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Generic Perfection

Gospel of the Saint Queen (Hidden Valley)

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(Part of Phase 2 of the Terran Civil War. Thread for establishment of the Terra War Cult)

Some flee from battle, other politics, and yet some are displaced for less than savory reasons. Some of them are new pilgrims, while others have been on the run, looking for sanctuary, for years. However, no matter the reason as to why they abandoned their homes, they eventually all end up disenfranchised.  Living on the fringes of society has a way of degrading esteem and worth and creates vulnerable populations. And while unity in pain can bring people together to topple regimes, it can just as often create imploding cesspools of crime.

Trilith looks down upon the valley, from atop a cliff, and absorbs the totality of the refugee camp. In a lot of ways, it isn’t too different from the makeshift town she grew up in. Unpracticed earthbenders had shaped the land into haphazard homes in the form of dirt domes. Puffs of smoke escape from holes in the top, while people come and go from doorways concealed by curtains. Dotted throughout the shanties are tents, made from blankets, canvas, rugs, and possibly even a few sails. All in all, the situation doesn’t look terrible, but there are obvious areas to improve.

From her vantage point the two biggest concerns are the lack of proper defense, only a mound of rock a few feet high marks the perimeter, and the lack of proper sanitation. Shall trenches run from each abode and collect at a single junction that feeds a large trench that eventually discharges into a burning pit a few dozen meters from the encampment.

“I wonder, haven or cesspool?” The answer didn’t matter, because regardless of what awaited her, her course of action would not change.

Taking a step over the edge she nearly goes parallel as she glissades to the bottom of the valley. Vibrant red hair flutters about like wild flames caught in an updraft. From a distance she must have looked an awful lot like a torch sliding down the cliff.

Reaching the bottom, she presses off of the rock wall and leaps to a nearby boulder. Her toes touch it for the briefest second before she jumps from it to another and then the ground.  As she comes to a stand her hair rides the momentum of her descent and flutters down past her shoulders, only to get caught dancing in front of her chest.

“Brothers and sisters!” The call is made as she begins the final portion of her trek to the camp.

Edited by Generic Perfection

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While Trilith isn’t surprised that her calls go unanswered, her head does hang with a tinge of disappointment. It was silly to think that they might greet her with open arms or even smiles. And while this outcome wasn’t the desired, it was telling of the situation.  Some part of her had secretly hoped that the people had found solace in their makeshift sanctuary, maybe even friendship in hardship, and a new found personal power from the trials of their past. However, as her eyes work from face to face it becomes clear that there is only defeat.

Reaching out, she grabs a man by his shirtsleeve and lightly tugs him toward her. “Brother, what tortures you?” The question is posed as the man tries vainly to yank his arm away. “Are you fucking stupid?” He spits the question at her while rolling his eyes. “Some kind of aristocrat’s whore, blind to the problems of the world? Everything most seem wonderful from your golden palace.”

Trilith’s hand releases the sleeve and in the same moment her fingers wrap around the man’s hand. Lifting both their arms and flexing her wrist while sliding her elbow toward him, she twists and bends his wrist, hyperextending it past its normal flexing points. Immediately his face twists into a grimace as he yowls and tries to back up and pull his arm away. But with every step he takes, she takes another closer. “I do not to know, to whom you think you speak. But you will address me with the decency that I deserve. Do you understand?”

There is a silence, after she releases his hand, that accompanies both the growing crowd and the man rubbing his wrist. This silence is broken by the sound of skin, pulled tight across bone, striking the much softer flesh of a cheek.

Trilith’s head is canted off to one side, her cheek red and inflamed. As her pale skin flushes red and her face twists emotions, the man continues to spit insults and threat into her face, his arms flailing wildly about, like vipers ready to strike again.

Before she can adjust her gaze to look him in the eye, her left fist curves up and out. Knuckles embed into his throat, crushing his adam’s apple, trachea, and esophagus into an impossibly flat mound of cartilage, flesh, and muscle. Pulling her hand from the recess creating in his neck, as he drops to the ground grasping, Trilith looks up toward the crowd. Both hands drop to her hips, fingers wrapping around her protruding pelvic bones, as she lifts and then drops her right boot onto the man’s head, pressing his face into a shit stained sewage trench. “Who is the elected official running this camp? I need to speak to them, now.” Clearly she is dealing with a cesspool.

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The back and forth that transpired was most likely a product of languages natural evolution, coupled with Trilith’s expectations being set to the social norms of the future. She did not consider punching someone in the neck to be anything more than an acceptable form of conflict resolution. Likewise, she also assumed that the refugees would have organized, developed their own system of government, and elected someone to mediate disagreements and make executive decisions about the camps wellbeing.

What she found was the opposite. Small cliques collected around one another, some based on families, some social values, some political beliefs, and some physical similarities. Collectively, they appeared to do what they had to, to survive. Getting a hut made from mud and stone either required goods to trade or knowing someone who liked you enough to do it. The trenches were built out of basic necessity to help prevent disease. Resources were not pooled, nor inventoried, and while some neighbors went out of the way to ensure that those around them survived, it was a rarity.

In the hours she spent walking among them, she learned that while crime was relatively low a few thefts and a sexual assault had occurred. And although some of the refugees were practiced healers, the shift in Genus Loci severely limited what they could do. However, what might have been the most troubling, was the lack of freshwater. While there was a roving waterfall that they could collect from, it was rare for anyone to search for it. While the camp and area around it was fairly safe, invisible predators stalked the valley, which was commonly accepted as the reason some people occasionally went missing.


 


 

Trilith stands outside the walls of the encampment, her visage twisting with her thoughts. Organizing the tribes within the camp was a high priority. Better organization directly translated into better survival. However, they had no reason to trust or listen to her. Just getting people to open up to her about the current state of affairs has been the most daunting exercise in patience.  “They only way to earn their trust, is to solve the problems I can, without their trust. A show of good faith, then.” She muses it over for a few seconds. Better sanitation couldn’t hurt, and continuous access to fresh water could resolve that issue and others. But how could she tame a wild waterfall that aimlessly wandered?

Her lower lips curls in as she begins to chew, a physical act to compliment the mental. “Resolving the issue with the predators would undoubtedly afford them more opportunities to search for and collect fresh water.“ Her lip uncurls as she settles into the idea. Predators, Water, Sanitation, Resources, Crime, Religion. The mental checklist is at the very least somewhere to start.

Edited by Generic Perfection

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There was a secret to the Hidden Falls. In truth, it was always there, in the edge of perception just outside the reach of men and gods alike – only occasionally would it choose to make itself known to certain individuals, when certain stars aligned and circumstances conspired and the Waterfall felt like it. It might spring forth from a mountainside or from a rock, whatever it liked, whenever it liked, and lingered reluctantly as an unfaithful lover might. Once out of sight, it would remain so and hide away in the peripherals forever. One swore that it was there just yesterday, and one just might die of thirst before finding it again.

Dove had the feeling that it liked having men at the mercy of its whims. “Don’t you?”

The Falls gushed impatiently, the same sound it had been making for days. The tell-tale creep of moss stained the northward side of the lich’s material body, taking hold in what was suspected to be peculiarly fertile and soft rock. It had no reason to believe otherwise, nor had it been given one, not in five days and not for the foreseeable future.

The Falls had much in common with trees that fell in forests, and that was that once seen it could not be un-seen until it was given leave by perception. Sounds are not made when there are none to hear them; the Falls do not cease to be, until there are none left to corroborate the claim. As long as someone was watching, it would not leave them. It was many things, but it was not cruel.

Dove did not mind cruelty. She derived satisfaction from watching the undulation of the water squirm. So went their vigil through days and nights, one praying against hope that the other would take their eyes away for just one moment, one blink. Needless to say, it was hopeless; there was no victory against one who had learned patience over the course of seven centuries.

The lich entertained herself sowing into the ground the seeds of the Falls’ prison in the meanwhile as she waited for a guest whose arrival was most aptly described as "inevitable."

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The trek through the valley, without aim, is mostly uneventful. Every so often Trilith hears the sound of a twig break, a bush rustle, or even wings flapping. Likewise, a careful surveying of the ground reveals footprints and other hints of animal life. However, no matter how hard she searches there is nothing to spy. While that in and of itself wouldn’t be completely out of the ordinary, animals were often very good at hiding, she is certain that something is out there. Something haunts the back of her mind and nips at her consciousness. And while the sensation manifests within as an overwhelming feeling of being watched, it is in truth something far more quantifiable.

There is an innate connection that binds creation together, and through it the vibrations of life cross the threshold from one consciousness to another. For Trilith, in this moment, it takes the form of literal vibrations. Her natural attunement to the ground, to the earth, is so great that the minute shifts and ripples of dissipating energy, created by moving bodies, are felt by her. But because the signals are just barely strong enough to notice, but not intense enough to identify, she is unable to accurately articulate what she feels and why. Instead, she instinctively knows that something else is out there and it is staying just out of arms reach.

In most instances this dynamic would unsettle a person. However, she has never solely been the hunter and has always occupied the position of prey as well. It is for this reason that her heart rate doesn’t elevate, nor does she lose her nerve. In fact, the situation is so comfortable, normal even, that her mind wanders and drifts.

This isn’t her first visit to the Hidden Valley, although she has a hard time identifying any of the landmarks. She assumed that it was named so because of the dense layer of smog that obscured everything but the lowest portion of the valley from view. Her last walk was also missing the vibrant greens and deep rich browns of living plants.

No, the valley was mostly muted and dull, the only exception being the…. Trilith stops dead, her mind venturing from the past, as the sound of rushing water pulls her to the present. Adjusting her course, she starts up again toward the noise. The situation is eerily similar to the last time, although the roar of the falls is louder and more ferocious than she recalled.

Last time she had found the waterfall bound in threads, trapped in a small oasis of green. There a small hut, home to a woman that Trilith couldn’t kill (not for a lack of trying), and a fresh cup of tea served with biscuits had awaited. After much back and forth, and several attempts on her life, Trilith came to accept that the stranger was unafflicted by the great blight and that she had somehow found sanctuary in the small patch of land.

Weaving through vines and negotiating fallen trees, she eventually meets a stream of water. Following it up a hill and around a boulder leads her to not only the source but also a stranger.  She pauses, taking in the situation and measuring out the risks. Her instincts tell her to strike but she remains conscious of the fact that the blight has not ravaged the world yet. With a single deep and prolonged exhale, she collects her thoughts and relaxes her muscles. She smiles, it is unpracticed, and waves, it feels unfamiliar, as she calls out. “You’ve ventured far from the encampment, you must be either very thirsty or very brave.”

Her hand drops to rest in front of her thigh, her other hand wrapping around her wrist. Her thumb fidgets with a silver ring on her middle finger, spinning it around the digit. Breaking eye contact by turning her gaze downward causes her hair to slip past her shoulders, which conceals most of her face. With any luck she is sufficiently simulating submission, because neck punches weren’t earning her any favors.

Edited by Generic Perfection

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The sun had dragged itself onto the horizon from darkness, bloomed forth and dispelled the morning mists, reached its zenith, fell from its zenith, and finally left a sky of fire in its wake as it dove into the unknown lands in which its nadir was suspended. The next day, it had come again unto the threshold of morning, just as reluctantly as it had the first, and this cycle repeated twice over and began again before Dove’s patience was rewarded.

It was evening when the visitor came; the sun had just finished its descent onto the thin razor of the horizon and now stared from the edge of the world inwards, focusing the arc of its bloodshot iris down through the Hidden Valley. The rays filtered through the foliage, touching everything beneath the sky one last time before good-night. On the leaves, it shone fiery; on the grass and matted soil, it was gentle. It painted fire onto the chipped shoulder of the Saint Queen as she stole through the forest, brushed past her, and shot forward even further and deeper until it reached the nook wherein waited the water she sought.

The cascading waters of the falls were colored angrily, with the sheen of molten gold and fractal rubies. The Falls were angry. The speed and force of their pour had risen loudly in frustration, had been rising for the past few hours, until the waters were all froth and mist whipped into frenzy and boomed with a sound more like the ignition of a jet engine than any which water had ever made elsewhere. Dove felt the first waves of a forming pond lap at her crossed legs. Even the water felt as if it seethed; if she tasted it, she’d imagine it to be bitter with iron. It wanted to drown her. It wanted to push her lifeless body down the slopes of a torrential mudslide, and crush her bones underneath a thousand tons of dirt. It was herald to powers that mortals could not wish to comprehend, and it would fill this Valley if it had to, if she did not relent.

They both knew – if a waterfall could know anything – that it was wishful thinking, bordering on petulance. Nonetheless, the lich was thankful for the beacon. She did not close her eyes.

The visitor found them shortly afterwards, guided in part by the sun, but mostly by the enraged sound of water. When she arrived, Dove was waist-deep and still entranced by the rushing waters. Only when the newcomer spoke, did she start: nothing more than a jolt that ran through her shoulders. She did not turn her face, nor did she stand.

“Neither. I’m just a person with a bit of a theory,” she called out over the noise. She gestured with a shrug towards the wall of mist before them both. “My theory is that so long as somebody is watching the Falls, it cannot move. I’m fairly sure that it’s right, otherwise it would not be as hateful as it is at the moment.”

A trill, almost like birdsong, peeked its notes through the troughs of the sound. Accompanied with the shuddering of her body, it became clear that Dove was laughing.

“Would you do me a favor?” Her finger craned out the immortal motion for come hither. “Come stand next to me and watch it – carefully! – for a minute. Don’t blink. I’m going to try and tame the Falls.”

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"That is a hypothesis." The words are shouted as Trilith slips into the water and begins wading out toward the waterfall. The idea of taming the waterfall isn’t foreign to her, in fact she’s seen the outcome firsthand. However, some part of her brain struggles with weighing out the ethical implications of such an act. Not that she could explain why it was wrong, only that she felt as much.

“I had a conversation about this once.”  For all of the waterfall’s rage it doesn’t have a proper path to channel its might. The deluge spreads out evenly before taking the path of least resistance down, spreading into several small streams. It isn’t until Trilith gets within arms reach of the falls that the current has enough force to make her feel like she might lose her balance.

Closing her eyes, letting the muscles rest, she collects her thoughts. She had considered trying to ensnare the waterfall for the campsite, or tracing out its path to see if it had a pattern or regularly visited spots. She also had considered trying to engineer a series of paths that would drain all of the highland water down toward the camp.  All of these notions were discarded for being massive time investments. She has a better plan, one that required minimum up keep on her part. All she needed to do was purify the ocean’s salt water. That’s how they survived in Albright. Channels could be dug to bring salt water to a phoenix coal pit where it could then be brought to a boil and the vapors collected in a condensation tank. Simple, at least in concept, a little bit harder in execution. However it would take monumentally less time.

Opening her eyes, her gaze locks with the waterfall. Almost immediately her corneas are coated in the mist created by the waterfall’s spray. The urge to blink it away is fought off, self control holding for the time being. “If I hadn’t of come, how long would you have sat there waiting for a stranger to find you?” The inquiry as made as she continues to try to come to terms with the situation. Was the waterfall alive? Did it feel things? Could it feel depression? Did it feel pain? Did it have thoughts, hopes, dreams? Did restraining it disrupt some grand plan? It is impossible to know the futu…. “Ha.” The laugh interrupts her thought as well as almost causes her eyes to break from the falls. However, she remains zoned in and eyes continue to unblinkingly fixate, if only for a little longer.

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Dan huffs, in part because he is short on breath but mostly because he's pissed. Who the fuck was that bitch? Even though he can breath again, his throat is still sore and his neck as a whole throbs. In fact, the pain is so bad that the last time he tried to speak his words sounded more likely gravel caught in a blender than those of the sophisticated and well educated gentleman, which he is. On top of that, she humiliated him in front of everyone. Certainly the opinion of those people didn't matter, they were filth by comparison, but that was absolutely beside the point. She had embarrassed him among the trash and he lost respect in their eyes.

Moving a bit of a fern to the side, he gazes at the two woman near the waterfall. He doesn't recognize both, but one of them is definitely the harlot that struck him. Pulling a long hollow stick from behind him, he levels the opening so that it aligns perfectly with the redhead. There is a slight click as the rod actuates and an opening forms near the back end. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out an obsidian tipped chunk of granite that looks an awful lot like a fang. Dropping it into the rear of the rod causes it to actuate again, and the opening closes.

Bracing one end against his shoulder and closing the opposite eye, he aligns two apertures on the top of the rod with the redheaded woman. Slowly a warm builds in his hand, the rod acts as a natural conduit of his desires and concentrates a pulse of energy behind the projectile. He inhales, exhales, and holds his breath.

The moment he wills it the captured energy explodes against the granite driving it forward, the impulse ignites lattices within the rode that draw the bullet forward even faster. Just as the projectile is about to leave the barrel, Dan feels something hit his body. The barrel of the weapon breaks up and to the left as his entire frame bends around the point of impact. Flailing through the air, his eyes catch glimpses of nearly everything, except whatever hit him.

He hits the ground with a thud, the bushes rustle and branches snap as he rolls across the ground and eventually splashes into one of the waterfalls many streams. Laying motionless, breathless, he can see the area downstream of him gradually growing redder by the second. There isn't an appreciable sound, but he can feel the ground vibrate as something lumbers about. He can see trees bend, some break, as they are pushed out of the way by something massive.

Many settlers had been attacked, most never survived it. Those that did were usually the lone survivors of the group. Dan had always dismissed the stories of an invisible predator  stalking the refugees as being little more than wild hallucinations, bad luck, and killers living among them. Now, he isn't so sure. Some spoke of packs of wild animals that couldn't be seen or divined, others swore that there was some kind of super predator stalking about, they called it the Valley King. Whatever it was, Dan didn't want to find it.


Trilith's body lurches forward. Not by a lot, but enough that it looks like something just bumped into her. "That's bad." The words are murmured as her eyes break from the waterfall. Although her vision is blurred she can clearly make out the steady stream of red oozing from her shoulder. A few seconds later, the pain begins to settle in. It's hot and grows hotter exponentially. A few slow and well placed steps result in her completely turning from the falls to face behind her.

Her initial glances reveals nothing, but with each blink her vision clears a little more. A handful of blinks later and she can see the brush moving, branches snapping, and boulders being shoved out of somethings way. She also sees, much to her dismay, the trunk of a tree hurtling through the air, heading right for her. "Ooooh~"

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“That is a hypothesis!”

“It is, and that’s what faith is there for,” Dove scoffed, tilting her chin imperceptibly to better address the visitor. “See if I’m wrong.”

She rose to her feet against the bottomless downwards beat of the waters. It fell upon her in swift pulses, matching the terrified palpitations of some distant, stranger heartbeat – it certainly wasn’t hers – and each pulse pushed her back one step for every two she took. The arrangement was not sustainable. Before long, despite their best efforts, she forced herself between the last curtains of water and vanished into the heart of the falls.

For ten long seconds and forty beats of the water unto the ground, Trilith was left alone. Not alone; there were still the waters, which had begun to calm, but in a way that made it clear all its animosity was forced within. Anger swam thinly beneath the placid surface, going deeper all the time while the waters ran red beneath the dying light. Like flames – though to the outside observer they were gentle.

The Falls didn’t seem to mind her watching.

An umbrella unfolded, with a sound like crackling lightning. All at once, the Falls exploded; the spokes of the umbrella punched upwards and outwards, stopping just a few feet short of Trilith’s reluctant meditation, and the once unified downpour split into eight jets that careened off the slick, gauzy surface to crash among the undergrowth. No longer sustained by wrath, the pond beneath their feet began to drain, dropping away from their waists inch by inch.

Dove clutching the handle of this enormous umbrella, as delicately as a lady might, with an expression on her face that more befit a tyrant. “But you’re right, nothing possible is true until it suffers empirical testing.” She shoots a knowing glance at the waterfall. It wails.  “That’s why we’re here now, Saint Queen, if you believe in meaningful coincidences.”

It may not have been good or kind or ethical, even, to shackle anything like this that deserves not shackles –

—but don’t dare claim that it is justice which prevails in the end.

The Saint Queen would know that, wouldn’t she?

The lich raises a hand, intent on grandiosity, and with a blinding flash of light –

Bang.

The report of a rifle rings out, Trilith jerks forward, and blood begins to flow from her shoulder. The actions occur in logical sequence, resultant from a ready explanation, and instantly Dove jerks her gaze towards the edge of the woods to look for the shooter. She finds instead an airborne trunk flying with all the aerodynamics of a missile towards Trilith’s position and blanks.

Releasing the umbrella, she staggers forward, reaching out an incredulous hand. “What the –“

The construct snaps in two and the lich is thrust under by the redoubled rage. Her face is slammed into the mud, the mud pushed over her body, and the congealed mass shoved off to roll with the current into the valley. Without a jailer to watch, the falls roars ecstatically and makes ready to leave. It coils up its whole mass and leaps into a pinhole of nothingness, the waters sucked away into the void through the entry of a single point.

And suddenly it jerks to a halt, the thickness of a single thread stoppering the escape. From a hundred feet downstream, Dove climbs to her full height, grinning in a way that betrayed no current pleasure, but seemed rather to originate from a promise of future schadenfreude. A string is tied around her pinky, stretched with tension enough to cut through wood.

“Good try. Don’t fucking move.”

Her every word is amplified in her stare, seething and unflinching even daubed all over with mud.

“I haven’t even tested my hypothesis,” she mutters beneath her breath, and pulls herself towards the terrified singularity. For the moment, Trilith is forgotten.

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Maybe some would duck, others might try to dodge to the side, and some yet would attempt to leap over a projectile of such size. Regardless, the unifying theme is that movement is essential to survival. And while, at a casual glance, it may appear that Trilith is overcome with fear or frozen in place by shock, or perhaps the mud and water bind her in place, these ideas could not be further from the truth.

A queen must always be composed, stalwart, and relentless. She must move for nothing, and in turn demand all to move for her. Boughs bend for their queen, the sun sets for its queen, and the world spins for its queen.

 

The ground holds and braces Trilith, as rocks partially divert the wrathful flow of the falls around her. As blood seeps from both the entrance and exit wounds, eyes of a much deeper red remain firmly locked with incoming missile.

As the tree tumbles closer to her, she lifts her hand to meet it. A pulse of will collapses the bark of the trunk as a grand crater tears through a hunk of wood, separating it into two pieces. The individual segments tumble to either side of Trilith before bouncing off of the ground and slamming into one another behind her.

Stationed a few inches from her exposed palm, a conglomeration of pulped wood spins and spirals as it condenses down into a marble. Snatching it from the air, her fist closes tightly around it as waves of heat and blue and orange light escapes from the breaks between her fingers.

“Where are you?” The words are a whisper, just barely in the audible spectrum. Trilith takes a few steps, breaking free of her makeshift restraints, as she advances toward the woods. Catching movement within the brush off to her left, she pivots toward it while bringing her hand toward her mouth.  Her palm opens, revealing a half-consumed marble sitting in the middle of a mound of black powder. A quick puff of air, along with another pulse, sends a black cloud rolling out into the woods. The silver ring on her finger glows briefly and a lone spark jump from her hand to the edge of the plume.

A section of the forest ignites. Orange and red flames burst from the air, scorching the ground, as tendrils of fire scale trees and lash out along vines. A wave of heat, trailing the eruption of light, pushes Trilith’s hair straight back, causing the crimson locks writhe with the flames.

Within seconds, a scream of terror competes with the blaze's roar. Honing in on the keening, Trilith begins her descent into the flaming valley. A moment of searching and she finds herself standing over a familiar man clutching a rifle.

“Did you shoot me?” She squats down, leveling her face with his. It is an inane question, who else could have?

“There…. There is something big out here.” Dan murmurs back, his body trembling.

“I noticed. But, more importantly, did you shoot me?” She presses again, although her voice maintains stoicism.

“I can’t see it. But it hit me. I think I’m bleeding. I need help.” Dan’s gaze breaks from hers as he begins to look around. “Why is everything on fire?”

Trilith presses her forehead into his, realigning their eyes. “Answer my question and I’ll help you.”

“I did, on accident though, I swear.” He stammers the response while trying to wiggle away from her, only to find himself pinned to the log he’d propped up against.

“Thank you.” She brings her head back and in the same motion shoves the remaindered of the freshly converted phoenix coal into Dan’s mouth. “I forgive you.” The ring glows again as Trilith holds her hand against Dan’s agape maw, his head wildly twisting to escape her grasp. “Try not to swallow.” Screams slip past her hand as smoke rolls from his nostrils and his cheeks light up enough that the veins and capillaries become visible.

Edited by Generic Perfection

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A dog is what it is.

“A dog is what you are.”

Step by step, her feet carry her through the alluvial waters that have thinned to a mere trickle. Splashes punctuate each step, gentle, softened by dust and mud and almost milk-like in consistency. (The Hidden Valley isn’t much for purity). Caught half-formed into curtains of droplets, they hold and rise around her. All which is left of the short-lived river behind curls back upon itself and coalesces into a sheet that flares out behind her approaching body – a river no more. The cloak is hemmed by an unbroken thread which starts looped around her pinky, which grows more and more slack as Dove draws closer to the revealed source-point of the Falls. Her eyes glitter above curled lips.

Between steps, she blinks. Slowly, deliberately, and without breaking gaze from the hateful look she envisions upon the Falls.

The world has caught fire when she opens them. The heat doesn’t transmit to her skin, lacking nerves, but her imagination supplies it all the same. Warm, too much so. After a few seconds, it would have been unbearable. The mud upon her face should have hardened into a crust, which she wipes away, and the water enshrined in her service begins to simmer and seethe where they touch the wood. The wanton entropy does not dissuade Dove much, if at all, from her forwards procession, and her mind remains fixated on beating obedience into something that could stand to learn such mundane concepts. The string is still unbroken; the path forward is clear.

“I’ve been told that it’s easiest to give in,” she quips.

The Falls neither speaks, nor moves. It simply boils balefully, suspended in its sphere.

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N6bIWLS.jpgMuch had transpired since Nicolas Mourain had set foot upon this land many months ago. His journey had been long and filled with conflict and suffering, for both himself and those had been commanded to follow him. At times, it had been enough to curse his assignment. But in times of distress and desperation his faith had brought comfort and lifted him from the brink of despair. He was living proof of the limitless resolve that was the Imperium. The land was on the verge of total collapse, thus it fell to him to protect the people from the terror and destruction that would otherwise surely consume them all. Such had been his sacred command, given directly by the God-Emperor himself.

To fail in this task was unthinkable, and so his determination would even defy the clutches of death should it come knocking.

In Pagard he had seen the destruction first hand as the Sanctuary had fallen from the sky engulfed in flames, signifying the beginning of a series of events that would surely affect the the people within the land for generations to come. In Tia he had witnessed the gradual escalation between humans and non-humans to the point of unavoidable conflict.

The true victims had been the weak and the defenseless. But he had been unable to stem the tides and so he had set out with a new purpose. After wandering aimlessly for a fair amount of time rumors had begun to reach him about a refugee camp somewhere within the hidden valley and there had also been reports of a certain self-proclaimed Saint Queen. Without further investigation it was impossible to determine facts from fiction.

But even if it could prove to be nothing but false rumors, it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to learn more about the peculiar cult.


He had been travelling for many days now, doing what he could to aid refugees fleeing from the turmoil on his journey towards the Hidden Valley. He had seen his fair share of bandits prowling the countrysides, looking for easy prey in the form of desperate souls only seeking an end to the bloodshed. Some he had been able to save, while others had been sent on in scenes of unfathomable suffering. It was enough to give even the hardiest of soldier recurring nightmares. He could see it in their eyes, many months of their relief effort had taken its toll on the squad consisting of twenty imperial legionnaires. But there was no time to waste and it would surely get worse before it would get better. The best he could do was to remain steadfast to their purpose.

Thankfully he had been able to rely heavily upon experienced sergeants in particular to keep the men in line and up to standard.

After another couple of hours of advancing further towards their destination, on of his sergeants that he had sent ahead returned. And from the looks of it, the man was in a hurry to deliver news about what his scouting had brought. The man stopped a few feet away from Nicolas and the sergeants that had quickly approached after seeing the man return in such a hurry. After gathering his breath for a few moments he drew his breath to speak.

“Sir, I was able to locate the camp ahead just as previous Intel suggested. However there seems to be some kind of commotion within the camp.” The sergeant explained while supporting himself against one of his fellow sergeants. Nicolas brushed his cheek in response of the report. The information was vague at best which bothered him more than it perhaps should have, but he could hardly blame the man for lack of detailed information. After they did not have the manpower to send more than a few men to scout ahead. With that in mind it quickly became clear to him that the sergeant had acted in accordance with basic military strategy.

Perhaps what bothered him the most was that he had so few men to spare.

“Our first priority should aid the refugees as best we can. Alright let’s move out, double time soldiers!” Nicolas commanded and in response the sergeants would quickly move to delegate his orders to their men. Whatever awaited them, he had hopes that this Saint Queen would live up to her reputation.

For all their sake.

Edited by Diremast

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Fire, the valley was on fire.

While typically invisible, and content to stalk and observe and hunt all it would have liked, the Valley King was a dumb animal, and like all dumb animals fire meant alarm, it meant panic. The Valley King roared in surprise, as if challenging the sudden appearance of the flames, a tremulous noise that filled the nearby trees and beyond. Yet even as the woods began to burn, the smell of smoke and sight of flame spurred the beast into action, and it quickly attempted to skirt the flames, escaping the cover of the dense trees in search of shelter. In its haste, the beast's attempts at stealth faltered quickly, and the sound of it barreling through the trees, stamping on the dirt, slamming against trunks in its way was certainly audible as it skittered for cover. The rough nature of its skin scraped bark apart easily, and its tremendous weight made it difficult many of the younger trees to keep it back in its panic. It tore through the brush, seeking shelter from the flames, until at last the burning wake of fire was left behind it, and the fight or flight attitude faded, albeit slowly.

Before the world erupted in hellfire, the beast was focusing its attention on one thing in particular. One of the two-legged deer that infrequently made their way through the area. They were slippery, certain, but fragile, and their meat and bones were soft, and easy to eat. That made them good prey. This particular prey was different obviously; how else had it avoided being crushed into a pulp when the Valley King hurled a tree at it? Prey wasn't supposed to smash trees; trees were supposed to smash prey, crush them into broken little piles of softened flesh and powdered viscera. Yet, not only had it survived, but it'd retaliated. The flames consuming the trees behind it told that tale readily. The prey was dangerous, unlike anything it'd tracked and slain and eaten before, and while it was tricky, it was still prey. It wouldn't matter if it could set the world ablaze; once it was dead, there was no further cause for concern.

At the present, the Valley King had fled from its place hiding amongst the brush as it tried to keep track of the hunt, but given that the flames would continue to spread until dealt with, it couldn't resume its tracking from the brush. It needed to find better ground to search for prey from. With a series of clicks, as if cackling, or chuckling to itself, it gripped another tree and gave it a shake. The boughs swayed at the top of it, but otherwise it didn't seem to be rotten. With minimal effort, it hoisted itself up the bark of the tree high above the flames, where only a minimal amount of smoke could reach it, and it began leaping from tree to tree. With its hind legs, it wasn't difficult to make such movements, and its powerful, dextrous limbs minimized the chance of falling to the earth. Leaping between the heavier trees, it skirted the all-consuming fires below as it leered downward, searching for movement. Only the two-legged deer were foolish enough to stand so close to the flames; if anything moved, it would almost definitely be the Valley King's hunt.

It gave a second, more infuriated roar of defiance, the odd noise clacking and reverberating over itself. Somewhere, roughly a mile away, a flock of birds took flight at the sound, though the Valley King paid them no mind.

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Thrashing and muffled screams give way, leave Trilith with only her thoughts and the roar of the flames for company. Relinquishing her hold on the man’s face, her limb withdraws and his body slumps over and to the side. Smoke continues to billow from his mouth and nose, even after his cheeks stopped glowing. If she had to guess, he either didn’t heed her advice or the flames had suffocated.

Stepping back from the smoldering husk, her hands draw up into the air. There is a moment of focus as pulses of will ripple out from around her and saturate the alight masses. Then, compelled by some otherworldly force, the burning matter rips from its posts and coalesces between outstretched fingers.

Smoke, coal, bark, foliage, rocks, dirt, and embers unite into a heaving mass that casts a baleful orange halo upon Trilith. Within a few seconds the glow fades into wisps of smoke and the smoke eventually dissipates into nothingness.  Dropping her hands causes the mound of ash to lower to her chest level, the excess material pouring from it droves.

As the last of the unwanted material breaks away, a crude gem dagger made from compressed phoenix coal hovers just a few inches from her grasp. Grasping the hilt of the blade, Trilith can feel the warmth of embers past radiating from just beneath the surface of the dagger. The warmth permeates through the stone, a faint memory of the former heat, which is trapped within the very crystalline structure.

Trilith’s fingers exert tectonic forces as they press into the gem, causing it to release its pent-up energy as arcs of violet electricity. Satisfied with the quality of the blade, she slips it behind her and tucks it away within the folds of her coat.

Turning her head to survey the area and finding the young woman enthralled with the remains of the waterfall, Trilith weighs her options.  On one had curiosity bites at the back of her mind, this stranger referred to her as the Saint Queen. The questions were limitless, but “how” was at the forefront. On the other, something large loomed out of sight and was nearby. If she was going to hunt this foe then doing so while the trail was fresh is optimal.

A third consideration arises as she winces, the pain of her fresh wound finely eking its way into her consciousness. The surge of adrenaline that had fueled her has finally subsided and she is left with a growing, burning, pain that radiates from her shoulder and consumes her arm. Retreating to receive medical attention feels very tempting, if only because she’d be able to double down on her convictions later.

A lone finger gingerly probes the edges of the wound as her face twists and scrunches with discomfort. Give up the chase or maintain the advantage?

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zX8HcBT.png

-in the future past-

Locale: Hidden Valley, Terrenus, 8772 AO


7rTY8l4.png?1“Say — missy. Trilith, you said? Or do you prefer your title, Saint Queen? Either one works, I reserve judgement. I understand the appeal of having titles.” One teacup was balanced upon the deflated surface of a neglected ottoman, kitschy with plaid. The other remained in the standing woman’s hands, from which she took an immediate draw. The serene curls of steam wreathed the sides of her face as she drank, in the resemblance of the mane of a lion.

It really was very hot; Trilith was not being particularly rude in neglecting hers.

The woman set the cup down upon the corner of a table. “I used to have a whole lot of fancy names and titles, too. Though you might think that it’s not a lot of good in the dust bowl now — do you mind if I do a bit of cleaning? I haven’t had guests in a quick minute.” She unhooked a duster from the side of a cabinet and swiped at the dust gathered upon the window. Through the glass was a desert; a plain made up of a thousand years of sand swept by wind into a vast crevasse that was once a valley. “Anyway, names. Names don’t really have any meaning anymore, do they? Nobody left to answer to them, fear them, respect them. There’s nobody to know of them.”

“…”

“Fair is fair. I go by Louise now. I had others. Victor. Mary. There was a long time when I went by Dove, too. That was many years ago. Thousands, even. Not quite as far as Levas, if you know your history, but a few hundred years after that,” she said, moving onto the shelves and tickling the spines of books. “I can’t remember the exact date, but I’m sure it’s after the Desecrators started going out of business. I’m almost positive — yeah, by the time Jason of the Lions put a knife through Zengi’s face — Oh. I’m rambling. It must be terribly boring to hear of history that’s already been wiped into nothingness that no one remembers. All of that is just dust, anyway.” She stressed the word dust as she cleaned a sheen back onto the surface of a mirror. “Dust and old memories. And I’m the only one who remembers those.”

Trilith found the reflection of Louise’s eyes looking out into hers from the silver. They were almost as red as hers, and they were not particularly weary, nor crinkled, anything of the sort. In fact they were downright energetic, smooth and shiny in perfect and impossible ways.

Louise had gotten better at emulating the dynamics of eyes over the course of years: such was her art. She sculpted with her face, and painted with her skin. It was how she etched into memory the faces of those who she’d loved; aging them, changing them, taking on their form. The visages were put together from photos, memories, paintings, the wist of the mind. Once upon a time they had been rough and unfamiliar; now she thought herself indistinguishable.

But no matter how well she changed herself, her eyes were inescapably old, completely unlike the once-child she was remembering. Louise leaned against the mirror, appraising the woman seated in her living room. “Still, you have to know about the brief reign of Odin Haze? The records must begin at least that early. Otherwise you’d be making a blind foray into a hostile, dark land. Isn’t that right?”

“…?”

“Word travels far, especially in empty space,” she remarked. “That you’re here is more than a stroke of luck on both our ends. It was bound to happen eventually. Inevitable, you could say.” The ding of the oven summoned her across the room, though her attention was unbroken. “When you return, you’ll want allies with you. If one woman could change the world alone, it might be you. But if you want to make that a certainty, I know another woman who’s quite capable. Would you like some biscuits with that, by the way?”

“…”

“They’re really tasty, I promise. I made them. I would know.” She bit a piece off a particularly flaky specimen with an impish look. “Yum.”

“…?”

“Who is she? Where is she? That’s a pretty good question.” Sucking on the biscuit thoughtfully, she returned the serve. “Say. Isn’t it funny? If we talk about ourselves in the past, we would use the first person. Say, ‘I watered the plants yesterday’, or ‘I went to Genesaris five years ago.’ It’s the same thing with the future, even though foreseeably we change so dramatically through the years. One might wonder whether you right now are the same person as you from twenty, thirty, fifty years hence and thence. It seems so much more suitable to talk about different people in the third person, doesn’t it? She said, he said. Yet we can’t let go of identity. They are us, after all, no matter how much we change.”

She paused. “But to talk about this woman in the same way feels strange, especially when you are about to meet her. She’s nowhere to be found right now. You’ll meet her after you jump: you’ll meet the me of some thousands of years past.” Louise pushed aside her teacup and sat onto the corner of the table, crossing her legs and picking out another biscuit. “That’s how far you’re going, aren’t you? All the way back to the very beginning of this mess. Back when Odin Haze was starting to drift into myth, and the cities of Terrenus were beginning to dissolve from within.”

“…”

“I remember everything very clearly. The longer you live, the more you cherish every minute that is not like the last. And those were very important minutes, never to be replicated, and you’re going to make sure that they do not happen to begin with,” Louise nodded. “And she - I - will be helping you. I have to reward you somehow for coming all this way, and since you keep saying no to my biscuits this will have to do.”

“You’ll want something she’ll recognize you by.” The woman brought a palm to her heart and breathed deeply — or made a show of breathing, as she hadn’t breathed once before this. At the apex of her breath, she threw out her arm, terminating with a fierce snap of the fingers. Grinning crumbily, she presented her open palm to Trilith with the manner of a street magician; a fluttering scrap of red silk was tucked, half-folded, between her fingers. “This marks a very special bond between you and I. And her. It means our fates are intertwined, in some form or another, or so the symbolism goes in those old novels. Idle words, really. Aren’t all of our fates tied together?”

She laughed.

“This is something she will recognize. It’s very important. Don’t lose it, mind. I’ll know if you have.” She closed her hand into a fist, and tossed a silver ring banded with red - a swift transformation - which Trilith snatched deftly out of the air. “I don’t know what I’ll do if you do, to be honest, but I’ll be very disappointed at the very least. And I’m sure that this world will suffer for you two never having met.”

Her voice was mischievous, but not in the way that a child’s was; it was full of gravity that had been weathered into levity by the passing of years. There was weight and portent in her words.

“Good luck on your journey, Queen. When you return, I’m sure you’ll be returning to a world where people really respect that title, where your inheritance is a bit more than a few bits of scum floating on the surface of the sea.”

“…”

“Oh, don’t worry your pretty little head about it. You’ll find her, or she’ll find you. One way or another. It’s something of an inevitability. She is me, after all.” The teacups clinked into the sink, washed by the sound of running water. It ran, and ran, and ran, synonymous with the soft susurration of the Falls just outside, clear water pouring out sourcelessly in a murky world. The wind began to pick up; in the distance, thunder began to rumble among the towers of dust dominating the skyline.

“Oh, I forgot to say; she won’t look one bit like me, so you might —”

Louise turned to address her, but the mysterious woman had already disappeared into the veil of dust swirling just beyond the perimeter of the falls. She eyed the empty sofa for a few seconds more.

“Well. It was nothing so important, really,” she said shortly, and dried the dishes with a rag. “It is inevitable, after all.”

Louise collapsed back into her chair, closing her eyes, and the falls rumbled. Without pause, the familiar sensation came around her into which all other feeling fell away; that of melting, of disappearance, of void. The cottage, its garden, and the embracing gentle flow of the Hidden Falls vanished into limbo.


Locale: Hidden Valley, Terrenus, 28 AO


Tmi5JXs.pngDove cursed, slammed her foot into the caking, crackling, drying earth beneath, and pulled. It was not a fair game; she was an unmoving, wooden post, and the Falls, a horse garroted to it by a wire round the neck. This did not mean that the horse made it particularly easy; in fact, that the post had to struggle at all to keep the horse in check was an alien notion which made it grit its teeth in annoyance. Each inch which she pulled was another inch of rushing water exploding outwards into air choked by ash. It was too late, she presumed, to appeal to the Falls’ sense of duty. It would let the world burn just to get away from her. Every inch which it gave was an inch of its sum total willpower.

She pulled again, and again a length of thread emerged from the vanishing point through which the Falls had tried to escape via - what, teleportation? Some cowardly trick, which would not make a difference. It was inevitable, predestined, probabilistically unlikel - why is it not giving up?

Another thread teased from beneath the hem of her dress, and shot to collide and entwine with the first. A third, a fourth, a fifth all followed, delving into the realm of the metaphysical where all cowards eventually fled, finding the core concept of the Hidden Falls and choking it. Dove took a little satisfaction in feeling the preternatural essence of the falls contract and cower beneath the crushing grip of her phylactery. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. — That was a good thought. She cleared her throat.

“Should’ve given up while you had a shred of pride left in you,” she said to the inanimate object she had been wrestling with for the better part of an hour; five days, really, if one included in the count the battle of wills. “Play stupid games, win stupid pr—”

A blade of water shot out from the quivering sphere of levitating water, filling her mouth keenly and drowning her last word in a torrent of coughs and sputters. Swallowing a good majority of the water, Dove wiped her face and let out a deep, shuddering breath.

“I will…” She began, and suddenly thought better of it, clamping her mouth shut. Her eyes flickered as a thick harpoon took shape from her back and poised itself towards the Falls. The water chilled suddenly; the comfortable warmth it had acquired from the fires raging around them drained in an instant, almost freezing as a second, then a third joined the battery.

Dove quirked an odd smile, one which filled her eyes with an odd glint. “This might be a tight fit.”

 

Whenever Trilith might have returned at last from her fruitless hunt, Dove would be there, reclining atop a tower of rocks from which gushed a small stream and polishing a long, serrated ruby harpoon. The trees around steamed, burnt to coal and burning no longer. One might figure that the woman had not a little to do with the state of affairs.

Edited by Mag

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