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3 yrs ago
Current Going to a festival fellas! So for the coming week I won't be able to post.
3 yrs ago
When you marathon Rick & Morty S2 and expected laughs but the ending just slaps you in the face...
3 yrs ago
School's in full "consume all his time"-mode so no posts for just a lil longer. Sorry folks! I promise I'll make up for it in the weekend!
4 yrs ago
Going to take a small break on most of my RPs for maybe a week or so.
4 yrs ago
Not near an actual keyboard until 21/06


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“She’s not happy.” Those were the words uttered by the messenger after he gave Auriëlle her summons. She was to return to Nallan immediately. It was foreseen. Auriëlle had been staying put ever since Bul’Gadin. In truth, she saw her task as complete. The rebellions were squashed, other rulers or groups who could move against the Queen were taught a lesson and the heretics of the Light were driven out.

“Alright.” Auriëlle said. “Return to Nallan. I’m coming back. As per the queen’s wishes.” Somehow she was soft spoken now. But underneath her skin she felt anger. She knew the queen would be angry with her for burning Teperia. But still, it left a bitter taste in her mouth.

The call to break camp and go back to Nallan was given the next morning. Though this time around, the camp was broken down in less than a day. Most of her volunteer warriors had left to attend to their own matters. She had let them. Their task was done. Others remained. Though many looked at her with reverent eyes. It was a strange feeling. Nonetheless, in just a few short days they reached Nallan.

Many men lay host outside Nallan’s walls, men that were not her own. They guarded the roads in, held tight to the walls like vultures to a carcass and eyed her and her army with worrisome glares and soft whispers. They let her pass, alone, a small retinue keeping her company as they walked the empty streets. Once so vibrant with the joys of life, left empty with peering eyes from shadows. When they neared the palace of the Queen, more men could be found, wearing leathers with bows and swords, keeping watch with hushed talk. Most stood straighter when Auriëlle walked through the gates and up the path, alone now.

Inside the Palace, what was always so quiet before, never had such weight in the air. It was crushing and the very air was palpable with anticipation. She knew the way to the great, dark hall. Each of her footsteps a forewarning, akin to small claps of thunder. When she neared the great doors, they opened before she could even pause and she was welcomed by the dim light of torches and the Queen, sitting upon her throne. Nalla’s expression was dark, far darker than she had ever seen before. She wore a dress of crimson, a cloak of black and her lips were red upon her pale face. Her hair was loose, going past her shoulders and the familiar weight of the crown pressed into the room. Across her lap was a sheathed blade and her necklace glimmered in that dim light.

The doors behind Auriëlle shut with a boom that broke the silence in the air and Nalla spoke, her voice cold. “You’ve made quite a name for yourself, Auriëlle. So fiery indeed. Killing, pillaging, burning… You do like destruction, don’t you?”

The silence was unnerving. Auriëlle had promised herself to Nallan exactly because the queen’s rule created such a great and vibrant place in the shithole that was the highlands. Now something was clearly amiss. To Auriëlle, the queen radiated something sinister. Then again, she was a vampire. How could she not. Undeterred she stopped at her designated position and clasped her hands behind her back as a formal salute.

“Yes, my queen.” She said, trying to look beyond Nalla now. It didn’t work. For once though, she didn’t feel the need to disrespect her superior. Not that she could with the Queen’s strange, obedience inducing aura. This was, at most, just a formality. They were sworn to each other and right now, Auriëlle was on the cusps of her freedom. She just had to get through this.

“When I first saw you here, standing before me like you do now, I was intrigued. Never before had I seen another with such fiery hair, none that mattered anyways.” Nalla spoke, slightly leaning her head to gaze upon her. “Imagine my surprise when I was told what a great and powerful sorcerer you were, and still are. I thought to myself, now, there was one who could be useful, and I was right. You slew that Leon Rider in the south, unified that part of my kingdom, and then you went north without hesitation. A dutiful soldier, a growing commander. Loved by men, touched by the gods. For how else could one achieve so much? You only have to look at me to know that truth.” She paused, letting the silence return.

“I told you to use the Light as a justification for war.” She spat. “I don’t recall mentioning that the city of Teperia could be burned for its defiance. Unless I’m mistaken. Unless I’m wrong. Do enlighten me, Auriëlle.”

The muscles in Auriëlle’s back tightened but her expression remained neutral. As if chiseled from stone. “The fanatics wouldn’t yield and the heretic infestation ran too deep.” She explained with a calm voice. “I burned them to send a message. You will not be denied. This way, you could demand the submission of all neighboring cities and towns.” Who would be so stupid as to say no to Nalla now? It would be akin to suicide.

“But you did not stop at Teperia, did you?” Nalla asked.

“The druids could still challenge your rule.” She stated coldly. “Bul’Gadin was a small village. Away from the river. It served its purpose: to show that Teperia was not a one-time threat.”

“Were there any survivors in Bul’Gadin and Teperia?” Nalla glared.

“I made sure there were none.” Of course there were survivors. When you purge a city, even dumb luck can allow you to survive. Someone could’ve run away at the start of siege through some hidden passage. Maybe they were buried in a cellar so the flames couldn’t reach them, nor could Auriëlle’s men. Of course she had done everything in her power to make sure there were as little survivors as possible, but in truth she couldn’t be absolutely sure.

The Queen furrowed her brow. “Your tenure is up, so you best be right, Auriëlle. If I have to put down future revolts because of your actions this year, I will be very, very unhappy. To burn not one, but two places where a considerable amount of people live, is unfortunate.” She snapped her fingers, and from the shadows to her right a man came holding a wooden platter. Nalla took the human skull that sat beside the pitcher and let the man pour the crimson in and returned to the shadows.

She took a sip from the skull and said, “You are well versed with fire, aren’t you? So you should know how dangerous a spark is left unchecked, allowed to grow. It can burn even the oldest forests to naught but ash.” She moved her eyes from Auriëlle and to her ‘cup’. “Even now I wonder where I would be without you.” She whispered before her eyes snapped back to Auriëlle. “Not to mention the Druids… Who pledge themselves to numerous gods. Gods who take offense when their chosen are murdered. Did you think about that when you did it?”

A small grin escaped Auriëlle before she restored her cold expression. “I did, your majesty. I never touched a druid.” She made sure they would be gone. When they would return, they would find a corpse bound to a broken altar. But none could claim they were harmed. “My council would be this: make clear I come back. I swore on Tekret, you know this. If they know that as well, why would they rebel? Sooner rather than later I would return and put them all to death.”

“Well, I am so relieved you did not touch a druid.” Nalla scoffed, taking another sip before saying, “What an ample threat. One easily forgotten if you do not return at all, however. I think I can say I know wherever you go, death and destruction will follow and mortal life is so fragile. As careful as one can be, even with all their tricks and power, one wrong trip and your dead. But, it might buy me a couple of years at the most, What is that to me though? Time is so… Short, anymore.” Nalla mused. “Where will you be going next? Somewhere cold I hope.” she asked, eyeing her again.

Auriëlle disregarded the queen’s musings on mortality. She would simply have to trust that Auriëlle could keep herself alive until she returned. It wasn’t as if she was failing at that in the past decade or so. “I will be back.” She simply stated. When the queen asked where she’d go, the answer was simple. Though not so easy to say. For a few seconds silence reigned. Before Auriëlle finally admitted: “I’ll go to the one I miss. It’s not cold where he is now. If the tales are to believe. My queen, I would now like to ask for my leave.”

Nalla rose, placing her sword upon the throne’s arm. “I am surprised. You are unusually quiet, as if your fiery spirit had been chained. Or perhaps you’ve finally learned when not to speak so recklessly.” She placed a finger on her chin. “Hmm, no matter. You may leave, Auriëlle.” She sat back down. “Do have a safe and fulfilling trip. Oh… and one more thing. Do be careful, dear Auriëlle. I would just hate to lose you.” She smiled, but behind her eyes, the hunger and malice remained.

For a second the sorceress’ body tensed up as Nalla stood up. Would she allow her to leave? Would she entrance her again, like she had done a year ago? Auriëlle’s fire was only skin deep now. She was ready to cast her magic in an instant, should it be required. Luckily for everyone, the queen let her go. Auriëlle never deigned the queen’s last comment with a reply. She simply left the dark and empty feeling palace.

Once outside, she let out a deep sigh. Though Nalla’s guard still kept their eyes on her. What fools they were. None of them could be veterans of her own battles. No matter how tough they might look, She knew that they were green behind the ears. “This is what you’re going to use?” Auriëlle muttered to herself as she was escorted through the empty streets again. “I hope you don’t intend to use fear, Nalla. That won’t work. Not even with the promise of my return. You should make them love you now.” The guard looked at her for a second but the sorceress didn’t care.

At the gate, one of her own warriors was talking with someone else, a civilian from the looks of it. She interrupted the conversation though. “Esiré. Prepare the people that wanted to come along. We’re heading for Ketrefa.”

Esiré gave the sorceress a small bow and then left. Only then did Auriëlle notice who she was talking to. “Beozaar!” Auriëlle exclaimed, as she clasped his forearm in a traditional warrior greeting. “You look… different? I honestly thought you would be a warrior until I had to kill you.”

“Aye, I thought so too. But after Bul’Gadin… I don’t know. I felt a need to settle down you know. Become a little calmer. I took up carpentry.” He said with a smile. Though his heart was beating faster and faster. Would she see beyond his façade? Would she realize his true goal? The scars on his back began to itch.

“Remind me to never buy a chair from you.” Auriëlle said. Her expression was still friendly. Then both of them heard Esiré yell something from behind the sorceress. “I think that’s my cue. Stay alive for me, Beozaar! And find a woman!” She yelled as she made her way towards her already packing warriors.

“I will.” Beozaar shouted back as he waved at her. Though the second she was far enough, he felt a wave of melancholy wash over him. This could’ve been the last time he saw the Prophetess. Maybe someday she would kill him. Or his sons and daughters. Or his grandchildren. Who was to know when the end of the world would come. His sense of duty kicked back in as he turned around and marched back home.

Seconds later he heard someone knock on his door. It wasn’t a normal knock. It was the coded knock they used to announce fellow cult-members. It also allowed any cult-member to just enter anyone’s house. They had sworn to never keep secrets to each other. A scrawny man entered Beozaar’s very humble abode. “Beozaar.” He said. “I think we’ve found some troublesome people.”

A single light walked along the path. It was a path less travelled these times. Many outright avoided it. The farmers’ fields stopped some time ago. Wild grasses and flowers were already blossoming amongst the untouched plains. Mixed amongst the abandoned wheat. Wilderness was already slowly reclaiming the path as well. Few ventured so close to the husk of Teperia. Ever since it was razed to the ground some six months ago. Some said it was haunted. That you could still hear the screams of the death and dying. Some said that you could still see the orange glow above the city’s wall at night. As if it was still burning.

Beozaar had no time for such tales. The many scars on his body each told a tale. The ones on his back told a tale of the Gardens. His far off home. The one on his wrist told the tale of Nallan, where he was imprisoned. The burned skin on his cheek though, that marked his presence in Teperia on that fateful day. The power he had witnessed there. It was awe inspiring. His entire life he felt as if he was drifting away from the Gardens. Now he realized some greater entity, perhaps a god, had guided him towards Auriëlle. The Prophet. The Witch of Fire.

As he approached the quiet walls of Teperia, he looked up. Somehow the stars looked a little darker tonight. The purple moon looked pale and pink and far away. A chill wind blew through the still broken gate. It was beckoning him, he knew it. Without doubt or reservations he walked inside. The city had changed. Some of the ash had turned white like snow.

A cloaked figure approached him. She too wielded a torch but kept most of her face hidden under a hood. Still, Beozaar could see her smirk. “I didn’t think you would show up.” She said.

“How could I miss it?” Beozaar responded. The woman turned around and he followed her. “How many more came?”

“Most who were at Bul’Gadin answered the call. Some decided to remain with Auriëlle. They see it as an honor.” The woman said as she made her way through a path that wasn’t entirely hidden but wasn’t obvious to find. You had to know where to step. This was how it was with the cult. “Most are nervous though.” The woman continued. “I think they know what you’ll ask of them.” She stopped and turned around. Even though she was smaller than him, he could feel her presence bearing down on him. “It’s their home, Beozaar. I know you hate yours but they don’t hate theirs. We can wait. We could-“

“Stop.” His voice was soft, almost caring. It instantly silenced the woman. “You have seen what I have seen, Esira. And you felt what I felt as well.” But he knew why she was so apprehensive. Nallan took her in. Made her the woman she was now. Not some chieftain’s wife but a woman of her own rights. He hugged her tightly and she returned it with the same affection. “I promise you, it’s for the better.”

Esira pressed her lips together as she fought the tears welling up in her eyes. Eventually though, she had to let go. “Come. The rest are waiting.”

After a few more minutes of walking, Esira and Beozaar arrived at the campfire. Around it sat many cloaked figures. Casting long shadows on the half-ruined buildings around them. They had made their camp on the plaza in front of the broken temple of the Light. Stones from the ruined altar, still brown and black from the blood, surrounded the fire. Some mumbled their greetings, others only had eye for the flames.

“Friends.” Beozaar greeted them. His voice was still gentle but louder. The murmur vanished. “Thank you, all of you, for coming.” His eyes went over everyone around the fire. He knew most of them by name at least. “I’ve called you here because we must confront two issues. The first is a matter of home and hearth. Nallan.” He began to walk around the fire. “It’s the city the Prophetessswore herself to. You know this. But it creates a problem for the inevitable end of this world. The Prophetesscannot lay low Nallan. So we must do it.” People began to look at eachother, but didn’t dare utter a word. “Brothers, sisters. What I’m asking here is no easy task. I know this.” He stopped and the people around him made way for him to sit. “We cannot destroy Nallan like we destroyed Teperia and Bul’Gadin. What we need to be is poison. Have the kingdom in the palm of our hands, ready to kill it.” When he fell silent, the first whispers began to travel amongst the group. Beozaar let them for a while. He shared a smile with Esira, before he ushered them all to calm down again.

“We must also look beyond the borders of Nallan. This world is doomed. We know it. The Prophetess told us. But we must prepare for its inevitability. When Galbar burns, it must burn bright and swiftly. So it is ready for the next world. To that end, we must prepare it. Our first goal, our first target, is the ancient city of Ketrefa. The crown jewel of our lands. The Prophetess will travel in that direction when she is released from her duty in a few days. Esiré-“ He motioned at her. “-will lead the warband that follows her.”

“Now you must chose. I have one last warning. If you chose to aid me in preparing Nallan, know that you’ll one day be hunted. Your friends, your queen, they will all hate you. The Prophetess herself will no doubt come and deliver your death. This is if we can witness the end of this world in our life. If we don’t, know that your duty will not stop with you. You remain with me and you will sacrifice your very bloodline. Your children and their children’s children will have to follow your path. Remain with me only if you are absolute in your conviction. Because if you aren’t, I swear to you that I will erase your existence. The other choice is to follow Esiré. She will follow Auriëlle and work as a mercenary. You will never return to Nallan, but you will see what this world has to offer and prepare it for the End. Chose now.”

More than two third of the people present rose and walked over to Esiré. Beozaar locked eyes with every man and woman who remained around the fire. In each he saw the right thing: total conviction. He let out a grunt and a nod in thanks. Esiré left with her people.

“So..” one who remained said. “Where do we start?”

Beozaar grinned. “We start… by becoming model citizens.”

Soleira was drenched in sweat as she watched the sun get low on the horizon. Next to her stood a large stone, half-way carved in the shape of a heart. Dust and gravel laid around it. In her hands she held a sharpened rock. It was getting blunt now though. Soon she’d have to replace it. Below she could see the gentle tendrils of white smoke rise from cooking fires. The village had grown significantly in the past few years. Perhaps because it was one of the safer places in the Luminant. With the aid of the animals and the wingless ones, most of Soleira’s siblings were kept out. Neiyari and Oraeliari alike. Though the later siblings were mostly kept out due to superstition and Soleira was too afraid to face them still. Nonetheless, she had created a nice and peaceful corner in this colorful land. Probably mostly because her siblings didn’t care for this place. They cared about the white dome, the black tower and the great, healing lake.

“You’ve been hard at work.” A voice coming from behind her said.

The four-winged angel rose up to face the elder wingless one and smiled. “It’s a gift. To a goddess. I hope she’ll like it.”

The elder rested a hand on the unfinished statue. “It will be big.” She noted. “How long have you been working on it now?”

“A few moments every day for a week. Don’t worry, I haven’t shirked my duties.” Soleira said as she followed the elderly lady who walked around the stone. “The animals are still our friends and the land is still full of colorful plants.”

“Oh dear, the last thing I would be afraid of is you shirking your duties.” The elder said. “You should rest, child. Your Oraeliara wouldn’t mind, I am sure. You’ve slaved so hard for the land already. Everyone needs a minute to sit down.”

“Thank you, but I rest plenty when I sleep. I’ll rest more when I’m older. Right now there’s too much to do.” Now Soleira touched the stone. “Even this… sometimes feels like a waste of valuable time.” She knew it not to be true. The statue had to be finished. It had to be. It would be the only way she could talk to her. Nonetheless, deep inside she did feel a yearning for a slower day. So she could just lay down in the soft grass, listen to the breeze and feel the warm sun on her skin. But rest was for the old. She hadn’t deserved it yet.

A year later the stone was finally finished. It was shaped in the form of a heart and while it wasn’t very polished or expertly crafted, it was still very big. Soleira had watched it for three straight days now. Every time she was about to kneel down and pray, she felt doubt creep up along her spine. Would it be enough? Would Neiyara like it? Those were questions she couldn’t find an answer to. But on the mid-afternoon of the fourth day she forced herself on her knees in front of the stone. She clasped her hands together, closed her eyes and prepared to say her prayer.

But she stopped. What if Neiyara would harm her? Her people did. She swallowed deeply. There was only one thing she could do: “Father.” She whispered as she bowed her head. “I don’t know if you can hear this. I don’t know if you… even care. I would understand if you don’t. There’s so much happening in the world. But just… if you happen to hear this. I-I might be… I’m scared. But I know I have to do it. I know I have to pray to her. It’s just. If you have the time and the energy, please. Please I’m begging you, I could really use someone right now.”

She released a deep sigh after her prayer. Letting all doubt and fear flow out of her heart. There was not much more she could do. Fate shouldn’t be kept waiting. So after the deep sigh she clasped her hands together again, lowered her head and closed her eyes. “Neiyara. I pray to you now. I know I’m an Oraeliari but I really, really hope you can find a moment to talk to me.”

A deep silence seemed to overtake the world around her for just a moment, before the air itself began to feel humid and cloying. A sighed breath sounded in her head, and felt as though it brushed against her ear. A gentle pressure dug into her mind, a dulling sensation that made focusing on her surroundings harder. "An errant child seeking solace, a warm-hearted woman returning to the fold. How could I refuse? I am here for you, my sweet, so sing your worries that I may soothe you." a sultry voice rang out in her mind.

Soleira swallowed deeply. Fear crept up her spine. Something inside of her wanted her to just stop the prayer and fly away. But right now she couldn’t run. She shouldn’t! The breath of the goddess sent down another shiver through her. Her heart felt small and meek but she persevered. Even though she felt her own senses pulling back from the world she loved so much. That she embraced completely. With her eyes closed and her wings folding over her as to form a protective shield. This would be a fight of her heart. “T-Thank you.” She managed to stammer out. “For listening to me. I-I made a statue for you. I hope you like it.” Now came the hard part. “I… worry about you, goddess.” She hoped that did not appear offensive.

"A statue hewn from stone, yet unique in every way. I love it, my dear. None other is quite like it," the voice returned, inviting and soft. "Not many have the heart to worry for others, let alone their creator. Why do you worry for me, my one and only?"

“I-I think you’re hurting.” Soleira said. “As the goddess of love, I think you are in a way also the goddess of heartbreak. And I think you are carrying a lot of pain.” And then her bravery slipped. With the words said, it fled her. Her body began to shiver in response to the goddess’ presence. She would get hurt. Maybe she deserved it, for daring to speak up against a goddess the way she did. Whatever happened next, she couldn’t bear to see it coming. So she squeezed her eyes completely shut.

A long silence followed. Due to the strange sensation in the air, and the pressing intent in the back of her head, she knew she was still watched, yet for the longest time the goddess did not speak. When words once more flowed from within her own mind, there was an edge that had not been there before. A veiled temper hinted beneath the sugary tone. "How sweet of you to think of me, my dearest. And what would you do with such thoughts? Have you come to heal a goddess? Do what no one else has thought to do? Perhaps, what no one else can do?”

“N-No.” Soleira meekly admitted. She had gone over this a thousand times as she was carving the rock. Who was she? A mere mortal. What could she do to really help a goddess? She was alone amongst the billions of mortals on the planet. “No I don’t think-“ She stopped and swallowed deeply. “I don’t think I can, goddess. I’m just a mortal. You’re a goddess. I don’t think I could ever heal you. I don’t think I could even come close.” She was just little Soleira. The same little Soleira that had talked to the goddess of life and light. “But-“ There was a weak sense of defiance in her. “I was just thinking, no… hoping, that there would be something small I can do. Something to maybe help ease the pain just a little bit.”

A quiet tut followed, and Soleira felt something run up gently between her collarbones, a set of invisible fingers dragging up her skin and dipping up to slide under her chin. A caress turned into a gentle push to lift her chin. "Oh, you long to help others, don't you? Even someone you cannot see, far above your station. So you carved a stone to appease the unknown. Come out of your shell, my one and only. Stand proud for what you've done." the voice continued, and the pressure under her chin increased as though someone was pulling her to stand.

Soleira understood, and slowly rose up from her knees. But she wouldn’t lie. “I-It’s not pride, goddess. Please. I just want to help.” Did she overreach? Was this too much? Her wings stretched themselves out as that little voice in the back of her head told her to run. To fly and flee as far as she could. Away from this place.

"How will you help me?” the voice asked inquisitively as the pressure under her chin vanished. A gentle breeze rolled past, tousling her hair gingerly like fingers rustling through it affectionately. "I’ll hear your every desire, my darling sweet.”

“I-I don’t know.” She was hoping the goddess would. Love meant nothing if there was no pain. That was something she learned some time ago. If she hadn’t cried when the old, grey wolf died, what kind of friendship would they have in the first place. But at the same time, that love should always conquer pain. It should always end well. But how could she ever assure such an outcome? “I can only ask. So I’m asking: what can I do to ease your pain? Even for just a little bit?”

A breath skirted past her ear softly, brushing against skin, though there was no one present to do so. "My beautiful darling, your presence on the world is enough to soothe a thousand hearts. Yet mine longs for more than words,” the voice murmured, a conspiratorial, low tone. A strange sensation ran over her form, like many hands stealing touches, sending ripples over her skin. The wind appeared to pick up around her, leaves and dirt whipping up in a wide torrent centered around her and the stone. "I accept your gift, Soleira, yet my pain is not a simple one. Not like wolves, or squirrels, or birds. You can ease it, my sweet. All you need to do is want it. Will you help a weary soul?” As the voice resounded in her mind, the ground itself appeared to tremble and rumble ever so slightly, though her footing was steady as ever.

Soleira felt some sort of force mounting around her. The influence of Neiyara, she assumed. The goddess’ sweet words touched the four-winged angel deeply. “Yes, I will.” She said with some more confidence in her heart. “But-“ And it fled again. Was she even in the position to make a request? She had to. For the good of all. She had to. “But I feel like I must say something first. So it was said. So it is known. If I am to sooth the pain of others, I don’t want to sooth all of it. Nor do I want to sooth it immediately after they experienced it. Love…would be meaningless if without pain.”

"You have more wisdom than you know, my dearest.” the voice asserted with a sensual sigh that seemed to brush against Soleira’s cheek. Yet around her, the wind picked up to a whipping howl, and the world beyond the torrent began to vanish between a whirl of leaves and debris. The rumble grew in intensity and sound, until the ground beneath her feet actually began to quake. At first the stone carved for the goddess shifted ever so slightly, an uneasy tilt as though it stood unevenly. The reason quickly became apparent; beneath it expanded a yawning tear in the world itself, replacing the ground with an ephemeral shimmer. It grew and grew, eating the ground before Soleira until it spanned beyond the confines of the stone on each side. Like it weighed down on reality itself, the stone shifted uneasily and began to sink into the tear, vanishing from sight. Glimpses of another land flashed between stone and shimmer - pink flowers, the sound of a river somehow overpowering the sound of the wind. A structure, perhaps? "Will you ease my pain, child? Come to me.”

Soleira was about to take a step, when suddenly a pressure began to mount around her. Neiyara’s presence was joined by another. The air grew thick and heavy. She felt energy all around her pulse and rage. “Hold.” She heard from a voice she’d never heard before, but she did as she was told. From then on, whatever entity or presence that had joined her no longer spoke in mortal words. It spoke in pressure and weight. In a language Soleira could feel but not comprehend. But to the goddess, the presence would be familiar. A sibling, who chose not to speak with mortal tongues. The message of the presence was simple: ‘The Angel is to remain on Galbar.’

The world trembled as the stone fell through entirely, growing smaller and gently setting down far below beside a pavilion of marble and wood. It seemed miniscule, far below in the hole in reality. At the angle, Soleira could only barely see movement within, legs shifting position before being hidden by the roof. "I long for your aid. Your opportunity will not last long, my sweet. Come to me. Heal me.” Invisible fingers seemed to clasp around her waist, and tug at her gently. A strange ripple of emotion coursed up through her waist, warm and fulfilling yet yearning. An itch for more, to feel good and see the goddess smile. To soothe the heart of perhaps the most hurt of all. The sensation crashed over her like a wave from the ocean, shooting a longing into her heart that she knew was not her own but still couldn’t help but listen to. How good it would be to help a goddess. Perhaps there would be peace. Perhaps all would settle. It would be so easy to step into the hole and go to the pavilion. To give in, and be the healer she wanted to be.

“She needs me.” Soleira muttered, as she reached out and took another step. The pressure around her quaked. Stone began to crack. To the divine the message was simple: ‘No!’ The presence would not let Soleira go. Around her the very same type of barrier that she herself could conjure appeared. Locking her into a bubble. The second she realized what was happening, she began to bang on the blue, crystal-like substance. “She needs me! Let me go! I can help her! Let me go!” With her fists she banged against the barrier. She didn’t even stop when her knuckles began to bleed; “I can help her!” She kept screaming. With everyone hit on the barrier, the pressure in the area mounted. Waves of energy were released from it. Once more only understandable by the divine: ’Sister! Release her from your hold. She is not yours to take!’

The pressure continued to mount, energy coiling into the sky and mingling with the whipping whirlwind around her. The need grew with each moment, until the tear in reality began to ripple uneasily and the pavilion began to fade from view. The wound in the world did not close so much as it evaporated, leaving behind only ground where once a mighty carved stone had stood. With the closing of the window into another world, the sensation and need to join the goddess began to ebb away - a mere flight of fancy, leaving only confusion and fatigue.

When the tear faded away, so too did the bubble holding Soleira. The second presence’s pressure vanished in an instant as well. Soleira’s body felt stiff and ached. As if she had just run half a day. With the bubble gone, she collapsed on her knees. “W-What just happened..?” She asked out loud as she watched the ground. Her mind could barely process it. The alien feelings, instilled by the goddess, were fleeing her mind. But she still felt a lingering sensation. Was it… anger? Anger because someone had held her back. “I.. should’ve helped her.” She muttered out loud, realizing she had failed and tears welled up.

The whirlwind remained around her however, decreased in strength but still present. "I'm disappointed, Soleira," the voice began anew, sullen and bitter. "To entice a goddess so, yet give her nothing but words and tribute. Your gift will serve as a bittersweet reminder of a promise unfulfilled." The winds picked up and the pressure in the back of her head increased alongside it. "I mark you now, with the same sorrow I see, so that you may forever know the futility of your actions." At that, the whirlwind paused for a brief moment before turning inwards and surging towards Soleira's heart.

“I-I’m sorry! I just-“ Her words were smothered by the whirlwind racing towards her heart. She doubled over. Tears kept streaming off her cheeks. She forced open her eyes, only to see herself coated in some sort of deep blue mist. Sadness grew to bitterness in her heart as she looked upwards. “I hate you!” She screamed. Not at Neiya. No the hate and sorrow boiling over in her heart were directed to the strange entity that had stopped her. That had blocked her from fulfilling her destiny. “I hate you! I should’ve helped her! I-I was born for that! Why did you stop me! Why?!” She screamed upwards towards the skies.

A last breathed sigh brushed against her ear, ran like a gust of wind through her hair, and finally vanished into the ether. With it, the whirlwind subsided and calmed. The air grew quiet at once, the cloying and heavy feeling lifting away. Likewise, the pressure at the back of her head slowly wore away until nothing remained to push upon her mind. Leaves, grass and pebbles fell to the ground. The goddess was gone.

Dawn of Anghebad: First of the Mystics

The Arena was quickly becoming the center of Anghebad. Some ten years ago it was nothing more than a pit with some carved, earthen seats. Now it was a big complex. With sandstone walls and even separate rooms in which clay tablets were to be stored. There was even a small market on the square outside of it. The higher benches were for onlookers while the lower benches, enjoying shadows cast from long cloths, were larger and meant for students. At the entrance of the practice area Orb floated on a pedestal. Overseeing the teaching and practice of magic. Today especially the Arena was hosting a large gathering. King Hamurai’s guard were making a way through the crowd so the king could pass through without a problem. The Arena lacked any special tribune or seating for the king. Instead he made his way to the lower levels. The king had fashioned himself an eternal student of magic.

There was a reason people had gathered in the Arena. Gusts of wind rushed through the openings between the walls and air was sucked back into it. It created a constantly shifting breeze. When the King finally reached the lower levels he folded his arms as he watched what was happening. At first glance, it would’ve appeared as if two women were dancing, their joint moves directing and bending the winds. One of them was clearly different from the rest of Anghebad entirely. She was slightly larger and lines of paint were drawn on her skin. Her partner dressed in tight fitting gear. In contrast the painted woman’s lose clothing moved with grace through the constantly shifting air. The two of them seemed entwined in an intricate dance. Guided by the loud, rhythmic beating of drums.

The king, however, knew well enough that it wasn’t just a dance. It was a duel. Every move was known and deliberate, demanding a response of the mana and the winds it controlled. Orb had taught them that. A wrong move weakens your position and footing, allowing your opponent, if they are skilled, to push their advantage. Force you to make even more missteps, until the mountain of errors is too big and the dance breaks. But the dance also wouldn’t work if each side simply did their own thing. Each move was extremely well defined and taught with precision in mind. The Dances, a path of magic created with the help of Orb, was as much a duel as it was an exercise in the improvement of your own skill.

At the moment, there was no clear winner. At least not to those with no eye for magic. But the King saw beyond the façade of equality. The painted woman was handily beating her opponent. But instead of delivering the final strike and ending the dance, she helped her. With every misstep, imbalance is created and the painted woman rectified that balance almost immediately. She wasn’t toying with her though. Well, not until the Whirl-Steps began. Then it would have appeared that the painted woman’s opponent was simply outmatched. The younger woman lost her footing. The wind carried her upwards for a second, before she fell down on the ground. The painted woman made her finishing moves, beseeching the mana and the winds to calm down again, as she would find her inner calm as well. Drums were silenced.

The second she was finished, she rushed over to her partner and helped her up. “You did well.” The king could hear her say. “The Whirl-Steps are too much for you yet. Take some time. Learn the first five sets. You’re doing very good.” The younger woman smiled, dusted her off and the two moved towards Orb in the shadow.

“You have shown exemplar improvements my lady.” Orb said towards the younger woman. “Lady Enura is right. You should focus on improving your first five steps. The Whirl-Steps are yet too treacherous.” His runes lit up as the sound waved through the area. Several other students were listening attentively, as was King Hamurai. He was never one for the Dances though. None the less he could recognize skill. When the short lesson was finished, two other students stood up and moved towards the center, into the light of the sun. They took their respective position and began their joined dance.

Lady Enura, in the meantime, walked over to the King and kissed him deeply. “My sun.” he said as he embraced her. “You looked radiant.”

“I always look radiant.” Lady Enura, or rather Queen Enura said. Though she never liked the title of Queen. She then turned around to watch the young woman she had dueled with. The woman was sitting on the edge of her seat, observing every step the two students were making in the sunlight. “She’s attentive. A few more years and she’ll join your magisters.” There was pure pride in Enura’s voice. “So why did you come all the way down the hole? Orb has no glyph lessons today?”

“I’ve come for you.” The king said as he turned away from the spectacle and guided his wife as he walked. “There’s been more sightings.”

“Golden lights?” Enura immediately asked. “Others, magisters, have seen them as well?”

“They have. We don’t know what they are. Orb has no answers either. We’re planning to send out a group of magisters to investigate the golden lights tonight. In the dark.” The King said, his voice betrayed a level of concern. “I just pray to the nameless god that these things are benevolent.”

“Prayer doesn’t work.” Enura stated coldly. It was one thing she hated about magic. They knew its god existed. They knew he held stewardship over all spells. Yet he refused to bear a name or to answer prayers. Even Orb refused to utter his name. He said it had no consequence. To know or not to know his name, it wouldn’t matter in a prayer. Instead he looked at those who advanced magic beyond its limits. Time and time again. Why the god himself wasn’t guiding them was beyond her. “You’ll tell me when they found something?”

“I think you’ll tell me.” The King said with a small smirk.

Enura frowned. “what’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that you’ll know what those lights are sooner than I will.”

“Wait… that means.” Enura was shocked for a second. “I can lead the magisters!?”

“By royal decree.” The King said. “You’re stronger than almost all of them. My love. I’m sorry it took so long for me to accept that. But I can’t stop you anymore. Just… be careful. I couldn’t imagine what I’d do if you go hurt… Or worse-“

Before the King could finish that sentence, Enure kissed him to shut him up. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily. I will be back.”

That Night…
Enura was the first to spot the golden mote in the distance. It was a small, fickle looking thing. Dancing over a very small stream. Behind her, the magisters walked. Most of them older men, well versed in the glyphic magic developed in the last ten years with the aid of Orb. The glyphs were entirely new. Many felt it prudent not to use the already existing cuneiform, as they didn’t want to accidentally use a spell. To that end the magisters had already held three grand concordats in an effort to establish the glyphs and the other ways of magic.

They were less than happy to be led by a woman though. Especially a woman who practiced the path of Dances. Enura knew well what the old farts would be gossiping about. It didn’t matter. She could leave them all in the sand, rocks and dirt if she wanted to. When the night was at its peak, the group arrived at the mote. Most of the old men began to write on their tablets, in an effort to draw out some information about the golden light. Enura walked around it. Turning around, walking backwards, and turned around again. She switched her direction and switched it again and again. She could feel the golden mote reverberate somehow, as she closed her eyes. There was something there. A structure. A pattern. Her instinct told her that. Even though her own senses couldn’t feel anything but chaos.

“There is something…” one of the old magisters pipped up. “The light’s perfect structure.”

“Stop talking.” Enura said. The magisters looked up surprised. Most were looking at Enura with angry scowls. How dare she interrupt an erudite man!? But some, some looked confused at their colleague.

“It’s not chaos.” One of the confused looking one’s said. “But it’s not order either. It’s something… bigger.”

“Are you calling me a liar, Nuraï!?” the first magister said as he stood up. “I am ten years your senior! Know your place. The light is obviously a clearly defined-“

“It’s not.” Enura said. “It’s not at all clearly defined. It’s constantly shifting.” She looked at Nuraï, who nodded in agreement. “But it’s big. Something runs through it like.. like how blood runs through us.” Carefully she touched the golden light as she tried to tie her own magic to something within the light. “It is…something more than mortal.”

“Orb said all spells are constructs within the mana.” The magister by the name of Nuraï said. “Maybe this is… also a spell? I mean look at the light. It isn’t made from anything that makes light. Nor does it feel warm. It’s just mana given form and somehow-”

“A form we can see.” Enura locked eyes with Nuraï. For a second they shared a subconscious sense of knowing. Of understanding each other. Then suddenly, he consciousness was grasped by the spell. Her magic wasn’t just taken, it was grasped and pulled in. Symbols flashed through her mind. Symbols of impossible geometry.

“My lady!” One of the magisters exclaimed.

She didn’t hear him. Her mind was consumed by the spell, trying desperately to understand that which she could not understand. The impossibilities were altered in her mind. Changed to more manageable, if not less accurate, representations. New, simpler shapes overlaid the first ones. Incomprehensible words were given mortal expressions. Finally, the core concept of the spell were given a pale, worldly comprehension.

When the spell released Enura from its hold, she collapsed on her knees. The symbols were still in her mind, or at least the mortal interpretations. “Tablet! Give me a tablet, now!” She yelled, even though she was out of breath. Her body was sweating. Most of the magisters were too shocked to move. Only Nuraï moved and handed her a wooden frame, with still moist clay with in it. Enura ran the stylus over it to flatten the clay and instantly began to draw the symbols she remembered, along with words written in cuneiform. When she was done, the last of the insight the spell had given her faded away. Leaving her mind like it was.

“What does it mean?” Nuraï asked as he observed the tablet.

“I have no idea.”

It was predicted. Foretold. Inevitable. Mortalkind was moving too slow. Especially now. Their knowledge of the world was fledgling at best, non-existent at worst. The portents predicted by the great designs had come through at last. The milestone was not reached. Even with the challenges Qael’Naath had enacted. The god sat in his middle island. The only island he had found that didn’t move an inch. Even though the blue sun was the center of his realm, this island refused to move for it. His eyes did not glimmer. The winds of magic were shrieking somewhere on Galbar. Uncontrolled power with no consciousness, no direction.

Its ruler was meditating upon a flat stone amidst a great, emerald and topaz waterfall. With all his eyes closed. The colored mist flowed around him. Forming constructs. Spells that had no reason to exist in a realm that didn’t need them. The second the vapor moved away from the god, it crumbled out of existence again. The schemes and diagrams vanished. Qael, as he opened his eyes after his rumination noticed this. His own subconsciousness was shaping the mana in his close presence. In fact only now did he realize he was sitting on a rock marked with lines, geometry and strange symbols. But the second he rose up, it vanished again. None the less, he realized something important. Mortalkind was not the only one who could forge spells. For two millenia and three decades nearly he had sworn to never so directly aid mortals. He would be the teacher. Not anymore. All six of his eyes flicked with rainbow light.

The shrieking entity in the sky calmed in a moments notice. Then the sky around it lit up with a million specks of light, as if a thousand stars flickered into existence and were extinguished again. In truth, the god of magic was working hard. Harder than ever. He felt his own power being consumed. After this, he would have to rest. None the less he pushed on. It was a great work not seen since the age of creation. The very power of divinity was working the world as if it was wet clay. A million spells, forged at the hands of a god, were flowing across Galbar. Settling in woodland regions, great wastes and mighty mountains. They were spells of ice, shadows, grass, air, cloth, bronze, iron and many more things.

When he was finally done, trillions of new spells had been birthed. These were not the meek and meager things mortals created and that were only sustained by the god of magic’s constant attention. No these were well defined creations. Though they were made by a god, thus understood by a god. Making them dangerously undecipherable for any mortal. It was a challenge. One greater than the puzzleboxes. One that would cost lives, this time around. Qael watched as the golden flecks covered Galbar. To his own surprise, he felt remorse grow in his heart. Remorse. Such a mortal feeling. None the less he knew that he felt it. There was nothing more he could do though. There was wisdom to what Cadien had said. He couldn’t just give mortals so much power. They had to earn it. Learn from it. Now though, he at least gave them an almost tangible goal

In the far off distance she could see the yellow glow amid the trees. It illuminated the grand column of smoke rising above it. Before the blackness of the night sky consumed it. Then, it only blocked the stars from sight. Still you could smell the smoke even where she was. Her men had sacked the unruly village of Bul’Gadin some time ago. Maybe it was too much for their disobedience. Auriëlle wasn’t a judge. The only thing she knew was that Nalla had send her here to teach them a lesson. In the same clearing as her stood some of her most trusted warriors. Not the ones Nalla had indoctrinated. No, these were hers. Even if she didn’t know their names. They were wretched men. Who enjoyed violence almost as much as she did. Yet here they were, away from the destruction. Bearing witness to it only. It was a strangely spiritual moment. Something Auriëlle thought she was incapable of feeling, until she sat down upon the altar that was surrounded by the raised stones.

Behind her several men began to hum. It was a strange, droning sound that quickly spread. Auriëlle wasn’t certain what song it was. Yet she basked in its sound with her eyes closed. Even up here on the hill, she could feel the slight amount of heat radiating from below in the vale. From the burning village. The humming wasn’t so much as interrupted as added to by the sudden sound of struggle and screams. “Please!” A voice from the path behind Auriëlle said. “Please! No!” Even from the way his voice was trembling, Auriëlle knew the man had cried in hysteric fits. The noise became louder. It approached her. When it was close enough, Auriëlle hopped off the flat stone. Right after her a fat man was thrown over the stone.

“My lady! I beg of you! Mercy! Mercy of Salavar. You spared them. Surely you can spare us.” The bald, fat man pleaded.

Auriëlle knew exactly what he meant with ‘spare us’. The village was already burning. People were already running or burning. They couldn’t be spared. What he meant was ‘spare me’. Spare him and his family. The groveling disgusted Auriëlle, who quickly kicked him in the face. “Be quiet.” She ordered. Before she began to make the rounds of the stones. They paled with the memory she had of the megaliths in Ha-Dûna. Even the carvings were lesser. Yet their meaning was clear. This was a small gathering for the druids. Druids that had advised the village of Bul’Gadin for ages now. Perhaps luckily for herself, they were gone now. Or perhaps luckily for them. She would’ve preferred a druid. As they had some sort of connection to the gods. Or so they claimed. Still, her fingers trailed the stones with a strange fascination. She would let them stand. For now.

Then she turned her focus upon the altar. “You know why you’re here?” She asked, softly as she approached him. “Do you know what I have in store for you?” She trailed his cheek gingerly with a finger.

“I beg of you, my lady. I’m just a humble-“ The man was interrupted.

Because Auriëlle had reached out with her powers, drawing out the air of his lungs. As if he was suffocating. “Stop talking now.” She said, again with a soft, almost caring voice .”You’re not here to talk.” She released him from her magical grip. The man cough violently. His lungs drew in as much air as they could. His heartbeat, desperate for the air, skyrocketed. She gave the order with a single nod. A moment later the man’s throat was slit. Blood poured over the altar. Coating it surface thoroughly before it dripped off the sides.

Breaking Altars had become a delight for Auriëlle. Especially with druidic ones. They, somehow, always managed to get the smoothed chunks of stone. The humming around her got louder as Auriëlle traced her finger along the bloodied stone. Something quickened in her heart. The sense of…something more. Was this how most felt in the presence of their god? How could she know. She had never been in the presence of a god she would’ve prayed for.

Nonetheless, the moves she made around the altar were driven not entirely by herself. The corpse of the chieftain slipped off the slab of stone. A moment later, Auriëlle put both her hands on it. The humming grew even louder now. She heard the word ‘Neiya’ and suddenly something clicked. They weren’t humming. They were softly chanting to their goddess. She couldn’t help but close her eyes and as a sense of more-ness flowed over her. She channeled that sense of greatness into the stone. Bidding it break and fracture for her. Her magic pulsed together with the chant sang with her.

“Can you even see this, Neiya?” Auriëlle asked in a whispered prayer. Still she doubted the gods. Neiya favored Nalla. That much was sure. But did she favor Nallan? Did she favor Auriëlle? The prayer mixed with the droning chanting. The pulses of her magic became stronger and bored deeper. Even into the ground. She felt a need to destroy. The grass along the altar began to blacken and die. Yet the strange sickness did not touch her own men. Suddenly just breaking the altar wasn’t enough. She needed to utterly destroy it.

”My dear, you should really improve your destructive capabilities, I grow bored of just watching you slowly destroy an altar, just crack it in two already.” A sudden voice spoke, it was incredibly strange, jaunty yet harsh, and the gender was nigh-indistinguishable, and, it came from the depths of her mind, not beyond it.

She had felt this before. The voice in her head. Now it was different though. This wasn’t Oraelia speaking. It mocked her. She broke the pulsing power but the humming continued. Instead she raised her right arm and then came down upon the stone altar with the edge of her hand. It broke in two in an instant but the force pushed on. A wave of invisible energy travelled across the ground. Blackening and killing every plant within the stone circle. “Happy now!” She spat into the skies, as she assumed that’s where the gods were. In their neat little heavens.

”Now that is destruction, that was so much more entertaining!” the voice continued, becoming a lot more jaunty than before ”I’ve been watching you for a while my dear and I must say, you hold yourself back too much, you really need to let go and just, destroy willy nilly.”

The humming stopped as her warriors looked up with Auriëlle up into the starless sky. “I’m not here for your entertainment.” She continued as she rested her hands upon the two sides of the altar, hunched over it and let out an exasperated sigh. Truth was that the more she destroyed, the more she killed, the more she liked it. She could still see the yellow glow off into the distance and the smoke plume it illuminated. For a second she thought she could hear the same symphony as she had heard in Teperia. But then she wretched herself free of those feelings. “And I still have a queen to serve. One that can hardly reign over ashes.” She looked up into the skies again. “So which one of the useless gods are you? One of the druid’s? Neiya? Cadien?”

There came an incredibly loud laugh, it echoed through her mind and seemingly bounced around in her mind, she could feel the sadistic joy within it as it did. ”My dear, everything in this world is for my entertainment, if they know it or not, as for, who I am, I am none of those gods, the ‘useless’ ones as you call them, my name is rarely spoken by your kind, but, my control extends over you all nonetheless.”

Auriëlle let out a cruel laugh. She laughed and laughed. For a second her warriors thought she had gone insane. For just a split second she believed she had met something akin to a kindred spirit. That sadistic joy was a little too familiar. Then she realized she was dealing with divinity. “So what am I to you then, oh nameless one? A puppet whose strings you pull? Or have I been dancing alone, for an audience that doesn’t care?”

”Well, not alone mind you, I would put you as one of the more, interesting, actors, that while they don’t take center stage, they show their importance throughout the scenes, your actions furthering the Great Play, and beautifully so if I do say so myself.”

For a second she felt insulted. For the better part of a year now she had been rampaging around Nallan. Olwar was killed by her hands. Teperia was woven into a tapestry of fire. Even now she was making sure even the druids got the message written in blood. How could she not take center stage? Then, for a second, things switched up. She had done all those things and she was only and interesting actor? The world was, ultimately, doomed then. “So that’s what you want from me? To keep doing…this?”

”Oh of course!” The voice loudly proclaimed ”Your destruction is a beautiful thing, though, I think you might want to rework your technique here and there, you still hold back, letting go and just razing the earth beneath you can be fun every now and then.”

She crossed her arms. “Nalla won’t like that.” She was just waiting to get chewed out already for what she did in Teperia. What was happening here and now in Bul’Gadin was just a cherry on top. Then again, Nalla had brought in a blood hound. She didn’t really expect her to just play fetch? “There are lines I can’t cross.” She said out loud before she turned into herself and thought: ‘Gods will be angry. Neiya… will be angry if Nallan doesn’t grow.’ The thoughts had an echo of fear.

”Oh nonsense! I'm sure Neiya won’t mind a bit of destruction here and there! In fact, let me go grab her, think it's about time she actually talked to you.” The voice faded from her mind, yet she still felt the haze over her, almost as if the owner had just walked away for a brief moment. For a few moments she was alone, it was almost blissful. ”Come on Neiya at least acknowledge her!” And it was gone.

The silence dragged out for a few moments more, dragged into uncertainty whether anything more would even occur. Then, as though a heat wave rushed through the area, the air around her seemed to grow thick and cloying. The wind rushed around Auriëlle and her men, a soft gust of wind whirling about each of them. In the rush of wind she felt something brush against her clothes, tussle her hair, and breathe in her ear. A presence lodged in the back of her mind, sighing invitingly before a smooth voice rang through her mind. "Oh, my sweet. So worried of what gods and rulers desire. Are you doing this for me, Auriëlle, daughter of Frankert and Elliénne? For Nalla?"

The rustling of the wind made the men step back. From their reaction, Auriëlle knew that she wasn’t the only one who had felt the touch of divinity. No matter how fleeting it was. The men looked wide-eyed at her now though. She saw the sudden sense of understanding in their eyes: she really was talking to at least one god. Then that voice echoed in her mind. Was this Neiya then? For a moment Auriëlle wanted to just be drawn into the voice. But she shook herself loose. “For myself.” Her tone carried defiance. The destruction she wrought was entirely for herself. Even though she prayed to Neiya before, it was only to garner favor amongst Nallan’s troops. “But I hold back for Nallan.” She then admitted. The words had already been out there.

"Disappointing," the voice crooned softly. An invisible sensation of touch pressed against her skin, and ran up along her chin. "You have seen what one can accomplish with my affection - felt it. Do you think Nalla holds back, my dearest?"

“We are not the same!” Auriëlle sneered. “Nalla is queen and I am-“ What was she? A commander? A warlord? Her gaze turned to the broken altar. Maybe she would become something more. A force of nature. Wrath and destruction manifest. It was an ambitious goal, but perhaps not entirely beyond her reach. “I am whatever I am but I am not a queen. I don’t rule.” She said. Her gaze then turned to the men around her. Her most loyal… followers. “I just destroy.”

"Mrhm. No wonder Yamat couldn't stop gushing about you," the voice continued. "You certainly dance well to the tune of others, but those who dare not reach beyond the will of others may find themselves forgotten. Are you more than a leashed pet, my darling?"

The question felt barbed to Auriëlle. “The queen cannot rule over ashes yet I burned Teperia.” She looked off towards the great yellow glow. “Down their Bul’Gadin burns as well. More ashes the queen will hate me for. Nalla’s collar is already off.”

“But don’t pretend like I have any other choice when it comes to yours.” She sneered now, with even more malice now. Not in the local Ketrefian dialect. Instead she lost her façade and spoke in Cadic: “None of you care if we live or die. Until we don’t walk the damned path you and your kind define.” Her voice flared in rage. The people around her became uneasy now. She was talking to a goddess, the goddess, with a terrible tone. In a language they didn’t understand. Auriëlle knew it as well but brushed the thought away. “Not upholding your oath might see your life destroyed. Sleep at night or you risk being knocked out by the moon. You talk as if we aren’t forced to dance to your tunes but we are.”

She walked up to the megalith of the water god. In Acadia they named his Klaar but right here, he looked different. His megalith was adorned not by tentacles but by fishes. She rested her hand on the stone and continued her rant: “See this stone!? If I destroy it, will I not be drowned in the next year?” She then passed onto the next stone. The only one that was left completely unadorned. “The great boar’s rock. See it? If I destroy it won’t his sons, the trolls, come? His wrath manifest?” She moved away from the stone, not willing to summon any of the other druidic gods their attention. Though she looked up again towards the heavens where the gods she was talking to should be. “We can never reach beyond the will of even a single god. Never for long.”

"Nor should you, my sweet," the voice continued with an amused breath. "Your existence is a simple one, but it need not be as stale as Cadien's statuary. You called for me in the past - I saw then, as I see now. What will you do with my attention, now that you have it?"

The other voice, Yamat, as Neiya called them, spoke softly, almost whispering to her ”Be careful with your answer here, I enjoy your performance and don’t want to see any harm come to you.”

A sane, balanced, humble mortal would take and heed Neiya’s message. Do not attempt to reach beyond even a single god’s will. Not Auriëlle though. It was a challenge. A taunt. One she would’ve created upon. If the first god hadn’t whispered in her mind. Was Neiya vengeful? Auriëlle had no idea. She had ranted and raged so far with seemingly no consequences. Nonetheless, the first god seemed somehow more sincere than most others. Perhaps it was the shared sense of sadistic joy that made her trust him. “I only called upon you…to honor you.” She admitted as she sat down on the broken altar. Her rage and anger had ebbed away somewhat now. “Teperia, the temple. I did it to honor you.” She wore her mask again though, as she spoke in Ketrefian.

Silence reigned once more as she spoke, leaving her to watch her surroundings and allow uncertainty to creep in. Soon after, a soft snicker rang out in her mind, elegant and amused. "How sweetly you bow, my one and only,” the sultry voice returned, inviting and mocking in the same tone. The wind began to pick up around her once more, dirt and debris swept up to whirl around her and the altar with building force. Invisible hands stretched around her throat, and the sensation of long nails dragged over her skin, over and around her neck. They met at the back, and something weighed her down - a new sensation of cold metal clinging to her throat. "Honor me always, my love, and none shall leash you ever again. No god will love you as I do.” the voice demanded and promised in equal measure, releasing a heavy sigh filled with that same promise. In that instant, a singular image - the silhouette of a horned woman - imprinted itself in her mind, like a seed sown to fester. The whirlwind ceased, and the sensations stopped just as swiftly. At once, the air grew lighter, and the subtle pressure in the back of her mind grew distant and eventually vanished. It seemed at least one deity had left.

Her blood ran cold when the invisible fingers crawled around her neck. Would she die like this? By a god’s hand? Doing nothing as it happened. Her muscles drew taunt as the nails scraped along her skin. She didn’t even dare to breathe. Then the weight came. It was small, yet it came out of nowhere. Then the image flashed before her eyes. All fear vanished, like ice before fire. The horned woman, it wasn’t someone else. It was her! How she understood that was beyond her. When Neiya’s presence receded, the warriors around her let out a deep sigh. Many of them kneeled down and ushered a quick prayer of thanks to the goddess. Auriëlle, on the other hand, held the piece of metal in her hand to look at it. It was a periapt of horns. A lovely looking thing. It felt both lighter and heavier than it should be. It reminded her of the small disc she had found that she wore on her belt.

As soon as one left, the other came back in, ”That went, about how I expected, but, no matter, she has given you something which means, you at least have her favor.” The voice had lost a good deal of its jaunty nature, sounding more, drained than before.

“At least I have her favor.” She echoed the remaining god’s words as she traced along the metal with a finger. “And with it… I will burn the world.” She then said as she looked up with a smirk. As she hadn’t forgotten this god of destruction and ruin yet.

"Now that's what I was hoping to hear." The god replied, the jauntyness of their voice returning. "And don't worry about a gift from me, you've already gotten it, I'll be sure to, enhance it once I get the time."

The god’s gift would manifest itself in due course no doubt. Auriëlle was certain of it. For now, she regaled some of the things the gods told her about. Her warriors consumed every word she said. None of them were literate but they would remember. This great moment would be etched in their mind. Here, amid the broken druid circle, all of them shared in something greater. Something spiritual. As they had in Teperia, in the temple of the Light. Many began to see Auriëlle as the chosen one. Not just by one god, but by many. With her as the vanguard, the world would one day burn. They all agreed upon that. Away from Auriëlle though. The warriors were well aware that the sorceress did not want to be a true leader. None the less they would serve her.

But another god had been watching as well. He had been watching before Yamat and Neiya came and he would watch Auriëlle for long after they left her. He watched now not his daughter but the zealots around her. Who saw her as some sort of prophet of destruction. He had heard her rant against the tyranny of the gods. She was right, even if only a few of his siblings could dare admit it. For but a moment, the shadow of the zealots arched towards each other. Sharing a power. Above them, they felt the skies turn dark. A light they couldn’t see vanished.


It was a disaster. Qael’Naath had lost the synchronicity with his realm. Some glades floated in opposite orbits. Some clashed, either molding together or shattering apart. Leaving nothing but a nebulous, glittering cloud. Some of the gardens were tilted upside down. Sometimes together with their gravity. To those with a limited mind, it would look like chaos. The antithesis of the god of Magic. It wasn’t. At the center, Qael’Naath was working hard. Observing every alignment and equinoctial point with his central, blue sun. It conveyed meaning and understanding. In the past, they would’ve served as signals for Qael to enact the next phase of his designs. Now they were holdfasts. Points of recognition, so he may discern the new design. The new design his own subconscious had made, in response to the revelation of his daughters. Even though this seemingly disorderly situation was made by his own mind, he could not access its greater meaning. No, he had to find the patterns.

He moved through his realm. Two eyes were open and affixed upon his plane. To observe everything from every possible point of view. Two more eyes were closed. That part of his consciousness was ruminating over memories that weren’t his. But he could see their faces and learn their names: Auriëlle and Soleira. His daughters. Sadly, those memories were chained to another. His final two eyes were shimmering. Through his avatar he was still observing all the spells form in the mana streams. Gauging the world’s magical advances. He had to actively fight a new strange sensation as well. A sensation that wanted him to speed off towards either of his children. The new plan had clearly added them to itself as well. One glade was barren and scorching hot. There was only sand, stone and harsh, punishing winds upon it. Its sole, defining feature was the black obelisk standing at the center of it. Another garden was lush and full of life. It was a complete and faithful recreation of Soleira’s cave.

His mind was too divided though. Oftentimes he found himself just floating through his own realm. Motionless. Having forgotten to move or indeed, pay any attention to his physical body. Only his senses really mattered now. Several times he floated through his own portal and fell into Antiquity. Looking dazed and surprised before he got up and jumped back into his realm to continue the tasks at hand.

Then, he could sense a visitor arriving, as Cadien stepped through the portal. “Oh dear,” the God of Perfection said, clad in his golden armour. “What’s going on here?”

“A catastrophe.” An upside down floating Qael’Naath said. It almost felt like he had just been drowning and the presence of Cadien made him realize that there really was such a thing as breathing. His mind emerged from the depths of his own thoughts, memories and the senses of the Winds on Galbar to peer at Cadien. “It’s a cataclysmic, apocalyptic calamity Cadien. I might not overstate it when I say that I have made two grave and ruinous errors. Look what it has done to my realm!” He exclaimed as he gestured to everything behind him, the perceived chaos.

“What sort of errors?” Cadien asked, inclining his head slightly.

“Children, Cadien! Sapient offspring!” He said as he turned around. As on cue, both the sandstorm torn glade symbolling Auriëlle passed nearby. And then the floating island filled with light and life signifying Soleira passed as well. “Well… not really children. The closest thing I should ever have. Singular mortals given a seed of my power that will sprout within them. You cannot imagine my dread right now, brother. Galbar is not ready. The designs weren’t ready.” For a moment he paused as he tried to calm down slightly. “I am not ready.” He said with a crushing sense of resignation. “They weren’t supposed to be created for another millennia or so. Instead, somehow, an inkling of my power fled me. Not once but twice.”

“Children?” Cadien blinked. “Oh, you mean like that Auriëlle girl?”

Qael, once more, turned an unhealthy shade of blue as he turned around to face his brother. “You know of her!?”

“I do,” Cadien nodded. “For quite some time, actually. I have children of my own, you see. Well, technically they’re my avatar’s. There’s four of them - wait, no, it’s six now. Anyhow, she met one of them.”

For a moment Qael wasn’t sure if he was relieved or horrified. In the end, his obsession won it from both. “You must tell me everything you know, Cadien. I beg of you! Who is she? How is she? W-Why is she talking to one of yours? What is happening in her life?”

Cadien blinked. “Friend, please calm down,” he spoke in a reassuring tone. “She comes from Acadia. Ran from home around the same time you gave them that training site. Her mother wouldn’t stop praying for her return. Some time later, she met my eldest, a man by the name of Carn. She helped him fight some bandits, but then she lured him away from the path I had in mind for him. Rather irritating, that.”

“Anyhow, they spent about three years travelling the Highlands. They started a mercenary band and grew uh… quite fond of each other. Then she left him, to go find out more about her connection to you. He was quite distraught. Now, I don’t know what she found - if she found anything, that is - but last I heard she was serving some vampire queen in the southern Highlands,” he spoke the word ‘vampire’ with clear disgust. “I’ve been listening to prayers from that kingdom - Nallan, it’s called - and there’s something not quite right about the people there.”

“The obelisk.” Qael said. Of course, that’s the reason why it was on her glade. He felt a void growing in his chest. Normally he would not have cared at all for a vampire queen. What else could she be but a small pawn in the grand designs. Yet now he did care. Vampires were amongst the more dangerous of mortals. If this Auriëlle was serving it, she was amongst the wrong people. His panic turned into cold but calm despair. “What do I do now?” What was there even to do? “She came looking for me and I never answered her. What could I possibly still do?”

Cadien shrugged. “When I guide my own children, I tend to do so indirectly, and only speak to them personally in exceptional circumstances. Sometimes, they have carried out my will without even realizing it. So, if you’re concerned for this Auriëlle, but you don’t believe she will welcome your aid or guidance, then try to offer it without making it clear that it’s you. But first, spend some time observing her. Learn her habits, her opinions, her prejudices. Her strengths, and her weaknesses. If you try to guide her without knowing her, then she might not react the way you expect.”

“That would require me to know where to guide her towards.” Qael’Naath said. Deep down though, he knew what direction she should be taking. If only he didn’t feel this strange, almost vile, mortal need to protect her. Like how mothers will protect their cubs. He knew he couldn’t do that. Not with Auriëlle. The truth was that in his grand design, she already had her place. He just had to admit it.

“She’s not the least of my problems though.” He then continued. “Soleira. Oh sweet Soleira. My four winged angel. She loves all, Cadien. You cannot imagine it. Such love. She wouldn’t dare hurt a fly. They will hurt her. Galbar can be a cruel place. They will harm her and scar her.” A strange new fire rose up in Qael’s chest. Even though he couldn’t talk to her “I might do as you say. Watch her. Observe her. Try to-“ Yet he had no idea what to do with her. The presence of her glade assured him she was part of the plan though. “-protect her.” He added when he found the appropriate word. The thought gained resolve though.

“They’re your children,” said Cadien. “It is up to you what you use them for. My own children, I’m trying to get to stabilize the Highlands. A difficult task, all things considered. Carn is preparing to take Ketrefa, but fixing Ketrefa is just the first step. There’s Nallan in the south, Ha-Duna in the west, the Iskrill in the north, trolls and vampires everywhere… and who knows what else?” He shook his head. “The other gods and their meddling…”

Qael’s focus shifted. “I know what you mean. Though sometimes their meddling is what makes Galbar such an interesting place.” Then his mind went to the Highlands. It was such a small region. Yet it had seen an almost unfair share of attention from all the gods now. Even though he did not share Cadien’s distaste for all things Iskrill, troll or vampire, even he had to admit that things were slipping in that land. “But the Highlands require attention. It’s a staggering task, brother. So what’s your plan? Beyond this Carn taking the city of Ketrefa?”

If he takes it,” Cadien corrected. “But I have a plan in place should he fail. Either way, what I do next will depend on what state the city and the surrounding regions are in.”

“Why not simply make sure that he succeeds?” Qael asked.

“I have given a great deal of aid, but the act must still require some effort and skill on his part. It must appear as if a mortal has solved a mortal problem. Otherwise, they will learn nothing from the incident, and may try to revert back to their old ways at a later date. If I simply forced them to change, then they would do it only because I demand it, not because they understand why.”

“I see. Well, it would seem I will have to keep my eye out for Ketrefa then.” Qael said, before two of his eyes glimmered again. “Forgive me brother. My duty demands my attention. I must leave you. But I am grateful for the information you have brought me about my daughter. Know that I owe you a favor.” With those words, and a small bow, Qael flew up again. Only to seemingly freeze up mid-air. His body floated motionless through his realm as he returned his attention to the matters of his realm, his family and magic itself.

“Hm...” responded Cadien, not entirely sure what to make of Qael’s odd behaviour, but it was clear the God of Magic’s attention had gone elsewhere. So with a final shrug, Cadien turned and left.

The scream echoed through the forest. But Auriëlle’s men, all sitting around the campfire, were well used to it by now. A man was bound to a tree. His body was limp, bruised and beaten. There wasn’t much life left in his body but there was a fire in his eyes. A fire Auriëlle hated. “Just tell me what I want to know and we finish this.” She said, seated on a fallen log in front of the beaten prisoner.

He just spat out blood towards her. There was not enough strength left in him to spit that far though. Instead, it looked more like red drool flowed down to his own feet. She let out an exasperated sigh as she gave a signal to the man beside her. With the tip of the oaken branch, he touched the man’s chest. He groaned as the bruises faded and the lacerations healed. When the wounds was gone, the prisoner was only severely out of breath. “The Light protects.” He said.

Earning him another deep sigh from Auriëlle, who got up and grabbed him by the cheeks with one hand and squeezed his mouth. “I’m getting tired of this play. You know what that means? It means that if you don’t start talking soon, I will forge a fate for you worse than death.”

The man just groaned, but she saw the answer in his eyes. ‘The Light protects.’ He had repeated it all night now. She pushed him back up against the tree and gave the signal to the two men beside her. With heavy clubs they began beating him up again. They were pretty good. Broken bones took much longer to heal with the staff. Instead they kept it to bruises and cuts. According to his frequent involuntary screams, that was painful enough.

“Ready to talk?” She asked in between fists hitting his once again deeply bruised face.

He just stared at her. With that same, zealous fire in his eyes.

“You know, I cannot imagine what makes you so fervent.” Auriëlle said, with a wave of her hand her brutalizers took a step back. Allowing the man to take a breath and recover his thoughts. “Have you ever talked to your god?” It wasn’t Oraelia, he made sure to make that clear when he was caught and first questioned. “Shown favor by your god? I’d ask if you were given any power but that’s out of the question. Your god didn’t particularly look down upon you and smile three days ago. When I beat you and your army.”

“The Light… speaks through the saints. It favors us with grain and luck.” He managed to get out between violent coughing fits. “The Light protects.”

“You’re sure about that? Even when I burn you here, you’re certain that your Light will protect you?” She raised her hand. Fire formed in her palm. It was a small flame. Only slightly bigger than a candleflame.

“It protects my soul. It will protect Teperia.” The man managed to get out.

Auriëlle just returned to her place and gave the signal. The two guards continued the beating but Auriëlle herself had long since lost interest. Instead her attention turned to the disk hanging off her neck. It was a strange object, with an eye at its center. Its weighted less than it should, or so Auriëlle thought. There was a weight to it she just couldn’t explain. She even checked it with scales. Aside from the weight it also felt like the air was constantly moving towards it, in a light breeze. Another thing that was utterly impossible in the windless night.

The man never gave in. His conviction, his faith, it was just too strong. Countless times she had him beaten up. Countless times she had him healed up again. In the Auriëlle was pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration as he was healed again and the sun was peeking up from beyond the horizon. “Alright. I’m done. Get him up. Let’s go.”

“You’re just going to give up like that?” One soldier asked.

Auriëlle stopped dead in her tracks. “What did you just ask?” She said, as she turned around. “You think I’m giving up?” She stared down the offending soldier, who took a step back and didn’t dare to speak. “He had a choice!” She continued as she pointed at the chief. “He breaks or else.”

“Or else what!?” The bound chieftain spat out with all the disrespecting strength he had. “You are nothing, Auriëlle. I heard your story. You think those bards you send made any difference? None of us were afraid! None! You think you’ve won but you’ve lost. I’ll never bend to Nalla. Nor will my people. You’ve lost, Auriëlle.”

She threw him a vile grin. “You’ll never bend the knee?” She asked.

“Not in a thousand years! If Nalla wants to rule us, she’ll have to come to us. She’ll have to pray like us.” The chieftain said.

“Not in a thousand years.” Auriëlle pretended like she pondered the words. “Very well then. If you won’t bend then you are useless to us.”

“What?” The man said in surprise.

“I said you will be useless. It means you will burn. You and your people and your city. I send the bards to warn you. I’ve beaten you in battle. I’ve been beating you throughout the night. My patience is not endless.”

“You would murder a city!? Even by your own faith that must be a great sin!”

“Maybe.” She said. “But I’ll live with that.” Her official command soon followed. They marched upon Teperia, after they had so brutally destroyed the opposing army before. Between the healing capabilities of the staff, Auriëlle’s ever increasing power and Teperia’s lack of any hero, the battle had been a very, almost boring victory. Now though, her army marched upon a city. The army was marked well. Behind her various Leon-pelt banners were held high. As proof of the stories. When she arrived at Teperia, she had a crude battering fashioned in a day.

The citizens of Teperia sat huddled together in their houses. Their windows were boarded up and the doors barred. The militia was compromised of some veteran warriors who managed to flee the first battle combined with those too young or too old to fight before. They were armed with kitchen knives and pitchforks. It wasn’t quiet. There was too much yelling, crying and shouting going around inside the walled city for that. Yet somehow all that noise was drowned out by the rhythmic thumping of the battering ram upon the gate. Every hit reverberated along the walls. Shaking off dust and dirt from it. The wooden beam holding the gate closed began to crack slowly. But the splinters became more and more pronounced the more hits went through the wall.

Then it happened. The beam broke. The gate swung open. The defenders held their weapons ready. Some had whipped themselves into a frenzy. Ready to charge. To take the fight to the enemy. They were stopped in their tracks. A strong gust of wind traveled with the opening gate. Billowing up smoke, dust, sand and dirt into a thick cloud around the entrance of the city. None could see through it. The defenders took a step back. Those with polearms held them in front of them. There was no shouting. No yelling. The world was quiet. Then she appeared.

Auriëlle marched from dust with her hands beside her. Between her fingers they could see the distortion of light. As if there was an invisible fire burning in her palms. At the sight of her, the most frenzied defenders charged. They shouted and screamed in primal tones with axe or knife held high. A crooked smile formed on the sorceress’ lips as she put her hands closed together, and then unleashed her power.

The translucent wave of power ripped through the first three attackers. It flung them up into the air as it turned their bodies into ashes. The distortion lost its absolute destructive abilities after it floored and disintegrated the third guy. After him, it turned into a wave of fire. The wave finally broke upon a house. Lighting its wall on fire. Some of the defenders turned pale, dropped their weapon and ran. Others managed to stave off fear as they readied for their assault. From behind her troops walked up from within the billowing dust. Each took a moment to observe the scene, then charged. Auriëlle stayed behind and watched. Watched as her soldiers cut down the supposed militia. The people of Teperia fought harder than she thought. Much harder. None the less, after half an hour of fighting, the defenders began to break. Several of Nallan’s veterans turned back to look at Auriëlle, who sat atop the plinth of a statue of Cadien. She knew the looks. It were the looks of hungry hounds begging for their leash to be taken off.

She simply raised her hands and let them go. The veterans almost howled as they broke their line. Suddenly half her army turned wild-eyed. There was no stopping them now. Soon the screams echoed through the streets. Doors were hacked down. Mothers and daughters were pulled out into the street, while the men were butchered. Torches were tossed upon houses. Everything that could be carried in someone’s arms was taken out and gathered at the square in front of the broken gate. That which was too heavy served as fuel for the fire that was growing within Teperia.

Auriëlle herself walked through the streets. All around her men were conducting the sweetest symphonies of primal growls. Mixed with screams and crying pleas or bitter curses. The flames were growing and roaring towards their crescendo. Filling the roads with a heat most would’ve found unbearable. She thrived in it though. With joyful moves of her hands she wove the flames together. Creating even greater infernos. Just like her famed ancestor had done. Unlike Simain though, she had long since lost any semblance of control over the fires. Instead she had released the reigns completely and just whipped the flames on. She let it all happen with a bright smile on her face. And so she walked through the city, weaving destruction as she ushered on her own men to soak the streets with blood. Eventually fate seemed to have guided her to a large plaza, at the center of which stood a sort of blocky temple and her men chopping down the door. “What’s happening?” She asked.

One of her men approached her. “People are holed up in this temple-thing.” He said, pointing with his spear at the big, solid building. “We want in.” The temple looked like it was built like a fortress. There were no windows and the walls were made of clay. The door was really the best possible way in.

“Stand back.” Auriëlle ordered. To her own surprise, most of the soldiers obeyed immediately. Some more fervent looters needed a second or five but even they got in line. Auriëlle approached the wooden gate and put the palm of her hand on it. Now she could feel the strange weight of the disk shifting. The weight moved from the eye to her hand, empowering her own magic. Smoldering veins carved through the wood. Slowly but surely. Weakening its already considerably weakened structure. It took some time and a lot of focus. But when the veins reached the outer edges of the doorway, Auriëlle took a step back and channeled a rush of wind into the door.

It broke in a hundred places. Pieces of smoldering wood were thrown inside the very dark temple. Women screamed for a moment, then huddled together in fear. Auriëlle walked through the archway where once a door was. She stopped inside, bathing in light coming through the entryway. At the far end was the reliquary. There was a chalice made of silver with a single emerald laid in it on the altar. Next to a disk the size of her hand, made of gold. “Ah.” She said, stepping out of the light and into the shadows of the temple. Inside only four torches affixed upon the temple’s central pillars and a few candles offered the only semblance of light. The people were huddled as far away from the entrance as they could. One man, dressed in brown robes approached her.

“Begone, fiend!” He snarled. “This place is holy. Protected by our God! Begone before I call upon the Light to smite you!”

“Do it.” Auriëlle calmly answered as she slowly walked closer to him. Behind her, the warriors were coming inside as well. They walked along the walls of the temple.

“You do not know what you call upon yourself. The Light will punish you all for what you did here today! Even your own gods must frown upon such display of cruelty and barbarism!” The shouted. He stopped in front of her, as if his body was enough to stop the slow but unrelenting approach of Auriëlle.

She pushed him away with ease. In fact, he didn’t particularly fight her. Instead she made her way towards the altar. It was a massive slab of some pristine stone Auriëlle didn’t bother to identify, drapped with fine-red painted cloth. She let her fingers trail upon the cold stone. “This altar is made for your god?” She asked.

“Yes.” The priest answered as he remained standing up amongst his people. Who were watching him with desperate eyes.

She walked up behind the altar and rested her hand on it. “It’s beautiful.” She remarked, as she took the silver chalice and tossed it away towards the priest. Then with the back of her hand she pushed away the disk of gold. “Faith as strong as stone.” The murmured. Then she closed her eyes and once more channeled her power into the stone. At first none could see the effect. Not really. Not until the first crack appeared on its surface. People began to gasp as more cracks appeared. Most of them looked on in shock. Even the priest’s brave facade began to crack now.

Then Auriëlle began her own prayer to the patron goddess of Nallan: “Oh Neiya. Hear these words I speak now to you. See as I desecrate this altar in the name of your love. Accept these sacrifices, whose blood will flow upon this broken edifice.” When she was finished, the altar broke. The stone just crumbled to gravel under her hand. She managed to stop ever the broken altar and pulled her copper knife. The priest began to walk backwards, but her own troops had gotten the signal. They smiled as they closed in on the terrified population as well, mumbling their own prayers to Neiya’s eternal love as they grabbed their victims. Auriëlle managed to grab the priest by his collar.

“You cannot do this! This is desecration! Sacrilege! Even your own gods must frown upon this! It is madness!” He exclaimed.

“I don’t care.” Auriëlle whispered at him, as she began to drag him towards the altar. He slumped down on the floor, but soon one of her soldiers was upon him and helped him be dragged to the altar. “The gods don’t care and nor do I.” She said, as she pulled him in front of her, pushed him down on his knees and held him by his hair. “Say your last prayer.” She said as she pushed him down, with his face into the gravel. Her sharp, cold copper knife touched his throat. She could hear him mumble something. But halfway through what she assumed was a plea of vengeance she slit his throat. He began to gurgle and grasp at his throat as the blood sprayed out. Then the crimson slowly flowered across the gravel. It didn’t take long before he was completely motionless. Behind her, the soldiers were already busying themselves in doing the same.

After everyone was sacrificed in the temple, its walls were clad with blood. The dust of the broken altar, mixed with the blood had turned into a vile mud. Bodies were piled high. Auriëlle had set fire to the place herself. When she and her group got out of the city, many of them suffered burns. What did it matter? They had a way of healing back in the camp. Auriëlle had entrusted healing staff to some guards who were enthralled by Nalla herself. They wouldn’t run away with such a valuable item. Luckily she herself wasn’t in such a bad shape. She had a small cut under her left eye. Blood smeared her cheek slightly. The other half of her face was black with soot, hiding some burns under her cheek. It tinged but that was about it. The staff would take care of it in time. As she marched out the broken gate she saw people impaled upon stakes. Some still moved. She could only smile at the sight as she moved towards the imprisoned chieftain.

“You like the view?” She asked. He was bound to the tree. Forced to watch his city burn. He had trashed, cried, trashed some more and cried some more. Now he looked like a hollow husk of a man.

“You’re a monster.” He managed to get out in between sobs. “A monster. All the Emissaries will cast you down. The Light beyond all! You are an adversaries’ pawn.”

She grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head back. “I am no-one’s pawn. Nor am I a monster.” She then looked on at the city itself. There was a strange beauty to the pillar. It was her own monument. Even though she had said a prayer and given Neiya a sacrifice, she claimed the pillar of smoke as her own. Because she had taken the city. She had released her hounds that gathered gold, blood and silver. She had woven the city’s fires. The burning city, the black pillar of smoke, they were a testament of her own power. “I did that.” She finally said a she sat down next to the chieftain with a big smile on her face.

“Not a god.” She continued. For a second she wondered if the gods in their high heavens could see it as well. Maybe not. Maybe something bigger needed to burn. ”Not some supernatural beast. Just me and my men. We laid waste to a city. Gutted it like it was an animal.” Then she let silence reign as she took in the view. If she had been an artist, this is what she would’ve painted. If she was a poet, this is what she would’ve written about. But she was neither of those things. She was a sorceress and she wove magic that sundered cities. “I’m going to make the bards sing about this for a hundred years.”

“I have to get some sleep.” A smiling Authorius said. The name itself was strange in these lands. His parents said it came from a place far away called Acadia. They told him he was named after the god of magic due to his colorful eyes. Well, the god of magic certainly has blessed him. He got up from the wooden stump that was acting as his chair.

“Nonsense! Play another round! C’mon.” Chieftain Doug said as he put the small wooden pieces back on the board. The grey in his beard betrayed his age. Yet despite his adventurous youth, he had grown up to be a wise man for the village. Wise enough to realize he would need magic and druids alike. “I’ll let you win this time.” He said with a smile.

“That’s a lie.” Authorius said. “The day I win from you is the day your people will barge in here demanding your son to take the throne.” Despite that, Authorius sat back down again and rearranged his own board pieces. The king held the darkest pieces, so he was to start. According to the rules. “Gibbou will punish us.” The Servant said as he made his own move.

“Then she shouldn’t have made the night so beautiful.” The chief said as he moved his own piece again. “I will pray for forgiveness in the morning. Surely she’ll understand that talking with old friends requires time.”

Authorius was rubbing his black beard as he pondered his next move. “Gods can be fickle. The druids lost their supremacy over Ha-Dûna, a place we thought protected by no less than nine gods. Now they worship Sigeran.” Authorius noted casually as he moved his pawn again.

“Not just them.” The king remarked with a sullen voice as he moved his piece without much time to think. “My own men have been giving me sideway looks. The farmers are afraid to upset Lyd and Reiya while my own sons have begun whispering his name. I do pity the druids.”

“Any idea what they will do?” Authorius’ response was faster now, both in conversation and on the board.

“No. I think they’re too shaken by what happened. Many of them lost an important place: home.” The king said as he was now rubbing his bare chin. “You wouldn’t understand that as a wanderer. But home is an important place. Especially if you’re part of something. To have it taken from under you. I can’t imagine how it would feel.” The king finally made his move.

“Then why not offer the druids shelter?” Authorius asked after which he moved his pawn.

“And draw the ire of those who rule Ha-Dûna now? I’ll let them pass and let some stay as is customary. The people love it when a druid stays for a bit. It’s good for the fields as well. But how long is that going to last? I’ve been expecting someone from Ha-Dûna for some days now. To tell me to turn to the one true god.” The king made his move again.

“Will you?” Authorius asked as he put his pawn in a very vexing place for the chieftain.

“Publicly, I might. There’s no arguing with these fanatics. I want my village to stay in one piece. If that means I need to kneel to some new god, I will.” His pawn took that of Authorius.

“And then what about the druids that pass? They won’t like it.” Authorius moved another pawn in a vexing position.

“It’s a balancing act. I might shift at any point. For as long as I can keep the peace.” The king moved his own pawn out of danger. “Always got to shift.”

“What if war comes again?” Authorius asked as he moved a second pawn in a vexing position. Boxing the king in on the board. “Sometimes there’s no balance. You just have to throw your lot in with one side or another.”

The king rubbed his chin. Pondering more upon his current situation than the board. “The druids have been almost my life long ally but those Sigerans… they’re dangerous. Zealous. Nothing scares me more than a zealous man.” He took one hard look over the board again and then, finally tipped his king piece over. “I don’t have an answer for you.” He said with a faint smile.

Both men rose and took each other’s wrists. “Authorius. Rest some in the guest bed, then get out of here and don’t come back until all of this is cleared up. The druids might’ve disliked you but there’s not telling what Sigeran thinks.” The Servant merely nodded and moved to one of the side doors of the hall.

The mage slept restlessly. He was well aware the place was dangerous. He preferred to stay on the move. Be nobody in particular. Here and now, his entire body was on guard. For a second he thought he felt a rush. He got up immediately with a knife in his hand. There was nothing. Wooden boards had kept the windows shut. No wind could enter. Yet he swore he had heard something. With three hand signs, a skill he learned from his parent’s homeland of Acadia, he lit the candles in his room. Light banished the darkness. On a table beside Authorius sat a strange thing. An orb made of several fragmented pieces. He frowned when he picked it up. It wasn’t heavy nor light but fitted perfectly in his hand.

For weeks Authorius had been trying to solve the puzzle. He had gotten through four layers already. Every time he had to recite a certain spell. One he knew he had learned but was so far back in his mind, he barely remembered it. None the less, every time the fragments of a layer peeled away from what he assumed was the center. Now, on the road, he was looking at the orb as he was reciting a spell to make water. That was the only clue he could deduce from the strange shapes on the last fragmented layer. It had something to do with water. Sadly a small bit of mist formed around the orb but nothing else happened.

A bit exhausted from his travels, Authorius decided to rest a bit near a pond in which he was dangling his legs. Though he was still trying to read more clues off of the puzzle. Until he accidentally dropped it into the pond. He quickly grabbed it again, but felt the fragments shift and move under his grip. When he fished it out again, all layers were pulled back. Revealing a glowing pearl-like object within it. Slowly Authorius pulled it out. It gave off a soft light that somehow didn’t blind him. Nor felt hot to his fingers. Then the pearl’s light flashed. In that flash, it gained weight and shape. When Authorius’ eyes could open up again, he wasn’t holding a pearl in the palm of his hand. Instead, a wooden staff balanced in his hand, with a gnarled top embracing a crystal. “I always wanted a wanderer’s staff.” He said with a faint smile. Though he closed his eyes and reached out to his brothers and sisters. Many of them had received the same strange puzzle in the last few weeks. He had to share with them the joyous news of what happens when you manage to solve a puzzle. When he opened his eyes again, he looked around him to try and find the opened puzzle. Yet it was gone. As if it had never existed in the first place. The only thing that remained as proof was the staff in his hand.

It had taken two days before Soleira had summoned the courage. Today, in the light of Oraeliara, she stood before an utterly unremarkable hut. For some reason she expected it to be darker. Instead the hut was made of the same colorful woods all other huts were made. She knocked and a moment later Leihoha opened the door. “Leihoha.” She greeted him with a genuine smile but with a small heart. Maybe he had forgotten the clash in the woods?

“Oh, Soleira.” He said with a disappointed tone. Soleira guessed he expected the girl, Keilai.

“Do you think we can talk?” She asked.

In response he opened the door for her and let her in. He then motioned towards a bench she could sit on while he walked over the kitchen side of his small hut. “I only have some mead and fresh water from the well. Oh and some radishes I gathered this morning.” He said.

“Water would be fine, thank you.” Soleira replied. The hut was a little too small for her. Especially with her wings. The back of the bench made it impossible for her to sit down as well. So she just settled for a nearby stool. The tips of her wings, even folded in as much as she could, just about touched the wall of the hut. On a small table stood a vase filled with beautiful, colorful flowers. They were hanging low though. “These are beautiful.” Soleira said.

Leihoha looked back at her. “Yeah.” He didn’t sound nearly as happy with them as Soleira thought he ought. Then it became clear why: “They were for Keilai.” He offered her a wooden cup filled with water as she sat down. He also put a bowl with wild radishes on a nearby table. “I just want to say, I’m sorry of how I appeared back then.” He began, his head hung low in cold shame. “Gods I behaved like an idiot. That’s not who I am. Or at least that’s what I thought. Still, I hope you can forgive me.” He slumped in his own chair.

For a second Soleira was stunned. His apology sounded stunningly sincere and filled with regret. Which made it all the stranger. Had he realized he did something wrong? “I forgive you.” She said. Because who would she be if she couldn’t forgive someone? “I just wanted to talk about you and Keilai, to make sure what happened in the woods never happens again.”

Leihoha formed a slight, broken smile on his lips. “I don’t want it to happen again either. Keilai deserves someone better than me.”

“Do you think you an talk about it?” Soleira asked. “About any or all of it? I’d like to understand. So maybe I can help?”

After a minute Leihoha looked up. “Alright.” He said, after which he took a deep breath. Choking back his own growing sadness. “Keilai and I… we were friends. For a very long time. She had always been at my side and I at hers. We told each other everything. Even when we fought we got close again. Eventually. Then… I don’t know. One day she wasn’t a little girl anymore. I saw her in the forest, with the light falling between the trees and I just… I think I lost it. I wanted her to be something more than my friend. Apparently I wasn’t the only one though.” He whipped away a tear that was growing in his eye. “When she said she loved another I just…broke. I confessed my love and then – well you know what happened in the forest. I acted like an idiot and now I probably killed our friendship as well.”

Soleira had leaned in during the story. “What do you mean you broke?”

Leihoha looked up at Soleira. Something clicked in his mind. “You’ve never been in love with someone yet, have you?” He asked.

“I- No. No not yet.” Soleira answered.

“Love itself feels wonderful. You feel light and happy and good about yourself. A strange, sharp energy goes through you. But when your heart breaks, that all changes. You feel heavy. Slothful. Your chest hurts. Like you broke your bones there. Everything feels terrible.” He let out a deep sigh. “I was weak though. Some can fight that feeling. Work through it on the spot. I couldn’t. I’m still working through it.”

Soleira never knew such an awful thing could come from love. How quickly it could turn from pure happiness into a pit of despair. It was terrible and it shouldn’t be. “Pain shouldn’t be a part of love.” He mumbled as she was sunken in her own thoughts.

“No. It should.” Leihoha said. Soleira perked up. “I’ll get over this heartbreak. Everyone keeps telling me that. ‘Just give it time’. And I believe them. Because there are still happy people walking around. The only way I can feel this bad is because I felt something so good before. It makes me feel alive. I’ll be alright. Someday. The only thing I now hope for is that Keilai still want me as a friend.”

Soleira offered him a small smile. “You can always pray to Lahoha. If you care about Kailai, if you really want her to be happy, I think you guys will make up.”

She left Leihoha’s hut with a smile and a wave. Yet she did so absent mindedly. For her mind was wandering away, pondering over the explanation. She flew up and sat in a tree overlooking the entire village. “Love isn’t all good, is it?” She asked herself. Slowly but surely she began to realize she had missed an entire depth to love. How intense it could. Leihoha had loved and it broke him.

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