea when building this place.

Astella nibbled on her lower lip for a second, ”True, I suppose.”

The mechanical goddess waited for a moment, the wind gently making her azure hair flow. The location I have chosen is a bit far from the centre of the town. There is a pleasant spot between here and my own. If you wish you could set that plot aside for a location of your own. Do you have any ideas for the purpose of your embassy? For example in mine I will likely run an education program for mortals.

”I’d love to build mine close to yours! But… You, as a teacher? I don’t know why but it does fit quite well. Have you thought of wearing glasses?” The short goddess asked with a smirk. ”I know! I will probably turn my embassy into some kind of headquarters! I want to use my abilities to help mortals. Maybe I’ll help them forget or overwrite bad memories!”

Glasses? Why? My optic devices are perfectly functional… I’Iro looked helpless for a good and long moment from Astella’s joke. Which was good as it hid her similar feelings towards the concept of forgetting all bad memories. A headquarters sounds good. I would suggest something modular that you can increase at will when you need to without major redesigns. crossing her hands behind her back, I’Iro started to move back the path they had come from, with Astella following right behind without missing a beat.

”That is definitely the most logical approach. Lead me to those spots you mentioned and then we can get to work!” Astella said with a grin, her halo glowing a hot yellow. I’Iro nodded, yet her eyes stayed focused on the halo. She had not noticed it behaved like that before, it invoked a feeling mortals would describe as cuteness.


The act of designing a location for the purpose I’Iro wanted needed her to be very sensitive, as she was dealing with finding the good middle between clashing concepts, she wanted a place that was separate from the busyness of the outside world but she did not want it to give off an alienating or caging aura, she wanted something practical yet not oppressively simplistic and angular.

Sighing as she returned to the location she had set apart, she focused her hand, shaping and raising the earth with her divine will. A structure of intersecting curvy shapes started to form, to avoid a sense of hierarchy in the multi-story building the goddess made it so the roofs were covered in fertile earth and green vegetation. In fact that was the whole theme of the building, a controlled but not overly tamed garden overhead seemed to lead seamlessly into the more clean and minimal learning rooms and laboratories.

To do the task of manutention and gardening the goddess took back her construction drones and refurbished the spiders into a proper shape. This was not to be a final solution, however, as Maydly had thought of her value in these simple tasks, however, for the moment, she needed a lot of work and had a severe lack of capable manpower.

The goddess looked with a semblance of pride as the leisure plazas and classrooms were finished. In here mortals would be able to study the matters of the mind, self-control, oneirology, alien chemistry and to some extent magic, once I’Iro herself better understood the relationship between that and the mortal mind. Since she was already opening some space, however, she also had opened up some rooms for more experimental work.

She would still need a space for herself, however. As she did not intend to not claim any land in the outside world, she would probably need some sort of… home. It was hard to come up with concepts since she did lack even the mimicry of biological needs, but she managed to settle on a small “simple” building where she would likely spend any semblance of free time. She nested it near the education complex she had just conjured.


After they split up, Astella had remained at her spot for a while, in deep thought regarding exactly what she wanted to do. In the end, after almost a whole day of thought, she figured out that the best way to start her venture would be to introduce (or re-introduce, who knows at this point?) the world to one of the most important technologies--The printing press. By finding out a way to automate the production and infusion of illusory texts, she would be able to reach the hearts of everyone who was capable of reading. This, combined with I’Iro’s plan to teach mortals, would ensure that at least most of the mortals in the City of the Gods would be able to enjoy the benefits of her abilities first-hand.

Her first order of business was to create the structure, however. Just as I’Iro had suggested, she made a simple, moderately-sized structure. It was a simple warehouse, with most of its space turned into workshops and two offices on the second floor.

At first, she was doing it all by hand by herself, but eventually a few of the townspeople stumbled upon her construction site and offered to help. As such, by the end of the first month a sizable amount of young, strong humans had joined her in her project. They had made it clear that they expected nothing in return for their help, as they were honoured to be able to help her after years of Astella helping them.

By the end of the second month, the construction was finished. As Astella hung up the sign above the entrance to the warehouse, the people cheered and everyone, including the goddess, threw their sweat-soaked hats up towards the sky and engaged in the biggest group hug the city had ever seen. After that, they all admired the building one last time before heading home for the day.

The Legacy of the group known as Astellite Book Company started humble indeed.

The next week, Astella had managed to recruit a good few of the people who’d helped her during construction into her actual project. She would offer them the best quality of illusions she could make in return for their daily labour, and when they were all gathered in the warehouse, Astella had I’Iro come by and teach them all how to actually set up and run a printing press (as well as reading, writing, and basic maths…).

Thus, after another month of training, the Astellite Book Company was already working on its first prototypes.


Is this conical hat really necessary? I’Iro questioned as she adjusted the funny looking party hat on her head, some sort of tradition Astella insisted on. After concluding both of their projects the duo (Astella) decided to throw a little party. The party, as expected, was being held in Astella’s embassy (workshop), during the late hours of the night.

”They are! Definitely! One hundred percent!” Astella asserted, quickly rummaging through I’Iro’s Arctic Box. After a few moments, she cooed in delight and stood up to show I’Iro a smooth bottle filled with a light yellow coloured liquid. The liquid was a light yellow, fizzy, and small drops of water condensed on the outside of the bottle as soon as Astella pulled it out. ”Why? Cause we’re celebrating! Humans use hats like this when they celebrate the births of their loved ones, and I mean, our embassies were born at around the same time, right? They’re sisters, and this is their first official birthday party!”

I’Iro nodded. I guess humans do show an extreme fondness of hats. Some could say it is excessive at times. She was at her own home at the moment, Astella and Snowy had been regulars at her place since she first showed it, particularly popular was the “Arctic Box” a device I’Iro had created to store chemical compounds that needed to stay in the cold, and had since been overtaken by all sorts of vials of drinks.

”They definitely do. Anyway, this,” Astella walked closer to I’Iro and handed her the bottle. ”Is something the Humans call Lesser Ambrosia. I swear it isn’t fizzy urine, despite its colour. This is actually the first batch our people in this City have successfully produced, thanks to the Arctic Boxes. It’s really, really tasty and perfect for a celebration. So do me a favour and go get us some fancy glasses and a corkscrew!”

Why would it be urine? I’Iro questioned in a lower voice before shaking her head, with Astella some things were better not questioned. The robotic goddess moved through her kitchen getting two long crystalline glass cups. Snowy meowed softly but I’Iro shook her head. I am sorry little feline. These are not suitable for you. I promise I will serve you a glass of milk later. with that bit of diplomacy done she went back to the table where Astella was, only to find Astella already sitting at the table, halo glowing a bright yellow, and looking more like an excited child than a Goddess. She was tapping her heels against the ground and grinned at I’Iro as she walked in. After the robot goddess put the glasses down on the table, Astella perked up.

”You know how to use a corkscrew right? Just screw it into the cork that’s sealing the bottle and then pull it. It might seem self-evident that that’s how it’s used, but I messed it up the first time.” She recounted with a small grimace.

Tilting her head slightly, I’Iro picked up the tool and the bottle, looking them over. With a simple shrug she moved to uncork it, but didn’t fully account for the environment near her. With a loud pop the cork went flying at a high speed, hitting Astella’s pointy hat with awful precision and sending it across the house. Ah...

Astella sat with her eyes wide open for a moment, then blinked a few times and stifled a chuckle, ”I mean, the hats are kind of ridiculous I guess, so that was justified. Now c’mon, serve! We have to clink our glasses together after the drink’s served and then we drink it all in one swig. It’s how the humans do it.”
I’Iro also stood a good moment just staring, before nodding, serving the two glasses with perfectly equal amounts. Humans are peculiar creatures. Next time I meet them I tell them to go easy on the lead plates and cutlery. she took her own glass and offered Astella the other, which the shorter goddess happily took as she stood up and walked up to I’Iro, holding her glass in front of her.

”Clink clink,” Astella muttered, swishing the liquid around inside her glass before clinking it gently against I’Iro’s. ”Aaah, there we go! Now drink!” She said and quickly downed her own glass.

I’Iro followed suit, even though she wasn’t used to drinking or eating. Her face was as deadpan as ever as she downed the whole glass at once, when she finished however she was softly smiling. Fuwah. The bubbling felt funny in the throat. The taste is delicate and pleasant. she commented, placing a hand on her cheek.

Astella smirked, her halo changing into an orange hue, ”Oh~? I know of another thing that feels funny going down the throat, you know. The humans make that as well.”

I’Iro blinked a few times at that. Oh. Is that so? I hear spicy food and some types of juices cause such feelings. I will ask them about that later. Culinary is a hard to understand but very enjoyable craft. I’Iro answered in total innocence, to which Astella couldn’t help but giggle in response, grabbing her friend’s hand and leading her to a couch rather than the table. There, Astella took charge of the bottle and served the both of them another glass.

”It is, isn’t it? The humans make a lot of tasty food here. Much better than the survivalist stuff I’ve seen other settlements make. So what’s your plan now? I mean, besides going into the market and asking for things that feel funny when they go down your throat.”

Swinging her head from side to side and shrugging, I’Iro had to think over the answer a bit. First of all. There is the academy which I need to start teaching the mortals in. There are also the matters of magic. I have been thinking a lot about it since that meeting with the stone golem and what-is-his-name. The annoying person who belittled me. And in particular I have been analysing how the mind interacts with magical forces. I have this theoretical magical act. I call it Mimicry. Which is about creating copies of physical forces through magic… such as barriers and boxes and what-not.”

”That guy’s name is Orynn. He told me when he came by to drop the humans off. And on Mimicry, well… You know, I was thinking of, sometime in the future, teaching some of my employees how to create illusions through magic. Obviously the illusions wouldn’t be real physical things, but if we mix them with Mimicry, maybe we could like, create a whole industry based on having your Mimicrians copy the structure of expensive furniture using like, basic construction paste, and then having my Illusionists come by and attaching illusions to the furniture so as to actually make them look and feel and smell like the original thing? I dunno. Sounds kinda complex, but it might work?” Astella shrugged and drank her second glass in one go as well, her body trembling slightly afterward.

Oh right. Orynn. Yeah. I don’t know if I dislike that man or not. And your plan… sounds decent not gonna lie. I don’t know if the mortals will enjoy it but where is the harm in trying? That stuff seems like… uhh… around four hundred and fifty years in the future though. Right now mortals can’t do much magic beyond accidental magical sneezes that set their homes on fire. One of the reasons why I am opening the school. You know? I’Iro said, leaning against the couch and sipping more on the champagne.

”I do!! I do know! Gosh, remember when I was building the Workshop with the humans? I swear, at least twice a day they would trip or sneeze or be possessed by a ghost and fall on top of me or be overtaken by urges to give me flowers or touch my arms! Huh... Now that I think about it, ghosts aren’t really magic, and a ghost that possesses someone just to hug you doesn’t seem so bad, and all that convenient falling over and dropping of water buckets on top of me seems a bit too mundane to be magical curses...”

Hmm. Perhaps I should do some analysis on that. I can observe dreams after all. Maybe I could try to see what could be behind all this clumsy stuff… I’Iro focused at the window that oversaw the human village, squinting her eyes as she peeked into the dreams of mortals. Her eyes went wide after a little while. Oh goodness. I guess those mortals are a bit… fond of you. Attracted…? Really explains why most of the sculptures in the workshops are images of a goddess wearing only her smile…

”Well of course they’re fond of me! Most of them tell me I’m like a big sister, and you know, they tell me that it’s normal for siblings to bathe together, so it’s also normal to have naked sculptures of them since they’ve already seen everything.” Astella said with a sigh, ”So they’re clumsy because they actually need to take baths with me huh… I thought they were messing with me. I might have to do that tomorrow with them.”

If I’Iro could sweat she would have a single droplet going down right now as she tensed up. Well uh… I would not recommend that… Because… uh… Well maybe you should take the day to see if you adapt well to riding Nalmepror? And also teaching me how to better look out for little Snowy. she nodded rapidly, good enough of an excuse. After all. Won’t you be leaving pretty soon?

Astella nodded, ”True! That’s a good idea. I’ve already trained one of the guys enough that I’m sure he can take care of stuff at the Workshop while I’m gone, so I can take the day. You should also teach me some words of the language you talk to Namelpror in, in case I need to talk to him.” She said, her halo gently changing colour into dark brown.

I’Iro shook her head. Oh Nalmepror speaks the common language alright. He pretends he does not because he is a sassy idiot. Also to get people whispering things around him thinking he won’t understand. That dragon does love gossip… I’Iro said and Astella giggled and leaned back against the couch much like I’Iro. The robot goddess’ focus changed between Astella and the fuzzy bubbles of the drink, until I’Iro rose the glass up so she could see Astella through the ambrosia glass. I hope the villagers are not too grumpy when you leave…

”Townspeople! And I don’t think they’ll be. They might be sad for a while, but once they get to know you, it’ll all be fine! I won’t be gone for too long anyway, maybe a year or so...” Astella trailed off, staring into her empty glass, until finally she put it on top of the coffee table and closed her eyes, ”Wanna sleep together tonight, Iro? Like sisters do. Um… Do you even sleep? Goddess of Dreams dreaming, wouldn’t that be wacky?”

I’Iro nodded emphatically. Oh indeed! Wacky is a suitable word. But I could… uhm… lay there and close my eyes and put my mind on work on something like scanning or defragmentation. It does feel like all this ambrosia made my database a bit… fuzzy. I’Iro laughed softly. Furthermore. I worry a bit that if only Snowy uses my bed she will soon think she owns the house and will kick me out.

Astella laughed quietly at that, snuggling up to I’Iro. ”She wouldn’t do that, she’s nice. She only pretends to be prim and proper and distant but deep down she’s just a kitten looking for attention. I will teach you all about caring for her tomorrow. For now, I’m knackered after a full work day, so let’s go to bed, yes? I’ll teach you what it feels like to sleep with someone next to you, maybe it’ll give you inspiration for your Dreams business.”

The palace of silence

Habits were a dangerous thing, when exposed to the new one typically stayed cautious but also kept their mind open, in the sense they were trying to understand a situation. But with experience, while often beneficial, also came many bad habits, the mind became lazy and things were often taken without further questioning. It was only halfway through her travels that I'Iro realized that she had fallen victim to such a thing, as only now did her digital mind realize that her destination did not make sense.

In the old world, yes, this would have been a cold region in the far south. But that world was gone, its laws forgotten and broken, the world shattered... As such, the coldness of the region, once taken as understandable, was, in fact, an unexplainable anomaly, and with the lack of a godly trail in the south to explain its origin, it was easy to conclude whatever she would find there would be likely of extra-dimensional or ancient origin, and neither was a pleasant possibility.

Soon the verdant fields of Arira's paradise gave way to the bleak wastelands, life slowly returning to them even without the intervention of the gods. Snow started to fall from the sky as temperatures fell, and the land became white, sometimes it was the damp whiteness of the snow, but others it was the dry whiteness of salt. Large crystals of ice co-existed with an endless expanse of salt flats, the ice itself was unexplainable, water was lacking in this world, so how could they have been formed? How could it also exist in the same geological zone as salt? This world was a confusing one for the goddess' mechanical mind.

Deeper still, as she started to near the sea, she quickly noticed the pattern of the cold winds started to change, it seemed to come from a specific direction, which the goddess and her faithful dragon Nalmepror followed. Life was slowly blooming even in these cold reaches of the land, in the oceans and even in the snow-covered hills, beneath the fungal growths that spawned even in this far off reach of the land.

And among all this, the goddess saw the very source of the cold, a crater of exposed, barren rock. Not even snow seemed to accumulate in it, the sight was similar to how the shard was at the peak of the apocalypse if not worse. That was not, however, the most impressive aspect of this area. Rather, the goddess's sensors focused only on one single thing. A building, massive, at the centre of the zone.

As Nalmepror landed, I'Iro rushed forward, facing the tall spires of the stone ruins. Ruins? Could she even call it that? The whole structure was pristine to some absurd extent, only buildings that only existed in blueprints and dreams could ever be this intact, with no cracks in the structure or worn out edges. Analysis of the stone could not reveal if the origin was Galbarian or not, but what it did show was that the whole thing was monolithic, as if carved from a single massive rock. She knew nothing but trouble could be waiting in it, but a goddess was expected to face such troubles, and she could not leave this task to Arira.

Signaling for her dragon to stay put, the goddess set forth towards the massive central structure.

The interior of the building was composed of countless halls and rooms, all empty. They were as pristine as outside, but here it became clear the whole area was outright sterile, even bacteria did not seem to exist here. The purpose of a massive, dungeon-like maze with countless empty rooms eluded the goddess, the lack of any sign of previous life or inhabitants did not help at all.

The silence was oppressive, to say the least, even her logic-based sensors became somewhat paranoid in the expectation of something to show up, taking any input that she would ignore normally and focusing way too much on it. When she noticed nothing was there, the tension went away, but the ambient did not become more welcoming, nothingness was a worse realization than the fear of a stalker lurking by. For some reason, I'Iro started to wish she could have brought Arira or Astella with her, or perhaps even Nalmepror. Anything to break the silence within the massive fortress, anything for her to heart outside of her footsteps and the faint hum of the electrical pulse within her body.

And then finally, she found something. At the very core of the building, she walked into a room and soon saw faint, blinking lights. It did not matter if it was magical or mechanical, she wanted to see what was in there... And she regretted it.

Throughout the walls of the area that seemed to be a computer room, countless tendrils spread out, it was no mere growth however, it was clearly interfacing with the machine, somehow, although the tendrils were definitely organic, animal possibly, because the goddess could sense not only an electric pulse, but also an actual pulse, like a beating heart, or hearts.

To say she was disgusted was to understate what the goddess felt. She almost used her divine power to eradicate all that surrounded her at that very moment but controlled herself at the last minute. It was only dangerous to her if she allowed it to touch her, and she had no plans at all to get anywhere close to either the ancient computers and much less the abhorrent organic... thing.

Upward, as the tendrils stopped being just soft flesh but actually formed a podium with some sort of bone-like growths, she could see an octahedron gemstone? It was extremely opaque and jet black, yet she could tell the structure was crystalline. As she approached it she could feel, without doubt, that this area was the epicentre of the cold weather in the shard.

In normal physics cold is merely the lack of heat, yet, as impossible as it was, this structure seemed to be generating the cold. This was a bit of an issue, was something operating in such abnormal form reliable to use as one of the pillars of the land's weather? Probably not. Perhaps it was better to leave the final decision on this to Arira.

Still, she was curious, and disgusted, enough to at least temporarily stop the machine for the moment being. She could do such a task by merely using her god power to outright tell the electrical current to stop, without needing to risk her body by interaction with the weird bio-infected machines down below.

But as soon as she did, as soon as she forced the machine to stop, she saw the results being the complete opposite of what she expected. The temperatures did not increase, instead, they dropped.

It was like a wave of nothingness. Before she could realize her entire surrounding had reached the absolute zero, if the room was quiet before, now it seemed like the very atoms that composed the structure had been muted. The "Machine" or the "Thing", whatever it was, writhed and wilted, being frozen and falling to the ground, breaking into pieces upon impact. Yet the crystal it seemed to hold was still floating, still emanating coldness.

She had misunderstood everything, hadn't she? I'Iro assumed the worst without thinking about the other possibility, that the machine was not creating anything, but containing it. There wasn't time for self-blame, however, as she soon realized the situation was developing terribly in the outer world. Beyond the crater, the cold was spreading, crawling through the mountains, freezing the ocean solid, and then creating a new ocean, not of water, but of helium and nitrogen in a superfluid state.

If this was allowed to keep spreading, it would soon undo the work of all her fellow gods, life would be in danger, and this could not be allowed. It was time to undress herself of the reliance on traditional physics, just because something was alien to her and the logic she was built upon it did not mean it was devoid of logic, it had its own set of rules, and she would understand it.

She focused on the crystal, on how it was generating cold, and started to observe how it was interacting with the world. She accessed all of her memories about her encounters with portals, she recalled all the inexplainable particles she had scanned, and with that knowledge, she created a "magical" barrier, two orbs around the crystal, at first they did little to stop the emission of coldness, but when the empty space was filled with one of the particles she had found in her travels, it all stopped, the alien cold being unable to cross through the material that was as alien to it as it was to Galbar.

The goddess was about to solidify the barrier into a more physical metal shell when the world around her crumbled. With the cold gone, everything around her rapidly heated up, air rushed in from out of the influenced area and upward from liquified and solidified materials now quickly expanding, evaporating and sublimating. The building she was in, once pristine, now quickly paid its debt to time, in seconds it eroded and broke down in face of all that had just happened.

The goddess sighed at that sight, once again the mysteries of the world had sippled away from her, crumbling to sand as soon as she interacted with it. The origins of the building, of the crystal and of the bio-mechanical tendrils did leave a sense of curiosity in her mind, but, she had more important duties. Nalmepror looked at the goddess with a bit of a judgemental look, his shiny body now having a few scratches from the pandemonium she had brought upon this land by accident.

Sorry. I committed a mistake. she said in an apologetic tone. The dragon couldn't judge his master very much, what had happened had happened, furthermore, seeing the goddess bothered wasn't a nice sight to him, so he merely huffed some air, letting the past stay in the past.

The goddess looked around, and moved to the very edge of the continent, creating a projection of Arira's map and the towers she had mentioned. After some quick mathematical calculations, she called forth another one of her barriers, this time it was a thin one, sharp enough that it stopped being what it was before and became a blade in function. I'Iro sank it into the ground and slowly cut off a chunk of the land, using her godly powers to them move that rock away.

When she neared the edge the land she gathered started to crumble as it had become far too unstable, that was not an issue, but it was a clear sign she had reached the limit of the Shard's stability, even godly controlled land became brittle at this distance. She stopped moving and instead focused on the metal orb she had created to control the crystal, the nameless alien metal started to contort and change in shape, more components being added before, slowly, the goddess allowed some of the cold to seep into the world again.

The effects were controlled now, the land and water where she was standing were quickly unified in a sheet of ice, the goddess bringing in more water to create a glacier to hold the land together and above the ocean. This zone was arctic in temperature, but by the time the cold reached Galbar, it would be a more manageable temperature, the worst this would do is create some icebergs to surprise unaware ocean travellers in the south.

I'Iro brought forth a small temple, mimicking the architecture she had seen in that fortress, and placed the device she had created at its core. I will name this the jewel of silence she whispered to herself, but Nalmepror heard her.

<viovre aque brul lue?>

The goddess gasped. It was indeed a bit silly to give it a name like that, wasn't it? She couldn't tell if it was because she was happy to, for once, have learned that alien chemistry and physics could be tamed to work on Galbar or if it was because Arira would probably prefer a name like that over a boring scientific name.

Speaking of Arira... A small turquoise letter formed in I'Iro's hand, she turned her thoughts into words within it, a simple message talking about her work in the south and how she could use it to regulate temperatures for the seasonal cycle project. When she let go of the letter, it turned into a bolt of light that flew into the air. Once it arrived at Arira's Paradise, it would reform itself into the message and land gently in the goddess of cycle's table.

Well. It seems this task is done the goddess thought, but unlike last time, she did not feel like she was at loss. This whole experience, as unfortunate as it had been, had been a valuable learning experience. I'Iro now had plans, she was fated to be humiliated for as long as she limited herself to be a relic of a dead world, there was a world out there that she found fun in understanding.

But she would not allow herself to become obsessed with breaking down foreign things and chasing a sense of progress. Ultimately, the main factor at play in her mistakes and successes were within herself, and the tamed forces of nature were too dangerous in the hands of beings that could not tame themselves, gods included. She would need to reflect on that factor before deciding her path forward.

Years Later

"We should not stay much longer in this land, Mensa, it is bad luck to miss the first boat back home." Ata Panin said to his long-time friend and fellow scout. Soon, as the cold receded south, the ice pillars of the ghost ocean would break down, and the salt-flats would become an ocean again, for the entirety of summer season. The event, when the waters first rushed to the coast of the villagers, was deeply meaningful to all of the Theluji culture.

"Just a bit more brother, I saw it with my very eyes when we were travelling with the caravan, but I could not leave the camels and my family behind. Still, it was the Mshtuko Mzizi. If we gather it and its oil we will make a great profit when the water returns."

"Ah, brother, I trust you. But if such a thing that you saw was merely a salt-induced illusion from having crossed the ghost sea when it's dry, you will owe me at least three caskets of brew."

Mensa laughed at that, Ata Panin joining him, their voices echoing through the wintery plains of the deep south of the shard. Then suddenly, Mensa stopped and stared at the snow, his camel almost crashing into him. He rushed ahead, machete in hand, kicking the snow. Soon, he felt it, the shock-root, mshtuko miziz. Without ceremony, he slashed down upon it, the warm oily liquid within pouring out. A sought commodity in all of the shard for its brilliant colour and many uses, from magical to lamp making. Some liked to consume it, but it was not good for the mind.

"By all the holy and unholy gods, Mensa, you did it." his friend was soon near him with his own machete, the camel and a bucket. Finding the rare root, only found in the icy cold south, was a great blessing.

Dreams of Light

It was another day of simple tasks for Habode. Cut wood, sharp weapons, train a young boy on how to use said weapons. The routine of it all was eating away at him, even as the world changed, with the light and waters returning, his life continued to be inert. Side glancing he noticed the only thing that truly kept him going arriving at the village, Maydly, and while it put him at ease at first, he soon noticed the girl was playing with her hair. She only did that when she was nervous when she had some crazy story to tell, like the one yesterday about how she met a goddess.

"Uhm... bro? Do you have a minute to talk?" the girl said exactly as the man had predicted. He didn't even bother answering, he just sighed loudly and nodded his head. "You do. Great. So... I found someone on the sides of the village. Since most of the men are out in the hunt and the other scouting, you are the only guy who can help me bring this person here. She isn't... She isn't okay. If we don't help her soon she ain't gonna make it."

He looked puzzled at that. "A person in danger? Well then. Let's go." he said in a hurry, placing the weapon he was sharpening on the ground and already going towards the gate of the small village... Yet, even after she told him the story, Maydly seemed nervous still, as if she was not telling him the full story. But what could she be hiding?

"No fucking way. What in the abyss is this person doing here?" Habode complained as soon as he saw the distressed traveller in question. Rennard. Bloody captain of the cold feet scouts. He clashed swords with the woman a few times even. "Sorry, Maydly... I..."

"Brother... You cannot possibly be planning to leave her here! I know we had our fights, don't take me for a sympathizer of the cold feet, however... still... a fallen lady found malnourished in the middle of the field, we can't leave her here. It's not right."

"Right. Wrong. Who cares? We aren't knights Maydly. We can't be out there being saints. Fuck. You are always like this. You bring the trouble and then expect me to be the better person."

"Well then. Leave her. I can't carry her myself. Not without finishing the job. So if you leave she dies. And you have that to deal with." she placed both hands on her hip, rolling her eyes.

"Ugh. Fine. I will carry sleeping beauty here to the village. But if she causes any trouble, it's all your fault okay?" He knelt and took in the malnourished rival into his arms, the woman barely responding with how weak she was. As he rose again with her held up Habode was quick to notice Maydly giggling. Probably because of how he was princess carrying a woman he hated. Easily irritated, the ex-bandit decided to pick up a more brutish position by placing the woman on his shoulder. He was quick to notice this didn't improve his situation, only making it worse as the girl even snickered loudly at his awkwardness. "Fuck you. And go and pick her shit up. And do not expect me to fetch water or cook for your little patient here. It's all on you after I am done carrying her."

Rennard woke up with a disgustingly bitter-spicy taste in her mouth... soup? It was soup. And it was hot. Too hot. The proud captain, with her trained reflexes, quickly became spooked as her senses returned, reacting by slapping away at the hand that was feeding her and rising suddenly in her bed, causing the bowl of monster-insect soup that Maydly was holding to fall all over the caretaker.

Slowly the scout started to return to her mind, her vision no longer blurred, time being given for her to see the unknown but simple room she was in and the soup-covered familiar face of... Maydly? From Hanging Bird Halls?

"Aww come on. You had to wake up just as I was feeding you? Oh well. I will take a bath and change. Since you are up, you can eat for yourself. Water is on that bottle. Take it easy, I should be back soon."

As she left, the scout had more questions than answers in her mind, she was left all alone to slowly piece it all together. Feed herself? Why... oh. Right. She had been lost ever since the flood, first in the darkness of the tunnels and then in the light of the surface. Food had ended long ago and she had been scavenging to survive, though in the last day the exhaustion finally caught up and the last thing she remembers was a slow crawl through the grass before she blacked out. That meant Maydly or someone from the village found her and had been taking care of her. But if she was here then it was likely that...

A familiar laugh followed by bickering between siblings, it was the laugh of Habode. Just as she thought. He had agreed to help her? Unlikely. She knew the man. Likely his sister was the one to push for it. "At least he did not wish to murder me," she whispered to herself before meekly starting to drink the soup.

Moments passed, she was still very tired and could focus on little but the soup and her basic survival. Though she also started to think about Habode. She had clashed with his bandits a few time, he was not the leader but he was a notable part of the group, in particular, his speed and dexterity had cost her a few comrades, in turn, her wit had cost his group a few of his friends. Of course... that was not the first time they had met... It was truly ludicrous that she had been saved by him and his family, though perhaps he didn't have a reason to hate her after he left the bandits? But did she have a reason to hate him for the friends she lost? This was a mess.

Knock Knock. A hand hit the side of the doorframe i(f it could even be called that), and immediately Rennnard assumed it was Maydly, her wit not in perfect form yet to notice it was too soon for the bathing girl to be returning. "Oh. You are back. Say I thank you for your kindness but I fear your brother might want to hur..." she stopped herself. It was Habode.

"Pff. If I wanted you dead, bitch, you'd still be on the fields. But that is just how you work, no? Always thinking everyone around is as much of a backstabbing snake as you are." he scoffed at her. "But if you wish to leave, sure, go for it, you will be meeting your death by your own choice, not mine."

"You... As rude and foulmouthed as always. Letting that grudge of yours poison your mind. If I..." the scout tried to move but just trying to do that made all of her vision lose its focus, the world wobbling for a few seconds. "Still. I am not a rat to bite the hand that feeds me. I thank you and your sister for having sheltered me. Do you need some sort of repayment?"

"Ask Maydly, she is the one who found and insisted on helping you. For me, unless you can raise the dead to bring my friends back, there is nothing you can do." he shrugged and was about to turn to leave. "Crap, I lost my focus. Maydly said your clothes are in that bag over there, the neighbour lent us that dress you are using but she expects to have it back soon."

She nodded. "Right. Could you please leave the room so I may have some privacy while I change? Ah... and bring me the bag please, moving is making me feel sick, if I try to get up I will likely collapse." How could she be so casual in this situation, she wondered. This was...

"Fine princess. Gods, years later and you can only speak by barking orders. Far more prude, however." he commented as he picked up the bag.

"Ugh, of course, I did not care about those things back in the days our groups met at the tunnels. We were kids and there was a pool of water perfectly fine for swimming in, plus it was so peculiar to meet kids who were not fellow sabres we just wanted to have fun."

"Yeah. Fun. Two different types of fun though. For us we thought we had met some new friends, for you, it was about meeting curious animals shaped like people, you always treated us like a curiosity, which is why you had no problem. Always looking down upon us, so it's no wonder you slashed Enrik without second thoughts despite you two being close back when we..."

The scout was holding her tongue until now but he was pushing it. "Oh for goodness sake. Do not try to guilt-trip me. You talk as if you and Enrik had stayed as guards in the Hanging Bird, but that is not the truth is it? You were on a gang by then, you were robbing people, ambushing them, killing some people too. If one of the kids on my side had grown into a brute who joined a gang and started threatening your family, your home, what would you have done?" each other made Habode lose her calm a bit, his grip on the bed started to turn into clawing at it, he stepped sternly towards the scout, clearly attempting intimidation. "Oh, there we go again. When the truth hurts you too much you get violent, can't have mean people saying words that break your sense of self-pity huh? The world is cruel and you are innocent, blameless, only a victim of your circumstances..." and at that, her speech was cut by him just throwing the bag on her lap and leaving.

Soon enough Maydly was back, just as Rennard was finishing to change back into her outfit. "Yesh, you and my bro. You are like water and oil you are. Barely woke up and you two are already discussing... Oh well."

"Sorry... I did not mean to do it but my blood boils... Forget it, I will not cause a scene like this again. I want to leave as soon as I can."

"Which won't be soon at all. You are trying to go back to the Fallen yeah? That is a looong journey miss, probably longer now that the whole area is flooded." Maydly informed as she looked towards the horizon from the window. "What did even bring you here anyway? You are far from home... relatively speaking. I doubt any of the tunnels of The Fallen reach this place."

"It is called Etienne not The Fallen. And... well, it was when the waters returned, they flooded the area I was in and I ended up lost. I only found my way back when the sun returned, and even then, I was stuck on the surface, away from home and any source of food I know... if it was not for the weird blessing where I felt satiated and refreshed out of nowhere, I would have perished." she sighed as that memory of her journey through the surface resurfaced. "I wonder what that was, it was surely no illusion but I do not know why a god would..."

"Oh it happened here too. Apparently, it happened to everyone. A lot of strange things are happening all over the world. The gods are returning they say... But when Maydly mentions meeting a goddess, people do not believe a word she says"

Rennard looked at her with a half-smile. "Oh? A goddess is it? And what was she like? Was she pretty? Did she give you an amulet of power?"

At first, Maydly nodded. "Oh yes she was kinda pretty but also very very weird." then it dawned on her that Rennard was smiling mischievously. "Ahhh, you are mocking me are you not. Cruel."

"Sorry, it's just a bit far fetched... even with the sun and the waters returning. You can tell me about it later when my head is in a better state. So. We have only met three times, correct? When I was trading in your village. Though you seem to have grown a lot."

"Most humans do grow a lot when they hit my age."

"Oh, I do not mean adolescence. I mean... you have an air of maturity to you. I cannot explain you. Your, well, an aura is just different to me, I am very sensible to these things, comes handy when fighting sword-to-sword, face-to-face. Has anything changed in your life since we last met?"

"Not really, no. It's the same old life for me, scavenging and working, doing all the jobs my mom told me were feminine, like sewing, preparing animals, you know? And then all the jobs mom used to say were boy jobs too because none of these weak boned klutzes in this village is capable of fixing a roof leak or curring wood properly... Wait... I think I told you the same thing in the Hanging Bird Halls too." Rennard nodded at that, she had, indeed, said this before "Well not my fault, I just like things well done. Especially carpentry, you'd think when your fingers are in the line people would focus on what they are doing and not have their minds in the sky. But well... back to the topic. Maybe there is this one little thing I want to talk with my brother about, a recent development you see? But I am afraid he will just get angry, and be all like, oh Maydly, you never think about others, how reckless of you, of course, I can't allow you do this or that! Always making trouble which I have to fix!"

The scout smiled, a sight that was just surreal to Maydly, who had seen her just in her serious military mode, never in such a casual occasion. Then, however, Rennard seemed a bit scared as she realized something. "Wait, you are not pregnant are you?"

"What the... No! I am not pregnant! Why would you think that!? It's something different. Just. Ahh. Do not busy your mind with my problems, you already have your whole thing to deal with. I don't want to bother you."

"Ah. It's no bother. I should be repaying you somehow. Anyway, how has your brother been doing?" the scout turned more serious and her question was almost a whisper, not that it would help much in the shanties the siblings lived in.

"Well, he is far more stable now than when he was a teen, but he is also so aimless, he is sort of a fighting teacher and a scavenger but he does not like doing either. You know you are not wrong when you said those things, he... told something similar one day, when he was having a bad time. He regrets having joined the gangs instead of staying home, but it was a promise of adventure, wealth and many women, meanwhile home was labour after labour to avoid starvation."

"Well, it's pretty easy to see that his objective right now is to protect you. It's pretty noble of him, there is nothing more valuable than family. It's somewhat impressive too, I remember your mother once complaining that he bullied you too much back when he was still in the village."

"Yeah... But look. I appreciate that he is doing this, that he helped me to go to the surface... But, he isn't living his life, he is living mother's wishes. Trying to make up for the lost time and how sad he had made her... Not that I am doubting his honesty, I think he always loved me even when he said mean things to me. I was the little girl that mom protected a lot, and to add salt to the wound he was seen as a problem kid in the village, always sneaking out and fiddling with the machines instead of doing his chores, while I was a little hard work that everyone praised."

Rennard laughed. "Oh goodness. This reminds me of when I was a kid. I was in a bit of a brat phrase and my father started to always talk about how the Lord Steward's kid was so polite and how everyone in the court praised him but questioned me. Ah, I became so jealous back then, that I started making an effort to be the most polite of all Sabres to make up for it." Maydly was smiling as she heard the story but that last bit truly made it vanish, her eyes turning distant, which was an extremely rare sight for the girl. "You... You okay?"

"Ah no sorry I just remembered something a friend said. Hmm." her frown turned into a small smile. "Anyway, I will prepare another meal soon, anything you want? We don't have those rat jerkies you soldiers enjoy so much, not many rats up here, not since the big winged snake invasion."

Habode still could not believe that he had Rennard right here, in his home, sharing meals with he and Maydly like it was nothing, the two girls already hitting it off, talking, laughing, without stop. After his sister prepared a nice grilled winged snaked dinner for them, he thought they would go to sleep, but nope, the two sat and talked, talked, talked.

He wanted to be annoyed, but hey, Maydly probably missed The Fallen, plus, girls. The girls of the village seemed to shun his sister a bit, so she rarely ever had a friend to talk to. It was impressive how she could keep so positive despite that. It almost made him feel bad that Rennard would likely leave very soon, as her situation was improving greatly, albeit still not as good as one needs to be to make the journey to The Fallen.

"Hey Habode. Back from the scavenging?" a voice said, and it was only because the person talking touched his shoulder that he was able to listen to it.

"Ah. Yeah. i guess." he pointed towards the bag he was carrying. "Got some good stuff today, I think. Lots of nails."

"Oh Maydly will love that. Always such a workaholic that girl. So... hmm... Have you seen Prado's hunting band on your way back? They are a bit late from what we had set."

"Nope. Sorry. I went back from the hills and didn't see a single soul in the lower paths, but maybe I just missed them, I was distracted."

"Probably that. Perhaps they got a good hunt and will need to extra time. I will be on the lookout then. Also, who is that pretty girl that moved in with you and your sister? Another one from The Fallen? Or... did you finally find a sweetie? The girls in the village will be disappointed, hehe."

Habode rolled his eyes. "Just a visitor, a friend of Maydly not mine." he rushed ahead and entered the little abode hut that had been his home for a while. He had saved the life of a trader from here back in the tunnels, this was how he managed to join the village.

"The best thing about the waters coming back is that we can bathe every day. Did you know some people believed the gods went away because we humans became too stinky?"

"Ah but then it would be quite mean to also take the water away? But yes... flowing river water is so much better than that oily stuff from Blacktar Lake."

"Yeah, and it's free, you guys really drove a hard price over that, and we needed it for so much stuff... Oh, brother arrived. I would invite him but he doesn't really like bathing, bet he keeps the gods away."

"Also I am here?? Do not invite a man into this room while I am undressed, please?" Rennard sighed. "Anyway... Have you noticed your skin is a bit... different? I can swear there is an orange-red hint to it, you were far paler last I met you. Also... are you sure you do not have a fever? You are so hot to touch"

Habode had been listening to the whole conversation and while at first, he was both annoyed and entertained by the casual closeness the two women had built, that last part had suddenly made his stomach sink, this could not be good, could it? Was she sick? Was it something he had failed to see and that she was hiding? He should have noticed it before, if he lost Maydly after he lost his mother he would go mad, there would be nothing left for him in this world and...

"Brother?" Maydly questioned, out of the improvised "wash area" and fully dressed, she and Rennard looked at him with a hint of worry as he seemed distressed and lost. He was spoked by it, but suddenly rushed to his sister.

"I do see it now! Your skin did change colour a bit, it's really easy to see against the sun!" he gulped. "Rennard, do you know what the hell this is? A cure perhaps?"

The scout gasped, before raising her hands towards him in a calming manner. "Oh, you eavesdropped us? Clearly missed the last bit though. We remembered a concept the elders talked about, called tanning, which is when your skin changes colour if you stay in the sun. I think this must be the most likely explanation, as she is clearly healthy."

"But why only Maydly and not anyone else in the village?"

"Well you know, maybe its because I am not from this village, maybe it's something people from The Fallen have in their blood that these do not, but we never saw it because it was underground?" she laughed nervously, but soon... felt bad. She was lying, lying because she was scared of telling her brother about all she had learned when she met the goddess. It was weird because at first she tried to be honest, but he didn't buy the goddess and dragon story, now, however, after a while, it seemed so hard to talk about it, maybe because she had run the scenario a million times in her head.

It wasn't right. She had to be honest. "Brother. Actually, I wanted to have a serious talk with you. You know. I think... you have been harsh on yourself far too much. Fate has weird ways of bringing good and bad to others... If you had stayed in the village, you would be dead, most likely, trying to defend it. It was your life as a gang member that made you a good fighter, it was you helping that merchant which gave us this home on the surface, and it was your exploration that gave us the routes to do the trip and escape the fighting... Not that it justifies the gang, but... you know, I am not alone right now because you managed to turn all those experiences you got from something bad into something good. That is what you do when you take control of your future. However... You can do more, you cannot live only focused on protecting me and nothing more."

Habode was surprised by his sister's speech. Outside of their bickerings, they didn't really have any sort of deep conversation. He didn't even know she held thoughts this deeply about their situation. Still. "Maydly, but you are the only person I have left. I don't know what I can even do... outside of protecting you. It's the bare minimum I can do to avenge mother..."

"Uhm" Rennard interrupted "I will feel terrible for this, but I had left you two alone to have this conversation, and I could not help but notice that the villagers are gathering in the centre," she told, looking into the home from the small window. Having truly left to go explore the village.

"It cannot be good. I went up and down the path. No sign of the party at all. Not even a smoke or anything. They didn't even go that deep into the wilds, we scouted the area earlier and there were not any large or dangerous monsters, just the typical prey."

"Calm down Lita. We have to think about this rationally. Prado is a good hunter, he and the others would not get ambushed by animals. It is more likely they decided to camp out."

"Without a firepit? Lest they went past the horizon we would see the smoke from the camp. Plus, he had never been this late."

Habode, Maydly and Rennard had approached the villagers as tensions had started rising. The hunting party was late, the village's best warriors were in it, so it was a bit shocking.

"A terrible creature must have ambushed them... We must avoid the eastern hunting ground."

"No! Are you mad? What if it was an accident? We need to set up a rescue party."

Rennard squinted and started rubbing her chin. "Say, Habode, were these good hunters? How good? I do not know much about the topic, so I need your guidance."

"Ah they were very experienced, it's what really kept the village afloat. They were so good that I was not even invited into it despite my combat skills, something about it being about stealth and navigation instead of just raw combat power."

The scout commander nodded, soon becoming very serious, her pose, expression changing into steel. Combat mode as Maydly would call it. "So it is unlikely they were all killed by the same creature, correct?"

"Even if it was a pack, it's hard to think they would not escape. At least one ought to have made it back."

"Well then." Rennard stepped ahead, into the village of foreigners who did not know who the hell she was. "Friends. Comrades. I would like to have your attention. The hunting party is gone, that we know. They should be within the range of our vision, but we look and we see nothing. They were said to be undefeated by the beasts, so how can this be?"

The crowd was extremely confused at the stranger talking to them in a bold imperative voice, but she was the loudest and nobody felt like talking over her.

"I say, we are dealing here not with a monster that would chase and tear apart. No. We are dealing with something far more sinister. A creature that has the notion that they need to be stealthy, and who else is capable of that, but a brother of ours? A fellow human. A gang. Robbers."

Whispers started, controlled by Rennard clearly as she stopped for a small moment to let the words sink in the crowd's mind.

"The thing about robbers, however, unlike the average beast, is that it moves with purpose and greed, right now, they could be getting ready to ambush the great prise, this very village. If they see well-equipped hunters, they will know they store their food somewhere as well, and under the terrors of torture, they may have got this location from them. So we must get ready, set traps and..."

"Oh gods, we are all going to die!"
"A gang is coming, they killed Prado and now they will kill us. We need to go, run, hide somewhere.

"N-no. wait. That is not..." Rennard was impressed with the cowardice of these groups, she expects them to doubt her theory that it was a gang attack, not to take it to heart and then go into full despair over it.

"Well, now you have gone and done it, the people are panicking. Did you forget these are common folk and not soldiers? And from where did you even take this idea of a gang attack? This area is extremely safe on that aspect because so much attention goes to the fallen instead." Habode scoffed at his rival.

"Yes. I am aware, and I believe this gang comes exactly from there, Etienne, or as you call it, The Fallen."

"Eh? Why? Especially now that things are getting nice again with the blessing of the gods."

Rennard sighed. "What was the currency of Etienne? The thing that made life underground so desirable compared to the surface?"

Habode pondered for a moment. "Light?"

Rennard nodded and then pointed upwards, towards the sun. "And light is now free, therefore worthless. Add to that a freaking flooding from the waters returning and you have the recipe for disaster. This is exactly why I was so desperate to return as soon as possible. Things must be pure chaos down there."

"Oh yeah. I see that now that you mention it. Hmm! You truly have the ability to think in ways that will help your people out. It's enviable."

"Help my people? My people? Do you think my thoughts are about that? Listen, if there are one people who are doing well down there right now, it's us, The Sabre. We have the discipline and loyalty to not leave a brother behind, to prepare, to organize, to evacuate in order and then focus on helping anyone who could be behind. What I worry is about the other folk, the poor people whose lead explorer ran away without a second thought about the others in the village. the parents who were out there trying to scavenge to feed their kids but now cannot return home without a raft, of those who are being scammed by a greedy man who sees this flooding as an opportunity. You should know the type when your village was attacked all you did was sneak in, take your family out, and leave without a single care about another soul down there fighting the raid."

"Fine. Whatever. Have your pretty speech. Do you think however now its time to be yelling about how great of a person you are when the entirety of Cloudy Hillocks is panicking? When bandits are nearby?"

"Yeah uh. You both raise very valid points. So let's stop fighting and focus?" Maydly said quite literally walking in between the scout and the ex-bandit.

"I will go seek out these bandits by myself." Rennard declared. "I can at least stop them for enough time that the villagers will be able to gather their belongings and hide."

"Nah fuck you. You don't get to play the lone hero. I will be going with you." he shrugged. "Maybe the both of us can even take down a whole gang, who knows. I will go get the weaponry from the home." and with that Habode ran away.

"Your brother... is truly peculiar." Rennard sighed.

"I don't think he dislikes you as much as he says. I mean, you killed his best friend, so that is a scar. But deep down... I think he sees you as all that he could not be. He sorts of idolizes you, or rather, is envious of you."

"Oh? Really? That is the opposite of what I had ever thought about him." she sighed. "What I liked in him was how he did not idolize me as my comrades did. I actually memorized all of his criticisms towards me. Though, these ones from the surface are so hollow..."

"Well... I guess you are quite peculiar as well Rennard. But it was fun getting to know the woman behind the soldier. You should relax more.

Habode returned with bows and arrows, as well a sword of his own, Rennard had her own finely crafted sword. "Maydly, can you guide the villagers to those nearby ruins? Seems like the safest place and it's hard to know about if you aren't a local. Me and Rennard will be back soon." he said at first sternly, but then, he approached his sister and hugged her. "Stay safe."

"You stay safe as well bro. Don't bicker with Rennard mid-battle." she hugged back and although she joked she could not smile. Perhaps she had misunderstood her fears when thinking about why she didn't tell her brother about the fire sapling yet...

"Gun." Rennard said to Habode, however, as the enemies walked ever so close, this was not said in words. In the tunnels of The Fallen, where voices echoed way too far for subtlety, sign language took hold for the more delicate pre-combat orders. In this case, it helped as the two of them were in opposing hills, with the five enemies starting to track the path between them.

The village was not called Cloudy Hillocks for no reason, the whole area was composed of small hills, it was incredibly foolish to just charge in, but, as Rennard expected, the enemies were new to the surface, while the tactics of ambush and surprise were things people naturally trained when fighting in the tunnels, manoeuvrability in the surface was utterly unknown to them. This was the main bet of the duo over the upcoming combat.

It was lucky that they actually had not taken volunteers from the village for this fight. Sure being twice outnumbered by the enemy was not ideal, but for this type of battle discipline and veterancy mattered far more, in particular, because the enemy had one scavenged weapon, something that could be particularly shocking on a first encounter.

The quintet walked deeper into the trail. Whispers confirming Rennard's theory about the state of The Fallen, the boss, previously rich in light stones, was not happy with the loss of status, as such, it was time to push the advantage while they had it and seize the riches of the surface. Habode and Rennard met eye to eye across the hill, it was time to roll the dice, it was now or never.

The sound of twang echoed in the quiet of the rocky hills, the arrow falling just short of one of the bandit's feet. Rennard cursed mentally as each shot was essential, her arms were still not at their prime strength.

"What in the abyss?" "Archer." "Where?" "To your left." the voices rambled among each of them. "Just one, I saw they hiding after they shot." "Right..." only one man readied their weapons, and it was the leader with his gun. Soon, he saw the clothed shape moving on the hill and shot, a flash of green followed the high-speed projectile, it hit but it was soon revealed that the target was a mere decoy, a branch with a coat, as a flame formed where the bullet had hit.

This was a moment of distraction, enough for the agile Rennard to get her second shot. The aim was not perfect, but this time she aimed at the mass instead of trying to target vitals as she typically did. The arrow flew, straight into a man's arm. A yell of pain, cursing. Now their pride was hurt enough that they did not rely just on the gun, two bows were readied, the third bowmen of the group was the one she had hit in the arm, effectively making him useless.

As they waited for her to show up on the hill again, another sound of rope snapping, a woosh, this time from behind, right into a bandit's back, a painful hit, but not a fatal one. The leader cursed and readied his gun, attention was naturally drawn to behind them. Of course, Rennard would not let this chance be wasted, she peaked to shoot again, just to find herself rolling just in time to avoid an arrow, while four of the men had looked to the other side initially, the one she had hit on the arm, still with a grudge, forced one of the bowmen to turn back towards that hill.

It was now time to play into the bandit's fear, they could not lower their aim in face of the unseen enemies, but they could not hold the bow forever, no matter how they looked at it, the attackers had the advantage by being uphill. "Shh. Lower it. Kore, Leor, you watch for the hills with me. Sibat, Axil, go up, that there, rush one of them. Once one is done with we can retreat and properly hide from the other.

It was as good as they could do right now. They were the most agile after all, they could gain an advantage while Rennard was still hiding. Of course... it was an uphill run, draining both their stamina and focus as they tried to do the task. Swords in hand, they reached the top of the hill, just to find the area with large rocks and the burning coat and branches. Their eyes darted from boulder to boulder, this was not good, they needed an...

There was barely a moment to ready up as Rennard descended upon them with a running stab of her sword, the leading, unhurt bandit managing to deflect it with his own. The one hurt in the arm was paranoid, thinking he would have been the first to be targeted due to his debilitation, when he wasn't, he took way too long to react, and his reaction was almost desperate, absurdly clumsy. Rennard threw herself at the ground causing the incoming bandit to trip over her, finding himself rolling down the other side of the hill, while her unorthodox movement paid well in that one engagement, the other, unhurt bandit was still on his feet and near her, being in the ground was not a good position at all. A quick roll, and an attempt at throwing a knife, were just enough to avoid getting her hit by his sword, but he was gaining on her. She would have one chance to get up, her eyes moving to both sides in a second, his own eyes following that movement. Then she crawled backwards, towards the fire that had been set on the decoy coat, the bandit stuck in false towards the right, and was forced to watch as the women rolled into and past the small fire, smoke rising as she did so, her form becoming unclear, but standing up again for certain.

He rose his sword, the smoke coming straight into his eyes, the women did the same, and rushed, a kick, embers and wood bits flying up, sword met again, she hit him once, twice, not managing to outdo their weight difference, he hit once, she held her sword with both hands, his crude iron weapon did little to it, she started to move again, sword raised little movement outside of small faints. Then the slash, he once again deflected, but using the same technique three times had its price, the fox had learned how to predict it, it always went down to the right, so, she made sure to hit his legs during that. A brief moment of pain, enough for her to slash again, this time finding little opposition as she struck against his neck, a small cut, but enough to do the job as the blood started to flow. The man tumbled and she kicked him towards his comrades down the hill.

The expression in the surviving trio's eyes was one she knew well, it was their world coming to stop. Time became slower, feelings became dulled, it was defeat, acceptance you will likely not win the fight or flee this situation, all the plans, all the dreams of victory and glory, shattered. The pieces on the table moved as if on their own, the enemy's with purpose, his own with startled aimless movements.

A rock came rolling down the other hill, Habode slid downward after it. Although the gunman tried to aim for him, it was impossible to do that and not be hit by the rock. He tried to aim again, shot, missed. The two other gang members covered for him, but it was too late to ready bows, they picked up their swords and waited for the man to attack. But why would he do that? Why did they expect him to attack them? Instead, he started to prepare his bow for a shot. The two men with swords panicked, thinking they had fallen into another clever trap. Ironically, the trap was exactly this, to have them rushing him in panic. If Rennard was deadly grace Habode was a swift storm, the mercenary to her noble. He picked his first target aiming for the weakest, most hurt one, deflected his running swing and grabbed him, outright raising him from the ground and throwing him to the mud. The other attacker sidestepped his comrade, startled, and was punished immediately, as Habode thrust his sword straight through his chest, falling with him to the ground.

Typically he would stay up, but the gunman was still active, just now having reloaded his scavenged artefact. His only choice was to try to hide behind the still living bandit, the one he had thrown in the ground. He expected this would stop the bandit leader, it would have stopped him after all, but nope, the man still shot, both the human shield and Habode gasping as they struggled for their lives. The projectile ripped through them. Just a second before Rennard pounced the gang leader, her knife sinking where his neck met the shoulder multiple times before he could even react.

"Habode! Habode! Goddamnit. If you got shot I will fucking kill you." Rennard yelled in a moment of uncharacteristic rudeness, her heart sinking as she rushed towards him.

"Fuck... My side. Ouch. Damnit. This shit burns goddamit." he rolled away from the last living bandit. Both hurt, none fatal, a scrap made at the side of their torso.

"Oh, thank goodness you are fine. That is a nasty bruise though, we will need to cover that in some medicinal paste or you will rot from inside for sure. First though... dealing with our friend here."

"P-please. Please don't. Kill me. Spare me. I am unable to fight any longer. Make a slave, but do not kill me... I was just... trying to survive..."

"Yeah. I do not doubt that. I wish we lived in times. Where I could actually afford to spare you of the death penalty. But... We don't? Do we not? Those hunters you ambushed, those from this village, are any of them alive?" the man looked at her, eyes full of fear and guilt. "Nope. They aren't. Well. Damnit. That is too bad. But I understand why you didn't keep them prisoner, and you must understand why I will also act like you did. It's hard, you know? I am good at reading people but its impossible even for me to be able to tell if you had a sudden change in heart for real or if you are just like this because you are facing the pointy end of a sword..."

"Holy shit Rennard just fucking kill the dude already. To make these long speech of yours in this situation is just too cruel." Habode complained. Rennard rolled her eyes, and finished off the wounded bandit as quickly as she could. It was not a pretty sight at all, and although she had been locked in a battle for her life, killing him did make her feel bad.

"Well... I guess this is it huh? I hate when fights end, the rush of the moment is gone, and that is left is my body aching and a bunch of bodies spilling blood all over the place."

"Huh. I always took you for the sadistic type. The more you know I guess." Habode tried to get up but his wounded sides made it almost impossible, at least until Rennard helped him. "It's fucking crazy, me and you, fighting together. We did some nice damage today, did we not?"

"That we did. I had really forgotten how absurd is the combination of your speed and strength. I had to dance for a long time to take down my wounded opponents meanwhile you just downed two almost instantly, outright grappling your opponent mid sword combat was just amazing... Lame area awareness though, that shot you got was avoidable. Your sister almost became truly alone today."

"And wouldn't that be for the better? I heard you both talking, about how she has some sort of project in mind but doesn't talk to me because I wouldn't understand. It's... Frustrating. Even when I try to help someone, I just end up making them feel oppressed."

"Oh stop that. You know very well your sister loves you. And while you are a stubborn rock head, I think her fears are not just of you trying to stop her, but of being separated from you. She said she didn't have many friends, so you are in a sense the one person she can rely upon, the one person who makes her feel like she has a home."

"Hmm... This is all..." he sighed. "The type of thing that feels really weird discussing while covered in blood?"

"Ah... good point. Let's rush back to the village, and also get them to come back now that the bandit threat is gone... for now. I doubt this will be the last degenerate tunnel gang crawling out."

Maydly looked up at the sky, the shining stars, the weird moons, it was crazy that the world had changed so much in so little time. Crazier still, was that her own life would have to change radically from here onward as well. There was no more avoiding it, seeing her brother return all bruised from battle, it had awoken in her the fear of something bad happening without proper communication between the two. This fear triumphed over any other concern.

Earlier today, after the celebrations over the victory and the mourning over the dead hunters, she had decided to avoid her brother by saying she would go visit a friend. But, she could not delay anything anymore.

She stepped into her home again, taking a deep breath as she tried to avoid overthinking what she had to say. She went where she knew she would find him, entering his room, seeing him once again looking up at the roof, a brooding expression. One key difference though. Rennard of all people hugging him while sharing a bed, the scout sleeping.

Habode looked at Maydly with surprise, and she answered in an equally gasping expression, a sense of shyness as she connected the dots and just sheer shock from the improbable scene. It was easier to just close the door and pretend this was a dream.

But soon Habode appeared, his face already showing a sign of annoyance. "You had to, of all days, decide to come back earlier than expected today, huh?"

"H-how the hell did this happen? I... Was one battle enough for... were you two... Yikes." she took a deep breath and then slowly let the air out. "Eh, whatever. You are a grown man and you decide who you sleep with. If anything Rennard is a massive improvement over the type of women I saw you going out with back in the gang days."

"I won't even bother explaining, adrenaline was high as we talked about the battle and sword techniques and then... Forget it. But. Why are you back."

"Well brother. I... I am facing a situation. I really wasn't pranking you when I said I met a goddess. I received... some sort of mission. It is hard to explain. My skin isn't turning a different colour because of tanning, it's some sort of fire within me."

Habode's eyes widened at that. "And you were acting as if me sleeping with my rival was very weird. Maydly. What is this? You entered a pact with some self-declared god and now your body is changing? Maydly...! This isn't..."

"I do not think its bad! It wasn't even the goddess fault, it's because I took care of that plant, it kinda... gifted something to me, a reward. But... Well. To do this properly I need to understand the world and other people better, and that is a bit hard... when all of my life is contained within two small villages. As such, since the people are already talking about abandoning the village anyway, I was thinking..."

"They are abandoning the village? I mean... sure we have hit critical depopulation, but still... Ugh, I guess I should have paid more attention to what they were talking about..."

"But I guess flirting with Rennard took priority? Anyway... I want to travel the world. I want to meet new people. I want to learn what this fire within me means by the context of others. And I know what you are going to say, that you will come with me... But I kinda... don't want to. On one side, this is my mission, not yours, on the other... I don't like you just dedicating your whole life to me."

The older brother looked at this sister for a long moment, before sighing. "Well. That is an inevitability anyway. I have never seen you this serious about anything in your life, and although wandering the world isn't the best description of a long term plan... if that is what your heart calls sister. I trust in you. I trust you are not making a rushed decision. You have always been a bright girl..."

"B...For real?" she stepped back, the acceptance and compliments were a sudden and unexpected result. "I mean..."

"Plus, maybe I will get serious with Rennard so it will be easier to have a spare room." he laughed.

"Do you want to die? Cause that is how you get killed." she playfully punched him softly in the chest, causing him to wince in pain as she had hit his hurt side. "Oh sorry... so... I guess this will uhm... one of our last times talking together...?"

His hand gently patted her on the head. "Why, aren't you going to visit me? I was about to say how you had matured into such a responsible woman, and you do that?" he pulled her into a hug. "Do visit us again, I will go back to The Fallen after this. Rennard invited me personally to come help, plus if the villagers are leaving, I am sure some will want to also resettle there. Avoid travelling alone, keep a knife or machete in your pocket. Don't trust any random god you meet laying around."

"Hehe. You can bet I will be back. You better teach your future half-fox kids how to respect their cool god-touched aunt." a soft wink. "But... It makes me happy. It has been a long while since you were this playful. I missed this old Habode, and I will miss him in my journeys..." she raised a finger to her eyes, to hide a tear. "I need to go get my things ready, ask for provisions from the others. Prepare my own. Uhm... you can go back to cuddling Rennard or whatever."

Habode sighed as he noticed where he was. Once more, his old home, Hanging Bird Hall. The faintly lit corridors are surrounded by little square rooms on both sides. Originally these were full of makeshift houses, but now, each of these small squares now hosted a little shop in each of them, the lower part where the farm once was had turned into a pristine lake where kids loved to swim among the ruins. The location, peaceful and close to the surface, was a key trading point between Etienne and The Surface.

People had repurposed this place once and had now done it again. A true statement of how fiercely they could survive and improvise. And although it was loud, smelly and very dirty still, there was a sense of beauty in it all, as the people moved back and forth among the fallen rocks, market stalls and the rays of light seeping from the shiny surface above.

All these good vibes were suddenly crushed when a faceless mannequin attacked him. Habode letting out a yelp as his childhood fears were explored.

"Surprise ambush!" yelled the woman behind the doll, Commander Scout Rennard Fenequil. "How distracted you are, Lieutenant Habode." she said with a gentle giggle.

"I dress this weird-ass Sabre uniform for you and this is how you repay?" he answered grumpily.

"I think the uniform is quite nice, if not outright cute."

"Just on you." he shrugged.

"Excellent counter-attack lieutenant. Now, no more smiles. Put on your serious face, I have serious reports a merchant has been using a secret lift for actions such as smuggling and tax evasion. Already a worrisome deviant surely, but hear this, they say this merchant is a short man with the leg of a goat on a long tail."

And so continued another day in the lands once called the Fallen. Now slowly that name faded, the Sabre's preferred Etienne overtaking it, a reborn phoenix city half-submerged in the swamps, home of the Sabre Republic and innumerable treasures lost in its countless underground tunnels.

Dreams of Light and Medley II

It appears my assumption was correct The goddess said as she finished using her mind to clear up another section of the corridor. This was a man-made ruin, and although the design was so different from the one back at her homeland she could identify a similar level of mastery in it, which meant the humming she heard... had to be from an electromagnetic processor. To find a functional computer, that would surely help her understand this world better.

She faced a wall, advanced design, would open by command. She gave the command, no response. Door. If you have a soul like that rock forgive me. But I will need to engage in a violent method. she declared before kicking the massive door until it opened.

The goddess' eyes glimmered, not from a showcase of the emotion of her own, but from the faint light of a still active system. Greatness. This is better than I expected. If I can extract the archives and gain access I could know so much...

Without a second thought, she advanced hand extend, touching the system, a massive metallic orb flying among crystals, to be able to contact with it. She felt something close to excitement as she prepared herself for the flow of information.

erve.plad (muesque_gepluan)
dua vieiugne
dua vieiugne
vieiugne vin

A kick upward and the goddess broke contact with the system forcefully. The previously alive facility breaking down and finally going silent, the ball crashing to the ground over the crystals. Humming its last.

She hadn't even managed to get a reply, the response was not like anything she had seen before, or rather, it was... like those things she had seen in the void. Code and Data as eldritch to her as those monsters were to biological life. She looked down at her hand, it was badly damaged, the skin-like dermis seared and some of the metal showing. If she hadn't broken contact the rest of her body would surely be like that, that was a close call.

My head... I hope no long term damage happened. Ah. I knew it was just too good to be real. It's clear that any technology found is as corrupted as the land above. Ah. I need to. Rest.

Gently, the goddess rested her head against the ancient stone, breathing deeply before she slipped into a dreamless rest.

"Lady? Hello Lady? Are you dead? Cause you are lookin' a bit pale. Well if you have passed on. I am going to loot those fancy clothes of yours, okay? I'Iro opened her eyes in silence once she heard that voice, in front of her she saw a human figure, young, female, scruffy long hair, torn clothing, carrying a shining stone necklace. Trying to steal her feet? Still unable to speak, she simply reactively moved her leg away from the girl. "Oh you are living? That is a surprise. Ah... the girl looked up with a smile. "Yesh. Sorry for this attempt at looting, I wouldn't have tried if I knew you were breathing. Also damn did you glue your shoes to your feet or something? Nah. I am distracting myself. Here, take my hand. I will help you get up.

Do not mind it. Such acts are understandable. Given the situation of the world. The goddess was going to accept the offered hand but she stopped, her eyes noticeably changing to focus on her hand instead, as she thought about how her damaged dermis and magical damage could hurt the girl. Though, looking over, she noticed only a few scars remained.

"Ahaha, look at that, we are bruised hand buddies. Though yours look way cooler than mine which I got taking care of a plant. the girl gave I'Iro the space to get up herself then, and as she did, she couldn't help but comment more. "So, where are you from, fancy clothes? Cause you don't look like anyone from anywhere I ever saw. Not from the villages, not from The Fallen, and no way you are a refugee from a far land when you are this well dressed she then turned her sight to the corridor leading to the main entrance of the ruins and the world outside. "And how the heck did ya make it this far? Last time I came to this place this whole half of the building was just rubble.

I'Iro blinked. What a casual tone, did the girl not know she was a god? Perhaps, in this current state of the world, a weak goddess such as her was easy to mistake for a mortal, she wondered if that was good or bad. I came from another continent. You could say that was my Homeland. But it was sinking. So I came here with my... how would you call it... Flying Serpent slash Dragon?

"You pulling my leg lady? Hit your head? Nah. Let's not be rude. Look, do you have a place to go? Cause you are speaking weird and still a bit dead-eyed, so... If you don't have anything to do, why not tag with me to the village, hmm? Maydly here is gonna take care of you.

I'Iro opened her mouth but the girl, despite being about half her size, simply seized her hand and led her away from where she was.

Without even realizing it, the goddess, still a bit dizzy from her failed attempt at reviving technology, found herself following this mortal girl. She could not deny that at this point she was curious, where did she find so much energy in this sunless dreary world?

So. If understood correctly you are Maydly. Correct? the girl nodded. If you do not mind me asking. Why were you in those ruins? Do not take this as an offence but you are of a very inappropriate frame for hard work and combat.

"Oh me? Well, see, our village is one of hunters and scavengers. So most of the able-bodied men are out there in the really dangerous job. This leaves looking over the areas that are considered somewhat safe for the more nimble sorts like me. Well... If I wanted I could stay in the village since I am good at the domestic and maintenance jobs but then they would probably send a kid in my place. Can't have that, can I? Plus I am pretty good at scavenging, the men don't have that meticulous touch I have, they just aim straight for the most precious things and miss a lot of good stuff left just a bit hidden in the ruins. she giggled in acceptance of the dreary situation.

You seem content with that situation. the goddess noted, her focus entirely on the girl.

"Well ehhh. It's a bit complicated ain't it? I would not say I am content. But sometimes it can't be helped. You gotta do your best with what you are given. It's not like being out hunting is any better. There was this boy I liked and... well, his whole party just disappeared, poof, one day they are tracking some monster to try to bring some food home, the next, they are no longer with us. It was sad, and I am still sad that it happened. But what am I to do? Weep and give up? No way! They just died for the sake of our survival, which means we gotta survive three times more to honour them. she rose her arms up and puffed her cheeks, trying to look strong.

The goddess' eyes narrowed, she wondered how she could approach those thoughts and question them. That is a commendable sentiment. However. Do you not think that perhaps... This could lead to bad behaviours? You could overwork yourself or act recklessly for the sake of a person who has passed.

The girl turned to face I'Iro, her face slowly turning into a stubborn frown. She sighed. "Ugh. That is why I ain't cut to be a leader like my bro. You just get in this situation where you gotta tell everything step by step. It's like... uh... it's like. It's cold, right? A person comes to me and says Ohhh I am cold. I will answer, wear some more clothing, take my cloak, or whatever. But then, it gets hotter, and the person starts sweating, and you are like stop wearing so many clothes. And the person is like... ohhh but you said I should wear more clothing. Like ugh. Think for yourself. Don't extrapolate everything I say.

That is quite the humorous reaction to this. But I think your point is valid. I did extrapolate your idea to find an issue. I promise it was just out of curiosity and not by ill will or mental laziness. the goddess said with a slight smile. Though I must say it is quite curious that you have such strong opinions on a topic such as leadership.

"Eh? What did you mean with that lady? Seesh. Well, I guess some people look up to me despite many also calling me silly or airhead. People call me diligent and whatnot, because I am a bit of a jack of all trades, both in the current village and the one that I lived before, the same habit of just calling my name whenever any small trouble happens. How I do it is, like, hard to explain, every time I try it just ends going bad and the person comes out of it worse."

The goddess was about to ask something else to this peculiar human when she noticed something new in the sky. Outside of the stars, of course. It was... purple? No, red... The colour kept growing to encompass more of the horizon... and then the bright rays of light started to dawn over the mountains.

"Moles bite me. Is that... Light? In the sky? It isn't... it isn't the apocalypse, right? Cause me ma when she was alive told stories that sky shined and stuff... but... this looks more like that thing people talked about... and... OUuuuuuuchhhh.

I'Iro looked to the side to find the girl holding her hands over her eyes. Oh right. Do not stare at it. And do not worry... it is a good source of light. I am sure of it. Provided you do not stare into it. the goddess however could stare at it freely without issue. Nalmepror is going to be so happy with this.

"Well seesh. Could have told me that before I did the thing. Hmm. My vision got all blurry. Oh, this is bad.

The goddess gently patted the girl's head. Going from complete darkness to staring at searing light is not good for the eye but it should heal. Do not worry. I can see your village from here. I will guide you. the goddess said allowing the girl to hold to her arm as her vision wasn't the best right now.

"No. Wait. It's just that. With this new light. I am worried about a plant I have hidden away in a ruined chamber nearby. If this strong light gets to it, I fear it will dry up for good.

The goddess was surprised by that. Was she putting this much trust in her or was she this desperate to preserve a simple plant? Perhaps it was just her youth and the lack of priorities that come with it. I'Iro however could not say no to her after all this. It is that dome up the hill, correct? By the tall lone rock?

"You can see it from here? But yeah. It should be there. Can you take me? I promise to repay you... somehow? I don't have a lot but...

Do not worry. Let me guide you as repayment for your previous service as my guide. the robot goddess gently started to move, keeping the human girl by her side. So. Back to our talk. Did you mention a brother? How is your relationship with him.

"Ehh It is a bit uhm. Seesh. We like each other. We get a bit along. But there is a coldness to him. A certain... mistrust? Resentment. It's just that. We do not see eyes to eyes on some stuff. He thinks I lack ambition but he is the one who is always aimless you know? So many lofty dreams far away and yet he doesn't know what to do in his day to day troubles. The uh... Ahem. He is the sort of person who has his sight twenty steps ahead, so he forgets to look at his own feet and end up tripping.

And you are? the goddess questioned. The girl had to take a moment to think.

"I am... kinda dumb, haha. I just... Take it one step at a time you know. When I was young I was a bit more broody but, well, mom forced me to come to help her with everything. In one way because she wanted me to work, but also, because, it helped? When you do a chore, and you focus on it, the world becomes small and your mind becomes clear. It's like with scavenging you know? You start to notice the little things left behind because you aren't in a rush."

The goddess nodded at that and smiled. Funny. You remind me of someone I met. Maydly looked up at her with some confusion but then shrugged it off. The goddess noticed her eyes were better, she likely could walk on her own now. But if she kept hugging her arm like that, she must have had her reasons, so I'Iro wouldn't bother her.

"Argh. It is as I feared. There is a lot of light seeping in and this place is kinda hot. I wish we could have ran faster up the mountain, I hope it didn't dry it up. but as she entered the circular chamber where she had stored the plant, she saw the damage, while there, was still not fatal, despite the unfortunate mix of holes on the dome roof and glass shards on the ground. Still, the weak plant was even weaker.

Huh? Is that... Whoa. I was searching for this all over this land. How funny that you of all people would be the one who has found it.

The girl barely registered what the goddess had said at first as she rushed to move the vase, trying to get the plant back up. "I hate when this happens. I knew leaving the sapling this far from home would be trouble but I couldn't dare to take space and resources from the village to do it there... Wait. What did you mean with that lady?"

This plant is mine. I brought it from the other continent. See. Did you not think I am weird? And did you not think the plant is weird? Well. Make the connection.

The girl squinted for a moment and then gasped. "Holy... Pardon me. You might be right. But then... Whoa. I need a moment to process this. Okay processed. So, you... uhm. You... Have a dragon? Does it have big teeth? And more importantly, can you save the plant? Feels like destiny doesn't it? I am feeling bad. I have not been a good keeper. Seems like I have a certain aura of death to me. So you can take it and give it the proper care.

The goddess took a moment to delicately sort through the motions presented. The girl seemed above all a bit nervous for once, she was fiddling with her hand, the bandage slowly loosening up to reveal the cut she got from the plant. I do not believe in destiny. It was more likely that her interest in the girl was from some unnoticed unlabelled sensor noticing she had been managing the plant as of late. And well... You did what you could within your limits. That is what is important no? You said that. And so did the people who gave me the branch you tried to save. the goddess moved forward and brought the human's hand neared. Scanning the wound and noticing something she should have guessed earlier. It seems you were finding some sense of worth in taking care of this sapling. But perhaps you are something far more special than the plant itself. How can I put it to you... The people I met, the people who gave me the plant, their legacy lives within you. This is curious considering you do have a similar outlook in life...

The girl's eyes shined at that moment. Though she didn't care much about great destinies, the idea that she was important to some people from some lost continent far far away was at least a bit romantic. "Like... I continue to carry their spirit? Somehow? I don't know them, lady, but I will..."

I did not intend to give it esoteric context. I meant your DNA. Because it seems the plant carries a bio-genetic agent that with the radiation in the air...

The girl stepped ahead and shook her head "You are saying weird things again. I will just take that as carrying the torch. Okay? But what from them... what am I... Aww sheesh. This is a lot. Do I have to just keep..."

The goddess sighed. Perhaps it was better if the girl understood it like that. You do not have to change necessarily. Keep being yourself. Keep taking things one step at a time. I have faith in you. Ponder about what this gift you received means. But. Perhaps to serve as a soft guide for the future. Take this... err. Token... Chip. Put it under your pillow or head when you sleep. she raised two fingers and between them a coin-sized and shaped turquoise stone appeared.

"Whoa magic? You are a magician? the goddess smiled. Then, outside, there was a loud sound, flapping wings.

Seems like my ride has arrived. the goddess took the branch back and gave Maydly her chip. Then casually, in her typical aloof manner, though to the human it was incredibly cool, she moved towards a newly arrived Nalmepror. His wings shining with rainbow pearlescence now that the sun had returned. One last thing. Today... I felt a bit envious. Because despite being a goddess I have been somewhat aimless since I arrived here. Doubting myself down to the very core. So when I saw you and how self-assured you are. How unshaken your core is in the face of the worst of the apocalypse. I felt a bit of it. Of envy. Perhaps. I am not the only one who has felt like this. I cannot say for sure. But do remember that concept. And. Finally. I am I'Iro. Goddess of Dreams. Greetings and goodbye.

Up in the air, the goddess' turquoise hair flowed freely as Nalmepror, now fully powered, was able to unleash his potential and fly at extraordinary speed.

{om titmugne e hade feu prexe capte ver bien eur lueradre}

Huh? I do not see how this broke my policy of non-interference. It is not a manipulation of the mind. I could have talked to her about everything the chip contains and it would have been an acceptable external output.

{me vrepte si e arer cluste ge}

It feels like I am emotionally attached? Well. Perhaps I am. But my judgement was clear in my decisions. You are somewhat judgemental today Nalmepror. Do not let that solar energy get to your head.

Dreams of Light and Medley I

Habode sighed as he noticed where he was. Once more, his old home, Hanging Bird Hall. The faintly lit corridors are surrounded by little square rooms on both sides, originally these were open but the residents had built makeshift walls of scrap metal and wood boards. That is where they lived, in the wings of the bird-shaped structure. The central area, where you had to descend through stairs, was where they tried to grow whatever was edible enough. Of the many ruins encased in cocoons of metal within The Fallen, it was one of the most peaceful ones and it even opened up to the surface at times.

That memory as it was brought him a sense of unease and disgust, he had moved on from that life as a squatter in some centuries-old building built by who knows what. He hated the Bird, he hated The Fallen, he wished to never return. As these feelings took over his mind, his dream became worse, now the halls of his hometown were empty, everything they had built, the shanties, was now gone. The people, gone. All that remained were the cold walls made of smooth rock-paste, as he called it. And those empty box rooms on both sides of the halls. Just him, no other human in insight.

At least not a living one. There were... them. The faceless. Gods, he hated those bastards. The first time he learned how to swing a bat he crushed a few to dust. All the elders loved to tell horror tales about those things, humanoid in shape but cold, not like statues, as they were too light and empty inside. Some say these were the people who built this place, zapped into stone by the angry gods, the fact so many of the faceless were found with clothing made some believe that. He thought it was all bullshit, but in his dreams, they followed him, they watched him, they moved, and if he got too close, they grabbed him.

Escaping the faceless, he entered the tunnels, ah the tunnels, the core of The Fallen, and its lifeblood. When he was young he and other boys would explore the minor ones despite their mother's warnings of dangerous sadistic gangs and untold monsters lurking down there. When they became adults, they were expected to dive into the tunnels, despite the sadistic gangs and untold monsters.

Why? Because the runnels led to ruins, and ruins led to the most precious treasure of The Fallen. True wealth was not in the precious metals, not in the stocks of water, not in the scraps of food, no, what the villages of The Fallen fought for was only the most essential of all things:


The tunnels protected from the disaster above, even the earthquakes seemed to do little to their metal shells. But in turn, without light, they were stuck in darkness, and the darkness was terrible. People would rather go days without food than days without light. So the villages had to send forth their youth to go gather light as it was found in The Fallen. In crystalline stones.

The white ones were the ones most commonly found, very faint glow, but it was light. Then there were some rares one. The green ones, faint sickly green light, only the desperate used them, as the light was cold and yet it caused their skin to burn. Some weird ones like the dark purple stone he once found which was barely light. And then... ah, the most wanted, the thing that could a beggar become king in a day, and then be stabbed a thousand times by a thousand different criminals, the golden stone. He had only seen one of those, his group found it, by that time he had left his village and joined a gang, but the sight of it, it gave him hope, as the light of the stone was enough to sustain a few crops and could be the line between survival and death. He almost felt guilty enough to want to steal that stone and bring it to his worried mother back home and his baby sister, but he was not suicidal, and even if he escaped, they would have gone straight for his village and attacked it.

Habode now found himself too deep down the tunnels, gang territory, way beyond the villages. He wondered why he had joined a gang, why he had left his family. It was just natural for an ambitious young boy, it was also fun, there were so much death and drama, violence, it was distracting from the terrible fate they were set in, and if you weren't in a cannibal or worse gang, well, the memories were almost not too haunting, most people you robbed just let you take their things in peace, and they never cleaned any village or house they raided.

Looking back, it was all so dull, it was always the same thing. Gangs rose, became too big, and then imploded. Sometimes some degenerates would find a lost room with some cache of weapons and then there would a whole year where they would take massive sways of The Fallen for themselves eliminating entire gangs and villages, then their little toys started to break apart one by one while the number of enemies they made had only increased. The ending was obvious.

There was only one gang that had escaped this cycle, he called them The Cold Feet. Fuckers. Arrogant little bastards. They were brutal like any other gang, as dumb as any, but oh, they had a backstory. According to these delusional freaks, they were not simply descendants from the people who built The Fallen, they were the very people who built it. When the world started to first go to shit countless eras ago, they were encased in cocoons of ice to wait it out like bloody cowards.

The shadows of "Cold Feet" members, lurking through the vents and catwalks, started to approach, bastards. In his dream, he had a scavenged gun though, one that never broke after five bloody shots, and he could take them down like they were rats.

What he hated the most, was their bloody excuse on why, if they are the masters of everything, they are as inept when it comes to opening doors and safes, messing with the cables, or using weapons. Hell, they can't even bloody read. In fact, why can't they make the weapons and kill every enemy they have? Well, you see, according to the snobs, they 'lost their memory' over the eras they were gone, only a few glimpses, enough to support their claims, remaining. If it was not a lie, it wouldn't mean anything still, who needs ancient masters straight out of the ice if they are as useless and clueless as the squatters, but it was a lie, and he hated it.

He hated it because he hadn't thought of it, it was genial, and it was the reason why those he called "Cold Feet" had survived longer than any gang so far. There was a myth, a foundation, an eternal quest given to newborns from birth. They were not hopeless squatters' surviving, they were vengeful spirits of the past, out to reclaim all that is theirs.

While other gangs broke, they persevered, they trained, they amassed resources. There was a sense of guilt in going against fellow gang members, who they called brothers, family. They couldn't just kill their leader, it was not honorable, they had to be better.

He was pretty sure these delusional bastards would slowly, bit by bit, become the biggest cats in The Fallen, if that place had not been flooded to hell and back when the waters returned to the world. He hated it, because of his envy and his desire to be out there doing something better with his life, but, at least, if they were ruling, their honor or whatever, would have meant fewer raids, then his mother would have been....

He sensed something out in the corner of his eyes, quickly taking out his amazing, unbeatable gun, he turned to face the figure, it was... a faceless? No, she had a face, but the stare was as cold as the faceless' one, it bothered him so much, that he fired, but for the first time in his dream, the gun broke, crumbling to dust. The figure looked surprised for a moment as the whole dream of The Fallen broke apart, and he fell into the darkness below.

"GODDMANIT!" he woke up kicking and screaming, his hand flew to his side in search of some weapon, but no gun or sword or even knife was to be found, only the bed and his little room in an equally small shack. He was no longer in The Fallen and its dark corridors, he was in Cloudy Hillocks, the sky above him glowed faint red.

" 'nother nightmare brother?" Maydly entered his room with a smile and the smoked leg of some sort of creature. "You slept through lunch, the hunters arrived from another monster raid, I hope you enjoy griffin leg! Cut it myself from the carcass they brought" she added with a simple chuckle.

He nodded at her. "Thanks, sister. Oh, and I got some of that worm-earth you asked for, found some in my scavenge hunt."

Her eyes shone with joy. "Oh did you!? Great. I am sure the little amber slapping will enjoy it." she hummed.

"You still looking after that thing? Damn. I don't see how you find it pretty. It's so... twisted and weird, and it smells bad. Like the depths of The Fallen."

She puffed her cheeks. "Well, I found them just as the waters first arrived. So they surely must have been a sign of goodwill, right? Plus, it's soothing, you really should pick up some tasks which don't involve killing things brother, maybe it would help you with those dreams."

"Not botany though, taking care of plants... reminds me..."

Maydly gasped and nodded. "No, I understand. Take your time. I just want you to know that... I am thankful for all that you did, even if we are often bickering, you are my brother, no matter how much of a numskull you are, I will always be here."

He didn't know if he sighed or if he smiled at that.

Ah! How unfortunate. the goddess' body slowly started moving again as the dream connection had ended. While I have learned to intercept dreams more easily. It seems my divine nature brings interference. I will have to adapt my code to deal with that if I am to be able to perceive mortal dreams without changing their content.

{di e vin aque frirque que?} Nalmepror questioned. The goddess shook her head.

Not really. I am sure the waters would have carried the branch in this general direction. But so far I have not been able to find any hint of it in any mortal dream. Yet it has also not moved past the edge of the world. So surely it must have been intercepted somewhere... Ah. It cannot be helped. We will need to keep searching. It is good because I can also perform the task of exploring this continent as we continued on our hunt.

Astella, I’Iro, Orynn, An-Clastophon & Lonn

Starring in…
Pipe Fixers

It had been a long journey though the burning skies of a crumbling world. The irradiant turquoise trail that Nalmepror left behind was dwarfed by the sickly red aurora that surrounded them. I’Iro hadn’t expected to find living creatures in her travels, but through rifts in space-time many had appeared and on the sinking lands below many ancient monsters and lost souls still roamed. They did make her curious, but any approach was impossible, as Nalmepror was at its limits and without him she assumed she would simply sink down in the world of void, flames and monsters.

Only after traveling half a world, when she started to doubt how factual the broadcasted coordinates towards a safe haven were, despite those being imprinted to the very core of her being, did she finally see the last anchor of Galbar, the last surviving continent.

The dry wastelands, the burning ground, the ruins, the clashing of storms, it was all terrible, yet still miles better than the floating burning plasma that was taking hold of all else. While most of the horizon was featureless, one single location rose above all others, Mons Divinus.

Namelpror did something closer to crashing than landing, the damaged machine dragon at its absolute limit. All the noise and chaos drowned out a girly yelp.

Me di ard. Er cheurde sueb It is fine, you can rest, she said, letting the loyal beast finally rest as she dismounted it and looked around the peak.

There was another strong presence there, like many others within the continent, divine presences not unlike I’Iro. At this distance, she was close enough that her understanding of said energy included core information of that being: Astella, Goddess of Illusions.

Greetings the dream goddess said as she approached the other divine, who looked frazzled even as she protectively embraced the writhing form of a small white kitten, with gentle steps, taking a moment to notice what else accompanied her, from the rock blocking the water stream to the small furry white creature.

”H-Hello?… A-hem,” the black haired, tan Goddess cleared her throat, her appearance fixing itself in the blink of an eye. ”For some reason, I know your name. Iro, right? Are you here to move this stone, too? I think it’s blocking an important source of water… I tried to move it myself but it was too big and heavy for just me.”

Calling me Iro is fine. And no. I came here in search for a continent that was not in the process of being pulverized. However it seems like this world is in extreme need of a proper water resource to be better suited for carbon based organic life. As such it is of my interest to aid you in this task. she explained in her deadpan tone.

”Well, we’ve got to do everything we can in order to save whatever’s still alive, so thanks. Do you really think we can move it with just the two of us, though? I don’t really have any flashy telekinesis or anything. It’d probably take me years just to lift that thing.” Astella shrugged and ran her free hand through her shoulder-length hair, staring at I’Iro.

As the other divine spoke, I’Iro slowly approached the cat with a sense of curiosity, trying to match the visual input to anything in her memory. I believe with my raw strength we could lower the estimate from more than a decade to perhaps seven solar years. Upon hearing that, Astella let out a sound like a mix of a chuckle and an annoyed sigh. Admittedly the lack of a sun makes the measurement of time through the frame of a solar year somewhat complicated. It is also why I cannot have Namelpror help us with this task as he would need a source of sunlight to properly gather energy. Namelpror being the dragon which is resting approximately 30 degrees from where you are looking at. she said while squatting in the ground to better scan Snowie, who by now was curiously looking back at I’Iro with her paws outstretched and swatting wildly.

Astella turned exactly thirty degrees to see the majestic metallic dragon, grinned awkwardly and then gave I’Iro a sideways look. ”Namelpror, huh? Where did that name come from?” She asked.

Namel means radiant and pror is wings in the language of the civilization we came from. The name predates my existence but it is a reasonable nickname given the prismatic look of his crystalline wings. I’Iro explained, to which Astella nodded with a low hum while briefly looking down at Snowie in her arms and chuckling as she gently grabbed her with both hands and offered her to I’Iro. I’Iro was surprised with the turn of events, accepting the small creature in her soft, if a bit cold, embrace.

”That’s Snow, I found her at the foot of this Mountain. Don’t worry if she gets a little rough, she is very energetic.“ Astella said with a warm smile.

Oh greetings. I’Iro said to the cat, starting to gently rub the back of her head with her free hand. Do you enjoy this? It seems to be increasing the amount of serotonin in your bloodstream. Snowy responded in the most intellectual way a cat could--She meowed loudly, and after a few moments her whole body started vibrating softly as she began to purr with half-closed eyes.

Astella meanwhile grinned and frowned at the same time, a bead of sweat dripping down her forehead. ”Serotonin…?” She muttered.

Throughout it all, from the arrival of the dragon-riding dream deity to the interaction with the cat, a figure watched. Abject fascination had rapidly turned to something far more ambitious as the events unfolded before it. A crimson red gaze jolted from point to point, absorbing every feature and every action as gears turned and conclusions were reached. The figure had, admittedly, been there for some time; even before I’Iro arrived, it had been silently observing. Drawn by the magical nature of the wellspring and utterly consumed by an awareness of opportunity present within its depths, how could it have refused that siren song? Plans and schemes and ambitions rolled up nicely unto one another as the potential for far grander things down the line proved just too juicy to deny.

“At last! Others!” the figured called, stepping out from behind a spur of boulders he most certainly hadn’t been hiding behind for hours, ”I was beginning to think I was the only one!”

The man who presented himself looked utterly disheveled, with a wild shock of orange hair and yellowish eyes that sparkled with excitement despite the deep, dark bags that hung beneath them. A scattering of freckles flew across the center of his face and over his nose, and despite his dirtied complexion there was honest joy in his visage. Across his personage were strewn an eclectic assortment of clothes, stacked on top each other in adhoc layers. Though wearing gloves the man went shoeless, his toes grimy with dust and muck, with pants reaching down to the middle of his calves. Finally, a pair of carven-bone shades sat on his head with thin slits running across their face, clearly to control some of the baleful lights creasing the sky. A faint red glow emanated from the man but only gently, a kind corona that hinted at his evidently divine nature.

”I could scarcely trust my senses when I felt you here but lo; here you are!” As he rounded the crest of the hill he looked down and in one instant, he beamed a smile unlike any other. The teeth were entirely symmetrical, a clean ivory-white, and were perfectly aligned. If anything was notable about the man, it was the damned smile. The unshapely angles of his face, the grungy look of his clothes, even the muck ground into his toes and fingers, meant nothing compared to that divine grin. Eyes twinkled for a moment with an almost ferocious nature but near-instantly returned to a good natured gleam.

”I’m Lonn.

Astella turned away and ran an exploratory finger across her teeth before furrowing her brow, huffing and wiping the finger dry. ”I’m Astella,” She finally said and made a popping sound with her lips, before nodding towards I’Iro. ”The one holding Snow is Iro. We’re both Goddesses, I take it you’re one, too?”

Greetings I’Iro added with a polite nod.

An inquisitive gaze passed across the pair of goddesses as the corona of red flashed for a moment and the lightest sparks of carmine danced on otherwise yellowed eyes. Lonn’s smile remained undimmed and he gave what was nearly a flourishing bow but stopped short as if his knee was aching. Feigning a wince, he stood back up and offered a passionate wink.

”Well, not a Goddess; although, I suppose that IS a matter of perspective.” There was legitimate mirth in his voice that almost made his tone warble and flutter, like he was on the brink of a friendly chortle. Again his smile flashed, somehow wider yet still equally symmetrical with the perfect tooth to gum ratio.

”If God is what we’re calling ourselves, if that is indeed the name of our kind, I suppose I am one. Regardless, what I am now is a friend. Though, I am curious; what exactly has you so fixated on this place?

”Oh, me? Let’s just say that trying to push massive stones is more difficult than I expected. Stil, we all have to do our part if we’re to live in a better world one day, right? Most living creatures need water to survive, and this big rock is blocking a source of it.” Astella pursed her lips for a moment, ”Is your knee injured, by the way? I can make the pain go away if you wish. I can’t heal you, but at least it won’t be uncomfortable anymore.”

Lonn nearly imperceptibly cocked his head to the side, lips pursing slightly in surprise. It was a generous offer, to be sure, but one that he knew was ultimately irrelevant; he WAS lying, afterall. His smile returned in its full, beaming strength to renew that sense of kindness as he expressed his gratitude.

”Oh! What a kind offer. No, no, I will be fine; it is better to live with our scars, I think. How else can we learn, eh? It will better itself with time or it was never meant to be bettered in the first place. But… perhaps I can return that generosity. I could, for instance, assist you with this endeavor of yours. Honestly, it would be my pleasure.

Astella raised an eyebrow very slightly. ”Well, any ideas? No offense, but I don’t think someone with a bad knee should push that thing. It might make your injury worse if you try.”

I’Iro nodded in agreement, although she was quiet she was paying keen attention to the conversation. Although his bodily condition could be unrelated to his proposed solution. Depending on what tools he has at his disposal. Though I admit I cannot sense anything in particular in relation to him. Likely due to all this electro-magnetic instability currently in the air. I even notice some radiation with no explanation. Which is peculiar. Don’t you think so Snowy? the dream goddess said while petting the cat, despite the little pet surely not being the best partner for conversations about physics. Nevertheless. One more person to help us is surely to be beneficial.

”No need to worry,” Lonn assured them, waving a hand to discourage further questioning, ”I have means beyond simply pushing and pulling.”

The An-Clastophon, meanwhile, was leaping across chaotic landscape; the monsters around her too slow to follow, with those in her way given passing wounds to remember her by. She ran with the rain, using it as a guide to her final destination. Tirelessly, a blur through the storm, the air around her compressing as it passed. Behind her, a sonic boom trailing with the fury of the physical world.

She emerged from the clouds of the storm to an open sky no better than the skin-stripping rains. The sorry state of the world was clear. It did not matter anymore that she could not navigate by the rain -- the mountain towering in the distance was a far better indicator, especially given it was her ultimate destination.

A black streak across the sky with each leap. The mountain grew quickly, and with a series of three more leaps, the An-Clastophon ascended to the peak. She came to a dead stop atop the rim, buffeted by the backlash of her own speed. Once sound finally caught up, the sonic boom rumbled across the mountain, as if an announcement of the An-Clastophon’s presence.

By the time the air itself stopped wavering, what was left staring at the newly arrived Demigod were three people. One of them, a short, tan woman with blown back black hair, blinked slowly and sighed, before getting to fixing her appearance. Behind her, a snow white cat being held by a robotic-looking woman started whimpering and writhing.

The An-Clastophon’s mouth slowly opened up, just enough to let her tongue through. The appendage was forked, and flicked at the air for a brief moment. Then, she spoke, in a raspy voice, ”I can smell the divinity. Whom are you all?”

Lonn had remained entirely unmoved by the eardrum-popping detonation of the sonic boom, evidently very much inured to the sound of explosions. He was, however, far more interested with the arrival of the source. The creature, as that was the only reasonable term for the entity now before the trio of deities, stood several heads taller than him and was in every way blatant where Lonn was subtle. Even the briefest of observations revealed the An-Clastophon as an unequal adversary. Though he could taste the divine nature of the beast on the air, he knew it was but a facsimile of the real thing. How it came about, of course, was a far more valid curiosity. His smile beamed all the brighter for it. A look of surprise overcame his visage, eyes widening.

”Now that isn’t something you see every day…” mumbled Lonn to play into his surprise before taking up a more confident posture, ”I think the real question is, what are you?”

The creature responded flatly, ”I am a servant of my god,” she paused, then, with another flick of her tongue, asked, ”I know what you are; but I still do not know who you are.”

After a brief pause as the cogs bit deep in his head, eyes dancing across the figure, Lonn conceded and gave an odd hand flourish. ”Lonn.”

”I’m Astella. It’s a, uh, pleasure, to meet you.”

"How interesting that some gods already showcase behaviour such as the creation of hierarchies. I am I'Iro. Who is your master?

The An-Clastophon softened as they answered her question, and turning to look at I’Iro, she answered, “Even if I could tell you that, it’s ultimately irrelevant. If they had wished to reveal themself, they would have done so. As I am the sole point of contact, you will only need to know of me.”

She then stepped off of the rim of the crater, letting herself slide down towards the plug and the pool of water at its feet. She said, “To be more specific, what I am is the An-Clastophon -- who I am is undecided. The decision of naming is left to me alone, and I do not intend to be hasty with it.” She took a careful look at the plug, then explained, “I have been instructed to assist you all. What are you doing here?”

This rock seems to be blocking a spring. It is our wish to remove it and as such establish a proper water supply to promote the liveability of the continent

She nodded her head, flicking out her tongue once more as she said, “Well, seeing that you have water out already, you could try finding where it’s coming from and using that hole to pry up the whole rock.”

I’Iro nodded and looked at the rock again. Was your suggestion that we use hydraulic force to move the massive rock all at once? I believe the issue stopping such a plan is the fact the porous nature of the ground just does not create the environment for the water to pressurize. in deep thought the goddess moved away from the others and closer to the spring. However. We could change that. Manipulating the flow of water by containing it in a barrier perhaps? This should increase the force of the waterflow until it moves or shatters the boulder.

Astella furrowed her brow and cupped her chin, eyes closed. After a moment, she nodded. ”That might just work, now that we have many of us here.”

With the help of the other gods, using their innate spatial and elemental control to manipulate their surroundings, I’Iro started her plan. First they would hold the rock into place as to stop the waterflow completely, then the dream goddess would focus to create a telekinetic barrier around the waterflow, to stop it from seeping into the ground and to make it go through an increasingly narrow tunnel, increasing pressure. Finally, the gods would focus on the water itself, increasing its temperature and speed.

Soon, there was a boiling geiser to be under the rock, the sheer force trying to move the obstacle of the flow reaching absurd levels, to the point any water escaping from the system would likely leave with enough pressure to cut a human in half. It became clear just a bit more of this and the massive ancient boulder should crack… or outright explode, nevertheless, soon the water would be flowing freely again.

The mountain itself began to groan from the immensity of the forces acting upon it, but the noise barely registered against the terrible din emanating from the stone as it shook violently atop the water source. Jets of mist blasted out without rhyme or rhythm launching little chucks of stone torn from the mass like bullets. The serenity of the mountaintop was disturbed by hideous noise and danger such that it drowned out all but the most urgent speech, and that came now in a request that cut through the cacophony effortlessly, “Stop, please. You are making a mistake.”

As the deity leading the actions, I’Iro took the initiative to somewhat delay what she was doing by loosening the barrier and decreasing the pressure. A mistake? What factors have led you to making such a statement? she questioned, turning to the voice she could easily identify as a god like herself and the others she had met. The An-Clastophon stood aside to let the two talk.

“Violence is a tool,” Observed the interloper. Now striding towards I’Iro he looked, in comparison to the group, rather unremarkable. The fit, seemingly human, man with warm brown eyes that matched his messy hair went on as he approached the Dream Goddess, “One that rarely engenders compliance. Had you taken the time to consider your obstacle, you might have noticed that it could be reasoned with, in its own way. If it can be done, isn’t it better to get what you want without resorting to force?”

The goddess looked back and forth, from the stone to the newly arrived god. A slightly metallic noise as she repeated the motion, until she stopped and simply shook her head. It's a rock. she finally answered, clearly giving up, showing the most emotion since she arrived, eliciting a very loud smirk from Astella. Am I missing some contextual cue here? Because. It is. A rock. An aggregate of mineraloid matter. Not that I am in any way attached to this current solution we devised. If you know a better way feel welcome to act as you wish.

“And I might have thought the Goddess of Dreams would know that there are things that can’t be seen with eyes alone.” The interloper chuckled to himself and gestured towards the stone, “If you’d stop attacking the rock, please?”

As the main motivator of everything was divine intervention, as soon as the gods stopped focusing on the water, it started to become tame again, pressure decreasing, more water than before seeping but far from the full potential of the spring.

I’iro was somewhat bothered by the situation, especially with the implication that she was failing at her reason for existence. She had to make an effort to not allow such shallow thoughts and pettiness to cloud her mindset. Very well. The previous project is now officially halted. Or rather. Cancelled. Please show me where I have deviated from the optimal solution.

The man nodded to her and turned to the rock, stepping down to it and planting an open palm on its surface. There he stood, knee deep in the water released by the Goddesses intervention, when he started talking to the boulder, “You’re stubborn. I see, not very nice? Well she doesn’t know, you’ll have to forgive her. We can have you guard something else, stem another flow as it were?”

The god laughed at his own joke and nodded along to some unheard reply before he let go of the rock. He muttered a quick thank you, turned back to I’Iro, and announced, “There, problem solved!”

Astella, who was standing right next to I’Iro with slumped shoulders and a mix of an incredulous and exasperated look on her face, looked at the robo-goddess and whispered, ”He just talked to a rock... Does he think that the thing’s just gonna stand up and walk away?”

I'Iro watched all of it with a sense of distress. It was a relief when Astella also showed confusion over the scene. She turned to her fellow goddess and nodded This is all very confusing. This newly arrived god is… peculiar. I cannot follow his logic.

By now Lonn had begun to disappear into the background, slowly but surely removing himself from the fore. One entity after another arriving had given him a sense that things were becoming far more active than he originally bargained for. The demi-god of the yet unnamed, distant deity in particular had set the stage for several conclusions about the other gods that Lonn was not entirely fond of. Regardless, the arrival of the newest interloper had proven enlightening. Though he didn’t immediately introduce himself or step in, step by step Lonn reentered the fray, uncanny yet ultimately undeniably perfect smile slowly returning. A pleased chortle echoed out of his throat, teeth parting to the exact distance to be mathematically heart warming; here was opportunity.

”Perhaps, friend, it just needs a little motivation,” announced Lonn, eyes sparking with electric intent, ”Let me have a hand at it.”

With that Lonn pressed a hand to the stone and let forth several energistic shocks that danced and cascaded across the surface of the stone despite its intensely low conductivity. As it coursed across the form of the stone there was a crunch, followed by a crash, and a fair bit of crumbling. Stout but stunted limbs slowly pushed their way from the pillar’s surface and with considerable strain and effort the massive boulder began climbing its way free from the craterous prison. Spurting gouts of water burst forth as the titan rose, freeing the wellspring of water below. The An-Clastophon jumped out of the way, back onto the rim to avoid getting wet.

”... How? Is? That a thing?” Astella asked, rubbing her eyes a few times. As soon as it became clear that the sheer quantity of water that was just about to pour out would be immeasurable, Astella popped her lips and turned tail. She stopped to grab I’Iro’s free hand on her way to climb up the sides of the lakebed, of course.

I’Iro did not have a proper comment for this situation, it defied the most basic data of her database. Instead, sensing the output of water was increasing exponentially, she was getting ready to focus and create a barrier to protect her and, more importantly, Snowy. She was caught by surprise by Astella catching her, the sudden movement causing her to drop the fire flower branch she had been holding without noticing she had lost the memento. Once upon the shore she turned to watch the forming fountain with Astella, creating a little barrier to keep the kitty dry.

Lonn cackled as he stepped away with reasonable haste, watching with his beaming smile practically lighting up the area itself, ”Hahahah, Far-out!

“While I appreciate the haste,” The Interloper commented to Lonn from the edge of the crater, having backed away during the chaos, “That was a tad harsh, wasn’t it?”

In reply the immense golem, now lumbering up the side of the filling lake, groaned meaningfully. The man who’d been speaking to it nodded, “It takes a little time to collect yourself and get up after an eon spent sleeping, you know.”

“Buddy,” declared Lonn as he climbed up the edge and flashed that award winning grin at the other man-god. There was a flash of near manic excitement in his fiery eyes as he spoke, a tinge of that energy warbling his tone, ”You took the words right outta my mouth~!”

The two exchanged looks as water welled up, reaching the edge of the forever crater, now lake, and spilling out without a sign of stopping. In a number of spots around the lake the rim started to collapse from the water rushing over its edge, and great rivers started to rush down the mountainside without any regard for what might be in their way.

Astella squeezed I’Iro’s cold, unyielding hands and grinned at her, ”Wait here! Also, hand Snow to me!” After having her kitten in her arms, she ran around the rim of the Wellspring and up to the unknown God and the lumbering Golem. She spared a glance at the unnamed God and then stared at the Golem, her arms outstretched as she offered Snowy to it.

”This is Snow! She’s a cat and very delicate, want to hold her? Also, your name is now Brugh. You don’t have to thank me.” She declared proudly.

The Golem, now Brugh, eyed the tiny goddess and her pet curiously. That was to say, it aimed its head in her direction and cocked it slightly. The walking boulder lacked a mouth to speak or a face to express its pleasure or lack thereof, but it seemed amenable enough to the proposition as it outstretched one great earthen hand for the cat. The appendage loomed before Astella, large enough that she herself could comfortably fit on it.

Upon sniffing the pristine rock approaching her face, Snowy wrenched herself free from Astella’s hands and climbed up the Golem’s arm all the way to its head. She sniffed and sniffed and even bumped into the golem’s ‘face’ a few times. Eventually she settled on nibbling some of the moss that was growing along what would pass for its shoulder.

Seemingly pleased with the company, and certainly safe from the water now moving down the mountain rather than towards it, Brugh sat down and left the cat to its business. The unnamed god regarded the golem fondly and thanked the Goddess, “Well, look at that! Thank you, I’m sure Brugh appreciates the company. And the name. Everybody does need one eventually.”

Astella nodded enthusiastically, looking like she was about to make her lips pop once more before thinking twice about it. ”Yes, yes. It is a good name, person-without-a-name. It really is. You know, I can make you think you’ve always had a name, if you want. Buuut now, me and Snowy have to get back to Iro. I don’t trust her enough to not leave us stranded here, you know. See ya!” She waved at him with a small hop and Snowy, as quickly as she could with her small legs, made her way back to Astella’s shoulder. Then, the short Goddess left.


"I had a dream." The elder said. His words falling upon deaf ears as all the few souls left gathering around the faint fire within the makeshift tent had been way too exhausted to listen even to the oldest and most wise of them.

"Was it another nightmare?" his son questioned, finally ending the lingering silence from before. "Or were you lucky enough to have a pleasant dream?"

"It was neither. It was... a strange dream." the old man trying to explain, his headache returning and making him vacillate. He focused on the fire before continuing.

muesque mian_stelque vouiste_mian = { .pi = CHUARDO_URSE(┌) };

"It was about a woman, perhaps a princess, or maybe even a goddess. She was sleeping, but her kingdom needed her to be awake. I can't tell why, I saw hope, but I also saw profane ambition in their eyes."

clanfre (bulcu_sa=strol)

"They prepared many gifts to try to wake her up. They sent bells on wings of glass high up to play strange music. They prepared a great jousting ring underground, the size of a continent, where fighters crashed as fast as a glimpse. They captured a star and hid it deep underground. Yet she did not awake."

╛: VIN;


"Time passed, the people and their kingdom were lost, all of it crumbled to dust. And only them, once all sense of purpose was lost, did she... ah...."

LUE SUO.........

"Well, then I couldn't follow anymore. I woke up with my head burning." he laughed at it, but to this point the sheer overload of what he witnessed in his dream haunted him, the old man wondered what it could possibly mean or if it was yet another bitter surprise of the end times.

At this point, someone entered the tent in a rush.

"Elder... everyone. The scouts have returned. They couldn't find the source of the brightness, yet, they found a person. Seems to be an earthling."

LUEST ("wow")

"So, you are telling me you do not remember anything, you saw nothing, and that you merely wandered southward without aim, not a care in the world as said world fucking broke around you?" the captain laughed to himself. "Either you think I have a major mental defect, or you are the defective one here, lady."

The assumption I am defective is reasonable. From my analysis 99.998% of all information I once held has been lost. This is also why I cannot answer your questions.

Thinking the woman was being irreverent and mocking him, the guard captain tried to "slap some sense" into her, only for his hand to meet the hard surface of her face with a metallic clank. "ARGH MY FUCKING HAND" he cried as the attack had only really hurt him.

"What is happening here? Have you not heard how to treat a traveler from your mother? We must..." the elder stopped his complaint towards the guard when he saw the woman. "What... it can't... You! I saw you in my dreams!"

Oh. Did you? My apology. I was very unstable upon activation. It is possible I broadcasted an improper amount of information by accident. It looks however your neural system is functional enough.

"I... do not fully understand you." he moved the guard away and faced the woman. "What are you?"

I am an entity of divine properties. Purpose... To be understood. You may call me I ... Iro.

"I'Iro? And... divine!? You are a goddess?" the elder's eyes turned wide "These truly are the end times, should this be this true. What... brings you, who claims to be divine, to us."

I did not come here with a purpose. I have few uncorrupted directives left. One of which involved fleeing south to find a safe haven from the unstable nature of this land. Therefore I wandered south. Until I was asked to follow a band of armed men and brought here.

The elder sighed. What a situation he had at hand. This weird woman, supposedly a goddess, just wandering into the little survivalist village they had. To send her away, however, felt wrong, he could not shake away the feeling that his dream had to mean something, that this woman had some purpose related.

"Well, you seem to be tired. You just left a terrible place, so it's no wonder you are a bit... shocked. How about this, join us for a bit. Perhaps this will help to jostle your memory the right way. It's not safe to be wandering around here."

I'Iro was accepted into the circle of people around the fire with great suspicion, but, she was an avid listener, and these few souls left in the husk of a city were more than willing to just tell their story to someone.

At first the goddess had wondered if her assumption about the inhabitants of this world had been wrong. The image of a mortal human she had was nothing like these people, burly of body, with thick spotted skin and horn like growth all over, some even having extra eyes or limbs. But it soon became clear these people did not consider themselves "human", identifying those as "earth born" or in a more rude manner "earthling" while they called themselves the fire born.

These people's origin was a mystery, they only had legends at this point in time. Once there were many thousands of them, now, only thirteen, three of which female, none of them fertile. They were a dying race in a dying world. But still, I'Iro found them fascinating. They were the first true source of information she had ever since she woke up in the ruins, and to understand these beings so different from her own origin was pleasant to her, as in, seemed to fulfil her directives in a satisfactory manner.

"You see, the Earth Born, they see themselves in stone, as such, they desire the eternity of the mountains. They craft copies of their face in marble so they may last longer than flesh, they preserve their bones in hope one day they may awake again. We, are like fire, we burn brightly, and then we are gone. Eternity is not worth sacrificing your life for. There is the here and now, the past is ashes and the future flame doesn't warm the current you." one of the man explained. "Its why we outlasted them here, once the mountains broke so did their promise of eternity, they lost the will to fight and live, pitiful really."

It does not however bother you that soon enough your legacy will be lost? This continent is improper to sustain life at this point and your numbers do not provide the genetic diversity necessary for long term survivability.

"Well, all things must end. What is important is that we fought and that we will keep fighting until the last of us vanish. Until the last fruit of our flame tree falls, I won't fall."

Flame tree? I'Iro turned with interest towards the person speaking, her head tilting slightly. That seems to be contradictory. Also I have not seen any type of flora in my journey so far.

"Haha, of course we forgot, I am sorry. Indeed, the reason why we have been staying here is that the cave under this building has the known flame tree we have. Its... something special to us." the elder explained before getting up. "Come, see it."

The trip downward did nothing to help the goddess understand what was happening, all of her sensors just noticed an increase in all the measurements that indicated a toxic lifeless environment. And yet, upon entering the chamber, she saw the tree. A mutated thing, with transparent leaves and fruit of a slight glow.

What a peculiar specimen. Its... Wait. This symbol! What is it? she pointed towards a drawing on the wall. Running towards so the elder could see what she meant.

"That? Oh that was one of the many beasts our ancestors fought. An armored flying serpent. A thousand years ago, maybe more. Not too far from here, the whole gravesite of the battle is a holy site to us. You see, long ago the earthlings learned how to condense earth into metal, with their affinity they..." the elder stopped himself, she seemed different from the calm and cold woman he had seen so far, it was easy to guess this meant something to her. "Oh. Is it something you recognize? I will tell the scouts to take you there! I am a bit too old to make the trip."

"Do you believe any of this goddess mambojambo?" the fire born scout asked his captain, still keeping a sense of hierarchy despite their so called "group" being only the two of them. They were also the guards of the village, and many other roles too.

"Bleh. She is a weird thing she is. But the elder is the elder, and she seems inoffensive enough you know? Just don't punch her, lady is made of thick stuff, almost broke my hand."

"I... I wouldn't punch her...? Why did you punch her? Goddamnit, if she is a goddess she will make us all be on the bad side of the gods."

"Yeah, I think we already crossed that list when they made the sun fucking disappeared, don't ya think?" he said sarcastically, before looking forward, seeing I'Iro had taken the lead and rushed ahead. "Oi, oi! Stop that! If you fall off a cliff or bloody rift we are the ones who will get yelled at!"

But the goddess had set her eye on something, walking to the middle of the site of the ancient battle, searching the ground for a moment, and then kneeling, touching the soil.

Acle Miuquer Viei Frui. Uangle. She whispered.

And with that, the ground started to shake, a roar of metal as a creature long dormant awoke again thanks to the divine infused words. The great flying serpent, a mechanical dragon.

{Stra fui za? Stra fui Nalmepror Miuquer?}

Oneiro Neith ge ele pe ene ar. Acle Sa Galbar.

{Acle... Sa?} with the identification complete the wyvern bowed to its new master.

The scouts, of course, were gasping in awe of the scene. "Lady... did you just bloody revive the creature? It took like, a lot of effort for our ancestors to defeat the thing and bloody revived it?"

Nalmepror is under my command. He will not do harm to you. I need him to be able to leave the continent safely.

Without further explanation, she climbed on the back of the dragon, preparing herself to command the beast towards the promised haven. The land that called to her as soon as she became a divine script.

{u aque vogmeu brogminrque deuve}

Yes the sun is missing. However I can provide you with the energy for the trajectory.

"Wait!" a voice called, it was the elder, who came running, clearly fatigued as the path was too rough for his body at this point "Oh... you revived the machine serpent? I... At this point I am not impressed."

Did you come to wish for aid? I am unsure if in this deteriorated state Nalmepror would be able to carry more than just me.

"Oh no, no, no. I do not wish to flee this land. As we said, we will fight in it to the end. Even if... it seems inevitable it will come. We will protect our tree to the last. But, well, I wanted you to have something, goddess, before you left to that new land. Its a branch of our tree. A memento of our encounter."

The goddess took the gift and nodded. Thank you. I will keep it safe. She could not understand why the elder would desire to protect this more than his own people, even if accounted for the genetical information held by it, it seemed secondary to that which they held within themselves. She could not understand why they would stay and fight in a lost, sinking continent, sure to face certain death.

And perhaps that was why she was so fascinated. To not understand meant a chance to learn, to acquire new data. And that seemed to be her purpose, outside, of course, of survival.

Nalmepror extended its wings and started to hover upward, its crystalline wings starting to shine in pearlescent colors, I'Iro in his back. With one last glance at those people and the land, knowing it would be the last one she would ever get, she turned her face southward, commanding the dragon to fly at full speed.

Sorry, I don't understand, is this limit only to greek gods? I wanted to play Isis...
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