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=EC 2020= Grand Arena

 
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8/2/2020 12:44:55   
  Starflame13

Gryffin Warrior of DF & RP


Silence reigned in the vacant stands surrounding the Grand Arena. Its walls, witness to countless years of slaughter and carnage, ever yet stood firm at the boundary of the sands. Sands stained in hues of scarlet and crimson, thanks to the tribute spilled upon them each year. The dunes gleamed in the sunlight, gorgeous enough to mesmerize - were it not for the aura of hunger, of anticipation, of desire for further destruction.

No wish came without a cost, and the Arena would exact its toll.


As noon crept ever closer, the spectator entrances abruptly swung open. Crowds rushed in towards the empty seats, their excited babble filling the air as their bodies filled the stands. They elbowed and shoved, scrambling to claim the spots closest to the coming bloodbath. Yet throughout the chaos, all kept half their attention on those already present in the front-most row. Delicate scarves and long, multi-colored robes hid the faces and features of those chosen to speak for the Lords. With heads bowed and arms clasped before them, they stood as statues. Watching. Waiting.

Then the sun reached its zenith, sliding into place directly above the center of the Arena. As one, the criers moved; heads raising and hands extending to command the attention of the abruptly hushed and eager crowd. Calm lasted for but a moment before they spoke, a multitude of tones and voices that melded into one as they issued forth their decree. “Fights of glory and deceit, acts of mercy and cruelty, moments of hope, despair, and fury, all have we witnessed in the Trials today! Now the Lords have chosen, and as they once passed judgement on the Champions of Old, now will they decide the most worthy of those before us today. Witness their chosen heroes. Witness the Paragons!”


A whispering breeze disturbed the stillness of the arena, swirling across the bloodstained sands. It tugged mischievously at loose hair and clothing, with just a hint of cruel trickery behind its playful facade. Gradually the eddies grew - joining together into a cyclone that swallowed motes of crimson dust only to pelt it at the spectators’ exposed skin. At its center emerged a plinth of silver, bearing a figure small in stature yet fierce in bearing. From her bare feet to her pointed ears, her entire form rippled with muscle and grace. Even as the rest of the statue stilled, her mane of wild hair continued to billow slightly in the breeze. The Pillar of Wind provided the air of life itself, yet could steal that breath away with a mere thought.

“Seeking what can’t be found, when all else to her is lost. Her crystal chimes brought a harmony to the song of the Shattered Forge. Witness Taria, Paragon of Wind!”

A bone-deep chill settled over the crowd, frost creeping over the edge of the arena’s walls. People pulled close together, as if in defiance against the sudden bite of bitter cold. Snow fell from the cloudless sky - piling upon itself until it formed a sculpture of an immense fur-covered creature, wicked claws digging into the crystal stand beneath it. The bear reared up onto its hind legs, a show of strength made all the more impressive by the gleaming armor covering most of its form. It bared sharpened fangs in a silent roar as the snow ceased, a torc of iron and gem glinting at its throat. The Pillar of Ice preserved the worthy, and slew the rest.


“Gifted with eldritch wisdom, driven mad by the same. His cursed flesh brought freezing death to the warmth of the Shattered Forge. Witness R’thazz, Paragon of Ice!”

A single drop of rain fell from the sky. Then another. Then another. The heavens opened and people dove under their seats for a modicum of cover against the sudden deluge. It drenched the sands, pooling until a pillar of salt rose upwards from the soaked ground. Upon it stood a simple Drakel, regarding the suddenly-dry crowds with bright eyes. He leaned on a long staff as bits of salt continued to rise from the drying sands, forming delicate patterns as they worked their way along his scales - the last pieces settling in with a series of gentle plinks. The Pillar of Water held dangers in its depths that lurked far beneath its still surface.

“Seeking wonder and story, as capricious as the changing moon. Ae flew faster than aer weapons about the Vortex of Fountain. Witness Micol Dhon, Paragon of Water!”


An unsettling gloom followed upon winter’s heels. Colors dimmed and excitement waned away as a pool of inky blackness spilled across the sands, coalescing into an obelisk of smoothest obsidian. On it stood a man made entirely of shadows - shades of black and grey emphasising the long overcoat that covered his slim form. Two lone spots of color stood out amidst the morass: the bright red scarf circling his neck and the brilliant scarlet gloves adorning his hands. He saluted the stands with a beautifully curved blade, the shaska glinting even in the absence of light as he thrust it towards the arena’s center. The Pillar of Darkness brought both death and rebirth, but either at a cost.

“Death he seeks, and from death he is reborn. His chains summoned forth nightmares within the Illumination of Twilight. Witness Mori, Paragon of Darkness!”

The ground trembled and shook as stones emerged from the sands, adorned with intricate carvings of vines and leaves. Their beauty went unappreciated as a skeletal figure clawed its way forth between them, eliciting screams of fear from the crowd. It twitched, responding to the strings of the puppeteer standing aloft the tallest craig. The bones broke apart and slipped beneath the figure’s billowing cloak - though the folds of fabric did little to disguise the skeletal falcons adorning their shoulders or the antlers across their back. The figure twitched, and the bones stilled to await the beginning of the fight. The Pillar of Earth, for all its stability, remained ever unpredictable.

“Born of distant sands, with a will as strong as the enduring stone. Her quick wit matched her paws’ swiftness upon the rocks of the Shattered Forge. Witness Circa, Paragon of Earth!”

The arena filled with an unbearable heat. Tempers frayed and passion ran rampant as a gleaming opal pedestal arose from the sands, flames dancing upon it. They twirled and flickered before parting to reveal a single orange spark - which grew into a delicate fairy. With delicately scaled wings and fiery hair bound by a circlet of volcanic glass, she spun in a shallow curtsy to the crowds, trailing embers in her wake. Her gaze turned towards the arena, a hand outstretched with fingers curling about wisps of flame. The Pillar of Fire embraced beauty and destruction in equal measure.

“Trapped in past memories, yet questing forward for the truth. His tricks brought forth flame into the Vortex of the Fountain. Witness Lunas Kal, Paragon of Fire!”

A crackle of static shattered the calm. Anticipation and agitation fought to the forefront of minds and hearts before a bolt of lightning sundered the sands, leaving behind a platform of glass. Sparks and electricity twined upon it, as if unable to decide on a single form. One moment a young woman, glaive in one hand and bridle in the other - next a tall hybrid of human and insect, four arms crossed and triangular head bent slightly to survey the ground below. Like a living statue, the lightning continued to shift even as no other actions followed. The Pillar of Energy knew only chaos and followed no rules but its own.

Born of violence and warfare, and ever caught in its cycle. His frenzy of fang and fin carved their way through the Shattered Forge. Witness Shinjri'shakraphrjat'shu'Sinaken, Paragon of Energy!”

A beam of radiant dawn, stronger than even the noon-day sun above, illuminated the scarlet sands. The unrelenting brightness brought with it an unrivaled calm until even the most restless of the crowds fell still. It alit upon a diamond podium - and from the glow stepped the twisted figure of a werewolf. It blinked at the brightness before shifting, folding into itself to form a tall, wiry paladin, the glow of heaven-light ever present across her brow. She pushed the hair out of her face with one hand and summoned a battleaxe with the other, leaning on it as she turned to observe the arena. The Pillar of Light would blind the unworthy, yet heal those who held faith in its glow.

“A witch of many meanings, controller of that which once forsook her. Her potions reflected sun and stars into the waters of Fountain’s Vortex. Witness Mia, Paragon of Light!”


Silence returned to the stands once more, tension heavy in the air. People held their breath, leaning forward as if desperate to get just that much closer to the fight. A single moment of calm before the storm. But just a single moment.

The pressure broke. The crowds roared. And above them all came the joined voices of the criers. “We bear witness now to the Trial of the Desert Sands. Let the Judgment of the Arena begin!”





< Message edited by Starflame13 -- 8/3/2020 17:53:08 >
AQ DF MQ AQW  Post #: 1
8/5/2020 1:00:26   
Kellehendros
Eternal Wanderer


Lunas screamed, and the sea overhead roiled in answer.

Eldritch light blazed from the receding walls as the Hirii Zen spiralled into the abyss. He reached out, paws raking at his pinions, whimpering as each feather savaged from its place was replaced by another, and another, and another. “No… No, no… I d-don’t believe it.” One hand groped fruitlessly along his belt, seeking his dagger. “Take them off. Sky-father, please...” The Etsija found neither blade, nor answer. Both dagger and estoc were beyond his grasp, and if Montal was watching, he gave no more answer than Lyth.

“Lyth’s favor is granted to those who help themselves, kid." Far above him the heavens rumbled, shuddered, and fell. "When the world comes crashing down around you, prayers won't hold it up.”

Water, raw and brackish, hammered into the young man, spinning him wildly in its frigid grip. Lunas howled in agony, the sound strangled - drowned - as the eager sea poured itself down his gullet. He could feel the hollow bones of his wings bending, straining, ready to snap beneath the relentless tide. Mother… Blinded and deafened, the Etsija pinwheeled head over heels further and further into the breach.

But rather than a crashing, shattering stop at the bottom of some abyssal well, he jolted up instead. Water squelched as Lunas thrashed off the woven-grass mat, tail tangling up his legs, eyes squinting against the dazzle of the midday sun. For a moment the sodden Hirii stared numbly into the tangle of oak boughs above, and then he shot to his feet, lurching first one way and then the other, scanning frantically for the lightcaster, for the wing-cursed woman, for-

She wasn’t wing-cursed. I was.

Dark splotches hazed out his vision as Lunas staggered, dropping to his knees and delivering up what felt like every meal he had ever eaten in a retching torrent of seawater and bile. When his stomach finally quieted he rocked backward, sitting heavily for a second before he toppled over in boneless exhaustion, glaring at the gnarled roots of the nearby oak. He had no idea where he was, or what had happened to the arena, to the other combatants, to-

He shoved the questions away, lifting his hands and staring at them. What does it matter? The Etsija’s paws were as they had always been: solid, deft, and covered with a coat of soft black fur. “What does any of it matter?” He could feel the plumage beneath his pelt - the last horrible secret the Seekers had kept from him - the legacy written into his flesh and bone whether he had wings or not.

“I never wanted this for you, son.”

“Who cares what you wanted?” The Hirii Zen surged upright again; the Butcher - Sootfeather - was nowhere in sight, but the young man paid no attention to that fact, screaming hoarsely into the empty air. “I wanted my mother! I wanted to be normal.” His voice cracked as his balance wavered again, hurt and grief and helplessness choking out fury. “I wanted my… I wanted my…”

He wanted his father.

Or perhaps it had only been the idea of his father that he had wanted: Someone strong and kind, stern but fair; someone who was there, always there, when he needed help. Stupid. Stupid and childish. That was unfair to Surlissa, to Ravel, even to Chen Han.

They had been that for him. Each of them had, in their own ways. But they had never been his. The Seekers belonged to each other, and to the Union. Building that fledgling government pulled them in a dozen directions every day, and sometimes there simply hadn't been time for a lonely Hirii orphan. Even if he had been the son of their friends.

“Oh pieni, no one is ever all good or all bad. We all try to do the best we can.”

But there had been Sootfeather. For a season each year, or every other year, the Kotka armsmaster had lived at Rangaista. He had taken Lunas fishing, hunting, camping. They had practiced and sparred, and explored together all the strange nooks and crannies in Surlissa’s ancient family seat.

And for a time - gods, but he hated admitting it - that had been enough. The young man had almost thought of Sootfeather like a father, albeit one who was distant and often absent. By the end of the war there had been no small demand for services such as the weaponmaster provided, and lords far and wide had been clamoring for help shoring up their defenses. His teacher's many treks across the country had made perfect sense to the boy then. Lunas had even worried about his mentor when he was away, and pestered his foster-mother with questions about where the Kotka had gone and who he was working for, imagining all manner of great deeds and heroic battles.

The Etsija squeezed his eyes closed, balling his hands into aching fists and letting out a long, slow breath. He had been so young, so stupid.

“Pity does you no good, kid. Doesn’t help anyone else either. The only thing you can do is stand up, and do what you believe is right.”

A laugh that was more than half-sob escaped the young man, and he lifted a hand to rub lightly at his temple. For a moment he paused, blinking in surprise as his fingers met with fur and flesh instead of cool bone. The Hirii Zen looked down at himself, taking swift inventory; he was clad in a soft homespun shirt and matching trousers - the clothing as sopping wet as his fur - but his armored jack, helm, and weaponry were nowhere to be found. Perplexed, Lunas glanced back and forth, searching for any sign of his things, only to be brought up short by the sight just visible beyond the bole of the ancient oak.

“The circle,” he whispered, absent possessions forgotten as he stumbled toward the distant stones. An instant later he was running, tail lashing in agitation behind him as he careened full-out down the gentle, grassy slope toward the henge. The Etsija did know this place. It was the stone circle, the summit from his nightmares. But this time, he was on the other side of the rocky ascent, atop the plateau he had spent so many fruitless nights failing to climb.

By the time he reached the outer ring of monoliths he was wheezing for breath, chest aching with a thready, staccato rhythm. The Hirii Zen reached out, tentative where mere seconds ago he had been deliriously excited. Stone - its surface smooth from untold years of weathering - lay sun-warm and stolid beneath his fingers. “You’re real. Oh gods, please… Please don’t be another dream. Please be real.”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Lunas twitched, ears swiveling to hone in on the reply that drifted out from within the henge. “Because you saw it in a dream?” It was a woman’s voice, soft and pained, but gentle all the same. “Why shouldn’t our dreams be as real - or more - than what everyone calls reality?”

The Etsijia leaned against the rocky pillar, a soft, fugitive sound that might have been a whimper escaping his lips. Something was wrong with his legs. He couldn’t seem to move them. That should be easy though, he had been doing that nearly all his life. But his limbs seemed to belong to someone else, and he was rooted to the spot as the quiet words tumbled and sparked in his mind.

They had been speaking about a book, one his uncle said Footnit had given him. An old text on dream interpretation, meant to lead the reader beyond their preconceptions and to the very limits of possibility. He could remember, even now, how Ravel had stared out the slender window of his office, lips turned up in a familiar half-smile. "'After all,' she asked me-"

“Is reality anything more than group consensus?” Lunas mumbled, trembling as he shuffled around the stone support and entering the circle. “M-M-Mother..?”

Within the henge was a field of flowers, a verdant carpet of day lilies, hyacinths, forget-me-nots, and a dozen other varieties he had no name for, all crowding in a riot of color about a single, massive menhir of black basalt. Footnit Kal reclined at its base. She was slender, a few inches shorter than him, with fur several shades lighter than the Etsija’s own. Her eyes were darker even than the rock behind her, like spots of wet ink, smiling tenderly despite their pain. And she was so young. The woman seated in the riotous meadow could not have been more than a handful of years older than the Etsija himself. “In the flesh, Lunas, or what passes for it these days.” The words must have cost her something, and as a shudder wracked through her frame the source of her pain became obvious: A blade, quivering with each labored breath, had been driven through her, biting into the basalt at her back. Blood - vividly scarlet - spattered from her lips as she coughed, joining the myriad rusty stains already coating her traveling leathers.

“Mother!” He stumbled forward, heedless of the flowers crushed beneath him as he dropped onto his knees next to her, staring at the protruding hilt in numb indignity. His hand lifted of its own accord, reaching for the weapon and then halting. He was no surgeon, and removing it might only kill her faster...

Her own paw rose slowly, wrapping gently around his hand and bringing it down to rest in her lap. “Don’t, please.”

“But it… It’s…” Lunas gripped hard on her hand, forcing his eyes up and away from the gruesome sight, shuddering as his gaze met hers.

“Through my heart and into the stone?” She smiled gently. “That… took some doing. It also… Well, I’ll be honest, it hurts a great deal. I would take it as a favor if you didn’t touch it.” Footnit’s fingers brushed him lightly, their tips running along his cheekbones. “You have his eyes.”

His teeth bit into his lip as he turned away, squeezing her paw harder. “Why… Mother, why him? How could you?”

“Asked like a man who has never been in love.”

The Etsija jerked back, wrenching free from her grasp and shaking his head. “No. No, that’s not true. You never loved him. And even if you did, he never loved you!”

“Look at you,” her voice was weary, sad, “so young, so proud, so certain. So much like him.”

“It isn’t possible!

“If you have all the answers, Lunas, why are you still so afraid?”

He stared at her, jaw working like a landed fish as he fumbled for some kind of reply. “I won’t… You can’t… That’s not…” The young man shook his head, squaring his shoulders. “I’m going to fix this.”

Her eyes were full of terrible compassion as she took his hand again. “In Bren, with a magic wish that will set everything right. And you don’t believe it possible Kennek Telan is your father?”

“He murdered you!” Lunas' tail swiped through the flowers at his back in agitation, shattering stems and scattering petals.

"That's one way to look at it, yes. By certain definitions, your father murdered me. I'm glad Surlissa hasn't been neglecting your history lessons."

He shook his head and clenched his paw over hers. “History can change. I’m going to erase him. I’m going to make it right.”

Footnit blinked, horror and comprehension flashing through her dark gaze in the split-second before she slapped him. It was a weak blow - nothing compared to the tremendous buffet Surlissa had given him at his Oath ceremony - but the shock of it alone was enough to rock the young man back on his heels. “You… You… You selfish brat!”

Stunned, he stared back at his mother, touching his muzzle in blank incomprehension. “I-I don't understand. Why would you-"

“Do you have any idea what that means?” She struggled against a wracking fit of coughs that further bloodied her ruined vestments. “If he is gone… If he never was, then you never were. Did you even stop to consider for one second what I, or Surlissa, or any of us might have thought of that?”

“But if you… If you had…”

“Perhaps you’re right.” She speared him with that dark gaze, her tone gentle but implacable. “Perhaps it would have been different without Kennek. The Nightmare might never have ended. The entire continent could have collapsed into a dark age that-”

“He took you!” Lunas screamed, hysteria edging into his words as he only just stopped himself from taking Footnit by the shoulders and shaking her. Why didn’t she see? Why couldn’t she understand? “He stole you from me. We should have been a family, but he killed you!”

“Because I asked him to.”

The words lay between them like a naked blade. “You… You what?”

“I asked him to, Lunas.” She reached out, hesitated, and then settled her hand carefully on his shoulder. “Because it was me or Ihmiset. Me or them. Me or you. Can you understand that, Etsija? We knew, in the end, that nothing would be perfect. But we wanted to make you proud.” Tears spilled from her eyes, coursing down her face as her fingers trembled against his arm. “Can you forgive your father for doing his duty? Can you forgive your mother for forcing him to do it?”

He gaped at his mother, feeling that old, familiar feeling of everything crumbling away at his feet. The young Hirii’s own breathing was harsh in his ears. His hands trembled, aching as his fingers snarled into the fabric of his trousers. Heat coursed up his spine, concentrating into a blaze of pressure tightening inside his skull. Forgive? How could she ask that after all but admitting she had abandoned him?

“You’re certain of this?”

Lunas moaned, dropping his head into his paws, kneading his temples as his thoughts seethed and roiled. “I don’t… I don’t know, ema. Just… Please, just let me rest!” His eyes squeezed tightly closed, but the tears fought their way free all the same. “Just for a while, please let me rest.” The Etsija shuddered, leaning forward slowly as his mother’s hands drew him close; her arms went around him, and his head settled on her shoulder with a quiet groan.

“Sleep, my son.” Footnit touched his eyelids lightly, stroked a finger gently over the ridge of his notched ear and down the side of his face. “Rest. I’ll keep watch.” She did, as a soothing breeze stirred the flowers, and the young Hirii faded into slumber. “Sleep. I’m always with you, Lunas. I only hope you find the answer in your heart.”



His eyes opened to blackness, and the young man knew he was alone. “Mother?”

There was no answer, only a quiet echo, curiously muffled. The Etsija sat up slowly, feeling the comforting and familiar weight of his armor as he peered into the dark. “Mother?”

In answer, fire bloomed. An old storm lantern was set on a wooden table next to the cot he had been laying on; that was all that was required to light the space. Its rays struck faint crystalline glimmers from the walls of the low dome over his head, glints from deep within the dark stone that almost seemed to move. The effect was faintly disorienting, giving the Hirii Zen the impression of stars reeling overhead. For a moment he fancied that was in fact the case, and he was alone beneath a wheeling expanse of endless velvet night. But that couldn’t be, for the “stars” stopped moving the instant he focused his gaze upon them, even if he couldn’t quite shake the notion of movement at the edges of his vision.

Lunas stood, looking for a moment at his hands, touching them to his chest, arms, legs. Had it only been a dream? Had he really seen her, touched her, spoken with her?”

“I’m always with you, Lunas.”

His ears quivered, and he darted a glance left and right. But he was alone.

Or was he?

The Etsija took a deep breath and let it out in slow, controlled pulses. Focus. He nodded to himself, only a little surprised to find a weapon rack waiting next to a wrought iron gate as his eyes shifted up. The former held his gear, while the latter was emblazoned with a tongue of leaping flame, and neither had been there a moment ago.

There was no sense in arguing against the convenience, so he approached and lifted his weapon belt from the peg it hung on, noting a trio of familiar ceramic orbs as he cinched the girdle into place. Checking his dagger’s edge with the ball of his thumb, Lunas absently slid the weapon into the frog at his right hip while lifting the steel sphere-

“Kennek made it for me, you know. After the Seekers’ first fight together. He couldn’t believe I had nothing more to defend myself with than a knife, and after seeing me tail-whip one of the bandits he said he had an idea.”

Metal rang as it crashed to the floor, narrowly missing the young man’s foot. “Mother, don’t scare me like that!” Of course there was no answer, and after several seconds of peering around the obviously empty room, the Etsija shook his head, chagrined. “Talking to myself.” But he smiled as he retrieved the flail head, clipping it onto his belt and taking the estoc by its hilt.

“Your father once told me that a proper sword has two edges. One to punish transgressors, and the other to protect the weak.”

“And a lord’s duty is to know which is right to wield,” Lunas finished. Sootfeather - Kennek - had told him that, during one of their last lessons. He weighed the estoc in his right hand, giving it a long, considering glance before sliding it into the frog at his left.

That left only his cloak, and the Lohikaarme skull helm. Hefting the helmet between his paws, the Etsija stared into its empty sockets. “Is it different this time?” His horned compatriot gave no answer, but the Hirii’s smile grew as he tucked the helm beneath his arm and turned toward the gate.

As though sensing his intention, the barrier swung open to disclose an expanse of crimson sand and the grumbling undertone of an expectant crowd. “Let them see then. Let them all see.” He left the sheltering cloak behind, head bare as he stepped onto the warm grit and marched toward the center of the Arena.

“Mother, I don’t know if you can hear me… But I’ll try.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 2
8/5/2020 6:44:53   
Fionnes
Member

“Did it work…? Did it… work…?”

Circa’s voice echoed from within her head, the sounds from the lava arena slowly melting together with her exhausted thoughts as she succumbed to the limits of her feline body. The competition was no longer on her mind, nor was the shark lying tired and breathless beside her. The lone Sandcat was no longer worried about the thought of dying, or the threat of death. After all, with little to no mana left in her core, the fledgling was at the mercy of her enemies: even the armoured energy shark that she was leaning against. She could feel the silica brush off her skin, as she panted and caught her breath. Circa was simply relieved the combat had taken a pause. Circa breathed in, then gently exhaled, letting out a soft sigh and a meow. Although she couldn’t save the unconscious human male, it was all she could do; after all, she was just one little Sandcat in this grand world. She could feel the sands that bonded her tug against her just a little tighter, as if they recognised the struggles within her core. At least the sands understand me, she thought.

Circa leaned back against the shark, and allowed her hands to rest against the solid stone floor. She felt mana slowly trickle back into her body, which calmed her down somewhat. The ever-so-slow recharge, as negligible as it was, brought some warmth and security to the weakened Sandcat. Even though the two of them had been exchanging blows just mere moments ago, Circa felt oddly comfortable leaning against the finned warrior. It was as if both of them had resolved some inner turmoil: there was a sense of peace between the two of them. It was brief, but it was miraculously there. Just the thought of that was enough to make the Sandcat smile.

“Circa?” A distant voice said. It was soft and calm, and sounded so familiar to her ears. Was it her mother’s voice?

“M-mother?” Circa was, of course, surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“You’ve done well, my darling,” her voice echoed. “You tried your best, against all odds. You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished today. But you’ve still got more to do.”

“More? I-isn’t it over…?”

There was no response. So there Circa lay, resting against the sands in her mind. She was content to stay, but her mother’s words implied there was more to be done. But, what was to be done? She had barely survived the last encounter… she was only one Sandcat, wasn’t she?

The light from her surroundings, glowing bright before, suddenly receded. Rock rumbled, stalactites crumbled, as the entire arena shook violently, erupting from within. The once-beautiful, obsidian glass shattered into thousands of black shards, condemning the once-warm cave into a deathly, desolate wasteland. The remaining stalactites let gravity take hold, as they came crashing down beside Circa and the shark. Yet the two of them rested beside each other, too exhausted to make an escape. They were content, as they were, and waited for the arena to take them. It almost seemed inappropriate to fall asleep in the middle of a battlefield, but the Sandcat had already accepted her fate. Her eyelids fluttered gently before softly closing, her body feeling weightless upon the onset of rest and relief. It was as if she was laying against the sand dunes at home, the soft comfort of flowing sand resting along her back. The sands and the Earth lay close to her, keeping her warm and safe.

She watched with half-closed eyes as the lava around her seemingly receded, and the bright glowing cave surrounding her slowly dimmed. Although something felt strange… it was as if she was no longer in the forge arena. Her vision of the rocky cave slowly faded away in the distance, as she found herself sitting on… sand. Soft, soft sand; sand that felt… almost like home. She could see the silhouette of someone in the far distance.

“Is that you… mother…?”

The voice didn’t reply; it simply beckoned for her to come closer. A whirlwind of dust slowly formed around the Sandcat, and she could feel the energy that vibrated from the earth within, the very grains of the desert that formed her body starting to revitalise with energy. A soft draft of wind pushed against her back, as if encouraging her to walk closer towards the figure. One step, two steps… Circa kept advancing, but she could not bridge the gap between her and the shadow. It only compelled her to keep going. With each step she made, Circa felt the Earth channelling through her body. The sands bonded tightly with her core, as each stride became more confident than the last. As her vision started to clear, her destination revealed itself.

It was the gateway leading to another arena, one very different from the forge she was in before. Sands that had accompanied her journey to this new place settled gently at her feet. The Sandcat found herself standing next to a pillar, forming right before her eyes. The towering figure, skeletal in appearance but cloaked with the Earth, stood proudly beside her. Every individual grain of silica that composed her body vibrated with energy, as if the pillar itself was signalling to her: You are the Paragon of Earth. You have been chosen, young one. And there she realised, quite out of the blue: had she been chosen? All the talk about the paragons and elements as she walked into the arena, all that time ago, when she was making her entrance… that each element would select its own representative, its own champion in the final fight… could it be? Had the Earth picked her to stand for them in this arena?

Circa closed her fists and found, to her surprise, Cupris within the clasp of her right hand. Somehow, it had returned to her. Was this another sign from the Earth, for her to prove her worth? She stood up confidently and quickly surveyed her surroundings. This new arena was much larger than the last but what surprised her, was that the entire area was covered in sand. It was the desert; her familiar! But as she bent down to grasp a fistful of it, it didn’t react to her body. That was strange… it definitely looked like sand, but it was subtly different. Specks of pink-red coated the grains, and it formed no connection to her structure. Even so, the sand gave Circa a boost of confidence: it reminded her of home. Simply seeing the landscape gave her a sense of belonging, and she smiled happily, with the feeling of reassurance resonating within her core.

Instinctively, Circa stood by the pillar of Earth and surveyed the new arena she was in. The area was much larger than before, and she could distinctly see eight unique pillars, her own included, positioned evenly around the area. Each pillar, representing each element; seven enemies: one Sandcat. She could feel the power course through her body as she placed her palm gently on the pedestal of the pillar.

It was time to finish what she had started.
DF  Post #: 3
8/6/2020 10:00:41   
Necro-Knight
Member

My sweetest Maria,

There is no one left to rob me of my discovery. I write this final letter to you with bloodied hands, a full stomach and a cold knowledge running through my veins. There is a world, so far greater than our own, that lies within the abyssal depths. The dark ice, the inky blood that permeates the waters, the twisted fish of the Great Sleeper… they all hail from the great sunken God. One entity, one singular concentration of will has created an entire existence simply out of sheer will. I know it seems hard to fathom but I have seen it, tasted its sweet bounties and sent the corpses of my former crewmen down to its people as offerings. They will be pleased with the gift, surely, for I have returned their gift of sweet meat in kind. Part of my brilliantly expanding mind wonders if they’ll enjoy the meat warm, as I now enjoy the mouthfuls of twisted fish cold and raw. The other part of me agrees with this.

I no longer have need of this crude vessel of man-made design and shall be departing it once I finish this correspondence to you, my sweet morsel. You may worry for my well-being, but I assure you, the gifts of the Deep One have made me immune to the threat of cold or drowning or sleep deprivation. I am awake for all hours now, dreams and reality no longer torn apart, but woven together like a tapestry finally made whole again. The nightmares are there too, lurking at the edges of my mind like predators, but even they no better than to enter a domain that the Great Sleeper has claimed.

Despite the new discoveries of existence, I have not abandoned my calculating ways, in fact, I am able to overlap spells and magical rituals now in ways I’d never thought possible. Adhering to the laws of man and Avatar have limited us, Maria! Blinded us to the ultimate potential of what raw, wild magic is capable of! The Void and elemental planes are just a select few realms of creation that exist beyond our own and together with the Deep One, we shall flood every known realm and dimension, gorging ourselves upon their knowledge until all are one in the Sleeping God’s drowned city.

I hear him now, his voice rumbles and cracks in every tumultuous eruption of thunder around this man-vessel. Time grows short, the rift that allowed his presence in this ocean closes and I must retrieve what he desires from our place of study. I shall travel through the freezing oceans of shadowed blood and arrive with all due-haste, my sweet morsel… Wait for me, at the same dock where we last said goodbye. I shall rise to meet you.

Kathool’Achoo f’thagn! La! La! C’thgafulg!


--------------------------------------------------------------

R’thazz had been moments from moving in on his next victim, webbed feet taking each step towards the three women-like creatures with slow and predatory grace, or as much as his twisted body would allow. As if to deny him, the rocky formations of the arena itself seemed to become animated by some living and violent force, bent on impaling each of the competitors without mercy. The Frozen One was calculating the odds of someone in the arena having undiscovered geomancy to this degree when the shadows that had sprang up in place of the choking heat lurched towards him, drowning every inch of the distorted fish-man in total, freezing oblivion.

As he gasped for air, he instead found a mouthful of refreshingly ice-cold seawater filtering through his gills and the firm, unwavering grip of a body of water around his aquatic form. Had he been rejected? No, he felt that would’ve simply meant being impaled in the arena and left to slowly suffer in the heat, not blessed with the embrace of the depths once again.

The Frozen One spread his wings out of reflex, trying to right himself in a dark world where “right” had no sensible definition and found that the darkness had liquified around him. He also ran the calculatable odds of the magics having teleported him to some foreign ocean and found them to be a roughly fifty-fifty split, given his limited knowledge of the local area. R’thazz beat his wings once he found a position in the darkness that seemed proper with the oceans he had traversed and began moving. The waters were icy cold, not that the Frozen One noticed it beyond a refreshing sensation after that terribly stuffy arena and the faint taste of rot ghosted across his tongue with every mouthful of water he worked through his gills. A few more days and it would reach the sweetest stage of decay, if his math was right, which it always was.

R’thazz was about to conjure up a shard of crystalline magic to light his way and gather some form of information of his whereabouts when a webbed foot suddenly found purchase on a sandy floor. Tilting his wide-eyed gaze upward, he found the distortion of a surface only a few meters away. A coast, which meant he had clearly arrived at wherever the abyss had wished to deliver him. Another strong kick against the ocean floor and thrust from his wings sent the Frozen One upward rapidly, taking only moments to reach the shore that awaited.

A storm was roiling above the shoreline and the waves R’thazz crawled from were becoming increasingly more violent with every one that crashed upon the shore. As his bulbous eyes adjusted to what little light there was, R’thazz saw the source of the delightful rot that he’d smelled and tasted during his arrival. The corpses of his fellow arena competitors, as well as dozens of unknown humanoids lay strewn across the sands, their bodies torn asunder, as if they’d been fed upon by massive jaws and left for a later feast. He considered treating himself to their meats, like a final tasting platter served at land-walker festivities, but a sense of dominating dread surrounded each of the mutilated corpses. A warning to man and land-walkers, surely, but a sign of dominance to those who understood its makings.

Looking skyward, the storm seemed to be coalescing around a structure that stood half-shattered atop the small island he’d arrived on. Eight pillars stood in ruins at perfectly measured points around its now half-circular shape and even more corpses led toward the yawning gap that was once its eastern wall. Footsteps seeming to echo in to thunder that shook the oceans around him, R’thazz ascended the rotting coastline, reaching the structure he now recognized as another form of arena, though it clearly had no use while in shambles. Of the eight pillars he’d seen from the shore, only one still stood, its surface an onyx crystal and as he moved across the wet sand that coated the stone floor, R’thazz rapidly recognized the blood of the Deep One that churned within the frozen pillar.

Touching his hand to the surface of the pillar, R’thazz’s mind was suddenly assaulted with the pure, direct essence of the Deep One. Unlike the ice he had discovered so long ago, fragmented and impure, this formation was the master’s will made manifest. He recoiled from the nauseating ice and dropped to his knees out of reflex, arms raising towards the storm that was rapidly starting to swirl overhead, lightning occasionally silhouetting great shapes behind the clouds. In that moment, that brilliant flash of insight and terrible realization, did R’thazz finally understand where he now kneeled, in total supplication.

This arena, and the landmass upon which it had once stood, was the Deep One’s beacon to all of creation. There are no Gods beyond Kathool, no realities beyond the Great Truth, no worlds but the one feasting beneath the waves. All shall become as one under the Great One’s gaze.

Another flash of lightning and R’thazz suddenly found himself surrounded by seven beings, though none of them any more human than he himself was. Each seemed to be living embodiment of the elemental schools of magics, albeit twisted and deformed much like himself. Leathery wings and wide, distorted faces with various aquatic traits ranging from angler-like antennas to the earth being’s head resembling that of some great crustacean. Without a word, the beings moved past him and formed a circle perfectly matching the shape of the shattered arena, standing across from what R’thazz assumed was their respective pillar. The only remaining space in the circle lay bare for him, he realized, as the beings collectively turned their eyes or antennas in his direction.

Moving to complete the circle with his back to the frozen pillar of filth, R’thazz watched as a rune circle began to form beneath them, blowing away sand and rain that had started to fall as it formed the symbol of the Deep One. A great squid with a dozen arms and pair of eyes that could’ve pierced a man’s soul. As the magic circle completed, R’thazz sensed elemental magic of every school collect beneath each of the figures present and unite in the center of the ring, fueled by himself and the other ‘avatars’ of their respective magics. The power wove into a writhing, twisting mass as the conflicting elements attempted to drown each other out, before a storm cloud-green energy lurched up from the rune circle and soaked into every available crevice of their power.

If the Frozen One had developed any objections over the course of the unholy ritual, he’d have been unable to act upon them, as the Old Magic that now permeated the circle and the island itself flowed through the assembled cult, using them more as a conduit than a wielder. Finally, the rune circle fell dark as the now-dripping orb of unified elemental energy pulsed with a sickly green light. The chants of the ritual finally began and rose to a deafening high, R’thazz’s own voice included, before the magic was abruptly unleashed. It screamed towards the storm clouds and crackled through the furious sky, spreading beyond the horizon and even reality itself, R’thazz assumed. For a moment, only silence followed. He simply stood with the twisted avatars, arms raised, rain pelting his face and wings in sheets.

Then, a roll of thunder that sounded like a mountain shattering sent the twisted avatars to their knees, though R’thazz stayed standing. Nothing would rob him of this, the final moment, the purest Truth coming to pass. He moved with the quaking island beneath his feet and as he cast his gaze out across the waters, a gargantuan shape had begun to rise from the depths a few miles off the coast. Even from this distance, its form dwarfed the cryomancer and he fell to his knees, finally, arms raised as another flash of lightning illuminated the one, true God of Lore.

--------------------------------------------------------------

The lightning faded as quickly as it had come and R’thazz found himself kneeling in dry sand, the bright sun of a clear sky forcing him to shield his eyes. Vision watering from the sudden shift in climate and illumination, the Frozen One found himself in the same arena he had just seen, yet every detail of the structure was perfect, as if it had just been erected days before his arrival. Just as the dream had shown, pillars of every elemental type stood proudly with their respective champion emerging from them. He recognized the earthen feline creature, as well as his fellow sea-dweller exiting their columns of power, along with some land-walkers he had not recognized.

Getting back to his feet with ungainly effort, R’thazz flapped his wings a few times to steady himself and looked back at the pillar of Ice. While this ice was pure and untainted, the merciless chill he could feel even from a few meters away was refreshing all on its own. He understood now, finally, his ingenious mind piecing it all together within moments. This was to be the place upon which he started it all. The rising of the one true God, the fall of man, all of it. As he turned back to the other sacrifices around him, R’thazz couldn’t help but smile beneath the tentacles that dripped slime from his face.

“Thg mgfm'latghnah ah maguth iklagg’n ng fahf agl ahor ah ahagl h' f’htagn… Y' mgep suhg ymg' ephaiagl, uh'eog, ng ahor h' tharanak”
“The cold is the master’s domain and this place shall be where he rises… I have seen your future, Master, and shall bring it to fruition.”
DF MQ AQW  Post #: 4
8/6/2020 13:06:26   
  Chewy905

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP


He is a citizen, speaking to his bronze-skinned ruler. The draft is fierce, unfair, he says. His friends, his family, forced into meaningless wars by whims that are not their own. The bronze-man’s reply is a crooked smile and silver in his heart.

He is a farmer, alone, starving. He looks out over his fields, frozen by the wrath of the enemy's ice-blessed queen. His last thoughts are of her ethereal voice, sorrowful yet empty of regret, as she declared the desiccation of his home by her blue and white robed hands.

He is a king, prostrated before a statue. He is praying, pleading to the only god he knows. He begs for forgiveness, for protection for his people, even if it must come at the cost of his own life. His “god’s” flood wipes away his entire kingdom as the idol crushes his form.


He is… nobody. A lapse in the ends, the deaths, where for a brief moment he is experiencing true, pure, nothing. A single flame of emotion flickers in the core of his non-existence.

A familiar blaze, an inferno that consumed him untold ages ago, kindled higher and higher with each betrayal. It splits in twain, two great flares flickering in a harmonious dance.

And then he is…





Flesh and Bone.

Mori coughed with reforged lungs, blinking the final traces of blurred visions from newly formed eyes as he steadied himself on his gnarled rod. His eyes roamed the stoned walls, seeing, for once, more than blackness, more than watchers and knights and dragons. More than deaths.

More than the lives lost to his siblings tyranny and foolishness.

After minutes. After eons. He is... back? Alive? But, he is…

He glanced at the silver rings that grip his fingers, the black gems winking up at him knowingly. A small sliver of a crack, a secret smile in the shadowed crystal, reflects the torchlit hall around him.

He is himself.

A sigh of relief exited his weary, healed lungs. Mori examined his form, finding no damage to his heart, no cracks in his head, and allowed a slight chuckle to slip through ancient lips.

“And yet they couldn’t revive me a few hundred years younger.”

He stepped, cracked, his way down the stone hall, approaching the iron gates at the end. Unlike the pure blackness, pure silence of Twilight, beyond these gates there is light and sound. The intense glow of the sun shines through, illuminating the hall and shaming the torches within. The cheers of a crowd permeate the bars, names and elation echoing off the walls and smothering the crackle of the flickering lights.

A smile made its way to Mori’s sagging face. Here, Death is a celebration! And his Lord, a real god, has seen fit for him to join in the festivity!

A second chance to fight.

A second chance to deliver his truth.

A rebirth, for the hundredth, thousandth, time, when there should have been none.

The gate clattered open, sliding up as the criers declared his name, as the crowds screamed in joy.

The screams grow in intensity, one name rising above the other seven. The chanters declare a victor. Bone and Chain celebrate atop the mountain.

Mori stumbled forward through the gate as the criers finished their chants, the vision hitting him with a sudden, surprising intensity. The scorching sand, dyed red with the blood of eternities of contestants, licked at his feet as his staff scrabbled for a more solid surface, finding none. His shuffling caused the crimson to shift about, and no cracks accompanied his approach as he fought to steady himself.

Those were not the whispers of Death. Mori thought. Then who…?

A smile, a white sliver set in black stone set in silver band, winked up at him once more. His dark eyes narrowed. Understanding, heavy and true, settled on his mind, clouding it over like a storm.

Whispered words were lost in the cries of the arena. “I will not let me out.”

Mori shuffled deeper into the sands, deeper into the beaming sun, deeper into the final show that he and the others would put on for all of this lovely city. His inability to strike his staff to stone or wood unsettled him, but he took comfort instead in the heat of the crimson grains that ran through the cracks between his bare toes as blood flows freely through a wound.

One flick of his eyes.

To the left: a woman with some interesting animalistic features. Not particularly unusual, but could certainly pose a threat. She was definitely faster than him in his current state, so it would be best to avoid her until necessary.

To the right: A deathly pale youth. Beneath the skin, he could see the pulsing of slightly purple veins. Striated hair of black and white stretched in mismatched lengths behind them.

Chains of starlight cling fiercely to his skin. He struggles, he shouts, asking his companion for help, for freedom. The chains’ luster grows, and he feels his strength, his life, begin to wane.

Mori’s jaw clenched as the whispers fought to cloud his sight. There was no ghost, no specter of his end for Death to place before him this time. Nay, this time there was living flesh.

And living blood.

Micol Dhon, of the changing moon. The name was new, it was always new, but the title, the appearance, was unmistakable.

His pale companion on this long arduous journey gazes down at him o’er the edge of the pit. Aer mismatched eyes regard his form, locked by astral chain, and glow with childish mirth.

But… ae was not a brother, not a sister. That purple blood bore no resemblance to the nothingness that ran through Mori’s veins. That pale skin did not match the bronze of Brother Aes, did not emanate the chill of Sister Gelu.

He pushed back the whispers, quelled the flame that burned within him, and advanced forwards with a sigh, shifting sand with every shuffle of his ancient feet, every muffled push of his ancient rod. If he could ally with a dragon, after feeling the rake of its talons ‘cross his flesh, surely he could forgive a fool for eons old transgressions?

At least until the “youth” had worn aerself out.

At least until Mori had a clear opportunity.

He could wait.

He would wait.
Post #: 5
8/6/2020 17:13:50   
Sylphe
Member

No matter how much she tried to hide the thought, pass it off as a coincidence, it felt to her like the whole ordeal was here to mock her: her arena, the bottom of the sea, the scent of brine and decay. Her enemies shrugging her off, as if one had not seen her and the other gave her no regard.

Though, what did she expect? This was a fight for a cruel god’s favor after all.

Being cruel has never been an issue.

A cold frown appeared on the witch’s face as she closed in behind the pale one, too busy fighting the fiery mouse. She retrieved her final bottle, another piece of glass with gleams of fire and sun within. But just as she was about to crash it into their back and claw for their attention as hungrily as ever, she hesitated.

Has it?

And in an act of the biggest possible coincidence, that’s when the sky chose to fall.

She held onto the potion with all of her might, refusing to let it break even under the pressure of the water that came crashing down. It hit at every burn and piece of her cloth left dry, the salt burning harder even than the time the raging kraken swept her off the deck into the sea’s depths.

The last thing she remembered properly was trying to reach out in panic, feeling the bottle’s neck slip out of her fingers.

She was not there to see if it had shattered or not.




For the longest time, there was just darkness. Darkness and that scent of salt that she could swear she would never have enough of. Though this time, it was different.

Barely, she could sense fresh air. And then the gentle sounds of rain, somewhere at the back of her mind. It was like waking up and falling back asleep again on a day that you just knew was about to be very busy, but you just didn’t want to get up yet.

The rain turned insistent, chilly droplets touching her skin one minutes after the other. Seemed like even the sky was not sure if it wanted to rain or not.

“Miaaaaa…. don’t sleep when I’m doing your haaaaair!”

She opened her eyes to see a huge boulder in front of her eyes and the blue sky above, with seagulls crossing it…

Her eyes focused, her nose scrunched. It was a face, and it was pouting with its gray lips and huge, dark eyes. They were barely visible over the damp, kelp like hair that hung over them.

“It’s just one of those things old people do.”

“You’re not even that old!”

“Think of me by human standards, will you?” Mia responded. She felt the other let go of her hair, and draped it over her shoulder almost protectively. Strands of dirty blonde and silver, braided with seaweed, bones and great care. She smiled.

“I’m about to smell like a long dead fish just in a few hours, aren’t I?”

“Oh ya bet!”

Mia turned around just in time to catch the mermaid grinning, rows upon rows of sharp teeth proudly on display.

“You’re a child, Scarescale.”

“And you’re an old hag.” Scare hissed playfully, and left Mia to perch on their rock alone while she dove under the waters below. She was barely visible in the inky waters, but it was the two finned ears always giving her away, pointing out of the water like a shark fin. For a mermaid this old, caution was a foreign word to her.

Mia rolled her eyes and gazed above at the clouds. They were tearing, and the golden shine at their edges gave away the sun that was about to come out.

“Seems like a grand day for collecting, eh?”

Mia blinked, and glanced back down. Scare’s head poked out of the water, just like the transparent tips of her tail.

“Oh lords, no. It’s too early in the morning to get wet.”

Now it was Scare’s turn to roll her eyes. It gets a bit creepier when you have no proper irises.

“You’re already wet, you sea witch you. Get down here, it's as shallow as human poetry.”

It wasn’t. Trusting, Mia jumped down. It resulted in a mighty splash and a rather upset old whale spitting water.

“Get your comb before it hides back behind the clouds.” Scale poked Mia’s ribs with her spiked elbows.
“Ow.” Mia growled, but listened, reaching underwater for her belt, and finding a comb. She had to move her glasses up with a finger while she squinted at the object. It looked like a comb, yes. But the comb you’d find in tall mountains, a comb used for harvesting blueberries.

In a way, she was about to do just that.

Her hand sunk into the sunlit waves, threading through the waters like you would a bush or a tree, and in the small nook where berries would end, there was sparkling, reflected light.

Scare grinned and went on to lead Mia through the shallow waters to make sure there was not a sudden drop into the open ocean.

Not thinking, the witch followed close by, walking on the stones sunk in the underwater sand. She would check for light that was just not reflecting enough, and those bits she would throw right at Scare, until the mermaid rolled over on her back, and gave her a glare, her arms folded and hair full of lights.




“Hmmm, I think that’s a good haul.” Mia commented, pouring the last batch of light into a flask she had prepared. She swirled it in her hand with the bit of saltwater that just had to get in. She would have to separate them later.

Through the bits of water she saw Scarescale’s face. There was something hiding in her expression as she looked at the flask and the light swirling within.

“Somedays I wonder… If you’ll ever show me how you make all the things you bring me.” It was said almost like a small hope, something you know is not going to work. But there was no shame in trying.

Mia frowned.

“That is not what we agreed on, is it? No making of, I just bring you what I made from the light you helped me find.”

But she knew the question had to come one day or another, with how curious Scare had always been.

“Alchemy is an art of pain and sacrifice. It’s dangerous. I can’t let you-”

“Show me how you make all the things you bring me.”

Scarescale’s repeated question seemed to shake the world to the core, the clouds stopping in their way, just like the birds. It took Mia a long stare into her eyes, now burning brighter than the sun, to realize that…

That this was not how the memory was supposed to go.

The air stood still and waited, until Mia’s words, spoken out of a haze, sent it running again.

“I… I don’t have a bathtub to put you in!”

And Scare giggled, as if nothing had just happened, leaving Mia to wonder if it was just something she had seen.

“How about the pond in your home?”

She was not so sure there was one, or that there has ever been.

But she refused to let doubts cloud her mind. She was not getting old. Whatever that was, the memory of it was already becoming cloudy.

Other than the one of the glow.

“Eep!”

Without much of a warning, Mia picked the mermaid up. Holding her in a snug, yet powerful bridal hold, she traversed the craggy rocks and cliffs of her shores, and soon the sand that kept getting stuck on her boots. Towards a cottage, one she saw in the far distance. A path she had taken numerous days and nights, there and then back. It went through the sandy hills, fields of cutting, sharp grass.

It was why it took her by surprise that it took her and her quarry next to no time to get there. The fae stared owlishly at the many windchimes hanging from the roof, and reached out to touch one, tracing her fingers over the beads.

“To ward off evil,” Mia explained, smiling at Scare’s fascination.

“How about the sail?”

Mia looked over to where the fairy was pointing. A small workshop was attached to the cottage, and it appeared to have a thick, dark sail draped over its roof. Tattered at the sides where the wind beat into it mercilessly, but every tear at the top had been perfectly patched up.

“Patience, child.”

“Old hag.”

Scare hissed in response as they entered through the door. Perfectly, with no tails hit on door frames at all. The elder had to congratulate herself.

Together, they passed what appeared to be a shop. Countless bottles with dim green or sea blue, unlabeled tin and wooden boxes. It didn’t take Scare much to realize this light was much dimmer and less beautiful than the one she had seen Mia collect before.

The real alchemy asked for prices higher than just coin.

That much was apparent when they entered the workshop. There was almost no light, and if Scare had not been so used to the depths, she would not see at all. This way, she could make out a door, under which strange lights were kindling, and perhaps a few ponds much like the one she was placed in. Was… that a broom closet?

“We’ll need pitch darkness for the first one I’ll show you.” Mia called from the other end of the room as she put out candles and the last of the lamps.

And in the black void, patterns of light made themselves known, making out circles on the floor and ceiling. The ground’s circles symbolized the elements and as they perfectly stood against their opposite. The beams of the ceiling housed stars done in golden paint.

And while Scale was watching the paint come to life and emit a faint glow, Mia opened a small cabinet, filled only with flasks full of silver starlight. They were a bit lazy and rested only at the bottom at first, but once she shook them, they jumped about like fireflies. She placed those in front of Scale, and went off to prepare a cauldron to melt glass in, apparently.

“So, any idea why we need darkness for the stars?”

“They wouldn’t be visible during the day?”

“Ah! Clever. It’s not just sharp bright light that deserves care.”





Along Mia brought three glass balls, and the boiling cauldron.

“Now, starlight might just be distant sunlight.”

She started, placing a ball on a spot in the circle, which only took Scare a short time to recognize as the midway point between Light and Darkness.

“But it still needs a different way of handling, some sort of…” She looked up, as if trying to catch a word. “Care, you know? It’s been on its way for a long time.” She beckoned for one of the bottles, and poured a few spoonfuls of the shimmering light into the ball.

“Now, you can’t just pour light in and be done. There’s incantations to be said, energy to be expelled. But.”

She gave Scare a wink.

“I also like to add a bit of licorice. So it contrasts better.”




“Would you like to try to make the third one?” Mia asked, beckoning towards the glass.

“I’m not a light mage.” Scale frowned sheepishly.

“Well, dear, neither am I, according to tradition. Go ahead.”

Scale nodded, and excitedly moved spoonful upon spoonful into the bomb.

Unfortunately, when it came to be her turn to seal the ball with heated glass, she made a mistake, and the uneven surface appeared to crack, a web running thin on its surface. She moved back, ready to whisper an apology, but the elder stopped her.

“No worries, no worries. It’s not going to do anything. Just an aesthetic flaw. And its not like they’re gonna care about that when it flies at their face!”

The elder laughed, and the mermaid soon joined, fangs shining.




“Now, for the Shimmering Barrier, we’re gonna need darkness as well. It’s pretty much the same thing as with the Starlight Bombs.”

“They would be there in sunlight, but we wouldn’t see them?” Scare asked, nodding.

“‘Course! Sometimes you need a little darkness to see your way, just like with the stars!”

The mermaid tilted her head. “That sounds a little forced.”

Mia threw her arms out, though she was very much smiling through her voice. “Oh shush, I’m an alchemist, not a poet!”

She made her way towards the door. It was the one the kindling lights were spilling under. She opened it, and it was proved to Scare that it really was a broom closet.

But what a broom closet it was.

The room was tiny. Enough barely for a single wall and many, many shelves. Each of them was filled with lanterns of varying sizes and shapes. There were rough lanterns made of stone that must have come before the word lantern was even written. Simple lanterns made of tin or wood. Ornate lanterns with thin and artful glass like the windows of a church. Spirit lanterns with will-o-wisps of purple. Many were still alight with comforting, orange light that the mermaid just couldn’t help but stare at in wonder.

“Ah rottenfishbeards.” Mia cursed, picking up one that appeared like it was just put out mere minutes ago. “It’s already gone bad. And here I thought it was going to last till tuesday.”

Scarescale covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a laugh. She cast Mia a questioning look.

“Couldn’t you just… you know, light them up again?”

“Good question!” Mia called, her back still turned, her hand swiping through the air like an invisible pointer. “I could, yes. But we’re aiming to use their light for protection. Protection and guidance were their purposes when I took them. And that desire is still there in their light.”

Mia reached out and picked a lantern from the shelf on top. It was small, and the tin at the sides was full of cutouts in the shapes of animals and people. This was a child’s toy, but it would work nonetheless.

“If I lit them up now, it would be a flame of spite, maybe of illumination. That’s not going to give us a barrier.”

The second one she took was painted blue and obviously naval. It was larger, and looked a little beaten up. The witch placed those on the floor before Scarescale, as gentle as she could to not put them out.

The merfae traced her fingers just shy of the glass, taking in their warmth.




Scare had waited in the utter darkness for a while now. Mia said she won’t be gone for long, but with this old lady, who could really be sure? She was about as predictable as the evening sea and liked to run around much like the wind.

Not so different from mermaid elders, really.

Her thoughts were halted when she heard scratching sounds from the roof, and saw pillars of light make it into the room. The black sail was coming off the roof, and revealed that there had, this whole time, been a huge hole in the room’s ceiling. Also several ones around it.

Scale wondered just how often did Mia have to save her workshop after heavy rains.

“Alright, and there we GO!” The witch yelled from the outside, waving at Scale through the only hole she could reach. It really just looked like a disembodied gloved hand.

“Hurry up and get in here!” Scale called back. “You could have said you needed help with the sail!”
“No offense Scale, but you don’t have any legs!”

“Ah, right.” Scare chuckled to herself.

She heard Mia walk around, first outside and then inside, in the many rooms that one wouldn’t guess could fit into such a tiny cottage.

“Want some tea, dear?” Mia asked as she stuck her head into the room.

“Oh, no. I’m just fine. I’ve got all the luxury I can have.”

Too bad. It turned out that Mia, in a typical grandma fashion, had already started making the tea when she asked. Scare could only sigh when a glass kettle landed on a rug in front of her, along with cups of pink, worn down porcelain.

“You know, you could have gotten glass ones to match.” Scale commented as Mia poured the mint coloured liquid into the cup in front of her.

“Little glass cups are just too useful for holding light in, alright? I use what I can get my hands on.”

“Like a blue sea racoon.” Scale nodded solemnly while taking a sip. Mia only responded in a faux offended glare.

The fairy put her cup down. The tea tasted faintly of mint, and the chill of rainy days. And just a twinge of salt.

“So, what’s next, oh the great teabringer?”

“Glad you asked.” Mia grinned, and took bottles full of reflective wisps out of her endless pockets.




The sun had travelled far ever since they started their work. It was when Scale was choosing ribbons to decorate the new Reflection flask that Mia noticed it was getting dangerously close to the center hole in the roof. To the noon, the highest point of the sun and light’s element.

“You settled on red, Scylla?”

Scare nooded, handing the bottle back over to Mia. The elder gave it a good once over, flicked at the fabric with her thumb, and placed the flask on the tray next to the others they had already made.

“The final one I’ll show you needs some nasty timing to pull off. Normally I’d need to collect a lot of light beforehand, but luck would have it that I found some in my storage. Not sure when I collected it, but it seems fine to use.”

She was a bit too excited and joyful to notice a subtle smile and glint in the eyes of the fae.

“You know what they say, koi bring luck to any who see them.”

Mia looked over from the heavy black chest she was trying to drag into the room.

“With all due respect, the only koi thing about you is the desire to swim up impossible waterfalls.”

Scare was about to retort, but it was then that Mia’s voice grew softer, as she reached into her pocket, and gave Scale a thick shard of coloured glass.

“Hold this over your eyes. And don’t look directly at the light, yes?”

She waited until Scare nodded.

“I wouldn’t want you to lose your eyes, and get hurt, alright?”

The room had a strange tint with the glass over the mermaid’s eyes. But it did not make the sight of an elderly lady beckoning a blaze of light out of a black chest any way less beautiful to watch. She moved her arms around the circles set in the floor, and the light followed her like the hands of a dancer.

“Nigredo, cleanse and decompose.”

She chanted, and Scale watched as the burning wrath calmed, the flames dying down to barely a breath as they passed the earth symbol etched in the floor.

“Albedo, bring light and clarity into the chaos.”

The daylight burned bright with a white flame before it settled into a stinging yellow, passing Fire into Air.

“Citrinitas, awaken the true power of the sun and moon.”

And finally, as the scorching light gained a bright colour of red, it passed the final mark of Water.

“Rubedo, rise again, pure and blazing.”

She ordered the light in a circle, the red dissolving into a wild, glowing mixture of black, white, yellow and red. And then, with a final motion, she sent it into the prepared bottle standing right in the center of the circle.

She bottled it up, kneeling in front of it as if paying respect to it.

Carefully, as if carrying a child, she made her way towards the tray.

She spent quite a while looking at them, and the light swirling within.

With her mind cleared by the ritual, she had to ask…

“You aren’t really Scarescale, are you?”

She didn’t turn, instead staring at the hole in the roof where the sun was just leaving its zenith.

“Scarescale has been gone for a very long time.”




She came to in white sheets and with a last glimpse of a figure leaving through the door. She tried to call out, but her body would not budge.

Moving in that dream had been way too easy.

With a quiet groan, Mia managed to sit up in her bed, finding that not only her clothes were waiting for her on a bedside table, but that they were also neatly folded. Never in many years has that happened to the witch. And neither has them being dry and smelling very nicely of something that was not salt.

She couldn’t quite place it.

She snatched her glasses from the pile, and put them on her nose, smiling when the world became just a little clearer. Even if under a blue tint.

Mia stood up, the white robes she woke up in billowing behind her. Not that the resemblance to her family’s attire bugged her much. Something else caught her attention.

It was a tray, sitting under the table.

Her tray.

Her tray and her potions. Three Starlight Bombs and then one of each potion she had used in the Fountain. She took them in her hands, curious and infuriated as to how anyone other than her could mimic her craft.

Until she noticed the piece of ribbon tied around the Reflection Flask. And the imperfections on a single Starlight Bomb.

Tears welling in her eyes after she had long since forgotten how to cry, she held the potions to her chest. After all those years. She had not been forgotten after all. All it took was fighting.

She looked up.
She would fight. Like she has never before. Not out of fear or spite. Not anymore.

The potions safe in her coat’s pockets, she ventured out towards noon.




She took two heroic steps before being licked at and bumped into by a very, very happy shark.

“One last flight, Thu.”

The shark gave her a long look.

“One more last flight.”

And that is how the witch arrived before the gates, on the back of her shark. She waved them a goodbye, one that was not the last. She had learned not to just call things last after today.

She ventured in. Into the sands, into the burning sun slowly but surely making its way to its highest point above them.

She took in a breath.

No salt. Only the heat of the sun and her pillar. Only the iron of blood spilled in times past. It filled her with a fury she had not felt before. Fury of a fight, but not of rage. And she was even more sure of this when she found out who will be fighting the closest to her.

Coincidence had it, as usual, that the one fighting closest to her were the fox child Taria and a shark child with a name so long it was definitely one of a wordless shark language.

“Fare well, my child.” she glanced at Taria.

“And you as well, noble shark.” She said towards the other paragon.

She held Helia’s hilt tightly in her hand.

“I’ll be sure to do the same.”
DF  Post #: 6
8/6/2020 17:55:50   
Apocalypse
Member

“Armadas have the tendency to believe that while riding the oceans, they are rulers rather than trespassers. For all their might and machinery, I’ve yet to see one be anything but helpless once I pulled them under.

***

Micol never saw the sword land.

Ae heard the resounding clang of stone upon bone, felt the reverberations of the strike travel through aer wrist and up the arm, but the explosion of a novastar blinded Micol from seeing any of it transpire. The pale figure clenched aer eyes shut to no avail as piercing white light dominated aer vision. The alchemist and her tricks. Fumbling through the air, Micol reached up to exert aer grasp upon the ceiling to pull aerself up in a bid for time while vulnerable and disoriented.

Instead, ae pulled the ceiling down to aer.

The wall of water slammed down upon Micol’s back, driving the breath from aer lungs. Impossible... Ae had used the Grasp of Empyrean Glimmer upon the ceiling several times already, and the vast ocean above had not so much as stirred. Micol tried to regain aer breath but found only the salty taste of brine. The waters engulfed aer as they plunged aer down, down to the coral floor. Charred flesh was set alight with agony as the seawater grated over the tender skin.

Blooming Crescent slipped from Micol’s fingertips as ae reached out towards Burden of Heaven. Anchor and recover, then recollect the arms. Such was the plan but as Micol sought out the bond between self and weapon, ae found nothing. No...no no no no NO! The last vestiges of aerself could not be gone. They could not. A thousand lifetimes and never once had they eluded aer grasp.

But now…

Micol screamed: a scream rendered silent as the dark waters poured over aer lips and drowned aer lungs. Ae kicked and fought against aer prison, the bubbles unleashed by aer thrashing coarse enough to perforate aer wounded skin. All futile in the face of the tide’s wrath. Tendrils, briny yet firm, seemed to wrap around aer limbs, aer waist, aer neck and pull aer down into the depths.

Inhaling only found water. Exhaling failed to expel what did not belong. The beating of aer heart pumped blood and life into a body that could not obey. Micol drifted in aer descent, fleeting thoughts leaving aer mind as consciousness abandoned aer…





“How long should we give this one?”

Mismatched eyes opened. Micol struggled to aer hands and knees; cold, wet, and sore beyond comprehension. But alive. Ae was alive.

“Oh, I think we can spare a few moments. Looks like this one was on the receiving end of a shipwreck. Ironic, I think.”

Micol raised aer head to face the voices but was assailed by a lurching in aer stomach. Ae began retching, vomiting what felt like gallons of seawater. It splattered against the cool rock beneath aer. Heaving and shaking from the ordeal, Micol looked up. Ae was out of the arena, that much was certain from the midnight sky glittering with cosmic lights. Its vast canvas extended in every direction, only vanishing as it met the dark horizon in the great beyond.

And as beautiful as it was, Micol’s gaze was more drawn to the other Micol Dhons standing before aer.

They stood in a circle, each perfectly spaced away from one another around a pool of water. Ae did not have to count the many pale figures to know that twenty-eight of them peered down at aer. Each one remained still as Micol staggered to aer feet, the faint drip of saltwater upon the ebony stone floor permeating the vast silence. Upon standing, the soaked and shivering newcomer completed the circle with the dopplegangers. Though ‘doppleganger’ was not quite the right description; ‘flawed mirror’ was far more appropriate. Branching off in either direction, each pale figure appeared several years older than the last. Facial features grew sharper while the figures themselves grew taller about halfway across the circle before age began to set in. The striations of hair remained in their even blacks and whites, but the visages grew wrinkled and gaunt until the last two across from Micol leaned on a cane and staff composed of stone...the same stone that constituted aer own Arms of Eternity. Ae turned aer gaze over the expectant watchers. Each carried stone weapons of their own in a myriad of shapes and sizes. Some of them felt familiar, a dream forgotten on the cusp of waking. Others slashed resonant echoes across aer memory. Micol shut aer eyes at the sudden influx of remembrance: of wars waged, battles won, rulers slaughtered…

...and the command over the ocean’s depths.

Micol shook aer head to clear the fog within aer mind, wet strands of hair slapping and sticking to aer skin. Raising aer gaze to meet the others, ae spoke. “I am not intruding, am I?”

A few chuckled while several others narrowed their eyes at the remark. One of the not-Micols, in the prime of aer age and wielding a massive axe, scoffed. “Do you think you are funny?”

“Amusing to some, an annoyance to others.” Micol pinched aer nose and blew out some of the seawater still vexing aer nostrils. “Today, at least.” The pale one in aer prime grit aer teeth and took a step forward.

“That is enough,” spoke the elder one leaning on a cane.

“Would be a shame to come this far to fail,” said the elder one holding onto a staff. The one in aer prime stepped back into aer position, glaring daggers at Micol the entire time.

“I agree,” Micol said, turning aer attention to the two eldest. “Shall we introduce ourselves? Myselves?”

“I think we have not the time for all,” spoke the elder one leaning on a cane.

“Though perhaps us two for simple convenience,” spoke the elder holding onto a staff.

“When you were I, you called yourself Heol Tef.”

“When you were I, you called yourself Ratheb Dast.”

“Ratheb. Heol.” Micol’s gaze bounced back and forth between the two of them. One was the full moon while the other was just shy of the title of eldest, but ae could not discern which was which. Though if either was half the annoyance that Micol was today, then that was likely on purpose. Ae hid a smirk before continuing. “For what purpose has the council of me, myself, and I along with a few others been assembled?”

The pale one in aer prime somehow intensified aer glare while the comment elicited a few groans from the rest. Am I really so irritable on those days? Micol fought to keep aer gaze from drifting to the naysayers of aer japes.

Heol lowered aer head with a twinkle in aer eye. “Answers.”

A grin crawled across Ratheb’s lips. “Or rather, the answer.”

Their words were met with silence as Micol found aerself without a reply. The answer… How long had ae marched the earth in search of it? How many civilizations had ae seen rise and fall without ever getting any closer? Every night, that pale celestiel body hung in the sky, commanding the tides and gracing the world with its light. It shined beautiful, immaculate…

...incomplete.

Micol swallowed the lump in aer throat. Would this - could this journey come to an end?

“How do I know it’s real?”

“You don’t,” spoke Heol.

“You’ve been promised before,” said Ratheb.

A crushing weight fell within Micol’s stomach. No. No, this was yet another fool’s errand. The same way Micol had been led astray by the woesinger, so was ae being duped now. Mismatched eyes fell to the still pool in the center of them all, its depths impenetrable beyond even the surface.

“But what you’ve forgotten…”

“What you were made to forget…”

A dull glow pierced through the shallow’s depth, white glimmer among the sea of black.

“...is that you’ve been here before.”

“...is that you’ve lived our lives before.”

A shining beacon poured up through the placid surface, its brilliant light streaking up to form a pillar to the heavens. Micol raised a hand to shield aer eyes but stopped aerself short. Its luminance should have been blinding but the beacon delivered no punishment to Micol for gazing upon it. Ae lowered aer arm, heart pounding as it threatened to leap into aer throat.

“You may find it hopeless.”

“You may find it impossible.”

Wet slaps accompanied each of Micol’s steps as ae approached the beaming pool. Aer gaze never left the beacon, but the faces of the other pale figures were visible at the corners of aer vision. The youngest faces smiled and nodded with encouragement, the enthusiasm diminishing as the faces grew older. With a start, the pillar vanished, sinking back into its humble pool. Not a trace of its radiant glory remained. Micol stopped aerself short, words eluding aer. Ae looked towards the two eldest across the water. “I-I…”

Heol and Ratheb returned the stare before turning their gazes upward. Inch by inch, Micol craned aer neck back towards the blank canvas above them. A blank canvas with a smattering of paltry lights glittering among the darkness.

And a moon, full and brilliant, shining down upon them.

“But you have succeeded before.”

“Time and time again.”

A quivering breath escaped aer lungs. A hammer beat within aer chest.

“But the gods are fickle.”

“The gods are austere.”

To the left, one of the pale figures gave a sly wink. Across from aer stood the pale one in aer prime. That one still glared but it had softened after the glorious display. A couple words formed silently on aer lips. Go forth.

“As we have succeeded…”

“As you have succeeded…”

Micol reached the pool’s edge and its indecipherable depths. Ae could see nothing, nothing at all.

Except the reflection of that heavenly body on its surface.

“You must do so again.”

“You must do so once more.”

Micol looked up at the two eldest, Heol Tef and Ratheb Dast. Eyes that had seen the ages pass by...and yet eyes that were dwarfed by aer own. How foolish of aer to have two seen elders passing wisdom unto a youth; they were but children to aer. Children nudging the most ancient of them to continue forward and complete their journey, aer journey. Micol teetered over the edge of pool, that luminous moon beckoning aer closer.

“As we have done before you.”

“As you have done for us.”

Micol stepped forward, and twenty-eight pairs of mismatched eyes watched in silence as ae plunged into the water’s surface.

***

Micol awoke.

Or rather, Micol stirred. Ae did not feel as if ae had been sleeping, but the stupor that clouded aer mind was not dissimilar. Realizing ae was lying upon the ground, Micol pushed aerself to aer feet. Crimson granules scratched aer cheek and clung to aer robes. “Couldn’t give me the dignity of standing up?”, ae called out to the empty passageway. No answer came as Micol brushed aerself off. “I thought not.” Then again, in the arena I have to stand on my own.

Micol’s heart began to beat faster as ae approached the gate, the thrum of it masked by the booming voice from the arena. “Taria, R’thazz, Mori,” the pale figure whispered to aerself. Paragons chosen to fight for their Lords’ favor. Yes, the Elemental Lords. Their name this day. As Micol changed aer name on a whim, surely the lords did the same. Perhaps they cared not for such trivial things, simply answering to whatever names the mortals thought themselves clever for inventing.

“Circa, Lunas Kal.” Two more paragons chosen by their gods. Micol had traversed the eons and encountered a chance to impress the gods only a few dozen-odd times. In their short lifespans, they would have the chance to do it but once. The fortune before them...Micol hastened aer steps. At last...at long last!

“Shinjri'shakraphrjat'shu'Sinaken, Mia.” The gate’s doors were thrown wide and Micol broke into a sprint at the sight of the arena. Eight pillars bearing champions of the past stood erect near each of the entrances, their colossal frames standing guard over the coliseum. Crimson sand crunched beneath Micol’s feet as ae rushed past the reptilian statue of salt. Heart hammering, Micol reared back and cast Burden of Heaven towards the center of the arena. It streaked through the air in its arc before plummeting back to the earth. Micol exhaled, freeing aerself of aer weight and filling the spear with it. Exerting aer grasp, Micol leaped into the air and catapulted towards the thrown Arm of Eternity. The stone weapon plunged down headfirst, the entire blade sinking beneath the scarlet sands. Micol let out a laugh in spite of the welling with aer chest as ae twisted mid-air. With upmost grace, the pale figure landed on top of the spear’s base where it jut out from the sea of crimson. Micol spun around on the ball of aer foot, taking in the forms of all the paragons before aer.

“Come on, come forth!”, Micol shouted. The Paragon of Water drew Wax and Wane from their sheaths. Aer beating heart was relentless in its frenzy; the gods were watching. “Let us give glory to the lords this day! To those who fall, let us meet once more in Death’s other kingdom!”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 7
8/6/2020 18:45:08   
ChaosRipjaw
How We Roll Winner
Jun15


“You are the Way of the Water,” Hae Iseul said. Was that a note of accusation in her tone? she wondered. Possibly.

“You know who I am,” the Way replied. It was not a question. “Or rather, what I am.”

“You are not real,” Iseul whispered.

“One does not need to be corporeal to be real,” the Way retorted, a flicker of amusement appearing in its eyes. “Surely you understand that by now.”

“Well if you insist,” Iseul said. “You are not an independent entity.”

“I once was,” the Way said, a ghost of a wistful smile passing across its fish face..

“You were once an entity known as the ‘Way of the Water’,” Iseul continued slowly, as the pieces fell into place. “But you are dead. The ‘you’ that exists now . . . is but a Dream construct that the Shha’rarken activated unknowingly with its psionic power.”

“Yes, yes, yes, and no,” the Way replied without skipping a beat. “I am no longer an independent entity. It is true, I was once such a being, known as the Way of the Water. It is true that I am dead . . . but I am not merely a Dream of a memory conjured by Shinjri’shakraphrjat’shu’Sinaken.”

Iseul started. “Is that the Shha’rarken’s name?”

“Yes,” the Way said reproachfully. “I would have thought that the Dragonslayer in the Purple Dress would be the first to be aware of that.”

Iseul shook her head. “What are you then?”

“I am the Way.”

Iseul exhaled. She met the Way’s gaze unflinchingly. Her eyes glowed. The Way didn’t react. It said simply, “What Sinak knows, and what he has once known, I know.”

Iseul was silent. Dead but not dead, not truly alive, not a Dream returned, what else could it be?

“You are manipulating him.”

“No.”

“He speaks to you in this grotto,” Iseul accused.

“Yes, that is true,” the Way said, “However, not only do I not manipulate him, I cannot. Every word that leaves my lips is reflected in his mind and heart.”

What Sinak knows, and what he has once known, I know.

“By heaven,” Iseul whispered. “You are his conscience.”



Vasily Jarishnikov strode down the paved street. His greatsword glinted menacingly in the setting sun. His ragged black robes, perfectly suited for beast Hunting, looked quite out of place in the cheerful, civilized city of Bren. He walked briskly, his mind racing.

The Shha’rarken had somehow been directed to Bren, the home city of the legendary Elemental Championships. If his calculations were correct, then he had just arrived around the time the Championship began. He wondered how it could possibly enter the city in the first place. His eyes fell on the canal that arced along the sidewalk under his boots.

Something seemed off . . . It was still early in the morning. Where was everyone? Alarmed, Vasily broke into a jog. Empty streets, dead silence--- there!

A group of guards stood around a large doorway, looking bored. Before they could react, Vasily rushed forward and grabbed the nearest guard. “What’s going on?” he hissed.

With a shout of alarm, they all raised their pikes, but the one in his grip just laughed. “If you’re here to participate, you’re way too late!”

Immediately aware of how hostile he seemed, Vasily released the guard. “I apologize for my behavior,” he said, shaking his head.

The guard raised his hand and the rest of them sighed in relief and withdrew their pikes. “No harm done,” he said. “I’m used to friends and/or relatives of combatants coming here out of concern. Say, what is your concern anyway?”

“You wouldn’t happen to know who the combatants this time around are, would you?” Vasily asked.

“Certainly I do,” the guard said, laughing. “Bummer I have to miss the fun cause I’m on duty, otherwise---”

“Who are they?” Vasily interrupted impatiently.

“Well, uh,” the guard said, frowning. “There’s this really, really old man, really creepy (no idea how he’s even standing, much less fighting) and an old lady, though she looks a lot nicer. Um, I’m pretty sure there are several girls too. Like, one of them is actually a ‘bean-slinger,’ whatever that means! There’s this really big woman, like crazy strong ‘big’, and then---”

Vasily harrumphed impatiently as the guard continued. Something about a knight, a singer, a cat girl, and a fox-masked assassin went in one ear and out the other. “What about . . . inhumans?” Vasily suggested.

“Ah yes!” the guard said excitedly. “This year has had a ton of exotic species combatants! Um let’s see, there’s a vampiric dragon---” Vasily winced “---some kind of rat man, oh! Another dragonkin (blind), and---” this time the guard shuddered “---there was this really nasty fishlike fellow, he spit on one of the officials and we had to hospitalize her---”

“Fishlike?” Vasily asked, instantly alert.

The guard nodded. “Ye, fishlike! He had tentacles growing out of him too---”

Vasily rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Was there a shark or something similar?”

“Oh yeah, I was just getting to that!” the guard exclaimed. “It was one of the big talks of the city! Not only was it some kinda shark, but it wasn’t even Water-aligned!”

Oh no, Vasily thought. Aloud he asked, “What happened to it?”

The guard laughed. “You’re concerned about a shark?”

Vasily gave him a look. “Just answer the question.”

The guard wilted slightly, but he brightened. “Oh you needn’t worry about it; it actually made it to the finals.”

For a full three beats, the words didn’t register.

“It WHAT!?” Vasily yelled, shocking himself.

“Yep,” the guard said. He looked at the breaking dawn. “And the final should be starting in about another half hour or so actually.”

Good god.



Sinak swam restlessly in a circle, just as he had done in what seemed like another lifetime.

<I am Shinjri’shakraphrjat’shu’Sinaken.>
<<Shha’rarken.>>
<<<Warrior.>>>
<<<<Honorbound.>>>>


He reflected back on the events that unfolded previously a few hours --- or perhaps a few moon phases? --- ago.

(The passing of time was but a trifle.)
((Sinak shook his head, the memory of the voice fading.))

He had blundered into the Championship blindly, rashly, with practically no preparation. He remembered speaking to a fellow denizen of the Deep, how they had joined forces in an attempt to slaughter an unconscious, dark-haired man (he was somewhat sure now the fallen was male) and a strange female that had ears and stance like a Kh’kkhein --- a furred creature (a cat) --- and flesh made out of sand.

In his battle frenzy, he had attempted to taste first blood with the dark-haired male while his temporary ally had assaulted the female. In the skirmish, she had somehow gotten to the male first and --- surprisingly --- decided to protect him instead of killing him.

(Wasn’t the point of the Championship to kill everyone else and emerge the victor?)
((Of course he was aware of his alliance with the amalgamation, but that was a different story.))

So surprising in fact, that he found he was unable to attack her at all. Ordinarily (as he now recognized), he would have fled from such a thing. But the Championship was far from any occurrence he was used to. Escape had not been an option. Unable to run away, he ended up recalling all his memories of similar events, the ones he had spared because they reminded him too much of himself, of his now decimated kind, and most of all, that not all dirtwalkers were the bloodthirsty monsters he had always been sure that they were.

With his resolve shaken so badly, he had exploded into a fit of rage and furiously attempted to kill the female whom he perceived to be the source of his doubt, believing if he finally broke the cycle, he would be free. A foolhardy thing to do, Sinak thought grimly. Just like the Archtraitor in the tales, he had committed the fatal mistake of attacking another unprovoked. She had not instigated an assault, had not done anything other than to do what any decent sentient being ought to --- what secretly, Sinak wished he could do for his own kind, and could never now.

He had struck and struck in a blind fury, and she dodged and evaded until she could do so no longer, and he had bitten into her leg. The stalactite she had been hanging on to broke off from their combined weight and collapsed on top of him.

Sinak shuddered slightly, remembering the feeling of Skyfather’s fingers wrapping around him, squeezing the life breath out of his body. Ssaatw’ppa had figured out how to bypass his mental shield in the past, by means of a two-pronged attack, but practically never had his shield been disabled in such a manner (though he knew it was theoretically possible).

The first trial was surprisingly short; he had only just recovered from the crushing stalactite when the lava suddenly withdrew like the low tide. Scarcely a moment after, the entire cavern shook itself apart. A wail as terrible as Deep Mother’s anguished cries rent the air as the ground swiftly soared in temperature. The howls rose until he thought his head would split from the strain . . . and then everything went silent.

Which brought him back to where he was currently. By the time he totally came to, he had been mysteriously transported from the chaos into the underwater chamber from which he had entered the Forge much earlier.

Sinak wondered. How did the Way appear before him? Even now he wasn’t entirely sure that really was the Way of the Water, but the conversation was too lucid to be a mere hallucination.

Everything you know, and have once known, I know.

Then there was the matter of the voice. Even now Sinak, Shha’rarken warrior, who knew no fear even amongst the fearless, trembled at the memory. What was it? That wasn’t the first time his shield had been disabled by force --- or maybe it was? (He had good reason to doubt his soundness of memory.) But it certainly was the first time it took him so long to restore it. This was also the first time he had heard the voice. Coincidence? Not likely. No, nothing was a coincidence. The Way flows as the Way wills. Sinak shook his head. What was that the Way said, something about the Klaayphaunthuu?

Speaking of which, he hadn’t noticed it in the heat of battle before, but it followed him; a strange throbbing in his head. It was painful, a strange internal, visceral pulsing from within. Far unlike any external injuries he had ever suffered, but for now, it would not affect his combat capabilities.

<<<<Indomitable.>>>>

Perhaps a swim would clear his head. Decisively, Sinak turned and left the resting chamber.



Sinak glided through the canals absentmindedly. He didn’t want to think right now. Just rest. Without meaning to, he retraced his path through the canals. Through the tunnels, through the sewers, out into the open---

His head bumped into a grate and he jerked back, startled, then shook his head. How careless, zoning out during a swim, in the middle of dirtwalker territory no less. He was about to turn away to head back, but something made him take pause. Something that tugged at the edge of his memory---

Ah yes, he realized. This was the same place he had met the giant woman named Sledaristan. Sinak sighed. Although he would never admit it out loud, he felt ashamed when he thought of how their last encounter ended. Without really thinking about it, he rose out of the water, then immediately cursed. Stupid! While reminiscing, he had subconsciously repeated his actions that day, almost as though he were wishing he could repeat them in a different manner. Sinak clicked his teeth irritably, moving to resubmerge --- and froze.

<Blood?>

Savagely, he clamped down on his Shha’rarken instincts. There was no mistaking it. With senses so acute they could pinpoint droplets in the vast ocean, he was nearly overwhelmed by the scent of blood which soaked the air. The victim must be badly injured, and nearby. Sinak didn’t exactly frown, but he was certainly perplexed. Although he hadn’t paid much attention to Bren in general, he wouldn’t have pinned the city to be a particularly violent place. While well aware he wasn’t entirely in control of himself, his curiosity got the better of him and he followed the scent.

He didn’t have to go far.

<Sledaristan!?>

By the Core, what had happened to her? She was leaning against the alley wall. If he didn’t have his electroreception or smell, by sight alone he would have thought her to be dead. She didn’t seem to be breathing, but with his hearing he could still detect a pulse.

(Albeit very faint.)

Blood poured out of the wound on her chest. It perforated his olfactory nerves. His eyes glazed over and he gnashed his teeth hungrily.

<No!>
<<I am Shinjri’shakraphrjat’shu’Sinaken.>>
<<<I have found my purpose.>>>
<<<<I WILL NOT BE OVERTAKEN AGAIN!!!>>>>


Apparently he had made a lot more noise than he had intended, because she blinked and opened her eyes. Thank Grandmother Moon that she hadn’t been completely unconscious.

She said something in her strange language, but as it was before, he understood. Inwardly, he cursed himself. He was a Shha’rarken warrior, who feared nothing below the sea and sky, who had torn through legions of the Hunters of Beasts, and yet here he floated, helpless to do anything except to watch and hope Sledaristan wouldn’t die.

As it turned out, his worry was needless. She shut her eyes and entered what he now recognized as some sort of trance, and the wound quickly scabbed over and faded.

(Wait . . . “worry?”)

She awoke once more and stood up. Once again, he became aware of just how tall and strong she was; when he raised himself upright, they stared into each other’s eyes.

“Kata mak refral,” she said. It’s good to see you.

Sinak acknowledged, <I too, am happy to see you again.>

(Happy?)
((Where did that come from?))

He asked, <What happened to you?> Mentally, he indicated her now vanished chest wound. She laughed. I entered the Championships, didn’t win. All there is to it.

Sinak was surprised by her response (though not by her candidness, as he had learned to expect it even despite their short time of interaction). For a few moments, a torrent of questions flooded his mind: You entered the Championship as well? Who did you fight? What were you fighting for?

He transmitted none of these thoughts. He inclined his head, peering carefully at her. For some reason, it was harder to make out her emotions this time, but he thought he recognized something in her mannerism. Remembering the way the . . . well, the Way of the Water spoke with him when he was feeling down, he said simply, <I am sorry to hear that.>

(Wait, what? Why did he say that?)

Again she laughed. Thank you, Shinjri.

(No one had ever thanked him before.)

I haven’t had a real good laugh in a long time.

The prospect of laughing was such a foreign concept to him. By Skyfather’s light, except for the nights he spent stalking the Hunters, he probably would have never known that “laughing” existed. But in the presence of Sledaristan, he understood what it meant to laugh.

And so (to compound on his surprise) ((what a night for surprises)) he laughed with her (or at least he imitated the sound). <And I as well.> Then embarrassed, he asked quickly, <Where will you go from here?>

She sighed. Sinak listened attentively as she spoke. Although her words were short, he gleaned a tale of a life on the run, a last chance for peace . . . lost. They were not so different from each other after all.

<I am sorry.> he said once again. Somewhat uncomfortable with the mood, Sinak shifted slightly so that they were both looking at the canals. <Do you remember how we first met?>

She grinned and recounted her chase. Sinak shook his head in wonder. So similar they were, and yet so different too, he mused. Here, he wallowed in a bog of poisonous regret and self-pity, which had quickly evolved into violence. On the other hand, Sledaristan seemed to be quite carefree, unhindered by fear and pain. (So unhindered she’d run up just to pet Sinak, a monster even his kind would probably fear to look upon.)

He tried to put his thoughts in order, but the things he wanted to say were too many. So as he did once, he did again. His thoughts poured into her, though this time, they were not ones of hatred and resentment built up over the years, but of wistfulness . . . and gratitude.

<That day, when I fled. I was a fool.>
<<I feared the prospect of your proposal of peace.>>
<<<But I understand now.>>>

<Thank you. For showing me the Way, when I was unable to see it.>


She didn’t seem to understand the significance of his acknowledgement, but he didn’t mind. When the words were spoken aloud in their minds, he could feel his resolve solidifying. He knew his purpose now.

She started suddenly and jerked her head to the side. Startled, Sinak followed her gaze, raising his fins slightly. She spoke again. Sinak listened, and frowned slightly (not literally of course). She was already being tracked down by her equivalent of the Hunters?

(Wait.)

What is this? Instinctively, he wanted to help her. What a change from his old self, he thought. But something told him that this was where their paths diverged. Just as he had his own battle to fight, so did she with hers. And so he responded.

<I still have business here, yes.>
<<I leave you now, Sledaristan. Farewell.>>
<<<As you have shown me the Way on my journey, so do I bid you luck with yours.>>>
<<<<May Maeeluuk’s --- Deep Mother’s --- currents guide your path.>>>>


He turned away, aware he may have just given his last farewell to this stranger, this creature who no longer seemed so strange. No, he thought. No more circling the waters. That was what had gotten him into this mess in the first place. He admitted---

A friend.

Sinak dove back into the water as he did so long ago. But unlike the first time, where he headed into the beginning of his journey, now he was headed towards the journey’s end.

It is time.



Vasily was speechless.

The guards had expressly declared that no one was allowed into the stands until the Finals began. So Vasily had decided to take a stroll through the streets, relishing the silence every moment possible. He had just turned down a corner when he saw it rise out of the water.

He may have been the Ender of Beasts but that didn’t mean even he could take down the monster single-handedly. He’d ducked into an alleyway and secretly trailed it.

The results: he had seen it converse with a very large, and probably very strong woman. (Probably the same one the guard was talking about.) He hadn’t been able to make head nor tail of the exchange; Shha’rarken spoke their thoughts privately, while the woman’s tongue he had never heard before. Vasily wasn’t considered a legendary Hunter for nothing though. While he couldn’t understand anything he heard, he could certainly recognize the familiarity with which they greeted one another.

Could it be, he thought, that Iseul was right after all?

A splash awoke him from his reverie. Then---

“Come out,” came a voice.

Vasily jerked in surprise. He’d assumed neither of them had noticed him since the Shha’rarken had not reacted. He peeked out and saw that the Shha’rarken had left; it must have gone back into the canal, based on what he had heard earlier. And now this woman --- this very large woman --- who had probably noticed him hiding in the shadows. Briefly, he pondered if he should run. (Also why was she speaking Standard now?)

Vasily raised his hands, palms extended, and stepped out of his hiding spot. “I’m here,” he said quietly.

He watched her carefully. She turned slightly, muttered something, waited for a bit, then turned back and said in perfect Standard, “You’re hunting my friend.”

Vasily was well aware he would be at a disadvantage if a fight broke out. Instead of acknowledging, he asked carefully, “Your friend?”

“Shinjri’shakraphrjat’shu’Sinaken, the Shark.”

So that is its --- his --- name.

“I see,” Vasily said neutrally. It would probably be unwise to continue prodding instead of answering anything, but he tried, “Since you’re his friend, as you say, do you know what he’s doing here?”

She gave the answer that corroborated exactly with Iseul’s words: “This is Bren. There is only ever one reason to come here. The Championships.”

Before he could dwell on it further, she gripped her axe. “If you keep being cagey, I think it might be best to just be rid of you here and now.”

Looks like she’s angry now.

Vasily raised his hands again, indicating surrender. “I’m not here to fight,” he said. “And since you asked, I will answer: Yes, I’m following him.”

He nodded at her retort. “You’re right, I do not simply follow such creatures. I am, after all, a Hunter of Beasts.” Before she could say anything, he continued, “But while once I was one of those who Hunted him, that is no longer my primary objective.”

As he thought, his follow-up had given her pause. And when one is curious, one must ask. So he answered. “The Shha’rarken --- Shinjri, as you call him --- was once a terrible enemy who plagued the coastlines. He stalked and hunted and slaughtered everything that had warm blood and walked on two legs.” Something occurred to him; he breathed and continued. “If you’re really friends with him, then I’m sure he has told you everything---”

She smiled and nodded. “He told me. All his history. How the war between his and yours erupted and the cycle of hatred that followed. I think I was the first person he’d ever met to not hate and fear him. He didn’t know what to make of me at first.” She turned her gaze to the canal, and Vasily followed it. “And just now? He thanked me for showing him the possibility of making peace where once there was only hate.”

Vasily took a step back. Incredible, he thought. Absolutely incredible. “Then Iseul’s prediction is true,” he murmured, rubbing the mass of scars that used to be his left eye. Remembering the woman was watching him, he said, “The Shha’rarken was, and even now, still is considered a great enemy. However, not all of us are that narrow-minded. We have long since deduced that he is far from the bloodlusted monster the locals would have you believe.”

Vasily sighed. “We have also long since known that he --- Shinjri, as you call him --- had come here for the Championship.” He smiled faintly. “He made it, you know.”

She didn’t react to that --- oh yes, the Shha’rarken must have told her --- and instead asked, “So then Hunter. Ex-Hunter. What will you do now?”

He didn’t bother to clarify the “Ex-Hunter” comment. “Now?” he said. “Now I will do nothing.” He smiled again, but this was one of resignation. “If what you say is false and we were mistaken, and if the Shha’rarken emerges victorious, then we will all be dead --- instantly smote from existence if quick, or hunted down like rats if he chooses to take his time.

“On the other hand, if he perishes in the arena, my work here will be done. If he survives ---” Vasily’s voice hardened “--- then I will do my duty and hunt him down to avenge the families of the slain, the ones who had never had a finger, much less a hand, in the war.

“But,” he said, staring off into the distance, “if all this is true . . . then perhaps it’s possible that this feud of more than fifty years would not be in vain.”



Similarly to their lesser shark brethren, Shha’rarken did not truly sleep nor did they need to. And Sinak, with all his enhancements, needed it even less so. Even while resting, out of habit he continued to swim in circles.

He awoke to the throbbing in his head and winced. The throbbing seemed to be growing in intensity.

It is time. said a voice. It was not his own.

Anticipation flooded his system. It had finally arrived; the finals, the last battle. His electroreceptors flared to life. The source of the throbbing was not in his head, but elsewhere. Sinak kicked his tail and rose out of the water, once again back in the hallway that formerly led to the Forge. Only this time --- he stretched out his senses --- there was a vastly different smell. One that was now oddly familiar . . .

Sinak frowned inwardly. Even now, he found it difficult to discern how much he had seen while suffocating to be hallucinations. The Way, the voice---

The cat-eared female, leaning against his back exhausted. But instead of panicked, she was strangely calm, as though everything was peaceful---

(Sinak shook his head for what was probably the tenth time today.)
((He wondered if he had somehow lost consciousness back then.))

<I am Shinjri’shakraphrjat’shu’Sinaken.>
<<Shha’rarken.>>
<<<Warrior.>>>
<<<<Honorbound.>>>>

<I now know my purpose.>
<<My purpose is not revenge.>>
<<<No different from the Archtraitor otherwise.>>>

<As long as I am trapped in the past, there can be no future.>
<<With no future, I might as well be dead.>>
<<<Unacceptable.>>>

<Years of grudge and hatred cannot be swept away in a single day.>
<<Not by myself.>>
<<<Not when both sides are at fault.>>>

<But there is one thing I can do, on my own.>
<<With my own body.>>
<<<With my own mind.>>>

<I enter the Championship to receive the boon the lords provide.>
<<This boon will not be used for myself or against the children of Skyfather.>>
<<<This boon will represent the hardest fight in my life.>>>
<<<<I fight for an end.>>>>
<<<<<But not one of death.>>>>>


Sinak burst out into the arena, into a cacophony of cries and cheers. It was disorienting and, he had to admit, amazing. He’d never heard anything like it before, not against the Hunters and certainly never out at sea. His brain crackled with energy and he rose upright, assuming his fighting stance.

Unlike the cloistered Forge, this arena was open to the full scrutiny of Skyfather’s eye, which hung at its zenith. The arena itself resembled the abyssal wastes of the ocean floor, only without Deep Mother’s touch to wash them clean, the dunes of sand were stained crimson.

(Fortunately with the Championships only being held once a year, the majority of the odor had long since faded.)
((He could still detect hints of blood, enough that his Shha’rarken instincts pricked him uncomfortably.))

Abruptly, a hush fell over the spectators. And the chants began. Names and elements. He recognized none of them except for two.

Circa, the cat-eared female, whose drive to protect and survive against the odds aided him to open his eyes.

And R’thazz, his more-or-less ally, once upon a time.

Ironic, he thought grimly. Each of these two had and would give him more than his fair share of headaches, respectively. The universe seemed keen on testing the extent of his resolve.

(The others he filed away into his memory.)

He, Shinjri’shakraphrjat’shu’Sinaken, was the Paragon of Energy. Not Water, he thought. He no longer truly belonged to the sea, as much as he yearned for it, just as he would never be a dirtwalker.

Above the sea, a darkness threatens to swallow the sky.
An evil that cannot be fought, from which we cannot fly.
Beyond all hope and beyond all fear.
An end to all things we may hold dear.
United they are, with all minds as one.
United must we, under the sea and under the sun.


Sinak smoothly circled around the pillar of his element, heading toward the center of the arena. He allowed himself one last, brief moment of reflection. He remembered his mother’s soundless voice, which told him stories even from the womb. He remembered the war, seen through the genetic memories of his ancestors. He remembered the Hunters, and his oath to avenge the Shha’rarken.

He remembered the Way of the Water. He remembered the innocent dirtwalkers, not unlike the Shha’rarken that had fallen to the Hunters. He remembered Sledaristan, for showing him the possibility of peace.

He remembered the Way.

<I am the bridge between land and sea.>
<<I am the scion of the past, and I reach for the future.>>
<<<I fight for an end, but not one of death.>>>


AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 8
8/7/2020 23:39:53   
draketh99
Purple Armadillo


“My name is Lily.”

The floor moaned and rumbled. Echoes shrieked and lept from the ceiling, assaulting Taria and her ward. The soft and insidious whistling from all around the arena spoke to Taria of shards of glass plummeting from the ceiling, threatening to strike any who dared stand in their way. Though the floor grew unbearably warm beneath her feet, Taria felt the cold prickle of instinct against the back of her neck, telling her to flee.

Her feet stood firm as the little fox refused to run. Instead, she wrapped her arms more tightly around Lily, protectively squeezing the girl closer. While the world was content to shake itself apart, Taria was content to hold on until it did.

The chamber collapsed around the two of them as Taria held on tightly. Having already accepted her potential fate once, she was more than ready now. Stone cracked, glass screeched, and the heat of the forge came to take her.

In an instant, panic took her as she found her arms empty.




THUMP

She woke with a start. The darkness that resided within the corners began slowly encroaching upon her. Delicate hands tore away blankets and fumbled for a nearby lantern. It had been right there, hadn’t it? The demons within the shadows would be striking at any moment now. Ah! There it is! The knob clicked once, twice, three times as flint sparked a flame to life. The small room glowed with the copper tint of a dull flame. The light left no room for shadows nor the demons within them. Tension from the girl’s shoulders dropped with a sigh. They may one day get the best of her, but today would not be that day. Relief was cut short by shuffling just ahead. Shadows cast themselves through translucent sliding doors as they awkwardly shifted back and forth. Coarse blankets were torn to the side as the girl rose to her knees.

“Guards, report!” A small voice, unevenly pitched and layered with sleep called out.

“We’re sorry to wake you, priestess,” a nervous voice called back. “We found and brought your parents to you, just like you asked.”

Anger. Impatience. Frustration. All of these flared with the flickering lantern.

“And…?”

The nervous voice coughed. The shapes beyond the door awkwardly shuffled yet again.

“They’re waiting for you in the great hall. We can escort you as soon as you’re ready.”
As if they could be doing anything else of importance right now. The straw mat rustled and light footsteps echoed off the walls as she made her way to a small bowl and mirror in the corner. She dipped her hands into the bowl of water and rinsed the sleep from her face and eyes. The world in the mirror shimmered as golden curls caught the lantern light. The wardrobe door creaked as she drew it open, retrieving and donning the scarlet red robes. Fitting for such an occasion.

The five of them marched through dimly lit hallways, red robed priestess flanked by four armed guards. Embarrassment chipped at her sense of pride as she made herself small, inching closer to the guards and away from the shadows that cut through pale moonlight. The great hall was far more warmly lit. The orange glow of candles danced along the scarlet red walls and illuminated the golden gilding along the ceiling. Four guards thoroughly inspected a prismatic glass throne before allowing the young priestess to take a seat. The cold smooth surface brought a chill to her spine.

A small wave of satisfaction punctuated the chill. Two figures lay before her, tied and face down. A wave of her hand sent two guards down to the figures. Both slumped bodies were dragged to their knees, their blindfolds and gags removed. A man and a woman knelt before her. The woman glared with fury in her eyes. The man merely watched, tears streaming down his cheeks.

The woman spat on the ground before her.

“You traitorous rat of a daughter!”

A smirk crept its way along the priestess’ lips. To bring such a woman to the brink of angry tears was far more satisfying than anything else she had ever tasted.

“Remember each and every year filled with condescending lessons, mother. Ask yourself for me, where have they brought you? You kneel at the feet of the throne you groomed me for. Are you so surprised that it’s come to this?”

Silence wafted through the great hall as shadows danced across the walls like cultists around a campfire. After savoring the empty space, the priestess continued.

“Know that I am surprised by it. I am surprised that my mother and father would betray me in such a way. I am surprised that you would forsake all of the sacrifices we had made.” The priestess took a moment and pinched her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose. A breath, a fleeting attempt at relaxation. There was no reason to lose her temper just yet. “To think that the two of you would forfeit your lives so easily over some archaic principal.”

The woman before her practically growled. Piercing green eyes glared at the priestess. “I refuse to lend my support and the weight of my name to a murdering little vixen like yourself!” Her powerful, thundering voice reverberated throughout the prism glass that made the throne and decorated the walls. “The duty of the grand priestess is to unite the prefectures. To grant them strength and leadership. It is your job to encourage the strength and hear the ideals of the people and then to support them. But instead, you’re nothing but a scared little girl that kills what she fears.”

Fury flared within the chest of the priestess. She had been afraid. She wondered who would be fearless in the face of such grievous assassination attempts. She grew tired and fearful of it all. Leadership hadn’t been unity and glory. It had been all politics and poison. It was a leader’s job to fix things. She would fix things. She would fix whatever she needed to. She would do it however she had to. She tore her gaze away from the woman before her. Her mother had no understanding of how things should be. This woman who had grown accustomed to the politics could not even conceive of a world without such formalities. She looked at the man.

“And you, father? What do you have to say for yourself? Will you lend me your support?” She secretly had hoped that he would. He had been keeper of the chimes for nearly forty years prior. Few would question her so long as she bore his support.

The man shook his head softly, fighting through tears. “I cannot, Dialla.” His soft blue eyes pleaded with her, leaving her unsure whether she wanted to weep herself or to pity him. “You have disrespected the mountain winds. You have ignored the warnings of the chimes. You have spilt blood within every great house except for the one you sit in now. You have manipulated yourself, your parents, and your wards.” His voice grew to a crescendo, shaking with sorrow. “And most grievous of all, you have manipulated the care of your older sister and transformed her into a weapon.” His face transformed, taking on a shade of red nearly as scarlet as the walls. He fell face first to the floor and wailed.

Dialla knew he was not wrong on this account. The role of Keeper of the Chimes was to be a messenger for the spirits of the wind and nothing more. Her sister had already lost the chance to be priestess when a rival’s venom had stolen her sight. Now Dialla had stolen her chance for a peaceful life. Being so protective of her little sister, she had been twisted into the sharpest tool at the priestess’ disposal. Unfortunately, now was not the time for regret nor self reflection. Hesitation was weakness. Her parents had made the decision for her.

“Very well then mother, father.” A cold tone fell over Dialla’s voice as she flit her fingertips in a dismissive motion. “Guards, silence the traitors and leave them as a warning for tomorrow morning’s gathering with the ford and fifth prefectures. I accept nothing less than absolute support.”

An uncomfortable stillness blanketed the room. All four armed men went pale and still. Each carefully glanced at the other. The fourth and most aghast of them all immediately left the room, leaving only the sound of retching through the linen doorway. Finally, two of them drew spears from beside the throne and marched their way to Dialla’s parents. The priestess herself ceremoniously wiped her hands upon the towel next to her before standing and making her exit. As she walked, she left beside the sound of a wet THUNK, followed by a shrill scream and a second THUNK.

Dialla took a deep and nervous breath. This was the most painful thing she had been forced to do. She wished her parents could have listened to reason. She wished they could have kept from vocalizing their descent. They had to be so loud and so influential. There was nothing to be done. However, she still had time. Their bodies would make for ample warning in tomorrow’s negotiations. Furthermore, Taria would not be back for another three days. That would be more than enough time to figure how to properly explain to her sister what had happened.

With only a single guard now escorting her back to her bed chamber, Dialla felt the spilt blood satiating the thirst of her confidence. Though she shook with the impact of what had just happened, her shivers carried the excitement of this newfound power.

A third scream interrupted that excitement. Shrill and pained, this new scream permeated every inch of the temple. The stale breeze within the hallway carried the suffering it contained directly to Dialla’s ears. Two more thuds followed. The priestess ran. Behind her, the panicked voice of her final guard drifted further and further away. The golden haired vixen darted from hallway to hallway. She turned corners randomly as instinct told her to flee. Her final guard stumbled and struggled to keep pace. A new scream, inhuman and cold, now echoed from the walls behind her. No man, woman, or child could make such a noise. It sounded like a thousand years of shattering glass all at once.

The shouting of the guard behind her instantly cut out. Five wet thuds punctuated his silence. Dialla’s heart leapt through her chest as she turned the final corner and crossed the threshold into her bedchamber. She slammed the sliding door closed, latching it and turning to do the same to the window. As she turned on her heel, she came face to face with a white porcelain mask, black inked whiskers spattered with blood.




Taria awoke on her hands and knees, wrist and ankle deep in sand. Sweat and tears intermingled down her cheeks as she fought for breath. A loud voice echoed out around her.

“Seeking what can’t be found, when all else to her is lost. Her crystal chimes brought a harmony to the song of the Shattered Forge. Witness Taria, Paragon of Wind!”.


She coughed and sputtered, rising to her feet. From behind her, her father’s song echoed in her ears.

“You are not finished yet, little fox.”
DF  Post #: 9
8/8/2020 0:30:43   
Kellehendros
Eternal Wanderer


“You’re certain of this?”

Lunas let out a slow breath, focusing on the feeling of sunlight on his fur, on the faint rutch of sand beneath his paws. Questions had a disheartening way of leading to more questions. His tail curled at his back and he shook his head slightly. The Etsija knew he couldn't afford to be distracted now, to think about keys and locks, or Strangers and fate.

And yet... His ears twitched, fangs momentarily bared in a silent snarl. And yet the question remained: Was he certain?

“The only thing certain in the world is uncertainty, lohik." He could almost hear Ravel's wry chuckle. And really, was his uncle so wrong there? The young man had not come here to kill the Butcher, but to erase him, to smudge the Kotka out of existence as if he had been an errant entry in a ledger. The idea had seemed so clear, so simple, so… reasonable. Until Lunas had met his mother, until he had seen the abject horror in her eyes at his “reasonable” goal.

If he had, in fact, met her. If she hadn't been a vision, a dream, a twist of his hopeful imagination. No. No, it couldn't be. His mother - those few moments they had spent together - had to be more than a dream. Because... Because it hadn't been perfect. He could still see her, pinned to that rock like some insect in a collection. He could still feel the weight of sadness - of pity - in her dark gaze. “Can you forgive your father for doing his duty? Can you forgive your mother for forcing him to do it?”

“I don’t know.” The Etsija winced and came to a halt, panting softly. Three words that carried with them so much. Too much. Pain was creeping back into his skull, probing along his spine with fingers of teasing heat. He fought the desire to massage his temple, gaze caught on the Paragon of Dark - Mori, that was his name - as the wizened figure shuffled centerward, leaning heavily on a gnarled staff. The Hirii Zen grimaced at the sight, shifting his helm into his hands and raising it, a queasy feeling of anticipation slithering through his guts. I... don't know. His mouth felt as dry as the sand beneath his paws when he slipped the Lohikaarme skull over his own. It was a nearly unconscious motion, one he had executed hundreds of times, and yet this time Lunas fumbled the horned helm, catching his notched ear on its inner rim.

His vision went momentarily scarlet as he twisted the helmet into its proper place, a lance of pain spiking behind his eyes. “One more time… One more time, and then-”

A cry from the center of the Arena wrenched his attention from his aching ear. It was a familiar voice, light-hearted and mocking. Soot- No, Micol. His pale foe from the vortex trial. Faint traceries of pinions speckled her pallid skin, sun-limned and brazen as she perched atop her spear and spread wide her ghostly wings.

Lunas swallowed hard, shaking his head. Not there. Not. There. But how else could she move so fast, so sure? He groped at the straps of his helmet, buckles rattling off bone as his fingers stumbled through the process of securing it in place. Keep it together. The young man cinched the final clasp with a nearly vicious tug, wheezing faintly. You have to focus.

Her wings were filling in, spectral feathers gaining color and definition, flexing gently open and closed as if Micol were working out sore flight muscles. The Etsija took a step forward, his paws flicking in and out of fists as he hesitated.

"If you have all the answers, Lunas, why are you still so afraid?"

The Hirii pivoted, tail lashing as he tore his golden eyes from the Paragon of Water, looking for someone, anyone, else. And the first his gaze found was Circa. She looked almost Kissa with those ears sticking up from her head, not to mention the tail about her legs. But more importantly, there was not a hint of plumage to be seen on her.

Lunas dropped hands to his belt as he started toward her, promising himself that he would face Micol. Just... Just not quite yet.

Metal sang softly over metal as the estoc came free of its frog; Lunas’ left hand snatched one of the ceramic orbs from his belt, and he darted toward the Paragon of Earth. A flick of his wrist sent the delicate sphere winging over the sand not at her, but at the base of the pillar nearby. Sand flicked up behind the Hirii Zen as he charged, dusty motes filtering off his fur to join the crimson grains on the air.

“You can’t solve your problems by running away, kid. Even if you’re running towards others.”

His right hand drew back to ready a thrust of the estoc, but that would only be a feint. The true strike would be low and hard, aimed at Circa’s knees. The Etsija’s tail curled through the ring forged into the steel sphere at the back of his belt. A swift turn would send the ball scything through the cloud of motes, igniting a burst of flame even as he struck to cripple his target.

He wasn't running. He was just attending to other problems first.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 10
8/8/2020 8:17:13   
Fionnes
Member

One thing the Sandcat immediately noticed was that each pillar was its own unique element, and pulsated with a powerful aura. After all, she pondered, this was the Elemental Championships, so there were eight pillars for eight different elements. And since this was a competition to prove the prowess of one element over another, she figured getting close to the neighbouring pillars may not be the smartest idea…

“Sneaking around in the sand is what I do best!” she squeaked excitedly. Not realising she had spoken aloud about her tactic, Circa started to crawl on all-fours, prowling within the pink-red sand towards the centre of the new arena. The rusty tinge to the sand was off-putting, but the Sandcat chose to persevere. She swivelled her head from side to side, checking to see where the other paragons were before spotting a familiar finned creature to her left. Her eyes widened as she realised it was the same armoured shark as before! His name… Sinak... he too had been selected by his element to be its representative. Circa looked to the other side to see if there was anyone else she recognised, and then answered herself with a hiss: it was that ice monster again. R'Thazz… the name echoed coldly in her core. Oh, how she despised that… thing. Cold, brutal, and most of all, disgusting. She could still remember how its slime altered her cognition, and how unbearable it all felt. It was exactly the opposite of everything that she liked.

As she walked further forward, a strange feeling hit her senses, like a sudden wave of emotions that clouded her mind: an aura of hopelessness that intensified the more she walked forwards. It must be caused by a competitor, but it couldn’t have been R’Thazz. It was some other dark creature… a Paragon of Darkness. Mori, perhaps? It was easy to assume, but there wasn’t any way for her to be sure. She decided to take a step back and, just as sudden as it appeared just then, the surge of dread withered away. Strange, she thought.

Before she could think further, a loud voice suddenly resonated from someone in the dead-centre of the arena. Circa quickly glanced up in time to see a human-like figure leap into the air, which must’ve caught the attention of all the other competitors as well. It appeared that one of the fighters had taken the initiative and launched themselves directly to the centre of the arena. Chalk-white in complexion, with a snowy-blue tunic and vest: Micol Dhon, the Paragon of Water. Their presence would be the catalyst to start the final battle.

“Oh dear… has it started?” Circa gently waggled her ears and tightened her grip on the katana. Strangely, she felt a little worried about Sinak, for she remembered sharing that close, comforting moment with him. Despite only knowing him for only mere minutes, she felt some sort of strange connection with Sinak, as if she understood his troubles. At the very last moments in the forge, it was as if Circa had felt his turmoil dissipate away as he calmed down and rested beside her. But now, after finding resolve and peace within their hearts, it was as if chaos had chosen to drag them back into turmoil for another bloody conflict. Circa glanced back towards the Sinak, and paused to ponder. Maybe it would be best for her to approach someone familiar first… after all, as she had experienced in the first arena, her combat skills weren’t exactly stellar. This was a battle between paragons, and it would be anything but a walk in the park.

She decided to sidestep to her left, avoiding what felt like the mental bubble of negativity to her side. As Sinak was also in that general direction, Circa hoped that by the time she reached the shark, she would have figured out her plan of attack by then. But then she felt a tingle against her leg as sand shifted along her skin. Something was moving, and homing in close! Instinctively jumping up, Circa leapt upwards, just in time to dodge the stab from a long, thin sword aimed directly at her torso. She hissed at the sudden attack, but it seemed too easy to avoid: almost too easy. Considering that this was a battle between elemental paragons, Circa knew such a simple maneuver would certainly have a more powerful follow-up. The Sandcat, with her quick reflexes, tucked her legs forward to instinctively avoid the second strike: a flail-whip of the new enemy's tail. Circa was surprised that this assailant, a human-like rodent of all things, had been able to take her completely unaware, but was glad her reflexes saved herself just in time.

A sudden dust cloud exploded between her and the tail-sweeper: a sneak attack, she thought! Circa quickly used the sand from her left arm to form a sand buffer between her and the dust-bomb, minimising most of its damage. Of course something had to get in her way, just as she was intending to reunite with the shark, she grumbled. Jumping back from the recoil of the explosion, she steadied herself using Cupris as she landed back on the sandy floor. Gritting her teeth, she readied her katana in her right hand, and loosened a bandage on her left, ready for their next barrage of attacks. She'd have to do something about this momentary distraction.

“Take that!” she yelled, as she charged forward and swung her katana downwards, arcing from the humanoid mouse’s shoulder to their waist. “I’m not going to let a rodent get in my way!”
DF  Post #: 11
8/8/2020 23:58:46   
  Chewy905

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP


Hot sand shifted with each push of his feet, parting like the crowds of Bren had no more than mere days ago. Though his mind burned with raging desire, Mori kept it quenched, kept it tame. Yet his eyes never left Micol; his mind never left the past.

He pulls at the chains, trying desperately to free himself. His head races with thoughts of confusion, betrayal, and hope. Surely it was a mistake, surely he would be freed.

“I want you to know.” His pale companion says, admiring the emerald eye of an obsidian lantern, its ethereal light casting shadows tall and short on the walls. A fickle betrayer. A fool. A chained believer. A fool.


To his left, the feline woman cheerily announced her stealthy prowess. Mori chuckled as his advance continued. The key to stealth tended to be silence, but who was he to judge? Instead he watched as Micol charged forwards, performing a showboaty, theatrical feat that placed ae amidst the center of the eight pillars. Micol’s technique was something Mori was familiar with, and yet it was still a slight joy to witness. Mori grimaced at the thought.

Excuses, promises, poison from the pale mouth of a snake, with aer prey in aer coils. There will be no freedom for Mori. There was no friendship, no companionship. This betrayal was planned from the beginning, with only its extravagance a surprise. Mori tries to speak, tries to curse the infinite names of the ever-shifting being, but cannot find the strength as the chains pulse on.

Micol sees his silence, and begins a speech of ae own.

Ever one for theatrics.


And ae still was. Ae addressed them all, demanding attention, demanding a spotlight. But this was not the wooden tiles of cellar. If Micol wanted a spotlight, ae would have to earn it. Perhaps Mori could make it shine on the fool’s corpse.

But not yet. Not yet. Micol was not a brother, not a sister. Mori would wait.

“Let us give glory to the lords this day! To those who fall, let us meet once more - ”

“Should we meet again in this life, I'll let you know if this lives up to the tales. And if not, then we shall meet again -”

In Death’s other Kingdom


Mori gasped in pain as the fire ignited, throbs of lightning flashing through his arms and his legs, the imprints of chains swimming 'cross his skin. He pushed back at the flame of spite within his soul, quelled its fury -

And found a second one.

A cold rope, unwinding from his fingers, reaching towards his heart. It wrapped round and caught, igniting in an instant, flame climbing from his finger to his heart, burning away his forced, calm facade.

A skeletal hand lifts the fool high above the sands. Blackened steel pierces pale skin, drawing forth a violet waterfall. His hand opens, and the corpse drops to join the mountain.

Mori pushed aside the vision, acknowledging it as his own rather than a whisper of Death. His broken lips curled into a cruel smile as his eyes, burning with the spite of two fragments of a soul, settled on the boasting child before him, close enough to bind, close enough to pierce.

To hell with waiting. Mori thought, emotions alight in a storm of fire and fury. If it is what I, together, desire, I will pay Death with death. This betrayer, then my brothers and sisters. To submit for a fool’s funeral is not to allow myself out.

Whispered thought became roared declaration as Mori confronted that which plagued his past and his present.

“You sent me there once, old friend! I found it bare, and grew impatient! I return to Skewer your raucous throat and Restrain your spirited legs, so that you may wait there quietly in my stead!”

Spite wrapped round itself, pulling forth wrathful bone from pure nothingness. The chains rocketed away, eager to obey the call of their master.

A dance, left waiting for eons, finally begun. Though this was but a prelude.

“Friend” before “family.”

“Godling” before “God.”
Post #: 12
8/9/2020 16:55:38   
Sylphe
Member

As soon as the sun moved from its zenith, she knew she had to move.

Away from the two she had greeted. How rude would it be, to encourage someone and then turn on them?

There was a certain kind of joy that carried her forward through the red stained sand. It was rough, it was coarse, and it got everywhere. But Mia’s feet sunk into it like they would into the many dunes at home, reminding her of her dream every step of the way. Though this time, there were no sharp leaves and stones hiding in the sand for her.

As heavy as her feet felt in her boots and as much as she would love to just go barefoot in the hot sunbaked sand, she knew she would find all sorts of other things to cut her feet on. Long lost weapons, maybe their shards. Perhaps bones? The sand of the arena had to be ancient. How many bodies has it devoured over the years, she wondered? Probably about as many as the bottom of the sea.

Thinking about other things helped hide the bittersweetness that dominated her thoughts. The excitement she felt about being able to show her work to such an audience. Even the warmth of sensing a competitor, and especially a shark one, answer to her encouragement. None of this was enough to drown out a sinking feeling.

Sooner or later, she would have to fight Taria.

It had been weighing on her the entire time she saw a glimpse of the fox’s mask.

Was it cruel to hope that the little fox would meet her demise or lose in the flames of forge before coming here?

Was it cruel to hope that perhaps once she comes back from whoever she chooses to attack, Taria would already be taken care of?

Would she be able to cut them down to reach what she had come here to do?

Any other day, she would have answered yes.

Today, she did not know.

Curse her old heart. Curse growing soft this close to a goal. Curse her need for friends.

She could not let herself be weighed down by doubts. Not here. Not as she stalked about the sands of the arena.

One competitor caught her eye.

It shortly was before the air stilled. The time Paragons have just started being announced. And the crowds, along with perhaps even her Thu, chanted their names and titles.

Among them, her own.

She had to admit, it was a feeling she had not felt before. To be entrusted with… something. With showing what Light can do. To not have her name shouted in fear or disappointment felt… Nice.

One of the names she heard before that, however, was a strange and guttural sound. And as she tried to make out its bearer from where she stood - her eyes had long since passed their glory days - she could see that they were shielding themselves from the sun’s light. And somewhat aquatic in nature.

More sea critters than ever. She would have been excited, but as she got close enough to see the creature properly, she was hit with such a stench that even the most hardened of harpooners would drop dead.

She knew it, and she knew it a little too well for her liking. It was the same stench she and Thu had sensed when coming across a kraken, lifeless and washed up on a beach. Tendrils and enormous eyes in varying stages of decay.

Thu had been restless that night, refusing to stay on the rocky beach any longer than they had to. There was something odd about that kraken. The way it attacked seemingly without a reason, tearing a ship to shreds along with the crew she tried to warn.

The way its stare felt empty and yet so full of something furious, where kraken eyes were usually the eyes of gentle and wise creatures.

There was something similarly odd about this competitor, and she would soon figure it out.

She also figured that she’d been shielding her nose from the stench this entire time instead of holding Helia. She shook her head, her hood giving way to a flash of gold as the sunbeams hit her hair, and ran to close the final gap of distance she needed to attack the luminescent one. Her voice was curious, and yet stern when she called out to her opponent.

“Well hello, stinky!”

She flicked a bottle full of blinding, reflective light at the man-beast so that her greeting was done in proper.

“What trench did you crawl out of?”
DF  Post #: 13
8/9/2020 17:54:37   
ChaosRipjaw
How We Roll Winner
Jun15


Sinak continued to glide forward. What a strange sight indeed, a Shha’rarken in the middle of a blood red desert, open to the glare of the scorching gaze of the Skyfather.

To his left, a stout, elderly woman said something --- it took him a moment to realize she was wishing him well. This was Mia, the Paragon of Light. He wasn’t sure what was more bizarre; that she was old yet was one of those chosen, or that she greeted a Shha’rarken as though he were but a fellow warrior. He felt no fear from her. Ever so slightly, Sinak slipped a subtle hint of acknowledgement into her mind, indicating he heard her words and understood.

In the center of the arena, a pale humanoid shouted what sounded like an invitation to battle --- Sinak did not bother to decipher precisely what. This was Micol Dohn, Paragon of Water, he remembered. He had deliberately emphasized humanoid, not human. Disregarding its decidedly skewed, inhuman features (and that the Lords proclaimed it as “ae,” a decidedly different pronoun), he could smell something . . . different, about aer.

All the Paragons, it appeared, seemed to be quite hesitant to make the first move. Even the one called Micol Dohn, aggressive as ae appeared, had not moved to attack anyone yet. Sinak could hear aer heart thundering even from the distance separating them. Ae was nervous . . . afraid perhaps?

Physically speaking, none of the combatants seemed to be particularly dangerous (with the sole exception of his old “ally” R’thazz). They did manage to make it this far though, Sinak thought darkly, so that had to count for something. But that didn’t explain the prickle he was feeling, gnawing at the corner of his mind. He’d thought it was the sense of anticipation that followed every battle, but this was something else---

The lateral line shifted, interrupting his thoughts. The Paragon of Fire, Lunas Kal (even more Kh’kkhein than his target, the Paragon of Earth Circa) bounded toward the latter, slashing at her with his weapons. Sinak observed briefly but didn’t move to interrupt.

(She could take care of herself just fine; she’d survived a combined attempt on her life by both him and R’thazz.)
((How would she even react to the sight of him rushing at her?))
(((Probably not well, and with an opponent as fierce as Lunas Kal seemed to be, a distraction could be fatal.)))

Despite these thoughts, he continued to drift toward the duel between Lunas Kal and Circa. His predatory stare flicked back and forth between the two combatants, coldly taking in their deadly dance, scrutinizing, observing, waiting for---

(The prickle dug in harder.)

---for what, he didn’t know anymore, nor did he care. Sinak’s gaze snapped to the being standing by the Pillar of Darkness, some fifty feet away. From sight alone, Sinak would never have bothered to pay him a second glance. Old --- more than old --- ancient, a sack of skin and bones, draped in unraveling robes. (Sinak had seen elderly dirtwalkers before, but this one was beyond the oldest of the old.)

But if this being looked harmless, he certainly did not feel harmless. The world around Sinak dropped away as he focused all his senses on Mori, the Paragon of Darkness.

Mori breathed, but his exhalations might as well have been puffs of wind, not much different from the sea breeze as it blew through cracks against the rocks along the coast. His heart beat steadily, but it was empty. Hollow. Useless. His flesh was cold, blood stagnant and dried. And lastly, Sinak smelled it. It was faint, but it was there. A scent that even R’thazz, for all his terrible stink, failed to mask. The rot, more than rot --- the musty decay of parched, timeworn flesh. It was not a scent Sinak was familiar with, but deep down, he knew. As much as the conclusion grated against logic, he knew. The being called Mori was not truly alive. The smell and the (very strange) electrical signature confirmed it. He was Neeaa . . . the undead.

At this point he was close enough such that he was a corner of a triangle along with Mori and Micol, of which the latter was being approached by the former. Sinak noticed none of this; he was focused wholly on Mori. The strange prickle that clawed at his brain was quickly escalating --- correlating to his proximity to the Neeaa. At this revelation, his enhanced brain sparked---

Taken off guard, he lost his concentration for the barest of a second---

<What was---?>



Darkness. Silence.

Presence.

<He is nearly one of us.>
<<One of us.>>
<<<An extension of us.>>>
<<<<Us.>>>>

<But he does not obey us.>
<<He blocks us out.>>
<<<Defies us.>>>
<<<<Unacceptable.>>>>


Then suddenly, he feels its gaze turn to him. By the Core, it saw him. (IT SAW HIM!)

<Can we reach him from this distance?>
<<Distance is nothing to us.>>
<<<Space is nothing to us.>>>
<<<<Time is nothing to us.>>>>


Like a fish wrapped in the tentacles of a P'phuukphaan --- a squid, he is helpless to even twitch.

<Do not try to hide your mind from us.>
<<Your power was born from us.>>
<<<Moulded by us.>>>
<<<<We know you are there.>>>>
<<<<<We feel your mind.>>>>>


It reaches for him, the claws grasping for his brain. It does not cackle in glory, does not hiss in pleasure, for it is beyond emotion, beyond fear, beyond pain, beyond it all and he tries to shriek as its long, sinuous---



---chains, which sprung forth from the void---

The fear was overwhelming; the terror was extreme. He had never experienced anything like it, and it drowned out all of his restraint, all of his reason in the snap of the jaws. He knew only one thing. He had to, had to, kill this creature, this Neeaa, now, NOW---

<I WILL NOT BE OVERTAKEN AGAIN!!!>
<<GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!!>>
<<<GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!!>>>


Sinak let loose a howl that pulsated through the air like a thunderclap. His smooth, cold glide through the air quickly, terrifyingly exploded into a violent thrashing; a Shha’rarken induced into a blood rage. He kicked his tail and sped directly for the Neeaa, mouth agape, ready to rend the Paragon of Darkness into shreds.



The Way of the Water’s suddenly jerked its gaze skyward. The movement took even Hae Iseul, who was observing it closely, off guard. In the blink of an eye, she snatched up her twin-bladed guandao, ready for battle.

“It’s speaking to him,” the Way whispered.

“What is?” Iseul asked, alarmed.

“I always feared this outcome, when his shield first dropped,” the Way muttered.

What is?” Iseul pressed.

The Way spoke, and Iseul suddenly wasn’t sure she had wanted to know the answer.

“The Hunger.”
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 14
8/10/2020 17:57:16   
Apocalypse
Member

The first time I gazed upon the face of the one you call Lord of Water, I was left in awe. Perhaps I was rewarded for having saved a sacred beast from some irreverent fishermen. All I know is that while I had summoned the maelstrom, it was not I who parted the waves after.
-The Tideturner, upon receiving divine favor for the first time


***

Hungry eyes of black and white darted back and forth over the combatants amidst the sands. Eight paragons fighting for eight Elemental Lords - where was the fervor, the passion? Micol’s fingers drummed along the handles of aer twin sai. The rat, no, Lunas Kal had first headed towards the center of the arena and Micol aerself. Now it strayed from its path to do battle with Earth’s paragon. Perhaps it had had its fill of the pale figure within the confines of Fountain’s Vortex...or perhaps it was drawn to the feline qualities of Circa. A natural predator of its species? Micol dismissed the thought and tore aer gaze away from the clash of Fire and Earth. The victor would be dealt with later; another combatant demanded aer attention.

Staggering forward as if each breath were his last, the Paragon of Darkness approached Micol. A shell of a man rasping with every step, Mori was by no means an intimidating figure. And yet, cold fingers seemed to ensnare Micol’s heart and fill aer with dread as their eyes met . The urge to fight against the sense of doom surged through aer, but ae fought against it. This feeling...so sweet. Micol embraced it: ice flowed through aer veins while aer nerves coursed with fire. The woesinger’s promise had rung true after all. To think I doubted aer… Of course the gods would have seeded the path with distrust; only the strong-willed deserved their blessing. Micol flourished aer blades. Ae felt alive. However, something was too familiar about this reaction, like a dream that faded from memory upon waking...

“You sent me there once, old friend!”

Micol’s eyes narrowed as the Paragon of Darkness launched into a tirade against aer. Accusations of betrayal, claims of rebirth, and the desire for revenge at long last all flowed from that decrepit mouth of his. And none of it, not a single thing, meant anything to Micol.

Until he summoned his chains.


An old man bound by chains far disparate from the ones he once commanded.
He thrived and thrashed against his prison, held aloft by those ghastly shackles of hellish emerald light.
Pleas, curses, lamentations...all the words he may have said died in the wretch’s throat as his confinements silenced him.

He could do naught but watch as his only hope for freedom - a pale figure with eyes of coal and snow - stole away with his prize.



“Mori!”, Micol shouted, aer voice carrying over the sands. Chains of ivory bounded forth from aer old companion, seeking to impale and entangle. Micol lunged forwards and to the right, pushing off Burden of Heaven with aer grasp to soar up and over the physical embodiment of Mori’s hatred. “What fortune!” No...not fortune.

Providence.


For Micol’s final challenge, the divine had chosen a trial from aer past, not aer future. Two immortals in search of their destiny clashing before the eyes of eight Elementals Lords…

Perhaps Mori and Micol were not the only ones with a preference for theatrics. Not on this day, at least.

The pale figure twisted in the air, a cruel smile slashed across aer face. Wax and Wane twirled in aer palms, begging to be unleashed. One enemy between aer and aer journey’s end. Aer thought was interrupted as a beastial howl assailed aer mind. Micol grimaced and flicked aer gaze to its source: a blur of blue and black tearing across the scarlet seas towards Mori. On most days Micol supposed ae would have left the paragon to his fate; force him to prove his worth and power of will.

But today was different.

Reaching out towards aer spear, Micol reclaimed the burden stowed inside of it. Fingers and limbs grew heavy in the midst of aer fall, and ae shuddered to shake off the discomfort from the sudden return of aer full weight. Though the sluggishness would eventually pass on its own, every moment was too precious to waste. As the sands rushed up to greet aer, Micol exerted aer grasp upon the now lightened Burden of Heaven. It ripped free from its earthen sheath and hurtled end over end towards its master. Or rather, to where its master had been. Micol dropped to the sands and tumbled forward to lessen the impact of aer fall. The Arm of Eternity soared over aer, its momentum carrying it on a crash course for the raging beast.

“Shinjri'shakraphrjat'shu'Sinaken! A reunion of old friends is not something to spoil!”

Besides, Micol thought as ae jumped to aer feet. This trial belongs to me.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 15
8/10/2020 21:48:40   
Necro-Knight
Member

R’thazz’s watery gaze focused when another female competitor came sprinting across the sands at him. The great booming voice that had announced him as this… Paragon of Ice had said he’d been driven mad by his knowledge and power, yet he found himself disagreeing. The worlds in which he’d traversed, as well as the truth he’d found, was maddening, but only in their world-shattering finality. In fact, R’thazz found himself to be quite sane and had been mulling over the state of his own sanity when the flash of golden sunlight caught his gaze, like a metallic fish catching the sight of a great hunter.

She was old, the ridges and lines of age wrinkling a face that must’ve been the human standard of beautiful in its prime, but now she had a wild wisdom marring the primal beauty of youth. Wisdom equaled experience and knowledge.

All things the Deep One could use to bring about the future he’d shown R’thazz. Watching the woman close the distance, the Frozen One spread his wings wide and extended his arms out to either side of his body as he tensed every twisted muscle. As the vial of brilliant light flew from her grip suddenly, R’thazz grinned. He’d expected an attack, they were in the endgame after all, and this woman clearly knew when hesitation would simply be a waste of precious time.

Rather than risk a bath in whatever the contents of the vial, the cryomancer channeled his will down his filth-covered form and coated the area beneath his own feet, cold slime excreting from pores across his flesh. With a quick thrust of his wings, R’thazz slid back towards the pillar of ice and wrapped his wings forward around his form as the vial shattered against the sandy floor of the arena and unleashed a blinding light that surely would’ve blinded him if he hadn’t dodged properly. His kind were used to the dark places of reality, where the light was not welcome. If this woman was going to try and bring luminescence to his master’s world, she was going to receive a cold response.

As the bright energy faded, the Frozen One spread his wings again rose his right arm, long appendages twisting and writhing madly as the cryomantic energy that churned within his veins coalesced at his command. The singular shard of sickly ice came into being and erupted from his limb with a burst of magical energy that would’ve been detectable by anyone attuned to elemental magic, noticing just how terribly twisted the pure element had become. The shard traveled straight and fast towards the woman’s body, aiming just below her sternum.

There were times to let the mad truth of the Deep One soak into your foe, to soften their mental flesh for easier feasting, and other times… one needed to strike, swift and mercilessly. R’thazz didn’t need to run a calculation to know that this old woman was one that needed to be destroyed before she could be shown the Deep One’s reality.

‘To show the nature of existence, we must first destroy those whose misguided ways contradict our own… only then will their flesh be ready to receive the truth.’
DF MQ AQW  Post #: 16
8/11/2020 0:00:06   
Kellehendros
Eternal Wanderer


Lunas jabbed the estoc at Circa, letting his thrust drift out of line before he flourished the blade away and pivoted into the tail strike. “Will you bear this burden: to put the people first, before your own wishes, before the desires of your heart?” The flail's whistling flight was unimpeded, touched only by the burst of flame that stroked through his fur in its wake. Swift enough to dodge. The Etsija grimaced, eyes narrowing as he struggled to focus on the fight at hand.

When he had set out for the Championship there had been no burden, no doubt. He had known what he wanted, and the greatest irony of it all was that Kennek - the young Hirii was certain - would have approved of his actions. After all, hadn't the Kotka dinned that into the Etsija's head enough when they had trained? Responsibility. Duty. Service. And the Union struggled to survive day by day while the warlords feuded and squabbled over Ihmiset like wolves over a fresh kill. If it was to survive - if any of them were to survive - someone had to take drastic action.

Ravel was waiting as Lunas came out of the turn, and the Hirii wobbled slightly in surprise as he squared off against his opponent. His uncle stood a half-pace behind Circa's shoulder, an expression of faint disappointment and patient expectation on his canine face. “Not far enough, lohik. Keep going.” Lunas snarled, baring his fangs at the Koira as much as the Paragon of Earth. Ravel had to see why he had come, had to recognize the life- the lives that could be changed by the wish.

“If you don’t understand the reasons behind your actions, how can you expect to justify them?”

He shouldn't have to justify them. It was obvious. He had come to Bren to fix his past.

His past? Lunas shuddered and shook his head, wavering back half a step. His tail drooped, the heavy orb thudding into the sand behind him as his grip faltered.. “I didn’t… I only…”

Silmat auki, Etsija. Turn your eyes always to the truth,” Ravel called over his shoulder as he turned and strode almost casually across the crimson sand and away from the fight. “Your parents were never afraid of a hard truth, lohik. You shouldn’t be either.”

“You never,” the young man blinked, his gaze torn from the Koira as his opponent darted at him, voice a faint whisper, “you never said that.” Her curving blade rose, then descended in a vicious slash, and Lunas stepped into the blow, angling the estoc point-down across the back of his bracing left arm. “He never said that.” The words were stronger now, almost conversational, a worthy counterpoint to the clash of their blades. His tail lashed out wildly, grasping for Circa's ankle as the stocky Hirii dropped his left shoulder and charged, an almost hysterical roar on his lips. “He never said that to me!”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 17
8/11/2020 6:16:11   
  Starflame13

Gryffin Warrior of DF & RP


The cool, cleansing scent of mint washed over the crowd, faint enough to almost be missed. Yet none could mistake the shudder that ran through the Pillar of Ice, its very foundations appearing to shudder as the statue tossed its head back and roared - a last mournful howl that reached every ear in the arena. Then, with a thunderous crack, the great bear's breastplate split in two, the shards crashing to the crimson waste beneath. Its bulk, once imposing, dwindled away like snow in the summer sun, until all that remained was a hollow imitation of the predator that had once ruled these sands. At last it bowed its head, and its faintly twinkling eyes slid closed. One by one the criers turned, their words quiet and yet heard.

“And so has favor been withdrawn from R'Thazz, Paragon of Ice." Their voices murmured, calm and clear against the brewing madness."As he plots the destruction of his Lord, so too has Ice turned away from him. We now bear witness his choice - and to his Lord's betrayal.
AQ DF MQ AQW  Post #: 18
8/11/2020 21:43:01   
draketh99
Purple Armadillo




My dearest mother,

I hope my words find you well on your travels. May the great mountain winds guide you to journey’s end. This will be shorter than your spirit deserves, but I have to tell you now.

I have to tell you that I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I hadn’t been stronger than the poison of our rivals. I’m sorry that after I had lost my sight to their poison, I could not live up to your teachings.

Most of all, I’m sorry I couldn’t protect Dialla from the monsters that preyed upon her authority and responsibility.

I hope that your path will converge with hers towards journey’s end, though I am doubtful.

Sincerely,
Taria






Inhale, exhale. Taria forced herself into rhythm. She let her shoulders drop. She let her focus disseminate across the sand. The familiar give of the earth left her biting her lip. The world around her was muffled and hazy. Every echo returned with a blurred account of her surroundings. Six silhouettes stood around her, a strange contrast to the eight pillars, including her own. A mismatch not dissimilar to the forge.

As if the muffled earth weren’t bad enough, the winds were stagnant. Challengers shouted boisterous taunts and feet shuffled for sure footing amidst all sorts of combat. For those that found sport in blood, perhaps all of these things were enough. Taria needed more. She needed more song. She needed more sight.

The little fox brought her twin fangs forwards. She tapped edge to flat, allowing the both to hum with the clean note of a single wind chime.

Taria, are you prepared for your greatest trial yet?

She tapped the blades again. A second tone overlaid in parallel to the first. Two separate notes interlaced with each other perfectly, bearing the illusion of a much higher pitch.

Today is the day in which we test your true strength, little fox.

With a third tap, a final tone erupted from the blades, spiralling its way around the previous two tones and dragging them upwards. This final tone shrieked with the insistence of a steaming kettle. It sang with the depth of a thousand wind chimes. It pierced with the sharpened scream of slowly breaking glass.

“Let us be your sight, child.”

The fox purred as the world around her slowly rotated into focus. The closest blurred forms took shape. Of these shapes, one was more familiar than the rest. Both joy and pain struck Taria’s heart.

“Mia…”

She was overjoyed that the elder had survived to make it this far. However, this also meant that they were now both combatants. The elder had engaged the creature on Taria’s other side. The creature’s footsteps bore the same squelch as she had heard in the forge; it bore a similar smell to the mass that had been thrown at Lily. Echoes whispered of it, singing of putridness and corruption. Mia’s light was too pure for that, her craft too ingenious to be wasted so.

“I’m sorry, Mia…” Taria whispered. She then silenced herself, her armor, and her footsteps. She launched herself into a sprint, aiming straight for the elder. Either blade held out to the side, the tips of her fangs barely scraping the sand below as the glass screamed a song of life and death. The arena erupted with a booming voice, but the fox paid no mind. She needed to be quick. She needed to be merciful. She needed to be strong.

She imagined the path of her fangs. She prepared to swipe at Mia’s neck with the flat of her left sword and to swipe low for a hamstring with the edge of the right. She had no guarantee that any other creature in the arena would be merciful to her newfound friend. She would offer her friend defeat without death. If that were impossible, she would offer death without pain.

The fox prayed to her mother for strength before uttering one to her friend.

“I’m sorry, Mia.”
DF  Post #: 19
8/11/2020 23:17:21   
  Chewy905

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP


The howling roar echoed through his mind, a bellow of a beast driven to rage and fear. Mori dismissed his chains instantly as the silver once more warmed against his fingers, preparing to push his aching bones as hard as he could to avoid a threat he knew was coming but…

No. No not this time. He had already done this. And where had that left him? Tossed around wildly like a ragdoll and left dead on Twilight’s wooden floor. The silver smile locked with winked up at him. His bound soul, leaking away, reaching into his consciousness, and planting his locked away thoughts and feelings.

They called him a god. Even if he knew, truly, that he wasn’t one...

He could still act like it. He could still show others they’re beneath him. He could still confront foes without cowering like a mewling lamb.

Mori spun on his heel, the gnarled wooden staff carving a half-moon in the sand around him as he turned to face the encroaching foe. Outstretched jaws, rows upon rows of teeth, a roar that could shake an entire ocean, Mori cared not. This creature thought to interrupt his reunion, his revenge, and must be taught its place. But as Micol landed in the sand beside it, Mori decided it need not learn alone.

“Restrain. And do not disrupt me again.”

Bone from below, to bind the underbelly of the mindless beast of blue and black.

Bone from above, to bind the throat of the pale being of lies and betrayal.

And for but a moment, Mori saw not ivory chains of bone, striking fated foes in this arena of the Lords…

But blackened chains of steel, striking ancient siblings off their thrones of the “gods.”

And his two flames burnt as one.
Post #: 20
8/12/2020 5:22:03   
Fionnes
Member

The Paragon of Fire, of all things, was a rodent: Circa was always suspicious of those sneaky, crafty creatures. Perhaps it was just second nature for her feline psychology. Or maybe it was simply because this rodent was completely outwitting her. She hadn’t expected Lunas to launch that dust-bomb in such short notice, and was caught off-guard by the quick-fire assault. She panted heavily as she slowly recovered from the explosion. “Why you little..!” Circa retaliated and quickly launched her counterattack towards the pesky paragon. She wasn’t going to be outsmarted by something so diminutive.

As the two of them locked blades, Circa could feel her strength giving her the upper hand. She hissed furiously, “I won’t let you get away this time, little rat!” The two of them grunted loudly as they exchanged blows between katana and estoc. The Sandcat continued to apply further pressure against the Paragon of Fire’s thin, rigid sword, hoping that her brute strength could knock the rodent off-balance. Just a little bit more pressure… She further channelled her body’s sand, increasing the density and pressure of silica in her right arm, applying further downward pressure onto the rodent’s blade. Circa’s left hand visibly shrunk in size as sand shifted into her right, as she brought all her might down onto her diminutive opponent. Her forward momentum caused her right foot to come crashing down into the pink sand, causing a brilliant splash of crimson-red dirt. “No one toys with me like that!”

Circa’s frustration was obvious, as her focus on physically subjugating Lunas showed. This was, after all, her first proper duel since entering the arena. The Sandcat had spent the majority of her time dragging around a hapless human, avoiding combat, and hiding from her enemies. It was not what she had come to Bren for: she had intended to compare her physical abilities with the other elements. Fighting this rodent was the perfect opportunity to exhibit her technique and prove her worth as a Paragon of Earth, but admittedly, her prior moments in the forge had not prepared her for an all-out clash such as this. Circa’s ears flickered, as her eyes narrowed and poured all her focus onto her prey. Recalling her desert training would be key to giving her the environmental advantage against Lunas. All she needed to do was keep calm…

But in the fury of battle, she failed to notice another stealthy attack. Lunas flung his tail directly at her legs, it was much too fast for Circa to lift her leg in time to escape its trajectory. The soft fur of the tail quickly secured itself around her ankle, and the Sandcat could feel it tighten and brush against her sandy skin. Instinctively the Sandcat pulled her trapped leg forwards, but she found it surprisingly easy to move. Huh…? Lunas had misjudged her mass and failed to apply enough force to hold onto her ankle; that would be his last mistake, Circa thought. She then saw, out of the corner of her eye, Lunas suddenly charge towards her. She smirked: perfect timing.

As the Paragon of Fire came barrelling towards her, Circa simply sidestepped away, almost reaching the edge of the arena. She used little effort to shift her feet along the pink-red sand, lowering her stance before she swung Cupris around herself in a wide horizontal arc, directly at Lunas’ chest. "I've got you this time!" But the clash of metal against metal proved otherwise, as she found her katana locked in place against the rodent’s estoc once more. She gritted her teeth, how infuriating! Circa furiously swiped her sword down again and again with brute force, forcing the little paragon down in place. Despite being close to the edge of the battlegrounds, Circa had full confidence she was holding her ground. The Sandcat continued her vicious strikes down against Lunas a few more times to prove her point, towering over him.

But as she continued sparring furiously with Lunas, she noticed Sinak slithery past her, towards the being of Darkness. “What are you doing, Sinak?!” she yelled out. As worried as she was about the fight at hand, she didn’t want the shark to get hurt again. If Circa wanted to stop Sinak in time, she would have to either subdue the rodent permanently, or use the environment effectively as a distraction. But what should she do? There simply wasn’t enough time to make a logical decision… Circa continued to strike down on Lunas with all the strength she could muster, with the resonance of Cupris and the estoc echoing throughout the arena, their blade edges dancing along each other in brutal, synchronised harmony. The rodent's feet were starting to lose grip in the sand the more blows Circa dealt onto the defending steel blade. If she even faltered for a split second, she would lose her dominance in this exchange: Circa didn’t have much time to decide what to do next.
DF  Post #: 21
8/12/2020 9:12:40   
Sylphe
Member

Mia watched the twisted paragon slide back. This was no surprise to her. Cephalopods were some of the most cunning and creative beings in the whole wide sea. Her potion was left to shatter on the foul ice they created. The sound signaled the breaking of something sharp and fragile. Glass and ice, one would say. But Mia did not need to be a cryomancer to tell by sound alone that it wasn’t just water frozen in the murky surface.

Unlike her opponent, she did not need to look away from the lights that now set all about the frozen puddle. Her glasses would protect her from any sort of self-destructive tendencies she tended to have with those potions. But even she needed to squint to stay focused. Her reflections bounced off the ice, no matter how twisted, and made it a little harder to see.

Now, the glasses came with a downside.

And that came apparent when R’Thazz began channeling his ice magic. No matter how corrupted, it still carried the light blue glow of its element. The bright colour would stand out enough to be a downside against any other fighter, given they had a working set of eyes.

Against Mia however, with her protective glasses giving everything a blue hue? It gave the creature an advantage.

She was not able to discern the ice bolt until it was too late. A quick, panicked move to the side with Helia flying out of its sheath was only enough to avoid the shard piercing anything vital. It struck her on the side of her chest still. The old lady let out a growl as she felt the killer chill set in.

The octopus did not grace her with a response. As much was fine. Not everyone enjoyed banter, and many even less in the grand final.

If killing each other was this creature’s plan, instead of impressing its Lord - and by its precise shot she’d guessed it was - then they would get nothing but the same fury in response.

Hands already on her balls of silver, she struck with two of them so that she’d hit the entity’s legs, hoping they’d try the same trick twice just as she had. And then when they’d try to slide, it would reflect in a thousand sunspots again, burning at their eyes and feet before they could shield themselves.

Then, she could finish them off with a well aimed reflective flask once they were down.

Was just killing all of the competition in the most efficient or brutal ways what appeased those gods?

That was what her life has led her to believe, every time she saw hungry waves swallow a ship whole. Every time her prayer was left unanswered and yet her sister burned away the lives of those who opposed her. Every time a fire has spread too far in the dry dunes to be stopped.

But today, she remembered the caring hands of the Not-Scarescale as she handled a child’s toy. Seen the curiosity and awe in her eyes as she watched Mia take the reflections from the waves. She had seen her excitement get the better of her as she forgot to mask her own brilliant, burning eyes as the mermaid’s deep darks.

She had seen her joke, splash water and laugh, her voice like a thousand of tiny bells of prismatic glass.

Perhaps the Lords were not that cruel and simple. Perhaps they cared for so much more than bloodshed?

As in response to her thoughts, a chilly wind ruffled her hair. It filled her with the scent of the mint she liked in her tea so much. It chased away the horrible stench.

And just as that air had reached her senses, something else tore her away from her plan.

A roar, desperate and mournful, and a tremor that shook the very base of the pillar she and her opponent stood under. She watched in awe as it split in two halves, and melted to a mere transparent ghost of the glacial fury it had been just moments ago.

It was the perfect moment to strike the witch.

And just as a voice, silent, yet booming, had announced the cephalopod’s betrayal, she heard the faintest sorry she’d ever heard.

It was ironic that what she thought had been hampering her ever since coming to her arena, the feelings of her and others, would save her life not even an hour later.

She quickly turned, swiping at the voice with Helia. Her back was turned to R’Thazz. He was out. He was a traitor, and he no longer had her interest.

Her blade cut through the air to meet Taria’s prismatic blades. The tone was loud and deep, sounding almost mournful.

“Taria…”

Its blade was different under the burning sun than it had been in the fountain. There, it danced with the many colours of the dawn under the low light. Here, it darkened to the deep blue and black tones of dusk, with red and yellow glinting through the liquid as if reminiscent of a setting sun.

“...Already?”

Mia asked, sorrow in her voice and eyes, but beyond that, understanding. She knew. They both did.

There were no ways around this.

DF  Post #: 22
8/12/2020 21:22:45   
ChaosRipjaw
How We Roll Winner
Jun15


I, Kenzae’khinosoroch’thu’Thammarach, the last Leadfin of the Klaayphaunthuu, do hereby abolish the order. From this moon onwards, the Klaayphaunthuu are no more, and with the last of our treacherous, heretical secrets do we return to the depths, never again to swim Maeeluuk’s currents.

For the power we have drawn from the Yyranaiads, the race that came from the stars, is but a heinous weapon created by Phyxfaa and his yet unknown, faceless consort, for one purpose. To spite Maeeluuk, by corrupting her children, beginning with the Shha’rarken. We cannot allow these abominations to spread beyond us.

. . . is what I swore. But its power is too great. Perhaps . . . perhaps in the far future, one of us can uncover its secrets . . . subdue the voices . . . master its strength, its versatility . . . Perhaps to uphold the Shha’rarken values, we must conquer heresy, rather than hide it . . . like the coward who hides his throat.

I have betrayed the Shha’rarken, and the rest of my brethren by my actions. But I, Kenzae’khinosoroch’thu’Thammarach, the last Leadfin of the Klaayphaunthuu, cannot --- will not --- let our work sink into the void. To the Shha’rarken who finds this grave: if you are truly worthy, you will know, and you will understand.

Fear the Hunger.




The Paragon of Water Micol Dohn didn’t seem to move, but the spear ae had implanted into the sand earlier rocketed directly for Sinak, propelled by some unknown force. The lateral line crunched into a sharp point, every instinct flaring to tell him to twist aside. But not even instincts could overpower his fear-induced blood rage.

The spear bounced off his psychic shield with a loud crackle.

The Neeaa called Mori didn’t flinch, turning to face him calmly.

Too calmly.

The Neeaa’s calm, cold and still as the grave, iced Sinak’s rage, momentarily clearing his vision.

Mori spoke.

And Sinak realized: he had just made the exact same mistake that had nearly gotten him killed in the Forge.

<FLEE!>
<<NO!!!>>

Too late! Sinak roared as a single chain made of bone erupted from the crimson sands, straight as a harpoon, stabbing at his belly. But it did not stop there. Rapidly it twisted and turned, ensnaring and just like the nightmare, he was hopelessly snarled in---



Darkness. Satisfaction.

Presence.

<We have you now.>
<<You are ours.>>
<<<You belong to us.>>>
<<<<Return to us.>>>>


He shrieks as he struggles against the tendrils of them.

He has never been afraid of the Hunters; they were and have always been his enemies, as much as he no longer wants to slaughter them all now. His only regret if he were defeated would be the failure to avenge his ancestors.

But this is beyond the Hunters, and he is afraid---

<Resistance is futile.>
<<Pointless.>>

“What are you doing, Sinak!?”
<<<Ineffective.>>>
<<<<Unproduc--->>>>




The cry brought him back to his senses like a dash of Maeeluuk’s cold waters to his face. Doyhhlaauk! he swore. So much for verbose oaths when at the slightest provocation, he would rush headlong into battle against an unknown enemy like a betta fish enraged at its own reflection.

No longer. The one who had snapped him out of his catalepsy was none other than Circa, Paragon of Earth, and his last target in his previous life. The drive to protect, and the will to survive. Honor and duty. <Like me.> <<Myself.>> Yes. He remembered now.

Sinak’s synapses fired at warp speed as the warrior and the predator joined minds to determine an escape from his predicament. He had blundered right into a trap and sprung it; the only option now would be to break out by force. The spear propelled by Micol Dohn had been deflected by his shield, but the chain summoned by Mori had followed so quickly it had bypassed the shield’s defenses. (Fortunately, it had not been strong enough to pierce his underside.)

His brain seemed to sizzle as he struggled. He couldn’t trust his senses. His vision seemed to alternate between the arena and the tendrils of them---

The Yyranaiad mutagens had granted him amazing psychic abilities, the least of which being the ability to pick up and interpret the brain signals of other species. They did, however, come with flaws. Enhanced sensory perception was a cruel meal, like a puffer fish. As he was able to pick up the most minute of details, so was he susceptible to being overwhelmed . . . such as against the Neeaa called Mori.

No, Sinak thought sharply.

<I am here, in the final arena.>
<<She is here, representing my oath.>>
<<<He is here, representing the final battle.>>>
<<<<They are not here.>>>>


Had his ancestors not fought with all their might, even exhausted and wounded? Had the Sinagen --- the Blue --- not resisted until she collapsed from the strain? (Senses and physical attributes were nothing compared to the mind.)

Pain erupted from his underside --- the tentacle (?) --- the harpoon (??) --- the chain (???) --- had pierced into his belly. Blood spurted out of the wound. An ordinary being would have let the pain engulf them, but Sinak focused on it. He felt his blood ebbing from the puncture and his nerves came alive as he detected the texture of---

The chain of bone.

And the illusion was dispelled. For that was the Shha’rarken warrior; he who saw the truth in the darkness, through the blinding light of the Phyxfaa. He could not see the chain, but he was not limited to merely his eyes. Sinak focused his senses, and the lateral line told him what he needed to know. The chains snaked and wrapped around him in a deadly embrace, and he sensed every part of it.

A normal Shha’rarken would never be able to escape the binding that held him, but Sinak was no ordinary Shha’rarken. Snarling, he bent his head at an impossible angle and simultaneously raised one of his bound fins up, edging against the bone chain. The pressure lifted the chain up ever so slightly---

And Sinak savagely bit down on the chain. With a bite that could dent steel and a body that could shake an armored Hunter apart, the chain cracked and snapped---

And it dissolved into shadow.

Sinak whirled in a circle and rose upright, bladed fins brandished. Blood splattered into the red sand.

(The injury wasn’t fatal but it was nonetheless, an injury.)

A thought occurred to him and Sinak hesitated. Could Sinak kill him, with his oath? Hadn’t he resolved to not to strike without provocation?

(Mori might look like an elderly dirtwalker, but he had accomplished what Ssaatw’ppa and a team of elite Hunters had struggled to achieve.)
((Dread flowed from the Neeaa in chilling waves.))

No longer blinded by the blood rage, Sinak coldly assessed his opponent who had so effortlessly bound him. One would be hard-pressed to explain exactly what passed through the secret compartments of his brain, Sinak himself included. But his thoughts aligned, and Sinak spoke. His soundless voice flowed unyieldingly, like the cold violence of Maeeluuk’s tides. Words and images, thoughts and ideas, intertwined into a message derived from his deepest convictions. Broadcast for all to hear; a reflection of his own understanding.

<You “fight” well, Neeaa.>
<<Paragon of Darkness.>>
<<<Mori.>>>
<I have no quarrel with you, but from you and you alone do I sense evil.>
<<Danger.>>
<<<[The] Hunger.>>>
<I fight for an end, but not one of death.>
<<You are death incarnate.>>
<<<Unnatural.>>>
<I am a scion of the past, and I reach for the future.>
<<Far from a mere relic of the past --- you are the past.>>
<<<The past must die so the future can thrive.>>>
<Like gods in the tales of old, you are old, you are powerful, and you are arrogant.>
<<Though I am young, I see the Way.>>
<<<You cannot be allowed to win.>>>


A bold claim, Sinak thought darkly. But he was no Khyx'hhxy --- throat hider. He might not be able to defeat them, but as for the Neeaa in front of him---

Imperceptibly, he turned and directed a very, very slight burst to Circa---

<Gratitude.>
<<If you could survive against me, then you can surely survive against him [Lunas].>>
<<<Persevere.>>>


Sinak raised his fins, which glinted in the sunlight menacingly, daring Mori to strike back.

<I will send you to the depths of oblivion.>



In the stands, Vasily Jarishnikov watched with bated breath.
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 23
8/14/2020 6:56:00   
Kellehendros
Eternal Wanderer


Lunas’ breathing was harsh to his own ears, and the skittering in his chest pulsed heavily enough to muffle the screams and cries of the crowd. If he never said that... The Hirii Zen hauled back with his tail and must have looked a fool as Circa hardly wobbled. He certainly felt it, though not because he was nearly a foot shorter than his foe, nor because he was trying to shove her over by main force. Lunas’ body was operating on instinct and reflex; his throbbing head trying desperately to come to terms with what had just happened.

He had seen his uncle, heard him. Those hadn't been Ravel's words, but the Hirii could almost believe that they were. The old Koira had always given the young man good advice, even if he hadn't always wanted to hear it. The Etsija's opponent slipped aside from his charge and swung, but the estoc had shifted across his body, ready to intercept the stroke. Could anyone have been ready for that reunion? For a moment the two strained together, while brackish motes swirled through the air around them. Lunas tried to focus on Circa as the Paragon of Earth drew back for another slash, but for an instant it was Sootfeather he saw instead.

“Your first instinct when attacked is to step back, same as everyone else, kid. But that’s wrong. You step into the swing.”

Lunas shifted into the strike, grunting at the impact as his left hand darted for the estoc’s pommel. The truth. He hadn’t believed Ravel at first. It had all seemed like a joke, a prank that was less funny than it was heartlessly cruel. Step into it. The Etsija danced in place, weaving a pattern of flashing steel as he swayed foot to foot, refusing to give ground before Circa's onslaught. But they had been relentless, the Koira and the Kotka both; Ravel with his calm certitude and Kennek with his golden gaze, so damnably like the Hirii’s own.

The truth was that Lunas had known. Not that Kennek was his father, certainly. But the young Hirii had known he was different. So what did you do with it? It was written in his eyes, in the acrid dust that filtered off his skin with each shift and motion of his body. He could taste it on his tongue as he labored for breath, paws scuffing short ruts into the sand as he was edged backward in spite of his efforts. “You’ll rarely fight an opponent your size. Learn to deal with it.”

All he had ever wanted was to be normal. That would have been enough. If his father had only been another Hirii, then maybe the Etsija could have slept at night, wouldn’t have had to wake in cold sweats amid stifled screams. He wouldn’t have to face the fact that-

“What are you afraid of, Lunas?” A scent like blood and flowers mingled in the sooty air as Footnit’s voice whispered over his fur.

Kennek Telan, the Red Butcher, had carved a swathe of blood across the continent. Lunas had always known Kennek was ruthless, bloodthirsty. Circa gave him as little respite, raining blow after blow on his guard. The rapacious were selfish by nature, and it was easy to see that the Kotka sought his own desires. The young man grimaced, hungry for an opportunity, eager to turn the tables. Like father, like son.

That was it. That was all of it. He was the Butcher's son; the offspring of a man he had grown up convinced was the most selfish beast to ever bestride the continent.

And what had that son done? The hard truth. The truth, even if it hurts. The young man’s left paw dropped to his belt as he twirled away from the Earth Paragon’s blade in a whorl of dark specks. The truth was that Lunas had run away when confronted with the truth. Fled all the way to Bren, to the Championship, for a chance to rewrite his personal history so that it was… less inconvenient. Not for them, but for yourself. He tore the dagger free, clashing it against the estoc in a shower of sparks.

“What are you afraid of, Lunas?”

Fire cracked and snarled into existence, chewing hungrily into the cloud of motes in a ravenous burst of heat and flame.

I'm afraid that... I'm no better than he is.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 24
8/14/2020 14:41:50   
Apocalypse
Member

One might think I would have received divine favor for saving the king beneath the waves, not slaying him. Yet the latter was what pleased the Deepfather that day. After all this time, I am still no closer to understanding what the gods desire.”
-The Grand Fisherman, upon receiving divine favor for the eleventh time


***

Arcane energy crackled where Burden of Heaven struck some invisible force surrounding the shark-beast. The spear landed with a muffled thud in the sand next to Shinjri'shakraphrjat'shu'Sinaken. A shield...magic, psionic, or otherwise? Micol dismissed the thought; what mattered was not ascertaining the origin of the protection but bypassing it. The pale figure rushed forwards. Some shields could be broken through while others needed to be circumvented. There were many ways to put that to the test, but only one was the quickest in the midst of battle.

“Restrain. And do not disrupt me again.”

Micol’s heartbeat quickened at the sound of his cold voice. Even after all these years Mori could invoke fear with but a word. Ae had to suppress a chuckle even as chains burst into existence around him. Micol swung Wane to intercept the ivory fetter lashing out at aer. A breath too late - the swing struck the chain but failed to deflect it. Instead, the sai entangled itself in the mesh of bone and was slammed into Micol’s neck by the force of the assault. The pale figure sputtered, aer vision flashing white at the blow. When it returned, the single chain was replaced by a nest of them. They writhed around aer arms, bound aer legs, and wrapped around aer chest. They did not relent, one snaking itself around aer neck before pulling tight. Micol gasped as aer air supply was cut off. Legs flailed to no avail. Elsewhere a booming decree filled the arena, but the voice felt so, so distant. The chains swarmed aer, a violent mass of steel and coiled vipers. A guttural grunt escaped aer. Micol kicked up a cloud of scarlet as ae struggled.

Heh, fitting.

The chain tightened its vice-like grip around aer throat.

To die in the same way I thought Mori had.

Micol closed aer eyes.

An easy way to go, all things considered.

And smiled.

But not this day.

Gasping for breath, Micol wedged the blunt tip of Wax next to where Wane’s guard dug into aer neck. Ae twisted the two sai in opposite directions, the chain groaning in response. A little further… Micol’s eyes bulged as the pressure around aer throat intensified. With a final grunt and yank on the twin Arms of Eternity, the fetters broke. The throng of chains evaporated in a mist of black powder. Micol dropped to a knee, rubbing the bruising around aer neck. Illusions. Yes. One of Mori’s few pleasures.

The Paragon of Water turned aer gaze to aer opponents. Shinjri'shakraphrjat'shu'Sinaken had broken free of its restraints as well, though instead of pursuing Mori it now issued a challenge. A strange tactic, but perhaps it was the honorable course of action from...wherever the shark-beast hailed. The pale figure bounded forwards. Ae had no time for such luxuries; an old friend awaited aer.

Drawing near the shark and aer fallen spear, Micol spun on aer heel, throwing first Wax then Wane at the Paragon of Darkness. As the two blades hurtled towards his decrepit form, Micol extended a pale hand. Harnessing the Grasp of Empyrean Glimmer, Micol exerted a push against the second sai. It rocketed forward, overtaking its twin in a heartbeat. “Only paying you in kind, old friend!”, Micol called out, coming to a halt next to Burden of Heaven. Pouring just more than half aer weight into the spear, Micol drew aer crescent blade. “That artefact we sought?” Micol leaped towards the shark and pushed against the spear with aer grasp to strengthen the jump. The pale figure soared up in an arc over Shinjri'shakraphrjat'shu'Sinaken’s large frame. Aer sword cut through the air. “It made one-” Blooming Crescent crashed against that invisible barrier surrounding the shark. “-a god as much-” Micol performed a pirouette in aer arc, aer sight flicking from sand to sky and back again. “-as a crown-” The stone sword struck again, but this time no unseen force stopped the blow. “-makes a man-” Aer words became punctuated with the clash of stone against steel and flesh as it slashed again and again at the shark-beast. “-a king.” Micol landed upon the scarlet sands and retreated a pace from aer latest foe. Blade high in a defensive stance, the ivory glinted in the arena’s sunlight.

“But this tournament...this will grant your greatest desires!”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 25
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