Avatar of Kho


Recent Statuses

5 yrs ago
Current "Soon you will have forgotten all things. And soon all things will have forgotten you."
1 like


courtesy of @Muttonhawk

Most Recent Posts




The blanket of night sat heavy upon the hills around Longsight’s cave. Two mounds outside the cave mouth marked the places where Songster and Tentongues rested eternally beneath the earth. A fire flickered inside, though nothing moved within. In the weeks following the Battle of the Cliff, the outer beasts (or demons, as Saboteur insisted on calling them) had gathered thickly about the cave mouth. Their patrols were unceasing and alertness unsleeping. They suspected that at any moment Hylsek Adech may return to finish what he started and would not be taken unawares. But now it was many months since, and not as much as a spybat had been spotted in that time.

A sense of security overcoming them, Badboy at last decided to turn his attention - and of that of the demons that now considered him their princeling - towards the caverns. For months he had worked them ceaselessly on carving the caverns into something of an underground palace fitting of a ‘princeling’. On more than one occasion Longsight had made him quite aware that this whole thing was getting to the other lad’s head. Badboy only smirked and signalled that he was just jealous. Longsight might have been, a bit. That said, Longsight could not deny that the work Badboy had set his new followers to was impressive. What were once caverns had become well-sanded and carved hallways, lit with lanterns of demon magick. The dangerous descents had become stairs and stairwells. Chambers had become great carved halls and crevices and fissures had been made into bedchambers, studies, leisure rooms, latrines, and other such things that Badboy’s demon advisors assured him that any fine princeling’s abodes required. Much of it was still incomplete, and the deeper caverns beyond the great Pool Chamber, which was still being fixed up as Badboy’s future throne room, had not been much explored.

Necessity had meant, though, that they ventured beyond the Pool Chamber and followed the sound of flowing water until the reached the subterranean river the sounds promised. Rather than a river, however, what they came upon was a great lake into which waterfalls flowed from above. In the darkness, Saboteur had been able to make out at least three waterfalls flowing from multiple locations above. When Horntusk dipped a hand into the water and raised it to his mouth, he released a satisfied breath. “Damn coolest and purest I’ve ever had.” It was a long way from the cave entrance to their newfound lake, the waterskins Saboteur and Horntusk had, as well as the two Songster and Tentongues had left behind, were large enough that they only had to make the trip every few days. Amongst themselves later, they agreed on naming it Lake Tentongues, both in honour of their slain goblin companion and due to the many waterfalls that flowed into it like so many tongues.

And so, while Badboy’s subterranean palace was being worked on, the two Renevits and their great-goblin friends (or orcs, as the demons insisted on calling them) maintained their sleeping and living quarters by the cave entrance. On that particular night nearly six months after the Battle of the Cliff, a strange sleepfulness overtook the four so that even Saboteur, who was keeping watch by the cave mouth, fell asleep.

Longsight woke to a great bang that rippled off the cave mouth and rattled his very bones. This was followed by another and another. The bangs overlapped as they became rhythmic in nature. So the pattern went and from the vantage point of the cave mouth, there in the distance, a white light could be seen. Frowning, he looked around himself at his still-sleeping comrades and immediately knew something was amiss. He instinctively reached for Bonebreaker, which was never far from him, but his hand only found empty earth. Brows furrowing further, he arose and came to the cave mouth, noting Saboteur’s sleeping form, then took in the light in the distance and the rippling noise all around.

In an instant he was ripped off from the ground by invisible hands and with a whoosh of wind, came before the light before he could even blink. There he was suspended. The hammering, for it was a hammer that banged upon existence itself, rattled his bones and made his ears bleed. The light was too bright to penetrate but it was all too familiar. Especially so when the hammering stopped and the demon god’s voice burst forth as a harsh whisper, “Did I give you permission to speak, tongue or no?” The boy’s heterochromatic eyes were wide, his milky blue eye aglow. His hand felt far too heavy, he could not even mouth a response. Still, he struggled against the ethereal hold and strained against the terrible noise.

“I thought so.” The Goddess said, her light approaching. “Did you think I would not have eyes in this place? Did you think I would forget about you? Did you delude yourself into believing there could be no more punishment?” The light was above him now. Her voice was reprimanding, uncaring. “You, who have been touched by Time itself? You, who should have been but flesh for carrion birds? You, who pretends to be anything else than a mere child?” At that last word, the voice wavered and fell silent. A long moment passed before Longsight was lowered, the hold about him vanishing. The glow of the goddess dulled and he heard a snap.

“Speak, Timeblessed. I will have answers before judgement.” The boy was still for a few moments, moving his lips as though it was suddenly very full. “W-” he coughed, “woah,” he spat a great ball of bile. Glancing at it with disgust, he brought himself to his full - if modest - height. “I don’t understand..” he managed, his voice slow and tongue heavy, “are you angry because… I still live?”

“No.” She sighed, “I knew you would live. You have angered me so, for learning to speak around the confines of your tongue. I am angry because I expected you to have completed my assignment. Instead, I find you playing kingmaker with filth.” Longsight considered her words for a few moments, then slowly responded. “We… can’t venture out just like that. I certainly can’t just on my own. There are things out here to curdle rotten milk. Badboy and I have found a place of safety, secured staunch allies and faithful followers. When we have the strength to go and find whatever it is you wish us to on this gods-forsaken coast, we’ll do so. It’s not like we have much choice however you slice it. And if I spoke in some manner, it’s because you simply didn’t forbid that! I don’t know how I spoke and I don’t know how to do so again, it just happened.” He paused, mind racing. “Also, this whole not speaking thing is gratuitously cruel. You’ve cast us out here as punishment, surely you can permit us to speak! It would probably help us get to your assignment all the faster.”

The light reached the ground and winked out. Only the natural radiance of a god did give him light and the demon goddesses illumination was subtle silver. “You have done well, all things considered. You’ve even grown taller, if not mellowed out some as well. You are also correct, I made no mention of speaking without your tongue. A technicality to be corrected, even if you deem it cruel.” She mused. “You have been gifted with power from Galaxor, the god of heroism, and yet you can’t venture out? I’m sure he would listen well to your excuses. But the fault must be in me, your Warden. This is a prison and I have not taken especially good care of you, I suppose.” She moved to the side and revealed an anvil with a pale hammer on top of… Bonebreaker. The Goddess picked up the weapon and looked upon it. “It has been used as intended, for that I have imparted power. Now you have no excuses.” She leaned it back against the anvil. The boy looked from the war hammer to the goddess. “Uh… so, you’re not angry?” He asked carefully. The ghost of a smile seemed to suddenly dance about his lips. “Maybe you’re even… pleased?” It was bold of him, there was no doubt, and cheeky too.

“Do not flatter yourself, mortal.” She said, crossing her arms. “I can be many things whilst you cannot. You are still being judged, even if I offer gifts. Now, do you have anything else to say?” Wincing slightly, he looked at the goddess thoughtfully. “Is everyone alright? Reaper and Rockpetter and Galloper and everyone… will we see them again? What exactly is it that you want of us here? You reprimand me for being anything other than a child and you reprimand me for playing kingmaker as you say - and in the same breath you are pleased that I have used Bonebreaker as it was intended. What will earn us such pleasure from you that this punishment will be lifted and we can return to our loved ones?” Whatever cheekiness had been there before was gone, and whatever childishness might have been in him when she punished him so many months before was likewise a shadow. He had become a man before his time and stood before her as such.

She studied him and reached out with cold metal hands to touch his face. “Can a smith not be pleased with a tool when it performs adequately? If you must know,” she sighed, “The Renevits have been split. The one you call Reaper and a few cohorts are not far from Sylann, my city. Rockpetter and most of your band are not with him. I know not what became of them in the desert. But do not let this sadden your heart, you do have it within your power to see them again and if you survive this ordeal, I will help you to reunite with them. And now we come to the thick of it.” She withdrew her touch. “Your life was to be wasted in the desert. You were already upon the threshold of a time that strikes the child from the heart. You were never going to laugh like the children in Sylann’s streets. You would never know a full belly and not one of constant starvation. Your childhood was over before it ever really began. It was cruel and I saved you from a death of wasting away into nothingness. Forgotten by all time, like your ancestors before you. You may see this place as punishment,” She waved her hands all around the prison, “ but try to view it as a forge. You are my metal, hammered from the crucible of conflict into the shape you were always meant to be. A weapon. If not for me, then for some other and some conflict. If any tell you this place will be where the Invaders went to die, they would be lying. They will return and next time, we will be ready. What I have always wanted from you here, is for you to learn. Learn how to slay them. Learn how to use them. Learn how to destroy them. Anything that gives us an advantage in the wars to come. This has never been punishment,” She smiled, “But an act of service for the greater good.”

Longsight blinked, digesting the words. He looked away, eyes welling up. “I… I see.” He managed. He took a deep breath and blinked whatever treacherous tears away. A tool. Like Reaper’s scythe, maybe, or like Bonebreaker. Certainly not a thing that lay at night and yearned for the sounds of the Worldriver beneath the star-speckled sky, the sight of mud-brick houses and ploughed fields, the laughter of cousins, uncles. A rootless tool, of steel perhaps or bronze, heartless and unfeeling. A tear burst unbidden and he turned away swiftly, wiping it and clearing his throat as he breathed and calmed himself. “Y-yeah. Galaxor said something like that too- showed me, I should say, the myriad ways I was destined to perish without his help. I suppose it wasn’t so different out on the wastes.” He turned back to her, his face free of any great emotion. “I… suppose your way of seeing it might be helpful. A tool is made in such a manner, refined even, to serve a singular purpose. If my purpose is to serve the greater good like you say, to learn about these beasts and prepare, then it makes things clear.” He looked down, a momentary despondency to his eyes, but then he glanced back up at her. “If it will prevent such beasts from doing what was done to Renev,” he murmured, “then I guess it is good.”

A hand fell upon his shoulder. “In time, you will come to understand it in a clearer light. You won’t be in this place forever, in fact, I have come with a promise of an earlier release.” She let go of him. “You are the leader of your motley crew, no? Or shall I summon the other one to hear it?” He almost jumped at the mention of the others. The idea of Badboy being brought did not appeal to him at all, he could already hear the thousand profanities on the boy’s tongue. “Uh, early relea- yeah, yeah, sure I can tell Badboy. No need to get him! But- early release?!” His eyes were alight with hope. “How? When? Uh- why?” He blinked a few times, and then that subtlest smile from earlier returned, “oh! Oh you! You are pleased!”

She did not smile. “Hylsek Adech.” She said, “We can not suffer a lord of these creatures a continued existence. Slay it and you may regain the function of your tongues.” Whatever good humour froze on his face and he winced. “That… dragon? You want us to slay a dragon?!” He could not look any more incredulous. “That thing killed that wyrm- the wyrm that ate me whole and utterly destroyed the Headsplitter you gave Badboy! How are we to go up against something like that?”

“Ingenuity, I imagine. The loss of my wyrm is unfortunate. It just goes to show how much a threat even lesser beasts like the drakhorey are. Imagine if they were loose beyond the wall?” Sylia said calmly. Longsight pursed his lips in a mixture of fear and disbelief. “Those… are lesser beasts? You mean… there are beings more powerful than that? Hylsek Adech said he hurt a god! A god!” Longsight looked at her helplessly. “I mean, you think we can kill something that says it hurt a god?”

“I do.” Sylia said with authority. “For if you wish to gain freedom outright, you will have to slay one who has claimed worse. One who has devoured godflesh. Bael-Davaur, a true princeling of their wretched kind. Not even I know much else about its origins, only that it is here within.” Longsight stood silently for a few long moments, his face turned away and staring out into the darkness. The stars were bright against the skies and by their light something of the crimson sea beyond could be seen. “Well,” he breathed, turning back to the goddess, “if you have forged me into the type of tool that can do that, then I’ll not debate you on it.” He glanced at Bonebreaker. “I guess I’ll still have need for that though, right?”

“Yes. That and more. Now we come to the matter of your punishment. I have taken into account your action was beyond your control. You are becoming more than a simple man. Therefore, you shall find within that cave that you have been joined by another. One of two, a twin of frost- fire. Much like you, she has insulted a Goddess but unlike you, she has also taken from my kin something that was very dear to her. She and her twin will be hunted because of this. You are hereby tasked with her protection and she is to be your charge.” Longsight nodded slowly at this. “Taken something dear? Blimey… a thief then is she? Must be a bloody good one if she robbed a whole god!” He paused for a moment. “Uh, why not just give whatever she stole back? That’d sort things, no?”

Sylia looked at him with a grave expression. “You can not give back a life, Longsight. Perhaps in time she'll tell you her full tale. For now I shall permit you to speak with her to tell your own tale and circumstances here, then you shall take back your silence until the drakhorey is slain.” The boy sealed his lips in understanding as Sylia went on. “There is also something else you should be made aware of. The elfling and her twin have already encountered the outer princeling. He covets them with all his black heart. If he is not slain by your hand, he will take her for himself and only horror will be her fate. It is part of her own test to overcome the beast to better herself. To atone. But you may help her and she you. Though, I have seen how she swings her sword and she will need training. All of you will.”

Longsight opened his mouth to protest her last words, but Sylia extended her hand toward him and from it there came into being a small black stone. Perfectly round. “The Myrmidon Marble shall be your instructor.” Mouth still agape, Longsight stared at the stone for a few moments then promptly closed his mouth. “Uh. How’s a stone an instructor?” He asked bemusedly, studying the extended stone but making no attempt to claim it.

The great god placed her thumb upon the marble. It pulsed with a red light and coalesced into a form, taking the shape of a man but silhouetted. He held a sword and shield and went into a defensive stance. “The marble shall train you. It is capable of producing several lightforms, each being able to wield whatever assortment of weapon imaginable. You will be able to spar with it and unlike training you may receive by mortal hands, the marble will ingrain you with its knowledge. Various combat styles exist in this world. It knows many. You and that other cohort of yours would be foolish to pass up this opportunity. One can swing a hammer all he likes but until he knows how to carry himself into war, it is but a dull tool. Sharpen yourself, Longsight.”

The boy did not protest, but nodded in acquiescence. “A bow’s about all a peasant like me usually has need for, forgive me if my skill with hammer wasn’t quite up to par.” It was almost sarcastic, but his face and tone betrayed nothing but sincerity, and his eyes were awash with wonder at the form that had emerged from the stone. “I’m sure that both Badboy and me - and even Saboteur and Horntusk and many others too - will benefit from this stone- uh, Mermaidon? Marmaddon!” He glanced at Sylia for reassurance.

“Marmaddon, yes.” Sylia nodded. “Now this talk of ours is coming to an end. You know what must be done and I know you will find the resolve to do it. Train. Grow. Take care of one another. Do not give into reckless pursuits. Face thy enemy with stalwart courage. Take your gifts and go now.” On her word, Longsight picked up Bonebreaker and tucked the great war hammer into his belt from behind. Gently, he received the Marble from Sylia and held it close. The Goddess paused before saying, “Oh and take Badboy these.” From behind the anvil, she revealed two macuahuitls embedded with sharpened blades of black steel and, like Headsplitter, boasting a broad tip that was not too dissimilar to a small double-headed axe. Obediently, he took them from the goddess; Badboy was definitely going to be happy. He paused for a few seconds then looked at Sylia. “I didn’t imagine I’d say it but… in a weird sort of way, if we overlook the whole putting us here thing - because it’s for our own good and all, and maybe the good of the world too,” he smiled and raised his eyes at how crazy it sounded, “but, uh. Thank you, I guess. Or, rather, I’m pretty sure; thank you.”

Sylia nodded. “Run along now and go back to sleep.” He felt himself rising, Bonebreaker and the twin Headsplitters, even the Marmaddon marble about him. Then he was whisked away on a gentle breeze, back to the cave. Where, nestled in his makeshift bed, was a girl with flaming red hair.

With thanks to @Cyclone and @Legion02 for their direct contributions, @Vec for answering many questions regarding the Astral Realm, Astral Entities, and Astralis Lumen, and also to @WrongEndoftheRainbow for giving guidance regarding the Realm of Death and the Dreamworld. Thanks also to @DracoLunaris for patiently discussing many details about Faeries and Glamour with me, which has helped flesh out many subtle things about both throughout this post. And thanks, of course, to the one and only @Frettzo for channeling and encouraging all craziness.




The age of the feighdfulc burst across the dimensions of the world with great suddenness and terrible ferocity. Though the Veil was the sacred land of joy and eternal peace for all the true fairy races (of whom the darkfairies, being outer beast mockeries of the fae, were not!) they dared not – could not! – war in the Veil anymore. The summoning forth of Brentylwtih the King before the High Queen Roisin Magnolia had drawn the gaze of the fairy-folk with suddenness to the hallowed nature of their Otherworld home, and so their warring in that realm came to a halt. It was not for a lack of animosity between the nascent fairy courts, of course, but rather because they had discovered that there were other, less holy places where they could war.

King Brentylwith and his Court of Beauty All-Ascendant at the Gate of the Furthest Fade had no eye for the politicking of his fae kin. The eyes of that King of Hearts was ever on the Gate, his sword was ever smiting the darkfairies of Hylsek Adech (and those of other lords of the Outer Rim beasts yet!) that thought to breach the Otherworld and sup on the slain form of Roisin Magnolia. Brentylwith would brook no such outrage! Not he or any of the fair-hearted warriorfae of his marcher kingdom. With their hands they fought the darkfairy scourge, and with all else they fought for the beautification of their hearts in accordance with the virtuous and beautiful ways of Roisin Magnolia.

King Brentylwith slays not his own;
He fends foes from fair Roisin's throne!

The other courts and sovereigns of the feighdfulc were not much like Brentylwith. Their eyes were fixed enviously or fearfully or suspiciously on one another, and none made a move except that another leapt to check and challenge them. It was in this manner that the faeries burst into the material world and went warring and disputing their way across the length and breadth of the Worldriver, and at Arbor, in the utmost north, east, south, and west of the Worldcrater, and in the wastes of northern and southern Galbar too, even on Sylia’s wall and beyond it, even beneath the Great Bloodsea. At the Tricity they fought, above Thysia, in the sacred precincts of Sylann. Below the earth too, in dwarven hames and goblin cities they warred and disputed ceaselessly.

Wherever there was air or land or water, and even where there was none of that in the emptiness of the Galbarian exosphere, the feighdfulc hosts swept on aerial or terrestrial or oceanic battlefields and cried havoc and war. They drew terrible wands and battle-staffs one against the other. They wielded spears of deathmagick and swords of lifesundering. They wore armours of leaves and armours of earth and armours of magic-woven metal too. Many were the Eshgaebars who led their companies of death across the flitting battlefields. Golden dust streamed and arose about them and the cry of, “Duuuuust!” rang now from this battleline and now from that. Now Asula the Nightfury, Crownfeighd of the Crowncourt of the Sullylands and unparalleled Tyrantefae, descended into the dustletting fields herself; her blue form and golden gaze were the promise of utter breakage and atomisation to those who challenged her. Her ugly form – as ugly as her heart! – held no kindness or mercy for those who fell into her hands. Great was her kingdom in the material world! None claimed such great stretches as she! When ‘the Empress’ was whispered of in awe and in fear, it was Asula of the Sullylands that was meant.

In earth and air let it be known;
Asula sits all-high alone!

But Asula was no singular and all-consuming darkness, for there were those who stood before her and harried her world-conquest and checked her advance at last. The full, cold-steeled fury of the Iron Knightcourt was against her, and the Knightqueen Titania Terrorblade led her hosts in person against the advance of the Sullied. What martial might did Titania’s Ironfae hold! What twisting of steel wands, what flashing of blades, what sweeping of spears! Were they truly beings of magic or were they things of steel? Had soft-hearted Roisin Magnolia created them or had they been fashioned by the hard hand of Sylia and under her cold eye? Were their kin not the Glamour-woven feighdfulc but the hammered and fire-forged Formed? Titania Terrorblade was the very incarnation of battle prowess on the fields of dustletting, her never-quieting blade carving warmagicks that silenced now a dozen to the left of her and now a dozen below. She drew their dust into her like an insatiable maw of metal; only her flowing crimson hair betrayed that beneath that metal form was something of magic and beauty. “In iron forged! Of battles hewn! By triumph made!” Was her victory cry, and all who heard her and her Ironvictors declare it so knew to quit the field in humiliation and disgrace. Such was Titania Terrorblade; when “Reddeath” was mentioned it was Titania of the Knightcourt that was meant.

Hear battle's millstones at once groan
When Titania ascends their throne!
What battle furies, far or nigh,
Can bear withstand her blade's dread sigh?

Compared to such titans as these, the Court of the Pillartree was but tiny. Fairqueen Arya had established the Court at Arbor, where the Pillarfae freely moved between their ancestral home in the Veil and the new one within the Evergrowing City. If the Pillarfae were anything, they were intensely lively - and how could they not be when their Fairqueen's kingdom was at the very throbbing heart of life? The war pained Arya's heart and she refused to engage in it, pick or choose any side, or ally with any faerie court against another. That would have normally been impossible, of course, for most courts and their sovereigns quite often had war thrust upon them whether they liked it or not. However, Fairqueen Arya’s independence was assured through her alliance not with her own kin but with the Green Goddess herself. The Kingdom of the Pillartree at Arbor was a space of utter calm and peace in a faerie world riveted by never-ceasing conflict.

Though petty faerie lordlings war beyond
Where Arya rules let peace grow long and fond!

Many others warred over the material world, but none conquered so much as Asula and none was as ferocious on the field as Titania. And in that war, there was no place of calm and utter peace like Arya's court at Arbor. Over Sylann and Thysia, in the caverns of the Dominion Union and across the subterranean kingdoms of the dwarves, in the expansive Deltas of the Worldriver and at Sithari also, the unseen flutter of faerie wings and magick filled the world.

Across the Veil, in the realms of the immaterial, a quite different war raged between the fae who went battling one another in that direction. The Dreamworld welcomed the battling hosts with almost as much energy and verve as they brought. Wherever the warring feighdfulc flung themselves across the Dreamworld, the land seemed to come alive and bend to their forms…and bend their forms. It was with casual swiftness that the Dreamworld accepted the race of the faeries as an inherent part of it and that the fae allowed themselves to be shaped as the thresholds of the Dreamworld they crossed demanded.

Those who settled in the Marewoods, the deepest bounds of the Dreamworld, found that they became brothers to nightmares and ghouls. They fended the great howling things of terror with equal terror and glamours of deepest horror and fright. In the Marewoods, the Feighdmares were the great terror of the nightmares. The Archfeighdmare of the Court of the Marewoods, Suilenim, ruled over his kingdom with a great dire eye; he was the fear of fear, the terror of terror, the horror of horror and in the Marewoods was the pinnacle of all nightmares.

Do not fear any old nightmare;
Fear only if Suilenim's there!

Other faeries passed beyond the Marewoods, saluting Hour, the Name of discovery, light, and curiosity, and soared beyond the Epiphanic Gate he guarded and into the Horologian threshold of the Dreamworld. Hour looked upon them as those faeries saluted it and blessed it and rained words of joy and spells of bliss before them like a great carpet even unto the Horologian within that threshold of the Dreamworld. The Horolofae of that Kingdom of the Horologian marched in great processions about their Chief Librarian, Kuridven, keeper of the Ten Thousand Threads of Curiosity and the Bearer of the Four Hundred Lamps of Discovery. Thus chanting their great poesies and shining bright and cold as their Horologian at the fullness of its form, those Horolofae were the great brightness and light of the Dreamworld.

A thousand great discoveries bright
In one of Kuridven's rays of light!

Those who did not pass into the Horologian went instead by ways of the Lunar Door, where Umbar - that paragon Name of battle, destruction, struggle - stood guard. There the Illumined Lunarsopher of the Kingdom of the Salient Moon was enthroned, and all about him the sun-like Lunarfae saluted their Lunarsopher-King. They were the burning battlers and immovable warriors of the Dreamworld, were the Lunarfae, but there was little for them to war over in the Dreamworld.

The Lunarsopher holds no warmth,
But only Itzal's heat;
In battle death, in peace a scourge;
Life melts about his feet!

In the Astral Realm, meanwhile, the warring of the feighdfulc was of a more conventional nature. Here Eirgwyn of the Court of the Windrocks now checked the Grand Witchfeighd Hecate and was again checked by her. Across the Astral Realm they fought, calling forth mighty powers and magicks from the slumbering Lumen, disturbing many cantars and riling them to great fury; in that realm, it was not Hecate but Eirgwyn who proved most victorious.

She claimed many Lumen-grounds for her Court and banished what cantars thought the sacred growths of the Astralgod were their rightful inheritance. “Oh little mushrooms, you are well-meaning but unknowing! There are no truer guardians than we, who are in all manners magick! We are no mushrooms that have come to enlightenment; we are of an enlightened and Astral-bound essence! The truest guardians are we!” She told them. But the Astral Realm was vast, the Lumen-grounds stretching to the far horizons, and many a fae court carved out territories and many great stretches remained in the shade of the cantar and their spores.

Veil skies are Eirgwyn's rock and Court;
The Astral Plains are her great fort!

Though Hecate held some corners of the Astral Realm against Eirgwyn’s attempts to dislodge her, it was in the derelict Realm of the Dead that the terrible Witchfeighd met with the greatest success. Wherever the faeries soared and wherever they declared themselves sovereign, they found only the ruins of what must once have been. Hecate trailed the hint of death, carved great symbols and pentagrams into the essence of the realm; she made it into a great focus for her rituals and dark designs. The vestiges of the dark energies of death and necromancy that hung to everything in that Realm of the Dead granted Hecate and her witchfae great powers; no manner of noble charge or light glamours and magicks could beat back the powers of the Grand Witchfeighd’s Court of the Covenscore. Wherever battle was given, Eirgwyn found her faeries shattered into dust by harrowing magicks and her hosts were everywhere in retreat. And so an uneasy and tense equilibrium was arrived at: Hecate was mighty in the Death Realm and struck from there against Eirgwyn’s Astral possessions while Eirgwyn amassed her powers in the Astral Realm and struck the Realm of Death.

Seek Hecate not you who want charm,
Here you will not quick find it!
But if you seek for a five-starred harm,
Hecate has refined it!
She is the cackling great-horned ram;
She is the bloodied pentagram!

At times, however, the equilibrium between Hecate and Eirgwyn tilted alongside the whims of a third Court and its lord - this was a fae whose might was certainly less than that of either the Grand Witchfeighd or the Windrock Queen, yet whose presence still cast a vast shadow. Indeed, he was called the Sultan of Shadows, and not just for his dark temper and his unknowable ways, but also for his realm itself. This was a dark and hostile place, very close to Hecate’s own demesne of death, but not quite there; it was somewhere between the worlds of the dead and the living. In parts it resembled a dark and treacherous fen, in other places it was not so much a mire as a cobbled alleyway only just shoulder-wide, the labyrinthine passage flanked by doors into unknowable dens. This was not a place where faefolk liked to delve, now that the Sultan had made it his own, for those that entered rarely returned.

According to some unknowable design, the Sultan of Shadows would at times proclaim his allegiance to Hecate, and the shadows themselves would flow forth between the whitened bones of her servants as they marched to do battle in the Astral Realm. But then, in the very next engagement, the shadow-fae would be found alongside the host of the Windrock Queen, the tables having been shifted in accordance to the Sultan’s ineffable machinations. And who knew what the Sultan wanted, really - none outside his own court even knew his true name! Many were those who dismissed him as mad, lest they themselves go mad in the struggle to work out whatever purpose might lie in the deeds or sparing words of the Sultan of the Shadowcourt.

Are they snakes or are they shadows -
Is it sound that here-there echoes -
That near sight and heart’s strength whelm
In the Sultan’s mystic realm?
Do not seek to find them out,
You will only deepen doubt;
Sultan’s secrets are all his,
Seekers find what madness is!

That was how things were across the dimensions of the Immaterial planes when the fair folk came forth. But beneath those great lords, there were many of lesser power and might.

Barken Elboria, Trunkueen of the Court of the Little Wildwoods, was little more than a petty-queen within the Veil. Sturdy and stubborn, she resisted all attempts by more powerful neighbours to subdue her and was of those either mad or ambitious fae who burst forth across the Immaterial realm. Unlike Hecate and Eirgwyn, she made no war with the cantars but greeted them as the sycamore does the fungus at its root. No animosity moved in her barken heart or that of her twig- and vine-haired hosts against the astral mushrooms, but only amiableness and natural friendship. Where the Court of the Little Wildwoods stretched into the Astral Realm, there was friendship between faerie and cantar.

Sat high atop one of the many ethereal trees that marked the Astral stretches of her Kingdom of the Little Woods, she observed the reflection of the material plane that the Astral Realm was. Lesser beings might have grown confused and weary by the inconstant form, the ever-shifting nature, the elusiveness of the Astral world. That was not so for the fair-folk, and certainly not for one like Elboria. She had felt a peace here unmatched since she first set eyes on the Highholt of Taramanca and bathed in the Sweet River Rois. Aye, her kind was ever a-warring, it was true, but whenever battles subsided she had little heart or mind but for the whispering flows and veins of Lumen that called on every fibre of her being. She sat atop trees, at the bases of trunks, by shifting streams. She breathed it in and listened to its thrum and call.

Day by passing day she listened and trailed the pulse of the living realm. It was like an ever-swelling artery, hot with flowing life and magicks. The closer she listened and meditated, the more she neared its throbbing heart and source. The days of her searching became weeks, the weeks grew into months, and the months became years. The affairs of her kingdom were handled by her powerful barken Eshgaebars and only in the most dire of moments was she approached meditating now in a glade of throbbing crystals and now contemplating by streams of viscous Lumen that sporadically rose up into vapours or poured forth into waiting crystalline formations.

So long did she meditate in the Lumen glades that her barken form was no longer quite like any fae’s. The twigs and vines of her hairs shone with a certain luminescence that was not of Glamour but Lumen, and little crystals seemed to have taken form in her irises so that they glowed ever pale and white. Her barken skin too boasted seams of Lumen that rippled with a cadence of barely restrained power. She seemed closer to cantars and other Astral beings than to faeries, and yet she was a faerie too, and bright, with something of Roisinic light.

Many years later, when Elboria had been absent from the court of Roisin Magnolia so long that the High Queen asked about her, no one knew what to say or how to explain the Trunkueen’s state. “Let her attend me,” the Little god of the Little Things decreed. The Eshgaebars of the Little Wildwood flew forthwith to their Trunkueen and, finding her in a deep cave surrounded by enormous Astralite crystals, sobbed magicks and glamour everywhere at her feet as they explained how her absence had brought them into disrepute in before the High Throne at the Highholt of Taramanca, and how even now the heart of Roisin Magnolia was brought pain that she had gone so long without attending her at court. Elboria, drawn from her meditation by their cries, soothed them with a Lumen-escent wave of calm. “If there is an iota of displeasure towards me in the heart of the Feighdfulc Mathair, then I have sinned terribly and must make amends. Perhaps she will see it in her heart to forgive her granddaughter when she sees what I have found for her.”

Raising her wand, Elboria weaved such magicks through her grotto and summoned such energies and faerie arts as to bring her Eshgaebars to wonder and awe. A great Astralite node was gently dislodged from beneath the Trunkueen and rose above her. It was easily ten times the size of the sovereign of the Little Wildwoods and hummed with unfathomable powers. It hovered on a bed of glamour conjured by Elboria, and even as the Astralite hovered there the Trunkueen leapt to the gap where it had not so long before been and peered into the earth below. A smile grew on her face of bark and Astralite. She whispered magics into the gap and from that vein emerged a flow of metal no faerie had ever seen before. At first it seemed like any other melted metal, but as Erbolia’s glamorous coaxed it from the Astral earth it changed and became something else entirely. They heard its song alongside that of Erbolia’s chanted spell, but when her voice subsided and the metal had gathered beside the Astralite on that bed of glamour, any song the strange ore might have known before was silenced. It was almost like it had become a corpse.

They did not let that weigh to greatly on them but cheered instead and, brandishing flutes and harmonicas and drums and lutes, paraded their Trunkueen and the great treasures she had brought forth all across the Kingdom of the Little Wildwood. Across the Astral territories of the Trunkueen did their procession take them, and then off into the Veil and across her forested territories there. Through jungles and across streams, up mountains and down hills and by canyons did they march and sing and blare the polyphony of their musical joy. They did not cease even as they crossed the Sweet River Rois into the Highholt of Taramanca and knew no stopping even as they streamed into the Court of the High Throne where Roisin Magnolia, engulfed in splendour and veiled from all eyes, was enthroned.

“You were a long time gone, my dearest Elboria,” the High Queen cantillated. The Trunkueen let her wings cease and fell on her hands and knees before the hem of Roisin Magnolia overflowing skirt. “It was not for a lack of yearning for you, Mathair, that I was so long gone. I was searching for something; the search did not take me across any great mountains or seas but forced me to sail the crashing waves of my innermost self and dive into the deepest darkness of my soul! I come to you changed in form because I have had to hew anew my inmost heart. I fall at your feet, oh fairest of the fair, and kiss the hem of your skirt that you may forgive my neglect!” The High Queen kneeled forward ever so slightly and, with a flick of her hands, caused Elboria to rise to her feet. “You have no need to cast yourself down at my feet, Elboria, or ask my forgiveness. The one who is absent carries with them their excuse. My heart only grew fond and wished after your presence.” The Little god of the Little Things drifted from her High Throne and cupped Elboria’s face in her gloved hands. Even so, Elboria felt her body explode with warmth and deepest, purest desire and yearning for the very theophony of Beauty that Roisin Magnolia was. “You have changed indeed, just as you said.” Roisin Magnolia affirmed, releasing Elboria. “Your beauty was always dominant, but now it is almost complete. You have done well to hone your spirit so, granddaughter.” Elboria’s lips trembled and her eyes welled up, “Th-thank you, Mathair.” She managed. “I-” she sniffed and looked down for a few moments, composing herself, “I brought you something. I thought to give it to you by way of apology- but as you are after no such thing, I give it to you by way of love. Small tokens, trinkets even, when compared to the endless sea of love for you.”

The Little god of the Little Things soared back to her High Throne and spoke a spell of pleasure. “A gift?” She chirruped happily. “For me?” Her voice was the very art of joy. “No faerie has ever given me a gift!” The childlike delight of her progenitor brought Elboria joy also, and she hurried to wave the enormous Astralite crystal and the strange ore before the High Queen. “They are from the realm of the Astralgod, my most beauteous Mathair. A great node of Astralite, the largest I have ever found and…” Elboria paused and glanced at the metal, “and Magnolium; the singing ore of magick.” A hush came over the High Queen of the Faeries as she surveyed the gifts, bringing now the Astralite to her and now the Magnolium ore. “Elboria these…” she whispered, “are no tokens or trinkets. These are things of formidable power and great value.” She seemed quite torn. “It would be most unseemly of me to reject a gift but… this is just too much. I could never gift you anything nearly as beautiful or valuable!”

Elboria was swiftly at her queen’s side. “No, my lady, I wish for nothing. Only please accept this from me and consider it a small symbol of my love. Perhaps whenever you see either you will remember me; by occurring for even a moment in the mind of my beloved, I will be both glorious and blessed!” On hearing these words, Roisin Magnolia brought a hand to her veiled face as if to cover it further in embarrassment. “Your hewing of your soul has remolded your tongue out of honey!” The High Queen intonated. “But very well, it will be as you desire. And I will keep both of them ever close to me that you may always be on my mind. Here, look now,” Roisin Magnolia raised her wand and swept it. Immediately the rose-red wood of the Godwand cracked and into those cracks the Astralite flowed and concentrated and solidified so that across the form of the wand both wood and Astralite melded into one whole. The Magnolium followed, flowing through the heart of the wand and shaping itself into a handle of gold. It was no less than three wands now, a veritable God-Triwand. The power of that Gramarye-font was such that magicks and Lumen gathered unbidden about it, its very presence a great magnet even as it was simultaneously a great wellspring of both. Roisin Magnolia placed a hand on Elboria’s head and ruffled her hair of vine and Astralite. The Trunkueen looked up into the veiled face of Ladyprince of the Fae-Finte and thought that, beneath the impenetrable veil, she could make out her beloved god’s smile.

The gathered Eshgaebars looked on in wonder too. Purpetal, however, who was no Eshgaebar, could only gaze with awe at the newly forged wand; his little faerie heart hammered for it.



In aeons and ages to come, there would never be a quiet day in the court of the High Queen at the Highholt of Taramanca. In the wake of the War of the Trees, however, there was much silence. Even as the faeries came to be, there was no song or dance at Taramanca. Roisin Magnolia sat brooding on her high throne, and her thoughts were all of sadness and her eyes knew naught but tears. All across the Veil, the newborn race of the faeries fought and wrangled and ate one another as she wept; for aeons the Veil and its denizen feighdfulc knew only the law of the jungle. All the tree tribes and tree-kerns, all the great barked chieftains could but weep with the weeping of Roisin Magnolia and whatever words of reprimand they spoke to those born of them became sobs on the winds. Whispers reached Roisin Magnolia of the deeds of that wild fae race, but louder than those were the whispers carried on winds blowing from the Gate of the Furthest Fade. At that most northern point of the Veil, where the line was forever held against the coming of the Beasts of the Outer Rim into the Veil, the whispers spoke of beasts unlike any known during the Battle of the Wildwoods. The winds whispered of monstrosities whose image was a twisted mockery of the faerie form. Those darkfaeries cried havoc and murder, called out for war and vengeance in the name of one ‘Hylsek Adech’…

Though they met with success and easy spoils at first, at the Gate of the Furthest Fade those darkfaeries were soon checked. On that great frontier a warrior king of the fae arose like a mountain and marched forth like the storm. With the swiftness of a raging tempest, he subdued all the feighdfulc in those distant climes – all the thousand petty-feighdlords and ladies, fadechiefs and chieftesses, littekings and queens – and established the very first of kingdom of the fae: the Kingdom of the Furthest Fade with its Court at the Gate of the Furthest Fade. That glorious marcher feighdlord was known by all as Brentylwith the King; his name was the bane of darkfaeries and their curse, his blade their sure demise. The skies of the Kingdom of the Furthest Fade trembled when his airborne hosts swept across them to do battle; the hills and forests quaked and shook when his earthbound armies leapt forth to strike down darkfeighd.

Wherever the name of Brentylwith was whispered on faerie lips, whether in the farthest east of the Veil or the most distant west, it was uttered only with wonder and awe – and no small degree of joy! Even the winds that carried his name and his glories to the ears of Roisin Magnolia gushed his name and deeds most lovingly into the Little god’s ear. In that manner hearing of his great exploits and defence of the Veil, Roisin Magnolia was pleased with Brentylwith the King. While never overhasty, she did not delay long before sending for him to attend to her at court; hearing the summons of the High Queen, Brentylwith forthwith called several of his Eshgaebars to him and rushed to Taramanca on nine wings of gales and tempestuous storms and clouds.

When he arrived, the great walls of the Highholt of Taramanca reared up behind the Sweet River Rois. Unlike any time before, however, the gates of the Highholt of Taramanca lay open and a bridge of rainbows and mournful keening led the way across the river. Flanked by six of his Eshgaebars, who commanded divisions and regiments in his great marcher armies and who were themselves lesser lords of lesser courts in the Kingdom of the Furthest Fade, Brentylwith was the very image of confidence and easy command. His face left little mystery as to why he had arisen to kingship; a mere look upon his countenance caused the hearts of lesser fae to quicken and for there to remain little desire in them but his pleasure.

Brentylwith the King, Great Marcher Feighdlord of the Kingdom of the Furthest Fade, Pale Watchfeighd of the Gate

Beyond the wall, the palace of the High Queen spread out like a reclining nymph embossed in gold, precious stones, and winding vines of jewellery and silks. Rainbows tremored wherever the eye fell, fountains gushed with water and dew and honey. Streams flowed about the fountains, but the waters of the fountains themselves gushed forth from unseen subterranean rivulets. To breathe here was bliss. The king and his Eshgaebars ascended ten marble steps from the palace gardens, then up beyond oaken doors engraved with silver and gold and embellished with rubies and sapphires and emeralds. Runes were carved into them out of running water and dew so that the great gates seemed to ripple and flow with liquid life. A great chamber opened before them. It was domed and pillared just as beautifully and intricately as the gate. The eye did not fall on anything in that chamber except that it was a testament to beauty. The pillars, the carved walls, the vaults, the calligraphy spreading like so many vines across the wall-tiles, the domes whose tiles were arranged in such a stellated pattern that one who gazed upward felt on the cusp of being swallowed by an endless night sky aglow with stars.

The chamber narrowed as they walked across it and eventually led into a wide hallway whose high ceiling extended seamlessly from the great fore-chamber. The hallway was likely equally beautiful, but it was exceptionally dark. So dark, in fact, that Brentylwith could barely see a handspan in any direction. He could only hear his Eshgaebars about him and the constant rapping of their ornate wooden battle-staffs against the stone below. Those staffs were so sharpened by glamours that one who saw them in the light would have been forgiven to mistake them for spears rather than the instruments of terrible magick that they were, but in the darkness not even their shape could be gleaned.

Though Brentylwith slowed in those shadows, he pressed on unwaveringly. Just as he began to think that there would be no end to the great dark hallway, they entered an ever-darker antechamber with a quick succession of sharp twists and turns. Abruptly, they emerged into a great courtroom ablaze with resplendent light. The king and his commanders stood awestruck by the sudden luminescence, the very heart of which was the veiled High Queen upon her high throne. Though everything in that miraculous chamber of immense size glittered and throbbed with life, exquisiteness, and beauty, and though the pillars were shaped and carved in ways inconceivable to the eye, its walls painted and embossed in manners of incomprehensible magnificence and art, its carpets, its floor, its mosaics- all seemed incarnations of beauty- and yet despite all that, or perhaps because of all that, the veiled god at the centre of it all seemed ever the more lovely, ever the more bright, ever the more resplendent on her throne of gems weaved into gold weaved into silks and damasks weaved into a spell of splendour and a word of wisdom and an art of arresting allure. Brentylwith the King and his Eshgaebars could do nothing but fall to their knees in worship and press their heads to the floor; even veiled was the Little god of the Little Things near enough impossible to behold!

By glamours and arts beyond the knowledge of even a mighty king of faeries was Brentylwith brought before the high throne. He whimpered at Roisin Magnolia’s feet and thought the utter ecstasy and bliss of her presence would burst his very soul asunder. “Oh! My queen! Lady of my days and lady of my nights; lady of my twilight hours and lady of my dawn! Oh, how my heart throbs- oh what impossible pain and ceaseless bliss!” He brought his head so it rested at her feet, though those could not be seen beneath her great skirt, and he kissed the ethereal carpet there and the azure hemline of her dress. Her voice then caressed the air and flitted softly around his ears. “Is it what you see that causes your tongue to gush so, Brentylwith?” She asked him. His response was swift. “Your beauty knows no beginning and has no end, my queen!” There was a brief silence in the wake of his declaration. “What beauty have you seen, Brentylwith? I am veiled from your eyes and the eyes of all.” Came her soft, slow response. Brentylwith was at a loss for words, felt his throat clamp up and his heart hammer in fear- fear that he had somehow come short of speaking what best pleased her. “I… I…” he stuttered, “if my eyes lie to me, my lady, then certainly not my heart, certainly not my flesh- oh it does not lie! It has known a beauty neither of fine colour nor long eyelash nor pencilled brow, but of meaning, of movement, of radiance. ‘Tis a beauty unseeable though bright- a loveliness beyond the realm of sight! It is not artifice, no glam’rous word or art! The heart’s its home and ‘tis known only by the heart!”

The High Queen allowed his words to fill the great hall and saturate every corner… then she gently stood. “A beauty of the heart- and what is the beauty the eye regards without that beheld in the heart? Can the cruellest heart give beauty’s warmth to the eyes? Is’t not the light of kindness that shines so luminescent on the smiling lip of the beauteous? Is it not righteousness, goodness, compassionateness – aye all the virtues of the beautiful heart! – that shines on the countenance of those we deem beautiful? Does not the cruel heart twist the face of those who, upon an erring first glance, seem to us cloaked in beauty?” Her voice quaked and cantillated with such passionate tones that Brentylwith could not keep himself from trembling, his heart growing in his chest and a veritable forest fire raging there. “Oh, have mercy – beauty of beauties, star of stars, moon of moons! The fragile hearts of those such as I have no capacity for the beauty and passions you speak- the cup overflows and the world into which it overflows bursts!” Though the fire in his chest did not subside, Roisin Magnolia ceased speaking for a time.

Then her voice returned- lower this time, lighter on the love-maddened heart. “You have spoken of beauty, Brentylwith the King, with the tongue of one who bears a beautiful heart. With your beautiful heart- heart of courage, of going forth, of perseverance, of warding off tyranny and oppression, aye with a heart of justice and virtue- have you united the feighdfulc of the Kingdom of the Furthest Fade and led them against the terrors of Hylsek Adech’s darkfeighd at the Gate. Thus purifying your heart, you ennobled yourself; now you are made noble in the eyes of your queen and before the eyes of all. Arise Brentylwith and receive what I bequeath to you,” silken glamours raised Brentylwith to his feet and at his side a great horn appeared, “it is the Heart-horn; with beauteous heart, purified of all ugliness, blow into it and let all upon whom it sounds be beautified, purified, ennobled.” The king gripped the horn and raised it to his eyes, admiring its sleek symmetry and smoothness. Even as he examined it, the High Queen flicked her Godwand and spoke poesies that carved themselves into the horn; amongst those verses was, Yon lovely visage is a poisoned dart if ‘tis not reflecting beautiful heart. And amongst them too was, What pretty face can bring the youth honour if ‘tis evinced not in deeds and manner?

Taking care not to inadvertently look directly into his queen’s veiled countenance, Brentylwith the King hooked the horn into his belt and bowed low before Roisin Magnolia. “We will sculpt our hearts into monuments to your unencompassed beauty, oh pearl of pearls, jewel of jewels, queen of queens! This I pledge to you: the hearts of the feighdfulc of the Court at the Gate of the Furthest Fade will be most emphatic in their glorification of all things beautiful! At that Gate, and on that final frontline, we will wage war on ugliness more ardently than we war against the darkfeighd!”

It was a pledge Brentylwith the King abided by unswervingly. Many were the kings and queens who arose after him across the Veil. There was Asula the Tyrantfae, that most cruel and ugly Crownedfeighd of the Crowncourt of the Sullylands. There was the fair and resplendent Queem Eirgwyn of the Court of the Windrocks. There was the swift-striking Knightqueen of the Iron Knightcourt, Titania Terrorblade. There was the indomitable Burrowmistress Dichdorka of the Court of the Earthways. There was Hecate too, the Grand Witchfeighd of the Court of the Covenscore; of terrible visage and terrible soul was she! And there were dozens more, each with their endless retinues of vassal-feighdlords who in their own turn lorded over lesser lords of the feighdfulc. But for all the many courts and kingdoms that arose, and for all their expansions and wars in the material and immaterial plains, none had so vast a realm as Brentylwith the King. None had so many vassal-feighdlords or such mighty and numerous armies as he. Most importantly, none had such ardent devotion to the principle of beauty in both substance and form. Rightly did he in time come to be known as the King of Hearts, the Roisinsoul, the Great Marcher Feighdlord of the Court of Beauty All-Ascendant at the Gate of the Furthest Fade.




Longsight and Badboy were received by their gobtrotter comrades with awe. Horntusk, who had managed to successfully escape after drawing the monsters out, could hardly believe it was them. Longsight’s blue eye and tattooed face left no doubt, however, and neither did the weapons they so easily wielded – for in the hands of others they became impossibly heavy. “This is most remarkable!” Songster chirruped, examining their sculpted forms and poking now at Longsight’s calf and now scrambling up Badboy’s shoulder to rub his spectacularly squared jaw. Tentongues, brows in a veritable V-shape, also did not cease from pinching and pulling at their forms. Badboy would have usually brushed them off, mouthing profanities, but on this occasion he stood proudly and flexed his muscles subtly. “Simply.. inconceivable!” Tentongues declared at last. “How did this come to be – what magick, vile or fine, could have done this?” Longsight shrugged and pointed back behind him into the caverns. Songster looked into the darkness, eyes wide, and Tentongues likewise gazed into it with a gleam. “We…” Songster began. “Must go and find it.” Tentongues finished. “We will be remembered…” Songster picked up again. “For ten thousand years,” Tentongues chirruped. “This discovery will never be matched!” Songster squealed, leaping from Badboy’s shoulder and rushing deeper into the cave. A loud screech and rumble had him returned as swiftly as he went, however. “Though that can wait, I’m sure it can wait, yes it can wait.” He stammered to himself, wringing his hands.

Longsight considered the two gobtrotters, deep in thought. Now that he thought about it, it was probably a good idea to secure whatever that pool was. It was not unlikely that the terrible wyvern was sculpted out of it, just as their forms were created inside it. He did not want to think what terrible horrors would emerge from the cavern depths if they did not obtain control of the cave’s interiors at least to the pool’s chamber. And, of course, there was water there too. He glanced at Badboy, and then at Horntusk and Saboteur. We eat, he gestured, then sleep, he added. Tomorrow. Tomorrow was a new day and he would think then. Songster and Tentongues could not bring themselves to cease chattering as all of them ate. Everyone other than Badboy listened good-naturedly, but after some five minutes the fearsome man turned on them, eyes as stone. They never called him Barbtongue after that. “U-uh, D-Deathglare,” Tentongues said, hands raised defensively. He stared at the two for a few moments more. “We- we’ll be quiet,” Songster squeaked, and the two scholars dipped their heads down and ate wordlessly.

That night, Longsight dreamt that he walked through a grotto to the sound of trickling water. Though it was mostly natural, he somehow knew as he walked through its winding tunnels that the ground had been cobbled by human labour. He could hear laughter on the air and thought he now heard laughing nymphs and now felt sylphs about his shoulders – though how he knew what those creatures were he could not tell. He came to a stop in the darkness and looked up to see a statue. A few moments passed, and the statue turned to him. It was bent double, what passed for its back hunched. It groaned under the weight of its deformed body. Its eyes were red and face swollen, but for all that its face was aglow with a certain intelligence and about its mouth – his mouth, for it was a man – was a smile that was only fit for those of cleverness and of wit. “You have come.” The statue said. Longsight cocked his head, frowning. “You… expected me?” He asked. The statue smiled knowingly. “It is good to know you like this. I had grown tired, in truth, of the absolutist you will become.” The statue sighed, then gestured for him to come closer. Longsight did so, and it sat down at the edge of its pedestal. Stone eyes gazed into the one brown eye and one blue of the boy. Aye, for he had reverted to his boyish form, all sculpted muscle was gone. The statue rubbed Longsight’s head affectionately, smiling. “This is not the first time we’ve met and it is not the last. I am sure you have realised, already, that you are not like others. You are a thing of destiny- and I don’t mean to make a narcissist of you in saying that. It is simply the truth, whatever way you cut it.”

Longsight did not think to protest or question the statue’s words. He seemed to be speaking natural truths, things he already knew but had overlooked or not really vocalised. The statue placed a hand on his shoulder. “Listen now,” it said, “being as you are, it will not do for you to be a thoughtless being. You cannot wander aimlessly as the great majority of sapients do, unconcerned with the inner workings of reality, unwilling to truly uncover the truth. Were it so that you were meant to eat, sleep, work, and shit – pardon my French – then you’d not have this,” and he rapped him about the head to indicate his brain. Longsight blinked. “Pardon your wha-” he began, but the statue did not wait for him. He burst suddenly into a deep, resonant chant:

“Say first, of God above, or man below,
What can we reason, but from what we know?
Of man what see we, but his station here,
From which to reason, or to which refer?
Through worlds unnumber’d though the God be known,
‘Tis ours to trace him only in our own.
He, who through vast immensity can pierce,
See worlds on worlds compose one universe,
Observe how system into system runs,
What other planets circle other suns,
What varied being peoples ev’ry star,
May tell why Heav’n has made us as we are.
But of this frame the bearings, and the ties,
The strong connections, nice dependencies,
Gradations just, has thy pervading soul
Look’d through? or can a part contain the whole?
Is the great chain, that draws all to agree,
And drawn supports, upheld by God, or thee?”

Longsight listened in a state of awe and stupor as the statue chanted now in soft tones, like a breeze or ripple, and now rising and surging like a great wind or the crash of waves on cliffs. The meanings washed over him, the words familiar, teasing at the edges of his mind, but immediately foreign.

“Heav’n from all creatures hides the book of fate,
All but the page prescrib’d, their present state:
From brutes what men, from men what spirits know:
Or who could suffer being here below?
The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed today,
Had he thy reason, would he skip and play?
Pleas’d to the last, he crops the flow’ry food,
And licks the hand just rais’d to shed his blood.
Oh blindness to the future! kindly giv’n,
That each may fill the circle mark’d by Heav’n:
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruin hurl’d,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.”

The statue did not cease singing, and after some time it took Longsight up in its arms and he watched as it strained and rocked. Its passions caused its form to tremble and the arms that held him to shake. After chanting and singing for what seemed an age, he suddenly bent forward and began crooning conclusively.

“Cease then, nor order imperfection name:
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.
Know thy own point: This kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heav’n bestows on thee.
Submit.—In this, or any other sphere,
Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear:
Safe in the hand of one disposing pow’r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony, not understood;
All partial evil, universal good:
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.”

The statue ceased at last and looked down at Longsight, who had become a babe in its arms. “Whatever is,” Longsight murmured, “is right?” He looked questioningly at the statue. It smiled. “Aye my boy. Or, as you were so prone to say, and as you will be again soon, ‘Thus was it Fated. So shall it Be.’”

Longsight was awake with the first squeak of morn. He had barely opened his eyes when Badboy too awoke and rose swiftly next to him. The two boys looked at one another bleary-eyed. Then their eyes widened and they leapt to their feet pointing at each other and feeling one another’s faces and shoulders. Their sculpted forms were gone! Badboy stamped and stomped around in frustration then picked up Headsplitter and made to march all on his lonesome into the cavern depths. Longsight caught him by the hand and pulled him back, patting his shoulder to calm him down. While he stopped trying to stomp off on his own, he was in a foul mood all through breakfast and both the goblins and greatgoblins made a point of not drawing his attention. Longsight was deep in thought and did not much notice Badboy stewing in his rage.
For one reason or another, Longsight found he could remember every word and verse that the statue had chanted to him in the dream. He had said, Know thy own point: This kind, this due degree/Of blindness, weakness, Heav’n bestows on thee. His own point? His own purpose, perhaps? But also his limit? To realise his purpose and know his assigned limits. And having understood that, to Submit.—In this, or any other sphere,/Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear:/Safe in the hand of one disposing pow’r. To submit- surrender, embrace his purpose and accept his limits, to realise that all things were in the hands of a force, or being, far more powerful and knowing... and of this was to know that All nature is but art, unknown to thee;/All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;/All discord, harmony, not understood;/All partial evil, universal good. So much was unknown and unknowable to those such as he... and because he could not understand it he perceived that there was good and evil- but the reality, or so the statue poet would have it, was that evil is only observable due to our blindness while those who could truly see- See- saw only universal good. His eyes narrowed in thought and he raised a hand to his blue eye. But was it unknown to him? Was he blind and unable to see? And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,/One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right. He frowned. Whatever is- thus was it Fated- is right- so shall it Be.

Longsight sighed, closed his eyes, and rubbed his temples. When he opened them again, they were fixed on the dark depths of the cave. He looked from Badboy to Horntusk to Saboteur. We go, he signalled, gesturing into the cave, we kill, he drew a finger across his throat, we take! he shook his hands into two fists. The others were still, but when he rose and hefted Bonebreaker, they rose as one with him. Even Songster and Tentongues got up, wringing their hands nervously. Though they were advised to stay, they insisted on coming. “This is a monumental- historical- world-altering discovery! We must document it for future scholars and historians!” They cried, amongst other things. Longsight nodded absentmindedly. Saboteur and Horntusk prepared torches – they had wetted some rags with fat from the beasts slaughtered some days back and then wrapped them around some thick enough wooden branches they had found. The torches in this manner burned longer and brighter.

Making their way into the system, it was not long before they began to hear cries and movement. The first beasts they came across were terribly mauled ones of the humanoid variety that was so populace down here. Some were winged (though their wings were wrecked beyond use) and others were terrestrial. “Aggghhhppppp..” a few moaned on seeing them, though others whimpered and tried to crawl away from the light. They did not seem to be of any danger, and Horntusk confirmed this by noting that they were groaning for help. That did not stop Songster and Tentongues from crying up a fuss. Badboy, for his part, casually bashed in the heads of the beasts as he marched past. After a few minutes of that, Longsight flashed him an annoyed glance and gestured for him to stop. Huffing, the bloodstained lad rolled his eyes and complied. Still, he kicked any beast that happened to be strewn in his path out of the way whenever he could. After some time, the beasts they came across were of the less helpless variety and Longsight gripped Bonebreaker in preparation. When they saw them, however, the beasts did not attempt to attack but scampered away into the caverns, shouting in that foreign tongue of theirs. Longsight glanced at Horntusk for an explanation. “They don’t seem to want to fight- not us, anyway.” Horntusk noted simply.

A movement in the flickering shadows caught Longsight’s eye and he braced himself. A bat-faced monster, completely black, winged, and with rippling muscles, emerged into the light hissing and growling. Badboy stepped forth with a smirk, readying himself to obliterate it. “No, wait,” Songster cried, “it wants to talk!” Badboy paused and partially turned his head towards Longsight, an eyebrow raised. Longsight nodded for him to stand down. “What’s it want to talk about?” Longsight asked Songster. The beast squawked and screeched, and Songster started to translate over its strange speech. “It says their home is defenceless now that their wyvernlord is slain. The rock-eating wyrm, Ak-Gazorm, has not relented from torturing and killing them ever since. It stands over the pool, preventing any one of them from entering the waters and being transformed; without a lord, they have no hope of survival before the other lords and kings of the beasts.” Songster paused for a few seconds as the beast continued its squealing before throwing itself on the earth before Longsight and Badboy. “Uh…” Songster coughed, “it… it places itself at your- but especially your,” he gestured at Badboy, “mercy and pledges itself and its kin to you if you can slay or banish Ak-Gazorm.” Badboy stared at Songster in confusion for a few seconds, and then understanding dawned and his eyes lit up. A smile spread across his face and he stepped towards the beast, which whimpered and attempted to scamper away. But Badboy caught it by one of its ears and brought it close so that his dark brown eyes gazed into its red ones. A silent but electric moment passed between them, and when Badboy released the creature it fell immediately to his feet and grovelled there. He looked back at his companions, and in the flickering darkness he seemed more beast than man. We go, he gestured. Not waiting for a response, he hurried onward and was quickly followed by the batbeast.

As they continued into the depths of the tunnel system, the cavern seemed to swirl with life all about them as beasts crawled or walked before and behind them. It was a swift and solemn march, and soon the sound of their feet and the swarm was overshadowed by the rumbling of the earth and the grating of metal against stone. “Ak-Gazorm,” Songster breathed, “the chamber is ahead of us.” Longsight caught up with Badboy and fell into lockstep with him. Horntusk and Saboteur flanked them, hands on their sword pommels. When they stood at the opening of the chamber, which was considerably larger than when they had run through it the day before, they saw clearly the form of the great iron-clad wyrm as it slid terribly across the rock earth of the chamber. Everywhere rocks and stalagmites had been crushed and the chamber had been completely smoothed, as though by the skilled hands of a thousand labourers. The pool glistened still at the centre of the chamber. Longsight looked at the giant wyrm and gulped, then he placed a hand on Badboy’s shoulder. The other boy glanced back at him and saw the uncertain look in his eyes. How’re we going to do this? Longsight seemed to say. Badboy grinned and shrugged casually. Like we always do. And with that, he leapt into the chamber and the slap of his feet against the smooth stone drew the attention of the wyrm, which screeched and turned on him with fury. Longsight was not too far behind him, Bonebreaker grating the ground in his wake.

Just before the wyrm was upon him, Badboy stopped sprinting, squatted low, and with impossible power lurched upward in a leap that should have been unthinkable for such a small form. The wyrm was so confused by the sudden disappearance of its quarry that it paused. Longsight, however, did not and found himself unable to stop himself from sprinting right into the behemoth’s open mouth. There was a moment of silence as he flopped and rolled over its rock-hard tongue, managed to get to his feet and turn around, and watched with pursed lips as the wyrm’s mouth clamped shut about him. Badboy, atop the wyrm’s head, only realised Longsight’s fate from the cacophony of screams that Songster and Tentongues kicked up. “Timeswooooorn!” Songster wailed. “Eaten, swallowed, consumed! What horror! What terror! Galaxor forgive us, we’ve failed!” He continued. Badboy bashed Headsplitter down into the wyrm’s great armoured head with all his power and might. For all that weapon’s head-splitting prowess, the wyrm’s armour was far too thick and the blow barely left a mark. The wyrm felt it, however, and it reared up shaking its head and, lurching suddenly, launched its head into one of the chamber’s walls. Realising its ploy at the last second, Badboy leapt from its head and felt himself spin and fly slowly through the air. He landed with some six rolls and was then on his feet and running again, Headsplitter spinning like a windmill of death on his fingers. Witnessing his stand against the wyrm, the watching beasts seemed at first awed beyond action. However, a screech rose up among them and a certain energy and zest flowed across the tunnels. Leathery wings beat, feet scampered, claws shrieked against rock, and the beasts swarmed into the chamber to the aid of Badboy, their lord and saviour.

The world rumbled as the wyrm met the horde, and Badboy leapt into the maelstrom and struck with his army. Now the wyrm ripped into the flying synchrony of beasts, now its form crushed those amassing on the chamber ground, now Badboy flew like a spear amongst his airborne squadrons to dole out pain and scars to the wyrm’s face and skull, now he rolled away from its crushing form and wedged Headsplitter between one of its body-plates or another. The stone floor of the great gallery ran with endless rivulets of bileblood that eventually all flowed into the chromatic pool. Badboy lost track of time. His world became one of pure movement- he dodged, rolled, struck, fell back, leapt, swung, lurched, stabbed. Now one of his beasts lifted him so he flew towards the creature’s eye- only for it to wisely close it and swing its head aggressively in his direction, batting him aside. The swarm was quick to cushion his fall and launched him once more towards their behemoth foe. Though he struck courageously and liberally, he might as well have been an ant nibbling at a world-mountain. The wyrm’s armoured head showed little, if any, sign of wear. Headsplitter, however, could not be said to have borne out as well.

Feeling that victory was slipping from them, the beast swarms began to falter. Before Badboy could stop them, they started to break. A small troop gathered about him, grabbed his arms and legs, and flew with him from the cavern. He struggled, but it was of little use – and he was tired anyway. The wyrm, however, had its eyes fixed on him. Even as the chamber disappeared he could see and hear it scraping across the stone. The caverns shook as it started biting and forcing its way up the tunnels after him. When the beasts finally arrived at the cave mouth, they dropped Badboy and the gobtrotters there, then swarmed from the cave screeching and squealing. Badboy punched and kicked whichever ones he could get his hands and feet on and cursed their cowardice. Still, the rumbling did not cease and the growling of the wyrm and the crushing of rock could be heard even now, coming closer and closer. Outside the squeaking and squawking of airborne and terrestrial beasts alike suddenly became more tense and their fear became apparent as they started rushing back into the cave. Horntusk frowned and leapt to the cave mouth, looking out. Badboy joined him, gazing into the sky. In the distance, a great black swarm and many great shapes could be seen. On the cliffs above, terrible monstrosities were amassing. Badboy frowned and Horntusk gulped. “They… they say it is Hylsek Adech, the First Drakhorey, High King of the Drakhorey of the Outer Rim.” Horntusk spoke, his green face somehow ashen. He glanced from the rumbling caverns behind them to the approaching horde outside. “We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Feeling the cave begin to rumble dangerously and the roof above them begin to shake, rocks to fall, Badboy signalled for those around him to escape. They swarmed from the cave and out onto the hillside beyond. Batbeasts flapped desperately above and their strange humanoid kin gathered around Badboy below. It was not long after that the cave mouth exploded and the ironclad wyrm, Ak-Gazorm, emerged under the sky. It had barely emerged before an enormous being, resembling in many ways a lizard (only far more terrible and winged) landed on that hillside. Others like it, also of great size though none larger than the first, landed about it. It roared terror and fury and the heavens were filled with flames. “You have called forth the fury of Hylsek Adech, worms!” It roared in a tongue Badboy immediately understood. “I was there when Roisin Magnolia was the singular flame of skies you will never know! I am the Hickorybane, the great Oakdeath, the Cedarfeller- what are you, fleshlings, to stand before such as I? My claws have brought death to beings whose power you cannot begin to comprehend; my flames scorched the Little god herself! Even now my armies wage war across worldfabrics beyond your imaginings- what! Before me? Before Hylsek Adech you think to stand? Before me?!” His voice was the very essence of interminable fury, his eyes the quintessence of rage. There was none, not even Badboy, who did not quake at the mighty drakhorey’s declaration. Only Ak-Gazorm seemed unfazed. It flailed its terrible head in the sun and roared furies almost as terrible as those of Hylsek Adech. Then the world became a great cacophony of roars as Hylsek Adech announced the coming slaughter and all those drakhorey with him bellowed it too. On the hills all around, the beasts that called Hylsek Adech king roared and growled- and Ak-Gazorm howled and howled and howled.

The battle that ensued was only chaos and death. Wherever Badboy turned he met monstrosities that curdled his very blood. The poor beasts that had declared him lord – weak things in comparison, hardly beasts at all – fell like so many flies before the indomitable terror that was the drakhorey. In his hands Headsplitter weaved, but it was irreparably damaged and with every swing pieces of it flew in ever which way until it was useless in his hands. Even as he let it drop, the form of Ak-Gazorm descended upon the battlefield and scattered death in the ranks of Badboy’s beasts and those of Hylsek Adech alike. “Oh you over-hard, stupid worm!” Hylsek Adech boomed. “I will slice you until you know fear!” And he landed before the great wyrm and set his terrible claws upon. The wyrm ripped into his neck even as Hylsek Adech’s unnatural black teeth closed upon the ironwyrm’s face. Horrid magicks swirled where the drakhorey’s teeth met the wyrm’s armour, and they sank in as though only a thin smearing of butter protected Ak-Gazorm. The mighty wyrm, resplendent crusher of rock though it was, howled in pain. Hylsek Adech reared his head back, dark flames dancing about his mouth and eyes. However, no sooner had he done that when a tiny shape blurred across the air. Hylsek Adech frowned deeply, his nostrils flaring and eyes widening as he attempted to find the unexpected fly. He felt it when Bonebreaker sank into his forehead, and an ear-piercing roar shattered the skies: “You dare!?” Dark flames immediately enveloped Hylsek Adech, and beneath him the trapped Ak-Gazorm cried out in pain as the flames melted its head armour and made charcoal of its brain.

Atop Hylsek Adech’s head, Longsight held tightly onto Bonebreaker, which was still buried into the drakhorey’s forehead. His eyes were a burst of palest blue and his form glowed with the colour. About him, a great cerulean aura licked at Hylsek Adech’s flames so that now the black flames advanced and now the azure energies beat them back. Hefting Bonebreaker, Longsight wrenched it free and, raising it into the air so that the veins of sapphiric magick coursed into the very heart of the war hammer, he brought it down with a resounding boom. Hylsek Adech stumbled back, black eyes widening. “A… mere fleshling,” he breathed. Longsight raised the hammer again, and his voice reverberated through the air – though neither from his throat nor from his tongue. “You have said your part, Hylsek Adech, and now hear me: you think yourself almighty above such as I, but here I am above you- you stumble from my blows and your heart is shaken. A mere fleshling, you say, but that is mere flatulence. Vain are the thousand pacts that move on tongues, unutterably vain! Truth silent stands there in the realm of acts! And here, now, one truth is clear: whatever is, is right. Thus was it Fated. So shall it-” Bonebreaker descended with a terrible blue fury onto Hylsek Adech’s head, “Be!” The blow sent Hylsek Adech falling and flailing backwards, and even as he fell he shook his head with such ferocity that Longsight was forced from his head and landed on the bloodied battlefield. The corpse of Ak-Gazorm was like a great wall above him and quiet had descended on the killing fields.

Longsight retreated swiftly, scanning the field for his comrades. He spotted Badboy first, and they were soon by one another. A few dozen batbeasts swarmed above and terrestrials gathered around them- perhaps seeking safety beside the one who had caused Hylsek Adech to stumble. The gobtrotters soon joined them. Saboteur and Horntusk were beaten and injured, but they seemed far better than Tentongues and Songster who hung limply in their arms. Longsight looked at Horntusk questioningly, but the greatgoblin only looked away sadly. The little gobtrotters were dead. A battlefield such as this was no place for such scholarly folk.

“What is your name, fleshbeast?” Hylsek Adech’s voice arose. “I see it now, how was I blind before? You two…” the form of the First Drakhorey emerged above the corpse of the ironwyrm, “are no mere humans. Your blood has mixed with ours. Your flesh is just as black!” So saying, the drakhorey laughed as though discovering something horribly funny, “oh what little horrors you are! What are we, beasts of the Outer Rim that we are, before abominations such as you? It is good. No, no, I’ll not have you tell me your names – I will tell you.” His black eyes surveyed Badboy first, “hmm, yes. I have known you before… Veztec.” Hylsek Adech almost purred the name. His gaze landed on the two greatgoblins, “and your orcs, of course. Ever unsubtle.” His black eyes rested on Longsight, and a black-toothed smile spread across the drakhorey’s ugly face. “Ah, such bright, hopeful, light-filled eyes. Ahahahah. Savour them while they last, Vowzra!” Rearing back, the drakhorey beat his powerful wings and ascended into the air. “We will meet again, my dear fleshbeasts.” Without another word, he rose into the heavens and his fellow drakhorey rose with him. All across the hillside battlefield Hylsek Adech’s horde retreated.

Longsight stood there, the blue veins of power slowly dwindling and the azure light in his eyes fading. He almost fell, but Badboy caught him and propped him up. They stood there, flanked by their strange new followers, and thought that – on the wind – they could hear whispers. Badboy’s ears pricked up and Longsight’s brows rose. The winds seemed to laughingly coax them with the words: Come and find it, boys. Closing his eyes, Longsight descended to the ground and Badboy crumpled down by him. What in high hell have we gotten ourselves into? Longsight thought. There was no grin on Badboy’s face, and his eyes betrayed that the same thought was on his mind.



Though Longsight was ill for some days, he did not die. Songster and Tentongues were quite proficient in the ways – or rather, theories – of medicine, and so were able to implement some of what they had understood on the boy. Despite the lack of materials, a basic cleaning out of his wounds, meat broth (there was no point wasting all of that perfectly good outer beast meat), and plenty of rest meant he was on his feet within days. It was a rather quick recovery by all means. Tentongues suspected that it had very little to do with the meat broth.

The cave they had found transpired to be quite immense. Badboy and Horntusk had set to exploring it, but it winded almost endlessly and split into multiple tunnels. Horntusk was certain that if they explored deep enough they were bound to find a cavern safer and more suitable for residence than the cave mouth. They did not think it worth searching for such a gallery while Longsight was still ill, however, and so opted to wait for his recovery and see to his command then. Badboy did not heed them much though and continued to venture off on his own into the depths. When Longsight at last awoke, Badboy had not returned for an entire day. It was certainly unusual, but Longsight – perhaps still strained by his illness – paid the matter no heed. He ventured out of the cave with Saboteur and they explored the surrounding area. The cave was nestled in a descending hillside, though not quite at the bottom of the valley. Every nearby crest permitted one a view of the sea on one horizon and the blackwall rearing up against the other. As they trekked the rocky terrain, Saboteur informed him that a few spybats had been spotted over the last few days, though no other beasts were seen. The waterskins the gobtrotters had with them were swiftly emptying and they would need to find a source of water as soon as possible. “I don’t doubt that we’ll find something deep enough in the cave, we’ve just not had a good chance to explore.” The greatgoblin noted.

They returned to the cave several hours later as dusk was setting in. Songster had started a fire and was roasting some meat while Horntusk stood watchfully at the cave entrance. He nodded to them as they passed. Longsight scanned the cave briefly and frowned to find that Badboy was still not back. He turned to Tentongues questioningly, but the gobtrotter simply shrugged. “Barbtongue has yet to return, Timesworn.” Longsight hefted his war hammer and gestured deeper into the cave, clearly desiring they go search for him. Tentongues nodded. “I expected you would wish to go and look for him. You are still weak, however, so let Saboteur go search in your stead. I think you will be better able to join the search in the morning if he is not returned by then.” Longsight considered Tentongues for a few seconds and then, ignoring his words, swept past and gestured for Horntusk to follow. The greatgoblin was swift to, grabbing a branch from the flame to light their way.

They made swift progress through the caverns. Though still ill and worn out from the day of trekking, Longsight was difficult to keep up with. It was not long before they realised that something was moving in the tunnels. Echoes could be heard. Straining their ears, the boy and the greatgoblin made quick progress. On a few occasions they paused, realised they had lost the sound, and doubled back until they found it again. Soon enough they saw a light in the distance and the sounds became louder and louder. Longsight gestured for Horntusk to snuff his torch (which was by this point so short that it was becoming quite untenable to keep alight in all cases) and they approached the light with great caution and silence. Hugging the ground, they found themselves standing where the tunnel very suddenly opened into a great chamber. In the heart of the chamber was a writhing pool of chromatic fluid, though the trickle of what was no doubt water could be heard from further off. It might have well been a subterranean river. Stalagmites rose from the ground, stalactites hung above, and on one such pillar-like edifice hung Badboy, tied by an odd rope that glistened metallically.

But it was not the pool or Badboy that caused them to stare silently into the writhing cavern. It was well-lit, strange fires floating everywhere, and beneath them was a cacophony of beasts – many monstrous, but most taking on grotesque humanoid forms. A glance upward confirmed that amongst the stalactites above hung winged beasts, part monster and part man. The greatest of them all, however, was a wyvern curled up beyond the lake. Longsight swallowed and glanced at Horntusk, who was staring grimly at the scene. There were hundreds of beasts in there, and Badboy hung right in the middle of them all. Longsight crawled away from the chamber’s entrance and, once the two of them were far enough away, they both got up and beat a hasty retreat. Once safe enough away, Longsight stopped and squatted, hand on his chin and brows knotted. Releasing a breath, he rose to his feet and paced up and down before the silent Horntusk. Abruptly, he paused before a crevice in the wall. If he squeezed himself he could just about fit in. And yet it was small and deep enough that one would not have noticed it if they were moving past quickly – as, indeed, they had been earlier.

The boy cocked his head and glanced at Horntusk, tapping the wall of the crevice. He pointed to himself, and then back to the crevice, and then gestured to Horntusk and the distant entrance of the chamber. He leapt up and down in a show of drawing attention to himself and then mimed running. Once done, he looked at Horntusk expectantly. The greatgoblin raised an eyebrow and shrugged in confusion. Longsight rolled his eyes and gestured once more at himself. “You.” Horntusk said, and Longsight nodded and then gestured to the crevice. “Uh, in there?” Longsight nodded vigorously, then pointed at Horntusk. “Me?” Longsight gestured to the light of the cavern. “Go there?” Longsight smiled in satisfaction and then, pointing once more at Horntusk, made a show of jumping up and down and gesturing to himself. “Dance? You want me to dance?” Longsight paused, pursed his lips, and then sighed and nodded. Then he pointed at the chamber. “Dance over there?” Horntusk asked in confusion. Longsight nodded, and then mimed running away once more. “And then run…” Horntusk mused. After a few seconds, realisation dawned. “Ah… you want me to draw them out. To draw attention to myself and then run away…” he paused and looked at the crevice, “and… you will hide in there…” the gears in the greatgoblin’s mind turned once more, “so they don’t see you.” Longsight smiled and nodded, and then pointed at himself and the chamber and mimed himself sneaking towards it. The greatgoblin accepted the plan with a surprising stoicism, despite his rather dangerous assignment.

Hidden away as deep in the crevice as he could put himself, with the spiked butt of his war hammer ready in case he needed to stab his way out, Longsight strained his ears and listened. Before long he heard Horntusk shouting and striking at the cavern’s rock with his blade. It was immediately as though he had poked an immense nest of hornets. The caverns exploded into a fit of noise. Longsight gulped and wondered if he had just killed the greatgoblin – and perhaps himself too. The screams of the beasts overwhelmed any sign of Horntusk, but before long Longsight was just about able to catch his shadow as he sprinted by. Not very long after, a mass of the beasts swept by – entangled in a great mass and slowing themselves down as a result – in their pursuit. He heard them shouting words in that foreign tongue of theirs, but simply kept his eyes peeled in case one inadvertently found the crevice. His hands grew very wet with sweat as the dark flood pressed by, but his heart was hammering and he did not dare change his grip for fear that Bonebreaker would slip and clatter against the rock.

It felt like hours before the last of the beasts finally swept by and there was stillness in the tunnel. He waited for ten heartbeats, frozen in place, and then lurched forward. In a great panic, hep turned and sprinted towards the light. He had no idea how many beasts remained in there and what he was about to face off against, but he did not even consider – for fear that the monsters may at any moment return – to slow down and attempt to sneak in. He flew into the chamber, leaping downwards with his hammer swinging. A shocked humanoid beast looked at him slack-jawed when he landed on firm ground, but its head quickly exploded as Longsight swung Bonebreaker with all his might. A spray of bileblood showered the air and he continued forth with eyes only for Badboy. Monsters shrieked above and shouts sounded from all over the cavern, but it was clear that the number remaining was tiny compared to what had been present before. He dodged and rolled as flying monsters swept by him, twisted from the reach of those attempting to catch him, pierced the skull of a furred snake or worm, he could not quite tell, and was soon at the stalagmite from which Badboy hung. A quick glance upwards confirmed he was awake and grinning. It was a large stalagmite, but Longsight hammered it even as he ran around it while fending off what beasts got too close. It did not take more than three strikes for the seemingly solid structure to crumble, and Badboy descended amongst its ruins. The strange metal rope loosened about him and he picked it up as a makeshift whip. The monsters seemed no longer interested in them, however, but had backed away and were looking deeper into the cavern.

Slowly, Longsight and Badboy turned to look with them. Beyond the chromatic lake, the giant wyvern had awoken. With wide eyes, Longsight nudged Badboy and gestured for him to run. Badboy grabbed his wrist and pointed towards the lake. Frowning, Longsight looked closer and, after a few moments, spotted Headsplitter lying on the ground there. Gritting his teeth, he glanced at Badboy and shook his head. There was no way they could reclaim it. Sadness swept across the other boy’s eyes for a few moments. Then he grinned, released Longsight, and with a sprinting turn flew off towards the pool and his macuahuitl. Longsight felt his heart fall into his stomach. Mouthing a frustrated groan, he leapt after the other boy even as the wyvern roared terrible words and half flew and half waded across the chromatic pool towards them. Longsight watched it approach even as his feet carried him after Badboy and fucking towards it! Even the watching beasts seemed decidedly flabbergasted by the display.

Taking Headsplitter up as the wyvern loomed above him, Badboy raised the weapon and braced himself. Rearing its head back, the monstrosity struck forth. Just before its maw was upon him, however, Longsight hammered into Badboy and both boys went flying into the chromatic pool. And all was silence. The variegated viscous fluid flowed about the two boys, and they sunk into it. Longsight immediately felt – in the very core of his being and in his one blue eye – that the fluid was as abnormal as its appearance had suggested. He could feel it flowing on his skin, over his mouth, into his nose, could feel it tracing over his eyes. It ran through his hair, through the sinews of his flesh. It burned and whispered. Visions flowed over the eye of his mind – fields, forests, blades in a sure hand, magicks harnessed, little strange folk. Grandfathers he had never known and grandchildren he could not comprehend. None of it made any sense, and the burning sensation across his body seeped into his head so that terrible fevers wracked his mind and form.

When he thought that he could no longer bear it and that his form was about to shatter, he broke through the surface and found himself ejected from the pool in a spluttering heap. Badboy was not a moment behind him. Or, at least, he had thought it was Badboy. A glance over revealed a man he had never before seen. He was a veritable wall of rippling muscles, his hair long and wild. His eyes, however, were familiar – they had an all too familiar craziness, his grin too. And, of course, he held in his hand Headsplitter.

Badboy Sculpted Anew

The other boy – well, man – turned to him with equal awe. It was only then that Longsight realised that they were of equal height. A glance down at his own form revealed an equally muscled form of tremendous build. He looked up in shock. The pool – whatever it was – had changed them both!

Longsight Reborn

The growled words of the wyrm drew them from the moment’s surrealness, and they both found themselves instinctively leaping away as it struck down at them once again, this time with a tail. Gripping Bonbreaker with a sure hand, Longsight struck out at the waiting tail. His muscles rippled as the hammer crushed it into the rock. Badboy had already leapt atop the thing as it started moving and, with incredible balance, sliced his way up the tendrilous extremity. The wyvern flapped its wings and screeched in pain, but Badboy was now on its back hacking and swinging. Now he struck at the base of a wing, now at the ridges of its spine, now at its neck. Even as the beast flailed and screamed, he ascended its neck with remarkable – surreal! – dexterity until he was on the monster’s skull. Grinning there, he raised Headsplitter and did what that god-made terror did best. The wyvern, with sundered head, fell to the cavern’s ground and was silent and still.

The commotion in the chamber had clearly drawn the attention of all those beasts that had left, for Longsight could feel the earth rumbling as they returned. The other monsters in the great chamber, however, either stared at them from atop stalagmites or from a distance on the ground. Whether they were beastly or humanoid Longsight could see in their eyes that they knew well to fear them. Even so, as the world rumbled and monsters began to stream from the tunnel opening from which Longsight had come, another rumbling – perhaps even greater – came from behind, where a second tunnel opening lead to wherever the trickling flow of water had been heard before. The rumbling grew to such strength that Longsight thought it may well have been an earthquake. He batted monsters aside as the chamber became increasingly crowded and began to weave and carve his way towards the entrance. He had not made much progress before a great roar ripped through the cavern and, turning, he saw a truly enormous iron-grey wyrm tear through the rock and emerge. In fact, it was not only the colour of iron, but seemed to shine as though it was made of metal. It took one look at the monsters gathered all around and began tearing into them with vigour. It was clearly not a friend of theirs.

With Badboy soon by his side, they took the raging chaos around them as an opportunity to make a mad dash for their exit – which, for whatever reason did not seem to be something the outer beasts had yet considered. Bisecting or flattening whatever beasts made the mistake of getting in their way with ease (at one point Badboy swatted one aside but found that it fell dead!) the two men had soon clambered to the tunnel and were sprinting through the darkness. Behind them, the screech of the outer beasts as they battled the great rock-busting wyrm echoed and seemed to shake the foundations of the world.



The WAR of the TREES

Though Allianthé had told her that terrible beasts stalked the southern ranges of Galbar, Roisin Magnolia was to become quite acquainted with those things of terror and fury far sooner than she ever expected – and not at all in the Galbarian south. She entered upon the Veil where, before her coming, all was a mere fog and mist. It was both unmade and unshaped, unknown to the eyes of men or gods. There, in that smoke of first creation, the Little god of the Little Things beheld as her kingdom came into being. Aye, her mere gaze was creation.

Trees irrupted as far as the eye could see – apple trees and pear and all manner of fruiting trees, hazelnuts, great oaks, noble pines, silvered birches, beeches, rowans, hollies, bashful chestnuts, royal sycamores, weeping willows, and much else. Ivies tendrilled up tree trunks and grapes and lianas and other vines yet. And where there was dew, it was of sweetest honey, richest milk, never-intoxicating mead and wine, and ever-pure and cooled water. Plains of colourful flowers sprung where there were no trees. There were rose bushes and rose trees, lilies, daffodils, daisies, buttercups, orchids, and anemones; even in the endless wildwoods the trees shuffled over to make space for beflowered glades and groves. There the trees and flowers greeted one another and danced in the breeze. The wind here was sweet on the nose, refreshing in a manner that no earthly wind could ever be. A single breath would bring health, youth, and longevity even to the most ailing and ancient of mortal husks. Rivers burst forth and lakes, mountains arose and rolling hills. With the rise of such hills and mounts, verdant canyons and valleys shaped themselves into the landscape and many rivers were made to flow through them and mighty waterfalls to thunder. They thundered, those waterfalls, even from the skies, where great green islands decorated the heavens.

Where the Veil met the physical world in the far east, an ocean flooded the earth and waterfalled into the mists of the material realm. In the farthest west, where the Veil met the Astral plane, the Afterworld, and the many realms of the immaterial, another ocean flooded the land and waterfalled into the mists of those immaterial planes. In that sea were islands of magick and marvels, and the coasts were made into mountainous bays and sandy beaches and cliffs and mangrove marshes also. Grottos opened their maws onto the waters and out of them subterranean rivers flowed. Gazing carefully at the mists where the impossible waterfalls of that eastern ocean, marking the final boundary between the material world and the Veil, descended at last, one might have spied birds flying, men fighting, cities bustling, tigers prowling. Strange were the occurrences where worlds meshed and melded. Who could truly tell where one ended and the other began?

Like the Little goddess of the Little Things, the Veil was in all ways a thing of breath-taking beauty. “But surely it shan’t just be called the Veil,” Roisin Magnolia mused to herself as she drifted on the winds and was the singular star of the Veil’s skies, “surely it shall be called many other, more wonderful, things! Surely it shall be called the Land of Youth and the Land of the Young- why, the Land of the Ever-Young! The Land of the Truly Living! And yes, it may be called the Otherland or even the Otherworld. Perhaps those who think it below the waters will name it the Land Beneath the Wave – and why, that is not untrue, for is it not? And those who see it to fade before their eyes will call it simply the Fade- and that too is not untrue, for does it just not fade from the gaze of mortals near enough as soon as they think they spy it? And surely, they will know it also as the Plain of Delight, the Plain of Joy, the Plain of Happiness- aye, the very Plain of Bliss! The Isle of Fruits they’ll call it, the Many-Coloured Place! Oh, what a handsome place it is!- the Fair Land.” She was made breathless by her passionate eruption, which had burst forth from here in a fit of chromatic dust. That dust drifted away into birds of glamorous colours, butterflies and other vibrant insects, vivid fishes, frogs, salamanders, toads, and innumerable small mammals. All were in their way familiar, and yet they were things of glamour and magick unlike anything known to Galbar.

She settled herself atop a great redwood cypress that overshadowed all trees about it, to further take in the majesty of this her kingdom in the immaterial. She did so exactly as she had admired her Throne of Stone, which enthroned her upon her kingdom in the material world. But she had no sooner set to doing this when most unpleasant sounds cracked and wracked the air all around and the ground down below and the seas and lakes and rivers too. Strange growls, roars, hisses, shouts, barks- sounds most frightful indeed! They foretold little but anger and hostility, spoke of endless hunger and endless thirsting – all of which was foreign (nay, impossible!) in this land of wondrousness, bliss, and eternal satiation. The first wave of the creatures rose about her, spitting their venoms and declaring their furies and killing intent with notes most hideous and unmelodious, removed from all harmony. Tails swiped at her and claws, but the goddess flowed from their enmity in a fluorescence of magic, to emerge above the creatures. Yet still they came for her, spiralling from the forests, dashing across the heavens, leaping across the mountains. From every crevice and canyon, from every deep-sea hole, from beneath the earth she had shaped they dug, from the skies they descended. The Veil entire was darkened by the coming of those terrible things. They knew aught of song, only the cacophony of war cries, the whooping of battle delirium, the cackle of cruelty. Interspersed amongst it were words spat in sprays of spittle – words of death, of harvesting, of consumption, of killing; words of hatred and greed and lust- oh horrid words, words of frightfulness and darkness all! Not a song among them, not a fair utterance! And the world darkened against Roisin Magnolia as the beasts of the outer rims of existence coalesced against her.

But if with darkness they came to snuff her out, little did they realise – or perhaps in their greed and haste had forgotten – that she was the self-radiance of herself, the lodestar of all. In that most tenebrous darkness gathered about her, she was a universal flame.

If you do speak, speak well her name;
She is the universal flame!

The Wand of Making and Unmaking leapt upon her fingers and her fingers danced upon her hand. “Songless I’m not- song from me’s begot! Tunes here won’t fall, sing did I when small. Trees with me sing; I heave war and swing!” Her magicks were as thunder, lightning was her art. Words of power she crafted that struck swift as a dart- beasts from her were blasted, their pith split apart! The fell stallions of the monsters baying her name were sundered before her- though most fleet of foot they were, not near as fleet as Roisin Magnolia’s deathcraft. Strange armadas that hewed the very air, most unnatural ships each made of ten thousand agonised screams, were shattered with a sweep of the Godwand.

Most dark were the eyes of the Little god of the Little Things on that aerial battlefield, most blackened her face, most tearful was she. Her tears watered the earth below and, for her weeping, all trees and all flowers and all hills and mountains and canyons and rivers wept! Oh it was a day of great shedding of tears! But for all her grief still she went forth, with regretful thoughts of life-loving Allianthé she advanced, her wand unstayed and her stout heart unstilled. She met an immense scaled beast whose heads were not less than one hundred in number. She pierced it with dark arts and it went up in smoke and screams- she slew it with a word of flaying, slaying, decaying. There rose immediately a fierce host of beasts, a battalion the hundred-heads had commanded with its hundred tongues. With them came a flying salamander with a black forked tongue and a hundred claws. From below emerged a speckled serpent whose head was crested; its form all ridged. In the folds of its flesh and ripples of its skin a hundred souls screeched in torture. Against all of them at once did Roisin Magnolia turn, and she fashioned for them a most harrowing of hexes and most dire of draughts. No sooner had its emerald dusts and grey spray greeted them before they all rose up like so many vapours and were as mists on a fresh morning breeze. She took them with a dread draught of unflying, deep sighing, quick-dying.

And still the monstrosities rushed forth en masse without a care or a worry at those she had felled before. They rushed to claim the Khodexborndotter and her Khodexborn wand. Roisin Magnolia heard their squeals, heard their hungering for the Khodex in her. Not without bravery, she could not deny, they charged forth. No poets were they nor dancers nor singers, but perhaps there was something of the warrior to them- though no honour or nobility that she could tell. They slashed at her, they clawed, great jaws and great teeth reached for her hair, her feet, tore at what they could of her arms. Viciously she swept her wand, now a word of evisceration and now decimation, now one of fading and now of obliteration. And as she did, she reclaimed what of her they had stolen so that her arms were healed, feet mended, and whatever hairs had been torn from her were restored. In waves they fought her and in waves she repulsed them; their darkness struck her from all sides and every direction, and she remained the singular orb of morning, the undying star at the darkest hour of night.

But for all that, a certain energy moved now within the beast host, a certain electric verve. Aye, a gleam shone in their eyes, a glint shone on their grinning teeth. “Your hours are numbered, thing of the worldtome, victory hails us- she bears witness to our triumph!” A lord spoke out from amongst that fell horde, and his words held in them what all that dread host knew in their minds and could in their hearts boast. Roisin Magnolia surveyed them with undaunted eyes but a face most grim; aye hope was here faltering though her eyes did not dim. She raised her wand. The beasts scoffed. “You can have at us as you will, spawn of the all-book, but no measure of ghoulish crafts and eerie arts will avail you. We are the gushing waves of the eternal sea: you are but a lonely and uprooted tree.” It appeared that even such beasts could muster something akin to a war-poet. The goddess raised her wand, and it flashed fury. “I have raised this my wand, this my battle staff- ‘tis raised e’en as you mock on this battle plain and laugh. You say deliverance is taken from me, friendless and alone against an endless enemy. Hear this most triumphant god’s laughing decree; yon green sea of barken hosts rise up and war for me!” And so, she swept her Gramarye-font, her eyes shimmering with glamorous might and something of divine command that brought the wildwoods to rustle in the wind and roots to murmur in the land. The beast horde gave pause and let their gazes wander to the earth. There the trees rustled as though buffeted by great winds and storms, creaked as though tossed by tempests, groaned as though flayed by the elements.

Shattering the sacred pause, beasts threw themselves at the hated Khodexborndottr, hurled themselves that the war may still at last and they may have their prize. But the glamorous arts and magical crafts of the Little god of the Little Things waxed mighty and terrible still; far was the death knell they sought and trumpet call of their greatest victory. With glyphs of grim gore and curses of contemptuous culling she drew whatever life they knew and cast it like rain from their unbreathing forms. She weaved words of draining, waning, raining. Much hope did the beasts place in that desperate assault, with great zest and vigorous earnest they charged- but all was for naught; they could not succeed. Their dark faith came up against the shadowless truth of Roisin Magnolia’s dire visage of deathly beauty and was found deeply wanting. In the wildwoods below matters of weird and eerie glamours were taking hold ever the more strongly, matters that caused bark to ripple to life, trunks to stir, branches to swing and flare.

Shrug off sleep ye trunks and stir
Rise to fight and die for her!

Of the trees that awoke for that most wretched bloodletting on the sacrosanct earth of the Fair Land, the Alder was the first to rise, most eager to march into the fray, foremost of all the trees to strike. By strength and determination did it hold the fore, and beneath its protective magicks were the still-waking trees hidden from the eyes of their foes. Oh, fleet Alder! - battle-witch of the trees! Advancing spear and foremost shield of the tree-kerns! How your battalions harvest the enemy! How your white wood turns to crimson beneath enemy blows!

Slow was Rowan when it awoke, slow too Willow, they dithered delighting in the sight of one another and their hosts were all left behind by those who woke after them. Shame and infamy on tardy Willow and Rowan in the hour they were called!

Blackthorn, having readied its thorns and sharpened its spikes, leapt with much eagerness and zest, like so many packs of wolves, into the chaos. It proved itself the wildwood's great dark crone of war and wounds, and wherever it leapt into the fray shambling dark shadows of most unholy magick were quick to follow. A strong battle-chieftain and death-bringer was Blackthorn and was to all foes a most bitter fruit.

The Thorny Plum was no less willing, for its fury carried it to such battle-madness that it hungered for bloodshed and was soon amassed in unyielding ranks at the fore of the battle with the Alders. On that battle line its cry was that of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity, its song the promise of spring, its fighting a fighting most strong against the encroachment of darkness unto the Plain of Bliss!

There they were joined also by the swift-marching companies of Blackberry brambles and their Medlar comrades; wherever Blackberry struck, its foes were blinded and where Medlar breathed, rot took hold of its victims. They twisted their forms at the fore and went about dispensing much strife on that beast horde that had thought itself unequalled on the Veil’s bloodletting fields.

Oh then, and only then, did the dithering Willows and Rowans stride forth. Though their tardiness was an eternal blot, did they yet make a good account for themselves on the plain of that great bloodletting. The Willows took positions on the hills and, swaying eerily on the breeze, cast forth mighty dreams and illusions that wracked the enemy hordes till they wept bileblood tears; Rowan meanwhile stood guard and manifested glamorous protections and shields about the dreamweaving illusionist of the tree-kerns.

Dogwood awoke with gusto, summoned its warriors and lacerated the beasts. Most noble of that battle’s princes, gallant Dogwood! - gladly and with fervour did it contest the field. There on those killing plains it was the veritable ox of war, bull of battle, lord of the fray! Forever had it been and forevermore would Dogwood remain a proud chief amongst the tribe of the trees.

Then the thorny Rose bush assembled and advanced on that most wrathful of foes, and it carried against the venom of the enemy a blood-drawing venom all its own. It was with battle-eagerness and blood that the Rose bud brightened into such crimsons.

Not to be outdone, the Raspberry determined to take strong action too- no defensive enclosures or palisades did it seek! No care did it have for its own life! It placed its flesh on the quick-shifting battle lines!

Then came the marching bands of Privet and Honeysuckle, the Wild Rose and weaving Woodbine, striding Bramble, and the beauteous Ivy- king of all creepers at the full majesty of its prime! And for all its tenderness did it fiercely go into the fray, oh most majestic Ivy! Aye, as one great host the Privets and the Wild Roses and the Woodbines, and the Brambles, and the Ivies formed a shield most impenetrable and in their very flesh, in their fair buds and eager vines, recorded the great tapestry of that raging war, recorded every sacrifice and noble deed. With them was the sea of terror and surge of fury that is Gorse; aye record it well, for among them was the terror of the slaying fields, giant Gorse.

Cherry came forth in great noise and commotion, its fruiting and unfruiting hosts with it, blaring the trumpet of alarm, directing the trees in the fray, and calling on the slumbering to waken. It mocked and disparaged the enemy with such barbed darts of poesy laced in poisonous magicks. Its abuses were as stones hurled from great pillars, and before the great host of the chanting Cherries foes were brought to shame, to ignominy, and at last too to death.

Poplar, in the very midst of that heavy fighting, warded off the death-strikes of the enemy and endured many a blow. Can they be counted, those Poplar branches felled on that fell day? Can the long-enduring forms be counted that were given over in most noble sacrifice and battle-glory?

And though Birch has a most noble pedigree amongst the trees, ever high-minded and great-intentioned, was it slow to answer the battle call. With great pomp and deliberation did it ready for battle and don its armour- but let it not be thought that it was cowardice or any spinelessness that moved it to such! – nay, it was out of greatness that the Birch battalions lingered, bedecking themselves for that day of days! They wrought madness on the bloodletting fields thereafter, their silvered hands leaving birchen crowns on the heads of all who fell before them.

Most resolute and unswerving were Goldenrod and Almond! They held their lines and did not falter or take so much as one retreating step. Goldenrod, that quick gasher, was the very wound weed of the war in the Veil- and Almond, though foreign to the shores where the battle took it, did not waver for fighting by foreign waves on foreign land.

Then the Fir and Spruce battalions rushed into the struggle, firm of strike most stern on the enemy, unstinting in their charge- they were at the forefront of that day of gore and were the very striding lords of war.

And even in the eyes of the lords of the monstrous horde was Ash esteemed most highly. Alongside the courtly, royal Pine, who had taken its rightful place at the centre of the field and was branch-wrought death on its foes, it directed the roads and routes, ushered the tree-kerns now forth into the fray and now back to rest and recuperate. They covered such retreats with defiance and valour, no being with wings or claws passed them on that day. Long would the lords and kings of outer beasts remember Ash, the lieutenant of the Pines, and its exalted deeds on the bloodletting fields. Aye, they turned aside not a foot or a breadth, but in the heart of the whirling battle-storm stood they.

Yew, who even in wakefulness saw the far-off dreams and visions of great triumph, saw in the shattered foes it swept aside the nascent becoming of those dreams. Most bravely did the far-seer of the trees fight for that vision, most bravely urge its brethren on towards victory.

Hearing it, the Buckthorn – bane of terrible magicks, protector of the weak – came forth with its hosts and cast a spell of harmony about the far-seeing Yew and marched with it even into the deathly heart of the flailing maelstrom.

The venerable Oak was the champion and lord of honour, wisdom, might. It lumbered into the bloodletting and was spattered with much bloodbile; its thick bark was unscathed as it shambled and dashed back and forth along the line of battle, unafraid before the gaze of enemy champions and kings.

As in their wealth and splendour Linden and Aspen were ever out-competing one another, so too on the bloodletting fields did they set out to outshine the other. Aspen veered not a foot, and Linden too did not at all flinch in the toss and heave of the fighting. They slashed the enemy centre, harried the wings, encircled the rear; wherever they met the fury of the enemy-beasts they cut them down. In their fevered rivalry and ambition, they were to be mother and father to many a star-eyed hero.

And Hazel, whose hosts had been dashing in pursuit of a worthy weapon, cried out for Roisin Magnolia to bless them that they may honour her in the fray. Though dark was the face of Roisin Magnolia on that most dreadful day, did she yet spare the Hazels' heartfelt crisis a smile and a flick of her wand. Aye, Hazel was on that day deemed worthy - most worthy! - of bearing the arms of the sovereign on the Throne of Stone. Then it dashed with its battle-bands into the tumult. Nine times did the Hazel battle-bands strike, and they marked wherever they trod as a place of untiring war.

By sea and on every estuary, Beech waxed frightful mighty and excelled in every fighting craft. Resisting the blows of its foes, it dashed deftly into the very heart of the fray and there stood beside Alder and was draped in glory. Thus did Beech flourish on the fighting fields.

Meanwhile Holly, which had on awakening seemed draped in illness and cast over by death, sprouted leaves anew and became verdant and green as it revelled in the knell of battle-cries. In that mad tumult was it most courageous, it put forth spiked wintry leaves that, like spears, drew bileblood from every monstrous maw and claw; it manifested terror and dealt it from its hand.

Hawthorn, already famous amongst its tree-kin, did not laze in the comforts of reputation. Most fiercely it delivered pain and festering wounds, most terribly was it the frightful hag of the plain. In its branches a hundred crows cawed at once, chiding and deriding the beasts Hawthorn struck low even as their caws put the fear of coming death into their souls.

Salute the champion of the tree-kerns, Teak,
The earth and sky all tremble should it speak!

Most skilfully dispensing pestilence from its branches, Whitethorn pressed on even as about it the Vines of battle continued their most bold and unyielding assault. They wove about the foe, did the Vines, and whatever advance the enemy might have thought to make was hampered and brought to failure and destruction by the tendrilous bindings of those Ivies and Lianas and Woodbines. And yet, for all their steadfastness, in that moment Bryony let out a shriek of despair and broke ranks with the other vines. Its hosts burst in broken flurries; many were charred unrecognisably while others made their ailing escape. In their wake Fern too broke and went weeping and flayed from the field! But Bracken, witnessing that shameful display, swelled with fury and went raiding and hounding the enemy where they thought to break through the battle lines. Broom joined it at that most desperate vanguard and was there ploughed into the very earth, trampled into the mud, battered into the rising soil that the enemy may not pass. The churned-up ground, where they wallowed in their wounds, bore eternal witness to that death-battalion’s final stand. Gorse, most luckless Gorse, dashed forth in their support and leapt wildly into that death-affray! There they were gathered, all of them beside one another, and fought on though there seemed but little hope! And though hopeless the stand, Elder stood with them and suffered great sweeping cuts and, at the last, stood burning slowly in all-consuming flames that singed any who came near.

While they laboured there in that place of death-awaiting, Heather the well-famed victor was brought by enchantments and great magicks into the fore. Deft and ever-triumphant Heather, of its host such heathers as the Azaleas and the Rosetrees, was made a mighty standard-bearer at that breach in the battle line. The Gorse witnessed its coming and the Bracken too, and even the churned-up Broom, and all of them knew that the Luck-Bringer had descended among them so that the battle may be turned. Bewitching their foes with shattering glamours, the Heathers called on the line to rally and brooked no cries of pain or any who would dally. And so, the breach was transformed from an ailing attempt at warding off the enemy assault into a full-fledged and full-throated charge and pursuit. Such was the might and fortune-turning of the beauteous Heather and its host.

That was the great turning of the battle entire, for then the mighty Oak – voice like thunder, swift of shout – was among them also. The heavens trembled before it and the earth even as it rushed forth into the fore and led a blazing vanguard. What walls and what battle ranks thought to withstand the host of the Oaks? All worlds trembled at their approach and the very hearts of their foes; thus was Oak, Champion of the Trees, Enemy of the Beasts of the Outer Rim, Striking-Branch of Roisin Magnolia, Great Chief of the Wildwoods, Stout Gatekeeper Against the Foe- many are its titles and names! By its names know it!

In the wake of the Oak hosts came Woad and Borage, brave and inveterate fighters all, and they pushed forth and urged all to strike with them. Fierce were they in the fray, hot on the heels of the Oaken vanguard. Their name was eternalised in the record of that day. With them came the Mistletoe-headed Elm, and the convocation of its hosts cast terror and sickness wherever it strode so that foes fell about them or elsewise fled. And though there was yet courage and heart in their foes, those dread Elms rebuffed all onslaughts – Mistletoe magicks ever-safeguarding their heads – and repulsed with savage stabbings and stern strikes any who thought to breach once more the hole that was now fortified.

In hot pursuit of the enemy, Black Cherry sprung across the field with Pear in lockstep. They wreaked havoc and worked all manner of oppression on the retreating foe. And even as they swiftly advanced, they paused and – to the fright of their still-fleeing enemies – called forth more of their kin for the final push, for the great retreat of the outer beasts from the bliss-kingdom of Roisin Magnolia. Let none say that at force Pear could never excel!

The most blessed Thorn Apple, with all its Apple kind, heeded the call and made an awe-striking advance, made more remarkable by its constancy and unruffled great laugh. With it, in terrifying array indeed, came the surging, sweet-scented Clover crying havoc and much terrible magicks. Though bashful and full of shame, so too was the Chestnut on that day counted among the ranks of the strong fighting trees. And let no mention of that great battle fail to mention the lumbering Sycamore, the venerable Cedar, the colossal Cypress (of whose formidable host were the champions of the tree-kerns; mighty were the Giant Redwood and the Great Sequoia of the Cedar war party). The hardy Camphor immortalised its name in the combat while the Hornbeam hurled horror and discord on its foes. The Nettle Honeyberry twisted terribly on the field – in a manner trees had never been known to twist! – and summoned swift pain on those who withstood it! The holy Woodenbegar cast seeds of fury as it strode into the fighting mass, while the Maidenhair commanded utter calm and sallied forth with those trees and shrubs that had broken earlier in the fray, promising them redemption and renewed fame.

What tree was not there on that day of heroes marking the infamous rout of the folk of the outer rims of existence! The Olive, ancient and stout, wise and as a light against the darkness, was there. It struck them on rock, on hill, on plain; it conducted the hosts of the Olive trees to unceasing war- most peaceful are the Olive trees, that is true, but greater than their peace is their unerring and unflagging justice! With them marched the holy Gourd, shade for every sea-battered castaway and healing for the battle-weary and war-broken. The graceful Date Palm, like a spear with its bedecked head in the heavens, went into the commotion of battle and did not cease from thrashing and bludgeoning the enemy line. And let the Fig not be forgotten, with its host of sacred Figs and Banyans, as well as the Sidr and the Pomegranate - all holy trees, all blessed! And yet their holiness did not stand between them and descending into the raging battle that they may be counted amongst the brave tree-kerns of that apocalyptic confrontation. Amongst those sacred trees marched the flower glades of the Lily and Laburnum in sacred chorus, the Tulsi too and the Agrimony, while on the rivers and the lakes hymned the Sacred Lotus. They chanted a magick of steadiness, readiness, headiness. The Hollyhock intonated vigorously, the Sweet Alison, the Anemone, the Hibiscus. The Tulip also and the Marigold, sister of the Daisies, who also sang their magick and cast their glamours. Aye the Buttercups sang too and the Orchids, and the Narcissus and all its Daffodil kin – though not the Daffotale, for it was not of those who answered the call. Numberless elsewise were the flowers of that great sacred march and chant!

No name was forgotten from the record of the trees that marched when Roisin Magnolia called forth the Wildwoods to arms. The hulking Maple answered and was to be found at the vanguard beside the unflagging Teak and steady Walnut, Hickory firm on their flanks as it hewed beasts asunder in the hallowed name of the Little god of the Little Things. The Acacia marched against Roisin Magnolia’s enemies too, calling forth its Blue Wattles and Thorny Acacias and Winter Thorns and that queen of all Acacias, the Gum Acacia. Not the largest of the trees were they, but most deft, their thorns sharp and their strikes sure. Cavaliers of Roisin Magnolia, they whooped and galloped across the bloodletting fields withstanding the enemy wherever he stood and sealing the breach with great shattering charges wherever a breach emerged. The Sages and the Mints and the Deadnettles all formed the great aromatic entourage of the Acacias- all those Rosemarys and Basils and Marjorams and Thymes and Lavenders and Catnips. They charged with the charging of those gallopers and cast mighty magicks and glamours of victory and heroic advances and immortalisation in the halls of the happy and great.

It was a long fight and an unceasing one too. The battle raged for thirty days, the sun of the Veil rising and setting even as the tug and tumult ground ever on. The Laurel awoke to join that fight of fights, the Saunderswood, the whipping Bamboo. The aromatic Argan and Sandalwood left off their repose and chose to be severe on the foes of Roisin Magnolia. Amongst them glided and writhed the adroit Tamarisk, and for all its age it was the very youth of the battlefield! And the many Ebonies – their visages as dark and furious as those of their goddess, though perhaps not nearly as sad – arrived to pierce the armies of darkness with equally dark darts. Beauteous Mahagony came bearing the arms of agony, and Margosa was no less adept and meticulous in doling out most bitterly torturous deaths to those unfortunate enough to fall in its grasp. What a host was the host of Roisin Magnolia before the advance of the outer beings and their outer gods! What Wenge and Juniper and Engan and Tuliptree and Satisal and Zelkova did not in that millstone of war drink heartily of the bileblood until it was satiated? What Persimmon tree-kern, what Plum and Peach and Apricot and Lychee and Black Mulberry did not add to its arts of magick and glamorous crafts dark hatreds and bitter cruelties? Had Mango known the pleasure of slaughter before? Had Coconut thought its hardness a formidable weapon in the magicks it moulded? What had that sweet Banana or that life-loving Cineraria known of the arts of hurting, despoiling, decimating? Was it in that fighting that the Bael tree’s fruit became a friend to rot and the Malacca’s forget sweetness?

Perhaps only the very queen of the trees, who was but the vicegerent of Roisin Magnolia amongst them, did not. The Magnolia tree, with its flowers of whitest purity, stood as the lodestar of good fortune in that fray, cleaving through the foe and never suffering taint or bileblood upon its sacrosanct form. Most noble was the Magnolia on the killing fields; it was a spell of healing and rest on all who cast their eyes towards it. In its every movement was a love for life, a love for its tree-kin, a nobility unequalled, a dignity in the face of the indignity of such horrid bloodletting. It was an eternal monument to perseverance against the darkness and taint that even in the midst of that terrible battle marked the Wildwoods forever. The Magnolia and its never-tainted hosts were witness to all that, and in their hearts they pledged an oath in glamour, an oath of endurance, eternal joy, good fortune, and purity. The flowers of endurance became yellow, those of joy pink, those of good fortune purple, and those of purity remained white as the snow.

If in battle things impure
Have crept, Magnolia will cure!

When that Great Bloodletting at the Veil - that Battle of the Wildwoods, War of the Trees, Siege of the Fade, and the thousand other names it already had - grew still and the dusk of fighting was upon them, quiet descended across all the regions and ranges of the Veil. Launching her gaze across the hills where the primroses and all the flowers now rested off from their exertions, Roisin Magnolia watched and heard the wrens sing of the final flight of the enemy and their rout at the Gates of the Furthest Fade. They would come again, she knew, though perhaps nevermore in such great numbers, and nevermore would the Fade - in whose folds ten million outer gods reposed to arise once more for the final battle and the end of the world - be truly pure. But aye, until then nevermore would they grow so near to their coveted victory and the satiation of their terrible hunger.

Descending from the heavens where she had doled out dark and frightful magicks, descending low into a canyon and rising again even unto the Holt of Taramanca, the Little god of the Little Things gathered the Wildwoods to her and Glades of the Flowers. They came before her in a chorus of triumphal songs and poesy. They came to her with Glamours of the victory dance and records of their glories. Resplendent and most tearful was Roisin Magnolia on the Holt of Taramanca, and her loyal braves and kerns march on by her, saluting her even as they supped of her tears. Her tears were a flood and on the tongue sweeter than all the dews of the Veil. They flowed down the Holt of Taramanca and encircled it like a moat, and from there flowed on towards the sea. It was known ever after as the Sweet River Rois. Marching before the goddess and taking from her tears a reward for their part in the battle, the tree-kerns whispered glamours into the Holt of Tarmanca so that slowly a throne emerged for their High Queen, and about it a hall suiting her splendour, then about that a palace with four wings and even about that walls like mountains. For aeons thereafter the High Queen remained on her high throne at the Holt of Taramanca, and her name was upon those tree-kerns like a glamour of intense weeping and sadness. Aye, in that land of eternal and unceasing bliss were the tears of Roisin Magnolia such a spell of deadly heartbreak.

But even in their misery, which so gripped the trees and the flowers that they were paralysed with grief and could only wail in the wind and sigh in the sun, their supping on the tears of Roisin Magnolia meant they soon sired the Fair Folk. As shadows were the battles of the ancients to that newborn and joyous race! With light hearts did they receive the tales of that great struggle at the dawn of all things! With laughter did they consider the legends of the millions of dark souls waiting on the battle of the end of the world! They were the happiest folk in existence in the happiest place of all, and their songs of eternal ecstasy and never-ceasing dance filled the Veil. For unknown aeons the High Queen on her High Throne at the Highholt of Taramanca wept and smiled and listened.



For some weeks, they moved about the great cliff and did not camp in any one place for more than a few nights. There was no wind to speak of here, and so whatever cold beset them at night was chased away by a carefully constructed fire. They stuck to crevices and other such nooks and crannies so that the light would not attract unwanted attention during the hours of darkness, and when they tucked in for the night they snuffed it out. They rotated the watch between all six of them over the course of each night, and by the first squeak of dawn they were up and moving.
Longsight had quickly learned that those were not birds chorusing by the light of the sun rising from the great blood sea. His quick eyes had spotted just one such creature as he stood one morning on a rocking overhanging the vast ocean, gazing forlornly as he was wont to do and waiting on the others to join him for the day’s march.

As he gazed, he noticed unexpected movement at the edge of the rock before him and was swift to bring his war hammer up. He had named it Bonebreaker and pitied whatever poor critter was soon to taste it. As it were, the being that sprung suddenly from beyond the rock ledge was not quite the monstrosity he expected. It seemed an odd sort of bat, only more colourful and with great feathery wings. Surveying the strange creature for a few moments, Longsight at last relaxed when he heard it warbling in an imitation of birdsong and even managed a slight smile. It remained there, observing him with its beady eyes until Badboy and the goblins arrived. “We are prepared for the day’s journey, Timesworn.” Songster, who had been known as Fee, said. Longsight glanced at the four goblins – gobtrotters, they had called them in Renev. From their first speech to him they had referred to him only as Timesworn, and to Badboy as Barbtongue. They spoke with a heavy accent that betrayed the heaviness of the language upon them. It was not their native tongue, that was certain.

Casting one last glance at the strange bat-creature, Longsight gestured to the others and they began their trek. They were still in search of a good location to establish themselves more permanently, having so far only found crevices and fissures largely unsuitable as long-term dwellings. It was doubtless that, on a cliff this large, they would eventually find a suitable enough cave. They had not gone more than ten steps when a shrill shriek sounded behind them. Longsight and the others turned swiftly, the two greatgoblins reaching for their weapons and the boys doing the same. The bat-thing had taken flight and was flapping its wings as it approached. Flying right over them, it let out another shriek – this time a succession of sounds that Longsight did not doubt were words. Only, he did not understand them. Saboteur, who had been known as Fo but was dubbed Saboteur by Badboy following his sabotage of their food stocks, leapt forth and swiftly drew and fired his bow.

There like an iron bolt he stood
And shot as only brave ones could

The arrow flew like a shooting star. Yet the screeching bat-creature was nimble and, at the last second, dived so that the arrow whisked past it. Saboteur lowered his bow, eyes narrowed. Tentongues, who had been called Fi, gazed after the creature and eventually spat audibly. “Spy bird. It said we trespass on the land of its master, ‘Hylsek Adech’ – and that this master thirsts for mortal flesh.” Longsight scratched his jaw, his brow set in a deep frown. Finally shrugging his shoulders – for there was very little that could be done about that now – he set off again and the others fell silently in quick lockstep.

By midmorning, they had made considerable progress and no spybirds had been spotted trailing them or on their path. Longsight and the gobtrotters rested a little while Badboy, ever energetic, scouted ahead to see if there were any likely positions where a cave could be found. He returned some quarter of an hour later, breathing heavily and gesticulating frantically while making several grimacing, snarling faces. “Outer beasts?” Horntusk, who was once Fum, asked. Badboy nodded, a grin growing on his face as he gripped Headsplitter. They had not had any encounters since Galaxor had departed, and Badboy had been getting visibly restless. He had taken to bothering and provoking Saboteur. Longsight knew he had not forgiven the greatgoblin for destroying much of the food and ralk tirelessly looted from Galaxor’s enchanted table, and so the greatgoblin became the unfortunate recipient of Badboy’s harassment and pranks. Whenever Longsight thought his fellow Renevit was going too far, he called him out on it with angry snaps of the finger, which afforded Saboteur some reprieve for at least a while. Patient though he was, there was no hiding the greatgoblin’s distinct dislike for ‘Barbtongue’.

“If the outer beasts are in the direction Barbtongue came,” Tentongues spoke up, “then we should try to put as much distance as we can between them and us.” Hearing these words, Badboy’s face darkened and he shook his head. Turning to Longsight, he raised his hand with fingers outstretched - five of them – and hefted Headplitter confidently – we can take them. Tentongues looked at Longsight with pursed lips, though Songster was less successful at hiding the fear in his eyes. While the two greatgoblins were confident fighters, the little gobtrotters had made abundantly clear over the previous days that they preferred to keep away from all that. Looking at Badboy, Longsight shook his head in the negative. Badboy visibly deflated, face drooping in disappointment, and the gobtrotters all turned and began gathering their things. Longsight patted Badboy’s shoulder with a reassuring smile, and the other boy sighed, shrugged with a forced smile, and nodded in understanding.

Ascending the cliff away from the monsters meant they had to negotiate unintuitive paths that saw them eventually venture into a rocky outcropping. The large boulders offered some cover and, though they moved between crags and jutting rock formations with difficulty, they were safe in the knowledge that they were free of being seen. At the very least that was the case for anyone spying for them from below. The screech that ripped through the air, however, was undoubtedly from above. A glance into the sky confirmed that two spybirds were circling above them. Swiftly, Saboteur and Horntusk drew their pre-nocked arrows and fired one after the other. The spybirds squawked but were both ultimately too near to avoid the fast-coming darts, and they fell silently from the heavens. The sounds of roars and growls far below them confirmed, however, that the spybirds had done their part. The party set off once more with renewed urgency.

Badboy kept glancing furtively behind them and between boulders, Headsplitter ever-ready in both hands. Longsight too tightened his grip on Bonebreaker. As they continued their quick ascent through the treacherous terrain, Longsight noted that Songster and Tentongues were struggling. They were small of build even compared to Badboy and him, and the two gobtrotters often had to climb or jump over rocks that the others could simply step across. It therefore came as no surprise to Longsight when one of them – Songster – eventually slipped while climbing and appeared to twist his foot rather badly. Longsight heard no snap, so doubted it was broken. Still, he was unable to walk, let alone attempt to continue manoeuvring the rocks like that. Saboteur glanced to Longsight, and with a nod from the lad he moved across to Songster and picked him up. The little gobtrotter placed his arms about the greatgoblin’s neck, and the party continued.

The growling – as well as shouting in that same foreign tongue, Longsight now realised – was getting ever closer. It was not long before they sighted the first of their pursuers. It was a birdlike humanoid, with the head of a freak raven and wings for arms. Feathers of black and deepest blue covered it from its head until they gave way to tufts as they reached its taloned legs. Seeing them, it croaked and spread its great black wings, leaping easily from rock to rock in its pursuit. Behind it, the other pursuers began to appear in quick succession. Cursing inwardly, Longsight leapt as fast as he safely could over and between the small jutting rocks and followed the others. Horntusk, the biggest of them all and unencumbered, had naturally taken the lead. Arriving by an especially tall stone spire, Longsight quickly clambered atop it – nearly slipping, he managed to hook Bonebreaker’s pick into the stone and pull himself up.

Launching his gaze across the distances, he saw that from where they were was a descent and- his eyes widened and a small smile hovered on his lips. There was no doubt in his mind that those rocks piled one above the other part of the way down hid a by no means small opening. He knew there was no rational reason to think it was anything more than a hovel, barely fit for one person, and yet laying his sight on it filled him with a certain elation and unreasonable hope. No, it was not hope but certainty. Leaping down from the spire, he jumped swiftly – madly! – from rock to rock and took the lead once more, gesturing for everyone to follow and pointing towards their goal.

Their descent was fast and wild, throwing caution to the wind as the monsters slowly but surely gained on them. Before long they could almost feel them snapping at their heels. The cave opening reared open, closer and closer, but Longsight knew they would not make it there before the beasts had caught them. And even if they did, reaching the cave would not rid them of the need to fight. Realising this, he slowed suddenly and turned about. The others made to do the same, but he signalled for Saboteur to keep going and for Tentongues to follow. Pointing to Badboy and Horntusk, he hefted his war hammer and tapped the ground beneath him. Here we stand. Though breathing hard, the two nodded. Badboy even managed a grin.

The croak of the ravenbeast sounded from a near rock, appearing to speak, and the other beasts emerged all about it. “It’s saying that Hylsek Adech orders our surrender,” Horntusk spoke gruffly. “Says that before long he will have arrived.” Even as he translated, Horntusk began to draw a nocked arrow. Setting his jaw, Longsight stood his ground and hefted Bonebreaker now this way and now that. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Badboy taking a forward position. He did not need to see his friend’s face to know he was grinning like an absolute maniac. Seeing them take a stand, the ravenbeast guffawed and screamed some words. Immediately the other four beasts sprung forward. They were large, terrible things, not very far in appearance from some of the beings that had ravaged Renev. Two of them were quadrupeds, one like a great black daemonic cat and the other a thing of hair and teeth and horns that had little relation to any animal Longsight had ever known. The other two were two bipedal monstrosities, like giant freak monkeys. They may well have been twins, only that one was smaller and the other larger – the largest of the four in fact.

Without hesitation, Badboy raised Headsplitter, gesticulated at the biggest of the monstrosities, and dashed forth. The monster scoffed, growling something under its breath, and seemed to accept his challenge. “I’ll take its brother,” Horntusk said, firing off an arrow at the small biped, which caught it in the torso but hardly seemed to faze it. Without pause, the greatgoblin fired more in quick succession. Though he had a blade at his side, Horntusk kept his distance as his opponent charged, continuing to pepper it with arrows from afar for as long as possible. That left the quadrupeds, which appeared in all ways more bestial. They prowled towards Longsight together, circling around him even as he backed away to prevent them from completely encircling him. Before they could take the offensive, Longsight chose to surge towards the terrible black cat. He swung his pick with savage force and fury, hoping to cleave right through its head and be done with it. The beast was fast, however, and managed to rear up just in time and swat at him with its massive claws. Just about managing to change his mad sweep into an upward swing, he met its paw with Bonebreaker’s vicious pick. Bile-like blood exploded in every which way, and the beast roared its pain and rage into the heavens and turned swiftly in partial flight.

Not bothering to chase the wounded creature, he turned to the second beast and found it fast approaching. Falling to one knee, he steadied Bonebreaker, cocked his arm, and locked his gaze on its wide-open maw and the uncountable razor teeth bearing down on him. His intention had been to swing with all his might at the last second, but as it descended upon him he knew that would be tantamount to suicide. Turning his body ever so slightly, he threw himself into the side-roll of his life. The beast passed him, and his pick flailed for it – but he had rolled too hard and too far. As the thing turned back towards him, he heard a growl at his back that caused the hairs at the nape of his neck to rapidly straighten. He lurched forward with all he had in strength just as the ground he had been on was sundered by the descending claws of the catbeast. Gathering himself up at speed, Longsight turned – heaving Bonebreaker – and flung it with all he had of power so that it spun like an impossible wheel towards the cat. Too fast and far from anything it had likely expected in its bestial mind, the hammer caught it right in the face, leaving it unrecognisable. It remained standing, as though not realising it was dead, for a while before at last crumpling forward and stilling.

Not waiting, Longsight threw himself forward to retrieve his weapon. He had not taken four steps when the other was upon him, its branch-like horns catching him by the torso, knocking the breath out of him, and flinging him high into the air. He landed in a heap, and with no more air to be knocked out of him felt blood spittle and leak from his mouth and nose. The world swirled about him. There was no air and he could not even groan at the pain that wracked his lungs and limbs. The beast sauntered up to him, knowing its victory and, as more cruel-natured predators were wont to do, wished to toy with him a little before it finished the job. Longsight forced his body to move against the pain and turned onto his back. The beast’s tail thwacked him and sent him reeling onto his side. Dizziness overcame him and he struggled to rise once again, but a blow from the beast’s paw sent him rolling once more.

As the beast approached again, he gurgled and his hands spasmed as he attempted against his body's protestations to move, but there was nothing. As it brought its head near, he heard shouts across the foggy distance of his mind. An arrow then appeared with sudden speed in the beast’s eye. It leapt back and shrieked in pain, but before it could lash out another arrow caught it in the shoulder and then Badboy’s form was over Longsight. His brown eyes glinted in the sunlight, bileblood coated him from head to toe, and the grin plastered on his face spoke of battle-dementedness. Without any concern for himself, he rushed forth towards the flailing monstrosity, swinging Headsplitter as though it were some sling above him. The beast surged towards its new challenger, but the impossible blade had already descended like thunder. The form of the beast parted before Badboy. Head, spine, torso; they fell this way and that before him as though little more than pulp. Above them, the ravenbeast circled, croaking and raging as arrows missed it, and soon it had turned about and was flying away from the field of battle.

Badboy turned back and ambled towards Longsight, then crouched by him and idly poked his cheek. The crumpled lad managed a slight nod and smile to assure his friend that he was fine. Even as he did so, big steady arms were scooping him up and the last he remembered before he surrendered to darkness was the jaw of Saboteur against the pale blue sky.






Within the Tree of Life, all was darkness. A legion of spiders skittered silently about, maintaining the ever expanding webs within. The forms of helpless mortals, long since dead, were trapped in it still, like macabre offerings. At the centre of the giant hall, though none would well be able to see in that tenebrous darkness, were two shapes. One was a large cocoon containing the very embodiment of life, mortally wounded but still clutching the Jade Sphere that had slowed down the great Outer Beast. Below it was the untouched stone within which was enthroned the Khodex above which Sylia’s gifted crown floated.

Tenebrous silence and stillness had reigned in the great hall of the Khodex for long. Yet, it was never the purpose of the Khodex - that enigmatic and little-known purpose in the impossible mind of the world-tome - to rot in darkness away. And though the silence and stillness weighed heavily on that great hall, to the keen ear and sharp eye all was not as it seemed. There was a gentle pulse in the air, a ripple through the living bark of the Tree of Life. Its branches swayed as though billowed by winds, though not a breath swept over Arbor. In the great hall of the stone wherein the Khodex was enthroned, such power and mystery gathered as would strike terror into the hearts of the hundred million outer beasts and gods that sought after the world-tome. It gathered oh so slowly, wisped in the still air about the stone and curled about the webs the spiders had woven. Those unfathomable energies only concentrated around the stone as their tendrils stretched further and further away so that even through the highest branches of the Tree of Life they emanated and drifted and twisted and turned and twirled. Yet who has eyes for those dazzling glamours? What sight could penetrate the veil of the unseen to behold the unknowable colours of the coming god? For it was a god that pulsed through the bark, a god that reverberated through Arbor and the veins of the multitudes who called it their home.

Converging and coagulating about the stone, the energies seemed suddenly a stone about the stone! Full to bursting, there seemed nowhere left for those coalescing arcane powers to go. The Khodex stone within that impossible mass seemed weighed down and ready to crack- but at the last moment, when it seemed an inevitable thing, the force imploded in onto itself and suddenly surged upwards, sweeping the Divinium crown with them. The tendrils of pure magick were whipped back, whirling and twirling all the way, concentrating above the stone until at last they ossified into the form of the Little god of the Little Things. Stood upon the stone of the Khodex that had birthed her, she was crowned upon that world throne.

“Wow,” she whispered. The great hall was alight with her splendour and all about the webs melted away. The spiders, beholding her glory, cried out in adoration. Such was the ardour of their very sudden, very deep, and very great love that their hearts beating hearts could not very long comprehend it and- like the webs before- they burst in on themselves so that hearts and spiders alike melted away and floated into stardust away. This went unnoticed by the newly risen goddess, however, who floated up and, with a flick of her wand and a bursting of her most sweet and symphonious voice, had conjured a great bed, deepest mahogany in colour though it was made not of wood but of the unknowable magicks of the Little god of the Little Things. The resting goddess of life, now without the protection of her cocoon, was gently gathered up and, with loving gentleness, placed onto the bed. A roof came into shape atop the beds four posts, and from it descended curtains that, in later times, would be echoed by damask and silk brocade. Through it all, the voice of the Khodexborn daughter sounded as a most melodious symphony, immediately producing harmonious polyphonies of music and song; and in her song was;

Yet so pleasing the pain is so soft as the dart,
That at once it both wounds me and tickles my heart

Allianthé did not awaken gently. When a million flickering lights vanished she stirred. Yet she was still so weak and her wound had only just begun to heal. She clutched the Jade Orb, unsure if the ravenous horse-like Outer Beast still existed. It was hard to see whomever had slain so many in just one fell moment. The goddess of life felt the aura of impossible beauty. If she gave in, she would yearn for it and then cry out. But life did not always need to be beautiful. “You- what are you?” She asked. An assassin? A messenger? The little goddess, drifting inside emanations within emanations of seraphic beauty, let off a smile of celestial perfection and hushed the other goddess softly. “There now,” she whispered songfully, “you’ve no need for fear, my lovely, you’ll be well in time. I’ve just tucked you safely, into bed, away.” A little silken hand brushed Allianthé’s head, and the other goddess shushed her tenderly and bid her not exert herself. If this had happened before she would have gladly laid down and rested. She still felt so sick and strange.

Despite how she felt, Allianthé did not listen. “I thank you for your kindness but I have a duty to fulfil.” She said as she floated up from the bed. It took a toll on her. The fingers on her right hand were already blackening with death. That loathful necessity. “I must protect life, and you- I think you may have slaughtered a million little lives just now. So I will have my answer.” As Allianthé rose, the Little god drifted around her head, now by this ear and now by that. “Why, whatever could you mean?” She hymned. “Surely you’re mistaken, I would never do such a thing! Is your illness fuddling your mind?” The Little god placed a hand on Allianthé’s head as though to check.

Was it a lie, or delusion? Either way, it made Allianthé apprehensive of this new divine. She carefully moved the Khodexdaugther’s hand away from her forehead. “I am not mistaken.” She said resolutely. A million tiny lives were extinguished. That is not something she would mistakenly feel. “Perhaps you should turn your worry to yourself for a moment?” The goddess of life suggested in earnest. The little becrowned goddess was taken aback. She drifted away from the other goddess, her countenance a veritable monument to pensiveness. “If you say that, and you are certain of it… and it is not some false vision wrought by your illness, then it must be true and I must accept it.” She looked around the great hall, empty now but for them, the bed, and the Khodex in the stone. “And if it is true, for I have no reason to believe you would deceive me, then you must believe me also when I say this: it was not I who did it, and if it was then it was simply a most terrible, egregious mistake - for which I will not hesitate at all to atone in whatever way you judge most just and correct.”

The goddess of life immediately eased up. She lamented the death of so many dear little lives, of course, but there seemed to have been no ill intent to it. “I’m afraid that I must insist that it was you.” Allianthé said. “But life is very fleeting. That was my mistake. I never envisioned an end. Alas, I’ll mourn the death of the million spiders but you don’t need to atone. Instead I’d wish to make a request.” Her mind was already thinking about the grander consequences. It would seem that this little goddess had an aura that could be very harmful, and very dangerous, should she step foot outside. “Beyond this place, beyond this tree, are a lot of living creatures very dear to me. Each of them with thousands of tiny duties they must fulfil for the good of all life. Your presence, it would seem, is just too much for regular mortals. It’s a shame to ask, truly, but I still wish to ask it of you: could you somehow lessen the effect you have on others?”

The Little goddess listened to Allianthé’s words with utmost care, and the revelation that she was lethal to mortals stunned her. Her beauty and splendour? Her countenance of unrelenting kindness and hand of never-ceasing generosity? Had she a heart for such callousness, a hand for such abuse, a mind that could so much as conceive or comprehend of doing such frightful things? “That…” her voice came as a heartrending dirge, “that cannot…” her eyes were wide, wet, though no tears fell but fluttering winged magicks and moaning stardust, “cannot be.” She turned away in a fit of golden dust and a great mirror formed before her. She tearfully studied her features of empyrean loveliness and, deep in her heart, knew that what the other goddess had spoken was true. Her beauty was indeed such that no mortal heart could ever hope to withstand it. The mirror wilted away and the Little goddess turned back to Allianthé. “You… you are correct. It was… it was me.” She drifted downward in a winding droop until she landed on the barken floor and fell to her knees, her large dress rustling and gathering up around her. “Such loveliness… all that I am… denied under the sun… denied to mortal eyes.” Her tears of golden dust and fluttering magicks streamed ever more forcefully and rose up around her face and circumambulated her crowned head.

Allianthé’s heart broke. She flew down and hugged the newly encountered goddess to her - or as much as she could given the little goddess’ tiny size. “It’s alright.” She said, while gently stroking the little goddess’ hair. “I-I’m working hard to make sure mortal eyes can see you completely one day.” Or rather, they wouldn’t be able to die because of it. “Life is just a little… fragile. I’m sure you can go out a little veiled and still be the most beautiful creature here on Galbar.” But the goddess did deeply hope this new divine would be willing to veil herself at least slightly. Visibly comforted, the Little goddess smiled and about her the magicks beamed and were as warmth and sunshine once more - not the cruel sunshine of Itzal, but another sunshine that would have been never known but for that moment and that smile. “Yes, a veil. You’re right, that would be best.” And through the happy sunshine of that smile, some wintry sadness echoed before the Little god of the Little Things drifted from the life goddess’ hands. She raised her wand into the air and brought her magicks - such wondrous magicks and glamours, such whirling lights and delights, such mystical apparitions of joy and just a little fright! - and she spoke a word of power that grew suddenly and diffused the expanse of the hall. She paused suddenly, though, as though remembering something, and turned back towards Allianthé. “Oh and… I’m sorry that life must do that. That it must die, I mean. It’s a terrible thing for me to think of; I can only imagine how it must be for you.” She sighed sadly, her breath emerging the rosy hue of broken hearts. “I do hope, though, despite all the pain it brings, that you are able to forgive those who transgress against you just as easily as you forgave me.” She smiled at Allianthé. “There will be those who do not - cannot, perhaps - apologise. Cannot see the hurt they cause. I wish never to be like that! And I wish, too, and hope, that you also will never be - that you will remain eternally like this: Allianthé of the All-Forgiving Heart.”

It was probably unwillingly - hopefully. But those last words hit Allianthé hard. Already she was compromising. She hid her right hand’s blackened, deadened fingers away. As if this new goddess wouldn’t feel the taint on her essence. Yet Allianthé conjured a smile. “You’re too kind.” With those words she banished her own insecurities. “Oh but forgive me! We have skipped such an important part. My name is Allianthé, goddess of magic. It’s a pleasure to meet you-” She held out her left hand, leaving the space in the room and the conversation open for the little veiled goddess. Cocking her head to the side, the Little god gave Allianthé a bemused look, before a sudden realisation dawned and sparkled vividly in her eyes. “But of course! How would you know me,” she warbled. Breaking the great conjuring and channelling of her magics, she soared towards Allianthé and, twirling once in the air, curtsied most deeply and placed a little hand on one of the goddess’ extended fingers. “Most lovely Allianthé, of vivacious life that - for all the forces of cessation in the world! - spurts forth ever more strongly, undeterred and untired; who has but little time for petty rage and feuds, for in her heart is but the love of life and desire to see it, against all the odds, again and again bloom! I greet you with the greeting of love, drawing as I do from the eternal font of generosity and loving-kindness: never hesitate to call on me, for I will certainly hear all those whom I love and who love me; call simply the name of Roisin Magnolia and I shall be at your side.”

“Well in that case.” Allianthé said with a bright smile. “Roisin Magnolia!” She bellowed for the whole Tree. Roisin Magnolia surged upward with the sound, surprised, but certainly seemed to hover to attention. For a moment, Allianthé allowed the world to return to calmness again. “I do have two requests of you, if either are not too much trouble of course.” She followed up with a much calmer tone. “For one, I made this Tree for a specific purpose: to house the venerable Khodex.” She motioned at its black, stone cocoon. “And to teach mortalkind about us: the Divine.” She then motioned at the alcoves, of which only two were filled. “I’d ask you to place a representation. So when the Tree opens again, all can learn about you. There is also the matter of Arbor. The city outside of the Tree. I ask the divine to grant it a boon. So it may become a splendid city and a representation of unity of all the divine! What do you think, Roisin Magnolia?” With a smile, the Little god of the Little Things responded: “You are granted all you ask, my dearest Allianthé - even where my heart of the most ungenerous sort (and it isn’t!) still would I not have rejected you.”

Without skipping a beat, the Little god of the Little Things danced upwards in swirl of gold and magick, humming a tune and nodding her head to the melody as she merrily flicked her magicks and unfathomable arts into being. With skilful sweeps of her arms and turns of her divine form, delicate whisks and dabs and strokes of her wand - such subtle and swift movements and dazzling manoeuvres that the eye could do little but behold them with awed delight and reverential wonder.

With the adroit poise of a veritable master of her craft, Roisin Magnolia weaved the glamorous powers of her very essence and, weaving it about her like a whirlpool and before her like a waterfall and above her like so many stars and below her like the flow of thundering rivers into the ocean and behind her like the thousand wings of of the wind- she surged forth and, with a fluid swish and a hymn of great power, projected all those energies onto the alcove where they formed into a seven-inch life-sized levitating effigy of the Little god of the Little Things. Her form was adorned in a great flowing dress of pastel blues and whites boasting a large ball gown skirt with swirling swags. Flowing over it all was a sprawling cape of brocaded sheer silk, while her hair was veiled with a wimple of white damask atop of which rested an analogue of Divinium crown. Draping down over her face entire was a veil of white and gold silk brocade that prevented even this mere echo of her splendour from lancing the hearts of onlookers. Her hands came together at her navel, where they were both restively clasped about a representation of her wand. The magics swirled about the effigy, giving it a certain vivacity.

Satisfied, Roisin Magnolia turned and fluttered away, sprinkling golden and blue magicks in her wake until she came to rest upon the Khodex stone. There she once again flicked her wand and brought such magickal arts and mysteries to bear as caused an image of the city of Arbor to manifest itself before her. Sweeping her wand over the city, she poured such magicks into its epicentre that the piled up - bright and golden - about the base of the Great Tree. There, those magicks ossified and the tree rose up. The world about them rumbled and reverberated every so gently. The tree rose until, when it came to a stop, it was firmly rooted atop a knoll of not inconsiderable size. Entryways unknowable but to those who walked the ways of glamour glowed all over the hill, and it hummed with silent magicks and whispered of pathways and winding routes and gifts and delights. With a flick of her wand, the vision of the city dissipated and Roisin Magnolia ascended from her Throne of Stone and neared Allianthé once more. “It is done, loveliest Allianthé. I have enthroned the Great Tree upon a worthy throne. Perhaps the people of this magnificent city will, if their eyes are open to these my glamorous arts, find paths by which to know the heart of this treethrone, whose name is the Siardha. But if they cannot, still let them know that I have graced them to be the custodians of this greatest of sacred places; in honouring it they honour the Little god of the Little Things and I shall with them be pleased so that my magicks drift ever in their favour.” The Little god beamed as the harmonious strain of her voice echoed into silence away.

“This is truly the most lovely of gifts!” Said Allianthé as she felt the glamorous presence beneath her feet now. “You have my thanks, Roisin Magnolia. I do not forget those who are kind and helpful. If there is ever anything I or my creations can do for you, please do not hesitate to call upon me.” For a moment Allianthé felt true joy. It was enough to make her forget her fight and her own illness. Reality soon reminded her, as drops of holy ichor began to fall from her newly opened wound.

The goddess of life floated up again. “Apologies.” She said. “It would seem that I’m not yet well. Worry not. I have a mortal prophet just beyond the Tree of Life. She’ll preach your existence to Arbor. I am certain that Arbor will embrace your glamorous arts with the proper reverence.” She softly landed upon the bed that Roisin Magnolia had made for her. Already her mind was drifting into the world at large. “Roisin..” Her corporeal body was slowing. “A finally.. warning.” Her words became labours. “There are.. monsters.. In the South. Beasts that.. Kill and slaughter. You and yours; be safe.”

Allianthé did not pass out. Instead most of her essence and presence of mind slipped from her wounded, corporeal form into life and the living all around. With concern, the Little god swept her wand so that the form of the life goddess was laid onto the bed and her form covered. She observed her thoughtfully for a few moments, and then with a flick of her wand the curtains of the great bed descended so that the recovering goddess of life could rest in warmth and darkness. Returning to the Throne of Stone, she swept her eyes once more across the great hall - which was illuminated by her splendour and magicks - and in her heart there was sadness still that her fate was the veil. For a few moments she seemed despondent, but then a brightness returned to her. “It is not beauty that is offered up so that all may freely fill the hungry gaze - beauty is a pearl hidden, and only the worthy diver may rest his gaze at long last upon it. So dive, dive deep, you who would behold the countenance of the Khodexborndottr who sits upon the Throne of Stone.” And with that happy declaration, she flicked her wand with a hymn of, “open wide and part - so we may depart; mugwort seed and opium poppy, rowan branch and iron holly; thus we launch the heart - through the veil a dart!” and upon her song the Veil parted for her as though welcoming a long-lost lover and friend. With a final glance over her shoulder towards Allianthé, Roisin Magnolia drifted into the Veil. The curtain closed behind her and, with the splendour of the Little god of the Little Things gone, darkness descended once more upon the Khodex and the throne.




Wise beyond measure and kind beyond words, the magnolious queen of the fairies sprinkles her magicks unto existence, and wherever the echo of her impossible beauty is felt all swoon and are smitten... and driven to madness and pain! Bitterly does she hide her countenance and her beauty from all, sadly does she by glamourous arts and phantasmic potions and crafts scatter from the eyes of all the very thought or memory of her face. Like a rippling mirage on sun-scattered sands is her countenance, hidden not beyond the Veil of the immaterial but within it, inside it - and only by the laughter of her Fae children - and by poor glamorous disguises! - will her existence be known!

Full of love, most resplendent love, is the heart of the Little god of the Little Things, and though she cannot wander in her splendour from the Veil, still is she a most eager and most munificent host. If her countenance is never to grace mortal eyes beyond her kingdom, and if she is not to dance there in the world of blood and soil or hold court, then mortals - and their eyes - must be brought to be graced by her! Could one such as her, who knows only love, wisdom, and kindness, wallow away in her exile and be thought a world-hating recluse, a veritable scrooge, a dragon on her mountain of gold, a most vile and evil hag? Why, let her love-drowned heart burst and perish before such would be said of her! Here in her court, where her countenance shines most sweetly on all eyes and brings only pleasure and delight, will the song of great hospitality and generosity be sung.

Musical Theme


Longsight could see far, it was true, but if he had learned anything out on the wastes, it was that the eye saw farthest of all from a high vantage point. Badboy and he had initially simply walked, keeping their eyes peeled and trying to get their bearings. More than a day had passed like that, and soon their stomachs started to grumble. Badboy frowned and rubbed his belly, eyeing Longsight questioningly. The other lad pursed his lips and stared out into the distance. The great black wall seemed to seal the way forth in every direction leading away from the shore, meaning that they would have no choice but to perpetually walk along it.

When he squinted, he could make out something flying here or there in the distance, or something prowling on the shores, or something great and unsettling breaking the crimson waves away at sea. And far away, farther than the forms he saw crawling here or there on the shore, a sheer cliff could be seen to visibly rise up, up, and away. Nowhere near as high as the great black wall, true, but it was the highest point Longsight could see and considered plausibly reachable. Anyone stood there would have a commanding position for endless leagues in every direction.

Longsight looked back at the puffing and grumbling Badboy and snapped his fingers at him. With Badboy’s attention on him, Longsight gestured towards the distant cliff face with the pointed butt of his war hammer. He placed his cheek on his palm and closed his eyes. There, we can sleep. Badboy shook his head and tapped his belly and gesticulated at his mouth. Longsight nodded in understanding and pointed once more towards the cliff. All their needs, whether sleep or food, would be met if they headed for the cliff. Nodding without argument, Badboy arose and started for their destination at a light trot. Longsight hefted his war hammer and followed at pace. He came up behind Badboy and pointed towards some shapes slouching on the shore. Badboy glanced at him with a raised brow, only to find that Longsight was gesturing at his mouth. Badboy’s eyes brightened and a vicious smile spread across his face. Food. Longsight chuckled and nodded. It was a plan.

As they closed the distance between them and the slouched creature, they slowed their pace and took on a crouching gait closer to the black sand. What passed for their quarry's head, Longsight could see, faced the crimson ocean. He gestured for Badboy to circle around it. With the crashing of the waves against the shore, it would be too late by the time it heard them - they would be upon it. And it was just so.

Longsight’s pick punctured its head cleanly. Badboy’s strike, a fraction of a second later, entirely decapitated it. Blood spurted in all directions and Badboy laughed hysterically, jumping and whooping, dancing with his club-sword. He looked at Longsight and raised the weapon, eyes wide and excited, and Longsight knew exactly what he was saying - did you bloody see that? Ufft! Planting the weapon in the earth, Badboy quickly bent down, picked up the beast’s head, and raised it high. Gripping the club-sword with one hand and the head with another, he heaved the head into the air above him and, with an almighty grunt, swung his blade so that it split the head in twain even as it fell through the air. Longsight watched the black spray, and the world seemed to still for a few moments. His eyes met Badboy’s, and both boys grinned knowingly. Headsplitter. That’s what that blade would be called.

Once the creature had ceased bleeding onto the sand (Badboy having quite boldly, perhaps foolishly, smeared his face and body with the vile stuff), the duo got to cutting up what they could feasibly carry. The thing was very soft and very fatty - it resembled a river seal in some ways, but was substantially larger. Its fat was dark, immediately brown and blue, and its meat - like the meat of the waste beasts - was as black as its blood. Badboy was the first to draw attention to its hide and, after some observation, Longsight understood what he meant. It was oddly thick. Without a word, Badboy hefted Headsplitter and got to properly skinning it. Not long after that, they returned to trekking towards the distant cliff. The great hide they carried between them was quite stuffed with their meat haul.

© 2007-2024
BBCode Cheatsheet