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.