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The Pilgrim - A Urealms Story [Complete!]

Chapter 1: Humanity

    As I set out northwards to the lands where only the subjugates of Yvander prowled, I recall the conversation which affirmed me of my path. It was with the Grand Seeker of the Order of Seekers; my devotion, my guiding light through life. The order, it is everything to me. It defines my actions. It forms my thoughts. It culminated in The Pilgrimage.

   “Must you go through with this, Iyov?” the Grand Seeker uttered. “The Great Pilgrimage has never been successfully performed since the Birth of Magic. To go and hear the truth from the gods themselves… none have taken the trial since the death of Phanto and survived.”

   I contemplated these words, cleared my throat, and spoke. “It is necessary, Grand Seeker. Times have changed drastically. The records of the divines no longer make sense in this world. You speak of them as similar to us, of flesh, yet in all the land I see no empathy beyond humanity. You speak of the trial as a necessity, yet the Order of Seekers has only abandoned it because it had seemed impossible, when understanding the gods is a task that none have accomplished.  You speak of death as a loss, when I do not fear death when the stakes hold true enlightenment. Yvander himself holds this philosophy close. Have I not proven myself to be a true Seeker, following Yvander’s guidance towards this true enlightenment? Surely, the Pilgrimage is the embodiment of his decree.”

   “Yes, Iyov. You are certainly right, but knowledge can be learned incrementally. One does not need to lean over the abyss to understand its depth. One does not need to discard everything for the sake of knowledge.”

   I shook my head. “I do not seek to simply know the depth of the pit, I seek to understand what lies within. Only the gifted know what lies in the far corners of the world. I intend to bring these depths to the light, and show horrors, wonders, truths to humanity.”

   The Grand Seeker exhaled as his demeanor alighted with admiration. “Well said, student. Well said indeed.”

   The Grand Seeker twirled his floating chair around, to face the night sky. Phanto was shrouded behind a funerary veil of clouds, eternally mourning the loss of a true god. A god that could now never come to the light of mortal understanding. The icy-blue lights of the frozen city below were like candles beneath the vast sky.

   “If you wish to take this journey, then I will not stop you. I shall give you my blessings, in fact. You know the physical risks, yet I do not think you know the pain of the mind.”

   “Pain of the mind?” questioned the scholar.

   “Only us elder Seekers know of this pain. ‘Tis a pain that one is better off never feeling. It is a pain of limitation. Imagine, seeing a new color in this night sky. One that the Aspects have not defined. One that you have never noticed, and yet you seem to be the only one to see it. And yet you cannot tell anybody, as you have no words to describe it. And if you describe it as simply a color no man has experienced, none will believe you. You will be cursed to see it, yet never be able to express it. It offers no betterment, no purpose. It is knowledge that could perhaps save humanity, yet humanity cannot fathom it. That is the pain of the mind. A pain that Yvander’s teachings have never told me.”

   “...I see.”

   “You may risk your life, and break yourself upon the altars of the Aspects, yet all its sole service will be to drive a single man insane.”

   The air held still.

   “I have seen it myself, Iyov. It is the reason why many Seekers simply retire to Yvander’s side, and never dare to take The Pilgrimage.”

   The Grand Seeker inhaled, and took a long exhale. I closed my eyes, and rubbed my forehead.

   “If true enlightenment is madness, then I will be mad. I wish for nothing else.”


Chapter 2: Yvander

    I arrived at the Winterstone, a series of ice caves upon the sea (a physical Winterstone is said to lie within Yvander’s chambers, but I was not in the mind to see it), deep beneath the surface. The Winterstone was not far from the ancestral capital of the Highbears, 10783 paces, and the domain itself was heavily guarded by the Highbears who had devoted themselves to the Aspect of Frost. They stoically asked my business, and I showed them the insignia given to me by the Grand Seeker, giving me permission to speak with Yvander. Although the attendants scoffed at a lesser Seeker hoping to comprehend Yvander’s insights, or even hold the attention of a being devoted to a knowledge that I could not give a gossamer touch upon.

    Yvander’s Bed lay beyond a labyrinth of ice. The only directions were to simply head down, and to always follow the cold as it gradually thickened. Vast chambers of sleeping disciples led the way to the Bed. I could not tell whether or not they were dead, seeing as how frost had formed upon my clothing. Magical fire fizzled instantly. The only true warmth to be found was in the acclimation to the frost. Even so, the pain was incredible. My body desired no more than to crumple to the ground and try to warm myself, yet my mind knew that doing so would end up in me freezing to death.

    After hours of wandering through tunnels lit only by luminescent water beyond the ice, Yvander’s Bed lay before me. Standing at the entrance, the cold was the harshest it had ever been. It had somehow lapsed over into feeling like searing heat. It stung through the many layers of furs, as if my body had been submerged in boiling oil.

   Yet when I crossed the threshold and felt the presence of the Frostlord, I felt nothing but numbness. I felt disconnected from my body. All I could truly sense was my brain, and as a consequence (or perhaps the intention) was that I could feel my mind intimately. I could sense my thoughts arising from an actual location, feel as it led to another, feel parts of it beating as if it was the second heart of my body. I could still see and sense the world around me, yet it was a dazed perception, as if I was in a dream. In that moment, the sight of Yvander was as interesting as the ice I had been staring at for hours. But the thought of him drove my will. I could feel this thought take precedence amidst all the excited chatter. I tell you, this sensation alone was enough to become enlightened.

   I remember little of the world around me. Many Seekers, bear or otherwise, joining their deity in dream. The eldest attendant gesturing me forward, knowing me without any exchange of words or thought. The overwhelming presence of Yvander, a power that penetrated this fantastical numbness. His body lay motionless as I stood in front of him, and as I heard him speak to me.

   “Sleep, child, and I shall teach.”

   And so I did.


   I remember being taken to a place, yet I cannot remember quite what it was like. In fact, I do not remember what Yvander was “physically” like in this state of consciousness. All I remember was… well, I cannot describe it. A pain of the mind. It is a miracle of the divines that I can even recall it. Perhaps it is because I have pondered this moment immensely, or perhaps it is because Yvander himself branded it upon my meager mind.

   Here is the only way I can write it.


   The ringing of a stoic bell. A slap for my ignorance from the rancher. An image of the Spire, my first sight of it. I read of Yvander, read of his grand quest for wisdom; practical knowledge, far different from the radical experiments of Quintara Lotus. Devoting myself to his way of wisdom. The conversation with the Grand Seeker. The excitement of just a moment ago, of finally communing with the Aspect I had felt most connected to.

   An image not of me. A young elf studies his book, and is told that elves are the only non-divines worthy of life. Yet he looks up, stares up at his strange friend, waiting on him to finish his studies to enjoy the splendors of youth. That feeling, confusion. Ages pass in a blur, with only shouting and steel reverberating. Lifeless eyes, eyes of the friend. An elf removes the dagger from her flesh. He walks on. An elven child materializes, holds his hand. The roads become trees. The trees become stone. Yellow eyes and fangs, glowing in the darkness. They sit. The old man builds a fire, lights it. The child screams. The old man hits her, tells her to look. She looks around. She laughs. She turns back to the fire. Her eyes are yellow bulbs, and fangs grow from her incisors. They both laugh.

   Darkness envelops me. Again, I see the lifeless eyes. I look up, see a battlefield of broken bodies of all races. The sun and the moon pass over many times, a day within the ticking of a clock. Bloody faces rise, distend, bodies stretch and turn brown. Eyes fall out of their sockets, drop to the ground and split. Rotten faces smile in bliss. Legs sink into the earth. Arms break into tentacles, grasping towards the sky. The earth hardens. Leaves sprout. Flowers bloom. The corpses are trees, yet I still see the ghastly faces of the damned. The child and the man walk through this place. Stop to pick up a flower. It turns into an eyeball. They are happy.

   Once more I see lifeless eyes. Hundreds of them. They were cut down by a sword. An elf crouches towards one, inspects its face. He walks on. A boy joins him. He fades. The boy grows. The sword remains. It is dropped. Picked up. The boy stops before a skull. It disintegrates. He presses on. The eyes return. One pair glows. A shout. The one joins the others. The boy with the sword crouches. His flesh sinks into his bone. Yet he is happy.

   The eyes. A family is crowded around a casket. The child is stabbed through the heart with a shard of pure ice. His corpse is frozen. They are all sad, and all but one mourns. Another boy. He walks off into darkness. He finds the corpse of his brother along the path. He resolutely turns and continues on. There it is again. He turns. Again. He turns. The shards line his path, but he is not afraid. A bell rings. He drops to the floor, asleep. He is in Yvander’s cave, and he dreams with him.

   Joy. The cold slap of the rancher returns. I turn to face myself, sleeping before the mouth of the Aspect of Frost. We linger there. The Grand Seeker comes to my body, yet he vanishes. The world spins.

   A dwarf girl of a noble house sits by the fireplace. Passive magic floods from her. She sticks her hand in the fire. She screams. Two great hands clasp her, and her flesh is healed. She is happy. She sits by the fire once more, and a cold breath mysteriously extinguishes it. She thinks nothing of it, and merely turns around and walks. A stoic bell rings in the distance. She grows rapidly. Laughter and shouting is heard. Bodies begin to fall around her, their blood spilling onto her path. The girl cries, yet walks onwards. Rotting corpses line her path. The ringing grows louder. Her hands alight with blue flame, and she throws a great fireball into the darkness. A trident comes back, impales her shoulder. Her right arm falls off. She merely sighs. The ringing grows louder. The icy fire within her hands grows brighter, ignites her skin. The house turns into a cave, covered in black stone. Moans of dying men are heard all around. The ringing grows louder. The black stone turns to ice. The cold breath tickles her charred flesh. Yvander now stands before her. She smiles, and sleeps before him. Others, despairing in sadness, arrive not long after. They too, smile, laugh, rejoice, and descend into dream. Yvander laughs in pride, accomplishment.

   The burning slap. My heart is alight with anger. I desire to shout, yet already I see an elf with icy blue hair. He is reading a book. Not to himself, but aloud. Children of all the races sit around him, legs crossed. Some disregard him, others listen intently. They enjoy his stories, learn from them. It is easy, cheerful, helpful. They clap when he is done reading the book. The children turn away and walk into the darkness. The elf is pleased with himself, and arises from his chair. He turns. Sees his mother dressed in white. She seems troubled. The elf tries to talk, and his mother’s face shrivels like a rotting gourd. Screams resonate all around. The woman melts, her flesh becoming one with the belly of a great dragon, the new walls of the chamber. Torment echoes all around the hollow shell. The elf collapses, covers his eyes, and weeps. I felt something dark. Adventure? Suddenly, the elf ceases his tears, and is smiling with glee. The screams do not halt. He skips over to the book on his chair. He tears out the pages, scratches his hand and writes in his blood. He is pale, tired. But he is happier than he has ever been before. The screams do not halt. The children return as adults, and they are afraid. He presents the book. All run. All ignore the elf. All but the Highbear, the one who still glows with light. Yet he, too, is afraid. He hands his writings to the Highbear, who sits and reads. When he puts the book down, he is no longer afraid. The elf motions his friend to lie down, and they do. They dream. They are happy. The screams do not halt.

   The Grand Seeker’s face appears once more. He mouths familiar words. The pain of the mind. His face is wiped away by the cold. Once more, I look down upon my body. I look around. See the multitudes joining me in dream. Those who are awake are contemplating. I hear their thoughts. They are pondering words of ages past, uttered by their host. They haunt them still. Yet they do not give up. A horror grasps at them. They take its hand, and shake it. It recedes. They continue to ponder. I continue turning, and their number increases. The cave expands beyond reason, beyond sense. Infinites dream. Infinites think. Perhaps I see answers, perhaps I see the same thoughts of this age. Of ages past. Future. Pain of the mind. Within the center of it all is Yvander. He laughs. He is happy. The screams do not halt.

   The dream ends. I wake.



   Of course, one cannot easily understand my thoughts and memories. Although not many of these memories are mine, and seem more as lives witnessed by Yvander. In addition to the event described above, I have also picked up a few points from conversations with the disciples of Yvander. I will complete these ponderings once the book is done, but here is what I know as I rest within Winterstone:


-  Yvander is vaguely omniscient: he can see many lives all happening at once. The limit of his powers, if any, are unknown to me.

-  Yvander’s core belief is that suffering leads to enlightenment.

-  Yvander sees the Birth of Magic more as the Birth of Despair: Despair was added to every entity’s soul upon the death of Phanto.

-  Despair and sadness is NEVER to be feared. It allows for growth, and true wisdom.

-  Those who give into despair and die are weak, and not capable of achieving wisdom. They do not allow society to grow, or collective wisdom to grow. They deserve to die.

-  Yvander Hexes those who he believes have wasted potential. Those accompanying the cursed are doomed to die eventually, lest they leave before it is too late. Some Hexes are more generally unlucky, and do not guarantee death and loneliness. Either way, no magic seems to detect the Hex, perhaps only the Divines can see it.

-  The purpose of the Hex is to either bring them to Yvander after ages of torment, where they will lead a more fulfilling life in his service, or perish in futility.

-  The Hex is one of Yvander’s proofs that suffering leads to enlightenment. All of those who do not die eventually become Yvander’s closest disciples.

-  Froststones are similar to the Hex. Their purpose is to teach families and children that the world is dangerous and uncaring. This is the main reason that children are strangely attracted to them.

-  Perhaps there are other anomalies caused by Yvander? Scrooges are one example that comes to mind.

-  Highbear culture is highly influenced by Yvander. Lowbears are based upon Yvander’s teachings that the weak must undergo a degrading, isolative, and dangerous trial in order to become strong enough. The massive amount of tiers in society are based upon experience in tragedy and strife: politicking is not a show of strength.


   I do not know whether or not I wish to become a true Seeker after knowing of Yvander’s Hex. There are other... chilling thoughts, too. The elves wanting to kill all other races, for instance. Nevertheless, I am still compelled to continue The Pilgrimage. Yvander’s disciples have given me a sigil of ice to take with me on my next destination to Rokesh’s realm, the Copse of Blossoms. I hope a slice of paradise will give me a reprieve from this chilling cold.


Chapter 3: Rokesh

    The Copse of Blossoms lay a short distance from the borders of Azveltaria, about 578 paces from its westernmost point. Before I reached it, however, I stopped within the capital of Azveltaria, Ninjaru. While I was enjoying a night at its premier tavern, The Porcelain Porc, I was approached by a messenger, giving me an invitation to the royal palace. I asked him why, and he told me that Lyn Azveltara herself was interested in my current progress with the Pilgrimage.

   So I came to her abode, and was even further surprised that I was given permission to speak to her within her personal hot spring. She welcomed me, and was quick to question me. Her presence bristled with intimidation, and her eyes reminded me of the cold of the Winterstone.

   “You are Iyov of the Order of Seekers, yes?” she emitted warmly.

   “That I am, your grace. I assume that you know of my new purpose, should you know of my name and station. May I ask why you have taken an interest in it? I have learned much from just Yvander, yet I already know it is but a step into what I will learn.”

   “I have had a certain interest in the Dragon Aspects as of late. You’ve come to my realm to visit Rokesh, yes?” The coldness of Lyn’s eyes reminded me of the Winterstone.

   “Indeed. The Aspect of the Earth should be pleasant compared to the wastes that houses the Winterstone.”

   Lyn smirked. She advised, “You would do well to not underestimate Rokesh. We have outlawed her Copse amongst the Azveltarians, as those who venture there never return. The powerful magic there prevents us from looking in, and any scouts I’ve sent have gone silent the moment they’ve entered. Supposedly, it is paradise, but I believe Rokesh demands your devotion as a fee of entrance.”

   “Indeed? I did not expect this. Thank you for the information, your grace.”

   The conversation continued for awhile. Much of it seemed mostly idle to me, and irrelevant to the topic of this journal. Yet there was one other thing which interested me.

   “You’ve met Yvander, yes?” Lyn cocked her head, but her countenance remained as stone.

   “Yes, your grace. The Winterstone was my first destination. He taught me much, yet it is a single step towards enlightenment.”

   “What did she teach you?” she quickly stated.

   Though her speech made it clear that she was interested, her poise made her seem bored. I could only conclude that she was trying to hide something from me.

   “Forgive me, your grace, but it is hard to say for certain. I was bestowed with visions of lives, lives not of my own. Whether it was of the past, of the future, or was happening now, I could not be sure. What I can say with certainty is that Yvander adores suffering. Those who suffer are brought to him as disciples in the pursuit of wisdom. He does not seem to care for mortals, as his disciples ponder what he says to them, yet he never seems to give the answers directly. I would almost say he embodies dreams.”

   Lyn remained silent for a moment. “Interesting.”

   And the topic changed.


   That morning, I set out from the palace to the Copse of Blossoms. As I have wrote, it was a short distance. The city rapidly faded to countryside, flagstone faded to gravel. Not long after, the forest followed, and the roads became overgrown and paved only by the feet of travelers. Suddenly, the forest broke into a clearing, with otherworldly trees ahead. Their bark was a myriad of colors: gray, green, purple, red, blue, and white. Their leaves were just as outlandish, featuring striking cyan, pink, yellow, orange, violet, and black. I could say nothing of their structure besides that, individually, their bases stood as sturdy as the foot of a dragon, and they reached to heights twice as tall as the Spire of the Seekers. All around and upon the trees grew iridescent ferns and mosses, concealing what lie within. The leaves and flowers along the trunks were gargantuan, large enough to be clothing for a gnome. Every color, every shade, every sensation the eye could perceive was present upon that unreal canvas. And it was made wholly enchanting by the presence of dancing silhouettes, beckoning from beyond the foliage. It was the very definition of a land of wonder.

   The clearing before the Copse stretched out in a large circle, with a circumference of about 440 paces. The grass here was still green. All around the clearing was the noise of a festival from within the wonderland. Voices, instruments, and laughter echoed from parts I could not see. I recalled the words of Lyn Azveltara, recalled the knowledge that the sigil of ice from the Winterstone would protect me, and ventured inside.



   As I climbed through the shrubbery, I felt my mind begin to drift away. It was very much the opposite of the Winterstone’s presence. It was as if I was becoming drunk with warm mead. Yet I did not feel concern at this loss of higher faculties, as a primal rhythm of joy began to pulse in my blood. It warmed my limbs, gave me a feeling of limitless energy, limitless potential. I laughed in glee as I ran. I felt like a child, winning a race against my friends, where nothing else mattered but the present moment. A saxophone called out my name. I shouted, “Wait for me, I’m almost there!”

   I burst through the foliage, and found a forested field filled with people of all races, dressed in Azveltarian finery. A kobold child faced me, and bade me greetings. I ran up to him, picked him up, and embraced him. We laughed together.

   The time I had spent here was like an orchestrated whirlwind. Thousands of things were happening, the glade was filled with man and beast alike, each of them expressing heartfelt emotion, but I felt at ease amongst the chaos. I felt as if I knew everyone, understood everything that was happening, and felt no risk in doing whatever I pleased.

   There it was, a quartet of sonorous Porcs singing the popular tavern tune, “The Barringsters Trounced.” Harps, flutes, lutes, drums: Instruments to form an entire orchestra stood off to side, joining in as they felt. There it is again, bulky men wrestling in the mud, tearing off their pants and taunting each other. Once more, a Kobold girl pirouettes around a scarred Dwarf, landing in his arms. They kiss. The crowd cheers. I nearly missed it, as a lumbering Elephalk stood up on its hind legs, and did some sort of goofy yet bewildering dance. And there it was, the song of a million mellow birds, a great choir of impossibly controlled chaos in the untouchable boughs above. They sang for all of us. They sang for me. I loved it.

   I do not know how long it was before I approached a beautiful girl of a race I could not recognize. She had great wings, the color of cream, a feathered body, and windswept hair. I bade her to tell her name, and she replied, “Yuke, of the Beenu. I’m the only one of my family who could make it here, but I’m making new friends every day!” I gave mine in return, and told her I could be one of her friends. “Oooh, so exotic! It’s almost as if you came from a land beyond time itself. Romantic! Say, you’re new here, aren’t yea? I would know a face like yours, after all. Come on, I’ve got to show you something!”

   We ran together towards what seemed like a banquet table. She twirled in the air three times, and vaulted over the shoulders of two elderly elves, who shouted in joyous recognition as she did so. We stopped at the table, which was covered in massive pots of golden berries and liquor. She picked up a handful of the berries, and handed them to me with an excited smile.

   “What is this, Yuke? It smells delicious.”

   She gasped out, “It’s called Dionysiast, and it’s the food of the Divines. Try it, come on now!”

   I grabbed the berries out of her hands, and chomped on it inquisitively. Silvery juices flowed down from my chin, and a grin of pure joy was omnipresent in my voracious chewing. The fruit could only be described as divine. It reminded me of the first bite I had ever taken of an apple, with such sweetness. And yet it changed again, reminding me of the perfectly fried steak of wild Ramster I had made on my journey south. And, oh! The barracks at the ranch, where my mother had made a Baby Berry Pie the day of my departure. I was flooded with joyous memories, and filled to bursting with a sensation of ecstasy. It was entirely serene.

   My memory then flashes to a great tree with many taps along it. One simply had to press the top of the tap, and a green powder was released. When ingested, it would give a fantastic sense of power. Some taps were even designed to inject it directly into the flesh when pressed. When I licked it off my hands, I was filled with a sense of vim and vigor. I was as young as ever!

   I remember other trees like it, too. One tree would produce such a sweet smell that it would relax the body entirely. It was the place to have conversations. Yuke and I stopped by this tree for a long time, and talked amongst a great crowd of people. Although there was much laughter to be had, I cannot remember what we had talked about.

   Within the Copse, the sensation of time is, to say it lightly, distorted. My next memory was of Yuke, feverishly playing a lyre amongst a dancing crowd by firelight. The leaves of the trees would ignite themselves at night, and give off a wonderful candlelight. Yet nothing truly burned, and the leaves never withered in their own heat. When this light combined with the colors of the sunset, the world was like a masterpiece painting, dashed with vibrant colors. This painting was made real by the song of Yuke. Her lyre was shaped uniquely, so that her winged arm could gracefully pluck the strings with each individual feather. It produced a song that I’m certain none other than her could reproduce. The other musicians watched the master at work, unleashing her song-filled heart upon her thralls. They chimed in with their own strokes to complete her grand vision. The army of flutes were an acapella choir, while the lyre sung the boisterous lyric. The birds did not stop singing for us, charming insects buzzed and chirped from every direction, the distant drone of frogs surrounded us, making every pore of the night alive. Jubilation; there is no other word to capture it.

   At this time, I vaguely recall talking to a stout dwarf with a beard like a dress, who was smoking a tree leaf which caused heightened clarity in regard to the senses, as if the world was more colorful than before. Beneath his glossy hair, his magenta raiment was adorned with symbols of green serpents, and gilded with gems and shiny metals of all kinds.

   I do not know what I had said beforehand, yet the man responded, “Yes, I’ve made everything here to suit every need, and every desire, all for our betterment. It’s perfectly designed.”

   “Designed?” I inquired, as my mind found a grip within this haze of splendor.

   “Yes. I told you my name was Rokesh, didn’t I?”

   “You’re the Aspect of Earth!?” I exclaimed.

   The man laughed. “Yeah, man! You got anything to ask that ol’ stud? He’s standing right here.” He laughed again, probably finding himself hilarious.

   “I-I came here to talk to you. I’ve taken on the Pilgrimage of old, in order to revise that old text to better suit the Aspects of the modern age. Tell me, can we go someplace private, to talk?”

   The dwarf scratched his beard in contemplation, shrugged, and smiled. “Suppose we can. Go north of here, past the Dionysiast table, until you come to a great cliff. There you can clear your mind, and we can both talk about… whatever it is you said.”

   I shook his hand vigorously and thanked him. “Ah, but stay here awhile, alright? Listen to your lover’s song. You’re gonna wanna stay here.

   I nodded, and turned back to face Yuke. I swayed to her song. I did not notice that the strings had become weak and discordant, as if they had started to fray and snap. I continued to bask in what remained. I closed my eyes, and imagined a life here forever. No pain, no worries. No need for knowledge. The chill of the Winterstone would no longer pang in my bones. It would be bliss. Just bliss. I heard a thud, and opened my eyes in curiosity.

   Yuke had collapsed.

   Her eyes were convulsing, and her tongue had rolled out of her mouth. It was as dry as a piece of jerky. And yet, she still smiled.

   I don’t know why I did it, but I walked up to her, bent down, and happily said, “Goodbye.”

   By this time, the other musicians had taken up the silence. I turned to face them, and bobbed my head to the new tune. It was just as good as the last. I was about to ask Yuke something about the song, yet when I looked down, there was nothing there but a patch of multicolored flowers.

   As I write this now, I cannot believe that I had thought nothing of it.

   I looked around and saw the dwarven Rokesh laughing with another group of revelers, and was reminded of what I was going to do. I walked north, waving and hooting to my fellow patrons as I left the boundaries of the Copse proper.


   After the Dionysiasts were a substantial distance behind me, I felt the drunken haze begin to lift. My thoughts returned to me, as if they had surfaced from beneath an ocean. I inhaled deeply and paused for a moment, collecting myself. Though my joy had only drained but a drop, I could organize what I was going to say. I pressed onwards, and found the cliff. It was home to the largest of the trees, whose boughs covered what seemed to be the entirety of the Copse. Its leaves, too, were like torches on the beach. I looked around, and sat.

   I was not waiting long before the earth beneath me rumbled. I had hardly any time to acknowledge it, as  a great vermillion serpent breached the earth. It climbed the tangle of branches of the ancient tree that surrounded us. The branches groaned under the massive weight of the Aspect. As its body was still rising out of the earth, the head descended. I gasped in awe as I looked upon the face of Rokesh. Muscled vines climbed about his body, his beard a brazier of opalline gems, and crowned by perfect diamonds intermingled with the colorful branches that formed the sky of the Copse. From beneath the crown emerged a set of antlers. Though they were similar to a Tarandos in structure, they were wrapped by vines, and annabergite crystals grew upon their tips. Malachite, agate, citrine, emerald, alexandrite; gems of all types studded his scales. A claw slammed into the earth, and the land quaked as Rokesh touched the earth, his earth. A blast of air was exhaled from his nostrils, and my own pair was overcome with the scent. It was a fresh morning rain in one moment, and then the smell of blossoms, and then the musk of the deep earth. As it began to change again, the body of Rokesh glew intensely, and then ceased unexpectedly. The dwarf I had met was sitting in front of me, bow-legged. The apocalyptic chaos had been cut, as if it were all produced by a sole conductor. One who held seemingly effortless control. Nought remained but the distant call of birds over the main stage of the grand party, still singing for me.  The conductor waved, and beckoned me to sit.

   “Talk to me, Iyov.”

   “W-Well, uhm… This Copse. It’s a paradise for mortals, as we both know. But why did you decide to make it?”

   Rokesh placed his arms behind him, and leaned back. “It’s not just for everybody, it’s a fun place for me, too. I like to party. Mortals, immortals, we all feel pleasure. We crave the happy moments, try to lose the bad stuff. Everybody feels this way, y’know? But of course, SOME of the Divines gotta be all uptight about it. I get a lot of flak for it from my brothers and sisters.”

   “Brothers and sisters?”

   Rokesh snorted. “The other Aspects. Vlaurunga and Ouro’ras really get on my ass about it, too. They think I’m irresponsible. Not worthy of being an Aspect. Yvander’s especially uptight, too, but he still respects me. Quinty’s cool, though. Always liked my lil’ sis.”

   My mouth went agape. I’d never thought a Divine would speak like this. Hell, I’d never thought they would consider one of their own to be irresponsible. “Why do those two think that way?”

   Rokesh shrugged. “Beats me. Guess they think I don’t do nothing but jack.” He chuckled to himself. “Quinty already does that, but she doesn’t get blamed. Anyway, I made these, uh, foundations of nature, and I did it well enough so that it manages itself, but it ain’t enough for those two. Just because I have power, they want me to be more ‘active’ and ‘authoritative’ in the world. But fuck ‘em. I ain’t doing that. Just causes more stress, and I don’t need that shit, man.”

   I snickered in amusement and shock. “So what do you do, then?”

   “I party, man. You see that. But just because they won’t leave me alone, I gave ‘em a little compromise.”

   “And that would be?”

   Rokesh paused for a moment. He breathed in sharply, and responded, “I bury places.”

   “You’re going to have to explain more than that.”

   He ceased leaning, and looked me in the eye. He spat, “And what if I don’t wanna do that?”

   I was about to scoff and take offense, until I hastily realized just who was threatening me. “Y-y-you don’t have to answer it specifically i-if you don’t want to! You can just, uh, give the general details. Y’know, i-if you want, that is.”

   Rokesh cracked his neck. “I bury away places that hold too much sadness. Places that people just wanna forget. Places that gotta be forgotten, or else it’s just a bomb, waiting for some kid to press the button. You kids have a real penchant for trouble, you know that?”

   Rokesh smirked, but his eyes did not lie. They shone with hatred. It was in that moment that the Copse was no paradise, given by a creator who took pity on us, but a playground. A zoo, and we were predators on display. Broken enemies, made to dance against our nature, just like the animals of the Copse. The birds no longer sang for me.

   “...So, what would you say I, as a mortal, should do to better live in this world?”

   Rokesh leaned back again, as the demon in his eyes was snuffed out. “Accept things as they are. If you don’t like it, well, that’s what the Copse is for. I got a good example for you: that Yuke girl, she’s one of the last of her kind. Saw her entire city get wiped out by a group of nasty dwarves, Some sort of buddy-buddy move with a couple of those bratty elves. That’s hard stuff, man. She came here to forget, and she’s been a happy gal ever since. Listen, if everybody just came to the Copse, nobody would be dyin’ like that. No war. No greed. No pain. Just peace. That’s the way everybody wants it, right?”

   Rokesh plucked a low-hanging leaf from the tree, placed it in his mouth, and lit it up with his fingers. The realization of what had happened to Yuke began to sank in.

   With venom, I uttered, “So how many have died here, dragon?”

   He smirked and rolled his eyes playfully, and stared up at the branches above. “Dunno what you mean. There’s nothing rotting here. No pain, ‘member? Good vibes only. You seen somebody die here, kid?”

   I pursued my lips, and felt my blood boil. And yet, as if it were quaking earth, it pacified as I discovered the true nature of Rokesh.

   “I’ll take my leave.”

   Rokesh waved casually back at me. He did not face me. “Come talk to me anytime you like, kid. Hang loose.”

   I got up, and looked around in a daze. I knew I could not go back to the Copse. So I walked down the cliff, and went around it. The picture of her deathly visage began to bore its way into my eyes. I started to run through the foliage. I was pricked by thorns I did not realize were there before. I began to cry. And yet, as soon as my feet stepped into the clearing outside of the wonderful machine, I collapsed. My whole body became wracked with pain. Beams of torment rattled my brain. I could not move, could not think, only scream. My body convulsed, and the only mental notion was the primal desire to run back to the Copse, relieve myself of this nightmarish misery. I began to crawl back to the foliage. My will screamed against it, but my body would not listen. It was a starved beast, seeing the baited trap but caring not. It must feast again.

   As a last hope, I clutched the sigil of the Winterstone around my neck. It numbed my body, and I could not move. All I could do was breathe in the fear, like a cursed man on a surgeon’s bench.

   Night had fallen when the amulet had melted away. I was competent again, but I was still drained. I felt exhausted, and most of all, parched. I grabbed my hip canteen, wondering how it was that I felt so thirsty. Yet as I drank deeply, I noticed that the canteen was still full. I had thought I spent a full year inside the Copse, and yet I had drank nothing during my stay.

   Limping and full of questions, I found the path back to Ninjaru. The boughs of the trees gave way to an open sky of stars, forming shadows out of the tall towers and pent roofs of the capital. I returned to The Porcelain Porc. I slammed open the marble door, silencing the patrons. I willed myself forward, and demanded the bartender to tell me how long I had been gone. Confused, she answered that I had only been gone a day.

   I held my head in defeat. The tavern resumed its camaraderie. I looked around, and found it held no joy.

   I resolved to make camp outside the city, and get an early start on my journey to The Kiln. I already knew that I would not be able to speak with Vlaurunga herself, as I would die long before I could ask so much as a greeting. So I will follow a rumor within the annals of the Seekers, of a society of Dragonslayers that the dwarven clans rely on when their only alternative is utter annihilation.

   As soon as I’m done writing, I’ll have to douse my campfire. It’s hurting my eyes, and yet I cannot fathom the reason why. What I do know is that I’ll see her face in my dreams, rotting on that elysian field. Still smiling, knowing nothing of her fate. And I will know that she’s waiting for me. I can see her again, talk to her, kiss her, if I just go back.

   But I have to fight it. It is a hunger I cannot sate, a thirst I cannot quench, a pain I cannot cure. The song of a siren is not enchanting because it tells of a bounty, it enthralls because it offers the hope of a better place. It is the addiction, the lust, the dark dream that all mortals cradle within the folds of their hearts.

   Her eyes will be flowers, and I shall pick one. We shall laugh. We shall cry.

   That’s the way it is now.



Chapter 4: Vlaurunga

See post below, or click here.


Chapter 5: Quintara Lotus

See post below, or click here.

Chapter 6: Golestandt

See post below, or click here.

Chapter 7: Ouro’ras

See post below, or click here.

Epilogue: Kallisto

See post below, or click here.


-Talespinner




Comments

  • Very cool! Well done. 
  • Thank you. I hope the next chapters continue to entertain.
  • Woah, that... I'm going to keep reading despite the lore issues, that was amazing.
  • Man I wish I could commit to a deadline like you. Good stuff
  • edited December 2017
    I appreciate the compliments, everyone.

    I did take plenty of my own liberties with the content, mostly as I feel like I can't properly characterize or give enough meaning without it. After all, us viewers know virtually nothing about most of the Aspects at this moment. Tiptoeing around every canonical thorn when you're trying to write isn't particularly conducive either, at least for my style, but I've made sure to interpret the important ones properly. Nevertheless, I think this story can fit into canon with few seams, and some of these issues will be discussed in a later chapter. It'll be quite an adventure before we get to that point.

    Rokesh's chapter is complete now, and is just in need of revisions and polishing. All the chapters will be distinct from one another, and this one will be radically different from Yvander. It'll be quite exciting, and will feature some lore tie-ins to get a better sense of the time period and the world.

  • The main topic has been now been edited to include Chapter 3. Please let me know what you think!
  • edited January 8

    Chapter 4: Vlaurunga


       It was several weeks before I made the journey to The Kiln. Though there were many interesting places and events along the way, such as my stay in Than’drellfal, it does not pertain to the purpose of this journal. The events of which I have come to learn of Vlaurunga are lengthy of themselves, therefore I cannot afford to waste my pages on them. Alas, I may recount them another day.

       Heading west from Than’drellfal, one will notice steep hills in front of them. When you climb one, another waits just beyond. Though it makes for difficult travel, any time lost is regained when they reach the plateau at the top. Interestingly enough, this place has no official name. The dwarves, kobolds, and elves all have different names for them, and even then the nomenclature divides from there. So I shall refer it to what the elves claim it as: Sheba’s Plateau. Sheba’s Plateau stretches far beyond the horizon, with the only views being sparse trees, ramshackle taverns, the silhouettes of fellow travelers, the occasional crevasse, and of course, The Kiln, which towers above the landscape. This plateau is notoriously hot, as there is very little cover and the flat rock that spans the land shares its color and sheen with crude oil. On a hot summer day, it feels as if you are walking on coals. As such, most travelers tend to spend much of the day in seedy taverns spotted across the region, and stick to travelling in the shade of The Kiln or of night.

       Much of these conditions on Sheba’s Plateau has led to the establishment of the settlement of Vellenge Pass at the foot of The Kiln, the sole mountain atop Sheba’s Plateau. When I arrived, I found myself bewildered at how a rather respectable settlement survived here: it is impossible to grow anything on the plateau, and it is said that the entire expanse is devoid of precious minerals. The only clue I could find laid in the great amount of fellow adventurers and Kobolds.

       I haven’t found pleasure in a night at the tavern since the Copse, but I found it necessary to collect intelligence on the nature of this town. So I asked my Kobold waitress why people stay in this town.

       She set down my plate, and pondered my question. “Can’t say I can speak for everybody. Most of us Kobolds don’t mind the place. Good rocks, the dwarves in the mountain are nice to us, and there’s plenty of interesting people to meet. They do get stale after awhile, though. The rocks, I mean.”

       “There’s a dwarven hold in the mountain?”

       “I think so. Somebody told me once that they’re not REALLY dwarves, but everytime they send one of their folk down from the mountain, it’s always a dwarf. Almost always a man, too. None of them ever stop in this little ol’ tavern, so can’t say I know for sure.”

       “Dwarves… but not really dwarves?”

       “Yeah.”

       I spent a moment puzzling over this, but remembered there were other things to discuss.

       “What about the others?”

       “Well, besides us Kobolds and those dwarves in the mountain, pretty much everybody else is related to adventuring. Most of the people you see here will only be here for a single night. Everybody else? They’re here to service them. It pays well enough, so they stay.”

       “Very well. Thank you.”

       For a minute, I was alone with my Vhark jerky. However, I was interrupted by a tiny voice beside me.

       “Do you possess the Sigil of Flame?”

       I was taken aback. One hand fell upon my blade’s holster, while the other slammed the table. Besides me was a Keen gnome. I can only assume the gnome was a female by her voice, as her figure was covered with a hood and loose black robes. I hastily asked, “Pardon?”

       “Do you not know of what I speak?”

       “I am afraid I have no knowledge of the Sigil of Flame.”

       The gnome cocked her head to the side. “It is a calling within the heart. It often comes in the form of a dream. For me, I was besides this very mountain. Alone. The only living being in sight was a great dragon with scales of scarlet, circling the peak. I grabbed a spear. I climbed to the summit. The dragon roared at me, and I threw the spear into its gullet. The dream ended, and yet I felt a yearning to return. So I came to this mountain.”

       I found myself very interested at this sudden tale. “Go on then, tell me more!”

       “The dwarves are known as the Flamewreath Clan. They will call you into their mountain, and they will slaughter you. Do not listen to them. Join the Red Wyvern Army. It will be a far better life.”

       Before I could explain myself, the keen reached up and placed a card on my table. As I picked it up, she turned heel and vanished amidst the crowd.

       The card read, “The Red Wyvern Army: Dragonslaying, Mercenary Work. A far more reasonable approach. Ask for Moriarty at the Red Wyvern Tavern in Vellenge Pass for rates.”

       As I lie in bed that night, I wondered whether or not this was the group of dragonslayers. Yet the gnome herself ruined her hopes, as she hinted at a society greater than hers. So I decided to climb the mountain in search of the Flamewreath Clan.



       The Kiln is quite anomalous. Its slopes are very easy to climb, and seem to form natural passages around the mountain, like a spiral staircase. The start of the climb shares its searing nature with the Sheba Plateau, but as one ascends, snow begins to line the path. Eventually, The Kiln’s volcanic nature becomes more evident. Geysers of steam burst from its obsidian hide, throwing snow and rock high into the air. It was a very unique setting: all around me was the cold of the snow, but as my boots pressed into it, I felt the warmth of the rock.

       My heart stopped as a spear’s tip suddenly pressed against my spine. A rough voice behind me croaked, “Don’t move. State your business, trespasser.”

       I swallowed. Calmly, I replied, “I am here to speak with the Flamewreath Clan.”

       The tip ever so slightly lightened on my flesh. I could feel that the wound was already bleeding.

       “Purpose?”

       “...To learn of the Dragon Aspect Vlaurunga. To learn what she truly is.”

       The frozen winds billowed for a moment, and died down.

       “Cancel the orders. Take him.”

       Suddenly, another pair of hands grabbed my neck, and squeezed tight. My own hands met them, but found they were no hands of a human. They were composed entirely of stone. I clawed and shook against them, but I could not shake the golem.

       A muted voice cried, “Be still,” and the world faded.


       I awoke to a sensation of great heat, and unfathomable darkness. I looked around in a panic, as I remembered the events which brought me here. I found myself bound to a chair with fetters of iron. The only light was emitted from beyond a grate, where a flowing stream of magma lie. Only a table lay illuminated. From the darkness, a pair of ashen gray hands emerged, cracked like stone. Eyes shone above it. A deep voice rang, “Have you come to your senses, outsider?”

       “I-I believe I have. But why have you brought me here?”

       “You’ve come to learn of our Great Sister, yes?”

       “I… Yes, I suppose. But why have you bound me?”

       The massive fists slammed on the table, and a face emerged. At first, I thought it was some aberration, but I slowly pieced the features together. It was a Dvergr dwarf, but it was without any hair. From beneath a mask of burn scars and deep wrinkles, I could notice signs of femininity in her eyes and jaw.

       The elderly woman shouted, “Do not struggle, then! You know not of the Flamewreaths. Close your eyes, boy.”

       I twitched my head slightly, then nodded and closed my eyes. I would be better off doing as she asked.

       After a moment of silence, the woman began to tell me the story of the Flamewreaths.



       “The Twelve Dwarven Kings were created over five generations ago. But Thor did not create just twelve dwarves: he made twenty-four, as he gave each of them a particularly fertile mate to found their kingdoms upon. It was by the authority of our creator that we were to obey our husbands. Even if they happened to be weaker than their counterparts. So was the case with Cyrritalahm. She was the matriarch of what we call the Blackblooded Dvergs. No doubt they are called something different now.

       Her mate, Moradh, was made to be selfish. He wanted to pursue wealth without the assistance of his brothers. So he told his mate that they were going to a far off mountain in the distance. And so they climbed, and found the Plateau. Cyrritalahm asked him to stop, but he spotted a taller mountain in the distance, and pressed onwards. They came here, and began to dig a home at the top of the mountain.

       Both would find nothing but woe within The Kiln. They were constantly in the shadow of Vlaurunga’s brood, who had recently acquired a taste for the blood of mortals. They found no aid within the earth, as there was nothing but lava and obsidian. But it was far too late, as Cyrritalahm had already begun to bear the offspring of Moradh. It was not long before they had twenty small mouths to satiate.

       Though Cyrritalahm was exhausted with the rearing of the Blackblood Clan, Moradh forced her to hunt for food. He would not hunt: he knew that something great lay within the mountain, and it was his duty to dig. And so Cyrritalahm’s life was consumed by thoughts of survival and mothering. When she was not hunting the Gerrymanders that preyed on her children, she would feed them her milk. When she was not feeding, she was hunting. But as she slept, a Whelpling would wander into their cavern and consume her children. She would awake each morning to the carnage. Yet she continued to birth them, continued to kill for them, continued to lose them. As they were steadily pushed back into the depths of The Kiln, the children who were fortunate enough to survive slowly began to grow. Cyrritalahm named them, but could not give them the proper affection, as the numbers of children continued to grow.

       But despite this success, the presence of loss grew evermore. For the Whelplings were now brave enough to feast on the children while Cyrritalahm was still awake. She knew she could do nothing but weep, as she was helpless against the power of the Whelplings. They would not harm her anyhow, as they knew that letting her live would result in more meat for them to grow fat upon.

       It was not long after that the babies began to die simply because of the heat within the mountain’s core. The narrow tunnels had become labyrinthian, and it was too much effort for the feasting dragons. And so the Whelplings complained to their mother about the mortals, who were invading their sacred roost. And so Vlaurunga herself, who despised mortals more intensely than ever in these years, came to finish off the mortal interlopers that no longer amused her children.

       She did not wish to destroy the mountain wholly, so she decided to flush them out of their caves. She battered The Kiln with her massive body, bringing down the caves that Moradh had constructed. With little hope of survival, Cyrritalahm convinced Moradh to abandon his tunnels, and escape with the children who could walk. Those who could walk carried those who could not, but many of the newborns would never see the sun.

       Battered by the falling rocks, the Blackbloods made their way to the surface. The sun nearly blinded them, before it was blocked by the massive figure of Vlaurunga. She beamed with cruel joy, as she roared, calling her brood to feast on the dwarves. Cyrritalahm shouted at Moradh and the children to flee, and they obeyed without question. Filled with emotion, yet controlled by resolve, Cyrritalahm set down the twins in her arms, grabbed a rugged stalagmite twice her size from the mouth of the cave, and heaved it from the earth. She held fast as an eager Whelpling swooped from the sky to swallow the pitiful dwarf in a single motion. It did not think the dwarf any danger. And so it did not think to shield itself from the spear of stone that was thrust into its heart. It struck true as it punctured its soft hide. In fury, it lashed out at Cyrritalahm, but she simply dived to its belly, twisted the great spear from its flesh, and thrust it once more into its heart. It cried in pain and fury. Fury at the incomprehensible events which had resulted in its death at the hands of a mere toy.

       Before the whelpling had even succumbed to its wounds, Vlaurunga dived down upon the mountain to avenge her child. She crashed with such force that the entire mountain shook, and erupted. A colossal explosion was heard across the realm as a tower of ash pierced the sky. As Cyrritalahm was forced to the ground, the Dragon Aspect let loose a primeval roar. She did not strike, as she wanted to see the fear within the eyes of the puny mortal. But as she rose, she found that the dwarf was unphased. She was prepared to dance with death itself.

       Vlaurunga lashed out with her jaws. She struck true, but not well enough. Although she cleanly severed Cyrritalahm’s left leg, the dwarf yet lived. Screaming in pain and fury, Cyrritalahm grabbed a hold of Vlaurunga’s right fang as her jaws closed shut. Vlaurunga rose her head, and spotted the dwarf holding fast to her mouth. The dragon’s brutal smile returned, but Cyrritalahm could see a hint of interest. But she could not ponder it, for a furnace blast of heat bellowed from Vlaurunga. It was intense enough to ignite flesh in an instant. It only meant one thing: the dragon would burst with fire and kill her instantly. But the dwarf calculated her next move. As the Dragon Aspect opened her jaws to let loose the purest flame, our mother flung herself with the downwards motion, turning to stone at the precise moment to ensure upwards momentum. As the dwarf rose above the great maw of death, she flung herself downwards. She shouted as she plunged her stone down between the eyes of Vlaurunga.

       But a mortal can never have the power to harm an Aspect. The stalagmite only chipped a single scale. Yet the brave strike gave the Aspect pause. With a blast of magic, Cyrritalahm was forced off the beast, and onto the red-hot stones that were blasted by Vlaurunga’s breath. Though the flame feasted on her flesh, the dwarf yet snarled in rage. Vlaurunga met her eyes, and roared for her children to retreat. Cyrritalahm remained focused on the great Aspect, her fire refusing to die.

       Vlaurunga spoke words to her, words that us mortals cannot write. It is a language only Dragons know, and perhaps only the Aspects may speak it. When her sentence was finished, the fire that engulfed Cyrritalahm condensed itself into a sigil that formed upon her forehead. Vlaurunga jetted upwards into the sky, her godlike body leaving a hole in the clouds she rose above. And with that, the fires within her heart calmed themselves. She breathed deeply, hefted the crying twins back into her arms, and settled into the remains of the cave. She would never see her mate or her other children again, but she would form a dwarven clan of her own. The Flamewreaths. The world’s truest Dragonslayers.”



       The room went silent for a moment. I did not think to speak.

       “This is the legend of how the Flamewreath Clan began. To tell you the truth, outsider, we have no evidence of it being infallibly true. It is merely what every Flamewreath child and outsider student is taught. It forms the basis of our culture, of our worship of the Great Sister, Vlaurunga.”

       I opened my eyes, shook off my amazement, and slowly replied, “...You worship an Aspect that hunts mortals, simply because it showed your kind empathy once?

       The elderly woman scoffed. “It did not show us empathy or compassion, outsider. Imagine this. You are tasked with hunting a Moonwolf that has been spotted in the surrounding area. Yet when you track it to its lair, you find it there with two pups. It snarls at you, but do you shoot? If you find that a chick in a nest shoved its fellow brood out of the tree, and it is left there to be helplessly devoured by insects, do you save it? Does a predator, satiated with the meat of countless prey, strike at an unknowing calf that wanders into its lair? Those who preserve life in these situations do it out of respect for life, even if it goes against their own goals. Understanding a struggle to survive is not empathy. It is not compassion. It is not even a matter of friendship. It is the simplest form of respect.”

       I exclaimed, “So if it’s not even empathy, why worship out of respect?”

       The Dvergr woman leaned in on the table. Her body was decorated in a surprisingly simple attire, which seemed like a tailored burlap sack dyed red. An emerald amulet gleamed as it touched the light.

       “We do not worship the Great Sister for this respect. If we shared this respect, we would not hunt her children. We’ve merely seen the value of her lifestyle, and adopted it for our own.”

       “Continue.”

       “It is like the old saying: to hunt a beast, you must know the beast. Be like the beast. So the Flamewreaths follow in the footsteps of the Great Sister, and we know power through it.”

       “...Continue.”

       The elder sighed, and shook her head. “The fires of the Great Sister burn differently for all Flamewreaths. If you seek to truly know Vlaurunga, then I may arrange a meeting.”

       I pressed further. “If you are not the premier scholar, then who is?”

       “You shall see, outsider. For now, it is best if you retreat to the common quarters. Mate.”

       The woman looked beside me, and another figure emerged from the shadows and moved towards me. It was a husky male Dvergr, considerably younger than the woman. He still had hair, but it was very sparse for a Dvergr. A blonde mohawk was the only hair on his body, and the tips were frayed and singed. He immediately began loosening my bonds.

       “Ye, Eldah. ‘Eave eet ta me me.”

       The woman snapped her fingers, and a spark emerged. Torches suddenly lit up the room, revealing four other female dwarves, clad in heavy plate, standing guard on all walls of the room. The elder turned her back, and opened a door. A grand cavern, lit by magma, revealed itself through the small portal.

       I was led to her, and gazed upon what appeared to be the antechamber of the Flamewreath’s domain. Magma fell freely from the ceiling, dripping into pools all around. People of all types filled the expanse. Some were moving with haste, others seemed to be sparring, and craftsmen mined away at the walls and furnished the massive columns and monuments that decorated the chamber. There were those who joined me from a distance in taking in the grand spectacle, though most of these types seemed entranced on the skirmishes. It was like a capital city, yet laid out in a massive field for all to see, with no buildings to fetter the sights.

       And from the ceiling hanged massive skulls of what could only be fully-grown dragons. In the dim light of the cave, they were definitively harrowing. And yet, they emanated with an extreme sense of awe, as the unknowable story of their deaths captivated all who gazed upon them.

       The Elder turned and faced her mate. I could see now that, though her physique was formidable, her stomach was round. Logically, one would assume she was pregnant.

       “The Fifth Quarter should be available, with most of the trainees. I’ll send a runner with the outsider’s weapons, to give to him in the morning. I will make preparations with the other Seven to allow the outsider into the depths of the mountain.” And with that, she leaped into a nearby pool of magma and vanished beneath the viscous liquid.

       I gaped, yet the mate merely smiled. He noticed my expression, and consoled, “Dunnae worry worry. Da Brood o’ Eight knae ‘ow ta shervive e’en a draggin’s flamer flamer.”

       “They can survive!? Even that?” I gawked.

       He nodded, and gestured me to follow.


       As we passed through the crowds, I looked around and took in everything I could. Though many seemed to be Dvergr dwarves with burn scars and singed hair, I spotted a number of different races. Many were talking, but their words were inaudible over the great clashing of steel and stone. But above all the noise, there seemed to be a loud chant of some guttural language, prevailing over the chaotic labyrinth, maintained by figures unseen.

       “Say, are all the females of the Flamewreath warriors?” I said to my guide, continuing to scan the area as we pressed on.

       “Definitely lee. Fer da nadive Flamereave oos boys tend ta da moountin tin. Da wiimen do dee fightin’ and tamin’, and de boys do da craftin’, cookin’, upkeepin’, ya? Dem udder races kin do war they please please.”

       I squeezed past a Dverg woman in ash-covered plate. As my hand touched her shoulder, I recoiled. It was as hot as the bottom of a frying pan, fresh from the fire.

       “You let others into your order?”

       “Dey train ‘n study wit da restin’ rest. Da Brood o’ Eight once ‘ad it ahnly fer da Dvergr Dvergrs, but dey undaastood dat nae weakin’ come o’ ite ite. ‘N dey ‘ave da Sigil o’ Flame like da resta rest.”

       We stopped as a circle of people blocked our path. The crowd was looking upon a battle in the center, which I could see unfolding above the shoulders of the dwarves. The combatants appeared to be children, fighting with steel longswords twice their length. A red-haired Dverg roared as she brought down her blade upon the left shoulder of her opponent, severing it. Though the child screamed in agony, the adults surrounding the fray cheered. The girl smiled in glee, and raised her blade to strike again. I quickly turned away, and noticed my guide was already making his way around.

       “I-is that ok for kids to fight like that?”

       “Oo yea, yea. Das da trainin’. Plenty o’ kiddies ‘n ‘dults git dere skools cleavin’ cleaved. Das da way o’ da Flamereav reab.”

       My voice raised to not only show my disapproval, but to speak above the clanging of a blacksmith at work. “Does nobody care for their life?”

       My guide paused, and looked back at me. He looked me in the eyes, and stated, “Gotta be ‘ard ta fight da draggins, outsidah.”

       I remained in silent contemplation as we continued on our way to the Fifth Quarter. My guide waited for me by the door, and told me, “Be da Fivf Qwatah qwatah. Plenne o’ outsidah ‘ere fer ya ta feel rih’ at ‘ome.”

       I paused for a moment, and noticed the burly chant had ceased some time ago. Yet an echo of chatter and instruments resounded beyond the door to the Fifth Quarter.

       “Right then. By the way, congratulations on the child.”

       The Dverg looked perplexed for a moment, before realization washed over his face. He chuckled, “Ain’ me kid kid.”

       “Oh, do the Flamewreaths practice polyandry?”

       He shrugged. “Dey do, but das a ‘alfbreed breed.”

       I raised a brow. “Halfbreed?”

       “Wun o’ da dwarf keeps ‘ow een da Shilvaflaes dug inta a Den o’ Devils devils. Dey ‘ired us, so we took tribute tribute. Gold, food, beer, ya name eet eet. Eldah Candessa led da platun, ‘n took ‘er mates wit ‘er ‘er. Bo da tribute inclooded an offsprin’ wit da dwarf lord, ‘n ter be doon publicly lee. Wer very amusin’ musin’.”

       “...Right then. Thank you.”

       He nodded to me as I pushed open the carved stone door to the Fifth Quarter.


       It was an expansive barrack, in the structure of a wide hallway lined with bunk beds. A grand table, which could seat hundreds, stretched out in the middle of the barrack. Lines of magma ran down from the walls and into holes in the ground, and a fire suspended by magic lit much of the room. Much of the inhabitants seemed to be seated at this time. Others were lined up at a small table to receive food, while others reclined on the bed and toyed with weapons, trinkets, and musical instruments. The booming chatter of the grand antechamber faded away into a warm and knowable drum. I smiled as I scanned the room, and decided to taste Flamewreath cuisine.

       As I stood behind sweating patrons clad in chain, I noticed that the food seemed to be some black, oily soup. I questioned whether or not it was palatable, and eased myself with the sounds of voracious slurping at the table behind me.

       As I picked up a bowl, the moustached Dvergr chef eyed me up. Gruffly, he said, “New ‘ere, ain’tcha cha?”

       “I’m an honored guest.”

       The chef chuckled to himself, and stirred the pot with his ladle. I could see chunks of meat and vegetables spinning around in the dark mixture. As he scooped it, I noticed that the black broth dripped as a deep crimson: the chief component of the broth was blood.

       Chunks of meat and vegetable plopped into my bowl. With every dip of the ladle, I felt unease returning to my gut. With a bowl full of blood and chunks, I sat at the table, directly beneath the suspended flames.

       I took one spoon and nearly gagged. I complained aloud, “Ugh, what is this shit?”

       A pink-haired gnome woman seated across me tersely remarked, “It’s food.”

       I looked to her and spat out, “Hardly! If it’s food, then what’s it made out of?”

       She leaned back in her chair, and listed off the ingredients on her hand. “Blood, boiled meats of various sources, barley and a few complementary vegetables, rock salt, powdered dragon scales, and of course, apotheosis spice.”

       I jumped out of my chair. “Apotheosis spice and powdered dragon scales!? Are you trying to kill me?”

       She just rolled her eyes. “We all eat it. Have been for years. It’s all controlled to give us sustenance and energy, without having to rely on outsiders for food. It’s a brilliant creation, really. The gnomes could really use practical ingenuity like this.”

       With that, she continued to spoon the bloody broth into her tiny mouth. I sighed, sat back down, and reluctantly sipped at the vile soup.

       I promised myself I’d only do a few more spoonfuls just so I wouldn’t have to sleep on an empty stomach, but I found myself getting lost in the liveliness around me. I had some idle conversation with the pink-haired gnome, and before I realized it, I had finished my entire bowl. So of course, I had to rationalize that it wasn’t that bad after all. Looking back on it now, I wouldn’t say it’s a bad dish at all. Though it surely isn’t something to crave, it’s surprisingly nutritive. The apotheosis spice really makes what would be an overly copper taste into something palatable, albeit hot. Not to mention, I felt a great sensation of warmth after consuming it, and felt a little drowsy. No doubt, the magical ingredients induce these effects. I wouldn’t think this warrior clan would even bother with food, and yet they have turned it into a valuable asset.

       The pink-haired gnome pointed me towards her bunk, as the owner of the top bunk had failed his training. I did not think of what that had meant in that moment. All I desired now was a soft place to rest and warm sheets.

       As I hauled myself up to my lodgings, a female kobold called out to me from a neighboring bed.

       I responded, “Good evening, kobold. Pardon my assertiveness, but perhaps you could tell me why you’ve joined the Flamewreath Clan?”

       She giggled. “You don’t know? You don’t look like a dwarf yourself.”

       I brushed off the words with slow flicks of the wrist. “I’m not training here. I’m an honored guest, here to study your culture, and Vlaurunga’s brood. Besides, I didn’t think kobolds would be welcomed amidst a traditionally dwarven hold.”

       She mimicked my motion playfully. “Well, Mr. Honored Guest, the Flamewreaths actually respect the kobolds. And believe me, no kobold is more respectable than Lacono.” She pointed a thumb at herself and grinned.  “Me and my kind bring utilities that even the Brood of Eight tell me are quite valuable. On one hand, we consume the waste the miners dig up, allowing faster expansion and putting no strain on edibles. Another benefit we bring is that, though we are not completely fireproof like the Dvergr, we’re close seconds.”

       Lacono licked her lips and looked away for a brief moment. Her voice quieted slightly as she stated, “The Brood of Eight told me that, perhaps given enough generations, the kobolds could adapt to The Kiln, similar to snowbolds and sandbolds, allowing complete fireproofing,” Her pupils widened with a shot of focus, and she began to talk rapidly once more. “If that’d happen, then we’d be even more useful than the Dvergr!”

       I laughed. “Well now, I never thought an entire culture of dwarves would see kobolds as equals, let alone potential betters. How goes your training, then?”

       The kobold shifted out of her sheets, and leaned up against one of her bedposts. I could feel her growing more excited by the minute. “It’s damn hard, just the way I like it. A few days ago I got my whole right arm severed. I was squealing like a constipated Porc, but I managed to end it in an honorable draw. Course, I got it healed in time, but that was the duel of a lifetime, man. Learned a lot from it, too! Man, I hope I get to fight a Whelpling soon.”

       Incredulously, I asked, “You seriously want to fight a dragon?”

       Lacono’s eyes lit up. She shifted from leaning on her post to clutching the sides of her bed. “I’ve been having dreams ever since I was a teenager about coming to this very mountain and fighting dragons. Supposedly, most outsiders who come here have them. They either go here or join up with those Red Wyvern Army lapdogs,” She rolled her eyes. “Tsk. Believe me when I tell you that those folk are unqualified. If you need people to slay a fully Divine dragon, you need the Flamewreaths.”

       Slowly, I asked, “You aren’t afraid of dying?”

       She merely shrugged, and said, “Death happens. If I’ve given my all to people I love and died in service to them, then that’s a life better than I could have asked for. It’s kind of like when people say, ‘Better to die a hero than live long enough to die alone,’ y’know? I don’t have any regrets joining the Flamewreaths.”

       I contemplated these words. “Lacono?” I asked.

       “Yes?”

       “What does Vlaurunga mean to you?”

       Her energy missed only a single beat as she cocked her head and thought it. And then it found the rhythm again, and she continued, lightning-fast, “We’re one big family. Brothers and sisters in arms. I can count on everyone to save my life and support me, and everyone can count on me to do the same. That’s just the best way to live.”

       By this time, the pink-haired gnome returned, and got into the bunk below me. I joined in on the camaraderie as we talked about life with the Flamewreaths and more. I learned some interesting things from the resulting conversation, a few of them being quite troubling.

       One is that males and outsiders are allowed to become soldiers, but the trials are said to be harder for them and they are excluded from leadership positions. Another is that only those under the guidance of an Elder, from the council known as the Brood of Eight, are allowed to leave the territory of the Plateau, though how they enforce this rule is unknown. One of the most sacred rules of the Flamewreath is to have humiliating and expensive tributes as a result of calling on their services. Elder Candessa’s fertilization with a dwarven lord was partially an act of humility and dominance, partially an attempt to introduce unfamiliar strength into the Flamewreath, and partially an act to enforce the astringent reputation of the Flamewreaths. Indeed, the Flamewreaths are very reclusive, as it seems their existence is only acknowledged in traded rumor amongst the political elite as an emergency contact. To this date, the Flamewreaths have had no formal political ties, and have participated in no battles that involved opponents other than dragons, though they hold relatively close relationships with the Dwarven Kingdoms.

       Surprisingly, though Dvergr females hold the most honorable roles in Flamewreath society, Dvergr males appear to hold the most beneficial. Though they are encouraged to train in combat daily, they are held back from properly fighting dragons. Instead, though they hold typically less “honorable” roles related to crafting and infrastructure, they hold ones that lead to personal prosperity. They are allowed to hold currency, travel freely within the boundaries of the Plateau, and most importantly, aren’t confronted with easily fatal situations on the daily. Though there is a clear divide amidst the sexes, it is arguably a fair, yet concededly illogical, division.

       I also learned that I was very fortunate to survive this day: the path to the summit, known as the Path of 500,000 steps, is only to be climbed in the nude and alone, so that those who received the vision of The Kiln would be allowed inside without any chance of infiltration, though there is apparently a right for Dwarven Kings to perform to seek peaceful entrance to the mountain. Though I disobeyed these rules and would have normally been killed on sight, I was not. My companions that night could not figure out why that I was spared. Reflecting on it, perhaps it was my words that intrigued the guards, or perhaps I carried the stench of dragons from my encounters with Yvander and Rokesh that only a Flamewreath would be able to detect.

       And finally, I learned some rather chilling details. The Flamewreath have virtually no respect for children. Native-born never learn their true mother and father until they are mature, and are reared in barracks by matrons who can no longer fight, but can still nourish infants. They know only cruelty from adults, who force them to fight. Children who beg for anything more than basic sustenance are often kicked, and are thus encouraged to steal. The genders are separated on the onset of puberty and remain so until individuals complete their training and are welcomed into general society. Furthermore, trainees are actively encouraged to kill their fellow students when forced into combative trials. Though drawing is considered honorable, winning offers a guarantee of survival. When I asked what happens to those who fail trials but evade death, I was offered no response. Jokingly, the gnome stated that it explains the great amount of blood in the soup. We laughed about it then, but as I contemplate it, it seems to be the only rational way to harvest the blood for the soup. Though I respect the Flamewreath Clan, I would not say cannibalism is impossible for them.

       Alas, there is my summary of the final conversation of the night. As much as I would love to write about the convivial talks I had amongst my bedside neighbors, the conversation simply lasted for hours, and I cannot bring myself to hold my hand against writing what had happened the next day for any longer. Indeed, I would come face-to-face with an impossibility. And yet, its very existence embodied all facets of Vlaurunga.



       Though the dawn was as busy as the previous evening, I need only write that I was awakened by a reverberating horn throughout the caverns, and that I ate more blood soup in a congenial manner. This time, it gave a sense of energy and confidence. Pumped up, I headed to the door, and found Elder Candessa waiting for me. She beckoned me to follow in silence. The antechamber was not yet populated. I could see furnishing more clearly, such as flags to mark dueling grounds, and what appeared to be defenses at one end of the cavern.

       We stopped beneath one of the great columns. This one, in particular, was carved with primitively-styled designs of dragonslaying. As I looked upon it, the Elder rapidly grabbed me by the neck, and pulled me in close. I struggled as she put a blindfold on me, but then I ceased as I came to my senses.

       “Good, outsider. You know your place. Now, come. I will show you something that no outsider has ever laid eyes upon.”

       She leashed a rope around my hands, and pulled me along. After a few long minutes, I asked her, “Why have you decided to show me this, then? Why am I unique amongst the outsiders?”

       I could hear her laughing. “I can sense that you have visited the Aspects Rokesh and Yvander. From that, we know you speak the truth. But what has truly moved my heart is the great sense of suffering and loss upon your soul.”

       The conversation paused. As I solemnly remembered things I wished to forget, the great echo of stone scraping against stone pierced my ears. Yet it was soon over, and we pressed on. Through the cloth of the fold, I could tell that we had entered a world of darkness. And we were headed down.

       Candessa continued, “The Flamewreaths respect a struggle against the Divines above all else. Though each individual interprets the grace of the Great Sister for themselves, we are bound by one common goal as a community: to defy the Divines. And so, your struggle is ours. And you will be treated the same as any other warrior amongst us. That is why we are showing you one of our greatest secrets. Succeed on your Pilgrimage, and we will consider you worthy to tell our secret to the world.”

       The tearful thoughts were swept aside with the flattery. The confidence I had felt just a few moments ago returned tenfold. I found myself justifying, the pains I have endured are to be expected. They will make me strong. And through this bleeding strength, I will find peace. This thought sparked a flame in my heart, a flame that burned through the eyeless corpses I’ve borne witness to. Like an indomitable machine, it fueled me. It pumped through my very blood. And then I connected it. In that moment, I longed for nothing more than to speak to Vlaurunga herself.

       We halted, and Candessa removed my blindfold. Before us lay a door not of black stone, but of white metal. It was crafted in a style quite foreign from the furnishings of the antechamber. Though it was solid and sealed shut, a glow of light permeated through it, and it radiated unbelievable heat. I found myself suddenly sweating.

       Elder Candessa placed her palm on the door. She held it there for a few seconds, then released it. She then jabbed it forwards, and to my surprise, it caught hold on a massive wheel which had been summoned within the blink of an eye. She grunted as she turned it. Grunt, turn. Grunt. Turn. Snap. GRRROOAAAANNN. The great door had opened, and what lay beyond was a sight that horrified, yet inspired.

       In the middle of the room lay a full-sized red dragon. One cannot describe the dragon itself first, as it is more chain than flesh. Engrasping all around it were bindings of iron, etched with runes of unfamiliar design. Many were attached to colossal balls, large enough to crush one of the wings of the dragon. And in many cases, Dvergr dwarves held fast to the chains. Though the beast was not actively struggling, they stood ready to hold the fetters taut. Some were even already in stone form. Though it was muzzled by runed steel, the dragon growled at our approach. It drooled, with drops of pinkish slobber large enough to knock a man flat. Though it was Divine and required no sustenance, it had an aura of emaciation and weakness about it.

       But the Dragon still basked in its power. The heat of the cavern in which it was housed was simply scorching. I could feel my flesh burning just by standing at the mouth of the cave. Falls of magma draped the backside of the cave, which were lined by massive eggs of the dragon’s own brood, no doubt harvested and used by the Flamewreaths. Yet above all was the tangible sense of magic, threatening to overwhelm the body. Whether or not it was more from the dragon itself or her shackles, I could not comprehend.

       Candessa touched my shoulder, and steam sizzled off my skin. Though it burned for just a moment, I soon felt sudden relief from the heat. Though the heat was strong enough to make the scorching wastes of the Plateau feel like a wintry plain, it was now tolerable.

       We approached. Candessa called out to the handlers, “Oort a kayin! Velomuniz ta’al grahnim! Grahnim vel uutrix bel xerxes.”

       The lone handler at the mouth of the beast nodded. She shouted, repeating the words of the Elder. Her subordinates obeyed. Two Dverg let down their chains, and approached the head of the dragon. She did not cease its deep growling, which echoed all throughout the cavern.

       The three knelt, and began to channel. Runes emerged from their bodies. They cycled around them, lighting up seemingly at random. And suddenly, they synchronized upon the same rune, and the dragon’s muzzle went limp and began to fall.

       Before any mortal could possibly react, the dragon swiped its head around, knocking us all to our feet. The other handlers to its sides sprang to action, but the dragon was already breathing fire into the ceiling. Flaming rocks fell upon us, and the heat of the room increased further.

       “Subjugate it!” cried the Elder.

       As for me, I simply screamed in agony. The heat was simply too much for whatever spell Candessa had placed on me, and it near instantly ignited my clothing. I watched as my hands and feet blackened and charred. I nearly blacked out from the pain, before my screams were drowned out by another. I watched as the dragon’s head was bathed in a relentless fall of magma, uncorked by some device above it. Though its body struggled and its tail slammed the ground, the runed chains that bound it began to glow an ever brighter blue. Suddenly, it shouted in an impossible, double-layered voice, “Enough, mortals! I yield this battle.”

       My writhing transformed into soothed panting as Candessa placed her hands on top of me. They pulsed with healing magics, which regenerated the shield around me and healed my charred limbs. Though they were scarred now and uncomfortably warm, I could at least feel something other than pain coming from them.

       “What the hell happened here, Pylae!?” shrieked the Elder.

       The chief handler shrugged nonchalantly. “It learned the language.”

       Candessa sighed, and looked at the ground. “Right. We’ll make a new one, then. Suspend unchaining of 2 and 3, even if it delays the next clutch of eggs. I still suspect these dragons can telepathize with their kind.”

       In response, the dragon chuckled demonically to itself. Magma dripped from her scales into the small grate beneath her, yet she seemed to have incurred not a single injury from the lava that was poured atop her.

       The Elder shook my shoulder. “It’s your time now, Pilgrim. I’ll leave this dragon to you. Do not worry, it will not attack again. It can only do so if we make mistakes. And if you were just watching, you’d know that even a major one isn’t enough to stop us.”

       I nodded at her, and she returned the gesture. I grunted in pain as I eased myself up. I found myself looking directly into the eyes of the dragon. Two balls of fire, the size of my head, with a ruby glow as their pupils, stared me down. Her nostrils flared and her lips raised in some sort of sneer.

       “Go on, then. Tell me why you’re here, mortal.”

       “Well-”

       “You’re here to answer me questions about my mother, the Aspect Vlaurunga.”

       “Yes, but-”

       “You’ve spoken with those mortal-loving fools Rokesh and Yvander, have you?”

       “Of cours-”

       “And what makes you think you deserve the respect of a red dragon, mortal?” The dragon’s laughter echoed once more. It belittled me. I reached out, and grabbed hold of the instilled confidence I was brimmed with.

       “I’ve realized your kind has no respect for mortals. And yet here you are, chained. Farmed. Beaten, and rendered into circumstances completely against your birthright. And still, you have the gall to consider me insignificant. I ask, do all red dragons toy with mortals?”

       The red dragon’s eyes glimmered with hatred as I spoke, but it vanished as she blinked. “Have you heard of the Than’drellfall Colisseum, mortal?”

       I nodded slightly. “Yes. It held a tournament to try to turn the violent impulses of the populace into something that could be used as entertainment, and to show that violence was not to be feared, but it was mysteriously burned down before a victor could be crowned.”

       The dragon erupted in laughter. Its boisterous nature shook the very earth of the cave. I already pieced what had happened when the dragon, still choking on laughter, responded, “Mysteriously!? You mortals have no respect! A contender known as the Singed Knight entered that tourney. Though she was as tall as an ogre and radiated with fear and fire, she was allowed entrance. On her very first fight, she butchered an arrogant elf in a single downwards cleave. Killing was against the rules, but the proctors were afraid to even approach her. So they tried to continue the tournament in the hopes that she would be felled. But of course, none could stand against the Singed Knight. Her grand victory, which tore an oh-so-famous mortal’s head and spine out from their body as they feebly tried to flee, was seen by little, as those damnable elves were only disturbed by the tournaments. Bastards. So when the giant raised the severed head for the audience to bask in, she spoke her first words to the that grotesque crowd. She cried in her mighty voice, ‘So be the fate to all mortals who seek to ridicule war and death!’ And with that, the coliseum and its patrons burned. Though most of those damnable mortals healed, the coliseum’s fires would refuse to be tamed. That pride of the elves burned to the ground. Such is the power of my mother.”

       I calmly contemplated these words. I felt focused, inspired, instilled with purpose. I was fully prepared to meet this dragon’s words with parries of my own.

       “Yes, quite the power, indeed. Shame it isn’t enough to wipe out a clan of dwarves. But I suppose her greater flaw is her lack of love for her children, to leave them in these conditions.”

       The dragon bared her teeth. I could see that she wanted to laugh again in response, yet my words flared her anger. She retorted, “You think that I am unloved? Nay, I have merely failed Vlaurunga. It is my own trial to escape from here, and annihilate these damnable tricksters myself. That is the way our mother is. She cares not for her children lest they prove themselves. That is why she does not emerge to defend a whelpling. That is why she does not save me, even though I have been bestowed with divinity. But to ridicule your claim, her presence has already flown over this mountain. She knows of the dwarves. I’ve felt her longing to wipe them out. But she bides her time. She knows something I do not. But I am not dissatisfied in my lack of knowledge. It merely inspires me to fight harder.”

       I licked my lips. “You continue to fight, even though you have been subjugated like a mere cattle?”

       The dragon shook her head in agitation, her horns clashing against each other in a chaotic cacophony. “These mortals continue to fight, even though they fight against the Divines themselves. Should we will it, they will be reaped from this realm. And as humiliated as I may be, I do not cease my war. Their overconfidence in letting me live shall be the death of them all. And even so, I will continue to make small victories. A mortal does not fear his animals, yet my captors fear me. I am a chained deity! They worship me! Worship my mother!”

       Headstrong, I quickly spat, “Does their worship not give them strength?”

       My words hit the dragon critically. She grunted, and closed her eyes in frustration. Eventually, she responded, “Vlaurunga is their Great Sister. It is like her relation with the Aspects, and her dearest children. She shows them great love and protection. But to those who threaten those? Betray her? Her wrath knows no bounds for the likes of them. It will burn them like a raging wildfire, unceasing until it burns even the ashes.”

       “But is that not the same as the mortals? Are you not a threat to the mortals?”

       The dragon hissed, and slammed its right claw into the earth. I felt no fear. Rage stampeded through my veins. My mind burned with fury. Passion gripped my heart. And yet, I was completely composed. Every word was calculated in an instant.

       She retorted,“Know your place! Do you not know your kind is responsible for the death of Phanto? Do you feel no guilt for your atrocities, for twisting her love against her? You’ve only brought JUDGEMENT upon YOURSELVES!”

       I sentenced, “Then your demise is inevitable. I know you now, dragon. The Flamewreaths know you. They emulate you. And with that power, they defy you. Slay your siblings. This conflict will not end.”

       The dragon closed her eyes again. She emitted some sort of sigh, and smoke billowed from her nostrils. “...So be it. Here we spar, we would do no other.”

       The room went silent. I smiled, realizing I had slain the dragon.

       Calmly, I asked, “Tell me, then. Is the legend of Cyrritalahm true?”

       The dragon chuckled bitterly. “I will not drop that blade for the likes of you.”

       I nodded. I looked to the Elder. “We are done here.”

       As I turned my back to the dragon, she spat her last laugh. “This is the nature of Vlaurunga, mortal! So long as passion breaches passion, the world will know conflict eternal. Would you blame us for giving you that passion to fight against us? Cast it out then, pilgrim, for there can be no strife without love! What do you fight for, pilgrim? Would you bleed yourself dry on cuts of your making?”

       The dragon cackled miserly as it was muzzled once again.



       I venture now to the Tower of Ultimate Wizardry. It is not too far from this place. At last, I no longer feel the impending nightmares, the burdens of suffering. I feel single-minded, driven. I know that I will conquer the Tower with ease. Nothing will hold me back, for I have conquered a dragon in my own right. I am fecund with pride.

       I watch now as the campfire I have made in this forest begins to flicker out. It heralds the coming of rest. Yet I feel no need. I am a great war machine, pushing forward through lines of troops as a god of death. Unconquerable; so long as the furnace within me still roars with life.

       I see myself running through the woods, like a wolf on the hunt, sprinting after a legendary beast that glows like the moon. The chase does not end, and yet the campfire flickers on.

       I chase myself into a bed of thorns. I leap through it, but I am bleeding. I must continue the chase. I find myself in the same bed again. Pricked. More blood. Crimson stains the leaves around me. I think I am now chasing my own trail of blood. I think I have long lost the legend. I think I will die.

       And yet, the embers continue to burn.

  • Hey all,

    Sorry that this was a little delayed, but as you can see, it's considerably longer than the others, since I felt the need to elaborate on dragonslayers in Urealms, specifically those with the Sigil of Flame. Quintara Lotus' chapter may be delayed as a result, but I don't see that taking quite as long.

    I think I may release the final 3 chapters (Golestandt, Ouro'ras, and Kallisto) all at the same time, or something along those lines. I don't think it'll be too hard, as I've been feeling quite inspired to write those chapters.

    As always, I hope you enjoy this week's chapter. Please let me know what you think!
  • This.
    Is.
    AWESOME!

    I don't want you to end up sending out sub-par writing because you were rushing yourself, take as long as you need, inspiration can take time, and we all want you to write the best story you can!

    PS: I hope you don't mind if I steal the Flamewreath clan for my own URealms stuff, right?
  • Thanks for the compliments! Feel free to use just about any of these concepts for your own stories if they inspire you, but of course, they aren't fully canon.
  • edited January 8

    Chapter 5: Quintara Lotus


       The Tower of Ultimate Wizardry is not far from The Kiln. Forested land separates the two, but the well-developed roads make it far faster than it would normally be. It seems that both exist in regions that are on the fringe of the Elven heartland.

       To further accentuate the similarities, the Tower rests on rolling plains. As one travels over the hills, the sight of the Tower greets them as they ascend every slope. Clouds strangely seem to avoid covering the view of the tower, but the Tower’s pinnacle was caressed by misty clouds on the day of my arrival, its glowing eyes glaring at me.

       And thus began the climb.

       Truly, as I write this from the departures lounge, I cannot tell how long it has taken me. I can hardly remember the rooms; whether I owe that to the Tower’s magic or my single-minded focus, I am unsure. To write of my climb will expand beyond the pages of this journal. Nor is it the most pressing matter of which I have learned. To tell the truth, I cannot say with certainty what it is I have learned.

       I digress. I climbed the Tower. And I received the same reward as any other: an audience with the Aspect of the Arcane herself.

       The final floor of the Tower is a massive audience chamber. It is indescribable, not truly in that it holds sights beyond explanation, but in that it changes constantly. When I entered, water flowed freely from balconies along the wall. It fell, and pooled at my feet. And then it changed, into a peaceful field, filled with flowers and butterflies that shifted color in unison, like a living rainbow. An elven woman of presence sat boredly on her throne. She was very much like the depictions shown in places of magical study: an elven woman of perfect beauty, Goro in nature, dressed in lax silks and white-gold adornments. The room pulsed, and changed again. The flowers were now patrons of all races at a masquerade. They were all hunched and speaking in an unfamiliar tongue, yet they were as still as statues. I pushed through the crowd, and found myself now swimming in a vast ocean, a floating throne of fuchsia-colored scales ahead of me. As I looked up at the throne, I felt the waters beneath me give way. I fell, and then felt myself become suspended in the air. I flipped myself right-side up, and found myself in the air above the Tower, the visage of Quintara staring at me. She herself sat on her levitated throne, tapping a claw on its armrest. She cleared her throat, and spoke in a commanding, echoic voice.

       “Congratulations, mortal. You have succeeded in reaching the top of the Tower of Ultimate Wizardry. As I am sure you know, your reward is to ask me, the Driver of Chaos, any wish your heart desires.”

       Suddenly, she raised her lower left arm, and gripped the air. A yellow sigil appeared for just a moment, and a purple vine sprouted from beneath the throne. It twisted and thickened, until it provided me solid ground beneath my feet.

       “Kneel, champion, and I shall grant your wish.”

       I did as she asked. Head bowed, I responded, “Oh, great Quintara Lotus. I humbly ask you to tell me, truthfully, of yourself.”

        Her bored look phased into a confused, yet intrigued grin. The Aspect inquired, “Your wish is not clear to me. Rephrase it.”

        “...Do you know of the Pilgrimage, Quintara? When the mortals first communicated with you, they recorded you in a book for others to experience.”

       The Aspect stroked her chin in thought. “Yes, I remember that time. And what of it?”

       “I have devoted myself to updating the information contained within. The picture it paints of the Aspects; it is no longer relevant after the Birth of Magic. That essential record is now meaningless. I have already interviewed your siblings: Yvander, Rokesh, and a daughter of Vlaurunga. And now, I bid you tell me your story.”

       The Aspect closed her eyes, and continued to stroke her chin. Finally, she smiled, and roots beneath me expanded once more. I gasped and struggled as they enveloped me in some sort of cocoon. And yet, as soon as I tried to pull them apart, they became flimsy, and did so without the need for effort. I looked around in shock, and found myself in some sort of high-class Beenu pub. A live band of the extinct race played stoically, while a bartender made small talk with an armored patron a few seats away. The jovial sounds of the tavern drowned out distant, discordant sobs. Somewhere far away, another band played the sounds of madness.

       I looked to my right, and found a bespectacled, timid gnome in a white coat sitting on the stool. Her purple hair shuddered as she waved with both hands up to me. I stared back in astonishment, before her words broke the silence.

       “Do you not recognize me?” she laughed.

       “I…”

       She cocked her head from side to side playfully, “Hmm, who could I be? I would expect somebody who climbed the Tower of Ultimate Wizardry to know better.”

       “...Quintara Lotus?!” I gasped, “But…”

       She giggled. “This is one of my favorite forms. You know, the right appearance can drastically change one’s perception.”

       Before I could reply, I watched as the timid-looking gnome shapeshifted into the form of my mother. Before my mouth could even open widely, her head turned, and she transformed into a perfect imitation of the Grand Seeker. With a flourish, his head moved to be cupped by his hand, and suddenly, the gnome returned.

       “...Wow.”

        She shrugged. “Shapeshifting is my preferred art. But that’s not how one knows me by. Ask me something, Iyov.”

       I cleared my throat. The bartender took out a half-filled bottle of green liquid, shook it vigorously, and poured it into a pint glass.

       “So, why did you make the Tower of Ultimate Wizardry?”

       She turned to look at the bartender, presumably waiting to make an order. “Ever since the Birth of Magic, my favorite pastime has been people-watching. Oh, and people-testing, too. The Tower is the perfect means for that. I get to watch people do tests, and see for what goal they do these things for. At the end, I compare to see how the tower’s changed them, and what they will create for any future tower-climbers. The results are very interesting.”

       I asked, “...Testing, for knowledge? What’s the difference between you and Yvander, then?”

       Though Quintara Lotus had not spoken to the bartender, he placed a glass of honey mead in front of her. She paused to take a drink. She turned to me, and replied, “Honey, I’m far different from my icy sister -- Oh, I suppose it’s brother to you. Anywho, it’s a matter of what our goal is. His goal is the search of collective wisdom; mortals just happen to be competent, and therefore can help him in his search. My goal? It’s the collection of knowledge. I don’t make conclusions along the way: I make sure I’ve seen everything there is to see, then I make solid facts, not philosophy. My interests are mortals, so that’s what I collect data on.”

       I pondered her words for a moment. “So, what’ve you learned so far?”

       She chuckled. “I’ve learned many things.”

       I returned the act. “Tell me one thing, then.”

       Suddenly, her tone shifted from informative, to something dripping with longing. “Well, perhaps the most obvious thing is the impact of lust.”

       I opened my mouth to comment, but as I blinked, the dead rose. The phantom of my dreams, Yuke, had now taken the place of the gnome. But she was not ghastly. She was alive, healthy, and blushing. The tankard of mead had now become a cocktail glass, and she was twirling the impaled olive around the bloody drink.

       “All mortals need to feel love. But, lust is a bit more complicated. Sometimes it is weaker than love, sometimes it holds a relationship of equality. But for many people? It’s stronger. It’s an addiction that you can count on most mortals having. It manifests itself in many different ways…”

       She ceased her stirring, and sipped her drink gently. I swallowed in return. She faced me, and said, “Did you know that some are afraid of lust, even though they desire it as deep as any other addict? And did you know that even some Divines can learn to love the scandalous embrace of another mortal?”

       She giggled coquettishly. I felt my face turn red.

       “...You do know you’ve taken the guise of a dead woman, right?”

       She shrugged. The band had finished their song. The crowd chanted for an encore. The group obliged them, and the applause rounded once more. The disturbing tune still continued somewhere out of sight.

       “But you desire her more than anybody else, right?”

       “I…” My heart sank. I still did not wish to admit she was dead, and so I bit down on my tongue.

       The Driver of Chaos laughed again. “Like I said, lust is an addiction.”

       With that, we sat in silence for a moment. I took her cocktail and sipped at it myself. It tasted like concentrated juice, far too strong for the tastebuds.

       For some reason, some of the bards had stopped playing, though their friends continued to play calmly. They were staring at me like statues. I swear I could hear one of them sobbing softly, though they did not move.

       “...So, what about magic? The Arcane, and the like?”

       Her countenance shifted from a risque gaze into an excitable grin. “Arcane magic is the most malleable. Much of it is by nature. Though you can shape it however you wish, and is a diverse element in many hybrid magics, it will always retain something. It will always have a piece that cannot be controlled. That’s chaos. Even I prefer it that way. It’s fun, you know? And I always like to have fun. Hell, even more than Rokesh, I’d say.”

       She shook her head, and her lustful gaze returned. The other band had now overpowered the sensical one. The sobbing man was now seated behind me: his icy gasps splashed the back of my neck. Yet I felt compelled to look only at Quintara Lotus.

       “You know, there’s nothing wrong with taking me, you know. I know you still love her.”

       I licked my lips. My head vibrated with emotion. “S-she’s dead. Even the Aspects themselves cannot fully reverse death, especially one caused by a fellow Aspect.”

       Her head tilted in confusion. “Caused by Rokesh? He didn’t cause anything, my dear. He just started a fire for lovely mortals to gather around. Not his fault the moths get too close to the fire.” With that said, she turned to face the bartender, who too had gone still.

       The sobbing had ceased without my attention. The horrible chorus was the only audible sound in the background. It was some sort of broken music box, its whimsical tune now twisted into a maddened record which pulsed with aversion.

       I could feel all eyes turned on me. Everybody was staring at me.

       Tears welled in my eyes. “W-why...Why do you torment me like this? I don’t understand it, damnit!”

       I slammed my fist on the table. The music cut. Now, the only sound was Quintara Lotus, drumming a claw on the counter. The eerie mood pierced my heart, now bursting with intensity.

       She turned to face me, with a cold glare plastered across her face.

       “You don’t get it, do you? Well, in that case, I’ll just have to teach you.”

       In an instant, a horrifying noise pierced my ears. It was as if my ears were ringing, yet that noise, too, was corrupted by that broken music box. My limbs were grabbed by cold, clammy hands. I was forced to the ground by the Beenu patrons. Their flesh was melting now, like a freshly painted portrait that had been doused in water. I could not hear myself scream in terror over the siren’s scream.

       A draconian monstrosity slithered on top of me. It reared up, and planted her claws into my forehead. Blood spouted from them. It collected in my eyes, turning the world crimson.

       And then, I beheld a vision.



       From the forest, a group of adventurers clawed out from the underbrush. They were greeted by the relieving sight of the settlement. As with much of the country, the elves didn’t have names for places like these, these watering holes, these harbors for races of all kinds, these gateways to the new frontier. The leader of the the group, a purple-haired, strong-bodied elf, strutted into the opening, glaring at a scrap within her hands. It was sketched with lines, dots, and various letters: it was a Gnomish invention, a map. It was ingenuity like this that helped the elves trek into the unknown. Only two led this group: the other was a wrinkled, sagging man. He was the new definition of ugliness, a victim of the new disease known as aging. Their other companions embodied the youth of the new age. One was a stoic and heavy Gnoll shaman, his turquoise scales contrasting the alien fabrics he patchily decorated himself with. He moved in such a way that it seemed like the entirety of his mind focused on just one part of his body. A surly Dwarf brought up the rear, a hairy sort in red plate, decorated with golden symbols of the Light. And in between them all was a pale-skinned Goblin, wearing broken spectacles, stolen from a gnome, over his bruised eyes. His face was a mixture of expressions: his eyes were wide with fear, yet he smiled coyly, and just beyond those was the tightness of his cheeks, pulled taut by determination.

       A pair of eyes could see that they each held their own goals, and their tentative alliance was one of convenience as they breached into the new unknown.

       “That Gnome called this place Wald. Seems like a well enough place to stop.” Alice announced as she folded the paper and hastily thrust it into her right pocket.

       Awenydd hacked and spat. “Long as there’s a few elves here, I’ll enjoy myself.”

       The back of the party did not wince. Except for Urtollan, who strode up to the elf, and tugged at his arm. “The Dwarves are a kind people, elf. Kinder than many of the folk you’ll find.”

       Alice snapped in complement, “You’d do well to heed his advice, Awenydd. The elves are not as above the so-called lesser races. Can you open your heart for once and see even the tiniest bit of value in something outside what’s comfortable?”

       Awenydd merely nodded, not wishing to look at the dwarf.


       And so, as most adventurers do, the party found their way to the homely tavern of the town.

       Awenydd snorted in disgust amidst the dimly lit place, as it was filled with creatures of all kinds. The Goblin lamented, “No free tables.” He squeaked as he ducked away from the trampling foot of a drunken Porc.

       Mflmy raised a bony claw, and pointed at a table in the corner. “There.” The table in question housed a single female kobold, her slender fingers cupped around a primitive candle. She bore runic markings that glew purple, all across her body. To say she was the most exotic person in the room would be an understatement.

       Alice cleared her throat, and ordered, “Hop to it, then. Urtollan, show us what dwarves know about drinking and get us a round, eh?”

       Urtollan tipped his helmet, and turned towards the counter, while the rest of the party trudged to the last available seating. Mflmy hefted Yttoran onto his hunched back, much to the goblin’s relief.

       The kobold fluttered her eyelashes as the four approached. “Feel free to join me,” she said lithely. And so they did, each taking a seat. Alice took the initiative and sat directly next to her, while Awenydd sat opposite the strange beast.

       Alice already began making herself comfortable, and so asked, “Please, tell us your name.”

       She smiled. “Call me Quinn.”

       “That’s a beautiful name.”

       Quinn chuckled, “Thank you.”

       Awenydd cleared his throat loudly. He opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by two handfuls of steins being unloaded upon the table.

       “Drink up,” Urtollan exclaimed as he jumped up onto his stool.

       The party grabbed a hold of their steins, the golden mead within sloshing about. Alice had already quaffed half of it before setting it down, and commenting, “Say, Quinn, you don’t have a drink.”

       The kobold nodded curtly, “I’ve never had a drink before.”

       The dwarf let out a hearty guffaw, and exclaimed, “Boy, for being our sister race, you kobolds sure don’t know how to have a good time!”

       Quinn merely smirked and shrugged. With a deft motion, Mflmy slid his stein perfectly in front of the new companion. “Drink it,” he suggested, “the Gnoll do not tolerate Dwarven drink well.”

       Quinn scanned the table timidly. She was introduced to the leer of Awenydd, and ended at the bright, excited gaze of the purple-haired elf. The kobold nodded, and looked back at Alice with the same expression. Alice grinned, and Quinn drank deeply.

       And with that, Quinn understood communion. The sharing of sustenance was as strong as a bond of blood. And logically so, for the mortals were still spirits of fragility, unknowingly bound to their primal wills. Oh, they had deceived so many of the lesser divines. They’d even deceived themselves. The belief that they could be something more has been their downfall, time and time again.

       And as she set her glass down, she found the appeal of vice. The gossamer tangibles that her brother suckled. She smiled in joy as the warmth of the honey drink spread throughout her shell, and as her companions clapped and hooted, she understood.

       And so, with the soul of the tavern revealed, naturally, the night began to lapse.


       Awenydd laughed merrily, the smell of mead wrestling with his breath. “I must say, I haven’t given you dwarves enough credit! When I stumble my way back to Thandrellfall, I’ll be sure to give you a good report to my soon-to-be father-in-law.”

       Urtollan nodded, his cheeks glowing red with brew. “Couldn’t ask for more, my good man.”

       Alice and Quinn had tucked themselves into a raggedy booth on the opposite end. They coddled and whispered to each other, occasionally giggling lewdly. Awenydd knew it was happening, but decided he wouldn’t spoil the moment. Not for Alice, and not for him. Not now, at least.

       These four were the only patrons left in the dark hall. It was far too late now, the golden fountain of mead had long been plugged. The Dvergr bartender was humming to himself as he cleaned his precious steins, not wanting to mop the pools of happiness on either end. This was his livelihood, after all.


       And when they finally retreated to their rooms, both would cry out in the night.

       Awenydd only struck out once, kicking over the wooden bedside cabinet. He exhaled in fury for a few moments, before he sat on the straw mattress, slumped in defeat.

       Through his closed eyes, he could see clearly the moment he reached for the stars.


        Sir Twinwxt held a hopeless shell of a man within his parlor, and sighed, “I will tell you this, Awenydd. These are frightening times we live in. I have lost all my children except my youngest, my now precious Alice.”

       He nodded, and remained silent.

       Sir Twinwxt’s husband emerged from the kitchen door, and set his tea set down on the table between the two. He winked, and received a smile in return. He excused himself. Sir Twinwxt took the porcelain cup, mixed it, and sipped.

       He sighed once more, and said, “I couldn’t give her the love of my eldest, you know. Us nobles have large families, especially so before this… catastrophe.”

       “I know that well, Sir. I thank Ouro’ras that my brother’s children lived on, though he himself had met an end most gruesome. I am glad I could save Alice, as well.”

       He smiled somberly. “I cannot say I gave her enough love. She’s strayed from me, you know. I am glad that you could connect with her through those journeys through Thandrellfall. But woe, for now she wishes to explore the world! I would once be happy to oblige her, but… she’s all we have left of the family name. We cannot ask the Divines to simply impregnate us anymore. They have gone silent in these days, as mad and as craven as mortals. My husband and I can no longer bring about new heirs. We are on the cusp of throwing our status to the dogs.”

       Awenydd cleared his throat, and raised himself up. “I have given my life to you, my lord. Everything I have done has been for you. I shall be damned before I give up on you.”

       Sir Twinwxt smiled warmly, and looked out the gilded window. “You’ve been a good man to me, Awenydd. You are one of the few I can trust in these dark times ahead, and I have not nearly done enough for you.”

       The room was silent for a moment. The noble elf set down his tea, closed his eyes, and remarked,  “How would you like to take Alice’s hand in marriage?”

       The poor servant was taken aback, “B-but, my lord, I do not match your status at all, I am-”

       Sir Twinwxt raised his hand. “It is the least I can do. Give me this last act of continuing on the Twinwxt name, and I will make sure the world treats you the same as I. You are a better man than I, Awenydd. I will make sure justice is done.”

       Awenydd leaned back on the plush seat, and could feel the burdens of a lifetime and beyond lifting, like the gentle tides on a sunkissed beach.


       And yet, the rage of ages now pressed down on him once more. The incessant creaking of the floorboards held no sign of joy. It was a thief, foreign and foul, corrupting the pearls it drooled over. He wept. He scratched his head in anger, drawing blood, blood which dripped in front of his eyes. Despair watched in glee, like a cackling vhark as the elephelk draws it last.

       Something would have to be done.


       The party broke their way into a clearing. The forest was now dark, murky, and muddy. Footing through it would make anyone grumpy. Alice grunted to herself as she clawed the map out of her pocket. “The Gnome said the path to Karazzim would be an easy one!”

       Awenydd snorted in derision, “Karazzim? The gateway to Kobold civilization? What, going there for another wench?”

       Alice sighed in frustration, and exclaimed, “What gives you that idea in the first place, Awenydd?”

       He spat, “Hah! The whole tavern could hear you shaggin’ that Kobold girl last night. What’ll the elves think of that, eh? A Nobleborn, making love to a bipedal dog?”

       The woman blinked, and calmly turned. “I told you, old man. The elves are not above the lower races. So what if I love Quinn?”

       “So what? SO WHAT!? You’d damn your whole family, you whore! You’d toss away all they’d worked for, just so you can live out some fantasy romance! You can’t do as you please anymore!”

       She blinked again, and then she smirked. “Quinn! Tell this man how he’s wrong.”

       Silence crept into the copse. Awenydd looked around feverishly, “Quinn? Quinn!?”

       Awenydd scoffed, and like a whirlwind, Alice charged at him. “What the hell have you done to Quinn, you bitter old bastard!?”

       He scratched his neck nonchalantly. “I’ve done nothing. Besides, it’s for your own good.”

       The woman’s countenance became dark. “Tell me what you did with her.”

       The goblin tugged at the old man’s arm, shouting, “Please! Awenydd did nothing, I swear!”

       Awenydd grunted, shouted, “Stay out of it, rat!” and cracked the skull of the goblin with his other fist. He whimpered, as he collapsed into a limp pile.

       The wraith of rage blinked, and poisonously repeated, “Tell me, what you did with her…”

       A pair of eyes could see the inevitable bloodshed. The goblin stopped breathing. It chuckled, noting how the lives of mortals could change with the plucking of a single thread. A thread of web that should not have even been there. It was chaos, and yet the mortals craved it. Loved it. Became it.

       Arcane magic, bred to kill, was siphoned from this pair of eyes. It shook with gleeful anticipation as the gladiators fought for a life which should not have been, like once gentle critters, now clawing and biting for nutritives dropped from the heavens.

       And I awoke then, naked, covered in sweat. I gasped and looked around the room. The pair of eyes was nowhere to be seen, yet it was still there, watching what had become of me. All that remained was the throne in an abyss of black, and a white door beyond it.


       I write now from the departure chambers of the Tower of Ultimate Wizardry. I sought knowledge and truth from the Aspect who rules these realms, and have unearthed nothing but a kingdom of loss and ruin. For I write this on top of a blueprint, one set there for me. Set there, so that I may design a new hell. It is the antithesis of my deepest desire; the forcing of divine knowledge further from the hands of mortals. The Driver of Chaos knows this. It laughs at me, like a sloth in the crowd, wondering just what now this poor sod on this stage will do in this ironic situation. And it’ll note it, as if it were testing a poison on a caged rat.

       How could I have come so far, sacrificed so much, and yet, still feel no solace in the knowledge I have gained? Yvander tore down the philosophy I had found comfort in, and Rokesh offered nothing but despair in my pitiful condition. Vlaurunga offered me passion that still burns, but Quintara Lotus bled it out. I feel as though I am lost in the desert, prodded on to find water yet knowing that I will never find it. My fate is to become bone, my journey as prosperous as a broken skull in the desert.

       And still I am haunted. Still I yearn for respite from these ravenous visions, but the gods merely watch as they rip me apart.

       Oh, divines, why have you forsaken me?

       No. No, I must not succumb. Not now. Not when the most difficult part of my journey is far from over. Golestandt awaits me. And I will not give up now. Not when the Pilgrimage is all I have.


  • Got a little lost in VRChat and getting upset at Xenoblade Chronicles 2's ineptitudes.

    Though we're technically behind schedule, I've decided to release the final 3 Chapters on or around January 17th. It's all perfectly laid out already, so it shouldn't be too much of an effort. Stay tuned for the ending!
  • edited January 19

    Chapter 6: Golestandt


       This has proven to be the hardest part of my journey, but it is the only way I could ever know Golestandt without losing all of my knowledge. In recent times a curse known as the Curse of the Ageless, brought about for unknown reasons by Golestandt, has been brought to the land. It causes one to be immortal, but it is said that they no longer have a soul. It is spread by the Ageless, causing others to become Ageless against their will. It was thought that those who had it were also mindless, but some have come and shown that they were competent whilst having the curse. The Grand Paladin Order, formerly known as the Priesthood of Ouro’ras, have said that the Ageless were the greatest threat in recent times. Though they have not given an official stance on the competent Ageless, they terminate the mindless variants with no care for their past lives. Yet it is these Ageless who have the most intimate knowledge of Golestandt.

       It has taken a long time, but I have found an Ageless hiding amongst society. I will not mention their name. When I asked them about Golestandt, they said they knew little. They told me that one person knows the most about Golestandt, and they traverse the grounds beneath the sea, in the wilderness of a fledgling society of Ageless known as Deadlantis. The Prophet of Golestandt, the Ageless call him. The only way I would know Golestandt would be to talk to the Prophet. The only way to talk to the Prophet would be to become Ageless. So I have undertaken the Curse, in the name of the Pilgrimage. I fear not for my life, but fear that I will be unable to utter the teachings of the Pilgrimage without having my skull cleaved in two. A true pain of the mind. But alas, it seems that madness may take me after all.

       I traveled at the bottom of the sea for months. I encountered many creatures, but the powers I have learned along the way made them no match for me. I came to Deadlantis as a stranger. I looked down upon my new fellows. They scorned me, but I did not care. The Pilgrimage is all that matters now.

       Not far from Deadlantis lay an abyssal trench that even the Ageless fear. The tides whip around this place. It was a sensation I had never felt before - like a windstorm, yet with a mass that threatened to tear apart my limbs. Nothing can grow in these conditions, and only crevasses, bones, and interesting rock formations fill this stoneborn waste.

       But it is not the tides that even the immortals fear. It is a place known as the Spire of Madness. It rests in the center of this scar upon the earth. But it is nearly impossible to find. One must often bend to the whirling tide if they are to move. There is no light to be found in this place, and should you bring it, the sea snow further hinders visibility. And of course, the Spire itself is rumored to be invisible to all forms of detection. The one who turned me Ageless told me that the only way to find the Spire is to be called to it. And that call may never happen.

       Yet it was my only hope.

       I walked down the forbidden path for ages, until I reached the bottom of the ravine. The only light to guide me was the one I had conjured within my hands. But I had found no comfort in it, for its once soft embrace now burned at my bones.

       The tale was true. I wandered, aimlessly, for what felt like weeks. Until I heard it. The whispering. It was unintelligible, yet I felt like I knew what it was saying.

       And from the darkness, the Spire of Madness emerged. It was a sight beyond comprehension. To say it was black in color would be to call the night bright. And yet, it was black, though color bled from it, like rakes of light within a squinting eye. It, too, tugged at the light that burned me, as if it were to swallow it whole. I could recognize the whispers now. Within a breath, I heard the Grand Seeker, welcoming me. And in the next word, I heard Yuke’s laughter. There it was again, the roar of Awenyyd. It was like this, on and on.

       I did not know how I had found the spiral ramp up the spire. I do not remember climbing it. I only remember reaching the top, and the whispers now being silent.

       I found the Prophet praying atop the precipice, arms outstretched, calm amidst the current. The only light came from my hand. I approached the Prophet. He did not turn to face me, only saying, “Light must not touch this sacred place, brother. It is heresy most foul.”

       I doused it, bringing forth the deluge of howling darkness.



       “Brother, why have you come to me? You are not devoted to Golestandt. She is your salvation now, you must know. Abandon the taint of the other aspects. They will not help you now.”

       “I have not come looking for salvation; Yvander has taught me despair. I have not come looking for change; Rokesh has taught me idyllicism. I have not come looking for peace; Vlarunga has taught me conflict. I have not come looking for truth; Quintara Lotus has taught me otherwise. Golestandt will change me too, but by the Divines, he cannot help me. He cannot help me.”

       The Prophet was silent. The only sensation was the rush of the tide. I did not know how much time had passed when he had said “Sit, brother. I shall tell you the story of Golestandt. She is not the crooked man you think she is, the wretched man that all mortals despise. Nay, she be no devil. No, she is far, far from it. She is the mother of all mortals, the breast which nursed us in the cradle. Sit, brother! I must cleanse the fetid illusions the Elves have cursed you with.”

       Perhaps if I cared, I would have doubted this man, who raved on the edge of oblivion. So I sat.

       “Before the Birth of Magic, the Aspects were created by Kallisto and Phanto to govern the schools of Magic, the primary force of the world of their joined design. Thus, they were the most powerful of the Divines. They, too, modified the world to their will. For a time, it was purely idyllic, a family in paradise. Then they discovered lesser beings inhabiting the realm, henceforth referred to as mortals. They never told us our true origin. Perhaps we were directly created, perhaps we were some byproduct of magic. Nevertheless, we were either a surprise, or something primal. These mortal spirits were weak, insignificant, unable to be comprehended by the Aspects. They were seen as leeches, relying on divine power to sustain themselves. To them, attempting communication with them would be as fruitful as sharing words with dung. This is the view all of the Aspects held. All of them, but one.

       Golestandt was once seen as the mother between the Aspects. A true empath, her heart bade no conflict between the dragons. Her bond with Kallisto and Phanto was the greatest amongst her kind; she did not try to decipher, learn, or become like her parents, she simply accepted them. This was the correct way, as children cannot truly comprehend their parents, lest they suffer the pain of the mind. Because of this understanding, Kallisto and Phanto listened to her words more than any of their children. Thus, she commanded equal respect to Ouro’ras, and was seen as his partner. You may not believe me, but Ouro’ras and Golestandt loved each other. It is fact, brother.

       Golestandt was the first to approach the lesser beings. She never held the idea that they were leeches, for she considered all existence valuable. The first race she met were the Highbears. They were delightful, always striving for perfection through the pursuit of strength and knowledge. They taught their lessers with understanding and precision; betterment was a means to become happier, not to end conflict efficiently. The Highbears always cared for one another, and treated all of their kind as equals to themselves. Golestandt found her own compassion in the bonds between members of their clan, and was reminded of her children in their pursuit of perfection. Golestandt took this knowledge to the Aspects. Though she was respected, she was mostly denied: after all, the perfect Highbears would yet be insignificant in the eyes of the Aspects. Kallisto and Phanto heard Golestandt’s report, and were changed. They allowed the light of the suns to shine upon the mortals. They would know no pain, no loss of time; nothing, but joy.

       I know what you’ll tell me now, boy. You’ll tell me that the Highbears and the Elves were created by Kallisto and Phanto, respectively. I say to that, perhaps. But if they were created by them, then what of mermaids? What of blood snakes, ytts, cowfrogs, Gumiohs, funks, Beenu, ad infinitum? Why would Kallisto not bar the hand of Yvander, stopping him from his radical conversion of his would-be children? Sure, some may trace their roots back to the lesser Divines, but, I tell you, the High Bears and the Elves are no more special than the dirt we tread on. The Divines see us all as equal, as equal as the dirt we tread tirelessly upon. The only exception is our Mother. The very Mother these damnable Elves cannibalize at every corner. Look upon every elf you’ve met, brother, and tell me that they would not lie to themselves. Think upon every Highbear ballad you’ve heard, and tell me that lies, lies to tell them that they are constantly under the eyes of the highest, would not be exactly what they’d connive. Of course they all would, for they do not know the embrace of our Mother.

       Let me continue. Now that the mortals began to prosper in the light, Golestandt met with the other races. Some were meager spirits, many still only concerned with survival, yet Golestandt found them endearing. She would always help those struggling spirits, wherever she found them. No other race interested Golestandt moreso than the Elves. Their great focus on social connections with as many of their kind as possible, as well as understanding the basic principles of the world, taught Golestandt that there was more than just family to be concerned about. It was the Elves which solidified Golestandt’s love for all mortals.

       With her love now made eternal, the other Aspects gradually began to convene with the mortals, seeing how the most respected amongst them had become so involved. Yet none were ever so entwined as Golestandt. Her direct creations were the first to have intimate relations with mortals; one even participated in the Elven ceremony known as marriage.

       Perhaps the other Aspects would see what she saw, in time. But time was not a concept in those days, for nothing was lost. The first loss was the loss of Phanto, the event to define this aeon. Not a single being was not rocked by the Birth of Magic. Some were even founded during this time. But one thing that is not often told is that the Divines themselves were changed. They, too, had never experienced loss. But their despair paled in comparison to what Golestandt felt.

       Loss was something Golestandt could not comprehend. This confusion was only compounded by the great suffering of her family, and the mortals she loved so dearly. Indeed, the Aspects themselves tried to figure out why Phanto was taken from them. Golestandt had loved the Beenu as much as the Elves, but the idea that they would destroy Phanto was inconceivable. For the first time, she struggled with hatred and despair, the obsessive plagues of the Aspects. Her love for mortals battled with it. That love won out, but it was burdened by a terrible adversary: empathy for those dying mortals. The mortals she had grown to love were dying like lambs in a slaughterhouse. That empathy engulfed her wholly in suffering. She found no option but to either abandon her love, or seclude herself, and try to hold onto it. She chose the later, but it was futile. She knew that, every second, a spirit was suffering, squealing, dying. Her love held fast, but as she slept... it changed.

       Golestandt awoke, to the rejoice of her family. Yet she ignored them. She wanted to help the mortals. To go back to the times before the Birth of Magic, where no mortal needed anything but to pursue greater happiness. To this end, her magic was warped into Darkness. It would bring tremendous suffering, to the goal of ending it and finding the eternal peace that all mortals once knew.

       Thus, the so-called ‘Ageless Curse’ was born.

       The Divines, those not born of Golestandt, found her new goal repulsive. Some found it abhorrent to force mortals to suffer immensely against their will. Some thought that the suffering of the mortals was deserved, for their kind killed Phanto, and death was a means of eternal atonement.

       But those rationales are weak in comparison. For all Divines knew this: Why should the mortals be saved, when the Divines themselves could not? Their kind had killed The Hatching, and yet only they would be saved? Not a one but Golestandt could be selfless enough to save the mortals, the eternal outcasts.

       And so, Golestandt was brought down by the family she still loved. She could not die, and so was brought down to a state of no energy. She will rise again, and spread her curse throughout the world in due time. It will happen many times, until all mortals become Ageless, or this world ends.”



        The sound of the tide returned. An age passed again before I spoke. “So why do you worship this mad god?”

       The Prophet smiled. “‘It will happen many times, until all mortals become Ageless, or this world ends.’ In those words, uttered by our Mother, we find the truth. We must accept our Mad God’s love, for the contrary is true void. The Ageless must rise for the sake of our world. We mortals are beings only fit to live in paradise. Pain. Sadness. Aging. Insignificance. Death. These concepts feel wrong to us. Though these are now natural, we do not feel, in our hearts, that they are justified. If death has surrounded us for all these generations, how have we not become accustomed to it? Why do we feel the need to stay young, avoid pain, strive to make our mark on the world? We are not meant for this life of strife, brother. We are creatures only suited for paradise.”

       “Does Yvander not teach that suffering are the stones we pave on the way towards enlightenment? Do we not find paradise through enlightenment?”

       “This… ‘enlightenment’ is not the end, nor is it the key. I realize this now, brother. Death and darkness, eternal, is the only way to elysium, brother.”

       I held my tongue in contemplation.

       The Prophet laughed. “You are skeptical yet. But you have met the other Aspects. You know that they hold no empathy for mortals. Some continue to hold them in disdain. Vlarunga maims and burns, nurturing only the Divines. Quintara Lotus cares for nothing more but her own curiosity, destroying carelessly. Yvander does not care how much he harms mortals, only that they become numb and devoid of happiness in the pursuit of some unwieldy wisdom. Rokesh deeply wishes for all mortals to cease existence, damning them to the earth. And Ouro’ras is the most bitter of all. It is beyond mortal understanding to justify his actions.”

       I clenched my fists. I said naught.

       The Prophet blinked, and quivered. He could sense my doubt. “...Brother, Golestandt is the only one who had ever cared for us. Even more than any mortal.”

       The tide had died down now. The unknowable lamentations of the sea were the only distinctions between this moment and the void of death.

       “...Brother?”

       “Golestandt has taught me empathy; yet I know of life.”

       I alighted the area again, and stood up. The Prophet watched his brother descend into the abyss. He shouted after him, “Go to him then, Pilgrim! You will know no comfort in the Light, only fate. Think of it, Iyov! Think upon your first memory, your first waking moment. Think of the dark’s embrace in that most tender moment, and beg for Golestandt’s sheltering from the pain of the mind!”


       His words harrow me still. I hear those words rippling in the fabric of the darkness. They resound, and I cannot help but remember the moment I became conscious, and what lay just before it. I tremble.

       Yet here I stand, in this city of the damned. A place no mortal can lay eyes on. I have sacrificed everything for The Pilgrimage, and yet… and yet I feel worse off than the very day I set out.

       How can it be? To have seen with my own eyes the greatest powers to walk the land, to share their mind, to caress the infinite. And yet they have offered me nothing but weakness. They themselves are scarred, ruined, unworthy. The rock which I sought to build upon has been sundered. There is nothing for me but flagellate wanderings in the darkness.

       Darkness. I hear it now, calling out to me. Nay, it is begging, like a mother to her child. Begging through the tears. Begging to save their life. Within that darkness lies a world none but the blind can grasp. And yet, it offers numbness. Sanctuary. A final respite from this accursed trial.

       I can’t succumb. I cannot trudge into that abyss. I see myself on the precipice of a mountain that pierces the sky. I can wait. Wait to stand upon my toes and stroke the fires of the sun, burning away. Or I can breathe deeply, spread my arms, and allow myself to sink into the dark below. I will lay there, broken in body. Yet I will dream, dream of all that I’ve lost, all that I’ve longed for, a place of my own creation. And impossibly, I will find the only paradise I can ever know.

       Until then, I tremble.

       Enough. Enough. Ouro’ras is the last piece of the puzzle. When I know him, I shall know all. I pray that will be enough to free me.




    Chapter 7: Ouro’ras


       My name is Solomon. I was the former High Priest of Ouro’ras. I have been excommunicated by my peers, and by Ouro’ras himself. This journal, of the man that has given me true enlightenment, is my lone possession now. I am hunted by the Grand Paladin Order. I fear for my life, but I do not fear Ouro’ras. This book holds the truth of the Aspects. And after reading this lexicon, I must finish the tale in honor of the man who has shown me light beyond the gods. I have seen the fate of Iyov, and I will tell you that he has completed The Pilgrimage.

       And I will tell you that The Pilgrimage shows us that we are doomed. The Divines care not for our plight, for our endless torment, the constant presence of death, prowling at our backs.

       But worst of all, we cannot fight back. There is no hope for us, not even in the Light.


       It was a rainy night, a few hours before dawn, when I noticed a hunched figure approaching Sacramentur. It is a holy place, the place where Kallisto’s light first shined upon the mortals, the marking of a time when fear became obsolete. It is a chapel built into the face of the easternmost point of the mainland. When dawn breaks, Sacramentur is the first to witness it.

       In those days, our order was small, for very few worshipped Divines. They were more to be treated as role models, or even compatriots. But we, the Priests of the Chariot, worshipped Ouro’ras from the very beginning. For a time, he even came down and spoke with us.

       In those days, our order was not forsaken. For since the Birth of Magic, the Priesthood, as a whole, has never received direct communion with our god. Instead, he has declared the Grand Paladin Order, his mortal will upon the realm, to be his new organization. The Priesthood never fully heeded this call, for to do so would make us animals to a master. He was no god of war, he was a god from which sprung knowledge and comfort.

       Although our order remained sacred and was acknowledged as worshippers of Ouro’ras, it had become increasingly obsolete. I was the only one who maintained Sacramentur, when once, a good forty resided here. The other Priests reside in other parts of the world, while the others have either joined with the Paladins, or abandoned their faith; willingly or not. But their days, too, are numbered.

       I digress. I must write what has transpired before I am butchered.


       The cloaked man made his way to the gates of the chapel, where I met him. He raised his head, and I gasped in shock.

       “Ageless!” I cried, “This sacred place is not meant for you!”

       Solemnly, the skeleton nodded, raised his hand, and tossed trails of light into the sky. With every streak, the fingers of his hands trembled, like a hand freshly burned. And yet the man did not wince.

       “I have come to fulfill the Pilgrimage, Father Solomon.”

       My eyes wide with amazement, I turned and opened the door to the chapel.

       I walked to the pulpit, and the Ageless sat in a middle pew. I called out to him, “Are you truly a Pilgrim?”

       The Pilgrim unclasped a worn journal from his belt. He brushed off the dust, and dryly echoed, “I have, but wish I had not. I know the Aspects better than they know themselves. I’ve given my life for them. And so, I have ended here. Ouro’ras is the final Aspect I have yet to know. I will seek his audience directly, upon this holy place.”

       I laughed stoically, and replied, “Ouro’ras has not graced this place since the dawn of the era, Pilgrim. If he will not descend from Kallisto’s side for me, he will not descend for you.”

       Calmly, the Pilgrim opened his right palm, looked down upon it. To my ghastly surprise, a rift of pure darkness was… conjured? No, it appeared. It was always there, yet he had made it visible. I felt as though I had recognized it, yet for the life of me I cannot say what it was.

       “I will have my audience, honorable Father. When Kallisto breaches the horizon, Ouro’ras will land for me. I know it.”

       I simply nodded, and returned to my duties.


       I could not help but notice that the Pilgrim had begun to read the leatherbound journal he had brought with him. His skull betrayed any notion of expression. But I could not stay my eyes from not looking back on the Pilgrim as I tended to the menial upkeep of the chapel.

       After an hour, I looked back, and found the man weeping softly, his head nestled in his bony palms, his book placed next to him. Besides the call of awakened birds and the dying of the rain, his was the only sound which echoed throughout this lonely hall. It permeated throughout the stones. Many had sat in his very spot, weeping the same way. And each time, I knew I could offer them no comfort.


       And alas, Kallisto’s light began to pull away the blanket of the night. The born blue of the eastern sky found its way through the grand glass mural of Ouro’ras, and rested softly on the smooth rock. The rain had longed ceased now, the despairing sobs stifled. I beckoned the Pilgrim forth, and he shakily rose from his seat.

       I asked him, “Have you taken any lives, Pilgrim?”

       His form hunched in recoil, but he straightened himself, and answered, “I have done many things I am not proud of, honorable Father. All for the sake of the Pilgrimage. I have gained power beyond what I had hoped, but yet, I am not satiated. What comfort does power provide, if it brings naught?”

       I looked towards the door in contemplation. He continued, “I have felt like an exile on this land, in this body. I know no home now. And so, here I stand. Soon, I will pray. With all I have gained, all I have lost, I can do no other.”

       I nodded. I pushed on the golden door, as its old joints opened for the last time.

       “Kallisto rises, my friend, and Ouro’ras is with her. I cannot follow you, for this Communion is governed by the Light. May it be with you, brother.”

       The sun began to rise over the endless ocean. Slowly, the Pilgrim nodded, and with a deep breath, made his way onto Sacramentur’s Platform of Communion.

       I shut the door. But I couldn't help myself. I was jealous that a stranger would be confident he would speak with my god, and not I, one who had been so devoted to him in ages long gone. And so, I loosened a brick to the outside, and watched as the fate of humanity was made known to me.


       As the sun rose, the Pilgrim knelt. The tide battered the cliffs, foam spraying onto the Platform of Communion. He bowed his head in reverence, and held his hands around his heart. Trembling, whispered verses fell from his mouth. I could not make sense of them.

       We waited. And as Kallisto’s great body touched the sky, a distant roar resounded. After a lifetime of waiting, I had heard the voice of Ouro’ras.

       As the sky broke with pinks and reds, the chariot approached. It rode upon the blinding light of the sun, directly towards us. And just when one could see its figure, it burst into existence. The sky broke into a pure white canvas, and from the middle of it, Ouro’ras came on feathered wings. His scales almost seemed as if it were bleached skin, with how pristinely they folded over one another, with no shadows to be found. Yet sand-colored scars, pricked along his hide, betrayed what would be a perfect visage.

       He crashed into the Platform of Communion gracefully, his claws fitting into their ancient slots. Between his horns lay Kallisto, whose light became a prismatic  kaleidoscope of dancing rainbow. As I gazed into it, Ouro’ras roared once more, and radiated with an impossible brightness. I shielded my eyes, and bit my tongue so I would not cry out. My eyes throbbed with pain. As I gazed up, I noticed my vision had begun to fade, the colors becoming less lively.

       But I could not focus on that, for my god had finally returned to his pasture. The pipe organ on the balcony above began to play by his raw power, and the long forgotten choir’s voices returned, praising the Light once more.

       “And so, the prodigal sheep returns to the FLOCK, expecting to be WELCOMED with open arms,” Ouro’ras spat. I was surprised at his voice. Though it was still as calm as I remembered, it was… tainted. It was envenomed with hate. And… and it was… tired.

       The Pilgrim prostrated himself, and shakily stated, “L-Light! Oh, holy Light! I have come to-”

       “SILENCE! You speak to the GREATEST aspect, BOY. Do not FORGET this.”

       “I-I-”

       “Tell me, do you KNOW that you are the greatest THREAT to walk this earth? Do you have any IDEA of the atrocities you carry?”

       The Pilgrim raised his body. Nervously, he answered, “I do not know, my lord. It has been many years…”

       “PROSTRATE YOURSELF, BOY!”

       The Pilgrim obliged him, and breathed sharply in stress.

       “You carry with you the DOOM of the age, holding potential to SNUFF OUT the order I’ve given you mortals, so that you may LIVE for a HEEDLESS PURPOSE. For this disobeyal, you bring reason to DENY the Aspects, of which you mortals MUST rely on! There is no greater HERESY than the Pilgrimage, boy!”

       The Pilgrim began to sob. Painfully he breathed in, and snuffed it out. He pleaded, “P-please… tell me what I can do to be forgiven. Tell me what I can do to walk in your footsteps.”

       Ouro’ras shook his body, rocking the Platform of Communion. His voice went calm as he ordered, “Kneel, boy, and I shall tell you the tale the faithful trumpet.”


       “I once lived a life of idle pleasure. A prince, though regarded as a hero, had done naught but rest upon his laurels. I possessed everything from the suns above, but there was no need to exercise it. In time, this would prove to be the downfall of the Divines.

       I was not ready when the world became ruin, when subjects and nobility alike basked in chaos. I merely gawked, took it all in. But I was not weak, nay! I was unprepared. No being was prepared to watch their own families be torn asunder. I was not weak. For in time, I realized what must be done. I watched Golestandt descend into madness, and bore epiphany. I would claim my birthright as the King of All Kings, and shepherd these mortals.

       I drew upon commandments for the orderings of the Divine. For the Divines, I issued three. The first was to never slay another Divine. The second, to never again create another with the capacity to create and destroy by the mere expression of will. The third, to defer to me whenever their powers influenced the world and the affairs of mortals which were not in their designated spheres of control.

       And to the mortals, I decreed more, laws to be solely enforced by the King of All Kings. Foremost, under penalty of being removed from magic entirely, the mortals would be allowed free access to magic, so long as they never tapped into realms beyond their control.

       From there, it grows into a law without punishment, yet one that the whole of mortalkind could not go against. To begin, I called forth the most zealous mortals, who prayed in my wake, praying for me to save them. I brought them together, and henceforth founded the Grand Paladin Order. They would be the defenders of mankind, the mortal agents of the Light. Their first order would be to subdue the murderous, the crazed ones who would not abide in the age of peace I would make. They would either be put down, or converted in the name of the Light. King Leomaris and the Highbears were powerless to stop the chaos. Only I had the vision to part the tide of blood, and usher the living unto this promised age.

       All mortals now owed the Grand Paladin Order a great debt. They would be recognized as saviors. And so, I ordered the Paladins to enforce compassion. All sapient races would be allowed into the Order. This way, all of the mortal races would tell their kind of the glories of the Grand Paladin Order, and the compassion they showed all races. Indeed, the Paladins were the first to crusade into the vast, uncharted world, telling of my glories to all who would listen. The other races would follow their example, an example that would found the very relations between the races. I am solely responsible for the survival of the lesser races, amidst the tyranny of the elves and Highbears.

        With the Order founding itself in the culture of the mortals, it was time to spread my will throughout them. This was the only way. You mortals are so quick to deny a single voice should there be a ravenous pack behind you, so quick to cast out even the gods. Yet, if the most respected of your kind says otherwise, who are you to deny them? Indeed, mortal. The outcasting of Goblins. The hunting of Ageless. The consumption of dragon scales. The free spread of magic throughout the young races. The respecting of royalty, of elders. Oh, it goes even deeper. Altruism, kindness, benevolence: these all stem from the Light’s teachings. The Elves may have started it, but you can be sure of the abandonment of decency in those barbaric times, especially for the newborn races. But above all, I have given you hope. For in The Hatching, you mortals yearned for nothing. It was through the grace of the Light that you were saved, that you were taught hope. For without these things, your very society would collapse back into the cesspool it caused. Without hope, boy, your very quest would have been over long ago.

       So, mortal, have you not been forgiven mankind’s greatest sin? Your kind damned themselves by slaying my dearest Phanto, harming the Divines, ravaging the entire world! And yet, I forgave. It is by my hand alone your kind yet lives, for it is through the civilizations I’ve both created and preserved that you have not succumbed to death. I have given EVERYTHING, and yet YOU, boy, have said ‘IT IS NOT ENOUGH!’”


       The Pilgrim rubbed his forehead in agitation. Suddenly, he raised his head, and retorted, “Of all the Aspects I have met, you are the most despicable.”

       Deep within the body of the High Dragon, a growl resounded. But the man was not deterred. “You abandoned your rational believers, and only gave those who followed you blindly the privilege of being messengers of the gods. Why? For they would not disobey your guidance, they wouldn’t question it. You never gave us a chance to form our own society. You took the reins against our will!”

       “And what of it?”

       “You Aspects have decreed how we mortals are to live. Your magic controls every part of our lives. We never decided for ourselves how we would live. And in your world, we live only to carry out your will. To bleed for you, without question!  We were never forgiven, you merely enslaved us so we would never go against you! You’re nothing but an opportunistic tyrant!”

       Ouro’ras’ lips parted to argue, but suddenly, the Pilgrim shouted, and flung the shard of darkness. It implanted itself squarely in the chest of the Light. I covered my mouth, and gasped, as the purest void emanated veins of black around the god’s wound.

       The Pilgrim stood up, clenched his fists, and shouted, “If I have learned anything, it is that it is humanity’s time to stand up to the gods!”

       Calmly, Ouro’ras removed the shard from his chest. Golden blood spurted from the wound, but near instantaneously, it healed. All that remained of the sole wound against the greatest of the Aspects was a sand-colored hole, the size of a nail. Ouro’ras held it in his palm for a moment, before light burst from his hand. As it faded, the shard of blackest night was no more.

       The Pilgrim did not relent. In his hands, a great fireball, towering over the ornate roof of the chapel, completed its channeling. He yelled, “For the Flamewreaths! For the Seekers! For Yuke! For the Ageless! For all those who’ve lost their lives to defy the gods!”

       And with a heave, he launched his sun at the Light itself.


       When the smoke cleared, Ouro’ras had not even moved. He was completely unscathed. He shook the ashes off of him as if it were water. Once more, the Pilgrim began to channel another massive spell. Ever so slightly, the King of All Kings faced him, and with a mere glow of his eyes, the Pilgrim collapsed, thrust into a coughing fit.

       Even still, he was not done fighting. He continued to try to cast, but every time, it fell into a worthless lump of dust. Through the hacking coughs, he cried, “W-what… have you done to me?”

       In the very next moment, the Pilgrim cried out as Ouro'ras pressed his right hand down upon the Pilgrim, severing and evaporating his arms and legs in a twinkle of light.

       “BE PENITENT, BOY! Have I not told you that your VERY WILL belongs to me? I control ALL Divines, and thusly control ALL magic, and without magic, you are WORTHLESS! Without us, you cannot LIVE!”

       The Pilgrim, squeezed under the grasp of the Light, could only struggle to breathe.

       “You would DARE to call your savior a TYRANT!? Let me tell you the SINS you’ve committed, mortal!

       The roots of this BURDEN were caused by Yvander, one who struggles to search for a reason why his beloved mother perished, yet refuses to take ACTION! She condemns mortals, but yet you followed her as ‘blindly’ as the Paladins follow me!

       But when you learned the truth, you ABANDONED her teachings. The very KNOWLEDGE which SAVED YOU from your decrepit childhood! You owe her everything!

       Yet you were not content with DAMNING just ONE of my SIBLINGS! Though Rokesh is the most LECHEROUS of all, he offers a SANCTUARY for all mortals who long for the PARADISE lost, yet never BASTARDIZES life in the process! He SHOWED you the WORST of life, to WARN you of the FUTILITY of the Pilgrimage, and yet you DENIED him! You CHOSE to live with your ghosts, boy!

       So where did you find solace? In the PASSION of Vlaurunga! You nourished yourself with the HATRED she feels against the mortals. Though HERS is JUSTIFIED, to imprison her own CHILDREN and force them into HUMILIATION is a SIN most foul! Worse yet, you IMPOSED this hatred upon ALL the Aspects! This very MOMENT is when you CHOSE to strike against the SAVIOR of the mortals, the King of All Kings!

       And with your BOILING HATRED, you IGNORED Quintara Lotus’ teachings! Her EVIDENCE of the flaws of mankind, their VOLATILITY, their ZOIC SOULS. But because of this truth, you HATED her the most!

       Then you committed a TERRIBLE SIN. You CHOSE not to save yourself, to RECANT this impossible quest to understand the INFINITE! Though all those joining Golestandt in MADNESS would be CONDEMNED, YOU possessed the opportunity to END the Ageless curse, to SLAY the aberrations of Deadlantis! Filled with SIN and HATE, you did naught but DESPAIR. And with it, you decided to either FIND what you knew COULD NOT BE FOUND, or KILL that which COULD NOT BE KILLED!

       And so, you struck at the LIGHT. I CAN RECOUNT SIN UNENDING! Bran, the city of the Order of Seekers, was RAZED by the accursed being you’ve BECOME! INNOCENTS were forced to become AGELESS. The sole survivors of the Order aligned themselves to Quintara Lotus, my sister whom you DESPISE so passionately! YOU could have saved them, yet you WILLINGLY put YOURSELF on this road, the road to NOWHERE. And for WHAT? You sought ENLIGHTENMENT, so that YOU could be HONORED amongst your GROVELING KIND! This Pilgrimage was NEVER intended to save anyone, it was for your own POWER. TELL ME, BOY, WAS YOUR PRECIOUS KNOWLEDGE WORTH THE DEATHS OF ALL THOSE YOU LOVE!? WAS YOUR TWISTING OF MY SACRED HOPE INTO ASININE OBSESSION WORTHWHILE!?”

       Ouro’ras went fumed as he waited for the counter. But as the echoes of his voice ceased, the Pilgrim’s only response was to cry.

       The King of All Kings scoffed. “Do you see now, the futility of disobeying mankind’s shepherd? Do you see now, that the fires you seek to control will always burn you? Do you see now, how obeying me is the only way?”

       Blubbering, the Pilgrim weakly prayed, “T-take m-me to Kallisto-oh…”

       Ouro’ras reared up his body, as if these words struck him the greatest blow a mortal could inflict.

       “What did you say, boy?”

       “Nothing makes sense… P-please… t-take me to her… Take me to my mother…”

       Ouro’ras growled, and roared, “YOU YET THINK YOURSELF WORTHY OF HER, MORTAL!? AFTER ALL YOU’VE DONE? WHEN THE MORTAL-SERVING KNOWLEDGE YOU CARRY WOULD DOOM EVERYTHING I’VE GIVEN YOU!?”

       Ouro’ras lifted his hand. A ball of light formed around the Pilgrim, and suspended him into the air. He only continued to plead, “P-please… I beg you, Light… s-save me!... O-oh gods…”

       The wings of the Aspect spread, and the light enveloping his white scales began to amplify. “YOU WISH TO BE SAVED? YOU WISH TO KNOW KALLISTO!? THEN KNOW HER, WORM!”

       I bit my lip. As the choir rejoiced, and the organ blew with such vivacity that its pipes began to burst, I knew what was to come next. The light amplified, as I placed the brick back into its slot. It wasn’t long before the light had grown intense, intense enough for every crack in structure to radiate with blinding power. The Pilgrim cried out in pain, in loss, in utter despair. I sighed coarsely, shielded myself, closed my eyes, and beheld as the world broke into Light.


       When it no longer poured into my closed eyes, I opened them, and beheld the world in stark blacks and whites. All color had faded. There weren’t even any grays. There was nothing but silence. Through the stained glass mural, I beheld the eye of Ouro’ras, peering down at me. All around Sacramentur, his voice echoed, “FOOL! You were once my faithful companion! Even when you denied to serve me as a Paladin, I kept this place safe. Yet you broke my original commandment, for any mortals communing with me would do so alone! Poor fool. You know too much now. I can feel your heart, twisting towards the darkness. Your death will be swift and painless, I promise you. Your days are numbered now; live them well. I Excommunicate you!”

       With that, light filled the chapel once more, and I found myself choking on the very air I once breathed. My limbs shook as magic forced its way out of my body. I looked up at the chapel window, wishing to curse that devil, and found Kallisto shining through it. And as always, his guardian chariot flew beneath him.


       It took me awhile to get used to not having to breathe. To be Excommunicated from magic is a terrible burden. There’s a feeling of wasting away that nothing seems to satiate. You feel tired constantly. All you want to do is lie down and die. But when I got used to this scraping path towards death, I opened the door to the Platform of Communion, and found that it had crumbled. Whether it had turned to dust through the power of Ouro’ras, or had fallen into the sea, I could not be sure. How fitting a symbol, that it was no more.

        Nothing remained of the Pilgrim. The sole piece of him was the book he had left on the pew. I have read it on my travels, and as you know, have chosen to finish it in his absence.

       What is there to say? I know now the truth of the Divines, the truth of Ouro’ras. We are forever consigned to be puppets. We have no free will. We have no power. What are we without this? We are bestial spirits, to be herded, sheared, and butchered for our shepherds. All for the sin of defying the gods.

       There is no peace to be found. No reason to live but for the whims of the Divines. No stories to be told. Here we stand, alone; we can do no other.

       I implore you, reader: Should you find this book, bury it, as I have decided to do. I tried to burn it, and yet, its simple pages seemed impervious to it. It bears a magic I can no longer even tempt. Make sure no others learn what you know now. I have no doubts that you, reader, realize your insignificance.

       What way can we change the world, a world that will not bend to us, yet we cannot bend to?

       Though I know it is foolish, I pray to Kallisto for answers. For a purpose. I know I will not be saved. I know that, for my earnest devotion and care, I will end up dying as a rabid dog in a cage. Betrayed. Oh, how I still cling to hope. Is it true, then, that Ouro’ras gave this to us? How ironic, then, that he still remains my saving grace.


       The journal just moved on its own. Quickly, I must bury it. No Believer must arise from this accursed scripture. No eyes but my own should be reduced by this.





    Epilogue: Kallisto


    You there.

    Yes, you.

    Standing by the river.

    Face me.

    Answer my questions.


    Why have you not crossed this river?

    Can you tell me then

    why Goblins are hated?

    From whence the Gnomes came to be,

    how they fill so quaintly the absence of the Beenu?

    And who is lying, the mad one

    or the powerful one?

    Prove your worthiness, and tell me

    what becomes of the mortals upon their death.

    Why have you not crossed the river?


    Surely, you must have the power to do so?

    Can you face the eye of Vlaurunga

    and not back down?

    Do you possess the strength to even pierce my daughter’s hide?

    Can you walk amidst the cyclone of sand

    and remain the same?

    Tell me,

    can you stare into the mind of Yvander

    and reveal the errors there unto my raging child?

    Can you tear down the Sins,

    and free yourself from the inevitable fate of this realm?

    Why have you not crossed the river?


    Do you know what becomes of those you change

    change so monumentally

    yet cannot say your name

    in thanks?

    In condemnation?

    For the lives of mortals can be so weak

    As to change with a gaze, a word,

    even but a thrum of life

    Can turn a wheel

    Thrust the knife

    Decide the night.

    but oh, you will never know.

    for why do you exist?

    Tell me,

    my child,

    why have you not crossed the river?


    I jest, I jest.

    I already know your answer.

    “Oh, Kallisto, I do not know, I do not know.

    No, no, no.

    I am but a human.

    To err is to exist.

    And to not know is but a limb of us.

    For we may touch what lay before our consciousness,

    And consequently caress what lay beyond it.

    And when I touch it, I am aware of what reality dictates for me.

    And I Tremble.

    Tremble,

    Tremble.”


    But oh, you forget

    you tremble for but a moment

    on this pain of the mind

    and let it go, return to life.

    That is why you will try to cross this river

    but

    always

    it will overpower you.

    It will bring you to a land you cannot recognize.

    And it will cause you to cry out

    “Why have you forsaken me

    to tread this unending cycle?”


    My child,

    you will come to this river

    for all of humanity struggles

    to satiate themselves.

    But yet, they are human

    They will never be satisfied.

    They will ravage the forests, the hillsides of this valley

    searching for an answer.

    Yes, it may comfort them,

    But no, it will not help them cross.


    For there is but one thing the mortals possess

    when they claw through the comfort

    the basest desires

    the darkest recesses

    There is a fire.

    It is the sole light that permeates the dark around you.

    Indeed, it is what made you what you are.

    It is the story.


    The story.

    Even the lowliest of creatures bows to it

    Even the mightiest of gods are changed by it.

    For we go through life, we seek one thing above all else

    to grow that fire, to find others

    So that they may grow it.

    An ember, a spark, a torch

    And with it, the darkness becomes

    not just knowable

    but exciting.


    This is the way it goes.

    For I, too, brought your kind about

    by the story.


    And one day

    Through no effort of your own

    You will cross this river.

    I will welcome you

    with open arms

    and give you the second greatest gift I can offer you.

    Freedom, from the pain of the mind.

    You will face me, and tell me the story you’ve carried in your heart

    as all along, you’ve been yearning to tell it.


    Imagine then, how Iyov felt

    when he was free

    when he could see what he’d gathered

    see beyond the veil that had always bound him

    the claws that gripped him

    And understood it.

    Understood it all.

    I asked him

    “Was it worth it?”

    and

    as always,

    in the presence of a finale’s bliss

    He laughed.

    “Yes.”


    And when you tell me your story

    I will offer the greatest gift a god can offer

    I will listen

    Wholeheartedly.


    It matters not that your voice will not echo outside this valley

    for it matters not what is outside it.

    To be human

    is to seek the story

    The many stories of many hearts

    And to tell it all, to tell your own

    with the voice of the gods.

    And to have that passion

    returned with an understanding

    So zealously handled

    With love.

    Yes, my child

    This is the core of humanity.


    And when you are done

    You will face the other side

    You, me, Iyov,

    And say

    You there,

    Standing by the river,

    Face me.

    Smile.




    Breathe.





    Cry.


  • It's finally done!

    Please let me know what you thought about the story; everything's fair game.

    Although I know it's against a story to explain every bit of it, as interpretation is vital to it, I will answer a questions you have about the story. Consider yourselves fortunate. The only questions I won't answer are those that would be too religious or political in nature, as to be in accordance with forum rules.
  • edited January 18
    Oh my goodness... that's... unbelievably good... I... I'm at a loss for words, this... it's perfection.

    Edit: I've come to my senses partially. The only error I found was in the Ouro'ras segment, where at one point you wrote 'Golestandt' instead of 'Ouro'ras', it doesn't matter much, but slightly broke the immersion. :smilebold: 
  • @KaeawynShifter Thank you, and the silent readers for your continued support.

    I may write another URealms-based piece if I think there's enough interest in it, perhaps something comical involving Gnomes.
  • edited February 9
    Alright, here's what I'm thinking about writing next:

    1. Siabi's Papers: Gnomish Scientific Debate (comedic, philosophical, lore speculation)
    2. "Beenu" Folktale (poetic, short, alternative lore)
    3. Pilgrim 2 (dark, long, cerebral, alternative lore, somewhat related to last campaign)
    4. Order of Chaos Short Story (dark, short, riddlespeak, directly related to and inspired by last campaign)


    If any of you have any preference you wish to voice, please send me a private message on the forums. Reasoning is not required, but I'd appreciate anything you send me.

  • A teaser.

        For that night, I found myself in the bubble, the once ephemeral angel I’ve proselytized my life for. Offered my humanity. Sacrificed whatever remains of who I remember who I was. All for this moment.

        It was worth it.

        It was paradise.

        I was different, somehow. Yet when I remember what I was, I only remember it as myself. And yet, the only difference was the pink and teal dress that held me together, a beauty I had never dreamed of before.

        I’m sorry.

        I stood on curb of a street, a river running through it, for the sky brought down a storm. Yet the city could not be deterred. It had seen its share of midnights, of storms, of monsoons of blood and thunder that should not be. And yet it stood, a collective rainbow glow that illuminated even the moon above. I had seen this city, the new sun it had become, so many times from hills afar, yet now I finally lay in its heart.

        The soul of man could barely be heard this night. The drains in the street swallowed the river, taking the flood beneath the stones, far beneath the earth. Its drowning gasps and hurried flows echoed beneath the drumming of the rain. Above them was the buzzing of the unending lights, encompassing the night, guiding the hungry to new dens of treasure.

        The music playing in the tavern behind me sang the lyrics of the moment. It was emitted from a rustic device, a jukebox. A guitar, a piano, a woman. As one, they told of lost loves, dead friends, paradise lost, better times. It was the true spirit of the melancholy night, and like the lights, it brought me, the hungriest, there.

        Indeed, the world around me satiated me, and I did not feel the atrophy that had germinated in my bones. The lights around me were magic, and yet again they weren’t. For I knew this street; the second bend from the castle street of Than’drellfall. The lonely bend, for only those who walked the closes would know its existence. I recognized the granite walls, the rocky paths, the ornate windows, looming far above the mortals. And yet again it wasn’t. For patched and nailed to every stone was the lights, the screens, emulations of life. And for all their omnipresence, they could not cover every shadow, where the ancient stones found respite beneath these layers of painted artifice.

        I too, found myself in a familiar state. It was one of those moments when one loses their sense of self, their burdens, their fears, and merely gazes at the world around them in solitary contemplation, eyes to the path, the river, the stars. I had felt it so many times on this exact brick in the road, beneath the towers and the rain and the moon. It was as if I saw the world as a stranger, born again with a smile, for even the darkest death could not make me afraid in this pearl of time.

        And so it passed, the lament of the woman calling me back to the hearth of the tavern.

        With it, the stoked prod of the collective destiny struck me once more: I was to slay gods.


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