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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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Jungle Ice

Kia took in the new world around her with a sense of awe. She buried her feet in the sand and felt the fine cool grains in her hands. The air here smelled of salt and so many other things she hardly knew how to describe them. One thing she did know was that it was hot and sticky here and she was forced to shed her thick furs, even the layer under that. Now all she wore was loose cloth over her more sensitive parts, with a large gap between the two. She felt incredibly naked but with it, a strange sense of freedom. Though she was still hesitant, this curious place of green and colors caught her attention more often then not, and she did not dwell on the events that had brought her there.

Instead she made her way further into the trees, stopping and watching plants, animals and any thing else of interest that caught her eye. The world was so alive here and it was amazing. The creatures of Sunlight regarded her almost as curiously as she regarded them but neither tries to reach out to the other. It was only when the sun began to dip, casting the jungle floor into darkness did Kia realize how unprepared she was for the night.

Small winged creatures that buzzed and whined began to nip at her and she was forced to snack them off herself. She was thirsty and hungry and tired but had no shelter and no fire to keep her warm. She was beginning to think the Goddess had left her here as punishment for her crimes and then the sky opened up and a downpour was unleashed and she knew, it was definetly a punishment.

She managed to find a tree with a thick canopy of giant leaves and it was there she huddled in the dark while thunder boomed. She stuck her tongue out and collected the rain, taking deep guzzles, at least she had that going for her. She was completely soaked and her hair was plastered to her face, but at least the small nipping monsters had stopped biting her. It was a restless night.

She awoke with a start in the morning, sitting upright as she surveyed the trees. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Everything was quiet. Not even the drone of the small winged things were sounding. The sun was out, that was good but the air felt heavy and she quickly figured out why. Something bolted at her from the thick brush, a creature that had been in plain sight, she had not seen. She barely had time to react as it pounced her, diving out of the way but Kia screamed as it was able to claw her back, just below her left shoulder.

She stumbled up and into a run but slipped in the mud from the rain and the creature fell upon her. It was on her in seconds, tearing and biting into her arms as she shielded her face. It growled at her with hungry eyes and a blood coated face.

That was her blood.

Her desperation turned to anger and her screams turned into a great yell of frustration. There was a sickening crack as the animal was impaled by an icicle from the ground. Then another and another, lifting it into the air. As its blood ran down the blue ice and onto her face, the creature whined one last time before going silent.

Kia yelled again, feeling her anger boiling over but it did not last this time. Anger gave way to pain and she clawed herself from out under the creature. Every cut in her arms stinging like a thousand knife cuts. She was losing a lot of blood in the process and something wet obscured her left eye. She knew it was blood but whose?

After crawling away from it she felt her arms give out and she collapsed face down into the mud. Her vision began to go blurry, head swimming, screaming in pain. Darkness began to take her. The last thing she remembered was the promised life, a new chance, being cut woefully short. Then again, maybe she… deserved… this...

Something stirred beyond the reaches of her vision. Exhaustion, pain, darkness. So many barriers made it hard to move and think. A jabbing force pushed into her side firmly, stirring her senses out of its deathly haze for just a moment. Voices mumbled in another realm, unreachable and difficult to understand.

"....escaped unpainted? More.."

"...not dead.. ...Oruna might…"

The voices faded into the darkness, her pain radiating out to drown every other sensation again. She drifted out on an ocean of haze and darkness once more, succumbing to unconsciousness.

The cloying humidity burrowed itself down into her throat through nose and mouth alike. Intense warmth hung in the air, pushing against her skin. Bright and unpleasant light broke in through the meager protection her eyelids afforded, shining bright from above. Through brief, distressed glimpses of her surroundings she saw trees, huts and a small wind shelter pushed up around her.

The chief sensation however, was pain. Her entire body hurt. Her arms felt they had been set aflame, her back burned with relentless pressure. Reality came crashing back all at once, and with it just a small amount of will and energy. Then just as swiftly, energy poured out of her like a broken vase, and Kia felt the darkness clamber back in around her.

Another call back from the darkness came with the sensation of wet cloth laid against her forehead. Much of the pain was a distant memory, and almost entirely replaced by the heat of her surroundings. A foul taste grew in her mouth, a strange herbal mixture clinging to the space between tooth and lip. The sound of dripping water preceded a sensation of cold touch, as someone dabbed something wet and soft against her body.

It felt like a strange dream at first as she came too. Questions began to pop into her mind and a feeling of fear welled up inside. Where was she? Who was touching her? Kia opened her eyes slowly, not wanting to let her fear control her. Her eyes had a hard time focusing at first but when they did, she was taken aback by what she saw above her.

A woman with skin dark as wood and black hair loomed above her, with white and yellow patterns drawn all over her face and shoulders in strange and unnerving patterns. A bone sharpened on both sides had been pushed through her skin above her right brow, and then meticulously painted with red stripes. She wrung a small rag free of water, before dipping it in a bowl beside her. Above her was a rudimentary shelter of leaves, tanned hides and wood. Kia felt a hand on her chest, no real force applied but enough to keep her from jolting away.

"Welcome back to the land of living, pale one." She rattled off with quick speed. "You are lucky the Great Hunter is lazy this week, allowing you to walk back from his home."

She opened her mouth but no words sprang forth. The woman was unlike anything she had ever seen before and somehow, she could understand her. The drip of the water stole her attention for a second and she realized just how thirsty she was. It felt as if her mouth was bone dry. “W-Water…” she managed to say in a hoarse voice.

The woman clicked her tongue as though she had just realized at Kia's request, then quickly pushed up and vanished from her side. It gave Kia a brief opportunity to look around, and see the walls of a few clay huts, as well as at least a half dozen people milling about in the distance, each as strange as the woman she had met first. Man or woman didn't matter - they barely wore clothes, and seemed to be covered in extensive patterns in different colors, although a few had simply painted their entire torso with a single color. Yellow and white stood out as the most popular.

Before Kia had any real chance to process her sights in her weakened state, the woman reappeared with a dark cup, and brusquely moved it to Kia's lips. The first sip tasted like water. The second tasted like old socks.

"Fireweed and Jozu Beetle water," the woman explained. "It will ward away the Great Hunter."

She almost gagged, but drank it down regardless, swishing her tongue around her teeth. She eyed the woman inquisitive now. She kept saying Great Hunter, had that been what attacked her? Her memory of that time returned like a cold blow and she remembered its final moments, the look in its eye as it died. In a shaky voice, not so hoarse this time, Kia asked, “W-Who are you?”

The woman eyed Kia in turn, before inspecting the now empty cup. She set it aside and picked the rag back up. "My name is Oruna. I am Ta'zesh, but today I was asked to bring you back from the Great Hunter's lair. Our lifegiver left us for the great city, so I am doing the work of unpainted." She sighed quietly, putting a half-cold rag on Kia's shoulder.

She did not shiver at the cold, for Kia was complexed. None of those words made any sense, whatsoever. Strangely enough, she did not feel panicked at all. More or less, intrigued, curious even. “I know n-nothing of what you speak. W-Where am I?” she questioned.

This seemed to provoke great resignation in the woman - Oruna - who sighed and glanced away at first. Cleaning away at Kia's shoulder without turning her over, she glanced back to her. "You are in Zeshutaru, an ancestral village under the rule of Etana, and tributary of the great Zuanwa. My friends assumed you had escaped from there; I am sorry to say you only traveled a day away before the jungle took interest."

“S-Seshura? Z-Zoonwa?” She mumbled the strange names. She then shook her head. “S-She sent me here… The goddess…”

"The goddess?" queried the woman with a quizzical look. "Do you mean Uraka, Daughter of the Water? Is she your owner?"

“O-Owner?” Kia paled. “N-No. What was her name? R-R-Rhiona! She’s the Goddess."

"Ree-ona?" She returned and furrowed her brow. "That's not any name I've ever heard. Very unorthodox." Oruna professed and wrung out the rag again. "This goddess of yours will pay for you?"

“Pay for me… What do you mean?” Kia asked, suddenly alarmed.

"Well," Oruna began, and Kia felt her hand stroke over what had once been a wound. "None of your few scars are a mark, so you're not a slave. You claim someone brought you here, so you have a ruler. You're either unpainted, or from beyond the trees, and either way you are valuable to us."

Kia furrowed her brow and winced back at Oruna’s touch. “She’s not my ruler, she’s a Goddess! I came from a land far, far away. One of cold and i- I’m valuable?” It was a word she was not entirely familiar with. “What do you mean?”

Oruna chuckled quietly, but retracted her hand all the same. "A pretty face is worth many goods. If you have any skills, even better. Just from your coral-like skin, I'd wager we'd get a barrel of blue, at least. If you do not belong anywhere as you say then you belong to us."

This time, she did panic. “N-n-no! I’m not something you can sell! You don’t own me!” she said with defiance. She then began to squirm, trying to get away from Oruna. She had to leave! The pain that had been so woefully absent now made itself remembered as she stirred too much, and too fast. She winced and let out a huff.

Oruna's hands came down on her body with surprising strength, though seemed to make an effort not to hurt her too much. Her own struggling on the ground was enough to hurt. "Calm down, Coral. I didn't steal you back from the Great Hunter's lair to slit your throat now. Do not make the chieftess brand you for being unruly."

“My name, is Kia!” She groaned again, the pain of her cuts throbbing. With a great amount of reluctance, she did calm down however. If only because the pain was too great to bear. She looked back at Oruna and pouted, “Please, I thank you for saving me, but I don’t want to be sold and enslaved. I-I can be valuable to you. I swear it!” She pleaded.

Oruna paused for a moment, peering down at Kia. Apparently convinced of her calmness, she lifted her hands to let Kia suffer at her own peril. "It's not really up to me, the chieftess will want to do whatever she decides." She lamented. "Unless you mean to pledge to me specifically, I suppose, but I don't really have enough to take care of an unpainted."

“You keep saying that, but what do you mean?” She inquired. “Is it that colors you have on your skin? Who’s the chieftess? Does she live in the Zoonwa?”

Oruna rubbed a finger under her nose, peering at Kia as though she was offended. "There are many positions in our society. I am Ta'zesh, a hunter of the soil. The only ones for you to know are marked and unpainted. One is, well, a slave. The other is to be, hm, how to explain?" She mused and tapped at her lip. "Ah, yes. Owned. As for chieftess Etana, she lives over there in the biggest home." She continued idly, gesturing to a place in the village. "She's not going to like you, I think."

"Oh I see, in a way." Kia sighed. "Why won't she like me?"

Oruna shrugged again, settling back to sit more comfortably. "A simple feeling I have. You have pale skin, hair like gold and eyes like the ocean. With this unique look and your talk of a goddess she will think you are a Za'watem looking to usurp her, or a troublemaker because you ask so many questions. I too suspected you were Za'watem first, but the divine protect their messengers. And you are, you know, not so strong." Oruna concluded with a smile, and reached forward to give Kia's exposed stomach a firm pat.

“Not… Strong?” Kia looked to the floor and seemed to deflate a little. Maybe she wasn’t strong at all. Maybe… She knew one way to show her strength, but would it be the right thing to do? She looked at Oruna again and asked, “When I was found, did they find the body of the Great Hunter as well?”

Kia's question appeared to cause great amusement for the painted woman, who burst into a full laugh. "You cannot kill the Great Hunter. To be caught by him is to walk to your grave." She leant back on her hands, watching Kia with a puzzled smile. "The women who brought you in said nothing to me. Did you see him, Ke-... Kee-ah?"

Kia’s face grew red and she looked away. “But I… I killed… The creature that attacked me… That’s not the Great Hunter?”

"..Ah. No, I think not. You cannot see the Hunter, but his claws are in every heart when they take their last breath." Oruna lectured with a certain amount of warmth contrary to her previous behavior. There was an appraising glint in her gaze. "You are the one who killed the spotted cat? I assumed they had saved you in all ways."

“I’m not as weak as you think…” Kia said with defiance in her voice as she looked at Oruna again. Though, sometimes she did wish she was weak, maybe that way, Rorik would still be alive. Other times, she just couldn’t control herself. “The Goddess who sent me here, knew I could take care of myself, or at least that’s what she thought. But, I guess I disappointed again.”

"Maybe. If your goddess is not here, what difference does it make? The Daughter of the Water is the closest you shall come to the gods here." Oruna pondered with a following shrug. "Besides, if it is as you say, you have done more than most Ta'zesh can manage, on your own. We lose many foolish huntresses to the hungry jungle."

Kia's expression turned dark and distant all at once as her thoughts became muddied by her past. “I'm dangerous. I-I shouldn't even be here. I've killed so many, I need to be alone. If I get angry I lose myself." She seemed to be talking to herself now.

"For my sake you are free to leave. But Zeshutaru village took you in, stole you back to life, used valuable herbs. I think maybe the chieftess will say you belong here. Or at least until sold." Oruna countered matter-of-factly, presumably not that interested in Kia's dark warning. "If you can be useful, maybe you can find a generous owner and avoid being marked."

Kia locked eyes with Oruna. Fine. She would show them just how useful she could be. There was a cracking sound, and from the ground erupted a blue spike of ice whose point stopped a hands length away from the huntress' face. Oruna's eyes went wide, and the cocky huntress winced backwards in surprise, almost falling over her own weight and risking piercing herself on the spike out of sheer confusion.

Kia then brought up a hand and formed a ball of ice in it. She held it out to Oruna. All she needed was a simple affirmation.

“I can be useful.”

Rise & Shine

Lucia awoke slowly to the rising sun, but the warmth on her face was not the only thing she felt. Sanya was pressed against her back and she let out a happy sigh, so content to stay wrapped in her strong arms. She could not help but smile from ear to ear. It had been some time since that first kiss, and many more had followed as they made their way through the highlands and into the prairie. She had forgotten what it felt like to be in love- a true love where everything was reciprocated. Small touches, reassuring words, hugs and more intimate displays.

What was there not to love about life?

Lucia wiggled her way free of Sanya, trying her best to be as gentle and quiet as possible. Once free, she covered Sanya with the blanket and watched her peaceful face for a minute or two. Then Lucia used the embers of last night's fire to start another, and rummaged through her pack for some food. The deer had lasted them a good long time but now it was back to small game. They had been lucky enough to find some prairie birds, ones who used the tall grasses for cover. Now, Lucia prepared one with a split.

As she worked, she looked out over the landscape. They had picked a good spot, one of several rolling hills that made for good vantage. She could see a herd of bison and even a lone elephant drinking at a river. It was peaceful and she loved it, but she also knew this would not be where they would find themselves. Lucia scrunched her nose as she put the bird over the fire. With any luck, the smells would wake Sanya up. She stood up and placed her hands on her hips as she looked out again.

The prairie was a nice place, yes, but Sanya deserved better than grasslands. Lucia was really just swinging it, going due south west. Maybe they would go to the coast? She knew that desert was over there and that other mountain range, plus ocean. Maybe they could find something in between? She shut her eyes, picturing a small home beside a tranquil lake. It would have a beach, a sandy beach with clear blue waters. Good for swimming and fishing and berry bushes would be all around it and the birds would come in the spring and fall and eat and sing. She smiled again and from her lips there came a small poem.

”Oh what beauty there will be,
Taking it all in with quiet glee.
Wrapped in her arms beside the water,
Watching the world become a bit calmer.
It’s what I want and what she requires,
To be at peace for all time, our desire.”

She let out a breath and placed her hands on her cheeks, shuffling in place with childlike excitement. She put a finger in her mouth and bit it to stop herself and she looked back at Sanya. There was a part of her who knew how foolish she had always been, and a part of her that knew it was all alright now. She still kicked herself for not having tried so much sooner, but as the saying goes, time heals all wounds. And even after lifetimes, Sanya was still here, not beside her forever. At least she hoped. There was no one else for her, this she knew. Meghzaal was… She was grateful to him for what he had done for her and she would never forget him but now, now her heart was for Sanya and Sanya alone.

Lucia went back to the fire and turned the bird. If Sanya didn’t wake up soon, she would have to do it. Maybe with a couple of kisses on her cheek? She went and sat down beside her, but let her sleep some more. A cranky Sanya was never too much fun.

Then again…

Lucia brushed some of Sanya’s hair out of her face and then bent over to plant a soft kiss on her forehead. ”Sanya…” Lucia cooed, twirling a finger in her long black hair. ”Oh Saaaanyaaa…” she gushed. ”Will you sleep the morning away?” she smiled.

Sanya groaned quietly as she stirred from her peaceful slumber. "Did we win?..." she murmured just coherently enough to be understandable. When her mind followed her back into reality, she drew a long breath and squinted at the looming Lucia. Tired still, the warrior smiled.

The wooden beam was heavy enough to require a full hand to steady and a shoulder lift to carry, but Sanya was determined to get it in place without help. She swung it around slowly before hefting it up and sliding it into place above the archway to their fledgling home on the lakeside.

After Lucia had confided her dream home to her, Sanya had done all she could to drive the journey forwards to match dream with reality. She'd crested countless hills, talked to hundreds of prairie-folk, and refused to stop when Lucia suggested they settle in a place that wasn't what she'd fantasized about. At times she had felt the sting of Lucia's emotions, but Sanya had settled before. This was something beyond the temporary. It needed to be right.

Her persistence had paid off; they had found a grove on the edge of what could reasonably be called the prairie, within which a majestic lake spread itself beyond and into thicker forests. Clear water and light brown sand combined in a calming display, and life seemed to flourish all around it. It had been like walking into a paradise far from human influence.

Now they had made it theirs, though they'd been careful not to disrupt too much of the surrounding wilds, just enough to build a home that could overlook the lake. Sanya was used to living off of the land, and she doubted Lucia would ever get tired of the splendor of natural beauty. The crusade to find the perfect place had ended, and now they’d celebrate their second anniversary - something Lucia appeared to put great stock in - in the comfort of a home built by their own hands.

Sanya allowed herself a break to rub her hands and inspect her handiwork from outside, a foundation ready to be covered with a roof. Between her strength, endurance, and Lucia’s tattoos that continued to surprise her in new and exciting ways, construction and carpentry had been a lot easier than expected. Of course, it wasn’t Sanya’s first home construction, but beyond a few borrowed techniques for stability it was mostly fresh territory. She was convinced any living space would be adequate so long as they remained together. It had always felt like that, she mused to herself. Lucia had a charisma and warmth that made the outside world less important, a smile that let Sanya forget the memories of fire and war, even if only for a day at a time. The dark-haired warrior drew a long breath and found herself smiling ever so slightly.

Content with her work, Sanya rubbed at her cheek and stalked over towards the lake, where Lucia was hard at work with another important addition to a liveable home - furniture. After their first tour of the space, Sanya had watched her point and talk excitedly about her vision for how the interior would look, and had given Lucia free reign to install whatever she thought they needed. She wished she had the same spritely exuberance towards something like carpentry and living arrangements, but fortunately Lucia had enough positive energy and creative vision for both of them. Sanya paused halfway between the unfinished building and Lucia’s outdoor work space, watching the tattooed woman work with a unique blend of flippancy and dedication. No doubt it took endless mastery to guide her swirling tattoos to obey her into manipulating the world around her, yet it effectively gave her extra hands for tasks like these, which seemed to give her a strange opportunity to both be entirely focused on her work but also barely need to physically strain herself. Sanya watched her for a time, happy to just watch her partner and enjoy the simplicity of their shared existence. She stood dormant for too long, and Lucia caught sight of her with a simple glance towards the house. The dark-haired woman averted her eyes with a flush of embarrassment, before moving up towards Lucia properly, completing her journey.

Her hand slid out to touch gently on Lucia’s back as she stepped up beside her. She had tried to become better at touching; she could see Lucia’s mood rocket up towards the sky when she affirmed her affection. "Just the roof left, now.” she mused calmly, gaze sliding between Lucia and her work.

Lucia finished the last of her work on a chair before she set down her tools and her tattoos slipped back onto her body. She then gave her full attention to Sanya with a smile. ”It looks sooooo good Sanya! Why I could kiss you all over.” She bit her lower lip and moved closer. ”I suppose I can…?” she mused, reaching out and wrapping her arms around Sanya’s waist. Their lips met and for a time, neither the furniture or roof were tended to.

Lucia sat outside, underneath a shade of an oak tree that overlooked the lake. She and Sanya had frequented that spot more times then she could count over the years. It gave such a wonderful view, even now. She smirked, remembering the first time they sat in the shade and an acorn fell, hitting Sanya in the head as they…

A cool breeze rustled her long golden hair, she hadn’t cut in years and now it reached down to her lower back. She pulled her legs in tight and wrapped her arms around them. She wore some soft leathers and furs, but soon enough that would change. The leaves were beginning to turn colors. Into reds, yellows and oranges- which meant fall was fast approaching. It was her second favorite season, just after spring. All the colors of the trees were fantastical and she had written many poems about them.

Why, Sanya always liked those poems. She let out a sigh, looking around the lake to see if she could spot her. It was no use. One thing she had learned living with her, was that if she didn’t want to be found, you wouldn’t find her. But if she did want to be found, well, that was different. A memory of a night flashed in her mind. It was their seventh anniversary together and Sanya made a trail of flower petals that led into a small clearing in the woods. That was a magical night. Or their twelfth anniversary, where Sanya guided her down to the beach and they looked up at the stars. Lucia chuckled, remembering how Sanya had written a poem about her. It was the cutest thing and so, so beautiful. The next year, Lucia had to really think outside the box in what she planned.

That felt like it was days ago, not years though. They had lived happily together for so long and now… Well, fights are common in any relationship, right? They had small ones every now and then, easily resolved and worked through but this time... Lucia had never seen Sanya so, so… like she had been. But Lucia was not the Helgen so many thought her as. She was equally as to blame, if not more so. If she had just been a better listener, not gotten so worked up, perhaps it would have gone differently. Seeing the look of pain flash across Sanya’s face snapped her out of it, but by then Sanya was already out the door.

If she could just look to the future and not the past… Sorrowsting was no longer needed in the life they had built. There were no wars to fight, no people to save, no anger or pain, just happiness and love. Lucia shook her head, it was a selfish request on her part. To ask Sanya to get rid of her past… Why had she even done that? Was it jealousy? Over an object? How silly was that?

She sighed. Now what was said, was said, and it could not be taken back. She was sorry, she just wanted to tell Sanya that and how much she loved her. Perhaps then they could work through it, like they always did…

For a long time it seemed like Sanya had gone for good; the forest was quiet beyond the occasional bird or rustle of leaves and branches. The warrior had gone from calm to hostile in mere moments, from a few innocuous comments. It hadn’t been the first time they had brought up the spear in conversation, but it was the first time Lucia didn’t let Sanya evade the topic. That seemed to have been enough to open a well-spring that had been closed for many years now.

But as twilight fell over the lake and the song of birds had grown quiet, another rustle from the underbrush caught Lucia’s attention. The silhouette was unmistakable - Lucia had burned Sanya’s shape into her memory by now. The warrior wandered slowly back towards the lakehouse, shoulders slouched and head low. In the growing dark it was hard to tell at first, but as the athletic woman made her way towards their home it became increasingly clear to Lucia that Sanya’s hands were empty; the spear now missing.

Lucia quickly collected herself and made her way over to the house once Sanya entered it. She was anything but slow and her tattoo’s pulsed in the darkening light. She reached the door and with little hesitation opened the door and stepped in.

”Sanya?” she called out. ”Sanya I’m sorry okay? I was… I wasn’t thinking! I shouldn’t have been so rash.” she said aloud, knowing full well Sanya could hear her as she walked throughout their house, trying to find her.

She found her stood in the central living space, between the curtained window and the space towards the bedroom. Sanya, who seemed to have been looking around herself, slowly turned to look at Lucia. Her eyes were tinged with a deep and sullen sorrow, as though she had cried a week’s worth in the span of minutes. That wasn’t so remarkable in itself, it was once how Sanya had always looked - a cautious and vulnerable woman who looked eternally displeased. What was remarkable was that that look had vanished over the years, only making itself known now through its sudden return. Sanya drew a long breath as she watched Lucia, then averted her eyes. "...I got rid of it.” she conceded under her breath.

Lucia’s eyes went wide, it felt like she had been struck by some terrible blow and guilt flooded into her. ”N-No…” she gasped. ”Oh Sanya, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you that. I was being selfish!” her fists balled up and she felt anger towards herself. She saw how much she hurt Sanya, she looked so sad and it hurt. She took a few steps forward. ”We can go get it back. I-I promise I won’t say anything about it again.” she stammered.

She could see how her offer resonated through her partner, how gears turned in the sullen warriors’ head considering the words and an almost magnetic pull to accept and go back out to get the weapon. On cue her gaze shifted to peer out through the window towards an indeterminate spot in the forest. Her own fist clenched slowly, and she glanced away from the window. "No-... you are right.” she managed, although it seemed difficult to say. "If we… need it… I will go get it. Until then, it can stay buried with the… the past.” Sanya continued quietly, running a hand through her hair nervously. She glanced at Lucia with another look of hurt, though her words appeared genuine in their embarrassedly sullen manner.

Lucia took a few more steps closer. ”I can’t imagine… What you’re feeling. Our pasts are what make us who we are and I… I made you bury yours because I was jealous of a spear. Sanya…” she breathed her name, fighting back tears of her own. ”Oh Sanya, my love, I’ve made you hurt. I did not… I did not mean to.” She grew closer still.

Sanya produced a stiff shrug, averting her eyes. It was not often she actually cried - though she had once looked as though it was all she ever did - but now it seemed dangerously close to welling up. As Lucia drew closer, the warrior leaned in powerlessly as if expecting Lucia to steady her with her presence. "My past holds naught but pain. I want to-... I want to be here with you.” she confessed quietly.

Lucia all at once rushed forward and wrapped one hand around Sanya’s back and the other behind her head. She pulled her in tightly, tattoos peeling off from her skin and likewise, wrapping around Sanya, connecting them together in gentle warmth. Lucia whispered into her hair, ”I love you.” Sanya remained almost motionless for a while, simply existing in Lucia’s embrace. After nothing had been said for a long time, Sanya shifted her head up slowly, pressing herself forwards needily to search for a kiss, an expectant breath escaping her lips. Her own hands moved to grasp around Lucia. The time for talking was over, for now.

Lucia woke with a start, eyes opening as light flooded her senses. She could hear birds outside chirping and she sat up, feeling strange. Perhaps a little sad, the same sadness she had felt for a while now. She buried the feeling, as she always tried to do, before turning to Sanya, who was still sleeping next to her. She watched her for a time, one of her favorite hobbies, it was calming in a way. She looked so peaceful when she slept, free of emotions that haunted her within reality, though they hadn’t had to deal with that for a long time. Lucia frowned however, and hoped that Sanya wasn’t feeling what she was, she hated knowing that she could cause her misery. She shook her head before stroking Sanya’s face with her small soft fingers. She then gave Sanya a small peck on her forehead.

A small smile crossed Lucia’s lips but it faded as she got up and got changed. She reassured herself, today was a new day, and spring had arrived for the twenty-sixth season. It was hard to believe they had lived in their peaceful solitude for so long but they were thriving. Each year something new was added to the house. Another room or storage areas and outside another building was being erected, this one a barn of sorts. A lifestyle of living off the land was fine for a while, but she had wanted to mix it up and perhaps grow a few plants, maybe raise some animals too. It took some convincing on her part, but Sanya came around.

Lucia came to their fire pit and began to get a fire going. She rummaged around in their cabinets and tables, cleaning a bit as the fire got warmer. Lucia then went to the larder and found the smoked venison. It was good as it was, but warm food was always better, plus with some greens, even tastier. They’d have to go hunting soon for some more meat though, as their stocks were getting lower. It really was a good thing spring had arrived.

She looked out the kitchen window, to the greening lands and the blue lake. It was a time of color, of happiness, of warm breezes and the blossoming of more life. Lucia sighed, she should have felt so happy, everything was going well, things were good, Sanya was her rock and their love deepend still every day but there was just one thing that she felt was missing. Something made her sad, and brought about her inner turmoil.

Lucia paused and felt a well of emotion spring up inside her. She couldn’t stop the tears from coming, and she put a hand over her mouth to stop herself from being too loud. It was so sudden, like a dam had burst. She knew then, at the mere mention of life and what it evoked. Whose name it evoked. It came with crystal clarity and she realized why she felt the way she did.

She missed her mom.

Her mother, who she had not heard from in years. It was silly, hadn’t she been silent for two thousand years? But now, after she knew she was back… What had happened? Shouldn’t she be angry? Then why did she feel so sad? Why didn’t she just call out to her? Was she afraid? Why was she like this?

Not able to bear it any longer, she called out to the one person who had been there for her. Her source of comfort over the years. ”S-Sanya!” she cried, coming to a rest on the floor as she gripped her head, tears blurring her vision. It was selfish, she knew. She knew her pain caused Sanya pain, but Sanya relieved that pain, helping them both in the end.

Sanya was up and at her side at record speeds, one hand settling on her back and the other beginning to rub Lucia’s arm. Whatever pain reflected onto her lover seemed to only spur her understanding, as she kneeled down to embrace Lucia. "What’s the matter?” she asked with a soft voice still fighting off the immobilizing drug of sleep, though Lucia knew she could tell different types of sadness apart. She had said as much.

Lucia gripped tightly to Sanya, burying her face into her chest as she found her comfort. After a moment of collecting herself, Lucia began to speak. ”I don’t know, Sanya. I’ve been so sad and today, it all burst out. I think I… I miss my mother. She’s been so quiet for years now and I don’t know if it’s my fault or hers. I’m afraid to ask.”

Sanya let her find comfort in her presence, letting silence rule for a while. Her arms wrapped around Lucia properly, sweeping her up in a whole-hearted and compassionate embrace, one hand gently stroking over hair and back alike. "We can call for her together? Divine or not, she’ll have things to answer for.”

Lucia’s tears stopped flowing and she sniffed, letting the sensation of Sanya’s hands lull her to a happy place. She really had found the perfect person all those years ago. She wanted it to last but knew if her problem wasn’t addressed, they would get nowhere. She peeled her head back and kissed Sanya’s lips for a second, then looked in her eyes. ”Okay. J-Just don’t be too mean.” she said with a playful smirk.

She took a deep breath. Then she prayed to Oraelia.

She heard nothing for several moments, even looking to Sanya for any sort of acknowledgement but the warrior began to shake her head. That was until a presence entered their minds, one of warmth but… It did not feel the same.

A voice cried out, ”Aha! There you are! Oh it’s been so hard to find you two. Neither of you pray too much and when you do I’m always having to deal with other problem childs. One of the disadvantages of being an avatar I suppose but hey, I am oh so glad to finally meet you Lucia, Sanya. I of course know pretty much all about you, as I have all of My Ladies’ memories. But oh, where are my manners, I am Rhiona, caretaker of the Goddess’ realm and I have been waiting for you!” Rhiona finished excitedly.

Lucia was taken aback, and had no idea what to say.

Sanya looked less surprised and more frustrated, a rare look for her these days save when the fish wasn’t biting. "Fair day to you, Rhiona,” she began, speaking out into the house with a curt and stiff tone. "We were expecting the Sun Mother. Is she too important for her daughter?”

Rhiona’s voice lost its luster as she spoke again. ”The Sun Mother is not well and has gone to stay with her sister, Lady Gibbou, within her realm. She tasked me with guarding her realm and answering prayers. I cannot say why she hasn’t reached out to Lucia but I can speculate that it has to do with her not wishing to worry her daughter about her wellbeing. But I was hoping you could help with that. The both of you.”

Lucia’s eyes went wide. ”Mother is not well? What happened? Is she alright?” she asked, gripping Sanya’s hand tighter. Sanya squeezed her hand back in an emphatic response, watching Lucia rather than a fixed point above them.

”She lost someone close and spiraled down a path that was… Difficult to deal with alone. Without Gibbou arriving and snapping her out of it, she would still be aloof. She is physically fine and on the path to recovery but, I think we can help her along a bit further.”

Lucia raised an eyebrow at Sanya. ”What do you mean?” she asked Rhiona.

”Why, I mean a visit of course! She can’t go to you, but you can come here. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

Lucia’s jaw dropped. ”W-What?”

Sanya seemed to be equally stumped at that; rarely did her eyes widen, but this was one of those times. "We can-... go to the land of the divine?” she queried, eyes ablaze with new consideration. "What-.. What would that entail?”

”Well from my knowledge, it has never been attempted before, at least by Oraelia. Shouldn’t be too hard though, just a portal, then a strange sensation and then, you’re here in her realm. What do you say?” Rhiona asked.

Lucia could hardly believe what she was hearing and once again turned to Sanya with pleading eyes. ”Sounds like an adventure.” Sanya managed to look somewhere between shocked and intrigued, eyes aglow with all the implications this new information carried with it. She simply nodded, giving Lucia the go-ahead to gather her courage with another squeeze of her hand.

”We accept.” Lucia said.

”Excellent!” Rhiona cooed.

Next to them, reality pulsed and a tear opened up to reveal a golden portal. Fresh air blew across them, carrying sweet floral scents. The portal stabilised a bit and they could make out a silhouette on the other side surrounded by flowers.

A voice came through it. ”Come home.”

Lucia stood up, her hand still holding tight to Sanya’s. ”Shall we?” she asked.

Sanya stared at the portal with visibly mixed feelings at first, but glanced away from the ripple in reality to focus on her partner instead. With Lucia’s confidence returned enough for Sanya’s contentment, the warrior offered a small smile. "I suppose the fish will be spared my cursing today.” she proffered wryly, and then nodded firmly.

The two stepped through the portal, with a little hesitation and the strangest feeling came over them. The world felt small, then large, then time seemed to grow longer before shrinking. Lucia held tight to Sanya’s hand, and with what felt like a lifetime, ended up being seconds, it was over.

Lucia collapsed into something soft and she opened her eyes to a great light. It took her several seconds before they focused and when they did, she searched for Sanya. She found her located directly beneath her, having cushioned Lucia’s fall back onto solid ground. She didn’t seem all that torn up about it, however, offering another small smile when their eyes met, as much as the warrior ever permitted herself or seemed capable of to smile. "After you.” she murmured quietly.

Lucia gave her a quick peck, then stood, pulling Sanya up with her. She looked around and it took her breath away. The land was pristine, teeming with flowers and thick with life she had never even seen before. Giant bees lumbered around in the air, birds flew in the sky with tail feathers so long, they looked like rainbows and up above them… in the clouds there flew vast creatures of light.

”W-Where are we?” Lucia managed to say.

Sanya stepped in close, running a hand around Lucia’s waist. Her gaze was on the horizon, trying to take in the world around her. "It doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen,” she professed quietly.

”You are in your mother’s realm, The Garden Under the Sun. Welcome, Lucia and Sanya. To paradise.” Rhiona’s voice spoke from behind them and Lucia turned around to view her.

Oh she was so tall.


Heyo, join us here and we'll talk.
The Blood Reign II

Nalla leaned back on her throne, sitting idly like a cat might. She could not help but think of her exchange with Aurielle. The Sorceress had left days ago, maybe weeks, it mattered little to her, the passing of time. Yet it meant she dwelt on her own dark thoughts far longer than any might have the need for. She just couldn’t stop thinking about her. Like a flame, refusing to be snuffed out, it burned still on. Had her attempt to use Aurielle backfire on her? She had given results, yes, but at what cost?

Villages burned, people led like lambs to the slaughter, whispers of darker dealings, power and hunger… She had, perhaps, cultivated a monster within her kingdom and one that would continue to grow ever stronger. She let out a small sigh and reluctantly sat up at the sounds of approaching footsteps. They were just behind the door, which would open any moment. Except… It did not.

She cocked her head and let out a low hiss. There was blood in the air, she could smell its sweet aroma. She stood up and when she did, the doors erupted inwards and a group of ragged looking men, some wearing robes, some brandishing bows and arrows came through her door with war cries. Through the massive doors she could see her own guards rushing to her aid. How did these men get in here so easily?

“FOR BUL’GADIN! FOR TEPERIA!” They shouted, racing towards her with murderous intent. She would have to think on it another time. She grimaced as the first man, a rather lanky looking fellow who wielded a copper blade, swung at her. Nalla dodged with her uncanny speed, and brought her fist down, smashing the man’s arm. She then used her other hand to grab him by the shoulder and fling him across the room. He hit the wall hard and did not get up. An arrow whizzed past her head and another blade came down. This time she grabbed the blade by slapping her hands together, and then yanked it out of the man’s hand. Nalla smiled as she used the hilt to beat him over the head. He crumpled and his heartbeat became faint. Another arrow grazed her cheek and in a fit of rage she through the sword at the archer. It hit him sideways across his face but he fell regardless. She'd have to practice throwing weapons.

Having watched her so easily dispatch the two at the front, the four men that were behind them hesitated as they neared her. Across the room guards and the attackers died alike as a melee erupted in her throne room. Two then charged at her, followed by a third behind them. Nalla easily dodged their attacks with her speed, and used their weapons against them in quick succession.

The one who wielded a dagger ended up stabbing his friend in the throat, while the man who wielded a sword found it impaled in the back of the man with the dagger. He screamed, writhing in pain. Nalla then held the swordsman around his waist. He flailed trying to break free as the other two died with gurgling breath and fading moans.

Nalla then whispered in the swordman's ear ever so tenderly with the love of the Goddess. His face relaxed into a lull smile and Nalla bit into his throat. She took a deep drink of his aged blood, holding him tightly as lovers might, savoring every mouthful. When she was finished however, there was a sickening crack as she broke his neck. His body fell to the floor and Nalla turned to the fourth man, arms opened, crimson liquid flowing down the corners of her mouth and coating her chin.

He who had not attacked looked at her with horror on his bearded face. He saw a wild look in her eye, a visage of not a queen, but of a monster. That was what she was, was she not?

His resolve failed him and he tried to run but Nalla intercepted his path and once again whispered Neiya's love into his ears. She was not gentle this time and sank her teeth into his flesh with fervor. He was died within minutes and when his body left her grasp Nalla turned upon those that remained. Several guards now cornered two men and a woman who wore… Nalla's eyes widened.

She was a druid!

"Kill them! Kill them now!" She screamed, running over within seconds. Her men renewed their attack but the Druid was healed the two that defended her and Nalla cursed, not able to reach them. She began to speak in the ancient language as she pushed aside her guards with ease but the druid woman cried out,

"ORAELIA SAVE US!" There was a moment of silence and then a spear struck one of the defending men and the other was cut down with a sword. The druid became to plead for help but Nalla would have none of it.

"Be QUIET!" She commanded and the druid, plus all of her men and even the ones who were dying fell silent.

"Beat her, break her bones, make her suffer!" Nalla hissed as she pointed at the druid. She knew the gods were real. She did and she could not have-

As her men went to grab the druid, a light erupted around her and sent Nalla reeling back into shadows. From across the room her men became dazed and the druid walked forth from them, healing the dying men. A voice flooded into her mind, one so bright she felt as if she would erupt into ash.

"Nalla, touched by Neiya, by Tekret and by… Interesting." The voice was a woman's- No, a goddess! "What secrets might you have?" The goddess mused and Nalla felt a splitting headache all at once. She screamed. It was as if the very light was tearing apart her mind, sifting through her thoughts as memories flashed before her vision. Several of her memories the goddess lingered on, like Exodus and Aurielle, before she moved on.

When it was over, Nalla writhed on the cool stone, unable to lose consciousness. Unable to even open her eyes. That voice then returned. "Such a life you've made for yourself, built upon the backs and blood of innocents. I can see why Solus is so weary of vampires. Your mind is an ocean of hate and lust and I will no longer let you continue this way. The highlands suffer enough. They do not need you or your blight to persist. Goodbye Nalla and may you learn from this punishment."

Nalla let out a painful breath and grabbed her head. She opened her eyes to see the druid and some of her companions, gone. Then the earth trembled and the ground shook and a thousand voices began to scream out. There was a taste of something floral on the air for a brief moment, a flash of darkness and then silence.

A moment passed, it felt like a lifetime. Two moments passed, an eternity in the dark and upon the third moment the world returned in a chorus of rumblings, screams and quakes. The floral scent was gone and Nalla lay on the stone, flipping onto her back. She felt sick to her stomach.

It was there she lay for a time, catching her breath. When she felt steady enough, she stood up and stumbled to a wall. She used the walls to support her way out of the throne room and to her balcony. The light was blinding at first when she opened the doors but the shade was still there and she waited until her eyes focused.

When they did, she felt her heart drop. Nallan was surrounded by a sea of red.


"Solus!" Rhiona called out from Oraelia's realm. She lounged on a cloud, eyes shut as she listened to Galbar. Many things had alarmed her. Many things that a certain Lady of hers might have caused, but if Oraelia didn't know, then that was for the better.

She felt a vaguely familiar presence enter her mind, even though she had never met him before. It was her Lady's first avatar, one she called her son.

"Who… Are you?" The voice asked, powerful.

"You may search my mind to see the truth, Solus. I am Rhiona, caretaker of your mother's realm. We've run into a bit of an issue. Or several, that is." she said coolly.

Solus did not deign to answer but gave a satisfied rumble.

"Are you familiar with Ha-Duna? Druid land in the north of the place they call the Highlands. My Lady, your mother, she's given them many gifts and now they use her kindness to kill each other. Could you go and help those who remain faithful to the druid way of life?" she asked, stretching out.

Once again there was a long pause before the giant answered.

"Yes. Go… I shall."

Rhiona smiled. "Excellent! Thank you Solus. I'm here if you need anything else so do-"

"Someone… Help me."

The voice was small and sent a shiver down her spine. She took a quick peak to see a young woman, wrapped in furs in the middle of a blizzard.

"Solus, I'll talk to you later, duty calls. Ta ta for now." the connection faded and Rhiona then put her full attention on the girl.

"Oh you poor thing!" she said at once, flowing into her mind and warming it as she saw tragedy after tragedy.

The girl, Kia was her name, began to panic, thinking herself going mad by the cold.

"No, you aren't going mad my dear. I am Rhiona, voice of Oraelia, Goddess of Sunlight. I thought you felt familiar, now I see why. Well… You are not him and your path can still be changed." she said quickly.

"Goddess? Oraelia? The Spirit of the Sun? W-why have you come?" She asked.

"You asked for help and I have come, Rhiona that is. I'm Rhiona, my lady, your spirit, is out at this time. So now, let's see about getting you some place warm yeah?" she cracked her fingers.

"Warm… Yeah, that'd be nice." Kia said sheepishly.

Rhiona hummed as she thought about what to do for Kia. The north was a brutal place and she had no people. Plus her lust for revenge was growing steadily and the influence of less then desirable gods was taking root. She would have to do something a bit drastic and so, she snapped her fingers. A tear in reality opened up before Kia and through it there was a bright light. "Alright, step through the portal and you'll be warm." she sensed her hesitation and added, "I promise, there are no tricks here. You'll be safe and out of harm."

"Okay…" Kia half whispered before stepping through.

She arrived in the tropics. A place called Mydia. Rhiona knew that she would be safe there, at least safer then on Toraan. Hopefully. It would provide her with a fresh start and a chance at something new. Before Kia even had time to react, Rhiona blessed her with the capacity to understand any language, which would definitely come in handy.

Kia seemed to freeze up, whether by the intense light or the heat, it took her several seconds to register what had occurred. Then the panic set in.

"W-where am I? What is this place?" She said, turning around to see the portal fade.

"You are on a beach in a place far, far away from your old home. A place called Mydia! It's very warm here." Rhiona said, watching what she said.

Kia looked down at the white beach and moved her boot in it. "Mydia…? But why, I thought you would send me somewhere with a fire. Even a cave would suffice. I didn't want to go here!" Her voice became agitated.

"Kia, take a deep breath. This is for your own good. You can dislike it all you want, even hate me for it but one day you will realize this is what you needed. A fresh start, away from all the pain and tragedy that you were born into. You can start over here." Rhiona said softly.

Kia took a deep breath, and clutched her shaking fists together. "That wasn't your choice to make for me! You don't even know me! You don't even know the things I've done!"

She began to strip her clothes, sweat perspiring off of her as she struggled in her anger.

"Kia…" Rhiona began. "Trust me, please. If you truly hate it here, in a years time, pray to me again and I will send you back. Does that sound fair?"

But if at all Kia was listening, she said nothing. Rhiona refocused herself and to see that the girl had taken her boots off and was feeling the sand between her toes. There was a small smile on her face and Rhiona sighed in relief.

She would have to find her own way from there but Rhiona was confident she would be able to. Before she left Kia to her own devices however, Rhiona decided to leave her mark on the land.

She breathed a bit of her own life into the land that would mesh with the ecosystem. From the trees came snakes of dazzling color, vibrant yellows, oranges and reds. Much like their kin in the Luminant, except these she would name Sunsnakes and they would live in the tops of trees, luring prey as they mimicked fruits. But so too does predator need predator, and thus from the undergrowth came suncats, medium sized felines which looked like smaller Leons, except for a lack of manes. These cats came in patterns of gold with black stripes and black with gold stripes or broken patterns. They had small ears and large eyes, and could be quite friendly. They hunted in pairs or small groups.

But Rhiona knew that the predators would need prey and thus from the rocks came small mammals of yellow fur, or Suntims. They had large bushy tails, lengthy appendages and small faces with large eyes. They were family orientated and very curious.

The Blood Reign I

“SHE DID WHAT?” Nalla boomed, leaning forward in her throne. The messenger before her cowered. Thunder boomed outside, reverberating the very stone as the rain fell down in thick sheets. Listening to the rain was oddly delightful, ushering her to a place when she was but a girl. Or, at least it had been.

“It’s true, T-Teperia has been... r-razed, Queen Nalla.”

The golden goblet she had been holding, was crushed, spilling the contents all over her hand.

She stood up, and the messenger kneeled.

“She burned Teperia to the ground? Why?” Nalla demanded.

“The l-light’s infestation was severe. They would not yield to your authority. As a show of force, Aurielle burned it to set an example.” The messenger replied, shaking.

Nalla came to a stop before him, raking a hand through his sandy colored hair. “She burned it to set an example, did she? Were they that unruly? Could they not see the greatness I had planned for them?” She paused, deep in thought. “Did she burn it in my name, or her own?”

“I-I-I do not k-know your grace. There was talk of Neiya, but I don’t k-know!”

“Neiya? Did she burn it for Neiya?” She dug her fingers further into the man’s head, and he let out a small whimper. “Tell me, have you ever felt Neiya’s love? Known her affection? Drowned in her ecstasy?”

He stiffened and began to squirm. “Y-Your grace p-please! Have merc-.”

She said the words, his body began to slump and Nalla removed his head from his shoulders.


The Servant entered the room with haste, black robes billowing behind him.

“Yes my queen?” He asked, watching her pace back and forth, head in hand.

“She’s burned Teperia. Did I tell her to burn Teperia? Did I? I can’t recall that specific order. In fact, the only thing I remember saying was claim it. Use the heretics as an excuse, a justification for war. That city was a trading hub, and now, I’ll have to build something new to take its place.” She took a deep breath. “Perhaps I am overreacting? I won’t know until I speak to her, now, where is she?”

WIth a bemused look, Parn shrugged. “He might have known.”

Nalla turned her gaze to the servant and frowned. “Do not test me, Parn. I am in a foul mood.” She said, letting the head fall to the ground with a splat. She turned to go back to her throne but Parn spoke again.

“My Queen, before you sit down I do have some good news.”

She turned her head back to Parn and raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And what might that be?”

“We’ve succeeded with our little experiment, your grace.” He grinned.

Nalla’s eyes went wide. “Show me.”

Down into the very depths of her palace did Parn lead her. Past the many hallowed halls and closed doors, until they at last reached a room next to the newest editions of her ever expanding lower levels. Past the door she could heard the clinking of picks on stone. “In here.” Parn said, opening the door. She was greeted by a bloody sight.

It was a workers quarters, now devoid of any workers save one who was dead, his head cleanly removed and another who cowered in the corner like a whipped pup. His face was hidden by his long brown hair but there was blood on his hands.

“They found this grizzly scene a bit ago. Sent everyone else off. I only peeked in earlier, not wanting to, ah, provoke him.” Parn shifted uneasily.

“You didn’t want to be eaten, more like it.” Nalla scoffed. She then rolled her eyes and walked over to the man. “You’re not fooling anyone, get up and stop acting like a wretch.” she said, stopping in front of him.

He looked up with shocked blue eyes, that slowly stood up. His mouth and chin were coated in blood. Nalla looked him over, even peeled back his gums to reveal to the sharp pointy canines that resembled her own. “What’s your name.” she demanded.

“Karnic, your Grace.” he said in a smooth, but uneasy voice. Her crown compelled him to speak, even if he did not want to.

“Karnic, who did you kill?”
He glanced over at the body of the fallen man and grimaced. “Teft, the boss of our workforce.”

“And what compelled you to do such a thing?” She said sarcastically.

“There is a rumor spreading around, your grace. Kill a boss, take their spot.” he looked to the floor.

“And you believed such a rumor? I don’t know if I should call you stupid, or incredibly smart.” Nalla confessed.

Karnic was taken back by this and confusion spread out across his face. “Your grace?”

“Good work Parn and good work Karnic. Congratulations, you are now a vampire and newest member of my Blood Guard. Firsts things first, you should know that you will relive this memory from his perspective for the rest of your life. It might make you mad, but I have ways to circumnavigate this. Secondly and lastly, your ambition must die here. You are now more then a human could ever dream of, to obtain more would be to ask the gods and they are fickle. Stick with me, by loyal to me, and you will live well. This I promise. Now,” She placed a hand upon her cheek. “Do you accept?”

“Yes, your grace.” He said with a smile.

“Excellent. Parn! Bring us someone who’s expandable.”

Several more days passed, and under Nalla’s tutelage, Karnic settled in to his new life. Now, she just had to wait for more to be tempted by their ambition. A flock of vampires at her side was her newest goal, or it always had been, in a way. She needed those around her who were loyal without question, for their surivival rested within her. She could save them from their own damnation and build herself a guard, then an army… But no, raising vampires was no easy task after all.

For now, she had to stick to her other ideas.

Within the confines of her palace, there was a chamber used for training. It was there she watched her servants' children fight each other. Many were bruised and bloody. She took the idea from Acadia, but modified it to her own ends. The strongest children were to be trained how to be warriors, she even had an old man from Acadia teaching them. It was a wonderful sight really. They were growing efficient alright, but only time prevented them from being useful just yet. It would be several more years until they could be used.

She continued on her daily stroll, back down into the farthest depths, where Parn and his students worked. There were several rooms dedicated to them, for he had grown his attendants by dozens now. Her pots were still being made, but several other experiments were underway.

She opened the door to the room she wanted to see and was met with the smell of death. There were several pits crudely carved out in the floor, with wooden posts around them. Small whimpers and cries could be heard from them.

“Ah, Queen Nalla, you’ve arrived just in time.” Several of Parn’s lackeys bowed in respect to her, and the one who spoke was a younger woman with a crazed look in her eye. “We were just about to begin.”

“Go on Evanda.” Nalla mused, stepping to the railing. She peered down into the pit to see a half starved man. A criminal from Culodia.

A large bowl of a sickly black substance was brought forth, carried by two servants. They poured it down into the pit, covering the criminal in an instant. He began to scream as the goop, or demonic essence as it was called, began infusing with his body. As his flesh bulged and mutated, Nalla’s lips curled into a smile. Watching the man turn into a monster before her very own eyes, was a sight to behold. His screams became deeper, giving way to frantic roaring as it tried to jump up the pit. It failed, and several servants pulled out spears just in case.

“A success, your grace. However, we still do not know how to control them. Unlike their pure forms, these fusions always result in madness and without a steady supply of mana, they eat at the lifeforce of the host until they both die.” Evanda said, coming up on her side.

Nalla couldn’t take her eyes off it, as ideas spun in her head. “Perhaps they are not meant to be controlled? Next time we have a skirmish on our borders, I want to see if we can focus that aggression and rage upon my enemies.”

“Yes.” Evanda hissed with delight. “We will begin the preparations at once, your grace.”

“Have you tried this upon an iskrill yet?” Nalla said, turning to Evanda.

The woman shook her head. “It might result in losses your grace. If you are willing, we can try.”

“Try everything, I want results and weapons, Evanda.”

“As you wish, your Grace.” She cackled.

“She didn’t. SHE DIDN’T!” Nalla slammed her fists into the table, splintering the wood in half.

“Your Grace, plea-”

“WHO does she think she is! I told her to CONQUER! Conquer. Not burn, not raze, not pillage and not rape villages! I need that livestock intact!” Nalla fumed, around her, advisors cowered.
“She’s breeding resentment of me, of Nallan. Resentment turns to rebellion and the year is almost up. She’ll be gone and I’ll have to deal with this- this mess!” Nalla raged, further smashing the table with her fists.

“First it was Teperia! Now Bul’Gadin. What next?” Nalla breathed.

“My Queen, if I may. Is this not what you wanted? Did we not know the depths of the Sorceress would go to? We’ve heard the stories now.” Said Tensh, an advisor from Dressallos.

“Bah! The Sorceress must pay for the burning of Teperia. That city was useful and everyone in this room knows it.” Another advisor, an older man by the name of Ikol spat.

“It was home to heretics who worshipped a false deity, one they have consistently been unable to prove exists. We should have burned them long ago.” A younger man, one from that region spoke. Kres was his name.

The room then erupted into shouting on whether who was right and wrong. Sides were being drawn, one on the line of the Sorceress and those who accepted her actions and the other calling for her punishment. Nalla looked out over the balcony, the glow of torches illuminating her city. Her eyes were on the far horizon, expression one of malice.

The messenger still stood at the back of the room, standing tall.

Nalla spun around, and within an instant the room grew quiet again. She pointed her finger at the man and said, “You. Recall Commander Aurielle immediately, by my decree.” He gave a quick nod, and fled the room.

“The rest of you! Prepare for their arrival. My trust in her has thinned, and I do not want the bitch to bite the hand that feeds her.”

The Heart Matters

Almost a full day had passed since the fateful rescue of the village, and the two weary travelers had made good pace away from the smoke rising from cinder and thatch. It could not be seen now, though whether that was due to the remains of burning houses finally calmed down enough not to be seen, or the smokestack being blocked out by cliff and hillside, was not something either of the two women knew. They’d done their part in driving off the invaders - and to her credit, once Sanya had agreed with Lucia’s proposal, she had wasted no time in putting the village behind them.

She hadn’t exactly talked either however, lost somewhere in her quiet haze of old terror and bitter memories. If she had truly listened and heard her words was up in the air, beyond being enough to break her out of a worse episode then and there. She was silent during the walk through brush and over stone, offering the bare minimum when prompted. Sorrowsting was still spattered with flecks of dried reminders of the night before, and neither of them had had much chance to process beyond a brief cleanse at a riverford earlier in the day.

Sanya, typically an unnaturally enduring woman, seemed to be drained of her vigor; each passing of the sun in the sky seemed to make her less inspired to keep walking, and when Lucia had finally suggested they camp for the day, she'd offered a non-committal grunt and sunk to the ground near a rocky outcropping.

”Here… Let me get a fire going and I’ll cook some food.” Lucia said, working with a spring in her step. Even her tattoo’s were helping set camp up, with vivid movements in the dying light. With a semblance of camp set up and a ring of stones to contain a fire, Lucia turned to Sanya with a small smile. ”I’ll be right back okay? Just going to go get some firewood.” she said, yet Sanya offered only a brief sound to acknowledge her - Lucia wasn’t sure she was listening. The dark-haired warrior seemed deep in her own world still, placing her weapon over her knees and unwrapping a small kit to clean it. It seemed she was content to leave their survival in Lucia’s hands. The golden haired girl slipped away, glancing several times at Sanya before she vanished into the trees.

It was only a short time later did she return, with a handful of sticks and with several tendrils of her tattoo’s helping as well. They deposited the wood next to the fire and Lucia set them up into a tippee.

Lucia outstretched her hand over the logs and then recited,
”Fire, fire, warm and bright,
Lit by a spark to ignite.
Use my love as a key,
To make us warm and happy.”
she finished, and the logs ignited into a roaring fire.
She then rummaged through her pack and took out something wrapped in leaves. A small bunny from earlier in the day. She took a stick and skewered it, then placed it over the fire. The sizzling and pops of cooking meat filled the air and Lucia sat down next to Sanya, who still seemed to be in her own little world. Her eyes were fixated on Sorrowsting, obsessively running a small cloth over it to scrub away every little speck of dirt she could find in the firelight, using her nail when the cloth would not do it.

For a good while, they remained like that, silence reigning supreme save for the crackle of flames on wood. Still consumed by her almost religious work on her weapon, Sanya decided to break the silence. ”What you said back there,” she began with a cautious tone, quiet and demure. The words hung in the air, as Sanya seemed reluctant to continue.

Lucia turned her head to Sanya, ”What about it?” she asked with another smile.

...Thank you.” Sanya professed in turn, pausing in her worship of her spear to stare somewhere between it and the flames. ”It shames me that I behaved that way in front of you. The Daughter of Life.” she confessed further, voice kept at a quiet and sullen level. She busied her hands with stowing her weapons kit away again, slow and purposeful in motion.

Lucia seemed to wince. ”Sanya, I told you. You don’t have to be ashamed of what you did. It happens and I understand, better than most.” she paused, looking to the ground. ”I hate to say it but, some lives aren’t worth keeping around.”

”I think about that a lot.” Sanya replied, a brief moment of brisk honesty before she regained her senses and ventured far back into her guarded sullenness. ”I’m not who you think I am, Lucia. This was a brush with who I’ve been. Who I become the longer I stay out there. The woman I was, before we ever met. Full of hate, spite and cynicism.” Sat back on her knees, Sanya sighed quietly, and extended a hand to put on Lucia’s leg in a brief show of compassion. ”I try to be better. It’s easier around you, and your brilliant light.”

Lucia sat up straighter at the touch and she looked at Sanya again, biting her lower lip before saying, ”Sanya… I know you better than you think. You are strong, proud, smart, and don’t hesitate to help others. I fell in love with that woman, not the one in the past.” Lucia laid a hand on Sanya’s. ”I meant what I said, you know.” That seemed to catch Sanya’s attention, as the dark-haired woman lifted her head out of her daze to peer first at their hands, and then Lucia.

”Lucia,” she mustered quietly, the ever-serious warrior still wearing an expression mingled between sorrow and displeasure. ”I know you mean that. You shouldn’t abandon the world for my sake. I’m not worth it.”
Lucia took Sanya’s hand within her own and squeezed. ”Don’t say that. Of course you’re worth it.” She tilted her head slightly. ”Don’t think less of yourself, Sanya. I want to be with you, so please, don’t push me away.” Lucia’s eyes locked with Sanya’s as if she was searching for something, for anything. The warrior’s eyes were notoriously hard to read, centuries of emotional pain had made her appear vulnerable and displeased at a standard measure. Even now, she seemed unfazed.

Sanya parted her lips to breathe softly, not shying away from the intense scrutiny the tattooed woman gave her. ”What are you saying, Lucia?” she asked eventually, a genuine query by the quiet and uncertain tone.

Lucia smirked. ”I love you. I’m not just saying it, to say it, Sanya. I. Love. You.” Her words seemed to evoke at least a brief widening of Sanya's eyes, before the dark-haired warrior looked away.

Sanya cleared her throat, gaze fixated on the fire in the aftermath of Lucia's words. "I'm in the company of gods," she breathed softly, almost the start of a scoff. She continued to gaze forwards in silence, brought back into her own world. When she spoke up again, it was with a nod towards the fireplace and the rabbit. "That's gonna char."

It took a minute for Lucia to register what she meant. ”Oh no!” she exclaimed, scooping up the burnt meat with one of her tattoo’s. She brought it close and sighed, before throwing it away. ”Great Lucia. Just great.” She then went over to their packs and began rummaging through them again. ”Hopefully there’s food in here. I’m so sorry Sanya.”

Sanya huffed a quiet chuckle. "And I was so looking forward to rabbit, too," she tutted softly, before putting her spear aside - for the first time since the village - and leaning back to observe Lucia suffer through the motions of locating more rations, considerably less worried.

Lucia sat down in defeat and groaned. ”We have no food.” she muttered after a moment. She then stood up, ”I’ll go see if I can’t find something in the forest. I shouldn’t be long.” She got a simple hum of affirmation from Sanya.

Before Lucia disappeared into the trees, she paused and looked back at Sanya with a thoughtful look, then pressed onwards.

It was about an hour later when the unmistakable footsteps of someone carrying something could be heard. It wasn’t long afterwards that Lucia emerged from the forest, carrying a small buck with the support of her tattoos. She grunted and hefted the thing onto the ground and beamed a smile at Sanya. ”That should do it!”

Sanya, who had apparently spent the last hour constructing a snug little rain shelter against the outcropping and beside the fire, glanced over at Lucia and her considerable catch from her new lazy perch under the small shelter. She promptly wriggled out from under the make-shift shelter to sit up properly. "Very nice," she offered with a modicum of cheer to her voice, and rummaged in her pack for a sizable knife. "Grilled backstrap for dinner, then. Can't get better in the wild. I didn't know you were a master huntress."

”Oh I’m not. I just happened on him by chance. Tattoos did the rest.” She said kneeling down beside it and running her hands along his fur. ”He is a beautiful animal. I thanked him in my own way and now, he’ll fill our bellies up.” she said, a small sunlit knife materializing in her hands. She hesitated though and looked over at Sanya, ”I haven’t skinned such a large animal in a long time, could you show me?”

Sanya moved over towards Lucia and her quarry, and shuffled to a seat beside her, her own knife flipping in her hand. "Are we leaving the carcass for the wilds? If so we can field dress what we need with a cut along here." she murmured idly, running her free hand out to stroke along the side of the deer's back.

”Let’s just take what won’t spoil right away. Who knows how long we’ll be traveling until we find a ho-” she coughed. ”Until we figure out where we’re going.” she followed up quickly.

"No reason to let the loins go to waste, then. We'll take the best cuts and dine like queens for half a week," Sanya intoned calmly, scratching her cheek with the tip of her own knife. Her free hand slid over the buck in quick succession, showcasing a pattern. "So, you'll wanna cut in here-... and then here, and carve down along this line on the side."

Lucia followed her guidance and within a bit of time, the deer had been drawn and quartered and it’s backstrap was hanging over the fire. This time, Lucia rotated it so it wouldn’t burn too much. The smells of cooking meat made for a wonderful aroma but Lucia was quiet now, staring into the fire with a blank look. Sanya in turn had found a new seat outside the small shelter, hugging one leg as she watched Lucia cook. With a quiet sigh escaping her lips, she ran her hand through her hair and opted to break the silence. "So, where do you think we should go?"

Without moving her gaze she spoke, "Anywhere I guess. Far away from people. The prairie? The highlands? Further south? I don't mind."

"You've been to the south, haven't you?" Sanya offered in further thought. "Travelers in the east used to say there was a paradise down there."

"They call it the Gardens. Just on the other side of the mountains. A fertile land as far as you can see. It was perfect, except, it was plagued by slavers.” she sighed.

"Right," Sanya replied quietly, and sighed as well. "I suppose not even a paradise can escape the curse." The dark-haired warrior leaned her chin on her knee, eyeing Lucia with a thoughtful expression. Her lips parted briefly, about to offer another quip, but appeared to decide against it.

”Yeah.” she responded. SIlence reigned again, but only for a short time. When the meat was done cooking, Lucia cut it up into manageable chunks on a flat rock. Then she stood and made her way over to Sanya, and sat down next to her. ”Here we are. Eat up.” She said with little vigor in her voice as she took a small bite.

Sanya didn't eat. Her eyes remained on Lucia, head turned to glance her way as her tattooed companion dug into her meal. She let silence reign for the duration, ignorant of the crackle of fire or building howl of the evening wind. "I went north to die," she eventually confessed, calm and even in voice.

Halfway into chewing into a piece of meat, Lucia looked over at Sanya with wide eyes. She quickly chewed and swallowed. ”W-What?” she asked, turning her entire body to the warrior and setting her hands upon her own knees.

"Mmh," Sanya hummed softly. "It's not the first time I've done something dumb. Not many months before we met again. It was too much, just like now. I just wanted to escape the noise, the misery. Somewhere along the way I stopped caring about food and heat." she explained with a morose tone. "I would have died, if not for a tribe of helpful men and women finding me in the snow. They gave me some hope, before this cruel world came down on them as well. It was eating at me, like every lost village or each time I've been too late over the millennia. I'm just so tired,"

Sanya took a long breath. "And yet, when I heard a rumour of you, I forgot all that. And when we journeyed together again, it's as though nothing had ever happened. I'm content to just see where your energy takes us next, how your smile warms other people's lives. You are the one fixture in my tired life, Lucia. For a long time, now." she professed, gazing over towards the fire.

Lucia breathed, wiping tears out of her eyes as she smiled. ”Oh Sanya.” she scooted closer to her and wrapped her in a hug. ”I’m so glad you’re still here, Sanya. If-If I lost you, I don’t know what I’d do anymore. If you weren’t by my side in Ha-Duna…” she said, ”I’m glad.” is all she could say.

Sanya hummed quietly at that, wriggling her own arms free to lower her leg, and then wrapped her arms around Lucia in turn. "There's nowhere else I'd rather be, Lucia," she murmured.

Lucia pulled away and rubbed her mouth on her sleeve. Her tattoo’s pulsed wildly and she bit her lower lip as she looked at Sanya again. ”Can I…” she murmured, moving her head in closer. Sanya watched her intently, saying nothing but tilting her head ever so slightly as she watched Lucia's approach. Her lips pressed together briefly before parting to let a small breath escape. Lucia shut her eyes, before pressing her lips to Sanya’s. The warrior's fingers brushed against the nape of her neck, as Sanya responded in kind.

The fire crackled.

Reflections in the Ice

Time had passed quickly since that fateful day in the hot springs. Yamat's words hung heavy in her heart. She began to observe those around her, more and more. She hardly interacted with the others in the tribe, but when she did it always went one of two ways. They would either ignore her presence and brush her off, or degrade and curse her.

The children and those around her age were the worst still. She avoided them at all costs and ran away several times when she saw Dale and his group. They would beat her again if they caught her. Dale was not one to let things go, especially knowing that she had bested him. She had a bad feeling it would only be a matter of time before they caught her unaware.

Thus, she spent much of her time alone out in the wild. It was a convenient excuse to practice her new powers, as Rorik did not mind when she returned with game. It was when she came back empty handed that it bothered him, but Kia knew there was no use making a fuss about it. Rorik could not do much with his busted leg, and the winters lay heavily on him still, thus he lashed out. She had grown used to it.

While she was out, he spent most of his time whittling and crafting items for the tribe. People got along well enough with him, but there was always animosity. He didn't get along well with Hadrin, the chief, either.

Out in the forests however, Kia left it all behind. She was happy there. Being alone didn't bother her and she knew how to survive thanks to Rorik. Now, she could do so much more.

An icicle slammed into a tree, embedding itself into the wood. It was about the size of a bone dagger and growing larger with each passing day. Kia smirked and launched another one from the cold air. It struck the first and exploded into a cloud of shards. Next, she summoned a small ball of packed ice into her hand, feeling the familiar cold surge in her spine. She concentrated, brow furrowing as she lifted it into the air. She placed her other hand over the ball, not touching still, then moved it so it was in front of her. She forced the ice inside to change, and it erupted into spikes, shifting and reflecting the sun. Kia then slapped her hands together and felt the ice incase her left hand. She lifted it up high and noted that it wasn't cold. She tried to move her fingers but they were stuck.

She pursed her lips and placed her other hand over the ice, then forced it to fall off. It shattered and fell to the ground. A sigh escaped her and she flexed her fingers.

"SO this is where you've been hiding daemon spawn." Erupted a voice from behind her. Kia's eyes went wide and she spun around to see Dale and his friends emerging from behind the trees, sneering at her with smug little smiles. It was enough to make her blood chill. How much had they seen?

"Did you think you'd be able to hide forever? I had to lie to father just to save face. But this time." He and a few of the other unsheathed bone knives. "This time you won't walk away with bruises, daemon." He spat.

Kia began to panic, and began to back up as they walked closer. She needed to run and so she began to but Dale shouted after her, "What's the matter daemon spawn? Afraid you'll lose? Just like your mother lost?"

She froze. Fists clenching tight as she spun around. The familiar feeling of anger blossomed in her chest. "Take that back! You have no right to talk about my mother like that!" She growled.

Dale smirked, twirling his dagger between his fingers. "I have every right, I'm the chief's son! Your mother should have been killed the minute she began carrying you. I'm glad she died. And now, you'll join her and the Daemon's taint will be gone from this tribe."

She began to shake with anger. Something felt as if it was going to burst inside of her. She wanted to hurt him. She wanted to force him to take his words back. Make him suffer for the pain he caused. Years of issues boiled to the surface without thinking about them. Suddenly, each moment, each point of contention and frustration in the world rushed at her at once, stung her eyes, clutched at her lungs and quickened her breath.

Dale became a blurry shape, an evil responsible for all the world's injustice. Each shift of his smug grin sent ripples of boiling blood through her arms, each breath of his asking to be beaten out of him until nothing of his disgusting face remained. Her fists itched with a fury welling up from inside, a darkness begging to come out and set the world right; and break their jaws. A red haze fell over her eyes, over her thoughts. Dale was scum. Hurting him was a need, a pressing itch burrowed deep into her marrow. He leered at her, and something rippled inside her. He had to suffer.

Each breath became visible as the area around them grew colder. It was then that Kia pounced. Throwing caution to the wind she ran forward with a roar. She then summoned a wave of ice that erupted from the ground like jagged spikes, stretching out before her until they collided with the first row of her attackers in an explosion of ice and shrieks.

She wasn't finished though. Not until her fingers were wrapped around the scum's neck. Kia ran through the maze of icicles, propelling herself further with each step. She used the ice to her advantage and cast it aside when it would not suit her.

Her quarry were dazed by her assault, and with a few more steps she was upon them. The first few had been felled by her icicles but the next fell to her fists. Using the trick from earlier, she coated her hand in a thick layer of ice and used it to maximum effect. Each blow was a relief, no- a satisfaction to ease her pain. They deserved this and she would enjoy it! She smashed her fist into someone's face, something broke and it wasn't her ice. Whoever it was dropped but the next one she tried to punch was waiting and he dodged to her left, cutting her arm as he slashed forward. Kia grunted and before he was able to pull back an icicle shot out from the ground and slammed into him, tossing him into the air where he then landed with a snap. His screams fell upon deaf ears as Kia took down everyone else with another ice wave that emanated from where she stood, rippling outwards and causing those standing to fall.

No one attempted to stand, but they did look at her with horrified eyes. She did not care. She wanted Dale but he was not a face she recognized amongst the fallen. Her eyes shot to the woods from where they had come from and she took off in pursuit. What a coward. What an insolent little wretch! He couldn't even stand to fight her!

It didn't take Kia long before she spotted him in the distance, barreling his way through a thick drift of a snow. She reached out and froze his legs. He fell face forward from the sudden momentum stop. Dale began to claw at his legs, trying to free himself. Kia could hear his panicked breaths as she neared, walking now.

"S-STAY AWAY FROM ME DAEMON!" He shouted at her, his face twisted by terror. He flailed in vain to keep her at bay but Kia pinned his hands to the snow with ice. He grunted, trying to break free but it was too late. Kia refreshed the ice around her hands and reeled back. She punched him across his face as hard as she could. His nose erupted with blood and Dale took a ragged breath. She punched him again. Again. Again. And again. So many times but it was never enough, not even when his face was a bloody pulp. Not even when the ice shattered around her fingers. Not even- not even…

The haze began to fade. Like snow melting, her anger washed away, and she was left with a stark realization. One that crept into her being, building upon her anxiety and fears. She gripped her head, taking quick breaths as she looked at the bloody mess that was Dale's face.

Her eyes grew wide and she instantly felt sick to her stomach. She fell over and vomited. What had she done? What had SHE DONE?

She brutalized them. She proved them right. She was a daemon. She was a monster and now- Now everything would change. She shot her head up and went over to Dale. She checked for breathing. It was faint but there. She realised the ice that encased him and froze the moment she looked at his hands. They were blueish-white, the signs of frostbite. She touched a hand but could feel no warmth.

She began to panic, she had to do something! She spotted his dagger and grabbed it, then began cutting a strip of fur off of herself. She wrapped them around his hands with a gentle touch and began pressing them for warmth to spread. That was when she heard her voices and her gaze came upon the rest of her attackers shambling their way through the trees.

Even from there distance, she could see the frozen blood, the cold faces of frost burn and those they carried or dragged.

What had she done?

Kia looked down at her trembling hands, covered in blood that was not her own.

She had to go.

They would kill her now. There was no denying that. And Rorik… Oh no.

Kia quickly got to her feet and ran.

She arrived at the outskirts of the tribe's camp and skirted the edge until her and Rorik's tent came into view. When she was certain the coast was clear, she dug her hands into her furs and hurried over to it, eyes darting at anyone who looked her way. Thankfully, no one cared and she ducked in under the flap.

Rorik was sharpening his knife and looked up at her, taken aback at first, he then glowered. “What happened this time?”

Kia began to rummage through her belongings, putting everything she owned into her sack. “I-I-I-”

Rorik stood with a grunt. “Speak girl.”

Kia took a deep breath. “Several weeks ago I was in the hot springs and Yamat appeared before me.”

“Yamat? Who’s that?” Rorik asked. “Why didn’t you tell me if a man was sneaking in to take a look?”

“He wasn’t a man! He was a-a-a God.” she gulped.

Rorik furrowed his brow. “Go on, Kia.”

“He told me many things and he gave me a gift. He said it ran in my blood, I-” She outstretched her bloody hand and a small icicle sprouted. Rorik narrowed his eyes but said nothing.
“So I would go into the forest and practice from time to time and today they found me. Dale and his friends. I tried to stop but he said such horrible things and I-I snapped. My blood boiled and a haze took me. I had to hurt him, I had to and I… I did.”

“Did you kill anyone?” Rorik asked.

Kia shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. But I hurt them. I hurt them real bad. I have to go. I can’t stay here any longer.” She began to pack again.

“Kia... “ He breathed.

“Just stop Rorik. We both know that it’s better this way. There’s no need to say anything. I know you hate me for what I am already.” Kia said, blinking away tears.

“I don’t hate you child. I resented you at first, perhaps I still do… But you are one of the last things your mother left behind and I swore to her, I would protect you. I would care for you. I see now how I failed.” Rorik went over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. She turned her head to look at him. “Listen to me. If what you say is true, if these powers are strong, then you can protect yourself for better than I ever could. I’m useless with this leg. You’ll be on your own for a long time. Don’t trust anyone. Not other tribes, not the horned ones on the coasts, not even gods. Go south, to warmer lands. Leave your past here in the north. Do this for yourself, and for your mother.” He moved a strand of hair out of her eyes and gave a rare smile.

“You look so much like her.”

Kia blinked several times, unsure of how to react. She finally gave a small nod and hoisted her pack onto her back. “Thank you, for everything.” She said, opening the flap.

Her heart dropped as soon as she took a step outside.

It was too late.

“There you are, filth.” Came the chief’s voice. Several men stood outside, with many more running up from behind. At the chief’s side was a girl that she recognized from the forest. She scowled at her as Rorik came outside as well.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he demanded.

The chief pointed at Kia. “That daemon is the meaning of this. For too long have I tolerated her presence! I should have killed her the day she was born and have been done with it.”

“Bradik, you were Yalka’s friend. You respected her wishes-”

“Yalka is dead and her spawn is responsible for attacking MY SON and the rest of the children! I cannot let this happen any longer. Worse yet, she’s possessed by a spirit! No one in our tribe is capable of such… abominations.” Bradik spat.

Rorik stepped in front of Kia. “They were the aggressors and she defended herself! They would have killed her and you know it.”

“So?” Bradik snarled, “One less thing to worry about, but now, now we have to do it the hard way.” He whistled and several men emerged from behind their tent. Kia got closer to Rorik and she looked around, panic building in her heart.

“You don’t have to do this! None of you have to! Banish her instead, I beg it!” Rorik pleaded.

“If you had wanted to leave, you would have left when she was born. No, this ends in only one way and then, we can be free from the Daemon’s taint for good.” Bradik raised his hand, and dropped it.

From somewhere within the crowd an arrow was loosed. Kia didn’t even see it coming until Rorik pushed her backwards. Kia’s eyes went wide as Rorik fell to the ground, arrow through his neck. His crimson blood gurgled from his mouth as he clutched his throat, looking up at Kia. Then he grew still.

Kia was in shock. What just happened? Why wasn’t Rorik moving? Why was he-he-he…

The haze returned, erupting to the surface of her mind. Stronger than before, more precise. They killed him! They killed Rorik! And now they would suffer. Another arrow whizzed past her head and her expression twisted into fury.

Every injustice, every slander, every memory of their abuse, their uncaring notions- It all welled up inside, ready to burst.

And burst it did.

Kia screamed, and the very ground around her erupted into deadly spikes. They shot off into the crowd, skewering the first row. A panic ensued as people began to scream and shout. Those that tried to flee were stopped by the ice that encased their feet and worked its way up their bodies, turning them into living statues.

The air grew colder, freezing exposed flesh in a blink and those who did not find themselves encased by the ice, were falling over as their limbs broke. She began to walk, a storm of icicles surrounded her, shooting off into fleeing tribesmen. She saw Bradik stuck by the ice, and she summoned the largest spike yet. It erupted from the ground and impaled him through his chest and his screams became silent. The spike rose above the others as a monument, but Kia wasn’t done yet. If they hated her so much, then she would give testament to that hate. She raised her hand high, and slammed it into the ground. The ground quivered and then as if a great weight was released, ripped apart in great ravines before exploding outwards. Ice flew everywhere, and like arrows, pierced anything that remained standing with staggering force. It stole her breath away. The way the sunlight reflected off the ice, it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

And it was the last thing she saw, before the haze faded and exertion took its toll. As the world grew dark, she felt her body slip into snow.

Celebration of Hate

The glow of the large bonfire blazed like a beacon in the dark forest. Smoke billowed up at the bright moon above, as if to caress the pale light with wispy hands. Lost forever in the Blackness between.

It was there they celebrated the winter solstice.

Adorned with furs, bright colors, headdresses, animal skulls and more, the tribe celebrated. There was laughter as much as there was silent contemplation to the gods and spirits.

And dancing. So much dancing.

“Come on Yalka! Dance with me!” Rorik smiled ear to ear, pulling on her deerskin sleeves. Yalka rolled her icy eyes, she hated dancing. It wasn’t that she wasn’t good at it, she just… Tripped over her own feet.

"You know I don't like dancing!" She retorted with a grin. Rorik did have a cute smile, maybe it wouldn't hurt?

"Oh come on you." He laughed, pulling her into the circle. The beating of the drums quickened and the two stopped in front of the other, before moving with the rhythm of the drums in a circle around and around each other. Chanting began with whoops and hollering.

Both smiled as their bodies touched at the height of the beat. Eyes focused, the temptation palpable as she glanced at his lips ever so often. Their heads moved closer, his breath warm. Her heart began to best fast as their lips tou-

There was a scream.

The mad drumming stopped. The singing ceased and the laughter was silenced. All eyes turned to where the screaming had come from. Yalka pulled away from Rorik to see… Rudia. It was Rudia, backing away from the edge of the clearing in haste. Her black hair was disheveled and her furs ripped in several places, as if she had run through a bramble.

Yalka followed her gaze from where she stood, the silence becoming deafening as she stared into the dark forest. She didn’t have to wait long, she could feel her heart begin to beat even faster, her palms becoming sweaty as a feeling of intense dread overcame her. She wanted to run from that feeling. Far, far away. Rorik grabbed her arm, his touch reassuring as he too looked into the forest.

And there, emerging from the black into the flickering light was a creature she had never seen before. It was no troll, and not a man. It was too tall to be a man and it had wings like a bird. Giant wings. It came to a stop, never lifting its haze from Rudia as she turned to run back into a group of hunters. She hid behind them, her soft sobs the only sound beside the flame crackling.

Many began to whisper that it was a spirit. She had never seen one before but the stories of those that had, had never mentioned they were so tall. In fact, they were small. Like tiny humans with wings.

Chief Valgro made his way closer, behind him trailed a handful of hunters and a few brought elder Rans with them. They stopped a good ways away from it. Seeing Rans however, Yalka pushed forward but Rorik caught her again.

"Let me go." She hissed.

"No, Yalka. Let them handle it. Rans would not want you there and you know it. He would want his granddaughter safe." Rorik held onto her arm tightly and she fell back, pressing herself to him as she watched with wide eyes. Rorik was right of course but she couldn't shake that feeling of dread.

They seemed to be talking to it and it was talking back, though she could not hear what they were saying. Rans stepped forward, leaning heavily on his stick with one hand and raising his other as he spoke. Whatever he said, seemed to be working. As the spirit began to back away.

As it turned to leave however, it paused and spun around. This time, several men buckled as the spirit's gaze fell upon them and a few ran. Valgro stepped forward, brandishing his spear as the Spirit came forward again. Yalka's heart beat faster but Valgro struck the creature hard enough for sparks to fly. It paused and time seemed to slow down. Before she knew it, a large weapon struck Valgro in the head, exploding it into a fine mist and before anyone could react, the spirit swung again, striking Rans down.

Yalka screamed and broke free from Rorik, running as fast as she could to her grandfather. The tribe exploded into a frenzy of action after that. Woman and children screamed, men yelled to run and fight and the spir- No, the daemon struck down two more hunters as she neared. It turned to her but simply laughed as it beat its wings, flying into the air and over her. The gust flung her down but she quickly rebounded, clambering to her feet as she stumbled over to Rans.

She fell to her knees beside the old man, who's torso and furs were covered in blood. He was not breathing.

"No no NO!" She screamed, face twisted into anger as she looked to find her quarrel. It fought several hunters, bashing them down one at a time, letting their spears hit over and over. It roared madly but it would soon cry out in pain!

Yalka grabbed a spear and ran at the thing. She dodged and weaved through panicking tribesmen and by the time she had arrived where the daemon was, the hunters around him were dead. And more alarming was that it's helmet as well as its weapon lay on the ground beside it. Yet it was no longer even fighting but going through the feast pots.

Now it was her chance, while it was distracted. She hated her spear, yelled a war cry and watched as it turned to face her. A face pale as snow and distant as the far ices looked at her with disdain. She flung the spear anyways and her aim was true. It plunged itself into it's exposed throat with a sickening gurgle.

The daemon flung its head back, leaning over about to topple. She knew it. But her heart stopped as it wrapped a hand around the wooden shaft and wrenched the spear free. Orange blood gushed from the wound and before her very eyes, the fatal wound closed shut. The daemon frowned as it dropped the spear.

It tilted its head to the side before looking around her before settling on her gaze. "Look around, little human. You are alone." It said.

She did just that and it was true. All around her was corpses. Not one living person in sight. Where was Rorik? Was he dead?

"Your aim was true, I'll give you that. Perhaps it deserves a reward?" The daemon smiled, revealing pearly teeth.

She tried to run but her knees buckled and she felt woozy. She looked up at the creature as it approached, wanting to scream for help but her voice caught in her throat and her world faded to black.

She tasted blood. Rubbing her hand to her nose, she looked down to see a fine trail of crimson. She spit, a gush of pink and red spittle fell across the white snow. Grimacing, a flare of anger welled up inside. She eyed daggers at the smug face of Dale and let out a howl of fury as she swung like a mad man at him.

Dale dodged the first few swings but got backhanded by a third and reeled back, giving her an opening to tackle him to the ground. There they rolled about, boys, girls, and their older peers nagging them on, within the forming circle.

Each was trying to get the upper hand over one another. To pin them and let put a flurry of blows. Dale was stronger then she was but he was also slower and not as quick. His only advantage was that she was tall and he could wrap his hands around her arms easily.

All was looking dire as Dale got on top of her and raised his fists to bring down a blow, but she sprung up her upper torso and headbutted him. There was a loud smack and her ears began ringing but it worked. It stunned Dale just enough to where she was able to push him backwards and get on top. She began to wail on him and that was when she felt another blow on her face.

As she toppled off, she had just enough time to see it was Dale's friends. She instinctively wrapped herself into a ball, protecting her head as they punched and kicked her.

It felt like minutes passed before a voice scattered everyone.

"Kia!" The voice was deep and gruff.

"Get up Kia, they're gone." Rorik nudged her. She opened her eyes and gazed up at the old man. His look of disapproval made her want to curl back up and diseaper but she got up onto her feet feeling sore and looking like a mess.

She lowered her head as Rorik began to speak. "What happened this time?"

She felt her hands ball into fists once more. "Dale he- He insulted me."

"And you thought it wise to fight the chieftain's son? Again?" Rorik raised his voice. "How many times do I have to tell you Kia! Do. Not. FIGHT!"

She raised her own voice now and looked at him with anger in her eyes. "I'm not going to let him-"

"Let him what?" Rorik interrupted. "Let him insult you? Let him poke fun? You're bigger then this Kia! I expected more from y-"

"HE CALLED MY MOTHER THE DAEMON'S WHORE!" She screamed, shaking in rage just at the mere memory.

Rorik looked as if he had been struck by a terrible blow and he deflated with a long sigh.

"I wanted to hurt him, Rorik. I wanted him to feel my pain. Is that so wrong?

Rorik looked her over, his eyes showing the same look of disapproval. One she had grown familiar with. She frowned.

"Let's go home." He said, not waiting for her reply. Kia watched him limp off and looked down at her trembling hands, bits of frost had begun to form. She took a raspy breath and closed her eyes, tightening her hands. Letting the warmth back in, she opened her eyes and knew the frost was gone.

She then hurried after Rorik, wincing in pain as she did.

The next day came and she woke up feeling even worse. Her entire body hurt from the beating, but it couldn't stop her. It wouldn't.

She got up out of bed, put her platinum hair into a tight bun and wrapped herself in her furs. She needed to get to the hot springs and wash up before Rorik made a fuss about hunting. She crept past his sleeping form and made her way out into the brisk early morning. Not even the sun was out yet but she hoisted her pack on her back and grabbed her spear.

By the time she made it to the hot spring caves, the morning sun was peaking out over the tall evergreens. It would be a sunny day, with little warmth.

She thanked the gods when she entered the empty hot springs and quickly pulled her clothes off before dipping into the hot water with a sigh. She splashed her dainty face and ran in her fingers through her hair, and scrubbed grime and dried blood from the rest of her skinny body. She thought about the days past events and couldn't help but furrow her brow just thinking about what Dale said.

He and the others were a bunch of trollkin always, being mean to her. She knew why they did it. She only had to look into the water to see just how different she looked. Not entirely human… Just another freak. Worse… Tainted by the Daemon's blood. She shivered just thinking about it.

She hit the water with a fist and sank back in angry contemplation. As she did, the water rippled across the hot springs, and, for a brief moment, she saw something behind her. Turning around rapidly, there was nothing, but, a soft haze came over her mind, almost as if the spring’s steam had entered in.

”Child of a Daemon, Bastard Spawn, Freak, Different, I do wonder if mortals do tire of using the same words over and over again.” A voice rang out in her head, it was calm, yet filled with joy, and she could not quite identify its gender.

Kia stood up in haste, nearly falling over as she looked around the room. "Who's there!" She shouted in anger, covering herself with her hands. Their words stung and only added to her mounting anger.

”Have no fear my dear,” The voice rang out once more, ”I am, a friend, someone who wishes you no harm, in fact, I have come to help you.”

"Who comes to help by calling names and being too cowardly to show themselves!" She yelled, narrowing her eyes as she looked around again.

A soft chuckle emanated from around her ”You mistake me dear, I mean not to mock you, but those who see if fit to utilize the same old insults again and again, I do grow bored of it after a while, as for showing myself, well, I guess I can give it a shot.”

Suddenly, the steam began to gather and coalesce, forming a strange figure, faceless and lanky, pointed legs with no feet, and a single hole where an eye should go.

”That better?”

She gasped and fell backwards in the water. She emerged shortly after sputtering and breathing hard. The figure was still there and only then did she realize who was talking to her.

"You are a god?" She asked.

Another chuckle ”Yes, I am, and you my dear, have drawn my attention, as your life is, well, very close to my work, and I figured I could not just allow an actor as special as yourself to go unnoticed, and so,” The figure stretched its arms out wide, gesturing towards the spring they were in ”Here I am, a friend, to offer you some help.”

She blushed. "You want to help me?" She asked.

”Why of course! The god loudly proclaimed ”You have so much potential as an actor in this Great Play! A tragic backstory! A motivation to fight those who have oppressed her! I couldn’t have come up with something better myself.” The figure stood, drawing closer to her ”So tell me dear, what is it you desire most?”

"My mother." She blurted out. "I-I desire my mother, oh God." She followed, a wild look in her eyes.

The god was, for a brief moment, silent, then, it spoke, its voice quieter this time ”You desire your mother? I, see.” They were silent for a few more moments. ”I may be able to aid you in that, not directly, that is not my, department persay, but I think I can give you something that’ll help in your future quest.”

"Yes. Please! Anything. I'll do anything! I'll hunt down the Daemon and make him suffer for what he did to her if I have to. I just want her back." She sniffed.

”Very well my dear, now, hold still.” Suddenly, the once intense heat of the springs vanished, replaced by a frigid cold, the figure of the god reached out one of its lanky arms towards her, lightly tapping her upon her forehead. A shiver of cold shot down her spine, settling itself within her. It remained that way for a few brief moments, before the heat returned.

”That, should do it, your inherent powers of ice brought to the forefront, and made, far better if I do say so myself, it’ll take practice, but, I have high hopes for you my dear.”

She stared at her hands, a look of shock crossed her face. "Ice? Oh no. Oh no no. I can't… They'll hate me even more. They'll-They'll… What will Rorik think?" She cried out.

”Worry not my dear,” The god placed one of its arms upon her shoulder, and stared at her with their singular ‘eye’ ”What they think, is of no consequence of you, they hate you, because you are better than them, they are nothing more than useless pieces in the Great Play, but you? You my dear have so much potential, let not their words pierce your heart, instead, use them to harden your resolve, they may sling their useless insults towards you, but you, you shall always have the eyes of the gods upon you, and you shall go on to do far more than they or their descendents ever shall”

His words helped her a bit and she nodded. They would always hate her for what she was, that she knew. Could that change? She did not think so. But Rorik… How would he react?

"What is your name, oh God?" She asked, changing the subject.

”You, may refer to me as Yamat, if you ever require aid, merely pray towards me, and I shall see what I can do.”

"Yes… I will remember that, Yamat. Thank you, for your help." She said in a small voice.

”Of course my dear.” They spoke, and she could almost sense a hint of kindness within. Then, the steam and the haze dissipated, leaving her once more alone within the Hot Springs.

Kia settled back into the pool, unsure of what to think. It would be a long time before she would leave.

Cold Rage

"Where is it!" Came a ferocious growl, amplified by sheer dread.

The scrawny man with horns spoke in gibberish again, looking anywhere but upon his visage. Fresh blood dripped from his nose and his left eye was swollen shut, black and bruised upon his pale skin.

Malri threw him to the ground, where the horned man collided with the mangled bodies of others of his kind. Crushed by the mace that was still dripping with their blood. Bows, spears and broken shields littered the snow covered ground around them as the man began to crawl backwards over the corpses. Eyes tightly shut as he pleaded in a language that fell upon ears that did not understand.

Malri rummaged through another pack, letting its contents fall out onto the ground. Just flasks of water, leather and other useless items! He stomped on the contents in a fit of rage before gripping the mace tighter and walking towards the man.

"WHERE IS YOUR FOOD!" He screamed at him and the man instinctively went to cover his face, yelling in that stupid language of his. It was enough to make any being angry.

Malri fell to his knees, dropping the mace to his side as he used his free hands to grip the man by the shoulder and his other hands to cave his head in with one punch. Blood and viscera splattered his helmet but Malri did not stop until the nothing of the man's head remained. At least nothing that could be seen as a head.

He leaned over the and shut his eyes tight as the gnawing in his stomach reminded him of why he had killed them all. They would not listen! They could not understand! And so he had butchered them for their ignorance, trying to find sustenance in the frozen land that surrounded him in all ways. He slammed a fist into the ground and cursed Neiya for his predicament. She was behind all of his suffering and the mere thought of her made him angry. Oh how he wanted to wrap his hands around her throat and squeeze. Watching the life drain from her eyes would bring him joy.

With a grumbled sigh, he grabbed his weapon and stood up. He unfurled his wings and took off into the sky, leaving the carnage behind as his hunt for food continued. Without food, those inferior creatures would not have ventured far from a home. He just had to find it.

He did see smoke in the distance. Far away, more like a scraggly black line in the air. It would be a time before he arrived and the cold was not helping. He had to land, teeth chattering underneath the helmet. It was cold, why was the sun not warming him?

He looked up at it briefly and cursed under his breath. "So much for your great kindness!" He said aloud. "The great Oraeliara," he scoffed now, "Her sunlight can't even keep me warm. Have you forsaken me too?" He stumbled, and let put a exasperated yell before punching the snow covered ground. His fist went through a layer of snow and struck something hard, breaking several of his fingers in the process. The pain that swiftly followed turned to a profound rage and Malri lashed out at nothing in his anger. He threw his mace at a distant tree, before eventually collapsing to his knees out of sheer exhuastion.

"You poor thing!" a voice spoke in his head, filling him with warmth. He knew of such presences and immediately went on the defensive.

"Come to mock me more, have you, Neiya?" He said angrily, "Come to rub it in my face? Well go on then!"

"Neiya… I'm not Neiya!" she laughed. "I'm Oraeliara, duh. You said my name didn't you? Did you? I can't really remember that well. How did I get here?" There was a pause, "Oh yeah! You said the sun wasn't warm and that stood out to me soooooo- Boop!" a small, yellow glowing stone landed before him. "That will keep you warm!"

Malri hesitated. He didn't like Oraeliara. Or the accursed Oraeliari. But… But if she was going to help him… Or was she? He looked at the stone, it didn't seem like a trap. With his thumb and index finger he plucked the stone up, and a burst of warmth shot into him, breathing life into his freezing limbs.

"Why would you… Help me?" He asked.

"Uhh… Because you needed it?"

"But why? I'm a Neiyari. You should hate me for what I am." He confessed.

"I don't truly hate anything… Well maybe except myself." There was another awkward pause, one in which Malri could hardly believe what he was hearing. "Oh! I said that outloud, didn't I?" She began to giggle, but it slowly turned to soft crying, and then silence.

"Goddess?" Malri asked.

"Oh hello!" she said. "Who are you again?" she asked.

Malri squinted behind his helmet. Something wasn't quite right with this goddess. He looked over the small stone again. If she had given him such a small gift out of kindness, what more could he get out of her?

"Goddess! I am… Malri. One who has been cursed by Neiya and a God of Misery. They cast me away from the homeland, as a sick joke and told me many terrible things. Please help me goddess. My hand is broken and I cannot speak the language of the locals. I don't want to be hated here, like I was in the Luminant." He lied, feigning his voice to sound weak.

Oraeliara did not speak for a moment and Malri feared his rise had been seen through but then she spoke.

"Ugh! Neiyyaaaaaa. Why do you have to hurt people." she whined. "Why are you like this Neiya? And a God of misery…?" Her voice faded as if she was lost in thought before returning with renewed vigor in her voice. "Well! I don't know who that is but I know Neiya! So of course I'll help youuuuu! No one should have to suffer from her and her partners! Let's see, let's see! Oh I know!"

There was a clanging sound and he felt two bands of something hard wrap around his upper arms. Almost immediately his fingers, minor cuts and bruises faded away, replaced by mended bone and tissue. Another clang sounded and a pendant with a silver chain landed before him as well. He scooped it up quickly and brought the sparkling gem closer to his face.

"Okay, okay, so get this Nalri. No, that's not right. What was your name again?" she asked.

"Malri, Goddess." He whispered.

"Malri! That's right. So I gave you, like, these bands that should heal you really well and a pendant that lets you communicate with others. Isn't that great! I helped you out!"

"Indeed you have, Goddess… You have my thanks." Malri stood up, flexing his wings as new feathers grew to replace those lost. He felt warm and full of vigor in the cold frozen wastes.

"Hey what did they curse you with, anyways? You have like, really spooky armor." she inquired.

“Oh, that… That is my curse, never able to take it off.” Another lie. “And they’ve made me prone to anger. Their cruelty knows no bounds, but these gifts you’ve given, they can begin to heal my wounded soul.”

”Well that’s too bad! I’d remove the curses if I could, but for now, you should be in good hands! Haha! I gotta go now, there’s like this- flower. It’s really big and blue.” and the presence left his head.

Malri’s smirk became laughter as the sun began to set. He turned his head to the distant line of smoke and once more leapt into the sky. He soon realized that he had left his mace behind, but with the gifts Oraeliara had given him, he did not need such a crude instrument. It then appeared in his hand and Malri cursed again.

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