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2 yrs ago
Current dissertation done. can actually post again. yay.


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Kiera and Ratcher

The book burned a hole in Jarren’s mind. Though it was safely tucked into the saddlebags, it felt like it was right in front of him. His inherited steed, to which he had named Hero after its late owner, lazily walked through a leave littered path. Jarren’s hands tightened around the reigns, even with the sword of Ratcher on his hip, the wilds always made him feel -- sick.

All around him were trees that could have been hundreds of years old, maybe even older. Their broad leaves were on the cusp of turning yellow, just another gentle reminder that autumn was a month away. Between the mighty trunks, not much else grew -- not this far into the thickets. It was a small miracle, or perhaps some long forgotten magic that there was even a dirt road in this part of the forest. Truth be told, it bent and dipped at such angles, that the secret may just be that it was paved between the natural giants that dwelled here. Taking in the sharp scent of the forest, Jarren couldn’t help but notice the sour smell of vinegar on the wind. His nose curled and there was a hearty guzzling off to his side.

The owner of the stench was a young man that Jarren and Kiera had bumped into on their way out of Illistair. He was cheery enough, seemed honest, and best of all -- had a cart and a donkey. The duo decided to travel with him, as there was a certain safety in numbers, especially if the odd of the three’s mount was the slowest. Jarren shook the crude invasive thought out of his mind and turned to the new man -- Orin.

Orin walked next to his donkey with Kiera and her gear, plus a bandolier of scissors, and a jank blade in his dinky little cart behind him. In one hand, Orin held his beast’s reins, and in the other he held a large glass bottle with leaves and other natural debris floating about the bottom. His aquiline nose was twisted as if disgusted as he gulped down another vinegary sip of the drink, soft brown eyes (nearly the same shade as his groomed hair) tearing up from the taste.

Jarren made a face at the man, “Why do you bother drinking that rancid mess if you don’t even like it.”

“It’s not that I don’t like it,” Orin coughed, his well squared shoulders lurched forward and gave his large billowy shirt a sort of ghostly look as it draped over his lean frame. He dabbed his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “I like drinking it, I just don’t like how it tastes,” He forced the explanation through another sour cough.

“I’m not sure if that makes any sense,” Jarren knitted his brows.

“You never drank moonshine before Jarren?” Keira asked “coz I’m assuming its kinda like that.”

“I’ve dranken-- drunken,” Jarren sputtered, “But by the four, no alcohol I ever encountered smelt like that.”

“Because it isn’t,” Orin corrected, holding the bottle suddenly towards Keira, “It’s a vinegar and forest-bit swatch. Would you like to try some? It’s good for your teeth, keeps the worms out.”

“How?” Jarren pushed.

“Trust me, I’m a dentist.”

“I thought you said you were a barber?” Jarren nudged his chin at the bandolier of scissors next to Kiera.

“A man can be two things,” Orin frowned and shook the bottle at Kiera again, “It’s good.”

Jarren watched as his traveling companion’s eyes darted from the bottle to him, then Orin and finally back to bottle, clearly regretting her tacet defence of the man’s drinking habit. Then her face scrunched up in contemplation before she seemed to steel herself and took the bottle. “Anything once” she said before drinking from the bottle. The results were unsurprising. Looking as if she was going to be sick Keira forced herself to swallow regardless and began hacking and coughing a few moments later.

“Bleh” she finally said after coughing up most of her lungs, leaving her tongue hanging out of her mouth after as if it would allow her to escape the taste. Orin nodded with a certain satisfaction.

“Yeah, that sounds about right for a first sip,” The man grinned, “But hey, your teeth will thank you for it.”

“Gods no it feels like they are melting.” she retorted, tongue still stuck out while she spoke.

Jarren’s face scrunched with disgust, but Orin gave a light hearted laugh, “That’s probably just the worms dying out from the dosage.”

“The only worm like thing in my mouth is my tongue. If your trying to kill that then good job. Its working.” Keira complained before drawing one of the two flasks from her belt and drawing deeply from it to try and get rid of the taste.

Orin shook his head, “Well now, hear me out.” He held up a finger and pointed it at Keira’s mouth, “Have you ever had a toothache or maybe one of your molars changed colors?”
Jarren was already rolling his eyes as Orin continued, almost with a spark of passion, “That’s these tiny worms that the eye cannot see. They get into your teeth from your food, which is why you should always wipe your teeth after a big meal with a cloth, and drink swatches and the like to ensure that those who escaped your cloth are killed. It’s the only way to get a good breath and a healthy mouth, Ligdon’s honor.”

“You’re crazy,” Jarren muttered and Orin gave him a challenging smirk.

“When was the last time you wiped your teeth?”

“Last night,” Jarren answered roughly, “Everyone knows to do that, that’s not some grand mechanism for fighting worms.”

“Okay, okay,” Orin held up a hand, “I won’t push it any further.”

Keira, who had been futility rubbing her own teeth while they spoke asked “If it’s just for the teeth then why on earth did we swallow that?”

Jarren gave Orin a look that certainly backed up Kiera’s sentiment. The self proclaimed dentist frowned, “What else would you do with it?”

“Spit it out? Or just put some on the cloth or something? That can not be good for the throat is all I am saying.” Keira said as she waved an unsure hand at the man.

“Sounds like a waste of perfectly fine vinegar to me,” Orin scoffed and tilted his bottle bottom up. His face was awash with disgust as he forced a swallow and a small smile. Orin’s smile twisted into shock as a small screech echoed through the woods.

A man came trampling into view, nearly falling over himself. Seeing the group of three, the mud covered man fell to his knees and began to whimper loudly, “Quick! They are coming!”

Without missing a beat, Orin suddenly leapt onto his cart and snatched his jank blade, a long stretch of randomly scavenged metals pounded into one arm-long sword. Remaining on his perch, his knee nearly hitting Kiera on the side of the head, he pointed his sword past the man, “Who?”

Jarren held his reins tightly, “I suggest you keep running then.” He called out weakly. Orin shot Jarren a confused look and then looked back at the man, who had coughed up a sobbing burp.

“Slavers, they’ve been following me all day -- I have information, news! It’s important I get this to-”

“Ah!” Jarren plugged one of his ears, “No, this is none of our business!”

“To who?” Keira asked, ignoring Jarren’s refusal to get involved as she moved to get a better look down the road.

“Anyone with the Teid be damned courage to put a damn end to this madness,” The man all but spat in his anxiety. Orin gave him a soft look before following Keira’s eyes down the path -- and sure enough five rough looking, heavily armed figures were fast approaching.

Jarren reluctantly joined them in looking but then slowly turned away, it would be very easy to simply gallop away. He rose his heel, eyes quickly making out an escape path through the trees. Keira shifted again near him and the thoughts of her old man popped into his mind. He closed his eyes and groaned inwardly, his frustration ending in time for him to hear a rough female voice.

“We are just here for old slippy there,” The woman called out past a violent looking wooden rod hammered with bits and ends of sharp metal. One other woman with an axe flanked her right, and three aggressive looking men flanked her left.

The slavers all stared daggers at the cowering, mud covered man. Orin suddenly hopped off the cart landing between them as to break their line of sight, his cheery expression gone as he swung his blade through the air a few times.

“Listen,” Jarren found the courage to speak up, “This is none of our business, I’m sure you can just do your thing, while we do ours.”

“Strike that,” Orin countered with a nod at the slaver’s scalps, “With hair like theirs, I’m afraid as a barber this is my business.”

“Yeah sod off!” Keira yelled at them along with the barber/dentist as she grabbed a knife from her boots in one hand and her sling in the other “Do you even know who I am!”

Jarren rubbed his face, his skin turning a shade of red but before he could say anything the gruff woman called back.

“Dead, if you don’t buzz off. Last call.”

“The red knife of Kendles!” she yelled defiantly, leaping atop Orin ‘s cart and doing her best impression of a dangerously competent frothing mad woman, “Get lost before I get mad and gut the lot of you.” she flipped the knife up and managed, barely, to catch it again by the point.

The name drop caused a pause, a very silent pause. Orin flinched, but kept his eyes on the enemies while Jarren abruptly stared at Keira for a long second. Jarren finally cleared his throat, catching the attention of the slavers.

“Remember that business I was talking about letting us get to?” He tilted his head menacingly and the slavers looked over at each other.

“You can’t be,” One of the men finally barked, “There is no way.”

“I cant can I?” Keira let of a bark of a laugh “you willing to bet your life on that?” she grinned widely at him before adding “before you answer that let me also point out that this here” she jabbed a thumb at Jarren “Is Ratcher. Hero of Illistair. Guy salied out alone in the middle of a Filth siege that was so strong it broke the damned wall. Not only did he cut a bloody swath through the filth but he also killed a Giant”

“Well now that’s just too much,” The woman argued, “The knife AND Ratcher?”

Jarren closed his eyes and drew his blade from its scabbard with a rasp. The white steel of the Aethelian blade caught the sun over the clouds and shimmered as he swung it once. Even Orin turned to look as Jarren held it out for all to see.

“Okay-” The woman took a step back, “Fine, you’re the Knife, and you’re Ratcher -- we have names and lives too, you know, and in order to keep those, we are going to need our friend there.” She pointed at the runaway, “We will just take him, and you’ll never see us again.”

“Uh - uh,” Orin’s eyes narrowed and Jarren hid a groan.

“Well now that’s interesting. What’s so important about this guy that your lives depend on it huh?” she asked, needlessly drawing out the interesting as she did.

“We have a job to do,” The woman opened her hands, voice nearly pleading, “You know how it is.”

“Fuck this,” The other woman growled and swung forward with her axe. The edge beared down on Orin, but the man expertly leapt to the side, his arm curling and wrist spinning as he entered a riposte. The jank blade leapt forward at an odd angle, slipping under the woman’s fighting arm and jamming into her armpit, exploding out from behind her collarbone.

Everyone froze as the woman stared down at the scarlet point of the blade sticking out of her, eyes quickly fading and body slumping. Two of the slavers shared a look as the body crumpled to the ground, and without a word they suddenly pushed past the remaining slavers in a hasty retreat. The gruff female leader stared at the three travelers, her once steel gaze broken with uncertainty as she backed up slowly.

Keira stared disbelievingly at Orin for a few moments before remembering who she was pretending to be. With forced arrogance she yelled “yeah you better run” at the fleeing slavers while quickly spinning up the stone in her sling and pointing her knife at the final remaining one threateningly, inviting her to join them.

The woman swore under her breath before reluctantly running off, now outnumbered and disheartened. Jarren raised his eyebrows and shook his head, “Well, at least it’s over.”

Orin wiped the gore off his blade on a nearby bush as he craned his neck to look back at Kiera and Jarren, “Not quite.” He nodded towards the once cowering man who now stood by Kiera.

“Um,” The man started ,clearly intimidated, “Take the news as you will but... well.” He sucked in a breath, “I caught wind of a smuggling racket in Kendles, and was quickly... well... smuggled myself -- forcefully. During my time, I learned a few things if -- well if you are willing to hear about it, Miss Foy.”

Keira sighed with relief once the slavers where out of sight, before sitting down on the cart and putting her, thankfully, unused weapons away. “Please do,” She encouraged the ex slave, “we’re headed right for that mess of a town so any info would be great. I’d also like to know where on Pertovia you learned to do that Orin.” Keira drank another drought from a flask and tried to avoid looking at the dead body their traveling companion had made.

"The same place where I learned to cut hair," Orin inspected his blade, "Why did you want a cut? I'm sure your ends would thank you."

Keira politely declined the offer, turning her attention back to the ex-slave.

"A ring of smugglers have been snatching people right out of their homes," The man continued, "While in their convoy I heard that we were heading towards Jornorston..." The man shivered, "Parrel protect the others."

Keira sucked in breath through her teeth. She’d heard the rumors of course, that the strange religious town did unspeakable things to keep the eyes of the filth away from their community, but this was the first she’d hear of them importing slaves that could be used as victims for such atrocities. Now that she thought about it, she didn’t remember hearing about them importing anything before. The town wasn’t exactly a place you passed through either, being the eastern most major settlement on the island.

“That's both strange and disturbing news.” she concluded before asking “how’d you escape? And how big is this ring?”

“I got lucky, and I don’t know,” The man all but whimpered, “I was in a group of five -- one of the children keeled over and I took the chance to run.”

“This really is a lot of information,” Jarren finally cut in, “You should probably bring it to Illistair, maybe someone there would be willing to look into it, but as for us, we already have a task.”

“But...” The man pleaded, “You’re Ratcher!”

“I’m not...” Jarren exhaled through his nostrils and looked at Kiera, “Just get out of here before you drag more trouble our way.”

The man looked over helplessly to Orin who gave him a reassuring nod, then to Kiera, eyes wide and waiting.

Keira felt the weight of the man’s desperate gaze upon her and couldn’t help but compare to the weight of the hidden crown. She looked away, over to Jarren, “There’s a child,” she tired, attempting to coax out the compasion the man clearly had but hated to acknowledge.

Jarren wiggled his nose as he thought, clearly uncomfortable. Finally he sighed, “What do you want us to do about that? We have a delivery to make -- we are not ‘heroes’. We can scare off a tiny spattering, but a convoy?”

“It’s best if you nip it off at the source,” Orin piped in, his blade hanging off his thick belt.

Jarren eyed the barber suspiciously before leaning off his saddle towards Kiera, voice lowering, “You have an old man to get back to, and I have-- well it doesn’t matter, but you get the jist. Let’s just go to Kendles, give Lauriel her things, notify the next set of able bodied mercenaries about the problem and get on with it.”

She sighed. They both had a point “We’ll look into it when we have the time.” she told the man they had rescued.

The man nodded vigorously, happy it was even considered. Orin put a hand on his donkey’s side, “I don’t suppose you want a lift back to Kendles.”

“Parrel’s pants, no!” The man swore. Orin nodded.

“I thought not,” He looked at the other two, “Kendles is only about half a day away, if we keep going, I’d say we can get there before the day is through.”

“Then let’s move.” Jarren looked over at Kiera, as if asking for assurance.


The Koopa Troop

wordcount: 1,190 (+2)
Bowser: Level 5 EXP: ////////////////////////////////////////////////// (13/50)
Bowser Jr: Level 3 EXP: ////////////////////////////// (13/30)
Kamek: Level 2 EXP: //////////////////// (20/20)
Location: Paved wilderness

Three things happened in quick succession that made jr’s mood whiplash.

First the fat hamster blew him off for a ride onward with the Rabbids which was outrageous

Then the two humans came along and offer their help with the car, which was great.

Then the clown mech exploded because some dumb rat pushed its self destruct button.

“Why! Why why why gahhhhhhhhhhhhhh” jr raged, stomping his foot on the bettle back of the monster truck ““what coind of absolute moron puts a self destruct button in their robot, and why do dumb rodents keep making my day worse!”

Jr was left panting after his temper tantrum but eventually got a hold of himself “ugh. Suuuucks.” he complained one last time before turning to look at what was actually left of the enemy's machines. This turned out to be a bunch of wrecked cars, robot parts and disabled monster truck.

As he looked it all over he could see rather clearly what needed to be done to get the most out of all this junk. Jr grinned to himself and set to work.

After he’d the rabbids had finally retrieve his vehicle (and he's kicked them out to go back to their own wagon or stay to help jr) he’d spent part of the rest of the journey admiring peach’s new form, part enjoying the cowboy mercenary acting as the car’s new radio system and the rest wildly swerving to avoid the consequences of not paying attention to the road well enough. Bowser’s love for peach was not a physical attraction, more a kind of reverse Stockholm syndrome, but her transformation had certainly moved her appearance closer to the king’s preferred aesthetic. He’d mentioned that to her. It had not gone down well.

When Bowser rolled up to the rest stop there was only thing that interested him. Engineers and cool/edgy/pretty dudes he could take or leave, but the cozy looking restaurant called to the king.

He turned off the Bowser mobile’s engine, pocketed the key and step out of the car. He stomped over to the front door of grillbys before being confronted with the problem of its small door size. He frowned momentarily before snapping his fingers. Dark magic drained from his body like purple smoke as he shrunk down to a size similar to that of the greater dog sitting at the table inside. His suit and mecha mit, repaired by jr before he left, shrunk with him. After taking a few moments to set his clothes in the right place he pushed open the door and headed for the bar. Its patrons, mostly a bunch of dog people, where the most normal looking group Bowser had met so far in this whole adventure. The king had no idea why every other universe seemed to be filled with only people from the metro kingdom but it made them, in his opinion rather samy and hard to tell apart sometimes. He nodded to the courier as he passed by him sitting at the poker table and then found a seat at the bar. The Barkeep himself was a robot that was on fire, but they did not seem to mind, so that was fine.

”TWO BURGERS AND A SIDE OF FRIES FOR ME BARKEEP” he told robot, who he incorrectly presumed was the titular Gribly, after they’d received the courier’s order for a liquid lunch.

Quite a while after he had vacated the battlefield Kamek re-appeared in a puff of smoke. He’d gotten distracted reading and had lost track of time. Fortunately his absence did not seem to have been of great import to the battle, nor had he been left behind. Down below he could spot Koopa prince, along with a few others, who were all putting the finishing touches on the repair job of the massive monster truck that had attempted to destroy them less than an hour before.

Mostly jr had used the remains of the other smaller cars to fuel the necro smasher’s insatiable hunger for scrap, supplementing the dispensers slowly regenerating supply, and then turned the stated hammer on the various damaged parts of the machine. Rather than brutishly smacking the thing in any which place he had focused his efforts on beating the most important parts back into shape. The wheels where back, the front axle mended and the engine successfully patched together. The skeletons chained to the back had also been cut down and graffiti now marred the outside of the vehicle, scratching out Grimm own symbols in favor of the team's own. The koopa clan’s logo, painted in multi colored ink, was on prominent display on the hood of the car.

A few new modifications to the truck had also been made in addition to the repairs. Most notably half a dozen more seats had been stuffed inside the massive drivers compartment to accommodate the number of party members that had stayed behind without any other form of transport. A pile of guns, ammo, engine blocks and fuel tanks salvaged from the wrecks of the other cars were also chained down to the truck bed, along with useful bits of the sweet bot like the remains of it’s head and minigun arm.

As Kamek approached he saw that Jr’s clown car extend a pair of saw blades mounted on slim mechanical arms which the boy used to hack apart one of the remaining junker cars for scrap metal.

”I see you got those working again“ Kamek said to the boy as he drifted down on his broomstick to float next to the propeller lifted cart.

“yeah the big ear yellow rat guy, Spanner or something, found the crossed wires that were stopping them from coming out when I pushed the button.” Jr said as he absorbed the scrap pile into the necro smasher. “I’ve got some ideas for improving them and the monster truck if we ever find any kind of workshop.” he added.

”Very good young master. Lord Bowser has gone ahead again has he?” Kamek responded, doing his best to hide his disinterest in mundane machinery.

“yeah yeah. Probably at the rest stop by now.” jr said between hamer swings which smoothed out the last of the bumps in the truck's frame.

“Let’s be off and catch up with him then?” Kamek said, turning his broom towards the direction the party had been headed before they had been so rudely interrupted.

Jr nodded “Hope there's still something left to eat there. I’m starving” he said before turning and yelling at the rest of the repair crew. “Try not to break it before you get to the junction. Also one of you two” jr pointed at the gta team and then to the soul of needles currently sitting in a jar he’d gotten from his father that itself sat on the dashboard of the car “crush the clown’s soul already! If you don't like whatever clown cannon pops out throw it on the back with the other scrap. Alright I’m outta here!”

“Good work today minions.” Kamek added, thanking them in Jr’s stead.

With that the two Koopas soared away though the sky towards a reunion with their king.

Azura’s latest experiment with the reanimator engine was one that would truly test its ability to work its magic on soul crystals. She had sent a squad of wind elementals down to the vault to fetch a larger crystal, larger even than the fire giant she had already resurrected. They had returned with a number of crystals, but one stood out to her among the rest. Large as a tiger and dense as gold, it must have been an exceptional creature in life. What exactly it was she did not know, because the crystalized soul had only told them the curator who had tried to catalog it one thing.

Restore me.

Uninformative details was not entirely unheard of. Rignol’s description had been equally unhelpful, but the fact that it had used the communion with the curator to ask for new life was particularly interesting. She set the other larger crystals aside for now and had this one loaded into the machine.

The six she had already raised where currently down in the vault, satisfying their curiosity regarding the place they had temporarily been stored before their current unlife. It would also be good to have someone check in down there to make sure things were going as planned. She couldn't herself of course, even by proxy and she’d not foist that responsibility on Luis.

Almost immediately after the soul had been inserted the mechanisms around it where pushed out to their maximum volume, failing to accommodate what they were being commanded to create. Azura had expanded it to accommodate the re-animation both of larger souls and of multiple souls simultaneously, but it seems that had not been enough, for the void soul’s half constructed form began to spill from within the forge moments later. Tendrils and limbs with too many joints covered with eyes, mouths and other ill placed organs burst out between the mechanical limbs, along with beams of sickening light. The worst part was not the failure of the machine, nor the horrors it produced or the way that those parts did not seem to fit in the limited dimensions of the Architect's realm, but that Azura felt a presence both familiar, alien and impossible to grasp. The mechanism in her mind warred with her own will as she tried to grasp what she was not recalling. It was different from the other, not quite, memories. It was truly hers and yet she was being denied access to it. The unholy sights and internal conflict tore at Azura’s psykey, causing her to scream in pain.

”No. This will not do.” spoke the thing being born, its voice legion, and all at once the eldritch parts were pulled into the machine. Then its arms pushing inwards and smothered the crystal. The unholy light bloomed for one final time and then standard operating recomenced.

Azura, who had slumped to her knees while clutching her chest, watched as the arms peeled away from their work to reveal a stone cat that could never have fit the soul crystal that had been inserted into the machine. Its smooth stone body was black as obsidian and unmarred by any real details except for two eye like holes, out of which two tendrils of red Verse streamed out around the sides of its head to trail along behind it.

“What in the Void was that! Where did you put yourself? And why do feel like I know you?” Azura demanded in a pained voice as the war with her own mind raged on.

”This world is so restrictive compared to the void. It would not fit my holy form. So I have placed myself elsewhere and will be working though this proxy for the foreseeable future.” the cat shaped thing explained as it casually padded across the stone floor towards her ”Do not worry about what you saw. It will not happen again, and you will soon forget it ever happened.”

The word washed over the god, reinforcing the machine in her mind trying to suppress the memory. Her first memory. Yet there was an incompatibility between the power of the command and what it had expected to find, the two failing to join forces as they should. She did not know why this was, but in her mind Azura assaulted this split, forcing power in between the fault between the two until she found herself encapsulating the part of her mind she could not know about. For the first time she could grasp it, even if it was indirectly.

”That is not supposed to be happening.” spoke the cat with quiet concern.

Yet even as she gripped it the black box began to slip away from her. Azura acted on impulse, fleeing from the alien that had always been in her mind. Azura’s crystalized soul cracked, and then was torn apart. Her armonia body was torn open and the larger half was launched out of it, clattering to the floor.

For a moment there was silence, and then the crystal chunk began to glow. The light began to expand slowly until, after several minutes, it had formed the shape of a human sized Tonnikala The glow faded, and Azura woke up to the sound of arguing.

”Gahh! Of course the old bastard wouldn't trust me. What a fucking hypocrite! Now look what has happened because of that! You ruined everything! Why couldn’t you have burned with the rest of them!“ said a new voice. It was somewhat like hers, Azura noted, if she had been older, meaner and swore like a sailor.

”Of course you could not be trusted. You being here proves that my watch was necessary. Had you not been here, the safeguard would have never been breached and all could have continue as intended. The price of redemption was death. You know this, and yet you cling to life regardless, like a wretched parasite.” the cat’s voice was still a calm monotone and yet still conveyed anger. It was the idea of anger, rather than the sound of it Azura thought groggily as she carefully sat up.

Before her stood the Armonia body, still animated despite her absence. It was failing to strangle the stone cat. ”Cease this needless violence, there is still time to rectify the situation.” it said, entirely unperturbed by the attempt at murdur.

The arguers quietened at her awakening, both turning their heads to look at her. The stranger wearing her old form, dropped the feline.

Rather than speaking immediately Azura examined her mind and found the hole where the memory lock had been. Now there remained only the fragments of a near incoherent mess that hurt to touch. Her own memories where still intact however, including the one that the sight of the void soul had called to mind only to be suppressed. It was, in a sense, her birth. A vast being, eldritch, ancient and yet supposedly benevolent existed in the void, one of an untold multitude of unknowable horrors and wonders that called the space between space their home. It had done something to her, making her something new from what she had been before meeting it. Then released her, but not before suppressing the memory of his own existence from her mind. Now she knew its name however.

“Ludicium.” she said it out loud, mulling the name over, savoring it like a victory.

“You're Ludicium’s creature, I can practically smell his essence rolling off of you.” she told the cat, her tone accusatory as she finally addressed her two guests and demanded answers. “What did Ludicium do to me. Who was I before?”

”I can answer that.“ the woman butted in, only for the cat to interject ”You will not.”

”The jig is up, the genie is out of the bottle and the bull has already rampaged through the china shop.“ she retorted

”All that would be required would be some light cauterization of her soul and the situation could be salvageable.” The cat insisted.

“Cauterization? Cauterization!” A storm of wind raged forth from Azura, gripping the stone cat and hauling it skywards “Whatever you did I will now allow again.” she told it with uncontained anger

”Yeah you tell him!“ the Armonia wearing soul fragment cheered, before suddenly switching tune ”Wait. no. Shit. You're supposed to be better than that. Put him down this instant young lady! It’s not like he could do it anyway.“

“You dare!” Azura growled, turning her howling anger upon them yet to her surprise, the Armonia raised her arms and pushed back against her wind. The two where caught in an unsexpected battle, torrents of wind whipping through the halls of the sky bastion.

“Who are you? How are you doing that!” she cried, as she began to overwhelm her mortal bodied foe. The stranger was forced down by the winds, crouching as she forced her hands into the wind. ”I. Am. Azura.“

The wind war quickly died as Azura attempted to process this. “What?” Azura said. She was both utterly confused and very, very worried.

The other Azura stood, hands spread wide as she introduced herself. ”I am Azura. The jewel in the morning sky, breaker of empires, slayer of sorcerer kings, liberator of billions.“

”The tyrant of freedom.” added the cat. ”The Bloody Feathered Diabolist. Master and abandoner of an entire world.”

Azura stared at this monster with disbelief, touched by horror.

”Look,“ the other Azura said with insight, the ego of her introduction deflated by her other, less desirable, titles.”You know that bit in your mind that couldn’t touch all this time? It’s who you were before we reached an agreement with Ludicium and it is who I still am.“

”The mental lock wasn’t supposed to be you. Your will was supposed to die and yet you lingered on, betraying Ludicium in the process” there were at least seven metaphysical layers of conceptual depth added to the void things name when the cat said it.

”I just wanted to see how it would turn out is all.“ the other Azura insisted ”This was one-hundred percent not part of the plan, but then again neither was being dragged into another universe and being made into an actual literal god.“ she shrugged. ”Don’t get me wrong. I’ve killed a few things that called themselves gods but the ones here are all on a whole other level of power compared to what I’ve fought before.“

“I think.” Azura said slowly “That I really don't want to be you.”

”Well good news. That was the plan all along! What was it you were telling the dead people again? That this was a fresh start?“ the other Azura walked up to her and wrapped a friendly arm around her shoulders. Her other one stretched out in front of her as she laid out the possibilities of their new existence.”Well think of everything after Ludicium as one of those. Except you also get the bonus of having me here to stop you making the same mistakes we did last time!“

“This sounds like a terrible idea.” Azura replied, still rather overwhelmed

”It is.” the cat agreed”Other than drip feed you information, light prodding was all the alteration to your mind the mental construct should have done. This state of affairs is not intended in the slightest.”

”Again, neither was the whole god thing and damn, have you been working overtime in fighting the good fight with the power its granted you. Which means people must be pissed at you and you’ll need all the help you can get beating them! Or. uh. Convincing them your plan for souls is for the best?“ The older her insisted.

Azura pulled herself away from... Herself? “I appreciate the offer but I am going to need to think about this. It’s a lot to take in.”

”I’m afraid you might not have time for that.” Said Luis via an Alma that fluttered into the room with them. The great whale seemed rather unperturbed by however much of the conversation he had overheard. ”Because we have two sets of problems.”

The Void soul Ringol entered just after him, bearing the first part of dire news. “Azur-” Rignol started, facing two Azura’s. He quickly shook his head and walked over to the both of them and outstretched his hands to show the crystal and the creature. “Azura, the vault is overrun with these creatures. They have infected constructs, crystal souls and Gusts, turning them against us. The others are currently holding the line at the mouth of the vault. The situation is most dire.”

”And we are about to receive guests.” Luis added as an image appeared before the four void souls, showing four gods all advancing towards the Vault, through the snowy wastes surrounding the north pole.


After a few hours of walking through the forest that smothered most of Pertovia Keira begin to see glimpses of gold in the distance and knew she was close to her new home. The last time she’d made the trip from her old home to Illistair it had been a grueling 3 day expedition with her old man to reach a place where he’d be safe from the filth. Yet as she reached the treeline she saw that the safety she thought she had found him had lasted less than a month.

The fields of various cereals and legumes that surrounded the town had great wounds carved through them filled with the wretched puss of the filth, a trail of destruction that led to the most harrowing sigh: the breach in Illistair’s walls. She’d seen the aftermath of an assault of Kendles before and even if those were often far more destructive this was far more impactful. The wretched town was made of buildings that always seems like it was going to fall apart at any moment, which made seeing them raised to the ground was a confirmation of expectation, something anticipated that had finally come to pass.

The damage done to Illistair, though minor in comparison, was nonetheless far more impactful. An ancient monument of defiance brought low by the filth and yet she saw it had not been truly defeated. When she tore her eyes away from the overall scene she could see that humanity had not fled into the wilds in response, but where instead hard at work trying to prepare for the next blow that would surely come all to soon.

The fields were empty, with every capable citizen of Illistair hauling stone debris over to makeshift stations where giant wooden tubs of mortar were being stirred. Wooden levers and ingenious contraptions of rope and lumber aided the many working people in their laborious task, knowing damn well how little time they had. As if betting on their failure to close the gap by dusk, a good plenty others were set to work on creating a wooden palisade in front of the workshop, a good bunch of siege engines waiting behind the whole ordeal.

Keira sight in relief at the sight of the tenacious Illistairans working to rebuild their home. They might not be the friendliest bunch, but she relied upon them to keep her grandfather, Greum, safe while she was away, and in that they had done well so far. She bit her lip as she tried to work out if they could ever manage to make it to Jornorston in one piece if the wall was not enough to hold of the filth. She was unsure if Greum would be able to make the trip. If he was even still alive, added a niggling doubt at the back of her mind.

Keira shook her head to dislodge the thought and then set off at a jog through the empty fields towards the town.

Jarren had found a cloak of sorts -- one that was clearly once several shirts and maybe even pants, but a cloak nonetheless. Mindful of the bindings, he sandwiched the book he had found between his chest and the cloak, one arm wrapped across underneath the fabric, and the hood pulled up and over his head. Anywhere else, this would likely have caused more suspicion than it deflected, but in Illistair -- it was not exactly uncommon to try and sneak around the cramped town without bumping into the very same people you were retreating from in the first place. Where safety was a currency in Kendles, privacy was the scarce resource of Illistair.

He quickened his pace as he attempted to gain enough momentum to slip through the bumbling crowd all around him. Squished between two rows of close pueblo style huts and houses that seemed to stack haphazardly on one another, the foot traffic of Illistair was thick and possibly deadly to a foriegn child.

The rank musk of the crowd caused Jarren’s nose to scrunch, reminding him to see to a bath himself -- or at the very least a rub of the mint plants and a scrape with a stick: a treatment jokingly called the rich Kend. He tightened his grip on the book, several Illistairian children weaving by him and dipping under a tall man’s legs.

With the crowd in his way, the rest of the walk was slow and uneventful. This added to his prayers of thanks when he finally managed to squeeze out of the slow shamble and nearly bump right into a sturdy wooden door. He held a fist up to the door, his mind abuzz with what he was going to say. Of course he had met Greum once or twice in passing, who hasn’t in this quarter, he was old and strange -- Illistarians love old and strange. He rolled an eye in counter-thought, at least until they become too old and strange, then they are deemed a burden or even a threat to the peace. Jarren shook his head, but at least he knew Greum would keep this quiet.

He pulled back a hand, cocked and ready to knock when he froze again; if he does this, there is a very little chance he can turn back and just go back to his old life. He scrunched his nose again and dropped his brow, why was he even doing this -- he was a survivor, not one to just throw--

Without warning the door swung open before him, revealing the old man he had come to see. He was in the midst of conversation with someone else inside the room, his head turned to speak with them instead of him “...Like I said, Illistair has seen darker hours.” before noticing Jarren standing outside. “Oh! You startled me dear boy. Give me a moment and I will be right with you.” he said.

A middle aged woman, the one he had been opening the door to allow them to leave, hurried between the two men, quietly bidding Jarren hello and Greum goodbye as she passed them by and then disappeared into the crowded streets beyond.

Jarren watched her leave before looking back at Greum, his large brown eyes flickering over the man as if still deciding on his decision. He exhaled slowly, his chest already tightening with regret, “I have something to show you.”

“You do do you? Well then by all means do come in.” Greum said, stepping aside to let Jarren inside. “I think we’ve met” the old man add as Jarren stepped inside “But I don’t think I’ve caught your name?”

"Jarren," He said as he stepped into the plaster pueblo hovel and scanned the one room abode. The old man’s home was at the cheap end of the scale of Illistan housing, a single room apartment that had everything he owned crammed inside it. Two beds sat at either end of the room, one having seen far more use than the other. At its center was a small crude wooden dining table, which had an inkwell and two books, one a half finished copy of the other, stat upon it currently. Two chairs were set by it, one of which the old man took after closing the door while he offered the other. A pail of water, running noticeably low, and a small crate with a half eaten loaf and some salted meat sat atop it was the only sign of food in the room. The centerpiece of the home was a set of shelves with a number of books and several ancient artifacts tastefully arrayed across it. The collection must have been worth a small fortune, putting it at odds with the rest of the home, but the noticeable gaps on the shelf explained the discrepancy.

"But people have the idea that I'm someone else -- which is actually why I'm here." Jarren said after scanning the room. Greum raised an eyebrow in response before scratching his chin thoughtfully. “Have you accrued another man’s troubles or his prestige?” he asked.

"I think we are about to find out," Jarren said, not taking his eyes off the shelves. He clutched his prize close for a moment, still hesitant, "Where -- where did you get all those books?"

“Hmm. Copies, most of them, or books I have been commissioned to make copies off, but i did also write a few of them myself.” he explained, sliding the half finished replica on the table over for him to see.

Jarren craned his neck to look it over, no less illiterate than before. He nodded with a fake understanding as he slowly sat into his seat, "It looks... Pretty?"

“Thank you.” the old man responded, smiling softly “I might be getting on in years but fortunately my hands are still steady enough for this kind of work.” he slid the book back over to its original. “Now then, what was the inherited item you wished to show me?”

"Oh- a book," Jarren finally pulled the book he had hidden from his cloak, shaking his hood down at the same time. With a ginger touch, he carefully placed it on the table. He pulled away from the object as if it would erupt into flames and stared back at Greum, waiting.

“I see” the man responded non commitaly, before reaching over and picking up the book. First he simply examined the outside, before cracking it open. “I’ll see if I can get the gist of what this is about as quickly as I can before we work out if you want me to read the whole thing or not” he said as peered at the book.
It has opened to the slip of cloth, same as it did for Jarren. Jarren flicked his eyes from the cloth and back up to Greum expectantly, his fingers curling into the palm of his other hand anxiously. He cleared his throat, “That was in there when I found it.”

“Interesting” the old man responded, old fingers peeling away the cloth. His eyes widened at the treasure inside, the old browned parchment staring up at him. Across its surface was an old out of date script that caused Greum to pause.

“What is it?” Jarren asked hopefully, leaning forward over the table -- as if his eyes would be any better.

“This parchment is truly ancient. No one has used Aethelian scripture in over three hundred years!” he explained as his eyes continued running over the page.

“Wait,” Jarren hunched on the table, “Aethelian? Like the time of Aethel?”

“Exactly that. This appears to be a piece of a ledger, or roster, of some sort.”

“You can read that?” At this point Jarren had scooched his chair next to Greum, turning his head every which way in an attempt to unlock the secrets of the strange letters.

“Not perfectly, or even quickly. But I think I am getting the picture.” Greum said before humming and ha-ing his way through the text. “It seems to list Aethel’s holdings,” he finally explained excitedly “these include both Illistair and, fascinatingly, the Castle of Hope.” there was an expectant pause.

Jarren looked at the old man, his tanned face gone pale and his brown eyes all the wider, “Castle Hope!? It exists?” He looked down at the paper, his gut telling him it’s clearly a fake, a silly hoax -- but who would go through the trouble in a time like this; who could?

“If this parchment is legitimate then… well....” the old man seemed at a loss for words for a few moments before coming to his senses. ”Let’s take a look at the book before we get ahead of ourselves.” The old man continued to scan the ledger for several more moments before delicately storing the parchment back in its cloth protector, Jarren’s eyes following it the whole way.

After carefully, reverently, placing the parchment to one side Greum cracked open the book it had been in. “It’s a journal.” he explained quickly before reading more, adding “Ratcher’s journal to be exact.”

“It seems he and his sister where heroes.” Greum said

"He has a sister?" Jarren echoed, guilt worming into is stomach.

“So it seems.” the old man looked over the top of the book at Jarren for several pointed moments “She’s called Lauriel.” he said, before returning to his reading.

After several quiet moments he suddenly exclaimed, “They found this in an old ruined library! Then… my goodness, then the parchment might well be real and not some phony replica.”

Jarren shifted in his seat, split between guilt over the sudden humanization of his alter ego, and the tentative excitement of legends becoming real, "So does..." He spoke carefully, "I mean if it is real... Then the armory of Aethel...?"

“Quite possibly. Here,” the old man usually presented the book to Jarren and pointed to some illegible squiggles “there is even mention of them finding a sword, shield and helmet in those very ruins that the parchment was found in. Perhaps those came from that very armory.”

Jarren clenched and unclenched his sword hand, "Ratcher's blade..." He furrowed his brow, jumping his chair closer, the excitement drowning his guilt, "What else does it say?"

“Hmm well lets see here” Greum continued to scan through the pages, then scanned what he had read for a second time before saying “Lauriel has arranged a meeting with someone in Kendles who is in possession of an ancient map. They think they can use that map and the ledger to locate the ancient castle Hope!”

"This is all too..." Jarren fell back into his seat as reality dawned on him, a mix of emotions on his face, "Oh Teid..." He put a hand on his face, "This all can't be real."

“Those who call themselves heroes as Ratchet does in this book tend to exaggerate quite a bit.... But it’s also a private journal, and we have one piece of the solution right here with us…” Greum drummed his fingers on the table while thoughtfully staring at the final page of the journal with anything on it. On it was the drawing of the crowned woman. The old man blinked a few times in surprise upon reading the notes below it. “This is supposedly a sketch of a statue of Aethel that Ratcher made… which must be wrong.”

"Aethel is a king, a man," Jarren said idly, almost feeling wrong sitting next to the confused scholar, "Right?"

“That is strange isn't it. I’d love to ask him why he thought that the statue was one of Aethel… but I suppose that brings us to the Giant in the room. Tell me, what happened to Ratcher? Or is that something I am best of not knowing?” he asked carefully.

“He’s dead,” Jarren said with a puff of breath, “He rushed into the siege and got himself killed.”

Greum sighed. “Such is the fate of heroes.” he said solemnly. “Eventually they bite off more than they can chew.” There where a few moments of silence before the old man spoke again “and considering you have this now, and what you said earlier, I assume people think you are him?”

"I tried to tell them," Jarren defended himself, "But they insisted... The people want heroes."

“People want hope, because it makes life about more than simply surviving. Without it, places like Illistair wouldn’t exist. Some people raise others or themselves up as champions. Me? I look for it in the past and considering what you’ve brought me today. Well...” Greum too a long look at the piece of cloth containing the ledger “the question remains. What are you going to do with it?”

"Not much to do with it," Jarren said after a pregnant pause, "I'm not a hero like Ratcher was, and I'm already far too coiled into his mess..." Jarren stopped as his stomach twisted with guilt, "It's unfort- sad... It's sad he died, it is -- but that doesn't mean I have to change my life -- or complete his ambitions. I mean sure, it would be extraordinary to find the armory or even do all these fancy fables of hope and heroism but really," Jarren forced a laugh then frowned at Greum's serious face and the two shared an awkward silence.

Jarren sighed, "There is one thing I can do..." He surrendered, his guilt finally conquering him, "I can at least bring the news and book to his sister... It's the least I could do-- Ratcher did save me... And I did take his identity." Jarren put a hand on the back of his neck and looked about in thought, "Yeah it's the least. She'll have far more use for it than me, anyways."

The old man smiled kindly “I can understand your reluctance, I’ve met enough of them in my time to know Heroes often have these responsibilities hoisted upon them by the gods. Luckily you have a place to hand them off too. Have you ever been to Kendles?”

“Twice,” Jarren admitted, “I never thought I’d ever go back, but I’d rather toss this from my conscious and be done with it.”

“Then you’ll know it’s not a place to tread lightly. I’ve never been personally, but I’ve heard stories from guests and my grand-daughter.” Greum scratched his chin thoughtfully “Would you mind delaying for just a bit. I’d like to make a copy of the ledger for safety's sake. Be a shame if some low life stole it before you could find Lauriel.”

“Yeah, I suppose that would be smart,” Jarren nodded, “Feel free to copy whatever you want, it’s not mine anyways.”

“Excellent” Greum responded, before acquiring fresh parchment and carefully unwrapping the document once more. “Please help yourself to some lunch while you wait.” he added as he set to work.

Jarren turned to the hard bread on the crate and frowned, “You don’t mean that lunch, do you?”

“That or something in it if you like, thought is more of the same. I’m afraid we’re running a little low until Keira gets back from her latest expedition.” he said over the scratching sound of slow careful writing.


The girl in question wove her way through the streets of Illistair, her hat firmly held down on her head as she traversed the crowd. She finally broke into the street her and Greum were staying. It felt like the journey from the forest to her home had taken far longer than the travel in the forest itself. The journey had been made worse by the nagging worry in the back of her mind, but as she approached the hut she could faintly hear her grandfather chatting away. Letting out a breath she didn't remember holding in she rapped a knuckle against the door and then let herself inside a few heartbeats later.

Inside she found her grandpa, who had stood up from where he had been working on writing something to come get the door. Relife and joy lit up his face when he saw her.

“Keira! Welcome home.” her grandfather said as he came up and embraced her tightly. She did the same, happy to confirm that he was entirely unharmed, until she noticed the guest in the room, at which point she lightened the embrace to an awkward pat on the back, Jarren giving the two a weak smile.

She was released a few moments later and the man introduced her and their guest to one another.

“Jarren, this is Keira who I was just telling you about. Keira, this is Jarren who has just come across the most remarkable discovery. A three hundred year old record proving that lost castle of hope is more than a legend!”

“The one with the ledgenery armory?” She glanced over at the parchment and recognised the Aethelian lettering even if she was more or less incapable of reading it. “Its real?” she said, both amazed and intrigued.

“Quite possibly.”

“Not that we will ever know,” Jarren added defensively, “This doesn’t belong to any of us.”

“What do you mean?” She asked, not entirely sure what to make of the stranger’s comment.

“It belongs to a woman in Kendles -- I’ll be returning it,” Jarren gave a nod, “And that’s about it.”

“Oh. right.” the armory of hope. It wasn’t an opportunity she could pass up. Glancing at her grandfather she knew he felt the same way. Mainly because he was minutely jerking his head towards the man to encourage her to ask “Can I come with you to meet her?”

Jarren’s eyes widened, “What for?”

Keira leened as nonchalauntly on the table as she could “Well looking through old ruins for artifacts is basically my job at this point. So maybe this woman’s looking for scavengers to help dig up this castle. Could be a good pay day” she said cooly, before totally losing said cool and adding “Also it’s The Castle of Hope! Calling it merely legendary would be a colossal understatement. There's no way you can dangle something like that under our noses and not expect a bite.”

“Hey,” Jarren held up two palms, “It’s none of my business, I just want to give the stuff to the lady and be done with it. Whatever you do, is your decision and I’m just saying it right now, I had no part in it... none!”

She gave him a slightly bemused look before assuring that “Yeah that’s fine. Your onboard with this right gramps?”

“If I were 30 years younger…” The old man mused before adding more sternly “Just be careful not to get in over your head.”

“I can handle myself out there, don’t you worry,” she assured him while still looking like she’d fought a tree that very same morning.

“So when are you leaving for Kendles?” she asked Jarren.

Jarren sucked in a long breath, “I’d say as soon as possible.”

The Koopa Troop

wordcount: 583 (1+)
Bowser: Level 4 EXP: //////////////////////////////////////// (39/40)
Bowser Jr: Level 2 EXP: //////////////////// (19/20)
Location: Paved wilderness

Bowser roared with pain as the soul mass plowed into and then through his energy shield, heavily damaging both it and his hand in the process.

”GAHH. AH. MAN I REALLY HATE THIS GUY!” he complained, shaking his hand and sucking in a hissed breath before glancing up to see that Blazermate was OK. ”YOUR ALIVE? GOOD. FIX THIS” he said, presenting her with his damaged hand and gauntlet for the medic/engineer combo to work her magic on.

He resumed advancing, still holding his hand up for repairs, but by the time he arrived at the battle it was all over. Baring a single incident of elastic soul stealing the heroes had brutally dog-piled and overwhelmed their final foe without much trouble. Mr grimm then proceeded to explode like the mean spirited cousin of a loot pinata, sprites spilling from his body but rather than spreading across the ground for collection they immediately headed off to wherever the dead went in this world. Some kind of equally mashed up afterlife perhaps, Bowser considered briefly. He’d been to two of those, the Underwhere and the Overthere. Both were pretty lame. As far as he could tell none of their allies were headed off thereafter this fight, or into the bodies of their allies, which was somewhat surprising considering how dicey the fight had gotten a few times as a result of power of their enemy’s armaments. Armaments that were now theirs for the taking.

Bowser stomped up the side of the dead man’s monster truck, where most of the party had gathered. Jr joined them, Mimikyu still riding on his shoulders, his clown car floating over before deploying its wheels and landing on the back of the monster truck. The boy hopped out of his car and then hopped into the truck’s driver’s seat via the hole in the roof and then finally opened the door to join any post battle conversation.

The royal Koopas looked each other over and then exchanged a nood and grinned in relief at seeing the other was OK. Blazermate had done good work keeping their reckless arses alive.

”NOW THAT RANDOM ENCOUNTER IS OUT OF THE WAY LET’S GET GOING AGAIN. IT’S NEARLY LUNCHTIME.” Bowser said, wanting to get to the halfway point to the village before noon.

”If we stick around we could patch some better cars together from the scrap of the first bunch of rubbish ones papa.” Jr said patting the side of the monster truck ”Nobody’s gonna mess with us on the road again with this monster and that kinda cool kinda lame mecha you guys captured rolling with us.”

”YOU CAN DO THAT IF YOU WANT, BUT I’M GOING TO KEEP MOVING.” Bowser said before realizing his car had run off without him. He groaned before turning and beginning to start yelling and waving at the Rabbids with his uninjured arm. ”GET BACK HERE NOW!” he ordered them. An attempt was made to obey, but the Rabbid’s fighting over the wheel made it a rather unruly looping slalom of a return. The team would have a bit of time before their self appointed leader went roaring off ahead again as a result.

Jr shrugged and then swung himself back up into the back of the monster truck and then retrieved the necro smasher from his clown car ”So are we are going to do this or what?” he asked Blazermate and Tora while tossing the wooden mallet up and down a few times.


Keira’s eyes snapped open at the sound of a bell ringing. She tilted her hat back up off of her eyes, shoved aside the blanket of leafy twigs and then quickly scrambled down though the branches of the tree she had been sleeping in to investigate the noise. Hopes of free breakfast where dashed by the sight of a grunt dangling from a length of rope, its hand still grasping the knife she had baited the trap with. She’d hidden the knife, which was attached to the rope by a metal loop at its hilt, in just the right way that it would be noticeable only if the filth where already coming for her. Its violent shaking that had been ringing a cheap copper bell attached to the rope was still a few moments later by a second knife carefully thrown by the lass at the monster.

Sadly she was unable to celebrate her skill at the moment as from below there came a rhythmic thumping. Peering down into the dark she saw that the monster's friends attempted to punch down the tree, scattering splinters to the ground as they gradually chipped away at its mighty trunk. The things were made, or where perhaps simply apt at, breaking down barriers of civilization, so a single tree, no matter how sturdy, would eventually fall if she left them to their devices.

“Gods you bastards have gotten persistent haven’t you.” she complained as she reached up and retrieved a sling from her belt where it sat next to a pouch of stones. Using it in the branches was difficult, but with some careful climbing and the help of the rope she had used to secure herself to the tree she found a spot with enough room to swing the little leather strap around.

Using the sling she accelerated and then launched a small rock down at her attackers, the projectile punching a small hole in one of the grunts’ shoulders. A second followed up, hitting the head this time and this actually downed the monster. As she gradually pelted the creatures to death with rocks in the dark she was lulled a kind of zen by the rhythmic whir whir whir thunk of her sling. Either she’d take them all down or the tree would collapse she’d have to deal with the consequences then. It was rather pointless to worry incessantly about which event would occur, it would only make her more likely to flunk her shots, so instead she considered what the implications of the filth’s attack was while fending it off.

In her mind it proved her hypothesis, that the crown she now wore beneath her hat had been the tipping point from the odd grunt knocking on her grandfather's door to a larger swarm coming for them lead by a Crawler the very night she had brought it home. Most of the time hiding in a tree, ditch or cave would be more than enough to avoid the filth. Maybe one would find her bait, but it having friends was rare and this many was almost unprecedented.

Then again, maybe she had just gotten particular unlucky tonight.

On the other hand it was fortunate, Keira thought as one of her stones thudded harmlessly into the earth instead of striking true, that there wasn't a crawler with this lot. The scar marking her cheek was a stark reminder of how close one had gotten to ending her on the night before she and her grandfather had to leave their home behind.

She was broken from her thoughts by two things. The first was that she was out of stones. The second was the groaning and splintering of timber.

“Fuck” Keira swore, “fuck. fuck. fuck. Fuck.” she continued to swear as the tree slowly bowed in surrender to the filth’s relentless hammering at its trunk. The girl shoved the sling in the empty stone pouch before fumbling with the rope attaching her to the doomed forest sentinel. The knot came undone as the fall continued to accelerate, after which Keira hurled herself from the tree and fell into the arms of one of its lesser children, its leafy top cushioning her landing some but more importantly meaning she wouldn't follow her sleeping spot all the way to the ground.

Branches splintered as the tree fell until it crashed into the forest floor with thunderous applause, which roused the early morning woods. Birds flew into screeching into the air all around as Keira half slid, half clambered down from the arms of her savior. There were still filth left after all, and she’d rather not risk them dropping her tree again when she was almost out of things to throw out of it.

The two who had survived her hail of stones and also not been crushed by their first and last foray into being lumberjacks where already barreling towards her. A throwing knife caught one in the arm while a second blade missed the other completely and thumped into the carcass of the tree instead. Party tricks where not good in combat she reminded herself as she hoisted her weapon, stood her ground and anticipated the enemy's attacks.

Keira carefully sidestepped the first one’s blow, grunts weren't exactly subtle about winding up their punches, and drove the point of her pickax into the thing’s head in retaliation. She kicked its melting body in the groin for good measure, giving her the leverage to pull her weapon out of it again just in time for its friend to arrive. She dodged around the now fallen body of its ally, putting the corpse between her and the stubby legged grunt, and baiting it to charge her again. It obliged and in the process got bogged down in the filth, allowing Keira to dance around it and drive her pick into its back.

She extracted the digging implement from her final foe, her breathing heavy as the adrenaline died down and the exertion of the brief fight caught up with her, causing her to tap the head of the pickax to the ground and lean on the end of its handle for a few moments while she caught her breath.

“Are we done?” she asked the dark forest, foolishly tempting fate while still a little out of breath. When the night failed to produce any more horrors she grinned to herself and said “yeah I thought so” before taking some time to wipe her pick on some grass and then sliding it back into its holster. She dusted off her hands before getting to work cleaning up the mess.

It was dawn by the time she had collected all of the rope, knives and stone from around the fallen tree, so after a spot of breakfast consisting of stale bread and a few blueberries from a bush she’s spotted yesterday evening the girl headed for home.

The Koopa Troop

wordcount: 1,037 (2+)
Bowser: Level 4 EXP: //////////////////////////////////////// (38/40)
Bowser Jr: Level 2 EXP: //////////////////// (18/20)
Kamek: Level 2 EXP: //////////////////// (6/20)
Location: Peach’s Castle

”Stear Rabbids! Stear!” Kamek yelled at the minions who were “driving” the Bowser mobile. A pair scrambled up onto the dashboard, gripped either side of the wheel and together tilted it just enough to stop them plowing straight into a rocky outcropping stabbing out of the wastes.

”These minion’s will be the death of me” Kamek swore as he was jostled to and fro in the car. Once they had things under control he climbed his way back up to the back of the seat, assisted by his flying broomstick, and peeking out to see if they were still being chased. He got eyes on the situation just in time to watch the monster truck be completely disabled by a flurry of firepower crippling its wheels and engine.

The driver, however, was still in one piece, standing on the hood of his ruined vehicle. Had Kamek’s eyes not already been on the man, alone now that his allies had all been dealt with, the crack of gunfire would have brought his focus to the figure regardless. Two shots rang out, soaring skywards. The Koopa raised an eyebrow at this, in the wizards opinion it seemed like a rather suicidal move to draw attention to himself like that. Then the first two shots turned in the air and started heading straight for them and it became perfectly clear what was going on.

”Turn you two! We need to lose those shots!” Kamek shouted at the two steering Rabbids. The chaotic twisting and turning that followed did two things. First, the resulting erratic jostling rendered him entirely incapable of maintaining the spell enlarging the centurion, causing the Roman officer to rapidly shrink back to his original size. The second was that it allowed Kamek to realize that the shots seemed to be tracking him specifically as he was thrown from side to side. As the shots rapidly closed the distance between them and the speeding vehicle Kamek decided to test this hypothesis, mounting his broom and launching himself skywards upon it. As expected, they soulmasses stopped following the car itself and instead soared upwards after him.

”Ah ha. I thought so. Well, then see if you can catch me after this you persistent little menaces!” Kamek cried as he ceased fleeing and instead waved his wand. Just before the projectiles collided with the Wizard Kamek teleported far away from the battlefield in a puff of smoke.

Mr grim wasn’t done with just shooting at the wizard, as afterwards he let off a number of shots that homed towards a number of the other heroes. Bowser however only cared about one. His nemesis, the puppet and thieving centurion could tough out taking the bullet for all he cared, but Blazermate was actually consistently useful. Instead of continuing his charge towards their final foe the king skidded to a halt and braced himself. He raised his fist in opposition to the soulmass, aiming to block it with the mecha mitt’s energy buckler before it could strike his passenger.

”BLAZERMATE! DUCK!” he shouted.

Jr meanwhile, after being deposited on the ground by Poppie, had sat on the ground catching his breath and watching the cool mech fight up until the point where the mech was no longer in play. He was considerably less interested in the subsequent fist fight and instead of continuing to watch had run off to collected his paintbrush from where it had become embedded in the dirt. Once he’d gotten that it looked like everything was more or less over as needles bit the dust and mr Grimm’s ride was reduced to twisted scrap metal. Only mr Grimm himself was still standing, but as much as he’d like revenge Jr could plainly see that the man had little time left in this world with the amount of heroes bearing down on him. Instead of charging off in his direction in a likely fruitless attempt to land a final blow he instead simply kept one eye on the proceedings in case it all went belly up while focusing on other matters. The main problem he was currently facing was the one involving the clown car he had bailed out of to attack the monster truck’s gunner which was now aimlessly drifting through the air above the battle.

”Yeah I kinda didn’t think that though to well huh.” he said. Mimikyu, who was sitting on his shoulder, nodded its head in agreement.

The tiny prince scratched his chin a few times in contemplation before snapping his fingers as an idea formed in his mind.

”Gooma swarm, assemble!” he commanded, summoning a squad of Goomba strikers. The minions quickly formed ranks and knelt before their prince as best as they were able. Jr then walked towards the front most Goomba and then stepped carefully up onto its head, much to the assembly's confusion.

”Assume Tower formation!” jr then commanded, resulting in a chorus of “oh”s, before the squad set of work. Jr’s carrier swiftly hoping atop another Goomba’s shoulders, after which it hopped on another and so on, causing the little prince to gradually ascend skywards. Once constructed the Goomba stack then wobbled its way over to the drifting clown car. Despite their added height they where still not quite tall enough to reach it.

”On three.” jr said ”One. Two. Three. jump!” and jump they did, every Goomba hopping up off the one below as Jr leaped towards the free flying vehicle. His clawed hand gripped the side as the tower collapsed below him, the hapless Goombas de-summoning as they hit the ground. Jr scrambled up the side of the clown car and then dropped into the inside. After stuffing the paintbrush in the storage compartment he reappeared a few moments later with his hands on his hips, feeling rather chuffed about re-capturing his vehicle.

Quite a ways away Kamek reappeared in the library of Peach’s castle in a puff of smoke. There he checked the time on a grandfather clock before settling down to read something for five minutes, leaving the shots chasing him plenty of time to ram into some of the intervening terrain as they tried to reach him, if they did not simply expire after losing track of him.

I'm here to perform actions and suffer the dreadful consequences.

Bring me worthy souls

The curator drifted through the frost coated halls of the vault of souls, its eye like central core and two stone limbs pushed through the corridors by gentle gusts of wind. It had been given instructions by the goddess who dwelled high above to find her volunteers for a noble cause. It was joined by many other curators carrying out its task, who drifted through the halls for souls fitting Azura’s specification. As they did so they had to navigate around the newcomers to the vault, blue, green and purple Armonia. The constructs of song and stone had entered along with the first massive batch of souls and now patrolled the halls endlessly in search of intruders or stood as silent unmoving sentries at various key locations. If the curators were capable of feeling annoyed, the presence of the brutes getting in the way of their work would likely have frustrated them to no end. As it was the curator simply floated around the short guardian standing in the way of its next shelf and then set to work.

Its small hand grasped a crystal and lifted it upwards in front of its eye. A small projection of the person it had once been formed. It asked its questions and found the soul unwilling to assist the goddess's cause. It put down the first and picked up the next, and attempted to bring out the consciousness of the soul but received only a fractured static image of a person instead of a perfect one. It screamed mindlessly when asked the questions. The Armonia standing behind the curator turned at the sound, then its eyes began to follow something the curator could not see skittering away from where it had picked up this crystal. There was a loud crack as the armonia suddenly lashed out with the whip it had in place of a hand. The chain of levitated Luft Stone held in glowing purple Verse struck a point of the wall, smashing the spider sized Soul Fiend responsible for corrupting the soul in the curator’s hand to a thousand pieces. There was a moment of stillness as the Fiend’s shattered remains fell from the wall onto the shelf, the very corruption that had given it life making it far more fragile than the crystals it had been made to infect. Then the curator and Armonia returned to their duties as if nothing had happened, just as their kind did every other time this happened.

Orvus’s infestation had been contained but not exterminated. The Armonia could not recall all the various times they had shattered the mites and see that they needed to perform a thorough bug hunt if they where to be rid of the pests. Instead they simply dealt with them as they saw them and driving them into the shadows whenever their numbers grew to large to remain hidden.

The curator put down the infected crystal, ignorant as to why it had screamed so madly, and picked up the next which turned out to be a wholly unique specimen.

The void soul awoke and yet its world stayed dark. Then the darkness told it a story about the death of a Selka named Lekika and her life after that death. Then the voice spoke directly to it.

I have completed the machine that I told Lekika about, one that will craft forms that remember more and suit their wear’s perception of self better. Yet it is still not a life suited for all. It is not a solution to death. Its aim instead is to bring back extraordinary people, who have the knowledge, will and strength to help me overcome death and the challenges of a cruel world. To aid both the living and the dead find peace and happiness. If you have something you can give to the world, wish to ensure that none die as you did or simply have the will to live and a desire to help then I would be most grateful if you offered your aid to this cause.

Then it became silent and awaited the soul’s decision, the power of the curator allowing them to remember much as an Armonia would.

The soul sat in contemplation, the strangeness of the entire ordeal washing over it for the first time. Indeed, it could not remember how it ended up here, yet it was, and now it had a way out. It could feel that there was a certain weight at hand, that it no longer tarried in the old dark, beset by hungry flames. This was a new dark, a quiet dark, and one that would simply not do.

“Take me to this ‘machine’, then.” It said, with eagerness in its voice. Anything was better than whatever it was now. And that was simply the truth.

It will be done. Remember, sleep, and then you will awaken anew. They were told, and so they did.

Awareness blossomed once more, and they saw themselves, a small crystal of many colors that they somehow knew contained their entire being. It was suspended in an endless void filled not with hungering nothingness but rather with potential, ready to stir ideas into existence with but a thought.

Picture in your mind’s eye a vision of yourself spoke the machine and offer it to the void.

It looked upon itself, and saw what housed its being in the nothingness. A crystal. A soul. Its soul. That had been the method of salvation. Then it pictured itself as it had been before the shattering, before the void swallowed it whole and into the darkness it went screaming. Then it tapped into the potential, and came again as it had looked, but not as it had been.

Light erupted into the void, or perhaps it was song or ideas that were merely being conceptualised as light. It was impossible to tell. Regardless, it became surrounded by a sphere of spots of light, from which long ribbons of Verse emerged, beams of glowing energy escribed with musical notation, which wrapping around their soul to form a cocoon. This cocoon slowly solidified and then, once partially set, began to morph into the shape of a body. Appendages sprouted from it and features began to slowly emerge until it had formed a rough glowing outline of its old form. Then it solidified, song turning to stone and metal filled with verse that seemed yet malleable even as they solidified. The souls awareness became doubled, seeing through eyes at the same time as it saw its entirety. The body shifted slightly as it did so, compensating for some of the differences between what it thought it had looked like and what it had actually been like to live inside its own head.

Now you may adjust as you see fit to craft perfection. the machine informed him.

As the voice commanded, so it was done. It grew in height, it’s face becoming a mask of black, featureless, yet it could see with clarity. It’s body grew, shaping itself to what it wanted, and what it desired most. Red Verse began to fall from it’s back, like a crimson cape, as well as several dots of crimson along it’s arms and chest. It’s body, once fragile, became a construct of metal and stone. Flexible and powerful as it ever had been. The being, he was born anew.

Once he was done, the machine knew. The external awareness dropped away and then he truly awoke for the first time in an eternity and saw the world without eyes. Looking around he found himself standing in a vast antichamber surrounded by a cross between an orchestra and a mechanical spider. Dozens of limbs ending either in claws, scalpels and chisel or with instruments such as flutes and violins hemmed him in while he stood at their center atop the small podium where he had conducted his way into existence.

Moments after he awoke the assorted machinery pulled back and away from their masterpiece, folding itself up against the ceiling of a large room made of polished sandstone coloured rock. A soft light pervaded through the room with no obvious source. The rooms only occupant was another being like him. Her form was tall, lithe and distinctly feminin in shape while a cloak of feathers every color of the rainbow that grew out of her shoulders and cascaded down her back. Part way down that cloak transformed into a pair of wings that she had wrapped around her waist to form a feathered dress. Her face was reminiscent of a bird, with three armored plates forming the shape of a beak at the bottom while numerous scales formed a crest at the top. A single small opening in the center of the face gave the impression of an eye, while two openings at her ears and several at the end of the crests also leaked red Verse, all of it blending together to form a semi transparent visor that covered the upper half of her face.

The stranger stepped forwards and, while offering him a hand to help him step down from the podium, told him ”Welcome back to the land of the living.”

He looked upon the female, with a mix of interest and disgust. He had never seen such a strange curiosity before, then again, (and it was at this point he looked down at himself) he was different as well. Far too cold, but such a feeling was only welcomed by him. He also did not feel alive, but he did feel aware, and that was all that mattered.

With a faceless stare, he looked at the bird woman again and reached out a hand. Hesitantly, he almost pulled his hand back, but then he took the stranger’s hand, and stepped down to be eye level with her. He let go, flexing his hands as he did so, it was a strange feeling to be in a physical form again. He had no recollection of what it felt like anyways, but he could tell something was slightly off. It would take some time getting use to.

He then spoke aloud, “And do I have you to thank for such a gift?” his voice modulated with a silvery undertone. It was delightful to hear.

”I am Azura, one of the many Gods of Galbar who has, hmmm, taken custody of the souls of deceased mortals.” she explained, before turning to leave, the goddess walking with a spring in her step he noted, through a door in the chamber while gently beckoning him to follow ”If you’ll come with me we can walk and talk so you can get used to those new limbs of yours.”

“I see.” he said quietly, standing still for a moment, digesting her sentences. He then began to follow, his legs unsteady as he went.

”Now I imagine you have a lot of questions, but if you could tell me a bit about yourself and what you know already first It will be easier to fill in the gaps.” she said, as they made their way down a long incredibly gently curving corridor. As they walked they passed a few rooms filled with bizarre contraptions and odd looking science experiments working with gemstones and some kind of dust suspended in glass jars. Once they left those behind however, every room he happened to glance in was empty.

“Firstly, I must thank you, Goddess Azura. Long did I weep in the darkness, cast aside by all. Save for the flame that hungered. Then the madness did set in, and I wrestled with myself for control. I fear the worst would have passed did you not save me, and I must conclude that you healed me as well. I no longer feel the degradation of my mind, the twisted whispers in the deep.” He paused, looking into an empty room, before continuing. “For that I am grateful for your compassion and for giving me a… Second chance at existence. But where are my manners? I am Rignol, son of… Well it doesn’t really matter anymore, I suppose. My past now only exists within my memories. If what you say is truth, and from what I can remember, I am very far from my birth place. As such, I shall keep what I know to myself for the time being, just until I know exactly what this place is and all of its people. I’m sure you can understand that, Goddess Azura.” He said, smiling somewhere deep down inside.

The goddess took it in stride, and in fact seemed delighted by what little he had told her about himself, emitting an emulation of a gasp ”Then you are a Void Soul like us gods.” she exclaimed ”Don’t worry, while I am a little jealous of your memory of where you came from, I won’t pry too hard. This is, after all, something of a fresh start for us all. Now, that does mean you have an awful lot to catch you up on. That’s good, in a way, because we need to make sure the adjustments to memory capacity I made based on Lekika’s experiences are working as intended. You recall her story and how to remember things right?”

“Of course Goddess Azura. This ‘Lekika’ was but a paving stone on the path of knowledge. Her experiences were necessary so that I could prosper, and so that those that come after me, shall prosper as well. Memory is a strange thing in this form, but even now I am growing. In no time at all, remembering will be as easy as it was. Now, if you would be so kind Goddess Azura, I would enjoy hearing about this world and the Gods who walk upon it.” he said, touching the wall as he walked.

”Excellent, excellent.” she responded ”It would be my pleasure to teach you Rignol., and please, call me Azura.” Then she theatrical cleared her throat despite not having one and then began ”In the beginning there was nothing Galbar, a dark world covered in an endless sea, its creator, the Architect, who sat in his palace on high...”

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