QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]

QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

A dark, empty world; a sanctum of silence and dust within the bustling facility plugged into Rachel’s body-

-sucked away as if poured through a wire-mesh screen of reality, diced darkness bleeding away in an instant – the same moment that she sensed the insistent needs of the facility cease – a part of her rejoicing momentarily in newfound freedom, before another drowned it out in grieving for those who would die. The rest of her simply gaped at the Outsider’s tableau of chaos, while the sun in her chest unfairly stayed in its even, unchanging pulse when her long-gone heart should have been pounding fit to escape. It was a broken space in between the worlds, the place where they had been parked – the muddied-heat world, heat death realm of the Outsider; where things did not so much matter as being comprised of the opposite, stretching far away on the continuum of reality. When the Outsider spoke, their words were leaden bullets and funereal tones, cries of hatred and knocks on the door of unhappiness; like futility, curiosity and morbidity mashed into a sullen paste and spoon-fed directly to the consciousness, without the common courtesy of passing through so much as any of the accepted senses. Her mind juddered with the ideas/concepts/impressions forced through it, like so much syrup through an aperture (and which was which was never clear) – if she could have turned her eyes from the Outsider’s pronouncements, she would, yet she knew it would have made no difference-

Then they were falling; no, she was falling now, tilting, landing roughly in the dirt on her side, her shoulder, landing on hard-packed earth that was like stone. She lay unmoving for a moment, and when it became clear that she was not going to die, at least not any time soon, bit back a whimper of pain…

Slowly, Rachel clambered to her knees. She cast her eyes about her surroundings: a sparse stand of trees decorated the ridge she knelt upon, shielding, inadequately, an equally sparse clearing where a tall building seemed to have sunk into the ground some time ago, overgrown with vines and shrubbery.

“Ah, with us so soon?”
, came a voice behind her. A firm hand clasped her shoulder, and turned her in one neat twist, so that she was facing the voice’s owner and down lower on the ground in a trice. She looked into a face stained with grease and old camouflage, appraising her with brown eyes-

The soldier spoke, somewhat uncertainly. “Come along. You’re a little early, but…” The sentence trailed off into nothingness as he extended a hand. Cautiously, Rachel took it, and pulled herself up – if he noted the cold metal ports, the soldier graciously didn’t mention it – and followed through a collapsing archway into the sunken building.

Within, the slanted floors were occupied by machinery and clutter: a compacted dirt floor was tiled roughly with stone to make level generators, computing devices, maps and charts laid out on felt tables with pins and strings tied taut, and, looking completely out of place in the center of the off-center room, an altar, tastefully decorated with tassels.

Slowly, she fought to speak; to use a voice left untended for the long time in the dark generator chamber: “Wh…what is…”

Turning to her, the soldier smiled for the first time, and gave his reply: “This…is the Temple of Obscura, friend.”

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

Throwing Florica into a battlefield should have been the same as tossing a juicy steak into a pack of ravening hounds. Before she was released from the Outsider’s grip she already knew what awaited her. It would be like that day she spent in Ironbrook only ten times worse, if not more. Here every death was bloody and brutal, every spirit would have unfinished business and a grudge to bear. Maybe she hoped they would bicker amongst themselves and leave her alone, alone to weep her sorrow into the scarred land. When she found herself free to move again she expected that freedom to be short-lived, to find herself the rope in a spectral tug of war. This did not appear to be the case. There was no chill of vaporous hands as they took her motility from her, there was no dulling of thought as a spectral presence threatened to subsume her mind; there was no ghostly presence at all.

For a moment it did not register, she stood stock still and waited for her will to be subjugated. The memory of the melody that had ended her life rang in the sound of distant gunfire and explosions. She mumbled it to herself as she waited. In the distance there were figures, dressed in black hoods, carrying metal contraptions and herded by some kind of moving metal vehicle. Somehow the notion that she would not be a scrap fought over by ghosts hungry to finish off their business in the mortal realm was even more distressing than the idea that she would. The thought that she would have to deal with this event, to process that which she had been told by that thing and potentially do something about it one way or another… Though she would not have admitted as much if she had had the capability she would have called a ghost to her, to take her over so she didn’t have to think, didn’t have to worry, so she could escape the responsibility that had been placed upon her, even if such escape was fleeting.

So she walked and did her best not to think. She hummed along to the empty memory of the tune that haunted her, her eyes cast up at the cloudy grey sky, the oppressing gloom that overshadowed this sorrowful scene. The battlefield on which she walked though now silent bore the scars of a battle waged most brutally. Craters dotted the landscape, and here and there there was the stain of blood, the shells of bullets trodden into the mud, or weapons that had been abandoned, discarded or simply dropped. But missing from this battlefield were the bodies of the dead. Florica did not notice, she had her own issues to deal with and they seemed to involve fervently pretending that none of this was happening.

She walked in the direction of the dark figures. As she got closer she got a better look at what they were doing. A trio of black robed figures was making their way down the centre of the battlefield, the centre one carried a metal hose which connected to what appeared to be a dark purple tank strapped upon his back. Strange shapes like those she had once seen in the city were drawn upon the tank. Those that stood upon either side of him were carrying black candles and chanting an onerous dark chant. Spread out in a line behind them there were other hooded figures. Florica watched as they gathered up the corpses of the fallen and loaded them into the trucks that were moving in pace with the line of cultists. Though she did not, could not, know what was going on, it made her shiver to look upon these figures carrying out their task in solemn silence. Now she noticed that the battlefield she was walking upon had been picked clean of corpses. It was wearily that she contemplated turning back. She didn’t want to confront these men and at the same time she didn’t want to walk away. She didn’t know what she wanted if she wanted anything at all.

Ultimately the decision was made for her; movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention and she turned to see a thing bearing down upon her. It looked like it had once been a woman though now it was better described as a monstrosity; pieces of people that had been stitched together. It was tall and thin, lanky and deceptively quick. Its eyes were the mirror of Florica’s empty dead eyes, its hands like claws of bone and nail wrapping around Florica and lifting her from the ground with seemingly little hardship. She might have resisted more if she hadn’t been so lost in her own mental turmoil, if she hadn’t so been caught by surprise by the light-footed stalker. For a second she stared into the face of the mass of parts that held her aloft, there was a moment where she felt some connection to the thing, or it seemed more likely to her, to what was driving the thing.

Then there was a howl in the distance, quickly silenced by the sound of gunfire. Looking over towards the group of black robed figures she watched for a second as they started hurrying towards their metal vehicles. In the distance a phalanx of indistinct soldiers pressed forwards. The thing that had picked her up took a moment, and then carrying her ahead of it as though she were weightless, it loped towards the trucks. Of all the reactions she might have been having she was mildly surprised to find she was pleased in the same way she had been somewhat disappointed when there had been no army of ghosts to greet her. She did not want to think right now, and while being taken prisoner was not the same as being possessed it offered the same reprieve from blame, from responsibility. Just for the moment she did not want to be acting of her own will, her own volition. She was worried about what she might do if she did.

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Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by One.

Amidst trampled grass and battered earth lay a titan of rubber and steel. Facedown in the dust, he was unresponsive to everything--from his violent relocation to the distant sounds of war. The sun glinted off of his metal carapace. Only the fields of dead grass surrounding him moved, like a sea of amber.

And then Arokht awakened. One massive, barrel-like arm slammed down on the ground as he forced himself up from the dirt. The towering iceworlder bellowed in rage, a roar that echoed across the plains. Never before in his long life had he felt so much raw hatred for a single being. To be torn away from the cusp of his greatest victory, to be forced in front of an alien and be expected to obey its will, to be thrust onto an unfamiliar world filled with unfamiliar life--insult after insult, injury after injury! The Outsider, that insolent being, would pay for its offenses!

Vengeful, frenzied, Arokht turned his anger outwards, smashing and ripping at the pockmarked ground. He swatted at the grass, but it was too soft, too yielding, and his blows swept through them like empty air. With nothing solid for the enraged iceworlder to tear apart, his fury only grew. He roared again, screaming at the sky, the earth, and everything in between.

Growling, he struggled to control his anger. He had no backup. He had no information. He had no orders. He was on his own now, so what he needed the most was a clear, rational mind, not a mind clouded by emotion.

Arokht scanned his surroundings. The field that he had awakened in was covered in tall, withered grass. Here and there, a sparse, spindly tree poked out of the brush. The dark wood was a sharp contrast against the golden grass. A river, swollen with corpses, wound through the plains. There was a patch of trees in the distance, shaded and inviting, providing relief from the searing sun. He heard, farther away, the sounds of a pitched battle: the rapid pops and clicks of gunfire, the bass roar of cannons and mortars, the faint screams of the fallen. Though he itched to be in combat once more, the soldier reminded himself that he was on his own. Charging into battle without backup was nothing less than suicide, even for an iceworlder.

Then came the matter of the other ‘contestants’. They were aliens, to be exterminated on sight. But if that wretched Outsider expected Arokht to kill for the sake of entertaining it, it was sorely mistaken. His temper flared at the thought of it. He was a soldier, not a puppet. For now, he would tolerate the aliens, if only to spite the being.

There was nothing to find and nothing to do here in the grass. Nor did he have anything to gain from staying. Still fuming, the iceworlder trudged away.

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Schazer.

Robin sat on a rock, halfway up a mountain's stony face, and took methodical mouthfuls of half a museli bar. She didn't even remember leaving a snack unfinished at the bottom of her bag, but with the fuzz being almost definitely lint she thanked her past self anyway.

She never did practical work on an empty stomach; if the smell ever crossed the line into offensive Robin rationalised she'd be unwilling enough to waste food. Just one of those things which made her feel a little better about the whole situation - like her current location. There was no track, which meant - barring paranoid snipers taking pot-shots at her - the scientist could do some surveying in peace.

It certainly didn't seem like a good spot for soldiers - arduous to reach if some multidimensional horror hadn't seen fit to place you up here, exposed to not only the Valley proper (Robin considered for a moment, then, finding the weather pleasant enough, put her green coat away and took out the labcoat), but also one side of something Robin decided to call a gorge, with an antlike convoy trickling Valley-ward at its base. Amongst the blackened stumps of a forest where the gorge opened out below her, Robin spied from her perch some kind of building. It was around this that the convoy pooled, and the scientist considered it as good a port of call as any. They might even believe her already-outlandish tail of being tossed here by some eldritch entity, and send her back down the supply trail to civilisation.

Later, though. Robin hadn't heard of any ground broken in the non-existent field of Serendipology, but she could still appreciate the little things. A snack, a chance to get a lay of the land - maybe see some of her bigger or flashier fellow combatants.

On which note...

Robin almost grabbed her netbook, but opted for a biro and the back page of Hoffman et al's latest perspective instead. She glanced across the valley again, making a note of the bigger contraptions dragging themselves across the landscape, then got to scrawling while her memory was fresh.

7 die, one goes home

Me - knows about me

Kate - worm. Young?

Arrokt (sp?) - xenophobe. Huge. Watch out

grave girl - find out more

Blue lady - parasite. Dying. Could help

Robin frowned, adjusting her suitcase a bit on her knees. Three more, she would've remembered if they weren't human. This was going to bug her.

Oh, right. Sonora.

She waggled the pen a bit more, but honestly had no idea what to add. The scientist glared at her incomplete list, remembered something, and was even more frustrated when she couldn't add a name to it.

another name - A she eventually decided on. religious. Weird mask, smoke

Which left one more. This was going to piss her off, Robin could tell. When each and every name was appended with a background churning of associations, it all melded together with only the more exotic stuff sticking out. She went back and made a note that either "grave girl" or "blue lady"'s name started with A, scrawled a few more recollections of what they looked like, and stood up. A bit of scree skipped a very worryingly long fall down the mountainside, and Robin finally came round to the fact that she had the worst possible shoes for this.

She wasn't in any real hurry to negotiate a way down, and confident her perch offered a wealth of valuable information on how not to charge into the thick of something messy or deadly. Robin sat in the pleasant morning sun, labcoat fluttering white and draped over one shoulder, and scrawled and spied to her heart's content.

Robin could, after all, see quite a conceivable future in which she wouldn't get a chance to sit back and relax like this. She intended to make the most of it.

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Jacquerel.

The sudden, unexpected jump from your home to that of a mad god and then further onto a live battlefield was something few could realistically be expected to enjoy, though some react better than others. For Chaete, The Outsider's cataclysmic intrusion into her life was not only an introduction to the other contestants in his little competition but also a primer on the concept that sometimes bad things happen to you and that there's really not a great deal that you can do about it. The abomination's haltingly imperfect speech was no adequate replacement for the near-constant humming and murmuring of the conversations of her siblings and parents and the aberrant touch of its mind in this new silence left a persistent feeling of dread that would have led her to shudder, had its intervention not left her incapable, and what it was saying really wasn't much help either.

Having expected a lifespan in years that would have left that of most of the other contestants insignificant in comparison (though the Sun embedded in the torso of Rachel Wylite might have also expected to enjoy a similarly impressive number) thoughts of her own mortality were almost as alien as the entity that had brought her here to begin with and no less distressing. Worms have no natural predators and the leading cause of death in adults is hunger caused by having eaten everything within a traversable distance, an imminent and violent demise had never previously been on the cards, and on top of the existential dread there was always the fact that The Outsider (whose attempt at appearing humanoid to appease the competitors had the opposite effect on someone who'd been schooled to avoid humans whenever possible, though possibly the effect of something trying but failing to be a man meant that it similarly repulsed everyone else and it was likely to still be less terrifying than his true form) had frozen her in place and thus subjected her to her first ever experience of true helplessness. The sudden inability to move was basically the first time anyone had demonstrated to her that she wasn't utterly in control of every aspect of her own life, ever.

This manifested itself as a sort of panic feedback loop where she became scared and miserable because strange things were happening to her and then even more upset because her instinct to do something about it was thwarted by the fact that she was completely immobile and forced to keep watching. By the time she was whisked out of The Outsider's freezing abode she had got worked herself into such a state that as soon as her body unlocked she dove head first into the ground, her head eclipsed by a blur of spinning molars... only to emerge no more than a couple of feet away, coughing and spluttering and now incredibly filthy. The ground here was buried under a damp sea of churned, reddish mud and it tasted awful. She spat out what she could but as she was essentially built to be a one-way system this didn't have a great deal of effect. Her stomach growled at her in protest. Tantrum temporarily postponed, she allowed herself to start calming down and examined her surroundings between deep gasps for breath.

From her perspective, this new environment was utterly bizarre. Obviously none of the other contestants had been here before and only a few of them would have been familiar with battlefields but it would probably be quite safe to wager than Chaete had been the least prepared of all. She didn't even recognise the sky and the oppressive grey ceiling of clouds weighed down on her as she stared upwards and she was tempted to hide back in the soil again (though a sudden stomach cramp persuaded her otherwise), it felt like she'd been suddenly trapped inside a giant box.

What even was that thing blocking the stars from sight? Was it some kind of barrier? Was she now trapped, as The Outsider had seemed to have promised? The prospect of a new world, while lonely, could eventually have turned out to at least have a few silver linings but how would she find out if she consumed this foul-tasting planet (the prospect of which did not enthuse her) and grew up but was then trapped within a giant sphere? She'd already almost forgotten about the other contestants, the prospect of feeding and then running out of food seeming like a much more dangerous potential outcome than the short term danger of getting killed. The ball of rock on which she had grown up would have been a miner's wet dream had a prospector ever chanced upon it (though none did, and as such it had no name), but it wasn't capable of sustaining any of the most common forms of biological life and lacked any form of atmosphere. The stars had been visible at all times, there had been no air and definitely no water. She even felt heavier than she had done at home, and the involuntary act of breathing (something that perhaps could have at least aided in steadying someone else's move) was just another addition to the swiftly growing list of "new, disconcerting things" (her muscles continued doing it automatically anyway, no sense in wasting free air).

This preoccupation with the sky was perhaps a poor choice of priorities though. She had disregarded the softly shaking ground as just another absurd property of the strange dimension in which she had been unwillingly placed, one that she would have to deal with like the sudden nearness of the horizon and the fact that it was so much harder to lift her head out of the ground, but unlike the sky this vibration wasn't an intrinsic property of the planet but actually the rumbling of distant engines coming ever closer. She was blasted out of her unpleasant reverie by the sounding of a foghorn and the sudden shouting of men.

““Hoist anchor lads! There's something ahead!”

As a pleasant change of pace that Chaete could not possibly have appreciated, this sight would probably have actually been more astounding to someone who wasn't an alien worm (swiftly making up for a life of blissful boredom by racking up new and baffling experiences right and left) who merely saw several oddly shaped heaps of moving metal. Most anyone else would have recognised it as a fleet of whaling boats, haphazardly fitted with treads and forward guns, emerging over a distant hillside and barrelling down the slippery slope towards her.
“That's not one of ours, man the harpoons! For the sea god!”

Even if she hadn't been told by her parents that humans are angry, vengeful creatures that would tie up her in a hold and use her as a space engine she would probably have been able to guess their intent, and at this point she needed very little provocation in order to activate her panic flight mechanisms. With an untranslatable mental squeal of terror, she dug her head into a tiny space between the physical planes and emerged beside a stone cliff face one and a half miles away, leaving a pulsing mid-air wormhole in her wake. When the men in their boats arrived five minutes later, the drivers got out and stared. What kind of crazy weapon did this?
And where could they get their own?

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by crepuscularDissembler.

Amaranth held her head in her hands as the world spun around her. Sadly, vertigo was one of the things that was very difficult to dampen with her abilities. She leaned on the remains of a chain-link fence and considered all that had happened. In a way, the...being had helped her in her path. She had always intended to visit foreign and uncivilized places, and endow them with the Seeds of Salvation. Really, this was almost more than she might have hoped for. After all, on her own planet there was a finite amount of space to conquer. If she continued traveling through worlds like this, worlds populated with humans.....she might do more for the faith than any of her kind had since the days when the religion was young and the prophets were just awaking to the truth. The thought was thrilling.

The requirement of killing others, of course......many of those she had seen in that gap between reality had been humans. Of course, there were those that would simply be unsuitable....that girl with the blue slime turned her stomach. Imagine a Seed germinating in her, only to be turned into jelly by that insidious demon! The others presented their own problems of course....the soldier-alien would be completely unaffected by her smoke, and who knows what "Sonora" even was. But none of them repelled her quite as much as seeing a human body parasitized by an unholy entity. It bordered on heretical. She had never had the scientific talent to be an inquisitor, with their long white robes and their careful studies of the infernal parasites which could turn a human from the Benevolent Guide. But she knew the teachings by heart, and she knew what she had heard about that girl was blasphemous.

As she meditated on what she might do if backed into a corner, something that had been puzzling her about the barren fields she overlooked suddenly came into focus. Those perfectly round holes- surely not natural? They looked almost- almost like-

It took a long minute before she was able to wrestle the burst of fear into something resembling calmness. She controlled the horror, and brought it into a clinical, distant view. So they were using disintegrating weapons here- weapons which destroyed the body, destroyed the nutrient, destroyed the very Seed ins i d e

W-well. She had never feared death. She had not even dreamed in her nightmares she would be forced to encounter something which caused the true end of her life and purpose. A gunshot to the head she could bear, but napalm, dynamite- my god- what if they have nuclear weapons- the words resounded strangely in her head, like the names of horrific prehistoric beasts that had been thought to be dead.

But no, she had to concentrate on the present. With her abilities, it'd be easy enough to steal equipment- she did, after all, need rations and other supplies. Although come to think of it, she had better pick troops without gas masks in their equipment. As for the possibility of converting someone....she would have to be careful. The idea of killing- or for that matter, allying with- the other "competitors" was a barely even a concern to her at the moment. All of her focus was on what she would need to do to preserve and propagate her precious burden.

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

Beneath the sable robes of the cultists who had captured Florica one might have expected ghastly visages, the kind with glowing red eyes and rotting heavily scarred faces; not unlike that of the creature that had grabbed her. This was not correct. Given a second guess one might have concluded that they would be the kind of people who made their already pale skin ashen white through generous application of makeup, with dark bags painstakingly pencilled around their eyes and their lips painted black, or perhaps a dark purple. This would be equally wrong. With their hoods down it was clear to see that they were fairly ordinary looking as cultists went. They were the kind of people someone might instinctively call ‘the salt of the earth’; hard working, honest and who looked like they had done more than their fair share of hard days working. The one who appeared to be in charge had a thick beard and the look of a factory foreman.

There had been something of a lengthy discussion when Florica was brought aboard. Of course, she did not care to listen, she let her mind drift blankly, unconcerned about the world that she occupied and the peril she was in. After some discussion the foreman, drew a dagger and approached her, but even at this juncture, with the threat of the cessation of her existence made loud and clear, her mind was not brought to sharp focus on the situation she was in. She felt hollow, vacant, absent and indeed she might as well have been. Another of the cultists interrupted, waving the equipment she had seen them use upon the battlefield in her direction. Further discussion stemmed from whatever that equipment had shown and the potential repercussions thereof. Eventually the foreman’s dagger was sheathed and the truck rumbled on towards its destination.

The destination as it happened was the High Temple of Inderigo. It was heavily guarded by all kinds of creations manufactured from the bodies and souls of the undead. It would at this point be easy to conclude that Inderigo was a god of death whose goal was simple death and destruction. This would be once again incorrect. The high temple belied his true nature; a massive factory pumping forth pillars of dark black smoke. Inderigo was the god of Industry. Of course when the war had come, it had been necessary for his followers to improvise. Their creed that every available resource ought to be utilised was what drove them to necromancy. There were so many deaths; so many corpses. They were the one resource that was always guaranteed to be in abundance in a battlefield.

And so it was that the temples of Inderigo had been put to such unpleasant use. Machinery that had once manufactured goods people might have needed in their everyday lives now tore apart the bodies of those people and refashioned them into things. Things that were fast, or things that were strong. Things that were adept at moving in the shadows. It was a grisly business and not everybody was in favour of it. High Priestess Scinda might have said in private that they simply did not have the stomach to do what had to be done, but in public she labelled them blasphemers and called for their death; more grist for the mill. It was not that she was not sympathetic. In any other situation she would have never condoned such behaviour. This was a war that they had not asked to get caught in the middle of, but if they were to survive, if Inderigo was to survive, there would have to be some sacrifices.

The high priest herself had not survived; she was fatally wounded by a gunshot from the wife of one of the 'blasphemers'. The decision to retrieve Scinda's spirit and animate it inside a corpse had not been taken lightly; in this time of crisis there was no way to undergo the sacred rituals that would determine a new high priest or priestess. They needed Scinda's mind, one that could guide them through this turbulent time, and well, they already had the technology... It was the rationale that it was better to survive by any means necessary rather than perish with your morals in tact, more than anything else that led this church now. Scinda was reanimated, currently in the body of a priest of Raxis as her own body had grown too rotten for her to use. Scinda felt that the priest's body was a nice touch; a little something that would hopefully intimidate their most dangerous enemy.

The high priestess was knelt at the altar of Inderigo, being the god of Industry this was located upon the factory floor; surrounded by noise and activity. All around her more creatures were assembled for this damned war. It was difficult to pick out any specific noise in the chaos of the factory and it was not until Archdeacon Juba cleared his throat that she was aware that he was there.

“Blessings of Inderigo Juba.” She greeted him without turning around or straightening up. “How went the collection?”

“More than adequate, High Priestess.” Juba replied. “We believe we have captured an enemy spy.” A sombre pause; their move to necromancy was drawing more attention than Scinda had expected. With news of every spy captured she wondered if she had made the right move, or whether they would have been better waiting out this war as they were. Her head told her that yes her logic had been sound, but her traitorous heart was heavy with regret.

“Whose?” she asked.

“We don’t know.” Juba replied. “We don’t recognise her vestments and she has not said a word.” It was only then that Scinda rose, upon feet that were not her own. She turned to look at her trusted Archdeacon and the spy that couple of acolytes were holding upright. If she had not been told otherwise Scinda would have thought they had brought her a corpse. The only indication that she was still alive was the slow rise and fall of her chest.

“Maybe she’s one of Obscura’s?” Scinda said thoughtfully. “Or more likely that fool Vocatur.” After a moment’s contemplation she nodded to herself as though this was the case rather definitively closed. “This body is wearing thin.” She added with a glance down at the muscle-bound arms that did not belong to her. “Kill her and prepare the body for me.”

She was about to return to her prayers when Juba continued. “High Priestess, if I may.” She turned back in his direction expectantly. “One of the initiates noticed something odd about her.” At this point one of the initiates that had been standing patiently nearby produced a piece of apparatus and demonstrated what he had found. Scinda frowned for a moment and then collapsed. Or more accurately the body of the Jaxisian priest now devoid of an occupant collapsed. The spectre of Scinda stepped forwards into Florica’s body.

For Florica it was a moment of relief as her troubled mind was muted. While her consciousness busy with stressful thoughts about battles to the death and beings that she could not even begin to fathom did not vanish entirely, it dimmed. It was like an anaesthetic for the mind. She was, in the very vague way she could be anything while she was hardly there, pleased. As was Scinda. She spent perhaps the best half of a minute simply adjusting to the feeling of being alive again; being back inside a living body. She stretched and flexed Florica’s limbs, as though she was awaking from deep sleep.

“Call a mass; I want to make an announcement.” Scinda smiled faintly. “I… I am born again.”

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Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

The Temple was majestic, or as majestic as a grand hall partially sunken into the ground could be. Suspended from the lopsided, sloping ceiling, high above the stone-set floor, hung on threadbare industrial wire a worn chandelier with half its crystals missing and the other half cracked. Yet despite its circumstance it still held about it a palatial air, like a noble lady stripped of finery yet holding her head high; against the injustices of the universe, against circumstance and reality it shone with a pure white light. It shone above the workers that scuttled below in the business of war, like it had shone above bustling debutantes and dancing brides, balls and banks and business and history hanging on by threads and fingernails on the edge of changeless unknown oblivion in the face of war’s and nature’s inevitable, destructive force, in the faceless maw of entropy and memory’s decay; it shone, shouting out the solid fact that it existed, shining, here and now, and would shine - forever -

Motes of light played across the high-rising beams that dove in arcs across the space; they fluttered and flew in space like stars in a finite, crumbling cosmos doomed to die not the fiery death of the supernova, but the slow, agonizing, depressing demise of the dwarf stars - a cold, cruel, sputtering end to infinite complexity. She felt it inside her twinge slightly, as if it felt its nuclear comrades so close and so far away, and shivered, involuntarily. As she watched the glittering mass, its lights grew brighter - casting wild shards of undulating shadow over the walls, the arched ceiling, the stone and earth floor, and the obsidian altar set just beneath its light, as if attempting to escape it.

A billion glints of light glittered in the altar’s black glass, playing in the velvet cloth and tassels, teasing the yellow flames from the little braziers: look at me look at what i can do - High above, the chandelier tinkled from breezes and the distant percussion of explosives, pouring shaking light and night all through the background noise of war. And its light, joined with the glow of a hundred monitors and diodes and gauges, was all there was in the space - there was barely a beam of the weak day allowed into the hall, shining through gaps and broken windows taped over with plastics and nailed over with planks. The darkness in the temple was pure, absolute, untainted with day, and it spun - about the sparks and motes and their glow, weaving it into itself, warping and twisting it into a form that coalesced, with finality, into a woman, dressed in the black of night.

The standard interpretation of such appearances, especially with metaphorical ideas such as being dressed in night, often dictate that the apparition be clothed in some form of godly (or, if one was fashionably inclined, ungodly) robe made of stars and blackness softer than velvet, moving independently of reality and physics and seemingly encompassing the universe while remaining the same size.

The circumstances of war do not generally lend themselves to standard interpretations.

The Goddess Obscura arrived regaled in leather, studded and dyed raven-black to match Her short hair, a birchwood quarterstaff gripped like a scepter in pale, perfect hand. The armor seemed designed to obfuscate the identity and everything else about its wearer, which - just perhaps - it was. The overall effect was not dissimilar to combining a heavy metal biker with a ninja, with some royal blood and war-torn soldier thrown in. Behind a pair of shades clipped flush with Her visage, Her gaze went where none could follow; it chose to radiate from every patch of shadow, as if the darkness were staring back.

Rachel felt a sudden absence; her companion soldier was kneeling before the goddess.. <font color="#486858">“Your Tenebracity.”

“Lieutenant Mills.” Obscura took Mills’ hand in hers, and pulled him to his feet. “How goes the war?”

The lieutenant saluted smartly, gesturing in Rachel’s direction. “We’ve located the myth you sent us, sir!”

The eyes in the shadow narrowed. “Her?” A dozen invisible stares orbited her, unseen but felt like protrusions in velvet silk, trees on open veldt. ”Not her. This is not one of mine. She-” The gazes became cutting, incisive, darkness delving deep-

light blazing light heat

The dull thud of the staff landing on stone floor, bounces punctuating by the wild discord flailing, twisting, across Her visage. “She is,” She sputtered, “She is light; light!” At a stroke, the quarterstaff was in Her hand, and across her neck, birch scraping metal - “Who sent you?! It was Desolo, wasn’t it?”

Children are taught without fail to make eye contact with a conversation partner, fellow communicator, or simply when eyes are available. But Her eyes were unseen, obscured, and they were the one place that a stare didn’t seem to come. Rachel stared, terrified, into the black glass - “N-no! No one!”

”Or Res Rex, that dead factfucker!” She stopped. “No one?” The shadows lengthened, the cutting gazes returned; now plumbing and searching with care-

Deities are not, on the whole, omniscient; they tend not to know things until they choose to find out. Some gods and goddesses are better at it than others; those who deal in information, clarity, facts often find it easier to understand and plumb the depths of knowledge the world offers up.

It could be, however, that they just know where to look.

On the other end of the scale, the deities of the night, of the unknown cries and calls that come from the rustling shadows, the holies and unholies that play the game in things forgotten, in lies and espionage - they, too, deal in information. Not the hard statistics and solid facts of the Desolo and his like, but understanding - intuition and the sort of serendipitous knowledge that is only found under a web of misinformation and lies, like the shape of a ship in the fog, the nine-tenths lying underwater, unsaid, unspoken existence just underneath the veneer of ignorance. In those uncertain certainties lie the realm of implied truths and political languages, the gods of secrets, the goddesses of subterfuge.

The Goddess of Subterfuge - one of the Night Sisters, of the Dark. Obscura.

And it is very hard to hide something from a goddess that makes hiding somethings Her job.

“You aren’t from here, are you?” It was phrased like a question, She spoke it as if were a question, but there was nothing but statement in her words. There are many things that become certain when the Goddess of Subterfuge is definite. “You’re an unknown. An interloper.” Her voice was dispassionate, cold - superior; a pondering voice meandering on decisions concerning vaporization, among other things. “An outsider.”

If anyone had noticed Rachel flinch, no one passed comment.

She stopped pacing, and turned to face the lieutenant. ”We may use you yet. Mills.”

“Yes sir!”

“The Nightgazer I sent is still out there. Gather a squad to retrieve it. And take this one with you,” She gestured in Rachel’s direction, “and put her to the test.”

He saluted. “Yes, sir!” As activity once more began to bustle, She drew close to him and whispered:

“As far as possible, if you will, lieutenant. And then farther. And then, farther. She is an unknown in the balance of this war. To change that, we need to know what she can do.” She laughed, softly, the kind of laugh that leaks documents and topples regimes.

“And if she dies, one less unknown for us.”
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by XX.

“Hear that?”


“The rain. Hear it?”

He sighed. “It isn’t raining. It isn’t going to rain for the next three days.”

“No,” she said, “It’s raining now. Outside. I can hear it.”

“It isn’t-“

“It’s raining.”

Subcleric Oliver James fell silent, staring broodingly into the flimsy paper cup of coffee they’d given him. It was almost certainly a mistake to have come here. All of his predictions had been wrong, hesitant as they had been. They hadn’t needed the well-wishings of his order, nor his input, nor his corrections to their dreadfully inaccurate method of hierarchal organization. The Hyleoroi conducted themselves like a pack of dogs. The corner of his mouth twitched. Savages.

“Why’s it raining, though?” his guard insisted. Oliver didn’t know her name- Glory or Victory or Virtue or something ridiculous- and he didn’t much care to. In his head she was just one of the faceless mercenary brutes. She towered a full head above him and had muscles like overripe cantaloupes, bulging underneath her fatigues. They hadn’t shared more than three words before now; she had the personality of a plank of wood and had a face to match. Oliver detested her.

“I don’t know,” he said dismissively. He checked his watch: 10 past the hour. His superiors should have responded to his summons by now. What they had been thinking in sending him on a diplomatic mission to the Hyleoroi of all factions was entirely beyond him. They’d grunted and scratched their heads like wild apes for a full fifteen minutes before deciding to stow him in some stinking tent on the border of their encampment. He’d never even seen their leader, this pseudolegendary Cirrha. Or perhaps he had, somewhere in the turmoil of the camp. These barbarians all looked the same to him.

The guard shifted her weight uneasily. Oliver glanced at her, irritated by this sudden burst of what must count among the Hyleoroi as conversation. It was bad enough that he had to endure her pervading horselike reek, but now she was to burden him with her foolish fantasies? There hadn’t been a solid rain on the battlefield in the seven weeks since he’d been stationed in this godsforsaken place. Perhaps the foreign glands the mercenary clans were so fond of implanting in themselves were turning on her, dissolving her higher tissues. Oliver relished the thought. Such augmentations went against every sensibility of his order.

A loud animalistic snort interrupted the subcleric’s revue and he jumped, spilling tepid coffee onto the lap of his tailored robes. The guard had turned away from the tent flap and was looming over the seated Oliver, her dull yellow eyes regarding him distrustfully from her beastly height. With a sharp, sudden motion she swung her gun up and jabbed it at the tent’s entrance, poking its muzzle out through the fabric.

“M’going out there. It’s raining. I can hear it.”

“Fine,” Oliver snapped, appalled by the mercenary’s sudden proximity. Her stench was even worse than he’d expected up close, like catching a lungful from an overcrowded stable. Trying to subtly cover his nose and mouth with the hem of sleeve, he added out of sheer reflex, “Desolo go with you.”

She had already turned to leave. Despite her bulk she slunk through the tent flaps with unnatural grace, barely disturbing them; in the spanse of seconds there was nothing to indicate that she had ever been there except for her fading reek.

The sudden silence in her absence came as a complete surprise. Oliver hadn’t had time to realize just how quiet the camp had been with the guard there; now it shocked him to note that it was completely silent. He’d have thought that with the hooting and howling he’d heard on his way in that the Hyleoroi would be deafening. Not even the omnipresent barking of the mercenaries’ wretched war-dogs was evident. It was as if the camp had fallen into a sudden and all-encompassing sleep.

Such nonsense, Oliver chided himself. There was an explanation. Perhaps the brutes were simply better trained that he had anticipated. Another glorious victory for the Order of Desolo, this knowledge. The High Clerics would be pleased to learn of his discoveries even though he had failed to secure the alliance they were hoping. Desolo’s mercy was indeed great.

From outside, he heard the gentle pattering of rain.
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Schazer.

Robin stared moodily at a placidly vacillating little dongle she'd set up, the lack of impending doom or peril (or any immediate prospects of running into her purported companions) killing her buzz a bit. The animeter's wobbles were intriguing from a scientific perspective, but didn't really point to anything she could get really excited about.

"Gods," she muttered. It was less a sarcastic epithet tried on for kicks; more turned over in her mental hands like a curious idea. Someone launched a few shells in the middle distance, a couple of pebbles slithered down Robin's escarpment.

Hello Abomination
Well met

Robin frowned, packing away the bopping animeter while figuring how best to proceed. A fly landed on her hand, which gave her pause to consider until a nimbus sprung up behind it.

You are a strange one even for a subversion of my Circle
Your ilk ordinarily great artifices of inexorable gravity
Attempts to drag my Circle into one stagnant eternity or the other
Tell me little Abomination
Why am I saying this to you

Robin just shrugged, slowly finding a seat again amongst the scree without disturbing the fly. She adjusted her labcoat a little more securely over her shoulder, idly wishing she could get the rest of her equipment out. Whatever got the bug was channelling let it groom itself for a bit, before it miscalculated Robin's silence as a cocky answer.

You are from elsewhere
Truly godless Abomination

"I'm Dr. Pearson," Robin managed, trying not to sound too offended. She tried standing up, but some rock slid beneath her and she decided introductions would be ok crouching. "Unless that's some kind of religious term that's a bit more flattering where you come from-"

I am from nowhere
Zealots in my name who beg me forsake them
I do not
My Circle does not
They do not call my name for my blessing
They curse me
They curse knowing and the awareness dogging their footsteps as their effortless dance is dissolving in self-consciousness
These others are the gods of men
I precede that and they have all forgotten

The scientist groaned inwardly, feeling like this thing was talking in - oh, right. Duh. "You're an old god, then?"

I predate agriculture

retorted the fly. Robin nodded politely, picking her brains for a segue into a possible escape off the mountainside.

"Could any of your zealots come and get me down from here safely?" Wait, crap. Her companion didn't seem too bothered, although its little halo seemed to dim as if in disinterest. It sprung off Robin's hand, quickly zipping off until Robin lost sight of it. Probably went to go find a corpse to lay its eggs in, or something.

At her feet, a beetle was effused with a temporary radiance.

You are a strange one
But you are finding your place in Zoo's Circle

"Wait, hang on. You're Zoo? That's your name?"

That is the implication

nodded the beetle. Robin assumed it was nodding, or that was what it was trying to do with its little beetle-feelers.

"So you're like, an animal god or something?"

To call me an animal god is to in the same breath call me a plant god
Or a human god
A god of fungi and the beasts of rot and decomposition
A god of the bacterium too though I enjoy keeping their antics to myself
And of course utterly miss the point

Robin just nodded, feeling all right with not carrying a peace missive on one shoulder while in a god's company. She was about to triumphantly exclaim she'd just nailed Zoo's whole Circle imagery he had going, when enough stone came skittering down the hill at once to make her glance peakward.

Four mountain goats were on the next ridge up, but didn't stay there long. Within moments they were hurtling helter-skelter down the skree-slip slope, a rather alarmed scientist being juggled about on the backs of three of them. (The fourth had her briefcase in its mouth, and was irritably and unsuccessfully trying to shake off a halo.)

I am taken to understand this is my High Priest Barbary
They all rather dislike my doing this

The fourth goat barely avoided an extremely disreputable-looking shrub, and appeared to have Robin's animeter stuck on one of its horns. Robin herself finally managed to grab a single goat by the horns, disgruntled as it was by that, and the six (?) of them galloped down the hill.


A rifle's retort, and one goat's oddly-graceful nose-first descent collapsed into a mess of limbs and gravity. Robin felt her grip on her mount trickle away like water even as she tumbled to a halt, barely avoiding catching her briefcase with the side of her head.

She clutched it tight as a cougar that definitely hadn't existed a few seconds ago leapt the wreckage of a war machine, and with much aplomb and shrieking ripped apart whoever had holed themselves up behind there.

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Anomaly.

For a moment, Anila stood in the valley between two very tall, rocky, and sheer cliffs, in a daze. She then began running around and laughing joyously, as if she had just won the lottery. She eventually collapsed on the ground, out of breath, with a big grin spread across her face.

This is great, Wizard Jelly! Great!

I... You... Anila. Were you even listening to the Outsider?

Uh, of course I was. Why do you think I'm so excited?
Anila asked as if the shapeshifter has told her that the sky was blue today.

Anila stared up at the sky. She wondered if it actually was blue today. This wasn't even the same world. Maybe it was red. Or pink. Or green? Green sounded about right. It was probably green above all the clouds.

Anila, I know you love adventure and all, but this isn't like back home. We're either going to kill everyone else or die in the process, and the longer it takes, the more you turn into me! We need to find a way out of here.

Once again, Wizard Jelly, you just don't get it. I guess that's what you get when you live in a pantry for your whole life, though! We don't need to kill anyone. We can just let them do it to themselves! And did you even hear the Outside guy? There might be more gods out here than we have back home! Who knows what we'll find? Let's go!

The shapeshifter couldn't even protest this. It wasn't the first time Anila had gone off on an extremely dangerous adventure despite its protests. Or the second. Or the third, or the fourth, or... honestly, she did this all the time. She was good at surviving, at least. Really good at surviving.

Which was fortunate, because they were now standing in the shadow of a very large, green dragon. Well, it was really more like a manticore mixed with a dragon? Oh, and it definitely had a couple of giant, angry snakes where its tail should have been. Some parts of its body were also made of metal, like half of the dragon head and both of the wings. All of them roared at Anila at the exact same time.

Anila responded by scampering up the rock wall next to the mantragon and leaping onto its back.

"Onward, my steed!" she shouted, pointing her very dull sword ahead of her. The creature tried to shake her off as one of the snake-tails attempted to bite her head off. She smacked it in the face with the "sword", sending it reeling. Eventually, the dragicore stopped struggling and took off into the sky.

Were you seriously worried about me, Wizard Jelly? Look at this guy! Isn't he cute?

I don't think I'm really qualified to call things cute, Anila.

Well, whatever! ...By the way, Wizard Jelly, why did the Insider say I didn't have long to live? You're not a parasite, are you?

The Outsider probably doesn't know anything more about what's happening to you than I do. I think it's wrong, but I can't be sure. That's why we need to escape as fast as possible.

Oh, don't act like that. I think it'll be fun to be wizard jelly! Being human is so limiting sometimes, Wizard Jelly. Besides, if I get tired of it I can find a way to undo it. It's what I do, Wizard Jelly.

The shapeshifter didn't respond. Anila sighed, then leaned back against the dragon head's neck and pulled out her journal.

Date unknown, 13:56

This is great! I'm in some kind of interplanar battle to the death! I'm not even sure where I am, but who cares? I'm already riding a dragon-manticore!

I guess I should decide who to go to first. There are seven others here that I'm supposed to be fighting or something!

It's so hard, though. All of them are so different from everything back home! There's this big worm thing with metal arms and all kinds of eyes, and someone who can talk to the dead, and a big armored thing, and there's even a necromancer who doesn't live in a big black tower and doesn't even want to use her abilities to take over the world or kill everyone or something! It's so hard to decide!

There are also some new gods here, maybe? I didn't even know there were more than eleven! Maybe these are actually the same ones. I hope this thing takes me to one of them.

Oh hey there's some kind of building over there. Built into the side of a mountain and everything! It also looks like it's made of metal, and there aren't really many windows. Who builds something without windows? I like windows. Maybe I can help them with that, because that's where Mantragon is going.

Anila hurriedly put her journal away as the creature landed next to the building's entrance.

"Welcome to the temple of Vísindi, outsider," the manticore head said to Anila. So it talked? She didn't even expect that for some reason. She waited around for a few moments, expecting something to happen, before the door in front of her finally swished open noiselessly. A man with unkempt white hair, a long, white, buttoned-up robe, and a pair of goggles on his forehead stepped out, pulling the black rubber gloves from his hands as he did so.

"Ah, very unusual," the man said. "It's not often that Kísérlet here lets strangers live, let alone ride her all the way here. You must have some thing special going for you, kid. Now then, follow me. I'm sure Vísindi wants to speak to you personally!" The man chuckled to himself. Vísindi certainly wasn't a god that Anila had heard of, which only made her more gleeful. She was going to be the first from her world to speak to him! Or her! She anxiously followed the priest into the temple.
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by crepuscularDissembler.

Amaranth crept forwards through the undergrowth towards the small outpost where a single soldier lay asleep. She had turned her back to the desolate center of the combat as quickly as possible, making her way towards the cliffs as the woods gradually came in around her. She would have liked better camouflage, but sadly little could be done for the purple of her current uniform. And the heavy armor, well...she let out an annoyed breath as she shifter her weight.

Not that stealth mattered too much at this point. With her little puffs of smoke infiltrating the air, the soldier was unlikely to wake up any time soon. Still, it paid to be careful. She continued her movement until she was close enough to be confident that he was getting more than enough pollen to not stir for anything.

Amaranth picked through the meager equipment. Of course an army would stock guns and ammunition before they brought food, but really. She would have to leave this soldier with less than she would have liked to. Not that it made her feel especially guilty. While she fully romanticized the idea of dying for her religion, killing for it was a disgusting idea. Not unknown to her, as the bombs had been, or even especially frightening. Really rather sad and revolting, if she had to put her finger on it.

Still, this was a rather perfect opportunity, wasn't it...she rubbed at the place where her container of seeds dug lightly into her skin, calculating.
I should leave at least one here...if I carry them all with me I run the risk of losing them all at once...
The forest was still and the sleeping soldiers chest moved lightly up and down, any sin swept from his face by the deep relaxation of the artificial slumber.

Amaranth came to a decision.
If the woods had not been so pleasant, if the ground not so fertile, she might not have made taken this chance. But as it was, she gently pried open his mouth, placing one precious fruit as far back as she could. Tilting his neck backwards, she rubbed his throat as she had been taught. He swallowed, and Amaranth felt an amazing sense of personal satisfaction well up. She got up, legs shaking slightly as she struggled to master her joy. She tried to focus on the task at hand, and not the further-off goal of doing this again. Despite the euphoria, she managed to consider her options and what direction she would take next.
I wonder if there's some sort of limit to the area of this contest, or if I can wander away from the center for miles if I want to. It'd be a rather large oversight....but I suppose only one of us will die here, after all. Who knows, the next round might pen us up in a tiny room.
Shouldering what she had decided to take from this outpost, she continued deeper into the woodlands.

If she hadn't come to this decision, if she hadn't been buoyed up by the mild success of finally fulfilling what she had been training to do for years, she might have been more careful in what equipment she took. But as it was, she never even noticed the tracker sewn into the cloth of her stolen pack, silently pinging its location outwards.

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by XX.

Oliver ran.

The forest was cold and dark, thick with the smell of rain and blood. His feet pounded over leaves and mud in rhythm with his heart, beating hard enough for him to taste it in his mouth: iron and fear and mindless, animal panic. Trees appeared like ghosts before him from out of the fog, a cage of branches and thorns that slapped and clawed at him with every step, filling his mouth with leaves and nettles, lashing him with thorns and twigs. He couldn’t see where he was going, couldn’t see anything but thick black fog pouring up from the ground where his bare feet had stepped. His lungs were on fire, his hands a bleeding mess of scrapes and bruises, his vision blurry with blood and dirt.

The forest howled with the cries of war-dogs and screaming soldiers, following him at every turn, every dodge he made away from the endless trees. They were behind him, always a step behind him, roaring in his ears.
“Mercy,” they cried, “Mercy! Kedemonas, mercy! Something wet slapped against his heels and he stumbled, smashing his arm against a wayward trunk and stumbling off to the side. His head swam with pain but he had no time to stop, had no time to-


Something slammed into his stomach and he fell heavily, skidding on his knees against the soaking undergrowth. His face crashed into a branch and he gasped, scrambling for grip on anything, everything, rough bark jutting into his hand but melting into something cold, cold as ice as it wrapped around his hand and forced it down to the ground. It struck his other hand and bent it backwards as Oliver kicked blindly at the fog, his boots hitting only air. His hands were frozen, numb from the elbows down. He tugged them frantically, desperately; he couldn’t feel his fingers, couldn’t feel his wrists, the dogs howling and howling in his ears through the fog and the forest. He heard gunfire, impossibly, the screams of women and children and wolves coming up from the ground, deafening, deafening.

“Save yourself,” he heard a woman whisper, “You can make it if you run. There’s no hope for me,” and she screamed and screamed and screamed.


Cirrha’s desk was neat, orderly; unexpectedly so for a mercenary captain. Thick hide-bound notebooks lay neatly stacked on its polished surface, trimmed in fine gold banding and well-worn with use. Fat inkwells lay side by side in every color a man could reasonably desire to write in like fat, glittering jewels. Even the polished skull resting on a stack of papers had been relentlessly cleaned and shone like fine china in the light of the torches. It was on this that Cirrha’s gnarled hand restlessly tapped, claws clicking on the dead man’s teeth.

“One sixth of the roster, sir, just gone,” his lieutenant told him, ears folded back against her head in submission. He could smell her fear, the same quailing uneasiness that had flooded his camp when the news spread that the Second Regiment had vanished with not a single hint of scent to follow. “Fifty men and sixteen hounds. They took nothing with them, not even their guns. They’ve just disappeared.”

Cirrha said nothing. The camp was quiet, subdued by the loss. He could hear the whimpering of his men in their tents, speaking in hushed tones of the deceased. It was only protocol that lead his officers to speak of desertion and other lies; there was no doubt in the Hyleoroi captain’s mind that the missing soldiers were dead. This was war.

“Recover their gear,” he said, his voice a rumbling growl from the wolf’s head that sat atop his shoulders. His nose wrinkled with distaste. “Tell those that remain to wait. We will make the best of this situation.”

His aide nodded and silently left, squaring her shoulders to face the waiting troops outside. She knew better than to pester him further. Cirrha watched her go, a foul taste in his mouth. He’d suffered bigger losses than this on many occasions, more than he could count, but never with such unnatural abruptness. The rear vanguard, vanished: no bodies, no cries, nothing to indicate that his soldiers had ever existed except for the guns that had fallen where they had been abandoned. Many had been found still in the locations of their owners’ posts, warm and without a single bullet fired.

He rose from his chair and stalked to the front of his desk, rifling through his books. It was too obvious. The boy from the Desolan Clergy had arrived mere hours before the disappearance. He’d spoken to the softskin himself. Slowly Cirrha felt his hackles begin to rise as he poured through the pages, searching for any hints, even the slightest indication that the situation was not exactly as it appeared. Did his enemies take him for a fool, executing such a simple ploy? Did they think a wolf’s brain led the Hyleoroi as well as its head? Angrily the captain slammed the book shut, the boom echoing far outside his tent accompanied by panicked yips. There was nothing that led him to believe this was a mere child’s jest by one of the other clans. The Eleionomae, the Lampades, the Seirenae, any of them. Possibly more than one, working together to bring his army down. The Hyleoroi were the strongest mercenary faction on the field. It was perfectly understandable for those of lesser strength to attempt such an underhanded ruse. The only question that remained for him to discover was how they had managed it under the noses of his guards.

Growling, Cirrha padded to the back of the tent to where an ancient wooden altar was somewhat awkwardly jammed between bookshelves and artillery racks. More than half his height, it was long enough to accommodate two moderately sized victims laying head-to-head and two grooves hollowed out of its surface indicated this was the traditional placement. Carvings of impossible intricacy covered every inch of it: birds and beasts, men and gods, each hair and feather and scale detailed in unearthly precision, the wood flowing like finest silk over even the most delicate of figures. Its table was stained a deep, dark brown atop the dull sheen of the polished oak, the product of a hundred years of sacrifice. Reaching into one of the many canisters hanging from his belt, the captain produced a thin glass vial and shattered it across the altar’s surface, over the gaping mouth of a horned man holding a knife in each hand. The preserved blood trickled down through the cracks of the carvings as he felt the tent fill with the fecund heat of the First Forest, reeking with life and the scent of ancient loam and rock.

“Kedemonas,” Cirrha intoned, spreading his claws over the altar, “Your children call you. Heed us.”

With a great creaking of wood the horned god twisted fluidly within the carved pantheon, raising one of his daggers above his head and slowly revolving to face the Hyleoroi captain. His fanged mouth broke into a wide smile with a painful cracking. Respectively Cirrha knelt, bowing his head before the Hyleoroi’s patron; he could feel the god’s eyes on him from the altar and felt the all-too-familiar twinge of reverent terror.

“Rejoice, child,” the god spoke, stirring Cirrha’s fur with the depth of his voice, “The Forest comes. The River moves in the realm of men. Mourn not for the taken, those whose souls walk the hidden paths. The earth will claim what is owed.” Around him the rest of the altar began to writhe into life, tendrils of plants intertwining with the slender legs of deer and herons stalking through the forest. At Kedemonas’ feet, a nubile maiden clad only in flowers turned toward the figure with an expression of rapture on her face.

“May their hunts never end,” the captain said curtly. He dared not hold the god’s attention long. He’d seen the results of that particular folly. “Watcher in the Woods, Lord of Hunters, an enemy stalks us who dares not reveal their treachery to the light of honest day. Grant your servant knowledge of the interloper and you shall have ten times what they take from us as sacrifice. We swear it to you by the roots of the old forest and the hearts of the firstborn men.”

The altar groaned with strain as the horned god raised the second dagger and brought the blades down into the chest of the waiting maiden, who collapsed gracefully to the floor of the wooden forest at his feet as she had done countless times before. “The River bears itself to you, my children. A daughter of the silent sound now hunts this world. The one you seek is not yet lost.”

A tense moment passed before the captain offered the ceremonial gesture of parting. Painfully sparse as the answer was, Cirrha knew better than to press the god. He’d offered him too much already. “Our endless worship, Kedemonas. Grant us swiftness and cunning and we will hunt the earth bare in your honor.”

The scent of earth and blood began to fade from the tent as the carving of the horned god grew rigid and became mere wood once more, the faintest smile still visible on the settling figure’s face. Cirrha stood, brushing the dust from his clothes. Kedemonas had been as cryptic as ever, but he was practiced enough to know when the god was being gracious enough to grant him a boon. He had little doubt whom the god had meant by “the one you seek”. As for the daughter… Kedemonas did not recognize those not born of the ancient earth. He would not have imparted the information had he not intended his cult to find her and bind her to their efforts. It made little difference that the thing had murdered his men. Cirrha was not of the sentimental breed.

The captain burst through the flaps of his tent with renewed vigor, scattering the contingent of lieutenants and officers waiting to present him with their endless petitions, always in need of revisions and confirmation. He was glad for once to have an excuse to leave this pomp and circumstance behind and stalk the forest once more as Kedemonas had intended.

His aide came loping up to him with hopeful eyes, sensing his purpose. “Sir,” she barked, “Orders?”

Cirrha swept the gathered Hyleoroi, watching them slip from the rigid stances of men into the easy grace of wolves as they caught the scent of his bloodlust, panting at the sudden chance of prey. They snarled eagerly among themselves, dropping their ledgers and pens to the ground, stamping them into the mud. “Gather a pack,” the captain growled, watching his men begin the transformation with feral pride. “Sweep the forest. Our guest is waiting. We no longer hunt men, my brothers. Our god has seen fit to deliver us some finer prey.”
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by One.

There was no point in stealth in the plains. Arokht’s dark blue armor, with its striking contrast to the wispy, golden grass, was impossible to conceal, though his sheer size made it difficult to find adequate cover anyways. Not that Arokht wanted to hide. According to his chronometer, he’d been wandering for slightly more than fourteen minutes, all without something to properly vent his frustration on. He’d tried, though. In the wake of his travels lay a trail of shattered trees and frozen earth.

Occasionally he’d stumble across the site of some recent skirmish, where the bodies were still fresh and the casings were still warm, but where the survivors had already moved on. In order to glean more information about this alien battleground, Arokht would pause in his wanderings at these sites to examine the corpses. They were humans, the same humans that his old enemy worshipped as gods. But here, instead of robes and linen, they wore armor and carried guns. Arokht thought it was strangely amusing to see their gods kill each other in such brutal ways.

The humans’ projectile-based weapons were strikingly primitive in Arokht’s eyes. His own armor was built to withstand them and more. It would take sustained fire for the humans to have a chance of wounding the iceworlder, long enough for Arokht to pulverize them. That is, if the humans could manage to focus on killing him instead of each other. He’d identified at least half a dozen different factions, all marked by their own unique armor and colors. Close by lay a soldier dressed in what seemed to be archaic medieval plate armor. A little ways away lay a soldier in a sand-colored uniform, his head blown clean off by a sniper’s round. In the distance was a tank, its chassis still burning, charring the ornate designs engraved into its hull. It was total war. Arokht found it beautiful.

But among all the human casualties were a few anomalies. On the site of some battles, where the fighting had been particularly pitched, lay unusual bodies. They were as varied as the humans themselves. On one such battlefield lay the disjointed parts of some sort of bronze and iron automaton. Its limbs had no apparent way of connecting to each other. A pair of tesla coils sprouted from its shoulders. Further off was the shattered corpse of a spider twelve feet across, its body made of coral and algae-covered rock. Arokht was currently poring over a humanoid giant that seemed to be made entirely out of jagged metal. While human soldiers posed little threat to him, these beasts would no doubt be fearsome opponents if the iceworlder ever had to fight them. His mandibles clacked in delight at the prospect.

While Arokht was certainly simple-minded, that was more a result of his military upbringing than any lack of intelligence. His thought process revolved around war, the fighting of. So while he appeared engrossed in the metal corpse before him, he always kept one eye on his motion sensor in case somebody tried to sneak up on him.

Then a voice just behind him called out, <font color="#008080">“Hail, son of—“

Arokht whirled around, bringing his cannon to bear at the undetected intruder. His mind raced into action. His four eyes, swiveling independently, swiftly brought his ambushers into focus.

There were four of them, each dressed in blue and teal uniforms that fully concealed their bodies. Three wore padded coats with plates of armor buckled to them, protecting their upper bodies. Similar plating was strapped to their knees and shins, over similarly padded pants and boots. They carried rifles. Arokht had seen corpses in similar armor scattered across the plains.

The fourth wore a heavy robe with a plastic sheen to it. Over the robe was armor similar to that of the other three, if slightly thinner. This one was strangely unarmed. All four wore gas masks that covered their faces, with bulky breathing apparatuses and opaque lenses. The robed one had a smaller, less cumbersome rebreather, although Arokht could not tell whether this was because it more advanced or because it was simply less armored.

“—Frigidus, Father Winter!” finished the robed one. “I am brother Gelu, chaplain of Section 23 of the Frostsworn Field Corps.”

Despite their sudden appearance, Arokht held his fire, intrigued by the humans’ curious behavior. The three in the combat armor were kneeling behind the robed one, whose arms were outstretched in a vaguely dramatic fashion. It stood tall and proud in front of the huge iceworlder, but the shaking of its limbs suggested nervousness, or fear. What really gave Arokht pause, however, was the fact that it was speaking his language. The iceworlder tongue was guttural and rough, usually impossible to pronounce with simian vocal chords. But here it was, being spoken like a native by a human.

As the chaplain continued to speak, Arokht let his cannon fall, settling into a more relaxed stance. Brother Gelu had piqued his curiosity. At the same time, the iceworlder tried to figure out why his motion sensor had not detected Gelu and his soldiers.

His sensor was not particularly sensitive, but it was quite advanced. Rather than tracking all motion on the battlefield, it only showed those that fell into a certain size and temperature range: the average for sentient carbon-based life. For these soldiers to have bypassed his sensor meant that either their armor completely masked their body heat or they were as cold as corpses.

“Of twelve crusaders, we four are all that remain. We are lost and afraid. We desire guidance, Son of Winter. I, Brother Gelu, humbly beg you for your aid, and to strike back at those who would destroy us.”

Brother Gelu knelt, bowing his head and extending a gloved hand, but was met with silence from the giant.

Arokht tilted his head quizzically. He had no idea what a Son of Winter was, but suspected that it was similar to one of the nonhuman corpses he’d seen. And these soldiers had mistaken him for one. Under normal circumstances, he would have crushed the humans and been done with it. Humans were aliens, and alliances or not, aliens were meant to be killed.

But these weren’t normal circumstances. Arokht was alone on this hostile world, so any offers of allegiance were a blessing. Not to mention that having a few natives around meant that they could serve as guides, thereby assuaging his complete lack of information.

Accepting Gelu’s offer seemed to be the most prudent course of action, but doing so would go against everything that Arokht knew.

There was silence for a few minutes more. Arokht tapped his secondary limbs’ fingers in indecision.

Gelu was undeterred. Demons of winter tended to give worshippers the cold shoulder at first.

Then Arokht extended one of his secondary arms, enclosing the chaplain’s hand in one four-fingered embrace.

“Very well,” rumbled the iceworlder.</font>
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Jacquerel.

The towering white cliff face had initially provided a surge of hope, a vast outcropping of minerals free of any of that detestable muck from earlier would have been wonderful. But alas its appearance proved deceptive as the origins of its white colouring were revealed to be copious deposits of chalk, as much crushed ancient seashells as honest rock, and it tasted revolting. Chaete had grown up both on and eating a planet containing absolutely no forms of life that were not directly related to her, and none of them had been dead or crushed into any kind of mineral. While she could certainly digest this new planet which so far appeared to be made almost entirely out of bits of dead things (there were few things she could not digest, if the occasion called for it) the flavour was both foreign and unpleasant. It wasn't really helped by her species' evolved aversion to accidentally eating anything that might still actually be alive either.
If she'd nerved herself up and actually just tried digging downwards for a short while then she would have found that the soil layer was only about two meters deep, but I think she can perhaps be forgiven for being a tad unwilling to eat her body's length in mud and find this out.

Thus deprived of her preferred method of transit Chaete was reduced to dragging herself along the ground with her mechanical arms, leaving a snaking trail in the leaf litter behind her with her tail as she lurched away from the cliff face and under the cover of the nearby trees. It was both slow and undignified but she really couldn't bring herself to make another blind jump through space on an empty stomach (especially with no guarantee that it would actually help, she'd still be stuck in the same valley). She could perhaps have moved faster by dropping herself completely onto the ground and slithering like a snake but this would not only have looked even more ridiculous but she'd also barely be able to see where she was going; her eyes were placed for fast, forwards movement through solid substances that you usually wouldn't want flying into sensitive areas which meant that the bony protective plates around her eyes also blocked a fair amount of her forwards vision, not that there was usually much to see underground in any case.
The one consolation was that the carpet of leaves on the forest floor was far more solid than the sickening, rusty mud that she had landed in at the start of the round. Her sides were already becoming plastered with various pieces of bark and plant life that had gotten stuck to the dirt which she hadn't managed to scrape off against the chalk cliffs.

About twenty minutes later, one of the seamen plucked up the nerve to step through the shimmering hole which she had left hovering in the air in front of their tank formation, to the cheers of his shipmates as he was not immediately vaporised. The gateway clearly wasn't large enough to accommodate one of their ships but they could march men through it two or three abreast, if they so desired, and just imagine the practical applications of that if they got their hands on one of their own. Teleportation has billions of practical applications even outside of wartime, the idea of another faction having it was deeply worrying and so as soon as they had established via GPS that this was what they were actually dealing with, acquisition of whatever created it became a pretty high priority.
Why a lone unit carrying experimental technology would be out scouting them alone was a mystery, especially if it had the limitation that they couldn't close portals behind them and would thus leave a fairly obvious trail, but it was certainly a lucky break and important enough that they couldn't risk too much time worrying about how disturbingly easy it all was. Ceraceros's followers were a little lost in the war-torn valley, they'd come for the war and to defend their pride but they'd had to drive their re-rigged whaling fleet over many miles of land before they reached the battlefield and the months without view of the sea was starting to make some of their soldiers a little landsick. It was just unnatural, the way the ground stayed all still like that (at least it did whenever the Earth Clan weren't around).

Their mildly ridiculous forces had been smashed against the cliffs like rocks hurled by a tidal wave, their morale was low and they really needed any kind of lucky break they could get their hands on. They really weren't in the position to look a gift horse in the mouth, although the sheer lack of caution displayed by their new quarry was slightly worrying in itself.
Chaete's species (as was previously discussed) usually enjoyed a lifestyle of being really big and living in space and thus the only ones who were ever predated upon by anyone were the unfortunate eggs who landed on already inhabited planets and thus had basically no chance of continuing on the species' genetic line anyway. The planet of her youth had features no trees, no predators and nothing more risky than the occasional game of hide and seek with a bunch of sycophants who would always let her win. Her instincts for surviving and avoiding detection in a deciduous forest (during a war) could therefore be summed up with a single blank piece of paper.
The followers of the Great Lord Narwhal could hardly be described as master trackers of beasts on land as their expertise (perhaps slightly paradoxically) revolved more around whaling, but it really didn't take an expert to follow a clear undulating trail through the leaves, marked at the sides by ravaged bushes and the occasional tree with bite marks in it (pulped masses of splinters spat at their bases, apparently trees aren't made of stone either).

As if this wasn't enough, Chaete decided to pick this moment to hammer home her mastery of woodlands survival via the psychic equivalent of shouting loudly in an attempt to gather someone's attention. Birds exploded from the undergrowth as their heads were suddenly filled with the sound of mental tuning, extraordinarily similar to the noise you get when you hold a microphone up to its own speaker. Having never encountered aliens before she was actually totally unaware that she'd be transmitting to absolutely everyone within a certain radius rather than only other worms, it had just gotten to the point where she could no longer stand the unnatural quiet inside her own head which was normally filled with the whispers of her brothers and soothing words from up above.
Worm eggs scatter in clutches pretty much at random throughout the universe and therefore do occasionally land in places where they aren't wanted, like on worlds that are already occupied by animals. As far as the species as a whole is concerned these children are (as much as their parents lament it) basically genetic dead ends as a girl worm will meet active resistance trying to eat such a planet (and even if she manages to finish it off will grow up weird and unsociable from all the dead things talking in her head) and all the boy worms (if they survive life while no longer at the top of a food chain of one) just sit around not being mated because no sane girl is going to swallow a planet with a functioning biosphere. It was Chaete's hope that she'd landed on such a planet and thus the otherwise useless males would therefore leap to her rescue, but this was fairly unlikely as there wasn't really even any guarantee that The Outsider had put them on a planet in the same dimension and there was a distinct possibility that she was not just the only Space Worm on the planet but the only one within this sphere of creation.
Also her idea that they'd just rush to help her out might not have gone to plan even if these theoretical guys had existed. Having to live on your own, essentially abandoned by your parents in a weird environment that is trying to kill you usually disenfranchises people from the societal quirks like “girls are more important than you are” that they would otherwise have grown up with.

This new sourceless voice both aided and disconcerted Chaete's maritime hunters. If nothing else it did tell them that there was something nearby; though the sound appeared to be coming from every direction at once and so close that it must be directly on top of their heads it still wasn't hard to follow her trail of minor wreckages to figure out where she'd gone. The problem arose from the fact that it was talking to them via a means hitherto experienced only in the presence of the divine, which made them begin to worry that they might be slightly out of their league. The words themselves were also a bit of a problem because even as hardened soldiers they felt a little uneasy hunting something that was both repeatedly calling questioning greetings and begging for aid (apparently in fluent English), though as most of them had fought Sirens before they assured each other that there was always the possibility that this was some kind of trap. In a war led by gods, there's plenty of things that might want to lure a small group of soldiers into danger with counterfeit cries for help, especially after getting them away from the larger body of their army via a magical gateway.
Still, Chaete's feckless disregard for stealth (and blissful unawareness that she was even calling anyone's attention in the first place) did at least have one silver lining in that it convinced the squad to loosen their grips on their harpoon guns. They probably wouldn't shoot her on sight now, though after introductions were over all bets were off especially if they learned that the ability to make fancy space holes didn't come in the form of a device that they could just confiscate from her.

Considering the ruckus she had been making, she could have had it much worse. Still blissfully ignorant of any threat to her life at all, she'd have to hope that there wasn't anything less... merciful haunting the woods nearby.
There were worse predators at loose on the Gods' battlefield today than even the least fortunate of her siblings would ever have had to contend with.

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Anomaly.

The Temple of Vísindi was very different from most of the temples on Anila's world. Unlike the usual fare - stone walls, marble pillars, intricate carvings, and the like - the entire temple seemed to be made out of a bland grayish metal plating. The clank of Anila's boots on the tiled floor echoed throughout the corridors - naturally, were she attempting to be stealthy she would have taken them off beforehand, but as such she was probably perfectly safe. Almost disappointingly safe.

One of the many metal doors that lined the corridor noiselessly retracted into the ceiling as Anila and the priest guy wandered past. Inside, Anila noticed a series of overly-intricate machines hooked up to a large tank of an opaque blue liquid. It reminded her more than a little of the shapeshifter inside of her, except for the fact that it was a lot larger. There were also some cables extending into the mass, though to what purpose Anila couldn't tell. Not that she was afraid to ask.

"Hey, priest guy! What's the blue stuff in the tank over there?"

The priest bothered neither to face Anila or stop walking forward as he answered. "Nothing of particular interest. Just a fluid we suspend our test subjects in."

"Well, that's not that... Wait, test subjects?"

"Ah, yes, of course. You don't think that dragon-manticore hybrids create themselves, now, do you? Kísérlet is just one of many of our creations for this war! She was once a priestess here, before she received the blessing of Vísindi himself!" The priest laughed again. Anila didn't really see what was funny about it, but hey, that was pretty awesome. She quickly made it her goal to get one of these blessings for herself if possible.

The priest soon led her into a small, enclosed cylindrical room which, at his request, moved upward for a few seconds before stopping again. Anila had never seen anything quite like this before, being from a world where elevators are an entirely foreign concept. She didn't bother to ask about it, but Vísindi was starting to look a lot better than every single god in Anila's world.

A stark, white-paneled hallway finally led the two into a large, open room, large rubber cables snaking across the floor and through the air, machinery omnipresent save for a small path leading to the center. There resided what looked vaguely like an altar - two large poles rose from either side of a rectangular panel, each topped with a large silver disc. All of the cables in the room attached into the large, cylindrical machine behind the panel, innumerable blinking lights covering its surface. Ancient writings covered much of the machinery, especially the alteresque panel, including a large number of indecipherable equations of some sort. Chemicals of many colors poured through transparent pipes all along the outer walls, as well as into the central machine, many of them intermixing before being routed back out.

The grinning priest pulled his goggles over his eyes and placed his black gloves on his hands as he knelt before the altar.

"Great Vísindi, the disciples of Science call for you. A new one has come into our presence, quite eager to aid our cause." The room began to dim, and the two discs began to crackle with electricity, throwing great bolts of lightning into the air, but managing to not destroy any of the machinery.

"Come to us, God of Science!"

A series of black screens all around the room began displaying a figure, resembling at first the priest who knelt before the altar - lab coat, goggles, wild hair. However, it quickly became apparent that the figure moving freely from display to display was not, in fact, human, or for that matter even humanoid. Its appearance constantly shifted - a human, a blob of flesh covered with eyes, a mechanical dragon - the only constants were the presence of the aforementioned garb.

"Ah, a new subject! Anila Vakmero, is it? Of course it is. Nothing hides from SCIENCE!" This last word echoed for an unnatural amount of time.

"Now, then, Anila, why have you come here? What is your purpose in visiting these halls?"

"Purpose? To see where that manticore-dragon thing came from, of course! Really impressed with that, actually. Good work! By the way, how does one sign up for that sort of thing?"

Anila, I am fairly certain that it would be a very bad idea to have that procedure performed on us.

Oh, relax, Wizard Jelly. They know what they're doing here! Think of all the things we'd be able to do that we can't now. Number one: flying!

Number two, being incapable of fitting inside of a building. I'm not sure the world's greatest adventurer would have nearly as much fun digging around inside of a wizard's tower through the windows.

You're no fun, Wizard Jelly. I mean I guess you're right, but still.

"Of course, how could I have missed that?" a man with a shark's head said as it drifted to a large screen behind the altar. "You've got a symbiote inside of you! It even looks to be turning you into one yourself. You don't need my help with something like that. If you're really lucky, you might even survive the process."

The god paused for a few seconds, a rapidly-increasing number of eyes staring at Anila. "How unfortunate. It appears that your symbiote was created by a wizard, rather than the glory of SCIENCE! No matter, though. In the end, they're essentially indistinguishable! Everything you see around you could be either one, but you'd never quite no for sure. And that's the fun of it!"

"I like you, Vísindi. None of the gods back home have the same level of style you do. Except maybe Skaza, but most people don't agree with me on that one. Don't know what's wrong with him. He's just a chaos god and all."

"Back home?" the winged velociraptor on the screen asked. "Ah, of course! You don't come from this world at all! I should have guessed from the beginning. Brought here by a higher being... Yes, that makes sense. There are others as well."

"Yeah, there are others. It's hard to decide which one I want to meet first! There are so many to choose. Some kind of shadow thing that kills people, a worm with all kinds of eyes and these robot arms... I think she eats planets or something. Oh! There's also this huge armored ice soldier thing. He seems the least human besides the shadow thing. I want to go see him."

"So quick to leave, are you, Anila?" a centipede-human hybrid with an excessive number of arms intoned, barely as a question at all. Very well. I'm sure you will return, after all. None can turn away from the light of SCIENCE!" Silently, Anila wondered how many more times he would shout that word.

"I suppose you don't know where to find such a creature yourself. The Valley is quite a large place, after all. I have a quarrel with few gods myself, so you're probably safe for the most part. Just stay away from Obscura and Desolo, unless you intend to take on their forces yourself. These gods believe they have command of what is and is not, what is fact and what is fiction. In reality they are both fools! They know that the absolute truth is mine and they hate me for it! Now go forth, Anila Vakmero. Find allies if you like. If you are looking for one of ice, the few remaining forces of Frigidus may be an excellent place to look. High Priest Altes here should be able to help. Now go, and try not to die! Vísindi laughed at these last words, his very spidery visage fading into blackness as the electricity discs shut down.

"Well, you heard him, Altes! I've got an iceworlder to find!"

The priest drew his goggles from his face. "Finding one such as that will not be easy. The troops of Frigidus are known to be extremely difficult to track, at least by most of our devices. Fortunately, we've stolen a bit of technology from Raxis's followers, designed specifically to find those of such low body heat."

He pulled a small box from his labcoat and mumbled into it for a few moments before continuing. "By the way, Raxis is another you may want to watch out for. He's the God of War, and he's the reason everyone's fighting in the first place. As far as he cares, everyone's his enemy."

"So what's this technology you mentioned?"

Altes paused for a few moments, as if waiting for something to arrive on cue. The maniacal grin on his face slowly died down when he realized that no one was arriving in a timely manner. He tapped his foot for a few more seconds, and another, probably-lesser priest ran into the room with a small metal rectangle, a screen occupying one side.

Altes cleared his throat. "The display on this device will inform you when any of Frigidus's followers are nearby, and will point you toward them. It's refined slightly from the original design and works a little better, but even the original was enough for Raxis's army to wipe out most of Frgidus's. Don't let it fall into the wrong hands. Don't want even more war on our hands!" Another fairly inappropriate laugh. What was so funny about this stuff?

"Anyway, go talk to Kísérlet. She'll take you wherever you like. Goodbye, outsider."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"So what's it like being a manticore-dragon thing?" Anila asked, reclining against the priestess's dragon head.

"Very different from being a human," Kísérlet replied. "It's pretty nice though. A lot easier to destroy our enemies, for one thing. You're a lot more skilled than most people who try to fight me."

"I try. Does it bother you that you can't fit inside of buildings anymore?"

"Well, sometimes, but the blessing of Vísindi is usually a mixed one. I'd say the good parts outweigh the bad. It's not often that a priest or a priestess gets to be-"

Anila's conversation was interrupted by a muffled beep from the device stowed in her coat. She whipped it out immediately, and was informed that a small group of Frigidus's followers - four, in fact, plus an unidentified fifth being. They were very close, too - practically directly under them.

"Sorry to cut this conversation short, but our target's directly below. See you later, Kísérlet!"

"Wait, don't you need me to-" As confirmed by the eyes of the dragon and both snakes, Anila had disappeared from the mantragon's back.

She was, of course, in free-fall, the bloodstained battlefield beneath approaching very quickly. She grinned as she felt the wind rush past, seemingly oblivious to her coming demise.

Anila, should I ask why you are currently falling to your death? I hope you have something planned that doesn't involve hoping the impact doesn't turn you into "Wizard Jelly". I don't think it will.

Oh, come on. Why would I be that unprepared? Just you watch, Wizard Jelly.

"Spalvu krišana!" Anila shouted, her descent gradually slowing to one more akin to sinking into a pool of water. She landed on her feet directly in the middle of the cluster of soldiers, which just happened to include an eleven-foot tall, armored, gun-toting creature that looked remarkably identical to her mark. She was met with noticably shocked expressions, and at least three weapons leveled toward her head.

"Halt! Who are you and what do you think you're doing?" one of them yelled. The armored creature looked ready to blow her head off at a moment's notice.

"I'm Anila Vakmero, the great adventurer! Put those things down, I'm not here to hurt anyone. I'm only here to see this guy!" Anila pointed at Arokht. "We're all friends here, right? Just a battle to the death. I'm not even interested in the fighting!"

The rapidly-approaching troops of Raxis, however, were very interested in it.
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by crepuscularDissembler.

Amaranth trudged through the undergrowth, stumbling as her feet invariably found the uneven footing of roots. The problem with going off the beaten path was pretty obvious at this point. Lacking a machete, she was forced to push past every branch, and this is to say nothing of her clothing. It had been perfect for the climate earlier, but that was before she tried to march through woodlands. Now it was sweltering, and she needed a break. She sat down, and-


piercing cries, sounding like a distressed youth but


not quite right so loud it almost


shut off







Amaranth panted. That had been...disturbing. Today had been a long day of shocks, and then this sudden and worrisome call for aid out of nowhere and inside her head...well, it was a good thing she had more control than others. The voice continued ranting, but after the initial cry it was manageable enough.
She weighed her options, but only briefly. Unnaturally delivered or not, it was a call for help from what sounded like a young girl, and it was her duty to aid her. Due as much to actual selflessness as plant-related ulterior motives, although Amaranth would not have really considered them separate. After all, to her converting someone was in their best interests.

She never even considered that the child might not even be human.

Chaete had calmed down slightly, although that was as much due to the fact that you can only yell for so long (even when it's psychic yelling) as actual intent to focus. She continued her slow journey forwards, periodically sending out small pings of slightly calmer entreaties.
Of course, despite her best efforts she could hardly outpace her pursuers, with their physiological advantages. Luckily for her, they were not accustomed to chasing prey in these forests, and their approach over the dry leaves and twigs covering the ground was hardly the silence others might have produced. Unluckily for her, her body was just as badly adapted to hiding in a mass of green as it was to fast and undetectable travel over land.
There was a long moment of silence as the two parties considered each other.
Well, physical silence. Chaete's distress signals, still believed by her to not be audible to other species, were back to a maximum urgency.
Chaete, for her part, was more or less frozen to the spot. It was perhaps a reflex from ages and species past, their instincts contributing in an unfortunately unuseful way to her present dilemma.

Whatever the hunters had been about to do, they were distracted by the sound of quickly approaching footsteps. One or two of the harpoon guns present was pointed in their general direction, as a figure in a nunlike robe burst out of the foliage, shield at the ready, into the semi-clearing

Amaranth had dropped any attempt at quiet movement when she heard the girl's voice speaking of soldiers with weapons, and charged forward. Of course, she encountered a group of men dressed for seafaring and, well, a monsterish being where she expected to find a young girl. She would be trying to reconcile these two ideas if the efficient-looking weapons pointed at her weren't commanding the majority of her attention.

While the hunters had no idea how to deal with a bright red man-sized thing, they certainly understood how to capture a human. And this small bit of competence gave them confidence enough to try and control the situation. Surely rope would do as well for the cowering thing before them as the unfamiliar soldier? Men stepped towards them both threateningly.

This was frightening enough in the situation to trigger something else, and Chaete did the space worm equivalent of raising her hackles to make herself look big/getting ready to escape.

Namely, she flared her mouth fully outwards.

The mildly disconcerting being suddenly turned into a full-fledged hellbeast with more teeth than they had birthdays. The two hunters approaching with rope had to fumble confusedly for their harpoons, while the three standing guard loosed their bolts immediately. Two hit the ground where Chaete had been a moment ago, and the third buried itself near Amaranth.

Chaete had leapt forward into space and created a hole in the brief moment of sheer, pantswetting shock afforded by her display, and thudded to the ground slithering, finally abasing herself to the level of a serpent as pure panic took over.

Amaranth was equally shocked at this moment, both by the teeth and the sudden disappearance. The harpoons rather snapped her out of it, and she clubbed the man closest to her with her shield and deflected the remaining harpoon bolt with it in one smooth motion. Two ran after her while the others reloaded, and she ran towards the strange opening. She began releasing pollen to induce vertigo and nausea.
Running through, she immediately dodged off to the side of the hole, and managed to catch the first man that came through it from the side. The other clubbed her head with the harpoon gun, which was not a bad close-range weapon at all.

She spun dizzily, but he spun a bit more.
However, while her odds against two weren't too bad, she couldn't keep up against four. She moved backwards from the men and considered the surroundings. Pine, and very dry from the looks of it. She risked a glance over her shoulder and saw the second portal she had expected from the thing's behavior so far.

Amaranth grabbed one of the flares from her stolen backpack and pulled the tab that started the reaction, throwing it into the dry brush near the men.
She ran, as the trees caught faster than she could run, and threw herself through the portal, dropping her shield to the side to land in a roll.

She could see the red thing a few feet away, apparently as exhausted as she was. She sat down, briefly resting before risking another negative encounter.
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by XX.

The wolves flitted through the undergrowth, footsteps drowned in the sound of rain. Trees like iron shadows rose from the earth in grasping hands with branching fingers, shielding them in the shadows of the brush as they ran with sunlight dappling their skin. The sky above was dark with smoke and the cries of dying men, yet their eyes were sharp: blood and water freckled the ground. Their quarry had been here. Their leader howled, long and loud, and the sound echoed through the branches and onto the killing grounds.

Cirrha was the swiftest of them all, heading the pack with feral fierce joy in his heart and his howl. He longed to cut through the woods, run to the battlefield and feel his teeth around the throats of men and his claws on their soft white skin, but their business was too pressing for any distractions. Fear- men’s fear, hot and thick, slathered against the trees- clouded his head and the captain snarled, snapping at twigs and leaves. The forest smelt of death and fire, years old and seconds fresh, all blurring into one. He could have easily as found a single drop of blood in an abattoir.

His aide yipped urgently at his side, ears pricked and jaws panting with excitement. He growled, baring his fangs at the fledgling she-wolf, but then the scent caught him: bright as a candle to his altered nose with terror and pain. A man. He took it in, savoring it as his pack gathered about him, baying and howling at his heels. With a sharp bark he sent them ahead, watching the fleet grey shapes melt into the shadows. He followed them at more leisurely pace, his attendant loping gently just ahead.

The howls of the pack told him all he needed to know long before he came to the narrow clearing where they had cornered the quarry. Their yips bounced through the trees like birdsong as Cirrha shouldered through, snarling in anticipation. The yellow eyes of his pack turned to him and lowered respectfully, parting before him respectfully, and then he was looking upon the end of the hunt: a small figure crouched against a twisted sapling, feet bloody and torn. The captain grinned.

The pack fell away like startled doves as he padded to the center of the clearing. The forest was silent but for the distant sounds of cannonfire and the fire raging ever closer, dry wood splintering like gunshots at its edge. Cirrha sniffed once. “Oliver James,” he said through a wolf’s mouth, “You stand accused of murder.”

A pale face slowly turned up at him, wretchedly soft and young and smeared with dirt. The emissary clung to the shadows of the forest as if they could protect him, shielding himself with the tattered sleeves of his robe. He had lost his glasses, the captain noted. It was fitting that the forest had stripped him of such indulgences. “It’s here,” he said softly through cut lips. “It came.”

Someone in the pack howled in triumph. The captain allowed it. “Where are my men?”

“It took them.” The boy’s eyes darted to the side at a low-hanging branch. With a toss of his head one of the captain’s wolves crept to the Desolan priest’s side, blocking any hope of escape. He did not appear to notice. “The river flooded its banks and it heard them. It came for them,” he said quietly.

The edge of a growl entered Cirrha’s voice and the younger members of the pack flattened their ears and whined. He gave the boy a glimpse of his teeth. “Is this what they teach your little priesthood? Evasion tactics? I didn’t know Desolo was the god of cowards. Did he convert?”

The boy smiled weakly. He held up his hands; for an absurd instant Cirrha thought that he was wearing a pair of long red gloves, and then he realized the priest’s forearms had no skin.

“Show me, sayd hee, whose men you be, that hunt soe boldly heere…”

The voice was a sultry woman’s, low and sweet, drifting towards them from high in the canopies. Cirrha’s hackles flared. He glared sharply at his wolves but none had strayed, nor did he smell anything beyond the blood in this clearing and the sharp scent of metal and smoke. Bait? He would have caught the scent of another human in the nearby woods. He nodded to the nearest of his men, a stocky creature with a silvery pelt. He watched her pad off with narrowed eyes and turned back to the priest, who had resumed huddling beneath the shadows. “I’m in no mood for games, boy. You’re a damn fool to try an ambush.”

“…That without my consent, doe chase and kill my fallow-deere…”

The priest stirred but did not look up. He mumbled something even a wolf’s ears could not catch.

Cirrha bounded forward, clearing the space between them in an instant. “I suggest,” he breathed, his jaws an inch from the boy’s ear, “That you answer my questions a little more quickly, softskin. Bless me, I’m not a patient man.”

The priest raised his head, meeting the wolf captain’s gaze with dark eyes. “It’s not an ambush,” he said. His bloody hands glistened in the fading light. “You walked right into it.”

“Ere thus I will out-braved bee, one of us two shall dye: I know thee well, an erle thou art; Lord Percy, soe am I!”

A piercing shriek split the air, a rattling cacophony that burst leaves from the trees and set the wolves to howling in agony, clawing madly at their ears. Cirrha roared, turning on the boy but clamping down on only air; the boy had backed away and was cringing behind the sapling in his ruined rags. The captain snarled at him but turned away; there would be time for due justice later. Bellowing at his men and damning their souls to the Eternal Skinning he snapped at their ears and muzzles until they obeyed, falling into reluctant line behind him. The terrible screaming carried on all the while, and the singing, on and on through the forest and up from the dirt and blood and bones beneath their paws. Cirrha could feel it grating into his head, blinding all thoughts except those of retreat and panic, yet he roared his rage to the darkened woods and charged, vanishing in a flurry of leaves with his wolves in tow.

The howling continued on for several minutes after that. Oliver James rocked back and forth beneath the shadow of the sapling, eyes glassy with shock and ravaged fingers clutching at his robe. “I did what you said,” he told himself, over and over and over. “I did what you said, I did what you said. I did what you said. I did… I did what… I did…”

The trees rustled with the soft breath of a distant wind, and he heard it whisper,
“Oh Christ! It was a griefe to see, and likewise for to heare- the cries of men lying in their gore, and scattered here and there.”
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

<font color="#486858">The Temple of Obscura was, true to its patron deity, mostly built underground. It consisted of a labyrinth of corridors and rooms, and thanks to an oversight or perhaps deliberate intent on Obscura’s part, there were no maps to the maze available anywhere. Most directions ended up hastily scribbled on the backs of envelopes and hands in easily washable ball-point pen, and pity the private with sweaty palms: it was said that the ones that got truly lost were met by Obscura Herself and taken into Her presence as sacrifice, to reemerge as the mythological creatures She spawned to aid her army.

“Sorry, Lieutenant. Hames gave me fuckin’ last week’s map.”

The voice came from under some inconspicuous ruins, which were connected by a crumbling sprawl to the collapsing hall a ways away that housed the Temple aboveground. A small trapdoor opened underneath a half-rotted roof, and the ragtag hunting squad pulled through from the labyrinth below, kitted out with gear and packs and other military paraphernalia. Mills milled about the top of the stairs, giving a hand to those having difficulty climbing the ladder. Briefly, he wondered - Recruits these days. What happened to everyone who could carry a rucksack without help? What happened?

Coming up the ladder was the strange girl. The one who was light and not a myth, Obscura had said. He reached out a hand, carefully keeping his face composed as cold metal sucked at his body heat, and lifted her to the cracked, mud-caked cobblestones. It had rained recently; the smell of turf and surviving flora blotting out the chemical stink of war for a short, eternal moment. In the space of a breath Mills breathed the air of his youth, beyond the valley, beyond the neverending deific war. For a second, the world was perfect.

Rachel stared into space.

A starfield spanned her imagination, dots upon streaks upon great heaping showers of glowing light splattered across a panorama of receding cosmos. It was a daydream of stellar quality, a vision of the universe packed into one infinitely clear sphere, to be perused in leisurely detail.

It was a prelude, Rachel knew, an opening score for something half-remembered or forgotten in haste or fear. Deep within her, a synapse misfired, and in a flash of unexplainable déjà vu she imagined the sound of chimes.

Then a chilly breeze blew in from underneath the overcasting clouds, and nature’s reclamation proclamation faded like watercolors in the sea. Around Mills came a chorus of heartfelt sighs, followed by equally heartfelt coughing and gagging as the various malodors of wartime atrocities resumed their nasal grip.

And then they marched, though marching was an activity usually reserved for organized armies, like that of Raxis or Frigidus. Obscura’s forces usually opted for moving in some direction in a generally sort of purposeful way, and that was just about good enough for them.

As Rachel hiked with them, she became aware of a sick feeling in the pit of her nonexistent stomach. A gnawing, pulsing feeling, like the kind she had felt for the first few weeks after she hadn’t had a stomach anymore. It struck her again - that feeling of déjà vu, accompanied with a fleeting memory, a sense of urgency, heat, fear -

Just as suddenly as it had come, it wisped into the everyday noise of consciousness, leaving only a foreboding taste on the fringes of her senses.

A nasal voice punctuated, for the umpteenth time, the sounds of boots on drying leaves and mulch. “There’s a God of Hunting, you know. Kedemonas.” Mills closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to ignore the voice and its owner. “It’s said he gives animalistic qualities to his higher followers.” The fact that everyone already knew this never seemed to cross the voice’s mind.

“An’ wouldn’t you like to have the mouth of a mynah, Sparks?” This speaker, solidly built, gave Sparks a friendly punch in the skinny arm. “Oh wait!” Raucous laughter all round.

“Shut up, Jenkins!”

“No, you shut up, Sparks, that’s the whole point!” More raucous laughter.

Interrupted with an insistent beeping from the device in Mills’ hand, raised in the signal for all stop. “Hold. We’ve got something.”

Everyone felt it - a rippling wash of natterings across the psychic spectrum, sleeting through the woods like a neutrino shower of the mind, impinging and ricocheting on the insides of minds:

Rachel screamed without lungs, an impossible note in harmony with the panic in the air as the stellar mass inside her writhed, spasmed, the crossed wires of her broken, repurposed nerves brought her the sight of green, no blue, no, yellow-snake-writhing writing triangles with sixteen corners and the smell of apple pie and potato fritters drizzled with Flight of the Bumblebees and velvet chocolate hazel sandpaper

The squad, as one, flailed, clutched at various solid implements and structures - of which there weren’t many; the tree trunks themselves groaned and bent under the barrage of sound and mental dislocation -

Mills, in one of those moments of clarity brought by having one’s senses too overloaded to maintain the comfortable barrier between thought and perception, mused on the epiphany that plants must have minds.

The mental onslaught stopped as suddenly as it had started - but the screaming was beyond impossible now; it swept into the registers of the inaudible, becoming a mere conduit to something

something, something liquid and sick and bright and painful, welling at the bottom of her sun’s miniaturized gravitational well, a cup runneth full, a cup runneth over

Mills turned and saw the girl, sparks arcing from her metal and grounding themselves, beyond belief, in the very air, and once again had the feeling he’d had since he’d left home outside the valley that he had stepped into a world he did not understand in the absolute least-

Cognition came to Rachel in an instant, along with its lesser cousin recognition: Déjà vu didn’t happen for no reason. The signs, the symptoms, the synaesthesia, all of it had happened before and its consequences were terrible - so terrible - that she couldn’t bear to know she’d done it. And now the sun was giving an opening act for another phase on its stellar cycle.

Solar flare.

The lieutenant watched the glowing girl
metal-palmed hands whining


sucking at the light, a wave of darkness sluiced through the trees like a quantum knife ignoring classical matter, a buzzing swarm of spherical shadows flowing liquidly in its wake. In unison, a thousand dark eyes opened and stared into the nuclear light-

Instinctively Mills’ hand reached for his weapon, despite the uselessness of bullets against the gestalt anti-light organism that was a Nightgazer. The frozen energies of mere matter for them held no interest - yet if those same atoms could be convinced to fuse, to release the bounty on the other side of mc2...

The Nightgazer gazed, basking, caressing the electromagnetic spectrum like a black widow’s lover, preparing to love, preparing to feast.

She saw the myth surround her, feeding off the radiation that flowed from metal and flesh, but she was beyond caring about that. Everything was beyond caring about.

She saw the scene as if from a way away.

Rachel raised a metallic hand and let loose an arc of plasma at the closest orb of blackness, which exploded; bursts and licks of flame scorched the air and ground as the little sun flared and twisted its excess energy into her, spewing from her metal and into the dark eyes that grew few-

As per narrative convention, the remaining shadow accreted, eyes disappearing and melding into a larger whole-

-but it was no use; she watched as Rachel summoned the most of the coronal mass ejection and pushed, exhiliaration filling her nostrils like the fumes of some illegal hallucinatory drug. It was carnage. Carnage that be seen and heard for miles around, as she eviscerated and evaporated and exploded some of the very best Obscura had to offer the war.

Mills shook his head, and it rattled to his damaged ears like a couple of dried peas in a styrofoam cup. Amidst the heat and light and chaos-

-he hardly noticed Jenkins’ burning bulk falling against the trunk of a charring tree, striking the ground together-

-crushing Sparks, whose glasses had melted to the remains of his face, flinging out a charred arm-

-tripping Hames, of temporarily temporally-displaced map fame, clutching at his burning kit and trying to stop, drop and roll-

-their own screams mingling with the inaudible vibration of that girl - that girl -


“Kedemonas take me, for I have strayed from the pack.” Kantha, fifth scout, third pack, Third Regiment, Hyleoroi, lowered his head in prayer. His leg lay extended before him, caught, with the cruelest of ironies, in a steel trap. Blood trickled from where the cruel teeth had incised flesh, matting the fur that grew in patches.

“Kedemonas have me, for my hunt is unworthy.”

He grew somewhat trite.

“Kedemonas consume me, for now I find that I am trapped behind rather large and converging walls of burning trees, and I’d really like my soul to go someplace, thanks.”

Silence. Actual silence, in the midst of the forest, beyond the sound of the oncoming blazes. If Kedemonas was listening, he wasn’t-

Kantha pricked his ears, the slight points rising inhumanly: faintly; the sound of howling hounds. Yet it was wrong; they weren’t on the scent, they were hounds in fear, and behind them he began to hear the shots and shouts of panic wavering through the trees, thin and unreal yet perfect in its execution.

He barely struggled as it held him down in the midst of freezing fog and mist, deliriously he thanked it as the pain drained from his leg - coldness claiming him, devouring him...

And the sound of rain, retreating from the flames.


Mills looked up, into brown eyes flecked with glowing gold. Her gaze was cold, unlike the heat that blazed within her and around them. It cut through the flames and the burning and settled into your soul like ice, carrying with it the slow, terrifying realization: she didn’t care whether you lived or died, she didn’t care whether you were immolated or crushed or asphyxiated, she did not give two shits, or even one, that you had family, or friends, or precious belongings. You were there. That was reason enough to die.

“I. I never caught your name.”

She stared at him for just a moment, of life extended.

“Rachel,” she said, and watched him burn.</font>
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by One.

Anila’s sudden descent came as a complete surprise to Arokht and his newfound comrades, but the Wintergod’s soldiers reacted with commendable swiftness. The three grunts under Gelu’s command had brought their weapons to bear almost before she had touched the ground. The only reason why they didn’t start shooting was the fact that their chaplain and their alien ally would have been caught in the crossfire (though admittedly their guns wouldn’t have done much to the iceworlder’s immense armor).

“Weapons--down!” barked Arokht, shouldering Brother Gelu aside as he stomped forward. “This one is mine.”

The trio complied immediately, returning to a more relaxed stance, guns not quite pointed at her but not quite at rest either. The Wintergod’s forces were well-disciplined, it seemed.

The alien towered over the newcomer like an angry, blue-black skyscraper. He looked down on her, physically and metaphorically, remembering how the Outsider had described her: an experienced adventurer, but host to a parasite that was slowly killing her.

Oh, and she spoke his language too. And flawlessly, just like Gelu. Either these aliens weren’t actually humans, or the Outsider had provided its captives with some kind of automatic translator.

“Anila-Vakmero,” Arokht growled. “How kind of you to show. Simpler for me.”

<font color="#008080">Brother Gelu gave the iceworlder a curious look. Did these two know each other?

“Yeah! I’ve been looking for you. Wow, you’re even bigger in person!”

The human seemed completely unafraid of the alien, much to his chagrin. Indeed, she seemed positively fascinated.

Setting aside his curiosity, Gelu sidled away from Arokht, making a series of hand gestures at his minions. Like a well-oiled machine, the three took positions around the alien and the adventurer, setting up a perimeter as best they could with their limited numbers. The chaplain seemed worried, restless, like he’d prefer to be on the move rather than standing in the open. He scanned the tall grass nervously.

But the body language of iceworlders was very different from the body language of humans, so despite keeping one of his four eyes trained on Gelu at all times, Arokht failed to notice his tension. Not that he had any interest in understanding the nervous habits of aliens anyways.

“I do not intend to obey the Outsider, or play its little game,” said Arokht. “Like you, I am uninterested in this deathmatch.”

Anila beamed. “That’s great! From where I’m standing it looked like you wanted to murder me horribly, but--”

“Make no mistake, Anila-Vakmero,” interrupted Arokht, a note of menace entering his subwoofer voice. “You are still alive now because I...”

There was a pause as Arokht swallowed his pride with an indignant twitch of his mandibles.

“...because I need you,” he finished. “I have a plan. And your cooperation is necessary for my success in that plan.”

The great adventurer folded her arms. She looked thoughtful. “Am I allowed to say no?”

“You do not have a choice in the matter. You will help me.”

“Just making sure. Let’s do it! ...what are we doing, anyways?”

Taken aback by the human’s enthusiasm, Arokht took a second to recover his composure. He hadn’t expected her to be so pliable.

“Killing the Outsider.”

Nearby, one of Gelu’s grunts indicated to the chaplain that he’d found something of interest. Though he had been intently eavesdropping on the alien and the adventurer, Gelu was immediately at his soldier’s side.

The grunt tapped the lenses of his gas mask and pointed at something in the distance, then pointed at the ground. He then brought his hands up, extending one finger on his left and two fingers on his right. Approaching contacts--twelve in number.

Gelu nodded, then signaled back a response. Who?

The soldier made a single sign in answer: a fist with the thumb curled under the fingers.. One word.


All the gesturing and signaling did not go unnoticed by Arokht. He turned a wedge-shaped head towards the priest of Frigidus. “What is happening, Brother Gelu?”

“Raxis warriors inbound,” said the chaplain, grimly. He raised his right hand, drawing in what little water existed in the dry air. A cloud of white vapor swirled around his outstretched hand, coalescing into a solid shape, a gun formed from ice. “Hibernus, Algon, fan out and try to find cover.”

“Raxis?” Arokht asked, as the other two soldiers spread out, weapons ready.

Gelu nodded. “The old war god’s servants have been hunting us down since we destroyed his temples at Serres. They killed the rest of my section. Seems they’re here to finish the job.”

The iceworlder gazed into the distance, a faint whirring sound audible from his helmet as he amplified his vision, sweeping the horizon for the enemy. There, stalking through the grass, advanced a pack of nightmares.

The warriors of Raxis were no chaotic horde of madmen. They were organized. Professional. Each one wore a set of sleek black armor emblazoned with the red symbol of their god: a sword piercing a human skull. Like the worshippers of Frigidus they hunted, they exposed none of their skin to the elements. Not even their faces were distinguishable, for their helmets sported only a single, glowing red eye on their otherwise featureless surfaces. Everything about them suggested rigid purpose and cold inhumanity, an impression only reinforced by their lithe, feline movement through the plain. They were the Predators of Raxis, hunters of mankind.

Arokht chuffed. He had faced worse odds before, and come out on top every time. For all their menace, Arokht was certain that the Predators were outmatched. Yet despite their paltry numbers, the iceworlder felt his old bloodlust beginning to rise again. A battle was brewing. The old warrior nearly bristled with anticipation. War was the air he breathed and the ground he walked, and soon he would be back in his natural surroundings.

His eagerness did not go unnoticed by his aide. Brother Gelu, too, was a veteran of many hard-fought battles, but unlike the towering alien, he had seen the Predators in action. He was not keen on meeting them again.

“My lord, I humbly suggest that we retreat," he urged. "We should try to find other survivors, regroup--”

“Let them come,” Arokht growled. “Lambs pretending to be lions. I will show them how true war is fought!”

With that, the iceworlder reared up and roared. This was not a roar of frustration and anger. This was a challenge, daring the soldiers of Raxis to try to defeat him!

He left a bemused Anila craning her neck behind him, trying to catch a glimpse of the distant enemy.</font>
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

A sound rang out across the Godsworn Valley; the thunderous report of a titanic gong. It was a noise unheeded by mortal ears, for which it was not meant, but amidst the conflict and the chaos that had subsumed this holy place, it reached the ears of the gods of this world. Slowly, one by one they made their way towards the heart of the valley; some did so with a sense of trepidation, others a sense of weariness and obligation, while yet others approached with enthusiasm; their curiosities piqued by the call from the gong that had long since fallen silent. Though some had to make excuses to get them out of immediate obligations, and many were not happy that they were doing so, all of them made their way home to Malhalven.

Viewed from outside Malhalven was an unassuming structure, short and squat and seemingly of little consequence, located amongst the thickest section of a sprawling woodland. Inside its lobby all you would find would be a deep hole and a winding passageway leading downwards, deeper and deeper into the earth. That gentle sloping passageway was decorated with elaborate sculptures of the many gods of the pantheon; the sculpture of Obscura was constructed from dark stone and from the corner of a viewer’s eye it would almost seem to be ethereal, in danger of dissolving into mist at a moment’s notice, the sea god Ceraceros rendered in perpetually damp coral, Frigidus’ likeness captured in ice that remained blisteringly cold no matter the temperature outside. Someone descending the passageway would notice that Inderigo’s statue, once a finely crafted marvel of machinery had succumbed to rot and to rust, but nobody descended these passageways any more, the gods did not need to and mortals had not been allowed to for a long time.

At the bottom of that hole, at the end of what seemed to be an endless passageway, there stood the Deep Court; an enormous room carved out of the earth itself. Here and there long roots protruded from the wall and wound their way down and across the floor. There was a table in the centre of the chamber and an enormous gong covered in the symbols of the various gods, which took up the entirety of the far wall. The room was lit from above by a stupendous chandelier filled with hundreds of self-replenishing candles. Standing at the table was the god of truth, Desolo. Being as pragmatic as he was, Desolo had never seen fit to waste his time and his energy upon such useless fripperies as a physical appearance. He was essentially information; the unquestionable truth that that which stood before you was the god of truth Desolo. He was at that precise moment the only one there, but not for long.

The first to arrive was Raxis herself. If it wasn’t for the fact that he had already removed his helmet, which otherwise hid his only distinguishing characteristics, it would have been all but impossible to tell he was in his female aspect. That said with the cut short hair and stern features that decorated both his male and female countenances, it was often difficult to distinguish them anyway. Her skin was near jet black and her eyes blood red and oddly feline in their shape. She was dressed in sleek black armour that was almost identical to that of her followers, save for the lack of helmet and her own insignia. It might have been expected that a god in physical form would have armour adorned with fancy ornamentation to make themselves stand out, to reinforce their position. Raxis would not hear of such a thing, he was a soldier as much as his followers and he marched into battle alongside them, sharing in their conquests and their defeats first hand, relishing the battle from up close amongst the blood and the violence.

“What is it Desolo?” Raxis demanded, taking her place at the table. “Why have you torn me away from battle?”

“I will explain when everyone is here.” Desolo said plainly. He spoke only in truths, hard certainties that could be backed up with evidence and he wasted no time on social niceties. He would explain himself once, when everyone was here to hear him. Raxis knew from experience how pointless it was to try to coax information from Desolo before he was willing to give it and so she let it go, and waited impatiently for the others to arrive.

They did so with little fuss or incident, save for Ceraceros whose arrival was heralded by the sound of water streaming down the twisting passageway. A tidal wave gushed forth into the Deep Court, carrying Ceraceros and his unicorn steed to their place at the table. However despite the spectacle nobody was impressed; the mood was too foul and they had seen such extravagances before. The atmosphere was frosty, no more so when Frigidus arrived and for a moment it seemed as though he and Raxis were about to launch into battle and take their frustrations out on each other there and then, but each restrained themselves and all that came of it was the mood became just that little touch more hostile. It was difficult to believe that the gods gathered here had once been a cohesive pantheon, closer to one another than family. That was of course before war and betrayal had torn them apart. Only the thin veneer of ceremony kept everyone in check. It seemed Visindi was to be the last to arrive, making excuses as he did so that he had been in the middle of an experiment and had been loathe to leave before he saw it to fruition.

“We’ll begin now.” Desolo said, though four of their number had yet to show. That Zoo, Tawn and Vocatur were missing was of no surprise to anyone. Zoo had never been the most social of gods even back before this grisly business, Vocatur was unlikely to be welcomed with open arms even if he had managed to find his way to Malhalven, and Tawn, the God of Love and Peace, had gone into seclusion when this war had started in earnest. Though Raxis, her counterpart and former lover, had sent many envoys and missionaries to her temple none had ever returned. The message had been quite clear; that Tawn wanted no part in this war and, for the moment at least, she had gotten the peace she wanted. The fourth was Inderigo, the God of Industry and as one god gossiped, the would-be God of Death.

“Well?” Kedemonas asked. “Say your piece factsayer; I tire of this pomp and circumstance.”

“At approximately eight minutes past four this morning a comet with a peculiar golden trail was observed in the skies over our valley.” Desolo said and around the table brows furrowed. This was hardly the subject matter that the gods had expected that they had been assembled to discuss.

It was sort of pointless to try to scrutinise the reaction of the God of Truths given that he didn’t ever seem to have one, but the statement was odd enough that Obscura felt inclined to give him a metaphorical poke anyway. “An unusal omen to be sure…” she said, a stare affixed to what would be Desolo’s face if he had troubled himself to make more than the idea of a body, though there was of course no tangible response.

“Yesterday at noon exactly in the town of Felholm a fountain briefly flowed with an unexplainable blue flame before rapidly freezing to a solid block of ice.” Desolo said. “One week previous to this in the village of Malz a farmer reported that an entire crop had rotted and died in the space of one night. Thirty one days ago there was a reported rain of cats in the-”

“Is this really happening?” Visindi interrupted incredulously. “Are we really having a discussion of rumours, superstition and gossip chaired by the most obnoxiously pragmatic god that our pantheon has the foul luck to contain? I think I must have accidentally gotten a lungful of some kind of hallucinogen in my last experiment because this is quite frankly ridiculous.” Visindi had never liked Desolo but it was less for his matter of fact attitude than for his complete lack of any imagination.

Desolo didn’t ignore Visindi as such. He stared unblinkingly in his direction as he expressed his disbelief at this meeting, listened carefully to Visindi’s question, scrutinised it and decided that there was nothing of value to be gained from reply to a question with such a self-evident answer and he opted to continue his list of observed omens; “Thirty one days ago there was a reported rain of-”

“Perhaps your time would be best served telling us what you believe these omens mean, rather than listing them off one by one?” Raxis suggested impatiently.

“Two days, seven months and one hundred and sixteen years ago, the Nightwatcher wrote a prophecy.” Desolo said. Traiya, the Nightwatcher, had been the Goddess of Sight, or to give her her full title; The Goddess of Sight into Hidden Matters and Things Best Left Unseen. She had never had many followers, and when the war came, though her insights were able to give them tremendous tactical advantage, they simply couldn’t stand up to the numbers that the other gods commanded. She left no corpse just a lingering memory of a god who was once but no longer.

Obscura laughed; “You expect us to believe that Traiya entrusted her insights to you over her own sister?” but the jollity was quickly gone as Desolo produced a worn and weathered scroll covered in Traiya’s distinctive chickens’ feet handwriting. It was replaced with a sense of hurt, and a rising bile of anger at the God of Truths.

“The Nightwatcher did not intend it as a slight to you; she claimed that only I could be impartial in the matter that was to come.” Desolo said. “The omens she listed have been observed with increased rapidity and if her prophecy is to be believed a time called the Unravelling is now upon us.”

“Which is what?” Ceraceros enquired. While the prophecies had served to draw the attention of most of the gods, this intrigue was far too slow paced for the sea god’s taste.

Desolo unrolled the scroll and read from it. “A time wherein the wellspring of our godly power should spring a leak and those who feast upon it should find themselves diminished, emasculated from immortals who time itself cannot touch, reduced to the thin temporary life of mortals inevitably to be snuffed out like a candle lit. A time where gods are men and divine blood shall be spilled like so much water; for though the wellspring may run low it shall stop short of being stoppered entirely and one god or two might never know the transient embrace of mortality should they be all that remains of a pantheon long since torn to shreds.”

There was the briefest moment of silence as the gods attempted to process this. Visindi was the first to break this, irritably snatching the scroll from Desolo’s hands with a muttered
“Let me see that.”

“Which when stripped of Traiya’s flowery language means what exactly?” Kedemonas seemed relatively calm in the wake of the prophecy. “Upon the surface it sounds grim, yes, but the Nightwatcher had a talent for adding a sense of moroseness to even the most pleasant of circumstance.”

“It seemed plain enough to me.” Frigidus replied. “This Unravelling comes to pass and we all die.”

“My interpretation of the text indicates that this is not necessarily true.” Desolo said. “It suggests that the Unravelling is an event that weakens the source of our powers and that as things stand we would be reduced to mortals and eventually die one way or another,”

“This is as I said.” Frigidus interrupted.

“but if there were only one or two gods remaining, and the rest of us were dead, there would be enough power that those gods could remain immortal.” Desolo said. “Not all of us have to die.”

“Just most of us…” Raxis muttered under her breath. If there was a tension in the air before now, it was nothing to the atmosphere as they came to realise that it was now every god for him or herself. Raxis and Frigidus were gone before any further developments could emerge.

In a darkened corner of the Deep Court, hidden from and unheeded by most of the gods assembled there, Inderigo felt the familiar sensation of his high priestess beseeching him, desperately seeking his blessing. The God of Industry made his exit, with only Obscura any the wiser that he had ever been there.


It felt strange to be alive again. For longer than she cared to remember Scinda had been either incorporeal or alternately at the helm of a walking corpse. It had been surprising just how invigorating life felt; the sensation of blood pumping through this body (her body she mentally corrected herself; she was finding it difficult to stop thinking of herself as separate from the flesh she inhabited), the twinge of every sensitive nerve. She felt as though there had been some barrier between her and the world and it had finally been lifted; sensations were that much more intense, colours were that much more vivid. She took the time to indulge herself, and to take a steaming hot bath to cleanse this body of the dirt and grime that encrusted it. She tied her long black hair up into a respectable bun and adorned herself with robes befitting a high priestess; fresh ones that did not stink of rotting corpses. The rags that it had been wearing were disposed of, as were the surprising number of cheap daggers and knives that were found upon it.

Her congregation were waiting for her, but she found herself knelt before the altar of Inderigo again. Though the factory floor was now empty of people, the machinery rattled on, relentlessly transforming dead things into weapons. In the middle of the noise and the stench, which she could experience now with more clarity than ever before, Scinda prayed. She prayed to a god who had long since stopped answering her prayers. She thanked him for his Machinations that had led a new body to her, despite that she no longer really believed that he had an interest, let alone a hand, in what happened to his followers. It was almost an empty gesture, continued because it was the thing to do, because it was her role to seek the guidance of Inderigo whether he chose to give it or not, but perhaps some small spark of hope had yet to be extinguished.

And then Inderigo materialised before her. He towered over her, his form somehow flickering between a human shape and one that was better described as some kind of enormous and intricate piece of machinery with plumes of acrid black smoke issuing forth from it (it should go without saying that his time lurking in the darkness at the edge of the Deep Court was spent in his less conspicuous human form). His mouth was an open furnace pouring forth heat and the sound of his machinery whirring back and forth drowned out even the ceaseless machinery of the factory.

“Inderigo – I mean My Lord.” Scinda quickly corrected herself.

“Your lord?” Inderigo demanded. “I believe you must be mistaken.”

“But My Lord, I have prayed to you every day.”

“But look at what you have done to my temple!” Inderigo bellowed. “That you have profaned it so is unforgivable, that you have done it in my name is beyond any blasphemy I might have imagined.” At his first appearance Scinda had been struck with joy that her prayers had finally been heeded, now all that was left was abject terror as the God of Industry towered over her. “You do not worship me here any more. You worship death and decay, nothing more than natural processes to facilitate the end of life and yet they are venerated here in my halls. Or mayhap you worship yourself; your power to twist the words of a god, your power to defy death itself, your power to make me into a mockery amongst my own kind?”

“No, I…” Scinda mumbled, her ability to coherently reply long gone.

“Silence abomination!” Inderigo snapped. “You have brought shame upon me and murdered anyone who believed in what I stood for more than appeasing you. If you had a shred of decency about you, you would end your existence for good and let another take the helm, one who would lead my people properly… but of course it is too late for that now.” Inderigo paused and the anger and indignation seemed to leave him. “I don’t want to fight for my existence, not if this,” and with this he seemed to glance over the factory around them, “is who I am now… Do what you will abomination, it does not matter.” And then he was gone.

Scinda remained where she was for some minutes; she had scrabbled backwards as the god loomed over her and now she was in a position somewhere between kneeling and sitting, her heart pounding fast and her body slick with sweat. Slowly, as she gathered herself together she began to find a sense of resolve. It was not Scinda who had chosen to plunge them into this war, Inderigo had made his position clear and then they were expected to do the hard work; the fighting and the dying. And other gods, when their priests had prayed for an edge, they had been gifted mythical creatures, or tactical information. Inderigo had given neither. Scinda had done what she had thought was best and in return she had gotten a lecture that it was not acceptable. And just what exactly had Inderigo done to help them that he could come here and berate her like she was a child?

High Priestess Scinda climbed to her feet and dusted down her robes. The gods had never done anything for her, all they had done was take and take and spit in her face when her best was not good enough. Without a word she turned and made her way towards where her congregation would be waiting. She would be pushed around no longer; she would lead her people against those who deserved it most, not the poor victims of some other god, but the gods themselves.


“Hold on,” Visindi said, “this says that the first omen is the death of a god.”

In the minutes that Visindi had been perusing the prophecy, the Deep Court had all but emptied, with gods hurrying off to their armies, either to launch attacks or prepare defences. Only Desolo and Obscura remained, the latter of whom was there simply to ensure that she didn’t miss any important information that might yet be made known about this bleak circumstance.

They both knew which death the omen referred to without having to ask Desolo to clarify. It meant the death of Kohl the former Sun God. He had been the heart of the pantheon until he had been murdered. Things had turned ugly as accusations were made indiscriminately, true colours were shown and the pantheon had never been the same since. Though the killer had been found, the damage had been done; the gods had gone to war and had remained that way ever since. It had been an accident, or well, not an accident but not intentional. Vocatur had been drunk and high on several different substances. He had no idea of what he was doing or what he had done. The God of Hedonism had been banished from Malhalven, though nobody could hold it against the pathetic wretch of a god, nobody could see to forgiving him either.

“And this last omen.” Visindi continued. “That hasn’t happened.”

“It can only be a matter of time.” Desolo said. “By that point I believe it will be too late to do anything about it.”

“What is it?” Obscura glanced over at the scroll, trying to find the part which they were referring to.

“The final omen shall be when humans turn upon their gods and take Malhalven from us.” Desolo said.

[Image: XM5sGnt.png][Image: oD2Q6os.png][Image: 6SlFOCz.png][Image: fXUWhDZ.png][Image: C53uhZF.png][Image: BvZArpd.png][Image: lam0slf.png][Image: JmQq9We.png][Image: TGjrdJF.png][Image: zwqYyze.png][Image: OMnWsrl.png]
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Schazer.

Oh come now
Your wordless histrionics are unseemly, abomination

"And you, god" retorted something that should've never had a voice, "could stand to learn some tact."

Robin had, with morbid curiosity and Zoo's inscrutable insistence, clambered atop the derelict tank and taken a look at Barbary's handiwork. The cougar priest snarled woozily at her first instinct upon taking in the sight, which had been to staunch his gaping stomach wound. Given the only other focal point was what was left of the Obscuran soldier, Robin didn't appreciate that.

She had appreciated Barbary's shudder - profile collapsing into a mass of white maggots - even less.

Don't give him that look
This phase of the cycle is unpleasant for most
He hardly needs you judging him

Zoo had reproached.

"I wasn't-"

The maggots had wriggled in what Robin saw as rebuke; they melded into an army of frogs, a siege of disgruntled herons.

As Barbary is kind enough to demonstrate
No harm eternal comes of it
Nothing aberrant to the Wheel's turns
Save for a push by my grace
Seeing it in its entirety

"He's lying," clarified one of the herons, stabbing the haloed conduit of his god in the side of its face. "It's horrendous and I'm miserable." Another of Barbary's feathered little bodies scratched its head, stopping with a look of disgust once another pecked at its bloodied foot.

Robin mulled the arrangement for a bit. "Have you just... tried going back to human?"

"It's war. A single body's too risky. Not to mention I lack the mass for any man-eater - no, cougars do not eat people - so my choices after stepping on a landmine are bacterium or maggots."

"But you just-"

"I like the maggots about as much as you did."

"Oh. Ew."

The heron hunched in its feathers. "Pretty much."

Now that that is all accounted for
We need a use for you
No fear amounting for the zealots with guns
For Barbary is joining us

It dawned on Robin she was sitting on three quarters of a tank, in some war-torn woods, with a madgod riding shotgun in its priest's flock-body. An oily mist slunk through the woods at feet of the mountains below. "I'm no use to anyone with these shoes," she decided, then made her slow way off the tank again and back to her suitcase. Every root and rock was a moment's inattention away from a twisted ankle, which struck Robin as inefficient. Suitcase acquired, she unbuckled the buckles, and took out a little black box. The box had upon it a bubbly sort of hexagon. The hexagon was blue, and split neatly down the middle when Robin pressed at it. The box split with it, and Robin flicked through its contents.

"Ah, this one."

She closed the box, closed the suitcase, took a deep breath, and walked around the lone gunman's shelter, a frosted eppendorf between her fingertips. She looked down at what was left of the sorry bastard (and a dozen or so herons looked with her), actually held her breath this time, crouched down, popped the lid, and poured a precious drop of her sorcery sauces on each of his eyelids. It sizzled; smelt like a carcass in permafrost. Robin caught a whiff of it and yanked her collar up to breathe through.

"Should've worn my labcoat for this." Robin said it like she'd chosen the wrong meat option for lunch. "Scalpel. Scalpel!"

Barbary didn't hand her the scalpel, but Robin could forgive him. (She was a bit embarrassed for just falling straight back on a hapless grad school assistant or two to be handing her equipment, and this replacement was still a sedge of herons). "Whatever you're doing, you're taking so long about it my god departed."

"Heh. Tell him sorry. Could you pass my suitcase, at least, please?"

Robin still wondered how he handled simultaneously performing the range of actions a dozen birds could undertake, four of which were sulkily dragging the suitcase while one glared at her huffily. "Will this take much longer?"

"Shouldn't do - thanks - I've just got to make the cut with the rafic and - there!"

The necrologist pushed her hair off her face with her forearm, beaming at the Obscuran soldier's corpse. It was as still as the grave, still bloody and ravaged and mangled by cougar as ever, and its eyes were wide open.

"Hey there. Look, I'll let you get back to what you were doing, but I've got a quick request of you..."


"I kill a man, and you steal his shoes."

Robin didn't break stride, even when a rock slipped out from under her. They were damn good boots, it's a shame public relations meant you couldn't mooch about in whatever army surplus kit you felt androgynously comfortable in, like she could on campus. She laughed at the herons.

"I asked him! It was only good manners."

The helmet wasn't such a great fit, but the strap kept it in place tidily enough. Robin was envisaging a pack would make for easier things-hauling than her suitcase. Would it be watertight, though?

"You stole a dead man's shoes."

"That's only morally reprehensible when dead men can't speak for themselves, Barbary. I just showed you they can."

The herons cruised overhead, unable to keep formation as individuals peeled off or laboured their way into the greying skies. The one at Robin's side ruffled its feathers uncomfortably.

"It still does not sit right," he said.

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by XX.

The dirt he lay in was cold, bone-cold, though beyond it the inferno raged and spat bouquets of sparks into the smoke-clogged sky. The heat was a dull presence on his fur, a faint shriveling of skin and a singeing of hair and nails. Charred meat and parched air filled his nose. The bright copper-salt of blood and the ozone of the river was a thick perfume clinging to his matted fur. He tried to close his eyes, but they had no lids.

He felt nothing, though his ribs on one side were laid bare and glistening in the shadows of the undergrowth. Greenish blood clogged what was left of his fur, pooling beneath him and vanishing into the thirsty ground. All his wolves, he thought. All his men. His head refused to move, but he knew that beyond his limited vision there was nothing but clumps of torn fur and a few polished skulls grinning wetly at their deaths. He smelled them too, their whispery spirits dissipating. He thought he could hear the Endless Hunt calling them away.

A growl escaped his mouth somehow, louder than he’d expected. The cracks and pops of overheating wood and the roar of the blaze were all that spoke at his makeshift funeral, attended only by the bodies of his former comrades and the dying swell of the forest. Weakly he shifted his legs, no longer able to feel them brush against the damp ground. It was a blessing, he supposed, though he hated it. No hunter should die a peaceful death.

Then there came a scent, strong and musky and vibrant, and he thought that perhaps his prayers had been heard.

In his stunned state he was not surprised to see the dead leaves caught in the brambles whirl up in a chattering maelstrom of twigs and sticks, nor to see the mahogany of Kedemonas’ body twist into being from the gathered debris. The god’s aura was palpable: a virile stink of fertile earth and fresh blood that made him want to lie at the divine hooves and howl in tribute. But he could not move, so the wolf snarled a greeting, and the horned god laughed.

“Ah, wolf,” he said, his voice a thunder of masculinity, “You’ve been hunted well.”

He said nothing. His tail wagged once, smearing a trail of mud.

The god’s tawny eyes were bright with laughter as he strode the length of the cramped clearing, examining the pitiful remains of the fallen. Not a drop of the earth soaked with the river’s blood landed on his gleaming hooves. “You of all them must have known that I treasure nothing so much as a quarry escaping its killers. Contrary though it seems.”

“Qu…” The wolf sucked in a ragged breath. “Quarry…”

“Yes. Your river.” Kedemonas turned to the woods, a rough-hewn hand resting on the bark of a dead oak. “She’s a queer kind of hunter. Not like my usual. All songs and whispers.” His nose wrinkled. “A thespian. And you, my wolf? What did you make of her?”

The wolf didn’t have much breath left. He gave a bubbling whine.

The hunting god laughed, a boisterous roar that scared hidden birds from their nests. “Ah, you’re a talkative one,” Kedemonas chuckled. He turned back to the wolf, his eyes bright with merriment. “I will not give you any pretenses, wolf. There is hell being played among the gods. A noble fracas over some softskin’s long-dead words. I may not be a god for long. I ask you, wolf. Shall a god die quietly? Shall a god spend his final breath fighting petty squabbles over hints and whispers?”

He howled as best he could, more of a prolonged whimper than something worthy of a divine salute, but Kedemonas took it all the same. The horned head bowed and the wolf felt a fierce, feral energy fill him, resonating in his bones and banishing the mist from his eyes. Pain, sweet pain, flooded over his battered body, unbearable in its strength so that he nearly screamed before it vanished in a wellspring of fury and pride. Memories of the river- insatiable, churning- sprang through the fog of his weakened mind. He rose whole and healed, not a single scar to show where its freezing fangs had torn through his flesh. Above him, the sky had darkened with storm clouds gathering waves of iron. He lifted his head to them and this time gave a true howl, a sonorous challenge to the monster that had killed his men. When he looked back to earth, Kedemonas had gone. All that remained was a pile of withered leaves.

“I call a hunt,” said the god’s voice in his mind. “A hunt of you and all my wolves, and my cats, and my falcons, and my men. Lead a charge that shall make the heavens tremble and the earth weep blood in remembrance. Cirrha, this is the last task I set to you. Hunt this damned earth bare.”

And the Hyleoroian captain leapt, bounding silently in the forest.


There’s a storm on the way…

From the bass-line roots of the earth to the electric microcosmic impulses of the canopy’s fingers the sound carried like a doubled-back heartbeat, like a little voice singing like a wind-up tin-steel bird, like a frequency not earthly but kaleidoscopic heaven fire blinding in its radiance and scintillating in its pornographic glory: all flesh laid bare, all fibrous muscle and branching carbon a cellophane strip of clairvoaynce. A righteous hushing humming in its liquid bones made the ground ripple in fear and bow before a king, before the king, king of water and shadows and little wolf pups screaming in the dirt dirt dirt, scream Sonora, it will not save you. It hears.

There’s a storm on the way, and it’s coming, no matter what I say…

All the trees in their infinite feel-touch-taste were symphonies, are orchestras, cacophony of strings and keys and plucking horsehair bows swallowing songs of insects birds snakes bats ants pheasants, drowning in the river, drown drown, each scream a new note on the page, ink fresh and wet and running down the bark in ribbony-thick black wriggling rivers.

But a song will only scratch the skin…

Every note a universe.

The next time you see me, remember you need me, I’m the storm coming, coming, coming.

The forest unimaginable in scope, it sings of the new opuses the wolf-men taught it, barks and howls sharp staccatos and the breaking of bones a wordless beautiful bleeding percussion. Remember? Each century the song grows thicker with the seed of its sorrows, all crashing waves and lapping shores and paper boats pulled down by dead men memories. Born into forests and rivers it’s all fa-a-mi-liar territory but for the al-consuming dissonance of what the echoes contradict. Bacterium changes, unseen flora and fauna, micro macro ecosystems dissuade its senses. Even the dirt here tastes strange. What a funny old world.

Run towards the hills to avoid the high floods-

And in the subcutaneous auroras of the sky’s bursting rain-swelled skin it smells another.

I can do a dance that’ll make the sky cry blood-

Lampade, O beauty beyond the songs of men, fission fusion chaos of burning eye-blind horror:

I’m coming for you.

Listen to our lives, the wind will whisper the way it is; I’m going to happen, what a lovely day it is…
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Jacquerel.

Chaete had only become recently acquainted with the exciting world of breathable air but she was already hyperventilating, shuddering and coiled in the mud like a particularly forlorn piece of abandoned hosepipe. Three fairly long jumps on an empty stomach takes a lot out of a girl and it was fortunate that Amaranth's impromptu wall of flames had deterred any pursuit because she was really in no fit condition to deal with violent confrontation.

She was going to die on this wretched planet. She was going to starve to death or men would stab her with pointy metal sticks or the loathsome dirt would poison her or... her stomach rumbled again and cut off her train of thought. Why wasn't there anything to eat? She was so hungry!
Casting her eyes desperately around the clearing in case there was some miraculous outcropping of granite (or at least, as much as she could do so while minimising any actual requirement to move) she soon discovered that Amaranth had followed her through her portal and was... probably staring at her? Chaete could not actually see any eyes (did she see with those tiny holes?) but nevertheless got the distinct impression that she had more than a little bit of the woman's attention.
With a titanic effort she hauled herself off the ground, using her metal arms to prop herself up in an attempt not to look utterly helpless in front of a potential threat.

”What is it that you eat?”

Amaranth was still having a little bit of trouble reconciling the voice she was hearing in her head (loudly, Chaete wasn't aware that there was any need for volume control) and the monstrous being that was clearly broadcasting it.

On the one hand she was finding it fairly difficult to ignore that this was clearly a sapient creature at the end of its tether, it had just been chased across a forest by men with weapons and was as lost as she was (perhaps more). Ignoring someone so clearly in need didn't stick well with her, even if they did look a little strange.

But then again... she could remember it from The Outsider's bizarre presentation as one of the other “contestants” and with that recognition came the ominous knowledge that if she ever wanted to see home again (or more importantly, continue on her great mission) she would in some fashion have to outlive it.
On top of that, it was speaking into her head. Not only rude but frankly a little frightening, as its loud interruptions made it a little difficult to focus.

And then there had of course been the teeth. It was apparently a starving animal and this might not be a particularly safe place to be standing regardless of the fact that she'd just saved its life.
You don't need chewing tools like that as a herbivore unless you're going to eat an entire tree, and that was slightly worrying in another way.
It hadn't really shown any kind of predatory instinct at all when confronted with the oddly dressed aggressors they had just escaped from but...

“You wouldn't eat a person?”
It was a bit more blunt than she would have liked but this was a fairly important question.

For her part Chaete seemed to be too tired to be offended, or simply didn't process the fact that it could even be interpreted as a slight. Instead she shook her head violently in revulsion.
“No no I can't eat people, animals taste worse than dirt, full of tissues and fluids and poison. They always said you should never go to a planet with a sky, it is not safe to eat and it turns you wrong.”

She took another look at the clouds and her trembling intensified.

“I need rocks and stones and minerals but there aren't any, only chalk and dirt and plants everywhere. There is no food, I shouldn't be here and I am going to starve.
She threw herself back to the ground, having worked herself into a state of panic and exhaustion sufficient that she no longer cared how much she was debasing herself.
All of her guardians' dire warnings about staying away from planets with biospheres had come flooding back (though they had really meant them as a warning for when she was fully grown, rather than living on the surface of one) and for the first time she actually felt totally certain that she was going to die.

While the answer was in some ways reassuring (she felt a frisson of guilt as she realised that if Chaete was really unable to eat anything here then that made this inhumane contest a little easier, before pushing it quickly from her mind) she had gone through her training and education with the expectation that she'd be sent out to deal with, well, adults. Obviously she'd been a child and at the time had known other children but she didn't really know how to deal with them during a panicked tantrum, especially non-human children.

To her credit she still gave it a try with some reassuring words and a burst of calming pheromones (neither of which really seemed to have any kind of effect) and when that didn't work she tried a different tactic.

“You eat minerals but not dirt? How far down did you try going? I can't be certain about here but where I come from the soil isn't usually more than a few metres deep.
Could you just dig underneath? You can dig, can't you?”
It didn't seem like too much of a stretch to assume a worm would be able to dig through the ground but she was starting to realise that she'd already made far too many assumptions.

This information didn't instantly snap Chaete out of it but she did at least stop crowding Amaranth's thoughts with anxious keening and tilt her head to one side so that she could look at her more clearly with nine of her eyes. There was hope!

“Are you sure? There was no dirt at home... it tastes so bad and there are bugs in it. They crawl on my teeth and I have to spit them out. What if that's all there is?”
If there's one advantage to mental communication it's that the sentence didn't have to be punctuated by hiccups and gross sobbing, though the empathic transfer of misery was an unpleasantness of its own.

There really was no way of knowing whether the bedrock of whatever planet this was could be digested by whatever Chaete was but Amaranth couldn't think of any other options. The pictures that had accompanied Chaete's word for “rocks” didn't seem that far from what she was used to using the word for (another convenience of psychic conversation though she still thought she'd feel a little more comfortable if the worm had just spoken).
“I think... it's certainly worth a try.”

Chaete gave her another fairly indecipherable look (her face really wasn't that expressive, she didn't even have any eyelids) then heaved herself upwards, folded her mechanical arms flush with her back and unfurled her teeth in a disconcerting whirl of knives and molars, plunging her head into the ground and vanishing within a handful of seconds.

Less than a minute later there was a satisfied squeal of glee and Amaranth was blissfully alone again in her own head.
She waited a little while longer but the worm didn't show any sign of returning, evidently more interested in staving off starvation than talking more.
She wasn't sure how much she could blame it for that but it did seem a little ungrateful, there hadn't even been a thank you! There had been no reference to The Outsider in their short conversation so she wasn't even sure it had recognised her but it would have been nice to go over this whole strange situation with somebody, even if what interaction there had been had not suggested that it would make a very valuable ally.

When it seemed clear that it certainly wasn't coming back she dusted herself off and tried to decide which was the best direction to head in, she'd needed a bit of a rest after dealing with those men in the forest but she wasn't getting anything useful done here.
She obviously hadn't known the lie of the land before but moving through what she refused to think of as a wormhole had hardly helped matters. Flames still crackled on the other side of the circular rip in space but mercifully didn't seem to show any sign of passing through to this side. There was no sign of their earlier pursuers.

How far away from that site even were they now? It was probably most sensible to head away from the portal in case the fire caught up with her, hopefully it wouldn't burn for too long.
Mind made up she was about to set off when
another possible heading loudly announced itself with a rolling boom louder than Chaete's unignorable wailing. Something lit up the horizon like a second dawn, turning the sky into a strobe light flashing with an intensity almost painful to look at.
She already knew this was a place of conflict and, as unpleasant as it may be, the battlefield was where her work could be of most use. If there was fighting going on then there were people, hopefully in a more recognisable shape.

Grimly, she collected her shield and-
“Hey, lady!”
Chaete's voice sliced through her concentration again, though at least this time unaccompanied with a wash of unpleasant emotions. She bit back the urge to fire off a less than polite response before realising it would be pointless anyway, Chaete was still somewhere underground.

Resolutely she set off, trying her best to ignore the worm's frequent interjections.

“Hello, hey?”
“Are you there? Hello?”
“I know you can hear me!”

It thankfully didn't take long for a noticeably happier (though slightly frustrated) Chaete to give in and tunnel her way across Amaranth's path. She coughed out a mound of earth and worms as she emerged and tilted her head in another fairly indecipherable expression... though her following words were accompanied by a muted feeling of resentment.

“Hey! Why are you ignoring me?
I already told you how bad this dirt tastes, are you trying to poison me? And what was that noise just then? The whole earth shook!”

Amaranth was starting to wonder what she thought she would have gained by further conversation in the first place.
“I can't speak to you when you're underground, I can only make sound using my mouth and you won't be able to hear it unless you are close by.
Do you really have to be so loud when you do talk? I almost can't hear myself think.”

Chaete thought about this and then leaned her head further in suspiciously, though when she next spoke her voice was at least a lot less intrusive. More of an accusatory whisper than a dominating shout.
“Wait, you don't have a mouth!”

”I don't...? No, this is a mask! I have a mouth underneath.”

Chaete flexed her teeth experimentally but only managed to produce a sound like a woodchipper trying to eat a sheet of corrugated iron.
“That's weird.” was her solemn conclusion.
“Where are you going?”

She was still homesick for the voices of her parents of course but she was starting to realise that there were some advantages to their absence. She'd been told that humans were untrustworthy, dangerous creatures that would either kill her or lock her in a hold somewhere and despite her initial experiences this one had saved her life. Besides, the forbidden is always incredibly interesting to all children even if they're aliens.

Amaranth really wasn't sure this was the escort she wanted especially if she was heading back into danger again but didn't see the point in lying. If nothing else, the worm's teleportation would be useful for getting away if she had to and hopefully she would just stay underground most of the time.
“I'm going to go and find out what made that noise, it might be dangerous.”

”Can I come?”

Well that obviously hadn't worked, she sighed.
“What's your name then? I need something to call you and you have to do exactly what I tell you to do.”

”I'm Chaete. Are we almost there?”

This was going to be a long walk.
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

The little sun flared. It was a perfectly natural thing for it to do.

Under the circumstances, it was the most normal act in the Godsworn Valley, barring such mundanities as breathing - which many soldiers were ceasing to do. Dying was always more normal than living; there were thousands of ways to die on a battlefield and only one way to stay alive. Normality lay thick in the trenches, in the branches of the burning forest, in the mass graves for the grave masses that were once each faction's forces' fighting men.

On the other hand, Rachel stood as an antithesis to normality, a stellar hellish valkyrie, chasing stragglers through the burning forest: famous-last-standers, runaway survivors, fear-frozen headlight-gazers alike fell under plumes of lightning and superheated air. Destruction for the sake of a twisted anger and pleasure in seeing the world that hated her, used her, die, crumble, flash into ash...

"Edward? Edward!"

Some said it slithered, others saw it fly, still others claimed in their last cries: 'the shrouds are falling!' as they died. It was a swathe of anonymity that none could agree on, because those burdened with proof found their burdens taken away. It had no hearsay, for there was no one alive to say, and often no one left alive to hear.

"Careful! Laney dear, the cave's awful dark back here. Can you bring the lantern? I think-"

That was going to change.

Everything around her had to burn had to burn, how dared they live a life normal, “How dare you!” she screamed unheard over the sound of the death at her own hands. With the sound of thunder, the air tore apart, unbalanced lances of plasma arcing from tree to tree, metal buttons ringing and singing - stray anions finding their cation partners in a electric dance, sending lightning alighting on the corpses of the fallen. The smell of burning flesh, brown and bittersweet, rose into the air, mingling with the chemical stink of weapons manufacture. And it, in turn, wound about the sad fragrance of conflagrating maple wood, the sharp aroma of decades-old bristlecone pines going up in flames.

"You just said that, you silly! What did you think?"

Behind was the flame; unrestrained, the licking fluttering insubstantial tongues of fire consumed and tore and crushed the harmonies of life for itself, took away the microcosms of melody and countermelody for the harsh dissonant noise of fire’s false life, half-life...

"Can you bring the lantern?"

If the forest was a polyharmonic choir, then the flames were a neverending, heckling caterwaul that rasped against the grain of the universe.

"Oh, all right, dear. I'm coming. Oh, this is f-"

Shapeless black leapt and slid and prowled in between the burning branches, avoiding the heat and glow that cast unhealthy highlights across its sinuous body; a body not built for light nor clarity of being. It searched for the other it had smelled - a familiar smell, from before the forest but after new things had begun to happen, following the fire flanking its sides. Deep within it, something territorial pulled itself from the black miry ooze of instinctual thinking, and formed itself into something new, incomprehensible to a human mind; yet it was akin to a foreign language, falling into familiar shapes and cadences.


"I'm coming."

It had the shape of anger.

It had the shape of jealousy.

What it did not have the shape of was fear.

Rachel paused, in front of a cairn of corpses dripping with the remains of a Gatling gun. Burst sandbags had devolved into shards, globules of shining glass, with pools of what were once spent cartridges collecting in every depression they could find.

She took a few deep, useless breaths. A little voice in the back of her mind was starting to say, faintly, "Those people had families, you know. They're going to go home pre-cremated. There probably won't even be enough ash found to fill half an urn. There won't be a funeral, or anything to remember Daddy or Mommy by - just an empty space on a mantelpiece where remembrance should be. You're still a machine, Rachel - a war machine..."

"Shut up, shut up!" Anger was a refreshing oblivion compared to the yawning chasm that guilt opened up; it strung a red blindfold across her eyes so she couldn't look down and trip and fall off the tightrope, down into the depths of being weak, weak and helpless and used. It was fine if you didn't think about it don't think about it don't don't-

“Dear God, don’t let the monster find me. Dear God, don’t let the monster find me...”

Formless yet with purpose, hemmed in by walls of spitting, hissing, burning biomass, it came. Branches shoved aside, splinters flying, seeking the epicenter of the flaming chaos that held the forest in its incandescent grip. It tore open a gash in the trees and found its mark standing in the center of the flaming debris, in a clearing filled with wood ash, like decades’ worth of slash-and-burn agriculture compacted into the space of a minute.

“I’ll be a good girl and clean my room and brush my teeth and be polite to Mum and Dad and...”

”be a good girl”

The little girl’s voice carried across the sound of the flames - off guard, Rachel turned on her heel, driven by a force maternal, more elemental than even the white-hot anger. But there was only a darkness in the gap between two flames, a living darkness deeper than what could be achieved by mere absence of light.

It took the moment to leap...

Rachel’s hand rose of its own accord, issuing a plume of flame that spat from her palm and rose into the dry air, a mushroom of infrared radiation carrying entropy in its wake, illuminating for a moment flashes of black furred flesh teasing the light.

“Stay back. Don’t you come near me. I am heat, and light, and life. You are cold, and darkness, and death. You fear me - Sonora - you fear me.” She sought to resolve details of the form behind the fire, but all she saw was vague movement and no shape as it circled her, leaping from shadow to shadow.

It felt no fear. Fire could hurt it, flames could scorch its flesh, but it could kill its rival before its rival could burn it. It feared fire. It did not fear this flaming form who so proudly thought it could keep it at bay.

Yet something did keep it from leaping forward to eviscerate that metal neck. That arched sheath of vertebrae, chromed, silvered, perfect. If it moved this way, it could see its own reflection in the unmarred gloss. Necks - it had torn apart so many others but yet this one was different, not only familiar from that which was outside - another emotion crystallized from a heart used only for the hunt for countless generation and it burned, just like an inner fire, but one that didn’t hurt.

It put that from its mind. Perhaps it could eviscerate her later. But this one was brave. Too brave. The courage of those utterly without the fear that stopped them from, say, banzai charges.

All the soldiers who learned that banzai charges didn’t work died in banzai charges.

“The Outsider said we could leave when one of us...ceased.” Rachel looked around, taking in the cessation all around them. “Who are you?”

<font color="#314248">”the monster”

“You are Sonora.”

A cultured voice, of some long-dead society woman, came from somewhere in the shadows. Its source lithely slid from velvet dark to velvet dark, moving about, surrounding its prey, “For my part, I don’t think such ghastly apparitions exist.”

“You exist...The Outsider brought you...it...it said-” An arc of electricity jetted from her right palm as the little sun hiccuped, its output spasming, the flare now on its last dregs. “No! No no no no no!”

“Lady Betchey, whatever is the matter? You look as if you’ve seen a ghosaaaarrrrrgghhhh” The woman’s voice ended in a long low gristled scream, intermingled with the living screech of the presumed Lady Betchey; which in turn terminated in loving surround-sound detail. It was such a shame to start a quote and not follow it to its conclusion.

The stink of death in the air: how could she not have noticed it before? They were dead, they were all dead, she killed them, like - “no no no” - like she killed everyone in the facility but they had used her, treated her like a machine! Everyone had to pay they should all burn, they should all burn she had to get away, she couldn’t look at the bodies anymore she couldn’t

She wanted to crawl into a hole and hide until everything was just a bad memory - but the sound of gunfire in the air, far away, close by, masked by the licking of hungry flames - it would never be a bad memory it would never stop they would never get away-

With a touch, an effort of will, the ground crystallized and evaporated under an onslaught of heat and flame, it moved out of the way as Rachel dug her way into the ground, escapism at its best; she was so sorry so sorry she’d bury some of these she’d do right she’d stop cations spurting from a sun winding down...

Her plan hit a snag, however, when her makeshift grave opened up into a tunnel and she fell through with a heavy clunk.</font>

A shadow in the crook of ever-enroaching fire looked around, at the blaze closing in, and leapt after her.

And in Malhaven, the Goddess of Subterfuge felt Her Temple’s Labyrinth invaded. It was impossible to read emotion in the set of Her thin lips and in the dark glass of Her eyes, but her footfalls were dangerously light as she swept from the meeting hall of the gods.