Avatar of WrongEndoftheRainbow


User has no status, yet


User has no bio, yet

Most Recent Posts



After nearly a week had passed and there was no sign of the rest of the clan, Reaper ordered the group of seven to move out alongside Elutil the Strider. Heavy silence was upon the band as they trekked. It seemed to them that the world, the gods, and the very wastes, were set upon tearing them from all whom they loved and all that they loved. First they were forced from Renev, then the very world seemed to change around them so that everything they ever thought they knew was a barren wasteland. Then a god - or demon, who could really tell? - had descended upon them and stolen two of their lads in the flower of their youth! And now the wastes seemed to have simply swallowed the great majority of those who had managed to survive all that. There was cause for misery and frustration. Paying heed to little other than the strider that led the way, the Renevits of the waste wallowed in hopelessness.

Though Elutil, out of respect, had silenced their questions, they nonetheless continued to take in everything they saw and heard. Day after day of walking, merely surviving, and day after day of healing; each sunrise, there were less cracks in Elutil’s crystalline matrix, even as the hole in their head remained. They could not see through the leathers that covered their head, and in its place they focused on other pursuits. They pieced together sounds, copying mournful wails and incorporating them into a greater whole that they sang from their body.

In some ways it was pleasing, though it evoked grief and loss. A shard of beauty extracted from the horrors of the wastes and the memories of what they no longer had. Day after day, and the song grew more and more complex, wordless yet dripping with emotion copied from the Renevits. It did not appear that the Renevits appreciated the sounds, however, which seemed to drive them only into a higher state of grief. After a day or two had passed with nothing other than Elutil’s keening, Reaper gruffly requested that it ease up on the sound. “The men are at their wits end with grief, Elutil, and that’s not helping.” The man explained.

Elutil’s covered head dipped in acknowledgement, and for a while the strider silenced. As they glittered in the sunlight, they considered the effect of their song on the group, and the grief it inspired. Questions whirled once more in their mind, and they elected to test it, but in a more positive manner. This time, as the party picked up speed in the direction Elutil had informed them harboured safety from the constant storms, the strider twisted their songs into ones meant to inspire determination and happiness. It did not fully dispel the group’s grief, naturally, but it brought their natural fortitude and strength of mind and will to the fore. Reaper’s commands came sharply and his remaining Renevit companions obeyed swiftly and wordlessly. They hunted together and were never to stray out of sight, not even when relieving themselves. When they had to rest, three of them were to be up keeping watch at any one time. In this manner they continued watchfully until one day the desert finally broke and they saw, in the distance, the sand and rock give way to trees and rolling vales of green. “It’s the worldriver!” Galloper breathed, eyes wide. The others murmured in agreement and joy. “By the wheat of spring! I can smell the clay of Renev on the wind!” Claymender cried, tears in his eyes. At mention of Renev the others were hushed and sadness took them. Then Donkeywhacker spoke up. “Maybe… maybe they’re back home. Maybe if… if we go back then…” he glanced at Reaper, desperate for any nod of agreement to give a spark to his flailing hope. Reaper’s visage was as stone, however, and Donkeywhacker’s face fell.

In considerably lower spirits, the Renevits and the strider continued their journey. Elutil, for their part, did not fully understand; though they felt the sandstorm lift, they did not know of Renev, nor of anything but the endless wastes. They lapsed into silence as they followed along, blind to the world and the river with the tents wrapped around their head. Reaper, who even in the midst of grief had remained the band’s dark-haired guidestar, led the way. He scanned the green horizon as they trekked on and the earth transformed beneath them from rock and sand to grass. After some quarter of an hour of searching, he finally saw something - a shape in the distance. “There,” he breathed, “that’s surely a town or settlement.” He gestured to the distant shape, and the others squinted and muttered their agreement. “Let us head towards it,” Reaper said, “and if the gods are kind we will find shelter there and safety, and we will be able to sit and think how best to find our people - who knows, maybe someone there will know something.” He glanced at the others and saw that there were nods of agreement all around. With a destination fixed, the band set out once more.

It was a half-day’s march, with very short rests, before they came to the edge of the town’s farmlands. They were greeted there by initially cautious but soon friendly peasants who were happy to share food with them, refill their long-emptied waterskins, and give them shelter for the night, even as they complained about the painful glares of light that emerged from Elutil. “How far is Renev from here?” Claymender asked their host, Rakbor, who was the ancient headman of the town. He was built like a horse and seemed like he would go on living ten thousand lifetimes more. “Renev?” Rakbor asked, “I’ve no’ hear’ ov i’, no I ain’. Bu’ maybe ask a wand’rin Daff’tale - them’s always wafflin’ one way or avah.” Reaper thought it a reasonable enough thing. “We will be heading out for the river tomorrow,” he told Rakbor, “forgive us for troubling you for the night.” The ancient giant made as if to swat his words aside. “Pssht man, Rakbor’s ‘earth’s a’wayz li’ fo’ gests.”

The fellowship of the Renevits were awake just as dawn broke, and by the time the sun had begun to rise they had broken their fast, readied up, and were ready to set out. Rakbor swore a thousand oaths that they would lunch with him, but they offered him a thousand thanks and blessed him a thousand more, insisting that they could not wait or dally even a moment. “O I’ll no’ ‘ave i’!” the headman declared, “iv i’s to va rivah yer goin’ weyl I’m goin’ wiv ya til yer on a boa’ an’ off wherevah!” Reaper and his band had long ago given up on attempting to understand what the - they now surmised - half-crazy old giant was saying, and so they did not complain when he joined them with some five of his sons and continued chattering away to them. With his help they made fast progress and, by sunset, were camped out on a hillside. One of Rakbor’s sons sang long into the dark hours of the night, accompanied by Elutil, and eventually they set up a night watch and settled down to sleep.

Their journey proved relaxed, unmarred by any terrible beasts or unpleasant encounters, and Rakbor’s company made it all the better. Over the course of the few days they travelled together, his words seemed to become clearer and clearer to their ears so that, by the time they reached the banks of the worldriver, they could only wonder at the fact that they had struggled to understand him just over a week before. “Ah, well here you are.” The enormous man breathed, gazing out at the river as he slapped Reaper on the back. “The worldriver!” It stretched out before them like a sea and they could not make out the other bank even though they strained their eyes. “Aye,” Reaper whispered, “the Great Snakesea.” Boats sailed close by and in the distance, some were large merchant cargo carriers, others small fishing vessels, and others yet transports for people. “‘Fye’re lookin for yer people now,” Rakbor mused, “as I’ve tald ye, it’s Eastriver you should sail. No one what comes from Eastriver talks ‘bout anythin’ but great gods and heroes, cities for miles and,” and he gestured towards the great light shining upon the enormous tree that towered on the horizon, “and the holiest of holies there, the World Tree, the Divine Temple-Palace, and the Throne of Stone. If there’s anywhere you’ll find someone who knows aught about ‘em, it’s in those climes right there.”

Reaper scratched at his moustaches and stroked his beard in deep thought. “I think you’re right. Isn’t the homes of our lady of the earth that way too?” He glanced at Rakbor, who nodded and responded swiftly. “Aye, the sacred city of Sylia is in those climes too. If its her yer after then the destination is Eastriver, ever Eastriver.” And with that, the Renevits got to bidding Rakbor and his sons fond farewell, blessing them and praying eternal joy for them. He did not leave them till they had negotiated with a boatmaster and haggled him down to the skin of his teeth too, and they stood waving as the boat sailed away Eastriver- ever Eastriver! Once the docks were out of sight and the fellowship returned to passing the time, Elutil approached Reaper, their head still covered by the tent’s material, and asked, “Reaper, you and yours have been kind to me, tolerated my presence and the many questions I have offered,” the strider dipped their head, one manipulator arm motioning to the blindfold they wore to cover their wound, “but, would you do one more thing for me? I desperately wish to see what you see, and one side of my head can still see. I wish for a refined version of this blindfold, one that only covers one half of my head.”

Following that, Elutil remained below deck for some time while Netter - who, by virtue of his past life as a fishing-net maker, had most experience of the men with matters of fabric - worked on the strider’s blindfold. He folded it upon itself, so that it was thinner and padded it most thickly in the areas around the strider’s open wound. It was rather shoddy overall due to the lack of means, but when at last Netter descended below deck and wound it about Elutil’s head, everyone was in agreement that it looked fine. “How’s that now?” Reaper asked the strider. As Elutil stepped atop the deck, they did not immediately respond; instead they carefully examined the ship they sailed upon, curiosity and wonder evident; by their body language, they might as well have been staring at the most beautiful gem.

There, at the edge of the ship, the water. Elutil stared down at their own glittering reflection in the clear blue water. As the vessel sliced through the current, it foamed at the edges and left a wake that the strider studied with yet more wonder. Once, they had only known sand, blood, and the storm. Above, the clear blue sky and below the babbling flow of the river. They were silent for a while, looking out at the banks beyond and the plants growing upon them. When they finally did speak, it was choked, some form of awe in Elutil’s tone, “I never knew all of this existed. I couldn’t have imagined this when I heard you speak of your homeland.” Standing nearby and looking into the flowing water, Reaper managed a sad smile. “It doesn’t look like we have much homeland to speak of anymore.” He murmured, but was quite quick to move on. Elutil was silent once more, taking in the sights they had never before known, before they eventually responded, “Where will you make one,” the strider paused, and then clarified, “a homeland, I mean. A new one.” With furrowed brows, the man leaned over the side of the ship slightly and looked at the passing bank. “That’s not something I’ve had the luxury to think about. It’s like not something those of us who knew Renev will ever be able to do. But before we can attempt it - for the sake of those who come after us, anyway - we first have to find those we lost. Longsight and Badboy… Lifedancer, Rockpetter, Treesbane… and those from before too, who we lost during the assault on Renev and the failed flight to Fort Skybreak. I can’t even comprehend settling in any new home without everyone.” He released a long sigh and glanced over at Elutil. “So I guess it’s Eastriver, like Rakbor said. When we reach Sylann I am sure the goddess will have answers for us… or at least, that’s what I hope.”

“Goddess?” Elutil asked, suddenly, as they looked over at Reaper. Their manipulator arms held onto the railing; their head stretched over the edge, even as the bulk of their body remained firmly behind the railing. Hurriedly, once more a clarification was added, “What’s a Goddess?”
Reaper raised an eyebrow at the strider. “You know…” the man’s voice trailed off, “the one that took Longsight and Badboy- we’ve mentioned her plenty.” He approached Elutil and examined its head. “Has your wound addled your mind? Maybe taking in all these sights has confused you- go rest. And I should too, actually.”

And withholding a yawn, the man walked off to the quarters below deck to get some rest.

“Three natures hath the Wolf Divided;
he unmaketh; he unmaketh;
and at the last, he unmaketh.”
Cultist Simulator

Umbar awoke to great pain. With a grunt he managed to sit up and check himself. There was blood drying on his fur, scars where there might have once been grievous wounds. Somehow, fire crackled nearby, smoke rising and catching on a rock ceiling before flooding outwards to the sky beyond the opening that lay before him. In that opening, an old wolf stood, leaning on an old, dried branch of a walking stick. In the firelight, much of his fur was white, patchy in places where age had not been kind.

He was looking out at an achingly familiar village in the distance, lit up in the night like a beacon, huts burning in a great conflagration. A wide plume of smoke rose above it, blocking out the stars. Umbar rose to his feet in one quick movement, too quick and he fell back down. With another grunt he used his arm to lean against the cave wall and he walked up beside the old wolf and looked out again. They were in the foothills, it seemed, a cave on the base of the cliffs that overlooked the village. If there were one left to overlook, judging by the great fire that raged below. A crushing weight gripped him in that moment, like he had been sent to the bottom of a great river. Drowning in cold depths.

The old wolf shifted, a deep, rattling sigh emerging from his throat, still turned away from Umbar. He seemed to know that Umbar had awoken, perhaps heard his stumble in the cave, his grunting. But he did not speak, did not turn to look at the one now beside him. He seemed to be waiting for the fullblood to speak first, perhaps to introduce himself or demand answers.

“What…” he coughed, his throat burning. He swallowed what he could but it would do no good. So he tried again, “Why am I here? I have to…” He shut his smoky eyes and sighed, “I have to help.” And he took a step forward. The walking stick whipped out in front of him, blocking his path. The old wolf gently brought it to press against his chest, to bid him to stay. He looked over, his fur scraggly and his whiskers bent, one eye milky white with a scar, the other a deep blue. The voice that emerged was husky, underused, “If any survive, they blame you. Would kill you where you stand,” a serious, appraising look fell upon his face, “you failed once, and now it’s easier to point the finger at you than to come to account with what has happened.”

The walking stick left Umbar’s chest, and the old wolf turned to the fire, walking over and sitting on a rock ledge on the side of the cave. He continued, “Sit by the fire, instead. Your daughter spoke highly of you; it’s why I came, and why I rescued you from your appointed death. She lives still, and misses her father.” He closed his eyes, letting exhaustion run across his shoulders as he awaited Umbar’s decision, to stay and listen, or to leave and surely die.

An influx of emotions hit him all at once at the old wolf’s words but struck him the most was the mention of his daughter. The small pup no older than seven winters, somehow alive? He didn’t care what the others thought of him. He didn’t care that they deemed him a traitor. He didn’t care they would want him dead. He had been prepared to die already but now… Now, he sat down.

He opened his mouth but struggled for the right words. What could one say in such a situation but, “How?” The walking stick reached out to tap him, at center mass. The old fullblood wolf opened his eyes once more and responded, a little sadness etched in his voice, “Inside of both of us are what are called hyperstructures. Everything we are, added onto day after day,” he brought the walking stick back, and tapped on his own chest, before continuing, “In this world of so little complexity, intelligence cannot survive without a physical body to sustain it.”

He still looked exhausted as he looked into the fire, lapsing into silence for a moment. Now it was regret in his voice, “I could not save your mate. Her hyperstructure was too complex. There exists other worlds, ones where intelligence is a fundamental construct of reality. One where freedom is fifteen times freer, and all of our hyperstructures can live outside of mundanity.” He reached out his walking stick to roll another log into the fire, to keep it alive. He did not look up, even as he paused, his walking stick tapping lightly against the floor as he waited for Umbar’s response, to assess him.

“What are you talking about?” Umbar asked, confusion splayed out on his maw. “If what you say is true, why have I never heard of any of it? Who are you and where is my daughter?” The old wolf looked up, suddenly, something in his eyes fierce, “Who I am would require more explanation that you would understand. Not now. A hyperstructure is not a soul, but call it that if it helps you. I know how to see it, but none of you do. Your daughter is not in this world anymore; I could not save her physical body in this world, but so young her hyperstructure was simple enough for the exit.”

He pointed the walking stick up at the ceiling of the cave, and continued, his voice straining with the determination of someone who had clearly spent their life on one goal, “I sent her through to a higher world, where she survives still, and hopes you will come too,” the old wolf’s walking stick snapped down to point at Umbar, and his underused voice only grew fiercer, “you and I, ours are too complex for the exit. We wouldn’t make it through, our hyperstructures would shatter. But I know how to widen it, and I need your help to do so.”

The fullblood stood abruptly and rubbed at his forehead. “This is… As if I’m in some sort of dream. So let me get this straight.” He said. “You say my daughter is alive but in some other world? That she wishes to see me yet, my wife could not be saved? That you need my help with these hyper…structures?” The word felt foreign on his tongue. “I wake up in a strange place, watching my home burn and you say I cannot go. I will be killed. I do not know you and what you say is… I have no words to describe it. I am simply a warrior. Or I was…” Umbar sighed and looked at the old white wolf. “Forgive me I am unsure of this… How do I know what you say is truth?”

The old wolf tilted his head in acknowledgement, his eyes still fierce. He was silent a moment, before he admitted, “It does require a certain level of,” he paused, thinking of the right word, “ratiocination. It’s your choice, but I will offer you a reunion with your daughter nonetheless.” The old wolf brought his walking stick close, and he leaned on it as he stood up. His free hand reached up to his scar as he explained, “I am opening a gateway to another realm in this world. This is a lockscar, made in an Occasion of Power. Where I work, mythology is a critical aspect; I sacrificed a key from another culture to produce this scar, one that had opened the wheel that trapped them when they were plucked from the desert.”

And then his fingers sunk into the scar, as though it wasn’t there. They sank into the second knuckle, and he began to pull. There was a ripping sound, and his arm suddenly shot down as though it had lost all resistance against it. Rather than flesh that pulled away, however, it was space. It was an odd, one-dimensional doorway, invisible from three sides, but opened to a dark wood on the final side. He continued, “Normally, you would need at least eight, and the process of creating a gateway would be invariably lethal. But I am not normal.”

His walking stick hooked in, to replace his fingers. He pulled the gateway to the floor, creating a roughly rectangular doorway, ragged around the edges. He walked around to the front of the gateway, and he said, “Go forward to your death, and I will search for another who could help. Step through, however, and perhaps one day we could succeed together.” Then, the old wolf turned away and stepped through into the dark wood, looking back to watch Umbar.

The brown wolf man looked puzzled, maybe even horrified as he watched. He looked at the strange wolf and his strange door that was unlike any door he had ever seen. Torn from the very flesh. Umbar supposed that was truth enough or this truly was a dream. Perhaps even a nightmare and this wolf was not a wolf but some underworld spawn, luring him to some untimely demise. Perhaps he deserved it. But if his daughter even had the smallest chance of being truly alive, he had to see. It was a selfish decision. Not for the good of the pack. But his pack blamed him for everything. What else was there to do?

So Umbar followed after the wolf with his strange words and his strange door. It closed behind him, vanishing in an instant as though it were never there to begin with. The old wolf pointed his walking stick towards a pair of glowing white eyes in the gloom of the woods, and said, gravely, “Stay close to me. This is the realm of dreams, and here there are nightmares. They know better than to attack me, but would descend upon you in an instant.”

His walking stick then met air, and he stepped onto nothing, floating above the ground as his voice lightened and he explained, “Here is the wood, the darkest and least lucid land of the dream. The light of the Horologian hardly reaches here; the nightmares are abundant, kept by bay only by a dreamer’s lack of lucidity. Here is your first lesson; the realm is yet unburdened by myth, and though one day it will be necessary, no ground to stand upon is required.”

He took another step up, further into the air, “You will need to learn to trust. This will not work unless you truly believe you can walk upwards to meet me,” he paused, pointing up to a dim light in the sky, “I will be taking you to a threshold, called the Epiphanic Gate. Thresholds serve a mystic purpose here, one I will explain once we reach the gate. First, you will need to learn to walk.”

Umbar realized that what the old wolf had said back in that cave, all seemed too dull in comparison to where he found himself now. Once more, he felt his mind unable to grasp it all. It was like he was a leaf upon a spring stream. Unable to stop but be carried by the flow. The old wolf, despite appearances, was quick and versed in some sort of strange way. Now he was asked to walk upon thin air, to trust someone he had never known. What did he have to lose by trying? Didn’t he have to stay close?

So the wolf man lifted his leg into the air and brought it down as if he were walking on some high rock. Then he lifted his other leg and the momentum carried him forth, ever higher. He didn’t look around but focused on the task before him, else he fell into oblivion. “You speak strange words and now I walk a strange way. And somehow I trust it.” he half grumbled. The old wolf simply nodded in approval, pleased by Umbar’s quick learning. He beckoned the fullblood along, and soon they were walking in the sky.

As they rose above the wood, the dim light in the distance grew brighter and brighter. Even as the woods ceased to move away, seemingly following upwards with them to maintain its own distance, the light above continued to take up more and more of Umbar’s vision, until it was painful to look upon. As they walked, the stranger explained, as he looked up at the glaring ball in the sky – brighter than the sun – seemingly unperturbed, “Here, in the dream, there are no walls. There will never be walls. This is deliberate; you cannot enter the dream without a threshold, and you cannot move in the dream without passing thresholds.”

The old wolf smirked, as though remembering some old memory, and continued with his explanation with every step, still using his walking stick as a support, “A door has two purposes, and a wall would infringe on one, so the saying goes. Any time you would have need of a wall, you would be better served calling upon a Name that guards thresholds. Currently, there is but one; the Horologian,” the wolf directed his walking stick upwards, motioning to the gleam in the sky, “the Horologian is both the inverse of nothing and the Name that guards the Epiphanic Gate.”

A brief glance back at Umbar, and then he said, suddenly, “You know not what I mean by a Name. A Name is both an individual of great power and a mythic aspect. Currently, there are no Names but the Horologian, and the Horologian is not quite a Name, though it takes on enough qualities of one to apply,” he took in a ragged breath as he walked, “The Horologian’s Name is Hour; Hour represents discovery, light, fascination, and lunacy. It is the desire to know more and to do more, even beyond your own ken.”

The gleaming light in the sky only grew brighter and brighter, and it burned heatlessly against Umbar’s fur. It was painful now, and it was only then that they reached a monumental diamond slab, floating in the sky. Light leaked through cracks in it, from every angle. The old wolf circled it twice, prodding at it with the walking stick before he ultimately turned to stare at Umbar and said, his voice once more grave, “This is your last chance to turn back. The Epiphanic Gate will bring you to the closest point you will survive the Horologian; and that is after I make changes. To continue now is to shed what you once were.”

Epiphanic. Horologian. Hour. Lunacy. These were the words that swirled in Umbar’s mind as he shielded his eyes from the light. The pain, a reminder of who he was. Could he change? Had he already changed? His people despised him. He walked in the air in a palace of dreams. His daughter was alive but elsewhere? If this truly was a demon of the underworld, then he had already sold his soul the moment he walked through that doorway. There was no going back.

“I have not followed you only to turn back now.” he grunted through his teeth. The old wolf shot him with a sharp look, and warned, “You will feel it. I will teach you how to do this, though you will not master it so easily as to manipulate hyperstructures as I do.”

And then Umbar’s flesh twisted, painfully. He howled. He could feel his heart not just stop but vanish, his organs melding into a uniform consistency, as though his interior was nothing but one block of flesh. His muscles ached as they became as strong as cables, and everything seemed so much richer and clearer as his senses became sharp as knives. The light grew less painful, a little more manageable. He could even look directly at it. The aches began to fade away, even old ones from long before he had met the stranger.

And then the stranger spoke once more, “You are not immortal; but you will live longer than all other life.” With that cryptic comment, he beckoned Umber forwards as he stepped towards the block of diamond, and as he touched it, he vanished.

Umbar marveled at himself before he walked up to the block. He was changed and he would bring about change. Whatever he had walked into was his fate now and for once, he was strong. Truly strong. So he touched the block. In an instant, he was elsewhere; a platform, made of diamond, the wood nowhere in sight and the Horologian glaring directly overhead. Even in his new form, it was painful, the light heatless but intense, as it ran over him in an attempt to scour the flesh from his bones. The old wolf was there, walking stick still in hand, seemingly unaffected by the light.

Though it seemed quiet, the old wolf shouted, and his voice emerged muffled, the light disrupting it just as much as anything else, “Here you stand where only a Name can!” His walking stick gestured upwards towards the Horologian, and he shouted once more, “I will teach you to be a Name, to wield power in service of our shared goals!” His hand reached out, vanishing into a beam of light that glittered down to reflect about the diamond platform. When he pulled it back out, in his hand was a long pike, made fully of a metal Umbar did not recognize. Atop it, hanging by the strap, a metal helmet of unknown design.

The helmet rattled against the pike’s handle with every movement, as the old wolf tossed it to Umbar. When his hands touched it, every time the helmet rattled, he could feel the construct that the old wolf had talked about. When he pointed his perception inwards, he could feel his own hyperconstruct, a twisting knot of information that made up his own meaning. He could see where parts had been ripped out and replaced by the old wolf, and could feel how they changed his body.

And at last he felt he was understanding. It was sheer awe- no, it was only logical. Information was meaning. Meaning was information. He would be a Name. He held the pike high over his head, despite the pain and he marveled at it. The stranger shouted as he marveled, “I have provided a memento of my own; the more you add yourself, with mythic meaning, the clearer you shall see! Take from those that die in your service, or those that defy you and are defeated!” He walked up, tapping Umbar on the chest once more with that old walking stick, “Now, practice! Change something! The pike will help you, sing your changes to the world!”

So Umbar did and he opened his maw to unleash a great howl, dipping back his head as he did so. And the howl formed into a chant that he had never heard himself utter. Somehow his mind knew what to do within that place. Information could be manipulated down to the most basic level and thus, he changed the brown cloak about him to a dark fabric, rimmed with white fur. The old wolf nodded in approval, and flicked his walking stick to point at the edge of the platform. He shouted out, “With me! I have something to show you!”

And then the old wolf walked off the diamond platform and plunged down. He vanished from sight a mere fifty feet down. Umbar took a second to steady himself, wondering what else he could possibly fathom before he jumped after the old wolf. One moment he was in the sky, and the next he was atop a cratered surface, several goblins hiding behind the crest of one of them, peeking out at both Umbar and the old wolf. He felt an odd connection to this place; like it was where he was meant to be. In his gut, something told him that it would obey his command.

The old wolf, staring at the goblins, explained, “Hour is the Horologian. You are the Salient Moon. All of this is yours to command; and the Lunar Door is your threshold to guard.”

And then he let out a howl of his own, and the bodies of the goblins jerked. They emerged from the crater as though zombies, lurching unnaturally as terror filled their eyes. With a whistle, one threw a punch at the other, and the victim pirouetted away on one foot, as though jerked by an invisible string. As they lurched to a halt, standing as though corpses in front of the Name and the stranger, the old wolf turned to Umbar and said, “You can do this as well. What I require of you will in turn require an army, and good, willing servants are not always easy to find. Turn your enemies into your soldiers.”

“Into my soldiers…” Umbar repeated to himself, mind abuzz with thoughts.

An assessing look emerged on the old wolf’s face as he studied Umbar’s reactions. He explained, carefully, “The exit grows narrower with every creation in this world. If we are to widen it enough for all to escape, everything must be torn down. Do you understand? You must destroy all you find, until there is nothing left.”

Umbar gave a grim nod. “And then…” His eyes darkened, “And then I can see my daughter?”

The old wolf’s eyes narrowed. Emotion fled his face. He responded, flatly, “Yes,” he paused, looking up at the distant Horologian far up in the sky, shining down on the Salient Moon, “in paradise.”

Umbar followed the Old Wolf’s gaze, his clawed fist clenching. He let out a long huff of hot air and from his throat came but one gnarled word, “Good.”



The accursed sun had risen again on the far eastern horizon. It was a deep red, filtered dimly through the flaps of the tent. The sands splattered every colour on Galbar, blood, all of it. The goblins’ blood, slaughtered ruthlessly by the horde, had been red, and as their bodies cooled the sand drank its fill. The beasts had bled purple, silver, blue, the great hydra tan. Their bodies lay intermixed with the goblins, and across the crest of the dune, in a great pile stacked twenty feet high, depressed in the centre where the strider had stood and fought.

One side of the pile lay collapsed inwards. Evidence of the Hydra’s first vicious assault. Its tan blood streaked onto the far horizon, when it had fled even in victory. The strider’s body still pained, every crack in its shell a blossom of agony. It could not feel its head still, the exposed fiber optics raw and sending its body into twitches every time the flap blew just right to let the red dawn sunlight in. A manipulator arm reached up, and it knew that one side of its head had been completely shattered; the rest may recover, but this wound would not.

And then it returned to the pain. It could not feel its head, for it was curdled in pure agony. The tent was goblin-sized; only its head could lay in the tent, and the cover was simply not enough. Sand worked on the cracks in its body, slowing their healing and prolonging the aches. Not far away, the remaining tents still smouldered where some outer beast, imbued with the power of inferno, had torched them. Lazy wisps of smoke were lost to the ever-present sandstorm, which had slowed in recent hours. The wind was almost a howl of mourning, though for the goblins, it, or the horde of beasts, the strider could not tell.

Amongst the howls, however, snuck other sounds. They were faint, subtle, barely audible at all - certainly impossible for lesser beings. The strider heard it however. The rustle of clothes against skin, slowly released breaths, feet - booted or otherwise - stroking the sands. Soon enough they were rooting through the camp - still carefully, but turning the odd body here or there, turning tent flaps to check for danger. A few feet passed by the strider, paused a while (perhaps eyeing the strange still thing) but did not approach. They moved on.

Or at least the strider thought they did. Moments later, there was a shuffle - little feet with little grace - and a small hand was upon its side, warm and curious. It had been analysing the sounds; these were no beasts, their stride clumsy but lacking in size. Nonetheless; it had walked blindly into a new situation once before, and its head had been shattered for its trouble. If they pulled back the tent flaps, it would be helpless. It tried to redirect its light to blind whoever had touched its hard crystalline surface; instead, the red dawn light scattered through its body into a glimmering kaleidoscope.

Painful, yes, but also beautiful to whatever had approached it. Every colour of the rainbow shimmered out, its ability to direct the light broken with the cracks through its crystalline matrix. The response was audibly euphoric, and rather than release the chromatic being, the small-handed interloper murmured and rested both hands and even a face on the strider’s crystal form. “So pretty!” A feminine voice intonated. “So shiny. What a pretty rock. Pretty pretty pretty!” The interloper brushed its - her? - hands across its side, and even as she continued murmuring voices could be heard from afar and quick steps beat at the earth as the people gathered to see what manner of being had sent forth what was no doubt a beacon of colour summoning all who could see to its place.

“Rockpetter! Come here girl, step away from that.” A stern voice sounded. The ‘girl’ at the strider’s side did not move away, still murmuring and humming to herself. “But it’s so pretty Reaper,” she intonated, more to herself, “can I keep it?” Swift footsteps approached and the girl was lifted up and away from the strider. “We don’t know what it is, Pet,” the same voice from before - ‘Reaper’, she had called it - spoke, and as swiftly as the steps had approached they moved away. “Please Reaper,” the girl spoke once more, “please please pleeease.”

Language; this was something the strider had prepared itself for. This confirmed that they were not the same beasts that had originally accosted it. The horde had only roared, belched, and screamed. The lights faded away as it let its body naturally reflect once more, and it intoned out, each syllable from a different part of its body, the lilting quality made harsher by the abrupt ringing of cracked crystal, “Who are you? Hold down the tent flap, don’t let the sunlight in!” Most of those gathered had clearly not anticipated that it would speak, and cries of shock and fear rose up.

“It’s the demon-goddess again!” Someone cried, “it’s just like you said Reaper! Tanituunitin protect us!” As the gathered people cleared away at speed, Reaper’s voice sounded. “Calm yourselves! I will speak to it, just stay calm and keep back. And no one else speak.” His last words were a razor-edged command, he would brook no disobedience. His footsteps grew close, and behind him was the pitter-patter of small familiar feet - no doubt that ‘Rockpetter’, a curious one. Her feet could not lie. “Hail, strange being.” Came Reaper’s voice from a near, but safe, distance. “I am Reaper of the Renevits.” Little feet pattered about him and there was a squeal as he audibly caught Rockpetter and hailed her up to him, “and this here is Rockpetter - forgive her curiosity, she has yet to shed her childhood follies.” A few smacks indicated that Rockpetter had not taken too kindly to being hauled up, and her voice sounded over and across Reaper’s calm and unperturbed one. “We have no intention of doing anything to your tent and will not disturb you…” he paused, “we… were simply drawn by the terrible carnage here. Was… this your doing? Are you another god hunting down beasts?”

The strider let it process a moment; listened and did not entirely understand. This was only the second time they had come across something not immediately hostile, and many of the concepts it now grappled with confused it, momentarily. A new one; authority, and clear hierarchy, that nonetheless not all seemed to fully respect. New concepts with new nuances to ponder. When it spoke once more, that same edge of broken crystal in its voice, it said, “No.. No, I’m not, I don’t think I am, a god. I woke up in this desert, and I have wandered it since,” the flap of the tent blew open in the endless storm, briefly, and wisps of light hit the hole in its head. It spasmed, cut off for a moment before it continued, strained, “I saw smoke, and I came to see.. And I was attacked – please, the tent flap, hold it down. Don’t let the sun in.”

There was uncertain silence for a while, and then the one named Reaper sighed and approached. Rockpetter cheered as they knelt by the tent flap and big hands - far bigger and rougher than Rockpetter’s - closed the flap tightly. “I want to hold it!” Rockpetter insisted, wrestling for the flaps, but Reaper did not allow her to inadvertently open them. “Carefully, carefully Pet,” he assured, “no need to rush, here you can hold it here. Remember, don’t open it whatever you do.” The man’s weight shifted away, small hands replaced his, and the girl hummed once more in delight. She stayed like that for a time, now stroking the strider and now returning her hands to the flap so that it would not open an iota. In the background, the clansmen whispered, hissed, and grumbled. Not all of them were as trusting or enamoured as Rockpetter, not all as unperturbed as Reaper - “you, Reaper! Of all of us you should be most cautious! It was from right under your nose that- that- whatever-it-was killed- kidnapped- gods! And now you’d have Rockpetter, of all people, sit by that thing?! Hasn’t the poor lass suffered enough? She’s hardly been sane since Badbo-” the voice was cut-off, but not soon enough. Rockpetter’s hands stiffened against the strider and her happy humming ceased.

“Badboy,” she croaked, clutching the tent flap for a few moments. She trailed a finger across the strider's neck, and after a few moments the hushed whispers resumed in the background. “Hey!” Rockpetter shouted suddenly, raising the tent flap, “come outside, let’s go play!”

Rockpetter only had the briefest moment to see the deep gouge in the strider’s head, before the red dawn light found its way into the exposed fibre optic. It was the pain and helplessness of the previous day anew – the strider suddenly erupted into a violent seizure, light flashing randomly about it as everything spasmed. Its entire world was overtaken, nothing but it and the accursed sun that coursed through its nervous system. It could almost swear, through one good eye, that the sun was smiling, Rockpetter nothing but a dim blur through the agony. Its body thrashed wildly, and something nearing a scream rattled through its crystals, taking a different tone and volume with each separate crystal matrix it ran through. The girl’s form remained for only brief seconds, a form moved in her place and darkness swiftly returned.

When some degree of consciousness had returned to the strider, it heard fretting not too far from it. “Rockpetter you stupid girl, why do you never listen? Look what you’ve gone and done now. You’re lucky you didn’t lose all your fingers.” It was an unfamiliar voice, stern and feminine. “I didn’t know it was sick, Lifedancer,” Rockpetter’s voice came, “I’d’ve called you, I swear!” She insisted loudly. “Will she be alright, Dance?” Reaper’s voice sounded, closest to the flap. Those were his hands clamping down tightly so that not a ray of sunlight could make it through. “I don’t know, it’s like she’s been burned all over.” The one called Lifedancer murmured. “I’ll take her to my tent, I’ll be able to see better to her there.” At this, Rockpetter started protesting, screeching about the ‘lightrock’ being more ill than her and needing Lifedancer. “Lemme go! Lemme gooo,” she struggled, but a heavy-footed form had clearly caught her and was following the light footfalls of the one they had called Lifedancer. Rockpetter’s screams disappeared into the distance. Reaper’s long, calm breathing and rough hands remained.

“My apologies, it was wrong to entrust you to a child.” He said gruffly. “She is more stubborn than the river and just wears you down until you’ve no energy left to stand in the way of her whims and fancies. She’ll be the death of me one day,” he chuckled good-naturedly, then paused. “Uh. Is there nothing we can do to free you of your predicament? I don’t think remaining inside this tent will do you much good.”

It still felt the accursed sun flowing through its light veins, its steely muscles worn to the edge of giving up completely. The voice that emerged from the strider’s body was strained, exhausted in some way that could be felt through the vibrations of the crystals, “There were other tents nearby, strip them and bring the material in here. Wrap it around my head,” it paused, thinking a moment, before it continued, “I won’t be able to see with the material wrapped around my head, but I won’t be stuck in here anymore.” It was not long before the man named Reaper had done exactly as bidden. The reliable sort, it seemed. An odd pinnacle to the pyramid of hierarchy, for he seemed well-disposed towards serving. “Is that good now?” He asked once he had tied a few layers of tent fabric around its head.

There was only one way for the strider to know for sure; it tentatively lifted one of the flaps with a manipulator arm – and nothing changed. The world remained blacked out, and the strider shifted all at once. It lifted itself up, on shaky arms, shaky legs, and a shaky tail. Standing up, it was clear just how injured the strider was; gouges and jagged, shattered crystal all over its body. A rattling chime emerged from it as it strained to stand up straight, towering over the creatures it could not see. It was difficult to look at; the reflected sunlight was just too bright. It took a few experimental steps, and then said, each syllable still from a different part of its body, “It worked. Thank you, but I still do not understand who you are, or why you have come across this,” it spun around, as though to gesture at the burned camp and the many corpses, “accursed place.”

Keeping some distance from it, for his heavy footfalls were not as near as before, the one named Reaper spoke in a deep voice, which betrayed that he may once have belted songs into the fresh summer air. “Not out of choice, friend, I assure you. We are from Renev, a farming village in the shielding of Lord Quickblade of Fort Skybreak. One day we awoke to terrible carnage - great beasts, demons of myth…” he paused, “some, forgive me for saying so much, not very unlike you. But then, all great beings, the seraphic and the daemonic, may not appear so different in a peasant’s eyes.” He loosed a sigh. “And so those of us who could escape did just that. We’ve been wandering now for years, and we’ve not much clue where we are or how we ended up here. We escaped northward for Fort Skybreak, and we only found sand and rock. We search still though, perhaps a lucky star will shine on us and guide us to the fort - and no doubt to many loved ones who, we hope, made it safely there.” There was momentary silence. “What are we to call you, friend? If you don’t catch yourself Rockpetter will have near everyone calling you Lightrock before you know it!”

The strider had not considered this; it remembered back to Jaxx, how the green creature had called itself that. It thought on it for a few moments, its head tilting even as the leather wrapped around them. When it spoke, its tone was almost curious, “Call me Elutil. You speak of farming, what is that? I presume if you are searching for a place, it must be fixed in location – this is possible, in these sands? Or do you mean to say this is not all there is?”

The strider looked up at the sky, though it was more for effect than anything, blinded as it was. It considered the implications it could pull from Reaper’s words alone. Elutil didn’t give them a chance to respond to its first question before it was asking more, “Great beasts and demons of myth, you say? Are they the ones that fell upon me, whose bodies I stacked as they all tore at me? I have only seen one of the green creatures they slaughtered before – minus the corpses in this camp. Are you of the same kind? Was this your camp, or have you only stumbled across it as I did?”

Reaper chuckled at its many questions. “You have enough questions to fill the night, Elutil. But I have not eaten, and perhaps you too are hungry, so let us go sit with others and fill our empty stomachs. Over food, I will answer what I can - I had hoped, with you having the look of a mythic creature indeed, that you’d have more answers for us than questions. But colour me surprised - it seems quite the opposite. Were I not to be presumptuous I would not reckon you to have wandered the world very long - but I doubt that, what with your immense size and maturity. Perhaps the desert has a way with addling our minds after all.” And so saying, the man’s heavy footfalls indicated that he had begun to walk away.

Elutil hurried along, listening carefully for Reaper’s footsteps. As it followed behind, it listened further, trying to ascertain the number of these creatures. But, soon, more questions bubbled up, though it felt compelled to respond first, “I have wandered perhaps.. Fifteen sunrises, since I first awoke in this wasteland. In that time, I have pondered both the turning of the wind and the storms, and linguistics, after my first encounter with one of the small green creatures. The green creature was stolen from me by some enormous wheel that ran along the sands. I do not know why it left me behind.” Silence followed its revelation - something it told it that the one called Reaper had not expected what it said. Eventually they approached an area where the sound of fire crackled against the hubbub of clansmen chattering, and the smell of roasting meat filled the air.

“Herbsprinkler, get us something good for our guest,” Reaper’s voice sounded. His voice emanated from closer to the ground, not far from the flame, suggesting he had seated himself by it. “Something good?” The response came, likely from the one named Herbsprinkler, “your guest’s big enough to eat just about everything!” A loud giggle followed the words. “And you think the world’s going to run out of food if it does? Its name’s Elutil by the way, sounds Eastriverish.” Reaper responded. “Come here Il-oo-til,” Herbsprinkler enunciated the name, “this here’s well-spiced. None of Justroastit’s rubbish for you!”

As Elutil sat down in front of the fire – more laying down, though with its upper body upright rather than against the ground. As it did so, it asked, “Eastriverish? What’s an east river? Is it what’s breaking the sandstorm north of here?” It then reached out a striking arm, prodding the meat laid out for it almost hesitantly. Something seemed to click in its head, and it said, once more not waiting for an answer to its first question, “Oh, I think I get why all of you little creatures seem to have carried around meat now,” it lowered its head to sniff at the meat, and then continued, “I do not eat meat. I fill myself with new knowledge; at first, the patterns of the storm, and later linguistics. Before both, I pondered individual grains of sand, and they would simply disappear. It was not very filling.” After a few (likely confused, these creatures seemed easily baffled) moments, Herbsprinkler spoke: “Don’t eat meat!? A big thing like you? Don’t be shy now, it’s my special mix of herb and spices - you don’t get that on these wastes you know! This stuff’s from back in Renev, been using it pinch by little pinch. Go on go on. Goodness, not only’s your name Eastriverish, you talk a lot of Eastriverish too!”

Elutil swivelled their head over to the source of the voice, though they could not see it. They tilted their head, still wrapped in leather, and thought about the response for a moment. When it clicked, they said, emphasising each syllable and how it came from a different section of their body, “Oh! No, I don’t mean as in it’s a choice I’ve made,” a manipulator arm ran across the front of their head, a smooth and unbroken chunk of crystal – if it had not been cracked by the blow that shattered their head – and they continued, “I mean as in I can’t. I have no mouth. Nothing can go inside of my body, because I have no orifices. Even my nose is just scent receptors in a shallow pit. When I said I subsist off of knowledge, I meant literally.”

They straightened their head back out, glittering in the sunlight with uncomfortable brightness as the sun rose further into the sky, and they finished, “I have a hunger reflex, and I feel weaker when I leave it too long; and accordingly, learning new things eliminates that reflex, and I feel stronger for having fulfilled it.”

“Well,” came Herbsprinkler’s voice, clearly affronted, “suit yourself then. Don’t come crying to me when your belly’s retreated to your spine and your knees have gone all crooked from hunger. Come here, Sandskipper. Go give some of this to Lifedancer- and if I hear you’ve had so much as a nibble or a bite it’ll be the flogging of your life you hear!” A spritely voice replied in the affirmative and whatever platter had been laid before the strider was taken up by small strong hands. The pitter patter of bare feet against the rock and sand indicated that the one known as Sandskipper had run off, and the excited shouts and footfalls that followed him said he was not alone.

“So that’s what you do, is it Elutil?” Reaper spoke up between mouthfuls, “you gander about and- whatsit you said? Eat knowledge? Stories and the like?” The strider nodded as they shifted their head to once more face in the direction of Reaper’s voice. They seemed a little taken back by Herbsprinkler’s voice, but recovered quickly. Their response came, “Exactly. I survived by subsisting off of studying the sandstorm for perhaps the first week. Then, linguistics as I travelled north. Every time you answer a question, that is effectively satisfying my hunger.”

They returned their attention to the crackling of the fire, invisible from them beyond the noise, even the heat lost in the haze of the desert. They felt the sand blowing against them from the ever-present storm. And then, Elutil considered Reaper’s sudden silence in response to their previous explanations. A question bubbled into the forefront, and they asked, suddenly cognizant of how Reaper had acted, “When I mentioned a giant wheel, you fell silent as though I had said something familiar, that you had not expected to hear from me. Why is that?”

Audibly swallowing a mouthful, Reaper responded. “Well, gobtrotter tradesmen passing through Renev would always be in those wheely gizmos of theirs. Downriver and upriver, over the hills and through the fields, off chasing money and other things. That’s gobtrotters for you. Don’t let their ugly green mugs or small height deceive, they’ve that fire of mischief and cunning in their eyes. But… before coming here, I don’t think I’d ever seen a gizmo as massive as this one. It’s probably the same as the one you saw. Great terrible things riding the sands, faster than the fastest sandstorm. We saw it a few times. It was like something out of the mad epics of a wandering monk. All that stuff they babble about, you know, great wheels at the beginning of time carrying the people from the fires of hell to the blessed riverlands.” He paused for a few moments, “maybe we did die after all and this is that very hell.” The man mused, suddenly morose. Then his voice picked up again. “But oh! You’re a devious one yourself- already getting stories out of me! It’s not from me you should hear the tales; I’m no story spinner. You should hear such things from Taleweaver.”

Elutil tilted their head at that, and fell silent once more to consider it. They could not see Reaper, but now understood that they must have not been the green creatures, which were evidently goblins. He spoke of them as a stranger would, and thus must have been a different species. They continued, trying to be comforting, “If this is hell, it is poor at its duties. The sandstorm breaks perhaps a few days north of here. I don’t know what you mean by all this talk of rivers, but I suspect that it must be what’s breaking the winds.” They stopped suddenly, turning back to the fire as they pondered the answer further and more questions came to the forefront. Elutil asked, continuing on, “What is a river, anyways? You speak of downriver and upriver, and eastriver. Is it some kind of road? Some tradespine that your world revolves around as it connects you to the rest of your world?”

“You really weren’t joking about that fifteen sunrises stuff, were you?” Reaper chuckled, “I’m starting to think that either we’ve all gone absolutely mad or the world around us has!” He took a moment to bite into whatever meat he was eating, and Herbsprinkler - whose presence Elutil had almost forgotten, though she still fretted and chattered in the background - spoke up. “You keep your dark talk of madness to yourself, Firmplough!” Though she used a strange name, she seemed to be addressing the one named Reaper. “I’ll not have this talk ruin the food. Tasteful talk sweetens the meal, you remember that now.” The man swallowed and chortled, “aye aye- spare me the whip, you’re too young and pretty to be a shrew.” Whatever that meant, Herbsprinkler seemed to take badly to it, for a short second later Reaper let out a small yelp and laughter roared up from the others around him. “That’ll show you a shrew!” Herbsprinkler announced with satisfaction.

Once calm had returned and chatter resumed, Reaper continued. “Anyhow, the river you say. The worldriver. The snake of the world. The blue belt. It goes by many names and every wanderer who has walked its bank or ridden its currents says it has neither beginning nor end, but runs eternally. Water flows in it, and wherever it does there is life and joy and happiness and prosperity- so long as the drakes of war and illness and strife slumber, that is. But anyhow, enough of all that. What will you be doing now? I think we’ll make camp here a day or so- see if there’s anything of value among the remains round here- and we’ll be on our way. You’re welcome to join us, of course, don’t know how well you’ll do out here on your own with your head like that. I don’t take it you were going anywhere in particular now, were you? And I won’t deny, maybe having great thing like you around will be good- you’ll doubtlessly come in handy if we have any nasty encounters in any case.”

Everything Elutil heard around them was filed away, data points as they worked at understanding the people around them. Each word only brought new questions as Elutil thought, water, snakes, the world? The strider had only known the sandstorm, the wastes, and the bloodrains. Their mind had been opened to a wider world. Their head silently faced the fire, their brightness only growing with the intensity of the sun and the height of the fire. More thoughts swam in their head as they put together the disparate pieces and considered the potential of everything they had heard. Even on such an alien body, with their head wrapped up, it was clear they were lost in thought. Any hunger Elutil felt, by now, had definitively vanished.

When Elutil spoke again, they swivelled their head around, as though to acknowledge everybody around the fire, though they could only guess at their locations and sitting order, “I was heading north, to see what it was breaking the sandstorm. I suspect that is where you will head – and so I believe I will stay with you for a time. Please do not ask me to fight more, however; I have had my fill of it and I find fighting a poor pastime.” There were grunts of acknowledgements, and a few high-pitched cheers further off indicated that some children had received its words with excitement.

“Won’t eat, won’t fight, just chatter chatter chatter,” Herbsprinkler laughed, “maybe we can teach you to clean and tidy up a little, get some use out of you.” As she spoke, Reaper was heard to get up and pat himself down. “Come now, Herbs, spare our guest for three days at least.” He implored. She chuckled and audibly patted him down too. “Fine, just three days then - and then it’s work work work for that one!” Though the conversation seemed of a serious nature, something about it - perhaps the tone, the slight drawl as ‘Herbs’ spoke - suggested that there was more to it. That, perhaps, it was in fact of an entirely unserious nature. It was difficult to pinpoint, however.

Elutil tilted their head in acknowledgement at Herbsprinkler, though they already felt tired from their wounds, as early in the day as it was. Too tired to provide any witty response, and they settled on silence, as they gleamed brightly in the sunlight. For now, Elutil decided, they would simply listen and learn. They had been exposed to so many new things they felt glutted, and suspected that their exhaustion was from the exertion of healing. To the strider, it looked as though things were looking up once more.

Good Deeds Rewarded


”I reside at Table Mountain, and my name is Truthful James;
I am not up to small deceit, or any sinful games.”
- Francis Brett Harte, Plain Language from Truthful James

Somewhere in the desolate wastes south of the World River, half-buried in the sands that had been trampled and stained a thousand times over by the hordes of lesser outer beasts, stood a single large Monolith. It was a large cylinder made of a smooth and grey material, covered in an uncountable number of glyphs and bas-reliefs depicting events that had never happened.

Rising out of the bloodied and blackened sands was a long staircase that led towards what one would assume to be the Monolith’s vertical centre, where a circular divot had been left on the grand monolith as if a gigantic hoof had stepped on it.

At the foot of the stairs was a rotting wooden spear. It was stuck into the sand as if it had been thrown there months ago, and hanging from its split handle was a small, pale leather bag. It jingled in the sandy winds of the wastes.

In the distance, a traveller; by appearance, nothing more than a desert nomad, a lanky beastfolk swaddled in thick cloth to keep the heat and the sand away. The merciless sun beat down on them, though their steps were steady and unperturbed. In their eyes, a cold and certain fire, their hunch nothing more than a play for any who might look upon them. Though one hand gripped their robes, as though a response to the winds, there was no tremble in them.

The traveller stopped at the obelisk, and scanned it, their eyes gleaming. Disinterest passed over them next, and they looked down at the base of the stairs, and the spear therein. Their mouth opened, and they breathed deep of the dry air, and then the act was dropped. The hunch left them, their footing became suddenly sure, and their hands went to their side. The bag was claimed from the spear, and though the back was not opened, the traveller Perceived what was inside.

The traveller ran their free hand across the reliefs as they muttered to the air, their voice pointed as though they expected an audience, “You must think me a fool,” it paused, one hand tearing a chunk out of the obelisk’s stonework with frightening ease, “it is no matter. You will get a soul, of that I have no doubt; but it will not be mine.”

The traveller looked down at the stonework clutched in their hand. They slung it casually into the obelisk, the rock cracking in a thousand different places from the force. There was a loud crack that rang across the sands, and the obelisk first listed, then collapsed. The shockwave threw sand into the air, and as it came down, the pieces were buried. The traveller had memorised the reliefs; nothing, in its view, had truly been lost.

The traveller reached into the pouch, and emerged with a pinch of glowing powder. They sprinkled it into the wind, and the world rent asunder, into a gaping wound into a dark wood sized just large enough to traverse. The traveller walked through, and the wound silently collapsed. Nothing but the sun, the sand, and the never ending wind remained on that blood-soaked battlefield.

A monster of shadow awaited the traveller there, all dripping fangs and bristling claws; a great colossal silhouette in the dark, two white eyes peering in the glades uncovered by moonlight. Hunger sparked in those eyes, and it launched itself forwards. The traveller did not react, not even to look in its direction, and when it reached the traveller, it shrunk back in sudden pain.

It screamed in agony, deep and guttural, as its flesh sloughed away into dust. The monster staggered away, each moment less and less of it there. It didn’t hit the floor; it flew on the breeze. The traveller began to walk, inspecting the woods and the bubbles that interrupted it. Sometimes the beasts in the wood would intersect with these bubbles. Sometimes those within the bubbles died, both within and without.

The traveller stepped into the air, every step bringing them further above the trees and into the lightless sky above. The wood faded into the far distance; less from a lack of physical proximity than from passing a threshold. Once they were high enough, from the pouch they drew a vial of glowing powder, the same that had been used to enter the realm.

As they uncapped the cork once more, behind them appeared a vast mass, shifting, growing, and shrinking oddly with every movement; sometimes parts seemingly detached, only to act as though they were still part of the whole. A creature of sixteen dimensions viewed through the lens of only three. Mathematics swirled about its bulk, making the eyes itch. The traveller did not look back, nor did they seem affected by the great monster behind it.

For they were the monster, and for their misdeeds they had been greatly rewarded. This was no regular nightmare, to haunt the malleable minds of mortals; it was a blight upon the world and the gods themselves, a traitor and a snake in the midst. The Eidolon’s true body, granted an ever-more secure home away from the machinations of its peers. The traveller slung the vial in a wide arc, letting dust spread across the air. The main body breathed life into the dust, and brought it closer to coalescing.

The traveller faded away, their duty completed. The dust merged into a single point, and then expanded violently into a blazing, cold light that enveloped the monstrous body. Far below, in a mystical sense, the light dimly reached the trees of the wood. Nightmares screamed as the light banished them, though others remained under the trees in the dimmest sections. The realm silently adjusted to its new master.

”This horror will grow mild, this darkness light.”
- John Milton, Paradise Lost

There was smoke on the near horizon.

Just over the dunes, perhaps; nearer than the strider initially thought. It was recent, the sands had not picked up greatly enough in the last few days to have obscured it. No, this smoke had begun to rise within the last hour. It could not have been the blood locusts, either. They had flown some weeks past, and would not again for some time. The blood locusts did not burn, so that theory further did not make sense.

As it walked over the dunes, the scene came into focus, one of carnage, blood and gore splattered on the sand. Tents burned as monsters ate their fill of goblin meat. The shine of the strider hit the monsters’ eyes, and they all turned to watch as the strider crested the hill, striking arms at the ready. It was too late to turn away, as much as the strider feared the coming conflict.

The creatures charged, pouring from the camp in numbers the strider had never seen before. Its light instinctively focused, and the beam cut a hole into the charge, the horrific chimeras faltering as they were blinded. Nevertheless, they still poured in from the sides. Screams, roars, and murderous calls sounded throughout the air, rattling the ever-present sandstorm. The strider desperately refocused its light in sweeping arcs, but it still did not stop the horde, even as they trampled over each other and ground their own bones to dust.

The strider began to back up, they were getting too close, and the light was only a temporary solution. The crest of the hill was surrendered, and then the creatures came tearing over the top. They launched themselves with reckless abandon; a two-headed creature of patchy fur and sickly scales embedded its skull onto one of the strider’s striking arms. It fell limp, like its life had simply been switched off, and the strider, in a panic, shook it off as it was buried in a mountain of teeth and claws.

Teeth broke on crystal. Claws rent spiderwebs of cracks into the strider’s flesh. It struck out blindly, the spikes each time catching another creature. Some, it killed, while others it only dealt wounds. It collapsed under the weight, but it kept striking, over and over. There were screams, some that were its own, while others came from the dead and the dying. It kicked its legs out, throwing creatures off of it into the sand, as it cried out.

It was loud; loud enough to rupture eardrums. The soundwaves rippled through the mass, and there were more screams. The crystal rang like a bell, once, then three times more. Each time, the mass recoiled before once more charging. But time had been bought, and the striking arms had more space to work. It struck quickly and accurately, one good strike on each head that came to bite it. Each time, the spike embedded in a skull and silenced a creature.

With the sun once more on its body, it could focus light again. This time, it focused successively on each new target. When their would-be killer’s guard was dropped, recoiling from the bright light, it struck and killed them. The horde repulsed back and forwards like a wave in every direction, each time leaving more cracks on the strider. It was winning, yes, but there was only so much victory it could commit before it too was dead.

The bodies piled around it, stacking higher and higher until it could not see over them. Yet there were still more creatures, and exhaustion had begun to set in. Just then, the ground shook. It was rhythmic, the ground rumbling in a pattern. One of the walls of bodies was thrown aside, massive claws swiping them as though they were nothing but chaff. The smaller creatures backed away, bowing in acquiescence to a massive hydra, eight heads, one a different type of creature. All had sharp fangs, all had red eyes and fury.

It was four times the height of the strider. A second swipe sent the strider flying. It bounced twice off the sand, before coming to a rest on the crest of the hill. All eight heads roared, as it launched itself viciously forward after its prey. The horror was fast, too fast. It sped forward and twisted its body unnaturally, sand flying in its wake to mix with the sandstorm. There was no choice: the strider had to move forwards, to meet it in a way of the strider’s own choosing.

Two front crablike claws came flying down to crush the strider. It slid to the side, rolling violently out of control under the creature. It struck repeatedly, and the creature let out another furious roar. Its hind leg kicked out and hit the strider, and the strider shot out from under it and was buried in the sand. One of the pincer-claws dug into the sand and pulled out the strider.

It lifted the strider up to its eight heads, inspecting the pitiful creature, its crystal covered in cracks. All eight mouths opened up to take a bite. Its claw repositioned to make room, and – the sun hit the strider just right. Through the cracks, light redirected to the heads, and the creature screamed as it was blinded. Its claw let go, and the strider struck as it fell, the spikes catching in one of the heads’ necks.

As it slid down, the creature’s neck was split open vertically, and tan blood, viscous and filled with worms, poured out onto the strider. The smaller creatures fled across the sand, some flying and some running. As one of the eight heads died, this one a lion, the hydra swung wildly with its crab claws, but missed every time.

When the strider came to the bottom of the neck, it struck out with its free arm at the base of the neck of another head, and embedded itself. This head screamed as well, its face one of a baboon. A claw met its mark, hitting the strider across the head and launching them spinning into the air. Something shattered. Light poured through the strider’s nervous system, and its body fell into a seizure.

Everything felt impossibly far, now. There was a distant thumping, growing more rapid and weaker at the same time. Something was crying. Its whole body hurt, something coarse rubbing against it as every carbon fiber muscle seized at the directions of the accursed sun, flooding through nerves in blind hatred. It couldn’t see, its hearing was as though it was listening from the bottom of a pit.

It went on for ages. The strider could hardly think, so great was the pain. Its muscles were exhausting and fraying. The coarseness around it seemed to dig into every crack, trying to tear into its innards. One eye turned upwards, and it swore it saw an evil grin on its torturer, through the merciless light it bore down. Hours of this, and the strider began to wonder if it had died and this was its punishment.

The sun set on the horizon, and night fell. The light left its nerves, and finally, mercifully, its body slowed to a halt. Its sight returned in one eye, and its hearing gradually returned. It was alone on the sands, dug slightly into a pit of the grains through its own motions. The smoke had died off, and the horde had left its bodies where they lay. The hydra had seemingly fled, judging by the tan blood that streaked off into the far horizon.

Crystal lay scattered across the sand in small shards and chunks. A manipulator arm tentatively reached up to the strider’s face. There was a great hole in its head, deep enough to sever a fiber optic nerve and expose the whole system to light. It hurt, an agony unlike anything the strider had ever felt before. It dragged itself forwards, its legs too weak to stand on. There was a collapsed tent ahead of thick leather, designed for blocking out the heat of the sun.

It crawled underneath, swaddling itself in the leather. Nothing nearby moved but the wind and the sandstorm. The strider let itself cry, from the agony and the loneliness.

yup! I recommend joining the discord, that's where we all hang out
” ‘That’s the risk in working to be a dangerous person,’ she said.
‘There’s always the chance you’ll run into someone who’s better at it than you.’ “
- Scott Hawkins, The Library at Mount Char

The guards had grown lax, were weary and bored, entertaining themselves away from their duties. A carefully-commanded patrol schedule had slipped and a once-mighty perimeter became pockmarked with holes, blindspots, and lone guards nobody would ever miss. Even the Outer Gods, in all their majesty and power, could not design the perfect defense.

And that was all the opening The Eidolon needed. The goblins in the tree had been more difficult to avoid; they still held the fear of death, they still had passion. In this murky cave, dark and blood-bound, every few feet a stalactite emerging from silt to threaten a quick death on a sharp stake, there was only squalor and misery to be found. The creatures hated these depths; the guards loathed it deeply, and sought distraction from their lot.

The first opening came before The Eidolon had even picked a form, once they had sent a puppet to that cave. Without hesitation, a gift offered became a gift taken and The Eidolon had passed the bulk of the guards. They would have detected divine essence; the god emitted none, for the time being, and as such no further checks troubled it.

Nevertheless, it Perceived the cave around, and amongst the creatures with purpose it found marks. Here, monsters from beyond creation had speared themselves on the geology, and now swam aimlessly in circles. They were senseless, no hearing, no eyesight, nothing but pain as their own blood added to the ocean and the sting of foreign hemoglobin rushed through their wounds and poisoned them. They died quickly, but were replenished just as quickly.

One would not be missed, and would not know what was happening until it was too late. These creatures still had necks to break, and in the murk nothing could see it happen. Stash the body in a crevice, and it would sooner rot than be found; particularly once its skin had been stolen. The Eidolon, in a form that was outwardly blind and insensate, swam in lazy circles closer and closer to the portal, while inside it bristled with eyes and ears.

There was so much information to take in. Once they reached the portal, perhaps the solutions to their problems could be gleaned from what lay available to learn. Let other gods fight, while I benefit from observation, The Eidolon thought, as they silently pushed forwards. The creature’s skin reeked of an outer god; all the better to cover The Eidolon’s miniscule emissions. To the god, it had been a disturbingly easy infiltration.

The portal itself was strange - It was a void-coloured pool that stretched as far as the Eidolon’s senses could tell, following every twist and turn and descent and ascent in the cave system, but never completely flooding any passage. From the bubbling liquid - which felt particularly similar to the essence given off by that of the Cantar Hiveminds all around Galbar - beasts of all shapes, sizes, and functions would spawn. Partly as if they were being birthed by the pool itself, these creatures were clumsy and wobbly and simply swam up in search of the surface.

It was a sight to behold. Just the emissions of foreign energy alone were enough to give the Eidolon years worth of thinking, and the particular physiologies of the beasts were so different to that which existed in Galbar that it flipped its assumptions of life on its head.

Caught up in observation as it was, the Eidolon only noticed a presence unlike any other encompassing it, nearly crushing it under its ethereal weight. There was no movement to be done, no word to be spoken aloud.

In that instant in which the presence enveloped the Eidolon, time slowed to a standstill and all colour, shape, smell, and form vanished in a cloud of white mist.

The Eidolon felt nothing but the Presence. It moved, but went nowhere, it looked around but saw nothing but mist, and under the Eidolon’s feet there was nothing, except for a far-off little dot of light, twinkling even as it was enveloped by waves upon waves of darkness.

“Little God. Fake God.” Words boomed within the Eidolon’s mind. The mist roiled and coiled. The Presence was there. “You are not here. Where are you?”

The Eidolon was not contained in such a little body, and it correlated with its main body; everything near the portal had been seized. It smoothly filtered out the blatant non-data of the Outer Gods, leaving the creature it inhabited once more insensate. Then, it released control to the remnants of the thing it had killed, and let it hopelessly swim in the mists. Come and find me, The Eidolon seemed to dare, as its footprint only grew quieter and it settled in to outwait the intruding influence.

“I will not come. I am already here. You are not here. Little God.” The mists froze. In the distance, something tore and the mists were painted blue. “You are not here.” The mists froze again, and once more another thing tore and the mists were painted yellow. “You are not here.” Next time, the mists did not freeze, but something still tore and the mists were painted orange, only this time the paint explosion sprayed the Eidolon’s host. “You are…”

“... Not here.”

The Presence settled on the Eidolon. The mists dissipated a little. The Presence thinned. It was leaving, a trail of mist heading for the twinkling light in the distance.. “Little God. Come. You will return to the Pen. You must grow more. You must fulfill my demand.”

The puppet seized control of the creature it inhabited once more. The Eidolon would not be dictated to; not when it had penetrated the home of its could-be enemy at no risk to itself. Tactical calculations ran through its mind, coursing from the bulk of its body to the mere puppet it controlled. It would not reveal itself yet, but there was still a way it could communicate. The puppet was disposable, and that too meant all of its parts were disposable. The puppet could still Step within the mists, leaving no trace of its origin.

That it was a pocket of sacrificial puppet Stepped into the mists. It screamed, “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!” It flailed, it gathered attention as the main body let the creature return to an insensate state. Then, once it felt the Outer Gods’ presence on the sacrifice, the little piece torn off the puppet said, suddenly cold, “I will not accept a dictate. Find me, or make your offer.”

The Presence gently held the abandoned puppet within its mist. Unseen hands caressed its prickly furred skin, and finally it was left to drift. “You are not here. Little God, you are not here yet you are here. You can sneak and you can hide. I have seen what is coming, Little God. I have seen where you live, Little God. I have seen them all.”

There was a brief stillness, before the Mists continued their path.

“Two to harvest - The Little Gods will arrive at our Gate soon, Little God. You must aid the Slaughterer. In return…”

It seemed to think.

“... You will grow. The Little God will be given a pen within the Pen.”

The sacrificial piece kicked out again, flailing in the mist as it drifted. Then, the same cold voice, piped from the unfeeling intelligence that was the whole of The Eidolon, “Name the pen,” it demanded, “tell me what I stand to gain.” The creature whose skin had been torn away as a disguise, meanwhile, was subtly directed towards escape. It had not been noticed yet; the sacrifice had done its job. To lose the main portion of its puppet would be no great loss, but yet it would still be felt.

“Your Domain, Little God, it will grow. There are four realms within the Pen, and you will be given one of them. You will do as you see fit within that realm until we come for you. That is what you stand to gain.” They were close to the twinkling light now, and the closer they got the clearer the view became. Hazy void turned into the familiar void between superclusters, and the twinkling light in the distance was not just one light, but trillions.

As they approached, the view gave way to a great barrier which obscured their sight and blocked passage, until the mists guided them to a spot in the barrier that had been torn open. The spot was crowded by countless mists and shades and things, all scratching at each other for a chance to jump through the opening into the universe on the other side of the barrier.

The other shades cowered and shied away as the Presence approached and cleared enough room for a little god to crawl through.

“You must fulfill our demand. Only then will you grow, Little God.”

The puppet shot from the creature it had donned, leaving the skin behind to deflate and die. It grabbed the sacrificial piece of itself as it went, and it fled through the hole. The message was clear; if it had not agreed to the deal, it would not have rendered itself vulnerable as it did. It revealed itself only to indicate mutual agreement; one that harm upon the puppet would rescind. No words needed to be spoken.

Behind it, it had left an informational opening in the mist. Here was how it would fulfill its end of the deal; an access point into the story of knots. To unravel the story would see access seized, but it could be extended and used, for a time. Here was its end of the bargain.

”No real thing can be so perfect as memory,
and she will need a perfect thing if she is to survive.”
Scott Hawkins, Library at Mount Char

Discovery remained a constant risk. It was hidden, yes, but it was not hidden. Security through obscurity; The Eidolon had acted only sparingly on the world and creation, and was accordingly not looked for. That was their only saving grace, the only obstacle barring the discovery of the main portion of their divine body. If they were to take a more active role, begin trading information and favors in their bid of escape, it would have to begin with active defenses.

There was too little time for a permanent residence, not yet. At first, a safehouse would do; somewhere to render an active search difficult. A stepping stone to greater things, and a useful asset in the centuries after. A dozen copies of the god spread out, in a dozen different forms as the god searched for somewhere to construct their new hiding place. All but one were disguised in various mortal forms to avoid attention; the final one, in the preferred identity of the hidden god, went to the great tree at the mythological center of Galbar.

There was no fanfare to their entrance, no great announcement of their presence. One moment there was nothing, and the next they were there. The air was thick with divine essence. A great many people had been here, and here, the Eidolon sniffed out, was where the remains of the divine hammer lay. Deep down, they Perceived, divine creations. A cave in the roots, nooks for divine symbology along the trunk, a sunbeam from the far side of the sun roosting in the leaves, the air reeked with it. The Eidolon’s trace was miniscule, easily lost in the rampage of essence left behind by the rest.

Here, then, an opportunity to once more hide in the hornet’s nest. Disguise the main body of their essence, and none would ever sniff it out amongst the comings and goings of the pantheon. The Eidolon, in their preferred form, one of rending teeth and sharp claws, traveled on foot down the trunk, towards the caves below. It was easy to avoid the senses of the poor, hapless goblins below. Every saccade of their eyes was an opportunity, and the god could directly Perceive the signals firing in their brains.

It was never a fair fight to begin with. The Eidolon was a ghost. The goblins would have never seen them except by choice. Here, there was potential. A taste in the air, more essences, some familiar and others only known by passing. Galaxor had been here. Others, too, fighting rot in the roots. That problem had been solved, and that, the Eidolon knew, was an opportunity. Keep the roots clear, and the pantheon would likely never come looking again.

They gave up corporeality as they phased into the roots. Their powers lashed out, in careful selection as they carved their own cubby hole within one of the roots. As the wood dematerialized, it was replaced with protective seals. The Eidolon had not been idle; they had studied the mannerisms of divinity, the aspects of power, and now used that knowledge for their own protection.

In the safety of the seals, even if a god were to look directly at them, that god would never realize what they Perceived. A rudimentary protection, one shredded with focused effort, but one that nonetheless would have to do for now. It was far better than unprotected in the crust. The bulk of the Eidolon’s essence began to move, until the crust was once again clear of the god’s presence.

Then, the next stage of the process. Miniscule amounts of power began to flow from the safehouse, enough to calm the roots and provide for them. This, the Eidolon hoped, would lessen the risk of re-infection of the roots. So long as the tree remained healthy, surely none would have cause to deeply search the area. An act of benevolence, made for practical purposes.

Once the humble safehouse was completed, the Eidolon recalled all its disparate scouts, and let its preferred form once more step out of the roots, all the way to the trunk of the tree. Here, it began to study the essences, making notes of everyone who had come before. One was fresher than the others, though. Too recent, too strong, as though somebody had just arrived. The Eidolon tensed, and began to track the trail.

The blackwinged god, the lord of undeath came down like a comet wrapped in feathers, yet his landing was graceful and did nothing to harm the vast tree, despite how imperfect it was in his estimations. Yet even a seed may grow into something greater given enough time, someday that vast tree may itself find the gentle embrace of undeath. At least that was what he hoped for, despite all mortal life and things living was flawed, it didn't mean he had the right to end it, and the very thought of an end made him think of the other side of the coin. Death. He allowed himself a soft scoff as his wings parted and revealed his form. He decided to wander around the trunk of the tree, the base, the most important part for things to grow. It applied to plant life and other things as well, a strong firm base was needed in order to build a mighty tower. This thick and hard wood would serve as a good tool for dealing with the other gods, for it would act like a beacon to them most surely.

They would come for it. There was no doubt in his mind. He began to wander along the ground, clicking with his taloned feet as if feeling the ground itself. How odd it made him feel, it was far different than floating about in the skies or away from the mortal realm.

If the tree itself were a creation of Allianthé, the goddess of life, which he had not yet met. Then no doubt would it become the focus point of forces opposed to her.

It wasn't a big leap away from Harrowfane, the land of his creations, perhaps he could create some form of device which could not only aid his own land but that of the tree as well. Such thoughts would have to wait for later, as now he was on a hunt. A hunt for the other gods, surely such a meeting would prove fruitful.

He sniffed the air, he pursed his ears and his eyes wandered, he even allowed himself to search for signs of any other gods essence, but the tree itself was a creation made by a goddess. He was irked. He could see nor hear anything. What a bother. Having to announce oneself.

"Come forth, I, Reverion beckons you forward. You who dwell by the base of this thickening wood, you who share roots akin to mine. Come and reveal thyselves in the shade of my blackened wings." He spoke out, his right hand stretched out as if he was plucking imaginary apples from a forbidden tree.

The voice that answered his call was right behind him, head-level. Before that had only been an itch of a presence, something that squirmed out of Perception every time he tried to hone in on it, drifting amongst the divine essences left behind like flotsam on the wave. The voice was chilly but not cold, ever so slightly flat, the barest tone of mild interest mixed with a lack of surprise, “I wasn’t hiding from you.”

She was on the trunk, claws dug into the wood and her legs braced to hold herself up. Though it would have been possible to float, for whatever reason she had not. Reversion could detect the slightest hint of divine essence from the creature, though the usual Perception of their domains of power somehow wormed just out of reach. The creature’s tongue flicked through the air, as it commented, “You’ve been here before. This place is littered with you.”

"Oh? What have we here then? You are... quite different from what I've seen so far. Hmm..mm.." Reverion slowly walked over towards The Eidolon, his eyes scanning the being in front of him. This being was unlike El'Zadir in almost every way, aside from obvious traits and this one being equally disrobed.

Not that it bothered him that his eyes could wander, but it did bother him if a mortal would behold a god or goddess in such a state. Which begged the question, what was this being? He could sense the divine essence which all gods carried, but it was... lacking? Was this a mortal, a god? Something in between the two? An offspring of a god perhaps?

Reverion's mind began to wander, having witnessed his creations do their ritualistic mating rituals and the result of them, he knew fully well that if the mortals could do such, so could the gods.

But if this being was a creation of another god, or a union of gods. Then which one? To find the knowledge of the origin of this creature, a bit of digging would have to be done. Information of the other gods and such could prove fruitful in ferreting out those who may be deemed a threat to the great plan.

"You were not hiding hm? Well, I can tell that much from what you are wearing... or not wearing rather. Besides, who would so openly reveal themselves if they were? It be akin to the intelligent boasting that they are indeed the most clever." The talon footed man began to wander around The Eidolon, inspecting it closely. The god of undeath was pleased with what he saw.

"Now then, who are you? Or perhaps I should ask, what are you? You bear the essence of the gods... yet of a lesser kind. But as you say, I have indeed been here before, yet not alone. Things often come in pairs. The exception being this thick piece of wood ofcourse, which seems to indeed be one of a kind." Reverion said softly, his talon clicking against a root as he climbed atop of it.

"But to be able to tell the presence of a god or several is a power which no ordinary mortal possesses. What is it that you are doing here?" His gaze fell upon the wood which the Eidolon's claws had dug into.

The Eidolon smoothly tracked the god, her head swiveling to track him as he walked around the feminine projection. Her mouth opened to a toothy grin, each separate eye blinking independently so that always one remained open. Every so often, her tongue flicked again, and she commented, still cooly, “Gods who walk in the chasms left by the footprints of the loudest of the pantheon remain gods. I am bearer of creation, fully the same as you. I merely make do with less.”

Then, she stretched out an arm, pointing at a hole in the chamber, “The second of your pair reacted violently,” her tongue flicked out, as the toothy grin tightened into something more like a grimace, “unprovoked, I would hope? You surely understand why that is an important question for me.”

Then, with a sudden change of topic, the projection looked down at her body, “By your standards, should I be dressed? I am what I am; the only purpose of all that cloth that covers you would be decoration, even for a god of the gaps such as I. I fear no temperature, fear no weapon, and behold myself not to mortal standards. I am not vain, and have thus eschewed decoration.”

Reverion couldn't help but find the being in front of him to be the very antithesis of what he stood for, what he wanted of his followers. This was a creature which was content in having less, someone who was not striving to climb higher?

An opponent of ambition? But not only that, this being spoke in a manner which concerned him.

'She walks in the footprints of those who are greater... she follows... but in their shadow to survive?' The blackwinged god pondered, his eyes wandering over her form anew.

"Whom is this second you speak of?" The undead god doubted El'Zadir would have acted rashly. Then again. She had punched him. Albeit perhaps there was some hint of reasoning behind it. Reverion reached for one of his feathers, then warped it to create a feathery cloak out of it, he also plucked a strand of his hair to bind it. Then he approached The Eidolon.

"You are to be dressed indeed, for to gaze upon a god's naked form like that is a reward, not a granted thing for all. You must earn the right. As for not fearing temperature, weaponry and akin. Fear keeps one existing, if one bears no fear, one will make something foolish. Possibly paying for it with one's existence. Behold the mortals, for they are in a manner a reflection of ourselves... albeit a minor one. Things which we normally cannot see ourselves we may find in them to be shared with us. With that in mind... do accept this cloak as a gift from one god to another..." Reverion softly smiled as he attempted to slip the cloak over the Eidolon.

She did not move out of the way, accepting the gift as it was offered. As it slipped over her, she tilted her head, reading his face, picking up answers to questions he did not intend to respond to. As the cloak slipped over her projected body, the Eidolon looked down to inspect it. Her tongue flicked, and she noted how Reverion’s essence lingered on it and further diluted her own, a good disguise.

She then looked back up at the god, and bowed her head, responding, “I understand. Thank you for the gift; I will treasure it.”

"You are welcome. However there are more things to treasure than things of the material. Such as a name. Names are important. What is yours? If you are a god, what is your domain of influence? Care to share?" Reverion put both his taloned hands behind his back as he hunched over, giving the Eidolon a sly smile.

"My purpose in this world is to have the mortals become akin to us, not because out of kindness nor out of spite, but because it is fair. Tell me, what right do we have to pass judgment upon the mortals? When we do not share their hardships hm? The mortals breed and their offspring learn from the elders, in a manner of speaking, the mortals are our children. But we do not play by the same rules. That isn't fair is it? There are some who may want to discover and experience all things that has been, is and will be. Yet I think such ambitions will ultimately leave one very unfulfilled, when the destination is unobtainable. I think one ought to be more at ease simply appealing to the purpose of life. Or existence as I prefer to call it. What is the purpose of it? It is to experience it. How many of our kind feel the way these mortals do? I find myself quite intrigued to learn from them. As from my fellow kin, to find out who wants to shelter this world and who seeks to destroy it." Reverion explained in a long manner, his voice collected and calm, if not abit philosophical.

"Hm? Have you ever considered producing creations of your own?" He gave a sly smirk. On The Eidolon’s face was consideration as he spoke, seemingly caught on every last word he spoke. But to her, lies came as easily as breathing, and her response, though a naked falsehood, was spoken in the tone of one who had been caught in the web and opened up with full honesty, “Yes, you’re right. We shouldn’t withhold names from each other. I’m Anatu, a god of knowledge.”

To further the illusion, she failed to ask for his name in return; it wasn’t important. Instead, she entertained his ideas, “I think I understand what you mean. We should learn from how the mortals act and try their methods of living, yes?” She played up her innocence, a tactical decision, as she asked, letting her tone shift to curiosity effortlessly, “But what, exactly, would you suggest? What should we do to be more like mortals?”

She tilted her head once more, just to finish the illusion, masterfully crafted by a god well-versed in falsehood. One clawed hand reached out to clutch the cloak, as though holding it on. Her tongue flicked once more, this time to suggest interest in his words. Every action had a purpose, and the god of secrets allowed no slip-up in the feint.

"Pleasure is... all mine. Anatu. Of Course we may learn from their methods of existence, what I am saying is to simply walk amongst them. Try to think as they do, even if that may render you feeling simple. View it as having your two- err... your eyes all covered while listening to a voice, could you say with absolute certainty it belongs to a god or blessed mortal? Ofcourse there is the essence one may sense, but such can be strengthened or diluted no doubt to blur the lines." Reverion offered a satisfied smile.

"A god of knowledge. Ahh, to know things can be useful, but some knowledge might change one's perceptions forever, depending on what one would regard as the truth. In a way, you could say that knowledge is a form of corruption... I mean, could you know it all?" He asked as he knelt down to pick up a pebble from the ground, placing it into his right hand and then putting them both behind his back. Then discreetly he slipped it into his attire and held out his taloned hands, tightened into fists. "Can you tell which hand the pebble lies within? It could be in either one right? Because you did not see which one I put it within." The god opened both his hands to reveal the truth that the pebble was in neither hand.

"As for more suggestions on how to be more like the mortals? How would you like to add a little addition to the great wheel of chance? I wonder what would spring forth if two gods were to breed akin to the mortals. Perhaps such an existence could be our little secret away from the rest, it is always wise to have a backside door. Not just sitting on one." The god chuckled as he stretched out his taloned hand, beckoning to The Eidolon to approach. "But such can wait for later. Unless of course.. you want to know. God of knowledge, Anatu." His eyes became thin as slits as he gave an amused smile.

The Eidolon continued to play the part, still hanging off every word as deep consideration – or a perfect facsimile of it – crossed her face. Silently, in her head, she Perceived Reverion’s trick with the pebble, but still she nodded her head along, as though bought fully into the message. Then, as his hand beckoned, she dipped her head, almost hesitantly, providing some resistance to the idea to make the acceptance seem that much realer.

On the face of it, it was as though a dam broke and she had decided to give his ideas a chance. That she had fallen for it without even realizing and was like putty around his fingers. Something to be molded. She let go of the trunk, letting herself drop to the floor as she stepped up, reaching up to grab his hand with her clawed digits. She said, quietly, almost as though embarrassed, “I think I would like that. I think, some time, I wish to know.”

Privately, The Eidolon was calculating tactics. It assessed the value of the information it had to gain, the blackmail it could generate. All for indulging a god in predilections that only befitted the limited pleasures and temptations of third-dimensional mortality. It played its final card through its projection, interest in the face of its shell, a yearning tone put on for good measure, “May– may I accompany you for a while? To see the world as you do, and gain more of your perspective?”

"Oh? You would wish to accompany me, hm? I see you have a thirst for... knowledge." Reverion mused, his tone dripping of satisfaction, then his eyes wandered as he noticed The Eidolon taking hold of his taloned hand.

'She's like a mortal. If I end up protecting her from the dangers of existence, she might end up unable to defend herself and therefore become more a liability than an asset. However if I were to simply leave her to her own designs, her powers may fall into the hands of another who may be more... rough around the edges. Quite the delicate dilemma. What am I to do with you?' The god of undeath pondered, his glowing eyes wandered over his potential companion.

"Very well, you may accompany me for a while, Anatu. The idea is appealing. After all, neither of us know just what else is lurking out there... At least that is what I assume, god of knowledge. The pebble may be in either hand, or none at all. Perhaps it never even existed. We'll see, or we do not. What matters is the choices made along the way, to remain learned, yet the same. Lest the truths of all worlds may end up making a creator into a destroyer. Tread warily upon the pathway of ours, we know not how many snares lay upon it." The god softly spoke then lifted The Eidolon up with him, taking her towards Barrowfell, the newly made holy site of his, which looked currently more like a war-camp with Bloodbeak and his vampiric followers organizing the place.

"Welcome to Barrowfell, the staging ground of the army of the undead. This will be the sword of my land. A fortress of making a point. That all who attempt to meddle in the greater existence, is at risk of becoming it's target. I will not allow anyone to meddle with the chosen mortals, no matter if they are mine or not. The distinguished must be protected, for like ourselves they shape the world of worlds. Someday the mortals may even become powerful enough to not only reject us, but challenge us. If that potential is not to be admired, then what is? Think of this Anatu, for whom do you use your powers? For what purpose? Your own? Or theirs? I find it far easier to simply make their desires, my own. Then think that my actions are the wills of another, or like you said yourself... some vain thing." The god chuckled as he showed The Eidolon his fowlfolk in Barrowfell, the newly constructed holy site. While he didn't know what this god of knowledge would be up to, he figured that by keeping her close, he could ironically learn from it. After all, it was better than knowing nothing at all. But this would be his little secret.

Those who seek even if they do not know what (or where) it is that they are seeking.
Those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.”
- Erin Morgenstern, Starless Sea

The storm whipped at the strider’s crystal skin, thin scratches splayed across its mass with every passing grain of sand. The sun, far above, may as well not have existed through the weight of the desert above. Entire dunes collapsed over from the gale that threatened to drag the strider with it. Their body rattled through it all, glowing eyes desperately swung around, looking for their companion.

There was some colossal moving structure vanishing into the sand on the north horizon, hazy through a hundred tons of sand dragged upon the air. There was blood here, quickly drying and quickly covered over where the goblin once sat. But there was no corpse, it was as though they had simply vanished. A harmonization, lost to the wind. Another, a desperate call hoping for a response. Nothing but the howling wind and the deep dark.

Nothing but the great breaking wheel on the north horizon. Faster than the strider could ever be, its trail obscured rapidly by the falling sands. Nothing but a direction to travel, and the hopes of escaping the hell of the desert. The hopes of finding companionship once more, as short-lived as it was, rested on that horizon. Now that the strider had been exposed to a world beyond its imagination, one of language and creatures and cooperation, its mind spun with possibilities beyond bare animal instinct.

It was enough to, at last, feel full. There was so much to study, so many concepts to consider purely within its own mind. The strider was freed from the trepidations of the sand, invigorated for a journey, and given a goal. Travel north, and never stop until all is well. It began to walk, step after step through the sandstorm as it considered the possibilities of language.

As the sun slowly emerged from the clouds of sand and the wind died down, it considered the utility of names. It named the fine grain on the ground, it named the wind, it named the sky and the sun and the stars that rose in the night. And then it considered what you could do with those names. It needed some way to string them together, something conjunctive. It needed active descriptors, ways to identify what the named substances were doing and names for those actions. It had never felt so full before in its life.

The formation of language spun around in its mind until suddenly, a drop of liquid impacted on the crest of their head. They stopped, suddenly confused, and they looked up at the sky. Nothing but the endless sandstorm; they lowered their head again and – once more, another drop, this time on their back. They spun around to see nothing, and looked up once more, and this time they could see the source.

Drop after drop of blood, like the strider had seen on the goblin, began to pour down and batter the sandstorm to a temporary halt. It sizzled into steam on the hot sand, the world filling with a deep hissing noise as the blood-storm began. The strider, confused, looked down at the sand and the residue left behind by each droplet. It wasn’t sure if this was real, but it felt real enough. It sat and pondered on this development as, in the divot between two dunes, blood began to collect.

It looked down at the pool, and for the first time, it saw its reflection. It startled back, terrified it had been ambushed by some other strider, but was surprised when the strider in the pool of blood jumped back as well. It tentatively approached once more, and poked at the expanding pool with its arm. The apparition poked back. It startled back once more, and the creature in the pool also jumped back.

Then, the strider began to realize what was going on. It tilted its head, and stretched out its arm to look at it. The reflection mirrored the action, and a single thought went through its head; that’s me?. It splashed an arm into the pool, and the reflection broke up into waves. Fascinated, it sat down and watched the blood until it stilled again. There was so much to study, and so little time to do so.

And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan

The Eidolon was thankful for the cover of the new pebble and the ruinous attacks on the Khodex; even in a space without measure, where the only difference in location was that of divine countenance, it still helped to have a center of attention. It could skirt the edges, stick to the walls of nonexistence and meld into the crowd, unnoticed and undetected. From there, it could observe, and notice what the others did not.

Namely, the collision course the Khodex had been knocked onto. That planet, Galbar, could not yet exist. It was an impossibility, and thus the Eidolon could guess the results of the union would be catastrophic. It cut off its Perception; without substance with which to see or hear, it had to do no further. Not yet, at least. It did not Perceive the smoke, or the things which as a medium crawled to get inside; that which it could not feel could not hurt it.

When the explosion came, it was only dimly aware. It had experienced this before, where it was from. Even in so few dimensions, it was painful, crawling dimly against the Eidolon’s essence even when nothing could be Perceived. Those visions it received were ruthlessly discarded, or kept if a use could be found. Few uses could be found.

Once it was over, the god began to Perceive once more, and it stepped rapidly across the breadth of the universe. Here and there, main sequences. Over there, about point three observable, a pulsar spinning a hundred thousand times a heartbeat. Point eight out, give or take a thousand galactic superclusters coreward or edgeward, an iron star early amongst the eons, hurtling in close orbit to a supermassive black hole.

It was dull, ultimately. Painfully so, mundanity in three dimensions. It was also all useless; it could step anywhere in the universe, and Perceive it instantly. The whole universe would not take long to search, and thus distance and obscurity would do nothing to hide divinity. Instead, the Eidolon turned back to the beginning, to the planet that should-not-have-been and the gods that clustered around it.

The Eidolon snuck past the throngs of gods working their creation, and found itself a hiding place amongst the deep crusts of Galbar. Here, it would dwell until it could find or create more permanent lodgings for itself, safe from prying eyes. Then, it turned to other priorities; its visit with Galaxor, as much a test of its own abilities as those of the boisterous god, had brought up concerns to be rectified. That Galaxor had almost seen through the lie, even having not listened to it in the first place, was an indicator that a method was required to further disguise itself.

It had experience in this. Everyone in its original home had. Thankfully, it had the presence of mind to weave meaning in as a fundamental building block of this otherwise irritatingly limited universe. With a practiced mind, new information wove into the god’s meaning, empowered with divine might and raw creation. It twisted into loops, knotted in on itself and told a thousand different stories, concealed both its own construction and that deeper within. Some knots were empowered permanently, other plot twists embedded in threads that would die in but moments after creation. All part of one whole that would actively fight its own unraveling.

There was no fanfare, no explosion, no burst of light. It was simply done, and the Eidolon that much harder to read. Fluff was unnecessary and flash only brought attention. The limited creatures of this creation could only dream of such mastery, to almost thoughtlessly weave meaning in such a manner. The Eidolon, however, ultimately did not care. It was incapable of it. It had changed this universe to suit its needs, not those of the mortals that would populate it.

Speaking of mortals, though, it would require some. The first principle of gathering secrets was the network which facilitated it all. Willing agents were a risk, knowledgeable ones as well. Rather, it was prudent to keep such mortals in the dark, only alerted to their status when it was too late to do anything about it. Considered further, the Eidolon decided they should be resilient, capable of spreading across the whole of Galbar, and useful enough for doors to be opened to them.

The Eidolon pressed off to the surface with nought more than an avatar, granted just enough power for its task, as its main bulk remained hidden. This avatar imagined a creature in its mind, one of imposing stature created primarily of crystal, pierced through with fiber optic veins that circulated inner light. Taking from its memory the cities built of constantly-singing superstrings, The Eidolon gave them no mouth with which to speak, but instead the resonance of their bodies. They would feast upon meaning and information, and seek it out to better serve their purpose.

Once that purpose was served, in the back of their heads, a hidden vulnerability in their informational hyperstructures. Kept secret with self-propagating divine power, accessed with a trick that only The Eidolon knew. A doorway into their inner thoughts, the deepest sanctum of their mind. Such access would invoke terror, but that mattered little. Let the mortals fear their creator, it would only enhance their credibility amongst the other gods.

The avatar skimmed the surface of the world and the desert, dropping variations of these creatures down into sandstorms, deep underwater, and in developing lands. They were left with nothing but their instinct, and would have to learn the rest. The god of secrets saw no reason to indulge them with mercy; they would survive regardless.

© 2007-2024
BBCode Cheatsheet