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Dear Mr Curly,
I have done little travelling lately because I have been so dreadfully weary. Can it be true as the old Ecclesiastes said; that all things lead to weariness? Surely not. Perhaps the opposite is true: that all nothings lead to weariness. I have a peculiar feeling, Curly, that I am worn out from something I haven't yet done and the more I don't do it, the more exhausted I become. How strange. Could it be something I haven't realised? Perhaps it's something I haven't said? Something I haven't finished! It must be very large and true whatever it is and a lively struggle in the doing but I look forward to it immensely. I know I need it. First, however, I must curl up in my chair and sleep deeply with the duck. Perhaps I'll dream of this thing and wake up refreshed and do it. My fond wishes to you Mr. Curly, and to all Curly Flat.
Yours sleepily,
Vasco Pyjama
xxx
P.S. Not having breakfast can make you weary. That's for sure!
Michael Leunig. The Curly Pyjama Letters.

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Fendros had to grit his teeth to keep himself from fainting when he fell. The pain was in every single one of his bones. He had to stand up. Meesei needed another chance.

But he did not see the usual determination in Meesei when he refocussed his eyes. His heart sank when he heard what her demeanour already alluded to. It was time to put on a stony face and adapt. He nodded, pressing his feet into the floor and turning to fetch the pack. Wisps of smoke rose from between gaps in his armor as he did so.

Sabine's face went ghostly at the order. She complied only after healing Meesei with a spell that would get her back on her feet.

Janius was almost lost to the frenzy of combat. Fendros had to make his order loud and sharp, which made the still-growling werewolf back away from the lines reluctantly but quickly.

"Tarna! Rhajul! In!" Savine drew them into the lift with her.

Fendros relayed their intentions to Ri'vashi with his regrets firmly bottled up in his mind. "Hold them back from the mechanism! Snap the lever if you can! The battle will be over when Vile is smited."

Fendros was the last on the platform. He made a quick prayer -- the first in a long time -- and pulled the lever to bring the lift up.
Yalu 'Suumko


Even trying as he did to remain quiet on the pelican ride back to base, Yalu's curiosity got the better of him. Tar had to listen to whatever conversation their handlers and pilot would allow about what the 'sea food' was in the local area. Yalu was still not sure by the time they landed whether he had missed out by declining Lucas' invitation with the others.

The dilemma faded to nothing in Yalu's memory when he entered the briefing room with the rest of the team. He gave nods to those he was familiar with on the team, opting to stay standing with arms crossed behind shorter members of the team. The light of the holograms above the table shone in his eyes.

Brissekh. He turned an eye to Tar right before she boiled over. It was a surprise that made him flinch. Yalu guessed if anything would make the quiet 'Mdalak loud, it would be this.

As for the plan itself, Yalu had to temper his expectations about Tar's use infiltrating the keep. It would be a much more crude frontal assault. He could not say they did not have a good reason to do so. It was a Kaidon's responsibility to defend his keep. This Uztel 'Mdalak could not run from it forever. Unless, of course...

"And if the target withdraws from the keep, should we pursue or attempt to secure the keep ourselves?"
The two Sangheili, Tar and Yalu, took a path that led out across another broad grassy lawn. Earth's singular sun was not lacking today. Each distant bed of multicoloured plantlife leapt out from either side of their eyes with reflected light.

For all of Tar's deliberate voice, Yalu took longer than he wanted to respond. Sangheilios could have been described as exciting, but not in the way Tar implied.

"Where do you call your homeworld?" Yalu asked.

“Brissekh.” Tar replied after a moment’s hesitation. Her home accent showed up through the pronunciation. “My bloodline settled it centuries ago. It is not...quite like Sanghelios, but it is still wild and bountiful.”

This felt strange to Tar. She hadn’t had many proper conversations with her team, and didn’t intend to make a habit of it. You never knew when they’d have to part ways again. But she wasn’t sure how to disengage besides running into the carefully manicured undergrowth.

“Where is your Keep?” She asked, keen to take the attention back off herself.

"Raithos, Sanghelios," Yalu answered flatly. "Isolated, well defended, never a strategic priority in history. My people are not exciting, I fear. Their philosophy is not as glorious."

Tar huffed gently - she admired the candour. “Every great civilisation needs administrators, adjudicators, artisans...witnesses. To balance the scales between prosperity and pestilence. My own Keep could learn much from yours, I think.”

Yalu guffawed. "I would agree with you, but willingness is another matter entirely. One must prefer not to slay those they defeat in that place."

They passed by a red marble fountain, atop which stood a statue of a small human holding something up and away from a water bird.

"I take it your keep conducts themselves differently," Yalu said. "Commandos like yourself do not come from monastic places."

Tar studied the sculptures, her hand idly swishing through the water in one of the small satellite fountains around the edge. She hadn't the faintest idea what the arrangement was supposed to symbolise.

"My people are naturally suspicious. Family feuds have been passed down through so many generations that the original offence is lost." She watched a Pelican drop ship fly overhead.

"Even the war failed to bring us together, until a Brute ship arrived right above our heads." Tar's mandibles flexed and she growled at the mere thought of that day.

Yalu flicked an eye briefly down at Tar beside him. He then looked ahead and sighed through his nostrils. "...This garden may not be 'exciting,' Commando 'Mdalak. But I recognise it is a place of peace. Unless you are at peace with those events in your past, I will not ruin it today."

Tar traded that look with Yalu, and realised she’d said too much. She flexed her fists and changed the subject as they started walking again. “Where did you serve? Before Aegis?”

"Hm, plenty of places for the Swords of Sanghelios," he recalled, looking up to the blue sky. "The past few years before Commander Virususai, I was a fireteam lead. Under Ultras 'Sutek and 'Kartar in Khael'mothka. Peacekeeping missions. Hunting Covenant remnants around Rahnelo before that, under Ultra 'Boset. Mostly assaulting Covenant cells, disconnected from that bloodthirsty 'Mdama. The previous Ultra on Rahnelo before that -- his name escapes me -- commanded me for only three months before transfer."

Tar nodded, looking ahead but genuinely interested now. There were still many things about the conflict that she did not understand. If not from a tactical point of view, then an ideological one.

"And...before that?"

Yalu breathed in. Just then, a jet black Pelican drop ship with sky-camo on the underside soared over their heads. It was relatively quiet despite the breakneck speed it was travelling at, and didn't look to Tar like the regular model.

The Pelican dragged its tail around the garden to their left, circling them while losing speed until eventually it lowered onto the grass with its cargo bay facing them. "Could've parked closer than that…" Tar's handler muttered, raising a flat hand to his eyes to see who was watching them from inside the craft.

Yalu caught the hint it was their ride. "Before that is the story of a different Major," Yalu answered Tar. "That may have to wait for next time."
Sabine felt the lines close in around them. Now that the pressure on them, high though it was, began to stabilise with Coldharbour's assistance, she took Do'rhajul by the arm. "Rhajul, bring me up on your
hand and shoulders! I need height!"

True enough, Sabine was shorter than every fighter around her except one or two of the Bosmer among them. The bright mist pouring off both her hands indicated she had an offensive magic in mind.

"I can freeze them and spare us in the eye of the storm," she elaborated.

Meanwhile, Fendros was forced back far enough to notice Meesei's situation. Meesei would not admit through stubbornness, but her body was visually wracked with the sheer amount of magicka she held. Fendros had learned enough from her to know how to help. He pulled away and held Meesei's shoulder. "You have an atronach," he reminded her.

Fendros could absorb the magicka flow for a time, hopefully enough to allow Meesei to cast her spell without destroying herself. He knew it would not be painless.
Yalu 'Suumko


Yalu kept his aim, ready for anything. He would not admit that he preferred the rebels to retreat if it would mean less death.

The enemy commander did not get much time to wax lyrical about his cause by the time he dropped his weapon. Yalu closed the distance with a weapon raised and grabbed him by the arm, twisting it around and tripping him forward in the same motion. He hit the ground head first but Yalu knew human helmets were not worth nothing.

No more tricks. With the commander pinned, he was shackled, searched, and called in.

"Objective is secured. Ready for extraction."



Sydney, Earth
several months later

Yalu had expected to be transferred again and again, with Aegis team being just one more chapter. Commander 'Virisusai was different. He kept Yalu on and he did not let Yalu relax. The last few months were some of the most strenuous assignments he had ever faced, and that was to say nothing of the training regimen. Far from being disappointing, the deployment to 'Virisusai's team was invigorating to Yalu. The commander had an eye for Yalu's strengths and applied them to the fullest.

Still, arriving on Earth again was the first extended time to himself Yalu had been able to appreciate in some time. He found his curiosity had not dimmed at this place. Though, here at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Yalu was less chipper about his new surroundings. He was trailed by a human handler in dress uniform nearly jogging after his broad steps on the asphalt pathways.

Yalu approached Tar 'Mdalak from the side. He was dressed in an unusual garment -- a crinkly white and red jumpsuit with a zip up the front and a thick foam ring around the neck. It looked like an altered human piece of clothing, but not one seen every day. He stopped and his handler had to catch their breath.

"You are hard to find even when you aren't hiding, Tar," Yalu said. He turned his eyes to the plants she was regarding. "I thought to join you in place these humans would not complain about our presence in. I was only permitted to drive three laps around their 'Mount Panorama Circuit' before Corporal Blair here judged it too dangerous. At least I had fascinating talk with the mechanics."

Yalu's handler, who had 'Blair' written on his name tag, spoke between breaths. "Major 'Suumko, sir, I had warned you to keep to a reasonable speed. Those cars were not built to accommodate Sangheili."

Yalu waved a hand and sneered, regarding Tar instead. "Would you mind some company? I feel I have been around strangers for days now."
For Fendros, there was no stopping Sabine if he tried. His mind let the matter go to focus on holding the enemy back. Survival was all that mattered. He began by warding the spellfire arcing in from further back in the enemy ranks, but the push was brought to him. He had to press his weight into the back of the friendly shieldwall and stab his blade over their shoulders like the others. He could feel his boots sliding back on the broken turf. His arm, even given haste by Yerig's shout, felt less responsive than usual. None of them had fought for such an extended period of time in years.

He muttered through gritted teeth, though no one could hear in the tumult. "Sabine, this had best not be our end..."

Janius was using his reach and bulk as best as he could to help hold the centre. He proved relatively implacable in his armor and weight. Any sizable Daedra that got too aggressive found his axe blade swinging down on their heads from above. A hulking grey xivilai proved a tough challenger, especially when the freakishly strong daedric warrior brought down his own axe on Janius' head. Janius managed to turn his head to turn it into a glancing blow, but an off-balance swing hooked the xivilai's arm, dragging the giant to the floor, where rear-ranked friendly spearmen could stab it until it failed to rise.

Sabine had little room to lay waste with her usual frost magic. Spells from her turned to the defensive. Wounded allies receive quick bursts of healing at her touch. Those facing down particularly ferocious daedra felt their skin toughen with an armour-like repulsion. She had to consciously put the appropriate amount of magicka into them to combat a reflexive fear of running out in this desperate situation. Some small part of her even hoped that the dark anchor would take some pressure off their defence, as if that were possible.

"Keep going, Champion!" The unexpectedly loud voice of Sabine's packmate Tarna shouted out the encouragement. "They can barely match a sweet coastal breeze!" The sounds of her daggers slicing into limbs and throats alike added to the effect, as even in such tight conditions she did not prove less capable.
They had been on the offensive for so long that Sabine had not faced these larger Daedra waiting for them to crash in. The sheer sound of all their feet, hooves, and claws alone was enough to make her falter, let alone the braying and howling they produced alongside.

She looked back at Meesei. The portal was barely given visual formed. She looked ahead again. There were simply too many.

"Brace yourselves!" Sabine screamed out.

Fendros turned his surprised head to see Sabine clutching Neesa's sigil stone. Surprise turned to shock when she leapt fully over the frontline, rolled upright clear of her allies, and activated the stone.

"Sabine, no!" Fendros shouted too late. Much like it had above the main battle in the valley, the skies darkened and swirled with eerie grey-blue clouds. As if crashing through a great ceiling of glass, the sky shattered, revealing a dark bouquet of spiked metal, plummeting fast towards them.
The pack had no hesitation falling in with the other soldiers, but even Ri'vashi's commands could not completely stave off the fear in their hearts. Fendros readied his ward and considered for a moment whether one or more of them would not make it through Meesei's portal. If there would be a portal at all.

Sabine distracted herself by bettering their chances. She sprinted to one side of the line and poured a cold magic wide around their flank. The frosty air lingered in a mist that whitened the ground beneath it; a wall of cold. She sprinted to the other side of the line and did the same. Without the staff, she felt for the first time since the battle began that her magicka had a limit. In the realisation, she took a magicka fortifying potion out of her bag, her hand brushing something else in her bag. Opening the flask she processed what she had brushed against. A shiver ran up her neck. It was Molag-Bal's little 'gift' she hoped she would not have to use. A sigil stone that would summon a Dark Anchor.

There was no time to give it rational consideration. She quaffed her potion down and readied for battle once more. The Daedra below were almost in range to deter with spellfire. Her empty fingers curled with cascading mist.


Kor: Entente In Despair


The thing had nothing to sense. A numb cancelling of all waves centred itself there in the core of the world. None of the cacophonous rumbles, pressure, and searing heat was felt. The only company enjoyed by the thing at the core was the gentle song of the cosmos whispered through from the outside. It sat listening, manifesting the opposite of all else around it, whether willed or not. The opposite now was an absence of all. It had neither memories nor the consciousness to record such. No record within or without existed of its age. Its existence was unnoticed, eternal or not. It may never have had memories at all.

What the thing at the core had was a reaction to all the spirits of the world, choiring at once at the hell they suddenly inhabited. The discordant crowd of pain came from all directions at such a volume as to reach a uniform peak at the core. The song of the cosmos was not just drowned, but buried, sealed, and suffocated beneath it. The thing at the core manifested the opposite of all else around it. It was peace, patience, and familiarity.

The apocalyptic choir overlapped its verses, and with it came hate, anger, trauma, vengeance, avarice, and disgust. The thing at the core manifested the opposite of all else around it. Its heart ached not in a desire to destroy, but a desire to soothe, preserve, and heal. From that heart, a being formed. The combined spirit of the planet Galbar itself unknowingly made it so. In the planet’s manifest discord, shattering and breaking into oceanic pieces, the opposite -- harmony -- was given shape. The shape was Kor.

Kor was a weeping goddess.

The birth of Kor lasted only as long as her new consciousness formulated actions from her desires. She wrought a body from the decompressing metal around her and this stilled her tears. From the heat, she pushed out and up. She did not choose a direction to go. The direction chose her, beckoning up to a point at Galbar’s undercrust. An old benevolent trail of divinity beyond her immediate understanding signalled her there like a light in the sky.

She found her direction through the molten mantle and pushed with two arms. The chaos of the world sank into her like so many teeth. With two more arms she pushed. A great shard of the planet buckled and broke away from the whole under her pressure. The underside of the shard glowed and flexed and screamed. To that she sang softly a song she knew to calm it.

…Kor…Re…Pa…Ve…Laak…
…Kor…Re…Pa…Ve…Laak…

The screaming quietened, but the dark chaos hung onto the shard jealously. It would consume all if it could not have the peace this shard dared to achieve.

…Kor…Re…Pa…Ve…Laak…
…Kor…Re…Pa…Ve…Laak…

Kor manifested the opposite of the chaos to protect her new shard. Her harmonious peace. A body of unbreakable confidence and structure. She then took two more arms and pushed up as hard as she could. The burning remains of Galbar darkened below, opening an endless maw that threatened to consume Kor and her last shard of the unbroken past. It inhaled to draw her closer.

…Kor…Re…Pa…Ve…Laak…
…Kor…Re…Pa…Ve…Laak…
…Kor…Re…Pa…Ve…Laak…
…Kor…Re…Pa…Ve…Laak…

The shard sang with her. The mantra took the spirits of the land, the plants, the animals, and the people, and stroked their spines and shoulders with a new calm. They found a sureness in the pull their bodies had to the earth below them, pushing away the chaos. The pain and darkness that clung from the planet below could not hold on against this force, which from the underside pushed it all away. The chaos held, but thinned and tore like a film of black slime. Finally, though some of the chaos remained atop the shard, the film finally ripped asunder by force of Kor’s strength, and the shard flew free in the goddess’ six great hands.

Kor continued to sing, and continued to push Galbar away. But still she wept. Above, the shard began to shiver and crack. In the cradle of its salvation, the cold of its new freedom threatened to kill it early. Below, Galbar broke and collapsed until nothing was left but the malevolence that caused its destruction. Kor could only keep the ex-Galbar and All-In-The-Darkness-Below at bay. She did not have the strength to save the shard as well.

Then, as if she was not the only one to hear the call of the shard, Kor witnessed more great powers repair and stabilise it from above and within. Six points of surety welded the stone together. Kor readjusted her hands as carefully as she could to align with the six points and found herself finally at a point of equilibrium once more. She smiled softly in the knowledge that the shard above would live on.

Thank you, she called into the earth above. She did not know who was responsible, only that there would be peace again for a time.


"What?" Fendros breathed at the portals tearing open far behind them. "If we had been down there..." He shook the thought out of his head. "But it's not over yet."

Sabine hesitated, tightening her grip around the staff at first. But with the magicka virtually buzzing all around them, thoughts of how she] might use it made her realise Meesei's idea may have been similar. Sabine held the staff out horizontally to Meesei. "Take it. I am not sure I could control it."

Fendros could not say he followed it all, but he knew their time was running out. "Meesei, if this will take more than a moment, this is no place to defend ourselves."
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