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.::||{...Anniversary RP - Eamnonn and Malh'reth...}||::.

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Anniversary RP - Eamnonn and Malh'reth
**In need of editing to fit proper timeline**

The Hunt was living up to his name, splattered with gore and bits of formally living deer. He was in the shape of a gigantic green wolf and surrounded by his shadow hunters, the flexing of his magic as well as his muscles helping to clear his head. Rushing after the sound of a prey animal's heart anticipating its end blotted out everything else, and and lying sated on blood-soaked moss was nothing but bliss. He was more glad now that Kaelin had come to stay at his temple than he had when his friend had first appeared, all doubts washed away by giving in to simply being himself. Yeah, it was corny, but it was lovely all the same. Lazily he cracked a thighbone in half with his massive molars, licking up the marrow contained within.

The upcoming forest was a blessed sight for the weary Aurion. He’d hurried his step when the flatness of the plains started to give way to more frequent trees and small rolling hills. Shade was a wonderful thing, he’d come to realize and even though he was fanning himself with a summoned device, the mage still felt as though he were baking under the prairie sun. Thus, when he finally reached the tree line proper and entered the forest he let out a great sigh of relief. It was comfortable… cool… and thrumming with energy. Wandering deeper and deeper, he paused as he pressed the palm of his hand against a tree, wondering if he’d come across another node… a concentration of magic in the landscape that inundated the area with energy. He felt better then before, that was certain. This place didn’t seem so… weak as that from which he’d traveled. It had to mean he was going in the right direction.

Malh’reth had little time to ponder this before the loud snap-crack of a breaking bone echoed in the air. Jumping, the mage slowly scanned the area, looking for the source of the sound. It couldn’t be a good sign… Hoping he hadn’t wandered into the nest of some aggressive creature, the Aurion quickly chose what he thought was the opposite direction from the sound and hurried away. Not a particularly stealthy soul, he kept stepping on sticks and gravel as he tried to find a path through the ancient forest but give the bone-breaking creature a wide enough birth.

His dark hunters never truly sated of their lust for the chase looked at him eagerly in response to the chorus of sounds indicating something moving nearby. It did not smell like local wildlife and its progress had the cadence of a bipedal creature - not a god, and probably not one who would know better. The huge beast-Hunt stretched, nodding to his ephemeral companions and sending them streaming towards the attempted retreater. They slid literally through the trees, quickly surrounding the unknown traveler and tracking its movements with unearthly red eyes set in dark, shapeless forms. Its horn made them snap and growl, eager to smell blood once more: only prey animals wore such adornment.

Eamnonn shook himself back into his usual form, taking to the trees and following the trail to his impatient beasties. His vision showed the colors that theirs could not, and upon catching sight of their quarry had to smother a laugh that bubbled unbidden into his throat. His daughter had a dress about the same color as his eyes.

"You really ought to knock before barging in, you know." He called out from above, feeling more impish than he had in a while.

Heart beat faster as not one but several dark creatures surrounded him, sending him into a run. Melh'reth was a mage, not a warrior! Fishing in his sleeve for his little book of drawings, he stumbled as a voice rang out. Catching a foot on the forest floor as he twisted to look up at the voice's source, he nearly toppled over. "Knooo-agh!" Knocking against a tree, he shook his head as he put his back against it, frowning. Without looking, his fingers were playing through the pages of the book, counting them off mentally as he searched for something that might be useful.

"I-I'm only passing through... I didn't know..." He spoke to the forest at general, nervously flicking gaze towards the glowing, eager eyes he kept seeing.

A snap of his fingers and the shadow beasts vanished, back to his psyche from whence they came. Eamnonn leapt from his perch, landing on the ground with a crash before standing up to his full height. Between the lengthened limbs and the forested wings, he was impressive.

"Fair enough, but do remember it for next time: we're mostly carnivores here. Who are you?"

He blinked as the creatures vanished, wondering if their master was some sort of illusionist. Pushing off from the tree, he brushed his robe free of dirt and burs, looking up just as Eamnonn landed before him. Malh'reth had had his mouth open to reply but now it closed as words died on his lips. It wasn't a fellow mage standing there... or at least he didn't think it was. At length, he snapped out of his surprise and committed the image to memory. Perhaps he'd sketch this out later... might tell his friends of this one.

Swallowing his initial comment, the Aurion nodded as he dipped into a slight bow, "Alright... Call me Malh'reth. A traveling entertainer." He'd stopped riffling through his book, but he hadn't closed it either. While Ea didn't seem... malevolent, experience had taught not to trust that first impression one hundred percent. "How are you?"

"An entrainer, eh? Dare I ask what sort of act you do?" The Hunt grinned, channeling Kae's sense of humor.

"What sort of showman prepares for battle with a book anyway?" He asked with a tilt of his head, nodding to the object in the fellow's very complicated hand. "Do you protect yourself with idioms?"

"I tell stories... well enough that I bring them to life before my audience." He quipped, standing a little taller. His profession was nothing to jest at. Despite himself, he chuckled and shrugged, flipping the book open to the page where he'd kept his finger, "If the situation calls for it suppose I could. Though I prefer to use things more reliable then words - not everyone is willing to listen."

Shuffling, he selected an illustration of a bird in flight and drew his fingers across the image, smiling as he channeled the ambient energy. It was easier here, to call things into existence. "I battle with far more then a book, sir." With a swirl of long-fingered hands, he pulled the ink from the page and tossed the bird into the air where the flapping of wings immediately cut through the air, "For you see, I have imagination at my disposal." Grinning, he winked as he held out a hand that the bird then settled upon, "Even then, that's sometimes not enough."

Sighing, he tilted his head to the side, "Has your land witnessed a degradation as well? My home is fading - the magic slipping away and ah, I'm trying to figure it out."

"We all have our gifts, it seems." The Hunt said, taking the leather glove from his belt and sliding it over his left hand. With a thought his shadow hawk slid out of the air, landing on his arm and sinking its talons into the thick leather. It was huge, dark, and surprisingly well detailed. It eyed the other magically summoned avian with a hungry air.

"We're the source of it here, unfortunately, although if you're home has only been touched by it recently I commend you on being so far flung. Destruction and upheaval are never fun. This forest and its inhabitants live because I do: I am a god and this is my domain."

"Oh..." His concentration flagged and the bird dissolved into nothingness, reappearing on its proper page as he tool a half step back. He couldn't compare to... a god. "A-a a god? I..." He frowned, trying to get his words to come together properly. Melh'reth didn't think they existed... or at least not as incarnations like the one before him. "I... didn't... Ah," He laughed and ran a hand through his hair, clearly unsettled.

"Well, to be honest, it's been happening for a long time now. It's... just slow. The world isn't falling apart or anything, but for someone like me the death of magic isn't particularly appealing." He tapped his horn softly, "Sort of need it to function."

And then the god's words settled on him, "Wait. What? The source of it? I don't understand..."

"Of the Hunt, more specifically, so if you like game meat you'll love me. The name's Eamnonn." And he was freaking out, like mortals tended to do. Good job doofus. You've met enough people who have never seen a god before to know better than that. Some lessons never quite stuck.

He frowned at the description of what exactly was decaying for Mal. "Death of magic? That's a form of Destruction I haven't heard of before. It would make sense though, as he seems to figure out the thing you need the most and then set it on fire-"

"Um, yes." Ea sighed and let his hawk dissolved, fidgeting with his glove before stuffing it back in his belt. "I'll explain it as best I can but I'm not exactly clear on the mechanics of it myself. Basically this is World Zero, and everything that happens here effects all other worlds. The farther out from here you go, the less information from here 'gets through' as it were, and so the more different the worlds are from the epicenter. A World One, for example, probably thinks of the God of the Hunt in very similar terms to what I actually am, while a World Ten Thousand might not even have a concept of deity at all. The worlds in the mid range get the message but it's distorted, and everything that happens here eventually filters out to the rest. So, when the Age of Destruction began here it started to effect the close worlds first and work it's way out, and if it's fixed here the healing will radiate out the same way the dying did."

"...did that make as little sense to you as it did me?"

"Well... There's... potential in your surroundings... an ambient energy. My people rely on that to.. well, sense things and cast our magic...." He started, trying to sound properly respectful but not snivelling either. It was harder then he'd expect and he dropped his gaze, bending into a sort of froze bow. How was one supposed to treat such things? God of the hunt?

"I.... I, ah, I don't eat meat...." He murmured reflexively and then immediately regretted that. It probably made him sound like some sort of prey... An unsure smile tugged at his lips as he glanced up at the Hunt.

"Er...." He frowned at the description and the lack of repercussion, regaining a little confidence, "Like.... this?" Malh'reth lifted a hand, sketching glowing lines in the air. A small circle surrounded by another and another and another that then pulsed out on it's own so that a large bull's eye floated between them. Once done, a wash of grey radiated out, turning more transparent towards the edge. "No... it doesn't make any sense to me - I haven't actually gone anywhere... I'm still in my own world - right?" Confused now, he tried to figure out how the animated diagram before him linked with his own home.

See? This is what happened when he didn't think. Ea reached out a hand and patted the horned man on the shoulder, doing his best to give a friendly smile devoid of fangs. "Hey, don't worry about that bowing stuff. Some gods here stand on ceremony, but I don't. Don't be a jerk and we'll get along fine, okay?"

"Well, I can't really tell you what plants are safe to eat as I don't munch them, but you're welcome to chow down on what you can." He said, waving vaguely at their surroundings. "Just don't deforest the place."

"Sure." The Hunt shrugged, not having any idea how to explain the whole mess any more than he already had. He leaned down, sniffing his companion. "You certainly don't smell like you're from around here, and it is possible to accidentally walk from one world to another without noticing it. Being the center of it all, inter-dimensional doorways seem to be called here more often than not.

"Sorry... I've never met a god before." He offered an apologetic smile, relieved to find the other's touch wasn't like a thunderbolt or something. A soft laugh, "I won't deforest your home, don't worry. I don't eat that much." Arching a brow, he cast a look around and then jumped as Ea sniffed him, gaze instantly flicking to the deity.

"Wouldn't it be a surprise if I said I was from around here, hnn?" He grinned, stepping back away from the Hunt for a little space - he didn't like people getting too close, "So everything really does... radiate from this this place? It's the center of the world sort to speak?" Musing out loud, he crossed his arms and tucked hands into his armpits, "And you said if the problem was fixed here... that the that 'fix' would reach out too.... then how can you fix it? Will I be able to walk out again as I seem to have walked in." He chuckled, amused by his apparent bumbling into the land of gods.

This'd make an unbelievable story. "Hah. When I get home, no one's going to believe me when I say I've had a conversation with the God of the Hunt." Shaking his head, he met the other's gaze once more, as though expecting an answer - Ea was a self-proclaimed god after all.

At Mal's jump Ea leaned back guiltily. "Sorry - as one of my gifts is senses of awesome, I'm a rather physical deity. I didn't mean to loom."

"We're working on it. As for how the fix is going to work... I'll be able to tell you that after it's happened." His tails swished and he shrugged, looking helpless and hopefully endearing. He had no intention of laying out the entire sordid tale for someone he had just met, and in all honesty was probably the least informed of his little party anyway. Big Dumb Hunter Guy was such a useful act.

The Hunt grinned. "You might not want to tell them - around here mortals who say they've met gods are generally thought to be crazy."

"No... it's alright." He shifted, fiddling with his sleeves momentarily, "After it's happened? Even the gods don't know everything?" Malh'reth tilted his head to the said, amused, "Or perhaps beyond a mortal's understanding? Either way," and he waved his hand, "it's fine. I'm sure I'll learn more as I travel on - I followed the lines of power here, they have to converge somewhere right?"

"Crazy?" He laughed then, "It'll just be another far flung story. Nobody believes me when I tell my stories as it is - even with animated images for their benefit. Just entertainment." He shrugged. The mage loved his job anyway, "Doesn't matter though. I make the children laugh or coo in wonder. It's all you can really ask for, besides a long life."

"A little of both. I don't think I have a big enough vocabulary to describe it all properly." The Hunt was apologetic and congenial, right up until Mal indicated he might possibly be heading towards the pantheon. Even accidentally, it was a grade a bad idea.

"Um, yeah, about that... follow the lines to the convergence and you may get pounced upon and end up lingeringly sacrificed so a god can be reborn. I mean, it's not guaranteed, and some are nicer than others, but it happens." He felt vaguely traitorous for saying that, but he needed to know. The lava pits produced their own warnings but jewels looked harmless until they were embedded in your skin.

"Ah... well, that's why I like pictures. Don't need to wards to draw out what you're talking about." He idly drew a stick figure in the air with a spear that then threw it at a herd of some sort of herbivore, "Don't need to tell you what that means." Smiling, trailed his fingers through the lines after a moment, smearing them like smoke that drifted on the breeze.

"Sacrificed?" He quirked a brow, not really understanding, "I don't plan on being sacrificed or joining any sort of cults, thanks. Just want to know what's going on what I can do to address it." Malh'reth pursed his lips as he set a hand on his hip, a thoughtful expression upon his features, "A god reborn? I'm not a cleric, I couldn't possibly do something like that. I can draw a god but it isn't actually the god, but I doubt that counts."

The Hunt shook his head. "Being sacrificed doesn't require consent - my host chose to take on my jewel, but not everyone has. If you are chosen, and a... manifested god is present, you'll probably end up bejeweled whether you to or not. deities can be rather asinine."

And who was he to deny a fellow god rebirth? Hissed some vague sense of species loyalty in the back of his mind. He rolled his eyes and swatted it away, admiring Mal's magical pictures. "It's the god's magic that makes you a host, not yours. The human that I ended up growing from was a mundane historian - if she had any magical powers, it was only drinking her weight in tea."

He frowned, sensing the other was indeed serious, "So... gods grow from mortals? Is that what you're saying?" Mal didn't like the sound of that... especially if he had no choice in the matter. Choice was something precious to the mage. Tilting his head to the side, the Aurion pondered the wisdom of this journey. He wanted to know... and see if there was an answer. Which, obviously, there was but what was it? Would the possibility of being sacrificed be reason enough to turn back?

"But it's just a possibility right? It won't happen for certain." He looked to the other for confirmation, hopeful. Ea didn't know how to describe what was going on... so he couldn't really gain any more information from this god and that meant pushing forward. "If I'm careful, I won't end up a... host. You've been pleasant company," he laughed, "far from asinine. Surely there are more like you - I'll just have make sure those are the ones I contact."

Ea slumped for a moment, giving up. He wasn't saying any of this right, and it was clear his companion was hearing them in his own way. "Yes. Only a possibility. I'm sure you'll be fine."

He plastered on a faint smile and pointed in the direction Mal had been heading before the shadows had stopped him. "Go that way. Walk for a week. You want the building surrounded by ash and fire. If you meet a god named Harmodious be very, very careful." If dissuading would do nothing, smoothing the way was the least he could do - even if it might be to his doom.

Malh'reth frowned slightly, stepping closer as the god slumped, concerned. He seemed... off, thought that wasn't exactly the right word for it. "If I really shouldn't... I-" The mage cut himself off as he got the feeling that the Hunt had just dimissed him.

Fuzzy ears drooped slightly as he turned, "Alright. I'm sorry to have bothered you sir. I'll make sure to knock when next I pass through." He offered a wan smile and a half-wave as he started off in the direction Ea had indicated. "Thank-you for your help."

Eamnonn had left him with a great deal to mull over during his travel. Growing gods, gods themselves existing, a malevolent force spreading out.... it was far different then what he'd been expecting. Perhaps the answer would be just as unlikely.

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.::||{...Vampiric Encounters...}||::.

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Vampiric Encounters Pt. 1 | Vampiric Encounters Pt. 2

It was time for a break, dusk had come and gone about an hour ago, forcing him to fashion a light of some sort. He'd been wandering almost aimlessly for the majority of the day, trying to catch and follow one of the lines that had lead him here. But... it had gotten confusing as more and more came together in tangles of knots, misleading him. Thus, when he finally broke out on the edge of the forest and he saw foothills once more, the mage slumped. The line he was currently following would probably just lead him right back to where he'd started with his luck.

Sighing, he flipped open his book and pulled a small tent from it, casting it out onto a small patch of rocky ground. At least he wouldn't have to sleep on pebbles if he didn't want to. Entering the tent, he summoned a bed roll and then left, setting about making camp. A small fire crackled in a stone ring a few moments later, warming him while he nibbled on some salmon berries he'd foraged while wandering.

Turning his gaze out to the dark foothills, he decided he should keep going. Perhaps some perspective might be helpful in re-aligning his sense of direction.

At the edge of the forest, Iden wandered aimlessly and happily through the trees. The state of the world lately was very depressing, and it was nice to see actual green things, rather than things that had been green but were now brown and crackly. Still, she couldn't spend too much time wandering - it was a long way from here to home, and she didn't want to have to do something ridiculous like dig herself a hole before the night ended because she'd lost track of time. She'd never had to do anything like that before, and she preferred to keep it that way. Beds were much more comfortable, as well as considerably less dirty.

She walked with her hands shoved in her pockets, humming to herself to fill the silence; but then she caught sight of a flickering fire in the dark, and fell quiet. Someone was camping? Curious - but not hungry - she ambled towards the light.

When the berries ran out, he removed one of his barely touched sketch books and a small stick of charcoal. Unwrapping the fabric from around the stick, he began sketching out what he'd seen. A god... with leafy wings and skin the colour of the leaves around him. It wasn't long before a rouch but recognizable sketch came to life on the page and he smiled.

"They'll have to believe me. Gods do exist." Mumbling to himself, he set his book on his lap and prodded the fire with a long, sturdy branch. Coughing as the winds shifted and blew smoke in his face, the mage remained ignorant of the approaching vampire.

Cursing the smoke, he shifted his position. His fire wouldn't give off smoke but neither would it warm and it was a cool night. Prodding the fire once more, his little tower of wood collapsed, sending up a plume of sparks that made him skitter back in alarm and frustration. As the sparks settled, he drew nearer the fire once more and cautiously set more fuel into the ring. "You're not going to get anywhere if you burn yourself alive, Mal."

Iden was quiet as she approached, though not because she was trying to sneak up on the stranger; she was, in fact, rather shy, and just wanted to take a look and see who was out here. Actually meeting new people had never been a strong point of the young vampire's. As such, she didn't really have any intentions of strolling right up and saying 'hello.'

The small and furry something in the backpack slung over her shoulder, however, had all of Iden's curiosity and none of her timidity. Wriggling its way out, the pooka hopped onto the ground and skittered right up to the man with an inquisitive chirp.

So much for not saying hello.

He blinked as the pooka run up to him, pausing in his motion to peer curiously at the stranger beast. Malh'reth had never seen such a thing... let alone such colours. Tilting his head to the side, furry ears perked a little, turning forward to focus on the new arrival. At length, he furrowed his brow when it didn't do anything nasty and reached out a long-fingered hand to scritch the furry forehead. "How interesting.... So colourful!" He smiled as he admired the thing.

"Where did you come from...?" He glanced back at the forest, wondering if it had a mother that might come roaring out at him for touching her baby... and the thought made him draw away, choosing instead to watch rather then touch.

The pooka chittered its approval at the scritching, ears falling back when it stopped. That had been nice - it liked to be scritched! It also liked fire, however, and was very easily distracted by such things. As no more scritches seemed forthcoming, it toddled over and stuck its nose in the man's campfire.

Hands still firmly in her pockets, Iden finally stepped out into the open, looking every bit as sheepish as she felt, and half-mumbled, "Sorry, they're nosy little things."

"Wha? HEY! Don't don't do that!" Mortified to see the little creature stuff its face into the flames, Mal grabbed it around the middle and hefted it out while attempting to keep sleeves from catching fire as well. "Don't do that little guy. You'll hu-"

He cut himself off as a feminine voice floated in the night air and he glanced over, eyes wide in surprise. Head canted to the side, one ear drooping while the other remained upright, the Aurion might have been a comical sight to some. For Malh'reth it was life as normal. "He... er, it, yours?" Swivelling in his crouch, he held the pooka out to her, "Might want to keep it away from fire. It just tried to kill itself..." Pursing his lips, he looked it over, making sure it wasn't too badly injured.

Hey! The pooka squeaked in protest, legs peddling frantically in midair. It wiggled and squirmed, straining towards the fire it had been pulled away from. It was, in fact, very much unharmed, and could have hopped right into the fire without any troubles...which was exactly what it wanted to do.

"It," she confirmed, smiling just a little. "It's alright - fire doesn't hurt it any. Sorry it startled you, though." Iden shifted her weight from one foot to the other, feeling quite awkward. Why did meeting people have to be such a pain? There really ought to have been some way to skip the meeting and getting-to-know-you stage; it would make everything so much easier.

He loosed his grip just a little, thinking its squirming was the result of his grip but frowned as it actually tried to get back to the flame. Confused and a little concerned, he turned it further away from the fire, "Not a good idea... Really?" Mal asked, quirking a brow, "You sure....? I've never known a creature that could walk in fire and not get hurt."

Gingerly, he set it down and patted its back briefly before returning his attention to the woman, "Don't worry about it. I just wasn't expecting anything to take up residence in my little fire." Smiling, he stood and brushed off his pants and tunic before offering a hand, bowing slightly as he did so, "I am Malh'reth. And who might you be?".

As soon as it was released, the pooka scrambled into the fire before anyone could get it into their head to stop it again. Warm and toasty and smoky~! And quite a comfy size, too. Circling a few times, it curled up right in the middle.

"It's a fire pooka," she explained. Tentatively, Iden took the offered hand to shake, her own hand smooth and cold to the touch. "I'm Iden."

He turned his head to watch the fire sputtering and protest the intrusion then laughed softly as both fire and pooka settled, "I can see that now." Shaking her hand, he nodded, "That's a nice name. You're chilled, why don't you have a seat? Warm you up some?" Turning he gestured at the fire, "I'm sure I can find another rock to sit on."

By her introduction, he didn't think she was a goddess. Eamnonn had been frank about it. God of the Hunt, simple and straightforward. And she didn't carry the same sort of feeling as he did - for which he was grateful. Mal really didn't have the inclination to grovel at the moment.

"Why is a lady like yourself wandering about at night? I'm a visitor to this land and already I know to knock on a forest upon entry." Quirking a brow, he grinned, "Lucky trial and error."

Iden chuckled a little, color flushing her pale cheeks. "It's okay, there's umm...not much to be done for it." She could warm her skin if she really wanted, but there wasn't much point to the trick. And fire was not the most fabulous of ideas. The whole vampire thing rarely failed to make things any less awkward. "You can keep your rock."

"Thanks for the offer, though," she added hastily, not wanting to seem snarky. She quirked a smile at his joke, one that showed a hint of fang. "Oh, not much. I just like it better at night, is all."

"It's not so hot. Wh...what about you?" Man, did she ever sound lame! What was she doing here again?

"No? Well then... ah..." He shuffled around, trying to figure something else out, "Sit with me then? I don't bite." Smiling as he crouched by the fire once more, Mal watched her for a moment before responding to her question. "I'm trying to find some place called the Pantheon. I came looking for answers and am afraid I've gotten lost. It's so confusing around here..."

Gesturing to the area at large, he shrugged, "The God of the Hunt, calls himself Eamnonn, pointed in me this direction. I think. But I don't see a building so I figure I'll just keep walking for a ways.

"Umm...alright." Fire wasn't terribly good for vampires like herself, but Iden also couldn't bring herself to say 'no.' She'd just have to, well, not sit terribly close. Not that a stray spark would be enough to do her in, of course, but better safe than sorry. So she sidled over, selecting a spot that didn't put her uncomfortably near to the fire, and sat with her legs folded.

"Pantheon?" She blinked owlishly. A place called a Pantheon? That seemed odd. "God?" Pantheons were generally made up of gods...not that she'd ever met any, or thought overmuch about those sorts of things to begin with.

He nodded, "I'm not really sure what, or where, it is but I'm hoping to find answers." Mal shrugged as he nudged a stone back into place with his toe, "And yeah, a God. That's what he said he was. Didn't question it too much since if he was, I don't want to be smote for insolence," laughing softly the mage glanced over at her and wondered why she'd chosen that spot to sit in. Pursing his lips, the Aurion passed it off as some small quirk that everyone had.

"I'm guessing you haven't heard of those things?" Tilting his head to the side, Malh'reth blinked. Odd... everyone at home was aware of the legends surrounding the 'gods' even though very few actually believed they existed. Mal hadn't until he'd met Ea and even then... he had yet to see things of divine power and might. Much could be done with magic, making him a skeptic. "Or perhaps you don't think such beings truly exist?"

"I mean, well, I have, but.." Iden rubbed the back of her neck, feeling rather put on the spot, and laughed nervously. "It's not exactly every day you run into someone who's talked to one, y'know?" Or thought they'd talked to one, at any rate.

Truth was, religion was something she didn't think about much, especially with not having seen her friend Naraka in quite some time. The older vampire was a much more spiritual sort to begin with, and now and then they'd talked about that kind of thing, but that was pretty much that. There'd been what had happened to Seppa, of course, but she was still a little sketchy on the details of that whole mess.

He nodded, "True... Then again, it's not like I'm some sort of priest. I don't really believe in gods - my home isn't really the kind of place that worships higher powers. We have legends and the like... but I've never seen something happen that could only be described as divine intervention. So, I'm a bit of a skeptic you could say." Mal set his elbows on his knees and enjoyed the warmth of the fire, "I know there's some sort of force beyond what I can see that drives our magic but... it's fading."

Realizing he was babbling, the mage stopped and laughed softly, "I'm sorry. I'm probably boring you with my musing. Long story short, I came here trying to figure out why the magic is fading and found myself supposedly in the lands of the gods. I didn't think the center of everything would be like this, let alone a god like that."

To be perfectly honest, Iden was feeling a little, well...lost. All she'd been doing was going for a walk, but then curiosity and a pooka had landed her in a very weird conversation about fading magic and 'the lands of the gods.' She'd certainly never thought about it that way! Granted, Gaia could be a pretty strange place, especially lately, but land of the gods was probably pushing it.

...and if there were gods, what would they have a land for, anyway? The vampire fussed with the fringes of hair that fell to the sides of her face - just another nervous habit she had when she was talking to someone. It didn't matter if the conversation was about gods or whether or not it was going to rain tomorrow, she just couldn't help it. Though she often looked it in the clothing she wore, she really didn't behave anything at all like your stereotypical vampire; she was, for the most part, an utterly normal person. Not that she didn't have her quirks, like animal-hoarding...that was probably the biggest one.

"The center of everything huh? D'you really think it is?" It was a bit of a silly question, but the first one she managed to think of to ask.

He pondered her question for a long moment before shrugging, "I don't really know. It doesn't feel like it... Sure, I've met people and seen things that I never have before but then again I have travelled far from my home port. Hard to say." The mage sighed, turning his palms skyward and flexed his fingers.

"Pardon me, but where are you from? What's your home like?" He smiled, curled one long-fingered hand about the other and leaned towards her, "If this is truly the center of everything, then your home is probably different from mine even though I've met humans before." His air was light, friendly and genuinely curious. Perhaps learning more would help him piece together this giant puzzle.

"Mm?" Iden was watching the fire crackle, while its little nester rolled over. "Oh, I live here. I didn't always, but...I like it better here. Weird stuff is totally normal, and nobody really bats an eye."

"So you traveled here as well?" He tilted his head to the side, "What made you come?" Falling quiet as he pondered her last comment he found it amusing it was much like that back home - strange happenings occurred all the time but nobody ever thought twice about it.

Then again, nobody claimed they were gods.

The simplest way to answer his question was to pull back her lips and bare her teeth at him, showing fangs; she didn't mean anything aggressive by it, of course, but she was ready to move if he took it badly. This part of meeting people was always awkward, and never predictable. It was a pity there was no way to just skip it or something.

...well, she could always just lie about it, but that only worked for so long before someone noticed something. And besides that, she was a really bad liar.

He frowned, not understanding. Tilting his head to the side in a look of confusion, Malh'reth offered the only comment he could think of, "You... have a pretty smile?" He'd never met a vampire before and the sight of fangs didn't alarm him as there were beast-like people in the realm he came from that took pride in their tusks and fangs.

Iden laughed. It would figure he was someone who didn't know what that meant! Of course, he really did look weirder than she did - well, from her perspective. "I'm a vampire. Creeps a lot of people out."

Malh'reth shrugged, "You don't bother me, you're rather good company. But... what's a vampire? I've never met one before." It was probably a good thing that Iden was his first encounter as the mage seemed rather oblivious to the possible tricks and trouble a vampire might plan.

Well, none of this was at all the kind of response she'd expected! He didn't even know what it meant! Not that she minded; it meant he wasn't freaking out or something, and that made her much more comfortable. "I'm dead - well, undead, technically. Sentient though, not like some kind of zombie." Did he even know what a zombie was? "I bite people and drink their blood."

He blinked, understand what a zombie was - it happened on occasion back home when people messed with life and death. "Dead? You don't look dead." He arched a brow, chuckled, "So, because you're undead you bite people? Is that a compulsive thing or simply an entertaining activity?" It was rather amusing, picturing her nibbling on some fellow only because she was technically undead. "Do actually need the blood?"

"It's easier to see when the light's better. I'm pretty pale, my heart doesn't beat, I don't have to breathe, stuff like that." Iden chuckled - not laughing at Malh'reth, but instead amused by the whole thing. Most people didn't usually find the vampire deal funny; her friend Naraka disapproved of the whole thing entirely, and he was a vampire. "Because I'm a vampire, yeah. And...both, kind of? We need it and it's instinctive, but for most vampires it's an...'entertaining activity,' too."

"Really? You'd make a wonderful alchemist - the toxic fumes wouldn't bother you then." He pursed his lips, "Maybe even some sort of diver... pearls always do well on the market and if you don't need to breath...." Malh'reth tilted his head to the side, "Well I suppose you wouldn't do it if it didn't have some measure of enjoyment. I wouldn't know - I don't eat meat, so no blood even from cooked things like that."

"Huh." Iden looked genuinely surprised by such suggestions...she'd never really thought of doing anything like that. Alchemy and pearl-diving sounded entirely more glamorous than take care of zombie horses. "Oh. Vegetarian, huh?"

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.::||{...Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...}||::.

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Meanwhile Back at the Ranch Pt. 1 | Meanwhile Back at the Ranch Pt. 2

It was high noon, and Franklin Avenue shimmered and rippled in the intense heat. The residents of the community had retreated to the safety of their beds for the day, their circadian rhythms inverted in order to avoid the hottest summer any of them could ever remember experiencing. It seemed deserted, and from the state of the buildings, calling it a ghost town wouldn't have been too far off.

A lone figure humming to herself and hopping from shadow to shadow dispelled that image, however ghostlike she herself may have appeared. Eirlyn liked the heat (though she wouldn't have admitted it within earshot of her Lady or her Lady's Host), but it was so boring waiting for sundown for everyone else to wake up!

Malh'reth grumbled as he wiped the sweat from his brow. "Lovely.... I should have stayed with Ea. Cooler there." He'd travelled for a handful of days as told but with no fire and brimstone building in sight, he knew he was heading in the wrong direction... but the line had lead here to this new node - there seemed to be an awful lot of them around here. "Hopefully not too many or I'll just wander in circles until I'm old..." Grumbling as he fanned himself some more, he considered drawing a parasol into existence.

But the hum of a woman drew his attention as he wandered into town. It was eerie... this ghostly humming in a town that seemed deserted. Moving over to the side of the street, he took shelter in the shade of a building, ears dropping and breathing hard. He considered removing his tunic to escape the heat but a burn was sure to ensue kept him from doing more then pushing his bell-shaped sleeves further up his arms. "Hooooootttt....." Sagging against the wall, he tilted his head to peer out at the street and the shimmering of heat waves coming off the ground... and the shimmering of a white form? Blinking, he cleared his vision and looked again to confirm his initial view.

Indeed... a white creature was hopping from shadow to shadow... heading towards him. Curious, as she didn't seem like something to be feared, the mage watched her, almost waiting for her to happen upon him.

"You are my sunshiiiine," Eirlyn warbled once humming got boring, "my only--sunshiiiine. Something, something elllllse, when skies are graaaaay~!" Her eyes were firmly fixed on every patch of shadow that happened to fall before her feet; she didn't notice the mage until she had almost run into him. "Oh!" She said, arms pinwheeling and tail lashing as she struggled to stop her forward momentum. "Hello!" Eirlyn flashed a toothy smile at him, not appearing at all suspicious or wary of this strange man standing before her.

Ears twitched as the humming became signing and, despite himself, he leaned forward to listen to this unknown song. Thus, when she hopped into his shadow he had to contort himself so as not to gore the creature with his horn... that would be last thing he wanted. He had found himself in the land of the gods and to strike one, if this were one - she seemed somehow different then Eamnonn, would likely end in nothing but his painful death. And he still had a goal to accomplish. He knew what was causing the decay of his world was originating here, at the center of everything.... but not what exactly. Dying wasn't an option yet.

Blinking owlishly, he stepped away from her as he rubbed his neck and offered a smile in return, "Hello... Are you a god too?" He dipped into a bow, remembering that Ea had said some liked their pomp and fanfare.

"What?" Eirlyn replied, watching the stranger bow to her with no small amount of bewilderment. "No, silly, I'm not a god! What a strange question to ask!" Her tail flickered behind her, and she rocked back and forth on her heels, pleased to have someone other than herself to talk to. "You're not from around here," she stated confidently. "I've seen everyone who lives here, but I've never seen you, so you must be from somewhere-else-not-here. Where did you come from, Mister...Mister?"

He paused in the his bow, looking up with an expression that mixed surprise and relief, "You... aren't?" Standing up then, he brushed his clothing free of imaginary dirt and watched her as she spoke, head tilting over to one side, "Ah... No. No I'm not from around here." Laughing softly, he nodded confirmation of her assumption.

"You've seen everyone?" He fell silent as he pondered that little tidbit. If she had indeed seen everyone then perhaps she knew someone who might be able to help send in the direction of the.... Pantheon, it was called. "Do you know someone who might be able to help me to get to a place called the Pantheon? I've been trying to get there but it seems I've followed the wrong path." Pursing his lips momentarily, the mage started as though he'd been reminded of something, "Oh, call me Malh'reth, miss. I come from a long ways off. By the sea." Nodding, he smiled at her, "And what can I call you?"

The cheery smile on Eirlyn's face froze as Malh'reth stated his purpose for wandering. Her ears drooped at the mention of the Pantheon, and her hesitation to respond was noticeable to anyone with eyes. "Um," she said, her tail curling around one ankle. "Um. No, no, no, I don't--I've never heard of it or seen it and, and I don't know where it is, sorry! Haha, what a funny name for a place," she babbled nervously, her voice strained with the unfamiliar act of lying.

"What a neat name!" Eirlyn said, overtly attempting to change the subject. "My name's Eirlyn. You traveled by sea? That must have been hard! I've never seen the sea. What's that like?"

His smile withered as she obviously lied, fading into a frown as he shook his head, "No... I lived on the coast. I came here over land - no charts showed a path to sail here and the lines of power reached inland." Crossing his arms, he drummed fingers on his sleeves, "It's important I get to this Pantheon... I have many questions the answers to which are probably there. Even if you just point me in the direction of it, that would be helpful."

Eirlyn ducked her head under the weight of her moral dilemma: she didn't want to point her new acquaintance towards the Evil McScary Pantheon, but he seemed to really want to go there. "It's that way," she said, pointing down the street in the opposite direction of the Pantheon. "But you don't need to go there! I can answer your questions!"

Malh'reth looked off in the direction she indicated and thought it too easy... "You can answer my questions? Alright. Then what, really, is causing the fading magic of my homeland? I've follo-" He stopped midsentence as he jerked his head in the direction of the Pantheon and went pale. He couldn't see anything, only feel a massive wave of boiling, angry, energy racing out in a devastating wave. "Wha-!?"

When it hit, he felt as though something had slammed into the very core of his being, sizzling down his horn and coiling in his stomach. Whimpering in pain as the world flashed and became too bright then too dull, as he felt everything around him and then nothing... taste, hearing, smell, sixth sense... every sense pulsed and roared in response the overwhelming crash of energy around them. Falling to his knees, he slumped against the building with eyes screwed shut and hands over ears as he felt cocooned in nothing but exposed to everything at the same time. Some long minutes slipped away while the wave finished its pass seeing the Aurion half-conscious only twitch, like a mortal blow had been struck.

When the oscillation of sensations finally evened out, he groaned rather loudly but immediately regretted the action. His ears pulsed with humming, as an electrical wire does, and the noise only set that off again. Equilibrium still struggling to return, he reached up and started as his fingers played across the rough surface of the house no more foreign as he felt more about the thing then simply just touch. It was too much and he drew away, squinting eyes as they slowly opened... only to find nothing. No sight. No Eirlyn... no house. Just emptiness.

Struck silent, he wavered where he'd fallen, truly afraid.

However, as the seconds ticked by and he stared into darkness, lines and forms of foreign colours began to fade into view. It was strange... he recognized the shapes only after watching the pulsing rhythms. Turning his face... he regarded the surface beside him... it didn't look like wood anymore... more like lines and shapes of energy, pulsing uncertainly. But another tentative touch told him it was wood... which way the grain went, even the weaknesses where knots marred the plank.

A coughing fit took him and he bent over as the spasms wracked his chest, gasping, "E-Eirlyn....?" His voice was weak, hoarse and strained. Thank the gods he could still speak and hear even if his vision and touch were no something totally alien. "Eirlyn?" The question grew stronger as the coughing passed and he braced himself against the wall as he tried to stand on weak legs.

It would have been a good thing that Malh'reth became too incapacitated to continue the line of questioning that Eirlyn had no idea how to answer--and no real inclination to, anyway--if she hadn't been similarly effected by the pulse of raw, broken energy. Her mouth opened to ask Malh'reth what was wrong with him; no sound came out, but her jaw widened in a silent scream as the world around her shifted, seeming to expand and contract simultaneously. White static took the place of natural brainwaves, and she toppled against the side of a building.

Her fur stood on end and her eyes turned glassy, as if she had turned inward to examine the damage being done to her body by this strange outside source. The world went black and white and every hue in between as Eirlyn curled up inside herself, willing the pain to go away but all too ready to accept it. It wasn't within her to fight.

Malh'reth's voice called to her, echoing through her skull and insinuating itself into all the spaces pain hadn't claimed. She latched on to it, wrapping it around herself as she let it pull her back to consciousness, to life. Sight and sound came back in sudden, overwhelming relief, and she gasped and flailed, nearly sending herself to the sidewalk in an effort to regain her bearings. "What?" She mewled, confused and lost and hurt by the sudden nameless thing that had lost all interest in her when she hadn't succumbed. "What--sorry--what?"

He shivered as he voice answered his and leaned against the wall with a loud, shaky sigh. Blinking, he focused on her and found that her form, a silouette against the dancing lines and darkness, seemed brighter then the rest. Long fingers reached out like a blind man's, searching to touch so that he might know more. "I... w-what happened..."

Looking up into what he knew of the sky, he saw streams and knots of twisting lines, all writhing in choas. He knew, then, what had happened to him. His sight had been stripped, leaving the lines of power visible and nothing else. Goose bumps raced up his arms as he turned altered eyes on the Aiode. His body ached... winded and drained of energy. "That... what was that? I can't see things properly anymore. Was there an explosion? Where did it come from?"

Confused and frightened, the mage stepped a little closer to Eirlyn.

Eirlyn shrieked and jerked away at the mage's touch, too shaken by far, too sensitive; it felt like all of her nerve endings were on the outside, and she hurt. "I don't know!" She wailed. "I don't know, but it hurt, and and and I didn't like it." Her tail bristled with agitation as she paced up and down the sidewalk. "You should stay here--your eyes--we should just stay until everything's fixed."

He jerked back as well, still too unsure of anything. It threw him off balance and he took a few steps back, shaking his head as the world spun. Moving only set everything else to quivering as his view shifted and changed. Closing his eyes, he let the sensation pass then looked up once more, obviously tracking her movement. He couldn't make out details but he knew from her voice she was probably in some sort of similar boat as his.

"I... what?" His mouth opened and closed as he digested her words, "No! I can't stay put. That wave... if it did this to me..." Malh'reth approached her once more with unsteady steps, getting used to the thrum of the world around him, "I can see. Just... I don't know. Take me to the Pantheon and stop with your games. If you want to cower here, go ahead but I must figure this out." His tone grew angry, forceful. Something was wrong, couldn't she tell? Even he, an uninformed mortal felt very deeply that something huge was amiss.

"Take me." It was more an order then a plea.

"But," Eirlyn protested halfheartedly, her ears drooping as her new friend--who had gotten hurt while she had been standing right there, and didn't that just make her feel guilty?--berated her. Going to the Pantheon was a terrible idea! Even so...he had given her an order, and she was made to serve, even if not necessarily every mortal that crossed her path. Several other options that didn't include going anywhere near the Pantheon were thought up and discarded before she sighed in defeat.

"Okay," she said quietly, reaching out to the mage to take his hand. "We should go slow, though, just in case."

He opened his mouth to repeat his order, brow furrowing in frustration but the words died on his lips as she finally agreed and even took his hand. That tingle of knowledge brought her form in startling clarity in his vision and he pulled back in surprise. "I-I! ..." He trailed off as the details faded into another bright silhouette. Shaking his head, he closed his eyes briefly then took her hand with a soft gasp of surprise. It was strange... this clarity when everything else was so undefined... "I... thank-you. Yeah... slow. Good idea."

Smiling tentatively, he waited for her to start guiding them. The lines of power he'd been following had been thrown into choas, making it difficult for him to register let alone make sense of. "Which way....?"

Lips unaccustomed to shaping themselves into anything other than oblivious, childlike glee awkwardly turned themselves downward in a very unpracticed--but no less genuine for the lack of skill--frown. This was a bad idea, even Eirlyn could tell that, and hope rose and feel as Malh'reth cried out in pain but decided to press on anyway.

She slowly tugged him a few feet down the street before stopping and turning on one bare heel, her red eyes meeting his own dysfunctional ones. "Are you sure about this?" Eirlyn asked, urgency evident in her voice. "We don't have to go right now. You're injured--don't you want to wait a little while, until you feel better?"

He shook his head, "I feel... well enough to go." Mal frowned, meeting her gaze in return, thinking her comment through. He did indeed feel crappy but not so bad as to remain here, while on the other hand he had no idea what he might me wading into. Sighing as he stepped forward, the mage offered a weary smile, "Besides, I don't know how long it would take to recover. I'm capable so I should go, I think. Unless you know somewhere nearby to rest? And what it is that's at the Pantheon?"

This urgency in her voice was hard to ignore, drawing caution from him when he had already decided to press onward. Perhaps she wasn't so cowardly as he'd initially assumed from her actions. "What about you? Are you alright?" Malh'reth's ears drooped a little as he realized that was the first he'd inquired after her own state of being... even though he'd already demanded she take him to the Pantheon. At least Eirlyn didn't seem too badly affected by whatever that had been.

"I'm okay," Eirlyn said, almost meaning it. The wave's effects had mostly faded, leaving her aching all over and shaken, but almost certainly in better condition than her companion. She could walk and, unfortunately, talk, and all five senses were functioning as normally as they ever did.

"I don't know what's at the Pantheon," Eirlyn admitted, "but it isn't a nice place. It's scary, and bad things live there," she continued, resuming her slow trek down the street. "And, and--and, oh, oh no! We have to go," she said urgently, hastening her step and dragging Malh'reth behind her. "My friend, he lives in the city, around where the Pantheon is! Oh, can we stop there first? I want to make sure he's okay!"

He nodded, relaxing a little as she said she was alright.... she must be a sturdy individual to be play after something like that. Then again, he was in the land of the gods so it probably wasn't all that surprising.

"Hnn.. Eamnonn said something to that effect as well...." Murming to himself, he barely got a thought processed before she started dragging him. Squawking as the world lurched, he stumbled after her like a drunkard until he got (at least partially, anyways) used to the thrum of the world around him. "Your friend?" It took but a moment for him to agree - he couldn't very well say no when the reason he was professing urgency was for his own people. She had every right to check on her friend.

That didn't make the traveling any easier, though, as he kept tripping and stumbling feeling very much like some kind of dolt. Still, slowly but surely his pace picked up and they moved at a good speed - to where, exactly, he had no idea.

"Yes, he's--oh, sorry," Eirlyn said, slowing just enough for the mage to catch up before slowly accelerating once more. "He has trouble walking, like you. Maybe you need a cane too!" She exclaimed, hardly realizing that she was dragging a partially-blind man down the street and that of course it would be difficult for him to keep up.

An hour and a half later, after a handful of wrong turns and an equal amount of stops to regain lost breath, the pair found themselves outside a weary-looking house. Eirlyn hoped it was the right one as she tugged the mage through the front gate, leapt onto the front porch, and started pounding on the front door.

"David?!" Eirlyn called. "Are you dead?"

The front door to the house the cat girl and the mage were heading to was slightly ajar, so when Eirlyn began pounding away it caused it to slowly swing open with each rap of the fist. By the time it was open enough to see some of the interior of the house, there was a black-haired man with a soul patch looking just as disheveled as one would expect making his way across the room, using both his cane and nearby pieces of furniture as support.

His attention was quickly caught by his second and third unexpected guests of the day - to Eirlyn he gave a look of muted annoyance, and to the stranger an expression of what could have been pity. "No-- I just half wish I were. Feel like s**t," he grumbled in reply, noting the sense of urgency that the two had brought in and guessing it wouldn't be considered poor manners at this time to not say 'hi' and offer a seat and some lemonade.

"The hell's going on?" This was the second time he had asked this question today, but he hadn't gotten a satisfactory answer the first time. It was outside his nature to take sudden faith in a goddess that had shown up on his doorstep just a little while ago, after all.

"I don't normally have trouble walking..." He grumbled as they trudged along and then spent the next hour more or less lost in thought and concentration. Eirlyn certainly could summon energy if she wanted to!

Ears flicked and stood at attention when they came up to David's house, lavender gaze settling on that swinging door. All he saw was the general outline of the house... and then the glowing silhouette of another person. Malh'reth scoffed in agreement as the other announced his general state of being - the mage could identify. He was aching all over and slightly dizzy from their trek.

Coughing, he shook his head, "I have no idea..." Turning to Eirlyn, he arched a brow, "Is this the friend you were talking about?"

Eirlyn poked her head through the open door, smiling widely as she caught sight and sound of David. The energy that had fueled her mad dash into the city left her body in one long sigh of relief, and her shoulders slumped as she finally allowed herself to relax. "Yes," she said to Malh'reth, tugging him inside without waiting for permission to enter--the door was open, so why not?

"I don't know," Eirlyn told David. "There was a thing, and it was bad, and now I think Malh'reth needs a cane to help him walk like you do because he was tripping all over the place, and--are there glasses that help sort-of-not-really-kind-of blindness like there are canes to help people walk? Because I think those might help too, maybe," she said in a rush.

"Believe me, I noticed the 'bad thing'," David grumbled irritably. "Fell on my a** and couldn't move, then this schizo girl came up and was talking about some god king having an aneurysm and that was why all this happened, or something like that." He rubbed the side of his head, half-wishing the action would make all of this craziness leave so he could sleep peacefully that night and spend the next day baking on the couch. All of this made him verge dangerously towards grateful at Eirlyn and the stranger's company, if only because having someone to complain to helped him mentally sort these things out.

"Fresh out of canes, sorry," he said with a raspy laugh, "but there's an umbrella over there that I use in a pinch sometimes." A shaky hand wavered up to point at it. "And I only have sunglasses, which aren't gonna help anybody."

"I do not need a cane, Eirlyn." Grumbling irritably, he frowned deeply and crossed his arms, "I don't need a pair of glasses either - I can see. Blasted wave just messed up my vision. And I'm willing to bet that if you couldn't see normally, you'd trip as well."

Malh'reth let out a large sigh and shook his head, "Not umbrella either. I'm alive even if I feel like something chewed me up...." He trailed off as he mulled the news over and blinked, "God king? So.... we all got blown over by some deity's headache?" Malh'reth was obviously unimpressed and more then a little annoyed.

Shuffling inside with Eirlyn, or rather tripped as she grabbed him again, the mage settled off to the side of the door. "Is that what's caused everything to start fading?"

Red eyes widened to almost comical proportions at David's brief explanation. "What?" Eirlyn squeaked. "Who told you that? Oh--that can't be right, he can't be sick, that's not supposed to happen! This is bad, this is like, like the worst thing ever!" The frazzled catgirl's tail lashed behind her, echoing the agitation in her voice. "We can't go there now," she decided. "If he's hurt, then something really bad must have happened, and you're sort-of-blind," she said, gesturing at the mage, "and you're only human," she said to David, "and if something's wrong with him, then I won't be able to fix it!"

"We should stay here," Eirlyn said, nodding decisively, "at least for a little while." With that, she grabbed the umbrella David had pointed to, sat down on the floor, and opened it. Just in case.

"Okay, I get it," David said towards Mall Rat or whatever Eirlyn said his name was, voice slightly raised and tinged with annoyance. He had raised his hand in the universal 'cut it out' motion - or at least had attempted it, as it faltered when his fingertips had risen above his shoulder to jitter in the air a bit before being lowered down again. "No need to get your panties in a bunch about it, jeez."

"But yeah, that's what--"

A shrill noise stopped him from continuing his reply; it turned out to be the cat girl's voice. She had started babbling again, and it harmonized with his "Oh, for the love of - you gotta be ******** kidding me." for a few seconds as the man realized that Eirlyn knew what he was talking about. His face would be buried in his palm if he had been able to reach up his hand that far during that time, but instead his look of frustrated incredulity was exposed for all the world to see. So there were more people who believed this crazy story that woman from earlier had told him? Was there some kind of cult in town he'd never heard of?

As the cat girl gave the go-ahead for her and Whatsisface to make themselves at home on David's property, he sighed and allowed himself to collapse in a slightly worn-looking armchair. "If you insist. There's edible s**t in the kitchen over there and the faucet works too," he informed them while carefully resting his cane against the side of his seat.

"Eirlyn, you know a girl named... Cosine? Pretty face, black hair, glowing wings?"

As he listened, his frown grew only deeper. It seemed... the very existence of everything was based on the existence of a single being. And, as the evidence was suggesting, if a god could be injured then it was essentially as logical as building a great mansion with only a single pillar for support - if it crumbled then everything built around it would too. Frankly, Malh'reth wasn't too appreciative of that scenario... he liked living thank-you-very-much. Grumbling, he looked from David to Eirlyn, "This god king.... is, for lack of a better question, the king of gods? I find that hard to believe... Isn't a god omnipotent? What could possibly hurt the heavens' master?"

Scoffing, he quirked his lips to the side, speaking mostly to himself, "Seems everyone knows but me." Smiling slightly, he shook his head, "I must see this for myself. You both obviously know something of what's happening. I came looking for answers and I'm only finding more questions." Why did Eirlyn have to insist on inaction all the time? Did it require another wave to get her moving?

Malh'reth was beginning to wonder if he'd simply been given the short end of the stick in falling in with these two. A cowardly cat-girl and a cripple with an attitude problem.

Ears perked at that name and he leaned towards the other a little, listening more attentively. What a strange name.

"No," Eirlyn said to David, "I don't know anyone who looks like that. Why? Is she your new friend? You need more friends," she proclaimed, nodding decisively before turning to Malh'reth.

"He's not really king of the gods," she replied, peering up at him from beneath the umbrella. "He's more than that; He's the Emperor, the Twin Crown, Creation and Destruction both. He helped make the world as Creation, and He can probably unmake it as Destruction. That's why things have been so bad. He can do anything, and He's doing so many bad things..." Eirlyn trailed off, seemingly lost in thought for a moment. However, the Aoide was not known for her depth of thought, and the moment passed quickly with an errant shake of her head. "I don't know what could hurt Him, of all people, but if it hurt Him, it could kill us! Dying would be bad!"

David could entirely sympathize with the mage's attitudes about how the nature of the universe was implied to be if its overall balance (and possibly its existence) could be jeopardized entirely by a single omnipotent entity somehow being harmed or becoming unwell. Exasperation overrode fear at the prospect; his facial expression more than matched with Malh'reth's as he asked his questions on the subject, on what could possibly harm such a powerful god. He couldn't help but smirk bitterly and quirk an eyebrow, answering with "I don't know... nothing?"

Possibly ironic, how right he was.

The conversation turned to his question about Cosine, and he was a bit offended by Eirlyn's remark about his lack of friends - a feeling he oh-so-expertly concealed by defensively blurting out, "Hey, shut up!" followed by a cross of the arms.

"She said she was the Goddess of Numbers, I think," David recalled, after listening to the cat girl's explanation. He still was having trouble believing all of this, and was starting to get the notion he'd been caught up in the business of some cult that was using this wave for their own agenda. "And she was heading up to check things out after the wave hit."

He picked at a loose thread on the arm of his seat, something to see how well the finer movements of his fingers were working now. He figured he could hold up a pencil without worrying about dropping it at this point. "If any of this is real, there's gotta be more where she came from... going the same direction. I mean..." blue eyes turned to Malh'reth for a moment, "...goddess of Numbers, dude, it's not like that's the best one someone can pick, right? So there's probably more, if so many good ones were taken she'd be stuck with that."

"More? Creation and Destruction?" He lifted a brow, taking her fervor to heart but at the same time doubting that anything could embody that. Mal knew there were gods... but the one he'd met hadn't been at full strength while this godking seemed all powerful. It was daunting to say the least. "He's causing everything to fall to pieces? Great."

And then he laughed, couldn't help the burst of amusement at Eirlyn's comment, "Yes. Dying would be bad. Which is why we should figure out how to, ah, fix this problem?" He quirked his brow in a confused expression, "Though I have no idea how you fix a god."

When David continued, he glanced up with perked ears, "Goddess of numbers? That seems... well, like the short end of the stick. The one I met was god of the Hunt." Nodding his agreement, the mage pursed his lips, "But where are the big gods? I've never heard of a goddess of numbers but we have legends about Gods of Water.... Storm... Love... War... The list goes on. You're right. Perhaps we should follow after her? If their king is in trouble of some sort, then I wouldn't doubt they're gathering."

Crossing his arms, he leaned against the wall behind him and quirked his lip, "Maybe I'll actually get some answers now."

The umbrella spun idly in Eirlyn's hand as she tried to remember a goddess of numbers, and she finally shook her head. "No, I don't know her, but if she's going to the Pantheon AND the Emperor is hurt, then, then--then what chance do WE stand against whatever-it-is?"

"There are a lot of gods being reborn," she said to Malh'reth, "I'm sure they can all handle it! Right? Dying! Bad!"

If Malh'reth was still displaying any frustration at Eirlyn's tendency towards inaction, then David's own facial expression must have been a perfect mirror image of that. A low and drawn-out sigh hissed out from between his teeth and he shifted impatiently in his seat. "Hello? If there's a ton of people up there already taking care of whatever it is, they'd be the ones who'd die if it happens. Not us." He leaned over an arm he bent over the side of the chair in order to turn his annoyed glare more directly at the catgirl. "Ever hear of watching from a safe distance?"

They had to get her to move somehow. David shot a small look at the odd-looking mage, hoping he knew how to tag-team argue if it came to that. "Look. I don't know about you," and he inclined his head in a gesture towards Malh'reth, "but Fingers and I want to know what's going on and I'm getting nothing but vague crap from just asking people."

Recalling a bit from something the number goddess said, he continued. "And Cosine told me you're supposed to be a servant or something for them. If that's true... then you're a pretty shitty servant for coming here to bother me instead of going up there."

Malh'reth dug out the flip book of drawings he had stashed away in his sleeves and selected a page, pointing at the drawing of the creature he'd met in Eamnonn's territory, "I can be useful... I can bring dreams and imagination into reality. If nothing else, I'll be helpful in providing a distraction." His expression shifted to one of seriousness - the irritation taking second place to his pride, "It is unwise to underestimate me, Eirlyn. And we can be helpful in some fashion."

He met David's gaze as his soured once more, nodding towards Eirlyn while he spoke, "Some moreso then others." Arching a brow, the mage laughed incredulously, "I've come all this way looking for answers. Ambiguity seems to run rampant here. I too have been getting next to useless replies from those I ask." Crossing his arms, a slight smile played across his features, "If you're going to where there might be useful information then count me in."

Guilt struck the catgirl like a bullet as David reminded her of her responsibilities--though, really, she was only obligated to serve her Lady and her Lady's Host, but what if they were there, too? She couldn't let anything happen to them!

"But, but," Eirlyn stuttered, her lip wibbling with indecision as her gaze shifted between each man. She wanted to help her friends, but she also didn't want to be responsible for them getting hurt if the danger was as great as she imagined it was, but they seemed to want to go so badly and sitting here forever would only make them mad and David's house smelled funny anyway...and, really, she had warned them multiple times how bad an idea going to the Pantheon would be. If they got hurt, it wouldn't be her fault they hadn't listened to her. It wouldn't.

"Okay," she sighed finally, her ears drooping in defeat even as she rose, umbrella still in hand. "I'll take you there, but I still think it's a really bad idea!"

"Well, it's settled then," David grunted - he had begun pushing himself out of his chair the moment Eirlyn admitted defeat, which looked like it was taking an abnormally large amount of effort to do. "Let's get moving before I change my mind." A large part of his mind was begging him to sit back down and rest some more, but it was being drowned out by an even larger part comprised of curiosity and frustration. Those emotions would end up being just enough to keep him moving, albeit probably a little more slowly than his unwitting companions would like. "Lead the way, Eirlyn."

Special Cat, Crippleman and Magic Blind. What a team they were.

"About time. You're incredibly stubborn, Eirlyn." Sighing with relief, the mage shuffled about, drawing nearer to the cripple in the advent David would need a hand. The man hadn't asked for assistance so Mal wasn't about to force it on him but he was there nonetheless.

"Let's go then, Eirlyn. We've dawdled here long enough." Gesturing for the door, he looked from David to the cat girl, "Bad idea or not, we're going."

"Thank you, I think," Eirlyn replied distractedly as she pushed her way out the door, looking back over her shoulder to give her companions one last worried stare before hopping off the porch. She still held the umbrella over her head--it wasn't raining or anything, but at least it provided her with a little bit of shade. And it could rain, later. These were unpredictable times.

Well, Eirlyn thought to herself hopefully as she started in the direction of the Pantheon, it'll take some time to get there, what with Mal being sort-of-blind and David walking all funny. Maybe if we're lucky, things will be fixed by the time we arrive.

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Week of Sloth

It seemed the very air was pressing down upon him as he walked… stumbled… fell and lay in the dirt. He had no energy, no drive… it almost seemed like the very spark of life had fled in fear of the Gehenna wave. The mage had been trying to navigate this particular expanse of grass for hours now…. And had really only managed to get a quarter of the way across.

Everything in him screamed of exhaustion and worse, he simply didn’t care. The only reason he lifted his had now, and pushed against the ground was stubbornness. He knew this lethargy was supernatural…. Knew he did care, somewhere in the hollow that developed within him.

He’d come all this way to find answers and had promptly gotten lost again after meeting Eirlyn and David…. Leaving him on his own once more. No answers, only more questions…. What was the point? The heavy weight that had settled onto his chest answered it for him: there wasn’t. He was a mortal among gods… or at least people who claimed they were gods. It was possible he’d happened upon a race of insane people, after all.

Then again, he made a half-attempt at flopping over onto his back to look at the sky and the chaos of lines that glowed there, those he’d met seemed pretty gung-ho about the whole being where the gods dwelled and such belief was hard to come by back home. His vision was screwed… his body and mind wallowing in laziness….

Why couldn’t someone else save his world? Surely he wasn’t the only one who cared enough to get up off their rear and do something about it.


The few people he’d come across this day – camped not too far from his current earthy cradle – had demanded he fetch them their water jugs even though it had been within reach. Stubborn, lazy ingrates could have reached for it themselves, he wasn’t their servant nor did he have any true desire to help another. Not today when he should be the one taking a break…. See a slice of good fortune instead of a run of bad luck.

No, he would sit here, rather comfortably, and watch the sky shift – the coils and lines their own mesmerizing puzzle while someone else could do the hard work. He’d traveled and traveled and only been repaid by being struck blind while hopelessly lost.

Wonderful wasn’t it?

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.::||{...Fight or Flight...}||::.

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Week of Envy

A trumpet sounded, ushering in the week of Envy and set afire the jealousy that curled in every creature’s heart.
And one mage, Malh’reth, was no exception. He had thought himself about such pettiness and wasteful amotions but as he sat around a fire, sharing its warmth with a small gathering of people who were flocking to the Pantheon in the hopes of salvation, he listened the fearful bickering and frowned.

And shifted…
chewed his lip

and tried to ignore
the growing sensation of

It burbled to the surface, spread across his mind and would not give way. It demanded why he could have what they had… Growling, he stomped his feet on the cracked earth and tossed his head, “You think other have so much!? That you lack!? You have family, friends… familiar faces and the comforts of familiar things! I want your life, that happy illusion that all is good will be good. I envy your ignorance.., your blandness like so sheep.” Snorting with disgust, he tromped over to a stunned woman and pressed the palm of his hand to her forehead, “So SHUT UP! I don’t want to hear you petty jealousies when I am the one who should envy you!”

“W-what?” The woman fell back, clearly frightened by the mage’s outburst.

“I said I envy your envy! To have something so simple to gripe about, your dissatisfaction…” he trailed off with a scoff and spun, meeting the gaze of every person around the fire, “You disgust me!” Leaving them in a state of fearful confusion, he stormed off.

Only when he was several meters away did he begin to slow and get handle on his temper. They didn’t understand how well endowed they were… family, friends, comforts. He’d given it all up, wandered mostly alone when he craved the company of others… wanted to enjoy what they did without fear of being used. It hurt all the more to know it was possible but exceedingly rare for his people.

Why couldn’t he enjoy a little of what they had? Have a slice of happiness they all seemed to share?

He knew he was blessed in different ways but those roots things, the cores of society, why did he have to go without? Malh’reth knew that when he found a way to help, his name would remain struck from his people’s records… an invisible assistance they would acknowledge and drop within the same breath.

Sighing heavily, he sank down onto a rotting log and watched the ground. In the background, angry voices murmured, mingling with the thud of heavy footsteps – steps that the men hadn’t bothered to disguise. A whistle sounded, calling others to the stranger as he stepped out of the brush and towards Malh’reth, expression smug and sure. The mage looked up and immediately paled, recognized that expression and knew he’d stepped wrong in his outburst.

“What’re you thinking yelling at my wife like that, Aurion? Envy us you should, you stupid beast. Maybe I should teach you your place – couldn’t say nothing so long as you kept quiet but now...” He grinned, smacked the heavy stick against his palm, eyes shining as he leaned in, “I’ll tell you a secret, little man. We have something we envy of yours… Your long life… your skills… I hear tales tha’ your horn’ll give us that… buy time and resources for this trek o’ ours, y’see? Just a small trade… easy enough. Your horn for family… we’ll bring you in, give you what you want. You’ll be happy.”

Malh’reth’s skin paled further and he rose slowly, ears twisting this way and that as he tracked the approach of the others. No… Shaking his head, he backed away, feigned an intrigued smile, “I’ll have to think on it – it’s a very kind offer, sir.” And one they both knew the outcome of.

The man followed him, breaking eye contact for just long enough to register the presence of another coming from Malh’reth’s behind, “Took you bloody long enough. Our friend here’s just considering the offer. How about you help him out? Make the decision easier.”

Malh’reth knew without looking what the man behind him was about to do and turned, grabbing his treasured notebook and flipping to the first page – a sturdy brick wall about 6 feet in height – and pulled the picture from the page, casting the image out behind him. In the space of a second, a foot thick wall suddenly appeared between him and his would-be attacker, cutting him off.

“Damn!” The leader cursed several times as he advanced on Malh’reth, changing from a cocky stance to one quite obviously intending violence as the crash of people running echoed all around.

The next page held a fog bank and he pulled that into existence as well, using the lowered visibility to make his escape. He kept running for hours after that, the illusions long faded once he’d lost sight of them and stopped only when the sun dipped down below the horizon. In foothills now, it felt like he was isolated once more – the only clue that civilization might be in reach, a dusty road that wound between the knolls.

Sinking to the ground beside a spring, he shook his head sadly. The mage knew that was only the inevitable acting itself out, that he was lucky to escape alive.

Why, then, did he still envy them?

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.::||{...Phaedra and Malh'reth |Gehenna - Week of Lust|...}||::.

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Phaedra and Malh'reth <Gehenna - Week of Lust>

The sound of crickets chirruped and buzzed in the background as the setting sun set the sky on fire, throwing long shadows away from everything. The world was in an uproar and yet the elements currently seemed eerily calm… at peace, balanced. While storms still raged and the earth rumbled beneath people’s feet, it was a calming background to the previous weeks where few could find the energy to slip from their bed… or coveted whatever they might see.

A lone figure sat on the edge of a forsaken town, the buildings nothing more then burned out husks in which weeds now poked up through the floors. It hadn’t been that long and already nature was reclaiming the area. He’d wandered out this way to think and escape the riot of emotions that descended upon him recently. It was strange… this desire that sat coiled in the middle of his chest, ready to spring. Malh’reth wasn’t normally so easily distracted and it bothered him. Something was wrong. The world was ending and all he could think about were pleasures of the flesh…

Around him, the world thrummed in its inverted colours, vibrant hues against ceaseless blackness. The mage had gotten used to his new way of seeing, odd as it was and while it was easy to get distracted, it seemed a truer way of seeing things. Granted, he could only see silhouettes of the duller ruins, bright spheres of lights where the insects flew, and the sunset was nothing more then a gradient of greys in the distance but all he had to do to see something was touch it to know of it.

Idly, the Aurion crossed one leg over the other and flipped open his book, running fingers of the surfaces of the pages as a blind man might. About half way through, he found what he was looking for – a doodle of his home. He’d come seeking answers only to find more questions and as frustrating as it was, he was at least asking more pointed, directed questions as time went on. Pulling magic from his surroundings, Malh’reth set the image into motion and watched through fingers as people moved about in an idealistic representation. When a childhood friend of his walked past and paused to pick up a spilled box of fruit, desire spiked through him and he quickly closed the book, annoyed. Every time he tried to relax, to distract himself for but a moment sensual thoughts would invade.

With an exasperated sigh, the mage tucked the book away, “Get a grip already. There’s more important things then that.” Lifting his gaze to the sky above, he watched the lines of power undulate and pulse, thrown into chaos by the turmoil at their origin. “Like straightening those out for one.”

The town was, if possible, even more ruined than it had been before, and that was depressing. Phaedra had no desire to scavenge where others had already looted; she should have been first, had her share at her leisure before the vultures descended. It was all backwards.

But she was fairly sure what would come next, and that thought brought a rising tide of excitement that nothing could truly diminish. So many plans, so many possibilities. If what she had predicted was correct...

And I must thank you, dear Lust, wherever you lay, for adding your own special brand of amusement to events. If only her sibling had corporeal form, then that would be something to truly remember! But, alas...

The goddess prowled, looking for something to play with. Her excitement over future possibilities was quite enough even without Lust's carnal infusion. Avita was well enough, but she wanted something new, now. It was so rare to find everyone inclined to think the way Phaedra usually did all the time.

And if she'd predicted correctly, sometime in the near future... the resemblance would be even greater. The goddess licked her lips in anticipation and padded forward, dark against the blazing sky.

Tiring of his perch, Malh’reth rose and paced out a circle in an unconsciously measured step. There was so much to do yet and it was difficult pushing past these successive waves of influence. Turning to face the direction all the shadows stretched towards, he wondered if it would be enough and, in the end, what it would mean for him. It wasn’t melancholy that struck the mortal now but rather a sort of contemplative game of ‘what if’. What if he stopped fighting and gave in to the chaos that was consuming the land? What if he refused and instead pressed on alone?

And, most importantly, what lay ahead? What more would befall the world?

The rustle of fabric drew him from his thoughts as he rounded another portion of the circle, lavender eyes looking out over the ruins only to pause as a bright silhouette glowed not too far off. Fuzzy ears perked and he wondered why the figure was brighter then most – there was a halo of energy about her that was new to him. What was anyone doing out here? Perhaps it was a citizen of this place come back to pick through the remains once more? There was little left now, not of any value in any case.

Taking a few steps towards the stranger, he mounted the ruined steps of a wooden deck so he was a little higher up and waved a hand. Perhaps the company of another soul might help his odd moods and uncharacteristic urges.

Who was that? Phaedra's ears perked, betraying her interest; she frowned, inwardly. How dare they do such a thing, without her consent. Blasted reflexes. Someday, she would teach them, or cut them off for their insolence.

Still, there was someone there - my! and so exotic a someone, too! That also piqued the goddess' curiosity, and she turned towards the stranger. "So it seems the world hasn't emptied itself of all life yet, after all," she purred, catching her tail in one hand.

Malh'reth blinked at the feminine voice and smiled, gaze rising to watch the other's face even though he could not make out details. Bowing slightly, he swept out a hand as his smile shifted into a weary grin, "It's tried, believe me. Some hang on tighter then others. What brings out into these wastes? A lady such as yourself shouldn't be off on her own... especially in light of recent events." Gentlemanly concern laced his voice as he spoke, taking a few more steps forward to offer his long-fingered hand in greeting.

"I appreciate your chivalry, good sir," Phaedra said, with a cheerful laugh. An old-fashioned one, this. A horn, and such splendid ears... wouldn't they be fun to tickle the edges with a fingertip? tonguetip? "But what of yourself? It seems to me that times are dangerous for everyone, not just women."

"Do not worry about me, I can take care of myself." He waved off her concern when she didn't take his hand. She had such an interesting voice... lifting said hand, the Aurion held it out as a blind man might. He wondered if she was as interesting as she sounded and fought down the thoughts that rose as his imagination ran away with the idea. Coughing slightly to clear his throat, Malh'reth spoke softly, "Pardon me but your voice is truly intriguing... might I know the face that issues such sounds? My vision, you see, is not what it used to be..."

"Know the face? What do you mean?" Phaedra affected innocence, and took the moment to examine the man's own face. Sight... was he blind? His pupils seemed to move about quite normally. But intriguing, that was good, very good. Especially if he couldn't see her. "If you explain yourself, perhaps..." She caught his hand in one of hers, let him feel the light prickle-touch of her claws. Playful.

He smiled as she touched him, curling long fingers about hers with a light laugh as her claws pricked at his skin and raised goosebumps on his forearm, "This works just as well..." As her features came into focus Malh'reth tilted his head to the side with a curious look, "Such a fine face..."

For a moment he pondered exploring more... to slide finger tips up her wrist and then her arm... even moved to do so before he caught himself and coughed, "I see through touch as well, miss. I know by feeling." Smiling, the mage lifted his gaze once more to catch hers, "I see auras and ambient energy but to know detail, I must touch. It wasn't always like that... but that first wave struck my vision askew." Letting go, he stepped a little away and sighed as her image brightened back into the glow of the silhouette. "You have a beautiful face and a matching aura...?" He trailed off in the hopes she might fill the space he left with her name.

"How interesting," she purred, her tail swaying slowly behind her as it escaped her grasp. He was feeling it too, she could tell. Pretty thing, so exotic and innocent. She wondered how much that horn would make on the black market. There were many stories about horns... aphrodisiacs, by rumor...

No such thing was needed now, with the very air so charged. "My name is Phaedra. And yours?"

Aphrodisiacs, perhaps. But an Aurion's horn was the root of their power... their connection to the world and the medium through which they channeled their magic. It was a powerful magical catalyst, to the point where the Aurion, if caught alone, were killed for the prize. Their horns fetched handsome prices in any market and even though the slaughtering of the peaceful people was technically illegal, no ruler would actively punish those who dealt in them - mostly because an Aurion could still survive without the horn, just as a ghost of their previous selves.

However, caught in the moment as he was, the normally attentive Malh'reth didn't even consider the possibility he might be becoming a target. He echoed her name, tasting it and finding he rather like how it rolled off the tongue; sharp but mysterious at the same time. Curious. He blinked at the question, slow on the uptake but bowed slightly to cover his fumble, "Please, call me Malh'reth. I am a traveling entertainer. It is a pleasure to meet you, Phaedra."

"Malh'reth." Phaedra tried his name on her tongue, as he had, and smiled, eyes slitted. "An entertainer, are you? Show me a pretty trick, tell me a story, whatever it is that you do." Entertaining in more ways than one, yes. She clapped her hands and sat down in front of him.

He blinked. Entertain...? Now...? Fidgeting, he bobbed his head in an indecisive manner before stepping back as she sat down. "Entertain you? Ah... alright then. As it is, I do both," belatedly, he fished around in his sleeve and pulled out a book filled with sketches and drawings, flipping through it for a moment before laughing to himself and closing it. He'd come across the drawing of the person he'd met while in Eamnonn's territory and this was the perfect chance to capture another intriguing person.

"But, I believe I know what might appeal to you, m'lady." Turning to face her, he reached out a hand, "If you give me your hand I shall draw a portrait of you." Already his free hand was moving, swirling magical energy about it as he began to paint with it. The colours shimmered in varying hues of gold, strong and bold against the backdrop of the sunset. When her silhouette was half-blocked out, he paused and smiled at her. Your hand once more...?

"Ah, a wandering artist? No words for you, merely strokes and colors?" Charming, if not quite as good for her reputation; it would have been nice to leave him dazed, ready to wander forth and sing the praises of the dark goddess he had met at sunset. Such things were the start of legends, and legends were useful.

Still, a portrait... she was a connoisseur of art, naturally, as she was a connoisseur of everything. Perhaps it would be entertaining. Phaedra held out her hand and touched her fingertips to his, teasingly, before tickling his palm with one careful claw. "Show me." How would he paint with tainted sight, she wondered.

"Yes... and no. I am a story teller but my talent lays in bringing the imagination into reality. You see, I illustrate my legends." When her claws tickled across his skin, goosebumps ran up his forearm and the image wavered slightly. Letting out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, the mage shook his head, "And you are most deserving of a tale or two. It wouldn't do you justice to get the pictures wrong, would it?"

With her touch, her features came into focus once more - her clothing, her face... it all came into focus so that she was a glowing, brilliant being sitting before him. It made him pause perhaps a moment too long before he turn turned back to the painting he'd started. That he could see perfectly well as it was drawn with the magic of the area and had not a corporeal form.

Slowly, carefully, he began to paint her... a miniature form for now, standing about two feet high as it floated in the air. While he worked, he committed the shape and form of her to memory, thinking it would be a sad thing indeed to lose sight of Phaedra. A short period of time later, he only her face left and Malh'reth painted with caressing strokes, tender almost like a lover's touch.

When at last he finished, he let go and drew down to put it before her, "Does the lady approve? I am not quite finished but if this appeals to you I shall show you the finished piece."

Now that, that was delicious - she could hardly hope for a better chronicler. Such a fortunate find! The goddess laughed inside as she saw how delicate, how soft and sensual his movements were. The magic itself was all quite interesting, but it was the artist she watched, her sides just barely vibrating with an inaudible purr.

When he presented it to her, she smiled. "A splendid work, indeed. And what will you tell in your stories, Malh'reth? What will you say about Phaedra?"

He puffed up with pride as she complimented his work and bowed in thanks, "What will I say? That a gracious, beautiful woman came out of the twilight to keep a lonely mage company, voice rich as the sovereign's treasury and a face that puts those treasures to shame. I will say know her and pay homage to the graceful spirit. Thank her for her company should she gift you with her time. It will be a story of circumstance and romance." His smile was soft as he turned from her, "That is, if you would allow such things... I do like to spin a tale based in truth."

Tugging on the ambient energy some more, he pulled the painting to him once more and appeared to destroy it as he hooked fingers into the smoky image and tossed it away. However, it didn't fade or go flying through the air as though thrown; the figure landed neatly on her feet with her back to them. A perfect copy of appearance, tangible and real it turned to mirror Phaedra's expression. Closing the gap between the copy and the pair, the illusion's movement misted and trailed like a ghost might, lending an air of mystery to it. With a proud smile, Malh'reth gestured to his summoning, "For I do not think you'll be forgotten."

More delicious words, flattery and balm. Phaedra stood up in a smooth movement and walked around the illusory figure. Lovely, it was, though she noted a few small things that displeased her about her own appearance. She really would have to get rid of those blasted ears.

"Such words and such artistry deserves a reward," she pronounced, her tail curling around to wrap around Malh'reth's ankle as she came to him, leaning close enough that her fur prickled along his skin. "Have you ever met a goddess, artisan? What tales do you have of the divine, storyteller?"

If he was as good in bed as he was with words, that would truly be something. She might never let him go, then. Take him home, have Avita put a pretty collar on him, pretty ornaments worthy of Greed's property.

His gaze flicked down to where her tail curled about his ankle then up again as she leaned in close, senses focusing on the brush of fur against skin. It was enticing, this half-sight that came with near-contact and for a moment he found no words. Coughing politely when mind finally overruled body, he answered smoothly, "You are too kind, Phaedra. Do not trouble yourself with this one, I have merely done as you asked. I would not charge you for it."

Lifting a hand, he brushed the back of finger tips against her cheek ever so lightly, almost worshiping in the movement, "I have been told these are the lands of the gods... to tell it true I would not be surprised if you counted yourself among them. And, though it may be blasphemy to suggest such a thing, if you are not this is a cruel world indeed. I have many divine legends..." He drew nearer, watching her lips for a moment before glancing up to those stunning eyes, "Yours, however, would be the crowning gem. Unsurpassed..."

"You would be right," she purred, feeling his adoration radiating, like sunlight on her dark skin. "My dear sib's influence suffuses this land. I could offer no less." She never paid for anything, never. Rewarded, perhaps, as she wished.

A different kind of play, this, with Lust's taint making everything easy, but delightful all the same. "The form you've made is quite pretty, but I can show you the difference between her... and me." She tried to draw him down, a tug on his hand here, a soft pressure on his leg there from the curling tail.

He let her guide him, gaze caught in hers, focused solely on Phaedra. A flash of surprise lit up his eyes as she spoke, almost disbelieving, "This one would be honoured, m'lady." It was his turn to purr, carnal desire stirring as his hand played down her neck to brush against the fabric of her clothing. Cautiously, his face drew near hers as they settled, lips hovering but mere inches from hers, "May I...?"

All thoughts of fixing the end of the world had flown, his world now revolving around the goddess who had walked into his arms. Phaedra... a smile ghosted across his face as her name echoed in his mind.

She lunged forward and nipped at his lip, tugging it lightly into her own, and holding it there in a hungry kiss.

And one thing follows another...

So it did.

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.::||{...Summons and Servitude...}||::.

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Summons and Servitude

In the chaos that had surrounded the pantheon in the weeks after Samyaza made her presence known and Harmodius was forced into a cocoon, Malh’reth had been attempting to be of some use. He and his group had arrived on the scene late, people in disarray, the general mood severe. The mortal had been unsure at first but as the days progressed and unheard trumpets sounded, he knew something must be done.

Once he finally did have an idea of what was going (and got used to the idea of gods being as tangible as he was), the mage had started to help in what ways he could. Still new to the lands of the gods, he wandered mostly as he tried to piece together some idea of what had transpired and just what, exactly, the fall of the Twin Crown meant for him, the gods, and the universe in general.

It hadn’t been particularly successful however. He’d met a few Aoidei and had some run ins with the mortals that eked out their livelihood in the areas that surrounded the Pantheon but that was it – the tug of sloth and envy had gnawed at him unendingly, slowing his efforts to a near crawl.

And then he’d met Phaedra. Oh dear, sweet Phaedra. Drunk on lust, the mage had willingly devoted his time to the exotic goddess and even now, as the days swirled about him, he could not remove her from his mind for good or ill. She was a goddess, she was called Phaedra and her beauty was most ethereal, a perfect subject for his art; or so his fogged mind told him.

As the week drew to a close and Lust’s influence waned, he found he was coming back to himself. It was like walking through the edges of dense fog, catching glimpses of your surroundings, fleeting thoughts ran deeper, no longer shallow. Focus began to come back and the puzzle that was Phaedra started to fade.

Then, like a lightning bolt, she surged into the forefront of his mind, all thought swept away as though it had never existed. Shivering with an all-consuming desire, he lifted his head from his idle sketch and peered in the direction of the Pantheon. She wanted him.

And he would answer.

Phaedra.” The single word, like a pebble dropped into water, spurred his movement. Sketch forgotten, fire abandoned and left to char the hillside, the Aurion began his trek to see her. He would see her.

Nothing else mattered.

- - - - - -

When the mage finally arrived, he sought out the Throne Room and stopped at the threshold, barely taking in what lay therein for his attention focused solely on the glory that was Phaedra. She looked like a Goddess now… the aura of power pulsing around her form making her appear as some primal force of nature to his altered vision. It stole away his breath, noticing only when his body demanded air and found it lacking. Coughing, he inhaled and stepped forward to cross the distance between the doors and the Throne… where he slid into a kneel like that of a proposing man.

Adoration, desire, relief… it shone in his eyes as he stole glances of her despite bowed head. Quietly, as to a lover, he whispered, “Phaedra….”

A small mound of sweet gifts had piled gently at the foot of the Throne, offerings from dazed penitents who had no idea why they suddenly needed to offer their praise and dearest posessions to a golden Throne... but come they had, and their bewildered worship was ambrosia and delight to the Goddess Enthroned. But none of them had been the one she had specifically called... until now.

"Malh'reth," she laughed, golden and giddy. "Welcome, my dear artist. See, I have laid out this pretty tableau for your painting, for your telling... for your legend-spinning." Phaedra stood up and leaned down, planting a delicate kiss on the tip of the Aurion's horn. "So good of you to come."

He froze as she drew near, fearing to harm her as she kissed him and smiled, looking up when she drew away from his horn, "It is.... a wonderful background for your radiance, Phaedra." Rising slowly, he tore his gaze from her and looked around, noting the gifts and resplendence she had surrounded herself with. Fitting indeed.

"I could think of nothing else, Highness." Lavender eyes fell upon her once more, surprise and deepest triumph plain upon his face. "You... would have me chronicle your glory?"

"Of course, of course... who best to render my ascension in glory than one who has experienced for himself?" Her eyes half-lidded, and a teasing smile played on her face for a moment. Something to remember me by. She didn't want this week to ever end, though in her heart of hearts she knew it would, and she would likely never have this power again - it was more than she had ever had, even before the Fading. Imperatrix in truth, now. "Write, draw, remember Greed's glory. All will know that I reigned above All, for a time."

But I must make my mark in other ways. I must make them remember without such mortal aids, pretty though they may be. That was another thought. This was triumph and delight, no doubt of that, but she had to do something with this power. Something great. Something to ensure nobody would forget her reign.

"No truer words have been spoken." He wavered for a moment, however, something within his glamor-fogged mind twinged and shrank away, disgusted with the goddess, straining against the bonds as she revealed what she held dominion over. Greed... He had not fallen into the arms of a good goddess but rather the embodiment of that which plagued his people. It shimmered in his features, hinting at his innermost thoughts. Anger, revulsion... fear, it boiled within him only to be whisked away by the dazzle of Phaedra.

Even if she was Greed incarnate... he wanted her. A power motivator, Greed. Perhaps when the influence faded as the others had he might find himself free but for now, he was at the mercy of the times.

"I... I will, Phaedra. I will spins tales of your greatness. Of your glory." It was an unusually simple reply for the mage. His fervor and devotion wavering slightly.

"Yes..." She felt the flow of desire falter, smirked for a moment. "Yes, you will. You will render My glory and that of My reign, my dear Malh'reth... such a kind, talented artisan. I would not dream of trusting such a task to any other. You will have fame and glory from it, I doubt not." And you want that, don't you? You desire to be known... perhaps your little quest is only for that, hm? Altruistic purposes notwithstanding, perhaps deep underneath... some little core you won't admit to yourself? She picked at his motives idly. "But moreso, you will have my favor, and my thanks for a difficult task well done."

Her words resonated within in... drew him closer, looking into her eyes with a determined smile for yes, underneath it all, he wanted glory... to be known and have praises sung to him. He would have his place in the history books... And all that it would cost was a simple favour for the Goddess of Greed, not too high a price. He could swallow his pride and his morals for a few brief days could he not?

And then she spoke of gaining her favour and he couldn't help but laugh, appreciation ringing out. "Your favour gracious Goddess? I could wish for no more..." Wouldn't that be something? To wheel and deal with the incarnation of Greed? Again, it sounded like a good prospect and he couldn't truly refuse.

"I would be glad to serve for the simple act of recording your reign..." The fog closed over once more as greed tugged at his mind, "All aspects of it." Tentatively, he reached out to touch her face with a smile.

He could pry himself away at any time... he was sure of it. And so, he would serve - for now.

She let him have that touch, that momentary brush of skin against velvet-close fur. "Of course. After all, have I not called you to the heart of what you sought? Behold, your answer-" Phaedra reached out with one finger, to touch his chin, guide his gaze away from her and towards the chrysalis

His eyes remained fixed on hers as she turned but as the chrysalis came into view in his periphery vision, Malh'reth's gaze snapped to it and he stilled. He wasn't sure what he saw... it was too bright and dark at the same time, making him squint and look at it sideways. "Wha-what is that?" Quiet, almost a whisper, he stepped closer to her, seeking protection from something he new instinctively was well beyond his ability alone to remedy.

"Is.... that why the worlds are falling apart? That is the center of everything?" He sounded appalled, disbelieving and yet morbidly intrigued. What kind of god was that? Was it even the so-called godking? He couldn't tell... couldn't see detail beyond the show of light his altered vision perceived.

"It is, or was," Phaedra replied, and for a moment true distress crept into her voice. Only a moment. "Lord Destruction, but something has changed Him most grievously. The snarl will engulf All, I fear. So now you have your answer... what will you do now? Will you dare bring this news back to your people? Better to remain, I fear. Earn your fame as I ask, and let gods sort out this unhappy tangle."

Looking at it, at his look of horror, made her feel very alone, suddenly. On top of the world, highest of high, holiest of holies and alone.

His gaze flicked to her briefly, "Was... What changed Him? This.... Destruction?" Were all the gods embodiments of things mortals tried (and failed) to avoid? First Greed, now Destruction? It was... confusing and daunting.

Stepping away, he turned his back to the Chrysalis and sighed, shaking his head. "I... came here to find answers. You're right... I cannot go back bearing such news, it will only stir the chaos that is certain to have taken over." He put hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. What did he think he could possibly do? He spun dreams into reality but they were ghosts, illusions... he had not the power to affect change...

Let the gods sort things out...? He turned then, not to Phaedra but to the Throne upon she she had sat when he had entered. Malh'reth was not a stupid fellow by any means and the gears began to turn. If he could not help, why could he not find someone to do so? The center of all lay in that bizarre cocoon and yet... Phaedra sat on the Throne.

Lavender gaze turned back to her and for a moment, he sensed her feeling of loneliness but it was fleeting and he wondered he had seen anything at all. Returning to her side quickly nonetheless, he gestured up at the Throne, "I cannot do anything but record your glory... and illustrate dreams but do you not sit on that Throne? Doesn't the Ruler only have access to such a thing? That's how it works in the lands I hail from... is it the same here, m'lady? If you rule, cannot you do something of import?" He smiled tenderly, "It would be a glory would it not? To turn the tides and rescue the worlds? I have no doubt you could, Phaedra. It would be a gem in your chronicles." Hope entwined with confidence and danced with the greed that lurked at the back of his mind. To think he, a mere mortal, might witness such a thing and it was all his to recount.

For a moment, there was anger in Phaedra's gaze. Does he truly think I haven't thought of such things? True, it was often to her advantage to appear more foolish than she really was, but that was borderline insulting. "Of course," she snapped, and her tail lashed awkwardly at her side. "Do you truly think me such a fool? This may have granted me power, but it has also taken from me what was mine. No one does that and goes unpunished, no matter what pretty things they may grant in exchange." The words were hissed, cold.

And then, as if it had never happened, her face was soft and smiling again. "Fear not, Malh'reth. I will give you plenty of... fodder."

Malh'reth shrank away as she hissed, fear making his blood run cold and made him stutter as he tried to recover of his mistake. He'd overstepped his bounds... "N-no fool. Far f-from it, Golden One...." His gaze had dropped and he looked away, mind working over how to approach this... she seemed to respond only to compliments and flattery...

Even though she calmed, Malh'reth didn't go closer again. Lifting his head once more, he struggled against the influence that had called him here and lavender eyes flashed with answering temper. It subsided quickly, however, as he was not foolish enough to risk her ire and instead settled on moving on. "Fodder...? Fodder indeed. I look forward to the miracles you are sure to work." He smiled, bowing slightly as he spoke.

"Of course," she said, absently, looking back at the Chrysalis now, a worry-line creased between her eyes. "Do you fear it, the End of Days lying in flesh before you? Can you, mortal as you are, even conceive of such a thing?" Phaedra's words were partly for Malh'reth, partly for herself.

She was. She was afraid of it.

"And all the world stretched out before me in its vastness, with no idea what I should be looking for, listening for." She shook her head, sharply. "Omnipresence, feh."

She could never appear anything less than strong, no matter what. To do otherwise was to display weakness to others, and Phaedra knew very well what could happen to weakness in the hands of a ruthless being. She had done so many times to others, herself.

"I feared it even before I came here." He spoke softly, looking to the Chrysalis as well, "The rot and fading we were experiencing.... nameless, faceless, it is terrifying." Even now, he wasn't sure what to make of the fallen godking.... it disturbed him and yet there was a certain calmness within his soul. The source of destruction was a living, tangible thing.

It gave hope. Foolish hope but hope nonetheless.

"I may not understand the scope of which you speak," he turned to Phaedra, a thoughtful expression upon his face, "But the universe has existed under your care for countless eons. This mortal, at the very least, has faith in you." A wiser approach, perhaps. And what more could he offer, being a mortal?

"Hm." She smiled, then, a genuine smile. She could feel the tiny spark of belief in his soul, even so, and that was something that could not be faked or demanded. True, she could try to kindle it, but the catching was a decision that had to be made by the individual.

So who, then, is the god? The one with power and endless existence, or the one who sustains such with will alone?

"Well. I thank you for that, Malh'reth," Phaedra said, with a nod. "If only others could be found with such faith. It is a hard thing to find in the face of all that has happened." She knew she was being almost dangerously candid with him. She should save such things for Jahara only, her Emperor only.

But the one was not here; the other, likely beyond hearing.

"Others will be found. When I return I will be sure to plant the seed of faith within my audience members. We... grow up thinking gods are just legends. There's already a base to work from even if they will take some convincing." He laughed softly, "Though I suppose I should be careful in describing the dark and beautiful goddess I met one evening in the woods." He was referring to her being Greed and it still made him cringe slightly inside. But, all things given, she'd done nothing more then offer greatness, protection... company and knowledge. Things he couldn't really say no to and all in return for his recording her glory.

Dealing with the devil wasn't so bad, perhaps.

"I will tell stories of the gods - you and any others I meet." She would be special though... for she was his introduction in the realm of the gods.

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Phaedra, Jin Huang, and Malh'reth

After speaking with his brother - so good to see him again - Jin Huang slipped inside the Throne room, unsure of what exactly he was going to see. The malevolent chrysalis was unexpected, and something Jin did not want to dwell on overlong. Greed enthroned had already gathered a small group of mortals to herself, and an amused thought corssed the dragon's mind. Gathering all his power, Jin hid it, only exerting himself enough to move the body of his host. How long would it take the Goddess to realize? Probably not long, but it was something he could not resist doing. Stifling a grin, Jin Huang silently approached the Throne and the Goddess seated there.

With her little would-be bard safely ensconced, Phaedra turned her mind back to pleasure. Destruction's long Age, however, had rather sucked the fun out of that. People brought their most treasured things, but what good was a ratty stuffed animal, a battered army ration, or a weapon? True, there was some glitter, but not anywhere near as much as she wanted. Destruction had squeezed out much of people's excesses and reduced them to the bare knife-edge of survival.


Another penitent shambled up, and Phaedra gave the man a dubious look. "And what do you bring to the Golden Throne?" Usually she didn't address them so directly, but usually they stopped further away.

"Alas, I bring nothing," Jin Huang replied, truly regretful. He hadn't really anticipated anyone on the Throne, and that lack of foresight was problematic now. Brow furrowed in thought for a moment - had he really left with nothing of value on him? - Jin's smile returned. There was something. It was small, admittedly, but he hadn't quite been able to convince himself to leave everything at home. "Ah, I lie. I forgot. A trifling bauble, a trinket really. Nothing worthy," the dragon said, amused. A quick hand darted into his pocket and back out, pulling a small ruby out. "I hope it suffices for the moment," he continued, offering it to Phaedra with a bow.

Ah- Now that, that was more like it. Phaedra examined the facets. Small, yes, but it was flawless. So difficult to find, in this Age, when people thought that jewels of any stripe were equal to wealth and piled them together... and the diamonds scratched the other jewels, and what was the world coming to?

But who was this to name a flawless gemstone a trinket in this time of strife? Phaedra gave the man a narrow-eyed, assessing look. That attitude was extremely unusual. "A trinket that could equal weeks of food for you and yours." Not that such would matter, with the compulsion. Things would be brought whether they willed it or no, but saying such things in the process was definitely an anomaly.

"Assuming I could find anyone to buy it," Jin replied amicably, withdrawing his hand once the gem was taken. Privately, he considered the gem to be the least part of the treasure he had found, right before the Wave, but if it impressed her, so be it. It did make him glad that he had left the rest at home, however. "But why would I want to sell it? It is - was - mine, and only for you would I part with it." Dragons and greed did tend to go hand in hand, after all. It made a fitting enough offering for the embodiment of the largest part of his nature.

She laughed, then, delighted. Now that was an attitude worthy of her Throne! "I see, I see. A worthy choice, an excellent benediction. What is your name, my dear?" Such a human could be excellent for her purposes. "And do you enjoy giving this to me? Is it your delight, your true wish - or does it hurt you, does it tear from your soul? Tell me, truly." Her eyes narrowed in pleasure, and she lessened the compulsion around him. "Tell me how it hurts," she purred.

Malh'reth was rather bored as well. There were only so many pictures of offerings you could sketch, draw, and animate in the glory of the Goddess you served when those coming all started to the look the same - he was also pretty sure Phaedra had collected a startling amount of well-worn teddy bears and toy dolls.

Thus, when the newest worshiper arrived and came so close to the throne, he blinked and paid closer attention, furry ears perked forward and head tilted to the side as he listened. It was frustrating, sometimes, to see only auras. After the monotony of the last while, the strange... difference about this man offered a reprieve. It was subtle... and he knew not what to make of it.

Unconsciously, he took a step forward out of curiosity.

Then he blinked again, seeing the dull outline of a gem pass from his hand to Phaedra's. A trinket...? Times were rough and he held a gem as nothing but a bauble? His head tilted to the other, one ear flicking as he doodled the strange exchange.

"Yes, a name would be appreciated." He spoke quietly, mostly to himself. Names were important in the making of records. Though he fell silent, expression darkening a bit at her last comment. Deep inside, he struggled against the compulsion that had made him agree to do this and lost once again.

Jin grinned sharply. She hadn't guessed? Oh, this was too fun, too fun. "I've had many names," he replied slowly, wondering if now was the right time for the reveal. "Delmin Brock," he said finally, plucking absently at the hem of his shirt. It hadn't been the man's real name either, come to think of it.

"Oh, it pains me slightly to part with it," he continued with a widening of his grin. "Not so much as it would, were it not offered to you." At least she could appreciate the gem, unlike many who had received gifts from the Treasury. The lessening of the compulsion was not something he truly noticed. This was Greed and he would happily stay here for a while longer. A flickering glance was cast to Malh'reth when he spoke, but Jin quickly dismissed him as a pretty pet.

"Flatterer," she purred, then twisted the compulsion to bring him closer-

And met resistance. Sharp, sudden, the power did not wave through him as it had the others! Her eyes widened, then narrowed again, and she drew back from her 'plaything'. "You are not telling me the truth, Delmin... the host's name, I presume." He could only be that, a host, with her compulsion blunting itself against him. His act had been so complete, she hadn't noticed. "Primordial, Dragon King, which are you? Name yourself, and your purpose in presenting yourself in this manner." Did he mean to deceive her? Did he think her a fool?

Jin took a step backwards as Phaedra's mood shifted. Ah! Something had given him away. No matter. "His name, yes," he agreed, nodding his head slightly. "My name is Jin Huang." He paused, offering another bow. She might recognize the name - or it's literal translation. "The Dragon King Futs Lung," he finished the introduction, remaining where he was, but taking a deep breath and allowing his pent up power to trickle forth and add truth to the claim.

"My brother mentioned you were seated on the Throne. I had not meant to offend," he said by way of apology. Hopefully she would forgive him the small game.

For a moment she stared, taken off guard.

Then she laughed, a genuine laugh that trailed off into a chortling purr. "Futs Lung, is it. Now two Dragon Kings have come to plague me on my Throne. But you... you were always my favorite." She leaned forward and made to snatch at the proffered gem.

]Jin Huang let her snatch the gem away, amused. "You do remember me. I am honored, Lady," he said, bowing his head slightly in a far more genuine display of respect. Tian Yue had not seemed to bear any love for her in this incarnation, that was true, but Futs Lung had ever held a different view on Greed. "Thankfully, that was mine, and not the Crown's. Else I could not have made the offer." An old game, there, one only dimly recalled in any specific moment, but fondly remembered nonetheless.

"And how on earth did you find such things in these times? Selling apples on a barrow, perhaps? A fine task for a Dragon King." She held the ruby up to the light, then called a chain to cup around it, pulling fine golden strands out of the air. "Your master would benefit most from other treasures, I think." A vague look of unease flitted across her face; as if to obscure it, she hurriedly braided the now ensnared ruby among the rest of the gems in her hair.

"A hidden trove I had long since forgotten about," Jin replied easily, rocking back in his heels slightly at the display of trivial power. So easy to do, when one was seated upon the Throne. "Thankfully, I have servants with far better memory." He cast a flickering glance over the chrysalis as she spoke, missing entirely her unease. "If only it was something in my keeping," he whispered sorrowfully in return. "I would gladly empty the vaults of all they contained, if it would aid Him."

"Even I..." She hesitated, just for a moment, but no - for him, she would; wasn't there that cache in her rooms from Achai, that she'd been saving? She'd wanted it for herself most direly, which was why it had to be for Him? "... would do the same. But this lot would save nothing" She gave the piles of mostly-not-glitter a withering glance.

"But let us talk of better things. You are late in coming, Futs Lung. How much of the Crown's treasury could I have plundered in your absence?" She shook a finger at him, scolding. "I might even have touched some of it." A game, that. Sneak in, or try, and lay a fingertip on a bauble before being summarily caught. A merry game.

Jin arched an eyebrow at that, but conceded the point. Of the Court, she had only truly respected the Crown, and to offer her gifts freely to Him would be within the scope of that respect. It would, of course, pain her, but it could be done.

"I would have returned sooner, had I known you roamed freely," he said back, only a faint light of disquiet hinting that there was another reason for his current state. "Daring woman, indeed. Who knows how the spells and guards have gone awry in my long absence. I would not like to begin my inventory with the addition of you to the vaults," he continued, mournfully exaggerating her fate. It was more likely they had all expired, leaving the Treasury unprotected.

"The treasury is upstairs," she assured him - that had been one of the other things she'd done with the Sight, spy on the Pantheon. Good blackmail material, that, but the glittering endless rooms had drawn her attention quite effectively. "Some of it is ordered, too, as if someone was there recently... that wasn't you, then?"

"No, that was not," Jin confirmed with a frown. Who would have dared to not only enter the Treasury, but to put any part of it in order? There were few enough who had had permission in ages past - of course, Harmodius could let whomever he wanted in. "I can only hope and assume it was someone there on my Lord's orders," he admitted. One more thing to worry at and about, as if there were not plenty of others.

"Alas, I had other games to play before thinking about resuming our old tricks and tropes, my dear... Jin Huang, is it, now?" She tilted her head to one side. "Like subduing my host. And then, tsk, all this happens not two days later. Terribly inconvenient. So that little shuffle can't be blamed on me."

Jin nodded absently to confirm the name. "I imagine that if you had gotten in, it would not be ordered in any sense of how I mean the word," he said dryly. Large parts would likely be missing, although that might be - blasphemy - uncharitable for him to think that of her. "Was she truly that troublesome?" he asked, curious. His first, failed, host had been quarrelsome, although he privately conceded his own handling of the situation might have contributed to that. Delmin was, of course, himself, and wasn't likely to be any trouble at all. Especially if he remained as he was.

"Oh, no... but she was amusing," she purred, with a pointed smile. "Alas, Tien Lung thought she belonged to him. Such a pity to disabuse him of the notion. Aoide, so rich and delicious. But you, my dear... you know that I get what I want, don't you? Perhaps I have that great pearl I so coveted, upstairs in my chambers at this very moment."

Ahhhh. That explained much of his brother's dislike. A bit of defensive anger worked it's way through his system at the information, but with a mental sigh, Jin released it. Stealing an Aoide was quite a line to cross, but if anyone would do it, it would be Greed. Entirely her nature to do such things, and Jin could accept that. "At some point, whether anyone likes it or not," he agreed, before casting a very sharp glance at Phaedra. She wouldn't! "Oh? And had the thrill of the chase gone out of that, then?"

Phaedra sighed, and affected a bored pose. "Alas, it has been frightfully dull. I've only managed to topple one metropolis, yet. Working into these close-knit little clusters of desperation that mortals fall into... well, this power has broken them of that, but this world just doesn't suit me, my dear." She traced along the line of the Throne's armrest. "You'll need to fix it, you and your brothers."

"But not until after your time is up?" Jin asked innocently. He couldn't blame her, not really. This was, literally, something that only happened once in a lifetime. Who could pass up such?

"I would see the Crown and Court returned to glory," he continued fervently, as if making a promise. "But I have little enough knowledge of what has transpired, let alone how to fix it." Tian Yue hadn't known, either. Had none of his siblings made it to the Pantheon after the Crown's transformation?

"Perhaps... though, if you can manage it sooner, I value my continued comfort and safety over all this. It is temporary anyway. Sometimes you have to sacrifice one bauble for another of greater value," she said, with a sigh and a flip of one hand.

Phaedra glanced down at him, then. "I... know little enough myself. We are scattered, like flies. A terrible thing." There was a tone of vague frustration in her voice.

"Pragmatic, as always," Jin murmured at her response. Dying so finally after such a short time ascended seemed like a waste to the dragon. There wouldn't be a second - or third - chance if they failed to set things right.

"The Court has not gathered?" he asked, vaguely surprised. But then, if those who came first were not the sort to have spent much time there before, then it was unlikely they would have done so now

Phaedra shrugged. "If they have, I did not know it. What you see here is all I have seen since taking the Throne. If you can bring more, then please - by your leave, Futs Lung."

"How singularly frustrating," he replied. He made a small, dismissive gesture. "I find it unlikely any would gather on my word alone. Then there is, of course, the problem of finding anyone else to gather before you, or the Throne in general." He knew, now, three gods. There were ancient alliances and relationships, of course, but rebuilding such things took time - and introducing himself with a request to gather before Greed Enthroned would likely not do much for him in the long run. What little of that remained.

"You will manage, I've no doubt. Ask your brothers to help you, they seem gregarious sorts. Ever so noble." Her tone was flippant, impudent. "And if you wish to see me... you know where I am, for now. Or later, upstairs, behind the door of jewels with the brass knocker. I'll turn off the traps for you, my dear, unless you'd rather exert your lovely Delmin..."

Primordial... Dragon King....? His gaze flicked to Phaedra as she spoke those unfamiliar terms and wrote them down along with the other's name then paused and glanced up, brow furrowing. Why were there so many names? And what, praytell, was a host? He had thought the gods were... as they were. The way Phaedra spoke it seemed like the one standing before her was some sort of parasite...

Frowning, he wrote out his attempts at the other names below Delmin Brock and idly traced question marks beside them. He certainly didn't look like a dragon... but was that difference in his aura the signature of being such? What was a Dragon King? As they turned to idle banter (or at least idle from what he could tell) he tuned the conversation out while his thoughts turned inward.

Since falling into step with Phaedra he'd come across all manner of information but nearly as many, if not more, questions. He would ask her but after watching her deal with her visitors and knowing her domain, he doubted it would be a good idea to pursue further contracts. This current one was enough.

Perhaps, though, and his gaze lifted once more to peer at Futs Lung, it might be an idea to speak to the dragon king. The title sounded important and the two seemed to at least get along... he could step away for a moment or two to speak with this Jin Huang.

"They do seem to have a natural inclination for it," Jin replied affably. Not all of them, of course. He did not, for instance, tend towards any sort of heroic impulse.

"Delmin's hardly fit for navigating your Labyrinth, even with my aid. Perhaps at a later date I'll be able to find my way through." Not quite like a sphinx, with their nearly obsessive love for puzzles and riddles, but Jin Huang held a a lingering respect for the maze, often navigated simply for the pleasure of doing so. An interesting intellectual challenge.

"Perhaps when you are more recovered from your long time away, then." Phaedra glanced down at Malh'reth. Her little pet seemed more curious than simple recording would warrant. All to the good, in this case; Futs Lung would not lead him away from her. Instead, she gestured at the Aurion. "My aide and chronicler in this golden time, Malh'reth. He is mine," she added, and flashed the artist a quick, bright smile.

One ear tilted, leaving him with one tilted up and the other laid back in a quizzical manner. A Labyrinth...? He had not yet been up to Phaedra's chambers and hoped that what they were speaking of was something simple... or, better yet, that he wouldn't have to actually navigate such a thing.

He started when she called his name and blinked, looking slightly guilty even while trying to appear as though he was simply recording. Her claiming of him rubbed him the wrong way but he suppressed the frown in the hopes that she might actually send him along with this dragon king without his having to ask. "Yes m'lady?" Stepping forward, he came up even with her and bowed his head, sketchbook held up against his chest.

"I look forward to the occasion," Jin said with another bow of his head. Before he could search for something else to say, she introduced her pet, a member of a race Jin could not ever remember seeing. But then, that meant little enough, these days.

"What foresight," he murmured appreciatively. "There will always be a memory of this, then, for however long the world will last."

"Indeed... and I aim that that shall be quite a long time indeed." Phaedra's gaze darted quickly to the chrysalis, then back to Malh'reth and the Dragon. "Alas, I fear I should bend my gaze upon All once more, and continue seeking what I can. You may tend to your needs if you require it, my dear artist," she added, glancing down at Malh'reth. "Best to have you do so at a time when I am idle than when I may have need of your abilities."

Malh'reth smiled, "I hope my tales of the Gods and Goddeses I meet here will spread when I return home, yes. I have faith the answer will be found." And at that, he cast a glance Phaedra's way, gilded with hope.

When she spoke once more, his eyes widened and his smile grew larger, "Thank-you Phaedra. I shall return." Offering a deep bow, he then turned to the dragon king, careful not to turn his back on Phaedra completely.

"Would you mind if I walked with you? There is much to learn and record, I've come to realize." He laughed softly, "More then I could have imagined upon coming here."

"By your leave, Lady," Jin replied, sweeping an elegant bow. He was about to turn and leave when Malh'reth spoke to him. "Greed has granted her permission for you to leave her side, and so I have no issue with it," he said as he started to slowly walk away. "Was there something in particular you wished to speak with me about?"

The mage nodded as he began to walk along with Jin, "Yes. I wish to ask you some questions... I have only come here relatively recently and while Phaedra's been kind enough to take me under her wing in return for my recording her glory," a small smile at that for he could not argue the fact, "but I have come to realize my understanding of the situation is... lacking."

Pausing as he flipped his pages open, he ran fingers over the paper to skim them, "I couldn't help but overhear your conversation and there were a few terms I am unfamiliar with." Looking up, he spread long fingers over the sketchbook's page, "Would you mind helping me fill in the gaps? I want as complete a story as possible for when I return home to tell the tale of the gods I met here." As he read the words Dragon King, a frown flickered across his face and he offered a hasty sort of bow, "Er... highness?" Inwardly, he winced. What a wonderfully smooth cover.

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Jin Huang and Malh'reth

Jin Huang listened patiently as the mortal spoke. Ah, lucky Malh'reth. He had met and found to be a prize by the softer side of Greed. If and when he tried to leave, well. That would be his own watch, and not something Jin would advise him of. It - he - was not worth crossing the Lady Greed over. "I will tell you what I am able," he offered finally, pondering. "I have only recently returned myself, but," here he shrugged. "You may ask anyway," he finished, as though it were a favor bestowed. Jin chuckled a bit at the belated highness, and wave a hand dismissively. "Jin Huang. Or Treasurer, if you insist upon a title."

Malh'reth nodded, "Alright then, Jin. My thanks." Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he decided first to focus on what the other had just said. "I illustrate my stories and while you were speaking with Phaedra... you offered two names. I am curious, which should I include in my retelling and what is a host? I had thought that the very concept of a mortal or anyone, really, sheltering a god was.... ridiculous." Still, if that were the truth, he would rather know it and expand upon that base then spin some fluff that proved false and bring down the gods' wrath upon him.

"Jin Huang is my name. Delmin Brock is his," Jin replied after a speculative look at the mage walking beside him. He sighed a little, and slowed his stride further. "This, I do know. The gods failed. We fell, we died. The Twin Crown, Creation and Destruction, my Lord Harmodius, gathered what he could of our essence, and set us to slumbering in gems and jewels." Here, Jin loosened the top button of the shirt he'd worn, revealing an interesting looking gemstone, set at the top of his breastbone.

"This is mine. Delmin found it, set it there." There was a lot Jin was skipping over - his first, failed attempt at rebirth, and everything else that had come of that - but that was not something he would share lightly with anyone, let alone a pet of Greed's. "And I will use his soul to fuel my own growth and rebirth," the dragon said matter-of-factly. Del had accepted this, before he had...gone away, as it were. "As we all will do, or have done." Hopefully that would be enough of an explanation.

The Aurion slowed then stopped at the frank information, eyes widening. "Died....? Slumbering?" The glint of an intriguing gem caught his eye and drew his attention to it, and he stepped closer, "I did not think that gods cou-" He cut himself off sharply and fell into a confused silence as he worked the dragon's statement over in his mind.

Use his soul to power his rebirth...? There was no other way to interpret that then the host was a sacrifice to the god slumbering in the gem. It seemed... both fitting and appalling at the same time. Rolling his lower lip in between his teeth, he nibbled on it, unsure of just how he felt about this. Jin had been so frank it couldn't be an exageration. He was infinitely glad he had not stumbled across a gem and strangely grateful for this rather startling information.

At length he finally found his voice, and posed another question, "All the gods do this...? Have a mortal give up their soul so that they might be reborn...? Are the mortals at least willing?"

Jin let Malh'reth fully process the information before making any sort of reply. It was a lot to take in, after all. "All that you have seen here, save only the Crown. But He is in no shape that you would recognize as being a god," the dragon said with a soft, sad, chuckle. "Some are willing, like Delmin. Some are not, like the Lady you caught the attention of." He had not been told this, true, but oh, the implication was there. His brother's servant would not have gone without being tricked, of that much Jin Huang was certain.

Malh'reth's expression hardened, "I've seen your... King. I would not recognize him as a god. It is difficult to accept that the very universe's wellbeing depends on that.... being," the pod was deeply disturbing and he hated looking at it. It just wasn't right.

Shaking the thoughts from his mind, he frowned, "Greed? Her.... host was not willing? What is Phaedra like...? She had been nothing but kind and yet she is Greed. It confuses me." Even so he wondered who would so willingly sacrifice their very existence to a god. Shivering, he turned lavender eyes on the area about them, “And… my apology for the question, Treasurer, but what is a Dragon King…? If that pod is your lord then what are you the king of?” He’d already figured out Phaedra’s time on the throne was something special and something linked to the ever shifting influences of the weeks but what of a Dragon King? Why didn’t they sit upon the throne instead of paying respects like Jin had?

Jin Huang shrugged off the mage's comments regarding Harmodius. Jin himself had only seen his Lord once while whole, at least in this incarnation, and yet that had still been through Delmin's eyes, not truly his own. Not even like this.

"She is Greed," was the simple response, offered in a tone of amused resignation. "You have caught her attention. Be grateful, and try to keep it, lest you see her true nature." That was all the warning Jin would give on that subject. The dragon had no desire to cross Phaedra over something so trivial as a pet mortal.

"Nothing in particular. We are not Kings in the sense that you know them. In the hierarchy of the Pantheon, only the Twin Crown Himself is set above us." Partially true, that; always the Empress and the Primordials respected and obeyed, but it was true enough for Malh'reth's question.

Malh'reth half laughed, half scoffed, "I will keep that in mind." He didn't exactly have much choice in the matter... it was either obey or risk her wrath and though she may be Greed, he wasn't fool enough to deliberately cross her, "Besides... we have an agreement that I must honour." And there was that stubborn Aurion tendency to stick to an agreement however much the individual may dislike it. Old teachings were hard to forget.

He blinked, taken aback by that. They... were second only to the Twin Crown...? The look of surprised slid into a frown as he wondered if he should even be speaking with this one... Coughing, he tilted his head up to the sky as his ears flicked and settled, "Hierarchy? There are a great many of you then? You are one of the few gods I've met... I must admit I am still rather uninformed," he sighed, "and that doesn't make for a proper retelling. I have not asked Phaedra many questions as she demands something in return..."

He chuckled softly for he didn't blame her but she already had his service... among other things, and there wasn't much more he could offer. "Is there anything that I should know? I came in search of answers but now I'm hoping to find a way to assist in... fixing? The degradation of the worlds. I don't want to die and I'm almost certain the feeling is mutual between mortals and immortals alike." Perhaps Jin could offer him some means of helping out, he hoped so at least.

"So long as you are aware," Jin replied noncommitally. An agreement, with Greed? That was laughable, although he refrained from actually laughing out loud. It would be impolite to do so, after all. He had made his choice - however fogged his mind might be - and he was the one who would have to deal with the consequences.

"There were, once. We died. I think I mentioned that already," he continued dryly, arching an eyebrow. "And there will be, once again." This was said firmly, hiding the doubts Jin held within him. Would they really be able to put things aright before time ran out? He eyed Malh'reth speculatively.

Was there anything he could do? He didn't know what the man was capable of, but Jin wasn't entirely sure there was anything he could do. "I am unsure," he admitted. "Learn what you can, from others who may gather here. Perhaps someone else will know of something you could put your talents towards." Whatever those talents might be.

Malh'reth chuckled, "Yes, you did. I meant more in terms of current numbers..." He wondered, as Jin replied, how many unfortunate souls would be fed to the gods. Would it be worth it in the end?

The mage sighed then, and nodded. It was an answer... not a particularly helpful answer but at least the dragon hadn't said he couldn't do anything. Stopping, he glanced around and found they'd wandered a good distance from the Pantheon. Turning back around to face the other, he bowed, "I guess that's the best course of action. Thank you for your time but I must return soon... afore I'm missed."

With some of his questions answered, Mal thought it best to return sooner then later.

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Phaedra had dismissed him once again, she had other things to do then toy with her pretty mage-pet. And Malh’reth wasn’t about to argue, not today. He had grown weary of chronicling her glory – or at least those intervals between meeting one intriguing god and another. From what he’d learned, the gods were exerting their presence on the worlds once more after having failed in some fashion in the past. They came in the form of gems that housed their sleeping essences and took over the unfortunate mortal… called them host.

And Jin had said all the gods did it… but such a sacrifice still made the Aurion pale. What was so important about the gods returning if the worlds have continued fine in their absence? Malh’reth rather liked his soul, thank you very much, and was glad to be aware of such a heavy price in becoming entangled with the deities. The way the Treasurer had spoken, it seemed that a host had to first accept the gem in some manner…. But did not have to be aware of what they were doing. As a result he had made a promise to himself not to blindly accept gifts of gems… it wouldn’t be too difficult, would it?

His mind drifted to Phaedra and the host she must have had… Greed had taken her host over, removed any choice the poor creature had had and Malh’reth swore to himself he would not be so foolish. Still, a morbid curiosity tugged at him. What had it been like? To be consumed and used as the spark that kindled the life of another? Had Greed’s host suffered? Malh’reth could see Phaedra toying with her host as she had her visitors but at the same time, such manipulation seemed at odds with the goddess he knew.

Shaking his head, he coughed and inhaled the sharp morning air as temper flared unexpectedly. Mortals were not pawns! They were not toys to be used and abused at the will of some deity who was struggling to regain life. And yet these gods were the ones working to save the world… the universe. This place was so full of conflictions he wasn’t sure where he stood, knew only that he had chosen well in his (forced) decision to serve Phaedra. He’d come in search of answers to help and had been met by a generous Greed, a godking encased in spirits knew what, and gods that destroyed their followers to regain life.

Mal scoffed. It was hardly the image he had wanted to carry back with him.

“And I will believe in Greed.” He spoke to himself, strangely amused, “Spread word of the glory of a woman who, against logic, is kind and reasonable.” The mage had been pacing, passing by the same set of bushes when he stopped and suddenly addressed the plant, “I cannot stay here… but I cannot leave. I gave my word I would chronicle Phaedra’s history and I have yet to find the answer to that puzzle in the Throne Room. I am but a mortal, I have neither the power nor knowledge to move worlds like the gods do. They are off on their quests while I sit here and record their progress…. Center everything around my Lady. Perhaps you know, bush, what I can do? There must be something I can be helpful with.” He laughed softly and ran hands through the strangely coloured leaves then frowned as some crumbled beneath his gentle touch, “Perhaps I should indeed seek out Gaia… or the Treasurer again, my skills must be of use somehow… even as a messenger.”

The bush merely rustled as the wind ghosted through, picked up a dead leave and carried it away, drawing a sad smile to the mage’s lips. He hadn’t expected an answer, really, had merely desired a chance to voice his thoughts but it seemed even the elements had their attention elsewhere. Resuming his pacing, he continued to brood and plan, oblivious to the pair of charcoal eyes that watched from some distance away.

Natasha had come in search of answers… of why the world around her seemed so ready to tear itself apart and why she too was at the mercy of these invisible waves. Instead, she’d happened upon the mage, his musing drawing her attention. What was he going on about? And why was he talking to a bush? Curious, she stepped forward to ask the mage just what he was doing when she felt the stirring of something in the satchel she currently carried. Opening it, she rummaged around in its disorganized depth until she found the chain that looped through a very unique pendant… cupped in gold with a large hoop to make it a pendant was a gem. It was simple and unassuming but carried with it the look of petrified wood, completely with tree rings despite its size.

Blinking, she watched it sway and felt the pulse then looked back at Malh’reth, curiosity giving way to hope. Her Lord was reacting… rising and the only creature around was that curious self-talking mage. Could he…? Could he be the means to Forest’s resurrection? It seemed too easy to be true.

The pulse and pull was felt by the Aurion as well, making him stop dead in his tracks and look over in Natasha’s direction as she put the pendant away. Noting the frown and mistaking the motion, he turned to fully face her, tone gruff, “Is there something you want?”

She blinked, took a step back then shook her head and reclaimed her lost ground, chin high, “What? Am I not allowed to tread on His grounds? Who are you to decide as such?” Grouchy man, this strange horned creature was.

Arching a brow, he shook his head, “I don’t care what you do. Your satchel… you were taking something out. Normally people only do that when they want something.” Grumbling, he crossed his arms, annoyed that his musing had been interrupted and not knowing what had caused it.

“Good. If you don’t care, I’ll be going the-“ She frowned as she was cut off and looked at her bag, “I wasn’t doing anything but checking its contents, sir. I ask again, who are you?”

“Malh’reth, Servant to Greed and Chronicler of Her Glory. I am a traveling entertainer come here in search of answers. And you?” Normally he wasn’t so irate but War was a powerful influence indeed.

One slender brow shot up high on her forehead at that, “Greed…? Are you an Aoide? I don’t recall seeing one such as yourself…” Granted she couldn’t remember much but a fellow servant so like her? That ought to have stuck out. “I am Natasha.”

“Aoide?” He scoffed and shook his head, “No, I am not an eternal servant. I have an agreement with dear Phaedra and nothing more… a temporary contract.”

She took another step forward, drawing taller at the assumed insult and tossed her head, hooves clicking against the stone, “A mortal then? Doomed to die before you ever see glory.”

Malh’reth bristled at that and growled, lavender eyes flashing, “Better to die then be bound in eternal servitude. Who do you serve, Aoide?”

A snap rang out as she stepped on a dry twig and crushed it beneath her feet, “It is an honour to serve the gods, you ungrateful mortal. They are the forces that drive All that Is forward… protect and guide it so that miserable fools like you can survive.”

His ears laid back at that, and he grumbled loudly, “They are parasitic beings that consume and destroy the person that would offer them life.”

“What!?” Natasha stopped, taken aback, her own furry ears perking forward to fix on Mal, “You’re a fool. Most hosts are willing vessels, treasured sacrifices. What do you fear? You are not a host, are you?” It was difficult keeping the concern from her voice as she asked. If he was one… then why had Forest reacted so?

“No!” He shouted, then coughed and continued in a more controlled manner as he got a hold of his temper, “Ahem. Rather, no, I am not and I am eternally grateful that I am not. My soul is my own and not fodder for some god.”

Relief flooded her features then, drawing a strange look from Mal and she coughed, fidgeted, “I think it’s a noble sacrifice. From what I understand you’re only extinguished if the god wishes for you to be. I would offer myself but I am not meant to be a host…”

Malh’reth blinked, tilted his head to the side, “Not meant to be…? What do you mean?”

“That each host is specific to their god… I don’t actually know of any host rejecting the gem.” She pondered the answer for a moment, biting her lip and looking up at the sky, “Guess the easiest way to understand it is that…. Each host is a unique specific person for some unknown reason.”

A frown found its way onto his face, “I see… One host, one gem, correct?” Again, he found himself thankful that he hadn’t run into such a thing in his time here, even if it was possible that he wouldn’t stop existing entirely. Turning away then, he continued his pacing with a thoughtful look upon his face, “And a deity must use that one host or not be reborn?”

“Don’t know. I haven’t been around long enough to figure that out yet…”

“Mmm. I see.”

She frowned, knowing without asking that if she requested he take on forest’s gem that he would refuse outright… the gem stirred again as Malh’reth drew nearer then settled when he paced away and Natasha eyed her bag for several long moments. She had carried this gem for a while now, careful not to touch it and had wondered if a host would be found…

But it seemed the host had walked into her life instead of she into his.

As she watched, he thought. The gods were important…. And could only be returned through the sacrifice of a soul… did they treasure it? Respect the sacrifice of the mortal? Again, his thoughts turned to Phaedra. Her host had been unwilling, snuffed out by a greater presence and he did not want that. If he were to make a choice… it would be by his own will and not another’s…. as Delmin had given way to Jin. Tossing his head, ears flicked back and forth as he wrestled with himself, trying to come to terms with such things.

And then he laughed.

Natasha blinked, arched a brow.

“Not that that matters. I am a servant and not a host. I do not know why I am hung up on such things.” The mage shrugged, rolled his shoulders and turned to face Natasha once more. “Unimportant. I have to figure out what to do to help save the universe… not dwell on things that do not concern me.”

“Ah…” Natasha wasn’t sure what to say to that and merely nodded, “I suppose I shall leave you to your musing then?” Lovely. Offering the gem wouldn’t be enough to see if he was a proper host… Tucking the little tidbits of information away for later use, she wondered if she could use his desire to ‘save the world’ to help bring back her Lord… The mage would likely never forgive her but her loyalty rested solely with Forest and no other. He would understand would he not?

She prayed that he would. She was only trying to serve.

“Hrm?” Malh’reth blinked then shrugged, waving a hand dismissively, “If you wouldn’t mind. You are very distracting.” He cast a gaze at her, let it slide down to her satchel where it lingered for a long time. There was something there…. Something calling him… but it was only a bag. “Go on. Good day… avoid the lava – it’s not just for show.”

Natasha actually laughed at that and shook her head as hope sparked. He felt the tug more so then she… that was a good sign. Nodding, she waved and continued off, “I’m well aware of the lava. Thanks though.”

There were plans to be made and people to be spoken to.

It had begun.

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The Golden Court

The Golden Court, she would call it; so she would have Malh'reth write into the annals of history. (That alone was enough reason to repair the mess that had been made of things; she wanted far more time for her reign to awe historians. Centuries. Millennia.) It was a fitting name, even if not many of the mortals she called actually had any gold or precious things to bring.

But so short. She had to make the most of it, and collect as much of both treasure, fame, and power as she could with her now-vast resources. Knowledge, too. And yet she had to remain here. She had already learned that to leave the vicinity of Throne and Form was to lose what she had gained.

She was, effectively, trapped, even if she could send her senses flying far and wide. She had to know what to look for.

So Phaedra sat on the Throne, and accepted offering and obeisance, and brooded.

They where gone, now - and that left him alone. It had been easy enough to ignore the odd feeling that had been nagging at the back of his mind when he had the set of deities to focus on, as well as the task of retelling Ankou's instructions from the doors. But now ? The god was quiet, still resting and slowly recovering from his little stunt - he still had the linger of an headache, he wanted out of here and go bum off someone's bed for a nice long nap...

But something kept graping at him. Pulling him. In despite all common sense speaking against it, he ventured into the throne room - it was full of people... maybe it was what had drawn the underworld's attentions. He mingled at the back of the crowd and froze when he saw just who was sitting on the throne.

What the hell...

She was different, of course. Peacock feathers, a single blue eye when it used to be red. Still that errie golden gem. At least, the host was free... hopefully. It was the first time that he could see the differences - and errie similarities in between host and freshly reborn deities.

Would Ankou look that much like him ? Would he have the same face ? Lyra...

Everything, all his instinct screamed for him to turn and leave before she noticed him - but, he noticed all the late that he could not move, as if entranced.

He was frozen.

A flash of red caught her eye, even as Underworld's pale flesh had drawn her attention earlier.
Was that-

It was.

A sharp smile spread across Phaedra's face. "Why hello, Adrian. You're a week late, you know."

Yellow eyes narrowed at that one comment. "Oh, trust me, I am not late for anything - who knows where you've been after all." He muttered, still trying to will his body to move. It would not listen.

Ankou, what the hell are you...

Nothing !

The small edge of panic in the god's voice was enough to know it wasn't his doing. If it wasn't Ankou, and if it wasn't HIM...

Why the hell couldn't he turn and leave, why couldn't he stop looking at her, at the eye and gem ?

Most importantly, why was he feeling drawn to her ?! He had to constantly resist the urge to move... toward her.

Phaedra's brow furrowed, and she arched one delicate eyebrow at him. "Who knows where I've been? Surely you can think of something better than that. What's important isn't where I've been, but where I am."

She gestured for him to come closer, with one claw-tipped finger.

She beckoned him closer and something inside him tugged, shifted, spirally out of his own control. It was almost like Ankou taking over, but yet that was even worse than his own vivid fears since he was still at the forefront, seeing it all unfold.

I don't want this, I don't want to, don't...

One step. Then another. The more steps he took, the smoother his walk became, the harder resistance became.

"Let me... go...."

He stopped right in front of the throne.

Good, good. She hadn't been sure that would work on a host. "I thought you'd like to see my rainbow." Phaedra cupped her hands and called power into them; jewels dripped out from between her fingers, a golden curl of chain supporting them, growing like a living vine. "So much more valuable than mere water and light. So much more permanent. A thanks, payment for services rendered." She put a soft but unmistakable emphasis on the word payment.

He shivered, when she spoke. With her so close, even his thoughts became muddled, hazy - he could register Ankou screaming at him, trying to snap him out of it, but not what words where spoken. With not enough energy to take control of the body itself, it was the only thing the god could do, all but trapped inside his own gemstone.

Beautiful tinted want to leave want to stay...


He lowered his head. "...Beautiful." The word came out before he could even stop it.

The Aurion stood to the side of the throne, out of immediate eyesight but as another person approached the throne, he stepped forward to watch and record. His little sketchbook was in hand as he idly wrote down the person's name and then sketched the scene.

Adrian was it...? Well, Adrian seemed to have a problem with Phaedra. And Malh'reth knew it was pointless to fight her call... it enveloped and overwhelmed. Curiously, he glanced up at the goddess and blinked at the strong of priceless baubles. He had a fondness for gems... all Aurion did. The bigger and shinier the better....

Generous, she was.

She purred, her tail-tip delicately tapping on Adrian's leg. Oh, the god inside would probably dislike her for a while, but that particular bridge had been burned on their first encounter. May as well make the most of it. "So much friendlier than your brother." Phaedra reached out with her free and actually patted Adrian on the head. All that marvelous red hair. "You can keep that," she added, jingling the chain of rainbowed jewels in the other hand, waiting for him to take it. She had no idea if it would stick around after her time Enthroned was over, but she didn't care that much.

It was probably a good thing that Ankou could not break out, as the headpat would probably have resulted into a few projectiles flying in her direction. The god was seething, fuming under the surface - almost as angry as he had been after knowing his brother had gone missing. If this got to Nergal's ears, he would never hear the end of this.

But, try as he might, he simply could not break through both his host's resistances and the glamour Phaedra apparently held over him. He had simply lost too much strength following the soulines - and while he was regaining it much faster than he had initially, this was not enough. That, and he had never taken Adrian over by sheer force - even with his will mostly broken, this was harder than he expected.

There was nothing he could do. Yet, at least.

"I shall." He warped his wrist around the chain - slow, deliberate movements, like a jeweled bracelet covering half his forearm loosely. He stopped but a touch away from her hand, as if teasing.

"Now..." She took a moment to revel in her control. He was so close... but there were better uses for him than that. She hadn't obtained the riches and success of her past by giving in to her hedonistic urges at every opportunity, after all. There was a time for play, and a time for other priorities.

"The other gods will listen to you, I think. Such a well-mannered young man." Her hand trailed down from the top of his head along his cheekbone. "I need those who have seen the Grigori. Samyaza." She spat the name. "The Empress, perhaps. Knowledge. Anyone who was there. Find them." Surely there had been others besides, but Underworld's second-hand information was doubtlessly incomplete. "I must know more so I can stretch out My hand."

What is she... ?

As with earlier, Adrian did not hear him. He only heard her, and leaned into her touch. This would be complicated - the ones he knew with such information where long gone by now.

"I shall be on guard."

Erzulie paused in the doorway she had gone to the Pantheon as her Mistress' host had instructed. This room...the throne room it's where the window had broken the first night she arrived, more were broken and then her eyes went to the dais. Even with such foggy memories the one upon it did not strike her as to whom they were. What could it mean she wondered, she saw those around the throne as they worshiped. A slight tilt of a brow and then she found herself stepping forward drawn, frowning faintly Erzulie realized she was being drawn to the goddess.

Stepping forward Erzulie dropped into a bow, she had been a servant in Karaskis temple long ago and knew how to greet a goddess. She just hoped this one would have some sort of information that she could take back to Cinder. "Greetings M'lady."

Sh'khin descended the steps from his quarters, feeling her presence grow stronger as he approached the throne room. The week of Greed had called him here, wanting to pay respect to one of his sisters who now sat upon the throne of Harmodius. He had questions. Many questions. For he himself wondered if his own week would come. Would he have the chance to sit upon the throne? And if the opportunity presented itself to him, would he take it?

He entered the throne room at about the same time as a female aoide who looked much like Yersinia and Arov, and as she bowed deeply to Phaedra, who looked ravishing, dripping in jewels and gold, he as well dropped into a low bow.

"My sister, I have come to pay my respects," he said, rising from his genuflection. "I could feel your presence here, and now I see you have ascended His throne. How are you enjoying the power?" he asked, a hint of amusement in his voice. He rather enjoyed seeing Phaedra command the throne -- she looked beautiful and frightening, all at the same time. "You look magnificent my Lady."

There was an Aoide, a horned one like Avita, but any attention Phaedra might have given her was quite stolen by the appearance of a familiar stained and rotting form. "Ah, my brother..." She stood to greet him, walking a few steps down the dais, a genuine smile on her face. "Such glory will be yours, in time, though I doubt it will be as aesthetic as mine."

Sh'khin gave the goddess a knowing grin. "Yes, I quite doubt my reign will be as lovely as your own, at least to the eyes," he agreed, watching as she stepped down slightly to meet him. He approached the throne, and glanced around the room, the unsettling chrysalis looming. He noticed that a man was standing next to the throne, a book and pen in his hand. It looked as if he was scribbling down notes. Perhaps for the annals of history? He would have to remember such necessities during his own ascention. "Have you obtained a pet?" he asked casually, glancing toward Mal'reth.

But the man was quickly forgotten as his eyes rested once again on Phaedra's. "When your time came, did you feel it happen? Was the rise in power so substantial?" he asked, genuinely curious about how she had come to power. "I have a hard time imagining how it will be. What powers has the throne allowed you, sister?" His thoughts of ascending the throne were greedy ones, this was true, but in this week, it was something that had been on his mind.

Phaedra's gaze flicked briefly at the Aurion. "Of a sort, yes," she said, but she had different things on her mind now... and what Sh'khin asked next struck to the heart of them.

"All at once, so sudden... intoxicating..." Phaedra turned slightly, her feathers rising a bit with the movement. "If I wish, I can see anywhere, hear anything... my own abilities are much improved... yes, enough power that I barely know what to do with it." She laughed, but it was forced.

Greed was meant to be reckless, self-serving, demanding - and yet now she had a responsibility to her Emperor to do what she could to help him. Loyalty and the desire to survive demanded it. And it was so far outside of her realm of experience that it set the whole world even more awry. The goddess had more to fight than these Grigori; she had to battle her very nature.

Lonely, isn't it.

Damn Underworld.

"... Knowing that, now, I hope you'll have more time to lay plans and gather knowledge than I did," she finished, quietly, reaching up one hand to brush his cheek.

Sudden. Intoxicating. Power like he had never experienced. The want for such power and influence had grown exponentially inside him, and just talking to Phaedra about it had made him desire it even more. It was not like him to want such things, but in the presence of the goddess, anything and everything was NEEDED, necessary.

As she spoke of her new abilities, his mouth dropped open a bit, an awed look coming over him. "See anywhere and hear anything?" he asked, thinking immediately about how he could put such power to use. And how would his own powers improve? What destruction would his domain be capable of dealing? Again, he could only think about power, and wanting more of it.

"I do appreciate your bluntness sister," he said, allowing her to brush her fingers against one mottled cheek without hesitation. He trusted her completely. "It is good to know what to expect, though I assume it is overwhelming at first."

There was a pause as he thought about his last meeting with Eddard. "Unfortunately, I fear I do not know much about our Lord and the End. I have only heard bits and pieces about the battle with the Grigori and I know no way to help Him on my own. How are you helping Him?" he asked, wondering how Phaedra had used this immense power thus far. Had she been able to make a difference? Had she stopped or slowed the progression of the endtimes in any sense? "Do you know of a purpose I could have, a use?"

"Hm." A soft smile, again. "Hearing and Seeing All That Is is considerably less useful without the ability to know what you're looking for. Even knowing what I do about the Grigori..." She sighed, her feathers drooping against her back. "The phrase 'needle in a haystack' comes to mind. No wonder they were able to war against the Crown in ancient days. But now you know, and you know sooner than I. You will have time to think. To know what to expect." The wasted time niggled at her like an itch she couldn't scratch. "To not be overwhelmed, as I was. If the Manacles of the Crown are restored... then that will be one thing I have done." Helped to do was more accurate, but she wasn't going to concede quite that much.

A pittance, it seemed, with the power at hand. "If only I knew their true names. Then..." Her other hand clenched into a fist at her side.

"Has no one come to you to ask for information?" he asked, wondering why, if she had all of this power, no one had come to her yet. "I am afraid I am rather out of the loop on the happenings of the Pantheon," he admitted, only hearing about the events of the Grigori's arrival from Eddard. He glanced over at the chrysalis for a split second, but his gaze quickly returned to the throne.

"I am glad you have given me this warning sister. I must get more information before I have the opportunity to ascend and obtain the powers you now hold." He paused, thinking on her words. The Manacles?

He gave her a curious, quizzical look. "Could you tell me, as my memory is not what it once was -- what are these Manacles which you seek? What true names do you search for? I have the desire to help in some fashion, but I feel I am worthless in my current state..."

"I have tried on my own. Dear Winter was most informative... but bend my will as I might, All That Is... it is too large. The only reason I was able to find the Manacles is because Universe narrowed the field somewhat." Oh, that rankled, that bit hard - she had not wanted that help. She had needed it, but she had not wanted it.

Such absolute power should not require another. By all rights, she should have been able to take All in a moment-

"But you should know what I do, dear brother." She turned and moved to sit on the Throne again, though this time she sat on the edge, resting her elbows on her knees, cradling her chin in her hands. "A Grigori, a being of the Ashlands - perhaps you remember. They warred in the past, against the Throne and against All. Now they do so again, it seems. She called herself Samyaza, but that is not her true name." Her tail lashed again. That, that - oh, what glory that would have been, to find the b***h and lay her low but nothing, nothing at all answered her call. It was wrong. She would suffer for that too, for frustrating Greed so.

"I recount only what Neva said. That foul, traitorous thing came before the Crown and used some power to lay Him low." Her claws twitched against the skin of her cheeks. "He is now as you see Him... and she wounded also Gaia, Kishara, taking her arm. The b***h carried the arm away with her, I am told, and worked another magic to trap the gods who fought her within the Pantheon." She had seen that power from the inside. Hadn't cared. Jahara had been there. "And that is what Winter heard and saw, and what I know - except for what Underworld said." Her eyes narrowed. "He said the plane the Grigori hail from a plane reachable through Gaia's flesh, and that the b***h may free her kin using the arm she took. And I can do nothing to find them, or stop them." She sat up, and slammed one hand down onto the arm of the Throne, fingers spasming in impotent rage.

Winter. Universe. Both were gods he had not yet met. There were so many now, it seemed, though so weak they were... Perhaps upon his own ascention, those he did not know would come to him. There was a great desire inside him to meet his brothers and sisters.

"It seems you have acquired quite a bit of information," he said, as she finished the story, scowling as he thought of the vile beast -- the Grigori who had brought Him down. "I thank you for the detailed information, my sister. There must be much more to this than I can fathom. I remember few of the details of the Grigori from past ages -- much of what happened before the Fading is beyond the grasp of my memory. A haze has washed over most of my memories, though I find them returning day by day."

As Phaedra explained the ability of the Grigori to free themselves through the flesh of Gaia, a rage grew inside of Sh'khin, and he could not fault Phaedra for growing angry, slamming her hand onto the throne. He wanted to hurt the Grigori -- this Samyaza that had caused them all so much trouble and the undoing of All. He recalled the face of Gaia -- Kishara. The angelic, determined and wise goddess who had given Iris solace so many months ago. Her arm had been removed and used as a portal? It was unfathomable!

"There is nothing you can do?!" he asked, almost shouting in frustration as the weight of what had happened finally rested upon him. "There has to be something," he said, brooding as he laid his chin in one hand, thinking. "Someone has to know more."

His hackles rose at being named a pet, ears laying back against the sides of his head and chin lifting in a show of pride. He was here because they had an agreement and an Aurion honored his contracts. Boldy, he'd taken a step forward but paused as Phaedra spoke, essentially dismissing him back to the shadows. With a flat look, he remained were he was - if he was to be her herald was he not due some of the glory? Such that others might know his name?

His attention turned outward, away from the greedy little thoughts that swirled in the back of his mind as the two began to speak in earnest. He called her sister? Ascending the Throne? It didn't take long for the mage to realize he was watching a conversation between the gods and smiled to himself. How interesting. That was what had happened. He had only know bits and pieces up until now, never the whole story. The information Phaedra was revealing was enlightening at the very least and he couldn't help but wonder if Greed realized she was giving without receiving. Better to remain quiet and record as he'd been instructed to do.

In any case, he thanked her silently and jotted down the names of the other deities she had mentioned.

Gaia (Kishara?) and Winter.

Something picked at his mind. But why the dual names for one but not the other? He would have to ask for clarification once the opportunity presented itself.

Malh'reth winced as Sh'khin questioned her ability to do things. He'd done so inadvertently and had seen a flicker of anger... what would such a blatant insult do? Wisely, he stepped back out of immediate view in the hopes of avoiding notice.

"I found the Manacles," Phaedra snapped, bristling. "Do not yell at me, dear brother - I am doing what I can with what is given me." Then she calmed, though her tail lashed at her side. "Universe said the Manacles could buy us time. I have sent message to Futs Lung to retrieve them. If you know the True Name of the Grigori, then tell it to me and I will let all my power fly in rage - but without that..." She pounded the arm of the Throne again.

"Seek Knowledge, perhaps. He was there, named by Winter and Underworld both. Or the Empress herself. Prepare yourself well for this, my brother. Move in strength with foreknowledge, as I was not able to do."

Sh'khin winced a bit as she snapped back at him. He had not realized how harsh he had sounded, and the frustration that rolled off of him had a sharper effect than he would have liked. "I am sorry, my sister. I know you are doing all you can, and it is appreciated. It is just frustrating to hear about such things and not know if there is anything that can be done about them," he replied sheepishly to her fierce retort. "My apologies."

He turned from the throne and paced the room quickly, listening to her advice and memorizing who he would need to speak to. Knowledge. Gaia. He would find them, request their presence and try with all his might to find the Grigori or another piece of the puzzle. Perhaps he did not have to wait until the week of Plague either...

And then there was a fleeting thought: Underworld. It has been so long since I have seen him. Not since my rebirth have I heard from Nergal. I wonder what he may know...

As she gave her final words of counsel, he turned once again to the throne, bowing deeply in respect. "I shall, dear Phaedra. You have been quite informative, and for that, I am appreciative. I shall seek to find what is needed before my time, so that I am prepared for what is to come. I wish you luck sister. I hope you can do more for Him while you still have the power of the Throne."

She sighed, and stood up, descended the dais partway to go to him. "It is lonely, on the Throne. Underworld was right about that, at least. Learn what you can, and ascend in full glory, Sh'khin." Phaedra reached out for him once more. "You... heh. You always were more even-tempered than I. You will do better."

She leaned down to kiss his forehead, not caring about the boils. "Go well. Brother. Use your temper to do what I cannot. My reign will come to an end soon. I'd rather keep my life for longer than what the windows number."

He walked toward the throne to say his final goodbyes, reaching out for her hand and placing a light kiss upon the top of it, bowing his head to her again before looking into her jeweled and bright-blue eyes. "Thank you sister. Your faith in me is encouraging."

He was surprised at her gentleness after the recent outburst, and had not expected the kiss on the forehead. Few made physical contact with him, and he was pleased that she seemed to favor him. He had only encountered her once before, but whispers through the Pantheon had made him slightly wary of her. Now, there was relief, and the feeling that she was an ally.

"You shall have many more days, if I have anything to do with it," he said, determination in his voice. "I will do my best to change What Is and What May Be," he smiled, hopefully. "Be well sister." With that, he turned back toward the far end of the room and headed toward his apartments.

Now, he had purpose.

He would first search out Knowledge so that he could prepare for what would come.

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.::||{...Sew the Seed...}||::.

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Mist curled about the ground, covering it in intangible spider web-like patterns that shifted and swirled as Natasha passed through. This morning was strange… violent. Already she’d had to avoid mortals fighting over anything and everything. War was upon them and it made her shiver.

Made her hurry.

With Forest’s gem finally reacting to the presence of another, her hopes had stirred but with it, so had worry. Before, it was a waiting game, now it was race against time. Would they even be able to see Forest’s return before the universe returned to whence it came? She hoped so… it would be a sad end indeed for her Lord to have ceased to exist before reclaiming his title.

Sighing, Natasha pushed through the dew-laden branches and stepped into the clearing that her fellow dwelled in. This area, chosen for it’s proximity to the heart of a vast (now dying and dusty) forest, was home to one Aoide… living in isolation, waiting and watching over what her master had held dear. There were legends that spun from her ancient presence… tales that could draw mortals to their doom should they be unwise and desecrate the land.

At the edge, by a pool of silvery blue water, a small moss-covered hut stood like those of a fairy tale. It leaned to the side and the single visible window was framed in a circular piece of wood that vines were trying to invade. Ivy crept up the side of the once white-washed wall, wrapping around towards the front and curling up to join the moss on the roof.

It had been so long since she had visited… was Aisling still here? How had the End affected her?

Uncertain, Natasha moved towards the house, knowing she needed to discuss the Gem with her ‘sister’. They lived to serve, were faithful only to the Silvum Illustre. News of his possible return would surely stir the other into action.

“Aisling….?” She called, head tilted to the side and ears perked forward, attentive, “Are you here?”

There was a shuffle and the thud of hooves against wood as someone rose, turning to fix dusty pink eyes on Natasha as she came around the corner. She was of like species to Natasha though her skin was lavender instead of the colour of blood and her hair a dusty pink. Rolling her crystal ball in her hand, Aisling simply peered at Natasha for a long moment, neither fear nor recognition dawning on her features.

“Aisling….?” Natasha frowned at the non-reaction, concern shadowing her eyes, “Hello?”

Tossing the crystal from one hand to the other, Aisling merely just blinked owlishly at Natasha then turned and walked away, making a vague gesture as though beckoning Natasha to follow. Her eyes weren’t blank… but rather seemed far off, distant, as though something and drawn her attention away from the here and now.

She didn’t remember the other being so… aloof. Sighing, she wondered if the lavender Aoide hadn’t escaped the initial Wave as she had. Sure, she’d been horribly disoriented for weeks but her mind was still hers… had Aisling’s been broken?

There was only one way to tell.

She followed her around to the other side of the house and then up a steep incline, trying hard not to slip or trip on the jagged rocks and ground unsuited to hooves. Aisling, however, climbed it with ease, obviously familiar with the well-defined (if treacherous) path. Aisling paused, still silent, at a bend in the path at the top and gestured for Natasha to continue as she tossed that crystal orb about once more.

Tossing a curious look at her shepherd, Natasha arched a brow but continued around to find a small plateau in the cliff, surrounded by greenery and live but unhappy looking plants. However, her attention was not drawn by the life around her but by the view offered by her location. In the distance, smoke rose in great plumes, rolling with the wind and carrying ash away… she couldn’t see the damage but the fire that was consuming the forest in that direction must be massive. It struck anger and fear into her heart, demanding she take action against those that would destroy the forest.

But that wasn’t the only misfortune to be offered for all around that smoke, the forest was brown, turning the green blanket into a patchwork of death. Clear cut sections stood out like scars that told of the previous weeks.

“The weeks have been hard.” A soft voice, almost too quiet to hear broke the stunned silence as Aisling approached, her gaze looking out over the devestation as well, “Sloth…. Envy… Greed and now War. They took because they could now they fight for the resource, burning what they cannot have. Each has brought a new illness to this place…” She seemed tired, weary and worn.

“I…” Natasha shook her head, eyes flashing as fury warred with reason, “You did nothing!?”

Aisling winced, nodded, “I tried…” Grief and guilt was plain in her eyes as she met Natasha’s gaze, asking forgiveness without speaking the words.

“Pah!” Growling, she turned to look out over the destruction once more, resolve hardening into something unbreakable, “Forest will rise again. The gem is active.” Natasha spoke fiercely, fully determined to help her Lord walk to Planes once more.

Forest would return.

Silence answered Natasha’s outburst as Aisling slowly absorbed that information. Her mind hadn’t been broken but her sense of time and space had been damaged… she knew not what day it was, only that the sun was arching towards the horizon once more. That was important wasn’t it? That… the gem… was… “Active!?” When it finally filtered through her mind, she blinked and started, expression a mixture of hope and surprise, “When? Who?”

Now that seemed more like it. Aisling had always been a softer sort of Aoide… perhaps the time alone had further disconnected her. “Yes. A few days ago… it was drawn towards a man, one serving Phaedra… a ‘temporary contract’,” she scoffed and drew Forest’s gem out to show to Aisling, “It drew him, I’m sure of it. But he knows my face… and time is short.”

Aisling frowned, an expression that didn’t sit well on her face, “Phaedra….?” The name sounded familiar but she couldn’t place a face or a domain to it, knew only she felt immediately inclined to agree, “What do have in mind, then?”

“You give it to him.” At that, Natasha held out the gem, watched it sway on the chain, turn and twist, “He feels useless and yet is ignorant of this place. Prey upon that… you have a trustworthy face.”

“But!” Another unfamiliar expression, horror, dawned on her features, “I would not trick a mortal into giving up his soul!”

“You must! We serve the Silvim Illustirre and nothing else!” Natasha insisted, anger flashing in her eyes.

She cringed and stepped back, head hanging. When Natasha put it like that, she was right… this chance…. It was worth a try, wasn’t it? “I must at least hint at the cost….”

“Fine. I don’t care so long as he touches the gem. If he’s not the Host, then it won’t matter. If he is….”

“If he is, our Lord will return to us.”

“Exactly. Will you do it?”

“I… have no choice.”

“Exactly, neither of us do,” She smiled faintly and moved to embrace the other, “I have already argued with this man so I cannot be the one to restore our Lord. I would carry only the food news to you if I had been able to.”

A sigh as she embraced the other and then stepped away, “I know. The news you bring is stirring nonetheless. Where is he?” She pooled the chain in the palm of her hand then set the gem in the center of the golden coils.

“The Pantheon. Likely with Phaedra.”

“Alright. I shall seek him out and offer… usefulness?” She paused, that seemed a rather pitiful gift.

“No. Offer him knowledge, a hidden treasure.” Natasha countered, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes the bait right off the bat… Might need to mention making it a gift to his mistress...” she shrugged, “Whatever works.”

A soft laugh found its way into the air as Aisling shook her head, “I do care, though, and will try to be as truthful as possible.”

“Sure. Just make sure he puts the necklace on.”

“I will try.”

With that, Natasha thanked Aisling and left, secure in the knowledge that Aisling would bring God and Host together where she never could – she knew she was too abrasive to hope to entice with sweet words.

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Zhijian and Malh'reth

Zhijian lay curled as a dragon at the bottom of the throne room's dais stair, near the chrysalis that was somehow his Lord. The form was unnerving, but not enough so to keep him away, and he knew not what else to do. His brother had insisted upon returning and consulting with the other gods, rather than lingering at the Fate-Stones. This left him with little to do but wait, as he was quite certain that their answers lay there; the best he could do was stay near to his Master's strange form, and speak with any he might encounter.

...of course, he was not necessarily the most amiable or talkative of dragons.

Malh'reth had taken to exploring the Pantheon, or rather, those areas that didn't make the hairs on his arms stand on end. Outside was depressing, inside was disturbing... he really was beginning to wonder just why the gods chose to live in such a place.

For the seventh time that day, he passed by the throne room, deliberately looking away and refusing to set foot in the chamber as he made his way around. Wandering aimlessly wasn't particularly useful but, again, Phaedra had dismissed him for the time and left him with naught to do.

Still, a quick glance, stolen despite himself, revealed the pod was no longer alone. Pausing, he frowned and wondered how he'd missed this new shape. Curiosity and boredom demanded he investigate.

And so he did.

Like a child investigating the shadowy corner of the basement, he crept into the hall, ears perked forward, "Hello....?" Had he been able to make out details, he might have realized the oddly shaped silhouette was a dragon and that trying to sneak up on it might not be the most brilliant idea.

Zhijian had been dozing, drifting in and out of real awareness. There really wasn't much to do but sleep, and sometimes to venture out and hunt. The sound of a tentative voice was enough to wake him, to make him flick his ears and lift his head. His great jaw opened in a massive yawn that ended with fangs snapping back together, before he deigned to respond to the stranger.

"Hello," he responded, his voice deep and rumbling. Nostrils flared, and he sniffed audibly in the other's direction.

A dragon!? Stopping dead in his tracks, he blinked and tried to clear his vision. He'd heard dragons were nasty creatures... spiteful and aggressive. So what was one doing in the Throne Room? ... and why did it have an aura like Phaedra's and the other gods he'd met?

When it didn't attack, he remained where he was. "Hello... What are you doing there?"

He watched the stranger's reaction with definite smugness, letting him have a moment to stew. It really was inordinately pleasing that he could shock and intimidate people without so much as trying! He didn't even have to be awake! It was a beautiful thing.

"I was sleeping," he answered matter-of-factly.

"Rather an odd place to sleep, don't you think?" He pursed his lips, not understanding, "I would think it was difficult to sleep near that." Malh'reth gestured off to the pod without looking at it - he had no desire to develop a headache from looking upon it.

"If you don't mind my asking... What is a dragon doing curled up in the throne room?" It was the week of War so it couldn't possibly be to bring offerings to Phaedra (though the thought of drawing a powerful creature might amuse her) and nobody had explained that the Dragon Kings could shapeshift - he thought it was a title.

"No." Zhijian stretched out his forelegs, considering his claws a moment. "It is, in point of fact, a very appropriate place for one of His Dragons to be. I am the Fangbridle, one of nine Kings fashioned by Harmodius himself."

"You may call me Zhijian," he allowed.

One of His Dragons....? Oh dear. Malh'reth winced and offered a hasty half-bow, "Ah.... my sincerest apologies, Fangbridle. I wasn't aware there were actual dragons among the Kings, I thought it a title."

In response to the other's introduction, he cleared his throat and inclined his head, hoping he hadn't just started off on the wrong foot, "I am Malh'reth, a traveling entertainer. Are you.... a guard then?"

"We are all 'actual' dragons," he informed Malh'reth, looking at least somewhat approving when he bowed. Better late than never, anyway. "But no, my specific duty is not to guard. I am His mount."

"How interesting!" Curiosity began to seep into his gaze, lighting up his lavender eyes as he took another step forward, "You are the second King I've met but the first like this..." The approving had lifted his spirits greatly, giving him a little courage along with the curiosity, "Do each of the Dragons Kings have a specific duty? Jin called himself the Treasurer, you're the Fangbridle. Who are the other seven if you don't mind my asking?"

He'd drawn closer, to within reach, and stood before the dragon. A soft laugh, "I've never spoken to a dragon before. Many thanks."

"We are all capable of changing to a dragon form," he clarified. "The others are Tien Lung, the Worldshield; Shen Lung, Shogun of Storms; Qian Lung, Shadowshield of the Empress; Ti Lung, Lifewater of Worlds; Chien Tang, Blood Shogun of the Twin Crown; Mang, Mediator of Crowns; and Yu Five Claws, the Emblem Pillar."

Zhijian extended his neck, a silent invitation to touch. He did love a good pet! And perhaps it would help to banish the melancholy reciting his siblings' names brought. He missed terribly the days when they had all been together.

"Impressive titles! I am sorry to say it is the first I've heard of them. I know many myths from my homeland but no where in the stories I've learned does it mention Dragon Kings of such grandeur." He sighed then paused as the dragon reached his head out as though desiring touch. Surprise and a childish glee settled into his features as he gently reached out and played long fingers across the top of the other's snout.

"Oh!" He blinked as Zhijian came into focus and colour, no longer the white bullk of an undefined silhouette, "You're beautiful!" The other hand reached out to join the other as his smile grew wider, he couldn't see all of the dragon but what he could was impressive.

"There are many lesser dragons," he said, "And it has been a very long time since we Kings graced the skies. It is understandable." Regrettable, but he at least the Tenquistel had remembered him.

Zhijian gave an approving, rumbling sort of purr, and tilted his head into Malh'reth's attentions. His tail swayed contentedly behind him. It was so nice to find someone admiring and respectful! When it came to dragons, the Fangbridle was probably the cuddliest, seeing as he was covered in fur. Of course, he was quite possibly also the most readily cuddly.

Malh'reth nodded, running fingers through fur and working his way up to the dragon's forehead and eye-ridges. It was so ridiculous, he, a lowly mortal petting a god.... and not just a god but the god king's mount. The mage laughed to himself, still timid but more comfortable with the situation, "Would you mind... if I drew you? I illustrate my stories and would be honoured to paint you."

Perhaps it was partly a holdover from his giant cat of a host, but Zhijian was hardly ever one to turn down a good scratch behind the ears, or anywhere else for that matter. He sighed, appreciative of Malh'reth's thoroughness. And he wanted to paint him? How fabulous was that! It almost made up for how few people properly appreciated that fact that he was a god.

"I would be pleased," he said. He wasn't what one might call flattered or grateful, because such things were his due, but he was indeed delighted - even tickled. In a dignified, dragonly way, of course.

Malh'reth was enjoying himself, especially the feel of the fur beneath his fingers and the illusion that he could normally again. "Excellent." He lingered longer, scratching behind an ear and moving to pat the serpentine, powerful neck before he drew away and sighed as the form of Zhiji became a bright, obscure silhouette once more.

"I will have to continue to touch you as I paint, however, as my vision was.... altered by the Gehenna wave. I can only see your aura standing here and no more." He pursed his lips, a little ashamed, "Is... that alright?"

Ah, that was nice! Zhijian's ear flicked, and then he tipped his head curiously when Malh'reth moved away. The shockwave had altered his sight? How...very odd. Still, being stroked while being painted would be much more enjoyable than just...sitting there.

"I will permit it." It was carefully phrased, so that he didn't sound overeager - which he actually was.

As if in answer to the unspoken question, Malh'reth shrugged, "I don't know why or how." He didn't take out a sketchpad or paints or anything of the sort as he wandered back over to place a hand on the other's cheek, scratching gently, "Thank-you, makes it easier." He 'saw' the other's features through touch and began to draw out the form beneath his fingers, sketchy and loose at first but growing more refined as he shifted and petted the dragon.

As he moved, the image wavered but followed him, hanging in the air like a projection.

That was...what a strange way of painting! Everything about Malh'reth was, in fact, at least a little bit strange. Even his reverence was unusual, in this day and age. Zhijian watched him, fascinated, all-green eyes following the hovering image of himself that was forming. He shifted to keep it in view - hopefully he didn't have to stay still?

As Zhiji shifted, so did the painting, altering its position to mirror the other. Malh'reth laughed as he felt the tug on his magic and glanced towards the dragon's eyes, "Do you wish it to be larger? If you move too much before it is done it will break and I will have to start over." He was glad, however, to have drawn interest with his work, the proud smile playing across his lips. This is what he lived for - to intrigue and entertain others.

Hey! It moved when he did! Zhijian stilled abruptly, blinking owlishly at the bizarre piece of artwork. "Oh. No, it is a fine size." The dragon continued to watch, though he now did his best not to move much. Did it 'speak' when he did? "I did not know it could break. Will it always move?"

"If I put it to paper or canvas it will not, though I can animate it on those surfaces... or even in the dirt if I chose." Malh'reth explained, patting the furry dragon's snout as he continued to work, "Should I summon it, it will move and act as you do, a replica of your greatness." He inclined his head a little, "You see, I illustrate my stories with the figures within them... and I do intend to tell my loved ones of this place when I go back."

A pause as he misdrew a piece of the dragon's face, a sneeze making a comical bolt of his horns. Instantly, that portion of his head vanished only to be redrawn properly, shimmering as it floated. "It will break if you move too much because I can only paint what I see... if you turn in a way that I haven't seen yet, the paint can't pull from nothingness and the weaving breaks." Another soft chuckle, "You don't have to stay as still as a stone either."

It wasn't long before his head was finished, hanging in bright colours that looked like a masterful painting. Stepping back, Malh'reth paused, "Would you like for me to continue or leave it as a bust?" Reaching up, the mage cradled the image between two hands and showed it off, tilting it to show off the various angles. "It will last as long as the medium does if I put it to canvas."

"Interesting," Zhijian purred, admiring his bust. He was a very fine specimen of a dragon, if he did say so himself! Perhaps he would have to tell Malh'reth to seek out Tian Yue as well - he was sure his brother would find it fascinating. "Continue, please, if you would."

The whole affair not only indulged to his vanity, but his love of being petted...the entire thing was win-win.

Malh'reth perked up and continued forward, releasing the head to float above and behind as he moved around to paint the other's neck. It was a little while before he cleared his throat and began to speak while he worked, not wanting silence to descend and choke out this surprisingly friendly ambiance. "Do you... only allow Him to ride you? What was He like before he was laid low? Everyone, including Phaedra, has such loyalty to Him... It stands in pleasant contrast to the bickering gods I see in the legends of other people." He really only wanted an idea of what the Pantheon was like when whole - surely the lava and tension wasn't the norm?

"Unless there is great need, or He commands otherwise." That was most definitely His place, and His alone. "He is Glorious - He is Everything." It was not a matter of 'was,' not to Zhijian. His eyes took an an almsot glazed look even as he thought about it, and his great body shuddered. Harmodius was the be all and end all of his world, and he loved him utterly.

Malh'reth paused in his painting to watch the other, felt his devotion for the pod and bit his lip. Were all the gods so terribly devoted like this one? What was Harmodius like to gather and keep such loyalty? He gaze drifted over to the pod and was held captive for a few minutes, a deep frown on his face.

At length, he tore his gaze away and rubbed the dragon's shoulders, returning quietly to his work, "I admire your passion, Zhijian... but I do not understand it." He smiled as he finished up, the image having shrunk to be of an easier working size, "I hope to, though."

"He made me to serve Him. Love for Him is written into my soul." Zhijian closed his eyes for a moment. "We do not just exist because of Him, but for Him, and of all gods, we are second only to Him - closest and most trusted."

The Aurion paused and watched the other, amazed by the simple but powerful words Zhijian spoke. This Harmodius person must be truly incredible to have the absolute faith of his followers. "I will keep that in mind. For now, though, I've completed your portrait. What do you think?" Stepping back and making his way to the dragon's head, he held the image up, turning it this way and that in presentation.

Expanding the image so that a copy of Zhijian then stood behind him, Malh'reth turned and summoned the creation, bringing the clone into reality (although in miniature). "Does it please you?" He rather liked it, personally.

As he observed the presentation of the image, Zhijian allowed some of his admiration to show - Malh'reth truly was skilled, and he looked excellent. His tail curled in pleasure, and he purred, "Yes, Malh'reth, it does."

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.::||{...Talking Shadows...}||::.

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Torrent had to wonder if this was what it felt like to be tempestuously hormonal, like the female shifter who had ruled the roost when he was little bigger than a cub. All things put together had caused him to be horrendously moody, and right now, the mood was a dismal one. He had met a very...interesting lass who called herself an Aoide, a servant of the gods, and the god of Love in particular. She'd told him the reason for the changes within himself...notably the voice that had finally revealed that it had a name. Wonderful, brilliant, he had a claustraphobic entity inside his head. The stone just below his ribs made shifting an uncomfortable feat as well, so now, Torrent was refusing to shift back to his leopard form, though he might have been more comfortable there. It was just difficult to hide the darkly glimmering gemstone there. Bah. He hated this world and its dismal state. Teal eyes glared accusingly at this building known as the Pantheon. He hardly knew who he blamed more these days, the gods and their inability to keep things together, or the single god that resided in his brainspace and was mucking with heavens knew what. Bah humbug.

Having been told to leave her chambers for the time being, Malh'reth had escaped Phaedra's apartments and come down to the entrance where there was still evidence of a struggle - broken bits of glass, the stains on the floor... further in, where the cocoon rest, there was a huge stain on the ground and the mage had yet to ask what it meant. A fight, obviously, but who's blood? Who had likely lost their life there? Sighing, he pushed those thoughts aside and took a seat on the edge of a set of stairs near the great doors that overlooked a set of lava pools that bubbled and cast lurid light over anything nearby. Though he could not touch those pools and see their specifics, the lines and glows they gave were both intricate and mesmerizing enough to catch his artist's eye. Thus, he pulled his little sketch pad from his sleeve and the treasured piece of charcoal and began to sketch. Even amidst all the destruction and decay, there was beauty.

He smelled him before he saw him, senses keen despite the fact that this form seemed human at first glance. Ah, another soul wandering about in this wreck of a place. This was the epicenter of the tragedy, the monument to the miserable failure of the gods. There was a quiet scoff in the back of Torrent's head, but he ignored it, used to such things from the peanut gallery. His gaze rested first on the stairs, sweeping along them until they found Malh'reth, and he simply watched him for a moment. An artist...what could he possibly find here that was worth the effort. Curiosity caused him to pad forward, "What so intriuging in this waste that you find it worthy of putting on parchment, artist?"

Papers flew into the air as he started, eyes going wide at the sudden interruption. He wasn't used to people being around and had been in a sort of tunnel-vision where there was only him and the pools before him. The wind caught the stray papers and blew them towards the pools, among which was his prized sketch of Zhijian. "HEY! No!" Ignoring Torrent, he scrambled after the papers, scooping the book up as he finally caught the drawing of the amiable dragon. Ears laid back, he turned to face the intruder and frowned, "Don't scare me! If these burn...!" He saw the aura that identified a host and blinked, tilting his head to the side as he clutched his sketchbook to his chest, "And who are you...? Another Dragon King?" His tone had changed from that of an indignant scholar to one more befitting a mortal addressing a god.

He really wished they would announce themselves.... Mal didn't want to speak out of turn and suffer for it. Gods were to be respected, not hollered at, after all.

Dragon king...he fumbled for some sort of meaning from the words, and then prodded the back of his mind until Umbra came forth with an explanation that pleased him, "The Dragon Kings...dragons, obviously, servants to the Twin Crown...reborn even as I." Nodding absently at the voice, Torrent turned to the horned male that he'd so obviously startled. "Pardon." He said quietly, "I didn't mean to sneak up on you." Cocking head to one side, cat-like, he answered the question. "I am Torrent, apparent host to the God of Shadow, or so he tells me." There was a somewhat satisfied rumble from Umbra, and Torrent rather wanted to smack the smug b*****d...if only it wasn't his own body.

Malh'reth considered for a moment then shook his head, both relieved and disappointed - the Dragon Kings were an interesting group and one he would have liked to expand his knowledge of. "I haven't heard anything mentioned of the God of Shadows... recently reborn?" Shuffling his papers and ordering them, they disappeared back inside his bell-shaped sleeves before he continued, "A host that speaks on your own... That is a first for me. Greetings, I am Malh'reth, Chronicler for the Goddess Phaedra." He bowed slightly and stepped back towards the stairs, "To answer your question, I was sketching those. They are beautiful are they not?" The mage gestured to the lava pools and smiled, "At least, for me they are."

Torrent nodded, "He is not a month within me. And I must say that I rather wish I had not fancied the gem now, as I will ne'er be without it again." He shot Umbra a dirty mental look, and the god seemed to ignore that even as the shifter so often ignored his snide comments. "I am Torrent Shaheen...and..." He stopped, pausing, cocking head to one side in a catlike fashion. "Did you say Phaedra?" The other within Nebula...she had indeed been a goddess. She had given him a distinct sense of unease when she had spoken to him, so smugly in charge, her very voice giving him the illusion of a grasping claw, stroking his fur in a way that decreed ownership. Not a goddess he wished to meet again.

"Correct. We... grew acquainted a few weeks back and we came to an agreement that has turned out rather useful. I know much about what has happened even if it is pieces. One thing I know for certain is that the Gods are on the move. One of the Dragon Kings, the kindly Fangbridle rests within the Throne Room waiting for something important while another, the Treasurer, discussed plans with Phaedra." He smiled, "It has been most satisfactory."

"Phaedra...what of Nebula?" It was quiet, as though somehow Torrent knew what the outcome would be. The kitten had been too fragile to last under the influence of the goddess...no matter how it had happened, Torrent wished that fate on none. "That is as well...perhaps you can answer the questions that Umbra has been pestering me about. We know that Harmodius is in trouble, but not the details...only that this is the result, and that many are running to be of aid." He arched a brow, "My god apparently laments his current uselessness. It makes him cranky." There was a surge of displeasure at that, which Torrent, true to form, paid no heed.

"Nebula?" He frowned, shook his head, "If she suffered her suffering is over and I am glad for it. That is something I will not envy you, doomed to being extinguished." Malh'reth sighed, the last few words coming out quietly. "Questions? I don't know very much... but I can try, at least. I do not know exactly, caused Harmodius'.... current state of being. Only names that were mentioned.. Grigori, Samyaza - whose name has been said in scorn more then once, Knowledge." He frowned as he fell quiet, mind flipping through the mental notes he'd taken while at Court. And then he remembered his little scribbled page of notes and removed a smaller book from his sleeves - one of several. Long fingers leafed carefully through the thin pages until he came to the proper place. "Ah yes, the Manacles of the Crown are to be restored... this links to the Treasurer, I believe. The Grigori seem to have return to wage war against the Crown... using Gaia's arm as some sort of portal? Universe was mentioned several times, as was Gaia and Knowledge - both witnesses to what happened to your God King." He flipped the page as he looked up, "Is this what you're looking for?"

Torrent growled softly, "I am sure she suffered..." He said softly, "Phaedra never struck me as the merciful sort." Umbra shushed him, however, as Mal continued. This was what Umbra had driven his host this far to hear, and though the information confused the shifter more than it enlightened him, Umbra seemed to thoughtfully digest everything, making sense of it in his head. "War then...I really wanted no part of this mess, but..." Torrent shrugged elegantly, "What can one do with a god in residence. Umbra gives you his thanks, apparently." An affirming feeling came from the back of his head, a correct guess then.

"Does he not talk through you?" Malh'reth blinked, tilted his head to the side, "The other Host I met... it was the God who spoke and not the mortal." He frowned slightly and added a quick note to the bottom of his list, "Too weak perhaps? What's it like?"

"I'm sure he can." Torrent considered the idea, "But he just never has...he didn't even seem particularly interested in talking to me at first. It's just...like having another part of your mind...somthing there you don't control." There was an offended wave from the god, and a prod at Torrent's own mind. Not particularly upset, the shifter took a mental step backwards. If Umbra wanted to prove things, it was up to him...Torrent didn't particularly care for the life of a social butterfly.

"He can." The voice changed subtly, dipping lower, and possessing a different nuance entirely. "I have never seen need to, before...I am still sorting through his memories and mine, it is a most intriuging task, to tell true."

Briefly, he wondered what it would be like to have that... to not be alone. Then again, he blinked as a markedly different tone came from the same body, "Ah, greetings?" Malh'reth fumbled for a moment, unsure. He was speaking to a deified parasite now, one with only a title and no name. "Watching more then directly influencing? I would not know, I have never shuffled through another's mind. Is that what you wanted to know....?" He trailed off expectantly, obviously wanting a name.

Umbra smiled, the expression not as cold as one might expect for a deity of his domain. "I have chosen to watch. My time to influence will be long, and I would not deprive my host of his freedom too soon. We gods did not choose this method of rebirth, but some have embraced it with more enthusiasm than others." He inclined his head in Malh'reth's direction, "It was what I wanted to know, and I should seek out others if I need to fill in the gaps of my knowledge...I thank you. And I am Umbra." For so newly reborn a god, he seemed to possess an easy confidence, as though the world was not falling apart at the seams.

Malh'reth nodded, his respect for Umbra growing slightly. That this one would not devour his Host, willing or unwilling, was a sign that perhaps not all were hungry for immediate life. "Gaia... Universe, Knowledge, Underworld, and Winter are all names I have listed here. The Dragon Kings as well, I suspect. Plague will rise to the Throne soon as well.... I pray I survive that week." He shuddered, hoping that we wouldn't catch one deadly disease or another.

Umbra wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Plague...I cannot imagine that Plague is any more pleasant in this incarnation than in the last. Tolerated, but not the most welcome guest at any table, but Plague always did like it that way." He heaved a rueful sigh, "If a goddess is indeed your protector, then I doubt that she will allow Plague to have her playthings, worry not, artist Malh'reth."

He harumphed. He wasn't a plaything as far as he was concerned but everyone else seemed to have that idea... Frowning, the mage shrugged and turned to face the lava pools, "Plague and Greed are close from what I could tell, friends and siblings. He is in her good books."

"So they are...some deities are of a kind, I've found...I hope to find those who are sibling to me as well, in especial, my sister." His eyes seemed troubled...he knew her presence was in this world, that she was reborn, but the where eluded him, and he was not yet strong enough to find her. "I daresay I really do not desire to know what Plague and Greed have to discuss..."

"Nothing terribly interesting... Plague was mostly playing to Phaedra's ego." Malh'reth chuckled, "His week is next, though, I wonder if Phae will return the favour." Pursing his lips, the Aurion's gaze turned back to Umbra, "You sister? I will keep an ear out for her, if you give me a name. I find my position affords me much information."

Umbra heaved a great sigh, "I fear I shall have to inquire of one of these reiging deities before the end of All. It would be in my best interest." Though he was not keen on doing such for any of them, and grovelling was not something that he wanted to do to please any glorified godling, as he was fairly certain that none of them had attained full deification. "And her name is Melanctha...we were close once, and she's very good at calming me down if something sets me off...I have something of a notorious temper." The god seemed almost sheepish.

He nodded thoughtfully, "Melanctha... I have yet to hear that one." Quickly, he scribbled the name down as well then arched a brow, "A temper? You seem more... stable then that. Or at least more akin to the Shadows you reign over then temperamental." A soft smile as he watched the god, bemused by the sheepish tone, but apologetic in his next words. "If you're making a face, I can't see it and your humility is wasted on me."

"I have been dubbed a horriffically emotional creature by my sister." He explained, arching a brow. "Is your sight impaired, artist?" Artist seemed to be the eternal title bestowed upon the other by Umbra...the whims of the deity apparently not to be trifled with. "I would not have guessed." It didn't seem as though anything was wrong with the being before him.

"Shadow? Emotional?" He shrugged, "I suppose caught between the two extremes of light and dark, shadow could be emotional." To the question, he nodded, "It... is and is not. I can see you... or rather the aura around you. You, ironically, are a silhouette of light with a rainbow aura about you, slightly different from Torrent's though his is there too... it's odd and I did not recognize it before." He sighed, "To see anything other the the energy around and within, I must touch. Which, unfortunately, makes drawing those pools in the proper colours impossible for me."

He made a slight, displeased sound. "Caught indeed...dark our salvation and light our destruction. My sister is likely more what you would expect from a shadow deity...calm, cool...sometimes I wonder if emotion stirs her at all, save when she is near me." Umbra brushed indigo strands of hair from his eyes. "So you are not impaired...you simply possess...a different sort of sight. Fascinating." He'd never heard of anything quite like it, barring the creatures who could see in the dark...see heat as opposed to other sensory input.

Malh'reth listened and absorbed Umbra's comments, startled at how very... mortal they seemed. He missed his sister and they shared something akin to family ties... it agreed with the relatively tender conversation between Plague and Greed, even the familiar rally of comments between the Treasurer and Phaedra. It seemed the gods weren't just unreachable pillars for each of their domains... the more he knew the more they seemed like regular people - extraordinary people, but people nonetheless. He wondered, briefly, if Phaedra harbored any such personal troubles.

Then the other's words sank in and he nodded once more, "Different, I suppose. Wanted? Not at all. I was struck blind like this by the Gehenna wave. I would rather have my normal vision back... and a sense of touch that was not a type of sight as well." A heavy sigh as he shrugged, knowing he was crying over spilled milk. Naught was to be done for it now.

Umbra had heard Torrent reckon him and his kind to the Greek gods of old, temperament wise...more human-like, but possessed of personalities that were by no means flawless...neither were they all-knowing.

Interesting indeed. "How very peculiar. I can't imagine the reason for it..." Umbra tapped his own forehead, indicating the other's horn. "Is it a racial weakness?" He inquired, already having pegged the other easily as something different than your normal crop of human and the many varieties thereof.

Malh'reth scoffed, "A weakness and a strength. Why?" He immediately grew defensive, stepping away and lifting head as though to hold it away from the other. Did Umbra know of his world?

Umbra laughed softly, "Curiosity. I mean you no harm, artist." Bemused by such a defensive reaction, he had to wonder what was this one's history to provoke such a response to a simple question. "I daresay you are a pleasant enough fellow, and it is only my enemies that should be wary of me in such a mood as I currently possess."

"Murder often lurks behind a friendly smile, however." He returned, relaxing slightly, "I do not kid when I say our horns are both a weakness and a strength. Many covet the properties an Aurion's horn possesses." No apology for he felt none was needed, though he was relieved that he had made a good impression upon Umbra.

He nodded in agreement. "So I understand." His gaze darkened, thoughts elsewhere for a moment, "You will, however, know when I am contemplating murder...my enemies are generally duly warned." Ah, for the days of old when they truly had power...they were so pitifully weak now. "But I thank you for your aid again, artist Malh'reth." Perhaps he should seek out Plague...a deity he regrettably knew something about. "Mayhap I will return the favor when I have a bit more power at my disposal."

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.::||{...Discussing Duties...}||::.

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Phaedra and Malh'reth - Greed's Apartments

The lava pool's harsh light set the room afire and though he was not actually outside, the mage still felt uncomfortably hot. Even so, it was difficult to look away from the shifting, bubbling pool of lava. Exhaling, he fogged up the glass and leaned his head against it, careful not to tap the surface with the point of his horn less he crack the pane.

Phaedra had taken to quartering him in a spare room after the week of Greed and while he still managed to get out every now and then, that labyrinth was something he'd rather avoid. Thus he found himself pacing about his room for a few hours, drawing and sketching as the whim struck before he checked the time.

He should probably check in with Greed about now - it wasn't a good idea to leave her waiting.

Quietly, he exited his room and padded out into the main chamber, looking for Phaedra.

The goddess was in the main chamber along with Avita, sorting through the items that had been offered to her during her golden Week. It had only been a few days since her decline, but it had taken her that long to get used to being small again. To get used to being herself again.

Such borrowed power was not, in the end, for her. It ran through you and ate you up, enslaved you with the responsibility it brought. She wanted no part of that ever again, and no part now of the empty feeling it left behind, the jarring echo of idly seeking to fling her awareness outward and having it stop sharply, like a physical blow, at the edges of her skull.

She looked up and smiled as Malh'reth entered; stood, and extended one hand to him. "Malh'reth. Are you bored, in there, with nothing to see and nobody to share stories with? You may sit with me and tell me your tales, then."

Avita glanced at her mistress' pet and then back to the pile. Most of it was trash, very little of it had any real value beyond what the desperation of these times had assigned to it. The one thing of true, objective value - the Dragon King's gift - had already been placed in her mistress' hair-jewels

"Indeed." He took her hand as he drew near, brought it to his lips and kissed her fingers as a gentleman would, "Is there any particular tale you would like to hear? The most ready one I have is of my home, a mercenary's city."

Taking a seat beside her, he eyed the trash pile spread out before them before returning his gaze to hers, "Would you listen while I speak or would you rather I paint an image as I recount my tales?" He was a little homesick among these great beings, found himself yearning for the familiarity of a society he understood and problems he could solve.

"Listen, my dear bard - I must turn my eyes to assessing these... objects." The goddess gave the pile of offerings a dubious look. It was true that she would keep them, and was somewhat pleased by the sacrifice they made - she would snatch the last bread from a starving man and eat it without compunction, after all - but as Greed, she always wanted more. More quality, more luxury, more.

There was precious little more in the pile.

He smiled and settled back, watching her sort through the items, "As you wish."

Clearing his throat, the mage began his stroll down memory lane, "I come from a place where neutrality reigns, moving with the ebb and flow of power among nations without making a ripple of our own. Some see us as a race of mercenaries... bought by the most appealing contracts while others see us as paragons of magic, unsurpassed in our skill and as such sources of both information and raw supplies..." A pause as he idly sketched it out for himself the city that stood between the rivers.

Malh'reth spotted a particularly shiny set of silver ware and leaned forward to pull it from the pile and offered it to Phaedra, "The city is shining and stands tall, reaching up into the heavens rather then sprawling out like some many other cities do. Everyone is welcome to roam though many don't as the heights seem to intimidate most. That is where I hail from." Rambling now, he spoke mostly to himself, "Glass and crystal are common... used in trades and contracts along with coinage and other goods..."

The mage continued to speak for some time, reciting life within the city as he occasionally uncovered an possible treasure from the offerings to give to Phaedra. It was a simple story but the history of the place rich even if the people sounded rather severe and stoic.

"A city of trade. Is that why you flinched when you learned my power?" Phaedra tilted her head and smiled knowingly at the Aurion. "I assure you, I am still too young to rule personally over every excess committed in my name."

"No..." Malh'reth shook his head, brought out of his reverie, "I stumbled because Greed is the reason my people are as they are. Our horns are powerful magical components, among other things, and by being born an Aurion you are born into a world that would sooner kill you for that horn then put up with you alive. They are mercenaries that cater to everyone's needs, thus cutting down the murders because we are indeed stronger when alive."

He puffed out his cheeks, frustration darkening his gaze.

Phaedra raised one eyebrow. "An interesting way to get out of that situation, to be sure... a resourceful people." Her gaze flicked up to his horn, just for a moment, but then she smiled again. "I prefer you better alive, my story-spinner. Be at ease."

He watched her look to his horn and frowned slightly, wondering about the wisdom of telling her such things even though he was confident in his assumption that none of the gods would want his horn. Her words soothed him more, and he relaxed, nodding, "And for that I am truly grateful." Not that would likely be anything he could about it if she changed her mind...

"A goddess such as yourself will have travelled... what places have you touched that I might retell upon my return?"

"Ah... yes, if only I'd had you in Achai, little spider, story-spinner." Phaedra smiled, sharply. "An entire city laid down before my will... oh, the battle was great, and difficult, the stuff of legend. Alas, no other great things have happened in my still young reborn life... but wait, stay with me, and you will have more to fill your pages."

He paused, thought her comments over and settled on a smile as he reminded himself that Phaedra was Greed. Such a thing should be expected. "I look forward to it. Not many can say they were scholar under a goddess... One day I may visit this Achai and learn the legends that surely spun off from your presence. They will be interesting tales to spread."

"If there is anything left," Phaedra said, dismissively. "Oh, never fear, their entire downfall was not on my account. A foul and ancient thing had set up court there, and I removed his influence. The rest was their own hedonism. A moral, there, for your stories. You might scare little children with it."

Malh'reth arched a slender brow then shook his head, "Of course. A moral in every story, if you pay enough attention, I find. I prefer to entertain and inspire children rather then scare them, however..." He sighed, remembering the family he'd watched grow. Casting his gaze out the window, the mage pursed his lips, the glare of the lava's wavering light reminding him of the chaos in the world abroad, "I do hope, though, that there are cities standing and children to make laugh or even frighten after this. Has your time on the Throne come to fruition yet?" He was hoping she'd update him on the progress of the gods and their handling of the thing in the Throne Room for he knew precious little on what was actually occurring to stop this thing they called their king.

Phaedra frowned. "I know not. Such duties and quests are Dragons' business, not for such as I. Could I See as I could upon the Throne, I could perhaps Know... but that is no longer mine, and never will be again."

She paused. "I do not know if I regret or not, Malh'reth. It is gone, and left me stretched, empty, grown used to something that will be absent from me forever. And yet it burned like fire. Too much, too much. Even Greed's desire is not immune to folly. That moral, you will keep to yourself," she added, with a sharp glance.

"A shame. You were glorious upon that seat of power." Malh'reth replied, meaning every word.

He blinked, mouth opening slightly in a frown that bordered on insult, "If I might help, I would. I have offered my services to you, m'lady and we have an agreement. Your words are spoken in confidence and will not be passed on. Have faith." He offered a mild smile to her as he handed a jeweled dagger to her, weary and worn but shiny should it be polished.

"Will you, then? Good." She studied the dagger, especially the edge, for just a moment more than was comfortable. "I am glad to know it... and you have a good eye, little spider." Phaedra lifted the dagger and handed it to Avita. "No doubt this was coveted not for the jewel but for the edge; it is stained. Protection, not wealth. Like your own people's mode of survival."

His smile turned uncertain as her gaze lingered on the dagger... made his imagination run with the idea and find himself on the other side of that worn edge. Closing his eyes briefly, he shook his head, "Indeed. Not everything valuable is tangible, after all." Pride in his people made him sit up straighter and that uncertain look fade, replaced by a quietly confident expression.

"And what of their edges? Are they stained as well? Do the horns of your people run red with blood as that blade has?" Phaedra tilted her head to one side.

"That.... doesn't matter. Not to them. That they remain neutral and unbiased, honoring the contract down to the very last word but no more to maintain that neutrality is what counts. They... are mercenaries, powerful magi often hired out for the petty wars to dispassionately dispose of the opposing side, or as so often happens, wage war against a fellow." He sighed and shoulders slumped, "I had pride in that society once.... before I looked at it from outside and found my opinions. It is flawed, deeply so; steeped in both blood and nobility."

Malh'reth's gaze had fallen to the side, knowing full well his people's lives were full of juxtapositions that were tolerated only because of their unerring adherence to a contract. "Our horns... are both poison and panacea; though that is an opinion held by those who live in the world outside the city walls. To an Aurion, what matters is the maintenance of neutrality and the perfection of their craft - nothing more. There is no laughter, no sorrow for emotions lead to dangerous bias that could upset the delicate balance. Develop opinions and you are tossed out, struck from their records and fed to the world. The lucky survive, most are murdered shortly after their departure because they are not bound by any contract and therefore unprotected." He tapped his horn, with a sad smile, "Our strength and weakness. Ironic, isn't it?"

Phaedra arched one eyebrow. "Now that... that is a broken way to live. Can it, in fact, be called living? You are well out of it, in my opinion, and anyone who seeks your horn will find themselves... very, very denied." She smiled, possessively. "Mine, now. I like it quite well where it is." The goddess reached out one hand towards Malh'reth's horn, but settled for brushing her clawed fingertips just barely through his hair.

"From inside the city? I would say it is the only way to live - who else can walk in every nation unmolested and respected? But from the outside, broken is exactly the word for it." Instinctively, he pulled back slightly, always wary of anyone coming near his horn though he smile grew slightly. Her expression was possessive but such a thing was a godsend for him for it meant protection and no need to watch his back when at any other time danger lurked in the shadows.

As her fingers brushed through his hair, Malh'reth bowed his head, forcing himself to relax as his horn brushed her hand, "And for that I am truly grateful, Phaedra. If you ever wish something of me, you have but to ask for I am a willing servant." A simple statement for a man who's life had been one of servitude to a variety of 'masters', though none could compare to the woman sitting before him now.

"For now, I will grant you leave to move as you wish - merely be sure to listen, and tell me what you hear, when you hear something of even mild interest." Phaedra drew her fingertips down along one of Malh'reth's arms, a delicate claw-tipped tip-toe that recalled their first, most momentous meeting... hmm, perhaps they could do that again.

But not now. There were spoils to be counted now, and that trumped sex.

He nodded, internalizing that request and playing over his encounters with others... nothing in particular stood out though so he remained quiet. As always, the teasing nick of her claws raised goosebumps on his flesh as he reached up to play his own fingers across her arm - barely touching her skin. It was impossible to hide the hope in his eyes, for his mind too was drawn back to their first meeting.

But that hope quickly died when she made no further move and it was with a disappointed little sigh that he shifted away, thinking himself dismissed, "Perhaps I should take a walk... and speak to you after?" Time for each of them to get a job done... and then maybe more once he returned.

Phaedra smiled at the shadows of desire she saw in his eyes.

And she was all about desire, wasn't she?

"Tell me what you want," she purred, standing up and striding towards him, her tail lifting in a predatory stalk. "Tell with voice what your gaze says."

For a moment he held her gaze, noted the predatory motions and spoke before thinking, answering the question bluntly, "You." When he realized what he'd said, the mage blinked and looked rather embarrassed, knowing it probably wasn't his place to make such a bold statement.

Too late to cover now.

"Hm. Bold little pet, you are. Bold indeed." And ah, now with the sweet blush... "Greed is in the business of granting desires, if only for a moment. A golden moment. And what comes after?" Phaedra purred, leaning in close enough that her hair brushed him.

He couldn't help the smile that blossomed from her comment, a mischievous one as he tilted his head up to meet her gaze, ".... More?" Isn't that what greed was about? Always more? And though greed in other circumstances was to be shunned... Malh'reth thought he could set aside scruples for but a few moments of innocent (or perhaps not so innocent) pleasure.

Hesitantly, he leaned forward so that his nose brushed against hers. "What of your sacrifices?"

"More, yes... so they say..." A dark smile teased the corners of her mouth before she lunged forward, taking one of Malh'reth's ears in her mouth and nibbling, almost hard enough to draw blood.

Then she released, tilted to whisper in that ear. "There are many kinds of sacrifice. This is what I choose for now."

He squeaked at the pain but the look of surprise was quickly replaced by a sense of triumph as he let Phaedra jump him, hands teasing at the fabric of her clothing. Not bothering to hide the desire in his eyes now, he stole a quick kiss, teasing and inviting.

"As you wish, m'lady."

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