Recent Statuses

9 mos ago
Current a completely public status bar might not be the best place to talk about your mood imbalances, just saying.
1 yr ago
what is a holiday
2 yrs ago
Having actual free time feels so weird
4 yrs ago
How did I escape Iraq? Iran.


Most Recent Posts

2 Years after their escape

The light green Foreas sat on her knees in the darkness, the front of her body lit slightly by the glow of the fire several meters away from her. She held her eyes closed and her body was completely still, forgoing any breathing. With her body slightly bent forward and her hands firmly planted on the moist mossy ground, she felt the strange nutrients this land had to offer seep into her body.

Somehow, after almost an entire year of constantly diving into this god-forsaken hole, she understood nothing about it. How could she stay alive by merely absorbing the soil’s nutrients? There was no visible light for her to receive, which would normally be lethal to her after a few days, but here…


Aella’s eyes shot open and she jumped up to her feet. A twig had just been crushed. Everything went silent, with the exception of the crackling of the dying campfire and the soft breathing of the one she called her sister.

Calmly she snuck her way to her sleeping sister and took a knee, unsheathing a long shiny blade from her left boot and nudging her sister to wake.

It was tempting to say it was pitch black beyond the light cast by the campfire, but that wasn’t true. The fact was that Aella’s eyes were, quite simply, not as sharp as Arwen’s and she could only see well in daylight.

But she could still smell the acrid fumes slowly filling the area. She could hear the high-pitched whistling… And she could feel the vibrations travelling through the ground as several large entities approached them.

Campfires. They needed the fire for warmth and light and yet it served as a beacon at the same time, calling all beasts curious enough to Divers like Arwen and Aella.


Her sister grumbled something, wrapping the ragged blanket tightly over her head. She squirmed slightly in the dim light of the fire as she changed positions. ”Not… Not now Aella… Let me… Shleep.” she said groggily, her voice tired. Yet not a moment later she sat up with a start, eyes focusing to alertness as they became noticeable in the dark. She threw the blanket off to reveal tanned leather hides acting as rudimentary armor, long hair dyed auburn with the root of a pickala plant, and harrowed features. She was not the same girl who had fled the capital two years ago, the scar that hid itself beneath her clothes, worn proudly upon her chest, was proof of that.

Quickly she picked up the long leather sheath beside the fire and placed her hand upon its hilt before turning to where the vibrations were coming from. She then looked around suddenly, giving a quick glance before she refocused on the where the noise was coming from.

"Where's Ami?" she asked her sister.

Aella was as still as a statue, turning her head slightly every time a new step was heard. ”At Jin’s Pond, bathing. Sis, I think it’s a herd of Crimson Whistlebacks...” Aella whispered, a shiver shook her to the core as her skin came into contact with the increasing concentration of noxious gasses emitted by the Whistlebacks.

Arwen gritted her teeth and then said, "And where in the gods names did Tashal run off too? Urgh!" she let out a frustrated groan and unsheathed her glimmering sword of star light. A gift, one she had awoken too shortly after running away. It had but a simple message attached to it, 'Use well - L'. She was hesitant at first, but as their circumstances changed, she did not complain.

She coughed slightly as the gasses became apparent to her nose. It was not pleasant in the slightest. One whistleback was an easy opponent, but several would overpower them. She let out a quick sigh and turned around, running. With her free hand, she grabbed one of Aella's and began pulling her along. [Lightblue]"Why'd it have to be crimsons?"[/color] she said at first before continuing, "Let's go get Ami and with any luck they won't trample too much of our stuff."

”I think they might be hunting, sis. Moving to upper layers as our new neighbor, the Shenwurm, makes its home below us?” Aella chuckled, grabbing tightly onto her sister’s hand. ”Lead us down a smooth path! I swear I will stumble on every single obstacle otherwise.” She said while scratching at her neck.

Arwen’s grip tightened around Aella’s hand. ”That damn Shenwurm… We should have gone higher up the minute we crossed paths with it. Maybe then we wouldn’t have lost...” she stopped talking abruptly, her voice seething with anger before the sounds of the night Hollow filled their ears. They traveled some more, and thankfully Arwen managed to guide them on a path with very little rocks and roots that could prove a challenge to Aella. Eventually, they came upon a clearing of glowing plants, with a steady flow of water beginning to fill their ears. They had made it to Jin’s pond, and fortunately, the smell and sounds of the Whistlebacks, were no more

The small body of water in the middle of the clearing shone with reflections of unseen moons. The air was clean but somewhat thin, and right at the edge of the pond was the form of another Foreas who was washing her arms. This one the colour of autumn and wearing a dress made of leaves and vines and plant matter of various shades of autumn. The reflected, ethereal light from the Pond caught around the Foreas and seemed to give her a visible aura.

She never turned toward the two sisters, but they both knew she was observing them.

’Whistlebacks? They must be having a rough time if they’re hunting at night... I’m glad you two are okay, though.’

Arwen gave no reply other than a sigh. She let go of Aella’s hand and made her way over to a rock near the pond’s edge, where she promptly sat down and crossed her arms over her chest. The light from the pond illuminated her own features further. Freckles of starlight twinkled upon her face. Her starry expression was blank as she looked into the water, yet try as she might to hide her emotions, her luminescent eyes always betrayed her. Especially in the pond, for behind those blue orbs of hers was anger.

Aella tilted her head and pursed her lips, then hopped over to Arwen and sat down right by her, pressing herself against her sister and resting her chin on her shoulders in order to stare up at Arwen’s face from a mere couple inches away with her wide black eyes. ”Hey, Sis.”

Arwen looked at Aella, her expression becoming softer, eyes no longer holding so much anger. "Hey." she said after a moment.

”We should make a grave for… You know.” Aella blinked and pulled away, her leaves deflating a little. ”I don’t think we’re getting any more sleep tonight, anyway… And we may not have the body but, uhm, it’s to send their soul off properly, right...?”

She nodded slowly, looking back at the pond. "I… I think we should go back to the surface. To let Camille and Uvon know… And we'll give everything we've found on this trip to them. It's what Viert would want." she said softly.

”Yeah… Yeah. He had a cute little sister. You think Camille and Uvon will take her in, Sis?”

Ami stood up, water dripping from her arms onto the grey-green mossy grass before it was absorbed into her body. Without turning toward them, she smiled softly. ’They will.’

This did not comfort Aella. She rolled her eyes and grabbed Arwen’s hand, then whispered to her sister. ”Yeah right! If she hadn’t disappeared back then, Viert would still be alive, wouldn’t he?”

It was a sudden change in her sister’s demeanor. Her free hand balled into a fist as she looked up at Aella, her eyes having dimmed as her anger sprung forth. Arwen’s then suddenly looked to Ami as she stood up, letting go of Aella’s hand and walking over to the other Foreas girl. ”Where were you?” she asked in an angry voice as she stared down at her. ”Why do you keep running off when we need you? Viert died and you barely seem to care...”

Ami turned to face Arwen, a curious expression forming. Her glazed over eyes scrambled around and tried to focus on the teen… And then, Ami smiled. ’His body may be gone, but his soul, that which made him into the person he was, is still a part of the world. It will always be. I grieve, of course, that we may never speak to him again--But his life was a beautiful thing. As beautiful as the dance performed by two Bluefeathers in love.’ Ami gave a little spin and the long leaves that made up her skirt flared up into a perfect circle.

’I miss Viert. I am so grateful for the time he spent with us, and I was saddened when I heard of his death... But, I look forward to the beautiful things that his soul will bring us in the future. Death is not the end, Arwen.’ She finished with a warm grin.

Ami’s words brought little change in Arwen’s demeanor. In fact, she grew tense, her agitation coming to the forefront as she trembled. She scowled and then exploded in a burst of rage at Ami, ”You don’t get to be GRATEFUL! His SOUL, it BURNS. Or did you forget that’s what happens to people like US! Honestly I can’t even de-” her outburst was cut short as she clutched her chest, falling to her knees as gritted her teeth as pain flashed across her face.

”Sis!” Aella gasped, jumping up to her feet and running towards her sister whom she took by the shoulders, ”W-What’s going on?!” The young Foreas asked, her leaves puffed out and as prickly as they could be.

Ami stood still, her smile vanishing. After a second, Aella felt a chill go through her body, and then an odd warmth enveloped her very core… ’Rau’Lien, was it? The name of your father. His blood runs thick in your sister.’ Aella furrowed her brow and tried to pry Arwen’s hand away from her chest, her own chest thumping like never before. Had her sister gotten ill? Maybe someone like Arwen was after all affected by the Whistlebacks’ gasses as well?

It was like her sister couldn’t breath, she just kept taking in gulps of air as she hit Aella’s hand away, before clutching at her shirt again.

’Arwen, breathe. It may feel like your lungs are burning, but you are alright. Just breathe… Think of the things you love.’

Arwen managed to glare at Ami, before she seemed to droop her shoulders slightly, and let out a deep breath. She leaned forward, using her left hand to support her as her long hair fell from gravity. ”I-It’s getting worse…” she managed to say.

Aella whimpered and looked up at Ami with wide, teary black eyes. As the wiser Foreas’ mouth stretched into a thin, flat line and her nose scrunched up, she spoke into Aella’s mind. ’Little Aella, my presence now is only worsening your sister’s condition. Before I go, know this--You must help your sister embrace her emotions. I think, should she manage to do so, she will not lose control.’

Aella rubbed her wet, shuttered eyes. ’But-’ It was then that Ami simple turned around and walked into the darkness of the Hollow. Soon, the warmth enveloping her core had disappeared and with it, any trace of Ami’s presence.

Aella wasted no time. On her knees in front of Arwen, she lunged at her sister and wrapped her in a gentle hug. ”Sis…! Arwen, let it go...” She pleaded, shutting her eyes tightly and sniffling.

As Aella embraced her, Arwen held her gaze on the spot Ami disappeared. Before long, Arwen let out a wail, and a flood of tears brought forth her grief. She let herself be held and sobbed into her sister’s shoulder for a long time. When at last light began to rise in the Hollow, Arwen pulled away from Aella, her eyes ringed with a faint red. Aella’s own were sapshot, tinged a golden hue.

”I’m scared.” she said softly. As Aella rubbed her eyes and sniffled one last time, she managed to grin tiredly at Arwen, eyes closed.

”Yeah…? Me too. I… Miss home. I miss dad. I miss mom… This world isn’t fun, sis...”

Arwen blinked, she looked down to the side, her eyes distant. ”We… We don’t have a home… Aella. And we… We don’t have parents… not those that care, anyways.”

Aella sighed and looked away. ”... I know, I know.” She smiled a little and stood up, offering Arwen a hand. ”We just gotta keep moving, right? Eventually we’ll find home...”

Her sister looked up at her and she smiled sadly, before taking her hand and standing up. ”Let’s… Let’s go to the surface.”

Aella smiled as both girls dusted themselves off. It felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders, however little. It was true, too… If they just kept moving forward, they’d find their home. It is what Ami always said and no matter how fickle the older Foreas was, she knew her stuff.

And so at first light in the endless abyss that was the Hollow, the two unlikely sisters of different species returned to their camp and packed up whatever they had left that wasn’t trampled or half-eaten. In just a short while, they were already climbing their way out of the cannibalistic depths of Galbar with a single autumn-coloured Foreas calmly following their steps.

I wonder if… No, it definitely is. Laurien, are you here to visit me?

Ami, the Great Forest Fairy

Oh the calm, the peace, the beauty…

This place was heaven to him. A place he would visit whenever he grew weary. A place where his soul could be healed and comforted… No matter what happened, no matter what it is he had done, this place… And the fairy that lived in it, were there for him.

Today he approached with a heavy weight upon his shoulders, with endless questions in his mind and doubt in his heart. His body exhausted and cut and bruised, and his humble clothes ragged and stained with blood, he walked past the beautiful scenery, brushed away curious butterflies and sidestepped friendly critters who had come out to greet him.

Somewhere along the subtle dirt path he had dropped the knife he wasn’t aware he was holding and his hand was cramping up.

He was a husk. Empty, with a hollow soul… He had no idea who he was at the moment, no idea what he had done… And yet he knew this was the only place he could really go.

The pair of heavy lidded eyes on his face lit up slightly as he heard that familiar rustling of leaves and high, almost imperceptible whistle.

As the path beneath his feet disappeared and he exited onto a wide and colourful clearing, he saw her. The Fairy herself, laying down on the ground in front of the Fountain and giggling in that silent, voiceless way of hers as butterflies swarmed the blooming flowers on her head. Droplets of the pure water of the Fountain splashed everywhere around and perched themselves on blades of grass as well as critters and even the Fairy herself. The sun, high up in the sky revealed numerous rainbows to the humble onlooker’s eyes.

It was impossible for such a place to be real. How could such a place exist so close to his bloodied, wretched home? Was he worthy of visiting such a blessed place? He cast his gaze down at the ground and went to turn around and leave.

A person like him…

You’ve grown.

The voice was sweet and at the same time, not a voice at all. It was like a thought he had imagined himself, but so completely foreign to him that he knew immediately, the Fairy was speaking to him.

“I… Have.” He replied, voice coarse, and then he turned again and saw the Fairy sitting up and looking at him. Her grin faded into a soft smile and she shook her head.

No, not really. You’re still the same small child who saved me all those years ago, aren’t you? Come, do you not wish to wash your body? She asked him as she stood up and without hesitation walked into her Fountain, the water reaching her mid calves and soaking into her fall-colored skin.

“I-” He sighed and shook his head, “I’m fine.”

She nodded and closed her eyes, then sat down in the pure crystalline water and began washing herself.

“I… I’m scared, Great Fairy.”

I know.

He looked down at his bloodied, calloused hands and his vision grew blurry and watery.

“I don’t want to become like them. I don’t want to.”

I know.

He walked closer to her and she stopped playing with the water to look at him.

“But every day I wake up and I have to do more and more and more…! Every day I am forced to follow this path…”

... I know.

His heart skipped a beat as he felt the Fairy’s embrace and he let her guide his head onto her shoulder, even though she was much shorter and much more frail. Somehow, it felt right.

There were no more words to speak. Instead he just silently wept against her shoulder. No sobbing, no gasping… Just tears. And then, as suddenly as they started, they stopped. At that point the Great Fairy let go of him and beamed a warm smile up at him.

Every time I see you you’re older, more mature, more experienced in life, but… I also see the little child that found me in the woods. Scared, alone, but with the desire to help everyone and bring relief to those in pain. You’re a beautiful person, and I know you will find the answer to your dilemma. Her smile then turned slightly sad, and she looked away.

“... Thank you. Thank you. Do you… Mind if I stay here for a short time?”

The Fairy looked at him once more, her black eyes wide and shiny, before she relaxed and nodded.

Eventually the sun had almost set. The critters and butterflies had all gone to their homes, there were no more rainbows and the only sound that echoed throughout the Fountain’s Clearing, was that of running water.

The Vallamir stirred and opened his eyes, then yawned and got on his feet then dusted himself off. The Fairy had been sitting next to him and she looked at him as he started to walk off.

... Thank you. For the last ten years. I will miss you.

He chuckled and shook his head. He’d be back tomorrow and if not, the day after that. He visited her quite often…

He had gotten caught up with work the last few days. The Living Land had passed through an area nearby and left behind the remains of many animals and so he had to spend day and night smoking meats for several days.

But now he was free. His heart was lighter than the last time he visited her. He was ready to truly talk to her, as he suspected she must grow bored of spending all her time near that Fountain.

And yet today it felt different. Yes, the critters were happy, the butterflies were as curious as ever… There were even flocks of birds happily flying above in the skies. And still it felt like something was missing.

As he walked closer to the Fountain, he realized what it was. He couldn’t hear water flowing at all. There was no rustling of leaves.

His heart beat faster and he tensed up.

As he broke into a run and reached the Fountain’s Clearing, he saw the Fountain was… Asleep. No water flowed out of it, and the small pond beneath it had started to stagnate. And the Fairy, she was gone.

He dropped to his knees and grasped at his heart. The Fairy was gone. She whom he had found injured in the forest, whom he had helped heal and got to know over the years. She who was like a mother to him… She was gone, just like that.

There were no tears, of course. Had she even existed? Such a beautiful being. Such a pure soul, such a loving heart…

Indeed, the only evidence he had of her ever being there were his memories and the feelings rampaging through his heart.

The Universe seemed a lot darker without her around.
Hollow Galbar

They were on their way back… After spending weeks carrying out every one of his student’s Exploration Rites in the cold north, they were finally ready to go back to the Capital. They would return, and Li’Kalla herself would see the kids he’d put so much effort into, she’d see how he’d forged them into useful members of society, and she’d be happy.

He, Ank’Unta, head of the Unta Valthumir Clan, had to receive Li’Kalla’s smile and approval again. He had to, lest the other members of his clan lose faith in him and seek to replace him.

And yet, as Ank’Unta and his students retraced their steps and journeyed into the Clayspire Valleys, they saw it.

There was massive crater, the size of which he had never seen before in his time. And in the middle of the crater, far down into the earth, was a huge hole.

A Hollow.

Many of the former rivers of the land had carved new paths for themselves, all ultimately leading into this great Hollow and falling into the endless depths below, falling so far that the water turned into mist, and disappeared into the darkness.

The stone that made up the crater had accumulated a thin layer of soil lately and blades of grass were starting to grow on the surface. Large rock outcrops held the occasional tree, and from those trees blue winged birds took flight and joined their fellows in large, beautiful formations in the skies.

Lizards and mammals crawled and ran along the ground. They hunted, foraged, mated. Scarcely weeks ago, the Pyres themselves had fallen and battered the land, and yet life thrived-

“Last to the hole has to do everyone’s laundry!”

And just like that, Ank’s students broke into laughter and began running down the sides of the crater.

“H-” Immediately he had begun calling out to the group, but he fell silent as his eyes took in the sight of the dark unknown in front of him. A place that no one else had mentioned to him, most likely completely unexplored…

The darkness called out to him. True, his group right now consisted of children… Students, who could barely make it on their own in the wilderness around the Capital… But who knew what was down there? Was it even dangerous? Probably not, he thought to himself. He had already realized that it was probably a falling pyre that made the crater, and if so then that meant those unexplored depths had to be lifeless. Ancient and dark they may be, but there was no way for anything underground to survive…

He sighed and put on a tired smile, bags under his eyes. He walked after the group, many of whom had by now arrived at the edge of the Hollow (Thank the Gods for giving them such speed and grace, honestly) and were looking over the edge into the misty drop below them.

Yeah, it should be perfectly safe, Ank nodded to no one in particular.

A rock hammer hit against a wooden stake with a dry thump. Over and over again, and on the last thump, Ank turned his sight to the two kids, one Valthumir boy and a Vallamir girl, around whom everyone else had gathered. What used to be laughter and jokes now turned into nervous chatter and mumbling. Ank raised an eyebrow and as he came up to the back of the group, saw that the kids were prepared their shiny new gadgets, plant fibre ropes, to presumably make a descent into the depths.

His heart skipped a beat as he saw them hold onto each other and prepare to jump down. He craned his neck and saw the shadow of a rocky ledge quite a distance down. Their rope would reach it, but climbing back up would probably be very difficult…

He straightened his back and narrowed his eyes. It should still be safe right? He asked himself, and then a cold sweat broke out all over his body as he remembered the warning he’d been given years ago-

’Never go underground without a good spear and a dozen warriors by your side. Not even if your life depends on it.’

That’s it, he pushed some kids out of the way and tried to grab a hold of his two best students. “Stop! It’s dangerous-” He shouted, but trailed off as they slipped just a hair’s distance away from his hand, and dropped into the Hollow. He saw their excited, defiant faces looking back up at him just before they disappeared into the thick mist, and he saw their shadows land on the ledge below and run off, laughing victoriously.

Until there was no more laughter. Instead, they heard the running stop shortly after they landed, and even though they couldn’t see the kids below, they could still hear their pained whimpers, cutting off any of their words.

“M-Master…!” Was the one word that reached Ank’Unta’s ears.

After that, he heard retching, crying, then screams. And then it all became silent.

Minutes passed, and eventually Ank managed to tear his gaze from the Hollow that had just devoured his students, and looked into the panicked, worried faces of the rest of the kids around him. They all looked to him for support. Even his nephew, Inu’Unta, who had come with him as his assistant and had become an adult just before joining these Rites, seemed to be on the verge of tears.

Ank’Unta took a deep breath and held it for what felt like minutes, and when he exhaled it seemed as if he had become a man of steel. Determination dawned on his face. His posture held his head high and alert, and his fists tightened.

Without saying a word he fell to one knee, placed his leather pack on the ground in front of him, and started going through it.

“Uncle…” His nephew Inu muttered as the other kids, who of which nine winters old was the youngest and eleven was the oldest, started chatting among themselves. The girls started sobbing, and the boys tried their best to keep it together, but almost every single one of them had watery eyes and was sniffling.


Without lifting his head, Ank’Unta spoke. Usually he had a relaxed tone, a bit of silly one sometimes, but now… Now, it was different. It was as if they were dealing with a completely different person just then. He wasn’t the goofball teacher anymore. No, now he was a veteran Explorer. One of the founders of the Order, and the one who had been trusted with training the newest generation of Explorers.

“Inu’Unta, you’ve performed your duties well in these Rites, so I’m promoting you. you’re now my permanent assistant. You will accompany me on every Rite I oversee, as well as any other assignment in which I may deem it appropriate to bring you along. Now, listen to your first order, Inu’Unta…”

“P-Promoting me? Now?!” Inu’Unta’s voice cracked, and he took a step back as sweat formed on his brow. Ank could almost hear his nephew’s heart from how hard it was beating.

“Your first order is to make camp at the edge of the crater. Listen, edge of the crater, so that means all the way up, not right here on the edge of this place. Make sure all the Trainee Explorers undertaking the Rites are safe, and that none of them do anything stupid.”

“But Master Ank!” A boy suddenly shouted and pushed his way up to Ank’Unta as he went through his pack, inspecting every one of his tools and rations. Ank merely brought his hand up to the boy’s face and pushed him back. the boy tripped and fell on his backside with a grunt.

“Inu’Unta, you will maintain the camp for two nights. Should I not be back by the third day, you will make your way back to the Capital and report directly to Li’Kalla and Pontifex Elun on what has taken place here. Give every detail. We must secure this area before our enemies do.”

Inu’Unta stared at his uncle for a few moments as the boy who had been pushed stood up and caught his breath, and then he nodded somberly. “I understand, uncle Ank. I will see it done. Alright, kids, let’s go.” He said and started herding the scared kids up the crater.

But one of them stood behind. The angry kid, he was a black haired Vallamir with ugly prominent fangs.

“Master Ank, I want to go with you. I want to save Io and Pen! They’re my friends!!”

Ank’Unta ignored him, tied up his pack and wore it across his back once more, then stood up and checked his stone knife and adjusted his gloves made of the most durable mud-treated leather available to Explorers.


He looked at the kid. His name was Oli. He had no clan name, of course, seeing as he was an orphan.

“Oli… No. It’s too dangerous, kiddo.”

“I don’t care, I’ve trained a lot, haven’t I?! I can do it, Master, let me go with you!”

Ank’Unka sighed and ruffled up Oli’s black hair.

“I will most likely die down there, Oli. Your friends, too, are probably going to die… That’s if they’re not already dead. You heard the same things I heard, didn’t you? Listen,”

Oli teared up and sniffled, his fists balled up so tightly that he was drawing blood with his nails.

“Oli, go with Inu’Unta, finish your Rites, become a great Explorer, the greatest the lands have seen. I know that’s been your dream for a while now. I know you can do it… And when you’re ready, come back here and find us and take us back to the Capital.”

“... Take you?... But you just said you were going to… To die…” He sobbed.

“... I don’t want my soul to be trapped underground… So please, when you find my bones, bury them in the Capital.”

Oli fell silent, and after a while nodded. Ank’Unta half-smirked, bags under his eyes, and delved into the darkness using the same rope that the two kids had used.

The Conception of Lies

The pitter-patter of gentle rain blanketed the land as thunder rippled across the dark night sky. Lightning flashes were sparse and distant, an omen of the storm that was fast approaching from the south. A herald of the storm swiftly approached the old manor, a testament to time and devotion of self. Standing tall and proud the figure's crown glistened with droplets as the light of the manor illuminated his nebulite features.

The guards posted to either side exchanged looks, but before they could open their mouths to speak, the figure smiled and the desires were laid before him in the darkness. Compelled with what they wanted most, the two began to walk past him, hurrying down the path.

He then gave a knock upon the door, his heart sound in what it wanted. His mind made up, he wanted to try, even if she did not want him. Even now he wondered what had propelled him to come back? Had he missed her or simply lusted after her? He did not know. Where once he despised her, she had shown him kindness and he spat on it for one who he could no longer love. She was one of the few gods to show such kindness, in a world that despised him. And now, he had returned to her, but for what purpose?

He knew.

In the end, despite all of his wanderings and teachings to mortals, his thoughts of self and the things he had learned, he was lonely.

And he hated it.

Mortals made such poor lovers, for even if they desired him and he loved them for it, they were weak of flesh. He needed something more to quench the burning desire he had. And who better than the one he knew so well. The one who's desires were known to him.

The great wooden doors to the Manor creaked and complained under a sudden pressure. Metal scraped against wood, and soft footsteps came from the other side of the door. And then a hidden Vallamir-sized door opened in the center of one of the massive entrance doors.

Li’Kalla herself walked out, dressed impeccably and as well-groomed as always… And she had long, pointy Valthumir-esque ears. She smelled of spring and her wings were nowhere to be seen. She looked around, noticing her guards beginning to walk off into the settlement below and around the Manor, and then her eyes fixed on the familiar, tall, eye-catching entity.

“Li’Kalla…” he whispered in a voice of honey and silk.

”Do come inside, please.” She said as she turned around and walked straight back in.

He followed the Goddess inside, a content look upon his face as he watched her. “How have you been?” he asked, making small chat.

She chuckled and shrugged while walking, as graceful as ever. It almost seemed like she couldn’t be real, after all. ”I have met… New people. Perhaps I might tell you about them one day. Why are you here?” Li’Kalla asked with curiosity heavy in her voice, her words flowing out in an unseen rhythm that seemed to match the sway of her hips.

There did not come a reply for a moment, the silence between them palpable. “I think we both know…” he whispered in her ear as he floated beside her now, reaching out to grip her left wrist. Li’Kalla stopped. Breath caught in her throat, and her face and ears burned up, the latter drooping a little as she couldn’t help but avoid looking at the male leaning over her shoulder.


It happened in a flash, where once they stood in the hallway, next he had pushed her up against the closest wall. Li was pinned beneath his firm grip, and his wide glowing eyes seemed to penetrate her soul. “I know what you want. And I've been wanting this the same as you, for so very long. Do not see me for what I am, but who I can be... For you. Only then can your heart be content. Only then will you let your desires blossom. Trust me. You've chained yourself down for so long. Become free.” he said, breath warm and sweet as he moved his head closer to hers.

Her breath came in rapid bursts, her heartbeat quickened, and as she gulped down excess saliva in her mouth, her ears twitched and she turned her head towards that of the man’s, coyly meeting his eyes and whispering back at him. ”I, uh… I… I want to...” She trailed off, her lips slightly parted and eyes half-lidded as she took in the male’s features and as their lips slowly touched, the world melted into blissful oblivion.

One week later...

The Goddess lied down, arms wrapped as far as they’d go around the chest of her mate. She stared at him as he slept, at the way his chest rose and fell…

They were both nude under the sheets, something that still felt new to her even though they’d spent most of last week like that.

So she leaned her mouth in close to the man’s ear and whispered with a tinge of excitement, ”I have conceived.”

It took a moment for him to realize the gravity of her words and when he did, his eyes went wide. He sat up quickly, “W-What? You’re with child?” he said shocked. Slowly he got up out of bed and began to pace, leaving Li’Kalla wrapped up in the sheets. “It was a possibility…” he began to say. “I’m not a stranger to this but… Is this what… No… No… This is a happy moment.” But his face betrayed his words. He stopped and looked upon her. “I… I won’t be able to stay, you know that right? My curse, those interruptions, they’ll only get worse.”

Li’Kalla slowly sat up, dragging the sheets with her. She looked at him in amusement. ”You did almost burn the bed last night. You’re lucky you had me. But you shouldn’t be worried about the curse. I-I mean,” She stammered, blushing a little while shrugging nonchalantly, ”If… If it makes you decide to stay with me, I could probably break the curse for you.”

He tilted his head at her before blinking rapidly. “You would… You would do that, for me? After how I’ve treated you… In the past.” he said, briefly looking at the floor. She merely pursed her lips and looked away.

”I’ve felt at ease… This last week, at least. I don’t have any memory like this, so… Even if it’s just to have you stay for one more day, I think… I think I’d like to undo the curse binding you.”

The man walked over to the bed and sat down next to her, pulling the goddess into a warm embrace that made Li’Kalla make a happy little noise. "Of course I'd stay. I'd love that more than anything, Li." He said quietly, but with excitement in his voice. She beamed up at him and nodded, suddenly determined to see it through.

”We have to become one, in that case. I need you to allow me into your soul, that’s the only way I can think of… The only way I can get close to the knot that binds the curse to your soul.” Her grin faltered, and then she gently pulled him down to lie down on the bed with her, and laid her head next to his. ”Once you lower your defenses and let me inside, it’ll be like falling into a dreamless sleep. It won’t last long, and I promise to head straight for the knot.”

For a minute he was silent before he kissed her brow and looked back into her eyes. "Okay… Just… Please try not wander around too much. I wouldn't want to lose you in there." He said playfully. She chuckled and wrapped her arms around his neck, watching him until she felt his soul unravel and open up to her senses.

A wave of nausea washed over her body once she noticed the turbulent black sludge that her mate’s soul seemed to be, but she had promised.

Slowly she let her own soul unravel enough to mingle with his and… Suddenly she found herself in a dark landscape.

There was nothing but darkness all around her, with the exception of a single shining star almost far enough to be invisible. That was her objective. She had tuned everything heavily tinged with Laurien’s essence out, and the only thing that remained visible was that blinking light in the distance…

She walked towards it. It felt like eons that she spent walking in that endless darkness. Sometimes, unseen entities and presences brushed against herself, but she ignored them and kept walking. Getting distracted now and allowing the full spectrum of Laurien’s soul to be detected by her own would be dangerous.

Eventually she arrived at it. It was a large, heart-like knot made of a translucent fiery red crystal. The void around it wavered with heat, and the surface of the ever-more-complex beating knot rippled with occasional flames, as waves in a still pond after one had thrown a stone inside.

Numerous cords extended off into the void, dissipating and becoming one with Laurien’s soul the further they went. At this, Li’Kalla grunted.

”He’s spent all this time with this thing inside his soul… Binding him to a life of running. A Family Goddess that curses a being to never be able to raise a family like one normally would… Ridiculous, isn’t it?” She chuckled, ”But this effort, the beauty of this Curse… It’s a shame I have to undo this. I really wanted to have that sleepover with you, Arae. I guess you won’t be in the mood for that after this.”

And with that Li’Kalla approached the Curse knot and began undoing it, little by little. The great heat coming from it threatened to set the Goddess ablaze, but the ever present coat of water on her skin protected her. There, inside Laurien’s soul, fire and water mixed to create a massive cloud of steam. She would never suffer from a congested nose again.

It had been hours. The sun had set moments ago, and Li’Kalla had watched it go, standing there on her balcony dressed in nothing but the simplest gowns. A cold breeze found its way through the open crystal doors and scratched its way across Laurien’s bare body, which was not even covered by sheets.

The man that was Laurien stirred at last, groggily coming to his senses as he lifted his head to see Li. He smiled, getting up and joining her.

"I feel as if a great burden was lifted off my shoulders and Aaldir… he says the curse is gone for good." He wrapped his arms around her and then pressed his body close to hers. "Thank you, Li'Kalla, my love." Li’Kalla smiled, closed her eyes and placed her slightly burned hands over his.

”It was nothing. I do have something to ask of you… Um, can you… Can you stay a man? If my faithful find out I’ve been with a woman I might lose their trust forever...” She asked, her smile fading away a little.

"A Valthumir man? I prefer my regular body... but for you… I can do that. Just know sometimes… I might change for a bath." He said with a chuckle.

Li’Kalla gave Laurien a peck on the lips and chuckled as well, ”Well, you can be a nebulite man if you want. It’d still be more easily explained than the female option, you know.”

"I guess we'll see what they like more." He said, kissing her on the neck. Li’Kalla squirmed a little and pressed back against the man.

”You’ve got so much energy… I like it.”

"Mhm. It's who I am… So, did everything go alright in there?" He asked softly.

She was silent for a bit, ”... Yeah, it went fine. I tuned out every superfluous bit of information, so I couldn’t peek into your dirty little secrets… Aw, and I wanted to find out your opinion on which pet is better, cats or dogs.”

“What are cats and dogs…?” he asked with a sigh of relief. Li’Kalla made a face and sighed.

”Hmph, I guess I’ll have to bring some dogs to this world. They really are the best. Furry little things with long bushy tails. They’re always happy to see you and as long as you train them properly, very disciplined as well.”

“Oh, so like the Foreas?” he mused.

Li’Kalla pursed her lips, and then spoke, ”Yeah, like the Foreas.”

And the sun set, taking with it, a curse.

Months passed upon the island, many blissful days enveloped with warmth and what some would call love. Li’Kalla’s belly grew all the same, with a child of divinity no doubt. The man who had been Laurien, took a new name, Rau’Lien, God of Ambition. He became known to the Valthumir not long after his child’s conception. He walked among them by her side, as the purest of Valthumir, acting the part of an ambitious god. He told them many things, many lies, but a mortal mind was a fragile thing. It needed coaxing, and it did not matter how they worshipped the one known as Laurien, only that they did. The persona of Rau, was merely a tool, one that served its purpose in the end.

Eventually, the Valthumir no longer began to question where he came from, or how Li had come to take him for her own, only that he had existed since the dawn of time with the other pantheon members, and he was to be loved, for he loved them all. It stoked their claims of superiority, pureness and ambitions. If there were two gods who shared in their beliefs, surely they were set upon the path of righteousness. Faith, was absolute and Rau was an enabler. In secret, upon many a time, he had to enact his own powers to sway them. Desire was a useful tool throughout all of it.

But upon many a night, Rau’Lien would slip away from the manor, under the cloak of darkness, and meet the Valthumir in secret, telling them dark secrets and stoking their desires and wants. He walked amongst them in his Nebulite form, for where there was light, there also needed to be darkness. The Cult of Whispers was soon founded by those most addicted to his persona and powers of want. The mortal Valthumir grew fiercely loyal to improvement, vanity, and fulfillment of their own desires- to fanatical levels. Rau gave to them many gifts, a mirror that showed their deepest desires, a pitcher of gold that poured whatever the holder’s drink of choice was(With liquids so sweet it became a drug in its own right), and several rings of amethyst. A token of membership. Such rings acted as amplifiers for ones desires, slowly pushing the wearer to extreme levels of obsession and Rau cursed them to be desired, to be worn without questioning why, as a right of passage. A passage to what, they did not know, only that the secret would come in time and they welcomed it. The cult worked in secrecy, with only whispers hiding in the light’s shadows.

Eventually, back in the light of day, Li’Kalla grew bored with the Manor, and deigned to visit the Tree. Though she gave her excuses, saying that her pet Foreas needed go back, he knew better. She wanted a change of scenery, something beautiful to look upon, to one day, show the baby and how could he deny such a request? He loved her, after all, and the child that grew within her belly. And so they went.

Sometimes, he wondered how his own children were doing. Though he missed them, they felt like a distant memory… Distant…

”... And then she dropped to the floor and stopped moving for hours, soaking up the sunlight. So yeah, if you get a Foreas friend don’t keep them hidden away from the sun for that long!” Li’Kalla laughed as she flew besides Rau’Lien. Laven herself was holding onto Rau for dear life, her leafy head being quite ticklish due to her constant squirming and twitching. In the distance, the Tree became visible. Quickly it became taller and bigger, big enough to reach up past the sky. Blue-winged birds flew around the Divine party in rhythm, singing their midday songs and breaking off in pairs once they flew into the Forest and slowed down.

Rau laughed heartily, no longer in his Valthumir disguise as he tried to keep Laven calm against his chest. The Foreas just wouldn’t keep still. “There it is. Exactly as I remember it!” he said loudly. “Laven, you’re home.”

Immediately upon coming under the great canopy of the Tree, Laven grew calm and looked around in wonder, even though she couldn’t see far enough. She looked at Rau and then at Li and, eventually, fell asleep in Rau’s arms. Li rolled her eyes at the Foreas girl. ”Is she actually trying to make me jealous?”

And as the last pair of bird broke off to go up into the canopy of the tree, the two deities descended and landed right in front of one of the entrances to the Eternal Tree, a multitude of light translucent insects flying off in all directions as their feet touched the grass blades.

Several hundred Foreas could be seen inside the Tree mingling and interacting with each other in many ways, and a few of them saw it fit to go up to the divines and stare at them with twitchy leaves and grins on their faces.

“Now now my dove, Laven could never replace you. She lacks a certain… Quality.” he smirked, placing her down in a bed of leaves. “Now she can be content with her kind, for a time.” He then walked over to Li, and took her hand within his own. With his free hand, he rubbed her protruding belly. “Any day now…” he murmured as Li’Kalla smiled fondly.

”It’s been a very easy pregnancy. Usually Vallamir and Valthumir females have much more difficult times than I have had. It’s great being a God, isn’t it? I can’t wait to see our child’s face. What do you think he’ll look like?” Li’Kalla asked with a tilt of her head, ignoring a foreas that came up and inspected her belly much like Rau’Lien.

“He… Or she, will probably be the most beautiful or handsome human you could ever imagine. Only after his or her mother of course.” he hummed, patting a massive Foreas male’s face as he looked at them. He had roses growing from his back.

”Aw, what a flatterer.” Li’Kalla squeezed his hand a little, ”Is that how you flatter every low-born Faithful girl you see in the Capital?” She asked with a smirk.

He shrugged. “It’s hard to resist what one dreams of. You should see their little faces, so excited. Ah, but they never do compare to you, love.” he said, giving her a quick peck on her cheek. Li’Kalla huffed quietly and then pulled on Rau’Lien’s hand as she walked into the Tree. Most of the Foreas didn’t spare them a second look, bothered mostly by the queues they’d formed along the crude stalls in the center of the ground level in the Tree.

The biggest stall was one that smelled like honey, where several foreas could be seen interacting with actual live beehives, silently laughing when bees would curiously land on their flowers and leaves. There were many others however. But Li’Kalla wasn’t interested in those.

”Rau, I created this place. Or perhaps it is better to say I gave it the power it needed to grow. And still, without any direction from my part it grew to be something so beautiful. Did you know, there is no crime here?” Li’Kalla asked her lover as she weaved through the crowd of leafy sapients, leading him further into the Tree and toward the spiral path downward at the far end.

“No crime?” Rau said, looking around. “That would make since… They all live peacefully here, with one another. It’s… Idyllic to say the least. I’m a little jealous even. To live so freely and without care, and to know that you are loved regardless of who you are and what you’ve done…” his voice drifted off for a moment, before he said, “Where are we going, anyway?”

”Below. I want to show you where they grow and where they spend their first days.” Li’Kalla said and with no delay brought him down the spiral path, through several levels.

“This place… I didn’t realize how deep down it went.” he murmured.

As they went down they saw how increasingly complex the form and shapes of the tree became. WIth roots coming through entire levels, and what seemed like normal-sized trees covering whole areas of certain levels not unlike the Eternal Forest. Most of the levels however had some sign of Foreas activity, whether they be beds of leaves, empty and occupied fun stalls, or simply petting zoo levels full of wild (non-predatory) animals. Bioluminescent strips of bark from the Eternal Tree kept the levels brightly lit, and when night washed over the land, the bioluminescence toned down to simulate moonlight.”Unbelievable, isn’t it? For a tree to have such a complex form… They’ve been left alone for most of their existence and they’re this complex already.”

“I was surprised to see them interacting with bees… but this… It is strange. They’ve been able to do so much… without hearing, or eyes, or even speaking. It’s odd to see that these mortals can be so independent and enjoy their existence all the same.” he said, squeezing her hand a little.

”it makes me think...” Li’Kalla sighed contently, going down one last level and coming upon the great Pod Chamber, where row upon row of pod was lined up against the wall of the three and in root-like growths in a maze-like circular manner around the center of the level. Most of the pods then were occupied, glowing softly and steaming a little. Bioluminescent streaks and shapes littered the walls, almost resembling artistic representations of beasts and trees and clouds, but in the end looking like a sea of squiggly light of changing color.

Li’Kalla led Rau’Lien to the center, where a small patch of forest was kept by the Tree. Dozens of plant-like animals frolicked in the small area. Forean Hounds with their bushy hyperactive tails; Forean Macaws with their strange petal-like feathers… Even bees (regular, non-planty ones) had made it into the place somehow.

Seeing her approach one of the Hounds ran up to Li’Kalla and licked her hand, then jumped over to Rau’Lien and sniffed him up and down with its tail whipping against the air.

Rau’s attention was on the room, his eyes wide with curiosity as he took it all in. He then noticed the Florean hound and asked, “When you said… Dogs… Is this what you meant?” he then bent down to stroke the creature.

Li pursed her lips, ”Well… Not entirely, but they’re quite close. The ones I was referring to are made of flesh and hair. I don’t know how these came to be honestly, but they’re quite cute so I like them anyway.” The Hound being pet by Rau panted happily and dropped down to the floor to show Rau its belly, its whole body twisting along with the wag of its tail. ”It likes you.”

Tentatively, Rau pet the hounds belly, watching it wriggle with joy. A small smile crept on his face. “Such… Simple desires.” he breathed. “All it wants is physical contact, stimulation. To be… Petted.”

Li’Kalla smirked and crossed her arms, ”Reminds me of someone.”

He glanced at her and smirked. “I could say the same, you know.” he said, standing up. “There’s even proof.” he looked at her belly, then back up to her eyes with a sly smile.

She stammered and blushed, looking away and shielding her face from his gaze, ”... N-Not entirely wrong, I guess.”

“Oh come now, you don’t have to look away.” he sighed, walking up to her and putting his hands on either side of her face. “You’re so cute when you blush, you know. It’s a shame you try to hide it all the time.”

LI’Kalla smiled sheepishly and lowered her hand, ”Well, maybe-”

There was a splashing sound as liquid spattered onto the soil.

”Huh...” Li’Kalla looked down and felt as warm liquid ran down her legs and stained into her dress. Then, in a panicked moment she looked up at Rau’Lien with wide eyes and opened her mouth to speak… Only to let out a loud grunt of pain and double over while holding her belly. ”Uuuungh… Rau… Rau!”

In an instant, Rau was holding Li and whisking her into his arms. He looked around, and saw a bed a leaves next to an empty pod. It would have to do. As he flew over to them, he spoke, “Hmm. This was not the place I thought it would happen, but it will have to do.” he said, laying her down and up against the pod. “This might sound strange, coming from a male, but I do have experience with birth.” he smirked knowingly. “Just relax as much as you can, you are a god remember. Your pain tolerance should be much higher than a mortal… Just breath Li… Just breath.” he said, preparing the area, before looking at her again. “Everything is going to be okay.”

Li’Kalla gasped and grunted as contractions came and went. For a second, amongst the sudden pain and strife, she looked at Rau’Lien and smirked, either sweat or rainwater pouring down her brow.

There was a brief flash of light and in an instant, Li’Kalla had bound and shackled her own Divinity to the deepest pits in her soul. Temporarily, her body would be as frail as a mortal’s.

Her smirk faded away as she suffered another painful contraction.

”R-Rau…! I… I want to experience… Nngh-” She groaned and grabbed fistfuls of leaves, ”... I want to live…!”

Rau frowned slightly, “Always the masochist, my love. A mortal birth… A test to be sure.” He grabbed one of her hands, letting her squeeze as he waited for the baby. “You will live. Now… Push.”

It was a long, strenuous birth. At times she stagnated, other times she had bouts of serious hemorrhaging… But the worst was the pain. She had never quite felt anything like it. At times she had to call upon her divine powers to ensure the health of the baby, but never once did she allow herself to be comforted by her divinity. Not once.

At the end, she lied there on the now red bed of leaves, pale as a ghost and with bags under her eyes. She’d never been quite so disheveled, and yet she was so exhausted she couldn’t find it in herself to care.

She just had the energy to cradle the little baby in her arms close to her face. It, or she, was covered in fluids, bloody and disgusting, but she was completely hers. She’d made it, without help from any unearned divinity.

The baby’s breath was shallow, she was silent, and her heartbeat was weak.

Li’Kalla’s eyes filled to the brim with tears, and her heart sank. Suddenly she was no longer just exhausted and wounded. She was broken.

”It’s weak… It’s going to die soon. There’s nothing I can do...” Her voice was but a whisper, and she shakily tried to hand the baby to Rau’Lien, ”I-I want you to hold it, while it’s alive… Our baby...”

Rau sat before Li upon his knees, his eyes distant, but watching the small child in Li’s arms. It took him a moment to register that Li was holding her to him. Gently, he took the baby within his hands, and looked upon the child that was his. She was small, so so small, and her ears… They were pointed. His eyes widened at the baby that was not human and something inside pushed him to act.

“I-I can save her… I can… I know-I know how to save her. She’ll be fine- she’ll live and be strong I just need…” he looked around, getting to his feet. He let out a growl of frustration.

“I need a foreas. I-I need a foreas. Yes. A sacrifice. Life for life.” he quickly looked back at Li. “I will be back, I swear it.” but before he could take a step, something grabbed his ankle. He looked down to see a root, squirming. The forean animals went to his side, watching, begging him to stay. The root squirmed again, wanting to pull him towards… a pod.

The tree, it wanted him to put the baby in the pod. He looked down at the girl, her tiny breaths ragged and her heartbeat weak. There was no time to make a decision. He ran over to the pod, kissed his daughter upon her brow, and placed her within. The pod closed with no delay and the root that guided him there disappeared into the soil.

When it was time for Rau’Lien to go back to Li’Kalla, he’d found her passed out peacefully, tears and sweat fresh on her face, with several Forean Hounds sitting around her curiously. Rau stared at her for a moment, then, laid down next to her, putting her head on his chest.

Quickly after the birth, Li’Kalla’s divinity returned to her body and she recovered. Ever since the moment Rau’Lien told her about their daughter, she refused to leave the Pod Chamber of the Tree, sitting in front of it and taking comfort in the warmth it emitted. A few of the Hounds and Macaws had taken a liking to Li’Kalla over time, and they frolicked around her while one of the macaws sat on top of her head. She was completely still, after all, staring blankly into the distance.

Rau had gone back to the Capital a week ago, for as much as he wanted to be there with her, Sun’Kalla had arrived with grevious news of murder and death afoot. Why it warranted a divine’s attention, he did not know, but since Li would not sort it out, the task was up to him. It was the least he could do. Their farewell had been bittersweet, but there was a certain tension between them after how they both reacted to their daughter's birth.

There was a sound, not unlike that of a plop, followed by a warm breeze and the smell of autumn. Li'Kalla turned her head to look upon an open pod, her glazed over eyes suddenly regaining light as she perked up.

Inside the pod, there was a small child. No longer a fragile baby. Her pale skin was coated in pod juices and her white hair was wet and matted, tinted slightly green. Her features were petite, nose, mouth and pointed ears all small. Across her sleeping face sat a galaxy of small purple freckles that twinkled back up at Li. Slowly the girl stirred, stretching out her soft limbs, rubbing and then opening her eyes to reveal that they glowed much like Rau's but unlike his, her pupil and iris were visible, with her eyes being a light blue. Not fully a vallamir or nebulite but something else entirely. She blinked up at Li, face blank before a small giddy smile grew.

She opened her mouth to reveal shiny pearl's of teeth as if to say something, but no words came out. Instead she looked at Li curiously and seemed to shiver with excitement or cold. Eventually she emoted with happiness, bringing her hands up to cover her mouth as she beamed with a smile as she bobbed up and down. The girl then extended her arms out to Li, as if wanting a hug or to be picked up.

Li’Kalla grinned and, with tears freely falling down her cheeks, she pulled the girl out of the pod and hugged her tight and close, kissing her forehead a thousand times. After a moment, Li’Kalla moved to sit on her knees as she kept hugging the girl. ”... My baby… My Arwen... You’re okay, you’re okay.”

The girl hugged her mother tightly, not wanting to let go. But at the sound of her name, she looked up at Li, then pointed to herself, eliciting a nod from Li as she leaned back a little and inspected the girl, Arwen, slowly and carefully with a soft warmth in her eyes. ”Yes, yes, your name is Arwen my love. My, you grew up fast...”

She squinted with joy and hugged Li again before looking back up at her, with curious eyes. She then pointed to Li. ”Oh, me? I’m...” Li’Kalla pursed her lips for a moment, then smiled softly at Arwen, ”I’m your Mom.”

Arwen smiled again and clasped her hands together, tilting her head to the side as she stared intently at her mother’s face. After a moment, she reached out a small warm hand, and placed it on Li’s cheek, her white eyebrows raising slightly. Her hand moved across Li’s cheek and to her long pointy ears, and with her other hand, Arwen touched her own. She frowned slightly.

Li chuckled and rolled her eyes, ”Be patient love, yours will grow long in time.” She sniffed Arwen’s hair and recoiled a little, then nodded and stood up, grabbing Arwen’s hand in the process. ”Alright, so let’s get ourselves cleaned up, right?” She said and gently pulled on Arwen’s hand toward the center of the Chamber, where a small creek flowed. Arwen blinked on shaky legs, her only support being her Mother’s hand as she flailed her other hand for balance. She looked back at the pod next to her for a moment, her frown deepening but at the tug of Li, she turned around. Arwen then tried to walk, but fell over, her body halting mid-air. At this, Li’Kalla came to a stop and helped reorient Arwen onto her feet, as the girl laughed silently. Li checked her for injuries and when satisfied, she knelt down and motioned for her to climb onto her back.

”I’ll give you a ride. Don’t worry about walking yet.” As Arwen nodded and began to awkwardly try to climb onto her mother’s back, there was a hissing sound from behind.

Li’Kalla turned her head around sharply and saw the pod next to Arwen’s begin to open. Liquid spilled out, steaming. A scent not unlike cinnamon wafted around the air and once the pod opened fully, a smaller than usual Foreas fell out of it on wobbly hands and knees, coughing and wheezing.

She was a light shade of green, and she had a head full of scalloped vivid green leaves that reached down to her small shoulders. The leaves twitched and shook and droplets of the pod liquid flew everywhere.

The child-like Foreas looked up and her eyes locked with Arwen’s. It was strange, seeing a Foreas look so focused and so… Present. The small plantoid sniffed the air, stuck fingers in her flower-like ears and shook her head wildly to get all the liquid out of her. Once she was done, she dared stand up and, wobbly still, stretched her jaw and grinned at Arwen. Her face and body were an exact, plant-like replica of Arwen’s, with the main difference (aside from the obvious plant features) being a slightly shorter height.

”SIS! Sis! Why did you go so quickly?! Uugh, I miss the Dream already, why do you have to be so… So… Like yourself?” She asked, then slowly walked over to Li’Kalla and Arwen and looked at the two of them. Li’Kalla stared at the little Foreas curiously, then sighed and rubbed her head, getting a small happy gasp in response. Arwen attempted to walk to the plant, but ended up falling into her, but this did not stop Arwen from pulling the Foreas into a hug as they both fell to the ground in a heap of silent and loud giggles.

”Aella is your name now, little Foreas. You’re with us.” At those words Aella stopped giggling and poked her head out from under Arwen to look at Li’Kalla with wide, shiny black eyes.

”Yay! I’m with you Sis!” Aella cheered and laughed. Arwen beamed a smile up at Li, then kissed Aella’s cheek and hugged her tightly again. She then turned and looked up to Li, stretching out her hands.

Li’Kalla pursed her lips and picked Arwen up, then wordlessly took her to the creek, little Foreas in tow, skipping and jumping around. After a few moments the sound of running water reached their ears and the sight of the tiny creek blessed their eyes. Quickly and efficiently Li’Kalla set down Arwen, motioned for Aella to move closer and began undressing herself.

With one hand she reached into the very makeup of the air around them and molded a small pot, and with the other she tested the water for temperature and cleanliness. Once satisfied with the latter, she filled the pot up with water, heated it up a little bit and looked at her daughters expectantly, ”Okay, what’re you girls waiting for? Huddle up closer, this will take some time.”

And so they did and were washed by the hands of the Goddess. Li’Kalla quickly went to work after that, fashioning the two simple blue, yet effective dresses to cover themselves. Satisfied with her work, she placed Arwen on her back, and led Aella up to the surface world. Once they reached the great hollow, the two girls wore expressions of amazement and child like curiosity. Though she couldn't speak, Arwen wiggled around and Aella could hardly contain her joy. The small foreas went up and talked to every foreas as she could, who loved her as one of their own. When it was finally time to leave, Li brought them outside, the world big, bright, and new.

Immediately Aella spread her arms and jumped out in front of her mom and sister, spinning and dancing and giggling, a wide smile on her face. Her leaves bounced with each step and the hems of her dress flared up beautifully, until slowly she stopped spinning and just looked up at the sky through the gaps between the canopies of the trees of the forest. She tried to grab the circular rays of light, but when her hand phased through them she merely chuckled.

”Light! Right, Mommy?” Aella asked while turning to Li’Kalla and Arwen.

Li’Kalla winced and sighed, ”Yes… Listen, Aella... call me Queen-Mother, alright?”

Aella tilted her head and pouted, ”But-”

”No buts. Now girls, I’ll take you home, to the Capital. Your Father is waiting for us there, Arwen.” She said as she bent down and spread her arms and wings and when the girls cuddled up against her, she grabbed them tight and securely and took off with a mighty flap of her majestic wings, making Aella squeak as all the air kept in her tiny lungs was expelled suddenly. Her destination was the Capital, and if she kept up a good pace they’d be there in a very short time…

’Sun’Kalla.’ She spoke directly into the mind of her favorite follower.

’... Yes, Arwen’s fine now. She… Grew up a little bit too fast, however. Listen-’

’No. Rau’Lien should be dealing with that right now. Listen, are you in the Capital? Perfect. I need you to get two of the most beautiful females you can find and tell them that they’re now working directly for me. They will be my daughters’ handmaids. Have them prepare the chambers next to mine in the Manor, make sure there’s two separate beds and that there’s some fresh food ready.’

’I know. Thank you for your loyalty, Sun. We should be there just before midday. Yes, I know it’s almost midday, I know you’ll be able to pull it off.’

’Yes, we can consider the labour increase your reward for this favour.’

’I see, in that case thank you again, I will meet up with you and the rest soon, make sure they know what to expect.’

Rau sat within the manor, staring at a dying fire as he thought about the previous night. He had confronted his cult about the killer, a being that eluded him entirely. Since arriving back in the capitol, he had went to work establishing his authority in the absence of Li, and moved to find the one responsible for the murders with no luck, at least that was until he met with his followers. They told him that the bodies were orphaned kids, their flesh sown together and their organs missing. Bodies left to be found in the gutters, where no one would miss the deceased. They did not know if it was a male or female who was behind it, only that they seemed to enjoy their work.

This perplexed Rau, and he had his own suspicions, and his own worries. He knew how dangerous a mortal could be, to their own kind, and to the gods. It was no wonder the gods were so angry with Laurien. Rau himself, did not feel threatened, but for the sake of his children, he feared.

A dark thought indeed. As the fire went out, Rau stood up and shifted back into his Valthumir form. There was still more work to be done in the capital.

A few hours later that day, as Rau’Lien was on his way back to the Manor, he caught the sight of Li’Kalla landing on her personal chambers’ balcony, going into her room with two small girls in her arms.

He could have flown up to meet them head on, but there was something about the situation that made him pause and reflect as he walked up the steps. There were two. Two small beings being held by Li and both looked old. Older than what he had been expecting. As he walked up the stairs, his body morphed back into Laurien, who then paused by a large mirror. She looked at herself and frowned. It had been so long since she had been in her own body, her own skin… Rau was simply a persona set in place so she could have what she wanted, and that was Li. She played the part of a loving husband well, but at her core, she would always be a mother.

And she had her own children, ones she missed dearly. She wondered where they were, if they were safe, if they thought about her, if they hated her. Now she had two more little ones, however that happened, and not to mention all of the valthumir females who… who also carried Rau’s children. They were but bodies too her, things to use, and yet she did not want them to die, or to be hurt. She wanted them to be strong, and powerful. That way maybe she wouldn’t feel so guilty about leaving them all the time, without protection. There was only one way to save them, and to make sure they would know her love forever more. She just needed a little more power and her blackness could flourish.

She sighed, and changed back into Rau. He put on a smile, and walked on, excited but nervous to meet the newest additions to their little family. Eventually he made his way to Li’s room, and pushed the door open.

A wave of sounds spilled out from the room. Innocent, weightless giggling, rustling and muttering. Once he entered the room he saw a little Foreas girl bouncing on Li’Kalla’s mattress and a slightly taller girl sitting on the edge, laughing silently with the Foreas. On the other side of the massive bedroom was Li’Kalla, sitting in front of her dresser and fixing up her appearance and dress.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to Rau’Lien, with Li’Kalla standing up and walking to him and holding his hands almost immediately, then smiling at Arwen. ”Arwen, this is your Father, Rau’Lien.”

As Rau and Arwen looked upon each other, a feeling of calm washed over him as Arwen stretched out her hands, lips curled into a smile. He looked upon Li again, and kissed her cheek, before walking them both over to the bed.

“How did she get so big? And who is this one?” Rau asked Li, as he looked at Aella.

Li’Kalla tilted her head in tiredness but Aella beat her to speaking. ”Iiii am Aella! Queen-Mother gave me the name, it is very very cute. I like it. Ooooh! So if she’s Queen-Mother, are you King-Father?”

He smirked at Li, then let go of her hand and said, “You may call me mo- Father. Father will do, or dad.” he said quickly. Rau then crouched down in front of the two, and chuckled, pulling them both into a hug, before picking them up in each arm. Arwen began running her hands along his black skin while he looked at her. Her appearance was anything but human, her ears and eyes said as much. A mix of Li and himself, it led him to wonder what the other woman would birth. He then looked to Aella, and noted her eyes, they held intelligence, not to mention she could speak, something he had not heard of yet.

“Aella can speak… but Arwen cannot?” he said, turning to Li, who pursed her lips and shrugged.

”Give her some time, Rau. She spent weeks inside the pod, it seems to have accelerated her growth to make up for her weak birth. I’m sure she will gain use of her speech eventually, as she learns new words.”

Rau tilted his head as Arwen looked up at him with her blue eyes. He kissed her on the forehead, eliciting a wide smile, then kissed Aella on her head. “I see. I think what she needs, is perhaps a teacher? Someone to help her learn? She looks to be, what age do you think? Eight winters? Ten winters?”

”Ten, I’d say. And the little Foreas nine or eight.”

”I’m not little!” Aella said quickly with a tiny frown.

Rau chuckled and said, “Of course my darling, you have the biggest heart here, after all.” Aella huffed and closed her eyes, but after a moment cracked one open and chuckled.

”Well, I must make sure the girls’ handmaidens are here and that they’ve prepared everything to my standards. Rau, would you mind taking care of the girls while I do that?” Li’Kalla asked Rau’Lien, starting to walk toward the door.

“Of course my love, they are in good hands.” he gave her a warm smile, watching her leave. He then looked at Arwen and Aella and said, “What shall we do while your mother is away?” Aella immediately perked and wrapped her small arms around him as far as they’d go.

”I wanna see things and I want a headpat!!”

Rau laughed, looking to Arwen nodding her head in agreement. “Very well. A tour, and headpats.”

And they went on their way.

Silver & Laurien

It was dark.

And yet, it was warm and cozy. Arms were wrapped around her and someone was running their hands through her leaves, sending chills down her spine. She felt herself smile, and even though her wide open eyes could catch nothing more than moving shadows in the darkness, she felt comfortable.

This was the body that the Eternal Tree had created for her, the body that had so lovingly been accepted in the Dream.

It was a beautiful life.

There was a scent of roses and Silver knew who it was. A large, bulky male that had his back covered in roses was shuffling up to her under the pile of cuddling Foreas. He gently brushed away the sleeping females crowding Silver and wrapped his hand around Silver, waist, hoisting her up to his wooden, featureless face.

He sniffed her and let her down.

Silver’s leaves quivered as she looked up at the large shadow that was the male with a grin on her soft, autumn-orange face. After a few moments, her grin subsided and she stood up. The male, whom she’d come to think of as Rose, immediately took a step closer to her in anticipation and then Silver began walking with Rose in tow, the earth rumbling slightly with each of his steps.

Eventually they had walked far enough from the Eternal Tree that its canopy didn’t hide most of the sun, and in a rather lush clearing, Silver found a large pile of leaves. She’d been visiting this place frequently over the last few weeks. It was, in a manner of speaking, her private space. A spot where she could freely experiment with her new body and abilities without other Foreas trying to cuddle her to sleep.

Rose stared at Silver for a few minutes as she in turn stared at the pile of leaves, and finally decided to walk off with his leafy, flowering head rustling happily.

Silver smiled and sniffed the air, taking in the scent of thirteen different flowers and the scent of the special plant fibre underneath the pile of leaves in front of her.

She took a minute to brush aside the pile of leaves and under the autumnal fallen foliage, was a carefully grown, seamless, completely organic and living, set of clothing.

The softness of the leaves that made up the skirt, leaves even longer than the swept back bipartite growing from her head, was unrivaled by any other Foreas. The durability of the plant was incredible, to the point that it could actually stand up to textiles in its own right, and most importantly, the scent was so delicious, so calming, that she was sure nobody would be hesitant to approach her now, even the shyest of Foreas.

And so she put on the prototypical attire and lied down on the grassy hill amongst the orange leaves, letting herself and her clothing soak in the sun.

As time went on, her clothing began to fit better against her shape, and it secured itself in place. It was perhaps a little bit of a cuddly, clingy dress, but nothing else could be expected of a Foreas-made item.

She caressed the leaves clothing her and closed her large, cloudy eyes, taking in a deep breath.

She would use the time she let the clothing grow used to her to practice other abilities. A very useful one was one she called Soul Sense. This one she developed after finding a foreign energy while floating in a river and infusing that energy with her larger-than-usual soul. The ability allows her soul to expand and, that way, she could gather information about the world without actually using her senses!

Silver exhaled and shivered as her spine tickled. And just like that, she could ‘see’ and ‘touch’ everything within that clearing at the same time. A furry, twitchy species of rodent was skipping along the upper branches of a tree thirty paces to her left; a buzzing insect was pollinating a uniquely large tulip thirteen paces over her head; and in the distance, Rose was warding off predators with his heavy footsteps and rustling leaves, she could even feel the spot where a particularly nasty animal had torn off some of his hardened bark, right under his right forearm. SIlver wanted to hug him.

And then a familiar presence came into the perimeter of her Soul Sense. One hundred and fifty feet over her head, the tall, beautiful humanoid that had meant and still meant so much to her, had appeared. Her heart skipped a beat and she sat up, eyes wide and sparkling. Suddenly, the world went dark and she returned to seeing only shadows and shapes.

She’d lost her focus, she realized, and after a deep, long breath, she could see again. Carefully, she stood up and hid behind the trees. The tall figure passed by rather quickly and Silver began tailing her. She kept her treading light, and whenever the figure looked in her direction she would blend in with the autumnal foliage.

All she wanted to do was come up to her and embrace her, but… She felt different. She’d changed, just like herself. Maybe things would be better off if she just avoided meeting her, Silver thought, maybe they weren’t meant to know each other in their new forms…

And yet she knew she couldn’t and wouldn’t stop herself from going up to her. As she stepped out of hiding, she realized they were in front of one of the many entrances to the interior of the Eternal Tree.

What was she doing here? Had this been her objective all along, the Tree? Had she been looking for her all this time?

She wondered all these questions as her leaves quivered and rustled and her cloudy eyes stared at Laurien.

The woman was surrounded by other Foreas, who all seemed to paw at the dark beauty. She wore a dark dress that seemed to flow together with her skin. and her hair twinkled with stars, as always. There was a smile upon her face, one of genuine affection as she pet the Foreas around her.

Silver merely watched, and resisting her impulse to go up to Laurien, sat down and brought her knees up to her chest, resting her chin on them.

The Foreas were insatiable. Everytime one received affection, two more demanded it. And for everyone that demanded affection there were two more that gave it. The air was filled with the sound of rustling leaves, and eventually two large males approached the crowd from inside the Eternal Tree, watching the foreign woman closely.

”Oh how delightful you are.” Laurien purred, before walking over to the males with a following of restless females. She placed her hand upon the closest male, one with tulips on his back, and smiled again. ”A desire to protect, but also to be loved. Remarkable.” she said, floating up to gently caress the wooden face.

The male pawed at the ground for a bit and then lied down. Many of the smaller, humanoid females cuddled up to him as he did so, though the way they approached him was much more relaxed and composed than when they approached Laurien.

After a while, most of the attention had shifted from the foreign woman and only a few females remained near her, with the others having gone into the Tree.

Among those was Silver, who had not moved as she watched the scene unfold.

It was then that Laurien spotted her. A curious look fell upon her face as she floated towards the small Foreas who sat alone. The Foreas looked up at her and smiled warmly, then mouthed a single word, ’Laurien.’

The woman paused in mid air, before landing before the Foreas. She knelt down before her and asked, ”And how do you know my name, little one?”


Laurien froze. Her eyes wide as she stared at Silver. ”S-Silver?” she said slowly and unsurely. Silver nodded and stood up. She pointed at her mouth and ears and shook her head.

It only took a moment before Laurien embraced her, with Silver returning the hug. The tall woman held her for a long time before pulling away and saying, ”How?”

Silver pursed her lips, and shrugged. The only reason she could hear Laurien speak was because of her Soul Sense being active, but even that wouldn’t give her speech. And how could she tell such a complex story without language? All she could do was look up at Laurien and tilt her head.

Laurien touched her face, and also tilted her head. ”A body without speech… Or hearing. Do you miss the old one?”

It’s not that she didn’t miss her old body, but… She liked her new one. She loved bathing in light, and she liked her own natural scent and softness. In the end, what could she do but shrug and smile up at Laurien? Maybe a change of topic is what they needed, and so Silver took one of the long autumn colored leaves of her dress and held it out for Laurien to touch, with a proud glint in her eyes.

Laurien blinked for a moment and then gently touched the dress. She rubbed it as she looked at Silver and nodded her head in approval. ”V-Very soft.”

Silver’s grin faded a little, and her leaves stopped their slight constant quivering. Laurien dropped her hand and looked down at the ground. The woman lifted her head up and asked, ”Are you happy?”

Was she happy? Silver stared at Laurien blankly, images of her past in Orvus’ farm flashing before her eyes, until she slowly began to nod. Laurien smiled and placed her hand upon Silver’s cheek again. ”I am glad.” she finally said.

They stayed like that for a few moments, until Silver pulled away and patted her leaves to settle them down. She closed her eyes and remained still. Little by little she experimented with her soul, expanding it and contracting it, stretching it, twisting it… All in an effort to somehow find a way to communicate to Laurien…

She felt a shiver behind her eyes as a silver thread manifested in her mental landscape. Slowly, she stretched her arms toward it and tugged at it. Immediately the thread went taut and Silver grit her teeth.

Outside her own mind and soul, Silver had been standing with her eyes closed for a minute, when suddenly she opened her eyes and looked straight at Laurien.

I've learned how to do the same thing Orvus could do! It's like this thread in my soul,when I grabbed it I felt a connection to you.

A surprised look fell across her face as Laurien listened to Silver. She brought her into an embrace once more as she stroked the small flower’s head. ”Your voice… Such a lovely voice.” she purred. Silver grinned and pressed her head further against Laurien’s hand, turning it side to side as her leaves rustled against and caressed the Demigoddess’ hand in turn.

What do I sound like? I cannot really hear myself, it’s like I’m thinking words directly into you. Also, am I as pretty as I used to be? It’s the one thing I’ve been really worried about. That maybe you wouldn’t like how I looked now...

”No no no, don’t think such thinks my love!” Laurien exclaimed quickly. ”You’re as beautiful as you always were, no matter what form you take, or how you sound. You are what they call a Foreas, Silver. A plant being. They are all so simplistically beautiful, it only seems right for you to join them.” she said softly.

Silver tilted her head at Laurien after pulling away from the embrace. This time, she turned around and shook her body a little before wrapping her arms around herself.

You know, when Li’Kalla allowed me limited control of the body, I… I-I saw bits and pieces, of her conversations with you. You’ve had children, Laurien?

”Silver… I… Yes. I did have children. You were… You were long dead my love, I never thought you would come back to me. H-How was I going to know?” she said, her voice forlorn.

The Autumnal Foreas deflated a little and tilted her head back to look up at a sky she couldn’t see.

Can I meet them? How old are they?

”I… Don’t know where they are. Arae took them from me when she cursed me, Silver.” Laurien said tearfully.

Silver’s leaves fell flat against her head, with her longer bipartite leaves going limp. A breeze whistled past the treeline surrounding the entrance to the Eternal Tree and caressed the bodies of the two females, one a plant and the other a mammal.

Slowly Silver let her arms fall to her sides, and she turned her body slightly to cast Laurien a side glance through her eyes, which were welled up with thick tears.

Laurien outstretched a hand towards her, but paused mid way. ”W-What’s wrong?” she asked, and Silver’s mouth fell slightly agape.

Someone took your children, your babies… And they cursed you… Why would someone do something so evil?

”Because she thought I needed to be punished for what I did. Yet, if she had truly cared to begin with, she would have tried to help before… Before it happened.” Laurien whispered.

Silver turned around and stared at Laurien, wiping her silent tears. Some other Foreas peeked out from inside the Tree and looked at the curious two.

... What did you do, Laurie?

She tilted her head and blinked at Silver. "I tried to avenge you my love. Orvus killed you, so I stabbed him but before I could kill him, an avatar was born. An evil thing but since the meteors have stopped falling… I think he met his fate. But now you're here and alive, and it's wonderful. All my prayers have been answered." Laurien said.

You… Stabbed him? But, he was my friend, and your father. You tried to ‘avenge’ me, even though I was happy he offered me such a peaceful way out. Laurien… What happened to you?

Silver’s leaves prickled up a little and she shook her head slowly, her expression turning neutral.

Laurien narrowed her eyebrows. ”Why are you shaking your head?” she asked suddenly.

Silver turned her face away and closed her eyes.

Because you told me you stabbed my friend, the man who gave me the body you enjoyed so much. The body that I lived in for months, waiting for your return after you left without saying goodbye! You tried to kill my best friend. And you didn’t do it to avenge me, because you KNOW his death wouldn’t have honored me in the slightest.

A shocked look fell upon her face and she said nothing for several moments. ”I did say goodbye… You were asleep and you looked so peaceful…” she began before Silver interjected.

You should’ve woken me up. I would’ve gone with you, I would’ve protected you from whoever did this to you. I would’ve died to safeguard the Laurien I know, the one who actually feels and gives love.

Laurien recoiled. She then spoke, her voice slowly growing angrier. ”That Laurien died when her father told her that he killed her only friend. That Laurien died when she realized her entire life she was nothing but an errand girl for a god who was too afraid to seek the one he wanted most. That Laurien died… That Laurien died when she realized her life was meaningless. You have no idea what I went through all those YEARS Silver! For decades I lived with people who only saw me as the sister to the one they truly loved. I had no one, but you. And you were dead! DEAD!” she said standing up. ”And now you’ve been given another chance, one with me, and you berate me for the actions I took… How could you?”

Silver emulated a sigh, but of course she couldn’t inhale or exhale so it was completely silent. After that, she walked up to Laurien and wrapped both her hands around one of her lover’s. And what did you expect? For me to praise you for trying to kill the one who gave me the life and body that allowed me to meet you? For me to bend down and kiss the ground you walk on? Laurien, we’re lovers, aren’t we? And… Lovers want to help their other half be a better version of themselves each day, don’t they?

”You… You want to help me?” she said shakely, her voice reminiscent of a scared child.

Silver’s leaves rustled and she smiled reassuringly, Yes! You’ve been alone for so long! That would make anyone go insane. I know that, I understand, because I was trapped in darkness for a lifetime as well and the only thing that kept me sane was company. I know the cure to your predicament, you know.

”W-What’s that?” she said, a tinge of desperation in her voice.

The ultimate bandage to any broken relationship. Apologize. Apologize to anyone you wronged, even if you don’t mean it. Even if they don’t accept your apology, the relationship will be in a better spot than before and you can rest easy knowing you did all you had to do.

Her face went blank and she said nothing for a long time. Eventually, Laurien let her hand drop from Silver’s. She looked away and said, ”I… I can’t.”

Silver’s smile vanished and she let her arms drop as well.

... Why?

Why should I apologize… When they were the ones who wronged me?” she said, looking at Silver misty eyed.

Because... Silver pursed her lips, Because they think the same thing. No one wants to trample over their own pride, Laurien. Someone has to take the first step.

She sighed. ”For the last few years I've felt lost… I questioned everything about myself and I realized something… I was afraid. I always thought… Doing what I did was the right thing… Perhaps I still believe it. He always loved Arya more, so much so he created me just to go look for her. I shouldn't blame her… I shouldn't… But I see her face anymore and I get irrationally angry. I stuck by her side for years with the Dreamers and I could tell they only let me stay because of her. They didn't love me like they loved her. And then Li'Kalla came to the Eye and it brought up old feelings and I thought she would love me but she couldn't… Perhaps she does now, but then I was lost in dark thoughts… But now, they feel so normal." Laurien breathed. "I've become a Demigod, did you know that? My powers are of desire and I can see yours and all of theirs…" she waved her hand at the Foreas. "You should pursue them with passion my love, but I fear I cannot join you, no matter how much either of us want. I'm sorry."

Silver took a step back, her heart suddenly burning and aching. She struggled to stay on her feet, and in a moment she lost control of her Soul Sense and watched as Laurien’s form became a blurry shadow. At that moment, she wished for nothing more than to be able to breathe so she could be breathless, she wished for a voice so she could be speechless. As it stood, her vision wasn’t even clouded up when tears began to flow.

And despite her heart having just been ripped out, as her tears became like rivers down her pale cheeks and nose, a shaky smile graced her face.

Demigoddess, huh? I understand… I understand, Laurien, we should walk our own paths. I do. I do, and yet it hurts so much... Silver shut her eyes tightly and doubled over with a hand grasping the organic attire covering her chest.

Laurien quickly fell to her knees before Silver, catching the small foreas in her arms. ”I’m sorry… I’m sorry I hurt you.” she took a ragged breath.

Silver just shivered and twitched in Laurien’s embrace, resting her face against the demigoddess’ shoulder. She lost grasp of the thread connecting her to Laurien and went mute. After a few moments, another breeze blew past them and the earth rumbled with the gentle, rhythmic steps of a great hulking male. Roses on his back, he made his way to the weeping Silver and nudged the two smaller being with its featureless face.

As Silver pulled away from Laurien’s grasp, Rose softly grabbed her by the waist and hoisted her up onto his neck, and then he walked into the Eternal Tree, past a few curious Foreas peeking out from behind bushes and trees.

Laurien watched Silver go, a single tear falling down her cheek. She then blinked, and collected herself before standing up. ”Goodbye… Silver…” she whispered, knowing her words to be final.

She then floated up, far up to hover over the tree. It was were Aaldir waited for her. A constant reminder, but at least he wouldn’t leave her, not yet anyways…


Goddess of Oceans, Storms and Ice


Goddess of Rain
MP 9 FP 16

Shortly after the Rot was halted…

On the island there was the Rot. Although the plants had stopped dying and decaying, the refuse remained. The incessant rains of the land washed the rot across the land and into the sea, fouling the waters.

Fish were dying. Sea plants withered. Algae thrived on the decayed biomass and suffocated the ocean around the island. Sickly browns and greens marred the once-pristine azure.

Frustrated squalls flitted across the ocean, churning up the scum. The waste parted and a vast figure of water rose and declared with a voice of thunder, "Who has polluted my ocean?"

A pseudopod rose beside Ashalla, holding a globule of the rot at its tip. She regarded it with disgust for a few moments, then flicked the globule away. She looked towards the coast - the answer to her question lay on the island.

As she neared, she saw something else on the island. A small tribe of emaciated vallamir wandered the beach. One found the bloated corpse of a fish which had washed up on the shore. He ran forward to snatch it up and held it close. The other members of his pack closed in, and there was a squabble as the one with a fish refused to share. So desperate and pitiful these mortals were. Yet Ashalla sensed an opportunity.

Subtly Ashalla merged with the rain clouds above, the rain intensifying as she did so, and she tasted the island around the vallamir. Many plants had died in the Rot, and animals were also scarce, save for swarms of bugs which had reached plague proportions. On the island itself now, Ashalla was able to identify the divinity behind the curse, and with the realisation a dozen more squalls flitted into existence and thunder pealed in the stormclouds. Shengshi.

Yet there was another trace of divine essence from an act which had countered the curse and ceased the blight. This trace was unfamiliar to Ashalla. She would have to find who was responsible.

Back by the beach, the vallamir were still squabbling when a woman made from water rose out of the sea and announced with a voice like crashing waves, "Vallamir."

Immediately the vallamir ceased their arguing and looked at Ashalla. They crossed their fists across their chests and bowed their heads. "Greetings, Divine."

"You are suffering through a famine which has befallen your land. Yet I can provide you with food aplenty. You will not have to fight among yourselves for mere carrion."

The vallamir looked at each other, and there was a hushed discussion between them. "We're saved." "But what if this is a Divine like the Accursed Worm?" "Li'Kalla has abandoned us, why should we listen to what she said?" "Can we trust her?" "Do we have any choice?" The rain drizzled on them as they debated.

Finally, one of the vallamir turned to Ashalla and asked, "What do you want for such a blessing?"

"Only your gratitude and acknowledgement of myself, Ashalla. Although, receiving the gift will require a small amount of work on your part," answered a voice like a shower of rain.

The vallamir looked to each other, to the single bloated fish that one of them still held, then they looked to Ashalla, crossed their fists across their chests and bowed their heads. "We would be most grateful, Ashalla."

"Gather from the forest grasses and other plant fibres, several fist-fulls of strands at least as long as your arm. Then return here, and I will show you what to do next."

The vallamir bowed their heads again, then set off into the forest to achieve their task. They returned after nightfall with bundles of fibrous strands (which had survived the Rot, for they were not edible). It was dark, for the clouds overhead blocked out the Lustrous Garden, but when they arrived on the beach lightning illuminated the vallamir.

An arm of water reached up from the ocean and took a few of the strands in fingers which had turned to ice. "Twist the strands together like so, then twist them again like this." The vallamir did as instructed, joining the strands together into twine. "Now tie them together as so, and tie rocks onto the end." The twine was tied together into a fine grid, the edges of the mesh weighed down with stones.

The lightning above shifted to illuminate the ocean before the vallamir. A voice like thunder announced, “Now behold the bounty of the ocean.”

Before the vallamir’s very eyes the waste and algae floating in the ocean clumped together. The rot shifted forms and turned into fish, innumerable schools of fish which made the sea churn with new life. Their scales glimmered silver in the lightning. “Now cast your net into the sea, and you will have food aplenty.”

The vallamir did as directed. One of them ran forwards with the net, got knee deep into the water and threw the net out towards the sea. It spun in the air then landed above a shoal of fish, where it was dragged down by the stones along its rim, ensnaring numerous fish. Several vallamir waded and swam to where the net had fallen. They dove down and picked up the net by its edges, making sure to lift the net in such a way which kept the fish trapped. They then dragged the net and its thrashing catch of fish up the shore and dropped it on the sand.

The vallamir did not even wait for the fish to asphyxiate before rushing forwards and snatching up fish from the silver pile which spilled out from the net. Ravenously they bit into the fresh meat, savouring every scrap of flesh and drop of blood. As they finished their initial surge of hunger, the vallamir turned to the sky and the ocean and gave their customary salute. “Thank you, great Ashalla!”

Thunder peeled in acknowledgement. Then Ashalla moved on, heading inland. She had a goddess to find, and she could sense a strong divine influence in the southern part of the island. While she flew as clouds, she passed over more packs of vallamir, all as desperate and emaciated as the first she had seen. Soon the forest gave way to rolling hills and grass, and it might have not been raining if not for Ashalla’s presence.

Further along there appeared one hill which stood above the others, a grand manor standing atop it. A pillar of steam rose up from the base of the hill, where there sat a boiling lake which bore the powerful mark of Li’Kalla’s divinity and the Sphere of Rain. Dotted around the base of the hill were crude huts, with sleeping vallamir within and a few vigilant white-haired guards.

The storm which was Ashalla was soon upon the settlement. Used to rain, the people who were outside simply pulled up their hides to cover their heads. The storm settled above the manor, where Ashalla could taste fresh traces of Li’Kalla’s essence. “Li’Kalla,” called a voice like pouring rain.

A few of the Valthumir looked up at the divine storm, and yet many, including some of the lesser Vallamir, seemed to acknowledge it and move on with their daily lives.

It took a few moments for the beautiful winged Goddess Li'Kalla to step out onto a large balcony and look up at the sky, her tightly furled wings and her pleasantly surprised smile contrasting wildly.

"Ashalla," The Goddess of Rain said, then walked to a nearby sunbathing chair and sat on the edge, prim and proper with a straight back. She gestured to the chair beside her, "Would you like to adopt a more portable form and take a seat beside me?"

There was a pause, then mist lowered from the cloud towards the indicated chair and crystallised into a woman of ice mirroring Li’Kalla’s posture, sitting slightly taller than the Goddess of Rain. The storm overhead continued unabated. Beside Li’Kalla, a watery pseudopod rose from a puddle and licked against Li’Kalla’s arm and wing, causing Li'Kalla to visibly shudder. A voice like the rain spoke and the mouth of the ice woman moved, although the sound was not quite localised on the mortal-sized ice woman. “You appear to have recovered from your injuries.”

"It is remarkably easy to heal from injuries that have been forgotten," Li'Kalla said and looked at the pseudopod with a slanted smile, "Would you care to describe my taste?"

If Ashalla was caught off guard by the question she had never been asked before, she did not show it. “Your divine essence is the dominant flavour. The water you are coated in is quite pure, with a faint petrichor. I taste a faint trace of orange citrus and lavender. And this,” the pseudopod traced out one of the almost-invisible fissures in Li’Kalla’s skin, “is not quite stone. Its taste reminds me of the Architect’s place. A binding or sealant of some kind.”

Li’Kalla winced and looked away, cursing Ashalla’s perceptiveness. She was the first Divine to actually bring up the fissures going along her body. For a moment, Li’Kalla was unsure if her surprise and stress showed on her face, but she quickly regained her composure and shrugged, “The Architect’s touch. A lasting gift he left me after rebuilding me. It reminds me not to seek out the past.”

Li’Kalla continued, “I am surprised I taste of lavender, however, I believe that might be my favorite flower. And thank you, I do try to keep my water and body as pure as possible.”

Ashalla rumbled for a few moments. “If you do not wish to speak of the past, then we can speak of the present. What brought the blight upon this land?”

The Winged Goddess froze and, after a moment, sighed. "Shengshi." She said as if the mere mention of the name put a heavy weight on her shoulders. "He disapproved of my opinion on certain mortal affairs and my choice of words on certain matters and saw it fit to attempt to destroy the ecosystem here and in the seas around. Really, marring the beauty of the clear waters you have blessed us with… It's a low blow."

Ashalla huffed. “I had thought Shengshi cared more about the purity of water.” There was a rumble, then she asked, “What did you say to him?”

“Huh, I merely expressed my opinion on homosexuality in species that reproduce heterosexually, and I may have implied he was uncouth for supporting deviancy that has no biological purpose... It was all weeks ago, and therefore I don’t quite remember the exact words exchanged. It was a hurtful development.” Li’Kalla said casually, bringing a wing to the front of her body and absentmindedly beginning to straighten and groom her feathers.

Ashalla was quiet for a moment, then said, “I see why Shengshi was so angry. Not only did you insult him, but his favourite mortal and avatar too.” The icy woman leaned closer to Li’Kalla and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper as light as a snowflake, below the hearing of any prying mortals. “Them being two women who Shengshi favoured so highly he slew Vakk to protect them.” She leaned back as Li'Kalla perked up with a glint in her eyes, and Ashalla’s voice returned to its normal volume. “Regardless of his reasons, his actions here were unacceptable.”

Li'Kalla chuckled, and then she laughed out loud, hugging her wing close to her body. After a moment, she calmed down and wiped a few tears of mirth dry. "Oh, that's golden. His avatar was a homosexual. That, by extension makes a part of himself a deviant. I was right! And now that I think about it, someone so obsessed with alcohol could have never been a prim and proper God! And here I was thinking that if he had a pair of legs I'd organize a dinner for us… Guess that's not happening, he prefers practicing with the spear rather than going spelunking." Li'Kalla giggled but quickly gasped and covered her mouth, "My apologies, that was rather uncouth of me."

The clouds which were Ashalla wavered and her icy form remained motionless, uncertain what to make of the outburst. “Irrelevant,” was her eventual comment.

“Who was it that countered Shengshi’s curse?” Ashalla asked.

"My son, Ya'Shuur. Apparently someone named Vakk and I made him. He's lived on this island the whole time."

“I would like to meet him.”

"Would you? What are your intentions?"

“I wish to thank him for cleansing the blight.”

“I see, would you like me to call him here? That way you can save yourself the trip further inland,” Li’Kalla said with a slight tilt of her head, a shiver going through her spine as she touched a particularly sensitive feather.

“Yes, that would be convenient,” Ashalla answered.

Li’Kalla looked at the Water Goddess for a few long seconds, her gaze slowly losing interest and growing icier. Eventually, she looked away and stretched and flapped her wings before furling them up again. “I’ve told him to come, he should be here soon, relatively speaking.”

It did not take too long. Ya-Shuur immediately stopped what he was doing and summoned Zer-Du to him to reach his mother and her guest in good time. His horns had begun to grow back now and he made no attempt to hide them as he approached the table and kissed the back of his mother’s hand in respect. Zer-Du hovered within sight and watched with relative disinterest, though the valls in the settlement reacted with a mixture of shock and awe and fear to his presence. The icy woman which was part of Ashalla rose to her feet with a crackle of ice, and she appeared to stretch to one and a half times Ya-Shuur’s height. Ya-Shuur looked at the icy woman and greeted her before turning back to his mother. “You summoned me, mother.”

“I did. This,” Li’Kalla motioned toward Ashalla with her hand, “is Ashalla, Goddess of Water. She wanted to meet you.” Ya-Shuur had never seen or heard of Ashalla before so it was strange that she wished to meet him, but he turned back to her with a small smile.

“Hello Ashalla. You are the fourth divine being I have seen and the third I have met. I am happy to meet you.” He paused, thinking back to how the god with chopstick eyes had given him a gift when he first met her, and he thought that maybe it would be good for him to follow this practice. But he did not know what to give. If he had some sudi-shrib on him he might have offered her some, but he did not. All he had was gim-sa and he was not sure if that was a good thing to offer someone as a gift.

His hand came to the hud-sa (knife) medallion that he wore. It was made of metal and he had replaced the handle from wood to ivory and he had been carving it and making it more beautiful in his travels. The carvings contained things like vines and leaves and various animals like goats and molves. The metal of the blade had also taken on a strange pattern that was extremely similar to flowing water. Ya-Shuur thought that maybe the constant rain and the closeness of the blade to him had made it take on some of the patterns of the water, but he was not sure. He took the hud-sa medallion off and presented it to Ashalla. “Please accept this small gift from me. I was taught to give gifts by my good friend the god with chopstick eyes and you are the first god I have had the pleasure to implement her lesson on. This is a hud-sa, or a knife as the valls call it. The god with chopstick eyes had an exceptional collection, and I was inspired by her to make one of my own. I hope you find it pleasing, even though it is a simple token.”

Ashalla’s gaze went down to the knife. Her right arm melted and reach out, swallowing the gift. Tiny currents flowed across each of the carvings. “The craftsmanship is marvellous, and the design is elegant,” burbled a voice which seemed to come from all around Ya-Shuur, with the lips of the icy woman moving in sync. “It is a good gift, and I do find it pleasing, although I have no place to keep it.” The water receded from the hud-sa, which sat on top of the palm of Ashalla’s hand. Ya-Shuur reached out, took the medallion, and put it over Ashalla’s icy neck.

“You don’t need to hold it, it can just hang around your neck. Your form allows that just like mine.”

“You misunderstand, godling, or perhaps your senses fail you,” said Ashalla’s voice like crashing waves. “This form of ice you see before you is but a transient fragment of my full majesty.” Without warning the icy woman melted, the hud-sa lowering to the ground as the blob of water collapsed then evaporated. There was then a crack of lightning and a harsh light was cast down on Ya-Shuur and Li’Kalla. Above in the storm clouds there had formed the same face Ya-Shuur had been looking at moments ago, yet a thousand times larger and with eyes made from orbs of brilliant lightning. “I am the ocean. I am the storm. I am far too great to wear such a trinket,” declared a voice like thunder, echoing from one horizon to the other.

It took all of Ya-Shuur’s discipline to keep from showing his fear and awe at what Ashalla had become in mere seconds. If the valls below had been afraid or awed by Zer-Du’s presence then Ashalla’s thundering voice and great visage in the sky was a great terror and majestic thing. At last Ya-Shuur breathed deeply and expelled the passions from him, and then he bowed his head to Ashalla. “I am sorry great Ashalla. I meant no disrespect. Perhaps in time I will be able to offer you a more fitting gift. But as you say, I am nothing but a godling and am ultimately nothing of great importance. It will be an auspicious day indeed when I am able to offer something that truly complements your majesty. Until then, you will undoubtedly be plagued with the amateur attempts of those less majestic than you.” Ya-Shuur looked back up.

The face faded from the clouds. From the rain-soaked floor in front of Ya-Shuur rose a mound of water which adopted the form of a woman similar to the icy one before. A kind smile was on her lips as she spoke like a trickling brook, “Self-deprecation is not befitting one of divine status. And it is untrue that you are nothing of great importance. You cleansed this island of its blight. Do you know who inflicted the curse?”

“I agree, though humility in good measure lends dignity to those who seem debased, and pride makes ugly many great and glorious things. As for who inflicted the Rot on Be’r-Jaz,” he looked to Li’Kalla, and then returned his gaze to Ashalla, “I have been told about the god by my mother. But I have never met him, and I do not condemn him for his actions before I have heard from him (terrible as the Rot’s effects on the land and people was). I was merely doing my duty.”

“And a good duty it is. To stand up against a stronger god takes courage, and while on many occasions it would be fatal folly in this instance I deem it a worthy cause. The Rot had fouled my oceans around this land as well as the land itself. To express my gratitude, I am willing to offer you a boon. If your request is reasonable, I will grant it,” Ashalla said.

Ya-Shuur had never really considered what he had done as taking a stand against a god, but simply as removing harm. When he thought of it as Ashalla described it, it seemed a bit concerning and it made him wonder if he had inadvertently made an enemy out of the god who inflicted the curse. It hung on his mind for a few moments, and then he freed himself of the anxiety because he ultimately had no control over that. It did not matter. And so there was no need for anxiety.

“Thank you for your offer of reward, Ashalla. Doing as justice demands, and living by those principles which I have come to hold, is all the reward I seek. But I do not want to seem ungrateful, and so if there is any reward you give, let it be that you sate my curiosity about the world and gods. I know very little. This island is my home and I have knowledge only about it. Could you tell me about the rest of the world, its mortals and its gods?”

A perplexed little bubble rose through Ashalla’s features. “If that is your desire, then so be it.”

The clouds above then descended upon the manor, and Li’Kalla and Ya-Shuur found themselves momentarily blinded by the thick clouds and buffeted by the winds before a patch of calm spread around the balcony. In that moment the water woman had disappeared, and the two deities looked out onto an empty stage of cloud.

Before them condensed a large globe of water, impossibly floating and slowly spinning. On its surface froze large shapes with jagged outlines and intricate details. “This is Galbar.” An electrical spark illuminated a point on the lower part of a large island, which itself was just right of a larger continent in the upper hemisphere of the globe. “We are here.” Ya-Shuur looked at the globe and the various land masses on it, and he committed it to his memory so he could replicate it in his cave and inspect it more closely.

“The land and seas of this planet form only a part of the greater cosmos.” The globe contracted. It was sheathed by a thin layer of mist. One orb of ice appeared, shattered in half and trailing a ring of fragments, orbited the globe which was Galbar. Another smaller orb, crystal clear and glowing faintly, appeared slightly further out. A spark of lightning sat on the opposite side of the globe to that orb. A smear of mist which refracted the light in such a way as to appear slightly red floated between the orbits of the shattered orb and the light-givers. Tiny flecks of snow glinted like stars, one layer just above the mist sheathing Galbar, another layer beyond the light-givers.

“Each god brought here by the Architect was given charge over a Sphere. The things you see in the heavens above are some of the Spheres - there are many more you cannot see from Galbar’s surface, either hidden beyond mortal comprehension of space or buried far beneath the ground. The Spheres control aspects of reality and mediate various factors of existence.”

Ya-Shuur looked at all this without any expression and it seemed that he was not going to interject. But just before Ashalla continued a question came from him. “Who is the Architect?” he asked.

The visage of the celestial spheres moved aside, and behind the clouds towered the silhouette of a vast figure seated on a throne. A singular orb of lightning illuminated the centre of the figure’s head like a vast eye. “The Architect is the god who created Galbar in its original state, formless and empty. He filled this universe with souls from the Void beyond and bestowed a few of them with godhood, creating the gods who act on Galbar. He is powerful, and distant.” A tiny orb appeared in orbit around the globe beyond the outermost stars, highlighted by a brief spark of lightning. Then a shell of ice encased the whole diorama. “The Architect resides by and rules over the Barrier which separates Galbar from the Void beyond.”

The visage of the Architect and the imitation of Galbar and the Spheres dissipated. “Galbar has been shaped and is commanded by the gods. The Architect brought twenty-six gods into this world. There is myself. I wield dominion over the ocean, storms, ice and all things water. My Sphere lies at the very depths of the ocean and makes the water move. I am goddess over the beasts of the sea. Li’Kalla requires no introduction. She is the goddess of rain, and her Sphere can be reached through the boiling lake at the foot of this hill.”

Before Ya-Shuur and Li’Kalla manifested an ice sculpture of an oddly proportioned woman, shorter than Ya-Shuur, with more than two arms, and a bristling bundle of narrow icicles emerging from where eye sockets. Ya-Shuur smiled when he saw the figure. “Ah, Butterwort in Midsummer,” he said.

“This is the goddess with chopstick eyes, who Ya-Shuur has already met. She has dominion over things regarding the exchange of goods and services by mortals. She has reasonably good creative taste.” The sculpture turned to face Li’Kalla. “When I last met Chopstick Eyes, she was looking for you, Li’Kalla. Now that you are whole, you can contact her if you desire a meeting.”

“Yes, when she came here, she was looking for mother,” Ya-Shuur said.

“I will contact her in that case, thank you for the information, Ashalla.” Li’Kalla smiled and nodded.

The sculpture melted, then froze again, depicting the torso of a man and the lower body of a snake. “This is Shengshi, god of rivers and harvests. While the Rot is a foul mark against his reputation, he has done much good for Galbar, creating luscious river ecosystems. He appreciates beauty and art, and travels upon his opulent vessel.” An ice sculpture of a grand and intricately decorated ship flowed into view atop spiralling currents of water. On board stood humanoids of liquid water. “Shengshi is god of the Servants, a cultured people made of water.” Beside Shengshi appeared a similar female of water. “Xiaoli is an independent fragment of Shengshi, who is a similarly good artist.”

Ya-Shuur considered Ashalla’s words inexpressively though he was curious, and then asked, “You say that he appreciates art. What is that? And what is cultured?”

“Art is beauty which is created. A culture is a set of ideas and customs which drive the behaviour of a group of people. In the case of the Servants, they have a strict hierarchy and elaborate means of displaying respect to their superiors.”

The sculpture of the ship disappeared into the clouds, and the sculpture of Shengshi melted and reformed into a well-dressed gentleman with a cheshire smile. The melodious song of a violin wafted around them. “This is K’nell, god of sleep and dreams. He is lord over the Palace of Dreams, where mortal minds visit while sleeping. He is the most wonderful musician.” Ya-Shuur had never slept, though he had imitated the action and so was under the impression that he had indeed slept. But he did not know what dreams were, and he did not know what this musician was.

“What are dreams? And I have never seen mortal minds leave them during their sleep, and mine certainly hasn’t. And what is musician?”

“Dreams are scenes which the mind imagines while sleeping. The mind does not physically leave the body, but comes in contact with the Palace of Dreams all the same. You can ask mortals more about dreaming,” Ashalla answered. “A musician is someone who plays music. Are you saying you do not know what music is?” There was a huff. “I will have to rectify that.”

A few more humanoid ice sculptures, both women and men, appeared nearby, these with similarly broad smiles and spirals on their foreheads. “He is the god of the Dreamers, a sapient species, and ruler over the land of Tendlepog.” A smaller globe of Galbar condensed, sparks crackling around the right-most of a pair of circular continents.

Li’Kalla raised an eyebrow upon recognizing one of the Dreamers depicted as Hermes but… Different. Less Hermes and more woman. She kept quiet.

“However, K’nell, Tendlepog and many of the Dreamers have since been sequestered away by K’nell.” The continent marked as Tendlepog on the globe melted. Ya-Shuur looked at the empty spot on the globe.

“Where did he take them? Are they somewhere else in the… you called it cosmos?”

There was a moment’s hesitation before Ashalla answered, “Yes.” Before Ya-Shuur could ask more questions, the sculptures all melted again, save for the globe, and reformed into many little pieces which locked together to form a tall skinny humanoid with seven arms, wide hips and a blank face. “This is Eurysthenes, master of puzzles. They created Swahitteh, twin continent of Tendlepog.” Sparks outlined the other circular landmass.

“They? Are there more than one Eurysthenes?” Ya-Shuur asked.

“Eurysthenes is singular, but neither masculine nor feminine,” Ashalla explained.

The sculpture melted, and a hundred metre long worm of water took its place, one end branching out into many grasping tendrils, and the other end splitting open into three flaps to reveal rows of sharp ice teeth. Ya-Shuur recognized his father immediately, though now he had a clearer understanding of his form. A dark, melancholic melody sounded nearby. “This is Vakk, god of speech.”

Li'Kalla choked and gasped at the same time. Her eyes opened wide and her pupils were pinpricks. She clenched her jaw and turned her whole body away from the sight, guarding her body with a barrier made up of her right arm, leg and wing. Her left wing shook uncontrollably and, although she need not breathe, her breaths came short and quick, and the decorative veins under her skin suddenly swelled up and seemed ready to burst. Ya-Shuur looked at her, concerned even though his face did not show it.

She was silent, whimpering, until she looked at the recreation of her abuser through the gaps between her fingers and managed to relax, taking in a deep breath and going back to her previous posture, sitting forward with a straight back, but this time with tightly crossed legs, twitching wings and a nervous vibe.

The cracks in her skin grew more noticeable. Ya-Shuur’s eyes remained on her for some time. He sensed that she was perturbed, but she appeared to have gained some control over her passions. Discipline and self-control were difficult to obtain, but his mother was already making significant progress.

There was a faint rumble. “This is distressing for you,” Ashalla observed. The music stopped and the sculpture dissolved.

“I-It seems to be. Somehow. I don’t even recognize that form… And the name is barely familiar...” Li’Kalla’s voice had a barely perceptible trembling to it, “I might break apart…”

The storm watched Li’Kalla for a few moments longer. When it became apparent that Li’Kalla was not falling apart, Ashalla continued. Although the presentation was being given to Li’Kalla and Ya-Shuur, Ashalla dropped her voice to be sure not to be overheard by any eavesdroppers. “It was Vakk’s actions which led to the fragmentation of Li’Kalla. However, he was a weak god. He was compelled to act by Eurysthenes. He was defeated in combat by Li’Kalla. And when he attempted to invade Tendlepog to inflict harm upon several favoured individuals, he was slain by Eurysthenes, Shengshi and K’nell.” Ya-Shuur had sensed Vakk’s death all those years ago. Now he knew who had killed him and why it had happened, according to Ashalla at least.

“What favored individuals were these? Why did he seek to harm them? Were these three gods together not powerful enough to restrain rather than kill him?” Ya-Shuur asked.

An ice sculpture of a dreamer woman appeared, one from before, and also the watery form of Xiaoli. “Hermes, the first Dreamer and creation of K’nell, and her lover Xiaoli, who is part of Shengshi.” A box of ice appeared nearby, the lid bearing an abstract impression of Vakk. “Vakk had given the Box of Orchestration to Li’Kalla, but the box was taken by Hermes. Vakk sought revenge for this theft. Shengshi described Vakk as ‘mad, insane beyond redemption’, which is why they decided to kill him.”

The sculptures of Hermes, Xiaoli and the box disappeared, and an ice sculpture of a male humanoid with wings formed. Ashalla’s voice returned to its normal volume. “This is Ekon, god of fear and creator of some monsters, including the creatures beneath this island.” Ya-Shuur had seen some of these creatures and had thought them an oddity, but he had not thought they were a direct creation by a divine being. A god of fear who created fearful things. Fear was a terrible thing, but with discipline it could be overcome like any other emotion. It arose from time to time, like when Ashalla revealed her great form, but even then he had not shown it and had been able to expel it. Perhaps if there was anything he truly feared it was the being afraid itself, and so failing to live according to his principles of mastering emotions like fear.

The sculpture shifted again, and became a towering giant humanoid man, unclothed. Steam rose from all parts of the sculpture. “This is Sartravius, god of heat. He and his Sphere are responsible for volcanoes.” A sculpture of two muscular humanoids appeared, male and female, towering about three times as tall as Li’Kalla and Ya-Shuur, although still dwarfed by Sartravius. “Sartravius is the creator of the jotundar.” A massive winged lizard formed from the clouds and exhaled a cone of steam. “And the fire dragons. He is prone to senseless destruction.” The dragon and jotundar dissipated, and a gigantic flying raptor-like beast made of cloud and steam appeared. “This is the Phoenix, who is an independent fragment of Sartravius.”

The figures dissipated, then the clouds stretched upwards. The theatre opened up to reveal a towering cumulonimbus in a bulky humanoid shape, with four points of lightning perched like eyes on the head which was kilometres above the ground. “This is Narzhak, god of war. He’s somewhat unhygienic, but strong and a good fighter.”

The clouds closed back in around the balcony. Before Ya-Shuur and Li’Kalla swirled steam which took the shape of a tiger’s head larger than they were. “This is Katharsos, god of death. He reigns over the Sky of Pyres, which are the incandescent stars far above Galbar. It is where the souls of the dead go to be burned into soul ash and recycled for new life.”

The steam dissipated, and was replaced by a flash of lightning, which shaped and bent itself to take the form of a woman. “This is Asceal, goddess of light. She owns the Lustrous Garden, which provides light at night and casts healing energy upon sources of pure still water. As you likely know, she was involved in taking souls of dead mortals from the Pyres and crystallising them.”

The lightning ceased and an ice sculpture of a large bird appeared, its feathers refracting the light into a rainbow of colours. “This is Azura, goddess of wind. Or, at least, one of her forms.” A sculpture of a feminine humanoid with wings, fins and gills floated up beside the bird. “Her Sphere is the Blue, which is the daytime sky of Galbar, and contains many flying creatures which resemble sea life. Azura is a very good musician. She is also responsible for the plans to preserve the souls of mortals, initially by crystallisation, rather than let them burn in the Pyres. That is the function of the Alma.” A few icy sculptures of the strangely accessorised birds fluttered into view. “She is hard-working, and has compassion for mortals.”

The sculptures melted and reformed into a three metre long snake-like dragon with wings, four legs and a jagged crest. “This is Arae, goddess of family. As you likely know, she was involved in the creation of the vallamir.”

The dragon sculpture was then replaced by a six foot tall humanoid, with a thick cloak made from snow, a bow by his side, a moustache and short beard on his face, and pointy ears. “This is Kalmar, god of the hunt and lord of winter. He was involved in the creation of the vallamir.” Two icy humanoids about nine feet tall appeared nearby. “He also created the Jotnar, frost giants.” The globe of Galbar reappeared, and sparks outlined the continent just to the left of Be’r-Jaz. “He rules over and protects the continent of Kalgrun. Kalmar stands against senseless destruction.” A falcon of ice appeared beside Kalmar’s statue. “This is Arryn, who is part of Kalmar, and has taught mortals in other parts of the world about the ways of hunting.”

Arryn, Kalmar and the globe vanished, leaving the Jotnar, and in their place appeared a sculpture of a ten foot tall, broad, hulking muscular man with sharp jagged teeth. “This is Kirron, god of blood and strength. He helped create the Jotnar.” A few more sculptures appeared of chubby humanoid creatures with the heads of seals and broad, flattened limbs. “He is the god of the selka.”

The sculptures melted and reformed into an unclothed humanoid woman with a pair of branching icicles emerging from her head like antlers and covered in motifs similar to leaves and roots. “This is Phystene, goddess of plants and animals. She is responsible for many of the forests and jungles upon Galbar.”

The sculpture melted again, and changed to be a humanoid figure without well-defined features. A thick mist curled around the figure. Light sparkled from within like stars, and two brighter lights were where the figures’ eyes would be. “This is Orvus. His domain is that of destruction. While in the past he had engaged in senseless destruction and created things which would destroy, he has since changed and no longer desires such violence. His Sphere is Veradax, the shattered moon.” Several more ice sculptures appeared of tall humanoids with lights twinkling like stars just below their surface. “He is the creator and god of the Nebulites.”

The sculptures melted, and in their place rose one of a large crab, one metre in diameter. “This is Ohannakeloi, god of stone. He raised the largest continent of Galbar out of the sea. He was partially responsible for the creation of the Nebulites.” Numerous chunks of ice came together to create a six metre tall biped with two arms made from the crudely assembled chunks. A light glowed from an indent on a chunk which could be called its head. “He is also the god of the Ihokhetlani, creatures of stone.”

The sculptures dissipated, and there appeared a sculpture of a young unclothed man with an athletic physique and a laurel wreath around his head. “This is Aelius, god of virtue.”

The sculpture melted and reformed into a somewhat tall human woman with braided hair and wearing hunter’s garb. “This is Urhu, whose domain is travel. She is responsible for a number of distinctive landmarks scattered across Galbar.”

The sculpture melted, and was overtaken by a twisting, writing mass of watery tentacles which towered high above the manor. On the end of one pseudopod was an orb of lightning which looked down on Ya-Shuur and Li’Kalla like an eye. “This is Anzillu, whose domain is that of a breed of monsters related to its own foul form.”

The watery mass collapsed and dissipated, and a statue of a human woman froze into shape. “This is Melantha, goddess of darkness.”

The sculpture melted and reformed into a tall, thin man with leaves instead of hair. “This is Parvus, god of insects. One of the places he created was the swamplands on the western shore of this island.”

The sculpture shifted, and became one of a tall man with long, unkempt hair and elaborate robes. “This is Abanoc, god of recording.”

The sculpture melted and reformed into an athletic unclothed woman with short hair and patterns engraved on her back and hands. The hair refracted the light in such a way as to almost appear red. “This is Seihdhara, whose domain is combat. She is responsible for many of the forests on Galbar which had not been created by Phystene.” The globe of Galbar reappeared, and a line of sparks traced itself along the smaller continent on the lower half of the globe. “Her blood runs thick in a river here, a limitless supply conjured miraculously. An ecosystem designed by Shengshi and myself prevents the ichor from polluting the ocean beyond.”

The sculpture of Seihdhara melted away. “Those are the gods of Galbar, who have dominion over reality.”

The globe of Galbar swelled to a far greater size than before. A shell of ice grew beneath the oceans of water, mapping out the sea floor in exquisite detail. The coastlines were also intricately detailed. The vast globe spun in place until the island of Be’r-Jaz was right before the balcony. “This is the island we are currently on. You already know about it.” The globe rotated slightly to the left. A gossamer-thin thread of ice stretched across the ocean between Be’r-Jaz and the continent to the left. “A bridge of Li’Kalla’s creation spans the strait between here and Kalgrun. At walking pace, it would take approximately five days to cross if you do not rest.”

The rest of the continent of Kalgrun rolled into view. “This is the continent of Kalgrun, created and ruled by Kalmar. It is home to many vallamir, and the jotnar in the frozen north. I have taught the vallamir there about carving and sculpting. The jotnar are a race of large and strong people who thrive on cold rather than heat.” Ice sculptures of vallamir and jotnar appeared as she described them.

“Kalgrun is mostly forested wilderness filled with all sorts of animals. Notable are the apex predators of the continent.” Ice sculptures of a direwolf, griffon and troll appeared nearby. In the background, cloudy forms of far larger versions of these beasts appeared, as well as a great bipedal lizard. “The continent is also guarded by these four powerful beasts, although they are only of danger to those Kalmar does not wish in his lands.” Sparks then outlined a lake near the middle of the continent with a thin straight line etched towards the strait to the right with a tiny trickle of water running through it. The lake had a tiny island in the middle. “This is the Hunter’s Eye. It is a holy place to Kalmar, and a chosen number of Vallamir tend to the site.”

A puff of steam rose from a tiny island below and to the left of Kalgrun. “That is the volcano of Muspel. It is connected directly to Sartravius’ Sphere.”

The globe rotated upwards, revealing a circular archipelago below Kalgrun. However, with the sea floor clearly mapped out, it was evident that this archipelago was the rim of a large crater. “This is the Eye of Desolation, formed from an asteroid impact in the earliest days of Galbar’s history. It is covered in a lush jungle. It is home to the Nebulites. They are a people created in Orvus’ image, who are notable for possessing the power of flight without wings.” A sculpture of a Nebulite appeared as she said this.

The globe rotated some more to reveal a small island a substantial distance to the right, and an island of comparable size to Be’r-Jaz below and between the small island and the Eye of Desolation, nestled between the two arms of the largest continent. Sparks outlined both the islands. “These two islands were created by Ekon. Besides wild beasts and plants, nothing much is on them.”

The globe continued to turn until the focus was on the top-right branch of the largest continent. “This is Atokhekwoi, the continent created by Ohannakeloi.” Along this branch of the continent, running vertically, was a great mountain range, and at the top end of the mountain range, if one looked very carefully, was a mountain with a flat top. “This region is filled with great beasts created by Kirron.” The clouds around them formed into the shapes of dinosaurs, megafauna, pyrgerakia and the other inhabitants of the Great Hooflands. But those figures were all blown away when a massive bird made of cloud appeared and flapped its wings with a beat of thunder, lightning arcing across its surface. “Of course, my Thunderbird is the greatest of them all.”

The Thunderbird dissipated as the globe turned further, looking at the southern end of the continent and the south pole of the globe. Sparks outlined the coast on the northern side of this southern branch as well as a large island sitting just off the end of the branch. Sculptures of selka appeared, and music of the lyre, flute, percussion and voice combined around them to create a lyrical atmosphere. “The selka live here. They are semi-aquatic, designed for swimming and diving as well as walking. Kirron is the foremost of their gods. I am another of the gods they worship, with the ocean such a core part of their existence. Some of the selka know me as Delphina or Lugo. I have taught the selka about music and painting.”

The globe turned back up, showing the left branch of Atokhekwoi. A sculpture of an Ihokhetlani formed. “In this region lives the Ihokhetlani, creatures of stone created by Ohannakeloi.”

The globe turned to bring the top-left tip of the continent into focus. Sparks highlighted an arrangement of small islands off the coast which seemed vaguely reminiscent of an insect. “These islands were created by Parvus. They are home to several species of highly venomous animals, and also the Gateway to Parvus’ Sphere.”

The globe turned up to bring an island below Parvus’ islands to the centre. This island was about as tall as Be’r-Jaz, but half the width. “This is Istais. It was created by Asceal, and is home to a variety of glowing life-forms.”

The view turned up and to the left, passing the equator and showing a fissure under the ocean surface in the sea floor. “This is the Abyssal Rift. It leads to my Sphere, the Abyss, deep below the surface of Galbar. The conditions there are deadly for most surface-dwellers, but it supports its own menagerie of life.” Among pillars of cloud skittered icy imitations of fish, crustaceans and other weird and alien small sea creatures native to the Abyss. These critters scattered when a vast eel of cloud swam through them. Static electricity crackled at the presence of the eel. “Though the deep-terrors are the largest species inhabiting the Abyss, there is a single creature there more powerful than they.” A titanic crocodilian with six legs, horns and a shield crest, covered in scales of ice and with steam rising all around it, thundered through the scene with a guttural growl. “The Abyssal Leviathan is a powerful beast created by the combined efforts of myself and Narzhak, able to exercise dominion on both land and sea.”

The diorama of the Abyss faded, and the globe turned to a large spiral formation just below the surface of the ocean, down and left of the Abyssal Rift. “This is the Great Soul Reef. It was created by Katharsos and myself. It sits at the base of the Vortex of Souls, which draws the souls of the dead to the Sky of Pyres and carries soul ash back down to Galbar.”

The forms of a whale, a giant squid and a giant shark drifted through the clouds. “The seas are populated by many beasts great and small of my creation, including whales, colossal squids and megalodons. There are some other creatures which I did not create, though.” A fish of ghastly proportions with tentacles growing from it, and an orb of lightning sitting at the end of a tendril on its head. “This is a Leviathan Angler. A number of these beasts were created long ago by a clash between Orvus and Phystene, and have bloated to severe proportions. They are less common now, with numbers dwindling as they were made without the means of reproduction.” The figure of another fish swam into view, coated in ice, with tendrils instead of fins, four eyes, and moving with serpentine motions. “This is an Iron Carrionfish, created by Narzhak. It is capable of digesting divine biomatter, so it can clean the oceans of refuse of a godly nature.” The figures dissipated as a gigantic cuttlefish took their place, dwarfing all the other creatures. “But greater than them all is the Kraken, another creation of mine.”

The sea life dissipated, and the globe turned to show the continent to the left. Looking at it from above and able to see beneath the ocean surface around it, it was evident that this continent had been placed with considerable force, with chunks of land splattered about the right end of the continent. “This is Dragon’s Foot. It was created by Kirron, and was one of the first continents to be formed on Galbar.” Sparks circled around a region in the top right corner of the continent, bounded below by a mountain range. “The life of this region was primarily created by Narzhak, and is hardy and aggressive. A river of Seihdhara’s ichor also flows through the region, with life created by myself and Shengshi to cleanse the river before it reaches the ocean.”

The globe turned slightly so that the land below the mountain range was in focus. There was what looked like a lake in the middle with rivers stretching up, down and to the left. Two wisps of steam rose from the continent, one relatively near the lake, the other from a mountain near the mouth of the river going down. Sparks pointed towards each feature as Ashalla talked about them. “Here are three grand rivers made by Shengshi. The Nanhe is the largest, and is surrounded by lush forests created by Phystene. The Taipang flows through the desert and past another volcano created by Satravius. Shengshi and I made an ecosystem there which thrives despite the harsh environment. The Beihe is a river populated by beautiful plants and animals made by Shengshi. At the source of all the rivers is Giant’s Bath, which hides a passageway to Shengshi’s Sphere.”

A few watery humanoids previously identified as Servants appeared. “The home of Shengshi and his Servants moves across Galbar, although it frequents this area. The Servants are made entirely of liquid water. Their society primarily revolves around serving Shengshi and his guests on his ship, and is characterised by a strictly defined set of manners. There are some rare occasions when Servants do leave the ship, but their primary location is on Shengshi’s vessel.”

The imitation Servants collapsed, and the globe rotated further, past the lower left tip of Dragon’s Foot to show the ocean between Dragon’s Foot and Atokhekwoi. The ocean here was quite deep, and it did not take too much imagination to think that the continent of Dragon’s Foot had been lifted out of the sea floor here and dropped to the right. Little flakes of snow sat clustered together in a small point near the centre of the slowly rotating water current. “Here is a rather pretty oceanic forest of kelp and algae created by the goddess with Chopstick Eyes. It feeds a large Leviathan Angler trapped there.”

The globe rotated back, this time settling just above Dragon’s Foot. A long, narrow and rugged landmass sat above Dragon’s Foot, and the strait between the two boiled. “This landmass was created by the combined efforts of Vakk and the goddess with Chopstick Eyes, using material which fell from Veradax. Between them is a boiling strait, created by Vakk. Inhospitable to most life, the goddess with Chopstick Eyes has created some peculiar lava-based flora within.”

The globe continued to turn until it was centred on a cluster of islands just above the Kick. “These islands were created by Arae. On the middle one is the Gateway to her Sphere.”

The globe rotated up some more, until it was centred on the space where Tendlepog used to be. The impression of the missing continent was still visible in the sea floor. The ice sculptures of the Dreamers reappeared. “The Dreamers lived on Tendlepog while it was still present. They were born from Hermes, creation of K’nell, and Xiaoli, Avatar of Shengshi, with the aid of Arae. They lived in an idyllic environment under K’nell’s watchful protection. Some Dreamers remain on Galbar.”

“Such a sad fate, being abandoned by your patron gods to the downward spiral of deviancy… And then having that deviancy compounded by Arae,” Li’Kalla said with a sigh and roll of her eyes.

“They were never abandoned by their gods,” Ashalla said.

The globe turned to show the continent to the left. It was round, with regular protrusions around the edge. And, if one looked carefully, it slowly turned in place. “This is Swahitteh, and was created by Eurysthenes. Illusions make it hard for mortal senses to find, and traps surround its border, although these traps can be circumvented by flight.”

The globe rotated down to show a miniature storm spiralling in place in the sea below Swahitteh. “This is the Maelstrom. In it is the Gateway to Veradax. When it was first made by Orvus long ago, it was a storm which roamed free beneath the moon. Azura and I worked together to bind this dreadful storm to a single location. To aid in that task Azura created Luis.” The clouds shifted to show a vast, kilometer-long whale made from a cumulonimbus. “The Maelstrom is still a dangerous place for those who do not have the durability of godhood. Not only is the storm extremely powerful, the way to Veradax is guarded by a powerful beast created by Orvus.” The image of Luis disappeared, and was replaced by a gargantuan beast with many tentacles with ice barbs. Its head had sharp teeth and six orbs of lightning for eyes. A terrific bolt of lightning arced from its maw and seared the sky above the manor.

The apparition of the Gate Lord dissipated, and the globe spun around to show its very top. A rough circle of ice floated on top of the world, and at its very middle there was an island with a ring of mountains surrounding a mountain so tall it seemed to pierce the sky. “Here is the north pole. I created the ice sheet.” A winter-spirit fluttered out of the clouds and landed on the railing of the balcony. Unlike everything else, this winter-spirit was no imitation but a living creature. “I also made the winter-spirits. They fly south during the winter, then fly back to the ice sheet over the summer and create sculptures of all they have seen.”

Finally, the globe melted away, and the clouds around Li’Kalla and Ya-Shuur withdrew. The previous cover of rain and storm cloud above the manor and surrounding countryside returned. In front of Ya-Shuur, on the ground, condensed a ball of ice, slightly larger than his head. It was a miniature globe of Galbar, not as detailed as the large one which had been present moments ago, but still adequate for indicating the lay of the land. Wisps of cold air drifted from it. Ya-Shuur picked it up.

“This ice sculpture will persist regardless of the weather,” said a voice like falling snow.

The voice then shifted to Li’Kalla. “Your people do not know of music?”

Li’Kalla flapped her wings and puffed out her chest proudly, “Of course! I’ve spoken to them about it before! Their instruments are crude, though, and sound rather awful. If you’re thinking of… Blessing them with knowledge, I’d be grateful, Ashalla.” The Winged Goddess hummed in thought, and then perked up. “I would have a request, however, for you to merely introduce them to music and instrument making, and to let them figure out the rest on their own.”

“I will teach them about music. And also about fishing, for it will be some time before the land can provide for them again,” Ashalla said. The wind then tugged at Li’Kalla’s dress and the rain pattered against it. “I could also teach them about processing fibers, a skill useful for tools and clothing.”

Li’Kalla sighed and crossed her arms, “Huh, well, that would certainly be helpful. I suppose that way I won’t have to look at crude loincloths anymore. It was getting old.”

“Excellent. I shall get started,” Ashalla declared in a voice like a rolling wave. The cloud which was Ashalla then lowered itself towards the village at the base of the hill. “Mortals, heed my words, for I have skills to teach you which shall uplift your lives.” The vallamir and valthumir, who had mostly stopped paying attention to the divine gathering above them save for an awed few, were pulled back to attention. Ashalla delivered her lesson and instructions, showing the valls how to make musical instruments, exhorting them in producing beautiful music, and teaching them about ropes, weaving and basic fabric.

Li’Kalla huffed to herself and stood from her seat, taking flight with a mighty flap of her wings. Gliding down through the cloud which was Ashalla, Li came to land in front of the crowd of her Faithful.

Immediately, they all fell to their knees and looked down at the mud. “Q-Queen-Mother!” Shouted one in awe. It had been the first time in weeks that Li’Kalla had shown herself outside of her Manor. And what came next shocked even Sun’Ka, who was standing at the back of the crowd with a spear in hand.

She smiled at them, and began teaching them, just like Ashalla had done before her. She taught them of the importance of roads and paths as well as how to construct them; taught them about the versatile, and indeed essential Wheel and even went so far as to personally show the settlement’s craftsman how to carve them out of logs; taught them about carpentry and woodworking; and finally, gave them the knowledge that the River Worm withheld from them: Agriculture. This would take her months to ingrain into her Faithful, perhaps years, but it had to be done if she didn’t want her herd to abandon her in favour of Ashalla.

Ashalla watched Li’Kalla as she started her lessons. Ashalla had finished her lessons, so made to depart. “Remember me, Ashalla, and what I have taught you. And remember also your goddess Li’Kalla and all she has done for you,” said a voice like the rain. Then the storm which was Ashalla blew away, seeking more groups of vallamir scattered across Be’r-Jaz to teach.

Part One

It was dark.

It was cold.

Shackles made of concrete and asphalt kept a vicious grip around her wrists and ankles. They were connected to chains that snaked all the way into the darkness.

Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. Not one of them cared to find what the chains were attached to until the first time they went taut, and the screaming girl was pulled into the darkness never to be seen or heard again. The shards had all mourned, and then they tried to come up with a plan akin to the one they had to fight the Beast...

And the chains went taut again, and both the elegant woman and the playful one were swallowed by the Dark.

Only two were left, for the longest time.

One of which was Laina, Second Princess to the Sen’Kalla Clan of the Plains and Mountains, the beautiful yet timid girl with platinum hair, baby blue eyes and the fairest skin only seen on those within the Royal Families in Dai’Sora’s Expanses. The Princess that after months of daily abuse at the hands of those she once loved, respected, admired and trusted with her life; had died due to disease all those eons ago, in a different existence.

And the other was Silver, herself, who had only received a name after meeting her first friend, Orvus, and who had only considered herself a real person with real feelings and thoughts after meeting her first love, Laurien. A love that she could truly call hers, and not Laina’s or Li’Kalla’s. A love that she had held close to her heart throughout the worst moments, throughout the loneliness of Orvus’ peaceful farm, and throughout the fear and desolation within Li’Kalla’s sown-together soul. It is what gave her the strength to keep trying, to keep fighting as the chains went taut over and over again.

Silver was the one thing that held steadfast against the pull of the Architect’s influence. She was the one to keep Laina on her feet and away from hopelessness, in spite of everything that had happened, in spite of everything that could happen.

There, in the darkness, the bond between two parts of the same soul grew stronger than it had ever been. Laina with the role of the princess, who gave Silver a reason to move forward and a person to care for; and Silver with the role of the knight, who served as a pillar that Laina could rely on in her time of need, and hold onto when the darkness came screaming at her.

In the end, what they all needed to overcome the thorns digging into their hearts, was being accepted and loved by themselves.

Silver and Laina lied on the dark ground, with their heads side by side as they stared at nothingness. There were no words to exchange, as everything that could be said had been said long ago. Now, there was just the comfort of being next to each other, as the last time the chains went taut had been so long ago they’d almost forgotten about it. Who knew that being chained and imprisoned inside your own soul could be so... Peaceful?

The darkness cracked. Beams of light, something Silver had forgotten existed, penetrated the thick dark fog and converged on the two lying individuals.


Her own voice sounded almost foreign.

“Laina, the sky just broke.”

There was no response and Silver turned her head to look at Laina and realized, that she was all alone.

The next thing she knew, she saw Laurien. She spoke to her, after all this time. It was like a dream, like it didn’t really happen, and then the darkness claimed her back…

Except it didn’t.

She wouldn’t let it. After all this time, after losing herself in it for so long, after becoming so accustomed to it and seeing the world for the first time in so long… After having a real body again, she would never let it take her again. Never.

A small thread had tied itself to her the moment she’d been pulled into the world to meet Laurien, and when the time came for this thread to leave, Silver grabbed onto it as tightly as she could, baring her teeth and digging her own nails into her palms. She pulled and pulled, and screamed and grunted as the silver thread gave way and the sky cracked more, showering Silver in the pure light of reality, and just like that, the thread fused into her and she found herself expelled from the darkness.

It was all a blur. There was no sound, no sight, no speech, no taste, no touch, and yet she knew.

She was alive, and the darkness around her was no darkness, but a world she could not see. And with life and independence came the loneliness she’d missed so much. She thought of Laina, of her fellow shards, and of Laurien. Even still, she thought of Li’Kalla, the one she knew had kept her trapped for so long, and found it in her heart to forgive her.

There were those that she had to leave behind, and nothing could be done about that. She would shed a tear and move on as life always did, as she was sure it moved when it was her who was left behind.

Half-awake, half-conscious, half-real, the falling star that was Silver phased through the high leaves and branches of the largest tree in the Land of Li’Kalla, through its thick trunk and past the happy, simple Foreas, and into one of the pods. Inside of it there was a half-developed body with no soul of its own, and so the bodiless soul took it as her new home away from home.

In time, her body would grow in size and consciousness. What once was a pleasant warmth inside the pod, embraced in the loving aura of the Eternal Tree, was now a blazing hot dance with the collective soul of her species, her brothers and sisters. And one day, Silver opened her eyes in a dream.

She could see without seeing, and could hear without hearing. She was in a forest, surrounded by flowers of all shapes and colors, bees, butterflies and small animals.

She reached up to her head and felt her new leaves. Bipartite, large leaves covered a dense foliage of smaller, sinuate leaves. They all quivered as she ran her hands through them, and a smile graced her face as she felt her heart swell and eyes widen.

Why? Why…

It flashed before her eyes.

Her nanny, patting her head after she helped her peel some potatoes. Her teacher, patting her head with a proud smile on her face after she successfully recited the Clan’s Ancestral Poem. Her beloved knight… Running his right hand through her hair as he wiped away her tears with his left hand, before leaving for battle on the frontlines.

Warm tears fell down her face at the sudden recollection. Then she blinked, and saw a tall humanoid in front of her, replacing those she saw in her memories. A beautiful, lush foliage covered her scalp and reached down her back, resembling furled wings. She was smiling proudly down at Silver and patting her head.

”My sapling,” The voice was soft, motherly, loving… It felt like a cool breeze in a summer afternoon. Silver’s tears didnt stop, and she embraced the figure’s waist, crying silently. The figure, her new Mother, hugged her in return, and she couldn’t help but bawl like a child… Except, no sound came out of her while doing so. ”My young one, I love you, from the bottom of my heart… I am so happy to have you, I am so grateful to the world, to the air, to the earth, for giving me such a bright young sapling. I love you, so much.”

Silver hugged the figure tighter, but in the end it gently pushed her away and got on her knees, coming to Silver’s eye level as she planted a kiss on her forehead. Tears glistened in the sun, tracing paths along her mother’s pale yellow cheeks and welling up in her light, completely brown eyes.

”I am so sad that I can’t spend more time with you, that our Dream should be this short, my love… That I can only tell you I love you so few times, that I can only hold you this one time… Do not feel alone, however, as I will always be thinking of you and I will tell everyone of you...”

Silver wiped her eyes and sobbed silently, looking into her mother’s deep eyes.

”My young autumn sapling. The world you’re awaking in is beautiful, and there are so many things to see and love. As I have done for you here, as I made you feel, that is how I want you to make others feel. In my stead, sapling, love the world and be happy.”

As her mother spoke, everything grew blurry, and her eyelids felt heavy. While she drifted off to sleep, she heard her mother’s words in the distance.

”Visit me every once in a while… Tell me of your travels, of your experiences. I will listen, I will be there for you, my sapling.”

And just like that, Silver awoke from the Dream and opened her new eyes.




“Glorious solid material!” Orb whimpered happily, their entire form face down on a sandy beach. Their cloak was drenched and crusted with what could have been weeks of salt. Two hands gripped the sand tightly, a soft happy sob breaking from the cloaked figure. Their modified boat creaked in the gusting beach wind, keeled up onto the shore completely -- having been propelled by a major tidal surge.

Orb’s knees and elbows were screaming, having finally been released from their sitting and paddling positions. They haggard a victorious breath, thankful their stomach was still full from their rations and their mouth was wet, because otherwise, Orb felt that they could lay where they were forever. They closed their eyes, still whimpering happily along with their buzzing muscles. The sounds of Kalgrun echoed around them, the vast forests off the shallow shore repeating with bird calls. Orb couldn’t help but smile softly, their mind slipping into a sudden sleep.

They could see it... the sun blasting down from the heavens, blanketing the golden desert with a scorching heat. The horizon wriggled as the air seemed to boil, turning the distant, massive spires of limestone into yellowed serpents. Great jets of power shot from each steeple, invigorating Orb as they stood witness to the desert. Crystal water flowed in moving canals of water, and a mighty tree stood center an oasis.


Orb’s eyes strained open, met by the darkness of the sand -- their face still buried into the shore. Suddenly, a wet pressure made its way through their hood and up the back of their head, followed by the rustling of leaves and subtle shifting of sand. Orb made a face for a second before suddenly and urgently rolling over.

One hand shot out to grab the perpetrator and found its way onto a soft, uneven surface. There were lines along the surface made of tiny leaves, ridges and decently sized orbs that kind of felt like closed eyes. When Orb’s eyes made contact with its attacke, it realized that it was indeed a face that it had been fondling, with a pale green unblemished skin, soft features and thick eyebrows consisting of leaves, and a thick mass of vivid green sinuate leaves finishing off its appearance. The leaves were quivering and the eyes fluttered open once Orb’s fingers moved away from the exotic being’s eyelids, showing two shiny black spheres that stared intently at Orb’s mask, mere inches away. Its pale green lips curled into a gentle self-pleased smile and its expression and the quivering of its leaves gave off the impression of purring.

Hesitating, Orb let their fingers fall from the strange creature. Cautiously, Orb moved to sit up, scooching further away --Uselessly as the plant only scooched closer as Orb moved away-- from the plant-person before issuing a standard runic, “Hello.”

The plant perked up. Its eyes widened and its mouth fell agape as it tilted its head curiously and wrapped one of its hands around Orb’s wrist. Orb shook their wrist free and slipped their hands back under their cloak, squinting behind the mask. They shifted languages to that of the Nebulites, “Hello?”

Again, the Plant perked up even more, its leaves standing on end and making its head look more like a cactus than a cute shrub. It closed its mouth, then opened it and closed it again before looking away. Without looking at Orb, the feminine humanoid pulled a piece of the masked figure’s coat up to their nose, took a sniff of it, and then began nibbling on it.

Orb narrowed their eyes, a hand snaking out of their cloak. Slowly they brought their gloved hand close to the living-shrub’s face, curving to gently grip its jaw. The shrub seemed to chuckle although no sound came out, and its leaves went back to their relaxed state. It let Orb handle its jaw however they wanted, sticking out its tongue slightly through gently biting teeth.

Squeezing the plant’s cheeks between their fingers, Orb peered inside the plant’s mouth, humming a curious tune. The plant’s teeth were remarkably similar in appearance to the Nebullites’, although upon closer inspection their pigmentation was slightly darker, and there were wooden patterns along the edges of the teeth, like those one would see in the core of a tree trunk. Its tongue was a darker shade of its skin color and taste buds could be seen along its surface much like on a Nebullites’ tongue.

Suddenly, the plant opened its mouth and poked its own tongue, then tried to guide Orb’s finger into its mouth by grabbing their hand. Orb gulped, “If you bite me, I’ll be very upset.” The said as they willingly let their finger prod into the shrub-person’s mouth. The shrub gently bit down on Orb’s finger and smiled innocently.

Orb’s eyes narrowed again and they gently slid their finger out of the creature’s mouth, “So you can understand me? What is your designation?”

The creature tilted its head once more then grabbed Orb’s cloak with one hand and pointed at the sea. Orb nearly jumped at the grab and slapped a hand over the plant’s -causing it to jump back- a hidden frown forming on Orb's face, “Please, no interaction with my clothing.”

After a moment of stillness and anxious staring, the shrub-person crawled back up to Orb and veeery slowly moved its hand closer to Orb’s cloak, never once taking its eyes off Orb’s mask. Orb inched just out of reach and pondered out loud, “There is a possibility that you are incapable of speech as well as understanding. We will need to confirm a level of alternative communication if we are to continue our interaction. Yes.” Orb pinched the end of their mask thoughtfully, “I must assess what senses you possess.”

The creature merely looked on, and when Orb finished speaking, it leaned forward and showed the top of its head to Orb, leaves quivering in anticipation.

“Desire?” Orb pondered, reaching out and touching the creature’s head gently with a single finger.

The creature seemed to freeze, then after a moment it peeked up at Orb’s mask pleadingly.

“You possess touch, and earlier you portrayed taste, smell, and sight,” Orb concluded, resting their gloved palm flat on top the creatures head. As Orb pondered, the creature began rubbing its leafy head against their hand, closing its shiny eyes in what seemed to be pure bliss.

Orb made a curious face and patted the head gingerly, “I assume you are very sensitive in this particular area. I hope and plead that it is simply perchance and not the result of something unsavory that I am unaware of.” Orb shook their head and retracted their hand, “You can’t understand me, either way. Yet you do have ample use of facial expression.”

The creature looked at Orb and then patted their hood-covered head while grinning happily.

“Yes, yes,” Orb said, scrunching under the petting reluctantly, “Uh... thank you.” Orb moved a hand forward and pinched their own mask. “Right, we are going to experiment on a theory of mine, now.” Their other hand moved the plant’s own away from their head, two hidden eyes staring intently at the plant’s own.

“Look at me,” Orb commanded, well aware of the uselessness of their words. Sliding their mask up, they took in a deep breath. The once hidden band of the mask fell from behind Orb’s head, their hood falling to their shoulders. Orb pulled the mask from their face and anxiously held it against their lap with both hands.

Two big eyes colored similar to a starry sky twinkled at the plant. Orb’s feminine face was gentle, with a deep tan. Their cheeks were full and angled to their gentle sloping chin, indeed giving their face a heart shape, with a small nose and a mouth that seemed to have a slight natural curl at each end. Orb had two tiny thin strip of burgundy down feathers where eyebrows would normally be, matching the long silky burgundy feathers that trailed down from their scalp, many strange beads tied into the cascade of shoulder length feathers. Orb let out a beaming (albeit forced) smile, showcasing a white brilliance. They pointed eagerly at their face, “Happy.”

The shrub-person looked between Orb’s lap and their face, and eventually put a hand on each. One rubbing the mask and the other Orb’s now flinching face, specifically their nose and feathery eyebrows, which the plant seeming to enjoy the most, running its fingers back and forth along the eyebrows in amazement while the other hand inspected every accessible surface of the mask.

“You are a touch based learner,” Orb suggested, letting their mask fall to the sand below for the meanwhile, allowing the plant creature to focus both its hands on Orb’s bare face, with one slowly settling around their throat. At that moment, the plant froze, and then mimicked opening and closing its mouth. Orb hummed in their throat, vibrating against the plant’s hand. It reeled back and stared agape at Orb, then with the tip of its finger traced a path from Orb’s throat all the way to their chest, over where their left lung would be. Orb backed up a little and grabbed the plant’s hand, putting it back on their throat.

“Orb.” They said, poking themselves as they did. Making sure the plant’s hand was steady on their throat, Orb poked the plant gently on the forehead, “Shrub.”

The Shrub stared in confusion, wincing everytime Orb poked its forehead. It leaned in and lightly pressed its hand against Orb’s lips and opened and closed its mouth.

Sucking in a breath through their nose -causing Shrub to look at Orb as if it had performed some unknown forbidden magic- Orb patted Shrub on the top of its head, gently speaking into Shrub’s palm, “Shrub.” They took Shrub’s free hand and patted the hand against their own feathery scalp, “Orb.”

Shrub’s eyes lit up in understanding and she nodded, petting Orb’s head with an airy smile on her face. She mimicked Orb’s lip movements and mouthed ’Owb’. Orb nodded with a big exaggerated smile, “Good.”

And then Shrub started mouthing off, ’Owbowbowbowbowbowbowbowbowb...’ over and over as she slid up to Orb and hugged her new friend, nuzzling their feathery hair. Orb squirmed uncomfortably, slipping from the grasp, but gave Shrub a gentle pat on the head and a weak smile.

“This is a start.”

Shrub suddenly released Orb from the hug and nodded fervently, standing up and trying to pull Orb onto their feet, ’Owb!’

Scooping up their mask, Orb rose to their feet, “What is it, Shrub?”

Shrub intertwined her fingers with Orb’s, but the cloaked figure broke free to run to their paddle boat. Leaning onto the deck and out of sight, Orb quickly grabbed a backpack (depositing their mask into it) and swung it over their shoulders before running back to the waiting Shrub. Hesitating for a moment, they placed their hand back into Shrub’s who led them further into land, looking back every so often to confirm Orb was really there. After what felt like a long time, they arrived in a particularly dense patch of jungle, where the overgrowth went almost past their waists. At that point, Shrub gave the air a few sniffs and squatted down into the overgrowth, emerging a few seconds later with quivering leaves and presenting a newly hatched griffon to her new friend. ’Owb.’ There, with strong rays of light reflecting off of every possible surface, it was easy to see the crystallized sap going along Shrub’s arms, shoulders, chest and back, with deep gashes visible under the crystal-like fluid of life.

“Wha-” Orb suddenly had a flashback and shivered, “Ah, one of those.” Staring at the scarring of what could have been wounds, Orb began to piece the puzzle together, “I was taken by one of those too.” Orb offered helplessly, braving a single touch of the baby griffin. It cried weakly in response, squirming away from Orb’s hand. It seemed to be half-starved, and so it could do nothing but cry once more as Shrub thrust it into Orb’s hand.

Orb fumbled with the weak baby for a moment before finding an appropriate grip on the squirming creature. Orb’s starry eyes studied it intently, “It requires sustenance.” Their own stomach rumbled, “I also require sustenance.”

Shrub tilted her head and pointed at a nearby ray of light and at Orb’s rumbling stomach.

Orb hummed and shook their head. They pushed the baby back into Shrub’s arms and slipped their pack off their back. Snapping the bag open and after rummaging through it briefly, Orb pulled out a strip of cloth. Unraveling it they plucked a dried fruit from it and tossed the fruit in the air. The small fruit looped and came back down, landing square onto Orb’s blue tongue. They chewed and swallowed, giving Shrub a wink, “See? Consumption.”

Shrub stared on for a long few moments, until her eyes suddenly lit up and she placed the baby griffon on her head, proceeding to scratch at the crystallized sap on her arms until it fell apart with a silent grunt of pain and fresh new sap began to slowly leak out of her flesh. After letting it accumulate for a while, she coated her finger in a generous portion of her sap and brought it up close to the griffon’s beak. It took the baby a split second to react, and then it began energetically licking up the sap. Shrub’s face lit up with a wide grin and starry eyes and she looked at Orb.

“Well that’s one solution,” Orb surrendered as they ate the rest of their fruits, “But I have a feeling that infant requires fleshy sustenance.” Orb swallowed their meal and rasped, “Come.” they coughed on a loose rind stuck in their throat, “Come aid me in relocating the materials and supplies of my vessel, I think I spotted an adequate clearing on the way here where I could lay a foundation.”

After the griffon finished licking her finger clean, Shrub nodded to herself and skipped close to Orb, wrapping her arms around one of Orb’s.

Orb seemed to freeze for a moment before reluctantly sighing, allowing the cling, “Let’s advance.”


Goddess of Rain
MP 18 FP 16

Year 57, 10 years after the Rot.

“But Queen-Mother-”

“I ordered you to stay at the camp, and you disobeyed. I know what your intentions are and I am happy you care this much about my wellbeing, Child, truly… But what I require right now is solitude.” Li’Kalla explained calmly, walking into the forest without looking back at the one following her with quick and light footsteps.

“W-What if the River Worm comes back and hurts you again!” A pair of small, thin arms wrapped themselves around Li’Kallas wrist, and she stopped with a sigh, turning around to look at the black-haired and blue eyed child with a motherly smile.


The child looked straight into Li’Kalla’s eyes, his own ice-blue eyes filled with fire and determination.

“… Very well. I will reward your passion by allowing you to accompany me. Go to the the camp craftsman, get a knife, and catch up to me. That is your quest for today.” Li’Kalla nodded and the boy ran off without hesitation.

Without wasting time, Li’Kalla turned and went on her way. Her objective today wasn’t simple solitude. It had been almost ten years since the day Shengshi had cursed the land, and while Ya’Shuur had cured the land of its illness, the shockwaves left by the attack were still reverberating to this day.

The Rot had only lasted for slightly over 6 weeks, and in those 6 weeks many species of wildlife, as well as hundreds of Vallamir and Valthumir across the Island, had perished. Every secluded tribe immediately turned their backs on Li’Kalla, and over the years more than a handful had tried to attack her Faithful to no avail. And they would keep trying to hurt her and her chosen herd if she didn’t do something.

It was two years ago that a party of Valthumir explorers came back from an expedition to the west of the Island and reported a large forest that consisted of a single tree. A large tree in the center had roots spanning beyond the horizon, and those roots came above ground very often, turning into what looked like independent trees but were in fact all part of the same entity.

That’s where she was heading. She’d been travelling with a small group of her people for a few days now to reach this place, and now she had to impress them. She would make this entire forest immune to the effects of any curse involving Shengshi and Harvests, and to do that she only needed to do one thing according to her theory.

Power and Essence.

When she climbed a hill, she saw it. A forest stretching as far as the mortal eye could see, with pretty trees everywhere you looked, all blooming with beautiful flowers and leaves of different colors and shapes. It was impressive even to Li’Kalla that a single tree could have parts of it be so different from one another, with the one similarity being a pale-colored trunk.

When Li’Kalla was about to enter the forest, Rann’Ka came down the hill, wielding a stone knife with plant fibre rope wrapped around the handle for comfort. One of the finest tools in their camp, she recognized, due to the exotic material in which it was made — Obsidian. It seemed like her people’s admiration and respect for her grew with each day, with the adults being willing to give such a great tool to a child of barely 10 years of age in order to protect her serving as proof.

The child caught up to her and grinned widely, holding the knife with both his hands and showing it to her, “I got it, Queen-Mother, Uncle Jin’So gave it to me!”

Li’Kalla chuckled and ruffled up his straight black hair, “Jin’So, huh? As expected of a Valthumir like him, he sees the potential you hold, Child.”

Rann’Ka gasped in delight and his cheeks turned red as he stared with starry eyes at Li’Kalla, who after a second turned around and resumed walking. He followed closely and silently, like he’d been taught to do by his caretaker.

Until at last they arrived at the center of the forest and saw the great tree. It stood as tall as the mightiest wild dragon, and it breathed life. Birds and small animals made their homes in the endless branches and canopy of the tree, and its soul seemed to emit a calming aura, enveloping every being near it. Even Li’Kalla could feel it, and a spare look at Rann’Ka afterward she confirmed he was feeling the same way.

“Rann’Ka, I will infuse this tree with my life force, and in doing so I will protect this Holy Land and all of my beloved Children from attacks like the one that the Accursed Envy launched on us ten years ago. I do this, hoping in the depths of my heart, that you nor any other child has to witness death, famine and insanity like that.” Li’Kalla’s voice was serious, and her face hardened. Rann’Ka watched in amazement and nodded excitedly.

And so Li’Kalla walked to the tree and placed both her hands on it, closing her eyes…

And let her energy pour into the Tree freely.

It was an incredible sight for young Rann’Ka. A blinding light had consumed the Goddess and the tree, and the latter grew and grew until it blocked out the sky, and its trunk thickened and warped around him, and created large halls and openings, with several levels. It was becoming more of a living, empty village than a tree, but that was only because Rann’Ka was inside the tree and couldn’t see that from the outside, the once mighty tree had now pierced the sky and had grown slightly paler. Its canopy was as wide as a city, and its trunk was equaly as amazing.

The flow of energy slowed and the shapes became more visible and detailed as time went on. And then…

“AH!” Li’Kalla yelped, and a shockwave went through the tree and the land, and she fell to the ground in a heap.

It was dark for a long time, until an odd warmth reached her. It was soft, sometimes prickly but she felt at peace and… Happy. Happy? Had she ever felt that way…? Without thinking about it, and without caring to open her eyes, she sighed and cuddled up against the warmth, nuzzling into… Leaves?

Did the warmth just squirm?

“… Get away from me!! Mom, mom! Wake up please!” Rann’Ka cried, and Li’Kalla’s eyes shot open to come face to face with a delicate, green, soft face and a pair of half-lidded, shiny, all-black eyes staring at her happily. The face was framed by soft-looking leaves which were squirming lightly and gave the entity cuddling up to her the appearance of gentle excitement. It seemed humanoid enough, with a feminine, delicate shape but unfortunately small breasts. They weren’t suited to breastfeed newborn, Li’Kalla thought and then realized that this entity wasn’t a mammal at all. After pushing her knee up between the entity’s legs, she confirmed that it wasn’t able to engage in intercourse. Interesting.

“Agh!” Rann’Ka groaned and fell, and reminded of her situation, Li’Kalla pushed the little soft humanoid plant away and stood up, turning to see Rann’Ka’s blushing face peeking out from under a mountain of feminine green, brown, pale yellow and orange bodies. He didn’t seem hurt, and was just embarrassed. So Li’Kalla looked around and saw how the Tree had changed and that they were now inside a great hall of some kind, with multiple levels above and below, reaching up into the sky and down below the earth, with bioluminiscent plants wherever the light didn’t reach.

On the level below there were hundreds of pods lined in strips of the solid wood of the tree, and those pods were quickly opening and letting out many of the plant-like humanoids. Around her and Rann-Ka’s location, she noticed a few plants, much bigger and stronger looking than the others. Those were the males, hulking and gentle and shy.

In the end, she chuckled and waved her hand at the pile of bodies smothering Rann’Ka, and they got off him reluctantly.

“It’s been done, let’s go back to the camp.” The Goddess said and started walking away toward an opening in the thick walls of the tree. Rann’Ka jumped up to his feet and ran up to Li’Kalla, holding onto her dress tightly as he composed himself. At the exit, Li’Kalla turned to look for the plant humanoid that had cuddled up to her and pointed at it. “Come with me.” And it obeyed happily, skipping up to her and wrapping her soft arms around Li’Kalla’s.

“… W-What did you do, mom?” Rann’Ka asked after a while.

“I gave the tree the power necessary to protect this land’s flora from outside interference through an enhanced capability to heal the land’s plants. For all intents and purposes, this tree, which I will name ‘The Endless Tree’, has now become our first line of defense againt Demonic influences.”

“And those weird green… Things?”

“Ah… An unexpected side effect. Let’s name them… Foreas.”

Li’Kalla, Goddess of Rain

MP 18 FP 16



Rivers and Rain

“Alright,” the snake sighed. “I suppose we should go pick up those… What did Laurien call them again?”

“Nebulites, Your Lordship,” He Bo replied helpfully.

“Ah, yes - the Nebulites. Have their rooms been prepared?”

“With impeccable attention to detail and comfort, Your Lordship.”

“Splendid,” the snake praised with a smile. The great vessel of Jiangzhou was currently cruising lethargically through the clouds due west. The ship had been primed and prepared for the coming day-long feast, and the army of servants zoomed back and forth with towels, bedsheets, food and drink. Everything was going to be perfect - nothing less could be expected.

However, an odd sensation suddenly prickled at the snake’s mind, and as he looked outside, he saw heavy, gray clouds on the horizon like dark wool. Behind them, a presence teased its position like the final cookie in the jar.

“Say, He Bo - what is in that direction?”

The master servant followed his finger and squinted at the clouds. “Cannot say, Your Lordship. The holy vessel Jiangzhou rarely sails these clouds.”

The snake hummed. “If we have sailed in the right direction, there should be an archipelago below us. Though this presence is… Awfully unlike the one I was expecting. We shall investigate.”

The ship dipped down under the thickest cloud cover, but it seemed to extent forever. Moisture clung to the cool wood and cloth onboard and the snake pursed his lips.

“He Bo, I think we may have taken a wrong turn somewhere.”

“It could be raining over the isles today, Your Lordship,” He Bo suggested. The snake shook his head.

“No, no, we are definitely somewhere other than where we intended to go.” He slithered out onto his veranda and stared ahead. He Bo followed swiftly after, even his controlled steps slipping on the wet floorboard. Before them a great island stretched towards the north, and above them fell raindrops upon raindrops in a ceaseless manner. The snake blinked and snapped his fingers.

“Oh, now I know what this presence is!”

He Bo opened a silk umbrella. “What is it, Your Lordship?”

“A goddess - one whose presence I have not sensed since the dawn of time. Oh, what a splendid opportunity! He Bo, have the servants deck the feast hall for two.”

“At once, Your Lordship,” the master servant answered dutifully and hurried inside. The snake scanned eagerly across the vast lands: the froth of waves at its coast, the thick growth of trees, and, his divine eyes observed, a particularly hot lake next to what looked to be a house.

“Ah, wonderful.”

Some time later, the impervious vessel had landed neatly on the boiling lake. The snake peered over the side of the deck, backed up by a few curious servant eyes, to see several barely clothes shapes on the shore, staring at the ship in both fear and awe. All in all, at least fifty of those shapes were present, with most being very young children and babies in the arms of females. More were arriving quickly, however.

One male, pale with white hair and grey eyes, pushed his way through the small crowd and took a stance, pointing his stone spear at the magnificent ship.

“You land in the Holy Lake of the Eagle Clan,” The male exclaimed with all he had, his voice barely reaching the ship, “You dare bring foreign materials into sacred lands without the permission of the True Queen-Mother, state your identities now, invaders!”

As he spoke, three more of his kin, these ones with black hair and brown eyes, joined him, one of them with a primitive bow and the other two with clubs.

“Ouch, what a greeting,” the snake muttered. “He Bo, fetch a meal for each of these as a peace offering.” The servant replied in his nasal, musical language and disappeared behind the top of the deck. The snake wrinkled his nose and turned to look down at the creatures below. In a bombastic move, he swung his arms open and boomed, “Lower your weapons, people of the Eagle Clan, for I, Shengshi, am not your foe! I come in nothing but peace, for the sake of peace, and with an invitation of peace. In but a moment, my intentions will be clear for you all to sample.”

He clapped his hands together once and smiled. “In the meantime, would you tell me a bit about yourselves? I do so love a mortal story or two.”

The male hesitated, but ended up relaxing. His kin followed suit, casting uncertain gazes at their leader. Just as he opened his mouth to continue speaking, a loud knocking echoed through the land. Heavy metal on thick wood, it came from the large front doors to the Pristine Manor on top of the cliff, overlooking the crude huts and workshops of the mortals.

Three times the knock was heard, and after three times the doors dragged open, the wood creaking and allowing light into the dark interior of the building. Behind the doors, the tall Goddess Li’Kalla, Goddess of Rain, stood proud. Her pure white wings were stretched at each side of her body, tips touching far above her head, outlining a sort of halo behind her head. It barely fitting through the frame of the entranceway. And so she walked out and the doors closed behind her, one last heavy knock reverberating through the bones of the mortals present.

Every primitive watched with tears in their eyes and happy smiles, the only one who remained watching the foreigners closely was the male leader.

The Goddess walked gracefully to the shores of her Boiling Lake and made herself float up to Shengshi’s level, without drawing too close to the Jiangzhou.

”I welcome you to my humble abode, and I introduce you to my Herd, the Valthumir and Vallamir who reside on this land… Shengshi, God of Rivers, am I correct?”

“Very much so!” the snake replied and bowed low. “It is an honour and a joy to be welcome. Forgive me for not contacting you ahead of my arrival - for a while I was a little uncertain as to who exactly was down here; I am glad to find that it was you, after all.” He tapped his chin. “This is the first time we have met since the dawn of time, is it not? Or did we even formally meet even then? My apologies, my recollections of the eons past are a little jumbled of late.”

”I say the same of my recollections. That is not important now, however. We shall treat it as our first meeting.” Li’Kalla said with a placid smile.

“So we shall! So, this Herd of yours…” As he spoke, a train of servants came out the palace gates behind him. As soon as they laid their eyes on Li’Kalla, they collectively put the covered plates they were carrying on the ground, turned to her with inclined heads and then proceeded to kowtow. Then, they thundered as one: “TEN THOUSAND YEARS TO LI’KALLA, GREAT MISTRESS OF THE RAIN!” The snake spun around and smiled proudly while Li’Kalla nodded at the servants in appreciation.

“... Fantastic, aren’t they? Right, so this Herd… It has a…” He sniffed the air and hummed. “... A certain scent about it - a four-way split of essence. Were they a collaborative project?”

”Ah,” Li’Kalla held back a sigh, ”They are a product of Arae, Roog, Kalmar and I. Unfortunately. Had I been the sole creator I would’ve been able to ensure all of them showed at least one Streak of Divinity… As it stands, I’ve separated the lesser ones from those worthy of leadership.”

“Ah! A hierarchy! Finally, something familiar,” the snake applauded. “A proper civilisation needs its castes. What would my servants be without it, I wonder?” The servants in question had made their way down from the ship on a watery staircase and proceeded to offer the Valthumir and Vallamir clay plates covered with lids to keep the rain out. From underneath the lids oozed mouth-watering fragrances, and seeing the look on the faces of her mortals, Li’Kalla made the rain stop and the clouds disperse.

When she turned to face Shengshi she was blushing slightly and frowning, ”I apologize, Shengshi, they have no tables to place the plates on. They shall kindly accept your offering and eat it in their huts, away from sight. It’s a very young civilization, I hope you understand.” As she finished, she quickly motioned a dismissal with her hand to Van’Kalla, the male leader who still watched the two Gods speak.

“Understood, Queen-Mother, at once.” Van’Kalla replied with a respectful nod of his head and turned around to begin shouting at his kin. each one took one plate they liked the scent of and disappeared into one of the few huts.

The Goddess watched the mortals go one by one until there were none left but the servants, and then she turned to Shengshi. ”Would you rather speak on neutral ground? Have your servants set up a temporary meeting spot some distance away from the Lake and we shall discuss things further there, I have need of your expertise in some matters.”

“Oh, is that so? How fantastically convenient. May I come with a proposal, though? While it may not be neutral perhaps, we have already stacked the table in my feast hall below deck high with snacks and drinks for just such an occasion - would that suffice?”

Li’Kalla pursed her lips, and then nodded, ”That will do.”

“Then,” the snake said with a bow, “if you would follow me, please.” He then spun calmly on his tail and slithered towards the palace gates, with Li’Kalla letting herself touch the ground and walking next to him.

”I couldn’t help but notice the efficiency at which your servants work and the plates they carried. Clay, correct?”

“Correct. It is of my own making, as with most of the items onboard. The servants have a complex and fascinating culture, and while they are slowly reverse-engineering much of the equipment they have been using over the centuries, there are certain processes that offer more obstacles than others, hence why the clay plates are not made by them.” The pair entered into the palace where the walls along the great corridor to the feast hall were lined with kowtowing servants, all of whom were shouting their humble, praising greetings with one voice. The snake continued, “They are nigh infinitely loyal and rigorously well-trained. There are none in this universe but the gods who can best them in service and servitude.”

Li’Kalla watched with some discomfort as the servants kept going out of their way to greet them, ”I see,” She said, ”Gods are not meant to serve others however, so they might as well be the best there is in that aspect for now.”

“I could not agree more,” the snake said with a smile. The pair descended a great staircase draped with crimson silk carpets and before them unfolded a room of gold and glory. Its walls carried splending paintings on colossal rice paper canvases; the roof was lit with red paper lanterns; nearly every surface and column wore a golden coat. In the background sang flutes and harps and in the centre of the hall stood a long table with a golden dragon throne at the far end and a beautifully bejeweled throne of wood upholstered with silken pillows on the left side of the far end.

When they arrived at the thrones, the snake took the liberty of pulling Li’Kalla’s throne out for her. “Please, have a seat.”

”Thank you,” Li’Kalla said furling up her wings and sitting down in one graceful movement. ”Beautiful decoration, was it all decided by you, Cardinal Courtesy?”

“Down to the last tablecloth,” the snake confirmed with a smile and sat himself on his golden dragon throne. “The feast hall is the jewel of my vessel - only perfection is acceptable. I would have nothing less for my guests.” A number of servants came over to the table and, with swift, courteous movements, they placed down warm clay plates for the both of them upon which sat rolled up, hot towels. The snake took his and rubbed it over his hands.

“Forgive me for jumping straight to the point, but I am so curious: What was it that you wanted to discuss?”

Li’Kalla imitated what Shengshi did, and she nodded, ”As you surely observed, the state of my civilization is rather… Unsatisfying. You saw how they greeted you. Their ignorance comes from a lack of knowledge and respect, so upon seeing your servants I wondered if you would be able to teach some basic etiquette to the Vallamir and Valthumir, and while at it I would be thankful to receive advice on how to ensure the loyalty and productivity of the lower castes.”

“Ah, so that which ails you is issues of the state,” the snake mused. “The request for basic etiquette can easily be solved if a few servants were left behind to educate them. Etiquette stems from respect, which can be achieved through fear or fame. Let us examine these two,” the snake stated. “If they respect you because of your might, they would never dare to rise up unless they thought that they could win - which they cannot. For a god, it is safe, reliable and simple.”

Servants came over to them with cups of light wine. The snake took a small sip from his and continued, “If they respect you because of your heroism or out of their love for you, they are likely to be loyal, as well. Working for a master one knows will care for you is a great motivator, so productivity is assured as well. However, mortals are ungrateful and easily corrupted by worldly riches. They may not love you forever for the gifts you grant to this generation. Therefore, my advice is to establish clear boundaries - offer them a stern rule set that tells them what will lead to wealth and riches, and what will lead to sanctions and punishment.”

Li’Kalla set down the hot towel, now soaking due to her rainwater, and brought her hand up to her mouth as she thought. After a moment, she nodded again, ”I see. Yes, I will create a concise ruleset. There is another matter...” Li’Kalla grabbed her cup and gave it a long sip, gasping quietly in surprise at the flavour, ”... Wine? And it’s exceptional.”

“Like it?” the snake smiled and chuckled. “This one is a pear wine, made from Atokhekwoian pears. It is very much a new favourite of mine. I will give you a pot if you like it that much. Oh, why not take two, to honour our friendship.”

”Heh, you take large strides, Shengshi.” Li’Kalla chuckled and kept sipping at her cup, ”We can do business later, I am very interested in your selection of wines. For now, the other matter I had in mind was requesting you share some technology with my Herd. I am willing to do business, should you wish to ask for anything in exchange.”

“Hooo?” The snake raised an eyebrow and put down his cup. He intertwined his fingers and placed his chin on top. “What technology did you have in mind?”

”You clearly have the ability to produce wines in large quantities, so that means you have access to agricultural techniques beyond most of those I’ve seen in this world. On top of that, you have access to sugar, an important ingredient in the making of wine, which is also an important ingredient in black powder. You see where I’m going with this, I expect.”

The snake’s eyebrows furrowed together and he wrinkled his nose. “I am sorry, but there may be a misunderstanding here. While I do have expansive knowledge of agriculture and brewing, I personally do not use any extra sugar in the brewing process - not even to carbonate the drinks. Certainly, I can plant for your mortals fields of sugar beets or sugar cane, but I believe you know as well as I that for mortal hands to extract refined sugar from these plants, they require technology that they simply are not ready for.”

”That is no matter, if you can teach my mortals these techniques and technologies, I’d be happy to sponsor any project of your choosing in exchange.”

The snake raised a palm. “I will gladly teach them to work the soil and harvest its produce, and I will teach them to make the tools that will bring in the season’s bounty and where to store it. However, until they at the very least grasp concepts like pottery, furnaces and metalcraft, I feel teaching them sugar extraction is wasted knowledge.”

”That is a fair point. They should be ready for that knowledge soon, however. After agriculture is established, the Valthumir will begin to truly shine. Without having to spend so much time foraging and hunting for food, most of them will be able to focus on scientific pursuits... We may yet be able to turn these savages into proper civilized individuals.”
“A worthy mission. Few goals in this world are greater than the search of prosperity for one’s people. However, I feel a need to stress my earlier point about respect. The mortals respecting you will be simple - however, the mortals respecting one another necessitates that one of them, preferably the leader you have chosen, has a considerable force behind them. How skilled are your people in combat? Will there be a state policing force?”

Li’Kalla finished her cup of wine and set it down on the table, ”Not very skilled. We lack the numbers or stable food source to establish an army. I do know of one Valthumir that shows real potential for warfare, however. He is on a quest at the moment, below ground where the shadows reside.”

“What was that? Below ground where the shadows reside?”

Li’Kalla raised her eyebrows in surprise and leaned back in disbelief, ”... I expected a God with a taste for stories to know this, somehow. I suppose no one visits these lands too much. There are hideous, dangerous beings under our feet right now. Forgotten creations by a Forgotten deity… They seek only to sow destruction and pain and death, and they guard the underground where all the significant sources metals and combustible resources are.”

“How absolutely barbaric - to make life for the sake of destroying other life for nothing but sport.” The snake grimaced and waved the foul thought away. “And here I thought the pinnacle senseless destruction was that bloody flame-bearded dog. To furthermore stand in the way of your people’s future prosperity, too. Horrible - simply horrible.”

”it is good practice,” Li’Kalla sighed, ”I can’t shake this feeling that something horrible lies in wait for us over the horizon, so this is more of a blessing in disguise… It will serve to toughen up the Valthumir. Especially because not even I know how deep the underground goes, or what creatures are down there.”

“... I certainly hope that I will remain merely a blessing in disguise, then… Still…” He waved over a servant who placed a plate of small appetisers on the table: various bits of fish, biscuits and rice balls. “... You will not have to worry about an army. Once they have been taught to work the soil, they will not hunger for many, many years.”

”Indeed,” Li’Kalla tapped the rim of her empty wine cup then looked straight at Shengshi, ”Back to business, I would be interested in obtaining seeds for several different crops, including grapes and these pears you mentioned. Oh, and lastly, would you mind taking me to your cellar? I would like to taste your different wines. If they’re tradeable, I’d like to get as many of the ones I find agreeable as possible.”

“They are both tradeable and giftable, my dear - I am inclined to offer the wine to you as the latter in addition to the gift of seeds, tools and knowledge. The wine shall serve as my letter of friendship and siblinghood to you - the rest can be traded for a favour which I may call upon at a later date. Does this sound fair?”

Li’Kalla smiled and nodded, raising her cup up in the air, ”It sounds fair. Now, take a girl to you cellar, will you?”

“Of course,” the snake said with a smile and rose, slithering over to Li’Kalla’s throne to offer her a hand which she gladly took. “Please, follow me.” And so the two walked to the far back of the feast hall, towards the ship’s stern. There awaited them a colossal metal gate sealed with chains and locks. The snake snapped his right fingers and the pair watched as the locks opened themselves and pulled away from the door like retreating serpents.

“A safety measure to keep out any curious mortals. I had three once who spent their entire days emptying my cellar. Never again.” Li’Kalla responded with a chuckle.

The doors slowly swung open and an aged, sour smell fell out like a cloud of dust. It was dark inside, and in the red light shining in through the doorway, one could see fifty litre clay pots stacked in mountains around the room, surrounding research benches and boiling basins. In the centre of the room was an enormous metal contraption, adorned with brass stills and pipes. A vent of steam escaped it with a loud whistle.

“Pardon the mess, my dear - I so rarely bring guests here these days. Not that I do not wish to show it off, oh no, it is merely because so few request it.”

Li’Kalla shook her head and waved her hand nonchalantly, ”No complaints here, I prefer it when workshops are well-used and slightly messy, myself. It shows the one in charge is diligent.” She spoke as she walked around the vast room, taking in all the various tools, rolled up parchments and most importantly, the metal contraption. ”This is the first contraption I see in this world that comes close to a machine. It’s beautiful, really! Pray tell, does it require manpower or is it automated?”

“This is the Distillery. While the fires must be kept alive by mortal hand, it boils the wine and collects the vapours on its own, concentrating them to create liquor. It is a stronger sort of wine, if you will - specifically made to be consumed in small doses at a time over the course of a long night.”

”Oh, I see, impressive nonetheless,” Li’Kalla took in the sight and then looked over at one of the research benches, ”I’m sorry, I’m unfortunately not too well versed in the different kinds of alcohol that can be consumed, so all I can talk about is my admiration for machines and research. I’m a bit of a bore, really.”

“No, no, you are certainly no bore, dear!” Shengshi supported. “Machinery and industry are two fascinations of my own, too, so I could gladly talk about them for ages. How about we talk some over a cup of… Uhm, let us see…” The snake ran his fingers over a number of labels. “How about a mango liqueur? It is a little thicker and sweeter than the one we had for lunch.”

”Hmm...” Li’Kalla brought a hand up to her cheek as she thought, ”Why not? Let’s try a few different ones as well, this is a great opportunity to experience something new!” She said with a smile on her face.

The snake smiled and took off the lid. He took a wooden ladle and poured some of the thick, orange fluid into two cups. He offered one to Li’Kalla and gave his own a whiff. “Ah... Such a sweet scent… Tell me, what sort of crops would you like your civilisation to live off of? With these rains, I reckon rice and various vegetables can thrive.”

Li’Kalla brought her cup up to her nose and took a whiff as well, then tried the concoction. She made a face and coughed, then perked up. ”Ah yes, business. Rice is a great idea and I was thinking of adding corn and a good selection of fibrous vegetables. I do not mind which vegetables, as long as they’re fairly nutritious to ensure the long term health of the genetic stock. What do you think?”

“Rice and corn will serve as the main source of carbohydrates, then - vitamins and fiber will be covered by asparagus, cabbage, carrots and okra. Cucumbers as well, I think. Few of these will suffer too much from monsoons and rain seasons, and they offer many different flavours, textures and nutrients for your mortals to enjoy. As for proteins, I can offer various beans and legumes, though I still recommend either fish or meat for the warriors and labourers.”

”Yes, I expect most of their protein and fat intake to come from animal sources, excluding milk of course. Milk is… Disgusting, to say the least. We can supply them with two types of beans however. What’s your opinion on black beans and green lentils? The former is amazing with some salt, in my opinion.”

“You do not like milk?” the snake asked with a surprised look. “Well, suppose we will be skipping the fermented elephant milk, then…” He cleared his throat as Li’Kalla barely held back a gag. “Black beans and green lentils are satisfactory, though lentils in particular are very vulnerable to floods. May I suggest cowpeas instead? They are a little more comfortable with humidity.”

”Sure, sounds great. In due time we’ll be able to cultivate whatever we desire with just a little help from hydro, aqua and aeroponics however, so all of this might change in the future. Who knows, it might even be sooner than expected! Oh,” Li’Kalla gasped and shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself for a moment, ”I get all shivery thinking of the future, sorry!” She giggled and took a long sip of her drink.

“Oh, nothing to apologise for,” the snake chuckled. “Excitement about the future is something we all should feel! The future is prosperous, harmonious! A promise of peace, stability and joy for all life in this universe.” He knocked his cup gently against hers and flashed her a grin. “Starting with ensuring every mortal goes to sleep with a full belly.”

”Yeah! That’s a prosperous future, indeed! And let’s make sure my Faithful get to taste these sweet drinks as well! They will be a hit, I can imagine all the fun that’s going to be had in reunions and meetings between friends already.”

“Naturally, my dear! The wine shall flow through the camp of the Eagle clan like rain water over their soon-to-be-sown fields of food. Now…” He finished his cup. “Allow me to show you this one… It is an experimental blend…”

”... Aaaand daswhy, Sssheng… Daswhy you can’t mIX WHITE HAIR WITH COLOURED HAIR! Yuknoo… Sgood am here... Nooobodyhasshpreparedathing! I hav’ t...” Li’Kalla let her blushing face drop against the soft surface of the table she found herself to be sitting at and after a moment, ruffled up her own hair and looked up at Shengshi with a flushed, placid grin, ”... I liiiike, likelike youur PRODUCTS, Ho… Li… Ness~”

The snake shuffled uncomfortably in his throne. “I suppose my tolerance may be a little more robust.” A sharp burp escaped him and he covered his mouth. “Oof, pardon me. Li’Kalla, my dear, would you like one last sample before we return upstairs?”

Li’Kalla barely nodded and pushed her cup toward him. ”yuush…!”

The snake poured her a half-full cup of something purple. “For our final taste test, my dear, we have a very, very, -very- mild grape wine. I reckon it would serve you well to drink it and then gulp down some water so as to not appear…” He tapped his chin. “... Inebriated before your subjects.”

”W-Wuh- Am not!” Li’Kalla exclaimed, jerking upright and looking straight at the empty air next to Shengshi, she went to grab her cup and missed, then tried again and downed the cup in one go, letting herself slink back onto the table. ”... Maybeh a lil beet… Am in troublee… Haeelp meh...” Li’Kalla moaned, tearing up.

”I... cant go out like dish… Waddidyoudotoomeee...”

“Would you like to take a nap, dear?” the snake sighed and patted her comfortingly on her shoulder. “It usually helps.”

”... Ok, yesh.”

A few hours later...

Li’Kalla had been moved to a large bedroom with white walls painted with blue and green images of river valleys in the rain. Outside the skies were still gray, and it was quickly evident that the day was still the same as it had been before the wine tasting had begun. Beside the queen-sized, silk-sheeted bed was a small bed stand topped with a tall glass of water and an even tallen pitcher of the same. Between the two was a note.

With a groan and a stretch, Li’Kalla opened her eyes and sat up. She was feeling light as a feather and as beautiful as ever, and the sight of the gray skies invigorated her. By the Architect, did she love rain! Immediately she grabbed the tall glass of water that had been left on the bed stand and drank its contents. ”Hyyaaaa! That water’s good! How is Shengshi so good at picking out the taste for liquids? Maybe that comes with the title of River God… Hey… I am the Rain Goddess, I should be able to make great water as well.” Li’Kalla thought out loud, then shrugged, tilted her head back and opened her mouth, dangling her index finger over her mouth before thinking twice about it and shaking her head.

Instead she picked up the glass she’d just drank from, gave it a quick wash with her control over water and made sure it was dry before sticking the tip of her finger into it and letting a steady stream of clear, cool water fill it up. She took a sip of that water.

”Bleh. Could use some work...” She set the glass back down on the bedside table and got off the bed. She walked to the dresser and looked into the mirror, fixing her disheveled appearance with a mere thought and finishing with hand-grooming her wings. Why was that the one thing she did by hand? Because it felt good.

After a while, she looked through the drawers and the dozen wardrobes and found what she had wanted for so long -- Footwear. A pair of lace-up sandals made of leather. They weren’t a perfect match for her dress, but they were good enough, considering the dress covered up most of the leather strips reaching all the way to her knees anyway.

She also got herself a piece of parchment and a brush, and with impeccable control of her arm, wrote a divine message into the surface. They were beautifully crafted, the sigils, and each of them carried parts of a concise message.

There was no hurry, of course, but it was important for a God to be as efficient as possible. Therefore, as soon as she was finished with her small masterpiece of a letter, she rolled it up, tied a string around it and opened the door to her temporary chambers.

The Sandy Servant posted outside her door tensed up briefly, but otherwise kept her composure as she turned slightly and bowed deeply, never making any eye contact with the Goddess.


”My apologies for cutting you short, but I have a task for you, female.” Li’Kalla said with a polite smile, handing the servant woman the rolled up parchment. ”Take this to Shengshi at once. Thank you.” And just as quickly, the Goddess had closed the door again, leaving the Servant alone.

‘Steemed Shengshi,

Your stock of spirits is incredibly high-quality, as expected of a fellow God. I write this brief letter to you to highlight a few concerns of mine. First, nothing improper happened earlier on, and I never got to any stage of inebriation; and second, I am ready to bestow the gifts mentioned before onto my Herd. How should we proceed in order to strengthen both our positions? I would wish for this event to strengthen yours as well, within reason.

Li’Kalla Lithokelles.’

A few moments later, a knock came on Li’Kalla’s door.

“Li’Kalla? It is me, your brother,” came a muffled voice.

There was a moment’s worth of silence, and then the door opened. Li’Kalla herself was standing a few paces back, with her hands clasped in front of herself.

”Brother is a strong word, I believe. We are not related by blood, are we? Though it is true we are both Gods. I suppose it’s more of a gray area. Come in, please.” Li’Kalla smiled and nodded.

“Oh, forgive me if the terms makes you uncomfortable, my dear,” the snake said as he entered. “It has stuck with me somewhat since the first time I met Arae at the dawn of time. It personally brings me quite a bit of joy to see the gods as my siblings--” He frowned a little. “... Even the less civilised lot.”

”Such as Kalmar and Roog?” Li’Kalla asked suddenly, tilting her head innocently.

“Roog? Now that is name I am… Unfamiliar with, to say the least. Is it godspawn?”

”Indeed. It takes the form of an animal made of fire. Spawned between two male gods, as well. It’s a… Disappointing situation.”

“The personality, or the being’s conception?” the snake asked with a confused frown and a scratch of his temple.


The snake cleared his throat sheepishly. "My apologies, dear sister, I, uhm, I do not quite follow. The creature is rude, that I can see as problematic, but why is its male parentage an issue?”

Li’Kalla raised an eyebrow, ”Procreation should only be done between a male and a female, to set a healthy example for our creations. We want them to build new generations for us, right? If everyone turns deviant, their very continuity would be threatened. As a God, it is our duty to be the best of the best.”

The snake’s brow fell low. “For your information, dear, there are several mortals upon this good world that do not require two individuals of different sexes to reproduce. My Servants are among them, and if I am not mistaken, them numbering over ten thousand makes them the most numerous group of mortals in this universe.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Besides, in addition to this Roog, my son Anu was conceived with the blood of Narzhak and I - both, I assume, have a male form and consider ourselves to be male. I will not bat an eye if you wish this to be the view of your mortals, dear, but please do not equate all mortals to one another, nor mortals to the gods.”

Li’Kalla’s expression darkened, ”Let me ask you this, Shengshi… Why do you and Narzhak identify as males? By adopting that identity, you take upon your shoulders the laws of nature that keep sexually reproducing entities in line. What good is a male that seeks to copulate with another male? The Goddess rubbed her temple and sighed, “And you referring to the product of your interaction with another male as a ‘son’, just further confirms your actions as the product of rampant deviancy. A true son is brought to the world by a mother and father through sexual intercourse, anything else is either a creation or a deviation and must be purified.”

The snake recoiled as if he had been shot. He placed a palm on his chest and sucked in a breath through the nose, a scowl overtaking his visage. “There is no law of nature that says sexual reproduction is the only way - the only law of the universe is that there will be life, and there will be death. Anu is my son - that fact is as true as my very existence - regardless of whether he had been made with another male, female or something else. Mortals will reproduce regardless of whether homosexuality is normal, dear, and to enforce such a view upon all of mortalkind is to deprive them of a staggering joy.”

”Homosexuality is a joy? No. It is a perversion. See, why have two sexes when everyone can procreate with everyone else? There is no practicality to that, you might as well have created all mortals as hermaphrodites or completely sexless beings. It is disappointing to see Gods defend perversion and deviancy so freely, truly. In fact,” Li’Kalla smirked mockingly, ”We have no need for deviants here. A God that chooses his form to be half an animal’s and half a man’s? I should have realized you were worse than Kalmar or the dog. Shengshi, you may take your leave whenever you’re ready. Please do forget any business we spoke of, and keep your spirits. I wouldn’t want any of my followers doing things they’ll regret while inebriated.”

Li’Kalla then frowned, flicked her hair and walked past Shengshi, letting her slightly unfurled wings bump his shoulder on her way out.

”I know my way out, I shall not bother you on that.”

As the goddess left the room, the snake stood there speechless, opening and closing his mouth. His pupils were less than slits, near utterly empty. A quiet droning escaped him, one that slowly turned into quickened, furious breaths.

“... The nerve…” He closed his fist and sent it straight into the mirror in the room, reducing it to dust. He let out a livid scream at the top of his lungs and eyed himself up and down. “Half man and half animal?! DEVIANT?! Worse than-...” He reduced the wardrobe to sawdust. “I invite her into my home; I offer her my services…” His finned spine turned to a row of quills; his claws extended; his teeth lengthened into fangs. “THE NERVE!”

The snake stormed out the door, blasting it off its hinges, over the rails of the veranda walkway and into the depths of the belly of the ship. The echo silenced the whole vessel, and it did not take long before a train of nervous Servants trailed the snake with their heads bowing. At the head of the group marched a sweating He Bo, his watery eyes quivering with fear.

“Y-your Lordship, what is the matter?!”

“We are leaving this instant,” the snake spat back. “See to it that none of the gifts reserved for the Valthumir make it off the ship.”

“Y-yes, Your Lordship!” The master servant began to bark orders left and right. In the hallways, wine pots were sent back to the cellar; grain and seeds were thrown into the hearths; tools were left to collect dusts in their storages.

The snake climbed up onto the deck. There, he saw the goddess enter the mansion again, acting as if his ship was nothing but an insect flying by. The ship had begun to sail away by now. The snake grit his fangs and hammered at the ship railings with such force that the elementally-impervious planks began to shatter. Slowly, the rage manifested itself through a glare that could set fire to water.

“... So… We are supposed to set examples, are we?” he droned menacingly. “... And you want your little Valthumir not to do things they will regret…” He rubbed a claw against the wooden railing. “What a poor, poor example you make, my dear.”

The snake raised his hands into the air. A black sludge formed between his fingers and began to drip down into the soil far below.

“From this day forth, no soil upon this island will ever sprout a single grain, a single fruit, a single vegetable. As this bile runs black as night, so in kind shall every harvest yield nothing but filth and rot. Neither wild nor domestic trees will spawn anything but putrid slime; any sown grain will be as salt to the soil. From this day until the end of time, this island will be a pool of rot and decay.”

The ship disappeared behind the clouds before Shengshi could move on to a curse on the rivers, as well. Down below, the effect was immediate: All around Li’Kalla’s island, wild fruit, grain, vegetables, legumes - any edible yields of plants - all began to rot away in minutes. The stink was staggering.

Li’Kalla’s island, was sentenced to death.

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