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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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A Cruel Desert

The great crimson sun hung in the many-hued heavens of the western wastes of the Kubrajzar. It seemed to eat up the skies, which were different hues of orange and yellow and red, as though there was not even the possibility of coolness in sight. The desolate redlands took the beating of the sky with the patience and fortitude of two thousand or more years - who could know? Were these wastes not eternal?

But there was a being here now whose like had never wandered the deserts and vales of the Kubrajzar. Malri was far from home. Yet as he wandered in the oppressive heat that baked his armor and cooked his skin, turning his wings to what felt like flames, he knew he never truly had a home. The Luminant was but a distant memory… The snow wastes, oh the snow wastes, they were gone too. Even the ocean was nothing more but a desire now. A distant want to escape the heat. It was torture. For he could not die. The bands kept him imprisoned to his flesh, healing his burns as they burned, fueling his rage. Not even thirst could keep him down. It was as if his mouth and throat were the desert and his tongue a shriveled, dying plant but it didn't stop his slow march. He was a wrathful spirit, consumed to the core.

Every now and then his mace would poof into existence beside him, only to be abandoned again as he walked and only for it to reappear. Time and time again. He lost track after the tenth time, for his mind wandered frequently and his vision was haunted by a red haze. This fate was not fitting for him. He had been conqueror, a king! He had been a God! No he was a God!


Did Gods tire? Did they get punished for being cursed? Did they thirst and hunger? Feeling their insides starve and be replenished? Did they become consumed by rage? Over and over and over and over and over and over…

No sooner had he begun to think that the suffocating heat of day could do him no more harm - that his body had taken all its ardent rays and emerged victorious - then that great crimson sky-orb slipped behind the sandy horizon and the twin-moons came riding the night on wings of bitterest cold. The chill would have raked at his very bones, perhaps, but he laughed in the face of the night. Such as he no longer feared the cold. His laughter did not last long however, for even if he was warmed by the stone, it reminded him that this was not a place of pleasant airs. Extremes on both sides, never just a pleasant day. It made him angry.

Everything made him angry and as he quickly found out, that anger could do nothing but keep him alive. Coupled with the bands, it prolonged his suffering. Such as Malri was too vengeful to die in such a place. Truly, he could use his anger to escape and then punish those that had wronged him. He would endure to enact his revenge against the Litus tribe and that damn giant. For in this place he could keep his anger sustained forever. The heat and cold… The never ending cycle… It took a toll even on him and added fuel to the fire that burned inside of him. Like hot coals begging to be ignited into a roaring inferno.

So he kept walking, sluggish now, each anger filled step, feeling like his last. There was no direction in mind, for his mind was taxed to the limit on just surviving. Besides, it wasn't like he had any idea where to go.

There was just the endless walk towards his enemies or the nothingness that haunted him. Of a revenge never given. He preferred the latter. For seemingly endless cycles of day and night did he wander, the redlands spreading out before him in all directions. Sand and rock spread out as far as the eye could see, here and there great towering rock formations shot up like gravestones. Their shade, at least, provided some relief. He was in such a state of rageful delirium that he almost missed it one day - that something was different.

On the distant horizons there was something not red. At first it seemed like the sky had forgotten to be red or orange or some other torrid colour, but after his eyes passed over it a few times and it did not disappear he knew it was no illusion. There on the horizon was greenery and the promise of life.

Where there was green, there was water and water brought food. The idea of such necessities was tantalizing. It brought him renewed vigor or the illusion of it as he scrambled closer. It ushered forth in his mind an all consuming drive. It was the essence of surviving or death would claim him. Day by day the greenery got closer and closer, and soon enough it was but a handspan away.

Before him, as far as the eye could see, were wrinkled husks of trees and plants - there seemed in them no sign of life; their only feature was that they glowed green and so gave the illusion of life. There was no water to be seen, no coolness from the eye of the sun. The wasteland remained - only that now it was green.

As he came to a stop before this trickery, he did not want to believe it. He could not believe it. He walked so far and for so long and this was what awaited him? This… This false hope. He felt his anger turn to rage, and his rage began to bubble. The all too familiar sound of his mace arriving next to him was too tempting, and so, in a burst of speed that had eluded him before, Malri picked up his mace and swung. He swung at the plants and at the trees, roaring and cursing. It wasn’t fair! They would suffer as he suffered! He would make them feel his pain and as a particularly large husk was felled, Malri stumbled and fell forward. A great bloom of dust erupted from the ground as his body- no… His carcass found it’s resting place.

His rage subsided, growing dull as it did but leaving a reminder of its presence in the back of his mind. It wouldn’t let him die. That was his curse. He was too angry to die. What was left but that? Nothing but a nagging to keep moving on. The drive that came over those that faced death. And so, Malri began to drag himself. He would show them just how strong his will was. No matter what it took.

Yet these barrens - for all their lifelessness - were not quite devoid of life, and in his rage and in the great cacophony of his whirling mind, Malri almost missed the subtle sound of… buzzing. Looking tired towards the sound, he found that in the distance a great dust cloud was blowing wildly and violently, eating up all about it and approaching at speed. Only that - on closer inspection - it did not seem to be a dust cloud at all. The way its particles moved seemed too free to be the simple work of the wind. And as the buzzing grew louder and more incessant, and as the cloud grew ever closer, it dawned on him that the approaching cloud was in fact alive.

It was an endless vespian swarm, no doubt drawn by the great fury he had unleashed upon this deceptively verdant mirage. He growled, pushing himself to his feet as he watched the approaching swarm. His mace was not far and he walked to retrieve it. The rush began to flood into his senses, awakening them once more. He had heard of these things from the Litus tribes but had never actually seen them. Still… He wondered if they were edible.

They came screeching and hissing, armoured vicious things with abnormally large scything talons and stingers; and they seemed to care for little but him. Mindlessly they came, and mindlessly they were cut down - and still they came, blotting out the light of the sun, swarming from all directions, cutting at wings, at lefts, at arms.

His armor could only do so much and every cut, every sting, every bite that he felt was a dose of rage. He felt his wings be torn to shreds, he felt them be reduced to bloody stumps of flesh. He lost himself in the pain and his rampage was never ending. They came and they died. They cut him and he healed. They bit and stung him and he healed. He felt something hot run in his veins, only for it be purged with the inferno that was his core. His mace was a bludgeon and it became coated in sickly green, as well as his armor. They did not seem to be afraid of him and he welcomed it. It meant they would die by his hand.

And parting the swarm of little things came red and brown giants, winged and maned, and they struck out with claws and seemed, to Malri, to be directing the smaller ones so that they acted in greater synchrony - for now they seemed to see where he was weakest and target him there. Healing wings were struck, aligning limbs were scythed again and again. The swarm seemed as relentless as it was endless, day had become night beneath their sheer number, it seemed neither a step forth nor a step back could be taken except that they were there.

He began to grow tired of the game they played. The small ones were not a challenge, but a nuisance that did not end. It was time to go after the bigger prey. Try as he might however, his wings were gone and the swarm would not let him have a moment of peace. So Malri was forced to break the smaller ones, over and over again. Their bodies began to pile, turning the very ground wet with liquid. Malri pressed on.

There came a moment - he sensed the change immediately - when the swarm seemed to realise that there was a great futility to this for they very suddenly they began to back off - one moment he was cleaving them left and right and above and even below, and the next they were out of reach. They observed him for a while, watching as he attempted to reach them but buzzing just out of reach, and then they turned and left just as swiftly and in just as great a cloud - though Malri liked to think it was somewhat reduced - as they came. He watched them depart through the adrenaline, the world around a great vespian graveyard.

He fell to his knees and ripped off his helmet, then wasted no time in picking up a broken bit of chitin with what he assumed was meat, and took a bite. The mere taste was enough to repulse him and he gagged, spitting it out. In a fit, he punched one of the fresh corpses and it exploded on him. He wiped the gunk off his face and then grabbed his helmet, rushing off after the swarm before his adrenaline faded. He could feel his wings beginning to regrow and it would not be long before they were strong enough to fly with. He needed to see where they were going. Perhaps they had food and water. It was the only lead he had.

As soon as his great black wings were in a ready state, he beat them on the torrid air and went flying after the swarm. By air the distances that required endless nights and days on foot were eaten up as easily as lovers whispered sweet nothings to one another; and as easily as Malri planned to consume whatever eatable, drinkable vittles these sorry insects led him to. When he made landfall, it was within sights of a great oasis; real greenery and real water. But it was clear that it was not unoccupied - the very vespians, it seemed, called this place home. As he made his way towards it, hellbent on doing to them just as he had done before, a small group came zipping towards him and stopped some distance away.

They all looked the same to him, but if they could look different then perhaps these ones were, in some insectoid sense, more refined, cleaner. And they did not come at him in a swarm. “Hail, Vespslayer.” One stridulated, “we are the hWebi-Vesp, traders and resource gatherers. We have heard of you in the cries of those more barbarous kin of ours - we have no wish for strife or war.”

Malri hung in the air, inhaling their words with each beat of his wings. He had not thought them capable of speech, nevertheless capable of being traders. From behind his helmet, a very rare smile appeared upon his lips. “Those that do not wish for war and strife often find themselves in it’s midst.” he said, voice raspy and dry. “If these kin of yours told you about me, then they will have made mention that I was unkillable, yes? Now listen closely, for my patience for your kind is thin. I require food and drink and answers. Provide these and I will not harm you.” They stridulated amongst themselves for a few moments, and then the one who had spoken before turned back to Malri.

“There is no need to speak of harm, we will feed you and quench your thirst, and we shall give you answers too. In exchange we ask little - we are traders still, and we ask something easy and of little value. We too would like answers. Food and drink in exchange for our safety from your wrath, and answers from us for answers from you. It is a good trade.”

Malri was in little mood to argue with them, as much as he thought them inferior. Besides, spilling blood in the water would ruin it. Probably. After a moment of silent contemplation, he flew closer and uttered but one word. “Agreed.” They watched him with their jewel-like eyes for a few moments, before stridulating their approval and zipping off into the air, towards the oasis-hive. The trees that grew around the oasis were all fruiting - palms, figs, apricots, peaches, and other fruits. Fabrics and banana leaves were laid out in the shade and clay bowls of fruit were brought before the black-winged Neiyari, as were jugs of water from the oasis. A fire was lit nearby and an ibex placed on a spit.

“We prefer it raw, but the redmen do not like such things - if you wish for it raw, Vespslayer, simply tell us.” The one who spoke hovered above the ibex for a few moments before zipping down and sitting on his thighs before the winged being.

Malri could hardly believe the bounty of food that was laid before him. He removed his helmet post haste and set it on the ground next to him. The flame flickered and danced over his impassive visage. The first thing he did was grab a jug and bring it to his parched lips. He drank until it was empty, then did so again. Next, he grabbed a fruit, not caring what it was and began to eat. The sweet flavors erupted in his mouth before being swallowed up like a wolf.

Between bites, he managed to say, “Cook it.” and glanced towards the meat. He then went back to drinking and eating the fruit, the aromas of meat seducing his nose, making hum hungrier. It felt as if years had gone by since his last meal. When at last the meat was cooked he took while still hot and ripped into the flesh. The meat was gamey but he would not complain.

The hWebi-Vesp watched him as he tore through fruit and meat alike, and fresh bowls of fruit and jugs of water were swiftly brought forth to replace empty ones, which were carried off. As he began to slow down, however, jugs of a strange, sweet-smelling liquid were brought forth. “Date wine. The redmen like it.” The speaker explained. “We don’t. Meat and water is sufficient - meat raw best.” The creature paused as it poured some of the wine into a cup and placed it before him. “Where did you come from, Vespslayer?”

He took another sniff of the date wine before taking a large swig. The taste was far too sweet for his liking but it was something different and he downed the cup. He licked his lips as he turned to the speaker Vesp, narrowing his eyes. “Where is here?” He instead asked.

“Here is the redland - it is redland from the north sea to the south sea, wherever that may be. It is redland from the west sea to the mountain, and it is mountain from the north sea to the south sea, wherever that may be. That is what is here.” The hWebi-Vesp answered simply. “How did you come to be here, Vespslayer, without knowing where here is?”

Malri pondered the words of the speaker. Never before had he heard of such a place or its unique description. His eyes flashed with anger. Where had that damned giant sent him? He took a breath. “Have you heard of a land of golden grass, teeming like the oceans with life? Stretching as far the eyes can see and then further still? Or before that, a land of ice and snow, where the cold would freeze you solid? Or perhaps a place of light, more colorful than any field of flowers or the setting of the sun? These are the places I am from.” He grimaced, gritting his teeth. “Then I was cast out of them, one by one. Finding myself wandering an empty red land of cruel heat and bitter cold. That is how I came to be here.” He spat before drinking some more water.
“And what could be powerful enough to cast out the like of you, Vespslayer? Not once - but again and again.” The same speaker asked. “It is certainly not something that dwells in this land or anywhere that we know of.”

He eyed the speaker, his expression souring. “Surely you’ve heard of the divine in this forsaken land? The Gods? They have cursed me time and time again and for what, you might ask?” His words grew angrier. “For being alive, for existing. For asking questions and demanding answers. I was king. Warrior. Wanderer. Conqueror. In this place… It all begins anew. Starting with Vespslayer.” He tore into another piece of meat. The speaker looked to some of her gathered companions.

“And do you think it wise to defy the gods, Vespslayer? If it has played out like this so many times, do you not think it… appropriate… perhaps, to do something differently this time?” She paused and let her words settle. “Perhaps there is a way to achieve what you wish without gaining the ire of the gods. You are sat here eating as you please, delighting in the shade, hearing from us as we hear from you. You have gotten what you wanted. You could have, if you wished, slain us all, taken what fruits and meats you wished for, forced one terrified hWebi-Vesp or another to answer your questions. You would have gotten what you wanted too - though I would say you would have been the poorer for it, and so too would we. Is there no way for you to gain what you want while avoiding divine ire? Many have managed it - why not you?”

“I still could.” He said with a deadpan stare. “Kill you all, I mean. It would be easy, like breaking twigs for a fire. I would feel nothing doing it.” He rolled his head, something cracked in his neck and the giant let out a sigh. “The Gods are fickle things. One could rape, murder, pillage and slaughter a whole nation before they deem it appropriate to act. Is it wise to defy them? No, of course not. You think me a fool do you not? You are inferior to me, just as we are all inferior to the gods. Does a bug not fear a boot? I will do as I please, for they made me this way and the only way they can stop me is if they kill me. They’ve had their chances and each time they send me on my way. Now, tell me of these Redmen and about this land. If you know not where I come from then I am truly forgotten.”

The speaker buzzed in agitation at his words, but then settled down on her thighs. “The gods do as they will. It is not the place of - as you say - bugs to question the boot. If you slay us all it shall, of course, sadden us greatly - but we have no illusions about our own greatness. A god created us and dropped us from the heavens - why? We could not tell you. Perhaps it thought it fun. We do not ask why - it created us and can do as it wants with us. But we think we have a good trade with you. We have given you no reason to slay us - and you have given us your word, have you not?” She paused for a few moments. “Redmen, yes. Two legs, two arms, a head, oddly placed thorax - like you actually, but no wings. Feathers on the head like a crown, hair also. Often the colour of the desert, sometimes dark. They live on the oases, on the coast, in the mountains. Some trade with us - they like many useless trinkets, give good food in exchange. They go beyond the mountains - they say it is all trees there, that there is so much water that it is a snake. They say there is water there as much as the sea, only sweet. Those are the redmen.”
“Humani?” He said to himself after a moment of contemplation. He then waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “Yes, yes. Gods and greatness. What else exists within these lands that speaks and has thoughts of their own beside the redmen? What are the dangers besides this desert? What do you trade?” He asked leaning back. The speaker clicked and cocked her head.

“Ah, yes. Humen… humenak. They call themselves that - humenaki.” She paused and rubbed her face in thought. “No other sapients on the land. On the sea in the west are waterkin - ugly tentacles, sea-redmen too. They bring treasures from the sea - they bring treasures from distant lands. Powerful tentacle-leader - powerful magicker. But redmen have powerful magick - keep tentacles off land. So they trade instead. Trade is good.” She paused again, clicking her mandibles and rubbing her head as she got her thoughts in order. “Many dangers. Flying men and magickers. Demon-magickers wander the redland. Redmen bring thought-fiends - too much worrying. Faeryfolk can be nasty - but make good trading. Wild vesps are irksome - always after our water, raiding trade. Redman hate us because of it, but hWebi-Vesp do not raid. That is all we know of.

“As for trading - we give poisons, fruits, wild meats, faeryfolk things, salts and copper-rocks, demonbits and trollparts, inks and dyes, weeds and herbs they think precious. We make their food too - grains and earth-things, they give animals. We can’t herd - kin too wild and volatile, can’t herd animals, only kill. But planting we can do - see, fruits and grains that redmen love. They bring camels and goats; delicious. The hides we sell back. We make pots for them too,” she picked up the bowl of fruit, showing off the ornate handiwork, “good quality, yes? We know what redmen like. Many other things. Every useless thing we find, the redmen take.” She stopped there and rubbed her face once more. “See, we give good answers. Why these questions? Do you… plan to rape, murder, pillage and slaughter?” She rubbed her head in agitation. “You are powerful. There is no need. Trade is good. Trade is powerful.”

“Very good answers.” Malri mused. “You speak of many things. Many unknowns. You are useful, that much I can see with my own eyes. And these questions are of great help to me, being a stranger in a strange land after all. Full and ripe for the taking, if one knows where to look for it. And you have looked for it and you have come to your conclusion- That being trade. You trade to live and live to trade, this is plain to see. But are you powerful? You must be if you can maintain this oasis in a desert of death. Protect and maintain, yes. Trade keeps you alive and you are content to always trade then? Is that where your aspirations died? Perhaps, perhaps. Now do tell me, one last question, do these redmen travel to you, or do you travel to the redmen?”

The speaker clicked her mandibles and rubbed her antennae. “Redmen are forbidden here - they come far, travelling back and forth. But here they don’t come. We go to them - they are easy to find, they know where to stay until we come. We are powerful enough to keep them away. Powerful enough to keep our wild kin at bay. More powerful than you? No. But the gods have made you powerful, and so you are. The gods made us weak, but we made ourselves powerful - more powerful than our kin, powerful enough to tame the redmen and stop their aggression, powerful enough to make them bring food to us. We survived. Now we thrive. Maybe one day trading will no longer be good - maybe then we will need to find other things. But now trading is good, and we will keep to it until it isn’t.” She paused again and then gestured to his armour. “Your clothes - odd. Metal? Not copper. How is it done? The redmen will like it.”

Malri gave a bemused smile. “It was forged by a god.” He picked up his mace and displayed it. “Forged by a god.” He set the mace back down. “It cannot be done by mortal hands. There is none like it in all this world. Now, I shall sleep for several days and several nights. Do not disturb me, do not touch me, don’t even think about trying to slit my throat. It won’t work. When I wake, you shall take me inland, towards the mountains. I have no wish to see this sea with its dangers.” He stood up, and looked down upon them. “Since you are fond of trades, I shall offer you this.” He clapped his hands together and a glow came from within. He began to pull back his hands, revealing the glow to be that like the sun’s light. It was blinding but was over in a flash. In his hands there was a red hot blade, unlike any metal seen within the land. That he was sure of. The sword, more of a large dagger to him, was straight like an arrow with a small hand guard and narrow hilt. He showed it to the speaker and the others. “A sunlit blade. Let it drink the sunlight everyday and it will not disappoint you. So, do we have a trade?”

The hWebi-Vesps seemed dazzled by the strange thing, and a few lifted off and backed away from the sudden burst of light. The speaker, however, remained in place and eyed the offered sword. “We never go to the mountain… but for a trade like this, we indeed have a trade. You have nothing to fear from us - and we have nothing to fear from you. Trade is the cure to war and hostilities, and we are trade partners now. Sleep well, Vespslayer.” And with that, the speaker lifted off on her wings and buzzed away with the others, disappearing into a subterranean burrow by the far side of the oasis with the sword in hand. Malri grabbed his helmet and put it on, then took the mace and found a better spot with shade. He rested against a tree, mind abuzz with many hateful things, until at last sleep came.

A Fated Dance

Oraelia paced back and forth in front of her portal. Her form was that of her love domain, and her clothing was a dress of white, golden hair long and curly running down her back. Every now and then she would glance outside into Antiquity proper with nervous eyes, the mere thought making her feel sick to her stomach. Could gods feel anxious? Why couldn’t she just do it and get it over with. It was just Neiya and… It was just Neiya… The one who had hurt her so long ago, the one that had hurt Gibbou and Sanya and… It was just Neiya…

She gripped her head, trying to gasp for breath as she crouched off to the side of the portal. She didn’t even need to breathe and yet, there she was, having a panic attack. She had rehearsed it over and over in her head. She would waltz- no, walk into Neiya’s realm. Yes, walk and then she would call to her, because Neiya would already know she was there. But if her portal was locked? Then she would have to call out to her and what if she never answered? What if she did answer…?

She clutched her heart, it felt like it was going to explode. Her breaths were sharp and hurt and she wasn’t exhaling. She fell to her knees. Why was this so hard? Why was she so… weak and pathetic? Angry tears fell down her cheeks. She told Gibbou that she would do this! She had to! She had to make peace with her, it was the only way or one of them… One of them could die… The mere thought sent shockwaves rippling through her body.

She didn’t want them to hurt each other anymore.

She didn’t want them to kill one another.

To hurt.

To maim.

To suffer.

To feel such sor-

Oraelia gasped as she felt the all too familiar touch of Neiya in her heart. Like thousands of little knives cutting her so deeply. It was too much to bear and then she heard the voices. Their voices.

A cool breeze blew through the Luminant, kissing the lake of radiance with a gentleness reserved for lovers. Sat on the soft sands of the beach was an Oraeliari couple. His long wings draped over his mate in a sign of comfort. Her forlorn eyes looked out over the water, oblivious to his pleas.

In a house in a tree there was another man, watching the sun dip beyond the horizon where he sat, legs hanging over the deck. He didn’t know why but he found no joy in that sight like he had before. It all seemed so… So pointless.

A woman consoled her friend, who had been so well the day before. She did not know why those silent tears flowed down her friends cheeks. Or why those tears held the hint of black in them.

A child grabbed the hand of his mother, pleading for a bedtime story, pleading for anything. A hug, a kiss- ‘Momma please’, he would say. Met with silence, met with apathy.

More and more that night of sorrow unfolded, upon the dawn of their greatest victory, they met their greatest tragedy. And all of them prayed to their Goddess when nothing else worked.

Oraelia snapped herself out of the sorrow induced lull, hands growing into fists. She had cursed them! She had cursed her Oraeliara! That- That monster! What gave her that right to do that! Her feelings of anxiety were replaced with anger, a newer sensation that felt goo-

She had cursed the Neiyari…

Hadn’t she? Well, Rhiona did but it was her by extension.

She took a deep breath and unclenched her hands. Neiya had gotten her revenge, how could she not have seen such a thing coming? And now her people paid the price, to suffer as she had suffered so long ago. What could she do? Another curse? A cure? Was it even possible?

It dawned upon her, what she truly had to do.

It was none of those things. She would not retaliate with a curse, for such a thing would never end between them. A cure would solve the flower of the problem, but not the root- even if it was possible. No, her solution had always been in front of her.

Oraelia stood and turned to face her portal. A look of determination flashed in her eyes.

It was time to see Neiya.

Bright eyed and full of determination, she stepped through the portal to the ‘Love’ goddess’ realm, into a very, very different sight. One she could hardly remember. When Oraelia had last visited Neiya, she had walked into a desolate plain with withered trees and a solitary river, save for the grove in which the goddess herself had resided. An early warning of the bleak outlook the goddess had had on love, perhaps. If that was the case back then, then what greeted Oraelia now did not bode well.

The plains were gone, replaced by jagged cliffs, hills and obsidian monoliths built in random and erratic fashion, with no logic to their construction nor any acceptance of basic geometry and physics. It was a hostile landscape, with only hints of its previous form. The river was still present, a dark blue and black affair swirling and churning like a maelstrom as it coiled over the landscape; not content to remain settled along the ground. It culminated in a waterfall that fell upwards towards the sky - into what appeared to be a roiling abyss of colours, emotions, and malice. Just looking up into the eye of the storm brought a pang of emotion, laced with spite and sadness. Yet that was not all - life now seemed to teem in the chaotic realm. Packs of dark hounds with fur like burning shadows sprinted across the landscape, trying to find refuge from the howl of the river. Silhouettes of horned women, spreading flame and fighting each other, popped up across the jagged land as well. Chaos reigned.

Oraelia could not focus on one singular thing, as her eyes wandered to all, yet she tried to retain focus. She was beyond horrified, as the realm was nothing like she remembered. So she grabbed her wrists and looked down at them, conjuring a small band of light into a ribbon. She whispered a small prayer to herself and then spoke aloud, "Neiya! Where are you? We need to talk!" she said with a loud voice.

Coils of energy arced from the river, running down along it and striking the ground in angry strikes akin to lightning. At the mouth of the river, high in the sky, a vortex began to dissipate to reveal the silhouette of another horned being - and Oraelia knew as soon as she saw her; Neiya hovered high in the air between the warped sky and the maelstrom of a river leading up to it. She looked nothing like either of their previous meetings, but was still immediately recognizable to the Life goddess.

”Talk?” her voice boomed across the realm, suspicious and sharp in tone. ”You’ve come to gloat, but I have already moved on. Struck back.” she concluded, and her shape stirred from it’s resting place in the sky. She descended down towards Oraelia slowly with graceful drifting, as behind and below her, the river crashed down on the landscape, creating lakes and riverbanks now that it was no longer being pulled into the sky.

Oraelia’s posture changed. She seemed to shrink, as if trying to become very, very small. Her display of power was, whether an act or trying to unnerve her, was having the intended results. Oraelia could not keep her eyes off of Neiya’s new form, out of the fear she would attack and she wondered why she would even want to be viewed as such. It was so… bare so… uncovered!

She blinked, trying to retain focus of herself. She had come here for a purpose and one she would now have to see through!

”You-” she said in a small voice before clearing her throat, ”You are mistaken! I never gloat over those who are suffering. I’ve come to talk to you! This has to end, Neiya, can’t you see it will bring only further pain? Please, Neiya. Please. I know there is more to you then this.” she finished, adjusting her shirt which had been buffeted by the winds.

”More to me than this?” the horned goddess demanded as she touched down a few metres away from Oraelia. ”I am just being who I am supposed to be. And I’m good at it, too. What else could there be to me?” Neiya commented, a conniving, false smile playing on her lips. Around them, creatures began to pool and gather in the shadows, drawn to the sheer power of roaming divinity.

Oraelia briefly fled her gaze to look at the gathering creatures. Figures like women, but with the intelligence of the wolves that followed them. What had she done? Oraelia looked back at Neiya. ”Is this what you are good at? Being antagonistic with Gibbou? Creating savage life and twisting landscapes?” Oraelia’s expression softened. ”Neiya, listen to me, in each of us there is more than what is seen on the surface! I know it, Neiya and I know you know this too! You don’t have to be like this, you can change! Not drowned in the sorrow of your own making.” She said.

That struck a chord with Neiya, who widened her eyes as realization dawned on her. The horned goddess stopped dead in her tracks, staring straight at Oraelia though not truly seeing her. In a short span of moments, her face went through several stages, the goddess visibly working through surprise, confusion, and finally - anger. ”Liar!” she roared with unabated fury, harking back to their previous meeting, and her arm rose to deliver her accusation as her gaze fell properly on Oraelia. ”You have no idea-... no idea what I carry! Who I am!” Despite this, the goddess remained immobile, as though the sheer fact of what was said held her back. Around them, creatures ducked further into the shadows after the goddess raised her voice, yet were clearly unafraid enough to linger despite the volatile conditions.

Oraelia braced herself and took a step forward. ”I know.” she began. ”It’s true, I don’t know another side of you, I thought I did so long ago but I was naive, Neiya.” Oraelia sighed, clasping her hands together. ”Please, I beg you Neiya. Take a deep breath. It’ll be okay, I promise. Let me help you and we can find out together.” Oraelia said, taking another step closer. She then extended out a hand towards the angry Goddess.

Golden pupils swirled like vortexes, Neiya furiously staring at Oraelia as if that would divine a deeper understanding. Her face kept a mixture of her old fury, but cracks in her armor appeared as the frown faltered and doubt flitted across her features. "I-... No… No," she uttered as she attempted to find her spirit. "I- I made my choices. I hurt Gibbou. Hurt you. This is who I am. I'm unstoppable. Powerful. Desirable. A monster. A predator." Neiya pressed her lips into a thin frown, staring at the extended hand.

Oraelia’s hand did not falter. She frowned however and said, ”You can change Neiya. You can grow. That is the beauty of life.” A single golden tear rolled down her cheek. ”Is that what you think you are? A monster? A predator? Neiya… Is this who you truly want to be? A Goddess too afraid to face the consequences of her actions? Who acts like someone she is not? Trying to fool herself? Fool the world? Neiya. It isn’t working. Please. I can help you.” Oraelia’s voice broke, hand now shaking.

The hurt in the Sun goddess' voice struck Neiya firmly, and visible distress ran over her face, washing away most of her determined anger. For a brief moment, old habits of emotional sharing seemed to call to her, and the horned goddess raised her fingertips slowly in a cautious reach for Oraelia's hand. It was not to be. Moments later, she froze in the motion, exhaling sharply before turning away firmly. "You're trying to trick me!" she exclaimed, lifting up off the ground as both her hands reached up to hold her head. "You're just-just jealous of me! Angry at me! I'm not that- I don't know… I never asked for any of this!"

Oraelia recoiled her hand as if struck. She watched Neiya ascend and did the same, but much slower. ”I am neither angry or jealous of you, Neiya.” she called out to her. ”And I would never trick you! I know you never asked for any of this, none of us did and yet, here we are. All I want is for the fighting to stop, Neiya. I want us to heal, together. Please, don’t do this. Don’t shut me out. Let me help you!”

The Sin goddess ascended higher into the sky, drifting languidly towards the center of the massive vortex that had replaced the sky, requiring Oraelia to pursue. "I showed you once, and I saw the life drain from your eyes," Neiya called, turning halfway to stare down towards Oraelia while still climbing to greater heights. "You don't understand. You don't… don't hear them. I did what I had to do. Yes, what I had to. If they won't improve, someone needs to make them. N-Nothing has changed!"

Oraelia continued on after her, expression bleak. ”Neiya, stop! I’m not afraid! I do understand! I understand because I changed!” Oraelia called out after her. ”Let me show you a different way! You don’t have to force anyone to improve! We naturally improve by growing and learning from our mistakes! Everything changes! Everyone changes! Please just listen to me!” she said, with angry tears falling down her face. What was she going to do if Neiya wouldn’t listen?

But her doubts didn't have time to take root.

"Mistakes?" Neiya began to slow down until she came to a full stop, hovering in the sky halfway to where she had first appeared. Eventually she turned around to face Oraelia properly, her eyes raw with the same hurt that was innate in her base form, but maintained a certain hostility under it. "So I'm a mistake? Just like Cadien, you refuse to see my side. You have already decided what's good for me."

Oraelia came to a stop across from Neiya. ”I never called you a mistake. Don’t twist my words.” she said in a calm tone. She then crossed her arms over her chest and eyed Neiya down. ”Do you really think I’ve decided what’s good for you, Neiya? This entire time I’ve asked you to talk to me, that we can work through your issues together and you have refused. I am a Goddess of Life, I don’t make judgements, I don’t decide fates. I help people grow. I want to help you, please don’t do this.”

The horned goddess scoffed and swept a hand in front of her dismissively. "You don't decide fates because you are weak. Naive. Trusting." she debated with resurging irritation. Golden pupils fixated on Oraelia as Neiya began to drift closer despite her previous attempted escape. "Mortals walk over each other, steal each others' things, and break hearts without a thought. They will do the same to us if allowed. You think I can change? You are blind to why I am this way." Her voice had changed to a sharp and hostile tone, wholly unsuited to her form; but very reminiscent of their previous encounter.

Oraelia looked away from Neiya’s gaze, her posture becoming tense- small. She knew she was naive but… Was she really… Weak? Perhaps she was. Perhaps she had always been. She just tried to help people… Of course she was trusting. One had to be if the world were to become a better place. Golden tears pooled in her eyes as she turned to look at Neiya with reluctance. ”Perhaps I am blind.” she whispered. ”But as blind as I am, I can still see that you are wrong. You look at mortals and see them for all the bad they can be, and you neglect everything about them that makes them good. You do this to yourself Neiya! Because you are afraid. Afraid to feel any different.”

A guttural vocalization akin to a growl rumbled up from the hostile love goddess, and she sprung forward through the sky like a pouncing Leon, arms outstretched as she reached straight for Oraelia in her sudden charge. Her tactics certainly hadn't improved since last time. "I'll show you afraid, cur! You think I want this?! I hate it! I hate them! I hate you!" she shouted angrily as she dove forward, gripping the Sun Goddess’ arms firmly. Oraelia let out a gasp. Why hadn’t she moved? She could have. The realization stark in her mind, but fear had consumed her and now she was in Neiya’s grasp. Without delay, Neiya's eyes turned black and released the torrent of her experiences through their shared contact. Like before, the flood of negative emotions was all powerful and like a dark whirlpool, Oraelia’s light began to fade down it’s crushing despair. She could do nothing. For she was nothing. Neiya was right.

She was weak.

Why was she so weak?

She saw the mortals she had tried to help, flooded with sorrow, heartbreak, lust, and sin. So much sin. Maybe Neiya was right. Maybe mortals never cared. Maybe they couldn’t care. Maybe they had fallen into their own vices because they never knew anything else. Maybe… Maybe life was just some big joke.

Her vision began to fade, eyes going dim, yet she looked upon Neiya’s face and all she felt was pity. Why did Neiya make her feel this way? Why did she inflict such emotions on her? Why did she want to hurt her again? Why couldn’t she just see there was another way?

Why couldn’t she just be love!

Oraelia gasped.

She had been wrong. She had judged Neiya the moment she had entered her realm. For all she ever wanted Neiya to be, was what she had viewed her as, that fateful day in Antiquity. No, that glimpse upon her birth. Oraelia had wanted her to be as she had thought her as, a good and true Goddess of Love and she had wanted to change her to be like that. To be like… Herself.

No matter how much she wanted that to be reality, it wasn’t. She had been a fool.

How could she Judge her?

It wasn’t her place, she was the Goddess of Life. She was meant to… She was meant to watch her life be abused, twisted, broken? She was meant to watch growth and love shatter, murdered, defiled? Was she really letting herself be abused by Neiya again? Like she had abused Gibbou and countless mortals? Her Aiviri?

Was this her life? Was she so weak and powerless to stop cruelty and crimes against it?


It was her right to Judge.

Her eyes bloomed into yellow suns. Clarity washing away the fog of despair. Oraelia grasped Neiya’s arms with her own, her eyes staring deep into her soul as her face relaxed. Then her form began to change. Her golden hair was leached of it’s luminous color, becoming black as the abyss. No longer running down the length of her back, but ending in curls around her shoulders. Her face became impassive, uncaring. Like a stark reflection of Neiya herself. Her eyes retained the same golden color but the kindness that was so often seen inside was replaced with scrutiny. Even her clothes changed, to that of a simple black dress, cut deep in the middle to reveal a tattoo of gold, the same color and glow as her eyes. The pattern faintly resembled a heart with wings, like a constellation, and spread along her arms and legs but stopped upon her chest and rose no further.

She was reborn.

A better fit for the world.

She opened her mouth to speak and her voice reflected that of her form, cold but bitter. ”You are not the only one who suffers. Let me show you my pain.”

She began to pour her own emotions and memories into Neiya. Starting upon the very first day she had seen life taken from the world. Before any had been born but the sun and moon. It had almost been unbearable. Then the memories shifted to the tornadoes in her prairie and the devastation they wrought. Then to the Aberrant and her guilt, her failure. Then it jumped to her being ripped out of the world, Lucia’s crying face the last thing she saw. Then to an eerie reflection of Neiya doing the same as she was doing now and how deep it cut her, how long she had anguished in that misery. Then she showed her the pain of Genesis dying and the years of denial. There was a brief flash of all-consuming joy, but it was quickly repressed. To see Gibbou fall time and time again. To the very moment Neiya had grasped her again. Misdeeds and misery.

”Yet.” Oraelia stated, changing the chord of her emotions to that of love and happiness. She was brushing Genesis’ hair, playing games, watching her grow. Hugging Gibbou, being proud of her, doing anything for her. Seeing Lucia and Sanya, Neiya’s own creation, in a love that grew deeper everyday. Then Oraelia showed her mortal love. The small grasp of a newborn, a first kiss, the petting of a Joyf. Acceptance, happiness and joy. The bad was there, ever present, for without it, how could one appreciate what they had? The memories faded and reality swept back in.

”I‘ve learned to not let it consume me.” She finished but then continued, ”Unlike you, Neiya. You fail to realize that love is neither one side or the other, but both. Working together. Your judgment is not sound.”

Neiya, who had reacted with no more than a sharp breath and hostile staring at the grand change taking place before her at first, now stared in apparent awe at the reborn shape that was Oraelia's new form. Her eyes held a distant and morbid fascination with the sun goddess words and mannerisms, but first and foremost her gaze tinged with a serenity that had been rare for the goddess recently. Her rage was quelled almost instantly as pain and anguish was shared, and for a tranquil moment amidst Oraelia's resurgence, Neiya appeared taken with sorrow and sympathy. She had truly spoken her language. That changed with the shift in narrative. When pleasant memories rushed through her, that expression twisted to bewilderment and finally fear. Her irises returned to their golden shape, the dark swirl dying out as the Love Goddess relented in her own assault at last.

That initial bewilderment turned to a restless discomfort, as her sorrowful expression washed away in favour of a growing tension quickly turned to anxious worry, and finally fear. Her nails, which had dug into Oraelia’s arms, now released their grips, and Neiya squirmed to try and wrest free. ”N-No,” she cried fervently, shying away from Oraelia’s visions. ”Stop this! I’ve never-.. It’s a lie! An oasis in the desert! Life cannot be like this-... I didn’t choose this!”

Oraelia did not let go of her. She tilted her head, never moving her gaze away from Neiya’s. ”A lie? No, Neiya. Even an oasis can be found by those who are lost. I realize now that life is a struggle. They crawl over one another, those mortals you hate, striving for greatness and falling time and time again. Most never rise. But those that do, those that endure the hardships, that find their oasis, they thrive. They grow.” Oraelia breathed, releasing Neiya from her grip and then touched a slender hand to her cheek. She used her finger to rub under Neiya’s eye. It was as if Oraelia was searching for something, so fixated was her eyes upon Neiya. She then spoke again, ”The only thing they get to choose is whether or not they keep pushing forward. That’s how the world works. Now you must choose, because no one can help you unless you first help yourself. This, is the judgment you sought.”

Neiya breathed unevenly, her eyes welling up with shimmering dark tears. Her features contracted into an unsteady frown, the Love Goddess doing her best to keep her usual haughty demeanour in the face of an onslaught of repressed emotions, doubts and fears. "All I wanted was peace and quiet," she admitted in a subdued moment of serenity. "Every voice is a creature in pain. A voice unable to make itself heard. But I hear them."

Oraelia said nothing, her eyes growing soft. Instead, she moved her hand to the back of Neiya’s head, and pulled her into an embrace upon her chest. She then used her other hand to wrap the Love Goddess in a squeeze of warmth. She then spoke in a more relaxed voice ”I know.”

The horned goddess remained placid in the embrace, golden eyes closing as she was simply held. A few moments later, she quivered gently in Oraelia's hold, and released a few silent sobs. For a long time, she seemed to simply linger, silently crying in another's embrace. Her form acted reactively to her mood, and her skin slowly twisted pale, while black horns began to sprout from her form. The goddess slowly shifted back to her traditional form, pale and sorrow-tinted.

When Neiya spoke, it was sullen and guarded. Still it appeared to be a request, if only because her tone wasn't demanding. "Show me."

There came a soft breath from Oraelia, and a warm finger found its way to Neiya’s cheek again. The moment they touched, Oraelia showed her memories she was ashamed of, that she tried to repress and forget. It all started with a simple berry. Vivid in color, joyous in taste and destructive. She ate them to forget the pain, to forget her life and her purpose. All she wanted to do was be happy. That’s all. No more pain. The memories shifted to what she did. Giving the humans of the highlands eternal fields of food, failing to see what grew within them. To arm monsters who destroyed her city with a weapon and even giving a Neiyari tools he could use to live forever. The reasons were there, induced by a sense of wanting to do right. Having to help, no matter the cost. Needing to be useful. She had caused so much pain.

The memories faded away.

”I know…” Oraelia repeated with a solemn tone in her voice. It was enough to make Neiya return the embrace properly, the horned goddess exhaling sharply. Oraelia made no sound, but returned the embrace all the same.

Neiya breathed a forlorn and deep breath, as if to steel herself for what was to come. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I… It just… everything happened so fast, it was… I had to try. I… I think I'm broken, Oraelia. Being in charge feels so good. So easy. As.. as long as I don't think about it."

”It’s alright, Neiya. I forgave you.” She paused, then asked, ”Can I show you something?”

There was quiet for a time, a weird tranquility amidst the raging torrent above and the strange calls of animals in the realm below. Eventually Neiya simply nodded against Oraelia's form, remaining in the embrace.

There was a flash of light and the two found themselves in another memory. One that Oraelia held close in the days of her youth. The Sun Goddess stood before humans, mourning the dead. A baby cried and she asked to see what they had seen. A simple touch, no more, no less. It rocketed them to the past, there beside the river.

A whirlpool formed.

Something, no- Someone rose from the water.

For a brief second, there she was. Neiya.

But it was not the Neiya any would know. For that Neiya existed for the briefest of moments, untouched and unrefined. Her form was simply that of a young woman, shouldered with impossible burdens. Before the pain came. So visible across her face and from the maelstrom of emotion that followed.

Oraelia’s voice ushered in a calming aura as the memory played out further. ”I latched myself onto that form of you. That perception I had fabricated in my head was of Love and how I thought it should be. I stared at the other side, right in the face, and I could not comprehend it at the time. I wanted you to be as I wanted you to be. But that was wrong of me, I see that now.” The memory began to fade away, turning the land white before reality ushered forth. Oraelia talked more, stroking the back of Neiya’s head with gentle fingers. ”Being in charge is difficult, even for a god. Even if it feels good, we often lose ourselves. But I can say with confidence, you are not broken. Lost, perhaps. Still trying to find your way. Like I am. Like many of us are.” She paused as if in thought. ”I want you to know that I believe she still exists somewhere deep down, Neiya. But I won’t change you, for that is a decision you will have to make for yourself. All I ask right now, is we stop our fighting. Please… No one needs to get hurt anymore.” Oraelia finished in a murmur.

What Neiya thought of the vision she didn't seem keen to share, simply remaining under Oraelia's vigil. Coaxed into a response by the life goddess' words, she offered a simple commitment. "...Okay." For a time that was all she wished to say, until guilt, restlessness or doubt pushed her to elaborate. "I'd like to try."

Oraelia let out a soft sigh, her embrace growing warmer as she rested her cheek upon Neiya’s forehead. There was more silence between the two, but unlike before, it was blissful. ”Thank you.” Oraelia at last said. ”That would make me very happy, Neiya. Yet... There is… There is one thing I think that needs to be done this day as well. What I did to the Neiyari… I’m sorry. Had I known what Rhiona was planning I would have stopped her and as such, it welcomed a challenge. Even now I can feel it spreading… So I ask you, Neiya- Might we forgive our curses as a start?”

The horned goddess opened her eyes to look up at Oraelia, the ordinarily tall love goddess seeming to shrink as they drifted in the sky. A glittering in her eyes remained, emotion raw and thoughtful in her gaze as she pondered Oraelia's words; even now a wounded kernel of doubt lingered in every mannerism. A built in fear of being betrayed worn plainly on her sleeve. "You will allow the Neiyari to flower again? Even though you hate them?"

Oraelia tilted her head as she looked at Neiya in return. The Goddess then resumed her caressing of Neiya’s hair and spoke, ”Oh Neiya… I don’t think I ever truly hated them. I was distraught upon their birth but…” Her voice seemed to die a little before resuming, ”Even they can change, I think. If they are shown a better way. Both the Oraeliari and Neiyari are… Incomplete. You know this as well as I. They function as they are but they could be so much more. Dooming the Neiyari would destroy any chance of seeing that future. So yes, I will allow them to flower again. If you can find it in your heart to forgive me and the Oraeliari.”

Neiya raised her gaze to search for Oraelia's eyes, her own burning with a morose guilt. The pacified love goddess breathed sharply, as if trying to escape the tension of decision and responsibility. Still, Oraelia’s words seemed to pace the way for even the most self-centered of goddesses to acquiesce. "...Yes. I can… I mean, I do. I forgive you." Neiya raised her own hand and placed it against the changed life goddess' chest. It was another flush of emotion, of guilt and pain, but considerably more reserved and contemplative than any previous assault. Around them, a melody woven into the storm of the vortex in the sky seemed to dissipate and dissolve, quietly fading into oblivion. The Sorrowsong vanished, withdrawn from reality.

Oraelia closed her eyes at the touch, a small smile forming on her lips. She took a deep breath and then looked at Neiya again. ”Thank you… It is done.” She then looked around the sky and gave a small, but peaceful sigh. ”I always thought your realm was beautiful, in its own way.” Her gaze lingered on the multitude of beasts so far below before she looked back at Neiya, cupping on her hands to the Love Goddess’ cheek. ”It’s not my place to say what goes on within another’s realm but… Perhaps you should give them a chance to choose their own fates?” she cooed.

Neiya seemed to consider the words and her gaze fell briefly, the sensations passed on to Oraelia mingling with a primal, petty shame. "I've never been pleased with it. Nothing is like what we left." She murmured sullenly, glancing down towards the ground below herself. "I've never created anything of my own before. Even these… were a mistake."

With a gentle pull, Oraelia brought Neiya’s face back to her. ”The only mistakes we make are ones where we don’t try hard enough. When we give up.” She gave another small smile and then took Neiya’s hand within her own, causing the love goddess to widen her eyes in passive alarm. ”Come. I will help you.” And Oraelia began to guide her down. Neiya breathed unevenly, following Oraelia like an uncertain visitor in her own home, gaze fixed on the goddess.

Below, animals that had gathered began to scatter as the shapes in the sky grew closer. The bipedal creatures were horned women in the colors of the rainbow, pale imitations of their creator. Hounds of shadow slinked back into the crevasses of the jagged landscape. They appeared to fear the mere presence of the divine, perhaps not without cause. The two Goddess touched down on a flat rock that overlooked the horned women. Oraelia gave Neiya’s hand a squeeze as she stood next to her. ”How and why they came to be does not matter now. What does matter is how their future might look. It can be shaped and added to. I suggest… For a start… Give them the gift of intelligence?” she asked in a soothing, but reassuring voice.

Neiya peered at the life goddess as though she had suggested something truly new and riveting, her gaze soon twisting to regard the scattering creatures. She closed her raw eyes, drawing a long and heavy breath. As she exhaled, an eldritch whisper carried on the wind, imperceptible to all but the divine. A call to awaken and ascend, setting alight a thousand minds at once. All about the jagged landscape, something slowly changed in the bipedal creatures, a renewed and deliberative caution with which to perceive the world. Question and curiosity.

Oraelia watched with humble curiosity. ”Very good Neiya. You see? You created them all by yourself. Take pride in that accomplishment.” She spoke in a whisper.

Neiya glanced back to Oraelia, her expression of doubt and guilt growing to a taut, thin frown. She turned back towards the landscape and lifted her free hand. From her fingertips coiled ripples of divine power, dusting the landscape and coating the newly awakened creatures. One by one, their eyes brightened and produced the same soft glow as Neiya's own, hiding their pupils behind red, blue, yellow or green. It seemed to have an immediate effect on them, as the horned creatures seemed to panic and view their surroundings with renewed fascination in equal measure. "...Something to help them choose… she justified morosely. A few among the creatures appeared to approach the two, kneeling and offering their implicit worship.

”Ah, I see.” Oraelia mused. She then did the same as Neiya, raising her free hand and waving it over them. The power that shot forth rippled and pulsed, entering their hearts by unseen currents. Most stood taller, their postures reflecting the change. ”Something to help them act.” Oraelia said. ”I hope you won’t mind.” she turned to Neiya.

Neiya watched the change unfold in her creations, then turned to regard Oraelia. "...No, I don't mind." Her hand moved to touch the life goddess' cheek as she turned halfway to face her, demanding but without the threatening imposition she usually carried herself with. "You truly believe all things can change, don't you?"

Oraelia pressed herself into the touch and stifled a breath. ”For better or for worse… Yes.” she confided. ”I do.”

For but a moment the horned goddess appeared to smile, brief and hard to see but still a genuine reaction to the words. Neiya leaned forwards towards the new and altered Oraelia, gaze falling over her form in tempered curiosity. Finally, her scrutiny fell on the sun goddess' face, as she leaned in to touch her own forehead against Oraelia's. "...Naive." she muttered softly.

Oraelia’s lips turned into a smile. In that new form, it was rather mischievous and knowing. She closed her eyes and took in the moment between them, arms and hands wrapping around the love goddess to embrace her once more. ”I know.” She breathed at last.

Neiya remained motionless for a long time, simply watching the life goddess. Her eyes roiled with purpose, golden flashes in their irises sparking like small eruptions of flame. Eventually she sighed a quiet "You should go."

Oraelia hesitantly pulled away, her smile fading. Doubt crossed her face but she nodded. ”It was… Good to see you Neiya. If you need me, please, don’t be a stranger.” Oraelia gave another nod, then walked past her, lingering for a moment by her side before continuing on. The portal was in view and as she walked, the creatures and beings of Neiya’s realm parted. As she arrived at the portal, Oraelia turned around to gaze upon Neiya again, and found the pale goddess watching her wistfully from afar. She almost raised her hand, but stopped, then stepped through leaving the realm of sorrow behind.

Unbeknownst to her, her departure inspired the same in several curious young horned creatures, eager to see what the world had to offer.

A Garden of Doubt

Chapter II - A Wilted Flower

Gebu's light was small, but a thin crescent so far away in the night sky. It painted the land dark, with moonlight coming through the clouds. Perhaps it would rain after all, but Zayd did not care at the moment. His father’s words haunted him, filling his head with such frustrating rage. So he ran away from his home, past the fields and gardens and off into the valley of his youth. A place that was even more familiar to him then home, where his siblings and cousins played, where he met Elena. But that was years ago. Now it was barely used except for the occasional game of hide and seek with the young ones and sparring practice with his brothers. That was where he was headed, down into the valley. More of a large cut in the land, like a giant of old had come along and scooped up the dirt and rock and threw it far away into the sea. That was what baba had said anyway, he was one with many stories and it seemed, some secrets.

There was a cave down at the bottom of the valley, large enough to walk in and wide enough to stay for the night. It was also where they kept some old dull swords and firewood. Though the supply probably wouldn't last him the night. It had, once upon a time, been a place where they had sat and watched a mighty storm pass. The wind had gotten so strong that Imraan had fallen onto a sharp rock, cutting his arm open. That was the first time he had seen Saban act so serious. Zayd cracked a grin at the memory of them huddled around a fire, retelling stories from baba as the storm calmed down. Those were the good days, before his fateful adventure. Now his brothers got to go off and be soldiers, making names for themselves. As his father said. He growled and shook his head. It should have been him! Saban had a life here, as the eldest son. He was not the soldier type, he-he loved to make pottery and use dyes to give them stories. He could die.

Saban could die and it would be his fault.

As he neared the rock face that held the entrance of the cave down below, he looked for the path down, giving little care to the thicket of twisting vines and grasses, overgrown by neglect that grabbed and cut him. He pushed his way through grunting as sticky barbs caught on his clothing and his frustration only grew as he got snagged on sticks in the dark. Yet he knew what to look for, a very large tree root that had grown out of the side of the dirt and over the edge, so he kept going. Thick vines had sprouted from it that twisted back into the dirt to survive and they made a misshapen path down. The drop itself wasn't far by any means, but a fall in the dark could be deadly. Wouldn’t that be great?

His hands found what he was looking for at last and without waiting, he began his descent. The air was turning cool as the nightly chorus of spring peepers made their calls. Something flew past his head, followed by a small 'squee' and Zayd almost lost his grip on the roots. He took a deep breath, face relaxing as he regained his composure, then kept going. When his feet touched the soft ground, he sighed in relief knowing that the hard part of the journey was over. Now it was just making a fire with what he could see and find...To make a larger fire. He wrinkled his nose in annoyance but a flicker caught his eye.

Before him sat the cave, it’s mouth like a black abyss, but farther in he could see a light flickering across the cave walls. He squinted, then rubbed his eyes making sure the darkness wasn’t playing tricks on him. No, the light was still there. He felt his heart begin to beat faster as questions entered his mind. Who could be out here? One of his cousins? Someone else? Now he had a decision to make, keep going and find out or turn back and go home.

He frowned. The darkness had set in, making it back home would be a challenge that would take him far too long. Caution, that was what he needed. He rummaged around the area for a suitable stick and when he found one that was strong enough to wield, he crept forth. He had no idea what he was going to find, or even why he was doing it. His mother would call him a reckless fool, his father would also call him a fool but baba… Baba would have called him brave.

He’d show them. If this was some vagabond or criminal, he’d show them just how capable he was! Even if he couldn’t talk, that didn’t mean he was less brave. He’d show them all, especially his father. His grip tightened and his brow narrowed.

As the light source grew, he could make out it was behind a low wall on the cave floor, where behind it, the cave got lower. It was a good place to sleep, as a fire would reflect off the rocks and warm someone cold up further. As he neared the wall, he crouched, feeling energized. Like he could strike and take down a bull. But that only masked his uneasiness. Was it fear or anticipation that he felt with each slow step?

Something rustled behind the wall and he froze mid step. There was then a banging of something, then silence. Zayd brought his foot down quietly as he waited for the noise to continue but it never did. Taking a deep breath, he moved forward and reached the wall. There he leaned against it and very slowly peered over to see a very strange sight.

A figure wrapped up in a brown cloak sat huddled next to a dying fire, hood obscuring their face. Gloved hands were cautiously holding a skewered stick over the flame. The smell of something burnt filled his nostrils and Zayd grimaced. He had no idea what they were cooking but knew they weren’t doing a good job. The figure turned his back to him as they rummaged through a sack behind them, giving Zayd the opportunity to crane his neck over a little more. He could see a makeshift bedroll and a long stick with a whittled point. He also caught a glimpse of red. Between the cloak and a gloved hand, he could see skin. Why was it red? A trick of the light perhaps?

They turned around and Zayd ducked, cutting his hand on a protruding rock and breaking the tip. For a split second his lips curled in pain before the rock hit the ground, and his pain was forgotten. There was quiet now, he could hear his heart beating fast. What did he do? What did he do! Could he run for it? Could he fight them? His early thoughts about showing everyone just how capable he was seemed to drain away.

He took a gulp and then ran.

Before he even took three steps, he felt something whack him in the leg and he fell forward. His hands took the brunt of the blow, but it only agitated his cut further. His face contorted into pain and he flipped over to see the hooded figure holding their spear in one hand and a long, polished knife in the other. His eyes went wide and panic took him. He was not brave. He was a fool! A stupid fool! A dead fool!

He began to back away but grimaced again his cut hand touched the floor. He cradled it and did what he could to back up as the hooded figure watched him. Then with speed the figure ran at him and placed the spear point at his chest, hovering over it poised for the killing blow.

Zayd froze, eyes going wide. This was it. This is how he died. All he felt was dread. The terror of knowing his life would be unfulfilled.

“Why-” The being spoke in a voice like honeydew, “Why you come?” Simple sounding words, accusatory and agitated. Zayd exhaled, maybe he wasn’t going to die just yet. But… Now for the hard part. How would he communicate?

“Answer!” She said pressing the point closer to his chest. It had to be a woman. There was no way any man could have a voice like that. But he had been wrong before. What a silly thought to have in such a situation.

He raised his hand slowly and then shook it, pointing to his throat.

“No… Speak?”

He nodded his head and then opened his mouth to show her he had no tongue.

A small gasp came from under the hood.

“No tongue?” She said rhetorically. “Who cut?” She then asked, removing the spear tip from his immediate chest.

Zayd frowned and looked away. How could he even begin to tell that story?

“Hm. Is okay. Come to take?” She questioned, once again putting the spear tip closer.

The sudden change brought Zayd back to himself and he shook his head and hands in frantic succession. Why would she be taken?

Her hooded head shifted to his cut hand. It was at that point she dropped the spear and crouched next to him, inspecting his hand. Her hood still obscured her face but Zayd knew just because he couldn’t see her, that didn’t mean she couldn’t see him. He needed to play it cool and what… What was she doing?

She brought a hand to her mouth and a moment later a glove was falling from her hood to the cave floor. A slender hand was revealed, colored red with veins of green. It took him a moment to realize just what he was looking at, but then her flesh touched his and he recoiled slightly. Her hands were unnaturally soft, almost like a… Like the bud of a new leaf…

She removed her other glove in the same fashion and her grip on his hand tightened as she used her fingers to feel his wound. He squinted as pain jolted through him.

“It alright. No hurt.” She spoke as if she wasn’t really paying attention to him, but more of an afterthought. “Cut deep. Will mend.”

Her words confused him but before he could try to protest, his hand became very itchy. He breathed out through his nose and looked to see her hands cupping his. Whatever she was doing felt wrong but the itchy feeling dulled and before her knew it, two crimson eyes were staring at him.

Deep maroon, glowing dim beneath her hood. She faced him now and asked, “Better?”

Zayd could hardly take his eyes off of the strange sight, his face going blank as his thoughts rushed to him. He blinked and looked over to his cut hand… But it was no longer cut. Just stained with drying blood. He flexed his fingers and felt no pain, then feeling her eyes still on him, he looked back to her.

She was sitting on her knees, removing her hood. Zayd’s mouth slowly parted in a state of awe as he looked upon her face. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before.

Human-like in appearance, that was where the similarities ended. It was not skin that made up her narrow face and sunken cheeks, or her dainty nose set above those thin lips of red. He gulped. That face of hers was crimson in color, with light green around her almond shaped eyes that seemed to accentuate her features. The green was around her lips as well but fainter. Even her hair, if one could call it hair, wasn’t like his- but it acted in the same way. Like… Leaves. Long leaves of crimson red and veins of the same green upon her face. Her leaf hair went down past her shoulders and looked… Matted? Or unkept? It was hard to tell. So that was what she was… There was no flesh and skin but leaves and plant. She was… She was one of them!

She glared at him, then pointed at his hand. “Better?”

He nodded yes in quick succession and tried to force a smile but it didn’t feel right. She could tell as a frown pursed her lips.

“Scared?” She asked.

He shook his head. He wasn’t scared, just taken aback.

“No scared?” Her lips tugged into a grin. “Should be. I dangerous. I fierce.”

He froze at those words, taking her in again. There was something about her demeanor that made him crack a genuine smile.

She glared again and stood up.


His smile died and Zayd’s eyes narrowed in confusion.

She brandished her spear again and slammed the butt on the ground.

“You go!”

He backed away, getting to his feet. It was then he saw just how small she was. She only came up to about the base of his neck. Even moreso, her arms were so thin and she looked gaunt. How was that even possible? She took a step forward and pointed the spear at him, her eyes glaring at him. How could such a dark color be so alive?

He began to back away but on a hunch, he stopped and pointed at her. She froze in her tracks, unsure of what to do. Zayd then pointed at his stomach and mouthed the word, ‘hungry’ to her. She looked confused at first, but as he mouthed the word again and rubbed his belly, he could see her face begin to light up with hopeful recognition. He took a step forward but that seemed to draw a line as she scowled.

“No! I fine! You go!” She shouted with anger.

Not wanting to upset her anymore, Zayd turned and left, glancing over his shoulder to see those crimson eyes watching him fade into the darkness. As soon as he exited the cave, he went to the side and sat down up against the rock face. The night was cool now and without a fire, he would not be sleeping well. He could return home but… His thoughts were on her. She had helped him but why?

And those words of hers… Zayd knew where those came from. Even if she wasn’t a human, it was pride that drove help away. Wanting to do everything by yourself. He felt ashamed in that moment, thinking of earlier back at home. He knew she was probably starving but… Didn’t plants grow best in sunlight? So that meant… She was doing this to herself? Why?

He didn’t have time to ponder that question, for from the brush came the snapping of a branch and a low rumble that reverberated into his chest. Zayd shot up in an instant, heart beginning to beat fast. From across the ravine’s floor, upon a low cut ledge sparsely overgrown and illuminated by Gebu, he saw two smoldering eyes. Like burning coals. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and Zayd felt an overwhelming urge to run. It growled again and another set of eyes appeared next to the first.

The first emerged from the undergrowth, a creature like an inky black mass that… Moved. Rippling with veins… Like snakes of pulsing red. It’s snout parting to reveal sharp, barb-like teeth. Black viscera drooling to the floor as steamy breath entered the night. The other emerged, looking much the same, except it was smaller.

They stood watching him. Zayd could hear his heart beating. He needed to go. Needed to run.

But it was too late for that.

For they came.


Rain washed away the salt upon his face as the sun stared at him in front of dark clouds. The crashing of waves was as consistent as each of his breaths. Roaring like a monster behind him, lapping at his feet. So many faces, so many neutral stares. Blank, impassive. They watched him like vultures watch their prey. Hungrily, waiting for the inevitable. He was defiant, he was strong, even in the face of such impervious cruelty.

Yet he would fail and they knew.

It made his blood boil.

All had been going so well. For more than a decade he was in charge, he was a king! A RULER! A CHAMPION! A GOD!

Anything he said was decreed law, anything he made was decreed divine, every breath he took, every woman he made his- It was his right. For they were inferior. The Gods had made it so! He took them from their lowest point and made them strong! Forged them into something new, something better!

And what did they have to show for it?

Nothing but contempt. Of Pity.

They had fostered such resentment, such fear, that at the moment their destiny was made clear, was made absolute, they faltered and sneered. They did not want him, an outsider, this GOD made flesh.

His grip tightened on his mace. The mere thought of such betrayal made him grimace, then snarl.

Was that how it was?


If they would not listen to him in the face of such danger, in front of such lies and slander, then they were not worthy of his time. They would all of them die and he would do it but first…

He turned to the sun, made manifest and pointed his mace at it. The giant came on the eve of his war, his war he had planned so meticulously. From the druids upon his ‘land’ to the ‘replacing’ of those pathetic chiefs who would not fall in line. Before him had gathered the largest army the Litus tribes had ever seen. Would EVER see. And now, at the mention of this disapproval, this ‘divine’ decree, they had stopped. They had questioned their ways that had made them so great. And now he faced the sun alone, for they were cowards and fools to believe what it said. You could NOT trust a GOD!

The Daemon placed his helmet upon his head and with a defiant roar he barrelled forward to the giant.

There was a bright flash and then he was tumbling down a hill of stone, breaking sticks and twigs with each crack. The light was bright here and he could barely keep his eyes open long enough to see. When he finally came to a stop, he laid still for several moments, trying to register what had occurred.

He at last sat up and removed his helmet to meet a wave of crushing heat and a sea of red all around him.

Malri let out a frustrated roar.

A Garden of Doubt

Chapter I - Dishonor

“Come on come on!” Elena shouted, voice full of fright as her brown hair whipped in the wind of her own feet. They ran through the woods, sticks and brambles poking and scraping them with every step. Every frantic step. It felt like his heart was going to burst out of his chest but they kept going and all the while, Elena held tight to that basket.

A dog howled behind them, it was getting closer now, followed by the sound of Yazif’s men. They whooped and shouted, egging the dog ever towards its quarry. Them. They weaved through the forest, hoping to make it to the river. That way they could lose the dog and it was so close, he could see the break in the trees!

But one wrong step by Elena, and it was over. She tumbled to the ground, her basket of ill gotten fruit spilling out onto dry leaves and yellow grass, like bright jewels. He stopped in his tracks and went to his friend but Elena protested. “Zayd go! Run!” she shouted but it was futile. He wouldn’t leave her behind. How could he?

She gave no protest when he began to help her up, but by that point it was too late. There came a deep growl, and Zayd whipped around to see the black hound of Yazif, teeth bared and hackles raised. He froze with fear, staring into it’s yellow eyes. Footsteps followed it not long after, and three men came running towards them. Zayd tried to fight back but it was no use, a punch to his stomach sent the wind out of him and he felt Elena be ripped from his grasp. She screamed, the dog barked and Zayd fell to his hand and knees, gasping for breath.

Someone whistled and in an instant the dog stopped barking and whined. He lifted his head up to see Yazif, wearing his family robes of crimson, emerge from the trees. Elena was held by one man, but her eyes were on Zayd. Blue eyes brimmed with tears.

“Did you really think you could steal from me and run away? In broad daylight no doubt! I mean, honestly,” he came over and grabbed Zayd’s hair, lifting his head up. The smell of stale ale permeated from his lips, “You kids aren’t the smartest in the bunch and oh, you’ve wasted it.” His eyes fell upon the spoiled fruits. Yazif frowned, his black hair greasy and unwashed as he moved it out of his eyes.

“Well, let’s get this over with. You know the price for stealing.” He pulled out a long, copper knife from his robe. “Shall I start with you or the girl?” Zayd’s eyes glanced at Elena and Yazif wrenched him free from his grasp, landing with a grunt.

“Girl it is.” Yazif said without a hint of emotion.

“No! No! It was me! It was my idea! I wanted your fruits, not her. I-I-I dragged her into this. Don’t punish her! Please!” Zayd shouted, trying to get to his feet, but he was shoved to the ground again.

Yazif turned to him and crouched down. “Oh, is that so? Well then, I suppose that means instead of a finger, I’ll take a hand.” Zayd began to breath faster as his anticipation grew at an alarming rate. A sickness he had never felt welled up inside, almost making him throw up. Yet he felt himself lifted, arm outstretched as he fought back but it was no use. Yazif lifted the knife higher and then-

“No! It was me!” Elena shouted, “It was my idea, don’t listen to him! Punish me, not him. Not him.” She cried, no longer struggling against her captor.

For the first time, Yazif looked amused. “You know girl, I believe you. It takes a certain type to take the blame for another. Honorable even. But, all it really does is make him a liar. A lying thief, at that.” Yazif touched the tip of the blade to his cheek and stroked his goatee as he looked between the two of them. Then he laughed, a cruel smile forming on his lips, “Fine, I won’t take his hand. But I will take his tongue.” And he gave a nod.

A grimy hand grabbed his cheek, Elena began to scream in protest and before he knew it, his mouth was being pulled open. He couldn’t bite down, all he could do was panic and plead like some pathetic creature. Some pathetic creature that couldn’t even speak. Was that his future?

“Don’t make this harder than it has to be boy, or we’ll take something a little more sensitive.” Yazif sneered, gesturing with the blade. “Trust me, you’d rather keep that then a tongue.”

Zayd’s eyes went wide at the thought of that- He wanted to be a man and not… With a great amount of reluctance, he stuck out his tongue and felt the taste of metal as Yazif pressed the flat of the blade on his tongue. Yazif was toying with him, even now. The anticipation was beginning to take its toll on Zayd, as tears and snot ran down his face.

“Remember boy,” Yazif said, flipping the blade up.”Women are never worth it.”

There was a sharp sting, a flash of pain and the loss of something dear. Something needed.

He could feel a warm liquid fill his mouth as the world became a fog. Elena’s screams and Yazif’s laughter fading into the black abyss of sweet silence.

Several Years Later

Zayd ran his fingers through the dry dirt. The sun was beating down on his bare back, only adding to the stifling heat of the day. There was no breeze to be had and no rain cloud in sight but the work had to be done with or without the few comforts the gods could afford. As his baba had always said. Now that old man looked down on them, probably laughing at their misery.

He smirked at the thought, worming his index finger into the dirt to make a hole. He then grabbed the bag of chickpea seeds and took one out. He looked it over, making sure it was healthy. Satisfied, he placed it into the hole, then pushed the dirt over the seed and gave it a slight pat. That was one down, and now… He looked over the small field he found himself in, half was planted and the other half still needed seeds. He breathed out his nose and grimaced. Then got to work.

Later that night after the planting was done for the day, he went back to the homestead. Several huts sat around a large opening, cobbled together with stone, mud and clay. Draped with colorful cloth and drying clothes, it was a hectic place. He was not the only one who called it home and that was apparent when a band of children came to greet him. Running, whooping and hollering in the dying light of Oraliyah. For Zayd came from a large family. A very large family.

His father and his brothers all called it home with their wives and children, having come to settle there with baba and his wives. For baba had come from the old stock, from the west, having won his freedom and fortune by chance one fateful day, or so baba had said. As he walked to his father’s hut, Zayd could hardly count all the faces of his cousins, nieces, and nephews. There was great laughter here, infectious with each passing step and Zayd did his best to greet everyone with a wave and a smile. The very air smelled wonderful, full of spices and cooking things. It made his mouth water and his stomach growl. He picked up his pace, for he knew his mother would have the nightly supper ready.

Before he could enter his family's hut however, his older brother, Saban erupted from the door as if he had been waiting for him. He was pulled to the side of the house and out of sight from anyone. Saban’s curly hair was unkempt and his face still yet to be washed, was grimy. Zayd frowned, pushing Saban’s hands off of him. He raised his eyebrows and Saban began to grin like a fool.

“Zayd, my brother, you are looking fine today. Perhaps a bit too smelly for mother’s liking but that just means you worked hard, yes?” He spoke in a silky voice, the type that made one know where this conversation was going to go. Zayd shoved him in return and began to walk away. Saban grabbed his wrist. “Okay okay! Brother please, listen to what I have to say! You’ll like this I swear.”

Zayd turned to him and crossed his arms, tilting his head to the side as he stared at his brother.

“You know how mother and father want you to wed Nashwa?” He could hardly contain his smile now.

Zayd grimaced and stood straighter, that was a topic of contention of late. He did not want to wed that woman. She was far too needy and loved to be pampered, even her voice made him cringe. Zayd outstretched his hands and shook them at Saban. His brother chuckled.

“Relax, Zayd. Today they found out she’s going to wed some snob from Artikulah. You’re saved!” Saban clasped his shoulders and Zayd let out a large sigh of relief. That was wonderful news. He then grabbed Saban’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes, nodding his head in question.

“Yes yes, I am sure of it. Mother tells me everything, remember?” Saban’s smile faded as he looked to the floor. Zayd’s eyes narrowed and he shook him. “There is some other news, I’m afraid. The captain of the guard in Artikulah… He demanded every house under their ‘protection’ deliver them two sons of age, in accordance with the old ways. For war.” Saban squeezed his shoulder. “Father is sending myself and Imraan.”

Zayd gulped and began to shake his head as his face turned into a scowl. He would go give his father a piece of his mind on this. He knew it should be him! Not Saban! As he tried to free himself from Saban,his brother did not let him go.

Instead he spoke, “It’s the only way, Zayd. Imraan has always wanted to be one with the sword, you’ve known that the moment he could wield one to practice and I, I do my duty for my family.”

Zayd looked away from Saban, a wash of emotions welling up inside, wanting to burst forth.

“Zayd, look at me. Look at me!” Saban said in a stern voice and he did after a moment.

“This is not your fault brother. Do not blame yourself, this is for the best. Just trust me. Let’s just go and eat alright? Mother has made your favorite.” He cracked a small grin.

Zayd nodded and when Saban finally let him go, he bolted.

“Zayd no!” Saban called after him as they entered the house.

He found his parents and siblings around the table. All eyes fell on him as he entered the room, pointing at himself. Why wouldn’t you pick me? Why why why? He wanted to shout, but all he could do was point at himself, shaking his head in anger.

“Zayd, what the matter?” His mother asked, raising from the table.

Saban then arrived and his mother looked to his father, who he had not taken his eyes off of. He was a large man with an even larger beard. His laughter could shake the whole house but at that moment, all he could see was a betrayer.

“Saban, you didn’t.” His mother began to shake her head.

“I- wanted him to hear from me. I thought he would understand if I explained it.” His brother said.

“Oh Saban.” His mother frowned.

The rest of his siblings all grew quiet as his father finished the piece of meat he was eating. He took a drink and then said, “Sit down and eat my sons. We can discuss this tomorrow.”

Zayd shook his head and stomped his foot on the ground.

Now his father stood and everyone seemed to grow still. “What do you want me to say!” He slammed a fist onto the table and the rest of his children scattered, leaving the oldests among them remaining. Imraan, Saban and Eshe, his older sister.

“Kaid, please.” His mother said in a pensive tone, hands on the table.

“Salma, not now. If the boy wants to know why I won’t send him in Saban’s stead, then he can learn a hard truth.” His father said, brushing off his shirt. Zayd relaxed his shoulders and crossed his arms again, looking hard at his father. Waiting for whatever lie he was going to be told.

“Don’t give me that look Zayd. You have no idea what this means for this family. This is a great honor, to be in service to the Hash’Lahan, to mean something! So they can make names for themselves, your brothers! Be happy for them, for they will be able to have multiple wives like baba! They can have their own land like baba! They won’t have to be stuck in one place forever like us!” He looked to his wife for a sign of reassurance, but her face was of stone. His father sighed and looked him dead in the eye, “I am sorry, Zayd. I will not send one who has no tongue. It would dishonor us all.”

Zayd recoiled as if stuck. That was not a lie, was it? His face all at once became a canvas of shock and sadness that melted into anger each passing second as he looked to the faces of his siblings who would not return his gaze. He clenched his hands into fists, taking a ragged breath before turning and running out of the hut. He could hear shouting behind him, and his name being called but as he ran, their voices were replaced by the roar of a fading fire and the eventual cold of dark.

A Bastion of Culture 3 - Prayer

Year 29AA, middle winter, outside Caisteal Na Grèine...

“Oh, I cannot wait! I cannot wait! To feel the Statuette once more… How can we be so fortunate?” The young man Macdouh clapped his hands together and had a skip in his gait, kicking up snow with every step. His brown linen robes were characteristic for a monk, and in true monkly fashion, he had given up his family plaid in favour of simple furs. Indeed, nothing less was expected of an acolyte of the House of the Sun. His excitement was met with a somewhat patronising chuckle from his left. The monk turned to see the old, speckled face of Kaer Pier, his balding head covered with a well-sewn and ornately embroidered squirrel fur hat.

“Now, now, young Macdouh - we haven’t even started negotiations with the Reiyar - there is no guarantee that we will be permitted to touch the Statuette.”

Macdouh’s excitement was quickly capped by the elder’s words, and the gait lost its momentum. The monk folded his cold hands instead and attempted to assume a more conservative stance a little behind the druid. “Of course, father - forgive my overreaction.”

“My son,” the druid soothed, “one should never have to apologise for one’s excitement; after all, excitement is but the sun’s will made manifest within our souls. The greatness of Reiya and all of her gifts given to this good world comes to light in the sensations of joy, life and excitement.” He clapped the monk on the shoulder and lifted his tree branch staff to the heavens. “Come now, sing with me! Sing praises to the Daymother! Oh Reiya, oh Reiya~~!

The druid was quickly joined by Macdouh, as well as the other seven monks and nuns who had come along for the trip. A little behind, two elks trudged through the snow, each carrying a plaid-dressed, copper-helmeted warrior wearing vigilant stares as they surveyed the hills around them. Behind them again, thirty or so foot soldiers followed, all armed with copper spears and small, wooden shields.

“Oof, here they go again,” muttered one of the commanders. The other rolled her eyes.

“Only you would complain about hymns to the Sun, Cumhail. I think they sound rather nice, actually!” Cumhail, théin of the farmstead of Ha-Reyr, gave a long, drawn-out groan.

“Not another word, Cat. I did not ask for this mission; I want my bed; I want my wife; and I want my morning porridge.”

“You had porridge this morning, though…” Cumhail exhaled hot air.

“I want it the way -she- makes it. Campfire porridge cannot even begin to compare!”

“Okay! Okay, relax.” Catryn, théin of the mining village of Ha-Tind, pulled her green and red plaid tighter around her torso. “Didn’t mean anything mean by it…”

“Look, I know you didn’t, but, c’mon, show a man some respect, would you, and don’t make him think of his wife’s porridge while in the field.”

“You’re the one who brought it up, tho--”

“Shush! Not another word.”

Catryn looked to be on her last thread of patience, but a call from ahead in the column caught her attention enough that she let go of the handle of her axe. They kicked their elks gently in the sides and the mounts sped up to top a hill. There, over the top, they could see the red stone castle, standing out from the surrounding like a spot of blood in the whitest snow.

Caisteal Na Grèine.

“We’re here!” announced Kaer Pier to the sound of applause from the monks and nuns. “Now, remember the plan - I will approach first with the acolytes and ask for lodgings. You warriors will await outside.”

“In the cold?” Cumhail replied curtly and sourly. Kaer Pier nodded.

“Most unfortunate, I know, but I will not have armed men and women enter the holy halls of great Solus - of Mother Reiya. Remain out here, and we will make certain to plead for permission so that you, too, may come in. Now, come now, young acolytes! Let us do what we do best!” The druid trudged ahead through the snow, followed by the monks and nuns, some of whom were pulling pulks. The théins looked grimly at one another. Catryn growled at Cumhail and turned to the warriors.

“Well, you heard the man - set up camp and get a fire going. I’m freezing my tits off…”

Meanwhile, the druid and his companions reached the gate of the Sundom, its radiant heat having melted all the snow around it in a several metre radius. The druid motioned for his followers to kneel as he himself approached the gates and knocked. “Great Reiyar - servants of the Sun - we come bearing gifts in honour of your great aid earlier this winter, and pray we may spend the day strengthening our great friendship!”

It did not take long for a reply to muster forth in the form of great golden Leo. peering its head over the walls, body precariously perched upon the stone as if it was finding its footing. A great halo shimmered above it'a head as two curious eyes looked upon them. It lifted its head to sniff at them and then seemingly disinterested, it turned and disappeared over the wall.

“A beast! A beast of the sun!” one of the nuns burst out and squealed, being joined by her comrades. Kaer Pier seemed a little less giddy about the whole situation and gently knocked on the gates again.

“With great humility and respect, we pray we may enter this great castle again in hopes that we can further our bonds of friendship - the Reiyar and the Dûnans!”

The gates did begin to open, revealing winged men and women standing tall on either side of Tevuri and a shorter woman. She wore embossed plate armor of the sun, a faint Halo was above her golden hair. In stark contrast to the Reiyar, her skin was dark… Her arms were folded in front of her and her facial expressions were neutral.

"Dûnans." she stated in a strange accent. "Please, come in, you must be cold." She smiled.

It was the druid’s turn now to stand dumbstruck in awe. The monks and nuns hadn’t risen from their knees, and a few of them were nervously looking around for the signal to stand up. Instead of giving such a signal, the druid himself fell to his knees and laid his staff down on the ground, saying, “Oh… Oh, what fortune - what joy! To think that I, the humble sinner that I am, would be so fortunate to gaze upon the beauty of the Sun’s daughter twice in one lifetime. I greet you from the bottom of my soul and wish you all the blessings of my people, Lucia Helgen!”

The monks and nuns gasped. “A helgen?!”

Lucia remained still. "And I greet you. All of you. Please, rise. Rise and tell us why you've come. No one was expected here until spring at the earliest. Or so I was told."

The druid rose against slowly and the monks and nuns joined in. “Oh, but we couldn’t wait to show our appreciation for the Sun’s aid in reclaiming our home. We’ve brought gifts of ale, food and crafts for all to enjoy, and my acolytes here, a selection of monks and nuns from the House of the Sun, were all eager, so eager, to travel as soon as the weather would allow it. And, as it happened, thanks to the grace of Claroon, no storms have come to keep us at bay this month. I hope we are not intruding.”

"I see. What do you think Cardinal Tevuri?" she asked, turning to the taller Reiyar.

He stroked his chin and said, "I for one always welcome the mixing of culture and exploring the Humani's customs. They are most welcome here. Plus the Oraeliari would do well with something to do."

"Well, that's settled then. Please, come in and be welcomed." Lucia said.

“We cannot express how grateful we are, kind helgen,” praised the druid and took a step forward. “Oh! Before I forget… Atop the hill there, our escort awaits in the cold. They number roughly thirty or so. Would it be too much to ask if they, too, may stay inside the warm castle?”

"Of course." Tevuri said. "We do ask that any weapons are given to us upon entry however. They will be relinquished when you decide to leave."

“Oh, certainly, certainly. Whatever you request be given over, shall be given over. Macdouh, son, would you run up the hill and invite the warriors into the warmth?” The monk bowed and immediately set off on a panting spring through the snow. Kaer Pier smiled and walked over to one of the pulks a nun had dragged with her, from which he untied a thin-necked clay vase with a bark cork. He then stepped back over to Tevuri, bowed his head and offered the vase. “Good Cardinal… Please accept the first of our gifts - the wholly new invention of our people: golden ale.”

Tevuri took the vase with gentle hands, as if he was holding a baby. He brought it up to his puzzled face and asked, "Golden… Ale? What does it do?"

The druid smiled. “It is a drink, friend - a tasty, round-flavoured drink that keeps your belly warm and happy in winter times. In excess, it will soften your soul just enough to reach into the divine plane and speak to the gods. Indeed, I have tried and succeeded - much a similar effect to pipeweed and joyberries.”

Tevuri still looked skeptical but uncorked the jug and took a long whiff of the ale. "It smells good." He said, taking a swing. His face puckered and he passed it to another Reiyar. "It is different, but different is good. Go on and try it Yuleari.” The woman was hesitant in her reaction but sniffed and drank, a small smile creeping onto her face as they passed it around to try.

“Be not afraid to drink it all - we have plenty more! If there is a table somewhere, let us prepare you the feast we have brought with!” At this point, the warriors arrived through the gate behind them, looking blessed to be in the heat of the castle. The two théins dismounted their elks and each offered curtuous bows to both Lucia and Tevuri.

“Gods’ peace be upon you,” Catryn greeted and took her helmet off, blonde hair flowing out of it and down over her cloaked shoulders.

“Yes, gods’ peace,” Cumhail offered just politely. Kaer Pier cast him a sharp glare.

“My companions have naturally accepted that they must give up their arms and will do so immediately,” the druid reminded through a forced, toothed smile.

“Oh, right!” Catryn blurted out and all the soldiers quickly disarmed themselves, neatly arranging a pile by the gate. There were daggers, spears, axes and even some swords - mostly copper, with one or two bronze artifacts scattered in there. There was even a sunforged weapon, which Cumhail seemed terribly reluctant to leave behind. He hung over the pile, holding the long dagger in his hand, grimacing harshly.

Tevuri clasped his hands, "Please, this way. We shall prepare some tables in the dining hall. In the meantime, warm up and mingle as you humani do." Tevuri and Lucia walked off ahead into the keep.

The Dûnans didn’t ignore his suggestion, and many immediately snuggled up against the sunstone wall, many taking off their thickest clothing to not sweat them soaking wet. Kaer Pier and his followers rounded up sacks of oatcakes, pots of cheese, vases of ale and much more from the sleds, following Tevuri with their arms full of gifts. When the food had been moved over across the grand courtyard and into the warm keep, the druid picked up a small wicker chest, beautifully woven and ornately decorated with speckles of chalk, amber and a cross-shaped, golden sun atop its lid. Ceremoniously, he carried it over to the tables and put it down, placing his hand in kind protectiveness over it. “Now… Shall we feast?”

Tevuri nodded, looking around at the many humani and Oraeliari entering the chamber. Each table was large enough for a Reiyar to sit at comfortably but the Humani were a bit short. Lucia had vanished however, most likely through one of the many doors in the vast chamber. As Tevuri sat down at the head of the hall, he looked at the box and asked, "I don't think I ever caught your name?"

The druid smiled and bowed again. “Forgive my insolence - I should’ve opened with that. I am known as Kaer Pier, former archdruid of Ha-Dûna and now trusted advisor and messenger of our sanndatr Boudicca. I also oversee the Daytemple, temple of the Sun.”

“No need to apologize, Kaer Pier. It is nice to meet you.” Tevuri said, taking off his gloves. Around the room the two species mingled and merriment was had, as the Reiyar tried the ale and food. They in turn brought out some of their own items that they had brought from the Luminant. Lumos berries and oran bread, bright and colorful but not as delicious as when they were ripe. “Former archdruid? Sanndatr Boudicca? Has there been a change of leadership in Ha-Dûna?” Tevuri queried.

“So there has,” said the druid and received a horn of foaming ale from a bowing nun. “The Moot declared that the druidic leadership had brought our civilisation nothing but ruin and infamy - we elected that we should have one leader instead, one selected on account of their stellar virtues and inborn charisma: the sanndatr, the True Daughter, or sannsonn if our next one is a man. Boudicca was the only viable candidate in the eyes of the gods and the Moot, without a doubt. Some among us are naturally skeptical of leaving power to a single individual, but the last thing we need now is a crippled council government. A single, righteous leader of such exemplary moral character as Boudicca can make effective, solid decisions and have them be carried out on the day they are made. -That- is what we need; that is a leader.” He sipped his horn with a nod.

Tevuri took a sip of some freshly poured ale, smiling at the nun in thanks. “Change can be many things. Good and bad, it is simply a matter of perspective.” He took another sip. “I can not comment on singular leadership I’m afraid. The Oraeliari people are guided along by we Cardinals. No easy task, but the light of our Oraeliara guides us along. I hope things go well for you and your people.”

“As do I, friend. As do I.” Pier helped himself to an oatcake and scooped onto it some cottage cheese from a nearby bowl. “If I may ask, what has become of your policy on the local, for the lack of a better word, conflicts in the Dûnlands? You helped us reconquer our home, but… What will you do now?”

“Ah, that. We were unsure after reclaiming your home, but now with the Sun Daughter’s arrival, our purpose is clear again. We shall help build a lasting peace here in the Highlands, between all clans, villages, peoples, and races. It is the Sun Mother’s will made manifest.” He said, taking another small sip.

“Then we are of one mind, friend. Peace is the only sensible goal left for these lands - if we can achieve it, then all will be well.” He smiled. “Naturally, Ha-Dûna will wholeheartedly line up behind you as an ally in this matter - whatever you may need, whether it be knowledge of the tribes, connections around the Dûnlands or manpower and resources, you shall get it.”

"Any help is appreciated." Tevuri smiled. "Now, I've noticed that box you brought with you and I must say I'm curious to what might be contained within."

“Oh, this? A small gift for the Cardinals personally - one we hope to exchange for a small favour in return, is all, a favour that to us would mean a great deal.” He opened the lid: The inside of the box was upholstered with wool and bird dow, forming soft, pillowy protection against uneven movement. In the centre of the pillows, there laid a set of four golden rings, intricately adorned with bulbs of transparent glass, with one verdant piece of chiseled malachite in the centre. “Had we known the Sun Daughter was here, we would have naturally brought another one; let us bring it at a later date.”

Tevuri's expression narrowed as he looked the rings over. He said nothing for several moments, as if deep in thought. When he did speak he looked to Pier. "They are beautiful rings, one cannot deny that and I cannot speak for Lucia but before we Cardinals think of accepting this gift, I think it prudent you speak of this request of yours."

“Oh, it’s not as much a request as it is a simple question of permission, my friend.” The druid closed the box and pushed it gently aside for a spell as he took his horn and gave it a sip. “As you no doubt know, these upheavals and our years in exile have taken their toll on our population - many fine, beautiful youths who were meant to grow up and carry our people forward were taken from us much before their time.” He sighed somberly, and the monks, nuns and warriors around the table who had heard him either joined his sigh or teared up. These were comforted by their peers. The druid gave Tevuri a broken stare, the residue of his smile lost completely. “We ask therefore for permission to have our young and newlywed come here on a pilgrimage, just so they can touch the belly of the Sun Mother’s statuette and help our people recover.”

Tevuri looked them over, eyes lingering on the sad faces he saw before him. He then looked out over the room and said, "Such a question cannot be answered by myself alone. Thus I propose that in the morn you gather those of you who speak for your sanndatr and I shall gather mine and we shall discuss this. For now, let us enjoy ourselves in the warmth of Oraeliara and friends."

“I wholeheartedly agree.”

"Good." Tevuri smiled, "Now please, pass the butter?"

A sun of red began to rise, warming the foggy keep. The feast had gone on well into the night and most had fallen asleep in the grand hall, but those that were able to walk found rest in the barracks and dorms of the Reiyar. The day was full of anticipation, stemming from the weight of the question posed. And after a quick breakfast, they were guided to where they needed to go. Up winding stairs, down long corridors until at least they reached another short flight of stairs and looming above, a great door. The Reiyar standing guard pushed on the doors and sounds of straining wood and creaks filled the air. Before them sat another room, not as long or tall as the dining hall, but ornate with windows letting light stream in. Rows of tables and chairs lined the sides of the room, leaving a walkway to the front, where another longer table sat, facing a raised platform that stood half as tall as them. Upon that platform sat another table, and sitting upon great chairs were Tevuri and three other cardinals. They wore simple white robes with golden sashes.

These cardinals sat on either side of two figures. One was Lucia, wearing a sleeveless but simple gown of lavender. Her golden hair was let down, matching the color of the Cardinals wings and her own shimmering tattoo’s. Above those five, shimmered their ever present Halos, marks of Oraelia herself. The sixth figure who sat next to Lucia, was a broad-shouldered woman with no easily determined heritage beyond being fair of skin. Her black hair flowed reminiscent of the Ketrefan south, but her face - locked into a thin frown - had the same sharp lines as Acadian nobility. Beyond all that, she was shaped like a western warrior, with athletic muscles hidden underneath thin black fabrics woven like layers of veils over the skin rather than any thick clothes for weather. Lucia turned to her and said something, placing her hand upon her shoulder.

Behind them all, carved into the very stone of the wall, was a depiction of Oraelia. She held a glowing sun in one hand, and a flower in the other. She looked down, smiling with kindness.

As Kaer Pier and his party approached, Lucia rose with a smile. ”Welcome, welcome. Please sit.” she gestured to the table below before continuing, ”Tevuri has informed me that you wish to ask something of the Caisteal Na Grèine. So please, before the eyes of my Mother ask us what you will.” She then sat back down.

The Dûnans offered their most respectful bows, though young Macdouh stood staring at the mural of Oraelia, descending slowly to his knees. “Oh, Mother Sun,” he whispered, then furrowed his brow somewhat. He leaned over to Kaer Pier and whispered something to him, and then the druid put his hand on his shoulder, squeezing it firmly.

“Don’t be disrespectful, my son,” one could barely hear him respond through a forced smile before greatly loudening his voice. “Sun Daughter Lucia, helgen of helgens! Once again, I must express from my heart’s deepest cavities that to see you once again is nothing short of a blessing, and as much as I wish we had come purely for the social exchange, wise Cardinal Tevuri speaks true: We have come also with a request - one that, if granted, would mean the world to our people’s present and future.” He took a breath and bent a knee, his followers doing the same. “We wish, with utmost humility, to be granted permission to open routes of pilgrimage to this holy keep, so that our promising youth may touch the belly of the Sun Mother’s statue and be granted her bountiful fertility.”

"Ah, so the object of your desire is the statue? And you wish to pilgrimage here to be able to touch it." Lucia folded her hands across the table, her expression marked with neutrality. "You are aware that the statue is one of the roots to the problems this land has faced over these years? That my mother blames herself for what she gave you in her naivety? That you could be trusted with it in good faith, so that it could be used responsibly? If the Sun Mother had known the path it would send you on, she would have never given it." Her voice grew softer, "But who could have predicted you would use it so fanatically that your own land could not keep up and then when she gave you everything you needed, it still wasn't enough. After the wars, after the bloodshed." Lucia sighed and her expression grew hard. "I shall ask you this now and answer truthfully. Do you think you are worthy still of such a gift?"

The druid frowned. “Would it not be blasphemous to not employ a gift given by the Sun Mother herself to its greatest extent? Would it not be insolent to willingly restrict ourselves and our people’s growth when the gospel of the Sun forever preaches fertility and proliferation? Our sins are not the Sun Mother’s fault - they are ours, and ours alone. No matter the size of her infinite heart, she cannot take our guilt away from us - not even Naya can. Our growth was but a mere factor of a greater evil within our ranks - one that no god can truly take the blame for; I dare say not even the cruel Sigeran can be blamed for planting that first, wicked seed of greed within Kaer Teagan all those years ago. In regards to sustenance, Sun Mother realised our plight, of course, as wise and great as she is, and our lands can now feed our population tenfold, at least. Our estimates cannot keep up with the true yield, even.” He paused. “We are learning, wise helgen, and it is all we can do for as long as we live. That is all we can say to that.”

The dark-haired woman managed to look even less pleased than before, but shrunk back into passivity as Lucia spoke up. "To learn is to grow. To grow is to live. My mother embodies that, and just as you have learned from your lessons, so as she. For life is such a precious thing, it surrounds us in its beauty but with every breath we take it can be taken away in an instant." She paused. "Too much of a good thing can be abused and turned to cruelty, can it not? I have no doubt your intentions are pure however, you are faithful to her and her teachings. But you must learn that excess so often turns to greed. I think you were wise in coming here asking for pilgrimage, for that is admitting you are willing to change further. Now," she turned to her peers at the table. "Does anyone else wish to speak?" she asked.

Tevuri cleared his throat, giving Lucia a nod. He then looked to the druid and then other followers. "Lucia speaks with wisdom. I knew this day might come, where you would come to ask for it but I do not fault you for that want. It is a powerful gift and should not be denied, to any. I would like to say this, if you wish to make pilgrimage here then we cannot only allow the people of your nation, but any who wish to touch the statue. We wish to remain neutral when we have to and in good standing with all of the people that call these lands home. We cannot show favoritism." He said, finishing his speech.

Cardinal Amara then stood up. "Tevuri speaks after our own hearts, as does Lucia. If you wish to pilgrimage here then we would also ask that any weapons be collected at the gates before entry, any violence committed within will result in immediate expulsion by all members of either accountable parties. And finally, before Oraeliara, we do ask that bad blood, grudges and other pettiness be cast aside in favor of understanding and compassion to your fellow man." She then sat down. The two other Cardinals, one known as Ponifiri and the other unnamed both gave nods in agreement. The dark-haired warrior beside Lucia murmured something under her breath, though it wasn't particularly audible for anyone but those closest to her. In turn, Lucia glanced at the woman but her own expression remained neutral.

The druid lowered his head and smiled. “What joy, what fortune - to have such wise and understanding lieges to stand before. Of course, the gift should, no, must be shared with all in the Dûnlands - that has ever been our intention, for we restricted no one from using it before. Now, however, that it is placed much more centrally, perhaps we can all share in the Sun Mother’s blessing. All of these conditions are most acceptable in our eyes - we are grateful.”

”I am glad we could come to this agreement.” Lucia said. ”I do have a request of my own however, one unrelated to the statue. The Sun Mother has sent myself and my wife to bring about a lasting peace in the Dûnlands and beyond. We were relieved to hear that Ha-Dûna has been reclaimed and that the fighting has settled down, however, Oraeliara scouts have seen some rather disturbing things from the settlement of Scawick? Scawack?” She frowned. ”As such we think it best to gather those who have been wronged in the past and call a grand moot of sorts. A meeting between village heads, town leaders, kings and queens, elders- All across the Dûnlands so that we can talk about peace, settle mistakes from the past and move forward towards a brighter future. I ask you deliver this request to your sanndatr.”

“Such is our intention, as well, make no mistake - but the Scawicks have proven angry and hateful towards our cause of peace. We met them in the field earlier this winter and tried to talk sense to them; they would not listen. We were forced to employ blunt weapons to keep them from murdering us all. We managed to send the majority of them back home with food and supplies, but…” He hung his head in shame, his monks and nuns joining him. The warriors seemed less inclined. “... Alas, when a wolf pack takes too many of your own flock, some must be culled in response.”

The dark-haired woman beside Lucia tapped the table before them a few times, a thoughtful and erratic break from the hitherto calm back-and-forth discussion. Seeming to come out of her thoughts and behavior with a brooding peer at the assembled pilgrims, she spoke up with a broad dialect that seemed equally difficult to place. "Do not fault the wolf for remembering who struck it in the past. Your legacy stretches further back than you may be keen to remember."

Kaer Pier shifted his look to her, his polite smile losing most of its composure until only a frown remained. “Oh, do not misunderstand us - we do not fault them for their behaviour; it is common amongst people like the Scawicks to be… Less in control of their emotions.” He held up his hands. “And we absolutely understand - again, the Dûnans have a history as warmongers, and this we must repent for; however, if they murder our peacemakers when we come to them with a message of harmonious existence, then we cannot simply turn the other cheek, can we?”

”People like the Scawicks…” It was Lucia who frowned now, shaking her head. ”One step forward, another step back…” She massaged the bridge of her nose. ”I must advise, in the future when you come into contact with those who will not listen due to past prejudices, that you ask a neutral party to be a bridge between the two. To ensure such life is not unnecessarily lost.” She rested a hand upon the dark-haired woman’s cheek for a moment, before dropping it out of view. ”We shall go talk to the Scawicks to see what can be done. Now, is there anything else that you wish to ask?” she asked.

The druid bobbed his head softly. “If all aforementioned clauses of the agreement remain, then we have nothing left to ask. We thank you from the bottom of our thousand hearts for your wise and merciful decision to allow not only us, but all peoples of the Dûnlands to access the statuette through pilgrimage.” He extracted the box with the golden sun upon it once more, knelt down again and offered it in the direction of Lucia, Sanya and the Cardinals. “To solidify this agreement, allow us to offer you the gifts intended for the wise administrators of the Sun’s will, as tribute to let you know that, through thick and thin, Ha-Dûna will always be loyal to Caisteal Na Grèine.”

”Not tribute, but rather a deal made.” She turned and nodded at Tevuri, who stood and pulled out from beneath the table a box of his own. He walked down the steps and placed it before Pier.

“We offer this in return, to affirm this agreement.” Tevuri said, opening the chest to reveal an assortment of glowing seeds. Some resembled familiar nuts and acorns, but others were wholly exotic. “Take these seeds from our homeland, grow them in your fields and remember that the light lives in us all.” Tevuri said.

“A gift from the Sun Mother!” celebrated the clergy, and Kaer Pier’s followers quickly scrambled to pick up the chest and carry it to the door. Kaer Pier managed to calm them down a little with some whispering and gesturing, but they couldn’t hide their eagerness in beholding something so sacred. The druid eventually gave up and turned back to the council with a wide smile.

“As their reaction proves, we are infinitely grateful for the gift. Come spring, these will be the first seeds to be sown.” Once more, he bowed. “We cannot wait to bring these wonderful news back to our people, and to all peoples throughout the land. Today is a most fortunate day for the Dûnlands!”

“You and your people are welcome to stay for as long as you like, Kaer Pier.” Tevuri smiled. “Though I think we will understand if you wish to leave to spread the word.”

“Your hospitality is legendary, wise Cardinal, but it is as you say - these news must be brought back post-haste. The celebrations will almost certainly ravage the city all over again, I reckon,” he chuckled.

“Then we wish you a safe journey.” Tevuri said.

”Indeed. Thank you for your time, Kaer Pier. Until next time.” Lucia said, turning to the woman beside her. Something murmured under her breath, and the dark-haired woman nodded towards the druid as well.

A few days had passed since the retinue from Ha-Dûna had departed and Lucia found herself watching the Oraeliara train outside the barracks. Today, like the last few days, she found her eyes falling upon Sanya, who had taken a liking or perhaps a purpose, to avoid boredom. She taught them how to wield the spear with deadly intent. Lucia enjoyed watching her partner do something she enjoyed, it was good to see. Sanya had kept up practice these past decades, switching to unarmed forms when she had buried Sorrowsting. Now she had the chance to meet and train with students who seemed eager enough to learn, and Sanya used the opportunity both to impart her knowledge and perfect her new fighting style. She weaved into different forms and stances, and taught them grapples to dislodge and overwhelm opponents.

But she found herself lingering for too long however, and with reluctance she moved on. Through the warm halls she walked, greeted by the tall winged one with friendly smiles. They did not revere here as much as the Druids did and for that she was thankful. Eventually Lucia found herself back in the chamber of mother’s likeness, where they had made their agreement. It was empty, but only of mortals.

”You did well, Lucia.” Rhiona’s voice came from the statue of her mother as she walked forward. ”The people here are fanatical but perhaps they will learn in time.”
”I hope so. I cannot bear to see them act so cruelly. You saw how they made mention of the Scawicks…”

”Indeed. What was it that Sanya said? Wasn't it, humans never change?”

Lucia frowned and took a seat. "I love Sanya but she has a very pessimistic view on humans and I don't blame her. But some do change for the better and some change for the worse. It's one of the view journies in our life we have to take."

"Mhmm, spoken like your mother. Now, I believe I might have a few things you'll be interested in. For there is always more to give in the name of peace." A large topaz appeared on the table in front of her, giving off an aura of calm. Lucia felt as if she could burst from empathy just being in its presence. "Use that in the name of peace and negotiations. Also I made more Joyfs. Goodluck Lucia!" Rhiona said with haste in her voice before her presence disappeared.

Lucia was so wrapped up in the stone that it took her a few seconds to realize what Rhiona had even said.

”Oh goo- Wait! More Joyfs?" and as if on que, there was loud shouts coming from the courtyard and Lucia grabbed the gem before running off in that direction. Her worry began to fade as shouting gave way to laughter. She turned the final corner and the courtyard came into view. The first thing she saw was a massive head of a Joyf, looking around excitedly.

Then she saw smaller yet still large Joyfs frolicking with the Oraeliara, in fact, several swarmed over Sanya, one was laying on her legs, head at her chest, begging to be petted as the others licked at her face and head. The dark-haired warrior had all but given up any attempt at sparring practice, and was now fully caught up in trying to wrestle free from the fluffy mound of cute animals. An energetic and big joyf licked her over the nose, and caught off-guard, for once, Sanya offered a genuine and peaceful chuckle.

Lucia laughed and watched as the largest one… This Queen Joyf, fall to her side and whimper. In an instant a swarm of Joyfs went to her and several Oraeliari, all providing helpful pats to her thick fur.

Lucia rolled her eyes and looked up to see the two cats circling above. It seemed they were the only ones not a fan of the newcomers.

Rebirth In Blood

Sat deep within the cool stone of the palace, there lay another bath chamber, this one decadent and lit with hundreds of candles, flickering into dying light. The room was further furnished with a variety of chairs and tables, set into the crooks and crannies of the tall room. In the center of this bath chamber sat an oval pool. It was large and full of water that was covered with the last of the flower petals kept from the Highlands, giving off a very floral scent. The water was warm, heated by hot rocks at the deep center.

Lounging upon the second ledge of the pool, covered with flower petals, was Nalla. She was naked to the world as she was attended to, a rare moment of insecurity by any means but she did not show it. She was accompanied by five servant girls, all of the same build, same hair and similar face structure. All were of a modest age and all of them could be trusted. For these five girls were privileged. They were the ones tasked with the most precious position of being bathing attendants. To wash their Queen and witness her innocence. Handpicked for loyalty and looks or perhaps for the easiness of their minds to be broken. They did their jobs well.

Nalla let out a relaxing sigh. Her flaming hair was being combed by two of them, her body washed by two more on either side of her and her feet and legs were being washed by the last. There was no talking here, for Nalla preferred the silence. It soothed her and so she shut her eyes and let their rhythmic work be felt and in a rare moment, appreciated.

Though she was being washed, her precious tools of rulership sat on a table nearby. Their weight was familiar to her and without them she felt vulnerable, how silly a thought was that? Someone as her, so powerful by herself uncomfortable being without her clothes. Or was it her paranoia?

A frown found itself snaking its way onto her lips. It was true, she was suspicious of everyone and paranoid of traitors and gods having their way with her and her accomplishments. But it only took the mere thought of Neiya to make her calm again. Well perhaps calm wasn't the right word but it would suffice.

Ever since she had mingled with the Goddess, her very being had felt… Stronger, more attuned to the world. It was exhilarating, like a part of Neiya had never left her. Sometimes the world slowed to a halt, and she had an ethereal experience of surrealism. Almost as if she was part of something greater. She would keep it close, for no mortal pleasures could compare. Ah, her Goddess...

If only there was other gods as kind as her mistress. Exodus the avatar, true to her word, had not been seen or heard of since she had left so long ago and her Sylphi no longer seemed to care about worshipping their Genesis or Exodus. In fact, her Sylphi were now hers and the Blood Sylphi were growing well. In a few generations she would have what she wanted.

Tekret had been the one to give her, her crown but not a word had been heard from him since or whatever his cult had been. If they had been in the Highlands then it would seem they would stay there and far out of her authority. Alas, she knew only enemy gods and those who would not see her in a better light to be left. There was no other patronage but Neiya.

Even the Alma, the desert people who knew her to be their master now, had no gods to be spoken of. Or if they did, the language barrier had not yet been broken down. They had only managed to figure out simple things and what they would call their precious slaves, Alma.

Nalla had put them to work already on constructing her new home. One far larger and grander than any that had come before. By sheer accident had a crazy foreman begun racing about a giant temple in the shape of a triangle. Needless to say, though mad, he was let in charge of the project. It would take years to accomplish but what was that to Nalla?

Seeds from the Highlands were being sown to see if any would be viable, they were hunting what life they could find along the river and raiding parties were being sent out to secure more slaves and anything interesting. Things were on the up and up in Nallan but if food cannot be maintained in ample supply, it would perhaps be their downfall.

And it was her supply of fresh blood that concerned her most. Without healthy stocks she would starve and she couldn't have that. For now she would hope for the best.

At the edge of her hearing came whispers, not of voices truly, but sounds that clashed together, melding from yelps of dogs, the croaking of toads, the screeches of river hydra. Words came whispering in quiet unison growing softly from nothing. They came from nowhere and everywhere, from no discernable source and yet omnipresent surrounding and coming to her ears. The words were simple, repeated, growing from quiet nothing to clear but still soft.

Nalla remained still, ears and eyes on alert but she saw nothing.

Her attendants showed no sign of hearing these words spoken thus, "Nalla, daughter of Rado and Alina, Empress of Blood and favored of Neiya, are you prepared for my words..."

They would fade and soon repeat, at first from the quiet cacophony that made them unison it seemed nothing. But as they grew louder they became clear, as though echoing from some far distant place through something other than the air or the ground.

The words came again, and again her attendants showed no sign of hearing, "Nalla, daughter of Rado and Alina, Empress of Blood and favored of Neiya, are you prepared for my words..."

Nalla sat up, motioning for her attendants to cease and they obeyed her without words. She eyed the room again and stopped upon her things, heart racing with thoughts. She took a deep breath and settled upon one thought in particular. Neiya had once said the same, about her parents and she was a god. Had another been listening to her thoughts just now?

“I-I am prepared.” She uttered. The servants gave each other looks, but still, they said nothing.

The words stopped, a long silence held before the cacophony came crashing like a wave.

"Leader born of blood and strife, Nalla of the Thusly-Named-City. Most moral and righteous is your rule with all of your actions undertaken, I have watched with grave interest as your realm expanded and you gave employment to that most moral Wizardess."

"And I have watched the harm done unto you by deities most wicked, such things are not forgotten, nor will they go uncorrected. You have purpose and strength to do much good still, and so I have decided to grant you aid."

“You have?” she breathed. “And to whom do I owe such thanks too?”

"My names are numerous, as are perspectives among Galbar's peoples. You may call me Ekh-Rus, a protector and patron of your Empire. In time all fall into my domain, even as the many other gods squabble over their little patches of power. Announce to your people that you have been blessed when the time is good, and my gifts shall come forth."

“As you wish, Ekh-Rus. Your name shall be added to the few we worship here. But why, why help m- Us? Surely not because we have been wronged by the Sun?”

"Many have been wronged by the Sun, I do not aid them all. I choose to render aid because you are useful, should you prosper and succeed in creating a strong state, you shall have a wide impact of the most moral order. I wish to see this come to pass, I wish it to come sooner rather than later. Few are suitable agents."

"You are useful for making things better, for my goals and ends, for all souls. Enjoy it as best you can and serve well, few get such opportunity."

“Very well, I accept any aid, it is rude not to. But what aid is it you seek to give? I am curious.” She asked, relaxing into the water.

"Do not be so insolent as to presume upon my plans Nalla. I will say for the necessity of your announcement to your people, not to satisfy your curiosity. I will rectify your ill-suited failures to adapt to your new locale, as well as the weaknesses of your own flesh and kin. If you serve well, perhaps a boon will be granted to you and your flesh-kin."

Although there was no feeling of entering Nalla could feel the sudden effect of something having left.

At long last she turned to her servants with a bemused smile and said, “Dress me and let us be done with this.”

Later that night when the land took respite from the harsh sun, Nalla stood before her people again. Much like her appearance after they had arrived, Nalla wore all her regalia from head to toe. She stood over her people, singular and hungry.

She threw out her arms into the air, quieting the crowd that had gathered.

“People of Nallan!” She stated. “We are not alone! Neiya has helped us,” she pointed to the statue of the two of them, “We know that the Goddess of Love’s heart is a sea of devotion for those cast aside, downtrodden and betrayed! She loves me, she loves you… She loves us all! We worship her not because she has saved us, but because we love her in return!”

The crowd gave praises and prayer to her mistress, as all any should do.

“Yet Neiya is not the only one who has seen our plight! A new God has come forth, a protector and patron for we, of this beautiful Kingdom. And this god is known as Ekh-Rus, and we have been blessed! Ekh-Rus gives us the knowledge necessary to live in this place, so that we might thrive and grow stronger then ever before! For we are loved by the Gods! ARE WE NOT?” She put her hands into the air, and dipped her head. Ekh wanted her to speak before her people, what would they do now?

With whirling sound and wind the sky above Nallan seemed to crack open with leaking green flame. Only so slightly did the edges of this fracture open even as the wind roared up above and green flame crackled. This sight stood above the crowds only for the briefest moments that allowed them to glimpse and gaze upwards before something else came forth.

Like a wave it spread over the masses gathered in the city, no sight, nor smell, nor sound announced its presence. Instead the pounding addition of knowledge, each person's head filled with the background information gleaned from generations of desert dwellers. What to eat, what would grow, what to wear. Information drawn of the conditions to survive the desert from the massed dead, previously living souls who begat survivor after survivor after survivor. The knowledge to live in the desert was what flowed over them, although it brought minor headaches to be given so rapidly into their minds, it would bring survival if not flourishing.

However not only did the changes come to the masses alone. The land began to shift to, the river side shifted and rifted, forming into irrigation ditches and canals as would be found in any river based agricultural community. While the infrastructure may have been left behind, for the new river it came forth without the toil of the people to remake it once more.

A booming voice came from the flaming cracks in the sky, an enormous eye darting between them gazing through the breaks to the masses below. The voice came as rush, the calls of birds and the braying of reef horses, sounds of all animals coming together in a tide of sound to make one voice. "Hear my voice loyal devotees of Nalla, for you are blessed on this day by the presence and care of Ekh-Rus! Your fields stand ready and your minds have been prepared to survive the harsh challenge put before you. Do not forget that I stand as your protector through your Queen and Idol Nalla, the chosen of the gods. Know that her flesh and kin be holy and rightfully rule over you and your children for the prosperity and moral order of all times!"

A lesser voice like before swirled around the mind of Nalla herself, "You did well, and shall receive additional blessings, be known that all things come with a price and the toll you pay will be well worth it."

“And pray tell,” Nalla whispered, raising a hand to the masses as they began to celebrate. “What do you wish of me?”

"Soon there will come a time when you and all of your Vampiric Kin will be assaulted by visions of those slain, intense and all at once as a combination of all your cursed kind have known. After this, it will be broken. I will tell you this as after you will assemble those Vampires that you have close to you, I will grant all kin of your flesh and blood a gift, and another for those that serve you as well. You will continue as you have, to be a conqueror and a leader. Rule well and I may come calling again when you have grown to fit your potential more. Do you understand?"

The news made her heart skip a beat. The curse would be lifted? Oh what joy! “As you wish, Ekh-Rus. But I must admit… The curse on vampire-kind has left us… Lacking. There was another one here in my thrall but he died when the Sun moved us. Only I remain.”

"Then I shall accelerate my plans for your kin, in short your kind will be able to do a kind of reproduction, a gradual process of transformation of one extent to be a vampire as well. It may take time for them to fully come into their abilities and they will need shepherding, but I am sure you will not fail me in such a task."

Nalla stared out at the joyous crowd, a wicked smile began to etch itself within her lips. More of her kind… Ruling them all like shepherds over their flock. “Yes... How delicious it will be.” She said whimsidasically.

A pulse came from the rifts slowly closing above, barely visible to the mortal eye, but faint only in means of sight, not power. Nalla could feel a tingling sensation, an uncomfortable shifting in her flesh that remained for some moments before disappearing as quickly as it came. Something similar to all vampires on Galbar felt a change had come to their most strange race. No longer were they unable to produce more of themselves, now a vampire could convert others to their own kind, less a disease in action that may spread. But like a toxin, enough given in a short enough time to reach a tipping point to turn. It would be gradual, and not all would survive the process, but a chance given to have a real impact, and not be scarce and hunted.

It took several moments before Nalla could calm down from her excitement. When she did, she raised her hands and exclaimed. “TONIGHT! WE CELEBRATE IN THE NAME OF EKH-RUS! IN THE NAME OF NEIYA!”

And a celebration was had, as Nalla returned to her palace and a celebration of her own was had.

Many moons later much was beginning to change in Nallan. The knowledge provided by Ekh-Rus was a miracle in its own right, and the irrigation channels provided new access to crops- Which meant food would be plentiful in the months to come. But perhaps the most significant of Ekh-Rus’ gifts was the beauty of vampiric venom. Where once a victim would lose their memories of an attack, more and more feedings inflicted a most sinister poison into the blood streams, turning the blood sour as it took root. When it blossomed, it either killed the fledgling outright, or put them on the path to a fully actualized vampire.

Nalla took on a new role, that of a teacher. For raising a vampire and teaching them her ways was paramount in her society to come. She had a handful of fledglings that had survived on their path to adulthood but soon, they would make more and her mortal stock would produce more of their own and the blood would flow. Though the cruel sun was blinding, it was just beginning to rise upon her kingd- No… Her dominion. Empire.

But another promise was still to be had, for her vampires could not feel the curse as she did if they were to be useful. Everyday she waited for Ekh-Rus to appear without luck. She would not call to him, for such a God was not one to be angered. Thus, Nalla waited.

And there, in the dark room of her throne, surrounded by her faithful vampires, Ekh-Rus came.

There came a coiling searching voice, as though the vibrations of millions of wings, the chirping of birds and the soft nigh inaudible whispers of children came forth as one voice. One the louder to the whole, and one the quieter echoing through Nalla's mind alone. "You have done well to prepare yourselves."

"And you have done well to produce them."

"Are you prepared to accept the precepts fledglings? To gain an opportunity for real purpose and power?"

Nalla watched with anticipation, knowing that such a day might come, for she had distilled in them a primal urge to aspire ever greater but not so great as to supplant her.

One by one they stepped forward, once mere servants that hoped to please her at every turn, man and woman. Including three of her bath chamber attendants. Nalla had picked well, only the most handsome, the most beautiful would be gifted with the chance to become one as she. In that moment their individual names meant nothing, for they were stripped of that right as fledglings. A new name, a new purpose awaited them now. Would they cease it? Or falter?

Nalla could only watch.

It seemed to be almost a flash through those assembled, if only a moment that convulsed between them. Brief, a bolt of the unearthly green and then it was gone.

However internally much had changed, the voice began to speak again, "The flesh of your bodies will not die easily, far more so than even the rest of your vampiric kin, additionally the healing ability has been enhanced. More importantly however are your souls, they are now secured in their devotion and protected from undue influence. These are my gifts to you few devotees of Nalla. I will warn you a storm will come to you, in your minds of victims claimed, the curse will be broken soon, I have acquired the threads so strewn, connecting the realm of the dead with those of the living. I am the master of the realm of the dead, you will be freed of this unjust cruelty."

It began as a trickle. Nalla felt a new sensation, her hands balled into fists as she saw the last person she murdered- Though Neiya’s gift made them only feel bliss, it was still an overload to feel their memories begin to flood into her mind. Her body went limp as her face and body relaxed into the back of her throne. There were so many, so many she had killed, drained, butchered, murdered- All with Neiya’s love. But had she not been intertwined with Neiya herself and felt that godly bliss? It began to pale in comparison and soon enough she began to feel differently as her memories became ones of panic, horror and shock. She lurched forward, growling as her memories came to a stop upon her first victim, her sister. It played out all over again and she felt her own blade pierce her heart over and over and over and ov-

It ended and Nalla finally breathed. And with a new breath, she began to laugh. No more would they be slaves to their inhibitions. Never again.

She looked upon her fledgling vampires, cold sweat dripping down her forward and knew this was the rebirth of a people.

Her people.

Around the world, a cursed people rejoiced, for their chains had been broken.




A thunder-like sensation greeted Gibbou as she opened her crusted eyes. Her saliva tasted sickly, and there wasn’t enough of it to wet her dry mouth. Even though the night was her element, she could barely see anything around her. She welcomed the darkness, though - sunlight was the last thing she needed now. She dragged her hand down her face, her thumb smudging something sticky at the corner of her mouth. She slowly brought her hand to her nose and gave it a whiff. She groaned.

“... I did it again…” she lamented and rolled over onto her belly to push herself up. Staggering forward and pushing into a wall, she barely stabilised herself to some approximation of upright standing. Unable to handle the taste in her mouth, she snapped her fingers and conjured forth a glass of something akin to what she had had the day before, but altered the taste a little so she wouldn’t, well, do onto the floor what she had done to her shirt. The flavour stung still, but already minutes later, it had begun to dull the aches in her body. She dumped herself in a sofa with a bottle to refill her glass, leaned over to the side to smell the pillows and then recentred herself - stretching herself as tall as possible to avoid the stink. To take her mind off of the chaos that was her dome, she looked down at Galbar below, hoping to catch some sights of the ongoings of mortality.

“Eeeey, the guys in that place took back that thing. Good for them!” she cheered in a voice like single, continuous groan before downing the contents of her glass. As she swallowed, she pondered the situation. ”Actually, why not - let’s celebrate! Drinks for everyone!”

Meanwhile… Down in Fragrance…

“Mommy? What’s that abandoned house?” whispered the small girl while pointing at a small shack in the corner of the marketplace. The mother shook her head slowly and clicked in an upset manner.

“That’s the old flutemaker, sweety. His flutes were just too loud - nobody wanted to buy them.”

Suddenly, there came a flash of lightning, striking the shack in a mighty beam. The mother and child, as well as everyone else in Fragrance, all dove for cover, some screaming, others praying. Then, as soon as the flash had come, it went, and in its place stood a tall, sturdy hut with a large, festive stall out front surrounded by odd-smelling pots. There stood a merchant there, who held aloft two cups that smelled like a punch to the face and said, “Kwut here! Come get yer kwut!”

The mother and child stood there speechless. “By the gods,” whispered the mother and fell to her knees in prayer. The girl stuck her finger in her mouth and looked to the sky.

“Mommy,” she whispered, “what is kwut?”

Gibbou gave her head a scratch. ”Nah, wait, was that it? Oh, pfft…” She slapped her forehead a little too hard. ”Silly Gibby - that’sh the other place! Dumb-dumb… Here ya go - partay!”

That same moment, in Ha-Dûna...

“Little more to the left! No, left, not-- yeah, yeah, there! Now slowly, SLOWLY lower it!” Dûnan glass was of world quality (especially considering they were among the very, very few in the world who actually made glass), and to make window panes for the temples was a task that required the utmost precision. It was bad enough that their workday had been extended long into the night - their groggy hands could barely maneuver the pane properly in the darkness.

Suddenly, a lightning bolt from clear, moonlit sky struck the nearby palisade-in-construction at the edge of the city. The workers dove for cover. When they looked back up, they were shocked to find that It had been replaced by a tall stone wall, on top of which appeared fifty men and women. They were all anywhere from thick to chubby, had massive beards or bushy hair, and all carried pots under their arms. Suddenly one of them shouted, “Want some beer?”

The workers looked at each other in horror, and more and more awoke and came out of their homes to witness the miracle, falling to their knees in prayer. “What in the gods’ names is ‘beer’?” asked the foreman before looking down. “Aaaaw, damn it, lads! You dropped the pane!”

Gibbou snorted to herself. ”Heh, funny… Hey, Orey, I did a thing!”” Raising her glass in the air, she was only met with silence. She waited a second longer for a response. ”Yo, Orey? You here?” Again, the dome was silent as the moon. She shambled to her feet and tripped over various misplaced objects on the floor before she finally made it to the door. Almost forgetting to properly close the inner hatch before opening the outer one, she eventually exited into the vacuum of space, the wine in her glass freezing over instantly. She gave it a frown and looked around with drunken worry.

”Sis? Ya here?” she mumbled and gave her whiskey pop a lick. Searching in a daze, she shambled out of her portal and made her way to her sister’s. Once there, she tripped into the portal and faceplanted into the grass, groaning weakly at the unfairness of the world.

It wasn't long before her sister's voice began to assault her ears, growing louder by the second. "-bbou! Gibbou! I was wondering when you would show up. I'm sorry if I made you worry but It's all wonderful! My realm is secure and you'll never guess who is- Gibbou?" a quick pitter patter of feet and a moment later Oraelia knelt next to Gibbou, shrouding her in darkness as she always did in her realm. Two hands began picking her up around her chest and waist, as Oraelia lifted her up to a sitting position and leaned Gibbou against her. Oraelia's hands began to fix Gibbou’s hair as she began to fawn over her. "Oh Gibbou, are you alright? What happened?"

”My existence…” came a hopeless retort as the corpse-like goddess barely managed to turn her head to the side, one cheek resting heavily on her sister’s bosom. ”I messed up.”

Oraelia began to pour some life into Gibbou as she murmered, "Oh, we've been here before." She placed a kiss on Gibbou's forhead. "What happened that makes you think you messed up Gibbou?"

Gibbou gave a tearful sniff. ”I punched that bitch Neiya in the throat…”

"You… Punched Neiya?" Oraelia said. "How did this happened Gibbou? Are you okay? Are you alright? Did she hurt you?" Oraelia asked with a quickened voice as she began to look at Gibbou all over.

”No, I’m not okay. I’m useless, Orey!” whimpered the blue goddess. ”I only hit her because she let me, and, and, and it wasn’t even in the throat; it was in the stomach! And then I, I lost and went home and had a drink and, and then another and…” She curled up in Oraelia’s lap and droned quietly to herself. ”I need a hug.”

Oraelia obliged, wrapping her arms tight around Gibbou. She then leaned her head on hers and whispered, "Shh, shh. It's okay. You're not useless Gibbou, you stood up to her. That's more then any can say."

”But I loooost!” whined the moon goddess and hiccuped.

"No, you survived and I'll count that as a win in my book." Oraelia cooed. "I'm proud of you either way. I just… I just wish it wasn't so."

Gibbou nuzzled up further against her sister and pouted. ”I just, I just couldn’t accept what she had done to you… I hated her - hate her - but I couldn’t do anything. She’ll just be angry now - angry enough to mess up our stuff, I bet…” She gagged somewhat. ”Ugh, I messed up so bad…”

Oraelia's embrace tightened. She did not respond right away but when she did, it was with a soft voice. "No… I'll go and speak with her. See if we can come to an accord. Before you try and talk me out of it listen Gibbou, I told you a long time ago I would have to confront her eventually. To try and redeem her but I'm not sure if it'll be possible. It's not your fault at all, it's just what she's become. But I have to try, Gibbou. For you, for me, for Lucia and Sanya and every mortal everywhere. She won't attack me, I know this but if it does go bad, I will not hesitate to call for you. "

Gibbou sniffed. ”Uh-huh,” she cooed sadly. After a moment, she looked up at Oraelia with a raised brow. ”Wait, why’re you talking about Lucia? You haven’t mentioned her for millennia. And who’s Sanya?”

"Oh please, it hasn't been that long. Only around… twenty or so years, but we made up. I still feel bad about that though." But she steeled herself and placed a fist into her palm. "Come on, let's get you sobered up the old fashioned way. With a big breakfast!" She eyed Gibbou again. "Hmm, we'll have to clean you up first though. You want to look good for your niece right?" she grinned.

”I don’t want anything to eat…”

Oraelia deflated a little. "Well… You don't have to eat. Mortals do though. If you don't want to see them that's fine. Sanya is Lucia's lover, she's also immortal so they have history together before they ended up together you know. What do you say?"

Gibbou burbled. ”Sure…”

Oraelia gave her a tight squeeze. "Hey, everything will be okay. Would you like me to cure your hangover?"

”You don’t understand, sis… There’s something inside me - deep inside - that cannot be cured.” She stared a thousand yards into nothing, a dark expression on her face. ”But yeah, please do.”

Oraelia began to pour more healing energy into Gibbou. "Oh Gibbou. Overcoming our vices, our pain and our problems makes us stronger for it. You may not see that right now but one day, perhaps you will." she stood, helping Gibbou to her feet. "Now come, let us spend time together as family, so that we might forget our issues for a time."

Gibbou sucked in the deepest breath she had all day and the colour returned to her face. Her body showed remarkable spirit and vitality despite her clothes looking like a mistreated vomit bag. ”Thanks, sis! Before we go, though…” She tucked at her shirt and gave it a reluctant sniff again. ”Uhm.. Where’s your nearest lake?”

Oraelia smiled and took Gibbou's hand. "Come, let me show you."

Freshly cleaned and smelling of morning dew, the dark blue summer dress-dressed moon goddess strolled giddily alongside her sister towards Oraelia’s house, all memory of her utter failure and uselessness as a goddess happily suppressed under many layers of brutally enforced feelings of warmth and joy. She wore her dark glasses to keep the sun out, and her moonlight crown was vastly outshone by the light from all around, making it almost invisible. She stopped in front of the door, turned to her sister and put her hands on her hips. ”So!” she opened, ”where are they?”

”Inside, waiting for me probably. I told them I would be back soon. Come, come.” She cooed, opening the door into the lofty house. They walked through the front doors and down the main corridor until the hallways split, then they went right and not long after they reached a room with a large dining table, full of food and drinks and Lucia, sitting on top of Sanya as they made out.
Oraelia sighed, then knocked on the wall next to her. Lucia froze then looked over at them. ”O-O-Oh you’re back, mom! With… Auntie Gibbou!” Lucia smiled as she got to her feet and walked over to hug Gibbou.

”Woah, hey there!” was all Gibbou managed to say before being tackled by a hug. Not quite knowing what to do, she awkwardly hugged back and patted her on the head. ”Nice to see you, too, uh, squirt!”

Lucia's tattoos squirmed with delight as she let go of Gibbou and looked her up and down. She smiled with a warmth that mirrored her sister's. She then gave another slight squeeze of a hug and went over to her partner. "Gibbou, I'd like you to meet Sanya. She is my love."

Sanya had rocketed up from her seat and spent the time to herself adjusting her loose clothing and straightening out. When Lucia finally turned attention on her, she bowed her upper half stiffly like a soldier on inspection. "It is a great honour to meet you in person, Mother Moon." she managed with practiced but hurried words.

Gibbou eyed her up and down and assumed an equally stiff stance, sticking her arm out like a barb for her to shake. ”N-nice to meet you, too, Sony--Sanya!” She sniffed. ”Sssssssooo… What’s up? Havin’ a party?”

Sanya stared at the hand in brief confusion before straightening out and extending her own hand to meet Gibbou's, and then the other. She grabbed the goddess' hand with both of hers, then knelt to humbly prostrate herself, lifting Gibbou's hand as though it were a sacred relic. Thoroughly enraptured by this awkward ordeal, she left it up to Lucia to answer.

”Ah!” squealed Gibbou before Lucia could even open her mouth and pulled the hand to herself. She stood frozen for a bit, massaging her hand as though it had been burned, before forcing a sheepish giggle. ”Sorry. This feels really, really weird up close.”

"Oh! N..No! I am sorry, Goddess Gibbou. I didn't mean to attack you so." Sanya intoned quickly, looking horrified at the reaction she had caused. "Please forgive my abrasive behavior."

Gibbou closed her eyes and waved her hands. ”Please! Please, don’t, don’t talk to me like that… If you would. You have no idea how weird this is on point blank range. I’m not…” She shifted between the three women. ”I’m not really the kinda goddess you oughta speak like that to… Call me Gibs, Gibby or just, well, Gibbou. No titles or stuff, okay?”

Sanya nodded twice, flustered and uncertain, with a few confused glances towards her partner briefly. "Oh, uhm. Alright. Whatever you wish of me, Gib...s. Gibbou." she intoned briefly, before following it up to avoid the awkward silence. "So… ah, do you live.. on the moon?"

The change of topic immediately brought a fire to Gibbou’s stance, and she gestured a mighty circle with her palm. ”Oh yeah, sure do! It’s pretty cool up there, actually - if ya catch my drift.” She waited just too short with the comedic pause. ”It’s very cold, see. You can come visit, but you’ll need some magic.”

Oraelia clapped her hands and said, "Sit sit, let us talk to our hearts delight now that the… Pleasantaries over! Yeah!" she said, sitting down at the head of the table. Likewise, Lucia grabbed Sanya's hand and guided her back to her seat, whispering words of encouragement and praise as they sat down on the right side of Oraelia.

"Does anyone need anything? A specific food? A drink?" Oraelia asked, looking at them all. Lucia shook her head and grabbed a roll.

”Yeah, I’ll have a strong barley wine, if I could?” said Gibbou and raised her hand.

"That's not a bad idea," Sanya mused, extending an arm around Lucia without thinking. "It's been years since I've had wine."

”Pfft, what you had probably wasn’t wine. More like smelly fruit water or something,” Gibbou mused almost mockingly. ”Here, let’s get you some -real- wine. Make that two cups, sis!”

"Well that wasn't what I…" Oraelia began sheepishly. "I don't even know how to make it, Gibbou." she relented. Lucia just looked happy to be there.

”Oh, I’ll fix it, then,” said the moon goddess and, with the snap of her fingers, conjured forth two cups of a dark brown liquid. She pushed one over to Sanya and lifted her own. ”Cheers for, uh… For the couple!”

Sanya grasped the cup produced for her without much hesitation, offering the smallest of smiles at the quick toast. "To family," she returned.

"Sanya, let me try some? Please?" Lucia asked.

"Oh, of course," Sanya obliged, and offered her cup to Lucia.

Lucia snatched the cup and drank a mouthful. She then handed the cup back to Sanya, her face frowning. She coughed, "How do you drink that, it doesn't taste good at all." she said, taking a swig of water.

Suspicious of Lucia's reaction to this mysterious new drink, Sanya sniffed the cup briefly and then brought it to her lips. Her expression lingered on a thoughtful frown for a few moments, before she lifted the cup for another sip and an ensuing comment. "I don't know, I rather like it. I thought I'd tasted everything over the years. Barley, you said?"

”The finest grain there is - a soldier’s grain,” boasted the moon goddess as though the flavour had banished all over her anxiousness.

Sanya pressed her lips together in brief thought, humming to herself before taking another taste of the mythical new brew. "I wouldn't mind an amphora of this, if you want to leave some here." she eventually managed, leaning forwards to nod at Gibbou with guarded respect. "That is, if that's alright." Sanya eventually conceded and glanced to both her tattooed partner and Oraelia.

Lucia’s hand found its way to Sanya’s shoulder. She grinned, giving her a small nod. ”Only if I can get something a little more… Fruity? Sweet? Fruity and sweet?” she pouted at Gibbou.

Meanwhile, Oraelia’s lips turned into a frown, followed by a half sigh. ”Alcohol, as we both know,” she eyed Gibbou, ”Will make you lose the wits about you. That said, for special occasions, it is… Fine. And if you like, I suppose you can leave some here.” Oraelia then slouched forward and placed her cheek on her palm. ”Just… Be careful is all I ask.”

Lucia piped up again, ”Of course mom, your house, your rules!”

”C’mon, Orey - she’s a few thousand years old now; I think she can make her own decisions.” She conjured forth a tall, thin-necked pitcher of something smelling of peach.

Lucia smelled the pitcher as Oraelia spoke, ”I know that Gibbou.” She spoke with calmness as she looked at Sanya and Lucia again. ”Enjoy yourselves.” She gave a small, reluctant smile.

Lucia gave her a nod as she poured the contents of the pitcher into a cup. She then took a sip, then another, as her lips curled into a smile. ”Now this is good! Thanks Gibbou! Here, here Sanya, try it!” she said, giving her the cup. The sweeter drink was forced into Sanya's hands, and the warrior briefly lifted it to sniff and taste. A brief grimace later, and she handed it back.

"Wonderful." Sanya offered with deadpan tone, before giving Lucia a smug look. "Tastes like my mouth is melting."

Lucia giggled and with a playful jab in Sanya's side she said, "Doesn't it, darling?" Sanya smirked ever so slightly and clicked her cup against Lucia's in an idle toast.

"It does my heart good to see you both so happy. I know I've said it a thousand times already but it's just so wonderful. A truly refreshing sight." Oraelia fawned. "Oh that does remind me, Gibbou, have you found, uhmm, you know, a partner?"

”Partner in what?” asked Gibbou blankly, conjuring forth a bowl of blueberries and popping one into her mouth.

Oraelia scrunched her nose. "Uh… Nevermind. I was thinking of something else. Anywho, Rhiona has caught me up to date on events I missed while I was away. I'm sorry about everything Gibbou. I blame myself for how the druids have acted and as such we've sent Solus to take away that pesky fertility statue. I'm not sure a tool such as that belongs in mortal hands. And soon enough, Lucia and Sanya will be going back to the Highlands to bring about some sort of peace. A storm is brewing, there are too many pieces in play."

Gibbou shrugged. ”They’re mortals - give them anything and they’ll find six ways to misuse it by the end of the day.” She ate another berry. ”It’s not your fault that they went on a rampage looking for food. They were breeding like crazy, and… And…” She paused and tasted her words, looking as though she found them sour. ”... Actually, what I meant to say was - mortals are dumb and do dumb things. It’s not your fault, most importantly!” Sanya breathed a quiet scoff at that, but hurried to hide her expression behind the cup.

"They are right you know." Lucia said, pouring another cup. "They abused your gifts and got hungry for more. Just like they abused me when I visited." she took a drink.

Oraelia leaned forward at her daughters words. "Lucia, what do you mean they abused you when you visited?"

Lucia sighed. "Well like… They wouldn't give me a moment to myself and disrespected me when they went into my room without my permission to pray. It felt so… Wrong. A violation really." she took a large swig and leaned on Sanya. Oraelia looked at her partner with inquisitive eyes, but Sanya’s own gaze was deep into her cup, a dark frown hinted above the drink.

"Lucia… I'm so-"

Lucia cut her off, "Ish fine. Lesh just talk about something elsh.", she slurred her words, taking another drink.

Oraelia gave a slight frown and turned her head back to Gibbou. "How's the other half of the world fairing?"

”Oh, y’know. It’s quiet, mostly,” she replied curtly and shrugged. ”Nothing interesting happening over there - no, siree. Like, sure, some things are happening, maybe, but most things aren’t.”

"I see." Oraelia twirled her fingers. "It seems the only exciting news we have is that mortals can come to our realms. That seems to be about it."

”Yeah, that’s pretty cool, I guess. Again, though, I don’t think they can visit mine - no air and all that, y’know. Would need some kind of protective gear, wouldn’t you, mortals?” She forced an awkward laugh to support her own failure of a joke.

Lucia gave a vague wave and a nod, taking another drink from the pitcher before leaning into Sanya to steady herself. Sanya reflexively put her arm around her shoulder. Lucia began to giggle. "Yeah! Who neeeeds air anyways?"

”I know, right?” Having found support, Gibbou’s giggle grew genuine.

Gibbou's giggling only made Lucia giggle more. She began to play with Sanya's hair as she took another drink. "And why did you make us so squishy?" As if to empathize her point she pressed a finger into Sanya's cheek. Her voice then went lower, "I like your squishy darlin."

Sanya languished in a flustered surprise, offering a terse chuckle as she glanced nervously at the goddesses present. "I'm not that soft. On the uh, mortal… scale."

"She has abssssh." Lucia said, followed by more giggling.

Oraelia in the meantime looked on with a modest sense of disappointment and horror but did not say anything. Sanya, perhaps to her credit, tried her best to steer conversation back towards something less awkward. "... Guilty. I've spent a lot of centuries fighting. Have to stay in shape."

Gibbou suppressed a burp. ”You know fighting?”

"She's the… the besht fighter you've ever sheeeen!" Lucia exclaimed with mirth, pressing herself more and more into Sanya. The dark-haired warrior breathed a light snicker and ran her hand through strands of Lucia's hair.

"I suppose I know fighting. I was put on the path of violence millennia ago, and it's followed me since. Well, until about two decades ago." she eventually explained.

”Huh. You any good?”

Sanya gave the moon goddess a jaded glance. "As good as I've needed to be. I certainly wasn't getting any assistance from my benefactor."


Lucia gripped onto Sanya, "Shhhhhh, we don't talk about heerrr." she said, dipping her head into Sanya's lap, drink sloshing.

Sanya sucked in a breath, smiling down solemnly at Lucia before reaching out to steal away her drink. "The love goddess cursed me to sorrow and anguish." she mused calmly, keeping her eyes on Lucia to keep herself centered.

”Ugh!” groaned Gibbou loudly and threw her hands in the air. ”She -always- does this! Why is she so fuckin’ mean all the time?!” She began to stand up, her balance severely inconvenienced by her alcohol permille. ”I’mma go over there and teach her a lesson!”

All at once, Oraelia stood. "No. You are not. Please sit down Gibbou." she said with a certain sternness unlike her. Gibbou, somewhat taken aback by the shift in tone, sat right back down. With shifty eyes, she mumbled:

”G-gee, sis, I was just jokin’... Chill.”

Oraelia relaxed but did not sit down right away. She held her gaze on Gibbou for a moment or two and when she did sit she put a hand on Gibbou's arm. "I'm sorry Gibbou. I didn't know you were joking." her voice was sheepish.

”Y-yeah… I totally was. I mean, what kind of idiot would pick a fight with that bitch, am I right?” She forced an exaggerated laugh and pointed at herself. ”That’s riiiiiight! This idiot!” Her smile hung on by a thread, her eyes two empty, white voids.

Oraelia tilted her head and glanced at Sanya, giving her a knowing look. Once more Oraelia got up from her chair and embraced Gibbou. ”You are not an idiot, Gibbou. You are my sister and I love you so, so much.” she cooed.

Sanya looked at the two goddesses for a time, shifting forwards to set down both cups of alcohol before leaning back and running her fingers gingerly over Lucia's hair, who had fallen fast asleep. "Anyone who stands against that fiend could never be anything but great in my eyes," she affirmed solemnly. "If it wasn't for Lucia she would have sapped my willpower into oblivion. In the same vein, I wouldn't be who I am if she'd never cursed me. Wouldn't be here."

Gibbou made a quiet raspberry with her tongue, hardly reacting to her sister’s hug. ”I’ve fucked up too many times to be great, kid - if anything, I’ve reached a nice equilib… Equilibree-oom of mediocrity.”

Oraelia pulled away one arm at a time. She said nothing but her eyes gave her away- downcast and sucked of joy.

Sanya shrugged her shoulders idly, watching them yet. "And?" she questioned, willing to let her jaded, calm tone come out with Lucia down for the count. "Life is a constant journey of disappointment and failure. No one is as great as they want to be. At least not among us humans. I doubt I could ever begin to match your grandeur, as a mere mortal. All we can do is try our best, and roll with the punches."

Gibbou sighed. ”Yeah… Maybe… Hey, Sanya - what gave you the will to be a soldier? What was that first spark?”

Sanya shifted her shoulder and flexed a grim expression past her lips. "My tribe and family were hit hard by a rampaging troll. Raiders wiped out what was left. There was nothing in my heart but hate and sorrow, and… she… put me on the path of vengeance. After that, it was all I could be."

Gibbou’s eyes, as though that was even possible, somehow lost a final twinge of life, and she slowly got to her feet. ”I… I need to go.”

"Gibbou?" Oraelia asked, backing up to give her sister space.

She looked back at Sanya, then at Oraelia. ”I need to leave. I… I shouldn’t be here.” She then ran at the door, opened it and escaped into the vast, yellow garden.

"Gibbou…" Oraelia whispered, feeling her leave the realm.

Silence reigned for a time, until Sanya finally mustered the courage to ask; "Did I say something wrong?"

Oraelia turned to Sanya and shook her head but before she could speak, Lucia stirred.

"Thar youuuu are." she cooed, kissing Sanya on the cheek. "Whad I misssh?" she yawned.

Lucia sifted through the contents of the bag, placing and removing the many items she and Sanya had collected over the years. Some were practical, others were not. She just couldn’t make up her mind.

The goodbye had been heartfelt, but after their time staying in her mother’s realm, she could only hope to return and Oraelia knew this. It would not be a goodbye forever. They were connected now, once more. With determination in her eyes, Lucia placed the last of their gear into their sacks and headed out the door.

She took one more look at the place, their home for two decades now. She would miss it, but Oraelia had promised one like it when they departed Galbar again. She could hardly wait! With a giddy smile she sat their bags down and clapped her hands together. The sound of metal rang out. Her mother’s armor was a snug fit and they had grown used to the weight of it. Her hand found its way to the necklaces around her neck. She had to be careful though, for she was powerful now, more than ever before.

A Leaflits flew into her hair, followed by a dozen more. They tickled her all over and as she began to giggle, they flew away in a flock. When they arrived back upon Galbar, Rhiona ushered into the world around them several new creatures that had never existed before. She could see Gens uprooting themselves to bask in the sun and tend to flowers, while the Joyfs were spreading out by the hundreds, off to find those that needed some much needed joy in their lives. A couple had bolted for the two of them when they first stepped through the portal and their mere presence made Lucia feel happy. Sanya was much the same. They would make good companions, but now was not the time for that.

Now was the time for moving on.

”Isn’t that right, Eesis? Nisin?” She cooed over to the basking Leons. Much to her mother’s promise, their transportation was awaiting them. Now, they lounged about waiting for Sanya’s return.

She wasn’t too thrilled about that, the prospect of flying again but Lucia wasn’t going to let anything happen to her. Plus, that meant Sanya would have to hang onto her again and that was just a guilty little pleasure.

Lucia turned to the trees, waiting for her lover. She glanced back at the waiting portal. Another one that waited, for even quicker access to the Highlands. Sanya just needed to get back and they would be on their way. And return she did, breaking through the treeline in silver armor at an idle pace, the sleek black Sorrowsting laid over her shoulder as though it was never missing. Now it seemed different, however. Even from afar the addition of Oraelia's large gem shone and glittered with promise, lending a grandeur to the weapon that had been missing before. She looked ready for war, for better or worse. Sanya moved to join with Lucia and her company without word or delay, though smiled at Lucia when she caught her gaze.

And with that, they mounted Eesis and through the portal they went, into the unknown of war.

That link is expired, here have another!
Terrors in the Night

“Have you heard?”

“Have I heard what, Aeliana?”

“Those humans over the hill that way, the men say they are fighting.”

“The ones who wear white?”


“Why would they be doing that? Gran always said they were peaceful folk, liked to help those in need.”

Aeliana shrugged, hoisting the basket onto her other shoulder as the two walked along the sandy beach. “Many are prone to war, Cassia. Down at the temple, out near the bridge, over the hills. All directions really.”

“We are too.” Cassia said, looking down at the ground as she carried her basket.

“Well, yeah. But we are protected.” Aeliana said..

There was silence between the two for a time as the sun neared midday. Cassia looked over to her friend and noticed how forlorn her stormy eyes had become. Aeliana was one of the prettiest there ever had been within their tribe, well maybe except for some baby girls, but they were still growing up. To see her sad, felt like a crime.

“Hey, we’ll be okay.” Cassia piped up. “Like you said, we are protected. Who would dare attack us?”

Aeliana turned her face to her, long black hair blowing in the breeze. She gave a small nod. “I worry, Cassia. Humans are so… Aggressive. Cattia and her little companions give testament to that.”

Cassia frowned. “I know, but he prefers humans as his playthings. Let them be aggressive for all we should care, let them think that they have to be possessive. Better for our tribe.”

Aeliana straightened her back and eyed Cassia. “He likes us too.”

Cassia nodded with a solemn regard and silence reigned as they neared the village.

Up the rock and sandy path they went. The village itself was on a rocky outcropping that overlooked the warm waters of the sea. It was growing larger by the year and newer buildings were being constructed towards the interior, where the golden grasses touched the sands.

As the two women neared the crude gates, they titled their heads at the sight of Livia and Sabina standing guard. Usually that was regarded as a male job, but the women of the Litus tribe were no pushovers.

“Cassia, Aeliana! Where have you two been?”

“Collecting clams and seaweed. What’s wrong Sabina?” Aeliana asked, letting her basket down to touch the stone. Cassia followed suit as Sabina spoke, “Oh my, you have been gone all day?”

They nodded.

“All the men have gathered for a moot.” Sabina said.

“What? Why? Moots only happen when the white moon is full, why now?”

“Trespassers were caught early in the morning, fighting amongst themselves on our borders. Those that survived were brought back to be questioned. Not long ago, The Great Daemon demanded it. There are…” Sabina looked off into the distance before looking back at the two. “There is talk of war.”

Aeliana and Cassia glanced at each other. “Those the Venator’s captured, who were they?”

“Who do you think?” Sabina asked with sarcasm in her voice.

“Humans, of course.” Livia chimed in.

The Moot place was a large sea cave on the other side of the village. The ancients had first used it for shelter before more careful, crafted ways became the norm. Now, the Moot had never been abandoned but expanded upon, hewn from the stone into something grander. Chairs had been etched into the walls, rows upon rows, lined with furs for comfort and now most were all occupied.

The men of the Litus tribe were of stern stuff and of quick wit, but the normal faces of mirth and laughter had been replaced by grim expressions as most had their eyes upon the humans down in the sands before them. Broken and bloodied, tied and gagged, there remained five of them. They shook with such fear, like whipped dogs knowing not if they had done wrong, only that they had been struck. But none had struck them except their own. What gave them such desperate looks, was what the men of the Litus tribe had learned to avert their gazes from.

There, sat upon the largest chair, at the front of the Moot, sat the Daemon. Wings splayed apart, body sitting back with a fist upon his cheek, looking impassive as always. His ashen skin and white hair were trademarks of his scarred face. The armor of the damned was his clothing and his weapon, a mace of pain.

The Moot was quiet, for the Litus tribe had learned quickly- speak when spoken too and their world would be right.

"Dessus," He spoke at last, the name of his attendant. The man rose from his seat at once. "Tell me again why these… Cowering wretches exist before me."

Dessus rubbed one of his horns and cleared his throat. "They were found in our borders fighting, the Venators captured these ones alive for further questioning. From what they've said so far, we've gathered they are of two factions, fighting amongst each other over beliefs. A sad affair by any means, your magnificence."

The Daemon let out a low rumble from his throat. "They are far from home, are they not? Why come here to my lands?"

"A good question. Shall we find out?" Dessus said, moving over to the humans. He picked a man with ruddy orange hair and took the gag out. He licked his chapped lips.

"Why did you come here, human? What did you seek to gain?" Dessus questioned.

“W-We came ta gather allies for the war. The Sigeran filth found us along ta way. W-We meant no offense, I swear it. I swear upon ta gods!” he stammered.

“Intriguing. You are one of these... Druids then? The white cloaks? Helpers of the land?” Dessus asked, hands folded behind his back.

The man shook his head. “I was an apprentice under Kaer Lehon. They killed her in ta ambush.”

“A tragedy, to be sure.” Dessus put the gag back into the man’s mouth. He began to protest but one look from the Daemon was enough to silence the attempt. Dessus then walked over to another man, with black hair and a clammy disposition. He undid the gag and the man stretched his jaw.

“Speak then.”

He spat in the direction of the first man. Then spoke in a deep voice, “I’ve nothing to say but this; The Druids and their ilk speak no truths, see only evil they want to see and care naught for anyone but their own piety. They’ll do anything to keep their power. Anything.” The red haired man and another glared at the man.

Dessus stepped before him. “We were under the impression the druids existed as one, what do you and your people call themselves then?”

“Sigerans.” He said with calmness.

“Sigerans… Druids…” Dessus began turning to the Daemon. “You see your magnificence, they are fractured, fighting over religion and control.” He shoved the gag back in the man’s mouth and continued, “It is an alarming situation indeed. To have war on our doorsteps, brought about by these druids, these humans! What’s to say they begin to run out of resources, food, water- They will be forced to search far and wide and take what they want in the name of their gods and survival. Think of our women, defiled by these filthy creatures! It cannot be so!”

At this, the moot erupted into loud whispers and shouts of anger and praise. The humans began to squirm, shouting behind their gags in frustration. Several guards came over to subdue them once again as the men of the Litus Tribe continued in their talks.

It was then that the great Daemon stirred and at once the room quieted as he stood. His face became an expression of malice and he gripped his mace in hand as he descended the steps to the sandy floor.

“There will be no aid here, no salvation for the weary and lost, for humans and their ilk.” He growled, coming to a stop before the red haired man. He could not stop shaking, eyes poised on the mace. “Is this not what you were meant to be? Upon your knees, groveling like wretches and cowards. Weak and slaves.” He rose his mace and with one quick strike, caved the man's head in with a sound akin to fruit being thrown at the ground. Someone wretched and began to choke.

The Daemon looked around the Moot and raises his hands. “They came here seeking salvation, to use you for their own ends. Will we let them take what they want? No! We are Litus! Call the chiefs together, gather our supplies and prepare for war! They came seeking aid but they have only sealed their doom! We will conquer them all, drive them out and keep their lands for ourselves! Never again shall we ever think of helping those weaker than us. Now, too war!”

The room erupted into eager shouts and enthusiastic praise. They were no stranger to war, and thought it would take time, a war they would have.

“Feed these ones to the sea.” The Daemon commanded, and it was so.

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