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Carn




Carn stepped into Antiquity for the first time. He wore the black armour of one of Cadien’s hussars, with his sword sheathed at his hip, cloak on his shoulders, and lute slung across his back. As he marveled at the vast, white arena, and the shining image of Galbar in the sky above, two more figures emerged from the portal, clad in their own sets of Black Hussar armour as well.

Liamas and Nekara. The Songman and the Neiyari had asked to accompany him in his travels. They too were curious about the outside world, it seemed, and Carn had not objected to some extra company. They, too, were taken in by the sights.

“My word,” Liamas whispered. “Nothing has happened yet, and already I could write a song about this place.” The Songman looked odd in the Black Hussar, mostly because he had never worn it before this day.

The arena was slightly overgrown, with vegetation sprouting in the unlikeliest places. One particularly large bush was happily taking in the strange sunlight of Antiquity, a few paces from the trio. The bush seemed completely normal… At least, until it rustled, followed by an almost inaudible hiss. Deep within the thick foliage of yellowing leaves, a small flash of white could be seen whizzing past back and forth.

“And what’s that?” Nekara asked. Liamas shrugged, but Carn stepped forward.

“Who’s in there?” he asked.

There was another hiss, louder this time, followed by a quiet pained gasp. The rustling came back in force, and suddenly a trio of pristine, white, long, fluffy tails popped out of the bush, wagging back and forth hard enough to make whooshing sounds.

”Ugh, I told you to be quiet, Yllis!” One voice whispered. High-pitched and somewhat jarring yet somehow still attractive to the ears, kind of like listening to a trainwreck from a safe distance.

”I-I can’t be quiet, Yllis! Your elbow’s all the way in there, you know~” The same voice replied, yet this one came from a slightly different location within the bush.

The original voice groaned, and then a third one whispered. ”Did you hear something, Yllis? I dunno, kinda like an over glorified monkey asking someone who’s clearly out of their league their name?”

The first one spoke again after a small gasp. ”I think so, Yllis. Maybe it wants a banana?” She said, snickering quietly.

”Ow!” The second one hissed, ”W-Watch what you do with those nails, you bitch!”

”I’m not a bitch, you bitch! Unless that one tall soldier in Snowhair’s realm asked me to be....”

”You’re hopeless, Yllis.”

The trio glanced at the bush with puzzled expressions.

“It seems they do not know we are here,” whispered Liamas.

“If they don’t, they ought to be more alert,” Nekara commented bluntly. “If any of us had magic, a single spark of fire could be their end.”

“Enough of that talk,” Carn said. “We didn’t come here for a fight.” He took a step forward. “Hello there!” he called out. “You in the bush. Could you please come out so we can speak?”

The bush rustled a bit, and out of it popped a single face. Ghostly pale, with shining golden eyes and white hair. It was a woman’s face, with carefully, delicately sculpted features all around betrayed by the sharp fangs that glinted in the light when she smirked. There was something unsettling about the face, but Carn couldn’t exactly pin that feeling onto any of the features he could see.

After a mere moment a second face, completely identical to the first with the only difference being that this one was sweating and blushing, popped out next to the first. Then a third. And finally, after some more rustling, three dog-like, pristine, white tails popped out the other end of the bush and started to wag chaotically, sometimes slapping each other.

The three women quickly wiped the smirks off their faces and replaced them with more subdued, yet still smug enough, smiles. They all looked at each of the 3 travelers from head to toe.

”That was a bold joke just now, the one where the group’s stress relief implied a little mortal could make fire strong enough to kill me.” One of the three women said, her gaze settling on Nekara as she snickered quietly.

”Yllis, none less than the cutest, most adorable, most lovable, most unexpectedly outgoing Goddess!” The middle one declared proudly, closing her eyes in the process for a moment. Then, she deflated somewhat and opened them again, unamused. ”So? What do two mortals and one half-mortal want with me?”

Carn opened his mouth to speak, but then Liamas stepped forward as well. “The man who stands beside me is Carn the Unblemished. Prince of Meliorem, Champion of-”

“Enough,” Carn cut him off sharply. “I am Carn.” He gestured to his companions. “This is Liamas, and that is Nekara. We are just passing through the area.”

”Huh, is that so.” Yllis asked in monotone, then awkwardly stood up and out of the bush, followed by the other two. They helped each other in quickly patting down their clothing and fixing their hair. While they were doing that, she continued. ”There isn’t much to see, I’m warning you now. Most of the Gods are freaky hermits so you most likely won’t see them out and about.”

“Are there any examples in particular that stand out?” Carn asked.

”All of them. I’ve been waiting here for a long time and no one has appeared... Only a bunch of mortals.” One said and sighed.

”Yep. Biggest disappointment ever. There isn’t even any point to messing with you as it is.” Another shrugged.

“Just how long have you been waiting here?” Nekara questioned.

The women merely gave another shrug.

Hm. So according to this goddess, the supposed central meeting ground of the gods, the crossroads between realms… was almost never used. That was… disappointing, to say the least. “Have you visited the realms of the other gods?” Carn asked.

They rolled their eyes. ”You think I’m some kind of freak that barges into people’s homes uninvited? Only realm I’ve seen other than mine is Meliorem.”

“Do the other gods take issue with mortals walking into their realms uninvited?” Liamas asked. “We wouldn’t want to offend any of them.”

Yllis took a deep breath and the three sat down on a somewhat clean part of the auditorium. They grabbed their tails and started stroking them absentmindedly. ”I’m new here. I only know two Gods, so no I don’t know whether they’ll kill you or turn you into toys upon entering their realms, or even if they’d let you enter their realms...”

”... The true question is why you’d want to get involved with a bunch of immortal children who can’t help but to get involved in a tiny mortal war and to blow things out of proportion. Just go back down to Galbar, you’ll find actually interesting stuff down there I’m sure.”

Carn frowned. “You seem to know a lot about the gods, for someone who claims to have only met two. How is that?”

Yllis huffed and shook her head, leaning back. ”You talk a lot like Snowhair, you know? You pretend to be the fairest of all, but you fall short and just come off as a man who fears taking action. Your little lapdog here,” She pointed lazily at the Songman, who let out a gasp of indignation, ”Said your title was “the Unblemished”, right? That is incredibly lame, so go get a few scars on your baby-face before pretending to be high and mighty with me.”

”Know that I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty, so if you keep giving me lip I might just be the one to give you those scars.”

The sudden aggression left Carn puzzled. “It was just a question,” he said. “And no, that’s not my title.”

“Carn,” Nekara began, a warning note in her voice, but she said nothing more.

Yllis stared at Carn, letting her tails go. ”You’ve got problems. There’s nothing else to talk about, is there? So why don’t you continue with your little expedition?”

“Gladly,” Carn said, eager to be away from her. He hoped the other gods weren’t like this. If they were ,that would ironically prove her point. A self-fulfilling prophecy, in a way. He turned away, and his companions followed.








Mekellos




The campaign had gone well, even after Aveira had left.

In truth, there wasn't much use in having her. It wasn't that she incapable; it was simply that Mekellos on his own was already more powerful than anything the iskrill had to offer. Any additional support would have been overkill, unless the iskrill themselves had been given some sort of divine aid - which had yet to happen. So it was little surprise, and little loss, that the Avatar of Neiya had left.

Mekellos still wasn't sure why she had been sent to him in the first place.

Anyhow, a foothold had been carved out on the other side of the river. New outposts and the beginnings of new settlements had been established. The iskrill had made attempts to drive them back, but they were scattered and disunited. Mekellos and the soldiers of Acadia had crushed them one by one. And the loss of so many fighters had left the iskrill settlements deeper inland exposed, and ripe for pillaging.

Unfortunately, the Avatar of Cadien had not had the time to do so, for he soon received word of a most distressing predicament. A sickness had struck Acadia; one that no magic or potion could cure. A number of workers and soldiers had already fallen ill. If left unchecked, the city's food and metal output would begin to suffer, and new soldiers may even carry the disease to the frontlines. Both the Acadians' supplies and their ability to defend their newly acquired territory would suffer.

And so, the Avatar of Perfection was forced to call the campaign off. Suddenly, he wished Aveira had not departed after all. But there was little to do about that, save address the problem immediately.

And he did. It was a surprisingly simple endeavor. The sickness was clearly divine in nature. Its effects were horrific, but not necessarily lethal. And since Mekellos was better at preventing people from getting sick than actually curing sickness, he decided it would be more efficient to identify the afflicted, quarantine them, and bolster the rest of the population's immune system against such unnatural diseases.

With that done, Mekellos prepared to resume his campaign, hoping that the delay caused by this mess would not be too severe.

Unfortunately, another interruption came.




"Are you certain?" Mekellos asked. He was alone, in the council room. The Pontiffs and the Monarchs were absent. It was just him, and the voice of his lord, who spoke within his mind.

"Of course I am. Why aren't you? You felt it," Cadien said, which was true. Even so far away, Mekellos had still felt the earth shake, and the familiar feeling that emerged whenever a divine being was acting in the area.

"It just seems... so senseless..."

"It is, but it has happened nonetheless."

"And you are certain it was her?"

"As certain as I can be without witnessing it myself. Which is why you must go to confirm it, find out why it happened, and see if it can be reversed."

Mekellos nodded grudgingly. He walked over to the balcony which overlooked the city of Acadia. The city he had ruled, which served as his home for so many years. He had never been used to staying in one place for so long. "Very well, my lord."

"Do not go alone," Cadien warned. "She is an avatar. That on its own makes her power equal to yours. But she also had a weapon; a dangerous one, with which she wounded Qael'Naath himself."

"And who could I bring with me that can surpass this weapon?" Mekellos asked, curious.

"A second avatar, of course."

Mekellos's eyebrows rose. "You mean you-"

He didn't get a chance to finish. A small portal formed before him, and from it emerged a bronze longsword with a gilded hilt, and a glowing amethyst set in the crossguard. It was suspended in mid-air, the blade pointed directly at the floor.

"I present to you, Kharros. The Avatar of War."

The blade flipped itself, pointing the tip skyward, and then flew toward Mekellos. The Avatar of Perfection caught it effortlessly. The grip of the blade moulded itself to perfectly fit his hand. "We have our mission," rasped a metallic voice. "And we must see it fulfilled."






Recuperating



Year 30AA, late Autumn, Ha-Dûna...

Boudicca had seen many temple chambers from the inside - she had overseen construction of the Temple of the Sun in particular, actually, and this particular room wasn’t at all unfamiliar to her. What was unfamiliar was the fact that she was locked inside it, dressed in the simple, gray linen robes of a nun, her hair tied in a bun and hidden under a hood. She sat on a flat of hay on the wooden floor; save for a sliver of light peeking in from a hole one could scarcely call a window, the room was pitch black. In the corner was a clay mug she had emptied of water earlier and a half-eaten loaf of dry flatbread, plus an empty bowl with gooey traces of salted curdled cheese. The temple treated none of its residents poorly, for sure - this was a hearty breakfast considering her position - but it was nothing to her brother Brian’s mutton oatmeal with leeks and onions, served with a horn of steaming spiced ale and houlin berry pudding. She felt her teeth drown in her drool at the thought.

It had all gone so very wrong - so much worse than anything she had played out in her head. How did this happen? Well, she knew perfectly well why it happened. She had been a fool - an utter and incompetent fool, thinking that one duel between her and Jjonveyo could undo all the pain, all the sorrow and all the hate her people held for the Celeviaks. It had been arrogant, thoughtless, even, to think so.

There came a knock on the door. “Boudicca?” said a man’s voice. Boudicca sank together into her arms. Maybe Clement was right? Maybe she had been too obsessed with the gods to think about how her own people felt?

“Boudicca!” the voice repeated and knocked harder. Boudicca looked up.

“What?”

The wooden bar over her door groaned to the side and it opened to reveal a robed man with a crown of hair around a gleamingly bald scalp.He frowned down at her, a torch in his hand. “You have been tasked with digging a new latrine.” With a sudden and short-lived wheeze, Boudicca caught an incoming wooden shovel the man had tossed at her. “Get to it.” Then he left. Boudicca snarled. To be treated like this… Just yesterday, this man would have bowed to the ground before her. Pleadingly, she looked to the ceiling and whispered,

“Master? Are you out there? I, I need your aid.”

The response to Boudicca’s plea was very much immediate. She would feel the sensation of her mind being touched by a divine presence the moment the word ‘master’ was uttered. Then came the whisper that she had heard before, on the fateful day when Celestine’s avatar arrived. ”I am here, my champion. What do you need?”

Boudicca fell to her knees and folded her hands, the shovel dunking to the ground beside her. “I, I have been dethroned! My position, usurped! By madmen, no less! You both heard and saw them - they must have been corrupted somehow, by something. I, I don’t know why they’ve kept me alive, but they might be planning to use me for something vile - to use my family for something worse!”

“Boudicca! Come on! Adherents of the Sun don’t laze around!” the voice thundered again and footsteps grew louder in the wooden hallway.

“Please, Master! You have to help me!” Boudicca continued, her breath in panic.

Moments after the plea for help was uttered, the connection broke. Then, mere inches away from Boudicca’s kneeling form, a portal opened. Unlike last time where one could see a fair portion of the paradise-like realm behind it, this time there was merely a room containing a large four-poster bed and some other personal effects like a desk that was covered in papers.

These were quickly rendered unimportant by the appearance of Celestine’s avatar as they stepped partially through the portal. Holding a hand out to Boudicca and up to the portal, the avatar spoke quickly. ”If you fear for your safety, please enter this portal. It will take you to my realm. Decide quickly, as I cannot maintain this connection for long.”

Without a second thought, Boudicca tossed herself inside, just in time to hear the gasp of the monk at her door. The portal closed behind her, and Boudicca pushed herself to her feet with the help of the goddess, taking in the sights and smells with a gaping mouth. She then spun back for a second to look at the spot where the portal had closed. Panting, she said, “That, that was close… Thank you, Master.”

Celestine’s avatar nodded but remained fairly silent as it backed up to a nearby wall before slightly hunching over as if a puppeteer had cut the strings. Then a few moments later the door upon the south wall opened gently, and in stepped Celestine herself. She blinked slowly as she approached Boudicca. Stopping a few feet away, Celestine crossed her left arm across her chest and bowed before speaking. ”It was. I can only hope that your disappearance does not endanger your family. It is nice to finally meet you in full rather than through visions or through my avatar, though I do wish the circumstances were better.”

Rising from the bow, Celestine allowed her right hand to rest upon the pommel of her sword before speaking again. ”Do you have a plan you wish to undertake? I will assist you as requested.”

Boudicca seemed momentarily mesmerised by the surroundings, the plains, the dragons, the many elves all around. She eventually snapped out of it. “Oh, a, a plan?” Pausing briefly, she turned back to Celestine. “We, we need to get my family. They, they must be at my tún, my estate.” She paused again. “... Or, well, my daughter’s estate now. It is right outside the walls, to the south of the city.”

Celestine nodded a few times at Boudicca’s plan before she asked a few other questions to better see what Boudicca might want to achieve in the area. ”Understood. I will open a portal there in a few moments. Before I do that, is there anything or anyone else you would like to try and bring here from Ha-Dûna? Your equipment? Loyal friends? Anything. I ask because opening portals to Galbar is only a temporary affair and draws from my divine power every time. I can open three more before I exhaust my current reserves. If there’s anything you can think of that you might want me to do urgently, please feel free to mention it. No matter how small.”

Internally, Celestine was quite pleased with the fact that Boudicca seemed to be mesmerized by her realm. She took it as a complement, and hoped that Boudicca would share in that same mesmerization if or when she came to reside in the realm more permanently. But that was not something she needed to think about for now, and instead refocused her thoughts towards the current situation.

“Celestine!” an all-too familiar voice boomed from another room. It did not exactly sound angry, but it was clear he was far from pleased.

Celestine’s eyebrow raised promptly at the voice of Cadien booming within her realm. Turning her attention to the door into the room, she pulled it open before speaking gently. As she spoke, her voice reverberated throughout her realm to ensure that the message reached his ears. ”Greetings, Cadien. I am in my personal chambers. If you are within The Longhall, ascend to the ledge above with the throne upon it. Through the central door you will find a passage leading you here.”

Stepping back from the door, Celestine looked to Boudicca before nodding in assurance. Hopefully there would be no escalation from Cadien’s visit.

A few moments later, Cadien entered the room, clad in his golden armour. “Just what were you thinking?” he demanded, his usual smiling expression twisted into a frown, and his brow furrowed in anger. Boudicca, meanwhile, bent a knee.

“Great Caden, I salute you!” she unleashed respectfully. “Please, allow me to apologise on behalf of the sinful amongst my people!”

Cadien gave her a brief glance, before turning back to Celestine as he awaited a response.

Celestine took a moment to give Cadien a curtsey as he entered. After standing, she spoke calmly. ”Boudicca asked for help, and I brought her here to free her from imprisonment. I had planned to open another portal for her to gather her family here in a few moments. Do you object to this? If you have a proposal that you wish to put forward then please do so. I will hear it.”

“Do so, then,” Cadien said. “But after that, we will have words.”

Celestine nodded before turning to Boudicca once more and asking after a few clarifications like before. ”Boudicca, is there anyone or anything else you would like to go get when I open this portal? Do you want my avatar to go with you for protection?”

Boudicca shook her head. “No, nothing must go through from this side. If I’m seen, or your avatar is seen, they will surely kill them all. They, they must be in the great hall by now. If, if you open a portal exactly in by my daughter’s throne, then I will pull them through before any can react.” She bit a nail. “There’s no other way…”

Celestine nodded once again before raising a closed fist before her. Closing her eyes to better visualize where she would be opening the portal, Celestine spoke quickly before she began the process. ”Be quick. These portals are temporary. If you scream for help, I will send my avatar.”

Celestine’s hand opened now, revealing a baseball sized sphere of silvery energy. It was promptly crushed. Seconds later, a portal opened, revealing the interior of the great hall and the throne that Boudicca had mentioned. Reflexively, Celestine backed away from the portal. She didn’t want to anger the lifeblood by being too close to it. They were forbidden from walking upon Galbar in their full power, after all.

Looking to Boudicca once more, Celestine spoke once more. ”Go, quickly!” With that, the former sanndatr threw herself through the portal and into the middle of a great, dark room, lit by a mighty hearth and filled to the brim with men, women and children. Shock froze the room, and Boudicca scanned madly for her targets when she suddenly heard.

“Mother?!”

Boudicca spun, her eyes fixing on a seated young woman, her daughter Materix, eyes wide with confusion. Behind the grossly large throne of firwood and wolfskins stood her husband Aethel, one hand gently holding that of her child son Boudin. Opposite of the throne stood her second oldest daughter, Zelda, and to Boudicca’s right, filling up the entire room from wall to wall, stood the entire Metsep clan. Her brother, Brian, was in the process of kneeling, his mouth frozen mid-oath. The former sanndatr leapt forward and grabbed Materix by the arm and Boudin by the hand. “Come with me! Now!”

Both of them struggled against. “Mother, what are you--?!”

“So -this- is where she ran off to!” came a blade-sharp call from the second row and the crowd parted to reveal none other than Claude du Pierre, heir to the du Pierre clan and as much the bloodthirsty warmongerer as his father. The man pointed at Boudicca and shouted, “Well, what are you waiting for?! She escaped the Temple of the Sun! Haul her back there this instant!”

As her clansmen weighed the option of betraying their former laird and betraying their duty to uphold the Temple Law, Boudicca tried her luck once more. “Stop struggling and just come with me! You’ll be safe in the Bulwark!”

Boudin lost grip of his father’s hand and the expert grip of Boudicca lifted him up into her arms, her feet inching closer and closer to the portal while her eyes shifted rapidly between the rest of her family and the increasing number of clansmen who started agreeing with Claude. “Damn it, Materix! You’ll be killed here!”

“Dad, what’s mommy doing?!” screamed Zelda panickingly. Aethel ran over to his wife and tried to wrestle Boudin out of her arms.

“Boudicca, what’s the matter with you?! You’ll get us all killed!”

“You’ll all die if you stay here!” she retorted and planted a rock-like knuckle into the face of a cousin who got a little too close. She inched closer to the portal and managed to grab Aethel by the arm, pulling him along, as well. However, he pushed her off, and in the action, Boudicca lost her grip around Boudin, allowing for another cousin to snatch him from her. Boudicca screamed. “MY SON!” Vengefully, her fists started hammering their way through the ever-more numerous horde of clansmen trying to overpower her, divine strength matching the mortal power of five men. However, even she couldn’t fight these odds for long. As Boudin, Aethel, Materix and Zelda disappeared further and further behind a mass of people, Boudicca screamed, “SELESTA, HELP ME!”

Celestine’s avatar awoke from its idle state and stepped forward promptly. The sound of a sword being drawn could be heard, and following that a clatter of a scabbard being dropped. Shortly thereafter the cloak it wore was discarded. A second sound of a sword being drawn could be heard. The avatar held its hand aloft, and Celestine tossed her own sword to her avatar. Moments later, it stepped through the portal. Moments after it was through, it let out a scream that nearly shook the great hall. ”STAND ASIDE OR BE SWEPT AWAY!”

If people were stunned as Celestine hoped, the avatar would briefly hold both swords with one hand as it wrapped an arm around Boudicca and quickly pulled her free of the crowd and into the small amount of space that the portal had around it. Holding one of the two swords out to Boudicca, Celestine’s avatar would speak quickly. ”If you wish to continue this effort, here. I will follow your lead in whatever course of action you wish to take.” The clansmen rolled back like a wave, terrified of the avatar’s presence. Just as shocked where Materix and the rest of Boudicca’s family, who had taken refuge behind the throne.

Boudicca swung her sword threateningly towards her clansmen, people whom she had known for her whole life, and they tossed themselves back to avoid her swings. “BACK OFF! I’m not leaving until my family’s safe!” she roared.

“Mother, please stop!” cried Zelda from behind the throne. It didn’t take long for a handful of men and women armed with shields and sticks to make their way to the front, looking as frightened as though they had been tasked with subduing a bear.

Back in Celestine’s realm, the God of Perfection unleashed a frustrated sigh. “Time to put an end to this farce,” he whispered.

And just then, in the hall, a portal opened beneath Boudicca’s feet. She fell through, and it closed immediately.

“Call your avatar back,” Cadien ordered Celestine, with the tone of one who was not open to arguing.

Celestine’s eyes narrowed at the sudden portal, but what was done was done. Her own avatar quickly leaped back through the portal that Celestine was maintaining, and it closed shortly thereafter as well. The avatar tossed the sword back to Celestine, who promptly placed it back within the scabbard hanging at her right side. The avatar collected its scabbard and cloak, replacing both upon its person before backing up to the wall and becoming idle once more. Celestine herself frowned before turning to Cadien with her arms folded and speaking. ”Where have you sent her? My first guess is your realm, but if you haven’t I’d like to know.”

But Cadien had already left the room.



It was a short fall. Boudicca landed feet first on a soft carpeted floor, made of a fabric she had never seen before. She stood in the middle of a great hall, with magnificent furniture the likes of which could never have been crafted on Galbar. There was a great table in the middle, and a marble throne at the far end. Doors and paintings lined the walls. The sword still in her hand, she spun around, eyes scanning all around the room.

“Materix?! Zelda?! Boudin?!” Her breathing could be compared to a drum beat. She sprinted for the nearest window and looked outside to see nothing but an endless blue void and hints of clouds at the bottom over her vision range. A sense of failure and loss grabbed her by the heart and threatened to crush it. She staggered back in a daze and crashed into a weak seat, the sword falling against the carpeted floor beside her. She stared emptily at the ground for a bit before rolling over into a fetal curl and beginning to weep.

Only a few minutes later, the doors of the great hall swung open, and in stepped a tall figure with white hair and golden armour. His resemblance to Evette, the woman Boudicca had spoken to so many months ago, was unmistakable.

He strode across the room to where Boudicca sat, and lifted her sword off the floor. He took a moment to inspect the blade, frowning in disapproval, before placing it on the table. Then he looked to her, waiting for her to speak.

His champion did not hesitate. She rolled onto her knees and let forth a warcry, kicking off from the ground and winding up a punch. However, her body was heavy with sorrow, and the punch didn’t manage more than to push air in Cadien’s direction. She tried again, her fist like a clumsy fly against the god’s golden breastplate. A third fist became the final one as she collapsed down on her knees again, head hanging hopelessly as sobs threatened to choke her to death.

“They did not wish to go,” Cadien said at last.

“... But…” She could hardly speak. “... But why? Why stay? They, they will die if they stay!”

“They were in no danger. One of them was being sworn into a title, by the looks of it. If there comes a time when they are in danger, they can be rescued then. But for now? They are safe.”

“No, shut up! They… They’re not…” She embraced herself desperately and keeled forward. “... My daughter, she, she can’t… Not on her own… My boy, he, he needs me, my-...” She tried to push herself to her feet again. “Open another portal! Please, I cannot leave them alone like this!”

“They are not alone. They have their father. What of him? Did you intend to take his children away from him, and leave him alone instead?”

“Aethel can fend for himself, he--!” She paused for a second. “He has his position with the Circle! Not like my babies, my, my… Oh gods, Materix will… She’s…”

“He can fend for himself, and he can fend for them,” Cadien insisted. “For now. Your separation from them need not be forever. There may come a time when you can return, or when they must be brought here.” Boudicca didn’t answer, busily pressing the tears out of her eyes.

“I will let your family know that you are alive and safe,” Cadien assured her. “This is not the end. Not for you, not for your family, not for your clan, and not for Ha-Dûna. If there is any other message you wish for me to pass on, tell me.”

Boudicca stared at her hands. “Without me, the city is finished… The mórthéins are wicked and corrupt, and our allies are nothing but treacherous fiends… You saw them yesterday; you heard them yesterday.” She shook her head. “Who will lead them if not me?”

“Someone else will step forward,” Cadien said. “They will not be as capable as you. They will lead the armies in the war to come. If they fail, it will be brought to its knees, to the brink of destruction. And if that day comes, they will realize you were right. They will take you back, you will lead them, and you will help them rebuild. Just as you did before.”

“... But what if they don’t? What if, what if they cast me out? What if I’m branded as lawless? They will never take me back then!”

“Then perhaps they deserve to be destroyed,” Cadien said. “If they would turn aid away even during their worst crisis. If they would reject even the gods themselves vouching for you.” He shook his head. “I doubt they will be so stupid. If they lose this war, they will realize their decision to depose you was a mistake, and they will miss the days when you led them.”

Boudicca looked up slowly, a glimmer of hope in her eyes. “... Will, will you save them if they get too close to the fall, great Caden?”

Then, the god frowned. “They have ignored my advice, they have rejected me, they have named me a liar, they have called me a slaver, and they have disgraced my champion,” he said, his tone neutral despite the bitterness of his words. “I will not deny, there is some part of me that wants to see them destroyed.”

“But,” he went on. “I am not incapable of forgiveness. As to whether or not they will earn that forgiveness, that depends on their conduct in the battles to come, and their ability to learn from their mistakes.”

Boudicca looked down. “I pray on their behalf that they will act exemplary…”

“I expect Celestine will arrive here soon. Although her actions may have led to this affair, you must forgive her. She is a young goddess, and I suspect not entirely familiar with the minds of mortals.”

“That, that is to be expected,” the former sanndatr acknowledged. “After all, we are miniscule and irrational - nothing compared to the magnificence that is the gods.” She wiped the last traces of tears from her eyes and bowed politely. “Forgive me, I, I lost my senses earlier. I meant no evil by it.”

“I’m afraid your senses have not been your own for a long time,” Cadien said grimly. He reached out to touch her collar. “You were given this shortly after I gifted you those banners, yes?”

Boudicca blinked and patted the inky collar with her right hand. “Yes, I… I suppose so. It was given to me by Macsal--...” She paused and frowned. “... No… No, it was not. She called herself… She called herself the Lady-in-Waiting. She gave me this. She gave me the collar and told me to take what was mine.” She swallowed. “You, you don’t think that…”

Cadien’s eyebrows rose. For several seconds, he looked at Boudicca in stunned silence. Then, his expression twisted into rage. He pulled something out of his cloak - a rose made from jewels, and looked from it to Boudicca’s collar. His grip on the rose tightened, and he returned it to its place. “I am familiar with the Lady-in-Waiting,” he said at last. “She has stood before me in this very hall. She is no goddess. This ‘Mascal’, I am not familiar with, but I suspect I know their whereabouts. And if I am correct, they have been asleep for decades. If not centuries.”

“I knew she was hiding something from me, I just did not think it would be this sinister…” he whispered, clenching his fist.

“Did, did she do something to me? Master, what does this collar do?”

“It’s a corrupting force. It instills a sense of greed, desire, and blind ambition within its wearer.” He reached out to grip the collar tightly. And then, half of it shattered, ink droplets flying in every direction, splashing some spots on Boudicca’s vest and shirt. Cadien gripped the remaining half, and with a disgusted look he tossed it aside. “No more.”

Boudicca grabbed her neck instinctively and patted around to feel her skin again, which had grown pale and rashed from a lack of exposure to air. She swallowed and breathed in deep. “Thank you, Master,” she laughed in relief, closing her eyes. “... I… I feel it. A peace of mind returning to me…”

“I always found ‘master’ to be a distasteful term. ‘My lord’, will suffice.” Cadien corrected. “Now, until Celestine arrives, you are my guest. You are free to explore Meliorem. All I ask is that you do not speak of the Lady-in-Waiting or what she did to you - not even if the other inhabitants mention her. It’s a delicate matter, and one I must handle myself.”

Boudicca bowed. “Yes, my lord.”




Cadien had left without explaining anything. This caused Celestine to audibly sigh. She’d been doing her best to help as Boudicca requested, but then Cadien had to go and spirit her away. Most likely he sent her to his realm, but Celestine couldn’t be sure. Part of her wanted to depart immediately, but the tone that Cadien had taken gave her pause. She did not want to become an object of irritation to him, and thus decided it would most likely be best to seek council with one of her advisors. Walking to the north side of the room, Celestine pulled open the set of double doors that lay there and stepped out onto the ledge beyond. Closing the doors behind her Celestine approached the mouthpiece to the massive horn that lay embedded within the side of her castle. Inhaling into lungs that did not exist she blew into the horn, causing a reverberating hum to echo throughout her realm. Moments later, a roar answered.

A few moments after that, a great red dragon approached by wing. He pulled back, buffeting the goddess with a fierce windstorm before coming to rest upon the large ledge that had been specifically crafted for this purpose. Letting out a short huff, the dragon spoke with a deep and reverberating voice. ”Greetings Celestine. What is it that you wished to ask my council for?”

Celestine opened her mouth to speak, but froze when she realized that she was no longer the only person standing on the ledge…

A red fox sat on Celestine's feet looking up at her. After a silent moment, the fox's eyes twinkled and a toothy grin snagged on its snout.

"How you?" The words danced around the small mammal.

Celestine looked down at the fox sitting upon her feet with a raised eyebrow. Looking up to the dragon for a moment, Celestine spoke to him once more. ”Please pardon me, Grigori. I have an unexpected visitor. This might take a while, so if you find the conversation boring please do feel free to depart.”

The dragon responded with only a huff as Celestine looked down to the fox once more to speak again. ”Hello. I’m… Busy, I suppose. Who are you, exactly? There are no foxes within my realm that I know of.”

"Well you sort of answered yourself with that qualifier. I'm a fox you don't know of - but I'm also Illyd Dyll among other names." The fox paused. "How you?"

Celestine raised an eyebrow at the name given. She recognized it from not too long ago… The great hall. Where Cadien had given his speech and Celestine had hoped to calm the mortals by heeding their desire to be free of divine rule… That had obviously not worked out like she had planned and things had gone really rather sour. Blinking, she answered the fox again. ”Ah. I believe I remember you. From fairly recently at the great hall. Greetings Illyd. I would curtsey but… You reside upon my feet and it would be rude of me to shoo you away from where you are. Did you have something that you wished to discuss?”

"One might say I'm stepping on your toes." Illyd snickered.. This caused Celestine to tilt her head at the fox and pose a question about what motives they might’ve had. ”And why might you be doing such a thing, if I might ask? Do you gain some benefit from pinning me to this spot? Or are you merely playing a game of some sort?”

"Oh do you like games?" Illyd questioned. "Is that why you play with mortals so often?"

Celestine narrowed her eyes slightly, but shook her head. ”I enjoy tournaments, and other honorable combat exercises. But I don’t enjoy all games. I interact with mortals because that is my purpose. To me, knighting people is as natural as breathing is to mortals. Why do you ask?”

"Not all mortals breathe," Illyd corrected.

Celestine blinked. Now she was growing frustrated by Illyd’s presence. He was toying with how she spoke and in all honesty she didn’t really appreciate that. However, she kept her tone of voice calm as she spoke. ”I suppose that is fair. But still, the point stands. It is something that comes natural to me. Do you take issue with it?”

"No," Illyd hopped off of Celestine and began to ponder around aimlessly. After a sudden sniff, Illyd paused and looked back at Celestine. "Well come on then..." He started to prance away, "Follow the fox."

Celestine raised an eyebrow once again as Illyd began to hop away. What an odd god… But she knew what he was getting at. Cadien had said he wanted to talk, and yet here she was talking to a dragon and a fox. There was a conversation to be had elsewhere, and Celestine looked up to Grigori once more. ”I’m going to be leaving the realm for a time. I don’t know for sure how long it will be. Would you kindly ensure that things run smoothly while I’m away?”

Another huff came, and then a nod. Celestine smiled at the dragon before speaking once more. ”Thank you. I appreciate it.”

With that, Celestine turned and began to follow Illyd.




Qael’Naath

&
Cadien

&
Carn




The wound had stopped bleeding by the time Qael’Naath had arrived by Cadien’s portal. So many strange things - emotions - flowed through him. Was he so tainted by mortality now that he could feel hatred, rage, fear? It didn’t matter. Even logic demanded the downfall of the winged avatar. He couldn’t do it alone though. His avatar was uniquely suited for other things but not combat and with the winged one holding that accursed blade, he needed help. He swallowed his pride as he stepped through the mortal to enter Meliorem. “Cadien!” He shouted, but instantly clutched his chest in pain. No wound should hurt so uniquely but his did. Still, he bit through the pain and said: “I need to talk to you.”

“Qael?” Cadien’s voice could be heard, as the surroundings of Meliorem came into view. The great fortress was just ahead, but Cadien himself could not be seen. “Whatever is the matter?”

“Galbar is in danger. We are in danger!” Qael said as he lifted off the ground and gently floated towards the castle. The pain in his chest eased up. Replaced by something else. A consuming fire he felt within. “I need your help.”

A gold-clad figure stepped through the castle’s threshold. “Hm? Is this about that-” Cadien stopped in his tracks. “By the Lifeblood, what happened to you?”

“My avatar was attacked.” Qael said as he stepped in closer. Under his hood, hidden by the tentacles just peeking from underneath it he tried to offer Cadien a feeble smile. His robe was still bloodied by the attack that transferred to the divine realms. “It’s good to see you brother. I’ll tell you everything but if you don’t mind, I’d like to do so in a better-suited place than outside. There is much to show and tell.”

Cadien furrowed his brow. “This is most unusual, but come in.” He beckoned the god to follow him into the courtyard. He then led him into the castle itself, through the hall of statuary, and finally into the throne room.

Once in the throne room Qael took a seat at the long table. “I’ll assume you’ve noticed the quake on Galbar as well.” He started. “I’ve sent my avatar out to investigate it. The power coming from it was far too much for any sane god’s creation. And the insane ones don’t want that kind of attention I’ve noticed. There I’ve found a winged woman amid a glassed wasteland. An avatar, I believe. In her hands, she held a weapon.” His gaze and tone grew grim. “My avatar is almost ethereal, brother. No mortal weapon should be able to harm it. But that sword did and now my own blood has soaked Galbar again.”

“Again?” Cadien asked. “When was the first time?”

“When we were born I came into being with a fatal flaw. Something anathema to the logic and systems that I desired. In that age of myth, I’ve cut that chaos out of me.” And it took its shape in Qull. She who would have been his nemesis. Luckily, it would’ve appeared the Lifeblood had quickly consumed her. “The wound I’ve made back then is ancient, but it opened again when my avatar was struck by the blade.”

“For someone who claims to be a being of logic, you sure do have a flair for the dramatic,” Cadien commented as he settled into a seat across from Qael. “Do you know whose avatar it was?”

“A growing mortal affliction I’m afraid.” Qael said. “I don’t. Though I suspect she killed the Sun Giant, which caused the quake and the wasteland I’ve found her in. I wish I could say if it was ordered by one of our siblings or if this is simply the case of a runaway Avatar but sadly I can’t.”

“Just how long ago did this happen?”

“Very recently.” Qael’Naath answered.

“And her ability to hurt you through your avatar. Would you say this is a property of the avatar herself, or of her blade?”

“I cannot say for the certain.” The blade certainly pulsed with an energy Qael had never seen before but then again, they were gods. Creators of the ‘never seen before’. He himself had given some the blessings to remain invisible from a god’s eye. What stopped another from creating a weapon that could harm divinity? “I need your help to destroy this threat, brother.”

“Do you know where she is right now?”

“The glass wastes. That desolate wasteland east of the Westfold. For now she seems strangely obsessed with slaying the local spawning creatures. They look like small, glassy golems.” Qael said. “As we speak I have my mortal representative heading out to gather the locals. At least those with the proper affinity for magic. They will be the wardens and rangers of this place.” There had to be vigil over the place. Divine essence was spilled in that place. “So, will you help me?”

Cadien frowned. “Tell me exactly what this avatar looks like.”

“Like a human woman but beautiful to an objective degree. She has horns sprouting from her hair. Horns…that feel familiar.” He had seen those horns before. In his own daughter. They were an illusion then. Now they looked real. His expression under the hood darkened as the thought dawned, but he continued. “She has a set of large wings. Like a Neiyari would.”

The God of Perfection grimaced, as if his worst suspicion had been confirmed. “I know the avatar you speak of.”

“Speak your mind, brother.” Said Qael. His tone matched that of Cadien as he had an inkling as well.

“Her name is Aveira, avatar of Neiya,” Cadien confirmed, with some reluctance. “But that does not mean Neiya was behind this attack. She always had a hands-off attitude toward her creations, and I do not think she would seek a fight with another god for no good reason.”

“You know her better than I do, so I’ll trust your judgement but that doesn’t take away that Aivera’s power is too dangerous to allow to exist. She has to be destroyed, as well as her blade.” And if they couldn’t, then the blade would have to be stored somewhere safe. Somewhere away from the divine realms though. Qael’Naath would not trust that blade to stay with any god. Not even himself. There was only one place in all of Galbar where he would entrust such a relic to. “If you believe Neiya to be innocent, do you believe you can bring her around to that cause?”

“I can speak to her,” Cadien nodded. “I can send my own avatar to speak to Aveira as well. They fought alongside each other not too long ago, and did not part on hostile terms.”

“Be careful brother. She managed to hurt even my avatar. That is no small feat. And frankly, I see no way to resolve this diplomatically. As I said, she is too dangerous to be left alive at this point.” Qael said as he rose up from the chair. “But as with Neiya, I trust you on Aivera as well. I’ll make sure at least the wastes are secured. Come to me if you made headway with either of them. This is not a matter us gods should stay distant of.”

“Of course,” Cadien said. “What about that wound of yours? It will heal, surely?”

“With time, with time.” Qael said as he flashed Cadien a smile from underneath the tentacles and darkened hood. “Last time I tried everything on Galbar to heal me. From the lake in the Luminant to the healing gift of Lucia. Only time closed it. I will be fine.”

“Hm.” There was an awkward pause, before Cadien spoke again. “Another question. Whatever became of that Aurielle girl, after the Battle of Ketrefa?”

For a moment Qael was quiet. Taken by surprise by the question after his daughter. He was well aware that Cadien did not fully approve of who she became. Even when Qael did. “I felt it time for her to learn magic properly. She’s at the Omniversity. Though I’d be lying if I’d say she picked up the art of spellcasting smoothly.” The headmaster trained with her once every three weeks now. It was the most Auriëlle could maintain.

“And what about your own son? Carn, was it? The last images I saw before I whisked away my own daughter put him in a dire position. I hope he didn’t depart to Thaa’s realm.”

“He is here,” Cadien answered. “In this realm. Alive, too. I suspect he may return to Galbar one day.”[/color]

“Can I see him?” Asked Qael. “I want to see what sort of a man my daughter has been giving her heart to.”

“I suppose there is no harm in it,” Cadien shrugged.



Carn sighed. He had been in the midst of another training session, when his ‘father’ spoke within his head, summoning him to the keep. He did not resent Cadien’s influence as he once had, but it was nonetheless tedious that the God of Perfection expected him to come when called, even if he was already in the middle of other things.

So in no particular hurry, he had made his way there. Past the bridge, down the road, up the stairs, through the courtyard, through the hall, and into the throne room. He had been expecting it to be just Cadien, but to his surprise, another figure was present.

“Who is this?” he asked, turning to the figure, noting the bloodstained robes and the stains they had dripped onto the carpet below.

“Ill mannered.” Qael said as he looked at Cadien. Momentarily ignoring Carn before giving the mortal the fullest of his attention. For a second the god of magic was quiet. The glowing eyes underneath his hood saw more than light. Yet when he looked at Carn he saw nothing to like. “There is barely a speck of mana clinging to you.” He said before lifting his legs up and floating cross legged over the ground.

“I suppose it is proper that I give you my name now. I am Qael’Naath. God of Magic. Father of the one you love. Or is it loved these days?”

Carn’s eyebrows rose slightly, and his eyes widened. “Where is she?” he asked at once.

“On Galbar. Somewhere safe where she can focus and ponder upon her greater destiny.” Qael said as he floated a bit around Carn. “She still thinks of you, you know. Even after she turned blind. It’s most odd. She made a bust from memory in your likeness. I can see the similarities.” Then he leaned in closer. “Though I think she got the nose wrong.” He said before leaning back again. “But you haven’t answered my question yet, Carn of Cadien. Is it love or loved?”

“I…” he said, nearly choking on the words. “I don’t know.”

“That’s a most disconcerting answer.” Qael said before turning to Cadien. “Would it be okay if I conjured a pitcher of wine?”

“Feel free,” Cadien said, with a wave of his hand.

The god of magic gave a grateful nod and then turned back to Carn with his arms outstretched. In his left appeared two silver cups. They were unadorned. In his right appeared a silver pitcher engraved with a Oraeliari bending water around her. He poured both cups full and offered them to Carn, taking the other for himself. The pitcher he held a moment ago remained floating in the air as if gravity just didn’t exist. “What troubles your mind when it comes to my daughter?” Qael asked as he sipped the rich, slightly sweet tasting red wine.

Carn was silent as he examined the cup. He brought it to his lips and took a long sip, as he mulled over the question, though it was clear his hesitance was over how to phrase it rather than any actual doubt. “Where is she?” he asked at last. “Is… is she happy? Is she safe?”

“She is not.” Qael said, not the least bit worried about that answer. “You should know her well enough to know that Auriëlle simply doesn’t do happy. Or safe. I ask again: what troubles you about her?”

Carn’s eyes narrowed, briefly, and then he stood straighter. When he next spoke, his voice was filled with new resolve, and it was no longer in short fragmented sentences. “Where should I begin?” he asked. “It has been over a year since I have seen her. I don’t know what happened to her, or where she is. I don’t know how she has changed, or if she would accept how I have changed. I don’t even know if I will ever see her again. An easier question be what doesn’t trouble me about her.”

For a second Qael swirled the wine in his own cup just as he let the words of Carn swirl through his mind. Eventually he let out a somewhat exasperated sigh. He dropped the cup as it started to disintegrate into sparkling dust. The pitcher and Carn’s cup vanished in the same way. “You’re not destined for her.” He said, as he put one hand on Carn’s shoulder and looked him straight in the eyes. [color=a187be]“Move on.”

With those words said he uncrossed his legs and turned to Cadien as his feet still floated a few inches off the ground. “I thank you for your hospitality and I wish you good luck in our shared matter.” Then he floated around Carn to leave Meliorem.




Carn had endured the remark in silence. It was not the first time he had been told that. After Qael was gone, Carn looked to Cadien. “Was this all you brought me here for?”

Cadien shrugged. “He asked to see you. I did not plan this.”

“Are all gods so judgemental?” came Carn’s next question.

“Many are. Of course, you hardly helped yourself, what with that attitude of yours.”

“Do you know of any ones that aren’t?” he asked next.

“A few,” Cadien answered, rising to his feet. “Why?”

Carn thought for a moment. In truth, he was beginning to grow tired of Meliorem. Although he had enjoyed himself, he was beginning to fall into a routine. A repetitive one. He needed something… different. And the only way to find that would be to venture beyond Meliorem’s boundaries, or ask Cadien to create it. He knew which solution he preferred. “I would like to meet them.”

“A dangerous proposition, Carn,” Cadien chided. “Especially if you continue to speak to them in such a manner. Even your fellow mortals would take issue with that, yet alone gods.”

Carn frowned. “So I can’t leave?”

“Oh, you can leave,” Cadien answered. “Just be mindful of what I said. I cannot protect you if you are in another god’s realm, nor will I start any feuds on your behalf if you offend the wrong being. Be polite, be respectful. The songs taught you eloquence and manners. It would be best if you used started using those against people other than them.”

“And if they don’t respond in kind?”

“Do so anyway. You cannot control their behaviour, but you can control your own, and if there is no fault in the way you conduct yourself, you are blameless in whatever comes next.”

Carn frowned. So he would have to grit his teeth as higher beings judged him and talked down to him, without truly understanding him, just as Qael had a few moments ago, and just as Cadien had when he was first brought here. He would have to be polite even if he was insulted or belittled. It was unfair, it was unjust, and it was demeaning. But it was the price he might have to pay, for a little adventure and variety…

“I will depart tomorrow,” he decided.








Carn

30 years after Antiquity...



There was once a boy,
Heir to a village!
Then the raiders came,
His home they pillaged!

His family scattered,
or reduced to ruin!
Cold and friendless,
A storm is brewin’!

He wandered the road
Every day he fought!
The path was endless
He walked without thought!

But he felt empty,
His life was lonely!
Something more he craved
Oh oh, if only!

Alone in the world,
With naught but a sword!
Blind to his desire,
He stumbled onward!

Then he met a girl,
Her hair bright and red!
A kindred spirit,
Together they fled!

But it was not to be,
Too many diff-rent needs!
From him she departed,
To pursue her own deeds!

Then word he received,
Of his brother’s fate!
Believing him imperiled,
And it could not wait!

So he raised a host,
And his love returned,
He marched to war,
For the reunion he yearned!

An army at his back,
In his hand a sword!
Blind to his desire,
He stumbled onward!

But his love had changed,
She was not the same!
And yet he was blind,
To what she became!

But he was to blame,
Not for her own crimes!
But for his inaction,
He turned a blind eye!

His objective reached,
His quest nearly complete!
A city he sieged,
Its leader he did entreat!

They met at the gate,
But he was misled,
There had been no danger,
The city his brother led!

An army at his back,
In his hand a sword!
Blind to his desire,
He stumbled onward!

Taken by surprise!
They both made a plea!
Too stubborn to yield,
Neither could agree!

But his men and his love,
They urged him to fight!
Afraid to lose them,
He foolishly complied!

An army at his back,
In his hand a sword!
Blind to his desire,
He stumbled onward!

Their loyalty unwavering,
His army attacked!
First through the breach,
No time to look back!

An army at his back,
In his hand a sword!
Blind to his desire,
He stumbled onward!

Under the spring sun,
Brothers’ weapons crossed!
Stronger was his foe,
And the fight he lost!

Saved only by the grace,
Of divinity’s aid!
Defeated and broken,
On his mind it weighed!

He realized his folly,
But was it too late?
Nay, for he still lived,
And could master his fate!

Found a home at last,
No need for his sword!
Self-aware at last
Found a life he adored!




Carn took a breath as his fingers strummed the last few notes on the lute. Once finished, he took a bow, and the crowd of Songs gathered before him applauded, with a few sighing theatrically. He had not thought his self-deprecating tale would be so moving, yet here he was.

“What do you all think?” he asked, once it had died down.

“Oh, excellent!” one Song exclaimed. “Very emotional, and the music was flawless!”

“The lyrics could use some work, though,” a Songman suggested. He casually leaned against the wall, with red hair and blue skin. This one Carn recognized - he was named Liamas, and it was he who taught Carn how to play a lute. In exchange, Carn had taught him how to wield a sword.

“Oh don’t be so harsh,” the Song chided, even as everyone else nodded along at Liamas’s words. She walked next to Carn and placed a hand on his shoulder. “It was his first song!”

Liamas offered a languid shrug in response. “It’s honest criticism. Besides, he shows no mercy in the sparring arena, so why should I show him mercy here? Only way for either of us to improve.”

“He does have a point,” Carn nodded. “Though your own praise is appreciated,” he added, placing his hand over hers. The Song blushed slightly. He released his hand, and she stepped away.

“Speaking of which,” Liamas went on. “We have another session soon, don’t we?”

Carn nodded. He had almost forgot - it was hard to tell time in this realm. “I believe we do.”

“Ah. Will Nekara be joining us today?”

Nekara was one of the Neiyari. When they were first brought to Cadien’s realm, Carn had been asked to help train them, and test his blade against a few of them. That had reawakened his interest in swordplay. Nekara had quickly proven herself to be one of the greatest fighters of the lot, and Carn had begun to duel with her more frequently. “She will,” he nodded.

“Ah, excellent,” Liamas smiled. “I will melt the ice around her heart yet.”

“You couldn’t melt a snowflake,” a cold feminine voice retorted, as a Neiyari stepped into the room. Her hair was black, her eyes green, and her figure slim but muscular. She had needed to turn sideways in order for her light brown wings to fit through the doorway. “Not even if you were on fire in the middle of summer.”

Most of the Songs gasped. Liamas staggered and clutched his heart as if he had been struck by an arrow. “Ah! You wound me, my lady!”

Nekara looked Carn in the eye. “The others have already gathered,” she said. The ‘others’ being a couple of Neiyari, as well as a handful of Songs who had also expressed interest in swordsmanship. “Early, I know, but if you’re finished here there’s no point in keeping them waiting.”

Carn nodded. “Right then. Let’s get to it.”






@Blackmist16
I'm sorry to say it, but one of the gods already has a Corruption portfolio. And two gods cannot have the same portfolio.

As for the evil domain, I should probably tell you that quite a few gods already deal with that theme. Two gods have the sin domain, and another has the tragedy domain. Gods can have similar or even the same domains, of course, but it's something to keep in mind. If you still wish to stick with the domain, you should define it a bit better, and also fill out the rest of the character sheet.
Carn

&
Cadien

28 years after Antiquity…




Three days had passed.

No word from Cadien. No news of what had happened from Galbar. Three days of enduring the hospitality of the songs.

It was far from unpleasant. In truth, some part of him was actually beginning to enjoy it. All he had done was set a condition that he didn’t want to hear any songs about himself or the war he had fought. The food was good, as was the music - even if he was reluctant to admit it. The other types of performance were endearing too, in their own ways. The plays sought to emulate reality despite being nothing like it, yet that carried its own sort of charm.

And yet, he could not fully enjoy himself. Despite the comforting words of Shae, his failures and those he had left behind still hung in the back of his mind.

He sat on a cliff overlooking the sea, practicing motions with his sword: elegant yet efficient strokes he often used in combat. From time to time he would take a break and gaze out at the horizon. Now, one of those breaks had just come to an end.

Carn rose to his feet and drew his sword once more. He fell into a stance and resumed the familiar patterns of strokes. Shae had joined him a few times, watching his movements with interest and commenting on how he ‘didn’t flow’ quite right, whatever that meant. She had risen, taking the sword from him and staring at it - looking completely out of place in her delicate hands - and imitated his movements. It was odd at first, she did not know quite how to hold it and so Carn had shown her, and when she danced with it again it looked both beautiful and deadly - like a cobra snake dancing to the flute of one of those wandering southerners he had seen once, or a leoness gyrating on air before turning suddenly and plummeting towards its hapless prey.

She was not here now, though. She was practising for a play and had wanted him in it - as himself. She had been subtle, but it had ended in a bout of squabbling and now he was here. Strangely enough, he felt some regret for turning her down. But there was no way he could imagine himself standing on a stage and reliving his own actions, following a script divorced from reality for the entertainment of people who had never been there.

He pushed the thoughts on his mind and focused on his training. Swinging, lunging, parrying, and blocking against imaginary foes. If only he had a partner. Even if he would have to hold himself back, as he had whenever he sparred with someone on Galbar. It was then that a dark thought crossed his mind. Was his skill in swordsmanship truly due to his own skill, training, and experience? Or was it yet another of the many gifts Cadien had bestowed upon him?

The thought angered him, and he felt his movements come sharper and his brows furrow. But after a few moments Cadien’s words came to him - “Did you not resent what little sway over your life I already held?” It gave him pause. He had not really thought about the exchange since, now that he had calmed and the anger of the moment was gone. Was it true? Was this anger evidence of that? Even now he wished to be free of his father’s shadow - and yet he blamed him for not being there when he had been free. His brows knotted and he started moving again. What did he want?

He thought of all the things he had ever wanted. Wealth? It was nice, but ultimately just a means to acquire other things. Power? No, he had chafed under the burden of leading an entire army. His desires had never been material. Fame? That had its perks, but it also led people to expect things of him. Then he finally placed it: the most prominent motivator throughout his life. The one he had strived his hardest to achieve, and had nearly ruined himself when he couldn’t have it.

Acceptance. Love. Family. Companionship.

He had wanted to please Aurielle. When she rejoined him, his march against Ketrefa had been as much to impress her and keep her with him as it had been to rescue his brother. His desire to rescue his brother had been genuine too, until he found out Brundt was already in service to the enemy. But before that, he had been hoping for a genuine reunion.

After he had been parted from his family, but before he met Aurielle, he had been alone. A wandering vagrant who dirtied his hair so he wouldn’t be recognized. A boy who pickpocketed, begged, and stole to get by. Then as he grew older, he fought and killed. He became good at it, and even enjoyed it, but he hated the life it forced him to live. Living in filth or on the road. Never staying in one place, and never having any friends or loved ones he could trust.

Aurielle and the Redspears were the first people he had spent more than a month with. No wonder he became so fixated on her. No wonder that, to this day, turning his back on the mercenary band they had built was still one of his deepest regrets.

Was that it, then? Was that all his motivation boiled down to? A lovesick fool who wandered the world desperately seeking out what few souls were willing to put up with his blunders and crimes? He lowered his sword, suddenly losing his energy for the practice. The hilt slipped from his fingers, and the blade sank onto the grass. He stepped forward, and looked down at the sea below.

What would happen if he jumped? Would Cadien save him again? If not, would the songs miss him? He clearly didn’t fit in with their little world. All he brought with him were troubles Cadien clearly didn’t wish for them to be exposed to. They’d move on.

Then, the question rang in his mind again: what did he want?

He had failed to find his place on Galbar, and he was failing to find his place here. Did that mean a place didn’t exist for him?

No. It did not mean that. Because he had only ever looked in one place. He had only ever done the one thing he had been good at. He had never tried to see if he was good at anything else. What sort of fool behaved the exact same way over and over again, and then became surprised when the world refused to accommodate him? As he looked down at the water, he knew he did not wish to die. If he died now, he would die a failure; a flawed, broken, and blind man. That was not what he wanted. That was not what anybody who cared about him would want.

What he really wanted was a second chance.

But such a thing would not simply fall into his lap. It was something he needed to earn. Resentful as he was about his circumstances, bitterly lamenting about them would not change a thing.

He turned away from the water, and walked back toward the town, leaving the sword in the grass.



The next few weeks were spent getting adjusted, both to life in Meliorem and the company of the Songs.

The clothes were strange, the foods were strange, the people were strange. But they were strange in a good way; so much better than anything Carn had encountered on Galbar. Then there were the performances; so much more refined, complex, and eloquent than anything he had seen on Galbar. He had heard that nobles from the cities enjoyed such things, but he had never seen anything like that in person.

In time, the plays and the poems and the music eventually began to grow on him. He found himself liking them, though he still refused to listen or speak about his own ‘adventures’, even if they could be called that.

It was nice, not having to worry about always looking over his shoulder or fearing that he would be stabbed or robbed in his sleep. Not having the pressures of command on him, as everyone looked to him for leadership. He was safer and more comfortable than he had been in years.

But as comfortable as he was, he could not pretend everything was alright. He missed Aurielle. He missed Yarwick. He missed Ingrid. He needed answers.

So, he marched up to Cadien’s palace to demand them.



“Ah!” Cadien exclaimed as Carn stepped into the throne room. “You have returned!” One look in Cadien’s eyes told Carn that was exactly what the god had expected to happen. “Tell me, how are you enjoying your stay?”

“Well enough,” Carn replied warily. “Aurielle. Yarwick. Ingrid. The rest of my men. What happened to them?”

The god’s smile faded, but he did not frown. “Yarwick and Ingrid are alive. Aurielle, I don’t know where she is. She vanished from the field of battle. I suspect her maker’s involvement.”

“Who made her? Where did he take her?” Carn asked at once.

“The God of Magic,” Cadien replied. “And no, I don’t know where he took her.”

“Can you find out?”

“Perhaps. If Qael chooses to tell me. I could ask, of course, but last I spoke to him on the matter of his daughters he was a bit… nevermind.” Cadien leaned forward on his chair. “But trust me. You are better off without her.”

Carn’s hand curled into a fist. “And what gives you the right to decide that?”

“I am the master of this realm,” Cadien replied. “No, I am this realm. I have a right to decide who comes or goes. She would not be well-suited to this place. She is volatile, and destructive. Perhaps if she had not changed so drastically since when you first met her, I might have tried to bring her here alongside you. But alas…”

“She hasn’t changed that much,” Carn protested, though he knew that was a lie. Yes, the woman he had come to love was still there on the surface, but she had become more callous, cynical, and bloodthirsty than ever before. He had known it even on Galbar, but he had blinded himself to it.

“You know that isn’t true,” Cadien chided. “I tried to convince her father to steer her onto a better path, you know. I don’t think he listened. I suspect other gods have ties to her as well, and their influence has not been for the better. To court her is to court destruction, if not to yourself, then to others. Is that truly what you want?”

“It doesn’t have to be that way. I can…”

“You can change her?” Cadien asked. “I’ve been observing mortals for millennia. They always think they can change their friends or their loved ones. Sometimes, they succeed, but on most occasions? They don’t. In the worst cases, all they do is create a rift. Do you think this Aurielle is one who will listen to reason, or be moved by emotion? She tried to destroy a suit of armour, simply because said suit of armour had a female voice and had been in your vicinity.” His mouth curled into a frown. “You owe that suit of armour an apology, by the way.”[/color]

Carn glared at the god, but said nothing. Cadien stared back. Eventually, Carn broke the gaze and looked down at the floor. “You’re right…” he whispered, as a sudden sense of grief and heartbreak overcame him. The things she had done. The things he had overlooked. The way things could have been instead, had she not changed the way she had. The knowledge that there was nothing he could do, because beings of far greater power were invested in his and her fates.

It all came back to the gods. The all-seeing, all-powerful beings who held sway over creation and destruction. The beings who had denied him a simple life. Who had separated him from his family.

He couldn’t even bring himself to feel angry at this point. Too much had been taken from him. Not just him, but all mortals.

Then, Carn heard footsteps, and looked up to see that the God of Perfection had risen from the throne to approach him.

“I did not wish for life on Galbar to be so horrendous,” Cadien admitted. “There needs to be challenge, yes, but not so much suffering. Ketrefa was a source of great suffering, and your war against them was meant to put an end of that. Either you would make an example of them, take control and change things yourself, or your own brother would pick up the pieces and fix things from within. But it was… foolish of me to use you in such a manner.”

Carn looked Cadien in the eye. “How do I know this isn’t another trick? That you’re not just saying what you think I want to hear?”

The God of Perfection frowned, and then gripped Carn’s wrist. Suddenly, Carn’s surroundings faded away, while new images and feelings overwhelmed his senses.

He found himself standing before a crowd of primitive humans, clad in furs or nothing at all. Next he was flying through the stars, on the back of a great winged beast, looking down at Galbar below. The shape of the world was round, like a sphere. How could it be round? Then he found himself embracing what appeared to be a pale merelli, except they were both hovering over the open ocean. Next he saw the creation of the merelli, with that same woman from before present. Following that was a feeling of boredom and isolation, as he languished on a throne.

No. He wasn’t himself. He was Cadien. These events were through the God of Perfection’s eyes.

And finally he came to the present. Carn, as Cadien, was looking at himself through Cadien’s eyes, and speaking with Cadien’s lips. And he, from Cadien’s perspective, knew it to be true.

Then the vision faded, as Cadien released his wrist and Carn was back in the throne room. He nearly lost his balance, but Cadien’s hand came up to his shoulder to steady him.

“If you speak the truth…” Carn whispered, “then make it right.”

“I shall try,” Cadien said. “I cannot account for the influence of the other gods, but I do not intend to give up on my work simply because of a few miscalculations. You no longer need to worry about Ketrefa. Brundt will see to it, and I will guide him with more transparency than I did you.”

“And what of the men who followed me?”

“I will encourage the Ketrefans to show mercy to those who survived. As to those who didn’t… I have a plan. It will be a long time before I see it enacted, but I intend to turn this place into a refuge for the souls of fallen warriors. Their sacrifices will not be unawarded or unacknowledged.”

Carn wiped a tear from his eye. “And what of me?”

“Your work is done. Your fight is over. You may rest here, if you wish. And when the time for the rest of your siblings has come, they may rest here too.”








Cadien

&
Yllis




Another routine walk of Antiquity. Cadien first began by scanning the surroundings, to see if anybody was present. No. Then he approached the noticeboard, to see if it had been updated. No.

He sighed. This was an ideal public space. It really ought to see more use…

Suddenly two sets of footsteps echoed through the mostly empty Antiquity, growing louder and louder as if they were headed straight for Cadien. As soon as it became obvious that someone was walking towards him, he turned around slowly and deliberately(??), immediately catching the gaze of the two… Twins? That had come up to him.

The twins, pale as ghosts, wearing all black and a chainmail shirt as well as heavy boots took in Cadien’s appearance slowly and then cocked their hips. For a second, Cadien wondered if he was actually looking at two people or at just one that was being reflected by some kind of invisible mirror.

”Hey,”
”Hiya,”

They said at the same time.

”What’s up with your armor? Kinda flashy don’t you think?” One of them asked, letting her eyes rest his chestplate.

”Yeah! Yllis and I were worried you might blind someone just by walking around. But listen, I saw the noticeboard earlier and well,” The other sighed, something the first one mimicked before taking over the sentence.

”I was surprised you know, seeing a brat’s drawing posted there. It’s a public area you know? Do you know whose kid it was?” She finished, the two crossing their arms at the same time and looking at Cadien’s face with a raised eyebrow, their tails brushing against the floor absent-mindedly.

“I believe I know who posted it,” Cadien nodded. “She has neither been seen nor heard from in decades, though. I never did find out the full story, but I assume it must be rather tragic.” He sighed. “But let’s put such topics aside, for now. I’m Cadien, the God of War and Perfection. Who would you be?”

The girls pursed their lips for a moment, then shrugged, their chainmails tinkling with the movement.

”Yllis.”
”Yllis.”

”What do you do as the God of Perfection? Do you paint portraits of me all day long?” One asked, then her eyebrows twitched and the other one elbowed her in the side, both of them slamming their tails onto the ground, perfectly synchronized. ”Ow!”

”That was super lame, Yllis!”

The first one then cleared her throat, a light tinge of red painting her cheeks. ”So uh, do you uh… Like girls who use tons of eyeliner?” She asked and immediately buried her face in her palms. The other one groaned and slapped her own forehead so hard she almost knocked herself out.

The God of Perfection stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Hm. I suppose that depends. There are people who already look good naturally, then there are those who are able to improve themselves through artificial means. Natural beauty would be the ideal, but make-up can have its own appeal as well.” He smirked. “Why do you ask?”

Again they crossed their arms, ”A-Anyways! Do you know who else lives around these parts? I’m new here, only escaped the clutches of the perverted semi-sentient slime a little while ago and I’m trying to get a lay of the land. I met this really weird guy called Illyd already...” She trailed off.

”Weird doesn’t even cut it!” The other one continued, ”He made me blow his kazoo and then he put the air that came out the other side into a jar. Who does that? Only a pervert does! At least you’re not telling me to blow on anything...”

”I guess that’s to be expected, you do look very uh… Well groomed? So you probably are only a pervert to guys.”

Cadien furrowed his brow. “I’m not sure what you’re implying, but as a God of Perfection and Beauty, I must be able to appreciate the physical form of all genders. You, for example, chose your form rather well. It is good to know that so many other deities share my preference in hair. I believe I have started something of a trend.”

The girls seemed to perk up a little and came a few steps closer to Cadien, their tails rubbing against each other’s and intertwining. ”Really? Hm... They hummed as they slid closer and closer to Cadien, up to the point they were pressing their shoulders together and just a foot away from the God. The two had red spreading all over their cheeks as they tilted their head up to look at Cadien, with one of them still having the red mark on her forehead from when she slapped herself.

”We could use a tour,”
”We could use a ride,”

They said, their faces offering no actual expression beyond their blush. Not to mention the intense ‘wrestling’ their tails were engaged in.

“Well, I would be happy to show you around,” Cadien nodded. “Though I’m afraid I must limit such a tour to Antiquity, and my own realm. It would be rather rude if the three of us simply barged into the other gods’ homes. I can also answer any questions you have afterward.” The girls smiled a little and nodded, then turned towards each other, pressing up together.

”We get to see a trend-setter’s home, Yllis?”

”Yeah, Yllis.”

”That’s like, so cool. What do you think we’ll see?”

”Dunno. Maybe more armour, maybe a box full of toys? PERFECT toys, mind you.” She snickered, then the two of them turned their head to face Cadien again as they firmly wrapped their arms around each other, their cheeks touching as they looked up at the God with wide, sparkly eyes.

”Bet you would like to dress us up, you fence-hopping knight.”
”Bet you would like to undress us first though, you flute-playing perv.”

Before Cadien could deny either of those assertions, they pulled apart and stepped back.

”Not really feeling it, Yllis...”

”Yeah… The memories of slime time are still fresh. Maybe later.”

”We do have time, Yllis. Maybe later.”

After a moment of staring at each other, they chuckled and turned to Cadien, stopping their tails from playing with each other.

”So? Let’s begin with the tour.”

Cadien blinked. He wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this two. One was a god, and the other was an avatar - he could tell as much by their auras. Their manner of speech was strange, as was their bickering with one another. He wasn’t sure when they intended to deliver a compliment, an insult, or both. His offer for a tour had been genuine, but they seemed to have different ideas.

Luckily, the conversation had been immediately steered away, sparing Cadien the trouble of having to correct them.

“The space we are in now is known as Antiquity,” Cadien explained, waving a hand to indicate their surroundings. “It serves as a central hub between the divine realms, but it rarely sees any use these days. The other gods mostly prefer to keep to themselves, and some are rather eccentric. Speaking of which, what type of god are you? What is it you hold power over?”

”Uh, the good type?” Yllis cocked her hips again.

”But to answer your question butter boy, don’t we all hold power over practically everything? Though honestly I feel like helping awaken civilizations might be more of my thing. It might come easier and more natural...” The one trailed off, scanning Cadien’s extremely golden and shiny armour again. ”Like style, because clearly I have enough sense not to wear all gold. What would you do if some Divine Thief steals all your sets of golden armour, huh?”

“I could just… make more. After punishing the thief, of course.” Cadien furrowed his brow. “That’s assuming they could even steal from me at all. And it’s rather rich to be criticized for wearing gold by someone who wears all black. Now then. Shall we continue?”

[b]”H-hey, black is stylish, it goes with everything. Specially black. Right, Yllis?”[b]

”Very true, Yllis. Besides he already said he likes eyeliner, and that’s black… So there we go. Anyway, let’s get going. Show us the good stuff, snowhair.”

“Hm. This way, then,” Cadien said as he turned and made his way toward his realm’s portal.



And so, Cadien showed them his realm. He showed them his fortress, with its statues, throne room, and paintings. He showed them the Song Village, with its various features and the inhabitants. He showed them the Hussars, who were training in their black armour. He even showed them a few of the other islands, meant to house the souls of fallen warriors.

When all that was done, he returned to the main island. “And that’s about it,” Cadien said. “There are many more islands, of course, but I’m afraid we do not have the time to see them all.”

The two women, having grown slightly unresponsive over the course of the tour, twirled small locks of their hair with their fingers and raised an eyebrow slightly at Cadien. ”We don’t? Are we keeping you from something important? Your artsy song girlfriends waiting awake for you to come back home and have dinner with them? Last I checked, we have all the time in the world.” One said with a light huff which was imitated by the other, tails flicking erratically behind them.

”There’s some cool things here, like the armoured people, but I do wonder...” The other began.

”It being the realm of a Patriarch of Perfection and all...” The first hummed aloud.

”... Where’s all the fun? The thrills? You have soldiers here but nothing for them to die to. You have the souls of your little broken galbarian toys around, but they do nothing of importance all day long. Don’t you think they’ll grow bored after a year or two of doing the same things every day…?”

”I agree with Yllis. They looked well, a little bit dead. What’s the point of an afterlife if you’ll be forced to do the same things for an eternity? Might as well be reincarnated into Galbar...”

”At least then they’d have the chance to experience new things without being forced to be ‘happy’ or ‘fulfilled’, you know? Life is all about the hardships and the bumps in the road! There’s no point anymore to continuing if you know it’s all going to be fun and games forever.”

“I believe you’ve made a few too many assumptions,” Cadien frowned. “The Black Hussars are here as a reserve force to be deployed anywhere on Galbar when they are needed. The souls who dwell in this realm as an afterlife do so by their own choice, and I am currently working on giving them more things to do. They aren’t being forced to feel anything.”

”Ah!” One of them gasped, covering her mouth and looking at Cadien with a mock expression of surprise.

”So snowhair, you’re telling me you do not trust the little people down in Galbar can protect themselves just fine, and that they should not be subject to the consequences of their choices, both good and bad? I see that you’re a fan of armour and weapons so I’ll give you a neat little example...”

Cadien gave them a hard stare. “Again, you make too many assumptions. I never said that I did not trust them, nor that they should be immune to consequences. Don’t be absurd.”

Yllis’ eyebrows twitched and their tails froze for a moment. ”If you have them ,that means you don’t trust our little people. The one being absurd here is you, snowhair. Would you look at that, the God of Perfection being so hurt by me telling the truth that he interrupts me before giving my example!” Yllis said, with the other one smirking slightly as they crossed their arms.

“Again with the assumptions. Their presence here has nothing to do with trust. Their species was created by someone I care about. Said species was given a curse that would have inevitably resulted in their extinction. I brought a portion up here so that some members of their race would be preserved, for the sake of the one I love. I send them to Galbar to serve as soldiers specifically so they have something to do, because they are a warlike species, and I do not deploy them in just any battle.”

Yllis pursed her lips, then shrugged. ”Whatever. It’s super lame that you house bums in your realm just because some buff guy seduced you to, in any case.”

“Guy?” Cadien frowned. “She’s not a man, oh Goddess of Baseless Assumptions.”

”And you’re the God of Assuming others are assuming things, aren’t you? I’ve seen your face you know, there is no way you keep that relaxed, serene expression without at least having three guys to tend to you at night. Trust me. Also your nails are too well taken care of. Everyone knows a perfect male form has some ruggedness. AND,” Yllis took a breath.

SHE, if she is even real, made a species of warlike people, got them cursed, and you swooped in to keep them alive as soldier slaves? I am super sure that that can’t be ethical. Where’s the God of Divine Human Resources, I need to report a breach of the code of conduct. Specifically clause 6, you shall not be a loser who interferes in Galbarian matters out of sexual attraction to an omnisexual being.”

“She was not the one who cursed them, and I did not take them by force - they chose to be here. And it’s rather rich to say I can’t interfere when I was only responding to another god’s interference. Now, shall there be anything else?”

”It’s not that you can’t interfere, it’s just that bringing them here takes all of their agency away. No point to living if you know you’ll be perfectly safe. I wonder how long until they all kill themselves out of boredom.”

”But hey, at least they’ll be safe. Right, Yllis?” The other one asked, sticking her tongue out slightly at Cadien. After a moment, the two turned away and began to walk the way they came, just to bump face first into the unyielding abs of one of the Hussars.

Immediately one of the two pulled away and looked up at the chiseled jawline of the man they’d bumped into. Their long tails started wagging enthusiastically as this Yllis placed her hands on the man’s abdomen and glared up at him, her cheeks and nose practically burning red. ”Loser. You’re a loser! Should’ve faced your des...” She trailed off as soon as she heard sniffing coming from beside her, ”ti...” She turned to see her other half with her face still pressed against the man’s plate armour and sniffing with her eyes closed. ”... For fuck’s sake!” Yllis practically growled as she pulled her other half by the ear.

”Owowow! What’s the deal, Yllis?!” The other one whimpered, receiving no response as the first one dragged her around the Hussar and back the way they came, their voices gradually growing fainter.

”You are so damn disgusting, Yllis-”

”I could almost catch a whiff though! I swear he had just finished working out and I wanted to-”

“A pity,” Cadien said as they departed. “We might have been friends, were it not for your blind self-assertion.”

And that was the last that was seen of them before they disappeared through the portal. At which point the Hussar sighed and knelt before Cadien, head low.

“My Apologies for showing myself before you while so disheveled, my lord,” There was a short moment. An almost inaudible tremble came into the Hussar’s voice as he spoke his next words. “I must however report that Yunari has crashed into the Captain’s hut while training and somehow destroyed it and lit it on fire…”




Cadien

&

Neiya




It was an unremarkable day in Meliorem. Cadien sat upon his throne, an unusual level of boredom having set in. He simply wasn’t in a mood to spend time with the Songs. Although he had prayers to listen to, few of them were particularly important or interesting. He sighed in disappointment as he heard another noble praying for strength and beauty despite doing nothing to earn it.

Boredom would not last however. A rumble rocked the long untouched door leading to Neiya's realm. It shook and vibrated with relentless effort, its divine construction not enough to stave off the tide of change on the other side, and it threatened to rattle off of its hinges. Finally, the pressure became too much for the poor portal between realms, and it furiously swung open as far as it could. With it came iridescent mists of different colors and a pressing heat, a drastic shift from the chill winds of yore. The tumble of hurried feet caught Cadien's ears, though he could not yet sense the presence of another deity. Out of the mists came a horned silhouette, a slender woman in rich garments; silks and jewelry. It took a moment to confirm - this was not Neiya, despite the likeness to her tailed and horned supple form that she had previously worn. Her skin was a warm red hue and her eyes shone with the color of blood. Another two women stepped out into Meliorem, pale blue and grey respectively. They too resembled Neiya in vague senses, though each had their own shape of horn and tail. They glanced at each other before staring up to Cadien and giving the red one - who had promptly started staring about the throne room in awe - a shove with an elbow. She collected herself quickly and cleared her throat.

"O', for the journey was long, bequeathed upon us now must be a lovelorn fury extinguished," she called with as theatrical a voice as she could muster. "So to whence the Queen has come, once more shall the halls rejoice with Her splendor." Content with her performance, she bowed deeply before Cadien, quickly joined by the other two.

“Where is she?” Cadien asked, quickly leaping from his throne, his expression anxious and concerned.

"Behold and be calmed, great purveyor of pride. The Queen comes, dignified and distinguished." The woman continued and stepped aside to gesture towards the mists. As promised, a fourth shape approached from the depths of Neiyas realm. This time, it quickly became clear that it was the love goddess herself, holding the same form as when they had first met. She hovered into Meliorem with purposeful grace, content to play the part of returning royalty.

Cadien stepped forward and embraced her. “Neiya,” he whispered in relief. “I could not access your realm. I had feared the worst…”

The goddess leaned into the embrace, gingerly touching her head to his shoulder. "I am sorry for worrying you, my love. I was a prisoner of my own emotions." she conceded with a sorrowful tone.

“What happened?” he asked in concern, stroking her hair.

Spoken just loud enough for the assembled women to hear, the red-skinned one took it upon herself to answer as melodramatically possible. "'tis a tale of hardship and woe. A realm torn asunder by passion and drive brought low," she professed with wistful yet captivated oration. Neiya raised a hand to silence her, but her rhetorically skilled entourage was so caught in her own words that her eyes were closed. "The Queen has suffered and endured the throes of war, blessed creation with innovation beyond imagining, and taken up the mantle of love once more. Indeed, nary a tale can match--"

She turned to swift silence with a quiet grunt as her paler comrade jabbed her in the side with yet another elbow, and she opened her glowing red eyes to sheepishly behold the crowd. After a few moments of awkward silence, Neiya took it upon herself to reply. "I… I had a fight with Gibbou. That's where it began.

Cadien had not expected that. “I’m here for you,” he said, after a few moments of silence. “Tell me what happened.”

Neiya sighed softly and broke away from his embrace, gaze cast to the side as she lifted into the air. She took the opportunity to glide further into Meliorem's center, languidly extending a hand to touch a pillar as she answered. "She… accosted me in Antiquity. I was-... upset, the Life Goddess cursed my Neiyari." she turned in the air to regard Cadien, and extended her hand towards him instead. "I lashed out, and she wished nothing but harm upon me. It was unavoidable."

He took her hand. Instead of replying, he floated upward and wrapped his arms around her once more.

The horned goddess wrapped her arms around him in turn, and slowly let her head touch against his. In doing so, she decided against words, deciding for the first time since their meeting to impart memories instead. This time there was no torrent of unruled emotions - only Neiya's own experiences. Flashes of emotion and anger turned to reflect the vicious brawl in Antiquity in short but palpable snippets, together with the seething frustration she had felt. Her sorrowful eyes closed, and the visions instead took to her realm tearing asunder in response to her wounded pride. Shame, hurt and guilt with no true context. Unbridled anger and wounded pride. Mountains broke and the sky warped to something malicious and seething.

In response to all this, Cadien gripped her tighter. Whether this was to comfort her, or himself, or simply a result of the anger she was now making him feel, was impossible for either to say. The shared experience lingered yet, as Cadien got to experience eyes in the dark, and Neiya's own realization that she has created things in her fury. Her surrender to the torrent, and submerging into the negative emotions of Galbar.

Then, a ray of light. The sun goddess appeared, and though no words were shared, Neiya shared with him an implicit guilt that also had little context for the God of Perfection. A shame that helped steer her from further violence, and a blinding light with overpowering sadness. The memory turned to giving the horned women - Furies - sentience, and after Oraelia's departure, clothing and teaching them the ways of the world. The memories subsided, and Neiya lowered her hand. Then, after a few moments, she cautiously spoke a simple question. "Do you think there is such a thing as change?"

Cadien’s eyebrows rose. “Change?” he asked. “Of course. We’ve all changed. You changed me, when we first met. The Separation changed us all. And… I’ve watched you change, over the years.”

Neiya settled deep blue eyes on him, a forlorn expression imprinted on her features. "Tell me."

“Your appearance. Your demeanour. You conducted yourself with more happiness, more charm. You were more eager to enjoy yourself. At first I was happy for you…” his voice trailed off, as he thought of his next words. “But then I realized the change was more than just appearance and demeanour. You seemed more distant. At times, you felt like a stranger… I began to miss who you had once been.”

The goddess watched him with a quiet fascination. As he explained, her lips pressed together into a thin frown. "You don't like who I am." she concluded with a quick, sighed comment. "No wonder you painted those days."

“Don’t say that,” Cadien objected. He moved back and took her hands in his. “I love you, Neiya. I just wish… I wish we would support each other more. I wish you would tell me more of your troubles, and allow me to help you. I wish you would stand by my side as we build beautiful things together, like we did with the Merelli all that time ago. I want us to protect each other’s creations against those who would destroy them. Because you can create - I know it.” He leaned forward to kiss her cheek, then whispered into her ear. “I want to be there for you when you need me, and for you to do the same.”

He leaned back again, and brought a hand to her cheek. “But I’m getting ahead of myself. What do you want, my love?”

Neiya exhaled sharply and averted her gaze, shooting a hurt look deeper into the throne room. "I'm-... I don't know. There's always so many things, pulling in every direction." she breathed eventually. "I'm… trying something new. To be better."

“Then let’s try together,” Cadien said.

She breathed another deep breath and lifted a hand to lay against his chest. "I'd like that." she murmured quietly, gaze sliding across the halls. "Your hall is quiet today."

“I wanted some time to myself,” Cadien admitted. “I know you don’t like them, but the Songs are still out there. I brought some of your Neiyari here too, after I found out they were cursed - I thought it would be the best way to ensure your creations were preserved, in case the curse was never broken.”

Neiya perked up briefly on mention of her Neiyari, but fought to maintain her graceful composure. "You honour them." she began, and hesitated for a moment before continuing. "Oraelia came to me, and the curse is lifted. A first step, perhaps. Old wounds closing. I'm hesitant to hope for lasting peace."

“It did seem a bit too far, to put that curse on them in the first place,” Cadien nodded. “But from what I’ve heard of Oraelia… war isn’t her way. I suspect that’s why she only made them infertile, instead of something more drastic. Anyhow, I’m sure the Neiyari here will be pleased to hear they can have children again, and their kinsmen on Galbar will not die out. Do you wish to tell them yourself?”

Neiya stood silent for a time, pondering the question. In the background one of the horned women murmured something, only to be shushed by her comrades. "Do you think they would like me? I've never spoken to a true Neiyari after their creation." the goddess eventually managed.

“There is only one way to find out,” Cadien said.



Leaving the trio of Furies behind, the God and the Goddess floated across the open sea, toward the island Cadien had created for the Neiyari. It was during this journey that Neiya would notice several other islands as well, all of them empty. “I intend to bring more inhabitants into my realm,” Cadien said. “Those who embody my values, or give their lives in my name. They deserve a fitting reward upon death. Your Neiyari, on the other hand, are quite alive.”

They reached the island with its white stone village, and its vast green field. The field was already beginning to fill up as the Neiyari rode out of the settlement on their impressive steed. As Cadien set foot on the ground and led Neiya toward them, the winged cavalrymen formed a line. Their expressions were stoic and disciplined, but as Neiya came closer they shifted toward a mix of surprise and reverence.

Dakari rode out in front of them, and drew a sabre of solid sunlight. “Salute the War Mother!” he ordered, and despite the unexpected sight of their goddess, the Black Hussars complied immediately, drawing their weapons and flourishing them into a salute with uniform precision.

Dakari, meanwhile, dismounted and knelt as they approached. “My lady,” he said, his eyes downcast. “You have graced us with your presence at last.”

Neiya swept forward with elegance, exhaling with a renewed tranquility. Her eyes examined each and every one of them, before settling on Dakari. She drifted over to hover before him, and extended a hand towards his face. Gentle fingers moved to touch at his chin and tilt his face upwards. "You have waited for a long time, have you not?"

Dakari, usually self-assured and confident, hesitated. And then nodded.

The horned goddess leaned forward in the air, exhaling a long and sensuous sigh that seemed to whip away on the wind to carry throughout Meliorem and beyond - all the way down to Galbar to reach the ear of each Neiyari. "You were never forgotten, my child. I have watched and warred for your fate in the realms. A destitute and childless fate awaited, but my love has seen the hex lifted. Rise now, with neither curse nor hesitation. For your War Mother." she crooned with motherly affection, before listing forwards to plant a gentle kiss on his forehead.

Dakari rose. Many Neiyari sent envious stares at his back. Others seemed relieved, finally breaking discipline to slouch in their saddles, as if a great burden had been lifted from them… but then they remembered where they were, and who stood before them. They straightened up again.

“You have my infinite gratitude, War Mother…” Dakari said, bowing his head. “But… what of Oraeliara, and her spawn? They were the ones who did this to us. What will be their punishment?”

Neiya's lips pursed slowly and her expression returned to a taut and impassive face. "For their crimes I sang a song that crippled their very will to live. Worry not about the affairs of gods, young one, but of your duty. I see devotion in you. I see why my beloved invited you."

Dakari fought hard not to smile, but ended up beaming with pride regardless. “You honour me,” he said.

Neiya twisted a momentary smile, non-committal and barely perceptible. "Honour me in turn, my child, and nothing will ever stop you."

Cadien stepped up beside her. “You are all dismissed,” he declared. And with those words the Neiyari reluctantly peeled away, some lingering briefly to continue looking at their Goddess, only to eventually move on. Dakari himself mounted his horse and proceeded back toward the village.

“You handled them well,” Cadien said, once they had dispersed.

Neiya watched the mortals slip away with a distant smile, thin and forlorn, a quiet fascination not unlike that of a mother watching their children set out into the world. After a time, she exhaled slowly and brushed aside hair from her face. "Mortals wear their thoughts on their sleeves - but thank you. I hope they cherish this meeting."

Again the goddess sighed, closing her eyes briefly to ponder the moment in peace, before turning to Cadien with new purpose, and lifted her chin as she drifted towards him. Her arm moved to slide around his, and she clutched him close elegantly. "Do you want to watch the ocean?

Cadien smiled. “Of course. Let’s go.”

The goddess nodded in turn and tugged gently on his arm as she drifted in a direction directly back towards the ocean they had traveled over. Watching the ocean turned out to mean flying out over it, with Neiya not content to stop until the islands were mere features on the horizon, and the two lovers were alone with the slow ripple of the open water. Coming to a stop out there in the middle of nowhere, Neiya repeated an ancient tendency and leaned her head on his shoulder, putting her weight on Cadien as her blue eyes fell on the equally blue ocean. Cadien wrapped an arm around her waist, and the two remained there in silence.









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