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    1. Enzayne 10 yrs ago
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(Turn 3)

Aveira stood on the balcony landing of her tower chamber and surveyed the desert with a brooding frustration. In her hand rested a single coin from the countless ones left behind after the lady of trade, and she rolled the piece between her knuckles idly, staring out over the dunes. Beneath her, the temple city was full of life. Her order of soldiers were in full swing with the preparations for the next phase - each day their ranks swelled, though not as quickly as Aveira had hoped. The arrival of the Umbra had seemed to make the settlement outside the walls just a little more complacent and less reliant on giving up their old selves. That didn't worry her too much; in the end most of them would not be suitable for the tasks required either way.

“Trade," she scoffed and closed her fist around the coin. Her pale fingers kneaded and mangled it until it was unrecognisable, flecks and shards in her shifting grip. Opalescent tendrils of energy rose from her skin and wormed their way over and through the metal, infusing the shattered shards with new essences. The metal pieces shone with a pulsing glow, thoroughly charged with energy. With another sharp breath Aveira threw the pieces out into the air, scattering them to the desert wind. The discarded metal shifted and distorted in the air, and before they had flown past the courtyard below each fragment had warped into a metallic raven with opalescent eyes. The new conspiracy of ravens scattered in each direction away from the temple fortress as they took on new life. One returned to the vantage point that was Aveira's balcony and settled there, watching its creator with shining eyes.

Yet one fragment had remained in the deity's hand. She opened her palm and the metal stretched and flattened under the caress of wispy tendrils until it was a thin blank sheet of gilded metal. She ran her finger along it, then grabbed it with both hands and stretched it out further, before finally shaking it as though it were a blanket. It rippled in the sunlight and shifted from stale metal to a golden hooded robe.

“Kyra." she called, and one of her elven handmaidens shot up from her seat inside the opulent chamber just beyond the balcony. The handmaid wrapped her arms around her simple purple silk gown as she stepped out on the open landing, warily stepping so as to not risk the wind blowing her off the railing-free balcony and hurtle to her death and the courtyard below.

"You called, Shaeska?" The woman mustered with enough courage to appear unfazed by the locale. Aveira, who stood near the front edge, simply lifted her left wing as if to invite the elf to walk under it. Kyra did just so, and the wing fell behind her and shifted to push her forward until she was next to both Aveira and the edge.

“You have made these shadow being's business your own, have you not? Trade, and all the frippery that comes with it?" Aveira turned her eyes on her handmaiden, and Kyra seemed to shrink in her presence.

"...Yes. Bu-But only to serve you to the utmost of my abilities, Shaeska!" Kyra assured swiftly, swallowing both air and fear. "I thought it good to lea-.."

A raised hand silenced the elf before she could explain. She closed her eyes as the hand drew closer, but opened them again as no admonition seemed to come. No, instead Aveira had lifted her hand to hover over Kyra's head, where now wispy tendrils of essence lingered in the air. Kyra breathed softly and looked up at her pale ruler, only to find her staring right back at her.

“Once you changed your fate by showing your devotion to me. Now I change your fate to serve me better. If you are truly as devoted as you claim, you may even remember your old self." Aveira explained with unyielding condescension that implied all responsibility fell on her subject. Kyra opened her mouth to ask, to protest, to profess her loyalty; what she wanted to say would forever be unknown as before she could form a single word, Aveira touched her head and sent cascades of divine essence through Kyra's body. The change was immediate. Her skin rapidly desaturated until it was almost as pale as Aveira's, but remained a crisp light grey instead of the truly white of the angel's complexion. Likewise her hair drained of color until it was a matte shadow of her old brown hair, though clearly not inflicted by age. The only color that truly remained were her eyes, which were sky blue. Aveira lowered her thumb to press against Kyra's forehead, and the same sharp rune-shapes that littered the temple were inlaid with an ink-like stain.

Kyra's eyes rolled upwards as the divine energy took her and truly dissolved all that she was. New information streamed into her mind at a dangerous and maddening pace. Concepts of negotiation, etiquette, leadership and advanced technological tools and weapons she could never have dreamed of rushed into her, overtook all that she was. Soon, she felt as though she had always known these things, and never known anything else. Deep down were memories of a life of leisure, attractions to her kin, laughs and aspirations. Those seemed both far away and pointless now. Like a lesser life she'd read about - because she could read now, and somehow both knew that she could and what reading was. When the storm of knowledge abated, she looked up at Aveira with an expectant gaze.

The goddess lowered her hand and grasped the gown Kyra wore. A single touch was all it took to incinerate it, with flames that seemed not to harm the desatured elf underneath. Aveira reached out her other hand and offered out the golden robe she'd held all this time. Kyra instinctively accepted this gift and swiftly dressed herself in the vestments of her new position. She took a few moments to gather herself and the whirlwind in her mind before speaking. "I see now, your vision for our world. I will bring it to all the corners of the land and unite them.”

Aveira stretched her arm out over the temple grounds, and a deep rumble erupted from the buildings surrounding the courtyard below. Within moments, one of the majestic buildings of the temple grounds began to rip from the earth, and lifted into the air slowly but surely, stirring up a hornet’s nest of activity among the Heralds milling around the realm. The building warped under divine ministration, and old windows and archways turned to landings and walls turned to golden metals. With a second flick of her wrist, Aveira sent a pulse of divine command out over her temple grounds as they watched the creation of the new flying building - extending to her loyalists not only the purpose of this vessel, but the concepts and ideas required to crew and operate such an envisioned tool of the sky.

Aveira lowered her hand and nodded to Kyra, who nodded in turn. Wordlessly, the pale elf excused herself, and left to carry out the deity’s plans for the world. Below, the stir had settled, and the Heralds had begun to load their flying new fortress with supplies.

Turn 2

And so, Ashevelen upgraded the Umbra and it was time to leave. One might argue that with Oa being as close as she is, it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave but Ashe wanted to travel and her evolution of the Umbra should be enough to keep them safe for a bit and meeting Kathe’, while it was a very pleasant conversation, delayed her journey even more.

Mortals had enough time to expand until now and as such, it was Ashe's time to do what she knows better. Trade. Her new powers kept hidden for now and she started walking north. Faster than any mortal could, she walked and walked. Neither stopping, nor taking breaks. As soon as she got to the mountains, she took a deep breath and jumped over them in one and a half leaps.

Eventually, as she looked at the marvels the other divines created, she ended up in the desert without even realising. Her form changed and swayed, until she was the same size as most mortals. Not that they could see any difference but for her own desires, to see the world as mortals do.

Sand creeped between her toes and she took a handful, looked at them and smiled before blowing them away in the wind. Truly, a nice world she found herself in. Glad that she followed Homura's call, she kept walking, at a slow pace. Looking at the desolate place, she started imagining what could be done. Sprawling cities covering the desert, an oasis in the middle and a large bazaar where traders from all over the world would converge.

Something caught her attention amidst her visionary daydreaming. A handful of spires and monoliths, not much different from the color of the desert, broke the horizon line in the far-flung distance. They were unlike other features and the odd outcroppings of stone in that even over the immense distance, she could tell they were too smooth - too clean - to have been placed there without a guiding hand. Furthermore, they seemed to defy the desert; now that Ashevelen had seen the structures, they remained visible on the horizon line despite movement or whipping sand dervishes.

That was not all she saw. Beneath these distant spires her eyes found moving silhouettes. A small group, tramping through sand with purpose. They had just crested a large dune that brought them into view, and they appeared to be moving straight - as straight as one can in a mostly featureless desert - away from the spires. This handful of silhouettes strayed closer in an errant pattern; going from dune to dune as if to inspect as much of the desert as they could while still travelling relatively straight. That changed when they drew closer yet, and a raised arm in Ashevelen's direction unmistakably meant that the group had laid eyes on her from what for them was still quite a respectable distance.

Looking towards the spires, she smiled. She knew very well what it meant, she found mortals and by the looks of the group of silhouettes that were moving in that errant pattern, it seemed that the mortal found her as well. Laughing a bit, she snapped her fingers and her clothes changed. Gone were the black golden robes and in were the broken clothes of one that has wandered the desert for too long without water or food. Ashe decided it was time to have some fun with these mortal beings and if they held a candle to her own Umbra.

These distant strangers were clothed as well - dust-stricken yellow-brown cloaks that covered most of their form from heat and sand. With Ashevelen’s divine senses however, picking out details at a distance remained a relatively simple task. Their gear beneath their brown covers was hide and bone, even some hints of metal, hinting at their rugged task as travellers or some kind of scouting party. They were dressed to protect the body from more than the elements to be sure. Tall, fair-skinned, sharp ears. Elves, as was now becoming common all over the planet. They wielded staff-like sharp sticks that they used like walking sticks in the heavy sand. Despite the unpleasant climate and heavy terrain, they made excellent speed towards the disguised goddess.

“You there,” they shouted as soon as she was in what they imagined was hearing distance; though naturally she’d heard them muttering among themselves for a while now. “What are you doing so far out?” The questioning call came from who seemed to be in charge among the half-dozen of them, a muscular man with a deep scar ripping through the right side of his mouth. Their gear was relatively haphazard - as if it had been constructed individually out of spare parts rather than given any sort of uniformity. They trounced forwards through sand at a rapid pace.

Ashevelen’s voice changed to that of an old female with big wrinkles covering her face, which is what the muscular captain saw when looking at her. “ Oh’! Oh my! You…are you real? I haven’t– ” stopped Ashe in mid sentence and coughed a very dry cough and then continued “--seen a person in such a long time. Wat..er? ”. As her last words came out of her mouth, she dropped to the floor, pretending that dehydration was finally getting to her.

The man in front waved his arm forward and another hurried ahead, carrying what looked like a large sack - though woefully empty at this point. The travelling group pushed ahead and quickly moved in to more or less surround her - though not necessarily in a hostile manner - as the one carrying the sack, a younger woman with her own fair share of facial scars, intruded on Ashevelen’s physical space to press a small opening in the sack to her lips. True to her request, she felt the trickling flow of water, fresh sweet-water, touch her lips. There wasn’t much left, but it might have been enough to stave off death for someone actually dying of dehydration.

“Are you from the Wonderfall?” queried the woman as she more or less forcibly offered the water. Her mild question was quickly overpowered by the commanding man behind her.

“How long have you been out here? Why are you out here?” He demanded, with no real intention of letting her catch her breath.

Ashe let the water flow into her mouth and drank just a tiny bit of it, not sure of the taste it would have, being the first time she actually tried water. In her mind, she envisioned something totally different than how it actually tasted but true to her ruse, she had to pretend it was good. Lifting herself slowly off the ground, she looked at the commander and the other woman with the smile of someone who was just saved from certain death.

I’ve been travelling for weeks, I lost count of the moons. Lost, not sure where here is. Got attacked sometime ago, stole everything I had. If…if you wouldn’t have found me, surely I would’ve died. ” said Ashe, her voice sad but grateful at being “saved” by these mortals.

I don’t think she’s from the Wonderfall.” the woman with the water-sack mumbled to the scarred man as she retreated from Ashevelen’s immediate vicinity, though any attempt on her part to remain unheard unwittingly in vain. Her comment seemed to give the group pause in unison, and she could see a few of them fidgeting uncomfortably. Perhaps she was the first outsider they had met.

"The inviolable Shaeska rules these sands and all who touch them following the Ritual of the Three. Her decree demands we bring you with us to Malaire,” the man allegedly in charge eventually barked, summoning resolve in his followers with his stern words. “Whether you are able to make something of yourself there is up to you.”

“..We have food and water there, as well as shelter for the night.” another of them interjected, a hitherto quiet elven man that looked younger than all the others. The woman in front nodded in agreement. “You will be safe there, viyala.

Ashevelen nodded towards the woman that gave her water before. “ I’m from the Dark Woods, farther down in the south. ‘Travelled with my kin as someone else, ghosts, have invaded our forest.

Turning towards the captain, Ashevelen smiled.

Shaeska? Ritual of the Three? Apologies but I don’t know what you’re talking about.” her voice calm but then changed upon hearing that there was a city around, “ City? Is there a city here? Truly I am saved! ” exclaimed Ashe.

She felt a hand grip her arm as the man in charge nodded to his group, and the group slowly but surely motivated her to motion, acting with the care meant for a much more fragile being - though Ashevelen could still imagine if she truly were that weak, there wouldn't be much choice.

"It's more of a collection of shelters right now," one of them offered with smug glee, but quickly changed his tune when he received a sharp glare from more than one of his comrades. "But… uhm… but they're making good progress!"

As expected, they wanted to walk towards the distant spires. The commander among them again tried to change the topic and dominate the conversation. "You said you were attacked? Was it by the dark spirit beasts?"

Easy there, lad. My old bones will shatter if you pull like that, didn’t your mother teach you how to behave with old women? ” said Ashe, sternly as the captain grabbed her. The man huffed in response but the grip lessened at least a little.

Shelters? A village then, not a city. Do you have a bazzar ? A place where you exchange objects in exchange for others?

The elves looked amongst each other in subtle bewilderment. That was enough to answer the question. The actual answer from one of them, the youngest man, was just an added flair. "What? Why would we need that?"

The woman scratched her cheek with her free hand, stepping in beside Ashevelen again and even leaning down slightly - apparently she'd imagined Ashevelen might be hard of hearing. "What he means to say is that we don't live in Malaire."

"Yeah, we passed the trials." Another previously silent companion cut in.

"Yes," the woman continued. "We live in the Shaeska's temple, with all others like us. But I'm sure there will be a… 'bazaar'..."

Ashevelen started to explain what a bazaar is and the needs of trading between villages, civilizations etc in a very mortal-way and certainly not in the way a divine would, especially one that knew everything there was about trading. As she finished the explanation, something bothered her. The way they talked, the fact they don’t live in this village of theirs but in a temple…a divine was surely here and it would be truly impolite for her not to say hi if the city was indeed under their protection.

She pretended she had to stop and catch her breath as she released a sudden flare of divine energy which was abruptly stopped, certainly not a mistake but a deliberate attempt. Merely just a shiver for the mortals around her but for a divine…

The elves escorting her chattered among themselves about an ill wind, but otherwise did not particularly worry about the sensation. They had their eye on the horizon in all directions, warily watching for unknown shapes as they urged Ashevelen to journey with them in as rapid a pace as her aged disguise would allow. The distance was long, but between her actually basically endless stamina and their determination, they made good time, and the spires on the horizon grew quickly into towering pillars of sand-colored stone, rising to touch at the sky behind a considerable wall of the same smooth stonework. Something else was different here. Just before the wall, the desert ended and replaced itself with trees and running water. Brush, birds and loose animals.

It was mere minutes after that until they walked more or less beside it - and she got a clear view of the many open archways nestled in the wall that led down dizzying narrows or into a large circular courtyard. Among the narrow walkways skirted a large amount of elves, dressed much like the ones that had intercepted her. They carried weapons, practiced with each other, or carried large amounts of material from the few glimpses she caught as they walked past the impressive structure.

After walking along this walled city for some time, they entered what Ashevelen could only assume was Malaire, in so far as it could be formally entered. A collection of shelters was correct; on top of what was a massive oasis stretching - as far as she could see - to touch the large river that cleft the continent in two, a very large amount of people milled between haphazard buildings that had no real rhyme or reason to their construction. Most were basic shelters of fronds and leaves and scavenged wood, others were little more than dried mud and clay shaped into little homes. What they had an abundance of was fresh water, fruits, and a 'natural' resting place in an inhospitable desert. Thus, an impromptu settlement had sprung up beside the temple realm, and judging by the amount of visible people and huts there was a considerable amount of them.

"Welcome to Malaire," the commander of the elves escorting her muttered as they pressed past a throng of people chattering among themselves. "If you wish to take the trials, simply enter the temple courtyard. Otherwise this will be your home until you decide to leave."

Ashevelen let herself be basically godhandled by the mortals and walked as fast as they did. Occasionally asking for a minute of rest, which was refused, or simply another sip of water. Completely forgetting about the other mortal need, food but she hoped the mortals didn't notice that she should've been hungrier than she looked.

As soon as the spires got closer, Ashevelen looked in amazement. These mortals had a tiny kingdom for themselves. While their buildings were barely worth mentioning in comparison to her own Umbra's buildings, it was still something amazing to see.

A divine's intervention in the creation of this place was obvious. An oasis of that size in the middle of the desert? Impossible to appear on its own.

Their numbers made Ashe raise an eyebrow as well, clearly more than the Umbra in Shadowton. But they were all elves, every single one of them. There was no variety between and there was more that she noticed. The lack of a bazaar. A bazaar that she was promised that they will have.

I thank you for bringing me here. I would say I’m in your debt but…you have lied to me. I can’t see a bazaar, did you not say it was here? Or is it after your “trials”? What are these trials? ” said Ashe, her voice strong as iron.

"Lied?" the commander repeated, and they glanced among each other. One of them shrugged their shoulders. Their sedate pace gave Ashevelen ample time to notice that the other elves - the alleged inhabitants of Malaire - kept their distance from the armoured group. Her presence and that of the patrol were becoming a topic of conversation all around them. "Malaire is free to all. All you could want is here. If you look hard enough, I am sure you will find your 'bazaar'," he explained and swept a hand around the area.

Indeed there was the occasional bartering going on for necessary goods, but nothing organised. A market of any kind would be easy to hear for her divine senses, but the chatter of haggling and exchanges, even hawking, was notoriously absent. "As for the trials, it is how to elevate yourself. By completing the demands laid before you by the Shaeska, you become like us. A Shynnaewyn. You want for nothing, and the Shaeska gives your life divine purpose. It is voluntary, but if you fail or do not wish to take them, you cannot linger in her domain." He gestured towards the smooth stone walls in the distance.

Looking closely at the people around, Ashevelen noticed the obvious differences between her group and the others. The other inhabitants of the village were poorer, some malnourished, some with clear signs of dehydration and of course, multiple visible conditions due to them while her group looked well armed, fed and taken care of.
It was obvious what was going on here, these trials were the other divine’s own way of dividing up her subjects. Be strong and survive, be weak and you can die or be on your way which for most of these people meant death in the desert either way.

I ask you again, commander and I require a straight answer, do you have a marketplace? A location where people buy and sell goods or maybe your form of trading is different? Do you have a place where services are provided for something else? ” Ashe’s voice went up a tone and the people around could be seen starting and hearing what she was saying clearly now.

Ashe then proceeded naming all the words that she could think of, that would be synonymous to a bazaar or market in all the languages she heard on this planet.

The armoured patrol looked mystified as she went on to name countless versions of marketplaces. The scarred commander in particular managed to look both bewildered and irritated with what he presumably assumed was just a very insistent old crone. "Look," he interrupted halfway through her synonym-assault. "What happens out here isn't really anything we know or care about. I doubt these people have anything to give each other."

"I think the Mud-Hands down by the river hand out fish in exchange for other things." Another of the elven soldiers piped up, but that was all he dared say as his commander gave him a particularly deadly glare.

"There's a companion shelter too, if you give them food they'll let yo-..." Another of them began but cleared his throat and leaned on his staff-like weapon as the others stared at him.

"A bazaar would be like, if everyone was in the same place, right?" The woman among the soldiers asked eventually, scratching at her cheek. How much they had actually understood was questionable.

A bazaar or marketplace is a place where people can come and sell their goods for other goods. For example, the Mud-Hands could come and sell their fish in a place accessible to everyone, for fruits or vegetables or someone who makes weapons could sell them to others. What makes a bazaar or marketplace to be important is its accessibility. A middle-ground place where all can go without any risk of being attacked or so. ” replied Ashevelen and then, her voice still raised loud enough for all to hear, she suddenly started growing and growing. The wrinkles on her face disappearing and being replaced with her usually, perfect face.

She then launched into another speech about the importance of trading, how it is the life-blood of any great empire, and how all can learn from it, how they can grow, how none have to be poor if they’re not strong enough or fast enough just by using their wits.

Ashevelen then turned towards the captain with a frown on her face. “ Captain, you’ve lied to a divine being more than once. I should have you, reduced to nothing for the insolence, irrelevant if you didn’t know what I was. Make your apologies to me now but know that I shall speak with your creator. ” said Ashe and upon mentioning the creator, she let out a burst of divine energy once more. She knew she would’ve been watched if the divine was here but just for good measure.

She felt a great shiver in return - not merely a reply but a tremble in the fabric of reality, as though the world just shook in fear from some strange energy radiating out from the center of the temple beyond the walls. Then, just as swiftly as it had come, the sensation vanished. Ashevelen had been noticed, of this she could certainly be sure.

Reluctantly the elf commander sank to his knees, submitting before her. His eyes dared not meet hers now, but instead he looked over at the crowds of people chattering and watching all around them. He was silent and shamed as he leaned forward to kowtow properly.

"You tread within my demesne, lecture my people, and demand subservience. Reveal your nature and intent, spirit, lest I cut you down." boomed from the heavens above. In the sky, hovering above the wall of the desert temple, was an angelic figure of white and black, and blood-tipped wings. The dark armor she wore was enough to send a chill of unease through Ashevelen - enough to notify her that there was some latent effect trying to affect her mind. She wielded a staff with a crescent fork in one hand and a large blade that dripped with blood in the other. The sight of her sent people scattering into shelters and under makeshift awnings. As she drifted towards the ground close to the commotion most of the populace had fled to safety - though they were still watching. More soldiers came running from the temple arches, hurrying to catch up with their alleged ruler.

Upon seeing the divine finally making an appearance, Ashevelen smiled, hard as it was due to the unease sensation that ran through her mind. Seeing as well that this divine was in full form and ready for war, Ashe had to match it as well. Shadows started to grow around her, darkening the closest places around them and the mortals would soon feel threatened by them.

She lifted herself in the air and black shadow coins would go around her, making a small tornado of them around Ashevelen. Approaching Aveira, to a safe distance, she nodded in respect to her.

Greetings, sister. I am Ashevelen, lady of trade and shadows. Your own mortals brought me here willingly, I haven’t made them bring me here. You could say I was exploring your desert and they found me. I don’t demand their subservience, these are, after all, your subjects. I’m demanding respect. This one —” replied Ashevelen in a friendly tone and then pointed at the captain before continuing “--has disrespected me. While I could’ve had him destroyed, I know better than messing with the subjects of a different divine.

The angel fixed Ashevelen with her imperious gaze, stern and filled with barely masked contempt. "Trade and shadows," she repeated with deadpan tone. "How fitting. Economic warfare and that which hides from the sun truly go hand in hand. I am Aveira, and all that is terrestrial shall be unified under my vision. I marshal the lands through conquest and fealty through terror. I recognize you as a peer deserving of respect from those lesser than I. Mortals should serve with gratitude and nothing else."

A pleasure to meet you, Aveira. I wouldn’t call it economic warfare but I’m not denying that it is possible and might happen. Ah’, and see, apologies but you are wrong. Shadows don’t hide from the sun as they wouldn’t exist without it in the first place. We simply…co-exist. ” replied Ashevelen, charmingly before raising a hand and a pillar of hard shadows rose from the ground, right underneath the captain, raising him up in the air until he reached the same leave as the two divines.

You’re saying that mortals should serve with gratitude, yet your own mortal has disrespected me. ” added Ashe. The elf quivered in his suspension, unwilling to speak and invoke any ire.

"Not surprising. I have never known mortals to be particularly wise. Regardless, this elf speaks not for me beyond his martial skill and ability to follow orders." the angel remarked in turn, dispassionate as ever. The captain widened his eyes at her words and it seemed to drive him over the edge.

"I meant nothing by my words! She deceived us, mighty shaeska !" He exclaimed, drawing the attention of the pale angel. She watched him with that same unyielding scorn as before, but eventually simply looked back to Ashevelen.

"He can be replaced," she proffered simply, watching the shadowy goddess with keen professionalism.

Are you calling me a liar, mortal? Are you calling me a DECEIVER ? ” asked Ashevelen, the captain.

Before he could reply, the shadow pillar collapsed on itself and he went plummeting to the ground at fast speed. Before he could hit the ground, Ashevelen took out the Self-Printing coin and let out a barrage of coins on top of the captain, burying him in thousands of coins. Cries of panic and awe erupted in the village below. Aveira watched in sullen bemusement.

May your soul reach hell mortal. Tell them that I sent you. ” said Ashe while removing invisible dust from her robe.

" And, now…sister. Should we go somewhere else to talk or in front of your mortals and mine? " said Ashe as she turned towards Aveira once more. This time getting at a friendly distance from her.

"You are welcome in my abode, Ashevelen. If that does not suit you, we may speak here." the angel spoke in turn and gestured towards the many-spired temple lurking behind the nearby walls with her sceptre

Ashevelen approached Aveira and indicated she’s ready to follow her in her adobe. Better that way than with the mortals that disrespected her.

Aveira turned in the sky and with a single beat of her wings, set off for whence she came, urging Ashevelen to follow with a single glance over her shoulder. They carried through the sky quickly, and flew over what turned out to be a relatively large temple city crawling with elves in various states of equipment. They were wearing and carrying things impossible to support with the settlement outside the walls - it was like different levels of advancement by the looks of it.

Aveira led her to the tallest tower, where a large balcony without railings almost made it seem like an artificial roost or a landing strip for airborne arrival. The angelic conqueror touched down on the decorated stonework, and simply walked through the arch to head inside - nonverbally assuming Ashevelen was still following. The inside chamber at the top of the tower was a clear change from both the martial ways of the soldiers below and the barren settlement outside. Pillows and decorations were everywhere, rich silks and heady incense that Ashevelen were not sure were reproducible in any mortal settlement right now. Male and female elven attendants draped in thin purple silk robes and jewellery rushed in groups to take the large weapons from Aveira's hands, each weapon required two mortals just to carry it with ceremonial care.

Aveira turned towards Ashevelen as she reached the middle of the room, her face still locked in a mild frown. "So, the trader has come, as they always do." she offered calmly.

Ashevelen copied Aveira’s wings with some of her own made of shadows, the light of the sun trying to burn them out but somehow they lasted. She followed Aveira closely, copying her every move with ease. Looking at the city below, it was a truly magnificent sight with various levels of development here and there. Absent-mindedly following Aveira, Ashevelen started to day-dream about what her Umbra could do in a place like this. Trade would flow like water.

Upon reaching the tower, Ashe was once again impressed by the luxury of it, servants approaching their Goddess and carrying her weapons was maybe a bit irrelevant but it would be a constant reminder to them that she's their boss.

" Magnificent place sister. Looks like you've trained these mortals better than the ones outside. " said Ashe with a bit of envy in her before summoning a small chair for her to sit on.

"A life of service should be rewarding for both sides. Those who know this in their hearts serve with joy and skill." Aveira commented in turn, as all around them lightly dressed silk servants rushed to present platters of fruit and spiced juices and teas. "The last time I had divine company, it was quite a bit more bullish. I trust you understand I was wary initially." she continued as three attendants began to undo the black armour the angel wore.

Ashevelen approached Aveira and gently pushed the attendants away, gently taking the armour off the angel herself. A sign of respect and maybe, just maybe because the angel was already proving to be an interesting divine. As her hands moved expertly over Aveira’s armour, unlocking different straps and pulling bits and pieces off, Ashe replied to her.

I do understand the caution, just before coming here I was attacked with no warning in my own territory. The name was Oa’qeisskesi, the lady of the Abyss. This is why I approached your territory as a mortal and not a divine, I assumed retaliation straight after my initial hello before I even arrived here.

Aveira regarded the other goddess with silent attention, watching her attend to the armor in reverent and wary stillness. The attendants encircled again from a distance, standing ready with a long golden silk robe.

"The Abyss. Sounds incompatible with my vision for this world." the angel remarked calmly, soothed by Ashevelen's manners and attention.

I understand the feeling. As much as I could determine, it seeks to consume everything and everyone. Oa’ promised that she won’t but those in her care will not be quiet for long. Actually, I can show you. ” replied Ashevelen.

Taking a page from Kathe’, she weaved a shadow-puppet show using her recorded conversation between Oa and herself. Putting a black/white show for Aveira. The angel watched attentively as her moving images flickered past her eyes and gave her insight into the gist of the goddess' meeting with the lady of the abyss; some might even say it was almost as though she were there herself, with how vivid a reconstruction it was!

"I see," Aveira offered as the servants around her undid the padding on her body, having taken over when the deities busied themselves with new activities, and slipped the golden robe over the pale angel's form. She paused further comments until she was sure there was no more to see. "I am not certain there is anything that can be said of that being beyond 'unreliable' or 'suspicious'. You would be wise to keep your guard up around her, as I now will. I thank you for showing me this, Ashevelen. Am I to presume this gift comes with a price?"

As soon as the puppet-show ended, Ashevelen nodded to Aveira.

I have evolved my mortals because of her. Even if she decides to attack at a later date, they’ll be ready. If I’m not mistaken, her spawn are already making problems for your mortals. Treat her with respect, I suggest but expect treachery at every step. ” replied Ashe before moving away, looking outside. Scanning the city with her divine sight. After a few moments, she turned back towards Aveira, looking her straight in the eyes.

If it’s a gift, there’s no price but you are right, it wasn’t and there is a price. I only ask one thing of you for this. Instruct your mortals to build a bazaar. You know better than me, I’m sure, that there are more types of conquest. While bashing heads and killing mortals can be fun, it doesn’t always work. I’m willing to leave some of my own Umbra here to teach your people with the only condition that they will not be used for anything else than trading. ” said Ashe.

Aveira offered a contemptuous huff in return for Ashevelen's terms, turning her head to fix an idle attendant with her gaze. "I accept. I shall let them thrive outside these walls and uplift the elven mongrels in turn. I have no particular intent to meddle with mortal affairs, but my own vision requires stability and production capacity. Mortal growth can only aid me.

The angel paced a few steps in the luxurious room, before turning back to Ashevelen. "But perhaps you would join me in seeing this as a unifying move between us. I have designs on this entire world, but that does not mean you or your mortals need fear me or mine."

With a wave of Ashe’s hand, her robes parted and a few Umbra which were sleeping in her own shadows awakened. Looking around, wide-eyed, they noticed the two divines and immediately got scared of the angel. Hiding behind Ashevelen while asking for protection and promising a trade at a later date.

Calm down. She won’t harm you as she is your new master, Shaeska , you are to teach her mortals how to trade. Make sure you teach them well and if you’ve got any problems, speak with Shaeska’s servants. ” said Ashe calmly at the Umbra, putting them at ease.

They’re yours to command, Aveira. ” added Ashe with a friendly bow before taking a moment to think about Aveira’s proposal.

Are you saying we should ally, sister? My Umbra, and myself, bring wealth and as you mentioned, economical conquest. What do you bring and I mean this with no disrespect? ” replied Ashevelen to the proposal, cautiously.

Aveira watched the Umbral arrival with interest, her imperious stare no doubt contributing to their caution. A low murmur of whispers erupted in the chamber as the elven attendants discussed this development among themselves. Eventually the angelic conqueror returned her attention to Ashevelen, her initial curiosity sated.

"Protection, chiefly. While this may yet be an underdeveloped cradle, I intend to unify all mortals under my care and rule. By sword and fire, or by diplomacy. Thus it seems to me this is the most advantageous time for you to align yourself with my cause. I can look elsewhere, and you can rest easy knowing that war will not come. Furthermore, I offer a steady supply of mortals and whatever knowledge I gain. I intend to bolster the mortal realm as a whole - I would not exclude you and yours. My rule is simple; whatever decree I make must be met, and infighting that damages the stability of my demesne is punished." Aveira strode around in her chamber, pulling the golden robe together at the hemline separating it in the middle. Her eyes fell on Ashevelen, gauging her up and down with her stoic gaze. "To that end, mutual enrichment would naturally be part of this."

Ashevelen started pacing around the room, occasionally giving a look at the servant and waving a friendly hello or pushing forward an Umbra to initiate communication between them. All this time, of course, she listened to Aveira. The divine had a plan, that was for sure and that plan was world-wide domination.
" While I would be in favour of it, as, overall it'll be easier to bolster trade and punish the bandits and whatnot that will surely appear if there would be only one roller…there is something I don't agree with. You're saying "all decrees you make should be met", first of all, that wouldn't be a fair trade. Second of all, what if you decide that trading will be illegal or something that I don't agree as fair trade? Then, myself and those that are aligned with my views will be opposed to you and before you say anything, I do have a few divines already aligned to my views already. " countered Ashe.

The angel scoffed quietly, but her face remained dispassionate and controlled. She followed Ashevelen with her eyes as she moved about the room, and eventually gestured towards a congregation of pillows for her to sit in luxurious comfort. "You raise a valid point, Ashevelen. Would it soothe your fairness-addled mind were I to instead say; all my decrees shall be rewarded dearly. I expect service and loyalty, yes, but I am not interested in squeezing water from stones."

Aveira batted her hand to ward off a nosy attendant hovering around her with a metal pitcher. "As for the laws of mortals, or whatever would affect your demesne, I am fine with you retaining control of it all, fair lady of trade. All I want is order and loyalty."

Taking Aveira’s queue, Ashe sat next to her on the luxurious pillows before replying.

Fairness-addled mind, nicely put. Rewarded dearly can mean a lot of things, sister. You forget that I’m the lady of the trade. Pacts fall under my powers which means that “rewarded dearly” can mean pretty much anything. Dearly for whom, I ask? Yourself? Myself? Maybe your mortals. See my point? ” explained Ashe gently. Indeed, aligning herself with Aveira would bring great wealth but at what cost? That was the question.

What you propose is everyone else bowing to your commands. I’ve got a different proposal for you which might be better. I’ll allow myself to be aligned to you and you may call upon me whenever you need but with the condition that any laws or decrees regarding things that fall under my domain will go through me. Trades, pacts, shadows…all will be decided by me. You will, of course, have the power to question any of my decisions regarding them and outright, deny some if they overlap with your plans but in the end, I shall have the last word regarding them. Everything else will be yours to decide. How does that sound? ” said Ashe, channelling all her inner “je ne sais quoi”.

"Hrmph,” Aveira responded sharply, lifting her chin rebelliously at what she apparently considered an outlandish offer at best. That done however, she did not proceed to reject it outright, but rather sank into a distant stare as, head turned, she watched one of the Umbra interact with a polite handmaiden doing her best to answer every question the shadowy creature had. "Fine. I think you’ll find my ‘plans’ are agreeable to you, in any case. I will build a grand empire for you to fine tune and meddle in the lives of mortals. So long as you do not throttle the coming expansion, you will find I have little reason to chide. Is that what you desired to hear?

Ashevelen laughed in a friendly manner at Aveira and then proceeded to grin at her.

You really need to learn how to smile, sister. All that frowning will just put wrinkles on your skin. Life is better that way, trust me. ” initially replied Ashe, as she weaved a shadowy smile in the air and as the smile was slowly fading away, continued “ But, to answer your question, yes. I only wish to be sure that you aren’t trying to trick me, work habit and all that. With all these said, do we have a deal?

"That is why I prefer the master and subject-relation. No room for trickery when everyone knows their place," Aveira intoned as her gaze roamed the goddess features with the same attempt at stoicism as before, and extended an arm out towards Ashevelen. "But indeed, let us seal this agreement however you wish. Do you already have a custom in mind?"

And see, that’s where you’re wrong again. A master may be trick-free to his subjects but the subjects will always have their own tricks up their sleeves. Take my word on that. ” replied Ashevelen before looking at Aveira’s extended arm.

There are many ways we could do this, my usual one is writing on a papyrus which is anyway being done since I arrived here but, let’s do something else. It will be more fitting. ” She continued as she met Aveira’s arm and shook her hand.

For the first time, Aveira seemed to smile - well, smirk at the very least. Her grip was firm in the handshake, and she leaned forward in mustering some competitive confidence. "Always tricks, hm? Is that a threat, Ashevelen?

A threat? I would never threaten my new business partner, for that’s what we are and see, you look way better with a smile on your face. ” quickly replied Ashe, with a wink.

The angel scoffed quietly, squeezing the goddess' hand firmly before she let go. "If you are hoping to appeal to my vanity, I am afraid you have a very difficult campaign ahead of you. I am a woman of action, not compliments."

Oh’ but you got me wrong. I am not appealing to your vanity, I am just speaking the truth. If you wanted compliments, I could’ve said things about your armour, lands and so on. ” quickly replied the lady with a smile and then quickly added “ Difficult campaign? Sounds like a very hard trade…I live for very hard trades.

Aveira lifted her hands to produce a gentle doubleclap, instantly drawing the attention of all present attendants. "Escort our new guests to their future living spaces and introduce them to the populace. All of you." The elves in the room welcomed the umbra along and quietly began to file out of the luxurious chamber at the top of the table.

"Shall we negotiate then, Lady of Trade and Shadow? Aveira queried with a conspiratorial gaze as the room cleared of mortals.

Oh? And in what way would you wish to celebrate, Aveira? ” replied Ashe, with a flirty wink.

"I am certain we can work out a trade that you will find… fair." the pale angel offered as she stood up. Her hand extended to touch two fingers under Ashevelen's chin, and urge her to meet her gaze. "I have to warn you though. I negotiate and celebrate with intensity."

On a seemingly random outcropping in the desertscape of the western coast, the black-clad goddess of conquest touched down with neither grace nor flourish. She surveyed the bleak sands and stone with an odd sensation of nostalgia - though this land was foreign to her, she felt drawn to the scalding sands and the throwing winds. A belonging. It was as good a place as any to start her journey towards her ultimate vision. Aveira kneeled down on her outcropping, stealing a handful of sand. Wistfully she let the coarse grains run through her fingers.

The angel rose with new resolve, and set her gaze on the horizon as she slowly spun in place. Here her conquest would begin. Even if sand was to be her only witness - though she found herself detecting signs of life in sporadic pockets all around her. So it would be, her first task, she thought, and stretched out her wings. They tingled, though; something wasn’t right.

She turned, and beheld a faroff giant’s approach. She’d been followed. The colossus was not running, but its mere walk carried it quickly enough. With each great, measured stride, the gray colossus cut away at the distance between them. It was coming for her – fast.

Huge interlocking gray plates made up a suit of armor that utterly hid whatever the giant was, but even so, its bearing alone somehow projected a steadfast resolve like few things ever could. With just a glance, she knew that flight was futile; it had fixated upon her, and would pursue her to the end of creation – or at least, until it caught her. So there was nothing to do but stand her ground.

As the figure neared, its size did not change. From afar it had seemed as large as a mountain as it crossed the horizon, but as it now came to a halt about ten strides away from Aveira, its stature seemed only slightly greater than her own.

“Another spirit,” it rumbled in a monotone voice, and then it fell silent, staring, waiting.

Aveira raised her scepter towards the shape in a silent attempt to meet the statuesque being with some dominant menace of her own. Her wings unfurled fully and the angel stretched herself in a doomed attempt to compete with its stature, despite the difference being rather small.

“You trespass on my domain,” she answered after the silence between them began to bother her. “New though it may be. Why have you come? To stake your own claim?” Aveira grew indignant in her tone, gripping her obsidian weapon with both hands.

The armored hulk didn’t look the least bit concerned with her scepter, nor did it react to her flaring out her wings. It may as well have been a statue because it didn’t react at all, and just remained there, staring for an uncomfortably long time. Eventually, it spoke again, “My own descent from the sky was not far from here, though I ventured to the mountains beyond and found the Steward. You are fortunate that I care little for the land; this sandy waste can be yours. What else do you claim as yours, spirit?”

Aveira released a terse scoff, appraising her counterpart with stern eyes. “I was promised to write reality according to my vision. I merely intend to fulfill that ambition. By simple means or others, I will bring unity - and with it, order.” She extended her scepter and gestured in wide, sweeping motion. “Life without a master is quarrelsome and chaotic. For everyone’s sake, I lay claim to all that is and will be.”

“Spirit of unity and order,” the other one addressed her, without a long pause this time. “Your words ring True; the Steward is not likely to suffer you claiming all of creation, but that is not my concern. I came here to observe justice and uphold the laws; I too am a spirit of order. When I asked the Steward what laws there were, I was told that there were none save for those laws proclaimed by the spirits. So tell me, spirit of unity and order: what are your commandments? You need only decree them, and I will contend with any transgressors in a fitting manner.”

The statuesque being’s request - demand, really - threw the pale angel enough for her imposing sneer to shift to an expression of thoughtful bemusement. “This steward of yours worries me not. Now, commandments…” she muttered, staring at the plated law-bringer. “Well, such is obvious. No mortal being shall impersonate power and majesty such as mine, nor plot to reach my heights or pilfer of my troves. Hierarchy exists not to be challenged.”

Aveira lifted her staff-like scepter once more. “A good master provides enough for her subjects to serve with contentment. It is not for the lesser to carry ambition,” she proffered with a stern voice. “I believe you understand.”

“So you would only have me slay the thieves and would-be usurpers?”

The other strange god might have understood and even agreed with her sentiment, but in the end, this was what he had taken away from her statements. His voice remained phlegmatic, but the choice of words made him sound almost disappointed. “Let it be law.”

Once more the angel scoffed, displeased with the statue-being's imagined apathy. “Law. Guiding principles for the weak and stiff-brained. So be it. So long as I need not concern myself with the matters of the insignificant, they can do whatever they wi-...” she paused in her own tirade. “Actually, that might be something. Failing to carry out or submit to my divine decrees should be a most grave sin."

“Let it be law,” the other one echoed back indifferently.

In the heavens above, the blood-moon of dust and wonder shimmered, expanded for a brief second, and sent forth an enormous flare of shifting colours. The flare formed up on itself and became a small nebula that rolled and roiled like the furious surf before descending into the lower heavens and, compressing and forming up in great whirling clouds, then fell like a shooting star to Galbar. Plunging at impossible speed, it seemed to promise destruction mosty mighty and most terrible indeed, but only evaporated into gaseous nothingness as it blew up against the endless sand - not causing so much as a sand dune to rise or be flattened, though all about the witness gods the world shone with an unknown million fireflies, and it seemed that all of Galbar had become engulfed in a nebula.

The nebula grew incorporeal arms that flailed in the skies and against the earth like the spiralling wings of galaxies, only to return like an elastic band to the very spot the nebulous shooting star had collided with earth. There, beneath the glowing form of the Awebringer and his heaven-grazing Sword of Wonder - and beneath the Son-o’-Falyn also, who slept at peace and ease in the arm of the god whose wings were the cosmos - were deposited a merry mishmash of critters and equines and insects and lizards that the nebula had gathered up. And, for no reason that was immediately apparent and from no source that anyone would ever quite identify (for there was never recorded, in the historical annals of elfkind, a happening where a great many elves were perceived to all at once be spirited away by the heavens) there was among the nebula’s haul an unholy number of elves. On finding themselves thus deposited in such strange climes, they panicked with the other creatures and got to scattering in every which way and direction.

Wonder, for his part, ignored the great maelstrom of chaos and confusion his descent had brought about. “In the lap of unliving aeons I slept... I was caused to sleep! And I thought I would sleep forevermore, my fate thus halted and destiny foiled, the age of wonder stilled, the marvels of the world nevermore to be beheld. But behold: I have awoken! - you brought me forth, Anath; you stirred me once again. I have awed worlds before! I have beheld with the eyes of crazed wonder - I have struck with its sword; I have slain the lifeless corpses of those who could not marvel. I am come, Anath, you unloosed me on existence! I strike with the sword of wonder.

“You woke what should ne'er be woken and summoned what ne'er should be summoned through the veil of the beginning and end: and lo! this world was without wonder. Your voice unleashed me, then behold! there was wonder. I was the hidden jewel of the worlds, and I have come forth a wonder yet hidden; and I have come for no other purpose than to be known. Aye, hear me: I am come only to be known! Behold me ye who are above and who are below, ye who are granted the beholding arts: your perfection is in knowing me! I am the wonder of the skies and trees! I am the wonder of the earth and rivers! I am the wonder of all your hidden selves and multitudinous forms! I am the wonder of the world - I am wonder! All that thou art is naught if wonder is not in it! Have it as you will; if you do not lift the veil of wonder then await my wonder's sword! Aye! when at last all have been called to the beholding, only then shall the sword of wonder fall upon the blind: I strike with the sword of wonder!

In an emotionless silence that might have passed for bewilderment – indeed, that might have been bewilderment, for one could never know the expression of whatever visage hid beneath that helm – the armored god of justice witnessed the arrival of Wonder. “Spirit of chaos,” he dubbed Wonder, “what is wonder? What is the meaning of this tumult, and moreover, what would be your commandments?”

“What is wonder?” The Awebringer’s voice boomed and echoed. “That is not the question of one who has come to know me! Have I not caused manifest glory to bloom all about you, man? Is justice blind that he should not behold wonder? What is justice without wonder! It is letters without spirit, rules without soul, roads without direction: oh justice! ‘Tis not just that you are blind! Shall the sword of wonder have to hack and fall that justice may shake sleep and slumber to rise tall?” He turned to the winged goddess. “Speak, you who are winged! Surely from your perch amongst the winds you have beheld with wonder! Surely we can make this blind fool see without the sting of steel and lick of liquid flame!”

If the statuesque being's silence had been a sign of bewilderment, Aveira must have been struck with mind-boggling amounts of it. Her face twisted to a stoic scowl as she watched the new arrival. Had she beheld any wonder, she did not appear keen to share it with them both. The shrill cry of panicking mortals scattering in the dunes threw her attention elsewhere, and brought her out of her scornful silence.

“Nothing shall be wondrous like the vision I shall hew out of this world," she responded with cold apathy lingering in her tone. “Your tribute of mortals will build the first blocks of my demesne.”

The eyes of the Awebringer, whose visage was all of a sudden the terror of the earth, bulged unnaturally. “Tribute?” He hissed, a forked tongue flitting out of his mouth and his pupils shifting from amber pinpricks to slits of flame.

Ignoring him, the angelic warrior raised her scepter into the air, and bellowed a simple “Halt!" to echo out over the desolate desert sands. Throngs of elves and creatures alike (but mostly elves, for there was an unholy amount) stopped dead in their tracks. Those who appeared to try to escape turned over in exhaustion or pain, as the scepter radiated with divine power. A few toppled over in the hot sands, unable to stay conscious between the pressure on their mind, the heat, and the panic of traveling by deity. Aveira for her part seemed preoccupied with her new self-appointed task, and surveyed the bleak sands with no more interest paid to the wondrous traveler, at least not on the surface.

“I had thought you greater than to pass over me, lady!” Wonder boomed, his voice causing the gathered elves to jump and even the sands to tremble. “Aye let the little things pass me over as they will, let them all go blindly by, but you!” He gestured at her with the Forever Child, who let out an unappreciative shrill shriek at being manhandled thus. The Son-o’-Falyn was no sceptre or pointing stick, after all, not even for the gods! “And you!” The god turned to armoured justice, gesticulating wildly with the shrieking babe. “Have you little minds - little eyes, little hearts, little faces, little souls!- that you should fail to see me? What woe! Oh that we should begin at such nadirs! Oh let these nadirs not be our heights! Are these not the ears for my voice? Are these not the eyes for my beholding? Are these- could it be?- that these are but the necks for my sword? Ah, when such blindness is the way of the gods it behooves my sword to strike!” He turned wildly from conqueror to justice. “Let it be so! If these are not the ears for my words then let these be the skulls for my strikes: mark it well now, kinsmen! I strike with the sword of wonder!” And he plunged the sword of a million flowing colours and flames into the desert sands so that all around flora bloomed and turned to dust and ash, and all about was a shaking and thundering of the cosmos, and all about was a deathly silence and emptiness, and all about was the arena of the coming war. “I have spoken much - oh much too much!” Wonder bemoaned, and even as he did a foolish elf chose to seek an escape route from under his terrible form. The god snapped down like a cosmic hammer and arose with the bifurcated anthropoid in his mouth, blood mixing with pain against wonder’s naked chest. “Behold, oh marvels!” His voice emanated even through the imprudent victim in his mouth; his pupils were amber pinpricks in his bulging eyes, his hair a curtain of dusk, his skin a deathly white beneath the flow and messy smattering of crimson blood. The Forever Child was seated on his shoulder, back turned to the two other gods, face grim and eyes as ink. “The trembling blade is more fluent by far than ten thousand voices orating war!”

“I see you now,” the armored god suddenly proclaimed, “I see wonder for what it is: madness! You would strike at justice with your sword of chaos? Try it, foolish spirit, and I will sever your head with your own sword!”

In a single measured step, armored justice seemed to become as vast a colossus as a mountain. He bore no weapon save for his gauntleted fists, yet with a meteoric weight he threw himself forward. The first of a hundred-hundred hammering blows struck the earth and rent wounds into it, and yet no sooner had he swung (and missed!) did the next fist fly.

“Oh what a flighty fool you are!” Wonder declared, slipping away from such terrible and unseemly violence. “And were you not asking my commandments not moments ago? Here here, put your fists away and listen to my commandments! I am brought into the world for no other reason than to be known! Go, if you are justice and if you uphold the law, and tell everyone to know me. And if they don’t then it is mine to deliver the punishment! That too is my commandment: I strike with the sword of wonder!”

“Speak plainly,” the statue of justice commanded, his assault arrested for the moment. Still, he remained in that colossal state. Once more, he demanded, “And make clear your commandments!”

The Awebringer looked away petulantly, the dead elf still hanging between his jaws. “Well I already told you, don’t fault me if yours are not the ears for my voice. Maybe if you paused and listened you’d understand!” He turned back to him, brows furrowing. “I should give you a hacking, I should, I should carve you up so you know well to wonder! But ah, what use! Even a carved up oaf is still an oaf. What marvelous things they are, oafs.” He glanced at the conqueror, as though inviting her to agree, before returning to justice.

“Justice does not pause, nor speak in riddles.”

“Well there you have it!” Wonder declared triumphantly. “We are at an impasse. To wonder you must pause and you, sirrah, do not pause! How can you enforce even the form of my words if you have no understanding of their depths?” He dismissed justice with a wave of the Forever Child, who had returned to his arm and did not look at all happy at being waved about. Turning to the conqueror, the elf still nestled between his lips and bleeding all over him, wonder smiled. “You have a sceptre but no sword. Conquest without a sword, what folly! Let me make you a sword the likes of which shall cause all conquered to wonder!”

The angel turned to perceive the herald of wonder and panic, for once drawn out of her thoughts enough to consider the two in her presence, despite both shouting and violent assault on the landscape. “Go on then,” she urged with a tone that carried her words like a threat. “Give me a blade and it shall see each corner of creation. You speak of wonder, and it too shall be a feature of all that is mine. Any tribute to bring my vision closer is one I welcome. Meet my expectations and you may even be rewarded. Although you have much to make up for.”

Wonder leaned back, fell, and rose into the air by the goddess, in a sitting position although he sat on nothing. “Tribute! Much to make up for? I’ve done nothing wrong at all!” He wiped a speck of blood from his brow. “And I don’t know of tribute, but I can certainly give you a present - a gift, you understand?” He knocked on her forehead with a knuckle. Aveira’s scowl deepened considerably as she jerked her face away from the intruder. “Prez-ent. Giffft. An endowment from a charitable kinsman to a more needy one, understand? A sort of trickle-down, if you will.”

“This frenzied spirit does not seem fit to rule or craft the laws that govern this world.” The statement came after a long pause, and seemed so emotionless as to just be another fact rather than some indictment or goading jab. Nonetheless, the titan’s gaze remained locked on the enigmatic, wild god that was Wonder. The floating god glanced at the armoured lord of justice and smiled amicably.

Aveira raised her staff-long scepter between herself and the enigmatic god, frowning deeply. She cast a glance to the statuesque god before fixing Wonder with her gaze once more. “Offer your gift and bother me no more. I have better things to do than entertain your antics.”

“How brusque!” Wonder complained, spinning away and planting his feet in the sand further off. “But it has been told in truth before and shall be told in truth forevermore: Blessed are the few - for they alone can wonder! The great mass of existence - even mortals, even gods! - pass by the marvels of the world and do not see them. Blessed are the few!” And as he spoke the sand arose about him and the cosmos in his wings became the furnace of the ages. The sword of wonder was a hammer, the anvil shrieking beneath its every blow. And as he hammered, as his wings burned, he spoke his monosyllabic declaration with every blow: “Bless’d!” He struck. “Are!” He hammered. “The!” He pounded. “Few!” Oh the anvil sighed beneath his strikes, sweat lined up his brow, blood spilled endlessly from the corpse of the elf between his teeth, and the eyes of the Forever Child were as the black holes of the world’s end.

When he had hammered quite enough he stepped forth - anvil disintegrating and wings dissipating - and pulled from his armpit a finely wrought greatsword on whose point the blood of the ceaselessly bleeding elf dripped, to give it an eternally bloodied tip. Green emeralds were studded into the massive upturned hilt and along the blade itself. Golden ruins were inscribed along the blue-grey metal - what metal it was, none knew. It glinted all the colours of coolness and death, it was the colour of dread and it was made from the cries of the conquered; it was wrought from the most powerful stuff in existence: the limitless wonder of a god thought deranged. Son-o’-Falyn on his shoulder, Sword of Wonder in one hand, and the Yoke in the other, the Awebringer came before the imperious goddess of conquest and raised Yoke heavenward. “Kneel, kinswoman, that you may receive your Yoke.” His eyes were glowing amber, his voice thunder, his wings as the cosmos about him, a crown of flame atop his head, his hair as a curtain of dusk around his pale face. The elf bled still between his jaws, and his chest was made crimson by it. “Kneel that you may rise beknighted, consecrated, beatified. Kneel that the age of wonder and conquest may be inaugurated: kneel that your rule may be a wonder unto worlds and ages forever and ever after!”

Aveira looked, to say the least, skeptical of this ritual - or perhaps simply the command to kneel, which seemed to drive her suspicious scowl to new heights. Nevertheless, she slowly complied with the god’s instruction, settling her staff’s hilt in the sand as one knee touched the ground. She sank to receive this gift, though not without muttering; “This is the last time I kneel to you, nay, anyone.” The god of wonder looked down on her, his visage the incarnation of a maelstrom. The stars faded away in the heavens - snuffed out - and night descended all at once upon the world. Behind the Awebringer’s flame-crowned head, high in the celestial sphere, the burning bloodmoon emerged and was as a halo about the terrible god’s head. All around them, the elves beheld in wonder the simultaneously dreadful and wondrous sight of the unconquerable goddess on her knees before the terrible storm-faced god who had so casually consumed one of their own and even now had him in his mouth. The wondrous god beheld conquest and he trembled, shivered; what a wondrous fruit this was! He had beheld, it was true, but he had never conquered.

Then all that slipped away and wonder cocked his head in surprise. “Hmm, wasn’t expecting you to do that.” He squatted before Aveira. “This is going to come out wrong, but you look incredible on your knees.” He smirked, extending Yoke to her by the pommel. “Receive your Yoke and behold its worth with wonder: none before it brought you to your knees, none but it has ever conquered you. In the first night of the world, arise, glorified knight of conquest!”

The angel scoffed sharply, his words flushing her face with barely restrained fury. Her hand stretched out to grab the hilt of the blade, and fingers wrapped around it with a firmness that would snap a lesser blade in twain. Yet such contempt was reined in just as swiftly, and when she rose from the ground she appeared as impassive as once she had been. She tested the weight of the weapon by swaying it to and fro, wielding it easily in a mockery of physics and reason. Whatever it was that she felt from holding her new gift seemed to mollify the angel enough that she almost appeared peaceful for a moment - or filled with the curious wonder of an experienced thrill-seeker. Eventually the spell broke and she cleared her throat.

“Hrm. I suppose this is enough to meet my expectations. I accept your gift, trickster. Those who refuse unity shall know the wonder of this blade intimately.” the angel compromised in lieu of gratitude. She turned to gaze out over the elves who had watched in horror and awe, and lifted the blade to point towards the closest of them. The nameless elf toppled into the dune quickly, instinct calling on him to bow before the trio. Sated, Aveira looked back at the other two. “I have given my commandment. I have received your tri-.. gift. Now I intend to gather these mortals before they perish. For enforcing my will, and offering me a boon, each of you will be welcome to seek an audience once in future. Use it wisely.”

Wonder smiled amicably at her words, the Forever Child sleeping peacefully on his arm after the eventfulness of the encounter. “An audience! How official. And here I thought we’d become friends.” He grinned, glancing at the ever-inexpressive armoured god as though seeking agreement. None seemed forthcoming. The Awebringer seemed on the cusp of moving on smoothly when he paused and glared at justice. “Actually, y’know what, I’ve just about had it with you, fella!” And leaping onto the other god’s considerable shoulders, his feet becoming iron talons which gripped him by the pauldrons, the Awebringer beat his cosmic wings and lifted off into the air. He grinned down at the winged form of the conqueror, her elves gaping up at the crazy god’s antics. “Behold me always, for I am the wonder of the world! Your perfection is in knowing me!” He declared by way of farewell, and with a mighty beat of his wings of dusk and starlight, both gods were gone.

Aveira watched the duo disappear and stared into the sky for an uncomfortably long time. It wasn't until the errant cry of an errant elf tripping over her feet in the sands resounded in the air that her concentration broke. Armed with her new Yoke, her Sword of Conquest, and her scepter, Aveira lifted up off the ground with a single powerful beat of her wings. Her wings took her in wide circles over the desert, wordlessly gathering stray mortals and even some creatures with flourishes of her scepter to enthrall them. It appeared to help that they were seemingly trapped in the desert and left to starve. The choice to follow their winged saviours wordless command was an easy choice to make, even for those who had witnessed the horror and confusing meeting of the gods.

Under the cover of the first night, a procession of cold, scared mortals trailed after the flying conqueror, a moment that filled Aveira with an intense sense of reliving the past - though her memory did not allow her to recall why. She led them far along the dunes, until such a time that she was certain she had collected - or willingly rejected - each one. Her path took them to where the land was rent and filled with water, and Aveira, once more filled with deja vu, decreed that this would be the site of a great project. To mark the start of her intent, Aveira drove Yoke into the ground and used it to focus her own power. All around her and her elven followers, the ground rumbled and shook. Alabaster stonework rose from beneath the sands, taking shape into towers and smooth walls. Beneath them, the sand blew away to reveal a massive circular courtyard, with a raised gallery around it like an arena. Beyond the arena rose a massive temple, sparsely marked with symbols that resembled the tip of the scepter. The elves, panicked, awestruck, and overjoyed, called out from all around her.

Aveira twisted the blade in the ground and water shot up from fountains scattered around the massive temple grounds. Large fronds grew from roots hidden deep below - or previously never existing. Life and comfort sprang from the ground. An oasis of greenery and comfort grew in the desert. A rough jewel, but the start of something great.


Pain. Fury. Agony. That was all she had to focus on. The rest was a haze - a blur of memories unsorted and unaddressed, slipping between fingers. Where was she? When was she? Who was she? That last question still lingered. Aveira. Betrayed general of her creator. She felt the sword in her hand, the blistering heat and animosity that radiated down through her arm as she wielded it. Yet it was not there. Aveira was not sure if she had arms with which to wield a blade anymore, nor could she see anything but a black void - hindering her from confirming her suspicions.

Fragments of being returned to her mind, single panes of memories ordered to return some semblance of awareness. She had never been disloyal, of this she was certain. Battled to fulfill a goal set by her creator. It was not her own failing, but her creators refusal to admit her fickle shift in mood and goals that landed her here. A scapegoat. A venomous contempt filled her, even as she was acutely aware that this was the fate of all who served another. To be used and discarded when it was no longer convenient to be kept around. She wasn't surprised, just angry.

She tried to move in the inky void, but found she could gain no purchase nor flail any limb. Another painful flash of fractured thoughts brought her recollection to her banishment - her creator and her disgusting enemy-turned-companion dissolving her to wipe clean the memory of her creators fickle mood swings and ulterior motives. She was unmade, and yet here she was. Stewing in nonexistence in some unknown void. A sliver of contempt replenished by some notion of mercy. Perhaps her creator had doubted herself in unmaking her and stowed her away - perhaps it was simply a cosmic mistake. All Aveira knew is that she could no longer feel the presence of her creator, nor of the teeming lifestream that had infused all of creation. She was elsewhere, or elsewhen. Suspended in nothingness and made to wait. Perhaps this was the punishment for a service well done. The prize for loyalty. She vowed then never to serve again, though knew it was a mere distraction from the fact that she was unmade and banished. How would she ever make good on such a promise when she could not even speak?

As if called upon by her seething thoughts, a distant voice pierced the veil of existence. Elsewhere, and elsewhen, a call had resounded across creation - it was only by happenstance that it had breached whatever prison Aveira found herself in. “I am Anath Homura! Come forth to me, and become the cosmic cultivators and architects of a new realm! Join my pantheon, and become Divine! Shape the sturdy land, shift the singing sea, sculpt the soaring sky, rewrite reality in accordance with your visions!”

For a time, all that existed in this featureless place was this call to action. Not even Aveira comprised enough form and will to contain the echoing thought once it had breached through. It made her desperate for freedom, and Aveira struggled against the bonds of creation.

She called out for aid, but did not have a voice with which to speak aloud. This was her only chance. She would answer the call and gain her second chance. A new life. A new domain without fickle creators and treacherous overlords. Aveira willed herself towards the call, straining all her spirit to find the breach in the veil and ride this summons back from whence it came.

This time, she would make sure noone could do this to her. This fate worse than death. It was her time to wield unyielding power. She felt the words close around her and pull her with them. Rewrite reality according to her vision.

"I accept."

The universe under Anath Homura's rule shifted imperceptibly. Reality groaned with an inaudible pop and where there once had been nothing but wasteland, there now stood a winged woman with skin like ashen snow. Aveira trembled and nearly toppled over as the sensation of being washed over her senses all at once. Sight, smell, sound, touch, taste. In an instant she perceived the world around her, but it was nothing quite like she recalled.

She looked herself over and found her form foreign as well, yet could not truly recall how it differed from what shape she had worn before. She extended her wings to feel winds whip and howl among her feathers. This was new as well, even though she knew she had always had wings. Faint recollections of her creator, old wars, and the devastation of her prime enemy - all seemed faint and growing more distant with each passing second. Almost as if this new place burrowed itself into her mind and replaced her old self with new experience. The angelic warrior found herself unbothered by this; deep down she knew she wore her ideal form, untouched by meddling or subterfuge. And hazy, spiteful memories were slowly replaced by a singular purpose built from the very words that guaranteed her freedom. A vision for reality itself. It was her time now.

Her prideful adulation was cut short by the rumble of the earth, and she gazed out to the horizon to see a massive silver structure - no, weapon - strike and burrow deep into the dirt and rock, kicking up dust and debris that was still unable to fully cover this majestic assault. It towered over all and dominated the skyline even compared to mountains. The angelic conqueror realized now that she wasn't alone. All around her she could sense shifts in the atmosphere, rumblings from below, and the groaning dirt being invaded by roots.

Aveira stretched out her hand, and in her grip a long staff with a sharp, forked prong extended out of thin air. The obsidian metal with which it took shape resembled no other material, but was formed from the recesses of her mind to establish her vision as truth. Doubling as both a weapon and a tool to herald her rule, it rested neatly in her hand like an extension of her arm.

Likewise, all around her torso and limbs this black metallic substance took hold, molding itself around her form like an impenetrable fortress and protection of her modesty. Though she was certain she was no longer home - she felt the absence of her old creator deep in her being - there was no telling who was also here, or how soon they would oppose her ambitions.

It was with that first thought that Aveira spread her wings, and lifted up far from the wasteland in which she had arrived. She struck out westward with rapid pace, intent on avoiding whatever had assaulted the planet with such force. She needed knowledge of the land, before the time came. That had been her mistake last time. Relying on another for knowledge.

Now, it was going to be all hers.

<Snipped quote by Enzayne>

You're someone who's been here nine years and have less than 300 posts. . . Egad, I'm like the complete opposite! lol.

My appearance and blessing is a rare thing!
I'm Commander Enzayne and this is my favourite thread on the RPGuild.
Valley of Strife

Synn had never imagined she would grow tired of her new station. First pick of the food, eager listeners for every tale she could muster, enough companionship to sate a blackstones' worth of zenii. Yet her lover made himself scarce. Every day was the same now, she'd sit in his seat with a few others hoping to share her status and warmth while Masol leapt into the ring, muddied up and ready to face the newest malcontent hoping for an easy way to recognition, or looking to settle last sun's grudges. She was as partial to watching undressed zene wrestle and squirm as the next zena, but the amount of challenges heaped onto the muscular ruler was reaching absurdity. Every zenii who saw an opportunity for a small measure of approval among their peers now sought to denounce Masol publicly, challenge his wisdom, or challenge his authority. The ones he'd truly beaten into the ground had scrounged for what supplies they could muster and left to try and rule over a blackstone rife with dissent.

He'd lied or mistold his early tale, that much was obvious even to her, but instead of simply trying to smooth it over, show some humility or error, Masol insisted on taking each challenge of his honor personally. Worse, the way he afforded intense attention to each of his wrestling partners and focused only on his own honor shot pangs of jealousy through Synn. She thought back to the early days when that focus had been reserved for her. Worse, she now spent near every morning feeling sick and bloated, some strange affliction rumbling her stomach and giving her unnatural cravings for food. It was - according to hearsay - afflicting many zena all over the valley, yet Masol had eyes only for defending his name and authority.

When he came stalking back to her perch under the blackstone, covered in drying mud, grass and filth, he barely acknowledged her with more than a grunt. Fuming with anger over his latest bout and some perceived humiliation in front of the crowd. A few zenii eagerly rushed to help him get clean; pathetic 'loyalists' who preferred the stability of his rule. They mocked him behind his back and scattered when Synn came close, yet Masol kept them at hand. Their chattering only served to annoy her further - their fawning over him made it impossible for her to cut in and have even a brief conversation with her lover. Not that he seemed interested.

Instead it was Serrat’s presence that calmed her nerves. She felt his hand on her shoulder, and his stern and faint smile as she glanced his way. She smiled back wistfully, before the scarred zene relinquished his brief comforting grip and moved onwards towards Masol. Behind him walked Jem, an ever present shadow behind him nowadays, and Gaher, who still dared not look Synn in the eyes. Synn busied herself with arranging some food baskets, conveniently bringing herself closer to the group as they walked up to Masol and scattered his deceitful fans.

"Kirra and her cohort have officially splintered. They threatened Lonam and his with clubs when they came to check on them. Said something about only following the exact word of the Lady from now on." Serrat mumbled under his breath, still easily perceptible thanks to Synn’s idle eavesdropping. "That's four camps now, not counting the loons bundling under the yarener zena, or the ones sneaking off to the forest at night to look for Nimueh. It's gonna get worse before it gets better."

"They'll come and I'll show them the truth. Not to worry," Masol returned with tranquil fury, wiping his body down with a repurchased yarene. "Do you doubt my ability to defend myself?"

"No," the scarred second intoned with what appeared to be irritation. "I doubt their interest in returning to the fold at all. We worked hard for this, Masol. We can't just let them slip through our fingers."

"If they cower in their corners then we will sweep them up when all others are convinced." the muscular Masol shrugged firmly, discarding the cloth. "What about this yarener… Andromeda? Is she coming?"

"I doubt it," Jem cut in from behind Serrat. She took a step forward and leaned on the scarred zene's shoulder as she explained. "It's been several days since we spoke. In fact, Gaher here-" She shot a thumb towards Gaher, who shrank at the attention. "- says fresh word is she is out in the forest too."

"To find Nimueh?" Masol asked with a voice like rolling thunder. Jem only shrugged. A few moments passed until eventually Masol swore and turned aside, busying himself with a little light flexing. "...It doesn't matter. When the Lady returns, everything will be set in order."

"Worked out so well last time," Serrat muttered. The effect was instant. Masol whipped around on the spot, charging forwards to brush and bristle. He forced his naked chest against Serrat - who did his best to withstand this onslaught of muscle - staring deep into his eyes with a frown marring his handsome features. Jem wisely pushed away from her lean, taking several steps back. Somewhere deep inside, Synn felt jealous even of such rage. Where was this passion when he looked at her?

"You doubt my leadership, Serrat? After all we've been through? Going to forget who made you what you are now?" Masol growled, staring his second deep in the eyes.

Serrat did not seem particularly fazed. It wasn't the first time the two had openly quarreled, and it was doubtfully the last. "Calm down. This obsession with proving yourself is making us weak."

"Maybe you are the weak one," Masol spat back, but did eventually take a step back. "Can't even bring a single yarener into the fold. The next time a group tries to leave, I'll talk to them. Now, I'm due for another bout."

Serrat tried to interject, but it was too late. Masol stormed off in a huff, returning towards his beloved crowd of violent malcontents jeering and cheering in equal measure. Serrat glowered after him and Jem mostly looked amused. Synn watched them closely until she realized that Gaher was watching her in turn. She fastidiously turned back to the baskets.

"That went well," Jem's voice rang out with her lazy sarcasm. Serrat grunted gruffly in return. "Andromeda ain't coming without a fight, I can tell you that much. She may be worse than the wood hag."

"Forget Andromeda. She's clearly got the Lady on her side. We tried, that's what matters. If she makes a move, we'll consider our options. Nimueh- she doesn't seem that dangerous. Could probably be useful if we found a way to talk that wasn't reliant on her deviant magics." He muttered to himself.

"Are we stopping the tales of her evils then?" Gaher cut in with a measure of cautious confusion.

"No. She serves us better alone and ostracized. It's bad enough that a few are seeking her out anyway. Maybe look in to if anyone comes back claiming to have spoken to her. We might be able to send messages." Serrat scratched at his chin, glancing towards the fighting pits.

"I see what you're thinking, shaeska." Jem said with a conspiratorial fit to her voice, making Synn glance over her shoulder at the assembly once more. "I think he’s run his course."

There was a tense silence, before Serrat scoffed and turned to push Jem away with a hand to her face. "Jem. Always too eager for your own good. Be a good zena and shut up, yes?" The zena staggered back a few paces and just snickered. Gaher looked increasingly awkward. "But maybe put out a few questions. See how many of his trusted that are displeased with how things are going."

With that, the group dispersed, and Synn was left standing staring at her jumble of baskets. What had she just listened to? She tried to make sense of it with what little context she had. She put a hand to her stomach and sighed firmly, trying to sort her feelings of discomfort from this new sensation of creeping dread. What would her fate be, if the Lady returned and did not help as Masol said she would?

What if they'd already had that talk?

Synn busied herself with the baskets again. This time, it was to distract herself.

Chailiss Week

Predators in the Night


A solid thunk echoed through the woodlands as the frozen axeblade lodged itself into an imposing tree trunk. The nearby stag bristled and snorted loudly. Moments later, it raised its tail and rocketed away between the trees, escaping into the mists of the forest with a steady cracking of branch and bush as it sped out of sight.

Tala cursed under her breath and pushed out of her hiding spot in the underbrush. Heavy feet tromped over the leaf and root-covered ground, and Tala gripped the handle to wrench her tomahawk free from the wooden trunk. Despite its short time lodged in the wood, the trunk was already frostbitten - turning the grip was enough to crack and splinter it as the point of impact, leaving a frost-damaged crater where the axe had rested.

She stalked into the mists after her quarry; it was either that or another night of sleeping hungry. A good kill would give her food to complete the journey. She had tried not to take too much from the camp, and that cautious generosity had come back to bite her now that she had more or less ran out of dried food. Worse, she wasn't sure of where her real quarry would be. The Flamekeepers were east - that was as good a start as any. If she didn't starve first.

The mist was thick and all-encompassing. It demanded a slower pace; both because tracking could only be done by searching for the tracks left by the big stag, and because running headlessly through the mist threatened serious injury. As such, Tala slowed herself down enough so that the idle howl of the wind and sway of trees quieted her heavy steps through the underbrush. Fortunately, between the panicked escape of her target and her eager interest in tracking before leaving her home, the tracks were easy enough to find and follow - a trail of broken branches, heavy hooves, and disturbed ground.

She stalked for what felt like an eternity, careful to limit her own sounds and breath, eyes shifting between the ground and the misty forest ahead. As long as she followed the track and it didn't lead her too far in the wrong direction, it would be worth it. So with that mindset, she eliminated the last of her worries, and focused on playing the silent predator.

It took more than a few hours. When she picked up the hint of an idle bleat amidst the misty tree trunks, the sun had begun to roll to rest. Darkness had started to blend with the mist, making each passing moment a race against time before further hunting would be futile. The night was the animals' domain. If she couldn't trust her eyes, she would never catch up. Though the cold didn't particularly bother her, she could feel it becoming increasingly chilly. Eventually all prey smaller than the stag would hide away.

She found the shape of the stag bent over a small creek, sipping ice-cold water after what must have been a taxing trot through endless forest. Between darkness and cold fog, it was difficult to make out more than the general shape, yet Tala knew in her heart that her hunt favored her. Fortune favored the persistent it seemed. The throwing axe felt like it throbbed in her hand, muscle memory coming back alive to eagerly remind her of the violent force under her command. Tala stepped forward slowly, inching as close as she dared while her arm lifted and bent back, itching fingers waiting to send the axe flying. She saw the beast's ears flick nervously, and she knew. With a firm throw, she let the axe fly loose through the air, whipping and spinning as it had so many hours before.

The strike was subdued, covered by a shriek of pain and panic from the stag. It made a strange set of grunts and snorts, and stamped off southwards along the creek, quickly vanishing in the mist. Tala rushed forwards with her breath in her throat, looking for her axe and the tracks. She got visual confirmation then. No axe. Blood in the grass. She turned south to follow the trail of speckled red, picking up her pace now.

It didn't take more than a minute of following the blood trail to come upon the collapsed form of the stag. The axe sat lodged in its flank, spreading a deep and icy chill over the bleeding form. Tala moved forward and found the creature staring blankly at her, kicking with three hooves and unable to move the last - it was already frostbitten and immobile from the proximity of her weapon. Tala grimaced and pulled the axeblade free from the crystallized wound, and closed her eyes to catch her breath. She listened to the panicked cries of the stag, battling against a crippling cold and injury. "It's him or me. I'm sorry, spirits." She muttered quietly before opening her eyes and watching the stag. The moment passing, she silenced the animal with a hack of her axe.


The creek was cold and unpleasant, but it made a good source of hand washing and drinking. Tala had dragged her downed stag back where she'd found it drinking, establishing her own little worksite where she could carve and skin at her own pace. She didn't have fire, and hunger thundered enough in her gut that she wasn't sure she would have had the patience to stir a flame anyway. She settled for carving chunks from her kill and eating it straight. It felt immediately empowering to just eat something, anything, and Tala ended up just sitting there for a while after gorging herself on meat. Waiting for her body to recover from the full day of stalking the woods.

A crunch of dirt and branch made her open her eyes. Had she slept? Axe still in hand, she was sat still in front of the dead stag in the dead of night. The mist didn't matter anymore, the darkness was so enveloping that there was no hope of seeing past the trees. Another crack of branches, and Tala turned her head towards the noise.

There it stood, a wolf almost as large as her, teeth bared and head lowered. It had followed the scent of blood, she reasoned, and Tala had been unmoving and silent in the dark. Two predators staring each other down. Tala shifted to move her weapon hand in preparation, enough to spook the wolf and make it growl. They stared at each other for a while, both expectant, but neither childan nor wolf were keen to try their luck.

Tala instead took the remnant of the haunch she'd eaten of before, and chucked it past the wolf to its side. The beast snarled and looked at her and the thrown food cautiously in equal measure. Eventually it slinked towards the discarded meat, took it hungrily, and stalked soundless into the darkness. Tala breathed a sigh of relief, raising her hand to rub at her eyes. No longer particularly keen on sleeping, she leaned forward to commence the harvesting of the stag she'd promised herself and the spirits that she'd do.

The wolf was not gone. After a solid amount of work, she spotted its shape again, stalking at the edge of her tiny makeshift camp. Tala carved a piece of stag and threw it into the darkness, and the wolf accepted hungrily. This pattern repeated itself many times through the night, until Tala was sure she had fed the wolf more than she would have eaten in two days full meals. Eventually the wolf did not return, nor could she hear its paws tramping around in the dark. Exhausted and finished with harvesting as much as she could, Tala settled in to rest again, laying her sparse equipment over her throat to protect her most vulnerable place. She pulled what remained of the carcass around her as further protection from the elements and predators. With her axe held tight in one hand, Tala drifted to sleep.

When she continued her journey east under the protective promise of sunlight the following day, the tracking eyes of the forest saw pawprints trailing the childan's own tracks.

Fortune favors the persistent, after all.

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