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Karamir

&

FP:06 MP:03





Karamir’s eyes jutted awake from a nightmare. Cold sweat condensed on his skin and his eyes frantically flickered around. The feeling of dread followed him into the land of the waking. A disturbing face hung from the sky, staring down at him hungrily, fangs dripping. Karamir went to move, but he couldn’t. A cold horror cracked through his veins and he could see Diana sitting idly in the corner, picking at a nail as if none of this was happening. He went to shout at her, but his jaw didn't move, he was paralyzed and sleep had found its way to the land of the awake.

His heart began to pound, shaking his chest as the shadowy horrors swarmed around him, the jaws inching ever closer with its rancid breath and dirty teeth. He could feel his limbs going weak and then all at once, he regained control of his body. A scream belted from him as the horrors blinked out of existence.

Diana looked up from her nail and smiled wide, “A pleasant nap, I presume?” Heliopolis had yet to even break the sky, the dawn still a rotted purple.

Karamir waited for his breathing to slow down to a reasonable level, and then he looked Diana in the eye. ”Indeed it was,” he answered coldly. It had been several days now, and he had decided he would no longer give her the satisfaction of listening to him protest or complain. She was playing a game, he realized. And no doubt, she knew that he realized, which added another layer of frustration to the whole thing. She would know that he knew that as well, and the cycle just didn’t end. How could you win against a creature that can see inside your head, when you can’t see inside theirs?

“I suppose you can’t,” Diana answered the thought, “But if there weren’t any useless beings in the world, well then we would all be useless, hm?” She smiled wide, and flicked a dimissive hand “Oh come, I’m just being fun.”

Karamir suppressed a groan. Her fun came at his expense, he had long since realized. No matter. They would not stay in the open ocean forever. They would reach land eventually, and he could leave. Until then, he just had to endure. He could handle pain. He wondered how cruel this K’nell must be, if she was one of K’nell’s creations.

Diana seemed to suddenly frown, muttering something about being rude before slipping that tiny orb she has out of her hidden dress pocket. She propped it on her lap and stared happily down at it.

”What does that do, exactly?” he asked, gesturing toward the orb. ”Other than nightmares?”

“Oh! It’s wonderful, come here and see,” She gestured to him, her witching eyes watching his every move.

Mentally bracing himself, Karamir reluctantly moved closer, already preparing himself for whatever might come next. He found a spot next to Diana, but no matter which way he tried to position himself, he couldn’t get comfortable, the umbrella seemingly working against him. She leaned towards him with the orb, a terrible smell emitting from it and causing his throat to clench dryly. Inside he watched pigmen gnaw on each other, fighting for what could have been a slaughtered child. They were grotesque figures with three fingers and cloven feet, each with a pair of yellow eyes that almost matched Diana’s in making Karamir unsettled. Her smile widened, and he could see something stuck between her incisors and canine.

Karamir sighed. He wasn’t disgusted, nor frightened. In truth he had expected something worse. This was just a handful of beasts fighting over a meal. He felt a strange sense of what almost seemed like... disappointment? He could not explain why - if anything, he should be feeling relief that it wasn’t as bad as he expected. Was he growing used to this?

Diana snatched the orb away from his vision and frowned, “You don’t have to pretend to like it if you don’t like it, that’s just bad manners.”

”I’m not pretending anything. I just expected something more,” Karamir answered with a shrug.

There was an audible gasp and Diana slanted her brows, “If you have something to say, then say it!”

”This is underwhelming compared to everything I have seen in the past few days,” Karamir informed her honestly. She could see inside his mind anyway, so there was little point hiding the truth. ”I suppose I’m getting used to it.”

“Oh dear,” Diana turned away and bit her finger-knuckle in thought. Karamir shrugged and glanced toward the horizon, where the first few rays of Heliopolis were beginning to emerge. Minutes began to tick away, but Diana stayed in her silent stupor, the heavy rays breaking over the hem of the umbrella.

Karamir remained where he was, doing his best to ignore the discomfort beneath him, and uncertain as to what would happen next. Timed seemed to keep slipping and before he knew it the silence grew loud and heavy, just like the heat. For some reason it felt worse than usual, and when it came time to drink, Diana was still thinking in silence.

Wordlessly, Karamir tapped her on the shoulder, to see if that would provoke a response. Diana seemed to huff and slap his hand away, her eyes narrowing, “How dare you.” She suddenly turned on him. She stood up and put one hand on the handle of the umbrella, “I’m trying to think.”

”I need water,” Karamir said, his voice coming out as a raspy croak.

“And I need some conflict and chaos…” She thought for a moment, “In peace and quiet!” With a sudden jerk of her hand the umbrella tipped wildly to its side, dumping the thirsty man into the ocean.

Karamir’s hand shot out, and somehow he was able to grab the umbrella’s edge, his fingers cramping at the uncomfortable angle. His head was underwater, so he attempted to pull himself upward. To his horror, his pulls seemed to only tug the umbrella down with him, a gurgling sound coming from the now hazy image of Diana who stood over him.

Karamir felt a sense of desperation as the water choked him, and he gradually started to lose his grip. Kalmar…. Kalmar I’m in danger… he found himself praying.

Suddenly the world tipped and water drained from his ears as he flopped back onto the umbrella. A smiling Diana stood over him, a cackle on her lips, “That’s so sweet of you,” She charmed, “You really aren’t used to it after all.”

Karamir did not answer, because a gruff voice soon pierced his thoughts. What danger? Where are you? Kalmar’s voice spoke within his head.

Nothing… nevermind… Karamir found himself answering. If Kalmar did come to rescue him now, he would have to explain how exactly he ended up in this situation, and why he put up with it for so long. That… he did not want to go through.

Diana put the black teacup on his chest as he laid there in his thoughts. She hummed to herself wickedly, “It is rather hard to find new things to do on this umbrella, I must agree.”

Carefully, Karamir retrieved the black teacup with two hands. Without spilling a single drop, he rose to a sitting position, sniffed the liquid, and then took a reluctant sip. He found it lukewarm, but fresh. For some reason, it was slightly slimy and went down his throat in a funny tickle, but otherwise replenished his thirst.

With a soft ‘foo!’ Diana returned to her usual spot and sat, dress blossoming around her, “I have to say, this will not do. Not for much longer.”

Without any words, Karamir continued to take light sips of the drink. He had learned that it was better to take gradual sips than to down it all at once, since it made it feel as though he was drinking more than he actually was. ”What do you have in mind?” he finally asked her.

“I’m not sure,” She tapped her chin, “Landing somewhere, getting out of this umbrella, meeting new people, making new friends. You understand.”

”Oh? I’m not good enough?” Karamir asked rhetorically.

“Oh dear,” She waved her hands, “What a terrible thing to suggest, of course you aren’t.” She sneered, “How silly.”

Karamir stared back at her and began to think. She had consistently and repeatedly abused and terrorized him during his stay on the umbrella. Yet at the same time, she had also saved his life, providing him food and drink. She did so scarcely, at irregular hours, yet somehow that had made it both taste better and feel more fulfilling than anything he had ever consumed. She was indeed playing a game, and if the game was continuing, then of course she would say that. He gave a thin smile. ”If you say so…”

“Oh but I do,” She nodded, “You’re much too needy and far too confident.”

”Aren’t those two traits in conflict with each other?”

“And the questions,” She clenched her teeth into a grin, “Such a little simpleton, aren’t we?”

Karamir finished his drink, and looked down at the cup. ”I shouldn’t ask what this actually is, then?”

“Oh fluff,” She rolled her eyes, “That’s a cup!”

”So it is,” Karamir agreed, deciding not to press what he had actually meant. ”Where will we be landing?”

“A question for time” Diana winked, the motion seeming awkward as a salty crust fell from her lashes. She sat back against the wall of the umbrella and mused, “But I hope it’s unbearable.”







Karamir





How strange.

Karamir stood before the recently emptied river, watching the fish writhe and flop about, still alive. How had this happened? Had one of the gods struck Kalgrun? Kalmar had told him that Shengshi was the God of the Rivers, and that the two of them had a feud, but that feud was resolved. Had the feud reawakened? Was this Shengshi's doing? Even if it wasn't, was the god who did this still in the area? If they were here to cause senseless destruction, then Karamir knew he might be in danger.

But there was one thing Karamir could not overlook, which was that the river's state presented an opportunity. The fish had nowhere to move and were dying anyway. It would be a simple enough matter to collect some, and receive a free meal.

So, he did.

He slid down the muddy slope, and it briefly occurred to him that there was no longer a river to wash himself in. No matter - he wasn't that far from the sea. He approached one of the larger fish and nearly slipped on the muddy bank, but thrust the butt of his spear into the riverbed to steady himself. It went surprisingly deep, and it was harder than expected to pull back out.

Once it was out, and Karamir was steady on his feet, he approached one of the larger fish and stabbed his spear into it. He picked up another with his hand, and then a third. He was about to retrieve a fourth when he heard a distant rumbling.

Karamir’s eyes widened. With panic in his eyes, he dropped the fish and scrambled toward the slope. He threw his spear up onto the bank, and with both hands he began to climb, trying to find holds in the mud and dirt. He glanced in the direction of the sound and saw a torrent of water surging toward him. With desperation, he hastened his climb.

Somehow he made it. Karamir hauled himself up onto the bank, the rushing water missing him by mere inches. He lay on the ground, panting, more from fear than adrenaline than exhaustion.

He lay there for some time, catching his breath, and he began to laugh himself. The laughter stopped when steps could be heard. He glanced toward the forest, and spotted a direwolf stalking toward him, no doubt seeking to exploit his weary state.

Karamir’s hand lunged for the spear, and with the sudden motion the wolf rushed forward. Karamir’s hand close around the shaft, and he stood, swinging the spear around to maneuver the tip into the direwolf’s path.

The direwolf attempted to change course but it was too late, and the spear struck the creature head-on. Karamir would have smiled, but instead he overbalanced as the creature’s momentum sent him, the spear, and the wolf, into the river.

The current, made stronger by the fact that the river was still being refilled, overtook him and pulled him downstream. He had no choice but to release his grip on the spear, and then he began to flail and struggle.

His head broke the surface and he sucked in a breath. It was a struggle just to keep his head above water but somehow, for the most part, he managed. It didn’t change the fact that the water was dragging him to who knew where.

On and on he fought, but resisting the river seemed to be an unending struggle he could not win. His arms began to tire. The few breaths he managed to take were short, desperate, and ragged. His vision began to blur, darken, and fade.

Just before he passed out, he noted that the water had begun to taste salty.




Karamir awoke, coughing and sputtering. He was extremely uncomfortable, his back laying on a strange beam and a fabric webbing curling in such a way to cause his spine to kink exactly where it is most discomforting. He laid this way in a large umbrella, the shaft pointed up to the midday sky. Across from him sat a woman, her were legs hidden in the puff of a conservative black dress and sickly pink eyes with witching pupils watched him. As the seawater dribbled out, a sharp toothed grin formed on her face.

Eventually the coughing began to die down. Karamir sat up, rubbing his spine with grit teeth. He glanced down at the umbrella --which bobbed at the movement-- then at the woman, his expression one of puzzlement. ”Who are you?” he asked between breaths.

“My name is Diana,” She grinned, “Would you like a drink?” She held up a small black cup.

Karamir looked around, and noted that, aside from the sea which Kalmar told him was undrinkable, there was no other liquid in sight. He eyed the cup warily. ”What is it?” he asked.

“Water,” She gave a polite nod.

”From where?” he questioned.

She rolled her eyes and took a slurping sip, “My you have a lot of questions, hm?”

”I see no sources of freshwater on this… boat? And if it’s from the ocean then I can’t drink it,” Karamir informed her.

“Well, have you tried?” She said, her voice echoing from the cup.

”No?” Karamir spoke with confusion. ”Kalmar told me that if there’s salt in it, then it will only make me thirstier.”

She gave a sputtering cackle, what liquid she had yet to swallow spitting back into the cup, “How silly! It's water! Here.” She leaned over to hand him the cup she had been drinking from, “Just try it, and if you don't absolutely love it, I'll get you some of that nasty fresh water you seem so enamored with.”

Karamir frowned. He wasn’t sure who she was, or how she planned to get him fresh water when there was none in sight, but a sip would not kill him. He accepted the cup, took a sip, and tasted the salt. His frown deepened, and he promptly spat it back out over the edge.

Diana clapped her hands with a certain excitement, “Oh my, you absolutely adore it!”

”I don’t,” Karamir stated flatly. He looked away from her, toward the coast of Kalgrun, and rolled his eyes.

“Oh you,” She flicked her hand and snatched the cup from him. She hummed idly and a little stream of fresh water looped from over the hem of the umbrella and into the cup. She gave it a funny sniff and sipped at it, a look of disgust furrowing her brow.

Finally, Karamir looked back at her. ”Which god made you?” he asked, rather directly.

Diana cackled, spilled her drink with a soft ‘whoops.’ After a prolonged bout of laughter she finally cleared her throat and sat up straight, “I am a god, or at least a good piece of one.”

Karamir frowned. ”Kalmar did not speak of you. Which god are you part of?” he asked skeptically.

“Kalmar this, Kalmar that,” She waved her hand back and forth as she spoke, “You spend nine days with the god and you'd think you owe your life to him.”

”No, I don’t owe him anything,” Karamir protested, and then his eyes narrowed in suspicion. ”How did you know that?”

“You told me, in a way,” She winked and sighed as she looked upwards, “Heliopolis is getting rather hot, huh?”

The heat of the sphere radiated off the uncovered black umbrella. Karamir had to agree - it was rather uncomfortable. ”It is… if you’re part of a god, then can’t you do something about it?”

She looked back down and blinked, “Why would I ever do that? Its the perfect level of a dehydrating scorch. I can feel the very air turn to salt on my skin,” she wiped her cheek, a sprinkle of salt falling off, “Splendid!”

”No fresh water… the day is hot… no shade… how am I supposed to survive here?” Karamir asked, his voice laden with annoyance.

“Oh foo,” she waved a dismissing hand, “You'll be fine, just give it a few days. You'll come to love it.”

”I’ll be dead,” Karamir said flatly. Once more he glanced out at the distant coast of Kalgrun. He would not be able to swim that far. He could pray to Kalmar for aid, but… no, he wouldn’t resort to that so quickly. It seemed he was stuck here for the time being. With a sigh, he laid back on the umbrella and turned his head away from the sun.

Hours passed. His thirst grew, but he did not say a word. The sun was low on the horizon, and he felt himself begin to drift off, but he would not let sleep take him. Perhaps that was what she was waiting for, and who knew what would happen to him then? His skin tightened under the radiant heat and he could feel his lips harden. He kept a wary eye on his… savior? Captor? He was not sure how to describe her, but he knew that if this persisted, it would be his death. Maybe I should have tried swimming, he thought to himself.

The smiling Diana suddenly twitched her fingers, and the cup flung from the umbrella bottom and into her hand. She hummed lazily to herself as a spout of water shot from out of eye sight and into the cup. She swirled a finger in it and shivered, “Disgustingly fresh, even.” She scrunched her nose, “and much too chilled.”

Karamir’s head perked up, and he rose into a sitting position. His eyes were locked on the cup, but he made no further sound or movement. Was this a trick?

She took a sip and immediately recoiled, spitting it out with a “pppbttt!” She snarled, “Horrendous.” Her eyes flickered over the dehydrated man, “I don't suppose you want it?”

Wordlessly, Karamir nodded and extended his hand, half-expecting her to revoke the offer.

She grinned and leaned forward, offering the cup. As his fingers touched it, it suddenly cracked and then crumbled. It's treasure splattering across the umbrella fabric. Karamir stared at her with a look that expressed complete and utter murderous hatred, his hand still extended.

Diana cackled and sniffed behind her sleeve, the cup reforming and the very water slurping back into it, “Oh come now.” She jutted her chin towards the fresh drink, “It's all yours.”

Without wasting time, Karamir seized cup and took a tentative sip. The taste was soothing and refreshing, and he detected no trace of salt or other deadly impurities. He quickly began to gulp it down, consuming every last drop, and only pulled it away when it was completely empty. He looked at Diana. ”Thank you,” he croaked grudgingly.

Diana watched with a clearly grossed out yet intrigued look, and as his gratitude came she made a face, “It's no cup of sulfur, but you're welcome I suppose.”

”You never told me… which god are you a piece of?” he asked, looking down at his sunburned skin.

“I'm from the land of nightmares, if that tells you anything,” She mused as she turned to watch the cloudless sky, her eyes directly staring at the sinking Heliopolis.

”Nightmares? What are those?”

“Oh,” A toothy smile formed on her face, “They are wonderful, I'm one even. The more traditional ones only come to the sleeping. They make you appreciate things a little more.”

”They’re dreams?” Karamir asked, and frowned. ”Am I asleep right now?”

“Oh dear,” She turned away bashfully, “I suppose we are, but no -- you are quite awake.”

”So if you’re from a land of dreams, you were made by…” Karamir tried to remember the gods Kalmar had spoke of, ”...K’nell? Why are you here?”

Her face quickly fell into a frown and she looked over, “How rude!” She chastised, “I was not made, I am just a piece.”

”My mistake… but why did you come here? Why are you in the sea?”

“Well why are you?” Diana crossed her arms, The umbrella bobbing unsteady.

”I think you know why,” Karamir answered. If she knew about the time he spent with Kalmar then surely she knew everything else, or at least had the ability to find out?

Diana pursed her lips and nodded, “If you must know, I am on a hiatus.”

”Why?” The familiar one-word question naturally sprang to Karamir’s lips.

“Oh I don't suppose that's much of your business,” She pointed a finger, “Now will you be seeing yourself out or shall I settle the guest quarters?” She stared hard, the only thing in the umbrella being the two figures and the dark sky above.

”If I step off this umbrella I’ll drown,” Karamir pointed out. ”So until we reach land I’ll have to stay.”

“Such a needy creature,” She mumbled, “But miserable.” She nodded to herself and snapped a finger, the umbrella contorting under the hunter into a very uncomfortable looking formation meant for sleep, with bars poking out of the frayed fabric, and sudden itching spots.

Karamir frowned as he felt the sudden urge to scratch his already sunburnt skin. ”Why?” he demanded in exasperation. ”Why did you do that!?”

“Tsk!” She wagged a finger, “You'll see.”

The urge overcame him, and he soon found himself scratching at the cracked and reddened skin. He said nothing, and only glared at her in silence. Kalmar had told him that some gods were cruel, but this?

“Oh goodness me,” She cackled, “Let me help.” She snapped her fingers and with an instant of the crack, Karamir was suddenly washed with a pounding urge to sleep, his mind slipping away and his body crumpling.

Hours passed, his mind struggling against all manners of nightmares. Darkness swirled and he learned desperation, he found anxiety and succumbed to a certain fear. His mind shattered against the rocks of despair and every step forward was a fatal fall backwards. Scenes flashed and he felt his soul sink, a cold grip on his subconscious. His mind jumped and skipped from one to another, and as time slipped by, his only reprieve was a sudden crack in his eyes. His lids slowly opened to the morning rays.

Karamir jolted upward, yet the terror he had just experienced quickly faded in the way of a sudden relief. His sunburn was gone, his energy had been restored and then some. If he wasn’t still on the umbrella, he would have doubted that yesterday’s tribulations had even happened at all. He took a deep breath and stretched his shoulders, feeling an urge to stand or run, yet the disparity between this and his tormented rest kept him down. He had dreamed, but it had never been as horrible as that, nor had his awakenings ever felt as refreshing. ”What did you do?” he asked Diana.

Diana blinked and sat up, sliding a strange orb into a hidden pocket. She smiled wide, “I gave you a nightmare.”

Karamir, at the end of the day, had a strong survival instinct. He found himself analyzing both the drawbacks and the advantages of what he had just experienced. It had been horrible, even painful, yes… but the payoff… the payoff had been worth it. His training sessions with Kalmar had been painful, and while they had sharpened his skills, each one had only left him feeling more drained and tired. But this nightmare she had given him? There had been pain followed by refreshment. It felt… it felt worth it, almost. ”Thank you?” he ventured hesitantly.

“There are better ones,’” She gave him a weak look, “Ones that follow you awake, pull you ragged through an entire day, even. You'll have to excuse my hastiness.” She wrenched her wrist, “It's been a long time.”

”A long time since what?”

“Since I made a dream, of course,” Diana sneered. Her eyes glistened, “I once broke the God of virtue against the stones of his own mind. Oh it was glorious, and I -- K'nell knew just what to do. It was seamless, pulling him from the darkest depths of misery and slamming him into paradise. Such a jump, it was a masterpiece. Ever see a broken God lap at happiness?” She didn't let Karamir answer, “It was frightening,” She shivered.

Karamir did not know how to respond. He knew little to nothing about Aelius, but he could not imagine Kalmar afraid, or desperate. He had briefly spoken to Phystene, and although Kalmar once told a story in which she had called for aid, Karamir could not imagine her in such a state either. ”I… I can’t imagine what that would look like,” he finally admitted, his voice soft. ”But if true… the gods are vulnerable after all…”

“Not as vulnerable as you,” She cackled, “Compared to you, they are unbreakable. My, how tiny you are.” She prodded him in the rib, “Do you want some more water?”

Karamir only nodded and she handed him the cup. Without thinking, he brought it to his lips and began to drink, but then his eyes widened and he spat a stream of it over the edge.

Salt.





Kalmar

&

God of Death, Prince of Astral Fires





As Kalmar trekked back into the cave, he began to think. Asceal had told him that Melantha, Katharsos, and Sartravius were mad. If she was wrong about Melantha, then it stood to reason that she could be wrong about the other two. And he had already told Asceal that he would make an attempt to speak with them. It would be best to do that, before she could attempt anything rash.

However, there were two obstacles. Firstly, he did not know where either Katharsos or Sartravius were. Secondly, searching for them would mean leaving Melantha - either that, or taking her with him on the search, which could be a bad idea if they proved to be dangerous.

Kalmar decided it would be far easier to simply do what he had done with Orvus. Call them down for a meeting. He was away from Melantha, so assuming the conversation was brief, now would be the best time. He decided to start with Katharsos.

”Katharsos,” he thought, reaching out. ”We need to talk.”

There was silence as the thought raced across the void of space and echoed until it found its way to Katharsos, hanging somewhere up in the stars in contemplation as he was wont to be. Sooner, rather than later, Kalmar got his answer in the form of a voice that called out across the Spheres to speak with crystal clarity. ”I am listening.”

A quick response. That was good. Orvus had been far less receptive. ”Can you speak to me in person?” Kalmar questioned back.

The request struck Katharsos as a strange one, for conversation was easy enough regardless of distance, as they were already demonstrating. But he ultimately dismissed it as likely being an eccentricity of some sort. In truth he was glad to have his thoughts broken; it was good to remain tethered to reality lest he eventually retreat so deeply into the depths of his mind that he might struggle to escape.

”I will come,” finally Katharsos answered. There had been a pregnant pause in which he’d mulled over it, but in the end hesitance hadn’t crept into his tone. Unravelling his form and taking flight across Galbar again held a certain appeal, so seeing little reason for brevity, he decided to forego wrenching open the Vortex of Souls and rappelling down it. Instead, he manifested in Galbar’s sky as a streak of red that gradually grew larger and brighter as it fell from the heavens and approached the source of Kalmar’s presence.

The descent toward Kalgrun brought him over mountain and plains and forest, and even from afar, Katharsos could sense the presence of life. He took some satisfaction in seeing how far it had spread. Though none of those creatures were of his making, the soul ash that had enabled their existence had been a product of Katharsos’ grim work. It was good to find some vicarious joy in seeing the works of the other gods; it helped to push aside any lingering doubts as to whether his path had been right.

Kalmar waited. He saw the streak of red approaching, and detected the aura of a god. Who else could that be if not Katharsos? He returned his knife to his belt, and kept his hands open at his sides, as he waited for the God of Death to arrive.

Eventually Katharsos grew so close that it became apparent to those below that he was not some mundane meteorite. A massive streak of fire raced down to the surface of the world below, arresting its motion only a short ways above the ground, and then the great thread of fire quickly wove itself into a burning visage.

Kalmar greeted the figure with a wary nod. ”Katharsos,” was all he said.

”You are Kalmar,” the fellow god acknowledged. ”It is good to meet you in person, but I sense some purpose in your words and suspect that this is not meant to be a conversation of pleasantries.”

Based on Asceal’s description, that was perhaps one of the last things Kalmar had been expecting to hear. However, he did not let his surprise show, and decided to get straight to the point. ”I heard you were murdering souls,” he said.

For his part Katharsos did not hide his surprise, and the long flames of his face bent as he recoiled from the accusation. ”Conversation is warranted, then. I shall commit myself to civil speech and answer any of your questions, if you will only agree to the same.”

Kalmar nodded. ”That is why I called you here. I do not want a fight. Now… is it true?”

Vakk and Melantha had both been straightforward and brash to a point that approached rudeness, but Kalmar’s fast speech and blatant mannerisms surpassed even theirs. It took Katharsos somewhat aback, for he intended to begin by demanding the source of those claims, but Kalmar had already asked his question.

”I do not think so,” was the answer that he came up with after several moments of thought. He spoke deliberately, weighing each word, and slowly. So slowly, compared to Kalmar. ”I have done things that I would not have liked, but all of my actions are necessary, and therefore just. I suspected that some might have objected to the manner in which I recycled those primordial souls that entered the world alongside us and yet were not granted divinity, but murder is a poor choice of word. No, they were in miserable condition, agonized and half-mad. I took it upon myself to grant them mercy, and in doing so enabled new life to form.”

A fiery eye darted to a nearby tree, as well as to some of the animals cowering in it. Katharsos exuded a gentle warmth, but the brilliance of his form was enough to kindle any animal’s instinctive fear of fire. Still, he noticed a small squirrel and inspected it from afar, momentarily distracted by the tiny thing. “I am pleased to see you make use of the fruits of my efforts.”

Now it was Kalmar’s turn to be taken aback. As he had noted with Melantha, these were not the words of someone who was mad. Asceal had misled him twice, it seemed, and once again he had to wonder if it was intentional. But now was not the time to voice this - questions still remained. ”And how do you recycle these souls?” Kalmar asked, his tone betraying neither approval nor disapproval.

”There, far above us, I found a Sphere that called to me. It was an empty shell, an utterly bleak and miserable place, but it called to me and so I claimed it and have put it to good purpose. Many of those distant lights in the sky are great pyres of my making; they burn the souls of the dead to create ash, among other byproducts. Over time, this soul ash has permeated the Spheres. Do you feel it?” With some concentration, Katharsos used his mind and divine power to manipulate his surroundings to grasp some of the ash that floated through the forest around them, trying to make the stuff defy its invisible and incorporeal nature.

With only the force of his mind, he squeezed the mote of ash tightly, too tightly, and under his compressive weight it collapsed into a true soul. That had not quite been his intent, and some semblance of a frown appeared on the god’s face. Still, even as he looked at the newly formed soul as it greedily pulled in more soul ash from its surroundings and began to grow, he spoke to Kalmar, ”If you had not noticed, it is the source of the new souls that have arisen inside all of the lifeforms around us.”

At once, Kalmar understood. He was aware of his soul ash, and in his experience he had also noticed that souls tended to decay over time. He had not known where soul ash came from, but he had assumed it was produced by some god’s sphere. And he had also assumed that the departed souls simply decayed into nothingness. But he was wrong - on both counts. ”I see…” he said, after some thought, but two questions remained. ”The souls that burn… do they suffer? And does any of their essence go to waste?”

”I have created a great storm that churns unseen around us, wrenching free the stray souls of the dead and carrying them to my Sphere in the currents. The dead find that confusing, disorientating, distressing...it seems altogether unpleasant, though I see little to be done about it. It is unacceptable to let them wander freely and to make the living suffer those dead that would greedily stay past their time and inflict themselves upon the world. Upon entering the pyres, there is pain. A soul has many components, and to fully recycle one back to ash, I must separate them all. Breaking down the link between a soul and its memories has proven to be the most challenging aspect,” Katharsos spoke on and on, looking at the soul of his accidental make and trying to subdue and restrain it whilst he decided what to do.

Without looking away from it and back to Kalmar, he went on, “They relive their lives in a sort of cathartic way as the flames wrest their memories away, one by one. You might compare it to a state of paralysis that they exist in as they gradually lose consciousness and identity and eventually even sapience. For those that struggle, I will not lie and deny that there is pain. Rest assured that I take little joy in the process and do try to at least watch the passing of as many as I can. It...it…”

The soul stopped writhing, and so Katharsos finally was able to cease wrestling it and loosen his magical grip on the thing. But still he seemed at a loss for words.

”It...helps to ease my mind. And there is much to be learned from the memories of the dead. I believe that those who live fulfilling or interesting lives are worthy of respect, so I do endeavor to watch the passing of as many of them as possible. But there are so many souls, and I am only one. I cannot possibly see them all, though I do try.”

”You could try to find a way to make it less painful, or find a way to store their memories…” Kalmar mused thoughtfully, ”...but if your words are true, I see no other issue with your process. It seems I was misled… I’m sorry.”

The orange fires of Katharsos’ body pulsed golden for an instant. That was about the closest that he came to beaming. ”I will think upon what you have said. I gladly accept the apology, even though it seems unwarranted if you were indeed misled. And that brings me to what I had been meaning to ask--who was it that spoke to you of this? Only three have entered my Sphere, and each came asking for a favor.” He began to look more troubled. ”I had my doubts in each case, but ultimately acquiesced and granted each that which they’d asked of me. I had thought that all three parted with me as friends!”

”It was Asceal,” Kalmar told him. ”She did not tell me much, just that you were murdering souls, and she thought you mad. I don’t know if she misjudged you or if she deliberately misled me, though I suspect she might try to interfere with your process either way. I will talk to her, but I have other things to do first, and she might not listen.”

”Asceal? I have never spoken with her, nor even stopped to see her or her works. I did suspect that some might find disagreement with my methods and my actions, or perhaps question me in other ways, but I trust that all such contention is rooted in ignorance and that I will be able to enlighten her someday. I can only imagine that it is not all too pressing for her, as she’s yet to visit my Sphere or so much as tell me anything of an objection.”

”Not all of our kind are as quick to resort to words,” Kalmar pointed out. ”Orvus tried to kill Phystene. Shengshi threatened to kill my avatar over a disagreement, and I threatened him in return. Vakk attacked Li’Kalla, and somehow turned her into a monster. And something erased Melantha’s memories, but I don’t know what. Asceal already told me she doesn’t see any point in talking with you.”

Listening carefully, Katharsos initially seemed to hold onto that almost smug, albeit unintentional, dismissiveness that he’d shown a moment earlier, but it cracked over mention of Vakk and Melantha. ”The immature, the vain, and those not used to power will make idle threats and perhaps even scuffle if they grow sour enough toward one another; I expected that much, and will merely try to remain detached. If they come to me, I will do what I can to teach them the error of their ways. But as in for Vakk? A god such as he should know better. Surely you are misinformed, or somehow there is more to the situation. When next I see Vakk, I will ask him of the matter.”

Then Katharsos rested in silent thought. After a long pause, with some trepidation in mind but not in voice of body, he finally spoke of Melantha, [/color=goldenrod]“And as for Melantha, I believe that...that state of hers is of her own doing. She came to me seeking to understand the mechanism of my pyres, you see. But she seemingly cared for little besides the process of separating memory from soul, and asked that I show her how to perform such feats. And then I helped her to practice, and she returned to amicably to her own realm. I suppose she must have went on to erase all of her own memories, then.”[/color]

He became so troubled that the bodiless soul in his grasp nearly escaped, but the god of death was not easily defied. When he willed a soul to come or go, his grip was unyielding and his will near unbreakable. So it was that the spirit did not go far before being returned to his side.

”Erasing one’s own memories would be no small feat; I do not think that she would have managed to do it nearly so easily were it not for my assistance. Perhaps I was wrong to give her the tutelage that she sought. But then, who am I to judge what she chose to become?”

Kalmar was genuinely shocked. He had assumed that the erasing of Melantha’s memories was the work of some other god. But to find out that it was her own doing? ”She.. she erased her own memories?” he asked, the surprise and confusion evident in his voice. ”Why?”

Katharsos had no words.

”To erase her own memories… she should use her experiences to make herself stronger, she shouldn’t hide from them…” Kalmar sighed in disappointment. ”But she is a different person now, and she promised to be better…” his voice trailed off. ”I will need to tell her. As for Vakk… be careful - if the story about him breaking Li’Kalla’s mind is true, he can do the same to you, though you might be made of sterner stuff. Either way, my avatar is searching for the truth as we speak.”

”You will do as you think best.” It was in that moment that Katharsos realized that he had been too detached. Too much had transpired; he needed to stay on Galbar for some time and investigate much of what Kalmar had told him. While he was there, he could also explore the creation of the other gods. ”I do not fear Vakk, but will be more wary of his intentions for what you’ve told me. If this avatar of yours finds something of value, I hope that you will inform me.”

Kalmar nodded. ”I will. Let me know if Asceal tries to move against you. Death is both a hunter’s ally and a hunter’s enemy, but it is a vital part of existence nonetheless.”





Kalmar





As Kalmar began exploring the area, it soon became apparent that the presence he had detected was gone. He scoured the area, and although he did indeed find a trail, there would likely be little point in following. They would be long gone by now, and although he would eventually catch up, there was no telling how long that would be. Following it for too long could lead to him straying too far from Melantha, and that he did not wish to do.

Not just because he had given her his word that he would return, or because she had his bow, but because he found himself enjoying her company. There was some strange comfort in being near her, like he was at peace somehow. On some level she seemed to understand and connect with him, when there had been few beings in this world who could do so. He still wasn't entirely sure why he had made his confession. It had been genuine, which meant he had given away his weakness, something a hunter should never do. Yet somehow it appeared to have endeared her to them even further.

He wished to return to her, but for now he would continue to examine the area. He picked up a fallen tree branch, cut off a piece of wood, and began to carve away at it as he walked, thinking carefully of what he wanted the final result to look like. It took time, and he had to discard the carving to try again, but eventually he was finished. Satisfied with the result, he slipped it into his pocket.

One thing he had noted in his search, however, was that in the time since he first built this continent, a natural glacier had been formed. And from that glacier emerged natural rivers which, to his knowledge, had not been created by Shengshi. There was one in the north, and one in the south.

He decided to give them a closer inspection, starting with the one in the north. The water was fresh, but there was a distinct lack of fish. That would need to change. So, he focused his power, and created some. First there would be the animals - beavers, otters, frogs, turtles, ducks. Then, of course, the fish: carp, trout, bass, salmon, but also smaller creatures such as minnows, or crayfish. There would be vegetation, too - algae, plankton, moss, rushes. That done, he went to the southern river and added more of the same.

Now they only needed names. The northern one would be the Kalmere River, while the southern one... he paused, thinking. His thoughts went to Melantha. The Melbrook River.

He took out his carving, studied it, and made a few minor adjustments. Then his hand slipped, ruining the carving. With a growl, he threw it into the river and started again with a new piece.

When the latest attempt was finally complete, he looked up and realized the sun was about to set. It was time to head back.






Karamir





The sun was setting as Karamir walked through the forest. There was a bitterness inside him. No answers, no explanation, no purpose. That was all he wanted. Yet the beings who created it all, him and the very world itself, could not provide it. Or perhaps they did provide it, but chose not to. Leaving him to figure it out for himself.

But why?

Was he a plaything? A test? Some experiment for them to observe and study? But even if that was the case... why? What about him was worth studying or observing? The only things he could influence were the fate of a berry bush or the occasional wolf. Phystene had made him an offer, and while that might have given him more things to do... why? If he was given a gift to aid his survival, that still didn't answer the question of what he was surviving for. Even if he was capable of producing offspring, wouldn't they just go on to do the same things he did?

So why?

He could end himself, he realized. Answer the question with a simple "there is no why." Then throw himself from a cliff, or plunge a spear into his heart. He could stop leeching off the creatures that seem content with their lack of purpose, and instead he could let it end.

But then he would be a failure. Survival... such a vague, seemingly pointless task, but also the only task he had ever been given - the only thing expected of him. His ultimate mark on the world would be one of disappointment, which sounded worse than leaving no mark at all. There was no good answer.

What was one of Phystene's suggestions? Go on great hunts in Kalmar's name? Kalmar, who had given him all that he needed, but none of what we wanted. His name was already similar enough to Kalmar's, so it felt as if anything he did would already be in Kalmar's name. He did not resent his name, no, but why must he be tied to someone who had long since parted ways with him? Someone who did not even consider him a son, despite being directly responsible for his creation. Why?

He wondered if the animals of this continent even had the capacity to contemplate that question. Perhaps that was why he seemed to be the only creature with these struggles. He had been told his intelligence was greater than theirs. Great enough to question existence, but not enough to actually answer that question. Why?

The more he thought about it, the more he convinced himself there was no answer at all. Then he considered that perhaps not even the world's creators were smart enough to know the answer. He laughed bitterly. Were they just as confused as him, and hoping that by observing creations such as him, they would somehow find the answer for themselves? Yes, perhaps that was their secret. They told him it was something he had to find out for himself, but that was only because they couldn't admit to their own weakness. The fact that they were so afraid to show their weakness was a second weakness.

What other weaknesses did they carry? Kalmar had told him that one god had already snapped and turned into a monster. Another wanted to destroy the world because he was unwilling to find a place in it. And another had nearly started a war over a petty dispute.

Yes... they all had to be just as lost and confused as him, if not more.

He recalled his maker's words. "There is no telling how high you might rise, how strong you might become. Or you might fail, and end up lower than where you started. Not even I know."

He would rise, he resolved. He would become stronger. Strong enough to stand next to the gods themselves. His maker had told him that anger, when mastered, had its uses. So he would take the anger within him, the bitterness, and he would hone it and sharpen it and harden it, to aid him in this goal. He did not know if such a goal was achievable by him, or even possible, but he would try. And if, somehow, he succeeded, he would look into their eyes and call them out for what they were.

Perhaps he would fail. He probably would. But at least it was a purpose.




K A L M A R
M E L A N T H A


“First thing’s first,” Kalmar began aloud. What he said next, however, came directly from within Melantha’s mind. “It will be easier if we speak telepathically.”

“Whoa,” Melantha yelped, barely managing to retain her balance and almost tripping due to the suddenness with which Kalmar switched from vocal to telepathic speech. “You can do that?!” The bewilderment on her face was evident.

“Yes. Just think of me, and think your next thoughts as if you’re saying it directly to me, but don’t speak it out loud.” Kalmar’s voice continued. As he ‘spoke’, he looked back to see if she was alright, but his mouth remained closed the entire time.

This time around she was somewhat prepared for it and thus was not as taken aback by the telepathy. Melantha fiddled with her ear in annoyance and thought about what he said. Think about him…”

She looked at Kalmar’s face as he was turned around and her eyes instantly homed in on his moustache. Dominant as it was on his face, it had more or less become a defining feature of Kalmar in her mind, and she found herself instantly remembering his face whenever she thought about his moustache, a nice little trick she had found in order to make sure she would never forget how he looked.

As she focused on holding the picture in her mind, she thought the words she wanted to say instead of saying them out loud. “Hello hello. One-two-three, anybody there?”

“You did it,” Kalmar informed her with a slight smile. ”Well done.”

“It seems really tiring though, to be honest. Why do we need to communicate like this, anyway?

“When hunting, silence is key. If we are speaking, the animals will hear us and flee the area. It will also be helpful if we ever end up too far away from each other to hear through normal means…” he paused. “Why were you staring at my moustache?”

“No particular reason…” Melantha said, brushing his question off and quickly changing the topic. “So what are we going to hunt? Have you decided?” She asked and moved to walk next to him as they traversed the forested areas at the foot of the mountain.

“Depends on what we find,” Kalmar answered. “We start by looking for tracks. If you look behind you, you will see that you leave footprints. Animals do too. They also kick aside leaves and snap branches. Look for any minor disturbances on the ground.”

Melantha peered behind them and located their footprints, letting out an exclamation, roughly understanding what Kalmar meant by saying ‘tracks’. She then looked around them for anything remotely similar to what he had described. “Yeah, I don’t see how you can differentiate between leaves blown away by the wind and random fallen branches, and leaves and branches displaced by animals moving over or around them. It all looks the same to me…” she said with a furrow in her brow.

“When leaves are blown by the wind, they rest lightly against whatever surface they land on, and are easily blown again. When leaves are stepped on by animals, they are flattened and pressed against whatever surface they were on. As for branches… if multiple branches in a row have all been snapped in a similar way, then that’s a sign. Branches don’t usually snap unless stepped on anyway.” Kalmar informed her.

“Right…” Melantha said in an absent manner, more concentrated on discovering tracks like the ones Kalmar spoke of. They walked for a couple of minutes more, Melantha scanning the area all the while before her eyes finally locking onto a particular section of the ground behind a nearby tree. She quickly ran behind that tree, coming to kneel on the wet soil beside the spot. Some leaves were covering it, but Melantha had noticed that there was a particular groove that had formed in the ground. She picked up the leaves, revealing a strange duo of marks under. “Something like this?”

“No,” Kalmar said as he stepped beside her and knelt. He cleared away some more leaves. “A branch or a rock fell here,” he concluded, rising to his feet, “from a height tall enough to cause an indentation in the ground. No animal did this.” Kalmar raised his eyebrows, and then suddenly he turned, to begin clearing twigs and branches away with his foot. “But this…” beneath was a large paw print with four toes. “Now we found something.”

“Oh I see,” Melantha said and shuffled closer to where Kalmar pointed at. She observed the footprint, its curves and contours, memorizing it in her mind for future reference. “What kind of animal leaves such a print?”

“A wolf,” Kalmar revealed. “Like Fenris, but smaller.”

A wolf… She looked a little further up to find another, very similar footprint. While the previous one generally leant towards the left, this new one leant towards the right, so Melantha reasoned that the previous one must have been a footprint of the wolf’s right paw and this one was from the left one, an observation she voiced for Kalmar to confirm. Seeing him nodding his head in assent encouraged her to continue looking for those footprints, and soon enough she found herself following a trail of footprints through bushes and scrubs.

Kalmar followed her in silence, a silence he only occasionally broke to help her out or correct her if she made a mistake. Then, suddenly, he grabbed her arm to stop her from moving any further. ”Wait,” he said.

“What?” She asked, the abruptness of his act surprising her somewhat.

“A pack of them isn’t far. Listen. Concentrate, and try to sense them.” Melantha perked her ears as his words registered in her mind. A pack? She stayed quiet, limiting her movements in order to have as clear of sound quality as possible. Her breathing slowed down, and that’s when she heard them. Faint whimpers and yells, strange sounds coming from unfamiliar, to her, creatures coming from some distance to the west of them. “I hear them! she proclaimed happily. “Maybe six? Seven tops. What do you reckon we do?”

“They are coming closer,” Kalmar realized. “Which means we must prepare.” He pulled out a fistful of arrows and pressed them into the dirt next to Melantha, so she would have ready access to them. Then, a metal knife appeared in his hand. “Get ready.”

Grabbing Kalmar’s bow she had put over her shoulder as well as one of the arrows, the fledgeling archer braced herself. She nocked the arrow and assumed a relatively relaxed position that allowed her a good amount of maneuverability. Should multiple wolves attack her from more than one direction, she would be ready.

The wolves appeared within sight, in their black, brown, and grey furs. They moved slowly, silently, and menacingly. There were seven of them in total, and they began to spread out, no doubt hoping to circle what they thought would be their prey.

”Shoot,” Kalmar urged Melantha. And shoot she did. The first arrow took them by surprise, evidently, it was their first time encountering beings that used weapons, and Melantha did not waste her chance. Finding its target in one of the eye sockets of one of the larger canines among the pack, the arrow dug deep into its skull, penetrating its brain and killing it immediately. The wolf’s body fell down with a thud, eliciting a few yelps from its packmates.

When they realized their prey was fighting back, the wolves broke into a charge, clearly intending to close the distance and thus render Melantha’s bow useless. With knife in hand, Kalmar dashed forward, swinging the blade and cutting through the side of the lead creature with a deep, efficient, and brutal slash. The other wolves circled around to surround him, ignoring Melantha for the time being.

Unfortunately, that kind of strategy would cost them. Melantha swiftly grabbed another arrow and nocked it, aimed, and shot again in almost mechanical motion. This time the arrow struck one of the wolves in the midsection. The wolf let out a pained whine upon feeling its organs being pierced by the projectile and was launched a few meters sideways following the momentum of the arrow before falling down.

The remaining wolves lunged at Kalmar from all sides. Kalmar sidestepped one, grabbed it, and then swung it into the path of two more, sending the three beasts to the ground.

The one wolf that still stood came crashing into him from the side. He fell to the ground, the wolf on top of him, but with his godly strength, it was a simple enough matter for him to grab the beast and throw it off.

Having lost three of their own, and been so easily overpowered, the four remaining wolves rose to their feet and scrambled away. Kalmar allowed them to leave, and he turned to Melantha. Both his knife and the hand that held it were stained with blood. “You did well,” he said to her calmly.

“Huh?” Kalmar’s words broke the trance-like state she had unknowingly put herself under. With clear eyes now, she stood, leaving the bow on the ground behind her, and looked at Kalmar’s blood-covered visage, the knife he held, as well as the dead wolves on the ground. A shiver ran down her spine as the realization that she had just killed not one, but two beings. Melantha hung her head low and walked silently towards the body of one of the wolves, kneeling down beside it.

She saw the fletching of the arrow peeking above the insertion point in its eye. “Instant death…” Melantha put her hand on its head and closed her eyes, offering a small prayer to the departing soul. She then stood up and moved towards the other wolf she had shot down.

There was a whine which was swiftly cut off by a slashing sound as Kalmar finished off the wolf he himself had cut during the fight. He looked toward Melantha, watching her actions.

She was suddenly stopped in her tracks, however, as the wolf with the arrow sticking out of it slowly rose its head to look at her. Melantha’s eyes immediately opened wide; the image of the wolf laying there and watching her every move superimposing itself over the image of a wounded Fenris, lying by the lake and watching her all the same. Melantha froze in place as a tide of emotions washed over her. However, just as she felt her eyes start to blur up, an arrow whizzed past and struck the wolf directly in the eye.

Behind her, Kalmar had picked up the bow and was already returning the remaining arrows to his quiver. Melantha turned her head around and glared at him, her face saying more about what she thought than anything she could vocalize at that point.

Kalmar met her gaze as he rose to his feet, his expression one of confusion. “What’s wrong?” he asked, as he shouldered the bow.

“Do you feel no remorse about killing it like that?” Melantha replied with a question of her own, trying to understand how Kalmar could so calmly sentence a creature to its death, without any second thoughts or hesitation.

“It was going to die anyway,” Kalmar told her. “That arrow pierced one of its vital organs. In a few minutes, or maybe even a few hours, it would have been dead, and it would have suffered needlessly. I would have felt remorse if I hadn’t killed it. As for the others…” he waved a hand to indicate the other two wolves, “...they do not feel remorse about the lives they take. They attacked us, they failed, and we killed him. So long as we make sure their bodies are used in some way, I don’t see what there is to regret.”

Upon hearing what Kalmar had to say, Melantha’s expression changed from one of budding anger to one of thoughtfulness. His last few words especially rang true when she considered the cloak he had given her to wear. The fur on it closely resembled that of the fur of a wolf from what she had observed and so she reasoned he had done this at least once before. That, coupled with the fact that he had introduced himself as the ‘God of the Hunt’ further supported his arguments, making Melantha look at Kalmar in a new light.

She refrained from saying anything else, finding herself a little overwhelmed by so many realisations coming at her at once. She found herself moving again, having regained control of her legs. Walking beside the, now dead, wolf, she knelt on one knee and repeated the same prayer she had given to the other wolf before standing back up again. “What now?” she said aloud for Kalmar to hear.

Kalmar was about to speak, but then he looked again at the corpses of the wolves, and then back to her, as if unsure of something. ”Are you alright?” he finally asked, after a while.

With a sigh, Melantha turned around and approached him. “Yes, I am fine, Kalmar. Are these wolves enough to make clothes for me?”

Kalmar nodded. ”Yes.” He knelt down, picked up one of the large wolves - it was even larger than he - and raised it onto his shoulder. Then he did the same with another. ”Can you carry that one?” he asked, indicating the one he had shot through the eye.

Melantha stared at Kalmar straight in the eyes for a good long minute before she sighed and walked over to pick up the wolf’s body from the ground. Oho, it is surprisingly light for how large it seems she thought in her mind.

Kalmar was not sure what to make of her judgemental gaze. He knew he was right, that she was being irrational - likely brought on from her lack of experience. Yet nonetheless, he somehow felt bad. He wanted her to trust him, to like him, and he felt like he had failed. But there was no undoing his actions.

Wordlessly, the two continued on toward the mountains.

It had taken some time, but eventually, Kalmar located a suitable cave. Most of the ones they found had been small, barely suitable for one person. The two of them and the three wolf carcasses took up quite some space. Even with their divine senses, the search for a sizable cave was still somewhat difficult.

But eventually they found one, and it was quite spacious - an open hole in the side of the cliff, descending into a larger chamber that had enough room for them to move around with relative comfort. ”Will this serve?” Kalmar asked as they stood at the entrance. “I don’t think we will find a better one.”

“About time,” Melantha said with an exasperated look on her face. Beads of sweat were running down her forehead, the intense rays of the midday sun making it especially suffocating for her to walk outside without anything covering her face. She entered the cave first before even Kalmar had any chance of scouting for anything dangerous that might be already inside, and deposed the body of the wolf on the ground before plopping down a few meters away from it.

Kalmar placed his wolf carcasses on top of hers, and then sat down next to her in silence. ”I’m sorry,” he finally said, after more than a minute had passed.

She turned her head to look at him with a quizzical look. “For what?

“I asked you to come hunting, without telling you what that meant,” Kalmar explained. “Would you have gone if you understood? I should have explained it better…”

“Ah, that…’ she looked at the ground in front of her as she thought about her next words. “Probably not, no. I also had told you that I wasn’t really that fond of the idea of clothes in the first place…

Kalmar nodded but maintained a thoughtful silence.

“...but what is done is done now. I became complicit to this the moment I shot that first arrow that killed one of them. I have blood now on my hands as well, just like you, so I don’t particularly feel like chastising you over not informing me beforehand.

“Communication is my weakness,” Kalmar found himself admitting. “I almost fought another god because he threatened to kill one of my creations, but he only did that because he thought my words were too blunt. He was in the wrong, but with a few held back words I could have avoided it.” He sighed wearily. ”I angered someone I had taught and cared for because I did not tell her everything she wanted to know. I created a mortal, and now he resents me because he felt I was too hard on him… maybe he was right. I don’t know. Before I was brought to this world, my only concern was my next meal. But when I arrived here, that changed, and I’m still adapting…” his voice trailed off.

This sudden outpour of emotions was, honestly, one of the last things Melantha expected to come out of Kalmar’s mouth. From what he had shown her thus far, he seemed to be cold and unapproachable at best, a man that operated on principle alone. Yet here he was now, displaying feelings that she never expected him to have. Using a stern front to cover his inexperience when it comes to interacting with others, it was inevitable then that his intentions would eventually be misunderstood.

But wasn’t she the same? The first thing she did when they first came face to face was to use the wolf as a threatening tool to scare him off. She was caught off guard at the time, hurt and honestly quite afraid. She had acted on instinct, but Kalmar did not seem to have felt offended by her actions. On the contrary, he took his time to explain himself, and of the world, to her, going as far as to create a completely new being out of nothing right in front of her in order to prove his point. His explanation of his intentions for helping her back when they were flying on top of Shynir came out very sincere and wholehearted, even though he might not have realized it did at the time. And at the end of the day…

Melantha’s hand slowly wormed under the cloak to find Kalmar’s. “...you’re not the only that is still adapting to this strange, new world. Warm and comforting emotions suffused her words as she spoke them inside Kalmar’s mind.

Once again, Kalmar tensed at Melantha’s touch but soon began to relax. He looked up at her, into her eyes. A few moments passed, and then a thin smile appeared on his face as he looked away. “Asceal was wrong about you,” he commented.

“Asceal… is she the Goddess of Light? You mentioned her name earlier but didn’t really expand upon it further. Tucking her hair behind her ear, she continued. “What did she say about me?

“She told me…” Kalmar paused, carefully thinking about his words. “She told me that you were mad, that you were dangerous. She made it sound like you were a threat. She said you attacked Aelius in his own sphere. I don’t know if that’s true, and I decided to reserve judgement until I met you in person. Now that I have… I think she must be mistaken.”

“Well, I can’t claim to know of my previous self’s actions and whether I was truly the person she told you I was, but I feel like I should not be held accountable for the actions of someone I never met or knew. Then a frown appeared on her face as Melantha thought more about Kalmar’s words. “But in case her words are actually true… I… I will try to be better, she added with some hesitation.

“Good,” Kalmar said, the small smile returning. “And whether she was telling the truth or not, I will do what I can to make her see reason.” More silence, and then he added, “I should also say that you’ve shown impressive survival instincts.”

“Oh? Well, I can’t really be blamed now, can I? I woke up in a strange new place with no memories. Then a random stranger appears out of nowhere and starts feeding me with information for all I know could be lies. I assume anyone in my situation would go into survival mode immediately.

“The first thing you did was seek protection, so you turned to Fenris. You then tried to use his size and the state he was in to scare me off. After that, you were slow to trust me, because as you say I could have been lying to you. True, most would react the same way… but you knew to do all this without any memories or experience. That is what was impressive.”

“Well… I will gladly take that compliment then. Thank you, she replied with a smile.

Kalmar nodded back, and reluctantly let go of her hand. Then he rose to his feet. “On our way here I sensed the presence of another god,” he said to her, changing the subject. “I’m going to go see if they are still in the area. I need to know their intentions. Do you want to come?”

Melantha peered to the direction of the cave’s opening and frowned. The sun was something that she did not particularly like much and seeing as it was still day outside, she felt little motivation in leaving the comfort the cave provided and going to meet some random deity. “Ugh, no. I’d rather prefer to stay here. Just don’t take too long…"

A flash of disappointment crossed Kalmar’s face, but it quickly faded. “I’ll try not to,” he said with a nod, and then he turned to leave, only to stop himself. He removed the bow and the quiver that went along with it, then turned back to Melantha. “Here,” he said, as he propped the quiver against the wall and held the bow out to her. “Take good care of them.”

Confused by his actions, Melantha nevertheless stood up and received the bow. “I will, she said and continued, “but why are you leaving your weapon with me? Won’t you need it where you are going? she questioned.

Kalmar shook his head. “I have this knife,” he said and pointed to the holster on his hip. “And my power on its own is stronger than both weapons combined. You still haven’t figured out to access most of your power, so it will be of more use to you.” Then he shrugged. “And it proves that I will be coming back.”

With those words, the Hunter turned around and walked towards the cave’s entrance, Melantha watching him as he left.

K A L M A R
M E L A N T H A


The Griffin took them high over Kalgrun, so that they could see for miles. Kalmar always felt a sense of pride when he viewed these lands from above. “This is Kalgrun. As I said, I made these lands,” he said to his passenger, glancing down at his recently created grasslands, where the animals now seemed as small as insects.

Melantha, for the most part, remained quiet during the flight, the only indicator to her thoughts being the constant squeezing of Kalmar’s clothes where she had put her hands on for stability. “Yeah..” she muttered, glancing from time to time at the ground miles below them.

In truth, Kalmar was not sure what to make of her. What had Asceal said? That she was mad? That she attacked her and Aelius? That description did not seem to suit the woman he met at all, and the implications were worrying.

Had Asceal lied to him? Was she merely trying to get him to perceive the Goddess of Darkness as an enemy because she was the Goddess of Light and therefore saw darkness as a threat? Or was there some other motivation in mind? Or was Melantha the one who was lying? Was this all some remarkably convincing act to manipulate him. Both were equally worrying, though the latter seemed more likely. It was also possible that Asceal was being entirely truthful, but whatever happened to Melantha made her a completely different person. There was no way to be sure.

What he did know was that there was something about Melantha that interested him. She had shown a remarkable survival instinct. When he appeared her first instinct had been to use the wolf for cover and as a deterrent to try to scare him away. She had shown some suspicion toward his story at first, and that Kalmar could also respect - he could only imagine what might have happened if someone other than him found her, and filled her head with lies. Yet there was also a certain gentle, cheerful nature to her - her first instinct had been to comfort the wolf, instead of running or harming it. That also indicated courage.

For now, he decided to believe that Melantha was being truthful. In which case, it was his responsibility to help her relearn what she had forgotten. And if Asceal’s words had been true, perhaps he could steer her down a different path this time.

“You don’t like heights?” he asked her offhandedly as they flew.

“Oh kind of you to notice…” she replied with a half mocking, half sarcastic tone on her voice.

“I should tell you that you’re a Celestial, then,” Kalmar said. “Your sphere, your home, is somewhere up there…” he pointed up at the night sky.

“Of course it would be… wait, I have a home?” Her expression quickly shifted from sulking to surprised. Although Kalmar had told her, as well as done, many would-be unbelievable things in a span of very few hours, the prospect of having a home of her own meant that there was a chance for her to find out what had happened to her after all. Maybe if she were to travel to that place, she would be able to find clues about why she couldn’t remember her past. “Do you know where that place is?” she asked him, the expectation on her face evident.

“No,” Kalmar answered with a slight shake of his head, an answer that made Melantha instantly deflate. “I have never been there, but I would assume it’s the darkest one, so it can’t be hard to find. You will need to learn to fly, though. Shynir can’t fly that high.”

“Fly… I don’t think I am cut out for that for some reason…” she muttered a short reply before regaining her previous silence.

“Fear is an obstacle like any other,” Kalmar told her. “It can be overcome, but only if you confront it. Fly enough, and you will stop being afraid of it. Stay on the ground, and you will never fly at all, which means you won’t reach your sphere.”

His words prompted Melantha to raise her head and look at the starry sky above, trying to discern anything that might pass as a sphere. “You talk about spheres but I don’t see anything floating up there. Do you have to do anything special for them to ap-” her last few words faded into nothing as a very bright and colourful object streaked through the night sky, coming from behind them. “Oh, that…” Melantha was taken aback by its sudden appearance.

Kalmar noted her surprise. “That is the Lustrous Garden,” he explained to her. “It is home to Asceal, the Goddess of Light.” He glanced back at her to study her expression, curious at how she might react. “How does it make you feel?”

How does it make me feel? Melantha thought about his question as she gazed upon the object flying high above them. “It’s… beautiful,” she admitted in the end. Especially the long tail that it left behind as it moved across the sky, its colours elicited a sense of childlike wonder in Melantha that she never really thought she would come to feel after all that had happened to her, and everything she’d come to know, in the last few hours.

That was the last answer Kalmar had expected. He glanced up at it and observed it in silence. Beauty? He had always seen as nothing more than an asset - something that stood along the stars to provide light at night. Yet now… with her words, he found himself looking at it in a different way. “Yes it is,” he realized aloud.

A strange silence prevailed after Kalmar’s remark as they both looked at the Lustrous Garden, admiring it. Melantha was the one to break that silence, however. “So, what were you doing before you found me?” she asked him, trying to learn more about this strange man in front of her.

“Before I found you?” Kalmar repeated her words, thinking. “As you know, Fenris was wounded. I tracked down the creature that wounded him, so I could find out why it attacked. It was Fenris’s howl that made me come back, and that’s how I found you.”

“Yes, and I will have you know it was very rude to announce your presence like you did,” Melantha reminded him.

“Wouldn’t it have been ruder to continue spying on you during what you thought was a private moment?” Kalmar asked, and then shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, I’m not an expert on these things. I’ve already offended another god in the past for speaking at the wrong time.”

“Hmm, I guess you have a point there…” she said with a thoughtful look on her face. Did you end up finding be beast that wounded your wolf?” she asked, continuing her faux interrogation.

“I did,” Kalmar said gravely. “It was sent by Vakk, the God of Speech, to track down a mortal I once met in the area. If you ever meet this Vakk, do not trust him,” Kalmar advised seriously. He did not know why Vakk believed Hermes was a thief, and even if that was true, there was still the attack on Li’Kalla to consider.

“Vakk huh,” she repeated the name in her head. “What does he look like?” she asked. Although with how I am right now I doubt I would be able to do anything more than run anyway…

“Like a very large worm, or a snake. About the size of Fenris,” Kalmar answered. “You were right to be suspicious of me. I’ve been nothing but truthful to you, but if another god had found you instead, they might have lied. Not all of the gods have good intentions.”

“And what about your intentions…” Melantha questioned hesitantly.

“My intentions for what? You, or the world?” Kalmar asked her in return.

“Chiefly about helping me. To be honest, I still hold my doubts over your whole explanation about me being a goddess, but we’ve at least established that you do have mystical powers of some sort. I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to escape you if you were to attack me when you found me, so the next obvious step is to come with you and see where all this takes me…”

“My intentions are simple,” Kalmar explained. “You are a deity, just like me. Your power is roughly equal to my own, even if you have forgotten how to use it. Your loss of memory is just a temporary setback for you. I will help you figure out how to use your power again, and also make sure you know what you need so you can use your powers sensibly. Too many other gods use their powers destructively or without thought. If I can prevent you from going down that path, or from falling victim to a god who already has, that will be best for everyone.”

Listening to Kalmar, Melantha tried to figure him out. His stern and serious expression indicated that he was a man that stayed true to his convictions, which meant that he was a trustworthy ally to those he chose to help. And from his words, it seemed that he meant no harm towards her, at least for the foreseeable future. “Alright, I guess I will trust you with this. I do want to know more about this world, that one thing I am certain of…”

Once she had made up her mind, Melantha felt a certain weight come off her shoulders, the tense feelings she didn’t know were there alleviating somewhat. She subconsciously shuffled closer to Kalmar, now her arms going fully around his waist, her hands locking her in place behind him. With the cloak Kalmar had given her to wear enveloping her, she gazed at the scenery beneath them they flew over the grasslands of Kalgrun.

For a moment, Kalmar tensed as he felt her arms wrap further around him. Then, he began to relax. He closed his eyes. The wind in his hair. Melantha’s arms around him. The beating of Shynir’s wings. He fell into a peaceful silence, and the griffin carried them on.

The sun had begun to rise, night giving way to day, and a vast range of mountains came into view. As they drew closer, Melantha and Kalmar began noticing other griffins. Their size was minuscule compared to Shynir, but they were just as graceful. “What do you think of Kalgrun?” he asked her, finally breaking his silence.

“I am not really one to ask since I don’t have many points of reference, but from what I have seen thus far it seems you’ve put great care into developing these lands. It shows in abundance I would say,” she replied. “What I am more interested in, however, is that thing over there,” she added and gestured towards the rising sun. “What is that?”

“That’s… Heliopolis, I think it’s called. It is why we have day. Without it, it would be only night,” Kalmar told her.

“Hmm, it’s too… bright,” she said after some consideration. For some reason, she felt her eyes acting up whenever she looked towards that thing, something akin to a phantom pain emerging from someplace behind them. She squinted her eyes and moved her head behind Kalmar to shield herself from the sun’s rays.

Kalmar could sense the movement behind him, and he suspected she was shielding herself. “That’s to be expected,” he noted aloud. “You are the Goddess of Darkness, so it’s natural that would bother you. Asceal has the day, while you have the night. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but there needs to be balance.”

“You’ve been saying that for some time now,” Melantha noted. “Darkness seems somewhat vague of a description to be honest. How exactly am I to know how to control such powers when I don’t even know where to start from…” she complained.

“I won’t be of much help in teaching you how to use your powers specifically in relation to darkness,” Kalmar said to her, “you will have to master that on your own. But I can teach you where to start.” For a moment he paused, and then suddenly he asked, “are you ready to learn how to fly?”

“No,” Melantha blurted without thinking. However, she then remembered how she had decided to trust Kalmar with helping her and found herself with a dilemma. Face her fear with the help of Kalmar, or stay safe while never experiencing the sensation of flying all by herself. Truthfully, she did not feel ready at all, but she nevertheless assented that it was something she had to go through with it the end. “Scratch that, I meant yes,” she corrected herself with a determined look on her face.

Kalmar smiled thinly. “Good. Remember this: you are a Goddess. The rules of nature that bind creatures like Shynir and Fenris do not have to apply to you. You only need to will that you do not fall, and you won’t. So, jump off the griffin and fly.”

For a moment, Melantha’s eyes darted between Kalmar’s back, the griffin’s back, and the empty space below. Steeling her nerves, she slowly released her hold on Kalmar and started moving backwards until she was a good few meters away from him and very carefully stood up. Thankfully the griffin, Shynir, was pretty large and thus she had enough space to maneuver herself around.

“Tie that cloak tighter,” Kalmar advised. “The wind might rip it away.” The cloak was of no real value to him, in truth, but he had it for so long that he still did not wish to see it needlessly lost.

“Ha ha, very funny…” Melantha mock laughed at his words as she tightened the knot at the waist of the cloak, but unbeknownst to him, what he said had somewhat helped her relax. Yes, this is something you can do. Just… will it and it will happen… just…

And then she jumped. For a few seconds, Melantha did not do anything but simply feel the wind on her skin as she cut through the air, falling towards the ground below. However the trance she found herself in quickly wore off and anxiety took its place when she realized she could not stop.

“FLY,” she shouted repeatedly out loud, with no response. “UH MOVE, GLIDE, STOP, STOP NOW, STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP...” Melantha’s shouting devolved into panicked screaming as she found herself unable to do as Kalmar had instructed. She watched on helplessly at the ground rapidly rushing towards her.

After Melantha had jumped, Kalmar had followed, falling with her. He pursed his lips in disappointment at her failure. Then, just before she hit the trees, he swooped down and grabbed her, activating his own flying abilities as he wrapped his arms around her waist. He said nothing as he looked at her, his expression neutral.

She was at a loss for words. Melantha silently hung her head in shame, a feeling of failure overwhelming as well as surprising her. Somehow, after spending some time with Kalmar, she’d come to take his view of her as something of value, and thus failing in his eyes struck a particular chord with her that she didn’t know she had.

Kalmar lowered her until they passed the canopy of the forest and their feet touched the ground. Only then, as he let her go, did he speak. “When trying something for the first time, you may not succeed,” he said to her. “But if you keep trying, eventually you will learn.”

“Yeah, I guess that is true…” she said with a nod, but the sadness on her tone was evident. She looked around at the place where they had landed. “Where are we now?”

“The western side of the continent, near the mountains,” Kalmar told her. “I brought Shynir here so he could protect it, and use it as his home.”

Melantha watched as the massive griffin circled in their air above them before promptly coming down and landing on a nearby clearing. “Protect it from who?” she asked curiously.

“Anything that might cause senseless destruction,” Kalmar answered. “As I said, there are gods who use their powers destructively and without thought. I can’t be everywhere at once to stop them, so I create beings like Fenris and Shynir to watch over things when I’m not there.”

“If deities are as powerful as you claim, with reality manipulating powers, then I don’t think Shynir will be enough to stop them from destroying something once they’ve set their eyes upon it, Melantha reasoned. “Size evidently doesn't mean everything,” she added.

“He won’t,” Kalmar agreed. “But if another god creates a beast of their own, and sends it to cause destruction in their stead? Shinyr can fight that, as Fenris fought Vakk’s monster. And if a god does make an appearance, my creations can warn me so I can deal with it.”

Melantha walked around, feeling the ground beneath as she moved with her bare feet. Surprisingly, her body had mostly recovered from whatever had happened to her prior to losing her memories and ending up in the situation she was when she awakened on Kalgrun. Her limbs and muscles did not feel as stiff as they used to, and her head, not counting when she tried remembering things, was mostly pain-free. “So, what now? Do you have anywhere we can stay? Some kind of shelter?”

“There might be a cave somewhere in the mountains,” Kalmar answered, thinking. She was probably hoping to get out of the light. “But before we look… do you need clothing?”

“Clothing? Honestly, I have not felt neither cold nor heat as long as I’ve been awake so the cloak did little for me besides covering my body,” Melantha replied as she looked at the garment he had given her to wear. “I don’t understand why covering yourself with animal furs would be more comfortable than simply being as is,” she added.

“We don’t need clothing because our power already protects us from the elements,” Kalmar told her and shrugged. “But some gods find it more comfortable to wear clothing anyway. For me, the skins I wear are from animals I have killed myself, to mark what I have done. I only asked if you needed clothing because I wanted to know if we should make some.”

“Well, I don’t really need them, but making something sounds pretty interesting so I guess It won’t hurt to try it. Who knows, I might change my mind while doing so.

“We will hunt for it, then,” Kalmar said, pulling his bow off his back. “I will show you how to use a bow. Watch.”

With that, the Hunter turned away from her and drew an arrow. Carefully, he notched it into the string. Then he raised the bow, pulled the string back, and released. The arrow struck a nearby tree with a sharp crack! Then Kalmar turned to her and held the bow out for her to take, along with another arrow.

Melantha watched Kalmar’s actions step by step, from the pulling of the string to the stance he took, to the timing and finally the release of the arrow, taking in everything that she could learn. Then, when he offered her the bow and arrow to try, she grabbed it and repeated everything she had seen. A few seconds later, an arrow was stuck right next to the one Kalmar had shot. “Is this good enough?” she asked with an innocent look on her face.

“Yes. Well done,” Kalmar said with an approving nod. “Come. It’s time to go hunting,” and with those words, he began walking in the direction of the mountains. Melantha put the bow over her shoulder, imitating how Kalmar had it before and started walking right behind him after throwing one last glance towards Shynir, waving him farewell with her hand.

Karamir

&
Atalantia





Spear in hand, Karamir trudged into the woods, wincing as leaves and branches crunched and snapped beneath his feet. He slowed his pace, and walked more stealthily, keeping noise to a minimum as he ventured through trees and brush. He had felt exposed on the plains. Perhaps the cover of the forest would make him feel more secure.

It had been perhaps two days since Kalmar had left him. He tossed some berries he had been saving from earlier into his mouth. Where would he go? What would he do? He had been given no instruction beyond survive and explore. It was a vast land, so he had decided to just pick one direction and keep walking.

The ground began to shake slightly, and Karamir froze. Kalmar had warned him that there were massive creatures on the continent. He dove beneath the cover of a nearby bush, and using his hunter’s sight, he slipped into the perspective of some animals who were located in that vague direction, but all were running away from it instead of toward. Thus, he had no idea what was coming.

The shaking became more intense. The sound of trees and foliage crushed under a massive weight steadily grew closer to Karamir. And then there was a roar, the like of which few living beings had yet heard. Flying forms filled the air as birds took flight from their hiding spots in the trees.

As birds and other winged creatures took flight, the towering form of the creature wandered into sight. It was a reptile, of sorts. Scaled skin with some areas covered in bright feathers. It stood on two powerful legs, with two comparatively small arms that were still capable of tearing most of the continent’s creatures apart with ease. And perhaps worse of all was its large head, powerful jaws, and sharp teeth. All in all it was a decisively excessively large and terrifying creature given the continent’s ecosystems.

Strangely enough, if one took the time to look, the form of a humanoid could be seen sitting on the creature’s head. The body language of the humanoid seemed to lack any degree of fear, in fact it seemed relaxed if anything, more interested in what was going on in the forest around the creature than in the creature it was riding.

Birds were not the only animals fleeing from the creature. One, an ordinary wolf, was also fleeing, and it just so happened that Karamir’s hiding spot was directly in the creature’s path of retreat. Karamir wanted to groan in frustration, but such an act would have been foolish. He hoped the creature would change its path, but it kept coming straight-on.

He wasn’t sure what to do. If he moved out of the way or fought it, the larger, more dangerous beast would know where he was. If he stood still, the wolf would step on him, perhaps even try to kill him. Neither situation was ideal. He frowned, and decided to take the risk.

The wolf was nearly upon him. Gripping his spear tightly, he rose and swivelled to face the animal, before thrusting his weapon forward. The wolf had not expected such sudden movement, and the spear went through its chest and deep into its heart, killing it.

When the creature fell, Karamir pressed his foot against the fallen wolf, wrenched the spear free, and turned to run, away from the beast that he was certain would try to pursue him.

The sudden series of shaking and rumbling from the creature’s direction indicated that Karamir’s fears had been realized. Perhaps worse was the fact that they were steadily getting closer. Each rumble noticeably closer than the last. The roar the creature let out was so loud it almost sounded as it the creature’s mouth was right behind him.

There was what sounded like a shout and suddenly the creature make to a halt. Followed by more shouting.

Karamir continued running. Yet, when he realized the shaking had stopped, he looked back, and saw that the creature was no longer pursuing him. He came to a stop, turned around, and assumed a defensive stance with his spear. ”Who are you!?” he shouted at the distant figure atop the beast.

Neither the figure nor creature seemed to notice Karamir now. The humanoid was too busy shouting at the creature, obviously berating him. Strangely enough the massive creature looked subdued, apologetic even. After a moment one of the creature’s eyes locked on to Karamir and it seemed to indicate him by moving its head.

”Ah. Um. Sorry about my friend here.” The humanoid called down to Karamir in a pleasant voice. ”He didn’t scare you too badly did he?”

Karamir remained where he was. He did not lower his spear, and he did not answer her question. ”Who are you!?” he repeated, his tone no less guarded.

”I’m Atalantia. She answered. ”Now perhaps you would care to introduce yourself? Last I checked there were no other intelligent mortals here which means…” By this point she was all but mumbling to herself in thought.

”Atalantia?” Karamir asked, in a tone one of mild surprise. Kalmar had mentioned that name once, though he had also said he hadn’t actually met her. ”My name is Karamir.”

”Yup. Atalantia’s the name. Don’t wear it out. And this big lug here is Pyrdon.” She patted the creature’s head. ”Say hello Pyrdon.

”Hello. The voice rumbled through both Atalantia’s and Karamir’s minds. ”Tiny mortal.

”Fat head.” Atalantia rolled her eyes. ”Now given your name I would imagine you were created by Kalmar, right? He seems to like to name things after himself, though I would have guessed he would have named his first mortal Kalson, son of Kalmar, or some such nonsense. You are the first mortal he made, right?”

”I am,” he replied guardedly. ”and you were made by Phystene?” Before Atalantia could reply, he also added: ”And what’s wrong with my name?”

”Hmmm…? Oh nothing, nothing.” She couldn’t keep the grin off of her face. ”And Phystene is my mother, of course. Thankfully she was gracious enough to allow me to name myself and Pyrdon. She probably would have named him after a flower or something after all.

”You don’t know that.

”Oh? I don’t recall you complaining about me giving you a name at the time. If you’d like we can go find mother and ask her to give you a real name.”

”I like my name.” It almost sounded like the giant lizard was pouting.

”So Karamir, son of Kalamar. Boy, try saying that ten times in a row. Anyways. What brings you to these parts? Got bored? Yearned for the experience of getting chased by a giant dinosaur? Or just out for the view?”

Karamir was confused. Why did she say he was Kalmar’s son? ”I’m not his son, I’m his creation,” he corrected her. ”He trained me for nine days and then sent me out to survive on my own. I’m exploring Kalgrun.”

”Bah. That’s just silly. Strictly speaking any living being he directly makes is his son or daughter.” Her tone my it sound like this was a self evident fact. ”Wait… So he spent nine days making sure you new your ass from your face and then kicked you out on your own? Just cause? With no mission, objective, or role to fill? Just…. ‘Go out and do… hunting things.’ Seriously?” After a moment of silence she added ”I’m sorry.”

Karamir blinked, unsure of how to respond. This was the first person he had spoken to aside from Kalmar himself, and she was riding on top of a dinosaur, and she was apologizing for something. Her words had been more or less true, though not how he or Kalmar would have phrased. ”I will find my own purpose,” he said after a while.

”Well… whatever works for you I suppose. Atalantia said after a moment. ”Do you have any idea what this purpose of yours will entail?”

[color=yellow]”No. That is what I will find out. I need to see and learn more, first.”[color] Karamir answered, remembering Kalmar’s words. ”Survive, adapt, experience, don’t die. If I can do that, I can decide my own fate.”

”Its arguable that the purpose of all life is to reproduce and pass on its genes to its offspring. Its a real pity Kalamar didn’t make any women for you to reproduce with. I suppose if you wanted I could ask mother to make wolves or something compatible with you.” She grimaced. ”It would be really weird though. You might just want to wait for if and when kalamar makes more of… you.”

Karamir winced. ”I couldn’t do that even if there were. He said that might change, but…” the statement trailed off, and suddenly he decided to change subject. ”And his name is Kalmar, not Kalamar.”

”Kalalamar?”

Karamir frowned. ”Atalatalatalatalantia,” he shot back in a dry tone, dragging out her name.

”Kalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalallalalamarama” She returned, unable to keep a stupid grin from appearing on her face.

Karamir did not know what was happening, but he would not yield. ”Atatatatalatalatalatalatalatalatalatalatantianiania.” he countered, his words nearly devolving into giberish towards the end, and he stopped only to breathe.

Atalantia took a deep breath and opened her mouth, but was cut off by Pyrdon. ”Atalantia. Kalson. For the love of all life created by Kalmar and Phystene: SHUT UP!”

”She started it…” Karamir muttered under his breath, causing Atalantia to stick her tongue out at him in response.. ”What were we talking about?”

”You two were discussing the possibilities of fornicating with wolves. Of all creatures why wolves? Such inferior creatures…”

”Why would you even want to do that with a wolf anyways Kalson?”

”You were the one who was interested in fornicating with wolves, not me,” Karamir corrected.

”Really? That’s not how I remember it.” Pyrdon’s eye roll was of massive proportions. ”Oh fine. Guess I’ve had enough fun teasing you. For now. We were talking about your purpose, or lack thereof.”

”Until I can survive on my own, I have no purpose beyond survival,” Karamir said, dropping the subject of wolves for the time being. ”If I can’t survive then I won’t be alive to do anything else.”

”Well… with that morbid thought in mind would you care to accompany me for awhile. Pyrdon and I were just checking out the region. Making sure no nefarious gods had created an army of zombie spiders or something.”

Karamir considered that request for a moment. Although this meeting had been tense, Atalantia was Phystene’s creation. Phystene, who was perhaps the only god that Kalmar fully trusted at this point in time. Surely, no deliberate harm would come to him. ”Alright,” he said at last, and then began to approach the beast.

”Hop on up.” She patted Pyrdon’s head as the massive dinosaur lowered himself fully to the ground. The dinosaur’s eyes latched onto Karamir.

”Behave yourself.” His voice rumbled through Karamir’s mind. Atalantia seemed oblivious that Pyrdon was speaking at the moment. ”If you harm Atalantia or touch her an… inappropriate fashion I’ll swallow you whole and slowly digest you.”

Karamir froze, and stared back at Pyrdon with a confused expression. ”What? Why would I…?” his voice trailed off. Then, against his better judgement, he decided not to question it further, and climbed on top of Pyrdon. He took a seat some distance behind Atalantia.

”Did you say something?”

”No… he did.” Karamir said, still somewhat confused. ”Let’s just get moving.”

”Huh? Well ok. Pyrdon! Let’s go!” The dinosaur slowly rose to his full height, obviously taking care not to jostle or shake Atalantia unnecessarily. As he began to walk Atalantia asked ”Amazing view, isn’t it?”

Karamir looked around. He had lost his fear of heights already, and between that and the fact that he was sitting on an enormous monster, there was a sense of security he had not felt on the ground. He could see a great distance, and he did not even need to rely on the abilities Kalmar gave him. ”Yes it is.” he said at last.





Kalmar





Perched on a rock along the coast of the Hunter's Isle, Kalmar had resolved to complete one of his many unfinished tasks.

He pulled out the chunk of wood and continue carving.

On and on he worked, cutting, chipping, and whittling away with the Knife of Friendship, occasionally stopping to think about the next step, and imagining the final result in his head. Wood shavings littered the grass, and there were few sounds save for the scrape of metal on wood and the gentle lapping of the lake. It was quite peaceful, a peace which was only broken when he made a critical mistake that ruined his work, forcing him to toss it aside and start again.

On his fourth attempt, he finally finished. He inspected the work, and when satisfied with the final result, he pocketed it.

Afterward, he sat and reflected.

One thought which kept returning was in regards to how the other gods had created mortals. Hermes, Arya, Liana, this 'Atalantia.' Some of them even went so far as to consider them their own children. Kalmar was not certain why. Arryn, for example, was no more his offspring than a troll or a griffin. Neither was that angel he helped Asceal create.

Their relationships with their creators aside, however, Kalmar couldn't help but note that he had assisted in the education of no less than two of them. Hermes, briefly, and for a much longer period of time, Arya. And he had enjoyed teaching. Besides, even putting enjoyment aside, Liana and Atalantia were acting as advisors to their own respective masters, and Kalmar wondered if perhaps even he could benefit from such an advisor as well.

With that, the Hunter rose to his feet, and went to work.




Day One


The Mortal opened his eyes. Where was he? Who was he? What was he? How was he? The light was so bright. There was water nearby, and a forest, and standing before him was... a man.

The man was tall, equal to him in height, with blond hair, dark green eyes, and a moustache. The man wore a series of pelts and animal skins, and in each hand he held a long, straight stick. Somehow he knew that this man had created him.

The Creator tossed one of the sticks to him. He was barely able to catch it, and when he did he looked back at the Creator in confusion.

Then the other stick slammed into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. He dropped his own weapon and doubled over onto the ground.

"Defend yourself," his creator barked sharply.

"I... uh..." he began to speak, only for his creator to whack him lightly on the leg.

"Defend yourself!"

So he did. He gripped the staff, rose to his feet, and maneuvered the staff to block into the path of an incoming strike. He succeeded, but his creator merely pushed it aside and then landed a sharp blow on his left shoulder.

"Try again."

He didn't. He turned and ran.

But his creator was far faster than he could ever hope to be, and suddenly appeared in front of him, swiping out his legs with a single swing. Once again, he hit the grass, hard.

"It is wise to avoid a fight with a stronger opponent. It is not wise to expose your back to a faster one. Stand, and try again."

Once again, he retrieved his weapon, and stood. Thrice more he was sent to the ground, exchanging a blow or two before he was swiftly bested. He was sore all over, his body covered with grass, dirt, and mud, yet his creator kept insisting that he stand, and stand he did. Frustration and anger began to build up inside him.

On his next attempt, he was able to block three blows in quick succession, and then, with a shout of rage, he swung wildly for his creator's head. It was a simple enough matter for his Creator to redirect the strike, and suddenly the butt of a staff was inches away from crushing the Mortal's throat.

"That was better." The staff came away. "There is strength in you."

"Who... who am I?" His voice came out, weak, gruff, and hoarse. "What is this?"

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

"Why!?" he demanded angrily. The staff came, faster than ever before, and once again he was off his feet. His creator loomed over him.

"I am Kalmar. As for who you are... I will give you a name when you earn it. Go. Drink water and wash yourself off."

So he did. It was only after he drank that he realized he had been thirsty, and as he washed himself the water on his skin was soothing. He looked at his reflection in the water - wild and unkempt dark brown hair, deep blue eyes, pointed ears, a clean shaven face. Aside from those features he was almost identical to his Maker.

When he stepped out of the water, he noticed that his Creator was sitting on a rock, completely silent, his eyes closed. Even as the Mortal came within a few feet, his Creator remained silent and unmoving. The staff was on the ground next to him. Gingerly and as stealthily as possible, the Mortal picked up the staff, reared back, and swung at his Maker's head.

A hand shot out and stopped the staff midswing, gripping it tight. The Creator's eyes had opened, and fixed him with a hard glare. His own eyes widened in fear. "My focus may be miles away, but I am not completely senseless." Then the staff was wrenched from his grip. A blow caught him in the stomach, and as he bent over another struck his back, collapsing him onto the ground.

"Why?" he pleaded again.

"I told you. You need to defend yourself. If you suffer now you will avoid suffering in the future. I do this to make you stronger."

"But why? Why do I need to defend myself!?"

"Because the world has dangers," the Creator spoke bluntly. "If you can't defend yourself, they will kill you."

"But why? Why are there dangers!?"

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

The Mortal recalled the soothing feeling of the water, and realized that there was in fact more to life than being relentlessly beaten by a chunk of wood. "But what else is there?" he asked, still prone on the ground.

"That is for you to find out." His creator knelt, and extended a hand. The Mortal flinched, only to realize that it did not carry a weapon, but was instead an open palm. "Take my hand."

The Mortal took the outstretched hand, and was helped to his feet.

"Come. It is getting dark. I will show you how to start a fire."




Day Two


It had taken several attempts and much time, but in the end, the Mortal had managed it. He went to sleep warm, in some semblance of comfort.

He woke with the sunrise shining in his eyes. He turned away, and realized that his Creator had been tending the fire all through the night. Yet, as soon as his Creator realized he was awake, the fire was summarily extinguished by a flurry of stamps and kicks. "Get up. Your training continues."

The mortal grumbled, but did as he was told. Yet to his surprise he did not face more staff-fighting. His Creator only carried one staff, and a sharpened stone had been fixed to its end. He felt a fear well up inside him, but instead the spear was handed to him. "You need to eat," his Creator said with customary bluntness. "Wade into the water and stab a fish."

And so he did. Or at least, he tried. He waded in waist deep, stood perfectly still, and waited for a fish to come within spearing range, yet he kept failing. He looked back at the shore, where his Creator still waited and watched. "Why can't you help me..." he muttered under his breath.

"If I did, you wouldn't be able to survive without me," his Creator's voice rang through his mind, startling him. He froze, then slowly turned back to his task, and continued waiting. More minutes passed. Then, a shape. He thrust at it, and to his astonishment, he struck true.

"I... I did it..." he waded back toward shore, the fish impaled at the end of his spear.

"Well done," his creator said, the rare compliment filling him with a sense of pride. Yet with the next instruction, his heart fell. "Now make a fire. Without my help."

Eventually he managed that as well, and then, after cooking the fish, he was finally free to eat it. It tasted good, and he felt ravenously hungry. Once he was done, he looked up at his creator for further instruction.

"You did well. Now pick up that staff. The sparring continues."

Oh no...

They sparred throughout the day. He was still no match for his master, but he realized his skills were improving. Instead of only blocking two or three strikes, he now blocked as many as four or five. Instead of going down after one or two hits, he managed to stay on his feet and push the pain aside. Yet as the fighting continued, he felt the familiar rage begin to build up, and lashed out with greater aggression.

His Creator sidestepped one such attack, and tripped him up with the staff. "Anger, and aggression, can be useful. But they can also be a hindrance. Master your anger. Do not let it master you." Then the fighting continued. It continued until he was so tired that he simply couldn't. The staff became too heavy to carry, his became liquid, his vision faded, and he was on the ground, blackness closing in.

When he awoke, it was dark, save for a fire that crackled nearby. His Creator looked at him, then through him a freshly cooked fish. "I will name you Karamir."

Karamir was so hungry that at first he didn't even care. It was only several mouthfuls later that he realized it. He had a name.




Day Three


"Karamir. Come with me." Kalmar extended his right hand, a spear in his left.

Karamir had only just finished eating breakfast - fish, yet again, not that he minded the taste. He didn't have anything else to compare it to. He looked up at Kalmar, and took the outstretched hand.

Then, they began to fly.

Karamir's eyes widened as the expanse of trees and waters passed beneath them. They were leaving the island! And he no longer had anything solid beneath him!

"Master your fear," Kalmar told him, cutting through his thoughts. "Listen to it, respect it, but do not let it rule you. It is another obstacle you must overcome. If you can't, you die."

Karamir took a deep breath, and steeled himself.

They made it to the other end of the lake, and Kalmar set him down in a vast grassland. "Die?" Karamir asked in confusion as they walked, though somehow he already knew that it meant some sort of an end. A permanent one too.

"When you stop living. Everything dies at some point. Even if you go your entire life without going hungry or taking a scratch, eventually your body will wear out and your soul will decay."

Karamir blinked. That was... depressing. And terrifying. "Why? What is the point in living if it all ends?" he asked.

So, Kalmar told him. They existed to continue existing. Existing brought suffering, but also success. The success was what they lived for; the suffering was merely what helped them appreciate it. To give up was to lose, to survive was to win. They all lost in the end, but they would win as many victories as possible to meet their fate. Death, destruction, and suffering were all natural parts of life, to be resisted and overcome. They could not be permanently kept at bay, and even if they could, that would only bring weakness and stagnation. All this, Karamir learned, and he nodded along. It made sense, he realized. And so he resolved to learn, so he could succeed, and live as long as he can. But there was a more pressing issue.

"Why are we out here?" Karamir asked.

"To continue your training." Kalmar said, then stopped. "Look."

Up ahead was a pack of five wolves. Kalmar handed him the spear. "Prepare yourself." And with those words Kalmar pulled out his bow and loosed an arrow. It struck one of the wolves in the throat. The other three came running at them, but Kalmar kept calm and loosed another. Three remained. Another arrow was loosed, and another fell, but then the wolves were upon them. Or more accurately, upon Karamir.

Karamir didn't run. The wolves were faster than he was, and if he turned his back he would die. Instead he raised the spear and skewered one of them... only for the final wolf to leap on top of him and pin him to the ground. Yet just before the beast could rip his throat out, an arrow struck it in the side of the head.

"It is unwise to fight foes that outnumber you." Kalmar informed him, kicking the wolf off.

"Then why did you have me fight them!? Karamir yelled in frustration, rising to his feet.

"To teach you a lesson. Normally you shouldn't seek out fights like that, but you did well. You stood your ground and you killed one. If it had been a lone wolf you wouldn't have needed my help." Kalmar told him. "And I also wanted you to know what it is like to face something that actually wants to kill you," he added flatly. "Now let me show you how to skin these."

Half an hour later, they walked away with armloads of pelts and meat. "This is the last place you want to fight a pack of wolves," Kalmar explained. "You can't outrun them, and they have superior numbers. I only brought you out here so you would know what it is like to come face to face with death - when something charges at you with intent to kill."




Day Four


They had feasted on wolf meat, and Kalmar had told him how to handle the skins of recently killed animals. In the morning, Karamir had a wolf cloak of his own.

Now, it was back to sparring. Karamir's skills continued to improve, but of course, he was no match for his creator. It continued throughout the day, stopping only for meals and short periods of rest. It was exhausting. Karamir tried to do what Kalmar said, to master his anger. He used his rage to put more force behind his strikes, but he did not allow himself to make excessively reckless swings. Kalmar gave him advice and pointers, on how to position his feet, how to avoid leaving himself open, and reminding him to watch his opponent.

When it the sparring ended, they sat down by a fire, and Kalmar began to tell him about the gods. How they were beings of immense power, who were brought by the Architect to make and shape the world. One by one, Kalmar touched a finger to his forehead and transmitted what he knew of each.

There was Kalmar himself, God of the Hunt, who only wanted a world where all creatures could survive and better themselves by overcoming adversity, without succumbing to stagnation.

There was Phystene. Kalmar's most trusted friend and ally, and perhaps Kalmar had unintentionally shown him too much, because there seemed to be more to it than that.

There was Parvus, the aloof, cautious god of insects. Kalmar respected him, but did not count him as a friend or even an ally.

There was Orvus, the God of Desolation, Kalmar's enemy, whom he had sworn to kill. And for good reason, Karamir knew.

There was Narzhak, the God of Conflict, who thrived on adversity and competition, just like Kalmar. Yet Narzhak drew it into excess and did not seem to think of the consequences, and thus did far more harm than good.

There was Asceal, the Goddess of Light. Idealistic, principled, perhaps a bit too quick to judge.

There was Li'Kalla, a shy timid creature when Kalmar first met her, yet if stories were true, Vakk had made her into a monster. Vakk was not to be trusted.

And more, yet those were the ones Kalmar thought were most important for him to know about.

He told him of the mortals, too. "To my knowledge, Hermes was the first mortal," Kalmar revealed. "I did not spend long with her. She beat me in a race using magical sandals, and I taught her how to fish." He shrugged. "Then there was Arya. She was with me the longest. But I might have been too light on her. I don't think she truly grasped the way of the world, and she does not have full mastery over her emotions. This is why I have been so strict." The Hunter explained, and Karamir couldn't help but feel a twinge of annoyance at this 'Arya', as though she was somehow responsible for this.

"Asceal has Liana. I don't know who she is, or what she does, but she exists. And Phystene has Atalantia, who seems to be her advisor on tactics and names." Kalmar continued. "I haven't met Atalantia yet, so I don't know fore sure. I do know that the mortals I've met were all women, which might make you the first man. Unless someone else has made one before me." He was silent for a few moments, to let Karamir process this.

"There... there are so few of us?" Karamir asked in surprise. "What are we to the gods?"

Kalmar pondered that for a moment, as though he wasn't sure of the answer himself. "Depends on the god. Some might see their creations as their children. Others might see you as tools. Some might simply see you as any other animal. There are few of you now, but some day there will be more."

"But individually... we're nothing compared to them." Karamir asked, melancholy heavy in his voice.

"Not nothing. Besides, your life has just begun. There is no telling how far you might rise, how strong you might become. Or you might fail, and end up lower than where you started. Not even I know. What I do know is that you have already come a long way."

"I..." Karamir wasn't sure what to say to that. Could he become a god? Or even something comparable to a god? And could he truly end up lower than he was already? There were so many questions. How long would it take him to become more powerful? What would he need to do? What challenges must he overcome? What fate awaited him if he failed? But instead, he asked: "What am I to you?"

"Go to sleep." Kalmar said, turning away.




Day Five


"You said that, even if I never hunger or take an injury, my life will still end."

Kalmar stopped and looked back. He had taken Karamir out to the forest, and had been teaching him how to forage. At length Kalmar had told him how foraging was often safer than hunting, but it still carried dangers. Other things could hunt them, of course, and not everything they foraged would be safe to consume. He told him which plants were poisonous and which were not. He pointed out animal tracks, and emphasized the importance of keeping eyes on the ground, while still being aware of everything else.

"I did."

"How long?"

Kalmar shrugged. "A few thousand years? More? I only made one of you, so it wasn't hard to give you a long life. Most of my other creations won't even see a fraction of that."

"You said there might be more of me. How?" Karamir questioned, coming to a stop.

"We gods will make more mortals, and those mortals will reproduce," Kalmar answered simply. He too had stopped and seemed somewhat annoyed.

"Reproduce?"

"Yes. With most species, it requires a male and a female. One parent cares for the child, while the other provides for them. There might be exceptions, but that is usually the case. When the child comes of age, and can live on its own, it is expected to care for itself." Kalmar lectured.

"And I can do that?"

"No."

"What?"

"No."

Karamir blinked in disappointment. He was silent for some time. "Why?" he finally asked.

"It would have taken more out of me." Kalmar answered.

"That... that's it?" Karamir asked. His surprise faded, and gave way to anger. "You deprived me an important ability... because you didn't want to put in the extra effort!?" He yelled.

"Control your anger," Kalmar snapped.

[colour=yellow]"No! You-"[/color]

"Control your anger!" Kalmar repeated, his tone more forceful. "You do not have the ability to reproduce yet. I may give it to you later. Or some other god might. Why would you even need such an ability when you have no one to reproduce with? And how could you expect to care or provide for your young when you're still learning to provide for yourself?"

Karamir fell silent. He knew that his creator was right, as he had been about so many other things. He did not need such an ability, it was true. Not yet. Kalmar took the silence as compliance, and continued walking. After a moment, Karamir followed. A bitterness still rested within him, yet he focused on the lesson. If he would not be given such a power he would earn it, and if he was to earn it he would need to learn.




Day Six


More sparring. Karamir was beginning to enjoy it, despite the bruises. The only thing he had to compare himself to was a god, who was deliberately holding back, but he believed he was good at. He asked if Arya had been this good at fighting, but Kalmar told him to worry about himself instead. If he met this Arya, he would have to test his skill against hers.

In between sessions, Kalmar took the time to explain his philosophy. He should not kill for pleasure or without reason. He should use as much of what they kill as possible, in order to prevent waste. He should never make unnecessary war against their own kind. Karamir thought back to the wolves. "Did they die for no reason?"

"No. We ended up using them, and they taught you a lesson as well. Their deaths were not in vain. What we left behind would have been consumed by other animals, but don't always assume that will be the case."

"I see."

"Good. Now pick up your staff."




Day Seven


"There is something I think you are ready for," Kalmar said, as Karamir picked himself off the ground for the fifth time that day.

"What? What is-" Karamir asked, but was quickly cut off as Kalmar pressed a finger against his forehead, imbuing his mind with a strange power.

"An ability of mine. You can see through the eyes of predators. Your range will be nowhere as great as mine, but you do not need to see that far. It will still be immensely useful."

Karamir was taken aback. "How?"

"Focus."

That wasn't helpful. But focus he did. He grit his teeth and shut his eyes. What was he supposed to focus on!? Then, he began to sense it. The minds of hundreds of creatures scattered around, and mentally he reached out to one. He found himself staring through the eyes of an eagle, soaring far above the open field, and he could see for miles.

Kalmar slapped him and he came back. "You don't have the same awareness as I do," he observed. "You will have to be careful where you decide to use that. Try it again."




Day Eight


On the eight day, Kalmar began teaching him something different. How to use a bow.

It was difficult.

Kalmar refused to let him use the magical bow. Instead, the Hunter had crafted one overnight from wood and strung it with a strong vine. At least he allowed Karamir to use the parrot-feathered arrows, though there didn't seem to be anything overtly magical about them. Perhaps the arrows flew swifter? He didn't know - there was nothing to compare it to beyond the bow that was already powerful to begin with.

They took shots at trees, with Kalmar lecturing him on his stance, posture, and aimed. As the day went on, his aim improved considerably. "I think you're ready," he finally said, after several hours had passed.

"Ready for what?"

"To shoot a live target." And with those words, Kalmar grabbed him and they once again flew out over the lake and toward the fields. By now Karamir had mastered his fear of flight, and the height no longer disturbed him. He and Kalmar landed on a small hill, overlooking a herd of deer. "Shoot one," Kalmar instructed.

Karamir followed the steps as he remembered them. In the light of the setting sun, he assumed the proper stance, notched an arrow, took a breath, drew the string back, aimed slightly above that which he wished to hit, and loosed.

The arrow struck true, but it did not kill. Kalmar quickly resolved that, sending another arrow into the animal's skull as it limped away. "Well done, for only a day's practice. Your aim will improve. Now we skin it." And so they descended the hill. Kalmar pulled out the Knife of Friendship, and proceeded to butcher the deer for meat and skin while Karamir observed their surroundings. They then returned to the island, and after a meal of venison, Karamir went to sleep, using his wolf pelt as a blanket.




Day Nine


When Karamir awoke, there were clothes waiting for him. "What are these?" He asked Kalmar, who sat on a log with an unknown object clenched in his fist.

"I fashioned them from the deer we killed yesterday. They will keep you warm and shield you from the elements. Put them on." Kalmar answered, staring at his fist.

So, he did. Equipped with his rough tunic and wolfpelt cloak, he turned to look at his maker. "Why are you giving me this?"

"I just told you." The Hunter answered indifferently.

"But why now?" Karamir demanded impatiently.

Kalmar looked up, and for a moment Karamir thought he saw an emotion he could not quite place. "It's time for you to leave," Kalmar answered.

"What? Why? When will I be back?"

"I taught you the essentials, but I can't guide you forever. You must learn to survive without me watching over you. You must be able to learn on your own."

"But... I did everything you said." Karamir protested, his tone more confused than hurt.

"You did. And now you must apply what I have taught you."

"But why!? Why did you create me if you're just going to send me away!?" Karamir demanded, suddenly angry. "You expose me to pain after pain, you tell me it's for a reason, you tell me I can become stronger if I listen to you, and then you cast me out!?"

"Casting you out is how I make you stronger. But I will never be away from you. Not truly. If you need my guidance, simply clear your mind and think of me, and I will talk to you. I would prefer that you rely on your own judgement. Also..." suddenly the metal Knife of Friendship appeared in Karamir's hand. "I loan you my knife."

"That's it?" Karamir asked. His rage had faded somewhat, yet this felt like a poor reward for all he had been through, and it hardly left him content to go roam the wilds with no purpose beyond 'survive to become stronger.'

"No," Kalmar rose from the rock, and picked up a nearby spear - this one was fashioned with bone. He pressed the spear into Karamir's other hand, and once again pressed a finger against the young Mortal's head. Once again, Karamir felt filled with power. "I enhance your combat abilities. Few can match you with a spear. I make you odorless - your body, the clothes you wear, and the items you carry will no longer carry an odor. I enhance your awareness - you will rarely miss a detail; your eyes will rival a and your nose will rival a wolf."

Karamir was taken aback. "I... wha..." Between the news and all these gifts, how was he supposed to react. Somehow, he composed himself. "Why didn't you give me these things when you created me!?" he demanded. "What was all that training for?"

"So you would not take your abilities for granted." Kalmar countered. "If you had been created with them, you would be unable to appreciate how much effort other creatures must go to in order to even come close to your skills. You would have become arrogant and impulsive." Kalmar opened his fist, and pressed something into the hand that also held the knife. Before Karamir could see what it was, Kalmar gripped him by the wrist, and flew him across the lake before more questions could be asked. Then, Kalmar set him down, but did not land alongside him.

"I... no! You don't know that!" Karamir shouted.

"It doesn't matter what I know or don't know. It is what it is. I gave you the skills you need, one way or another. What happens next is up to you. Go. Survive, adapt, experience. And don't die. It will make me sad." With those words, Kalmar turned and flew away.

Karamir watched his creator depart with mixed feelings. Gratitude, happiness, sadness, regret, anger, confusion, shock. Too many emotions to process.

He looked down at the final gift Kalmar had pressed into his hand. A wooden carving, of... a wolf. That was what Kalmar had called them. For a moment, he turned it over curiously. Then, he threw it into the sea. It was a useless trinket. It would not help him survive. With that, he turned away, still not certain how he should feel. But there was thing he was certain of.

He would survive, he would adapt, he would experience.

He would not be a failure.






Kalmar





The meeting with Phystene had lifted Kalmar's spirits. It was good to know that, even as the rest of their kind began to turn on each other, there was somebody he could trust and rely on. It gave him a sense of security and reassurance. There was another feeling too, but he was not sure it was the right time.

He had made two guardians, and even now they carried out his will. Kalmar had not granted them capacity for advanced communication, but they could still send a telepathic sense of alarm to him that would signify warning or distress. By now, Gorm had likely killed and consumed several ghouls, and Fenris would no doubt be familiarizing himself with the region he was supposed to protect. Kalmar did not have any immediate plans for the Hunter's Eye, yet it was a region that he wanted to ensure remained protected.

Speaking of regions, he couldn't help but frown at the distinct lack of diversity on the continent. Aside from the jungle itself, it was mostly forests. There were mountains, which had become capped with snow since the continent's creation, and now produced some smaller natural rivers, but that was all. It was entirely suitable environment for hunting, yet variety was needed.

Hoping that Phystene would understand, Kalmar floated above the Hunter's Eye, and focused.

From the Eye to the Coast, the forest almost seemed to recede into the ground, leaving only grass, creating a vast expanse of field and hills, with the odd pond here and there. The grass, in turn, then grew taller and more wild. The soil beneath became more fertile. Other, newer plants grew as well, many bearing edible leaves or berries.

The animals, astonished at this, froze in terror. But soon enough they began to recover. Those nearby the forest ran for the cover of the trees, and the rest would surely migrate there as well - either that, or adapt to the new surroundings. Either way, newer, better-suited animals would be needed. First he created the prey - bison, rabbits, ferrets, toads, elk, deer, mice, just to name a few. Then he made the predators - badgers, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, snakes, hawks, and more. And of course, the insects - bees, grasshoppers, worms, ants...

The marsh surrounding the Hunter's Eye, as well as the island in the middle, were completely unchanged. Fenris looked up at him with confusion. Kalmar sent him a telepathic message to continue patrolling the region. He realized the lack of trees would make it easier for the wolf to be aware of the surroundings. The wolf himself would be more visible, but in the forests his vast size had already been impossible to miss, so far more was gained than lost.

His work done, the hunter smiled, and set himself down in the waist-high grass. There was a certain sense of freedom, standing in a vast open space like this, but he knew a lesser creature would have felt vulnerable - one may be able to see everything, but everything would also be able to see them, and unless they were small there were few places to hide. The only choice would be to run or fight.

Kalmar walked. He heard the angry rattle of a snake, but ignored it. A group of elk perked its head up, saw him, and fled. He passed by a small pond of water and ran a hand through it. Then he plucked some berries off a nearby bush and tossed them into his mouth. This was not unlike his dream all that long ago, he realized. Was that where he found the inspiration?

He hoped Phystene would understand why the change needed to be made, then suddenly felt what was either regret or guilt, as if he should have talked to her about it first. Kalmar thought back to his old life, which already felt like a distant blur, yet he knew that not once had he ever shown remorse for his actions back then.

Sadness, concern, frustration, regret, guilt. Things he had not felt until he had been granted godhood, or if he had they had not gone to this extent. Were they a weakness? Was that the price of being so strong? Or was it the price of higher thought?

He stopped, pondered the question for a moment, and looked around. He realized it didn't matter.

It had been worth the trade.








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