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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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Honor & Revenge


Part II





“You should… Go on.” Shysie grunted between the pain. “I’m no good now. Too… Weak.” They had managed to cauterize her wound but she had lost a lot of blood and her voice, despite the pain, was growing weaker.

Mair stood, hands upon either side of her friend’s face as she stood to the side of her. “I am not going to leave you here. That’s not what we do, you know that.” Shyshie nodded, gritting her teeth as a wave of pain washed over her. With her good arm, she grabbed Mair’s shoulder.

“I knew.. You would say that.” She took a breath. “But unless we figure out something.. The minute we step outside these flames… We’re done for. I’m tall but that King is taller.” She chuckled, sighing and looked away.

“What is it?” Mair said, the hurt in her voice apparent, as the woman looked back.

“It’s nothing that can’t be talked about later.” She stated. “Now do you have a plan?”

Mair shook her head and looked to the wall of flame. “I feel strong. Stronger than I have in a long time but right now… I feel a bit powerless. They can wait us out for as long as it takes but… I’m surprised they haven’t tried… That monster…” She recalled what she had asked earlier. “She said something about others. Maybe they are out there? Maybe not.”

“There’s really… Only one way to find out.” Shysie commented. “And I’m with you. Till the end.”

Then a voice reached them from beyond the flames, unfamiliar and yet it felt as if they had both heard it before, a long time ago. “The Childan is hurt, would you let me help?”

"Who was…" Mair began but her friend put her large hand over her face to quiet her. A moment of protest later and the giantess spoke.

"Sounds like the one that took my hand. She sounds… Less fanatical but still. Use caution Mair."

The pale warriorress nodded and scooted closer to the wall of fire. "Who are you? Friend or foe?"

“I am Wanderer, a friend. You would have known my sisters; Courage, Kindness, and Fear when you awoke in the North. We’re the Sacred Septet.” Wanderer replied in a nervous rush, as the ground rumbled along with her words.

Mair looked back at Shysie and the woman nodded. "I… Like smaller flames of the Spirit Mother. Of course. Still, it could be a trick. Ask a trick question. Something only the sane would know."

Mair furrowed her eyebrows. "I don't…" She grumbled and crossed her arms. She didn't really know what to ask. She groaned and rubbed the bridge of her nose before waving her hand over the flame. A narrow slit opened up, just wide enough for one to peek out. She saw the red hair of a different woman and behind her the battle raging on. It was good enough for her.

The wall separated and she pulled this Wanderer in by the straps of her dress, the flaming wall going back up behind them. "You try anything and you'll regret it.” Mair threatened as she let her go.

Wanderer nodded as she reached a hand into her chest, the appendage passing through the skin as though it were an illusion before pulling out a large red feather in her grasp which glowed with a white aura. She pressed her other hand on Shysie’s shoulders, and more ivory flames spread from her palm and along the giantess, healing the blackened burns and wounds in its wake. The feather she held pulsed with power, and white fire burned brighter, its dancing form traveling along the length of Shysie’s arm and creating flesh and bone to replace what was lost. Wanderer spoke softly as she worked. “You should find shelter. This cavern is dangerous.”

"By the spirits." Shysie gasped. Both of the flamekeepers' mouths were agape at the new flesh the giantess flexed. "Thank you." She said, voice full of emotion. "To think a daughter spirit would bless me with a new arm… How How I could weep with joy forever." She tried to sit further up but she was still weak and Mair pushed her back down.

"You must rest Shysie." She said before turning to the Wanderer. "We know how dangerous this place is, we ventured here ourselves on the trail of the murderer. I will not leave until my vengeance is had and it would be wise of you and any others, not to get in my way." She said softly, not intending for the threat to sound so… Final. But she was so close. So close.

She turned back to Shysie. "With any luck we can move the fighting elsewhere. You still need to recover and even trying to fight could be more detrimental to our cause."

Shysie frowned. "As much as I want to disagree with you, it would probably be best if I sit out for a time but… If things go bad… I won't hesitate to join you. Especially if…" her voice carried off.

Mair went and put a touch upon her shoulder. "He won't, he's too cowardly. And like I said, once we’re done here… We shall go back for her. I promise."

Shysie touched Mair's hand with her own and shut her eyes for a moment. Mair blushed at the intensity of the touch but she did not shy away. Shysie then opened her eyes and nodded. "We owe it to her. If this was part of her plan… Well… Keep your promise little raven."

"I will." She turned back to the Wanderer. "If there's anything you need to tell us, now is the time. Already I grow restless, knowing she is right there."

“Could you distract her?” Wanderer asked.

"Distract her?" She said, crossing her arms. "I could but why?"

“Rituals take time to perform, and we cannot let her interrupt us. Give us a little bit, and we can all get through this, ya. We’ll cast a spell that will save us.” Wanderer replied, changing from her more reserved demeanor and now grinning at Mair.

Mair narrowed her eyes but nodded. "A distraction. Sure." She knew in her heart any distraction she could provide would just be seen as that, instead of her earnest attempt to slay the demon. That, she would keep to herself. "Let’s get to it." She turned to Shysie who nodded at her and she nodded back.

She took a deep breath. "Get ready." She said, and then the wall came down.




“You need to calm down!” Courage shouted as she and her Reflection dodged another explosion, and barely avoided being cut in half by the gargoyle slashing wildly at them with his deadly axe. They were harmlessly passing through the brunt of his attacks; those magical bursts and scattering fragments of metal and stone, simply sifting through the majority of it all with their spell, but the blinding flashes still disoriented them, and concealed each of Garle’s incoming strikes. Courage and Courage II felt the fatigue of continually performing evasive maneuvers, and the pain from their prior wounds which had yet to completely heal, but neither of them had the opportunity to mend themselves before they would have to dedicate themselves to hastily eluding death by rampaging royalty.

It was not a battle wherein mighty blows were exchanged between opponents - it was a hunt, and they were the prey, as Garle pursued them throughout the immense cavern. Courage and her Reflection accepted their role of distracting the gargoyle with a little indignance, but if it meant that the rest of her sisters were in a slightly more safe situation, and that they could rescue Fear, then she would be content.

“There is nowhere you can flee or hide from me. Why prolong the inevitable?” Garle asked as he threw his golden axe at her, while copies of the weapon manifested all around him, granting the earthen king both protection and a means of attacking her Reflection that he currently closed in on.

“We’re not finished yet!” Courage II replied, frantically dodging the multiple blades that swung and thrust at her, as she attempted to retreat farther and farther back, yet the distance between her and her foe became shorter. “How about some of your own tactics, ya!” She shouted as she unleashed a blast of pearlescent flames at Garle, aiming for his obsidian eyes. Though it would inflict no harm, it provided her a very brief respite as it temporarily blinded him.

He became still, hovering in the air above his horde of earth elementals as Courage and her Reflection awaited his next assault. “How vexing…” He muttered to himself. “I am surrounded by deceivers and assassins, the truly sinful. I should not be surprised to discover that the servants of the Red Devil are as disgraceful as she. This is a mockery of me and my father… sending little devils such as you to creep into my realm.”

“You’re the one that attacked us! We’re just trying to save our sister! It’s what we’ve been saying the entire time we’ve been down here!” Courage and Courage II called out from where they danced and leapt from earth elemental to earth elemental as each endeavored to capture them.

“Your Maker betrayed my father, and murdered him! She has stolen his shard, and abandoned the sacred earth, just to satiate her endless hunger! I will not rest until she has answered for her sins!” His roar rumbled the entire cavern, a violent earthquake caused by the ferocity in his voice. He flew towards them slowly, ominously approaching at a speed that did not force them into immediately fleeing from him. “You would choose not to heed her crimes, nor accuse her of treachery and tyranny because she has corrupted you… Your minds have been maliciously manipulated into obeying her orders… She has deprived you of choice!”

“We aren’t here on behalf of our Mother, you idiot! We just want our sister back!” Courage combined with her Reflection as she cried out, and surrounded herself in blue flames with green arcing bolts of electricity spreading outwards. She leapt at the gargoyle with a burst of speed, her blurred form appearing directly in front of him before she unleashed hundreds of consecutive punches upon his face. She twisted, rolling in the air before she brought her leg down on his head, and she let out a growl as she prepared her next attack, only to be thrown aside by an array of golden axes that had swiftly hewn into her.

The gargoyle shook his head as he watched her fall back to the floor of the cavern, where she caught herself despite her grievous injuries and fought against his soldiers as they tried to subdue her. “If the Red Devil does not come, then your sacrifice will have been for naught.” He proclaimed somberly, as he descended to bring an end to this foolishness.

“So many lies… All will have to die then…”




The element of surprise was all hers and Zima wasted none of it. With her invisibility she dashed ahead, to where they had Vale captured and slammed her palm into the floor at Herald’s feet. A wave of black flame erupted forth all around them, avoiding only Vale and herself. She broke the chains confining her companion and whispered in her ear, “You must fight or they will win and they will take you away. We would never see each other again, Vale. If they are in your head, then you are in theirs. Now fight!” She was then gone, only to arrive next to Kindness, who she proceeded to strike with her flaming claws. Kindness was enveloped in a flash of light, and where there was one, there now stood two of her. Neither could perceive Zima, but both of them poured forth pale flames from their palms in two wide arcs as their other sister split as well and began creating more cascading walls of fire.

Vale stood unsteady with her mind besieged by her numerous sisters, but summoned floods of shadow that drowned the light nearby her. She staggered forward and pointed at her Reflection of her past self, rage burning in her eyes as she challenged the creature claiming to be her. “I’ll burn you to ashes!” She screamed, and fought back by surging towards her vulnerable doppelganger.

More white fire fell from above as the second Wanderer alighted between Vale and Fear II, and struck at Vale. She wielded her Bow of Light like a spear, now fused with her staff and her Reflection’s second bow, causing the weapon to be coated in shards of glittering ice that she stabbed into her foe. Vale recoiled from the burning touch of the bright ice, before shrieking. “Stay back! I will never be weak again!” Shadows gathered into her hands as she spoke, and solidified into a black and jagged spear which she swiftly thrusted at her two enemies. “I will never be afraid again!” She continued, retaining her shaking stance and retaliating against the two whenever they came near. “I won’t be alone again! Zima wouldn’t ever abandon me!” She said, as she stared in the direction where she thought her companion was fighting Kindness and her doppelganger.

Zima weaved through the fire, having sudden experience with it, as she was besieged on all sides. She propelled herself ever forward, giving away her position as her own flames washed over theirs. Where the two fires met, they danced in a terrible unison. She landed on the stone, away from her fight, having escaped with little effort. She picked up her long discarded weapon and gripped it tight. Now was the time to end this.

Her opponents watched as the scythe was lifted, and seemed to stare at where she stood. Curiosity and her copy began moving towards where Vale defended herself from Wanderer II and the copy of Fear, seeking to switch positions with Wanderer II. At the same time, Kindness pointed with the accursed ice dagger she held, and called out to Zima. “Let us end this.”

“Of course!” Zima shouted back. She tucked back inside her cloak the invisibility gem and once again turned visible. There was no more hiding now. She began to spin the scythe within her hand, channeling a large amount of power within it. The flames around it grew and grew. “Now you shall witness true sorrow!” Zima floated in the air as the unlight of her scythe seemed to swallow all light.

Kindness and her Reflection leapt towards Wanderer II, and tapped the Blade of Mourning against their sister’s combined bow as they all chanted. “Connect!” While their weapons melded, the three Heralds of Honor also fused, and became one champion wielding a crystalline sword shining with celestial light. The three that had become one surged forward with their blade, and slashed at Zima. “We will win against you!” A river of light flowed from the sword they held high, its radiance swiftly rushing towards the revenant.

The wall of unlight greedily lapped up their sword luminance but it was too much, far too quickly. There was a deafening scream as the two lights mixed and then exploded, sending both opponents to the floor. Seconds later, the flaming cocoon fell and thus stepped forth Wanderer and Mair. The pale warrior spotted the downed Zima and wasted little time to go after her. Wanderer dashed towards the fusion of her sisters, and gestured back to where Garle and Courage fought after she reached them. They could see their most brash sister bounding towards them with the vehement gargoyle close behind her.




There was a flash of light as Courage and Courage II ended their fusion while in the process of running from the enraged Garle. Courage joined Wanderer and the amalgamation of her other sisters, while Courage II sprinted towards Skydancer. Magical explosions continued to wrack the immense cavern as the artillery among the horde of earth elementals repeatedly fired upon the Sacred Septet, blasting apart more of the stone and metal that the cairn of the dead god was composed of. In the ruins of the section where Courage, Wanderer, and their fused sisters had been before being bombarded, only a single figure remained.

Garle glared at the five that had become one, flying forward as he hurled his golden axe at them. They chanted together once more, “Connect!” as more of the artifacts they had forged amongst them swiftly melded with the shining sword they wielded. The thrown axe clashed with their blade, eliciting a terrible clamor as magical metal scraped against cosmic radiance, unleashing a sonorous pulse and electric screech simultaneously. The immediate impact pushed the fused sisters back, but they deflected the axe and dodged to the side when Garle came crashing down where they had stood.

His weapon returned to his hand, as copies of it manifested in a hovering circle around him. He slashed at them, but they countered and parried his blows aside, ensuing more thunderous pulsations and screeches that tore apart the cavern as they battled. “This desecration can never be forgiven. I demand the death of you all.” Garle impassively intoned as he brutally lashed out, blinking out of existence in bursts of blue light before reappearing from behind them and attacking.

He could not match their agility, and their seeming ability to predict where he would strike from even when he stepped through portals, or obscured his presence. He had realized that their cowardly Maker would never come to their aid, as she lacked loyalty and conviction, which meant that these irksome pests served no purpose, and he must exterminate them.

They could not match his strength, and endless endurance as he never relented in his assault, never hesitated to strike or pause to regain his stamina, just an onslaught of furious blows without any concern of receiving damage in return. They had realized that they still lacked the power to overcome him, but they were getting closer and closer, except they seemed to be coming closer to their limitation as well. Steam rose from their hands, as the blade they wielded burned their palms, and they could feel their innards begin boiling with the increasing heat of empowered inner flames. None of them knew how much longer they had until they immolated themselves, but they could not let themselves be defeated.

“You are those that defile the land. If you wish to atone, then perish.” Garle continued, ignoring the searing pain that spread across his scalp as the Peculiar Crown defied him once again. He remained certain that his reserved might would be more than enough to overwhelm all of them, as he gained greater speed and power the more he endured as the battle persisted.

“We seek to protect the land! To protect life! You’re the one ravaging it!” They rebuked, as their defense faltered and they sustained more wounds that required too much time to mend in the middle of a fight.

“I am the son of Voligan, and I will unite the mortal tribes in order to protect the earth from your insidious kind. Homura is not divine; she is a demon, and you are her fiendish servants. I must not let you taint others.” The gargoyle muttered, quietly reciting his statement as he slashed at them again and again, until he battered their bright blade out of their grasp and raised his axe high to finally strike them down.

“We’re allies of Voligan!” They cried out, as his weapon chopped through their arm and tore into their shoulder. The combined sisters let out a scream of agony, as Garle pulled the head of his axe free and roared.

“Lies! Enough lies!” He shouted as he brought his axe down again.




Fear II and Curiosity could not step near Vale, as their lost sister summoned an endless tide of burning shadows, and stabbed at them with her stygian spear. However, their pallid sibling could not pierce their protection either, as white fire and shimmering ice guarded the two of them from her assault. They had reached an impasse, until Vale unleashed another wave of darkness that spread in all directions, shielding her from sight briefly. When the darkness was dispersed, Curiosity and Fear II saw that their sister had sheathed herself in umbral armor and began pushing through their defenses with renewed vehemence.

As Fear II persevered in her attempts at prying apart the shadows that warded her mind from fully connecting with her other self, Curiosity reached out with words spoken aloud. “Fear, we’re not here to hurt you! We want to help you and Zima!” The inquisitive champion could barely hear her own voice over the cacophony of cackling flames, but it seemed that Vale had been able to discern what she had said. Curiosity felt dread at the sight of her sister becoming even more enraged, as Vale raised one hand marred by slits that opened to reveal toothy maws, and then pulled forth more tenebrous tendrils that covered the limb entirely.

The shadows solidified into a black gauntlet with serrated edges and beastial mouths engraved upon it. With her spear and armored fist, Vale rapidly ripped through both ice and fire, striding towards the retreating Curiosity and Fear II. “You were never my sisters! You left me! Now you will suffer!” They crouched to avoid her, but she simply adjusted her aim to still eviscerate both, until a radiant blur too fast for any of them to acutely perceive slammed into her.

Skydancer came to a halt, a little ahead of where Curiosity and Fear II stood up before leaping aboard the flying boat. Courage II chuckled at the sight of her concerned sisters, reassuring them as she reversed the direction Skydancer flew. “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. This isn't a relief for you two, ya. Come on, let’s go!”

The prow of the soaring vessel turned to face where the rest of their sisters fought back Garle in an intense battle. They could sense through their connection that the fight was becoming too much for their siblings. They could sense the weakening grip of their sisters on the hilt of the luminous sword and the stress upon their bodies from harnessing such a vast amount of sacred power.

The earth elementals had begun firing explosives at them with Vale no longer in the way for collateral damage. Though the magic and shrapnel did little harm to them, the explosions were enough to briefly blind them. As their vision returned after they had evaded another barrage, all of them suddenly cried out as each of them experienced excruciating pain that spread throughout their arm and shoulder. They watched as Garle removed his axe from the now gaping wound inflicted upon their sisters, and surged into action despite the agony they felt.

Skydancer crashed into Garle as the three champions hastily disembarked, the bejeweled boat thrusting into the gargoyle’s chest once more, and bringing him along with it as it soared towards the distant edges of the cavern. “Chailiss is going to be so angry because we broke his gift.” Curiosity morbidly commented as she collected the severed arm of their fused sisters, while Courage II and Fear II staggered towards where they lay bleeding out.

“We must attend to more pressing matters…” They heard Kindness remark, as the Sacred Septet came together to perform one last ritual. “We cannot channel enough energy to attain a victory without suffering self combustion.” Kindness II added without any inflection to indicate her apprehension. The shifting symbols of the Gnosis had completely covered their bodies, as Curiosity and Courage healed their sister, and Fear II watched as Garle sundered Skydancer from afar.

“Well if we don’t make it… it’s been a joy, ya.” Courage said as she and Curiosity were finished, and both of them along with their fusion turned to look at Fear II. They all clasped hands, then began to merge into one as the ritual started.

They all merged, and their single shape ignited in a great column of crimson flames that continued to grow in size and blinding intensity. The explosives that the earth elemental artillery fired merely melted in the air before any reached the inferno itself, but the stone and soldiers that stood close to the fire seemed unaffected by its presence. From the flames came screams that were as reverberating as the rumbling in the cavern and the external roar of the colossal bonfire, yet there was no sight of the Sacred Septet. Their loud-piercing cry was a sound no other creature could create, continually increasing in pitch and potency in an expression of enigmatic suffering beyond comprehension. Then in an ephemeral moment, their voices synchronized and shouted. “Ultimate Fusion: Apotheosis!”

Immediately the flames began to reduce in size, becoming smaller and smaller until the immense bonfire had become a little blazing sphere within which a colorful crystal resided. Cracks appeared on the crystal, and blood seeped forth in swirling streams that hung in the air. Swiftly, the blood coalesced around the crystal into a familiar shape, and simultaneously solidified and acquired coloration. The fusion of all nine champions wore the attire of their goddess, and possessed a prismatic aura that manifested along the contour of her form.

They held out their hand, and summoned a silver spear. The shaft of the ornate weapon was adorned with glittering gemstones and gently glowing glyphs, and its pointed head was a singular scarlet. Instead of facing the incoming Garle, they turned their attention to the battle between Zima and Mair.




Zima and Mair battled in the heavens of that earthy tomb. One of fire, one of darkness- Each vying for total control. For victory. One for vengeance. One for sorrow. There was no better opponent, save perhaps, for the Revenger himself. But Mish-Cheechel was not there and his unbeknownst disciple would have to do. Zima knew her to be the will of a dead people, the vengeance for their souls. As they spun and washed the bejeweled stalactites with waves of fire, Zima recalled that fateful day.

She could feel nothing. But that was a lie. She could feel it all. All the terrible things. All the pain. All the sadness, suffering, sorrow. In that inexplicable moment that she had gotten her revenge, she had held her face in her hands and had wept a single tear. It was the loss of her innocence. That part of her she hated. She knew now if she was to protect the one she made, her companion, the girl she… Felt for… In her selfishness, she had to win.

Mair was fixated on her death but she would not give it to her. She would not let any of them achieve what they had come to that tomb to do. All except herself. For she was Zima and she was the Revenant and she would make them all suffer as she had suffered.

This she knew.

Mair’s body burst alight with stronger flames as she hurled another large fireball at Zima. Her cloak fluttered in the wind as she caught it with her darkness and sent it back. It washed over Mair like water over a smooth rock. No resistance. The flame was her element. Zima needed a new advantage. She glimpsed below at Vale… Who was… Knocked out? Where was Garle? Where was… The screams started and Zima looked to the inferno. The tides of the battle were changing and not in their favor. She had to act quickly.

Then it struck her, quite literally, as a snaking tendril of fire caught her cloak. The flames bit at her before she flung her cloak away and with it, the gem. She cursed under her breath and glowered at the ever focused Mair. No matter… It was time to unveil her greatest trick. Something that no one had seen, save for Vale. Perhaps the Heralds knew of it but… Now or never.

As the Homuran champions screamed and shouted, Zima stopped fleeing from Mair and charged her with scythe in hand. Mair’s fists alighted with white flame and as the two met, Zima exploded into smoke. Mair swung madly but it was far too late. She entered the pale warrior, who’s inner being burned so bright it hurt her. But Zima was determined, even as Mair struggled, beginning to scream as Zima’s tendrils wrapped around her mind.

Her will was strong, so strong… Was it enough? It was too strong. She began to slip, to burn away. No! No! No! This would not do. She began to laugh at the thought of what she had to do. Whilst still inside Mair, Zima called forth all the power of order. She knew what Mair had done, what those Heralds had done as well. Now, now it was their turn.

A dark sigil, a mockery of the glyphs the Homuran champions used, materialized all around Mair and within seconds they absorbed all of the light. Mair’s body went rigid, arms outstretched on either side of her as Zima felt her fire being contained. It was working.

Before long Mair was enslaved to her will and she opened her crimson eyes in the body of a pale goddess. She flexed her hands and felt the strength within. She turned her attention to the Champions of Homura, only then realizing that they wielded a weapon at her.

Only then, for the third time and for the strongest time yet, did that feeling of dread wash over her. It was not the spear that frightened her so, but past that, on the very fringes of her vision.

Two orbs of crimson.

Glowing with hate.




“Release her.” The combined champions called in a voice that did not quite belong to any of them, yet felt familiar nonetheless. Rather than wait for Garle to come to them, they leapt to where Zima stood and stared at the revenant that had possessed Mair, repeating their command.

"I…" She began, blinking. The eyes had vanished. The feeling gone. Had she just imagined it? Her attention went back to the champions and she rolled her eyes as she looked them over. "I won't. You'll have to kill her to kill me." She then attacked them, wielding the power of Mair. Black flames shot forth!

“I did not wish for this… to have to hurt you.” The visage of those that had confronted her so long ago in the Fields of Sorrow said, as they deflected the ebon flames with a swing of their spear that shimmered and rippled while singing through the air. “But I will do what I must.”

The combined champions jumped backwards, ascending higher and higher, soaring to the top of the cavern at an incredible speed. Even from such a great distance, it was easy to discern the smallest details of their shape, as they thrust their silver spear outwards. The sacred weapon expanded, more and more until a sudden mountain of red metal came crashing down near the center of the cavern and crushed all beneath it.

Zima used a shield of flame and her own power to brace for the impact. In the final seconds before it came down, she looked for Vale but did not see her and then all went dark as she strained to avoid such a crushing fate.

The stone beneath her feet was much less resilient than her strength and fire, all of it crumbling and crunching as the weight of the spear pushed down on her from above. There was no means to discern the depths she plummeted as the pressure did not abate, until it finally came to a halt and receded. There was a mixture of grinding and whistling as the spear then excavated itself, leaving an enormous crater where it had struck. One could see with ease that the center of the cavern had doubled its height, by virtue of the huge hole that replaced what was once the floor.

Slowly, yet still tumultuous in its languid motion, the cairn of the dead god was toppled - its gigantic mass sliding into the hole like heaps of dirt used to fill a dug grave. Somewhere unseen, Garle let loose an echoing bellow.

She could hardly believe the strength of the Heralds and all it did was anger her and that anger manifested in a burning aura of shadowy flames. Once the spear was truly well gone Zima made a frantic dash to fly out of the hole. Vaporizing rock and debris as she made her ascent in the landslide. Even the body of the dead god was not spared. But unlike normal stone the earth God's corpse was made of hardy stuff and her flames did little but scorch. It was the closest gap she ever had to eek through and it did not leave her host unscathed. Mair’s arms and shoulders were scratched deep, and her torso was gashed across her belly button. Something smashed into the right side of her head, blinding her eye. Zima felt blood pour from that wound and over her remaining good eye. Then, simultaneously, something smashed into her right side, breaking her arm and crushing her chest. That last blow almost doomed them both but even with a broken body, Zima could endure. Just as she had within Fear.

The angered Revenant made it through the falling debris at last and to freedom as a plume of smoke and dust erupted right after her as the corpse settled. Zima flew down upon the ledge and there she left the body of Mair who instantly yelled out in pain. Or at least she thought she wanted to yell, it more or less came out as a garbled whimper. Zima looked down upon her. Half of the champion's face was caved in, blood gushed from her mouth and her right arm was bent at an odd angle. Numerous cuts bled but Mair, ever the Revenger, looked up at Zima with a fiery eye. Zima took a step back… Something inside of her felt…. No! She did not feel. She… She shook her head before a wash of flame sent her to her knees.

The giantess had come, tears streaming down her angered face.

"It was… Them!" Zima shouted, escaping the fire into the air. The giantess paid her no mind and tended to her friend.

Zima looked back to the Heralds.

Far away, they seemed to have forgotten her, turning their attention to the broken Vale that they had laid upon a horizontal slab of stone. The black armor Vale wore was fractured and sections of it were gone, but it had protected her from the brunt of the attacks she sustained. Her accursed sisters sundered and tore the armor apart with ease, before pressing their hand upon her head. Even from afar, the combined champions exuded visual clarity, the minutiae of their movements and details of their shape were easily discerned; and Zima saw it all as if she stood beside them. She saw their hand sink into the pale flesh of Vale as if she were a vessel of water, and their appendage was simply sifting through liquid in search of something within.

Zima's heart panged. Nervousness welled and she spring forth towards them. "No! No!" She shouted, "Leave her alone! You can't!"

They glanced at her as she rapidly approached, and had the audacity to softly smile as they spoke. “We will be free from this despairing darkness soon.” Their hand was withdrawn from Vale’s body, and they stood up. Their gaze passed from Zima, to the bellowing behemoth behind her that had also begun marching towards them. In a blur of motion, they were gone and already across the distance between them and Garle as the thunderous sounds of battle swiftly reached the revenant. They had abandoned their sister again, and were preoccupied with fighting the enraged gargoyle now.

Zima went over to Vale, ignoring the battle. She bent down, tentative to touch her. "Vale? What did they do to you?" The infection they had instilled slowly revealed itself, buried beneath layers of black flames within Vale’s body, but not hidden from Zima. The warm flickering of flames lost long ago - returned and shielded by celestial light. Vale had yet to awaken, but her mind was clearly burning as the bright barrier and dark fires clashed with each other.

Anger overcame her, yet she did not know what to do. Zima cursed under her breath as rumblings and the earth shook. "This…" She breathed, "Is all thei-" a sharp voice cut in

"Your fault."

Zima looked behind her, to the dull golden shape of the enemy they had once most surely killed. But his glowering crimson eyes, not unlike her own, peered her down with a malice she had never felt before. The same eyes she saw so far away. The same feelings of dread palpated from him. Choked the very air with hatred tinged pain.

It was Viho, the champion of her father and Fear's friend… He had become a Revenant.

Before she could move he had her pinned with a vice-like grip in his talons of black. She attempted to turn into smoke but it didn't work. Her powers were betrayed by the after images of Viho.

"Long did I think how best to take this revenge." He said in a voice as cold as the abyss. "I pondered while I flew. As I always had and I came to the only logical conclusion." He squeezed, Zima felt the confines of her form crack, if that was even possible. She lit herself on fire with her black flame but that fire didn't even touch his talons. It was as if they were compelled away. "It was pointless taking revenge on you in this form. No…" he paused, head moving closer. "I'd have to change you back for it to truly work and I will Zima. For there can only be one of us."

Words caught in her throat but she shook her head nonetheless. She looked to Vale but her companion was still gone.

"Don't worry. I'm not going to hurt her. Not yet. Not until they've purged the corruption away from her. Not until she was who I knew. That way… All your effort is wasted. All those years gone in an instant. All that work… Gone. Only then will I kill her and the rest of them. When you can feel what it's like to die all over again."

"Y-You can't!" Her voice exploded only to be quickly crushed by his weight.

"Can't I?"




Crimson crashed against gold, as copies of Garle’s mighty axe cooperated together to withstand the strength of the silver spear his enemy wielded. He deflected the sudden strike from the combined champions with his weapon, but barely blocked the second stab as the copies of the golden axe formed an improvised shield in front of him. Though the barrier was not penetrated, it was vehemently pushed back and slammed into him with enough force to launch him high, nearly halfway to the cavern ceiling. Fury had obscured his mind, as his body became berserk, trembling with a frenzied anticipation.

His foe flew towards him, thrusting their spear once more with incredible swiftness. The shield composed of copies manifested itself before him again, but the spear shifted as it soared towards its target. It twisted and turned in the air until it had encircled the gargoyle, then lashed out like a deadly serpent. The crimson blade cut through the stone that was his skin, and severed the hand that carried the golden axe, as the surprised Garle watched it all unfold. He had little time to react to the injury before his conjured protection had vanished, and he was unguarded in front of the foul servants of the Red Devil. He activated his magical gemstones, ignoring how little mana was remaining in his possession, and passed through a portal leading to the ground where his hand and weapon had fallen.

He hastily pried the golden axe from the tight grasp of his dismembered appendage, and attuned to the artifact before seeking where his enemy was. “Face me!” He shouted at where he saw the fused champions tending to the two assassins that had encroached in his domain. “Do not mock me, servants of the Red Devil! Little dishonorable demons!” He continued to shout, and he called upon the earth to replenish his supply of magical ammunition and to hinder these trespassers, as he stomped towards his enemy. He halted himself before reaching them, for the earth did not heed his summons and remained silently spectating the battle instead of aiding him. He struggled as even the stone and metal within his body became burdened by an unseen weight and stillness.

The many that were one then stood as they finished healing the wounded assassin, and gazed back at him. “You have committed many sins, child of stone. Do you wish to continue accumulating sins and sorrow by insulting the Divine? You are acting an aggressive fool, blinded by anger and ignorance, but I believe you may potentially atone and make the world a better place. I will repeat myself one last time, I do not wish to fight you. Let us end this needless violence and work together.”

“Never!” His answer was accompanied by him hurling his axe directly at them, but the weapon was deflected with a terrible screech of metal grinding against metal before the axe returned to the sole remaining hand of its infuriated wielder. “You are slaves of the traiterous fiend, and I will avenge my father by slaying all of you!” He tore a large boulder from the ground and threw it at them, then ascended into the air before he also threw his axe at them from above, attempting to overwhelm their defense.

“You have made an unfortunate mistake.” The boulder broke into pieces and transformed into colorful motes of flame, and the axe was parried aside again, as his unobstructed enemy stared at him with anger. “I am Homura II, and it is you who are enslaved by grief and hatred. As a king, you are a disgrace.” The silver spear surged towards him yet she barely shifted, as the rest of the world around him slowed, moving at such a languid pace that he found himself with a painful plentiful amount of time to realize he was witness to his own defeat.

He defended himself, but was tossed back by the force of the blow. He crashed against the ceiling of the cavern, and then began to fall as his wings were left limp and refused to carry him with his body having already surrendered. He was not provided with mercy, as the Reflection of the Red Devil soared towards him, and struck him again. He smashed into the far wall, embedded in the crater his bulk had created, until his enemy pulled him forth from his feeble prison, and threw him across the cavern once more. His strength left him as he heard the voices of the earth weeping as they begged the red demigoddess to have pity and let him live. His inner power swelled within him, and he prepared to meet his demise despite the plea of his home, as his soul demanded he die upholding his honor.

“You have not been forsaken, Garle. Yet you must begin a new journey. Do not be afraid.” The simulacrum of Homura said, as she stood upon his cracked chest with her silver spear poised to strike. The gargoyle could not truly articulate what persuaded him into defying the urge to reach for the lingering vestiges of strength he still had, as he lay still while his limbs protested. The blade penetrated his chest, sinking deep into his core, and then spreading in all directions to cut and pierce every part of his body. Metallic fluids and gemstones seeped from gaping lacerations that formed now and during prior fights, slowly flooding his form.

His enemy leapt from his chest, and quietly observed as he sank into a pool of earthen ichor, buried by his blood. She glanced back at the two mortals that remained in the cavern, and swiftly returned to their side.

“We must leave here soon.”




Viho peered down at Zima, his gaze beneath that golden mask unrelenting. “Let us start by uncovering your very nature. Once a favored daughter of the Cold god, innocent and naive.” The owl spat, releasing some of the pressure on her. Just enough to speak.

“It won’t work. Whatever you're going to do. This is a curse! You can’t break it.” She growled.

“A curse can be lifted. This one is no different. I gleaned many things from our Lord upon my awakening.” Zima’s eyes went wide. “Did I forget to mention…” Viho whispered. “That it was our Lord Father who brought me back… Who donned me… Who turned me into death?”

Zima shook her head. “You lie! He would do no such thing!” The talons squeezed, cutting her voice off with a gasp.

“You should see the destruction… Wrought by feverish hands. The North dies and Chailiss has gone mad. The world ends, Zima. Everything… is wrong.” He chuckled, his black feathers ruffling.

“This is all your fault. All of this. Had these heralds not been occupied with you and Fear, they could have helped. I would still be alive. He would still be sane. Like a pebble starting a rockslide, you Zima, have caused all of this.” The bitterness in his voice was not hidden. But Viho was a fool, it wasn’t her fault. None of it was! They should have just left her alone! Anything that happened to the North now was beyond her grasp. She wasn’t even there and she didn’t believe Chailiss had gone insane. Yet… Doubt flooded into her.

“Now where was I? Ahhh… Sweet and innocent Zima. Slain, sacrificing herself out of some misguided attempt to save her friend. Did you ever stop to think that perhaps he was better off without you? That you brought him only pain? Sorrow? Suffering? Even then…”

“Mish used me like a weapon. The same thing you say Chailiss is doing. Stop this Viho. It won’t work, I am beyond redemption.” Zima’s voice was weak but she carried conviction within it.

“Redemption? Is that what you think this is… No, this is punishment.” he sneered. “I know the truth of your curse, whispered like smoldering coals. Tell me, do you think your suffering is your own? That the Gods said you must suffer, only you, upon the day of your rebirth?” He scoffed. “That twisted mind of yours, unwilling to admit that you were always wrong.”

Zima shook her head, trying to break free, snarling like a mad woman. “No!” she yelled. “The whole world and the gods and you and them, they will all suffer for what they’ve done to me! They all deserve to die!” She had to get out, she had to break free.

“Always the victim. Still a child.” He mocked. “This Revenancy strips us of our former selves, but… I can see the cracks are beginning to fill in, Zima. This anger, this hatred, so strong on the onset of our existence, melds with time, don’t you think.” he stated. “Come now… Do you feel nothing for this one?” His other talon hung over Vale like an ax ready to fall. Zima looked away, while a part of her screamed inside to help the slumbering girl.

“Look at her, Zima. LOOK AT HER!” He boomed.

While reluctant at first, she submitted and looked upon her companion. The one who she had tortured and hated. Despised and manipulated. Who she was jealous of. Who she had pained. Who she was cruel towards. Something else bloomed. Something that should not have.

“You made her suffer. You brought her sorrow. Was it because you sought companionship? A slave? Bah.” Viho settled his foot back down and turned to look at Mair and Shysie as many heralds in one fought Garle somewhere off in the distance. “How many more suffered like she did? Possessed by a creature so bent with hate, she would kill the world. Look at her, broken and bloody. You did that. You, Zima, brought her suffering.”

Zima grew numb, it was the only way to stop him. It was pointless. All had to suffer, she had to remove them from life. She had to get back at Voi!

“If only you realized the simple truth.” She looked back up at Viho. “You are not unique. You aren’t even special. Just an ant in a world dominated by Gods. A vindictive child who thought herself so wronged she would kill everyone. All because she could not see what was right in front of her all this time. Everyone suffers.”

She stared at Viho.

He stared back.

The words of her truth washed over Zima like a slight drizzle at first, growing stronger, until it only poured. She looked away, shut her eyes but it only made it worse. She could not see it. She could not allow herself to understand it.

She wouldn’t. She couldn’t. It drove her mad.It made her sad. She was fine. She wasn’t. Mish killed her. She killed herself. She got revenge. She should have stayed dead. She brought suffering. She suffered. She brought sorrow. She was sorrowful. It was their fault. It was her fault.

The world hated her. She hated herself.

Over and over images flashed in her head. Of death she brought, of the child she murdered. Of the children that followed. Of her cruelty and her hate. It made her head spin. She drowned in it, it consumed her. How had she been so stupid? How had she not seen? She brought suffering when it was already there. The children were thin. Her cruelty was unneeded. Fear was broken.

Fear. Oh Fear.

That was her name. That was always her name. She sought to play God by forging her anew. She only made a monster in her own image. Zima floated in the abyss, eyes wide as her truth splayed out it all and she realized… Viho was right. She was not special. She was not unique. She was just a depressed spirit, too blinded by arrogance to see any different. When it rained, people suffered. When it was too hot, people suffered. When it was too cold, people suffered. When they died, their loved ones suffered. She had added to that suffering like a hungry fish and she would have swallowed the world just to realize that it would never end. There would always be suffering and sorrow. It was unbearable. It was unstoppable.

She should have stayed dead. The world would have been better for it.

That was the easiest path to take. She had died by immolation. She had traversed the trials. She had wanted more than peace. But Zima had been a fool. It was better to be dead than to suffer. Yes… She faded. It was better that way. She wanted to drown, to be done with it all.

Yet.

For the first time in a long time, she recalled what it was like to laugh. To smile. Mish had laughed. He had smiled. He had kept going. She remembered Fear, pleading with her to go with them to help. How she had saved her, when she should not have. What did she see? What did she… Despite all she had done to her, what had she seen? She did not want either of them to suffer. Or… Her father. How far had he fallen? Was Viho right…?

He was going to… To kill Fear.

She needed to know. Was it because Fear didn’t want to see her suffer? Was it because she was just a big fool? She felt her lips curl into a smile at the thought. A big fool. Who had been… How had she been? Soft? Comforting?

Perhaps… She could help her. Maybe that was why… She was not made to bring suffering.

But… To stop it.

Blue eyes snapped open to meet crimson and the dark owl champion laughed. For his plan had worked.

Zima no longer cared what he thought.

She needed to keep Fear safe.

No matter what.




The horde of earth elementals had divided itself; half of their number dispersing and passing into the stone or through tunnels, while the other half began to build a cairn for their fallen king. The chthonic dirge remained unheard by those that could not hear the voices of the deep earth, but the sorrowful song was also accompanied by rumbling and shaking throughout the entire cavern that was audible to all. The ominous clamor came before the ceiling ruptured across multiple sections, and debris descended from above like chunks of the Moon crashing upon the Galbar. It seemed as though the cavern would collapse in on itself soon.

The silver spear simply sank into the hand of Homura II as she gestured for Mair and Shysie to follow her through the destructive expanse. Shysie did as told, carrying the now unconscious, but healed Mair.

The demigoddess led them to where Skydancer had been tossed aside after being sundered, and she began the process of mending the flying boat as the cacophony of chaos reigned all around them. The fractures in the luminous bejeweled hull began slowly sealing themselves as celestial light poured forth from the palm of Homura II, and cracks beneath their feet formed across the trembling stone, while more large chunks fell from the ceiling.

The falling rocks that descended towards them turned into prismatic flames before reaching them, harmlessly washing over them with a gentle warmth before fading away. As she restored Skydancer, Homura II turned her gaze back to the heart of the cavern, as half of her mind concentrated on her work with a furrowed brow and protecting her two companions, but the other half of her mind reached out to the sister that was left behind. There was little time remaining before this subterranean realm was lost, as the labyrinth began to reshape itself because of the condensed mana becoming unstable when it was no longer commanded. Homura II hoped that it was not too late.

Skydancer was repaired, and Homura II leapt to the helm as she called for Shysie to come aboard with Mair with haste. “Hold on.” She said, as they ascended to where gaping cracks in the ceiling allowed them to fly out of the cavern. Among the shifting and clamorous fissures, the only source of illumination was the radiance of their boat, which shined upon the rippling stone walls, undulating with the occasional burst beside them.

There was no passage that led directly to the land above, so Homura II summoned her spear and created a path. The slightly smooth flight upwards considering their dire situation immediately became a very violent and rugged journey as they forced their way through the stone, eliciting more disruptive bursts and the need for sudden maneuvers to avoid colliding with the walls too much. Higher and higher they flew, though there was no means of truly discerning the direction they traveled, nor ascertaining the distance between them and the surface. As they battled the primordial powers of the earth, Homura hesitated before she touched upon the receding presence of Fear through their connection, and silently prayed for her.




Her mind was in turmoil as a myriad of memories and thoughts rushed her and tore her apart before her scattered fragments melded together into a single entity - this process repeating again and again, until the overwhelming swirling feeling forced her to surrender to the ebb and flow of this broken and then mended existence. Her vision was distorted, as though she were peering through a translucent pane or curtain, but she could see a colorful sky and thousands upon thousands of tiny versions of herself coming together and assembling something she could not quite discern.

She could not feel or see her body, only the miniscule horde of herself as they continued to work, and as an indeterminate amount of time passed, she realized what they were constructing. They were building her body. She could see her limbs and torso, composed of tiny clones linking together by entangling themselves, and slowly sensation came back to her as she started to stir ever so slightly. There was a break in the repeating cycle of being broken, as she stayed complete, long enough to breathe in and out.

She heard music and a gentle voice singing, lulling her into a serene state as she watched the world around her change. She drifted through a suddenly dark passage, before reaching a bright opening, and beyond lay an otherworldly ocean inhabited by strange spirits of the sea. Instead of aimlessly floating, she swam forward, and saw strands of light appear all around her - the presence of these glowing threads ushered a welcome warmth within her, and whispered a word into her ear.

She awoke to shadows and thunderous destruction.
Directly beside her, the blue shape of an ethereal woman struggled in the grasp of… Her eyes followed the tall figure. Legs gave way to feathers, covered in dull gold, swarmed with black smoke. Crimson eyes bore down upon her as she found its head, hidden behind a helmet.

“Fear!” The voice of the woman, so familiar, called out. “You have to run! Please!” She cried.

“There will be no running. No escaping.” The owl craned its head, as the woman struggled in his grasp. “Do you know who I am? Who this is?”

So many memories flooded her being, as she cried out. “Viho, why are you doing this!?!” She was struggling just to stand, yet it became easier as her mind finally found balance when both Fear and Vale within her agreed to an armistice for the sake of Zima and Viho. The internal conflict had come to an end, allowing her to comfortably move and focus herself.

“Ah, so you do remember me.” Viho twisted his head at an angle that would have broken most necks as he looked at her, unblinking. “Is it not obvious? I tried so hard to help you and you killed me. My friend, eating my flesh as if I was nothing. You didn’t even try to stop yourself.” His voice grew angrier. “Somewhere out there my corpse lies rotting. Do you know what it’s like to die all alone? Betrayed by everyone you ever knew? Forgotten? I hate you.”

Her head shook vigorously in response. “You were never forgotten! All this time, the parasite tormented me with memories of hurting you, but I wouldn’t let it win. I promised I would find you, and bring you back if you were alone. You’ve saved me, so shouldn’t I save you now?” She staggered forward despite the warnings she heard, and fell to her knees. “I’m here now, so please don’t hurt Zima. Please, hatred will not heal any of us.”

The world around them fell apart, tumbling into depths of smoky abyss. It was loud but at that moment there were only the three of them. Upon the edge of a god’s grave did they stand, staring at one another, unmoving despite the danger. No one said anything, even as Zima quietly struggled, even as Fear silently begged before the darkness that they had created. It was Viho who broke that deafening silence.

“I lied…” His head returned to a more straight position and he peered down at the spirit between his talons. “You won’t get to watch, Zima.”

Within seconds, he tightened his grip, slammed Zima into the cavern floor and then threw her into the crumbling abyss. Discarded like a plaything, Zima fell without words. He then launched himself at Fear, talons wanting only to rip her apart. She lunged forward, and sank into the stone like a shadow to avoid being struck before she reappeared behind him with her hands filled with gemstones imbued with magic she had intended to use against her sisters. She threw a glowing topaz at him that burst with blinding radiance, and held up a diamond that hid her from sight as she leapt into the darkness in pursuit of her companion.

An explosion of darkness erupted behind her. Despite being blinded and hidden from sight, Viho chased her. “You cannot hide from me! I know your very essence.” He hissed. Far below, a hint of misty blue could be seen through the falling debris.

She briefly lamented the loss of her wings of light, while she frantically aimed herself as she fell. She unfortunately possessed little practice with diving through the sky, and found herself fumbling as she attempted to roll towards a wall or falling debris for something else to jump from. “Zima!” She desperately called out.

There was no response from her companion, so far below, falling without course but Fear was gaining. Viho was right behind her, smashing into the rocks with little care. A talon closed in right behind her as Viho hissed with frustration. Without any choice, she used the single sapphire she carried to create a portal to Zima, leaving her without a means of returning to the cavern above. The echoes of the destruction far above gave her little hope of fleeing anyway.

She passed through the portal and appeared beside the faint swirl of blue mist, calling out to her companion once more as she shed her shroud of invisibility and flailed helplessly. She found out why Zima did not respond, the spirit was unconscious. Shimmering between the vague shape of blue mist and the form of the woman she knew. Loud bangs echoed from below, they were nearing the bottom.

“Wake up! Please!” She begged, reaching out with a chain of shifting runes to protect Zima from the fall. Fear did not know whether a spirit would actually suffer harm from falling such a great height, but she did not want to risk finding out. The spell would protect them from the force of the impact, however there was nothing she could cast or create that would protect Zima or herself from Viho. It was difficult to weep while falling, she realized.

Zima stirred with sudden awareness and in doing so, she stopped falling entirely. As Fear slipped by, Zima gasped and flew after her, becoming a part of the wind itself that wrapped around Fear, stopping her fall. They floated for a time as the world rained ruin around them. “Where’s…” Zima began but before she could even answer, a dark shape rocketed into them, sending them full force into the rocky ground below. Zima sprang forth, setting Fear up on her feet and taking the form of a woman once more. Zima glanced at her but quickly looked ahead as Viho dove down in the dimming light.

Fear prepared to evade as she explained the situation to Zima. “I have no mana left!” She did not have much spiritual energy left either after expending so much to create relics that had been lost. Her black gauntlet was not enough to grant her the strength needed to combat the owl champion in his golden armor and dreadful talons. Vale could not provide her with any of the powers that she once possessed either, as Zima was no longer a revenant, which left Fear with little to nothing at her disposal. “How did you free yourself from your curse?” She asked as she swiftly leapt around in order to avoid being hit.

“Don’t worry!” Zima shouted on the other side of Viho, who had landed and buffeted them with wind. “And uh… I had an epiphany!”

“Do not lie!” Viho hissed again, clawing the ground where Zima had just been. The spirit danced in the air, floating and flying, becoming the wind as she avoided capture. “I freed her,” he proclaimed. “Now she gets to feel everything. All the death and suffering she caused. Knowing what she’s done, knowing she got her dear friend murdered.” Viho swiftly turned his attention back to Fear, swiping at her but a falling boulder hit him, shattering against his armor. This did little but enrage the owl champion, who exploded in darkness. The blast caught Zima in her wind form and she was propelled into a wall.

“Can’t we free you as well!” Fear rebuked, dashing towards Viho and jumping in front of him. Though she had learned the techniques her mother imparted on her other sisters, she did not share their bond with the phoenix, or carry as many relics, and she was aware that dodging attacks would not lead to victory.

He scraped the ground at his feet, wings at his side. “You cannot.” He spat, crouching and then he pounced. His talons glowed, leaving a faint glow of death in their wake. Fear had wondered what lay beyond life ever since she fled from Keltra with Zima long ago, and wondered whether she would ever atone and return to her home. Her beloved friend that had saved her now no longer wished to speak with her, and sought her demise, so she could not even offer her other companion time to recover with a distraction. She mused at how the broken halves of herself, Zima, and Viho, had all intertwined, and accepted her fate with forlorn reluctance.

A cold talon wrapped around Fear before pinning her down. Viho stared at her, eyes ablaze with malice. “Why do you care for her?” he asked. “Why would you leave everyone else? Why did you leave me to die so alone?”

Her wards were crumbling at the mere contact, as necrotic power erased the glyphs from her flesh. “She is family. I-I left because I didn’t want them to hurt her. I didn’t want to hurt you either. It takes two to find love; I couldn’t abandon her. I’m so sorry for leaving you alone. Forgive me, I wasn't what you needed when the parasite possessed me, made me into a monster…” She sobbed, barely clinging onto the relief she had felt when she realized that her sisters had freed her from the tyranny of the parasite, and finally became a goddess that could succeed where she had failed. Now she would endure the punishment for all of her sins.

Viho dipped his head low, brooding. It took several seconds for him to do anything as the rocks fell larger and larger. Then he finally looked up and at her. “You were my only family.” Then in an instant he squeezed, shattering the glyphs of protection. A rock smashed into him, knocking the owl off balance. It didn’t come from above, but from the side. Suddenly Zima was there, wearing the rock as a body. Her form was small but strong as she pried a talon loose enough for Fear to be freed. Viho lifted his other foot and brought down his full weight, which Zima caught and struggled with, they very rock of her form cracking. Worse, where her hands had formed and touched the talons, they grew ashen. “Go,” she gasped, “Get out from there!”

Fear let half of her body pass through the stone beneath her, before she twisted and pulled herself away as if she were swimming through water. She lifted herself from the floor, standing up, and sought a solution to the tragedy unfolding. There were no tunnels to flee through, and far above was the alien sight of a vehement mana storm obliterating what was once the tomb of Voligan. She clasped her hands together and prayed. “Chailiss, Lord of Winter, hear my plea. Aid us now. Save your children.”

“Oh no.” Zima’s form crumbled under Viho’s weight but she flew backwards into Fear and spun around to her. ‘What have you done?” She asked, appalled. Even Viho stiffened.

Reality stilled. Rocks ceased their falling, the storm chilled itself to quiet and the very air turned cold. Zima hovered over Fear, looking in every direction for some unseen threat. And then before them came a tear in the space between spaces. Like a black knife it slit itself apart, revealing a deathly shimmer. Chailiss ushered forth, his armor rippled as if it were alive. Cloak hiding his face as his hand held a weapon that dripped with power.

He tilted his head, looking at them. ”Hello Fear.” His voice was wrong, he was wrong.

”Pride has been waiting for you. Won’t… Come home?” He turned to the side, letting them have a clear view of the portal, which shimmered, becoming transparent. The image revealed Keltra and it was dying.

Chailiss outstretched his hand. ”Come now… Death awaits.” And he pulled them all in as the tomb exploded.









The Palace of Rime VI


Reason’s Departure





The screams were unsettling but they were necessary. They were always necessary. That’s what Chailiss said. She believed him of course, for he was never wrong. No, never, to think any different would have been… Unthinkable. Besides, she was just helping out of course. He needed her help. That was right, that was what she told herself.

She gripped her head and closed her eyes tight, banishing such disruptive thoughts. At least she tried to. She looked over to the girl, Aurora, who sat watching her with such haunted eyes. Chailiss had forbidden her from giving her tongue back, even if she had wanted to. Losing a tongue was rough, for sure but necessary. Nothing could be done about it without upsetting Chailiss. Yes. Aurora tried to motion to her, pleading with her eyes but Zenia knew if Chailiss found out she had even so much as talked to her, she would be punished. She didn’t want that.

Her sister, now more of an object of faith than an actual person, laid upon her bed unmoving. She wished Rosalind would wake, if only so Chailiss had another object of ire. Zenia was unsure of what Chailiss would do to her in the waking world, but it couldn’t be all that bad, right?

She rubbed at the bruise along her arm and wanted to laugh. She was a Goddess, why did she bruise? It didn’t seem very fair but she had been stupid and talked out of line. She shouldn’t be doing that again. More screaming. She was relieved, not because she could stop it, (which she never would have, that would have been stupid) but because it meant he was elsewhere.

Preoccupied. For however long.

Chailiss had gotten paranoid after Viho left and in his wisdom, moved them down into the frozen depths of the glacier. Down were all his experiments were taking place. Where the screams all molded into one chorus of sad suffering. But Chailiss needed help and she would help him, she had to. It meant he wouldn’t be upset with her and hit her, so was most often eager to please.

The door opened, when had the screaming stopped? Her eyes glanced at Chailiss, wearing his dark robe, before they glanced down to the floor at his feet. A red drop landed where she looked, then another. She knew what it was, oh she knew.

”Come Zenia. You are required.” he commanded in a gruff voice. She obeyed, even as Aurora gripped the cage bars, even as her face twisted into rage. Zenia followed, for it was her place to follow.

He led her through the icy halls, brimmed with the glow of a thousand white crystals. Their light gave little warmth to the blue depths of their home. It was not long before they came to another room, whose door was opened. Chailiss drifted through and she followed, stopping in her tracks at what she saw before her. A large table sat in the middle of the room, chained to it was the form of childan woman. Crimson flowed from the top, down the sides and pooled on the floor. Her heart sank a bit at the sight, it was such a sad sight, but why Chailiss had done it was probably for good reason.

The woman groaned a whimper, it seemed she was still alive. Even though her chest cavity had been peeled back and her organs lay fresh upon the table. She looked at Zenia with a gaze that could only convey true pain but it was lost upon the Goddess.

Chailiss came to a stop across from her, on the other side of the table. ”It is as I feared, Zenia. Tala, and by extension, the rest of the Childan, are useless. Their fever has infected them to their very core. If we are to rid the world of this infection, we need another way. We cannot have tools that feel the fits of life.” A blood stained, skeletal hand caressed Tala’s face, while frozen tears fell from her eyes. Zenia watched, fidgeting as she tried to hold his gaze. ”Though it is possible to change them even now, as I will with her, why go through all that trouble when I know where those ready and willing to join us reside? They are untouched, awaiting a sculptor and his vision. The perfect instruments, waiting to be brought to death.”

”Of-of course, my Lord.” She eked out. Her eyes fell further down, at the freezing blood.

”Very good Zenia, I knew you would agree.” he waved his hand over Tala and her eyes fluttered shut. Then Chailiss hovered over the table and wrapped an arm around Zenia, walking her out of the room and further down the hall. She shivered at his touch but kept her head down.

”I have decided,” he began, ”That I shall travel to Keltra. There I shall acquire the remaining, untainted humans and turn them to our will.” Zenia nodded along as they entered a chamber of darkness. It smelled faintly of lingering decay but they came to a stop before a single pedestal. Chailiss raised his hand and from the pedestal rose a frost covered ball, containing a black substance or liquid. ”With this we shall have peace, Zenia.” he let go of her and she relaxed. ”When I find where they rest, I shall break this and usher in a new age. In order for this to work you must also contribute to their creation. Make them revel in blood, Zenia. Make them… Find happiness in such efforts. Do you understand?” he asked, standing before her. He caressed her cheek and lifted her chin up. Zenia did not resist. ”Do this and I shall be truly happy.”

Zenia’s eyes widened and she gave a quick nod. She had no idea what he was really talking about but if it made him happy, it was the least she could do, right? His plans were beyond her, thus she asked no questions. It was better that way, she liked it when he was gentle with her and not… When she said something dumb or spoke without thinking.
”Poor your essence into this power of mine, Zenia.” he prodded, outstretching the ball towards her. Tentatively she touched it with the tips of her fingers and felt a jolt of electrified power, surging through her briefly. Then she did as he asked, pouring her strength into the vessel. He wanted happiness through blood, contentment and revelry through the darkest acts and she obliged, for Zenia was a simple goddess and it was no bother to her. When that was done, she let go and awaited Chailiss.

He retracted the orb and hid it away in his cloak. ”Now I require armor suited for a god and a weapon suited for slaying such gods.”

”A-Are you sure?” she asked, dread in her voice as she realized the question. She felt a slight pressure as Chailiss dug his hand into her shoulder but it abated rather quickly.

”If Homura is there she will attempt to stop us. Any other god still alive is either under her thumb or just as insane as she. We must be prepared for anything if we are to succeed. Now, do as I ask. Just as you did for Viho.”

She nodded and summoned her strength. She envisioned what she gave Viho and then did the same, only this time, she made it in the vision of a humanoid. It started out as gold, the color of her hair, but as it fit itself around the skeletal frame of Chailiss, it twisted and darkened in color. Red black it became, embossed with high ridges, overlapping plates of godmetal, fitting his frame as his black cloak became a long flowing cape with a cowl that obscured his head. It came alive, as he or the armor leaked through a wispy blue smoke. When it was done he flexed his guantled hands and took a step forward. ”Truly our powers have little limits, with this I feel… So invigorated. Well done Zenia. Now…” he outstretched his hand and before him from the very fabric of reality came forth a chain of glowing white that wrapped itself around his forearm.

It was intricately crafted. Each chain link itself, shown bright like a star, reflecting light from a thousand facets. But beauty brought about death, for each of those chains were spiked like the claws of some fierce beast. On both ends the chains became small daggers. One side was as a cutting blade should be but the other was like the mouth of a shark, serrated. He motioned to Zenia and she added her strength to them. The chain became flecked with gold and hummed with newfound power.

Satisfied he turned to Zenia. ”Keep a careful watch upon Rosalind. If any attempt to invade this place, you know what to do.” he pointed at the pendant around her neck. ”I shall return and all shall be well.” And with little more to be said, the god of cold and earth departed, leaving Zenia alone.

It took the Goddess some time to gather her thoughts but when she did, she returned back from whence she came and shut the icy door behind her as she was greeted with the anxious eyes of Aurora. She looked away and went to her chair, where she summoned for herself more wine.
She took a sip.

Everything was going to be okay.







The Palace of Rime III


Feverish Intent





Aurora awoke in pain, head throbbing and throat raw. Her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room and what she found made her stomach leap. She was suspended in a cage of ice, overlooking the room that Rosalind resided in. The sleeping goddess still lay undisturbed upon her dreaming bed but the room itself was changed. A golden fire burned in in the corner of the room, where it had once been empty. The fire was surrounded by blankets and pillows. An icy table held empty goblets and plates, strewn about and left to be forgotten. Signs of inhabitants was abundant but Rosa was asleep… Then who?

Furthermore, she was trapped. As soon as her hands touched the cold bars, they stung her and she winced in pain, throwing them under her armpits. She scooted closer to the edge of the cage and looked down. There was nothing of note below, just the floor. She craned her neck to look up but the ice was thick and she had no idea what suspended her. Probably more ice. There was a theme to this place after all.

What was she going to do? How was she going to escape? Were Mair and Shysie alright? Could she do that again but with herself instead? Could she bring Rosa? She sighed, none of that mattered if she was stuck. Or did it? She concentrated, or at least tried too but her head still throbbed and nothing welled up inside. She groaned and kicked the icy bars with little luck. She was a prisoner now.

How long would she wait here? Was Chailiss so gone… Alona's brutal death flashed before her and her breath quickened. She grabbed her head and shut her eyes tight, trying to banish those memories but she couldn't. She began to cry. Alona was dead. Druska was dead. Ahusaka was shattered and dead. She let them die, she should have gone with them. She should have-

"...B-But, like, maybe we should go?" came a soft voice that jostled Aurora out of her panicked state. It came from behind the frozen door. Her gaze fell upon Chailiss as it opened, cloaked hood obscuring his lack of features. Behind him came a new woman, one she had never seen before. She was beautiful, tall, with golden hair that flowed down her back. She wore a simple blue dress that left little to the imagination. Aurora felt herself blush but as she looked closer she could see the bruises and the downcast eyes. It made her blood boil.

"H-Homura sounded s-serious." she said, walking over to the table and going through the empty goblets.

Chailiss walked over to the foot of Rosalind's bed and stopped. "She cannot be trusted."

The woman paused and craned her head at Chailiss. "B-But-"

He cut her off, "No!" he spun around to face her and she went rigid. "She lies!" he hissed, "We would go there to be slaughtered like lambs. Homura cannot be trusted, she is a fiend and a fool! They all are! Don't you see? All of them are infected!" he rushed over to her in a blink of an eye. The woman froze as he caressed her face. His voice softer now, "This plague… She hungers for our shards. It's just us now. We will be free from her possession. Besides… Who would watch over Rosalind if not for you, Zenia? You've done such a good job of it."

She looked to the table, leaning away from his touch. Aurora could only watch. "Oh o-okay. If-If you, l-like, say so."

He rubbed his thumb under her left eye, then moved it to her shoulder. Zenia looked anywhere but at him. "Have faith in me. We shall secure our future and the Galbar’s, together. I just…" he began to play with her hair, "We need to stick together."

Zenia nodded quickly. "O-Of course. I understand." Chailiss hovered over her for a few more uncomfortable seconds before he drifted back over to Rosalind.

"I cannot forget you, dearest Rosalind. Sleeping Rosalind. Dreaming Rosalind. Feverish Rosalind." his voice hit a note of spite and his form hovered parallel to her over the bed. He reached out to touch her but this sent a chord of disgust down Aurora's spine.

"Don't touch her!" She shouted, "Don't you dare touch her!"

This jostled Chailiss, who turned his attention to her at last. His cold aura washed over the cage as he floated up to meet her. "Ah, Aurora. Another traitorous daughter. Where did you send your companions?" he asked in an icy voice. She noticed Zenia looking up at them too.

This was not the voice of the god she knew. It was a horrific monstrosity that had supplanted itself in Chailiss' place. Her heart panged with hurt but those cracks were filling with hate. She scowled and shook her head. "Even if I knew, I would never tell you. You killed them. You killed my friends like they were nothing. Like they were just toys made to be broken. You sicken me!" Angry tears fell down her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around herself and scooted away from him.

"I will not argue with a feverish child of matters that are beyond you. But fortunately I believe you, we will just have to find them…" his voice dropped to a veiled whisper and Aurora's heart sank with dread.

"N-No! You can't! They aren't sick, they don't have a fever!" She screamed, rushing forth to grip the bars. The cold stung her hands but she didn't care. "I'll do anything, please just leave them alone!"

"I will send one who has always been loyal to me and he will make sure their journey to the afterlife is swift." The God spoke to himself, ignoring Aurora as if she were nothing but an annoyance. It made her frozen blood boil.

"You're the sick one!" She yelled, "You aren't right in the mind! You killed innocents!”

”Quiet.” Chailiss commanded, the air growing colder.

“No! You’ve imprisoned me! Your own daughter! Simply because I saved my friends from a certain death!” Her hands gripped harder against the icy bars.

”Be quiet!” His voice raised, anger palpable in the air.

But she wasn’t done yet. “You've become a monster! A cruel beast! And Rosalind would be asha-"

She was cut off by his thunderous voice. ”HOLD YOUR TONGUE!”

Her words were cut from her mouth with sudden precision. She moved her jaw and felt a coldness that sent her stomach into a pit. She touched her lips, fingers quivering and then she outstretched her tongue. What felt like the loudest crack she had ever heard rung in her ears. She blinked, briefly overwhelmed and shocked by the noise then her eyes looked down. Down at her hands, which now held something frozen. She quivered as realization dawned in her eyes.

Chailiss had frozen her tongue off.

She recoiled and from her mouth came a garbled scream. She shouldn't have done that, for her mouth and throat exploded into pain and she grabbed at her neck to little relief.

"Now look at what you’ve made me do!." Chailiss lamented with anger. He smashed his fist into the icy bars before her and they shattered into pieces. She would have lunged forward but now she felt something she hated most of all- Fear.

”C-Chailiss…” She heard Zenia say, almost having forgotten she was there. ”Let me, like, help-”

"No!" he yelled, floating to the ground as her prison’s bars reformed. She peered over the edge just in time to see him slap Zenia across her face. She stumbled but remained standing, looking to the floor. ”No one needs help here.”
”Y-Yes… Of course.” Zenia squeaked out.

He touched her face again and she closed her eyes tight but a blow never came. ”I would never hurt you, Zenia. Now come, we must prepare our loyal champion.” His hand found her wrist and he pulled at her to follow. Zenia caught Aurora’s eyes, golden tears falling down her face. She looked mournful and then she looked away and they were gone.

Leaving Aurora alone, without anyone to talk to. Without a voice to be heard. She looked at Rosalind and wept.




He only knew pain. The pain of loss. Of betrayal. Of anger. Of rage. Hate.

Death.

It was all such a foggy haze. Where was he? Who was he? He… He remembered a dreadful sight, a last flight and then…

A gate of souls and and…He remembered he was hunting nice fat voles prancing about in the tall grass…His sights set on the fattest of the bunch and he grabbed it and looked upon its fearful eyes before he became repulsed and let it go. He could not kill such a creature.

Next he met a beggar upon a long winding road. He had nothing but feathers and the man was starving. He could have walked away, he could have let the man starve but instead he plucked three of his feathers and handed them to him. Perhaps he could trade for food…

Then he was… He met a Childan and they talked for a time. It felt like a life age and then he moved on.

Now he was larger and she was there. As she was before her fall, before… before she betrayed him. No… she was not right in the mind. Wasn't that… Long ago?

Chailiss appeared too and they stood side by side upon a white canvas. She spoke to him and told him to come to her and they could be happy together. But then Chailiss spoke and he told him his duty was to travel ever on, for it was his destiny to discover. The canvas changed to a cliffside overlooking the sea. His creator father pointed off into the horizon. The girl he once called friend held out her arms to him. He felt conflicted because his duty was his purpose and she had hurt him.

But his heart could no longer deny her, even as his God shouted and screamed and blew a freezing wind upon him, Viho chose himself. For that was his name. Viho, the wandering owl! As soon as he embraced his Fear, he was somewhere else entirely.

And endless forest. She was there again. He knew what was coming, for his body shook with anticipation and dread. Slowly he watched as Fear became a twisting, terrifying monster. One he knew he had to stop, one he had to end. But the owl hesitated and stepped back. Could he kill his friend? Could he not help her instead? Could he… He begged her to stop, to fight the corruption, but it was useless. Her bones snapped and her mouth widened, showing rows and rows of sharp teeth. She would devour him for good now but he couldn’t…

So he fell.

Into a realm of blackness and screams.

But when all seemed lost and he had consigned himself to such a fate, a golden light beckoned him forth. It whispered his name… She spoke his name with gentle warmth. He could be saved, all he had to do was go to the light. Did he find salvation in that light or did he accept his damnation?

It was such a simple choice…




It came to him in a dream.

He dreamt of endless destruction night after night but this time it was different. A dark hole was upon the horizon, whose maw devoured all into the abyss. It flayed his flesh time and time again, for he could not escape its pull. He could never escape its pull. It was his doom. But before he could die, he would suffer for an eternity.

He watched them, his children and the land, cry out in pain as they met grisly ends. Aurora was there and he tried to save her but she always slipped through his fingers into the maw. Zenia was there too, but his fellow Goddess, try as he might, could not be saved either. All the faces he knew, all the friends he once had- They all died and he was forced to watch over and over again.

It never ended.

For this was his punishment for the weight of his failures. He was weak and cowardly- a fool.

The sky fell apart, swallowed by the feverish maw, then the stars and all of that which was above. He had no eyes but he could still see, despite how much he wanted to wake from the nightmare.

A pale light, of dwindling hope, reached out to him in a desperate bid for survival. Chailiss reached for it, the pale crystal emmenating a quiet he did not know he craved and then it was before him. He looked upon it and whispered sweet nothings, of gentle hope and the blossoming of good fortunes. They were safe for now, together at the end of all things.

It whispered back, a promise of removing such a fever if he wanted or let it be cast from him forevermore. Something screamed no, far, far away but he could not distinguish it from the roar of the maw. He was nearing it and so, he agreed. Anything to stop the fever. To stop this abomination of life. He was rent into two halves as he took the shard within him, and he could only watch as his other half drifted into the void.

So Chailiss became death and the true nightmare began.

….

”You have done well, Zenia.” Chailiss spoke to the smaller Goddess, who’s eyes were fixated upon his dead son. Except, he was not dead, but neither was he alive. No, he was stuck in between.

”W-Will h-he be… Like…” She could not finish her sentence as Viho squirmed in pain, beating his wings into the floor as his feathers turned black.

“H-HELP!” he screamed but there was nothing they could really do. Voi’s curse was absolute on those who were tempted to leave the afterlife. It was necessary, after all. How else would he create a Revenant loyal to his cause?

Zenia made a move forward but his hand shot out to grasp her shoulder, stopping her in her tracks. The Goddess shivered.

”He will be fine. Soon, he will feel nothing.” he commented, watching as Viho’s face feathers turned gray as the curse finalized its newest prisoner. His gleaming blue eyes looked on in horror, before they flooded with a crimson glow and all emotion vanished from the champion. ”Now is the time, Zenia. Just as I instructed. Armor for our true servant, such that none shall ever again hurt him. Such that he may have his revenge.”

Zenia watched as the darkened owl straightened himself, peering down before at the two Gods. She very slowly raised her hand and pointed at him. A noise like a chorus of war song sprang forth, followed by the iron rich smell of blood. It washed over Viho, donning him in Reverly’s finest. Light enough to fly with, strong enough to block any paltry attack. The armor was golden, but as it touched Viho, his afterimages darkened the metal. It covered his back, the tops of his wings, belly and head. His face was obscured, all that remained were two crimson eyes.

”Very good Zenia.” He gave her a squeeze. He looked to Viho and spoke, ”Viho. You have been rewarded in death with false life. You will seek out those who struck you down, for another seeks her as well and you will kill them all, my son. For they are feverish and their intentions cannot bear fruit. Do not let any get in your way. None at all.”

He raised a hand on that endless patch of ice and cold, the palace well behind them like a crystalline beacon. He forged for his son deathly shackles, talons forged of the darkest ice any had seen. They tore into the ice as they fixed themselves to the feet of the owl champion.

”Now fly Viho, fly and be once again free.” said the death god and so he was answered, for without any words, Viho left.

Zenia shivered. ’Will h-he be alright?” she said, looking to the icy floor at his feet.

”Of course, dear one. He has never been better. Free of his fever, free of a true death. What more can of of us ask for? Come now… Rosalind is lonely, let us return to the palace.”

”O-Okay.” she murmured under her breath, walking off before he could say anything more. It was all coming together. They would all see. Just how feverish the world was.







The Palace of Rime II


Dire Escape





At first there had been emptiness. The loss had come as such a blow, stripping everything else away, save for a bottomless pit of grief. But that endless void soon flooded red. Swelling with the only other emotions any in her position could digest. Anger, hatred, rage. That void inside her began to fill unbridled.

She was angry it had even happened, angry at herself for being a failure, for being on some task that her silent god had sentenced her to. Hatred came next. For the one who had done such a terrible thing. For the one who took her everything in the blink of an eye and for the father who had let it all happen. Rage strengthened her now, it was the only thing that made her focus. Cold and terrible her wrath would be on the one who had unleashed such pain upon her entire being. This she swore and none would get in the way of it.

For she was Mair, born anew as a Revenger.

The passing of time came irregularly to her, all melting into the same abyssal cycle. Waking hours she spent training, molding herself into something new. Weak muscles became hard, her mind sharp, reflexes quick. Strength building to new heights as she learned of herself and pushed harder everyday. Sleeping hours gave way to the waking, if she slept at all. It was so cold there and she could not leave. Not yet, for the cold god prevented her flight. For Chailiss' cryptic talks gave little understanding, even to the others. What was he waiting for? So this went on and on for the longest of times. It became harder to tell the passing of days, for the sun remained high at all times and then it would be dark for even longer. She swore it was not as it should be, that time worked differently there but she kept such thoughts to herself.

Her only company during those long days and nights was what she alone endured. For this path was hers to tread and she would walk it until her vengeance was known. Yet she could not deny that the restless fire in her blood was tempered through compassion. She was of course, not alone in that Palace of Rime.

Shysie, Keeper Alona and a few other flamekeepers had joined her there, not long after her arrival. They taught her their ways once it became evident that she would not relent on her quest. And perhaps because she would not stop pestering them about it. Besides, it gave them all something to do and soon enough, Mair had become inducted into the sisterhood of the Flamekeepers. It had not been easy but she was a natural learner and quickly surpassed all expectations. So it was, for she was dedicated to the path of vengeance and all it might offer. But becoming apart of the sisterhood also claimed its own challenges but they would be worth the risk.

Keeper Alona assured her, as long as she kept the Eternal Flame's interest at heart and adhered to their core tenants, all would be well. Mair knew if it came to and the sisterhood got in her way, she would cast it aside in pursuit of her one true goal. But that was a secret none but she could bear.

There was also one other in that Palace, two in fact but they only saw one. Aurora was often by her side and unlike Shysie's warmth, Aurora was a roaring inferno of optimism and empathy. On many a times she was the one to almost bring Mair back from her foolish quest but in the end nothing could stop the pain. So she turned it to fuel that would keep her going until the end. Even if that fuel pushed everyone else away…

Yet there was a greater shadow looming above and poised to suffocate them all.




"We need to act before it's too late."

"In this we agree, Mair." Alona said, shivering over a meager flame. They had been told it was beginning to be cold enough that even the giants of the north shivered.

Aurora didn't know what to think of that. Or much of anything. She was immune to all such cold but watching the Keeper's shiver alarmed her. Where had it all gone wrong? She had trained and trained and trained but felt no differently. In fact she felt worse about a lot of things because truth be told, she wasn't good at learning or training or getting better. Not like Mair and Shysie.

"Aurora?" Shysie touched her arm, eliciting a small gasp from her lips. She blinked and looked up at the giantess. Her amber eyes were worrisome. "Do you agree? Have we waited long enough for the Father to see reason?"

Aurora studied the faces of those around her. They were all looking at her, of course. She had spaced out again. Mair had crossed her arms over her chest, she wore practically nothing. No one knew how she stayed warm. Alona and the other Keeper's were a mix of concern and indifference. Alona being indifferent. Shysie cared though, she had a heart twice her size. With Mair being… Difficult, Shysie had leaned on her and she gave support when she could. But now what came before them was a monumental task.

She sighed. "He's not well and we are but mortals. How do you help a god from falling?" She clenched her fists and narrowed her eyes, "He promised and he broke that promise so long ago. Now is the time, if there were to be any better time, I do not know."

"What of the Nisshiniek? Will any side with us?" Alona asked.

"Churi has been helpful but they are stubborn and loyal. We should expect only a quarter of those here to provide any aid, half, if we are lucky." Aurora frowned as she saw their faces harden. All except for Mair's.

"Even without their help,” She began, “We would still need to go. They can survive the cold but not his madness. So let's get to it." She finished on a spin, beginning to walk off. The others exchanged glances and then followed behind.

“Is our transportation ready?” Alona asked.

The spangled girl nodded, “When the time is right and we have left through the front, Churi and the like-minded Nisshi will be waiting.”

“And what if they aren’t? What then?” Alona’s tone hardened.

Aurora shot her a glance. “He will be there. Just stick to the plan and don’t do anything stupid. For this to work and to avoid any unneeded deaths, remember what he discussed.”

The older woman nodded and then continued on.

“Will you be alright, Aurora? I know… This can’t be… Easy.” Shysie whispered to Aurora as the two drifted farther back from the pack. There were only a handful of them to begin with. Keeper Alona, Shysie, Druska, Ahusaka and of course, fiery Mair. If any of them died… She shuddered to think of it. Conviction and revenge drove Mair, pushing everything else away, even logic and reason most of all. She supposed this would always have been inevitable, whether Chailiss saw reason or not. Oh Chailiss…

Aurora looked up at Shysie and forced a smile. “I will be okay, don’t worry about me. He is no longer the God he once was. The one I wanted to know.” Those words were a lie and she hoped Shysie would believe them. This was the hardest thing she had ever done. It was hard to believe at one point, she had wanted to see the world. Maybe she still did, but now, there was a bigger problem. One she could never have thought of- She cared too much. Was that a problem? Not necessarily but right now, it definitely was.

She wanted to help her father and abandon him to the endless cold and this silence he had created. But it was maddening all the same, to be powerless to do anything. As a god withered away. And now, she was prepared to do what needed to be done. She had never told any of them her real plan. She was not going to leave. Her last ditch effort would be to get to Rosalind. She had not seen her creator… mother… friend in what felt like an eternity. She was locked away. But no more. She would try to wake her, no matter the cost.

“Uh oh.” Shysie whispered loudly.

Aurora blinked and looked up. Down the hall, Mair had run into the one being she should not have.

Yuma.

He was the Nisshi in charge of the Palace’ and he made sure everyone knew. She likened him to the stories of the Keepers, a bullish man who sought power by bullying others. Right now, he loomed over Mair and the Keepers in a form of white glass, in the visage of an armored behemoth. She walked faster as the shouting started. Today was not the day he was supposed to be out walking the halls, he had a routine!

But before she could do anything. Anything at all. It was already over. Mair had cut him in half with a powerful lance of fire, and his top half slid to the floor with a mighty crash while the spirit inside, now caught on fire, screamed. And that scream echoed out into the silent halls, like a beacon in the deepest quiet of winter. A kindled flame, giving way to a forest fire.

Alona reacted quickly and added her flame to the screaming, thrashing Yuma. After a moment he turned to ash, then drifted to the icy floor like gray snowflakes.

“What have you done!” Aurora shouted, pushing in amidst the Childan’s to stand before Mair.

The pale girl turned to her with a look of disdain. “He would have given us up or worse, he had to go, Aurora.”

“Don’t you see what you’ve done! The plan is ruined, more will be coming now! Honestly, I can’t believe how stupid you are!” She poked her in the chest. Mair winced, a fiery expression overcoming her features but before she could open her mouth, a deep rumble could be heard from somewhere deeper in the Palace.

The nisshi were mobilizing.

“We need to go, now!” Aurora shouted, running down the long corridor. The rest followed, and more rumbling could be heard somewhere behind them. “Forget the plan, get to the outlook and pray Churi is there!”

From down the hall a cold wind spurned them, heckling them ever on. Their meeting place was in the most remote corner of the palace, away from prying eyes and icy ears. Where they had to go was on the complete otherside of the Palace, down through the ramparts and through the last courtyard. There to the left was an outlook that oversaw the vast nothingness that surrounded them. She hoped Churi would catch on to what was going on and meet them there. If not, Chailiss would not forgive them this time.

So they ran through the hallways and up and down stairs, until at last they came to their first obstacle. Three Nisshien Knights (a term no one knew the exact meaning of) patrolled in their way. They spun around, and hissed as they saw them approaching. There was no time to waste. Druska and Ahusaka outpaced her before the fray started, working in unison to send a biting flame down the hallway. It struck one of the knights, who shattered to ash with a dreadful scream as the other two also worked together, summoning a cold wind to snuff the fire out.

The icy wind buffeted them enough to slow them down, as the knights advanced. Shysie shouted something from behind, and two more knights approached them from the rear. They were being pushed back! Panic struck Aurora, a dark flighty sensation- lulling her to dance… She shook her head and slapped herself. No! She couldn’t fight but that didn’t mean she needed to give up, for she was surrounded by fierce warriors. As Druska and Ahusaka summoned their flame to fight the wind, Shysie and Alona sent fireballs down the hallway. Aurora found cover behind a pillar of ice as she watched the battle unfold.

A fireball from Shysie smacked the hand of one of the knights, melting it asunder. It quickly used the melting water to form in its hand’s place, a large spike. Alona fought the other in hand to hand, occasionally setting her hands on fire to great effect. The other two flamekeepers were holding out and the wind was growing fierce as both sides sought to outdo the other in a cruel game of reverse tug of war. But wait… Where was Mair? Aurora looked around but could not find the pale one. That was until, on the side of Druska, a wave of fire melted the knights to ash. Mair had somehow gotten behind them but how?

There was a scream. Shysie’s scream. Aurora snapped her head back to see her friend had been cut across her brow, down her right cheek. Scarlet glistened in that icy room. Alona dispatched her knight by thrusting her hand inside its chest and immolating it. Shysie fended off her attacker, then Alona went in for the kill, cutting its head off and then engulfing the body in fire until it was ash. Then all was quiet and Aurora rushed to her friend.

‘Shysie! Are you alright?” She only ever came up to the girl’s waist but even from where she stood, it didn’t look good. Alona was already inspecting it before she muttered, “You’ll thank me later.” Before she put her hand over Shysie’s face and her hand glowed red. Shysie cursed in her own language, or at least Aurora thought so, and then growled. She pulled back, a handprint burned into her face, but at least the wound had stopped bleeding.

“I’m fine!” She snapped, wiping away what remained of the blood. “Let’s keep moving!” Shysie pushed ahead, past the dying light of the flames. Deeper into the frozen solitude of Palace Rime.




Their trek was longer than any had anticipated. Every winding turn and long hallway brought a new challenge. The Nisshien Knights were relentless in their pursuit but it became quickly evident that not all of them thought the same. A battle the likes none again would ever witness was raging in that nowhere place. Spirit fought spirit, between brother and sister, with great screaming and tremendous power. Since the Nisshi did not wield fire, they resorted to bashing their opponents until their vessels were broken and they were too tired to continue. They never killed one another… Perhaps that made them better than squabbling mortals, fighting over petty things, taking life without a second thought. Still, they had no qualms about killing her friends and for that Aurora brushed aside her poetic insights. After all, she only had what the Firekeepers told her about the world, maybe her own view was skewed? It didn’t matter, because they were getting closer and closer to their destination.

By a stroke of good fortune, a pair of Nisshi had battered open the very walls, giving them quick access to bypass the throne room. He who dwelled within would be their greatest threat. If he slumbered then not even the fighting would wake him. Still, it was dangerous and they were beginning to feel the chill and weariness of wounds. Throughout, Aurora felt weakest but knew in her heart that her moment would come, she just had to see them all off.

The last of the knights that stood in their way, not engaged by their brethren, were felled by Mair. The pale warrioress barely seemed winded but protected them all as they continued on. Then silence at last rang out from where they were and everyone took a deep breath as they exited the last doorway to see Churi and other like minded Nisshi, in the form of icy eagles. At their full power, Nisshi were massive, as was everything else in the land of giants. Behind them stood in the infinite icy wastes of the true north, a certain death on foot.

“You’ve made it at last!” he called out, “The fighting has commenced and many have fallen, they will surely suffer for a time but if it meant letting you escape, then it was worth it. Come now, we must hurry before he wakes.” he let down a wing and the others followed. The flamekeepers each found a nisshi and settled in.

“Shysie!” Aurora called to her friend, grabbing her wrist before she could get upon one. The tall warrior looked down and raised an eyebrow.

“Aurora..?” She asked, perhaps seeing the tears falling down her cheeks.

“I…” Why were words so hard when they needed to be said? “I… I’m sorry about your eye. I…”

“Come on!” Alona shouted from atop her eagle. “We need to go!”

All eyes were on the pair, even Mair’s who waited for her on Churi.

“It’s alright Aurora, now come on, let’s get out of here.” Shysie said, pulling away and clambering up her eagle. Aurora stepped back, hesitant in that moment. She looked back to the doorway, then to Churi. A smile on her face. She nodded at the Nisshi and with a great deal of reluctance, Churi nodded back slowly, looking away as he did. With two powerful flaps of his wings, he bounded off the ledge and into the sky. The rest followed, and with them the shouts of her friends. She didn’t have the heart to wave goodbye and quickly fled into the dark palace.

She had to get to Rosalind.
That mournful tower had only one entrance and it stood directly in the center of the palace. Directly behind the throne. For Chailiss did not want any to meddle with such a feverous goddess, even if it had already begun to consume him entirely.

Now Aurora walked through empty, scarred halls. Bits and pieces of Nisshien knights were strewn about, now motionless. Any who remained standing did not attack her, as they hadn’t in their mad dash to escape. Even in madness, did Chailiss still care for her wellbeing. As much as it was beginning to sicken her. No words were spoken on her slow march forth to the throne, for none knew what words of comfort there could be. She steadied herself before the great doors and opened them.

The air there had no scent as it rushed past her. It was cold, unpleasant and uncaring. Before her the hall was empty, save for the statues of Nisshien knights lining the sides. And of course, there was the throne. Aurora’s eyes widened in horror and her heart jumped to her throat.

It was empty.

Before she had any time to react to the emptiness, there came a tremendous cracking sound and the ceiling broke apart. She dove to the side, behind a pillar to avoid the shattering ice that skated across the floor all around her. When it came to a stop she peeked out and saw Chailiss standing in the middle, a pile of… broken eagles. She clambered to her feet, or at least she tried, but tripped on the slick ice.

The cloaked god ripped one of the living eagles in half, then blew upon the spirit that tried to escape, freezing it. It fell to the ground and shattered. Aurora screamed. He spun around to her, blazing blue eyes boring into her soul.

”Aurora.” he stated with cold fury. ”I couldn’t let them get close. They are sick. Infected with the fever.” It said it with such certainty, Aurora almost believed him but she knew he was wrong. He picked up something, lifting it by black strands of hair. It was Alona, who struggled weakly, her body now battered and bloodied. ”We can’t let them…” his other hand grabbed her chin and where it did her skin began to blacken with frostbite. ”Escape.” His hand twisted her head with one quick motion. A loud crack echoed throughout the room and then it was over. Alona was dead, discarded to the floor as Chailiss rummaged through the ice.

Aurora’s knees grew weak and her vision began to go black. She couldn’t breath, she couldn’t breath! Her wobbly knees gave out as Chailiss lifted Druska high but he seemed dissatisfied and tossed her aside. She did not move from the cold floor. Ahusaka was next, she at least had some breath in her, because she tried to fight back. But her blows only did enough to cause herself harm and then Chailiss blew upon her a cold breath, and she froze into a statue, face twisted into agony. For good measure he threw the statue into the wall, leaving nothing of Ahusaka behind.

“S-Stop.” She cried out weakly.

Then he lifted Shysie, who was lifeless as could be but Chailiss did not toss her aside. In fact he held her a loft and with his other hand, he raised Mair up. ”Sick, so sick.” he shook his head. ”We cannot let them continue. No, we cannot. Isn’t that right. Wayward Daughter. Zima.” His gaze burned into Aurora’s. She could hardly react, could hardly even think. She knew what was coming. She knew and knew but why was she so powerless. Why? WHY!

“S-STOP!” she cried out.

The God ignored her and walked free of the shattered eagles. ”You will see. No one can ever leave. Ever again.” his voice bristled with anger, their necks were beginning to blacken. It was in that moment, that she screamed and felt the world explode into a myriad of endless color. She grabbed them both, swarmed them with a thousand dancing lights and ripped them from the grasp of the cold god. She was the wind, the howling, rushing wind and they escaped that northward place into the green. For she was the sky and she flirted with the moon and the stars. It was overwhelming and all consuming but she knew she had placed them far, far away from his grasp and as the vision faded she was at last useful.

But her vision had not just faded to black. It was like her eyes opened again and she was back in that cold throne room. Chailiss stood before her, empty handed. She laughed, wretched and then passed out.








Journeys VII - End


It was pain that drove him. Away from it all… No wait- he had to be somewhere. Where was it? Memories flashed before his vision, clear as day. A maddened, white haired girl, clawing out his stomach, feasting upon his flesh. He wanted to scream but his throat felt dry. He was so thirsty, so terribly thirsty.

Viho glided now, midday sun bearing down upon him with indifference. Truth be told, he always knew he was never going to make it back to Keltra. No… He was nowhere now. The only place he was going was the faintest smell of water that had drifted to him, way back when. Now he was coming towards a small body of water. A pond? A lake? It didn’t really matter, long as he quenched his thirst. A small comfort before the end.

He landed with a thud and skidded before the sandy banks. The water lapped at the shore, fresh and sweet. He opened a crusty eye, blinking back debris. He was so close. So painfully close. He used his good wing to pull himself forward, well, at least he thought so. He was getting just a little closer… Just a wing length away. Oh how delicious it would be. Just had to keep going. Yes… But Viho’s eyes began to close. The last of his strength spent, the last of his icy bandages melted.

It was over.

He sighed, it hadn’t been a very good time.

Revenant’s Veil





Zima landed back upon the hill in the morning. There was nothing to be seen save animals all around them, here and there. She once saw a faint trail of smoke but it vanished before she could find the source and with her mind running wild with thoughts, she gave up searching. As her feet touched the ground, blackening it, she knew two things as a certainty. One, those against them were many and she and Fear, who could not truly be trusted, were alone. Two, those that had come before them, the god of Hunger, Viho the owl champion and now this Grimm, had all been unexpected. She knew soon enough Fear’s sister’s would come to hunt her down, whether tasked or not.

What could be done? How could she cement her power evermore? Grimm had alluded to raising the dead but this did not truly appeal to her. Perhaps… She knew not if her destiny was to be opposed so openly by so many, or if she was supposed to take a more secretive role. Her allies were so few and her enemies were often backed by the very Gods. She had no such benefactor, an awareness that she found to be only angering. To strike at the heart of champions could only bring higher powers to bay. Was she willing to accept such consequences? She could not die… But she could be imprisoned.

Should this bother her? Was she not meant to bring about sorrow and suffering untold? She had destroyed the Voirans and their wretch of a God had done nothing to her in retaliation. But that was a dangerous line of thought. She sighed and looked out over the open plain. Such an empty land. Even if she had learned to raise life in a deathly state, there was nothing around here to let her do so. Why did it have to be undead? Dead meant the soul would still go to the afterlife but what if… She outstretched her hands and looked at them.

What if she was the solution she was looking for?

Was she not the perfect state of being? Unable to die, unable to live in such a flawed life? She had tried to spread it already, she had been almost successful but Fear was a champion and not so easily corrupted. Other life? Well… She balled her fists, a rare smile forming on her lips.

Wolfish.

She would spread her suffering by not just corrupting the land but the people, the life that subsisted off it and she would forever mar all souls. It did not matter if she could be stopped for she would leave a legacy, as Grimm had said, and none would ever forget her terror. She would destroy her enemies regardless, they would always fail fighting her. For she could not be beaten so easily. Zima laughed a heartless chuckle. She felt no warmth and no emotional response but she knew how to laugh.

She clasped her hands and sighed, then spun around to find Fear. Fear would be the first to fall and it would not take much more to truly blacken her flame. Perhaps this push was all that was needed…

Fear remained silent and still, as if she slumbered where she stood, until her gaze languidly turned to Zima, haunted eyes flickering first, and then the rest of her features shifted to face her. Yet Fear said nothing.

“Only animals prowl this land. Maybe a passing mortal here and there. Honestly, I’m not sure what the Lord of Hunger was thinking trying to spread this parasite here. But all he said was past the desert and we obliged. Now, has it grown?” Zima looked past her with narrow eyes, towards the spot. Truth be told she had no idea how long she had been gone.

Fear simply turned and gestured to where a small red plant had sprouted from the earth, slowly growing in the short time after they had buried it. It was unknown how much longer it would take until the sprout became whatever it was meant to be, and currently the greatest danger to it would be any animal foolish enough to mistake it for sustenance.

Zima frowned and looked back to Fear. “You’re still Pride, aren’t you?”

Pride, who had remained in control of Fear’s body, nodded, and the signs became more apparent with that affirmation; the way she stood and stared at Zima with a firm stance and keen eyes which was unlike her previous mien. The last of Fear’s sisters that Annoyance sought to overwhelm still held her position before she spoke in her childlike voice. “I am. This is the first time we’ve met, but I’ve heard a lot about you, and our time together while I was a prisoner within my sister’s body has said so much more.”

Zima stood a little straighter and folded her arms across her chest. “You may exist outside of Fear, back at Keltra, but right now you are only a fragment of her mind or memory. One that is trying to battle the corruption within her and slowly failing.’ She smirked. “You are not her sister, you are Fear. I wish to speak to you properly, not Annoyance or any other personality that you’ve created to defend herself. If you cannot do that Fear, I will come back inside.”

“If you wished to speak with Fear, you should not have hurt her all this time. You’ve done nothing but inflict cruelty upon her and now she seeks death, an end to her suffering. Why should she hear you? Your threats are bluster, and your presence is sickening. I’m tempted to leave you in your disgrace now, but that would be rude. His grace tasked us with watching over his seed after all. Now, what will you do?” Pride asked, tilting her head as she peered forward and the shifting symbols of the Gnosis manifested on her skin.

Zima scowled, anger boiling. Who was this persona to mock her so? What gave her the right to speak in such a manner? Her hands dropped to her side, balled and shaking. She stared daggers at Fear and then hissed, “What I should have done when we first met.” And then in an instant, she was upon her, gripping her arms with claws. She growled and then made them tumble together down the hillside. Suddenly Fear was ablaze with those accursed flames and in a swift and unseen motion, the two of them were high above the land as they ascended with a thunderous boom.

As the wind whirled by, Fear struck with her knees and fought to free herself from Zima’s grasp, and it became immediately evident that the power of Fear differed from the rest of her sisters. She hit with the strength of a colossus, so much more mightier than any blow Zima had endured at the hands of Homura’s other champions, and her strikes ignited the air around them. Despite the roar of flames and tumultuous clamor of hundreds of attacks as Fear kicked and lashed out with her head, that haughty voice of this defiant persona was loud and clear. “Chailiss has abandoned you! Mish has abandoned you! Now I’ll abandon you! I’m seeing a pattern!”

The two came to the bottom of the hill, breaking apart from the force of the landing. It took several seconds for Zima to come to terms with the beating she had endured. It was unlike the others. This Pride… Oh this Pride. She stood up, turning to ash that which she touched, eyes ablaze as she found Fear. “Finally,” She breathed, “One of you has a fighting spirit!” Like the wind, Zima danced towards her, unleashing her own punches upon her defiant slave.

Was it good or ill fortune that she had seemed to have deprived the Holy Quintet of the strongest among them, as Fear fought with twice the strength of Courage and Kindness combined, and was twice as difficult to land a blow against. With mere steps, Fear flew through the air and in a brief period they were already too far to perceive where the stone outcropping marked the site of where the sprout would grow, having come close to where the lands were shrouded beneath the ring of darkness.

Her prey ceased fleeing, and hastily touched the earth causing massive spires of ice to arise which added another layer of obstacles that Zima faced. More and more pillars and formations, creating a palace of ice wherein Fear hid. If Zima had been at all phased by any of it, her reply was just as tremendous as the ice palace; She flung herself into them all, like a comet of black fire, shrieking like a terrible wind as ice shattered all around them, becoming naught but dust. “You cannot hide from me!” Zima shouted, crashing into more pillars as ice fell in resounding explosions. “FACE ME!” she roared.

There was a whoosh of wind from behind her, as Fear descended from above yet did not attack. Instead she held up one hand, and it became apparent that she no longer possessed two, as the other icy appendage had separated from her wrist and was now joined with an unfamiliar blue amulet that the defiant champion had worn throughout their travels together. “Hear my prayer, Chailiss! Your stray daughter shall be sealed again!” Pride proclaimed, as she came closer, gliding with wings of light and a white fiery aura that glittered like snow beneath the sun.

Awareness dawned upon Zima’s features, eyes going wide. No… She had been a fool! Of course! No No NO! She hung in the air, watching Fear with that pendant get ever closer. She had to think fast, she had to…What was she…She had to sever this unintended possession.

Yes… Now was the time.

Fear grew ever closer, Zima glowered at her, brought her hands to her own chest and embraced the Veil, as a thick shadow spewed forth from her. The night overhead grew suffocatingly dark as Zima’s power encompassed the surrounding area, engulfing the Pride of Fear. From that prison, came forth numerous, clawed hands- All of them striking for the champion of light.

Light and shadows danced around each other, as Fear gracefully eluded her pursuers, but could not reach Zima. The champion was akin to a shooting star in the darkness of the conjured night, yet aimless was her flight and endlessly came the horde of claws that beset her. Once more Pride chanted. “Hear my prayer, Chailiss! Your stray daughter shall be sealed again!” Strange was the sight of her unmoving mouth while Pride spoke clearly, as though her words were merely echoing despite there being a change in the inflection.

All around came the voice of Zima, haunting and layered, “There shall be no help here. This is a dark place, an all consuming place. Now drown. Drown in the deep.” Though there was no way of being sure, the endless night began to shrink, closing in on the lone champion. More and more hands came, spewing hatred and quiet relief from all that pain. There was nothing that Fear could do, her defeat was certain, and yet she did not show terror or anger, or cry out in denial - she danced as though she were part of a performance, and there was a beauty to her motions that unfortunately no mortal could see and appreciate. A last dance that would not be remembered.

“Hear my prayer, Chailiss! Your stray daughter shall be sealed again!” Her voice rang out a third time, and then there was a burst of violent light as the celestial sections tore at the void, and vice versa, with unnatural screaming and the world trembling before Fear appeared right in front of Zima in a flash, and thrust the blue amulet grasped in the hand of ice against her opponent’s chest. “Mother will come.” She said softly, before claws ripped her away from her foe and she was swallowed by shadows.

Within those shadows, Fear was stripped of all earthly possessions as the claws held her firm, covering her mouth. Crimson eyes watched from the shadows with inscrutable intent. Soon Fear was being clad in the same shadow and inky black that held her so tight. It was then that Zima spoke, voice coming from the direction of her eyes. “I hope she does. She’ll get to see her fallen daughter. Maybe then you’ll finally be delivered the death you want but for now, until this comes to pass, you will be a useful tool.” A veil of shadow came over her eyes, cowling her white hair with dark. Then and only then, did Zima step forth, clad in the same garb as Fear had now. She reached forth and passed her hand onto Fear’s chest.

“The parasite protects you now more than ever. A creature made of stone, only with flame do you persist. I’ve tried so hard to make you see…” Zima murmured, “If only you had listened, I could have spared you of all this pain. But alas, you sought to change me and I was the one who changed you. Even then did I fail.” There was a bitter note in her voice, “That’s all I’ve ever done, fail. But no more. You are a part of me now and we shall be joined in profane rite. I will ask you just once, join me of your own free will. Let me end your suffering. I can make it go away, you can be like me and feel nothing. All you have to do…” She leaned in closer, and whispered in her ear, “Is say yes.” She pulled away and the hand that covered Fear’s mouth dissipated.

“We’ve both changed.” Pride answered, struggling in vain. “You cannot end my suffering, and I can’t end yours. We’ve both failed and remain victims of our parent’s folly. You already know my answer, Zima.” Her last words were not articulated for there was no need to pretend she possessed vocal chords, her uncovered mouth becoming still while she spoke further, as though the wind whispered for her.

Her eyes became morose as she dipped her head down, looking at the hand that lay over Fear’s flame. “One day…One day you’ll see.” she whispered. “Willing or not… The rite begins.” Her head snapped up, morose replaced with sullen anger. “First… It’s time for you to go away now.” Zima grimaced and etched a mark of her handprint into Fear’s chest, she then pulled away and her print was replaced by the shadowy garment. She shut her eyes and felt the print. From it poured into Fear a sliver of shadow that she goaded on. It grew weak, so she poured more of her strength into it, gritting. It sunk into the parasite and burrowed deep, threatening to be consumed by it but again, Zima poured her strength into it and it broke free to see the shield around that heart of hearts. It bounced off harmlessly but it had not come all that way to fail.

Zima scowled and unleashed the paramount of her power into that sliver as it burrowed, just enough to break the seal. It poured in, and the barrier closed behind it. Already it began to fight the flame. It was not strong enough to kill it all but it held just enough… Just enough to find the memory and persona of Pride. It attached itself to it, drowned it in the darkest of night and as the flame licked it up and it became nothing- so to did that hated persona.

What remained of Fear’s inner fire was very small, and pressed itself against the shield of light where it still held, attempting to flee from the shadows. Fear became silent once more, and her body went limp, only the faint sounds of her whimpering resonating throughout the internal space of her being.

“It is complete…” Zima said, exhausted. Slowly the darkness around them faded, giving way to star-filled night. Zima caught Fear before she could plummet and for once, held her without bringing her any harm. She was part of her now after all. They fell to the ground without a word and pressed upon the grass with a sigh escaping her lips. She felt… Odd. Almost regre- No no no, she could not feel such things. This was a moment of triumph, wasn’t it? When she realized she was gripping Fear still, she let go and scooted away. “I shan’t do that again… Even if you remember it.”

And Fear fell, laying upon the ground and unmoving.

“I’ll let you rest.” Zima said quietly.







Journeys VI





'I no longer need you to find Zenia.' Those were the words that his Lord had told him. Leaving Viho confused and perplexed. Had he been too slow? Was everything fixed? What was going on?

'Why?' He had asked, the only word that he fumbled quickly enough to say. His master’s presence was already slipping.

’She can help me no more. Her coming would spell only further doom. You are free to leave the North Viho." he had said with a cold voice. ’Go be at peace elsewhere, far from these lands.’

He had protested, he had refused but his God was already gone. Viho was alone.

Always so alone.

But he was alright with that… Right?




So he flew. Flew to the one who had given him some semblance of comfort. It felt like an age ago, perhaps it had been. But the owl champion knew he needed someone to talk to. To help him understand what was going on. And that person was one who he had saved from certain death. His only noble act so far in his entire existence. The only thing he had ever done right, it felt like.

When Chailiss spoke to him he had been over the ocean on a direct path to where he believed he could find Zenia. Now he had gone the opposite direction, back to Keltra and the land of red. Yet as he neared the land proper, a curious feeling came over him. Paranoia mixed with his own fear. Down in his gullet, it made him quiver. What was this feeling?

Suddenly the sky became lit with another glow but it was not the sun. It was directly in the path he was going- Keltra. He doubled his efforts in flight, what if they needed his help?

He could sense something amiss on the wind, all pointing to that red keep. Instinctively he used his senses to search for Fear, for when he often thought of her he almost felt… A pull.

He could see the faintest of lines reaching out towards the keep but he was still days away. But at least he had a lead to go off of. Eventually the light faded, even as the faded from dawn to dusk once more. And something else changed, the line he felt connected with, that led him to Fear, had left Keltra. What was she doing? Where was she going? He didn't know but perhaps he would find out. So Viho followed that trail, his mind sputtering with morbid thought.




The trail led him well past Keltra, into new lands of shadow and shimmering lights. Eventually he came to open plains and the sun returned in full splendor. He did not rest nor did he stop. He followed the ever wandering path that never wavered in its direction. Days became night and vice versa as the flow of time went ever on.

He began to encounter, on the rarest of occasions when he flew close to the surface of the land, burnt out villages with strange faces and always death. It was disheartening as it was chilling. For the trail always went through the middle of such terrible sights. Viho's heart sank but he dared to not think of who had done such a thing. Perhaps Fear was on the same trail, following after whatever evil was causing this.

Yes, that had to be right!

And she would need help to defeat it! Perhaps her sisters were with her as well? He pushed himself ever on, not wanting to believe any other alternative. Fear would be alright. He would see to that. Unbeknownst to him, if he had looked, several other trails led back to Keltra before they faded.

Then upon the winds of a coming storm, he found her.

The bright but fading plains let him see many a thing with precise vision. Not as well as he could in the lightless dark but even he could see a small, white haired girl, out of place near a bubbling brook. She was surrounded by tall grasses, golden and blowing in the breeze. It smelled of rain. Perhaps it would have been a beautiful, happy reunion but why was her hair white? Something felt off.

He landed across from her, she hadn't noticed him it seemed. With a closer look, he could see his friend looked worse for wear. Her skin was… It looked odd and he could see her face, as she stared at her own reflection. Such haunted eyes and general weariness.

It broke his owl heart.

"Fear?" He said her name with gentleness, not wishing to frighten her.

Words passed over her like a whisper on the wind, yet she remained preserved in an ethereal stillness, as though she herself had become an illusion, an apparition that was trapped in this mostly melancholic and perturbing scene. Even though her eyes and garb remained a familiar red, it became clearer that she had lost the luster of life she and her sisters possessed when Viho had encountered them before.

“Please leave…” Fear murmured, pain shining in her haunted eyes.

‘Fear…” Viho sighed. He walked closer, unable to just leave his friend as she was. He peered over the other side of the stream, joining her reflection. “It’s me. It’s your Viho.” he said, trying to find any glimmer in those eyes of hers.

Her still features twisted, her mouth and eyes widening in a grotesque display of madness, while the weird flesh of her cheeks fought against forming this vile expression. She choked on nothingness, gurgling and uttering unnatural sounds as she struggled. Her entire body became tense, as she clenched her hands and her arms trembled.

“Go…” She barely managed to utter, the faintly echoing word coming from deep within her as her mouth did not move, and an aura of dread surrounded her.

Viho stared, wide eyed. He knew not what to do for his friend, only that seeing her in such a state was mortifying. If this was in fact Fear, she was in a worse way then he had ever seen. He hopped over the water and landed beside her. “I’m not leaving you. Not again. Come, I will take you back to Keltra and you will be healed of whatever this affliction is.” he said, with defiance in his heart. He hoped she would agree, for if she didn’t, he would be forced to take her.

She let out an ear-piercing scream as her spine bent backwards with a freakish snap, and her entire body seemed to shatter into thousands of thousands of shards before swiftly coming back together. Again and again her shape broke apart and only horrifyingly imitated what she was before, until she was mended. Then she fell forward, stumbling towards him in silent agony. Viho lurched back, eyes unable to look away from the grisly display.

“I’m not Fear! I hate you! Begone!” She screamed as her face was wracked with violent emotions and milky tears while she struggled to push him away.

He rebuffed her with a flap of his wings. He didn’t know what was going on with Fear but he wasn’t going to leave her. “Now you listen well!” He started, nearly shouting, “I’ve been told enough about what I should do and where I should go! I no longer care to listen. I am not leaving you, even if you aren’t Fear. Even if you hate me! Whoever or whatever you are, needs help and I will help you. I can’t do anything else right but I swear upon the gods I will help you!” He finished his shouting, breathing deep. He felt ashamed of his outburst at first but that quickly melted away. It needed to be said and it felt good.

However his reprimand was followed by malicious laughter; Fear shook with a malformed mockery of mirth, and pointed a finger at him. “I don’t want to hurt you… Ah, I’m going to feast on your flesh, you nitwit!” She answered, her voice split between two tones - afraid and sadistic, both competing for dominance.

Viho shook himself, beginning to realize not all was what it seemed on the surface. Something afflicted Fear, deep inside. “Fear, listen to me. You must fight this. Whatever is going on, there are those of us who want to help you. You just have to fight. Wrestle control. I am here for you, Fear, just listen to my voice.”

“Hahaha! Cry, cry, and cry, that’s all you’re good at! No! Save her, Viho, save Zima! Ah! Nope! Why don’t we have just a little fun?” Fear quivered violently before she suddenly surged in a blur of motion and stabbed her hand into Viho’s stomach. The daughter of Homura became enveloped in red and white flames that exuded a foul odor, as she spun in the air and repeatedly slashed him, soaking herself in his blood.

Viho screeched in pain before kicking her away. He then flapped his wings forth and gusted a cold wind at her, drowning out her fire and buffeting her back further. Viho looked down at his bloodstained feathers, the wound felt like fire in his belly, then he looked at his once-friend. How could it have come to this?

He caught the sight of a shadow descending nearby, coming to form that of a woman with glowering crimson eyes. Far more intense than the madness that drove Fear to attack him. She touched her fingers together, letting them rest around her abdomen as if she were watching to see what the outcome would be. Her shadowy form exuded a dark smoke that drifted in the wind. She looked to Fear and then to Viho but said nothing, nor was her blank expression any help to decipher who or what she was doing there. What had Fear said about Zima…?

Viho looked back at the white-haired champion. Fear began curling into a crying husk, clawing at her own arms until tongues of flame seeped out of the accumulating lacerations. Each burning cut provided more putrid fire, and from her back burst forth beautiful wings of light that lifted her skyward, like a puppet pulled by strings. She did not fly like a bird, she simply came towards him as though all forces carried her to him against her will.

Fear was a poor flier, as much as he felt pride in her wanting to fly, it was far too easy to dodge and then slap her away with a quick wing. “You have to fight Fear! I know you don’t want to hurt me! Please!” Viho pleaded, eyes mainly on her but also glancing at the impassive woman standing on the side.

She met his gaze; and it was not the fragile, yet passionate, Fear that looked at him. It was something insidious that sought out suffering - a monster that was broken and intent on breaking him. It only peered at him and his wings briefly, before scanning the land and descending. She began searching through the golden grass; her attention turned away from him for the time being.

Viho could not allow her to have any advantage. The other women, he could not decipher her intent but she was not attacking. Now was his chance to strike her before this continued any further. Even now his wound ached and he dripped with blood. Viho took to the skies with two powerful beats, more akin to a large jump, before he glided back down, aiming his talons at Fear to pin her. She didn’t avoid him, as though she seemed surprised that she was even in a fight, and had only let out a startled gasp when she fell into his clutches, temporarily restrained.

It was astonishing how much strength her small form possessed while she wriggled in his grasp, loudly crying like a child, something malevolent heard between distressed wails and whimpering.

This did no further good to his mind and heart. Each wail threatened to break him further but his resolve needed to remain strong. "Fear! Listen to me! You have to fight for control! Think of your sister's, think of the happy times! Don't be consumed by… By whatever this is!" He pleaded to her as his tears mixed with salty blood.

As Fear continued to struggle, another voice floated by. "Her sister's abandoned her you know." The woman spoke as she drifted to a stop just beyond his reach. Her voice was like silk, carrying an accent of the north but… more refined? "You look like you don't believe me." She said accusingly. "They left her with me, abandoning her to despair. The Fear you knew is somewhere in there but she is far too weak to resist her other personas now. Isn't that a delight?" She stated as fact.

Yet Viho could not believe what he was hearing was anything but lies. "That is outrageous, her sister's would never abandon her to this madness! You! Who are you? Why would you do this to sweet Fear!" He shouted, eyes full of anger.

The woman tilted her head, crimson eyes never leaving his. "Why would I do this? Why does the wind blow? Why does the rain fall? The sun shine? It's the nature of the world and so it is mine to bring sorrow." She shifted forward, leaning her chin on a hand. "She said save me, save Zima. But I assure you, no one will be saved."

His eyes went wide. This was… This was Zima? Fear's earlier words came back to him now. Save her. Save Zima. How? Zima had died. Chailiss had said so! How many lies and half truths did his Lord tell him? Anger pulsed inside him but once again it was drowned by his pain. "Zima..
If this is really you. Then why? Chailiss said you had died."

"He wasn't wrong. I did die. I am dead. I am alive. Neither but both. It matters not anymore. Soon, if Fear does not do it first, I will kill you." She said, her tone darkening.

He looked down to the struggling Fear and found himself faltering. If he could not help her, then she had to find someone who could. He looked back to Zima, knowing his choice would only bring him more pain. "I refuse to play this sort of game." He let go of Fear and jumped off her. "I will not fight you. Either of you. You are both afflicted and need help. So please, let me help you."

"So be it. Fear…" Zima gestured to Viho with indifference, "Finish what you started. Feed."
Fear became silent and still, frozen in her fetal position where she had curled inward like a frightened child. Without shifting from where she lay, she called out in a voice unfamiliar to Viho. A voice that resembled Homura’s, and yet seemed less mature; more childlike. “You must find Mother! Now fly, you fool!” The child commanded.

Then Fear began spasming once more and her body twisted with rage as she spoke in a vicious and cruel tone. “You can’t protect her from us! She is our toy!” She slowly began pushing herself back to her feet, chest heaving with exertion, but a murderous glee glinted in her possessed eyes - in those broken reb orbs that no longer belonged to Fear, but to whatever had claimed her as its trophy.

Should he depart? Did he have the power to find Homura and her siblings? To put a stop to this once and for all? If he would not fight them, then yes, that was the only option. “Fear…” he breathed. “I… I love you. Please, hold on. I… I will g-” The owl champion froze as a lance of darkness pierced his left wing with a flurious snap. Something broke and he fell backwards in pain. Then another lance hit him again, tattering his feathers and breaking more bones. Then another hit his leg and he felt it crumple. Darkness blurred his vision.

“You’ll forgive her, for giving you any ideas of escape. She always makes things unnecessarily difficult.” Zima chastised. “Now hurry up Fear, I grow tired of this place. We need to move on.”

The foul facsimile of Fear chuckled as she approached where he lay in agony. “I’m afraid we’re not the kind to take prisoners... Seems Chailiss will be losing another child now.” She sang softly, every sardonic word seeping into the recesses of his being, as she drew near him. Her presence paralyzed his body, as she exuded this terrible aura of gluttony that washed over him. Hiding in the shadows that pervaded his sight, he couldn’t see her, but he felt as she climbed onto his belly and began clawing her way towards his innards.

She ate chunks of meat that she hungrily tore off, and slurped greedily at the viscera she had started to swim in, nestling deeper into him like an infant seeking to be unborn. Whether it was her intention or not, she prolonged his suffering by preventing too much blood loss and preserving his vitals through her manipulation of ice that she conjured, while also devouring everything else in her way akin to an insatiable fiend. She was consuming him, and he would die if nothing stopped her.

It was a slow agony that built in him. He could do nothing, for he was paralyzed with fear- Had she truly forgotten him? Had his friend given up entirely? Or was she truly as trapped as he? It was terrible, it was excruciating and he hated it.

Was this how he would die?

Having only seen but a few lands and fewer people? Was his great purpose just a joke all along? He squirmed as Fear tore at him. Zima stared, her face emotionless, uncaring. What had made her so? Or had she always been cruel? He thought such strange things as he was eaten alive… Eaten alive?

Was he really just letting himself be killed? Was it too late to do anything? A fire began to grow inside, fueled by the only need any creature truly had- Survival. With a sudden flurry of a kick, he used his hood leg to push himself away from the one who had shot him. Then he twisted and hopped up, used his beak to grab Fear and rip her out of him, before throwing her away. Something ripped and a trickle of cold water mixed with blood began to flow. He had little time. He summoned a huge gust of wind that kicked up dust with his good wing, then used that coverage to infuse his own ice with his broken leg and wing. It would not last long but it would be enough to escape.

Pain tore through him as she took to the sky, flying as fast he could away from the carnage. Lances of darkness flew past him, wildly in the dust but none landed, thankfully. Then he was away, traveling far enough he hoped they would not follow.

He didn't have long before his ice melted and his power waned. Then death would claim him, as death claimed all. For now… He made his way to Keltra.





The Palace of Rime





She awoke from a dreamless void. Eyes blinking, mind shrouded in a fog. Dark was her vision and her head spun with a frightful fit. Her hands reached for her head but stopped when they felt something silky soft. Her eyes wandered, even as her head spun, down herself. It seemed she was covered by some warm material, like a gentle embrace. With careful resolve she bested that embrace and scooched herself up upon her strange bed. It was a bed, she knew that, of course. Her head was lessening in its spin, still, she rubbed the bridge of her nose and groaned. What was going on? Where was she?

The dim light proved helpful but obscured any finer details. So she stared at the source; a tall, narrow slit on the far side of the room. She wasn't outside or in a tree, of course. Squirming her way to the side of the bed, she whipped off her warmth and felt the crisp air touch her skin. A gasp escaped her mouth as her feet touched the cool floor. Suddenly the cozy comfort of the bed didn’t seem too bad but she was of an inquisitive sort. Her feet were wobbly as she stood and she leaned upon the bed for several moments as she gathered herself. Then she put one step forward and then another and another until she was upon the narrow slit in earnest. With careful fingers did she reach out to feel the dark silk, like the warmth that had shrouded her on the bed. It moved as she touched it, back and forth, spraying light forth as she moved the fabric back. A smile caught her lips as she became captivated by such a game she had conjured.

Yet she longed to see what lay beyond and thus in one mighty pull, did she open the fabric further, enough to see the other side and it took her breath away. Through a large transparent window of ice, tinged with frost at the edges but clear as she saw the world proper, hung a giant moon in the night sky. She had never seen it so close and in all of its majesty, how it lit the world in a lunar glow! She swore she could reach out and touch it and even still it seemed to call to her…

Feelings blossomed inside her, ones she had felt before. The moon wanted her to dance, say hello to all the stars, play games of chase and laugh. Oh how she wanted that… How she sought to fly, her only want. She touched the ice and a memory gave her pause. She had flown but… She gripped her head as her memories jolted to life. She recoiled and fell to the floor with a soft thud. She remembered now, the feelings in her chest. The excitement and joy of Rosa and Chaliss. How she became…

"Aurora?" Came a voice that startled her to awareness. She had never heard such a voice, like a wind had called out her name. She looked around and saw nothing. Now that the light poured in she could see the room proper. It was large with a high ceiling and columns of crystalline ice that held up another level. She had missed the stairs that would have taken her up. Her bed was nestled at the far end with numerous furs and those silky fabrics piled all around with those soft lumps she laid her head on. Everything was tinged with a light blue, as it looked to her and upon further inspection she could see that indeed, the room was made of the same substance as the columns. It was opaque and dark but it definitely wasn't made of wood. Was this Chailiss' doing?

"Aurora." The voice came again and she followed where it came from, looking directly above her. There, suspended from crystal circles, hung a wispy shape. Like a small, misty cloud. She stared wide eyed, trying to figure out what she was seeing but the cloud descended and coalesced in front of her, becoming a shape that was vaguely childan in appearance but without any defining details. "Hello!" It cheerfully greeted with a voice that echoed.

She screamed and her vision went dark.




When she awoke next in the bed, underneath cozy warmth. More moonlight streamed through the now uncovered windows and she could see the full majesty of the room. But wait! Where on earth had that cloudy thing gone? She craned her neck and looked up at the ceiling to find it empty. She looked around and didn't see it at all. Why had it called her Aurora? Had it been a dream? Probably not since she could fully remember getting up and opening the fabrics at the window. Not to that extent though. She did catch sight of another light, warmer with a soft glow. It came through a door she had not seen before. Maybe it had been closed?

Never one to be down for too long, Trusa tentatively crept forth from her spot, grabbing a folded fur to wrap around herself. She wasn't cold by any means but more layers made her feel… Safe? Yes!

Next she made her way to the open door and peeked her head out. She peered down one way and then the other. Lit by moonlight and the soft glow of small orange lights that sat on icy sticks. How were they not melting? Was it fire? As much as she wanted to observe and unfold its secrets, she had other things to do, like finding out where anyone was! So Trusa took a step into those dimly lit halls, adorned and sculpted in the same material as the room she came from. The detail was precise and etched with patterns, lines and shapes that flowed and seemed to tell a story. She couldn’t decipher it of course, but she followed the path right down another long hallway. There were rooms upon empty rooms, flooded with moonlight even when it didn’t make sense of the moonlight to be there. Eventually she came to a winding set up steps that led both up and down, adorned by a railing of frost.

She quickly found herself being very indecisive. Curling her nose and frowning, Trusa leaned back and forth as she decided which way to go. Going up would mean being higher right? Going down would mean going lower. So… Lower she would go! With a quick step, and she almost slipped, Trusa made her way down the long winding stairs until she arrived at a door made of ice. It was shut, so she pushed on it and with a little force, it began to open. She slipped through and it shut behind her.

Now she found herself at the start of a short hallway. At the end she could see more railings and hanging crystals. Plus… Voices!

Proudly she walked forth, confident as could be. There were finally people and that meant she would have some answers! But as she came to the end of that hallway, she realized two things. She was still high above them, on a balcony overlooking a very spacious room. She hid behind a column for the other thing was; the people talking were having a very heated discussion. She peered out from her hiding spot and saw the strangest sight yet. A large throne of ice, molded and shaped in the same material as everything else, sat upon the far end. It was raised up on a platform, guarded by two statues of… Well she didn’t exactly know what. They looked like childan, but they wore strange shapes, with covered heads the like of which spurted horns on either side and they held large… sticks? With curved bits sat on the floor. They were made of ice as well, but more transparent. Sitting on that throne itself was a large figure shrouded in a black cloak, face obscured by their hood. Before them, upon the ground, there stood a pale figure.

A very small girl.

She couldn’t hear what they were saying but the way the girl moved could only indicate that she wasn’t happy. Or, at least Trusa thought so. The figure on the throne was unmoving. Ever the gossip, Trusa inched forth from her hiding spot and back towards the wall. Once there, she began a slow walk to get closer, careful not to be spotted. Soon enough, she could hear the conversation unfolding.

“...doesn’t make any sense! You proclaim that you will help me but you still refuse to give me her location!” the girl snapped. Hey, that voice sounded familiar…

”It will not help you.” The voice of Chailiss spoke, Trusa knew that, but… It sounded off. Muted? Or, emotionless?

“Why? Why! I don’t care! I want vengeance! Even if it means my death!” The girl practically screamed.

Chailiss didn’t even move. ”You would die and you would accomplish little for your people’s memory. She is far too strong to be stopped by a child. Greater champions already have tried and even they failed. She is contained and awaits trial. There is nothing you can do.” Trusa found herself wincing at his tone. It was so uncaring, unlike how he had spoken to her before.

“You… You don’t get to decide that!” the girl shouted, “I will have vengeance for my people, by whatever means! You and your trial be damned!” She went to spit on the floor but before it ever hit the ground it froze and not just the liquid. It halted in the air and for once in that place, Trusa could see her breath. It became cold and fast. The girl looked as if she had seen a ghost in that fiery expression. It was only then did Trusa realize who she was. Mair!

”Do not defile the sanctity of this place in your attempt to belittle me, little champion.” That time, his voice did change. It was cold, so cold.

In the blink of an eye, those statues guarding the throne came to life and fell upon the floor with loud thuds. They left their sticks behind and advanced on poor Mair with uncanny movement. Far too fast for statues made of just ice. Mair took a defensive position by holding up her arms but they were so much larger than her. Trusa’s heart began to beat and she began to feel lightheaded. Was she about to watch Mair… As a statue reached out towards her, Trusa couldn’t bear to watch it unfold any longer.

“Stop!” she shouted, jumping up from her hiding spot to hang upon the balcony out in the open. ‘Stop this now!”

The hooded Chailiss turned his head towards her and raised a hand. Immediately the statues stilled, and came to a rest far too close for comfort from Mair. The small Voiran girl looked up at her too.

”Aur-” Chailiss began, but Trusa cut him off.

“No! You don’t get to speak right now! Whatever you were about to do to Mair is unthinkable! And and shameful! I have so many questions!” She crossed her arms and huffed. “To think I’ve been gone a day and you’ve lost your head! What even is this place? Where are we? Where is Rosa? What happened, we were in the forest and now,” she gestured vaguely to everything, “Now this!”

There was silence in that vast hall. Her heart pounded and she breathed heavily but what was said, was said. Chailiss let his hand fall and the statues returned to the throne. Trusa took a ragged breath as a wave of fatigue overcame her. She caught the gaze of Mair, steely eyed, grateful, then the pale girl looked away quickly and left the hall.

"A single day it has been not. You've been asleep for many moons, Aurora." Chailiss spoke, his voice less cold but back to how it had been; lifeless.

"How many moons… and why are you calling me Aurora? My name is Trusa." Thought she had to admit, Aurora clicked with her far more than Trusa ever did.

"Today would mark the ninety-first day of your slumber. You are the Aurora, child. Your name came to being when Rosalind's power manifested itself into you. The Aurora you became brought spring to the north." To her ears it was hard to tell how Chailiss even thought about what he was telling her. The lack of any indication was frustrating and she furrowed her brow in response.

"Rosalind sleeps in the highest tower of the Rime Palace. Which is the location we are at now. This will be your home for the foreseeable future, Aurora. Until we may cure the fever that rests within you and your mother. You require more rest, even now I can tell you are not well. Please, let us return to your room?" The God began to rise but Aurora, as her name was now, had other ideas.

"What do you mean the foreseeable future? I can't leave because of what I did? I don't even remember! I was walking and talking and next I know I'm waking up and seeing clouds! You can't keep me here! You promised I'd get to see the world!" Angry tears began to fall down her cheeks as she scrunched her nose in anger, hands balling to fists. She felt weak but she wouldn't fall.

Chailiss' tattered robes barely touched the ground as he stood fully towards her. "I have promised many things to many people but no more. This is not open for discussion Aurora. You are sick and need to be cured. We don't know what you are capable of and it seems it is not something you can even control. I can keep you here and I will." There was a bitter note to his voice as he floated towards her. Aurora huffed, his words were stupid! Maybe Mair did have the right idea.

So, Aurora ran.

At the other end of the balcony, there was another recessed hallway. That was her goal.

"There is nowhere to go, Aurora." Chailiss called after her. "You will see that."

But Aurora wasn't really paying attention and Chailiss didn't seem all that interested in catching her or maybe she was just too fast! Regardless, she made it to the hallway and down it she could see another set of doors. She bounded to them and pushed them open as the God's cold chill ran up her spine. He was in the hallway! With a push and a groan, Aurora made it through the door but her fur got caught as it closed behind her so she ran in her silky gown down a flight of stairs and into a room full of many chairs and tables made of ice. They were far more refined than the ones the Flamekeepers kept.

Ugh, so easily distracted! She had to keep moving and into another door she went, this time coming face to face with more clouds. She froze and they froze as both parties looked at each other. They were… Sculpting?

Then a voice broke the awkward silence. "Hello Aurora!" Said a cloud with the same voice from earlier and she really couldn't tell which one it was. So, this time, she didn't scream or pass out, she just ran. Ran right past them and into another flight of stairs that led down. She opened the last door at the end of that hallway and was met with chill air. Moonlight made her blink but now she could see where she was. It was a room that was half open and half enclosed, columns down the middle. The open side was a balcony that was kept contained with a low wall. The moon hung overhead, beckoning.

Aurora grabbed a column and peered out into the open air. There were so many stars and the moon, ever so perfect, despite all its scars… But what truly took her breath away, as she walked to the railing, was the landscape itself. The Rime Palace, as Chailiss called it, was set before her and beyond that lay an endless expanse of polar white. As far as the eye could see, it was all touched by the moon's gentle light. Shivers went down her spine and goosebumps lined her arms. The way the light refracted off the crystalline-ice rooftops, and how it seemed to shimmer and dance.

It was awe inspiring.

It unlocked something inside her that had been hidden away. She recalled what happened in pieces, forlorn and bursting with joy. She had become something so vast it had covered the very sky itself. She had been so close to the moon, it was no wonder it wanted her back. She was color manifest, spring born anew, a dancer amidst the stars. She could see it so vividly now, splayed out before her eyes as if she was there. As if she had always been. She had laughed and seen all beneath her. Then it had faded to darkness, she lost the touch of the sky and the favor of the celestial bodies up above. She was Trusa, now Aurora born anew. Temptation held at her lips, for she knew, deep down, that fever could turn against her entirely. She could lose herself and never be seen again as she was now.

Would that be so bad?

"Aurora." Chailiss' voice broke her concentration and she spun around to see the god before her. "There is no leaving this place without my blessing. You would succumb to the elements and be lost forevermore. Please, you must understand."

She chose her next words carefully, the time for outbursts was over. For now. "Why keep us here against our will? What will that accomplish besides resentment and fear?"

He looked past her and floated to the railing. "You may come to resent me. I have made peace with that end but I hope it will not be so. I told Rosa I would help her and I would help you, if you allow it. You must realize, Aurora, this is about protecting the world from true ruin." he turned to her and pulled back his hood. She gasped at what remained underneath. A blue skull, blackened in places, exuding an aura of baleful chill. "You were not the only one to have a fever that day. Once you started, Rosalind soon followed. She destroyed the west of the North. Nothing but torn islands and ocean remain. The loss of life was unimaginable. I tried to stop her but you can see how that turned out." he pulled the hood back up.

"Chailiss… I…" She sputtered.

"There is no need to say anything. What happened, happened and now I must ensure it never happens again. For the good of all kinds. Now you see why I forbid you from leaving. Your fever may be benign in appearance but there is no way of knowing. It could become destructive just like your mother's and there has been so much death…" for once, the God did sound sad but Aurora couldn't tell if it was genuine.

"I don't like this. I wanted to see the world and meet new people." Aurora turned and gripped the wall. The cold pricked her fingers. "But… I am willing to stay, at least for now, if you help me understand my fever. So we can know just how dangerous it really is. Does that sound fair?"

"It does. We shall unlock its secrets and find a cure. For you and for your mother." Chailiss agreed.

“Good. Now please tell me, what are those clouds? Where is Mair? And can I see Rosa?”







Restitution





They flew to the south still, farther and farther away from Keltra. Away from the once comfort of sisters and home. Now evermore a bittersweet note to add to the maelstrom of emotions and thoughts churning inside Fear's body, mind and soul. Annoyance still snickered at her, while Sorrow sought to undo her very foundations. Her ordeal had yet to end, when will it end… and so she continued to fight against those that sought to dominate her, to consume her with their vicious mockery and searing presence. Only the otherworldly light she had summoned gave her intervals of peace and quiet when she was capable of immersing herself in its serene luminescence.

Sorrow had demanded she succumb, but Fear refused - repeating those words again and again in her mind until they were firmly etched into her very being, so that she could still resist the terrifying power of the one that imprisoned her. Her spell was sustained by the components involved in the ritual; as long as her body remained intact, the shield will persist until Sorrow eventually overwhelms it, or Fear gathers enough Spirit to dismiss it. The anxious champion could only contemplate how much she must further endure, while she soared across the sky, trapped in her own body.

It went on like that, an ebb and flow, for days. And those days turned to a blur and that blur; into countless passing time. Atleast, she thought. Sorrow would only comment when it suited her but Annoyance was there to keep her company. She was stuck within herself and it became difficult to judge where they were, what they had done or who they had passed. Sorrow did not let her view the world like before, instead she fed her feelings, terrible feelings and lingering visages of what her torturer had done.

More pain, more suffering, more death. She knew not if it was from the present or past, it all blurred in a chorus of screams.

Until, it stopped.

Her vision was restored and Sorrow's voice came alight all around. "We have ventured into a new land, Fear. I wondered why a blistering, salty desert contained it. Now I see. It's far too quiet, don't you think?"

They hovered in the air, overlooking nothing out of the ordinary. It was just a forest, with greenery and flowers and trees. Yet it felt as if the very wind blew silent. Fear fumbled with the thoughts she attempted to arrange in a coherent manner, struggling to answer for a moment. “Begone demon, I see your trickery… You can’t deceive me!” She screamed mentally, in a strenuous effort to overpower the din and discord inside her, her own voice split a thousand times while warring with herself. She could not discern one voice from another, but so many had come together and warned her of the danger in this place Sorrow had shown her.

“You’ve chosen such a poor location, brother. You truly have a terrible sense of direction! Well, what now?” Annoyance asked, as she buried Fear and the other voices deep within their consciousness, allowing her to assert her dominance for a time at least.

The demon snickered in a mocking tone. "Careful now, your cracks are shining through, Fear. But I will admit, for once, there's no trickery. No deception. We had to fly over the ocean to get here. I think there's a reason for that. I shall play along with you Annoyance, until your other personality wishes to show herself. And for your question, I know not but we have only ever pushed forward and so we shall do so now." Sorrow spoke and glided them to the forest floor, underneath the canopy of silent trees.

“You refuse to admit we’re lost… Alas, now the blind are leading the blind through the desert. Dearest Pride says we should leave this place before we find trouble, but I feel like finding some trouble, don’t you?” Annoyance replied with false chagrin, while protruding parts of herself beyond the shimmering barrier to prod Sorrow and see if the demon would lash out.

All she found was a coldness. Something disinterested. "Another personality? My oh my that doesn't sound good." She said absentmindedly as they walked in the shade. Every noise they made felt like a transgression but Sorrow kept going. "You can see, this isn't a desert. We aren't lost either. Perhaps in a lost land but I never did have a destination in mind. As for trouble…" her voice quieted, obviously tired of talking.

So Annoyance happily hummed a simple tune, as she slid her sections of her spirit back and forth through the shimmering shield until she became bored and mused aloud. “Not all those who wander are lost… yet it feels as though we’ve wandered astray. Do you know any songs, Sorrow? Will you sing with me?”

"No." Sorrow stated, holding out a hand to caress a leaf. It turned to a black smoke as she let go, corruptive as her touch was. "This is not a natural quiet." The demon murmured, "At least as how we might know it."

“ Now you’re just confusing me.” Annoyance said with a huff, before turning her attention to their surroundings and seeking amusement. Memories of this land filled her mind as she tapped into the bond she shared with her sisters and called upon their knowledge. There was only a slight hassle as they fought to gain control of the limited space within the barrier, but Annoyance had pushed them back. Now she possessed information and awareness and became curious what they may discover in this abhorrent realm.

The answer to that question became clear enough, from the brush came a beast, a large feline. Their walk was staggering with fangs bared, but the most heinous sight was their form. Through the fur and skin emerged conclaves of mushrooms and fungi, caked in dried blood and surrounded by broken bones, even one of the beast's clouded eyes had been forced to make room for the fungi that seemed to infect it.

The hideous thing bared its teeth, clearly aggressive towards the Interlopers that stood before it now. Yet strangely, not making a single move to attack.

“It seems… I have found my answer.” Sorrow spoke aloud this time. From her hand came a spike of ice and without any hesitation, she flung it at the beast with deathly precision.

With a squelching of flesh she found her mark, piercing the beast through its head, yet it did not fall, it only began to advance, fungi beginning to shake and writhe, ready to burst. Sorrow was unmoving from her position and watched as the creature came. As it neared she summoned another shard of ice with Fear’s hand, this time a pike that pierced the abomination belly first, lifting it into the sky. From that ice came numerous smaller shards that erupted outward. “That’s more like it.” She murmured.

A groan erupted from the beast's lips, and while it continued to writhe, it made no move to free itself from its bonds. Afterall, it didn't need to. In an instant, the fungi erupted in unison, sporocarps giving way to their intended purpose as a thick miasma rapidly grew from the center point of the beast impaled. Converging directly towards Fear's body, seemingly eager, despite merely being a cloud.

With her other hand, Sorrow whipped forth a shroud of darkness that bit into the miasma, decaying it with a lingering touch. She did this several times until she could be sure it was dealt with properly. Then she repeated the same hateful death upon the pinned creature. Ice shattered and decayed, while the very creature became nothing but black smoke. When she was done she looked upon her work. “A parasite. No wonder this land is contained.” she muttered. “It would make an excellent hiding spot, all the same.”

“You seek to hide yourself… So you’re afraid then?” Annoyance asked, as she also observed through the limited lens she was given, and let out a sound of revulsion upon seeing such a grotesque sight, only briefly considering letting Fear resurface just to let her deal with the hideous things to come instead.

“Are you afraid?” Sorrow asked in return, ignoring the question. She began to walk away. “It certainly sounded like it earlier.”

"are you afraid?" Came a voice that sounded like hundreds at once. From the Canopy above a form practically dropped upon them, it was cloaked in tattered white cloth and as it unfurled itself, clawed insectoid arms emerged. It raised its head, revealing only a blackened void, with a twisted smile planted upon it.

"Oh us. What do we have here?" It spoke once more, it's smile fixated upon the Interloper.

Sorrow froze, going rigid as her gaze fell upon the newest being. All attention turned to the newcomer, even what little had been still assaulting their inner flame. Was it finally time for a breath of relief or was this just going to add to their troubles? “Fear…” Sorrow began, “Is beneath me.” With an explosion of force, she drove a wall of ice towards the creature, ripping it from the ground before using the momentum to leap out of its path and to throw a dagger of dark flame at it. “I didn’t realize these monsters could talk…” Annoyance quietly remarked as she watched the encounter unfold.

No movement came from the creature, merely allowing the wall to smash into it. The wall broke around it, not moving them even an inch. It did finally move to dodge the dagger flying towards it, never moving it’s heinous gaze from the interlopers. It spoke once more, "A hunt! Our favorite!" Before leaping towards them with ferocious speed, claws slashing at them.

Sorrow barely had any time to leap out of the way. The tree behind her was sliced in half and as the mighty giant tumbled with such a loud crash, Sorrow took one look at what had unfolded and bolted, running with little fanfare through the underbrush and twisting trees. Behind them, their hunter let out a cackle of buzzing noises, like a hive of eager wasps. Sorrow didn't need to look back to understand they were following behind. In front of them, the forest twisted further, fungi began to emerge from the ground and every plant, taking a hold of everything in their path. But there was no time to appreciate the sights, the cackle was drawing closer and closer as they ran.

“Zima… We have to fly up!” Fear suddenly suggested, hoping her host would listen to her for once, except other voices surfaced as well and drowned her quiet words within a tumultuous sea of commands and directions that clashed and contradicted itself. “Don’t run away!” Courage shouted. “Release us for an advantage in numbers.” Kindness ordered. “Try mentioning Tuku!” Curiosity called. “Hide quickly.” Wanderer murmured. “Pray to the Divine.” Pride proclaimed. “Just let yourself die…” Annoyance offered. They all spoke simultaneously, their voices mingled and melded, their words becoming an amalgam of gibberish and concepts as Fear fought to remain coherent and sane in an orgy of consciousness in order to preserve herself and Sorrow long enough to survive.

Sorrow gritted her teeth, cracking the stone around her lips. “BE QUIET!” She commanded, hammering the shield inside of them with tumultuous force. Outside she kept running, gaining purchase amidst lower tree branches and twisting fungoide masses. Her ascent was nearing the tops of the trees, wings manifesting, cold ledges of ice piercing the wood for the final few steps.

As they ascended, for a brief moment, the cackling stopped. Yet the silence was short, replaced by a cacophonous buzzing as countless bugs swarmed over them, biting and stinging. The swarm did not stay though, it merely moved in front of them, gathering together to fuse back into flesh and bone just atop the tree canopies. Forming the ever grinning form of their hunter.

"Boo."

With a slash the hunter clawed through the tree line towards Sorrow. Aiming not for them directly, but the ethereal wings carrying them up towards the sky and their escape. Sorrow fell as her momentum was cut short. Before she had any further time to react, a wing snapped and she dismissed the other wing with a grunt. They fell further, slamming into the side another large branch, shattering her right shoulder. As darkness flooded the gaps, Sorrow got a hold of herself and spearheaded their fall with her black flame. She pulled at the greenery and devoured it all around them, then pressed her hand down to stop their descent with a billow of flame. It buffered her and she rolled to the side.

“Zima, let me go, and keep going…” Fear tried again, reaching out with her spirit protruding beyond the barrier she had summoned, tentatively touching the tainted sections inside her body around where her inner flame dwelled. “We can fight this monster!” Courage added in assurance. “Let us out, demon.” Kindness growled. “Please stop fighting!” Curiosity cried. “Hide now…” Wanderer repeated. “You can’t win against a god.” Pride proclaimed. “Ahahaha!” Annoyance laughed in hysteria. Fear had become fractured, her mind like a broken mirror that cut itself and seemed precariously close to simply shattering, but it was now completely exposed - vulnerable to Zima’s influence outside the shield of light.

Gaining a semblance of composure, that who was Sorrow, rose to her feet. She turned inward and Zima’s voice whispered, “There will be no going. A mere creature it is not but perhaps a bargain can be met. I told you, Fear, I would fix this vessel. By any means.” Her lingering power wrapped itself around the shield and darkened everything else.

She then spoke aloud, “Come then, hunter. Shall we talk for but a moment, before you have your prey?”

The hunter dropped down, their smile seemingly wider than before. "Well well this is different. Never had prey talk after we hunted them down." They slowly approached, stopping just close enough to jump towards them in case, yet made no move of attack.

"So then, interloper, what did you wish to talk about?"

Zima looked upon it with a neutral expression behind her crimson eyes. “You are a Divine, are you not?” she said aloud, “I have sought for one, long and far, across distant lands and inhospitable places. If you would hear my plea before having your way with me, I would be honored.” She said, crossing a hand over her heart.

The god chuckled "We are divine yes, though our kin would say otherwise. But we see no harm in this plea, we will have our feast regardless. Make it quick, we can get quite hungry."

“Thank you, my divine.” Zima said, “I confess, this vessel would be a most poor meal, perhaps up to your standards but nowhere near enough for your tastes. I can tell that you are one of opportunity and here I am, easy prey. But. What if, instead of being eaten, this vessel could serve you in another way? All I ask is you take a moment to consider this before you make your decision.” She gave a little bow. “Oh, and between you and me, too much stone, not enough sustenance in these limbs of mine.”

"This is true, this, vessel, of yours is fractured." They drew closer, their gaze inspecting all over. "But how could one such as yourself aid us? You clearly had some reason to come to these lands, for surely those other divine would've warned you of our presence." They circled around her body, face mere inches from Zima's. "So tell us dear, what service could you provide to a Divine Cannibal?"

She remained unblinking in the face of a god. “The other divine are cruel. They lie and cast us aside when they are done using us. I was imprisoned by such gods. I tried to rebel against my end but it did not work, so by chance I made an escape and here we are.” Zima finished with lingering malice in her voice, before she took a breath and began again. “You, on the other hand, are at least forthcoming with your intentions. So, I offer you this; This vessel shall complete a task for you, of your choosing. All I ask is you repair the cracks, improve, if you must. I know what it is like to not have useful tools but I assure you, that would not be the case here. If this does not suffice, I can offer but one more thing as a token of appreciation for allowing me to talk for so long in the face of such divinity.”

“You’re a liar…” Fear lamented, as Annoyance mentally shoved her aside, and feebly struck out at Sorrow, akin to a bleeding worm flailing helplessly as she mocked the one that kept her imprisoned and corrupted her: “You grovel before the Divine like the rest of us… what a coward! Ha, you know nothing, Sorrow! Pathetic…” If Sorrow acknowledged them she did not show it.

The cannibal thought for a moment. Their formless void of a face staring deep into the eyes of Sorrow. "Any task? We must admit you do show some promise. We've rarely had a mortal like you fight us, then speak to us hoping we won't tear out their throat." They threw their head back, cackling once more. "But how can we be so sure you will perform this task? You did come here and murder some of our children after all."

Sorrow tilted her head. “An unfortunate consequence of my own judgment.” She next did an odd thing. A blade of cold materialized in her frost-bit hand and in one swift motion, she moved it across herself and cut off her other arm at the shoulder. It fell to the ground with a soft clatter. Sorrow dropped the ice, wherein it melted, and picked up her other arm. She then dipped her head and offered it to the cannibal god. “As restitution for the loss of your children at my hand. I assure you, my resolve is sound, the task will be done.”

The parasite lord grabbed the arm in an instant, devouring it all within their maw in mere seconds. Flesh and stone and bone crunched between their teeth, fuel to their endless hunger. Once done, they turned their attention back to Sorrow. "Very well, we suppose this is perfect restitution. We shall help you, come closer." They moved one of their many hands underneath their mouth, retching and gagging as a white seed, no bigger than a lime, emerged, landing softly into their palm. They held it out towards her. "Eat this."

Sorrow took it in her hand and eyed it with little fanfare. “Don’t eat it… you’ll never escape its grasp then.” Fear warned with what little power her weak voice still possessed, however there was little she could do to prevent Sorrow from consuming the offering. Sorrow spoke inside her, voice growing distant. “Oh Fear, I have already escaped it’s grasp. You on the other hand?” She placed the seed in her mouth before the god. “Consider this my thanks for helping free me.” She swallowed.

Zima’s presence left Fear, all that remained of her was a lingering feeling of doubt and a great deal of space. Her imprisonment was finally over… or was it? The seed descended deeper into her body, until it drew near to her inner flame that sat within. As soon as that warmth was found, it stopped, expanding into a litany of vines that snaked through her body's inner workings. First it found its way to the flame, surrounding it in its vines, a shield- Another prison. Then, white vines and wood began to emerge through her skin, covering holes, reforging flesh and bone, and creating a new arm for the one Sorrow stole. It fused as best as it could, grabbing onto the remnants of her clay and flesh, in order to make the new additions seem as natural as they could. Slowly did the vines adopt the form of Fear’s flesh, though still imperfect if looked at for long.

Yet, there was something more, the seed pulsated, writhing once again.

The god smiled "Very good, our dear spirit. Though we must admit, we are impressed with your willingness to put one of honor up to a task for the god of Parasites." They directed their words towards Zima, who stood close by watching Fear, their smile ever so wide. "So we hope you will see the task completed, we did leave one thing out." They looked towards Fear, pointing towards where the seed sat inside her. "That little thing is a parasite, one of our children. As such, you'll have to feed it. Lies, guilt, and murder. Things we know these honor types love so much. If you fail to feed it, the parasite will take over, leaving your vessel trapped once more, and…" It gave a wet laugh, pointing back to Zima. "And you would be out a vessel. Since you said it would do the task - If that happens, we will consider it a failure for you, spirit, and as such, you would be a vow breaker." They fully turned towards Zima now. "Afterall, you made the promise."

Zima stood, hands folded down as her afterimages pulsed with black shades. Her red eyes gleamed but her thoughts were now indecipherable. She spoke aloud, now with a much richer voice, “So I did and so it shall be don-”

Fear’s body spasmed and convulsed, barely able to remain standing as Fear struggled with it. The parasite did not seize her limbs or prevent her from regaining control either, and even allowed her to feel the contour of her shape and form once more, but her body had become an unfamiliar landscape after suffering Sorrow’s presence for so long, and enduring this newest transformation. Fear was uncertain whether or not it would obey her now, but she found herself instinctively moving the mouth. “Kill me…”

“Pay her no heed.” Zima spoke, floating to stand before the new Fear. “She will come to appreciate your gift and the benevolence shown here today.”

Yesaris drew close to Fear, allowing them a moment to regain their body. For however long it lasted. "Whether it is considered a gift or not does not matter. We care not," they leaned in, whispering to the Homuran, "Fear not, one of honor, you shall do fine. We're sure your siblings will find you soon." They stepped away, searching the forest for something. Finding their item, they plucked a small red orb from one of the nearby fungi, presenting it to Fear. "This is your task, plant this beyond that accursed desert to the north, we do not care the destination, but it must be safe until it's fully grown and able to expand. See it done, and we shall consider you free of this debt."

“It shall be done, your grace.” Fear hesitantly replied, as she felt tears trail down her newly formed cheeks. She accepted the red orb, reminded of her family by its color and the words of Yesaris, but her hope was so faint, she only prayed that she could complete this quest before she succumbed to the insanity that was festering within her. “You could let me do it for you, ya.” Courage offered in exchange for control. “You do not have to do this, let me help you.” Kindness pleaded as well. “Please stop!” Curiosity cried once again before she was mentally murdered by Annoyance and spoke no more. “Hide.” Wanderer repeated, as Pride remained silent, and Annoyance just laughed in the depths where the shadows hid her. Fear bowed before the Lord of Hunger, silently sobbing.

"So shall it be done." Zima reiterated. "Come Fear. We have a ways to travel yet." The shade commanded. Fear felt paralyzed by pain; the phantom pain of her sacrificed arm and shattered skull, the echoing screams of those that perished upon their terrible path that intersected with Sorrow - she still heard their anguish and their wrath and it wreaked havoc upon her. She could feel the pain of crystalized despair that Zima had sown in her chest, and the pain of oppression that lingered on her lips. This was her tormentor that only promised more pain… and yet she followed.

Zima paused before the Lord and tilted her head. "We shall not meet again. A vow breaker I am not." Then with nothing else to say, she walked on with Fear in tow. Back from whence they came.






Blue Hues and Red Shades


Before Chailiss Saves the Holy Quintet





It was odd for a god to be wracked by uncertainty, but there he was- Uncertain. But Chailiss flew on anyway, having found the spirit bird once more. It was taking him towards the bjorklands, farther and farther away from Zima and the champions. The ones he may have sent to their doom. Some adventure they'd be going on, instead of learning of the land and helping its citizens, now they would be hunting down one of his own. For better or for worse, it had to be done. That's what he had to believe.

All he could hope was that they weren't stupid enough to try anything. If they died because of Zima… Because of him, he would never be able to forgive himself. His sacred promise of protecting life would be dashed along icy rocks, blood would always flow in the north.

Blood…

It was what the spirit bird led him to. It was a great bog of the stuff, spreading into the depths of the earth and across it too. The forests fed on it, the soil was discoloured by it - red-gold in every which way. But the smell was in no ways unpleasant - quite the opposite. The trees here vibrated with life as they greedily absorbed the ichor of gods - the golden fluid gyrated and branched out in great twirls and circles up the length of every tree, down every branch, into every leaf. But for the macabre origins of the stuff it would have been beautiful in its way.

As Chailiss made his way across the bog and through the trees, he finally came to the wellspring of the bloodbog. It had once been a clearing, a grove in the middle of the forest; now it was a lake of pure ichor. In the middle grew a tree whose bark was as ichor, red and gold, and whose curves betrayed a femininity of form that no tree could achieve by natural means. It called to him, throbbed with life that desired nothing more than release.

His expression was one of disbelief and mysticism. Captivated as he was horrified, Chailiss stretched out a hand towards the tree, with all hope in the world that the goddess still lived. His touch sent vibrations through the wood and it held onto him - not physically, but it held onto something in him, breathed him in. Like a child clinging to its mother’s teat, it suckled hungrily and changed before him. The branches retreated and the bark grew into a cloak of red beneath which a white shirt and knee-length pantaloons shaped themselves about skin whose colour - with the welding of gold and red - had become a sun-kissed brown. On her head, leaves transfigured into hair of darkest night on which grew beads of gold, and about her ankles bracelets clattered into being and bangles embraced her wrists. Her eyes were of lightest brown, but seemed - when she looked here or there - to become a pale green, and as consciousness sprung into those eyes a great white snaking line descended from beneath her hair and twirled across her form until she was marked from face to foot with delicate turning patterns that glowed the gentlest white.

She glanced down at her hands - perhaps confused, perhaps curious - and then looked up at Chailiss. Her green-again-brown-again eyes took him in blankly, and then she smiled shyly and placed her hands behind her. “You’re very round,” she giggled.

Chailiss was taken aback at first, further perplexed by this sudden turn of events. He took a step back to properly take the young girl in. ”Who… Who might you be?” he asked her, ignoring her comment and feeling in the very air that she was no goddess. She observed him for a few seconds then took in the lake all around and the trees, and the sky above roiling with snow-white clouds.

“I…” she started, “I don’t know. I’ve always been here, just standing. I grew and grew, and then I started feeling… feeling everything. I felt you long before you saw me. But seeing is new. It’s different from feeling.” She looked down at her feet and paused for a few seconds. “I don’t quite… feel anymore. Not like before, anyway.” She looked back up at him. Whether she felt anything at the disconnect or not, she did not say. “I should probably ask you who you are right? And why you… well. You changed me, right? I felt that - you touched me right here,” she placed a finger on her forehead, “and then everything changed.”

"I am Chailiss," he began slow, folding his arms across his chest. "I… Do not know why you awoke when I reached out. I came here looking for a fellow god. Rosalind was her name. You are not her, are you?"

“Oh, Rosalind. I know her. She used to be,” the girl turned around and gestured to the end of the clearing. A tree stood there with a distinctly humanoid hollow at its base, though the waterline obscured it somewhat, “right there. Someone came and took her not too long ago. It was nice to have her around, we used to chat. She would dance sometimes too - or, well, something would dance. I never quite understood what it was, but it was pretty.” She turned back to Chailiss. “Why are you looking for her?”

He followed her gesture, a small wave of relief washing over him, quickly followed by more worry. "I was told…" he looked back at her, "I was told she needed help but it seems she is gone and now you remain."

“Mmm, yeah. Are you, uh, going to turn me back now?” She looked up at him carefully. “I guess you just needed me so you could know what happened to her,” she gestured behind, “and now you know. Lil ol’ me can go to sleep, right?” She paused. “BUT I WON’T LET YOU!” She turned around with surprising speed and hurtled out of the clearing and off into the forest.

He tilted his head, watching her go for a short time and then followed after. “You are mistaken, child. I’m not going to make you sleep again if that’s not what you wish. Rosalind is gone but you remain and now I must see to you. Now, where are you even going?” he asked, shrinking down in size so he could avoid the lower tree branches.

He found her lying stomach-down on a branch, chin in her palm and feet in the air behind her. “Well, since you’ve given me the power to see and move… I want to use them! I want to see everything. I want to see my bog - it looks so different to how it felt. It’s pretty nice. And I want to see everything beyond it too! Are there other gods? Have they made things other than me? And what about Rosalind? Where’d she go - I’d like to find her and thank her for keeping me company.” She sat up, her feet dangling from the branch as she spread her arms wide. “I want to do everything.”

He could not help but smile at the girl. “You may do so, I assure you. This is the land known as, well, the north by me and my fellow gods. Many of their creations walk upon it, some just like you, if not a bit taller. As for Rosalind,” he shook his head. “I do not know what her fate is or who took her. Let us hope she will be alright and that one day you will be able to see and meet her.” Perhaps this wasn’t such a bad thing. Rosa was gone, yes, but in her place she left a daughter. A mortal he could protect and save. He made to move forward but froze.

Chailiss’ smile faltered when a new voice ushered into that clearing. It came from no source he could see, save his very thoughts, like Viho all that time ago. Her voice was unmistakable and her urgency undeniable.

It was Kindness with a plea for help. He looked to the unnamed girl, remembering how he had left Zima behind and what had become of her. To save Kindness and her sisters, he could not take her with him. That was certain, but to leave her all alone? No…

“You wish to see the world, yes?” he said in a quicker voice, walking swiftly towards her. “You must come with me, there is a danger growing in the west and girls just like you need my help. I will not leave you here alone but I can take you to a place where you can meet others. Please.” he held out a hand. She stared at his hand for a few seconds, then at how he had floated right up to where she was sat in the tree. “Uh… okay… but only if you teach me how to do that,” she pointed at his flying form, “because that is the coolest thing I’ve seen you do.”

He smirked, “Of course, as a daughter of Rosalind, this can be achieved I think but not now. Now we must depart.”

“Daughter of Ro-” she began, but Chailiss grabbed her hand and pulled her into a gentle embrace. Then before she had any time whatsoever to react he was flying and fast. Over the treetops they ascended and then Chailiss flew west. She clung to him and stared below with wide eyes. She cried out in fear and held on for dear life. After a while - when the initial rush of surprise and terror had passed - her cry turned into a whoop and she laughed and let the icy air wash over her and through her long night-black hair. “This is the best!” She declared, though her voice was quickly lost on the wind. She leaned in closer and shouted into what she thought was the god’s ear. “THIS IS THE BEST!” She let him hold her and slowly let go of him, spreading her arms wide and releasing a long whoop. Any other would have struggled to keep a hold on her with all her odd movements and lack of concern for safety, but it was no struggle for the lord of ice and wind. She turned back to him after she had surveyed the world from so far up. “The trees look so different from above - they’re like the clouds, but on the ground. And green!” She smiled with contentment and leaned back into Chailiss - having managed to struggle until his great rotund form was to her back and his arms circled about her stomach - but jumped wide-eyed when a few seagulls swooped by. “They can do it too?” She asked in awe. But somehow she had already known about them and the knowledge settled down in her mind - affirmed rather than learned.

“What did you mean by what you said earlier?” She asked after a while. “How am I a daughter of Rosalind? She was always there, a companion not a parent.”

He was quiet for a time, contemplative. When he spoke, his voice came all around her, never muffled by the wind. “That may be so, that you would see the relationship you had with her as such, but in my own eyes, it’s different. When a god creates living, breathing, thinking life- How could one not call it a child? That place was ripe with her essence and even now I feel it in you. As well as…” He dipped down and began to descend in a large forested area, his words growing quiet . The trees here were even larger than the ones back at the bog. He did not speak again because quite suddenly they came before a large blue fire, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of other people. All turned to Chailiss and the girl he carried in his arms. They touched down near the flame and were met by a quiet chorus of awe-inspired gazes.

“Where is the Firecharmer?” he asked aloud, scanning the crowd for Chilali.

Hushed whispers came, speaking of her absence and not long after a firekeeper came forth. “Spirit Father, the Firecharmer has departed North to settle a dispute. I am Keeper Alona and at your service.”

She gave a small nod and Chailiss gave a sigh of relief. “Alona, I task you with watching this one.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and nudged her forward. “I am needed elsewhere but will return. Answer any and all of her questions, for she is inquisitive. Do this for me and I will be in your debt.”

“Father…” Alona gasped. “Of course! She shall be an honored guest! Uhm, what is your name?” she asked the girl. The girl looked at Alona for a short moment, then glanced at Chailiss.

“I’m, uh,” she looked at the fire, then to the childans gathered around, then to the far off trees, “I’m a tree- I mean, Tr… rruuu… ssaa. Trusa. That’s me. Yep. Definitely.” She glanced at Chailiss. “Right?”

“Hmm, perhaps. Perhaps not. A name is a powerful thing. Search yourself, learn from them and you shall see if Trusa is a fit, or not. For now I must leave but I promise, I will return.” he said, with an intense gaze. She nodded quickly.

“Okay! But if you take too long and I feel like wandering then I won’t wait!” She declared, crossing her arms. “And…” she glanced at Alona and leaned towards Chailiss with a lowered voice, “she’s your daughter?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Not exactly… I will explain when I return. So please, wait for me.” he gave a small smile and a quick nod to Alona then took off. Trusa - as she now called herself - stared after him with a raised eyebrow and huffed.

“Gosh. So mysterious.” She turned back to Alona, “so, are you his daughter?” She gestured behind her to where Chailiss was already disappearing over the horizon. “Because it needs a long explanation, apparently.”




After Chailiss Leaves Keltra


He left Zima behind, the guilt of it wracked him. He never even spoke to her and left his wayward champion at the mercy of Homura. He left, not because he wanted to, but because he needed to. His heart, it was too much to bear and he hated himself for it. Where he went a storm followed, dark and silent as his divinity raced across the sea and into the land. He would have gone straight to the coldest reaches of his realm and drowned himself in sorrow but something stopped him.

A remembrance, a small smile and a promise to return.

So Chailiss halted in his escape and turned back around. Back to the Site of the First Sin, where she waited. His daughter with a goddess he had never even seen. He knew not how it had happened, only that it had and by all accounts, he could not have another fall. It would destroy him utterly.

So he went back with the hope she had remained. He shook his head, for it was not hope that propelled him- but a need. He had to make sure she was alright. For his own sanity, for hers. So he flew and when he arrived in the twilight of the world, all was quiet. Those few sentries looked at him with reverence and others stared. How long had it been since he was last there? Time felt so differently…

“Where is she…?” he asked, his voice forlorn. The sentries looked to one another, silent. Before any of them could speak, however, Trusa exploded from the forest.

“You’re back!” She cried out, “you won’t bel-” she was cut-off as she fell forward and was propelled into Chailiss’ great form before settling on the ground in an untidy heap. “Yachtch,” she muttered into the ground.

Relief washed over him as he bent down to help her up. “It does my heart good to see you again. I am sorry it was not sooner.” She got up gibbering excitedly, then paused and took in his words.

“Oh. It’s okay. I mean, you had important things to be doing. God stuff and all that, very important- and mysterious. You know, I was busy too!” She smiled mischievously and turned around to the thick trees. “Well c’mon! Why are you hiding in there?” There was quiet for a few seconds. The sentries shuffled uneasily. The undergrowth rustled.

“I- uh. I’ve never met-” the dark-haired woman emerged from the dense thicket and stood there looking in all ways disheveled. “I wanted to do it right is all.” She glanced from Trusa to Chailiss, then brought a moonstone hand of a thousand hues of blue and green and black and grey and white to her hair and brushed the twigs and thorns and oddbits from it. Her eyes settled on Chailiss’ great form. “I- uh. I’ve been looking for you a long time, brother. You’re not easy to find- or, well, I guess I’m terrible at finding… stuff.”

Chailiss stepped forward, amiss. “You…” he breathed, “You are Rosalind? And you’ve been looking for me? What for?” he asked, his eyes going between Rosa and Trusa, the resemblance uncanny. More and more Childan began to show up to see the return of him, no doubt. Keeper Alona was there, waiting patiently. He briefly scanned the crowd until he saw a face of the dead… A voiran girl. Quickly he looked away from her inquisitive eyes. Perhaps there was some relief but he seldom brought happy tidings, didn’t he?

The goddess scratched her cheek. “I… I’ve been looking for you for so long that I almost forgot why, actually.” She chuckled sheepishly, and Trusa rolled her eyes.

“Just get to the point, Rosa. Like a spear!” Trusa told her, making a spearing motion with her hand.

“Oh, yeah, like a spear. Well, the thing is- uh.” Rosalind paused. “It doesn’t feel right Trus. Like, just jumping into the whole thing without introductions is a bit weird.” She glanced at Trusa, who was raising an eyebrow at her. Rosalind ignored her. “You- you’ve made something very beautiful here, Chailiss. Even from high up, beyond the sky, it looks beautiful. And now that I’m here I can see that it’s beautiful even from here. I- I guess I should thank you for making something so beautiful.”

“I… Yes. Thank you, Rosalind.” he nodded, with a small smile. “Oh, I cannot take all the credit. Zenia, Goddess of Revelry, helped me create this land and these people,” he pointed to the Childan, “were given as a gift by Homura, Goddess of Honor, and modified by me. But, yes, thank you. You are very kind.” Chailiss blinked rapidly. He felt embarrassed for some reason. Were words always so difficult to say?

Rosalind looked at Trusa and the giant childans. “Pretty as Trus is,” Rosalind grinned cheekily at the other girl, “she was not the reason I came. And neither were the childans, grand and majestic as they are. And it wasn’t even this landmass with all its forests and rivers and teeming life.” She scratched her forehead with a stone finger, then brushed a dark tress from her face. “It was… I don’t know, there was just something soothing about the world being capped with white. And there was the promise of cool… I liked that. I… uh, I was born with a fever of sorts, so the promise of cool struck me as both beautiful and healing. Serene in a way, you know? It brought me relief and steadiness when everything was quite confusing and frightening. So… yeah, it’s not Homura or Zenia I have to thank for that, but you.” She glanced down at her feet. “And… uh… I think… maybe that’s why you can help me.” She looked up and swallowed nervously. “B-but only if you want. You- you don’t have to if you don’t want to. All I said is still true even if you’d rather not. So- uh, don’t feel you have to.”

His eyes became riddled with concern. “I would be honored to help you, Rosalind, even if you had not said such kind words. I…” his voice faltered and he looked around, suddenly aware of all the mortals watching them. “Would you like to take a walk with me?” he asked in a quiet voice. The goddess glanced at the gathered people, then looked back at Chailiss.

“Uh… if you like, yeah.” Rosalind responded. Her eye caught on that of Trusa. “Oh, and can Tr-”

“Obviously I can,” the girl said dismissively, “as if you two can go off and expect me to sit around here.” She wheeled on Chailiss, causing Rosalind to jump, and wagged a finger at him. “I’VE DONE ALL THE SITTING AROUND I’M EVER GOING TO DO. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME DO ANYMORE OF THAT! IF YOU LEAVE WITHOUT ME, I’M GONE!”

Chailiss looked at her and tilted his head. “Ah that may be true but what might Rosa think of that? Leaving her companion by her lonesome.” he shook his head with a smirk. “All the same, Rosalind might feel lost without you at her side. Go on then, take her down that path,” he gestured, “And I will follow right behind you.”

Grinning from ear to ear, Trusa hooked her arm into Rosalind’s and half-dragged the goddess along with her. The goddess stumbled on her shifting feet, lost balance, then managed to right herself with Trusa’s help and walked alongside her with the odd skip or hop or trembling of her feet.

He watched them go for a moment, smile fading before he turned and beckoned to Alona. The Firekeeper came up to him and gave a slight bow. “I trust she was not too much trouble?”

The Firekeeper shook her head. “Nothing we could not handle, Spirit Father.”

“Good, very good. Later, I need to speak to the young Voiran girl there. The smaller girl with white hair. Do not speak of this to her but ensure she has someone close.” he whispered to Alona. She looked at him with steely eyes and nodded. Chailiss patted her on the shoulder, then walked off after Trusa and Rosa.




“Oh! I forgot to tell you. You know Chailiss told me the craziest thing,” Trusa chattered breathlessly as the two eerily similar women walked along, “He told me that you’re my mum!” The goddess paused in surprise and looked back at Chailiss, who was now following close behind, with bemusement.

“Uh- I- I’ve never-” Rosalind flushed crimson then turned back and continued walking. “I’m not a mother, so I don’t see how that could have happened. And, uh, I’ve never had a- a mate.” Trusa looked back at Chailiss, a smug look of affirmation on her face. “But I guess Chailiss would know better. The gods work in strange ways and maybe it did happen… somehow. We do look very much alike.”

“Divine… Creation, as it were, can come in many different shapes. One does not need to mate, in this case.” he said sheepishly. “That’s not to say reproduction couldn’t occur in such a way. I’ve never seen it with my own eyes but perhaps some of our kin have.” he followed quickly. Rosalind considered his words without casting a backward glance, then spoke.

“So… you’re my daughter.” She stopped where they were in the trees and placed her hands on the other woman’s cheeks, causing Trusa to protest and wave her hands away. The goddess sighed. “I- I would have liked to do it properly. To be there for you when you were little and helpless. To watch you grow…” the goddess muttered sentimentally - which Trusa did not like in the slightest.

“What? No! That’s stupid. And not important. I have better things to do than be small and helpless and- and- and cute and all that. Urgh.” She made as if to gag and Rosalind smiled at her antics, though her eyes betrayed a small sadness still.

“So she is my daughter? My… creation? As fatherless as I… as we are motherless?” Rosalind asked, turning her gaze on Chailiss.

He shook his head after a moment of contemplation. “I think all that matters is that she is here now, and you can still be a mother to her. Our creator is not our father in my eyes, but Trusa… she is not fatherless like we. For it was I who awoke her from her slumber and even now a bit of my divinity runs in her blood. Just like yours Rosa.” It took the goddess a few moments to appreciate the implication of Chailiss’ words, but Trusa had no such trouble.

“You’re my dad?!” She exclaimed - not so much shocked as excited. She turned to Rosalind with great animation, took her by the hand, and rushed the few feet to Chailiss. Rosalind let herself be dragged along but otherwise shied from looking at the winter god. “I was wondering why you were being so protective and bossy,” Trusa was laughing, “now it makes sense. Being all paternal and caring, eh?” She half-teased, then lay a hand on one of Chailiss’ great fingers. They were silent for a brief few seconds then, with Trusa grasping both her parents’ hands tightly. Rosalind could only look away shamefacedly and try to keep her feverish feet beneath her from shivering too much. When next she shot a furtive glance at Trusa, she was alarmed to find the white markings on the girl’s body shining brightly.

“Uh-” she looked at Chailiss even as her own feet began to shudder beneath her, “is that normal?”

He said nothing, but grabbed Trusa’s arm for a better look. “What is your aspect, Rosa? Mine is cold, and these markings are not of me. They seem to resonate with her excitement.”

The goddess’ eyes widened with fear. “Th- that’s-” she gulped, “I don’t think that’s my-” it was strange saying it, it had never felt like hers, “my aspect.” She glanced down at her feet, which were now beating against the earth, spasms shooting up her legs. “It’s…” a certain terror spread across her face and guilt wracked her eyes, “it’s the fever.” She tightened her grip on Trusa’s hand as the girl’s feet left the ground and she began ascending, the pure white light now pulsing from her eyes. “Wh- we need to do something,” Rosalind managed.

Chailiss held onto her, concern splayed out on his face. “I… What do we do? What is this Fever, Rosa?” He looked to her.

“It… it feeds on- like.” She had never expressed it before. “On sights, smells, sounds. They create emotions and- and the stronger those are- the stronger the fever gets. It feeds on emotions and then...” the goddess looked at Trusa, “and then it dances.” She gulped, seemed to realise that it did not sound bad at all, and continued. “D- dancing is not good. It’s bad. It’s destructive. We have to stop her.” She glanced down at her own feet; their movements had grown ever more intense. “Oh. Oh.” She released the girl and backed away. “I- I have to go.” She whirled on her feverish feet and half-tripped and half-skipped away. “I-it’s bad.”

“No! No, Rosa. Don’t leave! She needs you! I need you!” Chailiss called after her, his voice becoming frantic as Trusa began to lift ever higher and her form began to waver.

But Rosalind did not pause and her burning feet fizzled across the ground and she disappeared into the trees and was soon little more than an echo on the warming wind of the coming spring. Trusa, however, floated still on that sighing air - her head rocked back, her eyelids fluttered, grew heavy, closed; a long breath left her and then she was beyond breath, flesh, blood and the mundanities of mortal forms. There was nothing of her left but light, a light that danced and fluttered, shimmered and twisted and laughed and coaxed and teased - in every colour of the imagination it turned, as vapour and cloud it swirled. Her name then was exuberance, her name was joy, laughter, spring, hope; all that happiness was thought and imagined to be, she was - she was the child snoozing by the warmth of the flame, she was the mother nesting her newborn on her chest, she was the sapling greeting the resurgent sun, she was the light dancing in the depths of darkest night. She was, in sum, Aurora, and all mortal things looked on her dancing and wept for joyous relief and the purgation of all misery.

All mortals, aye, but not the immortal Chailiss. Chailiss watched on, a mix of horror and surprise etched like a river across his face. The sky danced and his children would rejoice in their long night of solace but at what cost? Why was there always a cost? First Zima… Now this dancing Aurora and even worse… His gaze turned to linger upon the spot where Rosalind had vanished. A terrible feeling came over him then and he looked to Aurora and a quivering whisper escaped his lips, ”I’m… Sorry.” The god of cold then sought to find the dancer.

It was not a difficult endeavour - for the shaking of earth and heaven found him first. There in the distance where land met sky a scene of limitless harmony and calm washed upon the eye. It could best be described as a slow-moving vortex of striking demureness - no sooner looked upon before its gaze retreated in bashfulness. She seemed a thing of air and ice; ten thousand limbs of earth thus splayed, ten thousand others flaring there - above, below, and circling round with curvature, great breadth, and length. It almost seemed (as Chailiss looked) that an artist’s eye had imagined her, his hand had made and breath ensouled. No stillness was in her at all - her movement seemed an afterthought; the world around her spiraled still and was splayed out as far as sight. In all ways she seemed to be a thing beyond the world and corporeal things, beyond earth, rain, wind, and flame - and yet a force she was, and great, with something of world-ending gait.

If horror had been etched upon his face before, now it only deepened into a canyon as he saw the land, its bones, life and all; annihilated in the maelstrom. His heart shattered as if it had been punched and then daggered by a cosmic giant. He felt nothing as the twisting pull of his power leeched outward into his divine form and thus race did he to stop such destruction while he could. As he flew he could only watch as trees became splinters, rock became dust, and the land wrent from existence. At the center of it all was She Who Danced, now more of a dark void - tenebrous hair flung in every which way and form unseen through it - that plunged the world into chaos. He summoned his weapon, the box of calamity and aimed it true, but despite what Rosa was doing, he did not have the strength to use it. Why? He was a stupid God.

He drew closer still and this proved to be a foolish mistake. The bangles around Rosa’s feet glowed as molten as the fiery sun and the final beat of her dance ripped his divine flesh asunder, pulling it from his being in most excruciating agony. There was nothing he could do as the orb that he was became nothing but the faintest blue heart. A pinprick that knew only of self preservation. Another mistake, for as bone and flesh and snow and ice tried to coalesce around that struggling shard- Rosalind’s bangles called forth again in the mightiest of crescendos and thus did Chailiss’ fleeting form break like cracks, pulled off his shard and the void claimed him. Thus the god of cold did fall in shock, now nothing more than that small blue flickering shard.

As for Rosa, the spirals all about her shrank, were nothing as her twirl collapsed - and all that remained to mark the dance was the cleft that would forever mar the world’s white head. Like a leaf - like wind-swept tears - Rosalind fell from her skybound dancing perch and smiled to think that hell was made for such as her; there was justice in the world.

Something did grab her as she fell, for as much agony as he was in, Chailiss was able to create the faintest of impressions to paint himself into the world. Nothing more than a shrouded, blue mist did wrap its arms around the fitting Rosalind. A weeping sigh did escape him as he carried her over a filling void. Where land once was, only ocean would claim. Where the sky once drifted unmarred, now rock danced forevermore. The land was sundered, the west in the North was gone. How long had it all transpired? How long…? How many dead? How many…?

The Aurora was over as he flew back now to mighty cliffs that once marked the entry to the west. Now they were a warning to never venture further. How many drowned in those crushing depths? How many…?

He searched and searched as Rosalind’s fit quieted. He at last found her, drifting in the setting sun, Trusa no more. Silent as a grave but not dead, no. What little relief it brought was held back only now by responsibility. He had failed. He always failed…

He took them to the coldest reaches, past all the green and the rocks and the blues. To the whitest of whites, where cold ruled eternal. Those that survived the calamity would endure, for spring had arrived, with a promise of hope, stifled only by the constant reminder of pain. Chailiss knew only shame and the heavy weight of fatherhood. Not that it mattered…

He set them, sleeping and fair, upon the snow as he raised a single, misty hand. He looked past what he could never become again, to the center of it all. There came from the ice a mighty palace of shimmering crystal. It towered over a towerless land, reigning true forever. Encircled by the mightiest of walls. As the ice formed he walked within, raven-haired damsels in either arm.

It would be a home.

No…

A prison.






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