The Pale Cometh
Returned once more to his home, the Deity of Form slithered and writhed through the black expanse of the hollow mountain. Idle thoughts and ruminations drifted through its titanic mind, coloring its thoughts, rendering it temporarily deaf and blind. Closed off to the world, it considered what it had seen and done in times so recent. There was abject joy in its thoughts as it recalled its first son, borne of its own bark and bone--yet with a mind all its own.
However, there were other matters to consider, for near the eaves of the Shard there had been waged a battle both terrible and great. In its dreams it had seen the destruction left behind, indeed…
Upon that far-off ruined earth Malath Kaal had felt the taint of two souls much like its own. He wondered what might drive such beings to so terrible a conflict. Further, the Unbent Lord could not help but wonder what such an encounter might entail, how it might feel, and what change it could cause in one such as he.
Curious, Sa’a Malath Kaal rose up within its cavernous domain...and split its form in twain. So severed, one half of its monstrous bulk gained a sort of mind and unto it, the god delivered a single strike.
Blood spattered against the floor and walls and peak of the chamber and the force of the blow made the hollow mountain ring, as if it were a gong of marble and stone. The sound could be heard for miles; it scattered birds and drove beasts and men to hiding.
Nothing else occurred, no realization, no understanding, nothing new arose and so the god did swear. Frustrated, Malath Kaal closed upon its severed half and devoured it whole, making it once more his own.
’Foolish,’ the good thought, but its thoughts echoed through the wind and pressed out in wavelengths through the Network Down Below. Nothing...no one, responded.
A great sigh escaped lungs and gills and skin. This fell wind shot out from the mountain in a monstrous burst, passing beyond its threshold to stir up the clouds within the sky. He did not notice.
It had been a productive meeting for Ahtziri with the God of Craftsmen, and she had left that encounter feeling insufferably pleased with herself. She had given thought to what she would do next, given the success of her last endeavour, but all that remained to her was the directive she’d been given by her partner: find new lands, tame them, bring their family glory. So it was that she’d set out exploring, and her initial finds had been disappointing--she could sense the slight changes in the Shard from its barren state from a great distance away, knowing that something had been terraformed even if she could not tell what exactly was there. Pazuzu had also given her information he’d picked up from the various Abiktu clans around the world, and so she had an idea of most of the geography that seemed to have been claimed thus far. The most curious area of the Shard, now, was its centre: Ahtziri had not yet explored it at all, and she had begun to wonder where the rivers actually sprung from.
Hours later, with the beating of her wings thrumming against the backdrop of the night air, Ahtziri had come across two colossal mountain ranges in her view. The first had been the centre--she’d taken a cursory look at it, and had spied a wellspring of sorts from the centre of the biggest mountain that seemed to explain where all of the water was originating from. Though she couldn’t sense their distinct identities, she’d also picked up on slight traces of that distinctive divine energy that made her and her kin what they were. Again, that made sense--someone had to have brought water to the Shard. The second had proven much more intriguing, as though it breathed and shuddered and writhed of its own accord. Her senses were such that she could feel the ringing vibrations from the stone from afar, their waves of resonance gently pressing against her, and laced within them she could feel a slight… heat, of sorts. It had been enough to pique her curiosity, and so she had barrelled towards the mountain at the top of her speed, something truly and genuinely fast, and found herself face to face with it within moments.
There was something ponderous and mysterious about this particular mountain, something that Ahtziri could not quite place a claw upon. Its strange bulk and odd phenomena appealed to her in some way that she couldn’t place, and even standing next to it her sinewy wings began to grow feathers of their own accord.
Still humming with the force of its master's strike, Se'raa Kelet remained an edifice of black against the sky, surrounded by its smaller mountain brethren. Yet, its sheer height--and the prodigious swell of its base--was such that it appeared not as a sibling to the Teeth, but instead as a progenitor. It was easily twice as tall as the next tallest mountain in the range, and such was not small by any measure either. Nonetheless, unlike many of the mountains, this black monolith at the center of the two ranges had a strange feature. Situated exactly at its base was a single archway, a gateway into an utterly dark chamber, from which a gale briefly poured, before calming once more.
She was right to look upon it with interest, for even the skies near that great peak were suffused with the faintest blue-green glow, as if the aura of some unknown power leaked from the mountain's majestic expanse. Of course, her own attention--and the nearness of her body to the edifice--roused something hidden within.
The wind shifted and from the threshold slowly seeped a miasma of dimly luminescent fog. Nothing emerged with it, but far above the mountain's highest point, hidden in the clouds, the Eye of Malath Kaal opened to view the world.
It glimpsed the goddess, yet did not remain, winking out of view.
Far below, the fog stirred, enticing.
Ahtziri studied the demesne sprawling out before her intently, her eyes scanning over barely perceptible trails of energy in the air. Something, though she was not sure exactly what, was off about this place--and that, in her limited experience, normally meant the involvement of another god. For some reason she could not quite shake the feeling of being watched, either, as though some unseen and ineffable presence were looming over her from some great, distant height. It did not unnerve or otherwise unsettle the Mother of Monsters, however, instead serving only to fuel her ever-growing curiosity. She flew idly down towards the opening that she could see in the base of the mountain, placing her clawed hands upon its carved lintel and testing the feel of the stone beneath her talons. She gleaned no particular insight from the action, but nevertheless was undeterred from stepping inside the cavernous dwelling. The darkness did not impede her sight at all, but if something were calling out to her Ahtziri wanted to make her presence known: with a flick of her wrist she ignited a swath of amaranthine flames and suspended them in the air. She did not yet call out, instead waiting for something to make itself known to her before she went about exploring the curious place.
So kindled by a power divine, those violet flames pierced the endless night of the cavern’s interior, painting the walls with its light. For a brief instant--as the light pierced further into the black--a silhouette was unveiled in all its monolithic glory. Eight limbs, each with talons dug deep into the mountain's flesh, a long sinuous tail with numerous fronds and frills, its bulk unravelling at the end into tendrils tipped with barbs and spines. Its back was adorned with wings, which spread half-furled inside the black, and from its shoulders stretched a long neck that right before her ended in a horn-crowned skull. Three eyes, one in the center of a reptilian snout, the others on either side, but all staring into her very essence--dissecting flesh without even the barest touch. Then, it registered the light, and in that same instant, it moved, curling upwards into the peak of the mountain, where the illumination could not reach. As it moved, its form shifted, from eight limbs to sixteen, then a hundred each skittering and strange. Its tail remained, but frills retracted, and fur and scales grew to replace them. Horns vanished into its skull, as the head slipped into the dark, but even as a fog-like haze enveloped it--snuffing out all light--the glow of its nine azure eyes remained.
One was brighter than the others, and its pupil was alien, shaped not like anything that walked or flew upon the shard. As it settled, the mountain ceased to shudder, though the wind took much longer to grow calm. When it had, that deity, it spoke and the mountain trembled once again.
"Ahhh," the god said, its voice a sigh of titanic proportions, a relieved cacophony.
"No simple flesh adorns your supple form."
Though a god she might have been, the sheer volume of his voice would drive her bones to shaking, it would loosen her every muscle, and shake her every cell. In that moment, she might recall a similar sensation. For it had been the same voice that had echoed through her flesh from afar, telling her to Thrive.
Pleased, the Deity of Form descended half into the light. What could be glimpsed beneath swirling miasmic mist were hundreds of entwined tentacles and of course the seven eyes of the god. Those many appendages draped down like willow leaves, barely brushing against the stone around her. Above, where the limbs vanished into darkness, even her divine gaze would find only a form of riddles, shrouded in a fog.
The face he showed her now was much like her own, but distinctly male, if less striking and clear in its visage. His mouth opened to speak, and the air that pressed against her smelled of all things living, even those who were now dead.
"Who is it that treads upon my sacred stone, visiting my home?"
Ahtziri’s form was, fortunately, already quite used to enduring quite the array of physical and metaphysical force; as the impact of the God of Form’s voice washed over her she braced against it without so much as an errant blink. She looked up into the peak of the mountain as best as she could, though as she got closer to the ponderous bulk of Malath Kaal the physical axes of the world seemed to shift and break down--the world stopped putting itself together in the way that she expected as her gaze lingered at the mountain’s peak from within, and she quickly averted her eyes to avoid the worst of those effects.
”Ahh… ‘twas your voice that swept across the land. I am Ahtziri vur Chakravarti, the Mother of Monsters.” Ahtziri’s initial greeting was ostentatious and regal in equal parts, dipping into a greatly exaggerated sweeping bow, before she used the upwards motion to spring herself up into the air. She hovered fairly high, all things considered, but made sure to stay outside of the peak’s more absolute darkness--she bored her gaze into each of Malath Kaal’s eyes one by one, crackling with energy, before she took a reclining position and her wings only barely fluttered with the effort of keeping her aloft.
”... and you are?”
For a heartbeat, there was contemplative silence as the deity observed its kin, taking in its form--and indeed its word. As that quiet grew in age, a phosphorescence bloomed, engulfing the many eyes of the unseen being until there remained only one. That great light whose size dwarfed Ahtziri's own dimensions seemed attached to a vast coiling serpent that vanished into the black. Vague silhouettes of limbs unseen shifted against the cavernous expanse of that hallowed place.
"I am Sa'a Malath Kaal, Deity of Form," he said, and with each echoing utterance his vast eye pulsed with light. With each pulse, his form shifted in both shape and composition. The only constant was his eye and the sense that though much was seen, there yet remained something incomparably vast that lay somewhere beyond. "So too am I the arbiter of change."
The great eye pulsed anew before its brilliance diminished. In its place once more were three orbs, gazing upon her shape. He felt a familiarity within her beyond the divinity they both possessed. Something violent and destructive. A new pair of eyes opened elsewhere, and up at her, they squinted, narrowed in suspicion. Yet he did not speak of it, deigning not to act.
"What brings you to my domain, Ahtziri? What is your purpose--the essence of your cause?"
Ahtziri admired Malath’s display of grandiloquence with wild amusement, fully acting out the various faces of the emotions a member of an audience might go through: awe, shock, humility, hysteria. As she did so she flew lazily around the cavernous space, still inconceivably quickly for a mortal mind, but at a leisurely pace for the two of them. Ahtziri let his words ring through her like the peals of thunderous gongs, their ripples tickling her primal senses in a way that allowed her to truly embrace and understand them. She smiled as she felt them wash over her, telltale amaranthine flames sheathing her in response to the assault of force the Deity of Form’s voice represented.
Then she was playful, reclining with her arms behind her head and the fullness of her naked and pregnant body openly on display. Her tail swished and arced in great sweeping motions around her, gently tasting the strange air with its tongue and letting out a pleasing hiss.
”Providence, I feel. You set a command to me, to thrive… I had begun a certain great work, but due to… corporal impairment I had to begin anew. The time is nearly upon us, I feel, for this life to be unleashed in the world…”
Ahtziri punctuated her words by bringing a concentrated glint of her purple energy to the tip of her talon and gently scrawling it over her bare flesh. Some kind of magic, perhaps? By the time she had finished speaking it had grown into a snake eating its own tail, only to grow another head--and then another tail. A cycle with a goal of its own, as a part of the process rather than a mere designation to be shepherd--a life to seed more life, to seed more conditions for life.
”You must sense it, too. I know.”
A rumbling laugh echoed through the mountain's hollowed bones as he took in her performance, but as she reclined, the sound quieted back to silence. Intrigued, the Formless Flesh took in great breaths of air, trying to better ascertain the nature of the goddess with senses beyond sight or hearing. So it was that her scent became known to him, and with her words--and the shocking strangeness of her power--he came to a most horrible conclusion.
"Desolation!" He crowed, his voice thunderous with sudden rage. The Maw of Black rang like a gong as his voice struck its every wall and surface. The wind outside stirred into motion, tearing at trees and frightening animals into their dens.
Actinic light shot out from the deepest darkness of the cavern, wreathing her in power, bathing her in wrath. Yet, it delivered no sensation of pain but rather a warping discomfort. As if the space her flesh inhabited had been tied in many knots.
"’Twas you who scoured the earth with flame and claw and fury!"
Power swirled within the mountain, churning as light from every pitch-black surface, revealing that each was made of something like obsidian and marble united. It appeared that though people would come to know that mountain by many names--the Black Maw, the Riddle of Form, Sky's Rift--that its original name held its most authentic meaning.
Se'raa Kelet: The Unbound Heart.
For the mountain was not merely the home of Malath Kaal, it was his heart, it was his birthplace, it was the wellspring from which he drew strength and the conduit through which it was amplified in turn. It was the physical obelisk, the embodiment, of a vast rift in the world, the only one large enough to hold his truest form.
Within it, he was not just divine, not just a God of--but the undisputed power. Yet, for all his might, he did not bring her harm.
"Why did you rend life from the shard and burn away so many of its survivors?!" No longer was his voice thunder, no it was nothing so paltry as that. It was within, spoken with the fullness of his power, resonating from her very form--from all flesh and bone and bark, from every leaf and branch and stem. Every cell that was, that is, that had been and would be. The light twisted about her as if some vast serpent were tightening its coiling grasp about her being, but in the black peak of the mountain something greater watched and writhed.
Though enraged, he had yet to truly strike, and so with patient malice he awaited her response.
Ahtziri only laughed at Malath's rage and his fury, the normally guttural and harsh voice in her throat softening to something designed for civilised or even enjoyable speech, rather than designed to intimidate or frighten. Flames wreathed her from within, spilling out in unseen cracks yet to be repaired from her battle with Lonn, and their energy hissed and hummed and crackled with fury as the titanic god's exhortation reached her. She visibly registered no discomfort in his presence, the same nonchalance as she'd demonstrated earlier being her dominant emotion--and then the symbol vanished from her pregnant belly, and a thick weave of flaming energy covered her body. As it receded, it revealed the flesh of a Maiden, not a Mother--humanoid, voluptuous, commanding. It was now equal parts enticing and horrific, the extra eye and the extra breast too strange to go unnoticed, but not always too strange to chase away the phantoms of temptation that Ahtziri knew lurked within gods and men both. The God of Forms would respect one whose own form altered as easily as the wind changed, would listen to her words--this she hoped, and she wondered in that moment how much between her carmine counterpart was similar.
”My children... Have you created, yet, Sa'a Malath Kaal? Do you know what it is to give of yourself, to bring life into this Shard, only to have it killed before you..? I saw the deaths of my children and knew it could not go unanswered. A fury rose within me, a flame that could only be quenched with the blood of man--until I met their God, and he made... valid criticisms of my argument."
Suddenly, Ahtziri's tone was somber. She spoke with a genuine gentleness and pensiveness, a level of introspection that her existence had not yet seemed to imply existed--but reason was one of the Mother of Monsters' faculties, and one she had increasingly learned to lean upon in her interactions with the other gods. Most could not understand the primal intensity of what she felt, of how it compelled her to act--but they did listen to reason, and if she was to build a home for her children she could not risk a final death again as she had before. Suddenly her eyes crested downward, their light a little dimmer--shame waxed across her face for the briefest moment, refracting the harsh light of Malath Kaal's ire and bathing the chamber below in a kaleidoscope of blue-gray fragments. The lights danced in the charge-soaked air, their shapes connecting to one another through arcs of dulled brilliance, and the shape they created was one of true remorse--a primal fragment of what was, displayed only for the briefest instant... but the Eye of Malath was perceptive, to have focused so intently upon the Goddess as she entered the vicinity of the mountain. She knew it would see her failing and her acceptance for what they were.
”It was a mistake. It was not befitting of one who should create a home for her children, not turn all to ash for something so petty as vengeance."
Black lightning arced away from her form as he considered her appeal, its power attracted to the stone of Malath's heart. In the skies above the mountain--beyond sight--the Eye of Malath blinked.
At the sound of her proclaimed miscalculation, a response came in the form of a gentle force lifting her chin so that she might meet his gaze. However, as she looked, there would be no spot of darkness, no writhing twisting mystery, but instead, there would be emptiness, that felt of life--of flesh and of bone. In coruscating patterns, pulsing neural light, that actinic light had outlined the silhouette of an organism too vast for any mortal to perceive or understand.
Its flesh was writ of iridescent brilliance, its veins filled with ichor as dark as night, and at the center of it all lay the Eye of Malath. That orb--that symbol--emerged from an aperture in the world. This gateway led beyond, and from such coalesced the miasmic fog that had before concealed him. From that fog, a silhouette emerged, the symbol writ upon its shape. Then, all at once, the lights winked out and to darkness did all 'cept them return.
Its lips moved, and the mountain shook once more with the sound.
"So you can learn--can change, can grow."
The bipedal figure nodded its head, and above them, the air shook as if something greater had moved.
"This is good."
Without preamble, the figure stepped further into her light, walking across the air to meet her. The coiling grasp of the serpent that had once contained her at once relaxed and fell away. 'Twas then that the figure took her into an embrace. Into her ear, it whispered, and for once, its voice was no longer thunderous and vast.
"I have known the lives and deaths of all. Be they monstrous or humane. I have felt their births, I have known their pain, and their dying knells echo within my essence." There was a somberness to his tone, a gentle understanding, and a simple sorrow that remained as well. He drew away, and three eyes shone upon the figure's face. "Though I am their Father, I hold their essence in mine own veins. I know their fears, their love, their sorrow." Then, at that moment, he met her gaze, "Thus I know your pain."
Ahtziri's eyes closed and her lips parted slightly, their dewy fullness glistening against the shadows and half-light that still dared linger in the sacred space the pair inhabited. She inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her mouth, the gentlest flutter of a moan escaping her lips at the overwhelming touch of flesh pressed against hers. The connection and the closeness let tiny sparks of energy dance between them, worlds of colour flashing by in the spaces between seconds, and then Ahtziri pulled away with a flourish and a twist, spinning 360 degrees as she extricated herself from the intimacy of the moment and ending up a good distance away from her counterpart.
“I am a married woman, Malath Kaal…” she said, her voice playful and coy. A half-lidded look, the hints of a smile upon her face, and then an incisor pressing gently into the bare flesh of her lip. She turned away shortly after and shook her wings vigorously, the sinew and the scales falling away as sleek, black feathers burst from them. With a few cursory flaps she tested her new flesh, some of the feathers falling to the ground, but errant bolts of too-sharp light hit them at just the right angle and the carmine pulse of blood through veins could clearly be seen within the strangely sinewy quills. Then there was a twitch, and a caw, and a raven cloaked itself in shadow as it flew from the cavernous entrance of the chamber.
”... ah, but you do not know. You cannot. You cannot know what it is to be Ahtziri, to be a Mother, just as I cannot know what it is to be Malath, to inhabit all flesh. To be a God, at the pinnacle of creation... it is a lonely place, but we who stand at the apex can know the shape of that experience even if we cannot know its feeling. But I digress, God of Forms--there is a life to be brought into this world. With me as its mother and you its father, well... it would bode well for the health of this Shard, hmm?" Ahtziri's tone shifted again, now guarded, cautious. Each word was portentous and heavy, and though they spoke of disagreement they considered what he had said in full: she did not look at him to observe his reactions, wistfully staring off into the distance as her wings continued to ripple and shift of their own volition even as they kept her aloft.
He merely watched as she pulled away, making no attempt to stop her. Whispers of feeling coursed through him, but they were paltry before the sensations of his greater form. He ignored them. Her wings shifted once more and he took notice, his figure’s head tilting just so. Intrigued he took a step forwards, but stopped, deciding that no further would he go. “I understand,” he said, his voice an echoing gong within the chamber.
As he considered her, the figure slowly became wreathed in sparkling lightning of black and azure hues. Slowly, they became a cloak that wreathed his most humanoid of shapes. Though he remained stationary and quite silent--the lightning sparking about his form--the figure’s flesh began to writhe as deeper changes occurred within his form.
“What shapes have garnered your attention?” He asked, even as his form slipped oh-so-slowly into flux.
“Have you felt the rifts across the Shard? If you knew of my clash, then it stands to reason that you have some means of surveying the Shard…” Ahtziri began, before letting herself drift down towards her earlier point of ingress. Amaranthine flames crackled around her silhouette, shedding as she moved, and eventually a trail of that refulgent energy had made its way out of the great chamber at the heart of the mountain, absconding alongside Ahtziri.
She awaited Malath Kaal outside, beckoning him forth, and planting her bare feet upon the pocked and cracked earth around them. Though there was a fine carpet of Cordgrass to the distant west, flora had only managed to infiltrate this part of the world sparingly. Owing to the sheer concentration of arcane energy in the air, as well as the fact that the apocalypse was still being managed, it was unsurprising that life would avoid this place--it was a testament to Malath's fecundity that anything existed here at all. In the distance, far off to the East, a strange confluence of lights quite unlike anything born of the two of them could be seen. Ahtziri waited for Malath to see her before she sped off towards it, a trail of quivering feathers on the ground marking her passage.
Following her footsteps, the figure used each movement to change--to prepare--for its inevitable departure. Essence crackled about each of its four limbs, writhing in strange patterns, sometimes vanishing on imperceptible axes, before emerging elsewhere on Malath's form. Lips parted on his face, and back from his skull curled six intricate horns. Following swiftly, an overlapping set of scale-like feathers blossomed downwards in a flowing fan of silver. In an act of appreciative mimicry, the figure's cloak unfurled, opening wide and lifting up at either end, forming wings halfway between those of a moth and some titanic reptilian beast. Covered in tiny soft hairs, trailing fog-like dust behind them. The appendages crackled with energy which coalesced downwards, connecting them at the figure's back.
Taloned feet then met the threshold, a tail with wide frills on either side waving gently across the black stone he'd crossed. The figure was utterly unclothed, but a dense fog--drifting across the surface of its body--allowed it to remain androgynous to those who viewed it. Yet, the regality, the power, the presence it exuded, these spoke of something distinctly male--perhaps despite its form. Behind it, opening in the vast darkness beneath the Maw of Black, was the Eye of Malath, looking upon its newest shape.
Pleased, the eye joined with the figure, and so the separation vanished, and Malath Kaal truly came to inhabit its flesh.
He stepped beyond the threshold, caught a single sinewy feather in his grasp, then burst into a flare of blinding actinic light. He tracked Ahtziri, streaking across the sky, black bolts arcing downwards to the ground. The air warped around him, for though this form was small, his divinity reigned supreme and could not wholly be contained within such a paltry shape. As he passed, he glimpsed sparse forests, snow, plains, and the tremendous trunks of his children--the Kel'a Maeori--swept by. In that instant, he came to agree with the goddess.
This was not enough, not by half.
The pair had arrived at a confluence of strange, magical energies within the region--only a short distance away from them was a crackling and thundering tear in the fabric of reality. From within it countless energies of all types seemed to bleed, their colours pressing up against the walls of the reality they were trying so desperately to escape but impotently fizzling out mere seconds after crossing the barrier if they managed to cross it at all. It seemed that though the rift was not sealed, its unique magical composition did not allow for it to directly link whatever world lay beyond it and the Shard. Ahtziri spread her arms wide, gesturing towards it, before stepping forwards after having witnessed Malath's newest form come into being. She nodded her assent, and then pressed the tip of a single talon against it. At her touch it burst into life, crackling violently, the energies of the rift crackling and fizzling as they danced across her flesh. She turned to look at Malath, her three eyes beckoning him forth.
"These rifts are not uncommon. I know little about them, save their instability and surplus of energy, but I do know that there is magic behind this window into another world. I also know that we, as shapers of flesh and givers of life, can force this rift into a living being--a wandering behemoth that will nourish these lands and walk its own path of forms." Ahtziri's tone had taken on a certain edge, a determination that she had not previously possessed. She stared directly into the rift, not so much as glancing at Malath, as she pondered the nature of her words. Then, after only a second or two had passed, Ahtziri's form exploded in violet flames as she summoned forth her wellspring of divinity--an invitation.
Landing some distance away from her visage, Malath Kaal looked upon the tear. Though its distinct nature was hidden to him, it remained familiar in essence. Her words, however, were unexpected; a smile slipped its way onto his lips. Laughing, his new voice equal parts savage and sinuous in its resonance, that foremost Deity of Form decided en full that this was a worthwhile endeavor. So set upon his path, the God moved through its avatar: Hran'as Valkiri--the Pale's Semblance--and thus summoned his power entire into the world.
In a flash, the skies warped, purple streaks bending its very fabric in a pathway that followed the wake of arcing black that he had left behind. It touched Se'raa Kelet--his home, his heart--and from it erupted his quintessence. With his arms spread, nerves shot through the air in all directions, shrouded each in their own haze of prismatic lightning. The neural tissues wove slowly into patterns, binding to the rift, pulling from its power so that it might be born anew.
Gradually, that tear in the world...it began to shrink, and as it did, refractive flesh sprouted forth.
As the flesh bidden to come forth began to writhe and bind the energies of the chaotic rift, Ahtziri focused on her talons. She concentrated the power welling up within her there, the very tip of her claws now completely subsumed by a seething violet light that pulsed excess energy in rhythmic crackles around them. She waited for the rift to begin to grow smaller as it was shunted into flesh, until it was perhaps only fifteen feet in diameter, before she pressed her talons against it. With a quick, decisive stroke downwards she tore lines of amaranthine energy into it, at first separate but then quickly bleeding together, and she walked through it within the tear that she had created. She disappeared from view, but she did not actually enter the rift itself, her silhouette still clearly visible and outlined by the scintillating crackles of energy emblematic of chaotic magic. Then she placed her hand over her belly, and the byzantine flames of her magic erupted in a great sphere around them. It swallowed the mass of flesh and the rift entirely, then began to slowly shrink until an orb was all that remained within Ahtziri's womb. In this strange position between worlds the two of them were both visible simultaneously--the silhouette of the goddess and now of the life that was within her, ominously glowing.
Ahtziri waited for a brief moment, shaking on her feet with the strange sensation, but quickly regained her balance and then took Malath's hand in her own and pressed it against her now extremely pregnant belly.
"Ahh... you did well. Your new form is pleasing, but hardly suited to incubating a single life."
She smiled at him coyly before turning away, her wings suddenly moving to cover her body and sheathing her in a strangely dark aura, reminiscent of Malath's own energy earlier as he created this new form for himself. From beneath the wings her claws emerged, appendages curling and twisting, inviting him to come closer and share in her embrace.
"... you must choose its form, now. That honour should be yours."
From taloned digits to rounded fingernails did his fingers shift as they fell upon her skin. Meeting her gaze, he nodded, and then--without movement--he pushed.
Every set of eyes within several miles snapped shut, and a deep sense of serenity settled over the area. Any brewing storm grew calm and scattered, winds died down to gentle stillness, and nature ceased its endless game of survival. Pressure swelled around them, coiling in the air, and as if they were an inverted storm, chaos reigned therein. To match the tempest, the Eye of Malath phased at once into existence. Unlike all manifestations before it, there were three. They angled as if to make a pyramid, enclosing them in Malath Kaal's formless embrace.
The ground trembled beneath them; fissures tore downwards through dirt and stone and bedrock. Eager fungal roots bound them once more together, supping upon the power of their lord. From said surge of might, new trees erupted all around them, far greater in size than any which had come before them, except--of course--their cousins.
These Kel'a Maeori were born as Sages, unlike many of their kin, who would earn such in time. They towered above their lessers, their only equal swaying gently in the First Grove--his name pressed at once against their roots. Outwards from the concentric council of sages, other trees and flora did sprout, filling the locale with a vast expanding forest. Such was the overwhelming strength of his essence, birthing new life simply by existing.
Finally, the gate opened, and in a black flash, their unborn spawn was marked. The Unbent Lord withdrew his palm, fingers grazing flesh before they parted from her touch. He failed to meet her gaze, for Sa'a Malath Kaal had a code he would not break.
As Malath's hand was about to leave hers, Ahtziri suddenly gripped it like a vice--her talons slid through his supple flesh as she squeezed down, a peal of agony so earth-shatteringly loud coming from within her winged cocoon that even the great Sages around them were temporarily (albeit very briefly) knocked back by the force. The screams of pain continued to come, her free hand's talons sinking into her own palm, and laboured breathing reverberated throughout the region like a frantic heartbeat. The sound and pressure of it was almost deafening, Ahtziri's shrieks carrying far and wide across the land--until she stopped. She was left panting, clutching at herself, but finally prepared.
Baring his fangs, Hran'as Velkiri Malath Kaal bore the pain of Ahtziri's clutches as a great mass of off-white viscera was unleashed from her form. It slid downwards through the air, its movement as languid as its growth was swift. Pale chitinous plates violently erupted from its flesh as it grew, ten limbs sprouting all at once as it howled and shrieked its first moments in the world. Six of those spear-tipped limbs thrust downwards into the earth, holding it in place. It took its first stumbling step even as its savage skull rose far above the tallest Sage and unleashed a hollow creening call into the sky. It had five eyes, two to either side of its head and one at the center of its skull, constantly peering skyward, ahead, or behind. Its orbs were black as pitch, with cloudy white horizontal pupils, and as it howled at the void, its four-part mouth shuddered and clenched. As it lowered its head, so too did its four arms--each tipped with six taloned fingers--gouged down into the soil.
Its breathing labored, the gaps between the pale translucent plates of its flesh heaved and flexed, and so a great exhalation of pale haze was unleashed into the grove. In the strange light of that haze, its eyes glowed blue and violet--hinting at its heritage. Turning in a skittering, sinuous motion the colossal beast faced its parents, its tail scraping roughly against the thick bark of the many Sages that surrounded.
Malath Kaal smiled at their child and spoke its name aloud, his voice booming and vast once more.
"O' child of pale and monstrous flesh, I name thee..."
A bolt of black lightning struck upwards at the void.
Bathed in the approval of its father, Hraanas Svel'an--the Palewalker--roared its overflowing joy. From its maw and skin flowed a tremendous fog that was unleashed upon the land, spreading swiftly far and wide. Unaffected by the haze, Hraanas pressed closer and pushed its great insectoid muzzle gently against the cheek of its mother, crooning in its strange and haunting way.
"Ahh, my child..." Ahtziri crooned in return, her talons creating a tinkling sound as they grazed along her child's chitinous mandibles. In a swift burst of movement Ahtziri's wings unfurled all at once, feathers loosing themselves like onyx shards that cut through the preternatural paleness of the fog they found themselves in. They embedded themselves into the bark of the Sages, they bounced off of Hraanas, and they simply diverted their path to avoid Malath Kaal--after enough of them had been shed Ahtziri's body began to thrum and vibrate with energy, the lambent glow of her violaceous flames glinting and refracting throughout the hoary brume that had spread over the region. As the magic settled it began to merge with that fog, vibrant arrays of colours shimmering within--and then Hraanas' form was sheathed in the same hue of amaranthine that was Ahtziri's hallmark. It settled into the chitinous plates coating the beast, tinging them tyrian, and from deep within its manifold crevices six insectoid wings emerged and fanned out behind it. Mist began to leak from these appendages too, and as it did so a dazzling display of chromatic lights imposed themselves upon the air.
Ahtziri did not speak to Hraanas, instead making a series of arcane clicking and rubbing sounds. After she finished her child's mandibles buzzed and shifted in return before it ran off into the distance, spreading its fog all across the land and ensuring that it did not dissipate in any area of the huge swath of land now dubbed Hrana'as -- the Pale. The mists sank into and over the swamps to the east, mixing with their noxious fumes at the edge and charging them with the intense arcane energy suffused within--strange colours and mirages would now haunt the edges of the swamp, beckoning life further into the enigmatic depths of the Pale. Simultaneously the extant feathers crackled with iridescent energy, their sinewy cores pulsing and throbbing in tune with an unseen heartbeat, and in another flash of blinding light they were transformed into the first Kassaptu, otherwise known as Hags. When the light dissipated, the secondborn Kassaptu was revealed, and she cackled with the glee of life and sensation and awareness. She turned to her Mother and bowed, enormous wings sweeping low, and then to Malath Kaal where she repeated the gesture.
"I name you Sùga, child. Go now--gather your errant sisters, form your coven. Though the great Sages rule over these lands, with my and Malath's blessings--" Ahtziri began, turning to Malath to confirm his assent, "--you shall be their voice and their hand."
Bobbing his head once in assent, the God of Form rose further into the air, his pale-fleshed vessel glittering in the strange light of Hrana'as. When he crested above the first layer of clouds, he gazed down upon their land with his three-eyed gaze.
Taking a deep breath of the thin air of the domain of clouds, Hran'as Velkiri reached downwards with his will and pulled.
"Rise," he intoned, and the word scattered the clouds into mere wisps, which drifted in a brief, chaotic frenzy.
Far below Malath Kaal, below the Kel'a Maeori, beneath the fog, and into the deep reaches of the shard, the Ke'esath Sae'a pulsed in recognition.
Surging upwards with reaching fungal threads, they rose beyond stone and dirt and silt. Touching air, they writhed and danced and then entwined into numerous stalk-like strands. They appeared as milk-colored cone-shaped grass, waving gently in a non-existent wind. However, they were more than this, for, on a microscopic level, they waged a most insidious and frightful war as from their every stalk emerged ten-thousand spores. Yet, their purpose was different from their sires, for as they drifted in the air, new life blossomed from those unseen seeds. Feeding upon arcane and deific might, the new strain of fungus spread out far, yet it could not be truly touched or seen. Instead, its arcane feeding rendered them nigh intangible, their proof of presence naught but a faint fog-bound prismatic sheen.
Thus driven to reside within the Pale, they took to thriving amidst that fog-shrouded realm, and few would ever know of their presence.
Such was the way of things; this they accepted as divine.
Who knew, though, if such would hold with time.
Nonetheless the Ke’esa Mer would remain, be it in one form or another.
Head tilting at the shift, Malath Kaal cast his mind afar and sent his power across the shard--adrift. In moments he found his targets, and in an instant, they were changed and called. Yet none would know, 'cept the Eldest, that they'd been summoned anywhere at all. Smiling to himself, that Deity reappeared at Ahtziri's side, where he ran a finger across her cheek. This done, he met her eyes, and his own gaze was severe and strangely bleak.
"You must go," he said, but his aura refused even to explain. With those words spoken he turned and began to drift back from whence he'd come and his counterpart did the same in the opposite direction, their business concluded for now.
Ahtziri comes across Malath Kaal’s domain and is beckoned inside. The pair have a brief altercation before reconciling quickly, and set about bringing life to this area of the shard. They populate the area with fauna, they create a monster known as the Palewalker by binding a rift to flesh and using it to fuel the area, and Ahtziri creates the Kassaptu, raven-hag creatures with powerful magic and a disposition towards messing with mortals.
0 - Create Hrana’as
0 - Create the Palewalker
0 - Create the Kassaptu
0 - Create the Ke’esa Mer
0 - Create the Council of Sages
0 - Keep Hrana’as permanently charged with untold amounts of arcane magic, exposure to which can forcibly alter the form or have other strange and deleterious effects.
0 - Create the Palewalker
0 - Create the Kassaptu
0 - Create the Ke’esa Mer
0 - Create the Council of Sages
0 - Keep Hrana’as permanently charged with untold amounts of arcane magic, exposure to which can forcibly alter the form or have other strange and deleterious effects.