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The Palace was an… unusual change of scenery, to say the least.

On one hand, the confined space offered Karamir a sense of security. If he was in a hallway, he only had to worry about what was directly in front of him or directly behind him. If he was in a room, he could put himself in a corner and nothing could sneak up on him. On the other hand, the confined space was… well, confining. Despite their security, the walls felt restrictive, and with the endless rooms and hallways, it would be easy for him to get ambushed, or lost.

In fact, he was already lost.

This did not bother him, however. No, what bothered him was the possible dangers or tricks that might be lurking around every corner. K’nell had assured him there were no dangers beyond his own mind, yet if K’nell was anything like Diana, deception was a very real possibility. He could not afford to lower his guard. He frequently looked behind him, he investigated the source of every shadow, and every noise made him do a double-take of his surroundings.

All the while, he contemplated K’nell’s question, and Diana’s plea. “What do you want to happen?” K’nell had asked. But to answer that question, Karamir would first need to know what he actually wanted. “Stay with me,” Diana had urged, rather suddenly and unexpectedly. He wondered why. Did she truly care for him, or did she only wish to continue his suffering? It was probably both, in truth, but still. He cared for her too, in a way.

It was strange, not having Diana with him. No soft humming. No vicious remarks. No unnatural feeling of discomfort. Yet somehow that only served to make him feel even more uncomfortable. He had lost track of the exact amount of time he spent with her, but he knew it was most of his existence.

Secretly, Karamir realized that might be another reason for his caution and vigilance. Relaxation felt almost wrong somehow, and he was keeping himself on edge because he was used to being on edge.

In one exceptionally small room, there had been a strange object on a wall which reflected Karamir’s appearance back at him. He had changed. He was thinner, dark circles hung under his eyes, and a single thin crease ran across his forehead. Kalmar had told him that in time his body would age and eventually die, but this… to look like this so soon somehow felt wrong. Had her actions taken a greater toll on him than he realized?

The theory was certainly a sobering one, to say the least.

He turned away from the mirror, and continued onward. He stepped out of the room, and followed another hallway, before stopping at yet another door. There was nothing unique about this door; nothing to set it apart from any of the others, but he decided to open it nonetheless.

Stepping through, however, nearly convinced him that his confinement was all but over. The room was large and had a ceiling so high, he wasn’t sure how he knew it was even there. In the distance his vision was absorbed between infinite rows of wooden bookshelves. The dark wood stretching deep into the sky and trailing into the distance in rows. The crushing smell of old paper tickled Karamir’s nose, as did a tinge of damp mold. The only noise was a hollow breeze, and the tiny toots of a distant panpipe.

He furrowed his brow at the sight. What purpose did this room serve? There were so many shelves, and the things on the shelves… what were they for? Why were there so many? At random, he plucked a leather-bound tome from one of the shelves and opened it, to examine its contents.

A flittering of strange symbols floated over the page, arranging themselves suddenly. His eyes widened and then shrunk, as if focusing on them when suddenly he heard the words in his head, just as his eyes floated over the symbols.

’Why does your existence matter?’

Karamir blinked at the message. He glanced up at the ceiling, and then back down at the book. I don’t know, he thought to himself. Why does your existence matter, strange leathery… thing? And with that thought, he read on, flipping the page. His brow furrowed, the exact same runes were on the next page as well, as if pressing the question.

’Why does your existence matter?

Karamir pursed his lips, and began to flip through the pages, yet each page said the same thing, save for the last four pages -- which were blank. His expression shifted to irritation as he shut the book, and he concluded that, while he did not know why his existence mattered, he at least knew that it mattered more than some worthless object on a dusty shelf.

He returned the book to its place, and hesitated. Would the one next to it be any different? Then he shrugged. What did he have to lose by checking? So he grabbed the next book. This one was much heavier, with thick yellow pages sticking out of a leather clad cover with metal hinges. Letters he couldn’t understand were gilded to the cover, yet he opened it anyways.

This one was very different than the first, with tiny letters scratched endlessly over every inch of the pages. He squinted, the letters actually looked very similar to the runes from before. Here and there his mind seemed to decipher them, the very first few reading: ”In the beginning… there was only the smoke...“

Karamir wasn’t entirely sure what that was supposed to mean, but at least it wasn’t as frustrating as the previous book. He kept reading. His eyes were forced to skip over the words he couldn't understand, until he found similar runes once again: ”...was a paradise, but its perfection would not last. One day Stenmur was out looking for…

And who was Stenmur? He knew he was missing parts of the story. Why was it that he could understand some runes but not others? How did he even understand any of the runes in the first place, when he had never seen them before? He skimmed ahead, searching for the next readable section.

His quick search yielded a few more segments: ”...the valley, and Stenmur was drowned in the onslaught of chaotic smoke, his body… ...Wherever this great army marched, so too marched the taint as… ...The Sondoper and Precursors aided second, followed by the rest of the newest and…”

Smoke? Army? Taint? Precursors? What did it all mean? Had this already happened? Was it a warning of what to come? Or was it complete nonsense? Karamir didn’t have the faintest idea, but perhaps if he kept reading he would find out.

His eyes darted quickly, eager to find more segments: ”...way to the anvil of creation they had gifted to Stenmur, and together they bled upon its surface… ...The Champion was a being of pure harmony, radiant like the sun, and traveled on angelic wings while plated in an armour colored like the stars… ...While saved… ... would never be the same…”

Karamir decided he would fill in the blanks. These ‘Sondoper’ and ‘Precursors’ had clearly found some sort of anvil they had previously gifted to that ‘Stenmur’ person, who was presumably dead, and for some reason they all decided to bleed on it. Then a champion appeared, for some reason - perhaps because they bled on an anvil? Whatever an anvil was. Anyway, something was saved - presumably either Stenmur or the previously mentioned paradise - yet it would not remain the same. Understandable, he supposed, considering one of the previous lines quite literally said “its perfection would not last.”

Satisfied that he had solved the mystery of the segments thus far, he turned the page and searched for more. The pages grew thicker with words and finding segments became a little more difficult but he managed to find a footing eventually after passing a particularly decorated page: ”...Naturally the prominent leaders of the mortal army that had fought alongside their now hidden creators… ... also political power houses of the time, it is the policies of the Silver…”

Now Karamir was lost. Leaders? A mortal army? Politics? Silver? None of these concepts had been introduced previously, at least not in the parts that he was capable of reading. Any attempts to connect them would be sheer guesswork, but perhaps future passages might contain the answers. He read on.

Unfortunately the writing fell into the unintelligible language that seemed to restrict him so, save for a few lines mentioning a place called "Garthil" and a group of adventurers known as the "Praxian Storm Guard" but whatever context they were in was lost in the runes. He flipped the pages, but he was only met with more unknown words and bizarre pictures of half-bull half-men creatures.

Karamir frowned in disappointment. He shut the boot, and returned it to its place on the shelf. Ultimately, if he had to sum it his thoughts on the book with an arbitrary number and a quote, he would give it a “three out of five; it was okay.” Still, it was clearly an improvement from the previous one. So without wasting time, he grabbed the next book.

This one was a forest green and a lot thinner than the last, which was promising. The cover was blank and as he slipped it open, he was met with an intricate diagram filled with patterns and unknown symbols. The pipe music from before grew louder as he opened it and suddenly a near juvenile or very high pitched adult voice called out in his own language.


Karamir shut the book and looked up, instinctively raising the thin tome as if it had been a weapon.

The voice was now muffled, "You dope! Open the book back up!"


Realization slowly came to Karamir’s face, and then, reluctantly, he opened the book.

The voice was clear again as the book opened back up to the large diagram, "That's better! Much better, yes."

“Who are you?” Karamir demanded, uncertain what to make of this. Afterall, the other books had not spoken.

"My name is… er… well you know it's been quite some time-- how about you just call me Keibrik. That sounds fancy enough." There was a pause, "Say, you don't happen to know how to perform sorcery do you?"

“Perform what?” Karamir blinked.

"Oh I see, not quite there yet are we. That's fine…" There was a gentle hum as if a thought was forming, "So get this, just by chanting a few silly words and doing a few gestures (also quite silly) you can make me poof! Right out of this book. You look like the kind of guy who needs a friend, or at least I'd assume such, all alone in a library at this hour."

Karamir narrowed his eyes. Mere words and gestures could allow a mind to escape from a book? That sounded strange, to say the least, and it also begged another question. “Wait… how did you end up in this ‘book’ anyway?”

"Listen, I'll be honest with you, I'm sure I had a damned good reason to put myself into a book at some point but void be damned if I could remember why. I suppose that may also be a side effect of other unpleasant factors of my existence but hey, you can alleviate all that." There was a pause, "Trust me, I'm smiling. The friendly kind."

“So you put yourself in the book but you can’t get yourself out?” Karamir asked. “How does that work?”

"That seems to be the case and trust me, I'd love to tell you all about it but again, my memory is a bit foggy at the moment. So what do you say, do me this favor?"

Karamir glanced up at the ceiling. K’nell… he prayed. Why does your ‘library’ have someone trapped in a ‘book’? he asked, the words still somewhat strange and unfamiliar to him.

"Ah, Keibrik," K'nell snapped the book shut, somehow standing next to Karamir, the book in his hands rather than the mortal's, "That's an interesting conundrum where neither the book nor Keibrik currently exist." The book suddenly disappeared, "However, I have a feeling you two would have gotten into some interesting scenarios."

“Can he be freed, as he said?”

K'nell flashed a smile, "But of course, however…" He pointed his finger and where Karamir's vision fell, there stood a tall man with long black hair streaked with white, tight black robes covering his body.

"...He can also have never been trapped to begin with," K'nell nodded at the man and Keibrik rolled his eyes. K'nell flicked his wrist and with a blink, the man was gone again.

“Where did he go?” Karamir asked, taken aback.

"You'll have to excuse this answer, perhaps one day, if not right now, you'll know exactly what I mean when I say: everywhere," K'nell folded his elbows square behind his back, "Shall I leave you to your studies, or do you have further need of my hospitality?"

“Can you bring Keibrik back? In book form, or in… normal form?” Karamir requested.

"Very well," K'nell answered and with a mind numbing blink, Keibrik once again stood next to Karamir.

Karamir briefly glanced at Keibrik, and looked as if he was about to say something, but then looked back to the shelf. “One more question… why can I only understand some parts of that book, but not others?”

"The simple answer: because there is just enough of it for you to read and capture your imagination that way, without accidentally telling you far too much," K'nell kept his arms folded, "Dreams are strange beasts and sometimes the simplest answers are needed for the most cryptic moments."

“I see…” Karamir said. So there was knowledge in that book he was not meant to know? Secrets? Perhaps it was even more important than he thought. He would need to reread it at some point, but there were so many other books to see to as well. “That’s all I needed to know for now. Thank you.”

"But of course," K'nell smiled, "Then you'll have to excuse me as I tend to some other things." With that the god swiveled on his heels and began to walk away, far down the rows of shelves.

Karamir turned back to Keibrik. “What else can you tell me about yourself?”

"Oh you know," Keibrik mused as he snapped into the conversation from a daydream, "I don't really exist and mirrors can't see me. Also I used to get into spots of thievery back in the day."

Karamir narrowed his eyes. “Thievery? What do you mean?”

"Oh it just means I collect things people leave lying around," He grinned, "Sometimes they put them behind doors, but with a name like Keibrik, does that really matter?"

“I see… and I take it they don’t want you to collect these things?”

"You know," Keibrik snapped and pointed a finger at Karamir, "I never really took the time to ask them, but that may explain a few things." His eyes scanned the shelves, "So what's this: we are standing in an infinite library and instead of reading, we are discussing me and the mood of poor saps who leave things lying around."

Karamir crossed his arms. “You asked if I knew sorcery. What does that mean?”

"Oh no no, the Keibrik in the book asked if you knew sorcery -- I don't care either way… but since you asked it's pretty much exactly what I said, waving hands around while chanting funny stuff and bam silly things happen." He pinched his chin, "But I wager that sort of thing is still beyond the denizens of your existence. Odd too, considering it all."

“Any creature with hands can wave their hands around, and any creature that speaks can chant,” Karamir told him. “I don’t see how that can do anything beyond draw attention to yourself.”

"Well paint me corrected," Keibrik nodded, "I bet there are plenty of sorcerers out there." He moved away from Karamir and began to thumb through some of the books, making a face at each title.

“Have you read any of these?” Karamir asked, picking a new book from the shelf.

"Considering my contact with your existence is less than five minutes old, maybe," He pulled out a book of diagrams and began to flip through it. Karamir looked down at his own book -- it was a picture book of strange humanoid beings made of wood or water.

Karamir flipped through the pages, pausing momentarily to examine each one. “What’s the difference between you and ‘the Keibrik in the book’? Aside from one of you being in a book, I mean.”

"Don't stretch your head too hard on this one, but the Keibrik in the book doesn't presently exist in your existence, but I do -- to a degree at least. I mean, no," He slapped his book shut, "I don't exist, but presently I'm here." He shook his head, "The moral of the story is that I'm here and me in the book is not -- no thanks to your tattling. You know, that was a rather minor reason to pray to a god for help over, I'm surprised K'nell showed up at all. I suppose better safe than sorry." Keibrik shrugged and shoved his book back on the shelf.

“I didn’t ask him to take the book away,” Karamir said, rather defensively. “I just wanted more information before I began tampering with his things.”

"To anyone other than a thief, that's a very noble statement. Unfortunately I think you just learned a valuable lesson in that sometimes there are unseen consequences to each even minor action. Maybe Mr. Careful should have thought about that before tampering with it," Keibrik slipped out a thin book and flipped to the middle, a wide grin growing on his face.

“Do you know why the ‘other you’ was in that book?” Karamir asked, not quite liking that grin.

"Nope," Keibrik answered simply, "best not to question every fabric of nonexistence, that's what my mother used to tell me. Well she would have." He flipped the page in his book, eyes flickering over the page.

Karamir turned another page, to another picture. He looked back to the book that Keibrik held. “So what’s that one about?”

"It's the family portraits of the members of the Heinrich dynasty during the last separate Jerrovian age," Keibrik turned the book to show him, on one side there was a tall black haired man wrapped in soldierly regalia, the other page held a particularly fetching woman dressed in silk.

"I'd say history is easy on the eyes," Keibrik commented.

“I see,” Karamir said. “What is this ‘Heinrich’ dynasty?” he asked as he closed his own book and returned it to the shelf, before grabbing another that seemed to cover the existence of an ecosystem in the Galbarian skies.

"To you and this existence? Utter nonsense," Keibrik shook his head, "Doesn't mean a guy can't take a peak though." He shut the book and slipped it back on the shelf and opting for another.

"But-- oh hey!" Keibrik thumbed his book open and showed Karamir, a portrait of Karamir on the title page, "This one is about you!"

“What!?” Karamir dropped the book he held and seized the new one from Keibrik’s hand, quickly turning a page.

Sure enough, the book chronicled his time since he left Kalmar up until the very moment he found the book. Keibrik leaned over his shoulder and scanned the text, "You need to learn to be more assertive -- ironic considering that you ripped that book right out of my hands."

“I am assertive,” Karamir countered.

"Oh yeah?" Keibrik made a face and pointed at a small portrait of Diana in the corner, "Then explain her."

“What about her?” He asked. “I was washed out to sea, I woke up on a floating umbrella and she was there. I couldn’t swim back to land, and I wanted to leave Kalgrun anyway, so I had to stay with her. We then arrived at a new land that was somehow even more dangerous than the one I left.”

"Okay but check this little fact out," Keibrik nodded, "You had fifty years to leave her side, already blessed with not only the ability to defend yourself but the knowledge to survive the Galbarian wilds. You stayed with her. Trust me, I met women like that aplenty, all trouble."

“I…” Karamir began, but his voice trailed off. Could he have survived on that continent? He had seen the types of beasts that resided there, and even with his abilities and his knowledge he hadn’t been certain they would be enough. Had he underestimated himself? He closed the book.

"Exactly," Keibrik took a step back, "Maybe it was a lack of confidence, maybe assertion, but either way I'm hardly ever wrong about these things."

“You frequently encounter stories about people who find themselves stuck with literal living nightmares?” Karamir asked in a rather sarcastic tone.

"Yes I've met married men," Keibrik gave a wheeze.

“Married? What does that mean?” Karamir asked. He went to grab another book from the shelf, but kept his biography under his shoulder.

"Ah so not quite there yet either. Enjoy it while it lasts but unfortunately it's when a man or woman pledges their life to another man or woman -- in a reproductive sort of way." Keibrik raised his brows as if checking out his own definition before nodding. He quickly scooped up the book Karamir had dropped, opening it up to a thick chapter about sky whales.

“I can’t reproduce, so there’s no reason for me to do something like that,” Karamir muttered as he opened the latest book, finding an amazingly sketched landscape of deep forest, a blinded sealman holding a small child's hand. Underneath chronicled their story.

"That's the spirit," Keibrik chuckled as he flipped a page, "Galbar has some pretty fascinating skies."

Karamir did not reply, instead reading the story about the blinded seal, with a range of emotions. Was this something that actually happened, or was it another tale from a different existence? “How do I know which of these books are about Galbar, and which aren’t?”

Keibrik looked over his book briefly, "That one is Galbarian, call it instinct."

“Why would something like this happen?” He asked, his expression shifting to one of confusion and a touch of pity. He had known pain, but he had never been cast into the wilderness without eyesight. Nor had any guide ever tried to rescue him from one of his predicaments… well, there was Diana, but she had been the cause for the majority of his pain, in truth.

"Isn't that a question worth asking," Keibrik mused, "If I had the answer to why there is suffering-- well wait a minute." Keibrik pinched his chin, "So here is the thing -- you are in an interesting situation where you can ask the creators of your world why there is suffering… although now that I say it out loud I think I know what they would say."

“‘Suffering makes you stronger’” Karamir said. “That’s what I was told. But I don’t see how this," he gestured to the book, “makes anyone stronger. He came out alive, but without his sight - what did he gain from that?”

"Hey I think you may be asking the wrong man," Keibrik held his hands up, "I'm a decadent loving son of a bitch."

Karamir returned the book to its shelf, and grabbed another, his expression still unsettled. Once again, he opened up to the first page, finding a tasteful and delicate story of a lovesick sailor and wistful noblewoman from some desert.

Keibrik shrugged and deposited his book in favor of another labeled, "The Hermian Calendar".

Karamir looked up. “Hermian… Hermi… Hermes… I heard that name before, I think…”

"Probably," Keibrik thumbed through the pages, "She is one of the big and famouses of Galbar." He looked up, "Beat Kalmar in a footrace according to a short bio in the preface."

Now he remembered. “She didn’t beat him. Her sandals did.” He wasn’t enjoying the book about the sailor and the noblewoman, so he returned it to the shelf in favour of a different one titled "The Angry River," which covered the creation of the 'Nuhe'.

"Semantics," Keibrik turned the book on its side as he looked over some of the charts presented in his own book.

Karamir already knew how the Nuhe was created, so after briefly skimming it to confirm what Kalmar had told him, he returned it to the shelf for yet another. Interestingly enough, this one was written in rather messy shengshese characters and depicted the various wildlife of Tendlepog.

Keibrik looked bored and slapped his book shut, sliding it back into the shelf while he decided on what to look at next.

Karamir briefly glanced at some of the sketches, but he couldn’t read the writing and so it wasn’t of much help. “Each book seems less interesting than the last,” he commented as he put it back to grab another.

"You know," Keibrik looked over, "It would help if we decided on what we wanted to read first so we could grab books we are specifically interested in."

“Something about the gods, or the people they created, maybe.” Karamir said. “I think that’s what I’d prefer.”

Keibrik smirked and suddenly the spines of the books changed colors. The thief put a finger on one, then slowly rolled it to the next and then the next, reciting as he went, "Let's see… history of the Selka… Creation of the Ihokhurs… The Dreamers… Pygmies --- wait Pygmies." Keibrik laughed, "Well okay, I guess we are just going to ignore that questionable naming convention."

"Enjoying yourself, dear?" The all too familiar voice echoed behind the pair. Keibrik was the first to spin around. His elbow nudged Karamir.

"Oh look, now's your chance to be assertive."

Karamir raised his eyebrows as he turned to Diana, a sight that somehow managed to be both comforting and distressing. “I am,” he said calmly. “Why?”

"I thought you were supposed to be contemplating a big decision," She turned to the books and ran a finger over them.

"Escapism is the best medicine," Keibrik winked in Karamir's defense. Diana narrowed her eyes and Keibrik's smile disappeared.

“I contemplated,” Karamir answered in a vaguely guarded tone. “But I still haven’t decided yet. Why are you so interested?”

"I'm bored and curious, and the longer you take the longer I have to wait," She answered, "I thought the decision would be simple, after all we are friends... Of course friends want to stay with friends."

“How many years did I spend with you?” Karamir asked in a neutral tone.

Keibrik nodded his head, but began to go through the books by himself, putting an open book between him and the conversation. Diana raised a brow and smiled, "Why only fifty years, dear Karamir. A drop in the pond."

"And do you know how long I’m supposed to live?”

Diana cackled, "How silly. Karamir you can live as long as you and I want. What you were supposed to do has nothing to do with it."

“I found something, you know. Something that reflected my own appearance back at me - like water, but it was solid. I haven’t spent enough time with anyone that I could compare myself to, but somehow I feel like I’m aging faster than I should.”

"Oh foo," Diana's face turned to a smiling pity, "I fear you may be growing paranoid."

“You have given me reason to be paranoid,” Karamir pointed out.

"Well of course, I'm your best friend aren't I? But really Karamir, I feel you are reading far to into a mirror. Certainly not the basis for a decision," She waved a hand dismissively, "Why don't you leave the books and come to have a chat with me over something to drink? We can settle your nerves and get you in the right mind to make your decision."

Karamir considered those words for a moment. Several tense seconds of silence passed, and he sucked in a breath. He briefly looked at Keibrik, but before Keibrik could respond or do anything, he looked back to Diana. “Even if I did stay with you, what would that mean? Would I remain here forever?” He gestured to one of the books. “There’s an entire world out there. Some part of me does want to stay, and I do consider you a friend, but... “ he took a breath. “Fifty years. We crossed continents and oceans, but I feel like I travelled no further from where I started.”

"Karamir you're being silly," Diana sneered, "Of course we won't stay all cooped up. There is plenty to do here and out there. I like to think our time we spent together wasn't so easily thrown to the side as…" She wiggled her nose in thought, "Well quite so worthless as you seem to put it."

“When you call me a friend, what does that mean to you?”

"Oh I see what this is about," Diana's brow fell, "You don't think I mean it when I call you my friend, do you? As if I decided to spend fifty years with someone who wasn't a friend of mine. Now Karamir, don't you think you already know exactly what I mean when I call you friend? Now come." She began to turn away, "Let's talk this over elsewhere."

Karamir did not move. “I think I know what you mean, but I’d like to have it confirmed.”

"Oh Karamir, do you really need to stoop for validation?" Diana folded her arms, "You're being quite ridiculous, and I mean more so than usual."

Still, he did not budge. “Why can’t you answer my question? That’s what a friend would do, isn’t it?”

Diana closed her eyes, her lips spreading into a wide toothy grin, "So that's what a friend would do, hm? Or would the friend be particularly hurt that you would ask such a question after all you've been through together." She gritted her teeth together and finished her turn so her back was to Karamir.

Somehow, that actually managed to make him feel guilty. “Most of what we’ve been through… was you hurting me.”

"If you didn't like me, you didn't have to stay," Diana didn't turn to look at Karamir.

Karamir took a breath, and when he spoke next, his resolve had returned. “What made you think of me as a friend? Why did you save me. Why didn’t you leave me when we first arrived on that continent? Why didn’t you leave me when you had to come here? You say it’s because we’re friends. I see you as a friend because despite everything else, you saved my life and you helped me when I needed it. What I don’t know, is what you see in me.”

"Don't be so self absorbed, Karamir," Diana hissed over her shoulder, "I said you were my friend; the least you could do is at least attempt to sound like you might want to stay with me." She folded her arms behind her back, her boots clicking as she started to walk away.

And then the guilt threatened to return, but Karamir pushed it aside. “For someone who can read minds, you don’t seem to have a grasp of what I want. I do want to stay with you. But I also want knowledge. I want power. I want a purpose. If these four desires conflict, then I have to choose one over the others. Why do you think I didn’t decide right away?”

"Oh dear," Diana sucked in a breath and turned, her smile strained, "I'm just trying to help, Karamir-- that's all I've ever done for you if you would just take a second to think about it."

At this point Keibrik had put an even thicker book between him and the conversation.

“I will make my decision when I am ready,” Karamir concluded. “I am thankful for your help, but I will decide this on my own.”

"Of course you will," Diana smiled, "The choice is yours… Isn't that right Keibrik?" The man peeked over the book, catching Diana's sickly stare. The avatar flickered her eyes back to Karamir.

"Well, I suppose I should make my leave then, leave you to it." Diana mentioned idly as she checked her jagged nails. Karamir nodded.

Diana raised a brow and spun on her heel. She didn't say anything as she began to walk away, that strange hum echoing from her. In a few seconds, she was gone, leaving nothing but an air of discomfort in the room.

For a long time, Karamir was silent. Did he handle that situation correctly? Had he been right to argue with her in that way? He looked to Keibrik. “Well?” he asked.

"Well you stood up to her," Keibrik lowered his book and slapped it shut, "How do you feel?"

Karamir shrugged. “I don’t feel any different,” he lied.

"Well damn," Keibrik looked shocked, "It's not my problem and even I felt a little something-something from that encounter. Either you have a steel trap for a head or a hunk of stone for a heart. No judgement, probably better off that way -- as I said, women like that are nothing but trouble."

Karamir sighed. “It’s not your business, anyway.” He needed to get his mind off of it, so he looked to the shelf, and began to think. The last time he decided what type of book he wanted to read, the books on the shelf had changed. An idea suddenly occurred to him… and he decided he wanted to read the book that the other Keibrik was trapped in.

A book beside him suddenly shifted, turning into a thin leather bound spine. Keibrik plucked a different book (a thin green one) from the shelf, "You know it never really is - my business that is." He looked over as Karamir went for the new book, "But then again you're the one who asked me to be here."

“I wonder… could two of you be in the same place at one time?” Karamir suddenly asked as he opened the book. Runes skittered across the page spelling out: "Why does your existence matter?"

Keibrik held open his green book, showing the runic diagram from before, "Yes, I suppose I can." He mused, his voice echoing from the book. He slapped it shut and it disappeared once again. Keibrik leaned against the shelf, "I don't know if you had gotten the spiel yet but this place is quite endless with possibility." He paused, "Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it is endless on our whim -- trust me I've tried many times and I've only been in this existence for maybe a half hour."

“How much do we have control over?” Karamir asked.

"Void be damned if I knew, but what I do know is that our control likely isn't as quantifiable as you'd like," Keibrik stood straight, "In other words, we don't really have control as much as we have arbitrary allowances… we are completely at the whim of… well… You know who."

“I see…” Karamir said, suddenly that much more uncomfortable with where he was. He looked around. “If I were to leave this room, and go to some other area of the Palace, would I be able to find my way back?”

"Hey, maybe," Keibrik shrugged, "But if it's a little jaunt around the palace you propose, then count me in. This room is starting to make me feel a little down, that Diana sure knows how to leave an air of presence."

Karamir nodded. “Then let’s go.” With his own biography still in hand, he turned and made his way to the door.

Keibrik twirled a cane that Karamir hadn't noticed before; the thief looking about ready to start whistling a tune. He stopped by the door and tipped his head, "And after you."

Karamir opened the door.



MP:02 FP:08


Diana’s boots tapped against black stone as she landed. A wind-ridden Karamir was unceremoniously shed from her arm, the mortal’s eyes opening once they no longer needed to be shielded from the violent wind. He took in the surrounding crooked trees and imposing black platform he now stood on. There were little floating orbs of different faint colors, and a red dawn sky above. He sucked in a breath, and his chest twisted with a new feeling: pure melancholic nostalgia. It was cold against his heart, having gotten used to the emotional barrage of Diana, this new feeling was alien yet familiar.

“What is this place?” he asked, his eyes fixating on one of the orbs, as he attempted to ignore the feeling.

“The entrance to Limbo, my dear,” Diana pinched her sharp chin and closed her eyes, as if taking in the scent, “The sacred entrance.”

“But what is Limbo? And what’s so sacred about an entrance?” After all, Karamir thought, an entrance was an entrance. What was so special about one, beyond where it led?

There was a tickle in his mind, and Diana suddenly laughed, “I think you answered your own question for once, how useful!” A toothy grin stretched across her face, “You should make a habit of that.”

“So it’s just an entrance, then.” Karamir concluded. “How does it work, and what’s on the other side? You still haven’t told me what this ‘limbo’ is.”

Diana’s smile faded and was replaced by one of boredom, “Well it was nice while it lasted, yes?” She pushed a hand forward, the ungodly force pushing Karamir over and directly into the platform -- but before what would have been a body shattering impact occurred, everything turned white.

He couldn’t see. He couldn’t smell, He couldn’t feel, nor taste. All he could do was hear, and all he heard was a terrible high pitched ringing. Minutes turned to years, until finally the familiar touch of Diana’s hand wrapped around his wrist. There was a gurgling cackle, as if he was underwater, and then suddenly a yank on his arm.

His body was flung out of a puddle, landing hard on a cobblestone path below. Facedown, his hands groped at the stone, the experience of touching something solid feeling alien to him. The experience of feeling anything felt alien to him. His mind was in disarray, unravelled by the transition, and all he could do was lie there and continue stroking the cobbles, an expression of what appeared to be awe on his face.

“Oh foo,” Diana’s voice rang above him, her boots in his peripherals, “I had forgotten that you have the mind of a mortal, silly me.” She fell silent for a while, “Well don’t be too long, we have an appointment to keep.” She muttered to herself, boots clicking away from Karamir, “Mortals and their squishy little heads.”

Karamir looked up at the woman who spoke, and memories came rushing back. He was filled with rage, and suddenly there was a feral look in his eye. He leapt to his feet and charged at Diana, screaming an unintelligible cry of rage -- but the street caught him. Stone engulfed his legs as Diana turned to look at him. She made a face and walked back over to him, the air around him building with such pressure, he could barely twitch. So instead he took to glaring at her with grit teeth and hateful eyes. Suddenly a grin stretched across her face and she brought a finger up to his head, giving it a sharp flick.

Karamir blinked in surprise. He felt a sensation inside his skull, like fragments pulling themselves back together, while the blinding rage seemed to vanish in favour of clearer thoughts. It was almost like waking up. He opened his mouth to speak, but she had not yet released her hold. “What…” was all he managed to get out.

“Oh good!” Diana’s smile grew and the air peeled away from him, releasing his chest and allowing his lungs to fill up once more. The street crumbled from his legs, leaving him completely free once more, save for the smiling avatar before him and the strange swirling landscape around him -- where when his eyes left an object, be it bench or statue, he wasn’t sure it was still there, his peripherals nearly empty.

He dropped to his knees and took a breath, placing one hand on the cobbles below. “That was…” he looked at Diana, but couldn’t find the words. Then a memory seemed to strike him, and suddenly he smirked. “Are we there yet?”

“Oh you,” Diana flicked a wrist, “Just about -- look.” Her hand pointed in the distance. The street seemed to wind and twist, with vast nothingness on either side of it, until it reached what could possibly be a lush garden, fit with fountains and trees. Towering over the treetops was a palace, fitted with dominating spires and sharp steeples.

The Palace of Dreams, Karamir assumed. In all his life he had never seen anything like it. On one hand, the sight was relieving - the journey was nearly over. On the other hand, it brought a certain sense of trepidation. What if the destination was worse than the journey? That had been his assumption when he first agreed to come with her, and he only agreed to come because he believed staying would have brought certain death. Nonetheless, the idea that all these trials and tribulations might only bring him somewhere worse brought a certain sense of dejection.

“Out of the river and into the ocean,” he muttered under his breath. This had all started when he stepped into that river. That one mistake and everything after it had brought him here. There was no turning back. All he could do was press on. And hope it meant something.

Diana gave Karamir an appraising look and then waved her hand, his clothes suddenly stitching together and drying out, albeit remaining just the right amount of damp in the worst areas, until Karamir was once again dressed in a dazzling suit. She nodded as she finished her work and smiled, “And there we are.” She gave him a push on the shoulder, “Shall we?”

Solemnly, Karamir nodded back, and took a step forward. There was a rush and suddenly the two were standing atop a few stone steps, a massive door in front of their faces. The double doors had a massive knocker on each side. On either side of them were beds of strange flowers, metal fences, and mossy statues. Diana seemed to pay none of it any mind as she pushed the mighty door open with ease, a humming smile on her lips.

A waft of cold air escaped the now gaping door, and the avatar took a near skipping step in, clearly excited. Karamir glanced behind him, to see if anything - or anyone - was watching him, and then followed her in.

He quickly found himself in a long hallway, doors on either side, and plenty of paintings of obscure figures. On the far end was a large golden door, light flickering under it and a leak of gentle music oozing out. It was a sweet sound, happy; it was a certain sound Karamir had never experienced, and it carried a happy emotion, one he had not known he had been without for so long.

For a moment Karamir nearly allowed himself to be taken in by the music, but then he raised his guard. He arily, he advanced through the hallway, half-expecting the music to suddenly stop, the light underneath the door to go out, or for one of the figures in the paintings to move. He glanced about the hallway with suspicion, but no fear.

Diana hummed behind him as they approached the door, only stopping as they could go no further. She cleared her throat and gestured for Karamir to open the door.

Karamir raised an eyebrow. He was already on edge, but somehow she had made him even more suspicious. “Why don’t you do it?” he asked.

Diana tapped her foot and crossed her arms, “Gentleman.”

With a sigh, he stepped forward to push the door open, but it did not budge. With a frown he tried pulling the handle instead, but to no avail. He pushed again, and nothing. He looked back to Diana, and his expression hardened into a glare.

She cackled, and shrugged her shoulders, “Oh foo, I had to get at least one more in.” She grinned and pushed the door aside. Immediately, Karamir and Diana both were assaulted by the grandeur of the ballroom. Light scattered across the room, mingling with the music of brass and string, it all bouncing off twirling orbs of emotion and dancing spectres. An organ fluted alongside the silk of the violin, the great instrument atop a grand dias. Seated before it on a throne was a gentlemanly figure, fingers expertly making short work of the ivory keys. Karamir couldn’t be sure, but a tiny gasp rasped behind him in the direction of Diana.

It was all so overwhelming. Everything in this room was completely alien to one who had only ever known forests, rivers, and seas, and thus none of it moved him. All he saw were possible threats. Those orbs - what did they do? Those spectres - could they harm him? The man at the organ - was that K’nell? Even the music - what if it suddenly became so loud that it might drown out his thoughts or deafen him? He looked to Diana, the only familiar thing, and seemed to silently request guidance.

Diana may have noticed, he wasn’t sure, but she did suddenly hook her arm with his, practically dragging him forward the first few steps across the marble floor. They seemed to weave through the dancers with ease, until they stood at the bottom of the dias. The figure on the throne took his hands from the keys, ethereal fingers taking his place as the music continued, albeit softer. Two silver eyes peered out from the gentleman, slight creases on the edge of experienced eyes, and a gripping smile underneath.

“Ah, you’ve finally arrived,” The Gentleman charmed, “I’m sure you must be brimming with questions.”

Diana scoffed, “A truer thing has never been said.”

“You are K’nell?” was the first thing that sprang to Karamir’s lips.

“That I am, and you are Karamir?” K’nell returned in kind.

Karamir nodded, before taking another look around. He did indeed have many questions, but where to start? “Why was I invited here?” he asked at last.

“An interesting question,” K’nell leaned forward in his throne, “If I have this right, Diana invited you here because she considers you her friend. Now did I invite you here? Perhaps indirectly, but we can save that for later. Could I appease any other aspect of your curiosity?” Diana silently rolled her eyes, taking a step back from the conversation.

“What is…” he waved a hand to indicate his surroundings, “...all of this?”

“You my good man are standing in a ball room, as for what a room is, consider it a compartment in a grand shelter, and then as for what a ball is -- in this case it is a dance, movements of entertainment to the sound of music. It is medicine for the mind, you see.” K’nell leaned back and folded his fingers, “Do you enjoy it?”

The direct, detailed explanation was almost comforting, in a way, but the question took him by surprise. “I… don’t know,” he answered, looking away.

“Simply shocking,” Diana’s words dripped with sarcasm, but K’nell met it with a straight face, eyes keen on Karamir.

“That is to be expected, I suppose. You are not required to know just yet, anyhow,” His eyes glanced over him as if reading something, “And you have plenty of time to come to terms with everything it seems.”

Despite his uncertainty, Karamir once again managed to meet K’nell’s gaze. He still needed to ask the most important question of all. “Now that I’m here, what happens next?”

K’nell steepled his fingers and crossed a leg, “What do you want to happen?”

“What can happen?” Karamir countered.

A cheshire grin stretched over K’nell’s face, “Anything.”

“Stay with me,” Diana suddenly spoke up, but was silenced by a glare from K’nell. She met it with her own, then all eyes fell on Karamir.

Karamir turned to Diana with an expression of surprise, before looking back to K’nell. “If anything can happen… that is something I need to think on.”

“Indeed it is,” K’nell agreed, “A good choice.” He sucked in a breath, as if dismissing the growing tension in the room. Diana fell to a casual stance, her fists unraveling and K’nell leaned back in his throne, “You have free roam of my palace until such a time you decide you are ready. You will that your body, while not of here, will find sustenance in our food and hydration in our drinks -- so feel free to eat and drink as much as you need, and to make use of any furniture or clothing you may come across.”

“Are there any dangers that I should be on guard against?” He asked.

“Just yourself,” K’nell folded his hands, “And perhaps the company you keep.”

“Oh you,” A wide smile plastered across Diana’s face and she waved a hand, “With all that settled, perhaps you can show me my new… working station?” Her eyes flickered with devious hunger.

“But of course,” K’nell slowly rose to his feet, and as he did, a throne similar to his own rose from the step right below the top of his dias, “Fitted to your liking, you’ll find.” Diana’s eyes played with glee as she skipped up the steps, nearly leaping into the seat. As soon as she sat down between the mighty arms of the throne, her face furrowed into a frown.

“Hey-” She started, but was cut off by a strong look from K’nell. The commandeering look causing her to cough on her next word. The gentleman gave a satisfied smile and sat back into his own throne.

“Not every dream must be a nightmare, my dear,” Was all he said on the subject, followed by a quick, “But please, do your best.”

“If I could be so bold,” Diana stuck her chin out, “I never do anything less.” Her sickly eyes turned to where Karamir had been, “Isn’t that right, dear Karamir?”

But Karamir had moved. He had listened to the two talk, but now wished to do more than just stand idly by and listen to others. He had been given free roam of the palace. If K’nell was truthful, then he saw no reason not to make use of that. And if K’nell was deceiving him, if this was all part of some greater trick by Diana, then it would be better to discover that deception now. Either way, his heart burned with a newfound independence.

Standing by a door which he had chosen at random, he looked back to Diana. “In truth… it became somewhat repetitive. But still… thank you.”

He opened the door.

The End… for now.

Here is what I have thus far. Still a WIP.

The Ubbo Tribe

"You know..." Hoshu ventured. "What happened the other day reminds me of that story I heard. About those Grottu and the 'K'nights.' What a name."

They stood on the beach, near the recently constructed shrine of Ashalla - the rock Arryn had perched on during the meeting, which was now piled with sea shells and colourful stones. Pallamino blew a few practice notes into his conch. He turned to Hoshu and raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

Hoshu began twirling his whiskers with a finger. "They say a Selka just like you was lounging by the beach, when a god appeared from the water to grant him gifts."

Pallamino frowned. "That's not too different from what happened to Anhaf. Only he wasn't by the beach. What's your point?"

Hoshu shrugged. "There is no point. Just something I noticed. You know me: I'm an old Selka who likes stories, nothing more."

A voice cut in behind them, causing the two Selka to freeze. "Does this mean he's going to bash my head in with that shell?" The two of them turned around to see Milos. "We'll have a hard time waging war with sticks and shells, you know. But the bows Arryn gave us? Those would have been useful. Even better than those strange spears we've heard stories about." The Chieftan looked down at his own bow. "But that's not our way."

Hoshu nodded. "It isn't. I was just-"

"The Grottu are scum, Hoshu." Milos interjected. "How many Selka did they slaughter? Why? For what? Do not compare one of us to them, even as a joke."

Hoshu furrowed his brow. "They did right in the end, didn't they?"

"How many tribes were wiped out? How many ran to the Ubbo for safety?" asked Milos, his voice unusually heated. "You know that better than I. We took in as many as we could and directed the rest to neighboring tribes. My own mother came here because she was driven out by one of their attacks, and her father was cut down ensuring she had time to escape." He shook his head. "The Hyummin forgave the Grottu in the end, but did they have the right to do so? They weren't the ones who lost everything."

Hoshu's frown deepened. "The Grottu today are not the Grottu of so long ago."

Milos shook his head. "I don't believe it. Their ancestors showed their nature, and it was those same ancestors who raised them. Do you think such creatures have atoned? Or are they just waiting until a voice from the sea gives them their next chance to strike?"

At that, Hoshu could only shrug. "I don't know. I've never met them."

"Panganeem and the Hyummin were fools to trust them. Now, the Grottu are part of the Hyummin, and the Hyummin have left themselves open to betrayal."

"Listen," Pallamino interjected, his voice unusually serious. "My grandfather was murdered by one of the Soul Stealers. My father, a child at the time, watched it. He swore vengeance. He became a hunter, one of the best. Almost as good as you. He could have fed so many."

Milos nodded. "I remember."

"But he didn't care about feeding anyone," Pallamino went on, even as his eyes began to glisten. "He brought back enough to pull his weight, true, but all he cared about was hunting the Alma. His arrows could never strike them, so he had to find other ways to kill them. He searched for and tested new methods. It was all he cared about. And then... you were the one who found him, remember?"

Milos nodded. "In the woods not too far from the village, a black hole in his chest."

Pallamino nodded back. He wiped a tear from his cheek. "Only an Alma could have done that. He dedicated his life to vengeance. It blinded him, consumed him, it killed him. Who gained from that? Nobody. If you pursue vengeance against the Grottu, you will meet that fate."

The Chieftan raised his eyebrows. "What? No! I don't intend to attack the Grottu, if that's what you're thinking," Milos insisted. "I became Chieftan to protect the lives of our people; I'm not going to throw them away. All I'm saying is that we shouldn't forget what the Grottu have done, and we should not sit idly by when they - or even some other tribe - might attack again."

"What do you intend to do, then?" Pallamino asked.

Milos stroked his chin. "When Anhaf first heard of the Grottu's aggression, he reached out to the nearby tribes. They made a pact - to defend each other should the Grottu come this way. More tribes appeared - some fled to escape the Grottu, while others were formed by the survivors of the Grottu's attacks. They joined as well. But when the Grottu were defeated, most seemed to forget the pact. But I will restore it, and use it to bring us and our neighbors closer together."

There was a silence. Hoshu and Pallamino exchanged a glance. "It's not at a bad idea," Hoshu said at last. "The Hyummin banded together, and they've done well, but if you're unwilling to join them, then I guess the next best thing is to start an alliance of your own."

Milos nodded. "It is good that we agree. I will announce my decision to the tribe tomorrow, and send word to our neighbors. Will you deliver one of these messages?"

Hoshu nodded back. "I will. Hopefully I won't bore anyone to sleep this time."

"Good." Milos turned to Pallamino. "We don't always agree, and we haven't always gotten along, but I know you care about this tribe. And you have a way with words. Would you-"

Pallamino shook his head. "No. I'd prefer to stay out of this. Actually... I think I might leave."

Milos blinked. "What?"

Pallamino turned the conch over in his hand. "I was given a gift. Something that I am not only good at, but enjoy as well. I think I should share that gift, and I've always wanted to travel. I will visit Selka all across the land, I will play my music, and that is how I will be remembered."

"When are you leaving?" Hoshu asked.

Pallamino shrugged. "Right away seems as good a time as any. I don't want to go through a week of tears and goodbyes."

Milos sighed. "If you want to leave, that is your right. You were given a divine purpose, after all." He extended a hand. "I wish you luck, Pallamino."

Pallamino took the hand, and shook. "You as well, Chieftan."


Goddess of Oceans and Storms

One week later after Milo’s election.

Pallamino the Third lazily laid on the beach. After the election, life had more or less gone back to normal. Milos led the tribe much the same way Anhaf had, and while there was a certain tension in the air, the fisherman was confident that too would come to an end. After all, no one could be resentful forever, could they? Kalaf was just grieving; that was all. When his head was clear, he would come to accept the result of the election, surely.

As for Arryn, the bird had remained, but all knew he would soon leave. That had always been the way of things. The bird would appear every couple of years, give some advice, maybe a blessing or a gift, and then leave. Understandable, of course; there were many other Selka tribes out there, and although the Ubbo Tribe was the first Arryn had decided to teach, there was in truth little which marked them as more important than the others. Nonetheless, it would be a shame to see him go. Many in the tribe, including Pallamino himself, were rather fond of him.

The fisherman continued to rest. He had broken his leg that morning, when a hut collapsed on him, and although healing magic had quickly remedied that, his claims that a dull ache still remained had allowed him to evade work for the day. He began to softly hum to himself, enjoying the ocean breeze.

As Pallamino hummed, he heard something rather peculiar. It was as if underwater echoes were humming along with him. He immediately stopped humming and sat up, looking around. “Who’s there?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow.

There was a pause in which the waves themselves seemed to still. After a few moments, a sound like waves answered in what seemed like words. “The ocean.”

Now both of Pallamino’s eyebrows were raised. He had assumed this was some sort of elaborate prank, some Selka hiding in the water or in some nearby bushes, but those words… they did not sound natural. Not like anything he had ever heard before. “I see…” he said, staring blankly ahead. The ocean, the ocean… what had Arryn told them? Who was the God of the Ocean? It started with an A. As… Ash-something. But why would a god contact him, of all people? No, it was probably something else. Perhaps that magical water had effects other than healing…

The voice spoke again. “Is this how you spend your time when not fishing?”

Well, whether he was speaking to an unnatural force, or simply losing his mind, Pallamino supposed he had nothing to lose by indulging the voice. “I suppose it is,” he said with a shrug. “Though sometimes I’ll help out around the village, or maybe go out on a hunt. But I’m injured, so today I rest.”

A wave lapping on the shore rolled up and did not recede, instead sprouting a tendril of water which snaked up the beach towards Pallamino. An expression of panic crossed his face, and he scootched backward. “Kalmar’s whiskers!” he cursed.

The tendril surged forwards and wrapped around Pallamino, licking over his limbs, body and face. He winced and dug his hands into the sand, believing that the limb intended to sweep him out to sea. The tendril paused around the leg Pallamino had broken earlier that morning, since healed by the magical water. The tendril seemed to become icy cold.

“You are uninjured,” the watery voice said with a slight quaver. The tendril then grew as thick as Pallamino’s waist and hoisted the selka off the ground. As Pallamino dangled upside-down, water rose up in front of him to form a body and a feminine face which glared at him. “Why would you lie to me?” she said in a voice like hissing steam.

Just when Pallamino thought he couldn’t possibly be more terrified, here he was. “I… misspoke!” he said, desperation heavy in his voice. “I was injured! I’m not anymore! I’m sorry!”

Ashalla’s face stared at Pallamino for a few seconds, watching the fear in his eyes. Then the water released its grip on the selka, and he fell onto the wet sand below. Pallamino simply sat there in the sand and gawked, too afraid to speak.

“If you wanted to just sit and stare at the sea, you could have said so,” Ashalla said. “Although, I would be more pleased if you could make something more artful than a tuneless hum.”

Pallamino rose to his feet, his legs shaky - from the hours he spent lying immobile in the sand, and from the sheer fear of what he just experienced. “Make something? Like… like what?” he managed to ask.

Ashalla’s face leaned closer to Pallamino and inspected him. Then the head rose up, taller than the trees, and scanned the land behind him all the way back to the tribe. There was a thoughtful rumble as Ashalla lowered herself to her previous height. “I shall have to teach you,” she said.

Just as she spoke, a bird flew from the treeline, and perched itself on a nearby rock. Through its appearance alone, it was clearly not native to this area, but even more telling was the slight divine aura which radiated from it. “Ashalla?” Arryn questioned.

Ashalla’s gaze turned to the bird. “Yes,” she answered, then after a quick glance at Pallamino she added, “Many selka call me Delphina.” As she spoke, a tendril of water flowed up the beach towards Arryn.

“Can I ask what you’re doing here?” Arryn questioned. As the tendril came close he beat his wings and took flight once more, in an attempt to evade it.

“Listening. Inspecting. Teaching,” Ashalla answered curtly. The tendril tried to follow Arryn, but swiftly gave up. “And who are you?”

“Arryn. Avatar of Kalmar,” the bird answered without hesitation. “And I have been doing the same.”

Ashalla nodded. Then she looked back at Pallamino. An empty conch shell with some holes drilled into it washed up on the shore by the selka’s feet. “This should make better music.”

Pallamino picked up the shell and studied it for a moment. He knew that such shells could make music when someone blew into them, but he never seen one with holes drilled into it. With a shrug, he brought it to his lips and blew. A wavering note whistled from the shell.

“Try covering some of the holes,” Ashalla suggested.

So, he did. He placed his fingers over two of the holes closest to his mouth, and blew again. The sound that came out that time was different, so he removed one of his fingers and placed it over a different hole, before blowing it a third time.

“What do you think?” Ashalla asked with a voice like a trickling brook.

“It sounds nice,” Pallamino said, his nervousness fading somewhat. He brought the shell back to his lips and blew a few more notes random, while Arryn looked on in confusion.

“Good,” Ashalla said. There was then a long, slow rumble as Ashalla receded into her thoughts.

“Thank you for this gift,” Pallamino said. Arryn continued to study it from his perch on the sand, angling his neck slightly.

“Can you see how it is made?” Ashalla asked.

The fisherman took a closer look. “No,” he said, after a moment’s inspection. “There are holes in it, but I don’t know how I’d put those holes in any other shell without cracking it. How is it made?”

Ashalla rumbled, then commanded, “Fetch something with a sharp, hard, narrow point.”

He thought for a moment, and looked at the shell with an expression of doubt. Stone, flint, or coral, maybe, but the odds of finding a piece that was narrow and sharp enough to drill such fine holes was slim to none. Would wood work? Or perhaps one of the arrows they had crafted? He was unsure. With those ideas on his mind, he began running back toward the village.

Arryn, meanwhile, looked up at Ashalla. “Have you been giving these to all the Selka?” he asked her curiously.

“Not yet, but I plan to,” Ashalla answered.

The Avatar glanced back at Pallamino’s retreating form, the conch still in the fisherman’s hands. “Does it only make sound, or does it have some other purpose?”

“Its purpose is to make sound, which can be used to make beautiful music,” Ashalla said.

“I see,” Arryn said. He personally did not see much value in such items, but he knew the Selka saw differently. “I have been travelling among these Selka for years, and I know they are fond of diversions. Most will probably welcome these items.”

Ashalla nodded. “And with them, they would be able to create beauty while having their fun.”

“As for me, I’ve been giving them teachings and gifts to help them become better hunters, as my master instructed,” Arryn told her, before pausing for a moment. “That agreement you made with my master. Does it still stand?”

Ashalla gave Arryn a look as if he had asked whether the sea was blue. “Of course it still stands. My word always does.”

The bird nodded. “Good. I did not mean to question your word, but there have been issues with others who had also joined the agreement. I just wanted to be sure.”

A quizzical bubble rose through Ashalla. “Phystene?”

Arryn shook his head. “No. Shengshi, and possibly Asceal.”

“I was not aware that the pact included any others,” Ashalla said.

“They agreed to join after it was formed, with individual pledges to either Kalmar or Phystene. But I don’t think it matters anymore. Shengshi broke his word over a minor, unrelated disagreement, and Asceal invaded another god’s sphere to help Azura steal the world’s souls. No others have joined or broken the alliance.”

“Shengshi broke his word?” Ashalla’s voice had an icy edge to it.

Once again Arryn nodded. “Ekon and Sartravius raised an army to attack the continent to the east of here. My master heard of this, and went to aid Asceal and Shengshi, who were already defending it. He arrived to find out that Asceal had left for Katharsos’s sphere. Shengshi then offered my master a drink. My master didn’t like the drink, so he altered it. Shengshi took this as an insult, and began to threaten my master’s creations. My master wasn’t going to stand for this, and called him out. Shengshi then declared that his alliance with my master was broken.” He shook his head. ”It was stupid. To start a feud with an ally as he was being attacked...”

Ashalla’s eyes narrowed. “Despicable,” she spat. “Did Asceal also break her word?”

“No. But she still attacked and stole from another god, which complicates things. Katharsos might want those souls back, which could lead to a war - and my master is on good terms with him. I also don’t trust this Azura. My master and I do not know her, and even if her intentions are honest, they might end up doing more harm than good.”

Ashalla gave a thoughtful rumble. “Azura has compassion for the mortals, all of them. I know not why, but she does. That is why she wishes to preserve them.”

“But if she preserves them all, there won’t be any soul ash left to make more, and all life will end,” Arryn countered.

“We are gods. Reality bows at our very word,” Ashalla declared, “If Azura and Asceal desire, they can circumvent that constraint.”

“My master always told me that even a god’s power has its limits,” Arryn said. Ashalla huffed before Arryn continued, “But I suppose there is not much point in discussing this right now. He has yet to tell me what he plans to do, or who he intends to stand with.”

Ashalla stared out towards the treeline silently. Meanwhile, another tendril of water tried to snake its way across the sand from out of the edge of Arryn’s peripheral vision towards the bird’s new perch. Arryn narrowed his eyes, and flew back to the rock he had first landed on when he arrived. ”Why do you keep doing that?” he asked.

“I want to taste you,” Ashalla answered.

“...why?” Arryn asked, shifting uncomfortably on the rock.

“To know more about you,” Ashalla replied.

“What do you want to know?”

“Your scent. What you are made of. How you function. Anything you have been in contact with recently,” Ashalla answered. After a moment’s contemplation, she decided that further explanation would be beneficial. “Animals have many senses, but usually one is used above all others, such as sight, or smell. For me, my keenest sense is taste. I am acutely aware of the exact composition of everything within me and which I touch.”

Arryn sighed. “Fine. Do it.”

A tendril of water crawled up the rock and licked against Arryn’s feathers, talons and beak. After a few seconds, the tendril withdrew, only leaving Arryn slightly damp.

Arryn was about to say something else, but then four figures appeared in the distance - Pallamino, Chieftain Milos, and two others. “You are Ashalla?” Milos asked as they approached.

As the selka approached, Ashalla drew up taller and faced them. “I am.”

Milos and the two unknown Selka knelt. Pallamino’s expression suddenly flickered to alarm, as if he had forgotten something, and he knelt as well. “I thank you for your visit, and for your gift.” Milos said. “But I don’t think we have anything that can do what you requested.”

Ashalla rumbled. “Then I have more to teach.” Her gaze flicked between the four selka. “Who are you and these others?”

“I am Chieftain Milos, of the Ubbo Tribe. This is Akamu, Keanu, and Pallamino,” Milos introduced them.

“Pallamino the Third,” Pallamino interjected, receiving three sharp glares in response.

“Akamu and Keanu are hunters,” Milos explained. “And Pallamino is one of our best fisherman… when he takes the time to fish.” He gave Pallamnio another sharp look. After all, Pallamino had ran back to the village, clearly showing his injury to be a fake.

Ashalla regarded all four selka with a critical eye. “Can you craft or play music?”

“Music?” Milos asked, scratching his chin. “We make drums out of wood and animal skins. We hit them to make noise. And we have some singers. That’s our music.”

Ashalla nodded. “You should show me. Afterwards, though, when I have shown you how to make a new instrument, and tools with which to make the holes in that instrument. Now, gather what I tell you to…”

Days later...

Word of Ashalla’s command quickly spread throughout the small Selka village, and there was no shortage of volunteers to gather up the materials and assemble the instruments. Such a task took time, but they worked quickly. They carved flutes from bone, made rattles by filling skulls with sand and stones, and carved smooth sticks that could be banged together to make a clapping sound. A fourth instrument was made, which was very similar to a bow, but the string would make sound when plucked or struck.

It took three days to put all this together. After that, they were given two days to prepare and practice; not very long, truth be told, but they did what they could. Pallamino had thrown himself into the task with an unusual amount of fervour, practicing with his conch shell well into the night, to the point where he had to be kicked from the village just so the rest could actually sleep.

When the two days were over, enough Selka had a decent enough grasp of the basics to put together something that was somewhat presentable, at least. And so, those with the most musical skill made their way down to the beach. Pallamino, with his conch, Hoshu, with his voice, Keanu and young Arrino with a pair of drums, Leliana and one other with flutes, Akamu with the rattles, Kurunu with the clapsticks, and Milos himself with the strange bowed instrument.

They stopped by the water, and waited for Ashalla to appear with an air of uneasiness. Once again, Arryn observed from a nearby rock. The ocean heaved and up rose as a great blob. With a faint burble the blob adopted a vaguely selkaish shape. Ashalla cast her gaze across the assembled musicians. “You may begin,” she declared with a voice like a breaking wave.

The Selka exchanged glances and nods. They did not have enough time to work out a way to play all their instruments together in synchrony to one song, so they had instead divided themselves into groups, which now quickly formed. There would be three groups - and thus three performances - in total. Perhaps two dozen other members of the Ubbo Tribe came wandering down from the village to watch the display, marvelling at both Ashalla’s form and the instruments carried by their brethren.

The first performers to step forward carried rattles, flutes, and clapsticks. Kurunu began striking the clapsticks together, maintaining a consistent rhythm. Then the rattles began, shaking at every second clap. Finally, the flutes started, a soft and smooth contrast to the sharp clacking and rattling.

Though the clapsticks and rattles remained mostly consistent, it was the flutes where most of the errors lay. One would occasionally play the wrong note, or fall out of rhythm, but for the most part the performance was passable. It lasted for a minute, perhaps longer, and then the performers stopped to await judgement.

Ashalla had seemed to enjoy the performance. The music was not as skillful as Xiaoli’s, nor was the composition as sophisticated as Vakk’s Box of Orchestration, but it was only natural that the talents of the gods would far surpass the talents of mere mortals. “That was good,” Ashalla said in a melodious voice. She then looked expectantly at the next group of performers.

Leliani smiled, and the others breathed sighs of relief. They took a step back. Meanwhile, Milos and Hoshu exchanged a glance, and stepped forward.

Milos took a breath and put the bow string between his lips, before rapidly tapping it with a stick. The sound that each tap produced differed slightly depending on the placement of his lips. He quickly went through the song, giving it his best, but with so little time to practice, he was no master, and the performance was actually somewhat worse than the previous one.

Then Hoshu began to let out a low whistle. He was old, and whistling was a talent he had practiced since he was a boy. The performance was flawless, and easily compensated for Milos’s own lacklustre skill. Milos himself continued on, though occasionally he would need to take brief stops when his hand slipped or he fell out of rhythm. Then it ended, and Milos sighed - half in relief that it was over, and the other half in disappointment with himself. Hoshu bowed modestly, a light smile on the old Selka’s face.

Ashalla gave Milos and Hoshu a nod. She said to Milos with nothing but kindness, “I expect you will improve with practice.” Then she turned to Hoshu and said, “Your whistling is marvelous.” She then leaned back and awaited the final performance.

Hoshu’s smile widened, while Milos nodded. The two men stepped back, and the final performance, consisting of Pallamino and the drummers, stepped forward and began to play.

Similar to the first performance, the percussion instruments began, making up the backbone of the song. Then Pallamino began, bringing the conch shell to his lips to blow, while deftly moving his fingers to produce a variety of low sounds. Despite only being introduced to the instrument a few days ago, his dedication to practice had paid off. The drummers themselves were excellent as well, for the Ubbo Tribe had ample experience with such instruments already.

The low notes of the conch shell complemented the low beats of the drums rather well, with a harmony the previous performances lacked.

Eventually the drumming ceased, and it was clear the song was supposed to end, but Pallamino did not quite stop there. He continued playing for a few more moments, before punctuating the song with one long final note. With a grin on his face, the Selka gave a quick bow.

Ashalla let out a burble. “Very good, very good!” She leaned in closer to Pallamino. “I see you have found a better use for your time than sitting around.”

The grin faded, and Pallamino nodded frantically. “Yes, yes I have Asha- er, Delphina…uh, whichever name you prefer.”

Ashalla leaned back and gave a thoughtful rumble. “I am known by both names,” she finally answered.

“Oh, uh…” Pallamino looked as though he was about to ask another question, but seemed to think better of it. “Alright then.”

Milos stepped forward. “Thank you for your teachings, Ashalla,” he said with a slight bow. “We will continue to put them to use.”

Ashalla nodded. “That is good, for I have given them to you to be used.” Ashalla’s watery form began to recede. As she departed, she said, “Continue to create beauty, for that is a worthy pursuit.”

the snek is a meanie
Am intrested.
Almost there

The sky slowly turned to a deep purple as the pair swiftly rode the wind. Gusts of billowing air pushed under the umbrella, pulling the two along quietly -- or what would be silence if not for the faint rustle of blowing fabric and Diana's gentle, and uncharacteristic hum that she so often falls into the habit of reciting. The avatar held the umbrella with a single hand, her body clearly ignoring the effects of extreme speed and gravity as she looked as if she were simply standing, waiting for something; however Karamir wasn't as lucky.

The mortal clung to her, the deep chill her body emitted long settling in his skin. The wind buffeted his face and teared at his eyes. His hat had long since been lost. Something about Diana's occasional flickering gaze told him that perhaps this was unnecessary -- but then again, nothing is ever comfortable near here, the quickly avoiding birds were testament to that.

Karamir grimaced, but he did not complain. Instead, as they flew, he began to think. And then, he got an idea. He looked up at Diana. “Are we there yet?” he asked in an innocent voice.

Diana cackled, as if enjoying the question, "Would you like to find out, dear?" Her voice was sweet, if not laced with menace. Her eyes flickered down to the vast blue below.

“Why, whatever do you mean?” he asked in the best aristocratic voice he could manage, recalling the teachings from so long ago. “I simply asked a question.”

"So did I!" She guffawed, "Isn't that fun?" She hummed for a second, clearly still very excited to be going home, "Oh I can't wait."

“But still… are we there yet?”

"Hm?" Diana's humming stopped as she was pulled from her latest reverie. She looked down at Karamir and gave him a pitiful look, "Oh dear, where you struck blind or is this really the capacity of your intelligence?"

Karamir said nothing and Diana cackled. Her free hand tapped at the side of Karamir's head, and to his surprise a hollow sound rang from it. Her hand flicked away as if she didn't expect the sound, "Well there you have it!" Her smile curled and he could feel the most annoying itch right where her finger tapped him.

Karamir blinked. “How about now? Are we there yet?”

"Oh no," Diana's brow furrowed, "Karamir dear, don't tell me you've finally broken?"

“You are the one who refuses to answer the question. Are we there yet?”

"Oh foo, not this game again," Diana huffed, "No we aren't there yet, silly buffoon." Her eyes flickered away from him and she looked back out to the encroaching horizon.

“Alright then,” Karamir said before once more falling silent. A minute passed and Diana suddenly took to her hum again. It was familiar, but perhaps it was just because he heard it so much over the years, but wasn't it familiar the day he first heard it? Diana stopped and cleared her throat. She opened her mouth, squinted, then closed it again -- the hum returning.

Karamir opened his mouth once again. “So… are we there yet now?”

Diana sighed and craned her neck to look at him, a cheshire smile on her face, the tips of her sharp teeth clear and occluded together, "allow me to put your wonders to rest, hm?" There was a sudden kink in Karamir's arm and his hands began to cramp, his hold slowly slipping. Diana's smile turned to an entertained grin as she watched the mortal slowly slide further down.

Karamir’s eyes widened, and he tried to fight through the pain of the cramp to hold on tighter, but it seemed to have no effect. Through grit teeth, he managed to utter three words. “We… there… yet?”

"I would say it's about time we found out," Diana cackled as his fingers finally lost their grip altogether. The wind seemed to change directions as he began to plummet. It screamed past his ears and his vision blurred from the speed of his collapse. The dark dot that was Diana seemed to disappear into the sky above as the great blue below grew closer and closer.

Calmly, Karamir closed his eyes and braced himself for impact but of course it never came -- it never does. He felt a slight tug on the back of his shirt, and as a knuckle grazed him -- he felt the sudden urge to vomit, his stomach turning. He nearly did, but managed to choke most of it back down.

"Take a look," Diana's voice hummed from above.

He opened his eyes. A cool shock washed over him as he saw it in the distance. A great black line overtook the once blue horizon, the color shimmering in and out of focus as if it didn't want to be seen.

He coughed, remnants of the vomit still clinging to his throat. “What am I looking at?” he asked.

"Tendlepog," Diana said with excitement in her voice.

He blinked in surprise. “So we are there, then?”

"Almost, it'll be awhile longer." She cackled, "Good thing we know-- or well, good thing I know exactly where we are going. This is not the place to get lost." She paused and a smile broke across her pale face, "Then again…"

Karamir was unbothered by the implication. “So what are we waiting for?”

Diana seemed to pause for a moment, pursing her lips as they flew forward. She breathed in through her nostrils, "Karamir, dear." She gave him a patronizing smile, "Shall we discuss the process of movement and how it is used to obtain location or must I really answer such a question?"

“Oh by all means, answer it, if you wish.” Karamir said.

"You should know I don't wish it by now," Diana grinned and began to hum again, only to suddenly stop "But really, at least you have abandoned your primitive 'what' 'what's you were so fond of." She cocked her head in thought, the hum returning.

“Would you mind telling me where, exactly, we are going, then?”

"My home! The land of dreams. Did I ever tell you that I'm the perfect dream?" She fluttered her eyelashes, a small cloud of dandruff falling onto Karamir's jacket.

Karamir glanced upward at the sky, a look of concentration on his face, as if searching deep into his memory. “No,” he lied. “I don’t think I ever heard you say anything like that. Doesn’t sound like you. You’ve been so modest up until now.”

Diana gave one sucking 'ha' and shook her head, "Silly silly." She pursed her lips into a hum, as if letting the conversation end at that.

Karamir seemed to let it slide as they both fell into relative silence, Tendlepog rapidly taking over the horizon.

The Ubbo Tribe

The village of the Ubbo Tribe was quiet. Dozens of Selka stood outside the Chieftain's hut, shifting and whispering nervously. Some were weeping. No hunting or fishing parties had been sent out today; all were present, save for a few who were piling up wood on the beach. It was no day for work, or celebration.

Inside the hut was little better. Half a dozen Selka and one bird stood in solemn silence. In the corner, an old Selka lay on a bed of grass, leaves, and feathers. His whiskers were as white as his snow; his skin wrinkled and aged.

Time passed. His breath grew increasingly faint, and then, it stopped. The Selka looked to the brown-and-red bird who rested on a log, and the bird nodded.

Two of the Selka shuddered with grief. The chieftain's sons; Kalaf, a young man, and Arryno, still a boy. Arryno began to cry, and Kalaf put a hand on his shoulder while fighting back tears of his own.

"He led us well," spoke a tall Selka named Milos, one of the village's finest hunters, who along with Kalaf had begun to take up some of the chiefly duties as their leader's health decline.

"May he have a swift journey to the Pyres," whispered Alaina, the village healer, who had done everything she could but to no avail. Not even the miraculous healing water, which the tribe discovered long ago, had been able to stop the inevitable.

You should inform the rest of your tribe, a grim voice spoke in their minds.

Kalaf's tearstained eyes narrowed, and it looked as though he was about to spit out an angry retort, but Milos intervened. "Yes, we should," he answered in an equally grave voice. He looked to Kalaf. "Compose yourself. They need to know, and they need to see you strong."

Kalaf opened his mouth to protest, but instead he wiped the tears from his eyes and grudgingly nodded. And with that, he, along with Milos and Alaina, stepped outside to address the village, the bird fluttering after them.

"Chieftain Anhaf is dead," Alaina declared. "Peacefully, in his sleep; his time had come."

Several of the Selka began to cry openly at that. Others cast their gaze downward, or whispered prayers. A few seemed to take it in stride. Milos looked to Kalaf, silently urging him to speak. But Kalaf either failed to notice his gaze, or pretended not to, and instead stared ahead with a blank look on his face.

With an imperceptible shake of his head, Milos stepped forward. "Today, we grieve," he declared. "Anhaf was a good leader, who put his people first and led us from hardship to prosperity. He brought us from division, to unity. Now we say goodbye."

Those in the Ubbo Tribe exchanged solemn nods of agreement.

"And tomorrow," Milos continued, "we continue life as Anhaf would have wanted us to. We must elect a new chief. We must see to our tribe's survival. We must continue to find our fun and prosper. What would Kirron or Kalmar think if they saw us succumb to inaction and depression?"

Once again there were nods, though for some the solemnity had turned to determination.

"But those are problems for tomorrow. As I said, today we grieve. We put his body and soul to rest, and we hold a feast in his honour."

And with those words, a red-eyed Arryno stepped out of the hut. Two Selka followed, carrying Anhaf's body on a stretcher - two sticks tied together by vines. They carried him through the village, and all save Milos followed. They brought him to the beach, where a pile of fresh, dry wood had been assembled, and placed the stretcher atop. Arryn watched from a nearby rock.

There the villagers stood in silence, with nothing but the lap of the waves, until Milos came from the village with a burning torch in hand. The crowd parted, and he stepped up to the funeral bed, standing next to Kalaf.

"Does anyone have anything to say?" Milos asked.

A few stepped forward, and some quick stories or words of remembrance were given. One Selka, almost as old as Anhaf, recalled the day when Anhaf himself was elected. Another shared a story about how she and Anhaf had saved each other's lives on a hunt. Others were less specific, and instead praised Anhaf's leadership or his good character. Arrino attempted to get something out, but he became too overwhelmed by sobbing to continue.

And then, when it seemed nobody had anything left to say, Milos took another step forward. "Then it is time for us to bid Anhaf farewell. We give his body to the pyre on earth, and wish his soul a speedy journey to the pyre in the sky." And with those words, he handed the torch to Kalaf.

Kalaf stared at the torch for a full second, before reluctantly he took it, and then lowered it to the smaller kindling at the base of the pyre. The fire took a moment to catch, but when it did, it soon began to spread. Soon, the entire stack was ablaze, and the village watched their chieftain burn.

They feasted that night. Food was cooked over a fire, and then passed around. Despite the grave occasion, grief had begun to fall by the wayside with so many people together and free food being readily available. One Selka was singing while another banged on drums. Arrino and Kalaf sat alone, though many did approach to offer their sympathies and condolences. Arrino accepted them as graciously as he could, while Kalaf more or less shrugged them off, occasionally sending glares toward the divine bird who watched the festivities from a log.

Arryn's attention, meanwhile, was set on Milos, who sat with his regular hunting party, exchanging the odd joke or story. When the hunter rose to his feet to step away briefly, Arryn followed, landing on the ground a few feet away from him.

"What is it?" Milos asked.

"Your chieftain will be chosen tomorrow," Arryn said. Not as a question, but as a statement.

Milos nodded. "It is. Here is hoping Kalaf will be a good chief."

If Arryn could frown, he would have. "It doesn't have to be Kalaf."

Milos nodded again. "It doesn't, but it will. Anhaf was a good chieftain. Everyone else will expect the same from his son. Others will put their names forward, but they won't win. I can't think of a single Selka who has enough support."

"I see one right now."

Milos shook his head. "Anhaf hoped Kalaf would take his place, and he was my friend. I won't betray his dying wish." Then the hunter arched his eyebrow in suspicion. "And why would you? He was your friend too, wasn't he?"

"Friendship has nothing to do with it. Anhaf is dead, the living remain, and they need a good leader. Kalaf has some strengths, but many more weaknesses, and there are some who do doubt his abilities. They didn't voice it while Anhaf was alive, but now that he is gone, you will see these doubts emerge," Arryn lectured. "Besides, when Anhaf told you that, he thought he would have more time to teach the boy. He was wrong."

"And you think I'd be better?" Milos asked, though his voice betrayed no doubt or skepticism.

"I know it. And you know it too. You are decisive, your judgement is sound, and the people trust you. I will not tell them to choose you, and I will not force you to do anything. But if you care more for the many than you do for the few, you will put your name forward." And with those words, Arryn fluttered off, leaving Milos alone with his thoughts.

"Brother?" Arrino whispered. "I see you scowling at Arryn. Why?"

Kalaf gave Arrino a flat look. "Because he killed our father."

"What!?" Arrino was shocked. "What makes you say that!?"

Kalaf sighed bitterly. "Arryn did not kill our father directly, but that bird is responsible for his death nonetheless. His last visit was years ago, but he returns just as our chieftain's health is failing. He knew father was dying, but did he do anything to help? No. He let him die. Father's death is on Arryn's head."

"No, it isn't."

Both Kalaf and Arrino jumped in their seats, but the bird went on. "You fool. Everything dies eventually."

"But you have the power of a god. You could have prevented it!" Kalaf retorted through clenched teeth.

"Even a god's power is not limitless. If I saved every dead or dying creature I came across, I would have ran out of power long before your father's demise. We'd still end up here, only instead you would be complaining about how I saved too many lives."

"But why not just focus on those that matter!? Father considered you his friend. He was a chieftain. He was the first welcome worship of you and your g-"

"Those that matter?" Arryn asked. "Why should Anhaf be resurrected while others are allowed to die? He is more important, yes, but that's not a reason - there will always be another who can take up his role, and if there isn't then that is the tribe's failing for becoming too dependent."

Kalaf gave the bird a hard stare. "Tomorrow a new chieftan will be chosen. It will be me. And when that happens, I want you gone."

"Hmph, if you try to command me you won't like what happens. As for the chieftain... we'll see." And on that note the bird flew off, leaving the two brothers alone.

"Brother... I... I think he might have been right..." Arrino ventured.

Kalaf rose to his feet, drawing the attention of several others, but he did not seem to notice. "Do you?" he demanded. "Go on then, pray to Kalmar," he challenged, his voice laced with sarcasm. "Pray to him, and thank him for telling his pet bird to nobly allow our father to die." And with those words he stalked off.

The next day came, and at midday the villagers had gathered. Alaina stood before the crowd. Some had gone to her in private, and asked her to put her own name forward, but she had refused. She could not be both a healer and a chieftain, she claimed. Instead, she volunteered to host the election.

"Our tribe needs a new chieftain. Who will step forward?" She challenged.

Kalaf was about to step forward, but a young woman of a similar age beat him to it. Alaina looked at her with disapproval, for the woman was Kurunu; her apprentice. "My name is Kurunu. I claim the chiefdom!" She looked back to the sea of surprised faces. "Healers are meant to be wise, smart, and compassionate. So are chieftains! I ask you: why can't one be the other?"

A few nodded, but most were unmoved. After all, she was no true healer yet, and the real healer had already claimed the positions should be kept separate. Alaina shook her head. "Who else?" she asked.

Now Kalaf stepped forward. He took a deep breath, and then turned to face them. "I am Kalaf, son of Anhaf. I claim the chiefdom!" he declared to the assembled tribe. "My father was the greatest chieftain this tribe had ever seen. I swear by Kirron: everything you got from him, you will get from me."

Several Selka nodded now, and a few even cheered, but many appeared uncertain. Word of his outburst at the feast had spread, and how he carried himself at the funeral left many concerned at the state of his mind. Would Kalaf's grief hurt his ability to be an effective leader? Would Kalmar, who had answered their prayers and given much guidance over the years, desert them if they followed someone who openly quarrelled with Arryn? These doubts weighed on their minds. Kalaf seemed to notice this, and shifted nervously.

Alaina simply nodded. "Who is next?"

"I am Pallamino the Third!" another Selka declared, walking out of the crowd to join Kurunu and Kalaf. "I claim the chiefdom. Why? I'm the best fisherman this village has ever seen. I've helped build shelters. I've been faithful to both Kirron and Kalmar. I helped Alaina tend to the sick when she needed an extra pair of hands. I've even been on a couple hunts. What more could you want?"

"Someone who won't shoot me in the back!" Someone shouted out.

"An honest mistake, and with my help you survived!" Pallamino countered. "Hunting might not be what I'm best at, but the point is, I know a bit of everything, and that's why you should choose me."

Alaina sighed. "Next."

The next Selka to step forward was middle-aged, but carried himself with a certain confidence. The youngest of the audience did their best to suppress groans. "I am Hoshu. I claim the chiefdom!" he announced, before embarking on a lengthy speech about his history, beginning with the day of his birth...

"...and that's why I'm the best choice!"

Several Selka blinked, apparently having zoned out at some point, but they quickly cheered to hide that fact. And the cheers were genuine, too - it was a relief for the speech to finally be over.

"Who-" Alaina began, but was quickly cut off as another candidate put herself forward.

"I'm Leilani!" she declared confidently. "I claim the chiefdom. Now let's look at the facts. Kurunu is too naive, Kalaf is a shadow of his father, Pallamino knows a bit of everything except how to lead, and Hoshu is too long-winded. Then there's me. I never hesitated to volunteer for something, and I always called out nonsense when I saw it. So really, through process of elimination, I'm the only choice."

The other candidates were clearly outraged, and each looked as though they were about to offer a fiery rebuttal of their own making, when Alaina intervened. "Alright, that's enough! Anyone else?"

There was silence. It seemed as though everyone who had something to say had already said it. These candidates, however lacking they might be, appeared to be the only options. Arryn watched from the roof of a nearby hut, and shook his head.

Then Milos stepped forward. "I am Milos!" he declared, as the eyes of both Kalaf and Alaina widened. He hesitated, but then pressed on. "I claim the chiefdom!" He turned to address the crowd. "You all know me, and I'd say my actions speak for themselves. I've led dozens of successful hunts, I've always put in more than my fair share, and I was one of Anhaf's closest friends and advisors. It's no secret that in the past week, I've been acting as chieftain in all but name. So choose me, and I will lead you well."

And with that he fell into line with the others. Kalaf had a hurt expression on his face, before hardening into a glare which alternated between Milos and Arryn, as he put two and two together.

"Well, I... I think that's everyone," Alaina said. "Six choices. All six of you, turn around." The six candidates immediately complied, turning their backs to the audience, and Alaine continued. "The rest of you... stand behind whoever you wish to follow."

And so they did. The crowd split up into individuals, who dodged and evaded their way toward their chosen candidates, forming into lines behind them. The lines continued to grow, and once everyone was in place, Alaina to inspect the length of the lines.

Kurunu, six heads.

Kalaf, eighteen heads.

Pallamino, six heads.

Hoshu, two heads.

Leilani, four heads.

Milos... twenty-one heads. "Milos has won," Alaina declared after a moment's reluctance.

Those in Milos's line began to cheer, and patted the hunter on the back. In the other lines, Kalaf clenched his fists, Kurunu looked disappointed, Pallamino shrugged, Hoshu gave the hunter a friendly nod, while Leilani wore a devious smile.

Alaina herself kept her expression neutral. "That settles it, then. The tribe has spoken," she said in a guarded voice. "Milos will be our chieftain. Step forward."

The hunter was caught off guard by her passive aggressive tone, but he stepped forward nonetheless, and Alaina put Anhaf's sharktooth necklace around his neck. "What were you thinking?" she whispered, so that only Milos would hear.

"I thought I would be a good leader, so I put myself forward."

"Is unity not more important?" she hissed. "You should have stood behind Kalaf. You could have been his advisor. We would have unified. Now? We're divided. He and his followers will not forget this."

And with those words Milos began to regret his decision, but he could not let that weakness show. Instead he turned to face the crowd, and forced a smile, but realized Kalaf and a few others were already gone.



After Kalmar's departure from Melantha, but before his acquisition of the Cold Portfolio...

”Urhu,” a voice spoke from behind.

Turning around, Urhu would see a blond-haired man with a thick moustache and a serious expression, clad in animal pelts. There was a wary look in his eye, and his arms were crossed. ”What brings you here?”

”Ah, this is truly the first time we have met, brother.” she smiled. ”I don’t go to places for reasons, I just go, much like the wind.”

Kalmar uncrossed his arms, but the wary look did not leave his gaze. ”And what do you do when you go to these places?”

”I see what happens there, what I can find in it, if there is anything novel or curious… Until I eventually get bored of it all and move to the next one.”

Kalmar nodded, but did not truly seem satisfied by her answer. ”So what did you do to my griffins?” he asked.

”I liked them, so I gave them a few gifts, nothing out of this world, it's just that these are hostile times and I would be saddened if such noble creatures were wiped out due to some godly whim, so I made sure they can spread far into the world and are resistance to the influence of others.”

Kalmar nodded, and looked at a griffin soaring away in the distant sky. ”I see. Sorry for my hostility. The last god who gave my creations ‘gifts’ turned them into cannibals and kinslayers.”

Urhu rose an eyebrow, and then nodded slowly. ”And that is why I made them resistant to this sort of stuff, I guess? Didn’t knew that happened, but, ah, I guess I noticed the pattern.” she laughed softly.

”So what you do… you just wander around and give gifts to things that interest you?” Kalmar questioned.

”Sometimes I don’t give gifts. Though yeah, I would say you are awfully correct.” she fixed her posture, standing in a more serious manner. ”There is a lot you can miss if you just look up from the position of an almighty god. I know there is a lot I don’t know, I can’t help but to wonder what some of our siblings with awful cases of tunnel vision even perceive, no wonder to them it's easy to cause widespread destruction.”

Kalmar nodded and looked back to her. The griffin had disappeared over the horizon. ”I’ve been meaning to do more travelling myself, but there are always more pressing issues to distract me,” he confided.

”Hmm… Eventually you just learn to deal with you issues on the go, though it helps to have some travel method that allows you to bring most of your things with you. I have a ship and it makes everything quite simple for me.” she then remembered something important. ”Your realm is just by the side of mine, isn’t that correct?”

”The Hunting Grounds?” Kalmar asked. ”I noticed there was another realm next to it when I built it, but at the time it was empty. Was that yours?”

”Oh, you did it quite early huh? Yes, The Purlieu, it makes sense why they are so close, very similar locations.” she then looked around, trying to look casual as she tried to get the information which she wanted. ”Say, as the goddess of passages, I am quite good at find ways to go certain places, which makes me wonder if you just did an incredible job at hiding the path to your realm or if there just isn’t any outside of the Purlieu’s connection. Not to pry on your personal matters anyway, I just want to know if I should be impressed… or worried.”

”There isn’t a path,” Kalmar confirmed with some reluctance. ”I’ve been meaning to build one, but after I built my sphere all my effort has been spent on Galbar.”

”Oh that is dangerous. Lots of mean things down in the chthonic realms. And if your realm gets taken over by some other god while you are away, well, not only its trouble at mine’s door, but it could seriously mess up the natural world.” she shook her head. ”That just won’t do.”

”It won’t,” Kalmar agreed. ”Which is why I intend to resolve it soon. I have already planned out what form this gateway will take and how it will function.”

Urhu grunted, a brooding look on her face. ”You know, I don’t have anything to do right now, want some help with this stuff?

Kalmar nodded again. ”I could use some help,” he agreed. ”What do you want in return?”

”Stability, I guess?” she said, pondering about what could be a reward. ”My main worry is my neighbour realm being easy target for takeovers, now, for extra rewards, well, I don’t know, typically I just let people gift me what they feel like gifting me. I don’t like asking for things unless I truly want them.”

”If you do this for me, I won’t mind doing something in return. Within reason, of course. But we can work that out in the future.” Kalmar told her. ”As for my gateway, I intend for it to be mobile. It will attach itself to a random animal on the continent. When that creature is killed, the gateway will appear near its body for a short amount of time, and then move on to another animal elsewhere. I should always be able to know where this gateway is, and the creatures it attaches itself to should have some noticeable change to indicate that - glowing eyes, or unusually coloured fur.” The Hunter shrugged. ”Is that possible?”

”Hmm. My gateway takes the form of mist, it also travels, though it doesn’t quite warp. I guess, I could do the same as I did before, but condense the mist into a thick ink or… something of the sort, that gets attached to the animal, when the animal dies, it turns into a portal then disperses, traveling again to find a new host.” she rubbed her chin, that was the most effortless way she could see to approach the issue while still providing what Kalmar had asked.

”That could work,” Kalmar said, thinking. ”Another thing - it should function differently for gods. Many of them don’t have the stomach for hunting, which will be an obstacle if I need them to come to my sphere. And there’s already no doubt that they would be capable of killing a common animal anyway. So if a god touches the animal, that should be enough to transport them, and them alone, but it won’t open a portal.”

Urhu looked up for a moment, scratching the side of her head. ”Uh, hmm. I guess that can be done. Don’t you want to make it exclusive to your command though, as in, its less of touching to open the portal and more off… touching to knock on the door?”

Kalmar nodded. ”You know more about gateways than I. If it can be done, that would be best.”

”Yeah, its not an issue, if anything, its easier to make it react to you than to make it react to any god.” which was in truth her main worry when it came to this, not so much the security issues, but that she knew better how to perform the task.

”So when do we start?”

The goddess smirked and rose her hand, with ease, she brought forward mist from the water held in the soil and plants, before condensing it on a gooey watery orb and casually throwing it to Kalmar. ”Start? I am already finished. Just need you to finish the link by allowing it to reach for your realm.”

Kalmar caught it with one hand and then studied it, focusing. He felt some sort of connection form, and then it dissipated into the wind. Even as it vanished from sight, he knew where the energy was and where it was going - into its first host.

It seemed somewhat unfair, that an animal arbitrarily be marked for death by any who wished to enter his sphere. But hunting itself was arbitrary in a sense. No animal chose to be pursued by predators; that happened through misfortune. And a hunter will kill and eat whatever they can; whether or not they find anything can sometimes be based on luck as much as skill. Besides, it would only be fitting if, in order to enter his sphere, a creature must demonstrate some aptitude for hunting.

”Thank you.” Kalmar said, and then after a moment he added: “The gateway already found its host. I’ll need to make sure it works. It isn’t far. Do you want to come?”

She gave the god a sincere smile, unlike the typical smirk. ”Sounds interesting, who would miss a chance to see the god of the hunt go out hunting, after all?”

Kalmar offered a thin smile of his own. ”It might not be as interesting as you think; there’s not much that can challenge me.” He removed the bow from his shoulder and cast his gaze eastward. ”It’s that way,” he announced, before setting off.

Urhu silently followed him, hunting was not her innate affinity, though being a goddess of frontiers and travel the act itself came naturally to her, even though today she was not hunting but just following Kalmar in his path.

They continued on for some time, Kalmar remaining equally quiet. Occasionally he would stop and kneel to glance down at some tracks or disturbed foliage, only to shake his head and declare that it led in the wrong direction. Then, finally, they came across a large set of pawprints. ”It’s nearby, and these head in the right direction. Looks like a direwolf.”

Without awaiting a response he advanced forward, until he saw what was quite possibly the largest direwolf he had ever seen. It was as tall as he was, feasting on a freshly killed deer. It glanced up from its meal and glared at him, revealing glowing blue eyes, and bared its teeth. Kalmar glared back, and the beast began to growl.

Suddenly, the Hunter dropped his bow and began running forward. The wolf abandoned its meal and began a counter-charge. In the last few feet it leapt, intending to land on him and pin him down beneath its weight, but with the reflexes and speed of a god Kalmar was able to simply step aside. The beast landed, thundering past him, only for Kalmar to grab it by the tail and force it to a stop. It yelped, and Kalmar leapt onto its back, edging toward the head. It flipped onto its side and began to roll, pressing Kalmar through the grass, leaves, and mud, as it attempted to dislodge the hunter from its back.

Then it suddenly tensed, and stopped. Kalmar’s hand was gripped around a hilt of some sort, which had appeared as if from nowhere, and was now embedded in the creature’s eye. Kalmar pulled the bloodstained knife free and pushed the beast off of him. As Kalmar rose to his feet to brush himself off, a shimmering blue portal appeared in the air above the wolf’s corpse. The Hunter extended his arm, and his bow flew through the air, returning to his hand.

”Its noble that you gave it some chance to fight, instead of just abusing your godly powers, though the result was obvious from the start. I do that sometimes as well, otherwise life as a god becomes insufferable.” she said, approaching the animal before turning towards the god. ”Well, it works. I can tell it does and that the portal leads to your home.”

”There used to be more of a thrill to it,” Kalmar admitted as he knelt beside the wolf. He stuck the knife under the animal’s fur, and with quick precision began the process of skinning it. ”Before I was a god, I mean. There was a challenge. Now… if I want to fight a creature whose power equals my own, the result could shatter continents, and that...”

He didn’t finish the sentence. Instead, he peeled away a rectangular section of fur and focused on it. The blood vanished and the skin dried. Then he shaped it into a new cloak and draped it over his back. Kalmar looked back at the portal. ”Do you want to go in?” he suddenly asked, as if he hadn’t just butchered a wolf before her very eyes.

”Oh, I would love to. I have never visited your realm despite it being so close to mine.” she said, not minding the butchering of a wolf at all, talking as if Kalmar had just picked up some flowers on the side of a road.

Kalmar nodded. He looked at his hands and the knife, both of which were stained with blood, and frowned. At once the blood seemed to vanish. ”I haven’t set foot inside it since I built it,” he confessed. ”It’s been too long.” And with those words he stepped through.

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