Avatar of Lord Zee

Status

User has no status, yet

Bio


Most Recent Posts

”It was not in her nature to be anything but divine, yet, I saw what the others could not. Paranoia.”





The warm day sent Nefe into a contentable lull. Nefe lounged strung out across Nefe’s favorite rock that overlooked the farm pond. Behind Nefe and down the hill sat the house. Father Nedjem was out tending to the livestock, no doubt with Nefe’s brother’s in tow. Mother Aziza had to be about baking bread with Nefe’s little sister’s and the younger kitten’s who couldn’t do much. Nefe had already completed Nefe’s own chores and now Nefe got to sunbathe. A favorite pastime in the panthera lands.

All had been going well until she heard a voice and her ears prickled.

“Tsk tsk tsk Nefe sister. Again with the lounging? What will our parents think?”

Nefe blinked an eye open and saw Tum with arms crossed and a smirk. It was like looking at Nefe but Tum was a boy, it was in Tum’s build. The way Nefe’s twin carried himself. Orange fur, striped with white. Tum’s green eyes, but slits in the sunlight, flashed with trouble.

“Why isn’t Tum helping father?” Nefe asked, not deigning to move. She shut her eyes too, it wasn’t worth looking at Tum. This Nefe knew.

“Tum did help father. We finished not long ago. Even had the noon meal. Mother wants to see Nefe.” Tum said. Nefe could tell Tum was holding back a smile. Mother would yank Nefe’s ear again and Tum wanted to watch. But why? Nefe had done no wrong. So Nefe questioned. Nefe hadn’t really lost track of so much time surely?

“Nefe finished her chores this morning. Mother does not wish to see Nefe. Do not lie Tum. Or Tum’s tongue will get the soap.” she chided.

“Nefe does not know what mother needs because Nefe was not at the noon meal. Mother sent Tum to fetch you. Come along now sister. Nefe must be hungry at least?”

Nefe’s eyes snapped open and Nefe rotated her body so Nefe was eye to eye with Tum on Nefe’s rock. Tum had Tum’s arms crossed. No more smiling. Was it serious or was it another trick so Tum could get the basking rock? Nefe narrowed her eyes.

“Go tell mother Aziza that Nefe will come along right after a nap.” Nefe said before licking her arm.

Tum opened his mouth as if to argue further but Tum must have thought better of it. Good. Nefe was older after all. And one could not forget to respect their betters.

“Suit yourself Nefe sister. Tum will go tell mother, then it will be soap in your mouth for not coming along when summoned.” Tum cast a wicked smile, turned and left.

Nefe watched him go and then settled back down on Nefe’s rock. Nefe would deal with any punishments later. For now Nefe yawned, stretched and got comfortable. It was time for a good cat nap.




Nefe felt a bolt of dread flood Nefe as Nefe shot awake. Nefe rubbed at Nefe’s eyes, still believing Nefe was asleep. But no- it had become nighttime. How long had Nefe slept? Why had no one come to wake Nefe? Mother would be mad as a march hare with Nefe. That sent Nefe to climb down the basking rock. Its warmth had faded. Just like…

For the first time, Nefe noticed the sounds of night were absent. No chirping insects or the rustle of foliage as something moved past, nor were the summer croakers challenging one another with their boisterous croaks. Suddenly the emptiness around Nefe felt overwhelming. Nefe couldn’t see the house from where she stood. Nefe would be able to and have a sense of normalcy if Nefe could just see it. It wasn’t far, Nefe would be able to see at the lip of the hill.

So Nefe began to walk as the hairs of Nefe’s body stood straight up and Nefe’s ears were on full alert. Scanning for any noise but the eerie quiet remained.

Something caught Nefe’s eye though. At first Nefe thought it was a large bird, black across the night sky, soaring past. But as Nefe really looked did Nefe realize it was no such bird. For starter’s it was too large, too strangely shaped and it was coming right for Nefe. Nefe began to run as instincts took over. Find cover. There was no cover, save home. Nefe neared the lip of the hill and saw that the lights were on inside. Relief washed over Nefe, followed by dread as she looked up and saw…

A bright beam of light enveloped Nefe and Nefe knew no more.




“1̷̢̡̻̥̗̿͒́0̸̛̙̏̈̈́͐͑͋̓̎̕0̵̡̥̺̤̮̰̩̿̇́͋̅0̷̝͚̄̀1̷̧̼̪͓͉̪̰̆0̶͉̘̼̘̝̙͓̒͆̍̿̕͝ ̴̡̡̻͔̯̭̥̗̀̀̈́̆̿̈.”

Nefe awoke to a blinding white light and a terrible noise. Like metal scraping against metal but worse. Nefe blinked at the pain of the lights as Nefe’s head throbbed. Nefe tried to move but couldn’t and as Nefe’s eyes adjusted to the light, Nefe could see that Nefe’s arms and feet were bound to a table with cold metal. Nefe saw that Nefe was in some sort of room. White walls, or was that silver? A glaring light overhead made Nefe wince as Nefe looked up at it. Nefe then squirmed but it was no use. A sense of terror washed over Nefe and Nefe suddenly felt very small. Then a door snapped open before Nefe and Nefe was met with a long hallway. Nefe then lurched forward. Or what Nefe was trapped on lurched forward and it was only then did Nefe notice what was moving Nefe.

If terror had Nefe’s heart, then horror took Nefe’s soul.

A being with no face stared down at Nefe. Polished metal reflected Nefe’s own warped face back at her. Nefe shut her eyes tight and began to pray to all the gods.

“1̸̡̛̣̩̺̖̝͓̗̎͆̓͆͜0̷̯͆̽͑̐̃̂͂̇͝0̵̨̠̬̠̩̫͍́̋̌̄0̸̨̲͙̖͖̣̖̩̮͌̆͂͘͝͠1̸̛̟̥͔̠̟̭͈̌̄0̸͇̫̟̥̔̉̿̍͂̏̚͝0̵̻͙̟͓̈́̑̉̂̓̏̑̕͘͝0̶̼̟͔̹̪͈͌̓1̶͚̬̜͔̓͌̎͂͑̓́̕̚.” It said and Nefe gritted her teeth at the sound.

"N-Nefe d-doesn't..." she tried to whimper but couldn't.

“0̸͇̫̟̥̔̉̿̍͂̏̚͝0̵̻͙̟͓̈́̑̉̂̓̏̑̕͘͝0̶̼̟͔̹̪͈͌̓1̶͚̬̜͔̓͌̎͂͑̓́̕̚.” It said again as they neared closer to the end of the hallway where a door waited.

Footsteps sounded.

Nefe began to cry as another spoke and then the first and it was as if their voices were drilling into Nefe’s very skull. It was too much.



1̴̡̠͓̻̪̬̈̈̑͐͊͘̕͘0̴̗̟̖̮̘͖̠̱͉̦̾͐̆̍͒͜ͅ0̶̣̞̻̘͓̙̲̪̼̟͓̝̲̍̓̏̅́̎̇̈́̅͘͘͝͝͝0̴̨̢̞͈̖͔̟͙̳̫͚̣̫̿̾͑̉͂̒͝ͅ0̷̧̟̹͖̥̞̟͕̼̙̣͖̓́̋͂̌͋̊̉̚͘͜͜0̸̡̱̩͓̤̟̺̹͇͖̲̲̝̙̬̩̌̑͋̔̕ ̶̛̹͌̒̋̉̀̽͋̆̽͛̔̐́̕1̵̱͕̞̥̬̹͙̫̱̪̗̣̱͚̅1̷̡̦̤̀̏̋̈́͆̈́́̇͠0̷͚͕̹̩̰̯̌̉͌̀̉͋͠0̶̧̡͖͕̲̳̫͓̬̟͎̺͎̒̒̍́͐̉͆̕͘͜͝͝0̷̛̺̈́̓̄͑̋̎̓̃͌̈́͘̚͘͜0̷̩͍̬̼̙̤̦̯͌̀0̶̜̀͒̽̍̑̇̈̉͗͠ ̸̡̢͚̞̻̻͚͉͆̑̐̅̑͐͆̉̀̚̚͜͝1̷̠̬͓̣̬̠̞̩͓̪̫̂̾̎̋̃̊̄̊́0̴̨̧͖̩͔̺̪̖̻͍͉̝̔̒͒̿͗̈́͆̔́̿͊̔̈́̕0̷̛͎́̓͐͐̀̈̃͌̔͊̅̀̄͝͝0̶̣̔̀̈́͌̍̒̈́̀̎̃̈1̸̨̛̺̬̥̮̞̯̰̟̎̅̔̀̒̈́̽̿͌̃̌͝1̸̹̜̜͐̇̊͆̐͝͝0̸̤͉͔̱͖͉̈̓̀̽͋̉̂̀̆̄̄̄0̷̨͕̯͕̮̜̦̮̟̤̘͑͆̀̾́͝0̴̻͔̱̭͆ ̸̛̜̩͔͉̱͑̆̈́͠1̸̫̪̈́̍̀̆̃͗͆̊̊͝͝0̶̠͇̇́́̃͘͝͝0̵̙̲̻̜̪̉̽͌͊̿͐͆͑̚͝0̸̧͙̹͙̹̰̼̿2̷̧̥̳̼͚̩͍͒̈͑͌͋̄̀̀̈́͑̕͝0̴̡̭̯͕̣̹̯̜͔̰̀͂͂̃͜ͅ0̸̧͈̬̫͈̠̝̥̈́͋̋̃͌̈́͐̀̍̾̄͌̽̇̈́0̸̡̩̤̫͕͍̮̞̟͖͕͐̐̿̒͋́̎͘0̸͉͚̣̻͈͒̄̋͝1̸̢̮̗̩̠̲̟̬͙̯̠͑͋͛͛́̈́̈́́̃̄͊̒̕͠1̴̡̠͓̻̪̬̈̈̑͐͊͘̕͘0̴̗̟̖̮̘͖̠̱͉̦̾͐̆̍͒͜ͅ0̶̣̞̻̘͓̙̲̪̼̟͓̝̲̍̓̏̅́̎̇̈́̅͘͘͝͝͝0̴̨̢̞͈̖͔̟͙̳̫͚̣̫̿̾͑̉͂̒͝ͅ0̷̧̟̹͖̥̞̟͕̼̙̣͖̓́̋͂̌͋̊̉̚͘͜͜0̸̡̱̩͓̤̟̺̹͇͖̲̲̝̙̬̩̌̑͋̔̕ ̶̛̹͌̒̋̉̀̽͋̆̽͛̔̐́̕1̵̱͕̞̥̬̹͙̫̱̪̗̣̱͚̅1̷̡̦̤̀̏̋̈́͆̈́́̇͠0̷͚͕̹̩̰̯̌̉͌̀̉͋͠0̶̧̡͖͕̲̳̫͓̬̟͎̺͎̒̒̍́͐̉͆̕͘͜͝͝0̷̛̺̈́̓̄͑̋̎̓̃͌̈́͘̚͘͜0̷̩͍̬̼̙̤̦̯͌̀0̶̜̀͒̽̍̑̇̈̉͗͠ ̸̡̢͚̞̻̻͚͉͆̑̐̅̑͐͆̉̀̚̚͜͝1̷̠̬͓̣̬̠̞̩͓̪̫̂̾̎̋̃̊̄̊́0̴̨̧͖̩͔̺̪̖̻͍͉̝̔̒͒̿͗̈́͆̔́̿͊̔̈́̕0̷̛͎́̓͐͐̀̈̃͌̔͊̅̀̄͝͝0̶̣̔̀̈́͌̍̒̈́̀̎̃̈1̸̨̛̺̬̥̮̞̯̰̟̎̅̔̀̒̈́̽̿͌̃̌͝1̸̹̜̜͐̇̊͆̐͝͝0̸̤͉͔̱͖͉̈̓̀̽͋̉̂̀̆̄̄̄0̷̨͕̯͕̮̜̦̮̟̤̘͑͆̀̾́͝0̴̻͔̱̭͆ ̸̛̜̩͔͉̱͑̆̈́͠1̸̫̪̈́̍̀̆̃͗͆̊̊͝͝0̶̠͇̇́́̃͘͝͝0̵̙̲̻̜̪̉̽͌͊̿͐͆͑̚͝0̸̧͙̹͙̹̰̼̿2̷̧̥̳̼͚̩͍͒̈͑͌͋̄̀̀̈́͑̕͝0̴̡̭̯͕̣̹̯̜͔̰̀͂͂̃͜ͅ0̸̧͈̬̫͈̠̝̥̈́͋̋̃͌̈́͐̀̍̾̄͌̽̇̈́0̸̡̩̤̫͕͍̮̞̟͖͕͐̐̿̒͋́̎͘0̸͉͚̣̻͈͒̄̋͝1̸̢̮̗̩̠̲̟̬͙̯̠͑͋͛͛́̈́̈́́̃̄͊̒̕͠



Too much!

Nefe screamed.

Silence.

Nefe had come to a stop. Nefe opened her eyes and this time, a face looked back at Nefe.

Silver swirling eyes peered into Nefe’s. A woman’s face, silver upon silver, meshing, flowing, forming shape. Beautiful but terrible. Something that wasn’t born, this Nefe knew. Nefe felt strangely calm as the silver one looked at Nefe. Maybe this was Nefe’s hope? A prayer answered?

“H-Help Nefe. P-Please h-help Nefe.” Nefe pleaded in a small voice. Nefe did not like how she sounded. Nefe wasn’t weak like Tum. At the thought of her twin, Nefe almost choked out a cry. When the woman didn’t answer and instead had begun to poke and prod Nefe with her finger’s did Nefe feel that calm begin to flow away.

Nefe began to shake instead at the cold touch. Nefe felt herself begin to unravel as the touching stopped and the woman moved out of Nefe’s eyesight. Nefe strained to get a look but felt something cold snap over her forehead, restricting Nefe’s movement. Nefe began to breathe fast as panic seeped in. All Nefe managed to make out was the room Nefe was in had a very distant ceiling. The air was cold and there was a lack of any smell, something Nefe hadn’t picked up on before. It only made Nefe feel worse. A wrongness Nefe could not describe.

“N-Nefe will be g-good. Nefe p-promises!” Nefe began to say. “Nefe will listen to m-mother! Nefe will do what mother asks! P-Please h-help Nefe! Please!” she cried as fresh tears fell down Tefe’s face. Tefe tasted the salt as a few found Tefe’s mouth.

The woman returned and cocked her head as she looked upon Nefe. The woman blinked a few times and then reached out towards Nefe. Instinctively, Nefe began to thrash and fight. Nefe would resist! Nefe wouldn’t let this happen! The woman’s hand went for Nefe’s face in what seemed like slow motion. Nefe hissed and snapped Nefe’s teeth but it didn’t work and Nefe shut Nefe’s eyes tight. Defiant until the end. Nefe felt a touch across the corner of Nefe’s eye. Then the pressure subsided.

When Nefe opened her eyes, she saw that the woman had one of Nefe’s tears on the point of her finger. The woman looked at it and then spoke, “Do not cry. Tears are useless in the wars to come.” The woman looked to the side of Nefe and Nefe hissed as that terrible voice from before spoke.



“1̸̫̪̈́̍̀̆̃͗͆̊̊͝͝0̶̠͇̇́́̃͘͝͝0̵̙̲̻̜̪̉̽͌͊̿͐͆͑̚͝0̸̧͙̹͙̹̰̼̿2̷̧̥̳̼͚̩͍͒̈͑͌͋̄̀̀̈́͑̕͝0̴̡̭̯͕̣̹̯̜͔̰̀͂͂̃͜ͅ0̸̧͈̬̫͈̠̝̥̈́͋̋̃͌̈́͐̀̍̾̄͌̽̇̈́?”


“Acknowledged.” The woman spoke, her voice now cold and unemotional. “Pantherasapien. Female. Eighteen years.” Nefe shied away as the woman walked around her with an ever present gaze.


“1̷̢̡̻̥̗̿͒́0̸̛̙̏̈̈́͐͑͋̓̎̕0̵̡̥̺̤̮̰̩̿̇́͋̅0̷̝͚̄̀1̷̧̼̪͓͉̪̰̆0̶͉̘̼̘̝̙͓̒͆̍̿̕͝ ̴̡̡̻͔̯̭̥̗̀̀̈́̆̿̈1̸̡̛̣̩̺̖̝͓̗̎͆̓͆͜0̷̯͆̽͑̐̃̂͂̇͝0̵̨̠̬̠̩̫͍́̋̌̄0̸̨̲͙̖͖̣̖̩̮͌̆͂͘͝͠1̸̛̟̥͔̠̟̭͈̌̄0̸͇̫̟̥̔̉̿̍͂̏̚͝0̵̻͙̟͓̈́̑̉̂̓̏̑̕͘͝0̶̼̟͔̹̪͈͌̓1̶͚̬̜͔̓͌̎͂͑̓́̕̚ ̴͉̮̘̜̩̞͌̋̆͋̇̊͠ͅ0̶̞̺͖͇͕̬͊ͅ0̴̧̛̙̦̘̘̝̫͗̑͒ͅ0̸͎͕̅̂̎̓̅́̑͜1̷̮͌̓̀͒͊̕͝0̴̛̠̮̙̺͈̾͋̌̓͑̊̈́̈́͘͜1̵͓̲͍̩͈͆́͊̔̽͛̉͋̽̄ ̵̱͎͓̆͒ͅ0̸̗̲̀̀̿͆̋̃̅̂̓̆0̷̢̦̭̭̯̫̮̅1̶̲̃͛0̸̪̯̮͕̖̤̜̩̋̋̑͒͑̇̍͝0̶̖͉͙̀̋̔̒͛̓̀̀͘̚1̷͖̎́́̄̉̃͆1̶͖̋̍ ̸̞̝̗͊0̸̣͈̠̪̥̻̼͈͆̽͐̊͂͝ͅ0̸̨̲͇́̆̅́̾̓͛́́͘0̸̡̟̮̲̳̉̿̑0̵̲͉̫͚̪̺̙͊0̴̣͇̓͠.”


“Essence negative. Specimen lacks noticeable aberrations in makeup. Parameter requirements met for experimental group. Slate for immediate apparatus induction.”


“1̷̗̲̩͉̗̠͒̏͗̚0̸̗̱̅̊̓̊̈́͝0̴̡̜̗̪͈͚̏̾̆͑͜0̷̭̟̾0̶̨͍͙̜͚̺̤̜͇͇̽0̶̡͗̇̀͂ ̶̳͖̗̩̠̀̽͊̂̿̓̆1̴̠̳͕͙̘̭̈́͐̎͜1̵͖͈̱̍̌0̸̈̎͗̃̂̎̀̈́͝ͅ0̷̥̤͙̹́0̶̧̛̩̤͖̪̙͔͗͗̀̌͒͠0̷̡̤̖̭̻̲͓̤̝͑̕0̷̪͚̯̲̳̟̈͛̉̌̈́̕.”


“Affirmative. Correlation unknown. Further testing required.” The woman came to a stop before her. Nefe did not know what the conversation had been about, such words were lost on Nefe, after all. But Nefe could not shake that something terrible was about to befall Nefe. So Nefe couldn’t stop the tears from flowing once more.

Nefe began to be moved again.

Nefe begged. Nefe cried. Nefe pleaded.

The woman smiled forcefully, it didn’t look quite right, and then said, “You are broken but it isn’t your fault. You are not to blame for how you are. I’ll fix you and you’ll be better for it, Nefe, Aziza’s daughter. Your organic components are but fuel for the enemy, after all. And they can’t have fuel any longer.”

Nefe screamed but not a soul heard her.



Moss VI





“Have you ever looked at something… something that makes you pause?” Rahdayo murmured as he cradled his sister’s head. He had Zafrina clutched close to his chest, blood stained bandage pressed tight to her stump of an arm. The world was in constant motion around him, a green blur to his eyes. He had to blink every time he lifted his head to look out. How they raced like a demi-god of old.

Zafrina didn’t answer but that was alright. She could hear him. “I once stared out at the mountains back home on a morning like any other, you know? Da was chopping wood. Ma was…” he trailed off as they hit a bump in the road. He could hear Moss and Teefee talking, saying something, but what? He didn’t know. He cared but not enough to look at them. What would they see if they saw him?

He began talking to his sister again, shoving the thought aside. “And I saw nothing out of the ordinary but I felt so strange. I looked at my hands, back at the scenery, back to my hands. They were shaking. I couldn’t quite grasp it but I knew, deep down, something was wrong.” he felt a smile form on his dry lips despite it all. Leaning forward, he rested his cheek upon Zafrina’s warm head. “I came to realize that what was different had nothing to do with what I saw but with how I saw myself.” he sighed. “It was a moment of stark realization. Have you ever had that sister? Ever asked yourself why you were alive? Why you got to breathe mountain air? How you can flex your hand? How you can walk and talk?” He felt something wet slide down his cheek, his voice growing small. “I didn’t feel real at that moment. Like everything had been a lie. How could I deserve any of it? How could I live when… That was the day after… She died.”

He did not like to think about that day. Her face flashed before his eyes. Golden locks and small horns. A blue dress blowing in the wind. A raging river from spring melt. A dare. Cold, cold water and a warm smile despite it all. He did not deserve that smile. But Rahdayo found that, like a snake, it slithered its way into his mind when he least expected it. Those thoughts and memories. Zafrina didn’t know how it still poisoned him. Worse than when their parents… He shut his eyes tight, trying to banish the thoughts. Yet it was no use. He had failed again. He had failed to protect someone he loved. He swore he wouldn’t. He swore! He had done nothing as he had held Teefee. He had smiled, reassuringly, even when he was breaking like glass inside.

“I’m drowning again.” he cried but the world kept moving.




Nikan plunged his spear into the water with precision. He had been waiting an age for such a chance. He brought the spear up from the churning current and frowned. There was no fish on the tip. He muttered a curse under his breath and tossed the spear to the side. He stared at the water rushing past his legs, then fell face first into it. He was content to let the flow take him wherever it pleased. He didn’t care. The water was his friend after all.

He let out a sigh all the same, bubbles rising from his mouth. The old ways were difficult and he couldn't grasp how his father and his father before him had managed to spear any fish. Perhaps they knew a secret he did not? He should have asked. He floated up and turned so that he faced the sky. He took a deep breath as he rounded a curve in the river. The water was cool and the sunlight warm. Nowadays, there were better ways to catch fish. So he let his frustrations wash away. There was no point in being upset when the water called him home.

He drifted to sleep.

It was only later he awoke to shouting.

“...Leave it alone!”

“But Mistressssss, Teefee sees him breathing.”

“Teefee by the love of the gods, come over here now! We have more pressing issues. We can’t deal with a dead man washed to shore.”

Dead?

Nikan sat up.

He both heard someone yelp and another curse.

He looked out at the river, it seemed it deposited him on a nice sandy beach but the lengthening shadows of the day had obscured the sunlight. He spun to see a short green thing and a tall white haired woman looking at him, not a boulder throw away. They looked haggard with worn clothes stained dark. The short green thing took out a knife and pointed it at him. She had the air of a hunter.

Nikan cocked his head and stood up. He towered over the squat green thing and even the white haired woman from where he stood. Oh, she had strange ears. The green woman took a step to stand in between him and her. Not a hunter then, a warrior.

Nikan raised his hands up, and said, “I mean no harm.”

The green woman narrowed her eyes at him. “If you truly mean no harm, then let us depart separate ways.”

Nikan lowered his hands and gave a nod. “Of course. But for curiosity's sake, might I ask your purpose here? It is not every day I find strange people by the river side.”

“We could say the same.” The short woman said, eyes sharp but wary. “But so be it. We are simply travelers taking rest for the night. We won’t linger here long tomorrow before we go on our way.”

“The road has been difficult, I see.” The woman gave no reply as he stroked his chin. The taller woman looked nervous, flighty like a bird.

After a time the short woman said, “We must be going now. Farewell.” And spun to leave. The white haired woman looked after her as she left, then back at Nikan.

“Come on.” The short woman said, glancing back at the girl. Nikan watched as she took a step after her but then paused. She looked him in the eye and said, “Teefee wonders if you are a healer?”

The short woman spun fully, face aghast but surprisingly, she made no outcry.

There was pleading in the white haired girl’s eyes, her expression one of sincerity. Still, the way she spoke of this Teefee? Was it the short woman, her mistress?

“I know some remedies. Is this Teefee hurt?” he asked.

The girl shook her head. “Teefee is fine. Teefee’s friends are hurt. They need help. Help Teefee cannot provide.” Her words were sorrowful, her strange accent reminiscent of a song. Nikan found himself intrigued. He had not expected to find himself in such a strange situation but who was he to go against the river’s flow?

“Show me Teefee’s friends and I will do what I can. I swear upon the river that I shall bring you or your traveling companions no ill will.” She looked back at the short woman, who looked at Nikan with a raised brow. He could tell she thought it was a bad idea. He did not blame her but if there was a chance he could help those she cared about, well…

She nodded.




Pain. Dull, throbbing, pain. She opened her eyes to blinding light and aches. She couldn’t help it, she couldn’t keep it in, so she screamed. But it didn’t come out like a scream, it came out like a dry wheeze. So thirsty. Her eyes fluttered between light and dark, as voices drifted into her ears.

“Zafrina? Zafrina?”

“Breathe, just breathe.”

“It’s going to be alright, just focus.”

“Hold her down. Don’t let her hurt herself.”

The wheeze became a scream at last. Her eyes began to water as they focused, despite the pain. Oh gods, it was terrible.

Then she saw an angel. Or the closest thing she could imagine was an angel. He was tall and looming over her in the sunlight. But his bronzed skin… She had to blink back tears but she could swear in that moment, his skin was alive like light touching clear water. Reflecting and shimmering. It was hard to look at and then his eyes… Crystal blue. He crouched down and said but one word to her;

“Sleep.”




Teefee sat next to Rahdayo with tired eyes, yet Teefee knew Teefee could not yet sleep. Teefee’s friend? Lover? Teefee did not know. He looked as if sleep would bring no comfort. It broke something inside Teefee. Teefee did not know why. Teefee had never felt such a way before and Teefee was no stranger to such terrible things. Teefee was banished, after all.

That was the secret Teefee had not shared with anyone. Not even the mistress. And Teefee wouldn’t. Couldn’t. Not yet. Maybe never. What would big sis Shah think of Teefee? What would Teefee’s other siblings think of the cowardice that bloomed in Teefee’s heart like a jaw that trapped the paw. Teefee leaned against Rah but he made no move to wrap an arm around Teefee.

Teefee pouted but stopped herself. Teefee had to act better. This was not the time for such kitten-like behavior. Teefee was an adult. Teefee had to prove to them. All of them. Teefee could be better. Teefee would be better.

“Rah?” Teefee asked, looking at him. There were bags under his eyes as he looked at the fire. It reflected in his dark eyes.

He did not answer.

Teefee spoke anyway.

“Zafrina will be alright. Teefee knows this. Large man has helped her, like he helped you.” Teefee tilted her head, hoping for any recognition but still, it did not come. “Rah. Teefee knows you hurt. Teefee wants to help. Please let Teefee help?”

“You already are.” Rah whispered, leaning his head onto Teefee’s.

Teefee felt a bolt of warmth curl around Teefee’s heart. But Teefee wasn’t so sure Teefee was helping.

“How does Teefee help?” She asked, unsure.

“By being beside me.”

Teefee smiled as a purr blossomed within.




Moss slumped against the same tree as Nikan. The tall human was a strange man, with strange ways and the way his skin reacted to sunlight… Moss was wary of him but at the same time, she couldn’t help but feel impressed. He had helped Zafrina, cleaned the wound and put some sort of healing salve on it before bandaging it with leaves. The same for Rahdayo. At least he was conscious but she knew those eyes of his like her own. They would need to talk.

Nikan in the meantime, had asked no questions besides the nature of the wounds and how they came to be. Moss answered truthfully, even if it sounded insane. He took it all in stride. Now they settled into the dusk of approaching night. She felt uneasy but they couldn’t go any further without proper rest. It was a miracle they had even found a healing man. Moss didn’t want to think about the alternative.

For now she looked out at the makeshift camp. Teefee and Rahdayo huddled by the fire, while Zafrina slept.

“I worry about a fever.” Moss said.

Nikan, who had his eyes shut, gave a small nod. “I have done what I can for now. If a fever comes then we must hope the spirits help her to break it.”

“You can’t help if it comes to that?” Moss asked incredulously.

“There is little I can do here. Only the village shaman knows the true healing words. And we are far from her.”

“So what you’re really saying is that you don’t want to take us to your village.”

A smile graced his lips. “Perceptive of you.”

“Why?” Moss asked, crossing her arms.

“Hmmm. How would you feel if someone you knew brought strangers into your home? Even if it was for all the right reasons? You might understand, you might even help, or you might feel betrayed. How dare you bring strangers here. Some of my people would feel this way.” he confessed.

Moss sighed. “I get it. But so what? If a fever strikes her, I won’t be equipped to help her if it worsens. I can’t…” She felt her voice catch in her throat. She cleared it with a grimace, composing herself. “I’ll do anything.”

“Anything is too steep a price.” Nikan said, “But I hear your heart, Moss. It is good. I shall stay with you until we can be certain a fever comes to neither. I shall consider what action to take if the worst comes to pass. Until then, as payment, you will teach me your ways.”

Moss narrowed her eyes. “A generous offer, one I will accept gladly but pray tell, what ways are you after?”

Nikan smiled and opened his crystal blue eyes to look at her.

“Anything.”




Above them, breaking through the darkening sky like a flaming arrow, a meteor fell…



Moss V





Moss held the dagger in her hand tight. The rain continued to beat down in sheets that made the creek rise. Water began to slosh over her feet and she shivered from the cold. This was not how she had envisioned she would die. Certainly not with her pupils- her family, by her side. No, they were going to live far longer than she. Somewhere safe with their own families. Not where civilization never crept and children's stories turned into living nightmares. Moss prayed to any god who might have been listening. But none answered.

The demons came.

Then the bundled sword embedded itself into a charging demon. Cloth and all. The thing screamed as it died, suffusing with a terrible light as it became molten. Moss was too stunned to take a step back. That had not been how Damyl or her cousin Desmond. It was terrible. She watched as the cloth burned away into cinders and the sword ate it all up, hovering in the air as if on a phantom wind. It was a brief flash of light that lit up the world in the pouring rain. Only to be snuffed out by something far worse than any demon. That, she had always known.

It didn’t make it any less surreal.

The sword shot towards another demon, bisecting it as it spun into another, cutting its head in half like a watermelon. There was a sickening sound as the corpses hit the water with a splash. Black blood intertwined with brimming silver, leached from the corpses like paint hit with lacquer. The other demons paused, re-assessing with what little time they had. Evidently, they did not care if they died. For one struck out towards Rahdayo and Teefee, seeking to bypass Zafrina who stood guard over them. As the sword twisted in the air, cutting down the others with grisly efficiency, this lone demon sought those that could not fight back. Moss felt her feet begin to move but she could only watch as it let Zafrina swing at its arm, hacking into the flesh and leaving the limb dangling.

Moss began to shout.

Rahdayo put up his arm to ward off the attack as the demon’s claw swiped.

The sword found its mark true, embedding itself into the side of the creature, penetrating the flesh all the way up to its hilt. The beast dropped dead as the sword slipped out. The sword swirled around and cut in half another demon as it sprang at them. Moss felt a sigh of relief as she got to them. They were unharmed. They were fine. They would b-

Zafrina screamed.

Moss looked at her with wide eyes, she had dropped her sword and now clutched her left wrist. There was a cut there, beginning to flow with silver and red. The goblin cursed as she rounded Rahdayo, who was trying to stand, and Teefee who had pressed her hands over her ears. Pieter flashed before Moss’s eyes. He had been cut. His wound had been a mere scratch and yet…

And yet…

Moss cursed and pushed Zafrina to the ground. She fell to her knees, oblivious to it all as she began to spasm.

“Hold her still!” Moss screamed at Rahdayo. The boy obeyed with fear in his eyes.

Moss plucked Zafrina’s sword from the water and rose it high. “Forgive me.” She cried as she brought the blade down upon Zafrina’s upper arm.

There was a stark silence amidst the rain as the blade cut true. Zafrina’s arm fell off into the water and the dark haired girl lost consciousness. Rahdayo had to hold her up or she would have drowned. He looked at Moss with a mix of terror and anger.

Moss couldn’t think of that now. “We need to bind that wound and stop the bleeding.” She leaned down to inspect the cut, it had been right above the elbow and now just a stump. But she only saw red. Not the poison. Zafrina might end up hating her but at least she’d live. That was if they could stop the bleeding. If she lost any more blood…

Moss ripped some cloth from the lower part of her shirt. A long strip that she tied as tight as she could above the cut to staunch the flow of blood. Rahdayo ripped off half his shirt and began to hold it to her stump.

“Keep it there. Keep it there.” Moss said quickly, falling to her knees before Teefee. She grabbed the cat girl by the sides of her arms and said her name. Teefee’s eyes were shut tight and she was murmuring something to herself. Moss began to shake her, repeating her name. When she at last yelled it, Teefee’s eyes snapped open and she lowered her hands from her ears.

“Teefee! You have to be brave now, do you understand? I need you. Zafrina needs you. Rahdayo needs you.” Moss pleaded.

“Teefee-” She croaked, “Teefee isn’t brave like big sis Shah. Teefee is scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared at a time like this, sweet one. But you can’t let it control you. No more hiding now. Your family needs you.”

Teefee shut her eyes as if steadying herself.

Moss gave her a final push with, “You can be brave like big sis Shah, Teefee. I know you already are.”

Teefee opened her eyes with a look of determination. She nodded in agreement and Moss smiled at her. “We need to get out of the creek and into shelter. Can you help with that, Teefee?”

“Teefee can help. Teefee will help!” She got to her feet and went to Rahdayo, who also smiled at her. They began to drag Zafrina toward the other side of the creek. Moss looked back at the battle but found that the sword was hanging in place above its triumph. Cautiously, Moss made her approach.

The sword glowed softly, its reflective surface like a mirror. She saw herself, a version of herself that was battered and bloodied. She wanted to hate the sword. It was too perfect. Too dangerous. Yet some innate part of her could only feel awe. It had slain the demons, that was evident by the black streaks in the water. Silver-tinged, as the water rose. It was up to her calves now.

The sword seemed to hum as she stood before it. Then it began to speak.

Voices alone, conjoined, loud and soft. Male, female, deep and light. Twisted and angelic.

“Use me.”

“Caress me.”

“Wield me!”

“More, more, more.”

“No no no!”

“Whyyyyy?”

“Stop it!”

“Don’t, please don’t!”

“I hate you!”

“Love me
.”

Madness. It was madness. Could a sword even go mad? Moss took a step back. This was beyond her. It was beyond any of them. Where was the voice that had helped her? Why did it not speak? Where was it?
The sword’s point was suddenly right before her. Moss froze. Her reflexes hadn’t been fast enough. She was caught. Oh by the gods she was caught. Panic swelled within her.

The sword spoke again.

“Moss.” It was the woman’s voice from before. “I can’t control them.” She sounded strained, as if her focus on the conversation was an afterthought. “So many voices. So much passion. You can’t… Touch me... Bare. Do you understand? I apologize about... friend. The killing was… Is… Almost quenched. We must… Go home. To her. Fix… Control.”

Moss blinked as the blade flashed with a bright light. Before her there came a very strange thing. Her mind couldn’t comprehend it at all at first. A wooden boat that had, mysteriously, silver-like… wheels? It was a buggy! A buggy! A goblin buggy from the lands across the sea! Where goblins lived on the surface in their Tricity and held grand races. Moss felt her heart jump with excitement. A loud thunk shocked her back to her senses. The sword had fallen into the water. How would she… She noticed something white in the buggy. It was cloth.

Carefully, ever so carefully, she wrapped the sword once more and got into the driver seat of the buggy. Truth be told, she had no idea how to use it but she had a vague understanding of how. There seemed to be some strange devices at the front. A smooth bone wheel she placed her hands on. She felt her feet touch something and the buggy lurched forward, jostling her. Moss began to grin stupidly. This was going to be fun.

Yet it was not the fun of it that propelled her forward. After securing her wounded pupils in the back and the sword, Moss had taken them up and out of the creek. It was still dark and there were no roads to speak of, so it was all chance. Well, until Teefee flicked something at the front and light burst forth. After a few stern words with Teefee, Moss had told her not to touch anything anymore. She didn’t want to end up breaking something or sending them into a ravine at a sudden burst of speed. She had no idea how to use the buggy as it was, well, at least properly. She took the path of least resistance. It was a bumpy ride all the same. But at least now, they had a chance.

Moss looked back at Zafrina and Rahdayo. He had her propped up against him in the back, the young man looking sleepy. Zafrina was still unconscious. The bleeding had stopped but she looked too pale. It drove Moss to action. They had to get help. They just had to.

But would it be too late?



Moss IV





Her heart was thundering as her feet carried on. She clutched the sword in her arms, now tightly bound once more. It had been a foolish, stupid mistake to leave it unwatched and now, now they paid for it. She grimaced as a dent in the earth almost made her trip. She picked up her pace once more and looked ahead. The thing about being a member of a shorter race, was that your legs didn’t carry you as far as someone who had longer appendages. As such, Teefee, Rahdayo and Zafrina had a substantial lead upon her and several humans ran in front of them. That wasn’t necessarily their fault however. Everytime they began to slow down, she shouted and cursed them to go faster. The humans never did slow, sure they staggered but the gods had blessed them, it seemed, with unnatural longevity when it came to running. But she knew why, didn’t she?

Something terrible pursued them in that dark night. Baleful howls echoed behind them, pierced time and time again with a very human scream. Moss didn’t know if it was real or not. In the confusion of the camp, people ran every which way. There had been no order, just chaos. She had said run, hadn’t she? Regret was like a bitter root that one tasted too many times in life. Knowable but never forgettable, even if you didn’t think in the moment. She was stupid, she had caused this mess and now, she had to get as many people safe as she could.

She remembered Perry's grief at the loss of Damyl and Pieter's betrayal, who's veins had begun flowing with silver. Coupled with the blood loss, there was no future for him. He and Perry had stayed behind, for Perry could not flee due to a bum knee. She would not forget his kindness. That she swore to herself as the inky black of night swallowed the trio ahead of her. Clouds had rolled in front of the Hand. She was alone and her eyes, unlike the other three, did not work well in the night. Which was ironic since she was born underground. Something screamed behind with sudden violence. She winced as it sent her ears ringing.

“Use me.” A quiet voice whispered into her ear. She jumped and spun her head around but there was no one there.

“Caress me.” The voice came again with feminine candor. Again she looked but there was no one there.

“Wield me!” This time a different voice spoke, more masculine and raging.

She fully whirled and came to a stop to listen as she gasped for breath. She slicked the sweat off her brow and moved wet strands of hair back. She knew she couldn’t speak, for fear of what it might bring. But there was no one around her, wasn’t there?

Unless…

She looked down at the blade and found her hands shaking as they gripped the cloth.

“Maseline.” The voice, a woman’s voice she had heard once before so long ago. Soft but reassuring. It came from the sword. “Duck!” The sword commanded.

Duck?

She fell out of instinct as something sharp sailed in the air just where her head had been. A rush of air followed and Moss felt her body jump into action like a well oiled lantern. With the sword still clutched in her arms, she got on her back and brought the sword up as a shield. And it was well she did, for a creature as dark as the night raked claws into the cloth. She heard a ripping sound and then the thing screamed in pain, before it abruptly turned and ran. She could hear it crashing across the land.

Moss blinked. The entire interaction had lasted no more than a few seconds. Her body and mind didn't even know how to react. Should she be afraid? Exhilarated over not being killed? The sword did not speak but she looked it over and saw that where the thing had swung at it, the cloth was torn. Black blood stained the cloth but not the blade itself. The thing was dangerous and she didn't know if she should be more afraid of it or what hunted them.

Them!

Moss scrambled to her feet, careful not to touch the blade where the cloth no longer covered it and began to run.




Zafrina clutched the handle of her short sword tightly, for if she didn’t, it would shake too much. Her hands were clammy and periodically she'd have to switch holds and wipe her hands on her tunic as they ran. She was sweating profusely by the time they came to a stop to just breathe. She gasped for breath as Rahdayo looked at her, his golden eyes now dark as night.

“Are you alright?” He asked between gasps.

She nodded her head, “Of course. And you?”

He nodded as well, then looked over to Teefee, who was stretching out her arms before touching the ground by leaning over. She barely looked winded. Rahdayo smiled before he looked back at Zafrina. He raised an eyebrow and looked lower. It seemed she had unconsciously placed a hand on her abdomen. She withdrew it and walked past him. That would not be a topic of discussion right now.

“Teefee.” She said in a hushed whisper. The cat girl glanced at her with large pupils, she was sitting on the ground, legs straight before her. She had her arms touching her toes. Teefee's white hair caught a beam of the Hand's light, flaring with brightness before it faded to Grey by an obscuring cloud. The cat's ears twitched with what seemed to be impatience. “You seem to be faring well.”

Teefee flashed a grin. “Teefee's siblings would play tag for days across the plains. Teefee would never get caught.” She seemed to say with an air of pride. Zafrina just frowned. This was the girl Rahdayo was having relations with?

She turned back to her brother, who was staring off into the dark from which they came. Zafrina cocked her ear to listen for sounds. They had found themselves in a low dip in the land, either side surrounded by trees. Like great silent watchers. Sand and pebbles were beneath her hooves. Yet she could only hear screaming very faintly. Far, far away. The humans they had been following were gone, the trio had lost track of them with such little Hand light. She walked over to Rahdayo and followed his gaze.

“I no longer hear her.” He whispered.

“She said to keep running.” But even as she said it, Zafrina could not hold back the worry in her heart.

“We should go back and find her. What if something happened?” Her brother began to walk but Zafrina sheathed her sword and grabbed him by the wrist.

“No.” She said firmly. “We can't do that little brother. She's more experienced than any of us. She will be fine. We should keep moving.”

Teefee came up and hugged him from behind, leaning against his back as she nuzzled her face into his tunic. Zafrina felt a pang of loneliness at the sight. Foolish at such a time when their lives were in danger.

“Mistress will be fine. Teefee knows this.” The cat girl said matter of factly. For once it seemed she was focused enough to know their situation wasn't the time for games. “Come, Teefee thinks we should keep going. Teefee’s hair is prickly. Which means Teefee is frightened.” she murmured that last bit, almost as if she was ashamed to admit it.

Rahdayo turned and held her tight in one motion. “Hey now, don't be afraid. It will be alright, you'll see.” he placed a hand on her head and Teefee stood up on her toes to press into it. “And yes, you're both right. We should go.” he glanced at Zafrina, doubt in his eyes.

Zafrina nodded. It was the right choice, even if it felt wrong. She had to tell herself Moss would be alright. Yet, try as she might, she couldn’t help but feel it was wrong. She was still shaken up by what she witnessed. Teefee and Rahdayo began to walk.
She began to follow but in the moment she took a step, she became keenly aware that it was too late to run. Something descended upon her from above in a silent swoop. With a terrible scream that wasn’t her own, she was pinned to the earth. Her very breath was knocked out of her from the force of the blow. Her eyes bulged as she saw the thing whose claws pressed into her arms. A demon from ancient stories. Sinewy wings flapped, gusting a foul stench that would have made her vomit if she could breath. The thing looked like an overgrown leech. It had no eyes, just a gaping circular mouth upon its flabby head. From the gnashing teeth came pop, pop, pop. The sound of hunger.

She took a sputtering breath as the things drool hit her in the face. Then she screamed, trying in vain to free her sword arm. To free either arm. The thing knew enough to pin her. To keep her from being dangerous. That fact alone made the terror truly sink in as it lowered its sucking mouth towards hers. Then something tackled it with a great yell, Rahdayo, freeing her from its terrible gasp. She wasted no time getting to her feet and pulling her sword out. That was her brother! He was rolling on the ground, the creature slightly larger than he, as they tussled. He had grabbed it’s head, keeping it away from his face but the thing’s muscled bulged as it attempted to tear into him with its taloned feet. Rahdayo yelled out in pain as he was cut. Zafrina began to panic, she couldn’t get in a hit in fear of- There!

She stabbed her blade into the creature’s neck as Rah held it outward. The blade slipped in like butter and the creature reared back, flapping its wings as it freed itself from Rahdayo, taking her sword with it. It began to sputter, black blood coating the ground as it twirled and spun, gurgling with its terrible pop pop pop. Then it collapsed in a heap, muscles quivering as it grew still.

Zafrina went to Rahdayo, who had managed to sit up. She began to look over him as he looked at the demon with a wild look in his eye. He had been cut on the outer part of his thigh, torn straight through his clothing into the flesh. Not deep but it was bleeding.

“We need- we need,” she stammered before taking a deep breath. Her nerves, by the gods her damn nerves were frayed. She gritted through her teeth after a moment, “Teefee, cloth!” When the cat girl made no reply she said it again.

Nothing.

“Teefee?” Rahdayo called and Zafrina looked up to follow his gaze.

The white haired girl’s ears were pressed back, almost flat against her head. Her hair was standing up, like the heckles of a dog or her smaller cousins. This would have been intimidating if not for the fact that Teefee only held a dagger, gripped in both hands as she shook violently. There was a wild mad terror on her face that made Zafrina pity her. It was the same terror she had once felt, paralyzing and all controlling. If she heard them at all, she couldn’t react. Teefee’s knees buckled and she collapsed onto them, still clutching her knife. Seeing this, Rahdayo pushed up and got onto his feet. Zafrina didn’t even try to stop him. It was better to keep his leg moving before it stiffened up. It still needed bandaging and then cleaning before any infection set in but…

She watched as her brother approached Teefee from the side, dropping to his knees beside her. Teefee, at last, glanced at him as he placed a hand upon her dagger and pushed it down. They said nothing as he placed his other arm around her and pulled her to his chest. She dropped her dagger and clung to him. Zafrina looked away and up into the sky. They weren’t safe here. Not anywhere that was open.

She retrieved her sword and noticed her right hand was slick upon the pommel. She prodded her arm and found she too had been cut but there was no pain. Her blood was up, the fire in her veins ready for anything now. She ripped a part of her shirt off beneath her leathers and began to wipe her blade clean, her own cuts could wait. It was stupid to be caught unawares. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

A twig broke and she swung to the noise.

“Take her and run!” Zafrina called out to Rahdayo.

“But Zafrina-” he began to protest but was cut off as a small figure carrying a package twice her height stumbled through the brambles and nearly into Zafrina. She had raised her blade, poised to strike, but had stopped when she saw the all too familiar, and most welcome sight.

“Moss!” she exclaimed, lowering her blade.

Moss looked as if she had been running for days, and her dark hair was plastered to her forehead. She set the clothed blade down and rested her arms on her legs as she huffed a breath.

“Have to keep moving.” Moss managed to say. “Being hunted.” The goblin’s almost glowing eyes fell upon the corpse of the demon they had killed, then she looked back at Zafrina. A look of shock and awe upon her face. “Good.” Moss said, nodding in approval. The praise was welcomed and Zafrina could not help but stand a bit straighter. Moss looked over at Rahdayo and Teefee, who by this point, was crying softly. Moss looked back at Zafrina, an eyebrow raised.

“Battle shock and Rahdayo took a cut on his thigh. She’ll be fine but he might not be able to walk for long.” They both made their way over to them, Moss dragging the bundle behind her. As short as she was, the goblin stood at the same height that they knelt and she placed a hand upon Teefee’s shoulder. The girl paid her no mind.

Moss said softly, “Teefee, there is no shame in it. We all freeze up and I don’t blame you for it. But you cannot let it consume you right now. We have to keep going.”

“She’s right.” Rahdayo murmured into her hair. Teefee’s ears twitched and her head snapped to the side, eyes focused on the silent trees.

“Teefee…” She whispered, “Teefee knows what’s coming.”

“Teefee…?” Rah asked her. Zafrina looked into the trees, the same as the cat girl, who began to shake again. She noticed the girl turn away and bury her face back into Rahdayo’s chest as red eyes pierced the darkness, peering at them. One pair, another, then another.

“Moss…” Zafrina hissed, getting her sword up and into position, going to stand in between the trees and Rahdayo.

Moss cursed under her breath and laid the bundle next to Teefee as she took out her daggers. She came to stand next to Zafrina.

The red eyes came to the edge of the creek bed, looking down upon them but obscured in darkness. Zafrina felt her arms begin to shake in anticipation and fear.

A raspy voice cut through the growing tension, like a rock jutting up through a river. “Gob-lin.” it said, the words sounded forced and wrong. Too much pronunciation on the gob part of goblin. “Give it to ussss.” it hissed. Another pair of red eyes joined them in the treeline. Zafrina could feel her heart begin to beat loud and fast. Could they hear it?

She glanced at Moss, the goblin poised to strike with her ever calm face. “How do you know about it?” she asked the things.

A deep throaty rattle came. Was it laughing? A tree branch broke, making Zafrina jump where she stood.

“We know powerrrr.” It rattled, as if that would explain anything at all.

Moss seemed to nod however. “And you hunt it for what purpose?”

Deathly quiet, then it answered, “To returnnn.”

“Zafrina. When I make an opening, you must run.” Moss said quickly. “Do not look back. Get to the city, whatever it takes.”

“But-”

“Whatever it takes.” Moss’s words hit hard. With a solemnity she had not known she possessed, Zafrina dipped her head in acknowledgement. “Yes, master.”

The beasts attacked, stepping through the trees and down onto the sandy beach. They were as if a human man had been corrupted by some foul runic arts but worse. Too long limbed, with hands that almost dragged upon the ground. Bodies of skin with bone impressions underneath. Wisps of long dark hair tattered around their heads with sunken expressions, hateful and violent. They didn’t look like human men but at the same time they did. Three went for Moss while one was upon her before she could fully react. It struck her on the side as she lifted her blade and pain blossomed as she cursed. It swung again, twitching erratically, aiming for her head. She almost fell backwards to avoid the blow, touching the ground with her free hand to keep herself up. She then kicked out her legs and swept the thing off its feet. It fell to the side with a snarl. Zafrina jumped at it, intending to impale it with her sword, but it rolled out of the way and her sword hit sand.

She brought the blade up and staggered backwards as it swept at her with its claws. It snapped its teeth at her, red eyes with but a pinprick of black that moved in the same erratic fashion. Zafrina took a deep breath as it twisted its leg up into the air and over its head and used that momentum to stand. It was unnatural and horrifying but she had already slain a beast, hadn’t she? The demon lunged at her with deadly precision. Zafrina could only hope to weather the blow, there would be no dodging.

Claws raked her face causing pain and blood. She managed to deflect its next blow but blood obscured the vision in her left eye. She couldn't wipe it away as another blow came, raking her right arm. It lunged with its head, teeth gnashing. Zafrina dropped low so that it went over her and then brought her head up into its lower jaw. Her horns reverberated from the blow and as the thing became dazed, she swung her sword and sliced its throat wide open. It clutched that cut flesh with a claw as black blood oozed from the wound. The thing sputtered and Zafrina swung again and again and again, cutting it open and spraying its black blood across the ground. When it fell down dead she almost lost her balance and joined it on the ground. Her head felt light as she remained on her feet. She blinked and looked over to Rahdayo and Teefee, they hadn’t moved from where they sat. Her brother had gone very pale and Teefee still clung to him like a lost child. He glanced at her and smiled softly. What did that mean? A loud wet sound brought her senses back to the battle. She turned to see that Moss had slain two of the beasts but still fought the other one.

The sound she had heard had been one of the beast's innards, cut wide at the stomach, spilled open. It lay on the ground, crawling toward Moss. Zafrina was amazed that it had any sort of guts at all, being so lean and bony. The other had died from a knife wound to its eye socket. Zafrina noted that her master was slower than she usually was. Exertion was taking its toll at last. She had to move quickly.

Zafrina went over to the crawling demon, coming up behind and decapitated it in one fell swoop. She inched forward, testing the distance as the blood about her eye still trickled hot down her face. They were circling each other. Moss glanced at her, and said, “You must go now, Zafrina. This is the only opening you might get.”

Zafrina hesitated.

She looked back at Rahdayo, who stared up at the dark sky. It began to rain. Thick cold droplets. She shivered as they hit her warm skin.

“We can’t make it without you now.”

The demon lunged at Moss, she sidestepped at the last moment, and stabbed the thing in the back, leaving a long grisly wound. As it recoiled away, Zafrina pounced and managed to cut its arm as it evaded her. Moss kept up the assault with a well flung dagger that embedded itself into the creature’s chest as it had looked at Zafrina. It turned back to Moss and Zafrina lurched forward. It went on like this for several moments, as the demon grew more and more desperate. Finally, streaming blood from numerous cuts, it swung at Moss with groggy speed. The goblin ducked and used her height as an advantage by ramming her remaining knife into the creature’s neck.

It sank to the ground, pulling the knife and then throwing it at Moss. It hit her in the head, pommel side and she cursed. Zafrina got behind it as it gasped for breath and skewered it between the eyes. Gore erupted and it fell over with a dull thud.

Zafrina felt her legs give out and she sank to the ground, breathing heavy. So too did Moss, who lay facing up in the rain. Zafrina likewise looked up, hoping to wash the blood from her face and the reek of the demon’s blood from her nose. After a time, her master began to laugh wildly.

“I thought they’d be harder to fight.” She mused. “Rahdayo?”

"Yes, mistress?” her brother called weakly.

“How are you two holding up?”

“We’ve been better, mistress. We’ve been much better.”

“And you Zafrina?” Moss called to her.

“I’m alright.” She lied. She was not alright. She felt weak and beyond tired. Her face stung with pain and she was pretty sure she’d have a nasty scar. Furthermore, Rahdayo wasn’t any better than her.

“Let’s get out of this rain.” Moss said, groaning as she got up. “Water might rise if it keeps up.”

Zafrina blinked as a droplet splashed into her open eye. She shot up and rubbed at them, before looking out. Her heart stopped as she looked into the trees. Red eyes. So many red eyes. She clambered to her feet in a panic and almost fell as she ran over to Rahdayo and Teefee. Moss had noticed too, curing under her breath. They had been too slow.
“And here I thought it would have been easy.” Moss muttered. “Damn it all.”

“Teefee,” Rah began to murmur, “You need to run.”

The cat girl looked up at him, her hair sopping wet and plastered to her small face. She still looked like she was in shock but her eyes hardened a bit as she shook her head.

“Please, for me?” he asked, pleading.

Teefee kissed him. Zafrina looked away, back to the treeline. She touched her belly and shut her eyes. A whisper escaped her lips, sad and forlorn, “I’m sorry.”

Zafrina opened her eyes. She wouldn’t go down without a fight.

The demons came.



Moss III





The sun beat down on them as they tread down a decline of rough dirt and coarse grass dotted with wild flowers. Rahdayo and Teefee walked at the front, the two talking and laughing as they went. A budding relationship that she could only feel… What? Excited? Content? Fearful? Moss shook her head. Zafrina walked just before her, carrying not only the wrapped burden on her back but some man's growing child in her womb. A man who would never know it existed. The goblin still wanted to curse her out for her stupidity but it wouldn't really be beneficial. Zafrina had survived twenty-four winters and by all accounts was an adult. She knew the consequences of such an action and now she had to bear it or choose whatever she wished for it. There were other ways, after all. But that would just be between the two of them, for now.

She covered her eyes as she looked up at the Itzala, the sun. Moss always had the strangest feeling that it was watching them and not in a good way. She looked over her shoulder back to endless openless. This hilly expanse of land was almost deserted, save those animals that called it home. Still, she felt like she needed to be alert. One could never be too careful.

Eventually Zafrina had lessened her pace to walk beside Moss. The goblin was always jealous of those with longer legs, being able to walk at whatever pace they chose. Hmphm. She eyed Zafrina, the stoic talyrian looked contemplative as she stared ahead, no doubt at the other two.

“Are you well?” Moss asked her.

“I’m fine.” Zafrina replied, glancing at her.

“You know, we never did finish our discussion about those two.” Moss said, lowering her voice. Teefee might not have been the sharpest tool in a shed but she did have good hearing. “Do you want your brother to be happy?”

Zafrina pursed her lips. “Of course I do. She… She makes him laugh. He needs that.”

Moss smiled softly at that. “I haven’t known Teefee as long as I have known you, Zafrina. She may be dumb and prone to her own vices but have you considered she might actually want your brother as a husband?”

The goat girl blinked and looked at Moss incredulously. “Would her people even let that happen?”

Moss considered before saying, “Sometimes Teefee talks about her older sister, Shahari, and how she would be arranged to someone far away. Unless other cat clans exist, I assume it is possible. I mean,” they both looked at Teefee, who had spotted a bird flying past and was now chasing it, much to Rahdayo’s chagrin. “If they’re all like her, I think it would be easy to set up.”

Zafrina's tinkling laugh made Moss look back at her with an eyebrow raised. “To that, I think you might be right, master.” she said before her face slackened. Then she asked, in a very quiet voice, “He should stay with her, shouldn’t he?”

Moss nodded. “Traveling companions often become more on the road. It would be best if he did stay with Teefee, settled down, maybe cook for a living. Your brother is wasted like this.”

Zafrina sighed. “I don’t know. It would be difficult without him. For me.”

“Zafrina.” Moss said in a gentle voice, “You should stay with them too.”

The girl whipped her head to stare at Moss. A flash of pain behind her eyes was evident before they narrowed. She stopped walking, so did Moss as the two fully turned to one another. “No.”

“Zafrina…”

“No. I refuse.”

“Zafrina.”

“You can’t make me leave you. It isn’t fair!” Zafrina bawled her hands into fists, leaning forward as she did. “I’m not cut out for some homebody life.”

Moss held up a hand to silence her. “You have life growing within you. You would be severely hampered on the road when you begin to show. You have to start thinking about more than just what you want but that of your baby, Zafrina.”

The girl’s face contorted with anger but she shut her eyes and then exhaled a long breath.

Moss went on, “If you think I’m saying this because I don’t want you along, that wouldn’t be true. But please, Zafrina, sometimes we all have to make difficult decisions for the ones we love.”

“I don’t love it.” Zafrina snapped. “It’s a stupid mistake.”

“Do you truly believe that or are you just saying it?” Moss asked.

To that, Zafrina did not have an answer. Moss slowly approached her, the girl’s expression downcast. She took her hand and said, “We know nothing of the future right now. Things may come to pass yet that change our decisions. But you must think on what I’ve said. Again, it will be alright.”

Zafrina nodded and the two began to walk again. It seemed Rah had gotten Teefee back in line as well, as the two were now holding hands as they walked. Each time something caught the cat girl’s attention and she would begin to go after it, Rahdayo tugged her along. Her tail swished back and forth but it didn’t look like she was protesting.

When the sun was beginning to dip overhead, and their feet were growing worn of the day’s travels, Teefee was the first to spot it. The two paused in their walk and waited for Moss and Zafrina to catch up.

She pointed up ahead, to a copse of trees, as the land was gradually shifting back to wooded areas, interspaced with long stretches of grassland and meandering rivers.

“Mistress!” Teefee said, “Teefee sees people.”

“Do you now?” Moss looked out towards where she pointed. Indeed, two wagons highlighted by the beginnings of a fire.

“Hmmm. Come on then and be prepared. Let’s see what’s up here.” The three began to follow their mistress towards the fledgling camp, with little protest. She glanced at them occasionally and found that their eyes were ahead. Zafrina behind her, Rahdayo in the middle and Teefee at the end, almost clinging to Rah. The cat looked oddly protective, which was a good sign.

As they got nearer, Moss could smell the smoke and something savory cooking in the wind. It made her stomach growl. The two wagons had been pulled by great lumbering beasts, almost like a horse and a cow had a cross- she had really never seen anything like them as they grazed from the grasses nearby. She could see people too and they had obviously seen them as a few were walking out to meet them.

Moss stopped a respectful distance away in the twilight. Deep purples tinged with the faintest red were upon the horizon. That view never did get old. When the two men stopped, for they were men, humans by the looks of them, she spoke. “Hail travelers! We come in peace.”

A short squat man with a faded hat spoke, his voice older, “Well met upon this fine evening, madam. What business do you have in these parts? Haven’t seen many folk about, if I do say.”

“We could say the same!” Moss confided, “Our business is our own, no offense good man, but we are simply traveling north towards the big cities.”

“The big cities aye? Plenty of those along the coast, strange way to travel across the land to get to those.” the man said.

“Ah but it is! If I had some wealth to my name, I’d have chartered a ship straight to the narrows of Thysia and Sylann but I thought my pupils needed some well worn practice of dealing with foot sores, so here we are.”

The older man chuckled. “Fares fare. You seem a harmless lot but one can never be too careful these days. Come on in, we’ve got food and a fire.” he waved and a relief washed over Moss as she began to walk over.

“I understand that,” Moss nodded, “But I can assure you, you won’t regret letting us sup with you. I’ve two Talyrians with me, who know a thing or two about cooking. They’d be delighted to whip up a trail feast.”

As they met up with the men, Moss could see that the speaker was an older human, as she thought, with a graying beard. The one with him was a youth perhaps the same age as Rahdayo. Both had dark brown eyes and well worn clothes. The younger man had keen eyes on Zafrina, the most girl blushed ever so slightly.

“Names Percy and this is my grandson, Pieter. Now we’ve not heard of a Talyrian before but if they know how to cook, that’s always welcome.”

“They call me Moss, and this is Zafrina, Rahdayo and Teefee.” she pointed at each. “And yes, I’m sure you will have no complaints.”

They all began to walk back towards the wagons. Percy said, “Say, you’re one of them goblins, miss Moss? Haven’t seen one since I was a younger man.”

“Is that so? And here I thought my kind scuttered about everywhere.”

“Me and my folk, we keep to ourselves. Haven't seen the likes of any of your companions before either, truth be told. Ain't anyone's fault.”

“Ah. Yes, I haven't seen much of humans to be fair nor any others that look like my friends here. Teefee hails from the plains of Pantheras, nearer to Thysia than we are now. Rah and Zafrina are brother and sister. Talyrian folk who come from the deep south of the Origin.”

“It's a mighty strange world we live in, full of interesting folks.” Perry said, stopping next to the wagons and jestering for them to follow Pieter. They did so and entered into a most human-like world. All eyes fell upon them, some with fear and others wide with mysticism. Children in small cloth garbs hid behind their parents as Percy introduced them. A wave of tentative relaxation fell over them after that and Moss instructed Zafrina and Rah to help with the cooking. She took Teefee to the side for a brief moment as the camp came to life once more. Someone broke out a flute and drum, beginning to play a quiet soft tune. Background noise for the conversations to come.

“Teefee.” Moss said to her as she grabbed the cat's shoulders and shook her. Teefee let her body sway back and forth as her eyes darted to and fro. There was wide mischievous intent brimming within her. Moss shook her harder and said her name at least three times before she focused on the goblin. Teefee’s eyes dilated as she saw Moss. “Mistressssss.” she pouted, “Let Teefee go, she'll behave. Teefee swears it!”

“Listen to me very carefully girl. Do not,” She leaned in and made Teefee lean down, “Take anything from these people. Keep your hands to yourself. If you do, I will give you a nice scratch later, alright?”

Teefee’s eyes went wider with glee. She began to purr smugly. “Mistress scratches? Teefee will be a good girl for Mistress scratches. Of course. Or course.” Her tail swished to and fro, a mind of its own truly.

Moss patted Teefee’s head and the girl leaned into it, then into Moss altogether. She almost knocked her over but Moss hissed and she backed up a bit.

As the night wove into being and the Hand's light became obscured by clouds, the burning bonfire was the source of many tales. Moss learned that the humans were from a band who had come down from Sylann holdings, after becoming ostracized by Snouters who had taken their lands from them. Thus struck out seven families for a new home. Their voyage had led them far, very far, perhaps farther than any human they knew had gone and still they had not found what they sought. They were kindly people who were in hard times but they were surviving all the same.

As children, with their giggling laughs as they chased and were chased by Teefee, began to settle down for the night, Moss was struck by just how tolerating these people were. Removed by snouters, they had every right to turn her away. To keep their children close and to spit at the food Rah and Zafrina had taken over to cook. But they had not. On the contrary, they loved the food and praised her pupils for it and they had encouraged their children to play while Moss told a few of her own stories. They had welcomed them in without a thought and in such a cruel world at times, it was a breath of fresh air.

“There’s a kingdom south of here called Ahdor.” Moss said, as the conversation had turned to the talk of places. Around the fire now Zafrina sat by her, rubbing pots with a cloth to make them shine. Rahdayo was doing the same, glancing at Moss and Teefee. For the catgirl had done well and now lay her head in the lap of her Mistress, content as Moss massaged her head. She was sure the humans thought it a comical sight but they said nothing. Perry sat with a few of the older men, as most of the women folk had set up tents for slumber and the more able bodied men were standing watch. Moss went on, “You’ll reach Sweetdew first no doubt, nice quaint town. Might even be a good place to call home.”

“Ahh, is that right?” Perry puffed on a pipe, the curls of smoke drifting up in circles. “How do they treat humans, if I might ask?”

Moss shrugged. “Can’t say I say any, but in my experience, if you add and not take from such villages or towns, they welcome newcomers. I take it most of you are farmers? Why else would snouters take your land.”

“Most of us are, that’s true. Some of the women are good seamstresses and old Abrhon was a smithy. Sons are his apprentices. They had to leave most of their things behind to those damnable devils.”

“I’m surprised the local law didn’t aid you, I was under the impression Sylann had a tight justice system.” Moss mused.

One of the men chorted, then hacked on a cough. He spoke, his voice baritone. “The law is only upheld the closer one gets to Sylann. Everyone knows the Assembly only cares for its war mongering and not upholding property law.”

“Well,” Perry added, “I doubt Moss does.”

“You’d be correct.” Moss said, thoughtful. “That sounds just a little concerning.”

Perry nodded. “They say it wasn’t like that at one point in time but with Thysia claiming land north of the river, I suppose the threat was great enough to take seriously.”

The other chimed in, “Oh, there’s never been an open war between the two city-states. It’s all huff and bluff so they can gobble up more land for their own gain.”

“There’s that theory,” Perry nodded. “Another is, ever since the Hand manifested by the Goddess, that she no longer visits the city as much and mortal minds now rule.”

Moss tilted her head at that.

“You mean…” Rahdayo cut in and all eyes fell upon him, “That the Hand,” he looked up at it, or where it should have been visible behind the clouds, “It wasn’t always so?” He sounded puzzled by this, perhaps almost skeptical.

Perry chuckled. “Aye, there was a time when only the stars hung in the night sky. Back when I was around your age.” the old man tugged at his beard thoughtfully.

Rahdayo said nothing more but looked uneasy as others nodded and chimed in. To Moss, it was just something that better lit the night sky. Had not all of creation been created so? It was a strange thought, to be so at ease with the sheer notion of a being capable of such a feat. But hadn't Galaxor created the Dominion and brought time to heel?

“He’ll be thinking on that one for a time.” Moss mused as Rahdayo went back to scrubbing his pots.

“Have any of you ever been to the cities?” She found Zafrina asking.

Perry shook his head. So did the other man. “I saw the great walls of Sylann once but my dad had been in a hurry and we went no further.” Perry confessed. “I don't think any of us have actually been to either. Sorry miss.”

“Strange.” Zafrina furrowed her eyebrows. “I guess I assumed you had, you all seem so learned. Apologies.” She went back to scrubbing, face flushing red.

“Oh now, none of that. No harm in asking questions. As old Nym here says, Sylann's all warmongering nowadays but they still do good. Every child gets to learn. The great university in the city sends out teachers to educate the youths who can't go inside the walls. It's quite a feat.”

Old Nym barked a laugh. “Aye, I'll give them that. At least if you're educated, you can see the perils and flee.”

“But why?” Moss found herself asking. “Wouldn't they want the uneducated for menial labor and farming?”

They shrugged. “What the Goddess wants, she gets and she doesn't want dumb peasants. So now those that back any wars are culpable to them.” Nym said, lips thinning.

“Like any grand place, there is always contradictions and hypocrisy.” Perry added. “We are learned but not enough to have saved our land. Sylann teaches but justice is often not with coming. It's a time of changing winds and we left on them. Still, we are better off than our ancestors out in the wastes, preyed upon by… Well, we shan't go down that road tonight.”

“Fires burning low.” Nym said, getting to his feet. “A pleasant sleep to you all.” He smiled and walked off.

Perry likewise stood. “You may claim this fire as a resting spot for the night. It was a good meal and good company.” He gave a small bow. “Goodnight now.”

They all said farewell to the man, left alone now as the fire dwindled. Rahdayo came over to Moss and Teefee, who by that point had fallen asleep.

“I'll take her.” He said, bending low and wrapping his arms around Teefee. He lifted with surprising ease, cradling her in his arms. She puzzled her face into his chest as they lay down next to the fire. Moss rubbed her hands together and watched as Zafrina lay down on the opposite side of them. Moss was about to lay down as well but hesitated. Where was…? Panic struck her as she looked for the bundle. Not seeing it she went over to Zafrina and hissed, “Where's the bundle?”

Zafrina snapped an eye open and grimaced. “It should be where I left it.”

“And where is that?”

She sat up slightly. “You said start cooking so I sat my pack down and…” Her eyes trailed over to her pack, the bundle was gone. She sat up and they each looked at one another before the search was on.

With Zafrina at her side, they quietly began looking over the camp. Only a few were still awake and they had to act nonchalantly about their business. The only others awake were the… Watchmen. Moss walked to the outskirts of camp and sure enough they began to hear hushed whispers behind the wagons and the dim light of a torch. Several young men stood around an object glowing faintly. The torch cast them in a sinister light.

“See, I told you. I did, I told you.”

“With this… we could take back our land!”

“Get our revenge on those fucking pigs.”

“But what of them? We can't just steal. It ain't right.”

“What ain't right,” came a silky smooth voice, “Is that they carry this around, wrapped up, so no one can see. So go on Damyl, pick it up.”

“No!” Moss shouted.

Moss rushed forward, the sound of her shout made the men turn and jump. “Don't you dare touch that.” She snapped with anger. Two of them took a step back, while the other three looked at her, unmoving. Moss came to a stop before them, her hands moving to her daggers. With any luck, Zafrina wouldn't be noticed moving behind them. “Step away. Now.” She commanded.

They didn't move.

“Why should we listen to some green skinned brat?” One of them said. She hadn't seen him before. A gangly man with long dark hair and sharp features.

“We should do as she says.” One piped up, the same who had been against the stealing in the first place. He was a bit pudgy, thick of face but lean of build. By the gods he was tall.

“Shut up!” Someone hissed, she couldn’t make out which one. The torchlight was beginning to fade.

That silky smooth voice said, “It’s ours now. Pick it up Damyl.”

“Why don't you pick it up Pieter?” The one called Damyl chimed back, it was the man with sharp features. He looked hesitant. She shoved that aside as she took in the new name.

“Pieter? But your grandfather-” Moss began before being cut off by a laugh.

“Those senile old men don't know what's best for our people. And it isn't these wilds or some town in the middle of nowhere. My dad was butchered by those fucking pigs, they'll get what they deserve. Pick it up Damyl!” He hissed.

Damyl began to lean over and Moss stepped forward shouting no. The man hesitated as if second guessing himself, Moss threw her dagger, aiming for his hand but it was too late, Damyl picked it up.

He screamed as a great blade cut a swath before him at lightning speed, cutting the dagger Moss threw in a blink and severing the left hand of Pieter. All the men fell to the ground in a panic. Pieter screamed and the camp began to wake.

The sword then lifted itself high, for Damyl had no authority over it, and radiated the grand beauty of its creation. Shimmering silver, like moonlight itself, erupted and bathed them all in its pale glow. “Drop it!” Someone shouted but Damyl only screamed with lungs not of his own. Moss stared in abject horror, unable to do anything. Memories flashed before her. Her cousin picking it up after being told not to. The pain in his face… The same in Damyl’s and then… Damyl’s veins coursed with a bright light, starting from his hand and pulsing down, down, down. Where his veins were visible, the light spread until Damyl was a living star. Just like Desmond, he exploded with a violent burst, sending shards of light outwards.

One cut her cheek as it passed, she didn’t even blink.

When the shards faded to dust, the sword floated back to the ground like a leaf. The only sounds were of Pieter crying. Yet, there was something else… Something that had not happened before. One of the men had not fallen like she had thought, instead, he stood over the sword and then glanced at her. It was the tall one with the big head, except, his face wasn’t quite right. It looked like it was shifting? Were her eyes playing tricks on her? No… She took a step back as the man’s forehead just… Fell away in a bloody splat to the ground. This revealed a thing of pure nightmares as a glowering red eye seemed to form, then blinked at her. His body began to contort and break. People began arriving and shouting in horror.

It opened its mouth and a scream-like wail exploded forth, causing her to grab her ears in pain. The wail continued as the thing’s, for this was no longer a man, tore, then ripped open causing the scream to end with sudden force as it was replaced with a gurgle. The thing fell over, spasming on the ground as it gasped for breath until it stilled.

The worst part of it however, was somewhere, deep in that dark land, it was answered.
Moss turned to the travelers.

“Run!”




Moss II





An old weathered face looked at them with lifeless, cold eyes. Aged it was, covered in vines and half buried by a bed of earth. It was not made of stone but the light from the early dawn cast it in such a way, it looked as if it were. But one quick tap let any see it was of metal, still rust free after countless days passed. An ancient sleeping, waiting, but for what?

Teefee began to climb the head, as all cats were want to do on an object that dwarfed them. Moss snapped her fingers and said to the girl, “Don't.” At Teefee’s puzzled look, Moss explained, “Sometimes it's best to leave well enough alone. Let it rest undisturbed by us.” Teefee pouted but otherwise obeyed. They had reached an old forest where well worn paths had become overgrown, if any existed at all. The morning light barely penetrated through the tops of the trees. It was dark within those gnarled boughs but not so entirely to thwart passage. Interspaced within the woods were large barren patches of earth. Like someone had come along and taken everything living or had cut it all away. Occasionally there would be a large metallic object within the clearing or scattered throughout the woods, much like the old head. Light peered down through the clearings at least and illuminated the surrounding trees, many of which grew… Wrong. They grew away from the clearings, as if unable to touch within. They were gnarled trees of no definite species, almost black of bark with diseased looking leaves, if any grew at all.

Suffice to say, they steered clear from those places. Moss couldn't help but feel unnerved by them and at times they all fell silent when close to one, and she felt the strangest melancholy. She didn't even have to tell Teefee to stay away, the cat girl’s hair always stood on end and she put Rahdayo in between her and the clearings. When they had reached the head, in the night of last, they had assumed it was just a boulder and Moss had decided to take a break for the day.

Only now did they see what watched over them in the night. The path they took was one she had only heard of but it was a shortcut, supposedly, in such uncharted lands. It would take them closer to their destination, if they managed it. So far nothing had happened. The clearings were eerie, yes, but nothing came of them in the dead of night. Granted, they had camped out of sight of any so far and Moss would keep it that way.

“Why is this place,” Rahdayo began as they started to pack up, “So…”

“Strange.” Zafrina finished for him.

Moss took a moment as old memories burst free from their cages, filling her mind with voices she knew as a child. She smiled at that and then said, “Listen for a moment.” She stopped putting away things and placed her hands on her lap. Rahdayo and Zafrina followed suit as Teefee hummed to herself before being elbowed by Zafrina. She hissed low and then fell quiet, most likely more out of embarrassment. It wasn't silence that enveloped them but life itself. Birds chirped and sang their lullabies. Insects buzzed with their melodies. Some animal called out deep in the forest, only to be answered in a tree above them. They looked up, it was only a squirrel.

“Is it so strange?” Came the voice of Moss. “The telltale sign of strangeness is silence all around you where it should not be. Even around those clearings, things chatter and sing. No, this place isn't so strange. You just aren't familiar with such woods. Not yet, anyway.”

“But, mistress,” Rahdayo said, eyes yearning, “What caused those clearings? Why are there so many metal parts strewn through the woods? I've never seen the like of them before.” Zafrina and Teefee nodded in agreement.

Moss started packing again but said, “My father told me his great grandfather survived a great ordeal once. Upon the surface, when home wasn't home. The sunlit world was dangerous after all and my great great grandfather ran from its evil to find shelter in the dark. Monsters sought him, but he tricked them at every turn. It was just a bedtime story. I thought.” She stood and looked at the great old face. “It was only when I knew better did I ask if it was true or not. My father told me there was a time when our world was besieged. That creatures so dark and terrible washed over the land, gobbling up any in their path. Like a fat goblin at a feast. He said the gods fought back, for us mortals who could not on our own. Terrible battles took place and the wounds still exist today.” She turned back to them and smirked, “Great granddad was a survivor. He ran for his life and got lucky. Wouldn't be here without him, so, guess that's good.”

Her three pupils looked at one another before Teefee got to her feet and said, “Teefee knows such tales. Papa Kah would tell Teefee and Teefee’s siblings such stories before bed. Mama did not like when we all scrambled into bed with them at night. Papa Kah got a scolding.” She then went back to her humming and started packing before a butterfly flew past and her attention fell upon it.

Rahdayo looked contemplative but it was Zafrina who spoke next, asking, “If it's true, then the gods must have won right? So what became of the creatures?”

“I imagine they were all butchered.” Moss said. “Just look at the size of that head and tell me the body wasn't built to match?” She waved her hand in dismissal. “And if they weren't all destroyed, then they went into hiding in the forgotten places of the world. Nothing like that will be bothering us. Only bandits. If we're lucky.”

Both Rahdayo and Zafrina blinked. “Lucky?” they both said.

Moss laughed.




It was a most uneventful travel, all things considered. They had left the forest three days ago, after a week within and the country had given way to sparse grasslands, dotted with an occasional hill or deep gully. On one such hill they had been able to see a long way around them. Mountains dotted the distant horizons to the north. The forest was behind them and the Trees were to the east. The trees, their guiding lights. Wasn't it odd how everyone you met instinctively knew where those trees were? Yet no one would have thought so.

Even her pupils didn't think it odd. They just knew, so she was told. This puzzled Moss some but it wasn't that pressing of a concern. Furthermore, her other concerns were more pressing. Zafrina had turned cold towards Rahdayo and they weren't talking. A common sibling occurrence but one that had grown tiring. It seemed that a dispute, one Moss had considered to be extremely stupid, was actually of life shattering proportions for the two. Zafrina had suggested adding a certain tuber to their supper a few nights back. For a more hearty stock and taste. Rah had denied this and was certain it wouldn't mix well with what he had going on. The fight, if you could call it that, was more of a heated argument about the culinary arts and not getting her way, Zafrina stormed off. If there was one thing Rahdayo had backbone in, it was his cooking.

Now she was being brisk with her brother, who felt guilt when he shouldn't. Time and time again Moss had tried to explain to Rah that one did not need to feel guilt for everything but his heart was just too big. And Moss could tell how much it was bothering him. Every subtle facial tweak at her brushing him off. The sad eyes. He was easy to read and Moss wasn't the only one to pick up on that. Teefee made her move, filling in their silence with chatter and laughs. Zafrina’s coldness only grew. For if there was one rivalry in her party, it was between the girls and their want for attention. Moss just cursed her luck.

On a night where the Hand shone brightest, Moss awoke with a chill. Groggy at first before her senses snapped sharp, she realized two things. One being that the fire had grown to embers and that her three pupils were gone. She felt a surge of panic threaten to knock her senses silly, so she calmed herself. Remembered her training. She quickly got dressed and began to look at the ground around their sleeping pads. Indented grass, footsteps that led off into the darkness. They had camped in the shadow of a hill that led down to a small brook. In the light she could make out nothing until the rustle of grass made her draw a knife, poised to throw.

Yet it was Zafrina who stalked back into their small circle. She froze when she saw Moss and then walked forward. She didn't say anything, indeed her face was a mask of indifference as she got under her blanket and rolled away from Moss.

“Fine.” Moss grumbled. “I guess I'll ask then, what's wrong? Where are the other two?”

Zafrina’s biting whisper answered her, “Down by the water.”

Moss waited for anything else but when it didn't come she stalked off, muttering to herself about rude goats. The trip to the creak was short, well usually, but she stopped halfway when she heard the strangest of noises. Like someone was whimpering. Was one of them hurt? Moss felt her heart speed up and she quickened her pace but as she got closer, the whimpering turned to a peel of laughter. Teefee? And then a low moan. Rahdayo? What was she doing to him? Why, she'd wring that cat's neck if she had hu- Moss froze in the pathway. Before her at the brook’s edge were Teefee and Rahdayo. The Hand's light revealed them to be very, very nude. Teefee was on top of Rah. Moving to some hidden rhythm. And it clicked. The whimpering. The moaning. Moss spun and trudged back up the hill, feeling very flustered and foolish.

She reached the camp and instantly attacked Zafrina, jumping on her and shaking her shoulder. “You could have spared my eyes that, you stupid g-” She stopped as Zafrina looked at her, blue eyes watery, rimmed with red and cheeks stained wet. Moss sighed, deflating at the sight. Zafrina stared at her, rubbing her eyes. She looked… Sad? Sorrowful? Moss reached out her hand and touched her pupil's cheek. “Let’s talk.” She said in a soft voice.

After throwing some wood on the fire, Moss wrapped herself up in a blanket and sat beside Zafrina. There was silence between the two and one Moss would have to break, as Zafrina just stared at the kindling flames.

“Zafrina. Please tell me you aren't upset because you wanted t-” Moss began but was cut off as Zafrina turned to her, eyes brimming with a familiar anger.

“You're joking right?”

Moss raises her hands in defense. “Alright, not a great question to ask I suppose.” She smiled and Zafrina rolled her eyes. “Then what's this all about?”

Zafrina sighed and looked away. “He shouldn't be doing that with her. She's… Not right for him.”

“Oh?” Moss asked, putting her hands out towards the fire. It was warm on such a chill night.

“She’ll hurt him. I know it. She's just a stupid girl and he's a foolish boy who can't say no.” Zafrina scowled, anger in her voice as she stood up and began to pace. “Teefee is always going on about being sold into marriage. How she can't wait to go home. And then she goes on leading my brother like this? She'll leave him after using him. He'll be… Devastated. I can't… I don't…” Zafrina looked pained, words difficult for her. This was odd, she was usually so full of quips.

Moss shut her eyes for a moment, thinking about that one time Renny and Delo, her cousins, had been fighting over the same girl. This was strangely similar but still different enough to make her choose her next words carefully. “Zafrina. Why didn't you stop them, then?”

At the question, Zafrina sighed and sat back down. “It would not have gone well if I did. He already hates me.”

“Hates you? Please. He's your brother. He could never hate you.”

Zafrina looked Moss in the eye, “Then why won't he speak to me?”

Moss squinted her eyes. She wasn't serious, was she? Oh for the gods sake, she was. Moss opened her mouth to speak, framing it as delicately as possible, “Zafrina, have you tried to talk to him?”

She opened her mouth to speak but shut it. Zafrina’s eyes cast a look of shame and she looked away from Moss.

“You didn't like when he put his foot down the other day. Over that stew because you thought your idea was better.” Moss said, Zafrina nodded with some reluctance. “Ever since, you've turned a cold shoulder to him. You, Zafrina. You do it all the time. To him. To me. Teefee. It wasn't always like this. This conversation has been a long time coming. So why?”

“Because I'm just a bitch.” Zafrina’s voice was quiet, etched with self loathing.

“No.” Moss blurted but thought better of it, “Well, yes, you can be. So can I. But that's only a symptom of the real cause. So what is it?”

“Thanks.” Zafrina grumbled, before looking up at the night sky. “I guess I…” Her voice wavered, “I'm just angry. All the time. I rarely feel anything else.” She took a deep breath. “I know if I lose my temper I'll hurt the people I care about so I shut them out. It's easier that way. For the both of us. I hate myself, Moss.” She quivered, looking back towards the dying fire. There was something else on her face. Terror.

“I know such anger.”

“No you don't.” Zafrina snapped.

“I do.” Moss said with calm. “My first teacher was murdered in front of me.” Zafrina stilled. “Yes. You aren't the only one in the world to watch people you care about be butchered before your eyes. That anger drove me, consumed me and I ended up hating myself. Just like you. So I tracked down the murderers and I slew them all. All of them and anyone else there at that time, even if they were innocent. After that, my guilt coupled with that anger drove me to a very dark place, Zafrina. I thought about ending it all but time has a way of moving on without you knowing.” She sighed. “My cousin found me, wandering alone. She took me back home. It wasn't pretty at first but it did get better. And you know why?” She looked at Zafrina, whose focus was already on her, “Because they loved me and were patient. I let them in, I didn't push them away. Eventually I left. Not entirely well, never entirely will be but then I stumbled on a couple orphans. The girl, with her blue eyes, she knew them. They had been my own.”

Moss took Zafrina’s hand and squeezed. “I never wanted children. Truth be told. But you've been stuck with me now for a long time and I won't let you suffer in silence anymore. I thought training you would help, perhaps it has, but now comes the hard part. Talking.”

“Tears slid down Zafrina’s face. “How do I start?” She asked.

“Apologize to your brother. Start from there.”

“Okay.” She dipped her chin. Moss squeezed her hand again.

“I am proud of you, you know. You're a brilliant young woman, Zafrina. With so much potential.”

Zafrina said nothing as she nodded and wiped at her eyes. After a time she spoke again, “Moss. There's something else.”

“And what's that?” Moss raised an eyebrow.

“I missed my cycle.”

Moss stared at her in disbelief and opened her mouth to say… She didn't know what. Thankfully, or ironically, before she could say anything Rahdayo and Teefee burst through the brush into the clearing, holding hands and giggling like children. When they saw Moss and Zafrina, Rahdayo blushed a deep red and Teefee’s face became extremely smug with triumph. Moss stood up and pointed a finger at all of them.

“That's it! We're having the talk. Now sit down!”



Moss





She couldn't remember her grandparents. Being the youngest of a large family and only a baby when they passed, she could only remember the vaguest impressions of warmth. It was a comfort she clung too when life brought anything but. That wasn’t to say her own parents did not dote upon their youngest and smother her with all manner of affection. But there was always a certain sort of love that only came from the parents of the parents. She would yearn for it in later years, when she grew up with her older siblings’ children and her own parents became grandparents. She would be an aunt to nieces and nephews that could be sisters and brothers in age. Such was her lot in life and with aging parents, she could only see that ache in her heart grow.

So she made a vow. A stalwart promise to herself, to the very gods- She would have no children. It was a contradiction to say the least. Yet she had no desire for growing offspring and no desire to be a parent to them. She saw how her siblings had struggled and the great tolls that were placed upon child and parent alike. If she could have, she would have skipped parenthood and gone straight to being a grandparent. Luckily, she wouldn’t have to be. Once her nieces and nephews began to have their own children and then those with their own(Goblins were prolific, after all), she knew she'd be the best great aunt.

If she ever came back.




The body slumped into the puddle with a splash, churning the water dark in that rumbling sky. Rain pelted the landscape in thick sheets that drenched to the bone but even that wasn’t enough to stop them. Moss rolled to the side, avoiding the blade as it cut through the water and hit the puddle where she had been. It was a sloppy strike, overreaching and she took advantage of that by slicing her dagger across the beastman’s sword arm. He let out a great roar of pain, cursing.

“Goblin bitch!” he swung again, letting anger take over. She leaned back, avoiding the strike and then using his momentum to her own advantage by parrying his sword away with her dagger. He staggered to the side and with her other dagger, struck true into his chest. A wet soppy noise, like air being squeezed out of a waterskin, escaped the beastman. He clutched his chest and staggered backwards. Moss twirled her daggers. Always stay in motion while in a fight, even if you couldn’t move. That’s what master Aish had always said. The beastman’s eyes began to glaze over as the malice left his maw. He coughed blood and his sword dropped into the mud. Then he fell backwards with a splash beside his companion. Lighting rippled across the sky.

Moss prowled forward and slid down onto the corpse, straddling the beastman as she pilfered through his inner pockets. The brown cloak was heavy but she managed to secure a few coin purses and a leather-bound satchel. She almost opened it before realizing it was still raining with a well timed boom of thunder. She had grown numb to the cold after removing her cloak and shirt. Now the only thing keeping her bare from the dreary world was the wet wraps around her chest. Only a miracle by mighty Galaxor did they stay in place, not that she cared about solemnity.

She laid a palm on the beaver-man's chest and pushed off of him. Then she went and inspected the other. Some sort of creature he had been, with green scales along the ridges of his face and pale white fur down the middle. Moss shook her head, unable to place what he was, besides dead. She had gotten him in the throat and now his dark eyes stared up at ceaseless rain, unblinking. She found nothing on him of value after a quick search. With a grumble she stood. The two bandits were novices at best and fools at worst. Their mistake had been letting her remove her shirt but perhaps that was the inherent problem with men. They didn’t always think with the head on their shoulders.

“Should have stayed home.” She murmured to herself as she retrieved her discarded things. Her shirt and cloak were soaked through. Putting them on wouldn’t be pleasant but she did so anyway. The thrill of battle was beginning to fade and with it, the warmth in her limbs. The rain was cool and it just kept falling. So Moss placed the coin purse and leather satchel in her pack and hefted it on. Pulling her hood over her head, she began to walk. She left the bodies where they lay.




“Mistress!” Rahdayo called, waving cheerily from where he sat once he spotted her in the small crowd along the dusty path. The youth got up, his packs full of cookware clattering to life as he bound his way over to Moss, who had stopped under the shade of a tree. His floppy white ears bounced up and down with every step. It seemed he had been waiting for her outside the town. Sweetdew was its name. A nice cozy nook in the middle of nowhere. Only a passing merchant, who just happened to sell maps, had pointed it out to them.

At the time, Moss had other errands to run without the need for others and the bandit encounter only brought her relief at that fact. It was good she sent her pupils to meet her here.

Rahdayo held out his arms as he approached and before Moss could stop him, he gave her a big hug, squeezing tight. She returned it gingerly, scrunching her nose at the smell of spices coming off him. The once gangly youth had been shorter than her but now, it seemed he had hit another growth spurt. He still lowered his short cropped white hair to nuzzle into her face and she sputtered, “Rah! Watch the horns.”

He pulled away, unconsciously touching the two goat-like horns sprouting from his head. They were a grayish color and beginning to curve outward at the sides. “Sorry mistress, I keep forgetting.” he said sheepishly. Which was, of course, ironic. Since he was part goat, after all. Not with any beast blood that was, but modeled after-

“Talyr be praised, mistress!” Rahdayo beamed a smile, it was infectious. “I’m glad to see you. After all, you missed your rendezvous point! I was about to set off to find you but Teefee insisted we wait another day.” he frowned at that, his unique horizontal eyes ringed with gold, glancing at the ground. “I should have gone.” he muttered.

“Nonsense. You did well Rah.” She placed a hand on his shoulder, then murmured, “What have I always said?”

“A day late means wait.” he grumbled.

“And after that?”

“After the second, you better get to checkin’.” he said, mimicking her voice.

Moss shot him a look and the Talyrian winced, before breaking into a toothful smirk.

“And where is Teefee and Zafrina?” Moss asked, placing her hands on her hips.

Rahdayo blushed, his old habit of looking around when trying to be avoidant was all too apparent. She knew something had happened. So she just sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose before asking once again, “Where are they?”

“Teefee’s at the pillory.” he whispered. “Zafrina is… Occupied.”

Moss felt her face furrow with annoyance.

A moment later, Rahdayo was leading Moss into the town. The bustle and hubbub of trading hours were in full swing. Beastfolk, goblins, humans, even an elf or two- mingling about and bartering. Sweetdew was far away from the region's capital, Ahdor, but still well within its protecting influence. There would always be bandits prowling after the unsuspecting but Ahdorian soldiers patrolled the well worn roads and streets within the Kingdom. Hence the pleasant atmosphere. Past Sweetdew however, there were only the wilds between nations. No man’s land, prowling with all sorts of people and terrors.

It didn’t take long for Moss to notice Teefee. In the bustling town square, off to the right side, sat two raised platforms. Weather beaten and stained, a crowd stood around and gawked. On the highest platform sat the empty gallows but beneath that sat two pillory boxes. The one left of the gallows was empty but the right one held Teefee. The beastkin girl had her arms and head in the pillory and she was facing the floor. Her once pristine white hair was stained with bits of fruit and… Well, Moss didn’t want to guess.

“I told her not to do it.” Rahdayo whispered vehemently. “And then I tried to get her out but the guards wouldn’t have it. Said she was a thief and the punishment could have been worse.” Teefee’s cat ears twitched.

“And Zafrina didn’t do anything?” Moss looked at him. The goat boy paled.

Then he gritted his teeth. “Zafrina has been…”

“Mistress?” Teefee called out. “Mistresssssss?” She pouted louder. The crowd's eyes began to wander and then fall upon Moss as Teefee tried to crane her head up to look at her. “Mistress! Teefee is sorry! Please help Teefee!” She whined.

A few guards wandered over and one shouted at Teefee, “Oi! Quite you.”

Teefee hissed, before a low growl emanated from her. The guard didn’t seem to care much, he was a big burly fellow and a lad no older than Rahdayo sauntered up beside him. Moss craned her neck to look up at them, noting how the burly guard favored his right leg and had a relaxed grip upon his weapon. The younger guard’s eyes shifted nervously, the grip upon his spear firm.

“This one yours?” the burly guard asked, nudging his head to indicate Teefee.

“Unfortunately.” Moss said. “What’d she do?”

“Stole ribbon from a merchant this morning. Tried to run but became distracted by some chickens.”

Moss didn’t let the disappointment show up on her face. “How much?” she sighed.

Once Teefee was freed from her confinement, she had attempted to hug Moss but the goblin held her off. Teefee was a sorry mess and she smelled. She began to lick herself in earnest before Moss yelled at her to stop. Then there was a stern talk between master and disciple. About the proper getaway technique and that becoming distracted over chickens was the dumbest thing she had heard of and that Teefee had done a lot of dumb things. She told Rahdayo to go help her clean up at the creek just outside of town and that she’d be there soon with Zafrina.

She just had to get her first.

As with all vices, she found Rahdayo’s older sibling in the tavern. Not just in the tavern but in a room she had to bust the door in on. She was met with an all too familiar sight. A reeking room.

Strewn out on a thin mattress, with a thin sheet covering her lower torso, was Zafrina. Her long black hair was a mess of curls wrapped around her back facing horns. Her ears were cropped, unlike her brothers, and went straight out on either side of her head. Like goblin or elf ears. She snored softly, not even deigning to wake with the intruder in her room. But oh, the man she had been sleeping with had not only woken but had also stumbled to the floor and was sluggishly putting on his clothes. Moss took note of the wrapped bundle leaning against a corner of the room and tension she hadn't been aware of eased off her shoulders.

“Ma’am.” the man said, stumbling past. At least he was pleasant on the eyes.

Moss flashed a knife at him and he picked up his pace after blinking a few times. Then she took out her water skin and poured it on Zafrina’s face. The talyrian sat up with a gasp, a knife coming up with her. She jabbed at Moss, who caught her wrist and bent it at an odd angle. Zafrina cursed and dropped it. Her pupil seemed to accept her fate, not even trying to fight back any further. Moss frowned.

“You’d be dead if I meant to kill you.” she chided, letting go of Zafrina, who by now, registered who her would be assailant was. Her blue horizontal eyes rolled and she sighed, flopping back down.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, mistress?” She said sarcastically.

“That was sloppy, even for you. Was it the drink or the fucking that addled your brain into inaction?” Moss said, putting her arms behind her back.

“Both I guess.” Zafrina said nonchalantly.

Moss gritted her teeth. “You guess?”

“Yes, mistress.” Zafrina put her arm over her eyes, as if to avoid the light streaming in through the hallway.

“Why is it the gods decided to saddle me with an incompetent thief, a lazy pleasure seeker and her golden boy brother whose choice of weapon is a ladle?” Moss goaded, judging Zafrina's face. At the mention of Rahdayo, those blue eyes grew cold.

She sat up and said, “You can give me all the shit you want, Moss.” She waved a finger at the goblin. “But even you know how stupid it is to talk ill of my brother.”

Moss smirked. “And what are you going to do about it, pupil?”

“We've been down this road before. I'd rather not get my ass beat right now.” Zafrina sighed and laid back down.

Moss nodded, satisfied. “Well, at least you're learning and that hot-headedness of your youth is tempering. Not get around, we're leaving Sweetdew.”

“And why are leaving?” Zafrina asked.”Teefee?”

She nodded. “Teefee.”




They found Rahdayo dripping wet as he brushed the very dry (and somehow clean) hair of Teefee as she self groomed in a patch of sun, eyes shut. Rah was humming a simple tune, focused on his work. The water on him gleamed in the light beside the gently flowing creek. In the sand next to the water there seemed to be signs of a struggle. Still, Teefee’s purring was audible as she licked her hands, as were the ways of her kind.

When Moss cleared her throat the two looked up.Teefee's fluffy tail swished at the sight of them while Rah flushed red from embarrassment or perhaps shame, when he saw Zafrina. His talyrian sister had, perhaps unconsciously, begun to twirl a finger in her own hair.

“Save the brushing for camp tonight. We need to start out.” Moss said, folding her arms.

Teefee stood, a full two heads taller than the goblin, her pale yellow eyes but suits. “Teefee is ready to go!” She exclaimed before taking her back from Zafrina, who had luckily kept it with her.

Rahdayo stood after a time, putting a hand through his hair and shaking the excess water off. Moss was surprised at how long he had been able to endure water. Talyrians, and costs in general, hated water. Perhaps it was the more humanoid part of him? As he began to grab his things, Teefee spun and went over to him, before placing a kiss on his cheek. Rah froze as Teefee giggled, running off in the wrong direction.

Once more Rah blushed, turning red as Zafrina walked over to him.

“You'll comb my hair tonight?” It was a question but more of a demand. Moss rolled her eyes. For someone who had forsaken children, she somehow ended up with three teenagers.

“Talk as we walk.” Moss chided and began walking in the opposite direction of the catgirl. “Teefee!” She shouted and the cat changed course. In a moment she was beside Moss, walking backwards to face her. “You owe me you know.” Moss said to her.

“But mistresssss.” She began to whine, a pouty look on her face.

“No buts. We add it to your debt as usual. Looks like you're sticking around even longer.” The goblin grinned.

Teefee folded her arms and huffed. “Once we get to Teefee’s homeland, mistress will be paid and Teefee will be free! Mistress will see. Then Teefee will get to see big sis Shah and papa Kah! Mama Imara will have been worried and all the others will ooo and aww at Teefee's tales!” She outstretched her arms and spun on her heels. “Then Teefee will be sold into marriage and have a family of her own! Mistress will see!” She had an aura of triumph about her.

Moss was about to point out that being sold into a marriage wasn't very free but thought better of it. Would the girl even understand? Moss grimaced as Teefee caught herself from falling. Just from walking. Gods be praised she found her when she did, otherwise Teefee's tales would have been cut very short.

So instead she said, “Whatever you say, Teefee.” Then a mischievous thought popped into her head, “But,” She smiled widely as Teefee looked at her, “But what about Rahdayo?” She half whispered, glancing at the two siblings behind them. They seemed to be in deep discussion about something.

“Rah?” Teefee asked, befuddlement plastered on her face. She paused and Moss saddled up beside her.

“If you are sold into marriage, Teefee dear, what will happen to Rah?” Moss asked with feigned innocence.

Teefee’s left eye twitched. Moss could see her mind making sense of it, coming to some cat reality with each passing moment. Moss began to walk on, the siblings getting closer. The only thing she heard from Teefee was a low hiss, before the cat girl caught back up to her.

“Mistress does not know everything.” She then hmmphed and walked on.

Moss began to whistle. Then she looked back at Zafrina, to the cloth covered item she carried at her back. Her eyes caught Zafrina’s and she looked back at the road in front of her.

“Don’t worry, old friend. We’ll find answers.” Moss murmured to herself, as the road went ever on.



Galaxor’s Week


Underground Folly





The pulsating mushrooms illuminated the far reaches of that dark tunnel every few seconds. Closer was the red glare of the torch glancing off the damp walls. The air here was not like it was in the Dominion, like home. It smelled of old things, of musk and the occasional stench of decay. There was only a slight current that blew through their loose garbs and the hair that wasn’t stuck with sweat to unwashed skin. How long had it been since they could take a bath? Delight in warmth as the body was cleansed? Not so long surely, but long enough. The tunnel kept going down, down, down. The slope was so insincere. Only the growing warmth was the indication of just how deep they tread.

“I’m hungry.” Barn complained.

“And I’m thirsty.” Julie snapped back.

“Take a drink then, miss thirsty.” Barn said in a low mocking way. “We don’t exactly have food I can just shove into my mouth as we walk, not like you can with a water canteen, now can we?”

“You are insufferable.” Julie hissed.

“Well it takes one to know one.” Barn crossed his arms, head held high.

No words came next, just the crash of two bodies upon the stone. It seemed Julie hadn’t liked that one. The two rolled around as they grappled for domination. A pot broke free from Barn’s pack and lay next to them. Julie, on top and looking for anything she could use to gain the upperhand, found the pot. She brought it high over her head and was about to bring it down before her wrist was seized by a giant hand and she was yanked off of Barn.

“Can you two do anything but fight? By Galaxor!” Came the exasperated voice of Kleer. As Julie struggled in his grip, Barn got to his feet with a snarl. He took a step forward but was stopped when a hand was placed upon his chest by Masy.

She sighed, “Leave it be Barn. You’ll only cause more trouble.”

“Well she-”

“Enough!” Kleer barked. “You’re hungry and she’s thirsty, you don’t need to fight over it just to prove which of you is more insufferable. Haven’t you two learned anything from your schooling days? Use your words, save the fighting for when we have to!” Kleer let go of Julie’s wrist and the young goblin-woman let go of Barn’s pan, cursed something under her breath and began to walk ahead.

Barn, his green face tinged with red, bent and picked up his pot. He muttered something as he took off his pack to readjust it, then wandered off after Julie.

Masy, her ears folded back, watched them go with annoyance.

Kleer’s torch came closer and the great goblin looked down at her. “Your tail is twitching, Mas.”

She folded her arms across her chest and peered up at the bearded goblin. His features sharp and worn. Lines were just beginning to crease his dark green face but his hazel eyes, they had always been kind.

“Their fighting is getting worse.” She began to walk and the big goblin followed in step at her side. “I still can’t believe you’ve dragged us on this adventure and you still haven’t admitted that we are lost, Kleer.” She gave him a side eye.

“Lost? Please. We are simply following in the footsteps of the greats. Weathertop Tomgunny, Bladelink Torl, The gray Healer, the Weasel Trio, the Maxi Gems and who could forget Jaxx! You heard the stories, how he came to the Dominion with his party? How he dined with Maxima!”

“What are you getting at, old man.” Masy yawned, seemingly uninterested.

“Old man, please.” Kleer laughed deep, amplified by the tunnel. “We aren’t lost, we are simply on an adventure Masy!” He gave her a pat on the back.

“Now come on before those two get-” The great goblin and the elven fox rounded a bend in the tunnel, coming face to face with Julie and Barn. The two goblins were not fighting for once as they rolled on the cavern floor. Instead, they were making out as if their lives depended on it. And with such passion, they didn’t even notice their audience.

“Oh by the gods.” Kleer sighed, hand sliding down his face. Masy just rolled her eyes.




“All I’m saying is that this new time stuff makes little sense.” Barn said, before scooping a spoonful of soup into his mouth. He chewed as he spoke, “You’re telling me, that if we aren’t in the same timeline, things might go awry?” he swallowed, “But how can that be if I’m looking at you right now, at the same time you’re looking at me?”

The great goblin shrugged. The fire between them cast his face in a shadowy light. The fire crackled once before he spoke, “Time is but a construct that we define. Who's to say we haven’t already been here before, having this exact conversation? Or perhaps we haven’t yet? Perhaps we never will?” he touched the silver band at his wrist, his time anchor device. They all wore one, put on at the same time as a precaution. “Is not time but a fickle thing? Let us leave it to Mighty Galaxor to keep.”

The fire burned more as Barn, eyebrows furrowed, continued to eat in silence.

“It’s for those Diamond gemstones to figure out.” Julie said, coming back with more rootwood for the fire. Masy in tow, having collected more mushrooms for the stew.

As the two settled in around the fire Masy said, “All that time talk will lead you nowhere. We are here, right now, in the present. The past is the past and the future isn’t knowable.”

“But-” Barn was jabbed with Julie’s elbow, who just so happened to sit next to him. The young goblin almost choked.

“But nothing Barn. Masy knows best. She’s a sapphire after all.” Julie said with a bit of pride. Julie’s own deep purple amethyst sat around her neck. Barn gripped his own orange garnet as he looked between Masy’s blue sapphire ring and Kleer’s red beryl earring.

“Gemstone ranks hardly mean anything unless you achieve diamond or onyx.” Masy said as she focused on skewering her mushrooms.

“Oh is that right? But diamond Reginald always said," Here Barn’s voice took on a nasally tone, “If you don’t make at least emerald, you’ll be back studying in no time.”

Julie laughed. “What skills do you have, Barn?”

“Well, the usual, I guess. Good with a dagger. Athletic. Good looks.” Barn took another bite of the stew.

“If you’re so good, then how come you aren’t a diamond guard?” Julie asked.

Barn sat a little straighter at that and waved his spoon at Julie. “Those guys are all bluster. I bet ten shakes none ain't ever gone on an adventure like Jaxx. Like us. Show offs all.”

Julie scooched closer to him and Barn stiffened a little. She whispered something in his ear and his face blushed.

Masy took a bite of her cooked mushrooms as her shifty eyes looked towards Kleer. “Youths are often prone to folly, wouldn’t you say Kleer?”

“Undoubtedly.” he replied, stroking his graying beard as he watched the flames dance.

“You could have hired any veteran of the caves for this journey, but you picked these two enemies to lovers.” Masy made a face and shook her head. “Folly indeed.”

Julie likewise made a face and she showed her tongue in a child-like gesture. “You old timer’s are all business and never fun. If I recall, you’ve never even left the Dominion either, Masy.”

The elven fox, her orangish red hair with wisps of white strands gave Julie an incredulous look. Then she shrugged. “It’s true, I haven’t left the Dominion. But I did leave the Goblin Underground plenty of times.” She smiled with smug satisfaction.

Julie glared in return.

Barn took on a new shocked face as he looked at Masy. “You were… You were born before the Dominion?”

“Of course, Barn. We of elfkind are long-lived.” Masy took another bite. “My parents relocated to the deep in the dawning days of my kind. When we were created in the Goddesses image. Instead of staying up top with the others, they journeyed below. They always did say they preferred the dark to the light, or whatever that meant.”

“They aren’t…?” Barn began to ask.

“Oh heavens no, they’re still around. They live in the upper tier of the Obsidian Reach. Mother teaches and father runs a business selling gems. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Fire Opal?”

Barn and Julie looked at her blankly.

Masy frowned. “Well it’s a big place, home.” And she went back to eating.

“Shouldn’t you be working with your father? Sapphires have plenty of skills, don’t they?” Barn asked.

“Me? Sitting around a shop all day and listening to my father complain about Maxima’s tax policies? No thanks. Besides, the business is going to my little brother and his wife.” Masy said with a tone of bitterness in her voice. Her eyes darted to the fire as she threw the empty wooden skewer in.

“I know what you mean.” Julie said in a quest voice. “I have three younger brothers and three older sisters. I’m the middle child. I’m sure right now they might be wondering where I am but eh.” She shrugged.

“I’m an only child.” Barn confided. “Parent’s split after mom found dad cheating on her with some younger gob lass down the road. It was just my mom and me for a long time. Then she got sick and died. No idea what happened to the old man. I’m sure I’ve some half siblings out there somewhere.”

Masy looked at Barn and she nodded at him. He returned the silent gesture much the same before Julie placed a hand on his shoulder. She pushed back her thick black hair away from her eyes and said, “I’m sorry to hear that, Barn.”

In truth, Barn seemed unbothered but he gave her a soft smile anyway. “Thank you, Julie.” Silence fell for a time, as the two looked at one another.

Masy rolled her eyes and got up. “I’m going to bed. Wake me when it’s my turn to watch.”

Kleer nodded, turning to watch Masy roll out her assortment of blankets. They had found rest in a small, but wide cave. The drip of water hitting the floor had provided them with a fresh source of liquid. When they had all rested, for it was impossible to tell the time so dark below, they would continue on.

“What’s the plan boss?” Barn asked Kleer. The great goblin looked back at the two. “You sleep. Separately. And I take the first watch.”

The two blushed slightly and Barn got to his feet. “That’s not- I meant, It’s been great wandering these caves and cleaning up some monster dens, but do you really think we’ll find it?”

“Yes.” Kleer said, putting his fist into his open palm. “We are close. Very close.”




The next few days, if you could call it days or weeks, left them wandering aimlessly in the tunnels far below and apart from the Dominion. They hadn’t seen a fellow Goblin or even A diamond patrol for what felt like an age and still they kept going on. Walking topics of discussion ranged from heroic tales of heroes to the old stories about the defense of the Goblin underground during the invasion of outsiders. Masy was tight lipped during those discussions, as if she didn’t want or couldn’t speak about it.

Barn and Julie fought occasionally but their spats would always be somehow resolved through shared lips. If they were doing more, they were quiet about it. As talking began to become more and more taxing, silence crept in as well as doubt. Kleer had promised a grand adventure, through the depths of the world, all in search of what he called, “The Old Gob.” A rumored figure who granted wishes if found. No one knew if he existed. Perhaps there was a reason old Kleer hadn’t said anything about his own family. Or perhaps it was something else entirely that guided him.

It wasn’t until they were completely lost in the bioluminescent caves of the vast underground that Kleer stopped dead in his tracks. They had arrived at a fork in the tunnel. Their water supplies were running low and they had not found root sap to keep their torches going.

“Well this is great.” Julie said as she fidgeted with her stave.

“What are we going to do Kleer?” Masy asked, the elven fox’s ears twitched as if she was listening for sounds.

“We at last come to the decision.” Kleer whispered. “Right or left. Damnation or salvation.” he seemed to say to himself. “I’ve dragged you all this far. Time to vote. Left or right.”

“Left.” Masy said with little thought. “I hear… Something. I’m not sure what. But the right tunnel is dead.”

“Left then.” Julie said.

“I’m with these two.” Barn added at last.

Kleer looked down the right path with the sort of determination one could only muster if they were absolutely sure of themselves. Then it faltered and he began to walk left. “Left it is.”

The winding path of the dark tunnel, shaped as if something had burrowed its way down or perhaps out, kept them occupied for a long time. They managed to find a drip of water, the noise that Masy had heard. That at least lifted their spirits but as they continued on with full canteens, it became increasingly apparent that the left tunnel was off. The bioluminescence that guided their way and provided food was growing sparser and sparser. Whole sections were lightless, save the torches and even they were becoming wisps. There was no root wood and thus no root sap to sustain a longer fire.

Luckily, all of the party could see decently in the dark. Just one of the perks of being a deep dwelling people. It mattered not if one was a goblin, beastfolk, or elf. Masy also had excellent hearing and a good nose. Kleer was the muscle and boss. Barn was the jack of all trades, able to do most tasks when required. Whilst Julie was their apothecary, their healer in times of need. Making it all the while funnier when she decided to beat on Barn. Each brought something to the party that complimented the whole. They were lucky for it.

For when Masy froze in her tracks, ears perked, she held out her hands to stop them. She was frowning at the inky black of the tunnel that was ahead. No sound came and then all at once Masy shouted, “Down!” and dove to the ground. The rest followed before the unmistakable sound of arrows whizzing came overhead, followed by the clacking of them hitting stone.

That wasn't the worst of it though. A hissing flaming arrow sung past and embedded into the floor behind them before exploding with tremendous pressure. They had seen nothing of the sort like it before, the blast, the terror of it, the ringing in their ears. The rock underneath them quivered, trembling like a child that had been struck by their father, before it gave way entirely. Cracking as if the world had cursed it forevermore.

The party fell for what felt like a lifetime. Panic stricken in the dark, torches lost and snuffed out, it was by sheer happenstance that nothing interfered with their descent. No long ledges jutting out and certainly not the bottom. A flickering light gave way below until Masy could see that it was a great cave full of tall glowing mushrooms. Their light, soft blue, gave the reflection of twinkling stars. She could have sworn, beneath all that sudden doom in her chest, that they had been falling upwards.

Until the bitter cold of icy water blanketed the fall. Now it was a only chance, as boulders and rocks thundered into the waters around her. She swam. Something slick and slimy brushed against her legs but she kept going anyway, up to the light. When she crest the water, and took a great breath of air, she heard Julie shouting for Barn, his own reply muffled.

“Find a shore!” Kleer's voice came above the din and the ringing. Find the shore.

Masy looked around. Julie found Barn with a bleeding head wound while the great goblin that was Kleer swam for his two smaller compatriots.

Masy swam, the cold leeching all warm from her bones but she swam anyways. She found footing on a rocky bottom and her ascent led her to a small sandy bank that she half dragged herself and fell upon.

“O-Over h-here!” She cried out as best she could. She turned back to the water, removing her pack and bow as she rubbed her limbs for warmth. Why was that water so cold?

A large splash caught her eye and she found Kleer, carrying the two goblins, emerge upon the shore. She walked to them in the gloomy light.

“We need a fire. Masy can you find something burnable? Julie, get some dry bandages for Barn ready.” Kleer said in a commanding voice. The voice of a leader. Masy grunted and began to walk off as Kleer set Barn and Julie down. At once the small goblin lass began to fret over a semi-conscious Barn.

“You’re bleeding too.” Julie said, reaching out to Kleer.

The great goblin touched the back of his head and then wiped the blood on his wet tunic. “I’m fine, see to the boy.” And that was that.

The mushroom forest they found themselves in was not without ample kindling and in no time a fire was going that the four sat around. Stripped of clothing save for the essential to warm themselves, while their belongings hung on vines drying in the smoke. Here beyond the fire the world was of luminance. The musky smell of mushrooms was not so unpleasant to the senses and an occasional breeze brought warmth as well as the fragrance of something sweet. The chattering of some small creatures and the occasional splash out on the lake were the only real sounds, beyond distant drips and a low roaring of perhaps a waterfall. No one had the energy to talk after such an ordeal, though their minds were no doubt racing as to what or who had blown up the tunnel and sent them plummeting.

Julie was bandaging Barn’s head, the goblin man looking up at her with rapt admiration. He eventually said, out of nowhere, “Marry me, Julie?”

Masy and Kleer's heads spun to them at the confession.

Julie feigned innocence, “Barn, you're being silly.”

“I am not.” Barn said, using his elbows to prop himself up to look at her. Longing stained his face and his blue eyes were clear. Julie blushed and turned away from him, fussing with the bandages in her bag. “It wouldn't work.” She mumbled.

“Why not?” He said softly.

“Because I'm me and you are you.” She said, flustered.

“You could be a trolley snail and I’d still want you.” Barn said.

Masy bit her lip to avoid laughing at the terrible analogy and Kleer only smirked. Julie turned to look at Barn, with every right to smack him but instead, she placed her hands on either side of his head and kissed him. When they broke apart, faces flushed, she gasped. “You stupid oaf, of course I’ll marry you.”




It took them a good long sleep to gather their bearings. Barn needed to heal and Julie was his faithful nurse. Kleer’s own injury was forgotten and he gave no confession to pain. Masy kept herself occupied by scouting and hunting. Not long after they fell, Barn was assaulted by a giant bat that Julie struck over the head with her stave, killing it instantly. For once they had most in their bellies, despite some reservations over eating a pale corpse of a creature. It didn't help when Julie alone threw up after she slept. After that they stuck with mushrooms, tried and true. Though it was curious.

They did not talk of their plight in open discussion either, for Kleer shut them down. Something had begun to change in the old great goblin’s silence. Before the fall he often looked contemplating. Now it was of furrowed brows and muttering. Masy left it alone and the two lovebirds had each other. The fox girl had been in more dire circumstances before, this was just the newest in a long list. The others would cope however they could.

It wasn't until Barn no longer needed to wrap his head that they began onwards. Masy had found a winding path along the cliff-like cave walls that would lead them up to whatever end.

“How deep do you think we've gone?” Barn asked, looking up at Kleer.

“As deep as Galaxor allows.” He shrugged.

“We are far lower than the lowest bowels of the Obsidian Reach. Maybe even lower than the Library.” Masy interjected. “I wouldn't be surprised if we were the first ones to tread here and even so, life goes on without us knowing.” Kleer remained silent, looking ahead. But it was true, the vast Underground was a myriad of wilds that would probably never be explored. Life was as simple as mushrooms or as complex as whatever swam in the cold depths of the lake. The ecosystem thrived with the sounds of insects and the flapping of some invisible creatures. Most of the life gave off bioluminesce much to Julie’s enjoyment but it was a hard life for those not accustomed to it and mortals most of all.

So it came as no surprise to Masy and Julie when Barn murmured, “Well, I'm quite ready to head home.”

It was then that Kleer stopped and spun upon Barn. The great goblin, with his massive hands with root-like strength rippling from his forearms, grabbed Barn by his garb and lifted him into the wall. “There’s no going home!” He roared. Julie went rigid with fear and Masy unsheathed an arrow. “Not until we find what I'm looking for! Don't you see how close we are? Galaxor guides us! He does!”

“Put him down, Kleer.” Masy commanded.

The great goblin snarled and dropped Barn. The small goblin had Julie at his side in a heartbeat, helping him up.

“What's the matter with you?” Masy said, dropping her arrow slightly. “You’ve been off. You don't act like this.”

“The path before us has always been clear. We are close, so close now. We can't go home until we find what we came here to find.”

“The old gob?” Masy asked.

Kleer began to walk ahead. “The Prophet that never was.”

Masy looked back at Barn and Julie and the three shared a look. But up from ahead came a strange sound. Like a small piece of metal had been dropped upon stone. Tink. Tink. Tink. Silence. Masy looked at Kleer, who had frozen. He began to turn towards them but before he could an explosion rippled forth from under him. Masy didn't have time to fall down. Instead the force of the blast knocked her backwards onto Barn and Julie. She felt like someone had thrown a handful of pebbles at her as hard as they could. Heat washed over them in a bright flash, followed by smoke that billowed forth with sulfurous fumes. Masy gagged, it felt like salt had coated her tongue and tried to breath before rolling over. She grabbed her head, the ringing almost unbearable. She couldn't hear anything. Not as Julie grabbed at her, the goblin’s face, one of concern.

Then a faint breeze washed away the smoke and Masy looked to where Kleer had been standing. She took a ragged breath, not sure what she was looking at, at first. Then her eyes went wide at the realization. Kleer lay in pieces, his blood coating the walls above a charred floor.

Masy turned her head away. A convulsion went up from her stomach and try as she might to stop herself, she threw up. This time Julie was beside her, rubbing her back as Barn stepped to her other side, blocking her view.

They began to speak as Masy tried to calm her nerves. “She's in a bad way, Barn. I can't tell whose blood is whose and poor Kleer.” Her voice trailed off as if she was in shock.

“Don't think about that right now. Focus on Masy. Come on, let's get away from here.” He began to grab Masy’s left arm, under her shoulder. Julie grabbed her other shoulder and they began to drag her.

“I can… Walk.” Masy protested, but her feet did not listen to her.

“Masy darling, there was blood in your vomit.” Julie said.

The two goblins shared a look. Both looked far paler than average and Julie herself looked ill. They dragged Masy towards a cut out that overlooked the path. There Julie began to cut through her clothing.

“I don't feel…” Masy began, “Pain.” She said with a shaky breath.

“Masy. Listen to me.” Julie’s hands were coated in fresh blood. “Barn get over here! Apply pressure!” Barn did as expected and cursed under his breath. “Masy. You're going to be okay. I'm going to fix you.”

“Kleer…?” Masy coughed.

“We'll have to bury him later. After we tend to you. Barn! Get the fresh bandages and sutures from my bag.” Julie commanded and was obeyed.

The next few minutes were a blur as they worked upon sealing Masy up. Julie hissed at a shard of metal she extracted from the wound. “Get the poultice ready, Barn. And water. We need water.” This was done and before she knew it, something cold had been pressed into Masy's belly.

She had just been on the verge of a sleep that Julie hadn't been allowing her to have when Barn yelled out, “We have trouble!” Followed by a terribly loud sound that jolted Masy awake. It was like that explosion but not as loud. Barn came up from the lower path out of breath.

“Goblin.” He wheezed, pointing behind him. “Down the path. Hovering. Old. Has some sort of boomstick. Shot at me.”

“What do we do?” Julie asked, her voice flooded with panic.

“Go and hide.” Masy said.

“But-”

“No buts Julie.” Masy said, her eyes clear and focused. “I have a gut wound. You saw it. You've healed many things before but this is different. We both know it.” Julie began to tear up. Barn began to grab their things.

“Go up the path and hide. Barn, did he see you?”

“He must have seen something. He boomed at me.” He let out a frustrated sigh, “We should stand and fight.”

“No. No more death. Okay?” She could see them forming an argument and held up her hand. “No arguing. I’m the boss now, got it? You do as I say.” With lips curling with frustration the two begrudgingly nodded. Masy could tell it pained them beyond reason. “Okay. Now you two get out of here. Don't look back.” Masy said, pulling out a knife and hiding it beneath her hand. The stone floor was cold. Next she ripped off the bandages and Julie hissed, “What are you doing?”

“Making it look like he hit his target. Now get out of here!” She whispered with annoyance and threw the bloody bandages out of sight. She placed her hand over the stitched wound and smiled.

“You better name that child after me if it's a girl.” She said with mirth as she looked at Julie and winked. The goblin lass looked confused for a moment before her eyes went wide and she placed a hand on her abdomen. Barn, oblivious, grabbed Julie's hand and pulled her along.

“Goodbye, Masy.” He said in a shaky voice.

“Tell my family…” Masy gritted her teeth and Barn nodded. Julie looked at her one last time, the heartbreak of a friendship lost, one that could only be forged on an adventure. It broke the elven girl's heart. But there would be no more victims of terrible magicks today. She would make sure of it. For their love had brought her joy and she was dying anyway. Why not make use of it yet? She just hoped they didn't come back to save her. That foolish honor of goblin and friends.

It didn't take long before a figure aloft a long dirty rag rounded the corner. Hunched in an equally dirty cloak, it cackled as it saw her. A long stick glowing of green script was held by gnarled hands. No, not just wood but metal too, she realized. What puzzled her most was the rag it rode, somehow flat where it stood and flowing freely underneath as it moved on a phantom wind.

“What's we haz here?” It said in a tongue of goblin that was old and gnarled like his fingers. For it was an old goblin man. Under that hood, green glowing eyes looked upon her with a mix of curiosity and madness. “Gots it in the bellys we didz.” It snickered. “What is its bez?”

“Elvish.” She gritted her teeth to fake pain. She still couldn't feel her legs or her stomach. “With a bit of fox.” She smiled.

“Foxses eh?” It propped, what Masy could only imagine was the boomstick, up and leaned on it. “Yous the one tripping me triggers. Boom boom boom!” He laughed. “Heards anotha boom. Lost a frend didcha?” She couldn’t see his face but knew he was smiling with glee.

“A great goblin. Kleer was his name.” Masy said. “Never seen a thing like that explosion. He was just… bits.” her memory flashed and she grimaced. The old gob noticed and tilted his head.

“Shoulda look where he waz steppin.” he nodded, as if this was the only fact that mattered. He stopped leaning on the boomstick and hoisted it up to a holding position, aimed at her. “Canni have yas livin. No hard feelins.”

“W-Wait!” She stammered, trying to sit up but failing. The goblin lowered the boomstick slightly. “I’m dead anyway but I’m curious. Are you the old gob? The prophet that never was? Why’d ol Kleer want to find you so bad?”

“Ancient gob.” He spat. “I was killed long go, by angry silver goddess. Life brought mees back. I told other gobs, they worship me. Maxima…” he snarled at the word as if it was a stain in his mouth. “Maxima! Maxima! Maxima!” he leaned back on the boomstick again and began to use his gnarled hands to point at nothing, “Shes took them. Shes sent me away. Me! Prophet! Many gob hates her, afraids of her. They comes to find mees.” He paused and removed his hood. Masy felt herself flinch. It wasn’t just his eyes that she had thought deformed. His entire face was inscribed with swirling runes, etched into ancient leathery skin, more like bark. He was a hideous thing and the smile he gave proved it. “I founds the way. Mees! I make powder! I make boom! From batsss, from salts. No gobs can know.” There was a wild look in his eye as he began to lift the boomstick.
“How do you fly?” Masy asked, her heart beginning to beat faster.

At that question, the old gob cackled. “Silvers folly.”

Before he could point the boomstick at her, Masy threw her knife right into the goblin’s neck. He gurgled and dropped the stick. It hit the ground with a loud thud as he panicked at the knife wound. Masy only watched as he gurgled more and then he was right in front of her. She blinked, not knowing what had just occurred. The old gob put his weathered hands around her neck and began to squeeze but his strength was already waning and with her own hands she pushed him off and the rag went with him as he drowned in his own dark blood.

It was then that Masy could see what had happened. His hovering rag had not been a rag but a sword. A beautiful swirling sword that reflected the dying torchlite. A sword that had impaled her. She didn’t feel the pain at first but then it coursed into her as if her veins had caught fire. Try as she might to hold in a scream it was useless. She was being burned from the inside. Her blood seething with a rage she could not last. Then, abruptly, there was no pain and she felt so very tired. The world became fuzzy, her eyes blurring as if she was underwater. She smiled as her body began to spasm. At least those lovebirds would be safe.




“...And that was when we found the magic sword! Your mammy thought it was too pretty to stain with our dirty feet, so we covered it with a cloth. You should have seen the people’s faces when we flew past! Oh it was the darndest thing. Knew where to take us and everything.” Around the hearth, the small goblin children looked up at their papa with a mix of awe and wonder.

Then he was assaulted with questions.

“How fast did you go?”

“Did it scare you?”

“Where is it now?”

“Tell me more about the bats!”

“Hold on now kiddos! Hold on!” the old goblin laughed.

“Kids! What did I say about asking grandpa too many questions?” A goblin woman, curly black hair and wearing the gemstone of a sapphire on her apron walked in. She kissed the old goblin on the cheek.

“My darling Masy.” he said, taking her hand and squeezing. “Let them ask! Let them be kiddos. I don’t mind.”
She cupped his cheek in the palm of her hand as she smiled. She looked so much like her mother. “I always did love that story.” She said with knowing eyes.

“Me too, darling.” he said with a soft smile.

“Come on now kids, lunch is ready!” Masy said, “And grandma will be coming home soon!”

At that the children screamed with delight and ran off towards the kitchen, Masy in tow.

The old goblin rocked in his chair, and looked to the rune covered boomstick hanging above his hearth. He never did figure out how to use it. Then his eyes slid to the corner of the room, where a bundle wrapped in white cloth lay against the wall.

“Was it a faithful telling?” he asked aloud.

There came a muffled reply in a familiar voice, “It was good enough, Barn.”

The old goblin smiled.


Silverfall





Long did they labor in the dark of the world with only starlight to abide them. Such was the ineptitude of herself and her kin. They, who held creation in the palm of their hands. Who had fought and bled during the invasion. Who now murdered each other over little gains. She was tired of it, of them. Her peers.

This world was but darkness and even that was only to be banished by a cursed sun. For such a short time, mortalkind knew nothing but cruelty and the dark. It was not enough. Long had she waited for any one God to ascertain what she had but none had ever stepped up to the challenge. Now, many had faded into the requiem of silence. Forlorn and soon to be forgotten, if not already bent by toil.

Sylia would show those who remained what it truly meant to be divine.

With the vastness of space behind her, Sylia turned to look upon the jewel of their universe. Galbar. Oh, Galbar. The deep blue sea of the Land of Origins, with its twin trees, gazed up like a vast eye. Brilliant was the World Tree. Brighter was the Tree of Firmaments. She would show Allianthe the truest reach of the celestial heavens. Even if Life could never again be reasoned with. Even when it came to blows, which it would, sooner or later. She would show that grounded Goddess. Yet, despite it all. She wished her sister well. Did she not know that pain? As fickle as it was? She, whose heart did not know love?

“You think so little of me…” She whispered in the dark, her slender hand over where a heart would be. She pulled it away and looked at her fingers. What was love but a chemical reaction, induced in two mature beings to create healthy offspring? Not every animal felt such an allure but the mark of greater intelligence pulled so often in such a direction, that chance fell away. She shook her head, such questions had been eating at her since that fateful confrontation. Where she had not acted… Well. She shoved it away, a project for another time.

Try as she might, however, Sylia could not shake the burden of her ever growing tasks. Even weightlessness as she was in that place between places. It had seemed that Civilization had fallen before her solely. El’zadir was not fit for the task, nor could she truly count on any other. She knew not why but it was evident that something had befallen El for the very sword she had created for the reticent goddess, had vanished. Gift, she had called it. Sylia’s mercurial blade.

She would find and retrieve it in time.

Still, Sylia sighed. Perhaps she’d go and look for El too. Perhaps not. For now, it was time. She had not been to the inky black between worlds since the dawn of creation. Now she spun and gazed out at the majesty of it. One day she would travel to another world and see what creation had to offer. For now, she focused on the task at hand. The creation of a celestial body was no easy matter to undergo. She had her plan, sketched with the holiest place of her mind. None had seen it but they would.

She raised her hand and the cosmos was changed forevermore.




Althea sat on the roof of Ophelia’s house, knees at her chest. The air held a gentle cool breeze upon its winds. It was a reprieve from the stifling day. It was the only pleasant thing when the dark took dominion. So there she sat, having forgotten how many times she had watched the stars up above, in their myriad beauty. She knew in her heart she could watch them forever and never cease finding something new in the heavens. It calmed her mind and she even had begun to deign that it was mending what had broken inside of herself. But that was a fledgling hope she had no inkling of stoking. The stars were hers for a time and they would remain so.

The distant sounds of Sylann nightlife were her only company. That and the occasional buzz of an insect or other night denizen. From the vantage of Ophelia’s estate, for it sat upon a hill on the outskirts of the city’s center, Althea could see soft lanterns dotting every street. A new technology, one where extracted oils from animals were burned for a light source. As genius as it was, the lanterns did not stop the occasional bonfire. She had kept away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a long time, having found that a peaceful life was her calling. She told herself that it was better that way. Of course she helped around the estate and kept Ophelia and the baby company. Yet she could never shake that unwanted feeling of idleness. The pull to do anything but mope around, it was returning. A small comfort, she supposed.

“There you are.” Ophelia said. Althea turned her head to see her friend, wrapped in a blue blanket, walking towards her. She sat down beside Althea and the lilac smell of her was not unwelcome. So too was the bit of body warmth they shared. “Couldn’t sleep?” Ophelia eventually asked.

Althea looked upon a face that only had the gaze of stars. “I could sleep for days.” She confided, turning her head back up to the stars. “But if I did I would miss this.”

“True. They are lovely tonight. No clouds at all.”

“Mhmm.” Althea mumbled.

Silence fell between the two. Content as they were in each other’s presence. One did not always need to talk to pass the time.

“Oh!” Ophelia gasped as a star blinked past in a torrent of distant light. “A shooting star!”

“Make a wish.” Althea said, turning to see Ophelia’s beaming grin. She could not help but yield just a little to it, producing one of her own.

“A wish?” her friend asked.

“Well,” Althea blinked, suddenly feeling foolish. “I once overheard some kittens saying that if you saw a shooting star, you got to make a wish. It’s probably just… Children being children.”

She looked back up at the stars but felt Ophelia’s hand upon her own. She looked back at Ophelia, her fellow Syllianth now smiling softly.

“Done.” She said after a moment.

“Done?” Althea asked.

“I made my wish.” Ophelia's chin rose as a playful smugness overtook her features.

“Oh,” Althea let out a small chuckle, her own smile returning. “Well, what did you wish for?”

Ophelia opened her mouth to speak but another star streaked past and both of their heads snapped to it. Then another streaked past, and another. A meteor shower? Althea got to her feet, helping Ophelia up as more stars streaked past. They began to shoot by so quickly that it began to blur into a vast ocean of how white. Ophelia gasped at least a dozen times.

Althea could hardly believe what she was seeing. There had never been anything like this before. No one had ever mentioned it, at least. Ophelia gripped her hand tighter and she returned it with a squeeze of her own. When the streaking stars became one in all motion did the heavens at last reveal what lay beyond the curtain- An explosion of light that brightened the very skies into day.

Next followed the tremendous sound of a hammer clanging metal. It rippled across the earth and down into her very bones. Harmony came in the form of invigoration, as the sky settled back into night, not so dark as before. Althea scanned the heavens, to the very epicenter of the light and she saw now a thing that took her very breath away.

There was the goddesses’ symbol. A gigantic silvered hand. Each finger, ringed with golden circles and crowned with starlight. All coveting the great golden ball in its palm. Althea felt her knees begin to wobble and it was only Ophelia helping her down that she didn’t collapse so completely. She couldn’t take her eyes off it. She coursed with every sort of emotion, from pure elation to the smallest of inferiorities. She had bore witness to an event that would be remembered forever.

It was then that it began to rain. Not of water, she realized. It was…

“Silver?” Ophelia asked, picking up a small silver shard.

“Silver…” Althea repeated, feeling the smile tug across her lips on its own accord.

“It seems my wish came true.” Ophelia said as she scooted in close, resting her head upon Althea’s shoulder as they watched the Hand rain silver.




Sylia sat upon a dias of chiseled marble at the apex of the middle finger. From her viewpoint, Sylia saw everything. A bespeckled Galbar in all its glory. She had dictated that place as her most holiest of sanctums, far beyond the scope of the Atelier. Her Observatory would never be unmatched.

She could only beam with triumph. Her great work was accomplished and now mortalkind did not have to be so afraid of the dark. With the Hand now in orbit and acting as an artificial moon, Sylia could further advance all life upon the planet. It would be in the hopes that one day, perhaps generations in the future, the scope of civilization can be turned upon the distant stars.

Mortals would one day be able to live here, free from the duress of grounded life. Here they could achieve the progression of all-kind. The refinery at the center of the palm would furnish wonders. And most importantly, Sylia would not have to worry about further invasions upon Galbar’s surface and skies. She had surprises for any would be invaders but that would have to wait. She couldn’t show her hand, well, with a bemused smile, she could and she already had.

But such a place would need to be protected and mended from the inside. Toil… She would have to fix that error one day but it ever remained one of her chiefest concerns. Thus Sylia fashioned with her hammer a being much like the Formed but lesser in scope and size. More humanoid in shape and made entirely of metal. Steel. For the realities of their duties would be ceaseless. She needed something that could last and be produced somewhat easily if needed. They would have no faces, just like her Watcher of old. Then she replicated the process a hundredfold until a mass of lithe, hardy automatons stood before her.

“You are the Sylicants.” Sylia proclaimed. “Caretakers of this installation. Stalwart defenders of the Hand. This I declare, your Goddess. Now go.”

So they did and Sylia went back to her observations. There was still much to do but for once, she had earned the right to simply watch.




The Assembly





“We mustn't forget our neighbors to the north! We've all heard the stories! Should we allow such a place to build its strength enough to challenge us?” The goblin spoke with an eloquent tongue, wearing his fine robe of red. Jewels glittered on his fingers and about his bald head there was a floral signet in the shape of a rose.

To his decree many in that place stood, mostly other goblinfolk, and cheered but were steadily drowned out by the boos. A vast majority of those boos were of beastfolk in a multitude of assortments. Mammalian, reptilian, avian… Full, half and marked. The few Syllianth in the Forum remained ever still, giving little opinion of their own.

Another goblin, across from him, stood. His own robe white, while he sported a trimmed beard and tied black hair in a bun. Rings lined his fingers and a ring of gold pierced his nose. He spoke with the same eloquence, if not in a deeper pitch. “Stories! Tales! Gossip! These are what assemblyman Rosefield would have you believe in with absolute truth! As it remains, they are just that- rumors.” A few ayes could be heard at that. “Trade has always been steady with Thysia! The Suneater, as you all know, has shown hospitality to our people and we have to his! Such baseless claims to even suggest he could ever sack this great city, are preposterous!”

The roar of the room answered this decree. When it quieted down, Rosefield spread wide his arms and said, “Let it be known I have no doubt our city, with shining walls, could best even the ocean down south if it were to assail us in one mighty wave! We survived the hordes of demons! We have brought peace to our side of the river and so has the Noble Suneater, with his now vast holdings. We should not dismiss the rumors, even if they are just that! If Thysia is building its strength for a great campaign, why would we not be interested in this! And need I remind anyone that the Fairwater’s have always benefited from such trade between our two states?” The strike was a cunning one but to his words there came much applause and many more whispers.

Assemblyman Fairwater’s stalwart demeanor was of supreme confidence. “My good assemblyman!” he began, shushing the forum. “You all know me. You knew my father, you knew my eldest sister. Gods rest their souls! Heroes of the invasion! You know my character.” he thumped his chest. “My word has always carried weight amongst ye! I would cut off my own arm in defense of this city, there is no doubt! And I say now, we have nothing to fear from those in that country but if it will alleviate your hearts, let us put a vote to it. As we have always done and will continue to do!” Many shouted in approval, the air thick with a sense of pride.

“I am in favor of continued peace between our states, who is with me!” A chorus of aye’s flooded the room, from top to bottom. “And all those in favor of strengthening our borders?” he asked next and many gave their own aye’s but it was clear the victor.

“And peace we shall have, let it be blessed!”

Rosefield glowered and sat back in his seat. Fairwater smiled in that cocky way of his. Truly a voice of reason when you helped line the pockets of those aye’s. The goblinman tightened his fist. They would see. He and his cohorts would make them see.

Another voice broke into the fray of voices, “Now have any here remarks for Human and Feighdfulc citizenship?”


© 2007-2024
BBCode Cheatsheet