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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)
Expressing interest; still got room?
Colonel Naranbaatar Batbayar strode down the gangplank and onto the battlements with the grim demeanor befitting the circumstances of his jaunt. His combat fatigues were flecked with oil from an engine that had been cracked open by small arms fire and dusted with sand and debris kicked up by the low flying air-boats. A thumbs up was all that was needed to send the Di-Vu lander up into the sky, the gunner on the deck offering a swift salute. The wind-blasted mustache of the Minga/Bingal officer twisted up at the ends in an unusual look, giving a sense of joviality that was not present at the moment. Batbayar scanned his surroundings as his troops, the ferocious Marine Raiders, scoured the battlements for the wounded to be carried to the now-erected Aid Station. To their credit the Aeromarines were not selective in whom they saved; unlike the lot of ground pounding infantry butchering the captives down in the river-valley, these men had full intent to save the men they had just been fighting.

“Colonel! What a lovely surprise!”

The heavily accented voice didn’t once catch Naranbaatar off guard and, with a slight scowl, the Colonel quickly turned to look at his new company. The Lavanian Tribune, Lucius Magnus Tibero, strode across the battlements like a prowling hyena with his pack of armored and ferocious Comintatus baying at his heels. Batbayar admitted to himself that they were the picture of intimidation, so armored that even their clanking lock-step march was more reminiscent of a light armor squadron than of an infantry platoon. Of course, he would never admit that to the Tribune.

“Tribune, I see you survived the assault,” said the Colonel with a wry smile who’s mirth was detracted from by his slight scowl, “We are all fortunate to have it be so.”

Lucius smiled broadly, as if a man entering a competition with a well-respected and highly pleasurable foe, before waggling one outstretched finger on his right hand at the side of his head in his typical fashion. It was his display, his little show that he was onto what was going on and found it evermore entertaining. As always he turned to the Comitatus on his right, the thoroughly armored foreigner completely immune to the prying eyes of others searching for his emotions, whom would always simply continue marching in a disinterested fashion. The Comitatus were not Lavanians but foreign troops under the employ of individual Lavanian officers (there was no better way to ensure loyalty of bodyguards within the Lavanian state apparatus) and they often did not share the Lavanian sense of humor with their ward. Despite this, Lucius acted as if raucous laughter followed his every word.

“Haha! Such a sardonic humor, Colonel! You and I both know that I was nowhere near the frontlines! No such reason to put a man of my stature on these battlements when there were enemies crawling about on them, is there?”
“No, certainly not,” responded Naranbaatar with a snide nose crinkle and a shake of his head, “Though your Comitatus certainly did work . . .”

Naranbaatar had seen from above while he observed the taking of the designated Fort 28. His Marine Raiders had hit a snag trying to enter the battlements with their complement of Assault Sappers having been redirected to a particularly fierce area of combat on Fort 25 just down the river. Even with the Raider’s skill and fortitude at close-quarters combat they had found the resistance at Fort 28 to be notably stubborn. The Comitatus commander, one Centurio Ulz Anzanang, had offered a contingent of his own forces to take the field. Accepting the offer, Naranbaatar had directed the heavily armored Lavanian troops to the fiercest fighting in the depths of the breached castle and the Iron Men of Lavania had proven their bloody reputation to be entirely factual. Resistant to most small arms fire and fragmentation grenades, the Comitatus had suffered no casualties and only partial damage to some of their suits while clearing the breach for the Raiders to pour in. Now, it seemed, Lucius was here to collect on the dues he did not earn.

“And it is no surprise they did; I selected them myself. Every single one of my men are born fighters, hand picked for the job.” There was a pause as a real sense of malice seemed to emanate from the Tribune as he considered one of the corpses at his feet before he looked up, his emerald green eyes flashing like reflective plates, “I am glad that they could be of assistance. You, of course, know my dedication to the Zhenxiang cause. It pleases me that even my small contingent can provide for the greater good of our most righteous campaign.”

“Of course…”

~~~~~


The Laureate-General peered out across the rolling hills, far-reaching steppe, and low-flowing rivers of Northern Delsai. It was open to him now, with full freedom of movement granted to him by the defeat of his most-despised Monarchist foes. The blacks had been crushed, though not in the way he had ideally wished for, and opportunities would provide themselves soon. He opened his eyes to reveal the map before him, showing off the unit dispositions across the highly stratified terrain of Northern Delsai. He was in the war-room aboard his personal craft, the corvette-turned command vessel known to by its newly christened Zengravi name, Zenlong. Staff officers went about their business to direct the growing needs of the Zhenxiang forces on the ground. Casualties needed to be removed from the frontline, deployed units needed requipping, aircraft needed refueling, and a load of prisoners needed to be hidden from view.

They had gone against the Great Leader’s direct orders. The Zhenxiang Army, along with their allies, had taken prisoners of those enemies who had surrendered to them. Nearly ten thousand men, professional troops of the Royalist enemy, had been captured and taken under Zhenxiang custody. It was not part of Kyeung’s dream for a reformed and better Zengrav to see every single one of those men who fought against him put to death and he certainly would sully his morals at the behest of any man or woman, even the Great Leader. They were supposed to be winning hearts and minds; how were they to do this if they took heads instead? His morale and ethical problems aside, it was also a waste of potential manpower. These men had fought for the Royalists and were subsequently abandoned to their fate; there were no better targets for the Jide than such men. They would be treated well, like all prisoners, and would be slowly moved to see the world as it truly was. Though nothing short of a long-term investment, it was one that the Laureate-General intended to recreate numerous times across Zengrav. What better a time than this to have a trial run?

“General, all logistics related endeavors are underway.” The voice was from Kesor Nimh-Kah, Hyeun’s personal adjutant, who waited patiently and silently off to his General’s right. “What are your orders?”

Hyeun steepled his fingers before his face in consideration, his eyes turning to slits as if to aid in his thought by keeping them from escaping. There was now much to do and much to consider. First and foremost, he would have to deal with the problem of his prisoners. The Great Leader would be incensed that he let them live and would likely seek them returned. Giving them up, of course, was out of the question; to hand them over would be even worse than putting them to death himself. He would need to find a way to obsfucate their presence has best he could from prying eyes and make it as difficult as possible to discover their identities.

“Colonel, I need you to do a service for the Zhenxiang Army and ALL of Zengrav. You shall take your staff and write up enlistment papers for all of the prisoners we took; note them down as volunteers, the lot of them. Give them Gailzri, Quin, or Jorguk names if you have to but make sure their identities are as difficult to determine as possible. I want them to appear in every way as volunteers for our glorious revolution, as they most certainly will be.”

“Aye General, I shall handle the matter personally, sir. What of the Zhenxiang? Where to next?”

“All of Zengrav.”
I most certainly will not.

Laureate-General Hyeun Tae-Kyeung stood patiently among the roaring crowd, near to the back beside his Chief of Staff, his personal Adjutant and the Lavanian Tribune. Brigadier General Ngoi-Hui stood to his right with a frown and a furrowed brow marring his normal visage; it was clear that even his high spirits had trouble dealing with the current situation. Back to his left, Colonel Kesor remained placid and stern in face with a clipboard pinned tightly to his uniformed torso, ready for use.

The odd man out in multiple perspectives, Tribune Lucius Tibero grinned broadly. A sneer had formed across his aquiline features, no doubt taking a sick pleasure out of the ravings of the Nationalist High Command. He was no fascist, even if he thrived in the world, but the foreigner did have an undoubtedly sick sense of humor. A light chuckle escaped his lips as his gaze turned to read the emotions written across Hyeun's face.

"What's the matter, General? Something you ate?"

The Tribune snickered under his breath, flashing his smile towards Hyeun while his emerald green eyes bore deeply into him. They had enjoyed each other's company, for the most part, with the Tribune sharing many of the same interests and hobbies as Hyeun, but when it came to matters of Zengrav the Laureate-General found it difficult to urge his companion to sympathy. For Lucius, this was just more of the same he had experienced in his own country; manic leaders ranting about lopping off heads and killing all before them. It was just in a different country and a new language to spice it up.

"I swear, Lucius, these men would rather sate their desires than actually claim victory; the fools have forgotten how close we came to obliteration and that we stand here now only because of Lavania. It is short sighted and absentminded."

Lucius offered a poorly faked image of empathy across his face before his sneer returned. His lips were scarred, with circular marks running parallel to each other on either side of his mouth. It was a punishment in some Lavanian units, especially those from the coast, where troopers who spoke to often or in ways that displeased their commanding officers had their lips sewn shut. This would remain unchanged until such time as their voices were forgotten and further punishments came when they weren't responding to verbal commands with affirmatives. Lucius had imparted the story of his father, a Legatus at the time, punishing him in such a manner for the vainglorious act of referring to him as father; when at war he was Legatus or nothing and Lucius learned his lesson swiftly.

"I must agree with you, General," came the more quiet response of Ngoi-Hui, his distaste having tugged back his lip in an ugly grimace, "It is as if some of them are fighting the Royalists simply to replace them as the new nobility."

"Would that it would be so sooner," quipped Lucius as he cleaned nails gingerly, "so that we could simply handle them ourselves. The Primus Populare has no interest in fawning oligarchs who play at war. I admire their fervor though; I imagine I might only find a more humorous lot in the Imperial Throne Room. At least between the boy and his Iron Fa-"

"Enough."

Lucius snickered again, wolfishly smiling towards Hyeun before shrugging innocently, his face suddenly a mask of obliviousness. As the cheering finally began to die down Lucius prowled off into the crowd as he often did, excited to find some manner of pleasure to take from the gathering. Ngoi-Hui saluted his commander and walked his separate way as well, making a beeline for one particular officer he was often known to cajole with. The two had served alongside each other in an earlier posting and had only learned relatively recently, in Seraat just before the loss of the city, that they had both coincidentally joined the Nationalists in unrelated actions. Kesor, Hyeun's Adjutant, remained slightly off to the side as his General's second shadow. With his posse now dispersed Hyeun made his move towards the seat at which Yesui sat. He would have words with her and they HAD to happen now.

She looked the part of a dictatorial tyrant, he had to admit; the facepaint and makeup had done little or even the opposite of reducing her frightening appearance and her slumped position made her look brooding and ferocious. As he closed the distance to her position at the head of the ruined church he mused on the fitting chamber in which this sad company was found. Decrepit, ruined by war, and actively falling apart from poor construction and its faulty foundations; an unfortunate picture to paint but one no less accurate for its content.

Hyeun nodded to several officers and other Nationalist warlords he knew to be friendly or at least generally amenable to him and ignored those who scowled his way while muttering things under their breath. At last he closed to the slightly raised dias and bowed before rising and saluting in a clean but ultimately tired gesture.

"Great Leader," he intoned, echoing the title by which they had referred to her earlier, "I would speak with you in regards to our upcoming offensive. It is my desire to gain your approval and blessing for a change in tactical dispositions and general orders for all those commanders involved. Given even but a minute, Great Leader, and I assure you I could convince you of my plan's rectitude."

~~~~


The rumble of the engines was deafening.

Wind whipped around the sun-baked airstrip outside of Daozhi kicking up dust devils and throwing about the refuse of an active military base. The airstrip was a massive undertaking that had taken much of the Winter Reconstruction to get fully up and running but it had been worth every moment of it. Multiple prefab hangars dotted the landscape in tight, compact rows and barracks for the innumerable crewmen and pilots sat in organized squares beside the hangars of their aircraft. The fields were lined with aircraft, the freshly upgraded Shengli monoplanes, and just above the swarm of Airships only increased in density.

In the command and control center of the base, standing inside the control tower directing all of the going-ons of the base, stood the Laureate-General with his arms crossed behind his back patiently. He watched with grim satisfaction as he saw the next set of Di-Vu airboats loaded with a platoon's worth of Raider Marines take to the sky. Off to the right, at the widened and thoroughly flattened edge of the airstrip, large logistical craft were loaded with light armor, entire companies of Aeromarine grunts, and all the ammunition they would need for this great undertaking.

The plan had been underway for months, partially devised by Hyeun, and now the fruits of all that labor could be seen ripe for harvest. By now the majority of the airships were underway with the very last vestiges of the force being prepped for the attack on Delsai being loaded. The last two days had been spent getting the craft loaded and into the air, ready and waiting for the attack. Now all that was left on the ground in considerable number were the fighters and dive-bombers that would herald the attack to come, ready to launch as soon as the order was given. A pleasing sight, to be sure, and one a long time coming. Many of these troops had been present at Seraat, having escaped due in large part to the Laureate-General's daring breakout, and the chance to give back to the Royalists who had killed many of their friends and comrades was a tantalizing opportunity. Soon the dead could be truly put to rest knowing they had been avenged.

"So, what do you think? Shall we find success?"

Hyeun turned to look towards his friend and confidante, Major General Tse Tak-Sohng, to adequately respond to him; one does not speak to respected friends without giving them ample attention. A moment of consideration passed quite visibly on his face before he nodded affirmation, his brow furrowed in determination. Tse and Hyeun had been kept busy by the Great Leader during the planning stages of the battle and now at last they would see their plan in action; ideally, as a success.

"We shall not fail. That I am sure," uttered Hyeun almost breathlessly, exhaustion tinging his voice, "And within the week the so-called Great Northern Army will have surrendered. Let us hope they see reason and surrender to us before our Great Leader's forces put them to the sword. Such a waste of life . . . "

"Aye."

The tone was somber for the moment as the two considered the possibility that the enemy would refuse such overtures; these were professional troops who, even when desperate, could prove more loyal to the Emperor than to their own common sense. Particularly the noble officers, Hyeun thought. Just as he was about to continue the clanging of metal-shod boots on the gantry caught his attention. Colonel Naraanbatar Batbayar stomped up the steps before performing a neat if quick salute before lowering his hand and placing his cap right back onto his head. His mustache bristled as if, by a mind of its own, it willed him to action; the Minga/Bingal man was not known for inaction and the fight in him burned brightly in his eyes.

"Generals. Sir, reporting as ordered, sir," he grunted, the edge of his lips hidden under his mustache starting to show a tinge of a smile, "Pleased to report that the Raiders are loaded and prepared; my boys are ready for anything you have for them, General."

"Good. Very good. See to it you are on the next airship out, I'll need you on the forefront of this attack. We undoubtedly expect heavy resistance from the enemy and your raiders may be necessary for what I aim to do. You have your orders, Colonel; I shall contact you over radio when the mission is ago."

"Aye sir; will there be anything else?"

Hyeun smiled then, a full smile without any hint of grimness or distaste. In this moment he would show his fellow Nationalists the righteousness of the Zhenxiang Jundui's methods and, hopefully, draw them towards his point of view. He could claim a victory here well beyond that of destroying armies. It would be here, in Delsai, that the Laureate-General intended to claim hearts and minds.

"Save them all, Colonel."
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