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6 mos ago
Current Boy, you're like a pizza cutter: all edge and no point.
3 likes
6 mos ago
I think I should write a pithy roleplay about how an expenditure of effort does not entitle you to your perception of an equivalent reward. Anyone know someone who'd be interested?
7 likes
2 yrs ago
Okay, let's be honest for a second here, if we stop the status bar from being edgy angst land it really doesn't have anything going for it except sheer autism.
2 likes
2 yrs ago
Does anyone know where you can get a white trilby embroidered with threatening messages? Asking for a friend.
3 likes
2 yrs ago
My genius truly knows no bounds. Only an intellect as glorious as mine can possibly G3T K1D.
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Behold the Terrorists of Valhalla:



Behold the Cavemen of Valhalla:

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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.

"...Hraanas Svel'an."

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.




Uwné, God of Crafting

&

Ahtziri’s Bizai’i Adventure: To Uwné!




“Move it! You can die when I let you!” Aelitia yelled at the huddled column of people. They looked haggard and beaten, but soon they would be safe. They just had to get through this night... and just this night it had to start storming. “You, move it!” Aelitia yelled again at someone who started straggling, and then the whole column of people froze in place as howls echoed through the night air.

Aelitia and her hunters didn’t freeze. They had heard those howls before. “What, do you all want to be monster food? Move it!” She yelled again. The people continued on as she drew an arrow from her quiver and held it in her other hand. Ready to have it drawn. Quite forcefully she pushed people along. There were only seven hunters. Not nearly enough to protect the fifty-something people.

A howl. A scream. Panic rippled across the group. From behind her people started to run through the mud. “Wolf!” Someone yelled. Aelitia started running towards the back of the group. Pushing people aside. She saw its eyes glowing in the dark.

“Uwné hear my plea
Maker of my bow and arrow
May their edge never falter
May my hand never fail”


She released the arrow at the end of her prayer. It’s silver head and shaft glowed a fiery red as it streaked through the dark night. It struck true. The beast’s fur ignited in a blaze. It yelped and shrieked as it started running away into the dark. One man passed her from behind her. She stopped him with one arm.

“We have to burn our dead!” He said. “Or they’ll never reach the after-“

Smack!

“Do you want all of your people to burn!?” Aelitia yelled at him. Her hand imprint was bright red on the man’s cheek. With a small cut where her silver ring hit the skin. “Because if you really want to die then at least do everyone a favor and hurl yourself at the wolf monsters! If you want them to live you listen to me. And I say you will fucking move!” She shoved him away again to walk.

It was already too late. More glowing eyes peered through the darkness. Aelitia raised her bow, a beautiful silvery weapon. Its limbs forged to look like overlapping, silvery lotus petals. She loosed her nocked arrow, silvery filaments of its light spilling out like cracks into the darkness, and as they unfurled like vines reaching for the morning sun they seared away the mangy scraps of gristle and fur that passed them by. As they spilled forth a temporary celestial luminance was created by their refulgence--casting light down upon the area like one of the stars they were modeled after and hanging like a beacon of safety for the haggard throng of humans moving as quickly as their feet would take them before the storm descended on them all.

From the distance, however, was a different kind of light: a searing, ominous amaranthine streaked its way across the night sky, stopping just in front of the hunters, back turned, and leaning down to the Abiktu that were suddenly no longer the ravening and snarling pack of mindless beasts of before, but lost pups reunited with their mother.

”You’ve eaten already? Then go, my children, feast elsewhere.” the voice was equal parts shrill and sensuous, grating to the ears of those not used to the whining and braying of monsters. She rubbed her clawed hands into the side of one of the Abiktu’s muzzles, gently cooing and making faces at it, as her serpentine tail snapped at the huntress and those behind her.

”My children have eaten tonight. I spare you as an act of atonement.” Ahtziri did not even turn to look at the humans behind her, instead continuing to play with the pack of wolf-things before her.

The Huntress – especially in recent times – had bitten her fair share of fear back. No matter the creature, the amount of its eyes or the length of its claws she would fight it without issue. That’s what hope did for her. Now her feet were nailed to the ground. Her body shook involuntarily. The overwhelming dread she felt now was as strong as the warmth she felt in her heart when she first saw those silver lotuses floating in that small pond. “Uwné hear my plea.” She muttered again, begging the mantra to still her heart.

Slowly one hand moved behind her back. Her faith was not yet broken. “Maker of my bow and arrow.” Carefully she grasped the feathers on an arrow and slowly pulled it. Hoping it would be quiet enough so this- by Uwné what could she call this thing in front of her? “May their edge-“ The words of faith felt stuck in her mouth as she took a careful step back. But she swallowed what blocked it. “May their edge never falter.” Her heart stilled. Steeled by a newfound faith. Her arm stopped shaking as she carefully placed the arrow upon the bow, with its notch against the strung. But she didn’t pull it.

Before Aelitia could so much as blink, Ahtziri was upon her with all of the grace and finesse a predator of her standing could be expected to possess. She caressed the huntress softly, tenderly, in a strangely sentimental (yet clearly devoid of maternal love) way, before moving her muzzle down to meet Aelitia's ear and gently flick the insides of her earlobe with her tongue as she spoke.

”Mortals have suddenly become quite interesting to me, you see..." Ahtziri spoke, her wings vibrating in a low, gentle thrum. She paused for a second to look up at the cloud-ridden sky, picking out its individual tones of greys and blacks and blues, before returning to her quarry with a strange nostalgia in her voice.

”You faced certain death just now and were offered clemency, but chose to remain... Why? Why not just run?"

The question was asked without prejudice, and as Ahtziri sidled her way back to where she was standing before she looked down at the little mortal hunter with genuine curiosity, almost as if for the first time. The baleful light within Ahtziri's eyes called out to Aelitia, pressing against her mind with the damp heat of clammy tongues and the relentless rhythm of panting--it demanded that she speak truly, without fear of consequence. If the command was followed, if she was compliant, no cruelty would befall her and no harm to her people: the promise of it was right there, like a burning jewel boring into her mind.

“I-I protect.” Aelitia stammered. She tried to see movement in the corner of her eye. Maybe just a shadow. Any indication that the others were gone. Away. Safe. She saw nothing, so she closed her eyes. “Keep things… away.” She continued as she tried to hear them move. Perhaps she could hear a charcoal twig break far away in the distance or the crack of an ashed shrub breaking apart. She heard nothing. A sob broke from her. The huntress spoke the truth but who could trust the word of a monster? The presence upon her mind felt vile and invasive. Her body was taken over by base, animalistic fear that told her to not move an inch. She felt a desperate need to cry. To give in, fully and completely.

“Uwné…” She whispered through the sobs that grew more violent. “…hear my plea.”

Her body shifted. Her leg moved. One arm pulled on the string. The arrow tip glowed frozen blue. The cold tingled upon her fingers. For a moment the length of a blink courage, bravery and acceptance blazed in her heart. Then it had failed again, and she failed to release the arrow.

”Hmm. Then a mother's mercy you shall be given. You call out for an Uwné--are they another divine? I should like to meet my kin, if so." Ahtziri brought a claw to pick at something between her teeth as she spoke, though it in no way impeded the clarity of her words. Her focus drifted until it settled on a reality apart from ours, suddenly lost in the fields of her memory, but the moment only lasted briefly before her full attention was snapped back to this protector of her kin. She looked expectantly, as if awaiting an answer, but made a strange growling sound in the back of her throat regardless, and a cascading chain of howls made their way across the land into the far distance.

"God of Archery, perhaps? Metallurgy? Stability?" Ahtziri asked, not actually giving time for any answers to be returned: she simply used the words as a sort of punctuation to fill the air while she waited for something to happen in the distant background. The clouds seemed to be beaten back by something flying through them, far off in the distance, though it'd need a God's vision like Ahtziri's to be able to see it.

"I am Ahtziri vur Chakravarti, the Mother of Monsters."

“He is…my God.” Aelitia said. Though she kept to herself how she believed this creature, this ‘Ahtziri’ could not be akin to him. She was darkness personified. Mother of Monsters, what horrid being calls herself that? Who admitted to birth such horrific things that killed and slaughtered people with such abandon? If only she had been stronger. Better. Braver. Then she would’ve released this arrow and slaughtered this pretender. It might have been the last thing she did but it would be worth it.

As it stood, she could only answer: “Uwné, God of Crafting.” And even though she stood so thoroughly frozen by fear, she felt a flicker of flame light up in her heart again as she uttered his name.

”Then we shall go to him, and I shall make myself known. The Abiktu will be here shortly; shh, fret not. They are my loyal children, and they shall do naught but hie you to your destination safely and sound." Ahtziri's voice raised in pitch to a gnashing, trilling coo as her children shot through the clouds, spearheaded by the ever-jovial Pazuzu.

"Mother! What are we doing? Are we helping the humans go somewhere?!"

"Yes, my love. Ride with the huntress here, let her direct you. Make sure no harm comes to her or her kin."

The two shared the exchange with a brief rub behind the great Abiktu's ears and a kiss upon its nose, and then Pazuzu flew down to Aelitia and stared at her with his tail wagging and his head tilted quizzically to the side. His form began to shrink and ripple, a gentle lilac glow briefly enveloping him, as he became something more similar in size to a horse that the huntress would be used to, and he beckoned her atop his back with a gentle ruff and a shake of his tail.

Slowly Aelitia placed the arrow back in her quiver and mounted the baffling creature.


“Land.” Aelitia bid the creature she was riding. It was a weird feeling. The fearing had vanished but her heart raced for other reasons as well. Flying had been exhilarating. From high above she could see everything. Her eyes weren’t used to the speed but still she saw her prey down there. Moving between the blackened trees. One time she felt her hand move towards her quiver again. But then she saw Ahtziri forgot about it.

Now they had arrived and Aelitia wondered for the first time if she hadn’t betrayed everyone instead. She led the self-proclaimed mother of Monsters to New Tellur. What would keep her from feasting upon the refugees that Aelitia herself had led there before? As they lowered Aelitia grabbed her bow tightly. It was death then. If she saw even a single wrong move, she would kill the thing she was riding now and then the mother of monsters. Or at least try.

Once they touched the ground Aelitia hopped off quickly. She had bid them to land beyond the camp. And a camp it was. She called it New Tellur but it was nothing more than a makeshift camp of metal tents. Made by golems from the shell of what Uwné had called a gift from a friend. She had yet to learn the full story.

A mass of people had gathered already. They kept their distance though. One man pushed through. He was tall and wore mostly grey armor. Though his arm seemed to be forged from red scales. He planted his blade-spear’s but in the ground and took off his unadorned helmet to reveal a scarred face. “Starborn.” He greeted Aelitia, before his eyes fell upon the two strange creatures. More grey-armored warriors moved through the people. All wielding spears, swords and shields. They looked ready for whatever could come next. Though as they laid eyes upon Ahtziri all of them took a few, involuntary steps back. “You brought visitors?” The man said, seemingly unaffected by the fearful aura.

Ahtziri glanced down at the man and his scale helmet, and for a second her eyes narrowed as if in the recognition of some great misdeed. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone. Ahtziri did not deign to extend the mortal before her a handshake, cooly appraising him from afar with a gaze that was equal parts precocious and indignant. She remained generally playful and affable in her mood when he began speaking, but was clearly not paying him too much attention deliberately, looking through him while curiously eyeing his reactions as he did.

”My kin and I have come to make ourselves known to this new divine."

She regarded the wreckage that the humans had cobbled together with one of her eyes, noting the little bits of artifice that let them stretch their limited resources as far as possible. She caught a few fearful and steely glances from the members in the distance, and others nearby almost delirious with the fear of her presence. She smirked a little smirk, just for herself, while she awaited the counsel of her kin.

“She is Ahtziri, mother of monsters.” Aelitia said as she slowly backed away from Pazuzu. With every step she felt the grip of fear fade. Fire burned in her chest again. Not just of bravery. It was hate. She clenched her teeth as her hand moved towards her quiver hanging off her hip. Caine and his kin would help her. She could take the thing she rode upon. He could take the pretender.

Caine’s eyes narrowed as he heard her title. For a second he locked his with those of Aelitia. One shared glance was enough as he put his helmet back on. With a smooth move he grabbed his spear and turned it upside down. Pointing the tip of the blade at the ground. The people began to pull back. Some of the grey-armored warriors took a step forward. More appeared. One moved closer than most, wielding two swords also pointed at the ground.

“Forgive me, forgive me.” A voice came from the sea of people. But as soon as they heard it, they all knelt down and bowed their head. Aelitia, Caine and the other warriors remained standing. An old man passed through the parted sea of people to finally reach the standoff. “I wasn’t expecting such important company.” He said as he finally looked up towards Ahtziri. “Please, friends, please. Let us lower our weapons and welcome the goddess with dignity.”

For a second none of the fighters moved. Until Aelitia lowered her bow and knelt deeply. Soon all of the grey-armored knights were kneeling in towards the old man as well. “I am Uwné. God of Crafting and I bid you welcome, Mother of Monsters.” The god said with a beaming smile.

Ahtiri returned the Artisan God’s smile with one of her own, decidedly less pleasing to look at than his but in no way less genuine. She bid the others rise with a motion of her hand and then stretched it out gently to offer her divine kin a more personalised greeting.

”Ah, I see… Yes, this would explain the skill of the weaponry’s make. I am come to claim new lands for the family of Chakravarti, but it appears that you and your people have already laid claim to these warrens. You are a master provisioner, then..?”

And suddenly her tone was more friendly, cordial even--gone was the dismissive air and the sanity-wrenching aura, eclipsed by simple divinity: the kind of energy that is only produced when two deities occupied a similar space. Ahtziri took a wisp of it in her hand and it squirmed around for a moment, desperately trying to escape, before a flood of amaranthine washed over it and it became a monster’s tooth suspending from a necklace. She handed it over to Aelitia, the huntress, and offered her a smile of daggers:

”So long as you do not lose what is precious to you--your faith and your compassion--you could gain quite the boost of power by cavorting with that which is monstrous within you. Wear this charm, embrace the darker instincts that lay dormant within; temper its darkness with Uwné’s light and you shall find yourself capable of protecting your people.”

It was a trifle, really, to Ahtziri--barely even a fragment of effort went into its creation, but her last interaction with a god had gone… unpleasantly. She had decided to try and play this one with what perverse charisma she possessed, to make allies of these castaways and see if they could not be persuaded to join her or (at least be useful to her family). She turned her gaze back to her peer after a moment, smile gently resting upon her presently wolf-like snout.

Uwné had watched the act of gifting with great curiosity. Aelitia, for her part, did not deny the gift but she only held it in her hand for now. There was still some lingering, frightful tension in the air but the god decided to cut through that swiftly: “Come, come! You must be weary. Let us retire to…well I suppose you could call it my workshop.”

He led Ahtziri and her child through the mass of people that once again parted like a sea. Though they kept quite a bit of distance from the mother of monsters especially. The ground went up a little until they reached the so-called workshop. The Anvil-Altar of the World stood proud but cold watching from the cliff over the ever growing ocean. Around it were simple, clay pots of various sizes. Some held small saplings. Others bushes or flowers. They all seemingly circled around the solid, black marble table with several chairs around it. The whole itself was surrounded by a pool with a small bridge, within which the star lotuses floated peacefully.

Upon the table rested four, gold-veined cups and a silver-veined teapot. “I gleaned from the mortals that this was once a common way of meeting. I only saw it proper to replicate it. Please, sit.” He said as he motioned towards the chairs. He himself darted towards one of the plants. With a deft hand he picked one of the flowers that had a tall stem and carried it back towards the table where he placed it in the pot, which already contained some softly steaming water. “I must say this is the first time I’ve heard about a family of what I assume are other gods. You have to tell me about them!” Uwné said as he finally sat down in his own chair.

Ahtziri sat as she was bidden, her tail swishing about behind her while Pazuzu sat panting to her right side. He would occasionally reach for a scratch behind the ear or under his muzzle, Ahtziri's talons naturally smoothing themselves out into the motions while she spoke.

"Ah, well, truthfully my own interactions have been scant but... fierce. The first of our kin I met and we tried to kill one another, and the second of our kin I met married and found out was married to the god that had tried to kill me. It has been eventful." In spite of the tone of the topics Ahtziri's voice was relaxed, even nonchalant. She was strangely at ease, even affable and pleasant, and she made a number of casual observations as she looked around, things to the tone of "The place looks lovely," or "The calibre of your craftsmanship is evident, even here." while she awaited further lines of inquiry. A second or two into her search for something her eyes settled upon the anvil and her curiosity was piqued--something about it drew her eye in a way she couldn't quite explain.

"What's that, if I may?" she asked, her tail pointing towards the anvil with a gentle hiss of its tongue.

“That is Gallath, the World-Anvil, Quake-Tamer and Ocean-Binder.” Uwné said, beaming with pride. He knew what the goddess was talking about without even looking to where her tail had pointed. “My first tool and the most useful one. I’ve quieted the immediate area with it and bound the water to the edge of this Shard. So it may grow into a life-giving ocean.” He continued on as he lifted the teapot and filled three cups with the yasmin and honey smelling tea. Two cups he placed before Ahtziri and one he took for himself.

He leaned forward now as he said: “I’m assuming then that you married this Chakravarti. Tell me, what kind of a god is he?”

"Ahh, my love is both male and female; they are the god of families, and I their prime concubine. Lonn, my first, is the God of Mortals--and also Prime Consort of Chakravarti. My love mentioned another, briefly, a Celvanya--though I know little of her, truthfully. I am yet to meet the others… You must be quite the crafter, then, if that is the kind of tool that you can make for the purpose of making other tools.” A smile crept its way across the monstrous Goddess’ features as she recounted Chakravarti, as if a tiny ray of sunshine had suddenly come to illuminate her and no others. Then she was inquisitive again, and a coy deviousness crept over her affable gleam.

"So what plans have you? Create a sanctuary for these mortals, perhaps… build a civilisation? Do you have a family to start, a legacy to create? I am curious as to what those in our position do with the prospect of eternity looming ‘fore us.” Ahtziri took sips of the steaming liquid in between her words, weighing the flavours in her mouth before she spoke them into the world. Pazuzu sniffed at the liquid but did not otherwise react, content to bask in the affection of his mother and ignore (for the most part) his surroundings.

Uwné’s eyes turned towards the people working down the elevation. “A civilization… Yes I suppose that is part of my duty now.” He spoke with pride swelling in his chest. Then his attention shifted back to Ahtziri. “As for a family… perhaps. Not right now though. No, not right now. There’s too much to do.”

“And as for legacies-” Uwné turned around the cup he was holding to show the mother-goddess the depiction upon it. It looked like something that might have been a god. Or a saint, a demi-god, or something else entirely. “This is a legacy of those who came before us. It also means they’re gone. I don’t intend to leave.”

And then he saw little Pazuzu not drinking. “Oh dear. Is it too sweet, little one?” Uwné immediately asked, quite worried that his creation fell short.

"Oh, I don’t know! I haven’t tried it yet…” Pazuzu remarked back, totally oblivious to the fact that he had just been prompted to drink what had been offered to him. He smiled at Uwné (again, insofar as his kind could smile) for a solid ten seconds before Ahtziri picked the steaming mug up and poured it into the Abiktu’s awaiting muzzle. He swallowed the whole thing in a single gulp, letting out a happy howl as he did, and wagged his tails as he returned to being scritched by his mother.

”Leaving is not always a choice, not if deicide is a possibility--and I assure you, it is.” Ahtziri mused, a knowing glint in her eyes.

”But I doubt such things will come to pass without a strong consensus or stronger reason: we all want the success of this Shard, for without it we have nothing to be gods of. In that vein, I have a query for you: my son, Ossurman the First, shall one day rule over a sprawling empire--I wonder if I could commission from you a set of imperial regalia, to be worn by the ruling house..?” Ahtziri’s tone was just as nonchalant as before, but her posture was opened up as she asked the favour of the god across from her. She was still not appealing, per se, but the relaxation and lack of implied threat was quite close to her grace as many would come.

“But of course!” Uwné exclaimed. “It would be my honor. Though I hope you wouldn’t be offended if I said that there are other things I must tend to first. This little piece of this world here must be given an abundance of life and I have yet to craft all the plants that will come to exist here. Once the Shard has stabilized and it is time to rebuild though, then I shall have forged the Regalia first thing!” He would, of course, have to meet Ossurman first. A Regalia forged by a god could not just be made on a whim. It would be important to see what the little Emperor would hold dear to himself and what values he intends to embody.”

”Ah, wonderful!” Ahtziri exclaimed as Uwné agreed to her proposition: the thought of being able to provide a gift of deific quality for her son to enjoy was something truly ecstatic. With a beam of bright, genuine joy she listened to the rest of what her fellow had to say, listening carefully to his conditions and concerns.

”But of course, yes--Ossurman is only a babe as of now, anyway. By the time he is to be fitted for his regalia, well, it is plenty of time away. Perhaps I can aid you in both of your endeavours… a child of mine, known as the Bizai’i, currently digests rocks far beneath the surface. I could have it coil ‘neath this nascent sanctuary of yours, and it shall create ores for you and yours to mine not too far below the surface! The twisting of monstrous flesh is one of my gifts, so if there are new ores that it cannot currently mine, pray inform me and I shall adapt it to be able to provide such sustenance for you and yours. That said, there is a condition: the Bizai’i must be kept sleeping when it is not feeding upon the earth, or it may cause seismic damage to your sanctuary. So long as you keep it pacified and keep it fed, it will be a great boon.” Ahtziri’s smile did not dampen as she spoke, and the offer was one borne of impulsive gratitude--something that, she would come to realise in the future, would not happen very often at all.

The two talked about the fate of the Shard, Chakravarti (the God of Family), and their far off lands. The newly-made sun was dipping low when eventually Ahtziri decided to take her leave with Pazuzu and send the rest home content with their full bellies and mother’s love. Uwné gave her the cup as she left, as a parting gift.




&





Ahtziri's journey had taken her to the north-east, and she had made no small amount of progress during her time spent travelling. She had given birth to uncountable packs of the Abiktu along the way, populating the areas that seemed to be most devoid of the presence of monsters--and she had slaughtered no small amount of mortals that had attempted to attack her newborn children. Her experience with the transient mortals of this place had, thus far, been largely the same--they would see something that was not like them, judge it a threat to their existence, and attempt to wipe it out without concern for the fact that they were mere children. Ahtziri's mind still swirled and swam with the rage of it, her blood quickened and burning hot beneath her skin, and her normally yellowed eyes had been almost entirely overtaken by the crimson hue of wrath. She flew through the sky at almost incomprehensible speeds, honing her senses to pick out any enclaves of surviving mortals, and blissfully had not come across any in a while since her initial spate of killings. Before she knew it the landscape had given way to sandy hillocks and sparse brush. Some amount of her rage was forgotten at the sight of it, the clearly unnatural terraforming that had taken place having dizzying implications in her mind.

She pressed a hand onto her distended, pregnant belly almost by instinct, as her mind considered the possibilities that such a place offered her. There were others of her ilk, then, if such feats of creation were possible--she had only encountered the land in its barren, apocalyptic state thus far. She knew then the gravity of the situation that was about to unfold before her: with others possessed of her power but differing motivations and proclivities there would be constant conflict and constant change. But how many others could there possibly be? She'd seen no signs of any intervention in her travels that she could recognise, but perhaps she did not know what to look for. Distracted by the thoughts as she was, she did not recognise the sounds of combat until she was already close enough that they could spot her if they simply looked upwards. She looked down, focusing her sight on the details of the engagement, and found an all-too-familiar sight: a skirmish between mortals girded with naught but crude weaponry and ambition, and a couple of creatures she was unfamiliar with. The creatures looked like panthers, except instead of fur they were covered in quills, and three of them were squaring off against five humans, one of which was a child huddled in the back and surrounded by the adults.

No thoughts entered the Mother of Monsters' mind, and the red mist descended upon her in an instant. Before she knew it she had landed on the earth with an almighty crash, claws bared, and she let out a screech of rage that caused the ground to vibrate beneath her. The humans and the panthers each turned to her, surprised by the intervention of another party, and a stillness descended over the situation as they each prepared to make a stand.

Lonn had been watching with some interest at the petty skirmish for a while by then, not yet quite willing to step in. More and more as of late he had found himself coming face to face with monstrosities and had seen their handiwork more than a few times. From what he had noticed, they were very much unlike the assorted creatures he had seen at the very onset of his birth. They were stranger, more specific to mortals, as if they had been made by hand to be a foil to men. So he had watched with great curiosity, following in the wake of destruction many made, occasionally saving the humans that were in danger or simply watching to see what occurred. After all, that struggle was part of what made humanity just so damn alluring. What arrived was far from what he expected.

When the monstrous divine arrived Lonn was stunned; he had met with a number of deities and even a demi-god and so far they had proven mostly palatable. Though he was no pretty face himself, Lonn could honestly say he’d never seen anything quite like that in his admittedly brief life. From his eyes the Mother of Monsters was every part a perversion, looking more broken than anything else. Though he couldn’t quite feel disgust, he certainly couldn’t feel attraction; as such, any allure that the creature’s odd body might have was lost on him. In an instant, however, he knew her to be entirely divine.

That meant trouble.

Lonn ground his perfect teeth as the three sides now presented for a fight, cogs biting at each other in his head as he attempted to decipher the best path. Up until now he had taken an openly friendly stance towards other gods, to ingratiate and befriend as many as possible, but this certainly was an example of something far worse. It was clear whatever it was had no love lost for mortals and that in of itself presented a number of problems to his goals. With his characteristic smile completely shed from his face and replaced with a scowl and a grimace, Lonn shouted out down the hill where he was posted to interrupt the monster’s plans.

”What in half-a-dozen hells do you think you’re doing?”

Ahtziri turned her head to meet the gaze of whatever had called out to her, eyes seething with rage, before softening slightly at the sight of something she instinctively knew to be her kin. Another divinity, in the flesh, standing before her for the first time. She steeled her gaze and focused her mind, willing her chest to stop heaving with the barely-restrained fury currently dominating her body--but it proved a more troublesome foe to vanquish than she had anticipated, and she could not keep the edge of hostility from her voice.

"They are about to slaughter my children! Since I awakened, that is all these misbegotten creatures have done--slaughter anything that looks dangerous, anything that looks different!" she snarled in response, her breaths shallow and heavy. Her claws flexed, casting a wicked glint as motes of light reflected from them, and the serpentine head of her tail snapped its teeth in the direction of the humans before also turning itself towards the new deity.

In an instant, the mortals were forgotten. Ahtziri knew that she could kill each and every one of them before they could so much as think about harming the monsters before them, but this new divinity posed a threat that she could not ignore. If she could kill them before they could so much as think, it stood to reason that another being possessed of her power could do quite the same to her own children. If she struck preemptively, what was to stop this new figure from doing the same? Could she stop him before he did? If she could, could he stop her before she did? The thoughts slipped atop one another in her mind, failing to make any purchase on the landscape of her consciousness, and she stepped forwards again towards Lonn. The humans made a sudden gesture to brace themselves, but Ahtziri did not even notice that they had moved in the slightest: all of her rage, in that moment, was focused upon whatever would step in the way of her protecting her children.

"How can I remain passive? How can I wait for them to strike first as they have done so before, every single time, without fail?!"

With each exhortation her voice grew in volume, each syllable stoking a coal of embers within her chest that was very close to becoming a fire that would consume her entirely if she let it. Each step forward she took towards the interloper shook the unstable earth below them, each footfall a bellows to that smouldering rage. Her resolve not to simply strike them down wore ever-thinner with each second, but concern for the consequences of her brashness stayed the worst of her impulses--but the growing heat was, she could tell, getting the best of her. It was only a matter of time.

Lonn was absolutely taken aback by the almost immediate, intensifying response given by his adversary. In an instant she had turned all that rage and fury directly onto him, heedless of what consequences such a destructive meeting might have. His eyes flashed briefly to the mob of creatures, the humans themselves desperately looking for any chance to escape. Though he didn’t necessarily care for their individual suffering, a certain level of pride had entered the situation; who was this creature to decide men should die when her spawn should live? Even more galling was her absolute refusal to consider Lonn’s needs! Where would Lonn be if she went and killed all of mankind? Not to mention, her reasoning was absolutely insane; he had seen, personally, that her so-called “children” were not in any way blameless.

”Now I’m not one for calling someone a liar, but that one is just blatant,” sneered the glowing-red god, ”Not only are your ‘children’ the ones hunting men, but did you ever stop to think why a starving, weakened mortal ever seek to start a fight with one? They are dying in their droves and you castigate them for protecting their own children! Look! There’s one, right there!” Lonn thrust an outstretched hand towards the family, directly pointing at the child cowering in terror.

Ahtziri's gaze turned from furious to bewildered in an instant, and then offended, and then back to furious.

"How dare you?! Children are innocent, yet to consume the poisonous lessons of mortality--I would never harm a child!" the intensity of the response was staggering, her enunciation and vigor such that her mouth began to foam with the seething rage boiling within her. Her claws clenched into fists, her jaw clenched as her teeth ground against one another, and a rising growl forced its way out of her throat with such ferocity that her body vibrated from the exertion. She turned away from the mouthy god across from her towards the humans and their child. She stepped towards them and then abruptly turned towards the monsters that had been threatening them--beneath her gaze they immediately retreated, their postures suddenly bereft of any hint of aggression and their attention raptly focused on her. She knelt down towards them, gesturing for them to come in close, and she placed a single kiss upon each of their heads. Immediately afterwards they turned and fled into the distant night, running as quickly as their too-many limbs would take them, and Ahtziri turned back to the god of, apparently, mouthiness.

"They act according to their instincts. They do not have the capacity for reason--but these mortals do, and they have chosen to use it to attack my children. I admit, not every instance was instigated by these humans--but most of the ones that I have seen were, and my vengeance was appropriate. With what authority on this matter do you speak?!" and then all of the fire and fury was back, her attention solely directed on the crimson god and his oddly perfect teeth.

”So do men! They have just as much choice in what they do as your beloved children! And what do you mean, vengeance!? Have you been cavorting about, killing folk who had not even a hare’s chance in hell to fight back!?” It was obvious Lonn was starting to match the Mother of Monsters’ in his intensity, eyes flaring. In an instant, however, he seemed to cool; red, hot coals for eyes still burned bright but his posture took on an entirely different shade. Though he held a clearly bellicose stance, a shift in positioning lowered the clear aggression as his gaze dodged about Ahtziri, desperately clawing for more mortal-esque behaviors he could more easily manipulate. Though he had very little to work with, Lonn was cunning first and foremost.

”My authority is as their parent. I am in each and every one of their hearts and I know them inside out, from head to toe. You have been butchering defenseless children since the day you first opened your eyes on this earth; you are man’s worst impulses made manifest. You are worse than them.”

And then the rage was gone from her face again, her corded muscles untensed and her eyes relaxed. Suddenly her voice was very small, barely a reverent whisper, and she looked upon the misshapen husks of flesh known as mortals before her with a spark of pity in her eyes.

"I could not stand for my children to die here…” she began, waving a hand at the nearby mortals in dismissal. "Yours should see this encounter through, too. Go.”

She spared no further thought towards the beneficiaries of her clemency, instead choosing to focus on the more apropos target of her rage. The fire did not return quite so quickly as before, but the more her eyes bored into his the more it rose up within her until she could contain it no longer and a heavy snarl forced its way through her clenched, imperfect teeth.

"I endowed one of my children with intellect, you know? I made him capable of thought, and of speech. He did not use that gift to seek out the mortals who’d hunted him down in the first place, he was simply so grateful and so filled with adoration that he took me to his brethren so they, too, might know a mother’s love. Your children are born into this world knowing that love, and still they choose the darkest paths available to them--ignorance and fear are their kingdom, and you their king! You dare chastise our nature and excuse theirs? Yours?!

Ahtziri’s claws grew wickedly long as she spoke, her wings spread ever-wider, the machine of her body rippling and huffing with the wrath soaking into every part of her being. She did not strike, but nor did she back down--and her patience for Lonn slipped like so many grains of sand through an hourglass.

Lonn’s sneer returned in full swing, only the slightest hint of his perfect teeth visible behind a clear and very apparent grimace. Despite his attempts otherwise, whatever was seated in reality in the creature that just barely counted as his peer fled before the onrush of hypocrisy. He would almost felt pity for her if it weren’t for the rampant levels of disdain. Before her he had never once even thought of hating the monsters that prowled the world, only seeing them as another challenge for men to overcome or fail to; now, having met their mother, he was beginning to feel a bit different. While still maintaining his somewhat defensive posture, Lonn stretched and outward and caught the lance of red lightning that burst into a line from the point of his hand. It crackled viciously as the red glow of that God of Mortals hummed and thrummed with life all its own, scorching a black scar into the ground below as the energy jumped from lance tip to earth. One last attempt, he promised himself, to try and handle this in a more subtle way. Only one, though.

Love? Men don’t know love; they seek it, crave it even, but it is stolen from them at birth. Do you know how many suffer that loss? How many children lose their parents, or vice versa? You should, as I wager you’ve taken your fair share of them. They are gifted with the will to act on opportunity, not the freedom to make any and all choices. They choose the paths they choose because that is the world that was made for them; mortals are no different from your precious spawn but for how they look. Their bellies ache when they’re hungry, their skin bites at them when they’re cold, and their hearts tear at them when they feel loss.” By then Lonn had dropped any pretense, clearly at the limits of his prodigious ability to hide his true feelings. His eyes pierced Ahtziri like the sharpest of blades, her monstrous hypocrisy impossible to ignore and wounded him so that it colored every word of his retort, “You just can’t stop lying to yourself, can you? If you weren’t such a damned hypocrite you’d see right through yourself and your high tower of lies. Fact is, men and monsters are exactly the same; I know, I’ve seen both their hearts.”

"Then are we not fated, as their stewards, to play out our roles? To inhabit this world that our actions have built and act on the opportunity we have been given...?"

Ahtziri's tone lost its fiery edge, tempered in a deluge of icy conviction. No longer was she furious beyond reason, the world seething red like a sanguinary pallour. A calm had overtaken her, her ire sharpened and cooled into a steely edge of determination--red gave way to the baleful light of purple, her form sheathed in forebodingly gleaming purpose. The air around her seemed to darken, her silhouette drawing more and more of the light from her surroundings until she was a byzantine streak against a void of black. She stood in opposition against Lonn, though calmly--she acted in that moment as though the heaving, snarling fury that had dominated her not moments ago was irrelevant to the point of forgetfulness. There was an unspoken challenge; no longer defiant, no longer beyond reason. All of that was gone, replaced with this resolve to act. To demonstrate, to bring into being and manifest through action and not word--a seizing of a moment that had been offered, but in her own way.

"Then must I not see the heart of man for myself, to know?"

Lonn’s eyes locked on Ahtziri and closed to smoldering red slits, all sense of humanity usually presented by him dashed. There was no question that any attempt at turning things to peaceful ends had failed. The body language of the goddess was unmistakable. The tip of his crackling lance lowered to point generally towards Ahtziri’s heart though Lonn had no intention of making the first blow. When he spoke of Ahtziri’s death, he would do so honestly; the beast hadn’t seen reason, despite every attempt on his end. Most of all, Ahtziri’s poorly veiled words did not fall on deaf ears; to Lonn her meaning was clear as day.

”Yours first.” came the laconic threat, spat from Lonn with not a drop of insincerity.

Ahtziri's very being was calm. Still. In that moment her focus was serene, utterly consumed by the purpose she had given herself. Whatever came before and whatever was to come after no longer mattered, falling away like a caul dissolving over the eyes--there was only this moment in time. Her movement was lightning-swift, propelled dually by the inhuman might of her physical form and the additional force of her wings. Teeth bared, claws honed to steely points; she was the weapon in that moment, her focus aided by a primal insight into the shape of her flesh that mortals often forsook in the name of civilisation. She came at him head-on, with no particular direction or points of attack in mind; she would react to his movements to determine where her attacks would target and how she would move. Her monstrous, serpentine tail also moved independently of its own accord, holding slightly back and to her right as she moved towards him. The sheath of energy began to bristle and intensify as she got closer in proximity to Lonn, equally ready to crackle and lash out against him. A ferocious snarl coiled within the lower reaches of her throat, building in intensity and making itself known with a low, thrumming hiss.

In a flash Ahtziri had closed the distance on her rival, truly godly speeds making her rush all the more impressive. It was obvious how easily the Mother of Monsters must have dispatched all the mortals she had found, made readily apparent by the might presented in the moment. Against any mortal or some creature ken to a god, Ahtziri would’ve been a whirlwind. Alas, she had not yet known other gods and she clearly underestimated her opponent; the God of Mortals did not have that failing.

With speeds belied by his mortal-appearing frame, Lonn did not only react but moved to secure the initiative. A bare foot, caked with soot and muck to the point of being nearly unrecognizable, slammed heel-first into the rock before him. The kinetic energy produced shattered Lonn’s fleshy leg, meat and bone exploding into nothing but red mist and white powder in a fraction of a second. Where the heel struck stone the world erupted, a massive cloud of dense fragmentation and shrapnel vomiting from the contact point. With balance set and perfect posture taken, Lonn’s cocked arm launched forward to hurl the electrified carmine lance of violence made manifest. In the instant where the projectile left his fingers, the stored energy drawn with it destroyed Lonn’s throwing arm in a similarly brutal fashion to his leg. Moments later and Lonn detonated with a spiteful roar, a bolt of red hurtling into the sky like lightning, coursing through the sky over the lance at similarly breakneck speeds. The lance itself scorched through the air with such speed and ferocity that it would’ve been barely visible to men, no different to the eyes of mortals than that of the sky opening up with all its fury. It burst out from the cloud with only Ahtziri able to track its path, baleful red glow a promise of the pain to come.

Were she a flurry of animalistic fury intent only upon loosing her savagery upon a target, the lance would've hit its target sure and true--but Ahtziri had left all of the fury behind her, and what her focus became was something eerily similar to the true essence of Lonn that had been revealed with the barest fragments of his fury. Mortalkind's worst feature was, without a shadow of a doubt, the cool edge of reason that honed animal instincts to fine points, sharp enough to pierce the natural law of the world. The best in them was a force truly to be reckoned with; just, benevolent, brighter than even the gods shone in the sky. A fragment of what had made the paradise their home used to be the wonder beyond wonders that it was lived on at mortalkind's highest peaks. Just as things could arc highly, so too must they have equal capacity to fall--and in that descent the keen edge of mortal spirit lit the darkest paths one could take with a compelling refulgence, and man was wont to follow its glow until they lost themselves and became what she was. Monstrous. She, too, had arced towards a parabola in that moment--her entire being soared so closely to that turning point that in a darker sort of light she could almost press against the glass and look mortality in the eye. A scarlet flash seared that gleam of ruinous nostalgia into her mind as her body twisted and wrenched itself in the air, becoming airborne and twisting herself underneath the lance as she rotated 180 degrees.

The force of the movement from her wings kicked up against the storm of shrapnel and halted most of it midair, the rest becoming too slow to impact her form with enough force to matter. Then, from above, a strike she had not seen coming; the bolt of crimson lightning from above directly struck her underside, cleaving into the sheath of purple flame that cooly danced on her bare flesh and setting it alight with the sheer force of it. Though the initial impact she had compensated for with her buffer, the rest of the attack soon followed through with horrendous force, slamming her directly down into the ground with a sickening crunch and a tremendous screech of pain.

The bolt of light that was Lonn ossified into flesh and bone once more, sans the organic matter sheathing his right arm and left leg. In their place were semi-metallic facsimiles of human bones, black and red in hue and indescribable in their make. The tattered remains of flesh hung at where they jutted from annihilated stumps, freed from the trappings of mortality. For only the briefest moment Lonn crouched with both feet firmly planted on Ahtziri’s back, crushing her into the earth and rendering the stone beneath them to rubble. Though the explosion was deafening, even before the moment had the briefest second to settle Lonn was struck in the gut, turning his insides to pulp. The man-god was hurled from her back with contemptuous ease and despite the wounds dealt, the Mother of Monsters rapidly twisted and leapt after him.

Lonn glared at her in the brief flash before contact was made again, his form hurtling through the air as she rapidly closed the distance. The moment of separation passed and she was upon him, lunging at his face with monstrous claws bared. Just as Lonn’s back slammed into the boulder behind him, shattering an entire side of the thing with the force of his impact, Ahtziri struck. Talons raked across his face, making short work of the skin and muscle and fat that clung there. Even eyes were torn free, ripped from their sockets and sent flying in the opposite direction as a spray of viscera. Beneath that lie, the mask of mortality Lonn wore, the metallic-skulled features grinned back with deathly intent. Perfect teeth, unmarred in their entirety by the violence, gleamed within the confines of a pitted black, metal skull. The deep holes that once held eyes seared Ahtziri’s vision as they returned to life, surging with the deepest red light imaginable.

Powerful hands, one of flesh and one of metal, dug fingers painfully into Ahtziri’s sides before her talons could return to their brutal work. Lonn rotated in an oddly inhuman motion underneath the bestial woman before kicking off and tossing Ahtziri from his previously prone position. Moving with monstrous reaction times, Ahtziri immediately pounced right back for him before noticing a carmine glow just outside her view. In an instant Lonn’s arms raised above his head crashed down with the force of an asteroid, carrying with them a burning red maul of ferociously crackling energy. The gada struck Ahtziri on the pate of her skull, sending her face first into the shattered ground beneath while violently evaporating in a cascade of red light. Another explosion erupted from the surface as a cloud of obliterated stone showered the world around them, Ahtziri striking the ground only to bounce back up from the force. In came Lonn’s kick with his still fleshed right leg, shattering blood and bone in an instant as he launched Ahtziri away from him. Before she could react, Lonn plucked the goddess’ tail in two hands, rotated on his heels, and swung her above him in an arc right back into the hole she had previously put him in. An entire portion of her back erupted into gore, obliterated in the world-shattering impact. The crash was deafening, leaving a crater of serious dimensions as the fight only increased in intensity.

As the shredded meat, sinew, and bone that had once composed most of her back erupted from her body, it sizzled with the sheer heat and fizzled into nothingness before Ahtziri's monstrous regeneration could knit it together. Ahtziri released a shriek of pain as the pain receptors in her body finally caught up with what had happened to her, and instead of blood spraying itself across what remained of the ground beneath her an amaranthine ichor seeped out in sinewy strands and filled out the empty space where her organs and her meat had once been, crackling all the while. As her lungs were repaired and her vital organs set back into their proper place and function she inhaled a colossal lungful of air and let out a screech of agony that thrummed along the physical axes of the world and threatened to crumble them from within--even a hundred miles away, it would cause any humans that heard it immense pain. The force of it blasted Ahtziri back out of the hole she was in, and pushed Lonn back enough that his footing slipped on the unstable ground just beneath him and his momentum began to carry him back. Ahtziri's serpentine tail clamped its rows of teeth into the metallic skeleton that was his more honest form, hissing and crunching as they slightly crumpled the metal inwards to gain purchase, and Ahtziri used his momentum along with a powerful thrust of her newly regenerated wings, slamming him into the ground and sending a volley of amethyst arcs of arcing and crackling energy through his facsimile of flesh and into the splintered and heaving rock.

With another blast of her wings the Mother of Monsters was upon Lonn, chasing those arcs of energy into the ground, and as she barreled into Lonn the ground beneath them suddenly gave way, hollow and riddled with still-fizzing pockmarks, and the two were falling down into the earth below beneath an avalanche of dust and rubble collapsing in atop them. Ahtziri's talons found their marks once more, clanging and scraping against the metallic core of the God of Mortals, as his errant flesh began to swell and bloat and writhe of its own command, molting away from him, and Ahtziri plunged her monstrous jaws forward, opened impossibly wide, and swallowed the lot whole as she clamped down upon Lonn's truer self and wrenched her jaws closed as the ground grew ever-closer beneath them.

Lonn was a mess of silvery pockmarks and deep gouges, the flesh that made up his false identity now utterly and entirely gone. What remained was a more honest representation of men, as they sought to replace themselves with artificiality. Regardless of the metaphorical implications of his form, Lonn and Ahtziri plummeted towards the ground at breakneck speeds while the Mother of Monsters devoured what was left of his flesh, leaving the machine-like skeleton to glower back at her during their rapid descent. Despite the not inconsiderable damage dealt to his hide, the God of Mortals was not even close to surrender. In the fraction of time between the blink of an eye Lonn’s hands launched at Ahtziri, right hand plunging a thumb deep into her left eye while fingers from the other dug into the flesh of her neck. With meteoric speed the skeletal deity thrust his metallic skull into Ahtziri’s face, crushing meat and bone with disgusting ease. In her moment of discombobulation Lonn struck with his feet, thrusting her from him as her claws dragged out hunks of metal from his form.

As both divines hurtled to opposite sides of the crater, Lonn rotated on himself to crash into the ground below, falling near-instantly into a squat. A lightning flash later and he exploded from the earthen wall of his own making, shattering it as he threw himself as the projectile. He reached Ahtziri just as she reached her own stretch of crater, crashing into her and slamming her deep into the earth. The goddess’ stomach erupted into gore and viscera while Lonn roared his fury, metal fingers ripping two slabs of bedrock from their crust to smash Ahtziri’s face to splinters. The clamour of his furious shout broke the sound barrier just as the ruined goddess pushed him free of her, only for Lonn to grind to a halt on the descending wall of the crater. Even as Ahtziri leapt from her repose, body reknitting with disgusting rapidity, the Red God pressed his advantage. A sonorous, machine-like warcry escaped from his maw, a massive boulder torn from the earth held above his head, only to be brought down on top of the Mother of Monsters moments later. Blood, thick and dark, splattered in a sickly spray out from beneath the improvised weapon following a cloud of splintered rock and powdered stone.

At first there was nothing but silence, the dust finally having a chance to settle to the ground like flakes of decayed snow, but after a brief second and then another, the surface of the boulder seemed to buckle and cave in on itself, melting to magma as a sticky tendril of ichor launched itself from an imperceptible crevice within its rapidly decomposing surface. Then there was another, and it launched itself directly onto Lonn's face, sticking to him, and then before he could so much as brace himself for the impact the threads rapidly contracted and he was lurched forward directly into the burning mass of partially liquefied stone. The strands whipped themselves back as he came into contact with it, a thunderous clarion of hammered and battered metal ringing into the air, and the stone cooled around his frame to partially fuse him with it. He brought his hands up to wrench the boulder free from himself, a murderous crackle of scarlet fury surging into the boulder, before suddenly its far side crashed through it and directly into his face, shattering what remained of the boulder into pebbles that rained down like purple and red bullets, Ahtziri's still-reforming eyes boring into his as feathered wings bore her forwards and her claws lanced towards him so quickly the rush of air blasted some of the oxidised coating away in great whorls. With a surge of speed beyond speed Lonn responded, manoeuvring his chest to the side and his head slightly back and to the left, both of his heels slamming into the ground as he did so.

Ahtziri's momentum pushed her forwards still while Lonn completely arrested his, and as if following the trajectory of her movement his steely, outstretched hand caught her by the throat and crushed down with enough force to completely obliterate the flesh there. The force of it knocked Ahtziri's head clean off, flying back, but whiplike threads of ichor caught it and ripped it back towards her slumping body. In an instant they were reunited, and as she fell down towards the ground Ahtziri whipped her tail up through his legs and towards his chin, teeth glinting from the otherworldly effulgence emitted by the two and just barely reflecting the sheen of Lonn's metallic frame as it snaked its way towards an impact.

Lonn’s hand held flat slashed through the air, cutting the very wind in half before making contact with the speeding barb. With razor sharp precision the tail was severed and smashed impotently against his form, splattering from the speed of its thrust and exploding into gore. Halfway to imperceptibly, Lonn’s hand arced from its cutting swing to spear into Ahtziri’s chest, plunging into flesh to crush through bone and reach her heart. The goddess’s mouth erupted in blood and ichor that splattered across her enemy’s face as the Red God’s hand wrapped tightly around her heart, squeezing just enough to cause incapacitating pain but not destroy her. Ahtziri screeched with the use of only one lung while Lonn tightened his grip, perfect teeth belching smoke and lightning as he glared daggers into her eyes. The hand on her throat wrenched downward once more, asserting his victory. His baleful gaze was the only tell needed to tell Ahtziri she was at her end, despite the horrendous wounds she had unleashed upon her hated foe. Despite that, Lonn was far too ready to revel in her defeat to simply kill her then and there.

”I’ll remember you, cunt.” he growled, toned to match the sound of tearing steel, made all the more believable with one look at his marred body, ”But no one else will.”

Ahtziri's body still writhed and fought, her flesh rippling and shifting even then, as her eyes locked with Lonn's and that baleful purple simmered within them. She made a motion to wrench herself free, but his grip was too tight and her body too tired--for the first time in the fight she simply could not will her body to obey her, and she relaxed long enough to speak:

"If I am the worst of mankind, you are a worthy reflection indeed..." she spat out, a little globule of divine ichor spilling from the side of her mouth and dripping towards the floor, only to be snatched up by a web of thin violet strands and absorbed back within her body. She did not try to rail against her fate any further, knowing that even were she to try that she could not escape her summary judgement--her last thoughts turned to Pazuzu, and the rest of her children, and before she could stop herself hot, acrid tears streamed from her eyes in great rivulets.

"If they truly are naught but man in another shape to you, please, look after them..."

The pleading was unbecoming of the savagery and ferocity displayed only seconds ago, but now it appeared that they were both shorn of all their trappings and falsehoods--free to act in accordance with what they were beneath it all, beneath the pomp and circumstance.

"Mother! I heard you yelling!"

Suddenly, from above, a great swooping whoosh displaced the air and then the wolf-thing Pazuzu was bounding towards his Mother, whimpering distorted by the speed at which he was travelling, until he came to a stop some ten feet away from the pair of them. Two of his eyes turned to the battered body of his mother and two towards Lonn, and his twin muzzles simultaneously spoke:

"Leave Mother alone!"
"Mother! You're hurt, let me--"

But he did not move further, Ahtziri's right hand limply gesticulating a motion of dismissal.

"Pazuzu, run! Take care of the others!" she panted out, every breath in a scorching carpet of rime within her lungs and every breath out a churning column of fire spewing forth from her mouth and nose. She could barely muster the effort to remain conscious and aware, never mind speak again, but her claws still limply found their way to Lonn's hand on her throat, scrabbling desperately and furiously to free herself.

Through it all, on had been incredulous. The tears had been a magnificent display, one that practically fueled him, and he had savored the moment the very instant her first tears splashed against his limb. What came next, however, hit Lonn quite different. The defeated Goddess’ mewling had turned from petty insults almost instantly and in the depths of her despair, it wasn’t her own life that Ahtziri begged for but those of her children. And then that damned whelp appeared.

Lonn hadn’t even spared Pazuzu a passing glance, tasting nothing of divinity on the air from him. It was a creature, no different than the other beasts that had scattered earlier, and the Red God had nothing to fear from him. Even its call of of “Mother”, though mournful, meant nothing to Lonn; a pup whining for its bitch-mother, nothing special. Its threat in particular was notably laughable, like the poorly built thing was somehow going to tear Lonn from his victory. But even as it snarled at him, it whined. Again, that hit differently. A sidelong glance was all the attention he provided, however, while the creature’s mother clawed at his iron-clad grip on her life.

By the Old World, the fucking pup was crying alongside its mother. When Lonn looked at Pazuzu he didn’t just see a filthy aberration, but a mortal child. Deep within its eyes he saw the intelligence of a boy watching its mother die in front of him. An involuntary twitch rattled Lonn’s body from previous damage, turning his gaze towards that of Ahtziri’s. In there was legitimate mourning, true sadness and despair when forced to consider the empty and doomed fate of her children. Beasts and men alike would often eat their young rather than perish, but here in his supposed “opposite” was the capacity for mortal caring beyond even his own grasp. Part of Lonn was infuriated, but a greater portion still felt shamed. His mind danced back to images of the terrified little girl, watching as monstrosities closed in on her family. In the depths of Lonn’s psyche, he couldn’t help but see himself in the place of those heartless vermin.

A sigh belched smoke from between his teeth as his red eyes flashed back towards Pazuzu. Without any sense of gentleness Lonn shook Ahtziri vigorously, as if still warring with himself over his next moves. The vice grip of the God of Mortals loosened on Ahtziri’s heart, not enough to yet let her free but to make clear what was happening. Ruined metal twisted on itself as he returned to looking her in the eyes, his hand on her throat slowly lowering her to the floor.

”Listen and listen well, sow,” came Lonn’s first words, screeching metallically but with a far more human voice behind them than before, ”I am not doing this for you. Your life is spared entirely by my mercy because of the honest love your child shows you. I want you to know that if it weren’t for the child’s mind you gifted this cub, I’d snuff out your wanton excuse for a life without shedding a single tear. And I remind you, this is a mercy you denied countless children. I swear, I will take count of each and every innocent life lost to your petty murders and if ever that number rises, I will return to end your life, a moment in agony passing for every single one.

With not even a hint of kindness, Lonn tore his hand from her chest with an eruption of arterial blood following suit. The grip on her neck gave ample control for a push, though it held surprisingly little strength in it. Instead, Ahtziri simply stumbled back as her flesh reformed and she coughed to regain full breath. Lonn, for his part, stood absolutely still as he stared at her, the threat of continued violence clear as day. Though he did his best to hide it, one leg was bent and his chest had been caved in at points. He looked all the part a battle worn figure, despite his victorious position and the threat he still promised.

”Now, leave.”




A shrill sound, something between a howl and a hiss, drew Ahtziri's attention away from her reverie. She turned her head to look towards the source of the sound, only to be bowled over by Pazuzu leaping into her and giving her face a long, sloppy lick--and she laughed, bringing her clawed hands up to rub his muzzle. The two rolled over one another in the dusty crags of the cave they were in, occasionally bumping into creatures that looked like Pazuzu had before he had received his Mother's blessings, and after only a few moments of raucous play the entire litter seemed to be awake and joining in on the dogpile. For the first time in her short existence, Ahtziri knew what it was to be content--she knew the feeling of love given and love received, she knew the feeling of belonging, and she knew that a mother's love was boundless. She let the scene play out just a little longer before beating her wings to gently manoeuvre the creatures away from her, and most of them simply skidded along the floor towards the edges of the spacious cavern that was their nest. One was caught by her wingtip directly, and the force knocked it up into the air with a terrible yowl--but before it could get too far, her tail whipped up to catch it and cradled it softly as its serpentine tongue licked the thing's face and all was forgiven and forgotten.

Pazuzu himself let out a quick bark, nosing towards the entrance of the cavern, and Ahtziri turned herself to look towards it. Though nothing was approaching their ersatz warren, she could intuit precisely what her firstborn meant: they would need a bigger space, now that they were able to thrive with impunity under her protection. She stood up, then hovered slightly off of the ground in order to shake the dust and dirt from herself, and whistled a piercing tone to beckon her children to her. They each made their way over to her simultaneously, bumping into one another with no heed for the limitations of the physical space or their own wellbeing, and only when Ahtziri's taloned feet touched the ground did they sit on their haunches and shuffle into a relatively even layer. She counted thirty-four of the creatures, not counting Pazuzu, and pressed her clawtips together in a brief moment of thought. If they were to make it in the world, to survive and to thrive (she knew not why this was important, only that it was), they would need to be augmented in a similar fashion to that of Pazuzu--and they would also need something or someone to watch over them when she was not present. Though the rage she felt when the humans had first cornered Pazuzu had left her and she could not even remember its white-hot sting, she remembered all too clearly the consequences of the confrontation: these mortals, wherever they were, were a threat to her children if left unanswered.

She pressed a single clawtip to her right palm, slicing across it with a deftness and conviction hitherto undisplayed. She coaxed forth a single droplet of the divine ichor that flowed within her veins, a drop of distilled deifaction, and beckoned Pazuzu forth to kneel before her. He did so quickly and obediently, twin tongues hanging from his twin muzzles, and she beckoned him to drink of her essence with a single look. His raspy tongue raked itself across her open wound, lapping up the single droplet, before Ahtziri knitted her flesh together with a thought. A deep, purple glow began within Pazuzu's maw and trickled down his throat like spreading flames, clearly visible even beneath his sinew and flesh and fur--and he let out an almighty whine as it changed something within him forever. Though his features did not explicitly change he grew to be several times larger than he previously was, now standing face-to-face with the Mother of Monsters (who herself was around ten feet tall in her humanoid form), and the sinew of his wings became wreathed in a shell of gently dancing purple flames. He opened his muzzle to bark, but instead of the guttural sound of a monster emerging came a sound he had not expected:

"Thank you!"


Two of Pazuzu's eyes looked towards his lower muzzle, and two towards his upper. He blinked once, then twice, before his eyes opened themselves incredulously wide, and he spoke again:

"I can... speak? I can... I can think! Oh, Mother, I love you so!"

Ahtziri's smile had grown equally incredulously wide at that moment, and tears of joy spilled from her eyes with no regard to what she wanted. She drew in a quick, shaky breath and pressed herself into Pazuzu's now-massive frame, openly weeping into his fur as the love she felt for her firstborn child poured from her very being. It took her a good few moments to compose herself, and as she did so the other creatures sat open-jawed, tongues lolling out of their mouths and tails wagging furiously. They growled out their unanimous approval, four yellowed eyes and four dark pupils dilating with their rapturous attention, and suddenly it was all too much for them to bear and they piled onto Pazuzu (though he now utterly dwarfed them in size) with gentle and loving nips. Blood was drawn fairly quickly, owing to Pazuzu's lack of divine resilience, and the creatures each lapped it up hungrily.

"Okay, okay! Stop!"

The last word was spoken with such intensity that the force of the noise buffeted the things, sending them further back into the walls than Ahtziri had, and though many of them let out raspy mewls of pain their tails did not stop wagging and they remained utterly enraptured by their newly empowered brother.

"Oh, Pazuzu... My beautiful, beautiful child." Ahtziri took a moment to regain her composure, swallowing and inhaling deeply, before continuing.

"I cannot be everywhere, and I cannot look after your pack to the exclusion of my children strewn across these lands. While I am gone, you must look after your brethren, the... do you have a name for yourselves, my child?"

Pazuzu's features contorted in obvious concentration, the tongue from his lower muzzle hanging out towards the left and the tongue from his upper muzzle towards the right, as he took a second to think it over.

"... hm. No, Mother, we do not. What would you call us?"

"I shall call you the Abiktu, then. You must protect them, Pazuzu, and change them as I have changed you."

Ahtziri took a step back, pressing her forehead against Pazuzu's snout for a brief moment, and turned away towards the mouth of the cave. The Abiktu all looked towards her, their forlorn gazes prickling against her skin, and she turned around for a final time.

"I will return, fret not. There is no force in this world that can kill a goddess."

Pazuzu nodded, his lower maw snapping and howling to get the attention of the others, as Ahtziri flew off into the night.




The winged figure of Ahtziri flew atop a great swath of barren rock, even the ruins that had littered it having been pulverised to dust. The only wind that blew was the result of her great wings flapping steadily, and her gaze was steeled as she looked down into the earth below. Thrive. The word thrummed in her skull, an invisible urging that gently tickled her consciousness with tantalising whispers of lives yet unborn and flesh yet unshaped. Ahtziri wondered in the privacy of her thoughts about the nature of her role in the world--it was simply a fundamental fact that all of the monsters of the world were her children, born or not. But if they were to truly thrive, she would have to create more: she would have to birth new horrors into the world to quell the onslaught of mortalkind's cruelty beneath an endless tide of flesh. She would have to act as steward and creator both, taking the mantle of Mother upon herself in every possible sense. The second that the thoughts crossed her mind she knew them to be inviolably true, a fundamental aspect of her being in the same way that she was divine, that she was the Mother of Monsters, that she was Ahtziri. She steeled her resolve before plummeting to the earth in a graceful (insofar as she was capable of grace) swoop, landing upon it with a thud that shook through the earth for many miles.

Ahtziri placed her hands on her belly, closed her eyes, and let the world fall away. Though she was happy to simply birth monsters into the world, the creature she had in mind was simply too large for such a feat without her shedding the constraints of the form she was in--and though there was nothing around that she could sense, some hint of restraint refused to fall away from her on that particular topic. The truth was too glorious to reveal to the world in its current state, too much for it to bear--so she focused the powers of creation coursing within her, coaxing a mote of life from her womb, and suspending it in the air. It was a tiny, fragile thing--but as Ahtziri focused and gave of herself it grew rapidly, expanding and pulsating, soft flesh emerging from it at a staggering rate and folding upon itself. The formless mass quickly took shape, stretching and elongating exponentially, until soon it was so large that it was forced to coil around upon itself to even stay within Ahtziri's field of vision. Segments of black chitinous plating grew from the soft flesh, surrounding it like ringlets of armour, and a cavernous maw filled with teeth emerged at one end while a tail tipped with an enormous stinger emerged from the other. Ahtziri screamed out with the exertion of the effort before withdrawing her magic, and the great wurm crashed towards the ground mouth-first. Its teeth began to furiously gnaw at the earth, burrowing deep into it and swallowing it, and still it took five minutes for the thing to disappear beneath the surface due to its immensity.



Ahtziri looked down at the hole that marked its ingress, momentarily staggered by the sheer size of it. She smiled to herself, proud of her monstrous creation, before flying off into the night once more.








Of all the rules and regulations of the universe, the truest was always thus: Nothing ever comes for free.

Creation, as the ineffable 'they' would say, is the work of lifetimes; destruction, of mere moments. Both of these statements were equally true, and centuries of supplicants had finally offered enough of themselves to coax the forces of creation into being. Perhaps it was the chaotic streaks of magic that illuminated what could only charitably be called a sky, perhaps it was the radiation seeping into every living thing and reducing it to imperfections upon imperfections. Sometimes the answer to a question was not in a solution, but in dissolution--sometimes, destruction was a necessary catalyst for creation. Whatever the reasons the universe might have had for the current spate of dogged persistence were not strictly relevant, as the defining feature of the raw chaos in that moment was beautiful, ecstatic creation: the birth of something divine.

Ahtziri emerged from the husk of her cocoon like a bat out of hell, screaming and tearing at nothing in particular as sable wings carried her high above the barren wasteland from which she had emerged. It took a full thirty seconds for her to come to some semblance of calm and stop her newly created vocal chords from producing a sound so heinous that it threatened to pierce the fabric of reality itself, and as she hovered in the air with ragged breaths leaving her lungs the echoes of that sound could be felt still. Seconds passed, her feathered wings gently beating against the backdrop of utter cosmic annhiliation in the distance (or perhaps not--did utter nothingness even have dimensions?), and then she was moving again with conviction and purpose. Her clawed feet touched the ground with a resounding thud, and a feminine hand gently caressed the blood and ichor-soaked splinters of wood that had cleaved themselves from the whole once she'd emerged. She bent down to pick one of them up, feeling its weight and its texture in her hands, but stopped suddenly as her flesh pressed itself against the ground.

She could still feel the echo of her scream within the pocked, craggly ground--and then she could feel vibrations that seemed to only grow in intensity, building on their ruinous resonance, and only her godly reflexes allowed her to jump off of the ground in time to escape it cracking and crumbling beneath her. She studied it intensely as she hovered above it, watching how it pulverised itself into fragments, and then pebbles, and then dust--and in but a precious few seconds it was all gone, unmoored from the world, drifting away towards the absence of existence in the distance. The gentle, rhythmic beating of wings was the only sound that remained--and the Mother of Monsters looked into the distance with a sense of loss she could not explain. It tore through her body and flooded her very being, a melancholy twisting and writhing inside her, until she could take it no more and soared inland to distract herself from whatever it was that had affected her so.




She flew for hours, scouring the remnants of what once was, and her melancholy turned towards a strangely familiar yearning. Every now and then she would touch down and walk amidst the ruins of civilisations she simultaneously recognised and did not, her serpentine tail hissing and flitting its tongue about the stale air as it searched for something it did not know how to find. Ahtziri's fingers pressed over sheets of torn metal, faded canvases that had once contained colour and beauty and life, and though they filled her with a ruinous nostalgia for something she had never known and could never know they were not the object of her search--she wept a single, silent tear and she took to the skies again to look for whatever it was that she had set out to find.

Hours passed her by once more, punctuated only by the grumbling and screeching of unstable earth that she was already familiar with. Here, at the edge of the world, there was nothing but death and ruin. She turned herself inland and flew in, stopping to look back at the nothingness before her a final time, and let the onslaught of air dry her tears as she flew. She could not rightly say how much time passed before a rabid hissing and snapping shook her from her mourning, her tail wrapping itself around her arm to push itself towards her face. It bit into her cheek, harmlessly sliding off, and pointed downwards towards the ground towards the east--she batted it away with the back of her hand, her lip quivering in momentary rage, before she realised what exactly it was trying to convey and she swooped down towards the ground to check what it had found. Its tongue tasted the air rapidly, pulling itself in a flurry of directions, before the distant sounds of a skirmish began to grow in intensity. Spurred on by her curiosity, Ahtziri flew towards it with all the haste she could muster and soon arrived at the scene of a fight.

A band of three humans (she didn't know how she knew what they were, but she did), armed with crude spears and swords made from pilfered metal and long-dead wood were backing a tangled mess of matter fur, bloodied teeth, and four rabid unblinking eyes into a corner. Its teeth gnashed and it let out a horrific, mewling howl, but despite the display of aggression it was still being slowly moved backwards into the stone ruins of what might have once been some kind of domicile. Though the roof and two of its walls were gone, or had fallen to the floor in clumps of debris, two walls of stone still stood perpendicular to one another--and the creature was running out of space to back into. As soon as Ahtziri's eyes rested upon it, her heart swelled in her chest--she felt love for this broken and horrible thing, a mother's love, and the sheer force of it froze her breath in her chest and welled her eyes up with tears. Just as quickly as it had come, however, it passed--and the love turned to fury, curdling and souring, as the humans advanced upon it once more. She could see the bodies strewn about the place, humans having killed six or seven of these canid predators and the pack having killed double that number of humans--there was no time for thought, no time to process the emotions. She was upon the three in an instant, grabbing the first by its neck and forcing her fingers through it into the soft, warm flesh beneath--with a single twist of her muscles she ripped its head clean from its shoulders in a gruesome display of savagery, taking advantage of the shock to rush a few feet to the side and grab another human by the skull. She lifted him off the ground effortlessly, her yellow-red eyes boring into his with such intensity that only the adrenaline in his system kept him from passing out, and began to squeeze down on his fragile bones with all the force she could bring to bear. It took less time than a human was capable of perceiving for his head to explode in a gory shrapnel of blood and bone, his brains scattered across the bare stone walls like paint.

The last human turned in incredulous shock, dropping his weapons, and screaming at the top of his lungs at the sight. He pulled in shallow, frantic breaths as his hands quivered and trembled, his entire frame vibrating with the exertion of the act and the lack of oxygen he was receiving. Sputtering words tried to make their way past his lips, but his tongue seemed to have swollen to an incredible size and it simply flopped around in his mouth like a stinking, rotting slug--the colour left his skin, and after another second he collapsed to the floor in quiet terror, dazed and reeling.

"My child... My beautiful child..."

Ahtziri turned to the suddenly emboldened creature that was once cornered, crouching and resting on her haunches so as to be face-to-face with the thing. Four eyes looked into hers, and the awful thing licked her face as if it were nothing but a harmless puppy seeking approval from its mother. Ahtziri let out a peal of laughter, bringing it deep into an embrace with her, while her tail snapped and hissed at the quivering wreck of a man that was still blubbering on the ground.

"You do not know what it is to be a mother. You do not know what it is like to see your child hunted because it is different, because it is reviled... but you will."

Ahtziri picked the man up with her tail, its teeth grabbing into his shoulder while it wrapped around his form, and she placed a hand upon his belly with a gentleness that one would not expect from a creature capable of the carnage she had just wrought. A pale, sickly glow began to emanate from her palm, creeping up her fingers like a baleful flame, before settling into him with an ominous purple light. She withdrew her hand and she brought him closer to her, the carrion stench of her almost-foaming breath wafting directly into his face, and pressed her face directly against his.

"You have been blessed by Ahtziri, and no monster will harm you. They will recognise the scent of a mother..."

The man did not think, did not respond, did not blink. Ahtziri tossed him to the side with her tail, letting him go, and the distinct sound of feet running away as quickly as they physically could was heard in the background. The Mother of Monsters turned her attention back to the monstrous thing on the ground, looking up at her with an expression she could only describe as reverence, and she rested her hand upon it. Its flesh began to ripple and undulate beneath the grey-black fur matted with blood and bile, and a howl punctured the air as sinewy wings erupted from the thing's back and its wounded flesh knitted itself back together. Its jaw dislocated and popped, additional rows of razor-sharp teeth erupted from its blackened gums; additional claws sprouted from its paws, followed by additional limbs stretching out from its body until it had eight in total. Ahtziri looked down upon it, and cradled its maw in her hands as she placed the tenderest of kisses atop its filthy, mangy snout.

"Come, Pazuzu. Show me your brothers and sisters."

Hrothkirk, 315 P.F.




Though the wetlands proper were some distance away from even the outskirts of Hrothkirk, the buzzing of gnats and mosquitoes still made itself known within the humid and fetid air that hung at the edges of the settlment. Sounds of fast and irritated slaps were not uncommon amongst the ramshackle huts of mouldering wood that gathered as the ground became more and more sodden away from Hrothhøll proper, and the droning of the fauna seemed to serve as a strangely choral backdrop for often-muttered prayers praising the Exalted One. The tradition of His worship was sparse in the Hundred Lakes, and sparser still in the Twenty Halls to the east--but the denizens of Hrothkirk were the stock of ancient crusaders, and their vows to watch over this strange and swampy land had been repeated and sworn since their great god had walked the earth still. None within the church could truly remember why the vows had been sworn, or what it was they were supposed to do, but they upheld the tradition nonetheless and eked out a humble (if pious) living. Though the low hum of prayer was a constant, these days it was punctuated in places by wracking, wet coughs and shuddering exhalations of breath that were almost enough to make one think the air carried invisible shards of ice. Thick, stinking mud squelched underfoot as Gorm made his way through what could only be called a path with an excess of generosity, swinging a censer suspended from thickly braided ropes and trying to breathe in as much of the sweet and spicy smoke as he could to mask the overwhelming odour that now lingered in the air. He barked out the lines of the prayers that he was supposed to, barely managing to make it through without wretching or gagging, before arriving outside a small cabin that looked palatial in contrast with its surroundings, and burst through the door.

"Thyra!"

The words were accompanied by the sound of a wad of phlegm being dredged up and spat onto the floor, and shortly thereafter by another door opening and a haggard-looking woman with matted streaks of blonde hair glued down to her face by sweat and grime. She did not deign to immediately respond, instead taking a deep swig from a tankard, and hunching over with a hand on her back as she clearly struggled to regain the breath that she'd been holding.

"Ah, Gorm... they're getting worse, I'm afraid." Thyra choked out, Gorm looked down at her, grim lines etching themselves around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth, as he placed a hand on her shoulder gingerly and wiped his own sweat-slick hair from his forehead.

"You're not looking so good yourself, Thyra. May He keep you and sustain you."

The words tumbled out of Gorm's mouth hastily, and he snapped his hand back in order to move over to a small table. He gathered up a couple of wicker bowls containing crusts of bread and cuts of salted mutton that'd been brought to them by Father Erikke as alms for those suffering, taking a second to look at them before turning his gaze to the coughing woman across from him. He picked the bowl up and placed it in Thyra's awaiting hands, and then he took the censer that he'd been holding and placed it on the table. He fiddled with it for a second, fumbling for a latch, before finding it and releasing the top half of the worn, thin metal. He grumbled something under his breath as he looked around for a flint and tinder to relight the flame, finding it after a couple of seconds of looking around the sparsely furnished room. He brushed himself off, took a deep breath (swallowing the thick mucus that had built up in his lungs as he did so), and reignited the flame within the censer to burn the incense anew. After a couple of tries the flame overcame the humidity and the herbs within the basket set alight, and a couple of slow breaths managed to coax the smoke to begin flowing once more. He fastened the thing back up, picked it up, and made his way to the door.

"I'm going to hand this out. Do you want me to fetch you some more water? You should lie down, Thyra, you might have come down with it..." Gorm began, hesitating a second in the doorway, and turned to look at the clearly worse-for-wear Sister. It was difficult to tell in the dim torchlight, but he could just about make out that her eyes were puffy and red, terribly bloodshot, and that her forehead was sopping with sweat. He mumbled a prayer under his breath before releasing an exasperated sigh, and moved back into the shack so he could put the censer and bowl back on the table to tend to his friend. She had barely moved an inch during his visit to check in, and he decided that he'd put her to bed and fetch her some fresh water from the well just to be safe--he'd done the rounds alone the past few nights anyway, and it was clear to him that she was in no state to do anything but rest.

"... Evening rose... Do you smell the evening roses?" Thyra's voice punctuated the noise of the insects and the prayer in the background strangely, with an oddly harmonic quality, that was equal parts pleasing and grating. She stumbled for a second and her eyes went glassy, and only Gorm's quick intervention prevented her from collapsing on the ground completely. He nudged open a nearby door with his foot, revealing a darkened space just big enough for a bed, and guided Thyra to it. Her skin was clammy and unusually cool, and something oddly sticky seemed to almost want to adhere his flesh to hers for a brief second before he was able to pull away--he'd noticed the same thing happening to the others who'd gotten sick and his face contorted into a grimace.

"I... let's get you to bed. I can finish the rounds tonight by myself."

It took a few moments, but Gorm was able to lay her down and place a damp rag on her forehead. He washed his hands in the bowl of water that it had been sitting in, and noticed that some of the grime that had collected on his hands seemed to be floating on top of the water. He couldn't tell if it was the light, but it looked oddly... black, and strangely viscous, like some kind of oil. He shrugged to himself before walking back to the other room, where the smoke had collected in odd plumes that seemed almost to take the shape of petals within the air, and the scent of evening roses flooded his nose for a brief instant. He figured that it was just whatever sickness was spreading around, shaking his head and rubbing his hands down his face, and picked the censer and bowl up. As he made his way through the frame of the door the sound of insects and prayers resumed, louder than he ever remembered it, and a thrumming like whispers and sighs settled just outside of his perception. He began to walk the circular route around the edge of town where the sick were being kept, and handed a few strips of the meat and a crust of bread to each of the denizens within the sodden edifices. The more he walked the louder the prayers and the buzzing got, and after only a few minutes all he could smell within the smoke was the pungent aroma of metallic blood, cloying up his nose and his throat and his lungs. He stopped for a second as a spasm of coughs racked his chest, heaving and sputtering, before spitting out an enormous wad of pitch-black phlegm. He breathed the air in through his nose and this time the stench of blood was so strong and his reaction so visceral that he vomited an oily mass of black liquid onto the ground and black tears escaped the corners of his eyes.

He managed to take only a few more shaky steps before his legs collapsed beneath him and the items he'd been carrying fell to the ground, his knees sinking into the mud and the vomit as he did so. His vision swam, and as he gasped for air he fell forwards and planted his face firmly in the mud in front of him with a wet slap. He closed his eyes and grimaced, lungs heaving, as he felt his consciousness slipping away beneath him.

"blessed be Her name, O Máthair-Amaidí... blessed be Her name, O Máthair-Amaidí..."

The words slipped into his skull before he'd even noticed, and the word "Mother" left his lips before the world went black, and the white flame within him was doused.
Something something something JUSTICE.

Don't drink the water, kids.

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