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These lands were no good, thought the great beast as he slowly lumbered through the forests and hills. He had come for feast, yet instead he had come across two types of winged flesh and nothing but armed soldiers who had no desire to become his next meal. Whatever reason the North God had for sending him down here was obviously a fluke.

His stomach grumbled, it had been long since he had had a good taste of flesh, having to sustain himself on elk and other animals, and he could see the sun lower in the sky, he would have to set camp, and find himself more meat to consume.

He found a nice clearing, hidden behind a mighty hill, this would do. He let his pack fall off his shoulders and crumble to the ground, gathering rocks and twigs to start a fire once he returned. With it all set, he grabbed his scythe, and set off, following the distant scent of meat.

Normally, a hunter would try to find tracks to hunt their prey, but he did not require it, all he had to do was follow the scent, and it would lead him to it soon enough. His cloven hooves softly passed through the underbrush as his head lay low, his mighty antlers looking almost like branches of a tree, providing him some slight camouflage. He had done this so many times before, it had become natural.

Yet this time, as he drew closer, he picked up upon other scents, different this time, that...of flesh, it nearly drove him into a frenzy, the sweet and mouth watering scent that only grew stronger as he came closer, this could be the feast he was hoping for. He came upon them soon enough, humans, five of them, gathered around a deer, it would’ve been perfect, yet, the Hunter only grew disappointed.

These humans were armed well, even worse, they were thin, starved looking, like those back in that accursed city. Why could he only find the flesh that was bad? They weren’t that good when they were thin, too stringy and they got caught in his teeth too much. As he knelt in the brush, staring at the humans, he soon realized, he recognized them, their armor and faces were familiar. They were those, boar things, whatever they were called, he had seen them flee when those bright winged flesh arrived in the city. Perhaps, this was a far better calling.

He rose, coming to his full height that easily towered over the humans, and walked forward, he didn’t bother trying not to appear threatening, his form made that impossible.

” pleasantly surprised to see...some of you...survived.” He spoke, his voice harsh and deep as always, echoing off the trees and reaching deep into the forest itself.

The roamers turned to face the monster and immediately hunkered down to their knees in pleading. They looked weak and frostbitten, the winter having eaten away at them like an omnipresent vulture. “Great… Great hunter… We had to run… Forgive us - we had to run to avoid the axe.” The speaker gasped for breath. “Please,” he whispered weakly. “Please - do you have anything we can eat? We, we are starving.”

“Dying,” someone added weakly.

The beast sighed ”I fault you not for running away...a true hunter knows when to fight...i did the for food” He raised his head, sniffing the air, he could smell other deer off in the distance. ”I do not have any with me...but I smell others in the distance.” He lowered his head, staring at the starving men ”Are you all who...escaped?”

The strongest among the survivors looked at his four companions and nodded slowly. “Ragnar died in the snow… Parix remained in Ha-Dûna and, to our knowledge, probably got the axe.”

“Aye, got the axe…”

“This is all of us, then,” the man confessed sadly. “But you said there was food?”

The hunter nodded ” our north,” He bent down and grabbed the dead deer in front of them, despite its size, it wouldn’t be enough ”Let us
go get some more, then, we can return to my camp, so i may gather my pack”

The men salivated at the deer. “Can we eat this first?”

A low rumble emitted from the Hunter ”You...wish to eat it….now?”

“Please! We haven’t eaten for days! Just a small bite - that’s all we need! C-Coner here’s barely moving anymore!” The man known as Coner was lying on the lap of one of the other men, his cheeks red hot with fever and his breath weak and ragged.

The hunter nodded ”Very well.” He slowly put the deer back down, before raising his scythe, and cutting off chunks of flesh from the deer and handing the pieces to the men, with the weakest members getting flesh first, with the hunter himself taking the smallest pieces just to sate him over. The men ate the flesh with desperate haste, barely even gagging at its raw and untreated texture. Blood caked their faces and they showed only increased appetite as they consumed more and more. When they had finished, the colour had returned to their faces, though it was hard to tell whether that was the blood or themselves.

“Thank you, great hunter.” The men all bowed and knelt in respect. “Please, let us repay you how we may. You said you had a pack, yes? Let us join you - we will follow you gladly.”

The hunter thought for some time, allowing the men to eat from the flesh first, before finally speaking. ”I reason to deny you that...I will welcome followers...we can survive longer if we stick together.”

“Then take us to more food, great hunter!”

The Hunter nodded ”Follow me, keep your heads and bodies low, follow my lead, and do not strike until I command.” With that, the hunter led the merry band northward, his massive form once more vanishing amongst the underbrush. The Boars followed suit, their weapons kept close to their chests and forms, trying their best to emulate the great beast in front of them, though it was still clear the frost and hunger had limited their capabilities.

They crept for some time, the Hunter often stopping to check the scent and allow the others to catch up. Soon enough, they finally came upon some more deer, grazing over some frosted grass, it was a herd, far more than they could ever kill, but, if their luck was enough, they could get enough to sustain them longer.

He gazed back upon the boars, and gestured to one of them with a spear, before whispering softly ”Your spear is the most adept at range...on my command...chuck it at that one.” He pointed towards one of the outer deer ” and the others shall focus on that one with your other weapons...if you kill it, try your best to kill another one, but stick together...I will focus myself on those...and kill as many as I can before they not try to follow them once they do...that will only lose you energy.” He waited a moment for confirmation from the Boars, before motioning for them to get ready.

For a brief moment they knelt amongst the brush, waiting for the right moment, the boar with the spear had it readied, gazing at the hunter with the side of his eye to ensure he would hit the target when the time came. There was a brief silence, then, the Hunter raised his hand, and quickly closed it into a fist. The boar chucked the spear, landing it straight into the chest of the deer, causing it to collapse rapidly, now they had to act fast.

The Boars rushed forward, one quickly planting his axe into the deer’s skull to ensure the kill, the Hunter meanwhile almost leaped from his spot, his massive scythe whirling in a fury of death, slashing a deer across the chest before implanting itself into them. Letting go of his grip upon his weapon, he then pounced upon another one, his maw of teeth ripping into its throat as he grabbed a hold of its head.

By the time the blood had stopped flowing and gushing, the other deer were gone, rapidly vanishing into the distance. The hunter held the mangled corpse of one in his hands, another had his scythe embedded into its rips, and the Boars gathered around another, their willpower just barely keeping them from digging in immediately.

”I must say” The hunter spoke, his mouth caked in blood ”You did well...for yourself.”

“Hunting is nothing new to a Dûnan!” boasted one of them bravely while one of the others ran to collect a misthrown spear.

The hunter chuckled ”Good, that is something that will keep us alive longer, now, let us head back to my camp” He retrieved his scythe, before lifting the two deer to carry, aided by one of them missing most of anything above its neck. ”Tell me,” He spoke as he let them gather their deer ”I am unversed with these there a land we could...find refuge within? Not held by those, you call them.”

The Boars exchanged frowns and began surveying the area. The snow made it hard to distinguish rise from rise, cliff from cliff. Green, colourful meadows and distant fields were now hidden underneath endless sheets of white, intermittently broken by piercing rocks or frozen woods. Suddenly, though, one of the paladins whooped in realisation and pointed southwards. “We raided a village close by - I recognise those woods over there. There should still be some buildings intact where we can shelter ourselves.”

The hunter nodded “ better than nothing...let us head there...once we have reached my camp.”[/color] He motioned for the paladin to march alongside him, so he could keep track of where they were. The snows proved challenging to traverse, cliffs often being hidden underneath misleadingly broad edges, and heads hiding great shrubs that proved all too easy to trip over.

“Bah! By Vanda, curse this cold!” had Coner shouted.

“Shut up, Coner - your whining only makes it worse.”

“Oh, you’re having a bad time? Why don’t you give those mittens to me, Mack, and we’ll see how cold it is!”

“My wife gave me these!”

“Oh, yeah, we know - you only brag about her every night.”

“You two - be quiet!” said the Boar at the front and knelt down, dusting the snow off a boulder peeking out of the snow. The boulder was inscribed with the now-outdated Ketrefan script employed by the druids of the Long Stride until very recently. Behind him, Mack and Coner were being pulled apart by the other two Boars. The man by the stone, Sedrick, stood back up. “‘Ha-Leothe’…” he mumbled. “I remember this place.”

“Aye - we had a good few runs here before that whore Boudicca showed up,” muttered Coner and spat at the snow. The village down in the valley ahead of them was little more than frosted ruins still untouched since they had been abandoned. Sedrick rose and turned to the Hunter.

“We have arrived, great one.”

He nodded ”Let us find the most intact house...we can hole up here for a time.” He let the one called Sedrick take point, while he continued to speak to the others ”So you two...are Mack and Coner...who are the others?” He motioned at the two boars he had not heard the names of yet.

“Knut,” said one with an unshaven chin and a thick, bushy mustache.

“Vegard, great hunter,” said the other, barely old enough to grow any form of facial hair - at least, he carried such an appearance about him. He seemed as rugged as the others, however.

The hunter nodded ”A...pleasure to all, and you need not refer to me as...great hunter.”

“Then what shall we call you?” asked Sedrick.

The hunter thought for a brief moment, his mind delving back into old thoughts "You...may call me...Azen...that name...long before I became what...I am"

The Boars exchanged concerned glances. Around them, the skeletons and corpses of buildings and homes formed a gravelike backdrop to their conversation. “What were you before, Azen?” Vegard whispered warily.

Azen chuckled "I was...much like you...then...I met the North God...They...gifted me with what I am today...They are also the reason I am here.”

“What’s ‘the North God’?” asked Coner.

“You mean -who’s- the North God, boar-brains! Be respectful!” retorted Mack.

“I’ll respect your face!” snapped Coner back, his fists tightening.

“Shut up, you two!” Sedrick suddenly burst out as he stopped and looked around. The other men did the same, trying to pinpoint exactly what Sedrick had stopped them for.


“Ssh! Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

There was nothing - at least, nothing that shouldn’t be there. The silence around them was almost too perfect, as though something was doing its best to hide the true nature of the ruins from the party. Azen’s gaze quickly began to scan the village, trying to discern any scent or notice anything that may suggest trouble was afoot. Something was definitely off, he could sense it.

”There is something here,” he whispered ”Keep...your guard up...form a circle.” The Boars did as they were told and flanked Azen on each side in two crescents.

“Oh, my, my! Guests, at last!” came a voice like satin and out from behind a broken barn came a black-winged man. From other corners of the hamlet around them, several more like him appeared. The man ushered forth a deep, mocking laughter before he choked on it. “No…”

Coner squinted. “Hey, wait a bit… Isn’t that--”

“I thought we had finally left you behind for good,” groaned Annihilari upon seeing the Hunter. The other Neiyari lowered their weapons in a moping manner.

Azen couldn’t help but laugh, his deep voice ringing out through the village, ”Winged flesh!” He proclaimed, his arm wielding the scythe extended in some jubilation ”It is good to see you again!...I thought for sure...your golden cousins would’ve...gotten you by now.”

“Alright, keep your distance, bone man,” hissed the angel and shoved the air before him. “That was a close call - too close. It was only by the grace of Neiya that we managed to escape. I thought for a moment that, that I wouldn’t ever be able to see my precious Aveira again!” Around him, the Neiyari gathered to touch him supportively. “BUT THEN!” snapped the angel leader, “we meet you again - you! Of all things in this land! And you’ve brought the meat sacks with you!”

“Hey!” snapped Coner back.

“Ugh, perfect! A butchered and his slaughter. Why did we even come this way.” Annihilari collapsed into a seat on a broken beam, his face dropping into his hands. The other Neiyari formed a supportive circle around him.

"They are...not my slaughter...they pack." He planted his scythe into the frozen ground "You may...dislike me...but...We are...far meet than your...cousins"

“Anyone’s better than our cousins…” he conceded. “Even you… What’re you doing here?”

"Find shelter...after hunt" he gestured to the deer he carried and the one settled next to the boars "And to...hopefully avoid...being found by enemies.

“Enemies, huh,” Annihilari mused as he looked between himself and his own and them. He then gave a lazy shrug. “Well, none to find here. We’ve settled in in hopes that someone foolish enough would stop by and, well, conveniently carry supplies with them - like people do.” He groaned, joined by some of his companions. “The locals must be itching to resettle their lands.”

Azen shrugged ”They consolidating...hoping to track...each of us ensure their safety.” He pulled out his scythe from the ground, and looked back at the men behind him, then to the Neiyari ”It....may be...beneficial…for all of work together.

“Would you believe me if I said that was -exactly- what I hoped you wouldn’t suggest,” muttered the angel before covering his face with his palm. “Fine. We will… Tag along, I suppose - as long as you can take us to where there is food. We’ll have to wait out the winter, anyway.”

“Why’s that?” asked Coner suspiciously. Annihilari flexed one of his wings and rolled his eyes.

“Ever tried flying through snow storms and icy winds, hmm? Didn’t think so, cretin.”

“Who you callin’ a--?!”

“Coner, don’t. He’ll kill you in a single swing,” warned Sedrick.

“I’d like to see him try.” Before Coner could pull out his small axe, Annihilari had already whipped the snow beside him.

“Wow, I thought you were slow, but this is simply pitiful. I doubt you’d even make a good servant…” The angel retracted his whip and curled it together. “So, we have a deal, bone man?”

He growled softly ”I...would advise...not insulting my men...but...yes...we have a deal.” He motioned for the others to pick up the deer again ”Lets get inside...warm ourselves up...I shall tell you...more of the...North God.” He directed that last portion to the paladins, but made no effort to actually quiet his voice.

The group gathered their stuff and chose one of the more intact houses to stay the night in, ignoring the gaze of their now allies, though it was clear even the Hunter was sceptical of this. They laid their catches down upon the floor of the house, the roof and walls were still intact which was all they needed to keep them safe from the outside. They gathered around the firepit, the Hunter reached into his backpack, pulling out a fire starting rock and metal and, after a few tries, starting up the fire. Both him and the paladins began to slice pieces of the deer off, sticking them onto sticks or their weapons to cook them over the fire.

”Tell me,” The hunter finally spoke after a long period of silence. ”What do you know of the lands to the north?”

“Cold,” said Coner.

“Barren,” voiced Vegard.

“Weird people, I’ve heard,” muttered Knut with a scowl. The Neiyari tucked themselves closer together in the small space, their wings taking up quite a lot of space.

Azen nodded ”All...correct is a...harsh land...and it is here...that I was born.” He set the scythe down, tearing into a piece of deer before continuing. ”Up there...the winters are harsh….harsher than the lands you know...I doubt even our winged friends could...survive.” He flashed a smile towards Annihilari, as much as a smile as he could form. The Neiyari sneered back in disgust.

”I was...hungry...hoping to was...when I met...them...The North God.” He paused for a brief moment, allowing the words to settle in ”Their voice was...harsh and fierce...they...blessed me with what I am now...the ability to survive...and a form...more befitting what I had...become after their....machinations...they sent me here...for reasons I am unsure of...all I that they seek destruction...and bring nations to heel...and remind mortals...of their own hubris…” He feel silent, staring at the piece of deer within his claws, seemingly contemplating it.

“Huh. So your master seeks to show mortality its hubristic weaknesses, and so they send a bloodthirsty mutt to, what, kill their game and give them scary stories to tell their children? Colour me unimpressed,” muttered Annihilari.

“What sorta destruction, Azen? Like… Total ruination?” asked Sedrick.

He shrugged ”I no wish to destroy....all of mortality...but...I believe they would...not be many dead…” He seemingly paid no mind to the comment of the angel, instead focused on the paladins in front of him.

The Boars looked at one another. “Did, did the god name itself Sigeran, by chance?”

Azen thought for a long time, delving into his mind ”They have...never given me...a name...even the North God is...a name of my own creation...who is this...Sigeran?”

The faces of the Boars got dark. They hardly looked anywhere but the ground, and when they did look elsewhere, it was to stare pleadingly at Sedrick for him to take the fall and explain. He caught the signal and sighed. “Sigeran is our god, for better or worse. His divine grace was all that saved the great conquest of Ha-Dûna some years ago now - our loyalty to him has been paid in blood.” He took a deep breath. “Sigeran is not a kind god, by any stretch - but unlike the Sunmother, the stars and any of those small gods our former kinsmen worship, Sigeran understands strength - what it means to be a killer.” He looked at his companions, who nodded in dedicated agreement. “His blessing is still with us. Even now, we have survived winter weather for longer than any other man has. Ragnar was already wounded when the snows came - Sigeran’s strength never truly faded for us. One day, I pray, the others will come to their senses and realise that our people shouldn’t be slaves to the rules of Hir’s masters. We are the masters of the Highlands, and only Sigeran ever understood this.”

“Preach,” Knut pitched in and bumped him brotherly on the shoulder.

”I see...while...I doubt that this...Sigeran is...the same...I have no doubts...that the North God...would see eye to eye...with this Sigeran…perhaps why i was called...” He paused, before finally turning to the angels ”And what of you?...There is...surely a reason you...still hunker down here...for your...god”

“Oh, we stay because of the exquisite cuisine and beautiful view.”

“Really?” asked Coner.

“No, of course we don’t, you pink ape! The winter’s too cold. We can’t fly back until spring. Trust me - if we could leave, we would. Coming here was a mistake. Of course, those goodie-goodie sunnies would show up. They always do whenever something’s ‘amiss’.” His voice could have soured milk.

Azen chuckled ”Those...of light tend to have...that sort of...timing…” He looked around the gathered assembly ”And...we are all enemies of that light...a semblance...of unity will ensure...we are stronger...against them...but...for now...let us is getting late…” He let the deer flesh fall into his mouth, chewing, before carving off another piece, and handing it over to Annihilari. The angel sneered, but accepted it, sharing with his kin.

“... A tentative alliance then…” he remarked before biting down.

The Rising Sun

Solkra, 28 A.A

”Cut the Flesh and Snap the Bones!” Voices rang out over the sound of construction. ”Yasho! Yasho! Crack the Skulls and Eat the Lungs! Yasho! Yasho!” Wood and stone were shaped into buildings. ”Break the Legs and Batter the Eyes! Yasho! Yasho!” A chorus formed, fusing voice and work into a steady rhythm. "Fry for a minute and cake in syrup!" A cheer erupted from the workers. Solkra was busy at work.

Skopti watched over the assembled Iskrill as they went about their work, wood and stone was shaped and carved to replace and rebuild the ruins of Solkra, the brutalist ideas of the Iskrill combined with the majestic architecture of the old Solkrans to form a strange mixture that now began to grow amongst the city.

As soon as the Triumvirate took hold of the city, they immediately began to go about reconstructing the city with what little knowledge they had gathered from the old Solkran sources. Skopti, as a Flame, didn’t quite understand the words and ideas conveyed to him by the priesthood and chosen, but, he didn’t need to, he was one of the best warriors of the city, and his only job as to defend it, deal with those who resisted, and go raid the surrounding unmarked realms.

Currently, he just stood watching, keeping an eye on the brood workers going about constructing houses, it was boring work, the workers rarely disobeyed the triumvirate or brood mother’s commands, raiding was far more fun, then he could crack some unmarked skulls and feast upon the rewards, literally and figuratively.

His thoughts were interrupted though by the sound of someone approaching, he turned his gaze towards the noise and saw a messenger Iskrill, clearly detonated by both the insignia of the Triumvirate, three suns overlapping one another, and his long gazelle like legs, from what Skopti recalled these made the Iskrill fast, perfect for carrying messages throughout the city.

“Message from the Triumvirate sir!” The messenger spoke as he bowed. “You have a new assignment, they wish you to take command of a scouting force and go investigate recent rumors of unmarked activity close by the city.”

Skopti chuckled, now this was more like it, though the last bit confused him some “unmarked activity? This close to our lands? Do they not realize where they are?”

The messenger shrugged “We are unsure, whatever it is, the Triumvirate wants you to deal with it”

He gestured to the still singing workers “What of them?”

“Another flame has already been called, he should arrive shortly.”

Skopti nodded, gesturing to the messenger “Lead the way then”

He nodded, and turned back from where he came, taking a slow pace to ensure the bulkking hunter flame could keep up. Leading him through the winding city streets.

The city was alive in some sense, various Iskrill went about their day, they were still getting used to the rigours of the new life brought upon by the Triumvirate. Houses were rebuilt with the wood and stone gathered from beyond the city, flesh supplies were kept up with raids and hunting parties, yet, there were still problems, even Skopti knew that. Flesh was hard to get, always was, but now the Triumvirate wanted more of it, that, that was starting the strain even the Iskrill. Then, there was the problem of metal, the Iskrill have come to understand it, ever since the unmarked had utilized it even, yet, they had little in the way of understanding of how to work it, as the Old Solkran texts stated.

But, none of this was Skopti’s problem, all that was at this moment was this supposed unmarked activity, it wasn’t entirely surprising, those most heinous of the unmarked to the far north had long sought to fight the Iskrill, but, activity this close to the holy city? Now that proved interesting.

Eventually, he was brought to the southern portions of the city walls, one of the first things to have been rebuilt, now manned and guarded by either Flames or normal warriors. In front of Skopti stood his scouting party for the mission, two large hunters akin to him, but, with less advanced equipment than him, mostly armed with just some scraps of cloth and some old metal blades. Then, there were three rather normal Iskrill, they were equipped with more uniform cloth but held only scrap spears, which just tended to be long sticks with random pieces of metal strapped to them, basic, but it worked. Skopti himself wore some old metal armor that actually fit him, and wielded a battered shield and finer metal ax, befitting his rank as a Flame.

The messenger gestured beyond the walls “A hunting party reported the activity to the south, they said they had followed the great river for about a day when they saw the signs, your party already has the supplies for five days, but we recommend go no longer than two days beyond the city walls.”

Skopti nodded, taking in the information, he was sure they could find these Unmarked without using up all those rations, which was good, the less used the better.

Bowing, the fast Iskrill took his leave, bounding off to deliver messages to some other portion of the city. Skopti turned back to the small group in front of him, their faces rather eager to go off hunting the Unmarked, though, it was more likely they were eager to gather some extra rations.

“Well then, let's get going.” He motioned for the party to ready up and set out, they had a long trek ahead of them.

The days travel had been fairly boring, the only true danger this close to the city were those damn serpents that appeared every now and then, they were big yes, but they were often no more than a nuisance to the Iskrill and their hunting parties. But hey, at least their flesh was rather tasty.

Skopti sat at the campfire, chewing upon some of their recently acquired snake flesh. In front of him sat those three common Iskrill, their spears laid against them as they ate, from what Skopti had gathered, they were rather new, recruited into that growing “army” the Triumvirate was gathering, they seemed dedicated though, and he would put a good word for them once this was over.

Meanwhile, the two hunters had been posted as watch, they were naturally adapted to this type of work, and much like Skopti it was likely they were excited to be able to spend some days beyond the city walls. They were brood kin, Skopti could tell that much, most likely of the same batch as they seemed drawn to one another and seemingly were close, a rare sight to see two hunters from the same batch, which Skopti would admit he was glad to have them on this mission.

As if almost called by his thoughts, one of those hunters appeared at the edge of the campfire, having come rather quickly by the slight huffing that emitted from him.

“Flame, we’ve spotted a fire in the distance.” He spoke, gesturing beyond. Craning his head Skopti could indeed see the markings of a fire, it was small, a torch at best, but a fire nonetheless, it seems they had spotted the unmarked.

“Gather your things,” Skopti ordered the others “Keep the fire going but bring the rations, we must have them think we are still at camp.”

The gathered Iskrill nodded, and quickly set to work gathering the supplies, while the two hunters kept their eyes upon the torch, to ensure it did not vanish. Soon enough Skopti led them through the brush, their bodies low to ensure they could not be spotted easily. The fire flickered as they drew closer, yet, not once did it seem to move, Skopti began to grow silently worried, perhaps it was a trap? He motioned for the others to keep their eyes open and weapons at the ready.

But, as they drew closer, the sight of what was carrying the torch shocked Skopti. Far more than a trap or even just a stick planted into the ground.

There, holding the torch aloft, stood, an unmarked? But, they were different, it was a male that Skopti knew and a young one at that, but upon their head were twisted horns akin to that that were upon his own head, portions of their exposed skin were grey and almost scalelike, a common sight amongst some Iskrill broods, and his eyes were yellowish and Iskrill like. It was an unmarked, yet, they held Iskrill traits, what in the name of the All-Father was going on?

For a while, Skopti and his group just knelt there, staring at the being, Skopti had to look back at the others and motion towards them to confirm what he saw was not some kind of fluke. They all saw him, and that being was just, standing there, seemingly staring off towards where their camp had been, holding the torch aloft.

Finally, Skopti reasoned he needed to figure out what was going on, and so he motioned for the others to stay amongst the brush, just in case it was still a trap. Meanwhile Skopti stood, walking towards the strange unmarked at a slow pace, to ensure they were not too frightened at his sudden appearance.

The unmarked jumped at his sudden appearance, but they quickly gathered themselves together, a smile? Almost forming upon their face.

“Finally! One of you showed up.” They spoke, their eyes seemingly glittering as they stared upon the large form of the Iskrill.

“What are you? Why are you here?” Skopti asked, he was still wary of some trap, and hoped to solve this issue quickly.

“Me?” The being fell silent for a moment, staring at one of their arms which was covered in Iskrill like skin “Im, not sure what i am, but, I can tell you why i, and the others are here.”

“Others?” So there were more, like him?

“Yes, others, like me, we all kinda, found each other,” The being began to explain “We were born like this, nobody is quite sure why, but what was certain was that our old villages wanted to kill us, but somehow we survived, and we’ve been traveling for quite some time, until we heard, of Solkra.” His voice was wavy, almost unsure of his own explanation, it was clear he had suffered much. “We...we wish to join the Holy City.”

This took Skopti by surprise, join? The city? As Unmarked? No, they were not Unmarked, they were, Iskrill, or, Iskrill like. Yet, Skopti couldn’t just accept this, he needed to see these others. “How far away are these others?”

“Not far, they’re just beyond the ridge.” He pointed to the west.

“Very well,” Skopti motioned for the others to rise and appear into the light “Lead us there.”

The Iskrill-like only nodded, moving quickly to the west, towards the supposed camp.

There were definitely others.

The group had camped for the night shortly after heading out, and light had begun to filter in as they arrived at the camp, it was a haphazard situation, an assembly of scrapped together tents and wagons carrying what supplies they had. As Skopti and his band entered into the camp, almost instantly the residents emerged from their squalid living conditions to gaze upon them and their forms, cheers and cries of joy began to erupt from amongst them, and the Iskrill had to shake off some of them who rushed forward and grovelled at their feet, begging to save them. From what Skopti could see, there was a large array of ages, some seemed older, some couldn’t have been older than five suns, having to be carried or guided by the older beings. All were adorned with some sort of Iskrill markings, a large spectrum and sometimes he had to really look to see any signs of this strange phenomenon, but they were there.

The first being, who Skopti had learnt was named Brethen and was barely 16 suns of age, walked them up to the center of the camp, there, sitting upon a small log, was a rather old looking man, his white beard and hair marked by twisting antlers, and his feet were grotesque and wolf-like, he was Iskrill marked alright.

“Greetings, oh holy ones.” The man spoke, his voice was gravely, it was clear he had been doing this for a while. “Have...have you come to deliver us to the Holy City?”

Skopti thought for a brief moment “Perhaps, but, we must know what you can offer us, our situation is already dire, and accepting your camp would be dangerous.”

The elder nodded “Of course, Brethen, bring them in.” The elder motioned to the young boy, who quickly ran off one of the larger tents.

“He seems a good boy” Skopti spoke, motioning towards the tent Brethen had entered.

“He is,” The elder nodded, “One of my own blood, he is ever eager to see the city.”

“ long have you been living like this?”

The old man thought for quite some time “More than 10 suns I can tell you that, we were small at first, but, it appears the regions around here are prone to this, issue, sometimes entire villages would join us out of fear of other villages destroying them, we are, unsure of why this happens.”

“Perhaps the Hierophant could tell you?” Skopti thought out loud

“Perhaps” The elder nodded.

Soon enough Brethen returned, behind him were two fairly burly half-beings, who wore long leather aprons and held in their hands metal tools, and another half-being who held a rope, which led to and was attached to a large cow. The sight of which made Skopti and his man hungry, but he motioned for them to not move.

“These are some of what we can offer you,” The elder spoke, motioning at the two burly ones “These men are trained in the art of blacksmithing, they can work and improve the metal that adorns you,” He then turned to the one with the cow “Alius and many amongst us here understand farming and ranching, with their skills we could supply a steady stream of flesh for the holy city.”

Flesh and Metal? This was getting too good to be true “And there is nothing you wish in return?”

The elder shook his head “Nothing.”

Skopti nodded “Very well, I shall bring you to the city, inform your people, we should head out very soon.”

Those half-beings who had gathered around the convo began to cheer once more, with a renewed vigor they began to gather their assembled items and belongings, readying for the trek ahead of them. The elder merely smiled.

Soklra was abuzz with activity.

Another two days of travel, and now the large procession of the half-beings, roughly 400 in number if Skopti recalled correctly, walked through the city, at its head Skopti and the Elder walked, the beings safety was ensured by the gathering Flames and warriors Skopti had ordered in case the hunger for flesh overcame the Iskrills bafflement at the new sight.

They marched towards the city center, Skopti could already tell the half-beings were struck with awe by the sight of the city, to finally be in the place they had desired must’ve been a grand sight. Within the center, at the grand statue of the All-Mother, stood the Triumvirate, the Queen, Jarl, and Hierophant all stood, Skopti had made sure to inform them before his grand display, but they still seemed quite shocked at what stood before them.

The Queen motioned for Skopti and the Elder to step forward. And with a bow they did.

“So,” She spoke, “You are these beings we have been told about?”

The elder nodded “Yes your majesty, we have come long distances to the Holy City, hoping to aid it all we can.”

“I see, and Skopti here has already told me of your abilities, your people would most certainly be a boon upon the city.” She paused for a brief moment, looking back at the Jarl and Hierophant, who both nodded their heads.

“Which is why we have decided to allow you to settle within the city, in exchange for teaching us all that you know.”

The elder bowed as a cheer erupted from the half-beings, “Thank you my Majesty, we shall do all we can to aid the Holy City.” With that, he returned to his people, with the aid of a gathering number of the Triumvirates workers to direct them to portions of the city they could settle into.

Meanwhile the Queen turned back to Skopti “I must admit, you have done well our Flame, which is why we have another task for you.”

Skopti bowed “Anything for the glory of Solkra.”

This time, the Queen spoke in hushed tones as she brought Skopti closer “Word has reached us that war engulfs the south, the Unmarked are getting feisty and fighting amongst themselves, yet those heinous ones to the north are still prevalent, as such, we want you to lead more expeditions beyond the walls, yet, this time you are not to raid, instead, you are to conquer, force the lands of the Unmarked under our boot, make them work for us, get the broods beyond the walls to work alongside us, anything to spread the glory of the sun, you will have our forces at your command for this of course, and we expect great results.”

Skopti bowed once more “Of course my queen, I shall see it done.”

The sun was rising, and soon, its heat would burn those who had shown it hatred.

Act Three, Scene Three: The Call of Chaos

It came to everyone differently. The great call of something beyond the gods they knew, the work of a being with far too many names. It was a rare call yes, only a select few ever heard it, and even fewer would fully accept it. That great call into a world the gods refused to show you.

Axin’s call had been that damned Hyena.

He lived on the outskirts of his village, he was no hunter, craftsman, or even farmer, his only skills in life were seemingly bad luck and suffering. His family had hated him, his love chose another, and even his attempts at magic and herbs had fallen flat. The only reason he hadn’t been thrown out of the village was that the chief took some pity on him, but that only afforded him a run down hut and some food.

That was, until the day that Hyena came.

He had heard stories of it, back when his mother could still stomach his existence. Those horrid beasts who stalked through the lands, their laughs driving the sinful into madness, a punishment by the gods for the arrogance of humanity.

Oh how they had been so wrong.

He had been wandering the plains, hoping to find some wild herbs for another attempt at some basic remedies, it was a quiet day, the breeze gently blew past him and he could hear the soft call of animals in the distance. He held some hope that this day would be the day his fortunes reversed, yet, deep inside he knew it would be the same, another failure, another day spent wasting away in his hollow prison.

He was kneeling, gathering some Cat’s Rose, a herb that could assist in light pains, at least, he thought it did. Finishing up plucking the herbs, he stored them in the bag at his side, slowly bringing himself, and his head, upwards, but what he saw froze him in place.

It was large, far larger than it should be, its six black eyes stared him down as it sat barely feet in front of him, merely staring him down.

At first, he wanted to run, run as quickly as he could, run back to the village. Yet his own legs and mind stopped him, they refused to move him, forcing him to merely stand there and stare at the beast across from him. It felt like hours, locking eyes with the Hyena in that windswept plain, neither making a single move.

The Hyena slowly began to smile, its mouth twisting into a horrid crescent shape, something so unnatural that it sparked a shiver down Axin’s spine. Yet it was nothing compared to the cackle that softly emitted from deep within the Hyena, building up in strength as it opened its mouth. A thousand different voices layered upon one another, making sound itself feel claustrophobic and tight. Axin finally got his legs to work, he could not stay, he had to run, that laugh, that laugh would be the death of him.

He ran as fast as his legs could take him, the dirt and grass being kicked up as he bolted from his spot, yet, he could hear the hyena following in tandem, the laugh did not let up, it only grew in strength. It felt like he was being smothered, he could barely even hear his own frantic thoughts or the feel the sparks of pain shooting out through his legs and body. He just kept running, he swore he hadn’t gone that far from the village, where was it? Where was it? Where? Where? Where?

He tripped, his leg buckled underneath him, sending him falling towards the golden grass and dirt, he had barely the time to comprehend until he hit the ground. And everything went black.

Far beyond the mortal’s pain, a god felt the call themselves.

It was such a beautiful thing, of course Yamat would probably be the only one to say that, the other gods probably would not appreciate their most recent creations driving various people insane, but that's none of their concern. The work of Tragedy was never finished, and now, the work of Chaos had just begun, but first, Yamat had to make a few adjustments.

Sitting upon their warped chair, they gazed upon their realm, its blasted empty wastes, the harsh winds blowing massive torrents of dust and ash through the empty ruins of the tragedies of the world. They slowly rose, taking steps beyond their twisted canopy, gazing upwards, upon the great twisting black sun that illuminated their realm, dancing eternally within the empty sky. The god found themselves staring upon the sun, its form drawing them inwards. It's slow, shifting wobble that plays endlessly, never stopping.

Yamat closed their eye, slowly raising their hands, and began their conducting.

The realm rumbled, sending plumes of dirt and ash into the sky, covering the blackened sun for brief moments. Ruins crumbled further and the mountains launched showers of rocks. Then, with a sudden eruption, a great chasm cracked itself into existence, carving a path between two of the great mountains, any ruins in the way were merely moved to either side, or left to sit at the bottom. Another formed, this time smaller, then another, and many more, soon enough chasms that were ,shallow, deep, large, small, and everything in between had been created, adding themselves upon the features of the Endless Wastes. One even began to form near the great pit of demons, yet stopped just before reaching it.

The ruins were changed as well, they were grouped together, instead of standing separately they bunched together into cities and villages, standing empty amongst the great ash, their ruinous forms telling the tale of tragedy far better than they could separately. But, this wasn’t enough, to Yamat, the realm was not, chaotic enough, and so, they let it shift and change, the endless deserts became maddening, looping over one another, one could walk in the same area countless times, and never even realize it. Ruins twisted and warped, roads looped back around upon themselves or lead to dead ends constantly, the mountains would always stay in the distance, never letting one know if they made progress. And through it all, the great blackened sun stood in the sky, blazing its intense heat on all.

Yet, this was not the only thing that changed, as Yamat conducted, their form took shape as the will of Chaos was placed into their control.

First, four blackened tentacles, slick and seemingly made of a thick oil-like substance, erupted from their back, two upon either side, they were long and thin, the top two reaching down nearly to their knees. Quickly following their suit came golden vines, covered in sharp thorns, they too erupted from the back and wrapped themselves around the tentacles, their thorns digging into the oil, causing it to slowly drip and fall to the ground.

Then, erupting from their head, came two great blackened antlers, oil-like akin to the tentacles, they twisted and contorted in strange and unnatural ways and were illuminated by the halo behind their head, causing the shifting oil texture to be apparent to all. Finally, the black oil began to emerge from the bottom of their singular eye, slowly dripping down, causing a slick black streak to form down the eye side of their mask, often falling down upon them or the ground.

They opened their eye and lowered their arms, it was done, they could feel a renewed force within them, it felt, fantastic, and they needed to test this out.

They quickly rushed back to their map and canopy, they needed something, perhaps they would pay a visit to Acadia? Or cause some chaos in mydia? They could check up on their avatar and that brat of Cadien, or maybe...that's when they saw it, a small call within the western gardens, it was in the middle of nowhere, and usually the director would ignore such a small call, yet, something drew them to it. They looked closer, one of their hyenas stood over a man, he was unconscious, yet, Yamat could see a little spark within, something that if moulded correctly, would be perfect.

The director had their new project.

Axin awoke with a fright, he was back home, laying upon his floor, he frantically checked himself to see if he held any wounds, yet, there was nothing. For a brief moment, he thought what had occurred was not more than a nightmare, induced by another night of drunken stupor, but that all ended when he tried to stand up.

Almost instantly, the world began to spin around him, it was as if he was dizzy, hung over, and would not normally be a cause of concern, if it were not for his own house shifting and changing before him. It was hard to describe to even his own mind, yet it seemed as if the walls and floor shifted and warped, almost like they were breathing, his table and chairs elongated and squished together.

He puked, yet this only stopped the spinning. He stumbled his way towards his mirror, hoping to the gods that this was nothing more than a nightmare, this couldn’t be real, there was no way this was real. Looking into the warped mirror he saw himself, haggard pale face, his distraught brown hair and beard, and crazed green eyes, and behind him, he saw thousands upon thousands of eyes, staring at him...and the tall figure that seemed to rise behind him.

He nearly fell as he turned around, his arm causing a few empty bottles of ale to smash into the ground. There, standing in front of him was a horrifying figure, its form was black, yet he could make out the features of two arms and four thin black tendrils, its thin head held only a hole where an eye should be, and a pair of hideous antlers. Unlike the world around him, it did not shift or churn, and that only made Axin far, far more scared.

”Who...who are you? he just barely managed to irk out, his mouth felt dry, and he was scared the words would erupt from his mouth and fall flat upon the ground.

The figure held out its hand towards him ”I, am a friend, I bring you no harm Axin, I only wish to aid you now that you have seen the light.”

”How...what….what's going on?”

”You, have been revealed to what the gods would not readily tell you, you, my dear child, have been gifted the sight beyond the falsehoods and lies, the true madness of this world has been revealed to you.”

”The...true…?” His head swiveled around to gaze upon his breathing house, was this, the way it had always been? ’Why...why would the gods hide this?

”Because, they are afraid” The figure spoke, suddenly an array of colours instead of the singular black, it was, dazzling. ”They are cowards who hide away in their grand temples and luxurious palaces, tell me, what have they ever done for you?”

His mind raced, the dazzling colours began to come off of the figure, and became balls of beautiful intensity. He remembered all the horrors of his life, the constant pain and suffering, no god came to aid him, no god gave him their boon, no god...had done anything for him. ”No...they have not, they’ve done...nothing for me”

”Exactly!” The figure loudly proclaimed, seemingly shaking the world with their voice ”And that is why, my dear Axin, you shall help me solve this problem.” It stepped forward, the hole of its eye staring at him with a fierce intensity.

”me? nothing, i can’t do anything right!”

”Ah ah ah, not yet, but my dear Axin, there is a spark inside of you, that of magic, you’ve tried it that i know, and so, i shall give you a little boost.”

”Boost? Wh-” He barely had time to speak his mind before his world began to spin once more, the figure seemingly began to glow with a bright light, voices flooded into his mind as he once more collapsed, and once more, everything went dark.

He awoke a few minutes after, everything stood still, the figure was gone. But, he knew everything now, his mind raced with a thousand words, the truth, the lies, everything was revealed to him, the colours of the world were so beautiful, and he could no longer ignore them.

Once more, he got up, upon his table stood a small tome, carefully, he guided himself towards it and opened its blackened cover, inside were words, they detailed magical practices, yet, it was not full, probably to allow him to expand upon its contents. He slowly picked it up, hugging it close to his chest.

He needed to get out of here.

He rushed around his house, grabbing his clothing and what little possessions he owned, shoving them all into a pack he carried with him, he grabbed his bedroll, pipe, food(what he had left), his wide brimmed hat that dazzled with a bright purple colour now, all his various herbs and texts about them, and his uncle’s sword, the only possession left to him by his family, he knew somewhat how to use it, but hoped it would never come to that.

With everything grabbed, which said more about his state of life that it all fit within one pack and two satchels. He stepped outside his house, the night sky stood above him, a dazzling aurora danced across it, how, how could the gods hide something so beautiful?

He slowly creeped outside, he could see the lights of the village close by, a small dirt road leading one would miss him if he vanished. And so, he krept beyond, going towards the great wide plains of their homelands, knowing he would find other notes of civilizations somewhere.

But, he stopped just before leaving the outskirts of town fully, in the edge of his vision, he saw the local temple, dedicated to that great goddess of love...perhaps…a test was in order? The being had said he had been given a little boost, so, it was acceptable to see what that meant.

Axin quickly pulled out the black tome, flipping through its pages until he came upon the one he wanted, a spell for a bolt of lightning, this would be perfect. He raised his hand, softly speaking the words required as stated within the tome, he could feel the power and energy shift within his hand as it began to crackle with static and lightning. With a smirk he spoke the last words, and launched the bolt forward, towards the wooden and stone building.

It was far more than he had expected.

Instead of causing some minor damage like he had thought it would, the bolt instead seemed to grow far more powerful as it streaked across the night, by the time it cracked into the wall of the temple it had the force of a natural bolt of lightning, and some more. It erupted into a mighty crack, sending bits of stone and wooden splinters flying as it exploded with might and fury, utterly destroying the close side of the temple, and flying further beyond, making a similar hole on the other side.

In an instant Axin heard cries and noise, the people had very much noticed, some already began to rush towards the temple to see what had happened. And this, this was his cue to leave, and quickly. He ran back out towards the outskirts and plains, keeping his head down and hoping he would not be spotted running from the scene of the crime. He did not stop until the village was most definitely out of view.

He slumped onto the ground, uttering a large sigh, figuring this is where he would camp for now. He slowly gathered a few loose stones, some from the temple, to form a small campfire, and decided to test his magic once more with a fire starting spell. Yet, this time, when he casted the spell, it merely sparked and fizzled out, which only confused the mage. He tried again and again, until the fire erupted in great fury, almost burning him and the plains nearby.

As soon as he had recovered from his heart attack, Axin looked at his tome, this would prove to be, an interesting experience.

Somewhere beyond, a cackle rang across the night.

Act Three, Scene Two, A Decision

The God of Tragedy had a lot of work to do as they sat within their barren realm.

The dealings with the great mage to the south had been dealt with, she had been given their boon, and Neiya’s as well, though they were still unsure of how good that was. To the north they had found another great actor, though she was still inexperienced they felt she could accomplish much, especially if she ever met that lost father of her’s.

But, there were still other issues, Ha-Duna had become ever embroiled, Neiya and even that ever vigilant Cadien had dipped their hands into the war, and Yamat was sure they could not sit idly by any longer, lest the alliance they’ve built come knocking upon their door. Their beast in the north was still wandering around without direction, eating and killing as it pleased. Their avatar kept with the child of Cadien, directing her ever closer to their grasp, their child races continued to build themselves up, and throughout it all, the Grand Play continued.

Yet, they were still not ready, they knew that, they had seen what some of the other gods had become, powerful with a variety of powers under their belt, Neiya herself was the perfect image of this, becoming something far more than that goddess of love that had drawn Yamat to her that long time ago, how they missed those times.

Yamat shook their head, recollecting could occur another time. For now, they had to focus on the present and the Grand Play, they could feel another power drawn to them from all their actions for tragedy. It would be another perfect addition to their repertuar.

They sat within the wasteland of their realm, slowly raising their arms, the runes covering their body glowing ever so softly as they conducted their silent song. This one was more quiet than the desolation they had gained earlier, and they had to admit this one was, comforting in a way, its softness entering into them as they conducted. Until, it settled in amongst the others, another neat little addition to the talents of the Grand Director.

Finally, they stood, the dust flaking off of them as they slightly shook. They walked a ways through their realm, passing by a few of the ruins that dotted the hollow wastes, monuments to their great play lightly or densely covered in soot and ash. Many were long distant memories, some of which they could barely remember or even recall, so many tragedies happened daily that it was hard to keep track.

But yet, ideas still came to them, as they slowly came upon their great map situated upon their twisted wooden table their gaze drifted southward, upon the isles they believed were called, Mydia. They had some interaction with those massive islands, as some of their reshutian children lived amongst them, but, the sentient mortals were not what attracted their eye this time around.

Instead, another, smaller piece had drawn the attention of the god of tragedy, an animal of sorts, they walked upon four legs, with brown fur with spots all along them, they were canine like but not fully canine, and then, there were the laughs, the laughs drew Yamat in, their natural call was like a cackle, a noise so similar to their own laugh. They were enamored. The other gods had special animals and creatures of their own, why not them? Yamat loved these creatures, and so, he would take their design and nature, and create a beautiful herald of tragedy in their image.

First, he started with the base creature, which he quickly came to know as a Hyena, then, he increased their size, making them larger and stronger than before, they gained three eyes on either side and wicked horns, two more legs in between their others, longer tails with a vice like grip, their fur became black and white, with long stripes instead of spots, though some spots could appear based on the individual and finally, came their laughs.

Yamat made their laughs greater than before, they sound like the laughs of a thousand different voices, ones that overwhelmed those who would hear it, it would bounce around within their head and eventually drive them into madness if heard for long enough, the laughs serving to warn all those who have the misfortune of hearing them that the work of the Great Director has begun. They were perfect.

With their creation finished, Yamat gathered them up and scattered them across the Galbar, landing some packs in Toraan, Mydia, Kubrajazar, and other realms. They would be sure to have an impact soon enough, their cackles ensuring the mortals would not soon forget the actions of the god of tragedy, if they knew of them of course, but no matter, another great day of work for Yamat.

They sat back in one of their wooden chairs underneath the twisted canopy of their realm, once more staring upon the map, their strength was better now, perhaps, it might be time to deal with that little Ha-Duna situation, perhaps they should speak to one of the gods involved? The goddess of the moon would be an interesting talk, or perhaps their old friend Thaa, but, that could wait, for no, they would just sit back, and enjoy the show.

Sengoku ichizoku: The First Spark

The rain began to pour.

The two reshut stared each other down, their eyes locked beneath their masks, pure malice and hatred hidden beneath. Then one made the first move, his fist flung forward, launching a streak of magical energy towards their opponent, who dogged it with expert grace, performing a somersault to escape the reach of the deadly blast.

Their dance began, but it was not a dance of ceremony or joy, but one of death, each one utilized their acrobatics and martial arts to their advantage, creating bolts of fire and erupting the earth beneath them, their loose forms and stances allowing the mana to flow through them, or so they believed. The two were mages of the Reshut, trained in the deadly and often majestic arts of their clans. And all around them, a battle raged.

Two clans fought, bronze and iron blade clashed against one another, reef horses carried warriors effortlessly through the swamp and rocks of their homeland, allowing them to strike down those below them, archers rained down fire while crossbowmen loosed their deadly and effective bolts, trained Kre’Nasha crashed through enemy lines, their ever shifting forms creating a whirlwind of death and destruction, the multicoloured blood soaked into the mud and streams, staining them with the tragic dye even as the rain tried to wash it all away.

This battle had no name, the two sides cared not for one, they merely wished to end the other, but in time it would be given a name: the Saisho no hibana, the first spark. For the two clan daimyos did not realize it at the time, but this battle, the first of its scale and size within the isles, would spark the collapse of the fragile peace the Reshut clans held. The great clans would learn of this battle in time, but by then, it was too late to stop the collapse. Already clan alliances had been called, rivalries resurgent, and spheres of influence challenged, the era of peace was over.

The Sengoku ichizoku, the era of the warring clans, had begun.

Nearly a month after the spark.

Tategawa, Kinoshita Lands

A calm breeze blew.

Narikazu overlooked his great city from the balcony of his palace. The letter had arrived barely a week ago, but its contents would stretch out years in its consequences, maybe even beyond his own life? He could feel age slowly encompass him as he looked out at his city, the city he and his ancestors had built up, a shining beacon within the Isles. Now, it was threatened with war.

Alliances had been called, some clans upon the edges of the Kinoshita sphere had become embroiled in the conflicts closer to the center of the central isles, incursions from outsider clans, something the Daimyo could not just overlook, lest his rule be seen as weak. Yet, the Kinoshita were not truly fighters, they were builders and priests, they had known a period of great peace since their foundation, as he thought the Daimyo grew ever more worried of the future of his clan.

The Hashimoto were sure to take advantage of this new state, already their nature of being disconnected from the main isles aided them, but with the chaos unfurling, they were sure to cement their stronghold. And what of the Ohta? They would surely play off multiple sides, buying and selling weapons and arms, protecting trade routes with their horrid vroolish allies. No, he could not allow them to grow, the Kinoshita needed to respond full force, to show that they were not just going to let the reef jackals descend upon them.

“Takemoto!” He shouted. The sounds of rushing footsteps were heard behind him, until the paper door to the balcony was opened, with Takemoto, his eldest son standing there. The prince was already wearing his armor and wielded his blade, when he had gotten word of the letter, he was the first to encourage a response of might.

“Summon the Generals, and inform the couriers to send messages to every lord, they must gather their armies with the winds of Kalaru,” Narikazu spoke, quickly turning to his son. “The Kinoshita are going to war.”

Takemoto bowed deeply “Of course father.” was all he spoke before exiting, closing the door behind him. Leaving the aging daimyo all alone once more.

Narikazu looked to the sky, a thousand doubts and worries entering into his mind. But this was no time for that. He had chosen, and history would remember him as such.

Okumaki, Hashimoto Lands

The Hashimoto prepared for war.

Forges roared with searing fire, weapons of war were crafted as quickly as they could be, Soldiers trained in large fields on foot or upon the great Reef Horses, the mighty Kre’Nasha were trained to fight against armoured opponents, food was stockpiled and even the common reshut could feel the tense feeling rising in the air.

Hashimoto Korekatsu knelt upon his cushioned throne, a massive table with a detailed map of the isles stood in front of him, and all along its length sat both his generals and some of his sons, eagerly debating and discussing strategies and preparations.

The rising tide of war had not skipped over the Hashimoto, they were skilled and well known masters of the blade, but even they could not stop war from reaching their shores, though they were sure to accept it. The central war would not affect them currently, it appeared merely to be alliances of minor clans, and possibly the Kinoshita, but that did not mean other clans had not become emboldened.

Several minor clans beyond Hashimoto rule had gathered together into an alliance and sought to dislodge the great clan from its holdings. They called themselves the “Grey Mask Alliance”, a name that made Korekatsu’s blood boil, for all it reminded him of were those heinous Red Mask bandits that he had spent so long crushing, now it seemed another group needed to be crushed underneath his boot.

“My lord?” The voice brought him out of his thoughts, he jerked his head upward, seeing the faces of all those in front of him staring directly at them. The one who had spoken was Katakura Terumasa, a skilled general who had served alongside the Daimyo in the wars against the Red Masks.

“Yes, what is it?” The Daimyo replied, looking upon the map to see if anything had been changed while his mind had drifted, gods he was getting old.

“We believe we have all come to a decision.” The general gestured to the map, where several yellow pieces had been laid out and their movements marked in regards to grey pieces, representing the two forces. It was a simple plan, utilizing Hashimoto’s natural skill at the blade and martial combat to press the main force of the Grey Masks, while having smaller forces flank and try to mop up some of the seemingly more weaker clans. Simple, but effective.

“I see, is there anything more then?” The Daimyo asked.

“There more thing,” The general’s voice wavered a slight moment before continuing “Who shall lead the main force?”

The question was as well entirely simple, but it spoke magnitudes. Traditionally the Daimyo led the main force, but, in asking this question, the General, and all around him, expressed their concern, and more importantly, their doubt, in his age and abilities to lead. This made Korekatsu’s blood boil even further, the, arrogance of his old friend asking this!

“The answer is simple!” He fiercely responded, making his sons close to him drop their heads to avoid eye contact. “I! Shall be leading the main force to crush these insolent fools! I! am the Daimyo of this clan, unless you all have forgotten that!” His piercing gaze shot around the table, forcing even Terumasa to lower his head in shame.

No voice spoke up to disagree.

“Very well then,” He continued, the fire in his voice still not subsided. “Gather your forces and ready yourself, we shall march within a week!” With that, he waved his hand, the generals and his sons rose, scattering off into the wind to gather their forces. Leaving the Daimyo to simmer by himself. Such arrogance, such disrespect. He would be sure to show all of them, the glory of the Hashimoto was not over.

Enkoshi, Ohta Lands

A Daimyo was dying.

Ohta Yasukuni laid upon his bed, he wore the great garb of his clan, and his mask had been removed, so all could see his face. Around him stood his family, his wife and many children, beyond them he knew the doctors stood nearby, in case anything happened, but Yasukuni knew they would not be needed, he could feel death coming for him, and it would come lightly.

For all his works crafting trade and deals throughout the isles, he could not have avoided old age, and he knew this. His will had been crafted, his eldest son, Ohta Tokihiro, would become Daimyo of the Ohta, and at no greater of a time. Their vassals had not become involved in the great conflict in the central lands, but Yasukuni knew it would come to them regardless, no matter how much the Ohta tried to stay neutral, they would inevitably need to fight.

“Tokihiro” The old daimyo rasped out, his voice growing hoarse and distant.

In an instant his son, who was already standing by his father’s side, leaned in close, softly grasping the daimyo's hand. “What is it father?”

“Dire times are coming my child, the drums of war call in the distant, and I fear we can not avoid them this time, you must prepare yourself, steel your soul, gather your forces and generals, and be ready to fight for our clan. child, please promise me this one thing.”

“Anything father.”

“Let not Ohta, Hashimoto, or Kinoshita strike another down, let not the rivalries of the great clans tear them apart, for if we allow such anger and rivalries take hold, we shall never end this growing tide of war, and we shall all falter. Use the connections I have built, I know you do not like the other clans, but we can not allow our isles to become one of rivalry and hate, please, promise me this.”

The prince nodded, his eyes tearing up ever so slightly. “Yes my father, I will not disappoint you.”

The daimyo nodded, gently squeezing his son’s hand, he slowly looked upwards, before softly closing his eyes, his breathing swallowed, until it fell silent. Tokihiro rose, now Daimyo of the great clan of the Ohta, tears welling up behind his mask, but he could not allow himself to cry. He raised to his full height, and quickly exited the room, he summoned courtiers to begin preparations for conflict, to summon generals and lords, and most importantly, to get him some quill and ink.

While he had to first ensure the Ohta would not falter, he had letters to write. He had made a promise to his father, and he would not let the Great clans rip themselves asunder in their anger. Yet he knew, it would not be simple.

Act Three, Scene One, Thoughts

The board had been laid out, various pieces stood about its massive size, masked figures of various colours upon a collection of isles, a mighty city with various bug and goblin pieces around it, a mighty tree, and even mightier temples to the far west, each piece delicately crafted and placed, but two areas had caught the eye of the Great Director.

To the north, in those mighty highlands, there stood a city. They had long ignored it, focused more upon their children and their great enemy, but now, it had drawn their eye.

Just recently, they had felt a shift within those lands, their old companion, the god of death, had seemingly begun to mess around with those beings, and now the civilization was embroiled in a civil war, one that the god of tragedy could not just ignore.

But yet, they were unsure of which side to support, while yes they had worked with the god of death and enjoyed his more, interesting, thoughts, there was still the problem of various other gods supporting the opposing side, and they had no desire to alienate others who could be useful to the Grand Play at a later time.

Meanwhile, to the far south of that realm, there stood another city, undergoing great conquests with a strange magic user at the head. Admittingly this would not usually be enough for the director to notice, but what they did notice was the magic user’s actions, they were horribly tragic, and they loved it.

Of course, if the director was going to get involved they would need to consolidate their powers, for a while now they had felt their powers growing, expanding,

That beautiful power of destruction was one of their more favorites, unleashing great fires, earthquakes, the like, it was truly a beautiful endeavor upon their part. They could feel its essence wash into them as they focused. Their bones creaked as they stretched themselves out, feeling more whole than before.

Now, with that finished, at least for now, they redirected their attention once more to the board, ah, yes, those strange druids to the north, they still did not know who to support, and, to the south, they figured a gift of some sort would be good to give that tragic mage, maybe even their old companion Neiya might want to get involved? Though, they were unsure on how she felt about other women, that would take some thought.

For now, a walk would be needed, plans were forming, but for once, the Grand Director was unsure on how to proceed, perhaps, a nice little walk would draw them closer to the answer. And so, with a jaunt in their step, the God of Tragedy took another of their walks.

The Travels of Ina Hikohira-Section 1: The Beginning

A week after Tiamat’s Arrival

Hikohira walked through the streets of Tategawa, the designs given to them by that strange newcomer Tiamat had been incredibly useful, but yet, ensuring the ship would be perfect was taking time, which admittingly annoyed Hikohira.

She had found herself in the docks again, she could see the construction of the ship a bit of distance away from her, this time though, it seemed they had made a good deal of progress, that was interesting. She decided to go investigate.

As she drew near she saw a new face, a lanky male reshut darting around the construction site, barking and giving orders, looking almost like an utter maniac. His utter devotion to the construction seemed to embolden his workers and they moved at twice the speed as they were before.

As Hikohira drew closer, the new face looked up, almost beaming when seeing her. “Ah!” He spoke “Lady Ina! A pleasure!” He quickly jogged over to her, extending his free arm, as his other was wrapped around various scrolls and parchments. “Okazaki Narikuni, at your service.”

She took the outstretched arm and shook it. “A pleasure to meet you sir Okazaki, I don’t think I've seen you on this team before.”

“Yes, I was a recent hire,” He replied “I had some ideas on how to construct the boat and the Daimyo hired me on, would you like to see?” He gestured to the scrolls still wrapped underneath his arm.

Hikohira merely gestured to a nearby table “Show away.”

Narikuni almost jumped at the opportunity, rushing towards the table and laying out all his scrolls and plans. They were intricate and honestly impressive, using the recent plans given to them by Tiamat and making them even better, there were several improvements to the design and structure, some which Hikohira could understand but others seemed completely alien to her.

“Tell me sir Okazaki, where did you learn all this?”

He paused for a few moments, seemingly pondering the question “Well, I served as a shipwright here for the Kinoshita, one day I was investigating the designs for the ship when I gained a sudden, burst of inspiration, I gained all these ideas and designs and I just had to jot them down and show them to the Daimyo, and, when he saw, he hired me as lead shipwright.”

She looked beyond the shipwright towards his crew, they seemed to bustle with a stride and pep she hadn’t seen before, working far faster then they had before. While she was still a bit unsure about the validity of these sudden inspirations, if it ensured the expeditions could occur sooner, then she would have no problems with it.

“I see, in that case, I shall leave you to your construction, I wish you the best.” She bowed to the Shipwright, who had quickly returned to staring at his various designs and giving orders to his workers. Though she had only a scant amount of time to turn around and head back the way she came before she spotted another intriguing sight. Before her, a good distance away, was what appeared to be a contingent of Hashimoto troops, adorned in the orange-yellow colouration of the clan and being escorted by the Red troops of the Kinoshita, at the front stood one of the Kinoshita Princes, walking alongside what appeared to be a Hashimoto lord.

As soon as the Kinoshita spotted Hikohira she gestured her over, introducing her to his companion as she drew closer. “Lady Ina! I am glad you are here, this, is Prince Hashimoto Hidetoki of the Hashimoto Clan, he has been sent by his father to help us with the expedition.”

The Hashimoto prince stepped forward, bowing to Hikohira “Greetings Lady Ina.”

She returned the bow “A pleasure to meet you Prince Hashimoto, and why has your father sent you so far for this expedition?”

“Well, I am one of the, younger, Hashimoto princes, I wished to gain some of my own glory free from the shadow of my brothers, and so,” The prince gestured towards the contingent of troops behind him “I gathered some troops and mercenaries we could spare, and got my father’s permission to come here, to offer Hashimoto protection to your expedition.”

Hikohira’s eyes widened underneath her mask, Hashimoto protection? To have the finest masters of the blade aiding her expedition would be most useful, she doubted few within the mainland could match up to the power of the Hashimoto skill. “Well,” she finally spoke, “I'm sure the Kinoshita and I would be most accepting of having your skills aboard the ship.”

“Of course” he replied, bowing once more, “Shall we head off once more?” He asked, directed towards the Kinoshita prince.

“Lets, oh, and Lady Ina, the Daimyo wishes to see you, apparently we’ve had another guest offering aid to the expedition.”

Hikohira sighed, this was shaping up to be a busy day.

When she arrived to the palace, she found a very interesting sight, sitting down within the Grand hall was the Daimyo and across from him, a fairly large Vrool, they were not the biggest Hikohira had seen, as an Ohta she had seen quite a few vrool before, and by the looks of this one, she believed they were the spawn of Taa, the local Vrool tyrant who kept trade across the Kylsars safe.

“Ah! Lady Ina! Come in!” The Daimyo shouted upon her arrival, gesturing for her to take a seat at the table with them, which she did. “This,” he gestured to the Vrool across from him “is Tagroxagrus, he has arrived with some Akua retainers and offered some sea-bound protection to our expedition.”

The vrool bowed towards her “A pleasure Lady Ina, once I heard of your expedition I jumped at the chance to assist, any good seabound adventure deserves some good Vroolic aid!” He loudly boasted, earning a good hearty laugh from the Daimyo and Hikohira.

“I would most certainly appreciate your skills Sir Tagrox, having the might of the ocean would surely aid us.”

Tagrox nodded, and once more went to downing large quantities of Sake. Hikohira decided to stay and partake in the dinner, talking with the Daimyo and Vrool, figuring out pathways towards the mainland and a base idea for the expedition. She could already tell, this would be an interesting adventure.

Two and a half weeks after Tiamats Arrival

The docks of Tategawa was abuzz with interest and celebration, the great expedition ship, Bōken-sha, had been completed, mostly with the aid of the new shipwright, thousands had come to see it off on its maiden voyage towards the mainland. The crew had assembled just in front of the ship, a hundred various crew, about 20 of the Hashimoto contingent, 10 Akua, 1 vrool, a Hashimoto prince, a Kinoshita Inventor, a Kinoshita Prince and retinue, a strange traveler, and of course, the Ohta captain.

Tanehira stood right next to Tiamat, waving towards the assembled crowd as the Daimyo spoke to them, uttering a grand speech about the ship bringing a new dawn upon the Kylsars and the Reshut people. The prince leaned towards Tiamat “Quite the celebration isn’t it?”

Tiamat kept her hands down, taking effort to look an accompaniment rather than a central focus; as she whispered back to the prince, “Indeed. This is a momentous occasion, and it seems your father wished to ensure it would be celebrated as such.”

“Well of course, the three great clans coming together to conduct an expedition to the mainland? It's an incredible prestige gain for the clan.” He whispered back, somewhat side-eying the Hashimoto prince, who stood just next to Narikuni, the shipwright.

Tiamat did not deign to look over, whispering, “So long as the bottle he seems intent on drowning himself in remains filled.”

The prince chuckled to that “indeed”. Their conversation was interrupted when a large cheer erupted from the crowd at the conclusion of the Daimyos speech.

“Now!” the Daimyo spoke high above the crowd “The crew shall attend to the boat, and set off for new lands!” Another cheer erupted from the crowds, and Tanehira patted Tiamat on the back “Shall we head to the boat?” it was mostly a rhetorical question, as much of the mainstay crew had already surged up to the ship, ensuring everything was in order.

She chuckled, saying back, “As if they’d dare to leave without us,” as she began to walk towards the boat, letting the prince go first.

He chuckled to that as well, heading up the ramp leading up to the boat. It was beautifully well designed, the construction done by the Shipwright making it an incredibly well designed ship. Large sails and a well stocked storage ensured the ship would be a perfect ship to sail the open seas.

Suddenly though, as the two arrived upon the decks, a sudden burst of water occurred from just next to the ship, and in an instant, an oceant had found itself upon the deck of the ship, the crew and crowds immediately fell silent, stunned at the sight. The creature looked around at the crew, its large antenna jittering and moving about, a few minutes of silence, before it brought itself closer to the front of the ship, climbing upon the front mast, and with a sudden strange force of power, transformed itself into a rearing figurehead for the ship.

A few more moments of silence washed over everyone. Before sudden cheers erupted from the crowd and crew. “Well I’ll be.” Tanehira finally spoke.

Tiamat walked to the front mast, examining the figurehead, announcing, “Surely a sign that the ocean deep approves of our passage.”

“Not only that!” Spoke the sudden appearance of Narikuni, who had quickly jogged onto the ship “That my dear traveler, is an Oceant! And its arrival upon our ship means its design has been blessed by Aritafek!” The shipwright looked almost ecstatic at the revelation, taking a place next to Tiamat to gaze upon the figurehead. “And surely a beautiful figurehead at that as well!”

Tiamat respectfully dipped her head at the mast, responding to Narikuni, “I am honored to take a place upon the vessel blessed by Aritafek. May this prove to be a prosperous journey!”

A cheer erupted from the crew in favor of Tiamat’s statement, finally the Hashimoto guards and Captain Ina joined them upon the ship, the Vroolic scion and Akua readied themselves at the watery sides of the ship. Ina began giving out orders to the crew, preparing the final preparations of their journey. After a while she walked over to Tiamat, beckoning her over. “So tell me Tiamat,” She said, “As our resident passenger, where do you wish to make landfall? So we can drop you and the prince off to allow you to partake in your adventure.”

Tiamat considered the question, answering to Ina with a nod of her head, “My destination lies at the heart of the mainland, inaccessible from any seafaring vessel. The shores we land upon shall make no difference to me, and I will leave such decisions in your capable hands.”

“I see.” Ina nodded, “Our Akuan assistants tell us that beyond the far lying island of Senshu stands a region of swamplands, we shall try to land in the more southern portion to bring you closer to your destination, but I can only promise we shall do our best.”

Tiamat dipped her head, reassuring, “I will find my way no matter where you choose to land. The stars above will be my guide.”

“Very well.” She bowed towards Tiamat, once more returning to her duties. After a few more brief minutes, everything was ready, and with the blessing of the Daimyo, announced by the smashing of a bottle of Sake against the hull. The sails were unfurled and the anchor raised, allowing the ship to leave the docks as the crowds on the mainland cheered. The Bōken-sha had begun its voyage.

It had been a few days of travel for the Bōken-sha, reaching the isle of Senshu, the westernmost isle of the Kyslars. In the crew cabins below deck, Tiamat had reserved one for herself. Her accommodations were sparse; spartan at best. A few candles, arranged along the edges of her desk, a bronze carving set, and a conspicuous lack of bedding. She had kneeled in front of her desk, upon it a chunk of wood, taking shape as she whittled upon it with a bronze knife. Though it was only half-carved, it bore a distinctive shape, deep grooves cut inwards, thick teeth extending out in between.

A bin held the shavings whittled off, each slice of the knife launching wood chips with precision. The roll of the ship in the ocean waves deterred Tiamat not one whit; she worked with the slightest of movements only the calculations of those not human could reach. Her arm remained perfectly balanced against the world’s attempts to throw her off. A silken curtain covered the entrance to the cabin, offering privacy from onlooking eyes.

A soft knock came from the cabin door, and the soft voice of Prince Tanehira came through “Tiamat are you there?”

Tiamat did not stop whittling at the wood as she spoke, “Come in.”

The door slowly opened, and the prince stepped in, upon seeing Tiamat at her desk, wood in hand he stepped back a slight bit “Oh, my apologies, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”

The whittling continued as she responded, not looking away from her work, “I can carve and talk at the same time, if you desire. It is no issue to me.”

“I see” he slightly bowed and fully entered the room, closing the door behind him. “If I may ask, what are you carving?”

She carefully placed down the carving knife, taking the wood in both hands. With a turn to face the prince, she presented the half-complete carving with its distinctive toothed shape. She answered, “I am carving a gear, a symbol of my worship.”

“A gear?” The prince kneeled down a bit to get a full look at the carving “I must admit I am not familiar with the god who you worship, we Reshut only deal with our four central gods.”

Tiamat nodded, “As I am not fully familiar with the workings of your gods. The gear is the symbol of the Great Machine and the Constant. Consider it like this;” she paused, “the world around us is consistent. We are pulled earthwards, the wind upon the seas blows predictably. Our lungs are filled with air, and the sun rises and sets. These are all things that are constant. They are laws of Galbar and the skies above it that are immutable and were the same for our ancestors, and will be the same for our long-futured children.”

She took the carving knife up once again, carving as she explained, “That is the Constant. The physical world that surrounds and permeates us, that we take a part of and can rely upon the consistency of. The Great Machine is the embodiment of the Constant. The crossbows your men now use are a machine as well. Smaller parts that add together to a greater whole. The Great Machine is the small mechanisms and parts of our world, working to a greater sum, personified.”

“I see,” Tanehira spoke “so the Constant is that which is always the same, and the Great Machine is those small parts working all together?” His voice was slightly confused, this being the first god beyond the Reshutian four that he had ever heard of.

Tiamat shook her head as she carved, continuing, “The Constant is about shared experience and observable law. If the stars were never the same, you could not learn to navigate by them. If water was not always pulled earthwards, your children would not understand your references to the ocean. Without these immutable laws, progress would be impossible. The Great Machine is-- he -- is all these little parts, yes, but he is more than just a machine. He is a sum greater than the parts that define him. He willed himself into existence when the stars were young and gods had not yet begun to mould the lands.”

The prince paused for a brief moment, taking in all the words of Tiamat. He knelt there for a long pause. “I, I think I understand, your god seems quite, in depth and intricate, of course I mean no offence from that.”

Tiamat counseled the prince, saying in a comforting tone, “He is esoteric. The peoples of the land do not understand him. Worship of him is quiet, reserved, and not often shared. You will find none other who worship him until we reach our final destination. You need not understand fully now; he is complex and he is unknown. It will take time.”

“Well, I hope to come to understand him in time, learning of other cultures and beliefs is most intriguing to me.” He stared at the carving Tiamat was creating, before his head shook a slight bit, as if suddenly remembering something, “Oh yes, I originally came to ask, once you are finished of course, if you wished to come topside with me? Get some fresh air, the captain says we should be passing the edge of Senshu shortly.”

Tiamat had worked her way to the last tooth of the gear, decisively whittling off the final outcrop. Cradling the gear in her right, careful to hold her left palm flat against the back of her right hand, she stood up, leaving her carving kit arrayed neatly on the desk, saying, “A good idea. Let us go.”

The prince stood as well, opening up the cabin door and leading Tiamat into the lower parts of the ship. Even then they could see various crew members walking about, some partaking in card or dice games, others performing various pieces of work, some eating. They walked through the lower decks, some crew rose and bowed as the prince passed them, but he would often encourage them not to. Eventually they found their way to the steps leading topside, the bright sun filtering in as it stood high in the sky.

On the top deck things were far more bustling, crew went back and forth, manning their various stations, some attended to the sails while others attended to the back of the ship, aiding the steering with the rudder. The duo could see Captain Ina speaking to one of the Akua, who was pointing up on a map laid out between them. Narikuni was barking orders to the crew, ensuring they were performing their duties correctly, and the Hashimoto prince, Hidetoki and his troops stood by, just in case.

“Quite the busy ship.” Tanehira commented.

She didn’t immediately respond, walking to the bow of the ship, standing center with the mast as she held the cog against her chest, careful to maintain the placement of her hands. Then, she sang.

“Oh, there is a flash packet,
Flash packet of fame.
She hails from Tategawa
And the Bōken-sha’s her name.
She's bound to the west,
Where the stormy winds blow.
Bound away in the westward,
To the Bōken-sha we'll go.
Derry down, down, down derry down.”

She started off quietly, only a tenuous soliloquy among the racket of work. The tradewinds, unfavorably eastwards, began to slacken -- though they did not die off.

“With the gale at her back,
What a sight does she make.
Our skippers are merry
With the west in her wake.
Her sailors like lions
Walk the decks to and fro,
She's the Kinoshita packet.
Oh, Lord let her go!
Derry down, down, down derry down.”

Her voice slowly grew in volume, though it continued to be drowned out by the din of sailors and their duty. The east tradewinds halted, the ship deadening in the water as everything becalmed. Shouts of sailors as new demands were levied of them to maintain the momentum.

“Now the Bōken-sha's a-sailing
The Deeps so wide.
While the high roaring seas
Roll along her wood sides.
With her sails tight as wires
And the Oceants to show.
Bound away to the Bōken-sha,
To the westward we'll go.
Derry down, down, down derry down.”

Her voice was growing in intensity as she gripped the wooden cog harshly, pressing it heavily into her chest, crumpling her silken robe against the force. The oceans sat placently as the tides refused to batter upon the vessel.

“Here's a health to the Bōken-sha
And to all her brave crew. To bold captain whee!
And her officers too.
Talk about your flash packets
Swallow Tail, Oceants.
The Bōken-sha's the flayer
Can out-sail them all!
Derry down, down, down derry down.”

Her voice reached a crescendo of volume and intensity, as the tradewinds returned in a gale of strength, pulling the ship westwards with a jerk against all reason. The sails were blown taut as they drank in the deep currents of air that forced onwards.

The crew of the Bōken-sha were shocked with the sudden wind change, the crew scrambled to reign in everything and ensure this sudden shift of wind in their favor could be utilized. Captain Ina and Narikuni rushed to get everything together, and the Akuan jumped into the ocean, to gather their associates.

Tanehira walked up to Tiamat, “That was your doing wasn’t it?”

She loosened her grip on the cog, saying, “Not mine, but the Great Machine’s. My lord listens for his prayers and grants his miracles upon his believers.”

The Prince nodded “Well, I must thank the Great Machine for this, it will most certainly aid us in arriving at our destination quicker.”

She finally brought the cog down from her chest, still cradling it carefully, “He is generous and he is kind. It would be no other way.”

“Of course, I am definitely happy we have you to ensure his kindness comes to us,” He looked upward for a few moments, “Now then, shall we have a nice walk? I’d like to hear more of this Great Machine.”

Tiamat acceded, stepping down from the bow, saying, “Ask and I shall answer.”

It had been a few more days of smooth sailing, the winds granted to the Bōken-sha by the Great Machine had greatly accelerated their progress towards the mainland, until, as the sun rose above the horizon, the lookout shouted.

“Land ahead!”

The entire crew and those within the ship rushed to the upper deck, and sure enough, still a good distance’s way off, there were long stretches of land. Captain Ina had come to Tiamat, asking “So, do you know what the mainlanders call this stretch of land?”

Tiamat walked to the front of the ship, looking out to the golden strips of shore that lay ahead. She said, “The mainland does not always descend into bogs that muddy the transition from sea to land. That is a beach. Set anchor a ways out, and row in with dinghies. The sandbars will entrap the ship otherwise.”

“Very well.” The captain barked orders to the crew, wiping them back to their posts and jobs. They quickly scrambled to get everything ready for their arrival upon the mainland. The ship drew closer to the beach banks and eventually dropped its anchor, stopping its travel closer. Captain Ina readied a few dinghies, allowing the Hashimoto troops, Tiamat, Prince Tanehira, and herself upon them, to gauge the land itself.

Their Vroolic aid soon joined them, helping them along to the beach. With a grandeur Captain Ina stepped off the Dinghy as soon as it hit the shore, taking in the grand view, far beyond her she could see the beginnings of a great swampland.

“Looks a lot like home doesn’t it?” She spoke to those behind her, with many of the Reshut giving a chuckle.

Tiamat looked across the stretch of swampland, commenting, “It stretches farther than any of the isles.”

“Well” Hikohira spoke, looking far beyond the swamplands, before finally turning towards Tiamat, “Do you know what the people of the mainland call this land?”

“From what I know, it is the Weeping Plains,” Tiamat responded, as she looked out westwards into the swamp, “I will be going westwards, into the highlands.”

“I see,” She muttered the name underneath her breath, before turning once more to Tiamat “And the Prince Kinoshita will be joining you correct?”

Tiamat responded, still looking westwards, “And his retinue, indeed.”

“Of course” She motioned for one of the troops to come forward “Inform the retinue of the Prince that they shall gather up some supplies and come to us at the beach.” The troop bowed, and returned to the dinghy, to gather the retinue.

“So,” The captain spoke “Where do you plan on going?”

She tore her gaze from the westward sky, looking at the captain, saying, “I wish to return to the courts from whence I once lived. It has been long, and I yearn familiar faces.”

“I see, well, I hope the endeavor is successful for you, I know the young prince is eager to see the lands beyond, as am I, our plans are to head north, towards the top of the mainland, anything you know of there?”

Tiamat answered, “There are some woods to the north of the marsh -- quite a dark place, from what I understand.”

“Hmm, we shall try to avoid those then, beyond some taking notes and maps.” She looked once more towards the Weeping plains as a long pause washed over the two. Eventually, the dinghy returned, this time with the Hashimoto soldier and a small retinue of the prince, two guards, a few attendants loaded with supplies, and a scribe. Prince Tanehira quickly got them updated and gathered his things, coming to Tiamat’s side.

“So,” He asked “When do we head off? I’m eager to see these new lands.”

She straightened her posture, returning her gaze westward as she said, almost absentmindedly, “As soon as you are able.”

“Well,” The prince spoke “If the Captain is willing to let us go?”

Hikohira chuckled “Well, I guess this is our parting moment then,” She turned to Tiamat and the Prince’s group, “I wish you all the best of luck, and Tiamat,” there was a slight pause “Do try to return the Prince in one piece.” A small muttering of “I can handle this” came from the prince.

Tiamat bowed towards the prince, saying, “If anything, he shall ensure that I return in one piece.”

Hikohira chuckled, “Well, in that case, I still hope we may have our paths cross once more, but, I am keeping you too long, me and the others should return to the ship, and you all should get your own adventure underway.” She bowed towards them all “May the gods bless your journey.” She spoke, before ordering the others to ready the dinghy to return to the ship.

The Dawn of the Trolldom

High up in the World Anchor mountains, an enormous cave opening led into the deepest, darkest dens of stone - the infamous home of Thunder the Cragking, self-proclaimed regent of the mountains and eternal enemy of humanity. In his crystalline cavern of rock and iron, he ruled alongside his two mighty sons, Prince Crush the Great Maw, and Prince Quake the Scourge of the Hills. Years had passed since the acquisition of the Shades of Eternal Night, but the dovregubbes took their time in testing them - they needed to make sure they were completely safe to travel outside the darkness, even under the glare of the sun. In their experimentation, they had also laid their plans for the expansion of the Trolldom - their dream as the most powerful descendants of the first trolls - including the first troll.

They had drawn up a map on the floor of their massive cave - it revealed to them the lands they had taken so far, as well as the lands they would take in the coming years. They feared no resistance - in fact, the villages they had taken so far hadn’t resisted at all. Usually, the mere sight of them was enough for them to surrender unconditionally. No, resistance was never an issue.

The issue was simply taking enough villages. As their primary source of food, they couldn’t shy away from claiming as much land as possible, as well as the people living on that land. The livestock they herded, too, was extremely valuable. Word travelled fast, however - if they were seen early, the villagers would escape before they could be caught. They would need smaller allies - scouts and skirmishers who could find them their targets and help them sneak up on them before the villagers got wise.

So it was then that the Cragking turned to his son Crush with such a slow twist of the neck that one could practically hear the stone, earth and moss growing on his joints turn to dust. “Crush, my lad,” he rumbled. “Your journey today wearing the legendary sunshields - what did you discover?”

“Well father,” Crush slowly walked himself towards the map, pointing to the center mountain of the anchor. “I have discovered the location of all those large shakings that do a number on our gardens, a massive sword is stuck up there causing all this nonsense, i’d go up and get it but the path up is too small for a troll, we’d have to get one of our servants to go get it.”

“Bloody hell, that’s a sword doin’ that?!” Quake thundered like his father would. “Been buggin’ me for nigh a thousand and five hundred years, those bloomin’ quakes.”

“You can say that again,” Thunder rumbled along in agreement and interlaced his fingers with an ear-shattering grind of stone. “You said, uh, wossname, servants, Crushy? What’d you have in mind?”

“Uh, well, We get one of them hummies and send ‘m up there to go pull it free, if it a good sword, we take it, if not, we let them handle it.”

“Issit really that easy?” Quake mumbled skeptically and gave his chin a sandpapery scrape. Thunder snorted and sucked on a granite tooth.

“Would save us a lotta trouble if we got rid’a them quakes, aye. Where did we last put them pinkies?”

“We et them, dad,” Quake pointed out with an erect index finger. The Cragking growled in disappointment.

“That tends to be how it goes, huh… Oi, Crushy!”

Crush looked up towards his father “Wut is it dad?”

Thunder pointed a tree trunk finger at the Shades of Eternal Night, enshrined as they were on a neatly shapen stone pedestal in the back of the room next to the kettle and the stone shelves with all the mugs and bowls, which were also, for a lack of creatively selected materials, made of stone. “You’re on scoutin’ duty today. Put on them shades and go out to find us some humies so we can remove that bloomin’ sword and find my turnip garden under all the rubble, finally.”

“Da, we’re growin’ potatoes, not turnips.”

“They’re too small - my eyes don’t see the difference no more!”

Crag rose, giving his dad a slight salute “Aye! You can, uh, count on me pa! i'll save ur garden from dem shakies.” He walked over to where the shades were positioned and lightly put them onto his face. Heading out from the cave to find himself some hummies.

He walked through the mountains they called their realm, he had to admit walking out when that fierce sun was shining was nice. What wasn't really nice was getting lost in the mountains, which Crag had to admit happened a bit too much.

As it had just happened now, while he had not been walking long it was clear he didn't quite know where he was going, oh well, he knew where the sword was, just needed to find some hummies. He descended down from the rocky mountains into the forested foothills.

As he walked through the dense forest, he eventually found himself in a small little clearing near a hill, where a large opening had been carved into it, inside he could see a small group of ranglefants, sitting around a pot with a fire growing underneath.

“Oi! ‘ello there!” He spoke, waving his hand to the gathered group. Four moss-grown heads with hair flowing down to the ground and noses like coconuts turned to face the giant, all of them covering their wide mouths with their enormous hands to gasp.

“Bloody ‘ell, izzat a bloomin’ dovregubbe?!”

“By Funder, I fhink et is, bruv - oi, Shane, you gotta come see this!”

Another head poked out of the cave entrance. “Bloody ‘ell, whagwarn?” muttered the newcomer with a rub of the eye. Then he caught sight of the giant and rubbed them again. “By Funder!”

“‘S wot I said, that.” Then all of them lined up shoulder to shoulder and offered sloppy salutes to Crush, as though some ancient instinct told them to obey him by nature. “Oi, welcome ta Down-Below, bruv! Wot you doin’ ‘ere?”

“I, uh, am Prince Crag the Great Maw, son of Thunder the Cragking!.” He loudly boasted, pointing a thumb at himself, boasting both him and his father’s titles. “I’m here to find some hummies for a mission, who are u all?”

The ranglefants looked at one another, each more slack-jawed than the next. “Son ‘a bloody Funder!” boomed them all and clapped their massive hands triumphantly. Another one continued:

“We’s the Down-Belows - been livin’ down below for, uh, for a while. I’m Chester; tha’s Shane, me bruv; wife ‘ere’s Sharline; that’un there’s me ol’ nan, Beff; ‘n finally, there’s lil’ Enry, my lil’ boy.” Despite his very clear distinction of both genders, age and relations, they all looked just about the same - the older ones were slightly larger than their youngers and had more pronounced moss and mushroom colonies in their hair and on their shoulders. Chester gave his coconut nose a full-forearm rub. “You’s lookin’ fo’ ‘umies, izzit?”

Crag did his best to try to associate the names with all of them, he just hoped they didn’t quiz him on it anytime soon. “Aye, im lookin for hummies, need em to go up a mountain for us, that being my pa, my bruv, and me of course, we wanna stop the big shakkies going on here, u all know any hummie nearby?”

“The big shakies?! Where?!” howled Beff and hid underneath a nearby rock. Shane went to collect her with a sigh while Sharline raised her hand. “Yeah, there’s humies nearby - ‘bout half a night’s stroll, uh, that way.” She pointed vaguely northwards, though it was hard to tell if she actually meant that the village was to the north, because she kept making alterations to the direction. “Say, uh…” She pointed to his head, which, to their surprise, stood taller than many of the surrounding trees and was as such showered thoroughly in the setting sun. “... How the bloomin’ ‘ell is you not turned to stone by now?!”

Her family squinted in on her observations and all dropped their jaws in equal bafflement. “By Funder, bruv, you’s standin’ in the middle’a the sun! Dive, mate, dive for cover!” urged Chester.

“Wut?...Oh, ya.” Crag had sort of forgotten that was a thing. “Don’t wurry about that, see i got these glasses.” He pointed up to his face, where the glasses sat. “They keep me from turning to stone in de light.”

“... Bloomin’ ‘ell…” mumbled Enry before being smacked upside the head by Sharline.

“Enry! We don’t curse in this ‘ere bloomin’ ‘ouse’old, izzat clear?!”

Enry rubbed his sore head in defeat. “Yes, mum.”

“There more’a them?” asked Chester the giant.

“Unfortunately not.” Crag responded, showing a slight disdain at stating that. “Wes only got the one, that's why me bruver and dad aint with me.”

“Agh, bloomin’ ‘ell…” growled Chester and gave his disproportionately small head a rake with a disproportionately large hand. “So, uh… You need’ny ‘elp catchin’ those ‘umies?”

“I’d be mur than happy to accept ur help, we just need one hummie, one agile enough to walk up the mountain and grab de sword.”

“Just one?” offered Shane with a bit of a limp neck. “But I could go fo’ a snack.”

“Yeah, da - uncle wanz a snack! Can I get one, too?” pleaded Enry.

“Who said snacks?!” blurted Nanny Beff.

“By Funder, Shane, you got ‘em goin’. Fine, guess we all goin’,” muttered Chester and looked up at Crush. “Follow me, bruv.” The five of them then headed northwards in a line from the tallest, Chester, to the shortest, Enry, their long hands all dragging along the forest floor like field plows.

Crush followed, standing just to the left of the line of the others, keeping an eye out. On their way he spotted a fairly hefty log on the forest floor, which he decided to pick up, just in case he needed to threaten anyone or beat them senseless. The ranglefants made sure to stick to the shadows - while it was setting fast, the sun was still out and threatened to blister their skin. Sharline approached the shrubbery at the edge of the village and jogged back to Crush to clap him on the calf. “Oi, humies’re over there - village over there! What you want us ta do, man?”

Over yonder, there was indeed a small village, a collection of five huts and a barn, with a population so conveniently blind to their approach that one could wonder whether the Shades of Eternal Night also hid Crush’s presence. It could’ve also been the tree cover, for all the trolls knew. What was important, though, was that they were there, the humans, and they hadn’t picked up on their scent nor presence yet.

Crush did not recognize the village, obviously they had managed to avoid the Cragking’s rule. “Allow me.” He spoke to the others, he rose to his fullest height, giant log in one hand resting upon his shoulder. “Hummies won’t expect Crush in daylight, make em big scare, grab ‘volunteers’ be easy.”

He slowly walked towards the village, making himself look as intimidating as he could. Almost immediately, he was seen, and those who had seen him actually took a moment to rub their eyes, pinch their arms or ask out loud: “Am I dreaming?”

When it was very, very clear that they weren’t, they threw their arms in the air and ran around like headless chickens, screaming their lungs out. Crush just walked around, grabbing up what appeared to be the strongest and most agile of the humans, slinging them across his free shoulder, he then used his log and smashed it against two fleeing humans, sending them flying with a nice snap. He dropped his log and picked the two others up, deciding he had gotten what he needed; he headed back to the ranglefants.

Placing the two humans he had smashed down, he looked at the family “dis fur u, a thanks fur, uh, leading me to dis place.”

“Woohoo! You’s the best, bruv!” shouted Enry. The other four salutes their gratitude while slowly beginning to encircle the two corpses. All did it but Chester, who put his fists on his hips and looked up.

“So, what’s you goin’ ta do now, huh? Just head back?”

“Now, I head to center mountain, get hummie to grab sword, den head back to me pa and bruder,” He looked down at Chester, who he had to admit had an endearing factor to him. “Iv u want, uh, i could convince me pa to let u and ur family into our kingdom, we could use smaller trolls like you.”

Chester thumbed his chest humbly. “Why, wouldn’t tha’ be somefhin’! SHARLOINE!”

“Whaaaaat?!” came a full-mouthed response.

“Crush’s invitin’ us ta move up top!”

“Well, why ‘aven’t you said yes yet?!”

“Gettin’ to et, woman!” Chester looked back up at Crush and raised a thumb. “We’re in.”

Crush raised his own thumb and let a big toothy grin form on his face “Perfect, i’ll, uh, let u and ur family get ready, imma go get sword from mountain, then i be back, lead you up to mountain, ya?”

Chester offered him another erect thumb as his family dragged the corpses further into the woods. “We’ll get our stuff. Be back soon!” With that, he waddled happily after his family.

Crush waved them away, as soon as they disappeared into the forest, he began to reorient himself, which took, some time. Eventually he had managed to return himself to the main portions of the mountains, off in the distance he could see the massive central mountain of the Anchor. It took him and the human still struggling on his shoulders quite some time to reach it, but they did. Crush could see the thin and haphazard stone steps leading up the mountain, and the sword shoved into the top. There was also a sign but Crush couldn’t read it so didn’t care. He set the human down, pointing up the mountain.

“Go get sword.” He ordered.

The human, a young woman with long black hair and terror dirtying her every inch. She eyed the sword, then the surroundings, and then looked back to Crush. Her frozen lips could barely speak. “C-can I go home i-if I do?”

Crush shrugged “Dun’t see why not, if Crush no like sword, Hummie also gets to keep.”

The girl sniffed weakly and shivered her way over to the pedestal. With frozen hands, she reached up and grabbed the sword, pulling and pulling until she bent forward in exhaustion. “It-it’s stuck! I-I’m not strong enough!” she wept. “Mommy, daddy, Cory, I wanna go hooo-ooome!”

With those words, and a final weak pull, the sword came loose, almost like it was never stuck in the ground in the first place. The sudden loosening of the blade sent the woman off of her feet and tumbling down, but luckily Crush was there to catch her with his large hands, slowly setting her down, he looked at the sword in her hand.

“hmmm, sword very blocky, not nice looking, Hummie can keep it, too small for Crush anyway.” He motioned for her to follow him, “Lead back to village, Crush have business there.” The girl, unable to respond due to emotional trauma, hitched a ride wordlessly.

Once more they got back to the village, by now Crush was beginning to get a bit tired, but figured he could have a nice rest soon enough, he dropped the woman off near her village, close enough that nothing bad would happen to her surely. Then, he retracted his steps into the forest once more, and with a bit of trouble found himself back at the home of the ranglefant family, who were waiting inside their home.

“Oh! glad to see u again!” Crush shouted out towards them “Sword job done, wez can head up the mountain to my home.”

The ranglefants clapped their hands eagerly. “Woo!” yelled Shane and threw his arms into the air with such momentum that he nearly lost his balance. “Is there snacks to be et up there, too?!”

Crush smiled once more “eyup! we got dems snacks, and wid ur help, we can get even more snacks!” He drew closer to the hole they called home, slightly squatting to bring himself closer to the ranglefants “need any ‘elp carrying anything?”

“Not much ta carry, but fhanks,” offered Sharline. Indeed, only Chester and Shane actually looked to be carrying something, Chester holding a skin bag of something over his shoulder and Shane carrying a bundle of old clothes. “When’re we headin’ out?”

Crush looked up at the sky, seeing the sun dipping below the horizon. “De sun is setting, safest time for us to ‘ead up to cave, shouldn’t be too much of a walk.”

“A’right, bruv, you lead the way! We’ll be right behind you.”

With that Crush turned back towards the mountains. As the sun descended upon the anchor, he led the ranglefant family back up towards mountains, ignoring the sudden signs of destruction nearby that human village, through the rocky crags and valleys, leading them up a path deep into the heart of the mountains. Soon coming upon a great opening leading deep into a stone den, home of the Cragking.

Crush entered into the home, ranglefants in tow, with a loud and victorious stance. “I’ve dun it da! sword is gone and i’ve even brought back friends!” he gestured towards the ranglefants behind him.

The moss-grown giant twisted his head ever so slightly to behold the newcovers, his neck crackling like a rush of cravel. There came a long, long hum and then he opened his mouth as though his jaws had rusted and grown slow. “Ranglefants!” he boomed and the family of five lined up at the shoulders and saluted him.

“We’s ‘ere ta join up! Crush ova’ there said ‘was aright.”

Thunder leaned down to inspect them further, causing an avalance of dirt, moss and stone to roll off his shoulders and down on the ground. “My, I haven’t seen your kind for almost a thousand and half years. Thought you was all been outwon by them pinkies.”

Chester and Shane both scoffed. “Outwon?! Now listen ‘ere, gov’. Ranglefants may not be as tall and strong as your lot, but by Funder, ‘re we survivors!”

“Survivors!” echoed Shane and nanny Beff, the latter looking to do so someone deliriously, adding a “where am I” at the end.

Shane continued, “We’s ‘eard you’re makin’ a fhing around ‘ere. We wants in. Ain’t leavin’ ‘til we get ta join.”

Thunder rubbed the sand out of his eyes and looked up at Crush. “Where’d you find this lot, ey, Crush?”

Crush turned towards his father, having placed the glasses back neatly on their pedestal. “Uh, i fund ‘em down in de highlands, de’ ‘elped me find some hummies to get the sword with, i figured they’d be helpful in scouting and stuff, what being smaller den us and having some knowledge beyond the mountains.” He move next to the ranglefants, his own stone form creaking as he walked.

Thunder hummed again for an awkwardly long time. “A’right. Our two kins was friends once - long, long ago. If they can help us found the Trolldom, they’re welcome aboard. After all, no troll’s got a brotha’ like anotha’ troll.” He reached down and extended an index finger, which Chester shoved Shane aside to shake. “Call me king Thunder.”

Chester’s eyes were glistening at this point, and his family all shed proud tears in their sloppy salutes. “‘Tis an honour, gov-- I mean, Ye Majestay. Name’s Chester ‘n this’s my family. We’ll do right by ya - any friend’a Crush’s a friend’a ours.”

“Well, I’m the king, so I’d hope so.” Thunder offered Crush a knowing look. “Now that we’ve got some scouts, what’s your first mission for ‘em, gen’ral?”

Crush immediately beamed at being called gen’ral, he slowly marched towards the great map drawn into the floor “Well, i wus think’n we send ‘em to ‘ere.” He pointed towards the northern portions of the map “I ‘member you saying de north wus home to our kin da, if we figure out more dere, wes could gather more trolls to us.”

“The NORF?!” sputtered the king with such force that one could wonder whether the sword had been removed at all. “No! Nuh-uh, you know we hate it up there ‘n whatever -is- up there is nothin’ but dead. No, we got no bis’niss in the norf.”

“Yeah, norf’s bad, gen’ral,” offered Shane quietly, kicking at a pebble on the ground.

“Very bad. Lotsa mean storms and junk. Snow. Snow for days. No food,” nanny Beff continued with a thousand yard stare.

“Hear, hear,” mumbled the king thereafter.

Crush shrank back a bit, “Ah, didn’t realize dat, in dat case,” he move his hand more southward to the more closer regions of the mountain, “Maybe wez head only slight norf? dem big realm of hummies could be a threat, knowing more would ‘elp uz in case we need to defend ourselves from ‘em.”

“You means that, uh, wossname…” The mountain king scratched some trees of his head. “Humie place up norf, right? That one?”


The king made a face. “Huh, now that takes me back. Sure, why not. Good suggestion, my lad.”

“Uh...da, I didn’t say that, neither did Quake or the Rangles”

“Oh, ‘course Quake didn’t say it. He’s out huntin’!” He looked down at the ranglefants, all of whom shrugged defensively. “Well, if you’s didn’t say it, who did?!”

”I did” suddenly, a plume of dust and soot swirled at the entrance of the cave, taking the form of a strange lanky figure, long arms, a strange faceless, face, and a variety of other items. ”Greetings Cragking.” The figure bowed, showing a sign of respect to Thunder sitting on his throne.

“By Thunder!” thundered Thunder, and the ranglefants reached deep inside and found an instinct to hide in the darkness, scattering to the winds. The king leaned forward to inspect the creature, his usual snail-like movements hastened with surprise. “Whot in blazes are you?!”

”I, am a god, and a new friend,” The figure stepped forward slightly, their movement smooth and graceful ”Your son here has impressed me, managing to rid my earthshaker sword from its peak, and, avoid the horrid curse all the while, I think that deserves a reward to him and your kingship, does it not?”

“Wait, that thing was cursed?!” Thunder thundered again. “How did I not see this comin’... Did you know this, Crushy?”

Crush shrugged “I ‘ave to admit dad, i didn’t, de sword wus too small for us, so i let the hummie keep it.”

”And,” the figure spoke ”In doing so you have ensured that village will suffer that curse for eons to come, while this kingdom reaps its rewards.” It chuckled ”I couldn’t have thought of a better ending myself.”

Thunder smacked his lips. “Well… Better them than us, isn’t that right?”

“That’s right, gov!” came still-quivering voices from the shadows.

Thunder smirked. “So, you said a reward, wossit?”

The figured chuckled ”I suppose its time to give them, for your son” The figure raised its right hand, a swirl of energy came forth, wrapping itself around Crush, who was thoroughly spooked by the whole endeavor, before it settled softly into him ”He shall hold an aura of leadership over those deemed, misfits, of the human realms, your kin, my children, and others, befitting his title as, Gen’ral.”

The figure then turned towards the king, ”As for you oh great Cragking, I think its about time you got a crown.” He raised his left hand, a swirl of stone and dust gathered into it, forming a crown that, to the trolls was perfect, but to others would be described as janky and odd. The figure walked up to thunder, kneeling and presenting the crown. ”For you, no curses mind you, I am a fair director.”

Thunder clapped his hands eagerly and kicked his legs, which had barely moved for a thousand years. He flicked some trees off the top of his head, accepted the crown greedily and placed it upon his head with a broad smirk. “Ah, now all’s right in the world. Gifted a crown by a god and everyfhin’. Crush, you’s done me proud, my lad. This’ll be the day the history drawin’s will say my reign began.” He looked down at the god. “Say, uh, whot’ll we call you? Them drawin’s’ll probably feature you, too, y’know.”

The figure rose ”I have many names, there are some who call me the All-Father and Yamatu, which, those who do so could prove to be allies to your kingdom in time, but, you may merely call me, Yamat, the Grand Director.” The figure bowed once more, its janky right arm shooting out, even his bow seemed janky and off putting.

“Yummit?” Thunder mumbled and cupped his hand behind his ear. “Odd name for a god. Sounds like a snack.”

“Yeah, actually, speakin’ of those…” came a hungry note from the corner of the room where the ranglefants still hid.

The figure, Yamat, looked towards those hidden ”I shall leave you be now, to deal with your subjects, may your reign prosper Cragking, I shall be watching.” with another flourished bow, the strange dust form fell apart and vanished. Crag slowly walked next to his father and his throne.

“Well, that wuz odd.” He finally spoke “When do u think Quake will be back?”

The Bloodied Sun

Arngeir stared up at the golden statue, it was tall and mighty, depicting a beautiful woman, she pointed off to the distance, towards the rising sun. He sat kneeling in front of the statue, he had found himself infatuated with the woman depicted and he was determined to figure out who she was. He had searched far and wide throughout the city, finding that shiny metal, which he had learnt was “gold”, everywhere, his most coveted findings where those small golden disks, with the image of the sun displayed upon them, they were numerous but he found an interesting fascination to them.

Today, he was going to try something. He had continued to find nothing about this being, none of the older Iskrill or even the Brood Mothers had any knowledge of the woman, only that she was important for the prey that had been consumed in the Grand Feast, and so, Arngeir was going to take things into his own hands.

He had gathered as much gold he could find, arraying them in front of the statue in as nice a pattern as he could create. He knelt just behind the gold, gazing up at the woman, who he had decided to call, "The All-Mother", for she was surely a god, why would they have all these items for her if she wasn't?

He raised his hands, "Oh great All-Mother!" he shouted, casting his voice to the heavens "Hear my call! I wish to hear your voice and learn your words!"

A gentle breeze touched his flesh, warming him ever so slightly as a vague presence blossomed around him. "-you can’t nest thereeeee, stoooop!” the woman’s voice began. ”Oh, shhhhh, someone’s listening!” she gave a slight cough, clearing her throat. ”Hello ther- Woah! What are youuuuu! You’re not human, or aiviri, or uh… Anything else I’ve ever seen!” she exclaimed. ”Ohhhh you look so saaaaaad too.”

Arngeir almost jumped with excitement, she actually spoke! He was right! He quickly composed himself, reminding himself that he was speaking to the all-mother “Hello All-Mother! I am Arngeir! I am an Iskrill, have you not seen my kind before?” He looked all around him, unsure of where to focus his attention.

”NOPE!” she shouted. ”Wellllll, maybe I’ve heard of youuuuu before. I dunno. Iskrill is a funny name isn’t it. Rah, I’m an iskrill!” she giggled. ”So like, what do you do for fun? Do you… Fish maybe? You look like a fisher. I’ve never fished before but it looks fun! Then again, do you think fish feeeeeel? Like, can fish love? Oh, I love! I love everybody! I’m not a fish though, for your information.”

This, wasn’t exactly what he was expecting, the All-Mother seemed, strange. “We fish sometimes, not me personally though, I've focused on gathering this gold I've found around the city, all of this is for you, correct?”

”This is… Gold? Oh hey, there’s a statue of me! I’ve never seen this one before. Hey, where are we?” she asked.

Arngeir thought for a moment, might be important to avoid the reason his people were here. “The city of Solkra! Well, at least what’s left of it, my people came upon this city during our travels, we had found it abandoned and ruined, and we’ve tried our best to live here ever since. I came upon your statue here and found myself enraptured, I wished to know more, hence why I offered my prayers to you.”

”Oh how sad!” she cried out. ”I wonder what befell the people here? Maybe I’ll… Maybe I’ll…” Her voice seemed to lull and Arngeir could hear someone chewing. ”Ahh that’s better! Oooookay! What did you want again? Something about… More? More what?”

Ya, this was definitely weird. “I just wished to know more about you All-Mother, to hear your voice so I may be confirmed in my mission to teach your word to my kin.”

”I see! Uh well… I am The goddess of Life and Love and I love life… Do you love life?”

“I would consider myself a lover of life, I have most certainly found it fascinating, you see, my people, we are, meat eaters of sorts, but we do our best to respect the beasts we eat and try to give back, like how we are trying to rebuild this city.”

”Well most things eat meat you know. Humans eat meat. Aiviri, they eat meat. Even Sylphi eat meat and they’re plants! I would know that because-” her voice died again. ”It’s so noble, trying to rebuild the city! Arn- Argne- Arngeir! Arngeir, I need you to rebuild that city, let it become a beacon of life! Do this, and I will be sooooo happy!” she exclaimed.

He paused, Iskrill? A beacon of life? This could be, interesting “I, will almost certainly do my best All-Mother! But, if I may ask, I would almost certainly appreciate assistance, there are those beyond the city who seek to destroy my kin, in fact they are the reason we are here in the first place, they could threaten our efforts here and prevent the city’s rebuilding.”

”Oh I seeeeeee!” she paused, ”You need a deterrent! Something that will stop others from messing with you guys! I know just the thing!” A ray of light erupted down from the heavens in front of Arngeir and the sound of something slamming into the rock before the statue could be heard. The light faded to reveal a large spear, with a tip of swirling solar energy. The shaft was made of some sort of white metal. ”There! A deterrent! Just wave it up into the sky and that should do the trick! I hope that helps and it makes you happy!”

Arngeir was honestly shocked, he was expecting a blessing or like some protection spells but this, oh this was great, he slowly got up, gripping the spear with his arms, slowly retching it free, gazing upon its form. “I...I thank you All-Mother! I shall not disappoint you! I, I should get to work then, I shall speak to you soon! And hopefully more of my kin shall be with me this time!”

”Okay! Beeeeee safe little Iskrill! Byebye!” and the All Mother’s presence was gone.

Arngeir rose, he gazed once more upon the spear, it was incredibly beautiful he had to admit, he just had to test it out. He raised it to the sky, In an instant a bright beam of light shot out into the sky, the weapon recoiled and threw him off his balance, but luckily the beam stopped as he fell to the ground. He lay there for a brief moment, he could see other Iskrill slowly gathering to see what all the commotion was about. He quickly rose, spear held firmly at his side, he looked upon the growing crowd, raising his free hand he shouted to them all.

“Siblings! I have heard the word of the All-Mother! Come forth! And hear what she has to say!”

The sun rose upon Solkra, as a madman spoke the words of a goddess, who had not realized what she had done.

A week later

Ykkat sat in front of one of the Brood mothers, the giant fleshy creature had the upper body of a female Iskrill like her, but that is about where the similarities ended, the lower half was fleshy and worm-like. Brood Mothers “led” the various broods within the city, but in all honestly their authority was minimal, the brood would often go about doing their own thing, but would respect the mother’s call and orders, though they were rare.

The Mother sitting in front of her, Septíma, was the last Brood Mother of the southern city, the area both her and Zerkam had started their quest to unite the city within. At first it had been slow workings, Iskrill were hard to gather together into a cohesive force, even harder to get them to create any semblance of “civilization” that Ykaat and Zerkam had been researching, the old language of the former inhabitants had become known to them after long study and it taught them many things, but that wasn’t enough.

Luckily, then came the attack from the sea, the strange creatures that emerged that day gave quite a shock to the Iskrill, who had considered themselves safe from harm and unstoppable within the walls of Solkra, as the Iskrill took to calling the city. The attack had given Ykkat the boost she needed, and now a majority of the southern city was aiding her efforts.

“So” Sepitma spoke, looking down upon Ykkat and Zerkam, who stood behind her a few feet back, “All I have to do is command my brood to join up with your project, and it shall gain the protection and combined resources of it all?”

“That is correct,” Ykkat replied “Your brood shall have access to the materials, and the flesh, we all gather, of course your own brood shall assist with this, and aid in providing protection when needed. Is that all agreeable?”

The Brood mother nodded, “Yes, I believe that is agreeable, I shall have my brood get to work very soon, they shall meet up with your other broods and aid in your construction.”

Ykkat bowed to Septima “Thank you, Brood Mother.” She rose, continuing to bow as she did. Turning back to Zerkam with a slight smile on her face. Though that smile quickly faded when she saw the serious expression upon the Servant’s face. She sighed “What is it Zerkam?”

“The preacher is back, we seriously need to speak to him.” He replied, for a while now word had reached them of a strange preacher Iskrill in the northern portions of the city, he taught the words of the All-Mother, the goddess who the city had been dedicated before the Iskrill’s arrival, admittingly he definitely had aid from the goddess, but Ykkat was sceptical of speaking to him, worried he may turn out detrimental.

“You know I would prefer not to speak to that one.”

“Why not? He could prove incredibly useful, if the other chosen are right, he’s gathered a considerable following, and he seeks the same thing as us.” In their efforts to reconstruct they had found other chosen like Zerkam, the rainbow eyed Iskrill who were magically inclined, they could speak through their minds, providing a good network of information across the city.

Ykkat sighed once more, “Fine, we shall go speak to him, but I'm not going to be happy about it. Where is he?”

“By the statue of the All-Mother, having another of his sermons.”

“Oh joy, we get to hear him preach.”

“Remember my fellow Iskrill! The All-Father teaches us our position in the world, as predators and rulers over our prey! And the All-Mother reminds us that this position is one for the dedication of life! We must aid in the cycle of existence! We must bring an end to those who consider themselves above the order of life! Bring the city from its ruined state to the shining beacon it once was!”

Ykkat and Zekram stood amongst the crowd, they both had to admit the preacher’s voice called above all, and they could see how the others had become enraptured with his voice and his sermons. Ykkat sighed, Zerkam was right, they needed his help, his ability to gather the Iskrill together and a shared goal of building up the city meant that she could no longer afford to ignore him.

The sermon eventually ended, the assembled crowd uttered a prayer to the All-Father and the All-Mother and began to disperse, off to perform their duties within the region, much like Ykkat’s southern broods the northern ones under the preacher, known as Arngeir, they were trying to build and reconstruct the houses and other builders, gather food and flesh, and various other deeds.

The duo walked up to the preacher, who stood next to the massive statue of the All-Mother wielding the shining spear he had been gifted by the goddess. Ykkat was the first to speak.

“Greetings prophet, I see you’ve gathered for yourself quite the following.”

Arngeir chuckled “Why yes I have! All in the service of the All-Mother and All-Father of course! But, who might you two be?”

“I am Ykkat, and this,” She gestured towards the Chosen, who bowed “Is Zerkam, a chosen by the All-Father, you see, we too have been trying to achieve you have, the reconstruction of this city under Iskrill management, and we came to offer a, unification of our groups.”

“I see,” The prophet slowly sat down in front of the statue, gesturing for the duo to join him “You must be those Southern ones i’ve heard about, how do you propose this, unification would occur?”

“Well, my companion has come up with an idea,” She gestured towards the chosen, who’s rainbow eyes sparkled up.

“Yes I have! I propose a shared power agreement between the three of us, Ykkat’s organizational skills and knowledge of civilization, my magical prowess and command of the chosen, and Arngeir’s authority as religious leader and prophet of the All-Parents could make a formidable force, in short, we form a Triumvirate between the three of us, using our combined powers and skills to rebuild this city and forge it a new dawn.”

Arngeir thought for a brief moment, bringing a piece of animal flesh to his mouth and chewing upon it thoughtfully. Finally after a few tense moments he nodded, swallowing the flesh. “Hierophant of the Sun, Jarl of the Chosen, Queen of the Broods.”

“What?” Ykkat asked, unsure of what the prophet had just said.

“Those shall be out titles,” He responded “I, the Hierophant of the Sun, Zarkam, Jarl of the Chosen, and you, Queen of the Broods, representing clearly our roles within this triumvirate.”

“I kinda like them.” Zerkam spoke, Ykkat had to admit she did enjoy the idea of being called a Queen, she was sure the rulers of that heinous city would detect a Iskrill referring to themselves with a royal title.

“But,” Arngeir spoke, “We need something more, just our combined authority will not be enough, and the All-Mother’s gift alone will not stop the savage wrath of the heinous city.”

“Perhaps we ask the All-Father?” Ykkat replied “The All-Mother has already given you one thing, perhaps we invoke her husband and, upon seeing that the Mother has already aided us, he too shall aid us directly?”

Arngeir nodded “That is, not too bad of an idea, come, take my hands.” He rested the spear against the statue, taking Zerkam and Ykkat’s hands into his own. He looked up towards the sky, uttering a prayer, and finally shouting. “Oh great All-Father! Hear our call! Aid your children in their time of need!”

A strange sensation washed over them, it was cold, unlike the warmth of the All-Mother that Arngeir had felt, but indeed it was not heavy, instead incredibly light and jaunty, soon, a strange voice spoke into their minds.

” dear children, the Iskrill, what is it you require?”

“Oh mighty All-Father” Arngeir spoke “We seek to unite our siblings and bring them on par to our prey, but we can not do it alone, we wish for your aid, the All-Mother has already blessed us, and we wish for your protection as well.”

”All-Mother?...Ah! Yes, her, my apologies, I have been caught up in many dealings, but, you ask for aid? I see…” The voice fell silent for a brief moment, the three could still feel the presence, silent and watchful. ”Gather your strongest warriors around this grand statue to the All-Mother, I shall do the rest.”

And so it was done. The All-Father refused to explain further, merely reiterating the orders. The Trio gathered the strongest warriors of the Broods, those who had hunted the fiercest of prey, fought against the heinous city, or even had the chance to take down one of the beasts from the sea. They were gathered together, given the finest weapons the Triumvirate could muster, the bronze weapons scavenged from the ruins and corpses of the city.

They all knelt around the statue in a large circle, the Hierophant was given orders from the All-Father, performing a ritual that would grant these warriors grand power, blood of their recent sentient kills was drawn upon their chests and their heads, forming strange and arcane symbols. Then, a grand prayer was uttered by all in attendance.

It wasn’t a clear change, but all could feel it, the warriors felt a surge into their bodies and mind, the symbols glowed and etched themselves into their skin, shooting a searing pain through their bodies. They howled out as the pain increased, the triumvirate and their followers who had not been chosen stepped back, unsure of what was to come.

In a flash, the pain ended, the symbols sizzled still, but the howls no longer came, many of the warriors panted heavily and clutched where the symbols were. Then the voice of the All-Father rang out across the square from the statue.

”These warriors have been gifted the path of desolation, where they walk destruction shall follow, so long as they seek only the complete ruin of their enemies and their land.”

With that the presence of the All-Father vanished, and the Iskrill were left to their own devices. Arngeir immediately went about establishing the warriors, now a holy order, which with the approval of the rest of the Triumvirate, was dubbed the “Flames of the Dusk”, the elite force for the rule of the Solar Triumvirate.

With their rule now even further cemented, the Triumvirate went about their goals, in short time the ruins of the city had come under their control, while still divided the unifying forces of the entire Triumvirate managed to keep them united to begin their reconstruction, slowly rebuilding the city from the ruins of the old.

The Flames served their purpose well, used to keep the other Iskrill in line, but soon enough they began to lead efforts beyond the city, raiding the villages of the prey to remind them the terror of the Iskrill, this time though they were organized, and the prey fell under their destructive force.

They even began to figure out how to gain more supplies of flesh, merely breeding the animals that they ate when they had no flesh of their better, far more tastiest prey. A new dawn had arrived upon Solkra, the Iskrill were organizing, growing stronger, more organized. And they looked hungirly beyond their city walls, eager to grow farther.

The Lords of the Spice

Hoàng Bảo Tín walked slowly through the docks of the capital, all around him he could hear the sounds of bustling work, dock workers unloading ship cargo, captains yelling out orders, and merchants haggling prices, it was a sound he had come to know. His job? Well it was quite the important one, he inspected each box and bag of spice traveling to and from the capital, at least, in his jurisdiction, there were countless others like him, traveling up and down the docks and markets, making sure everything was up to code. Behind him followed his partner: Suratman, the small Gotran held in his hand a wet clay tablet, settled in a small tray for ease of carry, and he wielded a thin bone rod, used to write various pictures and lines to detail their findings.

Bảo Tín wore a fairly long flowing robe, as was customary of his people, the Reska, upon his head a long hood, and of course the mask he was given upon reaching 18 years of age, his bore an intricate design of the ocean, with his eye holes serving as a moon and sun looking down upon the waves positioned upon his mouth area. Suratman wore a similar regalia, his robes though were more shortcut and resembled a tunic more than anything, he too wore a mask, his instead bore a painted design that Tin had been informed was Gotran for “Meticulous”, a fitting description.

Tin and Suratman had been working together for quite some time now, and they both had learnt to hold a mutual respect for one another, relations between the Gotran and the Reska had long been tense ever since both races' surprise appearance upon the island they lived. Gotran craftyness had conflicted with the Reska’s sense of superiority. But after long years they both managed to work together, ultimately uniting to form the city of Sarapar, where the two inspection officers found themselves today.

The pair soon found themselves upon a familiar sight, a ship had recently docked and the crew had begun to unload their cargo, palettes with large bags sitting atop them, workers were extremely careful with the goods and Tin could see the symbol of the northern reaches upon them, spices.

“Greetings Kapten.” Tin spoke, walking up towards the captain of the ship, he was dressed fairly well off, jewelry was strewn about his body and his mask was painted in a bright shade of purple. Tin could already tell this would be interesting and he was sure Suratman could as well.

“Ah! Greetings inspector!” The captain drew his full attention upon the two, leaving his crew to do their work. “What do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

“A routine inspection, nothing more, if you will allow me and my partner here a look at some of your goods, we’ll be out of your mask.” Tin could already see Suratman craning his head towards the bags full of spice, as befitting his mask he was incredibly meticulous, he made no show of hiding his goals to gain a promotion as a chief inspector, a rare sight for Gotran but something Tin would be happy seeing.

“Oh of course!” The captain gestured towards the bags, motioning for the crew carrying them to set it down. Reaching down he undid one of the robes holding a bag shut, revealing a mass of fine powder of a bright blue colouration. Blue Fire Pepper, known for its strange colouration but incredibly kick. “2 Sharins of Blue Fire Pepper and 3 Sharins of Nutmeg.” The captain declared.

Tin and Suratman quickly went to work, they would not inspect the entire ship and its contents, that would take quite some time, they just merely undid the ropes of bags and looked to confirm the ship was bringing what the captain had declared. Both inspectors would often sniff or taste the spices, ensuring they were their proposed spice, and to ensure a level of quality, the King had long implemented quality control, hoping to build Sarapar’s image as a hub of finely crafted merchant goods and great tasting spices.

After a few minutes their work was done, everything seemed to be in perfect order, sure, the measurements might be off but that was fine, one could not be blamed for a few Palins of spice. Suratman wrote down the symbols detailing the type of spice and where they were from, and the numbers of what had been brought, meanwhile Tin returned to the captain.

“Well, it seems everything is in order, here’s the token of quality.” He reached into a bag at the side of his hip, pulling out a small clay token with the symbol of the Sarapar crown upon it, used by captains and merchants to show their goods have the level of quality so desired by the King. He handed it to the captain, who inspected it before putting it into his pocket.

“Thank ye inspectors, may Artiafek bless your endeavors.” The captain spoke, performing a polite bow.

“And may Kalaru bless yours.” Tin replied, performing a similar bow alongside Suratman. The two departed, heading down the docks once more, keeping an eye out for any further inspections.

“Nearly 100 inspections,” Suratman spoke, he had an impeccable memory, and kept track of their progress, recounting every last detail to their superiors in his quest for a promotion. The Gotran looked up at his partner “Shall we make it a challenge to break it today?”

Tin chuckled “Regardless of my answer you’ll do it anyway.” He looked back at his partner, then towards the docks, where he spotted several ships having just landed “But, I think our luck just came to us.”

Suratman chuckled “Letz give them a vizit, shall we?”


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