Work Header

Hunting in the North

Chapter Text

By the end of Rising Air, Keris has finished her first wonder; etching the last few glyphs onto the silver lining of the bowl and binding the soil, water and plant matter to their container. Perhaps she could have finished it sooner if she hadn’t been distracted by her side-endeavours into painting and the twice-weekly outings with her kids, but that’s not something she can change now.

She tests it exhaustively until she’s satisfied - well, she also spends quite a bit of time just playing with it because it’s fun - and then boxes it up carefully and has a message sent to the Shashalme, informing them that Peer Keris Dulmeadokht wishes to present them with a gift in thanks for the aid they gave her with her tasks in An Teng.

Once again, it is no small trip to their garden. It has moved, and it is now five screams of the tomescu that Keris must sit in a pleasure barge pulled by giant maggots that takes hidden paths across the levels and - eventually - emerges from the catacombs of Malfeas onto one of the floating icebergs of Kimbery anchored just off the shore of the Swamp himself. The mound of indigo ice is trapped by the luscious plants that grow atop the slush, and adoring slaves of the Shashalme dig away at the berg, carving out a mansion from which a vast rainbow hued flower grows.

Haneyl makes an adoring sound at the sight of this overgrown ice palace.

“I thought you were head over heels for Ligier?” Keris remarks to her, amused. The little girl has been proudly toting around the brass and emerald trinket he gave her on her wrist ever since Keris found a quiet moment to pass it in to her.

“It’s not as pretty as Ligier’s shiny place,” Haneyl reluctantly concedes, “but there are more flowers and flowers are pretty! And it’s so clever! Look! This is how you show stupid icebergs and stupid oceans how much better you are! I’m going to make something that can grow in ice! And then throw it at the moon! That’ll teach Rathan to rain on my parades with acid!”

Keris rolls her eyes, and unstraps the crate from the barge’s small hold, lifting it into her hair with a faint grunt of effort. “Just don’t try to steal or infect anything here,” she orders. “That would end badly. For everyone. Now...”

She makes her way into the garden, pausing once or twice to marvel at the beautiful flowerbeds and the treasures scattered casually here and there. Eventually, however, she reaches the Shashalme’s throne at the garden’s lush heart, and bows.

“Unquestionable,” she greets. “To thank you for your generous patronage, I have brought you a gift. I hope you find it worthy tribute.”

The Shashalme is wearing its male form at the moment, and he crosses his legs, propping his chin up on his hand. “Oh, little one?” he asks, smiling. “How goes it with you, Keris?”

“It goes well, my lord,” Keris smiles, relaxing at his friendly demeanour and casual address. The Shashalme is far more approachable than Ligier - who was civil, but scary. Here, her gratitude for the help he’s given her drowns out the intimidation.

“My work in An Teng proceeds well, and the maps you gave me have been invaluable. I have started a cult in your honour among the Red Mountain family, and... well...”

She brings the crate forward, her hair swinging the heavy box smoothly around and settling it between them. “The last time we met, my lord, you said you wanted An Teng. I cannot give you the satrapy itself yet, but until I can, perhaps this will amuse you.”

Worming under the lid, her hair yanks out in four directions at once. The crate collapses outward, and left standing proud and unveiled to the world is Keris’s first truly magical creation.

An Teng in miniature. It sits in a shallow bowl of petrified wood about a yard across, lined with embossed silver. Modelled in exacting detail within is a perfect replica of the kingdom the Shashalme covets; fashioned from the water, soil and crushed leaves that Keris gathered and bound together with earth elemental chalcanth.

“A map seemed fitting, my lord,” Keris says shyly. “But this one lets you see your kingdom in more detail. You just command it like... this.” She runs a finger across an inscription on the edge of the bowl and taps two symbols. The model collapses into chaos; soil and water tumbling and flowing around one another, and then reforms as a scale model of Dragon’s Mouth Bay, as though the bird’s eye view of the kingdom had swooped lower to see from a closer vantage point.

The Shashalme leans forwards, and his features shift into her features, skin flushing red as she swells up. “Oh, Keris, this is wonderful,” she says, beaming. She leans forwards and zooms and un-zooms her view of the map, trying to see how small she can make it go.

Keris blushes prettily. “It, uh. I couldn’t get it to go much closer than city-map scale, she explains as the City of Steel Lotus appears; major roads marked between raised areas of earth that represent neighbourhoods. “The soil wasn’t strong enough to show buildings on their own, so I just went for the big roads and so on. But,” she clears her throat, “yes. I hope it pleases you, my lady.”

The demon prince reaches forwards and brushes Keris’ jawline with one of her twelve arms. “It is quite exquisite,” she says. “Keris Dulmeadohkt, I am quite delighted by this little trinket of your regard for me. It is beautiful - and so clever! So witty!” She plays around a bit with the zooming. “Wonderful. Simply wonderful. You have earned a rich boon from me indeed, for such generosity. What suits a clever little girl such as yourself, mmm?”

“Uh...” Keris’s blush has magnified several times; shading her dusky cheeks darker still. It’s rather hard to think. “I, um. A workshop, maybe? My townhouse isn’t really suited to crafting wonders - it’s fine for simple paintings and things, but not anything magical.”

((Um... what are you asking for? And is that a good idea considering it’s trying to load you down with debt?))
((Well, this is a 2-dot Artifact, so with the 1-dot Cult I’m currently at -1 boon dot : P. So I’m basically asking for that artisan manse, which, hmm. Would probably be 3 dots? And is one of my planned steps on expanding Keris into a more empire-building game, by giving her territory in Malfeas outside her townhouse.))
((Hmm, just wait while I search through Oaedenal’s.))
((I think we said I’d use a custom manse power that would basically trade mass production for a “jack of all trades” complex that could support more or less any kind of crafting. So that she can flit from glasswork to sculpture to metal forging to paper-making all in the same manse-compound.))
((Well, a Workshop Manse - linked to a single craft skill - is a 3 dot power. An Atelier-manse is linked to a single craft and does the mass production at 4 dots))
((Ah yes. So, hmm. Oh yeah, I remember. I was going to use an Artisan manse thing that was all crafts but no mass production, and then get it down to three dots with an aspect bonus that... I was planning on getting from Ligier. Dang. Hmm. So this would mean a Manse 4 and a 3-dot Principle. Hmm. Which... hahaha. Might actually work with Keris deciding to grab some raksha-heart tributes for the Shashalme on Ligier’s mission, since a 3-dot will mean she’s feeling really grateful for such a gorgeous manse-workshop and will want to do something for them on the mission while also paying Ligier back. And hey, if she’s capturing raksha anyway, this lets her make examples of the obnoxious ones and capture those that surrender, without any wasted by killing them!))
((So, hmm. 4 dot manse. 4 points used on the Omniworkshop power. What are you looking for with the other points?))
((... argh. Because on the one hand I could get Archive twice, allowing for eight different crafting Styles recorded in extensive detail, but on the other I could get a Bound Servant Force of crafters who produce things there and give Keris a source of income; this manse-compound making beautiful things that are then sold in the City. Hmm. 2 and 3 dots, and I only have 4 to play with... can I take a 1-point Maintenance flaw to get one Archive and a Bound Servant Force of demon artisans? Because that means that Keris is now, heh, a factory owner of sorts.))
((Nope. No Flaws. But you say you’re interested in getting an Archive, hmm?))
((... well, it’s a crafting manse and Keris loves learning crafting Styles, so it seems the obvious choice. Why?))
((Oh, nothing, nothing.))
(( ^_^ ))
((... ... ...))
((That was the opposite of reassuring.))

The Shashalme clasps her hands together. “You know, little Keris,” she observes, “I can think of a wonderful place for you! Just wonderful! It’s on the sixteenth layer, within the wastes of Aljahbzard. The blood of the Sphere of Speech fell there once, and power wells up there, a place where creation itself can be done. It came into my possession after it was most generously granted to me, and... well, it’s a little out of my way, but for one like you who can run like the wind it would be a triviality to find!”

Keris perks up. Blood of Elloge herself... that sounds like a manse. That sounds like a powerful manse. A place of wonders - and a place where she could make wonders. “That sounds wonderful, my lady,” she says, already eager to look around the place. Her face falls. “Ah, but I’m going to be back in Creation for a mission soon. I’ll have to think of another gift in thanks.”

The Shashalme spreads her hands. “I am sure you will think of something I will like - and of course, Keris, I desire An Teng. Do not forget it.”

The Scourge bows low. “I won’t, my lady,” she promises. “I have plans to widen your cult there now that they’ve settled into worship of you and seen how your gifts are greater than the other spirits there.” She looks up with a grin. “And to expand their influence, too. After all, if they control more land, and they worship you, then you own more of An Teng. It’s in their own best interests to take the kingdom for you.”

The Shashalme smiles, and plays with her map. Her fingers branch and sink into it, playing with the soil. “Yes,” she breaths. “Yes.”

Keris says her goodbyes, leaving her patron to enjoy her new possession. Back on the barge, she asks for a detour to the sixteenth layer on the way back to her townhouse, so that she can see the place of wonders that she now, apparently, owns.

... that thought is a little scary, to be honest, and Keris spends quite a bit of the long journey pacing relentlessly and worrying about who she can trust to be in charge of the place while she’s out in Creation. She knows Orange Blossom has territory in Malfeas - what if she moves against Keris’s new holding out of spite? Well, it’ll probably take a little while for the news of her acquisition to spread, but it’s still something she should probably plan for. Somehow.

This area of Malfeas is deader than usual. The basalt structures are slumped and demolished, and Kimbery has dissolved much of the underlayers to reveal wide open exposed sections of sewer-sea. Over in the distance, she can see a parade of dancers dressed in bright red, dancing around an outcropping of Szoreny. It’s... it’s quieter here than it usually is in the Demon City. Notably so. Quite a lot of the noise is being made by scattered wind-chimes hung up on the buildings, rather than the normal clambering of the demonic masses. Curious, Keris snaps shut the book on Tengese art she’d been working through for most of the five-day trip to the Shashalme’s garden and moves to the front of the barge to get a better look at wherever they’re heading. The relative quiet is nice, she thinks. It’ll make it easier to work here.

The manse is obvious to Keris. Its perimeter is marked out by a series of stone pillars painted in bright clashing colours which stand out from the black stone of the surrounding area.

The entire area within the perimeter is a depression akin to a lake. Strange stark black and white plants form the shape of Old Realm characters and grow in boats which float on the strange dark murky lake, while the island at the centre is a mad and sprawling affair of countless buildings which are leaning against each other as if they were put there casually with no forethought or planning. Black and white birds with bright eyes sing to her as she approaches - nonsense ditties in Old Realm.

Keris has the barge circle once before descending, giving her time to take in the strange lake and the mad construction of the island complex. She hops lightly out, glad to stretch her legs and hair on solid ground again, and looks around at the gibbering birds.

“This is the place of power owned by the Shashalme?” she asks the surroundings at large. “I’m Keris Dulmeadokht. They gifted it to me as a place to create new wonders.”

The black and white birds swirl around and above her, their flight spelling out characters in Old Realm. All the time they chatter-sing their nonsense songs.

WELCOME they write in the sky. WE FEEL THAT YOU OWN US NOW.

Keris can hear the strongly approving silent agreement of Echo that they’ve found a better-er way of communicating.


Keris has seen many strange, wonderful and outright bewildering things since first coming to the Demon City, not the least of which reside in her own soul. Chattering birds that spell letters with their bodies instead of talking is, at this point, only worth a curious glance and some blinking. She follows the flock as it wheels and flutters around her, guiding her to whatever icon they want her to take.

They lead her down to the lake - which smells of ink and something else she can’t quite identify - and there’s a small boat which leads her onto the island. Every building is covered in brightly coloured scrawled graffiti and when she looks at it, it’s actually really educational about... well. All sorts of things. The path leads her between the narrow tall ramshackle buildings, and down a spiralling staircase into the heart of the island.

It’s only when she’s half way down the stairs that she realises that the steps are now Old Realm characters. And aren’t connected. They’re instead floating in mid air. This... is worthy of a bit more attention. Keris cocks an ear to her surroundings, but hesitates only briefly before continuing downward.

At the bottom of the stairs, it is revealed that the entire island is floating on the strange murky lake. There’s an icon there, made of chalky white stone.

TAKE IT spell the birds.

Keris takes it.


((And Keris finds that, actually, the Omni-workshop has a 1 point Flaw which means you need to solve a Cog + Lore puzzle to find the right configuration to use the manse.
On the other hand, the birds are actually a Bound Guardian, not a Bound Servant - so they’re a 3 point creature. Who. Uh. Appears to be an akuma of Elloge.))

Keris frowns. Something about the birds and their story sounds familiar - and when she tastes one which lands on her finger, she does believe they’re not just demons. But she’s not quite sure what the bell they’re ringing is. Maybe later. She turns the icon over in her hands, examining it. The right words for the right craft, she thinks. What does that mean? Does it just mean she has to tell it what she wants to make? That seems... easy enough, she supposes.

“So... silverworking?” she tries, speaking half to the birds and half to the icon.

Around her, Old Realm characters light up on the walls in many colours. The world shakes and rumbles, and the stairs shift so they’re pointing somewhere else. And then it’s over.

IT IS DONE, MY MASTER spell out the birds. Keris grins. That easy? Oh, she’s going to like it here. She’s going to like it here a lot.

“Well then... sorry, you know my name, but I don’t know yours yet.” She tilts her head. “What are you called?”


Keris frowns. “I don’t serve anyone,” she tells them heatedly, and flares her caste mark. The green circle burns on her forehead, and she feels the rush of power as her soul’s light spills over and out of her body. “My power comes from the All-Makers, and I work for the Unquestionable as I choose.” She pauses. “Wait, hang on. What do you mean, pretend to be demons? Aren’t you?”


“A war against the Unquestionable...” She whistles softly. “Even if you lost, that’s impressive.” The black and white birds wheel and hover above her, still chittering their nonsense-rhymes in Old Realm. “Well, Paricehet. I’m pleased to meet you.” She smiles. “Now why don’t you show me around?”


Keris winces. There may be some bitterness there, she thinks. And from the sound of things, freeing or healing the flock would not be a good idea; not when they’d probably go back to starting wars again. Well, maybe she can figure out some other way to make them happier with their lot in life. Later.

For now, she passes the idol back into her hair and heads up to do some silverwork.

The stairs lead up further than they did before, and the island is smaller, narrower and... uh, sort of neater. There’s now a giant central forge and tall cooling towers which spew lilac fire up at the black sky of the Demon City. The walls are decorated with silver words over the top of the graffiti, and there’s examples of that ornamentation everywhere.

“Oh, wow,” breathes Keris, impressed. “Can you still make other things?” she asks the nearby birds. “Things that aren’t weapons, I mean?”


“I’m sorry,” she tells them, and means it. Having the knowledge of how to make beautiful things ripped out of their minds sounds horrible. “Well, let’s see what you can still do.”

She spends the rest of the day there, working with them to create mundane trinkets and valuables; moving quickly through simple works and onto more elaborate ones, testing the capabilities of both her manse and its residents. The tools here are incredible, even if a lot of them were never designed to be used by human hands. But mwhaha ha ha, Keris has her hair. It lets her use tiny vitriol-hardened brushes made of Malfean black lead to paint a tiny portrait of Sasi on silver. The nice thing about drawing Sasi is that there’s no need to colour her in.

((Can Paricehet still make beautiful things and trinkets to sell to the markets of the Demon City?))
((You’ll have to persuade it to do so. It’s bound to protect the manse, not to obey its current owner.))
((Hmm. I’ll leave that for later, then.))

Six hair ornaments go with her when she leaves; one for each of her kids, and she leaves Paricehet to protect the manse in her absence. Soon, she knows, Ligier will have decided on where he’s sending her, and what for. The jewellery is both gorgeous and well-received, and Keris is glad to get back. Overall, the trip to see the Shashalme took nearly a week. Why does Malfeas have to be so big! Still, both sets of kids seem to be mostly happy with their presents, even if Haneyl is complaining that Keris should have made seven instead of six and then given all of them to her.

Keris doesn’t have time to deal with that or her youngest’s new plans for ice-eating plants, though. Ligier has summoned her again. It seems he’s decided on her mission. At least for once she doesn’t have to travel, for Ligier has come to the Conventicle. It seems he’s doing things formally, because Keris has been summoned to an attendance with him and Unquestionable Lilunu.

She sighs. She’s missing Sasi already. Sasi would know what to do. She’s also wishing she could ask the Shashalme for advice, because it’s so smart and generous.

... of course, uh, there’s another reason she’s missing Sasi that the Shashalme can’t quite scratch. Probably. Although it isn’t unattractive...

Well, she needs to decide what to wear for her summons to the Unquestionable, Keris thinks. This time, she goes with an emerald dress that works aesthetics from her armour into its cut and accessories; giving it a martial air. This is a mission for Ligier, and so she’ll wear his colours when she gets briefed on it.

Unlike at Calibration, the Conventicle is mostly empty. There’s maybe ten Princes in residence, if that. Perhaps because of that, the demonic staff lavish even more attention on her, and Keris sweeps into the antechamber in her translucent dress made of emeralds, feeling like she owns the place.

Once again, she can’t help but compare herself to how she was before she made her Sorcerous sacrifice. She’s so much more confident, more solid, more certain in how she’s a Green Sun Princess. How was it a sacrifice to become like this? She waits in the antechamber to present herself to Ligier and Lilunu, wondering where she’ll be sent. To the Scavenger Lands, maybe, and Great Forks? She... thinks that Malfeas has something in mind for the Western Scavenger Lands. Or up North, maybe? Or the Deep South? There’s no way to know.

Eventually, Keris is shown in. They’re not using the grand hall for this - instead, it’s a smaller hall carefully sized so the physical presence of the two Unquestionable seated on their thrones at the end of the long room hits her like a hammer. Keris advances down the hall, past Ligier’s demonic guards who line the hall, and prostrates herself before them.

“Welcome, Keris,” Lilunu says. “Mighty Ligier has requested your services personally, and imparts you have some matter of personal agreement with him.”

“Yes, my lady,” Keris agrees. It seems safest. She can’t read the faces of the demon princes in front of her.

“Well, your mission from the Althing is not of the highest priority, so indeed a personal task from one of the Unquestionable - especially the first among us - is something you are free to do,” Lilunu concludes. “Serve us well, and you will be rewarded.” She inclines her head.

LIgier rises, crossing his arms behind his back. His expression is now blatantly smug. “What do you know of the North East?” he asks Keris.

“... not much,” she admits. “Um... I think a lot of expensive types of wood come from there, and... that’s all, really.”

“It is a barren and wearied place, where the ineptitude of the gods has let the walls of the world weaken,” Ligier says with a sneer. “Their dire management of the world our selves built has left it shamed and dishonoured - and far from the eyes of the traitors in Heaven. They have let the loathsome fae encroach on lands we built and that blinds their watching of the Loom of Fate.

“One of the other Princes is already there, subjugating the lands and bringing the mortals that dwell there back into our dominion. You are to go there and join him, though your task shall be different. You are to bring me trinkets of the fae - yes, their trinkets, and their very selves as fuel. I can use them - in my hands they will have actual value, rather than just being parasites. And you will aid the prince of my light who labours there in those wastelands to build an empire which serves our glory.”

The fae! Keris feels a chill go up her spine. And this won’t be tame Firewander, in the heart of a city and in the Inner Threshold. These will be wild faeries; out on the edge of Creation where Fate runs thin.

... on the other hand, it’s also a mission that she’s pretty sure even Salina would have absolutely no problem with enthusiastically approving of whatsoever. There’s being morally confused, and then there’s defending all of Creation by killing raksha. If it gets her a gorgeous First Age ship refitted by Ligier himself, all the better.

“I understand, my lord,” she says. “I’ll bring you back a rich bounty of faerie soul-gems. May I ask which prince I’ll be helping there?”

“Why, that would be Testolagh Matachim,” Ligier says casually.

Keris’s hair, which has been idly winding itself in coils behind her, ties itself in an abrupt knot. “Sa-” she starts in surprise, before cutting herself off and starting over. “Sasimana has spoken of him. I’m sure we’ll get along... well.”

The last word is perhaps a little less enthusiastic than might be hoped, but it’s not a lie, as such. Keris is prepared to cooperate with Testolagh, especially when they’ll both be on the other side of Creation to Sasi.

... whether he’ll be prepared to cooperate with her, that’s a different question altogether. One that might make things awkward if the answer is ‘no’. Still, she can hardly refuse the assignment.

“With my lord and lady’s permission, then, I’ll take a day to prepare for my departure and then set out on my mission,” she says, dipping her head low again.

“Speak with the officers for your provisions and maps and other such things,” Lilunu advises. “We will speak in private later, Peer Dulmeadokht.”

“I never get used to this,” Dulmea says softly to Keris as they bow and retreat without turning their back on the Demon Princes.

‘Neither do I,’ Keris thinks back. ‘Four Winds; the presence of them. Just one makes my head swim; both together...’ She waits until she’s passed back down the rows of demonic guard to fan herself with a hair tendril and lean against a wall for a moment; shaken. “I thought I was going to faint for a second or two there,” she mumbles under her breath.

“I like them both so, so much,” Haneyl contributes. “She’s so pretty in a scary way which is what I want to be like and she looks like Mother Sasimana and Ligier is the bestest best!”

This brings a faintly raw chuckle from Keris. “You, young lady,” she teases, “don’t seem to have a sense of fear. That’s why you like them so much.”

She gathers herself after only a short while longer, and sets off to find the officers and planners who know, among other things, where exactly she’s meant to be going. And how she’s meant to get there.

Keris looks at the man. There’s... almost nothing there. It’s just forest. That’s really, really unhelpful. She looks at a more detailed and... uh, hand-drawn map. It’s a mesh of crudely marked tribal boundaries and lines.

((Square BB2 on the map.))

“... where are the roads?” she asks. “And towns?” She peers at a third map. There are a few lines marked ‘skyways’ and ‘tracks’. Maybe they’re a local word for ‘road’. And... oh! Yes, it seems the black dots are probably the towns. They have names like ‘Kurrsk’ and ‘Hunri Eaters’ and ‘Tahbitta’.

It still seems like dangerously rural wilderness to Keris, with no proper neighbourhoods or urban areas. But at least it’s not completely barbaric. Probably. And... she checks the wide map again. Yeah, it’s... wow. It’s far out in the Threshold. Way, way out. They’ve probably never even heard of the Realm out there. It’s... like, 5000 miles away from Nexus. Almost as far as An Teng was. But An Teng wasn’t too bad, apart from the heat. At least it won’t be too hot there.

This far north. In the Season of Air.

It’ll be fine, she thinks. It’s only a little cold. What’s the worst it can throw at her?

((So what, if anything, does she do before she sets off? You can probably do prep-things for a week on that grounds. Anything she wants to load up on or fill her soul up with, etc?))

Mehuni is once again left in charge, with instructions to look in on her new manse every couple of weeks and check it’s still there - without going in and risking the wrath of its guardian. Yelm, Shan and Piu band together to offer her a parting present - a carefully woven bracelet that she suspects they got some help with. She wears it fondly and gives them each a kiss on the forehead in thanks.

On the more practical side of things, Keris spends quite a bit of time laying her hands on several barrels of algarel, her townhouse’s hearthstone supply and a small pot of Yozi venom; all of which are stored in separate vaults in her Devil Domain behind very thick walls. She takes some vitriol as well as an afterthought, as well as - with some effort - packing away a basic distillation rig and annealing pot. She’ll need to unpack them and set them up, and she can’t really use them in her Domain, but she might get the chance to do some crafting while she’s out there.

Keris has a map for the route through the Endless Desert she needs to take. Assuming all goes as planned, it should be quite followable. Right? She thinks she does pretty well for herself. Sure, she got lost in that sandstorm, but she just trusted in her heart and managed to stay on the right track even though she had no idea where she was going. And yes, the field made of broken Cecelynite glass was meant to be very hard to cross, but she just ran over the top of it.

Honestly, the worst bit was how it was assuming that she was resting for six hours each day and the directions weren’t long enough to last five days if she went top speed, so she was barely jogging most of the way. Oh, and obviously she went and stabbed some slavers to death who tried to grab her in sandships.

((Roll me Physique + Melee))
((Welp. You hit my “10 successes to get a shiny thing” secret check.))

Springing up onto the side of the ship, Keris and Echo together rapidly wreck the vessel which crashes into the sand.

Echo looks really darling in her new gloves and ribbon dress, Keris decides as she stalks towards the captain, a poison-smeared blade in her hand, burning anima soul around her.

“Stop,” he begs. “Stop. I surrender. I’ll... I’ll work for you! I’ll give you anything! I... I have a fine sword made from the black lightning of the Typhoon of Nightmares! I’ll give it to you! I swear! Just spare me!”

Keris tilts her head beatifically. “If I’d surrendered,” she asks, “would you have spared me enslavement? Show me this sword.” He’s some demon breed Keris doesn’t recognise, with scaly skin and four red eyes that shiver with obvious terror. He scrabbles at his belt, dropping it. It’s a short, curved blade - like a machete or a heavy knife, Keris sees as her hair unsheathes it. It’s made of some black glassy material, and has a heavily notched blade.

She twirls it a couple of times, getting a feel for it, and nods in satisfaction. “Very nice!” she compliments, smiling at him. He’s about halfway through cautiously relaxing when she decapitates him with it. “And since you didn’t answer my question, I’m guessing the answer was ‘no’,” she adds to his corpse, before inhaling it. “Now then. Onward! I think...”

She pauses. “I... think I shouldn’t have hit the guy at the rudder, because we are not facing the same direction we were when I hopped onboard. And everything looks the same again.” A sigh. “Oh well. That way! Probably.”

A few days later, Keris looks at the last marker on her map with a lot of satisfaction. She can see the rising mesa that her map tells her should be there. It’s just a short sprint up the side, and she finds the standing stone obelisks which she has to walk between.

So she does. And even though nothing changes at first, over the course of half an hour - so subtly she can’t tell it - she finds the silver sand under foot becoming snow and the black sky becoming grey cloud. Finally she passes through a pair of obelisks identical to the first two, and she knows she’s there.

The cold hits her like a knife. The snow underfoot crunches. Visibility is measured in the tens of yards, at most. She can see the dark shapes of buildings all around, but there are no lights here.

And... how peculiar. The ground under her seems to be... be swaying slightly. Rocking, like she’s on a boat.

“C-kaaah,” she bites out; her breath fogging in the air. “Cold. Cooooold. Amulet. Amulet, work. Work!”

Her silk thigh-length dress changes rapidly to an embroidered knee-length outer coat of russet fur with loose fleece trousers, warm boots and several silky shirt layers under it, and she sighs in relief as the painful bite of the cold recedes to a mere coolness against her face.

“... okay,” she decides once she’s relatively sure she’s not going to suddenly freeze to death. “Well then. We’re here, wherever ‘here’ is. Let’s go find out!”

As she gets closer, Keris realises two things about the shadowy buildings around her. Firstly, they’re made of Malfean materials. And look like buildings in the Demon City.

And. Um. They’re not built on the ground.

Keris looks down over the edge. Down, down to the snow covered tree canopy she can barely see.

Uh. She’s on a floating lump of rock. Covered in Malfean buildings. Listening hard over the howl of the wind, she can hear that there’s some life in some of the buildings. She dashes over to them, and damn well near kicks down the door to get out of the cold.

She’s entered a shadowy, smoky room filled with hulking, monstrous figures who are playing cards.

“Oh, blood apes,” Dulmea says disappointedly. “I suppose they’re here to guard the gate - well them and the agatae.” The agatae are also playing cards. Actually from the sounds of it they’re tending to win, even if both sides are just gambling for rocks.

Of course, her entrance is a trifle controversial, as every blood ape in the room goes for a weapon. Most of them pull one weapon. A few grab two.

Keris draws seven, and green light fills the room as she flares her caste mark; cutting through the smoke and banishing the shadows. The twin blades of Ascending Air flicker and flash in the anima-light as she twirls them, her spear hovering over her head in a pair of hair-tendrils.

“Hi,” she says nonchalantly. “Where’s Testolagh?”

The blood apes seem to consider that a valid proof of ID, and with a general shuffling they sit back down again, trying to look like they just had their weapons out because... uh, they were showing them to her. Yeah. That’s it. Look at the craftsmanship.

Only one of them is daft enough to actually say that to her, but they were all totally thinking it.

“The boss-man ain’t here right now,” says one of the blood apes, who’s bigger and tougher than the others and is wearing what looks like a necklace of tyrant lizard teeth. “He told us summun’ might be coming to help. Er, your ladyship.” He pauses. “Um. Want a drink? Do ya play cards?”

Keris’s various weapons vanish back into her hair in flickers of red light, which seems to impress then, especially when the spear vanishes without a trace. “That’s me,” she nods, and strolls over. “And sure, I’ll drink.” She grins. “And I can play too, if you don’t mind losing all your rocks.”

Chapter Text

It takes a few days before Testolagh gets back to his base, and in that time Keris makes a few discoveries from talking to the demons. According to the locals, this area is known as the Murumarasaki lands - it translates roughly as ‘the lands of the thin-needled trees’.

That fits. Down on the ground, it’s a taiga ecology. Giant pines, spruces and larches dominate the landscape, reaching up to grab all the distant light of the sun. One of the agata thinks that they get their water from vast underground rivers of meltwater, because on the surface the forces of Air and Wood are so strong that Water needs to be shielded by Earth to survive unfrozen and unconsumed.

But of course, up in the sky, there are countless sky islands which float down from the mountains to the North, borne on the winds. There are clans of owl-riding pastoralists who live up on these tundratic sky islands, living off the produce of their birds and what they can harvest from the people living below. Testolagh is conquering them and binding them into a military force under his dominion.

Of course, Keris is interested in her mission, and she hears of the way that wyld-tainted lands are everywhere up here. In the mountains there’s a place where it’s always foggy, where breath freezes, and where things that were once men hunt for human flesh - and you become one of them by eating humans yourself. There’s a vast lake - almost a sea - where it’s always warm ruled over by a faery prince who’s built fair white towers and enjoys the worship of countless of the hunter-gatherer tribes living below. And to the east, there’s a patchwork of tiny tainted lands, each one ruled by a proud prince, who constantly war with each other but who rarely unify and sweep out in a horde to take slaves and fight whoever they find in a Wyld-maddened hunt.

She makes herself busy in Testolagh’s absence; entertaining the demons with music, getting along in a rough-and-tumble way with the blood apes and practicing her medical skills on the people Testolagh has already conquered. Injuries so far from civilisation are often life-threatening, and Keris can do things that Stomach Bottle Bugs can’t, like regrowing limbs lost to frostbite or infection.

She can’t speak the language of the local birdriders who land on their sky island to rest their owls. To the best of her knowledge, they’re speaking some really obscure form of Woodtongue. That would fit with their appearances - they’re darker skinned, with pale green or brown hair and they have prehensile feet which they use to pull off some amazing flying tricks. If Keris had to guess, they made their way North at some point - though why anyone would want to live in this freezing wasteland is beyond her. There appear to be literally almost no roads here at all. The best they have are a few trails marked on maps, and the ruins of some First Age roads. Oh. And when she steals some maps from the riders, it seems there’s some kind of trade going on using the underground rivers. That sounds sensible. It’s out of the snow.

In lieu of common language, she draws on Echo’s assistance to talk to them, mimicking her fifth soul’s miming language to try and convey fairly simple concepts like “stay still”, “stop yelling” and “let me at your leg, there’s a giant gash in it and I’m trying to help”, with moderate success. She still gets suspicious glances, but most of them seem to get it once she starts on sewing wounds shut or treating maladies. She manages to get lucky, and finds one who can speak broken Old Realm after the first few. Enough that she can use her as a translator, even if her Old Realm is very bad and mostly related to praying. Thankful at finding someone who can speak something understandable beyond “grunt and gesture”, Keris bombards the woman with questions, and then sighs and starts over when all she gets is a bewildered, terrified look. She asks, with small words and slow pronunciation, about Testolagh and the faeries, and what they think of both.

“Tesetoaji?” she says. She’s a slight-boned little thing, with very large eyes which almost resemble the owls they ride. “He chief of chiefs is. Fire,” she taps her eyes. “He war band kill all of. He very,” she says something and giggles, “is. Very man.” She’s wrapped up in a feathered cloak, over the top of furs, and she looks around before pulling open her tied-together top to show the green-burning runes which glow over the top of her heart. “Him we obey. He glory. He power. And him the fairies kill. They monsters are.”

Keris raises an eyebrow at that, but nods. “I’m here to kill the faeries, too,” she tells the woman, before hesitating. “Has he... uh... what word will you understand... has he been with anyone? Been...” she waves her hand in a vaguely obscene gesture. “Very man, with anyone? I’m not asking for me!” she hastens to add, at the woman’s knowing look.

She pouts. “It very bad. I his children want. His daughters huntresses be. They foe look at and... woosh! But he to me not give them. Or any woman, even when for him fight.”

“Huh.” Keris feels a bit conflicted about that. On the one hand, good! He’s being faithful to Sasi. On the other hand, drat. He’s being faithful to Sasi, so Keris won’t get her all to herself.

“He men like, he women refuse,” she says sadly. “No luck for you either.”

Keris opens her mouth to object, and then remembers that given her own situation with Sasi, she can’t really throw the first stone on that score without being buried in a small avalanche. “Well,” she says, attempting to look haughty and unbothered, “I’m not here for... being lucky. And I wasn’t going to try anyway. I have someone else.” She stomps back to the Malfean buildings in a huff, and engages herself in muscling her way into a card game and winning every rock at the table.

... she also makes a mental note to see if she can think of something more interesting that rocks to gamble with, because it sort of takes the fun out of it when you can literally pick betting tokens up off the ground. Admittedly, they are pretty cool rocks. Because they’re rocks from a sky island, and so not only are some of them all cool and glowy, but the coolest ones are the ones which float.

Keris is halfway through making up a game that involves throwing little bits of floating rock tied to shaped bits of wood into the updraft over a hand-cranked fan to knock other tokens out and onto the floor when Testolagh returns. She leaves a couple of agatae and blood apes who seem interested in the possibilities offered by a hybrid of darts and gladiatorial combat by proxy working on getting the fan working and goes to see him.

Testolagh is... well, he’s a handsome man. He’s picked up a long scar which passes over one eye at some point and the eye underneath is brass with a basalt pupil, but somehow that just makes him look more impressive. He’s not exceptionally tall and he’s certainly less muscular than Naan, but there’s something solid, reassuring and even sort of... friendly seeming about him.

Admittedly, he gets a little less friendly when he sees Keris, but he still smiles at her. “Keris Dulmeadohkt,” he says, inclining his head slightly, stepping in out of the snow. The snow on him melts instantly as the crowned sun symbol on his forehead lights up in green, while a demon brings him food. “And what brings you here?”

She smiles slightly at his voice. It’s so familiar. It’s not a Nexan burr, but he’s Scavenger Lands - and not too far from Nexus. It makes her feel a little bit at home. And he’s addressing her in Riverspeak, which... well, she’s not spoken any in months, except to her souls.

Haneyl makes a jealous hiss inside her head. Echo, meanwhile, makes a silent noise which nevertheless perfectly conveys that she’s making fun of Haneyl and that she doesn’t own Sasimana.

“Testolagh Matachim,” she greets him, bowing her head in turn. “Honoured Ligier and Lilunu sent me to help. I owe Ligier a favour.” She pauses, considering that. “A really big favour,” she adds. “So I’m here to find a lot of faerie trinkets and hearts and take them back to his forges.”

She smiles more genuinely, lighting up. “Oh, and Sasi... uh, might not actually know I’m here at the moment, but she’d say hello if she did.” She pauses again, with a faint trace of guilt. “I should, uh. I should probably let her know, come to think of it. I mean, she knew I’d be away from An Teng for a while to do something for Ligier, but I should probably fill her in on roughly where I am and when I’ll be back in the Southwest so she can make plans.”

She’s mumbling by the end, speaking more to herself than Testolagh, and shakes off the train of thought with a brief toss of her hair. “Anyway. You’ve... done good things to the place?” She glances around. “I appreciate the buildings. I wouldn’t have liked sleeping in a tree much.”

“The owlrider clans don’t traditionally live in trees - well, save the ones who can’t claim an island,” Testolagh says, with a shrug. “They usually live in caves, or huts upon the islands. Even down on the grounds, they tend to build their tree houses close to the ground - or on the ground. These trees aren’t like the Far Eastern ones. They’re thin and whippy and when the wind comes from the North, they move like whips.” He pauses. “But yes, the fact that I can make insulted, warm houses is a useful way for getting them on board for my confederacy.”

Keris grins. “So,” she says, changing the subject. “I thought I should hang around and wait to talk to you before, you know, going off to kill faeries. I’ve got a bit from the demons here, but last time I ran off and did something without filling anyone else in first, Sasi got, uh...” She hesitates, trying to find a good word. “... annoyed. And sarcastic. And did the eyebrow thing. There’s the foggy place in the mountains, the lake with the prince of the white towers and the horde of princes east of us, right? Any of them in your plans, or being a nuisance, or can I go after any of them without you caring?”

“I have no alliances with any of those monsters, if that’s what you mean,” Testolagh says stiffly. “As long as you don’t provoke any of them onto the warpath, disposing of any of them will merely make the world a better place.”

His stiffness earns him an eyeroll. “I meant were you planning on invading any of them next; that sort of thing,” she says. “Okay. That probably means stay away from the eastward ones, unless I want to kill all of them at once or frame one of the others for it.” She purses her lips, thinking out loud. “Then again, if I hit the others first, they’ll probably hear about it, so maybe it would be better to go for them first. As long as I didn’t show myself as an Exalt, they probably wouldn’t connect it to you, and I’m good at making people disappear.”

“If you must know, I don’t know how many of them will react,” he says. “This isn’t a place where I can just walk up to them and ask them. There are few roads, save for the Underrivers. I don’t even know their names except from a few titles from the local tribes - which might also be the names of the local gods or elementals. Yes. There are greater elementals running around here. There’s a living thundercloud who also walks as a beautiful woman or a tiger made of lightning. And there’s a great serpent made of ice who lives down in the Underrivers.”

“Oh, great,” Keris mutters. “And I was planning on swimming down there.” She sighs. “I’ll go for the ones in the fog first, then, I suppose. Probably the least likely to kick off a war.”

“My maps up there aren’t good,” he says. “The rest, I have sketches from what the riders can see. There? Nothing. People don’t come back from the fog.”

“Good,” she retorts. “It means news of them all dying won’t, either.”

An awkward silence descends, in which Keris looks at the table, the walls, the ceiling and finally her hair before glancing back to Testolagh again.

“Uh. On another, sort of... thing...” she starts awkwardly, and trails off, unsure of how to proceed.

With a clatter, the demon-servant puts a hot stew in front of Testolagh, and he starts to eat. “Oh, have you eaten?” he asks, after digging in with the hunger of a man who’s been cold all day. “Did you want something?”

“Sure. Another bowl?” she asks, and the demon retreats. Keris sighs, and tugs on a lock of hair for a while. She doesn’t really want to talk about this.

... but, well. It is sort of important, even if she doesn’t really like it.

“It... Sasi’ll probably be, you know. Due, soon,” she says, awkwardly. “Are you going to... be there?”

He stares at Keris for a good long time. Then he throws back his drink, and shakes his head. It doesn’t seem to be a shake of refusal, though. More a shake of trying to clear his head. “I... don’t know,” he says wearily. “It depends whether I can make the trip, which is twenty days away from here - or ten days at least if she returns to the City to give birth. I’d like to, but I’m not sure if I can. I... I know why she decided to have the child. I’m still not sure we’re in the right place to do so.”

Keris considers this and tilts her head, accepting it. “I think if you wait to be in the right place to have a child, you’ll never have any,” she offers.

Testolagh snorts, slumping down. “I’m stuck up in the far North East. Half the year, it’s so cold that it’s snowing. I see Sasimana a few times a year. Until I got here, they didn’t even have stone buildings that weren’t caves. This is not a good place for children.” He sighs. “Though,” he adds with a smile, “considering how vile Sasimana’s temper gets when the baby starts kicking her, I’m sure she’s regretting it right now. Apparently she always picks the worst possible times.”

“It actually makes her worse in the mornings,” Keris informs him. “Like, I did not know that was a thing. That could happen. But apparently it is!”

He smiles back. “She also apparently starts kicking at each scream of the tomescu. And whenever Sasimana tries to carry out sorcery. Or tries to move quickly.”

“Definitely the Sorcery one,” Keris confirms. “She summoned a Second Circle, and she was kicking all the way through.” She giggles, digging into her stew as it arrives and pointing at him with a hair tendril. “She probably gets that from you, you know. Sasi’s not the kicking sort.”

He stiffens slightly. The constant reminders that Keris is also intimate with Sasi seem to be getting to him. “No, that she isn’t,” he agrees, lips curling down fractionally.

Sensing the change of mood, Keris coughs and changes the subject again. “I’ve been helping a few of the owlriders with injuries; patching them and - actually, by the way, what are they speaking? It sounds sort of like Woodtongue, I think? But I basically had to mime until I found one that spoke a bit of Old Realm.”

Testolagh shakes his head. “As far as I know, the rider clans come from outcasts from further south - or maybe losers of a clan war. They flew in and took over. They speak some kind of Woodtongue. The people who live on the ground lived here longer. They speak Airtongue. Of course, both of them are so bastardised and tribal that I’ve had to learn a lot more Woodtongue to talk to them, and I still have problems understanding the grounders.”

Keris shakes her head. “Any way to teach them something that makes more sense? Old Realm, maybe?” She grins. “Or Rivertongue! Way better language. Even if all the rivers here are underground. And have giant ice snakes in them.”

He shrugs. “I’ve tried some Old Realm, but... well, it’s slow-going. At least I can talk with the clan-chiefs and the shamans.”

Stretching, Keris shrugs unconcernedly. “At least I can talk to your demons. Oh, actually, can I borrow an agata to take up to the mountains?” She pauses. “Wait, no, I can summon things now. Sorry, keep forgetting that. Okay, I’ll head there tomorrow and do some scouting. And hey! I can bring you back a map of the place, though it might not do much good if it’s too foggy to read it.”

He looks Keris up and down... well, okay, mostly down and further down. “That’d be helpful,” he says eventually.

Yes, Keris thinks. He doesn’t like her much. He’s still being polite, but he’s not pretending that she’s his favourite person ever.

That sunset, Keris stands outside. The wind whips around her, and her hair streams out in every direction.

This summoning is easier than most. She’s calling a servant from far closer than most sorcerers do.

Her anima flares. Music streams out in long chords, blown out into the night. A scarlet-and-silver whirlwind surrounds her, and a crown of green fireblossoms graces her head.

“I summon you, by the authority I have as the One Who Is All,” she intones, drawing her hands apart. “I summon you, as the mother of your creator. I summon you in the name of Keris!”

To send a summons through the mind of the world is an art, but to send one through the world of her mind is simplicity itself. She knows her citizens - perhaps not by name, but by the taste of their Essence and the flavour of their numbers. She has only to think of what she wants, and it will come.

“Come to me now,” Keris calls, bringing her hands together with the force of a thunderclap and sending the message not out, but inward. She lets it pierce the cloud wall of her soul, and names her desire. “Anyaglo!”

((Roll Testolagh’s Reaction + Awareness, do de do))

The world chimes, and a tear appears in the air. Just for a moment, Keris can see the barren lands of the Ruin stretching out before her, subsuming the cold drop in front of her. There’s a whinny, and a horse made of red and white ribbons gallops through, trailing fog behind it.

((Is she going to try to bind it?))
((I’m just going to assume she can do it, because against an anyalgo her dicepool is just... like, considerably bigger.))
((The question is whether Keris will crush her creation’s will to serve her. : P))
((Hmm. True. Possibly not, then.))
((Yes, but if you don’t, it might just go away and Run.))
((because lol motivation))
((Ah, I know. I shall roll a Virtue!))
((Hmm. Which is appropriate... let’s go with Compassion.
... 3 sux. Wow. Well okay then. Um. Right.))

Holding out her hands, Keris steps into its path. “Stop!” she calls. “I’m not going to bind you. I just want to talk.” The ribbon horse nuzzles her with its silk-soft tongue, and Keris giggles, stroking its neck. “Hello,” she says, smiling. “What’s your name? And do you mind taking me up to the mountains tomorrow?”

The angyalo shivers with its tightly wound ribbons, and runs around her in a circle. And then licks her on the back of the neck when she doesn’t expect it.

... it may be a bit like Echo. But a horse. And not destroying things.

((Hmm. Can they talk? Most demons seem to be able to speak in some fashion, so I’m inclined to say most of Keris’s deva can.
... sigh. Though Ekoan ones often have weird or silent ways of doing so. Some of the ribbon ones may use their ribbons to subtitle. : P))
((I was assuming before that they didn’t speak, although they’re smart.))
((It’s up to you, though.))
((Heh. I rather like the subtitling idea. This one may not have learned how to write yet.))

“You like running, right?” Keris asks it. “Okay. Have a nice run and explore the area a bit, but don’t go too far. Come back here at sunrise and we can go on a nice long run up to the mountains. Sound good?” She hesitates as the thought occurs to her that perhaps telling an Echoan deva to do something and remember what they were told to do might not be the best idea, and bites her lip. “On second thought,” she adds, “no point in wasting time and I’ve spent most of the day sitting around not doing much. Why don’t we go now? Here, stay still a moment.”

She attempts to mount it, which proves difficult. It’s not an enormous horse like Haneyl’s farisyya are, but it’s still a horse, and Keris is not the tallest person around. Eventually she resorts to just picking herself up on three yards of hair, swinging a leg and a hair tendril over its flank and half dropping, half pulling herself on.

“Oooph,” she comments. “Okay. Right. Okay, that’s more comfortable than I thought it would be. So... I guess you can goooooaaaaaahhhhh!”

Going very fast, Keris discovers, is one thing when you’re the one doing it. When you’re sitting on the one doing it, it is very different. And riding an anyaglo is not like riding an agata. It’s much quieter, it feels a lot closer to the ground and it is much, much quicker.

It’s also a lot harder to steer, and they make several rather haphazard circuits around the buildings and in one case through an open door, over a table, around a room and out again before setting off properly.

Out away from the islands, Keris whips over the treetops. The trees are tens, maybe even hundreds of yards high. She can’t see them under the driving snow. Rathan squeals with joy at the cold.

She’s heading north in the darkness. It’s utterly dark here. There’s no light at all.

And then, up in the sky, through the gaps in the cloud, she can see... something. Something strange. There’s many-coloured lights in the sky, like... like a rainbow. Or like the sky was on fire with strange rainbow-coloured flame. She listens to the whistle of the wind and the sound of falling snowflakes. Her eyes are weaker than her ears; she doesn’t trust them. Vision tells her that there’s light, but hearing tells her more.

((Per+Awa: 14 dice; hahaha, 13x2+4=30 successes.))

Keris goes fast. The ribbon-horse is warm under her. She rides over the treetops. She hears the snow howling. She hears the wind scream against the sky islands, against the floating islands that fly, against the trees down below. She can hear down below human voices, as she rushes over the top. She’s heading north and the thought occurs to her that it’s going to be hard to find Testolagh again.

And up in the sky, she can hear... strangeness. Oddness. Chaos. Chaos is burning above. Chaos rushing in and burning in the world.

((... damn. If she had bound it, she could probably have used FRoA to protect it as an owned object.))

“Rise,” she whispers to her steed. “Up higher. I want to see those lights.” Bloody lightning flickers in her grasp as her spear appears, and a toss of her head frees her hair for combat; knives and needles glinting in the scarlet strands. They charge up. It’s a long way up. The wind gets even stronger, as she heads up into the clouds. It’s a very long way up, she thinks. A very very long way up.

Too far up. She can’t force the ribbon-horse to climb that high. The winds are too strong and she can’t get close enough before it recoils and heads back down, away from the storm-winds.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she soothes it. “Woah there. Back down to the treetops. That’s it. There we go.” They drop back down, and she looks up with narrowed eyes. “Okay, we’ll look at that later. For now, let’s find that fog.”

((Cog + Travel))
((... : (.))
((2+0+5 Beloved autosux=wow, 3+5=8. : D))

Well accustomed to her talents for navigation, or lack thereof, Keris thinks back to what Testolagh said. North, mountains, fog. Okay, that’s not helpful. Fine then. She switches tack. Sasi. The sooner she finds this place, the sooner she can kill all the raksha there, and the sooner she can go back to Hell and then back to An Teng. All she needs to do is point herself along the path her heart wants to follow. Uh. The one that doesn’t lead in a straight line southwest until it hits the City of Steel Lotus, that is. The more metaphorical one.

((How fast do ribbon-horses travel?))
((Uh. Hmm. Well. Certainly faster than agatae, probably not as fast as Stormwind Rider, currently faster than Keris over land, possibly faster than Keris in water. 80mph?))

These things are fast, Keris realises. Like, really, really fast. Echo has apparently managed to breed a demon species who are possibly the fastest thing she’s ever ridden. Echo is... very obnoxiously brilliant in that way.

There is a silent noise of a proud pirouette in her head.

Haneyl huffs. “My farisyya are better horsies.”

Rushing fast, Keris can see the trees get shorter and more sparse, and eventually they’re just... scrubland, rising into foothills of mountains. And then the mountains start, blurred underneath. It’s not even midnight when Keris sees the fog bank in front of her. It’s spreading from horizon to horizon. And it’s... not white. Not exactly. She thinks. It’s hard to tell in the dim light.

“Bring me down,” she whispers to the anyaglo. “Down to the ground. This place isn’t safe for you.”

Eight legs touch down on the ground; a trail of ribbon-hoofprints falling behind them like snowflakes. Keris swings down onto the ground and presses a quick kiss to the horse’s cheek. She gets the feeling that it’s quite young. Like Curaji was, when Sasi first summoned her.

“Good...” she rolls the taste in her mouth for a second, “... boy. Well done. Now, this place is dangerous for you, so I want you to run back to the place with the buildings, okay? And then stay around there. I’ll be fine here.”

The ribbon horses frolics around her and gives her a lick from chin to brow, and then vanishes off towards the south with incredible speed. It’s almost silent, too. Of course, Keris realises. Echo wouldn’t want loud horsie noises either. Her hearing is as good as Keris’. No wonder she found riding it so relaxing.

She waits until she can’t see it anymore - it’s one of the few things she can see from further away than she can hear it - and then turns to face the fog. She gives her spear a theatrical twirl.

“Right then,” she says aloud. “Time to see who’s better at eating who.”

Chapter Text

The fog ahead of Keris can’t be natural. It just... stops at some point. Under the moonlight, she can see the line at which it stops. It’s like it’s trapped by some unseen glass wall. And indeed, when Keris looks closer, she can see that there’s a line of stones just short of the fog. They’re made of pale granite, and there are characters in Old Realm carved on them.

“Well now,” she murmurs. “What are you?” Trotting over, she squats down on the clear side of the line and investigates; running tongue-like fingers over the carved symbols as her eyes flash green.

They’re prayers in Old Realm, which Keris can read properly. She can certainly read them better than whoever wrote them could write it, because the carvings are poor and strongly dialectical. The stones invoke the Purple Lady to slay the hungry men and stop the fog. There are scattered skeletons in the snow around the stones. Victims? Or sacrifices to empower them? They seem to be working, if the glass-wall border of the fog is any indication. Keris brushes a hair tendril over a fallen skull, adjusts her grip on her spear, and - not without a certain sense of melodrama - steps over the line.

The mist around her is cloying and cold. It’s almost like stepping into a rainstorm, only slower. And colder. Yes, colder is a big deal. She can only see bare tens of yards ahead of her, and it muffles the sound too. ‘Muffled’ sound, of course, is only ever a relative term with Keris. She keeps her eyes open, but they’re mostly just a formality. Her real attention is on the snowballs she scoops up with her hair and sends spinning off into the fog; tracking how they fly and disturb the mists with their passage.

The mist feels... hungry.

Well, she thinks. That’s... encouraging. In a way that isn’t. Part of her shivers and wants to retreat, but the rest reminds it that she’s probably the deadliest thing in the fog bank; hungry men or no.

Besides, she thinks with a smile as the sound of shifting silver feathers reaches her inner ear behind a curious hiss. There’s at least one part of her that’s right at home here.

Stepping carefully back over the ward line, Keris retrieves her armour from within her soul and dons it. Then, as she begins to stretch and work the kinks and stiffness out of it, she whistles low and soft for a diminutive friend.

“Firisutu,” she greets the little monkey-demon as he appears, chirps at her and shivers. The snow drifts prove rather deeper than... well, his entire body, and he winds up sitting on her shoulder as she warms up.

“So,” Keris says. “I know there’s not much to work with around here, but do you think you could have a go at making as big a nest as you can? I’d like at least a little idea of what’s in there before I go in, even if you can’t sense very far into it.”

The little and very blinged out monkey thing chirrups, and seems to tilt his head. Quite carefully, he combines snowballs, bones from around the stone, and some rocks and roots he digs up. It’s a little thing which sort of looks like a snowman, actually. Keris remembers making a few of them in Seasons of Air gone by. Of course, in Nexus the snow quickly turned brown-black.

Hmm. Keris squints at it. It’s not very much use. She gets the distinct feeling that Firisutu prefers to be in urban areas, or the jungle. He certainly dives back into her hair fast enough as soon as he’s done. Still, she manages to glean from it that the area on the other side of the fog-wall is mostly uphill, and that there’s some kind of camp or settlement somewhere in it.

That’s still enough to surprise her. From what she’d heard about the hungry men, she’d expected... roaming once-men beasts, or something. Predators. Cunning, maybe, since hunting people wasn’t a task for the stupid, but certainly not the type to make settlements.

Silverclad and silent, she slips into the fog, staying low to the ground and streamlined to disturb the air as little as possible. Turning her feet uphill, she casts her ears wide for the sounds of movement - or the presence of the camp.

When she lets out a breath experimentally, it freezes into a little cloud of snow which makes the fog whirl madly around it. She just stops breathing after that. It allows her to silently stalk her way across the deep snow within the fogbank, relying more upon her ears than her eyes.

Keris picks up the sound of a camp after perhaps a few hundred yards of jogging. Sound echoes strangely here, and it’s hard to tell things apart. It’s one of the most silent places she’s ever been in, because it mutes all sound down to a background murmur at best. Still she creeps through a bone-white treeline and manages to pinpoint where the sound is coming from. It sounds like twenty or so people. Well, people, or maybe beings. She doesn’t understand their language, and their words are high and shrieking - but they’re certainly words.

((Phys + Subterfuge for remaining undetected))
((Hidden Predator Camouflage activated for 5m. 5+5+3 Silver Willow+1 bonus {going unnoticed by targets}+2 stunt=16. 13x2=26 sux, lawl.))

Her moonsilver armour perfectly reflects the off-white colour of the fog around her, rendering Keris almost invisible in the mist. Her form ripples and distorts even further as she approaches the voices, fading into nothing more than a background snowheap. She’s not a ghost in the fog. Ghosts are more obvious than her. Silently moving through the treeline, she crouches on a thick branch and looks ahead of her down at a clearing.

The fog is lighter here, with more visibility than it was just at the wall, and she can see that there are twenty or so people set up in crude tents. They’re both men and women, though she only realises that when she looks for a bulge in the loincloth. They’re grey-skinned and painfully emaciated, such that each rib can be counted and the women are breastless. They don’t seem to feel the cold, because the loincloths are all that any of them wear, men, women or children. Some have elaborate scarification, while others seem to have got their scars more honestly. Their eyes are jet black and sit deep in their skulls, and when they talk she sees their needle-like teeth.

They don’t cook their food. One of them is still gnawing on a raw white-furred hare. There’s a few gnawed-on corpses which still have scraps of flesh on them, hanging from the trees. The mouths have similarly long teeth. The hungry men of the mountains must prey on each other too.

Beneath her helmet, Keris’s eyes glint green as she takes them in. Oh, she thinks eyes narrowed. They’re just mortals. How weak. A few of them are a little stronger - but they’re weaker than even the weakest demon. All of them taste of everything and nothing, though, a mad melange of flavours and sound.

((Enlightenment 0-1, wyld-aspected))

The children make her hesitate. The men and women, fine; they seem like they’re part way to being fae monsters, but the children... Keris bites her lip. They’ve eaten people, from the corpses strewn around. Heck, some of them are still eating people; gnawing hungrily on old bones long since stripped of meat.

But she still doesn’t much like the thought of killing them. And, to be frank, she’s not sure it’s worth it. These people... these people are weak. Pathetically so. Ligier sent her to find stronger fare than this. Closing her eyes and sinking into brief meditation, she jots down a quick sketch of what she’s seen so far - the border of the fog, with a note on the stones there, and the location of the camp relative to it - and leaves it in Dulmea’s care. Then she creeps back, slowly and by degrees, until she’s out of sight of the camp and can head deeper into the fog.

If there are true faeries here, she’s willing to bet they’ll be right in the middle.

((o hai thar wyld mutants))

Keris continues heading uphill, feet flashing under her. She’s an invisible monster moving through the fog of this wyld zone. And then she breaks through the fog into an upland. Everywhere, there’s ice. It’s like a river of ice, heading up into the mountains she can see on the other side of this vast plain. And it really is vast - it must be sixty miles to the foothills which lead up into the proper mountains.

And what mountains they are. They’re giants, bigger than anything she saw in the High Lands. They’re like the jaws of some vast monster, reaching up towards the sky - which is midnight black and speckled with wandering red stars.

Funny thing is? She’s not sure if the fog should be big enough for these mountains. She is, in fact, starting to suspect that something decidedly funny is going on with distances in this place. It seems to have a lot more “up” than it should. As someone who is, to put it politely, rather closer to the ground that most people, Keris feels that having a surplus of “up” is definitely not a good thing, and in fact takes a certain amount of offense at it.

Scowling, she heads up towards the peaks to give someone a piece of her mind about it. And also a piece of her spear. Stepping down onto the ice, she looks down and realises for the first time that the ice is just a thin layer over countless teeth. Countless tiny white teeth. She squeaks in surprise, but keeps running, her silver-booted feet dancing over the thin layer of ice so quickly and weightlessly that it doesn’t even creak. Her eyes flash green again as she assesses what this is. Whether it’s just... just teeth under the ice, or whether this is some sort of impossibly vast creature like the Swamp.

No, she concludes. It just seems to be that there’s teeth under the ice.

Keris darkly thinks about the things she heard about Firewander. Back when she was Kit of Firewander, not Keris Dulmeadohkt. A scared little girl who knew for a fact that there were terrible things in the Firewander district and when it was the new moon she needed to find somewhere else to sleep.

She comes to a stop, skidding slightly on the ice. As she stops moving, the ice crunches under her feet, leaving her standing on two platforms of teeth.

The mountains sit in the possibly-unnaturally-far-away distance. They seem to be mocking her.

“... well fine then,” Keris mutters. “I’ll just get your...”

“Child,” Dulmea interrupts, “if you flare the light of your soul here, they may recognise it as being akin to Testolagh’s fire.”

“... attention,” Keris finishes. “... oh. Good point.” She stands silent for a moment, blending in unconsciously with the mist; just a half-formed mirage in the fog

“... uh,” she says. “Ah! Wait! No! All I need to do is make it look different. Like Sasi can with her shadow! Disguising myself on the inside as well as out!” She drops into a sitting position, eyes fluttering half-closed. “I just have to... work out how...”

It takes a bit of playing around, but Keris spent a lot of her run across the Desert on the way here playing with her anima, trying to see the higher theories Salina talked about in the light of her soul. It doesn’t take long for her to figure out the trick to weaving strands of shadow into the inner furnace of her Exaltation, and cast a veil over the power within it. One which is, quite intentionally, weaker than she truly is.

An empty circle springs to life on Keris’s brow, and red-gold light spills out across the snow; blood spilled under sunbeams. Her armour is golden now, and less organic. More... conventionally crafted, than grown. Her hair is still long, but she looks more like a native - like the owl-riding women she spoke to about Testolagh. A flicker of a memory rises from Yamal’s slumber - something about blood, and the sun, and something that once connected them - but it’s gone as soon as she notices it.

She shrugs, concentrates... and lets her heart shine. The caste mark becomes a whirling aura of gold and ruby rings, revolving around her, dipping from side to side as they rotate, their sound like that of fingers on some vast wineglass. Above her, a shining golden figure rises; indistinct but protective and maternal, its arms fading into half-seen silhouettes as they curl around her.

“Whoever the master of this place is,” Keris yells at the mountains and the sky, “I’m here to put an end to you! You want something to eat, come get me!”

((Faking being Enlightenment 6, Solar Aspected. An ickle newbie Solar come to have a dust up with whoever’s eating people. :V))
((And she’s gone totemic, just to be sure that she’s noticed.))
((Lawl “I’m a native who just exalted as a solar and came here to beat you up”.))
((Hmm. So how does this affect how her anima affects the wyld zone?))
((Doubtful. Well, hmm. It’s not actually genuine sunlight, but it will have the damaging effects that any totemic anima has on its surroundings. Which in Keris’s case is mostly “flense it and also flowers grow”, since the freezing-damp of Kimbery’s influence is not going to be very noticeable here and sigh, Keris, ur solar anima is so dragon king that the flowers are going to be gold-stemmed bloodpetals, aren’t they?))
((... Yamal’s anima was probably red and gold. It may explain why she likes those colours so much.))

Ice flash boils around Keris, leaving her walking amidst a field of burning teeth. Burning petals are scattered in her wake. Haneyl whines in her head about how un-green her fire is. Keris feels better, actually. Lighter, and without the strange oppressive hunger for something she couldn’t name growing in her gut that she didn’t notice until it was gone.

But the mountains don’t respond.

Growling, Keris kicks at the ground, sending a shower of teeth up. Gold-stemmed flowers spring up where her foot touches it; their petals unfurling like fat, heavy droplets of blood.

“So, what?” she huffs. “Nothing here? Nothing but those mortals, anyway, and they’re too weak to be useful in Ligier’s forges.” She pulls out her map-in-progress and sketches in a few more details - the ice-river, the mountains, some notes about the teeth under the ice and how the distances and sky seem wrong.

Well, technically the sky is black with red stars, which is perfectly normal. It’s just that usually that sort of sky is only perfectly normal inside her soul. Out in Creation, it’s cause for a bit more concern.

She glances towards the mountains again, trying to judge the distance. If they’re as far as they look like they are - and aren’t actively moving away as she tries to run towards them, they look like they’d take her an hour or so of running flat-out to reach. Turning back to look at the gouged trail of flash-vaporised ice, burning teeth and bloodflowers she’s made with a few paces, Keris shrugs. It’s not as though she has much else she can do here, and maybe carving a great big line through this place might annoy anything hiding from her enough for it to come out. Or at the very least, dispel some of the mist.

Leaning forward to streamline herself again, Keris sets off. It’s only when she gets closer that she realises that the ice is far from the smooth sea it looked like from a distance. It’s full of cracks and crevices and bottomless bits and sleek plateaus.

It’s not like that actually stops her from just running up and down the cracks and across it, but it’s still another inconvenience, especially when the ice is melting under foot.

And then she runs into the giants. In a crack which she’s just passing by, there are two one-eyed giants. One is all black, like the night and the other is all white, like snow. They’re twenty yards tall, at least, and they carry pine trees around with them as clubs. On their clubs, there are skinless things that aren’t quite men - or the man-eaters on the slope - which twitch and sing as they drip blood on the floor.

The black one whirls on the terrible red-gold fire of Keris as she sprints down the vertical ice wall, and shouts something at her, in a booming voice. It’s not speaking a language she knows.

Now these are more like it. Keris looks them over as she changes course, getting the taste of their Essence without slowing in the slightest. And indeed, they’re considerably more potent than the mortals outside. Well, they’re still much weaker than her, but they’re... not a they. They’re a single thing with two bodies, reeking of wyld.

Keris also notices the lice in their garments, which are still the size of a small child, and swarm like little servants, coming their ragged hair and licking blood off the flayed things.

((Enlightenment 5, Wyld-aspected for the big thing. The little things are little Enlightenment 1-2 things))

Keris grins savagely. Now here is something worth fighting. She leaps off the wall at the top of the ice crack and comes down on the white one’s head like a spike falling from heaven; her spear braced with her hands and aimed by her feet.

It is not much of a fight. Oh, Keris feels only slightly stronger than the giants, to anyone watching. But it’s a lie - and on top of that, she’s wearing peerless armour, holding a spear that strikes like a living thing with agonising venom, and burns with a light that hurts and terrifies them. Their sheer size and toughness drags it out, but they’re too slow to escape her, and with Echo’s help she massacres their servants, cripples their arms and hamstrings them.

Then, sitting cross-legged on the chest of the noisy black one, she trades her spear for Resplendent Air and starts to chant the spell with which she wrought Makoa Kasseni into nothing more than a jewelled bangle for her wrist.

((Casting time is... bah, two-hour ritual. Can’t mass-produce these, then. It’ll have to be high-value targets only.))
((Well, you have a problem right now.))
((because ~anima flux~))
((... goddammit.))

The flesh of the sleeping - well, stunned - giant burns like it’s been seared from the force of her soul. It takes her long enough to notice this that bone is showing on one of its crippled arms when she hastily hops off and backs away. She should probably have realised that her flaring anima would have the same effect on the giants as it does on, uh... everything else around her.

Sighing, Keris sits down on a rock and waits for the light display to die down; passing a few of the flowers that keep sprouting beneath her feet in for Haneyl to look at. Some of them are actually growing on the giant now, she realises. That would probably be a bit embarrassing for it if, you know, it wasn’t going to be dead in a minute anyway. Once the blazing beacon of her soul has guttered out to only a bright golden circle on her forehead, she hops back up, clears away the flowers, and gets back to work.

((cut, cut, cut out the heart))
((keris r u a dragon king otherkin))
((did yamal dress up as an aztec dinosaur in private?))

It takes some time for Keris to prepare her prey and work out how to carve out their hearts in the right way when they have two hearts. But the knives go in and she tears them out.

And that’s when she makes a none too pleasant discovery. Fixing the heart of a fae like this... it doesn’t feel as chaotic or wyld-y when she licks it. It locks it down. Ligier may like it. But it might not be what he wants.

This... this could be a problem. Well, in the immediate sense it’s not a problem, because now she has another pretty black and white pearl bangle. But in the long term, it could be a serious problem. Keris reclaims her now-rather-flowery rock and pulls out her Cherub Shrine. She still needs to send that message to Sasi, and maybe she can ask about how she shou- wait a minute.

She pauses halfway through the activation sequence and gives first the shrine, then the surrounding area, a highly sceptical look.

... it’s just a hunch, but she reckons that chaotic Wyld Essence might not be any better for it than necrotic Underworld Essence.

Well. Hmm. Dang. But! Maybe if she just... yes, carefully taps around the outside, listening to what’s within... well, she understands a lot more about Sorcery now than when she first got this old thing. Back then she couldn’t cast at all. Now she’s had a lesson from Salina herself.

Perhaps she can sort of... work out how to cast the spell herself? Turning her attention to the shrine, she can sort of... yes, she can sort of see how the structure of the shrine; the way it’s built and constructed, is sort of the spell made physical. The Shrine is a Cherub, she thinks, in the same way that Creation is a living thing. The way the Essence flows around it... she’s willing to bet that the sorcerous numbers and equations Sasi likes so much would be exactly the same for the active parts of the Shrine as they would for a Cherub. It can make Cherubs because when you turn it on, it is one.

... which is very interesting, and sort of neat, but doesn’t help her very much unless she can work out how to make the Essence in her anima do the same thing. She can see the shape of how, but she doesn’t have time right now to work it out. Patting the bulky case reassuringly, she puts it back and stands, stretching. She has the bangle, and that’s not nothing. But what Ligier said was trinkets - and the fae themselves. Living prisoners, then. Hmm. The problem with that is keeping them from escaping while she gathers up as many as she can find. Maybe she can ask Testolagh for use of a dungeon, or something.

Hopping up and out of the crevasse, she continues towards the mountains in a more thoughtful mood; the gold brand still burning on her forehead.

Suddenly she’s at the foothills. She remembers travelling that far, but she didn’t travel that far. It’s just like... the world has cut and now it’s later. She heads up into the mountains absently, still mulling over her problem. If she need live captives - hundreds of weak ones like those lice that were swarming over the giants - she needs a way not just to hold them but to transport them. Perhaps... perhaps demons? Some sort of deva... a toad, maybe. She’s seen them in An Teng; voracious insect-eaters that seem to be able to stuff themselves with more insect than there is toad. Giant toads, then, that can suck in Wyld spirits and keep them alive in a big stomach. She can try making one tonight.

Keris gets the distinct feeling that Ligier may have ordered her to do something because he wanted it done, not because he thought she could do it. It’s her problem to work out how to do it.

And while she’s thinking this, the temperature drops even further while she walks for three passages of the distant sun across the sky, which all in all takes about ten minutes.

It’s cold here. Very cold. The wind howls like a hungry thing. The air smell of blood and meat. And the mountains are made of teeth. Not small teeth. Big teeth. Very, very big teeth.

She can hear breathing. From underneath the snow. Many, many things breathing. Very slowly.

Echo gestures enthusiastically that she should stab the nearest one in the spirit of inquiry. Instead, Keris worms a single, subtle hair down to taste what it is and get a feel for its Essence. If all of these breathing things are Wyld creatures, she might come out ahead from this after all.

... assuming, of course, that she can first incapacitate them all - not too hard - and second; find a way to get them all back home. Which might be trickier.

Keris paces around. Listens. And picks the right moment to strike. The things down here are stacked like firewood. They’re individually weak, but there’s so many of them. So, so many. They look like... Keris thinks of the ivory elephant statues she’s seen in An Teng. Like that. Only they’re carved out of teeth. And they’re hungry, hungry, hungry.

((Enlightenment 2, Wyld aspected))

She bites her lip. This... this is exactly the kind of thing Ligier probably wants. And, uh. It would be much easier to give them to him if she already had her ship. But she needs to give them to him to get her ship. But they feel too alive to put in her soul, so she can’t get them across the Desert to him without her ship.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it; a problem.

“... urgh,” Keris groans, barely remembering to keep it quiet enough that it doesn’t travel beyond the inside of her faceplate. She... yeah, she’s sort of messed up here. She just sort of ran into the fog bank expecting to... to find something she could just stab nearly to death and then carve the heart out of and then take a big pile of pretty jewellery back to Ligier. Only it turns out that what he actually wants is several large ships full of weak, living Wyld creatures, which Keris can’t carry on her own.


... so maybe she shouldn’t be trying to do it on her own? Or even herself at all? Maybe she needs to come back with... help. Lead a... well, a sla- a capturing-monster-faeries band across this chaotic edge of Creation. Have demons and people backing her up and doing the work, and only do herself what nobody else can do; like killing giants and duelling the most powerful raksha.

What she needs to do, in other words, is... lead, instead of follow. Make the plans, instead of carrying them out. Be an army general, instead of a silent assassin.

Be, in other words, not like her. Not even like Sasi. More like...

“... Testolagh,” Keris mutters, frowning as realisation dawns. “I need to go talk to Testolagh.”

Chapter Text

Now Keris has to get out of this something-forsaken place. She looks back across the expanse of ice. Again, it’s far too far. Further than she’s travelled to get this far.

Stupid Wyld.

Snarling, she jumps away from the buried teeth-men and starts heading back. As soon as she’s far away enough not to disturb them, she can flare. That might make it easier. And hey, a giant scorched path might make it easier to find the place when she comes back. Keris sets off back across the expanse of ice, across the giant cracks and the slopes.

It’s a really long way. A really, really long way. Once she’s put a dozen miles or so behind her, she lets her soul loose. The gold and ruby rings blaze around her again; carving a trail of steam and bloodpoppies into the glacial expanse. It pushes back to the ambient essence of the Wyld, too. Makes it easier to breathe. Metaphorically speaking.

But the run goes on. And on. And on. Keris naps on the run, playing with Rathan in her soul, but it’s still going. It’s way, way further than it was before. Is there something she’s missing? Keris’ eyes narrow as she plays hair-patty-cake with Rathan. To get out of the mist, she had to first find the hungry people. And as soon as she found the giants and killed them, she suddenly found herself in the foothills. But nothing’s happened yet.

Does... does she need to meet something or fight something or... or meet some kind of challenge for the landscape before she can move between the... the landscapes?

Growling in exasperation, she skids to a halt and slams her spear into a swell in the ice; obliterating it in an explosion of green fire and wishing she knew more Sorcery. That butterfly spell Sasi used in An Teng seems like a good way of expressing her frustration right now.

“Come on!” she yells at the landscape in general, voice cracking with frustration. “This whole trip has been pointless, so let me out! Or give me something to kill! You’re... you’re making running into a chore!” Echo stamps her foot in Keris’s head; outraged at the very concept and for once in full agreement with Haneyl’s frustration.

The ice cracks. Creaks. Hisses.

And begins to rise up, as two plates shunt into each other. Sloping back down towards the foothills. Razor-sharp barbs and ice crystals fall down towards Keris like rain. If she fell now, she’d fall down onto the foothills because the rippling ice means she’s now above the base of them at a steep - and increasing - angle.

Keris bolts. This... was not exactly what she was aiming for. Still, at least it’s something other than just featureless running. The angle means nothing to her as she moves across the surface of the plate as it heads towards the vertical; angling round it towards the side nearer reality.

And as she moves, her eyes narrow further. She can feel the essence in the air. The way reality is twisting. The way it’s trying to twist her.

Keris twists back. Harder.

The ice barbs melt, are sliced to pieces and freeze solid all at the same time, and utterly shatter before they can touch Keris. All around her and across the sky she can see the fire, ice and razors lash out, just for a fraction of a second.

For that moment she is everywhere, and the Wyld is screaming. Screaming because it remembers her and she was meant to be dead why is she back why how why no why.

It’s funny. Keris laughs gleefully as she reaches the opposite side of the eruption - whatever it is - and skids down the wall of ice towards the place of mists. It lets her back out. Oh, it lets her into the world of fog quickly.

((keris stop giving infinite chaos trauma flashbacks))
((Compassion roll; 2 sux.))

She plunges into the mists with a better handle on what’s going on. She’s not going to spend long hours running through here; oh no. She’ll find her own obstacle to surmount and pass through. Casting her ears over the sound of Dulmea’s music, she listens for the village of the hungry men and heads straight for it.

Keris is not quiet this time. She is not sneaky. She is not even remotely subtle. She hits the edge of the settlement like an orchestral pyre; gold-and-ruby rings whirling around her like shining chakrams, Dulmea’s huge silhouette looming out of the mist like a giant of sunlight.

She doesn’t actually catch any of them. The shrunken-bellied children still look all too human, and Keris isn’t willing to see them flensed to the bone or burnt by green fire turned golden. But she traces back-and-forth in a half-circle behind them as the panicking, terrified creatures flee; chasing them out of the fog, out of the mist, back into Creation. Maybe if she chases them far enough, they won’t come back. Maybe leaving the Wyld will stop them becoming any more monstrous than they already are.

The cold wisps of mist curl around her as she steps out, clinging to her for a second or so before it goes. And then she’s a burning pure back in Creation, monstrous men fleeing away from her.

The air here tastes... different. Not sweeter. Maybe less pliable. Yes, that’s exactly it. The air here is less solid, less like... like she could take it in her hands and shape it as she sees fit.

She comes to a halt and stretches a little as the hungry men keep fleeing the light of her soul. rolling her shoulders and shaking legs out. It’s an odd feeling; one that appeals to the artist in her. She’s worked in silver and ink, but what would it be like to work in the raw clay of reality? Maybe she should...


And okay, yeah, that would just be putting off the conversation she needs to have with Testolagh. Where she’ll have to explain how she sort of messed up. And that she needs advice. And possibly help. From someone who doesn’t like her very much.

But, Echo points out, it’s not like he’s going anywhere! And she didn’t say how long she would be gone! So she can totally afford to take a little while to-


... oh, fine. Pouting, Keris sets off on the much-longer-now-that-she’s-not-on-anyaglo-back run towards Testolagh’s little kingdom. Her soul will have guttered out by the time she gets back there, and she can do away with the guise of a Solar as soon as she’s back down to just her forehead glowing.

She has a secret weapon on her way back. Two secret weapons, in fact. The first secret weapon is the fact that she can run along treetops, and Testolagh lives on a sky island. Which tend to stand out somewhat.

Her second secret weapon is that there are a bunch of demons on it. And one trait that all demons share is that they like to make music. As loudly as possible. Unfortunately, things aren’t quite going quite as Keris wants it to. It’s night, the clouds are low, and... um. She found where the island was flying over.

... the island isn’t there anymore.

“...” says Keris.

There’s a longish pause.

“Ah,” she adds, when nobody seems willing to comment. “Crap.”

Looking around, she sighs. There’s no sign of the island, and... well, frankly, she’s getting tired. Not physically, but mentally. And grumpy, in anticipation of the talk she’s going to have with Testolagh. And while continuing on until she finds the blasted hunk of floating rock sounds tempting, she’s honestly more tempted to just curl up and sleep. Sighing, pouting and muttering angrily, she changes out of the armour and back into her Amulet, then curls up as best she can under a warm cloak that keeps the cold out, and... fades into the snow until she isn’t there anymore.

She’ll work out how to get back when she wakes up. Somehow.

She wakes within her soul, Dulmea in front of her. She’s serving up hot bright blue tea, and Haneyl is there, holding her cup in both hands.

“Child,” Dulmea says gravely. “I felt it would be best if I and Haneyl were here to talk to you about your plans.” She pauses. “Well, I didn’t feel that, but she must be here. You want her to be.”

“I have a wobbly tooth!” Haneyl announces proudly. “And I got taller against the me-tree!”

Keris stares at her daughter. Yes, Haneyl does look... maybe a year or so older. She looks maybe five or six now. And yes, she does demonstrate the wobbly tooth for her mother.

... why did she just grow up a little bit?

After making appropriate cooing noises and nodding along to Haneyl’s plan to bury her tooth when it comes out so that she can make a toothed tree that will grow in the Ruin because teeth are like bone and bone trees grow there, Keris sits at the table, sipping at the blue tea. It tastes... fruity. And rather nice.

“Which plans?” she asks, wrinkling her nose. “You mean going to Testolagh?”

“Among other things,” Dulmea agrees, nodding her head. “You are wishing to become a housemistress, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Keris agrees, nodding. She pauses for a second. “Uh, maybe. Or not? Hmm.” Another brief pause. “What... exactly do you mean by ‘housemistress’?”

Dulmea passes Haneyl a plate of little meaty dumplings, and the little girl starts skewering them on tiny branches and methodically stripping them bare.

“A housemistress, child, is the senior assassin in a house of assassins. She sets the tasks, she runs the defences, she chooses who is sent on roles. She must not merely think of how to kill her targets, but who to kill and who to recruit, and how to train new housesisters.”

“Ah!” Keris claps a couple of hair tendrils together. “Then yes. Yeah, I...” she sighs. “I guess one thing that trip was good for was learning that. Or... making sure of it, I guess. Do you ever feel like something’s been brewing a long time, and then you only notice it when it’s finished and all comes together in one go and you’re sure of it? But when you look back, you can see how you were thinking about it earlier? Deciding to go after Kasseni was like that; the first time.”

She sips at her tea some more, pondering. “Sasi’s a lot more effective than me. I get more done when I follow her lead. Always did with Rat, too. Testolagh’s built a little empire out here by getting people to follow him. Naan has an island. I guess... maybe I’ve been thinking I’d have to start planning things for myself and leading instead of relying on Sasi all the time for a while.” She huffs a little laugh. “Maybe that’s why I asked for the ship. I mean, as well as it being shiny and gorgeous and wonderful.”

“It is a really super nice ship!” Haneyl says brightly, and then pulls a face. “I think you let Mama-Sasimana have a bit too much of the stuff inside, though!” Her crown slides slightly down her brow as she frowns. “You really shouldn’t have done that. Now we have to go and get more stuff! And more people to work for us! Oh! Oh! If you made me stronger and better-er, I could infect all of them for you so they’d want to work for you! So everyone would be happy, especially us!”

She rushes forwards, to kneel next to Keris and give her a big hug. “Please, please can we get lots of stuff and lots of people who we can infect and make them do as we say and they won’t ever turn on us because they’ll be ours and we’ll keep them safe and make them better because our stuff has to be the best.”

Keris cuddles her. “I think I’d prefer to get them to want them to work for us, then infect them to make sure they’re loyal and and I can heal them if they’re hurt,” she points out. “Choices are important. But Darling Yellow and her group agreed to work for us all on their own, so I know other people will.” She grins. “I can agree on us needing more stuff, though. And... well. I have ideas that way. Though some are a bit risky.”

Haneyl crosses her arms. “Mama,” she says warningly. “From now on you need to promise to make a brand new demon every day! Or summon one! Because if you do that, then we’ll get twenty eight ones every month. And...” she frowns, lips moving. “And over sixty ones every season! And four hundred and twenty five demons a year!”

Keris raises her eyebrows and applauds her. “You’re getting really good at numbers,” she says approvingly. “And okay, but I need to keep them somewhere, and I’m not going to be here for long. And I think people might notice a bunch of demons in An Teng.” She pauses. “Possibly notice. Well, certainly in the city.” Another pause. “Uh. Probably in the city. Well, you get the idea.”

Haneyl gives her a hair hug. “So go take an island somewhere so you can keep your demons on it and plant lots of trees and it can be a pretty garden,” she points out reasonably.

This earns her a grin. “Well, I was sort of thinking I’d need somewhere to dock my ship...” Keris says teasingly. “Alright, you win. And I’ll see if I can’t move the misbegotten out there to look after it, too. Better somewhere we’ve made pretty than some barren beach, right?”

“Yes! Because they’d be ours. And we’re much much much much better than those stupid princes of An Teng! I’m a super-better princess than them! And so are you,” Haneyl adds generously.

“Thanks,” Keris returns; amused. “Though this is still Testolagh’s turf. I think I’ll hold off on any mass summoning until I’ve...” she sighs. “Talked to him. And asked his advice. He’s better at leading than I am, at least for now.”

Haneyl seems content by this, so snuggles down in Keris’ lap and starts making little pyramids of meatballs.

“So, child,” Dulmea asks. “How do you plan to get back up to the flying island when you find it again?”

Keris shrugs. “Yell really loudly, and maybe flare my anima. There are agatae up there. If I make enough noise, someone’ll come down and give me a lift up.”

“You should have planned this better,” Dulmea chides her.

In contrast to Haneyl’s side of the discussion, this gets a frown. “If my anyaglo had been around for that ice... eruption... thing, he’d have been hurt,” she says. “The Wyld is dangerous, especially for young demons like him. I wasn’t going to take him into that.”

“It would have been better to keep him safely bound at a distance,” Dulmea grumbles. “It’s an Echoan creature. They run all over the place, and listen to no one.”

“And they’re cheats who cheat in horsie races!” Haneyl says loudly, eating a meatball with her hands.”

“And that too,” Dulmea says diplomatically.

“... yeah, okay,” Keris concedes. “Looking back, maybe I should’ve... it was a mistake. I won’t make that one again.”

“Well, perhaps it might be better to wait until daybreak. That might make it easier to find the island,” Dulmea observes. “In the meantime, please stop Echo from trying to block the canals using blue ribbons, and please stop Rathan from eating the blue ribbons and then being sick.”

“Why is Echo... right, never mind,” Keris dismisses. “No point in asking. Okay. Haneyl? Up to coming? I may need you to help set fire to ribbons. And then possibly make ribbons out of fire to lure Echo away from the canals.”

Haneyl claps her hands gleefully, clearly looking forwards to the prospect of Echo getting in trouble. She starts to fill her pockets with meatballs. “Coming!” she shouts.

A busy night later, in which Keris learns that a) wind and fire do not mix well and b) ice is, under the right conditions, flammable; she wakes and stretches languidly, turning from a completely normal and unremarkable snowdrift into a curled-up young woman under a cloak who was there in plain sight the whole time. A nearby flock of birds appear to have panic attacks, and wheel up into the air screeching before dropping to the ground courtesy of half a dozen lead slingshots flung with murderous intent.

“... bird for breakfast then, I guess,” Keris mutters as she collects the bodies. “Okay, sky island. If I don’t find it by nightfall, I’ll just summon another anyaglo.” She keeps an eye turned skyward for owlriders, too. Most of the ones in the area work for Testolagh; they’ll probably know where the island is.

Keris has never run on a landscape like this. The branches are thin and whippy and it’s one of the most intellectually challenging surfaces to pass over. But when she goes deep down into the woods, not only can she not see the sky from under the pine canopy, but to her sensitive ears she can hear a constant rain of pine needles... and nothing else. The world is dead, down here in the darkness. All the life is higher up in the light.

But then she finds an open area - a frozen over lake, she thinks. It’s not very big, but it’s big enough that it’s a hole in the canopy and there’s suddenly life - and birds and creatures around it, venturing down to cracks in the ice to drink.

And among them are humans. Humans, and large pack animals that - Keris blinks. They... they look sort of like squirrels. Giant squirrels the size of a small horse with incredibly massive and luxurious-looking tails. The humans aren’t like the owl-riders - they’re pale, blocky and squat, with heavy brows and big noses. Some of them seem to have plants literally growing on their clothes, like they’re made of living plant matter.

Keris intentionally misses a step to grab a whip-thing treetop and rides the flexible thing all the way down to the ice before letting go and watching it spring up again with such force and speed that the air cracks. She takes a few easy steps over the ice, sliding gracefully over to the men and women, and raises a hand in greeting. This does not appear to reassure them, though when she tosses them the birds she hasn’t got around to eating yet, they calm down a little.

Airtongue, Testolagh had said the ground-dwelling locals used. Keris... does not know any Airtongue.

“Hi,” she says in Rivertongue instead, and raises a hand in greeting. “I know you don’t understand me, but I need to know where the sky island is. Uh... rock.” She points at one. “Floating in sky!” She points upwards, hefting the rock up in a hair tendril for a moment and bobbing it along in demonstration before spreading her hands. “Where?”

Compared to them, Keris is shockingly brightly coloured in her reds compared to their greys and greens and browns. They scatter, before one man approaches her, spear held ready. He asks her something in... something she doesn’t understand. She shrugs, and gestures again with the rock, pointing in various directions with an inquisitive look for good measure. “Where flying rock?” she repeats in Old Realm. And Firetongue, just in case, though she doesn’t really expect that one to help.

An older man steps up. “Flaying rawck?” he asks in badly accented Old Realm. “You seeh and ruun fraum,” a word she doesn’t understand, “bardman?”

“Birdman rock, yes!” Keris says, and then remembers that these people... uh, may not actually like the bird men. She pulls her spear out from her hair, earning quite a lot of deeply alarmed looks as well as one or two very confused ones. “Flying birdman rock!” she continues, waving the spear upwards. “Where?”

“Free naucht gone over sky,” the man says. “Bardman keel, sweep. Hiid fraum bardman.”

“Gone where? Which way?” Keris points a few times. “That way? That way?”

The man points to the south. He doesn’t need words for that. Or maybe can’t say it.

And Keris realises another thing. Three nights past? Was she longer in there than she thought?

((Heh. I noticed that, yes. I was just trying to work out if there were any other words it could be.))

“Thank you,” she says politely, and heads off over the ice. The island didn’t move that fast that she remembers, but... three days is a long head start. And how the hell did she spend three days in there? It didn’t feel like three days! Well, maybe the incredibly boring running felt like days. But not that many!

Or maybe she was just sleeping for an extra long time. She glances up and judges the angle of the sun - the nice thing about being so far East is that it’s very easy to tell the difference between “morning” and “afternoon”. It seems to still be morning; the sun looming near in the sky. And she can hear the water flowing underneath the ice. This isn’t a lake - this is a surfacing of one of the underground rivers she’s heard about.

Testolagh uses the rivers. He as much as said so. Which means wherever his island goes, he’ll probably try and stay close to them. Grinning, Keris widens one of the cracks in the ice with a well-placed kick and plunges under; letting the current take her where she needs to go. The ice isn’t right against the water, she finds. It’s like a scab over a wound, covering the underground river.

It’s pitch black down here, almost completely. The only light comes from weird glowing crystals in the roots, which glow green and taste of wood essence when she checks them. There are scampering things, too, scampering things down in the relative warmth which sound very nearly human - or very nearly animal

More mutant nearly-human things, she supposes. She lets them be for now, and concentrates on the current. And on listening out for that giant ice serpent that’s meant to be down here. She does not want to run into something like that so far beneath the ground.

There is no sign of some giant water snake. Instead, following the path of the river Keris swims swiftly through the darkness and past the scampering nearly human things, and the next point she surfaces, she can see a floating island in the blue sky, gleaming in the sunlight.

“Finally,” she mutters. “Hey! Her- oh, never screw it.” A thought, and her anima flares around her; though only to the bonfire-whirlwind of red and silver. Haneyl makes a pleased sound that the colours are back to normal as Keris bounds towards the distant island. If there’s anyone looking in her direction, they’ll spot her soon enough. Indeed, soon enough an agata with a rider is coming down low to pick her up. Bearing with the loudness by dint of fingers stuck in her ears, Keris is soon back on the island and, blessedly, back in the warmth of the buildings.

That’s the good bit.

The bad bit is that now she has to have the conversation she’s not been looking forward to.

Testolagh, at least, seems to be thinking of her hearing. Or perhaps he just doesn’t want people listening in. Either way, he takes her into a basalt room that’s almost a throneroom, with just the two of them in a separate room from the taproom.

“So?” he asks laconically. The question drags Keris from her moment of quiet noiseless bliss, and she sighs, flopping into a chair and strumming aimlessly at the air.

“I... may have been going about things the wrong way,” she admits grudgingly. “I could... probably... learn some things from your approach.” She very carefully avoids eye contact, feeling sulky on general principle about having to admit to failing. “I found a lot of raksha trinkets that Ligier would want, but I, uh... can’t move them all by myself. I need to lead a raiding party. At least.”

“Oh?” he asks unhelpfully.

She shoots him a frustrated look. “Why does everyone I know do that thing where they ask innocent little questions without saying anything they’re thinking?” she complains, though with more exasperation than heat. “Is there some kind of Malfean school where you people learn it? It’s not even a Green Sun Prince thing; Dulmea does it too!”

((Per + Pres))
((3+5+2 stunt+4 Kimmy ExD {playful waves, charm, self-defined victim}=14. 11 sux.))

Testolagh smiles, despite himself. In fact, Keris shatters his composure and he laughs. She tries to keep up her pout, but can’t help but find her lips twitching reluctantly. “I should start doing it too,” she mutters. “See how you like it. Uh... yeah, up in the mountains - oh, hold on. I said I’d get you a map, didn’t I?”

Sticking a hand into her hair, Keris rummages for a while, and pulls out a scroll, unfurling it with a flourish. “Okay, so. The mist isn’t actually everything. It’s just like... a band, held back by these stones... here, I sketched one. It goes on for a bit, then there’s a glacier, and then the mountains.”

She pulls back for a second, frowning. “And there’s something weird going on there. I think you can’t move from one place to the next until you’ve met something living there, or... or made the land notice you somehow. I ran for hours over that damn glacier and didn’t get anywhere, then killed a giant and I was almost at the foothills. Just like that. And I could swear I wasn’t gone three days in there.”

She taps the map again. It’s more an annotated account, really - the map just takes up part of the scroll, the rest is sketches. The stones at the edge of the mist, the hungry men, the giants and the view across the glacier to the mountains. They’re roughly and quickly done, but they’re more than enough to get the point across.

“Hmm,” Testolagh says, pouring over the maps. “So. I can’t pretend to be an expert on the fae and on chaos, but I do know that their lands can be divided into... territories, or waypoints, where they don’t let you pass until something ‘meaningful’ happens.”

“... that sounds about right,” Keris agrees. “On the way back, it wasn’t anything living. I just got mad and yelled at the sky and then the ice exploded and tried to twist me. So I twisted back. With fire and ice and razors. And then it screamed a lot and let me go.” She giggles. “I think I scared it.”

“I... see,” Testolagh says. Keris suspects he’s lying.

“Anyway,” she says, shaking the brief amusement off and getting back to business. “Much as I... don’t... really like to admit it, you’re, uh.” She sighs. “Better at the whole ‘leader’ thing than... uh... anyone else I know. Wow, that’s... a thing. Wait, no. Not the best. But the best who isn’t a terrifying Unquestionable prince of Hell.”

She considers that for a moment.

“I need to meet more people,” she decides. “But that can wait. For now... Ligier wants living Wyld essence for his forges. And my only way of making Wyld creatures portable... see for yourself.” She tosses him the giant-bracelet. “Locked down and, I’d bet, not nearly as useful to him. Which means I need a way of getting a lot of still-sort-of-living faeries back to Hell. Without them escaping. Which I can’t do on my own. So I need...” another gusty sigh. “He- advice.”

He takes the bracelet, and frowns at it. “What is this?”

“A raksha giant’s heart. Or... hearts. I have a way of... oh, it’s sort of like distilling a sacrifice into a pretty thing. Sorcery. They’re useful to trade with spirits - just like a sacrifice, but you can do them ahead of time and carry them around with you. Or just wear them as pretty things. Problem is... taste the essence in it.”

“I... see,” he says, eyes glinting green, and then pinches his brow. “Well. Before when Ligier wanted raksha, I beat their champions and made them swear service to me for a season. They thought they were smarter than me.”

Keris snorts. “How’d that work out for them?”

“They didn’t realise Unquestionable Ligier needed less than a season for them to wind up in his hands,” he says grimly.

“Heh.” Keris smiles wanly. “Not going to help with the tooth-men I found in the mountains, though. I need something that can move them all...” She falls into pondering, before something seems to occur to her. “Oh! Did my anyaglo come back here? I told him to, but they’re a bit distractible.”

“What was that demon? There’s been no sign of it.”

“Urgh, great.” Keris sighs. “Demon horse. Quieter than agatae. It saves me a pounding headache - trust me, it’s worth it if you have hearing like mine. The only problem is getting them to stay on one thing for more than five minutes.”


Keris considers. Eko is sort of Adorjan’s daughter, in a way, so...

“Yeah, I think. Why?”

“Just curious. I’d never seen one that looked like that before.”

Keris smiles. “I’ll probably track him down and get him back here at some point; you can take another look them.” She chews on a hair tendril thoughtfully, plucking a few more chords from the air. “If I did go out and snatch up all of the tooth-men in the mountains - if I summoned some big demon that could grab them all. Do you know of anywhere that would give me I’d a good chance of keeping them locked up while I hit the other local faerie populations, or would I just need to make more than one trip back to Malfeas with each batch?” She laughs humourlessly as something occurs to her. “This would be a lot easier if I had the ship... that... I’m paying Ligier for with this mission. Helpful.”

Testolagh looks at Keris like she’s crazy. “No,” he says, running his hands through his brown hair. “Fae are not safe.”

“Not even if you cut their arms and legs off?” But she dips her head, acknowledging the point. “Fine. Wasn’t really hopeful about that option anyway, but I had to ask. I guess I’ll just... no, actually. First I’ll do a couple more scouting trips - just scouting. Then I’ll make a plan. Then I’ll summon whatever demons I need for the plan, and then I’ll go hit the mountains with a raiding band. No more charging in with no idea what I’m doing. As much.”

Testolagh looks dubious. Keris shrugs. “Hey, I’m still learning this stuff. You at least can’t argue with the scouting, right?”

“No,” he says, considering things. “Of course, if you wanted to trade some favours...”

She cocks her head. “I’m listening.”

“The headman of the Kukuluya tribe is claiming that my little empire is worshiping evil gods and is raiding against the various tribes. I could destroy him - and I was preparing to, but if you could either kill him in a way which isn’t suspicious, or better yet leave him looking like a fraud, that’d make it easier to pick up his allies,” Testolagh says. “Alternatively, if you know ways to seal off the Wyld, there are some tainted lands to the south which other raiders use as waystations to rest between raids. And they may even be there at the time.”

Keris purses her lips. “I’m certainly good at making people disappear. Along with large amounts of cash and a fast giant squirrel thing, at the dead of night, with several unconscious guards left around their rooms. And I can make Kimberian lakes, which... might do something to lock down the tainted lands. I can’t imagine they’d be friendly to raksha, at least.” She considers it for a moment and nods. “The headman shouldn’t be too hard; if framing him as a thieving con artist who ran for it in the night works. What would it be worth?”

Keris realises as soon as she’s saying it that this might not be too sensible. They’re all backwater primitives here who don’t have money and don’t have real towns and probably all live in tiny groups all related to each other, so how would the headman be a thieving con artist? Maybe by “make him look like a fraud,” Testolagh really meant something like “make him look like he’s making up the thing about Testolagh’s demon cultists worshipping demons”.

“That, or- oh.” She blinks. “Huh. I... huh.” A thoughtful look comes over her face for a moment, before settling into a nasty smile. “Actually... better idea. I’m pretty sure I can... well, bring him round to admit he was wrong. Publically, even.” Keris hasn’t given much thought to her less lethal, more addictive venoms since using them accidentally on Ogi and then deliberately on Kasseni. But for a primitive man like this; appearing as a goddess, addicting him to her - and adding a Self Seed for good measure - and then driving him half-mad from withdrawal... well, that would discredit him quite elegantly, really.

Keris feels an invisible tug from Rathan in her mind, like he’s pulling on her dress. “Pain’ him pretty colours,” Rathan pleads. “Make ev’ryon’ point. They laugh. Like Eko! Make man ugly! Like Eko!”

‘Ooo, good plan,’ she whispers to him internally. ‘You can help, okay? We can have fun with him.’

Out loud, she nods to Testolagh. “I’ll make him a laughingstock,” she agrees. “Once it’s done; I’ll ask for support in preparing a raiding party to grab the fae sleeping up in the mountains behind the fog.”

“We’ll see about it,” Testolagh says. “I’m not going to lie to you. I have my own mission, and I’m not going to throw away people I can’t replace in a chaos-tainted place full of man-eating monsters.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to. But if I summon my own forces for one, I’ll need a place to rally them until I built up enough numbers to launch a raid,” Keris replies. “That’s something you could provide without risking your own people too much.”

“Like I said, we’ll see,” he says more assertively. “I’m not going to make any promises I might break.”

... was that some emphasis on the ‘I’ there?

Keris chooses to let it go, but it’s not without a certain huffiness that she leaves the admittedly lovely quiet room for the company of cruder but more honest demons, and their gambling and song.

Chapter Text

Keris has a few days to get ready. She’s been given the services of an owlrider - a woman even shorter than she is with leaf green hair and a sickly pallor. Closer inspection reveals that her pallor comes from the peronelle she wears, which helps her talk to Keris and speaks on her behalf, translating what she says.

Keris finds out that there’s a careful balance among the owlriders. They need people as short and light as possible, because the owls don’t have much stamina for extended flight. But when attacking the ground or other sky islands, there men have the advantage because the delicate, almost child-like women who are their best fliers only get that way by drugs they make from plants which they give them from a young age, which stunt their growth and leave them with brittle bones. They have more normal women, ones who are built much more like the men. The riders seem to be basically a third sex among them, neither male nor female.

This one - Melunen is her name - is so short and light that she can carry two people on her owl, as long as the load isn’t too heavy. The peronelle seems to make life much easier for her - it keeps her safe and allows her to take knocks without breaking bones. And Keris has seen her fly. The things she can do with an owl... well. It’s astonishing how someone who walks like she’s made of glass can plummet from the sky like that to snatch up one of the creatures of the trees or a bird.

((... heh. How close is she to Keris herself in height? Probably not that much smaller.))
((She reaches up to about Keris’ armpit - she’s built like a ten year old apart from the few traces that she’s post-puberty. She’s one of the smallest - Keris is still taller than most of the riders, but not by much.))

While Keris is small enough that she could probably ride along with the woman with ease, she elects to summon another ribbon-horse. It’s older than the last one; another male that she binds rather than letting it run loose. Sitting astride it with casual ease, Keris asks the owl-rider to take her on a quick tour of Testolagh’s lands, then on to the border of the Kukuluya tribelands.

The woman coos over the ribbon-horse without any sign of fear, and makes noises of surprise and excitement when she strokes its soft flank for the first time.

“It is so pretty!” the peronelle translates. “What is it? So soft and pretty!”

“He’s an anyaglo,” Keris tells her proudly. “A ribbon-horse. Like the peronelle you wear, or the demon wasps your lord summons. I ride him because he’s quieter and faster than they are.”

She hobbles over to the hooves and crouches down by them, squinting as she tries to work out where the ribbons falling from it come from. Then Melunen remembers that she’s meant to be taking Keris elsewhere, and after quickly gathering a handful of fallen ribbons, she whistles through her teeth, a two-tone note that has her big tawny mount swooping in with soft feathers.

“Owls,” she explains as they fly... uh, quite slowly by Keris’ standards. “They are very good at turning, and swooping and they are good in among the trees, but they are not for long distances.” She looks up. “There,” the peronelle translates for her. “That hawk there. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to ride a hawk, if they were big enough. Auwula, he gets tired if he carries me for too long, but a hawk can cross from horizon to horizon without resting.”

((She’s hoarding the silk. Lawl.))
((Of course she is. It’s soft! And colourful!))
((Echo approves. Hee.))
((Echo suggests you steal her and make her able to go even faster.))

“Mention it to Testolagh,” Keris advises, after musing on it for a moment. “There are ways to make beasts grow huge. He might know how to breed hawks up to the right size. If they’re that good at flying long-distance; he’d probably agree.”

She flashes a wide grin at Keris. “That would be wonderful,” the peronelle translates.

They fly on.

“Now,” she explains after a while. The two of them have stopped, while her owl rests. “See those two tall trees ahead?” There are two larger than usual trees ahead, a few kilometres from each other. They seem to have little sparkly things attached to them. “If we cross between them, we are in land they control and their riders will likely kill us - or try - because our people are enemies.” She pauses. “If the weather was clearer and the moon-tides were right, you might see one of their islands from here. In fact... yes,” she says, “there!” There’s a gleam in the low clouds as they clear for a moment. “That is the ice on Kurangula. That is their most eastern island. They gather there if they wish to raid us.”

“How many islands do they have?” Keris asks. “And which one does their headman live on?”

She giggles. “You think we live on one island,” her peronelle says for her. “We are not like the sulugu” it seems to be a derogatory term for the ones who live down in the forest. “If you do not move when an island rises, you die. It is too cold and the air is too thin.” She talks more and Keris sees more of their life, and the way that they can’t stay on any island too long, but instead have to constantly move to new sky islands as they blow down from the north. Their entire culture is based on the impermanence of that, and moving with the birds as they migrate from island to island.

“Huh. Okay.” Keris chews a hair tendril thoughtfully as her steed trots in a happy circle around Melunen’s perch. “So I have to find him first,” she says, mostly to herself, before turning back to the owl-rider. “Any advice for picking him out? It’ll be safer if I go in alone - I’m better at going unnoticed.”

“If he is speaking about war and ready for it, he may be on that island,” the doll-like woman says, swinging her legs from the branch.

“Fair,” Keris concedes. “I guess I can just look for whoever’s telling everyone what to do, then.” She purses her lips. “Stay here,” she decides. “Or in the area, at least. I’ll scout the island and plan before doing anything.” She pats her mount’s neck fondly. “If he comes back alone, it means I’m staying there for a while to work and you can head back.”

The woman nods. Keris notices she already has tied white ribbons in her green hair.

Keris jumps onto the back of her steed and gallops off. And she can hear the squeal of joy from Melunen as she sees how fast the ribbon horse goes when it pushes itself. She can hear the wind picking up. There’s black clouds to the north. But more pertinently, she can hear that there are other big owls in this forest - and some, but not all, have riders.

She’s wearing her Amulet, though, and her steed is whisper-quiet. Quieter, in fact. Keris flatters herself over the anyaglo’s back, letting her cloak lengthen and drape itself over the ribbon-horse’s flanks to hide as much of the telltale glints of scarlet as possible. Carefully, with bursts of silent speed and pinpoint knowledge of where the owlriders are, she traces a zigzag path through the woods and towards the sky island.

((Reaction+Subterfuge to get there without being seen?))
((Lower of Reaction + Subterfuge or Travel))
((... you are very mean to me sometimes.))
((5+0+2 Coadj+2 stunt+2 Metagaos ExSux {lurks in plain sight, cunning, deceptive}=9. 3+2=5 sux.))
((... they got 4 successes. So close~))

Keris rides low, keeping well away from the noise of the birds. Of course, it’s a close thing, especially when the anyaglo wants to run. Still, she makes it to the bottom of the island without being spotted, and has him sequester himself in a crevasse on the rocky underside where he won’t be spotted easily.

“Wait here until I come back,” she tells him. “If any of the birds get close enough to see you; run. Lead them on a wild chase - go just slow enough that they follow you a fair distance - and then lose them and come back to this spot. Okay?”

He shakes his head, ribbons cascading off. His expression looks remarkably like Echo’s when she wants to ruuuuuuuuun. Still he finds a cranny and lies down on his side, sprawled out like...

Keris sighs. “Echo,” she addresses the girl in her head, “did you make them act like dogs?”

Echo silently shrugs, indicating that she didn’t really know how horsies act when they’re not running, so she just had them act like cats and dogs.

Keris rolls her eyes. “You’ll be able to run when I get back,” she tells him. “Just be patient for a little bit.” She pats him on the flank reassuringly and then runs up the side of the sky-island; navigating the sheer and inverted surfaces with casual ease. Looking at the rocks as she passes, she can feel the thrum of essence below them. Lots and lots of trapped air essence in there. An Adorjani impulse to break them open with a touch of green fire tweaks a smile from her, but she suppresses it. Loud and flashy isn’t the way, here. Subtle and simple are better tools. She makes the surface of the isle and flattens herself against the ground; edging forward cautiously to take in what’s up here.

Like a silent ghost, Keris slips up onto the top of the sky island. It’s a jagged peak, and the locals seem to have set up wooden shacks around the entrances to caves. They’ve built mounds of earth and wood, but a lot of that seems to be to keep the wind off them. And of course, there are the owl stables - wait, is that the right word - which looks just like the other tribes.

Keris can hear a cluster of male and female voices, raised low and mournful and discordant, singing some kind of song accompanied by pipes and flutes.

((... and they got 5 successes on 6 dice for it, so it’s... actually really good))

Keris’ heart does a flipflop at the beauty of the lonely pride of the song. Attracted by the music and voices, she creeps closer and slips inside, sticking to the shadows and blending perfectly with the walls.

It’s much like the areas of the other owlrider settlements she saw - only these people don’t have Testolagh’s houses. It makes all the difference. They’re singing from the caves, with wooden walls curtained with hide, in the way to block the cold wind. So instead it’s smoky inside as Keris slips past the curtain, blending into the background. The place stinks of humanity and smoke, and they’re singing as the men scrub clothes and the women sew. She can see a few of the childlike riders, but they’re not working - and one of them is wheezing in a cradle sounding desperately ill.

((Compassion 3; BOTCH.))

Keris ignores her for the moment, using the smoke and the shadows of the cave walls to work her way around, looking for whoever seems to be in charge. Internally, she mulls over her plan once she finds the headman.

Subverting him is definitely tempting. She could do it fairly easily; addicting him to her and getting an owlrider tribe of her own. But Testolagh already doesn’t like her much, and taking over a tribe could make him edgy. Not to mention make it tricky for him to take over when Keris leaves.

So maybe just pure discrediting would be easier? Blue-violet toxins glimmer on Keris’s fingertips as she brews mutagens within herself. A poison of the mind, she muses. Something to amplify his paranoia, his mistrust - the venoms of the Great Mother lend themselves well to that; seeing betrayal and dissent everywhere. If he starts going insane and seeing threats and enemies amongst his own people, his ranting about demon-worship will just look like the start of a downward trend. A few doubtful whispers in the right ears under the guise of an islander and she’ll need do nothing but check in a few more times to make sure he falls in the right way.

((Actually, heh. I’m training Compassion. So I think I’ll come back for that sick woman. After I’m done, though.))

Rathan makes a sulky noise. “What ‘bout the painty thing, mama?” he whines. “Make him into a painting! Like you can do to Hanny’s stupid horsies!”

“I’m painting him with pretty poisons, sweetie,” she explains to him. “So he looks all silly and insane and everyone laughs at him. Won’t that be funny?”

((Rathan is suggesting you mutate him so he looks like a demon himself, because Haneyl had some of her horses beat him horses in a fight, so he’s been taking revenge.))
((Oh Rathan.))

Keris doesn’t speak the language, but she does know the tones of command, and the way that people in charge tend to be better dressed than people who aren’t. Those signs are what she looks for as she creeps through caves and skulks through shadows, idly wishing she’d thought to bring the peronelle along. As the hours pass, idle wishes turn to angry muttering as she blames herself for not having something to help her with these savages and their stupid language which isn’t a real language and is stupid.

... things only get worse when at sunset, the man who’s obviously in charge actually returns, carried in a sling held in an owl’s claws. Conversation immediately breaks out, and some of the better dressed - better dressed meaning ‘wearing cloaks made of feathers’ - people who might be priests or might be warriors rush over to talk to him. He takes them aside and they talk.

Keris has no idea what they say. But she’s guessing he’s been away talking to someone else. Or maybe praying to gods at some shrine. Or something. She doesn’t know. Seeing that there probably won’t be any getting at him while he’s surrounded by people talking to him, she sneaks down to her anyaglo and rides back to Melunen, using the cover of night to make her way back more easily. She can do this now, she’s pretty sure. But that peronelle will help.

((Is it worth a stealth roll, or can we just assume she succeeds?))
((Roll again.))
((le sigh. 9+2 Metagaos ExSux; 6+2=8 sux.))

Slipping away like a ghost, the anyaglo is gleeful to see Keris.

And... uh, the woman seems happy to see the ribbon-horse again.

“You are back,” she says to Keris, from the little tent-hammock she’s set up hanging from a branch. It looks very warm, as it’s lined with fur.

“I am back,” Keris agrees. “I’ve found him and I have a plan, so you can head home. But I’d like you,” she speaks to the peronelle itself, “to come with me, just for the next day or so. I need a translator.”

She can see Melunen’s expression shift as the peronelle whispers in her ear. “Do you really need it?” she asks reluctantly. “It helps keep me safer on the ground and in the air. I have not broken any bones since the Brightly Burning Chief gave it to me.”

Keris eyes the sky, judging the light levels and how close it is to sundown. But... no, she thinks. She can’t risk a summoning here. Her flaring soul would attract too much attention of the wrong kinds.

“I really do,” she says, not without regret. “Tell you what. You like those, don’t you?” She gestures at the silk hoof-ribbons tied into Melunen’s hair. “Then, if the two of you agree for it to help me on this mission, I’ll give you, hmm...”

A thought strikes her, and she grins and changes tack. “I’ll give you,” she says, “a friend that can weave as much ribbon like it as you want. Another spirit, like the anyaglo, who makes silk ribbon however long and whatever colour you like. I’ll summon it when I next see you, back on Testolagh’s islands.”

She swallows and nods, then says something to the peronelle that has it ooze away from her skin. Her skin tone is healthier with it off, but she clearly doesn’t like going without it. And not just because she wraps herself up tighter in her fur-lined hammock-tent.

The peronelle takes on a black colour, and oozes over to Keris. Eyes open all over it. “You wish my aid?” it asks her in formal, Malfean Old Realm.

“To translate for me, yes,” she says. “We’re going to be sneaking onto the island, poisoning the chief’s mind and then spreading a few rumours about his paranoia and insanity. I’ll need you for the last bit. Oh, and tell Melunen good luck and goodbye until I see her back on Testolagh’s island, would you?”

It says something to the girl... the woman, who says something back.

“She wishes you good luck and the blessings of her local gods,” it says to Keris, before oozing up onto her leg. It’s a strange feeling as it creeps up under her clothes, coating her skin as a second black shiny skin.

She shivers at the sensation, then gives Melunen a friendly nod goodbye and mounts her anyaglo again, turning back towards the island. “Right then,” she breathes. “Just like last time; nice and quiet...”

((Roll again~))
((admittedly Keris gaining Travel 5 probably heralds the return of the Yozis. It may actually be less likely.))
((9 dice, 2 Metagaos ExSux; 10+2=12 sux. Heh. She keeps getting better at this as she learns their placements. : P))
((Sigh. Wow, Keris, how much luck did you burn on that roll?))
((... shit. Dice fairiiiieees!))

It’s an easy ride past the sentries. It’s dark and now they rely on the eyesight of their owls. Keris suspects their hunters are more active at night, so their owls are better at finding prey.

This time, she pulls shadow over herself as she sneaks up, disguising herself as another of the men she saw in the caves. She’s careful not to make herself look too much like the men who arrived with the headman, who probably knows all his high-status warriors on sight. No, she goes for a more low-ranking man. Someone who can blend into the group.

She blends in well. With the clothes covering her throat and mouth, she can have the peronelle speak for her. Sure, she has to keep away from people, but she’s good at blending into the background. Her first order of business is to get close enough to the headman to get a hand on him. It’s a potent little poison she’s been brewing; once she’s spent her time on. A dash of delusion, a pinch of mood swings and a nice healthy topping of paranoia; all wrapped up in the poisonous extremes of emotion inherent to the Great Mother’s tides. He’s no longer surrounded by a dense knot of men, and so it’s a simple thing for Keris to brush against him on her way past the fire, so softly that it’s barely even noticeable as skin contact. The first dose sinks into his skin and gets to work, and she gets a second touch in as she passes behind him on her way back.

Now it’s just a matter of waiting to drop a few words in the right ears.

((So mechanically what is she doing?))
((She’s using her mutagenic poisons to give him Delusion (Paranoia - They’re All Demon-Tainted) <1> and Mood Swings <3> in two doses. Which will synergise rather amusingly, since he’s at -2 MDV to the Emotion effects that his Delusion will bring about.))
((And I’m pretty sure that paranoia about betrayal and mood swings are totally in-theme for Kimberyian poison.))
((Yeeeeeah, it is.))
((... I’m actually not sure there are any mental effects that are more so. : P))
((Anyway, the result of this is probably going to be him going from accusing Testolagh of being a demon-worshipper to accusing all the other rival tribes, and then anyone he doesn’t like, and then anyone who looks at him funny. And then Keris just has to seal the deal by going “he’s seeing demons everywhere, he’s gone nuts” in a few ears and Testolagh is more or less off the hook.))
((Okay, so, hmm. Per + Politics for Keris to tell the peronelle what to say. Then roll Per + Pres 7d10 for the peronelle’s persuasion attempts.))

It doesn’t take long for the chief to start going downhill. The peronelle faithfully translates his ranting about demon-worship in other nearby tribes in a whisper inaudible to anyone but Keris, though she gets the gist of his meaning on her own about an hour later when he points at a man across the fire and starts shouting.

Withdrawing a bit further and taking care to look innocuous, she composes a few comments for the peronelle to translate. Asking; that’s the key. Don’t say he’s going crazy. Ask people whether he’s all there. Sound worried as you ask whether there were any demons in the first place. Better yet, tell people the opposite of the truth, and do it in uncertain tones. Tell them that they shouldn’t be listening; that he’s just had a bit too much to drink, he doesn’t mean it.

People are delightfully contrary like that, no matter where they live.

((Keris roll: 3+1+3 Social Saboteur+1 bonus {attacking an engineered weakness}+2 stunt+2 Kimmy ExSux {undercurrents of distrust and dissent, poison, delayed or ongoing harm}=10. 6+2=8 sux.
Peronelle roll: 7 dice; BLAH, 1 sux. : (. Y U LET ME DOWN, PERONELLE? SO MEAN. DICE FAIRIES, I H8 U!))
((Fortunately, he rolled poorly on his attempt to persuade them that the demon worshippers are everywhere.))
((keris u so mean))

From its whispering in Keris’ ear, the peronelle tells her that clearly it was very persuasive thanks to her help, because it’s hearing a lot of concern and worry about their chief. Keris smiles placidly and slips out. She’ll return in a day’s time to make sure things are still going well, but given his current state and the concerned sound of the whispers, she doubts he’ll be able to turn this around. At the very least, this should make the hostility towards Testolagh’s little empire a lot less self-assured.

Now she has a peronelle to return to Melunen. And tomorrow, a trident weaver to summon. She takes a longer route home than is strictly necessary, letting her anyaglo enjoy the run and flaring her caste mark to revitalise herself once she’s out of Kukuluya territory.

Her first port of call on arriving back - guided by the peronelle, which knows its way around somewhat better than Keris - is to return it to Melunen along with a couple of metres of silk ribbon from her Domain and a promise to summon her a weaver the next day at sunset.

Her second port of call, after releasing her anyaglo to run to its heart’s content but be back on the island by dawn, is to find Testolagh.

Testolagh doesn’t seem to sleep. He’s still awake, practicing spear-fighting against eight blood apes at once. The crowned sun on his forehead burns as he shifts among them, disarming them with supreme force and sometimes sending an unlucky one flying back off the mats.

He doesn’t fight like Keris does - he’s much more solid and grounded. He’s good, though. He’s not like Sasi who might be able to fight at a superhuman level, but only by pushing herself.

Keris waits for him to finish, and steps up to - though not onto - the mats. “Testolagh,” she greets him with a respectful nod. “Nice fighting. I wouldn’t mind a friendly spar, some other time.” He’s worked up a mild sweat, and pulls off the slight shirt he was wearing for the sparring and tosses it over a rack. Keris makes a note of the fact that a) he’s got several fine, brassy scars over his torso which intersect in street-like ways and b) dem abs. He’s not raw muscle like Naan, but he’s certainly more heavily built than Keris.

“Back already?” he asks. “Is he dead?”

“Of course not,” she smiles innocently. “But it seems like whatever madness made him accuse you of worshipping evil gods and consorting with demons is taking its toll. He’s started seeing demon worship everywhere - other tribes, even among his own people. They seemed very worried about him when I left. A few whispers were wondering if his mind had broken completely.”

“Oh?” Testolagh asks. “Why would he be doing that?”

Keris shrugs, following him across the room as he towels off. “I may have brushed against him once or twice. Asked a few worried questions to open ears around the fire. The Great Mother’s poisons lend themselves well to paranoia and mood swings. You should easily be able to frame it to his allies as him having gone mad and focused his delusions on you first.” She stretches. “I’ll go back tomorrow and make sure the worried rumours are still gaining ground, but I doubt he’ll be chief for long, even with a light hand. And they never knew I was there, of course.”

He looks up Keris consideringly, even as she considers him and his abs. “Well done,” he says, running a hand through his brown hair. “That’s better than him dead.”

She spreads her hands. “I told you, I’m good at what I do,” she grins. Then switches to business.

“So, for my side, I’m thinking of spending a week or so summoning and building up my forces, then heading out to grab those fae tooth-men I found in the mountains. They felt...” She frowns, thinking back to the taste. “They felt more like statues than living things. Breathing, but carved. Weak individually, but lots of them. Faerie trinkets or tools, at a guess. Safer than capturing live raksha.”

A thought strikes her and her eyes flick back from his upper arms to his face. “Actually... can you summon demons of the Second Circle? Because if I could ask you to summon a soul of Ligier to take them back to him, that would help a lot - and mean no need to take a ten-day trip every time I catch a bunch fae, and no need to hold any here for long.”

Testolagh sighs. “I can’t. But for previous weak fae that Ligier has ordered me to procure... well, Sasimana told me that collaring them in iron and forcing them to swear on their heart to serve you at swordpoint worked. It worked for me.”

She nods thoughtfully. “That is useful. Okay, I’ll work that into the de- plans I make.” She bites her lip and hurries on, hoping he missed the verbal stumble. “Oh, and thanks for the loan of your owlrider; she was helpful. And had some ideas about giant hawks that sounded interesting.”

“I’m glad you didn’t get her killed.” Testolagh sighs. “I don’t like what they do to those women,” he says. “They suffer and die young from the things the medicines and herbs do to them. They said that if they have children, they die from the baby breaking their pelvis. But they simply are far better than normal sized people at riding the owl.” He looks down at Keris. “Well, you probably don’t consider them so short,” he says with a small smile. “The peronelles seem to help them, at least. I have some ideas for toughening them up and making their bones stronger, but it’ll make them heavier and... well. They pride themselves on being so light-boned.”

“You could... mm, no. If they want to be light, bigger owls won’t help...” Keris sighs. “You’re right about not liking it. One of them on the Kukuluya island was sick. Coughing and wheezing - they must take disease harder, if they’re so fragile.” She wrinkles her nose. “I’ll do something for her when I go back tomorrow,” she adds, mostly to herself. “But for now, I need some sleep.”

“Ah, yes,” Testolagh says. “Sleep. I don’t miss it.” Still shirtless, he resumes practice after drying himself off, hurling lances of green fire at a melted target of Malfean basalt on the other side of the room.

Keris on the other hand really rather likes sleep, so goes off to find her fur-covered bed, sleeping on feather-stuffed bags. These tribes really do seem to know how to make a comfortable bed.

Dulmea is waiting for her with tea. “Well done child”, she says. Despite her smile, she looks slightly harassed.

“Something wrong?” Keris asks.

“The children are being difficult,” Dulmea says wearily. “Haneyl is upset because some of her horses have been mutated into monsters and also because you didn’t steal the tribe, and Rathan is angry because Haneyl is firing burning pinecones at the moon and because he wanted you to make the person into ‘pretty artwork’. And I haven’t seen Echo all day, so she’s probably up to something.”

“That would be gloating that I bribed someone with ribbons,” Keris sighs. “Okay, Rathan and Haneyl... hmm. Tell you what, I bet that summer house’s library will have had cookery books in it somewhere. I’ll find a seafood recipe in one and get both of them to help me cook it. Rathan likes catching fishies, and Haneyl’s taste is as good as mine; she’ll be all for new food.”

“Then you will have to track them down and stop their little war,” Dulmea says. “I stopped them from doing it inside the city, but the shore between the marsh and the ocean is... a mess.”

“Work, work, work,” quips Keris. She doesn’t go right away, though. Instead, she settles down and gives Dulmea a hug.

“I did well, right?” she asks. “Subtle poisons and character assassination. Nobody saw me at all.”

Dulmea smiles at Keris. “You did wonderfully, child,” she says, hugging back with her hair. “I wanted to see what you would do, and you found a very elegant solution. I have had to poison people with drugs which caused madness before, and in many ways it gets better results than their death. A dead foe can be replaced - a mad one is a burden.”

Keris leans happily into the embrace and basks in the approval for a while. But eventually she pulls away and stands.

“Right then,” she says. “Let’s just hope that a war between squabbling children is easier to sort out than one between owlrider tribes.”

Famous last words.

Chapter Text

Keris returns to the Kukuluya tribelands the next morning, wrapped in a borrowed peronelle. This time she adopts the form of one of the women, and kneels next to the wheezing owl-rider to help her drink as her demon companion reports on the buzz of conversation. Nobody challenges her. After all, she passes as one of them. She’s dressed in the swaddled-up clothing they use to cover up against the cold, and they can’t tell that her peronelle’s voice is coming from the wrong place.

Sliding an arm behind the girl-woman’s to help her sit more upright as she struggles to swallow, Keris allows her fingers to branch into roots and squirm inside her torso, exploring and tasting as they go.

Her eyes widen in shock at what she finds. The woman is in terrible health. And not just because she has fluid build up in the lungs. Keris has seldom seen people as ill as she is. All her bones are too weak and too soft. Her body looks like some mix between an adult and a child’s, but on the inside she’s as sick as an old woman. And the toxins! Keris can taste the poisons within her, made from various kinds of plant. They’re just building up in her - it’s not just a one off thing. It’s constant exposure. And then on top of that there’s a heady brew of painkilling drugs, things to fortify her body and keep her heart beating strong - which makes it fast and weak, like what foxgloves do - and other stimulants.

She recognises some of these things, too. They taste like the inside of the peronelle. Back when Keris first got it handed to her.

Keris’s face twitches under the swaddled clothes, going from wide eyes to a disbelieving gape through confusion and denial before settling on a wobbling lip and the beginning of tears. She sucks in a couple of gulps of air; rapid and shallow, and trembles for a moment before going very still.

Within her soul, Dulmea’s music falters slightly. Beside her, Haneyl closes her mouth on an unspoken comment and shrinks back as a shower of hail beats a sudden drumbeat on the roof. In the guise of the northeastern woman; the corners of Keris’s lips curl up in a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes as her core muscles tense around a bubbling cauldron of fury.

They must know. There’s no way they can miss this; they have to know that they’re feeding their own people poison. Hells and blue silence, the owlriders must know! Melunen, this woman... reminded of her patient, Keris surges her roots deeper, drawing out the fluid in her lungs and eating away at the poison buildup in her tissues. She’ll be able to shrug it off much more easily than a mortal could.

((Treatment roll; Reaction+Occult: 5+4+2 Coadj+2 stunt+4 Kimmy ExSux {endlessly giving, matyring herself, bottled-up fury}=13. 8+4=12 sux.))

They must know they’re drinking poison. They can’t be unaware. Testolagh as much as said it. And yet they still do it, because... because of...

... because of the raksha, she realises. Because the owlriders are needed, in this barren land near the borders of Creation; they’re an invaluable advantage. They’re too close to chaos here; they’re dependent on the advantage the owlriders bring - and Testolagh can’t do enough to protect them yet, he hasn’t been here long enough and they’re too far out. It’s one thing to hear what that necessity costs women like this, but to taste it...

Keris is trembling again by the time she leaves the woman - now breathing more easily and with a full stomach of food she’ll be able to keep down - but it’s not with tears anymore. It’s with anger. She can’t seem to pull her mouth out of the smile-snarl, either; teeth bared and clenched. She retreats before frost starts forming on the walls.

“Child,” Dulmea says softly, but seems unsure what to say next.

A snarl is her only verbal response from her greater self, though the hail from Rathan’s moon hasn’t stopped. It isn’t until they’re about halfway back to Testolagh’s island that Keris calms down enough to speak clearly.

“Apart from wrecking every Wyld zone I can reach, what can I do for them?” she asks, half-rhetorically.

“Wetting!” contributes Rathan. “Make them wet! Glub glub glub! Then they die!”

Sharklike teeth bare against the falling snow. “Drown them. Good idea,” Keris hums appreciatively. “Lock down their chaos under caustic water. But... that doesn’t help Melunen and her sisters.” She chews her lip thoughtfully. “Dulmea, is my distillation rig still in the vaults? Testolagh said something about trying to toughen them up, but I didn’t know how bad it was then.”

“It is,” Dulmea says. “What are you thinking of?”

“Vitriol,” Keris says firmly. “The alchemists back in the city use it to transform and change. They can graft whole limbs onto you that work as well as your old ones, but that’s... that’s crude, compared to the potential it has if you really know what you’re doing. It can do more than just surface changes. Look at sublimati! Vitriol does that; vitriol and essence.”

She wrinkles her nose in frustration. “If I knew more about those drugs they use; about what they’re doing to their bodies; I think I could do it better. Use a vitriol vat and a wonder - like An Teng in Miniature; something to infuse them with the changes in a way that doesn’t have so many horrible side effects. But I can’t do it without knowing what I’m trying to do.”

“Well, then,” Dulmea says, “now would be a perfect time to expand your knowledge of poisons and the like, would it not? No doubt they have new exotic ones up here. This place is close to the pole of Wood, so no doubt it is the closest place to the borders of the Hungry Forest where they have many strange exotic venoms and poisons.”

“Ooooo!” Keris’s eyes light up. “Good idea. Great idea! Remind me to talk to one of their medicine men. And... hmm.” She purses her lips, shifting her weight as the ribbon-horse hurdles the whip-crack of a treetop in the wind. “If I do fix them up, once I’ve got my ship... what do you think about having some of them onboard? Demon mounts are great, but even they’re better off with a lighter rider, and people in the sky... heck, the sea is mostly flat. With a telescope and enough height, they could pick out targets from miles away; track them as they left the harbour from too high up to see.”

“I am... unsure of what use humans so fragile would be on mounts that can carry a heavier rider than these owls,” Dulmea says cautiously.

“Firstly, they wouldn’t be fragile if this works. Just small. Secondly, not just demon mounts; giant hawks. Which are harder to spot by looking for infernal essence. Look just like birds from below; if they’re high enough. Can’t be banished by a Dragonblood if they’re spotted.”

Keris grins, warming to the topic as ideas whirl. “And third, with a lightweight rider and some trimming, I reckon a strong agata might just about be able to carry an artillery weapon. I can see a lot of uses for that. And they’re natural fliers; trained for it. It would mean not having to start from scratch... followers who can fly would help a lot, and at the moment I’ve only got the misbegotten. I’d have to teach them how to scout, how to fight from the air - these owlriders already know all of that.”

“You have put more thought into this than I thought,” Dulmea says grudgingly. “I was... somewhat distracted by a flare up in hostilities on the Sea-Swamp border again.”

“Again?” Keris sighs. “Why is it always that border? What are they fighting about this time?”

“I have not been able to work out,” Dulmea says with a sigh. “They both claim it’s something different, often different things whenever I ask them. I think sometimes they like having an excuse to fight.”

“... huh.” Keris thinks about that for a moment. “... you know... if Rathan takes after his father, and Haneyl is like me with an even quicker temper when I was... oh, eight or nine...” She pauses as memories surface of those long-ago times; a decade past. Several of them are loud. A few involve rocks being flung.

“... you may be right,” she concedes. “It might be worth letting them bicker for a while and seeing if they calm down on their own the next time they start up. I always burnt out fairly quick once I realised it wasn’t going anywhere, as long as he hadn’t said anything really stupid. And Rathan can’t talk much yet; and... his best weapon always was his mouth.”

Dulmea lets Keris sink into her memories for a respectful amount of time, and then clears her throat. “So what now, child?” she asks.

Shaken out of reverie, Keris gives a brisk shiver. “Back to Testolagh,” she says. “Let him know the headman is still heading downhill, and ask him to put me in touch with whoever cooks up this poison they feed their people. Work out what makes my Cherub Shrine tick and how to do it myself, because I’ve wanted to send Sasi messages a dozen times now but it keeps making distressed sounds whenever I start to power it up.”

She smiles with two-inch fangs that could bite through bone. “Oh, and make a demon that’ll let me go after those hungry men, capture their armies, cripple their gods, burn their temples, drown their lands and feed them all into Ligier’s forges still screaming.” Speeding up through the sentence; the last word is spat out like a crossbow bolt, and with about as much friendliness, drawing a joyful little squeal from Rathan in the back of her head.

Keris sneaks out again successfully, and finds Testolagh again. Well, it takes a while. Again, he’s out away on another sky island. This time she has someone take her to it. This one is much smaller, but the growth of the Malfean buildings on it is much more extensive. In fact, Testolagh seems to deliberately be weighing it down and removing the glowing crystals and now the black citadel on top of it emerges from the treeline.

She stops to watch a hopping puppeteer carefully extracting the crystals from the rockface and thoughtfully relieves it of one as she continues on to see him, licking it and again tasting the actinic tang of Air essence within.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” she greets him after finally tracking him down. “Can we talk?”

He’s standing over diagrams. “Yes. Go ahead,” he says, sounding distracted.

“I looked at her. The sick owlrider. Really looked, I mean. Medically.”


Keris fights to keep from snarling again. “It was the most hor- okay, no, it wasn’t. But it was horrible. She was dying on the inside. They all are. Poison buildup, weak bones, failing organs, heart tremors... it’s a fight over what kills them first! Why do they- who makes those-”

She bites the questions off and whirls around, pacing a few frustrated steps and slashing her hair through the air. It gets a brief bemused glance at the extra weight before she realises that it’s holding one of her kerises. “Look, you said something about toughening them up. How were you thinking of doing it? Because fixing their bones won’t be enough; there’s far more wrong with them than that.”

Testolagh cracks his knuckles. “How bad?” he asks bluntly. “I knew they had heart problems, but they said they had ways of handling that. The bones seemed to be the biggest problem to me when I took a look at them.”

She sighs, slumping into sieza on the floor. They’re ‘handling that’ by dosing themselves up with foxglove, or something like it. It keeps their hearts beating, but fast and shallow and a lot weaker than I’m happy with. They’ve got poison building up in their tissues all the time from whatever’s keeping them from aging - her liver was nearly shot, and I bet it’s part of why they bleed so easily. Do they slip into comas? Just get more and more tired until one day they don’t wake up at all?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” Testolagh admits. “I believe most of them don’t see thirty, but then again a lot of the men here die young from raiding and tribal wars and the normal women have sometimes fatal problems with pregnancy if they spend too much time too high up.”

“Mmm. Can’t say for sure, then. But it looks like what too much booze for years and years does. And they’re high on painkillers as well, which,” she sighs, “means they’d constantly be in pain without them. And they’re probably addicted.” She screws her face up. “Look, you might be right that the bones are the worst problem, with what they do. That probably sees more of them die than anything else; that and the bleeding easily. One snapped bone and they’ll bleed out from the inside. But it won’t be enough to fix just their bones.”

She stands up and pulls a glass vial out of her hair, letting a drop of the clear liquid fall onto a hair tendril, which smokes. “Vitriol,” she said. “The pure stuff; theion tu, untainted. I think that’s your answer. I studied alchemy back in the City - long story, and it wasn’t all medical, but a fair bit of the higher stuff was things like grafts and biogenesis vats. Or at least the theory behind them. If I can get my head around how those drugs they’re taking work, and learn a bit more about the medical side, I think - think - I might be able to make something that’ll give them the weight and size without killing them from the inside out. And it won’t be dependent on you or me to tend to every one of them.”

Testolagh stares at her, clearly weighing things up. “How hard do you think it would be?” he asks carefully.

“I don’t know,” she answers honestly. “I mean, I’m a good medic. I’m a great medic. I saved a man’s life in Nexus with no tools and a shirtsleeve after he stabbed himself in the leg. But this is more complicated than that; this isn’t trauma, it’s... squishy stuff. Long-term stuff. I don’t have the learning for that. Yet,” she adds. “And I don’t know how these poisons they use work.”

She chews a hair tendril. “But... they’re simple enough in principle that mortals can manage them. If I was taught, and had the help of a really good medic - one of those, what are they called... stitch-brides, maybe. Hmm.” The hair tendril sprouts tiny fangs that nibble on her lip as she chews it, staring off into the distance.

“I might need to use the Nests to make it,” she muses. “But yeah, I think it’s doable. A vat, a sort of vitriol bath to leech the poisons out and then infuse them with the new changes. It’d be crude and messy, and it might need fuelling, but...” she spreads her arms. “You’re not exactly low on Wyld Essence around here, and that’s good at change. You could summon alchemists to teach them how to maintain it, too.”

He leans back, suspicion on his face. “And what would you want in return for looking into this problem?” he asks.

Keris scowls at him. “First, hang you for thinkin’ I would’n do it for ‘em on their own,” she snaps, then winces and corrects her accent. “They’re drinking poison to protect their families. I can respect that. But... yeah, there’s something I want out of it too.”

She leans forward and meets his eye. “I want some of them. I’m still setting up down in the southwest. This mission’s to get my ship; I can build a powerbase on that. But two, three seasons down the line, when I’m set up with an island and the beginnings of a fleet... I could use a flight corps. I could really use some trained, experienced fliers who come with their own mounts - who aren’t demonic and can’t be banished - and who know how to scout and fight from the air. I bet at least a few of them wouldn’t mind going somewhere warmer, and there have gotta be some who don’t like you that much but who’ve been folded into your kingdom.”

Leaning back again, she folds her arms. “So if I help them, you put together a core I can build some skyriders around.”

“Hmm. I see.” Testolagh steps over to a cabinet and rummages through some papers. “Well, if we can get a few extra tribes to join us, it wouldn’t ruin my work here,” and there he narrows his eyes. “If you’d be willing to take troublemakers and people who aren’t happy with the way I do things, I could probably get you more.”

She shrugs. “Down near An Teng, there’s more food on offer for them. And I’ll probably wind up leading differently to you, so...” she tips her head. “I’d be up for that. Once I’m set up there and have enough followers that they can’t cause trouble easily, I can pull them into line.”

“Sounds like that’s solid working terms,” Testolagh says. “I’m not going to try to trick you into swearing or anything.” He smirks. “For one, I’d just have to tell Sasimana.”

Keris pouts. “She likes that giving-people-what-they-ask-for trick way too much,” she complains. “And she’s nearly as good at guilt-tripping as Dulmea. Unfair.”

“Dulmea?” he asks.

“My coadjutor.” She pauses. “And mother. And, uh...” Another pause, head cocked, listening to something. “... only source of caution or restraint? Unfair! I can be cautious! I was cautious about exploring the wyld zone!”

Yes, that’s a distinct smile from him and more than a hint of a snicker. “Oh dear,” he says. “Oh dear.”

“You charged into it and flared your soul to its brightest,” Dulmea points out flatly. “And then you attacked a giant. And taunted a mountain. Which tried to kill you.”

“... I was cautious entering the wyld zone,” Keris amends, pouting again. “And then I didn’t need to be cautious because that giant posed no threat at all. And it was the glacier that tried to kill me, not the mountain.”

Another muffled snicker notifies her that she said that out loud. She shoots Testolagh a dirty look.

“If you try to tell me your coadjutor doesn’t criticise you sometimes, I will call you a liar,” she says. “Even Sasi’s complains sometimes. My souls are just... more annoying than most,” she finishes in a mutter. “And gang up on me.”

“Mine is just fairly quiet,” he says with a shrug. “I think it was damaged quite badly by carrying the gift of Ligier. It doesn’t say much.”

That stops Keris’s complaints in their tracks. She shivers. ‘I’m glad it didn’t hurt you, mama,’ she whispers to Dulmea internally, accompanying it with a mental hug. ‘I like you as you are.’

Out loud, she clears her throat. “Okay. If I get a dedicated translator - I promised to summon Melunen a ribbon-maker tonight for the loan of her peronelle, but any demon that can speak the local language and hasn’t got a job at the moment would do for this - I can start talking to your medicine men. And I want to do some work on Sorcery as well and learn Infallible Messenger properly. My Shrine isn’t working properly. I’ll get back to you once I have a better idea of what this is going to take.”

Testolagh nods. “Thank you,” he says, and pauses. “If you have any more ideas like that, I’ll be more than willing to hear them,” he says a little stiffly.

Keris nods back, accepting the gesture of respect for what it is. “I’ll tell you if I do. And I might ask for your advice when I’m building up back in the southwest, if you’re open to the odd cherub. Sasi’s good at sneaky politics and influence, but you’re probably better at carving out a new kingdom.”

He flashes a grin at Keris. “She tends to complain if taken too far from paved streets and access to hot water,” he says.

That is just good sense,” Keris says primly. “Paved streets are the natural state of things. Wilderness is messy and there are no road signs. Well, okay, rivers are nice. And seas. Seas are nice too. And forest can be okay as long as it’s pretty. But cities are best.”

He spreads his hands. “I make my own cities. And also can heat my own water, if you don’t mind green fire.”

She grins. “It’s a good trick. I might need to learn that one. Now.” She claps her hands. “I should head back to your main island and get set up somewhere quiet to plan and study. And summon Melunen’s ribbon-spinner tonight.”

“If you want to,” he says with a shrug. “I’m trying to find a way to stabilise these sky islands - anchor them down among the trees. The problem is that when the wind blows on them, they tear any attempt to restrain them. Even chains of Malfean brass just rip out of the ground.”

Keris pauses on her way out. “... roots?” she suggests after a moment. “Vines and roots, wrapped all around the island - maybe grown into it. Some of them will tear out in every storm, but if you have enough of them rooted deep enough, they might hold. They could grow back the damage, where you’d have to repair a chain. And if they’re Malfean vines, they’ll be as good as metal chains, or better.”

((... heh. Oh, Keris. She tends towards biology rather than “engineering” to solve problems. Living systems rather than mechanical ones.))

“Hmm. I don’t think they’d be strong enough, but I’ll take a look,” he says with a shrug. “Farewell.”

She waves him goodbye, and heads back to the main island. Ducking into the deep, sound-proofed room he met her in the day before - ahhh, blissful quiet - she unpacks the Cherub Shrine and starts the slow, methodical job of investigating it and mapping the essence flows. She doesn’t dare disassemble it, but the wooden frame lets her carefully worm fine hair-roots in to taste the internal structure, and listening to gentle knocks tells her a lot about the insides. It’s slow work, but she’s putting together the shape of the spell bit by bit.

... it would go faster if she could risk activating it, of course, but given what happened in the Underworld, she’s wary of doing that in a Malfean city-growth on a wyld-tainted rock at the storm-wracked edge of Creation.

A little before sunset, she puts it and her notes away and strolls up and outside, looking for Melunen. Keris still has a promise to fulfill, after all.

She’s wrapped up warm in one of the caves, carefully sipping at a bowl of something which - Keris sniffs - smells meaty and also bitter and herbal. Like... like if you made soup with some of Dulmea’s less palatable teas in the mix.

“I think I promised you a ribbon-maker,” she says, leaning on the wall nearby and offering a hand up as the woman’s peronelle translates.

“You did, yes,” she says quietly. “You are here.”

“I am. Though you’d better come outside if you want to watch. And stay back. It’s going to be bright.”

She frowns. “I... I think I shall watch,” she says, picking herself up with utmost delicacy.

Keris helps her up, taking the opportunity to covertly taste her skin, and... yup. Saturated in the same poisons. Her smile strains a little and grows a few more teeth, but she fights down the urge to punch the wall or pull Melunen into a hug. Neither would be well received, she suspects.

((Temperance 2; 2 sux.))

She aches to tell the little owl-rider about her plans to help women like her, but keeps her mouth shut as they walk a little way from the looming houses and caves. It would be cruel to get her hopes up and then disappoint her if this doesn’t pan out. Looking around for a good spot, she shelters Melunen from the wind and snow in the lee of the nearest building, where she’ll get a fair view.

“Stay there,” she tells her, and backs up... and then keeps backing up, giving herself about half as much space again as she judges her anima to need at its highest. She doesn’t want to accidentally hurt the woman.

“The building will shelter you if you need it to,” she calls over, and then turns her attention to the summoning. Spreading her arms and hair wide, she reaches into her inner world. A burning green circle adorns her forehead as the wind begins to whip up around her, and streaks of scarlet light fade in from nothing to form a red cyclone that tugs her hair this way and that. Silver glints in the whirling gales, and music issues forth; commanding major chords that crash and swell. Through the light and rising essence, Keris can see Melunen watching with fearful awe.

“As the One Who Is All, I summon you,” she intones, fixing her mind on the ribbon-spinner scorpions; the trident weavers that Echo made to clothe herself.

“As your mother and creator, I summon you.” She wants one that’s curious and friendly; one that will be happy or eager to stay in Creation, and amiable enough to staying around a specific human.

“In the name of Keris, I summon you! Come now! Kordroma!”

The world bleeds out, colours shifted. The sky overhead gains red star visible through the rifts in the sky. And through it, something squirms. Some kind of creature that Keris hasn’t summoned before - or seen before. One of Echo’s creatures. It’s black-carapaced, and about the size of a large dog. Keris’s first thought looking at it is a scorpion, but it has three pairs of arms - two blocky club things close to its face, two needle-like things and two more conventional scissor-like claws. It’s wearing a silk tabard - of sorts - over its body, and has a loose chain piercing connecting two segments of its tail.

Keris tilts her head, examining it. “So,” she says in quiet Old Realm. “You’re one of Echo’s ribbon-spinners.”

“I am,” it says in a lyrical female voice. “I spin.” it looks up. “The black above is so beautiful,” it says looking at the sky away from the just-set sun.

“I’m not going to bind you,” Keris informs it with a grin. “You can stay and spin here as much as you like, as long as you do me one favour. That woman over there?” She nods towards Melunen. “She did me a favour, so if she asks for anything in particular, I’d like you to make it for her.” She glances over again and sighs. “And I would introduce the two of you now, but I need to wait for my soul-light to die down first.”

Melunen squeaks and coils back - but she’s more concerned by it approaching her than its mere existence. She’s clearly seen demons before.

She says something to it in her native tongue. Then the peronelle helps it talk to her in Old Realm.

“Hello,” the peronelle says for her. “Welcome, mighty one.”

Keris watches benevolently as they make their introductions - which get rather friendlier after an initial flinch when a question on Melunen’s part sparks a flurry of movement from its limbs that ends with a short ribbon-bracelet looped around her wrist. She smiles as the woman touches it tentatively, and grins at her when she looks over.

For the better part of the next week, Keris spends a fair portion of each day mapping out her Cherub Shrine. She can taste the damaged areas, but doesn’t try to repair them just yet. It’s intact enough that she can work around them and get the shape of the spell, and while she’s not quite yet able to form her anima into a sanctum that calls one of the short-lived constructs into being within it, she’s nearly there.

Another chunk of each day is spent trading intent questions and answers back and forth through an agata translator with one of the medicine women who make the drugs that the owl-riders use. Keris soaks up knowledge from the old woman - not an owl-rider herself, though Keris can taste residues of the poisons in her body from long exposure working with them. For her part, the woman seems just as interested in what Keris proposes to do; though the Exalt hasn’t gone into much more detail than a proposed way to keep the desirable aspects of the flight-drugs but get rid of the bad ones.

The last chunk of the day is spent in the evenings, making her new creations. Keris starts with lumps of bog iron, moulding them carefully with a tiny forge into the shapes of horned toads. Once she’s finished turning each ingot into a tiny toad of iron, she kisses it on the head and breathes life into it, then throws it into the air.

They land as colossi. Cart-sized toads with slate-grey hides and curling ram horns; her ironbelly toads have voracious appetites for the stuff of the Wyld. They also have pinpoint aim with the long, sticky tongues that lie coiled in their mouths, and Keris is privately glad that she took the time and care to include a few bans in their essential natures. Like being unable to eat things of value. That’s saved more than a few of Testolagh’s possessions, not to mention her Wyld-giant bangle.

It does backfire a little, as she discovers on the fifth day. They very much can eat one another, and apparently when hungry enough, they will. Keris loses two of them despite the bindings of the other three, and has to waste a day’s work riding back to the mists and gathering as much wood from the forest in the fog as she can for them to devour. The wyld essence in it seems to content them for the moment, but they make it fairly clear that they want more chaotic fare, and soon.

It’s coming towards the end of Crowning Air when the message comes. It’s Sasi. And... uh, it’s not Keris’ message. She’s there when the little blue fox shows up.

“Testolagh, dear one,” she begins. She sounds in discomfort. Like... oh. Oh dear. “I think the baby is coming. If you’re still in the North East, it will have taken hours and hours to get here. I may already have given birth. It’s... it doesn’t feel like it did when I was mortal. It feels much faster. I am... I have found a new estate, which used to belong to the Rising Waters family until I purchased it, Keris knows where it is. As we agreed, I am staying in Creation to make sure she is born with souls. There’s no way you can reach me in time. I was expecting her to hold off longer when it seemed that wearing the form of the shadow put the pregnancy into abeyance. I... I will keep you up to date. Don’t worry. I’m prepared for this. I will tell you when she is born.”

A few minutes later, a similar message arrives for Keris, although this one is rather firmer on the “don’t rush here, you won’t get here in time”.

Testolagh, Keris notices, is looking sick. She trades an anguished look with him and glances out at her anyaglo with a calculating expression. A cherub moves about ten, maybe twelve times faster than her ribbon-horses do, and this one took hours to get here, so... her lips move soundlessly as she works out the numbers. “... five... days?” she murmurs, quietly. “Quicker than the Desert...”

“Child. That would take you straight across the Blessed Isles.” Dulmea points out. There is a pause and a rustle. “Within a few hundred miles of the Imperial Mountain, in fact.”

Keris continues looking speculative.

“That means no,” Dulmea adds, firmly.

“I need a drink,” Testolagh says, shoulders hunched. “Damn her. She said... she said she’d planned it all out and I could be there.”

“I’ll join you,” Keris mutters. “I should be there too. Doing... something. Guarding, maybe. Or...” She plucks restlessly at the air; tense notes of anticipation and worry. “I dunno; something.”

“I have some rice wine in my room,” the man says. “Proper stuff, not the things the demons will drink or the things they brew out here from plants they find. Several bottles, in fact.” He sighs. “They’re not going to last much longer, I foresee. So we should probably drink them all now before anyone else can”

“Look on the bright side,” she replies; her head level with his forearms as she falls into step with him en route. He glances down at her with an inquisitive grunt.

“What bright side?”

Keris shrugs. “I was hoping you could think of one. If not, getting hammered sounds like a good backup plan.”

((How heavily does Keris drink? Because Testolagh got 0 successes on his Temperance roll.))
((Temperance 2; 0 sux.
Compassion 3; 2 sux.
Keris cares a lot about Sasi, and is very worried, and cannot deal with this sober. Sadly, while she has a really impressive alcohol tolerance for her size, Testolagh can probably remain upright after amounts of alcohol that would kill most men. Or women. Or rhinos.))
((Shit. They both failed Temperance rolls with 0 successes.))
((They are both going to be very drunk and acting intemperately.))

The night is something of a blur, though Keris does vaguely remember insisting that the wine needs more chalcanth and deciding that raksha would be perfect for it. Her blurred memories go far enough from that point to remember getting out a vial of vitriol and her wyld bangle, and then dissolve into a mass of psychedelic colours that make her teeth hurt and her ears ache just to remember.

Begging Dulmea to please kill all the tiny faeries trying to drill through her head from the inside garners no response, and Keris gives up after the third try. Maybe the ringing in her ears is stopping Dulmea from hearing her, she thinks vaguely as she tries to take stop.

She is... in pain. Quite a lot of that, in various places. She shifts her head, which relieves some of it. Ah. So her hair is stuck under something. Or somethings. Again.

She is... not entirely naked? But close to it. And also sticky with... she takes a cautious lick of her elbow... yes, something which bears the same relationship to beer as her po does to a boa constrictor. And which probably melted through the bottom of whatever mug she drank it from, which... would explain why it’s all over her, really.

She is... lying rather awkwardly at right angles across a bigger-than-her lump that’s a lot less soft or giving than Sasi, and rather hotter to the touch. She muzzily extracts a hair tendril from where it’s looped around her foot to explore what it is, picking a direction at random.

The surface she is lying on appears to be an unclad Testolagh. He’s doing a passable impersonation of a rug.

“Mglrft,” says Keris. “Grnrk.” With great effort, she rolls off him, and contemplates the half-metre drop from the edge of the bed to the floor with the sort of trepidation generally reserved for people standing at cliff edges with severe doubts about the integrity of their safety ropes. Her memory is... fuzzy. Yes. Fuzzy. Much like Testolagh.

She slowly counts through her limbs until she comes up with two and a half that she’s fairly sure are legs, carefully lowers them off the bed and onto the floor, and attempts to stand upright. The hair still trapped under Testolagh protests at this, and Keris manages a croak of pain before falling over backwards onto him again.

“... ‘w,” she comments after the ceiling stops spinning around.

Testolagh is mercifully asleep. Because now Keris has to try to reconstruct what happened. She... is not very clear. At all.

... she really hopes she didn’t just sleep with the father of the child her girlfriend is giving birth to. That would be... embarrassing.

“‘mea?” she tries again. The ringing in her ears... uh, okay, it hasn’t stopped, but it’s slackened off a bit, and she’s about half sure that it’s in her head rather than some demon making ringing sounds outside.

... if it is a demon making persistent ringing sounds outside, she’s going to kill them. When she can stand upright. And walk in a straight line.

Dulmea is still either deafened by the loud ringing sound or, possibly, suffering her own hangover. Deprived of an objective recounting of the night’s activities, Keris investigates the evidence, poking around and tasting for any sign of activity around her, uh... intimate places.

... well, from the taste of the sweat residue left on her skin, they... certainly had quite a lot of contact last night. But it doesn’t taste like it went any further than what was either some very strange wrestling or some fairly heavy petting. The half-healed bruises don’t really clear things up either way, though Keris is rather proud to see a couple of thin brassy scabs that Testolagh didn’t have yesterday. If it was sparring, she totally landed a few hits on him. She vaguely remembers something about a dart competition, so she probably won that, too.

Now all that’s in the way of her feeling fairly good is the desperate need for a drink to soothe her headache. A drink of water, preferably. She levers herself to her feet, gets her head yanked back by the hair still trapped under Testolagh’s body, and falls on him again.

“... unh,” she grunts, remembering why she’d been sprawled on top of him in the second place. “Cr’d.”

There are no convenient glasses of water within hair-reach. This is very unfair. And Keris is less than enthusiastic to try and grab something out of her Domain right now. Given how her head is spinning, it might wind up getting launched into the cloud wall and spat out backwards at high speed towards her face.

There’s... uh, something else she remembers, too. There was certainly a point at which... yes. Another fox had shown up. She thinks that’s when they started celebrating, rather than drinking out of worry. Which may have been when they were running out of rice wine which was why she started getting Dulmea to pass her bottles of home-brewed things from her soul.

Keris’ eyes pan up to the ceiling. Oh. She appears to have left herself a note in very, very bad handwriting.


This sounds like a development she can generally support. She prods Testolagh a few times, which gets no reaction whatsoever. Then again, if he’s still asleep after her falling on him twice, he’s probably not going to be easily woken.

Maybe... maybe she can just take a bit of a nap. Just rest her eyes for a few minutes to stop her head pounding. Then work out how to move Testolagh off her hair, and...

... yeah. Something. Eat something, maybe. Or drink. Stuff. But not booze stuff. Booze stuff is bad. Booze stuff is why she feels like this.

She’ll just rest her eyes for a moment. Then figure out... what to do... next...

Gentle snores drift up to join the message carved into the roof.

Chapter Text

Things are... awkward on the floating island. Testolagh has got up, shaved, and is currently somewhat hungover.

“What the hell was in that drink?” he groans. He is being quite glare-y.

Keris woefully looks up from a thorough check of her arms, hair and ankles. “Ugh,” she says, screwing up her face. “You know that Wyld giant I made into a bracelet? And that vitriol I had? Well, I don’t have either of them anymore. I think.”

Testolagh glares more. “Why the hell would you do something like that?” he demands sullenly.

“Why the hell would you drink it?” Keris shoots back. “‘Sides, who says it was my idea? It might’ve been yours!” She winces - the raised whisper proving too loud for her throbbing head. Adorjani hearing, she decides, does not mix well with a hangover.

“Anyway, I don’t think we...” she waves her hands vaguely, “did anything. Well, anything serious. Well, anything...”

More vague waving ensues. “... yeah, not that far,” she finishes, as intelligibly as she can. Her third attempt at standing upright succeeds, and she returns his sullen glare. “Ugh. How are you even... walking? You were drinkin’ more’n I was.”

He looks down at Keris, and spreads his hands. “Maybe ‘cause I’m bigger than you. Or ‘cause of Malfeas’ power.”

She pouts. “Stupid... big people,” she complains plaintively. “Being all tall and big and... high. And wide. And...” A hair tendril sketches several curves around her chest area that would probably be anatomically impossible even for a demon’s physiology. “... big. S’unfair.”

He looks awkward. “I seem to remember a... a song?” he tries. “I think we were singing it.”

Keris considers this. “... about... Lookshy?” she asks. “Yeah. Yeah, ‘cause... I asked... yeah, about Sasi and the Realm, and you... said something ‘bout Dragonblooded. Or maybe Nexus. Or... something. But then Lookshy. And how they suck. And then singing.” She smiles. “It’s good to talk to someone else from the Scavenger Lands. Who wasn’t, like... a noble or a prince or something.”

“I... say this because... wasn’t there some idea of singing it to Sasimana?” he says, blushing slightly. “I... I don’t think I was in a state where I could cast a spell, but...”

“Oh yeah!” Keris remembers. “Yeah, we were going to... sing... her... a congratulations... song.”

Several lines of the lyrics make their way up from the tarpits of memory. Keris pales several shades.

“Uh,” she says. A rhyming couplet looms out of the mist, followed by several scenes around its composing. They’d, uh... yes, they’d starting kissing by then, she recalls. And were considering how to celebrate with Sasi.

She pales further.

“I don’t think we sang that song about Lookshy to her?” he tries, hopefully.

“We didn’t,” Keris says very quietly, and contemplates hiding under the bed. “It, uh. That was earlier. Before the, um. Before she said she’d had the baby and they was fine. Then we started... planning... how to celebrate.”

Something else occurs to her, and she looks up with dull horror. “You... you couldn’t cast a spell,” she repeats, in hollow tones. “Did... did I have my Cherub Shrine?”

“Uh. Where is it?” he asks.

“It has not left the domain,” Dulmea informs Keris, a touch snippily.

She sags in relief, then tenses again. “I didn’t use it?” she asks, urgently. “From inside, or... at all? You’re sure?”

“No,” Dulmea says. She sounds... less than pleased with her daughter, but the waves of relief drown out any sense of trepidation about that problem.

“We’re okay,” Keris tells Testolagh. “It’s fine, we didn’t use it. We didn’t send anything to Sasi.”

She pauses.

“... though, uh. I think we moved onto more drink when we were celebrating, and if I’m remembering right... you might have to rebuild a couple of rooms.”

He waves his hand. “Oh, they do that anyway.” However, he still stumbles off to go check the damage, leaving Keris alone.

After sitting back on the bed long enough for her head to clear a bit further and mourning the loss of her shiny thing, she levers herself back to her feet and goes to see what kind of damage they caused. The occasional wince marks memories of the song she’d composed for Sasi surfacing.

... in her defence, it is a pretty good song. It flows well, the meter is great, the tune is... pretty good, really, especially given how drunk she must have been when she made it. It would probably sound really good sung. It just also happens to include really well-composed lyrics that would make a jaded Nexan whore blush.

“Mmm hmm,” Dulmea observes. “Now, what are you going to do now?”

Keris blinks muzzily, and then sighs.

“Screw it,” she declares, and unleashes her soul. The scarlet wind vortex builds around her - sluggish at first, but quickly gaining speed and clarity, with currents of deeper colour coiling through it like ink in a whirlpool, tinting the silver flecks as they spin through it on eddies and flourishes.

“Oooohhhhhh...” Keris moans blissfully. “Oh, that’s good. That’s so, so good.” She can feel the ache in her muscles and the pounding of her head fading away as the hot burn of power surges through her, followed by the cool liquid sensation of regeneration. “Nnngh.”

A minute or so of languid stretches as her soul flares, and her mind and body are back to... well, not good as new or completely refreshed, but certainly no worse than after a long day’s work and not quite enough sleep. She limbers up a little more with an acrobatic set of flips, twists, rolls and poses that very few mortals would be able to equal, then springs back to her feet with a grunt.

“Right then!” she chirps, and heads up to see what time it is and what the sun is doing. “That. That right there. I’m definitely remembering I can do that. Better than any horrid-tasting hangover cure you have to drink.” She glances into one of the rooms she’s passing and finds Testolagh staring with some confusion at the brass-stemmed, oilslick-petalled flowers covering... uh... every flat surface. Including the ceiling.

“... that was me, I think,” she offers. “It, uh. Happens when my soul is flaring, wherever I tread.” She glances into one of the open cupboards, and is mildly impressed to see that even that’s full of flowers growing from every surface. “I... guess I wanted lots of flowers?”

He sighs, and waves her off. She goes, though not without a parting “flaring your soul helps with the hangover!” The flower room turns out to be the most bizarre damage she sees on her way out - there’s quite a lot of broken furniture, and it looks like they both spent quite a while with their animas flaring, but apart from a worryingly deep body-shaped dent in one of the walls, it’s not much worse than what happens every time a group of blood apes get smashed on beer around anything breakable.

“I need to finish working out how to make my own cherubs,” Keris picks up from Dulmea’s question as she steps outside into the chill of the snow. “And I’d like to pick up at least the basics of how these people use drugs, too. But once that’s done, and I’ve built up some serious force, I think it’s time for a hunting trip. Not the hungry men yet. Somewhere smaller. Only one... environment... deep. I want to test out what happens when I make one of the Great Mother’s lakes inside a Wyld Zone.”

“Well, it might be an idea to ask Testolagh,” Dulmea continues in much the same arch tone of voice. “No doubt he would like an excuse to have you out of the way for a while. And in the meantime, your children would like to know what some of the words you used in the song meant. Especially Echo. She wants to know what hand gestures to use when she ‘sings’ it herself. I’m sure that won’t be too much for you, will it?”

Keris winces. “Did I... uh... did I come up with hand gestures? While I was composing it? Actually wait, don’t answer that. I don’t wanna know.”

She pauses, and frowns. “... children. Sasi said her child - her daughter - was special. Special how?”

“Presumably all mothers feel their children are special,” Dulmea says. “Certainly, the way humans grow more humans inside themselves isn’t natural.”

“Oh come on, again?” Keris argues back. “We’ve been doing it for... for however long there’ve been humans! There are demons in the City that do it that way, too! Just because angyalkae don’t doesn’t mean it’s unnatural.”

“And I disagree.”

Keris rolls her eyes, but gives this up as a lost cause and goes to check on her ironbelly toads. Happily, there have been no further cases of cannibalism among her fae-gluttons. Keris congratulates them for this, promises that they’ll be going a-hunting and a-feasting soon, and then gets down to work. Splitting her time between drugs and Sorcery, she decides, is just confusing her and slowing her down.

Asking the old medicine-woman to come back to discuss their plans further in a week or so, Keris throws herself into perfecting the cherub spell. She has the feel of it now; she’s filled several scrolls with sketches and notes of how the Shrine makes essence flow around it into a cherub’s home - or perhaps a cherub’s description, or invocation. An essence-form that houses, creates and is a cherub, all at the same time. Now she just has to get her own anima to do the same thing.

The problem with learning sorcery, as usual, is that it requires no small amount of experimentation and prodigious amounts of essence to play with as you study it. It is not a subtle art. So with that established, Keris goes and finds a mostly empty bit of forest to practice.

Without any distractions, and with her whole focus on perfecting it, it only takes Keris half a week more and two concussive essence blasts as proto-spells destabilise and force her to dodge before she makes a breakthrough. Crowning Air passes into Falling halfway through, and Echo spends an entire day running around the Ruin excitedly.

After a certain amount of careful backwards counting and some educated guesses, Keris has narrowed her fifth soul’s birthday down to about the twelfth - only a week away. She’s halfway through counselling a sulky Haneyl when it happens.

“I know, sweetie,” she says. “And I know it’s a long time until your birthday. But however annoying Echo can be, it is her special day, and I’ll make sure she doesn’t spoil yours, so I’d like you to not spoil hers.”

This does not meet with much approval. Keris flexes another spiritual muscle as she waits for the sulky silence to break, coaxing veins of Essence together in her anima. When it seems clear that Haneyl is not going to be the first to talk, she sweetens the bait a little.

“You know...” she says idly, “I’ve had a few thoughts about what I’m going to give her as a present. But I wonder if a really special present from you would make her realise how good a sister you are? You know how I gave the misbegotten things, and now they worship me? And how the Shashalme gives people things, and then they’re all grateful and want to pay her back? Well... oh. Oh!”

Something clicks in her anima, and one of the silver flecks shudders to a halt and pulses. Flecks of... something; silvery-violet and shining, coalesce around it, and then in a sudden flash it’s hanging there in the air. A... Keris searches for the name... a marlin! Yes, that’s what it is. A marlin of violet ice, about the length of her arm and with a silvery tinge to its scales. It lazily swims through the light of her soul in a slow figure-of-eight as it waits for her message.

She laughs delightedly. Of course! Sasi has her blue-glass fox, not an electric-blue cherub. She shouldn’t be surprised that her own personal Sorcery has shifted the way this one forms. After all, the essence going into it is different.

“Hello, Testolagh,” she says in clear Old Realm. It turns towards her as soon as she starts to speak and stays fixated on her; its fins and sail rippling gently to keep it in place. “I believe I’ve got the spell working. This is to test if it can deliver messages.”

She waits a beat after she finishes, then motions for it to go. With a flick of a tail and a graceful curve of a scaled flank, it’s gone in an impossibly fast blur.

“I did it!” she cheers, spinning around and throwing her hands up. “Go me!”

A few minutes later, a green flame appears before Keris, bobbing up and down. It’s shaped something like a cherub. “I received the message,” Testolagh’s voice says. “I can confirm that the spell worked.”

She spins again, whooping. “Go me!” she cheers again. “I’m the best! Hmm. Now one to Sasi, I think. It’s only been a week, she’ll still be at her private house, so it should be safe sending her a message now. Haneyl? Do you want to say anything to her?”

“Child,” Dulmea interrupts warningly. “She will be angry at you for breaking her rules for how you are to communicate with her.”

Keris huffs a sigh. “Fine, I can send it to her demon. Whatsitsname. Uh...”

A brief pause.

“Boromono! That was it! Or, hmm. Possibly Boronomo. Boronono? Momo? Something like that.”

“Boromono is correct,” Dulmea sighs, exasperated.

“Knew it! I was right the first time. Anyway, I suppose I can send it to him... ah, but then I don’t get to show off my new marlin-cherub!” Keris pauses and cocks her head. “Or, hmm. Maybe it was a sailfish. I’m still not sure how the crests work between those two. Well, whatever. At least now I can send messages even from places my Shrine won’t work. And... hmm. Leave the Shrine with... Darling Yellow, maybe? Or Narooj? Or, heck, Mehuni.”

She wrinkles her nose. “I need more of me,” she mutters. “There are too many places I need to be, even if it’s just to be able to make decisions there. And I only have the one Cherub Shrine.”

“Ah,” Haneyl interjects, clearly still thinking about the present conundrum. “But I like things more than Echo or Ratty like things! So they should have parties once a year while I should have parties once a season!”

“... huh. I think... I think we should actually all have a party once a season,” Keris says, raising her eyebrows. “Like we did at Calibration, where had a family picnic and you helped cook! That’s a very good idea! And they can be an official end to any fights you’ve been having if you’ve forgotten why you’re actually having them. Dulmea gets all sigh-y when you three lay waste to the landscape, even if you keep it out of the City.”

“Only Echo lays waste to the landscape,” Haneyl says with the pedantry of a small child. “Ratty floods it! I make it better!”

“Okay, but all three of you do sort of have big fights all over it,” Keris points out. “So Dulmea would probably like having a special rule that you’re not allowed to keep on fighting over one thing for more than a season.” She pauses, debating on whether or not to try for a ban on fighting for more than a season period, and decides that it would probably be a lost cause. “And if it’s a special rule then everyone follows it. Even me,” she says instead.

“But what if Rathan still hasn’t apologised?” Haneyl demands, outrage in her voice.

“Well, that’s what the party is for,” Keris says logically. “Everyone apologises to everyone else and makes up for things and we all do something we all enjoy. Like music. And food. Possibly musical food, if we can figure out a way.”

There’s just a sullen pout from Haneyl, who doesn’t like the idea of a statute of limitations.

“... well, I’m sending my cherub-fish to Sasi’s message-demon,” Keris says, letting the matter rest. “Is there anything you want to tell her?”

“Um! Um! Um! I want to tell her that... that I’ve been working on my High Realm and I want to tell her a super-thank you for that book which is in both High Realm and Old Realm that she found for me and... and and I made a new kind of deva for her and it’s a pretty flower that can be planted in gold and they grow over them and keep them safe!”

Keris grins. “Alright then. Let’s test this.”

Her anima billows and swirls again as she goes through the mental motions of the spell. It’s a little easier this time, and she suspects time and practice will make it second nature.

“Sasi,” she begins, remembering how her lover often starts her sendings with some talk about the weather. “I hope this message finds you well. I’ve finally learnt to send messages myself, since my Shrine is unreliable up here in the Northeast. The cold is a big change from An Teng, but Testolagh has been...”

“Accommodating,” Dulmea offers tactfully.

“... very accommodating,” Keris continues, scarcely missing a beat. “I’ve helped him out on a little matter and he’s offering me some advice on gathering fae for Lord Ligier. I’m glad the birth went well, though I wish I could have been there. Congratulations! I bet she’s beautiful, and I can’t wait to meet her! Haneyl wants to tell you that she’s been working on her High Realm, and to thank you for the book in both languages you gave her. She’s made you a new deva in thanks; a flower that grows over gold to protect it.”

Nothing else springs to mind, so after a moment’s thought, she finishes with “I miss you, and I hope to be back soon. Love you!” The little ice-fish quivers for a moment, and Keris nods.

“Take the message to the demon Boromono, in An Teng,” she tells it, and watches it vanish into the distance in a violet blur.

“Well,” Dulmea says after a suitable pause. “What now?”

Keris cracks her knuckles. “Now I want to experiment,” she says. “Those things; those teeth-men. They were, what, three... landscapes... deep into the Wyld Zone, right? I’m not too happy taking a force of demons in that far, especially since they won’t let me out again until something happens. And I don’t like fighting an enemy on their own turf.”

She grins nastily. “But Wyld Zones don’t work in Malfeas. The Mythoi of the All-Makers; they lock it down. Calcify it into reality. So I was thinking, maybe if I seed the landscapes with lakes of the Mother, that’ll make them real. Which means suddenly it’s only two landscapes deep. Or one. Or none. And I’m betting that wouldn’t be too comfortable for them, as well as letting me get at them quicker. So I want to find a smaller Wyld Zone - just one landscape deep - and test it to see if I’m right.”

Dulmea rummages through her things, and passes Keris out one of the crude maps from Testolagh’s people. “Where do you think would be the best place?” she asks.

Keris runs a narrowed eye over them. External size isn’t much of a measure of internal size, but she’s banking that a small Wyld zone from the outside can’t have too many landscapes inside. So she wants a small one. One which is at least partly known. And one which is close to the hungry place, if possible. She wants them to know that doom that’s coming for them.

To the south, Keris sees the marker for a Wyld zone. It’s maybe a hundred kilometres south from here, and better it seems to be around a small mountaintop, so it’ll be easier for Keris to find it. It’s marked in Testolagh’s notes as ‘Princesses, ice castle. Maybe Shogunate-themed?’.

“Princesses, huh?” she says, and whistles appreciatively. “Well now. Aren’t we all impressed by that? We have faerie royalty!”

Haneyl sniffs haughtily. Rathan gives a gleeful cackle at the vicious edge to Keris’s voice. Echo spins, happily anticipating fun stuff in the near future.

Keris heads back to the main island, sending Testolagh a quick message about the Wyld zone and her intentions for it en route, asking if there’s anything else she should know about it. Now seems as good a time as any to see if her toads can do what she made them to. And also to feed them. She has half a dozen now, and she doesn’t want them eating each other again.

Getting them there might be tricky, though. Maybe she can recruit some agatae to carry them.

((... is this Frozen: The Wyld Zone?))
((With raksha Elsa and Anna?))
((u monster))
((No comment))

“Nothing much to say,” Testolagh replies. “It’s a small Wyld zone. The locals avoid it - say it’s a cursed place. It’s meant to be ruled over by faerie princesses who war eternally - one is linked to fire and is the slave of the other one who rules through ice.”

“Fire and ice, even!” Keris sighs. “Well then. Rathan? Haneyl? Do you think we should introduce them to real royalty?”

She gives the signal, and her agatae “volunteers” lift her toads into the air. Keris herself trots forward into thin air on her ribbon-horse steed, points them in the right direction, and sets off.

Her toads are grumbling from hunger and whining at her. They’re looking at each other with barely concealed desire as the wasps trail after Keris’ ribbon-horse. Keris can see the gleaming of shining ice rising out of the treeline as they get closer, although the tang of the Wyld is not in the air yet.

The mountaintop hangs under an eternal luminous cloud - hiding from the sun, and high walls of gleaming ice rise up from the ground. Keris can barely see the little soldiers made of snow and ice patrolling the castle walls. And she understands why the Shogunate reference was made - the fortifications are all five-sided pagodas and the central tower rears up like an ice dragon with its eyes facing the heavens.

Keris being Keris, she takes a few moments to appreciate the structure, fixing it in her memories to sketch later. The dragon especially is rather pretty. Sasi would probably like it, if it was made out of crystal or glass instead, and had an eagle head like the one in her anima.

But it’s only a momentary delay. A waved arm has the wasps dip down to release their cargo with great resounding thuds onto the ramparts. Keris gives her anyaglo a congratulatory neck rub as she swings her leg over to sit sidesaddle.

“Wait outside and be good!” she tells the fliers, and leaps onto the wall, hitting them at a sprint and cutting down one of the soldiers as the ironbelly toads begin their attack.

It’s interesting, and a little more challenging than she’s used to. She can’t flare as much as usual, because her toads are sticking close around her - though that’s about the extent of her orders to them. Nor can she call on Echo, for the same reason. The green brand burns bright above the silver mask over Keris’s face as she makes use of her spear’s range and prehensile traits, smashing through walls of ice in gouts of emerald fire. She cuts down a few soldiers as well, but far more fall to sticky three-pronged tongues that lash out in every direction around her, dragging their victims screaming into gaping maws.

Keris is a whirling forest of spear blows, a demon burning with Malfean light as she chops and cuts and sends burning demonic fire to cut apart the snow warriors. Her path takes her apart from her demons, though and one of them is crushed by a giant snow-golem that wields a giant club of marble-hard snow.

She makes sure that one is left in chunks as she hacks her way in towards the dragon-tower at the heart of the Wyld Zone, dropping Ascending Air into her hair for a figure-of-eight double-dual-butterfly cut that takes out both sets of hinges and crisscrosses the icy portal with glowing lines that bubble for a moment and then explode.

Instinct has her pause at the threshold of the portal. There’s a cold fire burning here, one so cold that the air itself is snowing out. And there’s Old Realm runes rolling in the air. They’re curses, she reads. Ones declaring that the ruler of this place has imperial authority here and is the queen of eternal winter.

She narrows her eyes. “Wait here,” she commands her toads. “Surround the keep, but don’t enter. Devour anything that approaches.”

Rising on her toes, she taps her helmet to make sure it’s still sealed, twirls her spear theatrically, and bursts into the keep at a sprint. It’s incredibly, incredibly cold.

((Shaping attack - freezes anyone who walks through here into a solid popsicle killing them or immobilising them at the queen’s pleasure.))

Keris laughs, and lets Adorjan’s song of who she once was out with her laughter, cutting into the cold and making it flee in terror. From down within the palace, there’s a distant scream of pain. The ice runes shatter like someone just took a mix of fire, ice and razors to them, which is for some reason exactly what happens. Keris finds it intensely satisfying.

She advances down the corridor at a sprint. Fae magic licks at her senses, beguiling her. She feels waves of doubt about the path she’s meant to be taking, in this translucent maze where everything looks the same and everything spirals down and down.

((8 success social attack to effect an Illusion where Keris will get hopelessly lost and wander in circles forever.))
((BSLD. Keris is very unfair. Exalts hax nerf plz.))

She laughs again, and tears through the veil of uncertainty. The doubts aren’t hers - she should know; she knows from repeated experience what it feels like when she gets genuinely lost. This is a false lost, a fake lost; a faerie lost. It’s hilarious that they’re even trying to stop her with a defence as flimsy as this.

Behind the mask, her eyes glint merrily. If they’re running out of ways to stop her, that means she’s getting close. Her anima expands to a bonfire around her; licking at the ceiling and wearing away the walls as she passes.

More and more mind tricks are tried on her. They try to have her believe that a random faerie was really the queen of this place. They tried to have her think that she’s already left the place when she’s running down corridors. They don’t try anything that the memory of Adrian would stop, though. Oh no, Certainly not that again.

Her laughter echoes down the corridors and fills the glittering ballrooms as she searches for the throne room. It’s like a giant game of hide and seek, and she’s the one who’s hunting! Her anima expands yet again; her souls flanking her as she runs. Under the malevolent light and the shredding winds; the halls begin to collapse behind her; flowers taking root and ice turning crimson; marking the places that have felt her touch. Slowly but surely, she draws a spiral through the palace, homing in on the source of the scream. She finds it beyond a great door that’s locked and barred, but now that her soul is ablaze it melts even before she gets there.

The world is dissolving around her, leaving stone where she steps in place of ice. The grand hall has a faerie queen sitting on her throne of ice, with several knights standing in front of her to defend her from the foul intruder. Snowpikemen are a desperate final line of defence, banners waving from their pikes. They wear shining ice-armour made in mimicry of Shogunate plate, but Keris knows well that this is just ice. But it’s the looks which matter. Pageantry and beauty is everything here, and everywhere here.

And the faerie queen is bleeding. Oh yes. She’s oozing bright blue blood from the lacerations of her face. Echo laughs and laughs to see that.

“She is not a good princess!” Haneyl explodes.

Keris whirls to a halt and pirouettes, bringing her spear high in a blurred wheel of chains and watching the queen flinch at the sudden lethal display. The motion also sends a flurry of deadly lead slingshots from her hair into the heads of the snowpikemen, who flinch but don’t fall.

“I will give you a choice!” Keris declares generously. “Swear fealty to me for a season; on your hearts and your crowns! Or I kill you and everything else in the palace, then leave it as drowning rubble.”

The princess raises one hand. “Stop!” she says. “Let us talk. Come, stranger from a strange land. Will you not break bread with us? We are stuck here, a tiny outpost caught far away from the wonders and revelry of more prosperous places. We long and hunger to hear for your tales, and should you do so I will raise no hand against you.”

((Per + Pres + Radiant Ice Beauty Style aimed at Keris. Spending 4m on 1st Excellency for a total of 5 + 5 + 3 + 4 = 17 dice. 11 successes from a beautiful ice woman clad in Shogunate finery))

Behind her faceplate, Keris’s eyebrows rise. She hesitates for a moment. swayed...

“Melu,” whispers Rathan. “Owws.”

Her eyes narrow, and she laughs. It’s not the gleeful, joyous laughter of genuine enjoyment that came earlier. It’s mocking, nasty and edged.

“Break bread with you?” she scoffs. “I think not. I’ve seen what happens to people who eat your food and linger on your land.” A cruel smile crosses her lips, and she nods at the queen’s face. “And you’ve seen what happens when you raise a hand against me,” she adds. “Care to try again? Your oath of fealty or your life, my lady. I won’t ask thrice.”

The spear blurs in a brief whirl and comes to an abrupt stop pointed at the queen’s throat. “Choose.”

She quavers, wavers, and then the expression on her face hardens. “I see,” she says firmly. “Well, I see your point.” Her colourless eyes flicker to the spearpoint. She swallows. “May... may I offer a counter proposal. I will grant you this land and the oaths of all who serve me to do with however you may see fit, and banish myself from it never to return. In return, I ask only that you let me pass unharmed and unmolested.”

There’s no hesitation this time. Keris giggles, and there’s an echo to them that isn’t her Fifth Soul; a watery glee as the red moon haloing her brightens. She twirls the spear lazily, as she starts to walk forward, pausing a few menacing steps closer.

“I did say I wouldn’t ask thrice,” she sing-songs. “But... I suppose I’ll take that as a variant of ‘yes’.” The spear vanishes, and the queen relaxes for a second, though she tenses again when Ascending Air replaces it.

“Your oath that the land and all who serve you are mine,” Keris says. “Then you may pass untouched. I will escort you to the edge of the domain and stop my servants touching you.”

((I was entirely ready to have Keris’s hatred push her into backing the queen into a corner where she had nothing to lose if the coin had come down tails.))
((But I guess her first experience with her hatred tripping her up can come later.))

The ice queen hesitantly reaches around her neck, and takes off a beautiful crystal necklace of fine ice that glows blue under the luminescent clouds. She delicately rises, and rests it down upon her throne. “I formally abdicate and renounce my title in all ways. I pass all oaths invested in me to...” she pauses, looking at Keris.

“Keris Dulmeadokht,” she says, letting her faceplate dissolve and flow away as she reaches out to take the necklace. “I accept these oaths, and guarantee your safety to the edge of my new domain, where you may leave unscathed and unfollowed.”

The faerie queen dusts snow off her silvery dress. “Alas,” she says, “with my presence gone, I suspect my sister will rise up from the dungeons below this place and try to take over. I will have to make my own way out. But, ah, Lady Dulmeadohkt. Should you encounter her? Your promise to me does not affect her. Do with her as you see fit.” And with that said she takes a running leap and smashes through the stained-ice windows, her form becoming the form of a great snow-white swan as she does so.

Keris blinks bemusedly, and shrugs. Well, if she’s leaving by air then the toads won’t be able to get her, and the agatae’s orders are just to circle and wait. She watches the great swan leave, just to make sure.

Then she plucks the necklace from the throne and puts it on.

“What she just did there,” she says, with a tinge of grudging respect. “If I weren’t planning on drowning this whole Wyld Zone anyway, I would be really pissed about that. As it is, I’m... kind of impressed.”

She claps her hands. “So then. Let’s go see if this sister of hers has anything to offer for her freedom. I bet she’d like to catch up for a family reunion. I’m half-tempted to let her go and have one.”

She cocks an ear downward. From what she knows of the sister, it shouldn’t be hard to find her. Just listen for the sounds of smashing, screaming and flames. At the exact moment she took up the necklace, she heard a hiss. But now she listens, there’s a ferocious roar of steam. And the ice from underneath is glowing very red. And getting somewhat slushy.

Her soul has died down a little during her talk with the raksha queen, but the bonfire-whirlwind still surrounds her, scattering scarlet light off the countless reflections. Drawing her spear again, Keris stabs down and spins in a quick circle; cutting a chunk of swiftly-melting ice out from under her and dropping to the floor below. Slashing again and again, Keris runs down the melting ice-walls. The chambers get taller and taller, and the ice becomes raw stone. The red light is brighter and bringer and now she sees that it’s magma. Magma, churning and boiling in the depths. And there’s a clattering of chains and twisting of metal as ring after ring breaks free.

“Child,” Dulmea observes, “I suspect this may be another faerie realm - one hidden deeper in the mountain and stronger away from the sun.”

Echo adds that the jets of magma coming from the boiling lake of molten rock underneath are pretty ribbons.

And in the centre, there’s the other princess. Vaguely feminine only in the abstract, she’s built to a scale such that Keris could fit in her mouth. Her skin is made of silvery metal that glows a dull red from the heat. She’s submerged to the waist on the rock, and the chains of silver and ice that trapped her are breaking one by one.”

She screams like a kettle in rage at Keris; eyes focused on the emblem that she now wears around her neck.

“Listen to me!” Keris shouts. “Listen! Your sister has fled! She bound you, not me! If you can offer me something for your freedom, you can follow her! If not, I’ll kill you now! Choose!”

The princess screams again, the air around Keris filling with flesh-melting steam.

((Undodgeable unblockable Shaping attack to melt all the flesh off Keris’ bones))

The steam meets the memory of Adrián; who scalded, burnt and tormented trillions before this faerie princess was a mote in the eye of the Wyld. It recoils, and the memories lash out. Ice and knives lacerate the fire-princess. She screams and rages, a wordless monster who draws strength from her pain. With a shattering, she manages to wrench one hand free of her chains - and the other comes free easily once she has one loose.

“I’ll crush your bones, Primordial-get!” it shouts up at Keris, exhaling steam out in vast cataclysmic waves. “Adrián is dead! I heard her scream! You’ll scream too!”

Within this inverted dome chamber, Keris has the high ground, able to run on the rough-hewn walls of igneous rock. The giant metal fire-princess is buried to her waist in the molten rock, but is slowly levering herself out on her many spider-legs that sprout from where normal humans would have a lower rib-cage. Her two arms are holding her up, swinging at Keris and shattering rock and wall easily. Swarms of fire-creatures that resemble spiders flock from the molten rock, weak and tasting of faerie lies to Keris’ senses. They chitter with their hunger for her bones.

((Okay. So we’re now moving into Big Battle Time. The Fire Princess can be expressed as seven parts - her Hordes, her Left Arm, her Right Arm, her Head, her Legs and her Torso. She is basically doing the full boss monster thing just like the Greater Dead thing did, because each one has its own health bar. However, because she’s so huge, a lot of the time she’ll be attacking via environmental hazards and the like if Keris is running on her arms, etc. And rather than move normally, Keris has Athletics rolls to move between combat zones, which are all those places, plus the Roof, the Walls and the Magma. Keris starts on the Roof. The Hordes start on the Walls. The Fire Princess is a giant boss and can attack all zones.))

“... well fine then,” mutters Keris. “Echo!” She drops from the roof and darts in, swinging at the creature’s legs, cutting at the ones that she’s pulling herself out with. Echo trails a line of cuts and slashes after her; silent, intent and alert.

Falling like... something that jumps off a roof into magma, which isn’t really something that provides easy metaphors - anyway, Keris does a perfect swan-dive into the molten rock. Her armour reflects the light as she plummets down, and she stares at the giant monster.

It’s so weak. And it tastes like lies. That’s all it is. Lies and hunger.

((Enlightenment 5, Wyld-aspected))

Keris comes in low and fast, armoured feet skipping over the molten rock. She whirls and hacks at the spider-like legs; letting each spin and slash feed the momentum of the next as she dances around the huge creature; going for the legs it’s putting most of its weight on.

The raksha’s legs are armoured, but Keris’s spear cuts chunks out of them in blasts of green fire that add to the steam and heat in the air. The open rents bleed streams of red wind as she circles; essence draining out of them in scarlet gusts.

The fire-princess screams, and her entire bulk jolts and shudders, slipping down. Steam courses out from her joints, bubbling up from amidst the magma to burst on the surface. Great squirts of blood escape from the grievous wounds that have crippled her legs - and there her kinship to her sister is shown, for their blood is much of a likeness.

Keris doesn’t get to do this uncontested, though. Swarms of lesser fire-and-metal spiders swim through the metal, lunging for her. There’s so many of them, trying to choke her and slow her down.

((Attempting an Impede action on her - both sides roll Phys + Athletics, and they add their Magnitude in auto-successes. Net successes penalise all of Keris’ Athletics-based actions - include dodging.))
((Their pool - 4 + 4 + Swarming Horde Style 3 + 1 = 12 dice, + 4 autosuccesses from magnitude. 10 successes total.))
((Hmm. Do I still have OEotH active?))
((Kek. So their successes turn into bonuses for me. Wheee! 5+5+2 stunt=12. Uh. 2 sux. No, seriously. Um. I... I guess thank you, dice fairies? That, uh... yeah.))
((And this is once again you being slapped for being so arrogant as to not buy any ExD when your dicepool was smaller than theirs.))
((Yeah, but... OEotH.))
((Oh, hang on, all Athletics stuff, not just dodging.))
((Hmm. So... her Athletics pools are debuffed, but her Dodge DV is up by, like, 4?))
((... yes, but if her move is dropped to the level where she can’t dash anymore, she burns up in the magma because her environmental defence stops working.))

The lesser fae serve as footholds to the greater one. Keris all but dances across them - though it’s a dance that Piu would never dare to attempt; where a single foot wrong would spell catastrophe. The lunging spiders don’t hinder her - indeed, if anything, she seems to become more agile in the chaos and confusion; her nimble body always in the spaces they aren’t, using their colliding forms to boost herself further up and further onward.

Fighting through the scrum in a whirl of steel as spiders are bisected around her, Keris heads up the Fire Princess’s chest, stabbing deep at her heart and pushing her anima to its full glory again. “I will kill you!” she screams. “Unless you surrender! You can survive this or die here!”

A hand descends, trying to crush Keris. But it’s slowed by venom and awkward because the princess is trying to maintain her balance out of the magma. It’s still... a lot more accurate than Keris might have liked. But the princess is too full of rage and hate - and yes, madness. Keris gets the insight that she’s been trapped down here for a terribly long time, starved by her sister, fed on scraps as some kind of faerie power play, and now there’s not much left in that giant head but a desperate desire for escape and lots of hate. She has to escape, and sees this as her only chance.

Her madness makes her sloppy, and Keris is too fast for her - and the pain wracks her metal flesh as Kimberian toxin and unnatural Adorjani bleeding tears her asunder. The hand splashes into the magma, painting the walls with liquid rock but missing the biting fly that pains her so.

((Attack on her Torso, then?))
((Honestly, I think we’ve fairly conclusively proven that she can’t stop Keris and since you went for her weak spot immediately rather than actually doing the bit where she tries to swat Keris and starts destroying the walls, there’s not point resolving it in a traditional combat.))
((Kay. Keris, u so unfair. Hmm. We might want to think about how to incentivise the more cinematic combat style.))
((But yeah, you can basically take her down however you like.))

Outstripping the horde, rising above the leaping spiders and using them as footholds, the shining silver shape that is Keris comes down like a meteor; ignoring a wash of fire that the raksha breathes out in desperation. The spear slams home into her heart, and with an agonised wail, she falls. The metal cracks. Splits. Shatters. And then all breaks.

Keris sprints among the falling metal across the magma, and up the walls. She inhales as she goes; drawing the raksha into herself, and makes a leap that takes her up, rebounding off two falling ice shards, and into the relative safety of the ice palace. At least compared to a collapsing magma cave. The red glow is gone. And the ice gentlemen and footmen kneel before her. Oh, they’re scared of her, terror writ on their beautiful faces.

“My lady,” says one of the armoured urbane figures, long peacock-like feathers sprouting from his armour. “I am the bravest warrior here, and it would of course be my greatest honour to serve you - for you are the mightiest warrior upon these shores, able to slay the monstrous sister of our former queen. Hail to Keris Dulmeadohkt.” He slams his armoured fist against his chest. “Hail!”

((7 successes of sucking up and urbane courtly manners, trying to create a 1 dot Principle in Keris considering him to be the first among her samurai.))

She takes a moment to eye him, and nods in acquiescence. “Round up all of the servants of this place,” she orders him. “Assemble them... hmm... in the entrance hall. Don’t go outside; my servants are still out there.” She stretches, feeling a little uncomfortable and sweaty in the armour. It’s comfortable, for superheavy plate, but it’s not her Amulet.

So... what to do now. She’s forced to admit; now that she has... however many faerie servants she now has, she’s less than certain about where to keep them until she goes back to Malfeas. She could order them to stay here, she supposes, but... that would sort of cut the legs out from under her original purpose here.

... then again... the lava chamber downstairs seems to be another “landscape”. She peers down over the edge at it, hoping it’s started to cool with the death of its prisoner. Whose Essence, she notes, Haneyl and Echo seem to be dividing between them.

“We’re making our own special, better mountain on the border!” Haneyl chirps in.

Echo gestures wildly, silently demonstrating how there are going to be ribbons of ash and fire and they’re going to go through the air and be amazing.

But no, the magma remains down there, down under the ice palace. It doesn’t seem to be bleeding through, though.

“If you set your marsh on fire again with lava, I’m not putting it out,” Keris warns, amused. She frowns down at the magma pit. Well, it’s worth a shot. The Great Mother doesn’t like fire, in general, but maybe if Keris sheds more blood than usual, it’ll be enough to snuff it out? She lets herself back down into the chamber again, and crouches as far from the smouldering heat of the magma as possible. Removing her gauntlets, she gashes both hands and trails a circle of blood around the pit; beginning the haunting tones of a hymn to the Great Mother as she moves.

Her blood splatters down on the magma chamber, and as her prayers take effect the steam clouds condense, becoming thick and heavy and colder. They start to rain, a cold and bitter rain that flash-boils before it hits the magma. But the colour of the magma fades as the toxic essence of Kimbery rains down and soon there’s a shallow shell of black stone on top of the magma, which water is pooling on top of. Keris examines it. The water is scalding hot, and full of metal salts - but it doesn’t feel like the Wyld. It’s a lake of water sitting on top of stone floating on a magma chamber. And she can hear the stone extending down from the magma, under the relentless hot rain.

Her curious expression persists as she examines the new lake from different angles; her eyes flashing green now and then to triple-check. Within herself she feels Rathan murmuring to himself in the babyese he adopts when not really trying to make himself understood.

Eventually, though, she’s satisfied. Her lips curl back in an eager smile.

Her plan is going to work.

Chapter Text


Deciding that enough time has passed for the ice-warrior to have followed her orders, Keris heads back up to the palace of ice and pokes her head into the entrance hall to see exactly how many raksha servants she now has. Looking at them, she finds that she has six bright-armoured cataphracts swathed in Shogunate-esque dragon-styled armour, a beautiful woman with swan-wings in place of arms who stands beside a gorgeous man who even now is dancing with literally inhuman flexibility, and then perhaps a hundred or so rather less ornate soldiers, cooks, and other lesser minions. With a green glint, she confirms that the eight ornate ones are more powerful than the others, who are barely more than mortals.

She gives them approving nods, with a smile to the feathered warrior who she set to gather them. Seeing so many of them, however, calls her attention to the problem of how to get them back to Hell. She’ll need support, yes, but where to get it? A sodality would work, perhaps... but it might be better, now that she has some results, to talk to Ligier himself about picking them up.

“I need to make arrangements for a journey,” she tells them. “I will return soon. Until I do; tend to the palace and repair the hole over the magma chamber.” She waits for their murmur of agreement, and leaves through the great doors, snapping her fingers at her toads. They look well-fed, content and glutted on snow. One of them appears to have actually fallen asleep.

“Come on, you five,” she orders sharply. “We’re leaving again. Up!” They grumble and belch, but hop to it. Mounted on her anyaglo and headed back to Testolagh’s lands - the agatae straining somewhat more under the increased weight of their cargo - Keris muses to herself.

Five days across the Desert, each way. If she summons a representative of a sodality to arrange transport, that’s at least ten days for them to arrive and help transport her prisoners. But they’ll probably want paying, and she’s not sure she wants anyone else knowing about the work she’s doing for Ligier. Marching a hundred fae through the City or using a sodality would let everyone with an interest in such matters know.

Maybe she could send the Unquestionable a Messenger? That’ll still be a ten day wait for a reply, but he might agree to send a barge to meet them just inside the Desert. Controlling the raksha might be tricky, but... they are oathsworn to her. And once they’re in the Desert, they won’t really have anywhere to run.

It’s a haphazard plan, but it’s the best she’s got. Next time, she decides, she’ll think this sort of thing out better in advance. This was meant to just be a test mission; she hadn’t thought through it enough to consider what she’d do with the prisoners it would result in.

“It would often help to think ahead more, child,” Dulmea observes.

“I’m working on it,” Keris defends herself, with a hint of a pout. She sends her message as soon as she’s back on the islands and her toads are in their pen in digestive torpors.

“Lord Ligier; greetings and honour to you,” she begins, speaking slowly and carefully; going heavy on the formalities. “It is Keris Dulmeadokht, with news of my work for you in the Northeast. I have taken a small group of fae prisoner for your attentions, and made the preparations to seize a great host to follow them. If it pleases you, I would use those I have already captured to test how to deliver them to you. I had thought to use a sodality to transport them across the Desert, but if you wish to send a means to take them to you directly, I will wait for your instructions on how.”

With a flash of light, her sailfish vanishes off into the distance. She hopes it’ll find the right way.

“Pretty fishie!” Rathan observes brightly in her head. “Mama’s fishes are the best!”

“They are, aren’t they?” Keris agrees, smiling. “Maybe I should get some real ones as pets when we get back to An Teng. What do you think?”

Rathan hums to himself. “I think,” he says, enunciating clearly, “that they wouldn’t like rivers. Because they’d taste wrong! And that’s bad!”

Keris blinks. That... was not normal for Rathan. She wasn’t aware his speech was so advanced. Actually, scratch that; his speech wasn’t so advanced.

“Sweetie?” she asks, slipping into seiza and closing her eyes; opening them again inside her Domain. She’s on the deck of a ship, she notes, which seems to be sailing around somewhere near the coast of the Ruin. Several devas that look like someone has stuck human and sealife in a mixer are attending to the rigging and sails.

She ignores them, turning to the wheel to see what’s going on with her son. The vessel itself appears to be a mixture of ice and what are probably trees stolen from Haneyl’s forest, and the sails are sewn together from ribbons. And standing on a box, wearing a neat little outfit which is being generated by the Amulet he’s apparently got his hands on, is Rathan, hands on the wheel. His crimson hair spills around him, and he’s grinning with innocent joy as he spins the wheel around seemingly at random.

Keris suspects he doesn’t know how to sail and is just making it move because of the water. Which is the sensible way, right?

But that’s less important, because he’s bigger than he used to be. Bigger, and older. He looks now like he might be only a bit younger than Haneyl. And as soon as he sees Keris, he lets go of the wheel and runs over, barrelling into his mother’s legs with a hug.

Well,” she breathes, returning it and letting him cling to her legs for a moment before transferring him into a hair-sling that lets him get his arms around her neck instead. “Look at you! Aren’t you a big boy now? A very handsome one with a special captain outfit, too, I see.” She straightens his uniform, which she suspects might have been copied a bit from her memories of what the richer, posher-looking sailors in Nexus wore when she caught sight of them from the docks. “How’d you get so big without me noticing, hmm?”

He squirms happily under her adjustment of his high collar. “The burny place was horrible but it wasn’t really burny so when it became all nice and wet it was tasty!” he says informatively. Keris sees a skimming trail of water zoom by and with a spray of sea-mist Echo jumps aboard perching on the railing. She has a cheeky grin on her face as she wildly gestures, explaining that Keris fed him lots of power by making the sea exist outside herself.

“I was saying that, Echo! No! Go away!” Rathan shouts at her. “Also, stop breaking my ship!”

Echo expresses her hurt in a sad manner, indicating it’s not her fault that the railing is coming apart because she’s standing on it and she just saw the pretty ribbon sails and wanted to see what was happening here. She also pretends to cry, indicating that she wishes that it was Calibration again and informs Keris that Rathan is being mean to her.

Keris rolls her eyes. “You stole the essence from the Wyld Zone I drowned,” she sighs, tapping Rathan on the nose. “Of course you did. Honestly, you three keep eating half the essence I absorb even when I don’t feed it to you.” She shoots Echo a pointed look. “Don’t think I don’t know about you stealing some of the bodies I inhale, missy,” she accuses her. “Yeah, I figured out how you grew up so quickly after some of my missions. And I’m pretty sure you’re still doing it when you think I won’t notice.”

Her tart tone is somewhat let down by the fact that she’s grinning.

Echo protests that now Mama is being mean to her, accusing her of things she hardly ever does honest. This earns her a chuckle. “Alright, off with you,” Keris says, shooing her away. “Go and run with your ribbon horses and feel clever, you little terror. The one I summoned has been very helpful to me. Way better than agatae.”

Of course they’re prettier, Echo gestures, fanning herself vainly. They’re made of ribbons. She then vanishes off Swampwards, trailing sea mist behind her from where her winds whip up the water.

“Echo breaks my toys and steals my attention,” Rathan says, tugging on Keris’ dress and pouting.

“Echo is a thief,” Keris tells him with a kiss to his forehead. “Actually wait, no. You’re all thieves; never mind. But Echo gets bored quickly, so you know she’ll leave again if you just ignore her and don’t pay her any attention.” She glances up at the sails. “And I see you’ve been taking some of her ribbons to make your ships. And Haneyl’s trees. So!” She gives the wheel a spin and sits them down on the deck, curling him into her lap. “Tell me all about them.”

Rathan lights up at this, and begins a high-speed babble about his boats and how they’re the bestest boats ever and how he knows what all the different bits are called. Apparently he reached a long enough truce with Haneyl at some point for her to read him a book about sailing, which he’s taken to enthusiastically. Keris is treated to a guided tour of the ship’s insides and outsides, and has a brief swim with him before depositing him back at the wheel en route to the city docks and waking up.

So then, she thinks. Ten days for a reply from Ligier. What to do until then? She’ll have to go check on the freehold once or twice in that time... but she can probably fill the rest of the time with some more education in how those owlrider drugs work.

“Flood more places!” Rathan says enthusiastically.

“No! Make up a way to get lots of trees growing places because I should have my own things that I can own and this is a tree place because we’re in the East,” Haneyl counters sullenly.

Echo suggests that Keris invents a way to make the Ruin exists outside of herself too, if everyone is doing that.

They start pestering and nagging at her, until she swears she’d need another pair of hands to get everything they want done, let alone what she wants to do herself.

She stops.

Another pair of hands. What was it she’d thought earlier? That she needed more of her?

But the Silent Wind can do that, can’t she? Keris remembers reading it. It’s one of the great gifts of Adorjan; spinning lesser selves off and then reabsorbing them; sending them out into the world to fulfill her whims.

Generally, Sasi is the one who thinks of the gifts of the All-Makers like... like books on a shelf that you can just go and pick up and learn; just like that. Keris has never really understood it as a viewpoint. Her gifts aren’t like spells, they’re more like... like organs, like fingers. She can’t just... decide to grow an extra set of hands.

But maybe it’s worth a try...

... wait, no. She shakes her head quickly. This is the sort of planning thing that she was just promising to do better with. If she tries to learn how to make lesser selves now, it’ll take up all her time until Ligier replies - and then she’ll have to learn about the owlriders later. Since she can only learn about the drugs here, she’ll do that until she gets a reply. Then she can experiment with spinning out gales from her inner cyclone on the way to the City.

Resolved on her course of action, she sets out to find the tribe’s old medicine woman and get in some questions about preparing the petals before sunset.

The old woman is one of the few in the tribe aware of how Keris has proposed to help the owlriders, and is happy to dedicate time to filling her in. She’s somewhat horrified by the way that Keris insists on eating many of the potent or toxic plants she’s learning about, but accepts with a kind of awed terror that Keris, like Testolagh, can do such things without fear of death.

Keris’s lack in drug-based medicine is made up for by the way she can sort through what each raw ingredient - as easily turned into poison as drug - is doing with her acute sense of taste. Twice over, since she can also sink her fingers into owlrider patients and apply her tongues to the interactions of the drugs inside their bodies. She returns to the freehold twice, congratulating them on repairing the damage to the castle and giving them further tasks to occupy their time - including a report on other freeholds and fae kingdoms in the area.

By the time the tenth day comes, she’s fairly confident in her knowledge. There are aspects of the growth-retardant drugs that are still a little further beyond her than she’d like - they’re by far the most complex, and she’s not sure she’s quite got all the side-effects down - but her tutor is praising her as an intuitive genius who will soon surpass even her.

Ligier’s message ends up coming on the eleventh day. It’s a ball of light and it sings to Keris in his beautiful voice. He will, apparently, arrange for one of his servants to meet her at the city wall and ensure that the slaves are conveyed directly to him, if she tells him of this in advance when she first sets foot in the Desert.

It’s not quite what she’d wanted, but it’s better than nothing. Prompted by Haneyl, Keris has four farisyya to accompany her on the trip; chosen for a combination of “looking pretty” and “being able to spear, trample and maim anyone who tries to run away”. She leaves them waiting for her at the place where the Desert touches Creation, and accompanies her now-hungry-again ironbelly toads back to the Wyld zone.

“Wait,” she orders them on the way, “until I am gone. Do not eat any of my oathsworn fae until then - I mean it. After I am gone, you may eat anything that buds in the Wyld Zone or tries to inhabit it.” She sighs, watching them eye each other. “Try really hard not to eat each other, please. I won’t be gone too long, and I can promise you an even greater feast when I return.”

They’re not happy about having to let the fae go with her. Tough. She leaves them just outside the walls and proceeds inside, calling a gathering of all her servants again.

“Rejoice!” she tells them. “I, your lady, know of a grand and glorious land far from here. A place of untold wonder and beauty; of vast power and incalculable wealth! I intend to travel there and claim my title as a princess of that place - and you, my servants, may accompany me, and help me in claiming treasures the likes of which the world has not seen since before the great Crusade!”

Even by her standards of bending the truth and lying-without-exactly-lying, she’s rather proud of it.

((Per + Pres. Enhance with Charms as desired, 3 dot stunt for sneaky lying))
((Using Carmine Mantled Emissary to be totally innocent, what, ulterior motives, what are you talking about, of course not. Per+Pol roll=3+1+3 stunt+4 Enlightenment autosux=7. 2+4=6 sux.
Per+Pres roll: 3+5+3 Mendaciloquent Maverick+1 bonus {grain of truth}+3 stunt+4 Metagaos ExSux {cunning predation, tempting & deceptive, enticing fools into a waiting maw}=15. 7+4=11 sux.))

There is a great cheer, as the cataphracts raise their blades into the air. It is followed, raggedly, by the other lesser fae, some of whom loom rather less enthusiastic about a grand march and claiming treasures.

Keris has agatae mounts for the noble raksha, and after some rather tense negotiation past the toads that reminds Keris of one of the logic puzzles in Sasi’s books, they set off on a slow trudge to the entrance to the Desert; Keris and the nobles hovering above the line of lesser servants. The farisyya meet them there, and form an honour guard at the back of the column; wooden lances raised to the sky by the puppets on their backs.

It’s almost a week’s hard travel to find a new entrance to the Demon City - because Keris used a gate belonging to Testolagh up on the sky islands. Fortunately, she can sense entrances to Hell with the light of her soul.

There’s an encounter along the way as they march through the eternal night underneath the trees, though, that sticks in her memory. Keris is roused from her half-slumbering jog by the sound of something big crashing through the undergrowth. Something big and feathery. Shaking off the haze of sleep, she motions the lead farisy to take command of the column and leaps into the trees towards the sound to see what it is.

((Phys + Subterfuge))
((5+5+2 stunt=12. Bleagh. 3 sux.))
((Then again, she’s not trying too hard to hide from what she assumes is just a big bird. : P))
((It got 5 successes. : p ))

It’s her smell that gives her away, she realises later. There’s a snuffling from the thing up ahead, and then a far, far too loud roar. Something black and white and feathered comes crashing through the undergrowth, feet stomping and dagger-length teeth exposed.

“Golden whore on a street of-” Keris swears, reversing direction rapidly and leaping back from Makers-and-blue-silence-those-teeth-are-big! She flares her soul on pure shocked instinct; the blood-red blaze exploding around her with a crash of fast; terrifying chords that bring to mind the alarm calls of animals fleeing a forest fire, or the panicked cry of a beast confronted by something unnatural.

Keris has never seen a tyrant lizard before this day. She’s also never seen a tyrant lizard fall on its rump as it tries to stop moving towards the sudden scary fire that came from nowhere. It skids in the mast littering the forest floor and scrambles back with all the grace of a giant feathered monster with giant teeth.

... one that isn’t Keris’ po, at least.

“... Mama,” Haneyl begins, in a tone that tells Keris there are a lot of very reasonable and sensible words coming up that are obviously true and with which there can be no possible argument.

“No,” Keris tells her, eyeing the thing as it picks itself back up and makes several wary but hostile chirping barks at her.

“But I could make it a plant thing and use it against the-”

“Still no.” Her spear flashes out on its chain to lop off a treelimb between her and the giant monster, which falls to the ground with a crash in front of it as it starts to edge forwards. “Raaargh!” Keris shouts at it; her anima rippling brightly with the noise. “Go on, go! Bah! Yah! Hah!”

She shifts her Amulet with the last word to a wide cape and a great headdress that shine with the vibrant colours of toxic plants. Spreading her hair out to triple her size, she calls on the radiant beauty of the Amulet and the vivid cloth becomes pure colour; a blindingly bright pattern of swirling oilslick patterns that whirl and coruscate.

The tyrant lizard runs for it.

“Can I at least have one of its feathers, pretty pretty pretty please?” Haneyl tries desperately as it crashes away through the undergrowth.

“When we get back,” Keris sighs, “I will go hunting tyrant lizards, and I will kill one...”

Echo’s silent attention suddenly makes itself felt in the conversation; riveted by the mention of feathers.

“... two,” Keris corrects herself, “and inhale them, and you can have the essence to do whatever you want with. And I will harvest the feathers first. But for now, we have a job to do.”

“But I want it now!” Haneyl wails in full on tantrum mode as Keris heads back to her convoy of deluded fae.

Echo observes that the sky is on fire, and thanks Mama for letting her dance in the fire rain again.

“Lord Ligier doesn’t throw tantrums when he can’t get what he wants straight away,” Keris points out, hoping to avert a full-blown tantrum spiral that will end in most of the swamp being on fire again. “After all, I’m getting these fae for him, aren’t I? And I took a little while to do it, but I’m taking them to him right now. Same with the Shashalme and An Teng, right? And Sasi and the things she does. If all of them can be patient for what they want, then obviously patience is a big girl grown-up princess skill, isn’t it?”

Her daughter doesn’t seem to want to listen.

((Playing off Haneyl’s Proper Standards 3 dot principle. Runs into her Assimilate and Possess Urge and thus is stopped dead.))

Sighing as the tantrum cools into a sullen sulk, Keris continues leading her servants to the glorious destiny she’s promised them.

She sends Ligier another Cherub as soon as they enter the Desert, and sacrifices a cache of Malfean emeralds to Cecelyne with a prayer for safe passage. As they start the five-day trek, she turns her attention once again to the idea of spinning off lesser selves.

... come to think of it, Sasi never did really explain how, after deciding to learn a specific gift of the All-Makers, one went about it. Hmm.

Echo wisely suggests that Keris go hunt down Kamilla and then they can play together, nodding sagely. And if Adorjan-other-mama is there, she’ll know!

“Would it not be more sensible to go look for the libraries of Orabilis?” Dulmea says quickly. “Or possibly even speak with one of Adorjan’s Unquestionable rather than risk finding the Silent Wind herself?”

Dulmea is, according to Echo’s gesture, no fun.

“You’re both too pessimistic!” Keris declares. “I have five days to work it out! Look, the gifts of the All-Makers build off one another, right? I bet you anything this is one of the ways she can run anywhere - like how I can run up walls and over water. This just goes one step further and lets me run two places at once.”

She smirks, confident and assured. “Heh. I bet I have it down before we even get in sight of the City.”

“Would it not be more sensible to stop the fae being terrified of the silver sand, and also placating the Desert so she does not consume them?” Dulmea asks morosely.

“Oh, fine,” Keris sighs, turning to reassure her followers. “But you’ll see. I have this under control.”

Keris hopes that the Desert has accepted her sacrifice. All she has to do now is set off, by now terrified fae trailing behind her. Some of the weaker ones are wailing now, a high terrified keening as they feel where they are.

“Listen to me!” she tells them. “We are in a fearful land, yes! But as long as you follow me; we will have safe passage! And the land of glory awaits us beyond! We will arrive there; to riches beyond measure!”

((CME again; 3+1+2+4 autosux=6. 2+4=6 sux.
Per+Pres: 3+5+3 MM Style+1 {truthful lies} bonus+2 stunt+4 Metagaos ExSux=14. What the hell, dice fairies, 3+4=7 sux, what is with them today?))

They mostly quieten down. Again, it’s the more powerful soldier-ones who seem more pliable. The weaker ones are much more dubious. But there’s another one. The swan-winged woman is muttering against Keris, coaxing the others with sweet words. She doesn’t think Keris is listening. Keris is always listening as they pick their way across an ice-cold salt plain under a sunless sky. She pulls the swan-woman aside in a faux-friendly manner that coincidentally takes them in between two of the farisyya, and their sharp, sharp lances.

“I wonder,” she muses out loud, “if your previous lady was perhaps more tolerant than I am. More willing to allow mutterings that called her a liar.” She cocks her head. “Or perhaps simply less aware of when her subjects were voicing treason.” Her eyes flash dangerously, and she smiles. “What think you, my dear?”

Wide eyed, the woman-fae stares at Keris with hurt innocence. She spins an elaborate and truth-filled story about how she’s merely the spymistress of her former lady, searching for dissent and mistrust among her servants and that she must sometimes whisper treacherous words to lure those out who would act against their sworn lord.

She is really quite convincing.

((8 successes on her 17 dice persuasion attempt, UMI Illusion that makes Keris see her words as entirely reasonable and accurate.))

Keris chuckles. The veil of trickery the woman is trying to pull over her eyes might as well be lit up and glowing for how subtle it is. “She tried to turn my mind where she wanted it to go, too,” she says. “And she was better at it than you. You will note that she is no longer queen, and I am very much not amused by that sort of behaviour.”

The swan-woman opens her mouth and finds a curving, wave-like blade lying along her jaw. Her rather-wider eyes flicker between Keris’s face; no longer smiling, and the arm holding the blade. If it moved, it was faster than her eyes could follow.

“That’s two strikes against you,” Keris says, very softly. The bulk of the farisy shields them from the rest of the fae. The swan-woman is alone. “Twice you have betrayed me; twice you have betrayed the oaths you swore to your queen, which she passed to me. Twice you have acted against your liege.”

Her eyes soften, and she lets Rathan’s mantle of victimhood and vulnerability seep into her words and expression. “I am... hurt, by your mistrust,” she says, and there’s an heartbreaking quaver to her voice as she says it. “It wounds me that you doubt me so; that you think I lied when I promised that you would be part of something great and glorious. That together, under my leadership, we could claim treasures beyond any imagination.”

A brave smile crosses her face, and her clothes shine with soft light. In that moment, she is beautiful - gorgeous, forgiving, breathtaking. “But I am merciful,” she soothes the terrified fae. “I am generous. Perhaps you have been betrayed before. Perhaps your fears stem from past hurts. I understand such things. You have my promise; I spoke truly in all I said. But to protect the rest of my cataphracts, if you cross me again...”

She gently draws the blade back, and lets it vanish. A tear trickles down her face, but her expression is implacable. “... then there is only one fate for traitors. You understand?”

A strange assortment of associations flickers over the swan-woman’s face. “My lady,” she says, with an odd catch in her voice. Keris laughing in her face to all her trickery seemed to hurt. “Truly, I serve you. I am sworn to you. And such games are how I know the one I serve is worthy, nothing more. They are not meant to hurt.”

Keris smiles, and squeezes her shoulder. “And as long as they remain mere games, we have no quarrel,” she reassures the woman. “Now, come. We shall walk together, and you can tell me of your cleverest and most cunning triumphs. Battles won by skill at arms are always fun, but I’m eager to hear of contests won by quickness of wit and insight.”

Keris mingles with each of the cataphracts as they travel, pulling stories of their triumphs from them, hiding her fury when they touch on cruelties done to humans and turning the conversations to the other freeholds in the area, especially the place of the hungry men.

And all the time, she keeps an eye on the Desert. She’s used to running through its hazards, which is both good and bad. Good, because she knows the common ones inside and out; literally. Bad, because she’s never really had to avoid them before. Only the knowledge that hurrying would be useless prevents her from pushing them to traverse the terrain faster. Following her heart home, she keeps them on as safe a path as possible, with quiet prayers every few hours to the Desert.

She gets lucky. Perhaps her prayer to Cecelyne was answered, but she manages to find an ancient wind-swept temple to hide in just before a glass storm sweeps in. Whoever built this temple knew what they were doing, because the glass is swept away by its ship-shaped rising front.

Unfortunately, it seems that her fae really were isolated and didn’t talk to many others. They’ve basically squatted in the same few slowly shrinking wyld zones since the Contagion, playing their games of politics and switching sides as one sister got a lead over the other in their endless games. They don’t know much. They’ve heard of the Hungry Lord, a savage monster somewhere to the north, but they don’t know anything really useful about him.

She hides her disappointment with good grace, and continues her experimentation with learning Adorjan’s gifts while they wait for the glass storm to pass. Now that Malfeas is looming on the horizon... Keris is still no closer to being able to split herself into multiple selves. She is, however, intimately acquainted with the many and varied ways that Echo can tease someone for being slow to learn. And overconfident. And bad at winning bets.

Thank you, Echo, enough,’ she grits out, and hopes that Ligier’s representative will meet them soon.

The games of Hell loom before her, and the fae wail and cry out. Enough of them know enough to realise what this is - they’ve heard of the Green Sun Ligier who shines overhead even now.

And there, blessedly, in shining brass armour with spears of emerald wait a troop of Ligier’s soldiers, led by something which - Keris narrows her eyes - looks somewhat like a neomah, though it’s too serpent-like and in place of legs it has a large coiling body made of soft segmented pink flesh. It’s adorned in Ligierian trinkets.

“Ah, Keris Dulmeadokt,” the probably a woman says, past her mouth of fangs. “You are just on time.”

“Naturally,” Keris agrees. “We have transport and,” she glances back at the fae and flashes the neomah-thing a smile that only it sees, “safe passage?” Her eyes flicker over it, flashing green as she tries to work out what it is.

It tastes of Malfean essence, but it’s... as strong as a Second Circle, and certainly far stronger than any neomah Keris has seen before.

((Malfean essence, Enlightenment 6))
((Sweeeeet. Sublimati. : D Heh. A neomah Resident?))

At a gesture from the snake-neomah-thing, the armoured soldiers stamp forwards, moving to surround the fae. Their spears glow brighter and brighter, and they begin a spear-dance that leaves arcs of green light encircling the by now-terrified fae. The spear dance is painfully loud to Keris, and utterly drowns out the sound of any of the fae - she suspects she couldn’t hear them even if they were shouting.

And then the dancing mass and their barrier of light begin to move, one slow step at a time. The swan-winged woman tries to make a run for it. When she meets the light barrier, she’s physically thrown back, smoking from her contact with the danced-up wall of green radiance.

Wincing and covering her ears, Keris backs away and leaves them to it. “Thank you so much for bringing the really loud guards to help transport them,” she mutters, though it’s mostly lost in the noise. “No, really.” The swan-woman catches her eye through the green light, and while Keris is sort of tempted to grin and point out how cleverly she tricked them... ehh, the noise is making it too hard to think at the moment. Step by slow step, it recedes, and Keris cautiously takes her hands off her ears.

“Remind me to have larmagar on-hand next time I’m bringing fae to the City,” she sighs, before turning back to the neomah-snake. “Right. Do I have an appointment with Lord Ligier?”

Her eyes widen, in what Keris guesses is her raising her eyebrows given that she has no hair. “Do you wish one, my lady?” she asks. “That is to say, no, not to the best of my knowledge.”

“Mmm.” Keris purses her lips, considering. “Yes, I think I’d like to ask him about one or two details of my plan, to be sure I deliver exactly what he wishes. And perhaps raise a small matter for his consideration. If he could see me at his convenience before I head back, I’d be grateful.”

The neomah snake gives an ophidian shrug. “Then you may as well help me escort your slaves to deliver them to him. I must warn you, though, my lord has declared war on the Blood Red Moon for her arrogance in attempting to eclipse him upon the nine hundredth level, and his attention may well be elsewhere.”

“That’s just the proper way of putting moon-brats in their place,” Haneyl says sulkily. She is still sulking. Hiding a smile, Keris nods and follows her guide towards the innermost layer.

It is a rapid path there, for Ligier’s shining bridge has been cleared to allow passage of the fae. In the skies of the Demon City, Keris can see bloodshed and war, flying demons fighting in vast armies. Ligier’s weapons of war lash out and bombard the Demon Sea, burning them with exotic fire while sea-horrors burst forth and rain down in their tens of thousands. Biting her lip, Keris reconsiders her plan of asking about her half-formed ideas for her ship. Well, it’s worth meeting him. If he seems to be in a temper, she’ll just ask about whatever preferences he has for transport of hundreds of fae for his forges across the Desert, promise him a great host of them, and leave politely and humbly.

... hopefully he won’t be in a temper. Very, very hopefully.

Ligier’s layer is, while just as beautiful as before, distinctly more military. He is obviously showing off main force here, and that means that there are giant striding statues that patrol the streets, carrying vast bows and quivers full of his light. Lesser demons move in mechanically precise rows around them. Keris can even see a building covered in cloth so beautiful it almost makes her cry and the sound of work underneath - perhaps damage from an attack. She dons a longer, emerald green version of her usual Tengese dress as she enters his palace, quietly swapping some of her more expensive hair ornaments into her braid and reshaping her earrings into tiny golden sunbursts.

Then she goes through the traditional motions; longwinded though they are, of politely requesting audience with the Unquestionable at his leisure, with the requisite small offering to show her gratitude at being received in his palace. Keris might not - and probably never will - be at home in high society, but she’s more than capable of following a script, and she’s got this one down to the letter. With her careful words and manner - and yes, the fact that she’s just come with quite a few fae - she manages to get herself invited to dinner this evening. Lord Ligier will have some guests, and just insists on her presence, truly he does.

Keris sighs, and pays the libraries of Orabilis a visit. She selects scrolls on the gifts of the Silent Wind and the gales she spins off herself... but stores them within herself for later. The rest of the day is spent reading up on dry, dusty protocol and etiquette for a dinner with an Unquestionable. And oh my, is there a lot of that. Keris’ eyes glaze over at the long, long lists and codes that she shouldn’t violate.

((Oh, Keris. She’s eventually going to get a reputation for being a bit boring at big formal events - witty and charming, yes, but she sticks very rigidly to etiquette and never steps outside it or tests the edges.))

The meal is a private little affair - perhaps only a few hundred demons. To Keris’ amusement, many of them look even more nervous than she feels. They’re Ligier’s underlings, commanders, and - from what she hears - a few demons who have proven themselves on the field of battle and thus are being honoured to be invited to this feast.

And what a feast it is. It’s easily an equal to anything seen in the Althing. Haneyl is begging for scraps even before the starters have finished being served.

Ligier, for his part, appears to be in a dark brooding mood. Keris as a peer outranks almost all the guests present and so can get onto the highest table, but the Unquestionable is slouched on his throne, a sullen bitter contempt on his features. He’s as cold and distant as the depths of Kimbery in his own way, and few want to disturb him or make conversation with him.

((... haha, wow. I was rolling Valour for each course, but... wow. First roll, 1 sux. Second roll; 4. On three dice. Lawl.))

Her nerve holds for the first course, though she doesn’t dare actually speak to him. As the second round of starters come around, though, the butterflies in Keris’s stomach settle, and vanish. If Ligier is going to be happy with any one person in this hall; it’ll be her. She’s just brought him a load of fae, she has a huge group more on the way, and... well, she’s still got that mix of fearful awe and whimpering admiration at his work that he seems to like.

So, after feeding Haneyl a few bits and pieces through sleight of hand, she musters up the nerve to politely address him.

“M-my lord Ligier,” she says, wincing a little at the stutter as his attention shifts to her, though he doesn’t rise from his slouch or change expression. “I am happy to report that I’ve found many hundreds more fae than the ones I brought you today, slumbering beneath the ice with their tools. A great and powerful lord of their kind is there, too. I’ve made preparations to seize them all for your forges, and hope to deliver them to you soon.”

((Per + Pres. Don’t fuck up.))
((Incidentally, Haneyl is considerably happier now, especially now that she’s been fed with Ligier’s food and she’s busy trying to work out how to make food as tasty herself))
((*crosses fingers*
3+5+3 Falling Petals+1 bonus {lowering tensions by following formalities}+2 stunt+3 Principle {Terrified Awe of the Unquestionable}+4 Kimmy ExD {beauty, charm, poise}=17. 7+4=11 sux.))

Ligier perks up, eyebrows fluting up in mild surprise. “Wonderful news,” he says warmly, favouring her with his first smile all meal. It’s astonishing how his expression can so change from the distant cold prince to the sheer presence of his smile and how she knows he’s smiling for her and her alone. It hits her in the gut, which starts turning heart-throbs of warmth. “I appreciate having such loyal - and capable - servants. If only all my servants were as useful as you, Keris.”

((14 successes on his Per + Pres roll.))
((Six 10s, goddamnit Ligier.))
((... he is a lot better at this than she is.))
((He is, of course, trying to build up a Principle for him in her.))
((He is succeeding.))

She flushes prettily and ducks her head. “I’m grateful for the chance to aid my lord,” she murmurs. “You have been more than generous to me, after all.”

“Ah, though, a minor question, if I may?” she adds, feeling a little more confident now that he’s smiling. “Many of the fae slumbering below the ice in the Wyld Zone I plan to assault... well, there are many hundreds of them. The group of raksha I brought here, I was able to lead myself, with...” she smiles, “promises that were entirely true, even if they perhaps misinterpreted my meaning. But for the larger group, I’m considering how to transport them en masse across the Desert without losing any of your slaves to the Lawgiver’s hazards. I wondered if you had any preferences or recommendations that suit your intended uses for them?”

He tilts his head, clearly thinking deeply. Looking around, Keris gets the feeling that many of the other demons in the room are very, very glad that their master has something else to think about that distracts him from his brooding. “I will need to think about that, little Keris” he says eventually. “Perhaps I may have a weapon or a tool lying around that might work against such a vast number of fae that you describe. Yes... hmm. Perhaps... well, I will need to think and look through my arsenals. Tell me, little Keris, of this place.”

“It is a cold place, some distance to the north of Peer Testolagh’s growing empire,” she explains. “I know of at least three landscapes within it, and I suspect there is at least one more. All seem to stem from a common theme; the men of teeth and cannibalism and their lord; who hungers eternally.”

She dips into a deep pocket of her dress and retrieves her scroll of sketches, unrolling it to show him her notes. “The outermost layer is one of chilling mist, which was as far as had been explored. There were men living in there; mutated by the Wyld. Further in, there is a great glacier where teeth lie under the ice, and on the other side of that... the mountains.”

She turns the scroll further, skipping mostly past the notes on the ice giant and the glacier to get to the important part. “That’s where I found the tooth-men - golems, I think, or something like them. They were dormant; sleeping under the snow, and while each alone was not so powerful, there were hundreds of them. And where you find faerie golems, you find the nobles and cataphracts they guard - within the mountain, I suspect. I’m confident I can cow them into submission and extract oaths from them, even if I need to kill a few. It’s transporting the mass of them that presents difficulty.”

Ligier steeples his fingers. “Perhaps some kind of calcifying weapon that could devour an entire waypoint,” he says, speaking more to himself. “Or that shrine made from that Pyrian crystal that enslaves any who look upon it...”

“I can drown the waypoint with the gifts of the All-Makers,” Keris offers, eager not to have anything to do with anything made of Pyrian crystal ever. “I plan to drown at least the two outer layers and render them part of Creation before launching my attack - it should disorient and confuse them to be suddenly stripped of their buffer against reality.”

She chews a hair tendril, a vague suspicion hitting her that maybe Ligier wants to demonstrate a weapon more than just providing a means of getting a lot of fae across the Desert safely. Given what Keris has heard of Ligier’s weapons, she’s not inclined to argue with having one on her side. It takes a moment to work out what the right question would be. “What could subdue a whole army at once, and render them into a state that could be easily taken wherever their conqueror wants them to go?”

“Well, that’s always the question!” Ligier says, beaming. “There are so many choices! So many beautiful choices! And each one is different in its own way. Which would be more elegant? Which would be more glorious!”

A mischievous spark enters Keris’s eyes. “The raksha I brought here; I won them from their queen - her life in exchange for her freehold and the oaths of all those within it,” she explains quickly, warming to her idea. “My lord, if you want glory and elegance, would it be possible to do something similar? A weapon whose majesty that would claim their oaths as yours when it slays their master - and then they belong to you, and you need only bid them come.” She grins in delight, baring teeth. “The easiest way to make them come is to make them want to.”

“Hmm, perhaps, perhaps,” Ligier says, eyes narrowed. He rises. “All of you!” he bellows. “Eat! Revel! Indulge! I go to my workroom! I am not to be disturbed!” He glances at Keris. “I will send for you when I am done,” he says casually.

Keris bows deeply. “I am honoured, my lord.”

Within her, Rathan looks around at the many demons looking at her in awe as the one responsible for Ligier’s sudden shift in mood, and coos in triumph. “Mama, look!” he crows. “All looking at us! All think we’re great!”

“Stupid,” Haneyl sneers. “It’s all Lord Ligier that’s doing it and who’s super-great!”

“He was grumpy until Mama made him happy!” Rathan fires back. “Grumpy like you! Grumpy grump grump gr-”

‘We’re still at the dinner of an Unquestionable,’ Keris thinks urgently, ‘so don’t distract me until we’re in a place with no risk of being incinerated or... well, or we might get incinerated. Also I won’t get you toys.’

That’s enough to shut them up.

Chapter Text

Ligier does not call for her immediately. She has a few screams of the tomescu to relax - and of course, since Ligier is pleased with her the full delicacies and luxuries of his realm are open to her. Keris skims her scrolls on the splinter-gales of the Silent Wind enough to confirm that it’s a complicated topic and that most of them are useless outside descriptions that don’t help her much with how it’s done. One precious account, though, was penned by an akuma some two hundred years ago, and seems to be an account from someone who could actually split themselves in a similar fashion. She keeps that one for the long run back across the Desert.

Then, research put aside for the moment, she sends a few routine messages to her townhouse to check that everything is ticking over nicely, and settles down to enjoy the beauties of Ligier’s work. Any enmity Haneyl had over the tyrant lizard’s feather is gone by the second hour spent touring the wonders and glory of this beautiful place.

There’s a little edge of disappointment in how she acts, though. Like there’s something she’s not quite happy about, but doesn’t want to say it. Keris lets it go for a couple of screams, but it soon becomes clear that Haneyl isn’t just trying to find the right way to say something. And since she’s always been fairly open about what she wants in the past, that probably means it’s serious.

In sleep, she steps into Haneyl’s court; ignoring the courtiers who shift aside to let her through and approaching the huge tree. Haneyl is sitting in its flowering branches. “Princess Haneyl?” Keris asks, cocking her head and pitching her voice formally. “May I talk with you?”

Haneyl pouts adorably. “I am at my esteemed mother’s disposal,” she says formally in Old Realm, kneeling and pressing her forehead to the living wood floor before rising. That’s not her normal behaviour, and it becomes even more obvious when she runs over to Keris and wraps her arms around her legs in a hug, clinging to her mother. Keris picks her up and climbs into the tree, getting them up high into the flowering vines and settling on a wide limb.

“You seem like you’ve been enjoying Ligier’s realm,” she prompts. “But there’s something making you unhappy?”

“H-he d-doesn’t h-have any pr-proper plants around,” Haneyl wails into Keris’ midsection. “Which m-m-means he doesn’t like them! He only l-l-likes metal plants! S-so he d-doesn’t like me!” She gestures behind her to some misshapen piles of metal held together with vines. “I tried to grow m-metal plants and they d-didn’t work! They’re not real. They’re not pr-proper plants with flesh and veins and blood and stuff!”

“... oh, sweetie,” Keris says, and cuddles her closer. “Come here, there you go... shhh.” She presses a kiss to the top of Haneyl’s head and thinks rapidly; adjusting the High Crown of An Teng on her daughter’s head to buy herself time. It’s... still rather too big. Though the pretty flowers do suit her.

“... well, to start with,” she begins, and taps the brass-emerald bracelet on Haneyl’s wrist. “He obviously does approve of you, see? He outright said so. And, what about these?” A coil of hair loops out, snaking through the branches to pluck a green fireblossom from a nearby vine and bring it back to them. “These? Your fire-flowers? They’re his fire, made into beautiful petals, and if you plant them they make more of themselves! He’d definitely like those.”

She strokes Haneyl’s hair as the little girl digests this, and tries another tack. “Ligier is a soul of Malfeas, so he likes to do things with metal and fire. You, little princess; you draw from Metagaos for your plants and Malfeas for your fire. Metals aren’t your thing, no. But you still make things, don’t you? You know what I think? I think that Ligier probably couldn’t do what you do with trees and plants. Not because he doesn’t like them, but because he can’t. It’s still crafting, though, and he’d still be impressed by it - he likes beautiful things that people have made.”

Drawing back, Keris looks Haneyl in the eye. “Your fires and your plants are what make you you, sweetie. And I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t like you - Sasi does, and I do, and Dulmea does as well. Just because Ligier uses metal plants himself doesn’t mean he won’t see that real ones are just as pretty and wonderful. Okay?”

Haneyl nods mutely, her little lips still wobbling. She takes a deep breath. “Y-you look like you n-need a hug from me,” she tries.

Keris wraps her up tight and lets her snuggle. “I am feeling a bit intimidated,” she admits. “I’m thinking of asking him about the rebuilding of my ship, and suggesting some ideas I had for how it could be really useful for me.”

Haneyl just clings to her. She isn’t feeling in a contribution-y mood, it seems. Keris inhales, and can smell the sweet fragrance of her flower-filled hair. Haneyl is certainly the best smelling of her children. Rathan mostly smells of the sea with a hint of sharp acid and poison, and Echo just hurts her nose. But Rathan is probably a better hugger. He’s just so soft and embracing. Echo is, of course, also terrible at hugs. Softly, Keris sings a lullaby to her; the old sounds of her mother’s voice remembered in crystal clarity. Eventually her daughter falls asleep, and Keris puts her in the little bedroom that Haneyl has right behind her throne room for when she gets tired and needs to have a nap. She smiles at her daughter’s inventiveness and ability to think ahead.

The invite from Ligier to attend him personally comes a scream later, and the personally-penned note leaves Keris’ heart all aflutter - and leaves Haneyl so worked up that Keris has to leave her with Dulmea who feeds her a calming tonic. Keris feels she needs a calming tonic too. She has to look perfect for him!

((Ligier written social attack aiming to strengthen her Principle towards him - 9 successes.))
((That’s two successful Principle-building scenes. Sigh. One more and she’ll have a solid 2-dot.))

She dithers and paces and dithers and paces, putting her Amulet through a workout it can barely keep up with. She settles, eventually, on a formal set of dress armour; all brass and silver with inset emeralds that flash with inner fire and a green tabard and skirt whose emblems she debates for six sequential rounds of changes before finally leaving them blank. The inner beauty of her Amulet makes the closely-fitted armour burn with glory; sparks trapped under the gleaming surface.

She leaves unhelmeted, taps her currently-sunburst earrings to make sure they’re hanging right, checks herself one last time in a mirror-bright wall and knocks shyly on the door of the Green Sun’s workshop.

“Come in,” Ligier calls out. Keris enters.

It’s a vast, cavernous space the size of a town. The roof is made of fine crystal and it focuses the light of the Green Sun overhead into many furnaces which boil with molten metal of many kinds. Here, there’s an array of giant lenses doing something to a demon within - who looks faint and faded, certainly compared to the painting of the same demon which looks almost alive. There, automata hammer on metal, each one working on their own project - yet together they make a melodic harmony which is being captured in an array of silver lattices.

The Green Sun in person is not wearing a form Keris has seen him in before. He glows with terrible green, and dark bones are visible within. He’s moulding metal with his four bare hands, tossing the red-hot metal up in the air and spinning it as a baker might dough.

Keris gapes, her eyes fixed on him while her ears track from sound to sound; her attention fluttering over the... there must be hundreds of projects in this huge space; any one of which would be a stunning masterpiece anywhere else.

“... my lord,” she breathes, only half-aware of speaking.

Ligier catches his metal again in his glowing hands, and examines it critically. “Worthless,” he says, discarding it into a vat of oil which hisses and catches on fire. “No better quality than lens-forging. And it’s slower. Use it for hull-plating for the Furatarkan Beast.”

Minions scurry to obey, and he ceases to glow, shrinking down from the giant of sunlight down to his more normal man. Of course, to Keris he’s still rather tall - she barely comes up to his chest.

“Come, come,” he says amiably. “I thought you might like to see what I’m doing with those pesky fae you bought me.”

Lighting up with interest, Keris practically skips over. This place... it’s like a factory, but instead of producing dull boring lines of the same thing, it’s producing hundreds of beautiful, unique works of craftsmanship. The artist in her is in paroxysms of joy.

... the Haneyl in her is also in paroxysms of joy, though for slightly different reasons.

Echo suggests that some of this stuff would be very pretty if it all exploded, or was pushed over, or... oooh, if that automaton there was thrown into those giant brass gears.

‘Yes, but they’re also pretty when they’re used on other people like they’re meant to be used,’ Keris responds internally, wincing slightly at the mere thought. ‘Which also has the bonus of not getting me killed and not destroying...’

She pauses. ‘... well, okay, maybe the automaton and the gears would be funny. But the other stuff is too pretty to break. And I’m still not doing it.’

Echo pulls a pouty face and runs off to build a better tyrant lizard. ‘Bet you can’t make a giant spinning gearwheel in the Ruin!’ Keris calls after her; not one to waste a chance to get more interesting scenery added to her nighttime runs. ‘Or get the tyrant lizard to stand on it!’

Challenge issued, she hastily turns her attention back outward. Ligier has by this point led Keris over to a - wait, the room isn’t the same size as it was to start with. It’s now bigger, but emptier - and there’s only a single brilliant forge made of emerald in the middle. It’s man-sized, nothing more and in fact if it was not for the composition Keris would only think it was a particularly fine mundane forge. There’s selections of hammers, an anvil - all just made from emerald. The forge is not lit.

She cocks her head, frowning. “Not fae-chalcanth, then,” she murmurs, thinking aloud as she tries to guess what’s going on. “And it can’t be like my Sorcery ritual, if it needs a forge, but how do you take a hammer to a living spirit? If you put it in when the forge was lit, it’d just...” Her eyes widen. “Burn! You’re... burning the chaos-stuff they’re made of? As fuel? Like...” she grasps for words, gesturing with a hair-tendril. “Like the All-Makers weaving new lands out of the Wyld?”

“Quite so,” Ligier says, looking at Keris like his pet cat has just managed to open a door all by herself. “This is my personal wyld-forge. From this, I can craft my greatest wonders. A pale mockery of what I could once do, of course.” He looks at Keris, and his handsome face is locked in sadness. “Can you believe what I have lost, little Keris? Once I could make such things as a commonplace thing. Now? Now I must rely on loyal ones like you to bring dribs and drabs. Serve me well, bring me fuel - and I will not forget it. Just as I cannot forget my misery.” He gestures to the forge. “Once I could run my greatest forges night and day, making things of transcendental beauty - but now I am a prisoner, a captive, and these little moments of beauty are fleeting and far between. I have tried to make beauty here, out of this... this slum... but I cannot manage it. Not truly.”

He leans in.

“But, little Keris, you know that too well, don’t you? You too were a captive. You too know life in a miserable slum, forced to endure torments while the ones who put you here live in luxury. Luxury they do not deserve. Luxury they took by stealing everything they could from you.” His eyes blaze like lighthouses and his hair stands up, waving like a pyre.

((13 successes on his social attack to get Keris to emphasise with him and play off the love of art and beauty he’s found out she has as well as her background.))
((Welp. I’m not even going to bother calculating what her DV against that would be; because that obliterated it.))

Her jaw clenches and her hair ripples. Green fire reflects in grey eyes, and Keris is caught between wide-eyed grief in her heart and coiled rage in her gut. Haneyl lets out a quiet sob, and Rathan actually growls; low and fierce. She can feel him toddle over to give his sister a hug in Dulmea’s room.

“I’ll get you those faeries, lord,” Keris says with the same quiet, fierce sincerity. “And even when I return to the Southwest, there are more that sail the seas.”

Ligier lets out a scalding breath. He’s still steaming, but he’s smiling again. “You are an excellent servant, Lady Keris,” he says, inclining his head. “Now, this way. Follow me. To the armoury. We were to talk about which of my weapons you wanted to test to bring me more fae, yes. Tell me more about which petty lord of chaos rules this place and what his forces are like.”

She follows his lead and goes over what she knows of the hungry men that live in the mountains. It’s not a great deal - she knows from her raksha that he or it is a powerful raksha lord to the north of Testolagh’s kingdom, and from her own scouting that there are many hundreds of his golems lie under the snow; carved from teeth and quiescent until they’re woken. So many that they’re stacked on top of one another like logs. She knows that the landscape itself is hungry; a thing of teeth and maws and the lust for meat. The whole land is hungry - so, so achingly hungry. Starving for blood and flesh.

“Hmm,” Ligier says deliberately, as he leads her out of the forge and through lushly carpeted hallways and across brilliantly lit walkways - and past a lot of guardians and watchers - down into one of his many armouries. Although it isn’t an armoury as Keris knows the word. There are only a few normal weapons here. Most of the contents are far more strange. There’s a vast harp standing against the far wall, each string as thick as Keris is wide. Down below, beneath the emerald floor Keris can see a great centipede-like behemoth, chained and bridled.

She is silently thankful that Echo is busy making... well, by now whatever it is that she’s making is probably only vaguely related to tyrant lizards and/or gears, but she’s probably still distracted enough by it that she won’t decide to make riding-centipedes instead.

The harp draws her interest, though. She sends a questioning feeling to Dulmea, listening for the faint humming of harpstrings under tension that persists even when nobody is playing.

The harp is of course full of Malfean essence, with the clear bright note that Keris has come to associate with Ligier. She thinks she’s getting better at identifying it on its own because Haneyl has some of that same clear brightness about her too. But there’s another note in amongst it. Something that doesn’t come from the Demon City. They aren’t strings, Keris thinks. They’re vessels. Shields. Protecting or containing the real strings. And those things taste brightly coloured and mad, and make her head spin.

((Malfean/Hegran essence blend, not Enlightened.))

She stumbles a little; her vision pinwheeling as she tastes sound and hears colour. Refocusing on her heartbeat helps, though her tongue feels numb and prickly.

“... don’t think I would want to hear that played,” she mumbles, blinking. “And raksha are already mad... so, a weapon to test on them.”

Well, she thinks. Apparently she’s going to be taking a priceless and deadly treasure to fight a giant hungry monster that lurks unseen behind mist and coldness. For most people, this would be a new situation. For Keris...

‘Pekhijira?’ she thinks cautiously. Her po isn’t like her child-souls or Dulmea. It’s more primal. More a part of her. She closes her eyes for a moment and shifts her weight; unconsciously falling into the Coiled Centre stance of Snake Style. Looking around, she runs an evaluative eye over the unimaginable wealth that lies around her, and focuses.

Not on the treasures, though. On the rival that waits for her back in the northeast. Instinct stirs, and she feels her eyes flash green again as she turns.

Unfortunately, any such self-agency runs into the fact that Ligier quite decidedly already has plans for her.

“So, little Keris,” he says, interrupting her assessment as they stroll through his treasure trove, her eyes and ears wide as she tries to take everything in. “I find myself considering a few possibilities for you. On one hand, I find myself looking at this.” He runs his hand over a great tetsubo. It’s almost as tall as Keris is, and it’s made of black Malfean iron speckled with strange shimmery multi-coloured crystals. “I call her Wyldeater. I forged her from a soul of Munaxes who offended me greatly with her gluttony, oh - a good three thousand years ago. Her hatred for such things still burns strong, even chained in there, but I tore open her stomach and left her quite unable to digest them. Thus fairy-creatures she slays are trapped within, suffering the fires of her hatred until they are released - and her hunger is bottomless. Quite the amusing joke, no? You would just have to take her up and slay the fae en-masse. Simplicity, no? Though not the most elegant of the possibilities, I must admit.”

Keris coos with interest, up until she tries to pick up the weapon. Whereupon she runs into two problems. Firstly; it is large and heavy. Secondly, it feels Pyrian. One of the two would be bearable. In combination, she can’t quite bring herself to wrap enough limbs around the handle to lift it without straining.

“I could kill with her,” she says, releasing the handle and suppressing a shiver. “But she’s tiring to lift, and I’d grow weary.” A pout. “She’s a weapon more suited to Testolagh or Naan than me, though there’s a certain brutal elegance to her simplicity.” She grins as a second level to the Unquestionable’s joke strikes her. “I do like the idea of turning hunger against the hungry fae. But perhaps not the weapon for this task.”

“Oh, worry not, worry not,” Ligier says amiably. “You would just need to feed it a flow of essence similarly aspected to myself, and it should be liftable for you. No doubt you could manage that. Not a subtle weapon, no, but it’s made for slaying great champions and hordes in combat. Just set your soul ablaze and it would be easy. Now, the other solution, of course, would be this.”

He leads Keris along, over to a cylinder the size of a cow. “Now, of course, this merely uses Pyrian essence to calcify an entire waypoint, and then store it within itself. It just needs to charge for an hour or so, and it tears the entire waypoint from the tapestry of the Wyld. It is experimental, but I’m sure it will work when tested in the field.”

Keris bites her lip, not... enormously happy with the theme developing here. Then again, the Whispering Pyre is the most-known among the Yozis for her hatred of the fae. So anything of hers will basically ignore Keris as long as their are raksha nearby. Right?

... she’s still far from confident about it, but it’s enough to push down the instinctive flinch away from anything to do with She Who Lives in Her Name. “It would charge from my soul as well?” she asks. “Where would I need to activate it? Anywhere within the Wyld zone, or somewhere special like the centre?”

“Oh, in the centre of course,” Ligier says. “Now, finding the centre is problematic in some waypoints, but it’s quite necessary for the geomantic functions to apply correctly. Now, mmm. I wonder if Agonisers would be useful here. Probably not. Your fae sound too savage to have the full and usual chains of oaths that can be subverted by a little applied pain. They’re probably priding themselves in their valour and feed off it, so they’ll have strength to resist a little agony.” He perks up. “Ah! Are you a sorcerer of the Celestial Circle?”

Keris shakes her head sadly. “I’ve learned a little of the Emerald Circle, but I don’t have the knowledge or the enlightenment yet for Sapphire spells. Though what I’ve seen of them makes me want to.”

“Oh well,” he says sadly.

She takes a little while to think, but in the end it’s not a hard choice. Wyldeater is precisely what she was looking for, even if it is a more cumbersome weapon than she’s accustomed to. It’ll hold as many fae as Keris can kill - which is a lot - and make it easy for her to bring them back across the Desert. And as long as she keeps it attuned to herself, she can carry it strapped across her back.

Which is a big, big thing. Because the other device is the size of a cow. The only way Keris would be able to get it into the centre of the Wyld Zone through many attackers would be to carry it within her soul. And then be right next to it when it flooded an entire waypoint with Pyrian essence, assuming that it didn’t do so while still inside her, and... yeah. Keris tries not to feel queasy at the thought, and fails.

“If Wyldeater will weigh less when my soul is flaring, my lord, I think I will take her,” she says. “I’m not confident of finding the centre of the waypoint with any speed, but I know I can kill.” She pauses as something occurs to her. “Ah. A question? My fifth soul, Echo; she helps me fight. Following behind me and copying my movements, so that I can kill many as I pass them. If I were using Wyldeater, would it devour the fae she killed with her mimicry?”

“Oh! How fascinating!” Ligier says, leaning in. “No doubt this will be interesting to discover!”

Keris purses her lips. “I’d like to test it rather than risk losing any fae when I attack their waypoint... hmm. But we don’t have fae to spare. Though I can demonstrate for you to observe, if I have space to run. Would that be enough to tell?”

She winces a little. Haneyl... yeah, Haneyl is not going to be happy about Echo getting to do this. But she can deal with that later. Right now, the question of whether she’ll be able to use one of her greatest combat assets in this mission or not is more important.

“Of course!” Ligier enthuses. “Come, little Keris. I have a place that will suffice for such a test.” He leads her to another vast room; this one open and empty. It’s as beautiful as any other room in his palaces, but Keris can hear the air moving over microscopic repair-seams in the walls; and the smell of actinic essence and fire lingers faintly on the floor. A testing chamber. A circle of practice targets are being erected around the perimeter even as they arrive.

With Ligier watching indulgently, she hefts Wyldeater and takes a few practice swings with it; her caste mark burning into visibility on her forehead. Her arms start aching quickly from the weight, but it lightens as she limbers up, and when she calls the scarlet-and-silver whirlwind into being around her, it’s not long before she’s able to flip it around with ease. It’s as long as her spear - a few centimetres longer, in fact - but far more massive, and it’s more awkward in how it handles. She can’t use the stances and forms she’s accustomed to; the greater momentum and altered shape of the thing throw her off.

Still, Keris is nothing if not adaptable. Once she’s got the heft of the weapon down, she sets off at a light run. Or, from the point of view of any mortal alive; explodes from a standing start into an inhumanly fast sprint. Staying a careful distance away from Ligier to reduce any chance of Echo going near him, she lets out a soft whistle and brings the tetsubo round to smash the first of the targets.

And behind her, she hears a soundless laugh as Echo emerges. A glance back confirms that, yes, Echo has a wind-tetsubo of her own; one that sparkles with the same crystalline flecks as the real thing. Her fifth soul blurs; an indistinct afterimage that seems to be in two or three places at once, swinging her oversized weapon with joyful pirouettes that crumple and buckle the dummies further still.

Keris makes two circuits of the room with Echo trailing her, before coming to a slow stop and skidding a little to bleed off the last of her momentum. Swinging Wyldeater over her shoulder and into the grip of her hair, she walks back to Ligier and gives him a rather proud bow.

Grinning wildly, Ligier applauds. “Well, well, I see your little Csend was enjoying herself mightily. And yes, it would see that in all ways, her duplicate of Wyldeater acts as if it is the real thing. Most curious. Though perhaps I should have predicted it. The Csend wields the Silent Wind’s knife when she sees fit, after all.”

“That’s wonderful news!” Keris grins. “I’ll try to satisfy even her appetite on my trip, and bring her back with a full cargo of fae.” She hesitates, biting her lip. “Um... lord Ligier? On the topic of my souls... I had wondered about an idea I’d had for my ship, but I don’t have the knowledge or the expertise to know whether it would be possible, and you’re the greatest authority on such things...”

She pauses, and then decides to go for broke. “Peer Sasimana and I, when we were exploring the ship, we saw - well, she saw - that it used different kinds of fuel for its systems. And I thought... obviously replacing the essence of the traitor sun with your fires could only improve it. But the other parts of the ship use the essence of the elements; air, water and wood. And, uh... I was wondering if it would be possible to aspect them to my souls? They are of the Wind, Sea and Swamp...”

She tails off under his intense gaze. “... of course, I know little of such high technology,” she finishes in a half-mumble. “So I understand it may not work, I just... wondered.”

There is a tense moment. And then Ligier smiles, assuming a lecturing tone. “Ah, of course, you are an ill-informed child of Creation,” he says. “I presume you merely thought that since my own power can supplant that of the Traitor Sun, why, other such powers might be replaced to.”

Keris nods mutely.

“Ah, but the Traitor Sun was fashioned after myself. There is a kinship there,” a sneer crosses his face, “despicable though that is. He is a sun, because he was wrought in my image.” He tilts his head. “I must say, there would be some advantages there - for example in many ways the Demon Sea and her nature is not the furthest from that of the water of Creation - but the Silent Wind is more akin to lightning than breezes, to be blunt. Still...” he frowns. “It would require some experimentation, but if I could do such a thing, it might be interesting. Though, for example, the gales of Adorjan kill, they do not propel. A ship born on Adorjani winds would kill all around it... which would show the Blood Red Moon quite right! Yes! A silent fleet, born on wings of death, plunging into the heart of her forces to silence all sound and call in the Wind! Aha!”

It appears that Ligier has got distracted.

Keris bows, feeling... only a little bit stupid. Because he did say it would be interesting, and might be possible. Just... not exactly how Keris had thought it would be. And she’s at least given him the idea now, and maybe he’ll keep it in mind! She steps back cautiously, unsure if this new burst of inspiration means she’s dismissed or not - and also sort of wanting to go and tend to Haneyl, who is worryingly silent.

He glances at Keris. “You are dismissed,” he says. “Take Wyldeater. Bring me many fae. And you will receive marvels if you serve me well. You have my word on it.” He strides off without a second thought, his mind clearly on something else.

Bowing again and leaving, Keris extends a tentative mental hand to Haneyl, only to have it smacked away.

... well alright then. Apparently she’s... uh... so angry she won’t even scream at Keris. This is probably going to require more than just a bracelet. If she were older and... well, less “six years old”, Keris might have to chance at getting her to understand that...

... oh. Right.

Lips twitching, Keris heads outside, and carefully climbs to the top of one of the taller towers in the area. The light of the Green Sun shines down from above, and his essence and his genius saturate the layer.

Keris closes her eyes, sinks into seiza, and begins to meditate. She keeps her soul banked. That’s not the essence she wants here. The slow, natural respiration of the surrounding essence isn’t as fast or as concentrated as it was in the Lintha demesne... but it’s there. She sends it streaming inward with an apology, and settles down to wait. A scream or two of the tomescu should be enough. Then she can see about setting off.

Sinking down into herself, Keris finds that it feels... easier to enter her soul-world here. Perhaps the influx of Yozi-essence eases her mental passage in.

She arrives in Dulmea’s living room to find a shaking Firisutu hiding under the table, shaking like a leaf. And bright green light is flooding the room, through one of the windows.

“... um,” Keris manages, peeking out the window. She has seen Haneyl-tantrums before. She has seen violent Haneyl-tantrums that have set large portions of the Swamp on fire.

This, however, seems not so much to have set the Swamp on fire as much as it has replaced the Swamp with a localised green sun. The light of the flames is painting the city green.

She trades worried glances with Dulmea.

“She was already upset and unsure of what regard the Green Sun would hold her in, child,” Dulmea says tiredly. “Letting Echo out to show him her talent and win his approval, when Haneyl herself cannot do so...”

She sighs. “I understand that you needed to know. But you should not be surprised at this reaction.”

Keris glances out of the window again and winces. “At least she’s putting the essence I fed her to, uh... to use. That means she accepted it, at least.”

Keris’s familiar lets out a terrified chittering noise and remains hiding under the table. Rathan is wailing too, from downstairs. He doesn’t like fire much, Keris remembers. She sighs, and lets Firisutu hide under the breastplate of her Amulet-armour. “Do you know if she kept listening after I let Echo out?” she asks, without much hope.

Dulmea shakes her head. “I did not see her leave. But I noticed she was gone as Lord Ligier was applauding you.”

Keris brightens a little. “She probably didn’t hear about me asking about the ship, then,” she murmurs. “That’s something. Might calm her down.”

Another wash of green light from outside. Firisutu abandons her breastplate and skitters downstairs towards the relative safety of the cellars. Keris briefly wishes she could join him. But no.

“Right. I’m going out there,” she tells Dulmea. “If, uh... if and when she comes back in? Could you be very congratulating about her for going and being angry in the Swamp instead of here in the city? It might help if she gets praised. And make her more likely not to throw tantrums here in the future, too.”

Dulmea nods, and looks for a moment like she’s going to say something else. But she merely nods again, instead. “Good luck, child,” she says.

Keris gives her a thin smile and heads out, past the city walls and into the overgrown buildings just outside them in the swampward direction.

... quite a lot of these are on fire as well. And everything is burning. Not just the plants and wood. The stone, the metal... even the ice. There are bright green embers in the air. The landscape of the city, Keris remembers, is also some kind of weird representation of... uh, the bits of the All-Makers she’s made part of herself. All the green torches are burning like bonfires and melting bits of the ice buildings.

The first problem, Keris considers, is how to go into the countryside-sized conflagration. She pales. All of Haneyl’s demons. Did... did any of them make it out?

She feels sick. It’s another reminder of how when big powerful people lose their temper, lesser beings get hurt. And Haneyl’s just a little girl with lots and lots of power.

Well... well that means she needs to stop this. As fast as possible. Before it spreads any further. Finding Haneyl in the massive blaze is as impossible as it was last time, and if she’s so angry she’s refusing even to scream at Keris, formal language and a request to see the princess probably won’t work again. That leaves...

... uh. That... that leaves...

... that really doesn’t leave much. Only one idea is coming to mind, in fact. And it’s a really, really bad idea. But wherever Haneyl is in this; it’s Keris she’s angry at, so she’s probably watching for her. She’s probably watching Keris right now.


... this is really going to suck, isn’t it?

Squeezing her eyes shut, Keris reaches up, and takes off her Amulet, leaving her in nothing but her undergarments. She instantly starts sweating as the protective layer of essence that keeps her comfortable shuts down. The soil under her feet is blisteringly hot, and the waves of heat coming off the forest fire bake the perspiration off her skin as soon as it forms.

That’s one layer of defence down. If she ran, she’d still be fairly safe from the fire. But Haneyl would just see that as... what? Keris not trusting her? Keris pushing away her tantrum? She’s a furious, possibly-heartbroken six-year old. Keris isn’t exactly familiar with six-year olds in general, but she knows Haneyl fairly well. She needs to make her daughter feel respected again. She needs to apologise. With actions, not just words. A show of trust.

However angry Haneyl is, Keris is pretty sure her daughter doesn’t actually want to hurt her. And she’s mostly sure she can’t die in here. But if she’s wrong, this is really going to hurt.
Nevertheless, she doesn’t run. Wincing at the scorching heat, her Amulet held loosely in one hand, Keris walks slowly toward the walls of flame.

Her skin crackles. The fire burns. It hurts a lot. Her hair chars and singes. If this wasn’t a dream, she’d probably have burned all her body hair off and her hair on her head would be merrily ablaze, only slowed down by how much of it there is. Her skin feels far too tight around her. Everything around her is green, and there’s the roar of the fire everywhere, making her almost deaf.

But maybe she’s lucky. Maybe she’s waited long enough that Haneyl’s running out of fuel for her rage. Because there really aren’t any trees left to burn and the undergrowth around the edges is long consumed. The fire’s mostly trying to burn hot white ash and charcoalised white tree stumps. And even Haneyl’s having problems burning ash that’s she’s already burned.

Keris walks along an ash-choked stream, surrounded by burning and smouldering banks and clouds of steam. It’s... oddly beautiful in its own way. Haneyl is an artist, even with how she throws tantrums to get her own way. Heh. Keris smiles. That’s something she gets from both her mothers.

“In my ship,” she says to the ash fields. “In my ship, there’s a garden. It uses Wood Essence to grow things - anything the owner wants, in an instant.”

She ducks under the charcoal fingers of a crumbling tree. “I asked Ligier if the Air and Water and Wood essence in the ship could be replaced,” she continues. “Attuned to my souls. He said I’d assumed a few things wrong... but he also said it was an interesting idea. And you know what? That garden? It’s right outside the royal suite. Right in the middle of the ship.”

She shuts her eyes. The smoke is getting in them too much, and her hearing is better anyway. She’s careful to keep her pace slow.

“I hope the demons got away,” she continues, in a lower tone. “The citizens that live here. Lived here. I guess they’d be used to fleeing fires since they happen often here, so maybe they ran as soon as they saw the flames start spreading. But... well. I hope most of them got out okay.”

The fires are burning lower, but the white ash now covers everything. The smoke and haze is everywhere.

And faintly, in the distance, Keris can hear muffled sobbing. It sounds like her daughter. She follows the sound, hissing slightly as she steps out of the stream and burns her foot on a rock that’s still glowing. Looking around as she draws closer to the source, Keris realises this burned ash-filled bowl-like depression she finds herself in is probably the remnants of Haneyl’s palace. And if she checks straight ahead - yes. Right in the centre is a little huddled up ball of misery, a soot-covered and messy princess who’s crying tears of flame that run out from her eyes and flow like burning oil along the many rivers.

She walks up, sits down behind Haneyl, and pulls her carefully into her lap. It requires some delicate positioning to avoid the fiery tears, but she manages it.

“It’ll grow back,” she says softly. “I’m sorry. I do want you to come out into the world as well. As soon as I find a way; I promise.”

She’s bigger. Heavier than usual. Oh, Keris realises. She’s had another growth spurt. Haneyl looks up at her mother with her glowing green eyes and if Keris had to guess, she’s maybe seven or eight now - barely younger than Echo. She’s lost a lot of her baby fat and she’s got Sasi’s stubborn chin much more prominently now, as well as the high cheekbones.

... Keris vaguely remembers growth spurts not being fun. And. Um. Well, several people have commented that she didn’t exactly grow much. Haneyl is fast catching up with her. As she sits on her lap, she guesses that her daughter is nearly up to her armpit.

“You’ve grown again,” she says, because what with all the fire and sobbing there’s a very real chance Haneyl might not have noticed yet. “I’d say you’re... what, seven? Probably about seven now. And you’re getting bigger. Soon you’ll be taller than me. Like Sasi. And Ligier. And basically everyone.” She sighs mournfully. “So many tall people.”

Haneyl swallows and gulps. “I... I want to help you, mama,” she whispers. “I want to... to get to do things. Like Echo does. You play with her all the time outside. Whenever you have to do fighting. I... I... I think you love her more than me.”

“No!” Keris cuddles her close, and winces when this results in her arm getting burnt. “You do help me, Haneyl. You help me plant seeds in people, and you help me every time I heal them. Your gifts are the ones I’m using the help the owlriders, aren’t they?” She kisses her daughter on the forehead. “I love all of you, sweetie. And I know, I know it’s unfair that Echo gets to play outside and you don’t. I wish I could let you out as well.” She frowns. “I guess I could try adapting an Emerald summoning to see if it can call on you. But...” she shakes her head. “Later. Believe me, sweetheart, I love you. Just as much as Echo and Rathan, and in different ways.”

“I... I just get so angry sometimes,” Haneyl whispers. “I get so angry and than I burn the things I like and I don’t mean to. And then I get sad and the things burn even worse. And... and all my horsies are gone. I... I didn’t want to hurt them!” She starts to sob again, little wet noises which aren’t accompanied by fire this time.

Keris rocks her from side to side, her heart breaking. Both at Haneyl’s grief, and at the deaths of her farisyya guard. They’d been nice; what she’d seen of them. Loyal. Devoted to their princess. And now most of them are probably dead.

She’s not sure how long she sits there for before she sees it. A bittersweet smile crosses her lips, and she nudges Haneyl’s chin up.

“Next time, then,” she whispers, “we can have a plan. They’re your subjects, right? So they deserve the best. I bet you can make a way for them to be safe even when things start burning. And look.”

Haneyl’s lip trembles, but she looks down. Little patches of moisture are soaking into the ash where her tears hit the ground. And as the two of them watch, emerald-green blades of grass push up through the white powder. Seeking their sun.

“Every time things burn,” Keris whispers with a gentle squeeze, “we can build them back up to be better.”

“I... I... yes,” Haneyl whispers. “Do... do you have pr-problems like this, mama?”

Keris’s smile wavers for a moment, then slips away as she sighs. “You and Echo are more alike than you think in some ways, you know that?” she says. “Yes, sweetie. I hurt the things I touch as well, sometimes. Even when I don’t want to. There was a woman in Matasque called Ogi, before you were born. And... and Rathan’s father, Rat. And others...”

She stares off into the distance for a moment. “In the end, I guess... all we can do is remember that weaker things than us are fragile, and make plans for how not to hurt them. Someone who’s strong and who’s always been strong; they can forget about how their lessers get hurt when they act. It’s the ones who’ve been little themselves that remember, and can be kind.” She glances down at Haneyl, still curled up in her lap. “For what it’s worth, I think you’ll be a great princess when you’re all grown up. Just remember that sometimes your subjects will need protecting from you.”

Haneyl snuggles up. There are new blossoms in her hair, and her smell has shifted. And all around her, white woods are blooming again and pale green firefly embers drift through the air.

Chapter Text

After that unpleasant experience, Keris is feeling ill-at-ease and disquieted. She doesn’t like how her daughter seems to have the same problem with accidentally hurting people as she does. And she receives no more messages from Ligier. She’s more or less caught up with the developments at her townhouse, and her business in the City is complete. But there is one thing more she intends to do before leaving. Hellish weather is unpredictable at the best of times, but there’s an exceptionally well-tuned hell-weather clock somewhere on her estate that she can use to see if her idea is possible. Echo, thankfully, is still too busy making tyrant lizard skeletons out of tiny bone gears to notice what her mother is up to.

While she waits for the clock to be brought to her, Keris flicks through the account from Orabilis’s library in more detail. It’s not clear whether the author was the akuma-child of one of Adorjan’s souls, or a gale of Adorjan herself who somehow grew beyond what she was born as. Parts of it are missing, and it’s written in an Old Realm dialect that Keris isn’t accustomed to, with bits of notation she can’t translate. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating.

‘The feeling isn’t that of a splintering, or a shattering,’ she reads, lips moving soundlessly as she picks over the glyphs with a hair tendril. ‘Rather, it is a division of self; like wind parting around a tower. It is to reach out to a mirror and feel fingertips brushing your own. To breathe out, and to inhale the breath even as it leaves you.’

“Milady?” a neomah asks. Keris glances up, and finds the clock being offered.

“Ah!” she says happily, making grabby hands at the spiky box of cogs, wheels, springs and sprockets sequestered behind a crystalline face. “Perfect! Here, gimme.” Shifting it onto her lap, she turns a careful ear to the sounds within, listening for the precise tones it’s making. There’s a whirling tenor of... possibly one of the hellstorms that sometimes sweep out of the Conventicle and ravage the area around. A much fainter bass note that reminds her of the slow draw of a cello - flooding, probably, somewhere a good way away and not approaching.

What she’s looking for is a very specific pattern - one that isn’t, technically, a hazard that the clock will pick up on. But Kamilla is of Adorjan, and she follows in the wake of death. Though the clock won’t sense her passage directly, it will still respond to her movements. Hopefully, she’s close enough for it to pick up on.

Keris looks at the patterns. There’s just a hint of stillness in the ticking, a moving mechanism which suggests that there’s something big and silent disturbance... a good twenty to thirty levels away. She only manages to read it because of her hearing allowing her to hear the ripples in the jamming of the fine gears.

Thirty levels. She purses her lips. That... probably means using one of Ligier’s roads again, if she wants to get there in time.

... but they cost so much. Urgh. Well, she’s working directly for Ligier now, so... eh, it’s worth a shot. Maybe they’ll remember her bringing the fae in. She gives the clock back, slings Wyldeater over her back and sets off at a run; ducking out of her townhouse through a window rather than bothering with the official front door.

“Tell Mehuni I’m heading back to Creation!” she remembers to call over her shoulder as she leaves.

It is fortunate that she is in Ligier’s good books at the moment, because his lightroad staff have apparently been instructed to give her full assistance. Perhaps in the assumption that she’d be going straight back to Creation. Well, she reasons, she is heading back to Creation. She’s just... detouring briefly.

‘Echo?’ she calls mentally, focusing her attention half-within herself - enough to get a general impression of what her fifth soul is doing. Looking up from where she’s industriously conducting her szelkeruby to dance around a worried-looking musician somewhere on the Ruin coastline, Echo tilts her head inquisitively.

‘So,’ Keris says. ‘You remember how it was your birthday not long ago? And we were busy getting the raksha across the Desert, so I couldn’t give you a proper present right then? Well, I think this might make up for it. See, I think there’s been a battle recently on the layer we’re about to reach. And my hell-weather clock tells me that something big and silent is moving around there.’

Echo’s mouth falls open silently. Well, it always does that silently, but this time it indicates that she’s speechless. Keris grins. ‘Hold on, we’re coming down now. Let’s see what we can find, hmm?’ Slowing her accelerated run, she descends from the lightroad to the layer; ears sharp. It’s definitely quieter than normal here. She looks down upon the wastes from the bridge of light.

Everything is red. The storm has consumed this layer as far as she can see. There are no buildings. No streets. No demons. Just rubble choking scars across Malfeas - and the silence of the wind.

Other Mama, Echo silently gestures with her large eyes even wider than usual.

Haneyl, Rathan and Dulmea appear to be hiding.

“... okay,” Keris whispers softly. Behind her eyes, Echo’s normal whimsical energy is entirely absent. “Not Kamilla then. Echo? Meet, uh...” She gulps. “Yes. Meet your other mother.”

She pauses, feeling the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. The last time... the last time was both wonderful and terrible. But she does know why she got hurt. As long as she keeps running and doesn’t... doesn’t think about the power behind the wind, she should be safe.

“... do you want to meet her?” she asks. “It’s okay if you’re scared to. She is scary, I know. And I don’t think she knows about you as it is.”

Echo makes tiny teeny gestures and suggests that maybe if Other Mama was a little smaller, she might feel a little better. Keris can’t help but agree. When she ran with Adorjan; the Silent Wind was the size of a gale; the size of a street. This... this layer-suffocating hurricane... this is something else. Even by the standards of Malfeas - even compared to the wonders of Ligier’s palace - this is beyond the scale of anything Keris has seen before.

She flares her anima, and shivers. Dulmea has withdrawn - there’s a feeling of terror there; not as blind as the last time, tempered by the intellectual knowledge that Keris has survived an encounter such as this before and believes she will again. But her coadjutor wants no part in this. She’s taken Rathan and Haneyl, and hidden them deep in the Domain until the danger is past. Her tower stands empty.

Keris’s anima is silent. Even as it builds to its crescendo; the ocean-whirlwind a blinding pillar a clear foot above her head; the scarlet-and-silver winds and the shadow in her wake are her only company.

‘Whatever happens,’ she promises Echo, ‘I’m with you, and you’re following me, and we should be safe. We’ll just go down a little way, for a little bit, burning bright like this. And if she doesn’t notice us, we’ll come back up, and I’ll meditate here, and you can have the essence I gather. Okay?’

Echo nods. She’s very nervous; sticking right behind Keris and mimicking her movements exactly; right down to little tilts of the head or flicks of the hair.

‘... okay,’ breathes Keris. And starts down on the feeder-road towards the surface. She begins at a light jog, hits a full sprint within seconds, and keeps speeding up. She dare not run at anything less than her absolute fastest.

Silence surrounds her. Silence and the knowledge that everything around her is death should she stop running.

She’s never seen Malfeas looking like this before. No buildings. No streets. No noise. Ligier shines down on great cracks in Malfeas’ flesh, gouged out by the Silent Wind. She runs. And runs. And runs.

She remembers what they said when she got off the bridge. She’d need to find her way to another level, because they were cutting off the connection to here until the Silent Wind left.

Hanging from a broken stub of a support beam, a big red flag flaps silently in the gale. It isn’t tearing in the wind that erodes rock and shreds metal. And elsewhere she can see a few entwined ribbons, left over a blood-streaked wasteland of torn-up shredded demonic bodies.

Echo at least perks up at those. Rolling her eyes, Keris diverts her path to grab the flag and, cautiously - ready to cut it off and pull her daughter back within herself in an instant if necessary - lets Echo trail out behind her, running in her wake.

Glancing over her shoulder, she sees Echo shiver as she forms, but there are no signs of pain or discomfort. Keris relaxes. Fractionally. She runs a little longer, letting Echo dart for the flag as it trails out behind her. Her anima still burns around her, but it doesn’t seem to be attracting any attention from the Primordial.

Well, she tried. And while Echo isn’t as utterly joyful as she’d probably be were she following Kamilla; she’s still wide-eyed and awed, looking around at the grandeur of her Other Mama.

Keris purses her lips. Okay. Assumptions here are not a good idea, but she’s expended her one good idea for attracting attention. So even if she has got some attention, the Primordial doesn’t seem interested enough to investigate. Keris can turn her efforts towards leaving.

That means one of two options; the Desert or the catacombs. Both are scarce in the immediate area, but she knows roughly which way the nearest edge of the City should be, from the direction of the lightbridge. If she comes across any ways to get into the catacombs before that... well, the dark is no hinderance to her, and the things down there can’t possibly be as dangerous as what’s up here.

((Keris actually has Mentor 1 Adorjan, remember?))
((So roll Enlightenment + Mentor to see if Adorjan notices her))
((8+1=9. Whoa, 7 sux. Keris is looking like an extra-keen student today.))

The wind picks up, blowing around Keris. She runs, knowing for a fact that the silent gales around her would pick her up and toss her like a toy in the fraction of a second before it stripped her to the bone and then ate her bones too.

Uh oh, gestures Echo.

Looking up, there’s a cyclone over her head. And it’s spiralling in. Getting smaller. Getting more focused. It tosses her hair around like it weighs nothing.

If she’s in the eye of the hurricane, then. Um. Adorjan is looking right at her.

She shuts her eyes, on the basis that it’s probably better for her not to see what’s going on around her right now. She locks down her sense of power entirely. Language is a bit beyond Keris at this point - half of her is too terrified for thought while the other half is so exhilarated it can’t put words to feeling, but she sends a wordless query to Echo.

Her daughter is so close behind her that she’s almost touching Keris; mimicking her movements so perfectly that she doesn’t even dare shake her head. But the feeling Keris gets back is negative. Her fifth soul wants to see this through.

((o echo. the more scared she is, the more closely she obeys “follow keris”.))

And then the wind stops. And everything is dead silent. There isn’t even the sensation of wind against her face.

She’s only felt this stillness once before.

She keeps running. Keris feels a little hand wrap itself around hers. It hurts, but Echo’s long fingers are curled around her wrist, clinging on tightly. She cracks an eye open, knowing what she’ll find.

Head tilted, running backwards at full tilt is a pale woman with dark hair who has her head tilted. When she notices that Keris has her eyes open, she grins widely, flashing white teeth.

You came back so softly you spoke your thoughts with each gesture; no heartbeat no noise you’re almost like him so perfect and quiet - that’s what the smile says. And then it widens, as she seems to focus down enough with those liquid eyes - barely able to squint down to see at this scale. She smiles at Echo widely, and flaps her hands. Little one, little wind, she gestures, you blow through me and you are me.

Keris squeezes Echo’s hand proudly. She can’t convey meaning in silence as easily as they can, either of them. But she smiles back, and hopes that it gets across some of her pride and joy and happiness in having her eldest child; whose birth had heralded the coming of her siblings and who has been with her for a full year now.

Thank you, she tries to say without words. For your gifts, and for her.

She feels Echo give a shy wave with the hand not wrapped around Keris’s, but Keris can no more take her eyes off her patron than she can stop moving at this point. Whatever her daughter’s message to her Other Mama was, other a greeting, is beyond her.

The Silent Wind reaches out and runs a finger along Keris’ jawline. It hurts like a knife. The gesture says it all. Let it all go, it says. Words cannot describe a world, so cut them away. Do not think one thing - cut it apart and think many things at once. Think what you will and love what you will and leave anything behind that weighs you down.

She playfully taps Keris on the nose, reminding her that everything can be left behind - and that the silence in her wake will always be there. Keris feels a nosebleed start up, and that only gets worse as Adorjan leans in and kisses her on the lips, flensing them raw. I loved you from the first time I screamed and your blade sunk into my heart, she says with the kiss. I still love you, so I will help you become me and then you’ll see.

And with a giggle she runs off, vanishing in a blink of an eye. Leaving Keris alone in a dead barren silent wasteland.

There’s another figure here. One of wind and ribbons. One who isn’t Echo. One who’s staring at the little girl with unreadable eyes.

‘Your other Other Mama,’ Keris thinks. Blood drips down her face and leaves a trail behind her as she runs. She bows her head, suppressing - with difficulty - the urge to see the power of the demon before her.

The demon narrows her eyes. The aggression and hostility is clear. As is the message. She is too attached to you, it says. She thinks of you. She does not need those ties. There is a knife in the demon’s hand, and that says that the ties need to be cut. There’s only one way Keris can react to that. She doesn’t even think about it. The effort draws blood from her throat and brings tears to her eyes - it’s like swallowing sandpaper and razorblades at once. But that doesn’t stop her.

No,” she snarls. Out loud.

There’s a lot more she could say. That Echo buoys her up instead of weighing her down. That love can be wings instead of a chain.

But that one sound is enough. Like that, the demon is gone - and Keris is truly alone.

Except she isn’t. Because right behind her, Echo trails, clinging onto her hair with her own.

She can’t stop running - honestly, Keris isn’t sure her terrified muscles will ever be able to stop running - but oh, does Keris want to collapse. Echo seems similarly in shock, absorbing what just happened and filtering it through whatever odd chains of thought run through her head.

They run in silence, until the edge of the Desert looms up and swallows them and the layer-eclipsing hurricane is a distant memory behind them. Then, and only then, does Keris finally come to a halt and, with a great deal of ceremony, fall over.

The silver sand is gritty but soft under her - like the sandy version of silk. She lies face down in it for a while, her heart beating hummingbird-quick in her chest, her limbs trembling with leftover adrenaline.

At least I didn’t get injured this time, she says. Or tries to. It comes out as “a-hhk”.

Her head spins as she pushes herself upright. Voice... gone, then. Talking through the silence made it go. She can... can make it ungo later. But first... before that, first...

... she thinks she sort of understands the scroll from the library right now. About how you can touch a mirror and meet your own fingers coming the other way. Or breathe out and inhale your breath from another set of lips. It’s just a matter of... of perspective.

‘... safe,’ she manages to say within her mind. Even talking inside her head hurts, which really shouldn’t make sense but still somehow appears to be the case. ‘There?’

Faint music wisps into audibility in her mental ear - a presence she’s grown so used to that it’s eerie to have it go missing. Dulmea’s awareness brushes hers, retreating instantly and then hesitantly reaching out and establishing itself again after considering what it finds.

“Why do you have to be so stupid!” Dulmea shouts at her. She’s crying, audibly, her voice breaking.

‘S-uh,’ Keris manages, which isn’t helpful. Her throat, she is becoming aware, really hurts. She needs another throat. One that can make sounds, and explain to Dulmea... things that will make her stop crying. Because crying Dulmea is bad, and scary, and it was bad having her gone. Silence isn’t what the inside of her head is meant to be like. It’s meant to have music, even when it’s angry choppy plucking with missed notes and mischords like now.

Swallowing painfully, Keris takes a breath of desert air, and lets it out. A sharp pang of agony ripples up and down her throat again, but bloody vapour fountains out - far more than a single breath could contain - and coalesces into a whirlwind within which a figure forms. It’s short, with dark skin and long red hair and a simple dark red shift. It stands barefoot on the sand, eye-level with Keris herself, raising a trembling hand to its lips and blinking slowly.

It frowns. It tilts its head. Halfway back down again, its hand pauses and rises again, going to its ears.

And then it screams.

It - she - screams, and keeps screaming until Keris lunges at her, clamping a hand over her mouth to shut her up before she draws the attention of who-knows-what from the desert’s emptiness. Keris is hardly in much of a state to fight anything off right now. Even that doesn’t stop her - she doesn’t even seem to notice - and her mad, terrified flailing continues until Keris opens her mouth and inhales her again; pulling the breath that she came from back within her body and sending her into a sleep where she won’t be aware of whatever frightens her so much.

Tackling her turns out to have been a good move, because it means Keris is already on the floor when the memories hit. Only a few seconds of them. But a few seconds of listening inside herself and hearing nothing. No Dulmea. No Echo. No Rathan. No Haneyl. Not even a sense of them; not even hidden or suppressed. Just... emptiness.

The shock is enough to stop even Dulmea dead in her tracks for a moment.

Echo thoughtfully raises one hand, wanting to know what on earth just happened.

Lying full-length in the desert sand for the second time in as many minutes, Keris opens her mouth, scowls, closes it again and puts a hand to her throat. Questing roots creep into her flesh, examining the damage as they squirm and wriggle beneath her skin.

... well, she thinks. It’s not quite as bad as direct exposure to Adorjan’s winds would have been. But forcing sound out through the silence like that still didn’t do her any favours. Haneyl responds to her invitation, sniffling audibly as she feeds her awareness through Keris’s inner tongues to help get her voicebox working again.

It’s rough. But it’s soon functional again, and she can feel the wounds knitting together further under the light of her anima. Curling up on the ground, she sinks into meditation within Dulmea’s tower. The... um, the Other Her is encased in a bed of ice against one wall; her eyes closed.

“I think...” Keris says; her voice husky and rough. “The... the way my head was spinning - the exposure to the All-Makers. It made it make sense enough to make her. But I think when I made her, it only copied me. Not you. Her head was empty inside.”

She remembers, again, those few seconds staring at herself; blood dripping down her face from unhealing wounds, her anima flaring around her... and then listening inside and hearing nothing but empty silence and hollow space. She shudders.

“Shocked me out of the madness,” she says. “For now. Like... like cold water when you’re drunk. It’ll come back, though. Head’s still fuzzy.”

((This bout of Yozi-sickness: noise and orientation. Keris is going to have serious trouble with both for the next few days; especially the former. Even healed, her voice doesn’t want to obey her.))

Echo bounds into view. She’s paler than usual. Literally. Her winds and ribbons are all white.

She also, through Keris’ fuzziness, seems to be taller than before. She’s back to being taller than Haneyl, though only by a little bit. Maybe a year? Maybe a bit less? Keris smiles at her encouragingly, and accepts a ballistic Haneyl to the waist and a slightly slower but still distressed Rathan to the legs. “Okay, okay,” she whispers to them. “It’s over now. We’re safe.”

She looks up at Dulmea. “Echo’s of Her,” she points out. “Can’t deny that. And she doesn’t hurt me.” She pauses to consider this. “Much. I’ll never do...”

Words stutter for a moment, and she frowns, trying to get them past the phantom blockage. “... d... do it... casually. Or often. But. Rarely. Learn from Her.”

She looks back over to Echo and raises an eyebrow. “White?”

Echo shuffles her feet. She... she just didn’t feel like red much. Not after seeing all that, the gesture says. She looks at Keris with big eyes. Big Mama is scary, her expression says clearly. And Big Sister is even scarier, because Big Mama is just very very big and Echo is all tiny, but Big Sister is small enough to notice Echo and she doesn’t care about anything at all.

Extracting a hair tendril from Haneyl’s vice-like clamp around her waist, Keris gestures to her dress and points to Echo, then beckons her over to the three-way hug. Haneyl bounces up and down, clinging to Keris. “Also we did dress up and white is nearly as good as green!” she says loudly. Too loudly. She’s trying to pretend that she isn’t scared, and not making a very good job of it.

Hefting Haneyl up, Keris supports her with an arm and a tendril while Rathan busily climbs up to latch his arms around her neck. Echo, after donning her ribbon-dress and gloves, trots over to settle behind Keris.

That just leaves Dulmea.

“... maybe...” Keris begins hesitantly. Her voice trails off before she can finish the thought, as much because she’s not sure how to verbalise the feeling as because of it locking up.

She knows that the gifts of the All-Makers that she learns seem to portion out between her souls. The seeds of Ligier’s green fire that she can call on live in Haneyl; her tainting of rivers and comfort in the water are shared by Rathan.

Maybe Dulmea wouldn’t be so scared if she had something of the Silent Wind in her nature. Maybe she wouldn’t be as scared of or mad at Keris if she saw what it was like to gain from Adorjan’s teachings. And maybe the Other Her’s terror might abate a little, if Dulmea had her.

It’s not really something Keris has ever thought about in the past, how her gifts pair with her souls. But this new gift; this splitting of herself... it doesn’t feel like it belongs with Echo.

She wants it to be Dulmea’s. After earning the skill like this; after terrifying her mother so to gain it... she wants to use it in a way Dulmea would be proud of.

Something seems to click in her head - or possibly her soul - and though there’s no immediate change that she can see, there’s a feeling of rightness.

“Dress-up?” Keris asks, looking down at a fussy Haneyl. “What looked pretty on you?”

“Everything looked pretty on me because I’m the prettiest,” Haneyl says solidly. “Rathan looked okay in a dress, but then he ruined it and got it all wet and tore it off!”

“Did not!” Rathan protests instantly. “I didn’t ruin it! Wasn’t my fault!” He leans across to try and flail at Haneyl with chubby little fists, which Keris gently intercepts.

“I’m sure,” she agrees gently. “Probably the dress’s fault, right?”

Rathan nods firmly, shooting a pout across at his sister.

“But which was your favourite?” she asks Haneyl, and listens with one ear as she describes her selection process - apparently she’s experimenting with mixtures of brass and green and grey, which is making for interesting contrasts.

The other ear is on Dulmea. Her initial angry tears have faded, though she’s still agitated. She seems deep in faintly troubled thought; glancing between Keris and the Other Her with something inscrutable in her expression.

Keris stays there for as long as she feels comfortable with, but the Desert is a dangerous place. So while she still hasn’t got a solution for her Gale - locked in ice to stop her screaming herself mad from loneliness - and while Haneyl is still talking a little too quickly and loudly and Echo is still subdued and pale and Dulmea still seems unsettled by something enough that she’s forgotten to give Keris a proper scolding; it’s only an hour or so later that Keris opens her eyes to the black sky and silver expanse of the Desert, uses Wyldeater as a prop to push herself to her feet, and sets off.

Despite her resilience and fleetness of foot, she hurts, and her head is starting to spin again. She’s not so incoherent that she can’t make sure the City is firmly behind her, but she keeps her pace to a light jog; unwilling and possibly unable to push herself past that. It’s not like it matters, here in the Desert. She just hopes she doesn’t get too lost on the way back to the Northeast, with her head full of fog like this.

Chapter Text

Keris’s head hurts. The cuts that Adorjan left on her face haven’t stopped bleeding yet, and she has a nasty feeling that they’re going to scar. The Silent Wind hadn’t touched her last time. Oh, her winds had drawn blood when she’d stumbled and fallen, and the thin pale lines of those lacerations are still visible on her skin if you know exactly where to look.

But it hadn’t been her avatar’s hand. It hadn’t been the touch of her skin on Keris’s own; bright with pain and thrilling in its glory. There’s no water in the Desert; nothing that can provide a reflection, and her head is too woozy to pull a mirror out.

‘Cuts?’ she thinks at Dulmea with a questioning lilt. Her coadjutor seems to be paying at least some attention to her train of thought, because she picks up on what Keris wants to know.

“There is quite a lot of blood, child,” Dulmea responds tersely. “But I believe one gash follows the line of your jaw, to the left of your mouth. Another smaller one crosses your nose halfway up, and your lips are bloodied. They will scar.” There’s no doubt in the prediction. None whatsoever.

Keris nods absently, patterning the sand with red circles. A blood sacrifice to Cecelyne. Hah. She lets out a breath of laughter at the thought - that, at least, flows easily from her throat.

Then she shakes her head angrily. Clenching her jaw sends a ripple of pain through the entire left side of her face, but it clears her head a little. She can work through this... this fuzziness. She’s worked through worse, and she’s always come out on top. All she has to do is... is tough it out. Yeah. Keep her mind on where she’s going.

((It’ll only scar if Keris wants them to, of course. And they’re Crippling scars if she wants. Hmm. I wonder what the scars will look like.))
((It’s Agg damage from the direct touch of a Primordial. It is totally going to scar. And, hmm. I’m going to say these are plot-level, and thus not Crippling-keyworded, because I do kind of like the concept.))
((And, heh. They are probably going to be fairly recognisable as such from anyone who knows much about the Demon Realm.))
((Sigh. The scars on her lips may scar very red, so she looks like she’s wearing permanent lipstick.))
((Heh. It’s only when you get closer that you see the raggedness.))

It’s five long days, and they hurt. Still, at least she finds a path that she remembers from last time. Haneyl is still scared, and that means Keris has to put up with her daughter’s nagging complaints about how she can help her fix her ugly cuts. Haneyl does not seem to like it at all when mama bleeds. Keris gives in and lets her try early on the second day, but as she feared; something of the Silent Wind’s power seems to linger in the wounds. They don’t stay closed, any more than her lacerations had last time - and she gets a nasty cut on her fingers when she tries to fuse them shut from the inside.

This only increases Haneyl’s distress, and though the cuts eventually clot and scab over, it’s still almost a week of figurative hell as well as literal. Eventually, though, she stumbles out into the freezing cold of the northeast once more; swearing fluently as the chill hits her still-tender scars. The night sky is speckled with stars. Over her head, Keris can see the red star of Mars. Fresh snow litters the ground.

She listens for the creaking and groaning of the sky island - of any sky island. Honestly! Testolagh should make it easier to find him! Have a... a big bonfire. Or something. Unfortunately, she can’t find his stupid sky island or any sign of it. Stupid Testolagh. Stupid sky people. Stupidness.

She wastes an entire day. She hasn’t found a trace of it by the time the sun is coming down, and she’s being quite sulky to Dulmea. Her head isn’t quite fuzzy enough that she can’t think of summoning, though. She’ll call an anyaglo at sunset, she decides. Hopefully she’ll be able to keep a clear enough head.

((Conviction 3: 3 sux.))

The sun sets, and Keris casts her arms wide. This is the fourth time she’s called a creature from her inner world. It’s becoming more natural, which is a blessing of sorts. Forcing the words out, she barely manages to name herself and her target. It’s enough, barely, to tear open a rift in the world, and she binds the ribbon-horse as it canters through. This one is mostly white, with hints of soft pink within. It tastes older, too.

“Firisutu?” Keris calls tiredly. There’s a pause, and then her little friend climbs out of her hair and onto her shoulder; his paw patting tentatively at the raised red line crossing her nose.

“Yeah,” she nods. “Yeah. T... take me... Testol. Te... him.” Firisutu isn’t much of a horseman, but the anyaglo seems smart enough and Firisutu has seen this area before. Together, they can probably get her there.

Trusting her welfare to her demons, Keris leans forward and accepts a sympathetic lick to the face from a ribbony tongue, before draping herself over the demon’s neck and falling asleep. She feels the ribbons on the back of the anyaglo unfold, and wrap around her. It’s warm and soft and pleasant. She’ll... she’ll need to tell Echo how clever she was.

When she wakes up, Firisutu has found her a sky island.

... unfortunately, it is not the right one. It’s tiny - barely larger than her ship, and lightning crackles around the central rock.

She kisses him warmly nonetheless, and thanks them both for taking care of her. She’s still lost, but the long, dreamless sleep - from the position of the sun, it’s probably been twelve hours or more - seems to have done her good. Her face still hurts, but the fuzziness in her head is receding, and her voice isn’t as locked up.

She’s also clear-headed enough to think of doing what she should have done last night.

“Testolagh,” she says to the ice-cherub as it swims in lazy circles in front of her. “I’m back from Ma- Malfeas, and lost. Found a tiny sky island; wrong one. I’ll t-try and get back to yours today.”

She cocks an ear as it goes, hoping that she can get at least a rough idea of what direction to go in, even if it’s moving too fast for her eyes to see.

((Hah! Yes, that does in fact work!))

Keris hears the whoosh heading off to the south west, and grins. Urging her anyaglo into the sky - and with Firisutu still clinging to her shoulder on the apparent belief that she may get herself injured again if he doesn’t keep an eye on her until she’s better - she gallops off after it. She finds that the winds have moved the island considerably - and that her lost wandering meant that she wasn’t helping herself. The sun is low on the horizon again before she hears the distant rush of the wind around the sky island and the chatter of human voices.

She is certainly relieved to get out of the cold. Although her anyaglo is disappointed to end the five hour run she put it through, which it enjoyed a lot and gives her a satin-soft lick from chin to scalp when she gets off. Giggling, she bids it a fond farewell and goes looking for food. And a few other things, but mainly food.

Fairly soon, she finds herself in one of the towering basalt structures. Specifically, in the kitchens. It’s not meal time, but they always have lots of beer and strange meat harvested from bound demons to keep the blood apes happy. Claiming an entire table to herself, she tells someone to go and let Testolagh know she’s arrived and starts digging in.

Testolagh seems slightly wary as he comes in. He’s wrapped up heavily in furs, and there’s frost in his eyebrows - but despite that, he seems to not quite want to get too close to Keris.

Oh yes, she remembers. The... uh, awkwardness. Yes.

“I got your message,” he says. “The winds pick up in the Season of Air - it makes island movement erratic.”

Swallowing down a haunch of... something, while her hair continues to swarm over the plates - one lock fighting Firisutu over a drumstick - Keris turns to look at him. The start of surprise isn’t that subtle.

“I found my way here eventually,” she shrugs, deciding to try ignoring the awkwardness in the hopes that it will go away. “Lord Ligier was very pleased with the raksha I delivered to him, so... I guess I’ll build up some force again and then go hit the freehold to the north.”

She nods at Wyldeater, leaning against the table. “He gave me that to help collect them all. Lent,” she quickly corrects herself. “Lent me that. On a... loan. For this mission. In the meantime, I can start planning how to build that owlrider vat.”

“Did he have any other commands or orders?” Testolagh asks, pinching his brow. “Anything for me?”

Keris cocks her head, frowning. Her visit hadn’t really been related to Testolagh, so why would Ligier have given him new orders? It’s not as if the Green Sun couldn’t send a Messenger if he had something urgent, is it? She can hear just an undertone of hope creeping into Testolagh’s voice. He was hoping for something, she thinks.

“I mentioned your successes here,” she offers, “but he was preoccupied with a war against the Blood Red Moon for eclipsing him - honestly, he was in a bad enough mood when I had an audience that I barely dared speak up. The raksha cheered him up a bit, but he still seemed mostly focused on battle strategies.”

Testolagh slumps slightly, and then straightens up again. “Very well,” he says. “He had mentioned something about some way I could be of service, but he must have other things on his mind.” He stretches, and sits down opposite to Keris after fetching himself a drink. “Another tribe joined my confederacy while you were gone,” he says. “And one more is wavering. Because you took out one of the people speaking against us, the waverers are settling on us.” He smiles at Keris. “Once I have their oaths of loyalty, they understand what happens if they betray me.”

She grins, winces and settles for a smaller smile. “That’s good to hear. Glad to have helped.” Draining a mug of beer, she rolls her eyes as Firisutu commandeers it as storage for his small collection of bones.

“So,” she says, switching tack with a crack of her knuckles. “I don’t know how much you know about the making of wonders, but if you want I could go through my first round of ideas with you? You know more than I do about what fuels and materials you’ve got available, and I’ve got a couple of weeks to test ideas before I’ll be ready to take on the hungry glacier.”

He gets up, and squats down by the green-burning fire of this place - which, Keris thinks oddly, is sort of partly him if what she understands of Malfeas is correct. He starts removing his outer garments, hanging them up to dry. “Go ahead,” he says. “It’s getting even colder out there - one of those late Air cold spikes, I suppose. Even in Water, the way it warms up just means there’s even more snow around - and Water is avalanche season here.”

“Bet that’s fun for those under a floating island,” Keris quips. “Okay, so obviously the base is going to be a vat of vitriol. Not pure, because the pure stuff is an uncontrolled catalyst for change, and we want to make very specific ones. But the stuff we add to the mix is going to mostly be fine-tuning and fuel, I think. That’s where most of the maintenance will be. The... the map of the changes; that’ll be baked into the vat itself.”

She sketches a diagram in beer on the tabletop with her hair, warming to her topic. “Now, there are a few ways I can think of for how to do that. One is sorcerous glyphs, obviously, but if I can personally mutate a single person to exactly the way I want them; I might be able to work a bit of bone or something into the vat and it can just copy from that. Or, if I want to go more elegant, I could do it by symbolism...”

To some extent, Keris’s mouth is already running separately from her mind. She can already feel the same spark that was there when she built the Shashalme’s gift - stronger now, because she knows she can do it. She can almost taste the vitriol blends she might use; her hands tracing the shapes in her mind’s eye.

“Are you trying to use the same drugs and medicines that they do now, or just replicate the effects in a new way?” he asks.

“Definitely the latter. Well, mostly the latter. Well...” She purses her lips. “I’m still not sure how they stop their growth like that. I get the rest of it; the treatments and so on, but the drugs that keep them small are still a bit beyond me. And you have them locally, so it would be easiest to use those to get the effect, but they’re the source of all their health problems. They wouldn’t hurt you or me, bu-”

Keris freezes. One hair tendril keeps absently sketching a line until it hits the edge of the table as she stares into space. Then, slowly, the ‘o’ of her mouth curves upwards into a blinding grin. It sends a trickle of blood down her neck from the raw scar along her jaw, but she doesn’t seem to notice.

“Oh,” she whispers. “Oh, that’s brilliant. That’s... hah!” She spins around to face Testolagh, eyes dancing. “I can use you! Well, you and me. If I can give them healing - our healing; the way our wounds close and our bones heal and our blood resists infection - if I can give them that, I can use the growth-drugs as a base to keep them small, and the healing will keep them healthy! And... hah! I’m already small and slight, so I can use that to double down on their size - and you’re tougher than Naan, so I can use that to counter the side effect of weak bones!” She claps in joy and hops to her feet to do a gleeful pirouette. “I’m a genius!”

“Uh.” Testolagh seems more wary. “That sounds... extreme. Also, you’re bleeding.”

“I am? Oh. Ow.” She winces as the exhilaration fades, and cradles her face. “Ow, ow ow. Thought this had closed, dammit. Ah, the scab split.” She dabs at it gingerly and huffs.

“Extreme... yes, but they’re already doing extreme things to themselves. What I’m talking about is just... helping the way their bodies heal. The growth drugs wreck their organs and bones, but if I can use, hmm... honestly, it should work to just make the thing out of materials saturated in our essence. The brass from one of your buildings, say. If I use that to strengthen them on the inside, the overall effect should sort of balance to leave them about level with a normal person, but faster to recover. Which in their line of work is great.”

Testolagh nods thoughtfully, as he sticks his hands inside the fire to warm them up. The flames lick over his flesh. “That would really be useful. At the moment, a bad landing can cripple them Though... you’d need to be careful about what they’d wind up looking like. They can’t look too...” he pauses, “... demonic.”

“Their essence will be,” she cautions. “There’s no real way I can avoid that, not if I’m using vitriol. But yeah, I’m confident I can keep them looking human. Odd, probably - they’ll be naturally small, for a start - but not hellish.”

Testolagh tilts his head. “Do you think you’d be able to test it out before we started using it on all the riders? I don’t want to cripple my best scouts and islefinders if it turns out to have problems. Could we do that before you make the wonder?”

“Yeah, that’ll be part of testing,” Keris agrees. “And like I said, one good way to do this will be to test the changes first, then use a bit of bone or something in the making of the vat that it can copy them from. Hmm. So for that I’ll need to work the changes first, personally and with a genesis vat... mmm. I’ll need a test subject. Best would be an owlrider, so I can see how hard it is to leech out the poisons - do you think you can find one who’s ill, or old, or crippled?”

He sighs. “There are always ones who are ill. Crippled? If they’re judged not to be able to recover, they’re given to the gods. The tribes won’t mind, if I tell them you’re going to sacrifice them.”

I would treat my people better than that,” Haneyl points out. “If they had done well serving me, I would look after them and make them better, not sacrifice them.”

“That should work,” Keris agrees out loud. “I’ll go and set my vitriol equipment up again and see if I can plan these changes out.”

He nods, and looks at the door reluctantly. “Just as I’d gotten warm, too,” he sighs. “You know, this place isn’t so bad in the Season of Fire. It’s pleasantly warm. For about a month. But Lethe, I hate late Air and early Water here.”

“I’ll say,” Keris grumbles, entirely in agreement.

She gets her stills set up later that day, and soon has a fair dose of vitriol flowing through the glasswork. Fleshcrafting is a complex art, though, and she needs to plan. She has the growth drugs, and she can probably use blood to get the healing.

But... falls are the most dangerous threat to an owlrider’s health. Maybe she can do something to help with that? Not necessarily wings, but something to make them fall slower - more like a leaf or a sycamore seed than a stone. Keris mulls the problem over, doing some more investigation into the local flora.

She pulls herself away at sunset to perform another summoning - a farisy, this time. The first of quite a few. She’s not aiming to devastate or devour this time. Wyldeater will do that, though she’ll bring however many of her toads are still around. Mainly, though, she wants to herd and control the raksha she’ll find in the mountains, and Haneyl’s warhorses with their sharp lances and trampling hooves will do well at that.

After Keris summons the farisy, Echo asks with utter cheeky glee if Keris has considered how Haneyl’s silly non-flying horsies are going to get down from the flying island.

“...” says Keris. “I will... have some agatae hold up a big platform for them to stand on, and then lower it to the ground. Or something.” She pauses, aware that this is perhaps a less convincing plan, and adds a petulant “shut up” that sets Echo to giggling again.

“You can’t treat my farisyya like that!” Haneyl wails. “It’s not dignified. Or proper. No, Keris! You need to go make a proper place near the place where the silly fairies live! One that can become a proper real place for all my brave riders and other servants! Trees are the best, so the trees here have to learn that I’m the boss! And so are you!”

“I can’t make tree places like I can lakes,” Keris reminds her. “Though, hmm. Good point about keeping them nearer the freehold. Even if it means I have to go there to summon every sunset. Maybe I can ask Testolagh to make a little city-place near the border for them.”

She makes the request of Testolagh the next morning at breakfast, pointing out that it will mean a lack of her demons cluttering up his island, as well as giving him an outpost near the freehold that he can use if he wants to expand in that direction after she’s killed all the faeries and drowned the place. She’s willing to bet that nobody else has territory up there, and until news spreads of the hungry men all being killed, most tribes probably won’t be expecting an attack coming from that direction.

Testolagh purses his lips. “There’s the ruins of a Shogunate mining town in the foothills, perhaps thirty or so miles from the border of the chaos lands,” he says, thoughtfully. “I had a look through it a few years back. Some walls are still standing, but the mines collapsed and this area was unimportant enough that they didn’t build in jadesteel. I found some tools, but someone had already stripped them down. Still, the edge of the warehouses make a wall around the place and there’s fresh water. I considered making the place a ground-fortification, but,” he shrugged, “these tribes don’t like living on the ground. I did think of just dropping some marottes to build there, but there wasn’t any real use to that. At this time of year there’ll be snow for fresh water, and there’s enough trees around that if you’re going to patch up some of the ruins there’ll be raw materials.”

This seems workable, if a bit more of an investment than Keris had hoped. She sets off on anyaglo-back to check the place out and drop a marotte there at sunset to start rebuilding. At the moment it’s around two hundred kilometres following the map Testolagh provided her with, which means her anyaglo gets to run while Keris snuggles up again in the ribbons on its back. This is certainly one advantage that agatae don’t have. She takes the time to meditate and think.

The area he’s marked out is close enough to the foothills of the mountains that the height of the trees is more... well, normal in Keris’ eyes. There’s only a few giant trees, rising here and there, and from the air this time she can see more normal rivers winding across the interspersed tundra and dense green woodland.

Testolagh, it turns out, was a little vague when he said it was a mine. Or maybe he didn’t recognise it for what it was, but Keris has seen open-strip mines like this in the City. There’s a mountain lake here - a very square one - next to a few desolate standing walls and fallen buildings. The eastern side of the town, close to the lake, is heavily overgrown, while the west is more barren and thus has large drifts of snow piled up against the walls. The snow has consumed most of the west, but the east is shielded by the trees and even from on high Keris can see strange flat grey stone that almost could be metal, piled high into the remains of curved-roof structures. There’s even the remnants of the streets, although a frozen-over stream has taken over one of them.

As she watches, a pack of wolves with deer-like horns trot across an open glade, seemingly uncaring of the anyaglo overhead.

At least there’ll be things for the farisy to hunt if they feel like it, she thinks. And it’s near enough the freehold that she can move her toads here, if there are any left. Thirty miles is enough for the odd hunting trip to gorge themselves when they get hungry enough to start eyeing each other. But first she needs at least some basic shelter set up. A marotte should be able to do that, if she leaves it here to work. There’s plenty of raw material, and she can explore the lake until sunset comes.

((So what is Keris trying to discover, using what Ability?))
((What was being mined here, any Shogunate relics that might be lying around - like the jade waterwheel from An Teng. She’s treating this as a strictly temporary base, so she’s not investing too much in it - it’s only useful until she attacks the freehold. And she’s basically killing time until sunset at the moment.))
((Hmm. Reaction + Lore to try to deduce the history of this place, Reaction + Awareness for a more general poke around which won’t give as much specialised info.))
((5+2+2 Coadj+2 stunt=11. 9 sux on the Lore roll, wow.
5+5+2 Coadj+2 stunt=14. 6 on the Awareness. Lawl, she actually got higher on the Lore roll than the Awareness one. Oh, you capricious dice fairies.))

Keris takes a look around, idly hunting herself a lunch of goat-with-sharp-teeth along the way. It’s... strange. The town must have been big in the day. She wonders how many people must have lived here back then. Quite a lot. She looks around. If she assumed that it was as densely populated as Nexus... maybe ten thousand?

But here, wandering around, tasting the world and eating bits of goat, she’s left feeling oddly melancholy. From the taste of the water, she thinks that they were cutting open the earth to get to magical stones. Maybe the same stones that make the sky islands fly. They were mining deep, taking the spoil - and then turning it into the grey stones. And they built again and again and again...

... and then everyone died. When she takes a dip in the lake, she can taste it. There’s the same taste of death as she tasted back in An Teng. Everyone died. The fae didn’t do much here. And among the dead, no one was left. So the place was just left as ruins. Someone picked through it, took what they could and now hardly anything is left.

Bending down, Keris hears a vault underneath a collapsed house. It echoes when she stands on it. In fact, from what she hears of the house, it might once have been something for someone wealthier. Never one to turn her nose up at a locked place that other people want her and everyone else to stay out of, she pulls out her lance and starts industriously cutting away at the floor; opening a path downward.

There’s stale air down here. Stale air and the scent of rotten flesh and old dust. Someone died in this vault, she realises. Maybe they wanted to be with their things in their last moments. Or maybe they just thought it was a safe space. Either way, it didn’t save them. She cocks her head, whistling a few times and tapping the floor to get some echoes going.

It sounds... hmm. Cluttered. Cluttered and dead. There’s six bodies down here. Four adults. Two children. And all around them, there’s the remains of rich-sounding things. There’s jade in there, certainly. If Keris had to guess, they might have been the local Shogunate nobility or something. They locked themselves down here to survive from the plague.

But they died too.

The melancholy returns. With friends. So many people died, back then. So pointlessly. It’s almost enough to put Keris off the jade.

... not entirely, of course. The corpses aren’t using their wealth, and Keris gives them little nods of sympathy as she gathers it up. But she remains in a sad mood even as she clambers back up into the weak sunlight.

This was once a thriving Shogunate town, and then catastrophe struck and everything died. Salina was from a glorious civilisation, and then catastrophe struck and everything died. Hell, the All-Makers ruled over a perfect age of glories until the Exalted came, and catastrophe struck, and everything died.

Well, probably. Keris is admittedly a little shakier on that last one. The Yozis say that their reign was perfect, and she knows they’re mighty and beautiful and terrible. But...

... well. But.

Keris wanders into the lake and floats, staring philosophically up into the sky and thinking deeply. There are quite a lot of questions floating around her. She’s not sure which of them she wants answers to.

Chapter Text

The thing is...

... the thing is, Keris concludes after an hour or two of thought, she still doesn’t know enough. She can see the problem. The way that things keep dying, the way that even good intentions don’t seem to stop people getting hurt. It’s not a problem she can ignore, because she’s done it. Her daughters do it. Everyone does it.

But knowing the problem doesn’t really help. It’s like she’s casing out a house that she knows nobody’s ever managed to steal from. Obviously there are reasons. But without seeing someone actually try, she’s got no idea what they are. She’s going in blind.

The thing is... everyone who might be able to tell her about the reasons for the cycle of everything dying is... well... dead.

Because, you know. They were there when everything died.

It is, she is forced to conclude, a bit of a problem.

Sunset distracts her from her musing, and she extracts herself from the lake to find a clearish spot to summon from. For the first time... um, ever; she’s not intending to summon one of her own devas. She wants a farisyya force to charge the fae with, but they won’t be comfortable here without some form of shelter.

Her anima banner whips around her; playing a rising song of triumph as she sends out a ripple of will across the Desert. It’s a different feeling to rooting within her own soul, where she can encompass the whole Domain in the width of her mental arms. This feels more like throwing a needle on the end of a very thin thread into a very, very big space a very, very long way away. The sheer magnitude of the echo she gets back almost overwhelms her.

Nevertheless, she states her desire.

“Bring me a builder,” she calls out to the sky. “Bring me a worker of earth and stone, a demon that lives to make houses and walls from rubble! By the Law of the Endless Desert I summon you! Come, marotte!”

((Okay, whee, time for actually running a full binding because this sort of matters since it isn’t one of her own demons.
So, the spell costs 20m, 1wp. For each extra 5m she spends, the demon suffers a -1 internal penalty on the extended roll-off. The pool is Enlightenment + Willpower for both sides, and the roll-off ends when one side gets three more successes than the other’s total.))
((So she’s rolling 8+8=16. Since she’s flaring totemic anyway, she’ll spend 10m to bring its pool down by 2 - she can’t hold enough motes at once to do more than that.
16 dice; 6 sux.))
((The hopping puppeteer that shows up, by contrast, is a bit stronger than average - Enlightenment 3, WP 7. So it has 8 dice.
... 3 successes. So Keris slams the binding straight on.))

The air splits, and sand spills forth, soaking wet from the dark water that rises up from the ground. The demon that comes through - bouncing slightly on the ground - resembles nothing more than a fist-sized hairball.

“Ew,” Haneyl notes inside Keris’ head.

And then it expands. Up. And up. And up. It’s like the biggest, worst spider ever. It has dozens of legs, which are barely thicker than strands of Keris’ hair, and tiny clawed feet tip each foot. It hisses at her, but she slams her will into it and the sight of her imperious glowing might - not to mention her will - is enough that it crumples, coiling back down so it’s a wet slimy ball at about human height.

“My lady,” it says in Old Realm, its voice crackly and wet. “I obey, as the Laws of the Desert demand of me.”

“Good,” she nods, glad that she doesn’t have to breathe. It means she doesn’t give away that the summoning took more out of her than she expected, though she can already feel the light of her soul refilling the hollow stillness inside her.

“Your task is simple,” she tells it. “Build me a stables fit for thirty or so demon horses. You have free use of the rubble here, and you can use the ruined buildings as frameworks if you choose. When you finish that, tell me, or move onto housing suitable for Citydwellers if I’m nowhere to be found.”

She can’t read its emotions as she is not well versed in the sentiments of... um, hairballs. “As you order,” it says. “Tell me, what manner of demonic steed are they? Can they fly? Do they need places to hang their meat before they devour it? And where would you wish it to be located?” She gets the feeling it’s looking around itself, even though she can’t see any eyes. “Is this to be a fortified location or not?”

“Cataphracts,” she tells it. “Heavy cavalry. They’ll mainly need...” she pauses, recalling how Haneyl treated them, “a jousting field; somewhere they can compete. This is to be a temporary base, but if I can leave it a fortified one, my ally can make use of it when I finish my business here.” She purses her lips. “The location I’ll leave to you. Wherever is best for construction and defence.”

“Yes, my lady,” it says. Once again it unfolds, a dark shape against the night sky that sprawls out with its hair-like goo-covered legs. And then it crawl-walks over to a tree, and wrapping a few legs around it, casually uproots the mountain pine. Other legs start stripping branches from it as it passes the trunk from leg to leg. It’s not exactly quiet about it, but Keris can see clearly that it is certainly very good at what it does. Those claw-feet are apparently good cutting tools, and something which sounds like a mix of sawing and crickets chirping soon fills the abandoned ruins. She watches for a few moments; thoroughly impressed, before returning to the lake to float and think.

It’s not strictly true that there’s nobody left who remembers the past, she realises after considering it a bit longer. There are some. But the Unquestionable were mostly in Hell when the Shogunate fell and when the Solars were overthrown. And she’s not sure she’d trust their accounts anyway. They feel about Solars the same way Salina does ab- wait, Salina!

Keris smacks herself on the forehead with a wet slap of hair on skin. Salina! Of course, she’d know about this sort of thing! She’d even probably have answers! Her whole territory was set up to safeguard those weaker than her! But... she raised questions about the Unquestionable that Keris still doesn’t have answers for. And what she’d said near the end; implying Keris should be a Solar... maybe her advice can’t be trusted either.

It’s a start, though.

Unfortunately, it’s a start that’s on the other side of Creation.

... but then again... maybe she doesn’t need to go to Salina. She has another Solar she can ask about this sort of thing, after all. Yamal is right here inside her. Admittedly he’s asleep at the moment, but... well, there are probably ways around him. She could... write him a letter or something, and then...

“Child,” Dulmea says with no small measure of alarm. “What are you thinking?”

“...” Keris replies, and reviews the last minute or so of her thoughts. “... okay, I can, uh, see why you’re worried,” she admits. “But! Salina emerging didn’t hurt Sasi at all! Yamal already came out once, and that was in his tomb, so I don’t need to explain the whole ‘you’re dead’ thing to him! And I was fine when I woke up a little later.”

She gives a rippling shrug that passes down her hair and propels her a few feet forward in the water. “And... he might be able to give me some answers. About how things keep falling apart and dying, and what started it, and how to stop it. I don’t want Echo and Haneyl to have to grow up afraid they’ll hurt things they care about. I don’t want to grow up afraid of hurting things I care about.”

Dulmea sighs. “Child,” she childs Keris. “That you worry about such things is just your little peculiarity, a right given over to you because you are in a place of power. It does you credit, true - and I would rather be a serf in your soul than within the City - but it is just a way to amuse yourself.” Her voice hardens. “And to give over control of your own self when you do that would be very, very unwise.”

Keris falls silent for some time, sculling to and fro from one side of the lake to the other as the sounds of rapid construction continue in the distance. She opens her mouth several times as she sorts through arguments, but none of them seem good enough to bother voicing. It takes a while for a seed to grow from the paranoid little core that’s always watching her back. And while it’s a seemingly paradoxical seed to grow from such soil, it’s a good point.

“... okay,” she says eventually, her eyes narrowing. “But look at it this way; what happened in the tomb. That blindsided me. I didn’t see it coming at all. I couldn’t stop it. Sasi didn’t expect Salina to come out; she just emerged without any warning. I guess the tomb was because it was his, but Sasi? Nothing about that ship was tied to Salina specifically. Sasi was just trying to figure out how to turn it on.”

“So what happens next time I run into something from that time? And maybe it jogs a memory or something and Yamal wakes up again. Then I’m out of control, but I won’t be prepared for it. And don’t say it won’t happen, because you know our luck. It will, someday. If I do it this way, now; I can control how he comes out. I can talk to him. He doesn’t know about you; you can watch everything he does - but all he’ll know about me is what I tell him. I can lie to him, make him like me - and then if he comes out in the middle of a mission, he might not ruin everything or get me killed.”

She pauses meaningfully. “He was already talking about something being wrong with his Exaltation last time,” she points out. “What happens if he carries on down that line of thought? Do you want to see him come to a decision by himself next time on what to do about it?”

Dulmea doesn’t sound happy, but doesn’t seem to have an answer either.

“I’ll be careful,” Keris promises. “All my weapons and armour in with you where he can’t get at them. I’ll get some distance so he can’t wreck anything or question the marotte.” She swims to the side of the lake and pulls herself out; heading off into the forest as she talks.

“Haneyl, Rathan, Echo? You were listening, yes? You weren’t born yet last time he came out, but it’s like when Salina woke up in Sasi. The important thing - the really, really important thing - is that it’s still my body. He’ll go back to sleep soon; he has to, and then I’ll be back. I just need him to answer some questions. So your job - your very very important job - is to watch what he does in secret so that I know if he lies to me.”

“I promise - I absolutely promise - that I will come back, and that I probably won’t be gone as long as Sasi was, even. Last time I’m... not sure exactly how long it was, but it wasn’t as long as Salina was awake for. Maybe because she was older.”

((So what exactly is Keris trying to do? Meditate and commune with her past life?))
((She’s going to find a good place, write a letter, and then pretty much try to deliberately trigger a Past Life flashback like what happened in the tomb, with the intent that he’ll then find and read the letter and - hopefully - respond.))
((Uh... okay. That’s certainly a way of doing things. Reaction + Survival to find a good place, I guess, and... sigh, Keris is doing it at night in the hope that’ll make him weaker, right?))
((Yes. And also because that makes it harder for him to ignore her and strike out to find civilisation.))
((keris stop exploiting your amazing powers of getting lost))
((Oh goddamnit Keris I think you’re going to just be making past-life aided Lore and Occult rolls until you fail bad enough to unleash him, which might actually get you some information with a good stunt.))
((Pretty much, yeah. Or until she succeeds too well. :P))

Dulmea still isn’t happy about it; but Keris’s precautions seem to satisfy the worst of her fears somewhat, and she helps pacify the children and look for a good spot. Surprisingly, it isn’t Haneyl but Rathan who is the most in need of reassurance. He doesn’t seem to like the idea of Keris going somewhere he can’t get her attention if he needs it, even for a short time.

Running along, Keris happens to stumble on the ruins of a mountaintop shrine. The altar has been turned over long ago and what was probably once the sacred grove is unrecognisable under the forest, but there’s still the remains of the temple and the grey stone it was built from rising up from the bare peak. The cold wind blows from the north, and Keris can taste the Wyld on it. And when she looks at the carvings of bits of the temple, she can see that the stone has run like wax in places. Another reason it was abandoned, she suspects. She can’t even recognise anything that would say which gods this forgotten ruin was devoted to.

A forgotten shrine to forgotten gods seems like an appropriate enough place for a meeting with a forgotten demigod. She carefully stows away all her possessions with Dulmea, leaving her at least with nothing but her Amulet. That, after brief thought, she decides to leave on. It was his in the first place, after all. Hopefully he’ll be glad to still be wearing it. She shifts it into a simple red robe, and brings out writing implements.

... now, this is the tricky bit.

“Yamal Icewind,” she writes in careful Old Realm.

“I learned your name from Ari, who you spoke to in Nexus outside your tomb. If you remember that, you know that you died, and that I am your successor, and that something has changed in your Exaltation. The Dragonblooded betrayed you, and now rule Creation and naming them all other Exalts ‘Anathema’ and killing them on sight. Only in the last few years have the Solars returned at all, after centuries of absence.

“My name is Keris, and we are not the only two like this. Salina also sleeps within an Exalt of this age, and spoke to me when she woke. She was concerned at the infernal taint you sensed as well, but decided I posed no threat to Creation after speaking to me. I hope you can trust her opinion. If not, I hope I can convince you.

“You are in the far north-east, where me and my allies are fighting raksha who prey on the humans here and threaten the borders of Creation. The possessions you took from your tomb are safe, and though taking them woke Rosseah’s hungry ghost, I laid it to rest again. If something attacks you while you read this; you should easily be fast enough to outpace it, but the forest should be safe.

“I wake you from slumber now because I need advice. There are things I’ve learned that I don’t know enough about. Time and again in stories of the past; the best efforts of the Exalted to build and protect have fallen to death and ruin, and nothing seems to stop it happening. No matter how hard we try, we hurt people, and I don’t know how to avoid doing the same myself.

“I’m young. I don’t know who I can trust, and I don’t know enough about the past to learn from it. Please, tell me what you know of this cycle of death and destruction. The Dragonblooded deposed you, and fell to infighting, and then fell further to plague and raksha invasion. Now they rule a Realm that’s failing yet again. Did this happen even in your time? Were things falling to ruin even then?

“I don’t know if I can trust you, and you don’t know if you can trust me. I’m trying, because I don’t know if I can afford not to. Please try in return, and help me.”

She reads over it several times, checking the impression it gives. She’s avoiding falsehoods - she can’t sense truth like Sasi can, but she’s not willing to assume Yamal won’t be able to spot a lie. Instead, she’s just... giving the same impression Salina seemed to get from her. Young, uncertain, in need of guidance. He’ll probably try to sway her to his point of view, but that will tell her a lot all on its own - and her souls’ report on his reactions to the letter will tell her more.

She corrects a few areas and alters a few more on Dulmea’s advice, then folds it and writes Yamal’s name on the outside.

Then she sits back in seiza and tries to remember an age that was lost millennia before she was born.

It’s Yamal she focuses on as she dives into memory. What kind of man he was. Compared to Salina, she knows surprisingly little about him - and most of what she does know is about his wife and children, or his resentment at the ancient Deliberative monsters and their dominance. About Yamal himself; his personality and drives and dreams, she knows little.

If she’s going to be talking to him, it’s time to learn more.

((Cog + Lore + Past Lives, and Keris is trying to beat her own MDV. If she beats her MDV, she gets additional things as well as just letting him out. Relevant Principles can reduce her MDV, if she can sneakily apply them by what she’s asking for or how the knowledge will help her drives.))
((Well, she almost certainly has a 1-dot of “Wake Up Yamal”. And, hmm. Heh. The line of her questioning is basically her worrying about Choices Are Important (but which ones are right?) and Mortals Are Fragile (so how do I not hurt them?). And “Salina-Inspired Uncertainty” is probably one she should have at the 2-dot level which I forgot to add in, as well, so fair justification for a -2 to MDV, taking her down to... uh, 4, I think?
2+2+2 Past Lives+4 Adorjan ExD {exposes the flaws in systems, inevitability that bad things happen, abhors chaos for the sake of chaos}=10 dice.))
((holy shit so many tens))
((11 sux, wtf))
((wtf, keris))
((four tens))
((that’s as many as the number of cakes a lunar ate))
((and that’s terrible))
((So, uh, that’s 7 net successes.))
((W-well. She, uh. She knows a lot about Yamal now!))

Sinking down into memory, Keris dives deeper than anything she ever has thought of before. She thinks of what she’s seen in... 19? 20? years. She’s not entirely sure how old she is, but now that she thinks of it she’s seen such remnants of a lost era her whole life. She’s seen the golden-stone of the heights in Nexus, and the lavish buildings of the rich. She’s been inside a Solar tomb and seen the magnificent wonders there. She’s seen Ligier’s layer, and memories flicker that remind her of the styles, as if they’re familiar.

And there’s another memory there. A temple of white stone, with a few traces of peeling gold paint on the facades. She saw them a very, very long time ago. There were great statues outside, really big ones - even bigger than the tallest person ever, Mama - but they were all broken and ruined and the heads had fallen off. She’d crept up to one of the heads, and even that was way bigger than she had been.

And though those memories of her own, other memories creep through. Memories of another life.

a black sky overhead and the feelings of crushing betrayal

the loving warmth of looking down at the faces of his children. His second set of children

glorious wealth. Splendour. Magnificence

She... he had been older than most of the others when he was blessed by the Sun, Keris remembers. Yes. And he hadn’t like many of the other Hidden Suns. They were often thieves, spies, murderers - people who broke the rules and then were brought into the system. He wasn’t one of them. He had been honest. Upstanding. Righteous. The Sun had Chosen him when he’d scaled the smooth outside of a tower block where there’d been a fire. He remembered the moment when his fingers seemed about to slip. As he clung on with one hand and prayed under his breath for just a little more strength, slipping on the water. Not praying for himself. Praying for the children they knew were still trapped up there. And if he couldn’t get to them, no one would because the fire was getting too hot even for him and the other firefighters in their protective gear and there was no time and-

- and then the Sun smiled on them all.

Of course his face had been all over Creation. The Deliberative loved stories like this. So did the masses. An Exaltation for a hero scaling a building without ropes to try to save children from a burning tower block. And then he’d been snatched away and taken to Meru to be trained and adored and worshipped.

What very few people knew was that he hadn’t been fast enough. That several of the children in the nursery had been dead when he got there, and that some of the ones he’d rescued had died later. People didn’t want to know. It’d ruin the story.

The guilt nagged at him. The feeling of uselessness. The feeling of undeserving praise. The feeling that he hadn’t earned all this power and wealth and fame. And he’d tried to do more, but it never seemed enough. Nothing he did was good enough to pay for the power and influence and luxury that he didn’t feel like he deserved.

Arumoh had understood. Alone, she had understood.

She feels tears run down his face. Warm, salty tears.

No, wait, he’s a he, he thinks, as Keris slips away.

((... oh, Yamal.))
(( : ( ))

Keris’ memories of the next few probably-hours are scattered. She remembers... she remembers crying. She remembers staring up at the sky. She remembers the frustration of her body not working like it should and the strange feeling of thinking that this woman from the future seems to love running too. She remembers finding a river and staring down at the not-her face there, and the terrifying way that everything feels permanently like she’s using sensory enhancement charms with no way to control it.

And then she’s opening her eyes. She’s lying beside a mountain stream, fragments of ice floating down in the current. Bare trees are dark against the moonlit sky. It feels like it’s the early hours of the morning. She rises, stretching the kinks out of her neck and accepting the needy clinging of her children in her head. She looks around for anything he might have left her.

The letter is... a bit of a mess. It seems that Yamal wasn’t used to writing with the brush and ink that Keris had brought along. She can see that there’s multiple smudges along it, like the ones she made all the time when she was learning to write.

“Keris Dulmeadokht,” the letter begins, in slightly clumsy Old Realm. His style is archaic.

“I am not sure what to say. I have heard tales of those whose past lives are stronger, but I never experienced such a thing, never had another dwelling in my body. Still, I accept that this is a thing which is possible, even though it is said that this only happens if something terribly wrong has occurred, or the deceased Exalt was greatly wronged.

“Which, alas, may be the case. The stars overhead have changed. All the constellations are subtly different and the Mask is not what I know it to be. Such changes only take place over thousands of years, so what you believe to be true may well be the case.

“And the light within you is tainted and impure. I have felt it, called it forth to blossom in full strength and it is foul and sickly. It feels unclean when moonlight shines upon it. But you are not an akuma-beast, even though the only tales I have heard of one of us Sun-Chosen becoming something of the Yozis are tales of them. You are Chosen, but not by the Sun - and yet your Third Soul is the one which was mine.

“I do not fathom how this was done. Salina might be able to work out, but I feel my mind dimmed and my skills missing within you, and no doubt she would be similarly weakened.

“Still. To business. You are still Chosen, and though far too many of us have forgotten it, it is our task to safeguard Creation against anything that may threaten it. Beware the demon lords, for they are cunning, cruel, and malignant. They seek eternal revenge for their defeat. They can wear a fair face, but they are enemies of Creation. I have seen them trick even Chosen older than myself. Beware other Chosen, for I feel that many of us become too old and too cruel for our own goods. We learn not to care about the mortals, because they are so brief.

“What can I say about myself? I was old when I was Chosen - nearly sixty years of age, when most are Chosen before their fortieth year. As a result, though I am in my second century I have been - or perhaps was - Chosen for less than fifty years, making me a child beside them. I am always aware of the fact that there were many things that I did not know - and was made more aware by my so-called betters.

“So instead I will share my knowledge, such as it is...”

He then moves to recounting a brief tale of his life. Born as a mortal, married, had children, wife died in an accident in a... some character of Old Realm Keris can’t read, maybe a place name? - served as a firefighter. He recounts much that she remembered from that glimpse, and then there’s a bit about how he was taken away from his home area and taken to Meru. He talks about learning martial arts and the joys of practice and of how he chose to associate with Terrestrials and even enhanced mortals closer to his age than most of the other Solars. And then there’s the talk of his second wife, a Sidereal, how they met and how she felt much as he did and of love and their children and how he tried to keep them from becoming the spoiled golden princelings that other Solar-children were. He speaks of Rosseah and the way she seemed to like him, but almost as a pet - charmingly naive, she’d call him. Though he adds that she always seemed to put on a tougher shell.

There isn’t an end to it. He starts writing about betrayal, but he trails off and there’s just ink blots and crossings out and tear-stains on the paper.

Keris shivers. Another Solar warning her against the Unquestionable. That’s... well, that’s something to think about later. More worrying is... the other thing.

The thing about Chosen becoming too old and cruel for their own good. Which Salina also agreed with. Which Keris has seen. The way he talks about how he kept company with Terrestrials, and seems... saner, less monstrous, than the other Solars she remembers from that time.

She bites her lip. Both Salina and Yamal agree that it’s the job of the Chosen to safeguard Creation against whatever might threaten it. They seem to not even question that. Like it’s obvious.

What neither of them have said, but what Keris is starting to suspect, is that maybe the biggest threat to Creation’s safety is the Chosen themselves. Because... well... even if the All-Makers were bad, and hurt their lessers... they didn’t do it despite not wanting to. They did it because they didn’t care. And they didn’t fall... until the Exalted came.

And then the Solars... they did care. They cared about mortals... but it hurt to see them die, and so they chose not to care, and that time became a place where ancient monsters ruled and no mortal had any power. The Dragonblooded overthrew them, and immediately fell to bickering and warring among themselves, and the Realm is a lash applied to the backs of half the Inner Threshold. And now there are Dead Exalts and people like Deveh and...

... and the source of this downhill slide, as far as Keris can tell, seems to be the point the Exalted first showed up.

As conclusions go, it’s not a particularly nice one.

“I, uh,” she starts hesitantly, feeling a little sick. “Well. I think he probably accepts me as a Chosen now, from what he wrote. So. That’s good.”

“He’s just trying to turn you against the order of how things should be. How things are meant to be,” Dulmea says. There’s kindness in her voice, but also hardness. “Oh, child. You are confused, but this was a mistake. Surely you must realise that. The Chosen of the Sun are powerful and cunning and even if he was young by their standards, he was old compared to you. He may well have been using access to your memories to phrase things just how to hurt you. To make you doubt yourself.”

“So the Dragonblooded, the Solars and Lunars and Sidereals, the Dead Exalts... they’re good for Creation?” Keris asks rhetorically. “Or are they all bad for it and we’re the only good ones, or what? Urgh! This is...”

She snarls and takes a bite-sized chunk out of a nearby tree. “Maybe this was pointless. All I’ve worked out is that Chosen go crazy when nobody questions them for too long, but if there are other Chosen who can stand up to them around, they huddle together and ignore everyone else and go even crazier.”

“Child,” Dulmea says sternly, “humans were not made to rule. You know that. I know that. The Chosen were made to be weapons to hurt the ones who were meant to rule. But then the Unquestionable, in their wisdom, took the worst and most cruel of the Exaltations, and made them kin to themselves. Now you and the ones like you are like humans, but different humans, ones who live like the demon princes with many souls.” She nods solidly. “You serve them because they are your adopted kin. The City is your Realm, and they made Creation so it will be yours, too. Unlike the traitor Exalted, you draw on the power of the world makers. You were made for this purpose, unlike them, who were made to ruin and despoil.”

((11 successes on her Per + Presence roll))

Keris shivers again, but calms.

“... okay,” she breathes slowly. “Okay. Yeah. None of the others... none of the others could create Rathan or Haneyl. Or make worlds within themselves. And Dead Exalts, they’re... they’re made to kill even more.”

Her heartrate settles. There’s still a tinge of unease. But the frustrated panic is gone. Slipping into meditation, Keris crawls practically into Dulmea’s lap and hugs her needily. There’s a dog-pile of her souls onto her as all three of the children pounce on Keris and hold on tight. Echo is wearing her dress and gloves and has a very scolding expression on her face. Haneyl is shaking like a leaf, burrowing her face into Keris’ chest with her hair hugging Keris very very tight. And Rathan...

“No! Bad mama!” he tells her with utmost seriousness. “Don’t you ever, ever, ever, ever let the bad man who says bad things take over again! Ever ever never ever! He... h-he means you’re not there!” His big eyes are wobbly and his lip is shaking and he looks adorably huggable and utterly distraught. She cuddles them, and they cuddle her, and slowly - by degrees - they settle.

Keris doesn’t mention her talk with Yamal when she gets back to the old Shogunate town, and throws herself back into preparations. With the attentions of a couple more hopping puppeteers and Keris herself helping here and there, the little fortified encampment grows quickly, and the stables fill slowly but surely with Haneyl’s cataphracts.

It’ll take about a month of summoning to get enough of them for Keris to be satisfied taking them into the Wyld zone against an army of fae constructs. She checks on the ironbelly toads she left in the freehold she ransacked, hopeful but not terribly optimistic about their survival rates.

There is one, rather fat one left. It’s living in the pool underneath the main layer, and when Keris finds it it’s eating a weak fae goblin creature which is apparently spontaneously forming or possibly mutating from birds that fly into the place. She sighs and moves it to her encampment, where it settles down in the lake with ill grace. She allows it to hunt in the mists when it grows hungry again, but strictly forbids it from venturing further in onto the glacier.

But after she has the basis of her encampment set up, it doesn’t require that much time from her. She turns her attention back to Testolagh’s owlriders, setting up her vitriol still in one of the puppeteer-built buildings and accepting a cripple from Testolagh who would otherwise have been sacrificed to the gods. With theion to, plenty of Wyld essence and a fair number of exotic materials, there’s quite a bit she can do - first leaching out the poisons in the woman’s system, then replacing them with better changes.

Keris gets to work.

The woman’s name is Kuha, she says with the help of a peronelle translator. She numbly recounts how a bad landing shattered both her ankles. Keris gets the very dark feeling that she doesn’t care what happens to her - no, worse, she expects to be killed and wants it. If she told her to plunge a knife into her chest to please the gods, she’d do it. And the feeling isn’t entirely religious in nature. Or, rather, it’s amplified by something dark and poisonous that Keris can taste in her sweat. Some kind of plant extract that both numbs pain and leaves them fuzzy, doped up and unafraid of death - or pretty much anything else.

Unwilling to send her into a panic attack, Keris leaches it out of her slowly; fixing her ankles up with Haneyl’s help and providing a relentlessly cheerful certainty that she’ll please the gods by being remade as an even better flier than she was. Ripping away that dull numbness without giving her any assurance that she isn’t crippled for life would likely kill her. But offering her a lifeline first, and then pulling it away by stages... that’s safer.

Leaching out the poisons turns out to be trickier than expected. Most of them, as it turns out, are in fact keeping her alive. If Keris takes them out first, she’ll die. So instead, Keris is going to have to do it the other way around - apply the changes she wants to give the woman with vitriol alchemy, then rely on the enhanced healing and Keris’s own medical skills to hold her together long enough to drain the poisons out.

This discovery leads to a fair amount of swearing, but Keris dutifully gets down to reworking all her notes after only a brief period of banging her head on a wall and complaining.

((Heh. Is Keris going to start taking her around with her once she’s fixed the ankles, and even see if she can get used to riding an anyaglo?))

Once Kuha’s head is a little clearer - and she can stand again, albeit shaking on legs that are clearly too thin and too weak - she proves to almost be chatty. She watches Keris all the time, and seems scared of the idea that she might leave her.

As she tells Keris, her child-proportioned eyes wide; “You saved me. I would be dead if not for you.” Keris can see tears in her eyes as she adds, “If you had been here earlier, the gods would not have taken many of my other sisters.”

Keris winces. “They won’t take more,” she promises. “If these changes I’m working on - if these work, they won’t need to take any. You’ll heal from almost anything. No more cripples; no more sickness.”

“We always die when the gods want us to,” Kuha says. “We return to them much younger than others. We fly fast, and we must die so we do not offend them.”

Keris spends the next month experimenting and theorising. Her first priority is to set up an alchemical lab. She takes a brief trip back to Hell to collect some more alchemical equipment from her townhouse, as well as a City laboratory which she moves into her soul. The brass and basalt building comes back with her to Creation, along with a pair of metody-alchemists from her staff, and is soon set up in the middle of her encampment.

That done, she gets to work, mixing hair and blood samples from both herself and Testolagh with the growth-retardant drugs. Once she thinks she has a handle on their interactions, she moves on to testing them on animals, trying to reduce their size and bolster their healing.

It’s a good thing she does. The first few die quickly, and she has to mercifully dispatch several more after that. Solving the falling problem takes time as well, though Kuha proves a surprisingly useful source of ideas once she begins to understand what Keris is aiming for. It’s her suggestion to look at sycamore seeds for inspiration on how to slow an owlrider’s fall without encumbering them with heavy wings or the ungainly skin flaps of flying squirrels.

Things don’t go as well as Keris might have hoped. She was thinking that it might be easier, but the problem is the scale of the changes. She’s going to need to rebuild their entire biology. She’s going to need to resculpt their flesh, replace all their bones, she’s even going to have to change their minds a little bit so they feel like their body is theirs.

In the other sense though, it’s a productive month. By the end she has multiple demons working on rebuilding the town, around her towering brass and basalt Malfean tower block that’s positively a fortress in this place. Around it are rough wooden stables and sculpted stone structures, pulled up. There are even earthen berms with a wooden palisade around the edge.

Her twenty or so farisyya are... problematic. They’re touchy and uppity and they’re natives of the Swamp, so find it far, far too cold up here. They obey her because they know she’s their lady’s mother, but they’re upset and easily offended.

Eventually, she reaches a point where the only real way to proceed is to have better tools available. Magical tools. She needs the Nests, and that means getting back to Hell. And, as luck would have it, twenty-odd farisyya are a potent force with which to attack the freehold.

“Cataphracts!” she calls to them, lining them up in their jousting area and flaring her caste mark. “You have been kept here long enough. Sleep well tonight, and make ready your weapons!” Swinging Wyldeater off her back, she holds it high. “Tomorrow, we attack!”

As one, they raise their thorn lances. The horses bellow in a deep bass that... uh, suggest that Haneyl wasn’t entirely sure what a horse sounded like. Keris thinks they sound more like a leopard when they roar. Their riders join in which a hissing wheeze, air pumped through plant-filled lungs.

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.