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Hunting in the North

Chapter Text

In the run-up to her planned assault, Keris leads her farisy chargers to a camp closer to the fog wall. The weather has warmed over the past month, and now it’s sometimes even above freezing for much of the day. Her cataphracts have taken up residence in raw greenwood cabins built by her marottes, and the snap of their pretty bright green banners and ribbons is caught in the wind. The sky overhead is bright blue with hardly a cloud in the sky, and the white snow gleams.

When Keris approaches the fog wall, she can hear it sizzle when it’s in direct sunlight.

The leader of her cataphracts is a dashing and sizable grey horse whose rider is some manner of hyena-faced monster with long claws that Keris hasn’t seen before. The rider is covered in red-lacquered armour, and Keris notices that he has many of Echo’s red ribbons woven into his mane.

“My lady,” he says to Keris respectfully. “We are ready to move as you might wish. What is your plan, regal one?”

Keris is clad in her silver armour, her faceplate drawn back for the moment. She twirls Wyldeater off her back with an economical movement of arms and hair. A month’s exposure has acclimatised her to the Pyrian sound of the thing - mostly.

“I’ll go in first,” she says. “Our goal is to kill as many raksha as possible with this, to take them back to Lord Ligier for his forges. We’ll take this one environment at a time - first the mists, then the glacier, then the mountain itself. I’ll enter ahead of you, quietly and without being seen. Then you and your troops will charge. You need to get a response - draw them out, make them flee, panic them; it doesn’t matter exactly what they do. What matters is that it throws them into enough chaos that I can strike from within their ranks. Any that try to escape out towards the edge of the Wyld Zone, you herd back in. Any that flee inwards... well, they’ll just be putting off the inevitable. I’m leaving you in command of the cataphracts.”

The cataphract raises his lance in a salute. “Yes, my queen! I shall make you and the princess Haneyl proud these coming days, on my honour and my name Matahi va Scarlet!” He roars like a leopard. “Riders! Our queen demands our service! Our princess demands our service! Let us ride!”

((6 successes on his Vainglorious Braggart Style roll to impress Keris.))

“Good luck and good hunting, Matahi va Scarlet,” Keris says, grinning. “We will ignore the denizens of the mists as too weak to bother with. I’ll use gifts of the Great Mother to begin drowning each area before entering, so wait for twenty minutes or so after the rain starts in the fog, and then advance. The glacier on the other side is where we’ll begin.”

She acknowledges his salute, and steps into the fog. The mutants here - if they’ve returned - aren’t even worth the time it would take to kill them. But here is a perfectly acceptable place to start cutting away at the Wyld zone. Snapping her faceplate down and withdrawing the armour from one hand, Keris draws Ascending Air across her palm, kneeling to slam it into the ground.

I am strong,” she sings, “my blessings grand, my heart an ocean...

The frozen ground turns red beneath her as the hymn goes on; the stain spreading out and shifting to a more violet shade. When it’s finished, Keris stands with a satisfied nod and sets off, ignoring the sharp pain from her hand. It’ll heal when she gets started with the killing and can flare. And with a little luck, this will count as something happening to let her pass!

The rain falls, icy cold rain that freezes even as it hits the ground. Soon Keris’ armour is coated in a thin layer of ice that shines like it’s an oilslick. The permafrost is melting, leaving marshy swamps full of giant chunks of ice and floating fallen trees. Keris can hear the cries of panic and the fear from the natives of this forest. Not humans, but the hungry long-toothed birds who flap away from her cawing their alarm.

The fog is forming around her lake, too. There’s open water here, where there’s no fog - and then around it’s the fog wall. She gets the feeling that it’s... it’s like a pearl. This lake is a pearl inside the Wyld, something it’s trying to push out. And annoyingly, that won’t count as a ‘thing that happened’ because she’s not in the Wyld right now.

“Ooooh. Pretty iceberg-trees,” Rathan coos. “Mama, you’re so clever.”

She shakes her head, as another ice-laden tree falls, bobbing up and down. Annoying.

Working her way out of the reality-pearl takes a bit of running, but she manages it eventually. She is then left with the annoying conundrum of how to get through onto the glacier. And a hurting hand.

She responds to these by flaring her caste mark, taking a page out of her daughter’s book and beginning to set the trees on fire. Something in Haneyl’s last growth spurt seems to have made her fires more potent, and it doesn’t take long before Keris has a merry little blaze turning a corridor of trees into white ash. She points it towards the glacier as a convenient and helpful guide for her farisyya to follow.

... it’ll probably have burnt out by the time they get there, but the scorched corridor of ash should be a simple enough hint to follow.

Keris hears in the distance behind her the war-roar of the farisyya and the distant beating of their hooves. There are some nearly human screams and the sounds of lances hitting flesh and hooves grinding into fallen bodies. The farisyya seem to be in the fog now, and either something tried to attack them or they went and chased after the first thing they saw.

Either way, from the sounds of it they have it in hand, but they’ve scattered in the engagement. She rolls her eyes, and boosts her anima to bonfire levels.

“To me!” she bellows. “Cataphracts of the flower and thorn; to me! Matahi va Scarlet; gather your troops!”

((Keris is trying to rally them, so that’s her Per + Command.))
((Fuck. 3+0+3 Malfeas ExD+2 stunt=8. Uh. Wow.))
((... four tens again. Nine successes.))

Her roar must have been loud enough to cut through the charging fervour of the farisyya. As one they trot towards her, forming up in tight ranks. Their lances are bloodied and a few of them have had their puppets decorate their flanks with body parts from the dismembered hungry ones they’d been hunting for sport. None of them have died or even look hurt - it was very much a one-sided massacre with the heavy demonic cavalry against naked nearly humans.

Keris sheds a few tears behind her faceplate for the mutants. They had savage, bestial lives, but they were still lives. Stupid. They should have stayed gone after she’d chased them out the first time. Such a waste.

She shakes her head and raises Wyldeater, catching her cataphracts’ attention.

“Well done, my farisyya!” she calls. “The first of many victories! Now we move into the glacier!” She bites her lip, considering. The glacier is vast, and the raksha in it won’t really have any single locations they’ll gravitate to. Her farisy will get split up again if they charge, too.

Better to keep them with her. And she can’t exactly stealth her way through anyway, not flaring like this. A slower approach, then, to give her soul time to settle.

“We make straight for the mountains,” she declares, “slaying anything we find en-route! Stay in formation, and follow Matahi’s lead. Onward!”

The massacre of the wyld mutants was apparently enough for the waypoint to let her pass, because it’s a short walk at the lead of her cavalry before the fog clears and Keris and her horses find themselves on the glacier. The ice creaks. The sky is bright blue, but there’s no sun in the sky. The sky itself is glowing blue.

Keris frowns. She doesn’t think it was like this last time. She looks around warily and sights across the glacier, trying to find any signs of the path she burnt across it last time she was here. It’s faint and indistinct, but Keris manages to find some of the flowers her anima banner leaves behind, frozen under the ice. They’re wilted, but her eyes pick them out under the strange blue glow of the sky.

“This way,” she says. “Keep alert. There may be eyes on us. And stay on the lookout for any raksha we can kill.” She ushers them past her and crouches, cutting her hand open again. She chants her hymn of benevolence again; sowing another reality-pearl under the glacier and hastening after her troops as it begins to push back the Wyld.

The reaction here is... strange. There isn’t a fog-wall to seal it off here. Instead, the glacier floods as ice melts, and a sparkling blue mountain lake forms, a deep indigo that looks far far deeper than Keris thought it was. It doesn’t just form a static lake, too. Water starts to run down the cracks and crevices, full of metal salts and laden with ice and soon the broken glacier has rivers running across it, coming from the seemingly endless source of her blessed waters.

She smirks. Somewhere deep in the mountain stronghold, she suspects there are faeries who are starting to become very worried.

She’ll see them soon, though. For now she concentrates on trying to calm her soul back down, and on leading her farisyya troops across the glacier.

The first sign of hostility comes very soon afterwards. Ahead of her, she sees thick, fluffy white snowclouds forming that are themselves covered in hanging icicles. They’re so cold they’re steaming. They’ll be on her in minutes, and she suspects they’ll try to freeze the tits off her and the farisyya. Um. If the cataphracts have tits.

Keris thinks very quickly. Can she create another lake that the clouds can’t enter? No, not enough time. She’s in no danger; she can remember Adrian and be immune, but the farisyya can’t. Can her anima banner shelter them? It would mean going totemic, and... no, it would hurt them.

So she runs. She runs forward, as fast as she can. In the past, she’s only bothered to defend against faerie reality-warping once, but there’s nothing actually stopping her doing it more, she reasons.

“Scatter!” she calls over her shoulder, just in case. “Avoid the snow! Get around it; it’ll kill you!” Sprinting to meet them, she plunges into the cloud and feels only the first bite of chill before remembering an infinite river without end or beginning, and infinite torments within.

And then remembers her again. And again. It’s draining, but she keeps her caste mark flared; offsetting the exertion. Whatever out there is swamping her under waves of cold and hunger. The freezing emptiness of the waves of weather is something she almost recognises. But it takes far too long before she even feels the cold flinch. And... it doesn’t stop it. The cold sweeps over her farisyya and she hears roars of pain from them.

They’ve been found. They have very clearly been found. The plan is bust.

Keris flares her soul to its highest and roars defiance at the storm, hitting the source again and again and again as fast as she can. The sound of Haneyl’s wailing as her horsies get hurt drives her to a fury and her soul lashes out, a cutting thing driven into the hungry cold. No one makes her daughter cry for real!

And like that the cold is gone. Her farisyya are moving, but they’re frosted over. It’s like they’ve been coated in diamonds, and the flesh of their riders is broken and bruised from the ice that punches out through it. They cluster together. They’re scared, Keris suspects. They’ve never felt cold like this before and it was an enemy they couldn’t fight. She pants; momentarily winded but fast recovering. Her anima plays dark, low notes of rage and bitter hatred.

“Matahi,” she says. “You’re all alive?”

“A... a... a...” the farisyya gulps down air, ice coating his armour. “A little cold, my queen.” It’s an obvious pretence. She purses her lips and glances in annoyance at her flaring soul. It’ll take quite a while for it to settle now. Her plan of sneaking in and drawing out the defenders with the farisyya is trashed. And... she doesn’t want to get them killed. Not when Haneyl is already sobbing. Not when it’s her fault for not thinking to give them better defences against the cold, or summon something better-adapted to it.

Of course, phrasing that in a way that won’t wound their pride will be tricky. Ah. Of course.

“Our initial plan has failed,” she declares, loudly. “The thing that lives in the mountain saw us coming - and feared us. Enough that it threw its power into a terrible defence that left it vulnerable. For which,” she grins with many sets of teeth; bared and sharp and savage, “it has suffered considerably. The memory of Adrian is not kind to those who twist the world so.”

She steps forward, setting a hand on the horse’s neck. “You have fought valiantly, my cataphracts, and your fearsome charge has helped me strike the first blow against our foe. But here, I think, we should part ways. It will be licking its wounds now; but it has shown itself willing to accept pain to kill a force such as this. Should we all continue, it will winnow you down and die to Adrian’s torments instead of Wyldeater.”

She stands back and salutes them all. “Return to the swamp, my subjects. You have served me well.”

“Thank you, my queen,” Matahi salutes, his teeth chattering. “You are kind beyond measure. I could go on, of course - this is mere cold - but I thank you for your generosity and your wisdom. Already, the others are fading away, their binding ended and through the rifts in the world Keris can see glimpses of the swamp and see steam that escapes from that warm place.

“Farewell, sweet queen,” the horse says extravagantly, and vanishes too.

“Thank you, mama,” Haneyl whispers in her head. “They’re... they’re all hurt! I’ll make them better for you! I promise! And... and I’ll... I’ll make them all flowers that look like ice that they can wear to show how they helped you!”

“That’s a good idea,” Keris agrees. “And I... I will learn from this. Next time I’ll think of this sort of thing ahead of time,” she vows. “Next time I’ll do better.”

She turns back towards the mountain and spins Wyldeater in a blurred circle.

“But that’s next time,” she snarls. “Right now, our first plan has failed. So it’s time for Plan 2: Kill Everything Myself.”

It is darkly amusing, Keris considers, that the fae did this. After less than a minute - indeed, she can still see her lake behind her - she passes the edge of the valley, and enters the foothills of the mountains. The trapped fae things are sealed under layers of ice.

Or, at least, they should be. But what was once smooth isn’t any more, and they’ve clawed their way out. There’s thin wiry things and big things with big claws and even bigger things with bigger teeth and absolutely huge things that look a bit like mammoths, if mammoths were made of teeth. Only one of them has clawed its way out to date, but its trunk is already lashing out and it’s eating anything that comes within range. There are riders on its back, trying to corral the beast with chains of silver and tendons.

((Wow, are they about to have a bad day.))

This is intolerable, she decides. She can’t have the fae eating each other. They’re all meant to be getting eaten by her tetsubo! To this end, she makes a running leap and brings the crystal-studded iron club down on the mammoth-thing’s skull with bone-cracking force, calling Echo out behind her as she begins the massacre.

There are lots and lots of toothed things. This is a positive. Not only does it mean that she can collect a great many fae before risking unknown territory, it also means that she may be able to draw the other defenders out here, onto ground that’s steadily giving way to her waters.

The first mammoth goes down very hard, and very fast. Keris is angry, her pride stung. She’s frustrated after a month spent cooped up in a cold northern retreat - for what has turned out to be a pointless exercise. And the sadistic humour of using something like Wyldeater against the hordes of hungry men has left her feeling... creative.

She’s done with subtlety. She’s done with complex plans. Oh, she’ll come back to them later, but right here and right now is her first chance in a long time to cut loose, and her soul is flaring bright. She’s a flicker on the wind, a silver glint in the hurricane, and nothing can touch her. She calls Echo out behind her and surrounds herself with Rathan’s light; cutting at the hearts of those who would oppose her.

Where her blows don’t instantly crush her foes; poison and billows of green fire down them. The vast mammoths and huge monsters stand five times her height, but her blows fall on them like basalt rain; hammering them to their knees and breaking bone and teeth alike.

And over it all, she laughs.

“Is this the best you can do?” she cries at the things within the mountain. “Is this all you’ve got?

The ice is soon left silent as Dulmea’s music ebbs. Nothing moves. Echo flickers behind Keris even though she hasn’t called on her, whirling her wind-copy of Wyldeater around like a child with a new toy.

Wyldeater didn’t leave any bodies. It devoured them whole, drawing their essence and their very nature into it. It’s now surrounded with a chaotic bonfire-bright multicoloured fire, and twitches and slobbers and shudders in her hands.

And there’s no response to what Keris said. Not overtly. But the mountainside splits open, like a great maw. Red bloody lighting streams out. The rock within steams. There are stalagmites and stalactites of white rock rimming the new cave.

It’s an invitation. Come on, it says.

Keris’s lips pull back from bright white teeth. It’s eager, but it’s not a smile. She stops to summon another lake on the mountainside, then walks up to the cave-mouth.

“With pleasure,” she says, and knocks one of the rocky teeth out on her way in. Behind her, she feels Echo spin out just long enough to destroy the others as the cave mouth closes behind her.

((This is probably the Wyld zone equivalent of swallowing a packet of razor blades.))
((... worse, actually.))

Keris’ soul burns bright around her. She’s a burning radiance in these dark places. Red light forms a mandala behind her and green crowns her. There are things in the depths of the mountain - big, horrible things. Powerful things, too. Things made of teeth. Walls that try to savage her. One giant woman that looks like a freeze dried corpse with a mouth like a hagfish. They call to her. Whisper to her. She’s prey. She’s food. That no matter what she does, she can’t kill the things in here. Not unless she kills and eats them.

((10 success UMI attack))

She laughs at them mockingly. It’s a lie. Just like everything else in this place. Her very presence shows how little power they have over her. Water seeps from where the light of her soul falls. Flowers grow in her wake; bone-white roses with fang-like thorns. The gullet-tunnels corrode where she walks, and the rents and scratches left in the walls squirm into impossible street maps under her gaze.

She’s not gentle. Green fire chews huge holes in the walls and floor where she slams Wyldeater against them. She sings as she walks; loud and mocking, praising her own generosity in cleansing this maddened place and taunting them in the lyrics about washing down their blood and flesh with cool water.

She cuts her hand at the end of every verse; letting her blood drip on the ground even as the wounds seal close. Normally, any blood in these mountains would be devoured on the spot. But not this. This is charged with infernal power. And it heralds a flood.

((Hmm. It’s Combo-OK, so... I guess you can flurry it while doing other things?))
((Which in this case are “stalking through the corridors murdering everything she finds, setting various bits on WWI fire (partly out of annoyance but mostly so she doesn’t wind up going in circles) and looking for the middle bit where the boss monster is”.))

The water rushes out. The tunnels flood. And these creatures of frozen wastes and bloody tunnels soon find that they’re not sea creatures.

It’s really a question. Does Keris get to them first, or do they drown? Too many of them drown - any of them drowning is too many - but Keris claims her fair share. She’s a shark cutting through the tunnels; utterly unhindered by the cold water. The only warning of her approach is the light, and panicking as they are, all too few are ready by the time she reaches them.

She cracks the skulls of the corpses she finds as well, of course. They may not be living Wyld essence any longer, but she’s relatively sure Ligier can find a use for them nonetheless. Sadly, it turns out Wyldeater only devours living raksha, and appears to have no interest in dead ones.

The water runs down and down, and born on the bloody tides is Keris. Rathan is cheering with joy and Echo is of course having immense amounts of fun.

It’s a fun day out for all the family, Keris thinks to herself with an amused twist.

But here’s the final portal. Within this organ-like system of tunnels, this one is flesh. It’s a slobbering mouth, a door leading into some other place. It’s warm, too, but even as Keris touches it she feels it get colder. It’s a warmth that only exists because it takes from others. Always taking. Always hungry.

Keris thoughtfully and to Haneyl’s great appreciation feeds it with - in order - a full strength blow from Wyldeater, a massive gout of green fire and three Ligerian grenades thrown through the rapidly-expanding hole.

The door pulls back, and it’s then that Keris realises, peeking through, that it wasn’t a door. It was a head. A giant’s head. That had its mouth open over the tunnel as some kind of trap for her. Through the open gap, she can see the three headed giant stagger back, the jaw on its central head utterly shattered. Keris skips through, casually dodging the spat blood that fills the corridor behind her, and finds herself in a hollow space.

She knows exactly what kind of hollow space it is. So does Rathan.

“Stealer! Cheat! Mean horrible thief!” he screams in her head. “Mine! It stole it!”

Because this is the interior of a heart. She’s at the heart of the mountain. And around here there are more idle three headed giants, lounging around - and in the centre, in this giant heart that must be kilometres across, lounges a ten-headed giant who sprouts many clawed hands from his shoulders. His paunch is incredible in size and drags along the floor. He’s grotesquely, comically fat. The others are maybe three to ten metres tall with oversized mouths - he’s in the middle of this range, but so much broader and so much fatter.

But he’s surrounded by bones, and his long arms are covered in blood. And so are his mouths. His nails are teeth and his skin is bone and oh yes. He’s bleeding all over. His skin has been lashed by ice and razors.

She grins savagely. So this is the one. Her eyes flare green as she takes them in - the three-heads and the ten-head.

“Yours,” she croons to Rathan, summoning his light again and tugging on passions that have no control or other loves to guard them. “And I will feed it to you, I promise. I’ll drown this whole place, as soon as they’re dead. It’ll all be yours.”

((Wait. That means the first 3-head.))
((Just swallowed three Ligerian grenades.))
((This is not going to go well for it, I feel.))

Keris takes them in, even as explosions tear the giant she crippled apart from the inside. They’re big. They’re old. She can read their story already - they’re the princes of the Wyld here, who eat the lesser things and who spawn the ones under the ice. They’re hungry things, who will some day devour the world if they are given the chance.

It’s pathetic. They’re all so pathetic. So weak. She’s talked with Metagaos when he wore the skin of Unquestionable Lilunu. She’s known true hunger. These things are all so weak. Oh, certainly, the many armed one is nearly as strong as she is, but he’s the only one. The others are feeble.

((Most of the giants are E3-5ish. Their king, however, is E7))

She laughs wildly, leaping over the corpse at the next-nearest three-head. “I could devour you all,” she sings, and the words are caught and amplified by her anima as Dulmea plays the truth of it. “I could feast on you forever! And I won’t!”

The voice of Metagaos, the stillness of Adorjan, the charisma and presence of Ligier and the Shashalme - they feed Keris’s confidence, and perhaps enough of them echo through her music that the giants know a little of what they face. The one she lunges at certainly seems frightened, though admittedly it has just seen her break the jaw of one of its comrades and then blow it up from the inside out.

She keeps an ear on the king as she dodges its attempt to stamp on her and makes for the first of its heads.

For, and past, landing squarely between its left and middle head before pushing off in a jump that takes her to the wall. There’s a tripartite scream behind her as Echo gleefully applies her wind-tetsubo to all three heads at once.

Then she’s up and onto the wall, sending gleaming brass grenades spinning out with a casual toss of her hair at the nearest few giants she can hear. The little spheres look harmless as they whistle down; tiny against the bulk of the creatures they’re aimed at.

If they knew that three such spheres had blown apart the first of their fellows, they’d probably be looking a lot more worried.

The grenade, twisting and tumbling through the air is just too fast for the swipe to catch it and so it hits a giant in the eye. Keris grins at Ligier’s inventiveness and the way that they’re so aerodynamic - almost like throwing a well-balanced knife.

The fire bursts all around them, green bonfires only adding to the chaos. Keris’ anima overshadows them, but the green is an alien invasion into this world of red, tooth white and blue ice.

Keris sees the king pull himself up. Sweating blood that freezes all around him, he breaks into a scuttling sprint that uses his arms as well as his legs and which gobbles up the distance. With a vaulting leap, he springs up to the cavern roof, clinging on. He’s still short of her, but he’s moving damn fast. Fast enough that she has to be worried that maybe he’s faster than her. For all his weight, the fat is melting off him like water as he pushes himself. His paunch is already shrinking.

((Moves and then jumps up to the ceiling, activating Apex Predator, Hunting Beast and Scuttling Killer))

For their part the lesser giants... well, they’re confused. And on fire. They really don’t like the heat. Worse for them, the injured ones get pounced on by some of the giants close to them. Even over the crackle of flames, the sound of tearing flesh and gross slobbering can be heard.

Keris meets him head on and at top speed. Her souls are united behind her - even Dulmea, usually so critical of brute force, supports killing these disgusting things as fast as possible. Wyldeater’s mass; as heavy as Keris herself by as light as a feather to her hands, swings round in a blurred circle at his slavering jaws with a force to crack stone.

The beast’s free hands blur as he claws and slathers at her, trying to force her to keep her distance. But it seems the speed at which Keris has been flipping Wyldeater around has made him underestimate the sheer weight of the weapon. The tetsubo’s mass bats his hands aside with raw force and momentum as it slams home, sending up a chorus of cracks and snaps from bones and teeth alike.

The beast moves with that same speed it used to close with her, grabbing for her weapon with its hands. It no doubt knows that this will lose it its arms. It doesn’t seem to care.

((We’re in Step 7 and he’s using To Eat Is To Live, sacrificing one of his four arm clusters to soak this attack. This sets to the damage to 0, hits him with a Crippling effect which removes a quarter of his arms and reduces the number of attacks he can take.))

With a roar of agony several of its arms splatter and Kimberian venoms get into the stumps. But it’s still alive. It sacrificed a few arms to avoid a worse blow, just like it burns fat to move fast. Keris feels she understands it. Its story is... it’s the monster, the one that will do anything to survive so it can keep eating, and even though it’s got fat, it only got fat because it could afford to. And even its fat is a weapon.

Of course, she grins manically, it didn’t expect to fight something like her. Because she’s not alone. And hers wasn’t the only blow. Echo is right behind her, grinning merrily as she brings her wind-Wyldeater round through the open gap where his arms were.

Keris zooms by, and it might have even thought it was safe. It wasn’t. Because in her wake comes a silent, laughing little girl carrying a massively oversized tetsubo she doesn’t exactly know how to use.

But that doesn’t matter when Echo is playing the spinny game, which is... uh, a game where she spins around in circles holding the tetsubo. With that, just being near her is a lethal hazard.

The hungry king manages to get an arm in the way before Echo hits him in the chest and then she’s spinning around and meat and flesh is raining down from the sky. He’s bleeding from countless stumps and now he’s not got very many arms left that aren’t being used to cling onto the ceiling.

Keris leans into the turn as she passes him, curving around to head back toward him. Half his arms are gone, and if he tries to use the rest to block her, he’ll fall. And in mid-air, he won’t be able to get away from her. But he’s still hungry. Still after her. And he’s pissed. He’s spitting teeth. Literally.

((Using a Simple Charm, Tooth Spitting Frenzy, made 3 attacks. Ranged attacks, spitting teeth at Keris. He’s spending motes on this, so he’s getting thinner and leaner.))

She ducks and weaves as she comes in, trusting her armour to take care of anything that does manage to hit her. He’s sloppy in his rage - and beneath the anger, she suspects he’s starting to fear.

Blood rains down on the floor of the heart-cavern. Blood and teeth. On the ceiling, Keris and the monster fight. Well, okay, Keris hits the monster with a giant spiked club while he misses. Meanwhile, on the floor the other giants roar and slather. Some of them are trying to climb the walls, but none of the, have the speed or mobility of their king. She does, though. Sliding around the teeth, she punches forward, letting Wyldeater’s mass and her speed drive it in. He’s down to half the arms he started with, his fat is all but gone and several of his mouths are toothless. She’s probably obliterated decades of gorging himself in the space of minutes. Even if he won right now, it would take him years to regain what he’s lost.

But he’s not going to win. He’s going to die. He doesn’t have many more arms to sacrifice - and if he uses them, he’ll lose his grip on the ceiling. In mid-air, he’ll be all but defenceless.

((Yeah, I think we really don’t need to go full the rest of the rigmarole.))
((It’s pretty obvious how it’s going to end, so... hmm. Roll me Physique + Melee, Diff 7 to do it successfully.))
((You have free engagement range and the difficulty of successfully taking him down and eating his soul without him going splat or falling and him being eaten by his followers or something is the major trouble.))
((5+5+2 stunt+5 Malfeas ExSux to be really unnecessarily impressive about it=12. 11+5=16 successes. Fuck yeahhhhh.))

He tries to block. Perhaps he thinks that his servants down below will catch him - or maybe that he can survive the fall and devour them to regain his strength. Whatever his logic, Wyldeater and Echo make mincemeat of his remaining hands, and he plummets.

Keris spins, skids to a crouch and leaps. Powerful legs push off the ceiling with explosive force, sending her rocketing downward far, far faster than the king can fall. He’s gaunt now; his belly the hollow thing of a starvation victim, his ribs showing clearly, his skin slack over atrophied muscles. Most of his heads are looking down at the slavering giants awaiting him.

Only a few look back at his nemesis. She spins Wyldeater over her head as she comes down - once, twice, thrice, until it’s a blurred mass that blazes blindingly bright with rainbow fire and seems to have phantom jaws of its own in the corona, howling for faerie souls.

The two falling bodies - one huge and slow, the other a sleek silver arrow - intersect. There’s a crunch like a hammer coming down on a walnut.

Keris lands alone.

((So. Question. Keris and falling damage. : V))
((She is aiming for a softish landing on one of the giants and hoping really hard that her armour is as good as it says it is. : P))
((Dulmea is also going to have a talk with her about these midair kills, because it is becoming a theme.))

She also lands on one of the remaining giants, with a sound somewhere between a thud and a squelch. Her momentum was slowed somewhat by hitting the king, but she’s still going fast enough that when Wyldeater’s entire weight comes down on its central head, the iron tetsubo wins.

With the death of the king, it’s pretty much all over bar the killing. And oh my, is there a lot of that. Some of the giants manage to flee the central waypoint. Not very many, though. And soon Keris is left alone, deep in the heart of chaos. The light of her soul bleeds out, twisting the raw potential into the shape of her aura.

She sheds her blood for the fifth time, singing a paean of triumph and victory to herself. Five waypoints, one after another. She can feel Rathan growing from the repeated sacrifices, and wonders what he’ll look like. The dead she inhales - at least, those few dead who weren’t killed by Wyldeater; the ones who died to grenade or the teeth of their fellows. She can find a use for them somewhere, probably.

The water rises faster here, flooding the centre of the chamber. The whole world is trembling. In fact, Keris thinks, something in the air changed when she slew the king. But now, this? The ocean at the heart of this place is doing something... strange to it. Her eyes flash as she takes in the essence of the place - while moving at a reasonable pace towards the exit, just in case.

Keris sniffs, and licks her lips. She can taste the air. It tastes like... Kimbery. Kimbery devouring the chaotic potential here. Keris might have sort of... uh, devoured the anchor for this waypoint. And made a line of taint infecting the geomancy. And killed a lot of fae. Like, a lot.

Oh, and run around flaring her anima pumping this place full of Hellish essence.

“This was a great day!” Rathan cheers.

Yes, she decides. There may be a fair chance this entire cluster of waypoints is about to collapse.

“It was,” she murmurs in agreement. “Now, ah, let’s get out of here before this place explodes or turns into a demesne or something.” She takes the quick approach to getting out, which is to point herself in a roughly upwards direction and then straightforwardly hit every wall that gets in the way with the still-blinding Wyldeater and darting through the hole as green fire eats enormous chunks out of the rock. As soon as she’s clear of the mountain, she points herself at the lake on the glacier and starts to sprint.

The mountain itself is sagging. The rock is falling apart in landslides and mudslides and snowslides which are probably technically called avalanches and teethslides and Keris has no idea what those are meant to be called.

Point is, the entire mountainside is leaning over like a floppy hat.

She turns once she’s fairly sure she’s at a safe distance and watches. She doesn’t stop running, of course - she’s not stupid - but she runs backwards as she takes in the fascinating sight of an entire mountain sagging as if someone had filled a paper bag with water and left it to dissolve.

... which, she considers, is not actually that far from the truth. Echo openly yet silently considers where she can get some paper bags.

Great flows of slushy-muddy-icy liquid course out of countless hidden caves on the mountainside. Rock boulders and teeth the size of houses are carried in the flow. The mountain is sinking down and down and down, and even as Keris watches the peak descends below her eye level. The entire hillside is becoming a vast sinkhole, filled with slush. It occurs to her to wonder what happens when a huge mountain full of water collapses in on itself, and for that matter where the water goes when it does.

Several pictures and phrases like “flash flood” and “head-high wall of fast-moving water” spring to mind, and Keris decides that she has probably seen enough here and that it is perhaps time to turn back around and leave properly. It’s not without some relief that she reaches the... uh... well, the place where the fog was, and stumbles across the now-unnecessary ward line and back into Creation.

She stands here for a while, panting. Then summons a cherub.

“Testolagh!” she crows happily. “You’ll be happy to learn that the wyld zone is gone.”

Somewhere a fair distance behind her, a crash echoes across the melting landscape.

“Aaaaand so is the mountain. It might form a Kimberian demesne, I’m not sure. It certainly won’t eat anyone else; that’s for sure. I’ve cleared my demons out of the encampment - if you want to set up a force of your own to watch and see if a demesne forms, you’re welcome to it. I’m taking the lab back, but I’m sure you can replace it with another building. I’ll leave you the marottes.

“As of now, I’m finished in the north-east and heading back to Malfeas to deliver Ligier his raksha. I’ll take Kuha with me and perfect the owlrider transformation, no fear there. The artifact to do everything itself might take a while, but at the very least I can get you a process that any vitriol-alchemist can use, and you can summon those.”

She tilts her head and considers. “Thank you, Testolagh. It’s been... it was good to meet you. I’m glad we could help each other.”

It’s pitch black outside the fog wall. It had been day in there. Keris isn’t sure how long she’s been in there.

The answer comes with Testolagh’s response. Apparently she’d been in the wyld zone for seven days. It sounds like a prank - she doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.

“Where will you be going next?” he asks her, to conclude. “If you can come back here once you deliver to Lord Ligier, I have something to discuss with you.”

“... well,” she admits, after sputtering a little over how unfair chaos is as far as time is concerned, “I do have to wait for Ligier to finish my ship before heading back to the southwest. I’d be happy to speak with you again. In which case I think I’ll send Kuha back to your island while I return Wyldeater and come back to pick her up with a transport of some sort to help her cross the Desert.”

“No, no,” Testolagh says when his messenger returns “It is something we should talk about once you finish the thing for the owlriders.”

Keris raises an eyebrow at that, but shrugs. Maybe it’s something to do with the flying corps he promised her in exchange. “Understood,” she sends, and then judges the time. Ten hours... no, wrong time of day to send a message to Sasi, even if she is on her own at the moment. She’ll send that one later.

For now, she starts back towards her now-almost-empty encampment and the owlrider there. Finally, she thrills. She’s heading home!

“Where is home for you?” Dulmea asks. It’s an oddly glum comment from her coadjutor.

“Not somewhere freezing,” Keris replies giddily. “Oh! And Rathan! I need to look at you, here! Let me see!” Skidding to a halt, she slips into her Domain where her souls await her.

The first thing Keris finds is a very dizzy Echo, who collapses onto her after spinning around like a top.

... has she been doing it since the fight? If she has, that’s an undue amount of focus on one thing for Echo.

“You can stop spinning,” Keris reminds her, just in case she’s forgotten. “Or at least start spinning the other way so that you balance out and don’t get dizzy.”

Echo gives her a deeply impressed look at this brilliant idea, and bounces back upright to start spinning the other way. Several of her ribbons, Keris notes, are now rainbow coloured. Hopefully she won’t start playing with giant hammers.

((And like that, whichever of Echo’s future 2CDs is going to basically be Vita was born.))

Keris looks around her soul. Maybe this is her home, under a black sky lit by a red moon. Dulmea advances towards her in a stately manner, one lock of hair resting on her gravid belly. “Well done, child,” she says seriously, sweeping Keris up in a big hair-hug. “Lord Ligier should be delighted with you.” A frown creases her face. “Though I wonder what the essence of the Demon Sea will do to that land.”

“Hands up everyone glad we’re not going to find out from inside it,” says Keris, hugging back and raising a hand. This does not get the response she hoped, since Dulmea just rolls her eyes, Echo is too busy spinning and Haneyl appears to be absent, possibly designing ice flowers.

Her son, though...

“Rathan?” Keris asks, glancing around for him. There’s no apparent sign of a red-haired toddler that she can see.

“He is inside, child,” Dulmea says. “In fact, he insists on being here for you, especially since - I suspect - Haneyl is busy playing apothecary-queen to her riders. He considers this a chance to one-up her and show you something new. Now, how about some tea?”

Keris snickers and links arms with her mother. “I better go in and see him, yes. Oh, actually, speaking of something new, what was that puppet that Mahati had riding him? Did Echo make another new demon without telling me?” She scowls. “I’d love to know how she can focus on demon-making for four hours at a time when she can’t focus on anything else for more than about five minutes.”

“Who is Mahati?” Dulmea asks.

“Haneyl’s lead farisy?” Keris reminds her. “The one with that... clawed hyena thing on his back.”

“Ah,” Dulmea say. “That would be one of mine. And I will need to... talk to Haneyl about letting her farisyya prey on my poor angyals.”

Keris blinks. “One of yours? Okay, this I need to hear.” She glances up - they’ve arrived inside, and she can hear Rathan in the next room. “... after I’ve seen his surprise,” she amends. “Rathan, sweetie?”

Keris is hit by a ballistic Rathan. All her children like throwing themselves at her, she’s found. She wonders what will happen when they’re old enough that they’re taller than her.

Arms wrapped around her waist, Rathan stares up at her from chest height. He’s considerably bigger than he used to be, and most of the baby fat is gone. He’s now perhaps the same age as Haneyl, though still younger than Echo, and he is a very, very pretty little boy indeed. Keris’ eyes water as she looks down at him. He’s paler than her, there’s a hint of blond in his red hair, and... and she can see the Rat in his facial features.

“Mama!” he says. “Mama mama mama mama!”

She kisses him on the forehead. “Rathan,” she whispers. “Did you have fun?”

“Yes! You did lots of pretty singing and we got to poison the mean mean many armed monster and Hanny got shown her stupid horsies weren’t as good as she thinks they are and she’s been bragging about it for a month and she also tried stealing one of my islands and I got bigger!”

“You definitely did that,” Keris agrees, hefting him. “Ooof. Soon you’re going to be taller than me! Then what will I do? So, is this your surprise for me? I’m very impressed.”

“I also made dinner for you and grandmama!” he says cheerfully. “Eat up!”

((It is three successes worth of meal, which means, alas, it is okay, but he is not as good as Haneyl with food. Also, it’s very fishy))

Keris eats and makes appreciative noises at the fishiness while Dulmea explains her angyals.

“I have taught you a great deal, child,” she begins, “but I have learned from you as well. And the first lesson I took from watching you was that...” She sighs, her mouth twisting in a grudging smile. “There are, however distasteful they may be; times when open, outright violence is called for. So when I saw that Echo was making serfs as the souls of the Yozis do, I decided to see if I could create something that had the swift savagery that you put to such good use without losing the elegance of a proper angyalka.”

Keris blinks and pouts a little at this, but Dulmea’s proud smile mollifies any offense taken from the implied slight. “I think it safe to say,” her mother says, “that I succeeded. And once we are finished here, I will show you how.”

The Scourge of Adorjan lets her son snuggle closer and beams up at her, popping another bite of fish into her mouth.

“I’d like that,” she agrees.