Dawn of Worlds (Game Thread)

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At long last, Therax returned to his children, who had multiplied greatly since he last lid eyes upon them. "Father..." Therax was pleased to hear them speak to him again, they broke away from their crystal flowers and surrounded their progenitor. "We have stood strong, as you ordered, but we have heard whispers. Strange, tiny creatures have told a sample of us promises of great power-"

"Do not listen." Therax restrained a forceful tone as he beckoned his children to follow him towards the entrance to the Mobius Wells. He did not want to stifle his children's will to interpret their own fate, but to leave them without guidance was to offer them the lesser gods. So, as the god drifted down into the pit, he spoke of the Maxims. Telling the Therax'kin phrases to live by, so they do not become such easy prey.

With Difarius' avatar leaving them alone, Therax gestured to the cave around them. "This shall be your home. Flourish here, spread as far as you can."

"We shall, father." The Therax'kin broke into their most basic form and attached themselves to the walls of the cave, forming great pillars of cystal throughout the open chambers. Therax again heard the murmur of whispers, the Therax'kin again having a great debate. Then, they spoke again, this time in more of a chorus than a select voice. "This is Shard, where we are one."

Therax smiled, seeing the reference to his crown, from where the Therax'kin were born. Leaving them once again, but with assurance that they had the power and guidance they needed, Therax returned to his high place above the world.

Obviously, Thalusai was not content to dwell within the forests he had spread across the world. Therax took it upon himself to remind the swarm that others would not sit idly by and let it spread. So, he again stuck his fingers into the ground and commanded the earth to rise, creating more mountaintops in the north. Then, the god bellowed out a mighty wind that cast the mountains forever in ice. Once the tops were frozen, he turned to the surrounding land, continuing the mighty wind that froze the ground to the point where it would rob life of anything taller than grass if it tried to grow there.

When the wind left him, Therax stepped back and saw the frigid border he had made, and it was good.

His time spent among the people he had created had been nothing if not enlightening. They had found nothing wrong with him (naturally), and simply thought he had gone mad. Oluf's response to this was a fairly reasonable, he thought.

He created a tempest, not a large one built to destroy. A tiny one, in the center of his palm. The Seraphim were starting to believe it was THEY who had gone mad. Oluf could now only roll his eyes in frustration. He clapped his hands, smashing the ball of wind. Franz dropped to his knee first, followed by the rest.

The next few weeks were more of a blur than anything else. Most tried to convince him that he should use his divine power, to help them move forward! To stop famine, sickness, age, even DEATH forever!

It broke his heart every time he turned them down. He couldn't change their anatomy, without ascending them. And they weren't ready, no matter how much luxury and finery they showered upon him. Though he found he was quite partial to the lute...

One day, he was told the tale of Kaiden and Matilda. He weeped for a year before he returned from the woods, and even then only his closest advisers were allowed anywhere near him. His sulking continued unabated, to the immortal it had only been the blink of an eye. He barely noticed his friends begin to turn grey.

Time felt like it was slowing to a crawl between the Two Pubs. The large oakwood interior of the South Pub had changed little save for the patrons. They had their stories to tell and Shinem was all too enthused for it. Hell, he'd pour the bard a mug of his finest to loosen their tongues. After so much time to himself, one feels lonely.

The loneliness was what led the Rummaker to 'apprentice' some wayward souls; rather he'd keep them around to speak of things in exchange for booze, but he'd be glad to tell them about its great powers. Other times he'd fib about some great finding and draw people from across the world, but it would be too soon to do that; giving the same idea to swallow over and over would have people start doubting his stories of the First Alcohol.

Oluf was beginning to learn to swallow his sadness, make a small place for it in his heart. He'd have to keep it to the end of either time or himself...

But gods did alcohol help.

He'd come to the same pub once a week, spin a tale from nothing, Damsels being saved from the Frostborn was always a favorite. The tale of Paladin's victories over the Endless Horde was also inspiring for the people.

As time passed, he began to notice an odd, un-winged man hanging about. After his... fourth(?) drink, he decided he'd try chatting this man up.

"Good evening, sir. Can I get you a drink?"

The Rummaker's eyes perked up. He noticed a man that appeared... strange. Strange, yet oddly familiar.

"Oh yea!" he said enthusiastically. Nevermind that he knew how to make the booze, conversation was a godse- (er....) a himself-send. "Times like these you can hardly see interesting people here. Most go off on a merry quest or something. I'm Shinem." He shook the man's hand.

"Ah, and I'm Olufunmilola. Most call me Oluf." Oluf got the bartenders attention with his free hand, turns out Shinem was stronger than most. And the lack of wings... was he like Kortence and himself?

"So, what do you do for a living, if you don't mind my asking?"

Shinem laughed, "Oh, I make booze! In fact I make all the booze in the world!"

Some of the Pub patrons chuckled at the Rummaker's remark, finding it hilarious in spirit.

Oluf, meanwhile, cocked an eyebrow and looked around the room. Either a god, new species, or... gods knows what else. He just grinned, getting the bartenders attention.

"Two of your strongest. If he claims to make all the booze, let's see if he can drink it too!"

"Ha, you're in for a treat then!" The Rummaker exclaimed as he headed in the backroom of the pub before returning with a large blue bottle. Clear cyan liquid came out and filled two glasses.

"Been working on this for close to twenty years.." Shinem exclaimed as he handed one of the glasses to Oluf. "Captured the breath of life from one of those Frost-folk and distilled it with some special things from the north."

The Rummaker gave a word of cheers before clinking the glasses together and drank the alcohol down in one gulp. He then started to laugh a little. "I have never served this until now, and I'm going to enjoy what wonder will come from this!" He broke into another fit of laughter as he felt the effects of the drink getting to him. Glad to know it's strong enough to souse a god.

Instinctively, he reached for the bottle again to pour another two glasses. "Here! Have another glass!" He exclaimed.

After a moment's hesitation, Oluf downed the drink quickly, and took the next bottle. It took almost more than he had to not gag on the stuff, but he could feel the effect already.

"Alright, let's make this a challenge. Let's see who can drink more of the stuff!" Oluf raised his glass, and downed it quickly, a quick shudder following.

"I'll drink to that!" Shinem said as he polished off the new glass, before refilling both of them. Four more drinks into the 'challenge,' the other patrons came forth wanting a glass of the strange alcohol. The Rummaker felt gregarious and poured glasses of the cyan liquor. Words were being said, but it was hard to tell what others were saying due to a constant ringing in his ears and the insistent image of some... some old comrade.

The winged patrons were either knocked over unconscious or laughing like... something that laughs a lot - from a single drink. But Shinem and Oluf were still coherent. And the blue bottle was only half-empty. From the back of his head the Rummaker knew he said something, but it was getting harder and harder to know what he said by the ninth set of glasses.[/quote]

********

The gods woke up, and Shinem could feel a throbbing in his head with another serious gap in his memory; Oluf and he were drinking, then some of the winged barflies joined in, and then... a blank. His gaze turned to the doorway that led outside the Pub wondering if there was any sign of what happened. His jaw slackened as he took the outside in.

"What in three hells happened?"

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Thalusai gathered their power for the effort needed to free their children. When all was ready, they began. First, they returned to the First Forest, gathering their strength, and pulled the land up toward the their rift. Taller and taller the land grew, pushing through the clouds and nearly to the rift. With the mountain below the rift created, they moved south.

They flew to the fog barrier around the black ice. Thousands of Thalusai assembled, flapping their wings at the cloud. By their shear numbers, the Thalusai was able to summon a mighty wind which cut into the fog for miles. More Thalusai poured in from the rift, adding their wings to the mighty wind until finally a crack was torn in the fog bank. Seizing the moment, the newly formed Lepidopterians flew free of the ice with all their strength; joining with their former Therax'kin and Sereph brothers and sisters. They were careful to pass through the fog on their way out; removing any black ice taint; Thalusai had made a deal, but Thalusai wasn't so foolish as to trust the Ice.

When all their children were free, Thalusai called out to the Ice "Our deal is complete" and stopped their wind. The Ice was free to do as it wished. Turning to the Lepidopterians, Thalusai spoke. "Fly to the First Forest. There you will find a mountain taller than any other. this has been raised for you to build a city upon. Go and grow strong."

Lutra watched from a distance as the other strange things filled up the big world with their makings and the two legged, winged things that they made continued to spread and grow. It was all very... weird. For a while he wandered in the wilds of the Seraphim places, the water following him wherever he went. True it did it very slowly but bit by bit the land gave way to its persistent push. Carving out a snake like finger into the land as if the sea were pointing at something it thought was really interesting.

The seraphim seemed interested by it and it helped to bring more otters to the mainland. So Lutra thought he had at elast made nature a little happier, assuming nature could be happy about anything.

Therax was displeased, the Mists that Difarius created to confine the ice and the Frostborn had be easily broken by the God-Swarm. In one swift motion, the ice was loose to spread across the continent. While the settlement of Lepidopterians was certainly of concern, Therax decided to keep to his promise and work to contain the black ice's spread once more.

Summoning his might, Therax slammed a hand against the world, causing the ground beneath it to collapse under the force. With the land sent down and broken into pieces, the sea rushed in to take its place. Now the black ice and what remained of the Frostborn became isolated on a frozen island at the end of the world.

It became routine again for Shinem; travel between the two pubs - or rather the Northern pub and the new city that's come up. He heard many names for that place over time: Six Days, Gods' Sty, Camael, and a whole slew of others that Shinem couldn't remember; those names among the other the Rummaker liked.

He had recently came back from the North pub after hearing stories about a unique flask in the frozen lake. There were strange beasts like he never seen before, and people who mirrored the gathering in the south. But after so much asking around the flask he came so far for was a sham. Someone carved an ornate vase out of a dark crystal with many colors, and many believed it to be godly. The vessel itself was emptier than his own memories.

After maintaining the pub and keeping the people soaked in his booze, he saw fit to leave for the City in the South again. To his surprise he saw a coastline that had never existed before. Before he would return he stopped at the new coast to take in its sights, and found something different beyond the sea. The compulsion came to explore it; people were starting tto get bored of the brews he made and it was high time to innovate.

Shinem returned to his Pub in the city, but started asking around for people to explore the new island. The Rummaker heard stories about how dangerous the island was, how it was cut off due to hosting all manner of beasts. Truth was it only intrigued the god more. Five reluctant souls joined with Shinem for the promise of gold and free booze, and after three days of rowing, the party made it to the land.

The Rummaker was perplexed by the imagery, dark towers strutted from the ground. From touching it the towers felt like ice, but had the bite of a feral beast, as Shinem had learned. There were also some giant winged creatures that turned aggressive. Only with a special brew to enhance one's strength could the party seize the day, but more kept coming out of the island. It was high time to leave before the magick of the booze wears off.

The trip wasn't entirely a loss as Shinem had gathered new herbs and substances; the god was also lucky enough to capture the breath of one of those moth creatures. Among the trove were chunks of black ice he shaved from the tower. It started moving on its own and attacked the party. It froze two of the adventurers, but the ice was trapped in a leather sack. All that was left to do was tinker away with his booze. In a few years he's come back to free them and treat them to a time they wouldn't forget. 'What were their names again? Swann and Ren?...'

Ten years passed and the Rummaker was satisfied with his new brew: a black rum made from the sugars he collected and the dark ice.

The Everlasting Forest, as Kortence came to name it, was wild, big, beautiful. Small creatures had already began to show up inside it, lodging inside the home Kortence had made for them. Some stayed away, others came close, it just depended. Kortence gently picked up a small insect, it scurried around and seemed curious. It wanted to know more of Kortence.

"Hello there, my name is Kortence."

The insect buzzed, that word struck a cord. And...there was something weird about it, Kortence had seen many insects before, but this one was different. Kortence erased its memory and let it continue about its business. The insect landed on a nearby flower and everything began to click. As the insect walked around, trace bits of black ice followed. Not large enough to spread, but if the effort was concentrated, the ice could possibly take hold of the flower, then the area surrounding it. This was troubling. Kortence picked the insect up and asked it "My name is Kortence, can you take me to whoever did this to you?"

The small insect stared at the strange being for a few seconds before it started making a loud chirping noise. Nothing unusual for an insect save its timing. A moment later another chirp apeared from deeper in the forests, then another, then more, until a veritable orchestra of chirping had begun.

Insects began to gather at the spot by the hundreds and thousands, keeping their distance from the strange being. These hundreds lacked black ice infection, allowing them to gather together easily without fear of the black ice reaching critical mass. After enough had gahtered, the chirping began to coalesce into a voice.

"We speak for Thalusai; the great swarm."

...Visions. Kortence could see it all, as if some latent memory had been awakened. Something he had forgotten and was blissfully unaware of. The fog Diffarus had created was broken, the earth split in twine and the ice free to roam. And it was this creature who did it. This creature who as Diffarus predicted, had already begun the end of the world.

"The Frostborn were supposed to control it! I was supposed to watch them, what have you done!? Why would you spread the ice like this?"

The swarm buzzed and the buzzing became words. "Symbiosis" it said simply, before falling quiet. A moment later, another being came forth from the forest. This one was human sized, with large colorful wings and distinctly inhuman eyes. It flew - like the Serephim - but it's wings were different. In its eyes lay intelligence.

"Thalusai wished to raise the strongest of the races to become part of them. The Frostborn were among them. Those who were willing became part of Thalusai like I. In exchange, The Endless Swarm - the children of Thalusai - spread the ice beyond the fog." it said, explaining the deal in human terms the swarm could not.

A moment later it continued. "That however is not the only reason. The Black Ice is strong. Nature demands the strong survive and thrive, yet it was contained by an unnatural strength. Yet, it bargained to spread and thrive, overcoming it's weaknesses and disadvantages. It suits Thalusai to allow it free."

All this talk of Thalusai, Kortence needed to talk to this Thalusai. Clearly a god, and perhaps the creator of the ice itself. After all, Kortence had a hand in the creation of the Sepharim and it was unlikely they knew half the things he had done. So, that in mind, Kortence raised himself.

He hated being forceful, but these creatures seemed to respect it, so he would be. Kortence's eyes glowed a discomforting purple and he began floating. His rotted robes flowed and the trees began shaking.

"I wish to speak to Thalusai. Not to its creations. I am Kortence, god of Love and of Joy, bringer of happiness and gardener of this forest. You will not deny me this."

The Endless Swarm and the Mothman stared at the god and gave it room. Still, The Mothman was no coward and began to speak again. "You cannot grasp Thalusai. Thalusai is many - infinite. Thalusai could blanket this world from it's ground to beyond its sun so many they are." It was true; speaking with Thalusai was to speak to a race beyond the world; it couldn't appear upon the mortal realm; at least as a whole.

The Endless Swarm however stepped in. "Thalusai cannot appear here, but Thalusai respects your strength. Thalusai will meet you, but you must come to them." At this, the swarm dispursed. the Mothman bowed his head and said "Follow me and I shall take you to them."

Kortence wasn't eager to leave the Endless Swarm alone, he didn't know what they would do. But if they did anything terrible, he could always simply undo it later. Besides, this Thalusai was someone who needed to be talked to. Aside from that though, another presence was near, someone Kortence had almost forgotten. He couldn't place his finger on it but that would have to be for another time. Kortence followed the Mothman, examining its features. He was entirely beautiful as a lone sight. A real marvel. Had the situation been different, Kortence would have liked to speak to him.

"Take me."

The Mothman nodded and took flight. "Remain with me for the tower woods are kind to no one; god or otherwise." it said as warning. It had no doubt the god could fend for himself, but he seemed the kind unwilling to kill thousands of animals to reach his goal.

They flew many hundreds of miles - north and to the east - until they reached the First Island, where the trees reached out as if to grasp the heavens, the creatures grew to be a hundred fold their size, the Mothmen made their home, and the first rift stood below the great spire. Even from the coast, a hundred miles from the mountain, it's extrodinary height was apparent.

The Mothman flew half way between the green canopies and the ground; where it was safest. Below, hundreds of monstrous insects roamed or lay in wait, feeding on the fallen green or the flesh of their prey. Above, the spiders and the mantises lay in wait for the foolish to fly. Even int the center where they flew, some creatures survived, trying to eat the passing mothmen, yet the mothman was nimble and fast enough to avoid such danger.

In time, they arrived at the City of the Rift. Towers of stone shot from the ground, mimicing the trees outside yet far taller. Each was lifted above even its full height by the slopes of the mountain. The towers were connected by long lines of silk; light as a feather and stronger than the most stillfully made iron. From the peak of the mountain, a spire shot higher into the sky than any other, moving beyond the clouds.

"The hole to their reality rests at the top of the spire. I can take you no further, for only the strongest of our people can fly so high as that. Our Queen can show you through the rift."

Kortence was impressed, he had never been to this area, it reminded him of how much that remained. So much to see. As the Mothman avoided animals, Kortence moved quickly enough to study them and keep pace. Those that bit at him found themselves unable to pierce him, his bones were no stronger than the average sepharim's, but such primative creatures who knew not the disgust many would feel near Kortence were overwhelmed by the compassion he radiated. They would never harm him.

So Kortence, after following the Mothman for a time, realized it was time they parted ways. He had a final question of the Mothman however. One that would invade his mind and never leave. "Do you know of pleasure, joy and love?"

The mothman looked at him and - if appearances could be a judge - smiled. "We were made from the many races of this world and our memories of when we were mortal remain. We all know and feel love, pleasure, and joy. Perhaps not in the way you envision it divine-one, but we feel it. So to Thalusai, in their own way."

The Harvesting, Kortence knew little of it, only that it was something planned by Thalusai. It was what the Frostborn deemed the plausible end of the world. Something they would fight. He would ask Thalusai more about it, but he then had a follow-up question for the Mothman. "So why then, do you serve one who could take that away from you?"

"Thalusai doesn't take it away. I assume you're refering to the Feasting. Thalusai lives beyond this world, in the place between worlds. Worlds like this one, unlike it, unimaginable. In time, these worlds will die and all that live there will die. Those who are strong will flee to the place between worlds, but will find no sanctuary there. Thalusai offers respute; those who are strong enough to survive in the dark place beyond the rift are made a part of them and given life. Those who are weak will die. Thalusai makes no secret of this; it wants all to grow strong so it tells them this truth and gives these worlds time in hopes they become strong to survive. The weak in turn become the food for those who can survive. It's the way of all reality for the strong to devour the weak. Everyone wishes to eat beef, yet no one wishes to kill the cow. Thalusai have accepted the reality and become the exemplars of nature and survival."

Kortence could feel the ideological difference was too great to truly connect here. He looked down and simply said to himself, "But with just the smallest bit of effort and compassion, all can be strong. Perhaps if one used the cow to till grain instead of eating it, both could live."

"And yet the lion must eat meat to survive. Is it therefore unfit to live?"

"You are not a lion."

"And we do not eat meat"

"Then what purpose does any death serve?"

"All life deserves to survive; the Sereph, the cow, the lion, all of them. Yet, some must eat others to survive. Even we must kill plants to survive and plants must kill fungus and fungus must consume the dead. All life must take life to survive. Thalusai grants an escape; those who can survive will and those who cannot are regretably lost"

"The dead become the strength of the living and, in that way, live on in some simple way. Nothing should die, but yet it must. Life is unfair, cruel, and uncaring. Thalusai offers escape through the only proven means; strength."

"That isn't an escape. It's a holocaust."

"Some must die for the rest to live; such is the way of life. Thalusai puts the choice in our hands; nature offers much less."

"Perhaps to an untrained eye." Kortence immediately thought of that same flower the insect carefully stepped upon, drawn to its beauty. "There is more to life than simply strength. But as much as I would like to continue this, I am afraid I have questions that only Thalusai can answer, and they can wait no longer. It was nice speaking with you."

"I understand divine-one. I offer you one thing before you go. Thalusai will want to test your strength; do not let them. I cannot say more."

"I will remember that." With that, Kortence waited for the queen to arrive. She would finish this guiding.

He didn't need to wait long. From above the clouds, a Mothwoman appeared. She was like the others in many ways, yet she had grown much larger than the others. It was not immediatly clear, but upon staring into her compound eyes, it became clear she was blind. The mothmen around Kortence backed away and bowed; differing to their queen.

"Divine-one. I am queen of the Mothmen and I shall guide you to Thalusai." she said, hovering before the god. A moment later, she turned and flew back up into the sky and beyond the clouds.

They flew higher and higher into the world and before long the reduced air pressure became obvious. That any life could breath such little air was astounding.

The top fo the tower widened from its normal width, providing a large open court upon which to stand. It was open to the air, save for a large pavilion constructed of columns and silk meant to offer protection for the queen in times of need. A throne sat in the middle of the room and behind it a large stone arch covered in lettering not of this world. Inside, light gave way to darkness so deep as to be alien to the world

Kortence offered his bony hand, flesh dripping down his forearm, reappearing and continuing the flow. Now that he wasn't moving and that much was still, his stench became clear. It was as if billions had died and their stench had been concentrated into one creature. "Thank you for assisting me. Where exactly is this Thalusai now?"

The queen tried to ignore the stench as best she could, taking the hand as losely as she could without appearing rude. "Thealusai lies beyond the rift." she said, pointing at the blackness under the arch.

"Then I shall head there." Kortence let go of the Mothwoman's hand and floated in an inhuman manner towards the rift. Without any hesitation, he entered.

Beyond the rift lay darkness as far as the eye could see. Even the god found his eyes unable to adjust immediatly, so impossible the place was. The only obvious source of light was the portal behind him, which aided him little at first.

More pressing than the lack of light however was the noise. Clicking and buzzing and chirping and all manner of noise radiated from all directions save the portal. Clearly, Thalusai was there.

As his eyes adjusted however, the sight became more clear. A small area - no larger than a hundred meters across - had been made. Beyond that, trillions of compound eyes stared back through the darkness, unimpeeded. Every so often, enough would move to allow a point of light to appear beyond the swarm of insects. It took a moment for him to understand what he was seeing, but when one considered the only source of light he had on hand was the portal behind him, the solution was obvious: it was another portal.

The world lacked anything physical upon which to stand and what matter existed either floated freely in the area or was Thalusai.

Once his eyes adjusted, Thalusai began to speak "We are Thalusai, Child-God; speak and be heard by all."

Kortence looked around. This was impressive. Thalusai was exactly what he expected, and the Endless Swarm was simply made in its image. There were plenty of questions Kortence had, but only one that mattered. He would ask it first. "What is your goal?"

"To Survive" they all said at once, expecting the proto-god to understand all the implications

"That's it? You simply want to exist? How...dreary." Kortence could think of little worse when he came to think about it. "What...what do you even do in here?"

"We Survive"

"We Thrive"

"We Consume"

"We Grow Strong"

"We Save"

"We Damn"

"We Kill"

"We Raise"

"We Create"

"We Destroy"

"We Create Anew"

"We Destroy Anew"

"We Do All Things"

"And yet...you do nothing all at the same time." Kortence shook his head. "Have you even considered that there may be something more than strength in this existence? That maybe those that are weak deserve to be protected more than anything else? So many lives lost, and for what?"

"We cannot save all. We protect those who can be protected. Many will lose their lives; if not to wild animals or magics or god's wrath or nature than to time. All life begins, All life ends." They said, again in unison

"There is nothing but strength. Agility is Strength. Endurance is Strength. Unity is Strength. Love is Strength. Killing is Strength. All Things are Strength."

"But those that aren't strong can be made strong with a little effort." Kortence shook his head. "What reason is there to do any of this? Worlds would be fine without your intervention. If problems pose themselves, then we can solve them, we don't have to destroy everything and start all over."

"All things pass into this realm. Your world leaks into this one as we speak." they said, indicating the rift. "Even with all your power, it will fade into this realm and vanish. little by little, all falls into our realm until nothing is left and all are dead. We save those who can be saved before time takes from you everything."

"We have seen trillions of worlds; countless more have fallen in. Only those who find their way here survive." Thalusai said, trying to explain the inevitable end of everything to the being. "We save the many at the loss of the few." they continued, adding "We have done so since the first world fell in; ours."

Kortence was no longer confused. He wasn't sorrowful, he wasn't unhappy, he was disappointed. "Then why have you done nothing to stop the end of worlds? You witness your world's death, and instead of attempting to save others from such a fate, you embrace it and hasten it? With all the power you claim to have, you have used it for nothing, have accomplished nothing, and leave the problems unanswered. Maybe my world will end, but I am not going to lay back and accept it. And instead of waiting for such a thing, you should be helping Diffarus and me. You, who have experienced countless ends should be the first one trying to stop it."

"It cannot be stopped. All our power cannot stem the flow of the infinite worlds into the void. All we can do is offer respute for those with the will to take it."

"Wallow in your own hopelessness then. But do not stop us from trying to prevent it. Thank you for the information, I will be sure to make good use of it. And I will prove you wrong."

"You are not the first to say that nor will you be the last." Thalusai said, a mixture of amused and saddened.

"You are strong; though not strong enough. Your love shall be your undoing. In this, we have meausured your strength and found your limit."

Kortence turned his unliving gaze at the Thalusai. "I do not stand alone. There are many like me. I am sure you have met some."

Thalusai seemed to laugh at this. "WE are many; you are few"

"And yet, you might as well be none for as much good you do." Kortence turned away and began heading towards the portal.

"Thalusai have done more "good" and "evil" than you will ever know." Thalusai offered before returning to its projects

Kortence left the world of Thalusai, now filled with purpose. He would save that flower, and with help, nobody would stop him.

As he exited, he came face to face with the Mothman Queen. "I have seen that you have not reached an understanding. This is sad." she said, truly saddened that the god could not see Thalusai's - admittedly cold - logic. "I will offer you some truth, however little you might want to hear it. I have seen the path of this world from on high. As things are, the same fate shall befall our world that all worlds before have felt. This fate is as true as things fall to the ground. To change this, you will need to change all things; to change fate and life itself. I wish you luck."

"Then we shall do what your god dares not and bend reality itself." Kortence sighed. "Perhaps Thalusai will come to help when the time comes. If things are as it says, we could use it."

"Thalusai will not say it, but they have tried to change things and failed. To them, the death of reality is the one immutable rule of the infinite worlds; something they can no more control than we could the weather."

"Giving up is never the answer. Diffarus sees the Frostborn as a lost cause, but I know they can do good. Just as I know we can save ourselves. For gods, nothing is impossible."

"Even gods have limits divine-one; some day you will learn that. I can only hope the lesson shall not be too painful. As for the Frostborn; I feel you are correct. I was once one of them after all. The Black Ice controls them in a way to subtle for even me to grasp. To free them, you will need to somehow stop the ice; though how to do so is beyond my powers to see.

In any event, you and the other gods are welcome among our city; though by decree of Thalusai, only those mortals who can venture through the Tower Forest unaided by gods or their avatars are welcome."

"One is only defeated when he stops trying. I thank you for your kindness and for escorting me. I must go now, take care." And with that, Kortence took off at a leisurely pace. The end was far away, he had time to think on defeating it.

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The ice was not silent. The ice knew Difarus and his maddening ways would come to reseal it, but it was too late now. The cat was out of the bag and the ice could work through the Endless Swarm. It did not yet wish to offend the gods, that would only bring more unwanted attention. Instead, the ice sprang towards the inland penninsula in the northwest. The Endless Swarm found itself destroyed in that area, ice overcoming and splintering out of it like a bad parasite, killing it. But only in a small area, the swarm would hardly even notice. From this, the ice grew. The Frostborn would soon begin to populate it, but the ice had ideas of its own that only time would reveal.

The land itself jutted inwards, creating canyons, natural barriers the Frostborn would easily ignore, but land faring races couldn't. Likewise, the ice also tried something new. A blizzard like none the world had seen swept through the ice, getting worse and worse the higher you got, flying would be more than a challenge. The snow itself contained the dark ice, surely any mortal who's heart came untouched by it before, would soon be corrupted up on high.

The days passed on easily enough. Lutra played on the island, drifted through the rivers he had made and swam through the deep. He started to explore the new lands of the world some more. The rock people, the second winged people (or was it the third? There were so many flying things now) were all so funny. Lutra especially liked the rock ones, they were something different to anything else he had met so far but he thought they could do with some more sun. All that dark could make them gloomy at times he thought.

Therax watched as his measure to contain the black ice failed, the creatures that made up the Swarm carrying it beyond the now isolated island. how tempted was he to crush more land, to send any ice patch beyond the island into the deep. However, a call for his aid distracted the god from this duty. "Father...we...hunger..."

It was the Therax'kin, collectively calling for their creator's aid. Therax answered the call, and came down to the city of Shard to see what starved his children.

Once he arrived, the problem could be easily seen. The ethereal energy that bound the separate pieces of the Therax'kin together were beginning to fade. The once glimmering crystals of Shard now appeared almost lifeless. "Father...we require...more..." The collective chorus of voices was fading away, Therax had little time.

Fortunately, the god knew what starved his children. The Therax'kin did not eat food, but rather survived off the energy that first bound them, a power leftover from when they were nothing but a piece of their god's crown. But now, too much time had passed, and the initial energy supply had simply run out.

"I shall give you a new source." Therax did not explain himself, and descended below the city after giving a parting promise. The god descended beneath the crust, past the molten earth below that, and continued to fall until the solid core of the planet itself was before him.

Therax knew what he had to do, but for a moment he hesitated. To give the core of the world the power to generate the same kind of energy the coursed through the god could have disastrous consequences if used improperly, and could lead to strife of great scale. However, the god had seeded the world with spawn of his own form; he could not take a passive role after already staking a personal claim on it. So, after chipping off another piece of his crown, Therax cast a piece of himself into the very core of the planet.

When the jewel implanted itself into the core, Therax could feel the connection in an intangible way. A resonance that allowed the core to now radiate the same energy that gave the god his immense power.

With his work at the center of the planet done, Therax ascended to Shard. "My children..." Therax did not shout, but his voice carried throughout the cavern regardless. "...do you feel what I have done?"

The Therax'kin chorus came to him, slightly reinvigorated, but still sounding weak. "Yes, father, but we can not feed on this new source of energy. We lack the strength to pull it from the core."

Therax nodded, his own machinations to keep the font of power from being abused made it difficult, nearly impossible to be manipulated by mortal hands. "There is a way to direct the stream, for it always flows downward. I will teach you." For the first time in centuries, Therax spoke for a long time, teaching his children to build a great wonder to pull the power of Mana to the surface.

Franz had turned old. That was the first thing Oluf noticed that day, his vibrant green turned to silver, wrinkles and line marking the Seraphim's face, yet he looked no more fragile than the day they met. He had managed to gain the title "The Great" while Oluf wasn't looking, probably during a fight with the endless horde, or some such. Oluf kept his mind away from such things as much as possible, though they couldn't be ignored forever.

Perhaps he was simply scared of them.

He still remembered the itching and pain from their attack, the bites and crawling, blood drinking little parasites. Oluf himself knew they could never kill him, even if the hordes were well and truly endless he could probably beat it. The problem came with his people, whom he wished to protect.

"... Urgh." The god said, leaning forward on his stool. Franz just sighed, he could practically read the gods mind, not that Oluf's mind ever strayed far from the subject. The Therax'kin could use mana, and magic to defend themselves. Seraphim had technology. The Frostbourne had magic within their own land, and the endless horde was, well, endless. And they could fly. Seraphim were only just equal to the others, and that made him nervous.

He was so lost in thought, he barely noticed his friend close his eyes, and clutch his heart. Still, he noticed the barest of movement outside the corner of his eye. He turned to look at the grey seraph, staring quizzically. Had he ever actually seen one of his people die, of a heart attack or otherwise. After a moment, he noticed the light fading from his eyes, and panicked.

He put a hand up to his forehead, catching his soul as it left the body. That was all he could think to do, but he could see the green orb fading in his hands. He couldn't put it in the body, a part of him knew it, but he still tried. It went through the body, and wound up... in the greatsword he always carried.

The iron thing lifted itself into the air, and Oluf could see clearly the emerald just above the hilt. The soul of Franz. It swung itself around, of it's own accord as the god watched. It seemed he had a weapon now.

At his house in the Twin Realms of Dream and Nightmare, dread Difarus brooded.

Well, 'brood' might be a tad unkind, as it implies that he was absorbed in his own problems. Well, technically, I suppose he was. You see, his interest in this or any mortal world was incidental. He didn't need belief, he didn't need love, fear, hate, or even a little lust. All he needed, were dreamers to dream dreams, and suffer his lovingly hand-crafted nightmares. So basically, he just needed minds intelligent enough to dream. Not for power or glory. Simply his own amusement.

Hey, if you lived in a formless mass of clouds and stonework for countless millenia, you'd do just about anything for a bit of fun too.

So on his fragmented throne he sat, in several different locations in the palace at once, staring into a partially formed abyss, trying to figure out his next move against the the two species on this new world that threatened to utterly destroy it simply by existing.

He briefly, but seriously considers fighting fire with fire... after a fashion. That brief moment was all it took for the Dreaming to respond, and in an instant that took an eternity...

...the Valdesheen were 'born'. They were humanoid, with sharper teeth, and bits of steam-driven machinery strewn throughout their tall, thin, pallid frames. They were sort of immortal. Oh they might die of extreme old age... at around 750 or so, but... they could easily be killed off or 'destroyed' well before that. If they wound up completely submerged in water, for example, they would completely rust over, paralyzed. While in that state, all bodily functions would stop, including aging... and so by this way they could extend their lives by thousands of years, so long as their bodies remained intact. But of course, deliberately going into such a state runs the risk of being completely forgotten, and thus never being revived from such a terrible state.

As for what these gold-digging vampires were capable of well, largely, they are very quick for one... not nearly as quick as Kitten of course, but they could win a few races here and there if they so desired. They seldom do. They require gold to live, some just need it around them, and some need to actually eat it; as a result they can smell gold up to a mile away, and can bite through any metal as long as it has gold in it. They are also impeccable climbers, able to scale even seemingly sheer surfaces without much effort. Many were stronger than oxen, some almost as strong as an enraged elephant. However, their steampunk 'enhancements' left them a bit on the noisy side, so very few of them are actually that good at sneaking around. Unless you're deaf. Or can't figure out where the clanking of gears and wafts of steam are coming from.

Speaking of which, they all have one final ability in common: they can manipulate steam. Only steam. Ordinary water or ice... they can't really mess with. However, being able to mess with steam does help them in some respects... they can blast it at their enemies in concentrated short-range bursts, as well as use it to jump great distances (say... a few hundred feet at their most legendary), and some stories would persist despite a number of efforts to discredit them... of some of the oldest of the old among them being able to ride clouds from place to place. And even older than that... it is rumored that the very oldest of them can resist the influence of the black ice for a time.

They also, naturally, have a powerful affinity for steam-powered technology, and as time passed, would build wonders out of it. However, they are largely nomads, and are seldom given to settling down in one place for long. They also aren't ones for setting up nations, at least in the traditional sense.

You see, when times are especially tough all around, the oldest of the old among them; the old fuckers that have been around long enough to see just about everything there is to see, they will call a meeting of the Council of Nod, wherein fifteen randomly selected individuals will be invited (read: 'press ganged') to meet at a secret location (which changes every time the Council needs to meet) where they will be given temporary access to at least some of the information and resources that the oldest of the old have gathered over the centuries, and figure out what the hell to do about whatever shitty situation they find themselves in.

However, they don't have any cities. Ever. Rather, they build shadow networks within the cities of other races, which is quiet a talent considering they aren't particularly stealthy, and none of the other races even remotely resemble them... at first. You see, rather than the traditional methods of reproduction, these lot infect others... which now that I think about it... is becoming the traditional method on this world... but at any rate... they infect others through a process they never elaborate on, except to call it 'The Awakening.' Don't talk to them about it, even if you are one of them; fastest way to make one of them an enemy of yours. Any member of any other species at any rate, and they'll still resemble the species they came from but... they'll definitely have a few extra bits and pieces.

Well, not all of them accumulate information networks of course. Many just wander around looking for a fun bit of violence and adventure... and treasure. Obviously. A Valdie has to eat, don't they?

So, there you have it. The Valdesheen.

Such was the entire transitory eternal thought of Difarus. He may have been thinking a little too hard at the time about them, despite really only thinking about them for only a moment that lasted a generation. And so they popped into existence in the Dreaming, and before Difarus realized what was going on, they had managed to tear their way out of the Dreaming and into this new world of mortals. Difarus could have killed them all off of course, and done so with no effort whatsoever... but... well, they were interesting. And it would be fun to see how they would do. So he allowed them to go forth and steal and murder and blackmail and whatever else tickled their fancy.

Where did they end up? Well... fucked if I know. Fucked if Difarus knows either.

Shinem

The difference between the North Pub and South Pub was now night and day to the Rummaker; one place respected the place and NOT just steal all his booze when nobody's around. He came back to his Pub in the north and found it completely empty. While Shinem took some happiness that the Frostborn there enjoyed his brews, this thieving had to stop. It was one thing if people came together for drinking, but another if they take such sacred booze for private. Then there were the apprentices whom he entrusted the Pub to when he wasn't around. What happened to 'em? Did they just give up on the craft? 'They'll have something to answer for.' Shinem thought before turning to the Frostborn thrifters.

For thirteen years he travelled the southern lands for ingredients, collected more of the breath of life to make his booze, but for a completely different brew. These revised laws of booze showed him what could be made safe to drink, but what would be dangerous. He would produce something of the latter. Not to kill but to leave a pain that would make them open to suggestion. He later sealed the effects of this danger draught with his own Breath.

The Frostborn would later return and see him return with the Pub fully stocked. What was prominent among the booze was a clear wine that smelled of grapes and bread from the south. Each icy angel took a bottle of the booze and be on their way, but Shinem stopped them. 'No, no." The Rummaker smiled. "I insist you try it here before you leave. No point coming all this way to leave."

The crowd of Frostborn emptied their mugs of the clear wine, and in seconds a peculiar haze came over them. Their eyes felt squeezed in their own sockets, their far-sight vision grew blurry, their stomachs gnarling like spinning threads. They could only see and hear. Shinem was satisfied with the results and cleared his throat.

"A long time ago I introduced alcohol to the ancestors. Gave them this knowledge for happiness, longevity, and interesting days." The Rummaker spoke, his face turning a small wistful grin. "And I taught this gift to you over the years. And what have you done with this gift?" The rememberance grew to dull anger.

With only his gaze he looked into one Frostborn's eyes, letting his emotions become clear to the Rummaker. His breath made sure little would be kept secret from he who drinks it. In the Frostborn's eyes he saw a primitive need for survival. There were rules, conducts, unspoken grudges; they saw his pub as a glorified well instead of the place for enlightenment...

He readied a new liquor - the frost rum he partook with Oluf long ago - and made sure their stupored selves had a swig of the booze.

The taste was like blood and the smell like one of their own relieved themselves in the bottle. The pain the Frostborn felt after the drink became similar to death, and their minds were lost as their bodies grew warm and darkness closed around them.

'When they wake up, they'll begin to see the world with clarity, and treat my Pub with respect.' Shinem thought to himself as he waited for the effects of both drinks kick in. One meant to incapacitate someone, while the other led to the creation of the city. Something good was bound to happen... hopefully.

'If this doesn't give them a new view of life, I don't know what will.'

As Kortence fell dormant, so too did his ice. Both shared a connection and if Kortence was not active, then neither would the ice. This however, did not stop Kaiden, who had been busy moving along the world. He, who had been quiet since his early change on the Frostborn, decided he would still remain hidden, but not silent. It had taken him many years, but he finally stood before the monster Earth Lord's city. It was vast, with massive energy complexes spiraling about. The cat was easy to avoid, clearly a monster born of the evil Difarus, Kaiden would ensure to his wife that her work be done.

"I'm doing this for you, Mateso."

The ice had told him what it wanted, Mateso wanted the people of stone. They would serve its aims quite well, but they were unfit. The Sepharim were free from the meddling of other gods, but these creatures were not. Kaiden was not yet ready to free them, but a slight change proved necessary. A whisper, similar to their god moved through their heads, they knew it was not him, but did not fight it.

"Do not fear, I am as Therax, a friend. I am your guardian, superior to that of the cat. I am not one of physicality, rather of spirit. Therax has made you physically strong, but I seek to make you strong in...other ways. We will surprise Therax with your strength, can you imagine the glory we shall bring? The other races are strong too, but united, we can be stronger! Accept me, and the world shall never betray you."

Some would say, in later times, that this was the act of simple mind magic, that Kaiden's honeyed words were nothing but a medium for the real power to flow, others would say that the Therax Kin truly believed him. Truth be told, nobody knows, but in all likelihood, it was a mixture of both.

With the departure of foolish god, Thalusai closed many of their rifts in the world. Their seeds were planted and now was the time to allow them to germinate. For now, they would gather their power; conserving until the next age of the world when the most powerful of there servants could walk the forests.

Therax moved through the city of Shard, proud to see that his children were flourishing with a new source of energy to draw upon. However, he started to notice carvings upon the bare rock of the cave, depicting several figures that the god did not recognize.

As he pondered this, a large crystal mass, made up of Therax'kin, floated by. "My children, who do these depict?" Therax gestured to the carvings nearby.

"Our protectors, father. Those who seek to guide, inspire, and guard us." The cluster of crystals broke apart into several Therax'kin. While showing traditional respect, they moved around their creator and towards the carvings. "This one, above them all, is the Nameless, greatest of the protectors...aside from you, father."

Therax was silent for a long time, only a low rumble from within showing that he was still active. "Who told you of these protectors?"

The gathered Therax'kin looked at one another, Therax hearing a murmur of voices as they spoke to one another. Then, finally, one of them spoke directly to their god. "The Nameless...who claimed to be a friend. One who promised strength beyond the physical form...and something called 'glory'."

"I see...have you seen this 'Nameless'? Has he proclaimed himself in a form other than a voice?" Therax looked at his children, hearing rather than seeing their confusion. "Choose your protectors wisely, my children." With that, Therax descended deep into the caves, far beneath the city, where no Therax'kin bothered to go.

There, Therax conjured his power and focused it to generate a will, one that was like his own, but not as strong. When it took it's shapeless form, Therax sensed the being's confusion at its sudden existence. "Do not fear, my son, everything shall be clear in time. For now, wear this body for the sake of others." From Therax's hand grew crystals, which broke apart at seemingly random times and bound themselves around the will. When his work was done, the will appeared to be a large Therax'kin.

"What will you have me do in this form?" The will spoke into Therax's mind much like his children, though the voice was singular and spoke with more force in its tone.

"We will rise, to the city of Shard, where you must take a seat someone else has made..." Another rumble, as Therax began to wonder who was trying sway his children to their influence. "Come now, you must lead my children from those who would lead them astray."

And so, the will and its creator rose back to the city of Shard. The will's...or rather the Herald's, recognizable form was not lost to the Therax'kin, who began to break away from their "buildings" to gather around their massive sibling. "You know of the faceless voice who spoke to you? The one who whispered promises of strength beyond your form?" Therax gestured to his Herald. "I have found where the voice lay; and I bring him now to you, my children, so that he may fulfill his promises."

Therax heard a chorus of admiration flow towards the Herald as the Thera'kin began to cluster around him, forming a massive structure that dwarfed everything else in the city. The beings of stone were eager to commune with their supposed protector.

It was Oluf's choice to leave. He had spent too long in this city, becoming too interested in it's struggles. He was showing bias already, when there were other species around! He needed to fly away, soon, with his sword. Perhaps he'd form another soul stone...

But first, a last gift to his first people. To them, he gave the sky, but there was no one to play with the water of the world! Well, aside from that otter, but he ruined a nap once. Oluf was a god now, being vindictive was a part of his career path.

He started with same basic mold as his first species. A shape much like his, a torso with two arms, and two legs. It even had the same head of hair and such. Perhaps counter productive for what he planned to do, but habits died hard. In truth, Oluf had little chance to go swimming and for the most part had not, but he remembered a few things that could've helped in that regard. He spread out the thing's fingers and toes, stretching the skin inbetween each digit, making them webbed. Oluf thought for a moment, and shrugged, extended it's fingers into more claw like features, to help it combat those that would otherwise harm it.

Oluf frowned, he had learned a bit of war. He remembered a weapon can only do so much to save a life. Most Seraphim ran, but what if they could take the hits? He hardened plates around the vital organs, and on the cheeks, to make it harder to kill. The last part came on it's lungs and back, gills to breathe in water, as well as the Seraphim lungs to breathe in air. Oluf smiled, it was done. A male, slightly better than Kaidan was. The benefit of experience.

He needed to make another. A female. But first, the gods impatience got the better of him. He gave the boy knowledge, and like Kortence, a name to show his love. He sat in thought for an hour, trying to think of something to give the now-sentient boy.

"... Gad?" he finally suggested, waking up and startling the boy.

"Er, wha-? Yeah. Yeah, sure, works for me." Oluf scrunched his nose, and sighed. It'd work, sure. He got started wordlessly on the next project, a female for his species. They were important, afterall, though he noted he didn't make much difference between their physiology and the Seraphim... could they...? Best not to think about it, he shook his head.

He had made the base model, pretty and halfway between Seraphim and Merman (which he decided to call them, for some reason or another). It reminded him a bit of Matilda, and a pang of sadness hit his heart. His head was a mix of the melancholy and tired, in fact, he should've slept before he left. He looked her up and down, and simply shrugged, pressing a hand against her forehead. She was given knowledge as well. Gad chose to say nothing, and the three walked towards the shore.

In a few decades of tending the South Pub, the Rummaker came across an interesting discovery. Over the time, he noticed a peculiar bunch of people paying for 'privacy' in his Pub. None of the posse said much, but over time they gave Shinem enough of an idea. Thirdhand or fourthhand - he couldn't quite remember - he heard of a people that had strange powers and desires. Mostly he knew of a wanderlust that these folk felt, and an idea formed in the darkness.

He had his drinks ready; all he needed now was these strangers to appear again.

********

The sun had crawled back into the ocean, and one large room was lit with one man stewing with his thoughts. His name was Hakon.

It was far from the time to conclave, but it did good to know what's happening in the world. From the city, Hakon saw people that he had never seen. They could be potential vassals, they may provide a new venue for precious Aurum, they'd need to discuss them. There's also the matter with the pub; roughly a third of the city's gold is held there, and it's begging to be plundered. If enough of the Valdasheen could agree, the loot from the pub would be a good bonus.

The peoples would be meeting in a large room in the pub away from prying ears - right underneath the barkeep's nose. And being the one who secured their space, Hakon would be made an audience. whatever would transpire only he would be privy to; he'd know what the Southron 'families' are doing at the end of the night. But that didn't stop him from trying to speak with the Valdasheen arrivals.

He checked the main parlour to see if anybody had came up early. So far none have showed up yet. There were still straggling Seraphim From the corner of his eye he saw the barkeep approach him with a bottle in hand. It made a solid thunk against the wood table.

"On the house." Was all the jovial barkeep said before vanishing back to the bar. Hakon was ready to dismiss the brew until he saw just what he was given, and his jaw slacked. His eyes were firmly on the shimmering gold flecks that were floating in the clear liquid. He uncorked the bottle and took in its odour to be sure. Temptation and decadence mingled into one. His appetite for the gold won out and took a sip from the brew. The earthy allure of the metal was there in the taste, along with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg that he could not feel in his breath.

The Valdasheen's gaze returned to the lard-bucket of a barkeep; his eyes examined him for any intent. He saw a drunkenly serene expression, laughter belonging to a child, and pride seeping from his being. But does he know what I really am?

There was only the words Hakon heard from him; it was suspicious for anyone to recieve gifts without reason, but the gold-flecked liquor was a warning sign. Taking the bottle with him, the Valdasheen returned to the private room and mull his thoughts. He sat on one of the reserved seats, believing the other Valdasheen not to be arriving for much later. His eyes were trained on the bottle he placed on the large round table.

As time stretched on his thoughts on the barkeep began to loop into baseless paranoia. He shook the thoughts out of his head; the other delegates may know what to make of this. For Hakon, it was a borderline breach of secrecy, and the smart thing to do is silence him. The ideas spun into a plan to take over the pub and their profits, but he would need some backing to keep the place running. Perhaps also bringing in an interrogator in case the barkeep may have other secrets.

The sound of footsteps shook him from his tangent and stood from the chair. Hakon opened the door to see a few people staring at him, with an expectant void in their eyes. Oh right they want a pass phrase.

"Greetings, how long has it been since we met."

"I'm afraid I cannot recall."

With those words they walked past the Valdasheen and planted themselves on the chairs. Hakon peered at the hallway in case they were followed before returning his attention to the conclave. To his surprise the coterie seized the bottle and emptied it of its contents. To see the scions and elders of the Valdasheen engage so quickly on such a thing was discomforting.

"You." One Valdasheen called to Hakon. "Where did you get this drink?"

"The barkeep gave it to me for free." He responded. "I don't trust this man. He may know about us and our ways."

"You worry too much, little one. But we'll deal with him after this conclave."

"Are you concerned about-"

"What one person knows or doesn't is of no matter."

"-the possibility of blackmail?"

"I said it's no concern. And you should learn how to speak to your betters."

'...Apologies."

"Now, go back to the pub and acquire for us some more of that liquor."

His heart sank at the words as he saw them pull out some coin. It was like all caution was thrown in the wind. Did the drink lure them into a state of bedlam?

"Well don't just stand there!" One Valdasheen barked, and with a quick pace Hakon left.

He grumbled his frustration as he returned to the main hall looking for the barkeep. The man smiled - almost knowingly - as he took the money and handed another two bottles of the damned liquor. His job done, he returned to the meeting room to hand off the drinks.

While they took the drinks, Hakon cut himself off from the others to stew in his thoguhts again; questions like, "How the heck did he get two more bottles of this stuff? Gold isn't something that grows on trees."

He looked at the others, seeing their gazes focused on the liquor in between their discussions on actions or affairs the Valdasheen will agree or deny. Not a single thought on the possible breach was considered by the conclave. It was like their secrecy was a non-issue. Unless...

The conversation was interrupted when the pub thundered with the clack of wood and glass against bone. Hakon noticed some of the Valdasheen grin a little, like they expected it to happen. Minutes after that clattering, the conclave was interrupted by someone knocking at the door. One valdasheen wordlessly urged Hakon to open it, and he did so.

The barkeep was at the door, carrying a man over his shoulders. He still had that knowing smile plastered on his gorged face.

"This guy passed out on the floor. Said he was a friend of yours." He said, facing one of the Valdasheen.

That Valdasheen's face stayed calm, but his eyes widened and his lips pressed together. The barkeep continued, "You don't mind me bringing him here, do you?"

"Uh, no. No, of course not but we're going to have to lay him on the corner."

One of the guys helped the barkeep with the body, and were eager to get back to business.

"I take it you enjoy the booze." He said offhandedly. Everybody did their best to hide their reactions not wanting to betray any feeling. But the grin on his face just grew. "Tell you what. I've got a distiller that makes the stuff easy."

"Why tell us this?" One Valdasheen spoke up, his face carrying the suspicion that Hakon was hoping they all had.

"Ah, I see nothing gets past you. You see, I need some people to run this place while I'm gone."

"And again, why tell us this?"

"Because, I'm thinking you may want a cut of the profits. I'm sure this guy over there-" the barkeep gestured at Hakon, "-has told you of the riches this place makes. Then there's of course the gold in that booze."

The word, 'gold' lingered longer than it should, and two Valdasheen immediately stood up and grabbed the barkeep by the shoulders, shoving him against the wall. The man should be pissing himself, but he still kept that damned grin on his gob. He was either confident in selling them something, or too drunk to notice. Frankly, Hakon wanted to stick a dagger in his belly and be done.

"Listen carefully. " One of the elder Valdasheen spoke up. "If we want any gold, we'll take it. We don't need you to offer it... Now have you told anyone about us?"

"No."

"That's good. For both of us... Now, give us your gold."

"... Alright, I'll bring it up-"

"No. We'll follow you."

Hakon couldn't help but smile at how things turned out. The biggest score in this city was about to be handed to them by that smarmy barkeep. He took the posse to the basement where he mentioned keeping the gold. There were barrels upon barrels forming walls, and machines of metal and steam decorating the floor. So green with his skills. Hakon thought. The moment we take over, the moment we start putting some serious machinery here. The feeling of victory ended when the barkeep veered from the posse to one of the steam devices.

"Any of you want a drink?" He asked with a smile. None of them said anything. If their glowers didn't give him the message, the shoving did. "What about more of that gold booze?"

"You have more?" One Valdasheen asked offhand. Hakon shoved him on the shoulder while the others glared at him, but that spurred the barkeep.

"Oh, plenty more. If I can show you..." He directed them to the same machine, and reluctantly the Valdasheen let him go. The barkeep grabbed one of the bottles from the machine - one full of the gold flecked liquor tinged with blackness - and replaced an empty bottle in the machine.

"This beauty here, can distill the finest booze in the world. Can also pluck the gold out of it." The barkeep declared. "Go on, drink it if you don't believe me."

Their gazes looked disinterested as they took the bottle and took sips from it. Only Hakon refused to partake in his refreshments. Second in the Valdasheens' demeanour changed; their eyes glinted and they started laughing and smiling weirdly. Smiling almost like the barkeep. One of the elder Valdasheen cleared his throat.

"Since you've shown us this... wonderful drink... what were you wanting with us?" Hakon raised an eyebrow at the words.

"You're not really thinking about listening to him!? He'll make you into his vassals if you let him. Just kill him-" He protested, but they silenced him with a glare.

"As we remember, you're not here to give advice to your betters. Do you think us to be fools?"

"I think you to be seduced by this buffoon!"

"And we think you should be silent. Leave us!"

"But-"

"I said leave us!!"

His teeth and fists clenched for a scrape, but Hakon fought the urge to knock sense into them. One hit and he'd be dead. He silently nodded and left, but kept an ear to their conversation. He wanted to know just what they were planning. There were words spoken by the barkeep, but Hakon was not sure what. Then came silence, and then a few Valdasheen wisely left. But the bulk of the conclave was still there, toasting to success. The barkeep's success.

You've got to be kidding me! He left in a huff, to inform the remaining Valdasheen of this travesty.

"These gods are all so...interesting." Kortence wondered to himself as he saw Therax boldly and brazenly lie to his own people, creating a false figure to act as Kaiden's replacement. And to add to the insult, Therax didn't even bother learning anything of the voice aside from a couple promises, never bothered to seek the voice out, and instead rashly reached out to erase the voice from his world. Kaiden had always thought of the gods as these infallible beings who always thought five steps ahead, either with malice or with well intentions, but either way, he didn't expect them to be so short sighted and impulsive. Perhaps this was simply a singular action, a freak accident that was unexpected and would never occur again, but Kaiden was wondering if perhaps Mateso was the same way. It didn't matter right now, he had a job to do and Therax had just given him the best opening possible.

Discussions were already occurring on how best to approach this new concept of glory that had been introduced into the Therax Kin. The Herald was in the middle of the discussions and the end result was disappointing. Since the Herald had taken the helm, not much had occurred, some of the Kin were beginning to doubt, that perhaps they had been lied to by the Herald who so long ago had made such lofty promises. In fact, one such Therax Kin named Sel'Maron, who had been left in charge of planning such a way to devise this was entirely stumped. The Herald had not led them anywhere but to the mana cores and those had been discovered forever. He sat and stared at the great pylons until a voice whispered through him.

"Why not head to the surface?"

Sel nearly jumped out of his seat when the whisper came, he turned but nobody was there, he was alone, but there this voice was...could it be? Sel had heard of the Nameless, who Therax had said came as the Herald...no he had to be going insane. "You aren't." The voice got clear and was coming from Sel's front. "I have stood by after Therax relieved me of my position, but the Herald has done nothing after gaining such a seat and I must act. I have spent this time pondering what would best serve us. We must expand beyond this city, there are no answers to be found here and the world outside of this city is vast, there has to be an answer to this question there. Sel, you have been trusted with helping to advance us, if you wish to truly make a difference, the surface is where you must go."

Sel was unsure, he was actually unsure about a lot of things. Therax had lied to them, that much was clear, but why he had was beyond comprehension. Sel wanted to know, he wanted to know a lot more and the Nameless seemed to as well. "How will we survive on the surface? There are no mana cores there."

The voice chimed in knowingly, "Mana is not the only source of energy on this world. There are small insects with great power that you can consume freely, they will provide you with all the energy you need. Simply crushing them would probably do." And with that, Kaiden produced a small member of the Endless Swarm who had been infected with the ice. The insect was a unique and shimmering purple. It was endlessly cold, but as the Therax Kin crushed it, he felt a power he had never known before. It was pure like the Mana, but not of the same origin.

Kaiden, satisfied with the results, backed away from Sel and said "Gather an expedition group. We have a world to explore."

With their power gathered, Thalusai reached out into the void and tore a new hole into the world. Unlike their previous rifts however, this new rift was exponentially larger and much more shortly lived. It would not linger like the one in the city of the rift where their children could watch over it. No, this rift had but one use - to allow the entry of one of their many potent servants: The Avatar of the Mantis.

Unlike the Endless Swarm who could be everywhere at once, The Avatar of the Mantis was a single being of immense size. It's exoskeleton was blood-red and it's eyes black. Also unlike the Endless Swarm, it was conscious and extraordinarily intelligent. The Avatar of The Mantis was set loose in the jungles Thalusai had crafted for it and it's many eventual brothers and sisters - the other Avatar's of the Swarm. There the beast could hunt to it's heart's content until it came time for the harvesting.

Once the creature was freed, Thalusai closed the portal and went back to their watching and their waiting.

"I don't get it." Mused Lutra as he scratched his head in thought. All this weird stuff that the others were doing, he just couldn't get his head around it. Making all these strange looking things and then making them do stuff. Was it supposed to be fun? It sounded interesting... if you were into that kind of thing. But really what was the point of it, that was what he couldn't understand. the world was doing fine and doing stuff around them by itself. Maybe someone was making them do it, like when the otters had nagged Lutra into making them homes. Why did they have to be the responsible ones?

Maybe it had some good points. If these creations were something the others liked then it wouldn't feel like work and there were darker things on this world now, like the ice things. What if it spread to Lutra and his island home? Could he fight it all on his own? Maybe he could call the snake but he doubted it would care about helping.

His curiosity peaked, Lutra decided to investigate. He'd explore the lands of the other things but not like he had before. This time he'd be serious, this time he'd try and experience what it was like to be them. Lutra learned a long time ago how to change what he looked like, how to change his shape like the water could. He'd just never wanted or needed to for anything. So with a sense of great purpose and gusto the god of the sea set about a sociological/biological experiment. It would take a long time but once Lutra set his mind to something, that was it. By the end of it he'd know exactly what he'd make.

Something like the Therax'kin was certainly out. Lutra felt so heavy when he walked in their shoes, every step was a chore and moved like a drunken bull. It earned him a lot of funny looks from the rock folk. At least Lutra thought they were looking at him funny, it was hard to tell with them. No this wouldn't do, he wanted something that could move and play.

The seraphim seemed like a fun idea at first, they'd always made flying look like fun. The biggest problem was that while in the air Lutra was totally out of his element. He was an utter failure when it came to flying. He was constantly crashing into things or losing his balance and ended up spiraling out of control most of the time and frankly if your not going to fly then having a pair of huge wings jutting out of your back quickly becomes bothersome.

now the humans were something Lutra could get the hang of. They were pretty easy to get to grips with compared to the other races and the lack of wing weight made getting around much easier. But they weren't so good at handling water and Lutra quickly began to miss the swims he used to take as an otter. The Merefolk helped with that at least but they were like the humans switched around. The deep was fun and all but sometimes it was nice to wander the coasts or to sunbathe on the riverbanks sometimes. If only there was a middle ground, something half way between the two.

So Lutra went back to his favorite island after his years away, feeling sad and defeated. All that time and effort and he still wasn't any closer to a decision. These races were all very interesting but Lutra just couldn't quite click with them. He'd learned about what it was like to be most of them but he still couldn't understand why they were like that and he doubted they'd understand him either. Besides the moment they started building things and making things then they started making the world more complicated.

Lutra went to one of the rivers that littered the island and watched the otters go about their lives. See this is simple. Nice and easy to understand... and it's fun. One of the adults had caught a fish as the pups squeaked for attention. See this I get. But all the others were spreading out and covering more places. What if they came to the island, would they care about keeping it nice and looking after the things that lived there?

I bet they'd have to take notice if the otters built a bunch of houses and crazy magic stuff... wait.

And so did the lord rise from the depths, his presence great and mighty. And he held in one hand the mighty trident of the king and his power was clear for all to see. And in his other hand did he hold the great feast of wisdom and he did say to those that had gathered before his majesty. "Fear not, oh young ones for you are my chosen people and I shall share of you my wonder. I give unto you this great power of knowledge so that you might know the world which I have made for you. Be thankful for under my rule shall ye rise greatly and find much. But beware of that which would lead you away from your natural splendor for they should bring ruin to ye. Travel in the wake of my glory and ye shall know greatness till the end of your days. For I am kind to those that are worthy of me.
[i]- Extract from an early copy of a Lutran text, date and author unknown, believed to predate earliest record of religion's official founding.

"Come in children," the wrinkled old woman said, her voice uncharacteristically patient and soft-toned for someone who used to spend a lot of time locked in mortal combat against... well, we'll get to that... for now, she had guests to attend to, "What story would you like to hear tonight?"

A much younger servant used his beak to grab a stick to stoke the dying fire as a small classroom's worth of children piled into the room, excitedly chattering amongst themselves as to which story they wanted to hear tonight. Eventually, the slave with a crane's head whispered into the old wolf-woman's ear.

"Ah!" she said, snapping her fur-covered hands together, "The birth of our people! An excellent idea!"

"Unsure what to do about it, the dream-lord sat on his throne of black fog, and thought." she went on, most of the children still listening while others seemed fast asleep already, "As he thought though, he began to exercise his power over the Dreaming and its inhabitants. First, his thoughts birthed the metal-men. Some time after those... [she uses an obscene phrase native to the Nyeung Bao, but is sadly untranslatable to any other language] were forged, Difarus began exercising greater care in how best to shape new peoples in our new world."

The crane manservant stokes the fire again, stabbing it viciously with his beak.

"So, he walked the Dreaming as he had not in countless ages, and saw that our dream-ancestors had much wisdom to offer..."

A tall, thin, cowled figure slouching on a chair in the back of the room chuckled.

"Much wisdom to offer this sad little world, but we lacked a voice. Or at least, a voice that others would understand. So, the wise dream-lord..."

The stranger chuckled again. There was an odd wheezing quality to his laugh that somehow made him sound menacing.

"Gave our ancestors a voice." she went on.

The stranger chuckled uncontrollably at this, scaring the children and crane-servant out of the room.

"That's not quite how I remember it. But I suppose that will do." the stranger said, lifting his cowl. Just as it came off, lightning struck, blinding the old woman. When her poor sight returned, the stranger was gone. And so was his chair.

It was awe inspiring what his races could do, with nothing but time and knowledge.

The Seraphim, his first children, took to the skies due to their wings... but they had trouble staying there. Still their love gave them interest, their minds cooked up schemes, plans, designs all grand! And the result, a city in the sky, of materials found by Therax'kin. Crystals, mostly, lightweight, and situated on magic clouds. They hung in the air, slowly drifting through this small world of theirs.

His second children had taken to the opposite, though out of necessity more. They chose to live in water, far away from all but Lutra's race, and even then they were kept away. Their homes were made into rocks, glass domes covered guest areas. The rest required one to breath in their element. Oluf liked these places almost as much as the air, it was simply filled with beauty he'd never thought to look for!

The third of his children, well... they made no grand cities. They occupied the old ones, of the Seraphim, only modified for their lack of wings. Though, they seemed to be filled with innovation. They seemed to be capable of things he'd only seen an Iceborn do, control ice. Though they took it further, they controlled fire, and the air itself. They seemed capable of bending the world around them, like Oluf and his brothers... But the skill was rare, and the ability to handle it even moreso. Still, it made him uncomfortable, he'd seen them use it in defense rather than utility.

These events thrilled Oluf, though their struggles with other races scared him. The Iceborn were so hated by the Mermen, and the bugs still were hunted by the Seraphim. The humans, well, they simply seemed afraid of everything. They were so scared, that things would take them into the night, change them into something horrific. Oluf could not blame them for their fear. Still, this brought about one thing. The old word for the Seraphim military, the Paladins, became a united front between the three races. Protection was their job, or so they said.

Oluf was ripped from his thinking by his latest travelling party, they were on the move again. Oluf liked them, they were performers. An old Lutran Otter played the lute as they went, a beautiful human woman led the troop through the oasis. A sky city was around, and they always made plenty of money from them. He could hear the merman bellyaching to the mage clown, "Can't stop my ears from popping up there. Can't help but feel I'm gonna fall, too." Oluf smiled, and let his mind wander to other places.

He wondered what the other gods were doing.

One hundred years Kaiden was gone, one hundred years his merry band of followers grew, split, grew and split until Therax Kin were all over the world, going to and from Shard relaying information, all under Kaiden's careful watch. They had made mana wells in a few major areas, mostly near civilized areas where trade would happen. But the majority of their needs was met by the curious unending swarm of insects that the planet seemed to be covered in. One would think by now that they would have gone extinct, but it would take more than a mortal effort to kill the endless swarm, which was exactly what Kaiden was counting on.

While it was progressive, the constant exposure to the ice did take its toll on the race. Many of them became more crystalized, more orderly and structured, they shattered easily, but became much more cunning. They became clear as fresh water and when they returned to Shard, they would soon become leaders within their city, sharing their experiences and using their knowledge to benefit their city. They had admiration for some of the other races, including the Frostborn, which they would soon reach out to. But the Learned were not the only ones to result out of this expedition

Two other groups would form in time, those that went further into the jungles would find themselves consumed by their loneliness, they became solitary, but gained the ability to blend in with their environment. They hunted the giant insects of the inner jungles and even killed Mothmen if they were approached. They speak to Therax still, but they are unintelligible. Not all who ventured into the jungle became Shattered, but they now have a population within the jungle, meeting only once a year to procreate, before venturing on their own again. The Shattered dig small mana wells for themselves, and have learned to, over time, send parts of themselves out like arrows, very little can escape a Shatterd's spear.

The final group, nobody ever heard from. It is assumed their party was simply lost within the fogs of Diffarus, doomed to slowly die of hunger consumed by their own dreams. The truth however, is a bit different than what one might expect. While mortals are generally unaware of the broken fog, the ice hungered for new children, and the Frostborn required strength. It had cunning, it had wisdom and it had a leader, but if any organized attack were to come, the ice doubted it would win. These new Therax-Kin lost themselves, they were made by the Frostborn to fight to the death, until only one Kin remained, and she, found herself surrounded by the ice in a ritual very similar to Kaiden's. She was raised into a mighty golem of rock and ice, and from her mating with the ice, came the Frost-Kin. A natural warrior race with unique specializations. They made their weapons out of ice and while they lacked the ability to teleport as the Frostborn could, they instead were able to merge with the ice itself, becoming one with the ground around them, and springing up to cause traps and ambushes. Without ice, they lacked this ability. Naturally, contact with Therax is a lost cause for these creatures, barely even Therax-Kin. The ice was pleased with Kaiden, who left with the Learned and the normal Kin to return to Therax.

Kortence was not idle during these times however, for with the ice back into action, so did Kortence spring from his sleep and he did not dally. The Sepharim had lacked any contact with Kortence since his creation of the forests, but this was about to change. The god of love began to plant seeds again, but they were not plants, they were thoughts. Thoughts of a guild, one that accepted all, and would act to unite the world in harmony. They called themselves a religion, and preached the world of Kortence across the Sepharim. All gods were accepted under Kortence's ideals, and anyone who sought to better themselves would be accepted in. Therax-Kin exploring the Sepharim found themselves roped in and praying with the Sepharim. Many possible conflicts over land and mana were dropped thanks to the work of the order. Door to door they went, and soon they became a commanding presence wherever the Sepharim existed. They planned to soon reach out to other civilizations.

"I...wonder what they will do in time."

Once again, Thalusai rent open the world with their power, dropping their spawn into the world. Third of their great beasts was a massive scorpion. The beast stood as tall as the tallest of monuments and black as the void in which it was born. It's claws were sharp as swords and it's venom death to all beings who dared face it. To the beast Thalusai said "Claim the deserts as your own and be strong" and left it to spread the grasp of the omnipotent bug god.

Meanwhile, far to the north, the fourth of their children was placed among the giant forests of the Isle of Thalusai. This fourth child was an arachnid of colossal size and strength. Where it moved, the giant forest quaked and trees splintered. Its web was tougher than the hardest steel and, where its cousin's venom destroyed the bodies of those who faced it, the might spider's venom attacked the mind and soul of those it bit; resigning them to self-destructive fits of insanity. To this great monster Thalusai said "Claim the great jungle as your own and be strong." and left it to spread the grasp of the omnipotent bug god. It was not long before the great beast discovered a taste for the Shattered upon the isle. They would learn to fear it.

And so Thalusai rested and plotted; for they had many more children for the world.

The next few years were a busy time for the otters. Their people were young and knew little of the world. Though their species had existed for many years their rise through the grand ascension at the hands of their glorious lord Lord, Lutra Lord of the waters far and deep, (praised may his name be) was relatively recent and it took them time to gather and learn what they needed to rival the great works of the other peoples of the world.

Luckily for them the great lord Lutra (praised may his name be)had gifted them a fine and noble land to call their own. It was blessed by the warmth of the sun and the soil was rich and fertile. And of course there was the flowing life of the waters their great lord had gifted unto them.

It took great effort but the otter people were able to come together in such great numbers as to make the first great city of Moon Port. They built it on the mouth of the largest of the rivers that laced the midlands of the island. The otters had taken to calling these rivers "The first children" collectively, though each had its own individual name as well. The otters took to building tiny hamlets and houses into the banks of these rivers, half underground where it was warm and like the burrows of their ancestors. Other "modern thinkers" took to living on the tops of the plateaus that littered the riverlands. Yet all these works paled in comparison to Moon Port in its sheer size and splendor.

It was from their first city that the otters launched fishing fleets and explorer missions. It hadn't taken them long to realize that fishing by claw as they used to do was a slow and impractical approach with such a booming population. Some called it divine guidance and that Lutra showed them how to craft the first long ships based on the form of the great serpent that prowled their shores. They often leave out the mortal efforts put into such the task.

The other races may have found otter craftsmanship strange considering it was built with their dimensions in mind butt heir small claws and quick minds had gifted their works with beautiful details that could last through fierce weather.Their ships could glide across the water that could shame other navies. After all only the merefolk could rival the otters in the reading of the waves.

This was the dawn of a new age for these little creatures and they were determined to make their mark on the world. The island of Lutranis would prosper and all would know its name.

Therax had grown more and more morose and withdrawn as the years passed by. He simply watched as the world spun on, his children now so quiet in their whispers. How could it have gone so wrong? Had his experiment failed? Or had he simply given up? The god pondered these questions, and many more, for quite some time. However, the answers eluded him.

So, there finally came a day where the god could no longer deal with his dissatisfaction, his displeasure with other gods as they sat by and let the world fall to corruption. He could no longer stand to be on this world, where his long-thinking proved to be more of a hindrance then a strength. So, Therax lifted himself up, high above the mountains covering Shard. There, the god cast away his earthly form, separating the will, born from oblivion, from the body that had formed around it.

Free of such a hulking mass, the will cast itself into the depths of space, where it might one day find a world of its own to dwell upon and shape as it saw fit.

However, this was not the end of Therax's influence on the world below, as his husk of a body still coursed with the ethereal energy that gave the god his power. As the husk fell, it broke apart, and a wondrous thing happened: it bore new life.

The boulders and rocks that fell from the husk collected with the magma from within the body, and they coalesced to form massive figures, given the spark of life by the power that remained in the body. The figures, now living beasts, had bodies of stone, yet were able to fly high above the clouds and cast shadows upon all who would come to fear them. They were the Dragons, and their time was nigh.

As the some Dragons settled high on top the mountains to mate and multiply, and others cast themselves to the winds to explore this world with their fresh, young eyes, the remains of Therax's body disintegrated. It became like mud, raining upon the mountains and collecting in pools at their bases. From these pools, even more lives came into being. Hands sprung out of the pools like weeds, grasping for the edge to pull themselves out. One by one, they emerged, tough, dark-skinned humanoids with fanged teeth and a strong, violent desire to survive. They saw that they had been born from the very earth itself, and knelt in reverence to it. These were the Orcs, and their time had yet to come.

With Therax's parting, new life had risen above the dwelling of the Therax'kin. The fierce Dragons of stone and fire, with a hunger to sit atop the world; and the Orcs, who wished to grow and prosper, with a willing to fight for that prosperity. How well would they thrive in such a world, cluttered by gods?

The oasis was so perfect, everything shimmered and shone in the daylight. Kortence sat with all creation and admired it, content and ignorant of what was unraveling around him. He was too enraptured by the shining lake he had created, a waterfall cascading down. Matilda was sitting next to him, she was so wonderful. Her golden hair daintily swayed in the breeze, in the background Kortence could hear the kids flying about. This was the first time he had revealed himself to Matilda since her birth. They were staring lovingly into one another, like the best of friends.

"So, you are my creator then?"

"Oluf was the prime creator, but I did take part in it, yes."

"But why would you create me?"

"Because I love you."

Matilda laughed, "You love everything don't you!"

"Of course. What isn't there to love?"

"There are evildoers out there! What if they hurt us?"

"I don't think anyone is evil, Matilda. Some are just confused, frustrated and need someone to guide them. We are all loving behind it all, it's what makes us alive."

"So we should help those who hurt others?"

"They are sick, Matilda, and the unconditional love that we as living beings share is the only medicine."

"I will try to remember that."

Kortence stood up, a few drops of skin fell and were swallowed into the oasis. "I am going to create some more, go along now, do not forget what I told you! Pass it down and the world will stay beautiful forever I think."

And with that, Kortence stared at the wondrous rivers and lake square in the center of the Oasis, where Matilda was buried, and on her tombstone written "Matilda, first of mortals, loving mother, murdered by her own husband, but loving in death."

"COME ONE, COME ALL, TEST THE MIGHT OF LOU!"

Oluf smirked, watching the crowd gather around the human. He'd met up with him earlier that day, with the rest of the troupe. They weren't in a sky city, instead something ground level. A human village, one of the more rural ones, too. Agriculture seemed to make all their money. The gods crew were entertaining the peasants en route to the sky cities latest stop. Oluf liked money, so naturally they stayed a night. This guy seemed more used to it, though.

Lou seemed very damned arrogant, and more than a little bit flamboyant... but from what the god had seen, it wasn't incorrect. The man himself was best described as "massive," standing taller than any human he'd seen before. Guy was at least 6 and a half feet tall, and well muscled beneath his baggy purple robe, with red silk pants underneath that poofed out before tucking into knee boots. His face was hard, but kept a cocky grin you couldn't help but want to smack off, and he wore a jagged blue crown out of pieces of the Dead God, Therax, with two long braids that fell to his waist loosely.

Oluf stood next to his shorter 'brother', a man who stood a bit shorter than Oluf's Seraphim form, and dressed in an ostentatious red silk robe, that fell to his ankles, embroidered with golden runic designs. His hair was as red as his scarlet robes, and his face was stern unlike 'The Mighty' Lou. He seemed a bit more of a handler than a partner, though, and Oluf recognized him as a firebug without compare. His explosives and flames seemed to be the only time he smiled.

The current show wasn't much special, Lou challenged a random audience member to a quick bare knuckle brawl. The challenger here actually looked tough, though, a Paladin and a Merman by the look of him. Burlier than Lou, but not quite his height and no where near the arrogance. He looked like he could take all of Thalusai's swarm with a pitchfork. Lou couldn't help but grin wider, clapping his hands in anticipation. The Red Mage strolled inbetween their makeshift circle, holding up his hands and going over the "Rules." Seemed all there was was to not kill each other, weird since there seemed to be a war looming ever closer. Mermen were pissed at the Frostborn now more than ever, likely enough they'd be at eachothers throat by years end...

Paladin made the first move, charging him with a fist raised above his head. Lou held out his hand, catching him by the forehead. The man continued his futile charge, swinging wildly while his face got redder and redder. The crowd laughed, and Lou bent his arm slightly, the man's knuckle grazing his chin. Then, suddenly, he pushed, sending the man sprawling and landing on his ass. The crowd laughed harder, and the Paladin got to his feet again. They circled around eachother, the Paladin realizing that there was something behind the arrogance, an actual strength to back it up. Lou thought of what he'd have for dinner.

The second charge opened with a feint, while his left went for the ribs. Lou let it hit him, grabbing the arm at the elbow with both of his. The Paladin's shriek told the crowd it was like a damned vice grip. Lou lifted the Merman over his head, flipping him onto his back- hard- on the soft dirt beneath them. Lou gave a sharp kick to the mans side, and let his foot rest on the center of his chest.

His grinning brother intervened, strolling over and lifting Lou's hand.

"I think it's clear we have a winner." He said with a faint smile.

"Like there was ever a chance..." The god heard Lou say, under his breath. Oluf, a bit irritated, stepped up as the next challenger.

"Try someone with some power, with weapons. Or are you a coward?" The god said, lifting his greatsword and pointing it at the mountain of a man. Lou stared for a long moment, before doubling over in laughter. He had to wipe a tear from his eye, nodding in agreement to the challenge. His brother scrunched his nose, heading to where the two were standing and fetching Lou's weapon of choice; an old, decorative bow and arrow.

The two faced eachother in the rough circle, expecting the other to make the first move. Lou kept an arrow on the string, but made no attempt to draw it. After a moment Oluf smirked...

And let go of the sword.

The gem near the hilt shown brightly, flying towards the man of it's own free will. Out of panic, Lou brought his arrow up, catching the blade on a prong and bringing it down to the earth. The gem glowed again, as the hilt flew up and knocked the man on his head, using momentum to flip over him and land in the earth again. Lou, catching up to the trick with a growl, used his bow to catch the guard of the sword with the hard wood, flipping it in front of him again as he grabbed it's hilt. He caught the blade with his bare hand as it flew towards his face.

Oluf, the opportunist that he was, choice this moment to land on Lou's shoulders, rearing a leg back quickly and kicking the back of his head. The sword flew onto his back as Lou hit the ground. Hard.

"HA!" Oluf yelled, pointing as he flapped his wings to stay aloft. "Not so mighty NOW, are you?!"

Lou growled something, but Oluf really just couldn't care anymore. His shit eating grin was almost ear to ear as he flew to the red mage, extending his hand as if expecting something.

"You offered prize money for beating him. Pay up, if you're a man of your word." The mage looked worried, checking his pockets. "Er, we... appear to be a bit short." He smiled, raising a hand above his head. Before the god knew it, a burst of flame hit him in the face, hot and more than able to kill a mortal. The crowd screamed, many ran off, but the leader of his crew, a seraphim woman smirked. She'd seen him do something like this multiple times already.

"... That wasn't very nice." The god said absentmindedly, looking at the mage with a neutral expression. "Sounds like you two owe me a bit of money. Tell ya what! My crew could use a few more hands and acts, why don't you work off your debts!"

The mage blinked, looking over the gods shoulder at his brother. He had his bow drawn, pointed at the back of Oluf's (still smoking) head. After a moment, he shrugged, putting the arrow back in his hip quiver.

"Alright then. I'm Clay, and that's Lou... What... are you?" Oluf's grin widened again, a spark in his eye. The woman standing in the distance rested her face in her palm, 'here we go again...'

"Oooooh, well you see my little children... I am the-" Oluf took a deep breath, the brothers moved next to each other and glanced at one another.

"Awesome, fascinating, incredible, marvelous, prodigious, shocking, stunning, surprising, unbelievable, wonderful, great, brilliant, GOD OF YOU ALL, OLUFUNMILOLA!"

... The two brothers took a step back, glancing at each other again. The god continued, "And I suppose this makes you two my second official avatar! Say hello, Franz." The gem in the sword glowed again, but no noise could be heard to the two. Oluf could hear it, however, and he smiled warmly. Oluf looked forward to the fun adventures they could have.

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