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3 yrs ago
Current a completely public status bar might not be the best place to talk about your mood imbalances, just saying.
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4 yrs ago
Having actual free time feels so weird
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6 yrs ago
How did I escape Iraq? Iran.
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Festival of the Red Leaves

First Stage


“Only 20 paces left in the first stage of this year’s Red Leaf Race! Against all expectations, the Bronzed Bloom Eleanna herself is still in the lead! She’s heading straight for the finish line at the Southern Temple in her Chariot, Bronze Spear!” The announcer’s excited voice came through Rac’s earpiece.

He grunted as he swerved, barely evading a rock in the middle of the sandy road. Tall dunes stretched as far as the eye could see on either side of the road, with the only evidence of other Chariot Pilots being nearby being that of the massive cloud of sand that had been kicked up by their wheels and the constant roar permeating the air.

“Right on the Bronzed Bloom’s tail is last year’s Red Leaf champion, The Wolves’ MASTEKEN, riding his world-famous Fang; who’s in turn being followed by The Lampseekers’ Mysterious Silvan Star riding their prototype Chariot Anak’s Thas! Finally, we’ve got The Daman Lands’ most despicable, most hateable, most handsome villain, the Strongteeth’s Bitall catching up to the Silvan Star, riding his aptly-named Bone-Grinder.”

Rac’s heart skipped a beat as he saw a set of huge shadows emerge from the sandcloud. “Fuck!” He shouted, swerving and evading the falling and tumbling Chariot pieces, all coloured either black or red with white smoke trailing from them.

WOW! The second group’s lead, The Toothfixers’ Dr. Smiles, has just gone up in pieces! Was it a rock that did him in? A fault in his Chariot? Or perhaps… A pothole?!”

Rac furrowed his brow, sweat trailing down every wrinkle and dripping down his chin. In the distance, he heard the roars of what undoubtedly was…

“No! It’s the First Stage’s Surprise Element, none less than The Ruler of the Sands, the Eater of Pilgrims, the Desert Sun himself, The Bronzed Maw!

Rac gulped and evaded yet another Chariot that flew through the sandcloud. This one was unmistakable. The blue and white colours of MASTEKEN’s Chariot trailed through the air and crashed down unceremoniously onto the sandstone road behind Rac. One of the Chariots following Rac had one of the bigger pieces fall on top of it, sending it swerving right into a sand dune.

He could feel his body running dry, but he was so close!

He grit his teeth and reached for the Soul-Burner limiter, pulling it so hard that the whole cockpit shook. He blackout out for a split moment, and the next thing he knew was that he had emerged from the sandcloud and could see the tails of the three leading Chariots, Bronze Spear, Anak’s Thas and Bone-Grinder. In the middle of the three Chariots was a massive, ape-like Werebeast with a golden coat of hair and horns covered in countless scratches and chips. It was the Bronzed Maw, and it was chasing the Chariots.

“The Shrubs’ Rac the Righteous, riding his Second-hand Jermannic Shield, has just caught up to the leading group after an impressive Soul-burn! Will he be okay?!”

Something shot out of Bronze Spear’s top and at the Bronzed Maw. It roared as blood sprayed everywhere, coating the Chariots.

“It has begun! Bronzed Bloom has fired the first shot of her wrist-mounted ballista, and at the Maw no less! It’s only a matter of time before-”

A gigantic arc of lightning came down from the heavens right onto the Silvan Star, and redirected immediately at the Maw, who caught the lightning with his horns and threw it at Bitall’s Bone-Grinder.

As the thunder and the shockwave reached Rac, he saw Bitall fall behind with a singed coat, banging on his steering bar.

As he was distracted another wail came from the Maw followed by a spray of blood that reached even him at the back, covering half of his cockpit screen.

“And yet another bolt from the Bronzed Bloom herself!”

Suddenly, the Maw turned around and jumped at Rac, its roar cracking his screen.

He fed his Soul-burner as much of his soul as it would take, feeling himself being pushed back into his seat as the Chariot shot forward. As he passed below the airborne Maw, its sharp toenails tore off his Chariot’s roof and cockpit dome. The wind struck him so hard he nearly lost consciousness, but he managed to keep awake even with blood flowing freely from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

With Rac out of the range of the Maw, the beast decided to focus on attacking the pilots further back in the race, leaving the three leading chariots to their own devices.

It was too late for self control, Rac thought, it was do or die. So he kept burning his soul and shot past the smoking Silvan Star and right up to the Bronzed Bloom’s side, exchanging a bloodied gaze with the Goddess sitting in her cockpit, who was bleeding just as much as him. She scoffed at him and aimed her ballista at him, only for him to bump into her Chariot and force her to miss her shot.

“You’ll have to listen to my request now, Bronzed Bloom!” Shouted Rac, with Eleanna grimacing and coughing up blood. Rac grinned madly as his eyes set on the finish line coming into view just as the Southern Temple came into view atop one of the dunes.

“AND… THE FIRST TO CROSS THE FINISH LINE, AND THE FIRST TO BE GRANTED THE RIGHT TO DEMAND ANYTHING FROM THE BRONZED BLOOM HERSELF IS RAC THE RIGHTEOUS, THE PALADIN SPONSORED BY THE SHRUBS!”





Festival of the Red Leaves


The crowd watched with bated breath. Those lucky enough to be seated at the front were nearly falling off their benches, and those that had arrived later all held onto the haphazardly constructed railings of the auditorium as if their lives depended on it, leaning out to watch for every slight movement behind the massive curtains that covered the stage.

Out of nowhere, a raspy, deep female voice rang out throughout the auditorium and into all of the spectators’ earpieces.

“WELCOME, LADIES AND GENTLEBEASTS, TO…”

Drums started to roll. A row of bonfires lit up between the audience and the stage.

“... THE RED LEAF!”

A shockwave swept through the crowd, echoing in their lungs and beating against their hearts.

People cheered. They jumped, they screamed in excitement. Wolfkin howled, their wagging tails swatting away all the smaller kin. Lionkin roared, while Apekin beat their chests or vandalised their immediate areas.

Suddenly, the auditorium had fallen into pure chaos and as quickly as it had happened, everything fell silent as the bronze curtains lifted off the stage, revealing a great gathering of dozens of Chariots of all shapes and sizes and colours. Piloting teams stood on top of their vehicles, with one calling particular attention from the crowd. The foremost chariot, bronzed in colour and sporting a ruthlessly streamlined form, hissed as its cockpit opened and its pilot stood up to smirk at the crowd.

The crowd erupted again. Some hollered, others laughed, and a minority booed… Because there, in the forefront of the whole Red Leaf Race, stood their Goddess dressed in a rather flattering Chariot Jumpsuit.

Eleanna’s smirk turned into a grin, and then she waved at the crowd. From her place, it seemed like the auditorium reached up into the stars and the number of people crammed into every last square metre of the place was unbelievable. She loved the attention, and she loved the way the other racers’ eyes were glued to the back of her head. Jealousy, admiration, hatred, love. At that moment, she was alive!

Soon, the announcer began to speak once more, stepping out onto the stage. It was a rather short Mousekin, who had only inherited her clan’s ears, tail and voracious appetite, and yet her voice was deeper and more powerful than even Eleanna’s.

“BE PREPARED, FOR TODAY WE ARE WITNESSING THE BEST OF THE BEST… THE MOST INTENSE, MOST VIOLENT, CRAZIEST EVER CHARIOT RACE IN THE HISTORY OF THE DAMAN LANDS!”

The crowd’s cheers rose to a peak, and they started throwing rice, corn and sand at the stage.

All the Chariot pilots put on their goggles and jumped into their chariots, cockpits of all kinds sliding and closing.

“SPEED! DANGER! CRASHES! EXPLOSIONS! BLOOD! ALL OF THIS AND MORE ON THE LONGEST, HARSHEST ROUTE THAT WE HAVE EVER DEVISED, RUNNING STRAIGHT FROM HERE, OVER AND UNDER THE DUNES OF THE GREAT DAMAN DESERT, PAST THE SILVAN-RICH LANDS OF THE LAMP, THROUGH THE CHAOTIC LANDS OF AN UNCLAIMED NODE, AND FINISHING AT THE TALLEST PEAK IN THE WORLD – MOUNT SUNYA!”

The crowd went crazy, as fire spewed from the metallic chariots and light and wind came from the wooden ones.

“AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST – HOPE YOU’VE ALL GOT YOUR EYEMEMS WITH YA! ‘CAUSE WE’LL BE BROADCASTING THE WHOLE RACE THROUGH YOUR EARPIECES. YES! YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT, THE WHOLE RACE! SO WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, AGAIN…”

Eleanna’s chariot trembled, a bright glow enveloping all six of its wheels as white smoke rose from its back two wheels.

“WELCOME TO THE RED LEAF RACE! PILOTS BE READY…”

A cacophony of screaming metal and wood overtook even the cheers of the crowd, all kinds of spiritual energy flooding out of the stage as the pilots poured their beings into their Chariots.

“SET…”

The crowd fell silent, breathlessly.

“GO!” The Announcer shouted, jumping off the stage just in time for the sandstone edifice to shake as dozens of Chariots burst forth, crashing down onto the avenue cutting right through the centre of the auditorium and shooting off into the course.

The last thing Eleanna saw and heard before exiting the Auditorium was the resumed hollering and cheering of the crowd as both children and adults bid the pilots, including her, goodbye.

With a last smirk purely to herself, she switched up the grip on her steering bar and carefully modulated the amount of Soul she was feeding into her Chariot. It was going to be a long, difficult race.





Beastmen


Birds chirped, rays of sun filtered through the canopies of solitary trees, and little critters scampered through the overgrowth. There, in the tall grass hugging the narrow dirt paths, hid a group of beastmen.

The group’s leader and recruiter, Bitall, was the one closest to the path. His eyes were closed, with his ursine ears turning and tilting at every single sound, especially the sound of approaching footsteps, footsteps which any beastmen worth his weight in Xas could tell were coming from the soft, leather-sandal covered feet of Silvans.

The group’s tracker Jackal, hidden under a fallen tree just a few paces behind Bitall, took a couple of sniffs at the air and barely managed to bite back a low growl. He tapped Dima the Trainee’s shoulder in a sequence that meant the approaching Silvans carried prey with them and wielded his adze.

Some people were definitely not blessed by the Bronzed Bloom in terms of looks, and Dima was one of them. That was the main reason behind his acceptance of Bitall’s offer of employment, which saw him receive a nice chunk of Xas as well as a set of incredibly well-crafted furs. So that’s how he ended up under the service of the Strongteeth, the two beastmen known for supplying most of New Daman high society with Silvan servants. His job was simple, to whack all armed people over the head and leave the rest to Bitall and Jackal.

The footsteps were right next to them. Something popped on the other side of the dirt path, hidden too by the tall grass, and made the Silvans freeze in their tracks. The women huddled together and shielded the children while the men exchanged looks. Then the sound came again.

“Rrrraaaaargh!” Roared Dima. He jumped out of his spot with a club in each hand and struck one of the men in the back of the head. He huffed and puffed at the other shocked Silvans, eyes narrowing as he saw the women and children back away. The two remaining men leveled their shiny spears at him, and he grunted.

The two men charged. The closest one Dima barely managed to parry, feeling the cold metal tip slice his side as it missed him narrowly. He saw the other man charging at him still, even as he still struggled with the first one, trying to wrestle his spear away, and his heart skipped a few beats.

Until Bitall crashed into the man, a sickening crack echoing through the sparse woods, followed by the sounds of a wild animal feasting and a man screaming.

The sounds distracted Dima’s opponent long enough for him to land a single blow on the man’s neck, sending his crumpling into a heap on the floor.

It was at this point that most of the women and children turned to run, only for the foremost one to set off a tripwire making a massive sickly green net fall on top of them, making them all trip and land over each other. Children cried, women screamed. One of them pulled out a knife and cut a piece of the net and their screams rose to a peak, then fell silent.

Jackal walked out of his hiding spot, whistling. “Whew! These things ain’t even trying no more.” He said as he looked at the dozen or so Silvans caught in his net, a glint in his eye. “And what a catch, huh? We even got some pale ones this time... And look! Golden hair, sheesh!”

“EASY, EASY, EASY!” Bitall’s loud voice came from the tall grass, with him emerging from the grass soon after with a shower of blood dripping from his maw, little bits of flesh stuck in between his teeth being painfully noticeable with the way he was grinning. “Can’t believe it! So easy!”

Dima felt the colour drain a little from his face. He panted, bringing a hand to cover the bleeding gash on his side. Bitall noticed Dima’s wound and patted him on the shoulder. “Good. Good, kid! Don’t you worry, the Strongteeth will take care of that for ya! Now get the collars and ropes, we got a long walk back to camp, and these Silvans ain’t gonna keep themselves in line when they wake up.”





Capturing Nodes

Part 2

I


Unlike her first time claiming a Node back from Chaos, this time Eleanna was prepared. With the help of her 23 Companions, the Hunt was successful with no casualties. First, Bow-Eater and Yenna set many traps in the area around the Node, and then the group split up into two squads. The first squad, led by Bow-Eater, had the youngest Companion run up to the beasts and then run off into the chaotic lands, towards a small canyon where the second group, led by Eleanna, ambushed the beast that had fallen behind, taking it down mostly silently as a dozen spears and picks severed its spine. Without noticing that its mate had fallen behind, the bigger of the beasts kept chasing the young Companion, only to trigger a tripwire trap and have a big Ambroisen-weave net fall on top of it. Hundreds of copper spikes which dug deep into the smoky flesh of the beast lined the inside of the net, connecting its body directly to the Ambroisen weave and making it so that every time it tried to rip the net apart, an incapacitating shock of pain was sent through its entire nervous system.

As Eleanna’s group caught up to the trapped Beast, she whistled at the way it kept struggling through the pain, trying to break free and grinned as Obann the Crescent Sun brought his gigantic axe down upon its neck, a wet gurgle being the last thing that came out of the beast’s snout before dissipating into a cloud of black smoke.

Eleanna congratulated everyone and promised them a keg of Silver Wine each, then ran off to claim Node 5. The moment that she touched the node, Eleanna felt a rush of power flow through her, and she used it to reshape the land as she saw fit. Node 5 became a massive, sweltering, insect-ridden land of rainforests and swamps with valleys, canyons, tepuis, and vast cavern systems dotted throughout. It was a wild land, one that quickly saw an influx of migrants from the now-overcrowded rainforest to the east of node 10. These migrants quickly became a hardened sort of folk, used to having to adapt and survive in a variety of environments, as well as developing an unique sort of creativity when it came to discovering treatments for the endless kinds of diseases that such a land could bestow on living beings.

Up in Node 4, things were a lot calmer. There was no real noteworthy beast guarding the node, other than some small nuisances all of which were quickly dispatched by Eleanna and her Companions. Upon claiming Node 4, Eleanna turned it into a land overflowing with water. Great lakes, great rivers (both overground and underground), great waterfalls, great rainstorms, etc, were all present in the land, all flowing from its heart, the World Spring Mountain range which ran in between Node 5 and Node 4’s border and barely touched the northeastern edge of Node 10. Node 4 became settled even quicker than Node 5, becoming an absolute paradise to all the kinds of aquatic demi-humans that had previously been restricted to the watery north of Node 10. The land became a hotspot for culture, known for its beautiful sights and for the hospitality of its denizens, and also a proper powerhouse behind the exportation of seafood and famous chefs, such as the Unbeatable Ramsea.





Capturing Nodes

Part 1

I


Ah, the refreshing feeling of an adventure! Eleanna took a long, loud whiff of the smoky chaos that made up the atmosphere in still-unclaimed node 5.

True, node 5 was in the opposite direction of where the divine hotspot was, but she had bigger and better things to focus on than squabbling with dainty, pretty goddesses or looking for a scrap against lantern guys. Yes, indeed, she had better things to do, as unbelievable as that sounded!

And the first of those things was to claim the unclaimed areas to the east and north of node 10, those being node 5 and 4 respectively, and she was to do that with the help of her 23 companions. All of them sported brand new Ambroisen prosthetics and had spent the last few months honing their skills which meant that with everyone back in their top shapes, one could say the 23 Heroes of the Bronzed Bloom had finally come out of early retirement.

She smiled, loving the encumbering feeling that her many layers of newly made armour gave her. Like her old armour, this set was mainly made of leathers and even though it had no chainmail or metal helmet to go along with it, it was still thick enough that she could barely feel Sun’s kicks when he helped her test it.

Eleanna snapped back to the present as she heard a single footstep behind her, so she turned her head to look at her visitor, seeing a small cloud of dark material just settling around the beastwoman’s boots.

“Yenna, I take it you were careful with your claws last night?” Eleanna asked the beastwoman. Yenna the Midnight Claw frowned for a moment, then her eyes widened and she struggled to stammer out her words.

“W-Wha- So y- You- Were…!”

Eleanna chuckled, “I’m a Goddess, I can hear really well. I couldn’t sleep last night cause of you two you know… Not that I mind that, obviously.”

Yenna groaned and sighed, then stood straight and patted her own cheeks lightly. “Whatever, perv. We found the Node. It’s about 6 K’s to the northeast. Also…” Yenna trailed off, looking distressed.

“Bad news?” Eleanna asked, fully turning to face the lithe Hyena-morph. Yenna nodded, making eye contact with the much taller Eleanna.

“It’s guarded by two Chaos Guardians.”

II


“Holy crap, you were not lying guys.” Eleanna gasped at the sight. There, merely a few hundred metres away, were two Chaos Guardians. She couldn’t really make out what they looked like due to the nature of Chaos itself, but she could see their auras and… The way they intertwined with each other? “You don’t think that-” Eleanna began, only to be cut off by Bow-Eater the Midnight Blade, who was prone right next to her, bumping shoulders while looking through a hollow tree branch at the auras.

“I do not think so. They move to and fro.” He rhymed in a sing-song fashion with a straight face. Eleanna spared a moment to look at him with a raised eyebrow. He ignored her.

“Anyway, if they’re doing that then there have to be baby chaos guardians around. Wanna find them and tame them? I know a guy…”

“You speak of the Were-Taker. His skills are good, but only on paper.”

Eleanna rolled her eyes, “Care to elaborate?”

“The Were-Taker hunts the vulnerable and ascetic. He beats and shames them… I am not sympathetic. ”

“Huh.” Eleanna looked back at the two ‘mating’ Chaos Guardians next to the Node and after a while nodded to herself “Alright, they may be two, but we can beat them for sure. May need to use the Everloom, though.”

“This time, refrain from reckless rushing. We may not save you from a crushing.” He said, a smirk forming on his lips. The first bit of playfulness she’d seen on his face since they set out. Eleanna smirked back as she stood up and started to head back to camp.

“No promises.”





Fixing Things (and People)


I


Eleanna wasn’t crazy. Or at least, not too crazy. After her last debacle weeks ago, she realised that perhaps she had been approaching things a little bit too haphazardly, and that perhaps she had gotten a little too comfortable and started to ignore her own teachings. If putting herself in mortals’ shoes was difficult to her, then she had to do it. If keeping her appearance up to snuff was annoying to her, then she had to do it. If randomly striking out on adventures and leaving a trail of mutilated people came easy to her, then perhaps she should think twice before doing it.

She was, after all, the Bronzed Bloom. The living symbol of the Grand Struggle, a role model to everyone whose dreams were ambitious and nearly impossible, and most importantly she was the one responsible for the quality of the lives of the people whom she had already led astray and turned into beastmen and menbeasts.

Her thoughts slowly drifted back to the time when she battled the Chaos, the very moment when she laid there between the rocky ground and the gigantic metallic paw of a monster. Even now, years later, she could replay the moment vividly in her head. She could hear the visceral grinding, popping and snapping of her bones and could taste the bile and blood that spewed from her mouth. She could feel the ghostly echoes of the pain, and she could also feel the echoes of her excitement at being on the verge of death.

A wistful smile snuck its way onto her face as she looked out the window of her chamber in the Temple of the Bronzed Bloom and at the growing city all around.

Excitement, fear, pain, defiance, desperation. All those emotions that she had felt, overshadowed by the relief that washed over her when she heard the war cries of the then-tribal Daman Peoples… Her rescuers.

She frowned. She’d never really thought to catch up with the ones who personally risked their lives to save hers. Even though they lost parts of their body doing so…

Shame filled her core. How was she supposed to be the embodiment of the Bronzed Bloom if she couldn’t even reward her people for struggling so desperately?

With a couple quick breaths, she stood up off her ornate sandstone stool and walking into the maze-like hallways of her Temple.

II


Eleanna could hardly believe her eyes as she stood in one of the dirtiest, darkest alleyways she’d ever seen in New Dama. The sandstone buildings to either side towered over them and cast a deep shadow on a figure lying prone on the sludge-covered flagstone pavement. His chest rose and fell with each shallow breath, a curious whistle accompanying each exhalation. His cloak, made long ago to fulfill the requirements of the Crow Spirit, laid tattered atop him while barely managing to hide the distinct lack of, well, stuff where his left leg should have been.

The wolf-man’s cheeks were sunken, his fur patchy and dry, and dark circles surrounded his sickly eyes.

He was Bow-Eater, one of the brave warriors who had become her saviours all those years back. Known for his unnatural skill with a dagger, he had once been the champion of the Crow Tribe and lacked for nothing. But now…

Eleanna didn’t feel pity. No, she felt disgusted. Disgusted that such a prominent figure had allowed himself to fall as low as he had… That he had allowed a missing limb to destroy his life in the way it did.

She felt no pity, but she did feel responsible. Not just because he had exchanged a life of fame and power in order to save her life, but because she had forsaken him and hadn’t given him any guidance or tools that he could have used to overcome his plight.

That was about to change.

Eleanna straightened her back and lifted a hand and a moment later, two beastmen came rushing into the alleyway. Metal footsteps and the shuffling of leathers echoed as they grabbed Bow-Eater, unconscious as he was, and took him away. Left alone in the alleyway, Eleanna only stared at the spot where Bow-Eater had been just a moment ago and picked up the one item that he had in his hand. A small golden sphere, with intricate carvings all over it. It was tarnished and scratched, but even in that state she could tell he had taken great care of it for years.

She played with the sphere for a moment, twisting it this and that way, until she learned its mechanism and got it to spring into its true shape–A rose-like flower made out of gold.

“You never lost faith, did you Bow?” Eleanna asked to herself with a sigh, her cloak obscuring her face.

III


Project Artifice was ambitious if nothing else.

Following her initial encounter with Bow-Eater, Eleanna had gone on to gather all the survivors of the Hunt for New Dama in the Temple of the Bronzed Bloom, where they were all nursed back to health and given a place to sleep and food to eat. While that was going on, she also set out to gather master craftsmen from all over the Daman Lands and ended up with one or two from every major clan. In particular, she was excited about the craftsmen from the Shrubs, as they had recently developed a kind of textile fibre that made the entire project possible to begin with.

So, after months of constant 24/7 R&D work and dealing with the bickering of the many clans, they were able to finish their first prototype – An Ambroisen Leg. An extremely complex limb crafted out of carefully carved, lacquered and hardened wood with Ambroisen fibres weaved through each piece and imbued with the intended user’s blood.

It was the night before the Festival of the Bronzed Bloom that the first ever Ambroisen Prosthetic was installed, giving Bow-Eater a fully functional leg after years of having to use a crutch to get around..

The project was a resounding success and the months of hard work and estranged clan relationships paid off. Suddenly everyone was motivated to work even harder and soon enough, craftsmen teams had managed to cut down the time needed to create one Ambroisen prosthetic from months down to a single week.

It didn’t even take a year to return full mobility to all the 23 Heroes of the First Hunt, and by that time the Shrubs Craftsmen had begun to experiment even more with their prized Ambroisen Fibres, unlocking a whole new industry in the usage of Ambroisen Fibres inside of tools, weapons and devices.

The Daman Lands, under the guidance and funding of The Bronzed Bloom, soon became a world leader in the creation of quality prosthetics and smart tools. The Dawn of Artificing and Grafting was here.



Best Friends


The town stood silent. A dark grey had taken the sky and hollow wind blew between the hovels of the settlement. The usual guards of the palisade and tower were gone, in fact no one was outside, except for the savior of the town. Standing in front of the town, without an ounce of worry or concern on her face was Benea. She stood as if she were waiting for a letter, or perhaps expecting a loaf of bread to rise. Her arms were crossed, stuffing her ivory staff into the crook of her arm. Completely encircling her were eight fully armored paladins.

Copper glinted, reflecting the glory of Benea off their sheen. Shaggy fur plumed wherever the segmented metal stopped and experienced eyes peered from behind visors. At the fore was the largest of the eight paladins, Jermane. He stood holding a round shield as sturdy and imposing as him in his left hand and an equally large shield in his right, both armed with a long spike protruding from the center bosses.

“Well well well, who do we have here?” A familiar, raspy, somewhat muffled voice echoed from the woods, followed by the heavy footsteps of an armour-clad warrior. The first thing that Benea saw coming from the direction of the voice was a glint of light reflected off a metal helmet that she’d seen before plus the vague shapes of dozens of oversized beasts, all stalking through the overgrowth and keeping out of direct sight, though the stalking did nothing to hide their growling and foaming mouths. “If it isn’t the Hydra-lover, along with her boyfriend and many consorts.” Declared the armoured Goddess, coming out of the woods to stand a few meters in front of the group and taking the moment to toss her dented helmet away and regard Benea with a raised eyebrow. “You are here to cover for the humans, I take it? You should be ready to make yourself a new dress if that’s the case, cause the one you’re wearing is going to get wrecked, princess.”

A half-crescent grin curled on Benea’s lips. “I have no idea who you are, darling.”

While Jermane seemed to seize up defensively, Benea kept her usual aloofness about how she stood, with no inclination that she was either in danger or prepared for anything physical, let alone a battle. After her words left her mouth she pinched her chin in a fake curiosity. “Unless of course you all might be the rabble-rousers who have been harassing the gentle people of this town. In which case I do insist on relocating. It’s nothing personal, dear.”

"Ah! You said the word yourself, 'gentle'. The people here are too gentle! All they can do to protect themselves is throw stones, so I'm giving them a push in the right direction." Eleanna nodded in satisfaction at her own words, and proceeded to point her finger at Benea. "Now princess, get out of my way. I admire your guts but you're outmatched and although your beefcake boyfriend looks strong, I doubt he can take on many of my wild friends."

“Again, dear, I have no idea what you’re spouting about.” Benea tapped her cheek in wonder. “I don't suppose you’d prefer to have a pleasant talk about whatever it is that ails you over a nice meal? Perhaps after a bath…” She paused and sniffed. “A very thorough bath.”

The warrior scoffed, “Ah yes, the scent of hard continuous work, how offensive to the senses!” Eleanna declared with a roll of her eyes. “If you want to say something, say it. I have no time for gossip, nice meals or baths. I’d rather we fight it out to be honest…” She trailed off, impatiently starting to tap a foot on the gravel.

“I’m just saying, dear, a little lavender might go very far in your case. Oh! Have you ever tried mixing it with the milk of a coconut?” Benea clasped her hands, getting a few looks from the townspeople peeking out from their hiding places — the paladins on the other hand seemed forever focused, or perhaps desensitized.

Eleanna sighed and deflated a bit. “No. No, I haven’t.”

“Well that’s it, you absolutely must come with me!” Benea flashed a wide, white smile. She took a few steps away from the entire ordeal, the paladins keeping pace. “Come on, dear!”

Eleanna gave a few hand signals to the beasts in the woods and then groaned and followed Benea, pretty much dragging her spear along the ground.

Before Eleanna knew it, Benea was at her side, spouting an endless stream of confessions and ideas. “You know,” she started. “You really are an autumn, but I was wondering what a spring look on you might do for your demeanor. Of course such a change should match your fragrance, dear, so perhaps something with daisies…”

“My lady,” Karlene piped up from behind Benea.

“Yes, darling?”

“There still is the matter of the beasts.”

The goddess perked up and looked at Eleanna, who suddenly looked a lot livelier. “Oh dear, that’s right. Shall they be joining us?”

“Well, who knows! Maybe your waiting staff should go out and find them, otherwise they might miss the party.” Eleanna said with a smirk.

Benea let loose a loud, high-note laugh before grinning at Eleanna. “Oh you silly little scamp, I like to think I’m host enough to go and invite my own guests.” Benea’s hand squeezed Eleanna’s shoulder before turning them both completely around to walk back to the woods. “Come on, then. In the thickets, yes?”

”God damn.” Eleanna cursed under her breath. “They’re very busy. Training, shaving, taking baths. Whatever. Let’s get our thing over with.”

“They… shave in the woods?” Benea offered Eleanna an arched brow. “Well that explains your wardrobe, dear. Don’t worry, Benea is here for you.” She said while Eleanna huffed and crossed her arms, Benea practically dragged her along at that point.

A soft and playful hum vibrated from the goddess’ throat as she came to a stop before the thicket of woods and underbrush. She put one hand on Eleanna’s shoulder and the other she gently stamped her staff into the ground, putting her weight onto it.

“Now where could they be?”

Eleanna slapped Benea’s hand off her shoulder and squared up to her, staring daggers. “That’s none of your business, princess. I mean it when I say this, stop wasting my time. We’re either fighting or you’re getting out of my way and letting me do my job. I don’t have time for any tea, or any biz-quits, and definitely none of your lava coconut shampew or whatever.” As Eleanna finished her rant, more than a dozen beasts rushed out of the woods and surrounded the pair of goddesses, with another dozen growling and hissing and barking at the paladins to keep them away. Their salivating mouths, bloodshot eyes, and twitching muscles betrayed their lust for blood.

Benea cackled. “No need to be so frustrated, darling, it’s all in good fun — here, I’ll show you.”

Before Benea’s sentence could even finish, a powerful white flash overtook the scene. Everything was swallowed by the nothingness and while all senses shut down, Benea’s were alert — and her voice permeated through the veil. “I think I’m going to indeed try the coconut lavender idea first, dear. What do you think?”

Of course there was no way Eleanna could respond as all went white.




Sluggishly, Eleanna awoke and found her feet. She groaned, just now feeling the way her body ached. It was that familiar way that she felt each morning, after waking up from a long night of sleeping on the ground… The only difference being, of course, the fact that she couldn’t really think that well.

Sand shifted somewhere behind her – Footsteps. She shot around, or at least tried to, and found herself tripping on something and falling face-down into the hot sand mid-turn.

A familiar half-baked chuckle reached her ears. She twitched and pulled herself together, feeling a full face blush starting to build.

“You look… cute?” It sounded more like a question than a statement. Eleanna looked up with a raised eyebrow to see her ex-boyfriend, Sun, sitting on the sand right in front of her. His sharp teeth glinted in the sunshine, and his carefully groomed coat of short silver hair seemed to glow with the heat of the desert.

As she processed what he had said, Eleanna felt her heart skip a beat, but for entirely the wrong reasons. He said she looked ‘cute’, which was wrong. She wasn’t supposed to look ‘cute’! She was supposed to be fearsome and awe-inspiring! As the Bronzed Bloom of the Daman Lands, she had a very specific image to uphold! Cute just wouldn’t cut it.

“Hah.” Eleanna faked a chuckle, looking away from Sun. He was just messing with her, like always… She hadn’t changed her clothes in months, so she was anything but cute…

A spark went off in her head as soon as she noticed a pair of were-humans nearby, happily sniffing each other and wagging their canine tails. Their coats looked clean and brushed and shiny, and their scars were no longer visible. They looked more like regular pet dogs than war beasts.

“No way…”

Following that, she noticed some hissing and saw a pair of anaconda-like were-beasts admiring each other’s heads, or more specifically, the massive red bows tied around their heads. They, too, looked rested and clean and nothing like the wild beasts that they were supposed to be.

“No, no, no…” Eleanna’s breath came quickly as she rushed back up onto her feet and examined the area around her and Sun. All the were-beasts that she and Were-Taker spent months training now looked like snobby pets and showed no sign of wanting to taste even a small drop of human blood.

Once more since waking up, Eleanna dropped to her knees, shaking.

She tried to get her breathing under control, but it did no good. Her chest felt tight, her nose started to run a little, and the final straw was when she noticed that her outfit felt much lighter than usual. No longer was she wearing her layers upon layers of leathers and chainmail, but a dangerously light, long white dress with a disgustingly fancy pleated hem and equally ridiculous green floral pattern cut around the waist.

Sun walked up to her, carrying something in his right hand and using his left to pat her on the head.

“There, there, dummy. You do look good, you know.” He said, in a tone that made Eleanna look up into his eyes, her own eyes wide and teary. Deliberately, he knelt in front of her and grabbed a lock of her hair and sniffed it, nodding to himself after doing so. “You also smell good. First time for you, huh?”

The bronzed warrior gasped as soon as she noticed the state of her hair and the silver flowers weaved in with it, plus the lavender-coconut scent it gave off, and bawled.

“Oh, and that’s not all, by the way.”

“H-How?! I’ve been h-humilliated, Sun! I… I didn’t even get to throw a punch!” Eleanna said in between sobs.

“Well, at least she gave you a farewell gift. Look.” He said and placed a moderately sized woven basket in front of Eleanna just as she began to calm down. The contents were just dozens upon dozens of small blocks of lavender-coloured blocks. “They don’t taste too bad.” He admitted, pointing at one with a large piece missing.

“Food…? You ate food an enemy gave us.” She wiped at her eyes, a small sob wracking her body as she picked that same half-eaten block and gave it a bite as well, cringing at the extremely strange texture and astringent taste. She spat it out, with Sun laughing at her scrunched up face. “It sucks.”

“Yeah, it does.” Sun said in between laughs, finally patting her on the head again and standing up, offering her a hand which she took. “I do mean it when I say you look and smell good though, as it stands I could even take you to the Festival of the Bronzed Bloom.”

“What? Really? But I thought-”

“That was a lie, the truth is that women have to wear ceremonial dresses to attend the Festival, and I knew you would have flipped out if I tried to force you into one, Anna.” Sun sighed and picked up the gift basket with one hand and held Eleanna’s hand with the other.

“So the reason you broke up with me…” Eleanna asked demurely, looking away and allowing Sun to lead the way.

“Was because you ignore all our customs. You like to think you’re the ‘Bronzed Bloom’ or whatever, but in reality no one really likes it when you crash into our festivities and change everything. I broke up with you to get you to travel and see reality. Being a Goddess won’t automatically mean that you’re going to be in the right or have the power to be victorious every time, dummy.”

Eleanna was silent for a long time, and throughout that time the couple walked through the desert, leaving behind the reformed were-humans and now heading for the heart of the Daman Lands once again.

After an hour or so of walking, Eleanna spoke again.

“My armour is gone… And my spear…” She whispered sadly.

“Yeah, maybe now you’ll get to wear real clothes and stop tying trophies to your spear like a freak.”

“Why are you so mean to me, aren’t boyfriends supposed to be the opposite of mean?”

“Aren’t girlfriends supposed to bathe and wash their clothes at least once a week?”

Eleanna sighed and kept walking.




Eleanna


VIII


Eleanna smirked and felt her heart pump faster. In the shadows cast by the oasis’ palm trees hid Were-Taker, covered by his usual coat. He’d insisted on coming to the first Party, just to make sure his little “friends” behaved properly around his boss.

It had been quite a while since Eleanna had met the now-famous beast tamer and in that time the lizard-man had managed to tame a large amount of were-humans for Eleanna and turned them from a collection of wild beasts into a proper warband.

A simple glance at the entourage would give anyone all they information they needed about them – Werebears, Werewolves, Werebulls, Werelions and more were all present, with the one shared trait among them being their dishevelled, the dried blood around their mouths and staining the hair down their necks, and the neat and straight scars along their backs and limbs where no fur grew.

Some of them stood on two legs, while others stood on four or even slithered along the ground, all with their bloodshot eyes, twitchy muscles and foaming mouths. Eleanna could barely believe the fact that they weren’t just jumping on her and devouring her right then and there, and he knew that she had to thank Were-Taker for it.

Turning once more, she let her eyes set themselves on her goal – her immediate future. 14, Anak’thas’ land. She’d gotten to know the lamp-guy a bit throughout their days as travelling buddies years ago, and so she knew that there was no way in hell that he would just ignore what she was about to do.

She had taken her time teaching the Daman Peoples how to stay strong in the face of adversity and how to cope with failure and tragedy, and now she had the opportunity to finally teach others the same.

She chuckled to herself at the thought, feeling a strange kind of giddiness in her belly as she took the first step towards the green, temperate land. Behind her, the ground rumbled with the step of a hundred rabid werehumans.

IX


The last rays of sunlight were vanishing as she approached the fledgling town’s gate, made of rickety wood and guarded by two men wielding spears of bronze and clad in thick leathers.

The men fidgeted with their spears nervously, giving each other a glance as Eleanna stopped just a few metres before them. One of them recoiled at her height, being at least a full head taller than him.

“Good Evening, gents.” She said, her voice muffled and distorted by her helmet.

“Evening.” Said one of them, half his hair grey and the other half brown. Wrinkles covered his face and a nasty scar lined his jaw.

There was a long, tense silence..

“Welcome t-”

“Don’t tell me you two are all this town has to offer?” Eleanna interrupted the old man, stomping her spear on the ground so that the skulls tied to its tip clacked against each other. “Your skulls are too big for my spear, don’t you have small dogs or something? Also what happened with the land’s aura? It feels like that bitch’s aura instead of lamp-guy’s.”

The men tensed up and tightened their grips on their shields.

Something banged against Eleanna’s helmet, denting the metal. She turned to see it as it landed on the gravel. A sharp piece of stone.

She turned to look at the man on top of the watchtower next to the gate. He was preparing his sling for another shot and as he did, he shouted.

“You better leave now, freak!”

Eleanna wheezed, and then she started laughing as loud as one could possibly laugh. It was a belly laugh, one that surely echoed throughout the entire settlement and burned itself into everyone’s mind. Before long and as the men lowered their guards a little, she snorted one last time and sighed happily.

“That’s more like it!” She gave them a thumbs up with her left hand, then pointed behind her at the darkness below the canopies of the pine trees of the forest. “Look there, will you?”

So they did, and a dozen pairs of glowing pupils stared back at them. They weren’t human.

The youngest guard gasped and slipped, falling flat on his bum and knocking the air out of his own lungs. The older guard rushed to his side and propped him up.

“W-What do you want?! Leave us alone already! We’ve never even met you!” Begged the old guard.

“Hey, don’t blame me! I’m just trying to teach you a lesson here. Life is not fair and tragedy can strike at any moment, you know? In this case, you should be thankful it’s me who found you and not someone else. So here’s the deal-” Eleanna started, only to be interrupted by another sharp rock hitting her helmet.

“We don’t make deals with bandits, leave!”

“By the Light, shut the fuck up slingboy!” screamed the old man.

Eleanna crouched down and grabbed the stone, throwing it at the young sharpshooter’s head so hard it ricocheted off his forehead and tore a hole through the straw ceiling of the watchtower. The teenager crumpled into a heap, unconscious. “Yeah, you should probably learn some manners, boy.” Eleanna muttered under her breath.

“... So here’s the deal, we’ll come back next dawn and meet you and everyone who wants to fight for their life here. And don’t think of escaping through any of the other gates, ‘cause we obviously have eyes on those as well. Defeat us fair and square and you get to live. Fail and both you and everyone in the city dies. Sound good?”

“No!”

“Good. Be back in eight hours. Gotta love those short summer nights huh?” Eleanna gave one last chuckle before walking back into the pine woods, the monstrous sets of pupils vanishing soon after and leaving the guards to rush into their settlement and towards their leader’s house.






Eleanna


VII


The family life really wasn’t for her, Eleanna thought as she sat at the top of one of the great dunes to the south of the Daman Lands. Sure, playing the part of girlfriend was fun, so was the spontaneous romance and even the jealousy… But she was far grander than all of that. Yeah, she definitely was too important to spend time chasing mortal dreams… Or was she?

She furrowed her brow and looked at one of the tiny skulls that decorated the tip of her spear. Her first kill, the Squirrel. Its empty eye sockets seemed to judge her every decision… So, tired of feeling like she hadn’t spent her time wisely in the last few months, she ripped some fabric off her underclothes and tied it around the tiny skull as an improvised blindfold. Life was difficult enough as it was without being judged by the dead.

She stood up and gazed at the horizon. In the distance, she could start to make out the hints of a change of biome, her great dunes giving way to a more temperate if somewhat mountainous land, a land which she was sure housed many treasures and trophies to be collected. One day, she’d visit it and say hi to the locals. Today, however, was not that day.

She stood up and turned around, regarding her small following of demi-human pilgrims with a nod and a clench of her jaw, prompting them to huff, stomp the sand, and turn towards the modest pyramid just a few paces behind them. There were offerings on each of the fifty-six steps, and the offerings ranged from fruit and vegetables all the way to hand-crafted weapons, emblems or idols.

It was one of Eleanna’s duties as the Bronzed Bloom, that of choosing whether to acknowledge her Seekers’ struggles or to disavow their goals.

And so Eleanna walked up to the first of the fifty-six steps of the Sanctuary.

Carrots. Freshly harvested. Lumpy, dirty, but with a colour only matched by the redtails to the west. A short and stocky man approached Eleanna. His cloak almost concealed the fact that he was hunched over and trembling. Almost.

“Leaf-Talker, your carrots are full of nutrients. The colour on them is unmatched. Your goal?”

The short man nodded, standing just a little bit straight so that the cloak no longer concealed his long, scaled muzzle full of sharp teeth. “T-To grow the best vegetables in the Daman Lands, B-Bronzed Bloom.”

“Are these the best vegetables in the Lands, Leaf-Talker?”

“N-No, Bronzed Bloom. They need to be more appealing.”

“Good. Keep working on your craft.”

The man let out a breath he had been holding and withdrew back into the crowd.

Eleanna then moved to the second step, where a curious little rodent sat rather patiently. It had beady little eyes and an orange and white coat of fur. It seemed to shrink a little as it saw the squirrel skull tied to her spear but a large man, taller than Eleanna by at least a full head (which was impressive, considering Eleanna was taller than every mortal she’d met before), walked up just in time to prevent the rodent from running away. Instead, it scampered over to the man and climbed onto his shoulder.

“A tame beast.” Eleanna said slowly, never taking her eyes off the rodent.

“Excuse me, Bronzed Bloom. Not just any beast, but a were-human. C’mon Chip, speak.” The man cooed to the rodent.

“bronze”

The man beamed at Eleanna with such intensity that she couldn’t help but smile back. “You’ve tamed a were-human. How? Tell me your name.”

“Were-Taker… And that’s a secret of the trade, Bronzed Bloom.” He explained, nodding his head apologetically.

“Your goal?”

“To become the most famous beast-tamer in the Daman Lands, Bronzed Bloom.”

“And how do you intend to do that, Were-Taker?”

“I need to do something new… Something that will definitely catch everyone’s attention! I’ve been working on taming bigger were-humans, so I’m feeling confident.”

Eleanna raised a bushy eyebrow. “Bigger were-humans? Good. Stay until the ritual is done, we need to talk about your first test.”

Were-Taker nodded and stepped back into the crowd, and so Eleanna moved to the third step…




Eleanna


III


Eleanna panted for air as she rested most of her weight on her spear’s shaft. Blood and sweat dripped freely from her body, and she lifted her arm to wipe her brow…

Only for the sensation of a thousand knives stabbing her left side to flare up.

She fell to her knees and threw up a foul concoction of blood and bits of flesh and bone.

She heaved, struggling to get any of the polluted air into her lungs, one of which felt more like a goo than an organ inside her chest cavity.

The ever-shifting, non-corporeal corpse that her spear was stabbed into soaked up her divine blood and flesh and shimmered.

Eleanna’s followers slowly found their footing behind her. Most of them walked on wobbly legs, while a couple walked on one leg, and one was being carried on someone else’s back. It hadn’t been an easy two weeks for the humans, even though they had been chosen by Eleanna herself to brave the wilds… Not to mention that their number had steadily decreased every day, no matter how hard Eleanna tried to protect them.

She knew the humans were behind her, although somehow she couldn’t find the strength to turn her head to look at them, and just breathing made her feel like she was dying. She loved the feeling.

One of the males, average in looks but just as bronzed as her and covered in various scars, walked up to her and patted her on the back of her head.

“I’d give that… 6 out of 10. Not a big fan of that moment you almost got crushed. A Goddess having to be saved by her tribe? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?” The man chuckled. Eleanna tried to laugh as well, but the sound that came out resembled a dying rhinoceros instead.

IV


Best thing about hunting ever-shifting, non-corporeal corporeal monsters? You could get a lot of vegan non-meat out of their non-existent bodies, to feed hungry mouths.

Worst part (Or also best part, according to Eleanna)? Broken bones, missing limbs, internal organs turned to mush…

Eleanna sat with her back against the node she’d claimed just a couple hours ago. Most of her organs had healed within the hour following her battle with the monster, but healing a nearly completely pulverised ribcage seemed to be taking much longer. At the very least, she could walk again, and grab things such as her spear. Not that she wanted to do it, but…

She stood up with a soft grunt of pain. The unique shuffling of her torn and damaged leather and chainmail armour alerted her partner, the bronzed, scarred man she had named Sun.

“Hungry?” He asked, eyeing her carefully.

“Nop. I just want to taste my kill. Anything left?” She asked, her voice hoarse from all the screaming she’d done while she was in the process of being crushed.

Our kill. Lots of people lost body parts to save you.” He said nonchalantly, and handed Eleanna a small piece of lightly cooked, gelatinous non-flesh. It felt unnaturally cold to the touch, as if it wasn’t actually there and she was just holding a vacuum of some sort. And yet, she could squeeze it and she could smell it.

“Bizarre.” Eleanna muttered.

“Big word.” Sun smirked.

“I’m not as dumb as I act.” Eleanna chuckled before stuffing the whole thing in her mouth.

It was bland. It also smelled like her clothes after a week of marching.

“It’s food isn’t it?” Sun said with a knowing smile. Eleanna smiled and looked at the palms of her hands. She was proud of him. She felt weird. The world started to wobble.

“Sun, do good feelings make you feel like you’re about to black out too?” She asked, bringing herself to look at her partner just in time to see him hastily sitting down, almost paler than the Shy-friend.

“Sun!” She gasped, rushing to his side only to trip on one of his feet and fall face first on the dirt. Her vision blurred and, for a second, she felt bile rise up her throat… Only for it all to go away almost as quickly as it started.

She crawled her way over to Sun’s side as soon as she could regain proper control of her limbs and pressed her fingers against the side of his neck.

He was alive, but… His body was glowing. She listened closely and felt him and noticed that muscles were shifting and organs were moving. What had previously been smooth skin was now being covered by a layer of thick hair, and his mouth pushed outwards and teeth turned sharp and animalistic.

There was nothing Eleanna could do as she sat there, and even if there was something she wasn’t sure she would have stopped the changes either, since part of the Grand Struggle was to roll with the punches after all.

A quick scan of the other tribespeople revealed they were undergoing similar changes. They were all becoming more bestial in appearance, although their looks didn’t exactly match. Some looked mammalian, while others looked reptilian and some looked more aquatic.

A very small minority of them… Well… They were more beast than man. Those regained consciousness quickly and fled into the wilderness.

Eleanna was relieved however when she saw that the injuries many of them had endured after their latest hunt were healing. Limbs were regrowing and tissue was stitching itself together.

VI


It had been months since the node had been claimed. In that time, Eleanna had managed to teach many of her new friends the secrets behind firekeeping and tool making, and was now just starting to teach the smartest among the demi-humans how to build homes out of wood, mud, clay and a little bit of stone. The times were busy, stressful, and fun. With everyone getting used to their new bodies and instincts, no one day was the same and there was always some sort of struggle going on. And all of that isn’t even mentioning the occasional encounter with the descendants of the First Predators.

In the time that had passed, several small settlements had already formed within all the different sub-biomes she’d splattered over her land. The arctic demi-humans settled in the snowy tundras to the west, the aquatic ones settled in many of the great rivers cutting through the land to the north, the wilder demi-humans settled in the hot, treacherous rainforest to the east, and the demi-humans more suited to hot and dry weather settled in the grand dunes to the south.

The land’s centre was left as a sparsely wooded plains, where everyone who wasn’t a fan of extreme climates remained.

The unforeseen mutation of Eleanna’s followers had come in very handy, with their newfound instincts and abilities more often than not being the difference between life and death in the wild lands of Dama.

Life looked promising, was Eleanna’s most regular thought.

And just like that, things got… Boring.

So she said farewell to her loved friends and partner and set out on a journey, making sure to pack all of her pieces of armour that had been damaged beyond repair during her battle with the First Great Predator. She couldn’t repair it herself out of principle, so she had to seek out someone that knew how to work with metal and leather.




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