Naeline sat sunken in his chair, his body tired over the many Rounds spent walking around making sure everything was being prepared. The Assault would begin soon, and he needed his family ready. The full strength of his clan will march, he with three hundred Guards and one hundred Chanters. Many will speak his name, praise him for such dedication to Doliff, if he were to survive his Worth would soar. He’d perhaps become the most respected man in this Settlement. It was a warming thought for it implies all of them had a future that this horde of hungry maws had been laid low. That Nightmares which had come for them had been pushed back once more. The warmth left as the harsh truth presented its self to him. People hiding behind walls that will no longer keep them safe, people with the strength to fight, will instead try to flee.
A common act that even he had partaken in. But that option was gone, the horde was almost done mapping their home, most of the Settlement was surrounded. If they were to run, they would first need to fight through waves of Nightmares, a laughable notion with how large the host outside was. Even then, there was still the problem of finding safe ground, for they would never make it to the nearest Settlement. Nor could they hope to find safety within the walls of the nearest Sanctum. The only option they had left was to fight, to drive these creatures back into the shadows they belong.
Yet here he was the only one of his fellow Anointed to rise to the occasion. To fully commit to their homes defense while the rest hid in their estates sending handfuls of their men to deal with the threat. The only blessing in this act of cowardice was it will allow him to be the highest authority amongst those men. They will listen to his every word, follow his commands as if they were part of his house. Perhaps they will, perhaps he’ll adopt them into his family once this is done, a reward for aiding him.
He shook the thoughts from his mind “No, no more fantasies, no more planning for the future that may not come.” Humming he removed the fatigue that was withering in his form, and let his soul renew his vessel. His vision grew bright again, the slowness plaguing his mind replaced with clarity. He walked over to the Atlas that his trained Maidens crafted for him. A perfect layout of their home, marked with locations the Horde will likely attack first. Such information must have come from Donac, he had yet to review all that had been decided. He knew it involved various plans to hold out as long as possible hoping that the Sanctums will send aid. A foolish plan, the plan of those that refused to see the truth before them. He told them there could be no defense, and yet they throw his words aside, throw truth aside. But they’ll see it at the end, when the lies come crumbling down with these walls.
He traced his fingers along the map, studying each possible path they may take when the Nightmares attack. The counteroffensive was assembling at the edge of the dome, a paltry sum compared to what his Anointed could truly provide. A force of three hundred and ten Guards, with an attachment of ninety Chanters that would be the size of the army if he didn’t include his own children. His fellow Anointed sent so flew to turn back an endless tide of Nightmares, a tide that was still waiting outside in an orderly fashion.
He and his able children will take up the burden then, only those who can’t fight will be left behind.
No matter the outcome his clan will suffer much, it’ll likely be the smallest house after all is done and they, by the Givers will survive to see another Rotation. He’ll be spent that’s for sure, even now he watches his children from the corner of his eye, moving crates that held his personal treasure of Hearts. With those filling them, the Givers strength flowing through their channels, they’ll take many into the claws of death. He just hoped it will be enough, the bulk of the work will be done by him and his Chanters. The Guards will try and be useful, but the moment an Ancient shows itself, it was going to be a blood path. He could only hope the Guards will succeed in keeping the lower Nightmares off them while they battled the true enemy.
He huffed in frustration, as his body begged for spirits, but he pushed the urge aside. The Round was late, and soon he will be off on campaign. He couldn’t have drink in him disrupting his Chanting, not when his Clan was at stake. He pushed away from the Atlas, eyed the Chronicler, it was almost time his children should be done readying themselves.
He walked to the Vault, its doors opened wide, letting him see how barren it had become. Once it had been filled to capacity with the many treasures he had gained over the Cycles. Now, all gone save for one. In the back with a path leading to it even when this chamber was full, is an imposing set of armor on display. A masterwork of crafting as every morsel of the armor was covered in the most detailed and smallest Wards he’d ever seen. All of it weaved together into an elaborate web of channels all leading to sockets. Five at the chest, then one socket for each of the shoulders arms, and legs. The Helm had three slots, above the eye notch. Once filled with Hearts the soul would travel through the channels turning the armor into a fortress of protection. The armor came with an undercoat designed with numerous pockets that would hold Hearts. Holes were cut into them so the Hearts would be touching his skin. He could call upon the souls held within them at any time. Once in this suit he would a symbol of his peoples might, a display to all they were the rulers of this realm.
If only he had more, five alone would be enough to crush his fears. Have him sure that his children would have the strength to vanquish the Horde, while he and the chosen fought with the Ancients. Instead, it was just going to be just him. Him against an unknown number of champions, there was a small part of his mind screaming. Begging him to change his course of action, to hide with the others behind walls that have kept them safe for Cycles. The Wards song, always there, always singing to help keep them calm. It was so tempting to be lulled back into a sleep, to close his eyes to the truth, to forget and embrace the lies.
He laughed, before he began to choke as his throat grew tight and tears blurred his vision.
His voices of dissent grew louder ‘What are you doing, you’re an Anointed you don’t take the field!’
‘The children must earn their Worth, prove themselves, not you, you are wanted, needed, above this.’
‘You can run there’s still time, your home Sanctum will let you in, your clan won’t let you die out here.’
“Shut up, shut up,” he howled towards the ceiling, towards the Wards. “You know nothing, a cacophony of lies made to blind us from the realm.” he raised fists, shaking at the curtain of falsehood “I will not hide behind lies, not again, all it has brought me is death!”
His knees bent and he fell to the floor, the voices gone, the song muted, and with its passing, the fear came in full. The truth bared down sapping his strength as his mind wailed upon the revelations that had been in sight all along.
“Why are we waiting? Why on the realms above are we waiting? Why are we letting ourselves be encircled by a horde of creatures that intend to devour us?” His voice lowered “Why are we waiting for death to claim us?”
He stayed there crying shivering, letting all the fears that have accumulated over the Cycles run out of him. When he had gone numb He rose, forcing his quivering legs to hold him aloft. He stared at the suit, the symbol, it drawled him closer. His soul reached out touching the Wards engraved upon its surface. The armor hovered waiting for the call. Naeline removed his robes, before sending the signal. The underclothes come to him first filling with Hearts, then the armor broke apart, slowly weaving around him, embracing his form. The Hearts made for it following shortly after clicking into sockets. The armor came alive, the Wards blazed bright, the souls singing a new tune to him, not of calm, or peace. No, it was a song of action, of war, of grinding away all that stood before him.
The images of Ancients played, but this time instead of hiding he faced them, brought them low under his might, crushed them, dissolved their fresh with the wave of a hand. Laughing as their strikes broke harmlessly upon him. With the Wards shielding, with Wards.
“NO!” his fists clenched, the song, another lie shattered, the fever leaving him. The truths light shining through, bringing clarity to his mind. This armor wasn’t going to save him, not provide him with the strength to stand amongst Elders. It was only going to make Death fight to take his life, that it would come at a cost. As it always should have been, instead of them putting up the barest of efforts to hold on to their lives. Spending their souls on walls to hide, instead of crushing their foes to dust.
They had earned this fate, Oh how clear it was to him now. What did they expect ignoring the problem? That it would go away? That’s things would all resolve itself? Instead of festering, growing into something they could longer handle.
They were all fools, he among their number for the volumes of time he wasted lounging about, enjoying the Givers bounty, instead of readying himself, preparing to protect what was their given right from soulless hands that would take everything from them. If only he’d seen sooner, if only he had the words to force his brothers to see that they're dooming themselves with their own inaction. If every clan took up arms sent all they had, emptied this Settlement to combat the tide, he was sure they would win. Their souls were strong, and many compared to the soulless mob outside their gates.
But they won’t, not till it’s already too late, the Wards have them, the song too much to their liking for them to hear his words, to uncaring to even try.
“Fine, stay here my Brothers, lie down and let death take you.” He straightened his strides firm as he made for the door “But I will face Death, make it earn its due.”
His sight grabbed everyone attention as he strode through the halls of his estate, out into the Domed chamber of their Settlement. His home had the makings of becoming a Sanctum, up till now every threat was easy enough to deal with, letting them swell in numbers. Numbers that allowed them to send continued patrols to keep the local Nightmare population thin enough so they could continue working on the Wards.
For all the good it did them now that a true threat had arisen. He know Donac was right, they could hide within these walls for some time, but it didn’t change the outcome, only made it worse. The Nightmares hadn’t been idle, their calls for aid would have been sent down as many passages as possible. More of their ilk will show, swelling the horde to greater heights, while his people did nothing, save continue ignoring the problem and indulging in pleasures.
He stopped when he arrived at his courtyard, the land bustling with activity as servants went about distributing Hearts, and better quality weapons. Majority of his clan was displayed to him, ready for war against an enemy they should have faced long ago. It was a comforting sight, to see so many ready to fight by his side, almost enough to blind him again, give rise to false hope. But he knew the numbers were deceiving, most were Guards that would contribute little. His true children, his Chanters they were the ones that spun a vivid illusion. If it were another host he would be confident in a force of a hundred chanters clearing them away with minimal losses. Now he could only ask for a blessing that they would kill a few Ancients before they were consumed.
Some of his children made their way to his side, they were better clad than the rest, so they must hold high positions in his family business. Though he couldn’t recognize any of the faces and doubted he’d ever heard any of their names.
“Anointed” one called, then all bowed once they were close enough “Our task is complete, all are ready to follow you out to face the Nightmares.” The boy had kept his tone neutral, at least to his ears it may have seemed. But Naeline ears had grown accustomed to noticing the smallest of distress. The boy was afraid, they all were afraid, Naeline wasn’t foolish enough to think that they wouldn’t be.
“Good, we’ve waited too long as is, send word, we march.” He walked passed them without another glance and headed to his estate gates, and out into the streets. His children raced to follow, and the many folks that traveled about made room for his clan to pass. Eyes of wonder, of awe laid upon his form, the armor a feast for the eyes. The volumes of Hearts that lined it gave the illusion of his soul was that of an Elder. He smiled under the helm as he witnessed every women give him eyes of desire as he passed.
As they walked the streets it became choked as people seemed to keep appearing, watching his clan march as if they were some parade. People cheered as they moved forward, towards the outer walls of the dome, towards the location where the other part of his army would be waiting. His pace was slow, as he didn’t want to pull too far away from his clan, and at times the spectators took longer than he liked making a passage for them. It was over a Round by the time they reached the walls.
His mood which was already souring by the delays turned at the sight before him. Cold fury ran through his vessel. The counterforce was there, its number accurate to the reports Donac messenger had provided. But he had envisioned more from the others, to treat the threat with understanding respect. Instead what Naeline saw before him was the bare necessity for a fighting force. The lowest or the most unwanted of each clan had been thrown here to form a portion of his army. The Chanters souls were small, few even have the signs to let him easily tell of their trade, the clothing was the only thing that let him know who was a Chanter or not. The Guards were a sore sight to see. Their weapons and armor a cruel joke, the Hearts held within the spears small, and the light from them dim, the armor was of poor material, which looked cobbled together by scraps they found lying around.
He had to close his eyes, let his ears guide him, he fought for calm as the fury took more of him. ‘They know the threat, seen it with their own eyes, and yet they said rift raft to face them.’ He had known them blind, but this? At this point their deaths were their own, they couldn’t blame the Nightmares entirely for the slaughter that was to come. Fury broke away to form sorrow as he thought of all those hiding within these walls. People that put their will in them to perform their task well. People who assumed he and the other Anointed would know, and act accordingly in times of Strife. It was a blessing in a sense that he wasn’t going to be around to see realization dawn on them that those on high had failed. No, that those above never even bother to try and keep them safe, for they are unwanted, their lives mean nothing.
His eyes opened as he reached the end of the building limits. Now close the unkempt appearance of his allies was more apparent. He was glad for the helm over his face, for he couldn't have been able to hold back his looks of disgust. Now close he could see a growing number of Guards without armor, clad only in layered clothing that wouldn’t stop any Nightmare blow from punching through. It may help clog bleeding, if their lucky.
Amplifying his voice “Those in charge, come forth we have matters to discuss.” The mob looked to one another, hundreds of low murmuring conversation filled the air as they glanced about nervously. Behind him, he heard his older children or those more worthy approach to stand by his side.
His brows creased as the time circled by, and as he was about to take charge, before a pair of reluctant souls were forced towards his direction. They never looked at him, and when they neared enough for their voices to be heard they kept their heads down as they spoke.
“Blessed Anointed, apologies for the delay, none were truly tasked with leading the force. Merely to get it going once the messengers had arrived, and to send reports back with details of the opposition.” Naeline took a calming breath, which had the unwanted flinch ‘Not only did they said me an impoverished force, but an unled one as well.’ This must be on purpose, the last strike of pettiness against him for opening their eyes to the truths they refused to acknowledge. It had to be, for the alternative was his fellow Anointed were completely incompetent.
His voice echoed loud enough for all those gathered could hear him. “Then I’m your Taskmaster now, you will do as instructed even if it conflicts with other tasks that may have been placed upon you.” He moved his head about looking at the many eyes that laid upon his form. Where he looked, faces bent down to observe the dirt. He shook his head and turned to his summoned sons. He pointed at three “You, my sons will organize this mob, have them follow my orders if any bother you kill them.
They bowed “Of course Anointed,” they said in unison, then hurried off to accomplish his order, they knew he wanted to be off. As he waited he observed his own army and found reassurance return to him. His children were clad in armors befitting a force of war, their weapons glowed with soul, and he hoped with the Givers blessing. They would prove their worth to him, show the Nightmares what awaited once they pushed his people too far.
Once this was done, when he was spent, he wanted to make sure the caverns were overflowing with their dead. He wanted to etch into the creature's mind a clear reminder of who was in charge, who rules this realm.
The Round was growing late by the time his sons organized the mob into a useable force, he wasted no more time as he ordered for the gate to be opened, and his makeshift army poured into the common tunnels. The path they took to the appointed exit was mixed with lights of yellows and orange. Nightmares were close to finding the dome, once that happened their attack would follow soon after. Naeline would strike before that, while the Nightmares numbers were spread thin. It would hopefully buy his army time to converge outside and stomp a sizeable number of the pests before the full host fell upon them.
He originally hoped it would buy his Settlement time for the Anointed to gather their forces, or by some blessed workings of the Giver, reinforcements would arrive from a Sanctum. Seeing how little effort his brothers had put into assembling this counterforce, his hope had withered.
His army halted as they came to the final block, His sons sending messages to him, asking for their next course of action. He had his words bellow out for all to hear “Raise the block and pour forth chosen children of Doliff, let none stand in your way.” For a few sequences, nothing happened the lines of men ahead of him stayed still, waiting for those ahead to move forward. A weakness he had never noticed till now, the halls were large enough for patrols to pass through easily. But not armies, it had his anger flare that his force was held at bare by thin halls, forcing his men to wait for their turn to move forward. Everywhere he looked signs of their failing showed, their very homes designed to hinder them from fighting, or leading a charge against their foes instead of fleeing.
Men began to move their pace slow, painfully slow, Naeline wished he had placed himself farther up the line. His fears gnawed at him, unable to witness what was transpiring outside, unable to see if an Ancient was already harassing his men.
By the time he passed through the gate, was finally able to see the lay of the land, the battle with Nightmares was well underway. The floor was slick with the ichor of Nightmares and Guards alike. The noise of the battlefield song loud, attracting everything that moved, Nightmares flooded through every crevice as they rushed towards his people. The beasts likely thinking they were trying to flee the Settlement. They were eager, clumping up into tight groups as they sped towards them. He laughed as scores of the vermin shattered as Chanters send the winds towards the coming tides. Naeline fought to keep his hands idle, the soul coursing through him crying out to be unleashed upon such easy prey. But he held himself in check, used the helm to amplify his hearing as he waited for the champions to arrive.
His army split into formations when enough ground was claimed, the Guards forming a standard shield wall, with the chosen in the back felling the beast with aimed chants. The forest withered as water rushed towards them, blocking paths or freezing sections of the horde in place to be easily cut apart. Naeline ears buzzed as the air rippled from the many spears being activated, the coming tide of Nightmares disintegrating against the wall of prepared Guards. They had barely just started perhaps a quarter of a Round, and already pools of blood and bodies began messing with the terrain. Even blasted apart the remains were growing into small mounds, the number of Nightmares dead reaching into the hundreds. Yet more came, the walls alive with movement as they seeped through holes or broke through stone forming new breaches.
His army moved forward, forced to advance in order to make room for the scores of brothers still exiting through the gate. The Guard wall pushed against the horde, slowly taking ground. Naeline saw Spear hearts begin to give out, the substandard weapons pushed beyond their limits. This caused gaps to appear letting Nightmares inflict losses before his own children arrived better armed to fill in the holes.
‘At this rate, the Anointed counterforce would have been gone before a single Ancient arrived.’ He called curses upon his fellows, if not for him committing to this cause they would have thrown away lives for nothing.
By the time his full force had emptied into the cavern, his people had nearly claimed it. The Horde even with more of their number streaming in, was fairing poorly against a force aimed at fighting them, instead of running. Chanters began aiming at the walls, rending large wounds into the surfaces, which Nightmares spilled from. The walls were infested with the creatures, the gaping wounds his sons had made revealed a hived network of twisting tunnels. All full of the beast clamoring to get out.
“Remove them, my sons, fill those defiled tunnels with wrathful winds.” They did as he instructed, the Nightmares shredded, and their remains carried with the currents down into dark depths that he couldn’t see into. The sight of their superiority was soothing to him, but tarnished as he looked about the walls. A worry festered in him as he considered the number of Nightmares hiding behind the stone surfaces. Hundreds? Thousands? The thought had him shiver, was his army going to be spent before they even came close to thinning this horde?
“My sons, aim at the walls, show me what lies underneath.” Winds answered, hammering the stone with colossal force. Boulder-sized stones fell from the walls, and what he saw had him pale. His worries morphed into fear as Nightmares came tumbling out of the gaps they had made. The walls infested with over packed vermin struggling over each other. They combined screeches deafening the cavern as their eyes fixed upon his sons. “Removed them” he screamed, “Remove them now!” Winds howled and rivers of ichor and blood slithered down the surface of the walls. Yet more of the beasts came pouring out once the chants ended, they raced over each other after they fell to the floor. Chants flared buying the Guards time to fall back and form a condense circle formation around the Chanters.
Naeline paid little attention to this as he moved his vision from wall to wall. Dumbstruck by the possible number of beasts that could be moving around them. Converging towards them from the many vibrations that traveled through the stone. The truth had shown him his Settlement was doomed, but only now did he understand the true depths of their folly. They were all fools to let this horde grow to such a size, such a force. Even with every soul powering the Wards, against a tide such as this they would quickly be spent. Then consumed, and that wasn’t even considering the Ancients.
His eyes caught movement on a section of wall ahead of him, stone warped, then folded away revealing his quarry. Summoned by his thoughts an Ancient had finally come, the father of Grounders by its appearance. His foe pointed a finger at him, the beast letting loose a twisted laugh. Naeline was about to call light down upon the insolent creature, but his hand stilled as he watched more stone warp and fold away. His eyes widened as a growing number of Ancients showed themselves. Some sharing characteristics with their children but most did not.
The battlefield stilled, Nightmares secede moving forward, instead, they began to amass near their Fathers. Even Naeline own child had stopped their attacks, stunned by the sight before them. Ancients were the Nightmares champions, they were supposed to be few, there wasn’t supposed to be dozens of them, not in one place.
The first Ancient to arrive raised a fist and howled, others of its kind adding their voices to its own, their chorus shaking the very ground beneath his feet. Then as one their charged, and he screamed, “bring forth our Givers wrath my children, burn them, burn them all!” The Cavern blazed as the Givers will was sent towards the ruinous horde. Nightmares were turned to ash, but the Ancients were only pushed back, as they own souls were brought forth. Their shells glowing, and the large ones began to advance even against the light. Those Naeline focused, the realm shivered at his hymn, and the light he sent was blinding. Those it struck vaporized, their souls lacking compared to the might of many hearts hidden under his armor.
Then the light was snuffed out, as the ground under their feet gave way. Naeline found his whole army falling, saw his chosen children hastily forming barriers around themselves as they spend towards the ground. In his periphery he saw his new foe, the Carver Ancient from the visions, he snarled at the beast, aimed a hand and fired.
His light rammed into the creature, which was distracted by the act of eating his children midair. But no more as his Chant struck the beast in the head and traveled down its length as he moved his arm. He was forced to stop as he crashed into the ground. He felt none of it, the armor absorbing all of the impact, and he hastily rose from the crater he'd made. The Ancient was a mess, but still alive, the remains of its body was being pulled back into the wall, where the rest of it lay hidden behind layers of rock. But not for long as he sent the winds crashing into the stone, ripping away layers as more of the Ancients form spilled out.
He stopped only after the true length of the beast was displayed, then he sent light. He burnt it all, relished as the creature screamed from a newly formed head that had erupted from the other end section of its body. It tried to run, but he had plenty of soul in him, and nothing was fast enough to flee from the Givers judgment. By the time he allowed himself to stop the pest that had ruined his army was a burnt husk, already breaking apart into piles of ash. A fitting image to watch, as his own plans and expectations had gone in the same manner. All around him laid the crumbled forms of his children, the Guards were all dead, which was a given, but the Chanters, his chosen? He had expected more to survive, instead, he saw a few dozen stumbling their way towards him.
None of them reached his location, for a hymn played, loud and twisted from above. He was knocked to his knees as the Chant struck, his armor glowing bright and hearts emptying to keep him safe. He forced his head upward, watched as Ancients with malformed mouths sung their song. His chosen lasted a few breaths before their barriers wavered, and their bodies flew apart. He screamed rage consuming him, he lifted his hands upward, fighting against the force that wished to crush him. “Burn!”
He pulled from every Heart underneath his armor, draining them completely. Soul saturated his vessel, and when he chanted his hymn smothered the defiled. Light bloomed, the realm went white the ground trembled. For half a Sequence the realm bowed to his will, then it was gone, his hands fell limply to his side as the toil for his action crashed into him. He fought for breath, his large gasp not enough to fill his bodies demand. He nearly fainted, but he held it back, he needed to see, to know the destruction he’d rot. Garbled laughter emanated from his lips as he viewed the scene. The edge of the crater was a molten ruin, only small pieces that were falling forward remained of the Ancients that had assaulted him. He laughed louder, closing his tired eyes and reveled in the moment.
It was disrupted by ground quaking as something landed near him. He heard a low screech, almost a snarl before he opened his eyes. To stare up at the towering Ancient that stood over him. The first one to have appeared, its four arms were tense, its fists bound tight. He could hear bones popping underneath its shell.
The sound made him smile, and he was laughing again, his vessel only now registering the words that spilled out of him “Angry vermin? Did I kill some you care about?” he laughed loudly at it.
“Die!” said the Ancient in a rage, one of it fists hammered into him and he was sent flying, then skidding against stone before stopping. His vision was a blur and before he could get his bearings, a hand wrapped around his leg. He was whipped around slamming against stone a multitude of times before the beast smashed him to the floor. It placed a leg on top of his stomach pinning him, then using all four of its fists it began punching him into the ground. The remaining soul in his armor quickly began to diminish, grimacing, and his body crying out for him to stop, he pulled soul from the armor filling him for one last act.
His hand shot out, he hummed, and the light shined again, smashing into the beast face. The impact had it rear back and stumble away as its hands clutched its ruined head. The beast wailed, and while it was distracted he rose to his feet, pulled all the remaining soul in his armor into himself.
He echoed the beast word, before firing another lance of light at its head, shattering it. Its massive frame went limp and fell to the floor, shaking the ground as it impacted. He followed suit, his legs giving out and sending him crumbling to the floor. His vessel went into shock with his soul so spent, all he could do was breathe deeply, as he fought to stay awake.
He wished he hadn’t, as he watched the Ancient body begin to twitch. Its shell glowed, then its flesh, which quickly began to twist and morph upwards towards where the head used to be. He stared in horror as the beast regrew its head. Its mandibles and fangs jerked wildly as they formed. It took a gulping breath as it came alive, its body tensing as it became aware of its surroundings again. The thing lurched about then relaxed as it caught sight of him. It stilled as they stared at one another. The beast laughed, rough and painful to his ears. It rose slowly enjoying the moment before it walked over to him. Lifting him up with a single arm, while two others clamped around his head. It stared into his eyes, laughing louder as he heard metal begin to creak then break.
It was odd being able to stand so close to a creature that in most cases would be trying to bite his legs off, or impaling him through the gut with its beak. But he was slowly getting used to the change. He circled the Maggot once more studying every inch of the vile thing as it stood motionless. He had it move around some, more out of curiosity at how its multiple legs worked together, rather than anything useful. He had it run, try to jump, and then order it to dig, which it did with ease. In a minute the thing was completely out of view as it dug a deep hole down into the soft soil. The thing popped back up at his command then froze.
He summoned a hundred of the things, Maggots appeared randomly in a circle around him, their clawed legs sinking into the grassy dirt. He had the creatures move away from him far enough that seemed reasonable if he was facing them in the realm. A command sent, and the things charged forward, he, in turn, began flinging spells as fast as he could in every direction. In a span of ten seconds, the small swarm was reduced to a pile of meat. He felt some pride at the achievement, but not much, he wasn’t sure to what extent was real or his mind changing things so the outcome he wanted would happen. He had no clear idea how fast Maggots actual moved, or if they had others ways to attack or tricks he’s yet seen. But he was far better off in his skills than when he first faced the beasts. Least now he could defend himself alone, where before even a single Nightmare could have gutted him if it had been close enough.
He waved a hand and the disturbing scene of mutilated bodies vanished, replaced with a single Stinger that remained motionless. He had a harder time getting close to this one, even as a lifeless doll his body didn’t like being around it. Its spear mouth and many thin grabbing hooks were uncomfortable to see, even in complete safety. But he had to, for him and his children sake. They would be fighting these monster eventually, best they knew them, and had a vague sense of what the things were capable of. The shards had helped in that regard, especially when he was told he could stop time and study everything around him for as long as he liked. It had also been very eye-opening in how other Chanters fought, which is they didn’t. Unlike him, they didn’t hold back with the amount of mana they used, nor test how much effort really was needed to kill a Nightmare. They just sent a predetermined amount, every time, even when they were running low. He was worried his own kids would do the same thing, merely follow guidelines past down to them without ever experimenting.
A growing pattern he was noticing with this race, not much changed, no one really tried new things. Nor did they even try to learn things on their own. When they wanted to learn something they would hunt someone down who already had the skill. Said individual would be bargained with, the knowledge transferred over to a heart, then into the person who wanted to know. Very effective, until there wasn’t someone already around with the knowledge to share, then the matter was dropped, and the knowledge labeled as lost.
An outcome that was becoming very annoying when he would ask about certain subjects, or his people history, only to get in reply “The knowledge is lost.” At first, he thought it a joke, his Maidens keeping things from him again for his mental safety. But everyone he asked, even strangers, would say the same thing. It had him grinding his teeth when he asked about ways to improve his spellcraft, only to get blank stares or “it’s been lost.”
Leading to where he is now, forced to conduct experiments around creatures he didn’t want to be near, trying to find better ways of killing them, and preserving his life. He looked up at the overly large head, the many eyes staring into him, just as non-caring as the real-life ones. He shivered and circled around the beast studying its odd form. The maggot shaped back end inflated as he imaged it filling with blood, it continued till it matched the image he’d seen in the shards. It didn’t look as odd afterward, its thick legs now properly proportioned to its body. He had it run about, getting the speed to match with the visions, once done he filled the glade with the repulsive creatures. Once more he had them encircle him, and charge. This time instead of pointing his arms about firing madly, he spun his body, arms held outward and hummed. A vortex of wind encircled him as it consumed the horde and body parts went flying everywhere. He stopped after a hand full of seconds and surveyed his work.
He nodded at its effect, though he would only able to use it if he were fighting alone, which was the last thing he hoped would ever happen. That and the spinning had made him dizzy, plus unable to see what was really going on. He manifested a book and placed the spell into the ‘only when desperate category’ then closed it. He was about to continue, but bells began to ring, not loudly, so it was his body waking naturally. He shrugged and let it happen, the world blurred and then went dark.
His eyes fluttered open, his vision focusing on the patterned art adorning the ceiling, before scanning the rest of the room. It must be early as his Maidens laid still around him. Younna laying on top of him, her face pressed against his chest. While the other three snuggled against him, then the ten new Maidens farther out. An unexpected turn of events when he was finally free from laying with strangers. Unthee had been wrong in her assessment, claiming he would only need to put up with strangers for two more weeks. It instead continued a little over a month. He was alarmed when these new Maidens appeared, and Younna told him they were staying, additions to help rapidly grow their family. How was one man supposed to remember, and foster a loving partnership with so many? The answer was he wasn’t, which Younna explicitly told him to do, followed with the other three when they were with him. They were apparently going to be breeders if he interpreted Sothsea description of their role correctly.
The ten were of lower worth, which likely meant their child would be as well. Those children, in turn, would be used as his family servant class, and make up their contingent of Guards for their House. With Younna, Unthee, Zulae, Sothsea, and their children the upper class, who would run the Household. With him at the top of this odd pyramid left to lounge about by the sound of things, save for bedding with women and training his Chosen children.
Maybe, even the loose-lipped Sothsea was very reluctant to tell him much of the workings of their growing family, only resuming him that everything was going exceeding well and that he needn’t worry himself with such lowly matters. Normally he would accept her words without batting an eye, he cared little with leading as long as he retained his own freedom. If his Maidens wanted to take up all the responsibility fine, but keeping him in the dark of most matters, not so. He would have demanded by forced for them to tell him more of their affairs by now, but when the shards he requested arrived he’d become distracted. His instinct was driving him mad, he felt a constant feeling of dread, which only grew worse with each passing day. It had him study and training constantly when he normally would be relaxing or attending some play.
Now that he was awake, no longer working on something that would prepare him, the feeling resurfaced once more, pushing him to continue. Sighing he closed his eyes, and began his mantra, emptying his mind of distractions. He thought of the mana that coursed them him, changing him, improving him, making him into a better container, allowing him to retain more of it.
The substance reacted, adding to his network as it spread, then strengthened bonds. Time passed in a haze as he was entranced by the warming feeling of mana morphing him. His concentration broke as Younna stirred awake, stretching on top of him before he felt her rise, one of her hands caressing his chest. His moment of peace ruined he glanced up at his lover. She was staring dreamlike at his chest completely unaware of her surroundings. She flinched when his hand rubbed her cheek, and her eyes turned towards his.
“Good morning my Love,” he said as he began to sit upright. Younna hand pushed him back down and she smiled as he looked to her “It’s our needed time to rise, not yours Heart. Rest so more, we know it’s been a taxing couple of Tempos for you.”
He hummed the room brightening for a split second as he performed a spell. He and those around him let out moans of relief as his healing spell fixed their sore muscles. He relaxed, and got comfortable “If that is what you wish Love, I’ll be here when you need me.”
She kissed him on the lips before rising, his new Maidens already hurrying out the entrance, Younna slowly following behind. With her no longer claiming him, the other three pounced, showering his face with kisses before they pulled away.
Unthee rose, and stretch her body upward “Many blessings to you Steed, for removing that ache in my hip.” He smiled “Your welcome, but maybe from now on you should be less aggressive with your, affection.”
She huffed at him while Sothsea giggled “Perhaps I wouldn’t have to be if my steed wasn’t so unruly.”
He made a face at her “Maybe if this room wasn’t filled to the brim with incense we wouldn’t have this problem.”
She rolled her eyes at him and walked out of the room. He sighed, as she refused to discuss the matter of lowering the incense dosage to a less mind-numbing amount. He knew he’d needed some around, as Dailin wasn’t confident he had it in him to satisfy fourteen women with his nature vigor alone.
He turned to Sothsea who was still clinging to his arm tightly. “You agree with me, right Love? A little less of the vile mix wouldn’t be bad. Sothsea shook her head into his shoulder “No, I like what the incense does to you, you become very passionate” He scoffed at her “I’m always passionate.”
“No, you’re not.” She said her face close to his “you’re reserved like right now, if you were under its sway, you’d have plasters me with kisses by now.”
He turned to Zulae for a second opinion but stopped when he saw she wasn’t paying the slightest attention to them. Her full focus was centered on his chest, he looked down to see if there was anything wrong. He saw none, “You alright Love.” he reached a hand over to touch her shoulder. But she grabbed his hand as his words woke her from the daze. “Hum, oh, sorry Bondmate, was there something you need?”
“No,” he said, “you seemed lost for a moment I was merely asking if you’re well.” She gave him a warming smile before kissing his hand “Well and blessed Bondmate, I was organizing my thoughts, I have a number of tasks to complete.” She removed herself from him as she made for the door “The children will be sent to you later, I’ll send a warning before they arrive, so you can ready your lessons.”
“Of course love, blessing upon you,” He said as he waved her goodbye, and she left him to the mercy of Sothsea who was watching her sister leave intently. When the sound of footfalls was gone, Sothsea hand snaked out and grabbed his member, stirring it to life with quick motions. She mounted him with similar eagerness, and he saw the fire in her eyes, the hunger, he knew she wouldn’t leave till she was satisfied. So he aided her with timed thrusts to her own hip rhythms. A few minutes passed before he finally got her to squeak in delight, and she collapsed on top of him out of breath and eyes clouded.
He fell victim to the same haze and fell asleep for a brief moment, before Sothsea movements woke him, as she hurriedly removed herself and ran out the door. He grunted, and rubbed the fatigue from his eyes as he sat upright. He couldn’t waste this moment sleeping, he rarely got so much time lone to focus on himself, and he wasn’t about to let this opportunity slide away.
Straightening his back, he took deep breaths pulling in as much mana from the air as he could. Reciting a mantra in his mind he felt as the mana morphed his form. He stayed in that position through the entire length of his time alone, only moving himself to stand when he heard people from the hall headed his way.
A group of his new Maidens arrived, five to be exact, they bowed when he regarded them, their eyes aimed at the floor. “Founder,” said one “We’ve been tasked to ready you for your Chosen, they will be here in a Round and a half.”
He smiled at them, even though none could see it and headed for the door, they parted letting him pass and quickly followed in step behind him. He headed for the baths, whereupon arriving his Maidens went about washing him. None spoke, nor did they ever look at his face. Though they were Maidens it felt more accurate to call them slaves, they act as such, watching his every move, and acting in haste to accomplish some task he could easily do on his own.
He eventually relented, and let the women swarm him as he laid in the bath. Some applied soaps to his hair and body, while others filed his fingers and beast like toes. One massaged his muscles, making his body tingle as what little stress was in him ebbed away. He nearly fell asleep by the time they were done and had him rise. They dried him with towels, even though in a second he could have pulled all the moister off of him. That was when he noticed their difference compared to his first Maidens.
The women before him were all beautiful but lacked the lines of mana running across their bodies. Their lack of chanting had him wonder if they were completely void of the gift, were perhaps mere commoners. It made sense he supposed, the children from them were to be servants. If they could perform spells, they may eventually leave to find work elsewhere. He wanted to ask where they had come from, or what they had done before joining his household. But he held his tongue, he didn’t want to make them uncomfortable, and he was sure Zulae likely ordered them not to tell him anything anyway.
So he stayed silent as they circled around him, drying his hair, applying oils and scents, then clothing, which was in truth just a fancy robe. Once done they brought over a body length mirror for him to check their work, he guessed.
He looked like royalty, from his combed hair, down to his manicured feet. “Thank you my Loves for the tender care.” He frowned as he saw through the mirror all of them flinch, and they glanced nervously at each other. One worked up the courage to speak “Maidens.” She said in a scared voice “call us Maidens, please Founder.”
He turned to look at them, their heads were lowered, and bodies dense. “Of course thank you, my Maidens.” They relaxed instantly and began hurrying around him again making sure everything was orderly before they ushered him out the door, and guided him towards the dining chamber.
They ate in silence too, since when he did try to strike up a conversation they flinched again, grew worried and glanced about the room as if expecting something horrid to appear. It was familiar, how he and other slaves acted when they were trying to keep their heads down, trying to gain as little attention as possible.
He understood that want, so he kept his mouth shut, and focused on his meal. He stopped eating after he found himself working through his second tray. He rose and headed for the small chamber where he’d been conducting his children training. He would have liked a larger room, but they were running out of space. This section of the estate had seemed so big at first, but now with servants and a growing number of children, it was filling cramped.
‘I hope they find us a new place to live soon or we're going to have people sleeping in halls.’ Already his kids were bunched up together in rooms, and literally sleeping on top of each other, though that don’t seem to mind.
The glowing light of a large Heart woke him from thoughts as he entered the training room. It was larger than the one Aethin had used on him, all those months ago, which felt more like a decade now. The crystal was placed on a detailed stand, filled with carvings of seated students around a raised figure. There wasn’t anything else in the room that would aid in the process of training. The only other items were pillows for his children to sit on, a thick rug that covered most of the floor surfaces, and some blankets in a corner if the children needed to sleep to ward off the pains of learning.
Overall it was unimpressive and lacking. He’d told his Maidens so, but they claimed at the moment there was nothing that could be done till new housing had been acquired. Shaking his head he removed distracting thoughts as he approached the Heart and connected to it. He felt his mind become part of an empty void waiting to be filled. Slowly he organized his thoughts, taking extreme care of the knowledge he placed into the depths. Images of detailed look viewings of Nightmares appeared, then information of chants best used to deal with these monsters. He placed a list of practicing techniques Aethin had given him, and some he’d made himself.
He disconnected from the void, content that the volume of information wouldn’t be too much for them to handle. He almost gave a start when he found a crowd of his near-adult sized children surrounding him. They bowed and called “Founder we await your guides.”
He smiled at them “You know, I’d prefer if you all called me Papa or father, you’re my children, after all, there’s no need for titles among family.”
They looked up at him some smiling happily, others confused, and many looking afraid. He kept a pained look from showing “If you’re comfortable with the act, know that I won’t take any offense with whatever name you wish to address me by.”
“Now” he stepped to the side, out of the way of the Heart “Which one of you wishes to go first?”
Younna stared hesitantly at the group of shards Zulae placed on her already burdened table. She smothered her look of distaste before looking at her sister. Who shouldn’t have bothered to bring these shards to her, she’d been very clear that they weren’t taking any more offers.
“Zulae, I’m sure the offers are worthy, but we can’t take any more risks.” Her sister smiled, and nodded at her words “I know dear sister, but some of these offers come with the gifts of larger housing, something that is a growing problem.”
Younna looked down at the shards, need and caution fighting for control of her. This was a matter she had never expected to be shouldered with. There had always been places up for the taking, estates empty and ready to be claimed. But a Flock was an Arcs overdue now, Hadthel, for the just time seemed almost out of room. “How large sister?” temptation getting the better of her.
Zulae hid her reluctance well, but she knew her closest sister to soundly for her not to notice such things. “Larger than the one we hold ourselves in now, some will allow us a decent amount of room for another three maybe four batches.”
She rubbed her stomach, her third batch well under way, the young swimming in her already as active as the last two groups. “What are they asking for? I’ve looked around and places even of that caliber were already claimed or not offered at all.”
Zulae sighed, which had her now worried “The least demanding offer asked for ten of their daughters to lay with our Bondmate, and if the batch comes out to their expectation, one of the women would become a new Maiden of his. They will gift us with almost anything we could want afterward if that outcome were to pass.”
Younna eyed her, waiting for more, but her sister remained silent, and Younna nearly lost herself to the boiling anger. “That’s it? They expect we’d let them lay with a blessed one for something so meager?
Zulae shrugged “They know we have a great need for new lodging, which as you know is high right now. There are other gifts, that ask for far less and are very generous, but none for rights to new estates.”
She breathed a few times, let the warmth in her simmer “We’ll vote on the action once I have a clear sight on the matter.” Something she already knew was going to bring her no end of worry. That and she already knew what choice she was leaning towards, they did need new lodging, needed a separate space that was completely detached from other families of women.
The door to her chamber opened, the usual shift in the air the only give away as Unthee entered with a chant on her lips dismissing most sound. The door closed, and her sitter ended her hymn.
“You had me worried” Younna chanted, and a seat moved from the table, which Unthee collapsed into.
“Good, it’s called for.” Unthee motioned and the seat moved closer to the table. “We have Watchers around the estate.” She and Zulae tensed. “Their only low cast, but the number of them is rising, and they're getting bold. I had to scare some off who were heckling our servants, offering them bribes for a chance to get near our Bondmate.”
Unthee looked at her, a voice both happy and annoyed “I told you it was a cursed idea to let other Houses lay with him, even affected by incense they would easily remember a soul that bright.
Younna ran her hands through her hair in frustration. “It was needed at the time, everything was aligned for the Anointed to call for a Flock. That they decided not to, and still yet to call for one is not something I could have perceived.”
“I know.” Said Unthee as she took a larger breath “Just to warn you, if this continues, I’ll have to kill one of them before the rest become cautious again.”
Younna nodded “Don’t worry as long as it’s one of low Worth we can easily cover the cost.”
The door opened again, this time accompanied by sound, and Sothsea looking flustered. “Sorry for being late its madness out there, I’ve never seen the passages so crowded.” She hurried over and placed a shard near Younna before taking the remaining seat.
Younna picked up the shard and did a quick survey of its contents. Offers for custom items, commoners detailing their usefulness, and what she was really after, lists of sisters of lower Worth willing to pledge themselves to new families. Not truly low enough for her liking, but it would have to suffice, her Bondmate was bringing dangerous attention to them, and they needed more family members to keep them behind walls.
She placed the shard down and glanced at Sothsea. “There was none lower? Or more to choose from?”
Sothsea didn’t appear pleased with the question “Of course there’s lower, but I refuse to share a Bondmate with commoners, not to mention how he could possibly react to unwanted being sent to bed with him.”
Unthee chimed in “I agree but also because taking in these low castoffs is raising questions. Those on high know we can see them moving against our claim, they expect us to gather individuals of Worth, instead were picking up scraps.”
Younna looked over to Zulae, she met her eyes and nodded in agreement with her other two sisters. “I understand your worry of someone trying to usurp us from within, but at this point Younna we’re making things worse.”
Younna breathed slowly, she had been worried of that, they all were, but that wasn’t the only worry clawing at her soul. “I want to make sure that those born in the servant class, are indeed servants. We’ve already seen how bright the children are when they come from him.”
Zulae took her hand gave it a reassuring squeeze “You fear that the children born from those lowly women may still come out with the souls of Chanters?” Younna nodded, the others looked skeptical, save for Zulae.
“We could try and grab some more from other men we’ve lain with, or take in servants from the lower sections,” said Sothsea, her own tone disapproving of the notion.”
“Which,” Unthee said, “would be perfect for the other Houses to try and infiltrate us, not to mention even If they didn’t, those servants could never be trusted with anything delicate to our House.”
Sothsea rolled her eyes “It was a suggestion sister, I don’t want nonfamily mucking about our halls any more than you.” Unthee leaned back into her seat “Good because if we do that, my task is going to become impossible to fulfill.” Unthee cocked her head at Younna “You really think this could happen? These new sisters we’ve brought in are lowly, not the lowest but getting close. I mean, yes my Steed soul is large but to be able to make the low into the high that’s, questionable.”
Younna kept her face neutral, even though she detested the name her sister gave to her Bondmate, voicing it would only make Unthee act out more. “Yes, Unthee I believe it to be a risk that’s going to be a major problem for us soon. I’ve been doing my best to measure his progress, he was raised strangely after all.” Something she still wasn’t sure whether to believe or not, maturing in one session rarely went well, and those that did survive were mostly soulless.
“Yes” Unthee looked over to Sothsea “his past is odd, you’re sure that Ex-Mentor of his wasn’t lying?”
Sothsea scoffed, openly offended by the question of her Worth “He spoke true, even if he wanted to lie I had him under the effects of numerous elixirs, plus the incense of the brothel, I would have seen through it instantly.” Sothsea took a deep breath “He was part of a mass birth, so no one knows what clan he could have come from, he was matured quick, and out of the lot he was the only one to come out normal-ish.”
Unthee raised a brow, waving a hand “You going to elaborate on that?”
“There’s not much to say,” said Sothsea “his Mentor only spoke of how our Bondmate seemed very aware of his surrendering and was unfazed by higher concepts that someone of his age shouldn’t be aware of.” Sothsea looked just as annoyed as Unthee “I blessed that there was more, but this Ex-Mentor wasn’t the most worth driven of individuals. He’s from a large family, and I can tell he’s not used to completing tasks or taking notice of others.”
Younna spoke up “So his family name, Bae, its fake?”
Sothsea inclined her head “The Mentor himself claimed he made it up after endowing them with blessed knowledge.” Younna smiled at the words, one problem solved all on its own.
Zulae asked “Should we take it as our own then? A small gift to our Bondmate.” Younna hummed “I’m not against it, we’ll check to make sure its actual fake first, what about you two?” Unthee shrugged, and Sothsea nodded in approval.
Younna gave a thin smile, as her mind went back to more troublesome matters. “With that settled, I wish to return to the matter of his growth. We’ve” she looked over to Zulae “been keeping close track after he joined us.”
Unthee leaned forward “I’m sure we all have Younna, none of us are blind, every passing Tempo he’s brighter than the last.”
Younna incline her head, her sister words were true, it was impossible not to notice with him living in their estate. “I didn’t get to study our Bondmate thoroughly this Renewal.” She looked over to her Zulae “Did you?”
Sothsea answered to her surprise, a tone of amusements “Oh, yes she did got so enraptured by the sight she failed to see our Bondmate take notice of her staring at him.”
Zulae scowled, her cheeks reddening, and her ears pressing flat. “I was being careful in my measurements.” She said defensively, Younna patted her dear sister hand “And what did you find?” Zulae took a calming breath “That is channels have expanded again, and the old ones seem to have increased in size. The pace of the growth is reasonably steady, some Rotations it's less, others its more. But overall he’s development is unheard of.”
“You don’t really need to measure his body to know that” voiced Sothsea “I’ve kept track by the amount of light he gives off in the groove, or when he chants.” Sothsea grabbed her face, eyes going dream filled “Oh when he chants.” She shivered.
Younna understood, the speed at which her Bondmate performed was startling, the sudden shift in the air always made her skin tingle.”
“Yes,” Unthee looked at her “All very good reasons to keep him hidden, and away from any more outside women.”
“We can’t keep him lockup Unthee” Younna retorted “The last thing we need to do is earn his displeasure, or have him finding enough grounds to leave us.”
Unthee opened her arms in peace “I’m not saying that I just think we should find ways to keep him distracted, not need to travel much. He’ll eventually start adventuring about once he’s no longer preoccupied with the Chosen”
“I'm not so sure,” said Sothsea cheerfully “He hates crowds, its why he stays in these halls even when there’s plenty of events he could go see, though I do agree we need to find things to distract him. Maybe get him more shards?” That offer got the rest of them to frown, Younna already had enough things to handle. She did not want to add ‘mentally harmed Bondmate’ to the list.
“It makes him happy” Sothsea continued “and distracted to the point he forgets it’s time for him to eat.”
“It also comes with the chance of him witnessing something that could upset him.” Said Unthee, who had thrown a fit when she learned Sothsea had provided their Bondmate with shards.
“He’s fine, the poor soul already saw much while dragging his ex-Mentor around.” Said Sothsea her eyes turning to Younna “It’s the best diversion we have, the incense doesn’t daze him as it used to, nor do we have a horde of women to keep him preoccupied all Rotation.”
Younna held her tongue when she looked down at the shards messily placed about her table. They could for a few Rotations at least. Unthee saw her look “What’s in the shards?”
Younna hesitated at first, which had Unthee thinning her lips into a frown. “Offers to lay with him.” The words had barely left her lips before Unthee voiced her answer “No, Giver no, not with how much he’s grown since the last batch, we’ll be flooded with Watchers sent to bring offers to him. Or worse.”
She didn’t need to mention the latter, of large clans placing a claim on him, and if so inclined taking him by force if they thought he was Worthy of it.
Younna sagged into her chair “What choice do we have, the offers come with better lodging, even though their asking price is absurd.”
“Then we wait” Sothsea was handling one of the shards, taking small looks at the offers that laid within. “At least till the women he’s laid with birth their children, afterward I’m sure we’ll get better offers sent our way.”
Unthee grunted “Yes and more unwanted attention, I’m going to need our daughters aiding me to keep these Watchers way.”
Zulae answered her “As many as you need sister, you might get an army if the servant's children come out blessed as well.” Younna wished it was a joke, but her sister tone head no mirth, and the likely hood of them being blessed was high. A certainty if his channels continue growing at their current speed.
“We wait then,” she said, “Though it’s going to get rather cramped, we may even be forced to use halls as sleeping areas.”
Unthee laughed, quite pleased with the choice “That’s perfect for me, a little hard to sneak around an estate whenever corner has a pair of eyes.”
Sothsea discarded the shard she’d been viewing and grabbed another “The best choice” her happy tone growing soured. “These offers are, overreaching.”
“That bad?” commented Unthee as she took one for herself to watch. It didn't take long for it to fall from her hands “The nerve of those clawing women.”
Younna closed her eyes, her sisters would want to see them all, and she had time to spare. Time to plan for the future, things were going to get worse, far worse once his children were born. If they were anything like hers, then shards will come in droves with demands, pleadings, and threats. ‘Giver even though he’s your Chosen, please I beg of you don’t bless these coming children.’