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Beyre and the Dwarves




The Surface-Gate of Kral-Norden, built against the side of a small mountain, was a formidable fortress, with tall stone walls, and a deep spiked ditch. The gate itself was impenetrable; it was made of thick wood reinforced with metal and enchantments, with a drawbridge and a portcullis as well. Dwarf-made cannons were mounted on the ramparts, and two banners were displayed proudly on the gatehouse. One was extremely similar in design to the banner of House Chakravarti, while the other was clearly of dwarven style, depicting the grey stone crown of the Clan Underking.

The gates were wide open today. Rarely had there ever been a cause for them to be closed, except at night. The city maintained close relations with the surface, and there had been no major incidents within living human memory. A pair of armoured dwarf guards flanked either side of the gate with arquebuses in hand and poleaxes on their backs, standing almost as still as statues.

A third dwarf stood amongst them, asking questions of those who wished to answer, and recording their answers in a book. If the visitors came with a cart, the two dwarves would stride forward to make a quick search of it. Once satisfied that they carried no contraband, the customs officer would simply ask them to take an oath that they would commit no crime nor harm against the Underking’s subjects while they were within the Underking’s realm. Only when that process was complete would they be allowed through.

In total, it was an immaculate system designed to control the inflow of guests and their role in the underkingdoms. Unfortunately, this only applied to mortality, and in the eyes of the onlooking Beyre -- it would be downright ridiculous to get caught in a queue meant for mortality.

Thinking herself sensible, Beyre quickly adopted a form neither here nor there, an ethereal body. Invisible to the corporeal realm and not bound by physical restrictions, Beyre took it upon herself to not only walk right in, but to pass directly through any mortals she would have had to wait in line behind, as a final sort of snicker at the idea of being stuck in queue.

Content, Beyre passed through the open doors. Within the walls was a small village, where humans and dwarves lived amongst one another. Most of the facilities here were intended either to service the influx of travellers, or the garrison that protected this place. But ultimately there was very little of note. Following the road through the small village, she would eventually come across the true gate, which led into the mountain itself, and from there, down into the depths of the Underkingdom.



Some time later…

For one not used to it, it was a hard journey to descend into the Underkingdom. One had to traverse what felt like hundreds upon hundreds of steps, passing through checkpoints and outposts, all of which were manned by dwarves. Some were friendly, others suspicious, but they allowed all travellers to pass. Fortunately it wasn’t too difficult to navigate - the corridors and stairways were illuminated by glowshrooms and enchanted lights, and in a few cases where the route became more complex than “just keep going down”, there were always signs to point the way.

Eventually she came upon the final door. This door was perhaps the sturdiest of all; it was made of solid metal, at the end of a long wide corridor of arrow slits and murderholes. Any who somehow managed to defy all odds and fight their way down to this point was assured to meet their doom here.

And when she passed through that last door, she finally emerged into the city of Kral-Norden itself. The vast cavern stretched on beyond mortal sight, although her divine senses could see the edges of it easily enough. The buildings were strong and sturdy, some of which extended all the way up to the cavern’s ceiling where they served as both housing and support beam.

There was more than enough light. A massive orange dome was mounted on the ceiling as well, glowing as if it were an artificial sun, and glowshrooms grew out of the cavern’s walls or in pots along the streets.

Sturdy walls separated the various districts - even so deep beneath the earth, behind so many fortresses and chokepoints, the dwarves were still concerned about defense.

At the far end of the cavern was a vast palace of granite and marble. A vast stairway lined with statues led up to its raised entrance, above which was a balcony which overlooked the entire city.

Squinting, Beyre tried her best to make out any holy buildings or places of worship. There were quite a few; ornate and sturdy temples of grey stone, scattered here and there. Standing on either side of the doorways were statues of the Underking Algrim and the Underqueen Arira, and directly above the door was the banner of the Underking Clan.

Picking the closest temple, Beyre took it upon herself to perform an inspection of sorts. Inside, despite its impressive construction, the temple was not particularly busy. Perhaps she had visited during its off hours, or perhaps the dwarfs prefered to honour their gods through crafts and architecture than actual ceremony. Either way, it was mostly empty; a vast stone room with rows upon rows of stone benches, which only a few dwarves sat upon. A robed dwarf priest was sweeping in the corner, although he was no mere civilian - a rather deadly-looking warhammer was hooked to his belt, and it did not appear to be ceremonial.

At the far end of the hall was a black stone altar with gilded edges and unlit silver braziers. Just behind the altar were two statues similar to the ones outside; one of the Underking, and one of the Underqueen. But there were other smaller statues beside them; some of which Beyre would recognize, while others were strangers. Their names, etched into the plinths upon which they stood, were as follows: Yaerna, Uwne, Chakravarti, Lonn.

Beyre knitted her ethereal brow. She ran her fingers across the smooth black altar, fingers passing through as she thought. Turning from the place of worship she called out to the priest, her form suddenly very corporeal.

“How do you honor these names?”

The priest jolted slightly. He had not seen her materialized, but her sudden interjection had nonetheless been unexpected. He was surprisingly young, at least by dwarf standards. His grip tensed on the broom and he looked up at her. Elsewhere in the room, one of the dwarves - an older looking man - muttered about the disrespect of humans; an orange eye glancing at him brieflyk.

Despite this, the priest took the question seriously. “Y’ stand in a Temple of the Pillars, lass,” he said. “Those monuments which ‘old th’ world together. These six are th’ builders and th’ keepers.”

He raised a hand and gestured to the statue of the Underking. “That is th’ Underking,” he said, his tone reverential. “Father and ruler to us all. Th’ pillars were ‘is idea, and ‘e ‘ad a ‘and in creatin’ each ‘un. Next to ‘im is the Underqueen, Keeper of the First Pillar. The Underking took ‘er as a bride, even though she was surfaceborn, and she rules beside ‘im.”

“As for th’ others?” he swept his hand to indicate the other four. “Lonn, Keeper of the Second. Chakravarti, Keeper of the Third, and the Underqueen’s mother. Yaerna, Keeper of the Fourth, and Uwne, Keeper of the Fifth,” he said. “We honour the others by maintainin’ these statues and rememberin’ their names, so that we never forget the duty they ‘ave embraced. Would be a damned rude thing, t’ forget somethin’ like that.”

The other dwarves nodded respectfully, and the priest continued on. “That’s not th’ only role they hold in our ‘earts, o’ course,” he said. “But in th’ context of this temple? That’s why they’re ‘ere. We ‘ave other gods too, who we honour in different ways, in different temples.” The young priest smiled slightly. “Do y’ understand?”

Beyre turned to the statues, pinching her chin in silent contemplation. A pregnant pause lingered between the question and Beyre, her gaze stuck flickering between the names until finally she opened her mouth. “What did they do?” She quickly added, “besides your father.”

The word was accompanied by the goddess’s own eyes lingering a second longer on Lonn’s name.

The priest did not seem to notice. “Before we Underkin walked under th’ land, the earth was unstable. No stability. Constant shakes and tremours. It would have come apart if nobody did anything. So, th’ Underking met th’ other gods ‘un by ‘un, and each ‘un joined their powers with ‘is. They ‘elped ‘im shape the pillars from the earth, an’ through the Underking’s might, they projected an aura of stability.”

“Some o’ these meetings went better than others, o’ course. According to our Prince, Lonn attacked th’ Underking on sight, not knowing who ‘e was. They say the Goddess o’ Families was so smitten by the Underking that she asked for ‘is ‘and, an’ ‘e refused. An’ the goddess Yaerna only agred to ‘elp ‘im after they worked together ta banish a mighty beast,” the Priest recounted. “Th’ meetings with th’ Underqueen and the Craftsman were uneventful, by comparison, but both went well.”

A certain light accompanied Beyre’s green eyes. “I think I understand.” A smile formed. “These subjects of your worship committed a helpful deed to you all, and so as such you honor them, yeah?” Beyre leaned in, studying the priest’s face eagerly.

“That’s aboot right,” the priest nodded. “Though it wasn’t just fer us. It was fer th’ entire world.”

Beyre folded her hands together, her thoughts spinnin quicker than she was listening. “If I did something nice for you, would you all honor my name as well?”

The dwarf priest blinked. “Well that depends on what ye do. Our scribes keep records, t’ honour those friends, allies, and ‘eroes who stand by us in our time o’ need.” He paused. “That is what y’ meant, right?”

“What do you like?” Beyre’s smile was wide and pearly, energy in her green eyes. “Do you like gold?”

The priest chuckled. “There isnae a dwarf alive who doesn’t like gold, ah don’t think. An’ I don’t think any o’ the temples would turn down a donation. Though, it’d take more than a donation or two t’ be honoured as a dwarf-friend. Who would y’ be, anyway? Is this yer first time in a dwarf city?”

Beyre nodded her head, eyes shimmering as they glanced off to nowhere in particular. Her smile turned soft before looking back at the priest. “It sure is! Oh, I’m excited, aren’t you?”

“Well yer not th’ first outsider I’ve spoken to, pretty as ye may be,” the priest said with a slight smirk. Which faded somewhat when the old dwarf shook his head and muttered something about the folly of youth; again a sneaky orange eye glared at him for a moment. The white-bearded dwarf paid her no mind, and instead got up to leave.

The young priest had not noticed the look in her eye, not until the old man had reached the temple door -- which swung wide as he approached. The stiff material of the door slammed into the old man, sending him and a tooth of his to the ground.

“Oh dear!” the old woman who had launched the door open gasped.

The priest rushed over to the old man and helped him to his feet. “Are y’ alright?” he asked, but the old man merely grumbled something unintelligible and stormed out of the building.

“How [color=orange]unlucky[.color],” Beyre said, every bit of her lips curling into a frown, save the very tips. Not wasting any more time on the fuss, Beyre approached the priest once more.

“What else do you like?”

The priest did not reply to her at first. Instead he consoled the old woman who had accidentally knocked the other dwarf over, before directing her to a seat. Only then did he turn to Beyre. “Sorry, lass,” he said. “It’s nice that ye’ve taken an’ interest in our ways - more than most surfacers would - but ah really need t’ get back t’ my duties. Yer welcome t’ stop by later, if ye ‘ave more questions, or yer free t’ take a seat if ye just want t’ think or pray.”

Wait,” Beyre said with a tense urgency. After she simply stared hard at the priest -- as if she was waiting too.

The priest stared at her for a few moments, his brow furrowed. When it seemed as if nothing would happen, he began to turn away.

Beyre grabbed his shoulders to hold him still. “[green]Wait![/green]”

The priest tensed, and the other dwarves still in the room rose from their seats. “Lass-” the priest began...

Before he could finish, the temple door whooshed open again; but this time a dwarf a shade younger than the priest came huffing through -- face redder than a ruby. He ran right up to the priest, paying no mind to the strange woman holding his shoulders and began to shovel words out between puffs of breath.

“Brother!” His eyes were wide with excitement. “I... whew! I... brother! You won’t believe it!”

Beyre let go of the priest, smiling wide and taking two steps back.

“Bloody ‘ell, what now?” the priest growled, his patience having finally faded. Instead of words, the younger brother simply slapped a yellowed piece of paper to the priest’s chest.

“Map... Grandfather... gold!”

“What?” the priest stared at him in confusion, before his expression turned to worry. “By the gods… ‘as grandfather’s madness taken ye as well?”

The brother stabbed his finger into the paper he already pinned to the priest’s chest. “Take a look fer yourself ye ass.”

Shaking his head, and looking more than a little embarrassed at the fact that all this was happening in his place of work, the priest pushed his brother’s hand aside and turned the map over so he could take a look. He stared at it for a few moments, as if trying to work out what exactly he was seeing. Then, realization struck. “By the Pillars…” he whispered.

The priest’s brother smiled wide, a silver tooth catching the light. He slowly nodded his head. “Gold. The lost gold vein Grandfather found.”

“Th’ map was real?” the priest asked, before noticing that the rest of the templegoers had begun to approach - clearly the idea of a map to secret gold intrigued them as well. The priest held the map to his chest so they could not see it. “Where did y’ find it?”

“Wouldn’t ye know it, I was cleanin’ the old sod’s basement whe’rin he laid Gramma’s old books she used to like before she passed n’ I stub me toe and this big old tome falls down and when I went to pick ‘er up, me thumb opened to a page where’in this map was saving place!”

“Very lucky!” Beyre chimed in.

The priest looked around, still conscious of the eyes on him. Then, he handed the map back to his brother. “Go home,” he said. “Keep it secret, an’ keep it safe. We’ll talk aboot this later.”

“UH HUH!” The younger brother held the map close to his chest and all but skipped out of the temple. A mad cackle could be heard as he ran down the streets, punctuated by the closing of the temple door. Already, Beyre was standing over the priest’s shoulder, a smile bigger than his brother’s.

Disappointed, some of the templegoers returned to their seats, while others left the building. Once things were settled, the priest turned back to Beyre. “I’d like t’ speak with ye outside,” he said.

“Okay.” Beyre was already moving towards the door. Passing through she stood completely still until the priest was also through, at which point she blatantly spoke, “Can I have my name on the wall now?”

But the priest only stared at her, keeping his emotions closely guarded. “Who are you?” he asked her.

“I’m Beyre, the lady of luck!” She rolled her eyes. “You’d think there would be some appreciation for chance around here already.”

The priests eyebrows rose. “So… yer a goddess, then?” he asked. “Truly?”

Beyre held a finger to her lips. “Just don’t tell everyone what I look like, yeah? I forgot to change before this and I need this one.”

The dwarf did not give much indication on whether or not he heard her. He spoke quickly, his words outrunning his thoughts. “Ye should introduce yerself to the Prince,” he said. “If ye are a goddess, or someone of great power, he’d be ‘appy to receive you. An’ if yer ‘ere t’ ‘elp, ‘e can tell you how. And…” he paused. “An’ thank ye for th’ map, if that was yer doing. I don’t know how ye would ‘ave done it, but… it may ‘ave saved my family.”

“That’s good luck,” Beyre agreed, “you’re welcome.” She looked around for a moment before looking back at the priest. “The other ones never helped you personally, yeah?”

“Personally?” the priest asked. “Well, aside from all th’ great deeds they performed… no, they never ‘elped me specifically…” he said his voice seeming to trail off, before he spoke with new urgency. “Not that they had much reason to, o’ course.”

“Ha!” Beyre seemed to be celebrating a small victory. “How short sighted of them.” Finished with her contentment she grinned. “Take me to your prince.”

The priest blinked. “Right now?”

“You’re the one who suggested it, yeah?” Beyre was quick to cross her arms.

“I… I did,” the priest nodded, though he was clearly taken aback by the enormity of what was just asked of him. “V-very well. Let’s go.”

“Yes!” Beyre shook the dwarf by the shoulder. “And when we get there, you can present me!”



The guards standing before the outer gate of the palace could have been mistaken for statues. They stood ramrod straight and perfectly still in their heavy armour, with halberds in their hands, swords at their belts, and large shields on their backs. If the priest had not addressed them, there would have been no indication that they were alive at all.

“I am Brother Ranulf of the Temple of the Pillars,” he said. He waved a hand to indicate his charge. “And this is Beyre… the Goddess of Luck.” He took a deep breath. “She wishes t’ meet his lordship; the Prince of the Underkingdom and the Tzar of Kral-Nordern.”

Beyre stood there, having changed her look about partway to the palace. She did away with the disguise of Nellie the Red in favor of a more transcendent appearance. Her dark red hair remained the same, as did her complexion -- but one half of her was stained orange, the eye on that half of her face as bright as a fresh citrus. Her Red City clothes were replaced with a long green dress pierced with stitchings of clover and heather -- something Nellie would never be caught wearing.

Her smile quickly faded, clearly expecting something more than the silence she was receiving.

Without saying a word, the two guards bowed in perfect synchrony. Then, with flawless precision, one of them turned and marched through the gate, up the steps to the Palace.

“The Silent Guard,” Ranulf explained. “They don’t speak a word. Not while on duty. Probably going to inform the Prince of your coming.”

“Well let’s hope they don’t trip on the way.” Beyre crossed her arms.

A minute passed in awkward silence. Then, the sound of footsteps and clanking metal could be heard as the guard returned. He nodded to the other guard, who nodded back, before turning to face them once more. They offered another bow, before one of them gestured for the two to follow. And with that, he went back through the gates again, while the second guard moved aside to let them pass.

And so, a goddess and two dwarves passed the threshold of the gatehouse and ascended the steps of the palace, under the watchful gaze of the statues of dwarven lords and heroes. They reached the top, where more guards stood at attention, but stepped aside to open the door for them.

Then they entered a grand entryhall, with carpets, candles, sculptures, and paintings. They carried on to a pair of doors at the far end, and upon passing through those, they entered the throne room. It was spacious, with a high ceiling from which two ornate chandeliers hung. A carpet led from the door to the throne, and on either side were crowds of nobles, merchants, military officers, and other prominent citizens.

Upon the throne itself sat a man who could only be the Prince. He looked young, as far as dwarves went. He wore armour that appeared to be made from silver with a golden trim, and had a luxurious red silk cape. His hair was short and blond, but his beard was at least a foot in length. Upon his brow was a crown, in the center of which was a large perfectly spherical emerald. And around his neck was an amulet with a sapphire of similar size. He would have been handsome, if not for the patch of stony skin on his right cheek.

As they approached the throne, the Prince rose to his feet, descended the steps of his throne, and offered them a slight bow. “Arvid Algrimson welcomes you, self-proclaimed Goddess,” he said.

The priest, Ranulf stepped forward. “This is Beyre, the Goddess of Luck,” he said, by way of introduction.

“And this is Ranulf.” Beyre put her hand on the priest’s shoulder. “Your best dwarf.”

Arvid’s eyebrows rose. “High praise,” he said. “What service did the lad perform for you?”

“Me?” Beyre let out a laugh not quite sarcastic but not quite genuine. “He brought to my attention, a literal Goddess of extreme power, how great your people are. So now I’m here, in all my might, impressed and happy with the dwarves.”

“Well it is good to know we ‘ave impressed you so,” the Prince went on. “Had we known you were coming, we would ‘ave prepared a better welcome. May I ask what brings ye to our city?”

“I was curious,” Beyre admitted easily. She started to walk around the room, eager to prod the decorations and gaze up at the chandeliers. Her pacing continued with her speech, “I was really wondering how you all handled chance and what you thought of me. Ranulf showed me that you enjoy me very much, for sure.”

“Always a risk involved in mining and trading,” the Prince said, “and those are the Underkin’s lot in life.”

“Yeah, well, um...” Beyre turned to the prince. “So you could sort of say I’m very prevalent in your society.”

“Is that what ye wish fer?” Arvid asked. “A place in our pantheon?”

“Seems only fair, doesn’t it?” Beyre lost her composure for a moment, a snap of orange breaking into her usual complexion. “I mean anything could happen anytime, anywhere and no one seems to really appreciate it when it does or doesn’t!”

“That does seem fair,” Arvid said, his lips curling into a slight smile. “And easy enough to arrange, though it’ll take time t’ build temples and recruit new priests. But, if ye can swear an oath to safeguard an’ protect the luck o’ my people, I can swear an oath t’ revere you alongside the rest o’ our gods, an’ do my best t’ convince my people t’ do the same.”

“Well now hold on.” Beyre raised her palms, “As pleasant as that sounds, not everyone is lucky. If everyone was lucky then no-one would be lucky... or something. Either way, I can only go so far as to promise luck to those in my favor, and whatever chance may have in mind for those who are a little to the side of my... favor. Makes sense, right Ranulf?”

Ranulf nodded somewhat hesitantly.

Arvid continued speaking. “Oh, I’m not askin’ for us all to ‘ave windfalls and bountiful ‘arvests. If such a thing were possible, the gods would ‘ave done so long ago. An’ if they did, we’d all be a lot softer an’ weaker than we are now. What I’m askin’, is if ye can make occurrences of bad luck less common.”

“Oh! I know how to do that for sure.” Beyre smiled. “Keep me as happy as Ranulf managed this afternoon and you can have all the luck you want, or something. I think this is a good turn of events, yeah?”

“Indeed it is,” the Prince nodded. “Yer more than welcome t’ dine with us tonight, though it won’t be until tomorrow that a proper feast can be arranged. Until then, I can arrange t’ give you a tour of the palace or the city. Or I can ‘ave some bards and poets share our songs and histories. We Underkin are a hospitable people.”

“Mm! I like it, though I have to make a quick trip to the underworld in the morning -- but after that, let’s do!” Beyre clapped Ranulf on the back. “I told you it was going to be exciting!”




Algrim

and

Arira - Goddess of Cycles


The Post-Pillars Celebration!


A collab by @Not Fishing and @Crusader Lord




After months spent educating his people and constructing settlements and palaces for them, Algrim felt compelled to return to Paradise, and check on Arira. Although it had been some time since they last spoke, he had not forgotten her promise to hold a welcoming feast for him, nor had he forgotten his promise to take her up on it. Besides, of all the gods he had met, she perhaps left the strongest impression on him. Maybe it was because she was the first he had encountered, or maybe it was something else.

The Underking decided he would not journey to his new realm alone or unadorned, and so he brought an escort of a dozen dwarves. They had come from one of the newly-created underground settlements; one situated directly beneath the Paradise. They were those who had demonstrated exceptional leadership, initiative, or work ethic. Pillars of the community, one could say. They were donned in robes of varying colours.

Algrim himself wore bright blue, and made the decision to go in his flesh-form rather than his stone-form. Upon his brow he wore a heavy crown that appeared to be carved from simple stone, but was adorned with several bright and rare jewels.

Before he departed, in a rather uncharacteristic display of vanity he conjured up a mirror to examine himself. That was rather odd, he mused. Never before had he been all that concerned about his appearance.

Oh, who was he kidding. He knew why.




The mountain walls of Arira’s paradise were within sight. He had sent word ahead, and the messenger had returned to confirm that they received it, so the inhabitants should be expecting him. The dwarf god felt an unusual twinge of nervousness. “Get ahold of yourself,” he whispered.

“Is something the matter, oh Honourable Underking?” One of his followers questioned.

“Nothing,” Algrim said, shaking his head. “Now let’s go. I have a pledge to honour, and we have a feast to get to.” If the offer still stood. Hopefully the goddess still remembered, and wouldn’t feel jilted that he had taken so long to take her up on it.

And with those words, they carried on toward their destination.




As the dwarves would eventually make their way up to and enter the Ariran Paradise, before them would be something that only Algrim himself had seen before. Trees and bushes and shrubs and so forth all about, land stretching out farther than the eye could see with hills and plains and so forth, game and beasts and fruits and plants of all possible edible kinds one could imagine...and then some, and even untouched minerals and eternally-regenerating deposits of all resources civilizations could ever want and so forth that lied below it! It wasn’t as comfortable as the underground perhaps was, and yet all the same the aura of the place screamed of ‘divinity’ and ‘bliss’. It was a vast enough, grand enough place that a city and towns and villages spread and growing all about were possible for those who lived above, though the untold potential and incredible beauty of it all was notable indeed.

Still, it seemed the humans had built up more since the last Algrim had been there as the group in time would have gotten closer and closer to the temple. Homes of proper brick and stone, with proper roofing and all, were beginning to pop up as the former wooden abodes and huts and such of yesteryear were beginning to decline. Even so, it would be...a long time for the population to grow and change things fully.

Yet more than this, it seemed as if the population was abuzz with activity! Racks of great grass-feasting beasts were being carried about on mortal-carried palanquin-like work platforms. Hunters wielding longbow and matchlocks and so forth in a peculiar array were resting, cleaning up, or even jovially laughing amongst each other. Paths made with brick and very tightly-fitted stones were beginning to emerge, even, to connect living spaces and the barely-starting-to-grow population.

Smells of savory cooked meats offm myriad kinds that had been simmering for untold hours, lovely pots of stews and soups sat bubbling with both lighter as well as richer and darker broths that contained untold spices, fire-roasted veggies and fruits seemed to add a sweet scent to the air as they cooked upon great fires or upon slabs of metal placed over fires, and so forth trailed through the air.

There too were celebratory hangings of myriad colors, ranging from light blues to lovely yellows and rich reds and royal purples hung about on banners, flag-like hangings, and the ilk. Artistic depictions of Algrim and Arira hung about in places as tapestries or paintings or so forth, all alongside even a few statues that dotted along the side of the grain main street that now led to the temple’s entrance rather than the former dirt path leading to the bottom stairs.

As the dwarves and Algrim would walk along, humans would make bows or tip hats and so forth in their direction in respect, with a few young children watching from behind their mother’s backs or chattering among each other excitedly as they looked at them from afar. Even those of some...oh? Some other races seemed to be present as well. Festive magical lights, woven by the shorter and furry Brynlic, could be seen along with those weaving them whilst other Brynlic danced about. Orderly and mannerly Erimav could be seen dotted about as they helped organize humans and others alike...though one or two seemed to be struggling with a few rather mischievous Brynlic out of the corner of the Earth God’s gaze. Even the great Ketto, rather large female-looking humanoids with red skin and superhuman musculature to boot, had donned great robes and so forth as they stood either as policing guards, big cooks helping with the preparations, sitting among hunters, or simply helping hang things from the homes or from festive poles and such. Dirham were too among the bunch, somewhere between humans and Erimav they might seem physically, and wielding strength somewhere between Humans and the towering Ketto as they could be seen in good numbers among the rest.

Algrim wasn’t entirely sure what most of these races were, or where they had come from. Another sign of how busy the other gods had been while he toiled underground. His own companions looked upon them with varied reactions; suspicion, fascination, curiosity.

“It’s a very diverse place, eh?” one of the dwarves commented.

“Da,” another answered. “Zey have sekritz we can learn?”

Algrim for his part was silent, taking in the sights, and contemplating what he would say upon meeting the goddess herself. Assuming she was here. She had to be, with all this activity.

Ultimately, the troop of dwarves and Algrim would be met more properly at the bottom of the stairs that ascended up into the fortress-temple. Whilst a proper wide landing and public square had been added down there by now, at the foot of those stairs stood a semi-circle of representatives. Among them, one adult human man who seemed to have several ladies bearing lovely sashes of dwarven size and colored after valuable metals and jewels.

“Greetings, Lord Algrim, God of Earth, and your compatriots with you in kind! We were told to prepare for several, but we did not know much of what to bear to you,” the man said before politely gesturing to the ladies about him, who would come over and gently place the sashes over Algrim and the dwarves with him, before the man spoke again, “Still, these most festive of sashes were prepared with the finest Ariran silk in the whole of the Paradise to decorate our most honored of guests to this first great feast and festival so held in your honor! As Lord Algrim is the God of Earth, Lady Arira decided upon these colors that stem from the valuable things of the earth! We pray they will be suitable for your lordship and your entourage.”

As the dwarves ran their hands over the strange fabric, Algrim looked the man in the eye. “My title is th’ Underking now,” he said. “But I thank yer lady for th’ hospitality, and th’ gifts. Please show me ta her.”

“My sincerest apologies, great Underking! But my thanks for the correction.”

The man spoke once more and gave a deep bow, before stepping aside and gesturing to the temple entrance at the top of the stairs.

“Lady Arira awaits you in the lower chamber, where the Great Pillar rests. If you desire I shall guide you myself, and any others about would be willing to do the same of course!”

“Unless things ‘ave changed, I remember th’ way,” Algrim answered, as he began to stride forward with his dwarven escort in tow. As they ascended the stairs up to the building, some of the dwarfs made comments on the stone workmanship. Some offered quiet praise, while others mumbled criticisms. There was no clear consensus, and most of it would be lost to any observer.

They entered the temple, and then descended to the lower chamber. Algrim was the first to step into the large room, with the rest of the dwarves filing in to take their places beside and slightly behind him.

The vast chamber itself was something to behold even now, having been cleaned up and smoothed out and so forth. Lovely stone flooring clacked underneath the step of the Underking, Even the stairs on the way down had been far clearer than the first trip, though the same winding trip down had been inevitable perhaps.

Yet upon this platform, this one that sat before the great and mighty pillar whose width and the massive size of the chamber outshone even the grandest of fields in space and scale, a familiar face stood there as she had been looking upon the pillar proper. She was adorned, however, in finery far better than the first Algrim had seen her. Her golden ornaments seemed to have been shined to perfection, their craft far beyond any mortals’ hands could dream of, and were now studded with rubies and sapphires and emeralds and other precious stones. Her dress was longer and silkier to the touch than ever before, and along the borders had been intricately decorated with cyclical depictions and even touches related to her and Algrim having made the pillar. Indeed those borders each bore a story, and were woven of the finest silver and golden threads that a divinity’s power could manifest. Even the circlet upon her head seemed to have flowered rather than be in the form of berries.

“Hmm?”

The goddess turned her head at hearing the approach, but seeing Algrim there her gentle smile returned in an instant. In fact, it seemed even wider and more jubilant than before as she turned around to him and gave a bow before him. Still, one could tell her joy was being restrained in order to keep up appearances...or perhaps it was something she only subtly allowed Algrim to see in particular.

“Dear Algrim, it is most splendid to see thine face here in mine Paradise once more! A most welcome sight I hath looked forward to indeed.”

For a moment Algrim was left speechless by the sight, but only a moment. He offered her a bow in return. “I could say th’ same,” he said to her. “Never in my travels have I met someone more fair and more friendly than ye.” Then he cast his eyes downward, seeming almost ashamed. When he spoke next his tone was drastically different from the one she had known him to use before. “I offer you my apologies for not coming sooner, and for breaking my word. I said nothing would keep me from it, and, well… I did get caught up in something.”

Slight distress at seeing Algrim in such a state gripped the goddess’ face for a moment, and taking a knee she put a gentle finger under Algrim’s chin and lifted it to look at her own face.

“Worry not, nor should’st thou feel guilt over this thing. If thou desirest, thou art forgiven. Yet stilI could’st never be wroth or such ilk at thee, for what thou dids’t need to do then, that hast thou done. I too twas’ caught up in mine own work for this world…and twas in such I ran into mine own troubles to be truthful with thee.”

Despite her gentle smile and putting in her best to try to cheer up the Underking, Arira’s tone did seem to drift into a melancholy near the end as she trailed off. Letting out a sigh, the goddess then returned to a warmer smile as she gently took Algrim’s hands into her own.

“Wherefore do not fret, for naught is wrong with thee in mine eyes. Quite the opposite!”

Algrim returned the smile, but then his expression shifted into concern. “What sort o’ troubles? Anything y’ need ‘elp with?”

A flash of sadness crossed the goddesses’ eyes, and ever so slightly she gripped Algrim’s hands tighter as she still held them within her own.

“I...oh dear. I shalt be truthful to thee, nay a lie, I did go far into the heavens to try to bringeth mine pain to a finality. I did take on my true form, and in that I did bring the seasons and climes and all cycles into existence and bound deep into mineself to be rooted and bound eternally. It cannot all be undone, save I cease to exist, and indeed it did bring my pains to a halt.

…...Yet it was too much all at once. I did return to this form, and from the center of all the heavens I fell like a great stone dropped from there.”


She grimaced at the mention of her falling, somewhat embarrassed at admitting she had overexerted.

“Twas nothing most could have done, so there should’st be no regret from thee or the few I have met yet, but whilst unconscious I was’t plucked from mine fall by the Goddess of Beauty, Wyn. To the sight of her did I awake thereafter, and she dids’t ask of me what I had been doing. So I did answer her, and spoke even of mine Paradise and parent as she did ask me about them, though as she spoke of if mine rather peculiar parent would desire mineself to marry I did admittedly panic and become afluster with worry.”

A long-drawn out sigh then came out of her lovely lips before the goddess continued.

“She was’t most lovely to the eyes to behold, and was most kind to me despite beauty itself not being always so, yet I was’t most unprepared and twas’...seduced then and as I recovered. Naught but mine inexperience to blame, but all the same I worry it shall make me look less to thee for speaking this truth...tho I would’st prefer to tell thee this truth than hide from thee. Would be’st mine greatest regret to ever lie to thee most of all.”

Her eyes struggled to meet his, and she seemed near to almost crying to be frank.

Meanwhile, her words had been enough to almost send Algrim reeling. How was he to respond to that?

She had begun by confessing to an immense personal struggle. Between her flowery speech and her somewhat vague wording, Algrim wasn’t entirely sure what she had done, but it sounded important - not just for her, but perhaps the world. Surely, she should be consoled, or offered help, or something. That was clearly the more important of the two subjects.

At the same time, she had also confessed to bedding another goddess, and that was the source of Algrim’s conflict. Was she unaware of how he felt toward her? Of course she was. He had only had one conversation with her and had never told her. They had no commitments to one another. The feelings he had felt for her even before his revelation were both premature and irrational, yet he felt them nonetheless, and this revelation still stung as a result.

And yet he also felt ashamed. Ashamed for his selfishness. Because now he was thinking about just how much this revelation had hurt him, when she herself had gone through a great deal of pain, over something far more serious, and still seemed to feel remorse over the lesser of her two problems.

That in turn gave way to anger. Not at Arira, but at this ‘Wyn’ woman. Had the beauty goddess manipulated her? Put some form of spell on her? Is that why she was so regretful? If that was the case, Algrim would need to swear a vow of vengeance against the Goddess of Beauty, for regardless of how he felt, Arira was his friend and ally, and he would allow no one to strike such a person with impunity…

Then confusion struck. Why had Arira told him this in the first place? Why did she think he would about who she shared a bed with? Unless she already suspected his feelings. But if she did, why tell him that at all? A subtle way to deter him? No, that was an unworthy thought - he had no reason to assume she would resort to such manipulations. Did she want him to take some sort of action against Wyn on her behalf? The anger threatened to return. Perhaps he would.

Or maybe… he considered her closing words. It would be her greatest regret to lie to him most of all? She was asking for forgiveness. Why would she think she needed to be forgiven if she didn’t… which meant…

Algrim cursed himself. Once more he was thinking selfish thoughts. Friend, ally, or something else, she had exposed her secrets to him and such confidence demanded a reply!

And then suddenly he was conscious of the fact that several seconds had passed, and he had failed utterly in concealing the maelstrom of emotions which raged across his face. “I…” he began. “You don’t…” and then he was conscious of the eyes on his back.

“Leave us!” he suddenly commanded his companions, who had watched the entire exchange in stoic yet awkward silence. “Wait outside, and speak not a word of this to anyone.” Obediently they marched back up the stairs.

Only when they were gone did he look Arira in the eyes again. When he spoke next, his words were quiet, but clear. “Do not weep on my behalf,” he said. “I… I will return truth with truth, as I always have, and as I always will. Your words have hurt me, but that is more my fault than yours. I had just… I had hoped that something might be possible between us. Perhaps I should have told you sooner, or perhaps I am a lovesick fool of a godling for developing such feelings so quickly.”

“Either way…” he continued. “Whatever has passed between you and this ‘Wyn’, it is not my place to judge you for you for it. I would ask you, though… what does she mean to you? And what do I mean to you?”

A couple of tears rolled down the goddess’ face as she looked Algrim back in the eyes.

“Dearest Algrim...oh my I have caused thee such pain, though to hear truth from thine own mouth touches my heart so,” Arira said, still holding the Underking’s hands in her own, though she did move up her right hand to cup the left side of Algrim’s face softly as she looked into his eyes, a few more tears beginning to come down from her eyes as she spoke, “To know how thou feelest...it in truth makes mine heart most glad. Worry not, for Lady Wyn is a friend but no closer. I holdeth no hate for her, yet she doth not hold mine heart.”

She would then place a chaste kiss upon Algrim’s forehead.

“Such is why I hath felt such great worry to confess what had happened betwixt mineself and Lady Wyn to thee...for in mine mind I have thus feared thou would’st cast me aside forever more. I am no expert in matters of love, and all of this is new, yet still if thou thinkest thineself a lovesick fool even after all of this...then I shalt forever be one alongside thee as well.”

Arira then took a long, deep breath, drumming up what courage she had before she continued once more.

“I hath felt such great worry to confess what had happened to thee...for in mine mind I have thus feared thou would’st cast me aside forever more. I am no expert in matters of love, and yet still if thou thinkest thineself a lovesick fool even after all of this, then I shalt be one as well so that thou art not alone. So if even with the truths I hath told thee thou desirest not me anymore, I shalt respect it. For I wish not to hurt thee, as such even in thought causes me pains greater than those I felt from the world itself prior.

Yet in the plainest of language I shall most truly make mine words and feelings most clear here and now...

...Of all the gods or mortals I have met or ever will meet, of all the ages before and ever to come, no matter what come or what may, my heart belongs to thee alone. I love you most of all, Algrim Underking, and this will never change no matter how the tides of this Shard of Creation go and no matter what you decide for yourself. Since our first meeting my heart has longed after you for uncountable nights. The touch of your strong hands, the comfort of your presence and splendid character...all of you. Such is my deepest, heartfelt truth that I make known to you now and forevermore.


Algrim blinked in astonishment. The way she spoke, the attraction she had to him burned far more brightly than what he had felt for her. This was not what he had expected. Not at all. It went beyond what he had dared hope for. For the second time that day, he was at a loss for words.

So, he didn’t speak. Instead, he lurched forward and upward, planting his lips on hers.

Arira returned the gesture without hesitation, her lips pressed against those of the dwarven God’s own. She kept her hand on his cheek as she kissed him in return. No words. No shouts of jubilation. No nothing. Just the warmth of the Underking’s face pressed against hers was enough, the silent feelings shared between them without anything else needed in that most precious moment. The god wrapped his arms around her waist, deepening the embrace.

And then, he pulled away, but still held onto her. “Well…” he said softly. “I accept your feelings, as you have clearly accepted mine. But…” his voice trailed off. “It could be unwise to progress too swiftly. Whatever we might feel toward each other, we have in truth spent very little time in each other’s company, and there is much about each other we do not know. Let’s fix that. And then, after enough time has passed, and we have seen more of each other, we shall see if we both still feel the same way.” He brought a hand up to touch her cheek, wiped away a tear, and awaited her response.

The goddess silently nodded as she held onto Algrim in return, a joyful and happy smile upon her face as the tears that had begun to flow more freely now began to dry.

“Indeed...haha...but to spend time with thee more so now would be most welcome indeed. So let us spend time with each other, to get to know one another, and see if our feelings thus remain the same.”

“Indeed. And um… no more affairs with others,” the Dwarf-God said, somewhat awkwardly.

The goddess lightly nodded in return.

“Tis’ my promise, dear Algrim, and for thee I shalt keep it,” she said, still smiling despite the truth and seriousness of her words, though one hand came to her stomach as she raised an eyebrow at her stomach before looking to the Underking again with a small chuckle escaping her lips, “Oh my...perchance I crave some of the feasting foods above?”

Algrim smiled. “Aye. We’d best get to it.” He offered her his arm, and the two proceeded up the stairs.





Algrim




With the world stabilized, the months that followed were ones of great productivity for Algrim. He had returned to Arira’s paradise, only to discover that the goddess was absent. The disappointment he felt was almost immeasurable, but she most likely had her reasons. There was much more wrong with the world than earthquakes, after all. Perhaps it was good that she had begun to look beyond this one little corner.

In any case, he saw no sense in waiting around. Already, the rest of his kind had made immense strides in repairing the world. Where there had once been wastelands there were now lush and diverse ecosystems.

However… something about it didn’t sit well with him. All of those ecosystems felt too… open. Exposed. Vulnerable. They were easy to find, and there was nothing protecting them against attacks from above. Had they learned nothing?

Algrim shook his head. How foolish. He would not make the same mistake.

And so, he dug downward. Deep beneath the earth. Then, upon reaching sufficient depth, he began to dig outward. For months he toiled, creating an advanced network of vast city-sized caves and long winding tunnels, which spanned across much of the known world. Between his mastery of earth and the pillars he had constructed, there was barely any impact on the world above, save maybe the occasional tremour.

But a cave could not support life. Not on its own. So, he created mushrooms, mosses, and roots, all of which served different functions. He embedded ores and other minerals into the walls, that could one day be harnessed.

One mushroom would emit a bright golden glow, serving as a source of light, and this was perhaps the most frequent of the underground vegetation. It tasted horrible, and was mildly poisonous, in order to discourage creatures from eating it. The other mushrooms and mosses came in a wide variety of colours, and were considerably more edible, with some also having medicinal purposes.

Next, he added animals. Various species of mole-like creatures, which would serve as a source of meat and protein. Snakes, and bats, to serve as predators which kept their population in check.

But all of this was only intended to support something even larger. Intelligent life. And so it was that the Stone God built statues in his own image throughout the tunnels and caves.

When the vast stone armies stood in completion, Algrim retreated to the largest and centermost of the caves. Then, he licked his lips, cracked his knuckles, and punched the ground.

A massive shockwave of energy boomed outward. At first, nothing seemed to happen. Then, the stone he had created his people from turned to flesh. The gemstones embedded in their faces became eyes. The moss piled onto their heads and chins became hair. Algrim turned his own skin to flesh in order to match them. They stood, blinking, confused, and amazed.

They were his people.

Although they were short compared to the humans, they were considerably more durable. Their skin and muscles were tougher, their stamina more plentiful, and their bones were made of steel. They could live a healthy life of up to four hundred years. Personality-wise, he made them creatures of honour and integrity; they could never knowingly share a falsehood, while breaking an oath would fill even the most immoral among them with a certain sense of shame and regret unless Algrim and only Algrim would absolve them. At the same time, he also made them beings of cunning and ingenuity, especially when it came to building and crafting.

He needed a name for what he had built, he realized belatedly. The Underkingdom, he eventually decided upon. And he would be its King, for it was his creation in his domain, and inhabited with his subjects. The Underking.

With a smile, he turned to his subjects and addressed them for the first time. There was much to teach them, and his work was only beginning.






Algrim

&
The As-Clastophon

“Through selfless service, you will always be fruitful and find the fulfillment of your desires”




The sixth and final destination was in sight. After so much time spent travelling, fighting whatever monsters were foolish enough to pick a fight with him, Algrim’s task was nearly complete. With the construction of this final pillar, the world will be fully stabilized, and he would finally be able to celebrate his triumph.

He emerged from his boulder, the large rock once again dissipating into a cloud of ash, and approached the hill upon which he intended to build the final pillar. There was someone there already -- a dark shape, partially divine. The An-Clastophon was sat upon the hill, and they beckoned Algrim up.

“And who would you be?” Algrim called up to them.

The An-Clastophon responded, “I am a servant of my god, here on business. Is this to be the center of the next ring of stabilized land?” She stood up, looking first at Algrim then down at the hill, as if to illustrate her question.

“Aye,” Algrim replied. “You’ve been travelling, then?”

The An-Clastophon nodded, and with a look of appraisal at Algrim, asked, ”If I may ask, how have you been stabilizing the land? Is there a specific method?”

“There is, aye,” Algrim said. [color=brown]“Though I’d prefer to discuss this with yer master.”[/color’

She shook her head, waving dismissively with an off-hand remark, ”My master does not so easily reveal themselves. Anything you tell me will be relayed to them,” she paused, and then tapped her head, ”and you can rest assured it will be relayed how you intended it. I quite value my life, and lying to my master is an easy way to trip my monitor.”

“Why can’t yer master be ‘ere themself?” Algrim asked.

The An-Clastophon narrowed her eyes, and responded, flatly, ”As I’ve said, they do not so easily reveal themselves. There’s nothing you can do to change this, as it was not my decision, nor will it ever be my decision.”

Now Algrim narrowed his eyes. “Watch yer tone, lass. What is yer master’s name? What are they the god of?”

Another shake of the head from the An-Clastophon, as she quickly answered, ”I cannot say. That would be a quick route to the death of this form and the correction of my mind. All that’s truly necessary to know is I am a servant of a god, anyways.”

“A god who you’ve now given me cause t’ distrust,” Algrim replied. “Won’t let me know their name, won’t meet me in person, won’t give me any information, and will kill their own servant for revealing such things.” He shook his head. “Can’t say I approve o’ such tyranny.”

She sat down on the hill, saying in return, a slight, fierce edge to her voice, ”Tyranny implies wrongdoing. I understand the whys of it, and recognize the hows. How can you tyrannize someone who is a part of you and acts in agreement?”

“Regardless,” Algrim continued. “If yer god wants any answers from me, they’ll ‘ave t’ reveal themself t’ me in person. A messenger won’t be of any help with what I’m tryin’ t’ do, an’ I can’t trust any oaths or pledges from y’ unless they’re made by yer master in person.”

The An-Clastophon spread her arms, saying, ”I am not just a messenger. I act with the empowerment of my god -- and as my god has ordered me to foster cooperation with gods, I intend to look for ways we can cooperate.”

“That’s all well an’ good,” Algrim replied. “But what if yer orders change? What if y’ make a promise to me, and then yer god, not beholden t’ the same promise, orders ye to break it?”

She stood up once more, answering as she paced atop the hill, ”What difference would a promise from my god make as opposed to a promise from me? My god could break a promise made by themself just as easily as one made by me,” she paused, and then, in a reassuring tone, ”I do not expect any promise will be broken regardless; what is hidden is not necessarily evil or untrustworthy. I have been ordered to build rapport and cooperation with the gods for a reason, and that reason is not served by violating trust.”

Algrim glared at her. The secrecy, her stubborn refusal to adhere to it, her dismissal of the importance of promises and pledges, all reeked of disrespect and untrustworthiness. Under other circumstances, he would have driven her off and carried on with his work. However, after some thought, he realized that would accomplish very little.

Her master already knew where the pillar would be and would have some idea of what it would do, and it wasn’t like he could put it somewhere else. Driving her away wouldn’t make her master any less of a threat, but might instead what could have been an unreliable ally into a dangerous enemy. Besides, with the way the pillar was designed, if any treachery was intended, he would know about it at once.

So the god bit back whatever fiery reply he would have normally uttered, and swallowed his pride. Just this once. “The question still remains,” he went on. “What can ye personally do ta ‘elp me?”

”It depends on what you need help with,” the An-Clastophon answered, halting in place and turning to look at Algrim.

“I need some’un who can provide a bit o’ extra power, and also ensure this spot remains protected, from th’ other gods if need be,” he said. “Now y’understand why I needed t’ speak with yer master?”

The An Clastophon once more shook their head, saying in return, ”Not necessary. I am a servant of my god, and as such am empowered to act in their name. If it is power you require, I have a way to provide it,” she assessed the hillside, ”and if it is protection that is needed, well, I have ideas in mind.”

“What sort o’ ideas?”

The An Clastophon gestured to the hill, explaining, ”I can more than defend the pillar, assuming I have a suitable terrain to work with. I think a volcano would do nicely; it’s defendable terrain while still being controllable. Better to have a natural disaster under our control than a series of natural disasters borne of mortal or divine meddling.”

“A volcano?” Algrim asked. He stroked his beard for a few moments. “Hm. I s’pose if we bury it deep down in th’ lava, no one could get at it. It’ll prevent the volcano from erupting. An’ if anyone does some’ow get at it, and destroy it, the resulting eruption will make ‘em pay. Aye… that could work,” he said, though there was still a guarded tone in his voice.

The An-Clastophon nodded, ”Exactly. Now, what will you need me to do to assist in creating this pillar?”

“As I said, just a bit o’ extra energy, that I can channel into building it,” Algrim said, extending his hand.

She held out her hand, an orb manifesting within it. It pulsed with power, and she offered it out to Algrim, saying, ”Take it, and use it.”

Algrim did so, reaching out to take her hand as he had done five times before. He formed the energy into another gem, this one being of the sea. He looked at the gem was scrutiny, as if inspecting it for some hidden flaw.

Then, he stomped his foot.

The earth began to shift. The hill they were on rose upward, transforming into a mountain. He stomped his foot again, and a circular space in the center of the hilltop - now a summit - began to sink down into the lowest depths of the earth. Deeper and deeper it went, until the faint magma of lava was visible beneath. A glow which was rising closer to closer, for the magma was rising now that it had a path to the surface.

Algrim threw the stone down the hole, and it met the lava with a light ripple through the molten rock. At once the lava’s rise halted. Time passed, and then slowly, it began to lower back to a more reasonable level.

“Y’ can’t see it,” he said, once things had settled. “But it’s under there. I expect you t’ do yer part in protecting it. Else there will be a reckoning.”

The An-Clastophon nodded, as she looked down upon the sea of lava before her. She said, ”I will see to it. It will be in good hands.”

“It better be,” Algrim said. “Now I must be off.” Although all six pillars had been finally constructed, and the world now fully stable, there were other tasks he had to see to.

The An-Clastophon waved him goodbye, and as he flew off, she began to dig. Deep beneath the earth, she blasted the magma below to create a path to the pillar out of cooled obsidian. Hollowing out a large room within, she excavated the pillar. Once she had done so, she began to prod the pillar.

If it stabilized the land, she could modify the land with it, she believed. With a specific application of power, the earth rumbled as she raised mountains. Another specific application of power, and certain sections sunk deep beneath the sea. Then, an eruption; with one massive press of power, the lava began to flow.

By the time she saw fit to end the eruption, great canyons had been carved in the land by the streams of lava, and ash spewed endlessly from the sky down on the land around the pillar. Emerging from beneath the rock, she took note of all of this. She took it upon herself to learn as much about the machinations of the pillar as possible.




Algrim


&







With the birth of a single mote of green in an otherwise bleak world, Yaerna turned her gaze towards tempering the unruly beings that rampaged on the surface for survival. Chief among the issues at hand were the strange creatures that sprung forth from cracks in the earth, or worse - from strange rifts in the fabric of existence, and tried to establish an unstable dominance over the few scraps that were left.

They uprooted her vines and like those first humans, trampled any place and sought to kill everything in their path. Though the creatures were not an affront in and of themselves, they were untested; and thus should only remain if they managed to do so in an altering landscape with other creatures. So the Queen of Thorns resolved to test them herself and began her first of many hunts, leaving her extremely slowly growing glen behind to proactively hunt the beings of the world - and those beyond it.

She took the form of a grandiose and wide-winged bird of prey and scoured the landscape for movement. Whenever she found movement, she dove to examine and pounce on it. Such events turned out to be extremely rare, and Yaerna instead ended up sailing across the western half of the shard observing the havoc and stability that seemed to slowly be establishing itself. A glowing jewel in the northwest caught her eyes from afar, and she made a mental note to visit whatever place exuded such curious glimmers after she had made her own mark on the world.

Then another curiosity dawned on her. Far below, halfway to the edge of the world, an oily black shape twitched and slithered erratically across the ground, leaving a black trail after it. It was formless and shifting, a seemingly endless set of wriggling tendrils matched only by row upon row of sharp teeth and mismatched eyes. Curious, the Queen of Thorns leapt out of her flying form and turned into a weak approximation of her true self; a shadowy black and green lupine beast. Much smaller of course, Yaerna merely wanted to test this strange beings mettle, not invoke the full force of her royal dominion over nature. So the goddess dove from the sky in her beastlike form, paws pushed forwards as she howled a threatening warning in her playful attack.

The creature did not have the sense to move. Yaerna's paws pressed on the black, irregular beast and it exploded with force, showering the landscape and goddess with a thick and oily black substance. Yaerna sniffed with disappointment. It had been larger than she first estimated and yet it couldn't even handle a single pounce. And it smelled foul - like an old corpse bathed in sulphur. Thoroughly let down by her test of strength, Yaerna interested herself in the trail the being had left behind, stalking across the landscape to follow the oily slag back to whence the creature had come. After a few moments of expeditious trotting, the Queen of Thorns came upon the only reasonable place the creature had come from; a reality-breaking rippling tear in the landscape itself, with no apparent care for what lay around it. To a lesser being, it took the appearance of a bubbling pool of tar nestled into a cavernous rift in the ground. Yaerna was not fooled. The very existence of it was anathema to the rest of the world, a foreign power that imposed itself on all it touched - teemed with an incomprehensible malice. It was a hole into another place, a place filled to the brim with some kind of primal, malicious sludge. So naturally, Yaerna had to experiment with it. Other trails of sludge came from the rift, suggesting the creature she’d pounced on had not been the only one. So the goddess resolved to wait and see if more would come. Turning back to a humanoid form, she settled down on a nearby stone, leaned back, and watched. The rift bubbled with evil intent, ever so often popping or burbling to spray the nearby rocks with sludge. Mostly it seemed innocent enough.

When two days had passed, Yaerna started feeling the itch of impatience in her legs. The rift mocked her with inactivity. After another day, the Queen of Thorns resolved to meddle more actively in her experimentation. She kicked a rock into the sludge, and the black sludge accepted the tribute with an angry burp. A few moments later, a thin tendril sprayed up onto the rocks, almost as if the rift was trying to grab whatever had disturbed it. Amused, the goddess began feeding the rift with random things she could think to conjure, teasing the black goo with intermittent feeding and stirring. Poking and jolting. Pleased with her new game, the goddess lost track of time.

The sound of approaching footsteps snapped her out of it. “Oh?” a deep voice rumbled. “What’s this?” Behind her was a short humanoid who seemed to be made entirely out of stone, save for a mossy beard and gemstone eyes. He smiled at her. “I’m Algrim. Would ye be a fellow god? I’m always runnin’ intah those these days.”

Yaerna, caught holding a stone almost as big as herself over her head, had no real ability to deny the claim. After a few moments of hesitation, she dumped the rock into the brewing rift all the same, and turned to regard the short man. She cleared her throat and brushed her dirty and tattered clothes down. "Ahem, indeed. I am Yaerna, the Queen of Thorns. My demesne stretches beyond the horizon. To whom am I speaking?" Yaerna questioned crisply and adjusted her wooden crown.

“Well, I already told y’ that,” the other God replied. “Unless y’ mean my domain. Then I’m the God of Earth.” He dug his heel into the ground and twisted it to emphasize the point. “Y’ some sort of nature goddess, then? Plants and soils are natural allies, I’d say.”

”Earth? How quaint. I’m inclined to agree, Algrim. My keenest wish is for a verdant paradise where all manner of creature may freely compete. Unfortunately…” she replied and kicked a small rock into the bubbling pit. ”Between the earth-shaking, the dreary conditions and holes in the world like this one, it may yet take a while.”

“Quaint?” Algrim repeated her word, affronted. “Quaint!? Are y’ in the business of insulting every’un ya meet?”

Yaerna produced a thin smile, but nevertheless gracefully dipped her head in apology. ”It was not my intention to denigrate your very important domain. Without earth there would be nowhere for life to take root and grow.” the woman produced swiftly, and curtsied with her tattered leaf robes. ”What brings you to my neck of the woods, honorable god of earth?”

“Well, I thought I’d see about stabilizin’ the local land,” Algrim replied. “I’m sure ye’ve felt the quakes. I came ‘ere t’ do somethin’ about it.”

"That's excellent news, Algrim. Would that I knew how to help, I would leap to your side in a heartbeat." Yaerna concluded with smooth etiquette and a hand placed gently to her heart. The bubbling pit burped angrily behind her.

Algrim smiled. “Well that’s good, there is a way y’ can help, if y’ want.”

"Oh, grand," Yaerna offered briefly. "What role would I play in such an undertaking?"

“Well it’s quite simple, really. Just offer a bit o’ extra power ta ‘elp me build an object that’ll stabilize the local area. Then do yer part in keeping it safe. You’ve set yerself up in this area, aye? So ye already ‘ave a vested interest in protectin’ it.” He glanced at the rift behind. “Is uh… is that thing back there gonna pose a problem?”

"What do you mean by bu- Oh, this? Yaerna quirked a brow, turning to gesture at the black pool of swirling, otherworldly madness. "I doubt it. I've been watching it for a few… hm, days? It spawned some unearthly critter before, but it seems to have calmed down by the time I got here." she sighed and vented her mild frustration by chucking the stag helmet she'd worn in the past into the bubbling hole. The pit accepted it with a bubbling pop. A few seconds later, the ground rumbled and groaned under the burgeoning growth of the black sludge. Long dark tendrils slashed up from the hole and attached itself to dirt and stone, and the rift in reality seemed to grow ever larger as something within its dark core fought to claw itself out of the boiling sludge into their reality. Before long, it took shape as a massive stag of black sludge and random bits of debris. Dead animals captured by the dark mass and various things Yaerna had offered to the mysterious hole jutted out of the formless being like connecting points holding the madness together. Atop a giant heap of black goo vaguely in the shape of buck's head sat Yaerna's stag helmet, the crowning catalyst in sparking an otherworldly invasion. The shifting black creature was a jumble of gaping maws, loose black tendrils and an endless assortment of eyes, yet still saw fit to vaguely appear in the shape of a grand stag. It rose out of the pit with swift anger, soon towering several dozen heads taller than Yaerna and Algrim both. It released a deafening roar, spraying the landscape with black goop, before setting hundreds of eyes on the two deities.

"It appears that your arrival has jostled it." Yaerna concluded to Algrim with a non-plussed expression.

Briefly, Algrim glanced at her in befuddlement, before snapping his attention back to the creature. First and foremost, that thing needed to be dealt with. “Yer an ugly sight,” he taunted the beast, while digging his heel deeper into the ground and twisting his foot.

The creature reared back, ready to charge, only to immediately slip when it lurched forward. The soil beneath is very feet had been loosened, and the abomination crashed to the ground in a tangle of limbs and antlers, sliding toward them. “Th’ thing about fighting a god o’ earth,” Algrim said casually, as he levitated dozens of stones from the ground and shaped them into spikes, “is that there’s Earth all around us.”

As the creature attempted to rise, Algrim let loose his attack, sending a storm of stone spikes flying toward his foe. And yet as they made impact, they did not cut into the beast’s flesh as he had hoped. Instead, they were absorbed by it, and seemed to do nothing at all. Algrim let out a growl mixed with disappointment and frustration.

Yaerna had been watching the exchange with barely suppressed glee, and her eyes shone when she watched Algrim fire off his stone missiles. The fact that they had no apparent effect on the creature did not appear to bother her much. "You are more powerful than you appear." she quipped briskly before turning her attention towards the black beast of sludge, bone and stone.

The abomination lurched overhead, raising one of its oily slag-like limbs to prepare to crush them both with a solid slam. The mere act of raising its long tendril showered the landscape in black sludge. The goddess at Algrim's side was prepared however, and the small shoots and roots littering the ground came alive at a flick of her chin. Far away from them, two long vines cracked through the ground as they grew in size and slashed through the air towards what could be understood as one of the beast's hind legs. The power of the two giant whips cut straight through the sludge, separating the leg with a sickening sound. The beast fell backwards briefly, stumbling and roaring as its legs fell to the ground on its own and reshaped into its own little formless spawn of evil. Despite her best attempts to sneak attack the beast, it still lunged with its full limbs attention at the both of them, and Yaerna extended both her hands to the sky, quickly creating a seemingly impenetrable tangle of leaves and branches in a small dome around to take the extent of the slam. The barrier shook with a rumble and black sludge forced itself through the gaps, and the goddess grunted loudly as she was forced to her knees, almost as though she took the feedback of the hit on herself.

Yaerna gasped for air and the barrier fell in on itself quickly as the shield became a jumble of inert weeds and bark, revealing the beast still looming above. The landscape around them was now entirely covered in the dark goop; the abomination has obliterated just about all old features during its assault.

While this unfolded, Algrim had not sat idle. He had conjured forth more stone and dirt from the ground, this time forming it together into what appeared to be a large rectangular slab, with one of the edges sharpened. As he levitated it over his head, it could perhaps be compared to an oversized knife blade.

Algrim took stock of his target, noting that despite all the damage Yaerna had done, it still had a head. Algrim lowered the rock-knife so that it was directly in front of him, with its blade pointed up at the creature. Then, with a mighty kick, he sent the stone slab hurtling forward, cleaving straight through the beast’s head.

The abomination paused for a grueling moment, roaring and gurgling with unrelenting fury. Then, it's head lost what little stability it had left after the massive stone blade sheared through it. In massive globs of black sludge, the beast destabilized and fell apart. Starting with what remained of its head, smaller shapeless sludge creatures broke free from the main body and fell down onto the ground - most immediately splashing harmlessly against rock and dirt, leaving the landscape an oily mess. The entire creature rippled and fell apart, with a few autonomous abominations remaining stable as the large body collapsed onto the ground.

Yaerna pushed up onto her feet beside Algrim, breathing out sharply and adjusting her crown. Fresh vines rumbled through the ground from faraway places, cracking through stone and dirt to lift into the sky and slam down like lashing whips onto the smaller abominations, who could not handle the pressure of the vines' weight or the force of the strikes, and simply squished undervine, one by one.

Yaerna turned to the earthen god and allowed herself a curt but terse smile. "Your strength does you credit, Algrim. Perhaps you would hunt with me in the future? I've not ventured far yet but if there are other beings out there stronger than this, I'm certain we could make a day of it."

A smaller abomination lurched up from beside the pit, screeching with dozens of maws as it rose to assault the two deities. It nearly reached an arms length before the previously inert leaves and sticks on the ground around them twisted and several new vines smashed into the creature, splattering black sludge everywhere.

"Oh, I nearly forgot," Yaerna breathed with brisk humility, wiping some sludge from her arm. "You had a request for my assistance?"

Algrim nodded. “I believe I’ve already explained the principles to ye,” Algrim said, nodding. “I just need ye ta loan me some extra power, so that we can build something that’ll stabilize the local area. Are y’ still interested?”

Yaerna tapped her lips as she considered the matter anew, even as her vines battled what remained of the abominations, some of whom were now attempting to return to the growling black ditch from whence they came. The vines smashed and squished even tiny fragments, however. "...I will lend you my power, if you in return seal this loathsome abyss into your realm of earth. I do not want these hellions in the food chain."

The God of Earth nodded again. “I suppose I could do that,” he said, striding toward the pit, right up unto its very edge. One of the abominations leapt at him, but he punched it into the rift with ease. He gazed into it for only a moment. Then, raised his arms and shouted: DOWN! Ye bastard!” before thrusting his palms down toward the ground.

The earth rumbled, and then the black rift suddenly fell downward, for the God of Earth had opened a hole directly beneath it, of the exact same shape and diameter. It fell to a great depth, perhaps three hundred or so feet. Then the God of Earth did a series of complex hand gestures, packing earth and stone around it as tightly as physically possible. Then, he compressed it, packing more and more onto it. Every single particle of dirt, stone, and gravel was fused together. Every atom so tightly bound as to make the stone harder than any natural metal. He piled this on for several layers, until he was confident that no natural force in the world would ever break through it.

Then the earth shook again as he filled in the hole. The ground they were standing on lowered somewhat as the earth was displaced, creating a valley. Then, finally, it was over. He took a deep breath, visibly strained from the effort. “There,” he whispred softly, in a rich weary voice that was noticeably different from any he had used before. “It’s done.”

He held out his hand to her. When he spoke again, it was with the voice he had originally used. “Now come on lass, let’s get to it.”

Yaerna had stood silent, watching her peer and his efforts with interest. Given attention, she offered a gentle nod in return, and stepped forwards to take the offered hand with her own. "Let this covenant signify a shared vision; I lend you my power, Algrim of the Earth."

As he had done three times before, Algrim channeled his power; both his own, and that which was offered to them. This time it came with much more difficulty, due to his previous display of strength, but he managed it all the same. His palm flashed green, and when the glow faded there was a bright green emerald, radiating power. He offered it to her. “Now y’ just need tae plant this gem in the ground. Like a seed.”

Yaerna accepted the gem with due reverence, keenly creating her own ceremonial curtsy as she took it from him. She took a few steps aside, and knelt onto the dirt in the middle of the valley to create a space for it by hand. With some determination she cleared a neat resting place for the emerald and laid it down with expectant eyes. Satisfied with her own diligence, she packed dirt and soil on top of it with care and artificial mysticism before standing up.

Awkward silence followed as the goddess stared intently at the earth where she had planted the gem, refusing to budge for fear of missing whatever wonder would take place. When several moments had passed, Yaerna swung around to face Algrim with a thin smile. "After such effort and fanfare about lending you my power, I was expecting something more poignant, Algrim. I won't say I'm not di-"

The ground rumbled and shook under their feet, and before the goddess could finish her admonishment clusters of vines and long roots and brambles shot from the ground, coiling and twisting around each other. They lifted the surprised Queen of Thorns into the sky as they climbed high, breaking earth and sky alike as they entwined each other in a race upwards. When the assault ended, the vines tightened a final time, leaving barely more space between each other than bark would have. The massive cluster of rising vegetation had formed itself into a giant, leafless tree in the center of the valley, twinned out of taut green and brown vines. Roots and vines coiled around the base of it, and Algrim could observe the base of it digging itself firmly into earth with far extending roots both above and below ground.

From far above, the goddess of the wild gave an excited thumbs up from a vine before catching herself in the act and returning to a more composed manner.

“Ye were saying?” Algrim called up to her.

Yaerna stepped off of her perch and fell from the great height. The goddess gripped her cloak on both sides and held it out, giving herself makeshift wings to safely glide down on. She came to a halt in front of Algrim when her feet touched soil again. "I lov-.. Amaz-..” she began, but contained herself, brushing her clothes down as she took a breath. ”Ahem. I find it acceptable. It shall make a good jewel from which to oversee the extent of my demesne. A good effort, if I may say so.”

“Hm. Well, just be sure ta keep it safe. I need t’ be on my way. Thank ye for your help, an’ may we meet again,” Algrim said, before turning away to resume his journey.

Yaerna watched the earth god turn, and parted her lips to speak, eager to get the last word in. She seemed to think better of it, and eventually turned back to regard the massive tree and the barren landscape around it.

"I should probably clean this sludge up. Yeah. Can't have the jewel of the land smelling like death. ...Yes, an important task, to be sure. A great undertaking that must be considered first." she concluded to herself in quick procrastination and turned back to look for Algrim, but he was already on his way, and Yaerna couldn't very well chase him down. No, that wouldn't do.




Chakravarti - The Matripatrihierarch

&
Algrim

No More Quakes!



For weeks, Chakravarti had roamed there in the sun- and moonlight, pondering incessantly a way to end the terrible, earth-shattering quakes. A patch of dirt between the tall reeds of yellow grass had been cleared until the bare, red soil laid exposed to the light of day. Chakravarti had scribbled it down with all sorts of calculations, diagrams, angry drawings and lamenting poetry. Scattered around the patch appeared the occasional hole into the ground, left over from the family god’s many attempts to dig down to get a closer look at what exactly was wrong with the earth. Their investigations had, unlike the post-monsoon plains, been fruitless. For the last half day, they had been sitting among their sketchings with a defeatist haunch, all eight arms collected in various crosses, foldings and stacking, one fist carrying the cheek of the family god with sober servility. A stone lob away, Ossurman rolled around in the tall grass, playing with Paratiri’s jewel. Tapping fifteen fingers on their thigh impatiently, Chakravarti sighed with frustration.

”Alas, it is hopeless, my son,” they lamented to the sound of a happily giggling baby. A dramatic fist pierced the sky. ”No matter how I study this fomenting earth, this raging soil, I cannot make any sense of it. Their voices number in the millions and their issues in the billions - I have no knowledge of how to fix this! The earth is simultaneously like an endlessly large dynasty, but also a product of a billion dynasties, all of which has been around for ages and also only came to be all-too-recently. I have no words: Chakravarti can do anything - anything in the name of the love of their children and children’s children - but this, I cannot do.” Lilac tears rolled down their cheeks and they tossed eight arms to the heavens, crying, ”O fate; o mercy! Creation on high - will no one come to rescue this damsel, this lordsel, in distress? Will no one save me and my boy from this cruel and hapless plight?!”

“What are ye shouting about, lass?” a voice suddenly called out in the distance. It seemed that during her monologue, someone had been approaching from beyond the crest of a distant hill. It was a short man with skin that seemed to be made of stone. As he drew closer, his eyebrows rose slightly. “Bloody ‘ell, yer a tall one.”

Chakravarti was about to spin around and summon their swords, but it seemed the gag was getting old and they would rather not grow predictable. The Eight-Armed God blinked down at the approaching dwarf, giving the air a sniff. Pursing their lips, they spoke with furrowed eyebrows, ”And who are you supposed to be?” The nearby grass giggled and squealed.

“Algrim,” he answered, looking around. “Are ye another god? I always seem ta meet one at every single one o’ my destinations. Almost like it’s fated.”

”Fated?” The family god studied his form closely, noticing dust on his shoulders, earth on his hands and stone in his skin. A flash of realisation blasted out of their eyes and they cast themself down before Algrim’s feet, four hands reaching out to embrace his feet in a grateful hug. ”O FORTUNE! O SERENDIPITY! My saviour, a craftsman of stone, has come to help us! Creation be praised!”

“Now that’s enough o’ that,” Algrim said, attempting to step out of the embrace. “Aye, that is what I’m ‘ere to do. How did y’ know?”

Undeterred, two arms sheepishly continued to patrol around his feet while other two retreated tactically. Torso is a sort of semi-kowtow at Algrim’s feet, Chakravarti dramatically wiped away a lilac tear, tossing it to the winds with a flick of the finger. ”Alas, it must indeed be fated! For I have prayed for days, weeks, that a master craftsman who knows the workings of the soil would appear before me. Hope was slim - I had almost given up - but then, on this happy day, you, o Algrim, arrive like a gift sent from Creation itself! How, o how could this not be destiny?!” The nearby bush cooed curiously.

Algrim offered a shrug in response. Neither Lonn nor Arira had been this verbose. “What did y’ say yer name was?” he asked her, hoping to move the conversation along.

The god took the hint and collected themself until they had risen back up to their full height. ”Oh, how terribly rude of me - how base and uncouth! I cannot believe I had forgotten to introduce myself!” Eight hands folded together along their body’s vertical middle and the torso tipped slightly forward. ”A joy to meet you, Algrim. I am Chakravarti vur Chakravarti - I manage the clans and families of this world.” A quick sidestep to pick up the creature in the bush. ”And this is Ossurman, my firstborn son. Say hi, Ossurman.”

“Buh-bah bwahboh.”

“‘Ello lad,” Algrim gave the child a nod, before turning back to Chakravarti. “I’ve ‘eard that name before. Any relation to that Lonn fellow I met a few thousand leagues back?”

”Lonn? Why yes!” said the god and posed victoriously. ”He is nothing less than my First Consort - my prime husband. A man of exceeding wealth and deeds, and now he has a last name - one of a dynasty which will last for eternity.” They laughed with mock humility. ”My dynasty, that is, myes. Either way, how splendid that you have met him already! How was the exchange?”

Algrim shrugged again. “A bit odd, ta tell ya the truth. The lad dinnae realize who or what I was, and flung a spell at me. We settled things afterward, and he lent me a ‘and in my work though, so it wasn’t all bad.”

Chakravarti blinked. ”Huh… Well, he did seem like the spontaneous sort. Suppose that is something I will have to deal with in the coming future. No matter - how wonderful! What sort of work was it, if I may ask?”

“Well it’s quite simple, really,” Algrim said. “I just ‘ave ta travel ta six evenly distanced points and plant down some gemstones which’ll grow into structures that’ll ‘old the world together. Stop the earthquakes and all that. I’ve built two so far, and each time I was lucky enough ta find someone ta ‘elp me.” He looked at Chakra appraisingly. “I don’t suppose my luck would ‘old ‘ere as well?”

The Eight-Armed God struck another pose, one leg stretched out while the torso leaned on the other with a bent knee, five out of eight arms flexing, two carrying Oss and one laying softly atop their forehead like a caress. They laughed exactly four times and spoke, ”O luck! Our fates could not be more aligned! I, too, have been waiting for someone to stop the earthquakes! Please, o wise craftsman, show me the way, the path, to quelling the rage of the ground itself!”

“Well as I said, it’s quite simple. Though, if I do show ye, I’ll ask ye to swear to protect it. Won’t do ta leave it behind only for some ‘ooligan to vandalize it,” Algrim said seriously.

Chakravarti nodded. ”Why yes, of course! Uh… Question - is there a reason for that, or…?”

Algrim furrowed his brow. “What do y’ mean?”

”Is there a reason it, it must be protected? Like… Can it break and make the soil angry again?”

Algrim shrugged. “It’d take a lot ta break one o’ them. And if they did, then aye, the world would begin to shake again. Or at least th’ part of the world it’s supposed ta protect. It’s just a precaution, really. I ‘aven’t met a beasty that should be capable o’ harming one o’ these things, but the other gods maybe could. I ‘aven’t met any gods that would do just a thing just yet, but y’ can’t be too careful. A bit o’ insurance never ‘urt.”

After a brief moment to absorb this information, Chakravarti nodded with a shrug. ”Alright, so it is like that, then. Then I will protect it, I promise. I shall have my very own kin guard it as though it was their own home.” A thought seemed to sting them for a moment. ”This structure - what form does it take?”

Algrim smiled. “I ‘ave no idea, ta tell y’ the truth. I designed ‘em ta take whatever form best suits the god who places it down, which means there’ll only be one way ta find out.”

Chakravarti pursed their lips and hummed. ”I see. Well, in that case, after you!”

“Right,” Algrim said, extending his hand. “Give me yer ‘and, and loan me some o’ yer power. Doesn’t need ta be much. As much as y’ feel comfortable with, really. I’ll do th’ rest.”

Chakravarti offered three hands and proclaimed, ”Nonsense! Here, have as much as you would like! No child of mine should have to protect a simple obelisk!” A golden glow surrounded the hands as power transmitted.

Algrim closed his eyes as he focused his own power. Just as it had twice before, a glowing light appeared in his open free hand, matching the golden hue of the eight-armed god’s energy. A few moments passed, and the light faded to reveal a yellow round gemstone.

Algrim pulled his arm free from the hands which gripped it, and offered Chakra the stone. “There y’ go. Just plant it in the ground right ‘ere, and it’ll do the rest.”

”Oh, uh, like so?” A hand dug a small hole at the spot in question and another planted the stone. For a minute, nothing happened. Then promptly, the ground began to tremble, and out of the soil shot a colossal pillar of stone, wider than ten men abreast and thicker than seven. It stuck two hundred feet into the air and was checkered with holes. Holes? No, they were places for figures, for carvings. Only the top two spots were occupied: The very peak of the structure was a large fan of stone, like a rising sun - within it was the face of Chakravarti; the space below had a baby’s face - Ossurman. Chakravarti immediately understood.

”Oh, what amazement! A pillar to my dynasty! What glory; what splendor!”

“Now, that’s done,” Algrim announced. “I best be gettin’ on my way. I’m still only ‘alfway done. Unless there’s anything else y’ want to discuss?”

”Going already? Then I must be swift!” In a spinning move, the many-armed god ended up on one knee before the Earth God, a halo of lotus around their forehead and a golden glow about their whole form. ”A mighty craftsman such as yourself would make for an excellent husband. It is in that hope that I pray, I wish, that you would become my consort! Algrim of the Stone, will you marry me?”

Algrim blinked in surprise. Whatever he might have expected the conversation to turn toward, it was not this. “Don’t y’ already ‘ave one?”

Chakravarti was undeterred. ”I have many, o potential consorts - a matripatrihierarch must have several, for how else can they produce the most magnificent dynasty? Claim the most significant respect? You would have allies in powerful places should you say yes; your children would have brothers and sisters of might and magic. Accept, o earthen one, for the sake of your children’s future!”

Algrim considered the offer, but only for a moment. The idea of pledging himself to this person who he barely he knew, and who had already made similar pledges with other people he didn’t know, was not exactly appealing no matter what she promised. Besides, there were more important things right now than worrying about his own status, or about a future that might never come.

He looked at her apologetically. “All due respect, but I can’t spare much thought toward that sort o’ thing right now. Not while my task remains incomplete, or while I still don’t know ye or those others y’ mentioned all that well. Th’ stability of th’ world must come first. I’m sure y’ understand.”

Chakravarti appeared momentarily stunned. ”Huh? You, you’re turning me down?” The golden glow disappeared; the lotus halo wilted. ”But, but why? I wouldn’t ask you for anything! Just some offspring to strengthen our house! You’re male, so it really won’t be a lot of work for you!” Two hands folded together pleadingly. ”Pleeeeaaase?”

Algrim shook his head. “I cannae accept that just yet, I’m ‘fraid. A bond like that isnae one that I would ever make lightly. I’d need t’ take at least a few years to get ta know ye, and th’ others I would be, eh… ‘sharing’ ye with. Besides that, th’ idea o’ havin’ offspring but not ‘aving time t’ be involved with them does’n ‘old much appeal t’ me either. Would’n be fair. Not t’ me, not t’ ye, and not ta the children.” He offered the God another apologetic shrug. “We can still be friends, though.”

”B-but…” The family god had deflated nearly entirely. A few of their hands laid flat against the ground with shattered morale. The god haunched somberly and sighed. ”Alas, that it should come to this… But please, consider it some more! I, I am rich! My house is vast and wealthy, with nothing but the brightest future ahead of it! Surely, the thought of having such powerful allies must be tempting, right?”

Yet Algrim merely shook his head. “Those aren’t th’ sort o’ arguments that’ll convince me. Now, I must be off. I still ‘ave the rest o’ the world t’ save. Farewell.” He offered her a bow, and then turned away.

He didn’t get far before one of his legs suddenly felt a lot heavier than the other. Upon looking down, Algrim saw no fewer than six hands wrapped around his leg, connected to a very floored, very whimpering humanoid, their last two hands interlocked in a clasp of tears. ”Nooooo, no, no, no, no - you must reconsideeeeeer! Our children would be so beautiful! Our dynasty; so powerful!”

Despite being made out of stone, Algrim’s entire body somehow became even tenser. He clenched his fists, and when he spoke, all traces of the bizarre accent were gone. “You will unhand me. Now,” he commanded in a quiet, rich, authoritative tone that was edged with hard steel.

”Not before you say ‘I do’, I won’t!” the family god retorted with a whine, clearly not catching the tonal shift.

Algrim gave them a hard glare. Then, suddenly the leg Chakra was gripping crumbled into a cloud of dust, before promptly reforming out of their grasp, and Algrim continued to walk away. Undeterred, the family god let out a frustrated growl and pushed themself back to their feet. Breathing in deep, they unleashed a sigh and decided to walk alongside the stone god. ”Okay, okay - I get it. You want to get to know me, is it? Okay, I am open. Whatever questions you may have, I will answer. Will you say yes after that?”

Algrim let out a sigh of his own. When he spoke again, the strange accent had returned, but his voice was still filled with obvious frustration. “Th’ time for questions will come afta’ th’ world is saved. At a time when th’ two o’ us are in the same vicinity. An’ if I’m actually in a mood fer a conversation. No sooner, no later, and no guarantees. Now drop it. Because with e’ery attempt to drag this out, yer only makin’ yerself even more unappealing.”

”Unappealing?!” the family god squealed and raised their nose to the heavens. ”My, what uncouth words; what unrefined facade.” With a twist of their hip, they spun around and walked away. ”Well, if -that- is how you want it, then you were not good enough for me anyway. HMPH! The stone god was then left alone - finally.





Algrim

and

Arira - Goddess of Cycles


The First Pillar


A collab by @Not Fishing and @Crusader Lord





To say the paradise that the goddess had created was flourishing in comparison to the rest of the world was something of an understatement at the very least. To those mortals that were living upon it, it was a true paradise that bore all sorts of fruits and substances and the ilk that they needed. An eternal cycle of plenty rooted into the location itself, something that would have brought many a soul down into deep decadence and potentially slothfulness over the long term. Were it not for the need to defend that land from demons and beasts and so forth, the inhabitants might have already fallen into such a terrible and dark sate.

Yet the goddess had not sat idly by as her first followers would live in plenty...nor leave them alone in their struggles to protect her birthplace and their new home. As promised, she was always watching over this paradisiacal place, and had been visiting here and there to teach her followers about the cycles of the world and other sorts of knowledge. She also had many plans to protect the place moving forward to boot, including: defenses, hiding it away, barriers, and so forth. It would take quite a long time to get things in the world working right as well, but in the end...yes, she would help make things better! But how next could she do so? Her work on stabilizing space-time was still ongoing, and on this particular day she was taking a break to visit her followers.

Indeed, the goddess was sitting within the ‘throne room’ built into her massive fortress-temple, her followers assembled and sitting in pews as she spoke to them and answered their questions. Today’s lesson was teaching something about the making of fences and palisades and such simple walls, a basic matter yet one that was going to be currently important when the mortals protected themselves.




Outside the so-called paradise, a massive boulder roughly the size of a cottage was rolling toward it at an unfathomable speed. Only when it crossed the threshold between apocalyptic wasteland and fresh green grass did it begin to slow down, before coming to a stop entirely.

The boulder cracked, and then crumbled into dust. From the dust stepped Algrim.

“What the bloody ‘ell is this?” he asked nobody in particular as he strode forward, his gaze settling on the fortress. This was all recently created; it had not been here when he first spotted this site. And, somewhat inconveniently, it was occupying the exact location he had in mind for his plan.

Well, there was only one way to get that sorted out. The God of Earth strode toward the fortress.




As the boulder had approached from a distance, the people inside had sighted it with no little amount of panic. What kind of demon, or Sirukh, or the like was it?! Either way it seemed on a collision course with the paradise itself, and in the manner of attempting to figure it out a number of warriors had begun to make their way down to investigate. Others began to shore up what little defenses they had at the moment, and those few left otherwise hurried the pregnant or nursing women and children into the lower chambers of the temple-fortress to keep them safe. It was something they had become far too accustomed to by the time the goddess had first arrived, and since then they had been forced to defend this place a few times already! Still...didn’t mean this new potential threat wasn’t going to be worrying.

As Algrim stopped the boulder and emerged, the small handful of warriors near his location (hiding in some bushes) stopped cold. One was about to raise his bow, however, before the older man next to him gently pushed his arms and bow back down. With a glance at his younger compatriot, the older man simply shook his head back and forth in silence. No, this peculiar arrival was not something a bow would handle. In fact, to the older man’s eyes it was reminiscent of the kind of things that had foretold the birth of the goddess, and as such was likely...divine. Maybe. Either way, they had to send someone to warn those at the temple.

Still, as Algrim approached the temple, he would eventually find himself walking about the sort of homes mortals constructed. Albeit better than anything in the wasteland, but also now strangely empty. As he would get close enough to the temple-fortress, however, he would find simple barricades of wood and the ilk before him. In fact, a number of mortals stood behind them, wielding bows, arrows, polearms, and even a few axes and blades.

“W-Who are you?” one of the defenders, after a few moments of silence, would shout out to the newcomer, “T-T-This is the birthplace of the great goddess Arira! S-Speak your business, or we shall defend our home here to the last!”

Algrim stopped, and growled. “My business is trying ta keep the whole damn world from tearing itself apart.” He continued his march. “Now move aside. I’d speak to this goddess of yours. Is she ‘ere?”

The defender who had spoken winced at the earthen god’s growl, but as the deity continued to march the defender nearly fell over as he and a few of the others rapidly scrambled to pull back their piece of wooden barricade in time. Others, in the meantime, attempted to push it back against the. Well, this strange being hadn’t outright tried to kill them! That was something at least. But it was a bit of panic that was going on as the stout Algrim came to about where the people were defending the bottom of the stairs that led into the temple-fortress itself. Yet as Alrgim came to the half-open piece of barricade, struggling mortals fighting for it for a second, something...or someone...else emerged from the top of the stairs and out of the fortress-temple’s main entrance.

Her skin was fair, and hair a lovely tan. Golden adornments covered her hair and body, and elegant clothes covered her beautiful form. For the people, it caused them to stop their fighting over the barricade at the sight of her. She would then raise a hand, gesturing for them to open the way, and a path through the small batch of defenders would clear before Algrim as the piece of barricade was fully moved out of his way this time.

“Welcome, oh stout and mighty God, to my paradise. As you entered I sensed your approach as I was teaching, but please do forgive the people here for their fear. They have but gained a new home only some time ago, and have had to defend it several times from forces beyond,” she said, walking down the steps to come meet Algrim, “What brings you here this day?”

Algrim’s eyebrows rose, and his expression, once impatient and frustrated, suddenly brightened. “Ah, good ta see some manners at last!” he said with a cheerful tone as he carried on toward her. “No one’s in much a mood for talkin’ these days. Can’t say I blame ‘em. Ah.” The smile faded, and the cheerful tone diminished somewhat. “Well, I’m Algrim. I don’t know if you noticed, but this entire world is aboot ta fall apart. I’m lookin’ ta fix that.”

Arira nodded at the fellow deity, continuing walking down to him until they would meet at the middle of the stairs.

“Indeed, and in more ways than one. The earth trembles,,” the goddess said in a pleasant manner, giving a light bow before continuing, her smile slightly fading as she mentioned her own work, “I am Arira, Goddess of Cycles. I wish we had been able to first meet under better circumstances, more peaceful ones perchance, but even so...how may I assist you in your work here?”

Algrim returned the bow. “I’d wish the same. You are a pretty one, if ya don’t mind me saying. I’m a god meself. I hold power over the earth beneath our feet. Now, I have a plan to ‘elp fix it, and it involves this location. Problem is, you went and built something on it before I even arrived. Ye wouldn’t have known, of course, so it’s not yer fault, but you see the problem?”

“Indeed…though I believe that we might have a solution to this, if I may,” the goddess mused, putting a hand to her chin for a moment before lowering it again, “Some time ago, upon visiting again my people here, I had sudden inspiration to begin clearing a grand underground chamber here beneath the temple-fortress of my birth.

If you would wish to see it for yourself, perchance it will provide housing for whatever you seek to put here?”


“Ah, that’s good. I don’t need too much space. Could ya show me to this chamber? If ya would be so kind.”

“Gladly,” Arira said, before turning her gaze down to the defenders once more, “Let your kin know all is safe here. Your presence has been graced by a goodly divinity this day. Sir Algrim, God of Earth. Mark it down in the records of events here, and let it be known among you.”

She then turned, gesturing politely for Algrim to follow her as she re-ascended the stair back into the temple fortress.

From here she would lead her fellow deity in, and initially they would find themselves in a grand entrance hall. Portraits and tapestries hung upon the walls, magical torches kept the grand entrance lit, and even the floor was donned in a massive, long carpet sporting a lovely royal purple with gold trimmings. Most peculiar, the depiction of a great wheel was wrought upon it with what seemed to be a divine touch. Depictions of cycles and changing seasons and animals being born and dying and so forth surrounded it and were depicted within its spokes.

Even so, the duo would not remain there for but the time it took to walk through it. Into the halls they wound, going down a set of winding passageways that led deeper into the earth. Stone walls of perfectly-cut brick seemed to escort them as they descended ever downward, and the steps were well-made that even dwarven legs would find them likely comfortable to walk down. Still, as the duo came toward the bottom, they would find the brick and so forth becoming newer and newer. A clod of dirt here and there would eventually be seen, and even lower than that a scuff mark or two made by accident or when transporting something could be seen. Such was the trend until ultimately the duo would be stepping out onto a stone-wrought platform, which had some signs of dirtiness and work still upon it, and the underground chamber so promised lied before their very eyes.

It’s size was something immense, a space almost as big as the temple-fortress above. It had been carved from the stone and earth itself, stretching far and wide with a great length and width equal to that of the temple-fortress itself. Support pillars carved with cyclical depiction stood along the sides of the magnificently-wrought chamber, magically and functionally supporting the sides of a grand, arched, vaulted ceiling. It was seemingly incomplete somehow, but to fashion and craft and dig this much was something to behold when it came to pondering on how much mortal labor was put into it.

Algrim surveyed the scene and stroked his beard. “Aye, this seems large enough. Though I’d best tell ya what I want to do afore we proceed. It’s a simple plan, really. I can calm the tremours in the earth, but I can’t be everywhere toado so. So, I’ve picked out six locations, and plan ta imbue some of my power into each one, so the earth ken hold itself together even when I’m not there. This’ll be the first.”

Arira nodded in return, though after a moment of silence spoke up once more.

“Indeed, sir, but would’st you require any help in crafting this ‘anchor’ for the world?” Arira said, before staring back out a the chamber, “If your power roots the stability of this world here in part, then for the world’s sake it shall be well-protected here at the very least.”

Algrim furrowed his brow, and resumed stroking his beard. “Hm. Well, I do need to do this six times. Some ‘elp would certainly make it easier, if yer offering. An’ you could prevent anyone else from mucking about with it while I’m gone.” He looked up at her, and extended a hand. “Can you give me yer word that you’ll see it protected?”

“I give you my word that it shall be protected, and as this area already is under my constant watch I shall not falter. My people here shall too help protect it, as it shall be a sign of cooperation between myself and thee,” the goddess said, smiling a bit more as she heartily shook the Earth God’s hand, “Though pray tell...aside this matter I desireth to ask thee if thou woulds’t be willing to help craft mountain round-about here to hide this paradise and place better as well? If not all be well with thee, tis’ but a simple request on the side.”

When saying the latter thing, the goddess for a moment seemed...slightly sheepish, ever so slightly embarrassed even. Perhaps for her it was a bit of an awkward question?

“I’d be ‘appy to,” Algrim’s smile returned. “Would ye be needing that now or ken it wait ‘til I’ve finished with my plan?”

“Ah, now would perhaps be more prudent for here than later I’m afraid. With the dangers currently posed, the protection hidden deep in the mountains would be most appreciated. Of course I shall help as needed, and we all here would be most pleased to host you for your troubles at the very least.”

“Very well then. I’ll see what I ken do, after I’m done ‘ere. Could you give me your hand, lass?”

Arira nodded, gently placing her hand in that of the Earth God’s. It was soft to the touch, smooth like silk even. It was a stark contrast to Algrim’s stony skin.

“Right. Now, channel me some of yer power. As much as ye feel comfortable to spare.”

After a moment, the Earth God would begin to feel a flow of divine power entering into him. It began like a trickle, but would ultimately flow out like a great yet gentle river. Algrim closed his eyes and began to channel his own power. He opened his free hand, and a glowing purple light appeared on his palm. The glow softened, and the light faded, revealing a purple gemstone.

Algrim released her hand. “Right. That’s done. All that’s left ta do is put it on the ground.” He offered her the stone. “Would ye like to do the honours?”

The goddess nodded in return, letting out a small sigh before turning herself to face the rest of the great chamber again. She raised up the gemstone, and after a brief silver shimmer covered it the goddess began to speak. Likewise, the purple gemstone would float through the air, trailing out to the center of the immense room before slowly descending down into the ground as it began to glow.

“Oh seed of world’s stability,

Protect all with our divine nobility,

Help grant calm to world’s design,

And with splendid glory, forever shine!”


As the gem, now shining like a mini-sun almost, was fully encased in the ground...a sudden rumbling briefly shook the chamber. To the credit of its make the chamber did not crumble, but instead purple tendrils of glowing light emerged from the ground around where the gem had sunk in. Then more tendrils emerged. Then more. Then more. Many more would surged from the ground, bonding together and merging until they connected the roof and floor of the place together.

Then the light would begin to fade as the mass of purple light began to subside, and in its place was a great pillar of incredible size. It stood in the center of the chamber, top to bottom, immense in its width and decorated in gigantic designs. The designs hailed from both deities, such as wheels and cyclical depictions from the goddess, and were carved into the unnaturally one-piece and otherwise perfectly smooth pillar with a kind of grace and perfection unachievable by even the finest of mortal hands. In short, a titanic thing that radiated a divine strength and yet a divine grace that each befit and matched it’s makers (or ‘parents’) in a sense.

An unseen wave of power pulsed outward, detectable only by the two gods within its vicinity. A few moments later, Algrim breathed out a sigh of what sounded very close to relief. “The ground is quieter now.” He tapped his foot on the floor. “It worked. Good.”

“Is there anything else required, good Algrim?” the goddess asked, turning her head to look at him as she assessed the situation in her own mind as well.

“Well, I did say I’d build that mountain, didn’t I?” Algrim asked. “I’m not one ta break promises. Suppose I’d best get to it. Where do ye want it?”

The goddess gave a simple nod to Algrim.

“Round about this paradise, to shroud it at height and in view from the rest of the world. I and my people thereafter can carve out any passages outward, and further such defensive measures and creations as well.

And once thou art done, we mayest celebrate in the valley if thou desirest to take rest here before moving onward. Tis’ the least I can offer for such work, and what’er else I can’st do to assist thee at this time.”


She smiled at the other deity, smiled with such a soft and gentle smile indeed. She again took one of his hands in her own as she spoke ever so sincerely, her kind eyes radiating a kind of soft warmth from them. For a few moments, Algrim seemed to get lost in them, before suddenly he shook the feeling off.

“Aye, yer a lovely lady, an’ I’d be ‘appy to celebrate with ye. But that’ll ‘ave to wait until the crisis is past. I’ll build yer wall, carry on with my work, and then come back ‘ere. Sound fair?”

Arira’s smile widened just a little bit more at the god’s words.

“It soundeth fair to mine ears, oh Earthen Lord. Once the mountains about this place hath been raised, and the world doth no longer shake with apocalyptic fury, I shalt gladly welcome thee back to celebrate here. Such is my promise to thee.”

“Would’n miss it. Now, the mountains.”



Exiting the fortress, the God of Earth strode out toward the boundaries of the paradise, and began raising mountains one by one, until the entire area was ringed by a formidable circular range. Even the lowest mountain was more than high enough to conceal the tallest structure within its confines.

Once it was complete, the god then returned to the first mountain and stared at it with obvious scrutiny. Then he began to reshape it, sharpening some angles and softening others. Making it look rugged and natural, but not ugly or bland. He did the same with all the others. The labour took a full day.

Once it was complete, the God of Earth said his farewells, and resumed his journey.






Algrim




Algrim was born into a dying world.

He did not know how he came to be. Only that he was. He knew what he was, he knew what he was called, and what power he had. He did not know why he was any of these things, but somehow that did not seem important.

The newborn god was encased in violently shaking earth, which rattled his very bones. Driven by pure instinct, he clawed his way upward, until at last he broke through the surface and he pulled himself out of the hole from whence he came. He emerged into a desolate wasteland, and despite the jarring tremours of the earth, he was easily able to retain his footing. He looked around at his surroundings, and then spat out a glob of mud.

“Ach, Such shoddy workmanship…” he muttered distastefully. This world seemed so poorly put together that he was actually offended by it. He felt anger build up inside him. Each tremour could be felt in his very soul. The rage continued to grow, until at last he could contain it no more.

“ENOUGH!” he roared, stomping his bare foot into the ground. Suddenly, the violent shaking and the rumbling which accompanied it stopped. The land was peaceful. Wounded and scarred, yet peaceful. Algrim felt his anger vanish, the outburst having been sufficient to vent it all out.

Now that he was calm, he could take better stock of his surroundings - and not just what he could see. Standing here with his bare feet touching the earth, he expanded his senses, and could suddenly detect the vibrations of things that were not within his sight. And what he sensed caused further frustration. Despite having dealt with the previous crisis, the earth below him was still unstable, and in time another quake could easily start. To make matters worse, distant vibrations told him that more quakes were happening elsewhere.

He clenched his fist. Was he going to have to keep doing this? Running about the world, fixing every disturbance he could sense, then going back to where the first one occurred to start it all again? And was he going to have to do it all on his own!?

The God took a deep breath. “No. Calm yourself, lad,” he whispered to himself. One thing at a time. For now he would focus on what was right in front of him. The land here was calm, for now, but not forever. He should fix that first.

Permanently stabilizing one section of land right now would be much better than only temporarily stabilizing the entire world. So long as he remained in this region, he could will it to remain perpetually calm. But leaving the rest of the world to fend for itself did not sit well with him. Like patching a hole in a roof while doing nothing about the rotting and crumbling foundations which supported it.

The solution came to him immediately. He could not be everywhere at once. So, he would need to create something that would ensure this area remained stable even in his absence.

But first, he would need to get his bearings. Algrim wasted no time; the section of earth he was standing upon rose up into the sky, taking him with it. Up and up he went, the pillar of dirt and stone rising higher and higher. A small crater was beginning to form around the pillar from all the dirt he needed to pull from the land in other to do this. Then, finally, the god had risen high enough to set his eyes upon all of Galbar.

He immediately recoiled at the desolate wasteland. Villages and cities, once proud and mighty, had been brought to ruin. Mountains were cracked and deformed. What had once been forests and rolling hills were marred by sinkholes and craters. The fact that there were still signs that this had once been a beautiful world - a forest of charred treestumps here, a drained lake there - only added to the tragedy of it all. But as much as he hated the sight, Algrim committed it all to memory. He needed to know the lay of the land if he was to do his part in repairing it.

Satisfied that he could remember it all, he tapped his foot against the dirt platform he stood upon. At once it began to lower, the soil filling out the crater from which it had been pulled. By the time Algrim reached the ground, it was if no pillar had ever been raised and no crater had ever been formed.

The God of the Earth cracked his knuckles. He had work to do. And he knew where to start.






Carn




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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s in there?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”You’re hopeless, Yllis.”

The trio glanced at the bush with puzzled expressions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The women merely gave another shrug.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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








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