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Stop living in a fuckin oven
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Bio

I'm not really a bird.

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**wet noises**
Rainy Noodles at Sundown

Starring Snake and Sleepman


Wooden wheels ground over wet cobble, creating a dull grinding sound that challenge the wash of the gentle rain. The night sky was inky and the air was thin but cool. Gentle lights flickered from glass covered torches, challenging the darkness and illuminating a small wooden shack. The shack wasn't much more than a single bar with five seats exposed to the elements on all sides except above, where a thin awning stretched over any would-be customers. The thick smell of broth seeped from behind the bar along with yellow light and sharp clangs of metal.

"Here go," an old lady with a wrinkled face unceremoniously placed a wide clay bowl in front of the River-God. He had been sitting there since -- actually he didn't know, he couldn't quite remember ever sitting down but here he was. He looked down into the bowl of noodles, buttery broth swimming around the yellow-stained egg noodles, dotted with quick chopped vegetables. He looked up, but the old lady had already left, her voice carrying from the back of the shack as she argued with what he hoped was her gruff husband.

Wooden chopsticks clicked together and Shengshi turned to the stool adjacent to his, a smiling face looking back at him. The smiling gentleman held a prize of noodles between two long chopsticks, a gentle hum in his voice, "I do love this place you know," his grainy voice ricocheted across the sound of the pattering rain.

Shengshi smiled and grabbed a pair of chopsticks for himself. “Well, in that case, I look forward to the taste test. Let us see if the noodles of dreams can measure up to the craft of servants.” He pinched a couple of strands between the sticks and slurped them up. He chewed for a moment and swallowed, nodding with an impressed expression all the while. “That is quite something, indeed. Incredible what the mind can convey to the tastebuds.” He grinned and reached out his hand to K’nell. “How have you been of late, my dear friend?”

Their hands clapped together in a clasp and then fell apart. K'nell swallowed his own bite and cleared his throat, "I've been well, and how have you fared? I would be lying if I didn't admit to hearing about the troubles settling on the southern continent." The old lady came out from behind a curtained door and placed two cups onto the table and then a carafe between them. She gave a gentle bow of her head and turned to leave.

"Ah thank you, dear Rosy," K'nell tipped the carafe over Shengshi's cup. The old lady simply gave a pinched smile and shuffled off. The cups were both quickly filled halfway with a clear liquid. K'nell lifted his to his chin and ushered Shengshi to continue.

The snake mouthed the name Rosy to himself and shrugged discreetly. His eyes then flicked back to K’nell and he pursed his lips. “Well, I cannot lie, the last fifty years have been something else. With everything from experimentation to figuring out the essence of agriculture, in addition to all the conflict before and after the Arrival of the Alma - everything has been less than harmonious.” He furrowed his brows. “Yes, you have no doubt heard about all that regardless, so I will spare you the rant, dear friend. Now, what have you yourself been doing?”

"Oh, what I've always been doing, I suppose," K'nell took a sip of his drink and placed it back down, opting for his soup. He slurped a pinch of noodles and nodded, "Ah but I'm sure you want details. I admit I rarely get visitors who simply want to chat." He swirled his chopsticks in his soup, his utensils suddenly pinching a large bundle of noodles. He held them over the bowl until they stopped dripping. His eyes flickered back to Shengshi, "If you don't mind, I would like to perform a quick exercise… have some of my soup."

The snake blinked and accepted the bowl with a nod of his head. “Well, I am not one to decline such an offer. May I inquire as to what this exercise is about?” He took the bowl with both hands and brought it to his lips to nip at the soup.

K'nell held up a finger, "First, how does it taste?"

The snake smacked his lips quietly. “Quite similar to my own, I confess.”

"What if I were to suggest that my soup is actually very different than your own, but your tongue, of course, is none the wiser. You see, both soups have a similar taste pattern and your own palate has already become accustomed to it through your own bowl." K'nell smiled, "Awfully thoughtful for a bowl of soup -- here." He suddenly produced a glass vial of black liquid. He let eight drips fall into the soup before Shengshi, the broth darkening.

"Now try."

The snake once more nipped at his bowl, smacked his lips and then had another sip. “My… What did you put in it?”

"Just something very different than the original flavour. To be honest, that spice you now taste has always been there, but hidden. Now it has something to contrast against and show itself," K'nell explained simply. He looked at his drink, "Such is the way of soups… and such is the way of dreams."

The snake took another sip and chuckled. “A similarity shared with wine, I suppose. By the way, how did you like your gift?”

"I enjoyed it very much, thank you," K'nell grinned, "Not a drop was wasted, I assure you."

“How marvellous,” the snake said with a grin. “Please, do not be afraid to ask for more. There will always be more for my dearest friends.” He slurped another mouthful of soup and hummed pensively. “On another note, may I ask what happened that night when all my servants suddenly woke up screaming? Were you testing something?”

K'nell gave Shengshi a knowing look and waved a hand over their noodles, a tiny grin tucked in the corner of his mouth, "I was simply making soup."

The snake wrinkled his nose. "Not a soup for the faint of heart, I reckon. Forgive my questioning, but I feel compelled to inquire as to why you felt the need to make such a… Particular recipe."
I
K'nell steepled his fingers over his now empty bowl, "Ah I see, you have some concerns." He paused with a hum, "Perhaps a quick look behind the curtain might appease your worry?" The god smiled as his fingers slipped between the unseen folds of reality, "Yes?"

The snake made a face and nodded. "Very well. Show me."

K'nell raised a brow and flicked a smile; then with a sudden resounding snap, everything changed.

K'nells boot crunched on autumn leaves as he walked, his elbows folded square behind his back. The two were on a leaf ridden path cut through beautiful red leaved maples that hung over their heads. An owl was crying somewhere and Shengshi wasn't sure if it was dusk or dawn. The leaves swished in tiny storms and K'nell sucked in a soil scented breath.

"So tell me, Shengshi," K'nell broke the tanquility with a charm, "What are you thinking, if you'd forgive my familiarity, what is the future in your eyes?"

"The future? Why, that is simple! The future is prosperous - unending lands of green filled with full-bellied beasts and pious mortals, webbed together by rivers of life." The snake made a playful smirk. "Or had you something else in mind?"

K'nell smiled but didn't take his eyes off the path before them, "That sounds almost like a paradise, no?"

The snake nodded. “Indeed, hence why I wish it for this world. Already, much of it has known destruction, and it deserves a calmer, safer future - one without worry and anxiety.”

"Have you created paradise, yet?" K'nell turned his head to look at Shengshi, his black eyes betrayed more than a simple question.

The snake made a frown. “W-well, obviously not. It is a future goal - a project-in-progress.”

"I suppose that would make sense," K'nell nodded and turned back to the path, "I have one more question on the topic, but I have to ask you not to take offense to it."

The snake pursed his lips. “Go on.”

"Do you know how?" K'nell asked simply, his words almost punctuated by him suddenly stopping on a particularly crunchy leaf. He turned to the snake, a single brow raised.

The snake’s face caught a slightly redder shade and he looked away. “... There is still some experimentation to be done in order to find the optimal path, I fear…”

"Ah," K'nell presented a tiny smile, "Then I won't pressure you further on paradise." He mused in silence for a second, "But since you clearly have had some thought of similar subjects, did you perhaps devise an end for your creations? Or perhaps a way to create perfection?" The God didn't wait for an answer before he started walking again.

A distant look filled Shengshi’s eyes. “A way to create perfection, huh… Well, I have been refining my book of law that I will hand down to mortality. I believe firmly that the system outlined within them forms a most harmonious society, which can then be supported by bountiful harvests and great wealth. Only…” He shook his head in disappointment. “... Please do not tell anybody I said this, but I… Struggle to practice my preachings, so to speak - that does not exactly set a wonderful example for mortality.”

"Deviations are expected in most coded works; although by the creator…" K'nell paused, "I suppose that shows you that you have either created a code that is impossible to follow or one that is honest -- as so many creator of rules ensure the rules favor them first… If that was the case, in this greed you'd have no trouble, so take your struggle as a sign of potential and not failure." He looked intently at the snake, "As for the topic of privacy, you are in a dream. Only I and the dreamer know what transpires in dreams and as I've made clear to others, none of it shall be shared. I expect the same of you of course, we share delicate bits of information, such as this dream, or the secret demise of Vakk." His eyes flashed over the snake for a moment.

The snake blinked. He then sucked in a breath through the nose and placed his fist over his mouth. “... His death…” he began, “... I…” He squeezed his eyes shut in shame. “... I am afraid that is a secret no longer.”

"I know, Shengshi," K'nell stepped over a tiny puddle, "But hearing it from you ensures my faith in your honesty." He hummed for a moment, "However I must insist you keep this talk between us, yes?"

The snake nodded with a recovering smile. “Of course, my dearest brother. This is but a dream - little of note to share.” He winked playfully.

"And yet some of the best things happen in dreams," K'nell mused, "Ah, for example."

K'nell suddenly stopped and as if the trees were peeled away on command, there stood an endless field of green before the two gods. It held glistening blue brookes that cut the endless field into pieces. Idyllic homes crested each island, and a great many people went about various tasks, each with a feeling of bliss in their hearts and step. K'nell plucked a yellow flower from beside him and held it to his nose to appraise it.

The snake gaped in awe and breathed a hacking gasp. His eyes shone with the moisture of pride and love as he gazed out across the vast fields of green, listened to the warm buzz of farmers and heard the snaps and smacks of their work. He sniffed a single sniff and nodded. “Yes… Some of the best things, indeed.” He slithered forward among the tall, verdant stalks, his hands caressing the growing sprouts on top. He hummed to the sound of the becks and flight of the bees and revealed a grin than glistened in the light above - the same way everything around radiated with idyll.

"But of course," K'nells grainy voice piped up from behind Shengshi, the Lord of sleep not having moved from his spot, "Should you stare at this scene long enough, it will become bland despite that special spice that makes it so wonderful. It is not perfect, but it holds a piece of perfection." He paused, "Then again there is also the matter of perception."

The grass bent under his boots as he made his way to Shengshi's side, "No, I'm afraid this is not good enough. Mind you it isn't the lack of grandeur nor the dreams fault but those perceiving it. Tell me, Shengshi, what makes your most beloved creations happy?"

The snake furrowed his brow in thought and hummed. "Why, I reckon that would be the knowledge that their creator watches over them and ensures their bellies are filled and their throats are wetted." He gave K'nell a look. "Since you asked the question, what do you think?"

"Hm?" K'nell turned his head towards the snake, "Your creations? I suppose the answer is the same for any creation granted free will: they make themselves happy, or unhappy -- not to say external forces are not extremely important in determining one's mental state, but to rely solely on external stimuli is… well incorrect."

"There," K'nell pointed a finger at one of the farmers, "You can see the intricacies of this person's mind, yes? By all means they should be soaring with happiness as all their needs are met and they live in an idyllic paradise… but they are uneasy -- unsettled. They crave new experiences, new sights." K'nell chuckled to himself, "So let's say I give those to him, will he then be at ease? Sadly not, as they will eventually realize they want something else entirely. This is a man not yet ready for paradise, as he has yet to find it first in himself. That is not to say that a paradise shouldn't be much more than this, but if he were to be at paradise within, I dare say any scape I throw at him shall be paradise as well." K'nell smiled.

"Do you follow, dear Shengshi?"

"I do," Shengshi murmured. "He could be granted tools to humour himself with: a harp, a flute, clay, wood - paradise necessitates a culture for the arts, of course." He gestured outwards. "Everything such would be welcome in paradise, so long as it would remain harmonious and not infringe upon others' enjoyment of it."

"Oh but it would, dear Shengshi, if the mind is not prepared," K'nell looked out over the field, "It takes a single grain to disrupt such a gentle equation and when dealing with objects of free will… well that is to say perfection is not as simple as everyone plays nice and does nice. To need to enforce a rule dictates that it is a mere sham of a paradise, not quite there… so."

K'nell turned to Shengshi, "Physically a paradise needs to be infinite and infinitely varied, that much is easy… but the psychology of the denizens of paradise, not so easy. So how do you ensure that all parts of this paradise are in concordance with each other… well I suppose you learn all sides of the equation, and every motive possible for emotion… I suppose you add a contradicting flavour to the soup, to better understand the spice you seek to taste." K'nell folded his hands, "And that's just to make the soup, does this all make sense now, Shengshi?"

The snake nodded slowly. "Yes… Yes, it does… A Galbarian paradise is beginning to sound difficult."

"Then let me make it easy," K'nell smiled, "Or at least allow me to simplify it all to a few words: you cannot force someone to be at paradise." K'nell inhaled, "To answer a long ago asked question, a dream holds the seed of truth, but so does a nightmare. You cannot ignore negative experiences on the path to paradise, but let both dreams and nightmares foster a better way of thinking. Perfection exists, dear Shengshi, we just can't talk about it."

"I would like to disagree, but it was indeed a nightmare that brought to me the thought of forming Xiaoli." He chuckled to himself. "Yes, I am in agreement with the need for this balance of impulses - both good and evil can be necessary when deciding the proper paths ahead. Yet… I do hope there will be a spoonful more good in the lands to come."

K'nell looked at Shengshi for a moment before smiling, "But of course and on the topic of balance, I have come across an interesting case -- perhaps one that would be an excuse to allow this topic to rest and our minds with it."

The snake raised a brow. "A case?"

K'nell nodded and clapped his hands once. At the resounding vibration the sky suddenly rolled and thundered about the fields. The people were nowhere to be seen anymore as the sky suddenly sundered open and with it, a torrent of flame. The fire pounded to the earth below and engulfed all.

The flicker of blinding orange subsided and Shengshi stood on the steps of a dias, K'nell sitting on a throne far above. The intricately dressed room around them was well lit, and filled with a playful orchestra. Flitting orbs of emotion danced around them and in between the statues along the walls. Before Shengshi could comment, K'nell flicked his wrist and a person materialized between them.

The figure was nothing too impressive, save for the dark circles under his eyes and the beat up clothes of a gentleman he wore. The man was neither dreamer nor of K'nell.

"A man who has only (or at least mostly) experienced misery alone for the past five decades. Not even in sleep does he get a reprise, as it is flooded with nightmares, most of which have nothing to do with his particular journey through life. He is known as Karamir and unfortunately for him, he is friends with…" K'nell mulled over his words, "Well a divine being whose sole purpose is to spread misery."

The snake furrowed his brow and made a faint sneer. "With a name like that, he can only be the creation of Kalmar… My, what an utter lack of creativity." He turned to K'nell. "Why are you showing him to me?"

"Simply because I thought you might find this case as curious as I do," K'nell flicked his wrist and the figure fell to the floor, lumbering about mindlessly. K'nell cleared his throat, "A mortal who has for the better part of their existence having been removed from positive encounters. Of course, he has grown used to his current level of misery -- as expected. To be suddenly liberated from such misery, what do you suspect might happen?"

“... I imagine he would act like a beaten beast - joyous and ecstatic, yet perhaps even a little anxious. Free of chains, the slave is often without purpose, after all.” A pause. “Did you have a wish to free him hidden within this message?”

"You'll have to excuse me, I don't tend to deal in wishes -- he is on his way as we speak," K'nell leaned back in his throne, "Have you ever felt trapped?" The question was sudden, the God of Sleep reaching into his coat pocket.

Shengshi shook his head. “No, I cannot say I have.”

K'nell seemed to ponder the answer as he pulled a silver tin from his coat and opened it up. He presented the rolled cigarillos within to Shengshi, "Smoke?"

The snake peered intently at the cigarillo and hummed. “I have never tried, I confess. Lately, I have been a little wary of smoke and fire.”

"Oh yes of course," K'nell snapped the tin shut, "How insensitive of me." He hummed for a moment as he tucked it away.

“No, no, do not concern yourself with that. It has already been over fifty years, after all, and fire is a necessary, essential part of life for many mortals. As will pipeweed and other substances be, I reckon. Now, I imagine you wanted to tie the trapping to this Karamir?”

"Could you excuse me if I spoke rather liberally for a moment?" K'nell gestured a hand.

“Why, certainly - go ahead.”

"You are trapped, Shengshi," K'nell folded his fingers together, "Whether you know it or not, since the moment you fell asleep I've felt it. Karamir, the cigarillo, simple prods at your symptoms. Tell me, when seeing a curious case of damnation, why did you first focus on the name made by a rival and when presented a luxury item, your first thought was of the war? You have things eating at your subconscious, Shengshi, and plenty of things that need to find a bed."

The snake recoiled a little and blinked. “W-w-well! I-...” He cast a sideways glance into the distance and sneered. “They were mere remarks. Karamir’s name is awfully similar to his creator’s and I have indeed kept my distance from fire over the last few years. What, are you going to tell me that I am trapped by my experiences from the past?”

"Perhaps I misspoke," K'nell offered, "Then again, if I didn't, you would know before me."

Shengshi’s eyes flicked back and forth between K’nell and the fine curtains over the windows. He sighed a hot sigh and crossed his arms over his chest. “... I would not say I am trapped, but the past does haunt me at times.”

"Who can fault you for it," K'nell grinned, "I suppose the only judgement can come from what you do next."

“Yes… Speaking of, would you have any recommendations? Already, I have sworn to oppose Azura and, well… I would likely be a fool to think one of your crows did not catch my latest failure.”

"If I may be so bold," K'nell said after a small pause, "Perhaps it would be wise to sit for a while." He patted the arms of his throne, "And think. Think about the start of things, and the end of things. Figure out the path of each of your choices and only create when you know how to end it. But if I am to be honest, lecturing is not my strong suit, at least not this sort."

The snake smirked. "As usual, you are much too modest, my dearest brother. Your advice has been more than helpful, I assure you." He looked over his shoulder as if something was there and shrugged. "An itch and spine in my neck is telling me I have taken a rather funny position in the real realm… I must be waking up."

"Ah, that's what I was afraid of," K'nell said, "The former rather than the latter. Far be it from me to be directly involved in the choices of another -- in this case, I suppose for a friend." He smiled wide, "As for your waking arrangements, there you are."

As the last syllable sounded, Shengshi realized he was no longer asleep. He turned a lethargic neck to see that he had nearly twisted himself around inside his basket. He muttered to himself and quickly undid the knot that was his body and crawled out of the basket.

"Well… Time to see how close we can get to paradise."





MP:07 FP:08


The room pulsed. White light glimmered over the opaque shadows, dispelling them and revealing grey-blue stonework. Once again in five points K’nell had placed dream orbs, each hovering over a pedestal, whirring and pulsing their glow. In the center of the star, there was a great ripple of light, just as before, with K’nell standing in front of it. His fingers deftly slipped through the light, hooking ethereal threads and incorporeal strings. He pushed and pulled them, weaving them into a pattern hidden by the mind numbing light. The birth of Diana had pushed his project closer than he had expected, and he could feel things starting to fall into place.

A tiny smile cracked his lips and he began to hum a melody, the grain of his voice giving it a veneer of experience and mystery all in one. He tugged a particularly stubborn strand, and reality seemed to shimmer around him for a moment. He paused and the sparkle of light fell back into the rhythmic pulse of the orbs. As his fingers worked his mind idled on different things, his vast army of crows feeding him endless streams of information. He made a curious face at some of the images and sounds the crows relayed, smiled at a few others, and threw in a few frowns for good measure.

Snaking one hand out of the ripple of light, he waved it at nothing in particular and the images stopped flowing, leaving his mind alone with his own ponderings. There was so much to think about, and unlike eons ago, things happen much quicker than before, forcing him to prioritize his thoughts. He let his hands fall from the ripple of light and tapped his clean shaven chin, “Prioritization.” He gave a single humorless ‘ha’ and returned his hands to the ripple, the room suddenly blooming with spots of every bit of color imaginable, plus a few new ones.

Such a word is hardly known on Galbar” He mused as he tinkered, “Then again, I’m hardly on Galbar.

Orvus,” He thought to himself, the images of his last encounter flashing by his mind. He nodded to himself, hoping that the god managed to figure out the true purpose of his gift, and not just the obvious one. His raised his brows and the image of Orvus shifted to that of Azura and her birds, images he knew very well despite never personally meeting her. His crows have heard many stories and opinions on the god… K’nell let his brow fall as he worked on a particularly hesitant thread of light.

Oh, Azura,” he shook his head, “A heart of gold, but then again, find me a god who doesn’t think their soul is silver and ideas as solid as diamond.” He looked at a mirror that leaned against the wall and smirked.

“There’s a hypocrites’ smile,” He charmed before turning back to his work. He scrunched his brow as he worked; perhaps it was intrinsic to his sphere, a boon acquired from his specialty, but to him, there always seemed to be so many roads and so many strings --almost too many strings-- to only pull one and assume --He yanked a strand of wispy gold-- that it was the only or even the best string. He watched a cloud of glowing light pulse on the other side of the ripple, “Or that the effects of a choice be so simple and clear.

Or perhaps,” He thought on, “There is no other choice, or perhaps too few choices.” He thoughts turned to Ashalla, and then to Narzhak,“[i]That there is a certain complexity in the simplicity, or perhaps it really is all that simple.” He smiled, knowing very well that there buzzed a law that even a man of dreams knew to be true, that it is usually the simplest of answers that holds the answer. He cocked a brow, “But at what point do you fall from humility in your choice, and are just plain proud.

“Then I suppose you could be too prudent as well, too invested in finding every option that you forget what you were talking about to begin with,” He said out loud to nothing at all. He pulled back from the ripple of light, the glowing sun a melody of color. He tucked a hand under his elbow and pinched his chin.

“So I suppose, the answer to this equation is simple,” He watched the ripple, “You cannot have one without the other, and I suppose you’d have to find a certain balance to make sure that you know exactly what is what. But that is the beauty of the dream,” He smiled, “You can have one without the other…”

“Unless…” His eyes flickered with the light.

“You want something else entirely…” A cheshire grin overtook his face.

WHOOM!

The ripple suddenly exploded with a rush, engulfing K’nell in all its splendor. As the flood of color overtook the palace, it grew dark and dim. Runes floated in its miasma as it curled into lines of wicked poetry. The great wonder of the dark tsunami shook the dreamscape…




Limbo began to shake and the weavers that floated around it suddenly turned a scarlet red. With an explosive blast, a dark pillar of miasma erupted from the stone platform, rocketing to the sky. It slammed into the heavens with a tremendous force, blasting the night sky with a unsettling shiver. All around Galbar, the sleeping suddenly began to jerk, and began to scream, and began to cry. The realm of the sleeping broke into a chorus of horror, fit with an orchestra of shrieks and a symphony of anxious whimpers.

… True nightmares have been born.




...The initial great wave of terror never seemed to touch those who bore the spiral…




Diana suddenly stood up. Her umbrella slid off of her and thunked into the wet grass below. Her boots scuffed and she turned every which way, surrounded by a grove of trees -- a gentle river babbling nearby. Her sickly eyes seemed enticed and a smile stretched over her jagged teeth. Slowly her gaze fell to Karamir, the sleeping mortal jerking in his sleep, sweat beading at his temples. A giddy grin and a single clap erupted from Diana, the avatar nearly hopping in place.

“Karamir!” She kicked the man out of his sleep, his eyes popping as they escaped horror.

Karamir shot up into a sitting position, his hand lunging for a branch that lay nearby, only to pause when he realized there was no actual danger. “Agh… wh-what!?” he demanded.

“What, what,” Diana mocked with a wave of her hand, “Can’t break you from that, can I?” She shook her head and waved her arms, “But no, don’t you feel it?” She smiled wide, eyes shifting over his face, looking for signs of his nightmare.

“Whatever do you mean?” Karamir asked, recalling the lessons he had been repeatedly nagged and pestered about.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” Diana scooted around Karamir, “Do mortals really not feel that? A new wing of the palace has been awakened. I can taste it in the air, I could feel it ‘oozing’ from you as you slept.” She closed her eyes as if picturing something, “The symphony was masterful, and you’re telling me you couldn’t even hear it?”

Karamir scratched his head in confusion. “That dream was the worst one yet, but you’ve been giving me nightmares ever since we met. There was something special about this one?”

Diana’s jaw hung in astonishment, “Karamir, that’s probably the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.” She hugged herself and smiled smugly, “To think you couldn’t even tell the difference.”

“So what does this mean, then?” he questioned.
“It means I can go home, dear” Diana smiled wide, “And that-- well.” She thought for a moment, “It’s hard to explain, but since you’ve known me… I’ve had a small piece of myself that seemed to be missing, but I think I found it again, oh yes.”

Well, that was concerning, for more reasons than one. “Wait… go home? You’re leaving?” he asked her. Karamir did not relish the idea of her gaining what sounded like more power, but for some strange reason he also did not want her to leave.

“Well leaving is a relative term,” Diana flicked her wrist about, “Leaving this boring slab of stone? Yes.” She closed her lips and hummed in thought, “Oh my, you’ll just love it. No more sunny days, or fluffy critters -- at least not the petting kind.” She shivered.

“Love what?”

Diana blinked, “Home, Karamir, home. My, you’re a dense one.”

Karamir raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying you’re taking me somewhere?”

“Of course,” Diana rolled her eyes, “We are friends, aren’t we? It would be strange to just… leave… you stranded.” She curled a finger and bit it in thought, as if tempted.

Karamir looked around. He had already seen his fair share of dangers on this continent. From giant winged lizards to abominations of filth and metal. If left alone, his odds of survival were not great. “This ‘home’ of yours… what is it?”

"I always forget that you're a simpleton," Diana mused, "Somehow." She shook her head, "I come from the land of dreams, of course." She did a slight twirl, “Couldn’t you tell?”

“I know that, but what is it? Karamir pressed. “Is it just endless horrors and nightmares? Is being there any different from being asleep?”

“It’s whatever I want it to be, of course,” Diana stuck her chin up, “It’s really quite easy to understand when you think about it and yes, I’d say it’s much better actually being there rather than sleeping. Not from experience of course, but my own personal…” she mulled over her words and rotated her wrist, “I’m not sure, bias? Perhaps.”

“So what happens to me when I sleep - it would just be more of that?”

“Oh my dear Karamir,” Diana pinched her brow but betrayed a toothy grin, “Your lack of eloquence is somehow as sharp as it is dull, or rather it must be because that stung. It’s not just merely pictures floating around in your head, or some sleeping side show, or maybe that’s all it is to you?” Her statement inflected a question and her eyes dug into him with an awaiting glare.

“I’m just trying to learn more about it, that’s all.” he answered, shrugging to offset his defensive tone.

“Haven’t you learned anything from your dreams?” She asked with an almost sickening innocence that Karamir had grown to be cautious around.

Karamir sighed. Getting a straight answer from her had always been difficult - so why should he expect it to be easier now? “I’m trying to find out how it’s different from my dreams. If it’s just more nightmares, but far worse, or all the time, then that isn’t a life I want to live.”

“Oh no, it’s much much better,” Daina clapped once, “Besides, what sort of life are you trying to live anyways? You squat by trees and grunt half the time, I could only imagine what life would have been like if you hadn’t met the likes of me, you know. Look at you, dashing clothes, nearly intelligible diction, and a worn weary eye to boot. I’d say it can only get better for you.” She crossed her arms.

Karamir frowned. “I think your definition of ‘better’ is different from most creatures.”

“Oh foo, there you go with your nonsense again,” Diana folded her hands, “You can’t deny how great it has been having me around, and I’m just saying we can have much more fun, but in a much more civilized land.”

Karamir squinted. “More civilized? In what way?” After all, many of the things he witnessed in his dreams could hardly count as ‘civilized.’

“For one I can introduce you to the wonders of cleaning yourself regularly,” She kept her arms crossed, “Dances, orchestras, cooked food, all of that fun and fluff.”

Karamir ruminated on the offer. He distrusted it, of course, yet he knew that staying here alone was a death sentence. And at least going with Diana would offer some change of pace from the seemingly endless wandering they had been going through previously. He removed his hat and ran a hand through his hair. How long had they been wandering? Countless winters had come and gone. He had been told he would live long, but long was not forever, and he needed to feel like he was making some sort of progress.

He sighed. “I will go… on the condition that I am allowed to safely leave whenever I want.”

"Oh you silly man," Diana cackled, "Have I ever once said you can't leave?"

“I’ve never been in a position where I could safely leave,” Karamir pointed out. “When we first met it was at sea - there was nowhere else to go. And here… this land is dangerous, and you never gave me a weapon to defend myself.”

"I gave you the best weapon of all: style and good friends," She nodded, "Now hup to! We have a home to return to." She put her hands on her hips, "Now just to remember which way it was."

Karamir rose to his feet, and then his eyes widened in fear. “Are we going to have to take another umbrella ride across the sea?”

Diana tapped her chin, "Maybe! Oh I know how much you love those." She spun and spun as if looking for something, "But we do have a schedule to keep, somewhat." She knelt down and scooped up her umbrella. She stared at it for a while and tossed it idly in her hand.

"I suppose we could fly."

”Wait…” Karamir began, before breaking off into silence. For a few seconds, he could only stare at her with his mouth agape. He clenched a fist, then unclenched it, before clenching it again. His face reddened, and it looked as though he might explode, but then he took a deep breath and appeared to calm down - though his hand remained closed. That was an option? he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

Diana blinked, "Oh my, yes." Her lips cracked into a toothy grin, "Although as you can imagine, space is a little limited."

Karamir opened his palm, and then slowly brought his hand up to meet his face. “Why didn’t you do that in the first place?” he asked, his voice still quiet.

"Oh I think you know me well enough by now," She said idly as she unfurled her umbrella with a whoosh! The brim of the umbrella seemed a lot wider than Karamir remembered and Diana flexed her fingers over the grip a few times, "Shall I be honest with you?"

Karamir dropped his hand. “Do you mean to imply that you have not been honest with me before?” he asked in an unusually dry tone. “I am shocked. But please go on.”

"Oh hush, I've never uttered a lie to you. I simply have a confession," She looked over at him and held out a hand.

Karamir stared at her outstretched hand for a moment, and then reached out to take it. Gripping her palm was cold and somehow, sweaty? Or was it so dry that it felt that way, either way the discomfort spread up his arm like a creeping spider as her fingers creaked over his. But Karamir had grown used to such sensations, and he was unphased.

"I've never flown before," She cackled as the two suddenly shot off of the ground, smashing through the canopy of the forest. Karamir’s grip tightened and his surprised yell was drowned out by the rushing wind, but this was not his first time flying, and after the initial surprise passed he was able to calm himself. As they jerked to a horizontal flight pattern, he saw a shimmer exit a hidden pocket of Diana's dress. The tiny orb slipped out, smacked him in the nose, and quickly disappeared as it plummeted to the ground.

”Agh!” he cried out, his voice suddenly nasally as drops of blood streamed from his fresh injury, landing in the forest below. Diana didn't seem to notice, or at least pretended not to as she started her little hum up again. This was going to be quite the journey.



[/hider]

The Rise of The Sleepers -- Part 1


Please don’t skim this one.


A blood curdling scream broke the evening bird song. There was a flash of soft blue and the flourish of an elegant dress as a woman fell from the balcony, her body slamming into the garden walkway below with a loud crack. Screams clouded the gardens as guards came clunking over, dropping their polearms. An elderly servant came sprinting out from inside the palace, a ghastly horror in his eyes as he skidded over to the empress. Her scanned her still eyes, the look of betrayal frozen in her dead face, until finally his eyes snapped to her pregnant belly.

“Knife!” He yelled, his voice shaking with adrenaline, “kniiiiiiiiiiife!”

The guards seemed dumbstruck as the servant screamed, eventually wrenching a dagger from one of their belts. With an uncharacteristically steady hand he plunged the dagger into the side of the dead lady’s abdomen, summoning a gush of blood. Her pulled the blade down, creating a c-section before plunging his hands into the fresh gore. His eyes were blazed with determination as onlookers squealed and shouted and cried and vomited. He gingerly pulled his hands out of her ripped open stomach, a baby in his fingers.

The small child gurgled angrily, coated in blood but otherwise unharmed. A grim smile, more of one of stress than relief cracked the old man’s face. He mouthed the prince’s name and the world seemed to freeze. Colours of bile and gore all over, he gingerly placed the screaming baby into Hermes’ hands.

She was kneeling, her body stiff and frozen, her hands out and waiting as the weight was added to her shaking hands, her eyes wide with horror. She wanted to scream but her mouth was a straight line. Ahead the baby wriggled in her hands, but the scene was gone. She knelt in nothingness. It was just her, the baby, and the masked figure in the distance.

It stood there silently, just a speck on the empty horizon, and yet she could feel its terrible gaze through its blank mask. The baby screamed and her ears throbbed, her heart matching. Slowly the baby melted in her hands, leaving her in a pool of fear. She blinked.

The masked stranger was right in front of her. She could not move her head, but her eyes were stuck on its blank mask, a cold chill shocking her system. It felt as if a bottomless pit had replaced her stomach as it stared in supreme silence.

A lump formed in Hermes throat and she choked on a tear. Slowly the warm flow of blood began to dribble from her eyes, sobs echoing in the emptiness. Runes began to dance behind the masked figure, but she couldn’t make them out. She cried, and she cried, red rivulets contrasting her pale skin as it drained from her sobbing eyes.




Chagatai yelled, “Mom!?” His voice was a deep baritone as he came charging across the courtyard. His mother was kneeling in the center of the courtyard in complete silence, a gentle blue sky above. The man shook Hermes’ shoulder but she didn’t respond, her eyes wide with terror as she knelt, frozen. He could see the tears trapped behind her eyes and he bit his lip, “I’ll go get help.” He whispered to her before jumping to his feet and sprinting into one of the other buildings. In seconds he came bursting back out, his thick muscled arms pushing Xiaoli towards Hermes.

“I just got here and she was like-” Chagatai began to explain hastily, “This.”

“HERMES!” Xiaoli exclaimed and slid down next to her, quickly patting around on her body and face to inspect her for ailments with a desperate sheen in her eyes. “Hey, Hermes! Hermes, it’s me! It’s Xiaoli! Can you hear me? Hello?!” Like Chagatai had, Xiaoli began to shake her wife in an anxious attempt to stir life back into her, but she stayed frozen, her body bouncing back to its sitting position, eyes ever wide.




Bubbles formed around Hermes as she stared at the figure. Muffled sounds panged against them, as if she were underwater. She knelt in a pool of her crimson tears, the flow of blood unending as she stared at the figure. It held out a hand and a blast of wind dried her eyes. Her baby twins appeared behind the figure, then the rest of her children, and their children, and then so many faces she didn’t recognize. Pyramiding into the distant horizon the army of Dreamers stood staring at her lifelessly, mouthing an ancient word. Her heart began to seize.




“Mom!” Chagatai forced one of Hermes’ hands out of her lap, but it sprung back. He grabbed it again and held it close to his spun shirt, gripping it tight. He looked over at Xiaoli with worry and then suddenly Hermes sucked in a massive breath. Her fingers wrapped around his arm and she squeezed. She shut her eyes and blunk a few times, loose tears being pushed out from the blink. She looked over at Xiaoli, still in shock.

Her wife's face blurred into view, as did the colorful buildings behind her, the crooked trees, and the azure blue sky. And yet, there was still a hole in her stomach and a chill in her veins. She went to speak but only croaked a dry breath.

"Are you okay?" Chagatai slowly helped Hermes to her feet, "What happened?"

"Y-yeah," She wrapped her cloak around herself, shivering.

Xiaoli placed herself in front of her and grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling her into a tight embrace. “Oh, Hermes, my love, what happened?!” She squeezed nearly to the point of suffocation.

Hermes furrowed her brow, sinking into Xiaoli’s body in search of warmth, “I don’t know… is everyone okay?” A deep pang resounded in her chest and she shivered. Chagatai stared at his parents for a moment.

“Everyone is fine, mom,” He cocked his head, “Altan is home with the boys, all healthy and plump, just as Mother Xiaoli ordered.” He pushed a smile and Hermes forced one in return. Her hand found Xiaoli’s and she squeezed it.

“It’s probably just stress, I can feel it in my chest,” She rubbed her chest as if to punctuate her meaning, “I saw the masked man again.”

Xiaoli pulled away with a mouth like a line and a pair of worried eyebrows. “The one from before?”

“Yeah,” Hermes’ eyes turned serious.

“Masked man?” Chagatai asked.

“A figure I see in my dreams… well not usually. But off and on for decades now.” Hermes explained, “First when you and Wen-Wen were babies, again when you were little kids… and now. But these…” She looked at Chagatai’s worried expression and pushed his shoulder, “These you shouldn’t worry about, baby. It’s a dream, we are dreamers… it’s what we do.”

Chagatai gave her an unsure smile, and Hermes forced a wide grin, “What did you need?”

“Oh? Oh!” He looked over at the basket he had dropped when he ran over, “I was just getting some spices, Mother had already packed them and I was on my way out when I saw you-”

“It’s okay,” Hermes smiled, “I think I’ll just have some water and relax for the rest of the day-- get home with those spices before Altan takes it as permission to do the cooking herself.” Chagatai grimaced and looked over at Xiaoli, who gave him an approving nod. Sucking in a breath he nodded.

“Okay, but send Poppler the moment you need me.” He eyed both of them and Hermes shook her head.

“Don’t worry, Chaggie, please,” Hermes went on tiptoes and kissed his blue-streaked cheek, “Go get home now.” She paused, “Safely!”
“Now who’s worrying,” Chagatai smirked and backed away to his discarded basket of spices. He hooped it around his arm and pointed at his parents, “I’ll stop by tomorrow after the hunt, no more weird dreams!”

As he exited the mansion, Xiaoli shook her head. “He’s our son, you know. He’ll be worried sick for the whole night.” Xiaoli wrapped her arms around Hermes’ waist from behind and rested her head against her back. “You sure it’s not something you’re eating? We could get Wenbo - he might know.”

Hermes put her hands over Xiaoli’s and sighed, “For nearly forty years?” She shook her head, “They are getting worse, more vivid… I can still feel it. Almost like it-” She froze, a glimpse of white flickering outside the gate.

“Like it followed me home.”

Xiaoli sighed melancholically. “Is there no cause that you can think of? No mushrooms or anything?” She pulled away. “Is it a message from the Exalted Creators, you think?”

“I don’t know,” Hermes scrunched her nose, “But I don’t feel very good, I can tell you that much.”

Xiaoli leaned her face on a fist and huffed. “I’d tell you to go to sleep, but that probably wouldn’t do much… Have you tried to speak to Father K’nell?”

“I-- no,” She admitted and squirmed, “I could try, maybe tomorrow? I’m already exhausted plenty over this.” She snuck forward a bit, creeping towards the gate.

Xiaoli grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “H-hey, where are you going?”

“I thought I saw something,” Hermes whispered and tugged Xiaoli against the wall. She peeked out. “I wish I had my club,” She muttered as she poked her head through the portal.

Xiaoli furrowed her brow and sniffed. “Sweetgrass, your club is in your study - where you always put it.”

“I know,” Hermes affirmed and slipped through the gate. She stopped, her body dropped in a sort of offensive stance, but nothing was there. Her brow furrowed and she looked back and forth, eyes scanning the trees.

“Nothing.”

“Hermes.”

“What-” Hermes turned to face Xiaoli and yelped, a large masked face an inch from hers. She flung herself backwards to the ground, her heart pounding. She blinked, and Xiaoli was standing in front of her.

“You- you spooked me,” Hermes stammered.

Xiaoli recoiled a bit, too, then made a determined frown. “Alright, that’s it. You are -not- well. I don’t care what Father K’nell is doing. We are seeing him this instant.” She stormed towards Hermes and reached out to grab her hand.

Hermes snapped her hand back, “I’m fine, really. I’m just a little shaken up is all; If you saw something stalking outside the walls after a bad dream, you’d check too.”

“Hermes, you’re not fine - you just ran away from me as if I was a wild devil - me, your wife, a woman who loves you with all her heart and life.” She sniffed and cleared her throat. “No, no, we are going to see Him and I am -not- taking no for an answer.”

Hermes seemed stalwart, “We are going to see him? How?”

“W-well, prayer’s worked before, right? Let’s ask him to come over!” Xiaoli strolled in the direction of the northern side of the mansion, where they long ago had built a small shrine to K’nell. Hermes crossed her arms and followed Xiaoli reluctantly.

“I’m telling you,” She said, “He will say I’m just stressed too, really should we bother a god over something like this?” They stopped in front of the shrine and Xiaoli came to an abrupt halt. She took an agitated breath of air through the nose and crossed her arms over her bosom.

“What will do you if we don’t get help, hmm? Go back to sleep and experience the exact same thing? Hermes, this is like when Temüjin refused to get his foot checked because he could ‘just walk it off’. Thank the Gods we had wine to disinfect the wound…” She shook her head. “This is nothing to be stubborn about!”

“But I am stubborn,” Hermes gave Xiaoli a pleading face with big black eyes that suddenly grew sparkles of gold.

“I know you are and that’s not a good thing!” Another breath. Xiaoli leaned her head on her hand and closed her eyes. “Just… Can we at least ask Him? You know how much it pains me to see you like this.”

Hermes’ eyes switched back to their normal black and she sighed, “Fine… if it’ll help, then sure.”

Xiaoli’s smile slowly grew back and she squeezed one of Hermes’ hands. “Okay, then.” The two knelt down before the shrine and Xiaoli went down on her hands as well. “O Holiest of Being, great Sovereign of Sleep, K’nell, dear Father - if it does not inconvenience You, we are in need of Your counsel.”

A dark miasma seeped from the shrine and with a crack of thunder, a cloud formed over the pair. It’s rolling sheets of darkness turned white and plush, showering a certain favor down. A crow cawed in the distance and glided over to the shrine, landing on it with shadowy feathers. It cawed twice and as it went for a third, a grainy voice swirled instead.

“Your words will not go unheard, my dears. Please… speak your mind.”

Xiaoli let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank the Gods, You came. H-Hermes isn’t feeling well at all - she keeps talking about this masked man, and--... Well, it’s impacting her even when awake. Would you like to explain some more, dear?” Xiaoli squeezed Hermes’ shoulder affectionately.

“I’m having terrible dreams, of a masked man who wears feathers and beads. I see runes, and scenes I could never imagine… I wake up feeling terrible, and the emotions I feel in my dreams stay with me when I’m awake… even now I feel a hole in my belly filled with gushing anxiety and curling-- I’m not even sure, sadness?”

There was pause and the cloud dissipated into the sky, revealing nothing but the blue azure above. The crow cocked its head and pecked at the shrine, and just as they began to worry K’nell had left, his voice swirled around them.

“You have had these dreams for many years, I know this. I did not exactly make these dreams for you, and I cannot exactly tell you who has -- I know how and who, do not mistake my hesitation for ignorance. My dear Hermes, I am sorry this ailment has befallen you, but know that it is… simply because there is more to you than most realize, more to all the dreamers.”

The voice stopped for a moment, “With your permission, dears, I’d like to conduct a test-- to see if Hermes is ready to confront what has been growing alongside her all these years.”

Hermes’ brow furrowed and she looked at Xiaoli, “O-of course!”

Xiaoli frowned. “If-if I may ask, what does the test entail?”

“I am simply going to show Hermes and you an image of the sky… but feel free to comfort each other as you see fit.”

Hermes made a face, “Sounds easy enough.” But her hand betrayed her anxiety as it latched onto Xiaoli’s tightly. Xiaoli smiled reassuringly, but her hand was too sweaty to denote calmness.

The crow cawed four times and suddenly flew away, leaving the pair all alone by the shrine. The wind blew over the walls and dragged its crisp cloak over the two as they waited. The sky above remained a plain blue, but the familiar yet distant smell of an autumn’s night shook from the trees that surrounded the estate. The leaves rustled a song that had no words, yet was more than nostalgic. A strange feeling grappled Xiaoli, similar to the first time she had entered the forest, and a glance over to Hermes showed that she wasn’t alone. The dreamer clutched her chest, a cracking cold filling her heart and causing her legs to shiver.

The song of the leaves increased in volume, the wind adding its chorus, and then all at once the orchestra of the past clamored a great boom and the sky broke in half -- the dark black of a moonless midnight pushing the blue away. A nebula of stars winked down, covered only by the see-through winds and the chill of night. Hermes fingers crushed Xiaoli’s as her chest tightened and eyes widened. She stared upwards as if her very soul was threatening to spill from her eyes and be swallowed by the night sky above. Tears began to stain her cheek as she stared, mouth opened and muttering wordlessly. Slowly a strange accent broke from her throat.

“Kuranell.”

Her voice was shaky, threatening to scream.

“Kuranell.”

The fear radiating from her was palpable. Her voice pitched, about to crack.

“Kuranell.”

“H-hey, Hermes?” Xiaoli whispered and attempted to get closer to her and wrap her arms around her shoulders.

A push of wind exited Hermes’ mouth and she turned to Xiaoli, eyes scanning the sky behind her, “They’re all gone.” Her words were cryptic and accented, “The trees took them away.” She began to cry, “They have to bite their tongues.”

“Your Holiness, w-what is she saying?” Xiaoli demanded anxiously as she waved her hands in front of Hermes’ eyes.

The sky cracked and the blue took it back from the night. Groaning erupted over the forest as the trees halted their swaying and the wind quickly hid away. All that was left was the timid chirp of confused birds, the two lovers, and one swirling voice.

“I’m afraid she hasn’t said much of anything,” K’nells voice answered, “Much is happening inside of her as we speak, and if she is to do away with it all… she must venture to Limbo, enter it, and confront what is causing her ailment. I cannot reveal too much to her nor you but I will say: her mortal mind has crossed thresholds it was not meant to in the dreamscape, a trait inherent to all dreamers and thus her sickness is not exclusive to her. To ensure--”

“My children,” Hermes suddenly said, worry in her eyes as she seemed to snap from a trance. A sleeve came up to wipe her already drying tears, “They are in danger.”

There was a pregnant pause and then K’nell continued.

“Travel well into Limbo, and you will find all your answers and all your solutions… but it will not be easy, nor safe; however this is something that you must do. You have my favor, and I will be at the end of every one of your prayers, doing all I can without intervening too heavily in this delicate situation.”

Hermes held her head as she pondered the words. She pinched the bridge of her nose and looked over at Xiaoli, she went to say something but sucked in a stressed breath instead.” She looked back to where the voice had hung, “Will my children be safe while I do this?”

“They will be.” The voice answered.

Hermes let out a long breath, “Then I only have one thing to lose.”

“You won’t lose me, dear,” Xiaoli said with a wink. “I’m much more durable than you, after all. But… Limbo...”

Hermes put her hand on Xiaoli’s shoulder, “I meant… me.” She gave her a sad smile.

”POP!” A cloudling came rushing out of Hermes’ study’s window and crackled between the two.

“Oh, Hermes, I know you did. Don’t worry - death will not claim you while I still exist. I’ll keep you safe.” She leaned her head on Hermes’ chest and let out a soft sigh that pushed Poppler away. “Always.”

Hermes smiled and kissed the top of Xiaoli’s head, “I know, love.”

”Zzt!”

“I-- uh.. Know Poppler,” Hermes made a face and looked back at the shrine, “Thank you. For everything.”

“Do not thank me yet, dear.” The voice swirled, “A journey lays ahead of you, and while it may seem daunting, or even impossible at some turns, know that the goal is yours. Good luck, and do not despair at the mysteries of the gods, all will be made apparent.” With that, a certain weight seemed to leave the area, as if hinting at the absence of the god.

“So… Limbo again, then?” Xiaoli said carefully.

"There isn't much choice," Hermes tucked in her lower lip and chewed on it anxiously, staring into the distance, "I'll need my sandals, and my club. It's been a long time since I've been on such an adventure." She made a face, and Xiaoli could read the eagerness between her anxiety, "Very long time."

“Well,” Xiaoli began with a smile. “Do you feel like you could reawaken that wanderlust of old?”

"In the words of an old adventuring friend of mine," Hermes looked at Xiaoli sternly, optimism hidden in her eyes.

"Pop."





Karamir and Diana

Best Friends Forever


The air was swampy and dense. The two had trekked for what was by Karamir’s standards, far too long -- but at least it had been in a straight line. Wide leaved ferns crushed underfoot as they made their way through a primordial jungle, a cacophony of birds and various tree dwellers taunting them. Diana seemed unmoved by it all, her eyes all but closed as she hummed a strange tune to herself. The hum was new, and to Karamir’s utmost surprise, actually catchy. For once, something that could not be described as unpleasant radiated from the woman, and if not for the itchiness of his own sweat and that uncomfortable feeling her very presence gave him, he may have called it unoffensive.

The hum stopped on a sour note and the mood seemed to sink. Her boot scuffed as she suddenly came to a stop, “That does it.” She suddenly announced, pivoting on her heel to face her companion.

The sudden turn caught him off guard, and he nearly collided into her before he came to a stop as well. ”What?” Karamir asked, in a confused tone.

“This,” She waved her hand as if presenting Karamir, “All of it -- It won’t do anymore. On an umbrella in the sea, maybe. In the forest meeting new people, hardly. Prolonged company with a lady, definitely not.” She crossed her arms, “You’re going to have to learn to be a gentleman and to--” She grimaced at his furs, “Dress like one.”

”What?” Karamir repeated. ”What’s wrong with this?”

“What?” Diana mimicked with a goofy baritone, “What, what.” She shook her head, “Even your confusion is unrefined.” She tapped her chin, “You want to improve, yes?”

”Yes…” Karamir answered with some hesitation, ”...but I don’t see what needs to be improved.”

“I know you don’t, dear,” She shook her head sadly, “You have an affliction known as ignorance, but for your unrefined tastes, let’s just call it stupid eyes.” She walked around him with such a look as if inspecting his very existence.

Karamir narrowed his eyes. ”My eyesight is fine,” he told her.

“So very simple,” She patronized and clasped her hands together, “Do you know what a puppy is?”

”No.”
“I thought not,” She waved the question away. She thought for a moment and then flourished her hand through the air, a round brimmed hat appearing in her grasp. It was a dark velvet with a stiff, flat top and a wide band around the base. She pushed it towards Karamir, “Here, try this on.”

With suspicion in his eyes, Karamir looked at the hat, then up at Diana, then back down at the hat again. Then, he reached forward to take it from her, and after looking inside it to make sure it was empty, he hesitantly put it on his head, anticipating some sort of trick -- but to his surprise, there was none.

“Do you like it?” Diana asked with a evil grin.

Karamir shrugged. ”It’s comfortable, I suppose.” Then his suspicion returned. ”Why? What else does it do?”

“Oh dear,” Diana’s eyes widened and she snapped her fingers, a sudden discomfort coming to his head, the hat sitting tight in some areas and loose in others “I’m so sorry about that. There, all better.”

”Stop that.”

“You’re too kind,” Diana gave him a polite smile, and snapped her fingers again. Karamir seemed to black out for a fraction of a second as reality warped around him, his mortal mind refusing to recognize the fabrics that were torn from Galbar. When it all stopped, he found himself standing extremely straight, his form densely clothed in a strange outfit. He wore slim grey trousers cuffed by sleek black boots, a long white shirt was tucked under it and a clasped belt. Pulled over that was a beige vest and draped over that was a long black jacket, punctuated by a puffy white ascot. In all it was strange, foreign, but not completely uncomfortable -- but he would never admit that.

Karamir took a step back as he glanced downward with a shocked expression. ”What…” he looked toward his new sleeves, then back down at his feet. ”What is this?”

“Real clothes,” Diana huffed and crossed her arms, “And now you look the part of a gentleman, mostly.”

Karamir furrowed his brow. ”Why? What purpose does any of this serve? What do these do that my old clothes didn’t?”

“Such a--” Diana bit her tongue and smiled wide, “Karamir, you just received a gift. A gift from your closest friend, may I add. A gentleman would thank the giver, hmm?”

”Thank you, but I want to know what these actually do.” Karamir said.

“Oh dear, you’re really intent on them serving some grand function, aren’t you?” Diana teased the question.

”I’m not, I just want to know if there is anything they are already capable of.”

“Making you look presentable,” Diana frowned, “It’s it obvious?”

Once again Karamir shrugged. ”I still don’t see what was wrong with my old clothes.”

“Fine,” Diana’s smile returned and she snapped her fingers, but nothing seemed to happen. She gave him a curt nod and smiled, “Now they serve a purpose that ousts your old clothes, can we continue working on your manners, please?”

At the sound of snapped fingers, Karamir flinched. When nothing happened, he looked back up at her. ”Manners? What do you mean?”

“You’re a bumbling fool in conversations and in company. It was amusing at first, but really its boring me.” She crossed her arms, “It’s time you learn to talk.”

”We are talking right now. What makes you think I’m incapable?”

“I say something that confuses you, and what do you usually bark at me?” Diana questioned, raising a finger.

”What, why, something like that. Why is that a problem?”

“It’s just… primitive. You don’t want to be primitive, do you?” Diana glared at him with her bloodshot eyes.

”And what do you mean by ‘primitive’?” he challenged.

Diana cackled, “Stupid, foolish, unbecoming, ignorant, and most importantly: inappropriate.” She mulled a thought and rolled her head on her neck, “Especially for someone with such big plans as yourself, hm?”

Karamir glared at her. ”And how would these ‘manners’ help me?”

“Oh my goodness,” Diana put her fists on her sides, “You’re just difficult every step of the way, aren’t you?”

”You’re the one refusing to answer my questions,” Karamir countered.

“Am I, or do you just never stop?” Diana gritted her teeth into a grin, “Listen to me, you need manners because a world without manners is hardly a world worth living in. You have big plans, and big aspirations, but will harbor absolutely no respect if you go about it with you knuckles dragging and your diction no better than a bunch of misplaced grunts.” She crossed her arms, “Besides the obvious, you’d think you’d want to learn some manners for yours and my own sake.”

Karamir sighed. ”I suppose I don’t have anything to lose. What do I need to know?”

“Oh too much,” Diana nodded solemnly, “This will take a while, but we have plenty of time. Besides, hardly a chore spending quality time with your dearest friends, hm?” She smiled wide.

”Let’s get on with it, then.”

“Mhm,” Diana gave a disappointed grunt, “Well I suppose we should start at your most glaring problem.” She walked around Karamir once more and stopped, “When I say something, and you don’t understand, you do not say ‘what,’ you should say ‘I’m sorry?’ or even ‘Excuse me?’ to show that you are apologetic for your misstep in the conversation. It isn’t their fault you don’t understand --and even when it is-- it is best to be apologetic when asking for clarification. Simply grunting ‘what’” She mimicked his baritone, “Makes you seem like a crude primitive. Do you understand?”

”Fine. What else?” Karamir asked.

“No no no,” Diana shook her head, “I asked you if you understand, you should either acknowledge that you do understand or let me know if you don’t.” She paused, “For instance, say “Yes, I understand’, or ‘No, not quite’-- and if it is the latter, a good gentleman would attempt to clear up any misunderstanding with a polite question, ‘I bet your forgiveness, but could you elaborate’ or in more casual situations a simple, ‘what-ever do you mean?’ could work.” She tapped her chin, “But you are already casual enough.”

Karamir sighed. All of those were just longer ways of saying what was essentially the same thing. ”Yes, I understand. What next?”

“What IS next,” Diana corrected, “Oh foo, this is going to take a while.” She smiled wide, “At least we are having fun, hm?”

Karamir frowned, but remained silent.

“Oh I can just feel your excitement,” Diana cackled, “Very good, very good. Hm…” She started walking away, “Well come on -- a gentleman always walks parallel with his company, a good two shoulders away usually.”

The frown deepened, but he followed, quickening his pace to walk alongside her. With a slight distance, of course. Every now and gain she would swerve a little close, putting his footing off and making the walk anything but pleasant. She didn’t seem to notice, the soft hum returning as she continued their walk. Every now and again she’d toss a hard to swallow piece of advice, or some rule he never thought to give mention to. In between those she’d correct him, and occasionally fix his posture with a commanding thwack to his back. Their walked continued in this way, all the way west.




The Sinner, The Fool, The Simpleton, and The Blasphemer


The village of the Hyummin was nothing like Panganeem or Juttyu had ever seen. On a sandy shore as flat as the horizon, countless huts and sleeping pits dotted the landscape. Large rocks were even rolled onto the beach to mark territories between neighbors, the water of the Hyummin literally leaping with so much fish, the luxury of stability was ever present. As the trio walked into the bustling village, Ippino suddenly grew smug. Far ahead was a blazing fire, contained right next to the largest pile of fish bones the Hunters had ever seen. The bonfire licked at least five feet high and let off a mighty heat.

“You-” Panganeem gawked at the strange sight, “You captured fire?”

“I did,” Ippino smiled wide, “Stolen from the fiery woods of the firebirds themselves. I stole one stick and braved its terrible bite to bring it home. We have bred it with our own beachwood and it has stayed.”

Juttyu and Panganeem stood in awe for a while, but were suddenly pulled from their thoughts as the loudest bark richoteted from the west. Their eyes darted to the perpetrator, and there, standing on a large rock was a Selka clothed in blubbery pink scars and a sheet of sharkskin. His lip was clefted by a scar and his left eye squinted permanently. People stood around him wearing faces of shock, anger, and admiration.

He pointed a powerful finger as he yelled, “Kirron…” He pointed to another Selka, “Delphina!” and another, “Bobbu!” He crossed his arms, “Have abandoned us long ago. They have created us out of malicious humor! We are mere specks in the rivers of this world, and for it we have been struck dumb and complacent.” There were angry shouts as he continued. Ippino seemed to hold himself back as the Blasphemer continued.

“We do and we say, there I did, I am alive, I am of purpose. I say no!” He formed a fist, “We are without truth, and without a drop of intelligence.”

“How can you say such things?” A member of the crowd challenged. A wired smile formed on the blasphemer.

“I have seen such things!” The crowd gasped at his words, “I watch my fellow Selka toil hard and I watch the diligent and the earner’s lives snuff out as easily as the lazy. We are alive, and we do not see past that. We do not see our demise, we are blind to the truth of the end. The gods have not given us what we truly needed, but they sit content because we fill our role without question regardless. We are ignorant, we are simple.

Panganeem scoffed and walked up to the stone. Ippino tugged his arm, “Do not, he is the blasphemer. He is harmless, really. Delphina will see to him in time.”

Panganeem pulled his arm free, and stared at Ippino for a moment before turning to the Blasphemer.

“Blasphemer!” Panganeem called out and the man on the stone turned to him.

“Do you stand in defense of the gods?” The Blasphemer taunted.

“I do.”

“Then bring me the god who cares. Show me the creator who does not for their own whim. Present the divine who knows altruism, and I will eat this stone I stand on.” The Blasphemer challenged.

“Why is your heart so dark?” Panganeem called out, “That you must challenge the very gods, that you must scream at the innocent people.”

“Because we are innocent, by your own words!” The Blasphemer waved a hand over the crowd, “And yet we are done no justice. We live in hunger, or we die full; the gods care not for we lived for them and that is that. We are innocents being used, we serve not our own purpose. Do you know death?”

“I do,” Panganeem’s jaw tightened.

“Then you may stand there and know that it was without reason and fills no purpose beyond the pain it had caused you, not in this world, not in this lifetime.” The Blasphemer pointed finger and those who admired him nodded and jeered.

“You are wrong!” Panganeem’s eyes narrowed, “The death I know served a purpose. Great things are coming, and all it cost was-- something so small yet so great.”

“A catalyst,” The Blasphemer admitted, “Perhaps, but it shall serve not the Selka in the end, for we are doomed by our own creation. It shall serve the gods, and we shall never taste the fruit of that tree.”

“Do you believe this?” Panganeem challenged.

“I do.”

“Then step down from your stone, and follow me, so I can show you how wrong you are.”

The Blasphemer and his followers seemed shocked for a moment, and only after a silent pause did one speak up, “Follow you where?”

“I am a K’night,” Panganeem stabbed a thumb at himself. He waved his hand over Ippino and Juttyu, “WE are the K’nights.”

“K’nights?” The Blasphemer’s brow furrowed, “Of the gods?”

“K’nights,” Panganeem answered, “Of Tyuppa.”

A hush fell over the growing crowd. The Blasphemer’s chest swelled as he thought and then with one mighty leap, he landed on the sand with a thud. He eyed Panganeem warily and nodded his head, “Show me.” He looked back at the crowd, his own followers nodding, “Show us.”



And Another One


I painted the skies

The words flowed pink in the clouds above. Hermes stared up at them in wonder, her eyes deciphering the strange runes that littered them. She was alone, and laid on the greenest grass she had ever seen, each blade plush and comfortable. An azure blue sky stared back down at her, soft rays of an autumn sun beaming down on her and the slope she retired on. She had no idea where she was, but couldn’t find the motivation to care.

Her black eyes scanned the clouds as they floated by, catching the tail end of another jumble of pink streaks.

The heavens bent to my will.

She squinted.

And I gave it all away.

Hermes sat up and a stiff spring breeze cloaked her. Her brow furrowed as the strange words rattled in her skull. She shook her head; this kind of thinking was best left to Xiaoli. She tucked a sandal under her and lifted herself to her feet. A pang entered her chest as she stared out along the valley, the sun hitting the grass in such a way, and the wind rustling it in such a pattern, that more runes were formed in the rudimentary clumps of vegetation. She couldn’t force her eyes away.

I am one of many. You are the Dreamer, we are the Sleepers and we bite our tongue.

Hermes’ eyes widened, “What?” She made a face, the words bouncing off her her mind having no luck in understanding them. She turned away and towards the slope, only to find it gone. She stared in an endless expanse of mossy statues and hazy mist. Trees stood gnarled, and unfortunately for her eyes, in such a way that she could read them.

I am neither happy nor sad. I used to be but now I am lost.

Hermes shut her eyes and slapped a hand over her face. A shiver ran down her spine and she took to the skies. She felt the ground leave her as her sandals buzzed. She sucked in an anxious breath, the whole ordeal overwhelming her greatly. She flew and flew. The air blasted around her and drowned her senses. Hermes was buffeted by the winds and as moments ticked away, she finally exhaled a massive sigh and let her hand fall from her face. Her eyelids turned pink as light hit them. She made a face and slowly opened them.

It was only for a second, maybe less, but her sight was overtaken by a staring mask. It had no mouth, no smile nor nose. Two blank eyes stared at her on a white surface. There was decoration along the edges, and the body was robed in moss and feathers. She went to scream and suddenly her eyes rocketed open.

She sat up quickly, her heart pounding. She was in her bed, with Xiaoli sleeping soundly next to her. The blankets slowly rose and fell to the rhythm of her wife’s breathing. Hermes put a hand over her own heart and felt its rapid beat. The Dreamer shook her head and slunk back into the bed. She groaned quietly and held her head.

“What a dream.”





The sign hanging from the exterior of Paulos’ tavern swung in the gentle breeze, the old wooden building an ancient grey. The smell of smoke snuck out through the loose plank wood door, the entrance hanging two stone steps from the ground. The clay tiles shuffled on the roof of the story high building and as the three Praxians approached, D’Bran gave it a disapproving look. Before he could say anything, Hondros suddenly let out a hot sigh.

“Chickens?” He glared, “Now we are going to have some bright eyed kid running around telling every chicken farmer in the area we are looking for a flock.”

“Better than tipping off the mark,” Renevin gave a curt nod and adjusted the bag around his shoulders. Hondros rolled his eyes and secured a crossbow to his back and fidgeted with his sword belt.

“Come on.” Hondros pushed through the door of the tavern and immediately the interior air rushed to exit. They were slapped with the stale breath of a midsummers alcohol and damp tobacco. Renevin wiggled his nose and D’Bran smiled.

“Smell that?”

Renevin nodded slowly, giving D’Bran a conspiratory look, “Oh I do.” The pair scanned the room. It was unremarkable with an empty hearth, the wooden windows flung open to let in what little air dared to ooze in from the outside. A humid warmth stagnated around the creaky floors and unpainted walls. The chairs were neat, at least, and not a speck was left on the tables. The bar itself was a different story, holding the grizzled failures who occupied their alcoholistic tendencies in the middle of a work day. Most were slumped over or arguing about the local politics. Garthilians experienced a good amount of freedom, with estate owners like Nopoitis controlling the rural job markets, but otherwise work was optional and not enforced by local lords. Still, one would wonder what the local lord would think of this mess, let alone their opinions, as for Renevin, who was he to judge; his eyes focused on a still smouldering cigar of tobacco sitting by a dirty dressed man who held his face down against the bar and his arms wrapped around as if he was sleeping.

“D’Bran,” He nudged the sandy haired man and the larger man turned and squinted before smiling. The pair slowly floated over to the far end of the bar where it sat, forcing Hondros to follow as the older man continued to scan the room. They barely caused their stools to creak before the bartender was on them.

“What can I get-” He stopped as he soaked in the heavily armed trio, “Am I interrupting a siege I didn’t know about?”

“Oh,” D’Bran waved a hand, “No, we are just out looking for chickens.” Hondros pinched the bridge of his nose.

“If ye want good hens,” A drunk gargled in the distance, “My cousin always has a good stock.”

“Thank you but,” Hondros shook his head, “I think we are all set.”

“Not good enough fer ye, eh?”

Renevin let a small smile form on his face as the two men continued their latest debate. He jabbed a finger into the sleeping mess next to him, “Hey.” The drunk squirmed angrily and grumbled but didn’t get up, “Hey.” Renevin jabbed him again, “You going to finish your smoke?”

The drunk waved a shooing hand without looking up and Renevin shrugged. He flicked the smoke up to his lips and took in a heavenly puff. D’Bran skipped his stool closer and shouldered Renevin, “How bout a puff for old D.B.?” He pleaded.

Renevin pinched it out of his mouth and handed it over, “Dumb Bastard?”

“You’re a natural comedian,” D’Bran jeered with a cloud of smoke, “Maybe you should think about changing jobs.” He sucked in a greedy pull, the embers glowing a hot red s it traveled up the paper. Renevin swiped it from D’Bran’s mouth and plucked it back into his own, causing the man to groan. Renevin waved him off and turned back to Hondros and the bartender.

“-- just a ways up the road, roosting in one of those old abandoned Praxian forts.”

“Which one?” Hondros asked, elbows on the bar as he leaned in. They were all but whispering.

“Orriyix,” The bartender offered, “Local Lord hasn’t caught wind of it yet, I only know because my niece saw it land.”

“And you didn’t tell anyone?” Renevin cut in, “Why not?”

“Not my place, and I don’t really care,” The bartender shrugged, “Besides, I’d hate to be the one responsible for the slaughter of a strange and mystical being.”

“Yet you told us,” D’Bran raised his brow.

“I guess I did,” The bartender gave him a hard stare and put a glass on the table with a hard glass clang, “You boys drinking?”

“Pissing,” Hondros corrected and stood up, “I’ll be back, should probably check on the wagon boy anyways.”

The other two watched as Hondros left and as he did they swiveled back to the bartender. D’Bran held up two fingers and the bartender shrugged and turned to fetch some mugs. Renevin rubbed his forehead, “It’s not even the afternoon.”

“Yeah, but we aren’t working today,” D’Bran defended.

“We--” Renevin sat up straight, smoking cigar hanging from his mouth, “What the hell do you think we are doing right now?”

Two mugs slid down to D’Bran and he lifted one, “I don’t know, drinking?”

“You’re a genius, I hope you’re aware of that,” Renevin scrunched his nose at his drink.

“And don’t you forget it.”

Eventually D’Bran finished his drink, all the while Renevin’s grew warm and untouched. Beady eyes stared at them the whole time from across the bar. An old man who wore anxiety in his forehead couldn’t take his eyes off the two. Eventually Renevin noticed the man and nudged D’Bran, who slowly turned to look. Instant regret washed over the duo as the old man’s eyes brightened when they made accidentally contact with the Praxian’s gazes.

“Void be damned.” They swore as the old man made his way to them. As he approached he grew happier and happier until-

“Praxians!” A smile formed on his thin lips, “By Harmony, you are Praxians!” His face was beat red with intoxication and his breath wasn’t much better. Renevin leaned back.

“We are,” He scanned the man, “What of it?”

“My son,” The man squeezed Renevin’s arm, causing the man to shake him off, “You have to save my son.”

“What are you talking about?” Renevin stood up, forcing the man to stagger backwards. D’Bran stood next to Renevin.

“If your son needs saving, why don’t you do it,” D’Bran snapped, “Instead of hauling away in the drunkhouse.”

“I couldn’t watch,” He started to sob, “The Lord’s men are there, but I don’t think they can save him.”

“What happened,” Renevin finally asked.

“I--” The man choked on his confession, “I’ve done some bad things. I angered a lot of people and now they are at my house, holding my son -- knife to throat -- in hopes I pay a ransom.”

“Sounds like you should pay your ransom,” D’Bran gave the man a cold stare.

“Or at the very least, not bring your work home with you,” Renevin added.

“Please, this is my son!”

Renevin closed his eyes and let out a silent breath, “Why do you need us if the Lord’s men are already there?”

“They are brutes, dumb sword happy brutes. They’ll make the wrong step and get my son killed,” He slammed his fist into his palm.

D’Bran looked at Renevin, who returned his stare. After a few seconds of wordless debate, the two looked back and Renevin exhaled the last of his cigar, “Alright, show us the way.”

The small man hurried to the door, the Praxians lumbering behind. Hondros nearly walked into the group as he was entering the bar, “Woah, leaving so soon? Did I miss the dinner bell, what’s going on?”

“We got hired to be nanny’s” D’Bran answered.

“Well, not nanny’s. Nanny’s keep babies out of trouble, this one is already in trouble,” Renevin corrected.

“Post-nanny’s?” D’Bran was cut off by Hondros.

“D’Bran, Renevin!”

“We are saving this drunk’s son from some thugs,” Renevin clarified, “We can hop onto Orriyix after.”

“I don’t remember you getting promoted,” Hondros crossed his arms, “But you must’ve with all these orders you’re taking and giving.”

“Hondros,” Renevin pleaded, “It’s literally written in stone; we help.”

“Doesn’t say anything about stretching ourselves thin, though,” Hondros sighed and waved for the old man to continued walking, “Let’s just make this quick.”




Up the road a ways and down a steep grassy slope was a large wheat plantation. The sun glinted over the horizon, threatening to set in the next few hours and casting a long shadow over the front of the stone and lime building. A windmill creaked in the distance and a group of four soldiers stood silent by the door of the estate. The Praxian’s footsteps were muffled by the growing wind, giving them an almost ghost like descent to the soldiers. Finally a stray twing snapped under Hondros’ boot and everyone looked at each other.

“What’s going on?” Hondros opened with.

“Who are you?” A bearded knight answered.

“We are Praxians, the old man sent us,” Hondros nudged at the shivering father.

“A heap of faith, that one,” the knight cursed, “We have this under control.”

“Our client thinks otherwise,” Hondros pressured, “What’s the situation?”

“You have no jurisdiction in this matter, mercenary,” the Knight pressured, “This is a case of banditry on Lord Hephatos’ fife, not some stray pigguts who stole a cat.”

Hondros and the knight stared at each other, eyes like daggers. Eventually Hondros cleared his throat and Renevin sighed, “What’s your plan, then?”

“That’s not for yo-” The knight began.

“We are going to storm it,” one of the other soldiers cut him off meekly and the knight gritted his teeth

“You can’t!” The father huffed, “My boy is in there.”

“And I bet they have him by knifepoint,” Renevin added, “Waiting for you to storm. As soon as they see you they are going to cut the boys throat and run.” He paused, “But you already know that, don’t you? Why else would you still be waiting outside looking at your feet.”

Hondros grinned as the knight’s face turned red with anger and shame, “By void, fine. What do the most holy and great Praxian’s suggest?” He sneered, “Scare them away with bedtime tales?”

Hondros groaned loudly, “I don’t have time for this!” He pushed past the knight and walked up to the estate. He slammed a fist on the door, “Hey assholes! Give in now or face punishment!”

“Fuck your mother!” Came from past the door and Hondros shouted back.

“So be it, then!”

The Praxian ripped the crossbow off his back and looked at Renevin, “Use the stones, wait for my shot.”

“The stones?” Renevin’s eyes widened.

“Braman is going to kill us if he knows this is what we used his stones for.” D’Bran added.

“You wanted the job, we are doing it right. Use them,” Hondros pushed past the others and disappeared around the flank of the building. The knight and his two squares stared at the Praxians and Renevin shrugged of his bag. He produced one of the lightning filled orbs and handed it to D’Bran. The blue glow caused the onlookers eyes to grow wide with wonder. D’Bran ripped his short sword from his belt and nodded. Renevin procured the dark inky orb and ripped his own blade free.

In the distance there was a sudden twang and a fleshy thud. Renevin crushed the glassy orb with a squeeze of his fist, the glass dissipating into nothingness. A dark, light stealing miasma began to spill from his hand.




Inside the estate, a group of seven men listened carefully. One scraggly bearded bandit stood near the back of the large foyer, a young dark haired man tied to a chair. The bandit held a large curved knife to the sitting man’s neck, the nervous shaking of the bandit causing the blade to nick his throat. The man whimpered, eyes closed. The other six stood near the door, maces, woodcutting axes and even two swords held ready. The entire room was turned upside down, with furniture flipped, and estate papers everywhere. Shafts of light cut through the many --albeit very thin-- windows, motes of dust dancing in the skinny spears of the sun. A servant lay slumped against one corner of the room, dead and bloody. Without warning a accented voice suddenly erupted past the door.

“Hey assholes! Give in now or face punishment!”

One of the bandits near the door looked at the others, who gave him a resolved look. He sucked in a breath, “Fuck your mother!”

“So be it then!” The voice called back, and then footsteps faded from the door. The bandits tightened their grips, leather straps straining. The bearded bandit by the tied up man sucked in a breath and held his blade firm against the tied up man’s neck, pressing it in dangerously. A few silent seconds passed, the only noise being the haggard breath of the hostage.

THWACK

Suddenly a bolt smashed through one of the windows, miraculously slipping by the thin frame and slamming into the ear of the man with the knife. There was a skull cracking snap and his head snapped to the side, the bolt all but disappearing inside his head with an explosion of gore. The bandit slammed into the ground, dead on impact. The blood covered hostage screamed and the other bandits’ hearts lurched.

The door flew off its hinges with a loud slam, and instantly an inky blackness swallowed the room. The bandits yelled as they rubbed at their eyes trying to see. There were two faint sounds of glass shattering and suddenly two swords cut through the darkness, crackling with blue electricity. Electric eyes stared past them and they began to cut through the bandits. The blades hummed as they passed by the first bandit, the cutting edges cleaving into his neck. The other bandits fumbled their weapons forward in the magical darkness, but it was too late.

With mechanical precision the blades found their openings in the pitch black. Unseen blood was burnt to the gruesome wounds by arcing electricity, muscles spasmed uncontrollably and blackened burns jumped over the bandit’s seizing bodies. Two by two they fell in a matter of seconds, their corpses wriggling on the ground, until all that remained was one tied up man struggling against his constraints and two crackling blades of blue. One of the blades arced down, slicing the ropes from the man’s wrists, the other swipe the horizontally, the tip snagging and cutting loose the bonds on his ankles. The rescued man yelped and scurried forward in the darkness, blind but free. A gruff hand wrangled the collar of his shirt and hauled him to his feet. With a hard push, he was thrown into the outside.

Light assaulted the man’s eyes as he landed in the sunny grass of the outside. He turned behind him to see Renevin and D’Bran emerged from an inky black miasma that held the estate in its grip. Their eyes buzzed with electricity for a moment before fading to normal. Suddenly the man’s father jumped out from behind a knight and two squires.

“Basil!” The father cried and Basil scampered to his feet, dodging the embrace.

“F-father!” Basil looked at everyone with wide eyes.

“The Praxians came, boy, they saved you,” The father tilted his head at Renevin.

“O-Oh,” Basil stammered, and as the father once again went to hug his son, Basil retreated, “Uhm, that’s okay.” He put his hands up, “I need to-- process.” He turned around and walked off towards the fields, hands gripping his hair.

“He’s an odd one,” Hondros remarked as he rejoined the group, his fingers unstringing his crossbow.

“Takes after his mother,” The father grunted, “But thank you, I don’t know what would’ve happened--”

“The very same thing,” The knight defended, “I will be adding this gross display of insolence to my report.” With little else he turned on his heel, “You will learn your place.” As he began to walk, one of the squires secretly pumped Hondros’ hand.

“Thank you, I will make sure our lord hears the real story,” He smiled and Hondros bowed his head.

“Squire!” The knight barked and the young soldier hurried off. Once everyone was out of ear shot, Renevin turned to the father.

“I suppose that’s it then.”

“I suppose it is,” The father hummed and tilted back and forth on his heels, “I suppose it is.”

“No need to PAY us,” D’Bran hinted loudly.

“Our order doesn’t require payment, but it does enjoy DONATIONS,” Hondros cleared his throat.

“Ah very good then,” The father smiled a thin lipped grin and began to toddle off, “I’ll make sure everyone knows the kindness of Ampexida’s oldest heroes!”

“VERY GOOD,” Hondros all but growled. The group grumbled as the old man slammed the door behind him, having retired to his estate, the miasma having disappeared. They stood there for a moment in wonder, and then Basil reappeared from around the corner of the estate.

“Hold,” Basil ordered as he jogged up to them with a small bag in his hand.

“Better not be a-” D’Bran began but was cut off by the young man as he hefted the heavy bag into his arms.

“Consider it a donation my crazed father would never give,” Basil conspired, “I’d give you more, but the rest is for me. I got to get the void away from here before the old madman’s dealings get me into another mess.”

The young man shook his head with exasperation and once again wandered off seemingly aimlessly. Renevin blew an exhale through his lips, “Must run in the family.”

“Look at this,” D’Bran suddenly huddled over the bag as if protecting it from outside view. The other two bent their heads to see, their eyes growing wide. A small pile of golden coins stared back at them. D’Bran shut the bag quickly, as if they were about to fly away.

“Add that to the dragon ransom, and we have a refreshed order,” Hondros smiled greedily.

“And finally some real food,” D’Bran grumbled.

“New pillows,” Renevin added and the others groaned, all three chanting in admiration, “New pillows.”




On their way back to get to wagon from the stables, the day dreaming trio was suddenly stopped by a strange looking man.

“Hold, Praxians,” The mustachioed gentleman commanded, “I hear tell that you are in the market for grade A chickens!” He beamed a white smile, with only one tooth missing from the back.

Hondros glared at everyone involved and sucked in a deep breath, “SON OF A--


K'nell and Archibald


K'nell stood in a vast emptiness, or at least that's what it looked like to the untrained eye. A certain emotion was in his soul and a certain thought was on his mind as he snapped his fingers. Slowly the world around him changed. While the world remained a certain black, rock formed under his feet and far in unseen distances. He could hear the dripping of water, an ocean forming around his stony island. If not for his godly perception, he would have been lost in a creation of his own. He went to sit down, and as he did, a porcelain throne came forth to greet him. He jutted his chin upwards, and a much larger throne appeared opposite of him. He patted his jacket, finding his tin. Pulling it out, he knew only one thing was missing.

"My dear Architect of Galbar," K'nell said out loud, to seemingly no one, "You have my cordial invitation to what I can only hope is what you find to be an adequate setting for -- well nothing but a chat, I suppose."

The words echoed through the endless hall, the dreamscape a perfect replica of the Architect's own throne room save for one detail--here, the wound in the ceiling above yet remained, and the night sky was still exposed. Though the echoes soon died and a disappointing silence seemed to be K'nell's only answer, there soon manifested a gigantic and disembodied eyeball. It came from somewhere up there in the skies above above, dangling in the air for a few moments before finding its place not upon the greater throne but directly above K'nell. And It stared. K'nell's smile remained as strong as it was polite, with only his eyebrows betraying his surprise. He cleared his throat.

" Welcome to the palace," K'nell offered, sliding his silver tin back into his pocket.

The Eye had strangely distorted perceptions. It (and the emptiness and darkness of the air around it, if air was truly what dreamers breathed) seemed to flit in and out of existence as if the dream struggled to reconcile itself with the presence of whatever outside force gazed in. But the Architect's speech remained clear. 'You desire answers.'

"In a way," K'nell looked down, his form flickering. Slowly he looked back up at the eye, his eyes spirals and his smile unending as it wrapped around a pale skull. He looked as he did when he entered Galbar for the first time, purple dots dilated at the vortex of his eyes, "Before I get to that, would I be mistaken to assume you have seen my works?" His voice swirled between them.

'My gaze has never left you.'

"Then you know that I have trapped myself," K'nell offered, "That through my birthing stupidity, I gave into my own damnation and I have committed a grave sin. In the first eons I created a life with no plan beyond my own weakness, and she named herself Hermes. I granted her the one boon of not knowing her birth, and through her actions I had built myself. Though my initial reasons were selfish, I grew to love her as my own child, but as my compassion grew, so too did my awareness of my own sin. I have done what you had done, except I am not wiser for it, nor do I have the answer to it: I had created life for my own purpose, but gave them no end and no escape." K'nell's eversmile shrank a little, "She now dwells in a world that hates her as much as it loves her, and I am to blame for any of her suffering."

The Eye did not blink, and nor did the void of its giant black pupil betray emotion. 'That one has nonetheless served my purposes well. She is an entity of value, sufficient to carry out your will as well as my own. Whatever happens afterward may happen.'

"I see," K'nell composed himself, "Then I suppose I should ask: do you feel love?"

'Why should you ask such a thing?'

There was a gentle pop of light as K'nell took the form of an experienced Dreamer gentleman. He wiggled his mouth, as if shaking off the strain of his previous eversmile and then raised his brows, "If you could pardon my inference but if this is not a topic you are comfortable or willing to discuss, we may bury it. I am not on a mission, as it were, to force words and complicate emotions."

The Eye continued to bombard K'nell with its stare, but for all its unwavering and unblinking watch, there was a tiny and almost imperceptible twitch. 'Many questions cannot simply be asked and answered, for there are some truths that words and thoughts could never convey. One must come to realize such truths of his own accord.'

"One such being the..." He mulled over his words carefully, "Status, as it were, of your sense of love and all that it entails?"

In an unprecedented feat of generosity, perhaps rooted in a mere whim, the Architect offered K'nell a morsel. 'Every entity is sustained by something.'

"I suppose it would be foolish of me to ask what you mean by that," K'nell pondered out loud. Silence answered and K'nell cleared his throat, "By which I mean to say, I suspect we are now talking of metaphysics rather than your capacity to feel or, dare I say, be love. I do not assault the topic change, of course, but I am merely pointing out an observation."

Though it wasn't readily visible, from the perturbations in space and reality (or whatever equivalent existed within the land of dreams) there formed a Maw. From above there came the sensation of falling water droplets, but of course, the Eye was not crying. It could not cry. Thunder came into the form of words, from deep within the maw above rather than from some stormcloud, "Your actions have been acceptable, and your role fulfilled to my satisfaction."

"Forgive me, but are you suggesting that my actions sustain you?" K'nell stared into the Maw.

"I offered the answer to another question. I was here long before you. I did not need you to sustain me then. and I do not now! Your discerning mind will eventually realize the reason behind my works here, but it will not come from any words. You would not understand."

"I suppose that's it then," K'nell folded his hands, "And in time perhaps I will come to realize greater things, but then again, perhaps not. Who's to say how much time I have left, let alone time to think."

And the Eye dissolved into tears that the Maw drank, and then the Maw devoured itself and all was silent.


Dawn of Blood: Part Six


Hoshaf looked down at his hands. His right knuckle was crusty with scabs, and a sharp pain radiated whenever he made a fist. He had smashed it repeatedly in anger that morning, having heard of Antorophu’s suicide. To him, he knew it wasn’t because she didn’t want to be with him, but because she knew she wasn’t clean enough for him, not worthy of his strength; it was that and nothing else. Others had started to become scared of him, he could feel it -- he could see it in their eyes, and they had every right to be, he was strong -- he was the chosen leader.

He sucked in a breath and let his hand fall, he had been waiting. All around him was flattened grasses, he stood on top of a sandy sloped hill overlooking the tribe of the Opporu -- the Grottu’s southern neighbor. It was a smaller tribe, with tiny pits dug into the sandy bay. Reeds and piles of grass covered the pits and served as sleeping huts for the selka. A purple ocean pushed and pulled at the flat sandy beach, old fish bones and scales scattered about.

Beside Hoshaf stood two of his most zealous followers, their bodies wrapped in the skin of sharks, and in their hands were the pikes of the bloodkin. Blood still covered their fingers, having put down naysayers only hours after the news of Antorophu. Hoshaf’s only regret was how thin his tribe has become over his time spent as chieftain: but today he was going to make it bigger, and stronger, like himself.

“Kirron’s smile on us,” A wrinkled Selka approached from below. He, like most selka, was naked and would have been indistinguishable if not for the patterns of dull purple painted on him from old berries -- a strange Opporu custom.

“More than just his smiles, Chieftain Jorhuffa” Hoshaf grinned a toothy grin and his zealots chuckled, “Kirron and his bloodkin have offered us tools of strength, and gave us the right to lead.”

“Oh,” Jorhuffa furrowed his grizzled brow, “Well, strength to you, then.” He paused and eyed the weapons with a certain mix of fear and wonderment, “And- and what have we the Opporu done to… well why are you here?”

“The Grottu have been given a purpose,” Hoshaf answered, “We are to unite the selka into one tribe, one tribe guided by one chieftain.”

“But Hoshaf,” Jorhuffa gestured with his hands, “We selka are already one tribe, with Kirron as our chieftain.”

Hoshaf narrowed his eyes, “I don’t know who told you that, but it is a lie. I am the strongest, the Grottu are the strongest, and Kirron and his bloodkin themselves granted us that strength to unite the selka under the Grottu and the Grottu’s chieftain -- me.”

“Are you sure this is about Kirron?” Jorhuffa asked suspiciously.

“What are you say-” Hoshaf scoffed and grabbed one of the pikes with his left hand and shook it, the zealot still holding on, “Do you think I had made this? It is not wood, it is not stone, it is the bones of Kirron’s bloodkin themselves.”

“Perhaps to use in fis-”

“Do you think me stupid,” Hoshaf jabbed a finger into Jorhuffa’s chest, “You are greedy, you want the Opporu all to yourself. Willing to deny holy gifts for it. Guilty.” The zealots eyed Jorhuffa with dangerous intent and the old chieftain stumbled on his words.

“I- this is-! What-- by Kirron!” He slanted his brow, “Leave, this is not the land of Grottu. I will hav-”

“Just you or all the Opporu?” Hoshaf pushed the chieftain backwards.

“None of us would ever follow a leader such as you,” Jorhuffa hissed.

“Then you oppose Kirron’s will.”

“This is not Kirro-”

“And now you deny his chosen,” Hoshaf glared. The scene fell silent as Jorhuffa’s jaw hanged, looking for more words to say. Hoshaf chewed his cheek in thought.

“Go down to the village,” Hoshaf finally spoke, “Talk to your people, and if they feel as you do, snap a stick in half and hold both ends up for me to see. If they do not feel as you do, hold up a single stick.”

“Hoshaf.”

“I will wait here.” Hoshaf’s crazed eyes dug into Jorhuffa. The old selka scoffed and stomped away, but before he was down the slope, Hoshaf called out.

“Jorhuffa.”

The old selka turned and Hoshaf tossed him a long branch, “Tell them the truth.”

“Oh I will,” Jorhuffa narrowed his eyes as he caught the branch, “I will.”

Hishaf watched the selka skid down the rest of the hill, leaving two ploughs in the sand. His eyes squinted as Jorhuffa became surrounded by other grey figures. They all began to talk and Horshaf turned to one of his zealots, “Kirron is with us,” he all but whispered, “Yes or no, the Opporu will bend to his will.”

“The others are ready and willing,” the zealot nodded before turning back to watch the scene. In the distance Jorhuffa turned back to face the zealots on the hill. With a satisfied look on his face he held up the branch as high as he could shove it into the air. A smile began to form on Hoshaf’s face, only to turn into a disgusted frown as Jorhuffa threw the branch on the ground and stomped it in half. Other Opporu selka stood beside Jorhuffa, chests puffed and fists clenched.

“As if he expects me just to leave,” Horshaf’s brow furrowed and his thoughts raced. As if he expects me to lay down, as if he expects Viyoh, Thumfatem and Antorophu’s deaths to be meaningless and without a divine purpose. As if he thinks I’m weak. The chieftain grit his teeth.

“Show them the will of Kirron.”

The zealots leveled their weapons and began to hollar as they sprinted down the hill. From the brush behind Hoshaf the rest of his zealots suddenly bursted out, clubs, spears and pikes of iron in hand. The swarm of Grottu warriors spilled down the hill and Jorhuffa’s face seemed to lose its colour. The army of Hoshaf was almost as numerous as the tiny tribe of Opporu alone.

Down on the beach some of the selka began to run in retreat while others grabbed whatever was close to them. Driftwood, rocks, sticks, the Opporu braced themselves. They threw stones, some catching the faces and heads of the Grottu, some hitting knees and causing them to stumble, but those who were spared broke the foot of the hill even and scattered through the village.

Screams grew next to the roar of the Grottu as iron weapons slinked and stabbed through rubbery flesh. Crimson flew as thick clubs beat in skulls and hobbled limbs. Jorhuffa was the first to fall when four Grottu ran him over with spears pointed. Though he lay dead on the ground, the flurry of stabs didn’t stop, the sand churning with blood and gore.

Suddenly from one of the pits, an abnormally tall selka emerged. He wore the purple of the Opporu and in his hand was a notched club. The giant charged, club swinging madly a curdled battlecry on his whiskered lips. Before he could get close, he was hedged by the Grottu pikes, a point sifting through his gut and stabbing at his spine. Another sliced through his thigh, severing his artery. He screamed in pain, only to have a third pike slam through his open mouth and out the back of his head.

The rest of the Opporu scattered, some being chased down and beaten to death, others mauled by stabbing points, while fewer still actually managed to evade the onslaught. It was only when the sand was pink and crusty did Hoshaf descend from the hill, hands up. His warriors ceased and those yet still alive looked up, eyes missing and teeth knocked out.

“Let all of selka know,” Hoshaf declared, “That the Grottu are the chosen and the strong. All may join our tribe, or perish as is the will of Kirron.”

There was a great cheer that broke the wails of the dying and Hoshaf smiled, if only Antorophu could have seen him now.


Diana and the other dude, plus some reptile


Another nightmare ended, and once more Karamir jolted awake. He found himself on his belly, facedown, a thin string of drool connecting him to the umbrella’s fabric.

With a groan, he rolled onto his back, and then rose into a sitting position. His eyes immediately met Diana’s. Her eyes were wide and staring, a small curl at the edge of her mouth, as if she had something to say but was holding it in. Karamir frowned. He met her gaze and held it for several long moments. And then, at last, he spoke.

”What did you do?”

“Nothing!” Diana’s face broke into a big smile, “I did nothing, and you can count on that.” She gave him a reassuring nod.

”That is the last thing I can count on,” Karamir muttered. ”What did you do?” he repeated.

“Oh come!” She flicked her hand, “You shouldn't accuse a lady like that.”

”And you shouldn’t keep secrets from someone you spent weeks at sea with,” Karamir argued.

“Well I never,” Diana scoffed, “I told you I didn't do anything, and so I haven't.” She crossed her arms, “However, since you bring up secrets, I suppose the umbrella has one that you may find tantalising.”

Karamir was silent. And then a realization dawned on him. Perhaps nothing had been done, and this was merely an attempt to make him think that something had happened. That was a definite possibility - did she seek to drive him paranoid? Or had she actually done something after all? Karamir realized he might have no way of knowing. He decided not to voice the concern. ”What is it?” he asked instead, moving on to the topic of the secret.

“Oh my,” Diana pressed a hand to her face, as if hiding her smile, “You really don't know, do you?”

Karamir’s frown deepened, and he gave her a hard stare. At least her previous attempts had been upfront. But this?

“Listen,” Diana scooted close and cupped her hand to her own ear, as if instructing him to do the same.

Karamir did, unsure of what he was supposed to be listening for. It trickled in slowly, but he heard it faintly: waves crashing, a distant bird call. Diana's smile widened and a light cackle came from her throat, “You hear it?”

Karamir’s eyes widened in surprise. ”I do.” An uncertain pause. ”How long until we get there?”

Diana cackled and shivered with a certain joy, “That's the best part.” She let her cackle die down and hummed a small smile, “We've been stuck on a little reef for a day now.”

”Fuck!” Karamir fell backward. He sighed in frustration, and then stared at the sky in resignation.

“There he is,” Diana teased and sat up proudly, “You've been having so much fun, I couldn't bring myself to dislodge it.”

”I thought you wanted off this umbrella as well?” Karamir asked, not getting up. His eyes focused on a small distant cloud.

“I'm not one to ruin the fun,” Diana shrugged. She placed her palm flat on the umbrella next to her and there was a small smacking sound and the umbrella lurched.

”How long until we get there?” Karamir repeated.

“Again with the questions,” Diana rolled her eyes. She looked down, “Oh!”

”What?” Karamir asked, unmoving.

“My nail,” She held up her fingers to her face, “It's even.” She slipped her finger between her teeth and started nibbling on her nail. A few clipping sounds later and she gave a satisfied sigh.

Letting her back rest against the wall of the umbrella, Diana closed her eyes and smiled, “Isn't this just splendid? I just adore the long anticipation.”

”I suppose I didn’t have anything better to do before I came here,” Karamir responded, finally sitting back up. ”At least here I feel like I’m moving somewhere, even if I don’t know where.”

“Oh foo,” Diana didn't even open her eyes, “It's all the same, I suppose.”

”In what way?” he asked.

“Well,” The Deviless opened her eyes and tucked her knees up, placing her dream orb on her lap. Her fingernails clicked against it, “What do you mean when you say ‘I’m moving somewhere’?”

Karamir’s eyes widened. ”If we are back at Kalgrun, I will throw myself into the sea,” he vowed.

“Oh my!” Diana looked up from the orb and at Karamir with a pleasantly surprised face, “I wish I had thought of that, that would have been absolutely grand, don’t you think?”

Karamir was suspicious. Surely she knew that he had wanted to be away from Kalgrun? She had known everything else. If her goal was solely to make him miserable, then she would have in fact brought him back there, but she hadn’t. So he had to assume she didn’t truly want to go to Kalgrun either, which implied that she had a specific destination in mind. Either that, or they were actually back at Kalgrun, and this was all a build-up to the inevitable disappointment when he figured it out himself. Which one is it… he wondered to himself as the waves grew louder.

Diana hummed over his thoughts, her witching eyes boring into him. Suddenly she stopped short and tucked her orb into her hidden pocket. She laced her fingers together over one knee and a curl took her lips.

”What?” he asked her, after it had gone on for what he felt was far too long. Diana rolled her eyes and a second later, the umbrella suddenly made a soft scraping sound. Diana hopped to her feet and stretched her arms to the sky, a seagull flying overhead.

“End of that chapter, I suppose,” She let her arms fall back to her sides with a slap.

Karamir was astonished. His previous question forgotten, he rose to his feet, and walked over to the side of the umbrella to peer over the edge. Stretching far inland was a long shallow beach of sand. Shells of all shapes and sizes littered it, and the calls of the gulls crowded the air. For the first time in weeks, the scent of fresh plants was carried on the salty breeze, a treeline of green in the distance.

The umbrella suddenly shook and shivered, forcing Karamir to scurry over it’s webbed wall, falling into the warm sand. Looking back he saw Diana swing a regular sized umbrella over her shoulder, its fan hiding her face from the rays of heliopolis.

Karamir picked up a handful of sand, and watched it fall through his fingers. Was this a dream? Once again, doubts began to set in. Was she building up to another act of cruelty? Giving him hope before she could rip it away? How could he be sure? He looked to her, as if he was about to voice his thoughts, but instead remained silent.

Diana remained under her protection of shade, her pointy smile flashing. “How sweet of you,” She mused, “You’re going to miss me.”

That took Karamir aback. ”Miss you?” he asked, his eyebrows raised in puzzlement. ”What do you mean?”

“Oh?” Diana asked, “I suppose I simply assumed you were going to scurry away.”

”And if I don’t ‘scurry away’? What happens then?” Karamir asked. Strangely enough, despite his resentment at the weeks of misery, nightmares, and abuse, he didn’t quite feel ready to leave. He couldn’t explain it.

“I suppose that means we can keep having fun together,” Diana beamed, “Oh, and with so many new things around us I’m sure we will get into many little situations.” She suddenly scrunched her nose, “Now if only the weather would cooperate.” She pulled her umbrella closer, blockading herself from the smooth midday breeze and its summer smells.

Karamir considered his options. Assuming that this was not truly Kalgrun, then he was in an unfamiliar land, which meant unfamiliar plants, unfamiliar animals, and unfamiliar dangers. Miserable as it might have been, none of what he went through with Diana had been fatal. Therefore, it stood to reason that he would be safer, if perhaps less comfortable, with her than he would be without her. At least for the time being.

Karamir rose to his feet. After weeks on the umbrella, his legs were shaky, and unsteady. They nearly threatened to give way beneath him, but he managed to stand somewhat firm. He took a few tentative steps, and then, confident that he could still walk, he turned to Diana. ”Let’s go.”

“Of course, of course!” Diana tugged on her dress with one hand, lifting the hem from the sand as she walked inland, “Oh I hope they have nettles and little biting things.”




Flying over the great green forest a massive red figure could be seen with its wings outstretched. Fleeing from the disaster that was the battle of Shengshi’s arc, a lone dragon found itself flying for miles on end from the east. It hadn’t stopped for a break, let alone had anything to eat, and it was utterly exhausted. Yet it wanted to fly as far away from the massacre as possible, less it vowed for certain death by the gods. It already abandoned the giant hydra’s authority and had ultimately deserted from the grasp of the mighty Sartr.

Now it was alone. It had no idea where others could be found, yet it didn’t care. It wanted to achieve only one thing. Peace. And if it meant that it’ll had to issue a traitorous withdraw then so be it.
With its wings growing ever so tired, the famished dragon slowly descended into the tree line as it issued a groan of discomfort. It needed to find food immediately. Yet even as it walked upon a sea of noise and commotion, none of the immediate animals around him would suffice his hunger pains. They were either too small or out of reach, or in some cases both. It was already smaller than most of the dragon companions it fought alongside with, but alas it was still too bulky to run after these smaller critters. The dragon began to sniff the air, attempting to catch the scent of anything of value around it.

And then it caught whiff of a certain smell. It was a foreign smell, yet one that smelled just a familiar. It smelled of those white pale apes that were on Shengshi’s boat. It had heard that they were called “Servants” and it had shared a morsel with another one of its fellow dragon, literally ripping it in half as they both bit both sides of the creature. It was a only small morsel, but it tasted like soggy sand. But this one smelled different. It smelled as if blood was on its hands. But whether it would have to relive the grinding taste of sand or not, it wasn’t going to give up on this opportunity.

It followed its nose northwards, periodically sniffing the air, before stumbling upon a sandy beach. And from the deep foliage, it could see two figures walking upon the sands… alone. The dragon’s mouth opened slightly as its long tongue licked the chops of his mouth. For mere snacks, they looked rather tasty. And the best part, one of them seemed to be walking at an unnatural pace - as if its legs were wobbling around. It could hardly stand.

Yes. This one would be easy pickings.

The dragon began to slowly move through the bush, lowering his body as he attempted to be as stealthy as possible. Despite his rather large size, it could still maneuver efficiently through the foliage with minimal disturbance. It continued to eye the crippled man as it locked onto him with pinpoint accuracy.

Once in position, it rose its back legs, crouched its torso on the ground with its tail held up high…

And pounced at the vulnerable Karamir!

There was a gentle “Whoopsie” and the world turned black.

The dragon peeled its eyes open, and a woman’s face was inches away. Her skin was pale and held a sickly blush, her lips revealing a toothy grin. Over her head she held her umbrella. It took the dragon short time to realize he was laying on his belly, a grainy burn from a skid rashing his underscales and a mouthful of sand clogging his maw. His brain buzzed, and he knew that feeling, he had just woken up from a sudden, very uncomfortable, nap.

The brown-haired man stood several feet behind her. ”It’s bigger than most creatures I’ve seen…” he noted in an analytical tone. ”But I’ve seen at least one beast that was larger.”

“But it’s adorable,” Diana defended, poking a finger at the beast’s yellow teeth, “So hideous.”

”Kalmar might like it. I don’t know if he would call it adorable, though. I’m not sure I would either...”

“Oh huff and fluff.” Diana waved her hand dismissively.

The dragon groaned weakly as a light stream of fire steamed from its nostrils. It bore its teeth as it struggle to get up on its feet, yet it felt too weak to get up even a foot off the ground. It wobbled from side to side, hoping to gain a good position, but all it could do was release another screech straight into Diana’s face, her smile widening.

“I think it likes me,” She charmed. Diana paused in thought for a moment and turned to Karamir, “Do you think we should take it with us?”

”Can we?” Karamir asked skeptically. ”It just tried to attack us.”

“Oh foo,” Diana huffed, “I suppose you’re right.” She sighed and ran her chipped nails down its scaly cheek, “Oh well.” She suddenly perked up, “A parting gift then.” With a sneering smile she tapped the beasts forehead, a red spiral forming, “So you never forget me.”

The dragon’s teeth snarled out of their gums as it struggled to break free from his dazed state. He flinched when he felt something forming upon his scaly forehead, jerking his head as he nearly snapped at Diana’s hand. Still, it was simply too sleepy to battle the two properly, as it continued laying on the shore with disgruntled growls emanating from its maw.

Diana gave it a friendly wave of her hand and looked over at Karamir. With a big smile she ushered him onward, inland to the Dragon's Foot.






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