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"Stay awhile and listen!"


I'm not really a bird.

Most Recent Posts

The Man who Loved the Sea

The sea danced as a dark purple, the dawn just touching the horizon. A lone selka fisherman sat in a canoe. The base had been burned to fell the tree, and the inside had been set ablaze and carved with rocks, making it a seamless tube for the old selka. He sat adrift with no tools but a humming smile, two round eyes set longingly on the horizon. A certain thump was in his heart and a certain warmth heated his soul.

“Oh ocean... my sea,
Entrapped... beauty,

Colours of night,
Colours of day,
Steal my heart away,

A blue so bright,
A ripple in sway,
Steal my breath away,

Oh ocean… my sea,
Entrapped… beaut--y?”

The man’s hum was cut short as his black eyes spotted two strange figures harassing a whale’s corpse on the beach behind him (his canoe having spun around during his idle singing). He strained his old ears as he paddled towards the scene.

“No Juttyu,” The more grizzled of the two chastised, “We want the big thick jaws, less perforated.”

“I’m just saying,” Juttyu, the giant of the two, debated, “These are massive, how are we going to--” He looked at the fisherman, “Uh, Panganeem?”

“Hm?” Panganeem looked up from the corpse and flinched, the fisherman having snuck onto the shore unnoticed. He squinted and rose from his inspecting position to greet the man, “Hail, friend. I’m Panganeem, this is Juttyu -- the giant.”

“I can see that,” The fisherman blinked as he witnessed the sheer size of Juttyu, “I’m Ippino, the fisherman.”

“Well met,” Panganeem nodded and looked around, “Is it just you around these parts?”
“Yes,” Ippino nodded, “I’ve left my tribe behind in search of solitude.”

“Solitude?” Juttyu asked in his echoing voice.

“Yes, solitude,” Ippino said, his left eye closing as it caught the midday heliopolis, “You see, I’m from the Hyummin tribe.”

“I’ve heard of them,” Panganeem announced, “Aren’t they--?”

“The biggest of tribes? Yes,” Ippino nodded again, “But size isn’t everything and the many families of the Hyummin have made their own lands unbearable.”

“How so?” Panganeem cocked a head and leaned against the dead whale.

“They quabble and squabble,” Ippino threw his wrinkled hands in the air, “Even my own son! Argue and debate, gnash their teeth and go behind each others backs. It is madness and I simply wish to fish, enjoy my loving sea and be well.”

“Perhaps we can help,” Panganeem nudged Juttyu, who nodded.

Ippino looked at them in shock for a while, “How?”

“Well,” Panganeem crossed his arms, “I’m not sure… yet. But it is what we do, we are out to make the selka stronger in all ways by any means, and if unity is what you need, unity is what you’ll get.”

“Right,” Juttyu agreed with a heavy nod.

Ippino narrowed his eyes, “I’m an old man, so you’ll have to spell this out to an old jade, but why?”

“Because,” Panganeem started.

“We are k’nights!” Juttyu finished, soliciting a tiny glare from Panganeem.

“Kah-nights?” Ippino mouthed, “What?”

“It’s a work in progress,” Panganeem parroted Gralph, “But yes, we are K’nights and by holy decree and mortal wishes, we are out to make the selka strong.”

“Holy decree?”

“Father Kirron, you see,” Panganeem answered.
“Ah, Kirron,” Ippino nodded, “Yes I know Kirron, he is the creator of the selka.”

“Yes,” Juttyu nodded.

“Husband to Delphina, too.” Ippino sighed, “Oh how I envy him.”

“Delphina?” Panganeem cocked a brow.

“Goddess of the Sea? Bride of Kirron?” Ippino looked shocked, “Come now, you must know of her.”

“I suppose I do,” Panganeem gave Juttyu a confused look, “Now, at least.”

“Mm,” Ippino folded his hands behind his back and waddled over to the lapping sea, “She pulls at my heart with her unending beauty.” His old eyes glazed over the horizon, the gentle waves pushing and pulling from the shore. A toothless smile formed on his face, “She inspires me, brings me joy. If my boat could go further, I’d find her heart, you know.” He turned to the other two and Juttyu pulled a hand from his nose, and Panganeem straightened his posture.

“Oh?” Panganeem asked as he turned to the jawbone of the whale.

“Yes,” Ippino nodded solemnly, “I’d find her heart, find her ear, and I’d whisper my poetry to her. I’d thank her for her bounty, praise her for her beauty, and then I suppose I’d not know what to do with myself any longer.”

There was a loud snap as Panganeem ripped the mandible from the skull, bits of rotten flesh hanging off of it. Juttyu looked it over, “We still need to shorten it.”

Ippino rolled his eyes, “I have tools back at my little hut, come with me. After we can discuss more about k’nights and what exactly you intend to do!”

“There,” Ippino pushed the mandible -- now cut into two clubs -- across his table to the two k’nights. They sat in a squat hut filled with fish parts and stone tools, as well as several older canoes and a plush dry grass bed. Panganeem soaked it all in when he had arrived, but was now absorbed into his new bone club.

“I think this is what Gralph had,” Panganeem smiled wide and looked to Juttyu who matched his smile.

“So,” Ippino wiped bone dust from his table with an idle hand, “You’re hunters from Grottu, intent on becoming K’nights on the idea that if you do and strengthen the selka, you yourself will be strong enough to go out and find your daughter's killer.”

Panganeem’s smiled faded, “That’s what I said, isn’t it?” Ippino held up his hands and Panganeem shook his head, “I’m sorry.”

“No,” Ippino shrugged, “I know what it is like to lose a loved one. Though he isn’t dead, somedays I feel like my son is already swimming in another life.”

“You mentioned him earlier,” Juttyu pointed out.

Panganeem nodded, “Yeah, so what has happened to the Hyummin?”

“Five families,” Ippino sighed and crackled his knuckles, “The descendants of Lornun, Kilppundu, Korsachi, Punuphu, and Gorjapi.” He paused and tugged an old whisker, “I’m a son of Gorjapi and so is my own son. He thinks it is his duty to see the Gorjapi line rise to chieftain. The problem is, every family thinks the same about their line. Oh, we are great hunters, oh! We are the best fishers. Oh! We are warriors.”

He shook his head, “When one makes a decree, the others do the opposite, when one family agrees with another, a thousand disagreements oppose them. When a family splits, even then they argue. We have no system, no chieftain. We are weak despite our size because we are divided.”

“Then it is settled,” Panganeem’s fist thumped the table, causing the other two to jump. Juttyu looked at the hunter in earnest curiosity and Panganeem smiled wide, “We will unite the families and make the Hyummin as strong as they should be, so may be blessed Father Kirron and his k’nights.”

Juttyu slammed his own fist in agreement, a crack creasing the edge of the table, “For Father Kirron and the Selka!”

The two hunters gave a tiny “rryeah!” and the old fisherman shook his head, “If you intend to do this, you will need me. They will not listen to two strangers, not alone. I may be in exile of my own choosing, but I am known as old and frail as I may be.”

“Very well,” Panganeem stood from his seat, a new energy filling his chest, “This shall be our first mark.”

There was another, quieter “Ryyeaah!”

Oh Foo…

“Are you sure I can’t stay?” Diana batted her eyelashes, but it was met with a fiery stare. The Warden leaned forward from his mare, his narrow eyes judging her harshly. She began to speak but was cut off by the slow rasp of the Warden’s blade as it snuck a few inches from its scabbard.

“Fine fine,” Diana crossed her arms in a huff. She turned to the ocean, the vast empty ocean, and shuddered. She stood at the end of Tendlepog atop a ground down bluff. An army of nightmares stood behind her, as did the ever watching Warden. She sucked in a breath and tossed her umbrella over the cliffside. The apparatus slowly grew and grew as it fell, until it was the size of a small boat. She turned around and gave the Warden a twisted look and then jumped.

There was a soft pattering as she landed in the curve of the umbrella, no worse for wear. She laid on her back and looked back up at the cliff from the inside of the umbrella. The black figures began to disappear and she shouted, “Say goodbye to my dear friends for me!”

“I’m sure they will be worried sick,” She mumbled as the umbrella was sucked out into the sea. She sighed and shifted a little, digging her hand into a secret pouch in her dress. She bit her tongue in concentration as she dug around, until finally yanking out a pearlescent orb. She cackled victoriously and tapped her nail against it until it fluttered to life.

She folded her knees up and rested it on her lap, dark witching eyes scanning its surface. Inside she watched pigguts scamper around and fight with one another. She gave a wicked grin as she watched them do their many piggut things.

“What miserable creatures,” She mused as she watched on. After a while her grin slowly began to fade into a frown and she tapped the orb a few times, the glassy sphere fizzling off. She sighed and tucked it back into her secret pocket. She made a face and folded her fingers together.

“Oh my, this is boring.”

You don't get a damn title.

From the coast of Atokhekwoi, a falcon flew inland.

For days he had scoured the Eye, but he had found nothing that would aid his search. Arryn had little choice but to move on. Searching this land would take far more work, but it had been closest, and thus it had made the most sense for him to come here next. He flew high above the trees, his sharp eyes cast downward, searching for anything of note.

In a clearing he saw four Selka sitting around a gentle fire, knapping some rocks into fine points. Lean-tos were set up in a circle around them, and pelts dried in the open air. There was gentle laughter and plenty of conversation.

How strange. They had the appearance of mere beasts, yet they had assembled a fire and built their own shelter. He had not known anyone aside from the gods or Arya to do such a thing. Were intelligent creatures becoming more widespread?

This called for further investigation, the bird decided. He flew down to the clearing, perched himself on a tree stump, and gazed at the seal-people with evident curiosity.

“Look,” The youngest noticed the bird first, “What is it?”

Panganeem looked up and wiggled his nose in thought, “I’m not sure, I’ve never seen one around here before.”

“It looks like it’s staring right through us,” The largest Selka said, moving an anvil like fist under his chin. He suddenly smiled and nudged Panganeem, “Maybe it’s here to learn a thing or two from the master.”

Arryn’s head snapped toward the larger selka, and his expression seemed to darken. With lightning speed, the bird shot forward, and delivered a light, swift, feathered slap of his wing to the Selka’s face. It would barely even sting; it was merely intended to shock him. Just as quickly, Arryn flew back to his perch. ”You should learn from me,” the bird’s telepathic voice spoke matter-of-factly.

The large selka spat out air in surprise as the others began to laugh, only stifled by the sudden message blinking in their very minds. They froze and looked around, before finally all laying on the falcon. The hunters slowly picked up their spears from the ground. The skinniest one spoke, “We did not mean to insult you wild bird, we are simply rejoicing.”

”I am Arryn, avatar of Kalmar, the God of the Hunt,” Arryn introduced himself. ”Who made you?” he asked.

They all looked at each other dumbstruck before the skinny one called out to the bird, “Father Kirron is our God.” Panganeem stood from his spot around the fire.

“What Yuppiglo says is true,” Panganeem answered, “Father Kirron is our God and who we hunt for.”

”You are hunters?” Arryn realized. ”You should worship Kalmar as well.”

Panganeem blinked at the suggestion. “Father Kirron is the God of the Selka,” Panganeem smiled, “I am selka, I am a hunter, I am under Father Kirron and he grants me strength.” The other hunters nodded at this and gave a resolute ‘ryeah!’

”But Kalmar could grant you strength as well,” Arryn argued. ”You could have two gods instead of one.”

“You cannot bribe me,” Panganeem put his hands on his hips, “I am a man who already has everything, from my daughter to my day, I am complete.” The other selka nodded at his words.

[color=brown]”No one is complete. There is always room to become stronger. There will always be more challenges,”[color] the bird’s eyes narrowed, and it leaned forward, as if getting ready to strike again. ”And gifts are not bribes,” he added.

“You are a strange and depressing bird,” Panganeem called back, “I think you have stumbled upon the wrong camp.” The other hunters gave a snickering laugh.

Arryn launched forward, and this time gave another feathered slap, this one at Panganeem himself. Once again, he returned to his original perch, but this time he said nothing.

“Pbbft,” Panganeem spat out a down feather, “If unnecessary violence is the way of you and your God Kalmar, then I will have no more of this. Leave us in peace, Wild Bird, so we may continue our day.” There was another chorus to punctuate Panganeem’s sentiment.

”No,” Arryn intoned. ”I will watch you hunt. I will judge you with my own eyes, and I will see how much this Kirron has taught you.”

Panganeem scowled at the bird, “Just stay out of our way, bird.”

Arryn scowled back. ”You stay out of mine.”

Panganeem breathed in. Particles of dirt itched the back of his throat and stung his wide black eyes. He was in absolute darkness, with only the orange fade of Heliopolis leaching through where the dirt that covered him thinned. A reed was stuck between his lips and his arms were pushed onto his chest, a mighty spear laying against him and setting uncomfortably in the crook of his neck.

The selka sighed through the reed and closed his eyes. Grains pushed against his eyelids as he did and he sucked in a gulp of fresh air from above. His nostrils were closed and his ears were open, he could hear it in the distance. He sucked in the rest of his breath and then held it. His chest expanded and then stopped, the only sound was his gentle heartbeat, controlled by his calm demeanor and what flew around outside.

Creatures started to scream as the rush of fire sounded in the distance. The wind howled, and Panganeem gripped his spear tightly. The sounds came closer. Hooved animals ran, small critters scurred, and the fire approached. The light beyond the dirt veil started to glow and the selka opened his eyes once more. The light flickered, and he suddenly shifted.

Exploding from the shallow grave, Panganeem screamed, his spear shooting forward with precision as his Pyrgerakia mark attempted to slow down. In a single moment there was a loud squelch as his spear punched through the fire bird’s neck. The immense bird collided with the hunter and sent the two bowling. All around the screams of the Pyrgerakia’s mate erupted and Panganeem scurried to his feet, hauling his blaze colored prize with him. He looked up in terror as the wind favored mate began to swoop down from the skies, dropping the shredded and burnt deer it had captured.

With one arm wrapped around the feathery neck of the firebird and the other holding the bloodied stone spear forward, Panganeem quickly back peddled. The female suddenly dove. The hunter put his mark between him and the mate, forcing the female to flicker back up, just avoiding Panganeem’s spear. Dissatisfied, the mate screamed and began to flap its wings. Panganeem closed his eyes as a cutting gust was launched at it. Slowly his footing started to slip, and then, with the spark of a sudden idea, Panganeem shoved his spear through the end of his dead mark’s wing and pushed it outwards, spreading the feathers of the dead bird.

The powerful blast of wind caught Panganeem and the mark, catching the wing of the dead bird and launching the pair. The mate screamed as Panganeem used the dead bird as kite, escaping the opening and being pushed into untouched jungle. Panganeem grinned madly in spite of the sudden thump of his landing, his back smashing through a sapling. Slowly his laughter leaked out, fueled by adrenaline.

“It worked,” He laughed, “By Kirron it worked.”

There was an approaching scream and he jumped to his feet, back shooting with pain, “Oh no. It worked.”

The selka threw his catch onto his back, arms wrapping to support it, and spear held in his fingers. With little else, he started a funny mismanaged run. He slipped through the trees the best he could with his clunky package, the screams darting ever closer. Cuts of wind started to chill his sides and exposed areas of his back and he grimaced, pumping his legs as fast as he could.

“Father Kirron give me strength,” He groaned as a dull pain began in his knees. Panganeem juked around a large tree, dove past a few bushes, skipped over a sudden root, and turned sharply away from a rocky outcrop, and then broke from the treeline. The other three hunters who had waited for him at the hunting camp stared with wide eyes.

“Spa-Spears!” Panganeem shouted and dropped his prize before turning. The other selka quickly mobilized, reaching for their javelins. The four hunters grouped up around the prize as the female Pyrgerakia richoted out of the trees, fury in its eyes. Seeing the small bunch of spears pointed at it, it once again battered the area with a powerful gust, nearly knocking the hunters over. They bent their knees and grouped closer, the wind bounding over them instead of through them. The Pyrgerakia screamed and flew circles around them, looking for an opening. One of the selka looked to Panganeem for guidance, and the hunter nodded with a sudden smile.

The younger selka suddenly broke from the others, sprinting as fast as he could perpendicular to the Pyrgerakia’s flight. The mate roared and dove on the unprotected selka. It’s feathers flared and it’s talons reached forward, ready to pluck the hunter from the ground. A might beak opened and a blood curdling scream announced its presence. Panganeem squinted at the scene, and with two expert steps and a heft of his broad shoulder, he launched his spear at the occupied bird.

There was a squelch and a plume of feathers as the spear rammed into the bird’s ribs, knocking it out of the dive and onto the ground. Like wolves the hunters descended upon it, using their chisel stones to cut its throat. The group looked at each other, faces suddenly turning mirthful.

They broke out laughing, “Not one, but two,” one of them announced and slapped Panganeem on the back. “Father Kirron looks after his hunters,” another gnashed his teeth, full of energy. Panganeem himself sucked in a wild breath and fell flat on the ground, his back shooting with pain but a massive smile on his whiskered face.

“For the strong!”

“Ryeaah!” The others shook their fists.

There was a screech from above. A third Pyrgerakia was nearby. Due to the sun’s light, they would be unable to make it out clearly, but it appeared to be swooping down upon them with intent to kill.

It missed. It struck the ground near them, and slid until it crashed into a tree. It soon became apparent that it had not been swooping, but falling. It was on its back, and Arryn stood upon its face, his talons wedged into its eyes while his beak repeatedly pecked and stabbed into the creature’s throat, puncturing flesh and drawing blood with each jab. Then Arryn stopped, and dug his talons out of the Pyrgerakia’s eyes, for the larger bird was dead.

“Three,” Panganeem corrected, looking over the bird with a certain approval. The other hunters stared on until finally the youngest piped up, “Good kill, wild bird.”

The bird bobbed his head in what vaguely resembled a grudging nod. ”That was well done,” he said to the selka, and then after a moment he added: ”Kalmar would have been impressed.”

“Well, thank you,” Panganeem accepted the compliment, wiping sweat from his brow, “If he ever wishes to hunt with us, he is welcome.” The other hunters nodded in agreement.

”I do not know if you will ever meet him,” Arryn said. ”The lands he watches over are far to the north, across the sea.” The bird was silent for a few moments. ”Which is more important to you?” he suddenly asked. ”Being able to remain hidden, or being able to track?”

“Honestly,” The largest Selka spoke up, “If it wasn’t for our tracking, I doubt we would have even known where to hide.”

“Juttyu is right,” Panganeem nodded, “If you don’t know when and where to strike, what good is it all.”

Arryn nodded. Then, he closed his eyes. ”In Kalmar’s name, I give you a blessing.”

Suddenly, Panganeem would feel more alert, more aware. His eyes sharpened, his nose was more refined, his ears more keen. He could better notice irregularities in the environment, it was much easier to distinguish between smells, and the range of his hearing had increased. Based on the reactions of his fellow hunters, the same had been done to them as well.

“See?” Panganeem said with laces of appreciation, as he blinked “That’s a gift. No runner up, no circumstance, not a bribe.”

”Hmph.” Arryn grumbled, and was silent for a few moments. ”I have a task I need to return to. I give you my kill - waste none of it, or it will offend me and my master. Farewell.” And with this those words, the bird flapped his wings, and left.

Panganeem watched the bird leave, a respectful smile on his face, “Alright men.” He clapped his hands. “Juttyu help Yuppilgo with the female, me and Hejingo will take the male and extra.”

The group collected their weapons and rolled them in fur bundles before strapping them to their backs. Keeping their eyes on Arryn as he flew away, they took down their tents and turned them into stretched leather platforms on two poles. They loaded their prizes on each and hefted them, two hunters to a litter.

They made their trek back to the coast, through thickets and flats. Eventually the group spilled out onto the cove of the Grottu, bypassing the sacred grounds of the Grottu beach. When they arrived they couldn’t help but noticed the stick village was somber and quiet. Several huts had been smashed and a great stone altar sat complete in the center.

Panganeem furrowed his brow and let his litter down by the altar. Selka began to flock the hunters with sad eyes. Panganeem looked out past the zombie like crowd and spotted several mounds in the hills that lead away from the cove, opposite to where he emerged from. He looked at one of the stone workers, a deep red scar on his brow.

“What happened?”

“Oh, Panganeem,” The worker muffled past a emerging sob, “We were attacked.”

Fear crossed Panganeem’s face as he looked at the crowd, eyes scanning furiously, “Where is Tyuppa?”

The stoneworker choked on his answer. Panganeem spoke louder, “Where is Tyuppa?”

“Where is Tyuppa?” He pushed through the crowd, freezing as he became face to face with Chieftain Hoshaf. The Chieftain had a weary look on his face, and a dangerous look in his eyes that made Panganeem uneasy, “Where is Tyuppa?”

“Dead,” Hoshaf said a little too easily, “Killed by a demon.”

“A- a demon?” Panganeem’s face twisted with sadness and fury.

“She had fled after her battle with Yimbo, but left our children and workers dead,” Hoshaf sucked in a breath, his voice steady, “We weren’t strong enough.”

“Strong..?” Panganeem looked at his kills, “Fled.”

The hunter pushed passed the chieftain, eliciting gasps. He grabbed the male Pyrgerakia by the throat and with a hand on its ribs he tossed it onto the altar with a big groan. The crowd surrounded him as he hopped onto the stone platform and whipped out his stone knife.

“No, no no!” Thumfatem came running, “Panganeem, get down from there.”

“No,” He muttered as he kicked the Pyrgerakia’s body flat across the altar.

“Panganeem! This is not the way to go about this,” Thumfatem struggled as he attempted to lift himself onto the platform. Panganeem paid him little mind as he suddenly shoved his knife into the nape of the bird’s throat and with a loud rip, dragged the blade down. The skin of the bird split open and blood poured as his blade skid over the ribs and deep into the gut. The entrails spilled over the altar and Panganeem shouted:

“FATHER KIRRON,” His voice was shaky, eyes darts. The crowd started to scramble, eager to get the hunter down, but he kept hacking at the corpse, tears starting to well.

“Grant me the strength,” He yelled over and over as he methodically cut away the birds skin and opened every last intestine, “grant me the strength.”

He cut off the head and began to empty out the innards as hands tried to pull him down, “Grant me the strength to avenge my daughter.” He reached into the cadaver's chest and popped the ribcage open, tearing out the heart, an elbow sending Thumfatem back, “Give me the strength to see Tyuppa in peace.”

He began to cut out the liver, “grant me the strength...” his voice broke into a sob, “FATHER KIRRON!”

The rest of the hour droned on like this, the blessing having gone to the wayside of anger and emotion. Eventually Thumfatem gave up on trying to dislodge Panganeem and left with the other sacrifice. Hoshaf barked a few orders but in the end, he decided to leave as well. By the time the crowd had left, Heliopolis had set, and Panganeem laid caked in dried blood, eyes closed. His hunting friends were the last to leave, unable to convince him to leave the Altar of Kirron.


A rough nudge struck Panganeem's shoulder. The sound of the ocean waves kept his consciousness tethered away from his sleep.

"Hey, hunter." The voice was deep and impatient. "Wake up."

The voice was also strangely familiar.

Five more nudges in quick succession turned annoyance to mild pain. "What, did you eat too much? You don't want me to carry you off this pile of rocks. Wake up."

Panganeem shivered awake, his body creaking as he sat up, “Who? What?” He squinted, the night sky was illuminated with the lustrous gardens. He saw the shadow before him and blinked, his new eyesight making quick work out of the man’s features. He stood tall over Panganeem. Taller than any selka he had seen, and broader too. In one hand, he carried a hefty club made from some kind of bone, carved with intricate flowing patterns approximating exposed veins. A round shape on his back made from a solid piece of inland wood could have been a shield. Starting from the top of his round selka head was a bright pink paint that drizzled down his upper body, having dried in place as rivulets carried themselves down. Long dried brown leaves made a skirt down his waist. He wore a frown.

"You prayed, didn't you?" The large selka warrior said. "What's your name?"

“Yes,” Panganeem nodded, flakes of dried blood peeling off his neck, “I am Panganeem.” He paused, his voice one of wonder, “Are you… Father Kirron?”

The warrior's chest puffed up with pride. His lips pursed and his whiskers perked to the sides. He snorted. "Pfft, no. My name's Gralph. I'm a...uh..." he looked up at the darkened sky. "A night! No! A...killer night. A K'l-night, sort of." He turned his club up and made circles with it. "A k'night, I'm working on it. It's not important. The important thing is, we gotta walk. Come on." Gralph bent down and hoisted Panganeem up under the armpit with his free hand.

“Woah.” Panganeem blinked as he was lifted. With a new found vigor he hopped down to his feet, only coming up to Gralph’s shoulder. He coughed a few times, as if jump starting his heart, “Yes, yes. Let’s go then.”

The pair carefully made their way down the stone construction, leaving the red stains behind them, and made their way onto the beach. They were unaccosted walking along the beach, but Gralph kept his mouth shut. Whenever Panganeem breathed in to talk, the k'night would push a finger against his mouth and hush him. Only once they were a good distance from any hut did Gralph speak again.

"I got a feeling in my head about half a day ago," Gralph explained. "A real stinker of a feeling. Like...the kind of feeling you get when you're watching a bird fly too fast into a tree, falls on the ground with a snapped beak, then the life fades from it as its eyes slowly close, you know that?" The k'night looked at Panganeem beside him.

Panganeem seemed to look glazed as he made a face, “I know that, and I think I also know what it’s like to be the bird.”

"No you don't," Gralph said casually. "If you did, you wouldn't be here talking to me." He took a breath. "Anyway, I checked with Yimbo. He...or is it she?- It looked a mess. All scratches and whines. Pointed me over here. Y'see, I only get that feeling I mentioned when some sorry fellow nearby puts themselves into a, uh...what's the word?" He made circles with his club again. "When they get cornered, but they're not in a corner." He waved a hand dismissively. "I don't know. So, Panganeem, what do you want to do?"

Panganeem seemed lost as he turned over Gralph’s words for a moment or two. Eventually he looked at the large k’night with conviction, “I want to avenge my daughter’s death. I want to slay the demon that casually tossed her life away.”

Gralph stopped and looked with a lowered brow at Panganeem. He stared silent for an uncomfortably long time. "You got a woman, Panganeem?" Gralph asked suddenly.

“I did,” The hunter kicked the wet sand idly, “But she died giving me Tyuppa. In a way, I never lost my woman.” He turned to looked hard at the ocean, “But now, well now I figure I have.”

Gralph looked out at the waves in turn.

“There is one thing I have left, and one thing I’m good at,” Panganeem turned back, “And that is hunting. I’m a terrible builder, and one of the worst comedians this place has to offer, but I can bring back the body of whatever is asked of me. I figure, this time I’m asking myself to bring back something -- or maybe it’s for Tyuppa. I don’t know.”

Gralph grumbled. "And how much fun will you earn on this hunt of yours?"

“I don’t know,” Panganeem sighed and hung his head, “I can’t imagine anything happy coming from this.”

"Sounds pretty pointless if you ask me." Gralph sniffed and licked his upper lip. "I've tried the revenge game, Panganeem. Not fun. You're just empty handed in the end. You sure?"

“I’m empty handed now,” Panganeem looked at Gralph, “And someday I will die empty handed, same way I was born.”

Gralph craned his head down, folds of blubber wrinkling on his neck as he squinted hard at Panganeem's eyes. Gralph's lower lip sank to show some teeth as he hummed curiously. "You prayed for strength, didn't ya?" The words were almost conspiratorial. "You prayed for a way. I know how you can get that strength. Not like it's any fun seeing you splattered by some demon without a chance to wax on about how empty handed you are."

Panganeem cocked his head, rolls forming on his neck, “I did; I prayed for strength.” He squinted, “How…?” Was all he managed.

"How you'll get what you need?" Gralph straightened. "Let me show you…" He levelled his club horizontal. "See these carvings, hunter? Got these from selka tribes all the way up and down the coast. Even a few up river. Kirron likes the selka 'cos selka are full of sacred blood. That's why we can hold our breaths. That's why we don't get tired easily in the water. Blood's got power. But you don't get that power by spilling it everywhere." His voice lowered and his eyes widened. "You get it by letting it grow."

Gralph's index finger traced a slow line along the club. "Each little image here was something I did to make another selka stronger. Each little image gives me more power. Make one of these clubs, go out -- hmm -- all the way to the furthest east and back should do it, and make selka stronger along the way. By the time you get back here with a club thick with your power, you'll have what you need."

Panganeem seemed flippant at first, but as Gralph went on, the hunter sank into his words. By the end, Panganeem was holding an imaginary club of his own in wonder. He stared at his empty hand and nodded slowly, “Gralph, I will do this.”

The k'night smiled. "Glad to hear it. Thought you were going to lose it on me." He clasped a hand on Panganeem's shoulder and turned him back towards the village. "Leave tomorrow morning. I'll be back at noon, and if I see your face, I'll make you eat your own shit."

Panganeem gave the k’night an incredulous look, “If your words didn’t drip with wisdom, I’d say you’re full of more shit than I could ever eat --"

Gralph threw back his head and showed the roof of his mouth. "Behahahahaha!"

"...but they do, and so you aren’t.” Panganeem pointed a finger at Gralph, his own smile forming for the first time since his hunt, “I’ll be gone.”

"Earn all the fun you can, hunter," Gralph growled heartily.

Panganeem nodded heavily, a new spark in his gut, “I will.” He looked past Gralph, “For Tyuppa.” He turned to Gralph, “Thank you, I don’t know what a k’night is, but I’d say you’re a rather good one. He gripped Gralph’s forearm and gave it a single tug before turning to leave.

Gralph gave an upwards nod and watched the hunter leave, a fist on his hip. His chest swelled with a quick breath, and fell just as fast, satisfied.

Light crackled. The blueish-black stone of the chamber reflected the white glow of five dream orbs, floating above thin pedestals. Engravings swirled the pedestals and center of the room stood K’nell. The God of Dreams stood with his hands cupped around a great ball of silvery flame. The orb pulsed and flickered, licks of cool wisps gently twisted from it. K’nells face was stern and serious as he observed it, only betraying a soft, subtle grin.

Glowing white veins cracked and split over his form as he stared on. His divine power fluctuated and pulsed in tandem with his newest creation, a hazy mist connecting the two. His eyes narrowed, his pupils endless black holes; corridors of endless possibility, flashes of any mixture of reality. He curled his fingers, an invisible push forming around the wisp as it was molded into shape. Streams of light soaked from the other dream orbs, flowing like rivers through the Palace air and into the orb.

A smile broke across K’nells face as the wisp pulsed and pushed. Pure joy leaked from it, absolute bliss radiated from it. He could see with his endless eyes, the perfect dream. Perfection stared back at him, the wisp almost bringing a tear to the God’s eye as it morphed and rotated. His heart pounded, the light swirled and began to drizzle with love itself. He watched as purity coated and danced with compassion. Innocence and redemption rang from the creation and just as it was coming together, another pulse.

K’nells eyes searched the creation in a haste, flickering to and fro. A pulse. His brow furrowed, A pulse. It was like a heartbeat, the light pulsing in a repetitive beat. His own heart beat, and offbeat the creation pulsed.

“No this isn’t right,” K’nell puzzled under his breath. The heartbeat increased, his own matching in confusion. The hazy mist between him and the wisp scattered and then the ball turned a deep red, the streams from the other orbs severing with loud whipping cracks. The wisp pulsed, blood red, the light turning the entire room into a pool of crimson. K’nell stared on as a storm broke out, the wisp pulsing erratically and without rhythm. The emotions from earlier scarred and were replaced with anxiety with a metallic taste of misery. K’nell stared hard.

A final flash and the wisp suddenly expanded, it’s ethereal form slowly forming. It stretched outwards and upwards, as well as downwards. It swirled and rolled, the mucky mist turning into the figure of a woman. Time passed slowly as K’nell watched the figure slowly coagulate, only opting to speak once the figure was complete. A pale face stared at him, eyes shaded a sleepless pink with dark witching pupils. She had high cheekbones, if not a little gaunt, her cheeks sunken --with a sickly blush-- and her nose a soft round. She had plush smiling lips that betrayed irregular teeth with uncomfortably sharp tips. Curls of black hair swirled past her ears and away from her forehead, coming neatly to rest above her shoulders. She wore a black collared black dress, with sharp laced boots poking out from the conservative hem.
“This-” K’nell’s voice swirled, “You are no dream.” His eyes flickered past her physical appearance, watching his own essence swirl inside of her -- laced with the claws of a nightmare.

“Of course not,” She jutted her chin forward proudly, her voice silky if not complemented with an uncanny grain similar to the God of Sleep’s, “I’m K’nell.”

The God stared on and the woman dipped her head, “But you may call me Diana for clarity, I rather like the name.”

“I know,” K’nell said, his eyes wide, “I can see, I can see it all. No-- Galbar is not ready.”

“Kerfuff!” Diana waved a hand, “I say it’s about time you had company in this Palace. Please, escort me to the throne room, I’d like to get started right away.”

“I’m sorry,” K’nell pinched his chin in thought, “But I cannot oblige. I’m afraid what I said is true; Galbar is not yet ready for you.”

“So what will you have me do, then?” She put fists on her sides.

“Wait,” K’nell answered simply, “You must wait.

“I’m not some common tool, dear me,” Diana held her throat, “To be put into storage until the roof is leaky. I’m here now, and I’d like to get started. Come, you have plenty to share.” She began to walk around K’nell.

The Gentleman quickly stepped in her path, “I’m afraid I cannot allow it, it is much to early and without cause or reason.”

“Oh come,” Diana dismissed him, staring at him in defiance.

K’nell’s lips formed a stern line and his own stare met hers. They stood there for a moment, Diana’s jaw hanging as if about to say something, but then closed. She pursed her lips, “I see. You are serious.”

“I’m afraid so,” K’nell let out a sigh, “You will have to wait.”

“I won’t,” Diana turned her nose up, “And if you won’t see that, then perhaps a wager. It’s the least you could do.”

K’nell tapped his chin and hummed, “A wager you say?”

“Why yes,” She kept her voice proud, “And if I win, you share. You let me get on with it, Galbar needs its misery.”
“And if I win?” K’nell raised a brow.

“I’ll leave, I won’t wait, but I’ll leave!”

“And where, dear me, will you go?”

“Galbar,” She insisted, “I cannot do half the work there that I could here, and you’d may as well have your original wish granted.”

K’nell hummed pensively for a while before nodding, “And how will we decide who has won and who has lost?”

“A duel.”

K’nell raised his other brow now, “And what, pray tell, shall be our weapons?”

The Deviless gave a wide cheshire smile, “Fiddles.”

K’nell matched her smile, “I see your wager, K’nell -- Diana.”

“Very good.” Diana raised her hands and a black fiddle erupted from no particular place, finding its place between her sharp chin and her wrist. Her other hand whipped out a bow. K’nell raised a hand, a mahogany fiddle assembling in his hand. He gently tucked it in place and stared at her.

The two had an inseparable gaze as their bows slowly slid over their strings. Slowly the chamber around them dissolved with the long note. Their bows slid back, the world bleached white. And forth, it turned off-white. K’nell’s bow suddenly struck forward and then back, turning into a repetition, The Deviless quickly followed suit.

K’nell danced in place as his bow waddled the strings, producing a strange yet energetic blast of music. The Deviless jumped her bow, the suddenly strikes turning cacophony and discord into melody. A world formed around them as they played, young and new. The sun rose as their strings blasted endlessly. The sun fell as their fiddles erupted with powerful music.

Civilizations rose, their fiddles showcased their lives at speeds unknown. Civilizations fell, their ruins crumbling into dust as the world shrunk like a raisin. K’nell leaped forward, his bow plucking and dancing. Diana furrowed her brow and dipped to meet him, her own producing a cutting sound.

They both leapt back, a new world forming between them. Their song increased in volume, the births and demise of unnamed people producing harmony with their notes. K’nell spun, his bow shredding across the fiddle and leaping, somehow creating a melody of two fiddles. Diana began to sweat, her fiddle cutting and skipping, using discord to match. K’nell pressed on, the world turning black as his notes broke through hers, her fingers fizzled in an attempt to keep up with his mind numbing music. Her eyes grew wide as K’nell pressed his attack, his fiddle all but smoking as it spoke of future and past and sang of woes and blessings. It scream and laughed, cried and chuckled, until it all came together. There was a great vibrating hum as K’nell struck his fiddle once, twice, three times, and then a final SCHLING as he finished his song.

Diana stood there, mouth agape and eyes crescents of defeat. Her fiddle fell to the ground, shattering against the dark bluish stone of the chamber. K’nell puffed out an exhale and placed his fiddle on a pedestal. He cocked his head, “My lady, a deal is a deal.”

“Indeed,” She nodded, “A true Gentleman.” Her face twitched, “Then I shall go?”

“Unless you prefer to wait,” K’nell gave her a sideways glance.

“I do not.”

“Then I suppose so,” K’nell gave a solemn bow, “Until such a time as I have described.”

“I see,” The Deviless straightened out her dress with a tug, “Then I’ll be back, I’ll be back far before then -- even.”

K’nell didn’t say anything as he stared on. Diana huffed, “Oh, foo.”

There was a bright flash.

Diana stood on the smooth surface of Limbo. The birds were singing, the breeze was blowing -- laced with the sweetness of spring. The trees exposed their flowers and the sky was a gentle cloud kissed azure. Heliopolis winked behind the rolling fluffs of white, and a calming hum came from the insects below. Diana cringed and held up a black umbrella as if to push away the sun, “What horrid weather.”

K’nell and Company

K'nell let himself fall into his throne. The ballroom was devoid of the usual dancers, but retained a light contemplative song. Should his friends Eurysthenes and Shengshi not have joined him in comradery after the fact, he could only fathom where his conscious might be. Weavers wisped by and the Dream God thought, hand on his face, about every detail leading up to where he sat now. There was no doubt in his mind that he had done the right thing, but only a heart of beating stone could resist the leech of pondering.

“What seems to be the matter, Mr. K'nell?” A posh, clear voice with perfectly enunciated words echoed from behind the Throne. A figure with silver eyes and long hair dressed in a white and golden gown walked into K'nell's field of vision and tilted her head slightly at him, hands clasped neatly.

K'nell sat up and cleared his hand from his face, “I'm afraid that Vakk could not be saved,” He rested his hands on his throne, “And so the deed is done; he is no more.”

The woman pursed her lips and after a while, began to speak. “Such an-”

“Vakk is DEAD?!” A high pitched shrieking voice came from a girl that suddenly jumped out from behind the throne. The elegant woman rolled her eyes and covered her mouth. The girl seemed to shake nervously.

“Yes,” K'nell turned his head to the shaking girl, “And I understand it can be quite a lot to process, so just know my dear, that I am here to listen.”

“B-But…! He was so big! And green! Wait, was he green?” She balled up her fists and held them close to her chest as she turned quickly toward the elegant woman.

“Why are you looking at me? Mr. K’nell saw him first hand, he knows much more than I do. Is that correct, Mr. K’nell?” The woman asked, raising her eyebrows curiously at K’nell. The girl turned to him again.

“How did he die? Did you kill him? B-But, wait! Wasn’t he… Being controlled? By big sis? S-She broke our wing…” The girl said, her voice losing volume and her demeanor making her shrink.

K’nell squinted before offering the girl a furrowed look, “He was rather dark -- more of a fleshy beige and purple.” He waved a hand, “Pardon me, but I think the color matters very little, now.” The Lord of Sleep cleared his throat, “But yes, he died by my hand. As suspected he --and he alone-- had decided to launch an attack on Tendlepog and left me with little choice otherwise.”

“So… Big Sis wasn’t the one behind it all…?” The girl said with a shaky smile growing on her face, eyes glistening with fresh tears, “I-I knew it…!”

“Now now,” The woman took in a subtle breath, “Girl,” She let the word hang for a second as the girl visibly recoiled and winced, “It may be too soon to jump to a conclusion like that. Let’s avoid expressing ourselves until we know the entire story. It’s the right thing to do.” With that, the woman turned to K’nell and nodded curtly.

“You seem distraught. Doubt lies in your heart, Mr. K’nell.”

K’nell removed his finger from his chin, “Oh?” He shook his head, “I’m sorry to mislead you, my dear. There is no doubt in my heart; Vakk was working alone under his own accord.”

“Indeed, however,” She paused and cleared her throat, “The doubt I speak of is more along the vein of whether he had to be… Eliminated. Shall we say? A heaviness on your shoulders. Your skull closing in on you, a shiver at the core of your teeth. Do you feel any of those? That is how I tend to feel when doubt fills my being.”

“The elimination of another, as you say, should never be taken without careful consideration,” K’nell folded his hands, “Should I have not calculated this before hand then yes, perhaps I may feel doubt in my actions. I instead feel resolute that I have made the correct choice; by taking the burden of being the executor in the defense of Tendlepog, I have shouldered the pain that would have otherwise been given to another God or mortal. It was not a rash choice, and was not made alone.” K’nell leaned forward, his voice swirling, “I do not pull joy from this, but neither would I pull joy from inaction and the allowance of what is warded under me to be-” He paused and smiled, “I’m sorry my dear, you’ll have to excuse my racing thoughts. I’m afraid you caught me contemplating.”

The woman bit her lip and opened her mouth to say something, but after a split moment, closed it and frowned. She sighed and shook her head. “I understand.”

The girl, who had been distracted by a nearby dreamweaver, suddenly tore her attention right back to K’nell and whizzed past the woman to the side of the throne, resting her elbows on the armrest and propping her head up to look at K’nell. “What’s ‘contemplating’? It sounds like something a knight would wear!”

“Thinking, dear, it is thinking,” K’nell offered the child a smile, “And I would hope a knight would wear it often.”

“Oooh…” The girl cooed, her gaze wandering off for a moment, before snapping back to the God, “What were you thinking?”

K’nell rubbed his chin and glanced over at the elegant one, “If I could be so candid, I was wondering what our elegant guest was thinking.”

“Merely contemplating,” She said, tilting her head slightly, “Are you certain Vakk is dead? Should there not be more… Consequence to a Divine Death? He was the God of Speech, how is it we still speak? We are no God.”

K’nell laced his fingers into a knot, “Intriguing question. If you had to make a supposition on why that may be, what would you suppose?”

“There is no record of Divine Deaths. Perhaps, it is meant to be this way? Perhaps Gods die much like mortals do. Perhaps it truly is this dull, and one ends up forgotten.” She averted her gaze.

K’nell slowly stood up and folded his arms behind his back, elbows square. His throne shimmered away - a tiny gasp echoing throughout the hall as the girl struggled to find her balance. K’nell began to walk down the steps of his dias, “I invite you two to walk with me, I am inclined to discuss this in the gardens.”

The girl skipped to K’nell’s side and quickly grabbed onto the sleeve of his jacket, while the woman nodded and walked beside him, moving gracefully in well practiced steps. K’nell approached the great door and it opened obediently, revealing the many doored hallway. With little words K’nell walked through, offering his elbow to the elegant one and a smile to the girl.

The woman gently rested her hand around the God’s arm, “Thank you.” She said with a small smile. The girl grinned back at K’nell and pulled on his sleeve again, grabbing his hand once it came into her reach. A silky chuckle came from the God and he allowed his hand to be conquered by two tiny claps.

The trio exited the Palace, their steps reaching down to the cut stone below. Bizarre plants flanked them as they walked down the front garden path, the bronze gate dead ahead. Fluttering butterflies flickered in and out of view, and craning trees waved above them. The gate creaked open and they passed through, a wash of a feeling only described as a forgotten longing seemed to coat them. Cutting through the forlorn air, K’nell finally spoke, his words as scented as the flowers that now sprouted around them, “You bring up a very interesting thought, and not one that I haven’t pondered myself.”

“Should a God be killed, what would happen to their place of residence, and its pull on Galbar. What potential calamity awaits mortal life, or even divinity itself?” K’nell looked at the elegant lady, “I suppose such questions should have prevented me and my compatriots from our plan, but you see to imprison a God such as Vakk is as equally dangerous as doing away with him. Would you be opposed to an explanation?”

The woman watched as the girl released K’nell’s hand to go try to catch a blue butterfly, and then turned her attention onto the God. “Please, go on.”

“You see,” K’nell began again, the trio walking by freshly blooming cherry trees and a few ruby hummingbirds, “Should we trap Vakk in Sanvadam itself, there is little stopping him from artificially starting the very calamity we speak of. It is the same thread in which I could --should I be so evil-- shut off the palace from Galbar. So why not throw the perpetrator into a realm different than his own?” K’nell swiftly plucked a pink blossom as he walked by a low branch and offered it to the elegant lady, “There is nothing stopping a God from leaving --given time-- nor creating a new trouble should they be left to their own devices. In this line of thinking, there was only two definite ways of pacifying the situation.”

The woman took the blossom and nested it between her ear and head, “Death and, ironically, speech?”

“Precisely,” K’nell offered a cheshire grin, “I of course favor the latter, and in two instances witnessed his inner working. I’m afraid in both instances I found him dangerously unreasonable and sinisterly slippery. It was an advertised calamity should I put my trust in him. A gamble as it may be, I was of the mind to go with the former.” He stopped as they came upon a tranquil pond wreathed in decorat flowers, crystal ripples running through it as a swan boated across.

Water splashed and the swan flew off as the girl jumped into the pond. After a moment, she peeked out from under the water and spoke, “Yes he was slippery, it was gross!” And she promptly went back underwater.

“I see,” The woman said, apparently ignoring the girl, “I suppose I’m naturally more hesitant in such matters. Royalty has to keep all cards on hand, you see. Sending one to an early grave is a rather final action.”

“If I may say, you’re hesitancy is a glowing virtue,” K’nell complimented. “Do not mistake my demeanor for a lack of remorse. I do wish it could have ended differently, of course.” He paused and turned to the woman, “There was more than my conscious at stake, I hope you understand.”

“Oh, I do. It was a difficult choice…”

“Ahh!” The girl gasped for air as she resurfaced, a wide grin on her face. Even with her eyes mostly obscured by the blindfold, she stretched her arms toward K’nell and the woman and chuckled, a lilypad on top of her head. “This water’s tasty, come swim!”

“Huh, I might have to pass, girl. My gown isn’t designed to come into contact with much water.”

K’nell stared on with amusement, his wide smile growing, “Antics of a dream, but a nightmare to the landscaper.” He looked at the woman and offered his elbow again, then looked at the girl, “Come with me.”

“Aaaw,” The girl pouted, but quickly got out of the water and grabbed one of K’nell’s hands. The woman once more grabbed onto the God’s arm. They took a single step and the world faded away. Flecks of existence slowly settled and they took their second step. K’nell walked confidently forward, golden sand under his boots. The sun peered out from a hilly distance, but stretching for miles before then was a sea of endless sand. It was impossibly flat, if not rippled by a light breeze. On either side of the three stood ancient fountains and canals, glistening water spewing from them. At the end of the canal works stood a massive tree, its roots knotted and curling in and out of the sand, its needle like leaves a dark green. Despite the strong heat, the cooling effect of the canals continuously sprayed cool air their way.

“So much sand,” Said the woman.

“I like it! But, where are the sand mountains Mr. K’nell?” The girl asked K’nell, looking up at him hopefully, her eyes shining a bit through the blindfold.

“Far to the north and east,” K’nell answered, “The winds here have pushed it all away.” He looked down at the girl and put one hand in his pocket, “But I suppose they could also be right over there.” His finger pointed out, and just as if noticing it for the first time, there was a large sand dune.

“Oohh! Where was it hiding? I didn’t see it before! Can we go to the top? Pleaaaase!!” She begged, pulling on K’nell’s arm and turning to look at the woman pleadingly, “I wanna roll down the sand mountain!”

The woman pursed her lips and looked at K’nell, “You decide, Mr. K’nell.”

K’nell looked at the girl and smiled, “Go ahead, my dear, there is something I wish to discuss here before I rejoin your company.”

The girl opened her mouth as if to speak, but quickly began bouncing in place instead, “Ooookay, I will go!!” She said shakily before running off to the dune. Meanwhile, the woman sighed.

“She’s so…”

“So?” K'nell raised a brow.

“So childish. Carefree.”

“Does this trouble you,” K’nell turned to the woman, his elbows square behind his back.

The woman turned her face slightly towards K’nell, eyebrows raised as if surprised that he’d ask such a thing. “O-Of course not-” She averted her gaze, “Either way, what did you mean to discuss, Mr. K’nell?”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to apologize in advance for the topic,” He said, “But in relation to the distressed Li’Kalla, how are you?”

She kept facing away, although the minuscule waver in the woman’s voice did not go unnoticed by the God, “I’m… As well as can be. It was a rather distasteful situation… I worry for Laina’s safety.”

“As do I,” K’nell turned away to look at the tree. He put his hands into his pockets and stared for a moment, “What’s your name?”

“I don’t have a name. She,” The woman nodded her head towards the girl rolling down the sand dune while giggling, “doesn’t have one either. We’re all parts. We’re not meant to be separated.”

“Of course,” K’nell seemed to apologize, “Would you mind if I asked of what you remember before divinity was bestowed upon Li’Kalla?”

“Aah,” She sighed again, but this time it was one of sudden elation, “Laina, she was a Princess, I enjoyed it all, the etiquette classes, the servants, the knights…” She turned to look at K’nell’s back, a sad smile on her face, “It didn’t last long. She… We, were just a child, relatively speaking, when they stripped us of… Everything. A future, mostly. Laina’s heart hurt ever since. And, you know, now that we’re all away from that pain, I think I can see why she is so happy now. The girl.”

“I think you do as well,” K’nell said without looking from the tree. “Excuse me,” He turned to her, “But you said ‘they’. Now, if I remember correctly, and please stop me if I’m wrong, but Laina was disposed of by another faction and,” He paused, “Polite company withstanding, imprisoned.”

“Another faction? Whatever do you mean?” The woman asked, tilting her head slightly.

K’nell waved a hand, “Perhaps I was mistaken, I am rather ignorant in the knowledge of Laina’s time before Galbar.” He turned back to the tree, “Either way, I’ll be doing my best to see you all reunited.”

“... My father betrayed me. Our father betrayed us. The entire family, too. Thrown into an over glorified cell, to be visited by dirty, less than human pieces of shi-” She caught herself, panting and eyes wet, and turned around to recompose herself. “And when the one I loved came to rescue me, he was defeated and humiliated and executed in such a shameful display… One so mighty, so renowned, my Hero…”

A white handkerchief dangled before the lady, as K’nell averted his gaze, “I did not mean to disturb you.”

She took the handkerchief and carefully took care of her teary eyes. After a long moment, she spoke. “It is fine.”

“It is curious,” K’nell suddenly changed topics, “That you have such vivid memories and details from a life before Galbar, and I suppose it’s even more curious that the Architect had pulled souls into this realm to create what he and now we call Gods.”

“It is rather curious, isn’t it?” The woman said as she handed the handkerchief back to K’nell, “I’d hazard blasphemy and propose he may not be as powerful as he seemed those first few moments we became.”

K’nell took the handkerchief and in one swift movement, it was gone. He looked over at the woman, as if studying her face for a moment, “Potentially,” The God nodded, “Or perhaps he was driven by something other than necessity -- who is to say? There is one truth evident in your words though.” He smiled, “We are not Gods, not in the traditional understanding at least.”

“That much is clear. However, we still have duties to tend to, don’t we? I do have this feeling that our world feels rather… Cramped, though.”

“Cramped, my dear?” K’nell raised a brow.

“Too many powerful beings. There is so much potential for trouble.”

“The Architect paints with a wide brush,” K’nell smiled, “But you aren’t wrong.”

“Architects don’t paint, Mr. K’nell. They draw beautiful buildings on pieces of parchment. Engineers are the ones that make sure the beautiful building does not fall apart after a fortnight, killing all its inhabitants. I wonder whether the Architect is also an Engineer.”

“I suppose time will tell all,” K’nell gave her a grin. As if thinking for a moment, he suddenly opened his mouth, “Forgive the hypothetical, but if you were the Architect, and could do it all over again: How would you see to your creation?”

“I do not know what it is he did, how he did it, nor why he did it. I would most likely be a less than desirable host.”

“A thoughtful answer,” K’nell nodded in satisfaction, “Then again what else should I expect?” He turned back to the tree and walked a few steps towards it, “I apologize if I had kept you far too long, we may end our walk should you wish.”

“I have nowhere else to go, and nothing else to do. You decide, Mr. K’nell.” She said simply, taking in the sight of the girl climbing the sand dune once more, a wide grin on her sweaty face.

K’nell turned to her, “I suppose then, I shall live up to my earlier commitment and then send us back to the palace.” He turned from the tree and began trudging towards the girl. He suddenly stopped and turned back to the lady, “Thank you, for our walk.”

“One last thing, Mr. K’nell, I’d like to ask about that tree.”

“Oh?” The God turned, one boot on the foot of the dune.

“I’ve never seen any tree like it. Laina never did, either. And we visited deserts. Where is, well, here?”

“A place in another life,” K’nell answered, “Well before Galbar.” He tapped his head twice and smiled, continuing up the dune.

Hey kids, wanna go pelt some doctors with apples?
The Grottu

Thumfatem hummed happily in the afternoon heliopolis. The spring winds were slow and the humidity of the coast was rising, making sweat gleam off his blubbery flesh wherever his parasol couldn’t cover. He watched with beady eyes as the new labor caste of the Grottu piled stone after stone, some smashing harder stones on the softer stones to make them more edge aligned for the project. The grunted in their work and only took breaks to sip at water brought down from the nearby river that marked the boundary of their territory.

Rubbing a whiskered lip, Thumfatem suddenly groaned, “Make sure the base is wide enough to support it as it grows taller.” The Laborers stopped and examined the square base stone altar they had been building. The base was already ten feet by ten and tapered three feet high to a second base of eight by eight.

“How tall?” Lumpagett looked back with confusion.

“Taller than me!” Thumfatem called back, “So our Father Kirron may see our sacrifices when Panganeem returns from the hunt.” He put his hands on his hips, “Quickly now, we mustn’t keep Father Kirron waiting!” The laborers quietly went back to work, some murmuring ‘yes, prophet’ but otherwise continued without much complaint.

“Thumfatem,” Hoshaf piped up from his own spot besides the Prophet, a plump yet attractive Selka woman holding a reed and leaf parasol over his head.


“Shouldn’t that be good enough?” Hoshaf began, but the prophet was quick to slap a meaty hand over his mouth.

“Chieftain! Don’t say such things. You know nothing can merely be ‘good enough’ for Father Kirron, if that was so,” Thumfatem let out a chuckle and looked to the plump servant caste girl, “Then clearly he wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of handpicking us as the leaders of his favored tribe.” The prophet waved the girl away and leaned in close to Hoshaf.

“Perhaps you are having trouble adjusting, hm?” He whispered, Hoshaf nodding eagerly, “Perhaps you even feel… guilty?” Again Hoshaf nodded. “Well, don’t.” Thumfatem’s mouth turned into a line, “You are the chosen one, and I am your guide. I think you need to better acclimatize to your new role. You do know your new role, don’t you?” Before Hoshaf could make a peep Thumfatem pulled the man in close, “You’re the chieftain,” He droned, “You’re role is to do whatever you wish, take whatever you please. It’s all in Father Kirron’s plan.”

Together their eyes followed a sad looking Antorophu with a wooden bowl of water for the laborers, “Take whatever you want,” Thumfatem smiled wickedly, a small crescent forming on Hoshaf, “You are in charge.”

“I am in charge,” Hoshaf slowly nodded. Suddenly a hollar came from one of those designated as a hunter.

“A winged lady approaches!”

Hoshaf turned in wonder, as did the majority of the laborers. In the distance a white figure brushed through the thickets. Thumfatem seemed less impressed than the others and turned to Hoshaf, “I shall greet her on behalf of the Chieftain, perhaps you can stay here and-” He thought for a moment, “Exercise your new role?”

The Chieftain nodded to the larger man and Thumfatem waddled off to greet the winged stranger, bringing with him several of the hunters he walked by on the way. The walk was slower due to Thumfatem’s physique but in moments they stood before the lady.

“Father Kirron’s blessing on you and this fine day,” Thumfatem gave a blubbery smile, his eyes studying the strange figure of white. She was tall, much too tall, and had one functional wing, with another loosely bound. Her face was blank and warped from what a Selka might expect to be normal, with two horn like protrusions topping her head.

The lady sighed at the sight of the Selka, crossing her arms as her head remained unmoving and appeared as if she were looking past them. “Great, more of you people,” she said before she continued speaking, more to herself than anything, “Vakk seems to have put them everywhere… Wait. Father Kirron? Is that what Vakk is referring to himself around you? That’s not like him.” For a moment she seemed to lose herself in thought before she released a hiss of pain, her hand moving to grip her shoulder. Clearly it was her wing causing her pain, but she refused to look upon it.

“Who are you,” she questioned through grit teeth.

Thumfatem seemed to reel at how Atvav introduced herself before panting, “Vakk? No, no! Nothing by that name. This is the holy land of Grottu, blessed by Father Kirron and put in the hands of,” He tapped his chest, “Yours truly, as high priest and prophet,” He looked over his shoulder, “To advise his own chosen chieftain in the ways of Father Kirron.” The hunters all nodded approvingly, scars from their battle still fresh on their exposed flesh.

“Sounds like a crock of shit,” Atmav said plainly, straightening herself and stretching her arms up. She popped her neck a little before continuing, in a rather paranoid manner, “Vakk is a being of a talk and deception. Could be under another name for all I know.”

Thumfatem seemed troubled by her words and twiddled his thumbs, “No… no,” He grimaced, “You clearly have traveled far and many ways from here, because the only Lord God who owns this tribe is Father Kirron, a God of few words and many strengths. It was by his will we were tossed from the oceans as mere animals and sprouted into beings of worship. Even now we extend our ability in his name and gather the greatest of sacrifices in his honor.” The Prophet smiled, showing off his piscivorian teeth, “Would you like to hear the commandments of Father Kirron?”

“Sacrifices…” Atmav repeated, turning her head away for a moment before she tentatively took a step back from the Prophet. She shook her head, casting away thoughts before she finally turned her head to look upon the Prophet. A small hint of dissatisfaction came across her face, “If it means I get to rest, them fine.”

“Of course!” Thumfatem began to waddle back to the stick village, gesturing for her to follow, “The very first commandment is easy; it is to have fun. We all have fun here, we can’t get enough of it, sounds pretty great, hm?”

“That one I’m familiar with,” Atmav grumbled.

“Next we must work hard, revere Kirron, and show our thanks,” Thumfatem continued, “We can do this by following the commands of his chosen leaders and priests. So long as we trust in his word, we shall never be lead astray and we shall prosper.” The fat selka stopped as they entered the ring of stick huts, where the workers toiled in the center with the construction of the altar, “It was revealed to me that the best way to work and the best way to lead, is with structure; so we have divided ourselves into castes where we feel we will work best! Quite genius of our Father Kirron, hm?” He chuckled to himself, “Such a God.”

Atmav gave a look of disgust at the mention of castes, looking at the ones deemed lower in the caste. Her face morphed into one of anger before she snapped at Thumfatem, “Castes are another means of oppression, slave-driver. What makes you so different from he who makes the altar or he who hunts? The system you use is one of greed.” She looked away from the fat Selka before she nearly doubled over, making stifled sounds of pain as she gripped her shoulder once more.

“Hmm..?” Thumfatem looked over at the woman in pain, “No oppression, and I’m not even sure what a slave-driver is, but we are divided only in what we do for work, what we are best at.” He stopped and looked at her pained expression, “Maybe a little faith in the Lord Kirron would see your pain away.” He paused, “As prophet, I could take your pain away, but then -- perhaps,” He started to chuckle to himself, “instead I should busy myself with moving the stones?”

“I’d rather die than put myself in debt to another god,” Atmav hissed, slowly returning to her normal height, standing imposingly over the others. She cast one more look around before she commented, “You are different that the Selka I had met in the north. They are far more… relaxed and easygoing.”

“With so much work to do, you cannot blame us,” Thumfatem pondered for a moment, “They likely haven't heard the call to worship just yet.” He rubbed his whiskers, “All in good time, yes?” The fat seal waddled away a bit, “Did you say you were staying to rest?”

“I suppose, but the talk of sacrifice makes me nervous,” Atmav admitted, looking at Thumfatem skeptically.

“It is our tribute to Father Kirron, a marker to show him our budding strength” The Prophet let his wide hands rest on his belly, “Nothing to be nervous about, but excited!”

Atmav let out a sigh before nodding her head, giving a singular warning in response, “Very well. Just don’t consider me for sacrifice.”

“Of course not,” Thumfatem seemed almost offended, “Our celebrated hunter, Panganeem, is out collecting our sacrifice. What he brings back is surely to impress Father Kirron and bestow his further blessing upon our tribe.”

“Okay, but I have my doubts that this ‘Father Kirron’ will bless you,” Atmav stated, her voice clearly stating her dissatisfaction with the situation. As such, she seemed to keep a paranoid air around her, constantly shifting her view to keep a watchful gaze upon the Selka who. Between the pain and the paranoia, it was clear that she was not exactly all together, especially with how she had spoken towards Thumfatem.

“Erm,” Thumfatem folded his webbed hands over another, “You've come quite a way and endured much suffering just to continuously berate our beliefs,” He turned to her, “Do you hate us?”

Atmav stopped for a moment, looking at the ground in deep thought at the question that Thumfatem had presented. “I-“ she started before turning away from the Selka with her gaze going into the air as she seemingly thought for more time. “No. I am just skeptical that your people could be so nice while an evil such as Vakk exists,” her voice was slow and hesitant, almost unwilling to share such information. She shook her head before letting out a loud sigh.

“If you were born into a world through sheer pain and torture, you would question any niceties that you’d come across as well,” she continued through a saddened voice.

“Alas, we were born only under the empowering might of Father Kirron and under him we live empowering lives,” Thumfarem gave a toothy smile, “There is no evil here, only faith.”

“And yet when I called to the gods, offering my faith, none came,” she said before turning back to face Thumfarem before she continued, pain filling her voice, “I was thrown here with nothing. The world I knew is gone. I was brought back just to be tortured and forced debt by a being I cannot hard to see.” Atmav took a few steps towards the Selka, her voice breaking as she spoke, “Where was your god when I prayed for help? For guidance? I got nothing!”

She was standing right over him at this point, her breathing stuttered and quickening, “If your god is true then where was he in my time of need?”

“Silence from Father Kirron does not mean he did not hear,” Thumfatem debated, “It just means you have yet to show strength worthy of him. See now, as the Grottu prepare to do so when Panganeem returns.”

“Or perhaps,” Thumfatem doubled over his words, “Perhaps your prayer was answered and guidance is being offered, hm?”

“I-“ Atmav stumbled on her own words and thoughts, before nodding her head in slight agreement. “I suppose you may be right. But why would I be led here? All I have ever done is shown disdain for your kind,” she said, a saddened confusion coming over her voice.

“Ah, Father Kirron is not without his mercy, it seems,” Thumfatem nodded eagerly, “Perhaps there is great use for you in the divine lands of Grottu.” He stopped walking as he approached a stick hut, “Should you stay.”

Atmav stood behind him, silent for a moment before before she took a hesitant step back. “I- I don’t know,” she said before she turned away from the Selka once more. “I don’t want to be a burden,” she said, before her mind trailed elsewhere. “I-“ her breathing quickened again and her hands balled into fists, “No. If this is some sick game by Vakk, I won’t play it,” she said, looking around as she seemed to be filled with fear at the sight of other Selka who stared at her.

Thumfatem seemed to recoil at her outburst, “Erm, no.. No,” he attempted to calm his guest, “This is a tribe of Father Kirron and no other. It is by our own makings under Father Kirron that I extend the invitation.”

“How do I know you are not lying to me? How do I know whether or not you or your god is as great and as merciful as you say?” Atmav snapped, her old pained anger coming across her face as she took another step back. Her head moved around as if her gaze could not find whatever it was she was looking for.

“I suppose,” Thumfatem seemed to ponder the question, “It's all in faith.”

“Stop saying that word!” Atmav finally yelled, her anger and confusion boiling over as it was fueled by the paranoia that plagued her. Her direction of movement changed as she took two long strides towards the Selka as she leaned over him. “Say that word again and I will see how much blood I will have to spill to please your god.”

“You are asking a Prophet to stop saying faith?” Thumfatem faltered for a moment as he flinched. The other Selka turned to the outburst.

The massive hand of the winged one was suddenly on Thumfatem’s throat, lifting him into the air as her grip strengthened. “I told you to not say that word!” Atmav yelled. There was a sudden thump on her broken wing and then another across the side of her face. Rocks. The other Selka were grabbing stones from the builder’s pile and tossing them at her between yells of anger.

The pain that shot from her wing made her release the Prophet who scurried away between gasps of air. Falling to her hands and knees as she let out a pained cry, Atmav raised her head with grit teeth as she growled at Selka. Slowly, despite the pain in her wing, she raised herself up before she caught a stone in her hand and with a roar of anger, Atmav crushed the stone.

All the Selka fell silent. Those throwing hesitated. Atmav's display put a flash of fear across their faces.

A dead moment passed. A mound of water bulged up from beyond the beach. A blurry grey shape breached the surface with a resounding splash, causing the beleaguered selkas in front to stumble out of its way. The head of the shape opened up with two huge black eyes as it flew onto the sand hard enough to make the ground shake beneath the feet of all at witness. A seal many times taller than the largest creature in the scene hoisted itself up on its flippers.

"Yimbo...Yimbo is here!" A lone selka voiced. All the rest raised their arms in and called out in reverence.

The great seal's slit nostrils flared, then it stretched out its head towards Atmav and roared a beastly, deafening roar through rows of dangerous teeth.

Atmav remained undaunted, her own anger flaring as she let out bloodthirsty roar in return, readying herself to be charged at. She gazed upon it for a moment taking a singular step to the side as her undamaged wings spread themselves in a savage attempt to make herself look bigger than she really was.

Yimbo licked its teeth with some consideration. It then hefted its bulk forward as selka scattered left and right. The creature lumbered forward on its belly faster than its size alluded possible. Atmav found herself in the way of a wide red maw launching to grab her.

She launched herself into the air before the teeth snapped shut, using the wings she could to glide over Yimbo as it snapped just out of reach of her feet. Atmav landed behind Yimbo before she herself charged, aiming to subdue it the same way she had subdued the reptile she had fought days ago. Her form was quick, though her attack was as blind and reckless as any other savage creature could manage as she closed the distance. She felt the tailfin slam into her entire left side before she saw it.

Atmav let out a roar of pain, the tailfin disturbing the fragile balance that kept her injured wing in place, only to be worsened as she landed back first in the sand. However, as she quickly got to her feet, she reached her arm and grabbed the dangling wing before ripping it free from her back.

A quick peal of thunderous movements brought Yimbo's head back around to face Atmav where she landed.

“Come on then!” Atmav taunted wielding the end of her wing as one would hold a spear. Yimbo was already picking up speed again. At the last pace, the monstrous guardian dipped its whiskered head low and to one side to butt her towards the ocean. The woman shoved the fragmented end of her wing into its face hard enough to halt Yimbo's momentum entirely. Yimbo barked in shock. The bone fragments slashed pink lines over its forehead as Atmav used her elbow to slam into Yimbo’s snout when the wing did not stick into its head. The impact sent a wave back across the blubber of Yimbo's entire body.

Yimbo waddled back, shaking its head left and right as sheets of blood fell from its huge nostrils. When it let out another roar at Atmav, its eyes were wide enough to see the whites at the back corners, burning with its own fury. It snapped its mouth forward again.

Like with the reptile, Atmav quickly moved the hands to intercept the jaws of the great beast, forcing her to drop her wing to do so. Her hands moved along the rows of teeth, breaking her skin as she forced herself to hold open the jaws of Yimbo with a strength unknown to most men.

And yet, as low, wet growls bubbled up from Yimbo's throat, her arms began to shudder. Its breath stank of rot and salt. Its jaw felt like a mountain weighing her down. As she struggled, pelts of stones once again started from the angry selka, a few heavy sticks thrown in for good measure. Her arms strained to keep the maw of the beast open, her gaze looking for an escape. Suddenly, she thrust her horns up to strike at the roof of Yimbo’s mouth. Her head felt the texture of her horns scraping at raw flesh.

All around her, Yimbo's scream of pain sounded as hot red blood ran down her head and back. The world wrenched up and to the side, and the beach knocked the wind out of her chest as she was thrown from the guardian's mouth.

Yimbo now faced her with blood dripping from its mouth as well as its head and nostrils, but it was no mere jungle reptile. It brought its head high, dipped its entire body forward, and bent up with enough force to launch itself off the beach and into the air.

Atmav felt a chill in the shadow of its midsection. With what little time she could, she got to her feet, attempting to ignore stones that only angered and bruised her more. The woman launched herself to meet Yimbo, her hands digging into the blubber of his underside. With an almighty thud and a cloud of hissing sand, she was silenced.

But Yimbo did not show any relief. First, his midsection arced up through no effort of his own. With great struggle and equally great strength, Atmav pushed the the massive form of Yimbo up to reveal herself. Yimbo let out a panicked roar when it realised and tried to roll away too late. Atmav let out a cry of defiance before she threw the monstrous seal into the crowd of selka.

The selka screamed as the giant seal came crashing down. Bones cracked and blood spurted as a few of the builders and onlooking children were crushed under the weight. Those who had the luck to escape the blow scurried off, yelling wildly. Hoshaf hid behind the altar, only peeking out to watch the scene unfold in horror.

“Is that enough blood for your god?!” Atmav yelled to the survivors, holding her arms open to invite any other challengers forward after her display of might. She breathed in and out, turning in a circle to any survivor who would be brave enough to continue watching, “I will leave! And if any of you follow, I will come back to finish what I started!”

Yimbo twisted to roll off the victims under it. This time its wild eyes twinged in a horrified sadness. It put its body between the selka and Atmav protectively and shouted out at her. Once out breath, its nostrils flared and it roared out again.

Atmav’s only response to Yimbo was a long gaze, before she went to retrieve her wing which had been partially buried in the sand. Her back was turned to Yimbo and the Grottu as she merely stalked away from it all.

One last long, pained shout emptied from Yimbo's throat. Helpless, he turned and nuzzled at the half-buried bodies to find any survivors. A few crumbled bodies flinched to life, but it was clear the damage was done. Hoshaf left his hidey hole and walked up to the scene, a blubbery Thumfatem trailing behind, hand on a reddened throat. Other selka approached, mostly workers, who did so carefully. They committed their movements towards Yimbo and gave the great seal a sobbing thanks and pressed their palms on his thin fur with reverence.

“What have you done,” Thumfatem rasped. Hoshaf recoiled.


“You’re a weak leader, and because of this our people are weak, I see that now,” Thumfatem seemed to choke on his words as he scanned the dead, “Father Kirron had sent her here to show us our weakness, to show us how wrong we are.”

“No- no!” Hoshaf furrowed his brow, “That’s not what happ-”

“You’re weak!” Thumfatem threw a fist to his side in a huff, “You aren’t a leader, and now look. We bury our dead again.”

“I’m trying-”

“Stop trying,” Thumfatem growled, “And do or we are all doomed.”

“I will lead,” Hoshaf growled back, “I will be strong, I will be the strongest.”

“Then do it!” Thumfatem shouted, “Because all I see is a mistake!”

Hoshaf narrowed his eyes, and pointed to a scared worker caste, “You! Get the others and start collecting the bodies.” He looked at Thumfatem defiantly, “Father Kirron will hear our cries during the sacrifice, and he will see how strong I can be.”

Thumfatem huffed, “For our sakes, I hope you’re right. If you’re wrong, it’s probably best you leave before anyone notices.” With little else the prophet stormed off, a vexed look on his face.

Hoshaf watched Thumfatem leave and looked back down. His eyes fell on a young girl, the top of her head broken open by a red stained shard of bone. Her was was one similar to one in shock or perhaps someone drowning. Hoshad squinted, her face looked like Panganeem’s. He pointed to her and shouted at a worker, “Bury her first.”

A Violent Quartet

”Come my children, today we strike the heart of the Dreamer-God. Today, I do away with the mockery!”

Vakk addressed his children, the echoes, anger blinding him and telling him to go forth and take his vengeance against both the thief and her god. He looked around at the echoes, swirling around him in the depths of his realm, getting put into a frenzy by his words as Vakk began to move through them. His towering form moving through the Realm of Talk before he broke through the cave with a thunderous roar, the echoes following as they erupted into the sky like a blackened plague, sending perched shadow crows aflutter. It was this anger that drove him, and that anger which desired the blood of K’nell and those gods who had looked to make a mockery of him.

He watched as his echoes formed a swirling mass around him, a storm of words and hunger had been opened to the world. Vakk released another roar before he thrust himself into the air to make his way north, over the continents of the Dragon’s Foot and the Kick. The mass behind him blocked out light, a blanket of darkness emanating from his realm like a swarm. Vakk had only one target in sight, K’nell and his pet.

It was not until he reached Tendlepog when he stopped in the air, gazing upon the continent and the Echoes forming a massive wall behind him. Vakk gnashed his teeth as he moved forward tentatively forwards, his echoes following close behind him.

It was then he saw it. The God with one thousand pieces, extending upwards, skeletal arms holding it above the rolling red plains below. It looked directly at Vakk. Underneath it was a large tentacle.

Vakk growled, gnashing his teeth as the Echoes restrained themselves to run down the being in front of them. ”Eurysthenes! How lovely it is to see you,” Vakk said, rather sarcastically before he looked at the tendril, the great mockery that continued to haunt him to the day. The Lord of Talk let out another growl, a few moments of silence passing before he sprung towards Eurysthenes, tooth ready to rip into the skeletal frame as tendrils rushed forwards.

The Echoes, stirred by the commotion, gave chase with their master, determined to grab the soul of the enemy.

Only, Eurysthenes wasn't there. As Vakk passed through the illusion, the tentacle on the ground swung upwards and smacked Vakk in the face with great force before flopping to the ground. No culprit could be seen, but there was no doubt it was Eurysthenes.

Vakk’s anger towards this mildly humiliating grew immensely, the Echoes chittering amongst themselves before Vakk gave them a look that made them instantly grow silent. He loosed a deafening roar, determined to find the one he knew was responsible as he looked around trying to find something that wasn’t there, ”EURYSTHENES!” Vakk slammed his tendrils into the ground of the great sweetgrass plains. Tree-Eaters scattered and cloudlings popped in retreat.

”Enough mind games, Eurysthenes. Face me, coward!”


Somewhere nearby, resplendent in the radiant anger, Eurysthenes slipped into action yet again. Its home could not be taken over by Vakk.

The Echoes froze on the spot, something clearly wrong. There was a moment of stillness where Vakk was not sure what had happened, or why they had stopped. That's when they scattered, each turning in a separate direction and surging forward, crashing into each other with no care except what they saw. This confused Vakk before he realized what was happening, another effort by Eurysthenes to meddle with his plans.

”Stop, you impotent fools!” Vakk shouted, his voice over moving over the plains and into each Echo. One stopping after another but each being confused, they shook their heads attempting to get Eurysthenes out of their heads. However, their animalistic instincts blinded them, each looking in a different direction as Vakk looked for Eurysthenes along the horizon.

”What is cowardly and a fool? What relies on tricks and deception to hide from my sight? What refuses to show its face out of fear?” Vakk mocked, looking around for Eurysthenes.

”What is just witty enough to convince itself of its own cleverness?”
The words rang out, as Eurysthenes rose out of the grass, rushing towards Vakk. Within a second it was close enough that its face was directly in front of Vakk’s, taking up his whole view.

But, on his head he felt two pressures, as if something were standing atop his head. Vakk roared in response, snapping his head forward to try and envelope Eurysthenes while many tendrils shot towards his head in case of trickery. Just as his maw closed, he saw the illusion drop, revealing thousands of teeth. The spines of the toothy creature shredded against the tendrils of the God of Talk, leaving oozing lacerations. Vakk jerked away from Eurysthenes’ trap.

Off to the side of the plains, a great horse suddenly whinnied. The echoes turned away from the God battle in confusion. Charging directly at them was the Warden, his black thorned armor soaking in the evening sun and glistening off him as a bloody red. His mare’s hooves were enveloped in flame, and he held a mighty sword above his head. In an instant, a sea of darkness materialized behind the commander; thousands upon thousands of nightmares appeared, indistinct maws gnashing and unseen claws swinging wildly.
With a horrid scream that could shatter a heart, the army of the night slammed into the echo horde. The phantasmal creatures of both armies clawed angrily at each other, and the Warden paved his way through the enemy, leading his army onwards.

Vakk turned as the phantasmal armies clashed, watching them claw and scratch at one another like the savages they were. ”Was this your plan, Eurysthenes? A petty trap? If so, it was poorly executed,” the god of speech laughed as his tendrils began to weave a ball in front of him, a ball of glowing purple energy.

”ellāṁ marikkuṁ!

āruṁ atijīvikkunnilla.

nilaviḷikkān ātmākkaḷ ayaykkuka!”

The sphere of energy was thrown to the air before it expanded rapidly vaporizing Echo and Nightmare alike. The force of it imploding on itself created a sickened cacophony of noise unlike any other. The screams and roars of the implosion left a space dedicated to the two gods before their battle continued in earnest, only to be halted again by a sudden sound.

There was a thundering rumble in the distance that hammered its way through the hordes of echoes with exponentially louder booms. It was preceded by several bright, violent columns and waves of red and blue flame, spitting out infernal tongues that melted away swathes of echoes. The heliopolis dimmed for a moment, but might as well have been shining all the same - for in its light’s path was a magnificent ship of gold and jewels fronted by the snarling head of a dragon, sailing a constantly shifting river in the sky. Upon closer perception, the fiery path it left behind came from great pots raining from the ship’s deck.

There was another dip in Heliopolis’ light as a shadow dove off the ship which proceeded to sail on to bomb the other flank of the echo forces. The shadow quickly took on a crimson colour before it crashed into the centre of the field, carving out a circle in the chaos for himself and letting out a menacing hiss towards Vakk.

“Do you KNOW how much wine I had to sacrifice to pull that off?!” Shengshi roared as his fins became long barbs; his claws extended; and his pupils became reptilian slits.

While Vakk was distracted by Shengshi, Eurysthenes took its chance. Massive bars leaped up, twisting and knotting around Vakk’s tentacles and pulling him down. Weaving together, they formed a puzzleknot that tightened around the tentacles, dragging Vakk towards the ground.

The Lord of Speech roared, pulling in resistance to bars that attempted to drag him into the ground, heaving chunks of rock and soil. ”Shengshi…” Vakk growled before speaking to the Echoes, ”I want every one of you to focus on that whelp! Eurysthenes is mine!” He heaved against the bar lurching forward, pulling more of ground with him as metal and flesh fought each other.

The Echoes, however, seemed to disengage from the fight with the nightmares almost entirely, a massive flood of darkness moving straight towards the river god. Then, magic shot through them, while nothing happened initially, the nightmares soon found that chasing down the Echoes led to two more spawning in one’s place, though significantly weaker than the original and noticeably smaller. It did serve, however, to spawn more fodder and distract the Nightmares as soon the number of Echoes swelled into a torrent, even climbing aboard the ship with gnashing soul-lust. The Warden roared above the crowd, his blade spinning as a scythe before the wheat, making every attempt to connect with the river god.

Shengshi let out a serpentine snarl, his ear flickering as he heard the Warden’s call. He twisted his hand and the ship in the sky turned violently, heading back towards the shore. He flicked his opposite wrist, and part of the river the ship was sailing on broke off into a tributary, which quickly shot down to the snake like a bullet and splashed into his open palm. Shengshi clapped his hands together around the water and pulled them apart, the water sticking together like a length of rope until it formed a long, menacing whip. With a vicious smirk, he picked some gravel off the ground and sprinkled it over the whip - it stuck to it like sand on a Servant’s skin.

“Did I hear a certain maggot call me ‘whelp’?” he hissed and cracked the whip against a few echoes, its blood-curdling sound akin to water striking burning coals. He let out a snarl and began to carve his way through the Echo horde towards the Warden, his whip churning the shadowy figures into dust and paste.

The Warden seemed to rally, his mass of nightmares forming a large arrowhead, with him at the tip as he drove his wedge into the echoes. The lashing licks of Shengshi on the other side of the echo army coupled with the pointed charge finally broke through, opening a pathway for Shengshi to Vakk.

“Your Lordship,” a voice grumbled behind the thorned helmet as The Warden charged beyond the God and into the thick of the battle.

“Ah, the Warden, I presume? Keep up the momentum! I will remove this pest from your lands,” the snake yelled and slithered through the masses towards the colossal worm.

Eurysthenes materialized opposite Vakk, the great beast of a God pushing against the straining bars, threatening to break free. The Lord of Puzzles slipped over and pressed a palm on Vakk, lines coiling over the skin. They began to glow as the pattern completed, which was just when there was a loud crash! and an ear shattering roar. Vakk violently erupted from his prison, dripping with fury.

The Lord of Talk allowed his tendrilsl to surge all around him, slamming into earth or any creature that dared draw near. However, his massive head was faced towards Eurysthenes, speaking in anger and hate, ”I will tear you into more pieces than is possible to count, Eurysthenes!” Vakk lurched forward, his tendrils soon moving to grab at the one who had attempted to imprison them.

There was an icing snap as several of the tendrils were wrapped in stone-spiked water and nearly sawed off with a gruesome spin of a whip. The snake tugged the line back and waved it around playfully. “Oh, my, it certainly feels wonderful to move about again. Sitting aboard that ship for so long really stiffens up the spine, would you not agree?”

Vakk turned his head to look upon the snake before a sinister smile came upon his face, mocking Shengshi, ”You should have stayed hidden, like the wretch you are!” A free tendril, grabbed Eurysthenes and slammed it into the the ground and threw them at Shengshi before Vakk shot all his tendrils after the river god.

The snake’s whip fell apart and the snake tossed his right arm upwards, sending the water towards Eurysthenes like a slowing buffet, Eurysthenes whirred as it attempted to recollect itself. Spotting the tentacles, Shengshi quickly made an effort to dodge, skipping into the air before diving to the ground and snaking his way towards Vakk. He made certain to keep his distance from the tendrils, his reptilian eyes scanning for an opening.

“My, you are a little upset, I can see that.” The snake suddenly stopped and stood up. He snapped his fingers and a cup with a clear liquid popped into his hand.

“How about a drink?”

Vakk did not respond for a moment, before stating, ”A drink would be nice, a drink of blood from you mangled corpse!” His tendrils shivered towards the snake as the massive maw of Vakk opened and went to snap from the other side, an attack from all angles.

“So uncivilised,” he muttered and raised his cup to the incoming god, downing it in a single gulp. He shuddered at the flavour, smacked his lips a little and smirked. As Vakk’s jaws came to snap him in half, the river god clumsily slithered backwards and snatched the tendrils coming at him from behind. He let out a quiet burp as he reinforced the tendrils’ assault with his own divine strength, sending them straight into Vakk’s gaping mouth.

The tendrils were caught in the teeth of Vakk’s maw, before he retreated them in a roar of pain.

The snake let out a cackle. “YEAH! How’ll you fight me (hic!) now, you f-fiend!” he clapped his hands as he made a considerable effort to stand upright.

Vakk’s anger grew unparalleled for a moment, before tendrils rose from the earth around Shengshi, grabbing the snake before slamming him into the ground over and over before a singular tendril wrapped around the snake’s throat bring him to Vakk’s head. ”Like that, imbecile,” the Lord of Talk growled with an evil chuckle before opening his mouth, moving Shengshi closer.

There was a sudden wail. The sky cracked as a black shatter stretched across it, breaking it into two deep scarlet halves. The wail resounded, and twisted until it was the somber cry of a violin. The world seemed to shimmer as the music approached. Echoes and Nightmares alike suddenly slumped, and the world grew still.

K’nell carefully stepped over the sleeping masses as he approached the gods, a phantasmal violin tucked under his chin and a cruel Narzhakian club on his belt. Great blaring notes blasted forth. His eyes narrowed on Vakk and the violin ripped and shredded a sinister song.

The Lord of Speech did not know what to make of it at first, but when his consciousness began to slip, he thrashed about. Vakk shook his head, attempting to resist the effects of the K'nell. He threw Shengshi and let out a singular roar of defiance before succumbing, his mind spilling into sleep. His form collided with the ground, raising dust and debris.

The toss had knocked Shengshi awake and with a snap of K'nells fingers, Eurysthenes dusted itself off and rose. The trio walked menacingly towards the slumbering fiend. The violin vanished and K'nell hefted the club in a single hand. Walking around Vakk's head, he positioned himself by the temple, Shengshi by his side with the reformed flowing whip. Eurysthenes walked to the opposite side, a spear growing from his form.

“... Are you certain that this is warranted?” the snake whispered uncertainly. “This murder will send an echoing message throughout the cosmos. Some maybe see it as a threat to themselves. Perhaps…” He hiccuped quietly. ”Perhaps imprisonment will be good enough?”

”When atrocities are committed, colours revealed, and there is a certainty for a lack of change, our solutions are few. When other solutions are but food, what is a battle?” said Eurysthenes, staring at Vakk. It twitched the spear.

“Still, it's…” The snake brushed some sweat from his brow, “I was hoping we would have had him surrender.”

This One looked directly into Shenghshi’s eyes, and said ”When one which lies promises the like of that, what does it say?”

The snake hissed. “Untruth, is the answer.” He sighed. “Then the choice is made.”

K'nell looked at the other two, “Gentlemen, Vakk still has but one chance left, and then we will know what is to be done; I ask simply that you prepare for the worst. I'll be back with your answer.” With little else K'nell reached forward, pressing a hand against Vakk, and with a sudden flash, everything changed.

He was now standing in a void of white, with only the snarling Vakk before him. K'nell’ grainy voice called out across the endless void, “I see you have made your choice!”

”You are the one who drove me to this. You mocked me, Eurysthenes mocked me. Hermes, that little bitch committed a crime against the gods! You let her go unpunished and justice had to come. You were her accomplice! You caused Li’Kalla’s fall!” Vakk shook his head for a moment, his teeth snapping. ”I want to go home, K’nell. Not to the place the Architect compelled me to create, but to the home he took me from!”

“I'm afraid,” K'nell began, his face dropping at Vakk’s declaration, “That I am incapable of making your choices for you, just as I am incapable of saving you from those same choices. Regardless of desire, I now see that you are truly lost -- perhaps you will find your home at the end of this, perhaps not.”

K'nell turned from the God, “Hear me as I say: The choice was yours.”

”Strike me down and I will return to cast a plague upon you and your toy. Next time, there will be no saving her nor yourself,” Vakk said, before a sinister smile came to his face, ”I cannot wait to see you again, wretch.”

“Next time,” K'nells voice swirled by Vakk, “Should there be one -- I'll do Galbar the favor of skipping this part.”

There was a snap and K'nell blinked. He stood by Vakk's sleeping head once more. Shengshi looked over at him, and the two shared a solemn nod. As gently as he could, the snake willed the stone-toothed water whip to wrap itself around Vakk’s neck, its teeth pulling at the worm’s skin, but not cutting it. K'nell inhaled and gripped the club with two hands. Holding it over his shoulder, his knuckles creaked white. He locked eyes with Shengshi and the two counted in nods: one, two, three. Shengshi flexed, pulling the whip tight. Simultaneously K’nell swung the club with resounding force. Vakk’s neck popped loudly as the whip sunk through his flesh, and the ground shook as the club connected with his skull.

Vakk’s head was ripped forward, slamming into Eurysthenes’ waiting spear, drenching the God in a plume of gore and ichor. Bone shrapnel bounced off the ground and red drizzled briefly from the sky as the three Gods stood there, each staring with wide adrenaline filled eyes. K’nells club clattered to the ground, bits of stringy flesh stuck on its spikes, “It is done.”

“We have murdered a brother - not one we loved, but a brother regardlessh.” Shengshi stifled a hiccup and cleared his throat.

K’nell looked up from the pile of flesh and squinted, “No murder was done here today.” He picked up the club, and as he did the flesh fell off, making it pristine, “But there would have been. There was no remorse, no inkling of conscious; just hate. Something that failed to be reasoned with, something that made a knowing choice.”

He looked at Shengshi, “So we made our own, and did what had to be done.”

The snake let out a raspy sigh, his quills and claws retracting and his pupils dilating. “As the river barrels through tough obstacles, so must the wise be ready to take up arms against those who see no reason.” He shook his head. “Still, a tragic fate, even for the hateful.”

K’nell brought a clean hand to his chin and rubbed it in thought, “There is a lot of truth to your words,” He looked at Eurysthenes and then back at Shengshi, “You’ve had your say, now I will have mine: let’s rest, the day is done.”

“Agreed,” the snake said wearily. “I shall summon over Jiangzhou - it will have refreshments for all who may w--” He paused, his eyes growing misty. “Oh… Pardon, I forgot most of it was tossed overboard. Will juice be satisfactory?”

K’nell pursed his lips, “Quite so,” he snapped his fingers and suddenly the Warden stirred to life, the nightmares rising as well. He turned to then, “Warden, see this place clean and the ill-welcomed guests-” he looked at the sleeping echoes that remained, “See that they exit the premises.”

“My lord,” The Warden turned to rally his army and K’nell turned back to Shengshi and Eurysthenes. The sky had cleared and the popping of curious cloudlings returned. K’nell folded his arms behind his back and motioned a sweeping arm.

“Shall we?”

After the Gods had drank enough, riddled enough, and talked enough, they split ways. Eurysthenes decided to head back to Swahhitteh, while K’nell walked Shengshi to the Dreamer Estate before splitting off to go back to Limbo (but not before returning the club). It was under the purple evening sky that Eurysthenes climbed the Staircase to the Infinite Maze, where it crumbled into a heap, eager for rest.

But this was not going to happen. Not now. There was something telling it that this isn't right. Maybe this was the pallor of the walls, or the way the eyes focused. Or was it the way thoughts flowed?

And so Eurysthenes walked the walls of the Maze, reflecting. Vakk, dead. He'd never meant much to This One, but it couldn't discount that he was gone. The one that had caused so much pain and hate. The one that it had met before any other, when it made a riddle to lock his sphere on that whispering isle.

Or was that what was wrong? Was there a faint whisper, worming into its consciousness like one of Vakk’s tendrils? Stuttering and slowing when focused on, then rolling and rising in the recesses. Soon enough there was no denying it, there were whispers, and they joined together to speak, countless voices speaking as one,

”We exist together now… two corpses in one grave.”

Presented by: @lauder, @Strange Rodent, [@Adorable Saucer] and myself.

Accidental double post.


FP: 00 MP: 00

Arya took a few tentative steps forward. Her feet padded across the tile of the palace hallways, until she came to the great door that lead to the throne room. She could hear a gentle piano dance behind the door, accompanied by a single violin and a lone chello. The hallway was just as she remembered it, slightly dusk, with the peripherals blurring as soon as she stopped directly looking at whatever caught her attention. Even still, the mighty door stood guard before her, the only thing separating her from the room ahead.

Like last time, she couldn’t contain her excitement as she neared the doors. She was anxious to be at the palace again, perhaps this time K’nell would teach her how to dance. It would be nice for a change of pace, ever since she ran away from the Jiangzhou, she had felt tense. Anything but relaxed, in fact, the only reason she was dreaming right now was because her body rested safely upon Penelope’s warm back. What better place to dream then in a place of comfort?

Now she stood before the door, taking a deep breath as she rested her hands upon either door. Then with a silent grunt, she pushed it open. The throne room was bouncing with weavers, all twirling as K’nell sat at his piano, floating instruments floating all around him. The song was soft and gentle, more contemplative than energetic. As she entered, the silver eye’d gentleman spun to greet her, his piano still playing without him, phantom fingers running across it.

“Dream and you shall learn,” He smiled, “I see you have taken to my advice, unless- You are here for something different altogether?”

Once again Arya was momentarily overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of the room, so she paused, taking it all in. It was just as she remembered, but different all the same. Wonderous and beautiful. Her eyes fell upon K’nell after a moment, and as he spun around, Arya began to walk over to him, her eyes expressing giddy joy.

The small girl shook her head and said, ”I dream to learn.” her voice oozed with excitement.

K’nell glanced over her for a moment, “Pardon me, but would you prefer a change of outfit, first?”

Arya looked down at herself. She wasn’t wearing anything, nor had she worn anything since her time with Shengshi. She was hardly embarrassed, but perhaps it would be nice to have clothes again, even if it was just a dream. She looked back up at K’nell and said, ”Yes please!”

The God stood up and took a few steps down from his dias, “Follow me, if you will.”

K’nell walked past Arya, arms crossed behind his back, and approached the great door. As he did, it swung open, but did not reveal the usual hallway. Instead there was a great cavernous wardrobe. The room was gilded softly and the walls painted a deep dark red. All along the walls various outfits hung on poles and hooks, each a variation of the next, or completely alien. There were pants, trousers, dresses, skirts, head wrappings, hats, gloves, and boots -- there was anything one could desire to wear and in just about every color, plus a few new ones that would make even Ashalla blush.

“I’ll let you decide,” K’nell said without turning back to Arya, “Just remember you will need to move, so pick something comfortable.”

The Palace of Dreams never ceased to amaze her, at every turn it dazzled with new scenery and sensations. Now the girl stood before a wardrobe beyond anything she could ever have imagined. Shengshi’s numerous wardrobes paled in comparison to this one. She felt so small and again overwhelmed by all the choices. She quickly walked past K’nell, outstretching her arms and giving a small twirl as she laughed. She then looked at K’nell and said, ”This might take a minute.” before the girl reached out and began to look at the first thing she grabbed.

With so many choices, Arya felt as if she could wear a new outfit everyday for the rest of her life, and still have more to spare. There was endless choices, and everything was just so beautiful. She kept trying on outfits after outfits, every piece seemed to be tailored to fit, but none of them seemed to be the right one. She did not know how much time had passed, but dally she did not want to do for so long and Arya could feel the beginnings of frustration. That was until she stumbled upon a dress that made her freeze. Slowly she reached out and grabbed it.

Minutes passed, and then Arya emerged from the wardrobe, taking a step into the throne room, then another. Her outfit, sparkled in the lights. It was a sleeveless dress, with a grecian neckline resting above an illusion, colored like a deep purple nebula. Silver flowers ran like a belt around her waist, and across her chest. The middle of the dress was matte black and fit tight to her body. The length of the dress running from her waist down was loose and had the same purple nebula colorization, which was further enriched with twinkling stars. Her hair was done up in a messy bun, two curly strands of hair came down on either side of her face. She wore nothing on her feet, shoes she found, simply didn’t feel right to someone who could fly.

K’nell let out three soft approving claps, “Excellent choice, my dear.” He snapped his fingers and the door to the wardrobe shut with a bang, leaving the two in the hollow of the ballroom. The weavers glittered as they waited and K’nell took his place atop the dias and at the seat of his gigantic piano. He tapped a key and shimmering ghosts appeared all about the ballroom, each in a fanciful dress or sharp suit. He tapped another, and another and before long the ballroom dipped and bobbed in a soft and slow dance, punctuated by piano and string.

A ghost reminiscent of Arya herself appeared next to the girl. Arya watched the ghosts take shape and begin to dance, a sense of elegance permeated the air. She took a deep breath as nervousness crept into her heart, then the girl exhaled and determination welled up in her eyes. When her own ghost appeared, Arya was surprised it was herself, and she wondered if that was what she actually looked like in that dress. She walked closer to the image, it was now or never.

The ghost took a few dancing steps, then flickered, returning to its original position only to take the same steps. It repeated this a few times, as if goading Arya to copy. A quizzical expression could be seen in her eyes as she watched her ghost take the steps. It wanted her to copy what it did. Clever. So she did, awkwardly and wrong, stepping one too many times before returning to her standing position.

The spectre shook its head and did the steps again, but a tad slower, as if showing each movement with exaggeration. Not one to be discouraged easily, Arya went again, matching the slow pace of the ghost. This time she thought she did it right. The voiceless ghost seemed to cheer and clap before flickering.

Returning to a standing position, the ghost did the same exact steps, just at a regular pace. Arya went again, again matching the regular pace of the ghost. Her mind focused on getting it right. The happy ghost spun in a controlled pace of steps, her movement in tandem with the dress resembling something of a spring flower in bloom. It flickered, and did it again.

“With grace, my dear,” K’nell droned from the piano, “Do not focus on speed, but the rhythm of the music.”

Arya nodded, knowing that K’nell would see even if he wasn’t looking. She took a deep breath, and shut her eyes. With them shut, she exhaled and took another breath, now listening to the music at it wrapped around her like a scarf. It was slow, demanding grace instead of speed, and the rhythm matched, just as K’nell had said. She exhaled and opened her eyes, then repeated what the ghost had done. She didn’t do it right at first, but upon the third try did she finally manage the correct movement.

“And together,” K’nell coaxed, “his fingers restarting the music from the top.”

Arya returned to her standing position and went again, putting what she learned together to match the music. She let her worries fade as the music took over. No longer did she feel so worried and sad, or even happy. She simply became an extension of the rhythm as it weaved through the music of the palace. Her reveries were stopped here and there as she learned new steps and new combinations, her ghost companion dancing alongside her. Eventually she linked the dance together in all its tiny parts and was truly drowned in the endless ocean of the music, only to reemerge as the song finally ended.

Time had passed, how much didn’t matter, not in a dream. K’nell rested his hands in a steeple and turned to Arya, “A successful lesson! Very good, Arya.”

Her heart was beating fast, and her breath was quick, but there was a smile in her eyes as she looked to K’nell and said, ”Thank you, K’nell. That was… Amazing and so much fun. I can’t wait for the next one!”

“Neither can I,” K’nell smiled, “You’re ability to learn is as refreshing as it is impressive. I do advise you practice your steps on the grounds of Galbar as well, however.” He paused and tapped his chin, “I suppose that concludes today, then?”

At this, Arya’s eyes seemed to frown slightly. She had almost forgotten that she was in a dream, it all seemed too distant but there all the same. She began to nod, then said, ”I… What would you do if you did something you regretted?” her soft voice came.

“A number of things, my dear,” K’nell’s voice swirled, “First, I would admit it and own my deed. Second I’d learn from it, and thirdly I’d avoid ever doing such a thing again -- should that be the lesson learned, of course.” He held up a finger, “But, having done this, I shan't allow regret to own my mind nor steer my heart.”

”That eases my mind, thank you.” she said sincerely. She had already done his three steps, it was the last part that troubled her so. It was difficult for her to realize that, but she would try. She had to.

Arya took a deep breath then looked at K’nell with a certain sadness in her eyes, the kind that comes and goes. ”Did you know Orvus was my father?” she asked him, already knowing the answer, but she needed to hear it.

“I do,” K'nell gave her a soft smile, “Would you like to hear about your father?”

”I… I don’t know. I feel as if it would be better if I simply gave up on him. I got so angry and I hurt Master Shengshi and Kalmar. They probably hate me and the only person I can blame is myself, because I have this desire to see him and to talk to him, to know why he cast me out. To know why he didn’t want me. Arya said, letting it all out quickly. Her eyes began to fill up with tears as she asked, ”Why do I feel this way?”

“Let's start at the top, my dear,” K'nell flicked his wrist and a wooden chair erupted from the stone floor, catching Arya with a soft ‘poof’ as she fell into its cushion.

“Firstly,” K'nell folded his hands, “I would not yet give up on your father. Why yes there is a threshold to which it is better to be without, I do not think it has come to that.” He pursed his lips, “Your father is a good man, he just doesn't know it. He is vastly troubled by indecision and conflicting emotion. He has allowed his own regret and emotions to steer his heart in any which direction, but I have seen how true he can be when he applies and I do think that perhaps someday he might see it himself and perhaps see you there as well. I do not ask you to hold your breath or even hope too hard, but to breathe just a little faith and don't give in just yet, in the end, however, the choice is yours as his choice is his.”

She listened to K’nell, her face blank for the first time in the Palace. It was a lot to take in, but she found that it did help. She had not realized K’nell thought that way about her Father. Kalmar didn’t like him at all, even wanted to kill him and for good reason. She shuddered at the thought of Phystene’s screams. But K’nell didn’t see it that way. Perhaps… Perhaps she had been too hasty in her judgement. Maybe there was still hope, small as it might be.

A small smile crept into her eyes, and she said, ”Okay, I think… I think I can do that. I just… I’ll let him come to me. I can’t get angry anymore trying to get to him. And maybe one day, he will, but I won’t get my hopes up. Not yet at least.” she finished softly.

“Very good,” K'nell laced his fingers together, “I will leave the thought with a few words of disclaimer, then. Firstly, this is all up to you how you go about it, and should one way prove better to you than another, you would be the first to know. What I mean to say, dear, is that you should use your full array of emotion and rationale to formulate the best judgement. I see you have already done that, and very good, but just -- stay smart about it, hm?” He paused before speaking again, “Lastly on the topic, when I say good and claim a man to be so, just remember the sobering knowledge that even a good man can do unwelcomed deeds, but what makes them a better man for it is how their conscious recognizes either guilt or ambivalence and if they desire a change or own a possibility.” He paused again, “I'm sorry, dear, this must be a touch confusing.”

”No, I understand somewhat. We all make choices, good or bad, and we have to live with those choices. We act on choices. I’ll be smart, try not to worry too much.” she said playfully.

”Hey! I almost forgot, do you consider Hermes to be your daughter? I’ve never met her, but Kalmar said you were her creator.” Arya shifted in the chair now leaning forward, she placed the hands under her chin and looked to K’nell.

A grainy hum swirled for a moment before a cheshire grin splattered on K'nell's face, “Not quite in the way that you know, my dear.” He nodded, “But should you ever meet her, I feel she has grown to know exactly how to answer your next question.”

”And what question is that?” Arya asked with a knowing smile in her eyes.

“I suppose now you'll have to ask her,” K'nell's smile grew.

”Mhmm.” she hummed, ”I doubt she’s even heard of me, but could you let her know I look forward to meeting her?” she asked innocently.

“I suppose I can,” K'nell agreed.

”That’s good to hear. I’ll try to find her after this… delivery is done. I think i’m going to a sphere soon.” she said.

“A quest if I ever heard one,” K’nell hummed, “Best of luck.”

”A quest…” Arya seemed to purr, ”Yes! I like that. Thank you K’nell, for everything, again. I suppose I should wake up now?” Arya asked.

“Four things before I let you go, my dear,” K’nell held up four fingers. “If you talk to Shengshi directly and with honesty, he may forgive any transgression you could have committed.” He folded his finger down, “The same may be said for Kalmar.” He folded another finger down, “In fact, such honesty may prompt them to give you insight you hadn’t seen on the matter, or maybe their own thoughts that have been mulling about.” He folded another finger, leaving one.

“And finally, my dear,” K’nell gave a cheshire smile, “Just remember,” he punctuated each word, “the choice is yours.”

There was a ringing snap and Arya’s eyes opened. She blinked a couple of times, slowly her senses and awareness coming back. She was still on Penelope, the giant jackalope rested next to a small stream and Split wasn’t far away, doing Split things. She began to get up, but paused when she felt something shift on her lap. She looked down, momentarily confused, but it registered. It was her dress. Arya lifted it up to view it with her eyes, and though it wasn’t as bright or dazzling as in the Palace, she was touched by K’nells gift. Her eyes widened into smiles, it was going to be a good day.

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