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Who came up with the idea to make our statuses quotes from philosophers, anyway?
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The Journey to Tendlepog: Chapter 6

starring


The rumours died down practically overnight, choked underneath the stampede of sound and joy that was music, hammer strikes and grunts and groans. Nearly every waking hour entertained a spar between two servants of the Strong, often accompanied by high-tempoed string twangs and drum beats from the Noble audience. Below deck, the carpenters regularly took inventory and improved what could be improved aboard the ship - soon the railings had been reinforced and heightened to better catch crew mates in the tragic event that they should be tossed towards the ship’s edge. Occasionally, whispers would travel along the deck, though few of these were inherently malicious anymore - most were baseless hearsay about certain crew mates’ supposed weight gain or that one lad who had forgot to tie his pants properly and revealed his loincloth for all to see.

Such rumours were acceptable, Qiang Yi thought - uncouth, but acceptable. If anything, it added a certain character to the environment aboard the ship - a strange informality that was nowhere to be found aboard Jiangzhou. A clump of worry accumulated in his throat as he imagined what His Lordship Shengshi would say.

“... This servant apologises profusely, Your Lordship - but this behaviour may be necessary to avoid a leadership too militant or a crew too slack,” he said firmly.

“Who are you talking to?” Zhen-zhen asked with a raised eyebrow. Qiang Yi nearly jumped out of his sand.

“N-no one! Just praying!” the captain said and gave the smirking Zhen-zhen a scowl. “Eavesdropping is unbecoming of you, Zhen-zhen!” he said and pointed a judgmental finger at her.

“Yes, captain,” Zhen-zhen replied and winked playfully at him. “Oh, by the way, we will be approaching the Serpentine Isles in an hour or so.”

Qiang Yi’s eyes widened and he, too, cracked a smile. “You don’t say. Stellar work, first mate - keep the course steady. I’ll tell the crew to prepare for landfall.”

“Sounds good, captain,” Zhen-zhen said. Qiang Yi nodded and descended down to the deck.



Kree looked down at the ocean, noticing the ship underneath them. He let out a low rumble, curious as to what it was and what it was doing. “What is it, Kree?” Serenis asked. Kree’s response was to descend, dropping from the sky and allowing Serenis to get a closer look. There, far beneath the two, a brown spot striped with two perpendicular white lines floated lazily towards the Serpentine Isles. Even from the height they flew, the spot made a noticeable array of sounds, spanning everything from distant music to the occasional pained howl. A ship? Serenis thought to herself. I suppose that in itself isn’t something unusual, but… it’s going towards the islands we just came from.

Serenis figured that if they were heading there, she should probably make sure whoever was on the ship wouldn’t do any harm. Patting Kree, she said to him, “Come on, Kree, let’s introduce ourselves to that ship.” Kree grunted in agreement and descended even further, looking for a suitable spot on the ship to land. It soon settled for the largest and flattest area on the ship, the deck, and planted his feet onto the wooden surface, sending the rowdy and distracted crew into an immediate panic. As soon as he did, Serenis slid off him and looked around, taking note of the humanoid figures manning the ship. Serenis felt a little guilty scaring them so, but she knew it was unavoidable. For now, it was time for business. She cleared her throat, then announced to the crew, “I would like to speak to the person in charge!

The crew, having scrambled to cover, slowly began to peek over or out of the barrels, boxes and other clutter they had hid by, behind or in. For a moment, nothing happened; then, a somewhat tall figure with long black hair, purple silk robes and a strong jaw stepped out from behind a pile of barrels. The figure, who was likely a male individual, approached Serenis until they were roughly two metres apart - then, he got to his knees and hands.

“O, You most sacred, holy spirit of the Sky Realm - forgive this humble servant and its shameful, unforgivable ignorance, for it neither knows Your holy name nor Your divine purpose aboard our mortal vessel. Please, entertain this speck of a servant’s singular request and share with us these details.” Slowly, but surely, more and more servants assumed similar poses, all facing Serenis and Kree (or, more accurately, the floorboards).

Serenis somehow managed to maintain a stern face, but internally she was in a dumbfounded panic. Oh no, what have we just done? she thought. Ok, ok, let’s-let’s just calm down. I can still salvage this. Clearing her throat again, Serenis said, “For now, um… pl-please stand up.

As if they were conditioned like hounds, they rocketed to their feet in unison and straightened their arms down along their tightened sides - like soldiers awaiting orders.

She mentally chastised herself for the stutter, but it didn’t seem like they noticed. She then continued, “My name is Serenis, and this is my companion, Kree. Our intentions are simply to determine the purpose of this ship’s visit to our islands.” Kree made a short growl, nodding his head in agreement.

The male in front of her, the commander of the vessel, bowed deeply - as did the surrounding crew. “A most humbling honour to meet Your sacred selves, Serenis and Kree. This servant goes by the name of Qiang Yi and it commands this vessel, Zhengwu, on its mission to Tendlepog under the order of His Lordship Shengshi of the Thousand Rivers.” Qiang Yi bowed again and kept the pose. “As Your Holiness is likely referring to the Serpentine Isles upon saying ‘our islands’, this servant must stress that this crew intends to inflict no harm upon the islands’ sacred ground - these servants merely wish to stop there and rest before the long trek to the shores of Tendlepog. May we be so rude as to ask for such permission?”

If that was all they were asking, then Serenis reasoned that it wouldn’t be a difficult request to grant. Nodding, Serenis said, “Very well. As long as no harm comes to our… Serpentine Isles, then there is no reason to stop you. You may rest as much as you wish.

“Oh, how gracious of Your sacred self,” Qiang Yi said with a deep bow. The crew followed suit. “Your Holiness is a fantastic host. If Your Holiness wishes for anything in return, these servants will be most willing to provide what they can.”

Hmm…” Serenis thought out loud. “Actually, there may be something you can offer. You see, I was just embarking on a journey of sorts myself, and this is an ideal opportunity for me. I’d like to join you on your journey, at least to your next destination. I’d be interested in hearing some of the stories you have to share as well.

“O-oh,” Qiang Yi said and blinked. “Y-your Holiness is more than free to travel with this vessel, y-yet… The ship is almost at its destination. These servants are afraid that the trek may not be as exciting or interesting as Your Holiness may think.” He cleared his throat and bowed again. “Of course, the choice belongs to Your divine self. Either way, these servants will be humble to have a sacred spirit aboard.” He cleared his throat again, though somewhat more sheepishly this time. “This servant is incredibly shameful and unwarranted in saying this, but… May it make another request on behalf of the ship and the crew if Your Holiness wishes to travel with us?”

...You may,” Serenis replied.

Qiang Yi gestured to the wooden scraps, cut ropes and splintered instruments that lay spread across the deck underneath Kree’s feet. “If it is not inconvenient, may this servant make the outrageous request of having the honourable dragon… Flying beside the ship? This servant fears Zhengwu was not made with such… Sizeable passengers in mind.” He kowtowed again.

Serenis looked to where Qiang Yi was gesturing, and noticed the damage to the ship for the first time. Her face flushed bright red, and she deeply bowed to him back. “I’m so sorry!” Serenis hurriedly apologized to Qiang Yi before turning back to Kree. Clapping twice, Serenis brought Kree to attention, and he immediately began to shrink in size until he was a couple feet in length. Kree then began to climb up Serenis and looped himself around her neck, resting comfortably on her neck and shoulders to the crew’s astonishment.

Qiang Yi looked up and dipped his head down once more before standing up straight. “A sacred beast, fashioned by the Exalted Creators.” Several of the crew members folded their hands in prayer. “O sacred spirit Selenis - welcome aboard Zhengwu.”

Making a small nod, Serenis said, “A pleasure to be here.





Michael barely had time to look away from the resulting electrical explosion before it could blind him. He peeked out from his arm once he couldn't hear anything else, and found the room more or less a mess. His thoughts turned to the cultist who caused this in the first place, and he began to look around, trying to figure out what happened to him. Then the sight of the hole in the wall and the smell of burnt flesh answered that question for him.

He stumbled as Ria bumped into him and proceeded to shittalk him. "Glad to see you too, Ria," Michael called out sarcastically to her as she moved on to Diana and Brutus. Speaking of Diana... wait, was she dead? No, wait, she was alive. She seemed to be acting a bit weirdly, though. In the short time he's known Diana, Michael didn't peg her to be so... clingy. He brushed aside the thought; perhaps it was just the electricity messing with her mind. In any case, there didn't seem to be any cause for concern.

Ria's announcement caught his attention. "From King? What does he want now?" Michael asked when Ria showed him the message. Michael gave himself a moment to think. Eventually, he sighed and answered, "I would like to say that we should rest up and let the rest of the Vigilantes handle this. I don't think we're in any shape to take on this assault of cultists, especially after the one we just faced. If a majority wishes to go, however, I will join you. I'll be damned if this happens on my watch."

Serenis sat down at the base of Arae's Familial Tree, taking a well-deserved rest after performing routine maintenance on the Trees. Every day took up a large portion of gardening the trees and recording the various bonds with each other, and with more and more trees growing from both the Pantheon and the rest of Spekatha's Familial Lakes, her workload was increasing with no sign of stopping. She let out a long and deep sigh, resting her face on her arms as they lay on her knees. An explosion sounded off, followed by the crackling of falling twigs and branches. Serenis merely raised her head, recognizing the signs. Another Familial Tree had discharged a bolt of energy at a neighboring one. This time it had been Arya's tree assaulting Shengshi's. Serenis got back onto her feet, which were quite unsteady already, only to witness another discharge of energy, this time more powerful than the last, from Vakk's tree towards Li'Kalla's. Distraught, Serenis dropped to her hands and knees, tears forming in her eyes, and began to yell in frustration. She just wanted to perform her duty, but she couldn't fathom why it had to be so difficult. Every time a problem came up, Serenis rose to the occasion, but it was as if 3 more problems sprang up the moment she tried anything. There was no end. She continued to cry to herself for a few minutes, until she finally fell asleep from exhaustion.




MP: 7 | FP: 8


It was dark in Spekatha when Arae returned, climbing out of the Pantheon's lake. Almost immediately, Arae felt that something was off. Serenis would have normally greeted her by now. It was then that Arae saw Serenis' figure, face-down on the grass. Alarmed, Arae rushed over to inspect her, but she soon calmed down when she realized that Serenis' life didn't seem to be in danger; she was merely asleep. Not wanting Serenis to be any more uncomfortable, Arae transformed into her human form and sat down in a seiza position, then brought Serenis over to use her lap as a pillow. She would do this for as long as she had to.

As the band of light began to rise over Spekatha's horizon, Serenis' eyes fluttered open. Arae was directly above her face, smiling down upon her. "Good morning, Serenis," Arae greeted Serenis. At first, Serenis didn't know who was above her, but her senses began to register and she soon realized where she was and who she was resting on. She quickly rolled off Arae in a panic, standing up but realizing that perhaps it was a bit rude to be standing up while Arae was still sitting down and sat down in front of Arae. "My lady! Please, e-excuse my rudeness! I-I just needed-" Serenis began to say before Arae cut her off with a chuckle. "Serenis, it's ok. You've done nothing wrong," Arae reassured her. "If you needed to rest, you're free to do so anytime."

"But there's no time for that, and there's so much to do," Serenis sighed. "I can't afford to rest too much, between the trees trying to destroy each other and maintaining health and observations of all of them. Forgive me, but I must get back to work." Serenis got up and turned around to face the Familial Trees, but stumbled as soon as she took the first step. She managed to recover her footing, but was still rather unsteady. Nevertheless, Serenis continued to persevere, and was about to take another step when she was stopped by Arae. She had put her arms around Serenis' waist, hugging her tightly. "Serenis," Arae began. "It's ok. Don't work yourself so hard. You deserve your rest." Serenis reached out towards the Familial Trees, each shining and glittering their various colors. "But... the families..." Serenis said. "Are not as important as one so overworked that she can't perform her duties properly," Arae finished. "Sit down. Rest."

The two stood still in silence for a short while, until Serenis finally conceded and rested as Arae ordered. Arae smiled at Serenis, but she could not return the expression, instead looking away in shame. "I'm sorry, my lady. You're taking the time to deal with me... my failure," Serenis said.

Arae's smile faded, and she shook her head. "No, Serenis, dear. The failure lies with me." Serenis returned her gaze to Arae, whose smile returned but was tinged with sadness. "I should have seen it sooner. The system I set up was flawed from the start. I set you on a task that was impossible for you to complete. I wanted a pair of eyes that would keep watch over my Sphere, which was why you were created. What I didn't realize was that you were an individual with a mind of your own, not just an extension of my power. This task was meant for a machine, not for a mind like yours. I placed too much of a burden on you. For that, I should be the one that's sorry."

"My lady..."

"I have an idea. You should visit Galbar. See the world for yourself, not just watch the inside of Spekatha for eternity," Arae suggested happily.

"What? But... ho-how would I get to Galbar? I can't travel through the Pantheon like you can, my lady," Serenis asked.

"That's why I'll create something for you," Arae said, standing up. Raising one hand, Arae lifted up a stream of water from the Pantheon into the air. With a wave of the other, various sticks and leaves from the Familial Trees were whisked away, as if blown around by a gust of wind. Arae twirled around, the large volume of debris revolving around her as she danced. Then, with a clap of her hands, the mixture condensed itself into a tiny ball, small enough to be held in her hand. As it floated in one spot, Arae continued to dance. She spread her arms apart, creating wings. A wave of her hand wile bending low created a tail, while rising back up made the head.

Serenis watched with silent awe and wonder as Arae created this new creature. Finally, as Arae cupped the creation in her hands, she began to blow, breathing her divine essence into it while blowing away the outer layer of bark and water, revealing a small serpent-like dragon. It began to look around, seemingly curious about its surroundings. It spotted Serenis, and it began to fly over to her. Serenis flinched in surprise, but soon learned that it meant her no harm when it landed on her head. The dragon wandered around her head and shoulders for a moment before finally making itself comfortable by coiling itself around her neck like a scarf.

"He will be your guardian and transport while you're in Galbar," Arae explained.

"I see..." Serenis said, looking down at the dragon, who was currently nuzzling her neck and chin. Looking back up, she asked, "But... what is his name?"

"That's for you to decide." Arae answered.

"Eh?!" Serenis exclaimed in surprise. The dragon extended itself out to look up at Serenis, curious by the sudden noise. The two began to stare at each other before Serenis scratched him on the chin, prompting the dragon to squeak in delight.

"'Kree'. That'll be your name," Serenis said. Kree then climbed onto the top of her head and cawed.

"It seems like he likes that name," Arae said, smiling. "Good for you, Serenis."

"But this still doesn't explain how Kree is going to bring me out of Spekatha," Serenis pointed out.

"Which is why he has a few tricks in his arsenal," Arae said. She clapped her hands twice, and Kree was at attention. He leapt into the air, soaring high into the sky, and landed back down having grown massively in size. He was now several meters long, much larger than the two foot length he was before. His scales glimmered as he moved, and a large pair of horns extended from his head. Kree lowered his neck down to Serenis, who was gazing at him in awe.

"He is your ride to Galbar," Arae said, gesturing grandly at him. "Now go on, and see the world created by the gods with your own eyes."



Serenis gazed down at the ocean from atop Kree's back. It was so vast, and the bird's eye view made it more spectacular. It was nothing like Spekatha, which only housed an endless grassland. Who knows what other wondrous sights she would discover.



Serenis frowned in mild disapproval. Some of the trees were refusing to mend, yet the Pantheon just kept growing and adding to her list of tasks. Some of the trees grew certain thick branches that could be mistaken for saplings on their trunks, each with their own individual essences and identities. They could only be Avatars due to their close connections with the gods they were created from. There were also saplings that rose from the ground nearby the trees that were clearly meant to be the other created beings from the gods. At the moment, all of them were children, though perhaps it would change in the future.

Plus, many of the gods' favors were shifting.

Shengshi was having problems with his own avatar, which was embarrassing in of itself, though it seemed like the avatar, Xiaoli, was not seeing him unfavorably. A shame, too. That was something that needed to be reported.

The little one, Hermes, was making plenty of friends with gods, avatars, and other mortals alike. That one had a promising future. Speaking of Hermes, it shared an especially interesting bond with Shengshi's avatar, which Serenis found highly amusing.

Sartravius and Narzhak were developing... honor? Respect? Honorable respect? It wasn't good, yet it wasn't bad either.

Orvus created a child, but it seems like he was not fond of her, and Kalmar was the one to even name her. Arya... a fair name. Strange... was there a trace of Arae's influence in her? No, surely not. It must be her imagination.

Even all of that was merely a fraction of what had changed. Nevertheless, things had progressed very far now, and Serenis could no longer delay it. Serenis had to make her report to Arae...

Arae


Arae was currently flying in a circle, her mind still in disarray after her talk with K'nell. Between the confusing dreamland, K'nells cryptic words, and Arae's lack of endgame goals, she was unsure of just what to do. Was there anything she could do? Was there even a point in trying? What if she just made things worse by intervening?

Arae looked down and saw that she had managed to create an entire archipelago around her island, complete with various bits of greenery, sandy beaches, and even a small mountain or two. The Dragon's Crown had developed surprisingly well, but Arae was in no condition to admire her work. She was still confused on what to do. Maybe a conversation with Serenis would kill a bit of time...

Lady Arae? I have a report for you, Serenis' voice sounded in Arae's mind.

Arae was initially confused, thinking that she hadn't made the move to call yet, but quickly realized that Serenis was quicker and already calling her instead. Composing herself, Arae responded, "Ahh, Serenis. Perfect timing. What do you have for me?"



"...Oh my," Arae finally said after Serenis finished her report. "So much has happened already. When did Orvus get a child? It hasn't been that long since I visited him. And Shengshi... what happened to you?"

There was no longer any time for idleness. Now was a time to meet up with her siblings. "Serenis, stay in contact. I may need some of the information as I go," Arae ordered. Serenis' response was a swift, "Yes, my lady."

Composing her message, Arae sent a short divine message to her first target:

"Shengshi, a word if I may. I hope you don't mind if I come to visit. It's been too long since we've last spoken."




Arae




Arae flew and flew, thinking about what Orvus had said. The things he had said to have done to Phystene and Ashalla were horrifying, but she couldn’t bring herself to hate him for it, nor did she want to. Orvus needed a helping hand to guide him through his trouble, even if he didn’t want it. Arae only wished she knew how. For now, though, she knew she had other matters to attend to.

Firstly, meet up with the others who were already siding against him, and hopefully convince them to at least be lenient with him. Arae recalled the names of her siblings: Phystene, Ashalla, Kalmar… and there was K’nell now. Arae gave it a quick thought as to who should be the one she would visit next, and ultimately decided it to be K’nell. She hadn’t actually met him before, and figured it would be a good time as any to learn what kind of being he was. Plus, she reasoned, he might be easier to convince than the others, considering Serenis’ earlier words regarding most of the others’ roles being the polar opposite of Orvus’. Arae began to compose her words to K’nell, greeting him via divine message, “Hello, K’nell. My name is Arae. Could you spare some time to talk? It’s about Orvus.

It started as a trickle, but all of a sudden a great pull appeared in Arae’s mind. It felt of sleep, and while it could be easily swatted away, it remained tempting and cozy. Arae wasn’t sure what to make of it, but decided to go with it and see where it led her, though not without at least finding a place to rest first. Settling onto her currently bare island, Dragon’s Crown, Arae curled up in a circle and closed her eyes, letting her mind be taken by sleep.



Gentle musical notes roused Arae’s ears and slowly her eyelids fluttered open. A great blue sky hung over her, beating a gentle blanket of sunlight over her. Plush grass cushioned underneath her, and reeds swayed in a light spring breeze. Sitting up she noticed she was, quite suddenly, a mouse, and before her eyes was a great big stump, a gentlemanly fox sitting atop it playing a mahogany violin, his sweet music filling the air. This was very much unexpected to Arae, but she supposed that anything could happen in dreams. Leaping off the grass cushion and making her way on top of the stump, Arae walked up to the fox, wondering if this would be K’nell’s medium for this dream. “...K’nell?” Arae asked, making the assumption that it was.

The fox continued his song, the notes vibrating and bouncing off the endless blades of grass and right back at the duo as some single handed orchestra of simplicity and contentment. While the song continued, a voice suddenly swirled around Arae and the fox, grainy and mysterious, “Yes?”

Arae’s head swiveled from side to side, trying to locate the source of the voice before quickly realizing that it was pointless and gave up on it. Instead, she went on to say, “Thank you for having me here…. wherever this is… K’nell, where am I, exactly? Is this a dream? This is very pleasant, but also very peculiar.

The fox abruptly stopped playing the violin, and yet the music continued. It turned its head to Arae, great smiling crescents gleaming off his eyes. The same grainy voice hung in the air between the two animals, “You are on a stump, in a field, in a dream, with me.”

Arae simply continued to stare at the fox while hearing the answer that barely answered anything, her mind in blank confusion. She then shook her head to clear her mind, deciding to ignore this entire exchange and move on to her original objective. Gathering her thoughts, Arae asked K’nell, “K’nell, I’ve heard from Orvus that you forced him into a dream in which he was a mortal farmer with a loving family, and then punished him by removing him from that pleasant dream. I may not know what’s happened since then, but from what I’ve seen of him, he’s in a terrible state of mind. He’s constantly depressed and won’t leave his Sphere. I just want to know: why did you do that? Why did you show him that dream and then take it away?

There was an unsettling silence as the fox stared at the mouse, and then all at once the voice returned, “Orvus was presented choices; the choice to sleep, the choice to stay and the choice to leave.” He paused, “There is no ill will in a dream, just a reflection of the truth. What the viewer does with it is not my domain.”

“I find it unbecoming to speak of another being’s dreams, it is their most private scenarios. Their most secret possibilities.” The voice clung to the air like the cloudy whites in the sky.

Arae wanted to press further about the issue, but the words wouldn’t come out past the confusion she was now feeling. Between the conflicting stories, K’nell’s words of privacy, and her own conscience, Arae wasn’t sure what she should think. If Orvus was given those choices, then presumably he had chosen to leave… right? Why would Orvus be in such pain, then? Why had he said he wanted to stay? Who was really right, here? After mulling it over for a while, Arae ultimately came to the conclusion that it was completely unfathomable and gave up trying to understand it. Whatever Orvus’ choice was that time was his, and Arae had no choice but to accept that.

I’m sorry, it’s just… I don’t want to see our siblings act like this,” Arae said. “Orvus needs help, but so many of our siblings are already siding against him. While I understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, considering what Orvus has said he has done to Ashalla and Phystene, I wish they could not be so quick to cast judgement on him, especially when so little time has passed since we were just brought into this world.

The fox blinked and then started playing his violin, and only after a few seconds did the voice reappear, “You cannot control the actions of another. You can either accept them for who they are and that they will act in ways you disapprove of, or you can present them with choices and consequences. Either way, they will have the freedom to choose their own path, same as we choose ours.”

Arae pondered this reasoning for a brief moment, knowing it to be true, even if her heart was not quite satisfied with it. She sighed, then looked down at the rings in the stump as she said, “I suppose…” Looking back up at the fox, Arae decided to ask, “I may just be overthinking this, but… if the worst comes to worst, and our siblings decide to take action against Orvus, could you give him your aid?

“First Orvus has a choice to make,” The voice swirled, “As do all the others.” There was a pause as the fox placed his violin down and turned to face Arae directly, “As do you.”

...I see,” Arae said, not actually seeing it. She thought that perhaps she wouldn’t until the right time came and the decision was in front of her. She only hoped she would make a choice she wouldn’t regret. She bowed at the fox, or at least she made an attempt to, finding it quite difficult to perform the gesture in her current form. “Thank you for having me here, K’nell. This talk has given me much to think about,” Arae said. “Um… how do I leave?

“I hope all turns out well,” the grainy voice spun as a great cheshire smile grew on the fox. As the voice spoke the volume of the music increased, the notes speeding up their melody and then all at once, Arae’s eyes opened. She blinked, then looked down at herself, finding herself back in her own dragon form. Now she had to think: what was she going to do next?


Arae

MP: 7 | FP: 17


Arae did want to stay with Seihdhara and continue to support her, but she had done all she could. She had realized that her current system of Familial Trees and Lakes within her Sphere was not enough. It kept track of families well enough, but it needed more. Much more. It needed constant supervision, a way to alert Arae, and possibly even a way for a problem to be resolved without her interference. The main issue, though, was figuring out a way to maintain it. Arae had to be in her sphere in order to oversee the system and gather the information from it, but it would be pointless if that were so. After all, she still needed to head out in order to oversee her various family members and fix the various disputes they were already creating with each other. It wasn't like she could be in two places at once... or could she?

An idea began to form in Arae's mind, and she rushed off back to her Gateway as fast as she could. There were some events happening around her that she paid little attention to, such as an explosion or two in the sky, or the continents that she swore were actually moving. All that was important at the moment was the system she was about to put into place.

A dip into the Dragon's Crown and reemergence from the Pantheon familial lake later, Arae took a look at the Pantheon trees. Some of the trees were undoubtedly flourishing, some seemed to remain unchanged, and others had varying degrees of damage. All of this had happened before she even realized, which made it all the more imperative to her to set something up to fix that.

First came the base. Arae looked around, wondering what she would use to make it. Her eyes eventually settled on her Familial Tree and she decided that nothing else could be better. Carefully going through each branch, she selected the thickest one that had the most leaves and carefully snapped it off, making sure to reduce as much damage as possible to both the tree and branch. She began to do this with every Familial Tree within the Pantheon, and gathered them all together. She even scooped a handful of the lake water, just for good measure. With her materials ready, she began to mold. The branches began to glow and swirl in the air, specks of her essence flowing out of her into the mixture that formed itself into a sphere. Her hands pushed and pulled on it as it began to take the form she had pictured in her mind, plus more.

A humanoid figure stood before Arae, with an thin and elegant white dress, as well as a delicate white crown. She had pointed ears, silver eyes, and long dark gray hair. The figure blinked, and then said, "So that's how it feels to be created. Interesting." Looking up at Arae, she continued, "How may I be of service, my lady?"

"I need you to watch over my Sphere," Arae answered. "Maintain the health of the trees and lakes, and report to me if any problems cannot be solved within the Sphere."

"Very well, my lady," the figure answered.

"Also, I will need to give you a name," Arae added. "You shall be known as... Serenis."

"So it shall be, my lady," Serenis replied.

Arae gave Serenis a final examination and decided that she would be satisfactory for now. Arae then began to ask, "Serenis, what are the current relations between the gods?"

Serenis' eyes began to glow white as she looked up the information. They continued to glow for several seconds before finally fading, and Serenis answered, "Overall, most connections are either neutral or bordering on friendly at the very most. Many of the gods seem to have not interacted with anyone, at least not long enough to establish any sort of meaningful relationship. A few, though, such as Shengshi, the God of Rivers, and Chopstick Eyes, the Goddess of Markets, have multiple friendly connections made. As for the unfriendly connections, there is one god in particular, Orvus, the God of Desolation, who has garnered the displeasure of at least three of the others: Kalmar, the God of Hunting, Phystene, the Goddess of Plants, and Ashalla, the Goddess of Oceans. If my logic is sound, then I would conclude that these gods of nature do not approve of the god whose purpose is to destroy."

"Beyond what I have reported, there is nothing significant enough to warrant your attention, my lady," Serenis concluded.

"Orvus..." Arae said slowly, trying to recall who he was. her mind flashed back to the Architect's Hall, with a dark figure who seemed to have not enjoyed the events as much as the others. Arae was full of concern, briefly wondering why she had been so blind to not notice, but Arae soon cleared her mind of such thoughts and replaced them with her determination. She was going to keep her family together, and would not spare any effort in doing so.

"Thank you, Serenis. You have been a great help," Arae thanked Serenis. "Of course, my lady."

Arae then began to send Orvus a divine message, "Hello, Orvus. My name is Arae. May I have some of your time? We need to chat." Then, without waiting for a response, Arae launched herself back into the Pantheon lake, passing through the Gateway and back into Galbar, where she would hopefully find Orvus.





Michael was surprised to see Diana summon a blade made of lightning. Was there any limit to her powers? And more importantly, were they really doing this? Another individual came to support them, which Michael was grateful for, but this was still a dangerous situation to be in. With everything going on, though, he'd feel guilty if he were to run away on his own, and that wasn't something Michael wanted to have on his consciousness. Sighing, Michael muttered to himself, "Dammit, guess I'm still a fool."

Michael looked down at himself and attempted to reapply his Body Arts, altering them to increase his speed and agility, as well as reaction speed. Before he could do so, however, the ink already on his body began to reform, changing shape to become the Body Arts he was intending to draw on himself. Michael was stunned for a moment, and he soon realized what had just happened. Clearly, this was an upgrade to his powers, and it had to be discovered during such a critical time. A shame there was little time to experiment, as for now it was time for action. Michael followed after Diana, keeping an eye out for the reanimated people that would get in Diana's way. If any did, Michael simply ran ahead of Diana, using his body to ram them out of the way before proceeding to draw restraining Body Arts on them to keep them from moving.

Michael watched as Diana's hair wrapped around the bristles on his toothbrush before seemingly replacing them. He gave it a small stroke with his thumb, wondering just how effective it was now, and how long this would last. There was no time for any more thought, however, as the cultist fell into his trap, and was subsequently defeated by Ulf.

Michael walked out of the room with Diana, following the path the Draugr made for them. He still felt wary about it, remembering the terror and helplessness he felt when he faced it, but he was glad it was on their side now. That was when they saw the head cultist, who immediately took control of the Draugr and began to turn it against them. Michael would have liked to believe that he would've stayed strong, maybe even stood in front of Diana in what would have perhaps been a futile attempt to protect her. In reality, though, he froze in fear. His past trauma was locking his limbs in place, and hindering his mind from thinking a way out of their predicament. His brain was a complete blank.

He may have even considered it the end for him, had a mysterious stranger come to aid them. Soon, Kheraket had frozen the Draugr in place, and by doing so, drawn all attention to him. It snapped Michael out of his fear, and he silently chastised himself for panicking so. First things first, Michael wanted to reassess his and Diana's current priorities, which was to get to whatever destination Diana had in mind. To do that, though, they needed to escape. Michael looked back at the cultist, and decided that Kheraket could probably handle it. Despite his timely assistance, Michael had no delusions nor intentions about being able to aid him in return, especially when he and Diana were still recovering from the recent tournament battle.

Turning to Diana, Michael said to her, "We should escape while we still can."
Arae

10MP | 26FP

(@Kho Special mention to you, cuz this directly addresses Seihdhara)


When Arae opened her eyes, she found herself in an unfamiliar place. Rather than lying on her tree in her sphere, she was standing on a stone floor. The room she was in contained a large amount of portraits and mannequins, many of them worn out over time, as well as a few glowing artifacts of power. The room had no windows, but the ceiling was open. Despite that, little sunlight shone through due to a massive cloud of black smoke. The door shuddered at regular intervals from withstanding powerful blows from the other side, and it seemed like it wasn't going to hold much longer.

Arae was confused by this sudden development, but soon realized a number of things. First, the place was practically radiating the energy of a god she recognized as K'nell, the God of Sleep. In other words, she was dreaming, and presumably this was K'nell's handiwork. She wondered what could possibly make the scenario she was in. His sphere, perhaps?

Secondly, this dream she was having was a memory, and it was one of her worst ones too. She hoped she would never have to relive it, but apparently that hope was not going to be. This memory was the day her fate was sealed. The war was finally ending, and the world began its descent into oblivion. Arae shed a tear.

Everyone... I'm sorry I couldn't protect you... Arae thought to herself, closing her eyes just as the door finally broke down with a loud, splintering crash.



Arae woke with a start. She shakily sighed, trying to brush off the horrible feelings from her dream. It was a bad memory, but that was all it was now: a memory. A thing of the past. There was no need to worry about what had already passed. What she needed to do now was focus on the present and future. Arae looked around, admiring her handiwork with the Pantheon. The lake was clean and crystal clear, and the Familial Trees were standing tall. Some of them were a little damaged, presumably reflecting the gods' current states, but that was fine. Nothing a little time and recovery wouldn't fix.

It was then, however, that Arae spotted something that made her eyes go wide with shock. It was so unbelievable that she remained frozen for several seconds before leaping and gliding over to the source of her concern. One of the trees was completely barren of leaves, and the flesh underneath the bark was dry. If Arae had not sensed the tiny bit of life force remaining within the Tree, she would have thought it was dead. Arae recognized this tree as Seihdhara's, the Goddess of Martial Combat. If her title rang true, that she could hardly imagine anyone actually besting her in combat. The fact remained, though, that something must've happened to Seihdhara that brought her to a state of near-death, if not outright death.

First things first, Arae had to determine Seihd's current state, and see if anything could still be done. Arae placed a hand on the tree trunk, getting a lock on her familial bond. Then she climbed up Seihdhara's tree and used that momentum to leap into the air, shooting upwards before arcing back downwards into the Pantheon lake. As she dove into the water, her body began to disappear as she used her power to send herself to Galbar. Once she was through the Gateway she had made, the water began to settle, and her sphere was quiet once more.



The water began to shudder slightly, the tremors only increasing in strength over time. The ground underneath was rising, all the way up to the water's surface. Soon, a crown of dirt and stone broke through, and it rose high into the air, trapping a small of portion of water within it. The ground continued to rise, molding itself to form an island around the crown. Then, the tremors stopped, as the island finally finished forming. Things were still for a moment, before a tremor started again, but this one was different. It was weaker than the one that formed the island, but it still radiated power as the water within the crown began to glow and shake.

Arae burst out of the water's surface, roaring as she shot up through the opening in the crown's top, and stopping to hover in the middle of the sky. Under normal circumstances, she might have wondered why she had roared, or what she had just created on Galbar, but right now she was focused on following the trail of Seihdhara's familial bond. Being so faint, Arae was having a bit of difficulty following it, but it was still there, and she could still find it. With that in mind, Arae flew off across the water, traveling southwards until she came across a piece of land. Arae continued flying, continuing to follow Seihdhara's trail while looking for any sign of her, until she sensed her power coming from an orange river.

Examining the contents of the river, Arae wasn't entirely sure what she was looking at, but she was getting an uncomfortable feeling just looking at. She then began traveling upstream to locate the source, and soon came across a pool of the liquid. Peering through the liquid's surface, she thought she could see something at the bottom. It was certainly the source, but certainly not part of the landscape. In fact, it kind of looked like...

Then the thought clicked for Arae. This river was flowing godly ichor! Seihdhara's own blood made up the river! And what was buried inside the pool was Seihdhara's body! Well, part of it, at least, but it was there all the same. Arae was filled with concern, wondering how Seihdhara could have gotten herself into such a mess. There was so much power radiating out of the river that it was its own monument now. Arae's first thought was to retrieve Seihdhara's body from the lake, but she didn't know how she should go about doing so. For one thing, this river was already well integrated into the land, and it seemed like trying to haphazardly alter it would cause extensive damage. Even if it could be repaired, it would most likely take an extraordinary amount of time and effort. In other words, it was too late to clean any of it up.

Well, if it had to stay, then Arae figured that it might as well be protected. She landed near the Seihdh Lake and began to poke several holes into the ground around it, and a sapling began to grow from each one. As Arae continued to channel her power into them, they grew larger and larger, and a portion of their roots began to extend into the Seihdh Lake. When they made contact with the ichor, though, they began undergoing changes. Most of them seemed to suffer some backlash when they made contact with the ichor in the lake and were about to die, but Arae was quick to reinforce their bodies with her power to better withstand it and even overcome the ichor afflicting them. It was difficult, and the trees were barely hanging on even with Arae's power, but she hoped they would persevere. The trees continued to slowly take in the godly ichor through their roots, and overtime, they continued to adapt and recover, enough so that Arae no longer needed to aid them. In fact, once the trees had absorbed enough of it, they underwent some radical changes. Some remained thin and flexible while others grew thicker and taller, and some didn't have any bark while some had multiple layers. All of them, however, had extensive roots that burrowed deep and wide into the ground, and flexible yet sturdy branches that could move with plenty of freedom.

Arae was a little surprised at the current development; she hadn't expected them to form so differently from each other, and wondered if it was the result of the lake's power. Furthermore, they turned into something much different than what she originally intended. The trees were supposed to provide a barrier around the Seihdh Lake, using the lake itself as its power source and additional nourishment to sustain it. Instead, the lake seemed to have mutated them into something else, and each of them held quite a bit of power in them. Also, from the way they moved, Arae could have sworn they were much more alive than what trees should normally be. Arae approached one of the thinner trees and raised a hand to examine one of its branches. In response, the tree bent forward, leaning towards her hand and rubbing against it slightly, as if it wanted to be touched. Arae was very curious about this development. She could sense that the trees were still capable of performing their intended function of protecting the lake, so she decided it was alright to leave things as they were, but she did wonder what future these trees would bring.

With the trees complete, Arae felt that her job here was done, and was just about to launch herself into the air once more when she sensed Seihdhara's familial bond coming from another direction. And unlike before, the bond was feeling like a fresh and strong rope, far different from the faint and almost dead thread Arae had been following before. That could only mean that Seihdhara had managed to overcome her predicament, and was presumably alive and well now. At the very least, Arae hoped so. With no time to lose, Arae launched herself towards Seihdhara's location, angrily sending a mental message her way, Seihdhara!!! I'm coming over to you! Wherever you are, you better be alive, and don't you dare go get yourself killed again!


@Kho ^
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