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Love, what is it?

Love is to give yourself up to another person so completely

For hope that they will do the same,

But sometimes what you thought was love

Was nothing more than a lie,

And you are left wondering what you did wrong

When it was your lover that destroyed you,

That broke you,

That left you,

Yet you still blame yourself

Because you don’t know what to do but cry,

And cry you do

Until you will yourself to change or be changed,

Good people are never the same

For they never want to be hurt again,

So the process continues

And love is lost.

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At first, being selected to serve in Aveira’s honor guard had been both a comfortable and easy job - and one that elevated you almost instantly in status to rival that of the Saints. The truth was that Aveira simply did not need guarding. She did not seem to sleep, aside from fleeting moments of inactivity. She did not eat, at least never around her honor guards, and as long as you stayed out of her way, she was even pleasant to be around. Standing by her side was powerful, other Neiyari learned to fear not only her, but her chosen few. It was a life of being hand-fed the bounties of the Luminant, taking any consort you wanted, and escaping any responsibility. Aveira did not care, so long as her will was carried out, and so long as she was not bothered in her enigmatic rule. For the ten that served, it was a paradise.

There was a plan, and that plan was never shared with anyone, but it meant travelling all over the Luminant to put Neiyari communities in their place, spreading death to the lesser beings, and enjoying the occasional skirmish with cowardly sun-kindred. Few Neiyari had any more than rags and basic tools, but the honor guard had clothes fashioned from the small ones’ designs, bark and bamboo armor, and spears of light that Aveira had forced them to construct. None had ever failed to maintain their spear, and no one wished to find out how Aveira felt about failure.

The life of an honor guard was not particularly demanding, and for a time, it was even better than being a Saint; what was a leader, next to the guardian of a god? But all things change. Almost two full years after their ascension to guardianship, Aveira’s plans carried her above the trees beyond the Luminant. Now, she had said, their real mission began. So their wings carried them away from the forever-glow of the luminous landscape. They flew north, towards trees and mountains barely visible on the horizon, even from afar.

The sun had time to set and return, and before long the Luminant had become a memory rather than an observable phenomenon, even from the skies. After Azera complained about being tired, getting a few hums of agreement from some of the others in the honor guard, Aveira finally descended to the trees - and the ground below. Exhaustion was immediate, food was low, water was scarce. Flying for this long without preparation had been taxing, extremely taxing. Physically and emotionally draining, with nothing but other terse and violent degenerates to keep any sort of company. Aveira, who had been unusually quiet, watched the group file out on the ground, and then simply stared up at the sky.

It was a ruddy brown haired man, a dark expression on his eyebrows mixed with exhaustion and the tell tale signs of anger, who spoke up. "Where are we going?" He spat. His name was Malri, and he was the newest member of the guard. A man who was as arrogant as he was cruel, always demanding a great amount from the lesser races and doing with them what he pleased.

Aveira lowered her gaze to examine the man, as though she had never bothered to do so before despite having picked him for the task herself. ”To push a few pieces into place.” she answered, and before long she glanced back up at the sky, content that her answer would satisfy even the most curious of souls.

"But that doesn't mean anything to me. What pieces? What place? We were perfectly comfortable in the Luminant before you decided to fly us off to gods know where!" Malri said angrily again.

"Oh shut up Malri. Ever since we left you've been complaining about everything." Said Tulara, a black haired woman with a painfully impassive face. She didn't even look tired.

"If I wanted to hear you speak, I would have addressed you, Tulara." Malri shot back. "I'm talking to Aveira."

Tulara scoffed and opened her mouth to speak but was cut off by Enzari. "It doesn't matter where we're going, it is her will and we will follow it."

Malri crossed his hands as he gazed daggers at the rigid posture of Enzari. "Always one to kiss up, aren't you En?" He mocked. "Are none of you curious what we're doing here? Or am I the only one who can think about the future? At the rate we keep going, we will die of exhaustion. She will have us drop dead and for what! She's not even paying attention to us!" He shouted now, pointing at the avatar.

”I suppose you are right, Malri,” Aveira offered with a calm voice, lowering her gaze from the colourful sky.

“So where are we going?” Azera cut in as she sat leant back in the grass, emboldened by Malri’s rebellious words.

Aveira once more refocused on the group, eyeing first Azera, then Tulara, and finally Malri himself. Her eyes were cold, conspiratorial, and calculating. Even before she spoke again, Malri knew he would not like the reply. ”I suppose you can go home. It was a mistake to assume you were ready for this.”

"Ready for what?" Malri asked in disbelief, his left eye twitching. "Ready to travel? Ready to move the pieces? Go places?" He took a deep breath then said, "You still won't tell us why we followed you here and now you tell us we can just leave? Is this some sort of sick joke? Why did we leave our positions in the Luminant just to travel with you!"

"Leave, stay, go back. It doesn't matter to me," Aveira returned with an even, dispassionate tone. Azera managed a brief gasp but was undercut as the avatar of the War Mother continued. "Be happy that you were recognized for your talent, and served a purpose beyond your kin. Catch your breaths. We leave again shortly. Those who cannot keep up can go home."

"This is-!" Malri started but was cut off by Enzari who said, "At your command."

Malri looked at Enzari in disbelief, as others took both sides of the argument. Some began refusing outright and others were hesitantly agreeing.

"You can't be serious! You would follow this… this bitch!" Malri shouted, and the entire party quieted immediately, all eyes on him. He puffed out his chest after a moment and continued, "Avatar of the War Mother or not, she continues to lie to our faces! She does not and will not care when we drop dead from exhaustion! We are not Godaris! I'm going back, all of you be damned." He spat.

Tulara, who at first had looked deeply disturbed by the unfolding events, decided to vent her frustration at Malri, who swiftly became a target for her, and those among the group that considered the senior Neiyari an authority. “Figures you’d turn tail and run at the first sign of trouble, Malri. Crawl away like the snake you are.” she spat out, and Terani, who had been quiet until now, gripped his spear a little tighter behind her.

There was no chance to reply, as Aveira unfurled her wings to beat a single time, a gust of wind rocking the clearing enough to ruffle feathers and demand silence. The avatar lifted into the sky, eyeing the near dozen Neiyari on the ground. "If you are unable to keep your thoughts on your divine mission, you are not necessary. Pray that there is enough worth left in your frail forms to garner the War Mothers’ favor.” the avatar spoke, with a dismissive and matter-of-factly tone, lifting further into the sky. Most of the Neiyari were awestruck, confused, or furious. Only Enzari lifted off of the ground to immediately fly after her.

Malri gazed upon the two, fists clenched tight. "Good riddance." He muttered under his breath before turning his back on them. He rolled eyes as he looked upon those that remained. "That's what I thought. Better to be alive, than a simple tool."

"I'm camping here for the night and tomorrow I'm heading back. Do whatever you want." He intoned sarcastically. He knew they would stay as well, tired as they all were. The tall Neiyari set his spear next to a rock and slumped down in front of it. A sigh escaping his lips at last.

High in the sky above, the two shapes vanished out of view, sealing the fates of the nine who remained. Azera stared up at the sky anxiously, holding a hand to her temple. "She really did it. She really left us. She's coming back, right? Right?"

"Azera, you spineless harlot. Think for yourself for once. You traded one master for an even worse one. Congratulations." Tulara cut in with an aggressive grunt, gesturing to Malri and his comfortable rock. A few of the others exhaled sharply. Worried eyes shifted between the sky and the gathered. "I'm going back as well." Tulara concluded, and moved to find her own place.

“Ah, that’s what I thought.” Malri twisted the corners of his mouth into a smile as he set his hands on top of his head. “I can’t be so bad. After all, I’m not getting you killed by exhaustion, now am I? Better get some sleep you lot, long day ahead of us tomorrow.” Many grumbled, postures tense and expressions impassive as always, but it didn’t stop them from finding their own spots and before he knew it, night approached.

He lost track of time. It seemed the belief that their path had been a straight one, was false or some other force was at play. It had been days since that fateful night and the Luminant was still missing. They couldn’t even see it’s glow in the night and many were beginning to doubt him. He, who had saved them from death, who had stood up to an avatar, who had decided to lead them home. They were ungrateful, petty, and beginning to annoy Malri. Even Azera had turned tail, to join Tulara’s ranks of malcontent. A dam had been filled, threatening to burst and Malri grew paranoid. But paranoia would have to wait, for he was hungry.

From his height he wound back his arm, muscles bulging under sunlight, ready to erupt. There, foraging in a small clearing, was a foraging animal. Brown matted fur, small tusks used for digging and a ripe body full of flesh. Sustenance. When the animal turned to its side, Malri threw his spear. It struck the creature in the side with a tremendous THWACK but the creature did not die immediately. It ran, squealing as if it was being devoured alive. He cursed under his breath, giving chase so that he didn’t lose both his spear and the sustenance.

He landed before the edge of the clearing, his gaze rather annoyed at the dense thicket before him. But hunger had an odd way of pushing. So he went in, following the blood trail. The thicket was dense with biting barbs and stinging plants and Malri cursed again.

“This better be fucking WORTH IT!” he yelled loudly, swinging madly at all the plants in his way. After several more minutes of this, the thicket widened and he could follow the blood trail more easily. It was a straight shot, only veering once through a small gully before he came upon the dying creature. It had landed on it’s side, breathing heavily next to a down tree.

Malri leaned down over it. A victorious feeling swelled up inside of him. “You see, even running only delayed the inevitable.” he gloated. Yet the creature still had an ounce of strength as it thrashed it’s head up, cutting Malri on his cheek with a tusk. The man howled in pain, clutching his cheek, but his pain quickly turned to rage and he took the spear out with a squelch and began stabbing the creature over and over again.

“You filthy creature! You inferior-!” he screamed, before kicking at it’s head. It eventually caved in and exasperated breaths came from his lips as he looked down at the carnage. Most of the meat was now wasted for in his anger he had not spared any of the beast from his wrath. He cursed again, grabbed his spear and took off.

He arrived back at their makeshift camp to uncaring eyes. Tulara and Azera looked him over with their disappointed eyes, their mocking eyes. It drove him up a wall. He had had enough of their treatment. He had saved them! They should be kneeling at his feet!

“I’ve made a decision!” he said, thrusting his spear into the ground and holding out his arms. “You all look at me like some sort of failure! That I didn’t save you from certain death! You were all too blinded to think for yourselves and you're still blind to my greatness! Therefore, I shall call upon the WAR MOTHER herself for guidance!” he said madly.

“Do you really think that wise, Malri?” Tulara spoke again. Malri snapped his gaze to her and he snarled.

“Do not question me, Tulara! I see how you look at me, how you’ve always looked at me! Just remember, you would be dead if you had left with her and instead, now all I get, your savior, is scorn. Your place is on your knees.” he spat with malice.

Tulara began to walk forward but Azera caught her arm, shaking her head at the taller woman.

“That’s what I thought.” Malri said, “Now is there anyone else who wants to voice their opinions!” he waited, but no one said anything. Many turned their heads away from his gaze, folding their arms across their chests. “Good, then let’s begin.”

Malri looked up at the sky and exclaimed, “War Mother! Neiyara! Answer your faithful!”

Silence. It lasted much longer than imagined, though not all had imagined anything would come of his attempt. As those most disinterested began to turn their attention aside, the wind appeared to grip onto Malri, and brushed through his hair. The air grew tight and cloying, and he could have sworn someone was behind him, breathing down his neck - staring at him. It was hot, hard to think, and imposing. Something claimed the air around him. In the distance, he saw Tulara speak again, yet her words did not reach his ears. The others did not seem to feel the change in the air. Then, breaking the barrier of growing silence filled only by his own breath, a soothing and honeyed voice crooned from the ether. "You call for me and I listen, my sweet. Such spirit, it demands to shape the world." the voice offered gently in his ear, though no one was there.

Malri’s eyes went wide and he laughed maniacally. “She’s here! She speaks to me because I am worthy! Mother please! I need your help to return home!”

A few eyes turned back to him among the group, confusion rife among them. "You were put on the world to make it yours, my love. If you lack a path home, why not make another?" the voice carried on the wind, lining up almost perfectly with Azera's moving lips in the distance, despite not being her voice or spoken in any place but his mind. "There is a word for those who expect love and aid to come to them, instead of acting. Oraeliari."

Malri’s words caught in his throat. What did.... No! No, this could not be! “You do not understand Mother! The Luminant is m- Our home! Our seat of power! We must return to it if we are to serve you properly!” he said, slightly angry.

A brisk wind tussled his hair with a hollow warmth. "You understand better than a goddess, my one and only? To fight, you must be allowed to be lazy. Safe. Sated. Is that not so? You wish to be a lamb, playing at being a predator."

“N-No! I am a predator! I have slain so many in your name and for survival! I am not a lamb like those Oraeliari!” he clutched his fists and furrowed his brow. “I understand now that divine words can hardly be Trusted! Your avatar showed me that! I should never have contacted you if all you’re going to do is toy with my emotions and offer hollow help!”

The others now stared at him, a few having taken a few steps forward. Terani spoke, but instead, the goddess voice filled the air. "I will not debase my great warrior so. To offer you help would be like caging a wolf. You are owed the world, my sweet. So take what it is you want. You don't need to be gentle with me."

“What are these words you say, they make no sense but to only aggravate me! Why do you mock me so, I only asked for help! But I see now, you will give no help willingly, it must be taken, is that it? How does one take from a god!” He snarled, before looking at the other Neiyari coming closer. “I spurn you! I should have known better! Urgh!” he screamed, going over to Tulara and slapping her. “Give me what I want! Neiyara! The power to god home so I can do whatever I want to these ungrateful beings! They do not see me for what I am, but what they think I am! I am a warrior! A champion of Aveira! I shall take from them everything!”

Tulara toppled over like a leaf gripped by the wind, cast aside and to the ground as his slap connected. One of the cowards behind her shouted at him, and it briefly broke through the cloying haze around Malri; a muffled and angered expression of exasperation. "Aveira left you, beloved. You are nothing to her. Perhaps you are nothing to me, too. They are better than you. Perhaps everyone is better than you." the voice claimed as Terani came running at him.

He said nothing, but waited for him to arrive and when he did, he deftly dodged to the side and struck him with his elbow right in his back. He went down and Malri blew up again, “No one is better than ME! Without me they would have died like sheep led to the slaughter, I saved them!”

Another voice came into his mind it, was nothing like the mother’s, it was more jaunty and strange, ”Saved? Oh that's what we’re calling this now? Come now you can’t truly believe that.”

“Who… Who is this? Another Godari come to poke fun? Is that all you bastards do?” Malri tightened his fists, looking for another fight. He wanted to attack them, make them suffer! For now… His kin would do. He descended upon Tulara again and began to punch her face. The woman tried to in vain to shield herself. Before he knew it, another body tackled him, sending them sprawling. It was Azera, who clawed at him angrily. He kicked her off with a powerful push lunged at her, swinging but missing. This only caused him more anger. “Azera! I saved you from your own stupidity and this is how you repay me? This is how you all repay me!”

The others began to pile upon him, using their numbers to try desperately to hold the mad man back. The jaunty voice chuckled in his mind ”Now what’s this about repaying? It's not like you did anything of worth, can’t even beat these upstarts now can you?”

No more words came out of his mouth. He ran for his spear, tripped by another Neiyari into the dirt with a grunt. Something hard struck him in the back and he growled before rolling onto his back and shielding himself from another blow. Malri then swung his legs and knocked over his attacker, who was none other than Yevara. She fell on her back and he wasted no time to scramble for his spear, desperately clawing at the dirt towards it. Someone grabbed his foot and he looked back to see Yevera again and several others racing towards them.

“Get off!” he roared, kicking her in the face with a resounding crack. Blood erupted from her nose and she howled in pain, letting go. At last, Malri grabbed his spear and began to get up but before he could turn around another sharp rap hit him in the side. Something broke and he screamed in pain, finally turning in his fury. He began to see only red and Terani sneering at him. In one labored move, he thrust his spear, only for it to be blocked by Terani, who then rapped him in the chest. He bit his lips, drawing blood and Terani came forward, lifting the spear high, but this time, Malri was ready and with a scream of pain, thrust his spear into his fellow Neiyari.

There was a sickening squelch and the tearing of flesh as he pulled back. Terani’s face was a mix of shock and fear before he crumpled into the dirt. There was a quick moment of silence, as if the world had paused, allowing him to stand up and get into a defensive position.

Barring his teeth he said, “Come on then you ungrateful fucks! Come and die.”

The jaunty voice came back again, it was starting to get annoying ”Now now, that's no way to fight,” Within an instant the spear had turned to dust in its stead a mace with a rotten wooden handle and a sickly green head ”Use this, it’ll be far more fun.”

He felt his chest swell and his muscles tighten, an odd itching sensation as his body became enveloped in a flurry of red, black and white. It pushed against him, weighed him down, like waves of energy crashing against his body. His makeshift armor changed under the assault, warping into something entirely different - something metallic. Heavy, powerful. A small ache rung through his head, an urge to hurt the others. A haze of fury and determination. "The God of Tragedy has spoken, and sealed your fate; but do not forget that you are mine. Die for us, Malri. It is all you are good for, is it not? Even backed by two gods, I doubt your odds."

He no longer listened.

What came next was a flurry of movement and the tearing of weak flesh. His rage was overwhelming. His pain was gone, replaced by a strength he never knew. The others hesitated and that was their mistake. With renewed vigor, he attacked, beating Yevera’s head in with a single blow, reducing it to nothing. Her now headless corpse crumpled like a doll to the ground. Others screamed, and a brave few attacked. Thrusting their spears into the armor. If they were even wounding him, he did not show it. He broke the spears in half, and then swung again, pulverising someone’s arm and then caving in another’s chest.

He fell upon Unari and Hekatra with berserk rage. They tried to plead for his forgiveness, that they were sorry, but it fell upon a visage of blind malice. He swept Unari to the side with a single blow of his guantled hand, and then grabbed Hekatra by the throat. Her eyes went wide as she struggled to break free, but Malri could feel her windpipe crush against his strength. She too, fell to the ground in the agonizing reality of her own despair. He moved on Unari, who struggled to stand, only to be met with a spear in his back. He shrugged it off, and stomped on the man’s head, crushing it against his boot.

Then Malri turned to see the newest attacker- Azera. Her face was enraged but in her hubris she had miscalculated. He pulled the spear in close as she attacked again, and head butted her with a sickening crunch of metal on skull. She caved over and for good measure, he used his mace to smash her chest in.

He looked around to see Tulara and Aermri escaping through the sky. Cowards! He hefted Azera’s spear up and then reeled back, aiming for Aermri. He flung the spear, and it’s mark was true, hitting the man in the chest. He plummeted to the ground with a scream. That just left Tulara. He gave chase, beating off from the ground in one heavy motion. She was faster then he, that was true, but she was not carried by his all consuming rage. He had to have her. He needed to make her suffer!

Thus like a hawk, he flew higher and higher until she was far and small away, and then he dove like a madman, something all Neiyari and Oraeliari knew not to do. His speed increased tenfold, only dragged down by his armor, but Tulara neared, oh did she near. With sick glee, he tackled her out the air, Tulara yelping by the surprise. They slammed into the ground, both dazed for a moment before Tulara made a mad dash to get away from him. Malri managed to grab her by her leg and trip her, he then used his bulk to pin her to the ground as he got on top of her.

Through his helmet, his voice now diluted by terror he spoke, ”Did you really think I’d let you run away? No… No… Now you’ll see… You’ll see that you shouldn’t have ridiculed me.” he paused, ”Or perhaps, you won’t see at all.” He placed his hands upon her face, and set his thumbs over her frightened eyes.

Tulara struggled, screaming, “No! No! No! I'm sorry! Please! Please! Mercy!”

”There is no mercy.”

And Malri applied pressure.

He staggered out of the hole, his wounds were real now and the pain was unbearable but it was worth it. He clutched his fists, looking over the mace and becoming revolted by it. He threw it to the side and wandered off, he would not use some weapon given by a bastard Godari. He then took his helmet off, and looked upon it. It was heavy in his hands, and bore the visage of some demonic looking skull. The eyes glowed with molten fury and the horns were twisted like a ram’s. He looked down to see the same regalia patterned on the armor he now wore.

Now this… He reluctantly found fitting.

It would be a useful tool to enact his revenge upon Neiyara. He knew what he was going to do. Return to the Luminant and kill them all. Every man, woman and child. None would escape his wrath. For to hurt Neiyara, it was the only thing he could feasibly do.

He donned the helmet again.

The cloying presence clung to him yet, like a humid cloud pressing down on him from above. In the aftermath, it had been easy to forget, but with nothing but stillness and pain, it was just as easy to feel watched again. It was confirmed when a honeyed voice rang in his ears again. "You are every bit the monster I expected, my sweet. And such admirable thoughts. But as expected of such a simple creature, you think too small. The only way to hurt me is to find me, my love. I'll be waiting."

Then, came a sadistic chuckle, the jaunty voice "Aww, you abandon my gift? Well, suppose we can't have you go about the climax just yet, so I'll make this a bit harder on you." Suddenly, Malri felt his body surge in an unexpected direction, flung like some mere puppet, the force made his stomach churn and his body ring out in pain, landing with a large thud in the middle of a vast plain of nothing, freezing cold with icy winds howling. The mace lay at his side.

Malri quickly scrambled to his feet and screamed in rage at the land around him.

Meanwhile a continent away Tulara was returned to the Luminant, flung too, but this time to safety, somewhat.

Oraelia paced back and forth in her realm, an expression of deep thought upon her face mixed with concern and worry. There was much to do for her Oraeliari, much to teach them about the world and the Neiyari were still constantly on her mind. She knew not what to do with her sister’s wayward followers, only that their aspirations for war would consume them. They had to be dealt with, but not cruelly or forcefully. They had to be changed and change upon their own accord. Still, it would not be easy, and that was what haunted her heart.

She finally stopped pacing, and beneath her solitary oak tree she sat down, shutting her eyes. She had come to the basics of what was needed to be done for her Oraeliari. Food and shelter, two necessities of life she had failed to give them, but no more. She would have to follow Gibbou’s example by being more proactive from now on.

She stretched her mind out towards the Luminant, and then to her people around her Lake of Radiance. She was taken by surprise to find that many of her Oraeliari had arrived there, helping and learning from the humans who already called it home. That was what she had wanted, was it not? Shared culture, innovation and peace. There was a bit of a language barrier, but slowly and surely they were building a union and it was beautiful.

Yet this did not mean she should leave the humans to teach them everything. Around the Lake, and then the Luminant she felt the minds of her Oraeliari and gave them the necessary knowledge to not only plant and cultivate their own crops, but to build their own homes out of wood in the Luminant. The humans had helped the best they could so far, but they were smaller and did not need to eat so much to sustain themselves. That would change in time.

Satisfied, she began to withdraw her mind, but stopped when she felt the cold touch of a Neiyari. She was close to the lake, standing upon the opposite shore with scrutinizing eyes. Her mind was dark, twisted and reminded her of Neiya. Yet, this simple mortal had all the needs a god did not. Her belly was hungry and she grew awfully cold at night. Oraelia sighed, and felt pity for her and her kind.

She could not leave them to suffer just because they were different. They didn’t have a choice in what they became but it would be through love, her love, that would make them choose again. She imparted upon that Neiyari the same knowledge that she gave to her Oraeliari, and then she spread that knowledge to others. There was an immediate reaction from the woman Neiyari, a sullen look of surprise, followed by a quick retreat deeper into the Luminant. Perhaps it would be a start, a catalyst for change, or perhaps not.

Only time would tell.
But Oraelia knew she could not leave it at that, and thus back to the Oraeliari she went, thinking about what else to give. Her people were far and few in between, but more and more were arriving at the Lake and she realized, if they were ever truly going to be successful, they needed the numbers. Thus, like she had done with the druids, Oraelia blessed her people with enhanced fertility. That way they could be plentiful and change the world one generation at a time. With that done, she departed at last and opened her eyes to gaze upon her realm again.

There was much more to do for the Oraeliari, but for once, she didn’t know who she should ask. As such, she sank back into the tree and pondered it for a while.

Back in the Luminant, Solus sat in watchful vigil. Nestled between two fallen trees, the giant leaned forward, hand upon his chin as Oraeliari around him mingled as they usually did. They did not bother Solus and he preferred it that way. His mere presence was enough for them, it brought comfort after the Great Betrayal. Even though he had been struck down, he had quickly rebounded due to the powers of healing.

Now he thought upon his Mother's newest gift to the Oraeliari and before that, the Moon Mother's gift of protection. Generous gifts indeed, but they were still missing something.

His thought was interrupted by the fluttering of wings and the small tremors he could feel, of feet fast approaching.

"Soluri! Soluri! A group of Neiyari are coming! What do we do Soluri?" Asked a tall Oraeliari, his golden locks falling down to his shoulders as a look of exhaustion and fear bore into Solus'.

The giant avatar did not stir for several moments as he pondered. Why would they attack so boldly if they knew he was here? Perhaps they didn't know? He looked around at the faces of the Oraeliari, all looking upon him for guidance and strength. He was their protector, but even he could not stay forever. They needed more…

Gibbou had taught them how to protect themselves, Oraelia had taught them how to feed and shelter themselves and it was then that Solus knew what he needed to do. He would not teach them anything that they did not already know, but simply give what they needed most.

He rose to his full height and then boomed, "Fight!" The faces of the Oraeliari seemed to pale slightly, many frowned for he knew in their hearts they despised fighting their kin, so alike they were yet so different all the same. "Have… Faith." He said again, softer. "Remember… You are… Oraeliari… Fight for… Peace!" Many began to nod, though he could sense the doubt in their hearts. That doubt would need to be alleviated, much like the sun rising. It always rose.

The giant rose his hand and from the heavens came down a beam of light, causing many of the Oraeliairi to fall to their knees in awe, bowing in reverence. Others look bewildered and a few watched with waiting eyes. Solus threw down his arm and pointed at the spot the light faded from, revealing weapons of sunlight. Swords, maces and axes all to fit within their hands. "Take. Use." He stated simply.

There was hesitance among the Oraeliari before the same messenger stepped forth and picked up a sword. He held it high and gazed upon it with wonder. Two Oraeliari who donned halos stepped forth and took from the pile as well. Others followed and before long the Oraeliari were armed while their hearts were heavy. To take life was unthinkable to many but the circumstances dictated that they defend themselves and protect life as a whole. The Neiyari would not stop in their assault unless they were shown a better way… But such ways could easily be lost all the same.

"Come." Solus said, as he and his host ventured into the forest.

The Oraeliari let the Neiyari come to them. And through the branches of glowing trees and upon the grounds of plush grass, they came. Led by a Neiyari man with pitch black wings, black hair and the impassive face of the betrayers. Several wayward kin followed him, some wielding impressive sticks and the same vile expressions, or lack of expressions, save perhaps an ounce of fear. For truly, it hung in the air, thick and palpable, gripping even the hearts of the Oraeliari. Just one look at the black winged leader was enough to put terror into their hearts.

The plan had been to attack when they had crossed the no point of return mark, one Solus himself had given, but a few Oraeliari had broken from their hiding spots, fleeing in fear. This ruined the ambush, and the Neiyari halted, suspecting a trap. With the plan thwarted, the brave messenger Oraeliari pushed forward with a mighty yell, sword hanging high in the air and went right towards their leader. A frantic melee began, as the Neiyari dodged his swings, jabbing at his kin with mighty fists.

All seemed lost for the messenger, who had fallen low at a blow to his ribs, when his kin finally rushed to his aid. The black betrayer had a look of surprise upon his face, seeing the Oraeliari charge forth with weapons. It was enough for the messenger to tackle his legs out from under him. A brawl ensued henceforth, as they rolled on the ground, flattening grasses and flowers as each fought for the upper hand.

Some of the other Neiyari, seeing the newcomers with gear, took hesitant steps backwards before a few fled back from whence they came. The others went on the defensive, fighting with what they could as the Oraeliari took to the offensive. With the battle begun, Solus at last emerged, having waited until the right moment, for fear of a further trick. He was wary of Aveira and the scar upon his chest was proof of that.
Seeing Solus join in, the Neiyari who could still flee did so in earnest, not willing to risk a fight with the avatar alone. Those that remained were beaten and bloody, even a few Oraeliari who had fallen to the floor after well placed strikes. The two that remained fighting, was the messenger and the Neiyari leader, who had gotten the upper hand and was beating down upon the golden haired man.

Solus was quick to reach them, and the Neiyari barely had time to register what was happening before Solus punched him in the face. Not hard enough to kill him, but he would not awake for a time. There was then a scream and the giant whipped around to see another Neiyari take the life of an Oraeliari woman, using her own sword against her heart. He tried to flee, but he was too slow. The closest Oraeliari caught him, and began to viciously beat him as others tried to heal their broken comrade.

The solar giant was beside the stabbed woman in seconds, but even he could not save her from the clutches of death. She was gone. His attention thus turned to the men and women who beat the killer.

“Enough!” he commanded, walking over to them. The Oraeliari hesitantly obeyed, looking to the ground as they clutched their fists. Solus looked down upon the Neiyari, whose face was beaten into a bloody pulp, his wings were torn and his right arm was mangled. He listened to the shallow breathing of the mortal, knowing he did not have long. Perhaps it was pity that took him, but Solus reached down towards the Neiyari and held his hand over his heart. His mother would have healed him, but he was not his mother. A beam of light pierced the man’s chest, ending his suffering within a few fleeting breaths.

Solus raised his hand to his side, and stood straighter, eyeing the Oraelari. “You must be… Better than them. No suffering… Take life only when… Necessary. Compassion… Pity… Learn them. A life… For a life.” he said to them, many nodded, a few did not meet his gaze. “You are Oraeliari. Never forget.” His gaze then fell upon their prisoners.

Three Neiyari and their leader had been captured, only one Neiyari was conscious and she eyed them with daggers. But the swords at her neck kept her from trying anything. Solus wandered back over to the black winged man and took a closer look at him. The fear the others felt came from him, and upon placing a finger upon his head, Solus knew why.

Aveira had granted a few of them darker powers and Solus rebounded in disgust. It seemed the Oraeliari were not the only ones who had received gifts.

“Bah!” he let out, frustrated as he stood like a statue looking down upon him. There was always something else, something more unseen by his eyes. He would have to remedy that but first… Something needed to be done with the Neiyari.

“Bring her.” he said, pointing to the one awake. After a brief shove, the lone woman, her hair brunette- impure, came before him. Try as she might to remain impassive, her fear cracked through in her stance, the corners of her mouth twitching and her eyes, the greatest give away. Such fear, the same they caused like poison. Did they even understand what they did?

It mattered not.

Solus grabbed her around the waist in an instant and the woman opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out. She tried to wiggle free, but Solus applied steady pressure. Her face began to grow red, so close, so clo-

“Stop!” an Oraelia man shouted, the one with a halo. “Stop this Soluri! This is cruelty!”

Solus snapped his head to look upon the man, long golden hair, a striking face with a powerful build. He looked back at the Neiyari in his hand and released her to the ground, disgusted at himself for losing himself to dark thoughts. The woman gasped for breath, lying face up as a coughing fit took her.

“Soluri, this is not the way. Like you said, we must be better and fight them both with sword and compassion, less we become like them in spirit.” the man spoke again, coming to his side.

He was right of course. Humbled by a mortal, Solus hung his head in shame before his words struck a chord within him. Become like them… Was it possible?

He outstretched his hand toward the Neiyari and shut his eyes. He felt her mind, then the deepest parts of her soul, and through the corruption he found the smallest glimmer of purity. Like an island within an ocean of black, Solus realized in that moment, even the worst Neiyari could be changed- which also meant the inverse. A dark secret, part of the Aiviri race as a whole.

He pushed the island further, letting flow into it kindness, warmth, and perhaps most importantly- love. Slowly the island expanded, piercing the black corruption and destroying it. It grew and grew until finally- He heard a gasp and his eyes snapped open to see the Neiyari woman burst into golden light, a wisp of dark fading away above her. When the glow subsided, before them lay a shivering Oraeliari, with golden hair and bright blue eyes. She looked at them before bursting into tears. The rest of the Oraeliari were hesitant to approach, but not the man with the halo. He walked over to her, and knelt down beside her, embracing the woman.

Solus quickly turned to the other Neiyari and did the same to them, finding within them faint traces of light, guiding them to precious freedom. Where once they were Neiyari, they became Oraeliari once more. He finally stopped before the black winged one and like before, ventured in. This time it was different, his island of purity was nothing more then the size of a seed, so consumed by the corruption of Neiya. Yet Solus would not relent, and after what felt like an eternity, even he was freed from her taint. His corruption removed itself from him forcibly, and flew off into the sky before dissipating, leaving an unconscious Oraeliari behind.

He took a step back to see mingling and a lot of tears between the newcomers and old. The man with a halo eventually came over to him and said nothing for a while as they both watched the scene before them. Eventually he said, “Thank you Soluri. I’m not sure what you did, but this is… A miracle.” he said with awe in his voice.

“No.” Solus said, turning to the man and pointing at his chest. “This exists… Within you. What can be changed… Can change again.” he said as a warning and the man nodded after a few seconds, his face going grim.

“I must… Leave.” he said again, softer.

“What? No! You cannot leave us Soluri, what if she comes? Who will protect us from her?” The man asked.

“She will leave… In time.” Solus began, “Protectors… You shall be.” he snapped his fingers, and a gust of wind wrapped around the man, turning his wings a golden hue. His halo radiated intensity and he breathed with knowingness. The same happened with the woman in the clearing and she looked over to them from where she stood, giving a nod. “My Cardinals…” he looked at the man again. “Thank you.”

“For what Soluri?” the man asked, puzzled.

The giant said nothing and before long, left.

The Queen & the Sorceress II

The road back to Nallan was an uneventful one. Though when Auriëlle saw the palisades of the town in the distance, she felt something she hadn’t felt in years. It was a mixture of safety and relief. As she walked through the gates she finally realized what that feeling was. She just got home. A guard took her highland stag to the nearby stables as Auriëlle herself headed towards the throne room. Little things inside the palace now made sense. The insides were darker, with smaller windows. Everyone looked happy and content. The clear absence of guards was not because they were plotting an ambush, they simply weren’t inside. Nalla’s entire security rested upon her own abilities.

She moved through the familiar corridors until she reached that grand door leading to the throne room. As she had walked through the palace she had maintained her usual defiant look. Yet now she awaited Nalla’s servants to announce her to the queen. Gods she wished she could just barge in but that wasn’t the way now. She had to dance with Nallan’s formalities. If only for a little bit.

The doors opened revealing the same dark chamber with only Nalla residing within. The Queen beckoned Auriëlle forward as her servants quickly left the chambers. She wore a low cut, tight fitting, black dress that contrasted her skin tone and accentuated her curves. Her orange hair was up in a bun and her crown flowed as always.

The sorceress’ dress sense heavily contrasted that of the queen. Auriëlle still wore half her hair in a tight braid which was used to tie down her hair on the back of her head. Her clothes were dirty. A discerning eye could take which bits were mud on her leather armor and which were blood. Her clothes were loose and comfortable and the only thing that really separated her from the average mercenary was the wooden, black-veined vambrace on her right arm.

"I must say, I am surprised you returned after all. I am pessimistic about these affairs but it is good to see you, Auriëlle." Nalla smiled hungrily. "I take it you've talked with Sarren?" She then asked.

“We talked. The issue is resolved.” Auriëlle preferred not to go into details. Everyone would have their own opinion on how she should’ve handled it. All of them would be meaningless discussions. She tried to keep her voice neutral, as to not give in to Nalla so quickly. She wasn’t about to address the queen’s doubt in her. Though deep down she wondered if Nalla had expected her to die or betray her. “So where am I to go next?” Inside she was itching for a fight. A proper fight. Hells, she could settle for a skirmish. Anything that could get her blood pumping again.

Nalla seemed amused by that. She got up from her throne and began walking towards her. "Tsk tsk tsk. Back so soon and already wanting to leave? You could die, get injured, even get sick! Who would I be if I did not properly feed you, bathe you, and have you get a good night's rest." She said, standing before her now. Though she was shorter, her presence felt large. "A reward! That's what you deserve for completing this task and as a token of my affection. Do you accept?" She asked, eyes gazing upon her.

A reward? It was unexpected. Yet how could Auriëlle refuse? She just hoped it would be something useful. Though she had the strange feeling that you just never knew with Nalla. Nonetheless she would be grateful. “I do.”

Nalla nodded, returning but a simple smile to her. She walked closer, touching her cheek before walking around her. Nalla then leaned in close to her ear and whispered, "You're so strong, so powerful, so fearsome Auriëlle. Let me show you my affection, a God's love." Nalla then began to speak in a language Auriëlle had never heard before, but the way she spoke pit was soft, seductive and alluring. As soon as she finished speaking, her entire world exploded into mind numbing ecstacy.

Auriëlle took a small, dazed step back, surprised as she heard the strange words. At first she thought it was a spell. Yet then she felt that feeling swell in her heart. Warmth flooded through her. All worries vacated her mind. They were replaced by utter euphoria. Her muscles relaxed. The tightness in her chest vanished as well. It felt beyond amazing. “Oh gods.” She muttered, as she closed her eyes. Letting the waves of joy clash over her.

She felt Nalla arms wrap around her waist as she spoke again into her ear, "As I said, I had more to offer you. It is surprising though, usually it sends people limp and to the ground, writhing in pleasure. Once again you prove yourself stronger then the lesser beings." She paused, and spoke again in Auriëlle's opposite ear. "Soon it will pass but it lingers for far longer in the heart. Yearning. For now, a bath will be prepared, food given and you can rest from your travels. Tomorrow you will learn what you came back for. Now, do you need help getting to your room? Nod if you cannot speak."

Time felt slowed down. Nalla’s scent was prominent in the air. Her words sounded like the most wonderous songs in the world. She couldn’t get enough of it. When the queen said it would pass, her heart already ached a bit for that which was not yet lost. If she could speak, she would’ve asked Nalla in all things that had been prepared for her. Instead her addled brain could barely process bythe flood of sensations. The soft touch of the queen’s arm around her made every thought topple before it could be expressed. She yearned for more words, which sounded like the most beautiful sounds in existence. Why would she ever shatter such beautiful sounds with her own, crass voice? So she just nodded with a very happy smile on her lips.

"Good." Nalla purred before in one swift motion, she grabbed Auriëlle's legs with one arm and scooped her up. She rested within the Queen's arms, who barely seemed bothered by carrying her. They began to walk and Nalla talked. "You should consider yourself lucky my sweet. Everyone in this palace would die to be where you are right now. Swaddled like some babe, carried by the Queen. How scandalous but how delicious. It's a wonderful feeling isn't it? Makes you go numb from the pleasure, craving for it to never end. You know, it's how I feed upon the living. You must think that cruel, well let me explain. You see, they don't feel any pain, they feel what you feel and everyone wins. I get a nice warm drink and they get the best fuck they'll never have. Pity really. But it is what it is, my dear." She giggled at that, as they entered a room. Nalla layed her down on a bed and then hovered over her. "I think you and I will achieve great things together." She mused. "I'll be leaving now. Until tomorrow, Auriëlle." And before she could even blink, Nalla was gone.

The words were soothing. It felt good to be carried, for once. She heard the words but she wasn’t sure if they would be remembered.

Then that voice came screaming in the back of her head. It had never been this prominent, yet so far away. It was the voice of nearly a decade worth of paranoia, mixed with three decades of being shoved aside and ignored. It told her that what she felt now wasn’t right. Wasn’t natural. Perhaps the most damning thing was that it said: ‘this isn’t for you. This isn’t you.’ They were such jagged accusations coming from her own self. For once she felt happy, safety and an unrivaled happiness and something deep inside of her told her it was wrong.

Luckily the voice remained in the back of her head as she rested for a bid. She barely remembered going to the bath. The high she had felt was fading now, as she felt the cold water on her skin. Meanwhile the voice grew louder and more convincing. Especially now her heart yearned for that which she did indeed lose. The next moments all swirled in a blur. She never even remembered when she crawled under the sheets.

The next morning came, and Aurielle found herself in a familiar view. Nalla sat across from her at the table, she sat underneath a large sheet, held together by wooden sticks and attended to by servants. It completely blocked her from the sunlight, but she also wore clothing that completely covered her body, save for her head. Even then, she wore a long hooded cloak that could easily fit over her crown comfortably. Like always, she held a cup of blood in her hand and had an amused look on her face as she watched Aurielle eat.

Auriëlle was more tense than ever. The high of yesterday had given way to the low of today. She wanted to see blood. She wanted to kill something. She wanted Nalla. No! No, she did not want the queen or whatever spell she had used on her! Yet her heart yearned for the vampire. The sorceress’ eyes were slightly hollow as she took a few bites from her bread. She didn’t speak, unless spoken to. Even then the most any servant had gotten was a short grunt. Nothing felt right today. The frivolities of court began to weigh down on her. Why couldn’t the queen just let her slip like the war hound she knew she was?

"On to business then." Nalla yawned and snapped her fingers. Two more servants entered the room carrying a chest. They plopped it onto the table in front of Nalla with a resounding boom. "Inside you will find a cloak with my sigil, a set of outfits you might enjoy and, believe it or not, but a set of bronze plate I… acquisitioned from a passing smith." She rapped her fingers on the table. "Nallan is besieged on all sides by enemies. There is a growing number of tribes that are banding together for protection against Nallan in the south. Why they would do this, I can only imagine." She stood up and leaned forward on the table. "You will go to this area with my men at arms, crush this uprising before it causes me trouble and show them that I am their Queen and the only protection they are going to get, is from me. When that is done we shall convey once more. Questions?" She asked.

Finally! Like an over excited child she sprung up, sending the chair clashing into the ground. She didn’t care. The chest was open in a moment’s notice. With a finger she brushed against the bronze plate. It was gorgeous. Probably worth more than an average peasant’s life and it was hers. She smiled from ear to ear. “Yes…my queen.” She responded to Nalla’s orders, though her eyes were glued to the contents of the chest.

But she did have questions. Endless ones. What was she permitted to use? Could she raze a village just to make a point? Could she only kill the leaders and warriors or could she kill more than them? They swirled in her head like never before. Normally these questions wouldn’t come up. Carn would just relay to her what the commanders in their tents decided. Well, this time she didn’t have Carn. “Just one.” She said as she slowly closed the chest. “Where are the commanders meeting?” She would have to be privy before she knew what avenue of action to take.

Nalla sat back down and leaned her cheek on her hand. She looked to Auriëlle with a neutral expression. "You are the commander Auriëlle. Was that not made clear when we first made our agreement? It shall be for you to decide. There are several veterans the men respect, who have served me for years. Look for them for guidance if you must. This shall be your test, to see if you have what it takes to do this. I do suppose I could have you serve under someone-"

“No!” Auriëlle yelled as she slammed her fist on the chest. The whole table rumbled. There was a fire in her eyes. “I will lead and I will win.” Her heart was ablaze again. All the doubt and confusion fled her. It was replaced by confidence and she wouldn’t hear it otherwise. She turned to the servants. “Take my chest to my quarters.” It wasn’t a request. It was a command. The power of her own words made her heart flutter. Then she turned to Nalla again. “Next time we talk, I will have brought you kneeling men or ash.” With those words, she turned on her heel and marched away. Already looking taller than when she had entered the room.

Behind her, the Queen smiled wickedly as she watched her go.



She had to stop this. She was immortal, sure, but this had to be unhealthy even to her. Missing both slippers this time, the moon goddess dragged herself across Antiquity towards her sister’s portal, clutching her gut as though it had been stabbed with a pike. One of her eyes was crusted shut, and that frighteningly common trail of stiffened goo was all too present around her lips. He held in her right hand a glass of that delicious ginger and orange juice Illyd Dyll had made for her that one time - her only solace in an existence of pain. She eventually stumbled into her sister’s realm, faceplanting into the gentle, inviting grass. For a moment, she actively protested societal pressure to get up and move on like something higher and more sophisticated than trash would do. However, the resistance was eventually suppressed, and the moon goddess persevered towards her sister’s house, cursing the terrorising brightness shining from above.

”Oreeeeey… I miss you! Your sister needs heeeelp!”

It took only a second for a reply and it was one that oozed pure joy. "GIBBOU!" her sister shouted from seemingly everywhere. In the distance a bright object shot up into the sky and made a beeline straight for her. A myriad of bright colors followed the Goddess of life as she landed before Gibbou in her new form, arms outstretched for an embrace as she approached her sister with a giant smile.

”AH! LOUD! OH! BRIGHT!” screamed the plum-hued goddess and collapsed onto the ground in a fetal position. Quivering eyes braved the surroundings and locked onto the form before her. Meeting in the middle, she hugged her sister’s feet for comfort. ”Don’t scare me like that!”

"Oh my goodness! I'm so sorry Gibbou!" Oraelia quickly said, bending down and snapping her fingers. The area around them became a shadow, save for Oraelia's small glow. She then placed her hands on her sisters shoulders and poured healing into her again. "Is this going to become a routine thing?" she asked playfully.

The moon goddess faced the ground in guilt. ”... I’m sorry. I just, there was this party going on down in the Azumai region, and while I kinda wanted to put all of them to sleep for, y’know, obvious reasons, they were having such a good time that I had to join in!” She looked back up. ”But hey, you look giddy! What’s up? Did you try that exercise regimen I recommended? Feels good, right?”

Oraelia shook her head quickly. "Nope! Haven't tried it sis, I've been busy. Real busy. I created a race even! Of course Neiya helped but well she uh… She and I had a disagreement and it puzzled me for a long time until I figured out a solution! You know how she's the Goddess of Love? Have you met her? Well it doesn't matter, what does matter is that I decided to take Love too! I feel so sorry for her you know, she's obsessed with all the negative aspects of love and she showed me…" she paused for a moment as she looked away from Gibbou. "It was… Mind opening and terrifying." she gulped down some air and looked back at Gibbou with a smile. "I'm going to show her there is a better way. I have too."

Gibbou immediately rocketed up and grabbed Oraelia by the shoulders. ”Wait, what did she do to you?! When did she do it?! What do you mean terrifying?!” Her face paled. ”Oh, no, did she-... Did she hurt you like she-...” She started hyperventilated. ”Oh, no. No, no, no, no…”

Oraelia's face contorted into worry. She immediately put her own hands on Gibbou's shoulders as well. "Gibbou! Gibbou! It's okay, it's okay! I'm fine! I'm okay! I heal fast remember? See!" she showed Gibbou one of her scarred hands. "I'm all better now and Genesis woke up and she's so old now and you're here and I've adopted love and everything is going to be okay!" she said quickly, her voice shakey.

Gibbou’s eyes linked up with Oraelia’s, but, like her body, were quivering in fear. ”No, no, no, NO! I should’ve told you about her! She hurt me and, and, and, and now she’s, she’s hurt you! Oraelia!” In what almost felt like an attack, she embraced her and squeezed her close. ”My sister. My sweet, innocent, beautiful sister.”

Oraelia was stunned for a moment, before she embraced Gibbou back. "It's-it's…" she began but what followed was sobbing. Oraelia let herself be held, a bond only felt between sisters. From her chest there came a warm feeling, caring a sense of comfort and love with it. She was safe in Gibbou's embrace and Gibbou was safe in Oraelia's. She cried for a time before asking, "She… Hurt you too? How?" she asked, her voice soft.

”Ages ago, before Antiquity. She filled my head with lies and hate and fear, until I finally snapped and kidnapped all those creatures and brought them to my moon. I have never seen her since. I had hoped she had died in the past, but then Twilight came into contact with her and fell for her, her… I dunno, can it even be called charm if it’s her? I’mma say spell. Either way, that revealed to me that she was still around… And now she has gone too far.” Gibbou rubbed her cheek against Oraelia’s scalp. ”I should’ve been there to keep you safe; to stand by you in the heat of battle… I won’t let her hurt us again.”

Oraelia nodded but then she tilted her head. "Who's Twilight?" then her eyes went wide. "You… You kidnapped… Mortals?"

Gibbou blinked. ”Wait, I didn’t tell you? Oh… Shoot.” There was a pause. ”Yeah, I, I did that… Not my proudest moment, but I felt like I had to protect them from her, y’know, and all the other evil that happens down there at the leisure of the nutcases among us.” She let Oraelia go and sat down opposite of her. ”They’re all safe, mind you. They’ve been asleep for two thousand years. I’ve awoken some of them through the ages, but… Yeah, I think I’mma stop doing that…” She stared shamefully at the ground. ”You’re disappointed in me, aren’t you?”

Oraelia sat down as well and said nothing for several moments. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed." she started, "But more so in myself for sleeping for two thousand years. I understand why you did it, I do and I'm glad you won't do it anymore too. But uh, yeah, she showed me the same thing more or less. I pity Neiya, Gibbou. She can feel what love is but she let's herself drown in the bad. I don't think she can really help it either." Oraelia said quietly, placing her hands in her lap.

Gibbou crawled over on all fours, sat down next to Oraelia and laid her head on her shoulder. ”... I’m… I’m not sure anyone can help her, sis. She strikes me as the type who’s always been like this. You’re you, so it’s in your nature to be sympathetic to her condition, but…” She sighed. ”... She… She causes suffering, sis. Real bad, too! I mean, have you seen what those people in Ketrefa are up to at night?” She gagged, and it was hard to tell whether it was fake or genuine. ”It’s traumatising.”

Oraelia leaned her head on Gibbou's and sighed contentedly. "You're right but it wouldn't be me without at least trying. She… Brought me back to my own realm after our… Discussion. I think she can be reached, deep down."

Gibbou looked unconvinced, but nodded. ”Okay… I trust you in this. If anyone can make it work, it’s you. Although…” She looked down at her clenching and unclenching fists. ”If something should go wrong, we must be ready. Ready for anything.” With that, she caressed Oraelia on the top of the head, guiding it away gently so her own head could straighten up. She rose, the darkness created for her following her along as her bare feet softly found their roots in the grass a few paces ahead. She looked over her shoulder and asked, ”May I summon a bit of moonlight in here?”

Oraelia sat up and nodded. "Of course sister, don't have to ask me. What are you up to?"

Gibbou nodded and reached up towards the shadows in the sky with one hand. The darkness around her swelled, and a glimpse of her moon, white and full, appeared inside the rift in the sunshine. The goddess took on a lunar glow and then lifted up her other hand. The moonlight thickened, becoming a liquid that gently flowed through the opening in the heavens, dripping down onto the moon goddess in large, crystalline droplets. The droplets melded together all over her form, covering her clothes and skin. First, she was gently raised, as the moonlight about her feet hardened and dimmed, becoming silvery sabatons with white lines following the markings on her skin underneath. Her shins followed suit, the light on the front becoming metallic plates that reach up to cover her kneecaps, while the light underneath the plate became dark and scaly like dragonskin; around the outside of her thighs formed protective platings bound by the same divine leather to protect well the veins in her legs. Around her waist, there bound itself a wide belt of holy leather, buckled with moonsteel and jeweled with moonstones. Her torso flushed with whites, silvers and greys as the light became metal harder than any on Galbar, forming a breastplate unmatched in durability and strength, stretching all around her upper body. Over her shoulders, the light became pauldrons which grew long, upwards-pointing blades that seemed more ceremonial than practical, all things considered. The light on her arms became elbow protectors, wristbands and gauntlets, while the inner layer of armour continued the leathery trend. Around her neck formed a throat guard, and her moonlight wreath combined with the moonsteel to form a horned and plumed helmet, a purple mane manifesting out of the scalp of the metal to match her skin. Finally, from underneath her shoulders, a long green and grey cloak that seemed almost to hide her entire body under the neck, engulfed her. She lifted her metalled arms, the rustling of chainmail, clank of plate and creek of leather present with her every movement. She turned to Oraelia and opened her arms wide, pushing the cloak apart to reveal her whole form for her to see. ”What do you think?”

Oraelia was standing now, hands covering her face. Her eyes were wide in awe as she breathed, "Gibbou! It's wonderful! You're so… soooooo protected! How did you come up with such an idea, it's perfect!" Oraelia gushed.

Gibbou stepped over, every step feeling like she was carrying a mountain spread out all over her body. The ring and rustle of moonlit metal followed her as she moved. ”Oh, that’ll take some time getting used to… Anyway, I’ve, y’know, always wanted to be a protector of sorts. Up until now I… Well, let’s be honest. I’ve been terrible at it. She looked at one of her palms, clenching it into a fist to the sound of creaking leather and steel rubbing steel. ”But Neiya’s attack was the last straw. Bear witness, sister - this is the start of a new era for the two of us. I will become a protector of all life, for now I know my enemy.”

"Oh Gibbou…" Oraelia said sniffling. "I'm proud of you." she said. "Now hey! I could use some help in the protecting department, actually. Remember the race I mentioned earlier?" she asked.

Gibbou blinked and removed her helmet to scratch her scalp. ”The one you made with Neiya? Yeah, I remember. What about ‘em? What they need?”

"Well you see… Neiya has made war and conflict her new purpose. So when we created them, the Aiviri, she warped half of them into beings who wish to dominate and terrorize life. They are the Neiyari and mine, those who I saved from her corruption, are called the Oraeliari. I tried to give them an edge but I fear it won't be enough. They know how to defend themselves due to Neiya's influence but they are protectors of life and I think you could further help them. Give them some of that stuff or teach them how to make their own, you know?" Oraelia said.

Gibbou’s expression darkened. ”Oh, that’s bad. That’s real bad. If Neiya’s aiming to become a matron of war and she already has servants ready to carry out that purpose, we have no time to waste!” She conjured forth a model of Galbar using moon dust from her earlier transformation. ”Show me where they are.”

Oraelia walked forward and looked over the map. "Very pretty, Gibs." she then traced her finger before landing on the Luminant. "There we are. Home sweet home for them. It tears me apart knowing that they are fighting each other down there." she said sadly.

Gibbou focused the globe into a local view, the dust shapes collapsing and reforming into trees, hills and shrubs, all surrounding a small Oraeilari camp. They looked exhausted and weak from days on the run, and their fire was small as to not draw attention. Gibbou pointed at the group. ”Are these the right ones?”

"Yes, a small number. They don't number many altogether, after the split…" she took a harder look at them. "Oh those poor things. They look so hungry!" she shot up straight at that. "Oh no. I forgot to teach them how to grow food for themselves! I'll have to go ask… um Illyd… Illyd! That's his name, he seemed nice."

”Oh yeah, he’s such a great guy! We ate pie and drank tea for hours the other day. Really, there probably isn’t a better listener out there - except for you, of course,” she ended with a smile, which contorted into a worried frown as she looked back down at the map. ”... Hmm… They’re already quite weak, I reckon, so I shouldn’t give them anything heavy. This will have to do for now, and then I’ll implant the knowledge on how to make stronger armour in their minds.” She collected a handful of moondust and rolled it into a small pile, which she deposited on the orb. There, that should do it,”

Down below, the Oraeilari in the camp suddenly saw the earth in their camp part into a rift, revealing a hoard of bronze bracers and thick tunics and elbow and shin protectors of leather. They also learned in an instant how to make these items, should they ever come across the materials necessary. The source of the gifts was nowhere to be found, but above them, the moon winked a twinkle of light.

Back in Oraelia’s realm, Gibbou blinked. ”... That felt odd. Interesting, but odd. As if a new part of me that’s never existed before just came to be.”

"Ah, as I told Genesis, you're growing up." she sniffled again.

Gibbou stifled a snorting giggle. ”D-d’aw… Don’t say thaaat… You’ll make me feel old.” She hung her head a little. ”... Or that I used to be less responsible. Either way, I’ll do my best in the coming years.“ She took Oraelia’s hand in her own, frowning at the inability to feel her warm, soft skin through her gauntlets. ”Tell me ahead of time when you go to see Neiya. I refuse to let her hurt you again, so I will come with you.”

"Of course, I wouldn't dream of doing it without you." Oraelia said with a soft smile.

”Then it’s a deal.”

Oraelia walked through the tall grass of her realm, feeling every stalk as she ran her fingers through the tops of them. She was wearing a simple white dress, no sun hat this time, but she did wear pink ribbons in her hair. Her light had returned a bit more too, she hadn’t realized how dim she had become. Genesis was off somewhere, she knew not where but her presence brought her comfort, just knowing she would be there for her. Gibbou too, but she had not spoken to her sister since before her foray into Neiya’s realm. She was hesitant to tell her what had happened, she knew not why, only that it tugged at her heart.

Gibbou would find out eventually, there was no denying that. Her scars were a dead give away that something had befallen her. She just… Didn’t want to be a bother, she supposed. Gibbou had enough to deal with already, no sense in adding her any more hardship.

She was feeling better lately though, but Neiya’s assault was still vivid in her mind. If she dwelt upon it for a long time, she would begin to reply it back in her head, from the Aiviri’s warping, to Solus’ wounding, to Neiya’s anger… It sent shivers down her spine. Her white scars had healed fully now, but they would never fade- acting as a painful reminder of what could have been.

Luckily, Solus was fine, if not a little bit upset. His wound had been easily healed but he too had a scar in return. For the most part, he tried his best protecting the Oraeliari but the Neiyari were a relentless foe, bolstered by Aveira. She would have to come up with some sort of solution to help them out further. For now, something else was on her mind.

It was love.

Neiya’s Love had sent her spiralling for a time. What she had been shown, haunted her greatly. All the worst aspects of love, focused like the edge of a knife to sow only pain. It was sorrow, hatred, despair, longing and dread. With only the briefest flashes of warmth, the tiniest traces of happiness, all drowned in a tide of pure obsession. Did she even know there was more? Oraelia had seen how she reacted to her touch and then she had awoken in her own realm, hadn’t she?

She wanted to believe Neiya did care. That she was just lost, that she was scared to feel anything other than what she knew. That her obsession blinded her to happiness, warmth, kindness, joy, romance and understanding. There need not be war, but peace. If only she could just show her that!

She paused from where she walked, eyes going wide in realization. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? It seemed so simple in hindsight. Her lips formed a wide smile.

There was a way.

She just had to show her it and there was only one way to do that.

Oraelia sat down and as she did the landscape around her changed. Tall prairie grass melded back into the shifting earth, which gave way to soft green grasses. Trees sprouted up around her, gnarled with twisting limbs- they sprouted flowers of pink, light reds, light blues, violets, and whites. Roses of the same colors sprouted up all around her until the fields as far as her eyes could see. Like a sea of colors, swaying gently in the breeze. From where she sat there was a clearing with her in the middle but the earth parted again and she hovered over a hole that quickly began to fill with a golden liquid. When it reached the top, she submerged herself within it and as the sun watched her from above, she shut her eyes and opened herself.

She knew what she was looking for. Oraelia had seen it, she knew it, and it was what she wanted. It did not take long for the trickle of emotion to start.

At first she felt very familiar emotions, the sort that Neiya had inflicted upon her. The sting of unrequited feelings, the heartbreak of a dead lover, the pain of being alone, the self hatred and it went on. Oraelia gritted her teeth, hands tightening into fists where she was submerged, she had to fight through it. She had to. If not for her own sake, but Neiya's.

She shook as the tide grew stronger. The sadness of a life ended too soon, the pain of never knowing what could be, the longing of desire, the dread of dying alone- The joy of a first kiss.


There it was, that wonderful feeling of bliss. Oraelia focused on it and more began to follow, washing away the negative. A kindness born from caring, a romance fit for the stars, the happiness one felt from friends and family. This was it, this was love!

It came stronger and stronger, those feelings of love as it should be through the uncertainty of life, it endured through all the hardships. It brought peace, comfort and pure bliss. She enveloped herself within it, as Blythe landscape outside exploded into an endless wave of color. The bloom of life and love, molded by the light that she was best known for.

Oraelia exploded from the golden pool, grabbing from her chest an orb of the same color before pressing it to her heart and then letting it go in a cascade of gold that mixed with the other colors in an endless tide. It traveled her entire realm, bathing it in a warmth that stirred the heart in love unfettered.

She took on a new form in that moment. Her bright glow, so luminous and blinding, cooled off to reveal sun-kissed skin, the same wavy golden hair, features soft and kind with baby blue eyes as she opened them to look upon herself. She looked mortal-like, human specifically and she was around the same height as before. It would be a look she would need to become used to but it fit.

She wrapped herself in a hug, hardly containing the smile on her face as she let out a satisfied sigh. Love was a part of her now, her own love and she vowed right then and there, she would let it bloom.

Birth in Blood V

At long last, her palace was completed. It had been years in the making and it took a great deal of manpower to complete, but at long last it stood in Nallan as a seat of her power. It was a two storied building, but the second level only occurred in a few places. The structure itself was very large, but not enormous by any margin. It wasn’t the Keterfa wall by any means, but it worked. Outside of the palace resided a low wall, still being worked on and built up, but inside that wall there resided a garden of sorts and many dense thickets of foliage. A stone path wandered all the way from the gates to the main doors. The masonry work was by no means exquisite, but it was above the cut anyone would see in those parts. Columns large and small sat silently, in key areas around the entrances, courtyards, and overhangs.

The palace’s interior was smooth, furnished moderately and was rather plain. There were many rooms with various purposes, mainly chambers for guests or servants. Perhaps the most impressive feature on the first level was the large throne room, also acting as a dining hall. There in the dark hall (For Nalla had taken great care to get rid of most of the natural light with large furs and cloths), resided a stone throne. Nalla had it adorned with furs and blankets as well as a pillow or two for when she sat down. It sat upon a raised platform from the rest of the room.

There were also two courtyards, each housing different plants, and multiple Sylphi seedlings. For Aurinia and Chio had decided to stay after all, much to Nalla’s delight. And really, it wasn’t like they had much of a choice once her charm took hold of them. She had gotten to work, mainly out of boredom and reeling to see what type of traits could manifest within the saplings once they emerged. Ten grew within one courtyard and the other nine grew within the other. She expected the first two to be born any day now, for they had been put there around three years ago and the others had come sporadically within the following years.

It had taken a while for Nalla to convince Auri and Chio to bring her little ones, but once she coaxed them enough, it was easy work from there. Nalla made sure to pamper the two Sylphi as much as she could. She also made sure they were cared for every day, the seedlings, and had gone to great lengths to ensure their survivability. She also put Exodus’ words to the test, and watered them with fresh blood. Always fresh. They received most of their actual water when it rained.

Her more fleshy based servants also had multiplied and shortly after the first children were born, Nalla moved those families outside of her palace. Their parents could still come and go freely, for they were her servants after all and no one liked to be away from Nalla for too long. That she was assured of. They were also spreading healthy rumors about her and the love she gave out in the name of Neiya.

Down below was where Nalla spent most of her time however. A place where her most devoted resided, where Parn’s testing of magic was put to the test and where she conducted most of her business. The lower level of her palace was constantly being expanded into the stone and dirt below, making sprawling tunnels and more pits for nefarious purposes. It was the most furnished of her home, the most decorated and the most coveted. Artistic works were everywhere, of Neiya's symbolism, to blood red leaves and her own symbol, A blood red heart wrapped around a ruby that closely resembled an eye. Her servants had created it as an act of obsession and Nalla didn't found it amusing so she adopted it.

Outside of her palace, Nallan was booming. The once small village of her birth had turned into a sprawling town. Nothing like the four city states, but it was growing as more and more flocked to her for safety from the surrounding areas. She had quickly followed Exodus’ advice and had found herself a soldier to teach her how to fight and though she wasn’t the biggest fan of it, she learned anyways. Torturing was far more her style and she took to that far more. She still knew she just couldn’t kill people outright or too quickly, for the curse was still upon her, after all. But her powers were still incredibly useful and those she could incapacitate, could be swiftly killed by her men at arms.

Parn had also made a breakthrough with his pots, and now with a short rune placement, any pots that contained them were capable of keeping liquids fresh for around five years. His brother and sister servants had leant their aid and they had achieved a great feat. It quickly became sought after, and Parn was usually busy teaching low level magicians how to inscribe the pots. It was a good little business she was making.

There were still frequent visits to local chiefs and other rulers, those who needed assurances or those who needed replacing. Then there were the occasional bandits and brigands making a ruckus, which annoyed her greatly, for they learned to attack during the day for fear of what night brought. She had a few close calls with the sun during that time.

But all in all, things were going well for Nalla, but she was weary as always. She heard the rumors. Wars, trolls, iskrills, a winged beauty with a sword made of sunlight- All taxing on her mind. There was always a chance something would come, something unexpected like Exodus. But this time, she didn’t think it would end in her favor. She had to be prepared.

Nalla lounged on her throne, sipping a day old blood in a copper cup. The metal added a unique flavor, but it wasn’t like a throat with fresh blood. How could it? She pouted a bit, but remained. A bit lazy really. It was midday and her palace was bustling with activity as usual. There was still so much to do it seemed. She liked to keep herself busy, after all.

“Well,” A voice suddenly rang out, seeming to leach through the room and Nalla’s very mind, “You’re doing better here than I expected, kid.”

She sat upright, hairs standing on the back of her neck. She looked around but she was alone in the hall. Was it another God? It had to be. "Oh, hello? Who might this be?" She asked tentatively.

“Someone with an interest in you, kid. I’ve been watching you for a moment, and I have to say I’m impressed. Though,” The voice paused and then spoke again with some genuine concern, “You might want to watch out for that. It’s usually nothing, but when someone prays to every deity like one of your little plants did it can attract attention, but I’m sure you got an idea about that from your last visitor. Anyway, impressed.”

She stood up from her throne, running her hands through her hair as she began to pace. So it was a God. "Yes, I should take note of that… It was three years ago give or take but one can never be too careful I suppose. But… You are impressed? With me?" She asked with genuine curiosity mixed with disbelief.

A booming laugh, one that sounded more like a choir than a person, filled the room before the voice deigned to speak again, “Surprised? Well, you should be. In thousands of years I’ve only ever done this a few times. It’s not as dramatic as it was when I could walk around down there, but what can you do? A personal audience with the divine is something enough people pray for on a daily basis, though those people don't usually tend to found states. Especially in spite of their, eh, condition?”

Her eyes widened a bit at that. Well of course they would know her affliction. "A condition I have worked around and used to my advantage. I wanted to be chieftain but why stop at something so small, you know?" She mused.

“I imagine I do,” The voice joked, “But still, well done. Neiya’s gift certainly helped, you have no idea how poorly most take to the memories, but I can’t ignore your own work. In spite of a divine curse, not to mention one which promptly ruined a perfectly good means of succession for everyone, you’ve managed to come out on top. Better yet, you’ve actually managed to expand your authority.”

There was a long pause, but a weight in the air compelled silence until the voice spoke again, “Which brings me here. I suppose I’d better introduce and explain myself. The name’s Tekret et Heret, and I’m here with something of an offer.”

"Tekret… et… Heret?" She breathed, bringing both her hands to her cheeks in surprise. "The King Maker? The Crown Giver? Tekret speaks to me? I am humbled." She gushed happily.

“That, and the God of Contracts.” The voice grew rich with amusement, “Plus a thousand other, less relevant, titles. So, the offer. You’ve turned one of the highlands rather fetid cesspools into a thriving little community, and good on you. If you want a crown, you can have it for that alone. Or. You can swear to allow my House of Order full autonomy within your borders, and get something with a little more behind it. Up to you, of course.”

Nalla took a deep breath, thinking over the offer. She could hardly believe it. Not one, not two, but three gods bestowing gifts? She could hardly refuse but she did have a question. "If I might ask, before I decide, your House of Order. What do they do?" She asked.

“This and that. Uphold the laws of the land, take in criminals if they’re clever enough to devote themselves to me instead of running, and generally make sure little projects like yours here last longer than a minute.” There was a hint of gravity in the voice now, and as it continued it only grew more intense, “They’ll help you, so long as you keep doing what you’re doing. I won’t have them answer to anyone but me, though. Kings and Queens have an unfortunate habit of meddling where they’re not needed, often to their own detriment. So, do we have a deal? Or will you take the smaller offer?”

She thought on it and then said, "We have a deal, as long as they understand my affliction and that I won't do them harm." She said.

“I’ll make sure they’re on their best behavior,” With those words a small weight began to press on Nalla’s head, “And I’ll be looking forward to what you do with this, kid.”

With that the gods presence faded from the room, and Nalla’s mind. The thickness in the air vanished, and atop the Vampire's head sat a bloody red crown. It shifted and moved as whatever material made it up flowed, but to the touch it was firm as stone. There was no explanation, or instructions, but such things weren’t needed.

The Blooded Crown had been forged by a gods will, and that will made itself known. She touched it gingerly, her small smile widening with wicked glee as the crown, her crown, imparted upon her its will. She let out a small giggle at first, before she could hardly contain her laughter.

Birth in Blood IV

Down the cold steps she went, a sleeping plant in either arm as she hummed a tune. It wasn't a terribly long trek into the darkness but it was enough for the ambient temperature to drop a little. The chill air gave her goosebumps but she would get used to it before long. At the bottom of the steps there was a dimly lit hallway, leading to an open doorway where she could hear shuffling and conversation. She walked forward, her bare feet making not a sound. She gave a happy little smile as she gazed upon the start of her home. The stone that lined the walls was well kept and the floors were swept daily. She liked things nice and clean nowadays, there was no room for messes.

As she entered the central dining hall, Nalla was greeted by the sight of a few of her servants. There was Tirn, a young man who had been a part of a neighboring village that had joined them, Yarce, a young woman who had been traveling with her betrothed (and boy had he been delicious), and Tulla, another vagrant without family or home. As soon as she entered and Tirn noticed her, she pushed through Yarce and Tulla with a wide, needy grin. Yarce and Tulla followed. Tirn was skimply built, with messy black hair in front of green eyes. Pretty on the eyes, with blood to boot. Yarce was also thin, with muddy blond hair and a small, precious face. Tulla was a brunette, a little thicker than the other two and perhaps a bit plain looking, but she made up for that with her taste. All of them looked rather healthy, if a little cold. All of them wore simple white garments, with a brown string around their waists. The clothes covered their delicate parts and were a tight fit. It was enough to make her mouth water slightly.

"Nalla! Welcome home!" Tirn said eagerly, "I've missed you sooo much." He whined, stopping in front of her like a pup quillat. Yarce and Tulla quickly followed, coming up on either side of Tirn, who flashed an annoyed look as he glanced at Yarce.

"Nalla, Nalla! Did you enjoy the night?" Tulla cooed happily, as she swayed to and fro.

Tirn opened his mouth to speak but Yarce pushed ahead and exclaimed, “Are you thirsty Nalla? Please-please pick me!” she said quickly, tilting her neck backwards to show her lovely veins.

Tulla and Tirn then voiced similar opinions and were quick to show their necks, Old Bite marks still healing, towards Nalla.

She flashed them a lovely smile and couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction. The need to feel bliss was an overpowering one, leading to such behavior. Oh how she loved it and she was tempted to grant it but had other matters to attend to.

“Tsk tsk tsk.” She began. “So needy, so quick to want. Don’t you see we have guests?” She then placed the two plants on the floor, turning them face up to get a better look at them. The smaller female was colored green all over, save for highlights of yellow leaves in her hair and face. The male was built stoutly and was colored in many shades of green. His face, deep verdant compared to the lighter green on his head. Both wore smiles on their faces as they slept peacefully.

The three human servants looked down in a mix of disgust and awe.

“So… Uh… Green.” Tirn muttered.

“Forest folk! Where did you find them, Nalla?” Tulla asked as Yarce bent down to touch the female’s leafy head.

“It matters not where, only that they are here now.” She then clapped her hands together twice. “Come come. The forest folk will be well cared for here, isn’t that right my dears? Since you’re here, be good little servants for me and wash them, cloth them, and place them in a room together. One with a gate, mind you. We wouldn’t want them to get lost down here, would we?” she flashed a wicked smile.

All three smiled in return, nodding in agreement. “Of course Nalla, anything for you!” Tirn was quick to say.

Tulla elbowed him in the side and Tirn winced before helping Yarce lift the male. Tulla went for the female and leisurely picked her up. There was strain on her face but it didn’t look like she would drop her- yet anyways.

“Uh, Nalla?” Tulla asked as she looked down at the plant. “Should we care for this wound as well?”

Nalla was quickly behind Tulla in a blink, looking down at the charred leaves. She caressed Tulla’s cheek with a finger before saying, “Good eye my darling. Yes, care for this one's wounds. The male should be fine. Afterwards, their items are upstairs. Why don’t you bring them to my chambers later, Tulla?” she half whispered in her ear, just loud enough for Yarce and Tirn to hear. The two visibly grimaced, jealousy in their eyes but they did not protest. That was against Nalla’s wishes, after all.

Tulla visibly grinned and nodded excitedly, almost dropping the plant lady. Wishing to avoid any further blunders, the trio carried the plants off, wherein they started bickering with each other. Nalla in the meantime walked down an adjacent hallway, caressing her tender side.

She passed her storage rooms, mainly for her servants. They did need to eat after all, which seemed like such a strange thought to her. She had once needed to eat as well, but the passing of time had hazed her memory of what food tasted like. Now it was just blood.

She passed her servant quarters, rows and rows of fur lined cots, with many sleeping bodies in underneath them. She paused as she sniffed the air… A familiar scent, one that she encouraged. She smiled, walking away. Another ‘loyal’ human, would give birth to a pliable offspring. One that would be raised to love her and her charm would only amplify that feeling. She needed agents outside her small domain, those who she didn’t need to constantly show her necklace too. She should have started the practice years ago but she had been very careless with her appetite and most of her servants had died before they could sleep with one another.

Now, large bellies were beginning to pop up and soon enough, children. She didn’t really like children, per say, but her annoyance at their hungry screams would surely be worth it, she hoped at least.

It all just… Took time.

It was a good thing she had plenty of it.

Right before her quarters there was another room. An actual servant resided here. She peeked her head in to see Parn hunched over a stone slab, various items scattered about. She walked in, a strong smell of blood permeated the area as her eyes fell upon rows and rows of urns lining the walls. Some were blank, while others had intricate runes wrapped around their necks.

"Parn!" She shouted right next to him. The man screamed as he jumped up, looking at her with his rainbow flecked eyes angrily. His face was haggard with a scruffy beard and he wore black robes.

"Nalla! How many times do I have to tell you not to do that? My work is important and one simple mistake sets back my progress by days!" He said, his voice gruff.

"Oh cheer up Parn, it's not like this work is back breaking. Besides, you're just so good at it." She cooed, moving to rub his tense shoulders. "You're doing me a great service you know." He seemed to relax slightly and sat back down as she leaned her chest into his back, wrapping him in an embrace as she rested her head on his shoulder. "How does go the progress? Any breakthroughs?" She whispered.

She could feel him shiver slightly as he began to speak, his voice no longer quite annoyed. "Yes and no… These runes… They're difficult to write but I think i'm getting closer. The last batch just spoiled and they've been sitting for… a couple weeks now I think?"

She sighed, thinking of all that wasted blood. "Well as all things… Time is key. Now, take a quick break, I need help with something." She said, letting go of him and taking off her cloak, to reveal her blood stained side. She quickly removed that article of clothing as well before Parn even turned around. He gave a surprised look before noticing her wound.

"W-what-" he cleared his throat, "What happened there?" He asked getting strips of cloth from the slab.

"I found some forest people, the female wasn't happy I took a nibble of her mate." She said, rolling her eyes. Parn began to clean and wrap her wound as they traded places.

"Forest people? Oh you mean Sylphi?" He said, glancing at her body as he worked.

"Sylphi? Is that what they call themselves? An odd naming choice but the again…" she mused. "I brought them back Parn. Their blood is sweet and I want more of it. We'll take good care of them right?" She said, rubbing his hair.

"Yes Nalla. I'll add them to the list."

"Good." She said quietly.

Parn was nearly done when Nalla heard footsteps fast approaching from down the hallway. She eyed the door, knowing news at this hour was seldom good. Much to her surprise it was Yarce, out of breath and blushing as she looked at Nalla.

"N-Nalla! The-the plant woman awoke and she won't stop screaming 'Genesis!' And she won't quiet down. She's gotten super warm as well and it hurts to touch her."

Nalla was quick, grabbing her cloak and donning it. A shirt would have to wait. "Then let us go greet her properly then." She said, eyes stern on Yarce.

Nalla arrived in the torch lit room, flames flickering off the walls, painting a grim picture. Tirn and Tulla had cornered the Sylphi woman, who was now unclothed, and she lashed out as soon as they got close to her, keeping them at bay. The male Sylphi had been binded but was still asleep. As soon as the plant girl eyed Nalla she let out a yelp.

"No no! Stay away, or I’ll burn you!" She spoke in a heavy but exotic accent, voice quivering.

Tirn and Tulla looked to the entryway and shrinked, immediately going over to Nalla with heads hung low. Nalla eyed the situation and put on a reassuring smile towards the Sylphi as she took another step closer. The woman did not like that, it was visible within her posture but Nalla paid no heed.

"Genesis, Exodus, Whoever! Please! Don't let the monster charm me!" The woman yelled as Nalla loomed over her. She got up to attack but Nalla firmly caught her hand. It was warm, very warm but such pain drove her. “Noo, get away, get away!” The plant woman repeated, attempting to strike at Nalla with her other hand before growing hotter and hotter, until the air itself started to waver. The heat only lasted a short time however as after a few seconds, the woman’s eyes rolled up into her head and she went limp and fell to her knees, panting for breath and gagging while sweat practically poured off of her.

Nalla guided the Sylphi's arm down to her and looked her over. It was strange, she hadn't noticed it before but she felt… Terror and sickness. She turned to the others and said loudly, "Go fetch us some cool water and quickly!" All three of her servants bolted out of the door, as Parn stayed and watched with curious eyes.

"You can feel it too, can't you?" She asked him. He gave a sullen nod.

"It's a strange feeling. A mix of contentment, fear, sickness. I think… Yes I remember this. These beings… I believe they can share what they're feeling with others. Passively or not. Strange isn't it?" He scratched his beard.

Nalla turned back to the plant and said softly, "I'm not going to hurt you. I was never going to hurt you in the first place but then you stabbed me. I mean, honestly, I can't help that you taste so sweet."

The plant woman struggled to even look up at Nalla, “What… Will happen… To us…?”

"Oh my sweet thing, nothing at all. You're safe here." Nalla mused, before the trio returned carrying a bucket of water each. They brought them over to Nalla where they set them in front of the plant and bowed, backing up. "Shall I help you cool off?" Nalla asked.

“H… H…” The woman tried to speak but couldn’t get the words out and instead crawled up to one of the buckets and dipped her face into it, drinking as much water as she could. It was almost a minute before she lifted her head out of the bucket, gasping for breath but in a different manner than before. She had drunk almost half of the water that had been in the bucket, easily twice as much than a normal human would drink in a day. She looked much better after that, but still she was wobbly and gagged occasionally, so she crawled back against the wall and tried to relax. “Pour… It on me.”

Nalla flashed a smile, easily lifting the bucket with her hands and pouring the water over the plant girl. “There we go.” She said as the water flow ended. She grabbed the other bucket and went slower this time. “I’m sorry I stabbed you.” She whispered. “Hey, look at me. I won’t bite. Well, poor choice of words there. I mean- I won’t hurt you again.”

It took the plant woman a while to recover, keeping her eyes closed and twitching the leaves on top of her head every few moments to make sure the cool water got everywhere it needed to go. Not once did she look at Nalla during all the time she spent cooling down. “... I’m Aurinia, he’s Chio.” She finally spoke, took one last deep breath and stood up slowly, making sure her wobbly legs wouldn’t give out. “We were looking for the White Carpet Lands, if you point us in the right direction… Then we’ll get out of your leaves.”

“White carpet lands?” Nalla said, rising to her full height as well. She looked back at Parn but he just shrugged. White carpet she wondered before it clicked. “Oh you mean snow? Where it snows? Well you made it already, it’s just spring now, so much like you, everything is green.”

Aurinia huffed and leaned against the wall, crossing her arms over her leaf-covered chest. “This is not it--Snow melts, right? The story goes that Ilex and Nymphea were taken to the Land of Eternal White Carpets. If we were speaking of snow, it’d definitely be a kind of snow that never melts. Eternal Snow! Chio and I wanted to go there and find the places the Siblings escaped from. They say if you find the Ice Giant and remind it of how it failed to turn the Siblings into its dinner, it will grant you a wish. So, we’re going there as soon as we can.”

Nalla furrowed her brow as she listened. She had not a clue what Aurinia was even saying but she did know that they definitely couldn’t leave. She needed them. Nalla gave a half smile and crossed her arms over her chest. “Oh I seeeee.” she began, “You’re talking about the far, far north. Past all of the roving bands of brigands, past the slavers, past the human cities, through troll lands, and snake holes. A dangerous journey, indeed. Tell you what, since I made an error of judgment, I would like it if you stayed as my guests until your wound heals completely. No harm will come to you, or Chio while in my care. I can’t say the same for the outside world. But for now, what do you say? You will be my esteemed guests, with access to all my comforts.” she said sweetly. The servants behind her each gave a frown before looking to the ground again. Parn continued to stroke his beard as she watched Aurinia, who furrowed her brow.

“... Okay, all right. Until we heal. Since we’re here, we might as well share our stories, right-”


Suddenly what sounded like several large pots breaking echoed through the structure, then silence for a long time as everyone in the room stood in shock, listening.

’Uh, sorry.’ Came the tiny voice, which was followed by… Scratching, and slithering along the floor and walls and ceiling outside. Eventually, the door to the room began to creak open very slowly…

“UGH, would you just push the door open already!” Came an irritated soft voice, followed by the door slamming open and revealing the floating figure behind it. It was a woman, about the same height but with a much more perfected shape as Aurinia. She was, evidently, of the same species as Aurinia, with leaves for hair and leaves over her shoulders and upper back, but her colors were too cold. Her skin was almost perfectly white, and her leaves were a light, pastel pink, the same colour as her irises.

She was just… Floating there, eyes half-lidded and frowning, with several dozen smaller tendrils slithering across the walls, floor and ceiling, spreading all over the room and prodding at the feet of everyone present but Aurinia and Chio.

Suddenly, the floating plant woman’s frown vanished, replaced by a raised eyebrow. “Oh,” She gasped lightly, floating closer to Nalla and inspecting her very carefully with squinted eyes. “You’re not a troll,” She declared confidently, perking up and smirking. “Well, it seems like everything’s okay around here. No one’s missing any limbs or chunks of flesh and Auri is wetter than that time she had a nightmare when she was six. Exodus is leaving now, thanks for calling but please only call me for important stuff… You’re lucky I was close enough or I would have not been able to come in time. I will now check out this palace, since it’s the first time I’ve been in one. Yay.”

And just like that, Exodus went to everyone present and patted their head, leaving Nalla for last, at which point she played around with her hair for a bit longer than usual, then finally left, the small roots that had stretched over every surface slowly retracting. Ball remained dumbfounded as she watched the white Sylphi begin to leave. At the point her mind began to move again and she hissed to her servants, "Clean this room up and show our guests hospitality. Now!" And they immediately got to work, even Parn.

Nalla meanwhile took off after the newcomer and cleared her voice as she approached. "Oh hello there! Welcome to my home, uh… Exodus was it? You have lovely leaves." She said calmly, fluffing her hair. Her own heart was beating a bit faster, as she remembered who exactly Aurinia had prayed too. Was this a God? But the gods were all gone? She needed to tread carefully, that much she knew. Too much was at stake.

”Thanks! They’re pink. I like your hair colour more, though, I had no idea humans could have red… Uh, orange? Hair.” Exodus said, not stopping and only glancing a couple times at Nalla. ”What’s your name, anyway? What breed are you?” She asked as she turned a corner and saw the mess of broken clay pots on the ground swept to one side of the hallway and chuckled.

Nalla blushed slightly at the compliment. "Why thank you, Exodus. As for your question, I am a… Human Vampire. The rest here are humans and the two Sylphi of course. They'll be taken good care of here before they leave. I assure you." She said quickly.

”Ah, that’s good to know. Make sure they get enough sunlight, water and meat... You still haven’t given me your name though, Human-Vampire-Whose-Breath-Smells-A-Little-Bit-Like-Bloodsap.”

"Oh apologies! I was distracted by your beauty. I am Nalla, ruler of Nallan." She said proudly. "As for my breath… Well you see, your Sylphi taste good but I didn't harm them when I fed. I gave them a taste of ecstasy so they could feel something wonderful." She continued, taking note of what Exodus said about their care. Sunlight would be a problem but she'd make do.

”That’s fair. A trade, some would say. Anyway, what’s the most interesting room in this structure, Nalla?”

She seemed to sigh in relief at those words. It seemed she'd save herself yet, but the exchange wasn't over yet. "Oh well, much of this place is still under construction you see. Upstairs will be perhaps better suited for guests but down here would have to be Parn's room or mine. There is also several pits for those who have… Upset the peace in Nallan with much more to come. Humans, while efficient at some tasks, are much slower at others. Especially building. Rather fragile creatures really. Oh I am also open to any suggestions or improvements from one of your stature." She said, putting on her best display of elegance.

”Pits, huh? Why not consider exile or forcing rule breakers to work for the community until their debt to it is settled?” Exodus asked, going up a flight of stairs and finding herself in a storage room. ”Hmm… If you believe Auri and Chio will be staying for long, then I think you could feed them blood. Liquid or as powder in the form of seasoning on something else that isn’t a fibrous vegetable… I didn’t see much in the way of grazing livestock on my way here.”

Nalla raised an eyebrow at that. "Rulebreakers are… Difficult. Mainly they aren't missed when they disappear. As for the Sylphi, now that can be arranged. Their nature is much different than humans, even I. Could you perhaps tell me more about how they work? I want to make sure Auri and Chio are most comfortable here, after all." She said, giving a sly smile.

”How they work, huh? I will tell you, but I have a few questions of my own for later. Okay,” Exodus nodded, looking around as she floated into the big central room, then going over to sit on the first chair she saw. ”Sylphi were created by the Tree of Genesis thousands of years ago. They were born close to humans and therefore can reproduce with them. They require at least eight hours of solid sunlight a day to perform well, plus four times the water a human would normally drink in a day, and the equivalent of two fists’ worth of meat every week.” She explained, holding her balled up fist for Nalla to see. ”They are an adaptable species, and so far I’ve identified four subspecies all used to different climates and locations. It is a certainty that, if Sylphi were to settle this far north for an extended period of time, those settlers would become a new subspecies.

”Not to mention it seems our fellow Gods of Firinn and Aicheil have granted them a, uh… ‘Blessing’, which lets them share their feelings and sometimes even memories with others and vice versa. It is quite a handful but honestly, it is also the reason wars and large scale conflicts like that don’t happen down south.”

Nalla listened intently, finding a chair of her own. They were in a servants hall, an area where her humans ate and made small talk. There wasn't any there now, though. Nalla brought a hand to her chin and asked, "So how do they have babies then? And why exactly do they need meat to survive? And you mentioned using blood to feed them in place of… water?" She asked, her voice full of genuine curiosity.

”No, in place of meat from livestock. Though blood does have quite a lot of water in it, they’d still need fresh water to survive, I imagine.” Exodus said, then hummed as she tapped a finger against her chin.

”Babies well, we have two sets of reproductive organs.” She said and patted and rubbed her shoulders. ”Our shoulders as well as those you must be familiar with,” She said and cupped her crotch through her long leafy dress, ”Regardless of which set we use, females will make one or two walnut-sized seeds that pop out of the same place as human babies do. Those seeds have to be planted on healthy, fertile soil and will grow into a watermelon-sized pod that after a few years will be ready to harvest. By having a Sylph place their hands on it, it will open and reveal a newborn Sylph, which we call a Sapling.” She finished and nodded, then took her hand off her crotch with a chuckle.

”I never would’ve guessed I would be giving a Human a lesson on pollination, reproduction and my race’s sexual traits today.”

Nalla smirked. "These are strange times we find ourselves in. Do these saplings grow about as fast as human children do?"

”Saplings come out of the pod walking and talking, at around the same stage as a human child who just learned to do those things, both mentally and physically… I haven’t really noticed any differences in the growth speed, actually, but they will invariably die at sixty-five years old should they hit that age, and it seems they are always painfully aware of how much time they have left, down to the second.”

Nalla smiled slightly. They grew old! And they came out walking. She could do without the talking but that was good. "That's… Sad." She eventually said before continuing, "Oh, one final question from me, are they all able to heat their bodies up like Auri? It was a strange sight indeed." Nalla mused.

”Huh? No.” Exodus answered and looked around, at the tables, the ceiling, the pattern on the tiles on the floor… ”Those are Traits. I take it humans this far north have probably never heard of them--It is a natural talent for a specific kind of mana manipulation that those with Sylphi blood in their veins are born with.”

Nalla perked up at that and opened her mouth to ask another question but stopped herself and then slowly wrapped her cloak around her torso as she said, "Thank you for answering a mortal like me. Now if I remember you wanted to ask some questions? I'd be happy to answer any."

At that, Exodus perked up and nodded, sitting up straight on the edge of her chair. ”This is an impressive building, I don’t think even the best goblin architects at Arborea can make something like this--Did you make it yourself? The way every stone has its place and the way they have so artfully been carved into, it’s- It’s quite cool. I’d also ask the same of the tiles you adorn your floors with. What material are they, how are they painted on?”

Nalla scrunched her nose and thought for a moment. "Well you see… I persuaded some men from Ketrefa, which is the giant human city to the north of here, to come construct this for me. They've trained some of the locals here to help and better understand stone. We used to live in wooden lodges but now clay bricks are being used for several houses in Nallan. As for the tiles, I'm not sure either. I just said make it look pleasant and they obliged. If I were to guess, probably just stone from the local query. Which is where they've been gathering the materials. It's a lot of manpower."

”I see. It’s impressive either way. I might have to spread rumours about Ketrefa’s architecture back in Arborea… Oh, another thing! Nalla, do you believe in… Life on other worlds? Do you? Like, like life out there in the night sky or somewhere else.”

She looked at Exodus puzzled. She then said, "I've never put much thought in it, if I'm honest. People around here have a hard time thinking Sylphi exist and even then they don't know what they're called. Maybe there is, maybe there isn't. But I'll keep myself occupied here, where I'm at and that's the truth." She said.

”Ah. A stock answer. But really, think about it, what if there was life out there, life that not even the lifeblood created? What would that mean for us? Would it be even possible? Am I just asking questions because I’m bored? The answer is yes. Perhaps I should leave.” Exodus sighed and slumped back in her chair.

Nalla was even more puzzled by Exodus' words but kept her mouth shut for the time being. She had no idea what she was talking about. Life on other worlds? Lifeblood? She blinked and looked at Exodus, tilting her head. "I get bored too. There's so much to do and everyone is just so slow. You can stay as long as you like but if you want to leave, I won't stop you. Our conversation has been fascinating."

Exodus stared at Nalla for a long time. It felt as if she was looking straight into Nalla’s soul. Then, she stood from her chair and walked over to her, stopping right in front of her and looking down at the redheaded vampire with her pale pink irises glowing intensely, glowing dangerously. ”Don’t tell me- Your kind cannot survive sunlight? Don’t you want to feel the dance of light across your skin? Doesn’t it kill you knowing you may never feel that? Don’t you wish to one day have a lover to watch the sunrise with? To oversee your subordinates working during the day?” The Avatar asked, suddenly looking like a completely different person, who looked down at Nalla with cold, piercing pity. ”... I can make that happen for you, if you say the word. No one but those of irreparable hearts should live in mortal fear of the warm embrace of the Sun.”

"You… Can tell?" Nalla murmured, remembering Hekti turning to ash at the first rays. She had forgotten what the warmth of the sun had felt like on her face, and the thought always did cross her mind if she should ask Neiya but… What was Exodus after? Why help her at all after what she had done to the Sylphi? She looked up at Exodus, longing in her eyes as her heartbeat quickened. She at last spoke, making up her mind, "It would be nice to see the Sylphi in their natural habitat…"

”Yes, they are a marvel aren’t they? Sit still.” Exodus placed her hands on top of Nalla’s head and closed her eyes. ”This will hurt, I hope you don’t mind feeling like your skin is melting. But it should be safe.” Right after saying that, Exodus began to glow slightly, and light started to accumulate beneath the skin in her veins, lighting up brightly. For a moment, the avatar’s skin turned a deep verdant green, and light seemed to accumulate deep in her chest next to her beating heart.

Then, the great accumulation of light slowly made its way down Exodus’ arm and then to her hand. ”Here we go.”

In the split second that followed, when Exodus began to pour her energy into her, Nalla felt as if her skin was being peeled off and put back on, as if it was melting in some parts, and even the flesh underneath felt as if at any second it would burn off. She screamed in pain, it was the worst feeling she had ever felt, but she remained awake no matter how much the pain wanted to take her. She couldn’t help but stare at her body, ripping the robe off because of the heat. Indeed, at one open she saw her fingers take on a grayish hue like that of ash but then quickly disappeared and was replaced by a much livelier skin tone than before. And as Exodus finished pouring the last of her energy, the pain disappeared. Nalla lay on the floor, gasping for breath.

At that Exodus took a step back, tilted her head for a few moments each way as she observed Nalla, then shrugged, ”Well, you look a little livelier now. As if you could pass for someone that occasionally goes out into the sun. I gradually exposed you to varying levels of sun-like light and then adapted your body to be better equipped to resist it in the future. Should be able to last a handful of minutes out and about in the sun with no protection completely safely now. What do you think, Nalla?”

The vampiress looked up at Exodus with a wicked grin, before she stood up on shaky legs. She looked at her arms and legs, noting the slight color in her limbs. She looked at Exodus again and fell to her knees before her. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your generosity knows no bounds. This is a wonderful gift.”

Exodus stared at Nalla for a while longer, then huffed and walked back to her chair, leaning her back over it and looking at the ceiling with slowly blinking eyes. She was back to normal. ”Do you think kneeling and grovelling will protect you from those more capable than you? How boring...” She almost whispered, deflating a little. ”Do you need anything else? Or, uh, do you want anything else? As thanks for housing my little plants. Really, being bashful when I wanna thank you kinda pisses me off so don’t hold back, I can make whatever happen.”

Nalla sat upright, a twitch in her eyes as she half smiled at Exodus. It was strange behavior, for sure, not wanting to see grovelling but who was she to judge an avatar? She slowly stood up, eyeing Exodus the entire time with hunger in her eyes. She could ask for anything?

“Well, if you insist I dispense with the niceties, then I shall. Hmm.” she began to walk back and forth as she held her chin in deep thought. “There are many things I want, but what is most pressing? My sunlight issue is taken care of, my blood problem is practically fixed. Well if you really will grant me anything I want.... I need a weapon to protect them with, in case ever a need arises. Yes, my body is a weapon, but like you said, grovelling and kneeling won’t protect me from capable foes who wish me dead. This is what I need and the ability to use it properly.” she said, slamming her fist into her palm as she stopped in front of Exodus.

Exodus stood a little bit straighter and raised an eyebrow while smirking at Nalla, ”What kind of weapon would you like? Ranged, melee, hand-to-hand? Huh, memetic perhaps?”

“I need something that I can use up close. I’m fast and if I can use that to my advantage, I could kill swiftly. Perhaps a dagger or a sword?” She mused. “Or perhaps something ranged so I can strike from afar? Or… What about both, but together?”

Exodus pursed her lips in thought, but eventually nodded and clapped her hands together. When she parted them, a bright green light spilled from them and a beam of light stretched between her palms. It grew as her palms grew further and further away until the beam was about the length of one of Nalla’s arms. At that point, the green light dissipated and what was left behind was a floating sword. Yet it wasn’t made of metal like others, this one was made of sleek and extremely sharp wood like the ultra dense wood cores that served as the Sylphi’s bones. It was polished perfectly, the wood grain almost invisible. The sword only had one edge, however, with the other edge being relatively thick and solid and its handle looked soft and comfortable made of currently writhing green vines.

Exodus floated it over to Nalla and the edge made a tiny whistling sound as it cut through the air even at such a low speed. When the blade was in front of Nalla, the vines around the handle parted way, showing an ergonomic handle made of carved woodcore, much like the blade. The vines stretched towards Nalla’s hand, begging for her to hold the blade.

”A blade made of a material close to Sylphi bones, woodcores. The vines along the handle will wrap around your hands and wrists when you hold onto it. Those little guys are pretty strong for their size, so make sure you don’t excite them too much… I know you’ll ask me to elaborate, so...” Exodus stood up and pointed at Nalla’s hand that was stretching towards the floating sword’s handle. ”Nalla, the moment you hold the blade for the first time, the vines will grow thorns and wrap around your hand. They will taste your blood and recognize you as the blade’s owner. This will unlock the blade’s transformative properties. By channeling trace amounts of mana into the handle, the blade will shift into a thorned, barbed vine. You will be able to use this second state as a weapon with more range than a simple sword… It should reach a maximum length of about five arm’s lengths, which pretty much turns it into a whip. You will be able to switch it back to being a blade by channeling mana through the handle again. It’s a toggle function.”

”and before you ask, no the blade doesn’t float, I’m just making it float right now. After you claim it, it will be affected by the laws of our world again… Well, as much as a divine artefact can be affected, at least. Uh, also if you feed the vines too much blood they might crush your hand due to excitement. So try to not get any fingers cut off during a fight. And if it ends up happening, make sure to drop the sword right away.”

Nalla eyed the blade suspiciously, then greedily. She was hesitant to reach for it, but when Exodus finished speaking, she found herself with vines wrapping around her hand as she gripped the handle. Then came the thorns and she hissed as they began to taste her blood. The blade then shifted into the whip and Nalla marveled at its design before turning to Exodus with a smile. “This will do.” she said simply. She then shut her eyes and felt the handle with her palm before pushing her thoughts to it and mana. She had learned a bit from Parn, hopefully it was enough.

With a click, the wine snapped back into a blade and Nalla opened her eyes. “Wonderful.” she mused.

”Don’t think about using the whip state for punishments, the thing will likely pull out chunks of flesh instead of leaving measly scars. And finally, no one but you can trigger the whip state now. If you want someone else to be able to use the sword to its full potential, feed the vines around the handle a mix of your blood and the other person’s blood. I will also leave figuring out how to use it up to you. Get a soldier to teach you basic blade forms, then get a torturer to teach you whip technique. I hear you have lots of those in human lands, for some reason.” Exodus said with a shrug and floated herself off the ground, then began making her way out of the building. ”I’m going now, Nalla. Since you’re immortal we may meet each other again, no promises though. I’ve already gotten like seven prayers during the time I spent here, ugh...”

Nalla gave her a nod. “I’ll make sure to do those things and hey, it was nice meeting you, Exodus. Farewell for now.” She then looked down at the blade again, the corners of her mouth curling into a smile.

Birth in Blood III

A red ruby shimmered faintly in the dim light of the moon. It hung upon a slender neck, leading up to a soft face with a charming smile on red lips. Amber colored eyes stared intently at the oddest sight imaginable, as she made herself look presentable. Standing before her, a fire between them, illuminating their green faces were two of the forest people. One with a slender face, a bosom, the other a man. They wore simple clothes and brandished spears that glinted from the flame.

Nalla had heard of their kind before, but had never believed they would be real. Stories loving parents told their children to make them in awe of the world, or if one was lucky enough, a travelling druid would tell the tale of the green people who wandered the woods. She had never expected them to be wearing clothes and sitting by a fire with a pointy stick. Yet, here they were.

The man spoke to her again, accent thick and heavy of some foreign language. She knew not what he said but his meaning was clear- Leave us alone.

Yet, his tone betrayed him. He was unsure. He was fighting her charm, she could tell, they all did at first. He kept glancing at her chest and gazed at her face longingly. The woman plant kept glancing at him, her face unsteady, almost blushing as if she was embarrassed when she looked over at her. Nalla tilted her head at the green woman, wondering why she was so afraid.

Then again, who wouldn’t be?

The vampiress tilted her head up as she felt her hunger begin to grow. She shut her eyes and relished in the memories, wrapping herself into a hug as she let out a satisfied sigh. Neiya’s gift was the best thing she had ever received in her life. Her sister’s memories were still there, yes, but steadily drowned in a tide of bliss.

Nalla could smell them, the plants and they did smell so good. Theirs was exotic blood. A chance of a lifetime and she had been such a good girl. It had been at least two days since she had sated her thirst. Who was she to pass up such an opportunity?

With unnatural speed, her head snapped back down and she flashed a toothy smile, her sharp canine’s on full display.

“I’m sorry.” she whispered to them and in a flash she was before them, eyes inflamed with hunger. Before they could react, Nalla used her momentum to slap the woman away. She hit the ground just outside of the fire's ring of light, losing her spear in the process. She then turned on the man, who was quick enough to use his spear as a block, his face grimaced into a look of betrayal. Nalla grabbed the spear, feeling his attempt to back her into the fire, but she was too strong. The wood snapped under her power and she grabbed him, placing her arms firmly around the struggling, but soft plant.

“I can’t wait for the charm this time, I’m just so needy.” she breathed, taking in his floral scent. He head butted her, his skull impacting such a forceful blow but this only irked Nalla. She frowned visibly, before head butting him back with enough force to knock him out cold.

“What a bother.” she complained, before whispering Neiya’s words into his ear. The man began to twitch as she sank her teeth into his soft skin. The consistency was the same as human blood, warm and thick but that was where the similarities ended. Blood, to her, was like a flavored drink, hit or miss. Some tasted delicious, some did not, but that never stopped her from drinking. This blood however, was the sweetest she had ever consumed and it was so delicious. She forced herself to breath, rearing back as a golden liquid coated her mouth. She licked her lips, about to go back for more, until she felt a painful sting in her side.

She screamed angrily, dropping the man as she turned to see that the plant woman had recovered by stabbing Nalla with her spear. The plant’s face was twisted by anger as she shouted something but so too did Nalla flash a look of anger. Once again she broke the spear, causing the woman to lose her balance and fall right into Nalla. The vampiress pulled out the spear, as she grabbed the plant woman by her arm. She struggled, punching Nalla in vain. The vampire looked at the plant in disdain, before licking the blood coated metal tip of the spear. Her own blood was sour, even revolting but she did it to frighten the plant into submission and the girl’s green eyes grew wide. She then plunged it into the girl’s shoulder, an audible scream escaping her lips, only for Nalla to cover her mouth forcefully.

Nalla pressed her to the ground beside the fire, twisting the spear head, golden liquid flowing from the wound as a muffled scream could be heard. Nalla then whispered into her ears the words, the plant going limp from the ecstasy of Neiya’s love. Nalla opened her mouth over the plant’s neck but stopped before she sank her teeth in.

Her moist breath fell upon the plant’s cheek and Nalla reluctantly pulled away. Though she was angry for being stabbed, that didn’t mean she should let such a delicacy go to waste out of anger. She looked over at the male, now out like a light but still breathing. A pair of plants, perhaps an endless supply of such sweet blood. The thought was tantalizing. She stood up, taking the spear head with her and placed it into the fire.

She looked up at the night sky, moon high overhead. She had time and plenty of it.

When the spear head was nice and hot, she placed it over her wound with a hiss, almost blacking out from the pain but no, it was nothing compared to what she had endured before. Nalla then looked down at the plant woman and did the same. Her small face grimaced but she did not wake. With both in a stable condition, Nalla grabbed their things and them, before dragging them off into the night.

Nalla arrived back in the village of her birth before the sun rose. She had been busy since Neiya had bestowed her gifts. The village people now knew who was in charge. It had been years ago that she had ousted Petyr and Hansa as the ones who murdered the chief and Yiosalda had been their leader, all brutally killed like the Iskrill they were. She had quickly learned of her necklace’s power but she also learned it didn’t last forever. She had to be decisive about who she let view her and what their influence would be over others so that they would retain loyalty. If not to her, then to their trusted leaders.

Humans were greedy things, lusting for anything they could not readily have. She had been human after all, who was better to know? She found it was easy to exploit that base need. With Yensen as her second and other village heads following him, she controlled everything. Long ago she had gotten them to erect a wooden palisade around the village. For safety and defense she had said and now it was well kept and constantly expanded upon, some parts were even being switched for stone. They were also building her a new home, very much a work in progress but it had started years ago as well. Hewn from rough stone, it was beginning to stand large over the other houses, which were also seeing improvements. They had razed the old chieftains lodge, for Nalla had said the memories of the old deserved to be born anew in their ashes. Just poetic words to spark any sort of joy in her workforce. People liked inspiration.

She had also told her pawns to start spreading mention of her powers. They had slowly but surely built her up to be some sort of god blessed being and many needed that in troubling times.

Her excuse for not being seen in the day, was that her powers meant she was to be active at night more so then the day. It was hard for many to buy but reassurances were made. Plus, she had made an agreement with Yensen and the other heads. She would stop her consumption of the village people and protect them as long as she had a fresh supply to drink from. Outsiders, she told them, were the key.

Indeed, who would have thought a simple message to outlying villages, to band and unite, could be so persuasive. The land was full of brigands and danger, after all. Especially the fiend in the night who was killing chieftains, leaving a smile upon their faces. It seemed their offspring were far more susceptible to such unification and if they weren’t, well… She had other ways to persuade, else the killer got them too.

Divine ecstasy was no laughing matter to creatures of blood and flesh. It worked wonders on the mind, spawned addiction in several cases. So much need to please her, just to get another taste. It was delicious.

And now, she had plants!

To ease suspicions, she had the guards grab her a cart with a blanket. They did not question her and she made sure they got a healthy dose of her charm. That helped too, you know. She had two of them walk the cart up to her new home.

Though it was still under construction, she had first sent in the miners to dig such a large hole, and then build her rooms upon rooms. For safety, for protection she told them! Much of it was done but improvements were being made constantly and the upper levels of the house were incomplete.

It had taken a long time to gather the necessary supplies, trade and manpower, but when blessed by a God, one usually got what they wanted and if they didn’t there was always the other option- by force. Ketrefa would not have her, she knew this, so the only alternative was to build up her own land. As such, her once village was now a bustling town of trade and growth, brought about by her many deals and forced persuasion. It hadn’t always gone to plan, more often than not, but it was all coming together.

They arrived at her empty home and she dismissed the guards. The sun would be up soon and she had plants to settle in. Away from the prying eyes of the sun.

“Oh! I almost forget,” she suddenly exclaimed as she removed the blanket to view the sleeping plants, “Welcome to Nallan.”

Hollow Anger

It had been days since they arrived in Ha-Dûna and Lucia's spirits were running low. Wherever she went, the swarm of people never disappeared: Whenever she’d move through the market square, the bartering crowds would instantly turn their attention away from the wares and customers to the daughter of the sun - the customers would fall to their knees in prayer while the merchants bombarded her with baskets and pots of food and drink, heaps of furs and textiles, and every the occasional live goat or stag; whenever Lucia would go to the outskirts, the farmers would drop their tools to the ground and run up to her to praise her and her mother, showering her in whatever they had, whether it be their harvest, livestock or family relics; whenever Lucia would go to the inner town, the one spot she might be safe from most of the common folk, she would be shadowed by druids eager to serve and wait on her every breath.

She had thought she had grown used to such attention but little by little it was beginning to break her down. It was hard to find a moment to just breath. The constant stream of people in need, who wanted to converse, to thank her for being who she was, it was all so draining. And somewhere along the way, she had lost Sanya, or knowing Sanya, she didn’t want to be around so many people and Lucia couldn’t blame her. Still… It would have been nice if she tagged along. If only the druids could see past her! Sanya was even more so a ‘Helgen’ then she could ever be but that was a secret shared between them.

Lucia would never betray her friend like that. She couldn’t. Because she knew the truth about Sanya, a shared memory, so long ago. She was angrier then and Lucia had been scared, but a bond was forged nonetheless. They barely got to see each other since she had arrived. Only brief snippets of conversation before Lucia was whisked away by the druids and Sanya disappeared into the crowds.

She snapped back to reality briefly. She was on another tour, led by Pinya and flanked by several more she didn't know the names of. They wandered around the inner town, telling her about it, but Lucia’s mind went elsewhere again. She could feel it inside, an old enemy returning. One of longing and frustration. Negativity and anger. Slowly and surely, like a cold knife being plunged into her heart, it came stripping all to numbness. She hid behind her smiles, forced to be genuine, when all she wanted to do was cry. It was good and well that no one knew that her tattoos were ingrained to her emotional state. They weren't just there to shimmer but rather, tell a story. Today, they were as she felt, small and diminutive. Shimmering slightly everytime someone conversed with her but they were duller than usual.

The druids, they talked about wanting to reunite her with Megzhaal, her love. Yet no one ever bothered to ask her if she wanted to be reunited. He was her love, yes but his voice had faded from her mind. There were no more poems, no more songs. He had been there by her side after his banishment and for centuries did he keep her company but slowly and surely, Megzhaal retreated into the depths of his realm and his responses became… Foreign... Until nothing at all. That had been… five decades ago? Six? She did not know. It was after the fall of… Solaria at least.

All she knew was that talking about it still brought about similar feelings when she had lost both her Love and her mother. Feelings so dark and crushing- Only time made them subside and time brought them back. Here and there, now and again. A feeling of hopelessness, of bleak prospects. Like the ocean, pressing her down into black depths. There was no escape, no light at the end of the tunnel.

She knew what triggered it.

For Ha-Dûna was bustling with life, love, happiness - things she did not deserve. Or was she just… sick of them? She had never met a town so content, so blissful and full of peace. They all knew their purposes and who they would spend the rest of their lives with and have so many children with. Why was she so important to them when they had all of this? All she did was help those when they needed help, she didn’t ask for anything in return, why did that make her so special? Was it the tattoos? Was it the halo? Was it her eyes? Her face? Her hair? Couldn’t she just disappear for a time?

She had tried that though, hadn’t she?

It never worked.

She had to help people, it was just who she was, but still… She didn't deserve anything. She had seen so much pain and suffering. It went on and on over the years. There was no depth cruelty could not fall to and it broke her. She had bore witness to all of it and by some miracle, survived each time. Why did she get to live while so many others had their lives snuffed out? She had learned early on her own, that life simply wasn't fair. There were good moments in the sea of bad, happy memories she held onto tightly. People and faces she would never forget and honor even if others had forgotten. She enjoyed people, after all.

Yet now, all she wanted to do was be alone, just to cry. Just to breath! But Lucia remained walking, a smile on her face. She took some small solace in the fact the day was ending and maybe she'd get to talk to Sanya. She knew her mother would listen and share her sympathy but her mother could never know how she truly felt. It would destroy Oraelia. Lucia could hardly imagine what she would feel and she did not want to. No, she would talk to Sanya, even open up to her because Sanya would sense her emotions. There was no hiding it. She told herself that that night would be the one they catch up in. It had to be.

They passed by a hexagonal hut with a tent roof, through which top and wall cracks oozed clouds of thick, smelly smoke. One woman came walking out and sat down on the entrance step, a long pipe in hand and a smile about her relaxed lips. She looked at Lucia and barely seemed to react, although after a few seconds, her smile broadened and she lifted her pipe in greeting. Kaer Pinya, who was leading Lucia’s entourage stopped at the sight of the lady and grinned back, turning to Lucia.

“Oh, great Lucia, a thought just struck me! How about before we head to the Flynns as planned, we offer you a pipeful of our finest blinkweed? It is our latest fashion here in town.”

"Why do you call it blinkweed?" she asked absentmindedly.

“Oh, the smoke stings a bit on the eyes in the beginning, and it makes you all drowsy and warm on the inside. It’s a wonderful experience, and the younglings have been so much more relieved in their studies after it was given to us. Oh, what pleasantries the gods bestow upon us!” She lifted her hands skywards.

Now this caught Lucia's attention. She looked over the woman who held the pipe. She did look relaxed, didn't she? But would it help her? "Does it dull the mind?" she followed up.

“We prefer to say ‘expand’,” came a soft addition from one of the other archdruids, a middle-aged man Lucia knew as Kaer Togen.

Lucia frowned for a moment before returning to a neutral expression. "I'll pass for now but thank you." she said, forcing a smile at them. Kaer Pinya and Kaer Togen, as well as the four others in her company, all closed in around her.

“Please, oh great one, we insist!”

“Do you think we’re blind to those wrinkles forming around your smile? We work with people every day and can tell when someone’s exhausted.” Kaer Pinya took her by the arm. “Come on now, sweety. It’ll do you good!”

It hit her like a boulder. A feeling of being ignored, told what's best for her. She had had enough. Her tattoos flared up and pushed Pinya away from Lucia, then flicked the others who surrounded her in the chest, shoving them away. She then said loudly, "I said no! And if you knew I was exhausted then you would let me just breathe for a moment! I'm going to my room, don't follow me. Don't come knock on the door. Just let me have the rest of the day to myself!" and before any of them could respond, Lucia took off in a dead sprint. The six of them exchanged desperate looks of confusion, proceeding to jog on after her.

Wherever Lucia ran, whoever was nearby turned to look and greet her. Florists threw flowers after her; farmers threw grain. As she reached the house she and Sanya stayed at, the finest resthouse in town, typically reserved only for the archdruids, the guards at the doorway jumped aside to dodge her charge. Inside, a few other archdruids turned to see her, eyes blinking in bepuzzlement.

“Great Lucia, what are you doing here, pray tell?”

She had to think of something fast. Her voice was shaky when she proclaimed, "Reiya uh, requires my presence! I must be alone till tomorrow. Do not disturb me or you disturb Reiya! Bar anyone from attempting to see me save Sanya!" she said before hustling to her room. She hated doing that but in this instance, he mother would approve. As she ran towards her room, the archdruid who had spoken went, “But! Great Lucia, wait! There are--!”

When she neared her chambers, she noticed a line of people leading in through the doorway and back out, with prayers coming from the inside. Her heart sank further as she realized what was going on. Why they kept her away from her room all day. She was mortified. She held her head as she leaned with her back to the wall. This wasn't happening, she told herself over and over. As she turned the corner to look inside, she saw the people walking along the walls of her chamber in a counter-clockwise direction, their right hands gently stroking over various objects she would come into contact with - her chair, her table, her bed, her chamberpot. They all had their eyes closed, and some would occasionally suck in gasps of breath as through divinity entered them with the touch of every object. In the centre stood a trio of druids singing the spiritsongs of the sun in her glory.

Anger boiled in Lucia, replacing the low she felt with unbridled rage. "Shame…" she whispered at first. "Have you no shame!" she shouted shoving her way into her room. The three druids turned and bowed.

“G-great Lucia, if we have done anything to offend you--!”

"Get out! Out out out!" she said pointing to the doorway. "You've betrayed my trust, you've violated my privacy and you've lost my favor!" she said, angry tears flooding down her twisted face. She frantically began to grab her things and began stuffing them into her pack. "If this is what means to be a Helgen then I refuse! I'm a person! Not some object of worship!" she said out loud, before shoving her way out of the room again and into the hallway. She needed to leave. The druids looked heartbroken.

“B-but we merely meant to praise you and your mother’s glory, great Lucia!” Meanwhile, the others were heading out.

She turned to face the one she spoke and said, "If you think Oraelia would want you to violate her daughter's privacy to praise her, not even to mention myself and how I feel about it- Then you'd be wrong!" and on that note she spun around and made a hasty retreat to the exit. In the hallway, she bumped into Kaer Pinya, Kaer Togen and the others, all of whom appeared to have heard the commotion. Kaer Pinya reached out with a frightened frown on her face.

“My dear, please! Know that they didn’t mean it to be unpleasant for you - none of us have intended so!” she pleaded.

Lucia's tattoos prevented Pinya's touch with a careful flick. "I don't care what you thought! If you want to worship, then worship the gods! Not me! Everyday you've held me on some platter not once asking how I felt or if I wanted to be praised! And yet you treat Sanya like she doesn't even exist! My mother sees all as equal! Pray to her for forgiveness because I'm done." she said pushing past them.

The druids looked at one another, completely baffled. As Lucia left the building, one of them asked, “Who is Sanya?”

That sentence came like a blow, but instead of turning around and confronting the person she kept on walking. Those too blinded by faith, only saw what they wanted to appease their gods. She kept on walking and she didn't look back.


Oraelia stirred, having slumped from a daze. She sat upon her porch, long after Evandra had gone. They had watched the clouds for a long time, enjoying each other's presence. She knew not how long it had been since then, for her mind had wandered after consuming the berries. It was a period of low, but not entirely terrible. She wanted more, but Evandra had warned her of consuming too many. Nevertheless, she left a bush in Oraelia’s realm. Oraelia just had to make sure a certain Genesis didn’t find it. She could only imagine what they would do to her.

Oraelia got up and traveled back inside, up the stairs. Perhaps Genesis had finally awoken? She arrived at the room and opened the door quietly. She scrunched her nose when she saw the same familiar bundle under the covers. The slow rise and fall reassured Oraelia that Genesis still breathed and thus, was still alive. As she shut the door, the thought was an odd one, needing to breathe being a God. She hadn’t needed to when there was no oxygen, yet it felt so natural. She rubbed her brow as she went down the hallway.

She opened the door to her room. Her room was far larger than depicted from the outside. A vaulted ceiling with two massive skylights in the roof hung far over her head, illuminating the rich comforts the room offered. Such comforts she had no idea existed until she willed them to be. There was gilded furniture, a grand bed that could fit her, Gibbou, and three Genesis’ comfortably, and a variety of live plants as well as a small trickling fountain that worked as a stream running down several layers where it sat in the corner. She made a beeline for her dresser, where a mirror awaited her. She sat down and went to work on her hair, putting her wavy locks up into a messy bun. Loose strands fell down either side of her face as she looked at herself. Satisfied, she got up to leave but paused as she took in her figure.

She wore nothing. She did not feel ashamed of her nudity, but perhaps it was time to take a page from Gibbou. She snapped her fingers and a wardrobe appeared beside her dresser. She opened it to reveal many clothing items with another mirror on the inside of the door. She began to rummage through, picking one she liked to keep and snapping the others out of existence. She would have to do the same with Genesis once she awoke. For now, she chose a short dress, sky blue in color with two small straps. She looked at herself in the mirror and frowned. It needed something. She rubbed her chin and then realized what she was missing. Deep within her wardrobe she reached and pulled out a sunhat. Large brimmed and cozy, it nestled upon her head and complimented her look. She smiled and shut the wardrobe before leaving the room.
Oraelia headed downstairs and outside, where she went for a walk. But a short time later she paused as her thoughts turned to the mortal world below. She answered prayers, healed those she could and offered her advice where she could. She checked on Solus, only to find him ripping apart a stone troll, throwing it’s chunks at those who fled before his radiance. Oraelia paused in the path as next she watched through his eyes as he extended a hand to a fallen caravan. Bodies dead, children crying- loss. It broke her a little further.

She knew it was happening all over Galbar. Try as she might, she could not be everywhere all the time, and neither could Solus. Nor could Lucia, or Sanya. The druids were a good start, but she needed more. Another solution.

Beings who could wield her light, who could help those in need with love and compassion yet still protect with a guiding hand. An idea struck her, but she couldn’t do it alone. She would need help and she knew exactly who she would seek.

”Neiya? Can you hear me?” she asked, sending her thoughts towards her sister.

A moment of silence followed, enough to convince the less hopeful that no reply would be forthcoming. Then, the familiar spark of connection, thoughts returned. ”...Oraelia? Is that you?” a thought bubbled back to Oraelia, along with a stretch of emotional turmoil. A brief pang of anxiety, and uncertainty. ”...Is something the matter?”

Oraelia grew concerned at Neiya's response but carried on. "Um… No, everything is fine. I just wanted to talk with you about a proposal I have. Is that alright? If now isn't a good time I can get back to you later if you'd like?" she said gently, letting her warmth go Neiya's way.

The brief wash of emotion faded away, and it wasn’t long before a conscious stream of more vibrant feeling returned in an initially silent response to Oraelia’s warmth, before the goddess of love responded properly. ”What do we have if not time? I will hear your proposal.”

Oraelia smiled happily and became giddy. "Excellent! Okay so lately I've been seeing a lot of people who need help down on Galbar and I can't be everywhere at once as much as I'd like to be so I thought why not take a page from Gibbou's book and create a race who can protect life during the day. Obviously I can't do it alone and I thought who better to ask then my sister Neiya! With her love and compassion and my life and sunlight we could do a lot of good. That is if you're willing?" Oraelia asked, out of breath as she sent her happiness towards Neiya.
There was a brief pause, before another reply came. ”With my love? I am touched that you thought of me, Oraelia. I have only ever joined in the creation of one species, so I am worried that you will have to guide me. I wish for nothing more than to show my love to the world beyond, if you would have me.”

"Don't worry about it, I've only created animals so you're already ahead of me!" Oraelia said. "So yes, I would have you."

Oraelia was assaulted by another short wave of emotion, a warmth not unlike what she had responded with in the past. ”Perhaps we could meet? This sensation we are sharing now is taxing and unfamiliar to me. A being so bright should be admired in person.”

"O-Oh of course! Uh, Genesis is still sleeping so I'm free to go to your realm or you can come to mine. Usually I'd just recommend coming here but if you're more comfortable in your realm I that's okay." Oraelia sai.d.

”I would love to see your realm one day, Oraelia,” the distant goddess replied. ”I must confess however; I’ve had some… unfortunate… encounters with our kin recently, and this shared land between our realms feels very foreign to me. It would mean so much to me if you came to see me in my realm. Perhaps you could help me spark some life in it.”

"I can do that for you." she said with sympathy in her voice. "I'll be there soon."

Again the goddess was met with a brief wash of relief and warmth in their shared connection. ”I look forward to your visit. I will ask the trees to bloom in your honor.”

The connection faded between the two and Oraelia began to walk off over to her portal. Before she did that however, she went and checked on Genesis one last time, just to make sure she was sleeping. And the little plantie was, so as much as she didn't want to go, Oraelia locked the door on her way out and then left her own realm after a quick walk. She then hesitated again before reassuring herself that Genesis would be okay.

It wasn't long before she came before the familiar view of Neiya's portal. Tentatively she took a deep breath and then passed through.

The realm beyond was not a particularly inspiring view for the Goddess of Life. Much like she had sighted the first time she had gleaned through the jagged tear that was the entrance to Neiya’s realm, the landscape was dominated mainly by a barren and wide plain, with short stalks of grass almost ashen grey in colour, and the dirt below seemed lifeless and bleak. All around her were sparse pockets of dark trees, with twisting branches that hung in wait for a bloom that seemed like it would never come. A river cut through the landscape, a rapid stream of clear water, seeming to wind endlessly in the distance. Perhaps even more out of place was the singular, dark wooden door that seemed haphazardly halfway between the entrance to the realm and the river. It had a golden doorknob, with a shining amethyst embossed on it. A stark contrast to the rest of the landscape.

That seemed to be all there was to Neiya’s realm, until a single motion caught Oraelia’s view. Past her eyes sailed a small deep blue butterfly, fighting through the quiet realm to fly off into the distance with determined beats of its wings. Its destination could be sighted in the distance, a single dense grove of trees upon the plains. They were unlike the rest she could see; even from her distance she could see the bloom of soft pink and hues of gentle red. Petals whirled with a gentle wind, raining the ground below with a bed of soft pink. A tranquil scene in an otherwise troubling landscape.

Oraelia made her way there. The walk was dreary, perhaps even a bit depressing but that didn't stop her from looking to the horizon. It did leave questions on why Neiya's realm was so bleak, however. She would have to ask her sometime. Oraelia broke through the treeline, and stepped into the thicket.

It was like entering a different world entirely. The gentle rustle of trees, the falling petals, a whole throng of butterflies peacefully sailing around. If the entire realm had been like this, it would have been a paradise. As the bright goddess continued, another new sight became apparent. The trees parted and gave way to a clearing nestled deep within the miniature forest. Again, the quiet rush of the river made itself apparent, snaking from one side straight through the grove and out the other. In the middle of the clearing sat a sizable pavilion, hewn masterfully out of marble and granite. A small path interspersed with white flagstones pushed the river aside to give access to the pavilion, which was otherwise surrounded by the clear water. As though the trees had ended already, Oraelia felt her feet touch the first smooth stone on the path.

Even from afar, she could see the easily recognizable silhouette of the love goddess, sat reclined on a throne of sorts, embellished with silver and draped ornately with fine silks in blue and silver.

Oraelia waved as she approached, a smile breaking out on her lips. "Hey Neiya! Isn't this just a lovely little place? It makes me so happy." she gushed as she made her way into the pavilion.

Neiya rose from her seat as the life goddess approached, the ever present frown a thin and mellow purse of her lips rather than any clear display of displeasure. Feet on the marble, she stepped forward to meet Oraelia as she walked into the refuge at the centre of the thicket. She bowed her horned head with a tranquil grace, clasping her hands formally in front of her. ”Thank you for the kind words, Oraelia. It pleases me that you like it. I must say I consider it peaceful. When I asked them to bloom on your behalf, they could not resist.”

Oraelia smiled as her body grew slightly brighter. She then gave a curtsey in return, dipping her head lower than average. As such her sunhat slipped off her head. She looked back up at Neiya with embarrassment before grabbing her hat and putting it back on. "S-Sorry about that. It's a new look for me." she confessed. "You're too kind Neiya." she then continued, "I'm surprised your realm isn't always like this. To be in the presence of love is to bloom with life."

Ice-blue eyes followed each motion of Oraelia’s, each twist and shift in her features and demeanour. Her head tilted gently as she watched the goddess, a slight narrow of her gaze with no following change to her expression or tone. ”We are both trying beguiling new looks, then,” she offered with a gentle lift of her hand towards the blooming trees. ”As you say, love is an unstoppable sensation of life. How fitting then, that we are here together now.” Neiya took a single step towards Oraelia, hand raising slowly and tentatively as she continued. ”What wonders shall we make today, Oraelia?”

Oraelia tilted her head, eyes twinkling as she looked at Neiya and then to her hand. "Here, let me show you! It'll be easier than explaining." Oraelia said before grabbing Neiya's hand with both of hers, much to Neiya’s apparent surprise. A feeling of warmth flooded into Neiya as a vision of a man came before her. He was young, with huge bird-like wings, a flaming sword and halo of sunlight hovered above his head like a crown. The image faded as Oraelia left her impressions on Neiya of a race molded after him. Oraelia then spoke as Neiya's vision came back to view a giddy sun goddess. "I daydream a lot but that's the general idea. A race of humanoids who can fly, protect the life that they will come to love and flourish under the sun. I think you and I could make them through use of our avatars. The Luminant will be their home, I've seen from my holy site that there lives small colonies of humans and Sylphi there. They would fit right in before expanding to help the rest of the Toraan, then the world! What do you think?" she said enthusiastically, letting go of Neiya's hand.

Neiya retracted her hand as she flexed her fingers, watching the happy sun goddess intensely. For a time, she remained like that, lost in her own thoughts, until she blinked at last and lifted her chin ever so slightly. ”Certainly an impressive vision, Oraelia. Such a being would be free, able to spread love to all corners of the world, just as you said. Unhindered and strong.” she said, with a deepening frown twisting her features. ”For too long did I suffer the cries of anguish from the mortals beyond. This would be a force to be reckoned with. To put the savagery to rest once and for all, and allow love to flourish.”

Oraelia looked at Neiya, her golden eyes going wide as she noticed the frown upon her face. "You've... Suffered sister?" she asked quietly.

”No.” Neiya responded with some clarity, though her eyes held their sorrowful expression as she regarded Oraelia. ”Or, perhaps I have,” she continued musing, exhaling a slow breath as both her hands reached out to mimic Oraelia’s past gesture, seeking a single hand to grasp hold of with gentle grace. ”But no more than a parent suffers when their children stumble and fall. I-... I don’t have an avatar. Cadien said that it was reckless. But I fear I have waited for too long to reunite with our children.”

Oraelia smiled as she gave Neiya her hand. She then said, "Oh Neiya… It's never too late. I should know, I left my daughter upon Galbar while I slept and only now am I building up the pieces of our relationship again." she gave a gentle squeeze. "The only thing reckless is not trying and letting the problem or problems we face, go on further. The mortals need us, perhaps more now than ever before. Why not try?"

A flash of determination ran through the Love Goddess’ features, followed by a definite rush of a tingle communicated through their touch as emotion seemed to roil within Neiya. She nodded at Oraelia, taking another step closer to diminish the gap. ”You’re right. Nothing will happen if we do not make it happen. You’re as wise as you are bright.”

Oraelia grew even brighter still as she shuffled on her feet, bobbing her shoulders up and down as she looked to her feet and then to Neiya's face. She felt strangely nervous in Neiya's presence. "Y-You're too kind. I just like helping people, and inspiring them. That's all." she said bashfully, heart pounding in her chest.

”You’ve inspired me with all kinds of ideas, Oraelia,” the horned goddess uttered with a breathy whisper, gently leaning forwards as she gave her hand a gentle squeeze, eyes intently watching her yet. ”I look forward to sharing them with you.”

A pause, a gentle crane of her neck, and then Neiya gently released her hand. She lifted both her hands upwards, gently grasping the sunhat and adjusting it to rest neatly on the shuffling life goddess’ head. With that, she swept to the side with a silent drift along the marble and drew a long, tranquil breath. Her hands ran to touch Oraelia’s shoulder with a few brushes of her fingers. “But perhaps we should begin with yours? Perhaps it is time I create an avatar. For both of our benefits. Do you have any ideas?”

Oraelia straightened herself and fixed the creases in her dress as she looked at Neiya with fascination. She felt all sorts of things about her but she needed to remain focused. "Avatar. Yes! Um well, if you don't have any concrete ideas, perhaps you could mold him or her after what I showed you?" she inquired.

Neiya lifted a few inches from the ground, hand lifting to gently touch at her own chin in brief thought. Relieving Oraelia of her immediate presence, the horned goddess floated a small distance towards the wide river that ran alongside the edges of the pavilion. ”Yes, I should very much like to try. she concluded as she turned back towards the Bright One. Neiya drifted back to Oraelia, coming to touch down on the ground beside her. ”So, I-... shape something out of my own essence?” Hand lifting, she closed her eyes and focused her attention forwards. The wind around the pavilion picked up in an instant, whipping and howling as flurries of petals spun into the river in beautiful patterns. One such spiral carried with it water as it spun into the pavilion itself. Gentle threads extended from the Love Goddess’ hand, wispy tendrils that seemed to reach out towards the spiralling energies. The strands connected, and with a sharp breath the goddess visibly imparted part of herself, letting her divinity flow free towards the spiral of petals and water. The result was a whirling cascade of colours, deep blue, gold, pink. It spun in place like a typhoon, slowly taking shape to something vaguely humanoid.

With a final exhalation of expended effort, Neiya lowered her hand, and the tornado fell still, washing over the stonework they stood on. As water and petals washed away, in its place stood a pale woman with dark hair, several heads taller than a mortal human, though not unlike them - or indeed Neiya herself - in features. On her head were a single set of dark horns instead of a halo, though other than that she had not inherited Neiya’s horned attributes. Under her eyes were patterns in the same likeness as the Love Goddess herself. The woman blinked at the two divine observers, and immediately knelt to the ground subserviently. On her back was a pale comparison to the envisioned wings of Oraelia’s idea; more akin to the coloured plumage of a bird, a wingspan barely made itself apparent in a blend of blue, gold, and pink intermingling to form new colours.

”...Not exactly what you showed me. It was-.. Hard to focus. I’m sorry, Oraelia.” Neiya concluded wistfully as she beheld her creation, who waited dutifully knelt on the ground.

A reassuring hand fell upon Neiya’s shoulder as Oraelia went to her side. ”Nonsense! She’s beautiful Neiya! And so… So tall! I love her already, but she does need a name, don’t you think?” Oraelia gushed as she looked at the new avatar.

”A name? Yes-.. I’ve never. Never named a being before,” the horned goddess admitted with a certain glee shining through her worries and woes. ”How about… Aveira?”

”Aveira.” responded the avatar, lifting her chin to look up at the two. She smiled, a confident and charming affair. ”I know my purpose. The time for action is now. Love must be allowed to spread.”

”Welcome to life Aveira!” Oraelia exclaimed, clasping her hands together. ”Yes! Love should spread and you’ll be such a great help! Through you wars can end and the land can be in peace and harmony. Oh, it’s wonderful!” she looked back up at Neiya. ”I’ve sent Solus to the Luminant, he should already be there actually.” she said, rubbing her arm. ”I may have sent him there before I came to see you, but it worked out!”

”Her will is my will,” Neiya offered crisply to her avatar. Aveira nodded sternly in turn, still knelt on the ground. Without another word, the winds picked up again, and the water on the ground began to twist and roll along the stone. Before the two goddesses, a vortex of water and energy spun into motion beneath the avatar, and the ground opened up beneath her, offering brief and chaotic glimpses of what was unquestionably the Luminant. Aveira sank into the vortex as she rose to her feet, and as swiftly as it had picked up, the vortex closed and vanished, leaving the stonework wet and with the avatar nowhere to be seen. Somehow, Neiya managed to look both incredulous and pleased with herself. ”I can-.. I can see so much, now.”

"Avatars are incredibly useful. They provide us with a stronger connection to Galbar. Ingenious really." Oraelia mused. "Ah, I can see Solus just found her. Are you ready to begin?"

Neiya turned to look at the bright goddess. After a moment of hesitation, her hand reached forwards, fingers nestling against Oraelia’s own hand. ”Guide our way, Goddess of Life, and we will begin a new era for Galbar. Together.”

Oraelia took Neiya's hand within her fingers and then grabbed her other and faced her. "Together." she nodded before closing her eyes.

Like before, the area around them began to gust, sending leaves, flowers, and buds into a frenzy in the air. Oraelia’s breathing slowed as she worked through Solus’ eyes. Aveira was beside him, good. She could feel Neiya waiting for her, and without further ado, the Goddess of the Sun beckoned life to come.

And they came.

From the trees, from the ground, from the very air, they came. Beings from her imagination, taking shape before her very eyes. They started as shimmers, hazy and without form, but slowly, ever so slowly- They took shape. A torso here, a hand there, a head, feet. It was a delicate process, one that could not be disturbed and the Luminant knew this, for not a sound could be heard in the land. More and more materialized, wrapped in their wings, eyes shut to the world around them. They took Aveira’s height, these… Aiviri, yes. Aiviri was what they would be called and the tallest of them was half of Solus. They had white wings, golden hair, and many different skin tones. Most were quite attractive, their features soft and kind to the eyes. Oraelia ushered them to wake, breathing in precious life to their souls. Slowly and surely they began to open their newborn eyes, amazed at the world around them.

Yet, they needed more, Oraelia knew this. Simple white garments materialized around them as a start. She then unlocked within them ability to use her sunlight as a tool for life and growth. Next she let the sunlight nurture them, renewing their bodies but not age, so that they could always be youthful and in a prime state to protect life. As she added these traits to the Aiviri, she felt a pinprick in her mind, intrusive and alarming. She reached out to Neiya questionally, but stopped when she saw what her sister was doing.

Visions and emotions streamed through their connection, flashing before Oraelia’s eyes and consciousness in equal measure, joined as she was in both hands and energy to the Goddess of Love. The intrusive pinprick became an overbearing ache as images of pain, injury, suffering and war flowed free to mingle with their new creations. She saw her constructs once more, and became intimately aware of an endless variety of weaponry - polearms, swords, bows. If another mortal race had used it, it seemed to bubble to the surface now, reimagined as long and sleek weapons of light. With it came a primal knowledge, the means and intent do to harm. The authority of power, and stewardship through force. Though she had come to work alongside the love goddess, there seemed to be no such emotion spared for their shared creation.

An audible gasp ran from Oraelia, ringing loud and clear between them. She spoke between the connection they shared, horrified. ”W-What are you doing N-Neiya!”

But Neiya did not reply. Oraelia felt her hands gripped tight, saw through Solus how Aveira lifted up off the ground as a vortex of divine energies continued to flow unabated and with ever greater force to manipulate their new creations. Violence, resentment, even outright hatred rushed through gods and mortals alike at increasing intensity. What was at most a harrowing sensation for the sun goddess was taking a greater toll on the Aiviri, some of whom fell to the ground helplessly, twisting in agony as their minds were assaulted. Others raised their eyes and arms to the sky to accept this new sensation, and Oraelia saw the features of her creation begin to warp before her eyes. Wings were staining in new colours, both natural browns and terrifying hues of red and black. Aiviri turned pale as snow as life itself and all joy seemed to drain out of them. A building sense of malice rocketed through her connection to Neiya - a perpetual dread that warped the very being of the Aiviri.

Oraelia tried again in vain to stop Neiya but she saw how her sister warped the Aiviri and how those who had fallen were in such agonizing pain. She turned her attention to those in such a poor state, flooding them with her life and mending, enveloping them with her light. She protected their features, golden hair and sunkissed skin. Their features grew kinder, softer, and within them blossomed an ability to heal. She attempted to change back those that Neiya was influencing but it was no use, more and more fell so Oraelia protected more before her sister’s touch corrupted them further. The Luminant was no longer quiet, but a maelstrom of emotion and turmoil.

Oraelia spoke again to her sister, ”Neiya! Stop this! Please!” she cried loudly.

The goddess of love was not listening, as Oraelia’s only reply was continued assaults upon their creation, a painful grip on her hands to keep them both in what had once been a tender hold. ”Y-You’re hurting me!” Oraelia cried out again, struggling to break free.
When no more remained of the Aiviri - either twisted into a terrifying shadow of the peaceful guardians they had been intended to be, or blessed by Oraelia’s light to resist the scourge of dread and pain, the twisted creation of Neiya’s turned their attention upon their former kin. From Solus eyes she saw Aveira lower her arms, turn towards him with malice in her gaze, and redirect the last of her divine energy towards him, an act of betrayal just as the creation she had helped twist.

Solus was struck in his chest, the mighty giant falling over from the blow. As he landed, her connection to him faltered and Oraelia opened her eyes to see a maelstrom of energy not unlike the one that had assisted in the creation of Aveira - only now it enveloped the both of them and the pavilion, a raging torrent of divine energy that seemed to center on them. It flowed over Neiya in waves, who not unlike the Aiviri had warped and twisted in shape; a process she was still undergoing as Oraelia opened her eyes to the chaos. Her skin had gone from merely pale to a white, with flowing white hair cascading down over a slimmer face. The ice-blue eyes stirred with renewed vigor, red and black swirling with an animosity reflected only in the horrors of emotion she had made Oraelia suffer. Gone were the horns, replaced with bony extrusions on her face and shoulders that melded seamlessly with her skin. Metal-like jagged edges grew out around her protectively, dangerous ornaments of beauty and violence. Fingers like talons dug into the sun goddess' hands, the frown on Neiya’s lips tantamount to disdain.

Oraelia looked down at her hands, now dull, almost ashen in color. She saw her ichor dripping down on the floor, and looked back up at Neiya, horrified. She tried again to free herself but struggled in vain against her sister’s iron grip, ”Let go of me!” she shouted as tears streamed down her face.

”You wanted my attention, Oraelia.” the once-horned goddess echoed with a venomous, haughty tone. ”Here it is. My undivided attention. Now you don’t want it?” Neiya breathed a sharp chuckle, equal measures fascination and malice. She lifted from the ground as the swirl around them dissipated, forcing Oraelia up with her. A brief, painful lift, before she rocketed forward, crashing them both up against one of the pillars holding the pavilion up. Oraelia finally had her hands free, but at the cost of the rampaging goddess pushing her in place. White talons reached to touch her chin. ”I thought you understood, my sweet. We must take action. The naivete of love through guardianship is a delusion. We must bring love to them. We sit idle for a breath, and a thousand mortals suffer.”

A shocked look was on Oraelia’s face, as she attempted to push her sister off her, but it was no use again. She shook her head, rearing from Neiya’s touch as she spoke back to her, ”No no no! This isn’t what I wanted Neiya!” she struggled again to break free, ”I only wanted your help and now you’ve gone and twisted them! Why! Why would you do that! Just let me go!” she cried looking up at Neiya with fear in her eyes, ”You brought violence to them! Not love! And violence brings suffering! You hurt Solus! You hurt them!” she gritted her teeth.

Neiya flashed an expression of unfettered fury, the storm in her eyes swirling without mercy. ”You’re as ignorant as the others, Oraelia. I did you a favor, and you fight me. Do you think love is free? Do you think love is simple?” she spat out with building frustration on top of her already hair-trigger temper. Her eyes stared straight into Oraelia’s own, as her clawed fingers reached out to caress the sun goddess cheek. ”Let me show you what love truly is.”

Neiya’s palm rested itself firmly against Oraelia’s cheek, cupping her face forcefully as her eyes filled and turned as white as her skin. After the briefest pause, an onslaught of emotions barraged Oraelia’s mind; a wild and unfocused maelstrom made up of worry, sorrow, hatred, despair, longing and dread. Interspersed were brief flashes, memories of peace. Pink petals falling to the ground. Images of Cadien’s embrace. An ocean. Lovers declaring their love for eachother. The crying humans on the riverbank, and what they felt as Neiya called their sorrow to the forefront, and the anguish as they realized their friend was a murderer. Any peace, any joy, lost in a constant barrage of pining, loss, envy, and unrequited love. It was maddening.

The connection broke after what felt like an eternity, talons gently scraping along Oraelia’s skin in a twisted caress as her palm lifted. ”Now you see. Now you understand. We can spread love together. Whatever it takes.” she uttered with considerable calm.

Oraelia’s eyes were hollow. Her entire body had lost its lustrous shine, her light had faded as she looked up at Neiya with a gaunt face. Everything she had felt, every bit of emotion, came as a blow over and over again. It ruined her, and was draining. Yet Oraelia could not help but feel sorry for Neiya, she was no longer so afraid of her or so angry. It all made sense, since that day so long ago by the riverbank. She had just been too blind to see it. Neiya was Love, yes, but she focused on all the negative and in that moment, Oraelia pitied her and something else deep down. It took every bit of strength in her body, but she managed to lift a hand and place it on Neiya’s cheek. ”I…” she said weakly, ”I’m s-sorry. N-Neiya… There is m-more to Love, than t-this obsession y-you’ve inflicted... u-upon yourself.” she then gave her a small feeling, one she felt towards Gibbou, then to Genesis, then to life as a whole. It was not powerful, nor overbearing, but was pure. A gentle warmth, a kiss on the cheek, watching growth, feelings of doubt, a reassuring touch, the words ‘I love you.’ They were her own feelings of love, and she knew not if it was enough, but she had to try to show Neiya, even with all the bad and the negative, the positive still existed. Through all the tears and pain, love could still endure. Her hand at last dropped, and a single tear ran down her face as she looked to see what Neiya would do to her next.

Neiya’s dark eyes opened wide, transfixed and wholly surprised by the rush of emotions, despite its waning strength. It seemed enough to shock her, and in the aftermath of Oraelia’s reply, the ivory skin under her eyes burned with a warmth and gentle colour that seemed to stir great turmoil in the goddess. Her hand recoiled from the sun goddess face, her body shifting uneasily in place as she began to turn away. Given a moment’s hesitation, Neiya drifted away in shocked silence, releasing Oraelia from where she had trapped her, and letting her sink to the ground. Instead she hovered to the center of the pavilion, touching at her cheek in distant, demure thought with white talons as she hid her face from the exhausted Oraelia. Despite her treachery and brute assault, the anger did not seem to return, nor did she have a retort.

Oraelia, through her pain, smiled weakly at the sight. ”N-Neiya… It’s o-okay to… f-feel… ha-...” she tried to say, voice fading as her eyes fluttered shut.

Her eyes snapped open and she looked around, unfamiliar with her surroundings at first before she blinked and sat up slowly. She was in her room, tucked in. A wash of emotions came over her as the last thing she remembered was being in Neiya’s realm. She clutched her heart, the pain of those emotions still there like a dying coal. She looked down to her hands. They were barely glowing, having healed slightly, but the scars of Neiya’s fingertips were still there. Something wet fell on her hand, and her eyes focused on a golden tear. Why did that…? Her eyes began to water, before the floodgates opened. She tried to stop it by placing a hand over her mouth and wiping away her tears, but it was no use.

The Goddess of Life cried and for a very long time.

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