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=EC 2022= Grand Arena

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8/9/2022 0:35:34   

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 year after year. The dunes gleamed in the sunlight, gorgeous enough to mesmerize - were it not for the aura of hunger, of excitement, of desire for further satiation.

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

As noon crept ever closer, the entrances to the stands swung open. Crowds rushed into the empty seats, an excited babble filling the air even as the throng filled the stands. They elbowed and shoved, rushing to claim the spots closest to the coming bloodbath. Yet throughout the chaos, all kept half their attention on those already present in the frontmost 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 in stark comparison against the scrambling spectators. 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 Judgment on the Champions of Old, now will they decide the most worthy of those before us today. Witness their chosen heroes. Witness the Paragons!”

It starts with a Spark. A snap of static crackling into a storm, a rush of raging anticipation as the watching hearts beat ever faster. A bolt of lightning cleaved the sky in twain, streaking downwards with a thunderous crash. Sky-fire poured forth from the heavens, pelting flecks of burning crimson and molten cullets across the sands. In its wake rose a shimmering pillar of glass. Electricity surged across its length, twining to shape a tall, formidable woman, face lined with wrinkles and scars. Fangs glinted at her neck while vines of lightning curled at her temples - lighting captured and bound, but never controlled. Even claimed, the Pillar of Energy tamed itself for no hand - its chaos known far and wide to all.

"A gladiator caught in a broken pattern, her fate severed by her own hands. Her savagery spilled pools of blood across the ashen field of the Cursed Forge. Witness Alceia Pharae, Paragon of Energy!"

A whispering breeze disturbed the ravaged 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 them 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.

"A sky-child chained to the ground, her long journey filled with only heartbreak. Her determination severed skin and bone upon the reflections of an Impulsive Cellar. Witness Nellone, 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 to defend 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.

"A child of cunning and candor, his warmth exceeded only by her bitter cold. Their words called forth terrifying wonders within the reflections of an Impulsive Cellar. Witness Wister , Paragon of Ice!"

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 gray that emphasized the long overcoat covering 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 always at a cost.

"A rider bound and abandoned, her shadow trapped by another's word. Her will strangled the life from the ashen field of the Cursed Forge. Witness Sonder, Paragon of Darkness!"

A single drop of rain fell from the sky. Then another. And 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.

"A wanderer far from home, their mind drowned in a sea of memory. Their façade brought grief and despair to the reflections of an Impulsive Cellar. Witness Ulum, Paragon of Water!"

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 jerked and spasmed, responding to the strings of the puppeteer standing aloft the tallest crag. 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 and 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.

“A monster thrown from grace, her divinity gifted to shattered creations. Her cliffs and claws tore through the Hunted within the trap of Factory. Witness Ribali, Paragon of Earth!"

The roar of an ancient dragon split the air. A great maw of flame erupted from the ground, filling the arena with an unbearable heat as mirages flickered in the corners of the watching eyes. Curtains of scarlet parted to reveal the great serpent’s skull, crimson and gold etchings clear against bleached bone. It rested upon the brow of a Hirri Zen, coal black fur shedding waves of dust onto the opal pedestal below. The rodent curled a long tail above his head, one paw resting upon the estoc gleaming at his belt. Keen golden eyes tracked the last wisps of flame before his gaze turned to the center of the arena, dust slowly settling about him. The Pillar of Fire burned all - friend or foe - that stood between it and victory.

"A lady stranded upon our plane, her flame forever kindled in her heart. Her teachings saw to her survival upon the ashen field of the Cursed Forge. Witness Vu'ur, Paragon of Fire!"

A beam of radiant dawn, stronger than even the noon-day sun above, illuminated the scarlet of the sands. The unrelenting brightness brought with it an unrivaled calm until even the most restless of the crowd 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 against her ragged locks. 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 tool gifted a new purpose, his heritage twinned blessing and curse. His radiance slew the hope of the Hunted within the trap of Factory. Witness the Exudation of Radiance, 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 now bear witness to the Trial of the Desert Sands. Let the Judgment of the Arena begin!”
AQ DF MQ AQW  Post #: 1
8/11/2022 9:12:42   




Ribali stilled with a heavy huff. It took her a moment to realize what made her instincts cry danger. It was the sound she felt ever since she set foot in the arena, the heavy workings of a massive machine that never left her senses. They had become a soothing background hum, one that made her shiver with anticipation when it had gone.

It would not stop her.

Relentless, She hissed to herself even as the Hunter came to a screeching halt and forever fell silent. Her final step forward rang against the copper floor. She wouldn’t get to lift another. Bursting light blazed against Ribali, so sudden it made the demoness rear back, hands flying to protect her, glassy appendages covering her head to try and filter out at least some of the pain.

She had no idea she could still feel light. She didn’t know she could still feel pain so deep in her skull. The last time she saw light of that intensity was - Ribali gnashed her teeth.


The appendages and hands parted. The light seared deep through this small window. The frayed remains of nerves could barely tell between absolute darkness and light. To feel pain from them even after so long filled her with hope, with the strength she needed to call back against the light, voice dripping with exhaustion.


This is no longer your fi-

A burst of force stole the words from her mind, took the balance from her footing, and forced Ribali to the ground, to her feet, her hands.

I will not bow to you!

She howled without sound, hands stuck to the steel, head and blind glare trying to fight back with defiance.

I’m not yours!

A single tremor rumbled from the copper below her, clear amidst the force.

Not anymore, it spoke with the voices of many.

She caught the scent of brine and wet crag. She heard a seagull call in the split moment before the arena erupted with a thunderous blast. She cried with dread as the walls around her dissolved into nothing but ringing echo and the heavy drum of earth falling apart.

They heard, the sky had heard,

And they weren’t happy with her sacrifices.

Death, death, death for the monster,

The ringing of metal, so sharp and so clear, became so layered and loud in her mind that she could swear she heard glass. So sure that she felt the landing of a star, then a second, and then a third. So sure that she heard so many small ones of glass shattering.

This was her punishment, was it not? And yet, all she thought to do amidst the chaos and pain before the echoes overwhelmed her fully, was to huddle into herself, all four arms and head cushioning the precious two worlds on her neck from the destruction. She didn’t know how long she spent amidst the echoes that ravaged her senses.

She did know when it was suddenly over.

The silence rang almost louder than the eruption beforehand. Her whole body ached with the echoes, shaking under the stones still stuck in her skin, under the still itching claws and bites. Her shaking fingers brushed past the marbles and found them intact. Ribali let herself rest on the ground with relief.

No more.

If she stayed, she wouldn’t be able to get up again. Ribali stepped forward, and-

…Her hand met rough, sharp, frostbite struck grass.

With dread and awe, the demoness stepped forward and listened to the silence. There was nothing. As far as she could hear, as far as she could sense, this place was empty. The soft earth and grass would dampen sounds for her in the past. But it made no sense to feel nothing, not even the digging of a rodent or the distant steps of a wild creature. Overcome with sudden dread, Ribali tried to call, only for the silence to swallow her voice.

She missed the human noise now that it was gone.

Her obsidian claws dug into the permafrost to still her shaking body, and yet she continued on, rustling through the freezing grass with no real direction, the plants eerily still with no wind to accompany them.

Overlooking the sea with no eyes to see, with no sound to hear it, all she had was the distant smell of death and salt. Of decaying wood, decaying into burnt glass. She knew where she was now, recognizing each of those cutting crags as hers. There was no roar for her to scream, there was no anger from her for this destruction.

It was the cost she told herself she was ready to pay.

She didn’t know how long she spent shaking, overlooking the empty ocean that once was. She remembered the ice water leviathans she adorned it with, their bodies gilded and sharp like arrowheads. The squids she set deep into the trenches, with glittering tentacles not unlike her own. The albatrosses she made of gray droplets of glass. The birds were her favorite ones to create.

Her body ached as she forced herself to stand against the deafening nothing and trudge forward. She had spent aeons of night drowning in grief and inaction. And even as it dragged her down under the dry sea’s depths, she refused to lose more of herself to it. Not that there was much left.

Not enough to let her mourn for another century, or a few.

Her tail’s obsidian clinked against glass. Gingerly, her fingers closed around the Flute she thought lost. She blew off the glass dust with a careful breath.


Nearly dropping the Flute, Ribali paused to listen.

Rustle. Rustle.

Ribali struck against the sound, only for it to hear in time. With the zigzag hops of a wild hare, soft paws touched the ground.

“Wawa- Wait!”

Flute forgotten, Ribali launched after it into a wild chase. Her muscles strained as she tried and struggled to match its speed, it would outrun, then mockingly wait for her, only to escape the second she caught her breath. They paused in a clearing, Ribali attempting to sneak as if it didn’t already know about her.

I see you,

It said with a quake that made her palms tremble.

Who are you?


It took off in a run before she could finish, soft paws suddenly clear clicks of hooves and a deer’s leap. Each of its elegant landings struck the floor with a sharp resonant thump, and Ribali gapped as she gave chase. Each step, she sensed the brisk green of young leaves and blossoms. Each landing, a rustle of rapid growth.


Asked the plants below her as her claws brushed their newly born leaves. She couldn’t catch her breath enough to speak, struggling to keep up as she suddenly felt the steps from up above, where no ground could be.

You dare me to fly?

A fury-filled thought crashed against her mind. But she had no time to give it space. She had a feeling that this time, the deer wouldn’t wait. So she leapt with faith, and her claws dug against floating, smooth monolith she had no time to mourn. Vines entwined around its pieces as she jumped higher and higher, each step against leaf and flower regaining lost strength.

This time, without question, the creature leapt off the tallest stone, its takeoff bearing claws that dug against the rock, a tail that brushed against its surface. A wolf. She couldn’t see, yet somehow knew it looked.


And then it was gone.

…You dare me to fly.

Ribali clawed back in dread of plunging into the nothing below. She couldn’t hear anything from there. For all she knew, there would be nothing but the black.

… How new was that, really?

She backed up and sped, leaping off the crag with a running start. The voice called for her with thousands of flapping wings. Wind returned, and so did the rustlings of leaves. The earth rumbled so deeply she heard it even up in the crying air. The wolf turned worm erupted from the ground, enormously tall, eager to snatch her in its maw. Its voice enveloped her, so deep and reverberating it silenced every thought and memory.


She fell. She fell, and somehow managed to swipe at it with her flute. A brisk, clear note rang as she struck a fang, so huge she could hold on to it whole. The worm’s path underground tore through the land, breaking the newly reborn life back into dust and brimstone. A violent sandstorm struck against them both as they surfaced, Ribali buckled off with the sheer force of its roar.

She hit the sand. She tumbled, feeling each of its heated grains sting and drink of her blood. She hit the ground a final time, and the storm stilled with damp rain stained leaves at her back.

The deer stood quiet, only its quiet breath alerting her of its presence. She was in a perfect spot to line up a strike, to hunt this beautiful creature down like Mother-Father had prized her for. She felt her wings sprout, breaking from the obsidian confines. She felt light awakening, flowing hair bursting forth, glittering with starlight. First wisps of color peeked through her opening eyes, and her mind lapped at them hungrily, disregarding all else. She raised her javelin in a thousand times performed motion.

The air stilled.


The deer asked with the clicking call of a lone toucan, with the pitter-patter of rain against leaves, and brought her back to the present.

“No.” She breathed out, her voice ringing with echoing bells. She lowered her javelin, and felt the cracks climbing across its surface. “I- I’ve only ever wanted to creat..e… art.” She felt her voice crack and break, the words that sounded so simple before escaping her. Her voice rasped as the wisps of light disappeared, as her wings cracked and fell into nothing but smooth quartz sand. With a desperate motion to make the deer understand, she gripped at her Flute, or what remained of it, and played. It had been so long since her song played more than for a few discording notes. So long since she strung together a melody. The sandstorm howled around her, and yet she smiled under the glass as she played, her heart lighter. The sand answered to her, swirling in circles in a wildstorm. Even as her hair faded into nothing, even as her starlight shining nails hooked into the claws of a beast, she played. Sand burned and melted against her skin, her whole body searing in agony as it sealed her wounds, and yet she played on.

A different, quiet sound reached her through the storm, and Ribali’s song fell into disarray.

“Who are you?” Asked a child from the sand-kissed burrows, her voice choked up and terrified. The sand around them cooled and fell upon her skin and the ground, so quiet. “You can’t protect us, can you?”

The new skin and blood burned with the fire of three abandoned stars as it healed. The light in her heart stung with grief as it faded.

“I will… protect…” Her hands rested against the remaining marbles as her voice choked. “I won’t… let it happen again,” She was a creator, she tried to speak, her words lost to sudden cold, sudden echo of her rasped breaths. She clawed at rock, roared and heard herself back. The distant droplets of water made the demoness shiver as they fell in their old, same rhythm, unchanged for millenia.

Who is it you fight for, Ribali?

The echo answered to her roar with her own voice, bouncing off the cavern walls until it faded into a draft of clean air. Ragged, wet floor became the smooth and dry cobblestone of a hallway under her shivering hands. Ribali coughed.

When had she fallen?

Her claws dug deeper into the floor, leaving marks. She felt and heard hushed voices from all around her. Grubby hands, touching her. Tending to what was left of wounds. Suddenly, she didn’t miss the human noise anymore. Disgusting.

The demoness gave as much as an agitated growl as warning before she shook one shocked cleric after another off, her tail swiping one’s feet from under them as they scrambled to run. She lifted her head, listening to the draft and the many voices and rumbles it drowned out.

Only one direction left to go.

The upper hands of hers felt the ancient walls and the call and life of the ones outside carrying through. The lower felt for wounds, and found only scars where the cliffs had been.

The scent of overripe fruit reached her.

The scent of dust and sandstone brushed her nostrils.

Ribali stepped into the arena, and her obsidian claws sunk into warm sand. The sun peppered her skin with its warmth, sinking deep. The cheers of so many small creatures rung from so far away, and yet from all directions around her. This place must have been so, so much bigger than the Hunter’s territory.

“A monster thrown from grace, her divinity gifted to shattered creations.”

She ran, feeling the earth bellow under her feet as it shifted. Their meanings rung clear in her mind even though half their words missed her like sand on the wind. Her chest threatened to close up. Beastly. Monstrous. Broken. Shattered. Divine.

The tremors under Ribali’s feet announced something enormous, something growing, something shooting for the sky with the scent of dust and life that had once been. This time, she didn’t hesitate, touching down on all six, running to keep up. She leapt.

“Her cliffs and claws tore through the Hunted within the trap of Factory.”

Her claws skid across the surface, not drawing any lines into its stone. Her fingers and toes ran across as she quickly felt for any imperfections, her heart a hummingbird’s beat. Her claws hooked behind outcroppings of rock in the last moment, sparing her an early end. The arena unfolded under her with all of its cries and blood waiting to spill.

The Earth saw her, and this arena would be next.

”Witness Ribali, Paragon of Earth!”

She breathed in, stone plates sailing up. With molten heat burning in her chest and the sun so close to her eyes, Ribali’s maw itched into a wild, full smile. With two hands clinging to the prickling and humming monolith and her tail coiled to feel its many carvings, she roared.


She jumped, not minding the twitch in her wings and the distant sensation obsidian hid away from her. The air rushed against her for a precious moment before she landed in the stained sand with her hands first, whipping up a cloud of dryness. She coughed as the dust entered her nose, leaving her parched, and yet she smiled still. No, no one would take this from her. Not her wings. Not Mother. Her throat itched from strain and her hands hummed with the disapproving prickles of Earth itself.

Not the first time I defied a… parent’s… word. She thought as she felt, fingers sunk in sand's warmth. Bursting heat tickled her tendrils from the left, but she didn’t turn, listening. Light so bright it touched even her blazed forth. The world held back as her parched breath stilled in her chest.


Seven enemies.

Seven with wishes desperate enough to call towards the sky, and be heard. Seven with strength matching hers. In the artist’s heart twitched a spark of something new - fear.

The scent of salt wafted lazily in the air, drawing her focus even as she tried to pull away. The memory of a withered world struck her, the pain of absence forcing her attention in that direction, no matter how much she wanted to tear herself away. The arena felt background to her as she sensed strange, rippling steps, the sound striking a memory. Every once in a while, a stray droplet from the cave ceiling hit a cave lake. This… this was that sound. Ribali shivered, her thoughts racing.

Stop it!

I’m not going back. Not going back. Not-

The sun met its zenith. The sand met Ribali’s feet. The first one to fall would be the one of dried oceans and decay.

“Stttotoppp…. it…!”

Ribali rasped, throat dry. She reared back on her feet, tearing against the rippling one with all four of her claws.
DF  Post #: 2
8/12/2022 1:18:43   

The arena turns into a kaleidoscope.

Fitting, Wister thinks, and a little bit dizzying - they fight to keep their balance on the holly branches, on top of their own pillar, but the kaleidoscope is everywhere: shattered mirrors of glass, jagged and disjointed, spiraling. Wister is spiraling, too, a strange falling sensation, as though they’re collapsing in on themselves and growing larger at the same time…

Is this death? Is this what it feels like to be rejected?

Wister squeezes their eyes shut tight, hands reaching out for a handhold: anything to stop their fall, to -

“Did I add too much sugar?” The woman in front of Wister - hooded, with hands that are marbled black and white and a voice like smoke - laughs huskily. “Normally you boys love your sugar.”

“I’m not a boy.” Wister looks down into their glass. It’s a swirling amber color, steeped in blue. As they watch, little particles float through it, glittering faintly in the flickering-flame light. Wister looks back up at the woman. “You don’t look like a bartender.”

The woman laughs. “No. And you don’t look like a killer, either.” She waves her hands idly through the air, and Wister sees something there, a kind of illusion, almost, the hint of a story. “Let’s not tell anyone the truth, shall we?” the woman murmurs, catching Wister’s eye under the shadow of her cloak. “Secrets are like hidden treasures. Finders, keepers.”

Wister frowns. “I’ll keep your secret if you tell me your name.”

“My name?” The woman clicks her tongue. “How rude. Where are your manners? One never asks a man about his coffers, or a woman for her name.”

Wister raises an eyebrow. They’re pretty sure that’s not the saying, but somehow they know arguing with this woman would be fruitless.

The woman smiles, and leans close - close enough Wister can smell her breath, musky and fruity and tasting of burning wood. “Shivanne,” she says, and pulls away, still smiling. “So. Are you proud of yourself? For your little victory?”

Victory? Wister takes a sip of the drink - it’s overwhelmingly sweet, almost suffocatingly so, but something about it makes Wister want more. Victory, Wister thinks, and throws the thought around their head casually. Victory. This isn’t victory, is it - they didn’t make Paragons; if they had, they wouldn’t be here. And yet…there is a kind of victory in it. A relief that the pressure is off, they can go back to Nefeli and say they tried their best, it simply wasn’t in the cards. And that’s fine. It’s out of Wister’s control. Someone else’s problem now.

It means Wister will have fulfilled the deal. Wister can go home.

The woman raises both eyebrows, reaching forward to refill Wister’s glass - the liquid laps at the brim, almost dripping over onto the table; which is marble, Wister realizes, the same black and white marble of the woman’s arms. As they look at the table, it seems to smoke, faint almost-invisible tendrils that spiral and grasp at the air. “You,” the woman says, “are a Paragon.”

Wister shakes themselves awake, grabbing at the glass - the liquid sloshes upwards but somehow not over, as though an invisible enchantment holds it at bay. “Paragon? No. I was booted.”

The woman shakes her head. A smile tugs at her lips. Wister tries to take their eyes off her, but they find it impossible to look anywhere except at the table, and at the woman’s face. The woman offers a one-shouldered shrug. “If you were booted, as you say, you’d be in the arena, wouldn’t you. Not here.”

Wister thinks for a moment. The arena. Yes, she’s right, isn’t she. Or maybe they have been booted, like some kind of honorable discharge - or dishonorable discharge - just not the way most people get booted. Is this woman trustworthy? Where is this place, even? A wrinkle in -

“You see,” the woman says, cutting off the thought, “your mistress is a kidnapper. I know you’ve made a deal with her. That’s all well and good for you, but she’s taken something my world badly needs. Now…you’re a Paragon. That means you could win the boon.” She leans closer; Wister smells her breath again, like a summer night in the woods, like the brine-swept sea, like the - they stop, catching themselves. This woman holds so many stories within herself, it’s easy to drown in them. Dangerous. Wister knows the power of stories, and what it feels like to lose themselves. Forcefully, they ignore everything around them except the words: no smells or visions or tastes to distract them. The woman is speaking again, her moment of silence gone:“Have you given any thought to what you’ll ask for?”

Wister hesitates, looking back down at the glass. A moment’s hesitation, and they pick it up, downing the whole thing in one swift swallow. “The boon?” they repeat finally, thoughtfully.

The woman’s smile is motionless; Wister thinks she looks almost like a statue, the smile carved on as though cut into stone. “As I see it, Nefeli has done you no favors. And the fact is…the Elemental Lords can grant anything she can grant - and more.” The woman smiles. “A home, for example. And the return of my kin.”

“Your kin.”

“The girl’s name is Carina.” She sighs. “Although, she brought many of the rest of us with her, when Nefeli kidnapped her. It was subconscious, I’m sure, an instinct, but Cailean, Jendayi, many others…they are trapped within the folds between worlds.”

“And you?”

“Not trapped.” The woman shrugs. “I came here intentionally. But my circumstances are different.” She gives the last word the slightest emphasis.

“It’s not likely I’ll win. The odds are against me.”

“Yes. But if you do win…” She fills the glass a third time, hands it back to Wister. “You can even leave Nefeli a bone, if you feel sorry for her. There’s a girl. She calls herself Motley. You could leave her to fix Nefeli’s problems.”

Wister flinches. “The Elemental Lords could save Nefeli’s world.”

The woman laughs. “Yes, they probably could. But wouldn’t you rather leave Nefeli wanting? It’s not such a bad thing to have a goddess begging at your feet.”

“She would just be angry -“

“And you would be the chosen champion of the Elemental Lords. Let her try to raise a finger against you then! I’d love to be a fly on the wall, to see that.”

“And I,” Wister snaps, “would be turning another person mad, for what? Your entertainment?”

The woman shrugs. “Revenge.”

“Ha. Everyone always underestimates my morals, don’t they?”

“Why?” The woman’s smile curdles. “Because you’re lonely? Because your magic is darker than even mine? Because you have the power to make a person crazy by accident?” She sighs and shakes her head. “I’m sorry. It’s not nice of me to jest. I know that. I’ve been in your shoes before. And you’re right, revenge isn’t the be all, end all…” She smiles. “Wise of you to see that, for someone so young.”

Wister scowls. “I only look young, lady. And I’m not stupid. Just because I’ve got a bit more magic than I ever bargained for doesn’t mean I’m a toddler who doesn’t know how to control it.”

She nods. “And? The boon?”

“I never count on luck. Without luck, there’s no way that boon will be mine. So it doesn’t matter yet.”

“But you should decide, in case -“

“One step at a time,” Wister cuts her off. They’re staring back into the swirling glass of liquid in front of them again, nearly trance-like. “One step at a time.” They grin suddenly, inspiration turning their eyes bright. “You know what I’d like, Shivanne? What I’d really like? More than anything?”

The woman smiles, waiting.

“Friends.” Wister grins. “Actual friends. The kind that don’t ever walk out on you - or grow old.”

“Growing old,” the woman jibes gently, “that’s what you consider a sin?” She considers for a moment, thinking. “You know, Wister, Motley may someday grow old in body, but I’m fairly certain she’ll always be young in mind.”

“Maybe I’ll go meet her some tomorrow.” Wister downs the last drink and rises. As they stand, the air steams around them; frostblades materialize in the air, floating, exactly enough to replace the ones lost in the previous fight. “Today, I’ve got a championship to win.”

Wister relinquishes themselves - at last - to the final battlefield.

Their mind spins with smoke and pipe-dreams woven of empty promises and hollow prophesies, stories beyond their fingertips, invisible fairy tales with their pages half rotted away. The world is a world of mirrors: a stranger walks along a road; might as well be Wister in another life, crossing a busy street. A silhouette dances behind a window pane; might as well be Wister, dancing with Kaira the night she braided their hair. A river ices over, children skating over its surface; might as well be the Forever Isles, Wister glazing the Hearthlake slick with frost as their friends rough-and-tumble out over the frozen water.

Maybe, Wister reflects, reaching out with their hands as though to touch the window with the silhouette; maybe multiversal responsibilities and the whims of goddesses really aren’t that big a deal after all. Nefeli is trading the whole fate of world for Wister’s little dream of home. Which of them, really, is getting the short end of the stick?

Wister smiles. They hold the image of Kaira and the Hearthlake in their mind for a long, lethargic instant, savoring it; then they release it easily, letting it evaporate into the past.

There’s one thing the woman, Shivanne, wasn’t wrong about: Wister is a Paragon - with a boon to win.

Not for Nefeli, maybe - Wister still isn’t sure what to do about that. But for themselves. For themselves, and no one else.

Wister clings to that thought for another count of four, and then Wister lets it go, and Wister is floating and floating and floating, and a voice booms out, Witness Wister, Paragon of Ice, and there’s sunlight, and sand dunes painted the color of blood, and people roaring, their voices rising and falling as one. The world spins and Wister is spat onto the arena floor, rolling into a somersault, coming up on their knees with Celsius at the ready and Fairest braced heavily against the ground, heart pounding in their own ears, blood running hot.

Ready. Ready.

Wister takes in the sight of the Paragons to either side. Their aim chooses their opponent before their mind has a chance to register the choice: they pluck three frostblades with their right hand and throw them against the arena wall, sprinting forward to take the ricochet off their shield - directly towards the Paragon of Darkness.

What was their name, again? The announcer said it a moment ago, somewhere after Paragon of Ice and before Let the Judgment of the Arena begin!

Ah, yes. Sonder.

Wister takes their momentum forward onto their knees, Fairest lifted upwards and Celsius at the ready, sand rising in clouds around them as the air steams against the dark of their skin. Their hair is as red as flame; their eyes flash white.

Let the waltz begin.
AQW  Post #: 3
8/12/2022 8:35:08   

Tears streamed down The Exudation’s face as he gazed at what remained of Eirin. He hadn’t wanted to kill the woman, but he’d been able to do no less than meeting her resolve with his own.

But his grief was soon interrupted, as a great flash of light slammed through his body and assaulted his eyes. He slammed them shut, but with his translucent nature that helped little.

A great pressure then followed, squeezing on his body, before an all-enveloping roar consumed him.

And then all was silence.

But, slowly, sound returned. Not the mechanical clanking of gears, or the hum of electric lighting, but birdsong and the gentle rustle of swaying trees.

Slowly, The Exudation creaked his eyes open to see that, yes indeed, he now found himself in a forest, soft rays of light breaking through the treetops.

Such a serene place soothed The Exudation and he closed his eyes as he turned his face to the sky, letting the sunlight wash his worries and grief away.

Startled, his eyes snapped open and he looked down at his wrists.

No, I wasn’t imagining it.

Next, he gingerly prodded his side, but no pain erupted.

My wounds are gone.

The Exudation rose to his feet and looked about, spotting a well-worn path. With nothing else to do, he followed it until he came to a clearing.

Sitting in the centre of the clearing was a man, garbed in green, with light blonde hair floating about his head, tending to a bow.

Somewhere within himself, The Exudation felt like he should know the man, but equally he was sure he’d never laid eyes on him before.

The man finished his chore and stood to his full height, placing the bow on his back. The Exudation felt himself somewhat intimidated by the fact the man had a foot or more on him in height.

Then sudden realisation shot through his mind and The Exudation’s eyes went wide.

No way… He couldn’t be… but there’s only one way to find out…

“Are you… Sledaristan?”

The man held a level, imperious gaze, as if he were deciding whether he should deign to answer or not, before opening his mouth.

“Yes. I am.”

Sledaristan grinned as she gazed down at the halted Factory. Both of the four-armed competitors had vanished.

She looked at the others, Stafa looked thoughtful, Keskie was worried, while Zperan wore a characteristically dark expression and Vyelar was…

Sledaristan frowned. She looked left, then right, then behind herself but couldn’t see Vyelar anywhere.

Stafa caught on to her concern, also looking about.

“He was just here… It couldn’t be time already, could it? No, surely not. Where did he go…?”

Sledaristan forced down the icy feeling rising in her stomach with a fervent shake of her head.

“We’ll figure it out later. For now, we should go. Watch the outcome.”

The Exudation stared in stunned silence, as a superior smile graced Sledaristan’s face, the man clearly enjoying the reaction he had elicited.

“You… but… how?”

“The Lord of Light has… chosen to utilise me as a… messenger.”

The Exudation looked around at the forest.

“So then this place is…?”

“A waystation. Your brief resting spot between the Trial of the Hunted and the Trial of the Desert Sands. You have been chosen as Paragon.”

The Exudation breathed a sigh of relief. Seeing a ghost, he’d almost thought he had succumbed to his wounds. He looked at the man, hope daring to creep into his features.

“Did… Eirin…?”

“The Lord of Ice did not choose her.”

Sledaristan’s level, emotionless response cut through The Exudation and once more tears came unbidden to his eyes, as he looked down at the ground.

“Why do you care for that woman?”

The Exudation brought his gaze back up. The haughtiness had disappeared from the other man. He seemed genuinely intrigued, but The Exudation found he had no easy answer.

“I… It’s just that…”

He floundered briefly, trying to come up with an adequate response.

“She… She was a person. She had wants and dreams and needs. And because of me, she’s now no more.”

The Exudation cradled himself, his body shaking as fingers dug into biceps. This was a side of himself he tried to keep buried, but somehow he found himself compelled to speak here.

“She, a person, is dead because of a thing with no true will of its own. Just a tool for someone else’s ends.”

“Is that true though? Is that all that you are, an extension of the Shtaratahn’s will? Our Lord seems to disagree. Do you not have another purpose?”

Sledaristan’s words reached down and dug The Exudation out of his self-deprecation and he raised his eyes to meet the man’s gaze.

“Our Lord would like for you to say it. Aloud.”


The Exudation faltered.

Is… Is it really okay? For me to…


The man’s answer cutting through his thoughts startled The Exudation.

He’s… I see. A messenger, he said? I see.

“I… They sent me here so I could use the prize to wish an end to… How would you refer to her? Stalos? An end to Sledaristan.”

The man who was also Sledaristan nodded, indicating for The Exudation to continue.

“But that’s not what I would use it for. I would use the prize to make the Shtaratahn forget that the Vevalartraidan ever existed.”

The Messenger of Light stroked his chin, intrigued.

“An interesting idea. Why not choose something else? You could erase them, freeing not only Stalos, but yourself from them and others who their justice demands die. Why stop at saving one life?”

The Exudation considered the man before him. Some of his words were… There had been a feeling to them that compelled an answer that was missing now.

His words before… Some were chosen by The Lord of Light for him to say… but these are but his own…

He was not now compelled to answer, but The Exudation answered all the same.

“Eradication is their way. To take something that offends them and remove it from the world, then to erase any trace it existed. I refuse to sink down to their level. But Sledaristan I can save.”

“Why save her, instead of yourself?”

The compulsion had returned to the man’s words, so The Exudation knew that now he was answering to two entities.

“To the Shtaratahn, we share a crime. But there is a difference between us.”

The Exudation found his mind ranging back through the years…

The young boy, barely a teenager, sat at the very back of a classroom filled with Shtaratahn of similar age.

Their teacher was droning on, as she always did, about the great evils of the Vevalartraidan.

But today was different.

Today she was telling her students just why the Shtaratahn hated their cousin race so much.

“...And so, this incredible lump of flesh and bone is too much for the normal birthing method: The mother simply cannot give birth as she should. As such the ‘child’...”

The woman drifted off and her eyes flicked over the class as if she’d just remembered she was talking to children.

“Makes its own exit. This causes… an egregious, fatal wound to the mother. She will invariably not survive. So you see, this is why they can never be forgiven. The merest act…”

She trailed off to stare at the young boy in the back, as every other pair of eyes swivelled to stare at him also.

“Of being born is their greatest crime.”

The young boy tried to make himself small, his discomfort obvious. He knew why they were all staring at him.

Because his crime was the same.

The Exudation’s mind came back to the present.

“It was… an act of evil that saw me into the world. The Shtaratahn are… almost justified in hating me for it. But you? The Vevalartraidan as a whole? You’ve no control over the fact that your amalgamate body is too much for a mother to handle.”

“They really taught you everything about us, didn’t they?”

“At least, they taught me everything I’d need to hate you. But my own existence is intolerable to them, which is a fact they have never hidden from me. The only reason they didn’t kill me as a babe is because they thought I could be a useful tool to them one day.”

“Because she was too much for them to kill.”

Sledaristan stroked his chin, an expression of understanding coming over his features.

“So the reason you seek to save Stalos specifically…”

“Is because she is the only reason I was allowed to live.”

Silence hung heavy in the air between the two men. After a short while, Sledaristan broke it.

“Well, it’s almost time. Are you ready for what is to come?”

The Exudation looked down at his body, where his wounds had all been erased as if he’d never even been hurt in the Factory. His reservoir was filled, which he found odd considering he hadn’t taken any time to accrue light. Even his pants had mended from where he had exuded through them.

“Yes, I’m ready.”

Sledaristan took a deep breath, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, grand radiance erupted forth, forcing The Exudation to turn away and shut his eyes.

“Then go forth, Paragon. Prove yourself worthy of the prize you seek.”

That grand radiance grew, threatening to consume him. Then, suddenly it was gone, taking with it the sounds of the forest.

All was silent for but a breath, before the sound of distant cheering reached his ears. The Exudation frowned, puzzled.

Those cheers… they sound like they’re coming from far below me…

He opened his eyes and was swallowed by vertigo. With a proper sightline established he realised he was floating far above Bren.

Calm down, calm down. You’re not falling, just… floating here…

Strident voices carried up to him, even with the great distance, announcing the paragons, though it seemed only one other had come from the Factory.

Ribali? Who is that? Sounds wrong for Sleepy. There was the Rider and the Creature…

Then he was announced and a soft glow connected him to the crimson sands far below and in an instant he landed delicately next to the Light Pillar.

The Exudation took stock of his surroundings. To his left, Alceia, the Paragon of Energy. To his right, Vu’ur, the Paragon of Fire. Beyond Vu’ur he saw Ribali. The Creature. It was quite agitated and advancing on the Paragon of Water, Ulum.

Something about Ribali… just unnerves me. I didn’t feel that way back in Factory… but I was also focusing on Eirin. Either way, sorry Carrot lass, but given the choice of going towards that or away, I’ll pick away. Feel free to follow me if you want.

The Exudation closed his eyes briefly, basking in the noonday sun.

Far brighter out here than the Factory was. I can be a bit more liberal with my exudations.

His eyes snapped open and he broke out into a run, making a beeline for Alceia. He rose two arms ahead of himself and exuded, sending a pair of arrows flying at her, then allowed his body to accrue light as he ran.

Time to prove myself…

The Chief sighed, tapping a finger against his arm. Waiting for the sun to reach high noon was interminable. He had also lost track of the Monster, but had dismissed the thing: It was a matter for another time, after all.

Then the sun slid into position and quiet fell on the stands as the Criers made their announcements.

He gazed down at the Tool, a frown furrowed into his face.

“Father! If the Tool betrays us…”

“It would not dare. It knows its place.”

“We cannot take that chance!”

His son made to advance towards the Arena itself, but the Chief threw an arm ahead of him.

“Daft fool, if you broach those sands, the Lords will paint you across them. Many do not survive here. If those we detest on those sands survive, we will deal with them. If they don’t, we won’t have to.”

Meanwhile, from a spot above the Earth Pillar, four voices cried out at once, though only the one was audible to those nearby.

“Vyelar! Thank the Lords! What happened to you?”

“Well, funny you should say that. I just had a most interesting conversation with the Paragon of Light. Let me tell you all about it…”
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 4
8/12/2022 22:27:47   

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP

“I will be Paragon.” Ulum declared, voice clear and full of conviction.

The Lords responded by tearing the Cellar asunder.

The neon sky above shifted to violent bloody shades. High-pitched humming screamed in Ulum’s ears, only to be overpowered by the shattering of the mirrors. Shards danced through the air, reflecting Ulum’s false mechanical form from surface to surface. He stumbled back, lost in the scattered lights and duplicated selves that mirrored his breaking mind. Bit by bit the whirlwind of mirrored blades creeped ever closer. An errant knife cut at his form and scattered water like blood across the Cellar floor. Pain, lightning ‘cross a sensitive surface, flooded in to take the place of the missing form. Another shard, another splash of water, another bolt of agony. More. More. More.

Ulum screamed, mind shattering ever-more. Every fragment seemed to reflect a new form, a new memory dredged up from the depths. His eyes danced between them, vision blurring as more and more blazing cuts opened across his false skin. No matter where he looked, no matter what he felt, it was never right; never them. Only a fake, one after another.

Overwhelmed by the infinite false reflections, Ulum fell away and within.

The pondside is silent, illuminated by naught but star and moon. The figure beneath the umbrella does not so much as shiver, despite the chill of the night air and the gentle breeze that rustles the tall grasses. The figure under their shade leans forward and looks down at their mask’s reflection; perfect and unbroken in the still waters. Slowly, they remove the shroud over their face.

They are greeted by their masked visage. They reach a hand up to touch its smooth surface, head tilted in confusion, before removing it again. The reflection mirrors their actions, yet beneath the mask is only another mask.

Bubbles rise and pop in a corner of the pond, the sound burbling like the gentle laughter of a child.

“How silly.”

The voice is not the figure’s own, nor is it any of the voices that has ever passed their lips. The figure taps the water, directly in the center of their mask’s reflection, and sends a single ripple across to the bubbling corner.

What is? The ripple, the figure, the nobody, asks.

“You.” The pond, the reflection, the moon replies.

The figure rips off their mask and chucks it into the water. It floats across the surface to cover their reflection’s ever-masked face.

I am not. The mask, the water, the lost, demands.

“Yes you are!” The deep, the memories, the stars cry out in joy. “You are a fish of the pond, yet cannot swim. You are a clam happily beneath the surface, yet ever fearful to drown.”

The figure rises, ready to turn, ready to leave the mockings of their home and never return. They lift a rock from the side and toss it behind them, letting the splash send a parting ripple across the waves of the surface.

The flailing swimmer, the choking drowner, the never-was, laments. I cannot swim, and so I only sink. I lose myself, and so I always drown. I can never be anything but others, who rise to the surface while I disappear below the mirror.

The perfect reflection, the shifting waters, the mask that could hide anyone, reaches up from the surface and grasps the figure’s fleeing hand with a gentle, inviting touch. “Stroke alongside me, and I will teach you to swim. Dive deep within me, and I will help you return up for a breath. Triumph under my gaze, and I will show you that you can always be seen beneath the reflections.”

The figure turned back and looked down at the waters. The featureless mask seemed to wink, seemed to smile, seemed to call for the figure to join them.

“Now and forever you shall be Paragon still.”

The figure took a deep breath-

And dove in.

“A wanderer far from home, their mind drowned in a sea of memory.”

Ulum’s eyes snapped open and they found themselves kneeling on hot sand, sun beating down on their still falsely mechanical form. Lucid once more. It had been… they weren't certain. They shuddered. Though their mind seemed intact and whole once more, they could still feel the cracks, now reassembled like a fragile puzzle. It was so eager to pull apart, to separate into hundreds of reflected selves. That… that was what they fought so hard to avoid.

“Their façade brought grief and despair to the reflections of an Impulsive Cellar.”

They rose to their feet, Home snapping open to shade themselves from the noonday heat. The machine was nowhere to be seen. Ulum would carry his grief, his loss; kept alongside all that Ulum reflected. That, they would swear.

Witness Ulum, Paragon of Water!”

“Let my name match its own form, its own being. I will become.” A whisper beneath their breath. Ulum’s optical sens- no. They shook their head roughly, pushing out the still encroaching thoughts of the metal man. Their eyes. Their eyes swept the arena, taking in the new foes and the elegant pillars of champions past. Their gaze lingered ever so slightly on the pillar of lightning. Their body trembled, their mind tried to flee. They took a deep breath, centered themselves, then shifted their mask and spit their fears into the sand. They had stared down thunder in the claustrophobic Cellar; they could handle a storm under a clear sky.

Careful rippling steps brought them to their pillar's side. The salty creature was quite unlike Ulum’s own form, yet they could feel a pull towards it, a kindred spirit of the rocking waves and peaceful ponds alike. The bright-eyed creature almost seemed to be laughing at Ulum.

How silly.

Ulum chuckled. Perhaps they were, after all.

Their thoughts were interrupted by a monstrous roar. From the corner of their eye they saw it; the demonic form of the Paragon of Earth barreling towards them, sand scattering beneath her claws. Ribali, the criers had called her. A monster thrown from grace. A monster that seemed very, very set on tearing Ulum apart.

Ulum’s umbrella hand twitched. One foot stepped backwards, ready to flee. It would be so easy to lower the shelter, to blockade the coming beast and retreat. But…

Stroke alongside me.

Ulum smiled beneath their mask, a single droplet of water sliding down their face in an imitation of nervous sweat.

“Pleasure to meet you, Ribali.” The confidence of Jacklin, the soldier, the Paragon, slipped into their voice. Ulum was Paragon now, too. They deserved to carry her cockiness within them.

Home dropped low, and charged forwards. Four claws clanged against its surface, and Ulum pushed upwards, breaking the arms away and revealing the strikingly tall beast in all its glory.

Dive deep within me.

With only a moment’s hesitation, Ulum leapt upwards, one arm raising Home’s watery dome proudly above the two warriors.

Ulum’s trembling voice called out proudly as they prepared for their other arm to wrap around the Earth Paragon’s neck, as they prepared to fall within.

“Today I learn to swim, or we both drown together!”

Post #: 5
8/13/2022 17:09:25   
  San Robin

*Clang *Clang*

Vu’ur felt the fire spread from her hands to the rest of her body, the immediate drain of energy as it consumed her. Her opponent galloping right at her, it was do or die! Let’s go! She started running towards the creature planning to smite it with all her might. Then time slowed down. Her flames died down as a voice rang inside her head.

Interesting…That you, who came here from the plane of fire, brought here by the same entity that once sought to fully control me. Are now standing before me willing to fight in my name after the defeat of your former master. I see you wish to return home, but tell me: WHY should I help you?

Vu’ur scoffed, “Master? Wargoth was as much my master as he was yours. If you think I willingly left my home to fight a pointless war. You may be a deity or whatever but you are dead WRONG!” she clenched her fist, “I was about as willing as the wood that gets thrown in the mighty fire and had just as much of a chance standing up to Wargoth as a candle would have standing up to a tsunami…” She straightened her shoulders, “So you ask me why you should help me? I ask you: Why not? You yourself have felt his influence, his control, his power and how powerless it can make you.”

A dry laugh filled her head, and a warmth spread through her body as she felt her energy replenish and wounds heal. The voice rang once more.

You are a proud being indeed, Vu’ur. I sense your frustrations, I feel your desires and I see you would make an excellent paragon for me this year. Go forth and win in my name! You have my blessing.

The voice disappeared as suddenly as it had come. Vu’ur looked around and saw she wasn’t in her Arena anymore, instead she was transported to a new place, an arena surrounded by statues, some new and some familiar creatures had gathered, including the ghastly creature she was fighting before.

"A lady stranded upon our plane, her flame forever kindled in her heart. Her teachings saw to her survival upon the ashen field of the Cursed Forge. Witness Vu'ur, Paragon of Fire!"

The announcement rang and echoed. Opponents started to prepare. To her right she saw a couple of strange creatures. Vu’ur smiled as the two got closer to each other. She concentrated and formed 2 fireballs in her hands… Once those two were at each other’s throats she’d have the perfect opportunity to strike, THERE IT WAS! Vu’ur combined her fireball and hurled the resulting blaze at the creatures!

It’s do or die.
AQ DF MQ AQW  Post #: 6
8/13/2022 20:00:18   

The ivory, then.

The Suntouched rushed away from the pillar. Sonder’s blade followed. She leaned back, her slide flush with pain, then brought the edge down. She put all of her fury into the blow. But as the ivory blade fell, the Suntouched managed to barely bring up her gauntlets. The Suntouched reeled back, and Sonder could see her will begin to fade.

Quickly, Sonder circled around. Her body felt heavy in the shining light, as if on the verge of collapse. But Sonder would not give the Suntouched a single moment of relief. Her grip on the ivory tightened as Sonder charged again. Faced with the same choices, Sonder expected her to dodge. But as she drew close on her horse, Sonder watched as she stood her ground. The Stuntouched closed her eyes and held up her blades–

Your life ends here!

–and flicked them together. Suddenly, a new light flared in the arena. Just as Sonder was about to trample her, the Suntouched combusted. Even without her inner eye open, Sonder could see it. The life energies swirling in the fire. It was a living flame, a being of pure fire. Her form and her soul were one in the same.

Sonder felt the flame wash over her. It seeped into her armor, into her once human flesh. In the bright light, her shadow grew hazy.

It was too much. Her will snapped, and Sonder careened off to the side, stumbling for a moment before the spirit horse evaporated from underneath. She crashed into the ground, casting no shadow before the pillar of light.

On the ground, Sonder was conscious, but only just. The world seemed to flicker around her. Deep within her soul, she felt exhausted, aching from limbs she no longer had. With what will she had left, only one thought was on her mind.

“Stay. . . Awake.”

She muttered the words as she desperately tried to keep her eyes open.

Don’t sleep. Never sleep. They can’t– I can’t. Or else. . .

But it was useless. Each moment felt like an eternity as her eyes grew heavier and heavier.

Finally, she surrendered. She shut her eyes as black snow fell from above.

What will I forget this time?

Then, there was thunder. And then. . . nothing.

As the last hag gasped for air, the clouds faded from the Dullahan's eyes. Her arm was reeled back, ready to strike the intruder before her. But suddenly, the voices were gone. The Dullahan could no longer hear the hag’s chants in her mind. For the very first time, she was aware of herself. She could think. She was. . . free. She was–

“Hi. Are you alright?”

The Dullahan blinked as she looked at the adventurer. They were a young girl. Long blonde hair, dressed in bright yellows and greens. She smiled as she threw her spear to the ground.

“Can you hear me?”

Suddenly, Dullahan shuddered as she tried to process what to do.

“I . .” Dullahan thought aloud. Immediately, she gasped and covered her mouth, as if surprised by her own voice.

“I knew it.” The adventure smiled as she came closer. The Dullahan could feel the ivory in her hands, but as the girl approached, she felt her grip grow slack.

“You’re not a monster, are you?”

Sonder remained silent as her eyes drifted behind the adventurer. She could see three corpses. Wrinkled green skin and silver hair, now bloodied and lifeless.

The girl could see it in Dullahan's eyes. “I’m not going to hurt you. . . What’s your name?”

“I . . .” The Dullahan lowered their eyes. Name. Deep inside, she knew what the girl meant. She felt it, somewhere inside. But as she looked, noise obscured it. Tears rolled down her eyes as she tried to answer. “I don’t know.”

“Well. That means you get to pick your own, huh?” The young girl placed a tender hand on Dullahan's shoulder. Suddenly, the Dullahan looked back at the adventurer.

“My name is Shiko!” Suddenly, her expression grew more solemn. “So, did they do this to you?” She shook her head in the direction of the hags.

The Dullahan gave a slow nod. At that moment, she realized that the girl was looking at the gash around her neck.

“Well, you don’t have to worry about them. They aren’t going to hurt you anymore.”

“You should do something. To remember this, you know?”

Shiko and the Dullahan sat in front of the campfire. It was night now. The adventurer had given the Dullahan an invitation. Without anything else to guide her, she agreed.

Besides, in Shiko’s own words, they were friends now.

Shiko tried to get the Dullahan’s attention, but she wasn’t listening. She was looking up at the starlit sky, taking in the whole majesty of the world.

“Hey? Are you listening?”

Suddenly, there was a tap on her shoulder, and the Dullahan was pulled back to the present.

The two talked for what must have been hours. They talked about many things. Of life. Of dreams. The Dullahan took every opportunity she could to ask Shiko more. It was well into the night before Shiko stopped.

“Tomorrow, we’ll be on our way. It’s time we get some sleep.”

Sleep. Sonder understood.

“You can come into the tent if you want.” Shiko insisted.

“I’m. . . fine.” Still clad in her armor, the Dullahan perched herself against one of the nearby trees.

Satisfied for now, Shiko gave a nod. “Then get some rest, and I will see you tomorrow. Goodnight.”

“Good.. night.” The words were like a magic spell to the Dullahan. For the first time in her new life, Sonder smiled. Then she closed her eyes and surrendered to the bliss.

But it did not last.

Now asleep, a voice echoed in her mind.

“I see you, little death.”

The Dullahan tried to open her eyes, but they were sewn shut. Her arms were bound with rope. Mouth gagged by a familiar cloth.

No. You’re dead.

“Our will is not so easily removed. . .” She felt the Hag’s nails run across her neck, tracing the scar.

“You belong to us. No one else can have you.”

The Dullahan screamed into her gag as the Hag continued.

“I hope you enjoy this day, because when it ends, you’ll come back to us.”

The hag began to cackle, reveling in her work. Soon, she was joined by her sisters. Their laughter filled the Dullahan’s ears, growing louder and louder and–


Dullahan slowly lifted her eyes as she gathered her senses. She felt the tree behind her.

It was a dream. A bad dream.

Slowly, her sight returned to her. And as the world came into view, she saw the adventure before her. The blonde girl was staring at her. But her expression was not of joy.

It was of pure terror.

The girl was holding her spear in hand– pointed straight at the Dullahan.

Confused, the Dullahan spoke. “. . . What’s wrong?”

“Stay back!” The girl screamed as she clutched her skull. Her voice went low. “A moving corpse?”

“What are you talking about?” The Dullahan began to rise from the ground. “I’m your friend!–” Friend. As she spoke the words, the Dullahan reached for their name. Nothing. She remembered everything; the hags’ death, the walk in the forest, the hours at the campfire. She remembered everything but the girl’s name.

“Friend? I don’t know you, you monster!

The world seemed to freeze as the word hung in the air. Monster.

Without another word, the girl ran. She didn’t bother to grab her things. She just wanted to get away from the Dullahan, from the monster. Alone now, the Dullahan sank back against the tree. She buried her face into her palms. Pure joy gave way to grief as she tried to process everything.

The nightmare was not over. It had only just begun.

“Sonder. Sonder, are you listening?”

Sonder groaned as the Dullahan opened her eyes. The ashy stone was now gone. She was back in the city, in the open air of Bren’s streets. A small crowd of tournament officials had gathered around her. She was lying on a makeshift bed.

“Are you there, Sonder?”

Sonder rubbed her eyes as looked back at the official. Suddenly, it dawned on her; they remembered her name.

“How long was I asleep?”

“Half an hour at most. Though, I wouldn’t call it that.” The official gave a dry laugh as their voice rose high. “You were completely unconscious. But, by the grace of the Lords, you are here now.”

“The Lords?. . .” Sonder tilted her head. “Was I chosen?”

“Yes. Chosen as Paragon of Darkness. To do battle against the others with the Lords' favor.”

“Paragon. . .” Sonder slowly took in the word before giving a nod.

“Take me.”

As the gates rose, giving way to the Dullahan, Sonder stepped out onto the sands with ivory blades in hand. As the announcer cried out her chosen name, Sonder took it all in.

She looked up to the screaming crowds. Mothers. Fathers. Friends. Foes. Each with their own lives, their own stories.

Her eyes shifted to the statue before her, towering in the air along with its peers. Champions of old. Each one walked in with a wish and claimed victory. She took note of the statue’s scarf and tightened the red sash around her neck.

There were the other Paragons. They too had desires, wishes. Unfulfilled, their stories were not yet set in stone.

All of them. The crowds, the champions, the paragons– their lives all intersected here in these red sands. In the present, this was everything. But soon, the champions would be merely a flicker in a sea of memories.

Today, Sonder was a part of their story. Today, she was a friend. An idol. A champion. But she could not stay with them. Not without a miracle.

“Tomorrow, you may forget me. But today, I am here, and no one can take that away from me. I swear by the Lords above, I will no longer be robbed of the life I deserve. Do you hear me?!”

The leviathan roared as one, answering her plea.

“We now bear witness to the Trial of the Desert Sands. Let the Judgment of the Arena begin!”

Sonder gripped her blade, ready to write her destiny. Suddenly, there was a flash. Without hesitation, the Dullahan raised her blade and sliced the air. The blur shattered, ice vapor rising into the air.

Sonder opened her inner eye. The bloodied sands began to glow, revealing the beating heart of the leviathan. Her eyes were drawn to the pillar of ice, and there, she felt her assailant.
A young one. Wister was their name. Red hair with streaks of white. Shield in one hand, spear in the other.

Sonder stared at the figure, acknowledging their existence with a silent nod. Then, the Dullahan lunged forward, ready to embrace the paragon. Their fates would be intertwined now.
AQ DF AQW  Post #: 7
8/13/2022 23:02:21   

Scissors raised above her head--
                  Scissors open wide, a blade on either end of her Fate--
She gritted her teeth--
                she squinted her eyes shut--
And stabbed downwards.
             And snipped.

Darkness flooded the world like a clap of thunder. One moment, there was everything: a Strand, bright and malleable, curling and twisting with each new action, each step taken in the grand scheme that was life. There was a woman, strong and desperate, fighting the memories and weakness and blood that had begun to fill her skull. Human skulls were not meant for so many memories; for so much blood. There was the smell of sulfur, the sound of crackling, the feeling of electricity that bound the woman to her present.

And then there wasn’t.

Alceia’s senses faded as the ever-echoed pulse of her Fate finally flickered out.

From a place Alceia could not sense came a hand. It disturbed the air just enough for her to take note of its shape despite a lack of sight. She could tell it crackled with energy, though she could neither see its spark nor feel its shock. It reached towards Alceia, through Alceia, and she could vaguely discern the space her own body took up inside this haven of nothingness. It curved a single finger, as if hooking around something her eyes could not see. She was aware of her torso, of the way it held deathly still as the finger pulled and released--

--and the Strand inside her thrummed to life.

Alceia felt first, felt everything; she opened cracked lips she had forgotten and gasped for breaths she had lost. She felt thin, meticulously groomed hair brush against her shoulders and intestines shift as they digested her last meal. She felt every pore on her skin prickle, every hair stand on end as it was bathed in electricity. Sound quickly followed, the echoing crack of the Forge barely a whisper under the increasing hum from within, the buzz of current that crescendoed until it was nigh unbearable. With it, sound dragged light, a white brilliance that crowded Alceia’s irises and grew only fiercer as it followed the buzzing crescendo. Her nose flared as it caught hints of metal that seeped steadily into each breath until it poured across her tongue like battery acid.

Acid threatened to spill from her mouth as she--

No! She held up her hands in vain as the tidal wave of her past crashed over her and thrust her underwater.

Her body collapsed over the man coated in obsidian--
Calline clung to her and sobbed, kissed her desperately, begged her not to go--
Alceia slammed her head against the crumpled-up Strand over and over again, as a frustrated child slams their head into a wall--

Alceia tumbled through time, scenes scraping against her like rough rocks on the coast of a stormy sea. She grasped out desperately, searching for any grip large enough to ground her, to halt the endless circling movements--

The shaman must have given her poison.

A hand, invisible yet sparking with energy, guided her own. She gripped its offering tightly, and found herself nestled on the floor of a rocky alcove. She remembered her visit to the shaman, with all of his charms and alchemy, and his promise that a drink could change her Fate. Had that only been yesterday? It seemed blurry one moment, yet crystal clear the next.

“The Lords hold our Fates, child-- to change yours, you must take hold of it yourself.”

Yes, those had been his words; though the voice felt different somehow. How cruel of him, to take “changing your fate” to mean an early death. Adamenta would have her child-- whoever it might be-- when Alceia had already passed on. Perhaps that was for the best anyways. Alceia doubled over on the cavern floor and retched, too overwhelmed by the presence that now bombarded her senses, the endless thrum that crowded her ears and shone like the sun through her eyes. It had to stop at some point-- that’s what death had to mean, after all. But the grating hum showed no signs of relenting, and her eyelids provided little protection from the searing brilliance. So Alceia sat, for what could have been lifetimes, and simply waited for her torture to end.

Until she began to sense a pulse.

It was faint; a moment here, a moment there when Alceia could barely make out the cave around her behind the waves of light. That’s right-- the shaman had warned her of the elixir's potency and advised she come to a spot like this. A dark, secluded cavern far away, where she was entirely, utterly alone. So different from what she was used to. She needed people. But she knew she wouldn’t want Adamenta, or any of her friends, to see her this way. A pitiful woman, overloaded, struggling just to breathe.

But she could breathe. And as she focused, the pulses became more distinct. They were adopting a pattern she recognized. A two-part beat, staggered, but repetitive.

Her heartbeat.

As the thought struck, Alceia was overwhelmed with the need to remove the thrumming source. If it followed her heartbeat, it must be within her; and once she removed it, the torture would end. Following an intuition that defied her natural senses, Alceia reached towards herself. It was as if her entire body was ethereal as her hand passed easily through, and she felt the presence of an incredibly sharp heat. With a strangled breath, she wrapped her fingers around it and tore it from her chest.

Sure-footing found on a field of scarlet sand.
Many voices cry her name, and the phrase that follows echoes in her mind before it is spoken.


Her consciousness snapped back to her body in time with her heartbeat. She knelt on that same scarlet sand, her mind clear of the damage it had sustained in the cursed Forge. Her stomach dropped as she traced the contents of her Strand.

Scissors gripped right in her shaking hands, she stabbed downwards, towards the chink in her obsidian opponent’s neckline.

Until then, it was whole, easy to access. But beyond that point was a clouded knot; a section of her past Alceia couldn’t reach. A hiccup in the thrumming current. Revulsion curdled like bile in Alceia’s mouth as she found a name for the voltaic hand that had plucked this very section.

The Lord of Energy had tampered with her Fate. She had searched far and wide for a way to take the precious Strand away from the hands that had written it, yet they could reach it anyways. Was there truly no way to escape the winding path that led to Aeon’s death?

There was one; and the Lord of Energy had just allowed her to fight for it. She was—

"A gladiator caught in a broken pattern, her fate severed by her own hands. Her savagery spilled pools of blood across the ashen field of the Cursed Forge. Witness Alceia Pharae, Paragon of Energy!"
”Witness our newest competitor, Alcestis Pharae!”
“And a warm welcome to our crowd favorite, one of our longest-running challengers, Alceia Pharae, the Swordthief!”

Alceia stood from her spot on the sands, her red and violet tassels shifting, her gladiator’s armor shining under the noontime sunlight. Paragon of Energy. A small, withered part of her wondered if she deserved claim to such things if she was only living because Energy had grabbed her Fate and strummed it as easily as a viol. Beside her stood the statue of a woman much taller, formed of glass and sizzling with electricity. The woman held two strands of energy in her strong grip. Alceia nodded, slightly in awe of the portrayal. May I grasp my Fate as you did your own.

Announced after her was Wind’s chosen; a “sky-child.” Alceia smiled grimly as her own “savagery” was juxtaposed against this one’s life of “heartbreak.” Were the two not one in the same; heartbreak leading to a drive to save, no matter the methods? Perhaps she and this sky-child were rather--

Her thoughts were lost as she looked to Wind’s Paragon and saw she was a harpy. A race she definitely would not have thought as similar to herself; a race she’d hardly expect so far from their territory.

Daddy, what is that?”

The silver-haired boy, not yet five years of age, pointed towards a feathered humanoid dangling from the hands of a soldier.
He looked inquisitively up at his father, a gruff man with dark black hair and a beard that was rather unkempt.
The man frowned down at the boy and rolled his dark eyes in an annoyance the child had learned meant it was time to stop speaking.
“Those are harpies, Alcestis. This is what happens when they don’t keep to the coast.”

The boy nodded absentmindedly, and stared back at the harpy a while longer.
He noticed now the translucent net that surrounded it; the smile of the grizzled hunter, who seemed totally unscathed.
The boy wondered why soldiers, who were supposed to fight the dangers that threatened the town, seemed to find countless ways to cheat.

But the boy knew better than to ask that.

Alceia repressed the reflexive desire to shrink at her father’s voice. That memory was further back than she’d looked in a rather long time. But she’d barely seen harpies since then; to her, they seemed more like creatures than anything human-like. Yet this one had knowingly entered the Elemental Championships. And had a name. “Nellone!” Alceia cried out to the harpy and hoped her voice would reach over the criers. The harpy deserved a proper battle; that’s what she had come for, after all. The more ruthless part of her expected an unarmed animal to be an easier fight than her last one. “Does your broken heart have room for one last duel?”

As she finished her call, the criers’ voices rose to a crescendo to indicate the start of the Final Trial; and almost immediately, Alceia felt two small projectiles ricochet off of the back of her armor. She spun and looped the Strand around both her hands in a flash of movement, ready for the incoming foe. Her Fate hummed fiercely against her knuckles, its pulse strong and constant as ever. As if it had never stopped.

This Strand was hers. The next time the Lords touched it, she would make sure it was on her terms.

Post #: 8
8/13/2022 23:33:02   

As the sun fell, Nellone set out on her walk with miles of rich farmland framed by towering peaks stretching out ahead of her, welcoming her to the twilight. Behind her, a gravid woman sat on the porch, hands atop her gravid belly as she rocked in the chair, and she wished a fateful day to the harpy in an unknown language. The steel bird only nodded in response as she walked out to the field, ready to spend another day cultivating her last hope.

Once more, Nellone spent her night carefully plucking as many brilliantly glowing specks from the dirt and placing them carefully atop her crop. In the Valley of Stars, no one spent the night asleep; instead, ethereal twinkles surrounded the valley on all sides as a result of the unconquered sky and the meteorite-rich soil. And, every night, amidst the plentiful time left for thoughtfulness during the tedious, laborious growth process, Nell instead stayed enamored by the spread of galaxy overhead and recalling as much as the new language she could.

About halfway through the night, she watched a man run out to the other half of her field, and both men ran back; spying the ugly hat, she recognized one of them as the man she was gratefully staying with. She turned to join them, but the farmer hurriedly gave her multiple gestures and words indicating for her to stay there and complete the rest of both halves of the fields.

At dawn, foreign cries rang out from the interior of the house, and upon entering the home and its odd smells, Nell was brought to the main sleeping room where the farmer’s wife lay in bed with a small bundle in her arms.

“Ils let soulin lam,” the woman said, smile warm but eyes tired. Nell approached, and the woman pulled the front of the swaddle down to reveal a tiny baby. It was quite pink and scrawny, and its eyes were swelled shut. Like its mother, however, its head had these thin white wispy curls covering the top of its head.

It yawned big and stretched out an impossibly small hand from the blanket. Without a chance to react, the woman, gently, grabbed Nell’s scaled claws and handed a singular talon out to the small thing. It curled its straw-thin fingers around the smooth claw, not even big enough to reach all the way around.

“Lino,” the woman said. Nellone continued to stare at the small thing until it seemed to drift back into a deep slumber, grasp still unfaltering.

As the child grew, he looked more and more like its mother every day. By the time the crops were nearing their harvest date, Lino was able to accompany Nell and his father into the field—although Nell always made it first, the farmer moved at a significantly slower pace when his hand was being held tightly by the small thing.

“Soon,” the farmer said upon investigating the swelled buds. By this point, Nellone had begun to pick up a bit more of their language. Lino, though, seemed to have his own language; somehow the farmer and his wife understood it, but couldn’t speak it back.

After their night of work, they reconvened; the large trough they used was empty, nothing coming in from the tube.

“Needs seawater.” The farmer struck the side of the tube, but still nothing.

Nell looked at the purpling sky. “I’ll go.”

“Lajin,” the farmer said, clasping both hands around one of Nell’s claws and smiling fondly. The child also smiled up at Nell, and as the bird turned to her short venture to the sea, she heard Lino’s small, meaningless protest before being stifled by his father.

She returned slowly into the valley, having both cleared a large beetle from the entrance of the tube by the sea as well as gathered two pails. The usual stars were long gone by then, replaced instead by a fiery blaze or yellows and oranges and…

Running, Nellone followed the trail of black smoke rising into the sky, ending at the entrance of the blazing village. Plumes swallowed the fields, any remnants of the past year’s work long gone. The road was covered in foreign tracks of large vehicles, and large piles of wood and items sat outside the houses. Everything blazed.

Busting through the crumbling wood of the door, Nellone covered her head with her wings and ignored the screaming wood until she pushed into the bedroom.

The farmer was gone; the woman lay face down onto the floor, a small hand poking out from beneath her. They were gone.

After getting their bodies to safety and checking the fields for a last glimpse of hope, Nellone set off once more.

Humming limbs. Exhaustion, numbness. A sickeningly wet shink. Burning. Collapse. One last exhale. Then, nothing.

In the Beyond, there was only stillness. Instead of opening her eyes, Nellone’s vision snapped back at once. Alone in a room with no floors, walls, or ceilings, she saw nothing but herself standing. Yet, it wasn’t her own vision that she looked on from; she saw her figure as if she were another person. As she tried to look around, she watched as the copy of herself moved her head side to side, meanwhile her vision stayed fixed at a certain location and in a certain direction.

She looked… better. There were no wounds, no blood nor dirt, no gaps in her feathers. She looked well fed, well rested, and there was no furrow in her brow. She looked glowing, even peaceful.

It looks like Amily used to.

The moment she thought of her sister, the clone shed all of its feathers at once, and instantly a new set of pinks and oranges grew in. Beside her, the shed feathers gave shape to a new clone, beaten and battered. Her right arm was cut to the bone, dried blood covering every remaining feather, part of her nose was bent awkwardly to the side, bruises covered the rest of her face, and a gaping slice ran from her left shoulder through her heart. The Amily continued staring ahead peacefully, unfaltered.

A strong gust of wind jostled both of the clones’ feathers, and a doorway arose from nothing and opened without a sound. Out from it stepped a humanoid figure made up of millions of swirling breezes, and it stood proud and tall many tens of feet above the harpy clones. The Nellone looked up to meet the two piercing blue eyes of the cyclone.

It didn’t move anything to speak, but the words were loud and booming, the sounds of hundreds, thousands of different voices in unison.

“What do you take me for?”

The Amily remained still and calm, staring forward, but the Nellone bristled as the voices surrounded her on all sides.

“Do you take me a fool?” Some of the voices were more angry whilst some more quizzical.

The being leapt at the Nellone, and immediately before crashing into her it shifted forms into a small and pointed eared woman and landed delicately before the Nellone. She rose a careful hand to cup the clone’s cheek. Nellone watched as the clone’s expression softened slightly.

“Many people lie, but hardly any to my face.” Only one voice, full and confident, remained as the cyclone shifted into the dark skinned half elf. She had a wild amber mane of hair, although the electric blue gaze that stared into the Nellone’s eyes just barely failed to suit her.

“I’m confused.” Nellone tried to speak, but her words came through the clone’s body. My body?

The woman dropped her hand, raising a smile to her face. “You’ve fought well so far,” the transformed cyclone started, changing the subject. “I only expect as much from someone so well acquainted with a piece of myself.”

The woman danced her fingers in the air, and from under Nellone’s feathers came a small wisp of wind. The wind ran around the half elf, making her giggle, before once more returning to Nellone.

“I was wondering where that breeze went. It always seemed to travel, but never seemed to return home to rest.”

The woman’s hands crossed over her chest.

“Anyways,” she started again, “I am still fond of watching you fight for me, even if you don’t know what you’re fighting for.”

“I’m fighting for my sister, for a cure.”

The half human smiled again. “You know you’re lying.”

“I…” I am? Why would I lie about this? I don’t want Amily to die.

The cyclone thought for a second, then clicked her tongue.

“I’ll give you one more chance. If you can find out what you really want, I’ll give it to you.” As she said this, the cyclone slowly placed a fingertip on her lip, then gently pulled it out to reveal a small glowing ball of blue. She then carefully placed this ball at Nellone’s lips, urging her to swallow it.

“If you don’t die again, of course. Good luck, little Paragon.”

Awaking with a large gasp, Nellone found herself once more in the arena. No, an arena, but not the same one. She shifted her toe talons between the sand, reveling in the familiarity.

"A sky-child chained to the ground, her long journey filled with only heartbreak. Her determination severed skin and bone upon the reflections of an Impulsive Cellar. Witness Nellone, Paragon of Wind!"

In front of her, a grand silver sculpture of the half human stood strong and elegantly ahead, facing the center of the arena.

As the rest of the announcements rung out, Nell examined her opponents: after her, a young human backed by Ice who she recognized from her last arena; a pale masked figure backed by darkness; another figure, a half clothed human backed by water, she again recognized from the previous arena; a four-armed, sometimes grey, sometimes exposed-muscle creature backed by earth; an athletic humanoid with black eyes and a pair of gauntlets—Nellone bristled; and, finally, a towering grey-skinned humanoid, also with four arms, backed by light.

Silence overtook the arena.


Nell’s head snapped towards the eighth and final competitor, the only competitor announced before her; the Paragon of Energy was an armored foe with a grin on her face and a twinkle in her eyes. Shoulder-length white hair blew faintly in the small breeze, and a burn scar covered half of her fragile face.

Lino? As the harpy turned her attention towards her, the Paragon’s smile seemed to only get wider.

“Does your broken heart have room for one last duel?”

Without warning, the arena erupted into stomach-lurching chaos once more: “We now bear witness to the Trial of the Desert Sands. Let the Judgment of the Arena begin!”

Two arrows struck the back of the energy Paragon, who spun, stanced, to meet her opponent. The Paragon of Light sprinted towards her.

What do I really want?

Nell bounced on her talons in the sand. The creature continued racing toward the human. Flashes of her healthy sister next to her flayed self in the Beyond crossed her vision.

She dashed forward, sending a slice of wind hurling above the human and towards the chest of the beast.
Post #: 9
8/14/2022 17:47:35   

The Jungle drew air into their many tiny lungs, felt water course through many of their trunks. Light filtered and sunspots danced on their many leaves, on their violet core. The humans came, taking their body for their homes, their flowers and fruit for their dances. They sang deeply and highly of The Goddess, apologized for every branch they took.

The humans liked to paint their shoulders with clouds. Did they need to see them? Their leaves covered the sky. Was the sight not enough? Rain slipped through their leaves all the same, clouds or not.

Every time the moons held hands, they would come to the springs under the Jungle’s roots and drink their blessed water. Leaving with eyes shining pink, saying they were enlightened.

Pleasure to meet you, Said the enemy she wanted to hate. Ribali, Said the enemy that reminded her of the missing space on the starlit weave around her neck. And yet, their voice warmed her. They could have easily said beast but chose to greet her with her name. And while it didn’t help them in chaining the violence behind her strikes, it gave her a breath of relief when they resisted her onslaught.

They knew her name. They all knew her name.

They moved like a dancer. Ribali sensed the swipe of wind overhead, and her tendrils quivered under the chilly breeze. Their weapon reminded Ribali of great leathery wings in flight, chittering echoing across cavern walls.

Will they remember it for me when I no longer will?

The water’s dancer broke her advance, their strange wing pushing her back. They moved faster than she could recover with her own feathers veering her balance off. Their hand wrapped around the back of rocky neck with an odd motion, and she heard their stuttering yet powerful call.

Like a cornered rat… too proud to die… it dares to bite a predator.

“Brrraaaave…” Was her last word, the sound rolling hopelessly over her fangs. It gave her voice an amused but beastly snarl, one she couldn’t hold back, and doubly wished she could when she breathed in.

The great beast sputtered as the cold water filled her maw. The warmth of her breath turned into a wild burn in her throat and lungs as she tried to fight back, the limbs so intent on tearing to shreds precious seconds before flailing haphazardly against the sudden lake surrounding her.

She felt herself cooling down, the heat escaping her maw along with her breath. Burning bubbles filled the space, ticking her skin. Where her claws struck, there was nothing to tear but water. Where her tail sliced, so sluggish and heavy, there was nothing to feel but the fading warmth. The coldness had spilled into her mind through the igneous cracks it cooled. The pull she felt was gentle and cool, and yet in her panic she cried and fought to not let anything slip through and away, anything of the little she had left, feeling as if it stole bubbles of air.

The deluge tore through their leaves all the same with no clouds in sight.

The Shimmering Goddess is dead. Whispered the Jungle through the rain’s ripple on its healing waters.

If she is around to cause this storm, she is not one you knew, Rustled the leaves and vines heaving under the rain.

Leave her to drown. Chittered the lanternflies atop branches, their wings torn.

Drown, taunted the water paragon’s voice in her dusking mind as the light in her chest darkened into cold stone. Drown, it echoed as Ribali thought of great seas drowning dry, losing their water between glass cracks until there was nothing but desert stretching under the horizon. Nothing but the cold sun that left her side.

The force and heat of another sun struck against the water and set the sea ablaze. Her tendrils roared, their tips lighting up in her mind like a constellation, firing sharp before any memories and laments about a world lost to the stars could be brought back.

Her opponent’s words rung in her mind, complete through a clarity only pain could bring.

Today I learn to swim… or we both drown together.

Learn to swim, Her thoughts pressed against her skull with urgency. Ribali fought against the panicking instinct crying for her to breathe. She clawed at consciousness to keep her senses for just a moment longer, and pushed back grief and dread. She was not here to mourn. She was not here to drown. She was not here for the night or water to take her.

She was here to fight, to break the surface and gaze up at the sun.

Ribali stilled, releasing her frenzied hold on the pull in her mind so that she could focus. Her claws pawed against the hand at her throat, following its chill between the boiling water.

Water the shape of obsidian claw and glass.

Arms the four of.

As one. Ribali snarled in her mind, her claws finally finding a solid point, all ten of her fingers closing tight around the mask of waterlogged wood. Her finger brushed past horns with all of hers’ nicks and tears, but she did not pay it mind. The shadow dancer’s tricks would shake her no more. We. Drown.

A noise between gurgle and snarl vibrated from her throat as her thumbs dug into the mask, trying to pry it open and apart as the demoness leaned in, her expression fervent even if there were no eyes or voice to scream.

DF  Post #: 10
8/15/2022 23:30:20   

Sonder slices one of the frostblades in half.

Honestly, at first Wister thinks they’re hallucinating - a trick of the kaleidoscope, a residue of the madness from before - the blade moves so fast, cleaving the frostblade in two as it spins to the ground. The other two bounce off the blade, unharmed - but neither of them meet their marks, either, and Wister feels a flash of annoyance, hot and ashamed. Losing my edge. So I may not grow old, but I can still grow sloppy. Wister spins themselves around on their knees, sand rising around them in clouds of red-blood-cell-vapor, Fairest flashing in the sunlight.

Eyes on the prize, Wister thinks, as the remaining two frostblades ricochet off Sonder’s blade, back towards them, glittering through the air -

…and Wister catches them on Fairest, bouncing them back again towards Sonder’s direction, seeking their original target once more. Dancing really isn’t a good metaphor for this, is it? Wister should’ve chosen a different sport. Beach volleyball is more like it. Ha. As the frostblades spin back out, Wister throws a frostbomb into their midst, exactly in the middle of the other two: a quick, strong overhand aimed directly at Sonder’s face, indistinguishable from the regular frostblades.

Wister! That wasn’t nice -

Where is that voice from?

Wister shakes their head as though fending off a fly, a quick, angry jerk from one side to the other, fast enough to make them dizzy.

Wister, the voice says again, more insistently. You can’t get rid of me.

Doubtful. Whatever this is…Wister focuses on the frostblades and the single frostbomb they’d thrown at Sonder, trying to ignore the voice. Watching the throwing stars fly through the air is a distinctly strange feeling: they twist and turn in slow motion, painstakingly delicate snowflakes twinkling and flashing in the light at the speed of molasses; Wister themselves feels as though they move in stop-motion, the arena floor like sandpaper moving stutter-stop beneath their knees, their own movements jerky and disconnected. Panicked, Wister tries to drive Fairest down into the ground, to stop themselves as they come closer and closer to Sonder’s charge - almost close enough to reach Sonder’s legs with Celsius; for a delirious moment, Wister thinks of trying to slip under their opponent, slashing upwards with Celsius. But, of course, it’d never work, Sonder would see it coming from a mile away. Sonder’s a finalist, after all. You don’t become a Paragon by pure luck.

(Not normally, at least.)

But the moment Wister lets the thought go and focuses again on Fairest, it’s immediately obvious exactly how slow everything is moving. It takes a whole count of three for Fairest to contact the ground, another three for Wister to feel themselves begin to come to a stop. The murmur of the crowd is drawn out and distorted, too low in pitch. Their own heartbeat feels out of time.

You can’t ignore me, Wister.

Wister blinks, drawing Celsius out and stabbing it point-down into the ground to stop themselves. Sonder is right in front of them. The throwing stars turn in the air just ahead. And the frostbomb…Wister is almost within its radius.

Stop, Wister thinks, muscles screaming.

Wister -


I can’t go away!

Get out of me -


Wister finally comes to a stop, sand rising all around - a cloud thick enough to obscure near-field visibility. There are grains of it in their eyes, clogging their throat; they cough, and that’s slow motion too, which makes it even more uncomfortable. It makes it harder to ignore the sensation. They can feel every single grain of sand as they cough it up; coarse, rough, every single bit amplified and spotlighted by Wister’s brain.

Wister, LISTEN TO ME -

No, Wister thinks, I will not, but even as they think it, they know what’s happening. Back in the first arena, when the Knight of Ivy trapped them in the kaleidoscope - longer than they’ve ever been caught before - they’d felt the beginnings of it. They’ve seen what the kaleidoscope does to other people, the momentary confusion, the fear, but none of that - none of that - holds a candle to what the kaleidoscope can do to Wister.

It breaks them.

Not “break” in some theoretical emotional sense of the word, but literally break. Shatter. Each piece of the kaleidoscope becomes some kind of reflected piece of Wister. Their mind fragments. Their person dissociates. They become multiple people with multiple memories and multiple consciousnesses all jammed within one body.

How do they know? Because - because…

Wister, do you rememb-


Wister is not broken; not yet. (Not…again?) There are cracks, of course. Splinters. They can feel them spreading across their mind, nagging, but it’s not over yet. It would take more than a few extra seconds in the kaleidoscope to really break them. (They know that because -) They’re okay. Everything’s okay.

The slow-motion stop-time disjointedness suddenly makes sense. The other mind, trying to force its way in, trying to take control; a shard of Wister trying to break off, and trying to become Dominant. The first breaking piece - and the last, if Wister knows what they’re doing.

They don’t really have a choice, though, do they? They can’t afford to splinter. Not today.

(Not agai-)

They push, and somewhere deep inside, a part of them screams, and falls silent.

The sand settles, and Wister looks up, craning their head at Sonder to see -

AQW  Post #: 11
8/16/2022 20:08:24   

The Exudation’s eyes darted about, taking in everything ahead of him as his exudations flew forth.

Alceia had her back to him, having been addressing the Wind Paragon before the Trial had kicked off proper.

But the woman was a lucky one. Both exudations crashed into the middle of her armour, plinking harmlessly away to rest on the crimson sands.

The Exudation slowed his forward pace slightly as Alceia whirled, arms raised, a glowing cord wrapped around her fists.

Then her hair kicked up as some manner of gust swept overhead, coming for The Exudation. Instincts kicked in and he ducked into a crouch, letting the wind past him.

Looking for the source revealed Nellone running at them, who seemed to be some sort of bird woman, given that she was covered in feathers from head to… talon.

Alceia took a few steps forward, a self-assured grin cocked on her face.

“So, are you gonna just throw rocks at me, or are we gonna fight?”

The woman’s goading call carried easily over the crimson sands and The Exudation regarded her warily.

Her grin was loose, but her eyes were alert and watchful, her body tensed.

She doesn’t want to make the first move. Wait and see. Not a bad idea when you’ve no idea what your opponent can do.

The Exudation drew himself back up to his full height, flashing a good-natured grin of his own.

“Well, much as I hate to interrupt you and Feathers having a nice little tussle to yourselves, yeah, we’re gonna fight.”

He launched himself into action, closing in on the woman in a few strong bounds. As he closed with her he first went for a fake-out punch. Alceia raised her fists, pulling that strange cord taut, only to watch as his fist veered off before he launched an actual assault with a punch from the other side of his body at the woman’s face.

With precious little time to react, Alceia threw her head away from the punch, though The Exudation still felt the smooth feel of skin-on-skin contact as his fist grazed her cheek, before slamming into her ear.

Then there was a great fluttering about his head, Nellone having reached the engagement quicker than he had expected from someone of her size, the bird-woman’s talons clawing into his left arms and forcing them down.

With his other arms he grasped at Nellone, but she had no intention of sticking around, pushing off and floating down to land behind him.

But The Exudation found he couldn’t devote his attention to one of the women without the other pressing her advantage, as Alceia whipped her cord at him, which seemed to have more length to it than he would have thought.

Unable to dodge due to Nellone’s occupation of his attention, he exuded. Light covered his chest, front and back, which the cord met with a sizzle and crack before the Exudation turned his body sideways, a pair of arms raised towards each woman as his eyes flicked back and forth between the two.

Stuck in the middle… Not a great place to be. Alright ladies. Your moves.
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 12
8/16/2022 22:15:29   

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP

Sunlight filters through the surface, lighting the way through the pond’s depths. The wind blows overhead, but the figure beneath the water cannot hear, cannot feel, as they swim along. They turn over, staring up at what sits beside the pond. Slowly, they remove the shroud over their face, and gaze at what reflects them.

They are greeted by an eyeless, monstrous visage of twisted horns and pointed fangs. They dive deeper, and the reflecting beast plunges in after them. Carefully, the figure opens their mouth, inviting the memories in without letting it suffocate them.

Light. Too much brightness overwhelms her careful eyes. It caresses them, sears at them, extinguishes them, until there is only light there is only light there is only -

The figure’s sight dies, leaving behind nothing but the lonely dark. A panicked breath pulls in another memory, and the choking begins.

Joy. She cannot see, but she need only feel. Feel her fingers work upon her flute. Feel the smoothness of her creations, her animals, her worlds. She is a maker.

The figure focuses, holds their breath, keeps the memories out. Making… have they ever made? Perhaps the reflections are their creations, their many forms duplicating and painting across new surfaces. But no… those are not their own form, it is only ever the work of another that dances upon the mirrors of the world. Basking in the joy of creating brings about a sigh of content, and one final memory leaks in with it.

Grief. She’s killed it. An entire world, a home for her work, her creations, broken upon the Factory’s floor. She smelled the sea die. She heard the birds die. She’s a monster.

It always, always comes back to ever-familiar grief. The figure cannot run, the figure cannot swim. They scream. They choke. They sink. And they become. They become. They truly become.

Two new arms dangled uselessly at her sides. They could work the flute so easily, why do they refuse to move?

A weighty tail hung from behind, dipping into the sands below. It used to help her hunt, why can it not swing and strike her foe?

Her eyes… cannot see. She cannot see. Why… why could she not see? She remembered blinding, searing, extinguishing light. But she also remembered a soldier’s mirthful smile, a machine’s tearless sorrow, a reflection of a reflection of a reflection in the pond’s lake.

She struggled blindly as the form she hung from struggled convulsed and pushed against her. Heat came next. Invisible water boiling all around her, crawling across her surface. Ulum gasped as the unnecessary act of drawing breath became a chore. A claw scratched at her throat. Another at her horns. A snarl, a gurgle, a drowning beastly roar reached her ears. Then one, two, ten fingers closed around her mask and began to pull, to force it apart and reveal her stolen face to the world. The pressure increased, bit by bit, until a whispered crack echoed through her ears and into her mind.


She needed to be able to see. She always has, always can, always will be able to see. She…

The mask breaks through the surface. The figure coughs and spits, water scattering everywhere in the choppy pond waves. A deep breath. A long reprieve. They swim.

They. Ulum. Ulum will be someone who can see. Ulum will have eyes. And so, they opened them, invisible as they were, and stared at Ribali. Stared at the maker.

They did not have time to think, time to process how deep they had been and how quickly they had risen back. The face beneath the mask was not yet their own, and so the veil must stay on and intact. They flung their arm off Ribali’s neck and clung tightly to their fractured mask. Home snapped shut, a leg rose and kicked off the Earth Paragon’s chest to break her hold and send the watery reflection back to the sandy floor. They again looked up at the monster, a full two heads higher than Ulum was, even as they reflected her majesty.

This… this was not something a clear head could handle. Fear, doubt, already began to seep back in. Where was the brash confidence of the soldier? Where was the blind faith of the creator? Perhaps it was not a horrid thing, to lose oneself, to become a monster amidst the battlefield. So long as they could always come back.

The figure takes a deep breath and dives back beneath the surface. This time, they keep their eyes open. This time, they swim with purpose.

Memories of prowling through a frostbitten waste dripped through her mind. Clawed hands launched her over vined, jagged forests. Jagged tail helped keep her balance as she chased, but, when she was upon her prey, it became a weapon. A weight. A club.

Ulum held Home out behind them, a layer of water dripping across to coat the heavy umbrella that now aligned with her tail. She dropped forwards onto one hand, three limbs stalking towards her blind prey as her extra arms dangled weightlessly in the sand. A burst of speed launched her across the hot sands. A twist of her form brought her useless tail, her trailing arm, and the heavy weight of Home across the sky and streaking towards Ribali’s side.

Post #: 13
8/17/2022 18:56:31   

Red sand fluttered in the air as the two paragons rushed together, their intents becoming one. Sonder charged towards Wister, kicking sand into the air with each stride. Through her Threshold, She watched as Wister dove to the ground, spinning on their knees as a cloud of red earth blended with their form.

From the corner of her gaze, Sonder saw a blur– no, two blurs. The star-shaped ice, still spinning in the air. The Dullahan raised her blades, ready to move in an instant, but the stars were not meant for her. Instead, their path was towards their master. With grace and precision, the ice paragon raised their shield, catching the stars, guiding their path right towards Sonder. Through the swirling earth, Sonder swore she saw them smile.

Is this a game to you?!

The Dullahan had no time to think. Wister was too close. As the ice hurled towards her, Sonder felt her arms burn as she willed them to move.

One, Two. Sonder deflected the ice stars, swatting them away towards the center of the arena with inhuman speed. But Sonder did not consider the third star. Her body was running on pure instinct, and as the third one came, she drove her blade down upon it. With ease, the ivory sliced through the star’s center.

Then, Whiteout.

The star exploded in a wave of cold, cold ice. Blue ice and vapor overtook the red sands, lightly coating the surface of everything nearby.

Sonder groaned as she reached to wipe the ice from her face. She was on her knees now, coated top to bottom in ice. Her mask had protected her head from the worst of the blast, but as Sonder touched her face, she realized that it was gone.

But as she peered around, she saw Wister. They too were caught in the blast, just barely on the edge of its influence. The dark-skinned warrior was holding themselves up with their polearm, mouthing words but saying nothing. As Sonder picked up her now frost covered blades, she could tell that something was not right with Wister. Some kind of neurosis, perhaps?

I’m sorry, but there will be no mercy.

There was no joy in it. Wielding fear and death as tools. But there could be no holding back here. Not in front of the Leviathan.

Sonder leapt forward towards Wister, the twin blades hissing as they moved in a downward X.

There will be a time for grieving. You will be remembered, but so must I!

But fate had other plans. As Sonder drove her ivory down, they met ice rather than flesh. Suddenly, Wister moved their shield up, pressing against the blades with all their might.

Sonder staggered back, taking a few steps to catch her balance. Her arms were flushed with pain. But she only gripped her blades tighter, reveling in the moment. Her body was but a vessel for her memories, her soul. She would break it to win her life back.

Sonder focused her gaze on Wister. The paragon had not moved, simply holding their shield up.

Defensive, just like the Suntouched. We’ll see who breaks first.

Without another moment, Sonder raised her blades, ready to continue her assault. But as she did, Sonder saw something–

Her reflection.
AQ DF AQW  Post #: 14
8/17/2022 20:16:36   

Alceia huffed as her eyes met her opponent’s. Light’s Paragon, given only a title: the Exudation. He was a towering man, barely clothed; a man who didn’t think he needed any sort of bodily protection to win. The four arms that sprouted disturbingly from his torso would certainly give him an advantage; Alceia instantly disliked the man. She couldn’t quite figure out where the projectiles had come from, for his four hands seemed empty. She yelled to him as he approached, hoping to ensure he would move closer instead of shooting from range.

“So, are you gonna just throw rocks at me, or are we gonna fight?”

As much as she wanted to charge straight for him, Alceia knew his extra limbs meant the Exudation could easily take advantage of her if she threw a punch and missed. She stepped a few paces closer to him as he responded to her call, his voice loud and brazen. If we’re going to fight, then let’s see what you’ve got.

A pale fist fills her vision; a too-familiar crack echoes as the heat of blood runs down her chin.

Alceia huffed as the vision crossed her mind. Again with the nose punches. Alceia growled irritably.

The obsidian gauntlet swung true, and a screeching fire erupted from her nose--

Alceia stomped into the crimson sands as she felt her mind begin to slip into the Strand. She snapped back, eyes focused on the Exudation as he closed in and shifted his shoulders. Just a little bit further… he raised one arm and thrust out-- this would be it. Alceia raised her arms to meet it, the humming Strand a barricade between her face and the punch she’d seen crash into it. She ignored the tinge of unease that tickled the back of her mind. Something wasn’t lining up right.

Alceia cursed as the Exudation abruptly pulled his hand back and swung with an arm from the other side of his body. Her vision hadn’t shown that first punch, but the followup. She jerked sideways, desperate to avoid another concussion. A thunderclap reverberated through her left side as she moved just enough for her foe to miss her face and slam directly into her ear. Alceia moved her hand up to cup the side of her face, only to jerk it away as her Fate’s heat singed her skin. She let out a frustrated grunt and steadied her breathing as her ear began to throb.

Fists slam into Alceia’s ears; the boy falters, stutters, apologizes.
It’s just training, after all. Alceia’s panic overrides the boy’s words. She swings. The boy falls.

Alceia’s heart sunk. The panic in that vision… she must have been thinking back to the Exudation.

It was always dreadful to realize a moment she’d just lived through would cause Aeon’s death. She’d lost count of those moments long ago.

A chaotic rustle flicked by her ears as a mass of feathers swooped in and grabbed onto the Exudation. The harpy had joined their fight, after all. Alceia much preferred one on one duels. more than one opponent became too much to think about-- it was too easy to get distracted in an exchange with one fighter and forget about your second. But the crowds did enjoy gladiator brawl events. As the harpy pulled the Exudation away from her, Alceia realized this was her moment to take the space she needed.

Alceia strummed a finger against her Fate; it was almost unconscious now, a routine. The crevice within opened wide to meet her, and Alceia’s heart throbbed with dread as she let the thread unravel.

She stared down at the pulsing string in her fingers.
With a twirl, she pulled it inwards and wrapped it firmly in both hands.

         With a flick of one wrist, she whipped its length against the ground with a satisfying crack.

She’d always wanted to try close range.

                 She should take advantage of the Strand’s length.

Fractals spread from the crevice like worker bees, tweaking and twisting her mind, replacing flame with ice.

She felt anger                               resignation
Towards the battle before her. She would become more intense, stronger than before,
                                            She would become colder, harden her heart

To save him.

Newly healed sutures cracked open with ease, and the wave of new memories flowed in calmly, as if they had always belonged. She had thought Calline too close, too warm, so she’d left after a few weeks, and the two exchanged formal, detached goodbyes. She returned home to pick up her armor, much earlier than she had thought, and narrowly dodged Adamenta and Aeon as she heard the echoes of their voices down an adjacent street. Vision, sound, smell all doubled like before, and hints of nausea flared in Alceia’s stomach. She braced for the overload, for the familiar panic and sickness that rose as what was before and what now was fought to sunder her in two. They rose for a moment, and Alceia felt herself drowning in overlapping scenes that had to be but could not be, that she remembered like fact even though they contradicted. Eyes widened like a deer in headlights as she tried to process--

Nausea settled at once as one set of scenes began to rapidly fade. Alceia’s breath caught in shock as she felt the false memories flowing out like the tide. She grasped desperately; she loved Calline, she’d hurt her but she had loved her. Yet the feeling began to dim, for perhaps she did find Calline attractive, but she’d never spent enough time with her to fall in love. She thought she’d seen Aeon the first time, when she picked up her armor, but that couldn’t be right, why was it so hard to…

Wasn’t that harder the last time? Alceia tilted her head, confused by the sudden calm. She was still here on the crimson sands, her past as simple as any other person’s. Alceia yanked the Strand from one hand. its harsh heat scraped through the leather as it lengthened and unraveled from her knuckles. The end looped and folded over itself as it fell gently to the sands. With a practiced swing of her arm, Alceia flung the whip’s length towards the Exudation’s bared chest. It moved like an extension of herself, a strange tail; it had always felt so satisfying. Alceia couldn’t imagine the Strand any other way.
Post #: 15
8/17/2022 23:11:32   

Nellone blinked awake staring at the sky, an ache in her back and head. Again.

Sitting up, she surveyed her landscape. It had been several years since the last time she tried this, but almost nothing had changed; the dusty rock losing fights to stubborn plants, the winding trail up to the peak, the familiar view of the sun being pierced by the tallest cliff around. Above her, a thick cloud dense with rain passed slowly.

“Nothing?” Amily had said that morning as Nellone waltzed into her hut with a stone expression. A short shake of the head and Amily tucked herself further into the nest. A few large pink feathers were scattered around the floor; Nell wondered if in the time she was gone if her sister had gone outside in the daylight even once.

Splitting the first memory, the sounds of bamboo poles clashing cut into her ears. Clack. Crack. Thwack. The sound of struck skin was accompanied by a small cry, then again by a body falling to the ground.

The black haired boy rubbed his upper arm as he sat in the dirt, greying teacher standing across him with both poles in his hands. Nellone continued polishing new quarterstaffs on the other side of the courtyard.

The teacher handed the boy a pole, urging him to rise.


Clack. Crack. Thwack. A cry, a thunk.


Clack. Crack. Thwack.

The teacher sighed, dropping a pole to the ground and turning to leave.

Within seconds, the boy, breathing heavily, landed a blow on the teacher’s back. He didn’t flinch, instead turning.

“Again,” the boy said covered in bruises and sweat.

The present hit Nell as she once more neared the top of the peak.


Wings fanned out, she ran at the top of the peak, wind flaring her feathers. She leapt into the air without looking down, instead staring into the never-falling rain cloud above her.

Before she could think, a pair of piercing talons bore into both of her shoulders, throwing her forward into a cliff face where she managed to cling to a ledge.

“You’ve been out here for awhile, bluebird,” a shrill voice crowed into her ear between his beating wings. “Are you the flightless hatchling that lives around here?”

Nell said nothing, struggling to keep hold of the rock. Pebbles fell far to the ground below, begging her to look down, but she resisted.

The attacker pressed her face further into the rock, digging into her shoulders. “Where’s that pink one, hm? You were always hounding her before she disappeared. Is she dead?”

Amily, your taste is miserable.

“If she’s dead, I guess she wouldn’t mind if I finally did this?”

As the harpy let go, Nell clung, shaking, to the ledge. It only took time before her underworked arms slowly let her slip, and once more the wind accompanied her as she fell to the bottom of the canyon.

Pushing back the darkness at the edges of her vision, Nellone leapt into the four-armed Paragon and grabbed a talon onto each of his left forearms. With all of her might, she pulled his arms to the sand, throwing off his balance and opening up his chest to the human’s attack.

The Light Paragon reached for Nell’s claws, but he was slower than the spider-woman—she dodged his fist, jumping off and running to the opposite side as the human as the opponent’s vision followed.

In the frenzy of feathers and dissipating panic, Nellone caught a glimpse of the human; as she flicked her wrist and the whip cracked in the air beside her, she opened her tense eyes to an expression of focused calm. She blinked once, and the whip hummed with energy and a thousand shades of bright light as it struck with the same passion as what occupied the human’s mind.

The human’s cord sliced through this air, but the Paragon noticed; expressionless, a sleek film of light pulled off of his skin and covered his chest, which the whip met with a dull thunk before falling awkwardly to the sand. He then shifted his feet, gaze whipping between the two competitors, and facing the center of the arena with a pair of arms towards each. He looked almost entirely unharmed, and the light continued to sparkle in a thin layer of shield around his chest.


Nell pulled a trio of small feathers and strengthened them with the wind, running once more at the Paragon and throwing the daggers at his feet to distract from the talons aiming for the side of his head.
Post #: 16
8/18/2022 0:32:40   

Brimstone pervaded the dry air, the scent a barest warning before a searing heat blazed across the Arena. Tongues of brilliant flame erupted about the Pillar of Fire, the mouse atop it quickly lost within curtains of crimson and gold. The inferno crackled and surged, spitting out cinders that charred the surrounding sands. An inhuman scream poured forth from the hidden figure; a piercing cry of rage and grief. And then - silence as the flames snuffed out all at once. Curls of smoke drifted about the cracked ruins of shattered opal, flecks of ash settling on the dragon's skull left abandoned in their midst. Its golden curls dulled to gray as a chill suffused the air, accompanied by the lingering aroma of burnt hide and fur.

"And so has favor been withdrawn from Vu'ur, Paragon of Fire." Rough voices called words forth from throats stung by the smoke. "The Pillar of Fire has fallen - and we now bear witness to her choice, and to her Lord's neglect." The last of the embers about the pillar remnants sputtered and died, the first life to be swallowed and extinguished by the Arena sands.
AQ DF MQ AQW  Post #: 17
8/18/2022 12:31:44   
  San Robin

The fireball she threw had little to no effect! Just how strong were these creatures? Vu’ur scowled. No it wasn’t that… She felt weaker, like her energy was draining again. She struggled to stay standing as the same dry laugh echoed in her mind.

Do or die huh? You couldn’t even get a proper hit in. I see now that your pride was misplaced and your confidence nothing but a front to hide a scared little girl who lost her way home. I retract my blessing.

Your energy is back to what it was before you got it so let me use your own words against you: Will you do, or die? Or will you run away as you’ve done so many times before? Perhaps there’s other ways to get home, but this place is no longer a viable option for you.

Now get out of my sight.

Vu’ur’s ears rang, she vaguely heard the announcement of her loss. She was weakened and even if she chose to fight it wouldn’t grant her anything. She clenched her fists, took a deep breath and started walking towards the exit.

The battlecries silenced as the door closed behind her. The tears started flowing, as hot as the burning rage inside of her. She would live to fight another day, to find a way home and… to teach a lesson to that snob of a fire lord.

She had to find a home base.

A volcano would do nicely…
AQ DF MQ AQW  Post #: 18
8/19/2022 16:54:05   

The invisible hand had gone from her throat. It struggled under her claws like a fish out of water, to keep it on, to keep it in one piece even as obsidian pressed against wood.

Her gambit worked.

She just had to hold on for a little longer, fighting as they both drowned. She didn’t think of what could’ve happened to her if there was no mask to hold on to. She didn’t think of sinking and landing against the seafloor as the darkness lapped at the corners of her mind.

Ribali wondered if she’d ended up in a bubble, with sunlight filtering through, spilling like paint. Perhaps they were under a lake, or in the deep dark of the sea. Filled with lightning leviathans dotted with dancing lights. She felt their shock between her fingers when her breath reached their depths, stirring them to life.

A swift kick came from Ulum, bouncing them away from her armored chest. The dull cold in her veins was worse than every last vessel breaking. She stumbled back, her mind blinking in and out before refocusing at all the sensations the arena had to offer.

Sunlight broke through Ulum’s chill, drawing lines on Ribali’s back.

Her balance lost, she landed against the ground in a sit, bruises already spilling under the transparent skin.

She imagined the rays passing through cold glass blood and skin, casting crimson shadows. It was a strange sort of comfort to hold on to when every breath could be her last. But she felt warmth. She felt sand beneath her feet. She felt the breath that broke into her lungs with disregard to pain and particles. She was alive still, and she was angry.

A jungle behemoth lifted its head, droplets of water dripping off its mossy fur. It turned its gaze far above the canopy. Between its leaves drenched and torn, it saw a sun for the first time - and then a second, resting a minute past its zenith.

Ribali’s tail whipped against the hallowed sands with force. The air stung like dried blood and dust. She rose, fifteen fingers working to pull her from the sands. Five of the demoness’ claws were clasped against her chest as she struggled to speak, screeching higher against rock with every sound failing and memory not found.


"Lllum… You are…" Refl ct , M rr r

She knew the words. She knew the meanings she wanted to speak. She understood the anger behind them, the words lay unused for so long they were eroded with the years, unwilling to roll over her fangs and out into the heated, rasping air.

One that is other, one that takes after- one that takes -

She felt rippling steps among the sand, claws and resolve striking the sand. Her struggle brushed past a memory blinding, a memory tearing, shining bright and burning in Ribali’s haze.

See what happens to the Thief of my Light!

"Thief of horns!" She barked out to scream over the words that made her body shiver in dread still. Her tendrils, overwhelmed with the heat of her voice, alarmed only of a gentle fluttering of air. Fluttering that turned into a loud whistle a moment too late for Ribali. Her feet sunk deep, dragging back against the unstable ground as the strike crashed against her side. She gnashed her teeth, lapping for breath through their thin needles. Her arms snapped to catch and stop the cracking in her ribs and the spill of pain across her form.

Though it was the whistle of a wing, it struck her like…

“Tail… thief…” She snarled, leaning over as her claws found their way around Ulum’s strange weapon, holding on tight. Her feet were planted with care, and though she felt the weight of her cracked wings, her tail balanced her, just barely. An advantage this small fool had thrown away.

Every hunter knew to not use their balance as the sole weapon.

Ribali’s muscles worked as she pulled, dragging the M rr r and thief off her feet.

From under the safety of its hulking body hushed voices sang in joy, pink eyes darting first at one another, and then out at the clouds. Sunlight painted their edges gold and red.

A prayer to the once forgotten.

Her armor heaved as she rasped. Searing pain tore through her side with her breath, but it would be more than enough if she let Earth pull Ulum to her. The cold feeling in her limbs waned as an exhale of fire caressed her tendrils, voices speaking of favor lost. Her blood heated up as the whispers of distant songs called to the sky.

Every hunter knew not to strike against a God.

“Old tricks!” Shaking broke past Ribali’s triumphant, mocking snarl. She had learned from the Dreamer’s toys. So why did the words shake her?

“Old, old, old, make something!” She cried. All she could create was a single tree, its branches intertwining with all, its leaves covering the sky. What kind of jungle was that?

Make something new, she howled without a sound to grant the walls an echo. Even the horned and many-fanged humans that came from her hands were Mother-Father’s humans at core, her feathered perytons just their deer.

Without her creations, she was nothing.

Without her creations, they were right.

Why could she only think of what it’s going to look like when the elemental shatters against sand, oceans spilling into dry, dead sand?


Of all the beautiful forms water could take, why did it have to be me?

A vicious, pained roar shook the creature as her attack changed trajectory, arms and side burning up as they struggled against gravity. Ribali bent back to gain momentum and instead launched the elemental through the air. She didn’t want to be there to feel the chilling droplets against her skin.

Of all the forms she could hunt, why did it have to be water? She knew how to hunt in water, knew how to listen for fish within its grasp and snap her jaws around them to hear cracks and feel copper. But closing fangs on water would only drown her, inside and out.

Make something, make something,

She didn’t realize she had been droning the words under her breath, holding on to them before the heave in her chest and the blankness could drag her down underwater faster than her enemy ever could. Words that brought hatred and jealousy before brought an idea into her stuttering mind. Her claws brushed against Orion's belt, withdrawing her Flute with a gentle ring. She felt both its chill and warmth seep through her obsidian, and imagined stardust staining her talons.

Make something new, Thief.

Ribali’s head snapped towards the crisp scent of freshwater, towards Ulum. Her lips curved into a fanged frown.

Before I make you lose everything.
DF  Post #: 19
8/20/2022 5:12:23   

Wister’s skin steams.

Sonder’s face is wreathed in it, vapor that licks the air and frames her within its reaching arms. Wister can hardly feel the cold of their own ice. If not for the steam, Wister might not even realize the frostbomb went off. As it is, Wister only notices it because they are staring at Sonder, at Sonder’s face, her face, and the steam is there, half-obscuring their field of vision. There is something about the whole image that’s almost hypnotic, and Wister finds themselves unable to - unable to…


“Go away,” Wister mumbles. That stop-time slow-motion feeling is all around them; Sonder is charging at them with blades crossed, and Fairest is rising up to meet her, slow, so slow. “I told you to go away..”

Wister jerks their head involuntarily, a sharp flinch to one side, struggling to hold Fairest in place. Their body spasms. Somewhere deep inside, this strange, foreign piece of their mind rises again, insistent: So, what, Wister? You’re going to just sit here? Hiding behind your shield? That’s not how we win.

“There’s no we,” Wister hisses. “There is only me. And I will fight this battle the way I want, gunkhead.”

You’re lying to yourself. You’ve boxed half of yourself away out of fear and you will lose. Let me out, at least.

No, Wister thinks, and pushes again, as hard as they can, trying to bury the voice. Inside their mind, the girl screams, pushing back, and Wister -

“Ah,” she-Wister says, smiling as she takes the body from they-Wister, putting her whole back into Fairest to stand her ground. Sonder’s blades grind against the surface of the shield; the shield drags against the sand, oscillating by inches. “You’re trying too hard, my girl. You’re impressive, I doubt anyone’d deny that, but the whole darkness-and-despair act is a little overdone, don’t you think?” The blades press harder against Fairest and she-Wister gives a little ground, grunting -

Bourreau!” they-Wister screams, taking control again. “Get OUT!” Their voice breaks on the last word and they slip, falling, falling, back into the recesses of the mind, the intangible -

“Bourreau?” she-Wister muses. Her whole weight bears against Fairest; as she speaks, entertaining they-Wister, keeping them at bay, she begins to let the kaleidoscope loose - millimeters at a time, it seems, too slowly for they-Wister to notice too easily. Too subtly for they-Wister to stop her. “You nicknamed me Bourreau? Executioner? In French?”


“Ha,” Bourreau murmurs, shaking her head. The kaleidoscope is just past Fairest’s edge now, Wister directly in the middle of it. “I guess you aren’t wrong. But really…who do you think you’re impressing? So you think you’re all sophisticated, using French, ooh-la-la, but you literally named me executioner. Isn’t that a bit on the nose?”

Her head jerks, twisting suddenly. They-Wister’s eyes blaze.

“You are a tiny piece of me,” they snap. “I tried getting rid of you. You should be gone. I’m the real Wister now. Get out of my -”

Another twist, another jerk. She-Wister laughs even as she strains against Fairest, teeth gritted. “If you’re the real one,” she says, her eyes dancing as she speaks, “why are you so weak?” Her hands are white-knuckled against Fairest, her gaze locked on Sonder’s face. They-Wister, buried inside her mind, feels another piece coming loose - how? I didn’t call the kaleidoscope; they-Wister flinches, trying to fight her, but she-Wister is strong, the executioner, the strongest of them all, and -

“You know, Wister, I’d have thought it’d be easier for us to win. You think any of these idiots can handle the kaleidoscope at its fullest strength? Ha! Let them try.” She laughs again, harsher. The kaleidoscope, they-Wister thinks, reaching out, and feels it faintly around them, like a flickering flame. Ah. She-Wister is still talking, angry now. “I know you feel bad about those kids we messed up. But what’s the big deal? What does it compare to locking me away for decades? I never got to say GOODBYE TO MY HOME!

Bourreau, drop the kaleidoscope.

“You want me to drop it? Then drop it. We’re the same person, remember? That’s our whole thing.”

No, they-Wister thinks. They aren’t the same person. They can’t let themselves believe they are. There’s a reason they’ve separated she-Wister, locked her away, made sure she’s gone. There’s nothing that can convince them Bourreau deserves to be freed -

You’re not the only one who gets a say in that. Another voice, this one male; another fragment of Wister, excavated. And she’s got a right to be a little hotheaded. You did lock her up for decades, like she said.

I didn’t lock her away for decades, they-Wister thinks, softly. We haven’t even lived that long yet. And it was my only defense -

“You’re only saying that because time is relative and non-periodic and somewhat random on the Forever Isles,” Bourreau interrupts. “Which, fine, is an argument, so maybe you’re not exactly wrong. But let’s just say you’re not exactly right, either, since time makes no sense where we come from. All that matters was that it was a long time. And…I never got to say goodbye.” Her voice drops in pitch, softening.

I’m sorry.

“Maybe. Maybe you are. But I’m just trying to keep us alive. And win, which you weren’t doing so well with.”

Maybe you should let her take over, he-Wister suggests, a little reluctantly.

No. I’m sorry, Abacus, but I can’t.

He-Wister sighs. Abacus?

Well, you’re very frustrating, pretty outdated, and only somewhat intellectual. So I figured it made sense.

Just shut up and listen to she-Wister. Please.

She-Wister - Bourreau - snorts. “The first she-Wister. Please. You know there’s tons of us.” They-Wister laughs.“Or just Wister,” she-Wister suggests. They-Wister stops laughing.

Just Wister. Is that really what she’d said? Just Wister?

He-Wister hesitates. For a strange, rebellious moment, they-Wister thinks he-Wister might actually agree with her; but of course, he-Wister knows better than any of them how the technicalities work. He’s like…a computational intelligence, almost. Maybe not the most intuitive, but he understands rules like no one else. You’re not, technically, the dominant, so just Wister would be inaccurate -

“Oh, please. They may have had the body longer, but what I lack in temporal-ment, I make up for in temperament -” she-Wister stops, tilting their head at Sonder. “Fine, it’s a bad joke. I just mean that I’ve got more…passion than they-Wister, you know? A little more joie de vivre. A little more willing to go all in for the job.”

They-Wister feels a blush of anger. No, she-Wister, you’re just vicious. And I refuse to be.

He-Wister grimaces. They-Wister does have a point -

“Like I said. I get the job done. Give the kaleidoscope another minute and I would bet Sonder will go down like a bag of rocks -”

A MINUTE?! No. No no no no no -

“...yeah. Why?”

Bourreau, we can’t last a minute! He-Wister is flailing, pushing, trying to unseat she-Wister; they-Wister can feel it, this internal battle. They push, too, focusing on the feeling of getting rid of she-Wister, except the only way to do it is to take control themselves, and that just makes it harder for he-Wister. So, finally, they-Wister lets go, feeling the surface fall away, feeling themselves suppressed.

HE’S RIGHT, they-Wister says instead. Come on, Bourreau. Give it up. You’ll turn us crazy if you keep that kaleidoscope up that long.

She-Wister laughs. “Look, do you want to have fun, or noooooot -”

He-Wister attacks from inside, brutal. She-Wister lets go.

He-Wister takes control of the body and the pain is like an avalanche; vaguely, Wister hears themselves screaming. The kaleidoscope around Wister twists and spirals and shatters, pieces flying everywhere, reflections of a thousand different voices, all the tiny pieces of Wister deconstructed, shimmering, iridescent like fireworks. The sand is flash-freeze-cold and steams like dry ice. Sonder’s face bears into Wister’s. Where their eyes meet, pain spreads through his body, burning frigid in Wister’s veins.

Get out, they-Wister says.

“But I’m our most strategic option,” he-Wister protests.

She-Wister laughs, deep inside, halfway buried. But I’m the sharpest knife in our drawer -

No. Neither of you. They-Wister hesitates: I need Andréa.

He-Wister hesitates, too. There’s something there, they-Wister senses: reluctance, acknowledgement, acceptance…resignation. The knowledge - or wisdom - that they-Wister is right, at least this once.

She-Wister scoffs. Why does she get the normal name?

“It’s not that normal,” he-Wister assures her, even as his psyche withdraws…

Beneath them, a pillar of ice rises, and a new she-Wister emerges, jaw set, staring down directly into Sonder’s eyes, her shoulders back as she stands tall. “Do your worst,” she says, trying not to gasp at the fierceness of the pain. Her red hair ripples in the wind, white streaks shot through with fire. Her eyes glow hard as rock, white and unyielding. Her hands hold Celsius and Fairest - her grip firm, but steady. Her knuckles are no longer white. “Push me down, knock me down, keel me over, I will just keep getting back up.”

For the moment, every other fragment retreats, and this facet of Wister has full and complete control.

She turns inwards, speaking to all of the Wisters within, and whispers: “Come back. All of you. I need you. We’re going to do this together - as a team.” She sets her chin and swallows the memories. “We’re going to take the hits until our body gives out, and then we’ll keep going, over and over…until we’re dead.”

She smiles slightly, spinning Celsius in her hand. “We owe the Time-Beyond-Times this much.”

Wister inhales sharply, all of the pieces of their personality snapping back together - one person, one fragile, fractured mind - and crouches atop the pillar, shield and spear at the ready, prepared to meet their past.
AQW  Post #: 20
8/20/2022 9:03:41   

The Exudation kept his body tense, as he waited to see which of the women would make the first move.

But before either could, there came an intense heatwave that washed over his body as the Pillar of Fire fell.

One out of the running… You can do this. You can save her.

But he had no time to think about the rest of the Arena, as Nellone made her move, the bird-woman… plucked her own feathers before running forth.

But not if I just sit here in the middle of these two, they’ll tear me apart if I do. Sorry ladies, I’ve no intentions of becoming mincemeat just yet.

A pair of fists became outward facing palms and he exuded. A pair of arrows flew forth towards the two women, an exchange of projectiles in one case, as Nellone threw her feathers ahead of her.

But The Exudation was already throwing his body backwards, in an attempt to get both his foes in sight at the same time, leaving the feathers to dig into the crimson sands.

Alceia was unable to dodge properly and was struck in the shoulder, but the bird-woman dodged his projectile as capably as he’d dodged hers, weaving around the exudation and leaping after him, her talons scything through the air, headed for his face.

The Exudation grimaced as his back slammed into the Arena wall. He raised up an arm in the path of Nellone’s talons and exuded, light covering the back of his arm while two fins extended from the sides.

But Alceia was unwilling to sit back and let the two clash without her, the human whipping her odd cord at his legs at the same time as the bird-woman closed on him. Talons scrabbled about his readied shield, getting past it briefly, scratching across his face before Nellone fell back and The Exudation cried out as Alceia’s cord seared into his leg.

He faltered, grimacing, but did not fall to his knees.

Argh, of course she manages to go for my weakest point…

The Exudation was breathing raggedly as he regarded his two foes. Nellone was looking a little like he was feeling, the bird-woman clearly perturbed by his ability to defend himself.

Did you expect this to go a bit more easily, Feathers? Well, it is the two of them against the one of me… and they are pressuring me to use up a lot of my reservoir. Haven’t let up for a moment to let me recharge even a little either.

Alceia was better composed, readying her cord for another assault.

And not planning to anytime soon. I do still have that final gambit… But I don't think I'm quite at that point just yet…
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 21
8/20/2022 22:08:43   

Chromatic ArchKnight of RP

“Thief of horns!”

The roaring accusation from her prey fell on deaf ears as her tail followed through and crashed against Ribali’s side. Ulum snarled in satisfaction, the animalistic sound seeming foreign to some deeper part of her thoughts. Memories rolled over her swimming mind and guided her actions. Her prey would be reeling after a first strike, and she could continue to ravage them with… with…

With what? Claws that could not cut, teeth that could not bite. The tail… the tail was never supposed to lead the hunt!

“Tail… thief…” her prey snarled at her as taloned hands clamped down on Home. Powerful muscles lifted both weapon and naive hunter off the ground. Ulum roared defiantly as she refused to drop her sole weapon. Her eyes scanned her foe for any hint of weakness, any chink in the armor she could slip a blow into. Plated scales glowing with inner heat. Tangled horns, daggered teeth. At the neck… marbles.

Her marbles.

The masked figure breaks through the surface happily, rising up above the water and letting it spill from their mouth as the mask slides aside. They cup their hands and scoop from the pond around them. Carefully, they lift their hands to their lips and drink deeply of Joy.

Ulum went slack, hanging limply from the risen umbrella. She made those. She remembered making those. Every vine and petal of the deep forest. Every wild grain of the hazy desert. She knew the contours of the fleeing deer, the lines of the stalking wolves. Knew them all… but had never seen them. Never seen the gorgeous deep green of the forest, the warm kaleidoscope of color of the desert., they way her worlds hung like art around her neck. Ulum looked down at the strand hanging around her own. The marbles on it felt… pale. Lifeless. Meer reflections of the beautiful worlds that she… that Ribali could shape. Ribali was an artist, a creator. Ulum was… Ulum was…not.

“Old tricks!” the maker growled. A shift in momentum, a roar of effort, and Ulum flew across the sky as heat enveloped the world and the pillar of fire screamed in defeat.

The figure returns the memory to the pond and stares at their watery hands. What should their hands be? How can they create with as much beauty, as much passion, as much Joy as this reflection did? They decide. Whatever their final form is to be… it must be able to create. Perhaps that meant clawed talons and arms of four. There was nothing monstrous about that; four hands meant they’d be able to make twice as well.

Ulum quickly rolled to a stop as the dull echo of pain made itself known across their form. They had landed roughly, and the criers declared the Lords were beginning to withdraw favors, but they were still here. They rose to their feet unsteadily, trying and failing to push aside the memories of joy, the sight of those beautiful marbled worlds, that continued to flood their mind. Across the sands, Ribali had withdrawn a jagged spear-- no. A flute. The spear-like instrument, the needle-like frowning teeth, the twisted horns; it was all a facade. A warped mask across the beautiful form of an artist. Ulum had to know, had to have their question answered by this disguised creator.

“Ribali!” They called out gently with a snarling voice unaccustomed to such delicate speech. “Your hands…”

Ulum took a deep breath and shut their eyes as they took a single step. They remembered… a child. His laugh as he tossed a rock within the pond. His bright eyes watching with curiosity as the ripple chased across the surface and to the other side to rock the lilies. Again they could feel it. Their own ripple, shooting across the hot sands and reaching for the maker.

A catch. A rocking pad.

They felt a pull at their form, a yearning for their very being to be closer to someone else. Without opening their eyes, without looking at their lilypad, they accepted the feeling and pushed. Their reflection burst to life and reached desperately for the maker’s artwork, not with the greed of a thief, but with the curiosity of a child. As a single talon clicked against the viney greens of the jungle, Ulum melted away and appeared in place of the reflection. Their eyes opened. They staggered to a stop. And they held the marble gently between their watery fingers.

They could feel Ribali’s anxiety; a sudden fear that her work would be torn away. Grief. Buckling under the impossibly heavy guilt from killing a world. Choking for breath as her heart shattered alongside a work of art. Drowning in the endless sorrow of snuffing out handmade lives. Ulum… Ulum would never be able to do such a thing, would never dare to steal from this creator. Their fanged lips opened beneath their mask and they whispered their question to the master craftswoman before them.

“How do you use these hands to create such beauty?”

Post #: 22
8/21/2022 18:00:31   

As Sonder stared into the mirror, it stared back.

What the–

Sonder often avoided her reflection whenever possible; it only served to remind the Dullahan of her wretched state. But here, now, something– it caught her eye.

Trapped within the mirror was not Sonder. The resemblance was there, but it was not Sonder. Her hair was much longer, skin full of color. Their eyes shimmered with a long forgotten joy.

In the mirror was not a monster; it was her, the true her. What she always wanted to see.

The Dullahan felt her body grow weak as she tried to hold back against her overflowing desires. It was tearing her apart. Noise filled her skull as Sonder felt every fiber of her being telling her to look away. But how could she? In the presence of everything she had ever wanted and lost. . .

“ . . . The whole darkness-and-despair act is a little overdone, don’t you think?”

The words cut through the noise and pierced her heart.

. . . An act?!

Sonder scowled as her eyes moved away from the reflection; she turned to face the paragon of ice.

“An act? You think this is an act?!"

Tears streamed down her distorted flesh as the Dullahan locked eyes with Wister. She stared into the figure’s soul as Sonder raised one blade to the sky.

“You don’t know me. I don’t even know me! But what I do know. . .”

Sonder reeled her arm back. She could not suffer this Wister any longer. But before she could strike, a flash erupted from the ice paragon. Like a living prism, streaks of every color imaginable traced through the air, zigging and zagging in every direction until everything was drowned in light.

Sonder raised arms to shield her eyes, but it was no use; the light was everywhere. It was blinding, but it was so much more. It overwhelmed every sensation until there was–


Sonder opened her eyes. The desert sands from before were gone, replaced with open green pastures. There were no crowds, only the sound of plucked strings and the hums of a brown-haired child.

There was a girl sitting on the steps of a wooden homestead, seemingly unaware of the Dullahan’s presence. In her hands was a familiar instrument.

“A lyre. . .” Sonder reached out for the name. Someone had told her about it, but the memories were clouded. Faces wiped from existence.

Sonder peered at the instrument. It appeared old, worn. It was large in the child’s hands, yet they plucked away at its strings with the utmost joy. Sonder could not help but be entranced by the display. It brought her an indescribable peace.

“Where do I know you from?”

As Sonder spoke, the girl did not answer. Instead, an older voice called out from inside the house.

“Jelanda, it’s time for bed.”

Sonder twitched. She watched as the child gave a loud sigh before tucking the lyre between her arm. “Yes, mother.”

“Jelanda. . . WAIT!”

Sonder tried to reach out to the child, but then the world shattered. Jelanda, the lyre, the house, the sky– everything scattered into rays of prismatic light.

As the lights faded, Sonder was standing there with her arm outstretched. She was back in Bren– on the sands of the grand arena. As the Dullahan gathered herself, her mind was fixated on the dream.

“Jelanda. . .” She mouthed the word; wholly unfamiliar, yet . . . right, somehow. She spoke it as if she had done so a thousand times.

“My name is. . . Jelanda.”

A spark of joy filled her heart as the Dullahan grasped the forgotten memory. But as soon as she had proclaimed it, another force sprung from deep within.

Her ivory blades sunk into the sand as the Dullahan pulled her hair. The noise filled her ears, far louder than ever before. It threatened to consume her whole.

NO. I will not let you–

The Dullahan pushed back against the noise as she asserted herself once more.

“I. Am. . . JELANDA!”

Her voice echoed across the arena. It rose above the infernal noise. And then, it was gone. Jelanda took several deep breaths as she calmed herself down. Her face was drenched with tears as she locked eyes with Wister. They were standing there, ready to continue their fated battle.

It was then that she understood. Her name. Her right as a person. The thing the witches tore from her. If she failed here, it would be the first thing to disappear.

Suddenly, the earth gave way to ice as the paragon was lifted into the air. They looked down at the Dullahan, heart bleeding with their own declaration.

“Do your worst. Push me down, knock me down, keel me over, I will just keep getting back up.”

The Dullahan brushed her tears and smiled. “Then allow me.”

As the pillar reached its pinnacle, Jelanda pulled the blades from the sand and twirled them, their solid edges growing more and more ephemeral as they collapsed into black ichor. She brought the two halves together, and then, a thunderous crack filled the air as the ivory whip emerged.

Her will traveled through the bones. The ivory understood, fueled by her newfound resolve. Jelanda threw arm forward, and the whip circled around the Paragon’s leg. The razors bit into the paragon's leg, unwilling to let go.

Jelanda looked up to Wister as she pulled the whip back. She would drag her back down to Earth.

“Come. Let us get to know each other. . .”
AQ DF AQW  Post #: 23
8/21/2022 19:43:15   

A hand unseen, bathed in flames, reaches down to pluck its String.

Alceia turned her face away as the Pillar of Fire erupted with a furious screech. The first Lord displayed their displeasure; ripping their Paragon’s Strand away from them with little more than a breath’s brimstone tinge to warn them of its loss. Alceia shook her head and swallowed her dread, knowing at any moment, Energy may do the same. Why must everything we strive for be so fragile in the fingers of the Lords?

As if to taunt her with her own fragility, Light’s fingers propelled themselves towards Alceia in an arrow-like beam. Too close to dodge, the projectile flew from the Exudation’s outstretched hand and pinned itself into her left shoulder. It pierced cleanly, the pain that followed as sharp as a sword’s tip. Alceia winced and brought her right hand over to press her clothing against the wound as the light began to fade. The movement felt awkward, her hand turned oddly to avoid the dangling Strand from brushing against her skin. The press of her white garments against the scarlet skin would have to be enough for now; at least it wasn’t the shoulder she used for her whip.

Nellone charged towards the Exudation, though with the newfound wound in her shoulder, Alceia likely should have been the easier target. The harpy almost seemed to be… helping her? No, Nellone likely just saw the unarmored Light Paragon as the easier first kill. She flew forwards, talons outstretched towards his face; but just as he’d done before, light flared in front of the Exudation like a shield to protect him from Nellone’s onslaught. He didn’t snap his fingers, or speak it into being like a spell; it simply appeared. Almost like a hand of Light, reaching down to pluck his Strand. Alceia’s eyes narrowed coldly. So this was an opponent who relished in the Lords’ help.

But the Light was not enough to deter Nellone, and after a fumble, the harpy grabbed onto the Exudation’s face. Alceia watched as sharp talons raked across the Exudation’s cheek, and the side of her own face began to sting as if Nellone was upon her, instead. The scar that covered her forehead and cheekbone, red and malformed, seemed for a moment new and raw.

Alceia’s growl grew into a roar as she stood in the pitch black behind the town’s inn.
The Strand’s pulse grew unbearable against her chest, and in a fluid motion, she ripped it from her neck and slammed one end against the tavern wall.
Searing agony erupted from Alceia’s face as the Strand ricocheted and her vision went red.

Alceia squinted in confusion. There had been a reason for that violence; for the despair and hopelessness that had felt as if they were eating her whole inside. But trying to remember felt as if she was reaching into a hole that had long been emptied. Had she… Alceia tried to push away the sinking feeling that rose as the Exudation’s back slammed into the wall. Nellone landed back onto the sands, and Alceia, still partially in thought, let her instincts take over. She flicked her arm out in a sweeping motion that felt oddly foreign, though she knew she’d made it so many times before.

Perhaps she had changed her past back then, in the alleyway where no one could see her. Perhaps she had lost something she’d never get back. Another pit of many that would never be filled.

The Exudation cried out in pain as her Strand strung true into his bare skin. Alceia readied for a second strike and felt a tear slide down her cheek; yet she could feel no grief, for she wasn’t sure what she was grieving.

It was worth it. It had to be worth it. She always said she would do anything to save her nephew. This… must be just part of the price.

Alceia’s mouth curled in disdain as she swung her arm in a wide curve to send her Fate once more towards the Exudation. How easy this man must have it, to simply be a pawn in Light’s hands. You’ll regret trusting the Lords to puppet your String soon enough. Her Strand swept across the ground, bloodstained sands tossed up into the sky in its wake. It snapped cleanly into his ankle and began to spin like a python encircling its prey. Alceia let her Fate twine twice around the Exudation before she wrenched it towards her in a smooth motion.

Take the harpy down with you when you fall, puppet.

Post #: 24
8/21/2022 20:20:38   

The Flute swiped against the air as Ribali regarded the grains of sand between her toes. This was not a glassmaker’s sand, quartz with rough sharp edges and a clear body. This was a strange kind, giving her an unease. Smoother. Like dust. She couldn’t see it, but with that ever present stink of blood its colour could only be red.


There was that word again. Her name, spoken with her own fangs. With the same voice… Though where it held the same roughness gained from a cave’s choking air, the same grit of age and rolled over a demon’s lips and teeth, there was a certain gentleness Ulum held their words with. Could she do that? Could she still do the same?

Held… gently… as with…

Your hands.

Her gnarly, calloused hands with skin burnt and hardened with fire and time. Cracked with heat, those were a monster’s hands, not the delicate hands of an angel.

“WHAT ABOUT THEM?” She snapped, shaking envy spilling between her fangs, spitting her words. But Ulum didn’t answer her cry, Ulum didn’t answer her accusations. Feeling a step against the sands, Ribali prepared a change of plan, cursing her weak throw for not shattering- splattering the elemental.

But there came nothing after that step.

Nothing but pure dread as her tendrils warned her of a sudden chill in the air. Ribali slashed, all four of her arms ready to tear the offender to shreds, her teeth wanting to snap down even with the fear of drowning. But a single tinkle of claw on glass reverberated through her being, confusing her, stopping all thought.

With a resonant thunderclap began the strangest storm the many eyes of Jungle had seen.

The clouds swirled and darkened, and the pink-eyed people watched in awe as the two suns shone between them where something, someone had touched the sky. They never knew that the roars of the distant sky brought arrows of light with them. They never knew their missing Goddess burned so brightly, nor that there were two.

Raya, they named the older sun, refusing to leave the zenith.

Myalaha, they named the younger one. Its light bounced between the ribbons of rain, warm as if it held them.

Rayamalah, they named their Jungle.

Ribali couldn’t move.

Even if it would take less than a second to tear Ulum to shreds, her maw stayed agape, harrowing sharp claws frozen midair. The enemy held her beloved marble of jungles in her hands, light as a feather, so much so she barely felt it.

This was not a foolish prey that wandered too close to the lion. This wasn’t the touch and voice of someone intent on destroying and taking all that was left.

This was the touch and question of an angel fledgling, knelt under the shining and golden visage of a giant. The touch of Ribali, holding a javelin in her four hands and beholding the shooting stars forever frozen in its glass.

Ribali’s many arms relaxed. Her teeth tinkled against one another as she closed her mouth and looked down on Ulum, blindly, yet seeing much more than that demon back then with enough eyes to cover their titanic form.

They scolded her then. Creation was divine. Creation was theirs only, the right of those that stood above the mortal. She was not meant to be anything more than a fighter - to accept her gift and fight for their whims. Ribali’s teeth ground against one another.


Was this mortal worthy?

She would choose differently from them, then and always.

Her tail twitched impatiently as awareness returned, her mind too deep in thought to notice that she spoke the name without a single growl.

There was no time. As much as Ribali’s heart ached and shook with feelings she hadn’t felt for so long she couldn’t name them, as much as she wanted to understand them. The Lords were watching them, every move and stir of the soul, and they already started withdrawing their fickle favors.

As expected of Gods.

They couldn’t stay still. They couldn’t do anything but fight if she wanted to keep her wish. If the one that sent ripples through her wanted to keep theirs.

Two hands came together from their frozen pause, pushing against Ulum’s chest – strongly, but not at all as roughly as her powerful muscles could.


Even if she didn’t yet know who she was, one thing remained about the huntress, about the artist – that she would figure it out in action.

After all, creation was a vicious art.

Ribali stepped back. Her tail drew a line behind her as she rested the glass flute against her lips, so gentle that not a single fang scraped its surface. For a moment, she thought about the ways Ulum handled her voice. Wondered how to replicate, how to repeat. A quiet smile twitched on her maw as she gave into the darkness surrounding her, into the grip in her chest.

Perhaps she could like being the ref… refle… reflection.

The grip dissolved the moment the first note landed. All of those strange, so long foreign feelings dispersed like streaks of warmth as harrowing notes left her flute. Tones edged and sharp, jagged like the lost cliffs. Tones like the disguised leopards in the dusken tree crowns. Wild, feral, and yet delicate like the dunes upon Rem’s surface.

She held onto the thought of sand. Her heart beat with a wild suspicion that Ulum could, if they’d wanted, use her inattention to bring about a swift end. Her music swelled into a menacing crescendo at the thought of betrayal. The warm dunes in her mind were thrown about with a vicious sandstorm as the sand surrounding the two fighters responded, lifting from the ground.

It tore at Ulum, it tore at Ribali, both the dust and scent of red unearthed. Ribali’s flute moved, two hands brushing past familiar holes on its surface. Its tip gleamed with hot light, drawing in the surrounding sand.

The ten remaining fingers rested against the molten glass without any sort of wince or pain, working the bubble. For a moment, there was no arena. There was only her creation.

The sun peered into her back. Her song didn’t echo about the cave walls.

It was the first time there was someone else she created for, even if it was about to bring them pain.

Ribali’s song quieted, fizzling out as the last haunting, but gentle notes echoed off and out of the cooling creation.

It was not perfect, Ribali knew. And as much as her temper cried for her to smash the created jug, this time, there were no second chances. She exhaled, exhaustion brimming in her voice as she let the glass rest idly by her side.

“Crea… tion…“

Suddenly, she started forward. Pained, tired muscles strained, cutting her speed. Ribali held her tail straight out behind her to help her in such a surprise strike. Somewhat clumsy still, Ribali relied on her momentum. Violently, but not without grace, her Flute came forward to slash against Ulum. She knew what creation was. It was the shimmering and warm feelings floating about her heart now, resonating with the voice of her flute. But she couldn’t find any words for them anymore.

With great effort, she instead chose the word she clearly knew.

“Is pain!“

With a second, much heavier and slower strike the glass jug came forward. Its vitreous body was not properly reinforced and balanced, reflecting light oddly, casting shadows. It looked more fragile than it had the right to be. And yet it was impossibly beautiful, transforming the bloodthirst of the sands into crimson patterns, reminiscent of the flame of the first pillar to fall.

It’s b au ty and l v

Beauty, the memory of Ulum’s voice hinted.

“Beauty, blood and claws!“

Claws. Use your claws. In no world would she imagine she’d be giving her prey a hint, when every word cost her to speak. But the feelings their words and her flute brought out were so different from the choking nothing that she begged for them to stay.
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