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7 yrs ago
Current Going to a festival fellas! So for the coming week I won't be able to post.
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When you marathon Rick & Morty S2 and expected laughs but the ending just slaps you in the face...
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Guilty





Splash!


Irrithae went under. There were barely any ripples on the water. Yet its depths were covered by an inky blackness. As the Wellspring wanted to hide what it was doing. In the distance, it sounded as if the very Tree of Life groaned and started moving. And then everything fell silent. The very world was holding its breath.

Ida pushed on the vines, she’d go in. She’d go in to get her!

Ayre grabbed her around the waist, the heat from her sister’s core as uncomfortable as ever. Ida struggled. “Let me go! Let me go!” She screamed, kicking and hitting Ayre. Her twin fell backwards after a time but she didn’t let go. “There’s still time! Let me go! LET ME GO!”

“I just… I just….” Ayre kept mumbling over and over. She still didn’t let go, her sister’s heat now painful and leeching.

“What have you done?” Ida spoke accusingly. She tried to use her feet as leverage to escape but they slid across the floor. Her stupid hooves couldn’t get any purchase. She let out a frustrated sigh as her strength began to wane.

“I just… I just…” Ayre repeated, her arms shaking.

“You’re such a fool, Ayre.” Ida snapped. “It was ME who wanted to go in. Not her. She stopped me. Why wouldn’t you listen, sister?” Ida cried, raising her hand to the Wellspring. “What drove this madness?”

She felt Ayre’s forehead press into her back. She didn’t want to be touched by her, not now, not after this but she had no say in the matter. Her limbs were weak now. The heat exhausting.

“W-What have I-I done?” Ayre’s voice was enough to rattle Ida’s heart. Melt a small part of the ice that had formed around it towards her sister.

“Let me go.” Ida said.

“You’ll jump in.” Ayre’s grip tightened.

“Ayre, you’re hurting me.” She tried to say in a clam voice but she gritted her teeth.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Ayre said, beginning to repeat what she said.

Bubbles started floating to the top of the waters. First just a few, then more and more. Until slowly a shape emerged from the dark waters. The divinium parts of the Syllianth were choked with brambles and thorns, breaking her face and turning it into a grotesque mask of what she used to be. Her bark skin meanwhile looked smoother. The legs were gone, and instead there were a hundred writhing and coiling vines that rose up from beneath the waters.

The creature looked at the twins. It still had Irrithae’s eyes. “Foolish mortals.” It spoke with a hollowed version of Irrithae’s voice, but it was utterly absent of any of its kindness. Its eyes turned to Ida. “So convinced that you could regain that which you so recklessly lost. ‘Tis your fault, Ida. Everything that happened to you is your fault.” Then it looked at Ayre. “Mad-cursed beast.” It spat, before sounding almost grateful as she said: “I thank you for making me. I’d let you live but then well… you’d remain alive.” With those words it lunged at the twins.

One moment Ida had been confined and then the next she was free, pushed to the side. Ayre’s hand shot forth and a wall of flame erupted between them and what had once been Irrithae. Ida began to choke back her horror. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She didn’t want to.

“Ida you have to run!” Ayre shouted at her. Her twin’s aloof shock seemingly gone at the threat. But Ida’s legs would not work. She couldn’t muster the strength to flee. She could only watch as fire and horror collided.

The maecari moved like some unholy combination of a snake and squid. It jumped through the flames screeching and started its grappling fight with Ayre. Vines burned and thorns drew blood as the two fought. One for their survival, the other out of pure malice. For a few moments that felt like hours the two seemed evenly matched until Ayre’s flame burned a piece of the maecari’s smooth-bark skin black. The maecari hurled itself away, breaking the grapple as it hissed at the phoenix girl. Then it turned its eyes towards Ida.

In the meantime noise was brewing from beyond the hall. People, students and teachers of Willow, were waking up to see what all the commotion was about.

The unicorn elfling hadn’t even managed to get back up on her feet yet. She had no words to say. No great battle cry. How could one strike that which had just been before her. Not as a monster but as a person.

“IDA!” Ayre roared, flames bursting forth from her hands towards what had been Irrithae. The maecari was flung to the wall where she held on for a moment. “Meddlesom wench!” It screamed. It looked at the situation for a moment, then saw the candle lights coming from down the nearby corridor. It smirked and then lunged not for either of the elflings but for the corridor and the residents of Willow.

“Nooo!” Ida screamed, finally breaking from her trance. She hadn’t gotten up, she didn’t even feel like she could muster anything but she had to try. Irrithae, the real Irrithae- would never forgive herself if she attacked innocents. Ida spread her palm out on the floor and from it a stream of ice charged forth, running parallel towards the Maecari. Right for those grand doors a sheet of ice began to form.

Ayre, for her part, took notice of this as the monster began to break and claw away at the ice. Something began to glow in the fell light and she held her sword aloft and it burst into flame. She then charged at the thing, swinging madly and with little practice. It was enough though. She cut through the thorned vines and the maecari lost its grip. It fell down upon the ground, the few vines it still had were writhing in clear pain. Even now though, there was only hate and malice in its eyes as it looked up at Ayre.

Then the entire room moved.

The bark walls cracked and twisted open, as the vine ceiling curled towards the edges. The whole room opened up like it was one giant flower. Though some of its thorned and bark petals moved to cover the Maecari.

“Enough!” A voice echoed from above. Allianthé floated into what was once a room. Her gaze severe. She spared a moment to look at the twins, then turned away from them. The maecari was still struggling against everything that was holding it back. “My beautiful prophetess.” Allianthé said. Her voice cracked. “How could they have done this to you?” The maecari hissed back at her.

Ayre let the blade slip from her hands as she fell to her knees, breathing hard. Ida felt lightheaded, weakness spiraling down into her core. She could barely lift her head to look upon the Goddess and she wished she hadn’t. Their Goddess. She had never seen her so close and yet… The warmth she had imagined was gone. She had accused them. She was right. Ayre began to crawl and stumble towards her twin. Ida did not know what to say, if there was anything at all to say.

Allianthé stepped closer to the now biting maecari. “I should’ve seen this coming. The good in your heart would get abused by the wretched and selfish.” She gently stroked the cheek of what was once Irrithae. There was no recognition in its eyes. A tear rolled from Allianthé’s eye. “Worry not, my dear. Fret not about Aenos. I will do what must be done.” With a blackened finger she touched the chest of the maecari. There was no scream, no shout, no last breath. The creature just lifelessly collapsed. Slowly the vines and the bark walls opened their prison up again and laid the dead maecari on the ground.

The goddess then turned towards the twins. There was clear sadness painted on her face, which turned into bitterness the moment she laid eyes on the both of them. “Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?” She asked, her voice sounded like a bottled storm ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice.
“Goddess…” Ida croaked.

“...It was me!” Ayre stood, wild eyed as she faced the God. “It was all me. I-I did this. Please, leave my sister. She is innocent. She-She-”

“No.” Ida said, the word loud and clear. Ayre spun to her, face completely devastated. “I came down here and started…This… Leave Ayre, she is not well. Please, Goddess. Please.”

“Silence!” Allianthé barked. In a split second all of Arbor fell silent. Every cricket, every voice, everything alive in the city was bid to be quiet and had no other choice to obey. The influence passed again though, as the goddess released such an absolute grip quickly.

“Innocence. Guilt. Madness. What does it matter? Irrithae is dead! Taken from me by the reckless actions of the both of you. She was to be my good heart. My compassion and love. Both of you took her from me!” She took a step towards them. “I don’t care anymore for your poisonous words. For your lies that you spit with every breath. Irrithae was my mercy, for now I have none left. She was my ability to forgive, for now when I look upon you I can do only one thing.” She raised the hand with the blackened fingers and reached out towards the elfkin. “You die here.”

“Goddess… Please!” Ida cried. “We didn’t kno-”

A sharp laugh echoed from Ayre. Ida looked at her twin. She was gripping that necklace again and her other hand rested upon her side. She reared back and let out a laugh that painted worry on Ida’s face.

“I hate you.” Ayre giggled like a small girl. Ida felt her heart stop. “Of course now you care. Of course. Not about us! No, never about us.” Tears began to stream down her face, “Where was this care when our mother lay dying in bed? Aoife was her name! Where were you when Ida faced prejudices everyday! Where were you when our father was trapped, imprisoned and MURDERED! BY YOU!” She screamed. “You have long lacked compassion and love! You never had mercy. You know not what forgiveness is! So kill us. Be done with it! I am tired of living up to your false ideals when you do not follow them.” She took a shuddering breath and looked up at the World Trees. “Forgive me, father.” she whispered.

The audacious speech stunned Allianthé for a moment. Not so much because of the words spoken, but by the gall they were spoken with. “You dare.” She said, still hiding the full storm of her wrath. “Ayre of Arbor. Those were your last words.” Allianthé pointed at the phoenix elfling with her blackened index finger and let the power of the loathsome necessity flow through her, sending a killing curse straight forward.

Ida screamed, hoarse as she was. She felt her voice crack and break as she bore witness to the death of her twin. A light erupted all over them as she made to stand on wobbly legs. Pale and without flame it dulled to reveal a silvered figure standing before Ayre. Her sister’s face of shock. Ida stood still as the figure whipped her blazing white sword to the side and down. As if ridding it of blood. Behind them in the walls, death could be seen in two places. Ashen black where life once had been.

The figure spoke then, her voice a quiet reservation. “When last I saw you, my kin, you abhorred the death you were so ready to just give. What has changed within your heart, Allianthé? Surely it was not because of one favored mortal's demise?”

“Stand aside, Sylia.” Allianthé said as she kept her rage in check with every fiber of her being. “I do not expect you to understand a love for anything that isn’t made of metal. These two have voided their right to my gift.” Even as she spoke, a fountain of green dust and gold dust erupted around the goddess and a small figure flickered in a wave of glamour about the goddess’ head. Sylia did not budge.

“Gift, most noble Allianthé, or absolute right?” Fairqueen Arya intonated. “You are the pacific goddess of the world, the guardian of life and protector against death; by what twisting of the world on its head are you brought to kill? It’s not right!” The faerie came to a flickering halt before the goddess of life and looked at her pleadingly. “Don’t break my heart, dear friend!”

“I am not oft to agree with a mortal.” Sylia said, bemused. “But the little winged thing speaks truth. Though… I suppose I won’t count it against you for putting your beloved to rest. For you say I do not understand love, this is true, I shall admit. That doesn’t mean I can’t still recognize it. So tell me, what was she to you? A lover or more of a pet?” Sylia asked with a straight face. Ayre shuffled awkwardly to peek behind the tall Sylia. Ida was frozen in place as she watched the exchange.

“Return home, queen of the fairies. Tonight I will do what must be done.” Said the goddess of life, with a calmer voice. Though she did not deny that any of this was right. What was right anymore? Then she looked up at Sylia again. “You overstep. You insult. Why are you here, Sylia? Why have you come as savior of two mortals?” Allianthé had her suspicion, fueled by the metal on Ida. Though she didn’t want to believe it.

“It is never my intention to insult you, dear Allianthé.” Sylia said, holding a hand to her chest as if wounded. “What you see as an overstep, I see as necessary.” She sighed. “You were so upset with me when I took that goblin's life, that mortal’s life, I remind you. Call it my conscience. Call it a favor. I will not let you take the life from these two. Would you not protect… Hmm, wrong choice of word.” She waved her hand, “Fine, let me be plain about it. They are my investments. I can’t have you kill them and that’s the truth of it.” It was the Fairqueen who spoke up against Sylia this time.

“What, and no justice served? No reprimand for suspected wrongs? What fairness is this, Metalhewn Shatterer of the Darkfae? I did not think it the way of one such as you to leave such serious wrongs uninvestigated, and comeuppance unserved! Surely we must look into this affair with calmer minds that a most impeccable and beautiful justice is served! The Little god would agree with me, I know this!”

Sylia looked at Arya and then snapped her fingers. “Mind your tongue if you can find it.” she told the little Feighd. “And do not presume there will be no judgment and punishment, imp. I know not of your kind but who are you to meddle in our affair? Now begone.” Sylia waved her hand in dismissal and looked back at the Goddess of Life. The Fairqueen recoiled as though struck, and her green and gold magicks glowed a deep red of anger. A wand materialized in her hand and she swung it so that a great tempest arose around her. Her fair green eyes reddened as they bored into Sylia, and then with a mighty poof the Fairqueen was gone.

“You deny me still.” Allianthé said. The grip on her inner storm was weakening. If she had been in a different state the flourishing of Arya would’ve put her on edge. She was familiar with the workings of the fae people. The slight the Peaceful Queen suffered would not easily be forgotten. But she had no mind for that now. “Who are you to think that you can decide who lives and who dies?” The question was beyond a doubt rhetorical. “Find new investments. These two die tonight. Whatever happens here, their lives are forfeit.” In her hand a silvery, double edged knife shimmered into existence. Light flowed over it like it turned into water. “Now stand aside and let me finish this.”

Sylia’s eyes danced to the knife as it was conjured. Her lips pulled down into a frown. The Goddess of silver shifted her feet as her eyes met once more with Allianthé. “The small flying thing spoke the truth, as presumptuous as it was. To meek out this killing would be a grave injustice, if not first we seek the weight of their guilt.” From Sylia’s free hand there came a large ivory horn, engraved with sleeping eyes. “I will deny you from taking the title of slayer, for if by doing so I save you from later regrets, then my mind can be at ease.”

“Deny me the title of slayer?” Allianthé let out a momentary insane cackle. “I am a slayer!” She then bellowed. “I’ve become a slayer when that wretched thing of an Outer Beast was going to kill me! I’ve proven that fact once more when I had to end the suffering of Irrithae! This has moved beyond guilt. Beyond justice!” She readied the knife in front of her. “Stand aside, Sylia. I am owed their lives.” Her voice was as sharp as the edge of her blade. All the storm in her voice before had turned into pure focus to deal the killing blows.

The Goddess of craft shook her head. “You are not, Allianthé. You have always acted with your emotions first and reason last. You are letting them rule you even now. I have said my piece. I won’t let you at them. Try and you will be cut down. I shall say no more.” Sylia moved her long Divinium blade in front of her. Her stance became one of liquidity, her features relaxed and ready. The horn at her hip, firm in her grasp. The twins, too stunned to speak or even breathe, had not moved an inch but now, only now, did they look at each other. It was of grief and unsaid things. Guilt mixed with sadness. The two Goddesses poised to strike. The killing or the saving of all involved upon their blade tips.

“Sá chluin mo ríomhaireacht, déithe na Khothael, agus bí síocháin!” Roisin Magnolia’s voice echoed with deep power and utter calm through the heart of the Worldtree and between the two gods. It was a word of peace that she spoke, a spell of pacific command that she weaved. Her wand parted the Veil and she soared through flanked by a procession of glowing feighd dressed in glamours of beauteous silks and glittering light. Some beat drums and tambourines, others played on flutes and others yet strummed lutes and harps. A magick quietude, concord, and amity pervaded the place so that it became difficult to hold onto anger and desire for violence.

The procession came to a halt between the two goddesses, near enough frozen in their battle readiness. Roisin Magnolia, veiled from head to toe, turned her unseen head now to Sylia and now to Allianthé. “If there is vengeance being called for and blood to be shed, Then bring your hot vengeance and strike the Faerie Queen instead.” She stood there in her glamours and beauties, her wand resting easily in her hand and unraised, a willing faultless lamb offered in place of those accused. “Surely the blood of the High Queen enthroned upon the High Throne of the Highholt of Taramanca, the blood of the Khodexborndottr enthroned upon the Throne of Stone at Arbor, is a great enough ransom. It is a generous ransom. That, or hold off a while and let them,” she gestured with her wand to Ida and Ayre, weaving a glamour of binding upon them, “into my custody and permit me look into their affair. I will be nothing but perfectly just - from punishment I will not be dissuaded if punishment is what justice demands, and if it demands other than that then I will not be dissuaded otherwise. Have it as you wish, my life or my arbitration.” The gathered fae stood flanking their High Queen with faces of stone, but here or there a fae betrayed the slightest glamour of panic and alarm.

As on cue, the heavens fell.

Streaks of fire came raining down from the direction of the Firmaments tree. Like a swarm of meteors was descending. Dozens of objects were coming down, but moments before their impact the roaring fire streaks stopped. As if the natural laws governing compression were just suddenly and entirely ignored. From the streaks appeared a swarm of creatures never seen before. A giant lobster made of stone, with strange runes carved on its mouth, manta rays of shimmering blue flesh, shark-like beings with veins of Allianthite. Each creature was unique, except for a singular trait they shared: all of them swam through the air like it was water. They were unbothered by gravity. “We answered the call.” Emanated from the giant, stone lobster. It was vastly bigger than any of the other creatures, and came to gently land upon one of the petal-walls of the opened flower despite having no wings or other means of aerial maneuverability. The rest of the creatures roiled over the room like an ever growing vortex. Their eyes and other senses hungrily observing only the twins below.

Allianthé did not acknowledge them. Bitterness was spreading over her face. She had valued Roisin as a friend, just as she had valued Sylia as a friend. Yet the both of them were so blind to her own pain. They kept talking about justice. Justice! The very room began to transform as she lost the grip on her hatred. Thorns began to form upon the vines and the bark became jagged and rough. Bugs and critters scattered away as they felt something deeply malevolent rising all around them. The goddess’ mouth opened as if she wished to speak but then she looked around. What had talking done for her in the moment? Neither of her friends would listen.

She had enough. The thorned vines all around began to coil and move over the ground. The snakes and beetles and ants that were fleeing stopped and turned back. They flocked towards the twins while Allianthé took her first step towards Roisin, the fairies and Sylia beyond. If they were so keen on stopping her, they would have to actually do it. Not with words but with actions. Though Roisin did not move, her faerie host scattered and the binding of glamour that winded about the twins became a great glamorous light and maelstrom that erupted very suddenly and very quietly - and in a very small and contained manner, almost like a small magick show. As swiftly as it swelled, it faded again so that the twins were gone and the faeries too. Only the Little god of the Little Things, Sylia, the maddened Allianthé, and the life goddess’ newly-come warriors remained. “I guess this is goodbye, Allianthé of the All-Forgiving Heart.” Roisin intonated morosely, breaking the silence and shattering the hearts of the gathered soldiers of life. Then the fabric of the world rippled about her and she slipped away into the Veil, leaving the gods and warriors to their warring.

Sylia, true to her word, had said nothing when the Little god had arrived. Nor at her speech. Nor when Allianthé became poisoned with madness. Not even when her investments were taken away. With a look of grief mingled with the cold steel of metal, she simply lifted the horn to her lips and blew. A great low bellow ripple forth and from those that heard it, they crumpled into sleep as if they had been struck dead. It mattered not who. Down to the smallest ant and up to the great lobster, all slumbered when the horn commanded. With some even tumbling into the Wellspring, or they would have, save for a slab of earth coming up to cover the prismatic waters. Even Allianthé’s eyes flickered for a moment. Her consciousness receded away from the living world. She did not fall as fast as the mortals. “True colors… shown.” She muttered, before she fell down asleep. In response to her own forced tranquility, the hatred in which all that lived was steeped vanished. The thorns vanished, and the small critters that could not hear scurried away again.

The horn’s bellow ceased and Sylia stooped from her rigid posture. She looked upon Allianthé and rolled her eyes. Next the silvered goddess brought the horn back up to her lips and played a single high note before vanishing away.




Homecoming at the Hometree





The forests of the island blended almost perfectly with the growing outskirts of Arbor. Home-trees stood next to their regular kin, though one took vastly more space than the other. Dirt paths snaked their way from drapes and door towards half-stone paths, which would inevitably lead to the fully hardened paths leading towards the center of ever-illuminated Arbor. Here the simple folk lived. People who cared less for the hustle and bustle of the center of the Evergrowing City. They had families and children playing happily between the trees and the grass plaza-clearings.

What marked it most as Arbor was the smell and the noise. Through the trees the scent of turmeric, garlic and nutmeg beckoned all those who wished to come. In the open plazas-clearings people sat on their benches drinking the Arborian Fruit Wines, with as many tastes as there could be, while tasting the served snacks made of bellpeppers, sun-dried tomatoes and marinaded olives.

Ayre’s mouth began to water at all the delicious aromas. Her belly grumbled in protest. How long had it been since she had eaten? How long since Ida? She turned to her twin, who walked by her side. She hugged herself and looked down at the ground, staff gripped tight to her chest. A sense of pain welled inside Ayre’s heart. Ever since they had seen the faces of the people, many had stopped whatever they were doing to look at the two. Curiosity and perhaps fear had driven most to linger and Ida grew all the more uncomfortable. Ayre wished they had been given long cloaks instead, though her horn still would have been revealed.

She looked ahead again, they were drawing ever nearer to the World Tree, it's great boughs overhead. Food and drink could wait, she needed to get Ida home. And father, he would be waiting for them. Then they could eat and rest. It felt like a lifetime since she had just sat down without worry.

She looked back to her sister, Ida had dropped her hands to her side. Her shoulders drooped forward. Evidently she had given up trying to look inauspicious. Ayre took that as a sign and grabbed her hand. The cold metal warmed quickly in her grip and she gave it a squeeze. “We'll be home soon and there we shall have a feast with father. We'll get to sleep in our beds and look out on all that's changed!” She said with cheer. Ida looked up, lips pursed and gave a small nod. Ayre frowned. “I know this isn't how we wanted to come back, Ida. But… It'll be better now. You'll see.” Her sister gave no answer but she didn't let go.

The closer they got to the Tree of Life, the more eyes were drawn towards the twins. Ida dipped her head to avoid eye contact but Ayre held her chin high. The home-trees grew bigger and bigger, as age and greensingers had more time to feed them. Entire estates with hedged yards began to form around them. Arbor had changed significantly since they last had been there and a feeling of uncertainty began to creep into Ayre’s bones. How long had they been gone?

Though, blessedly, landmarks like the Forge could still easily be spotted. Over it all loomed the Tree of the Firmaments, a name they had heard whispered as they walked. Due to its size its trunk looked slender. Yet, even here the myriad of spices could be smelled and that was at least some normalcy amongst all the changes.

Plaza-clearings gave way to bazaars and meadow markets, where goods from across the Land of Origins could be found. Ayre made a note of many, she'd have to venture out and see what was for sale once they were properly settled. Then came the central boulevard, which led from the Tree of the Firmaments down to the Tree of Life. Had it always been so hilly? As they got closer though, the truth revealed itself. Ayre felt her heart drop.

The Tree was still sealed.

“That's not…” Ayre began to speak but words failed her. She felt Ida’s hand tighten around her own. She couldn't believe it and she wouldn't.

She rushed forward to the sudden surprise of Ida who gave a small yelp and led them up to the great entrance. Webbed with ivory silk. A crowd had parted as they went and now many were gathering. How quickly word spread.

“No no no no…!” Ayre cried.

“Ayre…” Ida called her name. She didn't acknowledge it. Instead Ayre began to paw at the amulet around her chest. Her heartbeat thundered. Her mind was a flurry of thoughts. The tree was shut. If the tree was shut, their father… no no no, it had only been a day, two at most. He'd be alive. He was alive!

“We have to get him out!” Ayre declared. Some in the crowd yelled in protest. Others told them to stop. No one stepped forward.

“Ayre…” Ida hissed. Her voice a cold reassurance. She had to get her sister up there. To their home. To see their father. So their father could tell her he loved her. That he wanted her to be happy. She couldn't be sad. She couldn't!

She unsheathed her sword without thinking and rose it high before the webs. Many in the crowd shrieked as the blade burned bright. Some called for the death guard, others stood dumbfounded. Ayre didn't care. She'd get into the tree and save her father. As she brought the sword down however, Ida caught her arm and momentum stopped. Her sister had stopped her. Ida, the one she kept failing.

“Ayre… Don't. He's not…” Ida struggled with her words, face pained. “We both saw how much of Arbor has grown, Ayre. If he didn't get out… He's…”

“Don't say it.” She pleaded.

“...Dead.” Ida's voice rang with truth. But Ayre, she didn't want to believe. A laugh escaped Ayre’s lips. Her sword shook free from her hand, clattering to a stop on the wood. She looked at the remaining crowd in rapt fascination. No one stepped forward. No one wanted to help. Then Ayre broke down completely. Defeated. Something broke inside that would never be able to be fixed. She was a murderer, she was a failure, she had let their father die.

Ida grabbed her other arm and rubbed in a gesture of comfort. Ida, one she couldn't even hug.

“Ayre. Ida.” A voice rang out. From the bustle of the crowd the bone-white haired elf stepped, wielding a thin, metallic spear. He looked tired but his eyes were still filled with vigor. It was Aenos. He stepped closer to the twins, mostly to get out of the crowd but he kept a respectable distance. “You’ve been away for quite some time but Arbor is glad you are back. Irrithae would like to speak to you, if you can spare the time.”

Ayre let her sister talk for the both of them. “Aenos… Finally a welcome face. As you can guess, we happen to be free.” She said, gesturing to the Tree of Life. “But who's Irrithae?”

The elf led them off to the side, along the walled-away Wellspring that surrounded the Tree of Life. In only a few minutes they reached the large willow-like home-tree. It was a busy place, with a myriad of young people coming and going. Some of them held wands in various states of artisanality. Others walked with runestone-filled pouches. They were talking and laughing, on the green clearing in front of the willow, where a large white-stone statue of a Syllianth stood with her hand reaching downwards. “That’s Irrithae. Steward of Arbor.” Aenos explained.

A dozen eyes of the Willow students followed the twins. Not with fear or apprehension but with open curiosity. Aenos didn’t give them time though. He led them into the Willow, then through a near-labyrinth of corridors. Home-trees served as houses and buildings, but their internal architecture was vastly different. They rose, twisted and dropped again. Most rooms’ floors were not aligned with the room next to them.

Aenos led them through the labyrinthine building until they reached a cozy parlor. Its walls were covered from floor to ceiling by building, hexagonal bookshelves made of beeswax holding a rainbow-colored selection of books and scrolls. At the center stood a solid stump of tree holding, with young branches, a marble slate upon which three cups and a steaming kettle sat. The table was surrounded by three comfortably looking chairs. “Irrithae will be with you shortly.” Aenos said, ushering the twins inside.

Ayre’s eyes fell upon the slate but she was no longer thirsty. If anything, she felt like she was going to be sick. Ida guided her to a chair and sat her down, before taking her own seat next to Ayre. Silence fell, uncomfortable as could be.

Eventually she found herself muttering, “Something was off with Aenos… He never used to be so…”

“So reserved? And his hair… ” Ida finished.

“White.” Ayre said. She shifted in her chair. She sighed, a wave of grief settling in. She said, voice hoarse, “Nothing is going to be the same as it was before.”

To that, Ida did not answer. Instead, her twin silently took her hand. A tear rolled down her cheek, as they waited for the Syllianth to show.




“Oh great goddess I am so sorry!” Irrithae exclaimed the moment she entered the parlor. She had let them wait for five minutes. The Syllianth quickly closed the door behind her again, locking out the noise and hussle outside. “If I had known you would return today, I would not have taken that meeting up in the Tree of Firmaments. I hope you’re hungry, someone should arrive shortly with a cake.”

Irrithae walked up to the parlor table and poured some tea out into the three cups, then moved one to each twin and took her own as she leaned back into the chair. “Right, Ayre and Ida.” The Syllianth said, sounding a lot less hurried now. “Finally we meet. Aenos tells me you don’t know who I am so allow me to introduce myself: I am Irrithae. Chosen Prophetess of Allianthé and Steward of Arbor. The goddess assigned to me the task to govern Arbor while she remained in the tree to heal. Now, you’ve both been away for quite some time, so if you have questions I will do my best to give you any and all answers I can.” They certainly looked like each other but there were many differences. One of fiery hair, like the other elves but somehow richer in color, more vibrant with striking orange eyes. Such eyes, so distant. The other had hair of palest white, almost as if cold could be a color.

“We have no were else to go.” Said the redheaded twin, Ayre, her quiet voice tinged with bitterness and an edge. Ida, her horn sparkling in the light, gave her sister a glare before looking at Irrithae. “Do you have any water?” She asked, her own voice husky and a tad hoarse.

“Water? Yes of course.” Irrithae said as she got up and left the room for a moment. In a blink she was back carrying a wooden plate with three glasses and a pitcher filled with crystal clear water. She put it on the marble table and poured a glass for Ida, then she took her seat again. Ida drank from the cup in one deep draw. She then poured herself another glass, drained it and then poured again. “As for a place to go, Arbor could still be your home. If you wish to stay, I can offer you some purpose.” Her eyes turned to Ayre with worry. “Is that something you’d want?”
Ayre’s eyes met her own and she could see the flame within them. She opened her mouth to speak but Ida cut her off, “Thank you for the water. It’s nice to meet you, Irrithae. I did not know our goddess had a chosen one. How long has it been since she began healing?”

“A few months now, nearing a year. Though truth be told, I am unsure how long a god needs to heal.” Irrithae said. She was still facing Ayre, but her eyes were looking at the unicorn girl now. What role did each of them play towards the other? “It happened when the Tree was sealed. Aenos and I were both chosen. Me, to lead. Him, to… do what must be done.” It was clear from her words that Aenos’ duty was not something she wished to talk about. “Perhaps I should ask you first then, Ida. What would you like to do now that you’ve returned to Arbor?”

Ida’s eyes grew distant, a weariness seemed to come over her features. It was Ayre who piped up. “It’s almost been a year…?” she asked but to none other than herself. “But we… I… I just went down and… What happened when we fell?” She had turned to her sister. Ida remained withdrawn. “Ida…” Ayre spoke and shook her arm. There was no response. She looked back at Irrithae. “D-Did anyone make it out of the tree? When it was sealed.” She stood and her hands fell on the marble, jostling all the cups and liquid, her own cup of water spilling. “Was anyone saved?” She asked, raising her voice.

“You know the answer.” Ida whispered, remaining still.

If Ayre had heard her, she made no appearance of doing so. Instead, steam began to rise from where the water had settled around her arms. “Please.” She choked.

“A great many people made it out of the tree.” Irrithae said truthfully, though there was still great sorrow in her voice. “But I know what you want to know. I am sorry, Ayre. Your father didn’t make it.”

Silence fell. Ayre’s face became a mask of disbelief. Then she let go of the table and fell back into her chair. She leaned forward, covering her face with her hands and wept. A metallic hand fell upon her back. Ida swirled in soothing strokes and looked at Irrithae. “Could you… Could you give us a moment, please?”

“Of course.” Irrithae said as she got up. Quietly she walked to the door and opened it, but turned around before she left. “If there’s anything you need, I’ll be right outside. Take all the time you need though. It doesn’t matter if you need hours. I’ll be waiting.”

The sun peaked high overhead before Ida came to the door. Irrithae knew there had been some terse conversations by the sound of their voices rising and lower. For the past few, it had gone into a silent lull. Ida had pink rings around her eyes but she gave the Syllianth a small nod, “Thank you for that. She’s… Okay now.” Upon entering the room, she saw that Ayre looked utterly deflated. Hollow around the eyes and her skin paled. “We had some thoughts about what you said.” Ida sat back down. “About what we wanted to do. But the simple truth is, we don’t know. Yesterday, for us, was a different Arbor. Today, we’re orphans without a home.”

It hurt Irrithae’s heart to see Ayre so. It hurt her to see anyone so. Though right now there was little she could actually do. Ida seemed to be far more receptive to what she would offer right now. “Arbor has changed quite a lot, quite fast. I agree. Though in a way it’s still the same Arbor you knew from before. Just… a little bigger.” Irrithae said as she took her seat as well. “As for what to do, I have a few proposals.”

“First there’s something that is brewing in the Tree of the Firmaments. It reaches far above Galbar, to a place where you’re weightless. I can’t say much right now. Perhaps I could show you later. But it’d be an opportunity for a great adventure.” Ida’s brows furrowed ever so slightly at that and Ayre had no response at all.

She moved on. “I’m also sure that someone with your particular talents would be valued greatly at the Divinium Forge, Ayre. I’d have no doubt that my kind would gladly accept you there.” To that, Ayre met her eyes. She gave a small tug at her lips but that was about the extent of a response.

“You could also pick up a regular vocation, if you so wish.” It was clear from Irrithae’s tone that she considered this - in her opinion - the least interesting opinion. Still, she put it forth. “The city could always use more gatherers, potters, scribes or any other sort of simple workers.” The twins remained silent, watching her.

“Or you could come here to Willow. It’s a place of learning and understanding of the many magical arts, like Greensinging or Runecrafting. Your services would be greatly valued by Arbor.” As if it was jealous, the iridescent waters of the Wellspring flared, casting the whole room - that was overlooking the Wellspring on one side - in a myriad of colors for a moment. Ida’s eyes snapped to it. Irrithae let out a sigh and then added: “You could also join the study of the Wellspring. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it, but it comes with a warning: the Wellspring is exceedingly powerful. I’d caution against it.”

Ayre joined her sister’s gaze and for a time they just looked in that direction. Uncannily, they both looked back at her at about the same time and then they both spoke at the same time. Ayre said, “The Wellspring is too dangerous.” While Ida said, “Has anyone gone in?” They then both looked at eachother, eyes intent upon the other. Some sort of inner conversation only one could have with their twin.

Irrithae’s own eyes first looked at Ayre. “Very.” She said. She had put every bit of gravitas and weight upon that one word to make sure that the gravity of the situation was not lost on either of them. “You might drown if you go in or the Wellspring’s magic might devour you absolutely. If you are able to get out, the magic is a part of you forever. You will begin to mutate depending on how you use the gift. Your very mind and soul will change. There are ways to combat it but… they’re not perfect.” In fact they were largely fruitless but in her shame Irrithae did not wish to say that. In fact, she hid the biggest shame. The monstrous transformation at the end of the road. No more than a handful of Maecari had spawned in the last year. It had been too many already. Aenos had done his duty there, swiftly and without reservations. Since then Irrithae had covered up the truth of the Wellspring and cordoned it off.

However, she vowed to keep only the secrets she absolutely must for her own people. So her eyes then turned to Ida. “Yes. In the past, people have gone in and gained access to the Arcane abilities of the Wellspring. However, these days one must go through months, if not years of rigorous training. One must comprehend the fullest extent of the dangers first. Do you understand, Ida?”

Ida looked at her, nostrils flaring. She opened her mouth as if to protest but she shut it and in one moment she was back to her reserved self. “I understand, better than most. The Wellspring is not the only gift of Mae-Alari.” She outstretched her hand and then a finger, touching the almost empty water pitcher. The liquid inside began to freeze, the temperature in the room plummeting. When the water was frozen solid and frost had covered the glass, Ida leaned back.

“Was that necessary?” Ayre complained, wisps of steam came off her, as if she was a furnace on a cold morning.

Ida gave her a glance. “I was just curious.” She eventually said.

“I know.” Ayre said in a softer tone. She then stood. “If it isn’t too much to ask, could we perhaps have a room and take up this conversation tomorrow? I guess it’s been some time since I got to sleep in an actual bed.”

“Of course!” Irrithae said, letting her joyous self return as she got up from her chair. “You don’t need to make a decision right away. All I want is for the both of you to know that Arbor can still be a home if you want it to be. Anyway.” She clapped twice, and from an unobserved corner of the room something suddenly moved. It was a fairy that seemingly had either been unseen this entire time or simply appeared out of nowhere. “Uaisle, please show Ayre and Ida to their room.”

The two girls looked at the fairy dumbfounded. Taking offense, the fairy huffed, “Well, you would have seen me if you had looked!”




The day came and went. Even in the perpetual light of Arbor, the shadows still lengthened. The streets changed course. Black shades were pulled over windows as none could escape the confines of sleep. Ayre and Ida had not left their room since bathing. Food had been brought to them, as well as water. They took no visitors and they sought no one out. Ayre had closed the curtains and night drifted in.

Ida chimed, “Maybe just… Leave it open a crack?”

Ayre nodded and a singular beam of light cut the darkness of the room in half. They settled down in separate beds, the pillows lush and inviting.

“It feels like it's been forever.” Ayre yawned.

“I know what you mean.” Ida said, staring up at the ceiling.

“Goodnight… Love you.” Ayre murmured.

“Night. Love you too.” Ida replied.

Soon enough she heard her sister’s breathing deepen but the same did not come for Ida. She noted every root and bough in the ceiling, every small thing that crawled, every color in the dark but sleep did not come. She tried turning onto her side. She shut her eyes. It evaded her like a grasshopper. So close, yet out of reach.

She knew not how much time had passed before she threw the covers off of herself. She touched her chin and shuddered. She brought her hand up before her eyes and flexed her fingers. Metal. She was made of some sort of metal. What had happened to her arms? She did not like the metal. It was too foreign… Too wrong. She needed to fix them. Her face. Her back. She didn’t want the ridicule. She saw how those people stared and stared and stared at her. Horrified. Pitying. Her fingers closed into a fist.

She knew what she had to do. She turned her head to gaze upon her sister, only to find two glowing orange orbs gazing back.

“What are you doing?” Ayre whispered.

A complication. Ida sat up. “I can’t sleep. I think I’m going to go for a walk.” she sighed, putting on her best performance.

Ayre studied her, rising slightly. “I’ll join you.”

“No.” Ida said, too quickly. She gulped and quickly added, “I don’t need a babysitter. Go back to bed.”

Ayre glowered and turned away from her, pulling the sheets over her frame. “Fine. Suit yourself. Don’t come crying to your big sister when someone looks at you the wrong way.”

Ida winced. She hadn’t meant to be so mean but now… Oh now she felt no guilt in lying. She pulled on her stuff, being as loud as she possibly could, mumbling about their age difference. She would leave the staff behind, it would just draw attention to herself.

“Seconds… Minutes… big sister… Hmpmmh.” She walked to the door, opened it and slammed it shut. Then she stood in that doorway, leaned back on the door. She knew, if she was smart, that she should go back in there and sleep. But if there was a chance she could change herself, get her arms back… She had to do it.

It took a moment but eventually she found the way towards the Wellspring, acting as oblivious and nonchalant as she could to those she came across. This path eventually led to a corridor which was flanked by busts of various Wellspring-blessed wizards. It glorified them, but these busts also served as a warning. The wizards were shown with their mutations. They were many-eyed or had scales growing from their skin. It served as a warning and a reminder. Both of which Ida ignored. She was chosen by Mae-Alari, none of that would happen to her. She was sure of it. At the end of the hall was a large double door, blocked by a heavy, carved beam.

Panic bloomed within her. It looked way too heavy to even move and she was… She looked at her hands again. An expression of doubt on her face but she placed them underneath the beam and lifted. The beam began to move and she gritted her teeth as the weight of it pressed into her. Once she got it over the metal that kept it in place, she let it fall. A large boom echoed and she winced. It was now or never. She pushed the doors open.




“Stop!”

Irrithae’s voice boomed through the corridor. She was standing on the opposite side. “Don’t do this, Ida.” She said, as she slowly approached the girl. “I can only imagine how you feel, Ida. But the Wellspring is not the answer. Please, come back. Whatever’s driving you into those waters, we can talk about it. I can help you.”

Ida ignored Irrithae and strode into the round, half-open chamber. On the other side stairs descended into the Wellspring. Its gleaming waters were ever inviting. Then they were locked out, as roots and vines shot out from the ground and the ceiling to seal away the Wellspring. Irrithae stood with one arm outstretched and her fist clenched shut. “I won’t let you enter the Wellspring, Ida. There are other ways.” The Syllian said as she stepped closer. “Please, it’s not yet too late.”

Ida spun upon Irrithae then. None of the frost and calm remained in her face. Just bitter cold. Her eyes narrowed at the greensinger. She spoke with ice in her veins, “Don’t talk to me like you know me. You don’t. You can’t help me. Not you. Not Ayre. Not even the Goddess. Now let me through.”

“No.” Irrithae was getting more persistent. She bridged the distance between her and Ida fast. “I can help you. I will help you! But you have to step away from the Wellspring.” She managed to get into the round room. “Ida.” she said the name with pure pity. “If you step into those waters I promise you that you will regret it.”
“I don’t want your pity!” She raised her voice before taking a step back. Her hands were shaking as she grabbed the part of her shirt that met her shoulder and tore. The metal of her arm was dark in the light, pulsing with green veins. She tore free the cloth on her other arm too. “Look at me. Just look at me! I don’t want to look like this.” Her voice shook with anger and frustration. “I was already a freak before and now and now… Just look at me. I made us fall. I went down into the dark. I met Mae-Alari. I took the frost and do you know what I did with it? I slew those demons that attacked the innocents. I had no mercy in my heart for them. I sullied myself! And because I wasn’t with my sister, she came to find me and she was forced to do the same. I made her a killer. And then we were punished, by that… by that…” her voice shook, “By Bael-Davaur. A foul black thing. He wanted us to be his wives. How he talked… It was like being bathed in oil… No matter how much you want to be cleansed-” She gagged and began to shake her head.

“We tried to run but he caught us and I… I made us fall.” She gripped her head. “And I can’t… I can’t remember…! Why can’t I remember what happened?” She cried. “What happened to my arms?” Crystalline tears fell down her face, shattering as they hit the floor with tiny tinks.

“Ida, you were never a freak. You were born wondrous in a miracle-filled world.” Irrithae said, keeping her own voice calm. Slowly she approached the unicorn girl. “You’ve been through so much. Too much. I think so much has happened to you, and your life has been going so fast that you’re afraid to slow down but Ida-” Irrithae was close to her now, and took one of her hands in hers. “You’re home here. You can rest. You can take your time. And with the help of the others here at Willow and the goddess we can try and fix this.” As a sign that she did trust Ida, she released the grip on the plants. As she unclenched her fist the wall of roots and vines uncoiled itself, revealing the Wellspring again. “What do you think, Ida? Shall we take a step back and go a little slower for once? A little more controlled?”

Irrithae’s grip on the vines above was not entirely gone though. They still writhed above in the shadow darkness of the ceiling. Ready to move and coil once again in a moment’s notice. Ida, for her part, did not withdraw herself from Irrithae’s touch. Instead, the cold girl hugged her, wrapping her arms tight. She was afraid and trembling.

Then there came the sound of hasty footsteps and a gasp from down the tunnel. It was Ayre, eyes burning bright. Before the two embraced could even react, Ayre was already running towards them. “Get away from her!” She shouted. Ida withdrew from Irrithae and moved in front of her, wherein she confronted Ayre. The roots tensed.

“What are you doing, Ayre!” Ida shouted.

Ayre arrived in front of her twin, glowering at Irrithae.

“I came to find you. I shouldn’t have let you go out by yourself. And now I find you with her, at this hellish place? Do you have any idea what it will do to you?” She pointed a finger at Irrithae and looked at her, “It was you, wasn’t it!” she shouted. “You talk a big game, oh prophet of Arbor but you just want power. I saw through you the moment you walked into that room. Now you’d put her up to this!” Ayre’s eyes were wild, as if the flame within her danced to a beat of madness. Something was wrong. Ayre was clutching something underneath her shirt at her chest. She kept blinking and there was perspiration on her forehead.

“Ayre!” Ida shouted, “Stop this! That’s not- That’s not what this is about!”

“Then explain the vines!” Ayre pointed up at the ceiling. “They’d drag you in when you’d refuse! Why can’t you see that? She’s trying to use us Ida! Just like he would have.” Ayre tried to move past Ida but she stood her ground. Irrithae couldn’t see Ida’s face but the girl tensed at the her sister’s use of he. The demon.

“W-What’s come over you!” Ida said. “These are baseless accusations and you won’t even stop to hear me!”

“Ayre, you’re making a mistake.” Irrithae said, her own calm voice trying to calm the phoenix beastgirl.

“I have to stop her. Move.” Ayre commanded, ignoring what she had said. When Ida didn’t move, Ayre tried to move past her again and this time, Ida pushed her back.

A look of shock appeared across Ayre’s face and then it became anger unlike anything Irrithae had seen yet. The twin of flame reared back and then pushed Ida. Ida for her credit, attempted to stand her ground but it came too suddenly and she went backwards, right into the Syllianth.

The world slowed down for Irrithae. She lost her footing. The force knocked into her was too great. Vines from above reached out. Ida was falling too, right over her. Irrithae curled her fingers. The vines got closer and closer. Every second took a breath of its own. Then the vines wove themselves close right in front of Irrithae. Ida’s fall was blocked and the last thing Irrithae saw was that she had at least saved the girl, who had turned with horror in her eyes to look upon the one she had just embraced. The one who had just saved her. Irrithae fell with a smile on her face.

But right before she touched the Wellspring’s waters, a green glow emanated from her eyes.

An Exploration of Governance

...and finally I wish to bring into consideration the latest events of the Goblin Underground. According to many established scholars, the goblin underground was provided for by the Lord Galaxor. The Cornocopia provides it with food and the Orb of Air provides it with clean, fresh air necessary to sustain life. This made the city known as the Goblin Underground a venerable hub of life and merchant activity. Through my travels, I can already attest to the metropolitan size it took on.

However, as noted in the treatise on agriculture and it explosive effects upon population: “At a certain point, a locale’s population exceeds the agricultural capacity of the surrounding area. Innovation must constantly strive not just for wealth but to fend off starvation” (Aucer, S. (Unanchored Time). Treatise on Agriculture and its effects upon population. Tricity Library: Snouter Weekly, page 23 - 37). In the case of the Goblin Underground, an additional and unique situation developed: the Orb of Air was not capable of replenishing enough air. The results were scenes of starvation and squalor. As the population grew exponentially, the unique architectural and construction challenges were not bested.

My findings conclude that Galaxor, despite having the often noted capacity of divine foresight, has utterly lacked the capacity to anticipate struggles on a macro-civic level. One has to question why he created a civilization so deep underground that would suffer so many difficulties. One must further question why the god let the squalor and famine rage at all. Finally, his reactionary response (the creation of Dominion) could only be seen as most devastating. As recent letters from Arbor conclude that an earthquake rocked it fierce, claiming a not inconsiderate amount of lives.


Irrithae leaned back as she cleaned the liquid divinium quill she held in her hand. This was not her first treatise she wrote while staying at what was now known as the Dominion. The others had been lesser creations though. Nothing more than simple reports and light observations on methods and results of governance. This latest treatise would probably be seen as a a hit piece, if not an insult. The people of the Dominion, formerly known as the Goblin Underground, were quite reverent of Galaxor. It was easy to understand why. Compared to what was before, the city was a haven to those who dwelled so deep underground. Irrithae, for her part, did not share the fervor though.

She did not think her observations were incorrect. There was a failing of responsibility that had led to a shortage of food, air and housing. In Arbor, she would’ve been responsible for such failings for sure. Down here the powers and responsibilities were spread differently. With the creation of the Cornucopia and the Orb of Air Galaxor had assumed culpability over their shortages.

She pitied Maxima. The goblin ruler had been confronted with challenges mortals could not yet face. She had theorized that this might be Galaxor’s deliberate goal but there was no knowing for sure. Her quill was dry, and she let the divinium return to her. Still, she had a duty towards a fellow ruler to help Maxima out.

The Prophetess of Allianthé rose up from her chair as she let her eyes wander to the second treatise. It was a smaller thing. Something that could be confused for a thin book. Besides the near tome that Irrithae had written it looked inconsequential. It was far more important than the near-tome though. It contained within the unified ideas, methods and goals that Irrithae saw necessary for good governance. It spoke about practical necessities of governance like censuses, taxes and the provision of the necessities of life for a population. It also spoke on ideas such as innovation and education, and why and how those concepts should be fostered.

It was not perfect. Many of the ideas remained untested and even the most dull-spirited administrator would find it a tedious creation. That did not lessen its importance to Irrithae. It was a plan and a vision of her near future. She took the first pile of books and started wandering through the great Library. Time was weird, even with the Time Anchor Device she had gotten it felt as if both only days and years had passed. Other scholars passed her as she put away the books. Some she had borrowed since she had gotten here. Other scrolls were momentary necessities. S. Aucer’s treatise was just another quote she needed to catch eyes. The many books from the dwarven thirteen kingdoms were of a vastly greater importance. She returned them too. Her fingers would not brush their spines for decades. She would miss them.

There were the scrolls of Syllan. Their expertise upon craftsmanship and industry had no rival so far. That would change once she returned to Arbor, especially with the aid of the Forge. There were other places that had inspired her. Tales of small settlements, or the ravaging hordes in the deserts beyond the Origin Lands. She returned those scrolls and tablets as well. This was her farewell. Silent yet deeply intimate with inanimate objects.

She returned to her room. It was huge, with a large central desk. After hours of returning books, scrolls and other holders of information it was strangely empty. Only the candles and her own two treaties remained. The thick one. She hadn’t titled it. The front page was left blank. She was sure someone would name it or burn it. She extinguished the last few candles. The room grew a bit darker each time. With every candle deadened she felt her heart drop a little bit. This was the end of a massive and important part of her life. One she wasn’t sure would end, and yet now it had. A few more candles died by her fingers. Until the last one in a candle holder remained. She picked up the smaller one titled: A gift from Crown to Crown.

Moments later, and without the candleholder, she stood outside the Library in the scalding heat again. She left much like she had entered, with only a small bag. “Uaisle?” She asked.

From the corner of her vision it appeared. A small male fairy. “At your service, ma’am. Shall I guide you to Arbor?”

“Not yet. I have one more place to visit.”

The veil was new to Irrithae, but her divine blessing allowed her to move through it confidently. She moved through the forests with the guide of Uaisle, until she reached an area where the wind billowed around. “Through here, ma’am.” Uaisle beckoned to a very, very dark crag. When she stepped out of the dark she found herself standing in the shadow of an underground house, in Obsidian Reach.

Life in the Dominion seemed to be perfect after the Great Migration as the event started to be called by the locals. Overpopulation seemed to have disappeared overnight, food was being harvested from the Obsidian Sea or hunters would go out in the new tunnels to catch meatbugs and other smaller underground creatures.

Breathable air was not an issue either with so many tunnels opening up to the surface alongside the many underground trees that existed everywhere in Obsidian Reach. This made the Orb Of Air have an emergency purpose only and was kept in the throne room of Maxima.

Even the once absolutely needed Cornucopia seemed only to be used to produce the rarest of meals and only in times of feasting or national holidays as to not waste food. The squalor from before was a thing of the past, there were no homeless people anymore. Especially due to Maxima’s crown, that seemed to make thoughts such as “stealing, killing, cheating” not even cross the minds of the goblins.

Sure, there were a few other races living in the city but it didn’t matter in the long run. Everyone had a job and the people were happy. The new forums made the old ones seem like a pub gathering, with a large arena for all the big “fights” and few smaller ones all over the city. It was a good life.

There were still some challenges that Maxima was working on fixing, such as needs for newer technologies to be developed as artisans simply got bored of doing the same things and lack of fast transportation devices but in comparison to the issues of the past, these were nothing.

The basement of the house the Irrithae appeared in was a simple storage space. Crates filled with different food with a strange machinery on top was all she could see. Well, that, and a petite, very startled old goblin woman on the floor.

“He-hey you! Where, how! HEEEEEELP! HEEEEELP! INVADER!” started the goblin before standing up and shouting from the top of her lungs, way louder than one would expect from such a small old lady.

“Apologies for the intrusion, madame.” Irrithae said calmly, despite the panicked response from the goblin. She didn’t move away either. Such things tended to make a situation worse. She could feel the presence of Uaisle around though. The fairy had much less patience with plebeians. She knew what he wished to do, so without moving her arm from her side she made a careful, small sign telling him to stop and wait. “I will leave, if you’ll permit me.”

The small goblin continued screaming, before a door opened from above and in came two more goblins. These goblins were younger with a bright blue skin and dressed in armor with two gemstones in each shoulder, signifying their increased status.

“Halt in the name of Maxima! Identify yourself or prepare to be taken in custody and brought before the leader herself for judgment!” said the first goblin as they took their spears out and pointed them at Irrithae.

“Please, take me.” The Syllian simply said, as she held out her open hands. She didn’t move otherwise. It was clearly an easy enough way to get to Maxima. There was no fear on her face though. Her entire body language radiated calm. Not so much for the goblins’ sake as for Uaisle.

The first goblin shook his head in disbelief at her nonchalant tone and lack of resistance but approached her and took a rope that hung on his waist and tied her hands, as the second goblin pointed the spear at Irrithae’s throat.

With their captive in tow, they climbed the stairs and went out in what seemed to be a humble abode. Paintings hung on the walls depicting different goblins, the furniture was made out of simple obsidian and on the side, another door led to what seemed to be a kitchen based on the cooked fish smell that Irrithae could smell.

As they walked out the old goblin from before followed them up and shouted something at Irrithae in an older form of goblin language which made the guards chuckle.

Outside the house, they were greeted by a busy street and many other houses that looked similar to the one they got out of. Irrithae, unwillingly, teleported herself to the poorer part of Obsidian Reach, the 6th level. Yet despite being the poorer level of Obsidian Reach, one could notice that the people who lived here, goblins or otherwise, were quite well taken care of.

Most of the goblins that the group passed by, were dressed in modest robes, armor or leather clothing. Here and there, one would sport a gemstone on a weapon or garments.

Irrithae, for her part, just walked along and admired the many goblins and their works. Her discerning eye could see some inequality left and right but that was to be expected. The region was surprisingly filled and busy. Which only further proved her predictions. Wordlessly she carried on. Goblins chuckled but in truth she cared little.

As they went forward they reached a massive staircase that led upwards towards the 5th level of Obsidian Reach. Going upwards, one would notice the change in the general appearance and upon exiting the stairwell, a plaque read, in big bold letters: “Crafts Level”. Followed below it, a few more plaques followed, each written in a different language.

Just as they passed through the gates that marked the start of the level, the two goblins stopped abruptly. One of them quickly undid Irrithae’s restraints, while the other one continued looking forward.

“Have a good day!” they said after Irrithae was free before leaving her all alone. Well, as alone one can be in a busy city.

Irrithae let out a bemused chuckle as she was released. She looked around as the two goblins left her alone. There wasn’t anyone immediately ready to receive her. Interesting. Perhaps Maxima wanted to show off the goblin craftsmen. Irrithae would’ve loved to observe however duty was calling. She made her way along the road as her eyes darted around to see the next big staircase.

As Irrithae walked, she discovered only empty shops and empty streets. Everything seemed to have been abandoned. The whole district or at least what Irrithae could see or hear.

And…then, a loud trumpet-like sound rang through the whole level coming from what seemed to be an arena in the middle. Soon after, a voice, a very loud voice, could be heard saying “Maxima against Farah for the leadership of the Dominion!” followed by what seemed like the screams of thousands of people at once.

The Syllian raised a sculpted, liquid divinium eyebrow. “It would appear that this Maxima is pre-occupied, ma’am.” Uaisle said as the fairy again appeared just from the edges of Irrithae’s vision. “Perhaps a courier from Arbor would have more luck.” The fairy spoke not without reason. If she was called back it was done so by the goddess herself. Valuable minutes were being wasted as duty was calling.

“How could we ever trade and prosper with the good people of Dominion if we cannot be patient through their antics and traditions?” She asked the fairy.

“Spoken as a diplomat, my lady. Thus I must remind you who you are: Irrithae, Prophetes of Allianthé and Steward of Arbor. Yours is a city of the world. You are not a mere diplomat”

“And yet I will wait.” Irrithae said steadfast. “I will not enter the stage without having attempted to make a friend out of an actor.” The fairy let out a sigh but Irrithae walked off towards the grand arena to see what was happening.

The more she approached the arena, the louder the screams of the crowd became only for them to stop abruptly. Suddenly only one male voice could be heard, while most of the words were intelligible, a few struck out more than others. “War. Over. Control. Goblins”, after each word there was a grasp from the crowd. As soon as Farah finished his speech, a female voice rang across the arena. Strong and powerful.

By the time Irrithae finally reached the arena, Maxima finished her speech and cheers from the crowd started again. Minutes later, groups of goblins started to trickle out of the arena. Hundreds of them. Each wearing clothes that were clearly not for craftsmen. Guards, poor people, a few governmental employees with at least 4 gemstones each, fishermen and so on.

Irrithae waited for the throng of people to move around her. Her eyes darted from person to person, often sticking on the gems worn by some of them. It was an expensive custom to be sure but Irrithae could admire its importance. When the greatest mass of the goblins had passed she carefully made her way into the arena towards Maxima.

Only to be met, just after she took a few steps, by a female goblin. She was dressed in what seemed to be full gemstone armor. Each body part was covered in different colored gemstones. On her head, the Crown Of Command stood. A bright blue diamond laid in the middle, glowing a bright blue light. Her long red hair with a few streaks of white, flowed down her shoulders and back.

Maxima, stopped, looked at Irrithae up and down before nodding at her with a smile on her face.

Greetings, Irrithae.

“It’s an honor to meet the queen of the Dominion.” Irrithae said, as she made a deep bow. “Though I must profess that I had expected to find you in some palace.” Her eyes scanned the arena. “Nor did I think someone like you would have their leadership challenged.” Irrithae found that the most baffling. Changes of power are always the most vulnerable moments of a civilization. To let it happen so openly, so publicly, felt irresponsible.

The honor is mine. You’re lucky to be able to study under Galaxor. ” she replied with a slight nod of her head. “My throne room is on the second level, this is a forum or arena if you want to call it that. ” before making a friendly “who me?” face and giving Irrathe a smile. “Someone like me? You mean, someone who can control the masses with a single thought? I could override the will of all the goblins that challenge me, that is true. Yet that’s now who I am.

Maxima started walking and indicated that Irrathe should follow her. “Here in the Dominion we believe that everyone’s opinion matters. You got a grievance against someone? You can issue a “challenge”, a duel of wits and a council of your peers and a sage are formed. It only becomes so public when matters that affect the whole of the Dominion. I’ve never lost a duel in all of our history, yet there are one or two that have more radical ideas…Freedom of speech is important. I hope you can agree with that.

“I don’t.” Irrithae said without reservation, nor did she wish to expand upon that remark. “Your prowess in these duels must be legendary then.” Irrithae continued. “I am surprised you were challenged regardless.” It was admirable, though not something she herself would ever do. “I must beg your forgiveness, Queen Maxima. I cannot remain for long. The Living City calls for me. I am to take the stage I was destined to take. Though I’d wish that my ascension would not be without a friend upon the grand stage of the world’s rulers.” She pulled out the thin yet important treatise. “During my studies I began writing this treatise.” Irrithae stopped walking to insist upon the importance of the moment. “It’s a collection of my the knowledge I gleaned at the Library combined with the experience I gained as Steward of Arbor. It is, in a way, also the blueprint of how Arbor would be ruled and governed. I offer it to you because I am certain that it contains valuable lessons for you as well, on how to rule Dominion.”

Maxima chuckled at Irrithae’s answer before replying “Bold to disagree with the ruler of a nation you're trying to be on peaceful terms with. I wouldn't call my skills legendary but with age comes wisdom and I am one of the oldest goblins alive, on Galbar. Been around just a bit after the Life Tree was created. ”, waving at a few goblins that were working at a shop they passed by, Maxima continued “For most it's just fun. A way to test themselves. They're trying to learn from the best. They know they can't win but they try nonetheless. But I digress. There are no friends in politics, Irrithae, learn that now before it'll be too late. ” with a knowing nod, Maxima stopped to give a few pointers to a craftsman in definite need of them “Apologies, he would've destroyed that metal if he continued working it like that. Now, ” she said with an apologetic smile before taking the treaty and giving it a quick over read “I'll give it a proper read once we're done, but I thank you for the insight in your nation and an outsider’s on mine. I've got no interest in war, so if there is a way to avoid it…I'd prefer it. Everyone loses in war, the winner and the loser.

The goblin’s words only made Irrithae worry for the Dominion. She had hoped the grand city could be Arbor’s ally. Instead Maxima seemed to not share her ideals on friendship, even on the grander stages of the world. Worse, Maxima’s perception of the world seemed almost idealistic. To think of winners and losers in a war is both necessary and a gross simplification. There were other idealistic differences as well which made the Syllian shudder. No, an alliance would not be possible right now. Worse, she would have to make sure that merchants of both cities would be well educated on the customs of each other.

“I must beg my leave then.” Irrithae said with a polite bow, before quickly moving away. She turned away and away again, getting some distance in between her and the ruler of the Dominion. “Forgive me goddess.” She whispered. Valuable time had been wasted already.

As you wish. Feel free to visit again, I know I'll visit Arbor one day. Hope I'll see you around. It was interesting meeting a different leader. You're interesting, Irrathae. Looking forward to seeing how your rule will shape Arbor. ” she replied as turned around to leave, Galaxor gave her a warning, invaders at the shore but before she redirected troops over, she called out at Irrithae. “Remember this. I shan't permit anyone to harm my people. Friend, ally or otherwise. ” her voice was like steel, the threat clear in it.

The Syllian was soon back into the Veil. There would be no more waylays. No more distractions and failed endeavours. She made her way through the Veil in silent contemplation. The newly founded Dominion would not be the ally she knew she needed. At first it deeply saddened her. They could’ve achieved so much together. Yet the goblins’ idealism - or Maxima’s - would restrict it, that much she knew for sure.

There were other cities though. Tricity, that amalgam of… almost everything. If she couldn’t attain an alliance with those who ruled then she could still make moves upon the other factions within the city. Then there was Syllan. A haven for her own kind. It was embroiled in a war though.

Again she crawled through a small crag to exit the Veil. She was expecting nothing. No ceremony, barely any surprise from those who’d see her. Instead she found herself in a place she hadn’t seen for a while: the Tree of Life. It was so marred that she could barely recognize it from the inside. “Goddess, what happened?” She said to herself.

“A conflict.”

Irrithae turned around to face the goddess, with her new halo behind her.

“Welcome back Irrithae.” Allianthé said with a smile, and for a moment the divine and the mortal hugged. Though Allianthé released her quickly again. “Forgive me for calling you back so suddenly. As always the world is in flux. The threat of the Outer Beasts is diminished, for now at least. Meanwhile new opportunities arose. I could not keep Arbor rudderless for much longer.”

“I understand.” Irrithae said. “So what can I do?”





Fairy Tales

Upon literally reflecting in some small, inky black pool in the forest Amelia had to admit that a lot had happened around her. Not to her, but around her. Her parents were gone. That alone was a hard change to get used to. At night she still jolted awake because everything was just… too quiet. Too empty. Then she could cast magic… sort of. Arcana had not been what she had hoped it to be. Worse, Irrithae had explained the trappings to her, which meant that she couldn’t directly tap Arcana unless it was well thought out and worth the cost of her life. Finally, she had lost Irrithae herself. Her adoptive… something. Her goodbye hit the elven girl pretty hard. Now she was alone.

So she did what she felt she had to do: gather food. With a basket on her arm, she had been going through the woods around Arbor every day now, gathering the fruit that the goddess gave them so those who couldn’t gather wouldn’t starve. It was vital work, work that was praised by many. A necessity for Arbor. But by the goddess after three weeks of it now Amelia wanted nothing more than to kick the basket away. It was so boring! Every day the same routine, every day the same old small smiles of thanks.

Amelia kept walking through the forest, trying to bury her frustration and her aching heart. Irrithae would know what to do. Irrithae would’ve told her to go sit somewhere or think about something. She passed a familiar stump. Then she realized, like a stone hit her hard, what she wanted to do: travel. Leave Arbor. There was nothing for her there anymore. She passed a rock. Her family hadn’t shown up, not after three weeks. Had they left? Were they dead as well? Arbor had gotten too big already to ask everyone. And at this point, Amelia could barely remember her aunts. She was a child when she left after all. She passed a pool.

Maybe she could ask Aenos if she ever met him again. Though the lord of the deathguard was an elusive one at best. He rarely ventured into Arbor and when he did, it was always for Irrithae. Since she left, Aenos was only seen beyond the city, slaying monsters. She passed a stump. Could she maybe become a deathguard? No. No Aenos was right that night. She was touched by death. Amelia gently rubbed her healed shoulder as she thought about that. Still, she wasn’t inclined to start killing. That she didn’t have in her. She passed a rock. There had to be something else in life right? Something more exciting than gathering fruit but less self-destructive than killing? Maybe she could become some sort of inventor! The thought filled her with excitement, which quickly deflated again when she realized that she had no idea what she could even invent. Or how! She passed a pool.

Amelia stopped and looked at the pool. It looked familiar. It was small and inky black. As she saw her reflection she recognized it. She had stopped at this pool before! But how? She had been walking forward the whole time? How could she be at this pool again? She looked around to see if someone was maybe - somehow - playing a prank on her but there was no one in the woods. Just her. Unsure, she kept walking forward. Her mind sharpened as if there was some sort of threat. Then she passed a familiar stump. She passed this stump before! How could she pass it again? She started running forward, making sure that she kept going in a straight line. She ran and… she saw a rock. She stopped again.

It was the same rock. Her dad had told her about this. When in unfamiliar places like the woods, we can sometimes start walking in circles. There was a trick to avoid it: pass the trees along the same side every time. Amelia - winded - started walking again. She passed the first tree to its left. Then the next tree to the left again. And again to the left. Until she reached the familiar pool. “How!?” She screamed out.

Frustrated she kept going. To the left, to the left, to the left, and then a stump. Amelia screamed out. “What in Allianthé’s name is going on!” She screamed out. Nothing answered. Something, someone was playing a game with her. Well, she wasn’t going to let them win. She started running again, making sure to pass the trees on the left every time. Again and again and again and again! When she stopped for a rest, there was the stump! And at the next breather she took there was the pool! She kept running. She ran herself ragged.

Somewhere during the running she had tossed the basket but she was passing that one too now. It was insane! How could she get out of this? She just had to keep running. At some point this whole joke would spin away, right?

It didn’t, and Amelia dropped down next to the stone in the mud. She was exhausted. The running hadn’t worked and the elven girl was all out of ideas now. The sun was already setting. She let out a sigh and curled up. The nights were still a little warm. Tomorrow was another day, her mom always said.

She was rudely awoken by something that felt like a twig being batted on her head. It didn’t hurt, not really, but it was annoying. Slowly Amelia opened her eyes to see a tiny, female, flying humanoid, dressed in autumnal red, hitting her with what looked like an ornate twig. Yep, she was definitely still dreaming. “W-Wha..” she let out.

“Oh, you’re finally awake.” The little humanoid said before she gave Amelia one last final wack. “Foolish girl! What were you thinking!? Running? Running!? What, you thought I wouldn’t have secured my glamour against something as stupid as running!?” The little thing sounded upset and insulted.

“W-What… who are…” Amelia managed to get out as she opened her eyes. “I’m sorry… what is going on?” She stammered out. It was a chilly night.

“Oh and then you lay down in the mud at night? Who raised you!?” The little humanoid exclaimed. “Were you born in some cave or something? Didn’t your mom teach you something like intuition? You knew that going forward wasn’t working then why did you keep doing it?”

“You’re the one who was pranking me?” Amelia asked as she scraped some mud off her cheek.

“It was a test, stupid girl. When forward doesn’t work, why didn’t you go backward? Doesn’t your mother tell you to not keep making mistakes?” With a flourish of her twig the little humanoid conjured away the remaining dirt from Amelia. “And doesn’t your father tell you, you shouldn’t just go to sleep in the middle of some mudpool? Find some shelter!”

At the mention of her mother and father tears welled up in Amelia’s eyes. “My dad’s dead!” She blurted out, a part of her hated how vulnerable she had become. She couldn’t stop it though. “And my mom too. I got no one to tell me things!” She exclaimed. Right then her heart decided that this would be a wrenching moment where she would cry and Amelia had no say over it.

The crying took the little humanoid by surprise though. “Oh well… easy now. That’s… you don’t have to cry. You just had to run backward.” She tried to say.

“And I hate it here! It’s so boring but that’s so fucked up!” Amelia yelled out in between sobs. She put her face in her hands as her emotions got too much for a moment. “I just wanna be away from here. I wanna see the world and go places where I’m not just some orphaned girl!”

“Hey now girlie.” The little humanoid said. “Surely you got someone-”

“They all left!” Amelia cried out. “Irrithae, my family, my parents. They all left.”

For a second the little humanoid was a little unsure of what to do when suddenly a twinkle appeared in her eyes. “I know what you can do, you can travel with me!” She exclaimed.

Amelia, half-cried out, slowly looked up. “What?”

“You can travel with me!” The little humanoid said again. “I am… On second thought, how about you call me… godmother! Your fairy godmother! Now, dry those eyes.” The godmother said and with another flourish of her wand she erased any trace of the tears on Amelia’s cheeks. “And tell me what you think. If you join me, I can promise you it won’t be dull. In fact, it will be incredibly danger-”

“I want to come with you.” Amelia said immediately.

“You don’t want to hear what we’re going to-”

“No.” Amelia interrupted the godmother. “No I just want.. More than this. Away from this!” Her parents were travelers. She had traveled her entire conscious life. Things at Arbor were so stale and so boring. Irrithae had told her that sometimes the things we want come knocking at our door. When it happens though, we can freeze up, be overwhelmed, be fearful even. And then we say yes.

“Well… if you insist. But before we go on our long journey far and wide you need a tool.” the godmother said, as she started looking around for material.

“Tool? I got tools.” Amelia said. “I got some shears and a hammer and even a spade back- oww!”

“Not that kind of a tool, my foolish little bulb!” The godmother exclaimed as she batted her stick at Amelia again. “This sort of tool!” She followed up, waving the twig above her. Except it wasn’t just a twig. It looked ornate, with vines threading along its length and with a deliberate, pointed end. “This is a wand. You need one as well. But you need the right wood. Stay here.” The godmother said, and she flew away into the shrubs.

Amelia didn’t do as told. She got up and started following her new acquaintance into the brush. Except the flying fairy was way out of sight. “Godmother?” Amelia yelled out. “Where are you?” The elven girl went through the forest again, searching for the fairy. Until finally she bumped into her carrying her arms full of sticks.

“What? Didn’t I tell you to stay where you were?” She said, surprised to find Amelia there. “No matter. Here.” She dropped the branches down on the ground. “Grab one you like. One that… calls for you.” The godmother said.

Of course, Amelia was unsure at first, but slowly she started reaching for one while still looking at the Godmother. Who just held her chin and nodded at every branch she touched. Amelia didn’t particularly hear a calling, but when she grabbed a branch with spine-like leaves it just felt right in her hand. The godmother raised an eyebrow. “That’s an interesting one.” She said slowly. “Anyway, now we have to make it a wand. A simple one will do for now. Take out your knife, clean it up, and then start sharpening it. Make it into a form you like. That’s very important. Has to be a shape you like.”

Amelia did as told and sat down and started sharpening the stick. At first she sharpened it like she would any other stick but the godmother didn’t like that. She was told to give it a flair, so she did. Instead of straight cuts she twisted the wood a bit, here and there. At the end of it all though, she was left with a fairly unremarkable, pointed piece of wood.

The godmother inspected it closely. “It will do as a tool for glamour, though it’s a bit uninspired. Gosh you elves. I pity my kin already.” She said. “Now, you got your key. Let’s go!”

“Go where?” Amelia asked.

“Well… away from here! Not to worry, not to worry. You can always come back. But c’mon. I know you’re eager. You have to forge the metal when it's hot.”

Clearly the godmother had been to the Forge already, Amelia thought. She followed the fairy blindly, much like she had followed her parents blindly. Until she saw the beam of right through the canopy. They were heading for Arbor again.

As they walked, Amelia was pondering on the stick - no the wand as the fairy godmother called it. It was a tool, right? “Can you give me a minute?” She asked. “It will be quick.” The godmother rolled her eyes but with a defeated flourish of her own wand she allowed it. Amelia began to concentrate on her Arcana connection as she held the wand. It strengthened all the tools she made. Arcane enchanted blades were favored by the Deathguard, maybe it would work on this too. She focused that consuming power into the wood, and like an ember it began to carve itself into the wood. Except unlike ember, it left traces of faint, multicolored veins throughout the wood. However the second she stopped focusing on it, the veins’ color died.

The fairy godmother looked on with surprise all over her face. “Well well… Maybe you’re not completely hopeless, my little bulb.” She said. Both of them continued on. Back at the home-tree where Amelia was staying she quickly filled a bag with some random stuff that could be useful for a trip. Despite the Godmother’s insistence that it was all useless garbage she’d have to lug around.

Eventually, they made their way to the Tree of Life, or more specifically up the hill upon which the Tree now rested. Around rocks and smaller trees they moved to a place seemingly only the Godmother knew. Amelia lost track of her flying guide on more than one occasion. They both reached a strange crag in the side. “Squeeze through here, c’mon my little bulb. Your adventure is about to start!”

Amelia never questioned the direction. On her knees she crawled through the crag into what looked like an oversized badger’s burrow. It was still very small though. Amelia had to crawl with just her forearms. The tunnel widened a bit but she couldn’t see where she was going at all. “C’mon, c’mon. Put your back into it. You don’t want to stay in this part too long. Weird things happen here.” The Godmother said as she suddenly came from around a bend from in front of Amelia.

The elven girl nodded as she managed to get up on her knees. “A moment. I need to see where I’m going.”

“You will not-” The Godmother was about to protest, but quickly fell silent as Amelia made a flourish that was the reverse of the one the Godmother often made. From the tip of her wand light appeared. Except the Godmother realized it wasn’t light. It was glamour. “What did you just do?” The fairy asked.

“I wanted the magic to lie away the dark.” Amelia answered simply as she continued crawling on her knees and hands passed her godmother.

They reached the end of the burrow. It was a relatively short trip Amelia realized but what she encountered made no sense. “How is..” She looked back at the burrow she just popped out of. There was a Tree of Life but not. It looked smaller but glowed with green veins. Then there was the Tree of the Firmaments. Except it was even more slender, like a thin strand reaching for the skies.

“Welcome to the Veil, my little bulb!” The Godmother said. “Now, we must make haste. Your kind shouldn’t meander here for too long.” Amelia did as her Godmother bid. They both started moving through the forest with a myriad of trees, more than Amelia had ever seen together in a place. It was as if the trees often just stood up and mingled with each other. They kept going, but then Amelia saw lights and laughter coming through the shrubbery.

“What’s that?” She asked.

“Oh, you shouldn’t go there. Never go there. Not now for sure.” The Godmother cautioned.

“Why? It sounds so fun. Listen, they’re laughing!”

“Aye, they are.” The Godmother said. “And if you go there you’ll laugh as well. And you’ll dance and you’ll sing and you’ll be merry and you might never, ever leave.”

That was more than enough warning for Amelia. They both kept going. Until they reached another burrow near a big, monstrous blob with only a massive mouth. “Oh don’t worry about that here.” The Godmother said offhandedly as she ushered Amelia into the burrow. Again the girl went on her hands and knees through the dark-that-she-glamoured-away. She recognized the end getting broader again.

The Godmother stopped her. “A word of caution, my little bulb. In a few steps you’ll not be in Arbor anymore.”

Reaching the Heavens


Allianthé had been pacing around the Tree of Life. She stopped at the few shrines that inhabited it as she wordlessly asked her peers for guidance. The taint of death kept creeping up. All her fingers on her right hand had turned blackened. Beyond the Tree, more people were dying, more plants where chopped and more animals were being butchered. Of course she could help some. Maybe even most, but even as a goddess she had limits. How could she reconcile the existence of death and its taint upon her with the fact that it was an abhorrent part of reality?

What would Sylla do? The craft-goddess was ever only concerned with her own things to be sure, but her gifts were beautiful. The forge, divinium, allianthium and the other manifestations would help out Galbar for the rest of its existence. She didn’t see the different, imbued parts of divinium as tainted or wrong. Should she herself be more understanding too?

On the other side was Roisin Magnolia. The little goddess, who so purely saw Allianthé. She was young but she already shone with such adoration for life, and such regret for causing death. Roisin liked it as much as Allianthé it would seem, and she was the Ever-Beauty. What did that mean for Death if the most beautiful creation in the world abhorred it?

Then there was the shrine of Galaxor. Boisterous, loud, demanding, and ever in motion. Oh how simple his existence must be. Allianthé grew jealous but reminded herself that each had a different charge. Galaxor fostered heroism, in all of its aspects. She had a more fundamental role in existence. For without life, what was there to be heroic? Or - as she realized - what would there be to slay or adore?

So many questions. Then her eyes turned towards the stoney cocoon of the Khodex. It never gave answers. Even though Allianthé had already begged and pleaded it to give her something. A sign, a mark, anything to tell her whether death should be accepted or rejected. “Just a sign.” She whispered as she took a cautious step towards the center of creation. “I cannot decide this for my own.” She pleaded as she took another step. To her surprise something happened now.

The Khodex within started to radiate its energy for the second time since it had entombed itself. Now it wasn’t already marked energy, like what was unleashed with Roisin Magnolia’s birth. This was something purer. Something more primordial. Pure potential, akin to what the Khodex offered before creation! Allianthé stepped closer as she reached out. “Yes! Please! Show me! Please let me know and understand!” She begged as happy tears started to swell in her eyes. The literal weight of the world began to lift from her shoulders. She was being unburdened as she began to siphon the pure, primordial energy from the Khodex and let it flow through her. It was forming something on her and she let it. A majestic halo flickered into existence behind her.

Then the Khodex’s cocoon cracked.

Wrathful power emanated from the Khodex as creation suddenly fought back. It rejected Allianthé in a sudden turn. For a split second Allianthé didn’t allow it. Despite the sudden turn she gripped the primordial energy she was still siphoning and pulled harder. She had earned it with her suffering! The Khodex responded more fiercly. It pulled back all the rejecting power and converged it into something else: pure creation focused against her.

Waves of life, heroism, fire, art, space, cycles, water, trickery, earth, civilization, violence and more unleashed upon her. A myriad of fundamentals and concepts assaulted her, as if the Khodex was trying to throw her away from it! She fought back, wrenched the dominion of life away from the Khodex and bend it against its assault of fundamental forces. Then the halo, that source of new understanding, came to her aid, as let her detach herself from the world and the concepts that directed its existence. She became detached from such petty ideas that would wage endless conflict with each other.

In a flash the violence that wracked the core of the Tree of Life stopped. Void-black wood grew through the floor and encased the Khodex fully, when it was finished, its bare branches bore kaleidoscopic leaves and its bark bore glimmering dots akin to stars. Allianthé looked around. The Shrines remained untouched, as if the Khodex did not wish to mar the other divine. Yet the rest of the inside of the Tree of Life was not so spared. Roaring, endless flames wretched one side, strange porcelain tiles had appeared in another. Another had turned into an unmarked, blank, canvas-like wasteland where truly there was nothing. It would require work and adaptation to make the tree, and the shrines within, accessible to mortalkind again and Allianthé would dedicate her powers to doing so. Except.. not now.

There was something else she needed to do. The halo had given her glimmers of something she could not yet understand, but it had also shown her how she could start understanding. In her hands she formed a hundred seeds, some of them were shimmering with light. Others were dull but robust looking. She formed them to fulfill what the halo needed her to make. Once down, she released the seed-structure that looked like a pinecone.

Like a falling star it flew out of the Tree of Life. It didn’t need to go far. The people of Arbor looked up as they saw the strange creation streak over them from the Tree of Life. It landed in a small forest not too far away from the Living City. In an instant, a hundred trees sprouted and grew. The core ones were slender, iridescent and grew the fastest. More like snakes these trees slithered upwards, towards the skies. As they went up they began to coil around each other. They pushed and held each other as they kept gonig upwards. Higher and higher. Soon though, the gripping laws of reality and gravity would demand them to bend and eventually break. The slithering slowed as the very forces of reality required them to stop or be sundered. Now the outer, broader-based, rougher, dark-barked trees started to grow. They twisted around the slender core and encased them in something that protected them from the demands of the world. The slender core started growing again, reaching higher and higher, until it easily towered over the tallest mountain in the world. Then it kept going, piercing and breaking the clouds. The dark, armouring trees kept on growing around it, slower but sturdier.

Eventually the slender core broke through the gaseous cover of the world but kept going further. Here no life should exist. It was inhospitable but the new trees cared little. They kept pushing, and eventually the twisted core unfurled itself.

Each tree shot away from the other and sprouted beautiful, purple leaves. The form of the canopy was unlike any other tree though. Great hollow parts, and wide branches akin to walkways formed. Great hollows in the canopies formed as well, like wombs awaiting creation to be formed within. Great halls formed from twisted boughs, ready to receive whoever would appear here. Within this grand canopy gravity held little sway anymore. Yet the very branches held a pocket of breathable air, so that life could freely exist here.

This grand tree had done what none before could: it had pierced the skies and the heavens, and it offered access to what was beyond. All those who gazed upon it knew its name: the Tree of the Firmaments.

Allianthé had watched with her divine senses and smiled. With this new Tree, she would attain the understanding she required. The people of Arbor could join her in this new understanding as well. For she knew, with certainty, that mortalkind was as necessary as divinity for this journey. She would direct them, bless them, help them. For as long as she needed to. But the halo, in that very moment, also told her of the sacrifices. The necessity of sacrifice. She spoke of that with Galaxor before but now… she truly understood why it might be necessary.





The Tree Of Life

The Timeless Hero-Sage Meets Lady Allianthé

Life, Worms and Temples


Business concluded with heroes from closeby and afar, Galaxor was…bored. So bored in fact that it was time for him to do something he meant for a long, long time. Meet the neighbours. Luckily, Maxima needed his help and he met El’zadir with whom Galaxor had a few interesting conversations while also setting up an alliance between the 13 kingdoms and the Goblin Underground.

Why he insisted on calling it Goblin Underground was a mystery to Galaxor. At the last consensus, which Rajesh happily conducted, there were sixty-seven thousand and four goblins. Not to mention the other people who heard of the Library or simple merchants and travellers. It was not an “underground” anymore but a full fledged civilization of goblins.

Pondering a bit about it, Galaxor decided that he will need to have Maxima change the name to something more fitting. Something new and exciting. Something knowledgeable and timeless. Yet, Galaxor knew not what that would be. So many possibilities, so many names to choose from and each, if the future was correct, would influence civilization in one direction or the other.

Eventually, Galaxor stopped thinking about it and actually did what he should’ve done already. With a puff, Galaxor appeared above ground. Close enough to the Tree for him to be seen clearly by anyone. With a breath, Galaxor let out a divine pulse of energy which could be felt by divines or heroes. A sort-of, beacon and as well, an invitation for conversation. It was just polite, after all.

The first to arrive was a Syllianth bearing a staff of wood and divinium intertwined. Her eyes were different though. Divine, green glow emanated from them and her aura was more akin to that of a goddess than of a mortal. She smiled as she saw the great form of Galaxor. “Welcome to Arbor.” Two voices spoke. The mortal’s voice was almost completely buried underneath the voice of Allianthé. “I am Allianthé, goddess of life. I would meet you myself but circumstances prevent me. It is a pleasure to meet you-” She motioned over at the new god with a hand, making room for his introduction if he so wished.

Galaxor looked at the women that arrived and nodded at her. It was obvious what was happening even before she said it, Allianthé took over the mortal which was dangerous in Galaxor’s opinion. With his chrono-eye, he looked at her and saw how her potential futures changed and warped by this action.

Nonetheless, he bowed to the possessed mortal and shrunk down to her size. “Well met, Allianthé. It was about time we met. I am Galaxor, god of heroism, knowledge and time. ” Galaxor said in his most charming tone, each time he mentioned one of his domains, his aura changed, letting out a glimpse of the Aspects of each of them.

“Well met, Galaxor.” Allainthé-Irrithae said. Roots and trees emerged from the soil beneath, forming several crude but equal looking chairs and a table in the middle. “Please, be seated.” They said as they took place themselves. “There will be refreshments shortly. Another will be joining us as well. Aenos is the heroic protector of Arbor. Irrithae, this mortal vessel that I am using, is my prophet and the steward of Arbor.” They explained. “Now, you said it was due time for us to speak. So I assume you have your reason to be here?”

Taking a seat, Galaxor nodded in thanks to the goddess before waving his hand and a couple of bottles of RALK appeared on the table, alongside a few delicacies of the Goblin Underground. A bit self-conscious of who he is talking to, Galaxor made sure only to summon forth only plant-based food.

I've got refreshments sorted, delicacies of my mortals and bottles of RALK. A truly divine drink and all natural. ” he said as he poured two glasses of RALK, one for each of them.

Well met, Irrithae if you're in there, as I assume, Allianthé didn't fully suppress your will. Onto business?” asked Galaxor as he took a few sips of the drink.

Very well. First off, I'd like to thank you for the help with the Egrioth. Your swamp slowed down him, and his army long enough for Asheel and I to bring him down. ” started Galaxor as he bowed his head in thanks before continuing “As you're probably well aware, my goblins live underground. Well, the goblins I personally oversee. The Goblin Underground is the metropolis where they live and its placement is…right under Arbor. In fact, many of the roots of the tree are part of the city. ” With another sip, Galaxor waved his hand and a book with moving images appeared, each imagine showcasing a part of the GU where the roots could be seen, treated with utmost respect, in real time.

My GU is anxious about going above ground, seeing that they've lived their whole existence down there and that they don't know how your subjects would react if they knew their whereabouts for you see..” he continued as the book changed images to show the Dwarf Incident where multiple goblins were executed by dwarves by unknowingly going into their territory.

“My will is not suppressed, I assure you Lord Galaxor.” Only one voice spoke: Irrithae the mortal. Then she frowned as she absorbed the knowledge. “The existence of goblins below Arbor is no new knowledge to us.” Allianthé-Irrithae resumed. “We were aware of their existence in the Divinium mines. However the actions of these dwarven kingdoms are uncalled for. Death… why is it always resorted to so quickly?” They said as they carefully sipt the RALK as they let the question sit for a moment. “I can assure you that Arbor does not resort to such barbaric practices so fast. Your… GU can rest assured. Arbor would treat them justly and fairly.”

Amelia then appeared upon the scene. The only true mortal around, she was taken aback by the sheer presence of both Galaxor and the influencing aura of Allianthé. She stopped in her tracks and nearly dropped the wooden plate, holding simple cups and teapot. “It’s okay, Amelia.” The singular voice of Irrithae said. “You can come.” The young, elven girl did as asked and put down the teapot. Her reasonable, mortal fear telling her to get the hell out was easy to recognize. She was looking like a doe in headlights.

With a nod to Irrithae, Galaxor listened to Allianthé. “Their goddess, El’zadir said something similar to that. She apologised for what might’ve sparked a war between mortals. I’m glad to hear your agreement on the matter. ” with another sip, Galaxor looked straight at Allianthé, no longer just spending his time looking at the landscape.
I understand violence better than most, is it, after all, the most common way heroes are born ‘alas, those mortals were under my protection and not fighters. Children, explorers, families that wanted to colonise the great underground. ” continued Galaxor as the book before them started showing pictures of the goblins that were killed.

Before Galaxor could say something else, Amelia showed up and almost dropped the wooden plate that she was carrying. Poor mortal, Galaxor thought. Not everyday one interrupted two divine beings during their business deals.

Don’t be afraid, mortal. Take a seat with us. Have a drink. RALK is…divine. ” said Galaxor with a kind smile towards her before looking at her with his chrono-eye…and the things he saw put a frown on his face. Out of all the possible futures, not one was not filled with destruction, darkness and danger and yet in all of them, she proved herself to be quite powerful.

Oh my’. Your future is interesting. I hope you don’t mind, Allianthé, but I’ll keep an eye on this one. ” said Galaxor, quickly hiding his frown.

Allianthé found it strange that a god would come to entreat another divine over the simple matter of a city. Surely mortal diplomats could come to petition their peers at Arbor. No divine protection of gift was asked yet. Before she would’ve been patient and waited to see what Galaxor truly wished to talk about. Not anymore. “It is a shame. Though I hope peace and prosperty will flow forth from the tragedy. It is good that you have come though, god of heroism. I do have a handful of requests.”

As the goddess started speaking, Amelia carefully approached. The idea that a god somehow saw that she had an interesting future made her excited and fearful at the same time. Especially as she herself had no idea what to do. She served the tea at best of her ability, but before she could sit she heard the voice of Allianthé in her mind: Remember your place, little mortal. It was not said with any malice or judgement. It was a warning. You are a cupbearer. A noble start but it makes you as of now unfit to sit with gods. Hurry away now, and reflect upon what was said here. Amelia did not need to be told twice.

“First, I ask all gods that I meet to fill in a shrine at the Tree of Life. In a way it is a temple to the Khodex and I would wish mortalkind to know all the divine.” Allianthé-Irrithae said. “My traditional second request is for some sort of a boon, blessing or sacred mark in Arbor. Others have done so before you. However, I would ask something different of you. This vessel that I use will one day reign over a polis of great proportions, housing millions.” Irrithae’s voice began to falter. She did not know that this was her destiny and to hear her goddess speak of it, a myriad of thoughts overwhelmed her. Allianthé’s voice remained steadfast. “I am hoping that you could offer aid to a hero on their destined quest. She needs to be educated but also experience first hand what it means to rule. To offer guidance where it is most needed. To demand… sacrifice.”

With a laugh at Amelia and wink, Galaxor said, as she left “Oops, you heard her but do call upon me later, if you wish. You'll be fun to watch.

Turning once more to Allianthé, Galaxor nodded at her requests.

Ah. You've read my mind. I've heard from your elves about the shrines and I didn't want to impose and ask about it directly, but yes. I'd like to do that. May I ask, if a room could be offered instead of a simple shrine? My shrine will offer mortals what they so much wish for, a glimpse at their future or access to talk with their younger selves. ” started Galaxor before making another RALK bottle appeared and continuing “Of course, the future's not set in stone but it'll give them hope. Surely you understand how important hope is, as for your second request…allow me. ”, Galaxor stood up and touched Irrithae’s shoulder and in a flash, they both teleported deep, very deep within Galbar. Right upon the grand staircase leading to the Library.

A group of elves, recognising Irrithae, quickly tried to shuffle back to the end of the long line of novices-to-be, not wanting to be recognised by the envoy of the goddess.

Behold. The Great Underground Library. One of my holy temples and as you can see, a quite popular spot for mortals who make it here. We've taken a shortcut, otherwise, it would've taken months to get here. ” As he talked, the line pushed forward as a few beastfolk passed by, rejected by the Library's grand-sage.

Allianthé-Irrithae shook their head for a moment as they were teleported to the Great Underground Library. Allianthé was very quick to recover though: “For the shrine, I am afraid that I must insist upon a simple shrine within the Tree of Life. I believe us peers, all of us. Offering more to another would have too much of a symbolical impact. That being said, Arbor is a city that is about to bloom in exceptional ways. If you so wish, you can create a temple there as well.” She explained, as she left her opinion on hope unspoken. In truth she cared very little for hope. It was such an ephemeral concept, and it could so easily be conflated with desperation into outright lies.

“As for Irrithae’s education, I thank you for accepting. Though I must say that you may have acted overly hasty.” Irrithae’s voice began to recover from the sudden shock. “Irrithae had friends and loved ones she had to say her goodbyes to. Alas.” Allianthé dove into Irrithae’s mind: Show me to whom you wish to say your goodbyes. They shall receive the message from me.

“Goddess this is too fast!” Irrithae spoke out when she was partially released from Allianthé’s influence. “I still have Amelia and the other mages to guide! The druids will need to know where to grow the Housetrees. Oh goddess, I have yet to talk to the fire girl! There is too much-”

The future is more pressing than the present, Irrithae. The goddess spoke like a stern mother would address her child. It broke Irrithae’s defiance instantly. Then she softened: I understand that this must be hard for you, to fall from one world into another. Trust that it is necessary. Have faith, in yourself and in me. She let the words sink into the Syllianth girl before resuming her control.

“Come find me in the Tree of Life Galaxor, so we may finish our dealings.” Allianthé-Irrithae said, before she fully released her control over her prophetess.

I merely wish for both of you to know what I can offer before…I ask for payment, Allianthé. Irrithae may go back to her mortal business and to get prepared for what's to come. If she wishes to learn, this is the best place to do so. I'll personally guide her when she'll be ready for it. But she needs to first prove herself. I won't accept just anyone. As you can see, people are turned back even here, months after they travelled. ” said Galaxor with a smile before looking right in Irrithae’s eyes and saying “So. Elf. Tell me what makes you worthy?

Irrithae looked down at her own feet. Of course she was afraid. Then she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When duty calls, she knew she had to answer. She couldn’t do it while afraid, or excited, or sad. She had to stay calm and in control of herself. So that is what she did. Then she looked up again at Galaxor. “I am the first Prophetess of the goddess of Life.” She declared. “I govern the holy city of Arbor. It was my steadfast hand that returned order from chaos when my Lady sealed herself within the Tree of Life. I wrote the rules that govern the access to the Wellspring, and I am an Arch-Druid of the Font. Every week new ways of greensinging are created by me, or because of me.”

Those were many titles and many achievements, but she already felt like they paled compared to a god. So she switched her tactic: “And I am the key to attaining whatever boon you wish from the goddess.” It was a daring call to make, but when she was Allianthé-Irrithae she could glean some of the thoughts of her Lady. Lord Galaxor did not come for idle chats. He wanted something. A temple, to begin with. But something else as well. Something that required a divine hand.

Listening to her titles, Galaxor shook his head. It was so typical of mortals to state their titles and say how great they were, a crime which Galaxor himself was guilty of on multiple occasions. Of course, he knew better now.

Your titles and achievements mean little to me, elf. I didn’t ask you for a biography, but to tell me why would I want you to learn at my Library. What makes you worthy of the tutelage of the greatest hero and sage there is?” started Galaxor before being cut-off by Irrithae’s last words which only made Galaxor laugh out loud.

You’re bold, I give you that. Bargaining with the powers of your goddess not your own. Now you have forced Allianthé’s hand for I can simply say no, unless I receive something grand in exchange, not what I initially wanted. So, let me ask you again, what makes you special? How are you different from everyone else here? Are you stronger? Are you faster? Do you know knowledge that none other knows? ” asked Galaxor.

What Galaxor wanted was simple, yet most of the time, hard for mortals to understand. Especially mortals so close to their creators. Galaxor wanted to know if she wanted to be taught and it wasn’t just a command given by her goddess. Is it truly her will that drives her to learn or was it Allianthé that pushed this mortal hero on this path?

It was… strange to see the God of Heroes have such little insight. Irrithae knew she wasn’t talking with her thoughts. She was Allianthé’s willing vessel. Her bargain was not forcing the goddess hand. Alas, even that wasn’t enough. For a moment Irrithae questioned what even could be the right reason. Then it struck her.

“Because I want to make sure that millions don’t have to suffer.” The idea struck her like lightning yet made her feel ashamed at the same time. “I’m not going to kill. I’m not going to slay some beast.” The idea was part genius and part foolish, for the god might as well see it as dull. “You ask why I want to become the person my goddess needs me to be, it’s because I know what will happen when I fail. Squalor, starvation, injustice, and all the death and ruin that follows.” And in the depth of her mind, another reason echoed through. Not an altruistic one. She imagined the millions of Arbor chanting her name. She would be their queen and attain glory. Not by killing some beast but by offering the masses prosperity.

“And you ask me how I am special, how I’m different? I’m not stronger, or faster but I am smarter. Not with a blade or any other weapon. I am smarter because I realize that if I want my reign to attain the greatness that it needs to, I need to know more. More about things most heroes would put by the wayside: law, government, trade, architecture and art. That is how I am different.” When she finished her speech her heart was racing. It took true courage for her to keep her eyes on Galaxor. However, she also felt like it wasn’t just her seeing him right now. A small, greenlike presence in the back of her mind was about to witness what came next.

Keeping his chrono-eye trained on her, Galaxor watched as her future changed with every word she said and emotion displayed. She saw the crowds cheering her name, the long nights spent over war maps and some romance sprinkled in between.

With a neutral expression on his face, Galaxor nodded at the elf. “Aye, you'll do. ” he simply said as he snapped his fingers, teleporting them high above the Tree of Life exactly when the sun was slowly rising over the horizon. Before she could react, Irrithae would notice that she's floating beside Galaxor.

I thought a change of scenery would be nice. Look at that. Those are the people you're ready to protect. Keep this memory fresh in your mind and you'll do well. ” he said, after Irrithae calmed down from what must've been pretty jarring for a mortal.

Below them, elves, goblins and other races slowly woke up. Thousands of souls. All living is peace.

With a wink to Irrithae, Galaxor showed her small glimpses of a potential future for Arbor and it was a beautiful sight. Tears of joy formed on her eyes as she watched the futures infold and fade again. This was what she would create. She relished the sight for as long as she could but she was never truly a dreamer like this. “Okay.” She finally said. “Please, take me back. I need to get started on making these visions reality.” She asked, her tone polite but clearly duty bound.

With another snap, they were back at the table. Cups of RALK appearing in their hands.

Now that you've proven yourself and you know what will happen, to a certain degree, I think it's time to talk about my price. I can accept a shrine and maybe a temple when Arbor grows.” said Galaxor with a smile before adding with a chuckle, “A shrine would have the same effect, just the queues might be longer.

After a brief pause, he continued “As for the price of your…tutelage. Allianthé, what can you offer me? I'm thinking of something that will make the travel time between the surface and the Library shorter. As much as I like the challenges people face to get to it, there are people who would be perfect students ‘alas unable to pass all the trials, especially the physical ones.

In an instance the young Syllianth became Allainthé-Irrithae again. “I ask only a simply shrine, a representation of yourself however you so wish, to fill an alcove in the Tree of Life. That is all that would be necessary.” They said, their voices unified once more. Then Irrithae made a flourish with her hand as if it was nothing.

Deep below the earth a new life form emerged. Large worms began to burrow deep through rock and soil.

“You may wish to inform your goblin population that they’ll be encountering the burrower-worms quite frequently. As they are naturally attracted to them - though not as food, I can assure you. Their nests will be close to the Goblin Underground. They will not be submissive. It will be to your aspirants to figure out if the worm is heading for its nest or going out to forage. Your aspirants will also have to rely on their agility or their wits to get on the worms. This seems like a fitting alternative, don’t you think?”

In truth Allianthé would’ve wanted to make the challenge as easy as possible but she knew enough about Galaxor that he wouldn’t accept such a simple challenge. “I hope this satisfies you?”

Galaxor teleported out immediately underground and saw one of these Burrow-Worms in action, cutting through earth, rock and more with ease and sure enough, they were close to the Goblin Underground. With a mental message to Maxima to warn her and instruct what the goblins are supposed to do with these new creatures, Galaxor returned to Allianthé.

Apologies for my disappearance. I only wished to see these creatures in action myself. Beautiful creatures, thank you, Allainthé. With payment received, Irrithae, once you’re ready just shout my name in front of the shrine I’ll make and you’ll be transported to the Library where you’ll start your training. ” said Galaxor with a smile before continuing “Allainthé, I shall make the shrine and if you’re still up for it, I’ll send Maxima, the leader of the Goblin Underground up here to meet whoever you deem fitting to negotiate a formal alliance while also some sages to my shrine…to help people process what they’ll see.

That would mark the first time another god’s priesthood would enter Arbor. Far away, within the tree, a shudder travelled over Allianthé’s spine. “It is my advice that Irrithae finishes her studies before such an alliance is discussed.” They said in perfect unison now. “Arbor works under strict rules of war and conflict. Free trade, free travel, these are things that face no injustice within Arbor but an alliance would suggest aiding one another in times of war. Such an agreement will require the proper stipulations of which I can only trust Irrithae.” After such a winded speech, and such a winded conversation Allianthé-Irrithae let out an almost exhausted sigh. “Forgive me but I must take my leave. I have shared control with Irrithae for too long already. It was good meeting you, Galaxor.” With that, the green glow from Irrithae vanished. But the goddess had a parting message in Irrithae’s mind: Go now. Your task is clear. Become the Steward and Diplomat Arbor needs you to be. Say your farewells, and then go forth. You will be afraid. It is a big step. Date take it with conviction.

Chuckling, Galaxor said with no anger in his voice for being rejected: “Smart move, Allianthé. There were only a very few futures where you accepted it from the get-go and none were very bright. I’ll tell Maxima that they are now allowed to come “upstairs” if they so wish. If anyone causes problems, let Maxima know and they won’t anymore.

With bow to Allianthé, Galaxor looked at the mortal and added with a wink, just before going to create the shrine. “We two are going to have a lot of fun.





Aimless Ambitions

“C’mon! C’mon! I can see the light! We can make it.” Amelia nagged at her parents.

“And how would we move through the dark nights?” Her mother, Assulie, asked. “No, we make camp here while we still have some sun left.”

“But mom!” Amelai protested.

Which was quickly stopped by her father: “Just a bit further dear. The light guides.” Assulie looked at him while Amelia hugged him tightly. She had always been a daddy’s girl. Justly, as her father would do anything for her. “Just a bit further. We can camp with your sisters then.” He continued.

“Fine, but if I trip over a branch you’re carrying me!” Assulie quipped. All three of them let out of a snicker but both Kiros and Assulie picked up their heavy backpacks again. They kept walking as the shadows grew longer. “How much time do you think has passed?”

“It felt like a few months at most. But you’ve heard Theneros. Time can be weird.” It was a weird reality to acknowledge. Assulie could be older than her oldest sibling right now. Amelia could be the eldest of her cousins. By Allianthé, she hoped there would be cousins. She rubbed her own belly. Kiros didn’t know. Not yet. She’d tell him in time. Amelia gave her mother a sidewise look. The girl had such an affinity for life. The way she talked with animals despite not understanding each other, she truly must have a gift.

Amelia knew her mother was carrying her brother already but was a wise enough woman already to know not to tell her father just yet.

In a comfortable silence all three of them made their way through the thick forests. Some places felt familiar to the small family. It allowed them to move in almost the pitch blackness. Though the lights of the growing city could be seen in the distance. “We’re almost there.” Kiros said.

Something rustled in the bushes. An animal probably, but something primal in everyone made them stop to look at the source. In the dark they couldn’t see anything. “Just something foraging.” Amelia said.

“You’re probably right.” Said Assulie. “Kiros, let’s keep going. I want to see my sisters like you promised.” Kiros didn’t respond. “Kiros?” Assulie asked again. “This isn’t funny! You know-” She stopped and looked at the faint shimmer of Amelia she could still see. It was unwise to admit such fear in front of someone as impressionable as her still. “Haha, Kiros. You got me. Now please come out.” He still didn’t respond. “Kiros!”

Something wet flopped down with a hard thud. The two women turned. Something hot splattered over Amelia. She touched it with her fingers and looked close. “M-Mom… this is… blood.” Their hearts sunk.

“Run!”

Amelia did as her mother told her. She started running. Assulie was right behind her. She felt the roots beneath her moving. Not so much against her though. It was as if the forest was trying to guide her in very small ways. Chipmunks chittered in the forest.

Then eyes appeared. First a pair of glowing red ones. Then a few more circular, chittery eyes joined. Then a few more. Eleven total stared her down. She stopped moving. Assulie bumped into her. Sending both of them tumbling to the ground.

They got up again. Spindly legs moved in the shadows. “Keep running!” Assulie yelled as she got up and helped Amelia up after. She tore her daughters backpack off of her and threw it at the beast. It let out a staggering cry before ripping the bag appart. Food and small trinkets clattered to the floor but both of the women bought a moment.

It wasn’t enough. The outer beast came rushing after them. With one needle-like leg it pushed aside Assulie. The woman was thrown against a tree. Amelia tripped, fell, turned over and looked into eleven, chaotically throw about eyes. “No, please. Allianthé please.” She begged. It seemed as if the beast cherished the begging. It reared up two of its spindly legs. Amelia saw her very short life flash before her eyes. Them discovering a waterfall. That one night on the beach.

“No!”

Again Amelia felt something hot hit her. She opened her eyes and saw her mother’s face. Smiling at her. “You’re alright, honey.” Her words were strained, as if she could barely get them out. “You’ll be alright now.” Then she collapsed and Amelia felt something pierce her arm. She screamed out in pain. The eleven eyes in the dark appeared over her again. She couldn’t move. Her mother’s corpse and the spindly leg it pierced her arm with were pinning her to the ground.

I’ll see you again soon, mom. Amelia thought as she closed her eyes again.

Death didn’t feel like much of a transition. Or so Amelia thought. She was still breathing. Did dead people breathe? She still felt warm. Dead things definitly don’t feel warm. Carefully she opened one eye. In the dark it was hard to see. The eleven eyes weren’t gone, just… pushed aside. Then something pulled out the leg from her arm and through her mother’s dead body. Amelia let out a starteld scream of pain.

“You’re alright.” A voice said. “You’re alright.”

The weight pinning her down vanished. Then she looked at an elf. He had white hair and there was something wrong with his face. It was as if the skin was pulled too tightly over his skull.

“I’m Aenos.” The white-haired elf said.



“She’s the only survivor?” Irrithae asked. They were standing in a tree-home, a hollow tree that offered protection from the elements. Irrithae had grown this one herself, right after that dreadful day.

“I’m afraid so. Outer Beasts are still everywhere. We’re doing our best but-” Aenos broke off his own sentence as he looked at a still dazed looking Amelia, who sat huddled in a blanket before a small fire.

“You can’t be everywhere.” Irrithae finished his sentence. “I understand. We understand. Arbor is grateful for you and yours work.” Her eyes turned towards Amelia as well now. “What do you think?”

“She’s not fit for the Deathguard. It’s why I brought her to you. She still has a spark. I’m sure you can nurture it.” Aenos turned and grabbed his divine, cold spear next to the flap that led outside. “I’ll see you later.” Then he left.

Irrithae moved towards the elven girl and knelt down beside her. “Do you remember why you and your parents were coming?”

Amelia had to think really deeply. She remembered talk about aunts and cousins, but she was far too young to remember them. She just shook her head. “S-Sorry.”

“No, no it’s okay. You’ve gone through something terrible. It’s okay. Here, drink this.” Irrithae offered Amelia a wooden cup filled with tea. “It’ll help you sleep.”

The elven girl nodded and lifted the cup to her lips but stopped before she could take a sip. “There is something.” But it was selfish. How could she think of that now!? A tear fell from her eye. “Sorry. No, sorry. It’s nothing.”

“You can tell me everything you want, Amelia.” Irrithae assured her as she sat down next to her with her own cup of tea. “You can tell me about the chipmunk you saw in a tree or about the most beautiful night you’ve seen in your whole life. I’ll listen.”

“I heard… rumours about a lake or something… near the big Tree… that gives you magic powers.” Amelia said as she gently sipped the tea but kept her eyes on the fire. “Magic… sounds so… magical.” She couldn’t think of the right word, but that hope that she might one day have it kept her going.

Irrithae fell silent. “The Wellspring.” She said, her tone betrayed her heavy heart. “It does give magic to those who bathe in it but-”

“I want to bathe in it.” Equal part determination and desperation made Amelia say it.

“There are risks to it though.” Irrithae explained. “If you go into it… you may not come out of it again. You might die. And even if you come out, your life will be different. Magic gives but it also takes.” There was a reason why Irrithae had ordered that all those who wished to bathe in it should first come to her. She didn’t outright forbid it, but it was important people realized the risks.

“I still want to do it! I’ll whatever it takes.” Amelia’s flame from before was flickering again. Like it was in danger of being extinguished. It broke Irrithae’s heart.

“Very well. If in three days you still feel so confident, you can bathe in the Wellspring.” That was Irrithae’s rule. Three days of consideration.




Those three days moved at a snail’s pace for Amelia. There were other things that she did, other than crying for most of the days. The names of her parents were etched into a monolith. Soon enough Amelia’s family would see those names and come to Arbor’s defacto ruler.

But they didn’t come before that fateful night. Amelia woke Irrithae in the middle of the night. “It’s time!” The elven girl said, filled with excitement despite the tear streaks still visible on her cheeks. “Three days! I waited like you asked. Now please, can I get my magic?”

“Now?” A half asleep Irrithae asked. But she only had to see the elven girl’s eyes once to realize that Amelia was jumping into the Wellspring. With or without Irrithae. “Very well then.” She said with a drowsy chuckle.

In the middle of the night they moved through ever growing Arbor. With the advent of Greensinging many people were growing their homes at a rapid pace. A new sort of forest was growing around the Tree of Life now. While glowbug swarms were offering illumination throughout the larger streets.

They reached the Wellspring, and the still sealed Tree of Life in no time. Irrithae still felt a pang of guilt when looking at the door. It hadn’t been too long ago when a crowd had crushed itself there, trying to get out. She wished she had acted faster, to disperse the people so more would’ve survived.

Amelia was blind to her guide’s guilt. The girl was almost jumping in excitement. In the last few days she had told herself that this was her destiny. This is why she survived. So she could cast magic! She hadn’t thought of what to do after just yet.

“Remember. The Wellspring isn’t regular water. This isn’t some test of strength. You need to accept it into you. And once you did, you need to want to come back.” Irrithae explained for the tenth time during Amelia’s short stay.

“Have you gone in?” Asked Amelia. In the dark the Wellspring looked far more foreboding. Like a black inky patch surrounding the tree. With a million shimmering colors just below its surface.

“No. I chose the Font.” It was a kinder fate, Irrithae found. No one drowned or vanished from the Font. “You can still step back Amelia. There’s no shame in it.”

Amelia just shook her head. “I have to do this.” She said with resolution. Though she wasn’t feeling so sure anymore. For some reason she thought the Wellspring would be far more inviting. Still, what else was there. She took a step forward. Her toes were dangling over the mystic waters. Then she took another step. With a small splash she jumped into the Wellspring.

It was deep, serene, beautiful and even warm. It was nothing like the water she was used to. She could feel her blood warming through her body. Had she been cold? The bubbles rose slowly to the surface. The surface. Such a distant place now. Down here she could vanish. Up there… Up there she was the daughtered of murderer parents. Down here she was just Amelia. Up there she would have to deal with a whole life lost and a whole life she had to rebuild. Down here…

No! Irrithae warned of this! Amelia began to kick violently, as if there was something in the water that she could kick back to go up. She didn’t move. She fought harder. There was still something she had to do. She wasn’t done living just yet! She kept kicking. More bubbles floated slowly up. Mocking her own inability to do the same. She started screaming. Water flooded her lungs. The lights turn dark and the water cold. A blackness was encroaching upon here. Maybe this was how it was meant to be. Maybe she was supposed to have died three days ago, and now she’s paying her due to Death. This hurt far less though. The world turned dark. Maybe it was better like this.

Amelia vomited up water like her life depended on it. It flowed from her mouth and nose as her body retched it up. The moment she got enough - not all but enough - water out she took giant, panicky breaths. Where was she!? What happened?

“You’re not dead.” a comforting voice said as someone put a warm hand on her shoulder. Somehow Amelia knew whoever spoke had a gentle, kind smile. But she could look. She was coughing up water and grasping for air at the same time. After what felt like whole hours of recovering, she finally fell back on her back to look up at her savior. Irrithae stood over her.

“You saved me?” Amelia asked.

The Syllianth nodded. “You survived the Wellspring.” Hearing that conjured a smile on Amelia’s face. Which quickly faded when the Guide of Arbor asked her: “So what do you want to do now?”

For the first time in her life she had no clue.




Something was amiss.

Allianthé had just finished her fount. The shimmering azure waters that she had drawn from the Wellspring surrounding her tree had turned a vibrant green. The pool was now nestiled between some mossy stones, in a small clearing in the forest that was slowly becoming Arbor. The warm sun could peer through the canopy to shine upon parts of the pool, while a large, drooping willow hung over another part of the pool, offering tranquility and shade. Some mortals - mostly elves and syllianth, mortals that had a closer bond with her. She started to explain what it was. The fount of Greensinging. Those who would bathe in its waters could weave arcana and the energies of life. It had it’s trappings of course, but an overwhelming sense stopped the goddess of Life.

Something was wrong.

A shill spread over her spine. Death had always been a part of her. Across the world she constantly felt the sudden, evercruel ceasure of her gift. She felt it like being stapped a thousand times with tiny needles. It had been wearing on her, even though she hid it behind her smiles and kind demeanor. What she felt now was not the tiny needles she was never quite getting used to. This was a slash, a stab, a sweep. In one fell strike someone had caused hundreds to die nearly at the same time. The goddess stopped talking, and let the pain sweep over her. Death, she had to accept it. For now. Though it only strengthened her resolve to offer everyone eternity someday.

Except the pain kept coming. Another stab, another sweep, another hundred lives consumed by a wretched reality. It was starting to bother her more and more, and the waves of pain got worse as well.

“My queen!” A syllianth rushed over. “My queen! The Khodex!” He was out of breath, his metallic shape nestled within the plants was heaving. “It-it-”

“Calm down.” Allianthé said, hiding away her own pain. She slowed her own false breathing - something she had been doing since she walked amongst more and more mortals - to help put the syllianth at ease. “Deep breaths. Calm down. What about the Khodex?”

“It was glowing, my queen! Colors swirled beneath its surface. Light tried- tried to escape!”

Allianthé’s eyes grew wide. In a blink she was gone. And in the next blink she stood before the Khodex. Sadly it wasn’t glowing. It didn’t have swirling patterns over it. It was just…jet black. She drooped her shoulders in disappointment. Was the syllianth lying? And if so, why? Or had the Khodex glowed and-

“Was glowy!” A goblin next to her exclaimed. “Real glowy biggest missus!” The goblin continued.

“Really?” Allianthé said, another wave of a hundred or so deaths washed over her. She hid it. “What did it look like?”

“Oh lotz o’ colors. Like da watah outside.”

The goddess knew that goblins had become ever curious creatures, even if they didn’t always manage to speak as eloquently as their larger mortal peers. She took a knee before the little goblin. “Do you think you could…show it to me?”

“Oh… Oh no. Me no crafter, like dem knife-ears. Sorry biggest missus. Sorry Chumpah can’t help there.”

Allianthé smiled. “This might help.” She tapped the forehead of the little goblin and channeled some of her divinity through him. The goblin, his form so small, seemed to hold a boundless amount of inspiration. The flickering of the khodex had a profound effect on him, but he lacked the insight to reflect what he had seen. He couldn’t put it back into the world. With this blessing, one that lept to so many goblins within the Tree of Life, opened his mind to it.

“Oooh!” He exclaimed. “Oh I- I think me can show you now, biggest missus! No, no not now.” He quickly looked away. “Needz them colors. Needs da black and da redz and da… da purplez! Purples a sneaksie color me thinks. To get- to get. But I shall make hurry. Hurry to show the biggest missus.” Like a little goblin possessed, he scampered off. Probably to find some even place somewhere around, together with some easy colors. He wouldn’t make a masterpiece. Surely not. But any approximation would not just bring joy to the goddess but to Arbor as a whole.

Another wave of pain went over Allainthé. This time she couldn’t suppress the wince. A thousand lives extinguished. She couldn’t ignore it anymore!

In the blink of an eye Allianthé was gone. A gale wind blew for a moment, before the air itself calmed around Arbor.

At the edge of the Land of Origins, the creation of the Khodex itself, she cast her gaze out further south. A dust storm was travelling straight towards. But her eyes saw more than just dust and wind. It saw fear. Rickety creations upon wheels were charging straight for the lands. More life! For a moment the goddess was overjoyed. Then the first goblins’ cart felt. The others didn’t even slow down. Small bodies fell down upon the ground. The few that could still move were mangled by the irate horde following behind. “No stop! You’re killing them!” Allianthé shouted. Her voice carried over the vast expanse to hit the horde. They didn’t listen. Why didn’t they listen!? She saw them reach small settlements. They slowed this time. Some stopped. Where they picking up others? What was going-

With spear and bow and sling more goblins died. Fire was consuming huts. They were dragging away bags. From so far away Allianthé could still see them filled with fruits. Why were they taking food!? She had tried so hard to make sure there would not be a shortage. Sure enough, her touch might not be complete out here but was there a need for such savagery. For such finality?

Wrath struck Allianthé like no other. Like a furious wind she sped towards the horde. The air could not move fast enough around her. A loud bang rippled across the sky before the goddess slammed in front of the horde. From the dust that billowed around her a dozen, silken arrows from shot forth, catching carts and stopping them in their spot. Hundreds others veered off. At first they tried to return fire with slings and bows. None of it hurt Allianthé. More silk-spun arrows flew forth. The goblins were fast to realize that they stood no match and fled.

The goddess wasn’t done. Her bow turned back into a spider-ring as she jumped from the still settling upon one of the carts. “Why are you killing!?” Allianthé demanded from one of the goblins.

He was frantically trying to cut himself loose but stopped when the eyes of a goddess looked straight at him. “The things! The monsters! The beasts! Killing is all they do! South we must go! Away we must go!” He yelped.

His pleas pulled Allianthé out of her anger. He was right. The death, or rather the sudden end of life, that she felt could not have been caused by this horde. Not even by two or three of them. It was something else. Something bigger.

The baying confirmed her fear.

Something far beyond the horizon was coming. Something big, something dangerous, something that killed indistriminately.

With a flick of her hand Allianthé released the webs. Some of the carts could continue. Others were broken by the sudden stop. The goblins frantically tried to repair them. Allianthé would’ve helped them, if she didn’t feel the desperate need that a cataclysm was moving towards her and the lands of origin. She flew up, slower as to not deafen the little goblins, to see from higher up what was coing.

The little goblin was right. Some horrific creature was thundering towards the Lands of Origins. They weren’t marauding, they were fleeing. Allianthé would have to give them a propper home. But first she had to deal with this. A land-blackening army of monsters followed the titanic beast as well. From high up Allianthé could see them at work. They crushed and killed and bit and slaughtered. Some of them, their backs laden with corpses, hurried back. That was a mystery to unravel when she had the time. First she had to reason with this thing.

“Stop! In the name of Life itself!” Allianthé bellowed as she flew down towards the beast. It didn’t listen. In fact it almost rammed Allianthé aside. She flew away and down again, stopping further. “In the name of your very life force I command you to cease!” It had no effect on the titan. Who kept coming at her. Her eyes glowed a pale, sickly green now. With a thousand voices as one she commanded: “Stop!”

Some of the smaller creatures stopped. It was hard to disobey life itself when you were a breathing, living thing. Others, in the shadow of their titan, barely cowered. “Stop!” Allianthé repeated. More smaller ones slowed and stopped. The power, the divine Might, projected was flowing over the world now. But the titan kept going, kept crushing small creatures under its path with little care.

“Stop!” Allianthé shouted a final time. She poured all authority she had as the Verdant Queen into that command.

Egrioth reared up before her. At first seemingly to stop her. Then two of its spire-legs came down on her. Allianthé’s small shape was sent flying towards the ground with such force that a crater spawned around her. She tried to get up. The two legs came down again. Quaking the earth. It raised its legs again and continued its charge. Thousands of creatures swarmed the crater, braying for the divine ichor.

Allianthé was downed, her divine essence spilling from beneath her. Pieces of broken bone and bark laid strewn around her. Blood poured from a half-shaped body in which she tried to encase herself in. It never stood a chance at living. But for a split second it had, and then Esgrioth had killed it. Outside the beasts were calling for her. Why did they want to kill her like she was some mortal? She was life! She was them! In all of them! Allianthé didn’t understand, couldn’t understand. There was only a vile frenzy.

The wounds she was dealt was not a simple thing. It was not something that would just heal. Something in her very core was broken. With pure dread she realized that she could not fight this thing.

But she had to do something. Monstrous beasts kept gnawing and snarling against the strange, wood and bone cage. Things were breaking all around her. They were getting closer. What was she supposed to do? Mantibles broke through a nearby rib. She could see the frenzy in whatever creature was behind that maw. It got closer, with a strange desperation it was squeezing its body through the hole it made. Others were making their way in as well. What wa she supposed to do here!? “Please.” Allianthé begged. “Please you’re… You’re alive as well.” They were. Everything around her, they were her children as well. She didn’t want them hurt. She didn’t want them hurting her. “Please just… calm down.” The beast broke through deeper, Allianthé could see its five eyes now. There was a maddened frenzy in them. A hunger for… her. For anything! “Please just… calm down. There is enough- there is enough food around. I promise.” The beast could understand her, that was certain. All creatures could understand their mother. This one just didn’t care. He kept snarling at her and pushing its body through the hole. Bones kept breaking around her.

“I’m sorry.” The creature before her collapsed.

In a split second the thousand creatures in the crater dropped down as well. Their maddened frenzy stopped dead in its tracks. The lively fire behind their eyes, that burned with nothing but hunger and madness, was gone. From amid the pile of flesh, carrapace, bark and regret an emerald star began to rise.

“I’m sorry.” Allianthé said. Godly tears fell from her eyes as she held the condensed life force in both of her hands. A thousand had died around her, because of her, and the resulting pain was beyond anything she had ever felt. Despite that, her tearful eyes turned to look at the Monster. In her hands the emerald light began to glow. “You must be stopped. I will stop you.” The green light turned into a shape, an orb made entirely of Jade. At first it was solid, then the color began to recede from the edges, until the only thing within the now glassy orb that was still jade was the Beast.

“Egrioth. Your madness must be halted.
Egrioth. Your savageness will be stopped.
Egrioth. Your wrath can be cooled.

I mark thee, for endless, restless, relentless life will follow thee.
I mark thee with the Eternal Marshes.”


Impossible life burst from the very ground below the horse-like beast. Giant willows reached out, broken by the charge and reached up again. Pits of murky water filled with biting fishes and wrapping vines trapped the millions of bestial servants. Even more vines reached out towards the Outer Beast. Wherever it stepped the swampy ground below gave way for wrapping moss and strangling vines.

And it still could not stop him.

Allianthé could barely see that her artifact’s curse did not stop Egrioth forever. It only slowed it down. But at at least its mortal servants would have a tougher time sticking close to its master. As Egrioth charged on, the very marsh around it moved with it.


Allianthé did not land gently.

She fell near her tree. Elves, goblins, and syllianth came flocking towards her. In a second they realized something was very wrong with their god-queen. Golden light was flowing out of her. Was she bleeding!? Could a god bleed?

“Goddess!” An elf reached her and tried to get her up. Allianthé was still shaken. She looked up and peered into the elf’s eyes.

“Aenos.” She said with a smile, for of course she knew every name. “I will see greatness in you.” She touched him on the shoulder, and a beautiful, emerald light shone from behind his eyes as their color turned from hazel to bright green. “A titan is coming.” she started coughing, like she was sick. “And an army comes with it. Arbor… Arbor cannot fall. Do you understand,”

“Goddess… no!” Aenos exclaimed.

“You must find- find a way to stop the onslaught.”

A syllianth arrived as well. She reached and helped up Allianthé as she tried to fashion some support from the metal within her. “Goddess, what happened.”

“Irrithae.” Allianthé said and smiled at the syllianth. “You remind me… of your other mother a bit.” She touched the syllianth’s shoulder and again verdant green light shone from behind her eyes, forever transforming their color. “I will have to… rest. For a time. The world… cannot forget. Killing, hurt, it is wrong. There must be growth. Eternal, ceaseless. Promise me, Irrithae. Have them remember.”

“Goddess- I-” Allianthé collapsed in the arms of the elf and the syllianth. Other mortals came flocking too. Each held up the all-mother. She was breathing ragedly, even though she did not need air. “To the Tree!” Irrithae yelled, and all followed.

Allianthé, wounded Allianthé, was carried into the tree and laid before the Khodex. Leaves from the great tree fell down from above, and wrapped themselves around her. Trillion spiders came from every nook and cranny, sending goblins and elves that had taken up residence inside the tree running. They began to move towards the crowd, and in utter fear they began to run out of the tree. A few, sad stragglers were caught in the great web that was now filling the hollow inside of the tree.

And so the people of Arbor stood before a sealed Tree of Life.

“Life… is locked away.” Said Irrithae, confused as to why she knew what words to speak. “And Life will remain locked… until the world is freed.” The people were looking at her. In their eyes she could see the endless questions they had. “Aenos?” She asked. The elf was standing beside her. “What should we do.”

He looked around. His eyes were somehow sharper. None of it gave him any answers.

“Aenos?”

He was a young elf. A faithful elf. He had followed the edicts of his goddess to the best of his capabilities but he was not without his sins. He had to protect something but how? His eyes caught those of a friend and rival of his. When he wanted to grab a piece of Aenos’ fruit, he had punched him. Was that what he was supposed to do? “We- I… I will do what I must.”





“Soon, No Leaves On Tree. Soon, No Leaves on Trees. Soon, No Trees. Soon, No Plants. Soon, No Plant. Soon, Talk To Metal. Soon, Find Cause. Soon, Save Yourself.”

Allianthé watched as the rose returned to its natural form. Seeing her creation used like that, in such an unnatural manner, it bothered her. Except that its message was far more disturbing. She looked up towards the heavens, where the canopy of her most sacred tree was still in view. What she saw shook her to her core. With her divine senses she saw some of the leaves, only a few, turn red and orange and yellow. The tree itself rejected them and soon the gentle leaves came falling from the sky. If a goddess like her could turn pale, she would.

The air billowed through the forest as the goddess of life rushed towards the Tree of Life, desperate and fearful for the center of her creation.

There she came face to face with another Goddess. Hands on her hips in an athletic form made of molten gold, more like a statue than a living being. The Goddesses’ eyes were narrowed as she looked over Allianthé. Then she shifted her leg, proof she was capable of movement and her voice burst forth in a low accusatory growl.

“What did you do?”

The accusation hit Allianthé straight in the heart. Did the metal goddess truly think this was her fault? How could she think she’d poison her own creation! For a second she wanted to lash out like only nature could but again she checked her temper. “I do not like to be accused too quickly.” She said as neutral as possible. “All I know is that the tree of life is dying. You are the goddess of metal, are you not? I was told to come talk to you.” Her eyes turned towards the great tree again. Worry gripped her heart as more leaves started falling. “What do you think is happening?”

The Goddess rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Goddess of Crafting. Goddess of Metal. Sylia is my name.” She retorted before adding, “And I don’t have a clue. My own hand told me to talk to you.” She pointed a finger at Allianthé. “So here I am.” She rubbed her temple and began to pace. “My Watcher has gone silent and your Tree think’s the seasons have changed.” She stopped pacing in front of Allianthé, shifting her form to be eye level. “We must venture below. Take my hand. I doubt you have seen the womb of the earth where the Divinium lies.” Sylia finished with a huff and out held her hand to the Life Goddess.

“It doesn’t know seasons.” Allianthé’s pride did not allow for this fellow goddess to be so unknowing about the Tree of Life, much like herself it was eternal. To believe that it could go through a cycle of renewal would suggest that it could perish to start with. “But no, I haven’t been far below ground.” Despite her fear for what she would find Allianthé took Sylia’s warm hand.

One moment the sun illuminated all and the next, it was as if night had fallen and the world was only lit by stars. In this case, bioluminescence of all sorts and teeming with moss and fungi. Brightest among them was the humming ore interwoven within the rocks. As soon as they arrived, Sylia had let go of Allianthé’s hand and had walked to a ledge that overlooked a deep ravine that radiated a mix of white and green light. A song of hums mingled together into a chorus of beauty.

“Curious. The Watcher is not seen but I can feel its presence further down.” Sylia said aloud. She pointed to a vast stretch of roots that were hanging into the ravine. “That was not here when I left.” She turned to Allianthé, her form shimmering. “This is not the work of Toil. It’s far too soon. We must investigate further, come.” She said, not waiting for an answer as she took a step off the ledge.

“No wait!” Allianthé reached out to Sylia. Too many questions came up. What was this ‘Watcher’ and why was it down here? Who was Toil? What was happening? She looked at the roots around her instead. Some of them looked dark and bloated. Like they were filled with something foul, stagnant and poisoning. She placed her hand on the root and felt a strange, copper taste in her mouth. “All will be well again. Just hold out a little longer, my dear.” She said and as life the tree could understand her without a doubt. Then, with a worried sigh she too leapt off the ledge into the ravine below.

They heard it before they saw it. A large crack, followed by the unmistakable sound of rock being broken. Sylia flew like an arrow to the spot, ahead of Allianthé, following the roots the Metal God had pointed to earlier. There, in a large flat cut of the rock, obscured from the main channel of the descent and now illuminated by pure green from the Allianthite ore, they found what they sought. A large figure of flowing silver metal, encased and seemingly melded within the roots of the Tree, motionless. Below it, fought a smaller version of the metal automaton. It was dodging the whip like vines and cutting into them with every lunge it could make.

Sylia said nothing as she watched, a hand upon her chin as if she was studying the encounter with pure interest.

“No!” Allianthé screamed as she landed and saw the scene unfolding. She reached for a small, inconsequential spider crawling along the roots. In her hand it transformed into a bow entwined with a black, spider-like carapace. Long, spindly legs reached out from the handle seemingly ready to hold something. Allianthé drew back the string and an arrow of white spider silk formed. The arrow flew straight for the smaller automaton and instantly wrapped it into a spider’s cocoon. “What is happening!?” She asked Sylia.

“Overreactions.” Sylia mused, leaping forward. She came to a stop before the smaller automaton, which shook violently in the web, but could not escape. Then Sylia looked up at what was left of the larger Automaton. “Fascinating.” She said, putting her hands behind her back. “It seems our creations were unable to coexist. I wonder who initiated such a conflict? I don’t see how my Watcher would have attacked the roots, without the roots having taken Divinium and I doubt they did that.” She turned to Allianthé and said, “Perhaps the voices we heard have something to do with it?”

“Perhaps.” Allianthé did not enjoy the almost uncaring musings. Clearly this Sylia did not understand the value of life. All life. For now though, Allianthé had to restore harmony. She did not enjoy the fact that this Watcher, this poisonous creation of metal, was placed here without her knowing. Then again, she wasn’t the tyrant of this realm. Others can come, create and go as they please of course. Still, a fair warning would’ve been appropriate, she felt.

Her divine senses told her that some other form of life was present here as well. It was small, and making every effort to hide from the automatons, the warring roots and now the two goddesses as well. It couldn’t hide from Allianthé of course. In a flash she appeared before it, crouching so it was looking it straight in the eyes at the same height. “Hi there little one.” She said with a friendly smile.

The creature, the goblin, jumped up in surprise and dropped the white ore.

Allianthé frowned. “Why are you holding that, little one?”

“T-T-The voices!” The little goblin exclaimed. “The voices said it was good. It was shiny!”

Before Allianthé could say anything else, or the goblin for that matter, Sylia appeared behind the goblin so that she was facing Allianthé and smacked the creature in the side of the head. Gore and brain matter coated the wall it had been hiding beside in a grotesque display. The goblin’s limp body fell to the ground, spurting blood at the feet of Allianthé. The ore lump rolled to a stop close by, the only sound in that small but giant room.

Sylia sighed as her attention turned to Allianthé, “A fitting fate for a thief. I do wonder how it even got down here in the first place.”

The goddess of life reached out towards the little goblin corpse. Tears pooled in her eyes as she cradled the body. She only felt pain. So much pain. Death, she had been introduced to it but to see it inflicted so callously. So unjustly. What was this little one’s crime? At worst he was a fool. Death was not the right penance for that. As the goddess of life, Allianthé would not stand for it. She held the body tight and used all the might necessary. The wound healed and the soul returned from the brink. There was no way she could do this for every creature that perished, but this one perished in part because of her. Rightfully the little resurrected goblin clung to Allianthé, fearful of the goddess that had just killed it.

“That was too far, Lady Sylia.” Allianthé said as she rose up. “Perhaps you should busy yourself with figuring out what is going wrong with your metallic creation.” Her voices were - for the first time in her existence - pointed. Yet the crafting goddess was no longer before Allianthé. Instead she was back over before the macabre sight of the metal and plant amalgamation, with seemingly no care for what she had just done.

“Yes, yes.” She chided back at the Life Goddess. She then placed a hand upon her Watcher and said, “Ah, it seems the diminutive creature, goaded into stealing by the voices, prompted the Watcher to attack it, which these vines prevented. A battle ensued, and the Watcher was assimilated? No… As the vines constricted, the Watcher began to leech itself into your tree. It was mutual destruction. Yet…” She let go and walked over to the smaller pinned Watcher. “This one was created to ensure the legacy of the Watcher would endure and it disobeyed directives. It was supposed to retrieve the Divinium and leave but it stayed and tried to free its maker. Remarkable.” She breathed.

“They will have to be removed.” Allianthé said rather matter of factly. “Or dismantled. Whichever you prefer.” They couldn’t be allowed to remain here for sure. At best a tentative peace would remain. At worst all of this was one foolish goblin away from another incident. She put the little goblin down and it scurried away. Probably to tell the others about its encounter and hopefully its miraculous resurrection. “Though I presume that you’d wish a replacement for its task down here?”

"You do not see the significance, that's fine." Sylia said, turning to her. "I shall acquiesce to the removal but yes, you must understand one thing about Divinium and its alloys; Mortals are not yet ready or capable of working it into usable objects. I placed the Watcher here as both a deterrent and a challenge. If we don't come up with a replacement, the Goblins of these caves would run amok. Like the one you saved." Sylia waved a hand over the Watchers and they liquefied completely, running like water from the vines and the spider silk, forming into two spinning orbs around her head. "There, the poison is drawn from the wound. Now what am I going to do?" She muttered to herself.

“Thank you.” Allianthé said with a gentle smile again. “And you are… quite right.” The goddess acquiesced without letting her pride fall. “Allow me to then make a proposal and a request. Would it be so much better if these poor goblins down here learned how to handle your precious gift? Instead of just… leaving it here? Hoping that someday they all figure it out for themselves.” Her eyes darted to the shadowy corners from where she was certain the little goblin was looking and listening. “I can create a shepherd for them, to teach them what they can do and cannot. In return I would ask that you create a space down here where they can learn and work the Divinium. What say you, lady of metal?”

Sylia looked at Allianthé for a brief moment and then looked at the Sylium orbs. “It is not a hope, Lady. That they figure it out. They will figure it out, if I or others teach them.” she let out a dissatisfied sigh. “The correct infrastructure must be set in place beforehand, or there would be only chaos and chaos, like toil, will only bring disaster for these peoples.” She looked the plant goddess in the eyes now, “I suppose, either way, my goals will be achieved now or in the future. Your request is adequate, I will create a forge for those that wish to learn. Your proposal however, I find qualms with. I instead propose that we create this shepard or shepherds, together. That way, they have both our knowledge and design made manifest. That way, we both get what we want with…” Her eyes darted to the hidden goblin, “No intentional loss of life.”

The last remark conjured a genuine smile on Allianthé’s face. She was most grateful that Sylia at least made an attempt to appease. Even if - quite clearly - she either did not care for it or didn’t understand it. The goddess clasped her hand together. Divine energy coursed through the roots surrounding them as branches and leaves rose up from them. The humanoid figures were empty though, quite literally and metaphorically. Their chest was open, as was most of where their face and hair would be. The hollows looked inviting though. As if something was expected to fill them. “They should have your knowledge and your unique touch for life, I think.” Allianthé stepped aside to let Sylia fill these new creations.

Sylia looked them over, silently digesting everything that they were composed of. She looked up at the Sylium orbiting above them and shook her head. Then she glanced around at the green ore and raised her hand. They began to break away from their rock cages, humming a note that energized with life. They began to whirl before her, more and more gathering. "Allianthite, alloy of Divinium in thy name." She said to the Life Goddess. "Attributes defined by the Khodex and your imprint upon it." She mused, the ore beginning to twirl faster and faster. Its humming reached a crescendo and then the ore became metal, the humming stopped from that which now flowed into the empty vessels. "One such attribute being its capability to bond with life."

The liquid Allianthite formed wove itself into the nascent beings, hardening and grafting to form a strange hybrid of plant and metal. Faces melded into shape, feminine and masculine. Smooth as stone, soft as flesh yet with the hardness akin to best any would be attacker. Sylia knelt before one, watching as its core took the form of a female. She seemed to scrunch her nose as breasts rose along the chest and the Goddess pressed her finger into the female's lower abdomen. She then looked over to see a male's reproductive organs form. The Goddess sighed, "It seems they will be capable of reproduction. I had not foreseen this in truth but it would seem fitting with your domain." Sylia stood again and placed her hands upon her hips. “I am not yet satisfied. What if…” She looked back up at the Sylium orbs and smiled. “Ahh and why should they not be attuned to my primary domain?” With a snap, the large Sylium orb shimmered and then from it came small slivers of metal that embedded themselves into the foreheads of the now sleeping mortals. With this done she faced Allianthé. "The Syllianth they should be named. Beings of Life, Metal and Craft. Formed for the balance of two worlds, and capable of bridging them together."

“Then Syllianth they are named!” Allianthé said, not bothering to hide her excitement. She wasn’t at all surprised at their capacity of procreation. Life, after all, was born and grew. A part of her wanted to stay here and talk with these new beings for a while. Maybe just a few years. Alas, there was the second part of the agreement. “The forge.” Allianthé said. “Down here it seems like that would be… difficult as I understand it.” The fire, the smoke, it would be horrendous for a while if it was placed down here. “Perhaps we could have it be placed in the sight of the sun, above? So mortals from across the world can flock to it?”

Sylia ran a hand through her golden hair. “I suppose.” And next the Crafting Goddess waved her hand, grabbed Allianthé’s and they were back at the surface, the sleeping Syllianth in tow. There she let go of the Life Goddesses hand and settled their sleeping people nearby on the floor level of the tree. Sylia next walked away from the tree and mused, “There are many Holy places within this Holy tree. Or there will be, this bastion of civilization. I can already feel them, living above and below. The others have been busy. It was good that they brought them here, instead of discarding them across the world like toys. It’s such a waste.” She sighed and then pointed to an area beyond the tree, next to a large cave. “I shall place my site there and the Syllianth will watch over it as custodians until they grow in number to look beyond the tree. I shall take some with me to the Atelier, in the northwest.”

With a flick of her wrists the two Sylium orbs whipped past the Goddesses like an arrow, finding their mark next to the mouth of the cave. There the earth trembled and stone was ripped up in a torrent of dirt and debris. Quickly the materials expanded, forming into large pillars of polished granite that formed an open circle next to the tree. There, a large silvered forge erupted from the larger orb and settled into the middle of the circle. Wide at the base and narrowing as it towered over the pillars. Ornate depictions of Sylia hammering and her sigil, a large hand holding the world, were etched across it. Directly in front of the Divinium forge the smaller orb hovered, splitting in half. One half sank to the now pristine floor and became a large circular anvil. The floating half, connected itself to this anvil and became a hammer. Sylia snapped her fingers and the hammer slammed into the anvil with a resounding boom.

She clapped her hands together and let out a high pitched whistle. “There you have it, Lady. I must be going now. Your people will awake in short order and know what to do. And,” Sylia glanced at Allianthé, “Don’t forget your flower.” Then the metal Goddess was gone, taking half of the Syllianth with her.




Tree of Life

For a split second Allianthé saw the world in all its potential beauty. The sandstorms would be tamed. The land would be made fertile. Green would stretch across the entire globe. Making it an awe inspiring, living emerald. And even that would only be the beginning. She saw vines reaching further up and reaching towards the stars and deep within the empty space she found herself in. Life would be everywhere, enveloping everything.

That wouldn’t just happen though. Even now this fledgling planet was nothing more but a windswept husk. It needed work. It needed her help. Even now she could hear the very land cry out to her. Begging her to be embraced. The Khodex, as she came to know it, did not need to pull her. She came down willingly towards the Land of Origins.

Like a meteor she came down and headed straight for where the Khodex had fallen. She wasn’t sure what it was. Before the Big Bang she wasn’t even sure she was aware of what it was. Now she could ponder over it, as the air around her burned. What could’ve made such a magnificent creation? Something with so much power, yet so small. It was creation manifest yet… so fragile in a way. Who had made this Khodex? What artisan, muse or visionary could make such a thing? These were questions she would get answers on in time. That much was certain. But now she had to find it first. Its protection over this small dot on an otherwise barren world had to be secured.

Allianthé slowed herself as she reached what her divine senses told her to be the Khodex. It was hanging over an island brimming with life. She fully knew that the Khodex ensured that her gift could survive her. But as she floated in front of it, she realized that it looked different. Jet-black, like a stone. It was hard and uncaring to the touch. This made the goddess of life somewhat sad. There were so many questions she wished to ask it. What other gods existed? Who had created it? Why was it created and why did it cause the Big Bang?

Perhaps it was simply…tired? An understandable sentiment, after all it had just created everything. Allianthé decided she would honor the Khodex. Slowly she descended upon the soft, grassy land below it. Young trees had sprung up left and right. Animals turned to look at her. Allianthé sank to one knee and brushed her hand over the ground. The soft grass brushed the palm of her hand as she smiled. This would be perfect. In a way, this was the center of this world. What better place to start her expansion from?

Bright, emerald light glowed from her hand. The animals fled away. From around Allianthé walls of bark and wood rose up. Trees grew at impossible speeds and twisted themselves around each other. Branches reached out and leaves unfolded themselves immediately. As the roots deep below embraced life energies and spread them around. The whole structure was imbued with Allianthé’s essence and spread it across the land. In a moment a titanic, hollow tree stood where there was once a field. And around it even more trees and shrubs and flowers sprang up. They did not grow nearly as fast as the first one, but the Tree of Life’s energies were fueling them as well.

When she was done Allianthé looked around. She was standing at a great hall, made from natural wood formed to her liking. At the center vines had reached up and coiled themselves around the jet black cocoon. All around the hall there were many alcoves. Each awaiting… something. And somehow Allianthé knew that what they were waiting for was a statue, a depiction or a representation of all the other gods she was created with. Had the Khodex asked for this? Or did she? Oddly enough, even as a goddess, she couldn’t quite answer that question.



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