Welcome to Mar Qaroll's internet hub!

Mar Qaroll is a budding, inexperienced but passionate indie author who currently publishes on World Anvil and Archive of Our Own. He has finished three novels, a short story, and three novellas as of April 2020 with plans to create his own publishing company. He specifically writes adult stories with consentacles, vaguely cosmic entities, mpreg, m/m, and more.

Themes and genres  
Science-fantasyEroticaRomance
HorrorSupernaturalPsychological Horror
ParanormalFaerytaleand a few others...

News: November 20, 2020

There are now first-chapter excerpts for the following stories:

Human Shed Skin: Inhuman, the tale of love and overcoming dark odds; God Noise, the story of the Snake and the Raven and telling the horrific truth; Passions of the Lune, the erotic romance between a young man and his first one-night stand that goes horribly wrong...or maybe—just maybe—horribly right; and Long Live the Thing, the tragic story of a being of Darkness navigating a deceptively cruel world.

Read more →


Upcoming Events – 2021

  • Teasers & Excepts Month Ⅱ (TBA)

  • April Camp NaNoWriMo (Apr. 1 - 30)

  • July Camp NaNoWriMo (Jul. 1 - 31)

Read more →



About Mar

Mar Qaroll

Mar Qaroll is a black transgender metalhead and melanophiliac. A 90s kid, he has been writing longer than he has known his native language's alphabet, yet he has only truly started his writing journey since 2017. He readily admits to being a beginner at the art of writing.

While Mar isn't a shy personality, wielding words like loaded guns, he prefers as much real-life privacy as possible. This is contrary to his long-standing "angst" blogs and his unashamed admittance that he suffers from MDD, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Due to this and that he is not publicly out as transgender, he prefers not to be identified for now.

Mar often writes stories that include socially taboo topics or themes, often seen as justified within their respective worlds and stories regardless of his own stances. Refer to the list. →

Outside of creating a community of people who love his stories and characters as much as he does, Mar's passion is to become the founder and creator of the ultimate alternative scene community for mature nerds, lolitas, goths, metalheads, punks, rivetheads, and all in-between. This community will focus heavily on art, prose, and healthy lifestyles.

Mar is currently stationed in Hamden, Connecticut, within the USA. Outside of writing, he loves to inline skate, listen to metal, sleep, read, and collect things he likes that are colored black.

Common Story Elements

In Mar's stories, there are often themes or elements some (or many) don't like to read or write. In his own words:

My stories are in worlds. These worlds have illicit, shocking, and unforgivable things happen in them just as they do in ours. That is brutal realism, no matter the genre of written work.

The following are seen in many of his stories.


Selfcest
Abuse (all of them)
Homoerotica
Tentacle sex
Male pregnancy
Human/oid hermaphrodites
Incest
Graphic violence and gore
Anthropophagy
Psychological horror and torture
Bestiality

Several philias, including but not limited to:
Vorarephilia (hardcore and softcore)
Chronophilia (all of them)
Maiesiophilia

Other fetishes, including but not limited to:
Alvinolagnia
Tongue fetish


Mar Qaroll 2021

I lived more than eighteen years of my life blinded by a so-called light, the "light" of Islam, I didn't and still don't fully understand. I was a puppet once, as many of us were, listening to the whims of my elders, told what to do and how and when I should do it.

For many agonizing years I wanted to cut my strings, yet never knew how or was too terrorized to do so because of what I had been told since infancy. I spent more than eight years dying inside, lost within myself, and tread the lines between fully suicidal and darkly misanthropic. I have the scars to show it.

Today, I finally know who I am. It took over twenty years to get here...

I am an author, a Wiccan, and queer. I consider myself to be a genuine introvert and an advocate for the taboo, devious, diverse, the fuckers and weirdos, associate closely with INTJs and INFJs, and am a transgender man.

Mar Qaroll is my name.

News

November 18, 2020

There are now first-chapter excerpts for the following stories:

Human Shed Skin: Inhuman, the tale of love and overcoming dark odds; God Noise, the story of the Snake and the Raven and telling the horrific truth; Passions of the Lune, the erotic romance between a young man and his first one-night stand that goes horribly wrong...or maybe—just maybe—horribly right; and Long Live the Thing, the tragic story of a being of Darkness navigating a deceptively cruel world.


November 15, 2020

The entire site was given a much-needed revamp. In the past week or two, there have been at least four to five different "versions" of this site!

Read more »

The Rational Organ newsletter

To sign up for Mar's personal newsletter, click the image below to be taken to the homepage of The Rational Organ!


Frequently Asked Questions

-Answered by Mar-


I knew you when you were a girl; why did you bring me here?

Ahh, yes. If you wandered here out of curiosity from my "This Was Me" redirect, welcome...! No, you cannot find me, don't try to find me, and I don't give a damn about when you "knew me". I am not that person anymore. Consider my telling the truth a courtesy more than anything else since I am well aware I may as well have otherwise "died" in the eyes of my old community...


In simple terms, who are you?

I am merely a panromantic transgender man who is an avid storyteller and creative! I take my role as a storyteller seriously, as I operate under the complete and utter control of my mind. This means I will tell the story, no matter what that story is or what is in it.


How do you pronounce your last name?

It sounds exactly like the name "Carroll", like Lewis Carroll.


Is Mar your real name?

It is my chosen name. Let's leave it at that.


What inspires you to create your stories?

I'm highly inspired by traditional art forms of people and locations, manga, video games, the various forms of metal music, my dreams, my nightmares, and, more than anything, my complete and utterly jaded, pessimistic, and lethargic disinterest in stories that do not live up to my personal expectations.

You know what they say: If you want to read it but it doesn't exist, write it yourself. I might have taken that a bit too literally...


Why don't you write more stories with female protagonists?

Because the female body is icky. :\

In all seriousness, I honestly don't know. I've been writing stories from men's perspectives since I was very young. And yes, I have noticed that whenever I do have a story from a woman's perspective—such as in the case of Aiyül—they are typically if not always hermaphrodites or considerably masculine. Or both.

I do know that I have a personal preference for male...everything. That might be the answer, but that's otherwise a very good question...


Feel free to contact me for more questions you'd like answered! I can be messaged through DMs on Instagram and Twitter, PMs on Facebook, and please do join my Discord for live conversations with me!


Streaming Schedule & Events

Mar streams his writing on Twitch.tv! For more info, please visit his channel, Qarollverse!

Special Events – 2020

  • NaNoWriMo: Preptember (Sept. 13 - 30)

  • NaNoWriMo: Preptober (Oct. 1 - 31)

  • National Novel Writing Month 2020 (Nov. 1 - 30)

Special Events – 2021

  • Teasers & Excepts Month Ⅱ (TBA)

  • April Camp NaNoWriMo (Apr. 1 - 30)

  • July Camp NaNoWriMo (Jul. 1 - 31)

Main applications:

  • Microsoft Word

  • Scrivener

  • Wonderdraft

  • GIMP

  • Aeon Timeline

Game applications (useful for story-related creation):

  • The Sims 3

  • The Sims 4

  • Universe Sandbox

Currently on hiatus as of October due to health reasons...


Storytales


The Firsts

The stories that started the tales within their 'verse...
Start here, adventurer.


The Main 'Verses

The tales of focus within a 'verse...


The Loners

The stories that can stand alone with connections to other 'verses...


The Alternatives

The stories that could have been if...
Be mindful these tales are all spoilers for their respective main stories.


The Loners

The stories that can stand alone with connections to other 'verses...


The Others


Storytales » Human Shed Skin

Human Shed Skin

Human Shed Skin is a paranormal trilogy within The Molt Series telling the story of Jean-Luc Lowell, a hunter of inhuman creatures, and his journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and tolerance in a world where monsters come in three forms: Inhuman, human, and hybrids.

The trilogy is especially close to Mar's heart as it is the first series he finished—with the first edition(s) starting in 2017—in all of his then-twenty years of writing!

Book One: Inhuman, in particular, is the first story Mar finished in his entire library. He attributes his success entirely to the National Novel Writing Month challenge.

Contains: profanity | graphic gay and het sex | strong sexual themes | childhood psychological trauma | graphic violence and gore | bestiality


Human Shed Skin: Inhuman

Expert hunter of the denizens of Hell and anything inhuman, Jean-Luc Lowell, believed in his family’s credence that inhumans are the lowest kind of creatures, scourges of the planet and deserve to be eliminated. But after a bold act during a hunt, it is revealed that his best friend and lover of six years, Celezar, is inhuman.

Jean finds himself torn between what he was taught since infancy and the desire to acknowledge the simple fact that monsters take many forms—inhuman, and human.

There are hopes a version of Inhuman will be available for free reading on World Anvil sometime soon...

Where to readWhere to buyExcerpt
N/AN/ARead here!

Storytales » Echoes of the Little Gods

Echoes of the Little Gods

Echoes of the Little Gods is a supernatural series of stories within Hierarchy of Deities, mainly consisting of the two-volume novel God Noise, which also has a non-canon third volume. The others are novellas telling the origin stories of the Scarecrow, the Snake, and the Raven, the three individuals who each tell a different side of how their world learns the ugly truths behind its existence.

Contains: strong profanity | graphic sex | psychological trauma | alcohol abuse | graphic violence and gore | softcore vore


God Noise

The venomous snake slithers over bloodied ground, waiting for the ultimate prey. The young raven innately yearns to fly, fearful of clipped wings. Separate, yet unknowingly intertwined, they await the vibrations in air and land as war nears in their fragile world.

Linked by the noise of gods, the raven must learn to croak and flee the nest of chains as the snake strikes to kill the noise, to dance in merciful silence, one tremble at a time.

There are hopes a version of God Noise will be available for free reading on World Anvil sometime soon...

Where to readWhere to buyExcerpt
N/AN/ARead here!

Storytales » The Molt Series

The Molt Series is the first series of original paranormal stories Mar worked on after eleven years of working solely on fanfiction.

The overall theme of the series is hiding behind the guise of humanity, what humanity means, learning that "monsters" can have humanity, and making a change within oneself for the sake of the discovery and/or realities of these truths.


DEATH: The Cidal Cycle

It happened as if overnight. One moment, the people were alive, thriving. In the next, unspeakable evils were inflicted on them. There were no survivors...or so it was thought.

A brotherhood formed from the ashes. Light blinded them, yet it created a mighty shadow they made their own. Each of them swore: Never again. Not for anyone.

This story is still under early development...

Contains: graphic violence | strong profanity

Where to readWhere to buy
N/AN/A

How the Devil Shed Skin

A devil-hybrid makes the decision to live as a human. The hybrid takes the form of a man named Celezar, a young inhuman hunter looking for a place to call home. But what not even he expected was to once again become entwined with the Lowells, a family he knew from 200 years ago.

Except, this is not the family he loved, then. And it would seem that by taking a male form, Celezar has caught the eye of Jean-Luc Lowell, leader of the Lowell Hunters—and his new boss.

This anthology is available for free in parts on Archive of Our Own!

Contains: graphic gay sex | strong sexual themes | graphic violence and gore | homophobic slurs | references to childhood psychological trauma

Where to readWhere to buy
Archive of Our OwnN/A

Monster Cast Down

Young inhuman hunter Celezar Yell makes a costly decision: forsaking his safety to save the man he loves. Doing so reveals his own inhumanity to the Lowell Hunters, those he called family for six years.

Hunted and hated for simply existing, he acknowledges his place as an inhuman in a world of humans. Some things will never change. He will always be seen as a monster. But that won’t stop him from trying his damnedest to keep Jean-Luc Lowell alive.

What was Celezar doing, thinking, and feeling during the entirety of Human Shed Skin: Inhuman? This novella anthology answers those questions.

This story is still under early development...

Contains: graphic gay and het sex | strong sexual themes | childhood psychological trauma | graphic violence and gore

Where to readWhere to buy
N/AN/A

Storytales » Hierarchy of Deities

Every god has a higher god. Some would call this common knowledge, others would call it fact, and there are naysayers who call it blasphemy. Regardless, the gods themselves know the way the 'verses operate.

Or so they think they do.

When the reset of existence occurs and the reversal of life prevails, what can the gods do? They are the highest, the almighties. Every god having a being greater than them is stunning, at least, and terrifying, at most.

They are given no choice but to submit to these higher powers, bend to their will, when those gods betray them.

Contains: N/A


As Gods Made Us

.

.

Where to readWhere to buy
N/AN/A

Until Gods Forsake Us

.

This story is still under early development...

Where to readWhere to buy
N/AN/A

The Scarecrow

.

This story is still under early development...

Contains: graphic sex | strong sexual themes | graphic violence and gore | strong profanity | alcoholism

Where to readWhere to buy
N/AN/A

When We Were Young

.

This story is still under early development...

Contains: N/A

Where to readWhere to buy
N/AN/A

Storytales » Tales of the Dark Children


Storytales » Wunder

Wunder is the parallel novels that tell two sides of the same story—with one telling just a little more than the other. Perhaps one more will be added in time. Within this small series are the stories of Alice Liddell and the unholy Cirque du Wunderlost, a cirque that consists of Thirteen damned souls and their four servants.

This isn't just a retelling of the stories you know by the name Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. This is a twisted tale that changes the very foundation of everything you knew of one poor little girl whose only sin was her very name.

Contains: Graphic violence and gore | child psychological abuse | child death


Alice is Wunderlost

After visiting the fantastical Lost Fayre, young Alice Liddell's overactive imagination leads her to a twisted world abound with nonsense and whimsy. Potions that make one's size change, grinning cats and white rabbits...but this is not the familiar tale of Alice's adventures in the wonder land or beyond the looking glass.

As she divulges deeper into this darkly attractive world, someone, or something, eyes her sleeping body, as do twelve others she meets in the nightmare, licking their lips with a gnawing, insatiable hunger.

Where to readWhere to buyExcerpt
N/AN/ASoon...

Storytales » Inverse Sequences

Reon, the closest star system to Solar. Every thousand years, the system's fate is determined by one of the two Essence Forces of Light and Darkness obtaining the power of a nigh-sentient comet. This time, Darkness will not play fair. Someone—or something—is gathering the many evil creatures called Noctifers with the intention to use them and wipeout the very essence of Light itself.

Alongside his comrades and his ward Briél, the Hilikzian knight Bastar intends to find aid in the form of a wary alliance between Light and another, far more ancient force against Darkness.

...However.

Bastar is a secretive man with a hard-fought past he wishes to distance himself from. He loves his ward, and he loves his best friend, Nevan. But only one of them knows the truth of his existence: He, too, is a Noctifer, a physical incarnate of Darkness given life and form.

Darkness will fail. He knows this. What even he wonders is whether he will be willing to perish with it when the time comes.


Long Live the Thing

Bastar knows what he is. He is Darkness itself given life, molded into the harmless shape of a child and spat out into the harsh realities of a cryptically deceptive world. After he accidentally commits a great sin, he falls into a deep spiral of depression and self-destructiveness.

All he has by his side is the constant presence of his best friend and this one declaration: In a world of Light and Darkness, let there be Darkness.

This story is still under early development...

Contains: underage alcohol abuse | violence | profanity

Where to readWhere to buyExcerpt
N/AN/ARead here!

Storytales » Passions of the Lune

This standalone paranormal erotica romance story takes place in the same world as Human Shed Skin. It specifically connects to it when the main characters—Arius and Azul—meet Jean-Luc and his hunter group.

While the story is complete and an early version is available online (for members of AO3 only), there will be a "director's cut" that goes into greater detail of Azul and Arius' relationship with overall improved storytelling.

The cover seen here for the story isn't final.

Contains: explicit sex | strong sexual themes | vulgar profanity | bestiality

On his first visit to a nightclub, reclusive author Arius locks eyes with a man just as visibly displaced from the venue as he is mentally. The man is Herculean, impossibly tall, and with a yellow gaze that enraptures Arius in a wholly unnatural way. What ensues is hours of a passionate one-night stand, but that wasn't what it was to him. It was something more, something far stronger and intimate than that.

Along with his desire for the man are frightening augments to his mentality and biology. As he begins to change, he can't help but wonder if the man was human or if he was something entirely unnatural.

Where to readWhere to buyExcerpt
Archive of Our OwnN/ARead here!

Storytales » What If?

The What If? tales tell alternative continuations or stories within their respective 'verses.

They are not canon and can only be read online here. You an also download them...soon.


The Thing is Dead Vol. III [vers. 0]

Echoes of the Little Gods

What if...Bastar was given a chance at reincarnation...?

Contains: hermaphroditic sex

ReadDownloadPrevious vers.
Here!N/AN/A

God Noise Vol. III [vers. 0]

Echoes of the Little Gods

What if...Aiyül's torment drives Vadeen to suicide...?

Contains: alcoholism/alcohol abuse | strong profanity

ReadDownloadPrevious vers.
Here!N/AN/A

Storytales » Excerpts » Human Shed Skin: Inhuman

Chapter 1: Monster Hunt [from vers. 4]

Roars of flames, screams and inhuman screeches rang in Jean's ears above the drone of the helicopter. The fires reflected in his eyes behind the window, visible for miles. Without prompt, he opened the helicopter's side door, causing his locks to whisk about, and stared while inhaling the smell of burning life below. To anyone else, the sight and sounds were harrowing, the things from nightmares. To him, they only served as reminders for why he existed as an inhuman hunter.

Aided by the light of the fires, the origin of the incessant noise was visible from the helicopter: Six-legged, vaguely anthropoid creatures with reddish flesh ran after human survivors. They were roughly the size of a human but were far deadlier than any natural earthly predator.

They were Infernals, creatures of the Dark. Demons, by the looks of them.

A voice crackled in his ear, "Boss, want me to get closer?"

"Move us to land, Gulliver," he ordered. As the helicopter lowered to unsoiled ground, he held onto the threshold of the helicopter's door.

He glanced back at his men, seven in all. They nodded or saluted at him, ready to fight. He returned the acknowledgment, then looked forward.

Moments before the helicopter touched down, he jumped out and dashed forward. Swiping his pistol-revolver Ringe from its holster at his hip, he shot the nearest demon giving chase to a man nearly twice his age.

Just as it jumped, the blessed bullet landed, causing it to burst. Its tainted remains would have splattered over the man had Jean not manifested a blue shield over him to prevent it. Before he finished lifting his finger off Ringe's trigger, another demon swiftly lunged at him.

As he looked at it, readying to raise another shield, two slender swords sliced it into three parts. He glanced to his left at his lover, Celezar. The redheaded man lowered his bloodied swords and spared a wink at him. Jean's lips twitched but he didn't say anything in response to the gesture.

Both he and Celezar dodged out the way as a green projectile shot at them from another demon. Instead of shooting it at its close range, Jean drew his sword Hilde into his left hand, swiftly slicing the creature in half. Its shrieks were piercing, the lower body walking on four wobbly legs before keeling over. Celezar used one of his swords to stab its head, rendering it silent.

Jean raised Ringe. "Friedrich," he called to his uncle, "take two men to the east!"

"Sent."

He watched as two men led by one with blond hair broke off from his group, eliminating demons as they ran. Gunshots, the sounds of sizzling and animalistic screeches sounded out as the helicopter took to the air.

He took a moment to look after it, watching it turn towards the island's southeastern region. "Gulliver, get Ulrich on the line," he said to the pilot.

The glint of orange-red light shone off Gulliver's headset. "Sent, Boss."

Jean looked around. Celezar was no longer near him, and he caught sight of the man passing the roaring flames. He frowned. The number of demons had already lessened severely in the immediate area, leaving human victims behind. The demons likely heard their brethren's dying cries and scampered.

That wasn't good for whatever survivors there were. Some distance away stood the man he helped save who looked upon him with shaken awe.

Jean approached, reaching into an inner breast pocket of his coat. He handed the man an oval-shaped amber amulet. "Take this," he said, tossing it to him. It was caught, but confusion was added to the shaken demeanor. He nodded towards the creatures in the distance. "It will protect you from the demons. Gather whatever other survivors you can and take them to the port."

The man was too disturbed to respond, only nodding like a bobblehead doll, and then ran towards the south. He called towards some people who were already running in the same direction.

Jean watched after him for a moment before speeding into the opposite direction, the northeast. He, Celezar and two of his other men were occupying the tip of the island's western region. Just as he began to call for his second uncle, a voice spoke through his earpiece.

"Jean, you there?"

Hearing his younger brother over the radio gave him some relief, as it always did. "Yeah," he responded as he came to a stop. "What's the situation on your end?"

There was a huff. "Not good. Half the whole island is in flames. Firefighting helicopters are on standby, but they're getting rightfully antsy. Not much I'll be able to do before they might go ahead to put the fires out."

Considering this, Jean looked at the inferno nearby. Even from such a distance, he could feel licks of the tremendous heat and see the remaining animals scampering for dear life. He could only figure the green projectiles weren't all the demons could spew. "That's fine. If they can wait for another fifteen minutes or so, we'll have this taken care of soon. Trevor?"

Another voice spoke into his ear. "The Dragonflies are out and about. We've some badly injured survivors here who informed us where the nest might be, so I'm on that."

"Good." Jean beckoned his men closer but realized Celezar was now missing entirely. He glanced around while turning on the flashlight attached to his coat. "Where should we head out to?"

"The demons have scattered from your location and are going inland, to the southeast." Briefly, there was silence. "Some of the Infernals seem to be heading towards the nest. Celezar is trailing them and leaving markers."

Jean could have rolled his eyes. Celezar did things like that, going ahead, away from the action, only to end up doing something remarkably useful. "Sent." He nodded at his two remaining men and they ran towards the southeast.

They took notice of the white markings on the ground almost immediately. They were simple lines, some straight, some in slight directional changes. The lines seemed to bring the group past the outskirts of the nearest town. In the distance, they spotted several of the demons standing in their way, needle-thin teeth gnashing and slanted red orbs flashing in the light. This was nothing intimidating, but Jean briefly wondered how Celezar managed to avoid them.

Several red throats bulged before orange-red and green projectiles, one inflamed and the other slimy, were spewed at them. With a mere thought, Jean raised a large violet shield that rebound the projectiles back to the demons. The turnaround seemed to surprise them, their sounds changing from angry growls into confused and enraged screeches as they were thrown back by the force of their own attacks. Jean and his men didn't hesitate to take advantage of the situation, swooping in and slicing the demons into shrieking pieces. Without breaking their strides, they continued on.

"They're nestlings," Nicholae, his uncle, observed as his one eye glanced back at the fallen creatures.

Jean nodded as he led the way. "Newborn, too. And hungry." He eyed some half-eaten bodies of humans and animals with a scowl.

"The progenitor must be near."

As they jumped over an overturned carriage and fallen horse, Jean's thoughts went to Celezar. Over the radio, he called, "Celezar, where are you?"

"Did you find my trail?" came the almost humored response.

Jean softly huffed. "Yes. Where are you?"

They waited a moment for a reply, during which time they switched to their guns to keep their momentum and take the demons out at a distance.

A sound of uncertainty was made in their ears. "A field of some sort, I suppose. I think this is where it all started; there's blood everywhere. The demons I'm following are...taking me deeper into the field."

This made Jean uneasy. He manifested round blue platforms for him and his men to jump onto to scale over a fence. "Don't go any further. Wait until we catch up to you."

There wasn't a response, prompting him to exhale with irritation. Not a moment after this, a sudden tremor shook the ground, as if from an earthquake further ahead. Instinctively, he knew it was anything but.

"Uh, Boss...I think the parent just woke up."

Bristling, he manifested the platforms again to carry them swiftly over the land. If the tremor meant anything, it signified a large Infernal making movement. "Don't engage! Celezar? Do not engage!"

Celezar didn't respond, worrying him considerably.

Almost a second later, Trevor shouted, "Boss, Celezar is combating the Infernal! She's large—definitely B-Class!"

All three men made a sound of alarm. They continued in the air, coming closer to where the dust was picking up.

"Ulrich," Jean called urgently.

"Here."

"Get the firefighters on the fires. It'll make taking care of these damned nestlings easier later."

"On it."

It wasn't long before the large open road lined with trees on opposite sides became visible, as did the giant form of the mother demon. Its dark red, slickened hide shone from the light of their flashlights. Large horns curled on its head, fully developed claws on all six of its hands pulled its body out of the ground, and a long spiked tail swayed behind it. It was nearly a hundred feet long, dwarfing its children, and its mass was tremendous, rippling with muscle.

"Friedrich, come in." Jean moved his men high into the air, watching the creature and surveying the area for any sign of Celezar.

"We're on our way," his uncle responded. "We can see it."

Dirt and heavy clouds of dust arose, ruining the field. The demon's nostrils flared, and its humanoid head turned into their direction, giving a roar that warbled through the air.

Celezar was nowhere in sight.

Out the corner of Jean's eye, he spotted Friedrich and his two other men nearing from the north. They were also atop blue platforms. Looking at them all, Jean considered. Taking on B-Class Infernals came with a higher possibility of death. He briefly closed his eyes, teeth clenching as he considered what may have happened to Celezar.

But they all knew the risks.

Sudden looks of alarm formed on his men's faces. Without hesitation, without even looking, he held up his hand, erecting a massive violet-colored shield that protected them from a large, flaming projectile. Friedrich moved to stand beside him and together they held off the attack, allowing the other men to spread out.

After a moment of struggling, Jean and Friedrich deflected the attack, hitting the demon directly. It didn't cause much damage by the looks of it, but the creature did loudly screech at them through the smoke and flames that began to diffuse. Lowering his hand, Jean descended to the ground and willed the platform to disperse below him. Going into a run, he spotted the rest of his men using holy water bombs to successfully keep the demon distracted.

"This thing might be weak against ice, Jean," said Friedrich.

Jean looked over to see his uncle summoning an arch of ice to his palms. Several slices were thrown at the demon's limbs, successfully causing it to collapse along with aid from the frozen water. Jean slid his hand over the blade of his sword, coating it with magic-imbued ice. The demon's enraged screech suddenly cut off from the sound of a resounding strike. While he readied his magic, letting it swell within him, Jean spotted one of his men, wielding a massive battle axe, land back on his platform after executing his attack.

This made the demon fall over, momentarily dazed from the blow to its head. Quickly, Jean gathered magic to his feet before jumping high into the air. Swinging down his blade, a hail of thick ice pieced the creature's body.

"Jean, watch out!"

He suddenly startled at the sound of Celezar's voice but caught sight of the tail a moment too late. Despite this, he managed to erect a shield around his body. The demon's tail was far more prehensile than he thought, and it smacked him away.

The shield shattered but took the hit. His expression twisted as he collided with the ground, taking his breath away. The momentum drove him through the field, skidding along like a stone on water. He barely felt the bumps and scrapes along the way, too focused on trying to grasp for purchase on something, anything, but was moving too fast. It was difficult to clearly make out where he was going.

He suddenly and far too distinctly spotted Celezar, his hand outstretched for him as he dove forward. Jean's vision began to blur, but he managed to make out something reaching towards him from the man's hand. He reached for it, just as the world and his body fell back, momentarily drifting to haze.

Then came the tug, followed by numbness in his arm as he was caught, causing him to grimace from the pain. What met his vision next was the expanse of air between his dangling feet and jagged rocks below. Ocean water crashed harshly against the rocks, splashing water high against the cliffside. Exhaling shakily, he closed his eyes with relief. Then the sensation of what kept him aloft registered to his senses.

He looked up, only to inhale sharply in shock.

A black tentacle-like appendage coiled around his wrist, its slick surface uncanny and unnatural. Horrified and confused, he looked past the tendril to see what it was coming from.

No—who it was coming from.

Celezar's eyes were wide, so scared, staring at him as he reached from the cliff edge. The black thing came from out of Celezar's palm and reached a good two feet from his hand.

Their gaze met, electric blues to olive-greens. Celezar was grimacing, bleeding from a nasty gash on his forehead that trickled a stream of red down his face. He was almost wheezing, looking incredibly pale from blood loss.

"I got you, Jean," he breathed.

The tentacle retracted into his palm until he was holding Jean's gloved hand. Without any sign of effort, he raised Jean up and back on the grass. Slightly prone, Jean took a moment to recover, breathing hard from the close call. He couldn't focus on the fact that he was almost killed by the demon or that there was even a demon to kill. The world seemed to fade around him with only Celezar in focus and the distant crashing of the waves echoing faintly in his ears.

Lifting onto his arms, he shivered at the sensation of a hand on his back and moved away to face the other man.

Or what looked like a man.

Celezar didn't seem to notice, and he repositioned onto his knees. "Are you alright?" he asked, breathing heavily.

No.

No, Jean was not alright. He wasn't sure if it was from the attack, but his vision was hazing over, his mind felt shot. Adrenaline coursed through him, his heartbeat throbbed in his ears.

This couldn't be happening.

A call over the radio brought him back to the present. The flush of dread and horror overcame him at the realization this was reality. He felt physically sick but swallowed it down. Shutting his eyes, he shuddered with a soft groan.

"Jean—"

"Shut up." The venom in his own voice shook him. He never spoke to Celezar like that before, not in all the years he knew him. Slowly, he went to his feet, swaying unsteadily. This prompted a hand to reach for him, but he swatted it away. "Don't touch me," he warned, reaching for his gun, only to instead feel air at his side. He stiffened, the heat of fear and sadness running through him at the realization it must have fallen.

His eyes widened when Celezar tentatively handed the heirloom to him from behind his back. Looking up into the green eyes that were once so assuring, so beloved, he felt his jaw lock from emotion that threatened to swallow him.

He snatched Ringe away, immediately pointing it forward. But Celezar only stood there, his head lowered, though his eyes remained fixated on the gun. Jean could see the sorrow mixed in with several other emotions that flitted across his face.

"You can't kill me, Jean," Celezar said softly. "I'm—"

"You're not human," Jean snapped. Despite his knee-jerk words, the sadness in the other's voice inadvertently shook him. He stumbled a bit but kept the gun pointed forward. "Show me your true form."

"Jean—"

"Show me your true form!" He dared to take a step closer.

He had to see it. He could not—did not want to fight Celezar like this, in the form of the man he loved. He had to fight him, now. Celezar was a monster.

He was one of them.

Instead of changing, Celezar's expression only turned to one of concern as the gun shook in Jean's hand from his trembling.

Jean was faltering.

He couldn't remember the last time he hesitated against an inhuman. It was probably when he was still a fledgling hunter. In the life of an inhuman hunter, doubt and hesitance was the difference between living and dying.

His teeth audibly ground together to the point that it hurt. He began to take several steps back. "All this time—"

"Jean! Answer me!"

Blinking, he was brought out of his stupor by the voice of his uncle.

He was a Lowell, the leader of the Lowell Hunters. He could not falter, could not fall to his desires.

No matter how much it hurt.

He pointed his gun forward with a steady hand. "Om chia a zol de olapireta," he murmured between his teeth. It was his family's motto, crafted in a language lost to the passage of time.

We are the Hands of Light, it meant.

Damn him if he didn't try to live by it.

Celezar's eyes widened. A look of pain overcame his features just before Jean fired.

Celezar was gone in a flash, reappearing further away. His hands were up in surrender. "Please, Jean, let me explain!"

Jean shook his head. Instead of speaking, he held Ringe with both hands, running towards him.

Celezar flashed away again, reappearing at Jean's far left side. He had teleportation. That, or he was moving too fast for Jean's eyes to catch.

In a moment, Celezar disappeared once more. Taking a swift look around, still pointing Ringe, Jean didn't see him. He was gone.

As if the bubble containing the moment burst, the sounds of fighting and enraged demon roars reached his ears. Exhaling a breath he didn't know he was holding, he lowered Ringe, panting and distraught. Leaning forward, he shut his eyes as his mind spun before he sunk to his knees.

"Jean!"

His shaking hand reached up to adjust the crooked earpiece over his helix. "Y-yeah. I'm...I'm here."

There was a combined exhale of relief, followed by an echo of the demon's roars. "Are you alright?" Nicholae asked.

Jean's mouth opened, flapping as he tried to find words. No. He was not alright.

"Jean?"

"No," he finally managed. A sudden boom that shook the ground snapped him from his stupor. "I'll be right there."

He slowly rose to his feet. Fighting through his body's pains, though they were more emotional than physical, he shook his arm a bit, then holstered Ringe. His breathing wasn't as hard anymore, and he briefly shut his eyes.

Now was not the time for this.

He ran forward from where he came, and the glint of light from his flashlight on his sword was easy enough to find on the leveled ground. Relieved smiles and expressions were turned on him when he arrived, and his eyes focused on the scene. The demon was still alive, its body sizzling morbidly on the verge of dying. It laid helplessly on frozen ground, its broken tail the only appendage left on its body.

The men weren't in the best shape, either. Jean's axe-wielding comrade was suffering from a slash across his chest. All the men looked winded, injured somehow, and a few sported bleeding cuts that were wrapped. Some distance away, their medic was tending to one of his men who was entirely unconscious and bleeding from a bad wound in his chest.

Jean scowled, then looked above. The Dragonfly drones dropped bombs onto the demon's body, which exploded on contact and released holy water. The demon was clearly somewhat resistant to the water, but not anymore in its condition. It began to cry out as its body slowly corroded.

Watching, Jean flicked his hand while sheathing his sword. A large orange barrier erected around them, and he turned to gaze at Friedrich, who was incanting something with two fingers raised from one hand. The several dissolving or crumbled body parts of the Infernal began to dissipate into nothingness, rising upward instead of contaminating more of the grass.

He glanced back at his other men. The medic was no longer worried, by the look of it, and checked on the others. Calming, as none of his men were going to die, Jean stared past the dissolving demon remains.

Celezar.

They had to take care of Celezar. No inhuman could live after what he had done.

Swallowing at the thought, Jean once again gazed back at his men.

No human either, for what he had done.

He pushed the thought into the deep recesses of his mind and turned around. In the distance, the helitankers were at work putting out the remains of the fires that were no longer the burning infernos they once were. If it wasn't for that, this mission would be an overall success, even with the remaining nestling demons scurrying about.

"A job well done, men." He looked at his comrades as their eyes focused on him. "But we're not in the clear, yet. There's one more inhuman escaping the area."

Nicholae was cleaning his sword, his eye on the blade. "Did Celezar go after it?"

Jean's expression couldn't get any darker. "Celezar is the inhuman," he said between his teeth.

A deafening silence overcame them. Eyes wide, mouths agape, the men stared at him with horror and, eventually, confusion.

"How the fuck is that possible?" asked the axe-wielder on the ground.

Nicholae slowly sheathed his sword. "He was able to get through the isle's barrier," he argued, referencing the protective barrier that surrounded their home. "No inhuman can do that."

"I'm just telling you what I saw," Jean answered. Before questions could form, he tersely explained, "Some sort of...tentacle thing emerged from his hand when he saved me from the cliffside back there."

The medic blinked. "He saved your life?"

The question sounded more like a statement. Not too long ago, the idea wouldn't be strange. But now, if Celezar was inhuman...?

Jean almost glared at him. "Don't you think I'm wondering why, too?" He shut his eyes, realizing he was snapping.

Exhaling deeply, he pinched his nose bridge. Recalling his family motto, he pursed his lips. The overwhelming majority of inhumans—particularly Infernals—were beings of Darkness. They had to be extinguished and exterminated, even if they were once considered dear friends...

He stared into the direction where Celezar was last seen. He glanced at his comatose comrade. "How is he?"

"He's just unconscious. He'll live," the medic assured.

To the other man, Jean asked, "Think you can make it?"

The burly hunter nodded, raising his axe over his shoulder. "Nothing I haven't felt before," he said with a shrug.

"We can at least recover ourselves," Nicholae said to Friedrich.

After the prompt, the older magic-user raised his hand, causing a green barrier to surround them. While it could only heal minor wounds, it was most useful at recovering stamina. Within moments, they were feeling as they did before encountering the mother demon: fit and ready to fight. They would need the stamina; from the look of it, Celezar was no inhuman they had encountered before.

After a moment, the hunters, sans the medic and their unconscious companion, stood at the ready. Jean turned around and ran forward, leading the way deeper into the field.

Thick fog began to overtake the island, swallowing it menacingly. Blue was creeping into the sky as early morning steadily neared sunrise, though it went nearly unseen as they ran. Jean softly cursed their misfortune. The fog could make the fight difficult.

It wasn't long before they neared what appeared to be a partially destroyed farm. The barn was in shambles, the house splattered with blood and, likewise, blood soiled the ground. It was the barn, however, that caught their attention.

Standing in clear view atop the broken roof, Celezar looked down at them with glowing green eyes.

He raised his hands non-threateningly. "Please let me expla—"

A shot went off, lodging a bullet in the dead-center of his forehead from Jean's gun. Jean then watched with some horror as Celezar merely staggered, his eyes wide with shock and gasps emitting from his open mouth.

Jean's eyes narrowed. All of them knew what a being should do when shot by a bullet, let alone one from Ringe. Stagger yet remain standing was not one of them.

From out of the ground came several large black tentacles the width of an average-sized human. As they rose from the earth, they ensnared each of the men in their grasps, and glowing eyes stared up at them.

Spitting the bullet to the ground, Celezar began, "If you gave me a moment, I can explain why I—"

Again, he was interrupted as Jean managed to touch the smooth, black surface of the tentacle holding him up, and a shock of bluish-white magic ran through it. Celezar let out a shriek from the electricity before letting him go with an irritated hiss. Before he even touched the ground, Jean quickly unsheathed his sword to slice horizontally at the tentacle, sending a wave of blue magic that cut it and several more in half, freeing his men.

As Celezar merely stood there, Jean ran forward and swung at him. The silver of his blade met the black of inhumanly long claws as his attack was caught. Despite this, he bounded off Celezar's body with a kick that sent him back a few feet. It gave the men further away an opening to shoot Celezar in the head.

Irritated hisses came from Celezar when he took the hits this time, and instead of returning to fight, he began to run back. Not about to let him escape, Jean manifested a bluish-white rope into his hands and swung it around Celezar's neck, jolting his body back.

Likewise, Friedrich did the same to one of Celezar's hands, and the inhuman glared at them with a growl. Just as it looked as if the ropes were about to be pulled, both Jean and Friedrich magically tethered the ropes to the ground with a simple gesture. Another growl. A sudden ripping sound was heard before several black tendrils sprouted from Celezar's back and he bared his teeth, showing they were large, inhumanly sharp canines, not a molar in sight. He was revealing more of his inhumanity.

Friedrich touched the ropes, and they suddenly sparked with electricity. It sizzled through Celezar's body, and he let out a loud, drawn-out shriek of pain. Blood pooled around him from his back, turning black from the shockwave, and he lowered to his knees.

"Don't let off!" Jean ordered, taking notice how the remaining large tentacles were beginning to smoke and twitch from the shock to their host. He sliced another in half, then turned to watch as the being he once called his lover was electrocuted.

Celezar's eyes opened as he looked towards him. Only then did Jean's lips part, his expression wane, upon seeing the sorrow and pain that reflected in the olive gaze. The blood running down Celezar's face from the gunshots did nothing but cause the look to pierce Jean's heart, burning the scene into his memory.

He hesitated and took a step forward.

Green overwhelmed Celezar's eyes—sclera, irises and all—and in that same abrupt moment, the ground violently sunk, throwing everyone off balance. The tethers broke, and with nothing to hold him back, Celezar jumped from the sinking ground and the large tentacles retracted into the earth.

Shouting arose as the ground swallowed the hunters while Jean and Friedrich stood aboveground. Bewildered, as he had never seen an inhuman do that before, Jean watched his men struggle to escape their earthly prisons. He then glared back up to catch Celezar slowly rising to his feet on even ground before running again.

Jean gathered magical energy beneath him, then bound into the air and swung downward. His attack was easily dodged with a side-step, and Celezar continued into the fog. He was taken by surprise at first, but this only further irritated Jean and he quickly sheathed his sword before taking out Valk, his consecrated whip. He swung it once before lashing out into the fog where Celezar disappeared to, and immediately, the line tightened.

He held it with both hands and readied his body before giving a powerful, sharp yank. The line slackened by a bit. He smirked, only to feel a pull on the line that moved him forward by a few inches. In the next second, he was pulled off the ground, swung overhead. He cried out in surprise, and then collected himself, managing a safe land on the ground closer to Celezar, who held the whip's line with his clawed hands.

"Jean-Luc!" Nicholae called from afar.

Ignoring the shout, Jean gave his full attention to the inhuman before him, letting go of his whip. His next swings with Hilde were swift, unyielding, angry. With all his might, he used his blade to press against the immoveable claws once more. "Why?" he growled, anger and hurt reflecting in his eyes despite his tone of voice. "Why did you do this to me?"

Celezar only glared at him, then swiftly kicked him away.

Spinning around, Jean sheathed Hilde. He manifested blue magic to two fingers on one hand. Quickly, he made a semi-x-shape in the air with his fingers, then crossed a line in the center. He brought his fingers down at the center before letting the magic disperse, like a magical gunshot.

Several lines of white magic emerged from his fingertips, surrounding Celezar and recreating a circle symbol around him on the ground. He teleported further away, but it followed him. In the next second, pure white energy erupted from beneath him.

Celezar's head snapped back and he let out an inhuman roar of pain, blasting Jean away from the intensity of the cry. The energy practically hid Celezar from view, but Jean saw skin peeling back, auburn hair flying up, green eyes rolled into his head. A lump grew in Jean's throat, and he looked away.

After a moment, he turned to watch when the energy disappeared.

His eyes widened in horror.

Celezar stood, his body burned beyond recognition. His clothes—or what remained of them—were stuck to his skin, charred like the rest of him. It was a terrible sight to behold.

But why was he still standing?

As if to answer Jean's mental question, Celezar's head snapped down, looking him dead in the eye. Jean flinched back as glowing green orbs bore into him from a horrifically burned face.

"That..." Celezar growled, his voice hoarse and demonic, "fucking..."

Before Jean's eyes, Celezar's body regenerated, as did his clothes, as if they were a part of his body. From his hands at his sides, long, curled claws grew again as he began to approach.

"HURT!" he roared, charging forward.

Aghast and shaken, Jean raised a shield. Green flashed, and the shield shattered.

Eyes wide with fear, he looked up into the infuriated gaze, just as half the world went black.

A single claw tore through him from a lightning-fast cut from his navel to his hairline. It was broad and smooth, cutting through his body as if he was mere paper. His body fell back with a heavy thud on the ground, blood splattering beneath him.

A cry rang out. "NO!"

Focusing was impossible. The pain in Jean's body was indescribable. Burning. Emptying. Vast. Blearily, he made out a form above him, but his vision was rapidly dimming, even with his right eye open.

All went silent.

Darkness overtook him as he faded.

But all too abruptly, life returned to his body in the form of a heartbeat. The searing pain that registered to his senses again began to ease to a numbing, sickening agony. His vision, while still dim, returned, though sight was still cut off on his left side.

He could breathe again, though his breath came out in wheezing rasps.

He could feel his body slowly stitch back together through unnatural means.

He could sense the sorrow and fear emitting from a warm form beside him.

They were such jarring, foreign sensations. He was utterly confused. The form beside him steadily came into focus. It was Celezar.

Celezar. His dear friend. His dearest friend.

Why was he crying...?

Slowly, Jean reached up to touch him, only for his hand to be lowered gently, in an almost chastising way, back to his side. The calloused hand he only then realized was there moved from his forehead as he heard his name called in the distance.

"I didn't—I'm...so sorry..." Celezar whispered, his voice choked with emotion. Jean visibly spotted tears rolling down his face.

The warm body then tore away, leaving him cold and alone. It was too difficult to think.

So, he didn't. Darkness took him once more.


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Storytales » Excerpts » God Noise

Prologue – The Raven: I lost myself some time ago [from vers. 3]

Blood was the fluid of life. It ran through his veins, pumped through his heart, made his vision wane in and out from color to red from excitement. It drenched the ground, spilled from the still bodies lying on the dirt beneath his feet. He took in the sight of physical ruin, the bloodied black and blue skin, with a maniacal smile, the type that made the crowd foam at the mouth in a mindless frenzy.

For him, it was from the simple fact that blood was deeply arousing.

Liquid heat continued running through his body as he watched the next contestant dare to approach him. This was a burly man who must have been more than an entire foot taller than him, but it didn't matter. Yet he knew the cocky smile on the man's bearded face. To most, his diminutive, lanky form wasn't intimidating, but if the others had learned anything, it was that he was anything but.

The man's mouth moved, but he couldn't hear what was being said above the chaotic roaring and thumping of the crowd about him. Even then, he only knew the crowd was making noise by the vibrations he felt resonating in his body. He eyed the man, measuring him up. Behind the broad body swung a brown tail that was simian. A monkey spirit, he figured.

He noticed the fist coming to his face, but he was too distracted to react in time. The feeling of the hard bone, knuckles, meeting his face sent a different tremor through his form. It rattled his teeth, and his head and neck turned to the side in such a way that would surely be damaging to anyone else. He knew. He had seen what a single punch could do to another person.

The steady thumping in his chest took an abrupt spike. Slowly, turning his head forward, he licked bloodied teeth and caught sight of the man's growing expression of horror before his vision went red. In an unspoken language, he knew the man so suddenly understood he was a threat. Chills tremored down his spine at the undeniable scent of fear he sensed in the air before him.

Yes, the warbling voice chuckled deeply in his mind. Fear me.

He took a deep, pleasurable inhale.

He seemed to merely flick his body forward, just by a tick. In the next second, he was directly in front of the large form with his first snapping out to collide with the man's abdomen. Blood spat on his face, and he crooned at the taste of it after another lick at his teeth revealed the liquid splattered onto them. Doubling over, the man placed a hand on his shoulder. He grabbed it while simultaneously snatching and squeezing the man's thick neck.

A larger first jammed into his own stomach, and he took the blow with ease. His grin widened when the man's eyes grew upon realizing the attack did nothing to him. An inaudible chuckle escaped him, and he nearly rolled his eyes with disappointment.

Weakling, a voice hissed. Whether it was his or the disembodied voice didn't matter.

He just wanted to see blood.

By the look in the frightened green eyes, the man knew it was coming, too.

He slammed the man to the ground, then grabbed brown hair and continued to smash his fist into a face. His fist to a blue face. His fist to a black and blue face. It happened so quickly, he didn't even notice the man had been punching him back, hitting his sides, kicking and writhing on the dirt in a feeble attempt to stop him.

He was so enraptured by the once spotless visage devolving into bruises and blood, he was caught off-guard by strong arms around his body and shoulders. Thrown back off the man, he spun in the air to land in a crouch some distance away.

Before the two men who had thrown him could even turn to face him, he was on them, simultaneously slamming their heads mercilessly into the ground with a soundless scream of outrage.

No one came between him and his victims.

He grabbed their necks before they could recover and threw them away, then watched a small chunk of the massive crowd flatten as the bodied landed on them.

They didn't care. The resulting vibrations made him shiver as the action only sent them in a wilder frenzy. He watched wads of bills pass around in the crowd as bets were won, scoffing inaudibly to himself.

He hated these people.

Stumbling, he cracked his neck, eyes rolling into his head.

More, the voice echoed. More blood...

As the mouth of the nameless, self-appointed referee moved, he made his way towards the crowd blocking the exit. They parted like a wave before him, both deathly fearful and in awe.

More.

Slowly shaking his head at the voice, he knew it was safe to leave. If he could ignore it, not be drawn back to the smell of fear, the knowledge of where blood was, it was time for him to leave.

Red throbbed in his vision even as he walked. Stumbled. Took a few more steps. Nearly tripped over his own feet.

Another humorless chuckle at nothing escaped him.

More...

He softly crooned, his eyes continuing to roll about. On the edges of his senses, he finally heard the roaring crowd behind him as he walked up a narrow passage. It grew fainter by each slow step he took.

The voice continued to moan, but he made it to the surface. He took a deep inhale of the clean, fresh air, teetering on his feet. He would have keeled over if sturdy arms hadn't caught him. 

For just a moment, he stopped his eyes from wheeling, allowing him to see the familiar calm face of an older woman. Green eyes that seemed to slightly glow in the dark scanned him with understanding.

He managed a small smile, then finally let his eyes close with a contented exhale.

The voice was a faint murmur, similar to a child after a temper tantrum, pacified and satisfied after the outlet of violence. Every injury he had began to overtake him as adrenaline left him completely. As the woman moved his body, he allowed himself to fade into a dreamless slumber.


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Storytales » Excerpts » Passions of the Lune

Chapter 1: Hot-Blood Lust [from vers. 2]

Bodies swayed and bounced to an echoic drone, bared skin flashed in the ethereal lights. Hands on hips and shoulders trailed lower for sweeter flesh. The atmosphere was thick with haze and heat emitting from bodies and the summer air. Female vocals trilled haunting chants with brief interruptions of heavy drums over the loudspeakers. The sound rustled the leaves, made the ground throb, pulsed in his veins.

Arius glanced around with half-lidded eyes, his expression set in an impassive mask.

How boring.

Someone nudged his shoulder, and he glanced at his brother, Noel, who stood behind the bar counter with a wide, expectant smile. "Having fun, Ari?"

Lifting a stein to his lips, he took a deep drink. "No." He continued watching the crowd, lowering the glass to the countertop. "It was a bad idea to come here. I'm only going to get drunk. Who's going to take me home, then?"

Out the corner of his eye, he saw whites as Noel gave his eyes a hard roll. "Well, at least you're away from your desk."

Arius merely raised his glass, staring off at nothing. Maybe he liked his writing desk.

"Hey, don't worry. Get drunk," Noel sighed. "Drinks are on me. I'll get you a cab home."

"What a friend." Arius finished his stein and pushed it towards him.

There was another hard roll of Noel's eyes, but the glass was refilled. "You sure you don't want to at least, you know, dance?"

Arius took a long and hard swig from his refill. "I don't dance."

"I've seen you dance."

"When we were children."

"You were a good dancer."

"If you call spreading my legs apart and waving my arms around 'dancing', all power to you." He placed the empty glass on the counter again, then closed his eyes as he finally felt the pleasant buzz in the back of his head.

"Your tolerance is staggering, as always..."

He murmured a soft agreement, but it was lost under the pulsing of the music. His head slowly, unintentionally swayed to the drone, and he cracked a small smile. It wouldn't surprise him if it was when he was nearly drunk that he could perhaps begin to enjoy himself.

His eyes slightly slanted open, and then his head abruptly stopped moving. Past the crowd and a good distance away, a large form leaned against another bar counter. He took in the sight, blinking and focusing. It was a man...a very large man.

Easily, the man stood over the crowd at some six feet—no, seven feet tall, at least. Arius had never seen a man so tall, but with the man's mass, it was a truer wonder how he never noticed him before at all. The dark shirt the man wore seemed strained against his skin, unable to contain the thick muscles visible even at a distance. Musclebound arms crossed over a broad chest. But that wasn't what had Arius fixated.

Eyes an undeniable shade of yellow-gold flashed in the dim light, staring at him as he stared back.

He twitched as his heart tightly clenched the second he swore the man's eyes flashed at him.

"Ari?"

Blinking rapidly, he forcibly tore his gaze from the man to look at Noel. His brother had a hand on his shoulder and appeared concerned. "Hm? What?"

Lowering his hand, Noel frowned. "I've been calling you for a few. Are you alright?"

About to look at the man again, Arius just managed to stop himself. He shook his head and massaged his eyes. "Ah, yeah. Just...a little tipsy." He slowly drank from his refilled glass.

"Tipsy? You looked to be in a trance."

He didn't respond, keeping his eyes closed.

"Oh, damn. Were you looking at him?"

He remained quiet.

"I don't blame you. Half the whole place is looking at him, too. He sticks out like a sore thu—by the gods, he's coming over here, Ari!"

Arius' blood momentarily went cold. He quickly calmed himself, slowly opening his eyes to meet the same uncanny, unyielding stare over the rim of his glass. The sea of people parted as the man approached, either by a conscious act or because others pulled them out the way. Even the way the man moved was unusual. It was a calm saunter that demanded respect, proud and assertive.

But his eyes never once moved from Arius.

Swallowing, Arius lowered his gaze back into his glass. His heart wasn't beating rapidly. His body wasn't even trembling. Yet he felt the heat of self-consciousness creep into him. He continued sipping on his drink as the man came to lean against the counter at his left side.

The man radiated with might, danger, and composure. It enticed Arius in a way he never felt before. Peeking out the corner of his eye, he took in every flex of taut muscle as the man rested his bare arm atop the counter. From his estimations, the man was easily near three hundred pounds if not more so from muscle alone. He swallowed again, his lips parting as he imagined what it could be like to be underneath that weight, writhing, panting, lost in what he was certain would be unbelievable pleasure—

"You're drooling."

He startled at the deep voice, spilling some of his drink onto his hand, and quickly wiped his mouth as he had indeed started salivating. His gaze sharply cut to the side to give the man a glare, meeting a small but satisfied smile. The golden eyes gleamed with evident amusement.

"How kind of you," he muttered, moving his glass into another hand to flick his other of the amber liquid. Figuring the ice was broken, he huffed. "Never seen you in this city before. Where are you from?"

The man hummed, a sound that sent a shiver through Arius' body. "Far from here. I'm just passing through. I thought I'd take advantage of the local entertainment."

"Uh huh..." Arius closed his eyes, trying to identify the man's accent. He couldn't place it. The man's voice was also coarse, almost as if he wasn't accustomed to speaking, but reserved. It was somehow pleasant, even charming. A smile danced its way on Arius' face, and he finished off his drink. He licked his lips. "How are you enjoying it, so far?"

"Very much."

He shivered again at the low rumble in the man's voice. Exhaling deeply, he opened his eyes and glanced to his left in time to catch the golden orbs scanning his body. More heat spread through him as the tip of a large pierced tongue slowly licked prominent canines.

Briefly, he shut his eyes as they began to roll into his head when a wave of arousal took hold of him. He shifted and cleared his throat, motioning to the crowd. "You don't seem like the, ah...dancing sort," he managed.

"I don't dance."

He smiled a little and dared to meet the man's gaze head-on. They stared at one another for a moment with pleasant curiousness and, after a moment, he lightly shrugged. "Maybe you just need some encouragement."

A black brow rose, but the expressive golden eyes conveyed interest.

His smile grew. With his head, he beckoned towards the crowd, then slipped off the barstool and walked forward.

Stretching, he picked out the tune playing over the loudspeakers. It was a throbbing, energetic beat. He made it to the fringes of the dancing crowd and closed his eyes, letting his head sway side to side in synchronization with the music. Once his body felt the full force of the pulsations, he moved.

Like everyone else, and as was normal to the electronic sounds, he bounced. Unlike everyone else, he let his body rise and fall with the tips of his feet, never quite leaving the ground. His hips swayed as he raised his arms slightly above his head, moving from where he initially stood yet never leaving a radius. While he sensed the other bodies around him, he strangely never touched anyone even as he kept his eyes closed.

Intoxicated was an appropriate term to describe how he felt. The alcohol seemed to be suffusing his system as he danced, but he didn't feel sick or unsteady. He had a strong need to show off, to let his body move with abandon. Like the ethereal atmosphere of the nightclub, his mind was slightly hazy, yet he smiled. He felt the man's intense stare. He knew it was his, no one else's. To any other person, he was just another patron in the club. To this man, he knew he was something else, in every imaginable way. He felt assured of this.

His smile widened.

He turned as he danced, raising his head and continuing to let it sway to the beat. The thumping pounded in his chest, though his heart was steady. The vocalizations in the air were passionate, urging him to dance, though he felt a different fervor overwhelming his system. A powerful presence neared him, and while he wasn't intimidated by it, he did idly notice how unusual it was to be aware of the man in such a way.

He suddenly bumped into something, causing his eyes to snap open as he went still. He looked up into the unyielding golden gaze staring down at him and his body surged with want. Instead of acting on his desires, an even more brazen idea came to mind.

A suggestive smile slowly pulled at his lips. Moving his body frontward, he went into a slower dance to the music, but he appeared to almost thrust in an undulating motion. When his hips moved forward, he made sure to just slightly brush against the man's body.

The golden eyes tightened, a deep burn appearing in their depths. Unable to help but smirk^?^, Arius turned around, continuing his movement, but this time he motioned backwards. He made sure to let his hips rise and fall, rocking side to side in fluid motions.

He never moved like this before. He never bothered to, never had to. In the moment, he felt he needed to.

Warmth pressed against his back, making him shiver. He didn't hesitate to return the contact, his breath coming out in a shaky exhale upon feeling a sizable bulge against his backside. Slowly, his eyes closed, and he let his head tilt back when large hands gently took his sides. The music changed, opening with a sudden explosion of sound in sync with the rolling shivers that passed through him. He gyrated and was rewarded with an undeniable thrust, rubbing against that swell of flesh once more.

The hands steadily lowered, trailing a path of heat that was far too noticeable through his clothing. His lips parted, and he stopped moving completely when the tent in his own pants was gently caressed. In any other situation, this was dangerous, a blatant and sexual invasion of space.

Yet he wanted it.

He wanted more, even.

Heated breath suddenly flickered at his ear, and he panted softly as words were whispered to him:

"I want you."

He swayed, then turned around to pull the man down and look him in the eye. "I need you."

For only a second, the man's eyes widened with a spark of understanding and knowing. He didn't hesitate to capture Arius' lips in a kiss, nearly causing Arius to collapse. It wasn't his first kiss, but this was different, more passionate, needier. The man's tongue licked his teeth, then his own tongue, and he softly moaned. And the man's smell. It was something earthy, reminding him of a warm forest. The second after he exhaled away from the kiss, he was practically grabbed and led somewhere else; where, it didn't matter. He was soon pressed against a wall, rubbing his erection against the man's body, wanting more contact, more pleasure, and was kissed again.

Just as desperately, a heavy weight pressed onto him, enticing him further. The kiss abruptly broke, giving him a chance to take in air. With half-lidded eyes, he licked his lips and took the dark shirt into his hands. "Want to take this further?" he all but purred between pants.

"Didn't have to ask." The man rested his forehead against Arius', and he briefly closed his eyes. He seemed profusely content despite the unusual situation.

Smiling, Arius eyed him. "My place. We go to my place."

The golden orbs shone with delight. "I'd like that."

Taking him by his arm, Arius moved away from the wall and led him towards a service area.

The gap between them and the few rows of phone booths couldn't close fast enough. A unique sexual tension, a positive one, simmered between them during the walk. The throbbing of the music drifted, releasing Arius of the heightened feeling that pulsed through his body. Now the only sounds in his ears were the sounds of night, but the wanting never left him.

He didn't have a car, as he didn't need one, and quickly called for a cab from the nearest telephone. While he spoke to the operator, he glimpsed at the man to see what he would swear were the golden orbs glowing as they stared right back at him.

When the cab came, he went in first. The man came in behind him and immediately wrapped an arm around his shoulders, keeping him close. For some reason, this pleased Arius, and he was more than happy to ride silently against the strange man.

During the ride, in the confines of the compartment behind the driver, Arius was pointedly aware of the man somewhat inconspicuously, somewhat openly stroking his large erection in his pants. The knowledge that he was so wanted and wanting just as equally was a satisfying realization, and he found himself caressing the man's thigh.

They weren't too far from his home when the man took his hand and moved it to his crotch, allowing Arius to feel him. A flush of warmth, a mix of surprise, awe and desire, ran through him, and he looked up into the man's pointed gaze. The man aided Arius with stroking him, but Arius came out of his shock soon enough so he was willingly fondling him.

The man's arm went back around Arius' shoulders, and he moved his head to whisper into Arius' ear, "How do you like it? Want it?"

Knowing exactly what he was talking about, aroused shivers passed heatedly through Arius again. "I have a vagina," he said softly, watching the man closely to see his reaction.

A wide smile slowly spread on the man's face, and his eyes slanted dangerously. "Good," he rumbled, leaning to give Arius a tender kiss. "Very good."

In a way that had to be instinctive, Arius was pleased to hear this. He knew why the man was content, and it should have scared him, but it only enticed him further. He wanted it. He wanted everything. He returned the kiss eagerly, gently squeezing the man's erection, and smiled internally at the soft groan made in his mouth.

They finally arrived at his house. Before Arius could, the man paid the driver. He exited the cab and the man was close behind him even as he walked up to the door. Despite his intoxication, he didn't fumble with the keys. He didn't stumble when he was pulled into another fervent kiss. The moment their lips met, nothing else mattered.

The door opened, revealing a lightly lit living room, and he led the man by his shirt onto the nearest couch. The door closed behind them as they quickly undressed each other, scattering clothes about. He lingered on the man's pants, once more taking his time to stroke the hidden treat inside. The man softly exhaled from between his teeth, and Arius glanced up to see the man's eyes closing with contentment. Smiling, he unzipped the pants, revealing a very large and erect cock that nearly made him drool. He didn't even think about how something that big was going to fit inside him. That was the least of his concerns.

He was half tempted to suck it, but, more than anything, he wanted it inside him. He ghosted a hand over it then moved to a higher portion of the couch and went low onto his hands and knees, lifting his backside into the air. He glanced back to see the man was indeed watching, those unusual golden eyes burning with desire. There was what could only be described as a low growl made at his position, and then the man approached.

The couch dipped. Arius continued watching and was surprised when the man lowered over his entrance, smelling him deeply. It made him self-conscious, but the man was soon rising back up and placed his hands on Arius' sides. Heat touched Arius' entrance, and then he was entered.

He softly moaned, eyelids fluttering as every slow, heated inch of the man too easily buried into him. He was shockingly calm, and his muscles didn't clench once. There was only a slight throb due to the cock's large size, but that was gone as soon as it came. His breathing began to increase, and once he was full to the hilt, the man let out a soft, satisfied groan.

Then came the first thrust. Arius gasped as he jolted up, and when he did, he felt the heat of the man's chest against him. Hands were placed at the sides of his head, and for a moment, the man rested on top of him. He spasmed at the heavy weight pressing him down, groaning with pleasure and satisfaction. Hard, meaningful thrusts followed, as if he was being beaten down into submission. More than willing to, he remained as still as possible while breathing heavily, lost in the pleasure.

Several harder thrusts ensued, then the man slightly moved before thrusting again. Arius groaned loudly when a sweet spot within him was hit, and then a hand went around his neck, keeping him down while the thrusts intensified and increased in speed. Deep, low grunts and hard breathing emitted above him, and he memorized the glorious sounds. His mouth open wide, he stared forward at nothing, shivers rolling through his rocking form. He was nailed over and over, and the pressure, pleasure and heat quickly welled up inside him.

A hot mouth went to his neck, a slick, pierced tongue licked his skin. His neck was released, then his head was turned so he could be kissed. He moaned into it, desperate to let the man know how much he enjoyed him.

Suddenly, the man shifted, maneuvering him like a puppet until he was laying back atop the man's chest while the man laid back on the couch. The change in position allowed him to grasp onto the back of the couch like a vise grip. The man's hard breathing was directly in his ear, and he moved his head so he could kiss him again. The upward thrusts into him did not cease, and he shuddered when a hand grasped his erection.

He was caressed, the coarse hand surprisingly gentle. A moan escaped him, and he knew he couldn't hold out much longer. He muttered incoherent words as pleasure overwhelmed him. Just when he thought he was going to ejaculate, the man made a loud grunt in his ear, giving a single hard thrust into him. He gasped from the sudden warmth that coated his insides, then threw his head back with a groaning moan as he came from the stimulation.

He squeezed around the man's cock, but it wasn't over. The man gave small thrusts, but his ejaculation did not stop. Saliva trailed down Arius' neck as the wonderful heat continued to flood his insides, and he stared forward in heavenly bliss. He could feel the cum welling inside his womb, and the mental imagery made him spasm with a gasping moan from another orgasm.

After a moment, the man maneuvered him back onto the couch but didn't pull out. Instead, he rested against him, surrounding him in warmth. But Arius wasn't done.

"More," he panted. "I want more."

A low chuckle was made in his ear, causing shivers to cascade down his neck. That was all the answer he needed.


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Storytales » Excerpts » Long Live the Thing

Chapter 1: Meet at Five [from vers. 0]

Eyes. They were watching him. For several days now, he felt the piercing gaze of those eyes, though from where or why, he couldn't tell. All seemed normal: His mother would leave to the Historicals, a vast library of artifacts and secrets, and he and his father would travel to the Academics Division to look over the shoulders of scientists, doctors and grandmages.

At the same time...

He sat in a hidden corner covered in shadows, his head held low, gently swaying side to side as he hummed quietly to himself. His face was scrunched from concentration. In his hands, he played with a ball of Dark energy. With effort, he was managing to keep it in a round form. Small black tendrils licked at the electronic bands around his wrists, causing him to break into a small smile.

There was something about the way the eyes felt upon him that told him their owner was harmless. He had nothing to worry about. In fact, he daresay he felt comforted by their presence. Every now and then, he would glance around in search for these strange eyes, but he found nothing. Nothing, that is, that he could see.

And so, he went back to his lone activity in peace.

When he was alone, his imagination flourished. He wasn't one for interacting with other children, something he knew his parents wanted, though they seemed to understand and respect his wishes. While alone, he could play however he wanted and he could reflect on his future.

His lips slightly twitched downward. His future; his parents always spoke highly of his future. He, on the other hand, was hesitant. He knew the stories. He knew what he was. According to those stories, his condition didn't bode well for the best of outcomes. In fact, most people didn't even believe in his condition. If it wasn't for his parents' positions as scholars with access to the Historicals, they probably never would have figured out his condition, let alone told him about it. But he was thankful. He knew he had to be careful.

He molded the tough energy in his hands with a growing smile. It was fascinating, what he could do. No one else in the kingdom, to his parents' knowledge, could do it. He knew no one else could. Something innate told him he would have sensed it if there was anything otherwise. Either there might have been someone else with his abilities who was kept impossible hidden or that was just so. He rather liked the idea that he was, otherwise, one of a kind. It could be lonesome sometimes, but he knew he could handle it.

Focusing, he lessened the density of the ball, morphing it in his hands until it appeared viscous. There was a tinge of dark violet in its depths, and he observed the slightly color for a moment. He then stretched it. It felt like glue. Giggling softly, he continued to play with it.

"Bastar?"

Gasping softly, he quickly let the energy disperse in his hands. He peeked from around the corner to see his father and some acquaintances heading towards another section of the building. Scampering to his feet, he moved out of the shadows by a bit to wave at his father.

He wasn't unaware of his father's shoulders lowering from a tense position. His father nodded towards him before continuing to converse with the other academics.

This wasn't unusual; his father was only making sure he was nearby. He scooted back into the shadows, then went still.

His brows furrowed as he felt the strength of the strange gaze intensify on him. He glanced back to make sure no one else noticed, then walked from his father's vicinity and towards a staircase leading upstairs.

As he was quite familiar with the Academics Division headquarters, and as a familiar guest in the building, no one bothered him despite the fact he was wandering alone. He kept to himself as he walked down wide, open halls that reminded him of a museum, except nothing was on display. As he walked through halls colored various shades of greys, whites, and blues, he noticed the gaze was no longer on him. If he could just reach a certain quiet space, he could try to find the origin of the staring.

He then reached a part of the headquarters that was a museum. It held only a single statue of a star and was normally closed at this time of the day, accessible only from within the parts of the building similar to where he was coming from. He opened a door to a large space that was practically devoid of anything. This particular area was almost perfectly square-shaped with a tall, twenty-foot tall ceiling the headquarters was so known for.

As the door closed behind him, he stared at the dark figure standing in the center of the room facing the object within. It was tall and wore shades of violet, black, and yellow with a large hood.

He wasn't afraid after all.

He tilted his head to the side and blinked but remained silent. He could sense that this person was just like him. It was strange yet simultaneously comforting. He was so accustomed to being the only one aligned so deeply with Darkness.

He was so accustomed to being the only one who was Darkness.

The figure slightly moved, turning around so he could see just the inside of the hood, but there was only darkness. He normally had no trouble seeing in the dark, but this was somehow different.

"You're like me," he said at last.

"Yes," the figure responded. Its voice was masculine and soft-spoken yet carried across the room with ease. "I am you."

He frowned. "No, you aren't."

There was a soft chuckle. "Yes, I am."

His frown deepened. "That doesn't...That doesn't make sense, Eth'hir."

The figure began to approach, but it wasn't moving naturally. Or so it seemed. It was more so sliding over the ground in a most unnatural manner. "Do not worry," it said. "It will all make sense as you age."

He remained still as the figure came near enough that he could make out details of its clothes. It was very tall, taller than his father, taller than most people he knew, and that was telling. It was broad-shouldered, broad-chested, and he could tell it was muscular. His mouth rounded into an 'o' shape, and then he pursed his lips.

Despite knowing that if this was anyone else he would be deathly afraid, he felt deeply compelled to trust this person.

His expression eased. "Okay."

The wide, dark hood tilted slightly to the side. "Are you afraid?"

"No."

"Indeed. There is no reason to be, Bastar."

"How do you know my name?" He tried to peer into the figure's hood, to no avail. There was only a thick blackness he could not see through.

"I've always known."

He softly hummed. "Do you have a name?"

"Yes. You may call me Alucsen."

"How should I address you?"

"Alucsen; there's no reason to be formal. We've known each other since you were very young."

He smiled at this, swishing his hands slightly to the sides. "I don't remember you. But I don't remember a lot of people my Aa'tem say I know."

Another small chuckle. "Yes. You are only five, mien."

Making a face, he turned away to begin walking idly around the large space. "I like being little..."

This time the figure made a heartier but amused laugh.

He turned his expression onto Alucsen but not out of irritation. It did feel as if he had known Alucsen for some time. The tall figure had begun to slowly follow him, though it kept its distance, continuing to side across the floor.

Before he could say more, the door to the room opened, revealing Bastar's father. He turned, looking between Alucsen and his father, who didn't seem to notice the third presence in the slightest.

His father sighed, smiling at him. "Daoh, you wandered quite far, this time."

Blinking, a smile steadily grew on Bastar's face. He heard only a bit of what his father said as something registered to him.

Alucsen was an imaginary friend! That was why he felt like him, why his father didn't see him!

"Aa'tan, Aa'tan, I made a friend!" he sang, skipping towards his father and into his arms.

"Oh?" His father held him up to his chest, looking around the room. His gaze passed right over where Alucsen hovered closer just a few feet away. "Where are they?"

"Imaginary!" Bastar giggled, beckoning towards Alucsen. He knew Alucsen was amused as well.

"Ahh." His father nodded in understanding. "And what is their name?"

"Alucsen."

"Very nice name." Turning into Alucsen's direction, his father nodded his head. "Pleased to meet you, Alucsen."

Giggling again, Bastar watched as his new friend nodded at his father. "Likewise," said Alucsen.

"He said 'lo!" Bastar translated, resting his head on his father's shoulder. "I wish you could see him. He's nice. He's like me."

His father nodded, glancing at him. "I wish I could, too. And that is what makes imaginary friends special." He gave Bastar a gentle squeeze. "Are you ready to go?"

"Yes, Aa'tan." Bastar waved at Alucsen. "Yd yd!"

This time, he made out a small smile in the darkness of the hood. "Sayoi, Bastar. For now."

Beaming, he nodded. As his father led them out of the room, he glanced back.

The darkness within Alucsen's hood had cleared, revealing a young man with pitch black eyes.

His heart swelled. He gave another wave, and his eyes, too, turned black as night.


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Storytales » What If? » The Thing is Dead Vol. III

Chapters [from vers. 0]


Chapter Ⅰ

Someone was watching him.

Someone was watching him intensely, and they had been for the past several long minutes. In any other situation, garnering such attention meant something bad was going to happen, but this time, he doubted he needed to worry. He was in a revivery, the best one in all of Kaklasha, and wasn't about to let mere stares ruin this special day for him.

He took another sip of his drink, sighing to himself. In a place like this, the staring could mean he piqued someone's interest. He softly scoffed at the idea. When he arrived on Hakzeireon, people's "interest" in him was the first thing he couldn't be rid of. And, oh, how he wished to be rid of it. People pulling at him left and right, wanting this and that, poking him here and there, demanding for and asking everything...

He took a harder drink, exhaling softly. In the end, he willingly gave himself up to the Kaklash where the rukoset, or the king, had his medical staff attempt to poke and prod at him. Thing was, no matter how much he wanted to let them, he couldn't. He just couldn't.

He grimaced, not wanting to think about those memories now. No, not when he was supposed to be having a good time.

The reminder hadn't even spent a few seconds out into the cosmos when he felt a shift in the gaze upon him.

For the love of Noctum.

The person was approaching him.

Taking a deep breath, he settled into his fate. Whatever. It wasn't as if he didn't feel the other eyes or hear the other whispers about him from everyone else. What was the worst that could happen, anyway? He lowered his glass and turned in his seat to meet the person head-on.

Eyes as crystalline as ice stared into his.

Raising a brow, he cracked a sly smile. "Well."

Interestingly, after he spoke, a platinum-blond eyebrow sharply rose upon the face of the tall Kindren---or possibly Yorne---coming towards him.

He motioned to the empty chair beside him. Maybe this would be interesting after all.

The creature appeared masculine, their well-defined features set in a calm, almost calculating yet mostly benign expression. They looked at the seat, thinking about it for a moment. He saw deep thought flash upon their face, but they seemed to think it was harmless as he suddenly had a neighbor he didn't have before.

"You've been starin' at me for a while, stranger," he chuckled, slanting his eye. He tapped some fingers on the neck of his bottle. "May I ask why I caught your glance?"

A small smile, humored in nature, spread on the pale lips. "If I told you, I'd have to kill you."

He unexpectedly shivered at the sound of the soft, somewhat sad voice. "Oh?" He slightly leaned forward, resting his arm on the table. "Now I really wanna know. Don't worry, I don't die easily."

Another sharp rise of a blond brow. "And that's supposed to make me feel better?" The crystalline eyes narrowed with evident humor.

A spark of interest grew brighter inside him. His smile turned lopsided, and he chuckled before finishing off his drink. He shook his head while licking his lips, and he didn't miss how the bright eyes briefly watched his tongue.

Slightly raising their head, they scanned him with icy orbs. "You remind me of someone."

His smile slightly waned. In just that moment, they seemed so sad...

He slanted his eye. "That's it? The big secret?" He glanced around with a growing smile. "You gonna kill me, now?"

"Maybe once you leave."

He laughed as he met their gaze again, nodding with appreciation. "I like you." He motioned to his bottle. "Want a drink?"

"I don't drink."

He caught the glint of dislike in the green eyes. "Ah, I'm not drinking alcohol. Was offerin' anything else."

This took them by surprise, which was pleasing to him. Once more, they scanned his face but nodded.

Grinning, he flipped the gyro on the table to reveal drink options floating in a hologram. "Choose your poison."

They glanced from the hologram to him, then back at the hologram. After a single flick of the finger, the third drink was chosen, a glass of creamed licorice.

"Huh." He poured himself another glass of his drink. "You don't seem like the type to drink sweet stuff."

A long hum, and their face slightly turned to the side. "What do I look like, then?"

There was an air of mystery and grace about them that just enticed him. Paired with the humor, it was so refreshing. He shrugged. "The type to go around killing people with mere glances."

A soft chuckle escaped them, and his eyes slanted with pleasure. "No, I'm afraid not. I am a scientist and a doctor."

"Oh?" Truthfully, he had met enough of those to last for days. Regardless, he remained intrigued.

"Yes." A pause, then a sly little smile. "But I could most definitely kill with mere glances if I so wished." The icy orbs flashed dangerously.

"I believe it." He let his drink swish in his hand. "You gotta be an elemental, then."

"Is it so obvious?"

"Have you looked in a mirror? Anyone could tell you're a cryo, you scream 'icicle'."

Another low chuckle. "Oh, you would be surprised about that. Are you an elemental?"

"Why, yes." He glanced around. "Unfortunately, I can't really show it off, but I could stand on the ceiling and walls if I wanted to."

"Ah. Gravity, then."

"Yeah." He continued looking around. He caught sight of members of the Kaklash watching him. With a soft internal sigh, he returned his gaze back on his conversation companion. "I could also turn this entire place upside-down if I wanted to."

"And a conceptual."

"Yep. Gravity and space."

"Most impressive. I imagine it wasn't easy for you to have controlled those abilities as a child."

He shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I don't remember my childhood, or if I even had one."

A strange look appeared in their eyes, and for a moment he saw some unusual sort of understanding. "Maybe I could help you remember."

His eyebrows rose just as the hologram made a small ding, and they excused themself to get their drink. He watched after them, resting his glass back onto the table.

His thoughts went to all sorts of places he never imagined he would go before. It wasn't jarring; rather, it was pleasant and he invited them. He wanted more of them. More ideas, more fantasizing. The fact that they wore a collar meant little to him. In fact, seeing it only aroused him more.

When they returned, he first eyed the size of the foamy black drink before focusing back on them. He then eyed their body.

That explained things...

"We never did introduce ourselves."

He nodded, taking up his glass. "We didn't."

They raised their glass and gave a nod. "Ath'Nevan. Nevan of Ellevon."

Smiling, he raised his to the man's. "Ath'Hhratos."

A slight brow arch. "Just Hhratos?"

He shrugged. "That's the name they gave me."

"Very well..." The green eyes remained focused on him as their owner slowly brought the black drink to pale lips. "Hhratos, it is."

He slowly brought his drink to his own lips, but he didn't drink, not yet. He was too focused on the look that had appeared in Nevan's eyes. It was a look he never saw directed at him before, not that he knew of.

It was a look of keen awareness, allayed joy...and deeply suggestive enticement.

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Chapter Ⅱ

When Hhratos was found, he learned the very hard way that he was different. What he first encountered inadvertently shaped the way he thought of the world and of himself.

There were no smiles in his direction, no signs of happiness or excitement. There wasn't a sign that he could have those things, either.

But he could feel it, now. He felt something. 

And he wanted more.

His breath came out in heavy pants from exertion and arousal while he watched the body moving above him. It was as if his hips had a mind of their own, bucking and drilling into the man, and he savored every breathy exhalation, every deep groan that slipped from between those lips.

Trailing his hands down the man's sides, his eye lowered to the six-month bump in the man's belly. Unashamedly, he gently ran his hands over the swell as if the life inside was his own, and a stray possessive thought in the back of his mind told him it might as well have been. He only chuckled to himself at the suggestion before it flew out of his mind when a jolt of pleasure ran down to his groin.

His eye rolled into his head, and his breaths came out faster. Despite their equal desperation and determination, there was something oddly intimate about their coupling. This was so despite their being at it for the fourth time. But he felt he could go on forever.

He wanted more.

He reached to take the man by his rear and grasp at him, and he reveled at the soft sound of appreciation through a sighing groan. He looked forward again in time to see the bright, slightly reddened eyes looking into his, causing him to spasm with greater excitement. He was so close. He didn't know what to, but he wanted it.

Initially, seeing the man cry frightened him. He thought he did something wrong. But he didn't even get a chance to say his concerns when a sated moan and a desperate word had emitted from the man: "More!"

That was three sessions ago.

In truth, he pretty much forgot about it.

A suddenly devious smile formed on the man's face, and he braced himself. The man began to pivot, and his mouth opened with a shaky, sharp inhale as he went still. He stared off with almost drunken arousal, groaning loudly and grasping the man harder. A soft, amused chuckle sounded, and then he barely paid attention as the man lowered to capture his mouth in a kiss.

He let the man take control, roaming in his mouth and licking tenderly. Then the man moved his tongue away by a bit and their mouths melded, fondling, nipping and sucking. He particularly liked it when his upper lip was sucked, and he was so caught up in the sensation, he didn't notice his eye had closed until he felt it rising.

The man was moving faster, he felt himself twitching. The man moved his head to skim fangs over his neck, and that was all it took. Just when the fangs dug into his flesh, he let out an almost pained, raptured gasp as pressure and heat overloaded within him.

His breaths came out in tremors, his arms wrapped around the man's body, and he felt liquid trailing down the corner of his mouth to his neck. He was certain the sound of the man's swallows as his blood was drunk alone were bringing him back to the peak of pleasure, and he didn't have time to fully register it when he was already climaxing again.

Hot white desire inflamed his insides, and he abruptly growled.

In the next moment, he had the the man's face in the pillows, fangs inches deep into his neck while taking him from behind. He wanted this, he wanted more. Flashes of his immediate memories told him he had quickly turned the man around and slammed him down on the bed before pounding into him with vigor, and that was good with him.

Apparently, it was good with the man, too. Pleased staccatos of moans emitted from the man as he drank his blood, enticing him further. Removing his fangs, he growled deeply into the man's ear, and he felt the shudder run through the body beneath him before the man locked up in orgasm. Aroused by the open mouth, he brought the man up onto his arms and turned his head to kiss him.

His lip was once more sucked on between deep breaths, and he licked the man's lips while looking into the deeply slanted eyes.

He steadily went still, breathing heavily, and slowly sat back while still engaged in the kiss. The man fell back with him, and a hand caressed the side of his face, bringing a triumphant smile to his face.

Yeah. He did good.

-:IS:WI:-

His hand caressed down moist skin, fingers memorizing every contour and bone. He looked out the open window, his thoughts a mix he never felt before, not in all the months since he arrived on Hakzeireon. The tepid air of the city blew in the room, bringing in the smell of freshness and slowly washing out the strong scent of sex. His eye never looked away until a soft sigh met his ears.

Hhratos looked down at the sleeping body beside him. Nevan laid on his side, a protective hand over the bulge of his stomach and his eyes closed in slumber. Watching him, a small, fond smile grew on Hhratos' face.

They kist, drank each other's blood, bonding them together. Bloodbound. He gently ran his fingers on Nevan's hand over his stomach. The child within was now as good as his after all, as well as any other children Nevan may have had. With the potent endorphins still running in him, his elated, pleasure-drunk mind was pleased at the thought. The small voice in the back of his mind, however, was terrified at the thought of children at all.

He had no dealings with children before, not since he came to Hakzeireon. They kept him away from anyone under age sixteen. Even though from today (or was it yesterday?) on that wasn't going to be the case, he had nonetheless planned on staying away from children anyway. He wasn't a being that should be around them. He was...different, too different. Other.

Then again...

There was always the possibility that this was what the humans of Earth called a "one-night stand". What a horrible idea. He shuddered uncomfortably at the thought but removed his hand from Nevan's skin regardless. Returning his gaze to the window, he sighed.

If that was so, however, they wouldn't be bonded for long. Either the bond wouldn't last on its own or Nevan could force it by drinking ethenas tea.

His head lowered, Hhratos was surprised at himself. The possibility was bothering him more than he thought it ever would. Could, even. Then again, he never thought he would find himself bound to another. Not ever. He was so tired of being alone.

He blinked in deeper shock when dark tears fell from his eye. He reached up, letting them hit his palm, but he didn't wipe them away.

So, this was what it was like to cry. It felt good, the release of emotions in a tangible manner, but the reasons and emotions that brought them on were wretched.

He felt strongly within himself that there was a deeper reason behind his sadness, behind everything. What did Nevan mean when he said he could help him remember?

Because, whatever it was, foggy images were appearing in his mind.

But no...

He looked back out the window, a deeper, melancholy sigh escaping him this time.

In any case, he had a strong feeling the deciding factor of whether or not he would spend more time in the future with his new bondmate was if he woke up alone the next day...or not.

Just to spite himself, just so that he didn't get his hopes up, he decided he would awaken alone.

His mind made up, he lowered to lie down beside Nevan and face him. He took in the details of the man's peaceful face and his visible, fresh bite mark on the right side of his neck opposite to the older one on his left. He gently brushed the long blond hair aside to see it a little more. Nevan didn't even twitch.

More tears formed in his eye before he could stop them. He didn't bother wiping them away. Moving forward by a bit, he planted a soft kiss on Nevan's forehead. There was a slight twitch from that, but Nevan otherwise remained still.

Hhratos let his eye close with an exhale. Before he floated off, a bittersweet thought came to mind:

Thank you for loving me.

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Chapter Ⅲ

He awoke with a start, snapping upright in bed with a wide eye and a loud gasp. His gaze darted around the room, looking for something. There was nothing there. There was never anything there. His dreams were so real, so painful; he could never remember them, but he was sure they were trying to tell him something.

Now, if only he could just recall them when he woke up...

"Hhratos?"

He gasped, startling violently, and nearly fell off the side of the bed. Beside him, sitting somewhat upright, was the beautiful man from the night before, Nevan. Green orbs like starlight practically shone even in the light of the day, and he stared at him for the longest time as his mind tried to comprehend what was going on.

After a moment, during which time Nevan patiently remained quiet, he shakily exhaled in realization.

He didn't wake up alone.

He had been so prepared to do so, it was jarring and unreal to actually realize...the man was still in bed with him. Not in the motion to leave, not caught in the act of leaving. No, he was physically in bed with him, still completely nude under the sheets, and had been peacefully asleep, by the look of it.

Maybe...he just didn't wake up in time to leave. Yes, that was it...

"Hhratos?"

Hhratos briefly closed his eye and shook his head, then he turned away. "Good morning," he said softly.

"Good morning." The man shifted. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." He ran a shaky hand through his hair. "Just fine."

More shifting. He knew what was coming before it did, and as he thought, a hand gently placed itself on his back.

Knowing it was coming only slightly prevented him from relaxing at the feeling. His breath came out quavering again, and he kept his hand tangled in his locks. "I just have bad nightmares. Never...really know what they're about after I wake up..."

He relaxed further when the hand gently massaged his back. He risked glancing at Nevan. The man appeared curious yet sad. This bothered Hhratos. Nevan was always sad.

Turning, he took Nevan's hand and looked him in the eye. "Nevan, if you didn't want to be with me, why did you---"

"Who said I didn't want to be with you?" The crystalline eyes slanted with slight humor. "Last I checked, you don't just kist with anyone. Also, as I remember, neither of us were intoxicated. I knew exactly what I was doing, and I know exactly what I did."

Blinking, Hhratos was momentarily at a loss of what to say. He then shook his head. "I haven't even known you for a day and I can see you're always sad. You even cried last night..." He watched Nevan glance away. "Is it because of your previous bloodmate? If so, you...shouldn't have...done that..." He also looked away, feeling awkward as well as disappointed in himself.

What was he saying? Someone wanted to be with him and he was trying to guilt them into leaving.

"Yes."

He met Nevan's gaze.

"It is because of my last bloodmate. But it's not because I feel as though I am betraying him or doing something wrong." Blond hair swayed as Nevan shook his head. "In fact, it's a long story, one I will tell you in its entirety one day. But not today."

His own fears subsiding, Hhratos nodded in acceptance. "Alright..." He looked at their entwined hands. "So...does this mean you really...do want to be with me?"

He didn't look back up when there wasn't an answer. Instead, he looked over Nevan's nearly immaculate hands to distract himself.

Then, there was a sigh. A curved finger went under his chin, and he allowed it to bring his head up to look Nevan in the eye. Once more, there was sadness in the man's eyes, but it was different from the previous times. Deep within the bright orbs and upon the pale face, he almost tangibly saw the desire Nevan had to hug him, bring him close, and never let him go.

It was such a strong, desperate emotion, he found his lips parting in surprise. "Nevan..."

The man moved closer, moving his hand and bringing up his other to place on the sides of Hhratos' face. He brought their foreheads together, looking into Hhratos' dark eyes with a profound sense of emotional pain and understanding. He gently stroked Hhratos' face, smiling softly, bittersweetly, as he took his time running his fingertips over the dark beard.

His words were whispers when he asked, "Who hurt you?"

Tensing, Hhratos' eye widened.

Aware he had tensed, Nevan slightly shook his head, as if asking for him not to move away. Tears appeared in his eyes, and he let them fall as he once more asked, "Who dared to hurt you, do this to you?"

His jaw locking, Hhratos grasped tightly at the sheets. His earliest memories flashed behind his eye, and he shut it tightly. In the next moment, he felt soft lips pressing themselves over his eye, then move to linger in a deep kiss over where his other eye must have been at one time. The tender actions brought a rush of tears to his eye, and he tightened his lips in the attempt to prevent himself from crying.

"Yé amou'u, of course I want to be with you," Nevan whispered, bringing their foreheads together again.

"But why? Why me? What did I do, what did I...What did I do to deserve you? What did I do to deserve such...?" Fighting for the right words to describe the unfathomable love he could sense and had sensed the night before, Hhratos didn't dare open his eye.

"You exist."

He tensed again, but he felt his body release. Tears rapidly fell down his cheek, and it felt as if some hold on him had let him go, freeing him. Slowly, he opened his eye to see Nevan was also crying, looking at him with a small, happy smile.

Nuzzling him, Nevan softly continued, "And I will always be so thankful that you do."

Hhratos lips trembled, and he took in a shaky breath he hadn't known he was holding in. Quiet sobs slipped from between his lips, and he leaned forward, returning the gentle nuzzling. Tentatively, his arms wrapped around Nevan's body, and he was rewarded with a soft, almost teasing kiss. His lower lip was sucked on, and he couldn't help but smile.

He believed Nevan, with all his heart. He believed every word. This sort of love and devotion was something he only saw at distances, heard about in conversations. He could swear Nevan knew him, knew everything about him---and maybe he did. Maybe they knew each other once. He couldn't remember, but he wasn't going to ask right away. No...

He would savor the moment.

He moved Nevan closer, then entwined his fingers into the blond hair, holding Nevan's head, and pushed against him. They fell back onto the bed, and he moved his head to kiss the bite marks on the right side of Nevan's neck and gently run a hand over the man's belly. The responding reaction was a soft, moaning sigh, pleasing him. The desire to bring Nevan pleasure was ripe within him, and so he gently dragged his fangs over the pale neck.

After making another breathy moan, Nevan asked, "Do you want to eat something?"

"That's a strange question to ask in the moment," Hhratos murmured against the man's skin. He grinned to himself at the slight shiver.

"I know you probably haven't eaten in a long while."

And that yet again answered one of his questions. Nevan knew him. He softly groaned, hiding his face against Nevan's neck. "Yes."

"You're hungry?"

"Yes."

A soft, fond chuckle. "Oh, I didn't say to stop. I just wanted to know if you were hungry."

"Why?"

"Because now you know not to go on for so long."

His eye popping open, Hhratos paused.

Yeah. He was going to savor this---savor everything---for as long as he could.

Moving his head, he proceeded to bite into Nevan's neck, relishing the unabashed sound of the man's moan.

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Storytales » What If? » God Noise Vol. III: The Love in the Blood

Chapters [from vers. 0]


Ⅰ. The Raven: The Grudge Plot

The greatest season of the octade was spring, in Vadeen's eyes. It only came twice a cycle, and he was graced to see fifty-four in his lifetime. He stretched on the grass with closed eyes, using his senses to reach out and feel the world around him. Everything was growing again, rebirthing and rejuvenated. Calming scents of nature blew about him in the cool breeze, causing him to shiver pleasantly in his thin coat.

Vashraban flew overhead, croaking now and then. He sensed his familiar was as rekindled with energy as he was, bringing a smile to his face. Moments like these; he wished they could last forever. As if even the realm understood the significance of spring, he was fortunate enough that nothing significantly horrible happened to him in all his years experiencing the season.

Nothing too horrible...

His eyes slightly slanted open, his smile waned. A familiar emotion began to rise within him at the thought. It was unwanted now that what caused it to be so had happened some time ago. Shutting his eyes, he took a deep breath. Despite it, he still heard the man's amused voice in his head, saw the playful smile that met the two-toned eyes.

"Ya really like this time o' the year, eh, Veni?"

His lips briefly pursed. "Yeah," he softly murmured. "It was better...when you were around."

He shook his head and looked to the sky to watch Vashraban.

It wasn't only with Igni that spring seemed more enjoyable. His brother, his old friends, his mother; they all made the season seem even greater as a time of renewal.

Now...

He sighed and sat up on his hands, staring forward at nothing. Of course, it would be his thoughts that ruined the moment.

He sensed someone approaching and looked to his left. Taquir waved at him with a small smile. Said smile seemed to express that the younger man knew what was bothering him. It was amazing how close he and Taquir had become over merely four years.

Standing lower on the hill, Taquir said, "Just thought I'd remind you, brother. Zhen is coming over soon."

That was right. He, Taquir, Lanad, and Sorren all made oaths to one another, making them blood brothers. He almost smiled at the memory. He remembered Igni thought the whole thing "unusually amusing".

He ran a hand through his hair tousled by the wind. "Right. I forgot."

Taquir neared and held out a hand towards him. He smiled with thanks and took his brother's arm to pull himself to his feet. An arm went around his shoulder as they began a steady walk back to the compound they called home.

"You missed lunch, but I suppose you aren't hungry." Taquir gave an exaggerated sigh, a hand on his forehead in dramatic fashion. "My dear brother, you must keep up your strength. You're still so...so skinny."

Vadeen scoffed and shoved him with a smile. "Not as much as I used to be. Even Rashar said so."

"Alas, skinnier than all of us, regardless." Taquir laughed as he dodged a swipe, then began to run down the hill.

Cracking a smile, Vadeen ran after him. The familiar sound of Vashraban overhead reminded him he could fly, and he mentally smacked his forehead before jumping high into the air. His wings manifested from his back, and he soared high above Taquir.

Blue eyes looked up at him. "No freakin' fair!" the younger man whined.

"You can fly, too," he called, crossing his arms.

"So? Not like I was planning on cheating!"

He shrugged and flew over his familiar in tandem, then looked back. From his height, he spotted within the verdant a distant spot that must have been Zhen. He wasn't given enough time to consider it, as a delicious, familiar smell reached his nose from the compound. Smiling to himself, he dove down and landed atop the entrance to his home in a crouch.

With a huff, Taquir turned up his nose as he entered. "Cheater."

Vadeen waited until Vashraban landed on his shoulder, then jumped down. He smugly sauntered inside to see Lanad at his far right within a seating room. He and Taquir then took their shoes off to place on the shoe rack. "Oi, Lanad. You know Zhen is coming, right?"

"I was the one who asked for Tak to get you." Lanad laid out on the rug with his head propped-up. As his brothers approached, he said, "Améd's making biryani for dinner, too."

"I knew it!" Vadeen took in a deep inhale, sighing as he nearly salivated. He then made a face and glanced at a deadpanning Taquir. "Alright, I give. I'll eat dinner."

"Sure."

"I will. I love biryani."

"Right." Taquir humorously brushed past him to enter the seating room.

Following him, Vadeen saw Sorren inside, reading a book. Glad to see his brothers together, he sat among the plush pillows and nudged Lanad with his foot. "I can't believe this will be Zhen's first time here. What took him so long to see us?"

There was a hum. "Probably your change in personality," Sorren casually jibed.

Vadeen narrowed his eyes. "Oi, I said us."

"Mn, I have to agree with him," said Taquir, being no help at all. He sat against the wall. "You've changed in all the good ways since I first met you."

A myriad of negative opinions entered Vadeen's mind, but he refrained from voicing them. "How so?"

"You're happier, for one. You talk a lot more." Taquir smiled at him. "You're friendlier, too."

Vadeen sighed. He had to agree. "I was a soldier when I first met you. It feels nice not to be, anymore." He tossed his brother a look. "And this is the first time you've said such nice things to me."

A toothy smile. "Yep!"

He opened his mouth to retort when he sensed Zhen's familiar spirit nearby. He, Taquir and Lanad were on their feet in moments, rushing through the halls.

"Oi!" Farian called from somewhere. "No running, fools! Act your age!"

All three of them scoffed with dry smiles.

"Wait...never mind," came the distant recant^??^.

As he ran, Vadeen had to agree with both Farian's intended words and his brothers.

Only four years ago, he was a completely different person. He was far more forbearing, and not in a positive way. He rarely acted his age, and even when he did, it was restrained. He was of a militant mindset, kept militant habits. It was incredible what merely ten cycles of military service did to him.

What was even more incredible was how easy it was to break that disposition was after...

He threw the thought far from his mind, dodging Saventao and Eienei who only made tolerant sighs. He was last to exit, and he almost stumbled over his feet trying to slip on his sandals.

When the three of them exited the front entrance, Zhen was just landing in front of them.

Immediately, Vadeen came to a stop. Only then did he notice Sorren had followed them as he walked by from behind him.

Firstly, why didn't anyone berate him? He was the one in his hundreds.

Secondly, Vadeen suddenly felt his mind blank upon seeing his old friend.

Zhen was just as Vadeen  remembered him, tall and muscular with sharp, red almond eyes. He wasn't wearing his uniform but simpler, far more casual clothes than what Vadeen had seen him wear in years.

Sorren and Zhen were already talking, with Lanad standing a few more feet away as if waiting his turn to talk. Of course, it would be easier for them to converse with the soldier. It wasn't as if Zhen tried to...

A soft, echoing croak brought him out of the dark thoughts. Snapping out of a trancelike state he only then realized he had been in, he walked closer. The dark eyes landed on him the moment he neared.

"It's been a while, Zhen," he greeted with a friendly smile.

Zhen made a smile, but it was...awkward. It seemed as awkward as Vadeen felt, in fact. "Yeah." His gaze swept over the three of four of them, lingering only momentarily on Taquir. "I meant to visit sooner, but..." He scratched the back of his head and glanced away.

"The feeling is mutual," Sorren assured, glancing at Vadeen only for a second. "Will you stay for dinner?"

"Ah..." Zhen blinked at them. "Sure, if you'll have me."

Taquir suddenly froze with wide eyes. "Wait. Did we tell the Mistress of the Interior about this?"

"Shh!" both Lanad and Vadeen hissed in evident fear.

"She hates being called that and she's probably listening right now!" Vadeen said through his teeth.

Truly, the last thing he wanted was for her to pop up. She would most definitely make the atmosphere turn sour. Glancing around, the four of them closed in on a considerably confused Zhen, almost as if in a group huddle.

"Let's wait until dinner," Taquir softly suggested. "We should go to the waterfall or something?"

"Agreed," said Sorren, briefly leaning back to look about them. He spoke just as softly. "We can be back right before then."

Lanad mimicked his action, then nodded. "We'll explain it when we get there," he said to Zhen.

They moved apart and glanced around once more. Seeing nothing, Vadeen beckoned Zhen to follow them before taking to the air with his brothers. Zhen was soon and quickly behind them.

Wordlessly, they flew towards the distant blue. It was in the opposite direction Zhen came from, and Vadeen watched his friend's eyes grow larger as they approached. It brought a smile to his face. It was a nice expression to see on the soldier's face.

When the wall of calm waterfalls came into complete view, they landed a short distance from them.

"Welcome to the End of the World," said Taquir, beckoning towards them. He was speaking a bit louder to be heard.

"It's...beautiful," Zhen breathed. He then looked up, obviously searching for the source, only for his head to lean further and further back. He almost took a step back. "That's...terrifying."

Vadeen chuckled, stroking Vashraban after he landed on his shoulder.. "That was quick." He smiled when his friend looked at him, but then noticed the red eyes almost narrow when they saw his familiar. With the sounds of the waterfalls, the raven landed without making a sound.

The look almost indicated distrust, fear, or even...something else. It quickly made Vadeen self-conscious, and he moved back in a casual stride.

As if realizing he was staring, Zhen quickly looked back up. His expression returned to one of respectfully fearful awe. "So...this is the edge of Sahīleth," he said. "Never thought I'd ever see it. Never even truly considered that...our world is only a flat plane."

Sorren hummed. "Yes..."

Vadeen glanced at Sorren beside him, who was giving him a peculiar look. He shrugged it off.

"We don't normally come here, either," Lanad explained, nearing the falls. He reached out and let the water run down his palm. He then looked back at them. "It's too loud. Obviously."

"But it is nice to look at," said Taquir, smiling up at the waterfalls.

"Is that safe?" Zhen asked Lanad, his brows furrowed warily.

"Perfectly," Lanad chuckled, "so long as you don't go too far in. Who knows what's at the end of this."

Zhen didn't budge. Instead, he turned his cautious gaze back up at the water.

It was understandably intimidating.

To show him it was alright, Vadeen came closer to it. He cupped his hands under the falls and took a drink.

"Is that safe?" Zhen asked with evident shock.

Vadeen smiled and nodded while looking back at him. "It's pure." He beckoned his friend closer. "It's one of the many marvels of our world."

It took a moment, but he was glad when Zhen's tense shoulders eased. The man came closer, his steps cautious, but his eyes curious. Before long, he stood with a raised hand underneath the water. His expression changed, breaking into a large smile.

"It's cool," he said.

Vadeen only noticed his own shoulders were tense when they lowered as well. Seeing that face; it calmed him considerably. "Yeah." He looked almost reverently at the water. "Hard to believe it comes from Khabēht."

Out the corner of his eye, he saw Zhen's hand pull back. He looked back with a smile on his face, only for it to drop when he saw the furrowed brows and angry eyes from Zhen. Only then did he realize what he said.

He sighed, lowering his hands, and turned around. "Zhen..."

Taquir frowned. "It isn't poisonous," he said, having figured it out as well.

In fact, all of them seemed to notice what happened; the change in atmosphere was almost tangible.

"That's..." Zhen deeply exhaled and looked away.

The brothers quietly waited for an explanation, though Vadeen was disheartened. He never should have said anything related to the indraht.

Finally, Zhen said, "That's not the point. It's just...hard to go about things, act like they never happened."

"You seemed to be doing alright, to me," Taquir retorted, crossing his arms.

Sorren passed him a look, then addressed Zhen. "No one is asking for you to forget what happened. We want to start anew, Zhen. We were all close friends, once."

The soldier slowly nodded. He gave Taquir a look of warning. It was returned just as sharply.

"Please don't," Lanad said to them both. "Come, let's talk further from the falls. I want to start this off right."

Taquir huffed and turned on his heels to walk away. Lanad followed him, a familiar look on his face that told Vadeen he was going to scold their younger brother.

Sorren gave Vadeen a questioning glance. Looking at him, Vadeen nodded. He wished to have a moment with his old friend. Nonchalantly, Sorren continued after Lanad and Taquir, but not before passing his gaze between Vadeen and the soldier.

After a moment of stillness, Zhen met Vadeen's eyes. "It's all hard to believe."

Vadeen nodded. "Yeah. Though, I'm glad you came. It's a start," he tried.

The dark eyes briefly looked away. "A start...Yeah. I'm just not sure about it all."

Vadeen felt his heart drop, but he tried to stay optimistic. "Not sure about what?"

"I tried to kill you, Vadeen."

"You were just following orders. They would have killed you or worse if you disobeyed."

Zhen blinked. Shaking his head, he laughed, "Is that what you think happened?"

His heart sinking further, Vadeen slowly shook his head. It was hard to admit, but he felt foolish for trying to play it off. "No. I know you were...or maybe are...still afraid of me, Zhen. That's all the more reason why I want to rebuild the bridge that existed between us. As Sorren said, were we close friends, once. Why should my heritage, or what I am, change that?"

The smile was wiped from Zhen's face. "You really think the visions of some snake and the words of our lifelong enemies will change the hatred that existed between us?"

Cold rage began to build within Vadeen, and his vision almost turned red. But he quickly soothed the Monster inside, quietly told him Zhen didn't understand, would never understand. He closed his eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. "Before the war, before everything, I never did anything to you. What hatred between us are you talking about?"

"You're an indrahti, Vadeen!" Zhen spat.

Vadeen's eyes snapped open, and he harshly growled, "Then why did you come here?!"

Blanching, Zhen took several steps back. Vadeen again briefly closed his eyes and took another deep, even shakier exhale. Once more, he had to mollify the Monster, but it was harder. He snapped and he hissed, demanding to be released, and their voice had changed to match their joined rage.

The fear that began to permeate from his old friend hurt Vadeen, just as it did before. He hoped, he so dearly hoped, they could start over. It didn't make sense to him, otherwise.

"If you cannot, though I don't understand how you cannot, understand the unfortunate truth between the indraht and the faifeth, what the fuck are you doing here?" he reiterated, forcibly keeping his voice even. "Go back to wallow in your ignorance and stupidity."

Against his will, the Monster slipped through, moving his mouth to spit the words. The dark eyes deeply narrowed.

Exhaling, Vadeen for the fourth time closed his eyes. "Balgoros, not now," he muttered.

"You're the one getting angry," the Monster spat back.

He ran wet hands through his hair. "I don't...I don't want to---"

"What, you want to lie about your feelings? You're just as stupid as he is."

"Dammit, Bal!" Vadeen looked back at Zhen with all intentions to apologize.

But it wasn't in time to see it.

An unusual and biting pain spread through his body as he stared into red orbs. He took a sharp inhale, but it caused him more pain. His right lung was stabbed by a long black sword. It was deep within his body, as it didn't run through.

All at once, his eyes hazed over the moment tears formed within them.

"I...told you," Balgoros murmured from his mouth.

Several voices spoke to him at once: The terrified voices of his brothers calling his name. A strangely unexpected but familiar voice shouting words of shock. Lastly, and poignantly, cold words from the man who was his friend no longer.

"Goodbye, Vadeen."

Something powerful shoved him back into wetness, and what little he could see became watery. Whether from his own tears or the waterfall he passed through didn't matter to him. All he could truly comprehend was a devastated phrase repeating in his mind born from a wretched realization.

Not again...

Not again...

Not again...

The water gave away to bright light and puffy white shapes, and he was vaguely aware he was falling back.

Not again...

Not again...

Not again...

A large black figure took him into its arms, and a familiar voice that wasn't one of his own said his name.

His eyes finally closed, sending him away from the pain.

Not again.

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Ⅱ. The Scarecrow: Save my breath, boy

Not a-fucking-gain. When would this stupid child learn she wasn't the only one who wanted to kill him---and, at the very least, to take it seriously?

The thoughts that entered Aiyül's mind as she dove after the boy were bitter and jaded. She was getting too old for his nonsense.

He fell shockingly fast, and she had to fly quicker than she thought she would have to. She noticed the empty, glassy eyes close the moment she finally took him into her arms.

In the uncannily bright light, she looked him over while shaking her head. He was too damn small. Perhaps because he had been a premature infant, he was one of the shortest people she knew. No amount of years of fighting, training or experiencing battles would change his small musculature. In anyone's arms, especially hers, he looked too damn young.

He was just a kid.

And she hated that about him.

Huffing, she looked up to see how far he had fallen.

At first, she blinked. There was nothing but blue and puffy white...things. They looked almost like cushions, and they were all around her.

Then, she narrowed her eyes. Surely, they weren't that far from Sahīleth...Were they?

It was only then, when the realization hit her, that she looked down.

Her eyes widened as she blanched.

She never blanched.

Below her, spanning as far as her eyes could see, was unknown land. She saw areas that were undoubtedly settlements in every direction. Even the air, she realized, was different here.

The words of that damned snake came to mind:

"No one knows what happens when ya fall off the edge o' the world. I'd be careful not to see fer yerself, 'f I was ya."

Her eye twitched. Much as she hated to admit it, it would seem she found the answer to the Snake's words.

"Fuck me and this child," she muttered. "We're not in Rejisea."

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Ⅲ. The Raven: THE MOCKING TRAUAMA CRONE

Everything was pain. It was the first thing Vadeen noticed as he slowly opened his heavy eyelids. Without needing to think too hard, he knew he was recovering from something. It would be impossible not to notice his high fever, but what was surprising was how he could muster coherent thought at all despite it.

Blackness met his vision, worrying him. He tried to move, but the moment his muscles prepared to, his body screamed. Groaning loudly, his eyes shut from the stinging. He desperately tried to remember what happened to bring him into such a vulnerable, debilitating state. It had been so long since the last time he was like this.

Gradually, the memory returned.

Between a moan, he gasped, "Zhen..."

"I...fuckin' told you..."

He groaned. "Not...not now, Bal...Please."

"No. No," Balgoros snarled, the angry voice far stronger than his. "I can't believe you were stupid enough to fall for that."

"Bal, please..."

"Now, where the fuck are we?"

Against his will, his senses stretched out, bringing him even more pain. He began to writhe, which, in turn, stung and worsened his aching. "Balg-goros! Stop, please!"

There was a sigh just as he took notice of a nearby presence. "It's fucking uncanny, unnatural, painful, and almost hillarous when you do that. Almost."

He knew that voice.

Fuck.

He knew that voice.

His voice warbled as Balgoros shouted, "Shut it the fuck up! He can barely think straight!"

"You seem to be doing a fine job with that." A pause as he groaned. "And your pointless spitting is making him worse."

Grumbling passed from his lips before the Monster went silent. Breathing hard, Vadeen waited.

When nothing else happened, he slowly forced his eyes to open again. He glanced to his right, allowing him to see the last person he wanted to.

Yellow owl-like orbs stared at him in the near-black darkness. "You've been asleep for a day," said Aiyül. She seemed to be snacking on dried meat. "Your...spirit...tried to wake you up several times. Damn uncanny, hearing a voice come from what looks like a dead body."

He closed his eyes. "Fuck you," he managed, or was it Balgoros again?

The sentiment came across regardless as she scoffed and looked away. "I doubt you can sense it in your condition, but we're not in Rejisea. Khab, I don't know where we are, in fact."

"Don't...say that around me..."

"Of what I just said, that's what's bothering you? Get your damn priorities straight, boy."

He heard her stand, but he was too weak to manage a reaction.

"We're possibly stuck in an unknown world," she enunciated as she moved closer, "because your pathetic self couldn't figure out an obvious threat because it came in the guise of an 'old friend'."

His lips tightened at the jab, but he, and Balgoros, remained silent.

"And while I admit what I've seen of this world is both interesting and not as bad as it could be, I don't fucking want to be here. Someone actually liked their place in Sahīleth."

The latter words stung terribly, more than he thought they should.

"Meanwhile, you..."

He nearly choked when a strong hand grasped his throat. Against the pain, he grabbed her wrist and tried to kick her away as she raised him up. He dangled over the ground, and he dared to open his eyes.

The look in the glowing yellow orbs would have killed a lesser being.

"...are too damn weak to even be useful," she continued with a snarl.

He stopped trying to hurt her. It was like trying to kick a metal wall in his weakened state. "I-I'm...sorry," he managed to breathe out.

She scowled. "You're always sorry. Being sorry won't get you out of this situation." She brought his face closer to her as she growled, "And if I'm stuck here for the rest of my years, I'll make your life a living nightmare, boy."

Unexpectedly, she let him go, causing him to crumple to the ground. Laying on his side, he coughed and gasped for breath. He could barely see as his fever spiked. For once, Balgoros was as silent as the dead. He wished, just this time, that his twisted spirit would actually do something useful.

Responding to his thoughts, his mouth moved. "I don't know why you hate us so much," Balgoros said. He kept them on the ground. "We never did anything to you."

She sucked her teeth. "You're pathetic down there. Get up."

Slowly, his body moved to do just that. Once standing, swaying unsteadily, his eyes looked up into hers. There was something in the depths of those large, frightening eyes. He always saw it every time she looked at him. Part of him wanted to say it was disgust. Part of him wanted to say it was sadness. The rest of him was at a complete and utter loss.

Her eyes looked him over. In what could have been a comical way, she reached out and slowly poked his forehead.

He collapsed, wheezing on the ground once more.

There was a sigh. She brought him up with what he had to admit was surprising care until he was back on what felt like a pallet of some kind. He couldn't see much further than where she was in the darkness of their surroundings.

Letting his tired eyes close, he struggled to breathe. Not wanting her to comment on it, he fought through until the adrenaline left him and he could breathe with some sad semblance of normality. All the while, he felt her eyes on him. Judging him.

"We're in a barn," she suddenly explained. "I don't know when we'll have to move, but I managed to obtain some dried foods until then."

He sensed her move away, but he didn't bother to attempt opening his eyes. It felt as if she was about to move away, and the thought of her leaving him alone frightened him.

"W-wait..."

"What?"

"Where...are you going?"

"To find a way back home; what else?" A scoff. "Don't fucking move from here."

"Wait...!"

"What?"

He took a moment to breathe. "Wh-where's...Vash? I can't...sense him."

There was momentary silence, then a soft exhale. "I don't know. He didn't fall with us."

Then, she was gone.

The sudden complete silence, joined with knowing he was in an unknown place, joined with being so vulnerable, and combined with the loss of his lifelong companion, was too much for him to bear.

Forcing himself to move, his body protesting to point he could shed tears, he turned onto his side. As he thought, he felt less exposed.

"Why are you in such pain? It was only a stabbing."

His lips trembled as they pursed. He wanted to curse his spirit.

"Only a stabbing"...

Said injury came from someone he trusted. Someone he cared for. Someone he had known for years. Someone he fought alongside, bled with, laughed with. Of course he wanted to believe things could be the way they had been before. He was willing to put the past behind them. He wished for peace.

Was he truly so...foolish?

"No. You're just young. Younger than we realize, it seems..."

He couldn't refute that. Much as he wanted to.

"That still doesn't explain why you're so weak. C'mon, you're the most powerful being in all of Sahīleth! What the fuck is this?!"

"I don't. Fucking. Know!" The outburst brought on a coughing fit, and he shuddered with a sudden chill. It wasn't normal.

"Maybe...Maybe we weren't stabbed with a normal blade..."

He couldn't deny the possibility, not now when he knew the truth of his existence.

"What if the thing that tried to kill you..."

"Gave him the blade," they said in unison.

He shivered again. "Why...why the fuck not..." he muttered.

At this point, anything was possible.

It still didn't answer the most pressing question.

"Why..." he murmured. He felt the familiar stinging in his eyes, the lump in his throat as he tried not to cry. "Why...did he do that? I didn't...I never..."

Balgoros didn't respond.

His teeth clenched as the tears poured down the side of his face.

Why did it happen again? Hadn't he been through enough? Was it because he was never meant to exist that he continued to suffer...?

The thought brought on more tears. He felt helpless, useless, and his body seemed heavy from the burden of endless possibilities. Probabilities. Probable truths.

"You're going to that dark place---"

"Shut up," he hissed. He fought through his coughing to growl, "I...I liked it better when...y-you were quiet."

A scoff. "Only Igni could boss me around."

Momentarily, his vision went red. "And he's fucking dead! Gone! Gone like everyone else!"

"You still have your brothers; stop bitching."

"I love them. I do. They've kept me alive all this time---and dammit, you know that's true."

His spirit went silent.

"But..." His tense body went limp, and he groaned in pain. He then bit his lip to quiet himself. "Fuck...It's not...the same."

Continued silence.

"I...I miss...Abramu. Mom. Igni. All the friends I've lost..." He shakily exhaled. "They kept me...alive. All of them."

"Are you so pathetic that you can't go on without all your friends and family? That's impossible. Life happens."

His teeth chattered, and he moaned and hissed as he curled up. He wished he had a blanket, but something told him it wouldn't have mattered. His body switched back and forth between feeling too hot to feeling too cold. Something wasn't right.

"Just..." He coughed again, gasping for air. His whole body shuddered, and it was becoming harder to think. "Just...please...please...leave me...alone."

There was a moment of silence. He prayed that was the end.

"You're fucking pathetic..."

He waited for more.

When nothing happened, he softly, shakily inhaled. "I...I know," he whispered to himself.

No response.

In the distance, he heard crows. At least that much stayed the same. The thought of Vashraban brought a bittersweet smile to his face. Tears trailed over his lips. He prayed for sleep as his body burned.

"I know."

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Ⅳ. The Scarecrow: Reduced to fear(s)

Aiyül was coming to realize there were two, maybe one and a half facts about this new world that were godsends.

One, no one questioned her appearance or even why she carried a large weapon on her back. The way the people of this world dressed was far different than anything she had seen or could imagine. They were tight, close to the skin, or showed too much of it. That wasn't to say she didn't like some of the styles or even thought them inventive. It was just culture shock.

Two, though this was where the half came from, and more often than not, no one could understand a damn thing she was saying.

On one hand, of course, this was a tremendous problem. She tried several dialects of the many languages she knew, and only a few came across to an even lesser amount of people. The languages spoken here were more similar to the indraht's, and that...

That irritated the life out of her.

On the other hand, their inability to understand her meant she could string as many audible swears as she desired and no one would bat an eye.

Hence the "other half" of the godsends.

She sighed as she sat up in a tree within an area somewhat devoid of trees that she supposed was a park. There were people everywhere but not to the point that it was clustered or annoying. In any other situation, it was pleasant. Currently, it was strange. This world was obviously void of any semblance of militarism or sense of lurking danger. To see so many without weapons or fail to sense any sort of innate power; it wasn't normal, in her eyes.

That was another problem.

The people here, who were clearly neither indrahti nor faifethi, were so damn weak. She could sense it. They didn't have a spirit, they didn't have a familiar. They obviously couldn't use elemancy. And that...

That just pissed her off.

"Pissants," she muttered, flicking a leaf to the ground.

There was no point in grumbling about it. She spent several long hours looking around this world in roughly a ten-mile radius from where she left Vadeen. So far, all she managed to do was trade a few coins for some dried fruit and meat, learn she was incapable of complete communication with the populace, and discover the jarring fact that this world was thousands of times larger than Rejisea.

It had a name, this world. Earth, they called it. The dominant inhabitants, these pathetic shams that looked so much like Rejisea natives, were apparently called humans.

Interestingly enough, the word was distantly familiar, but she didn't want to linger on the possibility. It was enough that the damned Snake was right about anything more than what he had already shown them over a year ago.

Shaking her head, she once more stretched out her senses for any sign---any at all---for something even somewhat resembling a being of power or ability. Her only way to get home may have depended on it.

In just moments, she found something. It was jarringly strange to her. Benign, almost, but nonetheless with limitless hostile capabilities.

"Finally," she huffed, lowering from the tree to begin walking.

Walking, because the first time someone saw her fly, the following reaction clearly indicated a person flying without aid was not normal.

Carrying a weapon, they could handle, but flying?

She deeply exhaled again, her expression rapidly devolving into a scowl.

Ridiculous.

The walk wasn't entirely unpleasant. If nothing else, Earth was beautiful and clean, if not too goddamned bright. Said brightness had long started giving her a headache. The vehicles that were about were almost similar to ones back home. The buildings near and there weren't disruptive to the environment, standing about three stories high. Pleasantly enough, even the tallest buildings she had seen while in the sky were roughly five stories, just like the tallest in Faifeleth or the Gardos ruins.

There was also plenty of verdant. Tall trees swayed in the cool, slightly crisp spring breeze, rustling the shrubs and bushes alongside the walkways or wherever they would appear. Animals were everywhere, both domesticated and wild. None dangerous, it seemed, like any populated location. She took a deep inhale, attempting to mentally describe the difference in the air quality. She couldn't. There was nothing wrong with it, but it was just...different.

After about ten minutes of walking, she slowed her paces. Whatever being was near with this unusual power seemed to take notice of her as well. There was nothing inherently wrong with that; she was purposely exuding some of her energy to act as a beacon. She wished to see how it would react in a safe environment.

Or so she hoped she was in a safe environment. One couldn't be too sure.

With that thought, she raised her guard higher than it was by default, looking ahead with the hopes to spot the being early.

Around the corner of a small store, she spotted a woman sitting near a stop for public transportation. She was looking in Aiyül's direction, and the moment she spotted her, the woman made a friendly smile.

Before approaching her, Aiyül took a moment to examine her. She dressed no differently from many others: a simple dress and a sunhat. She fitted right in the innocent look of the world.

But that power.

It was dangerous.

Slowly, but casually, Aiyül came closer. Once close enough, she leaned against a post. Her eyes never left the woman's.

"Welcome, stranger, to Daerth," the woman greeted with a nod of her head. At Aiyül's cocked brow, she explained, "Humans call this world Earth, but we're actually located inside of it. This plane, if you will, is known as Dark Earth, or Daerth, by inhumans and those who are aware of it."

It was fortunate that they were not near anyone else, as the woman wasn't speaking the language of the native people. Aiyül continued to stare as the woman stood from the bench and beckoned her over.

"My name is Jolie. You may want to walk with me," she said. Her expression changed to one of exasperated resignation. "I'm afraid there aren't many places to safely discuss...well, anything, in truth, that does not involve humans."

Aiyül softly scoffed in understanding. That much seemed true enough.

Jolie moved first, walking at an idle pace towards the direction Aiyül was facing. Aiyül took a moment to observe, then she followed behind without haste.

"May I ask where you're from?" Jolie asked after a short moment of silence.

"Sahīleth, in the realm of Rejisea." Aiyül glanced around. They didn't seem to be going anywhere in particular. The streets were long enough that they could perhaps just walk around without purpose. For now.

The woman made a sound indicating surprise. "I've heard of it. Rarely does anyone fall from the planes."

"What are you?" Aiyül asked. "You obviously know what I am."

"I'm what is called a hallow. We're earthy creatures aligned with darkness." She cast a smile back at Aiyü. "Natural darkness."

"Nocturnal, then?"

"You would think so. Our world, Hallowed Ground, lacks sunlight."

Another world unfamiliar to Aiyül. She briefly looked at the bright sky, a slight scowl pulling at her upper lip. "Is that what all this brightness is called? Sunlight?"

An affirming hum. "Yes. For someone from a world constantly in shadows, I'm impressed you adapted to the light so quickly."

Aiyül mentally agreed. She had heard stories that the indraht world was also bright. She wondered if it was anything like this.

A fountain became visible in the near distance. It was within a square, but there weren't many people sitting around it. As Jolie diverted her steps towards it, Aiyül anticipated it to be a safer place to talk.

They walked in silence as they approached it. Jolie sat on an unoccupied bench, and Aiyül stood near. Aiyül was satisfied when the hallow did not ask for her to sit or wonder why she did not want to.

The desire to ask questions about how to get home burned within her body. Regardless, she knew it was not yet safe to. Summoning patience that was not normal to her, she crossed her arms.

"So, if I may ask, what brings you to Daerth?" Jolie looked up at her. "Clearly, you aren't here to assimilate; you would have long donned different clothing."

Glancing off, but keeping the woman in her peripheral, Aiyül softly sighed to herself.

Before realizing barely anyone could understand her, she had planned what she was going to say to someone who could possibly help. There were many things she could say. The problem was, initially, she didn't expect a communication barrier. It would have been ideal to be able to communicate with the common, unassuming folk. To have to communicate with someone she had to hold her guard up around and was furthermore not even of this world was frighteningly dangerous.

Jolie could manipulate her, if she wanted to. What were hallows, truly? What capabilities did they have? There was no telling what could happen, and that...

That was already grating on Aiyül's nerves.

The last time she was in a situation foreign to her was...a year ago. Such unpleasant situations they were, at that. And they were all because of that boy and that damned snake.

She tried not to think about said raven she left behind.

"Is there anyone you know who could get me back to Rejisea?" she finally asked, returning her focus onto the hallow.

"Hm. Unfortunately..." Jolie winced, then she glanced around with evident uneasiness.

That was the last thing Jolie needed right now, for an unknown creature to be afraid of another unknown creature.

"Unfortunately, the only one I know who can help you is..." Jolie folded her lips, pursing them tightly. "It's a very dangerous entity. Unpredictable. And...it happens to be the essential firstborn prince of my world."

For fuck's sake. As if the light wasn't giving Aiyül a headache already. However, she nodded. To meet a prince in a formal environment was a far more familiar situation for her. "Is there any way I can meet...it?"

Jolie still wasn't looking at her. She fidgeted, clearly uncertain. "Oh, definitely. And, fortunately, quite easily." She tapped her fingers on the bench. "Or maybe that isn't fortune..."

Patient, Aiyül waited for the woman to gather herself. Not that her reaction was reassuring in the slightest.

Clearing her throat, Jolie met her gaze. "To be fair, this entity is a dangerously playful one. He may find you entertaining, as even I don't know if he has met a faifeth."

Aiyül's eye twitched.

"To put it frankly, there are many others you can meet, but they are all his siblings or cousins or distant relations, all of them dangerous in their own right," Jolie admitted.

While all of this seemingly honest information was nice to hear from an unknown creature, Aiyül briefly shut her eyes. "I am willing to meet any of them."

Jolie nodded. "I understand."

"Is there anything else I should be aware of?"

"Yes. You will speak to the entity, as it is easiest to locate. Speak only to it and not its mate, no matter what is said. It isn't safe."

By the way Jolie was speaking, Aiyül was slowly realizing it wouldn't be a formal meeting after all. She wasn't sure how to feel about that. It was too unfamiliar; far too unfamiliar. And it had a mate, too?

"It is wise to be honest, but it will read your mind, regardless."

Well, dammit.

"While it could manipulate you, it won't unless it finds you amusing. Do try not to seem...too amusing."

"As in?"

"Be yourself."

Well, that was unexpected advice.

Jolie sighed and gave a small smile. "I wish you well, Aiyül."

Blinking, Aiyül was briefly taken aback. Then again, Jolie did say the entity could read minds. Perhaps all hallows could. She took a moment, then nodded. "Thank you."

"I'm glad I could help." Jolie stood, and Aiyül anticipated to be led somewhere, but the hallow only closed her eyes.

Not a second passed before there was a sensation Aiyül felt that was almost like a tingling in the air. The hairs on her skin stood erect, and she couldn't help but look around, bracing herself for the worst.

"Goodbye, Aiyül."

Looking back towards the bench, she found herself only mildly surprised to see the hallow had disappeared.

"Well, well."

An abrupt, cold rush of fear through her body made her freeze on the spot.

It was behind her.

She spun around to face a man dressed completely in black. Said man was surprisingly not as tall as she was, at least a head shorter. He stood out amongst anyone she had seen since she arrived despite his relatively human appearance. His head was perfectly bald, and his skin was pallid; she only saw one other being with skin as light as his. Unlike said other being, however, he wasn't sickly-looking.

Or was that 'it'?

"You may call me by male pronouns if you wish." The entity looked up at her, revealing pitch black eyes lacking any definition. "And, my. I haven't seen a Rejisea native in at least two hundred years."

Aiyül wanted to assure herself she didn't actually have a reason to fear this being. That was impossible to do, however. He simply exuded the need for her to be extremely cautious, for her to be afraid or else.

"You smell different from the last two." A man---or what looked like one---sauntered over to stand beside the entity. He was the near complete opposite of his companion; shorter, his head of unruly blue-black hair came to his shoulders, his eyes were a bright, glowing yellow, and his skintone matched hers. He sniffed. "Yeah. This one's a herm."

She almost narrowed her eyes, but this creature must have been the entity's mate, so she remained quiet, as advised. Was her sex significant at all? She hoped not. Her gaze diverted to the entity before her. "I---"

"Want to go home." The entity smiled. "I understand. This world is terrifying, once you learn what lies beneath this harmless exterior."

Was that supposed to be reassuring? Because it wasn't.

He chuckled, his head tilting slightly to the side. "It is quite easy to return to your realm, as you know the truth of what you are. I would love to tell you---"

"Why don't you let her find out on her own?" the other man scoffed. He crossed his arms and eyed her. "She seems plenty capable of doing so, eventually."

Patiently, the entity turned a strange smile on his mate. "She did not come here alone."

Aiyül suddenly felt even more uncomfortable. Her thoughts were obviously on display for this being to sift through. No one she knew, or had heard of, could read minds.

"Oh?" The yellow-eyed man tapped his fingers on his arm. "So what?"

"She needs to return home..." The entity looked back at her. There was an even stranger, keen look on his face. "However, the most poignant reason for her to do so may be for naught, at this point."

Quiet, Aiyül felt the uneasiness within her spike. The words he spoke were too knowing, too aware of something she was not. It was evidently something she needed to know.

Going back, she thought of what he could mean.

Her obvious reason for wanting to go back was because she and Vadeen wanted to go home. That was natural. But a "poignant" reason?

This time, she did narrow her eyes in thought. She then glanced away.

The only other reason she knew of was because said boy was ill. Or something...

It abruptly clicked in her mind.

Her head snapped back to face the entity, eyes wide in a different fear.

To make it worse, an almost if not definitely amused smile spread on the pallid face. "If you wish to return home, you may open a portal to get there. Simply use your mind to summon one." His smile widened. "It is such a shame you cannot stay..."

With that, the entity gave her a respectful nod before he turned and walked away. His companion's gaze lingered on her, then, with a huff, he followed after the entity.

It was then Aiyül noticed. The world was completely still.

The fountain had stilled as if frozen, as were the people and animals and vehicles. They were stuck in one place as if time had stopped.

"Sahīl," she swore, taking several steps back as she realized.

Time had stopped.

That was all she needed to take to the air and speed away.

No ordinary entity could be that powerful.

Only a god.

She swore again, flying faster in the still sky. Once a considerable distance from where she had been did everything resume.

She ignored that. She had to. There were more pressing issues at hand, terrifying as that seemed, and she spat another curse.

Boy, she thought, you better not have done anything stupid.

Wincing at her sentiment, her jaw locked.

Or was she the one who did something stupid, this time?

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Ⅴ. The Raven: The Exploited, Nullified, Devoured

Moving was no easy feat in his condition, but Vadeen was determined to leave. Staying was pointless, and he was so damn tired. Tired of everything. The heat, the hate, the hurting, the harrowing truths; they finally caught up to him. The worst part was, he was completely aware of that fact.

It changed nothing.

His thoughts were silent, as was his mouth. There was a sort of mutual understanding that he felt from the Monster, and that gave him some semblance of peace.

But if he was at peace, why was his body producing tears?

He couldn't stop them from trailing down his face as he pulled himself along the ground. With great effort, he managed to somehow bring his weakened body from out of the barn. Where he was going didn't matter. He just had to get away.

Dust had gotten into his mouth as his hard, wheezing breaths brought it up from the dirt. The tears and blood on his face mixed with the soil, and he knew he looked wretched. There was a greener area just a few feet from him. He hoped it was grass; he could barely see, still. Apparently, he was moving in that direction. He could do with that.

He could do with everything.

He thought he saw a tree or something resembling it further ahead. That was a nice place to rest, perhaps. He wasn't far from the barn, he knew that. But perhaps that was better than his original plan. At this point, he wasn't too sure.

He wasn't sure of anything.

He sharply inhaled from a spasm, and it made him briefly convulse. Eyes fluttering, he stayed prone on the grass as his body writhed. He had worsened considerably since she left him. There was no denying the wound he received wasn't a normal one.

Gasping for breath once it ended, his vision briefly flooded before returning to a haze. More, stronger tears. Why was he crying so hard, he wondered? But in the end, did it really matter?

No.

It did not.

Perhaps it was a subconscious resignation that brought it on. He could understand that, to some degree. But if he was the one making the decision, he should be at peace. Even at a time like this, his body betrayed him.

He was so lost in his thoughts, blindly grasping along, that the feel of something hard and rough on his fingers made him pause. He was staring at something dark.

Ah. So it was a tree.

Digging into the bark, he forcefully pulled himself up. The moment he began to, his head tightened with a terrible throbbing. Groaning, he tightened his hold on the tree, letting his heavy eyelids close. The tree was the only thing preventing him from collapsing.

But he could fight it. He had to. He always did, didn't he?

He fought.

And fought.

And kicked and screamed, more than anyone else he knew. But did it really matter, in the end?

No.

Apparently not.

Turning and leaning heavily against the tree, he surprised himself when a strained chuckle escaped him. It was from him, not from Balgoros. He knew that, this time. After a moment of examining his reaction, he found himself laughing. Laughing with tears pouring down his face and blood dripping from his mouth.

He was a joke. The most powerful person in Sahīleth and this was his end. Disgraceful.

But, it didn't matter.

Yes.

Not anymore.

Coughing, he let his head loll about. His heavy, labored breaths and the throbbing in his head was all he could hear. It was alright. He could be mature for once and handle the consequences of his actions.

His stupid actions...

He stopped laughing when the blood caught in his throat. In a coughing fit, he grasped tighter onto the tree as his legs wobbled.

I'm so stupid.

Once more, he gasped for breath, turning his half-lidded eyes to the bright light of the sky.

I failed my brother, my mother, and Igni because I was stupid.

Igni. A tender smile spread on his face, only for it to drop when he wondered what the man would think if he could see him like this.

No...Igni wouldn't say he was pathetic. Not the Igni he came to know and love. The old Igni, yes, without fail.

The thought was comforting, and he held onto it.

He didn't want to think about Abramu or his mother. Thinking of Igni was bittersweet enough.

His lower lip trembled.

I'm so fucking stupid...

Slowly, he slid down the tree. The bark hurt his back, but he didn't really feel its roughness. Once sitting on the grass, he let his head rest back and his eyes close.

I'm sorry, everyone. I can't...do it anymore.

No more betrayals, no more hurting, no more fear turned towards him.

I'm so tired. I just...wanted to...

He abruptly convulsed. His head hit back against the tree, and his body shuddered from a sudden chill.

Once the spell stopped, he briefly rubbed his shoulders. He was so cold, but his head was on fire. Struggling to breathe, he soon let his arms drop at his sides on the grass. Why bother.

I'm...

He paused. He was always sorry. But there was nothing else he could say.

The reminder of what happened several hours prior made him clench his teeth in bitter anger. But he soon let himself go limp again. Why bother.

She was right, anyway.

Much as she hated him, she was always right, pointing out all the foolish things he did. No one else did the way she went about it. Everyone else was kinder, maybe more understanding.

I...

Consciousness began to slip away. Through the pain, he welcomed it.

I know they'll miss me. But I hope...they understand...

It happened slowly, the realization he was not alone. It was a horrible feeling. Slowly, with great effort, he opened his eyes.

Through the haze and heat, he saw something outrageously tall. He began to look up at it, but then it shrunk until it was roughly six feet tall. It wore a color he couldn't comprehend and was hooded with blackness for a face.

Its unseen stare was unsettling to the nth degree.

For several moments, they silently gazed at one another. A small, bloody and resigned smile shortly graced his features.

This was It. He knew it was.

This was the It that tried to kill him throughout his whole existence.

At last, he faced It, at a time when he as a being who should and was once capable of doing so could not defend himself from It.

What took so long for It to face him? Why did It have so many others try to kill him over the course of his life? He was almost stupid enough to ask such questions. Then he realized how foolish it was and kept his mouth shut.

It was time.

It was merely time.

He reached out to grasp at the grass and took one last inhale of its smell. It wasn't any different from Sahīleth's. As if understanding what was happening, the gentle spring breeze fluttered through his hair. He inhaled that, as well, letting his eyes briefly close to let the sensation embed itself in his memory.

Once his greediness was sated, he struggled to pull himself across the grass towards It. It remained uncannily still, continuing to stare at him.

When he was directly in front of It, not five feet away, he shifted. Grating his teeth through stinging agony and heat and tears, he moved so he was on his knees before It. Breathing laboriously, he tried to look up, but he couldn't. His head was heavy. He didn't fight it.

He finally sensed It move, and he had a feeling It was reaching towards him.

In a strange reflexive action, he grabbed Its hand. He didn't feel skin. The best way he could describe the way it registered to his senses was that it felt...real.

Of course it was.

"Pain," he choked out. His hoarse voice was barely audible above the throbbing of his own head. "P-please. No more...pain."

The hand didn't move, but he wasn't expecting it to. As he awaited Its response, he took a moment to introspect.

He was scared. Deathly afraid. He didn't know what would happen to him. No one would, not a single being in existence. He knew this. His tears fell faster, dripping down his nose, chin, eyes. He swallowed what would be one of his last breaths, savoring the coolness of the air.

The hand moved. His fell, too weak to stay in place.

Gently, Its fingers unexpectedly combed through his hair.

A sob escaped him, unbidden and abrupt.

The last tender action he would feel was from his existential enemy.

"No more pain." Its powerful, monotone voice resounded all around him. It was too powerful. Too loud, yet too soft. Too tender, yet too harsh.

Nonetheless, he smiled.

He felt himself slipping. The feeling was pointedly different from the feeling of drifting to sleep or even unwanted unconsciousness. Perhaps slipping wasn't the right word, no. No...

Breath left his lungs. Sensation drifted from his body. His smile widened, and he knew his mouth moved. Without the ability to sense it, he could only imagine he was speaking. Even thought was beginning to become foreign to him.

He mustered the will for his last conscious articulation. He felt that It needed to hear it directly from him. Even if It knew already. Even if It didn't or couldn't care. It needed to know.

And thus, as if he took one last gulp of air, he said his final words:

Thank you.

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Ⅵ. The Scarecrow: A Mask Screamed

He did it. He did fucking did something, but...it wasn't stupid.

Initially, when Aiyül arrived at the barn, she was about ready to destroy something when she didn't see him inside. Its door was open, albeit barely enough for someone to slip out of. He was small enough to.

However, upon further inspection of the barn's abandoned interior, she found something that made her cold heart freeze over with a horrible chill of realization.

There, on the pallet Vadeen had been resting on, was a necklace. The moment she spotted it, she stopped dead in her tracks to stare intensely at it.

And her mental cogs began to move.

Though, upon seeing the necklace, she really didn't want them to. Not like this.

The necklace was made of hemp^??^, dyed blue, and had several beads on it. It was given to him by his former captain, her sister, when he graduated from the Faifeleth Military Academy^??^.  It was a childish thing, in her eyes, but the boy revered it. He revered practically everything about Yua. It was the only thing she gave him that wasn't destroyed during the war.

There was no way---absolutely, horrifically, devastatingly no way---he would have left it behind.

There was nothing wrong with it. It was still completely intact, still bound by unbroken ends. She reached out with her senses; there was nothing malicious or unusual attached to it.

He left it behind.

"My God," she whispered, kneeling to take it into her hands. "He...He wouldn't..."

On her feet, she flew out of the barn. There was indeed a trail leading from the barn to the grassy field nearby. It looked like something had been dragged.

His body, no doubt.

The thought of him dragging his sick body, grasping and coughing, wheezing and nearly blind, made her blood run cold.

He wouldn't.

She hovered over the ground, cursing when she was unable to see where he went next after he entered the grass. She glanced back at the distance from the barn to the grassland, wincing to herself. It was a great distance for someone in his condition.

"Fuck. Fuck!" she shouted, running her hands through her hair. She shut her eyes.

Alright, calm down.

Not a few seconds later, she deeply exhaled, letting her arms lower to her sides. Once composed, she opened her eyes and looked around. He couldn't have gotten far, even over the course of the several hours she was gone. Stretching out her senses, however, heralded nothing.

There was a tree some hundred feet from her on a small hill. She gave it a narrow-eyed stare.

It was obvious. Too obvious.

In no mood to fuck around, she flew over fast enough that she seemed to have suddenly appeared there. Something on the grass caught her gaze out the corner of her right eye. She somehow didn't notice it before.

Slowly, she walked closer. It was several paces away from the tree. The closer she came, the more her brows furrowed with confusion.

"Vadeen?" she called, appearing beside what definitely...was...him?

Was it him?

The sight was uncanny, horrifying. Vadeen, or what resembled him, was curled in the fetal position. It had to be him; he had the same clothes, the same wounds. The dried, dirty blood down his chin and the muddy tear marks on his face were new, yes.

But his body...

She gradually went into a crouch, looking over his form with a gaping mouth and wide, confused and frightened eyes. At a loss for words, she tentatively reached out to touch the greyish skin.

She immediately pulled back with a sharp inhale.

He was stone cold.

He was...

"No," she breathed, kneeling beside him to gently bring his too-soft, limp body into her arms.

She could not accept it.

She gently opened one of his eyes with her fingers.

A dead, greyish-white orb lacking pupils stared back at her.

Once more, she recoiled with a gasp. This was not from the wound he received on Sahīleth. Innately, she knew this. But what unholy creature, what divine being, could have...?

Shaking her head, she realized she was wasting time. She needed to return to their realm.

Not a moment after this thought, she looked to her right as a translucent portal flashed at her. There was no time to wonder if she did that or if something else allowed her to. Rising to her feet with him held gently in her arms, she quickly entered the portal.

It was like going through a door, the quickness in which they arrived in the familiar land of Sahīleth. Reorienting herself, she realized she was on a hill that allowed her to see her home in the near distance.

Thank the Sōl, she thought with relief.

In moments, she was landing before the front entranceway. Immediately, Rashar appeared in the doorway with relief written all over his face.

He spotted the form in her arms, his eyes popping open wide. "Aiy---"

"Shut up," she hissed, brushing past him. "He's...He's..."

She couldn't say it.

She hated that.

She sensed nearly everyone in the entire compound heading towards her location. "I don't want a goddamned one of you except Rashar and Améd in this infirmary, you fucking hear?!" she barked as she entered the sickbay.

All at once, the presences halted save for one.

At her heels, Rashar closed the door behind them. "Aiyül, what happened?" he demanded, coming to the bedside as she placed Vadeen on one of the medical pallets.

Spinning to look at him, she snapped, "I don't fucking know! You're the doctor!"

Rashar immediately went quiet. He briefly eyed her, his expression unreadable yet simultaneously mollified.

She did not like this look.

She then watched him look down at Vadeen's body. The way he looked at him, lips tightly pursing and his face dropping with sorrow; he knew. He knew she knew. How did he know? A glance couldn't possibly tell them anything, not in this situation...could it?

Améd burst through the door. He came to her side, only to go still.

It took a moment, but the nurse came to stand opposite Rashar to do what neither of them wanted to do. He held a hand over Vadeen's body, passing it from his chest to his head. He lingered over his head, then returned to his chest.

After several tense seconds, he closed his hand and let it fall to his side. He looked upon the boy's body with the same wretched look on Rashar's face.

He didn't need to say it. He knew she knew, and knew Rashar knew she knew they knew.

They all knew.

Exhaling a stifled breath, she took a step back.

The cogs moved, her memory came back to her.

She really didn't want them to.

Wordlessly, she left the infirmary.

Everyone was waiting outside. The moment she exited, all pairs of eyes turned onto her.

Lanad was the first to open his mouth. "Is he al..."

But of course, the words died in his throat.

She walked forward, and they moved out of her way. She shut her eyes, feeling their devastated looks following her. She was grateful when they moved from her to the door as it opened behind her.

Before the expected questions, reactions and sounds of mourning could be made, she quickly passed through the halls and entered her room.

She arrived just in time. The moment after her door closed, he heard all the things she didn't want to be around for reach her ears. It was louder than she thought it would be.

But it didn't hurt as much as she thought it would.

Staring off at nothing, she leaned back against her door. She waited.

Slowly, the change happened. Her cold exterior began to melt away, revealing the confused disgrace that was damn determined to overwhelm her. The lump grew in her throat. The words pounded in her mind. The cogs were moving rapidly in her head as the probable---damn her if it wasn't the obvious---truth came to her.

That damn entity practically told her what happened, and she would have missed the implication---if not the fucking statement itself---if she had been a less observant person.

She brought one of her fists to her mouth, pressing down on it. The cogs wouldn't stop moving, her desire for them not to be damned.

Reaching into her coat, she took out the necklace to stare at it. That was all it took.

The dam that was the lump in her throat didn't break.

It shattered.

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Ⅶ. The Panther: Smells like low spirit(s)

The morning after Aiyül brought Vadeen's body home, the entire compound had lost its life, the energy that indicated their collective happiness. That energy was one hard-fought, and so to lose it so suddenly took an immediate toll on them all.

Death was not unknown to any of them. Each had lost someone in the past two years: friends and family, and even mere acquaintances or passing comrades. Nearly every time those lives were lost, it was violently through war or worse means.

This time, however...

"It wasn't the stab wound."

Herare looked up at her husband as he finished his autopsy on Vadeen's body. He entered their room and sighed while closing the door behind him. His expression was drawn, and he slipped down to the floor beside her to rest his head on her lap.

She held him close to her, then began to run her fingers through his brown locks. She didn't immediately respond. "What was it, then? Do you have any idea?"

He deeply exhaled. "No. Whatever killed him was...entirely unnatural, beyond anything I know of."

Her brows furrowed. Once more, she was silent for a moment as she considered something none of them had vocalized. "Do you think..."

When he didn't respond, she briefly pursed her lips.

"Do you think it could be---"

"Yes."

She went silent, her fingers briefly faltering.

Before Igni died, he told and showed them many things. He spoke nothing but the truth, they later found out. The knowledge he had matched everything the indraht king later explained to them just before the Lies of the Traitors War came to an end.

The true story of their ancestors, the knowledge of the Ōversōl...

It was both awing and shameful. They blindly followed words without thought of the truths behind them. It took people like Rhasti Zafahr and Igni to bring the truth to them.

Yet despite all they learned, there was one thing that terrified them more than anything else. It was so harrowing, even Igni didn't want them to tell everyone, not even their queen. Only those who needed to know needed to know. And because they knew Vadeen personally, they were among the latter.

There was also one pressing question that had yet to be answered about what happened the day before. It was a topic everyone had on the tips of their tongues, could see in their faces but were each too frightened or unwilling to hear the possible answer. Not that one.

Not that one.

Finally, Rashar gave a deep, resigned exhale. Herare knew the reason for it, as she had also made up her mind.

"Where is she?" he quietly asked.

Herare closed her eyes. "I don't know."

He raised up to look her in the eye. Gently, he pecked her lips, and then they shared a knowing look before they kissed.

With a sigh, she stood up. "I'll find her," she said.

Because she had a definitive idea of where the Scarecrow was hiding.

She left her room and walked through the compound. There was no need for her to reach out with her senses. She didn't even bother. To her, it was obvious where her boisterous companion was.

As she traveled through the wide halls, she took glimpses into rooms that were all bare of occupants. Everyone was either away from the compound, training vigorously or locked in their personal quarters.

Most were in their personal quarters.

That also went for one other person.

On the topmost floor where no one was allowed to go, Herare stood before a tall black door that was engraved with symbols of birds of prey. This was maybe the second time in all her hundreds of years that she stood before this door. It was unsettling as it was, and that was even without having its occupant in it, as was the norm.

She raised the large door knocker and knocked on the door three times. Out of respect, she waited a good minute or so, but she had already made up her mind to enter. Taking a deep breath, she pulled the door open, grimacing at the intense smell of alcohol...

...and dodged an empty sake jug that was thrown at her.

"No one fuckin' gave you permission to enter."

She made an exasperated sigh and closed the door behind her. Despite herself, she took only a second to glance around the room. In some ways, she had no choice.

Aiyül was a large woman, but that was due to her heritage. The House of Wasihl was renowned for its powerful, muscular and tall family members. It truly didn't help that Aiyül, the current eldest of the family, was also different from her previous ancestors. As was her younger sister, Yua.

Thus, it was a very large room that greeted Herare's sight. It was easily twice the size of the ones belonging to her children combined. She briefly eyed the massive, terrible scythe that hung on the wall at the right wall, but much to her surprise, the room was overall empty.

Except for the mound of pillows on a rug in the lower left corner of the room.

She slowly neared it, the only sound in the room the clinking of pottery and deep chugs of liquid.

Aiyül sat within the pillows and against the wall, her leg resting up on the floor. She wore baggy black pants and bindings around her chest, her feet barefoot and aura sweltering with danger. Surrounding her to her left were several large jugs of sake, empty. There were at least eight of them. To her right were eight more, full and unopened. For now.

"Get the fuck out," she growled, her voice even more menacing than usual despite her slurring.

Herare stopped walking but did not obey. She knew if Aiyül, the Scarecrow, was bothered this much by what had happened, whatever occurred the day before wasn't pretty. Even she needed to get something, or many things, into the open. She only didn't know how---or was, perhaps, ashamed to try.

Instead of leaving, Herare sat on her knees a respectful (and relatively safe) distance from the older woman. She watched as another red jug was downed in mere seconds. Looking past the jug, she observed Aiyül's face.

The large yellow eyes were dim, unfocused, and half-open. Aiyül wasn't even looking in Herare's direction but staring blankly at the rug. Every now and then, unpredictably, her eyes would haze over as if the alcohol had taken complete hold of her and her head lolled from side to side. Each time, she shut them, then opened them to continue staring at the rug. Her body swayed from evident, deep intoxication.

Herare had seen Aiyül drunk before. Normally, no matter how much she drank, she was somehow pointedly alert and kept her quick reflexes. This time, Herare was undoubtedly sure this was the most vulnerable Aiyül had been in...octades.

Finally, softly, Herare asked, "What happened, Aiyül?"

The yellow orbs were unseen, as Aiyül's head was swaying again. A silver brow cocked up, followed by a scoff. "Guess it's gotta come out, somehow," she muttered after a moment. She popped the cork off another jug and took several large swallows.

Herare waited patiently.

Aiyül didn't immediately finish off her drink, lowering it to stare off at the rug again. Then her eyes closed, but her head didn't sway. "He's dead...'cause of me."

Clenching her teeth, Herare's heart plummeted.

When Aiyül opened her eyes again, she stared at Herare with full coherence in her expression. "I killed him."

Raising her head, Herare braced herself for what she expected to be a painfully coarse and candid explanation.

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Ⅷ. The Scarecrow: Fuckup and the Very Low Down

It was hard to think, yet easy to think. The memories and thoughts couldn't leave her mind even if she wanted them to. Aiyül couldn't recall being this drunk before, maybe not since she was a soldier. That was so many hundreds of years ago, which was all the more of a reminder she really shouldn't be drinking so much at her age.

But fuck that. The occasion and situation begged for her to drown herself.

She lowered her gaze from Herare, the damn canny girl, and finished off her jug. Exhaling, she slightly swayed but forced herself to keep at least a semi-coherent disposition. She honestly wanted to get this out into the open. She just didn't know how. Here, in the privacy of her own room with a mere audience of one and comforted by sake, she felt it best to try now.

The words she spoke left her mouth without hesitation, without any obvious betrayal of her internal emotions. Said emotions, she knew, were just ready to burst out of her. Any moment now.

Dammit...

Leaning back into the cushions, she took a moment to gather herself. "Yeah," she said softly. "I wanted to kill him, you know. I don't know...if you thought I was posturing or meant it, but I meant it. I really fuckin' meant it. I had my reasons. Good ones, I...think..." She let her head fall back against the pillow behind her.

She sensed Herare about to speak, and without lowering her head, she looked down her nose to turn a dark glare on the younger woman. That ceased any future possibilities of hearing someone else speak as Herare visibly yielded.

With that, Aiyül took another jug but didn't open it yet. She stared idly at the patterned ceiling, squinting as the designs wobbled and became shaky in her vision.

"Yeah, in the beginnin'...I wanted to kill him 'cause of what he was. A hybrid. Dangerous. Unpredictable. Unknown. And too damn young; fuck, I hated that about 'im. Twenty-five years old, a fuckin' infant in the eyes of any centenarian, and yet..." She grimaced, slowly uncorking the jug. The cork rolled to the floor. She brought the jug to her mouth but didn't drink. Softly, she murmured, "He was...so young...

"After...after he showed his power, I realized he was even more dangerous. That...really...wouldn't have been a bad thing, I guess. If he had been older, wiser, smarter, he'd have been a good friend. I kept testin' 'im, seein' if he could handle the burden that came with his power. 'Cause anyone with power like that couldn't just live a normal life, no." She looked down at Herare, pointing at her with one of her fingers around the jug. "That shit came with responsibility. We all know that. S'the way our world works. People with power are used, exploited, controlled...or feared.

"In any case, could I say he was a good kid? Yeah. Too fucking good. Naive. Too fucking young." She silenced herself by taking several long gulps from her drink. Was there much else she could about him? To her, that summed him up. She lowered her jug and closed her eyes. "Sure, there was more to 'im than that. Didn't mean much if he couldn't control himself. That thing---Balgoros? Yeah, that was a real fuckin' problem. It controlled him, an' the only time it didn't was when Igni---fuck that thing---came into the picture. Not always, sure, but how often was that, really? It's cause he was too damn young!

"Control of power like that comes with age. Normally, one develops their abilities and powers over time, years, cycles upon cycles. But him? Nope," he chuckled humorlessly, staring between her eyelids at the rug as she recalled when her sister spoke about him to her. She remembered thinking there was just no way a fifteen-year-old could be so ungodly dangerous. "He was born that way, and it was fifteen. He could kill a ghast at fuckin' fifteen. Oh, yeah, and eat it, too. Fuckin' frea---"

She paused, biting her lip. To reprimand herself, she finished off her drink and lowered the empty jug to her left. Her eyes briefly hazed over, and her head swayed, but she brought herself back from full incoherence. She didn't immediately reach for another jug.

Taking a deep breath, she made a small, unamused smile. "So...where do I fit into all this." She teetered once more, her head bobbing. "I..."

She heard something shift. After a delay, she slowly opened her eyes to see Herare was growing concerned.

Ignoring her, she continued, "I...pushed him...too much. Too hard. I...wanted him to live up...to my expectations. Anything less, he was fodder, for all I cared." She softly scoffed at herself, a scowl forming on her face. "The fuck is it that it seems...so wrong, now that he's gone? All that I did? It's like...like lookin' at someone else. The moment I realized he...he was...he was gonna do somethin' like that...walk off like that...to find a place to curl up and die like a fuckin' dying animal..."

Once more, she paused as an unwanted lump formed in her throat. She didn't bother fighting it, or couldn't, either way. Her already bleary vision became watery.

"He did that 'cause of what I said. I said...I said...Fuck, I don't remember what I said. But...I remember. H-his face. His eyes. They were already so pained, so confused, so sad. Ashamed. He...he knew he let me down again, I fuckin' know it. That should've been a clue. He never...looked at me like that before..." Letting her eyes close, she sharply inhaled when she felt tears flowing down her face. "I brushed it off, y'know. He bounced back every time, every single time, for four years. Why would this be any different? But lookin' back at it, he'd been through so much, you know? He was...used. Tried to be assassinated like three times; bastards didn't even try to hide it. They killed his mother, little brother, and forced him to kill his friends after said friends were brainwashed into killin' 'im. Later, he was abused, experimented on, told he wasn't meant to exist. Over an' over an' over..."

She almost choked on a sob. Gods, did she hate the way she sounded. She could almost sense that Herare was uncomfortable, but she continued.

"He was twenty-five years old. What sorta kid needs that shit? What the fuck did existence have against him? He was at the center of everything that's happened over the past four, five years. Battles, wars, nearly dyin' a hundred times, and you know what? He bounced back, every time. He remained...he remained pure, in his way. Yeah, he developed weird habits and had some moments in which we thought he was losin' 'imself, but..." She slanted her eyes open again, staring off towards the floor. After a moment of grasping for thoughts, she murmured, "You know...I should've noticed all that. Why...didn't I? Did I...really hate him or...Did I want him dead, yeah, sure, for many reasons. But hate him...No...I don't think so. He was more like...like an anomaly that needed to be eradicated for their own sake. That, or to buck the fuck up."

Her head lolled to the side and her eyes nearly rolled, but she reached for another jug. She needed to drown. After downing more than half of that, she exhaled and made a small smile that didn't meet her sorrowful eyes.

"Yua...left him in my care, you know." She could almost hear the inaudible, disbelieving retort from the younger woman before her. She slightly nodded. "It was unsaid, but I knew what she meant. She knew he was young, knew he needed special guidance. She knew he needed...nurturing. Gods, I hated that about 'im, too. So powerful and he needed to be coddled. But, what the fuck, sister? I...I hate kids. You...you put too much faith in me..."

Her tears were falling faster, now. She silenced the undesired need to sob by chugging the last of her sake. She was vaguely aware she had at least three jugs left to consume. They wouldn't last long.

With nothing more to say that she could make out in her jumbling thoughts, she took deep, shaky breaths and lowered her head. Sitting deeper into the cushions, she reached for another jug.

Several short, silent minutes passed. While they did, she drank slower, savoring the taste of the alcohol and enjoying the buzz of intoxication. Rarely did she ever. It was nice for a change. All the while, she couldn't stop herself from crying. She didn't even try.

She was nodding off when she heard movement. She didn't open her eyes but heard Herare speak.

"I won't tell anyone," came the soft words.

Eyes snapping open, she raised her head and radiated with rage while glaring at her guest. "No, you damn well will tell everyone what the fuck I did. If you don't, I'll rip you a new hole," she snarled.

She didn't back down when Herare actually flinched, but the younger woman did give a nod.

"Now get the fuck out my room."

Unsurprisingly, Herare made a resigned, exasperated sigh. But, once more, she nodded. Soundlessly, she turned and approached the door. Her hand was on the knob when she paused. "His funeral is tomorrow..."

Another cork popped. "I'm not going."

Brief silence, then, "Where are you going?"

"To the falls." She began to drink again. "Where else? Everyone can scream at me there."

There wasn't a reply. Herare only took a moment, as if digesting what was said, before opening the door.

The moment the heavy door closed behind her, the room's encompassing silence became deafening.

Swallowing, Aiyül let her hand that held the second to last jug lower. She stared into the darkness that was the inside of the vessel.

He mind blanked the moment Herare left. Despite that, she was alone with herself.

At the moment, there was really nothing worse than that.

Softly, she emitted a sigh and leaned into the pillows again. The jug rolled from her hand to the floor as she closed her eyes.

She reached for the last one.

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Ⅸ. The Bear: He Was Loved

It was too damn bright for a funeral, Lanad thought. He hated every pleasant flute from a bird, wonderful breeze in the wind, every smell of the season. This was his season. A time of rebirth, renewal, rekindled energy and life.

He should have been alive to enjoy it.

Dressed in navy blue and cream funeral garb, all of Vadeen's friends and family were there. That included everyone from the compound, of course, and would have included more if only he hadn't been betrayed by them...or were dead. For his funeral, it should have included more.

Brown eyes narrowed as Lanad recanted his thoughts.

The funeral would have consisted of everyone from the compound if that damned woman was also there. But, of course, Herare returned from the woman's room the day before to announce even more harsh truths and that she wouldn't be there to pay her respects.

Damn her.

Though, to be fair, Lanad wasn't sure if he even wanted her there. The more he thought about it, the more he realized it was actually the smarter thing for her to do, after all.

Damn her.

The soft sob beside him brought him out of his thoughts. His tense body gradually eased, and he berated himself for thinking about anyone but Vadeen. His brother.

He moved closer to Taquir's side and brought the younger man to rest against him. Shaking arms were around him in seconds.

Using their elemancy, each of them had a role in moving the pedestal to its final resting place beside a flat headstone in the Faifeleth graveyard. Vadeen's body laid atop it, shrouded in a cream-colored cloth with navy accents. With it placed, it was time to perform the final act of a faifethi burial.

No one moved, at first. It was obvious no one really wanted to say goodbye.

The first person to step forward was Rashar, and he placed his hand on the plaque of Vadeen's name at the lower end of the pedestal. He spoke softly, murmuring words that were private. When he went silent, he embedded some of his energy into the stone and then gently pushed down. The pedestal responded, lowering into the ground by several inches. He then moved back.

Herare went next. She was teary-eyed, gently running her fingers over Vadeen's plaque. She whispered in his name and then repeated her husband's actions with her energy to make the pedestal lower further.

One by one, they stepped up to do the same. In no way was it monotonous; Lanad sensed the undeniable tingling of a strange buildup in the stone as they imbued their energy into it. Lower and lower, it sunk into the ground.

By the time it was his and his brothers' turn, the pedestal was all but completely belowground. The three of them slowly stepped forward and kneeled around their brother's body.

Taquir touched the plaque, biting his lip to keep himself quiet. He seemed afraid to make noise. Sorren gently placed a hand on his left shoulder, his expression drawn and eyes reddened from crying. To both comfort Taquir and complete the ritual, Lanad touched his right shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. He then closed his eyes. It was hard to look upon the unmoving body, knowing it was Vadeen.

Goodbye, little brother, he said, not quite whispering and not quite thinking.

The words felt absolute, and he felt within him and his eyes the sting of emotional pain and forming tears. Lower lip trembling, he gave a shaky exhale.

I will miss you. We'll all miss you. You won't be forgotten. You were loved, Vadeen. You were loved.

Part of him wished he could say more while the rest of him felt it appropriately to keep it simple. Overall, he truly didn't know what to say. His thoughts were both viciously active and severely quiet.

After a moment of waiting for Sorren and Taquir to speak to Vadeen one last time, the three of them let their energy flow into the stone. Slowly, with jarring finality, the pedestal completely lowered into the ground.

A trembling sound from Taquir made both him and Sorren hold their younger brother. He seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. They both hugged him, and he held onto them as if they could keep him from breaking into pieces.

Together, all of them used their elemancy to bring the soil over the grave. As more of Vadeen's body became hidden by dirt, Taquir broke out into deeper and deeper sobs. In their respective ways, they cried harder than they had in many years, but they continued to cover their brother's body.

Very shortly, they were staring at a simple plot of upturned soil.

Vadeen was gone.

Even after the others quietly left, they remained on the ground in a small huddle. Lanad wasn't sure how long he sat there on his knees, eyes closed and remembering better days. Simpler days.

When he and Vadeen were children, they never thought of war or people trying to kill them. Granted, someone tried to kill Vadeen when he was only a toddler, but no one remembered that, not even he did. All he and Vadeen thought of was exploration, living their lives and protecting their district from ghasts. They loved their home. They wanted to continue protecting their home.

So when Captain Yua Wasihl of the revered House of Wasihl personally recruited them into the Imperial Faifeleth Army, they didn't bat an eye of hesitation.

That was when things changed. What was worse, everything from then on began to change relating to Vadeen in particular.

That wasn't to say Lanad blamed their former captain for all the horrible things that happened from then on in their lives, and he knew Vadeen never would have thought such a thing either. Captain Wasihl had been a wonderful adoptive mother, caring, attentive, and dearly loving. Scary, in her ways, but loving like no one else.

No...

Lanad's expression suddenly darkened against his will.

It was her sister who was the complete opposite.

Unable to prevent himself from thinking about it any longer, he gently moved away from Taquir. "I'll be back," he said softly as he stood up.

Two pairs of reddish eyes looked up at him. "Where are you going?" Taquir sniffed.

Immediately, Sorren frowned. "You're not---"

"Yes, I damn well am." Lanad took to the air without looking back. He was glad when his brothers didn't stop him.

For he had a bone to pick with the Scarecrow.

He arrived at the compound sometime later. Without breaking a stride, he landed and marched to the compound's basement. Farian was walking near, and upon seeing him, the older man narrowed an eye.

The Shark stopped in his tracks as Lanad approached the door. "Lanad, where are you going?" he asked, his voice unusually keen. Keen, but simultaneously wary.

"You know where I'm going," Lanad scoffed, reaching to touch the doorknob.

A larger hand stopped his. Farian shook his head. "No. You shouldn't."

Pulling his hand back, Lanad glared up at him. "And why not?! She wasn't even at his funeral!"

Raising a brow, the older man leaned against the wall. "And you would have been okay with her being there if she had gone?"

Opening his mouth, only to snap it shut, Lanad clenched his fists. "Move," he demanded.

Farian looked both amused and withered, but his shark-like mouth closed in one of his rare displays of solemnity. "Lanad...Do you know what you're doing?"

"Yes. What, is she going to kill me, too?" Lanad scoffed, his hands turning into bear claws. "She's only a fucking bird."

The expression on Farian's face somehow appeared wearier. "Yes, and I don't know if you noticed, but that bird is at the top of the food chain, literally and figuratively." Before Lanad could speak again, he asked, "Exactly what do you plan on doing? Shout at her? That won't make you feel better."

"What, you expect me to keep all this rage inside? Fester? Turning it towards her is all I can do!" Lanad watched as the sharp blue eyes scanned him. He waited as patiently as he could, moving from side to side, but he didn't back down. His claws had yet to return to normal.

Farian finally exhaled and closed his eyes. Slowly, sorrowfully, he shook his head. "She's right behind you."

To say Lanad's blood went cold was an unadulterated understatement. The hairs on his skin stood erect as his eyes gradually turned to the side in a feeble attempt to see her. He swallowed and slowly turned around.

His eyes met the silver buttons of a black coat.

How did she...?

Behind him, he heard Farian murmur, "Aiyül."

"Farian." Her deep voice was unusually monotone.

Finally, he looked up at her. Her silver and brown hair covered most of her face, which was unusual. It did make her yellow eyes seem even more menacing, which was probably the point of it all.

She cocked her head to the side, allowing him to see more of her face. It was expressionless. Now that he could see more of her, even her eyes were different...

"You wanted to speak to me, Lanad?" she asked.

Startling out of his inspection, he took a respectful step back and glared at her. "Where the fuck were you?" he snapped.

Speaking to her so sharply typically sparked amusement deep in her eyes, usually followed by a dark smirk daring one to speak like that to her again.

However, if he had to describe the way she looked at him, it was...vacantly. She simply didn't react at all, in fact. She seemed almost bored, but it was different. Deeper?

Whatever it was, it was beginning to unnerve him.

He crossed his arms. "Why weren't you at his funeral?" he reiterated. "Everyone else was there. Even the kids."

"You didn't want me there."

"Said who?"

A more familiar expression formed on her face, one of unamusement as her eyes slightly narrowed. "You and your brothers."

He scoffed.

"In your minds."

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say."

The corner of her mouth twitched. "And this is the most suicidal you've ever been in your life."

His eyes widened at the not-so-veiled threat.

She beckoned at him with her head. "Move, boy."

Farian placed a hand on Lanad's shoulder, wordlessly telling him to let it go.

But he couldn't.

He wouldn't.

He shouldn't.

Shoving Farian's hand off, he gave her a vicious scowl. "You know what, Aiyül? Fuck you. Of all the good things that have happened in this house over the past four years, you're the only one who never changed or tried to make good memories." He pointed at her with a claw. "You feel that thing in your chest? Yeah? It's called a heart, bitch, and it's about damn time you felt it, 'cause it seems to me like you actually have some fucking sentiment for once."

Her expression didn't change, though she opened her mouth to speak.

He waved a hand. "No, you shut the fuck up. I'm talking. We can all see it; shit, we saw it. It was written all over your face. You actually felt something when he died, didn't you?" He nodded when he caught a strange look in her eye. "I fucking thought so. Do you have any fucking idea how...!"

He raised his hands into fists, his head turned away as the words escaped him. He saw the way Vadeen appeared on the bed two days ago in his head, greyed and small, his shrouded body atop the pedestal, forever hidden from the world. He shuddered from rage and hurt.

"He...saw something in you. Did you know that?" he said softly. He didn't bother looking at her again as tears rolled down his cheeks. "I don't know...He said weird things about you, sometimes. Birds of a feather and all that shit. Whatever it was, he...liked you. For some ungodly reason, he did, and it actually wasn't because you look like his mother. I...I don't know. I know Balgoros hated the very air you breathed, though." He ran his claws through his hair, pulling at the roots with a melancholy sigh. They slowly returned to normal.

For a moment, nothing was said between the three of them. He wasn't expecting either Farian or Aiyül to speak, and so he took a breath to continue.

"If you cared, however it was, why did you do what you did? Why didn't you ever apologize? For fuck's sake, even Igni said sorry for all the things he did to Vadeen. Or at the very least, he made an effort to try." He glared up at her. "What makes you so fuckin' special? House of Wasihl? So fucking what. Sure. Now that he's gone, your power can probably contend with the Queen, for all I know. You're powerful, damn powerful. I get it. You're old, too, so that's just scary. But what right did that give you to treat him the way you did?"

She didn't respond. To his great annoyance, her expression remained unchanged.

This infuriated him. "Aiyül. I hope you never...ever have a good night's rest again. I want your hand in his death to haunt your very being until the day you die." He looked her up and down, scowling with disgust. "And good riddance."

He brushed past her to walk down the hall. He was well aware at least half of the building heard what he said to her, but he was almost---almost---certain nearly half of them likewise felt his sentiment. He knew for certain Saventao did. It was unfortunate that she hadn't shown her face since two days ago. Otherwise, Saventao would have attempted to fight her. Jump her, even. Maybe make her bleed a little.

The halls were graciously empty as he neared his room. He threw the door open and slammed it behind him, being childish be damned. Stalking into the room with his head down, he pulled at his hair again. He fought off the desire to scream, to curse, to break something.

He should have been comforting his brothers.

Sinking to the floor, he finally broke into hysterical sobs.

Farian was right.

He didn't feel any better.

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Ⅹ. The Scarecrow: The POUND and FLESH

Aiyül preferred solitude and social distancing. Her everyday mainly consisted of stalking around, unseen but sensed, and eradicating the most powerful of the ghasts around Faifeleth. Her spirit never mattered prior to the war, but once it awakened, she became even less social than what most thought possible.

Being alone meant she could do what she wanted, whenever she wanted. Training, sleeping, foraging, and little else; her typical daily routine was a simple one.

If she ever did come out, it was to train with others---whatever that meant---or to perhaps appear out of the blue to beat someone half to death, merciless and snarling all the while.

Being alone, fortunately, also meant she could completely and utterly come apart in absolute privacy.

Such was what she found herself doing since the day she came back with Vadeen's body.

She stood before the upturned soil, her eyes drained of their usual glow in the darkness. With a half-lidded stare, she gazed at the fresh dirt. A small, flat headstone had been erected over the spot where Vadeen's head would be, six feet underground. On it was the Dead Script they used specifically for headstones announcing his name to the rest of the graveyard. He was new, here. Fortunately, he had at least one neighbor.

Without moving an inch, she glanced at the parallel headstone to his right. Abramu Wuan, it said. The brothers were buried beside each other. Twenty-three and twenty-nine years old. They were too young to have died. Yes, they were soldiers, but...

Shutting her eyes, she breathed deeply in a resigned sigh. She wished to say something private to Vadeen, but the words wouldn't form in her mind. They were jumbled up, second-guessed, and overall sounded insincere. What, was she to say "Sorry"? How inadequate was that?

"You're always sorry."

Her lips tightened. That was one of the last things she said to him. How bitingly ironic that she was now the one who was to forever be sorry.

Her jaw locked as the unwanted emotions began to grow within her. She was already tired of crying, of being sad, and the boy hadn't even been dead for a week. Sympathy was not one of her strong points. Sentiment was even less so.

While the tears trailed down her face, she looked to the dark sky. As she had done of late, she thought of Yua. Her sister would murder her for what she did. As she knew it would, the tears fell faster.

She and Yua were close, in their strange way, or so others said. What was strange to others was normal to them. She was the older sister, yet she was the one who lacked a single nurturing bone in her body. Yua picked up the pieces. She found ways to penetrate Aiyül's cold heart without overbearing or unwanted sentiment. Somehow. Even Aiyül wasn't sure how it worked, but it worked very well.

Turning her head away, she tightly clenched her jaw as unpleasant and hateful memories entered her mind. Throughout her years, her history hardened her instead of shaping her. Rigid and resentful, she never cried.

So, of course it was also now that her tears fell at the thought of those memories.

A scowl pulled at her upper lip.

Gods, she needed a drink.

She needed to drown.

Giving the fresh soil one last look, she bowed her head. Her lips moved in a silent message:

May you have peace, Vadeen, the peace you were owed in this life but was robbed from you.

She didn't know what else to say.

Her sister was going to haunt her for this.

Quickly, she turned around, wiping the tears from her face. She flew into the sky and did not look back.

As she traveled back to her home, the closer she came, the more her thoughts berated her in ways she never expected.

Why was she even showing her face?

She was a disgrace to the Wasihl family.

She hovered near the compound, close enough to see people outside. She hadn't been noticed yet, and she warred within herself against these highly unwelcomed and startling thoughts.

In the end, she sighed to herself and flew closer.

Landing before the front entrance, she spotted Saventao approaching her out the corner of her eye. He was moving fast.

It had been some time since she fought something that wasn't a mindless creature.

Unfortunately, she knew she would take all her frustration out on the younger man. With her bloodlust, she would not hold back. The last thing she needed was another death on her hands.

Stopping in her tracks, she turned a dark glower on him. But the Bull's eyes were red, and he did not stop.

She side-stepped to miss a long, curved blade, then took the man's hands and grabbed his throat. Her talons dug into his skin, and he dropped his blade to grasp at her hand.

"He was...a friend," he gasped out. His expression of anger did not falter. His eyes remained red.

Slowly, she released her grasp. That gave him the opportunity to give her a powerful kick to her chest, and the unexpectedness of the attack meant her guard was down.

She hated that.

She hated that.

Slamming him to the ground head-first, her eyes blazed with irritated rage. He choked as the ground beneath him indented, cracking like spiderwebs.

For the first time in her adult life, just as several others were approaching, she growled, "Leave. Me. Alone."

It was at that moment a hand was placed on her shoulder. Her head snapped back to see Rashar there. Instead of seeing anger or fear or any of the emotions she anticipated, his droopy eyes were sad. Yet, he wasn't looking directly at her.

She went still.

Of course, he knew how she felt. He, Herare, Farian; they were the smartest of the bunch.

They knew her best.

She released Saventao and stood, then steadily stalked into the house.

She spotted several of the children scamper from doorways, but that was nothing too new. Anytime she was irritated, exuding enough bloodthirstiness to make up for an army, they ran from her.

Still...

This time it felt different.

Before long, she entered the belowground cavern area from the usual entrance in the back of the compound. There was barely any artificial luminosity, as no one else was present. She immediately walked to the distant waterfall, but she didn't fly. There was no reason to hurry.

Well, yes, there was, but she could stall a bit.

Instead of going around, she passed underneath the waterfall and looked between her wet locks. The pitch darkness of the interior was comforting. The moment she spotted them, she beelined towards them.

Shaking off her coat, uncaring if it fell unceremoniously to the cave floor, she grabbed a jug from her cave stash and popped off the cork. Without wasting a single breath, she began to guzzle the cool sake.

She needed to drown.

As she drank, she turned to face the rest of the cave and slid down the wall behind her. Finished with that jug, she carelessly let it drop to the floor and grabbed another to immediately drink from it. The first jug rolled down an incline, and the sound it made when it stopped against a rock echoed in the space.

Pulling the jug away, she exhaled and stared towards the floor. Tears abruptly formed in her eyes.

Shutting them, she reached for another jug.

She halted.

Something was in the cave with her.

In moments, she was on her feet, and she flicked her wrist to bring her scythe into her hand. She didn't know what it was, but the presence wasn't a friend.

"Peace, Aiyül."

She shivered, her eyes widening in shock. The voice wasn't anything she had ever heard before. It was harsh, yet kind. Feminine, yet masculine. Loud, yet soft. It was all round her, yet right in her ear. In her mind.

"What do you want?" she demanded, keeping her guard raised. She couldn't quite see the figure further inside the cave, but she knew it was that direction.

"I wish to make an exception for you."

Her brows furrowed, but she remained quiet. Her instincts demanded that she listened to what the figure had to say.

Slowly, something approached her. It moved unnaturally, uncannily, like a puppet in a single position pulled by its strings. Her heart jumped to her throat, but she remained still.

Once a respectful distance from her, enough that she saw it was indeed a hooded figure roughly her height, something glowed silver between them. Focusing on it, she saw it was a small box of some kind. It lacked a keyhole, it was of a design foreign to her, but she knew it held something important.

"Within this box is the Weave of the one you call Vadeen J'henai."

Her scythe dropped to the floor, clattering loudly in the darkness, as she went cold.

This was It. The It that had been trying to kill Vadeen his whole life.

The It that did kill him.

She moved back against the wall, breathing heavily as pure fear coursed through her blood.

Igni was right, she almost whispered aloud. The Snake was right...again.

Seemingly unbothered by her reaction, the being continued, "I present to you two outcomes. The one that will be Weaved is up for you to decide. The first: The being called Vadeen J'henai returns to this world, unscathed, pure, and no longer the wretched creation it is."

She flinched at the latter words. They were said so calmly, yet there was an undeniable edge of disgust in the beings' tone.

He really wasn't meant to exist, she sadly realized.

But...

Before she could ask her question, It said, "The second: The being called Vadeen J'henai is erased from existence. As such, all memories of it will be erased."

If it were possible, her blood froze over. "No," she said without thinking. She paused. She briefly shut her eyes, aware she was speaking from her heart. "I want him back. We...we all want him back."

"Very well. There will be a price to pay for your role in his life, and it will be tenfold once he becomes of age."

She shook her head. "I don't care."

"Very well."

The box opened, revealing a single strand of what appeared to be thread. It was impossible to see its true color, as a hazy miasma emitted from it.

The strand rose from the box and neared her. Unsure of what to do, she simply let it.

"By the Book, you will birth the rewoven Vadeen J'henai in nine months," it explained.

A feeling of horror tried to enter her body, as did disgust in her mind, but she willfully stabbed it to death. This was what she wanted.

She would not recant her words.

The strand slowly came undone, reducing to thinner fibers that lost their miasma. Their colors were revealed to be white, and they in turn became a white mist. It neared her body and entered her through her abdomen into her womb.

She placed a hand over it, blinking in surprise at how simple that was. She looked back up, but It was no longer there.

For several moments, she simply stood there, wondering if what happened really happened. But an innate something told her it had to have.

It had to.

To her slight surprise, she wanted it to.

Slowly, she slid down the wall and lowered her head to look at her hand. A soft chuckle escaped her, followed by her eyes watering again.

This was it.

A second chance.

She shakily exhaled, only to chuckle again. She placed her other hand on her forehead and sighed. After a few seconds, her eyes diverted to the full sake jugs at her left.

No more drinking for a while.

Dammit.

She scoffed at herself. Then her expression dropped. Groaning, she covered her face with both hands.

How the fuck am I going to explain this to everyone?

The more she thought about it, the more obvious it became. She would tell them as it was. She would not, however, tell them the price she was to pay.

Silence flooded her mind. The distant sound of bats echoed now and then before going silent once more. Lowering her hands, she stared off at nothing. Humming, she placed a hand over her abdomen again.

"Well," she sighed to herself. Despite her next words, a resigned smile pulled at her lips. "Looks like...I'm going to be a mother, after all, Yua."

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Epilogue: The Hands that Rocked the Cradle

Small footsteps echoed in the compound, hasty and hard on the tiled floor. Every now and then the boy skipped into a short hover before landing with a giggle. 

"Oi!"

He gasped and panicked, then ran into a closet. With effort, he tried to hide his presence.

"I know you're here, you little rascal. What'd I tell you about running in the house?!"

Covering his mouth, he made a small laugh. 

Not a second later, the door opened, causing him to yelp and then giggle again. 

Farian huffed, lowering his hand from the door. His irritated expression easily smoothed. "Please, act your age."

"I am," the boy said with a beaming smile.

"I mean your mental age." Farian ushered him out and closed the closet door. "You're smarter than you look."

The two-toned eyes, one yellow and the other ocher, blinked up at him. "Is that an insult?"

"Yes." A narrow-eyed pout was given to him, causing him to laugh. "Ah, you're really adorable when you're angry."

"Puh," said the boy, crossing his arms, and he puffed with his nose turned up. "I'm going to get Momma."

"Yes, you should. She's sleeping in late, again."

"I'll tell on you!"

"And tell her what, exactly?" Farian leaned against the door with an amused, toothy smile.

The boy opened his mouth, thought about it, placed a hand to his chin, and then puffed again. "I'll tell her something."

"Okay. Shoo."

"You're makin' fun of me!" He kicked Farian's shin and zoomed away.

There was an exasperated, exaggerated shout. "Dammit!"

Laughing, he sped up the stairs to the second floor. Farian didn't follow him, as he knew he wouldn't. No one came up to his mother's roost but him, really.

He bounced to the third floor and slowed as he approached the large black door. With surprising ease, he pulled the door open, though his scrunched expression showed it was still with effort. He never minded, though. His mother said he was building up his arm muscles, and that made him happy.

The large room was full of colors, from the rugs on the floor to the walls with flags and designs. He smiled in particular at some he drew on the walls himself. Sure, he got in trouble for it, but his mother had yet to get rid of them, seemingly by her own choice.

Even from where he stood, he could hear the familiar snoring, bringing a smile to his face. The room was divided in three by large decorated wall dividers. His personal area was in the middle, and he walked towards it to make up his bed. His mother would give him the side-eye if he didn't. He was getting older, and he had to take care of his things. 

Once done, he made a smile and skipped to his mother's area on the right side of his. He watched her sleep for a moment. 

She slept supine on the raised pallet, one arm draped lazily over her sheet-covered chest and the other over her head. Her long silvery-brown hair nearly hung off the pallet in a braid that had more brown than silver in it. The two strips of her hair that were completely silver were loose over her face. She slept with her mouth partially open, and from it came her steady snores. 

He thought his mother was pretty.

Pretty lazy in the day, too. She was a night owl.

Nonetheless, he came to the bedside and gently shook her. "Momma, get up! It's almost 1400!"

She mumbled something, then returned to snoring. 

"Momma!" He shook her more. "Moooommmmmaaaa!"

"Yeah?" she muttered sleepily. "M'tired..."

"Gotta get up, though!"

"Why?"

"'Cause!"

She grumbled, stirring on the bed. "Says who?"

"Uncle Fari!"

"Tell Uncle Fari...he can fuck off," she mumbled.

He placed his hands on his hips, frowning childishly. "Momma! Bad word!"

More grumbling.

He huffed and began to crow, something that always got her up. 

Her face scrunched, then she peeked at him with one eye.

He stopped and stared at her. She stared back. He grinned. "Caw caw!"

She chuckled, moving to sit up. Immediately, he slipped onto the bed where her upper body had laid to make sure she didn't lay back down.

Her joints cracked as she stretched, and she gave a heavy exhale. "Is there any food?"

He nodded, observing the many scars she bore on her back that were visible. "Yep. Uncle Amé put some aside for you. He said he made your favorite."

"Did he now..." She sighed again and turned to rest her feet on the floor. Rubbing her neck, she looked anything but awake.

"Do you want coffee, Momma?"

She slanted her eyes open. "Hmm, no." 

"Long night?"

"Yeah. Those ghasts. I swear they've gotten smarter over the years..." She paused, her hand resting on her neck. She seemed to be in deep thought about something. 

He shifted to mimic her pose, short legs dangling off the side of the bed. He watched her eyes. They were very expressive. Expressive and large; rarely did she ever keep them completely open because of that. 

They were also very sad. For as long as he knew, she was sad. Sometimes, her sorrow was so tangible it frightened him. At times like those, she merely held him close to her and told him she loved him so much, would never let anything happen to him for as long as she lived.

It was an eternal sadness.

"Momma?"

She blinked out of her trance and looked at him. "Hm?"

He looked deep into her eyes. Owlishly, she blinked at him. He crawled into her lap and hugged her. "It'll be okay."

Her strong arms went around him by reflex, but he sensed her body tense. She kissed into his hair and remained quiet. 

"Aiyül! Are you going to eat your food or not?!" came a call from downstairs.

She scoffed, standing with him in her arms. "I just woke up, fool!" she responded.

The boy giggled, finding the way his mother stared forward in a sleepily irritated manner amusing. 

"I'll eat your food if you don't get down here!"

She looked at him, and he pursed his lips with a cheeky smile. Her eyes slowly narrowed, and then she sniffed at his clothes, making him giggle again. She then looked into his eyes. "You all already started eating my food, didn't you?"

He shook his head, affronted. "Nooo..."

"You know I eat a lot."

"Yeeesss..."

"Guess I'll be eating your desert later."

He pouted. "Mommaaaa!"

She kissed his cheek and lowered him to the floor. "You're still wearing your nightclothes. Change and we'll go down together.

"Okay!" He went into his area of the room and walked behind a privacy screen where his dresser was located. 

After dressing, he wore dark blue and black, his favorite colors. He nodded at himself in the mirror and left his area. His mother was sitting on her bed, rolling tabi up her leg. She wore all black, which was the only color he had seen her in his entire life. Silver accents, occasionally, but nothing else. 

When she lowered her outfitted feet, she looked at him. A strange expression overcame her face as it fell. Her eyes seemed to glaze over, and she stared in his direction but not at him. Or maybe she was. It was hard to tell.

Calmly, he sat beside her on the bed and took her hand. She didn't respond.

This happened every now and then. Even his uncle Rashar didn't know why it happened, but he didn't think so. He never voiced this doubt, but it was a feeling he had.

"Momma." He gently shook her hand.

Immediately, she snapped out of it, then rubbed her forehead. "Sorry."

She didn't dwell on what happened, standing from the bed and holding her hand out for him to take. She didn't like to mention it when that happened. No one bothered to remind her or even act as if it happened, either. Thus, he learned not to say anything about it either.

But it was hard. 

That eternal sadness in her eyes grew twofold whenever that spell happened. It usually took something reasonably considerable to bring her back from that darkness.

"Goddammit, Aiyül!"

She glared hard at the door. "Get your fuckin' fins out my food, Farian!" she barked.

That worked.

He covered his mouth as he giggled, watching her come back into herself. He took her hand, smiling at her. Gently, but firmly, she took his.

She seemed to be waiting for someone to respond to her. When nothing happened, she muttered while shaking her head, then looked down at him. "Lunch time."

"Your lunch time," he reminded her, swinging their hands.

"Right, that."

They left the room together, and he jumped down each stair with her walking slowly by his side. As they walked he felt her eyes on him. The sad eyes.

She was particularly sad, today.

"Momma, did you have a bad dream?" he asked, eyes on the tiled floor as they neared the kitchen. 

There was a short silence, during which he told himself maybe he would snack on something as the smells of food wafted through the halls.

"Yes." She rubbed the back of his hand with her thumb. "It was...really bad."

"What happened?"

Once more, she didn't answer immediately. It wasn't until they were nearly at the kitchen, the sounds of chatter and movement clearly audible, that she sighed.

"Someone died," she said, "and it was my fault."

"Oh..." It was his turn to fall silent. That sounded like a horrible dream...

He suddenly stopped. She was just a second behind him, and he watched her feet pause near his.

As if she knew what was going through his head, though he wasn't quite sure himself, she easily brought him to her chest and hugged him close. Immediately, he ducked his head under her chin and rested against her. 

The security he felt while resting against his mother never ceased to make him feel better. She was so strong, so awesome. He was so tiny in her arms...

He moved to kiss her cheek. "I love you, Momma."

Her smile was genuine when she gently squeezed him and kissed his forehead. She was smiling, yes, but her eyes, her expressive eyes...

"I love you, too, Vadeen."

They held within their depths an unfathomable sadness.

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Mar Qaroll » Lineup

You found the hidden lineup consisting of Mar's current and future library! 😲


Mar here. I made this hidden lineup moreso for myself while I'm on the internet and cannot for the life of me remember what I am supposed to be working on. It's also kind of fun to see all of the things I've done, what I plan on doing, and so on and so forth. Just a selfish little thing.

I hope, too, that this lineup interests some people! I might do a bit more with it, links and maybe some other info, but for now, this will do. Enjoy, and thanks for clickin' around!


Current Series of Focus

The Molt Series
Inverse Sequences
Echoes of the Little Gods

Click the images to be sent to that series' World Anvil hub!


Completed Stories

TitleGenreSeriesTypeProgress
How the Devil Shed SkinParanormal/RomanceHuman Shed SkinAnthology3rd rewrite
Human Shed Skin: InhumanParanormal/RomanceHuman Shed SkinNovel11th rewrite
Human Shed Skin: HumanParanormalHuman Shed SkinNovel2nd rewrite
Passions of the LuneParanormal/Erotica-loosely Human Shed Skin-Novella3rd rewrite
The Thing is Dead Vol. IISci-fantasy/RomanceInverse SequencesNovel Vol.2nd rewrite
The Thing is Dead Vol. III: What If?Sci-fantasy/RomanceInverse SequencesShort story2nd rewrite
God Noise Vol. III: What If?Sci-fantasy/TragedyEchoes of the Little GodsNovella2nd rewrite

Future & Incomplete Stories

TitleGenreSeriesTypeStatus
Human Shed Skin: HybridParanormalHuman Shed SkinNovelIn progress
DEATH: The Cidal CycleParanormalThe Molt Series-?-In development
Monster Cast DownParanormal/RomanceThe Molt SeriesNovelIn development
She's One of Us [Deviled Vers.]ParanormalThe Molt SeriesNovellaIn progress
Long Live the ThingScience-fantasyInverse SequencesNovellaIn progress
Ice & SpaceRomanceInverse SequencesAnthologyIn progress
Twinkle and the EyeScience-fantasyInverse SequencesNovellaIn development
Darkness and Silver LiningScience-fantasyInverse SequencesNovelIn progress
The Thing is Dead Vol. ISci-fantasy/RomanceInverse SequencesNovelIn development
Snake's EyesSupernaturalEchoes of the Little GodsNovellaIn development
When We Were YoungRomance/SupernaturalEchoes of the Little GodsNovellaIn development
As the Raven FliesSupernaturalEchoes of the Little GodsNovellaIn progress
The ScarecrowSupernatural/TragedyEchoes of the Little GodsNovellaIn development
God Noise Vol. ISupernaturalEchoes of the Little GodsNovel Vol.In progress
God Noise Vol. IISupernatural/RomanceEchoes of the Little GodsNovel Vol.In development

More Stories

This list consists of stories still in very early development...

TitleGenreSeriesTypeStatus
-Alice in Wonderland retelling-HorrorWunderNovelIn early development
As Gods Made UsSupernaturalHierarchy of DeitiesNovellaIn early development
BastardedDystopia----?-In early development
Beating the Dead GodSupernatural/Tragedy---NovellaIn early development
-Pinocchio retelling-Adult Fairytale----?-Somewhat in progress
BoogeymanHorror/EroticaTales of the Dark ChildrenNovelSomewhat in progress
-Paneidoverse prequel-Sci-fi/sci-fantasy----?-In early development
Demons(s) & The Bad BreedParanormal/Romance----?-In early development
-Possible God Noise II-SupernaturalEchoes of the Little GodsNovelA twinkle in Mar's eye
-Prequel of AiW-Psych. HorrorWunderNovellaIn early development
Son With the GunsSci-Fi/Romance---NovelIn early development
Tall ManHorror/EroticaTales of the Dark ChildrenNovellaIn early development
TecromamedoiHorror/Romance---NovellaIn early development
-The origins of Halloween story-Horror/Faerytale---NoveletteIn early development
Until Gods Forsake UsSupernaturalHierarchy of DeitiesNovellaIn early development