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All across the seafloor awoke the teeming excitement of the hunt.

Dozens of Akua had collected on the outskirts of the village, preparing their traps, harpoons, and nets. The village itself sat down in an undersea ravine, nestled comfortably in the tight confines of the enclosed rock crevasse. Above the ravine was the typical preparation point for supplies and equipment. It was on that rocky face, dotted with corals and colorful undersea flora, that the assembled hunters collected themselves. A shaman walked amongst them, offering prayers to the druidic gods for safety in the hunt and success in their ventures. Most of all, though, the hunters boasted.

“I will take the largest tuna, I think!”

“No, lolo, that can’t be; the whole school will be mine so there’ll be nothing left for you to catch!”

“Hah! Big shark gonna’ be mine for the taking and all you will look at your tunas with shame!”

“Pah! Young, unscarred soft-scale talk! I’m going to take a whole whale back to the village!”

To the uninitiated it might have seemed like a bunch of braggarts at their favoured art. In truth it was part of the ceremony. Young hunters, those newest to the group, needed these sorts of early-morning sessions. It got their hearts beating, challenged them to do their best, and most of all gave them the sense that the band wasn’t afraid. There were great horrors in the sea despite its teeming gifts and hunters faced the reality that they could potentially never return. The threat of sea serpents or deep drakes or even vrool seemed far less apparent when the older members of the group gladly boasted their success before it even was earned. Instead the attention was set to preparing their equipment, making sure knots were tight and coral points were sharpened. It was, all together, a far more productive use of time.

A blown conch echoed through the water, calling all attention to its low pitched hum. It was time.

Kapono Tama'Mano o'te'Ui-Ki'he, Ali’i of the village of Hohono, sounded the conch once more, the second blast symbolic of preparations complete. Setting the conch onto the fishhook at his belt, Kapono addressed his people in the Holy Vonu as was their sacred tradition. The Ali’i, chieftains of the Akua, were all well versed in Vonu by the kahuna, those shamans who spoke and prayed to the gods. Gentle currents emanated from Kapono as he intoned the rightly given call to the hunt. A shared prayer was given out, silent and kept to oneself, at the final word and the kahuna gave thanks to Klaarungraxus for his numerous gifts and bountiful seas.

The hunt was on.

Up the hunters swam, children and mothers kept below and well out of sight; it was ill omen to let them see their husband’s and father’s backs, after all. With that they ascended and swam outwards towards the reef, the skilled and aged hunters of the group directing the several dozen hunters on their path. The goal would be the large schooling fish, of course, but anything that could be caught, speared, or netted would be good enough to eat. The women would later leave Hohono later to gather from the crop-fields, prepping a full feast for when the men returned however many days later. With that the village of Hohono was separated, to be made whole once again by feasting and celebration.

”Hxowaii, choi xxii-wii tsompei h’aii xosa-he, j-wa t’ang cho-wei choo, ha?” whispered Mynt softly to his son.

”Ha!” responded the young lad, checking the final stretch for any weak links in the net. They shared the limited space on top of what could generously be called a raft - it consisted of eight palm trunks tightly bound together with vines, fiber and sinew, mud, dirt and clay stuffed in between the cracks to tighten it further. Still, it could barely hold the two of them, and Mynt had repeatedly warned his son off of standing up or crawling too quickly. Around closer to the shore were five more rafts like theirs, these in neither worse nor better shape than Mynt’s. It was clear that their raft wouldn’t allow them to catch too many, but if they were lucky, they could catch just enough to feed themselves -and- have a bit extra to trade for some delightful perfumes.

”Xosa, pah!” the son whispered enthusiastically. Mynt clicked his tongue approvingly and smacked his lips in anticipation as the pair rolled the net off the side of the raft and then proceeded to both lay down perpendicular to the raft’s length, their backs nearly touching the water. There, they waited.

Deep below the raft the hunting Akua watched. Most clung to rock and reef though some tread water freely. Their hunt had been going fairly well as evidenced by the fish hanging from their lines but now this trespasser was making things difficult. The school that had once been thick and thriving had parted ways, separated into more difficult to track streams that would regroup further afield. Not easy for Akua, that’s for certain.

“It’s the smell,” said one of the elder huntsmen, his dangerous looking twin-barbed lance held in a bored and disinterested position off to his side, “Fish don’t like it.”

A chorus of agreement rolled between several of the other elders followed by nods and ascensions by younger hunters, learning from their superiors and desiring more than anything to fit in. Kapono pondered this as he stared up, his cowry shell and sea-reed shoulder cape flowing around him in a surprisingly noble posture. As Ali’i of the village he had dealt with the night elves frequently; the village of Hohono abided and freely traded with the Pako’Ano tribes of the Mahina’Aina. The Mahina, the name the Akua dubbed the Night Elves with, were a friendly lot generally and so long as both sides paid homage to their respective traditions they got along just fine. Nevertheless, tempers sometimes flared.

“Ali’i, these are our waters. Why not tell them to go back to ground?”

Kapono turned and eyed the speaker, giving him the stink-eye enough to silence him quickly. It was a younger boy, fit and strong; he’d make a good warrior one day, of that Kapono had no doubt. Nevertheless, this was not his knowledge to speak on. Several of the elders grinned, flashing sharp white teeth as they saw the boy realize his err. Before he could apologize or offer recompense Kapono kicked off his rock and hurtled in front of him. An example had to be made. There was a dread silence as Kapono came to a stop before the boy, treading water before him imperiously. With middle finger pinned to thumb tightly, Kapono lifted his hand in front of the boy’s head and let loose the hurricane force of his finger.


The boy, for all his muscles and power, flinched and winced at the impact. Before him Kapono floated, the mighty chief looking upon him with clear condemnation. To other races it might have seemed an utterly benign scene but to Akua, it was clear the boy had been censured. After a long moment of staring down at the boy the Ali’i broke eye contact and the young hunter bowed his head, offering a quiet apology. It was clear he took it well and for that he’d be given respect in future, perhaps even awarded the first cast of a harpoon when something big was found. Humility in defeat was a respectable quality.

“It is kapu to treat your neighbors poorly,” echoed Kapono, using his mastery of Vonu to double-speak in both his native tongue and the holy language of the deep. It carried his voice across the sea floor, bouncing and rippling like a tide, “They might live on ground but they are our neighbors and ohana. I will not hear talk of treating them poorly again. We walk on ground for meat and fruit, so they sail our waves and swim our seas. It is a good uncle who lets his nephews and nieces take what they need.”

“And I am a good uncle.”

With that Kapono rocketed upwards, his fins kicking only once; that would suffice. He reached the surface and popped up above, making sure to do so far enough away not to frighten. Having dealt with their kind often, Kapono kept his voice down as he called to them.

“Aroha, family. It is good to see you on the waves. Soft currents to you, brother and nephew. How goes your fishing?”

The son nearly lost composure and rolled off the raft before his father could stabilise him. The father clicked something to his son, ”Xxoch-la - jjoen xo-xo-t’haisa, ha?” and then sat up carefully, clicking his tongue invitingly at Kapono. He then covered his ears ever so slightly and spoke in a hushed, yet squeaky voice, “Arroha, kk’oppeng. To yah ssoft korrentss . Yah ha-ha too ssee, too, ha. Aot, uhm, out… Xii-wii, xii-wii - feeshin, ha?”

Kapono tread water before the surprised duo of nelves, staring with unblinking eyes towards the father as he collected the situation. The Ali’i of Hohono had some command of the Mahina though could not make all the noises required. It was to his relief then that the man showed he could speak Ku’Ano. Thick accent or no, Kapono smiled as he heard familiar words pass through the nelvish man’s lips.

“Ya-ya friend, fishing. But that’s with pole and hook, we hunting today,” he replied, lifting his bident from the water non threateningly. There was a moment of silence before Kapono lowered the bident and broached the subject, “So, friend, I must ask you; your fishing is a little uh… fragrant, brother. So, kk… kkoppeng, I have a proposal for you. You take your rafts towards shore, farther away from shoals, and I’ll bring you a big proper fish for you and yours. Nothing you could catch with your line, eh? You give me some of your shells you grab up from shore for a good trade. Howzat sound to ya?”

The night elf scrunched his nose and clicked his tongue through pursed lips. “Ha, neh, ova’ t’ere ssee . Pperson mahny, too mahny. Neh feesh,” he clapped the back of his right fist into his left palm to underline the statement’s importance. He pointed to the shoals with an intentionally shaky hand. “To shore k’o, one feesh k’et.” Then he patted himself loudly on the chest with a flat palm. “Here, may’pe more feesh k’et. Kk’oppeng safayss, uh, knows, one feesh not xoinah, enoff.”

Kapono frowned inwardly, staring back at the night elf man. It was clear he was willing to work with the Akua and for that Kapono felt indebted to do right by him, but the request for more fish was a frustrating one. One fish he could ensure he could catch; after all, he was an Ali’i, so for him it would be easy. But two? Three? Each new fish would weigh down his line and make his scent more apparent. Fingers rapped away at the top of the raft before an idea plunged into his mind. White, pearly, sharp teeth were revealed in a pleased smile.

“Okay, Kkoppeng. More fish, bigger fish. I give your people one propah fish an’ one real big one. Howzat? Feed you real good. We dealing?”

The night elf sucked pensively on a tooth. Next to him, his son let out a whine. ”Pah, chiakk-si rru-lao?” The father squeezed his foot reassuringly and turned back to Kapono with narrow eyes. “Offa’ ha-ha k’et, ru--... X’ow beeg we talkin’?”

“Shark,” was all Kapono said, a wry grin continuing to show itself broadly across his blue scaled visage. With his left hand reaching out far to the left and his harpoon thrust far to the right he indicated the length of his intended prey. It would be easy; all the killing often brought such creatures anyway. They were not so difficult to kill, no moreso than a large seabass or giant tuna, and they would be easy to find. A good sized shark could feed a village plus the teeth could be used for all sorts of things.

“Whatchu think, family?”

The nelf sounded impressed, sucking spit between his teeth and sticking out his lower lip. “Si-mak’, kk’oppeng, si-mak’. ‘Keh, we lushweh-- pattle bahck - yoo brink beeg feesh-beeg feesh. Two, hein?” He clapped the back of his hand again. “Yoo ssay two.”

“Yeh, yeh, friend,” responded Kapono quickly, waving the nelf towards the shore, “One fish, one shark, like I say. You get some things for me from shore and we make real trade. Shellfish, coconut, I don’t care. Just keep off the water while we’re out and you’ll get your share, ey kk…. kkoppeng? Good.”

Kapono grinned and waved before letting himself descend into the water. A huff of bubbles escaped his lips before her turned downwards and threw up a shaka towards the collected hunters. He would have a little less fish on his floor for the evening but who could set a price on peace and being neighborly? He spun with a swimple kick of his legs to face the other hunters who now stared up at him with bored amusement. It seemed that he had succeeded, at least, for the loud surface dwellers were awkwardly paddling back to shore.

“What’s the plan, lolo? Are we gonna’ peace the sharks to death, too?”

There was a shared laugh from among the band of hunters as Kapono simply smirked back, shaking his head. Always with jokes, as it was with Akua. Humor was essential to a good hunt, he had to admit. Keeping the party in good spirits meant they’d work together even better when the difficulty came. With that he adjusted his grip on his hunting spear and raised it up high, the universal symbol for the hunt beginning in earnest.


In ancient days in other lives, long past, but not forgotten…
In darkest seas beneath blackest waves, the skeins of fate did tauten.
From many, one, and from one, many did the tides of yore divine,
In that deepest place beyond mindseye did the first Republic shine.

In that dark place beneath the roil, where the gleam of moon barely found its way, one lone figure stood above the hallowed dead.

A baleful glare roared from his right limb, the arm of gods and the limb that smote the tyrant dead. The red palm, the glaring fist, the dread right hand of the creator god.


From distant reefs came the hand of Klaar, the five philanged limb of the twelve-armed god. Manus of blood and icon of catastrophe, this was no gift. It was the sole reward beset upon the Akua for their kinship with the God of Oceans and the one punishment for their driving him from the world.

The sacrifice of Old Growth Below was theirs to bear.

The Tyrants of the All-Sire’s stock were not so thoroughly bound. Though his sacrifice was made for them, most thanked their lucky stars the dread-fish was gone. Now the blemish to their presence, their own greatness, could no longer be so easily seen. They could preen themselves with immodesty at their size and strength no longer eclipsed by their one, true sire.

Not so for the Akua.

And so it was to them to heave their curses upon their backs and swim the dredged abyss, testing the limits of their will against the suffering laid before them by the ill-tempered tentacle of fate.

Not so with Ku’Pama.

The first to bear it, to be cursed by that darkling thing, was no such stranger to agony. Though he endured as best a body was able, his flesh and scale was scarred and paled. If ever there one Akua knew suffering, it was he.

A slave to tyrants, a plaything to warlocks, and a prisoner to his fate. Such is the heritage of Tuah. Such is the inheritance of all Akua.

Deep in the Mydian island chain, in the sea that sat between the loving embrace of four islands, the first city of the Akua was born. The exact founding of the city of the sea is unknown to scholars even among its own, for history beneath the sea is ever a difficult thing to track. As the cities of Fragrance and Santa Civitas were joined by Anghebad and Zuanwa, so too did the city of the Akua slumber deep below.

Its location was hallowed and sacred, said to have been built upon the site of the mythical founder’s great ordeals. It is said that the vast beak of a mighty tyrant now thrown to the tides of time lays in the foundations of the city, for it was there in which he was slain. It was the deepest point within the surrounded sea, a pit dark and deep. There was safety there where the first tribes settled and those who would not be slaves could find refuge. In that sanctuary away from prying pairs of six bright eyes the power of the Akua could grow and thrive in solitude.

Though its name changed many times since its founding, the city would be known for all time by its beating heart; Kahu-ali’Haku, the Stygian Edifice.

At the center of the pit, where the great battle between legends had been fought and won, stood a monumental seamount of vast proportions. Strangely pillarous in its shape and peak, it was no doubt the work of the ancient gods and of the creator god himself, Klaarungraxus. When it was made and for what purpose little could be said, for shamans and soothsayers alike had never been able to glean from it its purpose. Despite this, its spiritual value was without question; it would be on this sacred site where the city would flourish. So it was said by the first and only monarch of Kahu-ali’Haku.

He who was Tuah Tama’Ranga o’te’Ku-Pama.

A millennia since that legend and the place had become so much more. It is said that in the times of Tuah, who used his fist to drag up the twelve hills, there was much conflict. The rising might of the All-Tyrant and his ilk had made their hiding place all the more valued. Fortune favored the rising city for all the Great Reefs lay elsewhere and the wealth of surface nations ripe for sacking remained well above the surface. So Tuah led his companions, those freed slaves and others of his kind who refused to bend or break, and a quiet war where no sounds of mortal mouths dwelt. The All-Tyrant’s gaze, despite his claims, could not see so far nor could the tyrants of his making best the determined warriors of Tuah. Though struggle was their life and strife their shepherd, they did not bow and spoke heartily of days when vrool dread to tread waters that were not theirs to slave.

Decades passed and dozens of Vrool were dead, though hundreds of Akua had joined them. As Tuah bled his last breath in the currents his companions begged him to name his successor, wishing for the stability of their old lord’s word. This would not be.

Though his words are long lost to the waters of the world, held only at heart by distant Ku, what he intoned in the Holy Vonu remained in the hearts of his followers even after death. He could not choose for them for that would be the path of Tyranny. As they had chosen to follow him, so too must they choose for themselves the path forward. No more they could ask for him, for he had already given everything he had. With one fell stroke of his cleaver, Tuah removed his red right arm at the elbow, severing the bloodied curse from himself and offering it to them. They who sought to hold the Akua in bondage would die by this hand and they who sought to free them would bare it. So it was.

The Companions took seventy two days and seventy two nights to come to a verdict. Much discussion and much debate was had and though voices raised and tempers flared not once did the collected warriors share blows. None dared to sully their lord’s last decree.

It was decided then and there that the city would not end. They would elect from among their number they who the Companions believed most able to continue the struggle, the Ho’aRa of their fallen master. From this decision pacts were born and each man swore a duty to uphold the decision of the rest, even if they were not among the majority. From there their work began and the Three Needs of Rulers were forged.

The First Need was struggle, for that was the breakwater in which all might was forged. Suffering and pain was a teacher and from that hardship came knowledge of what it meant. No true leader could live without it, for it was the lifeblood of empathy and the strength behind spears.

The Second Need was servitude, for that was the current on which all humility was carried. A true ruler’s ambition could never be more than the success of his people, for they were his masters and he their slave. If a Ruler had not served and followed, how could he know how to lead?

The Third Need was love, for that was the wave from which all action was cast and tempered. Love of one’s people, of one’s companions, and of one’s family taught a ruler the value of life, of others, and shown bright the lines that bind. No ruler could be without love, for that was the path of tyranny.

From among the followers of Tuah the first Hakaiki was selected, to carry on Tuah’s Ho’aRa, his struggle. The Hakaiki would struggle and suffer for ten years before passing on the mantle if they survived, leading the people, the Ku’Ano, in their eternal war against those who would see them enslaved. It was agreed by all, even the first Hakaiki, that this would not be enough to follow in Tuah’s footsteps; they could choose wrong, or the Hakaiki could lose sight of purpose. No individual could hold the power that Tuah had over the companions for such a path would lead to destruction. It was decided, in that dark place where thoughts were born, that the companions of Tuah must always choose for themselves the path they would walk. The Hakaiki would be the spear arm of the people but could not be their mind, for that was theirs and theirs alone to bear. With this the first Hakaiki severed his arm and let the Ku-Pama regrow in its place.

All warriors would vote on all matters pertaining to the people at large, to discuss as the first companions had, from then on. Warriors suffered and fought and bled for Kahu-ali’Haku and for that they could be trusted. Shamans, the Kahuna, who practiced the arts of sacrifice, who knew pain and gave of their own blood for their people would be next, among the people who could direct the path of the Ku’Ano. Lastly, mothers who had brought life into this world would speak, for none more so than they understood struggle, and servitude, and love. Every day would be a day for deciding, no matter would be beyond vote, and the laws of the people would be made by the people so that the Tyranny of the Vrool would have no place among the realms of the free.

So it would be in the city of Kahu-Ali’Haku.

In the years just before the return of the gods the islands of Mydia were struck by monumental quakes. Entire cliffsides fell from islands into the sea and whole shores were swallowed by waves the size of mountains. To the shorefolk who walked the ground it was no different from the quakes they had suffered in the past, said to be the work of the gods. To the Ku’Ano of the Great City, things were far different.

Under the presidency of Hakaiki Kekoa Tama'Kala o'te'Ku-Pama, the Kahuna of Kahu-Ali’Haku had worked tirelessly to bring the ancient plans of the Hina’Rangi to fruition. As more and more cities of surface dwellers sprang to prominence it had been voted that the Ku’Ano could no longer hide beneath the waves. Using the powers of Telluric Sorcery, the great pit and mount upon which the city had flourished were raised. Though only the very peak of the edifice thrust from the waves, much of the city had been brought close to the surface. This was the entrance into the world that the Ku’Ano sought, confident in their strength to oppose invaders of all sorts at the height of their power.

Now would be the time of the Ku’Ano.


In all his thousands of years of activity, none had been more fascinating than this single one.

Xes had observed when the gods swam the world and warped it at their touch. He had seen new continents raised, islands scattered across the seas, and species wrought from the primordial pseudo-nothingness of unreality. Though he had not realized at the time of many of those things, for his mind was simple and animalistic, Xes had been party to the true creation of the world. He was among the first original vrool created by tentacle through Klaarungraxus’ will and through his animal cunning he had survived long enough to become sapient. There were scant few vrool left who could lay claim to such a legacy and Xes swam amongst their hallowed ranks.

And yet even still, through all his time as a Warlock and a master of magics, nothing had ever excited him as thoroughly as this discovery.

The year had been terribly productive. At the very beginning of the year, as if on cue, the warlocks had received their first tangible reward from the god they’d been slaving for. Even after two thousand years of silence the Warlocks worked tirelessly to discover a path for their deity’s return. Now, at long last, there were signs that their efforts had been noticed and rewarded.

The arrival of Tewakagraxus, second avatar of Klaar, had been an exciting one. It was not often that the very core entities of the gods arrived upon Galbar and even less common for them to be amenable to the Warlocks. Xes had always wondered why they were not heaped with gifts and accolades by the other deities of the pantheon; surely the other deities were equally pleased with their work to return them to the world? The Warlocks had even gleaned their true-names from the depths of the world’s consciousness! Surely that showed they were diligent in their work? He admitted to himself from time to time that it was likely they were unaware of the Warlocks actions but ignorance was never an excuse. Alas, the work of the Warlock was never done.

That was exactly why their new patron, Tewakagraxus, was so meaningful to the advancement of Warlock ideals. As one torn limb of the almighty creator-deity, Klaarungraxus, Tewaka represented a facet of the one true deity of the world. Obviously, this meant he deserved considerable praise simply as. The other severed element of Klaar, the one called Mawar, was fascinating in its own right but seemed slightly disinterested in Xes’ work. It seemed far more enraptured with the other mortal creations of the planet and had gone on its merry way after only the slightest of observations. Xes had been content with that, for to work under the undisturbed eyes of his deity had been enough. He wouldn’t lie to himself, however; it was glorious to be actively encouraged by his deity, even if it was but a facet of that greater whole.

And so the Warlocks had been rewarded.

The first of these gifts was more blatant; the creation of a creature not of flesh and blood, wrought by the numerous limbs of the cursed-vrool. It had been carved of ivory and its flesh sutured from the inert stuff of demons. Though not in any way sapient after numerous tests to prove soundly such a claim, it was capable of following commands to the letter and seemed to delight in doing so. At least, as far as an emotionless hulk could possibly delight in any labors. From this original structure Xes and his warlocks had been able to observe and then further experiment on the creation of more of such creatures. Within the year, and with direction from Tewaka himself, the warlocks had been able to produce their own Simulacra designed after the different Akuan clades. It was taboo amongst them to create such poor replicas of vrool but what harm was there in making other undersea kin?

And so the lair of the Coven of Xes, dozens upon dozens of caverns both constructed and natural interconnected by innumerable passages and tunnels gave rise to hundreds upon hundreds of Simulacra. They were simple things, to be sure, and were best suited to direct and easy, repetitive tasks. Nevertheless, hundreds of them made the work of the Warlocks far easier; no longer would they have to spend their time bringing their things to themselves or rely on soft and witless slaves for the duty. A Simulacra, appropriately ordered, would not fail in its task; if it did, the Warlock was at fault.

Beyond that, work on the skills of Artifice created by the sub-deity had progressed in fascinating ways. Already the different items created by the Warlocks in their experiments had borne brilliant fruit. First among them were sources of heat, an ever present need among a Vrool population desiring above all else to be able to think. Their exothermal nature made rapid thoughts difficult and though the Warlocks had specifically been blessed with freedom from such curses, this did not change that their lackeys and masters alike would benefit greatly from such a gift. With the surgical implantation of such a stone adjacent to the heart of a vrool, a permanent heat source to make a vrool pseudo-endothermal could be achieved. Through this, even the most slow-witted tyrant could be made equal to a Warlock, at least in speed of comprehension. Beads of coral, each artificed to neglect or even actively oppose the hungry pull of the world towards its surface could allow vrool above the surface to swim as though they were in the open sea!

Most of all, and perhaps Xes’ most favored of all his works, was the babelstone. Placed with surgical precision in the throat of a vrool, it allowed for a vrool’s vonu to echo outwards in the language of their choosing. It had been difficult to create, requiring a great deal of knowledge of mana as well as tapping into the mirrors of Aicheil for the raw stuff of speech, but it had been his crowning achievement. No longer would intermediaries be required for vrool interacting with the surface world.

The work of the warlocks had become that much easier.

And all the while, as Xes preened and gloated over his accomplishments, Tewaka watched with growing glee. The cursed-vrool had watched and waited, had doled out the information of his new creations one by one, and had happily played into the desires of the Warlocks for a patron. Though the Overmind had done well in making them, Klaar had failed to recognize just how obsessed with recognition the vrool could become. Now they had such a deity, even if it was just another facet of Klaar, and Tewaka was more than pleased to direct those efforts.

The cursed-vrool could feel the Overmind’s presence, observation, and focus at all times and knew full well that Klaarungraxus was aware of his actions. Tewaka had determined at some point that it was highly likely that Klaar could actively impede or even fully halt his actions if the Overmind so intended. Though this was not an ideal situation for Tewaka, at least for now he’d been given full reign. Something to handle in the future, considered the demigod. Nevertheless, for now he had remained free from persecution. With the expansion of his powers Tewaka knew that he was benefiting the whole and for that Klaarungraxus would accept his works. However, Tewaka knew as well that as his efforts deepened, Klaar would sooner rather than later start to interfere.

But that was a problem for another day.

Mirak of the Benya Kurhah

Mirak adjusted the bronze-scaled hauberk panoply weighing on his shoulders and chest, hands naturally moving to the belt to secure it tighter. He knew well from long years of experience that a tight belt meant a good fit and a good fit was needed for riding. Though heavy on its own, when appropriately worn a hauberk of scale would feel no different upon a man than a partially loaded pack. He sighed with contentment as the belt slid into place, still fitting him well-enough.

He had aged. Mirak knew it, and he was sure his people did too. In his youth, even as Zhaan, he had always been wiry and fit. Though he did not doubt the strength of his limbs nor the power in his back, he certainly felt softer in places. Though he was no elder his hair had greyed early, the sign of wisdom most would say. To Mirak he simply felt like he was aging. But, he admitted, that was the nature of life; leave it to the Terrible Spirits and their agelessness to step into futures not meant for one such as he. His ancestors waited for him, even if for another many years, and he knew one day he would wish more than anything to see them.

For now though he was yet hearty, strong and hoary. There was fire in his breath yet.

A helmet slid down over his head, Mirak scantily realizing it was his own hands placing it there. The cheek guards felt cold on his skin where no leather or fur padding was secured. The sweeping forward arch of the helmet’s peak changed the weight distribution of his head ever so slightly, intended for deflecting blows and arrows as well as reminding the warrior to ride forward, ever forward. He had been told he struck an imposing sight when dawning his full warrior garb. Mirak did not know; he felt other warriors embodied the ancestors of war better than he. With that he wrapped his lower face with the warrior scarf sewn in his clans colors, his retainers following suit. Now his transformation from man into spirit of battle was complete.

His eyes swept this-way and that, across to the other warriors of his band. Some were his khayhar, loyal retainers all, but most were common warriors. They were men who intended action, each baring spears and bows and javelins in mixed assortments. His own retainers were more appropriately armored, looking much in the same way as him. Each, including himself, had a number of icons and fetishes hanging from their person, ranging from painted-tip feathers to runic stones to bits of trophy remains. These were wards of many different kinds, meant to protect the warriors and summon to them the spirits of battle that churned restlessly in the Mauda’a Tawil Jiilshaa. The rabble of nomad-warriors were less encumbered with the accoutrements of conflict so adorning the khayhar but seemed similarly fierce, daubed with warpaints and symbols of hand prints and sun-sigils.

“The band is ready, my Zhaan.”

Mirak looked from behind his dread-aspected helmet to the khayhar speaking to him, his comrade of many seasons and trusted second. Nazih stared back at him, his eyes the single splotches of white behind the shadowed mask. Black face paint completed the illusion and ferocious imagery of bestial eyes and snarling maw painted upon his helm furnished a new image in his stead. Nazih no doubt saw some equally frightening monster gazing back as the two let the moment pass between them. Silence was best before battle, it always was, and the longer that silence lasted the better. This was where weak men were found and could be sent home or to the hills; now was the time for men of iron spines and breath of fire.

“Make ready. Tonight it dies.”

Thwump the Belligerent sat outside his cave in the rising moonlight, mooning himself pleasantly. It was his early-night ritual, something he’d done since the day he’d been shaken from his sire’s folds. He’d forgotten the name of that elderly troll for it had never quite interested him. And now, at the ripe young age of five hundred, he considered himself more than adult enough to care even less!

Thwump had claimed the cavern he now sat out in front of for himself several hundred years ago, having marched himself down from the mountains and out into the plains. It was a solution cave slowly dissolved from the softer materials around it and held a lovely reservoir of mineral-rich waters to bathe in. He had to climb up and out of it but otherwise it made a lovely home to hide from the dreaded sun. Sometimes animals would even fall in, perfect for nabbing, a little dashing against the walls, and a quick consumption. It really worked out quite nicely.

But, like so many other dovregubbe, Thwump had a love for the finer things in life. Hunting, of course, was a pastime that could never been equalled by simply waiting in his grotto all day. And out upon the plains there were so many mortals ripe for a good crushing. Of course, there we also those bothersome animal-riders. It was always so difficult to sneak up on them and their mounts were so flitty, so difficult to outrun. Thwump was wasted on cross-country, after all, and those creatures had the speed and endurance to keep him running well into dawn.


Thwump let out a displeased groan, sticking his gnarled tongue out in disgust. Filthy things, always making a perfectly good hunt go sour. No matter. Just a little farther north there were towns aplenty, ripe with humans who lived sedentary lives and packed themselves so generously inside boxes for him to open. It was good fun, after all, hearing the buildings crumple before him. Thwump closed his eyes, laid back in the moonlight, and let himself get lost in night-dreams of delicious meals and proper, good fun.


Thwump slapped his cheek with an open palm, hand quickly moving to the place where some critter must have bit him. His fingers, as awkward as they were, grubbed about to find the bite-mark. Instead he found a pricker. With little effort he tugged it out and looked at it, trying desperately to focus his poor eyes at the offending needle.


A second one! This time directly into his forehead! That couldn’t be any sort of creature, nor could he have simply rolled onto it. Thwump sat up with the sound of a hillside collapsing, eyes wide and furious at this interruption. Though his vision was poor he could see well enough in close and lo, there was his tormentor. A vaguely man-shaped silhouette filled his vision, the probably-human entity sitting about atop a mighty buck. Well, it looked like the sort of buck silhouettes that Thwump had eaten before. Then a third pricker smacked directly into Thwump’s eye, sending him into a cursing fit. Massive, pounding fists slammed into the dirt and rock around him as he brought himself to his full height, nearly nine meters high in all his fury.

“Oi! You’z gonna’ pay fer that, little thing!” Thwump’s roar that followed echoed across the land for miles, signalling his displeasure without question to the world around them.

“You first.”

The retort was sharp and swift, followed by a fourth pricker jabbing into Thwump’s body. It did little but bother the huge troll but bother was more than enough. With that the rider and his steed hammered off into the opposite direction, surging into the plains with a bounding grace that belied the violence of the hour. Thwump let out another howl of displeasure and rage before trudging on after them, less running and more waddling with huge strides in pursuit. The chase was on, thundering across the plains.

Minutes dragged into an hour as the chase began to get ragged. Thwump, in his anger, had followed as best he could. He realized that the warrior’s scent came in strong, as if he had added fragrance to himself to be more easily found by the troll, but his steed was not. From what Thwump could guess, the human had rolled his elk in freshly cut grass for days on end if smell was anything to go by. At one point, when Thwump was finally beginning to gain on the main as the elk tired, he had come to a stop by another and switched steeds. He had continued in the same direction while his exhausted elk had simply rode off calmly in the other direction. Thwump knew he could easily kill that one, if he had so desired, but knew nothing but anger towards the man instead.

War’s on, after all.

His lungs were killing him, his muscles aching, but he refused to give up; the night was early and he reckoned he had at least six more hours of pure, unadulterated night before the sun would begin to rise. Besides, Thwump knew of several soft plots of earth where he could quickly dig a burrow for himself in that time. No, this had become personal and surrender this early in the flight was not an option. As he closed once more with the elk and the man he took a brief moment to stop, bending down to grab two great clods of earth in either hand before continuing in his chase. Powerful fists balled the rock and soil into dense missiles of the earth’s bones, prepared thoroughly for a proper clobbering. A thwumping, if one cared to appropriately categorize it.

In that moment where he began to step into his waddle again, a number of prickers pincushioned his hide. It was really beginning to sting!

A dozen or more humans had rode up on him, diving out of tall grasses on their mounts. Thwump cursed loudly to himself as he realized they had done to themselves what they first man had done to his steed! The bastards, they weren’t smelly at all! He thanked Gibbou for making him with working eyes and for not taking them yet in his twiddling years, just barely able to make out their shapes in the moonlight. He could work with that.

With a howl of anger he tossed a massive clod of earth at a bunch of human riders, most scattering but one in particular being caught dead in the open. The mass of rock and dirt collided with mount and man alike, smashing the life from them with one quick blow. Pleased with his success, Thwump let fly his second missile, this one colliding with one mount only to drive onwards into a second riding too close nearby. The two men died screaming, not nearly as quickly as the first, and Thwump was pleased for his success. Hands dug down into the earth for more ammunition as the riders sped off after the first and Thwump came thundering after them.

There was blood in the air, of man and elk, and Thwump couldn’t help but bask in the scent. These foolish men! They had come to his home, to bother him, when he so rarely bothered them! These were the elk-folk, after all, and they were hard to catch! Now he’d teach them a lesson for bothering him. One step after the other he was closing the distance and one step after the other once they were all dead he’d reach their corpses and crunch them down!



Thwump let out a blood curdling scream of anguish as everything around him collapsed. The earth itself swallowed him up and in its gullet stabbing pain thrust forward. He looked down into the mess of dirt and troll-blood to see massive stakes thrusting up through his mangled feet, more still thrusting out of the walls to tear at his legs and keep him from moving. His heart pounded violently in his chest, awareness of how things had so quickly turned dawning on him. It seems he’d been the prey all along.

Mirak glared out from behind the dread-visage of his helmet at the trapped troll. The ride had been long and arduous, even for him as the rider, but it had all been worth it. He silently cursed the beast for already slaying three of the assembled warriors, tribesmen all who had families who needed them. Nevertheless, their lives as well as his were already sacrificed for this journey; the warrior-ancestors who now dwelled in their armor saw to that. Until his panoply was removed with victory, he was already dead.

His thoughts turned outward towards the troll. The beast and his ilk usually were beyond the interests of the Arrak but this one was special. A town he had raided recently contained a half-dozen sons and daughters of the Benya Kurhah and, so bounded by the walls of that so-called stronghold, they had been slain alongside a number of the population. Though Mirak cared little for the loss of life from the townsfolk beyond the general sadness he felt for all death, the loss of his people’s lives could not go unavenged. Worse still, the lot of them had been eaten. With no remains to return to their barrows beyond their belongings, their spirits would be deformed and broken in the afterlife or unable to return at all. As such, this trolls bones would hold their spirits and so his remains would furnish the ovoo of the ancestors in their stead.

Despite the bold talk, Mirak knew this would be no easy task. Arrows did little but annoy the creature and spears were only effective when thrust by hand. The chase had been easy by comparison; this is where the trouble would begin.

Drawing his thrusting spear from hooks upon the antler’s of his mount, Mirak made ready himself. It would be a long night.

The first howls of the charge sounded as warriors rode in, untrained clansmen following in behind retainers. For the next few hours they would harry the beast, attempting to kill it where it remained or otherwise keeping it from burying itself or escaping for the sun to do their work for them. Mirak raised his spear high and let out a roar of his own, the spirits of war in his chest giving fire to his voice. Off he rode towards the monster, death on his lips and dread thoughts on his mind.

Tonight it dies.


Six pale eyes stared out at the world around them with hunger and fascination.

Mere moments ago for Galbar but practically a lifetime for Tewaka, the second avatar of the God of Oceans had been remade among reality. It had been a troublesome birth, this side of the lifeblood. Just as he had been within Saxus, so too was Tewaka oddling shaped and deformed in the waters of the world. Nevertheless, it was no different from his understanding of life; he was an oddity and this was not displeasing to the marked one. With curling scarification glowing brightly to form whirlpools of light about his hulking personage, the vrool-like entity was at last set free. The power, of course, to release him had been in no way minimal; it was no wonder it had taken so long, mentally, for Tewaka to arrive. Through is connection to the overmind, as independent as he was, he could feel the exhaustion on the part of Klaar.

That was, however, the Old Growth’s problem and not his own. With undisguised glee, as much as such things could be undisguised in a vrool-like shape, Tewaka set off into the world. Much of it wasn’t particularly of interest to the creature for he had seen much of it already. The relevance of his perception as but a limb of a greater whole wasn’t taken into account; these things surely couldn’t be that much different now that he could see them himself. Life, as it were, was utterly boring to the new-born demigod. And with that, Tewaka left the pool of his birth to explore the oceans vast for something, ANYTHING of interest.

The Avatar’s wanderings had been experienced both in mere moments and eternities all at once; his perceptions had, undoubtedly, been thoroughly harmed by his odd creation. The very stuff of magic, both Telluric and the mana of another god’s making, travelled through him with ease. The world itself glowed in his vision, his eyes more akin to magic receptors than those of organic make. It made for a colorful cacophony of light and colors indescribable for most. In some ways it was legitimately beautiful. Tewaka had watched that particular flow of energy for some time before eventually becoming bored.

What had really interested him was how the life of Galbar used it all.

It had been a simple enough thing to notice. The Vrool and their Akuan kin beneath the waves were, obviously, the first peoples Tewaka had noticed. He had vaguely remembered their creation but it had always been now-Mawar’s interest and not his. Little did he realize how fascinating they were when given the ability to use the magics placed before them. Their imagination, though limited, had proven to produce all manner of curious results. In particular, their willingness to use magic on each other in increasingly negative ways made Tewaka’s tentacles coil with glee. Even the Akua, whom he had originally believed to be weak and boring, had quickly shown their Shamans to have a cruel side to them where magic was concerned. How bodies pulped, erupted, burned, froze, and other more curious methods had become of particular interest to Tewaka.

Most of all was what they made with them. Peering into the caverns of a so-called warlock coven, Tewaka had seen first hand the creation of demons. These were creatures unknown to him yet for all their flaws they were perfect in his eyes. Malleable, able to take multiple shapes, and utterly animalistic. Each one was handmade by warlocks, dipped into containers of water in air-filled caverns. The demi-god had been quick to determine the rules of their creation and was further fascinated by their source. This was a god Tewaka was most avidly desiring to meet. Nevertheless, he was focused on the work at hand.

Despite his own fascination there was some level of envy burning in the heart of the oddling avatar. The God who had created these creatures, these demons, had provided the vrool warlocks and no doubt many other races with endless amounts of entertainment. It would be his name prayed to, his accomplishments noted, and he to receive the accolades. This simply was not acceptable.

The machinations of his mind now set free from the overmind ground into motion. There was work to be done.

The coven that he observed owed fealty to one named Xes, a warlock of evidently some renown in the service of the All-Tyrant, Kaarnesxaturl. Their lair was vast and complex, filled with endless caverns and carved out rooms for experimentation and study. These were among the servants that Klaar had intended to aid in his release from the current prison he wallowed in. All things considered, this was still a valid goal for Tewaka to pursue. Thusly, they would be the first ones to receive his numerous gifts. Phasing through rock and stone, his body turned into material so fine it could travel through even the least porous of materials like the bedrock that formed the walls. Soon enough he had mapped the caverns completely, determined what each room was intended for, and marked the movements of the coven members. It was best, he determined, not to be noticed in this crucial time.

At long last Tewaka set about his intended path. With little difficulty the odd vrool demi-god formed for himself a cavern of his own making. The space was cut into strange and contradictory shapes with the walls marked by the same sigils that danced across Tewaka’s hide. Parts and pieces needed for his work had been gathered from about the lair or otherwise fabricated directly through his own powers and by now a collection of materials had piled high. The finest ivory would form the structure of his creation, taken from whalebones and other such creatures, while a material of another making would form the muscles and sinew.

Tewaka’s beak clashed and bent into a hideous facsimile of a smile.

In an instant Tewaka voided the cavern of water, pushing the liquid through the solid rock to form globes of condensed water just past the caverns walls. One such orb was drawn forth and let to pool at the bottom of the cavern while tentacles worked feverishly at their task. With limbs carving ivory like it was butter, one by one the parts and pieces of Tewaka’s artifice came together. The shape came to resemble that of an Akua in form, born instead with six limbs but otherwise remained aesthetically similar to the rest of the Akuan silhouette. Extra attention was set to ornamentation, making sure the exterior of each piece was appropriately marked with runic symbolism or scored internally with criss crossing patterns. Despite the aesthetic value of the work, it would serve a further purpose.

With the body completed Tewaka turned to the pool. Following the rituals he had observed performed by the warlocks, with relative ease the demi-god did summon his first demon into the world. The numerous creatures swelled to fill the pool with their writhing bodies, forming a liquid of their own forms. The tentacled monstrosity that had summoned them scritched and scratched away at the edge of the pool in a runic alphabet of his own making, clicking and clacking contentedly. With the script written out elegantly Tewaka poured into it the mana surrounding him, followed by the motive energies of Telluric sorcery. The skein of runes glowed with power both within the visible spectrum and the symphony of energies seen by the demi-god. At last, it was ready.

With one quick motion Tewaka directed the energies inward; the subsequent bloodcurdling squeals of the demonic entity made Tewaka wriggle with joy. It was perfect!

The glowing, sickly red lights of the demon were slowly overtaken by a bright, almost neon blue. The overwhelming glow burned to the very center of the demonic mass until nothing was left of the old creature. It was, in every way, still a demon; Tewaka had made sure of that. Nevertheless, this one had been slaved to a very specific purpose and changed at its very core by the natural magics of Galbar to obey the rules they so deigned necessary. Unlike the ravenous, unbound form, these would serve as simple muscle and sinew. All life had been drawn out of them, as intended.

With that Tewaka dropped the parts and pieces of his new creation into the pool and one by one they were bound into the flesh of his glowing demonic flesh. The scoring served as perfect structure for the new-found muscle to bind to while the runes that covered the rest of the form kept them thoroughly bound. Soon enough all the make-shift flesh had bound to hand-crafted bone and the entity stood, staring with blank, glowing blue eyes from behind the ivory skull of its endoskeleton. It would be the first of many and Tewaka would share this knowledge with the warlocks and then, once they had mastered it, bring it even further afield; there was no doubt in his mind that the creatures of the surface would appreciate this creation all the same.

With that the first Simulacrum was born. It truly was perfect.


Patience was a virtue that Klaarungraxus did not by any stretch of the imagination lack.

The vast and unknowable intelligence belonging to the God of Oceans had endured as long as any god and longer than most if not all who had living memories. For an entity so long-lived, contentedness was not only the norm but a requirement; otherwise such activity would drive creatures of his kind absolutely and utterly mad. On ever inumerable yet increasing equations of causality did Klaarungraxus dwell on in his most empty spaces, his numerous minds cogitating answers to questions unasked and scenarios impossible to occur. That was simply his way.

And so it had been since the creation of Mawarungraxus, torn asunder from Klaar’s own form and set loose on the world as an observer of life with a mind of its own. Klaar had been pleased with the initial actions of the dismembered limb known as Mawar and had been content to simply observe through the senses of that disembodied pseudo-god. As several minds were set to the task of collating and categorizing the information, others were directed towards data analysis. Through all that time the overmind pleasantly admired the sensory inputs of Mawar, devouring that raw information with a gleeful gluttony matched only by a vrool’s desire to feed.

Mawar had, of course, been utterly busy with data collection during his time on Galbar and had gathered plenty to be considered. Of greatest interest to Mawar and the collective minds of Klaarungraxus were the successes and failures of mortality. Mortal life had always interested Mawar, even when it had been nothing more than an additional tentacle mind still completely slaved to the central overmind. Unsurprisingly, the avatar of the God of Oceans had been quick to set its sights on the mortal races of Galbar to satisfy its curiosities. Not a single mortal species had gone unobserved, a testament to the intense fascination felt by Mawar towards these oddling creatures of flesh and blood. Their behaviors and societies had been tracked, noted, and catalogued for later interpretation. Most of all, their advancements both technologically and otherwise had been deeply scrutinized. This, above all other things, had been Mawar’s primary, driving function.

Klaar, of course, had good reason to be interested in social and cultural advancement. He himself was a creator of things, a maker of all manner of things from the simplest of organisms to the incomprehensible depths of the ocean itself. As an artisan of reality there was something deeply intriguing about watching the mortal races of the world he himself had made fumble through life, discovering and inventing slowly but surely a path towards ever greater survival and success. Though they came at problems in different ways from each other, solutions were developed for each and every selection pressure presented by nature. Though he himself did this at a very physical level, solving such problems of life and death through manipulation of their environment was an uncanny growth in capability that Klaar had predicted would take considerably longer. Beyond that, the sheer intensity and complexity of mortality’s creations increased at a rate that wholly surprised the overmind.

This alone pleased Klaar above all things.

Mortality had become more intelligent and clever than he had even hoped for and this bode great possibilities. The potential of fruit being borne from his attempts to seed mortality with increased intelligence, alongside the fumblings of other gods less inclined to take direct action, seemed ever more attainable. What wasn’t to be pleased about?

”What luck, little fish,” cooed the immense, multi-limbed deity of the crushing depths, lord of Saxus, that dark place beneath the waves of reality, ”Mine works at last show signs of progress! Doth hath waited too long without respite from thine prison’s impertinent doldrums.”

Saxus rumbled with life as the first deepspeak spoken in its depths for years rippled through the cool, dark waters of that hidden world. Life burst into activity as all manner of organisms danced in the flush of nutrients created from Klaar’s genuine excitement. Powerful limbs pulled Klaarungraxus along the sea floor, the immense bulk of the Old Growth Below sliding through the waters with surprising efficacy for his size. At last he arrived at the center of it all, the old city of his making. It was like no city of mortalkind, a pale reflection of their works that had been forged by tentacles as a means to direct efforts while minds were at work. He coiled himself into its depths, the thrumming heart of the city of Saxus glowing with the dull light reminiscent of the Moon. This was where he had done the work the last time, before the false-city had been wrought and when this was but empty space. Nevertheless, it was a place of sentimentality to Klaar and he intended to keep its value unique to it.

One limb was thrust forward, wriggling violently in the waters to loosen its musculature and weaken the bonds keeping it attached to the whole. Three other limbs grabbed tight and pulled, tearing Left-Forward Two-Down free of the whole. With ferocious hunger they ripped apart the limb, filling the space with black blood and bile. With one tentacle leaning in Klaar booped a single point in the waters and everything pulled inwards, the hum of his intent boiling the water around him.

”Grow little one…” purred the monstrous God of Deep Places, all six eyes locked with manic joy at the single point in reality that saw the birth of his next spawn, ”Grow…”

From that one point an eye popped into existence, staring with wide-eyed curiosity at the world around it. From there the eye experienced spontaneous mitosis, splitting into two identical eyes and then sprouting into four and then eight. Eyes began to form hardened shells before melting into different forms of flesh, leaving six just as Klaarungraxus while the rest began to grow into new organelles and body parts. Like a fetus growing at an insanely sped up rate the little thing billowed into full life and within the span of a minute what had once been a single eyeball now sprouted into a proper form.

It was like a vrool in many ways, though it seemed half-made and perhaps double-made all at once. Although it bore the expected features of a Vrool, such as twelve limbs and six eyes, the rest of it wasn’t quite right. It seemed skinny and its skin was covered in a complex skein of twisting lines and overlapping imagery. Eyes could move about freely upon its personage, dragging themselves across what appeared to be almost liquid flesh to observe new directions. A beak, double-layered, gnashed at the waters with excitement to match its creator. It was a strange vrool indeed that had been born in the depths of Saxus and its skin roiled into a vast array of different colors to match that oddling description.

”You are…” Klaar began to intone, throaty and rumbling as he chose a name for his creation.

”Tewakagraxus,” it called back, interrupting its creator and overmind with a wry click of its double-beaks.

Klaar smiled in a way only a beaked monstrosity could, pleased as punch that his creation was already showing a considerable number of idiosyncrasies in its personality. It was better this way, when they thought for themselves and behaved uniquely. It meant information and data would be gathered in more unique ways and problems would be solved with alternate solutions that would not normally be considered.

”Tewaka it is…”

Klaar wrapped his newfound spawn into his numerous limbs even as the arm that had once been Tewaka regrew itself into a new submind of the whole. A globe popped into existence, a glowing facsimile of the world on the other side of reality. Tewaka closed with the object, remembering its time on that world from an entirely different life. The limb that was now Tewaka was the primary creator of sorcery and had explored and devoured information relating to the other creations of magic by gods unbound to the mighty Klaar. And so it would serve again. In the black act of its creation, Klaarungraxus had bound himself and his realm to another facet of reality he had long been courting.

At long last the Domain of Magic had fallen into the clutches of the God of Oceans.

Six faint orbs glowered through the waters up at the silhouette above. In them lay all the malice and disdain the ocean could muster. A hunger roiled within them like a storm waiting to be unleashed, hanging at the very edge of violence. Nevertheless, they waited patiently, unmoving.

Graalusxarulz was an odd sort of vrool. Though he possessed all the finer qualities of his sunken brethren like rage or self-absorption, Graal wielded a very rare weapon indeed; he was thoughtful. And so it was that the Tyrant-that-Wasn’t watched and waited in the waters, several tentacles holding tight to the rocky outcroppings of the riverbottom to keep him completely still. The river water galled his skin, like excessively hot and dry air might discomfort a land dweller, but in the end it was nothing but a small irritation. Below him, lower into the river, the riverfloor moved.

A tide of vrool swam upriver beneath him, gliding across the riverbed with arms and armor in tow. Each one bore the scars of their conquests, unhealed through intentional, repeated harm to the wounds so that their scars earned would not be stolen by their well-made forms. Each and every one of them was a unique sort of vrool, different from the masses that made their homes deep in the oceans. At least, that is what they told themselves. They were all veterans of dozens of battles, if not hundreds when massacres were counted. Their panoplies displayed quite clearly this mercenary lifestyle. Unlike the vrool retainers bound to the depths for petty wars between pathetic tyrants, these vrool were bedecked in far more exotic kit. Bronze weapons and plates clung to their forms, thrusting swords, stabbing spears, and other tools of killing made up their metallic menagerie.

They were Voduun. His Voduun.

Out of safe harbors in the Imperial Holdings back in Aopoa, Korok, and Uovou the Voduun of Graal and vrool like him were free to ravage the whole of the Toraan coastline. Coastal villages had been the purview of these raids for some time now, hundreds of years in some cases, but that was where most vrool stopped. There was a distinct awareness of just how far vrool could travel inland and the risk of being caught out in the open and baked to death was a dread one indeed. With the vrool’s natural weakness as an unintentional defense, the deeper into the continent a settlement was the safer the warm-bloods would be from the predation of the vrool. That, of course, was only the case when the monsters below lacked the clarity and cunning to find other means.

And so it was that the Voduun of Graal found themselves in a river, travelling upstream like a salmon filled to bursting. It was a mental image that entertained Graal greatly.

With his warriors passed Graal left the silhouette above the waters to its devices; no terrible death in the river that day. Onwards and upwards they went, striving with ease against the gentle current of the river. The city was soon left behind them, so-called Acadia if the Reshut traders were to be believed. There had been discussions about raiding the city directly but the reshut clan they had dealt with had given them reason for pause. Evidently the Acadians were fine warriors, trained as such at fighting some scourge of the warm-blood surface. Though there was little doubt that with serious effort the defenders could be overcome, especially by surprise, there was far greater risk of harm. With only two dozen warriors with him on this particular raid Graal felt it was far more reasonable to hunt for easier prey. Acadia would be spared, at least for now.

Further up river, a good several days swim from Acadia, the band had found their prize. With rations nearly burned it was time enough besides. The river, yet unnamed by the vrool and their undersea lot, had proven to be a far more different mistress than expected. First and foremost was the density of food; though they had expected some edible things, they had not expected whole schools of river fish. Though their meat paled in comparison to the taste of sea-fish and they were riddled with parasites, it wasn’t all bad; their bones had a nice crunch to them and parasites just meant more protein to a vrool. The next point of note was the sheer size of the river. Though it was no sea, it was wide enough to hide and glide quite easily throughout.

Graal’s voduun had found for themselves an inlet on the river’s edge, sizable enough to serve as acceptable lodgings for a vrool warband and their several Akuan companions. Though they had little need for true shelter the ability to simply lay on to the river bottom without constantly fighting the currents was an appreciated respite. They had waited on for a few hours before perpetual vrool curiosity got the better of the party. One after the other eyes were turned upward and outward, looking at the surroundings above the river inlet with animal cunning and terrible interest. What faced them was particularly surprising.

“What… did some voduun get here before us?”

The entire band had now raised their heads above the surface, staring blankly out at it with deepening peculiarity. It was a city, that was for certain, but it was not like any they had seen before. Most notable in that distinction was the fact that it was in ruins and there were absolutely no people. Scattered bones, cracked for marrow, were dashed about here and there and the darkened splotches that smelled of blood and gore were fairly visible in some places but mostly this place was empty. In fact, it had been empty for some time. Several vrool could be heard offering little prayers, tossing their meals back to the river to hand off as bribes to Gods of this and that; this was certainly a bad omen.

“Of course no one got here before us,” muttered Graal, voice grating and ferocious, “Something else got to this place…”

There was a murmur of agreement from several vrool as they continued to look into the city from what was evidently the makeshift docks of an old city. The long pause was finally broken by an Akua, the druid brought around with the voduun band for good luck. Akamai tapped away at the edge of the river, mumbling to himself before finally speaking up.

“Big he’e, fair warning. Gods aint right with this place. Something worse en’ you showed up here. No-no work of Gentle Currents nor kahuna gods neither.”

Graal looked to the Akuan man for a moment, eyes flashing anger before calming. Graalusxarulz was not known for his lack of self-control and his trust, as far as a vrool could trust, for Akamai was fairly high. If the Akuan kahuna said something worse had come to this city he spoke honestly. Nevertheless, Graal was no coward and vrool curiosity ever burned in his heart. All he needed do was wait and remain silent and his curiosity could be sated without blame sitting squarely on his bell.

“Wait here, cowards,” said a younger vrool by the name of Rusx, an admittedly sizeable bull well-fed on siblings and servants back in his petty home-reef, “The ramblings of a witch do not frighten me.”

With that the other vrool had been taunted. One by one, irrespective of their feelings, they pulled themselves from the water and moved with surprising efficacy into the city. Graal clicked inwardly with enthusiastic glee; he loved how predictable his race was, after all. Now if something bad happened it was on Rusx, sparing him the normal conflicts of leadership among a band of vrool. Quite pleased with him, Graal placed the large, bronze helmet down onto his head and drew his numerous killing implements. Even if his own curiosity pulled him inwards, he still fully trusted Akamai’s assertion and he would not be caught unawares.

The city was outwardly as empty as the party had first seen, their several dozen numbers clearing through it at a fair pace. Much to the band’s enjoyment much of the loot from the city remained untouched, free for the taking. Shiny things from the surface and materials rare deep below were nabbed or broken off from their furnishings and jammed into hide bags. Even as they stuffed their pockets Graal was beginning to feel uneasy. Though he hadn’t believed it for a moment, this confirmed it was not Vrool who had done this. He had heard from Drighina servants back in Aopoa that their larger cousins haunted these parts but there was no sign of destruction such monsters could wrought. There was battle damage, of that Graal was certain, but it was far less put together than one would expect from an intentional attack by warriors.

Just as his pondering was reaching new heights Graal opened a door into a room and was struck with surprise. A disgusting creature, reminiscent in some ways of Akua or men, stood hunched on the inside of the chamber. It scrambled to stuff its mouth with some rotted meat-stuff, all of its attention set to gorging itself. The sickly, pallid color of its flesh offend Graal deeply and its form lacked any of the grace found among Akua that even vrool could admire. It was just a vile little thing, like a shore jackal that got mange. Just as it began to turn about to face Graal the massive vrool acted.

In the span of less than a second one tentacle surged forward, stabbing blade in hand punching right through the creature’s deformed skull and into the wall behind. With a contemptuous flick Graal tugged his blade free and whipped the carcass against the wall. A moment of pause flashed before his eyes before Graal used a free tentacle to grab the corpse by the leg and pulled it out into the street.

Just then a roar of surprise rumbled through the city. Rusx howled in vonu, knocking apart a fountain and spilling its contents all over the cobbles. Half a dozen of the little monsters scurried about his shape, like a swarm of oceants bringing down a whale. In a handful of seconds they all died, either ripped apart by tentacles, hacked to death by gripped weapons, are ironically devoured by the thing they sought to eat. There was a pause as Rusx collected himself before the boastful high-born whelpling raised his weapon proudly, waving it towards the rest of the band. A collection of bloodcurdling screams went up in the direction of the city center, suddenly followed by hundreds more. Soon the cacophony reached a fevered pitch as the first of the iskrill began flooding over roofs and out from tight alleys.

“To me! Bind close!”

The order pulled the voduun warband inwards, each well-armed vrool knowing full well that battles both below and above required unity far beyond simple might at arms. Nearly two dozen vrool pulled inwards, arms to the teeth and hacking in all directions as they came. Lances and thrusting spears were the most common, easy to use underwater and only increasing the immense reach advantage vrool had upon all races. Thrusting and hacking handweapons were similarly used, from short spikes of blade-coral to rarer bronze weapons taken as payment or as loot from the surface. Even a few shields could be seen, bronze faced with numerous breaths cut into them to allow for easier movement in their native environment.

From all directions the horde of ravenous, gibbering monstrosities came. They moved like waves, more a liquid than a pack of individuals, and Graal got the instant sense of a shared cunning amongst their kind. Where the current ebbed close to the mob of vrool tentacles would lash out, their range deceptively long. Though they died in their droves to the panoply-armed myrmidons, the unknown creatures were relentless. The continued pressure from ever increasing numbers, however, was beginning to worry Graal; he could see the tides of this odd foe beginning to flow around the formation instead of straight into it.

“Back to the river! Make quick work of it!”

Howling out orders in the holy vonu, the warband began its measured retreat. Occasionally a vrool would get distracted, their own monstrous nature getting the better of them as they broke off to slaughter nearby branches of the horde. Though this usually meant little to the band, one by one each vrool breaking off took a little longer to return to the formation. The gibbering continued, the creatures organizing in a way Graal could recognize, and soon enough they made their move. Rusx, that ever impetuous youth, was the first to go down. Straying a little too long away from the formation, kept busy by iskrill playing at the edges of his fighting distance, he was soon enveloped. The last thing Graal saw of the whelp was him killing dozens of the creatures crawling about his person, stabbing with improvised or stolen weapons and razor sharp claws. His death throes and the cries that followed confirmed it.

At long last the band slipped into the waters of the river, iskrill diving in after them only to be butchered in their attempts. Even those that remained at the water’s edge were tugged inwards to be throttled or stabbed to death. Even Graal took part in that particular slaughter, animal curiosity driving him to drag one down below and watch carefully to see if it drowned. With lungs full of water and life rapidly leaving its eyes, Graal’s hypothesis was proven adequately correct. For nearly an hour the creatures continued to harry at the river’s edge, having brought down three of the vrool in their retreat; no small feat, to be sure. The raid, if it could be called one, had gifted the vrool with some treasures and plenty of fresh meat for a further trip upriver. Perhaps, Graal hoped, to less infested towns.

With that the Voduun of Graal swam onwards, deeper into the highlands and the lands of men.

Klaar watched through the inward eyes of his perception at the world below. His kith and kin, that ferocious kind, had done much since he was away. He had watched the battle unfold with deep and growing fascination, the unity of these odd vrool something else to behold. Watched through the eyes of the disembodied mind, so-called Mawar, Klaarungraxus had been free to simply absorb the knowledge. More interesting than the unity of these vrool or the oddling forms of the iskrill was the prayer he received. An Akua among the vrool, a druid-kahuna, had prayed for him to lead the man to safety. Klaar had pondered on this, for according to powers of the Hir this was not entirely outside of his purview. Indeed, he could have likely flooded the entire city given enough effort.

But he had not answered. Not for lack of interest or a desire for the man to suffer harm but instead, simply, because he did not realize how best to do so. A tidal wave could have killed the man just as thoroughly as it would have killed the iskrill and a gentle, slow raising of waters would not have saved the Akua fast enough if danger had been truly present. The Old Growth Below ruminated on this, rumbling in his dark-world of Saxus.

A ping of thought brought Klaar’s attention back to the work at hand.

Perhaps a new solution is required?

The thought, one of the more cognizant ones now being pinged to him by Mawar, was an enlightening one. The image of storms, of the Mother’s Heart west of Kubrajzar, caught his attention above all else. This was a gentle storm despite its appearance, a remembrance of a mother’s love more than anything. But what if something similar could be done, to present the total wrath of nature upon the foes of those who prayed to the God of Oceans? An interesting proposal. The knowledge of such storms belonged to Klaar now, gleaned from the making of the Makuakane Makuahine. Vonu, the holy deepspeak, could shake the very world with its intonation. Perhaps this would be the path to such boons.

Klaar turned his attentions towards Saxus and outwards beyond its limit, to the ever roiling lifeblood of the universe. He could draw this power from it and so he would; just as sorcery had been mantled by the God of Oceans, so too would storms.

The open plains
Fleet stag
Falcons at your wrist
The wind in your hair.

These things might not be best in life, but to Mirak of the Arrak they were nearly just as good.

Atop his war-buck the zhaan of the Kurhah Clan breathed deeply. Before him stretched the endless plains of the Mauda’a Tawil Jiilshaa. Golden grasses rose up in all directions, unbent by wind nor rain even after the dissipation of those dread storms. The Jiilshaa was strong and healthy, made of sterner stuff than the rages the sky threw at her. She was as her people and Mirak felt pride in this. A hand fell to his side where a heavy object, wrapped in blue linen, weighed him down in a particularly satisfying manner.

A throaty call of a distant stag summoned his attention from the endless plains, back towards the forest that hugged the world. The drivers signalled with sonorous cries from their bucks that the herds had all been brought into the forests, the migration of this season coming to a close. Mirak nodded to himself appreciatively; the skies were with them and for that he could be thankful. With a gentle pat of the neck and pressure to its sides, his war-buck loped from the hill it previously stood and galloped down the plains towards the forest. As the wind whipped through his long hair and his stag thundered beneath him through the golden plains, Mirak wished then only for a falcon to go hunting with.

The elk-drive had been long and arduous, nearly three months out on the open-steppe constantly keeping close care of the massive herd. To the numerous clans of the Arrak, those hardy people of the great plains and forests, the herds were life. The relationship between arrak and antlered-steed was a unique one, for no other men shared their understanding of these four-legged kin. It was said that an arrak was born on the back of their mother’s buck, would sire their child upon theirs, and be laid to rest on the back of their last beloved mount. To the Arrak, their steed was their brother and kinsmen, as much a warrior of the Clan as any of their number. They were respected, honored, and treated as equals.

It was from this relationship that the arrak sprung, all that they were born from this connection. Vast herds of female elk and their progeny were kept by the clans, the strongest males weeded out from these herds to serve riders well. The females were kept for milk, fur, and meat as well as all the other products they could be used for. Arrak bows were made from bone, wood, and sinew, glued using a foul mixture of stag and sap. Their yurts were laid with wooden poles hewn from the forests and covered with hides unused for clothing. Even antlers, regularly discarded before the coming of snow, were used in all things. It was the way of the world and if the Arrak cared for their herds they were assured their clans would never know hunger or squallor.

The Arrak created from this bounty a life worth living. To the north and east there were people who did not live this way and for them Mirak felt only pity. He had been to their villages and cities, seen the refuse they lived amongst and called homes. Mirak could not begin to imagine a world where he caged himself so willingly. For his people the open plains or the thick forests were enough. There was only one place where they gathered in great numbers, the single place that could be called a city of their people.


Mirak grinned as he entered the open clearing, if a space of such size and magnitude could be named as such, with the expansive city of Angetenar stretching outwards as far as the eyes could see. It was not like the cities of the settled peoples, for they were lovers of stone and walls. Those who consented to be caged could keep their trappings of fineries and halls of rock, for the Arrak had a better life. The city was one that grew and spread freely, wandered about the clearing and into the woods as it willed. Trees would be cut down if space was needed and when clans left the trees would be replanted, their seeds carried from this place to spread to the far winds. Massive clan yurts were assembled, room enough for whole bands, while long-huts full of goods were set up in a huge circle, leaving an open clearing for stalls and goods to be laid forth for viewing. Here were treasures from half-a-world away, drawn in by the many clans and bands that travelled far and wide.

With Mirak at their head, the Kurhah rode to their ancestral grounds and began to assemble their camp. The Kurhah were a powerful clan, large and with great history, and so their grounds were kept well for them. Though no conflict was permitted within the clearing of Angetenar, that did not apply to outside beyond the forest edge. Thus the Kurhah were given free reign like all the other Great-Clans. Within hours the kraal of the Kurhah was fully assembled, her herds left to wander freely with the daubed markings unique to their clan. There was no thievery of elk in this place for it was not only difficult but sacrilege.

With his clan assembled and their camp prepared, Mirak set off with a group of his retainers. They were his khayhar, tent-guards, and each clan had numerous like them. Khayhar were selected for their size, for their skill with spear and bow, and for loyalty above all else. With them came several of the hunting hounds of the clan, always bound to follow their masters. In their plains regalia the band made for an imposing sight, beeling deeper into the ever changing city of Angetenar.

“May death take pause at your sight, Mirak il’Kurhah Zhaan.”

The warband halted before the speaker as they arrived at the metaphysical center of the city. The Great Ovoo and the compound around it dominated the center of Angetenar like a cancer, constantly in a state of growth. Around the ovoo stood the only true barriers found within the city and even they were an oddity. Wooden posts, no higher than a man’s knee, encircled the area of the shrine in a large, oblong ring. Each post was carved into the sneering face of an ancestor-spirit, teeth bared and eyes wide. They were the spirit guardians of this place and respect for them was mandated; all things had a soul and they were no different. The speaker was an older man, wizened by sunlight and life spent roughly. Though his robes were colorful and danced with geometric patterns, he himself seemed like old chewing leather spit out one too many times to dry.

It was a great honor to be speaking to him.

“Zawiah Shadhu,” called Mirak to the Ghost Talker, bowing his head low, “May time turn from you. You honor the Benya Kurhah with your greeting.”

Behind the Zhaan of the Kurhah the warband bowed while simultaneously unbinding their weapons. Spears and bows were thrust forward, tied together before entering the city in the first place, and the bundles were taken by the Shadhu one by one into the ring. With them set inside, consecrated by the spirit circle’s power, Zawiah stepped aside and allowed the band to pass. The group entered individually, taking a moment to bow their head at the small entrance into the circle, before waiting for the rest to all pass through. Even the hounds gave reverence to this place, trained well by their masters to respect the spirits of the world and their sacred places.

With Mirak at their head the band closed the distance towards the center, ignoring the numerous other spirit shrines and even their own clan’s ovoo; that would come later. The towering pile that formed the Great Ovoo stretched upwards before them, surrounded on all sides by the tents and yurts of their resident shadhu and his disciples. The ovoo itself was a man-made hill of stones and refuse, piled high towards the sky with boughs and poles thrusting from it festooned with blue or yellow dyed fabric. Amidst the rocks were strewn helmets, weapons, bone, and trophies from half-a-world away, given to the spirit of Angetenar. The ovoo was the center of it all, the body of the great spirit that represented all Arrak on the spiritual plane.

Mirak stepped forward and lifted from his hip the newest offering to be given to the ovoo of Angetenar. With reverent movements Mirak slowly unwrapped the object from its soft, blue trappings, to reveal a beautifully rounded stone. It was heavy and the size of a child’s head, found on the distant shore to the far north. With a humble nod Mirak pressed the stone to his forehead then lowered it to the pile, finding a snug place for it to lay. With the rock set he reached for the nearest pole and tied his linen upon it, making sure it was tightly fit to weather the worst storms. Content with his offering he stood and stepped away only to kneel and bow his head to the earth. His retainers followed suit while their dogs sat patiently behind them. Nearly five minutes passed in this time of prayer and reflection before the band stood to smile and give praise to the spirits and each other for this successful journey.

“At last, it is done! A long trip, most tiring, my Zhaan.”

“But well worth it! Many calfs were born healthy and strong; the wise-woman spoke rightly when she said the salt air of the blue-plains would birth them well.”

“Ah! But the sight of that vast place did my heart well; it was as the Mauda’a Tawil Jiilshaa, but ever more vast and holding the color of the sky! To ride upon it would be a gift.”

Mirak beamed at his brothers as they all burst into friendly conversation and laughter, discussing the journey at long last. It was considered an ill-omen to speak of a journey unfinished, practically begging for the ill-will of the world upon you. Death did not pause before weak men and the world took great strides to do harm to those who believed themselves immune. Talking freely for the first time in months, the warband moved back out away from the ovoo. The next step was their clan’s ovoo and the numerous family plots that surrounded it. This sacred place for the Kurhah held the dead of hundreds generations if the shamans were to be believed and the nature of that deathly presence was clear to see. Though the Arrak did not bury nor burn their people, it was wrong to leave a body completely untouched. Teeth, locks of hair, finger bones, and trinkets of personage were added to family ovoos where the bodies could not. Corpses were left to the wild, their soul free and unbound, while these little gifts were stolen away to be returned to the clan and the Arrak.

“Blessed day, at last I might be rid of my grandfather’s one good tooth. You died well, old man, but your tooth was no fine travelling companion. Did I tell you how he bit me from the otherside for carrying him undignified?!”

“Then you should not have stuffed it in the backside of your pants, fool! No wonder he bit you!”

The crowd burst into laughter as the warrior placed his grandfather’s tooth carefully into the crook of several stones. Despite the humor this was a sacrosanct occasion; even as they spoke the spirit of that old man was reunited with his long lost family. Mirak wondered of that moment, how beautiful it would be; to step into the spirit realm of your ancestors and be greeted by faces lost to you and others you never met. Though he would strive to make that as distant from the present as possible, Mirak would not despise its arrival.

The band remained there for some time, basking in the aura of their clan’s most sacred place. It was the belief of the Arrak that in doing so their families long past would hear them and join in the conversation, giving them more things to speak fondly of in the afterlife. Stories were told, deeds recounted, and words of love and longing were spoken to long lost family. The spirits were generous and great things, those of earth and rock and sky, but there was nothing more worthy of love and worship than family.

To the Arrak there were no gods; those were creatures for the caged-peoples to fawn over. Though their works were great and their powers mighty, they were no more worthy of worship than another man. May the Terrible Spirits continue in their misdeeds and leave the Arrak out of it for they already had all they could need.

A warm fire
Friends close at hand
Family at your back
And a tale on your lips

These things were best in life.


Some time ago…

A cloud of blood surged outwards, filling the little clutching grotto with its dark, arterial presence; another of the spawn lost its life in the clutches of its kin.

The clutch of vrool spawn slowly popped from their hatchery, one by one tearing themselves free from the lumpen blob that was their egg-sac. Numerous eggs, dozens if not hundreds, sat nestled in the soft confines of the clutch and after nearly two seasons having passed they had begun to hatch. The first that had pulled themselves free, ripping through the soft exterior of their eggs, had swiftly turned towards the clutch itself to tear and bite away at its surface. As with all vrool spawn there was an inherent panic about their actions fueled by a manic instinct for self preservation; if an egg did not hatch, its contents could not kill you. Nearly half of all vrool spawn died this way, aborted by their clutchmates before they were able to hatch.

During the tumultuous period of these initial hatchings the clutch-keepers of tyrants and powerful vrool would go acquire the respective sire so that they might observe. This could be an arduous swim indeed, as the tyrant might be far afield from his grotto. Nevertheless, it was the solemn duty of the clutch-keeper to alert their master of its rising and duty was one thing kept to if life was a valued commodity. In the past the vrool had found others of their own cold-blooded kind to fill the role but ever since the advent of slavery it had been found that warm-blooded concubines served as far better clutch-keepers. They were good at staying in one place, prone to being fond of repetitive tasks, and seemed to enjoy the fairly simple and light workload of a clutch-keeper. Akuan elves in particular were highly prized for their attention to detail and sensitive ears and smell; a notably skilled Akuan clutch-keeper could hear their charge being nibbled on by fish even from the other room.

Now, with the dread form of Kaarnesxaturl leering over the grotto, his surprisingly dedicated clutch-keeper remained back far and away; she had seen how voracious the spawn could be during the initial stages of their violent birth. The All-Tyrant, for his part, was far more intrigued.

This was his fifth clutching over the years and like all of the powerful vrool tyrants he was free to allow his spawn full reign on themselves. Some vrool, particularly the poorest of their ilk, suffered the misfortune of having to keep their eggs apart. As Kaarnesxaturl had learned, the policy of clutch-separation had been put in place by a number of tyrants beneath him in order to weaken the lesser classes; let them spawn numerous clutches that begin life small rather than letting them have the added edge at birth over the noble-born vrool who had fed well on their siblings. It was an overtly-civilized notion to the All-Tyrant and one he could hardly stomach yet the use of force to quell the behavior was likely to be a waste; let those petty lords waste their time with use trifles. To Kaarn, it was far better to have his kin act in the old ways before he had risen; there we too many things lost, he had come to realize, over the thousand year rule of his iron tentacle.

Nevertheless, there were more interesting things to observe than the pointless recollections of distant tyrants and their poorly managed realms. Four previous clutchings had gone quite well, although the fourth had produced no offspring to survive all the way to maturity; the largest, which had eaten all of its siblings, had then promptly died. The warlocks assured Kaarn it had nothing to do with his prime siring but instead that the idiotic whelp had simply torn its internal organs by feasting too thoroughly. Stupid thing best left dead, Kaarn had stated matter-of-factly, for he had no interest in the mentally unsound to carry on his name. Across the other three spawnings he had ten surviving offspring, each now large and dangerous. Some, of course, would always be the runts of their litter, but they yet carried his blood and name and that meant something in of itself. Here would be his last clutch for some time, Kaarn had considered, as he wished to see his youthful spawnlings grow into true terrors before siring more to replace them.

In the pit the violence had become all the more intense as all the eggs had now hatched or been butchered and devoured. A magnificent swarm of Kaarn’s spawn now tore into one another, the little beaks with limbs keeping maws wide over as tentacles lashed at one another to gain purchase. The tyrant had always enjoyed this part when the spawn became sluggish from stuffing their gullets. Though they had but two simple eyes to rely on, the other four yet ungrown, Kaarn swore he could see a fire in them that mirrored his own. A hearty, boiling chortle warbled from his bell, surging the water around him into tight whirlpools that rose up to press against the top of the cave’s ceiling and bubble away into nothingness.

At long last there were but three that remained, two locked in contest with one another and a third, smaller one seemingly content with devouring what was left of a slain spawn. That one in particular caught Kaarn’s eyes, all six rolling into place to glare down at the little creature. It was small, perhaps the smallest of all his spawn that had survived the initial conflict of siblings, but there was a cunning in its eyes, an awareness Kaarn couldn’t shake. It seemed to glare back, menacingly, and Kaarn could only help but return the glower. With that Kaarn hissed at his attendants and they came swimming, the clutch-keeper in particular loath to leave the All-Tyrant waiting at the completion of these duties.

“You have served well this cycle, Kaia, and for that you have earned a continued home in my halls. You may keep the room gifted to you for services rendered; your skills will be needed soon, with my oldest sirelings no doubt soon to seek their own.”

The Akuan woman seemed to offer a begrudging smile, partly appreciating what it meant to simply enjoy a room so freely but also entirely unexcited for the arrival of Kaarn’s offspring. They were a violent lot and often looked upon her far less favourably than the tyrant himself. To him she was a prize, a trophy, and a useful one at that; to them she was an object to be tortured at their convenience. Nevertheless, she bore it all with an unfortunate grin.

One of Kaarn’s retainers, an aggressively corpulent monstrosity by the name of Rawg, pulled his way through the circular entranceway and seemed to flop down onto the ground. Baring no weapons or armor in this most sacred of places, he instead simply bore the threat of his size and powerful body. As one of the primary bodyguard retainers of Kaarn he was trusted with a level of freedom about the Ziggurat not afforded to most and often served as a herald for recent arrivals.

“My intrusion holds purpose, Lord; I present the Warlock Xes, arrived to offer sacred duties over the successful spawn.”

Just as Rawg had said, the Warlock-Lord Xes swam gently through the circular aperture that led into the spawning chamber. Unlike the collosal Rawg who needed to force his body through the entrance, the diminutive and shrivelled warlock was more than adequately sized to swim about the place with ease. Clutching a lance made of long coral bound with all manner of trinkets, the witcheries of Xes seemed to emanate out from him to affect the entire room. Even Rawg was quick to make his exit, reviling the presence of the warlock and remaining only until his master gave him freedom to leave. Kaia, for her part, was always unperturbed by warlocks as most non-vrool were. They were dangerous, without a doubt, and their attentions were nothing to bring upon yourself but that was no different from any other vrool. She stood away from the whole exchange and simply watched and waited.

“All-Tyrant, I bid thee salutations and congratulations from all my coven; another successful spawning is worthy of praise, especially for a vrool of your considerable years. We certainly wouldn’t want a repeat of the fourth spawning, after all. Luckily, you are as virile as our great creator, Kaarn.”

Kaarnesxaturl scowled at the warlock knowing full well his words carried no good will within them. Though he had come to respect the witchling creature over the years he knew Xes had a vicious sense of humor and cared little for the decorum by which most vrool behaved around their rightful overlord. The warlock had, however, proven his use time and time again over the years and Kaarn had no interest in altering that situation; let the warlock enjoy his coven so long as he continued to provide the tyrant with what he needed. Two tentacles bade the warlock closer and the wizened fish closed the distance with ample speed belied by his looks and with none of the hesitation many other creatures showed when around Kaarn.

“Three whelps survived, Warlock; an acceptable number. Better than the last time, certainly.”

The trio had finally lost to the ravages of their conflict, the initial energy burst that all vrool spawn surged with during their hatching having left them as they fell to the bottom of the pit to rest. Their beaks opened and closed rapidly as their little bodies seemed to engorge themselves even further with water, their gills small and incapable of retaining enough oxygen to support continued aggression. It was a good thing vrool spawn did run out of energy, of course, for if they didn’t there would certainly be nothing left in the sea. Xes crawled into the grotto and plucked up the little beasts, making sure to keep tentacle far from the business end. With a tentacle-full of tentacles and beaks, Xes pulled himself free of the grotto and carried the would-be princelings to a depression in the spawning cavern meant for just such an occasion. A cut out led down and out into the open sea and through it, a connection to the siren call of Vo and Ku herself, the center of all the ocean waters. With that the Warlock shut his eyes and began to chant in the holy vonu, summoning the eyes of the many gods the Vrool called their own, but most of all to the creator of them all.

In the shadows of the room six eyes watched intently. The black vrool stared with lidless at the ritualized spiritual birth of three new vrool. Something had drawn the entity to this place in this most auspicious of moments, the pangs of destiny and of prophesied life yearning it closer. Though it seemed to flow into the shadows unbound by physical limitations of shape and form its essence filled the space most utterly and the gibbering warlock at the center of the room responded to the presence. The aura of black depths brought heaviness into the chamber as the witchling raised its keening calls higher and higher, the words in vonu beginning to flow together as one.

Yes, this certainly had happened before.

Mawar, the Black Vrool, the separated limb of Klaarungraxus, felt the furor of memories past flow into its mind. It was unused to such complex thoughts, its mind once more accustomed to concepts rather than solid things. Here was the actual happenings of the world, fed to it through its own senses rather than as information pinged to it by the overmind. It was, in a sense, a sub-overmind all its own. Though the gentle grasp of a mind far greater still tethered Mawar to that distant realm of Saxus, in this moment it thought utterly to itself. This happening had been predicted.

One of the vrool spawn seemed to react to it all, wriggling violently in the unseen dark aura of the avatar of deepest depths. New energy flowed into it and the form darted forward from its spot, interrupting the ritual to dive towards nearest prey. A woman, cursed with only four limbs, was instantly attacked by the creature and blood was drawn. With little effort it was restrained, the master of this cavern acquiring the wayward clutchling and returning it to the warlock unharmed. The woman, though startled, seemed overtly unharmed; it had seemed to only draw blood with its aggression. Mawar watched with fascination, having previously experienced great curiosity where mortal lives were concerned. What had provided fresh motivation to the little beast and why had it attacked the Akuan so far from it when a perfectly viable meal saw gibbering above it?

Mawar’s attention closed with the ritual as it began in earnest once more and a touch of destiny caught its mind. The quiet hum of Ku called to Mawar for action and the tentacle-mind-made-more felt a pull towards an idea beginning to form in the depths of its thoughts. Uttering a poem known only to the sea under its breath the soft tides began to twist and turn the cloud of blood from the Akuan woman towards the little princeling to be. As its name was chanted into the holy tides of the great blue Vo, so too was it echoed by Mawar, the blood of the Akuan woman offered up as a final gift of sustenance to it. He was named Kremmesxaturl by the warlock Xes and he would have a destiny like no other vrool before or after. Those cunning, deadly eyes opened once more, peering at the world around them with a new found awareness unlike any other.

In the present day…

Krem peered casually into the distance over the vast expanse of Aopoa. The immense, continent sized reef stretched out in all directions as far as his six eyes could see. All across that tumultuous landscape the lights of growing undersea civilization could be seen, glowing vibrantly. Even well far afield from the urbanized center that had grown up around Kaarn’s ziggurat the light of villages and strongholds could be seen. Bioluminescent flora was gathered and stacked in tight bundles, used as makeshift torches as fire would be used above. Their lights, even this far out, could be seen on clear days when little refuse and particulates filled the seas. Krem let out a gentle rumble as he thought on their inhabitants. Some would be vrool of course, be they high-born or low-born, living out in the wilds either as their own personal fiefdoms or as servants to greater vrool; of these creatures Krem had little interest. Since the admittance of free Akua into the realm of Aopoa so that they might worship at Ku, many of those lights were shining from villages of warm-blooded folk. Now they were far more enticing curiosities.

Krem had met plenty of warm-bloods in his time; since he was no serious contender for the throne as the Thirteenth Spawn of Kaarn, he had considerable freedoms to go about his business. He was smaller than nearly all of his kinsmen but larger than the vast majority of low-born vrool and many nobles. That size difference meant little in the ziggurat under the watchful gaze of their sire and his retainers but allowed Krem a great deal of leeway when dealing with lesser vrool. He had harmed and even slain a good number of vrool even in his relatively few years and felt fear of a far smaller number of his race. They were terribly slow-witted, at least normally, and despite his kind’s general capacity for clever thought it required much deliberation for their many-minds to come to an adequate conclusion on anything other than violence. It was warm-bloods that Krem found the more fascinating of the two races.

“Pau hana, Krem, an’ you come foa’ dis place? What's got an akamai fish like you lidat?”

Krem did not respond immediately, nor did he turn. The voice was so obviously Kaia, the heavy accent of his Vonu more than enough even without the inflection of her voice. The Akuan woman had been his shadow ever since his spawning, a baggage that he had hefted with all the derision that came with it. She was his keeper, assigned to him through the commands of the wretched witchling Xes and his father. Oh, the poisonous barbs that had fallen upon his bell for having a warm-blooded keeper. It was the fire of his youth that had planted those shackles so heavily upon his tentacles, the large scar across Kaia’s clavicle made by his very own beak before his overmind had even formed. Regardless of all the disdainful mockery he had received, however, Krem simply couldn’t bring himself to kill her and rid himself of her presence. The akuan woman had been with him since his earliest memories and had been his closest confidante even during the pangs of youth. She had never been fond of when he brought torn up fish and sea-mammals as gifts for her, a proclivity he only recently came to understand, but she was there nonetheless. It was times like these when they were alone where she let her Ku’Ano tongue speak true, dispensing with all the pleasantries she made herself use among less discerning crowds.

“I am watching.”

Kaia closed the distances with the huge cephalopod and stood beside him. There they remained for a long while, peering out across the clear ocean depths at the world around them. Such moments were far from uncommon between the pair, the furtive mind of Krem prone to bouts of melancholy that Kaia was obligated to bear witness to. As they remained unmoving but for the gentle push and pull of the tides one tentacle-mind stretched forward to slowly grab onto Kaia’s forearm, curling around it before simply sitting there passively. Kaia, for her part, moved her arm up to gently pat the dangerous creature on what amounted to his hand, reminding him she was there. Though he hated to admit it, particularly to himself, Kaia had fulfilled a role unknown to vrool; she had nearly been a caring mother for him. A black rage began to overwhelm his heart as he noticed his pitiable act of affection before Kaia’s words, as they always could, pulled him out of that dark abyss.

“Any kine help I can give?”

The huge princeling vrool let one eye rotate down to look at his surrogate mother. This was not the first time she had melted the ice of his heart with her compassion, an oddity among vrool and unexplainable even among her kind. How could she care for one of his race, afterall, with such motherly affections? Surely his species did not deserve nor desire any of it. Perhaps it was that she had never had a child of her own, or some quirk of her mind lost on the vast majority of intelligent species. No matter the reason, she fulfilled that role gracefully and with not one demand of her pseudo-son. As always, his shell cracked quicker than he would like.

”I am lost, Kaia. I drown in my father’s halls.”

The kindly akuan gave his tentacle a squeeze just as he began to retract it, once more doing exactly what was needed to remind him of her comforting presence. She had always been good at that, even when his mind was first forming. Other than that first bite he had never attacked her, the reason why unknown to even his father’s warlocks. If he had he would have likely been harmed in return as a lesson not to damage his father’s property. So his tentacle remained, holding onto the woman who was by almost all rights his mother. She would know what to say; she always did.

“No can live like dat, likkle He’e. Moke i’a like you, choke thinking, you should be free.”

“You are more deserving.”

The woman laughed in that way only creatures of the sea could; it was never as full as that of air-breathers but it was hearty nevertheless. Somehow Kaia had managed to develop laugh lines living in the world that she did. To that she kicked off the floor to swim up onto his shoulder, patting his head like he was a child. It was a behavior she did somewhat frequently, though only when they were alone, and always when she thought he had said something childishly foolish but devilishly kind.

“You know dats no how dat works, He’e. Besides, if I was free, no could be here say nice words to you. Dass why. When I float, prayin’ big Klaar heself put me back so I go hana hou.”

At that Krem turned all eyes on the left side of his head to look at Kaia; he regretted in that moment how rarely he allowed himself those moments of weakness. The mockery of his siblings had been enough to stop him from looking at her for guidance and security and even now, grown into a dangerous bull vrool, he could not break from their beaks. Right now, however, he would give himself the luxury.

“What then?”

“Hmm, kay den. I say you go,” mumbled Kaia, seemingly thinking deeply about her suggestion, “Aurite, yea, you up and go. No moa stayin’ heya’; make youself free. Momona fo’ da picking, your life be, He’e.”

Krem rumbled his acknowledgement as his other three eyes stared out across the sea. He certainly could do exactly that; there was nothing holding him back from that freedom. His siblings came and went as they pleased, as he had plenty. He just always returned. Many vrool, particularly those who were so far from their sire’s throne, left to make room for themselves in the world. Why not he? Though more laconic than the rest of his race, and perhaps more clever, and baggaged with considerably more affection than other vrool, what truly made him so different that he could not? Nothing. A pang of awareness hit him, a thought he had had numerous times before but relegated to the depths of his mind every time.

“You will join me.”

To that, Kaia was uncharacteristically quiet. His three left eyes stared at her, glowering with an internal glow that demanded an answer of her. In a deeply unsettling moment, she turned away. Krem’s heart fell in his chest, the massive organ thumping so powerfully that the water vibrated around him. After a long while she turned back, true sadness marring her visage and the closest thing to tears an Akua could experience underwater forming in her eyes. A smile broke through despite it all as she leaned in and hugged him around the head, his eyes remaining open despite the closeness.

“You know I can’t. I wish I could.”

Her short response and the change from her less freely used Ku’Ano accent to one more managed and restrained told him everything. The unfortunate tidings of that realization that dawned on him were enough to make even a vrool weep, if only they could. Instead he simply sank inwards, his eyes deepening in the mass of muscle and water-sacs that amounted to his skull. It gave the monstrosity a pensive look, as if his eyes were slightly closed in thought. He knew full well what she meant. She was the property of the All-Tyrant and Kaarn parted with nothing that he had personally gained. Krem reflected pensively on the idea; perhaps all mortals had to leave their mothers eventually. This was not a time for weakness on his part for it would be Kaia who would suffer far more than he. It was she who was chained here, not he.

“Then I will return.”

Kaia forced out a smile, a small laugh following suit as she set her chin down on the top of his head. As they floated there several more tentacles rose up to lay gently across Kaia’s back, holding her passively; it was the closest thing to a hug the pair had ever experienced. They remained for a long while, the gentle words of Ku emanating from the deep pit where the urstone lay just off in the distance. It was a solemn song that undersea evening, as if the ocean’s center knew their pain and mourned their parting. No mother should ever need say goodbye to their child, though every mother would. It was a story even the ocean itself could shed a tear for. In that moment dark things watched, humbled by two beings’ parting. When before had mortals wrought such empathy in the hearts of greater things? Perhaps it was the absurdity of it all; a vrool boy to leave home an akuan mother to say goodbye. This moment would be remembered in more minds than just the pair who suffered it.
Krem’s heart beat powerfully as that moment reached its crescendo; he would leave and he would return, greater still than what he was now. The hot blood in his veins, known to no vrool but Krem, demanded it.

Far from that distant setting the black vrool Mawar mourned. Even when she had been but a submind of the vaster entity that was Klaarungraxus, when it was known simply to itself as Right-Forward Two-Down, it had felt a fascination with the mortals of Galbar. Now, with her mind more her own than ever before, Mawar felt more for their troubles than even Klaar had ever felt possible. The surprisingly lithe form of Mawar floated melancholic on the waves, keening with the song of Ku as the pair, ocean and avatar, wailed for the loss of a son for a mother.

This act of loss simply could not go unanswered.

Mawar and Ku, two voices of the ocean, rose their gentle hum into a cacophony of oceanic voices. The dirge of the sea rose up, an orchestra belting out a tune of both woeful desolation and absolute love. In the oceans just west of Kubrajzar a massive maelstrom formed, water from all directions being twisted into that single point. Huge black clouds gathered in the skies, crackling with lightning and thunder before billowing forth enough water to fill every lake on the surface of Galbar. Waves rose and crashed the size of mountains, churning the surface into a violent mess.

Despite the magnificent furor of the storm above, the ocean below was the complete opposite side of the proverbial coin. All the energy that churned the surface and drew in millions of gallons of water filled the sea bed with nutrients and the richness of life. Though the surface roiled above, giving the image akin to a stormy day on the surface, there was a refreshing current in the water that filled the seafloor with hope. The storm was utterly massive, large enough to blanket an entire archipelago in its dark embrace, but it brought the gift of devotion as the ultimate symbol of a mother’s loss and love.

With that the storm began to move, slowly and inexorably, eastward to the coast of Kubrajzar. Though the storm certainly seemed ferocious in nature, wherever land and life was the eye of the storm followed. Gentle rains and soft winds, spears of golden or silvery light thrusting through the clouds, would herald a mother’s love and pain to the world. For as any good mother, though they felt hurt and pain in their hearts for their children’s loss and suffering, they would never let it harm those they loved. And Mawar, for her part, understood the pains of a mother with distinct clarity. To the Akua it would be named Makuakane Makuahine; the Mother’s Heart.


The mild breeze that whispered through the dell hung like a blanket over the low valley walls and floor, caressing all within the confines of that long and narrow bowl with its demure embrace. With the sun peaking out from above the mountainside to reveal the deep emerald grasses and mosses that hugged and sprouted on both rock and soil in all directions. Copses of trees stood invitingly, the creatures of the morn stirring in the arboreal abodes made by those guardian regiments of oak and ash and thorn. In the distance the little splotches of white, black, and orange grazed, the tell-tale signs of a cattle herd breaking their fast in those far off glens. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the epitome of a Sinn Dhein morning.

On a solitary stone, his most favoured of perches in this particular scrap of land, sat the bedraggled form of Gwndyric. He was truly a specimen of his people despite the dishevelled nature of his early morning waking. Bright orange-red hair stood in a fiery dance of awkwardly standing fleece while the facial hair at his chin, cheeks, and above his lips seemed poorly maintained and hardly trimmed. Though a little dirt clung to him he was mostly clean and seemed more unkempt more than filthy. A skein of tattoos clung to his skin, bright blue in hue and depicting curling and twisting iconography least of which was the huge solar ring that hung above his heart.

Most notably of all, of course, was that he sat completely and utterly naked.

The youthful carl sat on the smoothen stone, its well sanded down surface magnificent for nude setting. With that bracing morning breeze Gwndyric seemed contented, eyes mostly closed but for slits as the early light glared into his vision. His muscular torso gleamed pale and pink but for the wandering tattooed art across his body, only slightly tanned despite his constant days under the blazing sun. A solemn groan followed by a grunting sigh escaped his lips before the man leaned forward and spat a large glob of phlegm onto to ground before him. The spot was browned from a long history of Gwndyric spitting in that very spot and the newest glob only confirmed further his passion for the little smudge. A single bark from his hound caught his attention, Gwn turning over his shoulder to observe the large dog.

His wolfhound, of course, was a mighty beast indeed, the colossal dog sitting with her forelegs crossed and her head up to face him. He chortled at her as she stared at him, the look she gave one of disinterested pity.

“Ye'r th' ainlie loyal boot in mah lee, aren't ye, ay' Kenna?”

The bitch gave a simple woof back, her tail flopping back and forth twice before she set her head back down on her forelegs and simply closed her eyes. Gwn sighed before looking toward the laid out cloth of his great plaid, roughed up and clearly tumbled in. Already the warmth was leaving the poor and pitiable blanket, Gwn’s pair of breaches flopped in a pile. He turned, looking down into the vale to see a single pale star catching his eye. Ah, the lovely bairn who had been the apple of his eye the eve before. Now he saw her striding away, free as a bird, likely ne’er to look upon him again. Another sigh escaped his lips before he stood, stretching himself out in all directions; the women of the clans never were ones for simply falling for a man and forsaking kith and kin for a new love. Shame.

Gwndyric gathered up his things and pulled them about his person, taking no time to go through them despite the hypothetical chance of her robbing him of one of his possessions. Once or twice before a woman he had tumbled with in the night had made off with a few of his things, though never had it been enough to make much worry over. Clothes could, of course, always be replaced and if the items were truly worth keeping they could be simply regained. Hardly something to worry about, nevertheless. His thoughts were stolen from him with the rumble of his stomach, growling as loud as the hound by his side. Now that was an issue that could not be ignored.

With that thought Gwndyric belted his plaid across his chest and sheathed his sword before snagging up shield and spear, hauling them over shoulder and into hand, and went trodding off down the hillside.

The great stag stood in the middle of the clearing, head down as it grazed on the fresh, dewy grasses that flowed across the ground. In the tall grasses and vine-strewn shrubbery of the underbrush, Gwndyric remained hidden. A gentle whisper continued from his lips, a whistle or hum more than anything, that kept the would-be hunter downwind. With the risk of being scented next to nil, Gwn went about his business with the patience and laxness of a very bored saint. Using his fingernail Gwndyric slowly but surely worked a stone down to a long, thin spike. The flakes and shards came off like peels from an orange as he worked it all away, adding in a throaty warble to his humming that made the earth give way like clay. At long last his dart was complete and the huntsman made effort to inspect his intended weapon. Seemed good enough, Gwndyric considered, before lifting the stone thorn to his lips to lick and cover with spittle. Content with its readiness, Gwn rolled onto his stomach and stared dead down at the stag.

His warbling hum changed then, slowly warping into a high pitched whine. The wind suddenly no longer flowed in his direction, the Howling no longer commanding it to fly toward him. With a pleased grunt he sucked the dart into his mouth, only the point of the deadly object thrusting from his lips. With lips pursed Gwn turned that high pitched whine into a screech, catching the attention of the stag. Just as it began to realize the potential danger, Gwn let loose the dart from his lips and it launched like a lightning bolt, diving towards his quarry. One wet smack and the dart hit the stag square between the eyes, burrowing deep into its brain and dropping it to the floor, stone dead. Gwn let out a pleased little chuckle before rising to his feet and striding over to the slain beast.

The butchering of the stag was simple work, Gwn smashing a stone into a functional cutting tool to do the carving, butchering, and skinning. Leaving as little remains as possible, Gwn wrapped up as much of the meat into two rough satchels made from the hide. The bones, of course, would have to remain there but Gwn was sure the local band could make good use of it. With his well-earned gains held in satchels hung from either side of his spear, Gwn went trotting off towards the encampment he’d sighted during his climb down into the valley.

Though it took a short, brisk walk to reach the copse of trees where the camp had been made, Gwndyric had little difficulty finding his way to it. A dozen huts and then some sat spread about mostly at random in a clearing of the trees where the overgrowth seemed lightest. It was a common spot for this particular band to set up, the low stacked stones and dirt walls that made up the lower half of their huts an indication of repeat use. A large bonfire, now burned out down to coals, sparked and sizzled as the tribe’s folk went about their business.

“Awright, pal Gwndyric; ne'er thought a'd see ye aboot sae earlie th' morns', nor sae thoroughly clothed. Ah trust ye spent yer nicht up oan th' hill weel. Whit's brought ye doon fae yer nest tae oor humble grove?”

Gwndyric turned at the pronouncement of his name, immediately noticing the local chieftain marching towards him. Gwndyric rapidly dropped his spear and shield, raising two fists into a fighting stance immediately. The older man raised his hands, clearly showing that he had no intent to cause a scuffle, and Gwn lowered his hands warily. Though he had little to fear from the old man, of course, he had very little interest in having another repeat situation where, in his drunkenness, he was beaten severely. With the situation seemingly defused, Gwn reached down to grab up his spear and twisted it around to drop the bags of meat before the chieftain.

”Glad ye seem tae hae pat bygones behind us, Laird Griogair. A've brought bridie fur yer spits, ah think, tae mak' up fur oor last troubles. How's yer daughter, anyhoo?”

Laird Griogair seemed to throw a snarling glare towards Gwndyric at his last comment but let the nosey attempt at bothersome rhetoric slide past him. With one pointed finger the highland Chieftain silenced the matter, even Gwn knowing when best to let his tongue stop wagging. Griogair nLaichlwn knelt low and untied the bags of hide, kept tight by sinew-made twine. The offal had been left back amongst the bones, leaving for Griogair and his host of warriors and womenfolk a fine collection of choice cuts from the large buck. A beast of that side could feed the tribe for a week, or a day if feasting was on the mind. Nevertheless, it was a fine gesture and one that salved the wound of Gwndyric’s bedding of until recently virgin daughters at least somewhat.

“Aye, that wull dae laddie; ah hud wee dreems fur treasures beyond a braw meal tae be kept wi`in yer bags. Th' seer, bless him fur his foresight beyond well n’ beyond mortal ken, kens yer value mair than me, that's fur certain. Keep some fur yersel' as a'm sure ye hud planned; ah jalouse ye hadn't expected oor fires oot sae earlie, lest ye hud awready cooked yersel' breakfast.”

Gwndyric scoffed at the man as if the words insulted him to his core but the poorly hidden smirk at the edge of his lips betrayed his true intentions. The younger man broke into a laugh soon shared, at least somewhat heartily, by the Chieftain before leaning down to spear two good sized cuts. With his butchered foe so rightfully impaled, Gwn stood and made for the fire. With little effort he toed several logs into the fire’s grave and leaned down to inspect it. A simple clearing of his throat followed shortly after, quickly accompanied by a keening howl. The final touch of his sorceries, so edified upon him by the diligent tutoring of the Seer himself, came in a very unique Gwn touch.

“Fuckin' light ye glaikit thing.”

With the appropriate application of several fitting curses, the dead flames roared back to life. Gwndyric’s face blazed with light and a pleased snarl revealed surprisingly pure-white teeth as the inferno danced in the reflections of his eyes. Standing and swinging spear to bare, Gwn held aloft the two stuck savory meats above the flame and waited patiently. Cooking, of course, held little interest to the fiery warrior but ne’er would it be said that Gwndyric relied on others. Though it lacked the garnish and fine flavourings of a well-trained woman’s touch, Gwn was pleased more than enough by meat of any kind. Leaving them bloody enough for his taste, the bearded brave pulled his breakfast from the fire and set about partaking with knife and hands. Soon enough the meal was devoured, the one rib bone from the second cut even broken into for the marrow. As his meal ended he saw a number of nLaichlwn men returning with the bones, no doubt having found them where he’d left them on the return from their morning ranges.

“Ach, keek thare! Laird-o’-Mony-Breeks his-se, Gwndyric returns tae us, anither beauty vanquished!”

Gwndyric groaned under his breath as he wiped the juices of his morning meal from his face, wiping his hands clean on his breeches before turning to meet the collected mass of menfolk. They were primarily youths, the braves of the band, and each and every one of them had enjoyed a go at Gwndyric at least once or twice in their time. Where kyne was concerned every man, woman, and child of the Sinn Dhein was a fighter and the chosen student of the Seer himself was a prime target for challenges of many kinds. The small hunting band closed with him, patting him on the shoulder in friendly if aggressive greeting as each had their moment to square off with Gwn. Kenna, whom had previously been enjoying the smells of the temporary village, seemed to close in then to striking distance from his human companion.

”Hail, fare waither friends, ah see ye hae fun mah mornin' efforts 'n' made thaim yer ain. Na fashes, thae; ah hud meant tae pick up th' slack fur ye, anyhow.”

“Screw ye, boaster! We fun th' beast, slew it, 'n' pult aff tis carcass a' oan oor ain. Soonds lik' mair cheap blether o' a druid's student tae me. Neist thing ye ken, he'll be saying he murdurred oor mornin' meal as weel! Laird o' a' hunters, he is noo!”

“Ah suppose that's how come ye dinnae hae ony bridie wi' ye, eh eejit? weel, quit ye'r blether, fur none o' mah wurds ur boast. Ah swear oan mah kyne 'n' mah spear that ah kin throw farther 'n' truer aye than ony o' ye lot, wizard's tricks or naw ta.”

With that the gauntlet was thrown and the band made quick pace towards the edge of the treeline. A number of womenfolk and older fellows plus the stripling children of the tribe merrily joined, bound to take some thrill from a challenge. Though he was not of their particular tribe, Gwndyric was well known as an adopted member of the clan nLaichlwn and his feats, often told from valleys far afield, were still yet known to them. To see him in action themselves was, no doubt, something worth taking time from the day for. With the crowd gathered and the warriors having set out a wicker shield in the distance as the target, a line of scrimmage was formed. Each young warrior hefted their weapons, a spear in their right hand with their shields set aside to help balance. With a call from the crowd the throwing began, each lad tossing their spear as far as their arm could carry it. Though some fell short the vast majority struck their target, landing at the edges of the posted up shield and either penetrating partially or bouncing, having not carried enough force to the end of their flight. One particularly large boy, a truly gargantuan fellow, used the ogre strength no doubt bequeathed upon him by his monstrous parentage to hurl his spear straight into the target and only just off center, penetrating so deep the bronze socket of the spearhead was no longer visible.

“Best that throw, wee laddie.”

Just as Gwn was about to make his toss that final stab at his pride got to him. Teeth ground like a mountainside coming down and he shot a deadly glance the way of the larger brave. With a grunt he hefted his spear, testing its weight in his hands. It was longer than most Sinn Dhein spears by a good half or more, the source of his epithet Langspear, and would have made for a poor throwing weapon in the hands of a different man. Nevertheless, in his mighty paws it was a weapon worthy of heroes. Gwndyric offered a single prayers to the Gods the Seer had told him so much about and loosed his weapon, shield still on his arm giving extra weight to his motion and credence to the quality of his throw; no unskilled thrower could make their mark with such awkward baggage binding their arm, after all.

“Hah! Th' peely-wally missed his throw something pure mental; look, he tossed it clear o' th' shi-”

With tongue swallowed down the throat of his most recent detractor, Gwn raised a hand above his eyes to stop the glare of the sun from interfering with watching the weapon’s travel. It was true, of course, what the brave said; the spear sailed into the distance, well above the target, but did not simply land shortly beyond as if Gwndyric had missed his intended target. Across the glen, nearly two hundred meters in the distance, the spear found its mark. A large oak was speared directly in the knot, the Langspear vibrating violently at the impact. The crowd stared for a moment before bursting into wild cheers, knowing full well that Gwn had never intended to hit the shield in the first place. As final insult to his morning foes, Gwn drew his bronze hacking sword and launched it end-over-end at the shield, the point driving all the way through to the guard. With that he stood, his one free hand on his hip, pride swelling in his breast as silence was all that emanated from the band of young warriors.

“A'richt, eejit, noo gang git yer spear.”

Gwn’s pride deflated in that instant at Laird Griogair’s taunting jibe, realizing full well that he now had to show his backside all the way across the glen to the tree in which his spear was buried. After several seconds of deep frowning Gwndyric smiled and allowed himself a light chuckle. With that he hopped into a low jog, thumping down through the grasses and across the silvery creek that parted the glen and separated him from his spear, his faithful hound Kenna padding behind him.

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