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Karamir

Demigod of Mana
&
Ami

Rogue Avatar of Rain




”East until we find a road. Do you know what a road looks like, Fenris?” Karamir asked as they walked.

“I do not,” Fenris answered simply.

The wolfman had been quiet ever since Ami and the Forean Hound had joined them. It was clear he didn’t entirely trust their new company, but ever dutiful and loyal, he had not offered much resistance beyond his initial objection. Still, Karamir couldn’t help but notice a tension in the man.

There was little that could be done about it, he supposed. Perhaps Fenris would get over it in time. ”What about you, Ami?” Karamir asked.

Ami skipped forward, having fallen behind a few steps due to the pup cutely prancing around her. It is a path. A semi-permanent one at that. The one we’re searching for must be rather wide, so we’ll know when we stumble upon it.

”Hmm…” Karamir wondered aloud, and then an idea struck him. ”Wait here. I’ll take flight and see if I can find it.”

Ami merely kept walking as Karamir took off and flew into the distance. The pup followed her closely until for some reason, it ran ahead and kept up with Fenris, bouncily walking beside him with his leafy, wagging tail brushing against his calf every half second.

“Stop that,” Fenris ordered in a dismissive tone, not bothering to look down at it.

The forean pup’s ears perked up and it looked at Fenris with shiny eyes, not slowing down and wagging his tail even faster, panting happily.

“Can this thing not obey commands?” Fenris asked disdainfully, looking to Ami. “Get it away from me.”

Ami tilted her head and made her leaves twitch. The pup looked at her and rushed to her side, allowing Ami to pick him up and hold him close to her chest.

They stopped walking and at that point Ami noticed how muddy her feet had gotten. When did they step into such wet terrain? It hadn’t rained lately… Ami sniffed the air and felt the humidity clinging to her skin and being absorbed by her body. The leaves on the back of her neck prickled.

The sky became covered with gray clouds. The air became chilly and a tense breeze scraped against Ami and Fenris’ bodies. The pup growled.

It was then that she fully engaged her Soul Sense.

A lone dragonfly flew low past the two, until it flew no more and landed on a blade of grass. A barbed tendril of mud snatched it up and dragged it down under the earth.

Fenris...

Grass was displaced as a small mound of mud rose with two pearly black orbs sunken slightly into the material at different levels. The mound seemed to stare right at them, even as the remains of a clear insect wing traveled up and down its surface, melting.

... We should keep walking.

“We should turn back,” Fenris decided, abruptly turning around and heading back the way they came.

Ami hesitated a moment, turning toward Fenris. The pup in her arms suddenly squirmed and broke free and ran off toward the mound of mud, barking.

Ami’s leaves prickled and her heart skipped a beat. The pup was small, really small and young.

Time slowed down. Ami could see every single clump of mud that the pup’s paws kicked up, she could feel the earth shift, and she saw several mounds of mud pop up around them, all staring from afar.

And then she saw a large barbed tendril spring up and wrap itself around the pup.

Her eyes widened and without thinking she ran toward it. The world warped around her as she lost some focus, but she jumped as hard as she could and yanked the pup free off the tendril with a tearing sound. It whimpered and cried, but all Ami could do was hold it tight and roll along the mud as she fell back to the ground. Lifting her head she noticed the very ground beneath her shift and morph… Becoming softer, and splitting apart. Dozens of tendrils popped up out of the ground, and the moment her Sight revealed rows of sharp bone fangs reflecting light below the muddy surface, she just ran.

With no care for direction, with no thought for anything else other than running and escaping. She stumbled and dodged and crawled through the terrain as tendrils tried to grab a hold of her.

She winced and fell on her side as one of the more agile tendrils wrapped itself around her left leg. Its barbs tore her living dress apart and dug into skin.

She reached and tried to grab onto anything, but all she could touch was mud. In her panic, she had let go of the pup and it hurried up to her face. She saw sap flowing from its waist and broken leaves all throughout its body.

And still, the pup barked at the tendrils approaching, then ran around Ami and bit the tendril holding onto his friend as fiercely as he could.

It was mud. Once its hardened exterior was cracked and broken, the tendril holding onto Ami went limp and she jumped up to her feet and picked the pup up again and ran, not looking back.

Fenris, meanwhile, had stopped moving. In one smooth motion, he pulled the bow Karamir had given him from his shoulder. In the weeks he had been with his ‘brother’, he had had time to practice, and he knew what the weapon did. He nocked an arrow, the tip setting itself alight with black fire, then took aim at the mass of tentacles, drew the string back, and loosed.

The arrow flew forward, disappearing into the mass. The tentacles closest to where the arrow had struck collapsed back into the mud.

But there were many more where that came from. As the tentacles shifted their attention to him, Fenris drew another arrow, and loosed it. With their size and his weapon’s enhancement, he barely needed to aim; simply touching the creature was enough. In only a few seconds he had drawn a third arrow and loosed it as well, scoring another kill.

Yet the creatures continued to approach, and Fenris realized he was surrounded. There was no time to transform. Armed with only the bow, he had to create an opening, and fast.

He concentrated on one particular section of tentacles, in the direction from whence he had came, where they were fewest in number. Arrow after he shot, but when he did make a gap, that gap would swiftly close as the beasts inched closer and closer. He was running out of time.

Then a bright stream of orange rained from above, bathing half the tentacles in fire. Made out of mud, they immediately hardened under the heat, then began to crack and crumble. The rest of the tentacles, evidently realizing the tide had turned, began to inch away as they receded back into the mud.

Karamir lowered himself so that he was only a few inches above the ground. He was breathing heavily. “What happened?” he asked. “Where is she?”

“I don’t know,” Fenris answered with a shrug. “She ran. That way, I think.” He pointed.

With a sigh, Karamir seized Fenris by the hand, pulled him away from the mud, and back onto dry ground. Wasting no further time, he flew off into the direction Fenris had pointed toward. He maneuvered his way around trees and branches, and although he moved quickly, he could not see her. ”Ami!” he called out. ”Ami!”

There was no response. Perhaps Fenris had pointed him in the wrong direction, or perhaps she was much faster than she had led either of them to believe. Either way, despite much searching, even with his divinely enhanced senses he could not locate her, much to his astonishment. If he flew above the trees, his vision was obstructed by the canopy. If he flew below, the need to avoid trunks and branches slowed him down.

He searched for a long time, but it soon became apparent that he wasn’t going to find her. Perhaps she had already made her way back, and had found Fenris. But when he returned to the spot, he found that she was not there. Only the massive form of Fenris, who had changed back into his wolf form and eyed the mud warily.

Karamir suddenly regretted the decision not to have Fenris show her his true form earlier, for if she saw him as he was now without knowing who he was, he would surely scare her away from the area. Cursing angrily, he ordered Fenris to change back, and the wolf immediately complied.

He decided to wait, to see if she would return on her own, but she did not. He looked up at the sky and realized that nearly half the day had passed since he first set off looking for her.

If she had not returned, she had likely put as much distance between herself and this location as possible. He was not entirely sure which direction she had gone in. The texture and colour of her skin gave her a natural camouflage. And although he could move swiftly, he would need to slow down in order to see clearly.

He was no fool. The chances of finding her were almost non-existent.

He had told her where they were heading. Perhaps she had continued in that direction. Or perhaps she had gone back to the tree. Either way, they were more likely to find her there than by aimlessly searching the woods.

He clenched his fists in anger. The one time he left them alone…

”I found the damn road…” he muttered angrily. ”Let’s find this ‘capital.’”




Karamir

Demigod of Mana
&
Silver
Ami

Rogue Avatar of Rain




“Where do we go now?” Fenris asked.

Karamir looked around. The air was moist with fog. His divinely-enhanced senses allowed him to see well enough, and Fenris was exceptionally perceptive himself, but the reduced visibility was still rather irritating. ”I think it would make the most sense if we followed the coast,” he suggested. ”Until we find something else to follow.”

And on that note, they made their way north. And so they walked and walked until the air cleared and they could see further. It was only temporarily as the fog was quick to come back, but they managed to see a plume of smoke further inland into what seemed to be green, breezy plains with very sparse trees. White smoke, perfect for signalling.

It was a single plume, which meant it was likely controlled. ”Civilization,” Karamir said, pointing in the direction he had seen the smoke. ”Let’s go find some answers.” The pair walked inland, and eventually the fog gave way to a moderate sized bonfire. Around it, three individuals were sitting down taking bites out of dry-looking strips of meat. One of them, a Vallamir with white hair and grey eyes stopped eating and looked at the Fenris and Karamir critically. Then he nodded and motioned towards the vast space around the bonfire before pulling out several strips of dry meat and offering it to them.

“It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Divine approach our lands without the intention to go directly to the Queen-Mother’s Manor.” Said the white-haired Vallamir, who looked straight at Karamir for a few seconds, “Sit wherever you like. I possess the name of Sun’Kalla. What do people call you two?”

”My name is Karamir,” Karamir said, returning Sun’Kalla’s gaze. ”This is Fenris. We’re sons of Kalmar.”

“Karamir and Fenris it is. Kalmar is one of the creator Gods, so I assume you come from Kalgrun.” Sun’Kalla broke the gaze, “So are you two going to sit or do you prefer to stand? I suppose as a Divine you feel no physical exhaustion, Karamir, but what about Fenris?”

Karamir looked to his companion, who shrugged, so Karamir stepped forward to sit near the fire, while Fenris did the same. ”We’re here to find out what happened to the Vallamir who followed Li’Kalla to this land,” Karamir said, as Fenris accepted a piece of meat and eyed it critically.

“It’s dried meat, it keeps for longer. Taste is not as good, though.” Sun’Kalla took another bite of his, swallowed after way too little chewing and nodded, “Those Vallamir are alive and well. Well, most of them anyway. Quite a few died during the Rot a decade ago and many settlements either splintered, were wiped out, or turned to cannibalistic behaviours and raiding as their way to stay alive. If you go further north you will be walking into The Stalkers’ territory. Go directly east and you will find the New Monster Cult. To the west, living mainly on large boats on top of the water and coming to land rarely are The Droplets.”

There was a short silence, and Sun’Kalla sighed, “Only safe path is southeast, through the Eternal Forest. Be warned however, those plants are clingy. You can count yourself lucky if you don’t stumble into them in your way through the Forest. After you’re out of the forest, you should be in safe territory. It’s very rare to see any raiders, slavers or cannibals in that territory as we’ve culled most of them over the last ten years. So just head east and you’ll eventually find a road under construction. The eggheads are giving it their all lately. That road will take you to the Holy Capital.”

Karamir stared at him incredulously. ”Raiders… slavers… cannibals? he asked, in a mixture of shock and outrage. ”How did this happen?”

Sun’Kalla shrugged, “The Accursed River Worm, Shengshi, cursed the land to produce rot instead of fruit or produce edible to Vallamir merely because of a difference of opinion to the Queen-Mother’s stances on certain topics. The rot poisoned the land and those that ate it got sick and died, many animals included. Eventually, those that walked away from the Queen-Mother’s protection had nothing to eat but the occasional half-dead, diseased prey or the corpses of their fellow Vallamir…” Sun’Kalla furrowed his brow, “We Valthumir never had that problem. We would get dozens of refugees every day who’d bring in all the food they had. With sensible rationing we managed to make it last. It was difficult to everyone and I remember almost all of our firstborns perished. That alone would make a lesser mind break and turn to cannibalism.”

The mention of Shengshi’s name caught Karamir off-guard. That was the god who had healed him. And while Karamir knew he had a temper, he had never heard anything to suggest he would commit such… such an atrocity. ”That’s… that’s terrible…” he whispered, and even Fenris grit his teeth in anger at that.

“That snake has a knack for treachery,” Fenris said, his voice low and filled with fury.

Sun’Kalla chuckled and put away the meat he was biting at, “I wouldn’t call it treachery. It seemed to be a burst of anger from what the Queen-Mother told me a few years ago which is... Expected, of a lesser mind. I was surprised a Divine would show such lack of restraint. Either way, it is all in the past. We have had many sons and daughters since then and wounds have scarred.”

Karamir sighed. ”Kalmar once told me of the other gods. He always said that Orvus, Vakk, and Sartravius were the ones to be wary of. He said that Shengshi had a temper, but… I was never led to believe it went that far. Shengshi saved my life, not too long ago.”

Sun’Kalla perked up and raised an eyebrow, “Did he? What kind of weapon would even manage to graze a divine’s skin, may I ask?”

”I… wasn’t a god back then,” Karamir admitted. ”That happened only a few days before I became one. The weapon was a sword. I don’t know what it was made out of, but… I was stabbed. When I woke up, I was told that Shengshi had healed me.”

“Ah,” Sun’Kalla rubbed his clean shaven chin in thought, “I’ve never seen a sword, so I’m afraid I cannot picture it. It is fortunate for you that a God healed you, in any case. You must have performed tasks exceptionally well for him in the past in order for him to consider you worthy of defying nature.”

Karamir blinked. ”I never met him before that,” he said. ”And by all accounts, he and Kalmar had never gotten along.” As he spoke, Karamir pulled a dagger free from his belt. Then the blade and hilt extended to become three feet in length. ”This is a sword,” he said. ”And no, they don’t normally change shape.”

“I see. What material are swords usually made of?”

Karamir shrugged. ”Wood? Metal? I’m not sure. Kalmar gave it me, and well… I can’t ask him how to make one.”

Sun’Kalla furrowed his brow even more, “Metal? I admit this blade has a similar glint to strange rocks found in the Abyssal Rift years ago.”

”Maybe I’ll have a look at it,” Karamir said, as the blade shrank back to a dagger and he returned it to its sheathe. ”There’s… something I should tell you,” he said, his expression turning hesitant. ”Kalmar is dead.”

Sun’Kalla’s breathing paused for a moment, and so did the other Valthumirs’ present, but quickly they went back to eating and talking.

“So that’s why the sky stopped falling apart? Was that a funeral ritual for a God?” Sun’Kalla asked.

Karamir furrowed his brow. ”What? No!” he objected. ”He was wounded while putting a stop to that.”

“I see, who was he fighting and why?”

”It’s a long story,” Karamir sighed. ”But I will tell you what I know.”

He leaned forward. ”Orvus is the God of Desolation. He has two daughters. Arya, and Laurien. More than ten winters ago, Laurien for some reason tried to kill him. Somehow, that released a creature known as Abraxus, who trapped Orvus is in his own sphere, Veradax.”

”While this was happening, I was on a land known as ‘The Kick.’ There, I met two gods. Abanoc, who taught me how to tap into a new source of power. And Chopstick Eyes, who offered me a place to stay. I stayed there for years, developing my skills and learning what I could, before moving on. I reached a land known as Dragon’s Foot, and there, I discovered a city called Laurienna. Named after Laurien,” he said, letting them soak in that information.

”There were a number of warning signs that all was not well. But I was inexperienced in dealing with mortals, and naive. I met with Laurien. She was friendly, and we talked about our experiences. But then she revealed that she was having problems with some of her people - they kept making attempts to overthrow the city’s leadership, and their most recent attempt had killed the city’s queen. She said these ‘rebels’ had been put to death.”

”It sounded like a serious problem, so I offered to help. I suggested we go to Abanoc. He’s the God of Recording. He sees everything that happens on Galbar, and might have known something about the issue that she didn’t.” He took a deep breath, and shuddered. ”Then she tried to kill me.”

”She was afraid Abanoc would tell me her secret,” he said, his voice low. ”She attacked me, I defended myself. She called for her guards, and I defended myself again. But they surrounded me, and that’s how I was stabbed. After that, she used her powers to damage my very soul. I nearly lost everything. My memories, my personality...”

”When I woke up, I was in a new land, called the Eye of Desolation. My cloak allows me to fly, and it had carried me there to safety. I was with Laurien’s sister, Arya, who had kept me alive until Shengshi could arrive to heal my injury. But meteors were falling from the sky, and it seemed like the world was ending. I learned that Kalmar had gone to Veradax to save the world from destruction. In the meantime, Abanoc arrived and repaired the damage done to my soul.”

”Eventually, Kalmar did return, but… it was bad. He had stopped the meteors, and freed Orvus, but Abraxus defeated him. Orvus had to sacrifice his divinity so that the Goddess Ashalla could kill Abraxus. Then, the Goddess Arae carried Kalmar and Orvus back to the Eye. Before he died, Kalmar’s last act was to pass his divinity on to me…” A tear began to form in one eye, but he wiped it away. ”And that… that’s what happened.”

“I see, you’ve been through some things. As for Laurien, I wasn’t aware she was on the run from so many Gods. We were tracking her after she left the Queen-Mother’s Manor until a few weeks ago, when we lost her trail near the Endless Tree.” Sun’Kalla said simply, all the emotion from Karamir’s speech seemingly sliding off his skin.

”Laurien was here?” Karamir asked, wide-eyed, while Fenris nearly choked on his food.

“What do you mean you lost her trail?” Fenris demanded.

Sun’Kalla nodded, “Yes, the Queen-Mother housed her in her Manor for a few short days, after which she left without an escort. We traced her all the way to the Endless Tree just southeast of here, but we assume she took flight as there was nothing to go on after that. None of us sensed any malice from Laurien’s presence. Though granted, most of us never even saw her in person.”

”Oh, I didn’t see any malice in her either,” Karamir said. ”At least not until she tried to kill me. I need to find her.”

The Valthumir raised an eyebrow, “Seeking revenge?”

Karamir shook his head. ”I’d like revenge, but no. That won’t help me. I want answers, and to ensure that she won’t hurt or betray anyone again.”

“Heh. So revenge it is. If you truly wished to ensure no one got hurt or betrayed, you should seek the erasure of sentience. Yes, that includes the Gods. You can certainly choose to lie to yourself and assure yourself that you’re hunting Laurien out of a desire to be a kind entity, however.” Sun’Kalla pushed at one of the pieces of wood in the bonfire with his foot and watched as the flames crackled.

”It’s no lie,” Karamir grit his teeth, ”And I would say I know myself better than some stranger who just met me minutes ago.”

“Perhaps I spoke too honestly and too truthfully. So, what are you going to do?”

Fenris glared at the man and was about to issue a harsh rebuke on his brother’s behalf, but Karamir spoke first. ”Leave, for a start,” he said bluntly. ”I won’t share a fire with someone who calls me a liar, and can’t admit when he misjudged a stranger.”

With those words, Karamir rose to his feet and walked back into the woods. Fenris followed behind him, casting a warning glare back over his shoulder, only to see the Valthumir group remain as they had found them, relaxed and completely unphased by their existence. As they walked away, Sun’Kalla waved goodbye.

“South-east, then east after the Endless Tree. That’s the way to the Holy Capital.”

Fenris turned and spat. The two kept walking, which happened to be in the direction he had advised.



“You shouldn’t have stood for that,” Fenris said, once they had gotten out of earshot.

”Stood for what?” Karamir asked idly as they maneuvered around a particularly dense section of ferns and bushes.

“The disrespect. You’re the first of his kind, the son of his creator. He barely even blinked when he learned that same creator was dead. Then he named you a liar, refused to take back his words when challenged, and in the end you were the one who walked away.”

”I walked away because I don’t care for his opinions. His words were false, I told him so, he didn’t accept that. I’m not going to sit and be judged by some stranger I don’t even know, and I’m not going to seek vengeance just because he was arrogant. That wouldn’t have changed anything.” Karamir waved a dismissive hand.

“It would stop him from sharing his lies with others,” Fenris suggested.

”Or others would think I silenced him because his words might be true,” Karamir shook his head. ”Let it go. There are thousands of Vallamir. The opinions of one matter little by comparison.”

“And when others take up his opinions?”

”Why would they?” Karamir asked. ”If they’ll make such judgements about me without even knowing me, then I don’t see why I should care about what they think in the first place.”




It was a new, cloudy day in the Eternal Forest. Silver was on her knees meditating in the middle of her favorite clearing with Rose laid down around her protectively. The world was dark and cool and that’s what she wanted. To be able to see, and hear… It was too much information for her to be able to think properly. This way, she could fully focus on her own self. She took note of every single thing she felt, no matter how small.

From the way she felt a little tickle each time one of her leaves twitched, to what it felt being in her own skin and even the subtle heat emanating from the sleeping giant that was Rose.

Everytime a foreign thought entered her brain and disrupted her meditation, she would let it run its course and then softly bring herself back into relaxation.

This is how she coped with the world. This is how she confirmed that she was, after all, real. That she had a body, that she felt the world… A tiny smile grazed her face and with her eyes closed, as soon as she felt the tingling of the sunlight dancing over her leaves to signify midday, she decided it was time to begin her daily practice.

If her body had turned out to be more humanoid, she would have used breathing as a catalyst for what she was about to do, but since she didn’t even have a throat now, she had to make do with her willpower.

And so slowly, carefully, with light pulls and pushes, Silver would draw out the essence of magic from her surroundings. So carefully indeed that she was able to mix the mana coming from so many different sources into one invisible, amorphous blob the size of a ladybug. Then she drew that blob into her body and felt the shock travel through her system. From the smallest leaf at the top of her head to the tip of her toes, a slight warmth suffused her body.

And it went deeper, crawling in past skin, past fibrous muscle, past ultra-dense wood and straight into the intangible, mighty thing that was Silver’s soul.

And she gained complete control over the mana as it became a part of her. Much like an animal would take to excess nutrition, her soul would store it for further use in the future. But that wasn’t the plan. She meant to use it now in her exercise.

With a mental exhale, her soul detached a small part of itself from her body, and that small invisible part swiftly coated every part of her body, including her living dress, and relayed information back to Silver.

She could see herself, taste herself, smell herself… All because her own body had mana coursing through its veins, mana that reacted to that within her detached soul and allowed it to sense.

On to the next stage of the practice, Silver willed her detached soul to expand and grow in size, encompassing her and Rose and most of the clearing. It never ceased to amaze her, how different the world seemed when one could actually see and hear things properly. How colors looked and how the sounds of breeze synchronized to the imagery of gently swaying grass and leaves…

Then she caught wind of a new and unfamiliar scent, beyond the range of her newfound ‘soul sense.’ A solitary entity, with a vaguely canine scent, approaching her position.

Then, for one moment, the scent stopped moving. The next moment, it rushed forward at almost imperceptible speed, and then the individual was in the clearing.

It was not one individual, but two. They were both males, and they were both tall. The male with the canine scent was holding onto an even taller male, who carried no scent at all, but possessed the unmistakable aura of a lesser god. They let go of each other, and while the shorter male eyed Rose warily, who was picking himself up off the ground, the taller of the two turned his gaze to her. ”You can use mana,” he said, eyebrows slightly raised.

Silver smiled at the divine male and nodded her head, then slowly opened her black eyes out of politeness.

”My name is Karamir, the demi-god of Mana,” he introduced himself. ”What is your name?”

Silver grasped at the thread in her mind, connecting her to Karamir. Silver.

”So, Silver…” Karamir said, continuing to speak aloud, ”Where did you learn to wield it?”

Here, by myself.

”I see…” Karamir said, in a tone that suggested some level of disappointment. Then his brow furrowed. ”You seem to be… divine?” he asked. ”But you don’t have the aura of a full god, and you’re somehow different from any demi-god I’ve encountered. And it also feels like you’re being restrained somehow. What are you, exactly?” he asked. ”If you don’t mind me asking.”

Silver furrowed her brow in imitation. There was no point to speaking of the past, and his question was very specific anyway… A Foreas. We’re plant humanoids that take after the Eternal Tree. What are you?

”A demi-god, a Vallamir, and the son of Kalmar,” Karamir answered. ”I saw some of your kind on the way here. You are different. Why is that?”

I am wearing a dress made of living plant matter, that is the biggest difference. As for why, it’s because it feels like I’m being embraced all the time.

Karamir let out a small sigh. ”I meant the divine aura.” he said. ”Are you an Avatar? Did Li’Kalla create you?”

What is an Avatar? Silver asked as she rose to her feet.

”An Avatar, from what I was told, is a fragment of a god,” Karamir said. ”And shares its creator’s power. From what I can tell, every avatar’s relationship with their creator is different.” The furrow returned. ”If you aren’t an Avatar… what are you?”

Silver’s smile faded, It isn’t important.

Karamir frowned, but did not press the issue further. ”How long have you been here, then? What can you tell me about this place?”

I don’t know how long I’ve been here. This is the Eternal Forest. All the trees you see are actually the roots of the Eternal Tree, which is the Tree that goes above the clouds. Beings that look like you come from the east every once in a while.

Karamir nodded. ”Yes, we’re called the Vallamir,” he said. ”Creations of Kalmar, Li’Kalla, Arae, and Roog. I was the first. We hail from a land called Kalgrun, but eleven or twelve winters ago, the Goddess Li’Kalla led a portion of us to this land. I came here to find out what happened.”

They’re alive and thriving. What does it feel like being the first of your kind? Silver asked with a tilt of her head.

He scratched his chin. ”For a time, I was lonely. I knew little about the world, I couldn’t reproduce, there was nobody else like me. I wandered, and for a time I found myself in bad company. Then, decades later, when Kalmar first told me he was going make a species based off of me, I was overjoyed. I would no longer be alone. There would be thousands of people who would accept me, that I could lead and teach.”

”When I finally met them, I was happy, and I have been teaching them some things - how to wield mana, mostly. But by that point, it had become a responsibility. Kalmar, my father, had died, and he expected me to take up his role as their guide and protector. That’s why I came here - I wanted to make sure the ones who followed Li’Kalla hadn’t walked to their death as some claimed.”

Silver nodded, And if they had walked to their deaths? What then?

Karamir blinked in surprise. ”W-well… I’d need to find out what killed them. If there were any survivors. I’d need to find out if Li’Kalla was still alive, and if she was, I’d have to find out why it happened. Was it intentional? Was it an accident?” He shrugged. ”Once I had that information, then I would decide would to do.”

Silver smiled and shrugged, I don’t think about death and justice that often- It doesn’t seem necessary here. Everyone’s happy, we all get enough sunlight and nutrients and we share our love. Some of us leave every once in a while, too - I imagine to see new lands - but they never do so out of spite… I would not think they walked to their deaths just because I never saw them again. I would think they found a new home, and are waiting for me and others to reach them so they can share their Little Dream with us.

”I didn’t believe they walked to their deaths either,” Karamir said with a wave of his hand. ”At least not at first. Back on Kalgrun, some said those who followed Li’Kalla found death. Others said they found paradise. And others said they were still walking. I came here to find out the truth, but as I crossed the bridge I found bones.” his voice turned sad. ”Dozens of bodies. Then I learned that hundreds more were killed by a god named Shengshi. So you can see why it was a relief to learn the rest were alright.”

You take your position as First and Guardian very seriously. At that pace you might not last long at all, mentally speaking. Why must you act as a protector for so many people? I don’t see the point, besides trying to fulfill the wishes of your late father.

”If I don’t do it, who will?” Karamir asked. ”Life is cruel as is. I’m in a position to make it easier. And besides, I enjoy helping people, and sharing information.”

Oh, in that case I can understand your reasons. And, since you admit that you enjoy sharing information, I have a request. Um. Silver suddenly felt sap rush to her face as she took a step closer to the two males, a phantom reaction from her past as a human. What she was about to request would have been taboo in her old bodies. In this one, however, it meant nothing inappropriate. Her leaves began twitching and she lowered her head a little as she clasped her hands. Would you mind describing my appearance? I can see myself with my ability, but it’s not the same sight you possess.

”You’re blind?” he asked, clearly surprised by that, but went on to comply with her request anyway. ”Your skin is a pale orange. Your eyes are black. You have leaves where most two-legged creatures would have hair. The colour is red, and they reach all the way down your back. Your… clothes… are also red, and look to be made of plants, just like your skin, but there are some green vines on them as well.” He shifted his gaze back up to her face. ”Is that a good enough description?”

What kind of red? Can you touch me? Can you tell me how I feel? Describe me. I want to know myself. I feel like touching myself with my own hands isn’t giving me the correct feedback. As she conversed with Karamir, Rose, who had been standing still decided to walk up to Fenris and lean his massive featureless face into his space.

Fenris did not blink nor back away. “You’re lucky I only eat meat,” he said, looking up at the giant and speaking in words Rose could not hear.

Meanwhile, with some reluctance, Karamir stepped forward. He ran one hand across Silver’s arm, and with his other hand he patted her on the head, eliciting a grin and a starry eyed look. ”The skin is soft and smooth. More so than most people I’ve met, I think. And the leaves feel like… well, leaves. Rough and coarse.” He pulled his hands away from her.

Silver remained there, frozen as if expecting more. Then, after a moment, she pulled away and smiled sheepishly, I understand, thank you. So I wasn’t wrong to think we Foreas are exceptionally soft and huggable… Huh.

”So are you the only one who can communicate like this?” Karamir asked her, changing the subject.

Yes, but only with Divines.

”I see. And you’re the only one here who can use mana?”

The others have had no reason to try to learn it, so yes.

”But are any of them capable? Not just anyone can use mana. If some of them can use it, I could teach them.”

There are potential users, but you’d have a really hard time teaching Foreas as they are now. No sight, no hearing, no speech and only basic thoughts. They’re barely a step above animals. Wait a few years, let them mature.

”If you say so. Tell me, have you travelled at all since your creation?”

I wasn’t created. I awakened on my own, with the help of the Eternal Tree. But no, I haven’t left the Forest in this life, I guess. Silver said, furrowing her brow and shrugging.

”So what have you been doing in all that time?”

It hasn’t been that long. I don’t know how long exactly, but I have probably felt less than a hundred starlight cycles… And I guess, I spend my time interacting with other Foreas and coming to this clearing to work on my experiments.

”And do you enjoy it?” Karamir asked, raising an eyebrow.

Of course! I love it… But I do wish to travel. I want to see the world I’ve awakened to, and I want to bring my memories back to the Tree when I come back here. I don’t know if I’m ready though...

”And what makes you think you aren’t ready?”

She pursed her lips, I don’t know how to defend myself, and if I leave Rose and everyone else behind, I won’t have anyone else watching out for me… There are many herbivores around these parts… And the mud balls, ugh! They’ve gotten a bit too complex over a short span of time. I think they ate a leaf off of someone’s head a few cycles back. I don’t want to have my leaves eaten!

Karamir looked to Fenris, and then back to Silver, before pursing his own lips. He thought for a moment, and then spoke again. ”Well, I’m still new here,” he told her. ”I still need to see the rest of this island. Fenris and I can handle ourselves easily enough, so… if you want to explore, I suppose you can come with us.” This request caused Fenris to break his tense staredown with Rose, and look askance at Karamir.

Silver stared at Karamir, frozen like a statue. After a long time, she clicked her tongue and nodded. As she did so, a wave of uncertainty washed over her and she felt her heart wrench itself in a sudden nostalgia. Was her infancy in this new life about to end…? This soon, this suddenly? She preemptively wiped at her eyes and smiled. Yes, I want to go with you. I have one question though Karamir. Your friend smells like a canine, do you two travel with a dog or pup of any kind? I would like to meet it if possible!

Karamir smirked. “Not a dog. A wolf,” he turned to look at Fenris. ”Do you think we should show her?”

Fenris scanned his surroundings. “This isn’t the place for it,” he said. “Not enough space, and there’s no practical need just yet.”

Karamir nodded. “Fair enough.” He looked back to Silver. ”You’ll see it soon enough.” Fenris squinted at him but said nothing more.

Silver looked at Fenris and then back at Karamir and nodded while pursing her lips. Okay, so if we’re not going to see it, I want to show you my dog-friend. It’s back at the Tree. Do you want to visit it?

Karamir nodded. “I have been meaning to get a closer look at the Tree. Let’s go.”

Silver’s smile widened into a grin and she swiftly turned around and began walking towards the Eternal Tree with Rose, Fenris and Karamir in tow.



After a while, Silver’s leaves twitched a few times and without turning her head she spoke into the minds of her two acquaintances. A fox and a wolf jumped into different pods as they closed, and a few days later our new dog friends came out.

They approached the entrance to the Great Tree, and immediately a crowd of Foreas assembled and curiously watched the one dressed Foreas and the two foreigners walk into the Tree, through the biggest, lushest entrance and into the expansive interior that was the base level of the Foreas’ home.

The ground was covered in a green, with dirt paths naturally occuring leading to different areas of the Tree. At the far end of the Tree flush against the thick bark were slopes that led either down or up, visible only because the path kept anything from obscuring the view. Anywhere where there wasn’t a path, however, quickly became overgrown with vegetation of all kinds. Some of the spots showed tampering, with some resembling hammocks, and others forming small huts or stalls. One Foreas was in one of the rough stalls and a queue of others,both males and females, were waiting to go up to her.

Whenever anyone would go up to her, she would dip her finger in a bowl made of branches and thick leaves and it would come out coated in a thick yellow liquid, which she then jammed into the mouths of her kin. Many visibly perked up and loved the taste, but the males who only wished to fit in would find their faces smeared with the liquid, as they lacked mouths.

Honey. She’s spent a long time going up to bees. Longer than I’ve been alive.

“Her name is Honey?” Karamir asked. ”Or are you just saying what she’s handing out?”

Huh… I guess that could be her name. I don’t know. Foreas don’t use names. We can’t speak. I would like to change mine, to be honest… I don’t think it fits me very well. She said with a shrug and kept walking. Rose fell slightly behind the group and whenever a Foreas attempted to go up to the strangers, he would push them away without hesitation. After a few moments, the Foreas stopped trying to approach and just kept on the sidelines. The small divine group passed by several improvised structured and objects made purely out of living vegetation, and once they reached the end of the path a kilometer or so after, they went down the slope into the underground levels of the Tree. And they went down and down and down…

Silver wasn’t tired at all, Rose was fresh as well. The darker it got, the brighter the bioluminescence that the vegetation possessed. And even in the dark, the two strangers could see Silver’s body emitting a soft, slowly pulsating bright orange light in a complex swirling pattern across her skin. The lights were mostly covered by her living dress, however.

At a point, deep underground, Silver stopped and turned sharply into a very brightly lit level. It was devoid of the usual overgrowth, and instead there were rows upon rows of large closed, softly luminescent pods growing from the very bark of the Tree, which at this level was everywhere. Internal root-like bent pillars of bark went from floor to ceiling and even in those pillars, pods grew. While Fenris maintained a guarded expression, Karamir took the time to admire their surroundings.

It was beautiful, and for a entity that could breathe, breathtaking. Like a living art masterpiece, with all kinds of different colors of light that still somehow managed to follow some unseen harmony. The weird, natural architecture of the place clearly spoke of the divine nature of the Eternal Tree, and the sheer lifeforce that was emitted from that level...

Silver stopped for a moment to take in the feeling with a sad smile, and then pushed forward down a main path. In the side paths one could see the occasional Foreas checking up on the closed pods and making sure they were healthy. Eventually, there were no more rows or side paths and the level opened up into a central sort of park. The ceiling was completely bioluminescent here, and it was the color of the sky. It gave the impression that they were out in the Forest. Even the scent was similar to the one on the surface… Only here, there were no predators, and there were very few animals made of meat and fur.

The moment Silver stepped into the park area a shadow jumped out at her and propped itself up against her legs.

It was a green mass of holly leaves stacked on top of each other in such a way that it resembles the fur of a dog, with a great big fluffy tail made of long plump leaves and a pair of very functional ears that perked up at every sound.

It panted silently with its dark green tongue lolling out its mouth and looked up at Silver happily, pawing her thighs a few times and then letting itself fall back to the ground, still looking up at Silver.

She grinned at the leafy dog and got on her knees to pet it and roughly push it around. It squirmed and wagged its tail and dropped to the floor belly up, so Silver rubbed its belly and it stretched its whole body out. While she pet her dog-friend, Silver spoke again.

Forean Hounds. A mixture of fox and wolf. They’re naturally tame and friendly and love to be pet. I haven’t seen any of them approach a meat-person, however. I guess no meat-person has ever been this deep in the Tree, to be fair.

“And they were created when a fox and a wolf jumped into… a pod?” Karamir asked curiously. ”What became of those two animals?”

They spent a few days inside the pods, the fox died of thirst I believe. Sad, but the dog survived and was taken outside the Tree after the pod opened again.

Fenris scowled at the news. “Such a senseless sacrifice,” he remarked angrily. “Just to create… this,” he gestured to the Forean Hound. “Does it eat? Does it hunt? What purpose does it even serve?”

A purpose? It lives, it feels, it loves. It needs sun and air like everyone else. You do not need to kill in order to have a purpose. As she said so, the Forean pup rolled around and pressed its snout against Silver’s hand, licking her palm.

Karamir, meanwhile, had turned away from the argument and walked back toward the pods. He approach the nearest one which happened to be closed, inspected it for a moment, and then ran a hand across its surface. It was hard, like a walnut’s shell. Tiny hairs which tickled Karamir’s hand extended from its surface, and the moment his hand touched the pod, a light current of energy coursed through him.

He instantly withdrew from the pod and stepped back. His hand closed around the grip of his weapon, but he did not draw it. ”What’s happening?” he demanded.

Silver shrugged, I don’t know. You can relax here. There are no predators, there’s no greed, no fear… You’ll be fine. The Tree’s gentle.

”You say that like it’s alive,” Karamir said. ”Er… well, all trees are alive, but you say that like it has feelings.” he did another scan of his surroundings. ”Where did it come from?”

The Tree’s the Mother of all Foreas. It nurtures us, allows us to grow, teaches us about ourselves and the world while in the Dream… There are no records yet, so I don’t know where it came from specifically. I expect the soil as it is a Tree, after all.

”It had to have been made by a god,” Karamir concluded. ”I can sense divinity all over this place. Not unlike your own aura, actually. If I had to guess… I’d say Li’Kalla or Phystene? I never met Li’Kalla, and I only met Phystene briefly, but Li’Kalla led her people here, and Phystene is the Goddess of Plants, so it’s likely one of them…”

Silver looked at the pup in front of her, and shrugged. Improved perhaps. Had its growth accelerated, perhaps… I do not think a God is capable of creating something this beautiful, though. Not in this world.

”According to Kalmar, this world used to be nothing but ocean, until the Architect called the gods here,” Karamir said. ”But yes, there is a certain beauty to this place, unusual as it might be. I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Fenris cast him a disapproving look, but said nothing.

There was silence for a few moments. The only sound was the rustling of leaves, until a hiss and the sound of liquid splattering on the ground echoed through the area. Silver sniffed the air and grinned, and another Foreas came out from one of the side paths and ran down a different one. Silver stood up and the pup looked up at her curiously.

Another one’s awakened. Let’s leave now, we should give them space to get used to this life before having to meet strangers.

Karamir nodded and, after one last look at the strange underground chamber, turned and made his way back the way they came. Fenris followed, staring warily at the plant-hound.

Silver walked a few paces, then turned back to the pup, who looked at her with wide, shiny sad eyes. At this she clapped her hands and the pup rushed up to her and stuck close to her side, tail wagging excitedly with every step. At this point, Silver rushed to stay ahead of the other two so they wouldn’t get lost, and they started making their way up…




The edge of the Eternal Forest. They’d left her home merely minutes ago and on this cliff overlooking the landscape, she could catch all the scents wafting from where she used to live, and could barely see Rose standing amongst the trees watching her leave. She waved at him but of course, he could not see her.

She smiled and her heart fluttered, and her smile turning into a grin and her eyes became wet and tears began to flow. Her leaves twitched and squirmed and she wiped her tears with one hand and tried to hold down her leaves with the other.

As she felt her goodbye, she saw Rose hesitantly turn around and walk back into the Forest. Before disappearing between the roots of the Eternal Tree, he stopped to sniff the air once more. This was his way of remembering her existence, Silver realized. The pure hearts of the Foreas cared not for names, or appearance. They cared for the way a being would stir their hearts. The feelings left imprinted into their memories were what they held dear to them.

That night she spent out in her clearing right after awakening, only to be attacked by a predator… In many ways it should be a bad memory. It should be, but in Silver’s case, she only remembered the way her heart warmed up when she was saved by Rose’s mighty swings. They never shared a word. They never truly saw each other, or heard each other… And it felt like a more genuine, grounded connection than anything else she’d experienced.

Her first friend.

Not Silver’s first friend, but hers.

My name’s not Silver. It’s Ami.




Karamir




"So that's it, then. He's gone."

Karamir looked to Shynir and nodded sadly.

The four sat under the shade of a large tree. All three of Karamir's siblings now wore furs and animal skins. Fenris had donned the garments without complaint, while Shynir and Gorm had tried to protest the necessity of clothing, but Karamir managed to convince them otherwise.

Now, a melancholic mood had swept over them, their initial reactions to their new forms swept aside as the topic that brought them to Karamir in the first place inevitably came up again. Kalmar's death.

"We walked these lands for years," Fenris said, his gaze downcast. Even in his Vallamir form, he was still missing an eye. Either he had chosen not to give his new form one, or he had been unable. "We guarded it against threats. Kept order. All for him. And now, he's gone..."

"I killed so many ghouls for him," Gorm whispered, staring at his hands.

"Does Melantha know?" Shynir had asked.

"Melantha?" Karamir asked as Fenris looked up. The wolfman and the birdwoman exchanged a glance, while Gorm seemed confused.

"The Goddess of Darkness..." Fenris said.

"They were close," Shynir added.

Karamir sighed. "If I ever see her, I'll tell her," he told them. Like I've had to tell everyone else... Everytime he spoke of it, it became easier to talk about, yet it still hurt.

"Listen," Karamir said after an awkward silence. "You're the closest thing I have to siblings." Fenris and Gorm nodded immediately at this, while Shynir bit her tongue. [color=yellow]"Our father wanted me to take up his role as protector of this land, and I intend to honour that request. But I can't do alone. Whatever obligation you had to Father, I won't hold you to it. If you wish to move on, you are free to leave and pursue your own goals. But... I would appreciate it if you stayed."

"Oh, brother!" Gorm grinned. "Of course I'll stay!" He pounded a fist on Karamir's knee, causing the Hunter's Son to wince slightly.

"I see no reason to abandon my duty," Fenris said seriously, with a nod of his head.

"Leave this land?" Shynir shook her head, and smiled. "I've watched them for years. Now, I can finally be one of them..."

Karamir sighed with relief. "Thank you," he said.

"So, why don't you tell us of your own travels?" Shynir asked him.



And so, he had. Everything from when the point where he left the Palace of Dreams. But eventually, he reached the point where he had visited Laurienna. He realized he would have to tell them about Laurien, which meant he had to tell them about her attempt to kill Orvus so they would understand why she tried to kill him. And while he was at it, he figured he might as well mention that, as revealed to him by Arae, it was Laurien's attempt to kill Orvus which led to Abraxas's creation - the being that killed his own father.

So, Karamir opened with Laurien's attempted patricide and Abraxas's creation, and then described his visit to Laurienna, eventually concluding in the decayal of his soul and his escape.

"She did what?" Shynir asked, wide-eyed, as Fenris grit his teeth and Gorm clenched his fists.

"She tried to kill me to keep a secret that wasn't even a secret, and then decayed my soul when that didn't work, yes," Karamir confirmed bitterly.

"And all for... for nothing..." Shynir hissed, as anger overtook her and her own fists curled into balls. "We should flay her alive... and make her eat her own skin..."

"Smashing in her skull would do it," Gorm shrugged.

"So long as she dies, it doesn't matter how," Fenris said drily, before looking to Shynir. "Though, the longer it takes, the more likely the prey is to escape..."

Shynir returned his gaze but then dropped it, conceding the argument. "Fine," she said, and then looked back to Karamir. "She'll still die for this, right?" she asked.

Karamir hesitated for a moment. "We need more information," he said, after a moment's thought.

"More information?" Fenris asked, perplexed. "What else is there to know? She nearly killed you."

"I need to know why," Karamir said.

"But you know why!" Shynir protested. "She thought you were going to learn that she tried to kill her own father, and wanted to silence you before you found out."

Karamir shook his head. "That's not what I meant," he said. "Why did she think killing me was the best way to keep her secret? Why did she try to kill her own father in the first place? Who else has she killed? What drove her to do all that?"

"Does it matter?" Shynir asked. "Whatever happened to her, she still chose her path. She's the reason our creator is dead!"

"It does matter," Karamir said quietly, not entirely believing it himself. In truth, there was a part of him that wanted to see Laurien dead. To run her through with his sword. To smile and gloat while she suffered, as she had done to him. To find out how to decay a soul, and then rip hers to shreds. To return the pain that was inflicted on him. And to succeed where she had failed, so she would never hurt anyone again. He then imagined her city in flames and ruin, and its people...

No. No.

He shook the thoughts off. Vengenace would not serve him. The only thing that might be gained from the death of Laurien is the knowledge that she couldn't hurt anybody again, but he needed more information to determine if such a permanent solution was truly necessary. And her city? Some had tried to overthrow her and her 'royal family.' Whatever fate she deserved, surely not all of them deserved to share in it?

Then there was Arya. She would not condone him for such an action. She would hate him for it. And somehow, that reason alone proved almost as compelling as his previous argument.

"We need more information," he insisted.



Of course, no such information could be found on Kalgrun. So, for now, Karamir would continue doing what he was doing, and it was time to resume his travels.

He had decided that of the three, one would accompany him - acting as a guide and giving him advice. Fenris seemed best suited for such a role. The others - Shynir and Gorm - would fall back into their role as guardians of the continent. Karamir also showed them the Knife of Friendship, and how they could call upon it.

"Just be sure to take me next time," Shynir had smiled.

"Good luck, brother!" Gorm had said, before unexpectedly throwing himself forward and embracing Karamir in one of the dreaded spine-cracking hugs.

Afterward they had parted ways. Karamir and Fenris simply walked across the water, with Fenris in his human form, while Gorm and Shynir transformed back into their original forms behind him. Karamir smiled. Despite their eccentricities, he liked them both.

So, for days, he and Fenris wandered, taking the time to teach mana to whoever they came across. He had given Fenris the Blackened Bow, because, while unatturally strong and powerful for a Vallamir, the man still needed a weapon.

They walked through the swamps situated around the Hunter's Eye lake, with Karamir at one point having to wrestle a crocodile to death. They had given it to a nearby band of hunters, who had been grateful enough... only for Karamir to once again dash someone's hopes by breaking the tragic news of Kalmar's death.

In the meantime, he continued to practice and teach mana. Abilities which took him months if not weeks to begin to pick up could now be grasped in a matter of hours or minutes. Fire, earth, plants... even his personal control over the naturally-volatile raw mana had increased. Wherever the golden streams could be found, he had power.

All he asked of those he taught was that they spread the news regarding the death of Kalmar, his own ascension, and his teachings of mana wherever they could. Karlyn had said that people needed faith, and so, he would give it to them.

Then days became weeks. They followed the Nuhe River eastward. As they met new people, Karamir discovered fascinating new details regarding the culture they had developed. One of the tribes they encountered was performing a ceremony called a 'marriage', taught to them by the Goddess Arae, in which two people pledged themselves to each other for life.

"It is a mating ritual," Fenris had tried to explain, but Karamir realized he had heard of this concept before. Keibrik had warned him against it, back in the Palace of Dreams. Yet in this particular instance, the two people who were at the center of it all seemed genuinely content. For once, he decided to withhold revealing Kalmar's fate, not wishing to spoil the mood.

For a moment, he wondered what it would be like if had someone who made him feel that way... and felt the same way about him. But he was a god. Did he truly have time for such endeavors?

Eventually they reached the coast. Karamir began to hear whispers of something called 'The Endless Bridge.' He looked to Fenris for guidance.

Fenris only shrugged. "It was built by Li'Kalla," he said. "When the Vallamir were created, she led thousands of them across it. They never came back."

"Nobody knows what happened to them?" Karamir asked. Many had claimed they knew, but every story was different. Usually the conclusion was that they were dead, they had found paradise, or they were still wandering to this day.

Fenris shrugged. "Some tried to follow them afterward. The ones that come back say it's endless. That they found the bones of others who tried to walk the same path, only to starve to death."

The ones who starved being the ones who didn't come back. That was clear enough. "Someone has to find out what happened to them," Karamir decided. "Let's go."

Taking Fenris's hand, it did not take them long to reach the bridge's location. They could have travelled the plains at a similar speed, but Karamir had opted for a more thorough and intensive exploration."It's made of... solid water?" he asked, stepping on it with one foot to confirm. "I suppose she is the Goddess of Rain..." he marvelled at its design for only a few moments, before extending a hand to Fenris. It was time to continue.

They sped across the bridge, stopping only at the occasional skeleton or set of bones. It was terrifying to think about. The idea of a lone soul wandering a seemingly endless expanse. Not knowing if it would take him anywhere. Hunger and thirst slowly waring him down. It reminded him of his time in the Infinite Maze. He shuddered. He had been lucky then. But now... he feared what he might find on the other end of this bridge.

They dropped the bones into the ocean below. It was better, he decided, than leaving them to be worn down by heat and rain.

Eventually they did reach the end, and they found not a vast field of bones as Karamir had feared, but another landmass. A landmass with vegetation, and life.

"I'm not sure this is paradise," Karamir said, inspecting a tree. "But at least it means most of them might still be alive."





Karamir




"Mana is everywhere," Karamir told the eight Vallamir who stood before him, Valys and Lena among them. It was these six who had the natural power to use mana, and so it was these six he would teach. "Every element, every living thing... they all have their own type. When you manipulate an element, like fire or water, it is the specific type of mana within the element that you are controlling. Then there is raw mana... it can be converted into any other form of mana, but that requires more effort, and it can be dangerous. It would be wise to avoid wielding it until mastery over the safer types has been achieved," he lectured.

He then coached them through the process of harnessing mana. Find the object they intend to manipulate, and have them focus on the mana inside of it until they can move it with nothing more than their mind. As a mortal, it had taken Karamir much time and dedication before he could do anything noteworthy. He found, however, that with a simple touch, he could will that their own progress advance faster.

He had no intention of making them masters overnight, no. He had practiced for years just to reach his own level of adeptness, and if he instantly brought them to that level they would take it for granted, or misuse it - either accidentally or deliberately.

Valys had decided to focus on the manipulation of plants, while Lena focused on the ground itself. Others focused on air, as Karamir himself had started with, or water. Due to his minor blessings, they had already made ample progress. He left them to their practice, and walked the village grounds.

The mood was still sombre. The Cataclysm was still fresh on their memory, and they had only heard of Kalmar's death yesterday. Some believed another tragedy would befall them soon, and Karamir wanted to promise them it wouldn't... but he could not make such a guarantee. And now, he could hear whispers. Prayers. Those he had met and taught now turned their faith toward him instead. Some were for common problems, or small requests. May my Hunt be bountiful. Grant me the strength to overcome this fever. May my next child be a boy. Others were more grim. My brother is dying. I haven't eaten in days. All were beyond his ability to immediately solve.

Karamir wished he could help, but where were they? And who did he answer first? He realized it would only get worse as his name continued to spread. There were thousands upon thousands of Vallamir, Kalmar had told him. And that wasn't even getting to the Jotnar, or the followers Kalmar had elsewhere. Once Karamir made his name known to them...

Already, divinity felt like a tremendous weight on his shoulders, threatening to crush him and grind him into the ground. As it stood, he had no choice but to harden his heart and continue doing his work where he was. But as that decision was made, he felt as if a piece of him had slipped away.

He swallowed the lump in his throat. No wonder father was always so grim...



He had decided to unlock the potential for mana in nearly a dozen other Vallamir who seemed worthy enough. This had been one of his father's creations, and so he wanted to ensure they had the means to protect it even when he was not around. And to protect each other, too. Perhaps if more people knew this ability, the prayers would diminish.

However...

His hand fell to the scar in his side. The Vallamir he had met thus far were hospitable enough, but he knew that the other species had their moments of treachery and cruelty. Realistically, how could he expect his own species to be immune to such impulses?

"Everything alright?"

Karamir turned and was unsurprised to see that it was Karlyn who spoke. No other Vallamir would have so casually approached him and asked what was on his mind. Karamir merely shrugged in response. "I'm fine. Just thinking."

"Always good to think about things, isn't it?" Karlyn asked with a smirk, to which Karamir only nodded. "We're in grim times, aren't we?" Karlyn continued, the smirk vanishing. "The sky nearly fell... our god is dead... and who knows what else awaits us? I've been paying attention to the mood around here. Look at them," he gestured to the Vallamir around the camp. "they're frightened. Scared."

"I noticed." Karamir said, not following his hands.

"But," Karlyn continued. "I think that will pass with time. They're frightened and scared, yes, but they're relieved too. You're here, and you're taking the time to talk to them, and you're showing them a power they never even knew existed. That gives them hope. When their grief is gone, that hope will remain, I think."

"You think?" Karamir asked.

"I know," Karlyn corrected. "Faith is what holds us together. We were called here for a common purpose. We believed Kalmar favoured us, that he watched over us. To be honest," he looked around to ensure nobody was eavesdropping. "I don't truly know how much Kalmar did for us beyond giving us this place, or how closely he was watching us. It doesn't matter. Whatever it was, he did enough. It was this common purpose, this faith, this belief, that binded us together... more closely than Valys or I ever could."

"But with Kalmar dead," Karlyn continued. "That faith is broken. Or at least, it would have been if you hadn't stepped up. Like your father, you gave us something to believe in, and a goal to work toward. The rest is on us."

"What do you mean?" Karamir asked.

"I'm saying you've given us all we need. Thank you for that. Now there are others throughout Kalgrun who could use your aid." He shrugged. "I'm not saying you have to leave. I don't think even Valys has the right to send you away. It's just a suggestion. With your leave?" He did a half-turn, about to walk away.

Karamir nodded, and Karlyn departed.

Of course, he was going to leave at some point. He didn't need Karlyn to tell him that. What he was waiting for was the moment in which they were ready for him to leave... which Karlyn had just assured them they were.

Perhaps it was time to leave.

A distant screech was heard, followed by the distant cracking and splintering of trees. Vallamir throughout the camp froze in sudden shock and terror. "Spears and Slings!" Myla shouted, spurring them to action. "To me!"

Okay... perhaps it was not...

A colossal black griffin was the first to appear, flying over the wall and landing upon the temple roof. The Vallamir who had grabbed weapons and assembled around Myla froze. They lowered their weapons, evidently realizing there was little they could do against such a creature... but why did they appear relieved? The griffin fixated its gaze on Karamir. Karamir drew his weapon, and summoned raw mana to his hand, forming a fireball.

The splintering and crashing of timber came closer, and then two figures appeared above the wall. The first was a massive troll, nearly ten times the wall in height. The second was a huge wolf, its head resting on the wall itself. He had seen it before. It was familiar. But... it was missing an eye.

Then he recalled one of his telepathic conversations with Kalmar, from long ago, and he realized what - no, who - he was facing.

"Fenris," he said, eyes wide. "Gorm... Shynir..." The latter two he never met, but he knew by description.



Karamir had led them away from the Temple. Though their presence was familiar enough to the inhabitants that they did not view them as threats, it was still offputting nonetheless. Once they were far enough away, Karamir, floating above the trees, turned to them.

"Why... why are you here?" he asked, unsure if they could understand him.

"Father... dead..." Gorm spoke, somehow managing to convey grief through his deep, rough, animalistic voice. Fenris reared his head back and let out a mournful howl.

Shynir's head drooped in sadness. "Felt it..." she squawked.

In that moment Karamir felt pity. Kalmar had not mentioned what should be done with them. He supposed they were meant to answer to him now, but is that what they deserved? If he, Roog, and Makab could be considered Kalmar's children, were these three beasts not Kalmar's children too? Two of them were older than he was, and like him they had been Kalmar's creations alone.

When he thought about it, they were the closest thing he had to family. And in that moment, he realized family was something he desperately wanted.

"We can't speak like this," he suddenly said, an idea springing into his head. "You have been walking this land. Protecting it. Watching its people. But you've never been able to speak to them, to walk among them, to know how they live, have you?"

The three beasts shook their heads, confused at the sudden change in topic.

"Do you want that to change?" he asked next.

The beasts exchanged glances. And then, reluctantly, they nodded.

Karamir took a deep breath, unsure if what he was about to attempt would work. He looked to Fenris, and imagined the wolf in the form of a Vallamir. He did not imagine any specific features for this Vallamir; instead deciding that Fenris should have the right to choose that himself. Instead he simply poured power into the wolf.

Then Fenris began to change. Slowly, inch by inch, foot by foot, shrinking down into his new form. Karamir blinked. It was incredible. All he had to do was imagine... and his imagination could become reality.

The transformation had not been swift. It took a few minutes, at least. But when it was done, Fenris stood before him in the form of the Vallamir. Interestingly enough, the dark wolf had chosen pale skin, white hair, and grey eyes - not unlike that of Valys. He was six-and-a-half feet in height, and well-built. He glanced down at his new form, staring at his hands, and then up at Karamir.

"This is... strange..." Fenris said, testing out his voice - it was somewhat gruff, closely resembling Kalmar's.

"Try to change back," Karamir suggested.

Fenris did change back. The process took just as long, but when it was complete he was back in his full form without a single error or mishap. Karamir sighed with relief. While Fenris changed back to his Vallamir form once again, Karamir turned to Shynir and Gorm, and did the same.

But this time, changing Gorm had left him winded. Still, he pressed on, and went to change Shynir as well. He succeeded, but he found himself gasping, and when he lowered himself to the ground he fell to his knees. All three beasts looked at him in concern, but there was little they could do to help as they still shrank and shifted. Even gods had limits to their powers. Kalmar had told him that. And he wasn't even a god. He needed to be more careful...

After a few moments he had his breathing back under control, and after a little while longer he was able to rise back to his feet. He watched his three siblings go through the final stages of their transformation, and noted which forms they took.

There was, of course, Fenris with his white hair. Then there was Gorm, standing at seven feet in height, bald with bronze skin, a short black beard, and golden eyes. Lastly there was Shynir, who had taken the form of a voluptuous black-haired and golden-eyed Vallamir woman, six feet in height. Her lips curled into a smirk as she took in her own form.

Then a massive smile crossed Gorm's face. Her expresssion shifted to surprise and then fear as he wrapped his arms around her, hoisted her into the air, and squeezed. Her arms were pinned, but she could not fight back. A rather disturbing crack was heard which made Shynir hiss in pain and Karamir wince. Then Gorm set her down. "This is wonderful!" He laughed, as Shynir dropped to her knees.

Karamir rushed to her side to make sure she was alright. Meanwhile, Gorm moved on to Fenris. "No, no," the man-wolf protested as he backed away. Not as used to two legs as his bipedal brother, he tripped over the stump of a tree he had previously knocked over. "Stand down!" Even then he tried to scooch away, but Gorm wrapped his arms around him and lifted him off the ground. Another crack.

"Gorm, that's enough!" Karamir protested, and Gorm obediently let Fenris go.

"Little brother!" Gorm said with a wide smile, turning to him. "Thank you for this! We now speak as equals! Don't worry. Plenty of hugs to go around!" Then the man-troll stepped toward him, outstretching his arms once again.

"Not one step further!" Karamir shouted, the sudden forcefulness of his voice stopping Gorm in his tracks. Then, Karamir reached down to help Shynir to her feet. A smirk crossed her face as she took his hand, then wrapped an arm around him and pulled him in close for a hug of her own - this one much gentler. And Karamir suddenly felt uncomfortable.

He pulled away, much to Shynir's disappointment. "You all need clothes," he told them, matter-of-factly.





Karamir




Smoke ahead.

Not the smoke of a raging forest fire, but that of a contained cooking fire.

At last.

The young demigod ran forward, deftly weaving through brush, under branches, and over roots; his divinely enhanced reflexes preventing him from taking a scratch.

He burst out from the bushes, into a small clearing. There, seven Vallamir stood, spears and slings at the ready, while children huddled behind them. Karamir came to a sudden stop, and looked at them in awe. An entire species. His people. Made in his image. They, too, were surprised. Not just at his sudden appearance, but at his strange equipment. The cloak, the dagger, the knife, the blackened bow... they had never seen such things before. And his height - he easily towered over them all.

The tallest of their number, a broad-shouldered blue-haired man almost as tall as Karamir, stepped forward. "Who are you?" he demanded.

Karamir could only stare back. He had waited for this moment for a long time. Now it had come, and he was speechless. What to say? That he was the first of their kind? Would they believe him? Would they care? And then... the news. His heart sank. He had to tell them that their god, his father, was dead. Would they believe that? And if they did, how would they react?

"Speak, boy!" the man insisted.

"I'm... I'm Karamir," he finally said. "Son of Kalmar, First of the Vallamir."

Eyebrows rose, one Vallamir gasped, and half of them clenched their fists across their chest in respect, but their leader seemed unmoved. "How do we know that's true?"

That gave Karamir pause. He supposed there were multiple ways in which he could prove such a claim, but... which approach should he take? Perhaps... perhaps an appeal to reason would be best. "I'm clearly different from any other Vallamir," Karamir said. "I'm taller, and I have items that are beyond your means to craft. Where did I get these, if not from Kalmar or from other lands?" he shrugged as he asked the question. "I... I've been gone from this land a long time, and now I'm back."

The man ruminated on these words for a moment, and then gave the same clenched fist salute as the rest. "Alright... I believe it..." he decided, and everyone seemed to relax. "But why have you come back now, of all times? Only two days ago, the world had almost ended."

Karamir gulped, and then realized he had to say it. There was no sense hiding the truth - it would come out eventually. Best get them to accept it now. "Kalmar... my father... is dead," he said softly.

Eyes widened once again. Mouths gaped. Weapons were dropped. Gasps rang out.

"What?" the blue-haired man uttered in shock.

"No... no, that can't be..." another whispered disbelievingly.

"H-how?" a third stammered.

Karamir took a deep breath. "The meteors fell from Veradax, sphere of the God Orvus," Karamir revealed. "It had been taken over by a creature named Abraxas, and it was trying to destroy the world. Kalmar, along with Arae, and another Goddess named Ashalla, went up there to stop it. He succeeded... but his wounds were too severe. Before he died, he gave everything he could to me," he said quietly.

They took the news in silence; the only sound being the crackling of the fire. Some had tears in their eyes. Others looked to the sky, or to the ground. A black-haired woman clenched her fists in anger. "No..." she whispered. "I don't believe it."

"I'm sorry," Karamir said sincerely, "But it's true."

"Who... who will protect us?" A small, frightened voice asked. It was a child, who had pushed her way to the front. There were tears in her eyes. "If... If Kalmor is dead..." The expressions of even the adult Vallamir made it clear she was not alone in her concerns. And Karamir knew it was time to commit to a decision.

"I will," Karamir declared, causing focus to return to him.

"You?" The man asked skeptically.

"He left everything he could to me," Karamir said. "That includes this land, as well as his divinity. I... I have a duty to protect this place, and the power to do so," his expression hardened. "I can make no guarantees, but I will do everything I can."

He stayed with them. He told them of his travels. Of Chopstick Eyes and Abanoc. Of Arya, the Lady of the Eye, and he felt a feeling of wistfulness as he spoke. Of Kalmar's last moments, during which he had to fight back tears. The wounds were still fresh, yet he could not make himself vulnerable. Not now. They listened to everything he said intently. None smiled, still shaken as they were by the news of their god's death.

"There is one more thing," he then said, as he summoned the familiar golden energy to his hand, condensing it into a visible fist-sized ball stare in wonder at. Then he told them of mana. Of its purpose. Of its types. Of its difficulty to master.

"But we can master it?" The blue-haired man asked.

"Not all of you," Karamir conceded. "But some."

"Who, then?" A blue-haired woman asked.

Who, indeed? How could Karamir tell. How could anyone tell? Then, he noticed something. Small spores of golden raw mana seemed to radiate around the woman who had spoke. They did not do so for the others.

"You," he said, based entirely on a hunch. Her eyebrows shot up. "Come here."

She stood and came closer to him. He stood as well, and looked her in the eye. The fist-sized ball began to disperse, until what remained was no larger than a finger tip. "Hold out your hand," he commanded. She did, and he gently placed the ball in it. "Focus on it," he ordered. "Think of creating something. A small flame. Pour your emotion into it."

She stared at it in squinted. For a moment it seemed like nothing would happen. Then she grit her teeth, and suddenly the tiny ball exploded in a small bright spark. She jumped in surprise, and Karamir breathed a sigh of relief. "You can wield mana," he confirmed, smiling for the first time in days.



He had stayed with them for the rest of the day, teaching the woman, whose name was Janys, how to use her new gift. Then when night came, he had moved on, having no need to sleep. The days passed as he wandered the Hunter's Eye on foot, encountering scattered groups and tribes. Many of them were shaken up by recent events, and they were even more shaken when he revealed the news of Kalmar's death. He sympathized with them, then shared his stories, and the knowledge of mana. If he saw someone capable of wielding it, he would teach them.

Yet some groups did not have those who were capable at all. This made him wonder. If he truly was the God of Mana...

So he decided to experiment. Tentatively, he pressed a finger against one's forehead, and as they asked what he was doing, he thought of what he was trying to accomplish, and willed it to happen. They blinked in astonishment, cutting themselves off as they suddenly caught a glimpse of the golden mana all around them. Another blessing, and they were able to manipulate it.

He did the same when he encountered other bands that had no natural mana-casters. However, he did not give it to everyone. Although he would have liked for everyone to have this gift, he wasn't entirely sure what the implications would be. Remembering full well the cruelty that mortals were capable of, he couldn't risk some like Laurien getting their hands on this power.

His travels continued. Until, one day, he hit a wall.



It was an actual wall.

It was no obstacle to him specifically, thanks to his cloak or his divinity, but in this land which had more or less felt completely wild it was out-of-place. Not that it was an unwelcome sight. The smoke of cookfires in the sky beyond it demonstrated that it was inhabited. Civilization.

He effortlessly flew over it and landed in a vast enclosure.

Before him was a rather large and impressive stone building. Surrounding it were rather less impressive ramshackle wooden shelters. What he truly cared about, however, were the people who stood and walked between it all. They wore skins and furs. Some laughed and shouted, while others whispered. Child ran back and forth across the field, while parents prepared food, made clothes, or built new shelters.

He began walking forward. As he neared, the Vallamir began to take notice of him, and an uncertain silence fell over the settlement. Karamir himself suddenly felt nervous. He had yet to meet a group of this size.

Yet it had to be done, and he could not falter. He kept walking, and maintained a stoic expression. He felt dozens of eyes on him as he neared the camp. They were looking at his equipment. His clothes were normal enough, but his cloak? The dagger, and the knife? The bow that had been turned black? As with the others, nobody here had ever seen such items.

A blonde woman stepped forward, flanked by two guards, and all three of them held stone spears. Karamir suddenly found himself thinking of the fight at Laurienna, and nearly drew his own weapon, but then the woman spoke.

"Who are you?" she asked, looking him up and down. "Why are you here?"

He met her gaze and swallowed, clearing his throat. "I am Karamir. Son of Kalmar, First of the Vallamir," he said. "Take me to your leader."

Several pairs of eyes widened, and there were a few gasps. "My name is Myla," the blonde-haired woman said. "Our leader is named Valys. We will take you to her."

Karamir nodded, and followed. A black-haired man and a brown-haired woman appeared, falling into step alongside them as they made their way up the steps to the central stone building. They entered a vast, empty room. At the far end was a strange totem, depicting a one-eyed bird, and a dozen Vallamir knelt before it in prayer.

They proceeded forward, their steps echoing, causing one of the Vallamir - a beautiful white-haired woman - to turn and look upon them. Her prayers ceased, and she rose to her feet. "What is it?" she asked Myla.

"Karamir has returned," Myla told her, causing the rest of the kneeling Vallamir to turn their heads and cease their prayers as well.

The woman looked at him with wide eyes. "I... we were told that one day you would return," she said, blinking rapidly, as if she couldn't quite believe it. "My name is Valys. You were the First, I was the Second," she revealed, and then suddenly asked, "Do you have news of Kalmar? I have been praying for days, and received no answer..."

Straight to it, then. Karamir looked her in the eye, and took note of her hopeful expression. It was a shame those hopes had to be dashed against the stone floor they stood upon, yet he he had unfortunately already grown used to breaking such grim news. "Kalmar is dead," he told her.

The usual reactions ensued. Gasps, tears, objections, shocked silence. "What do you mean... dead?" Valys asked.

So, Karamir told her the story. By the end of it there were tears in her eyes. Myla stared at the floor. The black-haired man clenched his fist. The brown-haired woman was so overwhelmed by the news she had to sit down.

"I... I can't believe this..." Valys whispered.

"I'm sorry. I don't want to believe it either, but it's true," Karamir said gravely.

"B-but... we're Kalmar's handpicked followers..." Valys whispered. "He chose us to maintain this place. This is his holy ground. If he's dead... what are we supposed to do?"

"What were you doing before?" Karamir asked, after a moment's thought.

"Hunting... building... guarding... surviving... praying..." Valys whispered.

"You can keep doing that," Karamir assured her. [color=yellow]"If this place was important to him, that's all the more reason to protect it - to make sure he and his sacrifice will be remembered. He... he wouldn't want us to give up."

Valys nodded, and wiped away tears. "We'll... we'll need to tell the others. They won't take it well."



So, they did. They gathered up all of the Chosen, save for those who were out hunting or foraging, and Karamir delivered the tragic news. They had at first been overjoyed to see the first of their kind in person, but the news he brought quickly turned them to despair and sadness. Their creator, the one who had taught them, favoured them, walked alongside them for the better part of a decade, and gifted them with this place... was dead. Some wailed, some shouted. Denial, anger, sadness, acceptance... not everyone took it the same.

Karamir did what he could to reassure him. Kalmar had elevated him to a god. He would watch over them now. For some, this worked. For others... Karamir was the first of their kind, but they did not know him. He stayed with them afterward, speaking to small groups and individuals to reassure them. Hope was not lost, he had assured him. They had survived the Cataclysm. He and Roog would ensure that they survived whatever came next.

Most of them took it numbly. It was not just their survival they were concerned about. They had all seen something in Kalmar. A god. A creator. a leader. A teacher. A mentor. A friend. A father. That was gone, and it would not be easily replaced. So, Karamir shared in their grief. They traded stories, and recalled Kalmar's teachings.

By the end of the day, only a few had gotten over Kalmar's demise, but most had come to accept Kalmar's decision to entrust their fate to Karamir. A handful had rejected him, denying that he was a god or that he had any right to lead them - the others turned on that handful, and it was Karamir himself who had to prevent it from escalating to violence. The small group then left into the woods. A few more then followed, not out of anger or rejection of Karamir, but out of a general sense of despair and sorrow - they could not remain at the holy site of a dead god.

As the sun fell low on the horizon, Karamir spoke with Valys, and a man whose name he learned to be Karlyn. They, too, had spent the day doing what they could to reassure the Vallamir. Now the three of them spoke alone. They each told the stories of their own creation. How Karamir had been trained for nine days - though for once he did not tell the tale with bitterness or regret. How Valys had been the first to appear on the Eye, before the four Creator Gods, and how Kalmar had wrapped a cloak around her - which she still wore today. How Karlyn had found himself alone and confused in a swamp, and came to discover and lead other similarly confused members of his kind until Kalmar found him.

They told Karamir of Kalmar's actions in the years that followed, as well as what little they knew of the three other Creator Gods. They told him what they knew of the mainland tribes, which was very little, as they did not leave the Hunter's Eye. Karamir listened to all they told him, certain that it would be useful.

Though it was no longer a necessity, Karamir allowed himself to sleep that night. He was in a safe place.

Tomorrow, he would teach them mana.







Kalmar's Chosen





"Chosen! Quick! Into the Temple!"

"No! What if it collapses? It will kill us all!"

"We should scatter into the woods!"

"Are you mad? Think of the children!"

The Chosen were in panic. While some stood yelling and arguing about the correct choice of action, others ran back and forth across the temple grounds, looking for friends, family members, or possessions. Some did indeed run into the temple. Others had already made their decision to abandon the place entirely, fleeing into the woods. All the while, desolation in its purest form rained from the sky. Somehow they had invoked the wrath of a mad god, and it was determined to doom them all.

Valys knew she had to take control of the situation, lest the group would break and fracture. "Chosen!" She shouted again, causing most to stop and look to her. The rest slowed their movements when they realized what the others were doing, and listened.

"Kalmar entrusted us to guard this place. We will not abandon it. The Temple will protect us, as we protect it, so everyone get inside. Quickly now!" She commanded.

At least half of the Vallamir complied immediately, filing into the large stone structures. Others stood and gaped with uncertainly, with a few gradually snapping out of it and moving to obey as well.

"Come now," Karlyn's voice rang out as he stepped beside Valys. "You think Kalmar didn't know something like this might happen? You think His Holy Site can't withstand a few falling rocks?" He shook his head in disapproval at the Vallamir who had not obeyed Valys's command. "I don't know about you, but I think our Creator is both smarter and stronger than that!" he declared confidently. His words had shamed some, and reassured others; now, all were moving to obey. Karlyn nodded to Valys, and the two followed the group inside.



Time passed. Day gave way to night. The Chosen were all in the Temple - those who hadn't abandoned it, anyway. Most sat on the cold stone floor, huddling with husbands, wives, friends, and children, as they whispered amongst each other. A lucky few had somehow already managed to fall asleep. Karlyn leaned against a wall, eyes closed, lips moving in silent prayer. Valys walked from group to group, asking about their mood and offering reassurances.

At some point Ewen returned with his team of hunters, carrying one of their own who had fallen victim to some unknown affliction which discoloured her skin. There was nothing the healer could do; none knew of any treatment that might save her. His husband stood by her, clutching her hand. Lena was nearby, assuring them both that she would be alright. Myla watched the door. Every now and then, someone new would arrive - they weren't part of the Chosen, but Valys ordered her not to turn anyone away.

Every now and then they would hear the crash of a fallen meteor; some of them alarmingly close. There was nothing anyone could do but hope that the meteors wouldn't hit, or that the temple would endure if one did.

Never before had any of them felt so helpless or uncertain. It was as if the world was ending.

Eventually, new arrivals stopped appearing, and most had succumbed to the Call of the Palace. Not Valys. She remained awake. She needed to be ready, in case anything changed. Karlyn and Lena had fallen asleep now, which they could not be faulted for - everyone, even Valys herself would need to sleep eventually - but Ewen and Myla were awake and vigilant.

The hours continued to slip by. And at some point, the wrath of the heavens seemed to relent. The crashes seemed to be less violent, more violent, and with greater periods of time between them. Perhaps it was wishful thinking. But it wasn't. Because at some point, the crashes had stopped entirely. And when Valys emerged blinking to the rising sun, she realized it was true: the meteors had stopped. The Cataclym was over. They were safe.

Thank Kalmar.





Karamir

&
Roog




Kalgrun was not as he remembered it.

As Karamir flew overhead, he saw that much of the continent had been ravaged. Huge craters dotted the land, marking the sites where meteors had struck. Entire swaths of forest had been burned by fire, or withered away by unknown force. He could only hope that the Vallamir had been spared the worst of it.

It was more destruction than he had ever seen in his life, yet he felt numb. He had lost a father, he had ascended to godhood, he had been given new responsibility. All in the span of one conversation. It was almost too much to process. He could feel the raw power coarse through his veins. He could see the streams of raw mana flowing freely in the air. Even flying as high as he was, he could make out the shapes of surviving animals scurrying about. His potential was nearly limitless.

It was not worth the cost.

He would have given it all up to have Kalmar back. Yet Kalmar had chosen to die, and as usual there was no talking the old hunter down. Kalmar was gone. The Hunting Grounds, Kalgrun, and all the responsibilities those entailed had been left to him. If he wanted it. But did he want it? Was he ready?

Kalmar had asked Arya what kind of god she wanted to be.

Kalmar had not thought to ask that question to Karamir.

Now he had returned to a land he had not seen in decades. To see his people, whom he had never met. To deliver news they did not want to hear. He recognized most of the life and animals below him well enough, but they still felt foreign. He had been gone for too long. Part of him wanted to go back to the Eye of Desolation. To help Arya drive out those creatures. To settle into his new status as a demigod with someone who was also new to it. Maybe even...

He shook the thought off. It was Arya who had suggested he take Kalmar back to Kalgrun, and he knew that was what Kalmar would have wanted. There would be time for that after...

After he had seen to Kalmar's body. After he had established authority over Kalgrun. After he had met his brother Roog. After he had claimed the Hunting Grounds. After he had grown used to his new abilities. After, after, after... would there be time for anything at all?

Was this why his father was so grim? Was this why he had been ready to retire from the world?

He continued his flight, deeply troubled.




Hours later, he came upon the Central Plains, where he had been told his people could be found. Even here, meteors and craters dotted the land, yet it was not as bad as it was further south, and he could make out various camps and villages atop hills or alongside rivers.

Eventually the plains gave way to swamp, which in turn gave way to water, and soon he was at the Hunter's Eye. He circled around to the eastern edge of the island, until he spotted a familiar section of coast, and it was there that he landed. It was a place that he knew well.

It was where he was made.

Wearily, he gently laid Kalmar's body down on the sand, and went to sit on a nearby rock.

He imagined a scene before him. A younger, confused version of himself, sparring with a younger, more confident version of his creator. He recalled snippets of his first conversation.

This is life. I made you so you could experience it. In order to experience it, you must survive. And in order to survive, you must be able to defend yourself.

Why!?

Why. The question he had spent his entire life seeking an answer to, and he felt no closer to finding it.

The world has dangers. If you can't defend yourself, they will kill you.

But why? Why are there dangers!?

To make you stronger. To help you grow. Every challenge you overcome makes you more powerful. You can't see it now, but in time you will. If you want your life to be more than pain, you need to protect yourself.

Kalmar hadn't been wrong. He had suffered. But he had endured, and in doing so, he had learned. But still... was there a better way?

But what else is there!?

That is for you to find out.

He had found out. That there was suffering far worse than what Kalmar had inflicted on him. Diana's cruelty, Laurien's betrayal, Vrog's abominations. But there was joy as well. The power and freedom he had felt when he flew for the first time. The clarity and thrill he felt when Abanoc taught him. The comfort and happiness he felt from being near Arya. And there was still more for him to experience, but he would do so as a divine, rather than a mortal.

Another tear began to roll down his cheek, but he wiped it away. He had to be strong. He rose to his feet, and walked into the forest to gather leaves, branches, bark, and other kindling.

Arya had asked him to bury Kalmar, yet after some thought he realized that was not what Kalmar would have wanted. Animals would only dig up the corpse anyway, so it would need to be encased in some sort of structure, but that would be a waste of time, materials, and space. And even if the body could somehow be prevented from rotting... was this how he wanted to remember his father? Caked in blood, an eye, a hand, and half of his teeth missing? Clothes torn and ragged, a gaping hole through the chest?

No.

He emerged from the woods with armloads of supplies, and began to build a pyre.



The Pyre was complete. Kalmar's body laid atop it peacefully, bow placed over his chest. All that was needed now was to light the wood.

He held out a hand, and mana swirled around it. Then he conjured it into fire. Not a flickering spark, but a fist-sized ball which illuminated the night. What would have taken him months of training now came naturally. It was almost too easy.

He looked down at his creator one last time. "I'll never forget you..." he whispered softly, as he lowered the flame to the wood, and it immediately began to catch. He stepped away as it began to spread, and watched it burn in silence.

He was immediately disheartened by the fact that, while Kalmar's clothes and the wood he rested on were flammable enough, the flesh was not. Kalmar remained unburnt, even as fabric was scorched away and the wood turned black, then white. Karamir clenched his fist and cursed himself for a fool. The God of Cold, even while dead and stripped of most of his power, would not be burned by ordinary fire. He should have known better.

There was a gentle shake of brush and foliage behind Karamir and the pyre he had built for his creator. Out from the woods, padding forward on all fours, was the jet black form of Roog, son of Kalmar. The Wolf God’s eyes blazed in the light but there was hardly any fire to be seen. Several scratches and wounds were yet visible on his form, glowing and moonlit. Whether the Wolf had been watching for minutes or hours, Karamir could not know, but now Roog had revealed himself.

”A good end.”

Karamir turned to the newcomer, and realized he could sense the divine energy which emanated from its body. It took him only a moment to figure out who it was. “Roog?” he ventured.

”Correct,” responded the wolf as he strode closer, his gaze locked on that of Karamir’s. There was a slight limp in his stride and his shoulders were held low. ”You are Karamir. Our creator spoke of you, once. It is right, what you do.”

”Is it?” Karamir asked, turning toward the pyre. ”He is unburnt.”

Roog’s gaze wavered from Karamir’s, bronze eyes turning as well to the pyre of the First-Vallamir’s making. The hint of frost scarpered from the flames but, nevertheless, the man-god’s skin would not set alight. Unsurprising. Roog walked to the edge of the pyre, looking down upon Kalmar’s corpse; one dead father, as many mortals had seen and would see in their lives. A hallowed day, considered Roog, but one most bitter-sweet.

”He fought to the end, and lived a life worth living; your path was the right one. Now I will send him the rest of the way.”

Roog thought inwards, to that ever blazing furnace that was his divine heart, and in an instant his body set alight in spectacular black flames. The divine light of his celestial creator blazed on the cthonic hide of man-god one, the conflagration biting and snapping at the air. Gentle sparks from Roog’s hide jumped through the air before settling to nest upon the pyre, the pile of wood and brush catching light and slowly spreading the flame to Kalmar’s form. Roog watched as those black fires consumed his man-father’s form, flesh devoured slowly and hidden from view by the rising blaze.

”May you find a welcomed end in your next life, Father.”

Karamir watched their creator and father burn in silence, until the black fire had obscured the corpse completely. ”He died… content,” Karamir said, after a moment’s thought.

Roog looked to Karamir after a long moment of staring into the fires, eyes studying Karamir intently. At last he spoke, quietly but just loud enough to carry over the crackling of the flame.

”That, I expect, would be the only way he’d allow himself to die. I envy him for his freedom but loathe to see tomorrow with one less good First-Born to safeguard the days to come.”

Karamir nodded, continuing to stare into the flames. ”He wanted me to take his place.”

Roog’s eyes turned to slits as he gave Karamir a twice over; though he had heard of the man, the entity that would be the model for the Vallamir, he did not himself know him. Nevertheless, Kalmar’s will couldn’t be challenged nor did Roog wish to; he trusted his creator had chosen well. If his deeds today alone were something to go by, he was at least wise if nothing else.

”An acceptable alternative; I trust you will act with wisdom as you did today. I hope we may always be as brothers in this life, for the sake of all living things.”

Karamir nodded, looking past the flames and out across the water. It was strange, to not only meet one of his brothers in the flesh but to have that connection acknowledged. ”There is still a lot I need to do,” he said. ”I need to claim the Hunting Grounds. I need to inform the Vallamir and the Jotnar of our creator’s death. I need to assess what state they are in. Find out who their leaders are, what they know…” he sighed, before turning back to Roog. ”What about you? What will you do, now that our father is dead?”

”I will act on an ambition I believe our Father would have supported; through this I shall honor him and do right by the world.”

”What ambition is that?”

”I seek the Red Haired Woman that came to me in my dreams,” responded Roog, seemingly thinking inward to remember the vision he had been gifted with during his first death, [color=slategray]”From her I believe I will receive the answers I seek.”

Karamir furrowed a brow. ”Who is this woman?”

”I am not certain. I had intended to seek Kalmar’s wisdom on the matter; I believe her name may be Seihdhara, though, of this I cannot be sure.”

”Seihdhara…” Karamir said the strange-yet-familiar sounding name. ”Kalmar told me of all the gods upon my creation. I think she was one of them… I also don’t know if they ever met. Do you know where she is?”

”One of the First-Born? I should not be surprised . . . No, I have no clue where I might start my journey; I trust not on Kalgrun, however. If she did reside here, it would be reasonable to assume I would have found her already. She must reside elsewhere but now the answers will elude me even further.”

Karamir stroked his chin thoughtfully. ”The most straightforward approach would be to pray to her,” he said. ”Or try to find her sphere.”

Roog seemed to grind his teeth in thought before responding to Karamir, turning over the man’s words in contemplation. ”I do not believe my prayers will be heard. But findings her sphere would not require her. Surely there must be other First-Born with the knowledge of its location?”

”I’m sure there are,” Karamir nodded. ”Abanoc is the God of Recording. He sees everything that happens on Galbar. I’m sure he knows, but… he doesn’t like interfering in Galbar’s events. It might be worth asking him, though. Then there’s Arae - she’s the Goddess of Family, and considers the other gods to be siblings, so I’d be surprised if she couldn’t tell you something.

”Mother-Goddess may be the first step; I know her and I imagine she will be amenable to my questions. Perhaps prayers to these gods may provide the answers I seek.”

Karamir nodded, and then rubbed the back of his head as his expression turned reluctant. ”I should also tell you about a place called the Infinite Maze.”

”Why?” Roog’s eyebrows rose with interest, watching Karamir’s expression intently.

”It’s the sphere of Eurysthenes, the God of Puzzles,” Karamir answered. ”And it connects to a number of other spheres as well. It’s how I first found Abanoc - I was walking, and then suddenly I was at his Observatory. If you need to find Seihdhara’s sphere, or meet new gods… it might be worth a try. Only problem is, it’s unpredictable. Arryn entered only minutes after I did, at the same place, but we never found each other. And while it only took me ten days to get out, it took Arryn months. There’s no telling how long it will take you. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it is an option.”

Roog considered this new information with apprehension; it was utterly against his nature to allow himself to be caged in such a manner. Nevertheless, to have the option available would be beneficial. Ideally he would find answers elsewhere but if all other options failed this would be his next step.

”Thank you, brother, your assistance is most appreciated. If ever you are in need, we are bound to such purposes together. It is as our father would have wanted.

Karamir nodded in agreement. ”If and when you leave, I have some requests.”

Roog’s ears turned to Karamir and his eyebrows visibly raised; requests were not something he expected.

”Requests?”

Karamir nodded, and found that he could not meet Roog’s gaze, as the unpleasant memories came rushing back. ”If you ever meet a woman named Laurien,” he said quietly. ”Be careful around her. Tell me exactly where she is, and do not trust her.”

”A simple request,” replied the Wolf, eyes flashing with curiosity, ”One I will gladly do for my brother. If I encounter her, I shall do as you wish.

”Thank you,” Karamir nodded yet again. ”For my second request… there is another woman named Arya. She recently became a demi-god, just like me. She is Orvus’s daughter, and Laurien’s sister, but she is not like either of them. She saved my life. If you somehow meet her, and she needs help, and you can spare it… will you do it?”

Roog seemed to contemplate the question more deeply then, the idea of helping someone he did not know and could not judge the morality of. Nevertheless, consideration had to be taken regarding whom made the request. ”If she is as you say, then I shall keep to your request; that is all I can swear to.

Karamir nodded. ”Thank you again,” he said, and then looked up at one of the flowing golden streams of power, that only he could see. ”There is something else I need to tell you.” He held a hand, and golden mana swirled above his palm, forming into a ball that then became visible. ”This is mana. Not many know of it, but it’s a source of power that gods and certain mortals can tap into. It lets them do… extraordinary things.”

”Mana?” Roog leaned in, eyes flaring from the golden light as his senses absorbed every detail of the cascading corona of energy, ”And what allowed you to claim this source of power?”

”I don’t know,” Karamir admitted. ”Abanoc told me of its existence, and I was able to use it. Then when our father gave me his divinity… I had a vision, of a strange type of dragon, and then somehow I became able to see it. I think… I’m now the God of Mana, if there wasn’t one already.”

”An interesting prize, to be sure; I have little doubt you shall use it rightly. May you hold to Kalmar’s principles, brother.

”You as well,” Karamir said. ”Good luck.”

”May the next time we meet be under brighter circumstances.”

With that Roog turned and loped back into the forest, his mind occupied with thoughts of distant places and a woman of red hair. What he had learned today would keep with him and, by all observations, Roog had gained a brother and ally for the loss of a father and creator.

Karamir watched him go, and then went back to watching the flames in silence.



Eventually, the fire burned itself out. When the smoke cleared, nothing remained but a pile of ash, and Kalmar’s Bow. Karamir retrieved it from the pyre’s remains, and brushed it off. He had thought it would be fitting if his father’s favoured weapon burned as well, yet found himself relieved that it was not. But it seemed different, somehow. More powerful. He would have to investigate that later.

With one hand he scooped up a fistful of ashes. He was a god, he could create, he reminded himself. He closed his eyes and a pouch formed around the small handful, with a string which he then put around his neck.

In some form, his father would always be with him.

He looked down at the rest of the ashes, piled on the beach, and called upon the mana in the air around him. The wind began to swirl, lifting them high into the air, and then scattering them so that they gently rained down upon the island and the water.

It was done. Kalgrun was Kalmar’s Ground, and so it was a fitting place for his body to be put to rest.

Karamir turned and walked back into the woods. There was more to be done.






Let me know if any characterisation of Laurienna or Nebulites seems off, I'm mostly up to date in the form of summaries and skim at the moment.


You didn't get stabbed. 2/10 accuracy.
Goodbyes




They had flown back to the house without speaking, and not too long after they had stepped through the front door, Karamir’s energy was already beginning to flag. The shock of Arya’s ‘transformation’ had temporarily jolted him out of it, but he was tired. The sun was beginning to rise, and he had not slept since… since he had woken up from his nightmare. There had been no time. Arya had been asleep, and someone needed to watch the house.

To think… for all the powers and blessings they had each been granted, none of it would be of any use should an enemy happen to stumble across them while they were sleeping.

He rubbed the dark circles under his eyes, yawned, and then looked to Arya.

She smiled at him and said, "You’re tired, go sleep, I'll be okay." she moved some hair away from her face.

”Are you sure?” he asked her wearily. ”We still don’t know what happened to you, Vrog’s creatures could still be out there, and…”

"Go to sleep." she said sternly. "Nothing will happen while you dream."

Karamir looked as if he was about to disagree, but he was too tired, so he nodded his head reluctantly, and made his way upstairs. Wake me up… if anything happens. There had been a second bedroom in the house, one with an excessively large bed, but it was not full of blood. So it would have to make do.



We’re here,” Arae said to Orvus as they landed. They had arrived at the Eye of Desolation, in front of the house Arya was in. “Let us greet Arya and get Kalmar inside, shall we?” Arae also noticed the familial bond of another inside, this one tied rather strongly to Kalmar himself, and there was only one person she could think of. Arae wondered what Karamir was doing with Arya, thinking it interesting that he be with the sister of the one who wounded him so.

Orvus nodded, thankful for the journey's end. He grabbed hold of Kalmar, whose layer of ice was now gone. He tried to get ahold of the God, but he himself was still weakened and his strength depleted. "Arae, I nee-" but he was interrupted by the door slamming open and Arya's wide eyed face staring them down.

"Father! Arae! And… Oh no…" she said, a hand covering her mouth as she looked at Kalmar's body. Without hesitation the girl flew over to them and asked, "Do you need help?"

Please,” Arae answered, shifting to her human form and helping Orvus with Kalmar. “You may be the only one who can.

Orvus then morphed into his human form, his clothes tattered and grey. The man looked tired and haggard, but he gave Arya a weak smile nonetheless. "Arya… It's good to see you. But yes, we need to get Kalmar inside… He… Isn't well."

Arya nodded at both of them, blinking back tears as she cradled Kalmar in her arms, then floated down to the ground. Orvus slowly followed, landing behind them on his feet before falling to his hands and knees. Arae began to help Orvus at least get into a sitting position, then turned her attention to Arya. “Do you know of any way to treat Kalmar? We’re at a loss on what to do.” Arae asked.

Arya began to speak but stopped when the Hunter grunted, and his eyes fluttered open. He began to speak. ”Ar… Arya…” he rasped, his sole remaining eye settling on the glowing girl. Then, he squinted. ”Are my senses… failing me? How did you become… a god?” he asked weakly.

"I don't know… It all happened so fast, there was an orb and then I was hot and then I was fine." she said quickly. "What happened to you? To the both of you?" she said looking between Kalmar and Orvus.

Orvus’ Avatar, Abraxas, did this,” Arae answered grimly. “Kalmar fought him, and was injured to this state. As for Orvus… he gave up his divinity to allow us to defeat Abraxas. Orvus is... mortal now.

Arya froze in her tracks upon the porch. She turned fully to Arae, mouth agape, then looked at Orvus who nodded solemnly. ”W-What? That’s not… That’s… It’s true?” she said, tilting her head.

In that moment, with a groan of pain, Kalmar freed himself from Arya’s grip and stood on shaky feet. He swayed, and nearly toppled, but managed to remain standing as he gripped the porch’s railing. ”Where… is Karamir?” he asked.

Arya went to his side, supporting him with an arm wrapped around his torso. ”He’s inside, sleeping.” she said.

”Bring him.”

Arae grabbed hold of Kalmar while Arya went off to fetch Karamir. But Kalmar simply waved her off and slumped into a sitting position against the porch’s railing.




Inside the quickly flew up the stairs, and opened the door to Laurien’s old room. It was mostly plain, except for the figure sleeping in the bed. She didn’t want to wake him up, but the circumstances were dire.

She walked over to the side and gently shook Karamir. ”Karamir. You need to wake up!”

”What? What is it?” Karamir asked groggily.

”It’s Kalmar… He’s back.”

With a relieved look on his face, Karamir launched himself to his feet, and his cloak flew to his shoulders. ”Let’s go, then,” he said, running past Arya and out the room.

”Karamir!” she called after him.

Karamir ran down the stairs and exited the house, only to freeze at the sight that awaited him on the porch. His gaze first went to the missing hand, then to the hole in the chest, and then to the missing eye. ”No,” he said in disbelief, falling to his knees next to his creator. ”No, no…”

Arya came out right behind him, and fell beside Karamir, holding him by the shoulders as she knelt.

Kalmar stared up at Karamir. ”Your soul… it’s…”

At first, Karamir did not seem to hear him. Then he blinked in surprise. ”Yes… Abanoc saw what happened to me, and decided to fix it.”

The Hunter offered a weak smile. ”Good. That simplifies things.” He looked at the small group gathered around him. ”Orvus… why did you give up your godhood?” he asked.

The man sat down on the porch he had built with his two hands, and sighed as he looked at them. ”Ashalla and Abraxas could have kept fighting for years before either side won, and I could not bear another sibling to be hurt by my power. It was the only way to ensure I can never again be used for evil.” he said somberly.

”And Arya became a demigod around the same time…” Kalmar observed. ”Can’t be a coincidence.”

”A demigod?” Orvus asked, looking at Arya. ”I… I had no idea. I swear it. I would have asked you if… if…” his voice faded. Arya looked back at her father and knew his word to be genuine. He cared deeply for her and his other children, but how had he not known?

”You’ll both have to dwell on that later…” Kalmar said. ”I need to speak to each of you alone…”

I will take my leave then,” Arae said, setting Kalmar down gently and bowing, then walking outside to wait.

Orvus began to get up but Arya stopped him, ”You two should talk first, I’m sure my father is anxious to see the others.” she said, lifting Karamir up going towards the front door. Karamir moved his mouth in protest, but no words came out. He offered little resistance, almost too shocked to function.

Once they were gone, Kalmar looked to Orvus. ”Do you remember what I told you?” he asked.

”The bit about you killing me?” he said with a wry smile.

”The alternative to me killing you,” Kalmar grimaced, more in pain than at Orvus’s attempt at humour.

”I remember.” Orvus said softly.

”I assume you found it?”

”Yes, I don’t think we’d be having this discussion if I didn’t.” Orvus said thoughtfully.

”What was it?”

”To not be so alone.” he said.

Kalmar was silent, as if he had expected something else. ”I wonder how many others are driven by that,” he finally said, after a moment’s thought. ”What will you do, now that you’re no longer a god?”

”I once had a dream… Of simple life… I’ll do that now.” he said, looking past Kalmar.

”Well… for what it’s worth, I wish you luck in it. Some of the other gods might not believe you, or forgive you, but… I suppose I can.”

”You’re probably right… But oh well.” Orvus said, getting up. ”I… I’m sorry for everything, Kalmar. I never want you to… to end like this.” he said, his voice full of sorrow.

”I doubt you threw yourself onto that tree,” Kalmar said rather drily. ”Then again… you did make the tools that Abraxas used. But… no changing that now. You helped stop him, and you sacrificed your godhood to do so. If something like this happens again… it won’t be because of you.” the Hunter breathed deeply. ”Arae is next.”

Orvus paused at the porch steps, and looked back at Kalmar. He gave him a simple nod before descending. A little later, Arae appeared. “You wanted to see me, Kalmar?” Arae asked.

Kalmar nodded. ”I did. I have a request.”



Karamir paced back and forth restlessly. In a few days, it was as if his entire world was shaken up. His soul was decayed, then fixed. Arya was a demi-god. Kalmar was horribly wounded. That last detail was the most alarming. And it seemed there was nothing he could do but wait. He felt more powerless than ever.

”Karamir.” Came Arya’s voice.

He stopped, clenched his fists, and then unclenched them. ”What is it?” he asked, not looking at her.

”Take a deep breath.” Came Arya’s soft voice.

Inhale. Exhale. He turned to look at Arya, who sat on a chair, legs crossed, a worried expression on her face. ”I just… I never thought that… well, he told me, but…” he took another breath. ”Do you think he will be alright?”

”I… I honestly don’t know. Gods can take punishment but…” her voice faded for a moment. ”I wish I could do something.” she said, getting up.

”What I told you… about him beating me for nine days… when I said that, I didn’t have all my memories. It wasn’t entirely true.” he said regretfully.

”I was… I was hoping as much.” she said, crossing the room to look at a wall of artifacts.

Karamir nodded slowly, tears coming to his eyes. ”He did hurt me, yes. But he also taught me how to hunt, how to fish, how to forage… how to survive. And while he did send me away, he gave me everything I needed - clothes, weapons, blessings. I could have prayed to him at any time, and he would have answered, but I didn’t. I hated him, and I was too stubborn. It… it took me far too long to realize I judged him too harshly.”

She turned her head to look at him, then graciously flew to him in a blink. Arya then embraced him in a very warm, comforting embrace. ”Shh. It’s okay, he knows. I was just like that when I was young. It happens, there’s no sense in dwelling on it.” she said, her voice kind and knowing.

Something about the way she spoke, or the way she touched him, warmed him and made him relax. He returned her embrace. The tears stopped, and he continued speaking in a calmer voice. ”In the end, it was he who sought me out. I didn’t pray. I didn’t swallow my pride. He had to find me. He apologized, he gave me more gifts, he gave me permission to call him father, but… he is my father. And I shouldn’t have needed gifts to realize that.” Arya said nothing, but simply stroked the back of his head.

Timed passed, and he did not know how long they held that embrace. ”How do you feel about this?” he eventually asked.

”I’m sad…” she said. ”And angry and and… I feel like I need to do something.” she said.

”What can we do?”

”Bring him comfort and listen.”

Karamir only nodded in response.

Arae opened the door to where the two of them were, looking worse for wear. As she fought to hold back her tears, she said to them, “Kalmar would like to… to see the both of you.

Arae’s reaction dashed much of his hopes, but Karamir nodded. He looked to Arya, and then made his way toward the door. Arya followed.

Kalmar had not moved from his seated position against the porch’s railing. He looked up at Arya and Karamir as they exited the house and knelt beside him. ”I am dying,” he said.

Karamir shifted his gaze downward and closed his eyes, attempting to restrain tears. Arya put a hand on Karamir's shoulder, white tears beginning to flood from her own eyes as well.

”You’ve come a long way,” Kalmar said. ”Both of you. I’m sorry I was absent for most of it.”

"It's okay. We wouldn't be here without you." Arya said tearfully. Karamir nodded.

”Arya…” Kalmar said, shifting his gaze from Karamir to her. ”You’ve obtained godhood... somehow. What do you intend to do with it?”

"I...I think what I've always wanted to do… Help others." she said wishfully.

Kalmar nodded approvingly. ”That’s good. Just… be mindful of who you help. But now that we know mortals can obtain godhood… that has me thinking.”

”Thinking about what?” Karamir managed to ask.

”The Gods decide Galbar’s fate,” Kalmar said. ”But how many of those gods actually know what… what it is like to live on the world they have built? I didn’t. Not truly. I tried, but… I never needed food or warmth or drink. Maybe… if more mortals were gods... it wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

Arya blinked. She tried to find the right words but couldn't think of any.

”In truth, I’m not even sure I need to die,” Kalmar admitted. ”There might be a way for me to survive. I even have one or two ideas, but… I’m tired. I raised a continent from the sea... I filled it with life... I helped... guide those who needed it… I stood against… the forces of destruction when I was needed… and I lived longer than most creatures have a right to…”

”You’re… you’re giving up?” Karamir asked, shocked.

”Maybe I am,” Kalmar nodded grimly. ”I never thought this day would come, but… here it is.”

”But… what about me? What about Arya? Arryn? Or Kalgrun?”

Kalmar looked back to Arya. ”Will you take care of Arryn when I’m gone?”

She nodded as tears streamed down her face.

Kalmar breathed deeply. ”Thank you,” he said, and turned back to Karamir. ”As for Kalgrun… I leave it in your hands, if you’ll take it.”

Karamir’s eyes widened. ”M-me? But how? I’m only one person…”

”As I said,” Kalmar continued, ”If more mortals were gods, it would not be a bad thing.”

Then realized dawned. ”No…” Karamir whispered. ”No!” he said again, this time louder. ”I’m not ready for that. I… I haven’t accomplished anything. I’ve made mistakes. I’m not ready,” he insisted.

”You’ve accomplished more than you think. As for your readiness… none of us were ready to be gods when the Architect called us here. At least… I wasn’t. I wasn’t much smarter than a wild animal, whose only concern was his next meal. I… did what I could to learn, but… I’m not fit to watch over the Vallamir or the Jotnar. Not as a guide, or a leader… and that’s what they need. You may not be ready now… but you are better poised to learn than I was.”

Those words gave Karamir pause, and his expression turned thoughtful as tears ran down his cheeks.

Arya walked over to Kalmar and hugged him gently. "I wish you wouldn't go." she cried softly. "You were my first… first friend and I'll never forget the time I had with you."

Kalmar hugged her back. ”Thank you,” he said softly, as a single tear trickled from his own eye. ”This… this would have happened eventually, to either you or me. Nothing, not even gods, are eternal. Maybe I’m being selfish by dying first, but… I’m sorry.”

"Don't be sorry. You won, no one can deny that, and now you can rest. I…" she pulled away, a thoughtful look on her face, "What if I told you that… That you didn't have to die fully. That you could go somewhere else, rather than burn."

Kalmar raised an eyebrow. ”To tell you the truth… although I made a deal with her, I don’t have much faith in Azura’s plan.”

"This isn't Azura's crystals… but K'nell's Heaven."

”K’nell?” Kalmar blinked. ”What has he done? I thought he was gone.”

"He is gone. Tendlepog, Xiaoli, Hermes, the Palace, most of the dreamers. He created an infinite paradise and I know how you can get there." she said with a smile.

”So that’s where they went…” Kalmar was incredulous. ”Why am I only hearing about this now?”

"Because… K'nell did not know how the other gods would react to this. He wanted to ensure that it would be kept secret, for now, until the time is right for Galbar to know. I don't know when that time will be… but I do know that it's beautiful in its own way." she said softly.

Kalmar leaned back and looked up. ”If this is an alternative to Pyres… I’ll go there. If only to get more information and have a word with K’nell about it. One last… task. This secret could prevent... a lot of conflict.”

"Kalmar…" she began, "I know. I know. K'nell asked me… To only tell those I trusted. I want to tell everyone, I do but… I just don't know if I should." she sighed before moving her head next to his ear. There she told him the secrets of Moksha and how to enter paradise. She pulled away misty eyed and hugged him again before pulling back.

"I'm fortunate enough to be able to visit… So, this won't be a forever goodbye." she turned to Karamir. "I'll teach you how to visit as well." she said with a soft smile.

”I… I’m still not sure it’s right,” Karamir said hesitantly.

”Karamir,” Kalmar then said. ”Will you accept godhood?”

”I… I don’t know…”

”It’s your choice. But there is no one else I would give it to.”

Karamir looked to Arya. ”There… there was a time when I wanted this,” he said quietly. ”And now that I don’t, it’s being offered to me…” He looked down at Kalmar, and took the god’s hand. ”I’ll take it. I’ll… try to follow your example.”

”It’s not a perfect example, so don’t follow it too closely,” Kalmar cautioned. ”Now, listen closely. You can claim both Kalgrun and the Hunting Grounds. Kalgrun should be easy. The Hunting Grounds… that will be more difficult.” he let go of Karamir’s hand, and pressed a finger to his forehead. ”I’m blessing you so that you will be able to track the gateway. It moves, attaching itself to one animal at a time, which must be hunted in order to access it.”

Kalmar’s hand dropped, and Karamir took it once again. ”I have told Arae about this. Should anyone doubt your claims, she will vouch for their truth. Should anyone try to steal what I have promised you, she will help you get them back. Use your abilities wisely…”

”I will,” Karamir promised, as fresh tears began to reappear. ”I will. T-thank you.”

”Good,” Kalmar said. ”I’m sorry to you as well. I… am thrusting a lot of responsibility on you. Now… if there is nothing else… I think it’s time.”

"Thank you… For everything." Arya said, crying.

Kalmar nodded, and with one final smile, he held his remaining hand before the hole in his chest. Raw power began to flow forth, condensing into a swirling ball of ichor and essence in the palm of his hand. His skin turned pale, he began to breathe heavily, and what was left of his blood began to flow freely from the wound.

”G-goodbye father…” Karamir managed. Kalmar took one look at distant Moksha, then back at Karamir, and mouthed ‘goodbye’ in return. With that final farewell, his head slumped down, and his breathing stopped.

Kalmar was dead.

Karamir turned and immediately wrapped his arms around Arya, tears streaming forth like never before.

She embraced him and let her own tears fall in turn.

Arae walked onto the porch, staring at Kalmar’s body. Her sadness began to well up inside her more than ever before, and she could not help but shed tears as well. Getting onto her knees, she put her hands together and silently prayed for the rest of his days to be peaceful.

Karamir pulled away from Arya, wiped the tears from his eyes, and shifted his gaze to the ball of energy that still floated in Kalmar’s hand. Tentatively, he reached out to grasp it, and then rose to his feet. ”Whatever happens next…” he said to Arya. ”Thank you. For everything.”

Arya went to Arae's side and knelt down with her, placing a hand on her back. She looked up at Karamir and said, "You're so welcome. Be… Safe..."

Karamir descended the porch steps and took ten steps away from the house. He turned back to face them, and looked down at the orb in his hands. Then slowly, he pushed it into his chest. The orb sank through the fabric of his tunic, and into his flesh, before disappearing entirely.

He could feel the orb pulsing within his ribcage, full of power, but nothing else happened. For a moment, he only blinked in confusion, then looked up at the two questioningly. Nothing had happened. Why didn’t-

Then he fell to his knees and began to scream, as the orb expanded and energy surged throughout his body. His hands clutched at his chest, where the pain was greatest, but he felt it all over. His eyes began to glow, and as it had with Arya, blood began to fountain from his mouth. He grew deaf to the rest of the world, and slowly his vision began to fade as well.

Images flashed before his eyes. Kalmar. Atalantia. Pyrdon. Phystene. Diana. Vrog. K’nell. Keibrik. Ruby. Arya. Arryn. Temujin. Abanoc. Liv. Chopstick Eyes. Laurien. Mnemosyne. Orvus. Arae. They were all familiar, to some extent or another, but then he saw one image which was a complete stranger. A great humanoid dragon stood before him. He had never seen such a creature before, but it was this vision which lingered the longest.

It stared at him wordlessly, and then Karamir detected a strange glowing energy in the air. It was mana. Despite having harnessed it, he had never seen it with his own eyes before… yet somehow he knew. The mana coalesced around him, filling him. Both his pain and the vision began to fade, until there was nothing.



He awoke, lying on the grass in a pool of his own blood, and slowly reality came drifting back.

Arya looked down at him, a worried look in her eyes. "How do you feel?" she asked, offering him a hand.

Karamir took her hand, and as he was pulled to his feet, he saw the golden energy all around them. Ignoring her question for the time being, he held out his other hand, and pulled some of the energy into it to form a tiny ball on his palm. ”Do… do you see this?” he asked her.

She raised an eyebrow. "The ball? Why?"

”This is mana… I can see it now. It’s everywhere. I… I knew it was everywhere… but I can see it…”

"Mana… But… How did you get mana? I thought you'd inherit hunting?" she said confused.

”I… don’t know. I saw a… some sort of dragon… and then we were surrounded by mana. Somehow, I just knew what it was.” he said, as he allowed the ball of mana to disperse.

Mana, huh?” Arae said, watching Karamir test his newfound abilities. Allowing herself a small smile, she added, “That’s rather interesting. Haven’t seen that in a long… huh?” Her mind went cloudy, then she shook her head. “No, never mind. Just… do take care. You’ve only just become a god, after all.

Karamir looked toward the porch, and a fresh stab of grief surged through his heart. ”K-Kalmar…” he said, running over to where Kalmar’s body now rested.

Arya walked over quietly and rested a hand on his shoulder. "He's gone…" she said. "He should be buried on Kalgrun… That seems right." she said squeezing his shoulder gently.

Karamir gave her a solemn nod. ”I was thinking the same thing. Will… will you come with me?”

"I want to… It's just… Those creatures might still be here and I can't leave this place undefended, not yet." she said.

Karamir was crestfallen. ”Oh… I see… I understand…” he said dejectedly, as he looked away from her. Another tear rolled down his cheek, then he lifted Kalmar up and gently slung the Hunter’s wounded and ragged body over his shoulders. ”I’m… going to go, then. I… we will meet again,” he told her.

She quickly grabbed hold of his free hand and said, "I'm sorry, I am. But we will meet again." she said, giving him a quick kiss on his cheek. "I know it." she said with a giddy smile on her face before letting his hand go.

Taken aback, Karamir’s hand reached up to brush the spot where she had kissed him. ”I hope so,” he said, giving her a wan smile as he blinked away his tears. ”I’ve been hoping for another dance.”

And then he was gone, taking flight toward the north, and to Kalgrun. Arya watched him go.

Arya,” Arae said. “Before I leave as well, I thought I should mention a few things about Laurien. Are you aware of what she’s done to Orvus, and more recently to Karamir?

Arya spun around to look at Arae and sighed. "Yes… I know." she said with sadness.

Well, I’ve visited her shortly after, in order to give her... punishment. She’s been cursed. She will always be on the run, never staying in a single place for too long,” Arae explained. “I know she’s been through a lot already, but I couldn’t allow her crimes to go unpunished.” She looked around, making sure Orvus was not in earshot of what she was about to say next, then continued with a whisper, “In order to break the curse, she must change. She must become a better person, find peace within herself, and finally make peace with you and Orvus.” Giving a small smile, she added, “It’s a family matter after all. I thought it should be settled by family.

Arya scrunched her nose and sighed again. "I don't even know who she is anymore, Auntie. But… Thank you for doing that. Hopefully one day she comes around. I suppose I should try and find her eventually." Arya said.

Arae nodded in agreement. “There’s also the matter of her children, Andromeda and Phoset. The journey she is taking is a long and difficult one, so I gave her the choice to either take them with her or leave them in my custody. She has chosen the latter, and they are in my domain at the moment. I will extend the choice to you as well: take them into your custody, or leave them with me. I promised Laurien they wouldn’t be harmed, and I hope that still holds true should you decide to take them in.

Her eyes widened, "She had children?"

Yes,” Arae answered. “A boy and a girl, both bright and beautiful.

"Uh… Yes, bring them here, if you would, please. I have no doubt you would raise them properly, but they are my family, and they'll be looked after here." she said with a smile.

Arae nodded. Without another word, Arae transformed into her dragon form and shot up into the sky, returning to the Dragon’s Crown.

Arya watched Arae leave and then after a moment went to go find Orvus. It was time for some more answers.







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