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War finds Family

A collab between @Valor and @AdorableSaucer




It had been approximately an hour since Celvanya had departed the barrier she had made to protect the soldiers she had taken under her wing. Thankfully these minutes had been uneventful as she hadn’t encountered any roaming monsters like before. Depressingly, she hadn’t encountered much else either. Despite her best efforts the barren wasteland was just that, barren. Giving a sigh Celvanya turned to return to the barrier that she had created when she spotted something, or at least what was left of something. It had been thrown beneath the lip of a large rock, and so not noticing it immediately was fairly forgivable. Walking over calmly, Celvanya pulled it free from its small hiding place and took a moment to examine the twisted chunk of wood.

With everything being barren rock finding the crushed remains of a tree was fairly interesting. Unfortunately, Celvanya had no idea what it might’ve belonged to at one point and given its current condition she could confidently say that it wasn’t alive. But perhaps this was not to be its final resting place. Tracing her fingers along the wood, Celvanya shaped it into a fine staff before picking it up. A leather sash appeared across her torso and Celvanya tucked the staff against her back for safe keeping.

With her trinket stored Celvanya made her way back to the barrier. Stepping inside carefully, she found the soldiers haphazardly asleep wherever they could fit. Nodding in silence a few times she debated on healing and restoring them in order to get moving, but decided it would be best to allow them to naturally sleep for a bit longer.

Leaving the barrier once more Celvanya took a minute to climb up a small cliff in order to survey the horizon for a bit. As she scanned around the area she made an interesting discovery: Among the barren rock had emerged a valley of green. This was quite perplexing, and signaled one of two things: Either something had managed to survive in this apocalyptic wasteland, or another god was active in the area. Both were interesting for a variety of reasons. More survivors could theoretically mean more reinforcements for her small band of soldiers, or another god could mean that they could possibly be convinced to assist with the self-assigned goal of stabilizing or closing the magic rift far in the east. It was a deviation from the path that she had in mind to take her group straight to the rift, but the potential gains against the loss of time were quite valuable and it was deemed a worthwhile trip.

Climbing down from the small cliff Celvanya re-entered the barrier and made up her mind on waking the soldiers. Stepping with perfect accuracy she tapped the shoulder of each soldier, and with each tap she eased their weariness and healed their wounds. Shortly thereafter they would find themselves waking and when they saw that Celvanya was present once more they sat up rapidly. Gathering their equipment up the soldiers questioned if Celvanya had found anyone, to which she could only shake her head. Understanding the response, the soldiers made themselves ready to depart, but Celvanya bade them to eat and drink their fill one last time before preparing fully, and explained the valley that she had seen and her motivation for going there. Nodding in understanding, the soldiers ate one last meal before making ready.

When they were finished, Celvanya dismissed the jugs and basket that she had created. It caused some dismay in the soldiers, but they did understand the reasoning why: It was excess to carry and could weigh them down, and then beyond that the smell of food could attract more monsters as they marched. After the soldiers assured her that they were ready to move, Celvanya kicked at the circle she had drawn upon the ground and broke it. This caused the barrier to dissolve, and Celvanya reached for her sword in order to try and provide light for the soldiers to see by.

Then she paused, and instead grabbed the staff from her back. Even if she was going to try and resurrect the tree that it had been later she could make use of it now. Within the twin curves near the top of the staff two orbs of light appeared. It was less intense than the light of her sword, and would thus hopefully attract less attention to the group overall.

Taking the lead, Celvanya began to lead her small band of soldiers towards the valley that she had seen. Hopefully whoever or whatever she found there would make the trip worthwhile. After walking for a short time, though, the unmistakable noise of chatter could be heard on the wind - a relaxed, yet firm tone, too, one so difficult to find these days.

”... Shame about your cousin, huh, Ossy?”

Celvanya’s ears perked up at the sound of a voice, and she stuck an arm out to halt the soldiers behind her. Turning her head a bit to try and better locate where the sound had come from, she eventually narrowed down to coming from behind a nearby group of large rocks. Turning to the soldiers, Celvanya whispered a brief command while indicating the cluster or rocks she had singled out. ”I hear a voice coming from beyond there. Do not attack unless I do so myself.” With a collective nod from the soldiers, Celvanya gave a smile before raising a finger to her lips. With a brief thought she dismissed the orbs of light that floated around her staff and began to quietly move closer.

The soldiers followed her lead as best they could. Their armor couldn’t help but click against itself and the rocks they pressed against but that simply couldn’t be helped in a situation that was as spontaneous as this one. Peering carefully over the top of a rock, Celvanya observed what appeared to be a many-armed entity having a conversation with… A baby?

The entity frowned to the sound of the baby’s coo and said with a four-armed shrug: ”No, I did not -have- to turn her into a newt, but you need to understand, young man - family who won’t take care of family should not exist.” There came a pensive pause. ”In fact, she should be glad to be alive. Now she can see the world as all critters who ignore their house duty should.” The entity stuck its chin to the sky proudly and two of its hands patted the confused baby on its little, black-haired head. The creature seemed to notice it was being watched, and kept its merry gait across the edge green fields towards the nothingness of the Apocalypse.

As she listened in on the conversation Celvanya found herself equal parts confused and intrigued. On the one hand, the ability to hold a distinct conversation was a baby that communicated in little more that babbles and coos was quite perplexing. Even with her ability to divine meaning from any language the baby talk was just that, baby talk. But aside from that, the story that someone had been turned into a newt proved to be fairly interesting. Were there possibly more people to be found?

If there were more people to be found, then there were more people who could possibly join the march towards the magic rift that lay in the east. Or perhaps the soldiers she had under her wing would want to join the other survivors? It would free her to move at a speed that would turn days or weeks of travel into hours, at least. Resolving to know, Celvanya decided that trying to hide was no longer beneficial.

Whispering to follow her lead, Celvanya hoisted herself over the top of the rocks and dropped down onto the grass upon the other side. With another thought she brought back the orbs of light that hovered around her staff before announcing her presence clearly. ”Hail, traveler! I could not help but overhear you mention that you had found survivors? I would ask, if you are willing to share, where you might have found them? And how many do they number?”

As she spoke, Celvanya stepped forward a bit, but still maintained a fair distance away. Behind her, the soldiers hoisted themselves up and over the rocks just as Celvanya had, though their landings were a bit harsher due to the fact that they were actually burdened by the armor and swords that they carried. Though they would all be just fine after a few moments to recuperate.

It was notably clear that the new entity made them a bit nervous, as they remained close to the rocks instead of stepping forward like Celvanya did. Couldn’t really be helped. Mortals would do as mortals did.

The entity stopped and immediately summoned forth six swords, one for each arm, while the last two protectively clutched the human baby to their breast. The arms spun the swords around in a vicious storm of steel before the entity settled into a combat stance. ”Who goes there?! Who are you?! Keep your hands off my baby boy!”

Celvanya raised an eyebrow at the response, but understood it. Perhaps she could’ve handled the greeting better. In any case, she briefly raised a hand in peace before speaking. ”Please, be at ease. I mean neither you nor your child harm. I am Celvanya Gelmore, the soldiers behind me are my personal guard. We are currently on a march towards a magic rift far in the east. You mentioned that you had found people, yes? I would ask again if you could point the way towards where they would be. I would like to bring them under my wing as a part of this march, or I would like to see that they are protected should they choose to stay.”

The soldiers, meanwhile, had reacted properly to the sudden appearance of six swords in the entity’s hands: They crowded together tightly against the rocks they had crossed over and held their shields up defensively, shaking slightly from fear. Their bravery would need a bit of work, it would seem.

The entity’s hostile scowl faded as a brow slowly rose up. Then with a movement as swift and smooth as when the blades had arrived, the entity turned them into smoke and reassumed a straight-backed stance, looking Celvanya up and down. ”Gelmore? A last name? A worthy name, too.” The entity licked the air as though tasting it and its lips curled into a friendly smile. ”Huzzah! A lady of quality!”

Celvanya’s eyebrow twitched slightly. Was her last name important? It had merely been the name that she felt belonged to her at the moment of her inception. Was there some history she did not know? Either way it seemed to intrigue the being in front of her, which Celvanya didn’t quite understand. What value could a name have in a time like this over something that was far more substantial like allies or a safe location?

The sudden praise of her apparent quality was equally confusion inducing. Namely in that Celvanya wasn’t quite sure of what qualities were being praised. Her capabilities as a warrior? They were certainly noteworthy but Celvanya didn’t quite consider them praiseworthy. Was it her appearance? She didn’t quite imagine herself as being particularly beautiful, but perhaps the being before her thought differently?

In an attempt to resolve some of her confusion Celvanya decided to go with the simplest option: Ask. ”What quality of mine do you praise? In addition I would ask again: You mentioned that you had located some survivors? I would like to know where they are and if they are safe or require protection.”

The entity seemed to ignore the question again, spinning closer to her in elegant pirouettes until they were but a meter apart. ”What quality do I praise? Lo, what questions; what humility! Bear you not in mind, my lady, the power of your own name? The origin of your holiness?” It paused and unfolded its six available arms like beams shooting out of a star. ”To be named is to be great, Celvanya Gelmore - it shows belonging, I say, belonging! As a fellow progenitor of a house, first of one’s dynasty, I tip my torso to you.” They bowed low and gracefully.

The continued neglect of the question about survivors was slightly irritating, but Celvanya put that irritation aside for a moment. Concern grew as the being approached closer, and an active battle had to be waged against her natural self defense instincts in order to avoid placing a hand upon the hilt of her sword. She had been genuine when she said that harm was not wished upon them, and didn’t want to betray such a statement mere moments after making it.

The praises and compliments that were heaped upon her for existing brought some confusion to her mind. What sort of belonging did a name with nothing else attached to it give? And when they mentioned being the progenitor of a house her confusion only continued to grow. Did this being know something about Celvanya that she herself did not know? Had there been others who came before?

Resolving to find at least some answers, Celvanya posed more questions to the being before her once they finished bowing. ”I must admit I harbor some confusion. I know little of what you mean by my name showing belonging. It is merely something that I knew about myself the moment I came into being. What value do you find within my name that makes you proclaim so? I had always thought myself defined more by my actions than anything else.”

There was an urge to repeat her earlier question regarding the survivors, but since it had already been ignored twice now it felt pointless to continue to press the issue as it stood. This being clearly wanted some other form of conversation to take place before that one, and Celvanya resolved to entertain it in the hope that she could get the answers she sought.

Two of six hands grabbed each of her shoulders. ”Oh, worthy lady, creation must have clouded your senses, I am sure! A name so clearly separate from your given one as ‘Gelmore’ surely denotes your clan and house, you must understand! When you mother your first offspring, they, too, will share your name of Gelmore and will pass it on for untold generations, creation be good!” The spun again and turned on the side, inspecting a wrist in a feigning thoughtful manner. ”That is… Unless you have no attachment to this name?”

When Celvanya’s shoulders were grabbed there was a moment where her instinct to protect herself flared and she wanted desperately to push the hands aside, but in order to remain polite and courteous she pushed back against it and remained motionless until the hands were removed. As the being before her began to talk about mothering offspring Celvanya’s gaze could not be helped but to be drawn towards the baby they held once more. Could the multitude of arms they possessed be explicitly for carrying as many children as possible?

That felt like a question that would be best left unspoken, and Celvanya’s mind pushed the thought away as a question was posed to her. Did she have any kind of attachment to her name? Well, it was hers and came naturally to mind and with that consideration she did suppose that it held some amount of value to her, at least in the sense of maintaining her own identity. But was that value the same value that the being before her held? It was difficult for her to tell since she had never considered it up until now. This brought a new question to mind, which was promptly asked. ”I can suppose that I have some attachment to it in the sense that it comes naturally to mind whenever I think of myself. As such I could say that it has value in that it defines who I am. However, this talk of names brings a curious thought to my mind: What is yours, by chance? I have given you mine and you have praised it, but you have not expressed your own.”

The entity recoiled slightly and feigned a dramatic swoon. ”Alas!” they said, ”To think I have spoken for this long about names and the value of names and forgotten the most basic courtesy!” Six hands put palm against palm and the torso tipped slightly forward. ”Peace of Creation be upon you, Celvanya Gelmore. I am Chakravarti vur Chakravarti, ruler and master of my house and dynasty, the dynasty of Chakravarti.” One hand sweetly caressed the black-haired scalp of the baby in their arms. ”This is my son, my first, Ossurman the First of the Chakravarti Dynasty. Say hi, Oss.”

“Guh-brrpl,” said the baby.

Giving a bow-like nod in response to the introduction, Celvanya couldn’t help but tease a slight smile as the baby replied in the only way they could. It was still incomprehensible gibberish to her, but perhaps Chakravarti possessed some ability to speak with him? Another curious thought that spun briefly within Celvanya’s mind was the question of who might have joined Chakravarti in order to give them a son? That question felt like it would be a bit touchy seeing as Chakravarti traveled alone. Or perhaps they had been left with the survivors that she had been asking about? Could that perhaps be why they were so hesitant to give an answer?

Taking a moment to ponder what she would like to say, Celvanya wondered just what Chakravarti was getting at when she mentioned not valuing her own name? Did they have some grand design which they were trying to complete, or were they simply curious as to whether or not Celvanya cared about her last name at all? Perhaps it would be wise to ask. ”So, Chakravarti, I must inquire: When you asked me if I valued my name or not, what purpose did your words carry? Do you have some grand design upon my name that you wish to impose or were you merely curious as to how I viewed things?”

Chakravarti smiled. ”I am so glad you asked.” With a masterful elegance, the family god descended onto one knee before the warrior and six arms all produced jewelry, dresses, gilded weapons and flowers and held them out to Celvanya. ”We are each of different dynasties. This world is wicked and cruel. What say you, then, Celvanya Gelmore, that you join my dynasty as my wife and ally?” Its wink was one of gold and silver, lilac and lavender.

To say that Celvanya was caught off guard was a bit of an understatement. Was she being proposed to? So quickly? And what of the child that Chakravarti held? This question seemed like it was important enough to ask given the sudden proposal. ”I… Er. I must question: If you are proposing that I join your… Dynasty? I would ask where your son came from. Are you not already committed to someone or was that child born from a different circumstance?”

”Ossy?” asked the family god and gave the baby a soft nuzzle with their fist. ”Oh, he’s mine, alright, though not born to me. I found him and took him as my own.” They then assumed a straight stance and their smile faded somwhat. ”Besides, I am not committed to anyone. I am but a bachelor and bachelorette, alone in this black, evil world.”

Celvanya gave a nod to the answer and decided to avoid asking for more details on the circumstances of where said son came from explicitly. At least not until she could perhaps eventually get answers about the other survivors that Chakravarti had mentioned. Though something else puzzled her, and she sought some reasoning with her next question. ”I see… Though I must confess I am a bit confused as to what exactly drives you to ask me to join your dynasty? We have only just met and you have asked me to become your wife so quickly? Is this a kind of question you ask all who come before you or did you have some grand design you wished to impose upon my future?”

An insulted hand touched at the family god’s breast. ”What accusations! Do you take me for a harlot?” Another few hands ruffled gently at their hair. ”Alliances between houses through marriage are stronger than steel; words mean naught, but flesh speaks volumes - blood runs thicker than water and air. I have asked none other than you, lady Gelmore, and I ask you for both our sakes: The world is cold and unfeeling; together, we can be warm and safe. We can spread our offspring throughout the land like blades of grass. Truly, there is no downside to a marriage.” They posed triumphantly in profile, down on one knee and six arms all flexing with glistening glory. Above, stars blinked into existence and the family god gasped. ”BEHOLD! The beauty of nature aligns with this destiny! How - how, my lady, can you refuse?” Another pose.

Celvanya paused in her questions for a moment in order to contemplate the offered arrangement. An ally would be useful, though Celvanya did harbor some concerns about the mention of offspring. She additionally pondered what other demands might get made of her in time aside from offspring, though at the same time she questioned what requests she might be able to make of Chakravarti in the future.

As stars winked into existence in the sky Celvanya took a moment to pause and look at them. Was this an effort in order to add weight to their request or the work of someone entirely unrelated? Celvanya didn’t sense any effort being made by Chakravarti and so figured that it was either someone else or they were quite good at hiding their divine efforts.

All other notions aside, Celvanya did want for allies in these trying times. If this was the way that an ally was to be obtained, she supposed it would have to be something she accepted. After a long moment of silence, Celvanya spoke once more. ”Very well. I will accept your proposal.”

The eight-armed god cracked a wide smile, did yet another pirouette and took Celvanya’s hand in two of their own while four others gently touched their own chest. ”Oh, what splendor; what fortune! O wife, o beauty! Behold - my oath to bind me to you and you to me for all eternity!” They cleared their throat and spoke, ”Celvanya, my dear - as your husband, I swear on the honour of my existence and my house that I, Chakravarti, will love you and care for your every need - regardless of what they may be. Provide me offspring, o wife, and I will come to your aid at your mere call. You are mine, Celvanya vur Chakravarti, as I am yours.” An explosion of light and lotus flowers behind their back added a mighty dramatic flare to their silhouette.

Blinking a few times at the display, Celvanya felt her hand be taken and allowed the motion to happen without resistance. Chakravarti would find that Celvanya’s hand was not warm and soft, but cold and tough. More the hand of a warrior than that of a wife. As the binding proclamation was made, Celvanya nodded in response. After a few moments, she spoke again. ”Very well. Chakravarti. Will you be joining me on my march? There are things I have set out to do, and it would be befitting of a husband to accompany their wife on these sort of things, would it not?”

”Alas, wife, I cannot!” the god made clear. ”My quest takes me north, far north. However...” With the flick of a hand, they produced great quantities of gold and silver in their hands, handing them to Celvanya with a bow of the head. ”Take this as my contribution to your glorious project. I will visit you soon, I promise, and do my duty as your husband.”

Celvanya nodded at the statement before nearly raising an eyebrow as she was handed a great deal of gold and silver. In all honesty she could find little use for these at the moment, but perhaps something would come later that would make them useful. Thanking Chakravarti, Celvanya placed the gold and silver within the pouch located upon her belt. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to have much issue holding the large quantity of gold and silver that Chakravarti provided. Perhaps it was a bit larger on the inside than on the outside?

With that tucked away, Celvanya spoke once more. ”Thank you for the gift, O husband of mine. You will find me in the east, as there is a magic rift that I intend to stabilize.” As she spoke, Celvanya would raise a hand to point precisely at the rift she mentioned. Perhaps Chakravarti would be able to see it as she could?

Lowering her hand, Celvanya gave a brief bow to her new husband. ”I am afraid I must depart. Time is not on my side with this rift, and I would see it stabilized or closed before it becomes uncontrollable. Farewell.”

With that said, Celvanya would wait a few moments for anything to be said. If nothing was, she would gesture for the soldiers that had joined her cause to follow her and begin to march towards the portal once more.

As the goddess left, Chakravarti remained briefly and waved after her with four hands. ”Be safe, o wife! Will be seeing you soon!” They then turned northwards and gave Ossurman a playful tickle on the nose as they begun to walk. ”And that, sweety, is how you form alliances.”

“Guubrlg…”

”Oh, I’ll visit her soon, sure. A husband must make time for his wife, after all. This, you, too, must learn.”

“Uhwee-bwah-buh…”

”Yes, that’s right! You’re learning! Oh, you’re such a little genius.” And so, the Family God made their way north, their joy and their spirit at such mountainous levels that their feet left patches of flowery fields, which grew outwards to cover great lands.





War awakens beneath a bleak sky, and a goddess rises from the ashes of what was…




”Hold your lines! Hold your damn lines!”

The commander sweat profusely as his soldiers began to give ground to the group of monsters pressing in on them. This small group of soldiers had once been the pride of their homeland, an army capable of defending the nation from any known threat. But this threat was unknown, and they fought for a homeland that now no longer existed. The will to survive kept them going, but even that force had begun to wear thin.

Shouting again, the commander took a small opportunity to lunge forward with his sword. This turned out to be a mistake, as even though he was capable of piercing the inky hide of the creature that had backed off of his shield he made himself open for another to rip into him. The armor he wore did little to protect him against the rending claws of the beast, and the last thing he ever said was a loud gurgle.

The rest of the soldiers knew that they were already dead. Only one was able to vocalize the fear that now ate away at them. “Flee! Flee for your lives!” The lines broke, and soldiers who once considered one another brothers now almost trampled one another in order to try and survive. Two were snapped up by the monsters almost immediately, while one was fortunate enough to remember his senses and slash away a clawed hand that attempted to grab at him.

Well, this wouldn’t do.

As the soldiers fled, a brilliant golden light bathed the area for a brief moment. From within that light emerged a figure that was neither human nor monster. The monsters balked at this brilliant light, while the soldiers were entranced by it. It had been too long since they last saw the sun, and to them such a light was surely a beacon of salvation. Fortunately their expectations would be met this day.

The light that signaled the emergence of the goddess faded, but this light was replaced by another as she held aloft a sword that glowed with the brightness of dawn. Taking her first breath, Celvanya shouted an order. ”You will stand your ground! Shields together, now!” This caused the soldiers to snap from their daze. Instinct that had been drilled into them time and time again upon the training fields took hold once more, and they quickly stepped shoulder to shoulder once again to bring their shields to bear against the enemy.

Unfortunately for Celvanya, not all of the monsters had been stunned by the sudden flash of light. Since it had been mere moments since her birth, Celvanya’s divine senses were not as sharp as they should be. This proved to be disadvantageous when a monster previously unseen leapt at her. A rending claw sliced into her cheek, and pain screamed from this touch. Unfortunately for the monster, this pain sharpened Celvanya’s senses to their full strength.

Using the momentum from the blow to roll away, Celvanya twisted to face the monster before planting a foot onto the ground and launching herself forward, kicking up a cloud of dust and pebbles as she did so. Bringing her sword to bear Celvanya carved out a large portion of the monster's torso. By all logic it would soon be dead, but Celvanya was not one to take chances with an enemy such as this one.

Twisting in the air once again and landing harshly upon the ground, Celvanya launched herself forward again. When she brought her sword down again she bisected the monster vertically. Following this blow, Celvanya unleashed a flurry of slashes to turn the monster from a coherent form into little more than a pile of shredded flesh. With her work finished, Celvanya shouted to the soldiers once more. ”Don’t hesitate! These nightmarish creatures can be felled! They can be beaten!”

A rallying cry came from the soldiers and soon thereafter they were able to carefully bring an offensive to bear. With coordinated strikes they were able to bring one of the beasts down. This victory caused their morale to soar. Now the two remaining beasts didn’t seem so scary. Meanwhile Celvanya was taking a moment to check on the wound that had been inflicted to her cheek. Pain aside, it had barely broken the skin. If she had been fully aware it wouldn’t have broken the skin at all.

Wiping away the single drop of blood that had been drawn from the wound, Celvanya ran a finger across it. Healing the minor scratch, but also immortalizing it. A scar to remind her of the cost of not maintaining absolute vigilance. When Celvanya heard the death wheeze of one of the creatures the soldiers were fighting, she grinned. Leaping into the air, Celvanya landed sword-first upon one of the beasts. As it recoiled from the blow she brought her sword up and beheaded it with one swift motion. Rolling to the side and kicking herself free from the beast, Celvanya used the momentum from her spin to repeat the move on the remaining creature before landing on the other side of it.

The soldiers cheered for this victory, but Celvanya was taking no risks. Approaching their corpses with sword still blazing she made short work of their forms, reducing them to unrecognizable piles of meat in short order. When she was finished, Celvanya turned towards the soldiers and nodded in approval before speaking. ”Well fought, all of you. Have you homes? Families?” The slow shaking of heads told her everything she needed to know. Turning her vision upward, Celvanya studied the sky for a few moments. Magic coiled and wreathed both overhead and all around them. Following the movements to their source, Celvanya saw what appeared to be a rift laying far to the east. It disgorged magic at an obscene rate, and was perhaps one of the many reasons why the world was barren and dead.

Nodding to herself, Celvanya raised her sword and pointed it towards the rift. The soldiers could not see it, not with their mortal eyes, but that was no issue. Speaking once more, Celvanya issued a new order. ”Far in the distance there is a rift that spills magic into the air at a vast rate. If we might perhaps be able to stabilize it or close it, we may be able to make things a bit safer. If you would take this journey with me, then fall in!”

Raising her sword high, Celvanya began to march. With little hesitation, the eight soldiers that she had saved fell in behind her. Despite their best efforts, the soldiers could not march for long. They had been running and fighting for an uncountable amount of time, and their rations had been running thin for a long while. They called out to Celvanya and expressed their plight, and thankfully it did not fall upon deaf ears.

Stopping in her march, Celvanya nodded. Lowering her sword to the ground she carved a wide circle into the ground, and when it was complete a barrier surged into existence to shield them from the outside world. The interior filled with dim light and, for a brief time, things were calm. Bringing a scabbard into existence, Celvanya’s sword stopped glowing. As the glow vanished, it was revealed that the blade was in fact much shorter than they had initially been led to believe. But in spite of this it fit into the full sized scabbard just fine. Binding the scabbard to her right hip, Celvanya gathered the soldiers and spoke clearly. ”Remain here and rest. The barrier will keep you safe from roving monsters. I will be leaving to see if anyone else can be found and saved. I request that you remain here until I return, and be assured that I will return.”

Nods of confirmation came from the soldiers as they were able to stop and rest for the first time in too long. Before departing, Celvanya had one last gift for the soldiers. With a clap of her hands she brought a covered basket into existence and then set it down. Following this, she created eight jugs, each filled with water. Removing the lid from the basket, Celvanya revealed that it was filled with a type of meat bun that contained meat and egg. With this done, Celvanya spoke once more. ”Eat and drink your fill. The jugs and basket will replenish themselves over time. Partake of them generously, for they will be unmade when we make to move again.”

The soldiers nodded and thanked the goddess for her aid. Celvanya smiled and nodded in return before departing the barrier to see who else might be saved.



Here I am, and here I will state my interest.


Rethinking Strategies.




Illyd stepped into antiquity, his form morphing to that of a young man in white robes. A banjo was strung on his back as he led Celestine across the flagstones of the arena. The atmosphere of antiquity was hollow and quiet, the divine space a sort of mysterious reminder of the supernatural and almost artificial state of the world.

Such a topic seemed on Illyd's mind as he suddenly posed through a casual whistle, his march to Cadien's portal steady. "What do you think the meaning of life is?"

Celestine stepped out of the portal to her realm confidently. She took a few moments to look for where Illyd had gone and came to the realization that she was no longer following a fox. Falling into step behind Illyd’s changed form Celestine remained fairly silent as he began to whistle. When the question was posed, Celestine was briefly stunned by both the spontaneous nature of it and the complexity of the issue being asked after. After her wits came back to her Celestine remained silent for a few moments longer as she contemplated an answer. What was the meaning of life? She supposed that the meaning to a god's life might be to create something that impressed the other gods? Or to perhaps impress mortals? But then what if the meaning to a mortal's life was to impress the gods or other mortals? But then what if one didn’t mean to impress everyone, and only sought to impress a select few? What about those who sought to impress nobody?

After a few more moments of silence, Celestine offered the best answer she could to a complicated question. ”I suppose it depends on who you ask. If I were to give you an answer from my perspective I would say that the meaning of my life would be to knight noble individuals and inspire them to great deeds while spreading the values of chivalry throughout civilizations that would welcome it. Why do you ask?”

"What's the point of that?" Illyd answered simply, stopping to turn to Celestine.

Celestine raised an eyebrow as Illyd asked after the point of what she had said. Just what was the point? She didn’t quite have an immediate answer, as it was something that came to her naturally. Did mortals question the point of their breathing? Blinking once, Celestine gave the best answer she could. ”The point of it, in my view, would be to try and enrich the lives of mortals by opening a path that some might not have previously considered? Why are you asking after these things, if I might inquire?”

"You know, I made the first mortals." Illyd twisted on his heel to face Cadien' s realm once more. "I did it because I didn't want to be alone anymore -- so I know why at least a few things are alive and exist. But why do you?"

Tilting her head in confusion for a moment, Celestine began to ponder a few things. Why was she alive? Why did the she that existed now come to be? How many other versions of her tried to emerge from the lifeblood, only to be squelched before they could even begin to coalesce? If even a few things had been different, how different would she have been? Would she have even come to exist as she did now? Celestine’s eyes narrowed slightly as she began to shove these thoughts out of mind. She could sit and ponder them for lifetimes, but right now there was something more important to her than figuring out the hows and whys of her particular existence. Though she did realize that she had yet to give Illyd an answer, and so gave one the best she could. ”I am alive because I want to inspire mortals to a higher calling Eventually I would want them to strive to better themselves without my influence. Failing that I hope to create something that serves as a shining beacon of what can be accomplished with chivalry. As of right now, however, I want to see things concerning Ha-Dûna resolved. If you’ll excuse me.”

With that, Celestine would step through the portal into Cadien’s realm. Illyd's words followed her from antiquity.

"That's not why you're alive."

Then there was silence.



The realm was unchanged since her last visit. In the distance, Cadien himself was already approaching.

As the realm coalesced around her Celestine’s first instinct was to look for Boudicca. Unfortunately she didn’t seem to be in the immediate area, and Celestine saw Cadien approaching instead. Walking forward herself, Celestine met Cadien at roughly the halfway point of his approach and curtsied before speaking. ”Greetings once more Cadien. My apologies for the late appearance, I was delayed by the appearance of a fox upon my feet. They had a handful of questions they wanted to ask as we walked. Where have you sent Ser Boudicca? Is she safe?”

“She is here,” Cadien nodded. “And she is safe. But you and I need to talk.”

A bit of tension released from the goddess as she heard that Boudicca was safe. But the reminder that words were to be exchanged brought no small amount of concern to her. Nodding with a small amount of apprehension Celestine contemplated folding her arms, but then considered that such a stance might make her appear standoffish. Retaining a neutral stance and bracing herself for what might come, Celestine asked after what Cadien wanted. ”I see. I remember you wanting to speak before. What is that you want to speak about?”

“We need to speak about what just happened, of course.” Cadien said.

Celestine didn’t move as Cadien gave his answer. It wasn’t as specific as she would’ve liked since a good number of things had just happened in a short amount of time, but Celestine didn’t want to try and play guessing games as to what Cadien wanted. Instead she chose to ask after what he specifically took issue with. ”If you would kindly elaborate on which actions of mine you take issue with, I will happily take your advice and will do my best to improve myself to be better in the future.”

“Well, where shall I start? Boudicca has been unseated from Ha-Dûna, I have lost much of my influence there, I was publicly insulted, and they are marching into another unnecessary war.” He shook his head. “You were too involved. You became too close.”

Celestine exhaled slightly, closing her eyes in contemplation as she mentally reviewed the recent events. There were some choices that she had come to regret, certainly. But being too involved? She doubted this notion. All she had done had been by request. But perhaps there was something to that? Could she have merely gifted knowledge or supplies instead of directly assisting with day to day affairs? That might have aided in keeping the disdain the mortals held for the gods down, but then what of the day Boudicca vanished? Celestine’s avatar had stepped up to cover many of her duties. What might’ve become of Ha-Dûna if she hadn’t? Something that Celestine noted was that at least one of the things Cadien spoke of had little to do with Celestine’s involvement: Ha-Dûna marching to war was attributable entirely to the actions of Jjonveyo. It was possible that the loss of influence and insults could have come from Celestine’s consistent presence, but the disdain seemed to stretch towards all of the gods rather than just him. Still, if she was to be blamed for it it would likely be for the best to simply accept the blame rather than trying to extract the truth from so complicated an issue

Boudicca being unseated could have blame laid upon Celestine, and she would admit that some of her choices during the meeting and subsequent events were most likely not the best. They would need to be atoned for, for sure. But that atonement needed guidance. Opening her eyes once more, Celestine spoke softly. ”I will admit that I have come to regret some of my actions in the events as of late. Decisions made too quickly or after effects not considered. I wish to atone for these mistakes and correct them as much as I can. Where is Ser Boudicca now? I would have her guide this atonement.”

Cadien let out a soft sigh. “Follow me,” he requested, as he turned and began walking toward his keep. “Before we talk about any of that, do you know what your mistakes were?”

Celestine fell into step behind Cadien shortly after he began walking. As she walked a somewhat random thought crossed her mind of the prior times that she had walked this very path. There was a distinct mood shift from before, to be sure. Banishing these random considerations from her mind for now, Celestine focused upon Cadien’s question. What did she feel was a mistake? An interesting question. Was it a test? What would his response be if she gave too many answers that he considered unacceptable?

These concerns weighed upon her mind as she gave her answer. ”My regrets in particular stem primarily from the meeting and trying to secure Ser Boudicca’s family. My choices of words were poor and then beyond that leaving when I did, even though I was trying to satisfy the demands that the mortals were making, did not go over well. And then beyond that the attempts to retrieve Ser Boudicca’s family could’ve been handled with more observation and less action instead of the action without observation that took place. I fear that my haste might have permanently damaged Ser Boudicca’s reputation with her family and the more reasonable members of her clan, which is something that causes me no small amount of distress.”

Cadien shook his head. “That is part of it, but it goes deeper than that. You made your avatar her subordinate. A divine being, subservient to a mortal? Such a thing is not possible, no matter how much deference you might show or how much you claim only to offer advice. They saw your avatar with her every day, and it made them believe that her authority was dependent on your support; that she was your puppet. Eventually, they obeyed her out of respect for you, not her. In that hall, you did not treat her as a leader, you treated her as a parent might treat a child.”

“Then the moment a god they revered more than you appeared, and told them they were no longer obligated to listen to you? Her authority disappeared. Because they care more about their druidic gods more than they care about you or I. Nevermind that half those gods abandoned them, and none had any role in their creation.” There was bitterness in his voice. “But that isn’t the point. My point is that there was a reason why I limited my interactions with her, and why you should have done the same.”

Celestine briefly found herself at a loss for words. Cadien had a fair point in some of his arguments, but others she disagreed with. Why would a divine being not be able to be subservient to a mortal? Celestine has no experience in running Ha-Dûna, but Boudicca had plenty. It felt only natural that Celestine support her leadership rather than trying to overrule her. But Cadien had a fair point regarding the overwhelming presence of her avatar. No matter how simple it made communicating with Boudicca, such a presence was most likely rather unnerving. Looking back on events, Celestine mentally smacked herself for not even considering the idea of simply establishing a permanent link to Boudicca’s mind. This would’ve allowed her to experience the things she experienced and offer timely advice, but it wouldn’t have required her avatar be present and slowly plant seeds of doubt among the mortals.

Cadien’s opinion that Celestine was treating Boudicca like a child stung a bit. She had always considered Boudicca as a friend and equal. It was the reason why she had asked her to be an advisor, after all. But Cadien did have a point. In her attempt to be humble and down to earth, she had instead come off as haughty and dominating. A better choice could’ve been made, for sure. Unfortunately, such was the burden of hindsight. A decision that had to be made in a matter of moments could bring days of painful reflection upon what could have been done better.

Realizing that she had been silent for a few moments, Celestine blinked and nodded before speaking. Part of her wanted to disagree with Cadien on some points, but she had a higher priority than debating with Cadien right now. ”I hear your points, and hope to do better in the future. I can only hope that the damage that my inexperience had caused can be mended.”

“I would hope so too,” Cadien said. “Do you have any ideas on how to do so?”

Celestine fell silent once again as Cadien asked and raised a finger to her chin a few moments later. That was a complicated question, and Celestine didn’t quite know what answer she would want to give. There were fairly simple solutions such as ripping the memories from the minds of mortals and simply making them forget, but Celestine found herself fairly disgusted by the idea, and she was fairly sure that Boudicca wouldn’t agree to such a manipulation. Another idea came to mind, but it carried a lot of risk and would make personal intervention rather difficult should the need arise. Lowering her finger, Celestine put forward her rather grisly idea. ”The mortals screamed against the presence of the gods, yes? And they saw Ser Boudicca as someone who was under their control? I could use divine power to… Erh…. Make a false severed head of mine. Let her carry it back to her people along with a fanciful set of armor and sword. Have her proclaim that she and they were free of divine influence. I could never be seen as I am around Ha-Dûna again, but it would possibly allow her to bring the influence of her people back under her control? Though such a display could cause even more chaos from the factions that would still be loyal to the gods… In truth, I do not have a grand arrangement of ideas. Perhaps involving Ser Boudicca in this conversation would be for the best? She has the most experience with her people and might be able to provide valuable insight as to how they would react.”

Celestine fell silent again, waiting to see what Cadien would say

Cadien narrowed his eyes. “We should not encourage the murder of gods, or let them even believe such a thing is possible. I believe the best thing we can do now, is wait. Let them wage their war. If they fail, they will learn that we and Boudicca were right, while they were wrong. We can save them then, and if they would still deny our aid, then they do not deserve to be saved. On the other hand, if they succeed, then we can find some other method to teach them the error their ways in the future.”

Celestine nodded slowly, but her eyes carried concern to them. ”The idea is fair… But I would at least like to attempt to rescue the members of Boudicca’s family. They were hesitant to go due to being in the middle of something, but perhaps if they were visited at a calmer hour and spoken with in secret they could be convinced? Part of me feels that if we bring her family into safety then Boudicca may be alright with allowing things to progress naturally, but I’m confident that she’ll want to do something if they are at risk.”

Cadien shook his head. “Boudicca has already accepted that they will remain behind for the time being. They are in no immediate danger. All we have to do is watch over them, and if they are in danger, then we can rescue them. But right now? Taking them from their homes will be seen as a kidnapping, or cowardice. It will not reflect well on Boudicca or on her clan, and will only stain her reputation further.”

Celestine raised an eyebrow at the fact that Boudicca had accepted that they would remain behind. It seemed odd that her fury to retrieve her son would be extinguished so quickly. Once again raising a finger to her chin, Celestine blinked a few times as thoughts raced through her mind. Eventually, she came to speak. ”In that case, I would ask her if she wishes to come to my realm. If even a tiny amount of blame for these events is to be laid upon me, then I would work tirelessly in atonement, and I would prefer to have her guide my efforts.”

“I believe it would be best if we allow her to spend a few days in Meliorem before she makes such a decision. She has been through much, and needs some form of respite. If you wish to meet her you may, and if you are insistent to ask her I will not stop you, but I do not believe it would be wise.”

Celestine gave a nod before speaking. ”Fair. My ultimate decisions shall be made in reflection of how she feels. If I feel things are right I will ask, but if they do not I will not press the issue.”




Near the settlement of the Songs sat Boudicca on a hill alone, much like she would have back home in search of meditative quiet. Several songs had come over to poke at her and try to cheer her up, but she had shooed them all away with sorrowful fury and furious sorrow. The Songs had been particularly hard to turn down, mostly because of their incessant insistence, but even the spawn of Macsal couldn’t tolerate for long such hopeless melancholy as the sort the dethroned priestess-queen expelled. The face staring into the cloudy abyss beyond the hill was devoid of joy, and each eyeball flashed different changing memories and regrets on loop. She offered a hapless sigh, the hundredth since she had sat down.

As Celestine moved through the realm with the guidance of Cadien the gears of her head spun ceaselessly in an attempt to create more plans on how the situation might be improved. Unfortunately, what little came was quickly squelched by logic and reason. She would need guidance, for sure. When Boudicca came into view, Celestine nearly bound over to her like a cat to its wandering kitten as relief flooded her mind on seeing her hale and whole. Squelching that instinct, Celestine walked slowly and silently. There were many things she wanted to say, admittances of gratitude that Boudicca was well, apologies, expressions of remorse, but the aura surrounding Boudicca caused Celestine’s voice to catch in her throat.

Wanting to do something rather than be paralyzed, Celestine gently sat down next to the priestess-queen wordlessly, allowing Boudicca to do things at her own pace. If or when she would look to the goddess, she would find Celestine’s eyes carrying a mixture of remorse and regret.

Boudicca offered her a small, greeting nod and pursed her lips. “Did Great Caden give you a scolding, master?”

Celestine gave a nod before speaking softly. ”The error of my ways has been made apparent, and I’ve come to hold regret over many of my actions, no matter how good their intent may have been. I would like to offer you my humblest apologies for having erred so gravely, and I can only hope that you will allow me to atone and continue to consider me as your friend.”

With that, Celestine closed her eyes and bowed as best she could.

Boudicca flinched and hastened to stand up, kneel and bow lower. “Please, master! You shouldn’t bow to a mortal like me! That, that goes against the nature of the universe, after all!” Her face disappeared under her unkempt and unwashed hair, still rough after the past days’ shenanigans. “You have nothing to apologise for. This has been my fault, this outcome… I overestimated my power; I brought shame upon myself, my family and upon you and Great Caden.” She massaged her throat where the collar of ink had been not many hours earlier. “... Caden suggested I was under some spell, but… I think I simply thought I had more control than I did.”

Celestine opened her eyes slowly before sitting up and gently placing a hand on Boudicca’s shoulder. Blinking a few times, she could find no words to say. Instead, she brought herself into a kneeling stance before offering out a hand and speaking softly as adequate words finally made themselves apparent. ”Let us both work together to atone for our misdeeds as equals and friends, then? You are still a knight of mine, but I would request that you call me by name. I may be a goddess, but there are many things I could learn from mortals. For you to call me master feels… Wrong. I wish to learn from you the ways of Galbar as much as you learn the ways of knighthood from me. Will you permit me to do that, in time?”

“I…” Boudicca frowned uncomfortably. “... I cannot say it will feel right to call a great goddess by her name with no title. Would ‘Great Celestine’ or ‘Master Celestine’ suffice?” She seemed reluctant to take the hand, as well.

Celestine blinked before nodding. Her hand fell gently, and she would speak again. ”I will accept ‘Great Celestine’, and I must apologize for causing you discomfort. I just feel that in light of my recent failings I should not hold a title so absolute as ‘master’. Perhaps some day I will feel alright to bear such a title again, but… Not for now.”

In truth, Celestine would prefer no title at all, but Boudicca’s hesitation made it clear that such a thing would most likely be immensely difficult, if not impossible. A compromise would have to do. Feeling that the question of where Boudicca would like to stay would not prove to be too hazardous, Celestine asked it cautiously. ”If it does not trouble your mind overmuch, I would ask if you would like to join me in my realm as a guest? If you would prefer to stay here it will not trouble me.”

Boudicca bowed deeper as though that was possible, her knee digging into her chest there she kneeled. “Of course. Thank you, Great Celestine, for your hospitality. I would be honoured.”

Celestine nodded, thankful for the answer. Rising to her feet, Celestine held out her hand once more. This time for the far more mundane task of assisting Boudicca in standing. If or when that was finished, Celestine would let her hand fall gently unless it was clung to. She would then speak once more to ask after Boudicca’s plans. ”Do you have anything you wish to see or do before we depart?”

Boudicca looked over her shoulder at Caden’s castle in the distance. She scrunched her nose with chagrin and shook her head. “No, let’s, let’s just leave, please. I have too much on my mind right now to focus on anything else.”

Celestine nodded. The missing sword of hers could simply be replaced. Boudicca seemed to be uncomfortable with Cadien given the way she looked at his castle, and Celestine would not press her into an uncomfortable position. Lifting a hand, a sphere of silvery energy appeared in it, and shortly thereafter it was crushed. A portal opened, and beyond lay Celestine’s personal chambers. Gesturing for Boudicca to leave as she willed, Celestine would follow shortly thereafter. Once both were through, the portal would close.






A Failed Gamble



Year 30AA, late Autumn, Ha-Dûna...

Boudicca found herself spirited back to the front gates of her city, a million thoughts waging war in her mind. The battle tore at her facial features, forcing forth an exhausted frown that she could not decide was the fault of Lyd’s magic or Jjonveyo’s deal. She decided to split the blame between them and her own selfishness. Her mind conjured forth scenario after scenario wherein she presented this new deal to the clans, théins, druids and gods - all of them ended in struggle and spite. She pinched her nose and groaned.

“Sanndatr?!” came a shout all of a sudden, and that was when Boudicca finally perceived the fact that she had appeared in the middle of the river of people flowing in and out of the great city, and an island of emptiness around her conveyed just the amount of attention this had drawn, as hundreds of people ringed themselves around her in awe. Boudicca looked up to regard the yeller, mórthéin Charlix of Blanche, dressed from head to toe in clothes more expensive than anything Boudicca had ever worn, denoting his month-old promotion. Impressive purples and royal blues coloured nearly his every piece, contrasting rather fiercely with his bald head and fiery mustache. Diplomatically, he extended a hand and took a knee. “Are you well, Ser? We have looked everywhere for you! After we failed to find you at your usual spot, we feared the worst and sent out search parties!”

Boudicca heaved a slow sigh and took his hand politely. “I am alright, Charlix. The great Lyd came to me and spirited me off to a distant land. What I saw there, we must discuss urgently.”

Gasps rushed through the people mass and the mórthéin bowed his head. “As the sanndatr wills. I will gather everyone post-haste!”

“Good,” nodded Boudicca. “Have them gather in the great house.” She turned to everyone else. “Remain strong and loyal, worthy people of the Stone - in two weeks, victory will be ours!” Uncertain mumblings mixed themselves with relieved cheers as shifting faces tried to interpret the meaning, but none dared question her as she stormed through the parting crowd towards the administrative core of the city to the sound of “make way, make way!” After the fifteen minute walk from the Southern Gate to the inner core, Boudicca stood before the door to her home, before which stood the avatar of Celestine. Boudicca bowed respectfully. “Master, forgive my absence.”

The avatar of Celestine hardly moved as Boudicca approached, though there was a slight smile of relief at the sight of her missing friend. When Boudicca bowed she stepped forward to place a hand on her shoulder before speaking. ”You are forgiven, so long as you warn me if I am to take up all of your duties for a day again.” Removing her hand from Boudicca’s shoulder, Celestine’s avatar stepped aside and briefly raised a hand to Boudicca’s home before speaking again. ”I’ve done what I could to keep things going and to keep your family safe. I was partially worried that the events of the day of my avatar’s arrival were beginning to repeat themselves and kept the rest of your family safe. I’ve most likely been a bit overbearing and you do have my apologies if any complaints are raised. On a somewhat more positive note I have news for you, but I would hear your tales before I begin my own and beyond that I’m sure you want to see your family first. Please, avail yourself of the comforts of your home as you desire. I will wait for you to be finished.”

After that Celestine’s avatar would fall silent as she waited to see what Boudicca would do. She was concerned with how best to break the news of Thaa’s demands to her, as she was plenty aware of the Sanndatr’s disdain towards the god of death. But Thaa had given a fairly generous offer and Celestine had not been entirely willing to harm the good terms that they were on by spitting in the face of it. Perhaps after she had reunited with her family but before the meeting would be best… And most likely alone. Or as alone as they could get.

Boudicca nodded gratefully. “Thank you, Master, for your fantastic help, though I trust my clan would have been able to keep any unsavoury company at bay for one day. Now please, join us. We are having a war council and I have very important news to share.”

Celestine’s avatar gave a few nods but surprisingly didn’t say anything right away. She wanted to share the news on what she had discussed with Thaa, and share in what she had been given for this express purpose, but she knew that Boudicca was eager to speak at the war council for a reason. She would have to wait. Perhaps what Boudicca was going to announce would change what Celestine had to share as well.

Raising a hand towards the general center of the village, Celestine’s avatar finally spoke after a few moments of silence. ”Very well. I see that you are eager, but I would request a more private audience when you are finished. There is something that I wish to discuss with you that will not be an easy topic. But, let us tend to your people and what you wish to announce first. There will be time later.”

With that said, Celestine’s avatar would fall into step behind Boudicca as she departed. She hid it well, but the slightly furrowed brow of her avatar gave away Celestine’s concern for what might have come to pass while Boudicca was away. She hoped it was nothing malicious, but her mind was already plotting out contingency plans for whatever storm might be coming. Boudicca nodded and gestured for her to follow her inside.




It took a brief hour to gather everyone, for the Dûnan host had many leaders within itself, and all had to hear the word of the sanndatr. Here had gathered everyone from lowly strongmen, bossing a band of up to ten, to the great clan heads, formally below théins and mórthéins in administrative rank, but commanding their families, workfolk and hildargeach with unbreaking matriarchal or patriarchal authority. Of course, the most powerful among them, the mórthéins, were also clan heads, and the sheer power of Charlix of Blanche and Clement du Pierre earned them seats by Boudicca and the avatar of Celestine. Close by were also the commanders of their allied forces: Chief Bonursan Chirrut of the Doserung, brow chiseled into a dark frown; Sumbierka, son of Weymbierka of the Nubveians and leader of the Buffalo Riders; Pride-King Koisa of Swadi, still a guest of Boudicca’s to oversee that his family’s vengeance against the Cenél would be exacted; prince Ratinmaar of Bast, promoted from scribe to commander of the Troll-Men in war times; and Vanya the Pale, speaker for the Death-Singers of Mink. From there, the longhouse’s sixty or so guests were roughly arranged by rank in an outwards order, centered on the burning hearths in the middle. The fires were not as violent as usual, for the packed populace generated most of its own heat. An orchestra of murmurs from tens of conversations coloured the soundscape with a thousand moods, with everything from existential worry to premature celebration flowing from mouth to ear. Around the hall, young druid apprentices zig-zagged between the groups with bowls of crusty salt and hand-torn bread, offering all the guests a greeting snack. When Boudicca received word that the last of the attendees had come, she rose from her seat and stuck two fingers in her mouth, squeezing forth a silencing whistle. The conversations quickly died out as all turned to regard the sanndatr, elevated as she was after mounting her bear-skinned chair.

“Brothers! Sisters! Cousins! Friends!” she greeted, drumming her fist to her chest. “In the name of all the gods and spirits, I, Boudicca of Clan Metsep, sanndatr of Ha-Dûna and champion of Caden and Selesta, welcome you to my house. Please, help yourself to ale from my pots and apples from my baskets. Praise Lyd and Reiya that the harvest was kind to us this year. I ask, though, that you be mindful with the drink, for what I have to share today is bound to shake the very foundation of this war we find ourselves in.”

“Better not be speak of a truce,” came a sharp remark from somewhere in the hall, followed by a roaring laughter and some nervous giggling. Boudicca eventually stilled the crowd again with a hand.

“No such thing, sister! We will never make peace with the Chelevyak scum so long as that wicked warchief of theirs still draws breath - that, I swear!” Fists shot into the air in her salute and Boudicca busied herself with stilling another roaring cheer. “However…” That one word did more to silence everyone that any gesture ever could. One could, second by second, see a powerful shared spirit and thirst for the glory of war fade in the wake of a ghost of uncertainty that rose from the floor like a fog. Boudicca looked reluctant to finish the sentence, but eventually said, “There will be no battle.”

Another empty field of silence filled the house, broken only by someone in the far back yelling, “what did she say?!”

“What do you mean, no battle?” demanded mórthéin Clement du Pierre, cocking his face of well-kempt hair and beard to regard the sanndatr skeptically. Boudicca bit her teeth together.

“Lyd brought me to Jonwayo this morning. We have agreed that we will meet in two weeks to discuss terms… Of a duel - one that will decide the war. This will protect our people from the armies of the east--”

“How… Dare you?!” came a seething snarl. Boudicca furrowed her brow harshly and glared down at her side, where mórthéin Clement du Pierre had risen up and was slowly stepping his way to face her front to front.

“Do you have something to say, du Pierre?”

The laird scoffed. “Do I have something to say?! You have said it all, indirectly! How could you agree to this? Rob us of our glory? Our vengeance?”

Boudicca recoiled. “Your glory and vengeance?! Clement, people are bound to die! Ha-Dûna cannot afford to--”

“Ha-Dûna cannot afford to look weak, that is true,” interrupted mórthéin Charlix of Blanche, standing up as well to join his colleague in opposing Boudicca. “Which is exactly what we do by kneeling to such a demand.”

“N-no, that’s not true! Listen to me, all of you!”

“No, -you- listen, sanndatr, if we should even call you that!” challenged Clement. Boudicca’s face flashed red and she drew her sword, placing it against his throat in the blink of an eye.

“You are treading the very edge of what I can accept, mórthéin--” she began, but she then studied the faces of everyone around her; no eyes looked at her swordhand with the glint of justice and agreement - the complete opposite was true: Charlix’ words seemed to resonate with everyone. Clement saw the chink in her facade and continued:

“A sanndatr or sannsonn is an individual who exemplifies Dûnan morals - fearlessness, strength, love of family, clan and people, piety in the face of the gods, wisdom in the face of challenges - which of these have you shown of late?!”

“I-...” Boudicca felt her swordhand quiver and the divinely sharp blade bit a slight cut into Clement’s skin, drawing a sliver of blood. The man flinched and stepped to the side, pointing a gloved finger into Boudicca’s face.

“You have stolen our right to avenge Ha-Leothe by accepting the warlord’s terms!” he accused. Boudicca bit her teeth together and stepped back. She turned to the avatar of Celestine and pleaded,

“Master, talk some sense into them!”

To say that Celestine was surprised by the statement that Boudicca gave would’ve been an understatement, but this surprise was a welcome one. The avatar’s brow relaxed as the news of a duel came forth, though what happened afterwards displeased her quite immensely. She did not intervene immediately, as she didn’t want to undermine the authority of Boudicca and make the situation worse than it already was. But when Boudicca asked for aid, it was delivered.

Rising from her chair, Celestine’s avatar stepped forward and issued a single commanding cry in a volume that nearly shook the great house. ”SILENCE!”

Standing silent for a few moments to allow the weight of such a command to be better understood by all, Celestine’s avatar stood behind Boudicca with confidence. Placing a firm and assuring hand upon her shoulder, Celestine’s avatar would begin to speak once more as she looked out over the assembled people. ”You ask of her if she has exemplified Dûnan morals? Is it not fearless to take on the hopes and dreams of all who are gathered here? Is it not fearless to face the leader of your enemy in single combat? Does it not display a deep love of family to ensure that the sons and daughters of all gathered here will see their parents returned home alive? Does she not show a love of clan and people by ensuring that Ha-Dûna’s resources will not be slowly sapped away by an unrelenting enemy until the people who you all so valiantly defend lay starving in the streets? I can assure you that her piety is quite strong, given that I am standing here and receiving it directly. Is it not wise to find an option that ends a war quickly and without needless death?”

Celestine’s avatar paused now to allow her words to sink in. Turning her gaze to Clement she stepped forward and released the grip she had on Boudicca’s shoulder. Her voice lowered from the volume she used for delivering speeches. This would be far more personal. Placing a hand onto Clement’s shoulder, the avatar began to speak ”I understand your desire for vengeance. To pay the blood debt that the enemy has caused you. But that is not always the way. I have a blood debt myself. Hilda the Leoness was cursed while dueling in a tournament held in my name. For a time I wanted nothing more than to kill the people responsible for such a thing, and part of me still does. But I have found that there is another way to honor the fallen: Live for them. Be their living legacy and do not let their names fall into obscurity. Additionally, think of the duality of such a situation. Consider that If you enact your vengeance upon those that have hurt you that you could cause someone else to take up arms against you for hurting their kin. You would end up perpetuating a cycle of death and violence that will come to affect your children and their children, and their children's children. It is painful to leave a crime unanswered, but sometimes answering that crime can cause so much more.”

The room stayed silent for a second. Then there came a sharp scoff. “Hilda was a proppa’ Dûnan, dat one. She wouldna have t’ought herself so great that she could take all our sorrow and fury away and do away with the enemy one on one - she had pride, yes, but a humble kind; one that understood that others, too, have deir own pride.” It was the Pride-King of Swadi, Koisa, his many leon tusk charms dangling from his buffalo fur attire. “Me and my warriors, dey swore an oa’f - de Cenél would bleed the blood of a hundred men for what dey did to my cousin’s daughta. On de honour o’ Kon, de great war-god, dey are sworn to take de lives demanded, or be forced ta take deir own. If de war is ova’ by duel, den a hundred of my strongest men an’ women will die, instead ov de people dat really deserve it. Where’s de justice in dat?” He looked around the hall and shrugged theatrically. “Where is de justice for my cousin’s daughta, cursed as she was by de Cenél?”

“And for Valix! My own cousin Valix the Quick!” came another shout.

“Be quiet!” shouted Boudicca. “You are speaking against a goddess!”

“Oh, so now that loud voice of yours is back, huh?” Clement snarled, still standing defiantly before her, though shifting nervously over at Celestine. “Must be easy to lead when you’ve got a goddess behind your back.”

“Shut it, or I will have your head.”

“Then take it, you coward - take it and show everyone that you would rather kill one of your own than to give them the right to avenge their family and friends. Go on! I’m sure whatever we do to retaliate won’t affect you, on account of your friends in high places.” Mockingly, he raised his hand, and the faces of the people in the hall grew increasingly suspicious of both Boudicca and Celestine.

Celestine’s avatar turned to face Boudicca shortly after her comments were made, and she held up a hand to stay any further ones, even if only briefly. But shortly before she could speak Clement gave his own retort, and Celestine’s avatar moved to stand between them with a hand held aloft to both. Looking to Boudicca once more, the avatar would speak to her first. ”Ser Boudicca, please. I am not one who is incapable of suffering slings and arrows. Let them raise their voices in protest. I will hear their complaints, as is fair.”

Dropping her hand and turning to Clement and the room in full, the avatar would speak once more. ”The soldiers who have taken this pact may yet have their battle. I am sure that there are many among the enemy who would gladly agree to the chance to do battle. If given time, I can try to speak with the leader of the enemy and see this arranged. This duel might serve to be expanded upon to be one great battle instead of a protracted war of skirmish after skirmish until one side is too exhausted to continue. Will this satisfy all?”

Celestine’s avatar took a step back now to look at Boudicca as well as the assembled leaders. The solution she proposed was one that she didn’t enjoy proposing as it served to add complications to the simple and already agreed upon solution of a duel, but the flaring tempers of the room needed something to cool them, and this was the simplest idea that came forth.

She only hoped that proposing it would not shatter the possibility of a peaceful future. However, none of this seemed to cool the mood in the room - in fact, it only seemed to get hotter. Clement raised his finger in challenge once again, this time at the avatar. “Again you cover for her! I was speaking to Boudicca, not to you!”

“Hold your tongue, du Pierre! You are to speak respectfully to a goddess!” wheezed the ancient voice of Kaer Pier, leader of the Circle of the Long Stride, but none could hear him over the loudening crowd. Clement continued, his eyes trying to meet Boudicca on the other side of the armoured giant. Meanwhile, many more were rising from their seats and closing in on the centre.

“We will not have any sort of duel, skirmish or planned battles of any kind, is that clear? What happened to you, Boudicca? When did you surrender our freedom to live and battle as we’d like to the gods?!”

“We live for the gods!” Boudicca retorted, and the few druids in the room shouted their agreement. Many of the théins, who outnumbered them anyway, seemed unconvinced, though.

“It is clear that you do, sanndatr - but the du Pierre clan lives for itself and its friends.”

“As does the Blanche!” Charlix supported.

“And the Ur-Gaard!”

“Ur-Met!”

“The Shepherds!”

“Ur-Sikra!”

“Ur-Qir!”

Boudicca felt her breathing outpace her. “Aifric! Constable! Arrest these rebels!” But as soon as her eyes found the chief of justice, she noticed the same face on her as on almost everyone else. The red-haired woman clad in the black leather attire of the Constabulary, adorned with the sigils of Taeg-Eit and Fìrinn, lifted her hand in the air and shouted:

“The Leothe clan were brothers and sisters of the Sûr-le-Mont! They will be avenged, head for head!”

Boudicca tugged on Celestine’s cloak again. “Do something!”

The avatar of Celestine stepped back defensively as more began to rise. She understood their frustration and anger at being denied something that had been promised for so long, but it surprised her to learn how many were eager to risk their lives to spill just a drop of blood. Celestine’s avatar kept her hands well away from her sword. She knew that if she so much as touched it that there would be no small amount of blood today. The mortals here posed little threat to the avatar, but Boudicca on the other hand…

If they wanted her head, they could get it. She might’ve had her sword, but was currently lacking in armor. This caused no small amount of alarm, as Celestine knew that if this fury took what it wanted Ha-Dûna would shatter overnight, and all their effort would be in vain. As much as she did not like the idea of what she was about to do, Celestine knew that it was for the best. Boudicca was not safe at the moment, neither was her family. Perhaps it would be time for a brief vacation away from Galbar…

Whispering quietly, Celestine asked Boudicca a critical question. ”Do you know where your family is exactly? Are they all at home?”

“Wh-what? No! They’re, they’re-... I don’t know, I didn’t have time to see them!”

“What are you two whispering about?” Clement demanded. None of them had weapons, as bringing such into someone else’s home was a grave misstep, but he rolled and unrolled his fists threateningly. Charlix, on the other hand, lowered his voice with calming authority.

“Let’s see reason in this, shall we? It is clear that these past few weeks have torn immensely at your psyche, dear sanndatr. May we perhaps suggest that you step back for a time, maybe allow the clan heads to rule in your stead while you rest up?”

Boudicca hissed. “This, this is nothing short of a coup! You are trying to usurp my position!”

“You are unfit to rule, Boudicca. You spend more time with the gods than you do your own people. You’re no leader; you’re a glorified priestess!” Clement accused.

A strumming harp followed Clement’s words, a white robed figure playing off in the corner. The crowd quieted and then turned to regard the figure, the line of sight between them and the centre of the room clearing of people. With no one else interrupting the music, Clement, who had said the last word, followed up with, “Pardon me, I do not recall asking for a bard’s input to our discussion. This isn’t a drama for you to narrate. Kindly leave the war room.”

"Actually, Clement," Illyd Dyll looked up from his harp, "I believe you did ask me to come, don't you remember?" The God walked over and studied Clement, "Yes, you did - you have the same look on your face that Adrian did when he first asked for me. Your opponent has a goddess backing her and arguably strung similar to a puppet in your eyes - you asked for justice and order. Well, here I am, know that while I stand here - no god or goddess can retaliate against you. This is once again a mortal affair."

Most in the room blinked ponderously.

“Have you people learned nothing?” a baritone voice cut in.

"Nope." A brave servant, clearly exasperated from all the surprises, called out from the water he was pouring. The druids began their usual psalms to Caden, whereas many others instinctively cowered. Some even sighed, clearly tired of all the divine attention.

"Oh boy," Illyd screwed his face up with disappointment. He nudged the servant, "If you thought she could talk. Woof."

“Do you not recall the advice I gave you?” Caden demanded. “To make peace where you can, and battle only when you must? Have you already forgotten that it was this sort of infighting which nearly destroyed you all?”

“Great Caden,” Clement pleaded much more respectfully than any manner he had shown Celestine, “that is what we are trying to do - this is a war we -must- fight! Surely you of all magnificent gods would understand the depth of the wound to our honour should we leave this war of aggression up to a mere duel!”

“I understand honour better than you,” Cadien countered. “And I can assure you that no honour would be lost in resolving the conflict in this manner. Honour would, however, be lost in breaking promises that have already been made. Not just the promises your leader has made to your enemy, but the promises your own people have made to your own gods, and to each other.”

A cognitive dissonance seemed to flush over many faces, including those of Charlix and Clement. The latter brought some fingers to his temple and mumbled, “But, but then what is honour? What is honour when some wild barbarian from the hills can massacre a village of over a hundred people and is then only willing to offer one of their own? That is neither respectful from us to them or from them to us - for us, it’s weak; for them, it’s mocking! When did we promise something that would rob us of our right to avenge our fallen?!”

“Honour comes in many forms,” Cadien argued “But do not confuse honour with pride, or vengeance. Pride is not always a bad trait, and vengeance can sometimes be necessary, but not always…”

"Is anyone else here tired of getting talked down to and being told what is and what isn't?" Illyd cleared his throat, "Or no?"

Heads once again turned to the harper, but initially, no one responded. Then, very slowly, one of the strongmen in the back, a rugged brute who looked not much different than a common peasant, raised his hand. “I am.”

Kaer Pier let out a panicking wheeze and shouted, “Great Caden, please have mercy! This one is clearly without the proper learning to--”

"Ah nah nah," Illyd interrupted, "He is exactly who he needs to be. He is tired, and why not? He's a grown man being babied by one God who barges and bellows and another who is probably younger than you are good Kaer." Illyd grinned wide, a mad twinkle in his eye. "A dishonest man is an undesired man."

“Enough!” Cadien interjected once again. Illyd rolled his eyes and whispered "see."

Cadien continued, “I have given no orders. Illyd Dyll, I must say I expected better from you. You interrupt and insult others, while only sowing chaos and discord, in a conflict you have only recently taken note of. You are not acting as a god, but as a child. Now be silent and allow me to finish."

"If that's what you see, then you're blind and I am sad to see you have fallen," Illyd shrugged and turned to the mortals, "Speak your minds and do as you will. If a god interrupts your rightful paths, I will retaliate in your defense."

“War is not a matter of equivalent exchange, Clement of Ha-Dûna,” Cadien went on. “If that was the case, then your people would have far more enemies than they do already. You cannot call for an equal exchange of life only when such an exchange is not in your favour, after already turning a blind eye to the battles where your own people killed far more than they lost. That is not honour.”

“This duel is not something I personally approve of, but allow me to tell you what will happen if it does not occur. Chaos. If you reject this duel after your leader has already agreed to it, you will show the world that a Ha-Dûnan’s word cannot be trusted. They will not care if your leader made this decision without consulting you. All they will see is a betrayal. Your allies will desert you, your enemies will sense weakness, and your own people will be divided on who should replace her. Even if your city does not succumb to infighting once again, it will collapse under the weight of the enemies which surround it. It will be the end of Ha-Dûna.”

“Now, allow me to tell you what will happen if the duel does occur. If Boudicca prevails, which I am fully confident she will, then your conflict will be resolved without any further loss of life. The enemy’s leader will be slain, which will do far more damage to his people than the loss of a single village. If she loses, then there will be no need to overthrow her, for she will no longer be your leader. While you will be expected to follow the conditions of defeat to the letter, doing so will be far less damaging than what would happen should you refuse to honour them.”

“All of this will happen without my intervention,” Cadien continued. “I need not lift a finger. This is not the first conflict that two leaders attempted to settle through a duel, and it will not be the last. Despite his insolence today, I still count Illyd Dyll among my friends, so this once I will honour his request not to retaliate. If you wish to replace your leader, then you may attempt to do so. If you wish to reject the terms she has already made, then you may attempt to do so as well. But know that straying from the course she has already set will only mean disaster. It will be a disaster of your own making, and I will not aid you.”

The highest in command seemed utterly baffled. Around the hall, many others looked genuinely confused. “... Weak? Allies will desert us?” mumbled Clement as though the very connection couldn’t make sense to him.

“You do not speak for us, Kadon!” shouted suddenly the Pride-King of Swadi, pointing a finger defiantly to the roof. “We are an ally ov’ A-Dohna, and if dey go to war, so will we!”

“Aye!” shouted the leader of the Buffalo Riders and rose up.

“Dueling will show strength?! What sort of mighty people cowers before a lesser army in a war they have every advantage in, and then accepts a simple duel? The Doserung stand with the Dûnans!” proclaimed chief Bonursan Chirrut.

“Bast… Bast, too, stands with the Dûnans, if they choose war. That is what my father sent his support for, after all,” said carefully the scribe-made-warlord Ratinmaar. The only one of the five allied leaders to keep quiet was the Death-Singer Vanya, but whatever she would have answered.

“When it comes to replacing the sanndatr, actually,” added the chief constable Aifric, “we have already found several candidates who may possess the necessary moral fibre to lead. Succession would therefore not be an issue, and leadership would be delegated to the Circle of the Long Stride until the heir would be ready to rule. So reads the Dlíbók chapter on rulership and succession.”

“We cannot trust the enemy to keep their promise if they win, either!” came another voice. “They already attacked us unprovoked once - they will do it again!”

“Whatever enemies once surrounded us, have now been tamed! Until the treacherous Cenél ratted themselves together with the Chevelyaks, no one would rise against us! The lands will not fall into chaos if we refuse the duel and destroy the eastern threat, nay - chaos will come should we squander our advantage in the heat of the moment!” proclaimed Clement. Charlix hummed harshly in agreement.

“What infighting the great Caden refers to, I cannot see now,” said the mórthéin Charlix. “Here we stand, fifty heads, each leading their own band or clan, and all are united in mind and purpose: The Chevelyaks deserve not to savour a cheap victory should the hopeless sanndatr fail, nor do they deserve an unprecedented mercy should Boudicca win. The Chevelyaks deserve only to be thrown back to their mountains from whence they came and never set foot in our lands again!”

“YEAH!” The druids, granted, did not celebrate alongside the unanointed, but it was clear that their voices mattered very little now.

Celestine’s avatar, after a long period of silence, spoke up once again. ”I can offer something to quell one fear: Anyone who attacks unprovoked now that this duel is a known factor will be met with a prompt counter offensive of my own design. In addition, Illyd, I will make you this promise: The outcome of this duel will be accepted without intervention on my part. I have been trying to figure out ways to break the cycle of violence and death that has gone on for too long, and this duel aligns with those ideals quite nicely.”

Looking to Charlix, the avatar addressed something that he had said in particular. ”As for the infighting you dismissed so easily, consider that mere moments before Cadien began to speak you were all acting in a manner that gave me reason to believe that you were going to make an attempt on Ser Boudicca’s life here and now. I was fully prepared to spirit her away to my realm to ensure her survival should those who were rising from their chairs begin to rush for us. That is the infighting that was referred to.”

The people looked stunned. Even Boudicca tugged at Celestine’s cloak and shook her head nervously. Then Clement scoffed sharply. “Attempt on her life?!”

“Does she think us to be barbarians?!” came a shout from further back.

“And she threatens to kill us instead of the enemy, for what? For accepting these foul, puny terms?! What manner of war gods are you, even?!” boomed another.

Charlix stuck an authoritative finger in the air. “I do not know about the rest of you, but one of my age can recall stories from a time our people had other masters who restricted us like this.” The hall quieted as eyes fixed on the red-mustached man. “Oh, certainly, we have always been pious to the gods, and Caden has been a beloved divine amongst my people in particular. My father used to draw excellent worded pictures of the temple to Cadwyn back in old Brasfort.”

“Hear, hear…” went a mumble.

“Still, great divines, it is clear that your nature is exactly that - divine. You clearly do not see the world as we do, and we do not see it as you do. From your words and tone, we are pieces in a game to you, to be shuffled around and managed to achieve some sort of cosmic balance; however, we are people - our own, breathing people…”

“Yeah…”

“And the Dûnans…”

“Yeah!”

“Will NEVER--!”

“YEAH!”

“BE RULED AGAIN!”

He pointed an accusing finger at Celestine, his eyes trembling with adrenaline. “You never cared about us Dûnans - you have only ever cared for your champion, and you have shown as much by threatening to punish us should we exercise our divine right to avenge our fallen! You are no better than the damned Ketrefans, you are!”

"In Celestine's defense." Illyd held out a hand, "Jjonveyo is also her Champion but very little care goes towards him."

A gasp flushed through the room, followed by outraged growls and roars. Clement kicked his chair over and shouted, “That butcher?! She sired that -butcher-, that utter killer, and have the audacity to talk to us about honour and justice?!”

"Again in her defense," Illyd looked over at Celestine, "You're only a few decades old, no?"

The avatar of Celestine gave a nod before speaking. ”I am rather freshly emerged from the lifeblood, yes.”

“By Taeg-Eit, this is what happens when we move beyond the druidic gods,” exclaimed suddenly Kaer Pier, his wrinkly face so red that it looked like a dried-up apple. “Damned youngster spirits try to deceive and mislead us, I say!”

“Finally dropped the act, you old badger!” a smug Clement snapped back.

“This is what I’ve been saying for thirty years, you damned fart! The druidic gods are the only gods worth our worship! These others are too demanding-- UGHUUUH!” The old man bent over to an overpowering cough and his attendees swarmed him with water and medicine.

“Please, Kaer Pier, do not strain yourself!”

Clement and Charlix seemed satisfied with the outburst, however. Clement tugged his expensive vest straight again and said, “Well, then. It would seem there is unison agreement that we are quite fed up with being told what to do.”

“So it seems, so it seems,” Charlix agreed.

Celestine’s avatar raised an eyebrow at the statements that came in response to her own. She looked to Boudicca, confusion in her face. If she had felt the tug a few moments earlier… Regret filled her eyes, and she nodded to Boudicca before looking to the crowd once more before speaking. ”It would appear that I have erred, and I will offer my apologies. I do not seek to control you in some great game like some of the other divines might. I just wish for peace. That is all I have ever wished for. If you wish to be free of influence as you so say, then very well. I will abide by your desires.”

And then a portal would open. Beyond it lay the near paradise that was Celestine’s realm. Dragons dotted the sky and Virtus Elves carried on with their days. Placing a hand upon Boudicca’s shoulder, Celestine’s avatar blinked once before departing, closing the portal behind her moments later. Boudicca grabbed fruitlessly at the air where the portal had just been and whispered, “M-master?”

As the crowd gathered ever closer around her, Clement and Charlix looked over to Aifric, who had already prepared a length of rope. “Chief constable Aifric. Take the former sanndatr to the Temple of the Sun. She is from this day stripped of her title as she is not fit to rule, and her daughter Materix of Clan Metsep will inherit the title of laird in her stead.” As Boudicca’s hands were bound, Charlix looked over at Kaer Pier who had slowly recovered from his cough. “Kaer Pier, you and your druids may begin the search for a new sanndatr or sannsonn.”

The old druid nodded slowly, holding a linen handkerchief over his mouth. “Yes, yes, we will start it as soon as we can.”

“The rest of you - prepare for war. The Chevelyaks will be driven from the Dûnlands by the axe and the spear and the fist of its true rulers!”

A thunderous cheer nearly quaked the building itself. It was a sort of cheer that hadn’t really existed in Ha-Dûna for a time; for weeks, there had been this humbling presence everyone one went, and the city felt lighter, more human the second the avatar had left. The heaviness of divine presence still lingered, though - there was still one who had something on his heart.

"Hold a moment."

"Allow me to tell you a story," Cadien spoke up again, his voice quieter and thoughtful. "It is one your people have long since discarded and forgotten, but it is true nonetheless. Long ago, while I was still being born, I was a being without vision, hearing, or thought. As was the case for every other god, before they too came to be - including your own Druidic gods. But even in this state, I had power. I created a species, which was scattered throughout the Highlands."

"And when I emerged, with vision, hearing, and thought, I looked upon this species. And I thought it could be improved. So, I turned thought to action. I reshaped their bodies in my own image, giving them strength and beauty. I granted them intelligence; the ability to think for themselves and come up with complex solutions. I prevailed upon another goddess to grant them passion and emotion as well; the same sort of passion which now animates all of you. And those people... are your ancestors."
-
"So do not presume," Cadien continued, his voice hardening into anger. "To call me a slaver. I am your creator. That is truth, whether you accept it or not. All humans, and all merelli, are descended from me. And that is my interest in this affair. Do you know how few humans there were at the time of my birth compared to how many there are now? A hundred different tribes and clans can claim the same ancestor."

"And so," the god concluded, a note of sadness entering his voice. "Whenever you kill another human, you are killing a distant kinsman. Do keep that in mind." And with those words, the Dûnans felt a great presence leave them.

The hall was quiet. Then came a remark: “As if I can trace my lineage all the way to Eceda.”

“... Did, did Caden really make us?” came another.

“No, Reiya did! It is known!”

“It is very well known, in fact. He must be upset he could not convince us to accept the duel. Do any of you wonder why he was so adamant about that, by the way? As a war god, shouldn’t he…?”

“Duh! It’s clear the Chevelyaks have persuaded him away from us. Can’t be trusted, those non-druidic gods.”

“As always, Hir guides the way.”

Meanwhile, Clement and Charlix approached the avatar of illyd Dyll and bow took a knee. “Great Lyd,” they choired. “We thank you immensely for your aid in this. To think Selesta was in cahoots with the wicked warlord…”

"You know," Illyd tapped his chin. "It's about this time a god would throw another speech at ya - but instead - please just don't forget to plant some heavy taproots this late winter."

“Taproots?” asked Charlix, but Clement nodded.

“Of course, great one. They shall line the fields like posts in a fence.” He folded his hands and pressed them against his forehead. “With your blessings, this war shall be won by Dûnans, for Dûnans. Not by gods and not for gods.”

"Don't hold your breath for my validation," Illyd giggled. "But really just pray to me should a divine force rear its machinations. Now show me too my druids, it's high time I show them what soil temperature is then I'm out of here."

“Of course! Kaer Myvon, come here,” demanded Clement and one of the druids assisting Kaer Pier out of the house came jogging over, bowing deeply before the avatar and then not as deeply before the two mórthéins.

“Yes, laird Clement?”

“Gather your Circle and go with the great one. Make sure his every need is tended to and pay attention to his every word. I will expect a full report once it’s done.”

“Of, of course!” replied the druid nervously and bowed against before Illyd. “Great Lyd, I am yours to command. Please, allow me to take you to the Circle of the Gods.” She gestured, still bowing, for him to follow.

"Oh my," Illyd made a surprised face. "So formal." He quickly followed behind the druid - an eager spring in his step. As the last people left the house, Charlix and Clement remained, both smiling proudly at one another.

“So, who shall inherit the House of Chieftains? At least until the new sanndatr or sannsonn is chosen?” asked Charlix.

“Oh, you go ahead, my good man - I so enjoy my own estate, after all. I would miss my sheep.” Clement tugged at his vest.

“Ah, what an unfortunate coincidence - I, too, am much too deeply in love with my own bed and the view from my door. What shall we use this for, then?” The two of them quietly pondered.

“... Storage?”

“Storage.”

Then they left to prepare for the coming war.



.


Preparation.




Celestine paced about her personal chambers as she contemplated what preparations she would need to make for the upcoming conflict. She knew that deploying one of her Death Dragons, or perhaps two, would be a viable solution. But they were massive forces of destruction and capable of causing an extensive amount of collateral damage. Perhaps then sending forth her Virtus Elves first would be a wiser idea? A fine needle to address the problem in a more surgical manner rather than simply smashing away at it with the hammer that the Death Dragons were. She would need to make sure that the Virtus Elves were prepared to leave the paradise that they lived in.

Moving to the balcony that lay outside her personal chambers, Celestine moved to begin granting gifts of knowledge and equipment to her Virtus Elves but was stopped shortly thereafter by the sudden occurrence of an idea. If she was to deposit the Virtus upon Galbar to serve as a peacekeeping force then it would likely be useful to shore up their ability to function independently of their patron goddess. Indeed, if they could not produce or maintain their own equipment then she would have to tend to their needs constantly. Nodding to herself, Celestine began to enact a different plan. She had no intention of abandoning them once they were upon Galbar, but it would be crippling to their effectiveness to be so dependent upon constant gifts and guidance.

First, the city surrounding her castle was expanded once again. In the new space that was created several training fields were added to practice swordplay and archery. Then she added six smithies for the Virtus to begin forging and maintaining their own weapons and armor. When this was done, she decided that it was time to make full use of the gift that she had been given by Àicheil. Hefting The Akashic Gate from its resting place, Celestine carried it to the town square and sent out a divine ping to the Virtus Elves that lived within her realm. Taking a moment to craft a shrine to The Akashic Gate in the town square, Celestine began the tedious process of distributing the pages from it to the gathered elves. Hours were spent distributing pages to them, but each and every Virtus Elf was eventually given a page from The Akashic Gate and thus attuned to it as The Dreaming God had specified. This would prevent the knowledge that she was about to give them from being lost. The Akashic Gate would remain within the shrine that had been made for it for now, able to be accessed by any elf that needed it. It would have to go unto Galbar when the Virtus were permanently placed there, but for now it could remain where it was.

When she was finished with the tome Celestine expanded her divine senses and tapped into her reservoir of divine power. Bringing forth a small pool of it Celestine placed two drops within the mind of every Virtus Elf. Within the first drop was the knowledge of metalworking and blacksmithing, with special attention paid towards the crafting and maintaining of weapons and armor. Within the second drop was the knowledge of how best to utilize the weapons and armor that they were going to make. Strategies and tactics for waging the war that they would soon be embroiled in.

Once this was done, Celestine paid a visit to each of the six smithies that she had placed within the city surrounding her castle. Within each smithy she used a portion of her divine power to stock it with a large quantity of steel. Then she gave instructions for the Virtus to begin forging arms and armor for the coming conflict. Some time thereafter she was made aware of an issue that the Virtus were having with some of the bows that they were making: The immense draw-weights of some of these bows exhausted them after a few shots, and while they were plenty powerful their weight made them cumbersome to aim and move about the battlefield with.

This left Celestine with a dilemma. She could instruct them to make bows from wood as was more traditional and better understood, or…

Dipping into her divine strength and expanding her divine senses once again, Celestine bestowed a new blessing upon the Virtus Elves: A blessing of Strength. A brief period of clumsiness ensued as the Virtus adjusted to their new strength, but once it passed they found themselves more than capable of wielding the bows that they made. In fact, their enhanced strength made their new task of blacksmithing that much simpler, as they could work the metal much faster and more accurately than before.

With that finished, Celestine instructed her Virtus Elves to train themselves in the combat tactics that they had been taught, and to construct as many sets of equipment as they could. She told them of their upcoming deployment, and asked that as many of them be ready for combat as they could. The response was simply overwhelming. Drills were held constantly, and teams of blacksmiths cycled in and out of the smithies constantly to produce elegant yet deadly equipment at an astonishing pace. They were so eager to please their goddess...

Returning to her personal chambers, Celestine sat down at her desk and buried her face in her hands. She mourned the losses that would inevitably come because of this event. She knew that it was nearly inevitable that not all of them would return to the realm alive, or return at all given that she could not knight all of them to ensure their return to her realm. Celestine knew that they would give anything she asked of them, but hated the fact that she had to ask in the first place.

She hated the fact that war seemed to be the only way to solve things, and hoped that her plan of installing the Virtus as peacekeepers would break the cycle of violence in the area. If it didn’t… She didn’t know what she would do.



.


Homecoming.




It had been mere moments since Celestine had spoken with Thaa about the conflicts that she was having internally. But now she had a plan and most of the pieces needed to see it through. But now those pieces needed a place to exist. Celestine had promised that their needs would be met, and she had aims to see such a promise fulfilled. This required that her realm be modified once again.

Sitting upon the throne overlooking The Longhall, Celestine extended her divine senses outward to look over her realm once again before beginning to modify it. The first thing she did was massively increase the size and complexity of The Bulwark, along with placing it atop a massive hill. The previously fairly modest castle was now massive. The most notable additions to the easily viewable exterior were an extraordinarily large horn and a massive empty platform at the back of the castle. The function of such an arrangement would be fairly obvious: If she wanted to summon a death dragon to speak with, this would be where and how she would do it.

Aside from the platform the castle has had another important addition, though this addition is deliberately hidden from most easy viewing. Behind the hill is a massive tunnel that slopes downward until reaching a massive chamber beneath the castle. The entrance of this tunnel is guarded by a massive gate that opens automatically for either Celestine or a Death Dragon, but remains shut for all others. The chamber that the tunnel leads to is well lit by torches and chandeliers dotted around the area, but incredibly misty. Death energies from the portal within The Longhall are directed to flow down here, making this section of the realm remarkably similar to Thaa’s realm. This is intentional, because within this massive chamber are many dishes and other places where nests could be made. The intent is obvious: It is an egg chamber for the Death Dragons to reproduce.

The towns that had previously dotted the area beyond the castle have all been relocated around it. They largely sit around the base of the hill, and give the passage to The Egg Chamber a wide berth to avoid any mishaps with arriving or leaving Death Dragons. The outer wall of the castle has been expanded to accommodate the massively increased population surrounding it. The wall was much taller and much thicker than before, most likely to better protect the town from the activities of the newest inhabitants of the realm. It would not do to have a pair of playing Death Dragons tumble across a city and flatten it. At the rear of the wall there is a gap to allow for easy access to the passage leading to The Egg Chamber.

Beyond the castle and its surrounding town Celestine’s realm has been massively expanded and the biomes present have been immensely diversified. Now instead of being just a valley with a river Celestine’s realm possesses a mixture of flat plains, massive hills, mountains, valleys, and canyons. Plenty of places for the Death Dragons to amuse themselves and exercise.

Within these various biomes Celestine has also massively increased the population of prey animals. She specifically picked large animals that would put up a good run in order to provide proper engagement for the Death Dragons. Horses, Moose, Elk, and some Bison and Cows for effective measure. These prey animals were also made to repopulate swiftly since Death Dragons were, as Celestine learned, quite big eaters. This was especially true since Celestine encouraged them to play and exercise themselves in order to keep themselves in shape.

Beyond The Bulwark and within the valley that had previously housed the various scattered towns now lay hundreds of individually customized homes for the Death Dragons. Each one was made in a unique style expressed by the individual dragon. They were large enough to house two to three Death Dragons at any one time, and had massive beds for them to rest upon. One standard feature throughout all of them was a large and durable scratching post to rub off weak and dead scales with. The river that ran through the valley was also touched up and turned into a long stone-lined trough of flowing clear water. This water was also then modified to have a high metal content to support the health of their scales.

At the end of the valley a large pool of water was placed. This water was also high in metal content as the river, but was kept separate to ensure no cross contamination. The stone lining of this pool was kept coarse and easy to grip for the water remained in a steady swirl. There were also nearby places for a Death Dragon to stretch themselves out and sun themselves. The intent of this area was to be a place for a Death Dragon to bathe themselves within the flowing water. Celestine had even informed them that if they so needed they could request a team of Virtus Elves to thoroughly scrub them down.

Finally, Celestine turned her divine senses to the Virtus Elves. Their interactions with Death Dragons would be something that was going to reach deep into their society and so she sought to prepare them for such. Reaching into their essence, she strengthened their bodies resistance to falling from great heights and granted the ability to leap to those heights with relative ease.

Once that was finished. Celestine pulled her divine senses back into herself and gave a sigh as she felt her divine power wane. Walking to her personal chambers and then out onto a balcony she gave a smile as she saw the Death Dragons and Virtus Elves beginning to mingle and interact.

This was good. It would be needed for the future. They were going to be intertwined for a long time. It would be good for them to get used to one another's presence quickly. Returning to The Longhall and sitting down once more upon the throne that overlooked it, Celestine nodded to herself in silence and decided to try and rest a bit before doing too much else.



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