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Roog


It was like nothing they had ever seen before.

Great peaks, snow capped and jagged as the maw of some vast beast, rose high into the heavens. Their mighty sides were blanketed in a dense hide of the richest, deepest green imaginable; pine trees and conifers so vast a dozen vallamir could not encircle the trunks even with their arms outstretched. Gentle cuts bore their way through the forests, hinting at rivers and streams beneath that rushed silver and shining in the crisp air of that most far northern refuge. At the coastline where emerald met sapphire strands of brilliant pale stretched aimlessly, invitingly, and with a promise of rest and bounty. It was truly a sight beyond imagining.

The chosen of Roog stood with gazes thrown across the horizon as, one by one, more reached the edifice of rock and stone that served as the plinth from which they could admire the beauty of nature set free. Some awoke with jovial laughter, others cried tears of joy, but most were silent; this was the homeland Great-Wolf had so promised them, before them now in all its splendor and majesty.

The presence of that great and powerful wolf, so black that the light of the world seemed to pool into his hide and disappear forever, enveloped them. Roog strode up between them, those warrior Cenekyn and the numerous tribesmen that had reached the summit as the migration continued below. His pelt licked at the rich air, flickering calmly in the wind as tongues of black fur bit at the fuel all around him. His eyes, bronze of cast and steely in their determination, surveyed the world before him; it had been long since he had set his eyes on this place and the trees had grown ever still. Beautiful.

“Great-Wolf,” came a feminine voice choked by a warrior spirit, “It is as you said; your words did not do it justice, Great-Wolf.”

Roog’s gaze did not falter, instead following the contours of the landscape with a deep and unrequited love. He knew exactly what she meant as they all peered over the edge of the world, his own memories having deceived him; it was even more beautiful than he remembered. Around him there were expressions of agreement, the sounds of hands clapping together or striking backs in excitement. Roog basked in it all as lizards basked in sunlight, bathing himself in the beauty of the viridian north. Each of his senses were awash with a symphony of pleasures, a reminder to that lupine heritage held deep within his heart that this was exactly where he belonged.

“Look!”

The cry gained the attention of all around and even Roog, lost in a trance, was pulled from his dreaming. Aesc, Cenekyn and closest companion to Emla, stood with his hand thrust forward and his index finger locked on a point far in the distance. Roog’s gaze followed his to see great clouds of steam billowing from creatures in the waves, whales so large Roog could think of only one creature larger. On the shores scattered an inumerable herd of elk, their otherworldly songs filling the air. The Valla smiled and cheers were given, the promise of plenty replete before them even as they gazed down at the world from the heavens.

“You gift us with such bounty, Great-Wolf, to offer us such a home,” came the voice of Emla, her eyes turning from the beautiful sight to that of the lupine deity at her side, “Our children’s children and forevermore will live by your kindness.”

Roog considered her words carefully as the Vallamir around him began to descend back down the mountainside, the migrating tribes visible along the slopes as thousands of the Valla moved through the valleys and crags that surrounded the great mountain that stood imposingly over their new homeland. At last he stood and followed them down the hill, his mind wandering all the while.


Within a month camps had been raised throughout the rich valleys that stretched out beneath the shadow of the great mountain. Its name had rippled like a wildfire through the numerous camps and bivouacs that now dotted the landscape, visible either by their placement or the plumes of smoke that climbed into the sky from their campfires. The imposing, snow-capped peak had been named Dun Haen and though the original source of the name was now long lost through the tribes the name had stuck. It soon became common for each new brook and glen to be named, so ferocious were the appetites of the Valla to follow in the footsteps of their kinsmen. Afterall, had not the Man-Father of their kind urged them to speak their own names? Surely, then, they should name the lands that would be theirs.

Roog had watched with fascination as their dwellings rapidly increased in number. They were simple things, using the natural world around them more than their own considerable ingenuity. The immense fallen trees that dotted the landscape were carved into, numerous hovels chopped out with adzes and other chopping tools. Caves were lit and occupied, leaves laid as beds and fires kept burning for warmth. Some even built simple tents, draping hides over stacked branches as they had during the journey to the north. Their homes were chaotic and unique, each a reflection of their maker, and the camps were ever more numerous as the final edges of the migration reached the roots of Dun Haen and settled beneath its protective embrace.

Roog’s mind wandered ever since he had first looked across the valleys, slopes, and shores of the Valla’s new homeland. He had watched with ever growing anxiety at the race he had helped create and the lives that they would live and lose. Even so fresh upon Kalgrun they had formed families, tribes and communities; for them there was a future blossoming with hope and purpose. For the demigod of Demise, this was an all too poignant reminder of who and what he was. Roog was faced with the oppressive thoughts of his immortality, the unnaturalness of his life without end, and the awareness of a future without steady purpose.

Atop the jagged hills, dusted with the gentle frost of the crisp air of the night before, sat Roog. A tree of monumental proportions had set claim to the wind-beaten hillock, its roots digging deep and running far. The tremendous trunk climbed into the heavens from a foundation of fingers, branches spreading out wide high above the rocky ground. Its hide, bark as thick as a man’s arm, shone the color of sienna and rust. Beneath its thick boughs and shaded canopy, Roog watched and waited. He had been there since the work had set out, unable or perhaps unwilling to assist with the construction of hearths and homes. He was a creature of nature, of forests and of hills; where could such a thing belong in this endeavor?

Roog’s eyes shut as his whispered thoughts came back to draw him into the realm of imagination and dream. Contemplation took the Wolf God and his mind fell away, to thoughts of his life and accomplishments and his deeds to come. The gentle bite of the wind, the rustle of leaves and grass, the sound of birds in the heavens and of insects below; a symphony, a melody, and a dirge to the young wolf’s ears. Perhaps, the words flowed in Roog’s mind, this was all as it should be? The thoughts poured from the deepest recesses of Roog’s imagination, offering an answer to his innumerable questions and doubts. Perhaps this was all Roog had needed to do, that his path was at an end? What passed for a heart in the beast, a simple facsimile of flesh and flame, seemed to beat with purpose as black blood flowed through his veins.

Immolation, exhulation, and freedom sprung to the forefront of his mind. Roog’s eyes opened, serenely now, as he surveyed the landscape before him. Who could ask for a more perfect setting, for a last sight for which to come to an end? A flower, carried by the wind, gently flowed through the air past Roog’s vision and off into the distance, hugging the curves of the hill as it sailed down the slop before dropping out of view. Roog’s eyes widened and revelation dawned on the Great Wolf.

“The choice is mine.”

Roog’s eyes closed as he thought inwardly, feeling distinctly ever muscle, every sinew, and every tongue of flame. His body was bared for himself as his senses dove deep into his own form. The beating heart at his chest, unneeded for his life and but a pale image of the hearts that beat in the bodies of every creature, vast or small. It began to slow, the beats thumping as drums in his mind, a siren song welcoming home. The meat of that old, great wolf that gave his flesh to Roog showed its age, weakened every second the beat slowed. All the while the fires grew, began to consume. Pain hit Roog but he pressed on, letting the fires of his form consume himself. His eyes opened one last time, to be graced by that perfect vision, before the tinder caught and erupted in black, lightless flames. In that very last moment, Roog felt at peace.

High atop the hill, visible from camps dotting the valley, Great-Wolf set ablaze before collapsing to smoldering ash and sputtering flame.



In the end, there was darkness.

In all directions that deep and all encompassing oblivion stretched, invulnerable to perception and uncaring of time.

This void, so utterly thorough in its oppressive emptiness, reached on forever without end.

It was so very wrong.

Red.

There was suddenly red, a blood drop rent from a wound in the darkness; a pin prick that bore crimson fruit. The droplet ran and flowed, leaving a line behind it that reached out into the long stretches of oblivion. From the ruby-cinnabar vein the darkness recoils.

Like flames the red spreads, coursing down into the darkness, and at last it is revealed to be hair; fiery, carmine hair.

In spools it began to collapse, as a bun released and flowing freely at last. The tower of hair reached from above down as far as perception would allow, a river of flame in this invalid oblivion.

A figure fell from the wound, riding the tide of that was crimson locks, roaring flames, and flowing blood all at once. Skin pale as snow and baring that carmine mane.

The hair was hers.

A face, her face, was surrounded in crimson, framed by the flames as her eyes opened and stared, calmly, into the darkness. Her mouth opened and whispers flowed forth, beyond understanding.

A flurry of images, of acts and deeds; her deeds, numerous and odd. She was conflict, she was passion, she was flame.

An image of a place so far away as the beggar imagination filled the space, noise accompanying it. A hound, huge, flanked the woman as she sat; where she was, it could not be surmised.

The sanguine drop plopped into reality below her, spreading out, widening, growing and deepening. It was a lake where bubbles flowed down, into a threshold that led right back to the woman and her hound.

From her minds eye flowed white, her eyes closed but her true eye open; that purifying light that battled the darkness.

Suddenly, there was light.

Serenity and harmony; tranquility and peace. Through efforts of conflict, of passion, and of flame were these won. The darkness, oppressive and wrong, receded.

Now there was only light.

The woman faded, her hound and her lake already gone. Her voice poured forth from her mind, strange and melodious all in one.

BEAR OVER RED WATER

I AM

𝔖 𝔢 𝔦 𝔥 𝔡 𝔥 𝔞 𝔯 𝔞





Roog woke, his eyes opening wide and bloodshot. His chest heaved with new breaths as he was drawn from Death’s door. His breaths were labored, his heart pounding, and his skull aching. Slowly his lungs began to slow, his heart began to calm, and the pain in his skull subsided. Viridian, ivory, and sapphire sought shapes revealing trees and clouds and skies.

Roog sat up, his muscles raging at the change, and his stomach lurched at the sensations. The world around him, now showing in its beautiful light, seemed to watch with anticipation. The taste of blood filled Roog’s mouth, catching his attention; his blood, black and glistening.

Thoughts began to wander, to what had happened, to his promised end; the feeling of ash beneath his skin, no doubt his own, drew his gaze downward.

The wolf-that-was started, for it was not black fur and paws that were below him.

Legs, that of a Vallamir but with skin of pale grey, sat crosslegged before his eyes. His gaze did not wander, locked on feet and calves, and thighs. Slowly his hands raised into view, revealing fingers marked not with claws but blackened, pointed nails. Heart racing, Roog let his hands wander to his face and felt nothing of his wolfen form. A nose, short and squat, hugged his face with lips below. Canines thrust out as before, smaller than a wolf, but evident nonetheless. His forefinger slid into his mouth, feeling jagged teeth become flat at the back. A mouth that was not his. The other hand wandered, feeling hair where once there was flame. As it fell before his eyes it was black, just as his hide, but did not flicker and burn.

The once-wolf forced himself to calm, to consider what he had seen; a vision had come to him in his death, a sign that his end was not as it should be. The oblivion he had first found was wrong, destructive and oppressive in its nature. It was an erroneous end, fallacious and unfounded; it was not the end he had sought nor the one he knew awaited him.

The woman! The red, the hair, the flame!

He poured over the memories, seemingly fading yet so sharply detailed; his death had revealed much to him and that darkness, the enemy of the serene oblivion he so sought, seemed to battle with him over those thoughts that so threatened its reign. Roog contemplated, remembered hound and lake. What did it all mean? And the woman, what did she say?

”Seihdhara . . . Bear over Red Water . . . Who are you . . .”

Roog breathed deep, hearing the air rush into his nostrils and fill his lungs. A more flesh and blood body than before, different in the extreme. His eyes opened once more, surveying his surroundings. These hills were still so young, had so much more before them.

As do I.

The thought washed over him as an avalanche, the sensations of icey waters awakening him to the truth. Of course he hadn’t seen true oblivion, it was no wonder he had been thrust from the end! His life had so much more before him, so much more to do, and this Seihdhara, whoever she was, had known the same. She had embraced oblivion, the true and serene end, in her own time; she had taken the righteous path, one of embracing nature rather than forcing to herself an end. That dark abyss, the false end, invalid in all its forms was to opposed, not rewarded. It had to be defeated, or at least ignored, so that the serene peace deserved by all living creatures could truly be embraced.

Roog stood on shakey legs, limbs he had not once stood upon. He stood in his nakedness, skin grey and daubed with ash from his own end, and looked onto the valley that was before him. Down the hillside he stepped, one foot carefully after the other, before speed took him and his strides became leaps and bounds. Flames roared in his chest, a reminder of what he was, of the freedom he had now found in his first demise. The wolf, of flame and flesh, roared in his heart reminding him of his true self; he could return to it, simply allow it to consume his form as his new form had done to it. Reincarnation, a life born anew. Roog smiled broadly, jagged teeth pearly white and in stark contrast to his grey skin.

As he reached the bottom of the hill, as valley stretched from slope and stream flowed calmly in its babbling way, Roog was met by men and women. They stared with wide eyes, mouths agape and empty breath. The crowd was large, surprisingly numerous for any day. A woman, one Roog immediately recognized as Emla, stepped forward with her eyes filled with tears.

“G-Great-Wolf? Is that you?”

Roog looked on at astonishment and confusion, surprise tinging his features with no attempt made to hide his thoughts. Realization dawned as he saw baubles and objects in their hands, the Wolf-in-Heart putting together the reason for their gathering. In his selfishness, his desire for an end, he had left them. They had watched as their protector, their guardian, their creator had set ablaze. Grief had taken them, as it had him for each life he had found snuffed out before he could reach them on the great migration to the North. His features hardened, his visage pulling inwards and his lips tightened with displeasure and disdain; how truly cruel he had been, selfish beyond reason. Where his voice faltered a nod would suffice, Roog acknowledging her question and offering positive response.

The crowd dropped in an instant, whispered prayers going out over the host as they bowed in unison. Roog watched as gifts were held close, what were to be his grave-goods in the great beyond. They were meager things, arrowheads and eating bowls, but great treasures fit for a king in their young eyes. Even in this time of great grief and sorrow, these people offered their heart ten fold what he could possibly imagine. For this, Roog was ashamed. His gaze turned back to the hill, to the thoughts of his first demise, and the site of his vision. His blood began to boil, to thoughts of the Red-Woman, and determination burned bright in his eyes. He turned, stepping close to Emla and lifting her to her feet.

“Rise, all of you, I implore you; do not offer me praise. I am undeserving of it.”

The crowd rose to their knees, some even standing, but most looked on with a reverence born of awe. Emla, who stood after some physical prompting, stared at the now Valla figure of Great-Wolf with tears still holding at the edges of her eyes.

“But how, Great-Wolf? You died beneath the Reodweir. We all saw the flames of your end.”

”I was mistaken, Emla, for I sought an end I did not deserve; I found darkness, the invalid end. I am reborn with a vision of purpose. The end I so sought was not true oblivion but a falsehood that entraps the minds of those who wish only for peace. I have seen a woman, whom must be found; she did battle with this end, embraced harmony. I must find her.”

“And where shall we find this woman, Great-Wolf?” came the voice of Aesc, now standing beside Emla with a defiant and warrior cast burning across his visage, “We are with you, Great-Wolf, till the end.”

Roog considered the man’s offer and watched as each man, woman, and child among the gathered throng rose; among their ranks were Cenekyn and ordinary Valla, all having arrived to pay homage to their fallen god. His chosen, bedecked in the armor he had helped them wrought, and armed with obsidian spears that shone in the light of the midday, stood rivaled in determination alongside their no-less valiant comrades, unbound to the Wolf God by oath but just as filled with reverence and glorious intentions as those so armed by the Wolf himself. They were all beside him now, unwavering in their faith in this new path he had so quickly set before them, and Roog was humbled by it all.

“I do not know,” Roog conceded, his shoulders only slightly slumping before rising again. His hair, before simply jet black strands, seemed to flow together into flames that rose into a raging mane of passion and purpose. ”But I know this. This Seihdhara, Bear-Over-Red-Water, has found the truth. Her life was of conflict, passion, and flame; she fought the false end to a standstill and embraced peace in her life. This I must do, to walk in her footsteps.”

Roog raised a hand to the heavens, directed up at the hills of his end and the tree that shadowed his demise. A smile broke his lips, jagged and toothy yet beautifully pale and pure. His bronze eyes seemed alight, as fiery as his dreams.

”With my own two hands I will build there. A place for all to follow in the Red-Woman’s path. A monastery for the Cenekyn and all others who will seek to do battle with that false end and welcome true harmony into their hearts. I will find the Red-Woman and I will learn from her oblivion the truth of mine own; her own actions will light a fire for generations. This oath I swear.”

The naked man that was a wolf ascended the hills, a crowd following behind him at a distance born from veneration. With his own two hands, as the wolf-man swore, Roog set to task. His fingers dug deep into the heart of the mountain, dragging forth bricks and great slabs. One by one the walls arose, power surging through Roog’s form that seemed to alight an aura around him of flame. Minutes turned to hours and hours turned to days, the ever growing throng observing in silent worship the trials of their God. Trees were felled by hands alone, great boulders pulled from the mountainside and howled into shape. Not once did the man, bare in the icey breeze, tire or slow. That grey skinned Valla, Wolf-in-Heart, worked through night and day. The very power of his divinity flowed from him into every stone and timber, leaving an aura of flame in them all.

Thirty three days passed, night and day flowing like water, and the crowd did not relent. Entire villages moved, small hovels and settlements growing around the hill and the vast lake and many rivers beneath its sight. At the base of the hill a pile began to grow, of gifts carved of wood, of bone, and of stone. Daring would overcome some, crawling up the slope to place their offerings ever closer, hoping to garner some of the divinity of their beloved God and his trials into their little gifts.

On the eve of the thirty fourth day, as sun threatened to rise, the great monastery in the hills seemed to roar to life. Warmth exuded from the monastery, a promise of hope and deeds to come. Roog, the naked and grey God that had died and returned, stepped forth from the great gates of his monastery with swelling pride. Not at his works, despite the loving care that he had devoted to each and every stone and timber laid into its creation. Instead, his pride was for the people he had sired; before his eyes whole villages had arisen, numerous and dotting the landscape hugging his hillside. At the foot of the hill, unwavering in their devotion, stood the hundreds of Cenekyn sworn to uphold their oaths of protection to their people.

Here he would teach them, for this would be their home, and would learn from them as he had today. They would be his equal partners in this endeavor, seeking the Red-Woman and the enlightenment she had found. A name had come to him when the very final stone had been placed, the lintel of the great gate now holding vast doors of carmine wood. This monastery, which would house generations of Valla on their pursuit of enlightenment, would be his crowning achievement with his new form; proof, evident in its beauty and grace, of the righteousness of his path. It would be Yn-’e-Kynweir-Alwyld, Where-Heavens-And-Nature-Meet.

With that the Wolf-in-Heart stepped forth from the gateway, standing before all to see, and let fire embrace him once more. As black flames consumed his mortal form the howl of the divine wolf filled the air and out strode from the inferno the lupine god of the harmonious end.





Roog


The wind howled high above in the canopy, jostling branch and leaf aside and against one another in a gentle symphony of natural elegance. It was as the days had been many times before around the Hunter’s Eye, a place of general calm on Kalgrun. They were, for many of the new-born Vallamir, the first sounds they ever heard. For Roog it was but the natural voice of the forest speaking in its whispered tongues beyond his understanding.

It had been but a few weeks since the creation of the Vallamir at the Hunter’s Eye but Roog had been active every hour of it. The race had been scattered far and wide around the island and the blessed embrace of the lake that surrounded its shores and the First-Born Roog had accompanied in the creation of the Vallamir. The original plan, to remain together and began teaching the new-born race, had proven too slow for the needs of these new sentient thrust into a harsh and unforgiving landscape. As such, Roog had broken away and had moved rapidly across the countryside to gather as many of the Vallamir to him as he could so as to spare them undue suffering. Casualties of Kalmar’s actions, driven by a desire to weed out the strong from the weak as nature would always have it, were apparent wherever Roog went. Though not numerous as they could have been in a harsher season their deaths weighed heavily on the Great Wolf.

Despite this slight displeasure Roog had understood the sentiment; Kalgrun was not a place lifted from the seas for them and them alone and the creatures that shared it with them had needs as well. Nevertheless, Roog’s actions were driven solely by a desire to see as few corpses of the unfortunate dead as possible. As the wind he tore through the underbrush, his pack of Wargs assisting him by stalking bands of Vallamir that formed around the eye in loose conglomerations. Roog had then travelled between these bands, gathering those not already found by other gods to himself to provide adequate safety for them. As he had offered to the First-Born that had joined in the covenant of the Vallamir’s creation, he would teach the new-born race the skills to protect themselves in the wilds of nature from beasts, weather, and everything in between.

By now the bands he had gathered to himself numbered several thousand individuals though Roog had to admit himself that he did not keep an exact count. They were numerous, to be sure, and their needs became readily apparent by the sheer amount that they needed to survive. It was beneficial indeed that they could enjoy the fruits of Kalgrun, most literally, and they proved only marginally more interested in the consumption of meat. To Roog this was a most valuable of traits, having learned during the rearing of the first Wargs that when pups must only eat meat the difficulty of feeding them only increases exponentially. For now he kept them scattered over a moderately large area of land, well within his reach but not threatening one another with over consumption. Nevertheless, Kalmar’s warnings of overconsumption had proven prophetic and Roog knew full well what came with starvation.

For the time being Roog spent his days busying himself with providing additional sustenance to the Vallamir under his charge, welcoming the other Gods when they came to provide their own teachings to the group of Vallamir he had come to protect, and occasionally finding more Vallamir yet wandering in the forests. His thoughts were always spent considering alternatives and ways to satiate the needs of this vast host. He knew of Li’Kalla’s general plan, to take a band back to her island and do with them as she saw fit. Simultaneously, he had been told by Kalmar the Man-God’s plans. He could trust Arae would do well by them, despite not knowing her exact intentions, and that left only him without clear direction. He was, in fact, a deity of Demise and not of life-giving. What, if anything, could he do to assist them in this most dire of times beyond continuing to feed them like a mother wolf?

His eyes had turned more than once to the North, where he had travelled numerous times during his early exploration of Kalgrun. There were several healthy sized packs of Wargs in the North, with dense forests that rose up from the coasts to high mountains wreathed in fog. There were numerous herds of animals that roamed the pine forests of that coastline with many rivers and streams and lakes to quench one’s thirst. The winters were cold though not overly harsh with proximity to the seas calming air. It was a place of plenty, to be sure, and one where the dedicated could make a pleasing living for themselves.

This would be his path.

“Great-Wolf,” came a voice, pulling Roog from his thoughts and back to the realities that surrounded him.

Roog’s bronze gaze shifted from the north to his side where, standing before him, was a pair of Vallamir and their band spread out down the hill behind them. From Roog’s place high on the hill he seemed most imperious, his seated posture and distant gaze only increasing the perceived majesty of his person. The wolf’s ears slumped slightly, dropping partially to the sides of his head rather than straight up as he had when so utterly focussed on his thoughts. As his eyes passed over them they seemed to quail, all but the two before him who lowered their gazes from him instead but fought hard to remain strong for their pack; [color=slategray][i]admirable qualities[i][/color], mused the wolf.

“The herds, Great-Wolf,” continued the Vallamir, a male with black hair, bronze eyes, and all the other qualities born of Roog’s own blood, “They move from us. Kalmar’s reach does not hold for the hunts slacken in rewards. What should we do?”

Roog stared down at the male with great interest before looking away, once more towards the north with the look upon his face of revelation. It was as if the world itself wanted him to walk that way.

”We will move north, with the herds. Among those great pines between mountains high we shall find a home for your people.”

There came a murmur from the crowd as the advice seemed sound and offered respite from the growing dangers posed by the struggles of survival. Great-Wolf had yet to lead them astray and his Man-Father had proven a bountiful teacher in the arts of survival. Some of this band had been winnowed away by the Lady-of-Rain, though they had been few and far between and had often been lured away with promises of greatness due to their hair of silver or eyes of blue. Other bands had been met already under the protection or tutelage of the Man-Father or Mother-of-Many and had proven friendly in their interactions. Despite these many gods vying for their attention, these bands were followers of Great-Wolf and would follow him to the ends of the earth.

“What of the monsters, Great-Wolf,” came the next question, this time from the female standing to the Male’s side, “What shall we do when they close in? There are some that reek of death, that eat their own kin and rage at nature. Will you guard us all?”

Roog considered her words; wise beyond her years, or lack thereof. He had but three Wargs directly under his sway and it would not be reasonable to simply call all the Wargs to his side to protect these Vallamir. In addition, though his speed was considerable and his strength at arms well beyond any mortal animal he might be faced with in the forests of Kalgrun, he could not be everywhere at once. He would need to find a better alternative before the migration began. His gaze turned back to the pair and then to the crowd, their lowered eyes bringing a sense of displeasure to the wolf. He was not one of the monsters they feared in the depths of the forests nor desired to be an object of divine separation. He was with them not as a god but as a protector and wanted more than anything to be seen as someone to trust rather than a god to be feared and served. His thoughts passed from idea to idea, the flames of his mind licking and biting at new possibilities before one caught light and burst into a conflagration of purpose.

”I will teach you to defend yourselves, to bare tooth and claw and fist as weapons for your people’s protection. As we travel north we will be faced with many challenges and you must face them with your own might. I will aid you everywhere I can, but your people are numerous and I cannot safeguard them all. You must learn to be strong for yourselves, your families, and all your kind.”

There was a murmur that began to roll across the crowd of nearly a hundred in a wave as agreements were asserted. Many had lost new found friends or had seen themselves and others harmed in the struggles against the natural world that had been thrown into. Great-Wolf was known to them as a protector and giver of things but a taker of life in equal measure; surely he would know how best to defend himself and could teach them these skills in bountiful quantities?

”Among you I will need volunteers,” continued Roog, now looking individuals in the eyes as long as they would match his gaze, ”Those who will stand strong for all your people. The Valla will need guardians and you shall serve in my stead where I cannot be. Who among you will take on this heavy burden?”

The crowd seemed to go tense for a long while, gazes drifting away from the wolf or to one another where friendships had begun to blossom. A quiet malaise seemed to fall over them as this new request by Great-Wolf was mulled over; what of this risks to self? They had lived for only a few weeks and now their protector asks for them to put their lives on the line? A hard decision to make, to offer one up as such a sacrifice.

“I volunteer. No one will say Emla hid from nature.”

Roog’s gaze pulled back from the crowd to the woman who stood before him, a light burning in her bronze eyes. Her wolfen ancestry was apparent on all of her features and her body seemed more made for violence than it would ever be for foraging. Defiance was clear to see in her heart, an unwillingness to see another of her kind harmed without action; Roog was suitably impressed.

“Where she goes, so will I. I, Aesc, will learn from you, Great-Wolf.”

As the pair volunteered more began to rise, men and women both. Soon all had risen, unwilling to be cowed by the risks and dangers presented by the world, and the same defiance that burned in Emla was set alight in each and every one of them. They all stood, proudly as the wolf before them, and Roog was now cowed by them. With but a few words from each other there was now unity and determination where before there was fear. The mortals are far beyond us, considered Roog with a hint of animalistic alarm. One day, far from now, the First-Born would be eclipsed by the sons and daughters of these very mortals, of that Roog was sure.

“You will be my chosen, then, my Cenekyn, and you will give your lives for your people if needs be. I warn you, it is not a gift I give you, but a curse; to take life is never a reward and always costs you dearly. Will you take this oath, still?”

For their part not one of the Valla sat down or seemingly showed a hint of reconsideration. Each stood proudly and accepted their path with valorous intent. Roog’s vision did not waver as it passed over each and every one of the Vallamir before him until finally finding Aesc and Emla before him once more. A knowing grunt escaped his from between his teeth before his maw opened and his voice poured forth. As both wolf and man the echoes of his voice rang forth and filled the space with audible power. One by one the band spoke in return, their voices joining Roog in an other-wordly chant in a language they could not possibly understand. Flames from Roog’s hide sparked and hissed and sputtered. The black sparks whispered through the air before finding homes before the foreheads of each of the volunteers, flickering with lightless brilliance as black flame.

The crowd looked to one another or grasped at the flames now that marked them as Cenekyn, eyes wide with fascination and awe. They grasped at the heatless flames, watched them sputter and lick at the air, watched with ever deepening reverence. With renewed adulation they turned back to the Great Wolf that sat before them, his bronze eyes mirrored in many of theirs. Fear still tinged their hearts, an awareness of the vast power before them and the danger it posed, but it was challenged by an ever growing determination that would not be matched.

”You will go to all the bands we have gathered and offer them this same path, this same choice. Those that wish to join the Cenekyn may come and swear the oath as you did, while all others who will join us north to a homeland for your people will be kept safe on the journey. So begins your great journey.”

The host split apart then, members of the band going off in pairs or trios into the many directions where smoke plumes rose in the distance. Though there would be few who would join the Cenekyn without the direct prompting of a god their numbers would no doubt grow, strengthening the Cenekyn and making safe the journey to come. It would be up to Roog to teach them, to arm them, and to make them ready for the struggles to come.

“Aesc, Emla,” called Roog, catching the attention of the pair as they prepared to leave, ”For you I have knowledge; how to make for yourselves hardy spears from ash and sturdy garments of hide and fur. The spears shall be your claws to best the beasts that assail you, while the garments you don shall be your hides, proof from tooth and talon and biting cold. Share these with your people and your people shall thrive.”






Roog

&

Kalmar

&





The black wolf of Kalgrun prowled through the undergrowth as his hide warped and stretched underneath the strain of his muscular form propelling him forward. Roog had grown over the last few decades as he remained on Kalgrun, fostering the race of wolves that he had sired. For nearly eight decades now Roog had wandered across the entire face of Kalgrun, reincarnating the corpses of wolves he found while offering the mercy of a swift demise to those he found at the end of their lives, suffering alone and without purpose. It was a simple existence but one that Roog took to with humble grace; it was his purpose, the one he’d been created for, and his wanderings left him plenty of time to do as his other creator had bade.

It is my choice.

The Wargs had become numerous, though by no means outnumbering the other predators of Kalgrun, and had by then become stable enough to sustain their population through natural reproduction. Roog had, more than once, ruminated on the idea of his creations becoming completely independent of him in their organic imperative to survive and propagate their species. In fact, it seemed only the first three wargs he had forged had any major interest in him once they had been grown to proper, adult sizes. Most would remain with their creator until such time as a sizeable pack had been formed and then would simply leave, following an alpha into the dark depths of the great pines of Kalgrun.

This perpetual creation and loss had at first saddened Roog fiercely, providing to him an immediate perception that the pleasures of this world were, in the end, quite fleeting. But as Rahn, Lumi, and Dis remained at his side that sense of loss was quickly subsumed into a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment. Roog had decided, quite fairly so, that he had left his creators in much the same way and this was simply the order of things. By now Roog had postulated that his original creations remained with him out of a desire to keep their creators company having seen early on how losing his pack had affected him.

It was then unsurprising that once more Roog travelled with but himself and his three original creations. Just recently a new pack had dispersed into Kalgrun, this time near the frost covered mountains in the North, and Roog had allowed them to go with little fanfare. With that pack Roog had now released well over a thousand of his kind into the wilds over the last decade had begun to find others in his wandering unknown to him, born to parents that he had never known. Occasionally he even found the burnt out husks of a Warg, slain by some unknown offender or consumed from the inside out by the black flames that partially constituted their form. These ashen grave markers were a particular point of consideration for Roog as for the first time in his life he could empathize with the feelings of those left behind from his work. An unfortunate realization, to be sure.

“The hunt nears its terminus,” mused Roog, the lone speaker on Kalgrun Roog knew of beyond that of his itinerant fath- creator, Kalmar. He had become prone to moments of self-discussion as a tool to hone his mind and keep the fraying edges of animalism born of his lupine blood at bay. Though his children could not speak in the same sense they understood him well enough and were able to communicate in their own way in return. It wasn’t a perfect solution but it served Roog well enough.

As Roog entered the copse of trees where his spawn had followed their prey. By the sounds of liquid gushing onto rock, leaf, and grass and the metallic smell of hot blood it was made quite evident that they had been successful. As always the three wolves waited for him, watching his eyes and allowing him to take first pick of the carcass; Roog had never taken them up on the offer and likely never would. The creator of the great wolves did not need to eat nor did he have any interest to partake in that particular curiosity. He knew Kalmar would take part in that oddity of natural life, of course, as he had found the corpses of the few monstrous beasts he had slain well carved and with no waste of materials that could be used. To Roog the idea was notably grizzly and admittedly repulsive to his sapient mind. To the little howls in the back of his mind, however, the idea of blood and meat and cracked bone were supremely enticing. Perhaps it was that feeling that made the act so opposed by his thoughts in the first place, Roog had considered.

“I will not partake,” Roog spoke in his ethereal voice, deep and gravelly, “Enjoy the fruits of your labor.”

Roog grimaced slightly as his three progeny dug into the carcass with pleased abandon, tearing meat with ease as blood and gristle sizzled off their faces. It was a grizzly display to watch and one Roog found he was no longer able to stomach. As he plodded away from the carcass and its pleased devourers an unmistakable scent caught his attention. It was a pungent reek of rotting gore that cloyingly stunk of the unmistakable horrors of malicious intentions; ghouls. During his travels across Kalgrun he had learned much of the creatures and had rapidly discovered a great deal of disdain for their misbegotten kind. It was clear to him that some divinity had acted upon their bodies to warp them so and had matched with equal fervor a corruption of their minds. They were bound for cruelty, even if they weren’t intelligent enough to realize it yet, and Roog had taken it upon himself to end their suffering and the suffering they would cause wherever he could as quickly as possible; the meal his spawn had so happily begun would have to wait.

Roog’s howl shook the very trees around him, wilting leaves and flattening grass as he trumpeted the battle cry of the end. With that he was loping across the fields and between the trees of his homeland, his brood braying their ascent to the hunt once more before going silent in their pursuit. Another scent caught Roog’s nostrils, fainter still but equally distinct; one he did not know. It smelled of troll but changed, with just as much divine meddling as that which the ghouls had suffered under. He would have to be cautious, he reasoned, for it seemed there was some other creature afoot worthy of his attentions.




Elsewhere...

The signs were obvious. A pack of slaughtered trolls, stripped nearly to the bone, killed in the most painful way possible; some likely still alive while consumed.

Gorm grunted at the sight. The two dozen or so trolls that had come to follow him stood nearby. All of his original pack members were now dead, and it was their descendants who travelled beside him. Over the years they had wrecked a terrific slaughter, trimming the ghoul population down greatly. Gorm didn’t much like the taste of ghoul, in truth; instead preferring the vitasaurs created by Phystene, which had been made to feed beasts of his size.

He could identify the tracks at a glance. The footprints, the broken branches, the bloodstains… it was far from subtle. The massive troll closed his eyes and mentally reached out. He slipped into the viewpoint of a bird, then a wolf, then a bear, then another bird, until at last he finally found it: the viewpoint of a ghoul. Three companions, east of his position, and still heading in that direction. Likely the same group that had hunted these trolls.

He slipped out of the Sight, and grunted again. “Follow,” he commanded his pack, before loping through the woods, flattening bushes and toppling trees in the process as he followed the trail.




The sounds echoed across the forest for any creature of considerable sensory aptitude to hear them; something large was coming and it did so with little care for its surroundings. It was no doubt the creature he had tasted on the wind and he knew immediately that it could pose a threat to his kind if it so desired. The pack of wargs and the Great Wolf himself turned from outright speed to cautious stealth, slowing their advance as they rolled through the forest like a wildfire.

It was clear that the Ghouls had caught the sounds of crashing trees and were alerted to the monstrous creature on their tails and had doubled their pace as well, forcing Roog to keep his pack moving at a speed he considered risky if he intended to keep his presence hidden. The threat this beast posed needed to be considered and weighed properly and Roog wouldn’t risk his progeny over a conflict he could not win. It was clear from the creature’s size and smell that it was something of an oddity and one worthy of considerable attention. The faintest sounds of snarling could be heard as the wargs tasted the two groups on the wind, their hackles rising as a blaze consumes brush.

“Caution,” he called out, maw only open as much as necessary for the noise to emanate from his throat, “We are not alone.”

The auditory and olfactory trails provided by the two travelling creatures were rapidly closing in on one another and Roog could tell that they would make contact soon. A scrabbling creature at the back of his mind clawed at the inside of his skull, demanding to be released. Roog whispered the creature back into the depths of his mind with a calming phrase, reminding himself that his actions were his choice and his alone. Despite this his heart pounded with a raging excitement, pumping black blood throughout his veins in a ferocious hunger.

The fight would happen soon, Roog could tell, and he knew full well that the group of Ghouls and Trolls would meet each other first; a consequence of Roog’s slowed pursuit from caution. Despite this Roog intended to be on the scene fast enough to intercede if he found the conflict to be between two undesirable groups. His wolves were now out of his sight, spreading out in a line as they neared with their hunted quarry.




Gorm, meanwhile, had sped well ahead of his own pack - benefit of his superior size. He had little use for stealth or subtlety in this case, and he knew he would never catch up with the ghouls if he limited himself to the pace of a troll. Four ghouls he could easily take on alone - all he had to do was follow the trail.

But then the trail split four ways. They had heard him coming, and decided it would be better to split up than exercise safety in numbers. Rage threatened to overwhelm him, and the giant troll punched the ground in frustration, creating a small crater.

Gorm took a moment to collect himself, and the rage passed. No matter. He could hunt them down one by one. And so he picked the northernmost trail, and followed it.




The scents diverged and Roog almost offered a word of praise to the creatures; it took a lot of thinking to realize they should split up in the face of predation that would and could easily slay them all. The great beast that hunted the Ghouls had sped ahead of its pack of trolls that followed in its wake and Roog was confident he could reach the ghouls and their hunter before the trolls could.

His pack swept across the treeline rapidly and with deadly silence born of the coming demise their presence promised. The trolls fell swiftly behind them and now the vast entity that smelled of troll and divine meddling was between them and the ghouls that were rapidly splitting up in all directions. Now came a challenge. Roog howled out his intentions and the pack diverged; exhausted and overfed ghouls were easy pickings and as the massive beast hunted one his pack would hunt the others. Rahn would break off on his own while Lumi and Dis, practically inseparable, would hunt together. This left one for Roog and the Great Beast before they met up for their own potential confrontation; if Roog was lucky, his pack will have returned to make it all the easier.

With that they all bolted in numerous directions, picking up speed as they disappeared into the undergrowth at the expense of their previous stealth. Roog surmised that the creature they hunted was his equal if not his better on the hunt despite being the creation of the Hunter God. The thought crossed his mind of a similar forging but quickly dismissed it; surely he would’ve been made aware of such sibl- creations. Nevertheless, the beast’s uncanny ability to keep on the exact trail of its prey despite making them aware of its presence early into the chase was noteworthy and Roog had no intention of underestimating a potential foe.




Gorm’s quarry did not get far. Using his sheer size and weight, the enormous troll cleaved a path through the forest to get to it. As he neared, the Ghoul suddenly wheeled around, preparing a mad counter-charge against its much larger assailant.

It was a simple enough matter for Gorm to reach down, lift the creature with two of his fingers, throw it high into the air, and then catch it in his mouth as it fell back down. The Troll grinned to himself in satisfaction, and then slipped into the Sight to locate the others…

He slipped into the eyes of a massive wolf. Not what he was looking for. But wait… something was different. This was no direwolf. And there were others like it, running alongside.

The beast’s eyes which now served Gorm burst through the undergrowth with a surprising level of speed paired with a deathly silence. It was fast, considerably so, and seemed to only brush lightly against undergrowth leaving its trail of sound noticeably quiet. Despite this the Ghoul had caught its scent and was running now at breakneck speed, for a Ghoul, though it only succeeded in making its position more easily determined.

The warg closed rapidly, bursting through the treeline into a small glade where a gentle stream cut the forest in half. The darkness of the canopy strangled most light pouring down over the river but the eyes of the wolf easily cut through the gloom to peer directly at the ghoul now turning to face its hunter. In its place the warg left only air, having slipped back into the shadows that its dark hide easily blended in with. The ghoul spun, letting out roars of anger and confusion, while the mighty wolf quickly circled the choked clearing.

From behind thick and gnarled roots burst the great wolf, leaping through the air just as the ghoul turned to face it. Thrust out paws struck the ghoul in the chest, driving it to the ground, and knocking the wind out of it. With the fight literally driven from its body by the weight of the horse sized wolf, the Ghoul weakly slashed with taloned hands at its attacker. The vision of the wolf jerked back, deftly dodging the clumsy blow, before surging forward to tear out the beasts throat in a wave of arterial blood. In an instant it rose, disinterested in feeding on the vile fiend, and loped right back into the woods towards its kin.

Gorm had seen enough. He returned back to his own senses, and sniffed the air. The creature’s skills were impressive, and there were dozens in the area. One scent seemed… different from the rest, and far more powerful. Familiar, somehow. It was enough to give him pause, but not for long. He had been tasked to guard this region, and so he needed to learn more about these new arrivals.

So without further ado, he loped off in the direction of the familiar scent.




Roog’s own quarry had taken a confusing path far more intelligently than its kin; realizing the likelihood of being outrun, it seemed to have determined the best choice was to wrap around its pursuer and then go back the way it had come. If Roog didn’t despise Ghouls for their vile nature he might have truly respected this particular individual. Nonetheless, what had to be done would be by Roog’s own maw.

The creature had entered the massive goug torn into the forest by its pursuer, giving its flight an easy route backwards and a clear indicator of where its enemy had ran off to. Roog, of course, was not so unsubtle. He prowled at the edge of the destruction momentarily, eyeing the Ghoul for any signs of something worthy of note or pause. Finding none he burst from the treeline at ridiculous speeds and with one fell crushing snap his jaws took the head from the ghoul. His maw opened and allowed the head to fall just as the body did the same, tumbling to the side as the head rolled into the crook of two fallen trees.

Roog immediately realized his mistake, having tunnel visioned himself into his hunt rather than keeping his senses wide. Though not directly on top of him yet the beast that had initiated the hunt in the first place was closing rapidly. Roog turned and saw the monstrous troll charging right back down the same path it had made during its initial charge and Roog’s hackles rose like an inferno as he bared his fangs; by his creators, Roog swore in the depths of his mind, he had never seen a troll so thoroughly vast before. Ready to strike back at the oncoming marauder Roog paused, eyes widening as the familiar scent seemed to become ever more intoxicatingly present as the distance between these two titans of Kalgrun became ever smaller. This troll, Roog could now tell, was the work of his own creator Kalmar.

“Stay your charge!”

The massive creature skidded to a halt, stopping mere steps before the divine wolf. The giant troll loomed over him menacingly, looking down with an unreadable expression, before sniffing the air. Then, using its left arm to support his weight, the beast’s right hand slowly lurched forward, clearly intending to pick Roog up.

Roog’s eyes only had a slight moment to relax as the troll seemed to ignore his initial calm to attempt to pick up the wolf that blazed before him. Roog snarled threateningly as the creature’s huge hand closed the distance and every instinct in his mind told him to fight. Those roars had to be quenched and coaxed to dormancy even in the face of this vast threat as Roog, determined to try and end this conflict with a creation of Kalmar’s before it came to one of their deaths. He left back, closing the distance with a half-smashed tree trunk in a blur as a wildfire jumps between fuel. He howled in the face of the beast even as his human voice poured from his wide open jaws in a waterfall of noise.

”Continue this at your own peril, creature,” roared Roog, his voice booming across the landscape with divine efficacy.

Gorm halted, paused for a moment, and then lifted his arm off the ground so he could rise to his full height. His muscles tensed, and breath flared from his nostrils. “Gorm strong,” he spoke is his rough bestial voice, “you small. Gorm belong; you don’t. Explain, or leave.”

”All things face their demise, Vast-Troll, no matter their size” echoed Roog, hackles still licking the air as flames while his moonlit fangs were bared threateningly, ”I belong as I was forged here; Kalgrun is my home by right as a creation of Kalmar and Katharsos.”

Gorm tilted his head, and his expression was almost thoughtful, as if searching deep in his mind for a memory. “Roog?” he ventured at last.

Roog’s maw closed and one fuzzy brow above a bright bronze-gold eye rose in confusion; he had not said his name, he had thought? He stared at the immense troll for a handful of moments before nodding, his jaws creaking open ever so slightly to speak. ”That is my name.”

Gorm nodded slowly. “Why you here?” he asked.

”I wander Kalgrun and give hunt to creatures such as this. The fiends deserve a just end.”

Again, Gorm nodded. “Good pupper,” he complimented.

Roog grimaced at the terminology used to refer to him but let it slide. It was clear this creature had poor control of language, at least compared to himself, but he was the first speaking creature he had met in over decades; he’d take what he could get.

”I must know, Great-Troll, how you know of me? Are you a creation of Kalmar as well, as I have guessed?

Yet another nod. “Kalmar talk of you… tell Gorm no attack Roog.”

”So we are kin,” Roog’s head rose from its lowered position, all sense of threat gone, ”And it seems our aims align. I had hoped conflict could be averted and it seems our creator has already predicted this chance meeting.”

Alas, the chance meeting was soon interrupted, as Roog would become aware of two more presences in the area. One he would know well, for it was one his creators, while the other was completely foreign; though Roog could tell they were both equal in power.

Kalmar was the first to appear, dropping from the forest canopy and landing into a crouch on the ground. He rose to his feet and brushed himself off. “Roog, Gorm.” he greeted with a stoic nod.

Roog twisted to face his creator who had arrived just as Roog would’ve expected; he was the God of Hunters, afterall, and Roog doubted he could’ve found the man-god even if he had been trying. His head dropped in a mock bow as all wolves did before their pack leaders before rising up to greet his creator.

”This is a bountiful day,” he called as he hopped down from his perch on the half-shattered tree trunk, ”I get to hear voices beyond my own twice in many decades.

You better make that thrice, then,” a female voice sounded from just behind the tree trunk, with Arae in her human form walking around it to reveal herself. “It is a pleasure to meet you two, Gorm and Roog. I am Arae, the Goddess of Family,” Arae introduced herself with a warm smile.

Roog stared on almost dumbstruck as the events unfolded in front of his eyes; numerous decades had passed since he was left on Kalgrun, alone, and now there were Gods and Beasts alike pouring out of the woodwork to greet him. He supposed he should be thankful for this respite from the monotony of his continent but it certainly seemed almost gratuitous at this point. Despite that thought he was pleased to at last have others to speak to and would take all of the new found chances to meet other sapient creatures with gusto.

”Thrice it shall be, Great Arae,” responded Roog, giving the same bow he had to his creator. He had never seen any man-creature before other than Kalmar and this new one gave Roog much to ponder; they looked nothing alike and though Arae was the more acceptable to look at Roog found himself confused by the numerous differences in their forms. Nonetheless, speaking took precedent to considering humans and their confusing shapes. ”I am humbled by this meeting. And though I am not in any way displeased to meet others and to see my creator once more, I must ask; why are you here?”

Gorm, for his part, simply nodded at Arae - apparently it was his default response to meeting others. He lowered himself back down to rest on his arms, no longer feeling the need to make himself intimidating, and waited for someone else to speak. Kalmar, meanwhile, approached the ghoul Roog had slain and knelt to inspect it more closely.

Truth be told, I’m just a tagalong with Kalmar,” Arae admitted. “I still have some business to take care of with my brother, and I decided to help take care of whatever he needs me to do while I’m still around. Beyond that, not much, really.

Kalmar rose to his feet. ”A clean kill,” he said, referring to the ghoul. He looked to Roog. ”There is much to discuss. First: what have you been doing since your creation?”

”I have seen much of Kalgrun and kept to my duty as Katharsos directed,’ Roog practically smiled as his head rose proudly above his shoulders as he continued to speak of his time, realizing immediately that his particularly crowning achievement was in line with what Kalmar had advised, ”And I have followed your wishes; the choice was mine. I forged from the dead direwolves a race to call my own; Wargs, fa- creator. They are mine.”

Kalmar nodded. ”I am aware of your creations. You made them well. But what I want to know is this: do you know who Azura is?”

Roog considered for a moment, looking back to his creation and trying to remember if such an entity was mentioned. All that returned to his mind were memories of the warning given to him by both of his creators; not all gods were good and by the tone at which Kalmar referenced Azura, they might fit such a description.

”I do not, creator, though I expect I shall soon.”

Kalmar glanced at Arae, before looking back to Roog. ”Azura is the Goddess of Wind,” he revealed. ”She disliked Katharsos’s cycle and decided to interfere. She stole countless souls from his sphere, and is trying to convince mortals to voluntarily surrender their souls to her so that she can hoard them, until she finds an alternative to burning. Or so she says - not every god can be taken at their word. But if she continues to take souls without giving any soul ash back, then eventually we will run out, and all life as we know it will end.” The Hunter explained grimly.

I believe Azura has good intentions, but ultimately what she is doing is creating more problems than it is solving,” Arae added. “The end of all life as we know it is definitely not a situation we want to be in, and it is why she must be stopped.

Roog looked on with a furrowed brow, seemingly displeased with each and every new piece of information given to him regarding this Azura and her plotting. Her actions were in complete opposition to what he had been set to task to support. Even considering his likely predetermined bias towards the cycle of Katharsos, the idea of being forced into a permanent form and held at the whim of a God was deeply disgusting to him. All of this was exacerbated by his own creation, having naturally started his own creation by absorbing soul ash into the torn eye of the Great Wolf Fenris.

”I see . . . this cannot stand; the works of Katharsos must be supported at all costs and any attempt to subvert the cycle must be opposed. What is your intention, gods? I trust you share my distaste for this.”

”I think I know where the souls are being held,” Kalmar said. ”We are going there to find out what Azura is doing with them, and possibly put a stop to it. I ask you to come with us.”

Roog seemed to lose himself in thought as the question was asked, a request that would be world changing for the demi-god. The idea of leaving Kalgrun, his home for the last few decades, was one that could not be considered lightly. Despite this, his duty was clear and this Azura threatened all that his Heavenly Father had wrought. Just as importantly, it was his Cthonic Creator who now asked him for aid. He would make for a poor creation if he did not assist, particularly in an effort so important to maintaining the world Roog had created his own progeny in. Resolve burned behind his golden-bronze eyes.

”Without hesitation.”

”Good,” Kalmar said, before shifting his gaze to the massive troll who remained silent. ”Gorm, the ghoul population has been thinned to the point where they are no longer a threat. I’m calling off your hunt. You will remain here and continue to guard the area.” Then he looked back to Roog, and to Arae.

”As for us… we head north.”


Roog



The winds howled ferociously through the night, their dread wailing enough to creatures in their deepest burrows shiver with fear. It was an unfortunate noise, Roog thought, as he pawed his way through the twilight. The ethereal, divine flames that made up much of his body seemed to flicker and jump at the wind in mockery of natural fire. The sensation mildly amused Roog as he continued his trotting path through the endless forest of Kalgrun, with his vision occasionally blocked by the flicker black fires that made up his thick mane. To Roog there was wonder in all things as most of it was entirely new to him.

A howl in the distance suddenly caught his attention, a noise familiar to the instincts that wormed their way deep within the flesh-heart. The glistening black blood that flowed through his veins pumped quickly through his body as his heart went into overtime, drumming out a pointless beat in an entity that had no need for its heart in the first place. But that noise, oh that noise, called to it so in a most sonorous way. A second howl reverberated off the trees, this time from a different individual, and Roog couldn’t help himself but lean back and let out a resounding reply.

The noise that emanated from the wolf-god’s throat was something alien and odd. The odd-wolf’s howl echoed with twin voices, that of wolf and the voice of men both howling in discordant yet somehow in perfect harmony. That most unearthly tune carried across the forest, bouncing from the trees or whisked quickly in all directions by the wind. It was a howl that came from a heart meant for a simpler life and a mind with far too much in it to howl in such a way. As the final echoes of his howl died down Roog slowly lowered his head, staring out into the night-that-looked-as-day to him, deep in contemplation.

The returning response was tremendous. Dozens of individuals let their voices be heard, howls in all directions being thrown to the four winds to be heard by whatever creature had been the source of the strange voice. Roog listened to them all, ears up and twisting about in all directions to savor the sounds and put memory to each and every one of them. These were the voices of his kith and kin, those who had been created by the same hands that had forged him with the very same flesh that made up his form. If things had been different, perhaps, he would’ve been so similar to them.

A sense of longing came over the odd-wolf then as Roog Death-Wolf, Eye of Fenris, was struck by the ever present idea of being totally and utterly alone. Despite his wanderings he had not once met a creature that shared his intellect beyond that first fateful day with his creators and his three brothers. They had all left him then, no doubt to take part in great journeys and duties bestowed onto them that all Gods, Roog knew, must partake in. He thought he was doing his duty, to the best of his ability at least. Already he had helped the dead and the dying on to the Pyres, the task directed to him, and had left the bodies to be dealt with by his brothers in their own time. What more was there asked of him?

A final howl, suffering and pained, warbled weakly through the leaves and branches to reach Roog’s ears. A lone wolf, Roog knew, for he knew well the sorrow behind that wolf’s howl. But with that unfortunate sound came the telltale notes of something beyond loneliness. That was the cry made by one who was dying and as far as Roog had learned no creature was without the ability to utter such dirges. His duty called, Roog reminded himself, and he quickly stood from the patch of ground to start in the direction of that poor, lone wolf.

Roog had moved swiftly and had covered the distance of several miles in a matter of minutes that could be counted on his paws. He was as death, of course, and death came as quickly as it wished to. Beneath the revealed roots of a vast tree Roog saw the huddled form of an old, haggard, and dying direwolf. Flecks of blood were immediately visible splattered across its teeth and forepaws, no doubt born of the creature’s own dying body. No wounds were visible on its form but Roog could tell with little effort the source of the creature’s suffering. Several large, bulbous protrusions were visible across its hide and at its throat, revealing the immense but decrepit wolf to be in the final grips of a malicious cancer.

”I sympathize with your plight, elder,” came the voice of the god-wolf, noise simply waterfalling from his opened maw with an eloquence and diction having no business coming from that fell visage, ”My apologies if you have suffered long; I shall not prolong your pain.”

The old wolf raised its head weakly, ears perked and directed towards the noise. Roog of course knew that the wolf had no way of understanding the deeper meaning of this encounter, just as the many other entities he’d helped into the afterlife, but despite that limited he made sure to speak to each one of them nonetheless. From their physical movements and the way they observed him he could tell that he imparted his intention with his words and had found they were often calmed by them. As the old wolf struggled to watch him Roog began closing the distance, step by step, to join him beneath the roots. Life flickered in the eyes of the elder-wolf as it snarled in threat, evidently aware of its impending demise and unwilling to accept. Understanding flashed across Roog’s features and rather than step all the way to him Roog simply sat on his hind legs, forepaws set into the ground before him, and waited. The dying beast calmed and set its chin onto hits paws, one eye watching the large, half-spectral wolf.

For many hours it went like that as Roog simply waited and gave the wolf the time it so desired. What little respite he could offer he did, the flames of his body seemingly dulling the pain as they flickered lightlessly beside the wolf. Though Roog knew his directions were to end this wolf’s life it was apparent that death would come sooner rather than later; why should he rush this creature who was not quite ready to die, he asked himself. Let it bask in its final hours of a life well lived and time worthily spent. Let it die as it had lived; strong and defiant to the last. A pained wheeze came from the creature’s lungs and it slowly, with great effort, turned its gaze to the wolf-of-demise. Roog stood, knowing the time had come, and stepped forward with little fanfare and no resistance from the old wolf. Standing above the wolf Roog simply let the heat of his breath blow across the torso of the glorious elder and, with that, life passed from the creature’s body.

Hours passed as Roog simply watched, lost in thought, as the wolf’s soul lifted high into the sky and beyond his reach. Life was precious and glorious, Roog knew, as his father Katharsos had imparted such understanding upon him. This was the blessed gift life had and Roog revelled in it in his own, sombre way. But, Roog ruminated, what of the body left here on Galbar? Roog thought to his own creation, how he was born from the corpse-eye of the Great-Wolf Fenris, his flesh-sire and kin. His soul came from many, pulled in by nature’s will and born from the efforts of the gods. The howl of the wind in his ears seemed almost musical to him as he looked down at the corpse in careful deliberation as gears turned and ideas began to form. Why not with this?

Roog stood and paced back on forth on all fours, eyes darting from direction to direction. Soul ash was here, though not particularly prevalent, and he could see motes of ash flowing in the air. There was work he could do, though outside the purview of his Father’s exact directives, and his mind jumped from possibility to possibility. An almost manic obsession came over him as he realized the potential for something beyond what he had been doing, for creation and reincarnation. The thoughts met a wall in his mind as he considered what Katharsos had said about duty. Morosity seeped into his mind until, like a candle in the darkness, the words of his fathe- creator, Kalmar, echoed in his head.

”It is mine to choose . . . “

Roog immediately set about pulling soul ash to him from all directions with a deathly howl that sung the soul-stuff into being before him. As artificial souls began to form before him as more and more of the ambient soul ash came to him Roog turned to the corpse of the old-wolf. This would be his eye, the flesh that would form his creations as the Eye of Fenris had been his crucible. Black fire formed around the body, parting it and shaping it in grizzly action into simply shapes that could be held and filled and formed by the will of souls being made. The task was bloody and dark in nature but so too had been his birth in the eye; it would require much effort on his part, but effort was all that Roog had in abundance. The great wolf tore at his inner cheek with gnashing teeth before leaning over the flesh-hulks, pouring his glistening black blood upon the hunks of meat, bone, and fur. The oily liquid caught flame from Roog’s flickering hide and set about blackening the forms it had been offered in supplication. At last Roog bid the souls of his own design and creation into the foundries of life he had built for them, reincarnating the many souls that had been burned into ash in these forms as his own birth had arose.

Roog watched for minutes and then hours as the flesh-forms took shape, burning themselves to charred crisps as he had his own. Just as the Eye of Fenris had fallen away, burned to ashes, so too did the scattered remains of the old direwolf. Born from the ashes of divine flame and black blood mixed in mortal flesh came the yips of three pups. Each was clad in midnight as their creator and their fur flickered as his did, moving as if living flames. Their eyes were a mix of natural wolf colors, not bearing the bronze of their father. Of their teeth and claws little of the moonlit clow born by their demigod creator carried through. For all intents and purposes they were as mortal wolves given a touch of the divine. Born in them, however, was Roog’s great desires and expectations for a species he could call his own; as they grew they would be as large if not larger than he was at creation and they would be prodigious hunters as their sire’s creator had bade him be. Each, Roog hoped, would carry even a fraction of the wisdom of Katharsos and the cunning of Kalmar. Though they would not speak and would not hunt as the Man-God, Roog believed they would be intelligent beyond the ken of their wolfen ancestry.

Pleased with his creations, Roog pushed them into the hollow of the roots where their flesh-sire had passed and set about properly securing their new den. He had never been a father but he his instincts scourged him of all desires and thoughts beyond their safety. They would grow fast, so fed by his divine caretaking, but for the first few months they would need his care. No matter, he thought; there were many dying creatures in the wild that required his due diligence and what harm could there be in putting their remains to better use? He could repeat this process with the corpses of Direwolves he found and nourish the youngling beasts with the honored dead. This is exactly how Kalmar would want it, Roog considered, as he turned to his three “children”.

”It is yours to choose, my kith, for you are as I am and our creator bids it so. You shall be Rahn, Lumi, and Dis. One brother, two sisters, and you shall help shape the world.”



Amaruq scrabbled to get the broad and flattened stone underneath the foot of the abalone before the next shift in the water from the tides. It was a big one, juicy and fat, but Amaruq knew full well that it would fight all the harder. No matter, thought the Selka, it would taste all the sweeter for his efforts. His whiskers flowed with the waters and shivered from the oncoming wave above him, his senses warning him he must be fast. With increased determination Amaruq brought the flat bladed stone down and across the surface of the rock in one swift motion, feeling the blade part the foot of the abalone from the submerged boulder ever so slightly. A flash of white teeth in a pleased smile was all the abalone would have seen, if it had been able to see that is, as the Selka pried it from its holdfast with one swift *pop*. Grabbing the massive shell and all its delicious meat in his free hand, Amaruq kicked up to the surface. With a pleased grunt he lifted his basket of abalone up onto the makeshift raft he had brought out past the breakers with him.

The sound of gently crashing waves and the calling of seabirds filled Amaruq’s ears as his head just barely bobbed above the waves. For several long minutes Amaruq simply enjoyed the smells and sounds of the ocean splashing around him in an orchestra of sensory bliss. At last he opened his eyes and looked towards his haul, prideful of his work for the day. Three large baskets were full of abalone that he’d been hard at work pulling from the rocks below, each basket now sitting on top of his simple raft. With a little prodding he found the rope that led down to the simple stone anchor keeping the raft in one place and he wound it up with little effort before placing the modestly sized stone onto the raft, watching it bow in the waves from the added weight. With that he grabbed the lead roped harness and pulled it over his shoulders to drag it behind him as he swam into shore.

A number of other Selka milled about on the beast as he pulled in, dragging his simplistic drift-wood raft up the shoreline and out of the clutches of the hungry sea. It was wise, he knew, to keep things out of the hands of the ocean. It was a hungry thing, shouldermen said, for why else would it have such abundance in its belly? It was greedy too, for it often dragged things right back into its stomach with reaching hands of white water and waves.

“Hoi!”

Amaruq looked up to see the one calling to him, a young girl he immediately recognized as Nuniq. Though she was nearly half the older Selka’s size she was a vigorous little creature and constantly harassed him for stories and tales; some even said she was his biggest fan! The elder Selka smiled and nodded his head faintly, waving her over with a pleased smile. The little selka girl tore across the beach as best as her broad feet would allow, practically hopping to close the distance as fast as possible. She lept into his arms with a joyous little noise, pointing at the large collection of abalone he had caught.

“Amaruq, Amaruq! You caught so many! When will you teach me how to dive for them?”

Amaruq chuckled, his heavily whiskered upper lip bouncing jovially. She had been asking him that since her parents had first set her down on her own two fins and she hadn’t stopped asking three years later. It was a good thing he was her grandfather, Amaruq considered, or he might have become annoyed with the constant pestering. He of course immediately corrected himself; he was far too soft to ever become irate with a child, particularly one as cute and excitable as his granddaughter.

“Soon, Nuniq, soon. But you must be able to carry a prying stone and use it well, so keep working with your mother until you’re big and strong. Then your old, decrepit grandpa will take you out into the waves, little one. Go on, my little minnow; your mother is calling and your Hoi’ has work to do.”

With that the little girl struggled to be set down and was immediately tearing right back up the beach, practically dropping to all fours. Ever the ball of excitement, she was. Amaruq smiled and turned to his haul, picking up all three baskets with some concerted effort and heaving them up the beach towards the large bonfire that had been made. He waved to the firekeeper, a now old woman named Tukkut he had fancied when they were both younger. Alas, his wife had been so much more forceful! A bitter-sweet smile flashed across his face as the elder Selka thought of his departed wife and he offered a momentary prayer to the spirits of his family to keep her close company in the world beyond.

“Ah, Amaruq, I see you’ve been busy,” called a gruff male voice, one he recognized as his son in law, “Though I fear you will eat all of them yourself if we are not careful.”

“Do not worry, Aklaq, for I have no doubt with your youth you will beat me to the feast. Though, I do worry for other things; the rocks were not so plentiful with my quarry, nor were the waters so filled with fish. Mother Ocean seems to have eaten them all, or perhaps whisked them far from here.”

This had, of course, been something of an anxiety that had been plaguing a number of the fisherfolk and gatherers for some time now. Their tribe was modestly sized and spread out across several small encampments across the stretch of beach and they had discovered quite swiftly that the waters around them were becoming more and more depleted. Feasts were a common practice among their people for the ocean had much to give yet it seemed more and more that Mother Ocean was holding tighter to her meals. This had worried some more than others, of course, but it was not something taken lightly by anyone; food was essential as all Selka knew and without ample supplies and thick blubber winters would be made all the harder.

“Yes,” replied Aklaq, shuffling in the sand slightly, “We had been speaking on that. Myself and the fisherfolk from the tribe gathered earlier today as we hunted up on the shoreline for deer. We agree. You should do a throwing, Amaruq; we all wish to see what the spirits say.”

Amaruq looked at Aklaq with a displeased grumble, eyebrows lowered and eyelids tightening as he appraised the young male. Throwings were not so simple and should never be taken lightly; the spirits were loathe to share their secrets they had winnowed from the gods and it was best only to throw when things were at their worst. Besides, what if they caught the spirits at a bad time and they were given false information as punishment for their hubris? The minds of young ones were always so impatient, thought Amaruq, as he looked over the younger male’s shoulder to see a collection of fisherfolk pretending to mind their own business as they listened in. A harumph fitting of his elder-stature thumped from Amaruq’s chest and he waved his hand aside in frustration.

“Bah, fine. A throwing it is. I will need to gather my things… you best bring me your best cut of deer, if you got any! A good Shoulderman never does a throwing for free.”

Night couldn’t come slowly enough as Amaruq gathered his many supplies necessary to take on the role of a shoulderman. Shouldermen were shamans in his tribe, augurs of portents and speakers to spirits. They were so named after the shoulder bones they used for their augury, collected from animals gifted to the tribe by the sea and shore. It was wrong, all Shouldermen knew, to use the shoulderbones of animals hunted or not freely given. Only those that washed up from Mother Ocean’s graces could be used for such things and so the tools of the trade were most rare indeed. The best of course came from seals, at least of the more common varieties, and it was said some Shouldermen had gathered the scapulas of Selka drowned at sea that washed ashore. Those were of course just witch-stories but every Shoulderman secretly wondered the whispers they might hear when using such a powerful icon.

Amaruq stomped out of the sea in proper fashion, splashing and making as much noise as possible to simulate the crashing of waves. Tied around his waist was a simple leather pouch held closed with a sinew tie that bounced against his thigh and over his face as a mask of bones, carved driftwood, shells, and seaweed. This was the face of a Shoulderman, for everyone knew Shouldermen looked as such, and no spirit would ever divulge their secrets to someone they did not know. That was why Shouldermen wore the masks, of course, to trick the spirits into thinking they were the Shoulderman they knew; clever, really, thought Amaruq as he recalled all the information off handedly.

The Selka on the shore smacked hollowed out logs carried by the waves or struck stick to stone or hammered away with bones. It was the thing to do for spirits enjoyed fanfare and it was best to invite them to a party rather than a sombre occasion. A considerable amount of food had been set about, already dug into by the attending Selka, though a flat rock had been placed before the fire to give a proper tablet for the spirit’s meal to be arrayed upon. Beside it sat a modestly adorned stone for the Shoulderman, replete with the aforementioned hunk of cooked deer flank that had been requested. Everything was as it should be as the Shoulderman who was Amaruq came waddling up from the shore, hopping and skipping and spinning and otherwise putting on a right proper show. The music reached a crescendo as he reached the offerings and stopped at its high point, leaving but the sound of the waves and the crackling fire to dominate the ritual.

“Oh, mighty and clever spirits, I beseech you your knowledge stolen from the gods; we humbly offer this feast and many gifts to you for your wisdom. Show me your secrets . . . “

With one hand he undid the simple sinew strapping on his pouch and tugged forth a large scapula procured personally from a bull seal that had washed up on the beach. The creature was large and its scapula sized accordingly, perfect for writing as much information as possible upon it; an excellent choice and one not so freely parted with. In the back of his mind Amaruq considered how fortunate his son-in-law was for having him as a father, for if he was some simple fisherfolk Amaruq may have used a lesser bone. Amaruq tossed the bone into the fire, aiming for it to land directly on the slightly bowed inward mano once used for grinding shells into powder. The almost bowl-like shape caught the large scapula and held it in the flames, the bone charring at the ends and heating up. Cracks and lines began to form on the face of the scapula as the less dense bone parted before the growing heat it was subjected to.

All eyes were on the Shoulderman who was Amaruq as he peered down at the shoulder bone, the flame’s illumination flickering off his mask in a dancing display of raw spiritual power. The crowd was dead silently, knowing full well the powerful magics that were at work here, and not even babies held swaddled in their mothers’ arms uttered a peep. All the while Amaruq kept watching, grumbling and humming and looking on intently at each and every one of the cracks that began to form. He started, practically jumping back, as a massive crack thundered across the flat face with a loud crunch and the crowd gasped in response, most immediately regretting their actions and covering their mouths; a Shoulderman responding like that was never a good sign. As the final cracks formed and the heat simply began to burn the bones Amaruq quickly reached into the fire with a wetted hand, clearly well burned from many trials doing this exact act, and removed the bone. He dropped it onto a platter before him and looked at it with considerable interest.

“What does it say, Shoulderman?” came one voice from the crowd as the ritual finished, followed by more asking for direction and answers to their growing curiosity.

“It says,” came Amaruq’s voice, warbled and changed beneath the mask and by his own intentional acting to appear more spiritual, “That we may not remain . . . Our home is starving for we have stayed too long. We must gather the tribe and confer with the other Shouldermen, but, to me this speaks clearly.”

“We are the Kayuk,” he intoned, standing and looking out from the thin eyeslits of his mask, “And we must go North . . .”



Roog


Always with night comes the braying of wolves.

The wind that rustled through the canopy above was as music to the young wolf’s ears; for Roog, every new experience was a gift without equal. It had been nearly a month since his creation on that beach from fire and blood. Memories of blackness and charred remains, of conflict and violence perhaps from a past life, marred his thoughts when Roog’s mind was set about itself. Rather than dwell on such things the death-wolf instead immersed himself in this new world he had been unleashed upon; an experience he couldn’t help but revel in.

Perhaps as a quirk of his creation or, more likely, a direct consequence of his creators the wolf had senses almost unmatched. When his nostrils flared his mind was filled with images of the life around him. For each oak and pine he could sense their age, their struggles, the years with drought and the years with rain. Every tuft of hair, fallen feather, or discarded antlers told him stories of the lives these little creatures led. With each breath he could taste them all and experienced a rush of thoughts as feral instincts warred with the mind of something far beyond that mortal ken. His eyes, bronze orbs that seemed to burn internally, swept across the array of sights before him with interest and curiosity that revealed fertile colors of rich brown and deep green. Most of all his senses, however, Roog savored what he heard the most. His ears were filled with sounds from near and far, of birds chirping, of the scrabbling paws of underground animals, of even the sounds of distant paws pressed to the damp earth.

A wet crunch well beyond Roog’s experiences suddenly broke the serene placidity of the arboreal world around him. Roog’s ears perked up and his gaze darted towards the direction from which the noise had come. The wet crunch was swiftly followed by a tinny noise unlike anything Roog could imagine then another wet crunch and the sound of something thick splattering the forest floor. A roar of pain shook the forest creatures from their peaceful lives as they ran to ground, flew from their havens, or perhaps even turned with predatory interest. Deep sobbing followed suit, heavy and oppressive, that seemed to slowly be growing weaker. For a long moment Roog paused, his instincts imploring him to safeguard his own life. Memories jumped to that of his fathers, one willful and one wishing otherwise, and of the words and advice that had gifted him. His steely gaze turned back to the sound, knowing full well what he must do.

The jet black wolf began at a slow stride, paws silently brushing the undergrowth, pacing towards the sounds of pained anguish. As the mewling slowly quieted Roog picked up speed, suddenly loping between trees and crashing through brush with visibly no effort to close the distance with the noises. The serene nature of his world had gone and the images in his mind returned, of pain and suffering that made Roog clench his jaws and lowers his ears in displeasure. Wet gushing filled his ears, like the waters of the Hunter’s Eye where he had first been born, and the quiet thumping of a heart drumming out its last pounding beats. With a grunt Roog placed his paws before him as he arrived at a clearing, leaving great gouts in the ground from his attempt to halt his forward momentum.

Before him was a vision of violence and death that made the wolf’s heart drop. Crimson, arterial blood had sprayed across the once viridian foliage, darkening it red and spoiling the idyllic scene of nature with vitriolic and malicious intent. Three figures lay in the dell before his eyes with two clearly lifeless while the third clung to one of the fallen in desperation. Though he did not know them by the name, Roog watched as an old male troll held its dying mate. The creature to the pair’s side seemed a similar sort but was hideous in its make and outright unnatural. Its skin seemed clothed in a manner similar to Roog’s Man-God creator but with a material that bit the eyes to look at when sunlight struck it. The thing smelled of soot and gore and malice in all things and upon its person Roog noticed a number of implements that could only be used to inflict pain. Worst of all, the bag that hung from its back had disgorged a number of limbs that seemed to be of its own kind, albeit of younger creatures than this one. It’s clothed head, encased in the same material its chest had been, had been bashed in with a rock that now sat bloody and splattered with grey matter off to the side.

Roog’s gaze turned back to the troll weeping in its own way over the corpse of the creature held tightly in its arms. As he watched Roog could see it was not in a way that Roog might understand; these were animalistic cries, simply noise expressing a crushing feeling of grief that the beast could not express in any other way. Roog’s own instincts called at him to howl, to unleash noise in a similar manner. Though Roog’s heart and mind warred with one another his soul knew what he must do as the thoughts of flame overwhelmed his spirit. With that he took his first steps into the glade, slowly walking towards the hunched troll.

Though completely silent in his movement the direction from which Roog closed on the troll was in no way hidden and the troll quickly looked up, its eyes going wild and wide. With a pained grunt the troll hurled a rock in Roog’s direction, the stone clacking against the ground at Roog’s feet. The large wolf looked down at the stone then back to the creature, eyes tightening with curiosity. A large wound was visible on the creature’s neck, pumping blood wildly to paint the Troll’s neck and side with the red liquid. As Roog continued to close, however, he noticed the wound that would truly kill the troll; it’s right leg was missing underneath the knee, no doubt hacked off by the beast dead beside it. Roog’s head turned quizically to the side as he noticed the flesh trying to knit back together though something was clearly affecting the troll’s ability to regenerate.

The smell of burning flesh and charred wood assaulted him, scents he was vastly familiar with, and his eyes caught the sight of a torch laying beside the ghoul. Its weapon, some strange simulacrum of a claw to be held in the hand, had soot on the blade and the very last emanations of heat billowing from its edge. Realization dawned on Roog as he put two and two together; the monstrous creature was hunting them, as Kalmar Man-God hunts, and had used its cleverness to take away the trolls’ ability to regenerate. Contradicting thoughts clashed in Roog’s mind; hunting was natural and good but this creature most certainly was not. As his gaze slowly returned to the troll he noticed its eyes dropping as blood loss began to take its toll.

”I am sorry,” came Roog’s only words, more for himself than for the troll, as his maw opened ever so slightly so that his voice could come tumbling forth. The troll, of course, simply looked up at him with little recognition of any meaning.

By now Roog had been able to close to the troll’s side and no amount of weak flailing could keep him at bay. He stood above the troll, looking deep into its eyes, as the creature’s life slowly left it. The pain Roog drank deep of soured the experience in his mind, reminding him of the words his heavenly-father regarding the beauty of life and the gift of mortality; this did not seem much of a gift, in this moment. His thoughts played a dance in his mind as he considered the options before him and how he might best serve his purpose as well as help this suffering creature in its final moments. In a fit of frustration Roog looked back down at the troll and their eyes met. Between them was shared a moment of understanding as Roog looked through the windows into the troll’s soul.

With its limbs dropping to the side of its mate the troll waited, chest slowly calming from the heaving it had been doing earlier. Some sort of animal acceptance had washed over the creature, like it knew what was coming just from the shared moment between it and the demigod of demise. Roog sat beside it, quietly observing as the troll seemed to take in its world one last time. The calm in its eyes shocked Roog; here was a beast that had lost everything in its meager life but her and now it was ready to let go. This would be a valued memory, considered Roog, as he at last leaned in towards the troll. With one paw he reached forward, gently tapping a moonlit pale claw to the troll’s forehead. Quietly and with no fanfare the troll let its eyes close one last time and entered into the final sleep it would endure in this lifetime.

Roog sat with the cooling bodies of the two trolls and their slain archenemy. This had been the first time in his life that his duty had been presented to him and now, as the souls of the troll drifted upwards to follow that of its mate and the one who took its life, Roog contemplated on the nature of life and death. Though his initial emotions were those of rage and despondence at the unfairness of life and its wanton cruelties he had quickly seen himself have a change of heart. This was the value of life that Katharsos had spoken of at his creation. This troll knew a full life and had no doubt ended the lives of many creatures the same as its last kill. It would feed the cornucopia of animals that would arrive to feed upon it until rot overcame it by natural course of by the Many Death’s hands. And, despite this momentary loss of life, the cycle would continue. That soul so high in the sky would be reborn in a thousand creatures, burned to ash and reincarnated once more in a beautiful and natural cycle. This was exactly what he had been created to see.


Kalmar

&


God of Death, Prince of Astral Fires

&
Roog





Kalmar stood upon the shore of the Hunter’s Eye, and threw a stone out to sea. He watched it skip four times before sinking. Wordlessly, he continued walking. He had returned to check on Fenris. It had been weeks since the creature lost its eye, and he needed to ensure that the wolf had actually recovered.

He came upon the site where Fenris had first clashed with Vakk’s beast. Traces of blood still stained the sand, and in the midst of it was a massive eye, scratched and half-crushed. Kalmar’s eyes narrowed in puzzlement. Firstly, Fenris hadn’t disposed of the eye. Secondly, despite all the time spent lifeless and detached from its body… the eye hadn’t decayed.

Kalmar approached it, and as he approached he realized it was almost radiating power. He could even sense what appeared to be a soul forming inside it. It took him aback. The Hunter God had little experience in the manipulation of souls or soul ash, beyond what was required to create life. This was a soul occupying a seemingly lifeless object. He did not know what to make of it.

Perhaps one of his acquaintances would know more. Yet of all the gods he had met, he only knew one whose purpose directly revolved around souls.

Katharsos? he ventured telepathically.

’...Kalmar?’


[color=orange][i]I have found something strange. One of my creations lost an eye. The creature itself is still alive, but the eye is still apart from its body. The eye has not decayed; somehow it carries power, and even has a separate soul inside it. How is this possible?[i][/color]

Then silence. A full minute passed, and Kalmar grew impatient. Do you hear me? he asked.

’Your quandary is acknowledged. I am pondering it.”

Kalmar frowned. Why did it take so long for him to ponder something? Nonetheless, Kalmar waited. After the better part of an hour, Katharsos still knew neither what to think nor what to say, and so he finally answered with some wordless indication that he would come in person.

It was an even longer interim before a red glow on the horizon announced the god’s near arrival, but it was not just the light of one burning streak that lit the sky--three followed behind, smaller and perhaps near invisible to mortal eyes, but easily enough spotted by divine perception.

Katharsos, Balam, Zotz, and Ku all made their descent and came to rest just above the ground, a short distance away from an expectant Kalmar.

Kalmar was perched upon a large stone, working away at a wooden carving. He glanced at the eye which remained inert and unchanged. It almost seemed to pulse or throb every few minutes, but he couldn’t be sure. He looked to Katharsos. ”Who are they?” he asked, waving his knife to indicate Katharsos’s companions, before he turned the blade back toward the task of carving.

The three didn’t answer for themselves and merely followed their master with vacant stares. ”New and loyal servants. In my stead they will care for and watch after this middle sphere,” the god told Kalmar. ”I believe that you already met one of them in some capacity, when last we spoke.”

Not far from Kalmar and his rock and the block of wood that he was etching away at, sure enough there was the mangled and bloodied remnants of a huge eye that had been torn free from its body. Just as Kalmar had said, there was something that pulsed on in what should have been long dead and rotting tissue. Katharsos examined it from afar.

”Sometimes a soul can rub off on something, like an especially prized object...or its own body. Some tiny traces of soul ash linger on in corpses. But as weeks and weeks pass as decomposition of the body takes place, the ash tends to naturally disperse. Instead, here it is greedily drawing in more and growing into some sort of nascent soul, even as the eye rots. It is most unnatural.”

”Then what should be done about it?” Kalmar asked, rising to his feet. He sheathed his knife and stepped closer to the eye.

”I am in principle opposed to allowing the dead to inflict themselves upon the living--and it seems that just such a thing would happen were we to stand by and let this soul form without a vessel and wander about as a disembodied…ghost of something that never truly lived. But just ending it right here and now before it had a chance to live would be an even greater crime, no?” The giant head of flames violently pivoted around to look back at the three smaller spirits behind him.

”It could be made into another one like these, perhaps. The strange soul could prove very useful to me,” Katharsos finished.

”And what would it do?” Kalmar asked, eying one of the creatures and narrowing his eyes.

If Katharsos had shoulders, they’d have been shrugging. ”That remains to be seen. The three behind me--their names are Balam, Zotz, and Ku,” he gestured at the jaguar, bat, and monkey-shaped heads respectively, ”they do not even know their sacred charges yet. Before making preparations to return to my own sphere, I had to mull over what I would ask of them.”

”That one smells of Orvus,” Kalmar spoke suddenly, gesturing toward Ku.

There was a pause as both parties seemed to consider what to say, but Katharsos uncharacteristically broke the silence first. ”Indeed, Orvus offered him a blessing. You did caution me about Orvus and make dire...claims, but by chance he encountered me in the wilds and I found him nothing if not reasonable and friendly. So with Orvus’ help, Ku is especially attuned to souls and their various states of decay. Perhaps he can perceive that with even more clarity than you and I. Such a talent will surely help him with the work that is to come.”

”Hmm… I told Orvus that if he did not change his ways, I would kill him. Perhaps he listened.” Kalmar considered.

”It’s also possible that you were wrong about him all along, no?”

Kalmar shook his head. ”Before I gave him that ultimatum, he told me his intentions himself. He wanted to destroy the world, to fray the souls of all living creatures. He said this to Phystene as well, and I saw the aftermath of their battle. Maybe he did change, but you should not trust him.”

With his perturbed mood came also a souring change of color. Katharsos brilliant reds and oranges became sickly yellows and greens. ”Then maybe I am too optimistic towards the other divines,” he conceded. ”When next I see Orvus, I will inquire as to his intentions. If his motives are still as you say they once were, he will need to be enlightened and turned to another path.”

Ku didn’t have anything to say, though for once the laughing or mischievious hints of a grin upon the monkey’s face were gone. Katharsos was eager for a change of subject. ”Now then, the eye here? And the soul inside of it?”

”You were saying we should give it a body?” Kalmar questioned, before turning his head. A massive one-eyed wolf walked across the lake. In the time since the fight, Fenris’s wound had scabbed over, but the dark hole still remained vacant. The gigantic creature stepped onto land and laid itself down next to the eye, setting a wary gaze on Katharsos and the animal companions. ”As you can tell, this is the eye’s original owner.”

”No, not a body. No flesh. I would bend the ash around it, and breathe upon it, and then it would be a burning spirit like any of those three,” he said gesturing to Balam and his cohorts. ”Just like me.”

Kalmar shook his head. ”A physical form will be better. Easier to interact with the world, and it won’t draw as much attention,” he argued.

”A soul is meant to grow inside of a body, not dragged about and forced into one. To remove it from that rotting eye and put it into something else would be an unnatural abomination!” The god’s jaguar face twisted and grew redder and hotter. The ice of his tone was cracking, and steam was broiling out from the gaps. ”I do not use my powers to form flesh and life, anyways. I have neither affinity nor aptitude for such a thing. Only with Ashalla’s help did I make the simplest of creatures, and that was taxing.”

Kalmar reluctantly nodded. ”If you say so. Go on, try it your way.”

Katharsos gave a tiny nod in thanks, then approached the eye even closer. The jaguar’s visage stretched as its jaw came unhinged to bare gently wavering flames that took the shape of teeth. From somewhere between them there came a few sparks that were pushed along by a warm wind, the gentlest of breaths. They fell upon the eye, and then coaxed into life by his invisible will, they consumed the eye. And there was an almost imperceptible snow of soul ash that quickly became a blizzard as the stuff coalesced and began to swirl around the drying and blackening husk of the eye. But Katharsos frowned, for something was wrong and this soul was not going to be metamorphosed nearly so easily as the past three had been.

The blizzard of soul ash was now more akin to a barrage of hailstones; the god of death was trying to preserve a life by smothering the very fire he’d started using the soul ash, but of course that was like trying to put out a campfire by burying it beneath leaves and sticks.

”KU!” he suddenly roared, and the hapless monkey darted closer to his master. The spirit stood there agape, seemingly confused at what it was supposed to do.

Fenris rose to his feet and began to bark loudly at the sight of his own detached eye aflame.

With three steps Kalmar closed the distance, drew his foot back, and kicked the eye out toward the lake. With a mighty splash it vanished beneath the surface, only to float back up still ablaze, as the water began to bubble and steam around it.

With an annoyed frown, Kalmar extended a hand, and the burning eye flew through the air back toward him, stopping a mere three feet away. The Knife of Friendship materialized in his other hand, and he slid the blade across his open palm before pointing the bleeding hand at the eye. Divine ichor sprayed forth from the newly created wound.

Where water had failed, Kalmar’s blood succeeded. The godly ichor quenched the bulk of the fire, until only a few embers remained on the eye’s charred surface, and then the liquid began to seep into the eye itself. Kalmar closed his hand, and blood dripped onto the sand beneath him.

There was more to that burning stare that Katharsos now gave Kalmar than embarrassment made anger, or envy, or disappointment; no, there was a sort of fear and disbelief in those eyes.

He let out a long sigh, his breath carrying the smell of death. It was not the reek of rot or decaying flesh, but the true smell of death; this was that chilling odor from the magical flames that burnt away even souls. The leaves of the tree closest to him seemed to wither a bit just from the smell. ”In pouring your blood on that eye and smothering it in ichor, do you know what you have done?”




The corpulent mass that was the decaying eye of Fenris-Wolf bubbled and charred in equal measure as blood fed flesh and divine flames stoked the blaze that seemed to burn from the very center of that fey object. As if in response to that heavenly sustenance it had gorged upon the surface of the fleshy globe rippled and shook as meat and gristle parted to reveal great gouges and rents of godly blood and righteous fire. There was a glow that suffused outwards from the numerous wounds generated across its damaged hide, illuminating the area with a baleful radiance.

Like fuel catching light all at once the eye seemed to suck inwards and set ablaze once more, scorching black fire surging from the numerous lesions until the surface hardened, cracked, and collapsed in on itself. The booming wrench of a thunderclap violently sounded its sonorous warcry as the eye imploded in a gout of black flame and horrendous noise, projecting enough force in the process to flatten the flora that grew up along the coastline. As the noise subsided and the flames sputtered and died the eye was revealed, caked black and brittle, with all life to it gone.

The crisp outer casing of the eye’s once-flesh crumbled inwards and what little was left of the meaty core seemed to be slurping within towards a center point. Gristle and gore poured inwards with a life all its own, forming shape in a most dark and twisted divine crucible. First was revealed the outline of something feral, canine in stature, but rapidly the tissue that nourished this most strange birth was absorbed to reveal in detail the creature that was created. The first image was of black fur, so deep as to practically draw light into itself, wet with the creature’s birth. Next came limbs, young in stature but muscular and throbbing with life. At last was revealed the visage of this oddling-born monster; a vicious maw, full of tooth and fang, and eyes of fiery golden-bronze. Black fur seemed to come alight, flickering and dancing as flames that cooked away all that was left of the sacrificial-form offered to the growing creature as fuel.

The creature stumbled then as its limbs were first made to carry it, dropping to its side with an unpleasant grunt followed by an equally uncomfortable gurgle. Its lungs heaved in its chest, gasping for air that it did not need as unnecessary instincts roared to life in its young mind. Its eyes darted wildly, panicking at the sight of its surroundings for a thing not of the mortal realm but so terribly born of it. A hacking growl followed suit with black blood and bile vomiting from the beasts panting muzzle. Laying down in its own birth-fluids and having retched up its own vile insides, the monstrous wolf seemed stunned.

At long last eyes began to calm and take account of what was around the wolf’s prone form, crawling across the sandy beach and up towards the flattened landscape where trees once were to stop on two shapes; one that glowed and another that walked. Light and flesh in equal measure, balanced and seemingly in harmony as they stared down at him. Slowly, cautiously, the creature lifted its head and turned its dreadful visage towards the entities in quiet curiosity. With maw opened enough for moonlit teeth to illuminate his features in the dull light of the early day, the black-blazing wolf echoed His first words.

“I . . . I am Roog . . . ?”

”He already named himself. Seems intelligent,” the one who walked observed in an impassive voice.

”A name . . . ? Yes . . . a name,” came the growling retort from the Wolf as his lips pulled back to reveal a snarl, his eyes looking away from the speaker revealing Roog’s wandering thoughts, MY name . . . It howls at me in my heart. I AM Roog . . . “

”I am Kalmar,” the blond figure said. ”The God of Hunting. And this is Katharsos, the God of Death.”

Roog paused for a long moment as he considered the words spoken to him by the one who identified himself as Kalmar. He was flesh and blood and walked on two legs; an oddity, ruminated Roog as he began testing the strength of his own four limbs. Slowly but surely the wolf stood, rushed with the sense of power. His gaze then travelled away from this Kalmar to the glowing, sun-like form of the other being present at his creation. Even more than the first Roog was struck with the considerable strangeness of this other entity, so-called Katharsos. Mortal instincts warred in Roog’s mind on just how he should feel towards this creature. As the instinctual responses died down in the face of Roog’s divine willpower, Roog addressed the pair.

“God of Hunting . . . God of Death . . . Confusing concepts. The word you use, it carries considerable meaning. Gods are . . . creators, I think? Then I must assume you are my own . . . though I must ask, why?”

And then for the first time, Roog heard the ‘sun’ speak. ”Mortal lifespans are short and fleeting,” Katharsos almost whispered. Gently. ”They come and go, and some leave the world nearly untouched; in the end, those are more ephemeral than the softest breeze. Some others are able to accomplish great things and shake the world, but they too must eventually pass on and make way for new life. This is simply the way of things, and this is what makes mortal lives so beautiful. I envy them, because their limited time makes their every act and breath and thought a thousand times more meaningful, and yet they can just as easily shut their eyes have peace, thinking nothing of their brief stay in this strange existence. In the moment of their brief existence, the reality of destiny seems ever so slightly more palatable, fading into the likeness of a dream.”

Katharsos drifted closer to Roog. ”We do not have luxury. All of us have a purpose, a duty that defines us, and we have all of eternity to pursue its fulfillment. Do you understand why you were created now? It was to serve a purpose.”

As Katharsos spoke Roog paid close attention. His ears pricked up and were rotated towards the fiery god as he explained to Roog the nature of his existence. While he did so his eyes wandered elsewhere, contemplating the creatures behind his Celestial creator. His eyes narrowed as he looked them up and down, took in their scent, and tasted them on the air. By all his senses they were not right, including that of the divine star now borne aloft before him. But, in them he could sense a kinship and there were more similarities than there were differences between them. Roog would need to think long on that particular puzzle.

Roog lifted his gaze back to Katharsos, observing the God’s facial features and their movements before responding. “Mortals and their mortality, and luxurious existences. I think I see why you envy them, shining-one; you make their lives sound worthwhile. I believe I understand. Then . . . What is your purpose? What is mine?”

Katharsos contemplated how best to answer that question. Fenris stared at the much smaller wolf with a mixture of fear and fascination.

Behind Katharsos there was the lake in which Kalmar had just kicked Fenris’ eye mere minutes ago. For all that ordeal the water’s glassy surface looked just as peaceful as before, complete with the sparkling reflection of Heliopolis crowning the tiny waves. Katharsos could perceive all of that without even turning to look at it. ”Living things exist here in this plane, tangible and with flesh and blood,” began his roundabout answer to the question of his own purpose. ”There is more to them than that, though. To be complete, each body has a spirit. The spirit is like the reflection of the sun upon the water behind me: you can look at that reflection and know it to be one and the same with that brightest of lights in the sky, and yet they are not quite the same. One is grand, and corporeal, and warm; the other one is only a ghost. That comparison is flawed, of course; the analogy fails because if Heliopolis were to vanish it would not leave behind its mirrored counterpart, and if the reflection were to vanish then Heliopolis would remain unaffected.” A cloud passed by and blocked the sun for just long enough to prove his words true.

”My purpose is to care for all of those ghosts and reflections, and to recycle those reflections that are trapped beneath the water with their counterpart in the sky having gone dark,” he finished.

The horse-sized wolf seemed to be absolutely enraptured by Katharsos’ response, hanging on every word as he found his way closer to the water, guided by the God of Death and his words. As Katharsos spoke Roog poured his mind into the analogy, turning it over and twisting it in his mind while he observed with considerable interest the reflection on the lake. Occasionally he would look towards Katharsos, dutifully reminding his creator that he was listening, before returning to mulling over and absorbing Katharsos’ words. His ears perked up as Katharsos began to speak regarding his own purpose and the topic seemed to garner even more attention from the godling wolf.

”Your words feel right, face-in-flame; I feel it in my bones that they are true. Life is . . . precious and wondrous. It sounds beautiful in its own way.” Roog paused as he turned his gaze away from the lake and turned to observe, first, the other entities like him before finally settling on the one-who-walks. ”What of you, God of the Hunt? What is your purpose? Why have you both created me and what purpose have I been forged for?”

”Life needs to feed itself,” Kalmar answered, glancing out across the lake for a moment. ”Some creatures either choose or need to feed off of others. That’s hunting. As for you, your purpose remains to be seen.”

Roog seemed momentarily appalled at Kalmar’s statement, perhaps even more so by the instinctual craving he immediately felt for such a concept. Despite his shock at the very idea of such a thing, immediately twisting his image of the world, they spoke to him; clearly, Roog thought, that this path must be natural. If it were not, why have a God of Death and Hunting in the first place?

“Then life is cyclical,” reasoned Roog as the gears of his mind turned nebulously on themselves in a clockwork dance of vast depth and complexity, “If Life is both beautiful and born of necessity, then it must be that there is reason to it. An animal giving its life for another to live must serve a purpose, or you would have never have made it so.”

Roog pondered for a moment before looking up, black brows furrowed in contemplation before he asserted his true thoughts on the matter. “I believe you both are Good; why else would you be Gods? If this is so, then, both of you must be goodly in your intentions; your creations and the cycles that persist in life are valued and worthwhile. It is right to protect them.”

”Not all gods are ‘good’,” Kalmar cautioned. ”In a way we are both gods of destruction, but our destruction serves a purpose. There are others who destroy without reason, and they are a threat to all. But yes, it is right to protect existence.”

”Then, why do these Gods exist? Surely they must have a purpose?” Roog seemed deep in thought as Kalmar spoke, as if somewhere else, and his mind churned and devoured the information they provided him with surprising ease and great voracity, ”And what of these creatures here? Their purposes are Good, then? But . . . they are not Gods, not like you. They smell of you and I see their hearts are as yours. What are their purposes?”

When Roog turned his questioning gaze towards the three silent spirits behind Katharsos, they returned the look but did no more. In truth, they were just as confused as Roog, and Katharsos realized it had come time to bestow a purpose unto each of them. Fortunately, Orvus had sewn the seeds with his earlier suggestions, and the god had some suitable roles in mind.

”That is Fenris,” Kalmar suddenly spoke, pointing to the massive wolf that dwarfed them all. ”I made him to patrol this region and search for threats. You were created from his missing eye, along with my blood and Katharsos’s fire.”

Roog looked up at the vast wolf that stood just behind the grouping, his eyes perusing all that he saw. From Fenris-Wolf’s posture, Roog sensed fear; what could a creature so immense and powerful fear from him, Roog wondered. His eyes trailed back to Kalmar and then down towards his own paws, thinking on their construction and form. At last the wolf’s visage raised, his eyes falling on Kalmar followed by Katharsos.

”Then you are as my fathers; you have created me, and it is by you that I am shaped. You are Gods, Fenris patrols, but what of me? Please, fathers, I wish to know what you would have of me.”

”Creating you does not make me your father,” Kalmar corrected him. Katharsos cast two carmine eyes at the other god, but the emotion upon his alien face was impossible to discern.

”I see,” echoed Roog as his bronze-gold eyes rose to look upon Kalmar with curiosity and, perhaps, the slightest hint of disapproval, ”As you say, creator . . . “

”I would find no offense in being named your father, then,” Katharsos told him. ”I will do what I can to help you realize the ways of the world and find enlightenment, and I will give you a purpose. But first, you must be introduced to your brothers, and they must be given their own purposes, for they have waited for longer than you’ve existed.”

The trio of fiery spirits seemed to have had their interests finally piqued by that. From left to right they’d arranged themselves in order of birth: first Balam, then Zotz, and then Ku. Katharsos addressed the bat-faced one before any others, ”Zotz. The dead must make way for the living; that is the circle of life. I draw their spirits into the heavens that this world is not plagued by ghosts and lost souls and so that new souls may form in their place. Yet there is more to the dead than just the spirits that I handle--their physical husk, their corpse, remains. And it is just as vital to recycle those physical remains and restore their richness to Galbar. No god has taken it upon himself to oversee and carry out such a task, and so it falls upon you.”

From the within the crackling fires that comprised the likeness of a bat’s head, Zotz let out a wordless shriek. ’It will be done,’ the inhuman sound meant.

Before Katharsos there slowly manifested a long and twisted rod, pale as milk. Every last blade of grass that so much as brushed it withered and died and became as dust, until a moment later it rested upon soft and exposed earth. ”Let this staff of bones be your mark and your tool. Never part with it.”

As the fiery spirit manifested a clawed hand to snatch up its prize, Katharsos looked to the monkey. The youngest of the trio advanced. ”Ku, your brother need not toil alone. You will be his partner, and the two of you must work closely and never stray far from the other. Where he must tend to the recently dead, you must find them. And you must ensure that there are no mistakes, and that the power of the Bone Staff is not brought to bear against those whose time has yet to fully pass. Claim this spectral cord of fire, and use it as your mark and your tool.” The Prince of Astral Flames flicked a forked tongue, and from his great infernal maw there emerged a ghostly scourge of pale flames. Ku caught the whip and cackled, flailing it through the air recklessly for a few moments before his master’s glare stilled his arm.

A weary Katharsos glanced right over Balam, to Roog. ”I would have named you Tzi,” he nearly whispered, ”but there is power in a name, and if that ones calls to you, then it is predetermined. Kalmar’s blood has awakened great power in you, and you could use that power to help me. Roog, I would entrust you with not with enabling the circle of life but with guarding its very existence; the spirits of the dead must all be carried through the Vortex of Souls, and the mortals on this plane must never cheat death by stealing more time that what is owed; I task you with keeping a vigil against any who would endanger the natural order and the cycle.”

Roog had been watching with interest from a seated position, both towards the forms of his brothers and their newfound purposes. He felt kinship in that, the discovery of purpose, and with his heavenly-father directing them the roles asserted unto each seemed rightly and good. As Katharsos turned to him Roog rose, ears perking up in visible interest. As the God of Death intoned to Roog what would be his role the wolf’s gaze lowered in deliberation. At last he looked up to meet his Father’s gaze and nodded, his maw opening so his words of acceptance could pour forth.

”It is mine, Father.”

He finally met Balam’s gaze and told the smaller jaguar, ”And for you, Balam the eldest of your kind, there falls a mantle of responsibility. I know that I am…aloof by nature. Try as I might, it is hard to remain anchored and attached to anything below the heights of my own sphere. You must...you must…”

The small jaguar looked at its larger counterpart with what looked like confusion, but which seemed to quickly contort into anger. It snarled and roared, ”I wait for days upon days, and this stammering is all you’ve mustered in that time? All that you’ve to offer?”

A wave of heat swept over them all as Katharsos’ dull red and orange flames were stoked into a fury that was as blue as the ocean, and then white as the ice that crept into his tone when he roared, ”You will learn respect!”

”I, I-”

The smaller jaguar didn’t have the chance to stutter for long. ”You take after my own nature the most,” Katharsos sighed. ”You have a vigor and a youth that left my mind long, long ago. For that reason, I choose you as my second. Speak to me, bear with me, and herd my mind away from the perils of complacency or vacancy. Watch over your younger siblings and fellow guardians, and act as my intermediary.”

A breeze rustled the leaves of a nearby tree gently, and in the silence, the sound of a distant woodpecker cut through the air.

”And my badge of office?” Balam finally ventured.

”I think that you will need nothing more than your tongue and your wit, and my own likeness. You possess all three.”

Balam of course simmered like the blaze that he was, but Katharsos pretended not to see as he addressed them all collectively, ”And as the mortal ones look to me and see the end, the far side of the river of life, so too will they see your lot as incarnations of death. Embrace it, for that is what you are--the Many Deaths that enable life to exist. I vest my power and my trust alike in each of you.”

Kalmar had remained silent throughout this, his expression remaining impassive until Balam’s angry outburst, which Katharsos had answered in equal measure. At that point, for a moment, Kalmar couldn’t help but frown. Then the frown faded, and he looked to Roog. ”Know that there is nothing binding you to either of us,” he informed the god-wolf. ”If you follow Katharsos, you follow him by your own choice, and such choices are not easily revoked.”

Despite the man-god’s assertions, Kalmar’s advice came as fatherly as any. Roog locked gazes with Kalmar to see the truth of his words and watch the deity’s soul twisting and turning on itself within him. He at last broke their locked gazes as his mind wandered on the topic of his own freed will.

”Well then.” Katharsos stiffened in tone if not in body. ”I think that Roog knows his place in the world,” he stated to Kalmar. And I know that his brethren do. Now it is time for my to reexamine my own. I have spent a long time on Galbar, away from my own sphere and distracted from my greatest work. There comes a time when I can no longer justify my continued absence, and I feel that time fast approaching. I would use these last few days to witness as much as I can, for in this time I’ve seen only a fraction of Galbar, and then I will make my way back to the Sky of Pyres. If any of you have need of direction or of counsel,” he softly spoke, turning toward Balam at the end, ”then I ask that you find him.”

And then the God of Death looked to the heavens and the jaguar’s visage in the flames unravelled and he departed as a burning streak in the sky. Balam spat out a glob of some strange soot, and then likewise departed for the hills. Ku ran off cackling and cracking his whip, whilst Zotz muttered something before chasing after his partner.

Kalmar watched Katharsos leave, and then looked back to Roog. ”Remember. You have the power to both create and destroy. If you choose to do either, make sure it serves a greater purpose.”

“As you say, creator,” came the low growl of Roog’s voice as he watched his heavenly-father and siblings depart, eyes turning towards Kalmar one last time, “It is mine to choose. This I will not forget.”






I am interested in potentially getting in on the Divine action; if you fine folks are still accepting, I'd love to throw an app into the hat.
Still accepting applications? I could be interested in this one . . .
Nation
The Grand Survaek Commonwealth

Party Name
Ye'Inya - Akir Nationalist Party

Political Base
Center Left (Left-Wing Ethnic Nationalists similar to Sinn Fein in Ireland with greater representation in government for Akir and Byrn-Akir ethnicities as the primary focus)
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