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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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The City of Sin





It was midday in Laurienna. The desert heat was hot, but comfortable to the starry skinned. They bustled about as usual, from bartering crafts, to slaves. Though, the markets were emptier than they had been once. After the coup, the plague and star fall… Laurienna had seen better days.

“Did you hear?” Came the solemn voice of a guard. Two stood watch at the market square, wearing the lowest tier armor and with spears of starlight. The Nebulite that spoke was a ruddy brown starred man and his fellow guardsmen was pitch black with blue stars. A strange pattern, for any Nebulite.

“What now Nefrius?” Replied his disinterested voice. He stared straight ahead, not giving Nefrius the time of day.

“They say Lord Zius is taking half the standing army to the Talmonese. Can you guess why?”

“Let me guess, to sell more concubines for some measly amount of gold?”

“By Ohannkeloi, how’d you know Vas?”

Vas, or Vasallis, turned to Nefrius with a questioning expression, mixed with boredom.

“Call it a well educated guess.” he said sarcastically, before looking back away.

“Oh come on Vas, don’t be like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like… Like you.”

“Like me? Really?”

“Well yeah, you’re always so glum. Maybe change that or something.”

“Nefrius, shut up.”

“Well I don’t mean anything by it, I swear on Orvus, Vas. You used to talk all the time, what happened?”

Vas snapped his head back to Nefrius.

“What happened? Do I really need to explain to you what happened? You’ve got be fucking kidding me Nef. Look around, this city is hemorrhaging Nebulites, our people, for a shiny object! It doesn’t do anything, you can only make jewelry out of it, and yet the damn Nobility, only care for themselves and sell us off. And don’t even get me started on how many of us have died over these last few years. If it’s not one thing, then it’s another, over and over again. There’s talk of the slaves revolting because they no longer fear our whips, we’re growing weak Nef. And weakness could swallow our city up into dust. I fear for the future of Laurienna, so I apologize if I don’t want to talk!” he shouted at the other man, who seemed to shrink a little.

“Sorry… Vas.” came Nef’s small voice after a moment.

Vas sighed, before turning to Nef. “And we stand around, guarding a dying market. Where did it all go wrong?” He finished, kicking a small pebble.

“Well... “ Nef leaned in and whispered, “Probably with the late Queen.”

Vas narrowed his eyes, before looking around to make sure their conversation was just between the two of them. “I spit upon her grave.” he growled silently. “What did she ever do but worsen things? I don’t know how any of us still respect her… But I will admit, don’t you find it odd when she died, the people she associated with the closest were declared rebels?”

Nef seemed to stand up straighter at the suggestion. “Now that I think about it… All were Lords and Ladies of her court, some even from the days upon the Eye. Would her closest allies, perhaps even friends try to overthrow her? And her children… There was a rumor… Someone spoke of five children, in the dead of night, being shipped off to the Talmonese. I thought nothing of it but now… What if… What if those were the other five children?”

Vas stroked his chin and thought a moment. “Where did you hear such a rumor?”

“From a slaver, probably dead now.” Nef shrugged.

“It is odd, don’t you think. A supposed coup to weed out Polyastera’s friends, allies… Her loyalists have you, in the guise of rebels. That would mean… Laurien… She lied.”

Nef looked shocked at the accusation, before suddenly grinning. “Vas… Does it really matter?”

Vas raised an eyebrow.

“The Queen was awful, her loyalists as you call them, were as equally bad. Maybe Laurien did us a good thing. Maybe by getting rid of those kids, Laurien reset the ruler to a more manageable position? Still… That wouldn’t explain why she disappeared, her house destroyed and her kids missing as well.” Nef stretched.

“You might be onto something there, Nef. As for Laurien… I don’t know how to feel about that. Perhaps she tried to rule behind the scenes and was found out? Or run off by something or someone? It’s all just speculation at this point. Still… The city is in the same downward spiral, even if that’s all true. It doesn’t help us.” Vas sighed.

Nef shuffled, leaning back into a shaded wall. “What we need is… I don’t know… someone willing to put the Nobles in their place. To make Laurienna what it always should have been. We need a better king, perhaps something even more than a king. I don’t know… I feel silly even saying this.”

Vas blinked quickly as Nef’s words lingered in his heart. "It's not silly… It makes sense Nef." The two then looked at each other, grins forming on their faces.

Perhaps things would change after all.


The One About Bacon





As the sun set, and the nebulite people found themselves enjoying the music of the Dreamers, another event was transpiring. One of the same joy, with the same merits. For the Vallamir of the Eye had been invited to attend, but had chosen not to. For their reasons were vague and uninspiring, but the truth was known in their hearts. For they had an event already planned, out of sight and out of mind. Though they had grown used to the Nebulites, the Vallamir of the eye remained close together, and thus, used this closeness to celebrate their being.

And now, it was the under the light of the garden, hidden away in the jungle, where they celebrated life and the heritage they shared. The children laughed and played, adults lulled about talking and eating and the stout guards watched vigilantly. For they were a small community( truly, for the adults were far outnumbered by small ones with pointy ears) and the threat that had been shared, though unseen, was still a threat indeed.

Myra stood apart from the festivities, her role that of a guard. This gathering had not been her idea, and she had argued against it, yet the others had been insistent. And although she had been trying to get them to form closer ties with the Nebulites, at the end of the day she still preferred the company of her own species.

Besides, they needed this, she had to concede. One of the gods who created them had died, mere days after his avatar had spoken to them about the possibility of returning them to… not quite their homeland, but a land where they would meet the rest of their kind. Most of them had no intention of going, but nonetheless… for one of their creators to perish so soon after establishing contact, it was a blow.

Then there was Karamir. The first of their kind. He had not stuck around. They had all been present when Arya brought him in, they had all prayed for his survival, and they had all hoped to speak with him after his recovery. Yet it was not to be. He had returned to Kalgrun without meeting them. Did he even know some of his kind resided on the Eye?

So, given the circumstances, she could not blame them for wanting to be alone, or wanting to lose themselves in the festivities. Yet some had to remain alert. Some had to be on guard. Either against predators or the other… creatures… they had heard were now lurking in the woods.

Kalmar dead, Karamir gone, Laurien a traitor, Orvus stripped of his divinity. Their protection now fell to the newly-ascended Arya. Myra considered her a friend, and knew she had everyone’s best interests at heart. Yet despite this reassurance, the recent events had soured Myra’s mood.

With a sigh, she turned her attention away from introspection, and back to her duty: keeping watch. Her job was not just to keep predators away, but to keep the kids in. If children came too close to the edge of the perimeter, Myra would warn them in a sharp voice to go back, and most respected her authority.

Most.

A rustling sound reached Myra’s ears. A quick turn of her head revealed nothing unusual. Well, nothing unusual except for the unusually shaped shrubs that Ælfward usually kept all around his hut. She could swear, his gardening skills kept getting worse year after year… Was that shrub supposed to resemble a person? Myra shook the thoughts out of her head and focused back on her duties.

And the rustling began again, coming from the shrubs. Myra snapped her head toward it and saw as the oddest shrub deflated and fell to the floor and three girls came out running from inside it, snickering.

Until one of them, the pale white-haired one out of the twins, stumbled and looked back at Myra, locking eyes with her for a split moment. In that moment, there was nothing but pure, sheer panic in the girl’s eyes. Egwyn was her name, and she had never run so fast, quickly catching up to her sister and friend and vanishing into the foliage.

“SHE SAW ME, ENGIL-”

And the voices were then dulled by the flora until they faded off.

“Agis!” Myra snapped, and one of the nearby adults who had been enjoying the festivities snapped to attention. “Take my place,” she commanded, before stalking off in pursuit of the foolhardy hooligans. She swatted aside the already-disturbed foliage, clearing a path for herself.

It shouldn’t be her job to keep somebody else’s children in line, yet here she was. Their parents had failed to teach them basic self-preservation, and now it fell to her to round them up. Now, of all times…

She shook her head. No doubt Egwyn had attempted another bizarre scheme, or perhaps Engil was just acting out again. The third girl, Dana, had likely been roped in by one of them. She always had a tendency to go along with what others were doing.

Her sharp eyes could still detect movement, and her keen ears could still pick up traces of their voices. She quickened her pace, breaking out into a run. “Get back here! Now!”

The voices grew louder and louder. Panting for breath, panicked speech. As Vallamir they were quite fast even as children, but they were no match for the likes of Myra.

Still, as Myra jumped over some overgrowth and time seemed to slow down… As she stretched her hand to grasp at Dana’s arm, Myra’s well trained eyes caught sight of the ground shifting beneath the girls’ feet. Something moved across the blades of grass…

Just a hair’s width away from grabbing onto Dana, Myra heard the peculiar sound of plant fibre rope going taut, and saw the girls’ ankles bound by it and pulled up in a split moment. There was a dull thud as Dana’s head hit against a rock as she fell over, and by the time they hung upside down from the tallest visible branch in the primordial tree, her eyes were unfocused and glazed over. She was silent, but the other two, the twins, weren’t.

“Uuugh by Kalmar’s shiny black claws! I told you Myra had this entire area trapped, Egwyn!”

“B-But-!”

“And look! Dana’s all crazy now! Wait, Dana?!” Engil gasped and flailed a little, trying to push Egwyn out from between them but failing to do so.

Egwyn instead tried to keep her flailing to a minimum and spoke in a shaky voice as she pulled her hand away from Dana’s head, covered in blood. “U-Um.”

“What?! Is she okay? Egwyn, speak you dummy!”

Myra’s eyes widened in shock, and she wasn’t sure which was worse: Dana’s head wound, which required immediate attention… or the fact that someone had deliberately made a trap. One that clearly wasn’t intended for an animal.

She came to a stop just before the girls, and in a flash her sword was out, glittering in the moonlight. She swivelled in place, scanning her surroundings for additional threats.

OINK.

Foliage rustled from three different spots. One to the north, one to the east and one to the southeast. Slowly but confidently, three stout, short, ugly, pink things walked out eyeing the three girls while salivating and snorting. Their eyes cast a sharp, dangerous glint, and so did the jagged and crude weapons of pain held firm in their hands.

Myra took a deep breath as the opponents came into view. They were not here to talk, that was clear enough. Although she had spent a decade training, she had always suspected it would be far from the real thing. To make matters worse, there were three of them, and only one of her. If she took them all on at once, she would surely be killed.

So, she didn’t.

She set her gaze northward, brandished her sword, and darted forward.

With a grunt, the piggut hefted a crude axe behind its shoulder, and then swung horizontally at the approaching Mir. Time seemed to slow down once more as Myra ducked underneath the axe’s blade and thrust her sword into the creature’s gut. It was a strange feeling, to slide her weapon into another creature’s flesh. She had done so while hunting, of course, but this was different.

The piggut squealed and dropped the axe. Myra attempted to pull the weapon free, but it was stuck. The piggut’s hands gripped her shoulders, attempting to push her away, yet his wound had made him too weak. She heard footsteps behind her, and knew the other two were nearly on her.

Suddenly, she turned, maneuvering the first piggut in front of the other two. In the same motion, she twisted the blade and yanked it free, a geyser of fresh blood striking her in the stomach, before she kicked the piggut toward its wounded comrades. It sprawled onto its back just before the two, and while one managed to avoid it, the third one tripped.

For now, there was only one foe to deal with. Unphased by the suddenly even odds, the creature rushed forward, and this time launched an overhead downward swing with a brutish hammer. Myra nimbly stepped to the side, the weapon harmlessly embedding itself into the ground.

The piggut pulled his weapon back and readied for another swing. Then, lightning quick, Myra struck. Recalling how her weapon had been stuck in her last victim, Myra chose to slash instead of stab, swinging her blade across the beast’s throat. She was rewarded by another spray of blood as the creature dropped its weapon and fell to the ground.

The remaining piggut rose to its feet. At the sight of a bloodstained Myra standing over the bodies of its fallen comrades, the creature evidently thought better of fighting, and instead turned to flee.

Myra did not let him. The piggut was quick, but Myra was quicker, and she drove her sword through its back, dropping to one knee as it fell to the ground.

It was then that she realized she had been holding her breath for most of the fight. Her breath was heavy, and her heart was beating like a drum. Her clothes and her hands were stained with blood. Fear belatedly flowed throughout her chest, and she felt a sudden urge to vomit. It took time to compose herself, and when she did, she rose on shaky legs and did another survey of the area.

Seeing no further threats, she gazed up at the trap from which the three children dangled.

Egwyn was shaking and wiping her eyes, her breathing heavy and head red; while Engil herself watched in amazement at Myra, stars in her teary eyes as she fist bumped the air. Engil hoisted herself up and tried to fumble around with the rope tied around everyone’s ankles.

“Myra…! I didn’t…” She grunted with effort, “I didn’t know you… Were so amazing! Teach me!”

Myra gawked at the child, who was seemingly unphased by the life-threatening danger they had just been exposed to, and were perhaps still in. She considered going back and getting someone - Agis or Jakri, perhaps - to help get the children down from the tree. But that would mean leaving them unattended, and more creatures might still be in the area. So, she had to find another way.

Her eyes followed the vines which had caught the children’s feet. She immediately saw they formed into a complex series of knots and wrap-arounds up in the tree’s branches. She tried to follow it further, and then saw that they eventually all converged on one thick, strong vine which led back to the ground, tied around a massive rock which had not been there previously.

Somehow, triggering that trap had caused the rock to fall, and its weight served as the force which had lifted the children into the air. She wasn’t entirely sure how the whole thing worked, but logically, cutting that one vine should cause the children to fall.

Such an act would be dangerous, however, because the children would be landing headfirst. One of them was already unconscious, and had a head wound. A sudden fall would surely kill her, without some way to slow it or soften the language.

She gulped. What she was about to do was dangerous, yet she saw little other choice. If she waited, more creatures might appear, and she might not win a second time. Or they might attack the other Vallamir, which meant they needed to be warned immediately, but she could not leave the children unattended to do so.

“Egwyn, Engil,” Myra called up to them. “Try to… try to lean upwards. Hold onto Dana, and protect her head. I’m going to get you down.” Egwyn started sobbing and held onto Dana, then Engil held both of them and together they managed to do as instructed.

“Egwyn, it’s gonna be okay, alright? You know dad knows how to deal with things like this, we’ll just take Dana to him!”

Myra, meanwhile, approached the boulder and took a deep breath. “Get ready,” she said, both to herself and to the trapped trio. “Three… two… one…”

She swung. The vine was strong, and thick. The blade did not cut all the way through, but that was for the best. She had weakened it, and knew it would not hold. She swiftly stepped onto the boulder and grabbed the vine above where she had cut.

When the vine snapped, Myra became the new counterweight, and was lifted upward as the children were lowered. Although she was lighter than the three children combined, her weight was still enough to slow their fall to the point where it would not be severe… And it was a success. As they landed in a heap on the ground, Engil quickly got at the knot and undid it and jumped to Dana’s side, checking her injury while Egwyn got up slowly in her dizziness. Myra returned the sword to its makeshift sheathe on her belt, and then rushed toward them.

“Myra! She doesn’t look good, she’s very pale and…” There was a squishy sound as Engil carefully prodded around the injury, eliciting a wince from the black-haired girl, “And I think uh, her skull’s broken or something… We gotta go back!”

Myra lifted Dana off the ground, held her close, and placed an unbloodied hand over the injury. “Yes, we do,” she said, her tone urgent. “Stay close.” She wanted to ask them what in Kalmar’s name they were thinking, but now was not the time. With the children in tow, she hurried back in the direction she came, going just slow enough that she wouldn’t accidentally trip or leave the twins behind.

It wasn’t difficult to get back, especially with the noises. Squeals and shrieks echoed in the night, growing louder and louder as they went. Myra slowed down, keeping the children close to her. They moved cautiously, afraid to make any sudden noises, fearful of who might be watching them. Myra eventually found herself at the edge of the clearing, the sounds horrible to her ears, like something crunching their food in a grotesque wa- She stopped, and looked upon a gruesome sight, one that made her stomach churn.

Agis was dead, two of the creatures sat, hunched over his body, carving his flesh with their weapons. She tore her eyes away, to see the same thing happening to three others, being butchered and carved up like an animal.

The sight horrified her. They had been her friends. No, her family. Her eyes stung with tears. Rage and grief threatened to overwhelm her. Once again she felt sick, and her legs nearly threatened to give away. She was torn between dropping to her knees and retching, or drawing her sword and rushing to avenge him. Then she remembered where she was and what she was doing.

Her responsibilities were to the living not the dead. The wretches had not noticed her yet, and attracting their attention would only danger those she was trying to protect. The rest of the Vallamir were gone, evidently having decided to flee, and thankfully there were no children among the dead. “L-look away,” she said to the twins, steadying herself and blinking away tears. “Stay close,” she said again. It was too late though, they had seen everything, and Egwyn had gone completely quiet, holding onto Myra’s blouse for dear life. Engil however grabbed the first stick she saw and held it with shaky hands.

They ran along the edge of the clearing, giving the creatures a wide berth. The creatures so preoccupied with their butchery that either they didn’t notice them, or they had but decided it was not worth the effort to pursue.

Once the four made it all the way around, Myra proceeded in the direction she knew the Nebulite village to be in. The dozens of footprints and torn shrubbery indicated the Vallamir had gone the same way. Then she realized some of the pigguts might have done so as well. But if she carried on in a different direction, they could get lost, or stumble into another group. And staying still wasn’t an option…

She gulped. Once more she had to take a risk.

She chose to continue onward.

The sounds of shouts, screams, squeals, and other foul noises were picked up by her ears. There was a battle taking place. She hurried pace and arrived upon another grisly scene. Dozens of the creatures fought against the Nebulites and Mir, striking and clashing crude weapons against stone spears and arrows. Many lay dead or dying at the edge of the town. There was no sight of the other Mir.

Myra could not join the battle; not when she was carrying a child and two more were following her. So instead she resorted to the same tactic. She skirted around the edge of the battlefield, avoiding combat, and the pigguts were too busy with the Nebulites to attempt to stop her. She continuously looked back to make sure the twins were still following her, offering what encouragement she could, and reminding them to focus on her, as she carried on into the village itself.

Eventually the sounds of battle were no more than a background, distant clanging of metal on stone and crackling of fire a reminder of the situation as they came upon a plaza of sorts. Made of carefully carved stone bricks and with a fountain in the middle.

Normally, the plaza would’ve been home to several stalls and merchants peddling goods with each other, but today it was home to dozens and dozens of people, laying on the ground on top of bloody sheets. Cries of pain came from everywhere around Myra and the girls. There were so many wounded and so little people capable of treating them…

“If only Dad was-”

Engil cut herself off as she saw the hunched over figure of her dad, kneeling over one of the wounded people.

“Dad! Daddy!” She screamed suddenly, tearing up and running up to her Dad, who set the bloodied tools he was using beside him on the ground and turned to look at Engil, a tired smile gracing his face. He was sickly pale and had bags under his eyes. Engil immediately launched herself against him and hugged him as tightly as she could, crying into his cotton shirt. It was wet and warm since before she even touched it.

By now Egwyn had walked up to the two and joined in on the embrace, her glazed over eyes slowly coming back to life and growing wet with new tears.

It was a difficult day.

“Daddy… I-I thought you… I thought you were gone…” Egwyn said softly, to which her black-haired dad responded by kissing her forehead and showing her that usual cocky smirk of his, the one that looked like Engil’s.

“Girls, I’m so happy you’re okay… So happy! Your mother is safe, too, she’s gone with others to take the most wounded to a safer place. Now, I-” He coughed up blood, and some of it landed on Egwyn’s cheek. She blinked and wiped it away with her left hand, looked at it and then looked back at her father, now realizing half his shirt was red, and the reason he was pale was because he was bleeding so much from his side.

“... D-Dad?”

He looked at Myra approaching and perked up. In a swift movement he turned back to his current patient, taking his tools and sewing up a big gash on his leg, then applying a strip of fabric tightly against the wound. Then he stood up and rushed over to Myra and began to inspect Dana’s condition.

“Myra, h-how did this happen?! Tell me, has Dana done or said anything at all since she got injured?”

“No,” Myra answered in a swift yet shaky voice, carefully handing the small child over to him. “Those beasts laid some sort of trap. She… she hit her head, and was knocked out.” She looked down at her hands to see that both were coated in blood - one in Vallamir, the other in Piggut. Once again, she gulped. “I don’t know if...”

The girls’ father nodded and grunted, finding an empty sheet to lay the girl on and putting her there in a sitting position with himself right behind her to keep her steady. Immediately he reached for his tools and grabbed the smallest tongs he had, and tried to move everything back to its place in the back of Dana’s head. Every piece of debris he could see was removed swiftly, and every shard of bone and flap of skin was moved around expertly.

It was grim.

He sewed more skin together that day than he ever wanted to, and when he was done with Dana he coughed up more blood and leaned his back against the fountain behind him.

Myra stared at the now-sutured wound, then had to force herself to pull her eyes away. “I need to join the defense,” she said. “Try to get them inside the houses. They’re too exposed out here.”

She pulled out her sword, and with that, she was off, back in the direction from which she came. She arrived back at the fight, the creatures had advanced considerably, but many lay dead or squealing as they died. The Nebulite guards had fared no better. White blood stained the ground and many more lay injured, defended by those who could still stand. It looked grim, it was grim, and Myra prepared to give her all, but then a voice shook the world.

”ENOUGH!”

Before Arya landed in between the two groups, in plain clothes Her arms were stretched out, but her attempt to stop the fighting was not met how she had thought it would be. The creatures advanced, even dared to attack her still. One particularly large one with tusks swung his cleaver at her midsection, only for the weapon to shatter as it touched her skin. Though Myra could not see her face, she knew the Goddess had a look of horror.

With a deafening clap her hands, the world exploded into quiet. The pigguts stopped and stared, before many dropped their weapons, and many more fell to their knees holding their heads. The tusked one in front of her, slowly dropped to his knees and looked at his blood stained hands.

”Go and never come back.” Arya said in an angry voice, before turning her back to them. She had tears running down her face, but she wiped them away as she went to the wounded. The pigguts, heads held low began to leave, dragging their dead and those that no longer had the will to walk into the forest, never to be seen again.

Myra stared in astonishment. The creatures, which had been on the verge of overwhelming the defenders and flooding into the village, were now fleeing. A retreat brought about by nothing more than words. Then the shock faded, and she felt numb.

She stared at the dead, and thought of the wounded back in the village square who might soon join them. Never before had she seen so much death and conflict. Her heart still raced, and tears began to form in her eyes. She lost her grip on the sword, and it clattered to the ground.

Arya looked to her, then at all the other dead and dying and she wept. Her tears staining the ground. She looked up at the Lustrous Garden and slowly lifted her hand to it. A strand of light seemed to shine down upon her, before coalescing into a ball of energy that she then lifted up higher, before crushing in her palm. A wave of beautiful warmth erupted from her palm and rippled out before diseapearing from view. The goddess then collapsed to her knees. All around her, sudden gasps as wounds began to heal and close.

Myra snapped out of her daze, and rushed forward to kneel next to Arya. “Wh-what was that?” she asked, putting a hand on her shoulder.

Arya smiled weakly as she looked at Myra. ”I’m not sure… But I helped them.”

She pulled her hand away, cast a worried glance off in the direction the pigguts had retreated in, then another back toward the village. “There are more wounded in the square… can you help them too?”

”I already did.” Arya said.

Myra blinked. “You mean… Dana… she’ll be alright?”

”Yes… All those hurt who… Held on, Myra.”

She breathed a sigh of relief. “What about those creatures? What if they come back?”

Arya turned her gaze to the forest. ”They will never come back. Their actions… What they’ve done… It will haunt them until the end. I only wish I had done so sooner… Maybe I could have prevented...” her voice faltered.

Myra was silent, still not entirely sure what Arya had done. Wordlessly, she reached forward and put her hand back on the goddess’s shoulder.

”Thank you… Myra. Now could you please go check on those in the square?” she asked.

“I will,” Myra nodded, her resolve returning. She rose to her feet, retrieved her bloodstained sword, and began jogging back to the square where she had left the twins. Arya in the meantime, pulled herself to her feet, and went about making sure her people were safe.




Laurien


&

Bujzell





Before Laurien went back to Li

Laurien flew over the continent of Vakk's creation, passing far and wide of the lands minimalistic features. There was nothing immensely riveting about its features and the life was small an uninteresting. It paled in comparison to the Dragon's Foot and she was about to return when something caught her attention.

A village of sorts.

Had she been wrong in her initial assessment? Was there more than mundane life upon this land? It intrigued her, for Laurien was one to find mortal life to be the single most interesting thing upon Galbar. Who and what would these people be?

She flew closer to take a look.

Huts of rock spotted the stony cove beach, backing up to the jungle. A river cut through the middle. Laurien could feel a presence here, something existing in the negative space, watching from the in between.

As she neared the huts, a small gathering of the local inhabitants gathered about her. Golden skinned, chitinous bipeds without mouths or feet.

One steps forward and asks, “What are you?”

She tilted her head at the beings. She had never seen their kind before. They were strangely alluring, perhaps even beautiful and they had desires.

"I could ask the same of you. But as I am a guest here I shall answer thee. My name is Laurien and I am a traveling god. Now, what might you be?"

“I am Praz, seventh of Got. It is a silly sentence you just spoke. Why say that you could ask me, then imply you will not, then ask?” Praz, the Buzjell asked. Its eyes were full of curiosity and wonder, with perhaps a hint of understanding.

Laurien smirked. "Praz, seventh of Got." she mused. "Why do we do anything? Call it a way of communication. To be straightforward or not to be? Does it matter in the end if we find the answers to our questions?"

Praz’ brow creased. They opened their mouth wide to answer, showing rows upon rows of teeth. “No, it does not, but that is a paltry answer. I think the true answer is that you lost track of what you were saying while saying it.”

The crowd parted, and through the part walked a different Buzjell. There were no adornments to suggest status, but others moved for them. It stepped up to Laurien and looked her directly in the eye. There was curiosity there, with no small amount of sadness. It said nothing, but continued to stare.

She stared at Praz, scowling, before her attention fell on the newcomer. It's closeness did not bother her, in fact, she reached out to touch its face, an action which the newcomer mirrored.

Only, a mouth full of jagged, serrated teeth opened on the other in response to Laurien’s reaching. Whether in anticipation or threat was unknown.

A breath. Short and sharp. A prefix to some words.

”Why are you here? I am… I am not complaining that you are, though,” they said. Their mouth widened, ear to ear. A show of teeth, pointed, flat, serrated.

She gently ran a finger across the beings mouth and said, ”I am here, simply because I stumbled across this place and these people.”

The other bore the touch of the finger for a moment, then snapped at it, teeth closing. Laurien just smiled. This other returned the gesture.

”And what are you and your people called?” she purred.

The other spat out the tip of the finger. ”We are called Bujzell,” the other said. It's eyes were locked on the fingertip. ”You taste bitter.”

”My, that’s the first time anyone’s told me that.” she giggled, letting her hand drop to her side. ”Bujzell, is it? And who created your kind?”

”Yes, Bujzell, and one Bujzii. We know the god that created us has seven arms and no face, but not their name.”

”Seven arms and no face… Strange. I’ve probably heard of them by their name, but not by their description. And what exactly is the difference between a Bujzell, and a Bujzii?” she asked, putting a hand upon her chin in waiting.

The other looked to the crowd behind them. In particular, one who had no chitin. They were hunched over, slouched, trying to not take up eye space. ”I'm surprised you, a god, didn't notice before. Too busy with me, I suppose.”

After looking upon the strange creature, Laurien looked back at the golden Buzjell. She tilted her head, her face suddenly expressionless. ”Too busy, I suppose. Now, what do they call you?”

”Who are ‘they’?” the other asked.

”The Bujzell? That Bujzii?” she said, her tone flat.

”Mother, Father, Grandmother, Grandfather, mostly. You may call me that, but it would be a lie,” the other said, slowly.

”I see. Then what would I call you so that it wouldn’t be a lie?”

The other thought for a second, a wistful expression coming over their face. ”You may call me… Mastress Zisqe of the Bujzell.”

Laurien raised an eyebrow. ”Very well… Mastress Zisqe of the Bujzell. I am Laurien, Demigoddess of Desire. It is a pleasure to meet you.” she said, giving a small bow.

”Yes, I heard you before. It is good to hear from yourself,” Zisqe says. They watch Laurien bow with confusion. ”What is this? Why are you bending over?”

She rose and said, ”It is a greeting, one that portrays respect between two idividuals.”

”Oh… why?” Zisqe said simply.

She looked up into the sky for a moment before saying, ”I’ve been taught that mortals, such as yourselves, should bow to those that are divine. Why? Because the gods believe themselves to be the pinnacle authorities of this world, and they expect complete fealty, simply because they were the ones who created everything you see around you. You owe them everything for your existence.”

”Right,” Zisqe responded. They looked to the other Bujzell, then back to Laurien. ”Well I don't know you, so I can't respect you. How about we go down to the beach and talk, away from my people?”

”As you wish.” she said slyly.

Zisqe turned and walked down towards the water, where it sat. The waves lapped up around their legs, pulling sand out with them. Laurien walked up the beach a ways, just to where her feet touched the water, and sat down. She curled herself into a ball and said, ”So, what did you want to talk about?”

”What we were before, I was just tired of standing,” Zisqe said, off handedly. ”You're a Demigoddess. Does this mean a god created you, too?”

”Yes… I was created in an age long since passed. It feels like a lifetime ago… The god who created me, my father, is Orvus. The god of Desolation and Soul Decay. He told me many things… And then one day, I tried to kill him. I became a demigod, ten years later.” she said quietly.

Zisqe's eyes widened. ”One ca-,” they shook their head. ”Of course it feels like a lifetime ago. It is, after all,” they said with a chuckle.

”I lied before, I do know the old name of my god. A god called Vakk told me it was ‘Eurysthenes’,”

Laurien looked up at Zisqe. "Ah, that sounds about right. Eurysthenes is the God of illusions I believe. At least it was when the gods came here." she looked at the sand. "One can become divine of course… But the gods might punish you for it. They are a cruel bunch." she mused. "Is that what you desire?"

Zisqe shook their head. ”No… no I think not. That would not do,” they said, slowly at first, but surely. They sat forward, elbows on knees, head on hands, then looked at Laurien. ”Would you not know, anyway? You're a Demigoddess of Desire… surely,”

Gingerly she picked up some sand in her hand and showed it to Zisqe. "These are your desires." she said before slowly dumbing them back onto the beach. "You have too many, like this sand, some small and undefined and others large." she said as a rock fell from her palm and joined in infinity.

"Indecision, it plagues the soul. Some desires you don't even know you want. Others, at the cusp of your many tongues. But you are correct about one thing, you have no desire to become a God, only to live longer than one." she leaned back, using her arms to prop herself up as she stretched out. "It's intriguing that you want me, a stranger as you say, and one who has not earned your respect. Strange indeed, the desires of mortals, so different from one another in appearance and mind but altogether the same." she purred again.

Zisqe twisted onto their side to look Laurien in the eye. ”And it is an - intriguing, you said? - desire. The other Bujzell are all my children, I have not encountered this before,” they said, giving Laurien a long look, before turning to look back at the sea. ”But, I know one thing about it so far. I do not need to respect those who I see like this. Maybe it will come in time.”

"The heart wants what the heart wants. Just know that there are other gods who would be offended by such a breach of their supposed manners. I don't care, mind you. You are far too fascinating to be offended by." she sat up on her knees and looked at Zisqe again, her eyes inviting. "What will you do now?" she whispered.

Zisqe looked Laurien up and down. Every bit, muscle and curve. Her kneeling, the hot air of her whisper. It stood, looking down. ”Well, that depends. How fascinating am I?”

She nodded, her smile widening. "Very. You wish to do what most cannot an admirable quality. Never, ever, repress that which you want most in life. It would be so dull."

Zisqe smiled a faint smile. They walked a few circles around Laurien, before pausing behind her. ”Sage advice. Laurien, I would like it if you helped me realise what I want most in this moment, right now. Stay on your knees.” Zisqe said, reaching into the basket on the beach. They pulled out some rope.

The Demigoddess smiled devilishly.






Arya


&

DREAMERS





It would never be a sight one could adjust to - the waves upon waves of Nebulites coming out of the woods to settle on the beach. Dreamer performers typically didn’t have stage fright, but then again, crowds of this size had never been witnessed before. Sheepish tuning of instruments became deafened by the growing host of starry-skinned giants, and the singers wondered for a moment if they would even be heard at all.

General Ming scanned the bright crowd from the city ramparts, a hand resting grimly on the pommel of her sword. Beside her, Wenbo gave a silenced cough. “General,” he added after.

“My lord,” Ming replied in greeting. A pause followed.

“Will there be issues, you think?” Wenbo asked, a pinch of worry trickling into his voice. Ming frowned.

“It’s hard to say. Never before have I seen a number of people like this in one place. The lady Arya assured me that they would be civil, but…”

Wenbo looked at her sideways. “But?”

“... But nothing is certain, my lord. My guards will keep our people as safe as they can - it should be easier considering the children have been put in bed.”

“A very sound plan, by the way. Imagine keeping an eye on the toddlers in -that-!”

Ming cringed at the thought. “Please don’t make me think of it, my lord.”

The crowds seemed to slow down in front of the band. They were no doubt nearly fully accounted for. The celebrations could begin any moment. The general turned and gave Wenbo a bow. “I will give our guards one more run-through of the plan before we begin, my lord. Good luck.”

“And to you, general,” Wenbo responded before Ming went back down from the ramparts. He remained there for a moment longer, soaking in every detail of the star-people. They were fascinating, truly - to look so much like the heavens above, yet to also be a living, breathing creature; they could also fly, as demonstrated by a number of those who couldn’t get a proper spot. The dreamer lord prayed a silent prayer to Moksha above before he began making his way down to the beach.




“Arya? Arya?” Wenbo called. He stood in front of the band players and singers, all of whom were now soaked with nervous sweat. The lord eyed the front of the crowd, grumpily reminding himself to bring Babble along should he face a foreign crowd again.

The tall demigoddess appeared not long after he called for her. Now she wore a familiar dress of purple swirls and stars. Her hair done up in a bun with two strands falling down either side of her face. She smiled excitedly at Wenbo as she approached.

"Hello again!" she said walking over to him.

Wenbo sighed in relief and stepped over to meet her. “Oh, there you are. Fantastic. Has everyone arrived, then?”

She nodded gleefully. "Indeed they have, but do tell, where is my dear sister?" Arya asked, looking around.

“Ai? She was just here, I could’ve sworn--”

“Arya!” came a gentle, joyous voice and out of the corner of their eyes, Ai approached with a wide grin. She wore hanfu robes of red and her hair was wrapped in a disk on the back of her head. She held her arms out in a greeting embrace. “My sister, how’ve you been?”

"Ai!" Arya exclaimed happily. She then returned her embrace warmly and let out a little sigh. "I'm better now." she purred. "How are you?" she asked pulling away but still holding onto Ai.

“Oh, you know how it is - grandchildren, other children and manchildren - all a woman’s responsibility.”

Wenbo blinked. “H-hey, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, dear.”

Arya giggled again and smiled warmly at the two of them. "This brings back so many fond memories. Ah, those were simpler times." she mused. She then turned to Wenbo, "When will the performance begin?"

“Whenever everyone’s ready, I suppose,” Wenbo mumbled and gave Ai a shrug. She nodded back.

“Well, I vote for starting, then.”

Arya also nodded. "Oh I'm so excited! I'll go tell everyone to keep quiet!" she said before flying off.

Wenbo smacked his lips wordlessly in thought. Ai poked his shoulder and his eyes slowly shifted to her. “Shall I tell them to start?” she asked. After a moment, Wenbo nodded.

“I’ll have Ming keep a tight watch. Some of these look a little…” He hummed. “Anyway, you go on ahead.”

Ai nodded and went off to the band. After a brief second, Wenbo followed suit.




In lieu of a welcoming announcement, the Dreamer lord instead greeted everyone with a gentle whistle of his flute. The language barrier was thick, but music was a universal joy, he reasoned. The other players followed suit, and soon a neat little warm-up tune was playing. It was soft and gentle to the the ear, flutes, drums and harps coming together to form a neat little tune.

The nebulite host, which sat upon the beach and floated in the air, stared with curious eyes and a mix of expressions ranging from awe to surprise. Many whispered amongst themselves but most were content to just listen and experience what the strangers had brought.

Arya sat amongst the children, who laughed and giggled while remaining as quiet as they could be. Her own expression was thoughtful and here eyes were shut as she hummed along.

Feeling confident with the mood, the band looked upon one another with relief. The flutes and harps quieted and the men took the centre stage. For a moment, there was silence. Then, like hooves of tree-eaters, hands started to hammer the drums in with a step-like beat. The twangs of a two-stringed guitar quickly followed. The beat was joyous and lively, and was soon accompanied by throat-singing vocalists beating tambourines with small copper bells on them. The throat-singing was high pitched at first, then one of the singers broke into a flute-like whistle that was almost unnatural to the ear, considering he didn’t actually play a flute.

Arya began to clap in praise, followed by the children and then the surrounding Nebulites as they listened with wide eyes to the strange throat singing. Arya soon stopped clapping but most of the other Nebulites lacked the social cue to follow suite so the Demigoddess stood up quickly and turned around, using her hands to settle the crowd back to silence as the Dreamers continued.

In the midst of a particularly high note, a scream followed, sending an audible gap through the crowd as people turned to look at what caused the commotion. Arya stood up and her eyes fell upon a bloodied nebulite, his white blood flowing from fresh wounds. The music immediately stopped and multiple singers gasped in horror.

Arya quickly flew over to him, with supernatural speed, catching him before he could fall.

"My goddess… They came…" his breath raspy before his eyes shut. She looked at his back, finding a large crude gash upon his skin. Nebulites gathered around her as they watched. She dropped the man softly upon the sands and stood up.

"Knights! To arms!" She shouted, and several nebulites broke from the crowd, rushing back into the forest. Arya then issued several other commands before floating back to Wenbo and the Dreamers, her face sad.

"It's … it's not safe here for you." she whispered, head low.

Wenbo pocketed his flute. “W-what do you mean? Who’s coming?”

"Creatures of cruelty. Fighters and flesh eaters. I will not have your people die by staying." she said.

Wenbo swallowed and the band players already hastened to pack up their equipment. Ai came over and took Arya by the hand, squeezing it worriedly. “Will you be alright, Arya? Promise me you and your people will be alright.”

Arya returned the squeeze, looking to Ai. ”Most have been trained how to defend themselves, some have been trained how to protect. Do not worry for us. I… I love the both of you, with all my heart. This will… I hope, not be the last time I see you upon this earth.” she said, tears welling up in her eyes.

Wenbo and Ai looked at one another. “H-hey, it’s… It’s not like we’re going anywhere. We’ll keep in touch, alright? Just make sure you live through this,” Wenbo said and grabbed her hand as well.

”O-Of course.” she sniffled. ”I’m just being sentimental. Don’t hesitate to pray to me, I’ll answer. Anytime.”

They embraced each other and soon, the Dreamers were once more back in their city and Chuanwang swam off to the distant seas. But Arya had not waited to watch them leave, instead, she was already gone- Back into the jungle. Back into danger.


Egwyn





The pure white hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and goosebumps covered her entire skin as she blinked her wide eyes and stroked her palm, which didn’t hurt at all. Her eyes shifted from the mushroom, to the excited gaze of Engil, her “twin” sister, and finally to Doron, their childhood friend with whom they had gone on most of their adventures with.

Finally, Egwyn looked back at the mushroom and sighed, “You guys always bring some crazy stuff back here, how am I ever gonna finish the last project we had when you always bring me cool things that get me distracted? Seriously, a zappy mushroom? Where do you even find this stuff?” And truly, it was ridiculous. Every few days her sister and Doron would bring her something completely nuts and awesome, awesome enough to get her to abandon project after project in order to sate both her and their curiosities.

The white-haired, gray-eyed, pale-skinned, soft-looking Valthumir girl sighed and smiled, “Okay, so what do you want me to do with this, guys?”

“Power it up! We’re gunna use it to shock those bullies who took your fishy thingy.” Doron exclaimed proudly.

Egwyn perked up. “R-Really?! Yeah, yeah let’s do that! I have just the thing! Sorcery, of the highest caliber! Wait here a second,” She said, cutting herself off and speeding upstairs towards her bedroom.

Engil turned to Doron and grinned, “Whaddaya think she’s gonna bring down? Maybe something cool like food for mushrooms or something?”

Doron shrugged. “Whatever it is, it’s gunna work!” he said with glee.

“Eek!” There was a sound like a rockslide, and several dozen things fell and clattered loudly on the floor just above them. After a few seconds, Egwyn shouted, “I’m okay!”

“... Or maybe she’s just gonna mess up our bedroom.” Engil snickered.

Seconds later, hurried steps echoed through the modest home and Egwyn carefuly stepped down the stairs with a heavy, unwieldy ball of a… Brownish material.

Once she went down the last stair she grunted and dragged her feet all the way to the other two, before sitting down cross legged in front of them and putting the ball between her legs. For a moment, she looked up at them with a glint in her eye. “Watch this, I had been keeping it a secret cause mom would throw this away if she saw it!”

And so she took a deep breath, concentrated and… Absolutely went to town rubbing the smooth ball with the palms of her hands. She rubbed and rubbed until she was wheezing and looked pale, and only then did she stop and immediately press her finger against Doron’s shin, giving him a tiny shock.

Doron jumped and then began to laugh. “How’d you do that without the mushroom!” he asked.

Egwyn gasped for breath, a feeling of relief washing over her body upon hearing Doron’s reaction. “I don’t… know… I cooked.... This mud and… This came out…” She said between heavy panting, pointing at the ball.

“Gwyn, you. Are. A. GENIUS?!” Engil exclaimed quickly snatching the ball from her sister and beginning to rub it with a passion.

Doron flashed Egwyn a smile and joined Engil, cheering her on to rub the ball harder.

“Yaaaaah!” Engil hummed and groaned at the same time, her shoulder length hair suddenly beginning to spike and float. “C’moon!”

Doron began to laugh at the sight of Engil’s hair. “Woah! Your hair looks likes the rocks in the cave!”

“And…!” Engil grunted and dropped the ball on the floor, then moved her hands close to the mushroom. Tiny arcs of energy connected her palms to the mushroom, and the latter grew bright and colourful. “Bam! Wapam!” Engil smirked and wiped some sweat off her brow, then leaned on Doron’s shoulder.

“Wanna try it to see if its zaps are stronger now, Doron? Bet you’re scared, huh?”

“Come on, don’t tease him like that, Sis.” Egwyn said with some pity toward Doron.

“Ah, whatever,” Engil shrugged.

“N-No, go ahead Engil. I’m ready.” Doron said nervously.

Engil nodded and chuckled “I’m gonna get you back for zapping me before, trust me.” And so the wild girl grabbed the mushroom by the stalk and slowly brought it up against Doron’s arm. It made his hairs stand on end. It was amazing. Just like that, Engil touched the shroom against Doron’s skin.

ZAAAAAAP!

He howled in surprise, and then pain as he jumped back and away from Engil. “Ow Engi!” he said, rubbing his arm. “That was powerful!” he gritted his teeth, as black tears began to well up in his eyes.

“Hehe! Gotcha!” Engil giggled. Egwyn on the other hand hurried to Doron and checked his arm with a worried frown on her face.

“A-Are you okay, Doron?” The frailest of the twins asked him.

He wiped away his tears with a free hand and said, “Y-Yeah… It just stung a little.”

“Aw come on, Gwynnie, Doron can take much more than that mushroom can deal out! Now, if it had been a centipede instead…” Engil snickered and Egwyn bumped her side with an elbow, “Ow!”

“Don’t be a meanie, Sis. Doron,” Egwyn turned to the boy again, this time with a spark in her eyes, “H-How did it feel? The zap? It looked really, really powerful!”

Doron seemed to deflate at the mention of centipedes, but puffed out his chest again when Egwyn asked how it hurt. “I felt it up my entire arm!” he said proudly.

“Wow…!” Egwyn gasped, then nodded and grinned, “Yep! This will be perfect, this is how we get back at those bullies!”

“I can’t wait to see the look on their faces.” Doron said giddily.

“Ok, ok, c’mon! Let’s look for those guys and scare them outta their pants, hehe.” Engil said, carefully adjusting her grip on the mushroom before grabbing egwyn by the wrist and walking out of the home.

And so the trio did, leaving the Vallamir houses behind as they walked towards the Marble Star. The trip was full of excited giggles and slight nervousness, but nothing that couldn’t be resolved. Doron walked in between the girls, as they made their way, eventually reaching the outskirts of the town. There, in a well situated bush, they searched for Egwyn’s thieves. It did not take them long to see the small band of Nebulite kids, varying in ages and heights, led by a bronze colored boy by the name of Salsonus, or Sal for short. He was a real jerk, and he didn’t mesh well with Doron. This would be a fine time for revenge.

“Okay, okay.” Doron said, turning to the two. “Here’s what we do. I’ll go up and distract him, and Engil can sneak up and shock him. Then, Egwyn can steal her thing back, okay?”

"Y-Yes!" Egwyn said in a jittery voice, and after Engil gave her a look, the black haired twin sister spoke.

"They're using the thing in the creek-" Before Engil could finish her sentence, however, a ruckus started in Sal's group.

"ACK! IT CAUGHT, SAL! WADDOIDO?" a short kid screamed.

"WHAT? Don't be dumb Bil, pull the thing out!" Someone shouted back from among the bushes, and Sal himself grunted and ran to the short kids' side, helping him pull the thing (net) out of the creek.

"Why is this dang fish so strong?! Help us you idiots!" Sal yelled, and the other kids ran up to sal and the short kid. In total five kids were pulling on the net and after a particularly mighty pull, they got it out.

The net was empty, and ripped.

"Gee!" sighed the short kid as he fell backward onto his bum and against someone else's shins.

Sal kept silent, his hand balled up into fists.

"I guess we couldn't expect anything else from that Egg girl, guys. Everything she makes ends up breaking."

Egwyn flinched back and shrunk a little at the sound of Sal’s voice and without hesitation, Doron lept from the bush with hands balled into fists as he approached the kids.

“You take that back! Everything Egwyn makes is wonderful! It’s not her fault you starlings don’t know how to use it!” He shouted angrily.

Sal turned and glared at Doron, “Well boys, look who we have here! Dork, the guy that can only be friends with the pointy ear freaks!” Sal looked down at Doron, scoffing, “What, did the freaky witch girl send you on an errand? Maybe she promised you a real dad if you did her work for her?” Sal shrugged and spit at the ground in front of Doron.

With a roar, Doron tackled Sal, sending the two into the creek as they fought each other. The other children began to scream in delight as they cheered on Sal.

“Beat him up Sal!” “Dork, dork, dork!” “Make him see stars!"

Sal was bigger then Doron, taller too but reach wasn't everything. They grappled with one another in the shallower part of the creek, punching when they could and several times connecting. Doron had a stout build but Sal's blows were heavy.

As the water splashed, Doron saw an opening and uppercut Sal, sending the boy stumbling backwards. In his momentary confusion, Doron tackled him again but Sal did not go down. Instead, he began to wail on Doron's back, prompting the golden haired boy to let him go or face more wrath. He managed to get away and both boys looked at each other as the kids grew silent with anticipation. Both held an offensive stance, poised to strike.

Sal scowled and slowly, he raised a hand to wipe at his bloodied lip. Then, a moment later, he dropped his stance. “Watch your back, Dor-”

Suddenly, a shape jumped down from above right behind Sal. “Huh-” The larger boy gasped as he turned around. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a wildly smirking Engil, and before he could jump back, he felt a wet, cold, bulbous thing press against his back.

“H-Hah! Guess she wants t-aaaAAAHHHHH!” His speech turned into a scream of surprise and agony, and soon arcs of pure energy formed around Sal’s body. His hair stood on end, his body darkened slightly, and there was the smell of burned skin.

“H-Hey, that’s cheating! Cheaters! Let’s get them, guys!” One of Sal’s friends suddenly yelled, and just like that everyone began to close in on Doron and Engil, having thrown Egwyn’s net away to focus on the fight.

And just as Sal fell on his side onto the shallow creek, eyes rolled back and drool coming out of his mouth, another voice piped up.

Egwyn’s soft, usually hesitant voice. “I have it! Run!” She shouted over the ruckus made by the other boys, lifting up her torn net to the sky so Doron and Engil saw it, and immediately ran off into the foliage.

Engil’s smirk turned into a shiny-eyed smile, and she turned to look at the bruised Doron, “Alright Dork, hope you’re not too beat up to keep up!” But unlike before, Engil swiftly jumped over the squirming Sal and grabbed Doron’s arm and pulled him into a run.

All of Sal’s little goons were confused, some looking at where Egwyn was a moment ago, others at Sal as he coughed and propped himself up on an arm, and others at Doron and Engil’s back as they parted into the forest.

After the three kids were long gone, one of the boys approached Sal, who was panting and had just sat up and put his hand on his shoulder. “Y-You ok, Sal?”

Sal sniffled and shrugged, “Y-Yeah! This is nothing! We will get them back, ok?! But first, uh… Anyone got some Firestem ointment?”




Engil and Doron broke the treeline to come upon their hideout. A large, hollow tree that they had arranged and cleaned to be a suitable place to meet and play.

Engil let go of Doron’s arm and stretched, letting out a little pleased mewl. “Well that went great!” She said with a chuckle, walking up to the tree and leaning against one of the sides of its entrance. “You ok? Sal beat you up real bad… Though that was the perfect distraction for me to sneak around.”

Doron turned away from Engil and growled. “It wasn’t meant to be a distraction.”

“Huh? Seriously?” Engil raised a thick eyebrow and tilted her head. “I mean… You rushed into a group of kids and tried to beat up the massive Sal for my sister?”

“Yes!” He said angrily, before his face flushed in bronze and he blinked, looking away. “I mean, I did it because… Because he was… mean.”

“Eeeh…” Engil’s smirk grew wider bit by bit, but before she could speak, Egwyn arrived. She was happily holding onto her bundled up net and walked past the two already there and sat down inside the hollow tree after tossing her net to the side.

“W-Wow, we really showed them!” She said breathily before blushing and scratching her cheek sheepishly, “T-Thank you Doron for defending me, by the way. Sal always picks on me…” After that, Egwyn looked at both Engil and Doron and tilted her head curiously,

“Huh, why are you smirking so widely, Engil?”

Doron seemed to light up when Egywn praised him, but then he crossed his arms. “You’re welcome.” he said, looking outside.

A short silence fell upon the group, until Egwyn looked down and shook her head, “Okay, I have to fix this net and then we’ll go catch some fishies. I reaaally want to catch those fishes with orange backs. What do you think they taste like, Doron?”

Doron didn’t say anything at first, before mumbling back, “Fish… Probably.”

Egwyn pursed her lips, “... Yeah, sorry. That was a dumb question, wasn’t it?”

As Egwyn searched through a small box for her tools, Engil took the opportunity to slap Doron’s arm and roll her eyes at him.

As Doron turned to protest, outside up in the Heavens, the stars began to fall and with it, everything would change.



Laurien


&






She stayed in Laurienna for a day before the curse caught up to her, this time in the form of a fox. It was easily snuffed out, but she did not want to know how challenging the creatures of fire would become and thus she left her city. Her loyal followers would ensure that the city would run as it always did and they would keep on indulging themselves in her power, becoming twisted as it took root. She was excited to see what their progress would look like.

With nothing else on her mind but staying quiet, she skirted off the desert and into the jungle of the Nanhe, taking careful note to be cautious as she approached the river. There was no telling where his lordship would be, and no doubt be now, everyone probably knew what she had done and Shengshi would no longer be so kind. Thus she traveled far over the Dragon's Foot, and away from the majority of his influence.

When she came to a boiling strait she was momentarily completed at the unique environment it had created. She explored it, stopping now and then to admire the kites(which she didn't actually know as kites but more like strange birds) and their many colors, before making her way on the land that the strait guarded. She knew not what was so strange with the land but knew the lack of diversity was noticeable. It felt as if it needed more, and her father's essence, faint as it was, was everywhere. It didn't take long before she found a clump of Orvium, the black metal was embedded in gray rock surrounded by newer dirt. Had chunks of the moon fallen here?

Aaldir approached the rock and said, "Why are we here Laurien? All we do is travel, we don't kill anything anymore and I hunger."

"We travel because you and I are cursed. Or did you forget about that? Honestly I don't even know why you feel like you are hungry. You're a sword, swords shouldn't get hungry." Laurien huffed, sitting down on a rock as she leaned forward, her arms resting underneath her chin as she gazed at an empty expanse of land.

"You were the one who let me taste ichor… and it was delicious." The sword said, floating beside her in silent vigil.

"Yes… I suppose it was me and you greedily lapped it up not even minutes after you were created. Your first taste of blood and now nothing else compares. I apologize." she said absentmindedly.

"Mhmm. Come, give me buy a little taste and make it all better." Aaldir said, floating closer to her.

Laurien turned her full attention to the sword and let out a sigh. "Like I've told you a thousand times already, the answer is still no."

The sword grumbled and the silence returned.

”And why is the answer no?” asked many voices from behind Laurien, none of which voiced any true curiosity over the subject.

She straightened her back at the sound of the voices and turned around as Aaldir entered her hands, hungering silently.

A tall, white figure stood behind her looking down upon her blackened form with its featureless form before it stepped back from its uncomfortable closeness. There were no others from which the voices could have come from as there was only the one being, unless there were more beings under the robes. It’s arms were folded behind its back as it reoriented its head to look past Laurien as it seemed to lose interest.

”What has brought you to Pāṟa?” the voices asked.

Laurien scrutinized the figure for a moment, lowering Aaldir as she didn't feel threatened. Then she spoke, "Pāṟa? Is that what they call this lonely place…" she tilted her head at the being. "Nothing's brought me here, save the wind."

”A traveler of nothing then,” the being commented before finally moving its head to meet Laurien’s gaze. ”And who might you be, traveler?” it asked with a slight curiosity.

She pursed her lips and thought a moment. She couldn't see what it's desires were, and that meant the being was of divine origin or shielded enough to escape her grasp. A God perhaps? But which one? She would have to be careful here. If it knew her name, she had to be ready.

Laurien suddenly smiled at the being. "My name is Laurien. Who might you be?" she asked.

[color=98168]”I am Vakk, Lord of Speech, and creator of the continent you stand upon,”[/color] it answered simply. It’s faceless head split as a mouth erupted to mimic Laurien’s sudden smile. The god began to step around Laurien, circling her as it seemed to study her. Her own smile did not waver.

”Now, where do you come from, Laurien?” Vakk asked as it evaluated, continuing to circle her as the many voices spoke.

Vakk. That was an old name. One Orvus had warned her about. She raised her guard slightly and said, "The Dragon's Foot, my Lord." she let herself be studied and only looked at Vakk when he was in front of her. His form was hardly unnerving, for she was used to such things. They no longer frightened her.

”Across the strait? Not many have quite the resolve to pass through such heat… not by mortal means, that is,” Vakk stated, stopping behind her. Its shadow loomed over her as it stepped towards her, arms still folded behind its back as indicated by the shadow. There was a moment of silence between the two before Vakk asked another question, ”Now, indulge me, what business does a spawn of Orvus have upon these lands?”

”Wasn’t that bad, I just flew.” she winked. ”As for this spawn of Orvus… Well, I’m afraid my answer is much the same. I travel, an unfortunate side effect of a curse.” she said.

”A curse?” Vakk asked with a clear interest, ”And what did you do to warrant such a curse?”

”Well, depending upon who you ask, I did something very, very bad.” she said, amused. ”Do you have any strong, particular love of your siblings? How would you react if, let’s say, a mortal attempted to kill a god?” she smirked.

”I care little for the other gods. They did kill me after all. If you attempted to kill a god then I would react with, perhaps, a modicum of pride,” Vakk answered, a light chuckle coming from its form before finally moving its arms to its sides. It seemed to be slightly more at ease as it took a step away from Laurien.

”You look lively, for one supposedly dead.” she giggled. ”But yes, I did try… And in doing so Arae finally decided to curse me and the blade that stabbed Orvus. I can never settle in one place for over a day, or flame creatures appear, growing in strength until they kill me. Hence, why I’m here.” she said forlornly and with a final sigh.

”Until you die…” Vakk echoed before taking a silent moment to think, ”Luckily for you, death is reversible.” It loosed another chuckle before sitting in front of Laurien, cocking its head to the side as it thought for yet another moment.

”It would seem that your death would be highly pleasing to the other gods, yes?” Vakk asked.

”Those that know what I’ve done, probably. I’m not sure who else might know now, but I wouldn’t put it past them.” she said, her hand tightening on her blade as she narrowed her eyes slightly at Vakk.

Vakk sighed as she narrowed her eyes, moving its head back up, ”Drop your unneeded skepticism, it will do you no favor with winning my favor.” It paused as it crossed its legs. ”Your death would make the other gods happier, gods that I detest, gods that would likely desire to see me put back into my grave. Killing you would bring me nothing,” it explained, the voices growing colder as it went on, ”I seek to make sure that death is something that is… reversible. I and my children are proof that it is.”

Laurien relaxed after a moment. Then she released her grip on Aaldir and said, ”Away.” and the sword flew off. A soft smile fell upon her lips as she looked upon Vakk again. ”I see, and how exactly is that possible?” she said.

”Attaching the soul to a corpse or object,” it answered simply before continuing, ”In the case of full vaporization, I do not know, but I believe that keeping the soul within an object would allow time for another body to be created, either from the object or… other means.”

”How does the soul resist the pull of the Vortex? Wouldn’t these… undead go insane?” she questioned.

”A long process that still fully eludes me. A reinforced soul, such as your own or my own, would be able to resist that pull. However, not enough time has passed for me to tell with my children.” Vakk stated.

”I’m sure with enough experimentation, a solution can be found for mortals. But I am curious… Are there any side effects? Does the soul remain the same as it was when alive?”

”It depends on how long one has been dead. I am sure that if the process was started when one has just died, the original soul can still be used. However, as is with my children, if all that is left is but bones and decay, then only a shell of the original can be replicated, but without emotion and desire to do anything unless otherwise ordered.”

Vakk let out a sigh at the fact, ”Sadly, emotion can be replicated and replaced within those souls, but the process is draining and unrefined.”

”It seems you have your work cut out for you, Lord Vakk. I am most interested in it, I do say. To die, but live on? Truly remarkable.” she said smoothly.

”I do thank you,” Vakk said, slowly returning to its feet before looking back upon Laurien. ”Perhaps I was wrong, it seems that Hermes was the only mortal that soured my view of mortals, for you seem to be the most reasonable. Even compared to the other gods.”

Vakk stepped toward Laurien, ”Perhaps a gift is in order to help you against this curse… Would you like an object that could reconstruct your body and bind your soul to it?”

She brought a hand to her chin and tilted her head as she thought for a moment. She then shook her head. ”I will have to decline I’m afraid. Life is… Precious to me and I am still unsure of what the process would do to me. Though, I am flattered that you would think of giving me a gift.”

She then blinked. Did you say… Hermes? If I might be so bold, my lord, when did you meet her?”

”I never did. She did, however, steal something from me. When I went to exact punishment, K’nell and… Shengshi fought and killed me,” Vakk explained, its voice growing slightly agitated at the memory.

”Mhmm. I see. No one ever told me the fate that befell you. I am sorry to hear it, only now.” she said softly.

”The victors often write history to make themselves seem better,” it said before stepping towards Laurien, ”Now, perhaps I can gift you something to stave off death, since you find you life so precious.”

The god looked to the ground before the tendrils upon its back emerged and planted themselves into the ground. It took but mere moments before the tendrils emerged with a chunk of orvium, bringing the substance to Vakk’s hand. The tendrils went back into the ground once more as Vakk began to crush the metal, grinding it between its hands before the expected explosion came, but rather than radiating out, the explosion seemed to be caught, and maintained, within a field. Vakk looked back to Laurien before explaining, ”A source of power.”

Eventually, the tendrils returned from the ground with a different substance, shining ever brighter as the tendrils morphed it into shape and smoothed its edged. A golden crown was formed and the explosion that Vakk held within its hands was forced and compacted into the size of a gemstone, its colors shifting from red to orange to yellow, only occasionally turning into a smoky black before the colors of the explosion were brought back. Vakk inserted the the gemstone into the front of the crown. The crown itself, was separated into three golden rows, only meeting to form a circle around the gemstone and connecting at the back .

”To protect you on your travels, it may not hold back the force of a god but it should be able to shield you from a great deal of punishment that might find its way to you.” Vakk said before setting the crown upon Laurien’s head.

She had watched the display with a child’s curiosity, her eyes wide and full of wonder. It was a beautiful crown, and when Vakk placed it on her head a small shiver went down her spine. She touched it gingerly, felt the golden rows and the gemstone of many colors. Her gaze then fell upon Vakk and she said, ”Oh thank you, thank you my lord! I will treasure his gift with all my life, I swear it.” her voice then grew softer and she briefly looked away before saying, ”But… What did I do to deserve such kindness?”

Vakk thought to itself for a moment, ”Perhaps it could be that I understand being hated by the other gods. You have shown an interest and understanding in what I do.” The Lord of Speech thought for another moment, ”Perhaps it could be that I wish to see the other gods suffer through you living… I do not know.”

It allowed for a hand to fall upon her shoulder as it spoke to her in a more pragmatic voice, ”Just do stay alive, you are the only mortal that I may actually bear the company of.”

”I can do that, my lord.” she said sweetly. ”I wish I could offer something in return, but I fear I lack the power to do so, at this time. In the future, should we meet again, or if I stumble upon them, I shall give a gift.” she said.

”Perhaps if you stumble upon Swahhitteh, maybe… that reminds me, do you know what happened to Tendlepog?” Vakk asked.

A confused look sprung on her face. ”What happened to Tendlepog?” she asked.

”It… is gone.”

”What do you mean gone? How does a continent disappear?” she asked bewildered.

”Then it seems like this is a mystery that I must solve. Another task on a growing list of things to do,” Vakk stated, folding its arms behind its back as it looked out to the horizon.

”This is where I make my leave. If you require my aid, all you need to do is pray my name, I will hear it for… not many pray,” Vakk said, looking back down at Laurien, before it disappeared to leave her to her own devices.

Laurien blinked as the god left. Her own questions coming into her mind. Tendlepog gone? She pursed her lips. It didn’t really matter, in the end.








The Blackness





The meeting had continued for another dreadfully slow hour until most of the nobles simply began their retreat back to their high tier estates. In the throne room remained only Helionna, face in her hands as she tried to stack small pebbles in an abacusian manner to evaluate the state of the state coffers.

"Helionna… I'm glad you remained behind." came Laurien's whisper in her ears.

Helionna perked up and jerked her head around in search of the voice. “L-lady Laurien?”

"Yes. I'm here." she said, floating down from the shadows to land in front of her. "I've taken an interest in you, little one."

Helionna swallowed. “M-me?”

"Of course." she said sweetly, standing before her now with a smile. "You did not bow, why is that?" she asked softly.

“It’s, it’s just…” Her eyes moved to the floor. It stared back with a stone-cold glare. “... You murdered her, didn’t you? My sister.”

"Your sister… What was her name?" the Goddess asked.

Helionna frowned. “Of course, you wouldn’t know…” She put the stones away and got to her feet. “I’m sorry, lady Laurien, but I have matters to attend to.”

With uncanny speed Laurien rested a hand upon her shoulder. "What was her name." she asked again, her smile turning into a neutral expression.

“Philia, my lady. Her name was Philia.” She twisted her shoulder. “Now would you kindly let me go?”

In the blink of an eye, Laurien's body changed to that of Philia and she smiled at Helionna. "She always was loyal to Polly." Her sister's voice said.

Helionna froze. “Ph-... Philly?” She reached out to touch her.

"Yes… and no." Philly said, leaning into her hand. "This is nice, isn't it?"

“... What… What’re you doing to me? My sister is… My sister--” She felt the warmth in her palm and felt her throat choke up. “... Am I dreaming?”

"Yes. I'm dead. And Polly got me killed by going insane." Was her response.

“Yes, she grew… Ill of mind towards the end of her life, but…”

“Lady Laurien,” came a call from the doorway to the throne room, through which walked Enigmaron, the Laurien-loving officer from earlier, and a small number of nobles. “We have come as you requested.” She eyed the tearful Helionna and the very familiar Nebulite next to her.. “Ph-... Philia? How are you--”

Philia molded back into Laurien's shape and the demigoddess left Helionna in tears as she walked over to the others. "Hello darlings. I'm glad you came. I was just asking Helionna some questions. She is not to leave the room."

The Nebulites stared in awe at the display until Enigmaron eventually broke out of the trance and saluted by hammering her chest with a fist. “Of course, my lady.” The officer next to her went over to stand behind Helionna, who had collapsed to her knees. “Now, how may we serve you?”

"I have a gift for my most loyal. One that can be used in many ways." she hummed. "Will you accept?"

“What is it?” asked one of the nobles.

"Power." she whispered seductively.

The nobles grinned at one another; Enigmaron couldn’t help but smirk. Helionna sniffed and looked up with furious eyes. “What--... What will we give in return?”

"Nothing but your loyalty and love. A simple thing really." Laurien said.

“I’ll accept it with all the joy and love I can offer,” Enigmaron exclaimed and bent the knee. The officer and the nobles did as well. Helionna remained frozen, not standing, but sitting on the cold stone floor while shiny trails of tears dried on her cheeks.

"Good." she whispered, looking at Helionna.

The sound in the room, suddenly ceased as the sun seemed to disappear, leaving the throne room eerily dark save for a dark purplish hue upon the sandstone, filtering in through the darkness outside the windows. Laurien rose her hands as she shut her eyes. Almost immediately afterwards, unearthly voices began to flood into the room, whispering a language none could understand. It was unnerving, and frightening and elicited a sense of fear so profound, the very air felt as if it could snap.

Laurien’s body began to shake- no, vibrate, as a purplish smoke began to course through her fingertips and onto the floor. It enveloped the floor of the room quickly, bubbling and rising, growing thick as the whispers became chants. Laurien continued to vibrate, her serene image becoming but a blur, growing in a ghostly light as a scream echoed throughout the chamber. The purple smoke then grew still, before pulling back to amass itself within a ball above the chamber. There was a loud clap of thunder, and Laurien grew still as the power that had amassed shot out and into the bodies of the loyal Nebulites in attendance.

The entire chamber, nay, the world began to flash in vivid scarlet before a simple snap, and everything was back to normal, as if what they had witnessed had never happened at all.

Laurien stood straighter, opening her eyes as a devilish smile graced her lips. She looked upon her people and knew that they were only the beginning. "Now listen… Listen and learn. "

She taught them how to use her dark magic, one she called, the Devil's Breath or the Blackness. She taught them how to manipulate it, how to use it to amplify their strengths and cure weaknesses through incantations. Words, sentences and letters that could be used to channel Devil's Breath properly. They had to speak what they wanted to do, but in time, Laurien told them it could be wordless. Then she taught the basics of hexing, small things akin to curses but not nearly as dire or far lasting, at least in the beginning, that was.

She merely opened the doorway and explained that the more they delved into the Blackness, the more powerful they would become. As more and more possibilities were explained, Helionna felt herself more and more drawn to this power.

“This… This power… Could I change, say, the direction of dice underneath a cup?” she asked quietly. The others laughed at her.

“Oh, here she goes again,” one of the nobles taunted.

“It’s a legit question!”

“I would agree if you weren’t already massively in debt to half the court. That gold necklace will be going soon, I reckon.”

Helionna clutched the medallion about her neck and swallowed. “N-not if this Blackness can fix this. Can it, my lady?”

"It can do anything you want. The solution to that problem could come in many forms. Practice and grow." she said with a smug smile on her lips.

“R-really?” Helionna whispered and looked down at her hands with a crazed look. “Th-then…”

“How do we practice it? Are there any rituals you can teach us?” Enigmaron asked.

"You practice like how you do anything else. Fighting, crafting, building and on and on. Do such practice in secret and with one another, there's no telling what could happen. Tell only those that can be trusted and do away with those who might speak unfavourably. I think you'll find that sacrifices are most useful. Rituals though… she mused, her smile deepening. "You will have to explore that route, but there is one I can teach you, one that should only be used as a last resort until you are powerful enough to control what comes after."

She walked forward and began to run her finger in a circle in the air directly in front of her. Following her finger, a glowing ring of inky purple materialized, etched with demonic runes not unlike the ones that now married her body.

"This is a minor summoning seal. This knowledge will be imprinted into your mind, but take note. Drawing the circle is only the first part. The second requires a great deal of power or a blood sacrifice, to properly activate the seal. Doing so will summon a demonic entity. Be wary, for at your current state the creature will not be able to be controlled. The larger the seal, the more will be summoned and the greater the cost. They are more likely to devour you then to obey you. Understood?"

“Forgive me, my lady, but… What exactly is a… Demonic entity? What do they look like?” Enigmaron asked. The other Nebulites nodded along slowly. “See, we have used the term often, but it’s more of an insult than an actual thing. Are they… Like us?”

"No… They are not." Laurien said as the ring pulsed. The letters warped into a shimmering opaque glass, before shattering out a creature withering in a mass of tentacles and eyes. It began to scream wretchedly from tiny mouths as the portal evaporated. Laurien looked at the withering thing and then snapped her finger, mutating the creature into a being of desire. The mouths and eyes retracted as it's flesh bubbled and grew. What began to take shape was a slithering creature of flesh, eyeless and mouthless. Like a giant worm, it slithered up her body and wrapped itself like a snake around her shoulders.

She stroked the creatures head, and from it a mouth of tiny, ripping teeth revealed itself as it smiled awkwardly.

"Any more questions?" she said after a moment.

“That is… Horrifying! What use will such a beast have for us? Can it create gold? Can it make me more beautiful?” The nobles broke into a disorganised rabble, aimed more inwards than at Laurien. Yet even those who didn’t join them appeared skeptical; the general frowned at the spell.

“With all due respect, my lady,” she went, “what use is a creature of might that will likely kill us and is only really useful for murder? We have slaves that can murder in our stead.”

There came some disapproving hums. Enigmaron glared. “Oh come on, everyone does it.”

"Be calm. Demonic summoning should only be used as a last resort. At least at your stage. But make no mistake, there will come a time when this city is under siege, when our enemies come crashing down with desire for revenge. All options will be considered to save yourselves and the people… Even if the option is unsightly and hungers. Let them feed upon your enemies." she said smoothly.

“What enemies? The Dari?” Enigmaron scoffed and many of the nobles laughed. “Savages with no concept of civility nor unity. They raid in packs because they cannot feed themselves - they are instinctively drawn to take from others. Such lowly life forms couldn’t possibly hope to form any army that would actually threaten Laurienna.”

The demigoddess began to pace as the demon around her neck lifted it narrow head to look at the General. "But what if they did? Would you be prepared to fight a united Dari army? And not to mention any outside threat you cannot see. Would you be prepared? Would any of you?" she said narrowing her eyes.

“There are no outside threats sizeable enough to challenge Asteria, Laurien. Starforged weaponry, flying soldiers, the protecting Natal - all of these have made our lands unconquerable. The only possible threat would be Talemon to the northwest, and we would be warned months before their armies would arrive.” The nobles nodded along confidently. Helionna swallowed and raised a hand.

“What?” Enigmaron asked.

“Apart from the summoning of demons, my lady, what other power can we use?” The others hummed agreeingly.

"If you say so." she whispered at Enigmaron before turning to Helionna. "Come here. The rest of you gather round."

Helionna approached her timidly while the rest did as they were told. Laurien smiled at her as the demon around her neck, curled tighter. "You desire coin, a stepping stone to greed or perhaps a coping method… Regardless, you need to quench it." Laurien reached out and tugged at the necklace around her neck, and then took it from her. Within the palm of her hand, and with a free finger, she drew a rune in inky purple in the air above it, and showed the symbol to Helionna. It looked like gibberish at first, but slowly she came to realize that it said, 'Forget me not', before the symbol leached into the necklace. Laurien then handed it back to Helionna.

"Put it around your neck." Laurien said.

Helionna blinked. “What did you do to it?” She lowered it down over her head and let it hang down over her chest.

Laurien snapped her fingers and the necklace ended up back in hand. She wore a smug smile on her face. ”That, my dear, is how you use a hex to get your fortune back.” she then handed the necklace back to Helionna again. ”One time use, you’ll have to hex it again for it to work. As you grow, however, I can see you expanding such trickery and put it to good use. Be careful now, for now they know a secret.”

Helionna blinked and rubbed her thumb over the sigil. “How… How will it help me gain all my wealth back? I’ve gambled it away, it’s long gone. Will it, perhaps, have it arrive back in my home vault?” She turned to the other nobles. “And stop eavesdropping, you!” They all grinned menacingly and rolled their eyes.

Laurien leaned in next to her right ear, "Sell it, or something else, and when you have the money and you know the item is out of knowing eyes, summon it back." she said, kissing quickly on the cheek.

Helionna flushed, looking at the medallion intently. “Yes… Yes, this is perfect. Laurien, thank you so much. Thank you!”

“Lady Laurien, if you would indulge me,” one of the nobles spoke.

Her eyes fell upon the noble in question, a man of starry green. "Yes, Alonis?" she asked.

“Would you oversee us practice for a spell? I reckon we could have a slave summoned up here and see what we can perform.”

“Oh, yes, a splendid idea,” a number of the others went. Enigmaron nodded approvingly.

"Of course my lovelies." she mused, petting the demon on its head.

“Guards,” Alonis called. A pair of palace watchmen, starforged halbers in hand, came over and saluted. “Go into the lower tiers and find us a human or something. Age is irrevelant, looks are irrelevant. If it breathes, it’s enough.” The guards, though reluctant, saluted again and ran off.

“A human? In the palace? An outrage!” a noble named Xenoluna shouted. Alonis wagged a finger.

“Now, now, my lady, it will not live long and it will be used to empower us, which is more than can be said for what it would be doing in the streets, gods be good.”

“The slaves will be scrubbing the floor for days after that filthy human’s been here,” Enigmaron sighed.

"Ah yes, an unfortunate side effect of nebulite reproduction. Oh well." Laurien said.

“Who’s idea was that particular quirk, if I may ask?” Xenoluna voiced in a surly manner.

"Orvus most likely." she shrugged.

“... Not to be rude to the gods, but… Was he, um…” Xenoluna made a face, “of a perverted character?”

Laurien giggled. "He molded all of you after me, so. Perhaps he is. I doubt any will ever ask."

“Odd creatures, the creators. I will be extra observant next Floodfeast to see if His Lordship brings any similar strange gifts this year.”

Thirty minutes passed before the guards returned, a maimed and struggling human child locked between them. She was crying, her rags sogged around the collar from the streams of tears running down her cheeks. She couldn’t say a word before the nobles all scoffed with disgust.

“Ugh, it’s so ugly! You just had to find the ugliest one, didn’t you?” Xenoluna complained.

“The lords and ladies made it clear that looks were unimportant,” one of the guards defended.

“Well, yes, but this? I would hardly wish to--”

“Be quiet, Xenoluna. Our subject is acquired. Lady Laurien, how should we proceed?” Enigmaron asked.

”What do you wish to achieve?” she asked, eyeing the child.

“Why, power, naturally. Human children are an untapped resource and let’s face it - they likely won’t live long after all. If what you say is true, we can trade the soul of this creature for magical might.” Alonis rubbed his hands together. “For now, I would like us all to achieve beautiful looks.”

"So be it. With the knowledge I have given you, create a circle with the child's blood and write the incantation runes within it, without killing her. That is vital. Her life force needs to consumed upon her death when the circle is complete and the words said. When the process begins… It will come naturally to you." she whispered.

“Fantastic. Guard, your dagger,” Alonis commanded. The guards brought the struggling child over as the nobles formed a circle. The closest guard unsheathed a knife and gave it pommel-first to Alonis, who held it high for all to see before sending it down in a swift motion to slice off the child’s hand. The girl screamed in agony and blood gushed forth onto the floor in multiple puddles.

“Ugh! I got some on my dress!” Xenoluna complained.

“Must she be so loud?” Enigmaron seconded.

“The faster you draw, the faster she’ll shut up. Guard, hold this.” Alonis gave the guard the still-attached hand, which the guard clutched tightly. The child sat on her knees, squealing, while the nobles dipped their fingers in blood and drew like their lives depended on it. Before long, a circle similar to the one Laurien had showed them before laid prepared. This time however there came new words in the form of runes. Each an expression of what was wanted; Beauty. The Breath began to take root in the seal, growing with power as it did so and glowing with energy as the child's blood filled the cracks and lines and began to have a mind of its own as it formed smaller, more precise runes.

Dark whispers began to flood the room as the fanatical process consumed their minds. Until at last the final rune was set within the circle. The seal began to glow brighter, signifying that the time had come for its completion.

“It’s working! It’s working!”

“I know it’s working! How do we complete it?”

“Shut up, you two - it’s supposed to come forth naturally, like an instinct.”

As they focused and let the Blackness guide them, the words deciphered into a phrase, over and over again; 'KILL. CONSUME. ENHANCE.' and one by one they began to chant the phrase in the devil's tongue. Alonis then took the mewling child from the guard, who by that point had lost far too much blood to remain wholly conscious. He placed the limp girl in the middle of the seal and the runes began to wrap themselves over her skin, becoming burned into her flesh as her body grew black and shrivelled, her life essence flowing freely amongst the Nebulites as they consumed it with glee. The seal then shattered as the girl died, and her body turned to ash before them. Laurien could hardly contain her giddiness as she looked upon the enhanced Nebulites… The beginnings of Devils.





1 year after the Apocalypse




“Two and five! Odds!”

Groans and snarls emitted from the majority of the players while a small minority giggled and snickered as they collected equal shares of round and smooth pebbles. Lady Helionna squeezed the bridge of her nose in disappointment and slapped a new bet onto the stone table. Behind her, a pair of guard stared stonefaced down at their lady spending the remains of her family’s wealth so frivolously. Not that they cared much, though - they would be hired by someone else when the House of Philapoly eventually went bankrupt.

“Make your bets, ladies and gentlemen,” said the dealer with a grin and threw the dice into his cup. As he lidded the cup with his hand and shook it about, the other players began laying out their pebbles. Helionna bit down on her nail - these were her last pebbles. If she lost, she would have to--

“Alright, everyone!” the dealer said and slammed the cup opening down onto the table. “Evens or odds?”

The players shouted their bets: “Odds! Odds! Evens! Odds! Evens! Odds! Odds! Odds!” Lady Helionna knew there was little reason to bet alongside the majority: It was a fifty-fifty chance to win, and if she won with the majority, the output would be less.

“Evens!” she shouted at last and the dealer lifted the cup.

“One and two - odds!”

Colour left her fiery skin as her pebbles were collected. She considered screaming out loud that she had misspoken - that she really had said ‘odds’. Of course, no one would believe that. She was already well acquainted with this particular establishment, and its frequenters were even better acquainted with her, and since the other casino was destroyed along with the rest of the East River slums. Curse that fire rain - it set back her gambling weeks.

Oh, right, the loss of life and the slaves was gruesome, too.

Helionna turned to one of the guards behind her, fingering the golden necklace dangling below her throat. Reluctantly, she gently took it off and offered it to the guard. “See how much the broker will give me for this.”

The guards had never been loyal to her person, this she knew - they were bound by contract alone (or rather, the sums promised in the contract); however, in spite of this, the guard shook her head and said, “My lady, it would be unwise to exchange the family sigil for stone pebbles.”

A pang of guilt stabbed Helionna in the chest and she retracted her hand. Looking defeatedly at her feet, she nodded and said, “Yes… Yes, you’re right. That was… Reckless of me.” She turned to the dealer and gave him a nod. “I will be taking my leave.”

“You are always welcome back at our establishment, Lady Helionna,” the dealer replied with a knowing smirk. Helionna smiled uncomfortably and left, her two guards following faithfully behind.

This particular casino was in a third tier district infamously known as The Pits. It was the slum of the slums, far away from the finer establishments like the wine houses and night markets. In truth, two guards weren’t enough for a high-profile lady like Helionna, at least not ideally. However, every savvy scoundrel in these parts knew her well, and knew particularly well how shallow her pockets were. The creatures that roamed the streets here were either way wholly uninterested in her at the moment, their days already busy enough with survival. The lady sighed, donned her brown, shaggy cloak and moved towards the upper tiers. Flanking the streets were beggars by the tens, Nebulites cast out from the higher tiers, former slaves or… Or those disgusting things...

She passed one that same moment. Her stomach turned and she felt the need to gag. It was pink-skinned, but not the crystalline, beautiful hue of their former queen or any others who shared such a beautiful complexion. This was a greasy pink, utterly animalistic without a shade of divinity like the Nebulites. It had facial features similar to hers, but they were primal and beastly. Their builds were similar to the Pygmies, but wholly hairless except the top of their heads.

They had shown up not long after Pygmy slaves and emissaries came to Laurienna. She was quite aware of where exactly they had come from - the mothers were quite vocal about their relationships with the apes. Truly, it was only natural that the children would turn out like they did - being the product of an ape and a Nebulite.

One of her guards gargled up a ball of phlegm and spat it onto the child’s forehead. “Off the streets, you disgusting human!” The child barely made a sound and scuttled into an alley. The guard yelled after it: “Know your place!”

Human. The name given to these abominations. It had started as a joke - the first sound anyone made upon seeing one was, after all, a loud ‘ew!’ or ‘hyew!’, or something along those lines. As time went on, it stuck.

Helionna was glad the guard had gotten the human off the street - it was a dark reminder of what her people had done in exchange for gold and slaves.

It took them roughly fifty minutes to reach the upper tier and the palace. While her house was still a distance away, she had a sneaking suspicion the king was holding council - a duty she ought to attend to. She climbed the stairs up towards the pyramid palace, flanked by another noble who laid on a clay platform carried by eight ikhobos - Talemonese slaves. Helionna knew him well, this noble - it was Andrometan, head of House Terra. He offered her an absent-minded nod.

“Ah, lady Helionna, a beautiful day today, is it not?”

Helionna offered the blue skies a look. “Yes, I suppose it is. Flood season is right around the corner, His Lordship be kind. This should make for a good autumn.”

“So it seems, so it seems,” Andrometan agreed. “Tell me, where is your carrybed?”

Helionna swallowed and looked away. “I-... I felt like walking today. Even the noble houses need exercise occasionally, no?”

Andrometan replied simply with a smirk and patted the bed twice. The ikhobo increased their pace and were soon at the top of the stairs long before Helionna was there. She huffed and gave her wordless guards quick glances - their expressions remained wooden.

A number of uneventful moments later, she arrived at last in the dark throne room. There were cacophonous mumblings coming from all manner of noble cliques around the great hall, all of which formed a crescent around the throne in the room’s far end. Upon it sat the king, Omnipotens the Proud, a boy of four. Next to him stood Prospero, the royal master of wealth and the one currently powerful enough to hold the position as regent in Laurien’s absence. Helionna took her rightful place among the other noble houses, to the right side of the hall and opposite of the wealthy, but not noble. The regent Prospero motioned for all to rise and spoke, “His glorious Majesty, Omnipotens III, the Proud, king of all of Asteria and its people, welcomes you to offer your counsel. Let no word be unspoken; let no lie be told; let respect rule our actions; and our future shall unfold.”

The regent bowed and poked the boy king on the shoulder; he was playing with a toy in his lap. The king looked up and blinked, then said, “B-be seated,” and everyone sat. Prospero smiled gratefully at the king and spoke,

“The first point to address will be the situation in the slave markets. The royal court has noted that the number of slaves bought and sold has considerably dropped. As all are aware, this commodity is central to Laurienna’s economy, and the loss of the markets would grind this city’s production to a halt. Lord Zius, have you a report?”

A plain clothed Nebulite stood up from where he sat. His skin was black as night and he was bald. He was built well, and there was depth within his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was deep and refined. “The report is much the same, Lord Regent. As you all know, a band of well armed Dari are disrupting the trade route between Laurienna and Talemon. They are also attacking and killing those slavers who are still brave enough to venture out. With the trade route disrupted, and the roaming bands preventing us from catching fresh slaves, these problems will not go away.”

“I see… So the Dari have still not been dealt with. Where is general Epsilon?” Prospero demanded.

“Last seen leaving Laurienna, I believe,” came a snarky comment from Andrometan, who was still lying on his clay bed. “He was in quite a hurry, too.”

Prospero wrinkled his nose. “Great… Vice-general Enigmaron.”

A tall woman clad in simple clothing and wielding a star-forged spear stepped up and bowed before the king and regent. “Yes, lord Prospero?”

“Congratulations. You have been promoted to general. Double the escorts for the slaver caravans and see to it that your old superior is not allowed to live past next week.” The general nodded. “Will this be enough, lord Zius?”

“It will suffice for now, but the Dari grow bolder each passing day. If they are not crushed completely, then I fear our good city will be their next target.” he said, sitting down.

Prospero hummed. “The royal coffers can perhaps offer additional bounties if the returns are high enough. Lady Phantasma, how did the last emissaries like the king’s tribute?”

Lady Phantasma, diplomat to the Talemonese, stood up and smiled. “Your Majesty, lord regent - the visitors quite enjoyed the gifts of brides and grooms, just as His Majesty predicted they would.”

Prospero nodded. “I take it demand is high for more?”

Phantasma nodded back. “Very much so, lord regent. The Talemonese ‘oludari’ are very grateful for our lovely sons and daughters, and their introduction have spurred more of the Talemonese to make high bids for a lover of their own.”

Prospero eyed Zius. “Lord Zius, your caravans are responsible for escorting concubines to Talemon. How many guards and carriers would you need to escort twenty?”

“Twenty caravans? A hundred soldiers, at least, if not more.” he said.

“Lady Helionna, what are the soldiers’ wages again?”

Helionna snapped into motion and bowed. “T-three sun dimes, lord regent.”

“Three sun dimes…” Prospero mumbled. “Three sun dimes… Per soldier?”

Helionna nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Prospero sighed and shook his head. “Three fucking sun dimes, by Orvus… It’s a marvel that the soldiers aren’t the wealthiest of us.” There came some chuckles from a number of the nobles and wealthy. Helionna’s guards remained stonefaced. Prospero pursed his lips. “The coffers will look into it, Lord Zius. Until an answer is found, you shall have seventy.”

The man narrowed his eyes and said, “So be it then. Let us hope the trip goes without incident. I would hate to see more Nebulite blood spilled.”

“Mhm, wouldn’t we all,” Prospero agreed. “We shall do everything in our power to ensure that you receive your funding. However, until we can be certain, you will have to make due.”

“Of course, Lord Regent.” Zius said smoothly.

“Perfect. Right, onto the next target on the agenda--”

“Lord regent, if I may,” said the general. Prospero nodded.

“Yes, general Enigmaron?”

“Do we even have seventy guards at our disposal?”

Prospero’s brows furrowed and chatter began to foment. “What do you mean? Of course, we do.”

“Lord regent, I think you are overestimating our numbers,” the general proposed. “The royal army is already stretched as thin as it can. Keeping order is far from a simple task, and--”

“Be quiet, general! Lady Helionna, you speak for the noble houses. How many soldiers can you offer?”

Helionna froze. ‘Speak for the noble houses’ was as far from her job description as one could get. She was a glorified accountant at best, one tasked with monitoring the spendings of her peers.

Not that she could monitor even her own, anyway.

“I-I… I reckon we can--”

“Twelve, lord regent,” general Enigmaron said with a frown.

“Twelve?” Prospero gasped. “And how many of those--”

“Nine are commanding the city’s guards - the remaining three are currently in this very room.” Her eyes shifted to three faces, all of which looked away to avoid her glare. “They are ‘off duty’, to be blunt.”

Prospero sighed. “And what of the conscripts?”

Enigmaron shrugged. “If we offer higher wages, we could--”

“No! The wages remain the same,” Prospero insisted.

“Less than five hundred, then,” Enigmaron replied coldly. “We’ll be lucky if we can even muster that many.”

The chatter in the hall reached a deafening volume. Prospero sat down in the only slightly less beautiful throne next to the king’s and leaned his head on a balled fist. Etherian, another market lord, shouted out, “How will we finance all of this city if the caravans cannot come through?!”

“Take the guards away from nobles. They don’t need them more than we do!”

“What was that?! Do you even know how many would kill us for the gold about our persons?!”

“Then leave it at home!”

The chatter turned to arguments, and the arguments to accusations. The boy king had long since left the room, escorted out by his royal guard. Prospero tried his best to calm the situation, but failed miserably. Helionna took a seat by the wall and laid her cheek in her hand as fights began to break out between the wealthy and the nobility. It was true that they hadn’t the numbers. Over the last ten years, their population had been halved - the worst of it transpiring but a year ago during the apocalypse. They were still just picking up the pieces.

It was then that a tall figure entered the throne room, shrouded in a cloak of night, silencing the room as the guards moved in close. It came to a stop in the middle of the room, but said nothing.

“What’s the meaning of this, then?” said Prospero and stood up. Helionna approached, hiding behind a number of others. The regent pointed at the figure and demanded, “You there! Reveal yourself or suffer the fate of all those who enter the throne room uninvited.”

”Do not threaten the one who had this city built at her behest.” the voice rang out, sweet and pure. ”Or have you forgotten the one who gave you everything you ever wanted?” the figure then pulled back her hood, revealing the beautiful face of Laurien.

The surrounding Nebulites gasped; a number of them fell to their knees; a number of them reached for their weapons.

“Oh, glorious Laurien, you’re back!” sounded general Enigmaron with joyful tears.

“You traitor! She murdered the queen and her closest!” spat another in the far back before being apprehended by a pair of guards.

”No.” she said, looking at the guards. ”Bring him here.”

The nobleman was brought to the front. It was immediately evident that he was related to the late Titanon - they shared the strong jaw-line and powerful build. Helionna noted that he had been among the officers who were ‘off duty’. He battled against the guards’ grips, but ultimately faced Laurien unmoving.

“You should have never come back, betrayer,” the officer spat in her face.

But Laurien simply smiled and touched a finger to his head. ”Your desire for revenge, is over. Now you will only have love for the one you seek most. An insatiable thirst, for the girl your heart desires. Let him go, he will not harm me.” she said to the guards.

The man unclenched his fists. Slowly, he knelt down before Laurien and lowered his lips to her feet. The onlookers were stunned. Prospero spat, “Wha-... What did you do to him? What manner of power have the gods granted you of all people?”

”Me of all people? Is that anyway to talk to a demigod? Especially the one who has cared for all of you, since the first day you entered this world?” she mused.

“A demigod? Blasphemic arrogance!” Prospero retorted. “Had His Lordship heard you say that, he would’ve--”

“You will be silent before our queen!” boomed suddenly the officer at Laurien’s feet. Prospero stopped and shifted around uncomfortably.

”Tell me… Who has helped you more, his Lordship, or me?” she asked, patting the man’s head before her.

“Th-that would…” Prospero struggled to find words. “That question is heresy in itself!”

”Now now. Heresy is such a convoluted word.” she said smiling. ”His Lordship provided the land you live on, and through his good graces, you have been able to endure. Worship of him, is paramount to the survival of this Empire but… Can you not worship another? There are many gods and goddesses, some who care, others who do not, but the ones who care for you the most, are the demigods of this world. I do not come to take over, or to be a queen. I simply come to ask that you love me, as I have always loved you.” she said.

“She -was- the hand of Polyastera, it’s true. Whatever she commanded, Laurien did,” general Enigmaron voiced supportively. “No one has done more for us than her. From summoning His Lordship to enslaving the Dari to undoing the rebels against the former queen.” She gave Laurien a smiling nod and bowed her head. “You have my love, o beautiful.”
“And mine,” another noble said and knelt. More and more joined in, until the only ones standing were Prospero, Helionna, and another officer.

Laurien’s gaze fell upon them, but it was neither cruel or angry. She went from Prospero, to the officer and the finally Helionna. She gave her a wolfish smile, before looking at the others. ”Rise… All is well. What I ask now is that you spread this love to others, but never forget, His Holiness must come first, for not even I can defend you all from his wrath.”

The Nebulites all rose and let out warm cheers in Laurien’s honour. The three who hadn’t knelt stared uncomfortably at one another and then tried not to meet Laurien’s gaze.

”You make me all so happy. Now tell me… What is the current state of Laurienna and Asteria?” she asked. The cheers stopped. Prospero drew a breath.

“We were just discussing that, actually…”

“We are not doing very well, my lady,” Enigmaron admitted. “After you disappeared, no one knew who would take over, and then the Rain of Death happened, and…” The majority of the Nebulites were looking at the floor. “We are but half of what we once were,” she finished.

”Hmm. Concerning, but not completely unsalvageable. You must have many, many babies. The population of Nebulites must rise.” she said, walking amongst them.

“That would not be an issue, my lady,” Andrometan chuckled from his clay bed. “We are, after all, quite good at that. With time, our population will no doubt grow, provided the sky doesn’t rain fire again.”

“Unfortunate circumstance that.” she said absentmindedly as she paused before Helionna. The lady looked down at her feet and swallowed, saying nothing. She moved on from her and paused before the throne, running a finger on before looking at Prospero. ”And how are Polly’s children doing?”

Prospero smiled vaguely. “A-ah. The king and his sister are quite well, my lady. I believe they are both in their respective rooms as we speak. They… They still mourn their siblings from time to time, of course, but we’ll make monarchs of them yet.”

”Good.” she said simply, walking over to Enigmaron, and then whispering something into her ear. The woman smiled, as Laurien moved on and said aloud, ”Solutions to problems come in many different forms… And not always are they so easily discernible. One must think outside of the box, the mind per say, to come up with answers.” she said cryptically.

“W-what do you mean?” Prospero asked.

She smiled but did not answer right away as she moved to the center of the room again. There she turned to look at the Nobles again and said, ”Other times, you must take what you want. By any means necessary.” She looked between Prospero and Helionna again, ”So, what will you do?”

Prospero scanned the throne room and then let out a sheepish laugh. “I-... I, uhm… I believe we have an agenda to continue, so I will just… Proceed with that.” He swallowed, his eyes shifting to the throne next to him. A wanton pulse burned in his gaze and he barely managed to tear his eyes away from it. “R-right… The financing…”

“Financing,” Helionna mumbled to herself. “... Yeah, I could use some of that.”

The hall turned to her in confusion and the lady suddenly realised she had thought out loud. A supportive hand landed on her shoulder. “That’s nice, my lady,” said one of her fellow nobles, one named Geonosis. “But we are discussing the army now - not your personal coffers.” Helionna lowered her gaze.

”Go on then. Discuss and I shall listen. Pay me no mind.” she said smiling.

“Th-thank you, my lady,” said Prospero and sat down on his throne - only, it wasn’t his throne. He had sat himself in the king’s seat, and only after he noticed the troubled expressions clouding the faces of everyone in the room did he realise. He rocketed back to his feet and switched seats post-haste.

“Right!” he thundered. “The funding… Wait, we were past that, weren’t we?”

“Lord regent, are you well?” asked the general with concern.

“W-why, yes, quite well!” Prospero assured, furthering the worry of the onlookers. “What was next, lady Helionna?”

“... I could maybe buy the casino and…”

“Lady Helionna?”

The lady snapped to. “Huh?! Yes?!”

“What was next on the agenda?” Prospero asked again.

“O-oh! Uhm, I believe we were about to discuss the farms?”

“Ah, yes, the farms…”



Laurien





She arrived upon the continent to the south, weary of flight and full of thought. Always so full of thoughts, most gnawing at her since she left Silver. As her feet settled down into the sandy beaches, she let out a sigh as she began to walk into the forest. Over and over again their conversation played out in her head. And each and every time she was disappointed. For decades she had placed Silver on a pinnacle, and in one day, it was all over. She should’ve felt angry, or upset, or even sad, but she only felt numb.

It was over.

But it had barely ever begun.

That was the simplest truth. She had only known Silver for what felt like, weeks before she died, and though their love had been young, blossoming even, it was bittersweet. Never meant to be, not really. If only she had realized that. Then perhaps…

No.

She couldn’t think like that. What happened, had happened and there was no changing that now. Her only regret was that she had done it differently. Secretly. Then again… It would never have been secret. Not with Gods like Abanoc and Arae, who knew everything. What power that would be... To have the knowledge of the world, and the knowledge of its people, at her fingertips. It would be delicious.

“Ichor would be delicious.” Came Aaldir’s angry voice, interrupting her train of thought. The black blade floated beside her, weaving in and out of the trees as they walked aimlessly on.

”Must you interrupt? You know ichor is out of the question and yet, you still persist. Why is that?” she chided.

“You have ichor.” The sword whispered hungrily.

”Yes and you will not taste it.” she huffed. The sword remained silent after that, before humming a dark tune. Laurien went back to her thoughts.

She had to become a ghost, no one could no where she was at any given moment. If Arae had deemed to punish her as a mortal, then there was no telling what the other gods would do to her, knowing that she had become divine. They would hate her, and despise her for what she was, and then they would most likely kill her.

She couldn’t have that, now could she?

And if the Gods could not, or would not love her, then their creations would. It was a surefire way to incur even more wrath, which was why she had to start small. Let a few love her unconditionally, give them gifts and powers, and they would spread her influence. This she knew. For she had been a mortal, after all. And the one thing she knew, was that power came in many forms and that mortals loved power.

It gave them an edge, made them feel special and capable. In a world with living gods, what more could one ask for? Besides divinity itself…

A sudden screech stopped her. Aaldir found her hand as she looked around for the source. With her new senses, she could tell whatever screamed was coming in her direction. So the Goddess flew up into a tree and waited with bated breath.

It did not take long for it to arrive. A creature she had never seen before. It looked like a small humanoid, bit it’s flesh was the wrong color and it wore no clothes. It’s eyes, there were too many of them, and the only desire in it’s heart, was to devour. But instead of doing that, it ran on past her tree and into the undergrowth. Laurien narrowed her eyes, and wondered what she had seen.

She flew up into the sky until she could see in the distance… And there was merely the green of the forests. Slightly disappointed and vexed, she flew on, now closer to the tree line. As her survey continued, she began to feel or sense, something rather odd. Instinctively, she wanted to fly away from that feeling, but her curiosity drove her forward.

Until she arrived at the source of her trepidation. Surrounded by flora that was sickly purple in color and had too many eyes and gnashing teeth, was a man-high portal, oozing with a miasma so thick it made breathing a chore even for a goddess. She was bewildered by the site, to say the least. The last time she had journeyed through this area, nothing like it had appeared.

Tentatively, she reached out to touch the portal and as soon as her hand grazed the darkness, she was sucked in. The first thing she knew, was pain. Terrible, biting pain that never subsided. It felt as if she was being eaten alive, slowly and alive for that matter. Next, what was left of her eyes feel upon the horror that was the portals destination. Suspended in a sea of magenta loomed a sphere the size of Veradax, its rock faces black yet oddly sinewy and its oceans a screaming purple. Yet it wasn’t the celestial body that warranted her pain-fueled attention, but what was on it. A million billion entities swarmed the planet, screaming war cries as they slaughtered one another with weapons without form. Giants slaughtered imps while flying serpents met foul ends by many armed beasts.

She should have felt afraid, perhaps even terrified but she felt none of those things. She felt pain yes, but also perplexed. What was this sphere? And who controlled it? Yet her questions would have to wait as she realized any more exposure would surely kill her outright. So, Laurien retreated back through the portal, or gateway as it might be and came out sputtering and coughing as her body began to heal. Aaldir hovered over her body like some protective beast as she began to laugh.

Neither of them noticed the film of thick purple liquid begin to glow with energy. As if a child were drawing in the mud with a stick, glyphs began to appear in the ooze, from her hands to her shoulders and all the way down to her feet.

Her laughter was cut short by the glyphs, and she looked at them with a wide stare.

“Laurien, you are glowing.” Said Aaldir, but Laurien ignored him. Her silence was met with a high pitched warble as the glyphs began to sear themselves into her skin and the purple liquid absorb itself into her body. She could feel every pore become choked with the unholy substance, its magical energies whispering to her in speech beyond her comprehension. Then she saw it all. The form of the ABHORRENT. It’s will. The creation of his servants. The betrayal of the Program. Her own directive, and the weapon, the authority to make unclean what was clean.

The disgusting energies of SHEOL bonded with the goddess.

And just like that, it was over and reality set back in. She breathed heavily as her body shook with pervasive knowledge. She looked upon her skin to see the glyphs now apart of her form, but it was no matter. She changed her form back to what her original body had looked like and stood up. It was abundantly clear what the ABHORRENT wanted her to do, and now she had a back up plan in case any god sought to kill her. Though she would have to make some alterations…

Laurien looked upon her hands to see a spark of black wrap around her fingers before disappearing. She smiled, it was time to find some mortals.


Another Reunion





He stood before the door as the light of Heliopolis rose to touch his back. A shaking hand rested upon the door knob as anxiety welled up in his heart. Orvus was afraid. He did not know what his family thought of his disappearance, or how they would react to returning after ten long years. It felt like a lifeage and he was tired, so very tired. Perhaps that was what it felt like to be mortal. A perpetual tiredness, mixed with regret and sadness. He unwittingly caused the entire world harm, which it was probably still going through and Kalmar lay dying or dead… And it was all his fault. He had failed them all, every single o-

The door began to open, and he recoiled his hand. Then standing before him was a starry nebulite woman of purple and pink swirls. Her long hair, the same colors, glowed faintly. She wore simple clothing. Her eyes went wide as she recoiled, before bringing her hands up to cover her mouth and nose. Tears began to well up in her eyes as she whispered, “D-Daddy…?”

Something broke inside, as a flood of tears began to fall down his pale face. He began to nod his head.

”L-Lily…” he breathed desperately. She then embraced him and Orvus returned the hug, clinging to his daughter as they both cried. She had somehow grown taller than him, but only by a small amount, and yet this did not stop him from seeing her as his little girl. With happy tears, she pulled away and grabbed the sides of his face. “Where have you been?” she asked.

”The Moon…” he said, the memories of that place haunting him still. Abraxas cruel laughter mocked him, before he blinked again and smiled. ”When did you get so tall?”

She laughed at that, before hugging him again. “Oh dad… I missed you.” she whispered into his chest. Orvus hugged her tighter, before another voice could be heard, one that had pulled him through the torture.

”Lily? Who are you talkin-” Rowan said, standing at the far end of the hallway, now frozen. Slowly as she registered what she was seeing, the woman with mahogany hair began to cry as she rushed to Orvus. Lily was quick to leave him, before Rowan almost tackled him to the ground. It took the last of his strength to stand up, but he did and he clung onto her for life as they slipped to the floor.

She hugged him tightly for a long time, neither of them wanting the moment to end. But Rowan eventually pulled back as her cheeks were wet. ”Never again.” she shook her head. ”Never again am I letting you out of my sight.”

”I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Orvus cried, falling forward into her lap. ”I’ll never leave again, I promise.” He felt a hand gently caress his hair as he cried.
“M-Mom?” came a child’s voice. Orvus brought his head up and looked past Rowan to see a golden figure. A boy, with black eyes and he knew he looked upon his son. He felt a greater sadness well up inside of him, at the fact that the boy had never known his father. But that would change.

”Doron.” Rowan said, also looking at him. ”I’d like you to meet your father.”

The boy blinked, an uncertain look came upon his face as he looked between his two parents. “My… Father?” he said after a moment.

”H-Hello, Doron. My son.” he said with a bit of pride in his voice. Doron took a step backwards, before turning around and running inside.

”Doron!” Rowan called after him, but it was too late, the boy was gone. She turned to Lily, who was already making her way inside. “I’m already on it, mom.”

”Thank you, dear.” she said, before turning back to Orvus, who stared at the empty door frame. He felt many emotions, none of them good, but chief among them was his failure of being the boy’s father.

Rowan pulled him back into a hug and said, ”It’s okay my love. He’ll come around, I know it. He needs his father as much as you need him.”

He clutched her shoulder and said, ”I hope so. I do. I’m such a failure Rowan. I should have seen what she was going to do, I should have helped her. I should have known. It’s all my fault.” he broke down again.

Rowan rocked him and said, ”No, it is not your fault. It is Laurien’s fault. She did this to you. To us. She didn’t have to, Orvus. She didn’t have to hurt you. That was her fault, not yours. But you’re here now, you came back to us.” she said, crying happy tears.

The rational part of his mind wanted to believe her, but something held him back… Guilt. ”O-Okay.” he lied to her. ”O-Okay.”

“DAD!” Came another voice, one similar to Lily’s. Orvus looked up and back to see Ava running at them on the path. Following close behind was Arya and another male, holding something in his hands. Ava quickly bounded up the steps and just like Rowan, attacked Orvus before he could react with a fierce hug. He returned it with a hard squeeze. “Where have you been, daddy?” she cried.

He said nothing but pat her on her back, finding the right words to be difficult anymore. Ava finally pulled away to look at him and smiled warmly, “I have someone that would like to meet you.” she said getting up and going over to the male, who stood with Arya on the porch now. She gave him a quick kiss on her cheek, before taking the bundle in his arms with care. Ava then went back over to them and bent down, revealing a tiny face with large white eyes staring back up at him.

“Meet Ellowyn, my daughter.” Ava cooed.

The baby smiled up at him, and suddenly he felt much better. ”She’s… She’s beautiful.” he breathed.

And somehow, surrounded by his loved ones, Orvus knew everything was going to be okay.


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