Pantheon #13

You thought you wouldn’t get another post this week, didn’t you? Well, my cunning plan to make you all think that I’m lazy while I actually cleverly posted an update slightly earlier than usual but still technically late worked! Muahahahahaaaa! Anyways, I am currently working on the next chapter of the Chronicles of Koeleth. I’ve made some changes and am delving into new territory so it has taken a bit longer than I had hoped, but I think I’ve got a good thing going in this next chapter. My hope is that chapter 12 will see me caught up to where I was before the rewrite. I certainly have the time to, now that work has settled down.

Showcase #13

Detremanat

Detremanat is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s drive to achieve greater things. She is wholeheartedly dedicated to her duties as a Koeleth guardian. No matter how imposing the challenge, Detremanat will conquer it. As fearless as Valro, as passionate as Angern, and more intelligent than either of them. Like a ravenous wolf, she relentlessly pursues her prey.

Religion:

Domain: Determination, Ambition, Obsession

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Order: Order of the Dauntless

Native Magical Element: Earth

Symbolic Weapon: Broadsword

Symbolic Gem: Black Onyx

Symbolic Bird: Marsh Harrier

Insignia: Wolf’s Head

Appearance:

Body Type: Straight, Medium Frame

Eyes: Bronze

Hair Style: Ponytail, Short

Hair Color: Brown

Skin Tone: White, Peach

Attire: Leather Vest, Long-Sleeved  Blouse, Brown Pants, Leather Boots

Weapon: Broadsword

Markings: Wolf Shoulder Tattoo

Notable Features: None

Background:

Titles: Lady of the Relentless Chase, Grand Huntress, Spearhead of the Pantheon

Siblings: None

Significant Subordinates: Rebelos (Rebellion)

Relationships: Angern (It’s complicated)

Antithesis: Apathos

Notable Events:

Order in the Court: Detremenat’s religious order is a subset of the Valiant Blades. Once they were separate entities, but the organizations’ goals were so closely aligned that the larger organization simply absorbed the smaller. Detremenat had no qualms about it and Valro welcomed the new warriors.

Pantheon #12

Still dealing with a busy work schedule. Sorry about that. One of my colleagues took a lot of time off, and I’ve been covering some of those shifts. At any rate, I haven’t had much time to write, so I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to post another showcase. Enjoy.

Showcase #12

Empiten

Empiten is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s hollow purpose. Once a figment of the imagination, he became all too real when humanity rejected the guidance of the Progenitor. Born of a broken heart, Empiten roams the dark and desolate places of the world, haunting dead lands and brushing elbows with the forsaken of society. Though close in temperament to Sorowa in his early years, the growing desperation of humanity jaded him as the centuries marched on. Dismal though he may be, Empiten serves as the only protector of those who escape even Compassia’s gaze.

Religion:

Domain: Emptiness, Purposelessness, Hollowness

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Order: Order of the Hollow

Native Magical Element: Wind

Symbolic Weapon: Mace

Symbolic Gem: Alexandrite

Symbolic Bird: Boreal Owl

Insignia: Hollow Circle

Appearance:

Body Type: Straight, Small Frame

Eyes: Gray-Black

Hair Style: Messy, Shoulder Length

Hair Color: Greasy Black

Facial Hair: Greasy Stubble

Skin Tone: White, Pallid

Attire: Bedraggled Shirt and Pants

Weapon: Mace

Markings: None

Notable Features: Heavy Bags Under Eyes

Background:

Titles: Lord of Hollows, Ghost in the Void, Phantom of the Ruins

Siblings: Apathos

Significant Subordinates: None

Relationships: He has a distant memory of a guardian with a sunny disposition with whom he was quite enamored.

Antithesis: None in particular

Notable Events:

The Advent of the Abomination: Since the earliest days of Koeleth, abominations have been associated with Empiten. Above all others, they are the homeless, the forsaken, the unwanted. In many ways they are Empiten’s true followers, even if they do not actively worship him. For all his negligence and indifference towards humanity as a whole, he ensures that abominations are taken care of. Nothing is off limits, whether it be transforming an Inquisitor stronghold in an abomination oasis or convincing a fellow guardian to send a empathetic adventurer to help a nomadic group of abominations.

Pantheon #11 and A Necessary Update

Sorry about the late post here, my dudes. Last week was quite the week. Between work and other concerns I’ve had little to no time to write. I do apologize for that. This week looks like it will be equally packed, sorry. Anyhow, you may or may not have noticed that I’ve opened up the comments on my stuff. Feel free to say whatever you like down there; compliment me, critique me, mock me mercilessly, destroy my faith in humanity, whatever.

Showcase #11

Apathos

Apathos is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s stoic grandeur. Though he always played a role in the machinations of the Progenitor, Apathos never truly influenced the world until the Progenitor left it. Humanity, abandoned and jaded, gave him a pedestal on which he could stand. Neither good nor bad, Apathos simply is. He rules the broken man in his darkest but aids the strong man when the troubles of the world would drag him down. Like an academic studying a tome, Apathos studies humans, impartial and calculating. He is the anchor that grounds the rest of the sentimentals, whether he likes it or not.

Religion:

Domain: Apathy, Indifference, Lethargy

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Order: The Listless Temple

Native Magical Element: Water

Symbolic Weapon: Spear

Symbolic Gem: Black Pearl

Symbolic Bird: Raven

Insignia: Empty Chalice

Appearance:

Body Type: Straight, Medium Frame

Eyes: Silver-Grey

Hair Style: Unkempt, Short

Hair Color: Ash

Facial Hair: Ashy Stubble

Skin Tone: White, Pale

Attire: Grey Sackcloth Robes

Weapon: Spear

Markings: None

Notable Features: Scar Near Left Eye

Background:

Titles: Lord of the Stoic, Nihilistic Spirit, Unseen Mover

Siblings: Empiten

Significant Subordinates: Ummm….he forgot

Relationships: Sorowa won’t take a hint. He’s not interested. Disciplina, on the other hand, has an exemplary posterior that requires further observation.

Antithesis: Disciplina

Notable Events:

The Advent of Desire: No, not the guardian from the previous showcase. Instead, Desiren has no effect on Apathos, but Disciplina does. When she joined the Sentimentals, Apathos felt something he had never felt before: lust (and maybe a little bit of love.) Very meh by human standards, but a big deal for someone who isn’t supposed to feel.

Envoy Elect: In the early days of the existence of the magical weapon Envoy, it was passed along freely to anyone who would wield it. Its immense power proved to be too much for some, however, and the guardians held a council in which it was determined that only followers of Disciplina, who could control themselves, and followers of Apathos, who desired nothing, should be allowed wield a power that would corrupt all others.

Chapter 9: Casper the Not-So-Friendly Ghost

A quick shout out to Life of Chaz. Dude’s probably become my most regular viewer aside from the friends who I force to view my content; in other words, he’s my most willing reader. Many thanks, my man. Much gratitude. Also, chapter 10 is is following on the tails of this one; I had a burst of creative momentum lately.

Chronicles of Koeleth: The River’s Tale
Chapter IX
Voice of the Damned

“Now, hold on a minute,” the barkeep interrupted. “You said you were going to tell us about Tom’s unexpected and interesting comrade. We haven’t met anyone that fits the bill.”

“Sure you have!” the old man assured his audience. “I’ve told you about Aaron, Collin, Cleo—she fits the bill of ‘unexpected,’ let me tell you!”

“I heard that, you squawking parrot!” the female voice retorted aggressively from the upper rooms.

“If only your sense of humor was as sharp as your hearing!” the old man shot back before returning to the topic at hand. “Anyways, you’ve met all sorts of interesting people that most folks don’t see everyday. Your grandmother and I are quite the exceptions. That, my young friend, is quite off topic, however. I haven’t gotten to Tom’s most unusual—and most important—companion. But we have some time before we get to that. You must know about the adventure that led up to that meeting.”

Continue reading Chapter 9: Casper the Not-So-Friendly Ghost

Pantheon #10

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, folks! I know this is a bit late, but hey, Christmas will do that to you.

Showcase #10

Desiren

Desiren is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s selfish pleasures. Though not intrinsically  wicked, without the guiding hand of her forebear, Desiren developed a mischievous streak. Unfortunately for mortals, divine mischief a tad bit more devastating than its earthly counterpart. Desiren promises to fulfill every carnal desire–for a price, of course. Where there is mayhem or chaos, there shall you find her influence.

Religion:

Domain: Desire, Carnal Pleasure, Indulgence

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Order: Temple of Hedonism, Cult of the Dark Queen Incarnate (heretical cult), Various other minor cults (she’s very good at her job)

Native Magical Element: Heat

Symbolic Weapon: Whip, Whip Sword (Snake Sword)

Symbolic Gem: Ruby

Symbolic Bird: Bird of Paradise

Insignia: Female Figure

Appearance:

Body Shape: Hourglass, Small Frame

Eyes: Brown

Hair Style: Ponytail, Long

Hair Color: Brown

Skin Tone: White, Tan

Attire: Skimpy Undergarments

Weapon: Whip

Markings: Nothing Permanent

Notable Features: Insane Libido Levels

Background:

Titles: Lady of Sin, Wicked Seductress, Corrupter of the Innocent

Siblings: None

Significant Subordinates: The Six Other Deadly Sins (What? You should know by now that I am not terribly original)

Relationships: One night stands count, right? Because she’s had thousands of those.

Antithesis: Compassia

Notable Events:

Desiren’s Bondage: Innuendo aside, it was a reluctant Desiren that chained herself to the Ekoalem Pantheon. As much as she loves to cause trouble, there were too many enemies to keep track of, and she needed a safe harbor. Valro was just dumb and kind enough to invite her in.

Sinful Weapons: One of her greatest acts of mischief was binding a part of her soul to a blade. The magic sword Wicked Desire is one of the few blades that can influence their users. Desiren’s blade twists and warps the desires of its user, taking pleasure in breaking the purest of hearts.

Pantheon #9 And HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MATTHEW MATHERNE!

Yes, that is correct. Matthew Matherne, my WordPress persona, turns two today. Baby Matt is all growed up. So proud, so proud (wipes fake tear from eye). Anywhozit, I’m back with another Pantheon profile. Sorry about the lateness, but you know how it be around this time of the year.

Showcase #9

Compassia

Compassia is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s mercy and kindness. Even when his faith in humanity waned, the Progenitor still felt love for his creation and, in the wake of his departure, left behind one who would continue to love them. Compassia is a healing touch and warm fire. She is the mother of the orphan and the friend of the widow. It not selfish ambition nor foolhardy abandon that brings mortals into her service, but a selfless heart and a desire to help.

Religion:

Domain: Compassion, Fraternal Love, Generosity

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Order: Compassia’s Hand

Native Magical Element: Fire

Symbolic Weapon: Shepherd’s Staff

Symbolic Gem: Jasper

Symbolic Bird: Snow Goose

Insignia: Heart Held in Hand

Appearance:

Body Shape: Hourglass, Medium Frame

Eyes: Brown

Hair Style: Wavy, Long

Hair Color: Sunset Orange

Skin Tone: White, Peach

Attire: Simple Dress

Weapon: Clerical Staff

Markings: None

Notable Features: None

Background:

Titles: Lady of Blessing, Poor Man’s Treasure, Orphan’s Mother

Siblings: None

Significant Subordinates: Mercio, Fargiv

Relationships: Well, there was this one fellow one time…but that’s in the past. She must give all her heart to the cause of helping the world.

Antithesis: Desiren

Notable Events:

Olive Branch: After the Fall of Orgalav, Trialias had quite the struggle ahead of them. The need to rebuild was urgent, especially with the looming threat of attack from the Nagybi. Under the Orgalav system, Nagybi leaders flourished and the actions of their fellow Trialians fed their fury. Compassia went to the Five Aspects, Ariluo’s Pantheon, and proposed that they aid each other in the mutual restorations of their countries. Along with human efforts, they forged a lasting bond between the two nations, a united front against the Nagyb.

My Writing Playlist…And Update

So, I’ve seen a few of these kinds of posts on other people’s blogs, and I thought it was a nifty idea, so here it is!

…I don’t have one. There’s this silly thing that happens if I get too into a song while writing: I start typing out the lyrics of the song instead of the story. This can happen whether I’m consciously aware of it or not. So sometimes I’ve gone through completed drafts of my chapters and found a paragraph about some interesting lore and Bam! “Something Just Like This” by Coldplay and the Chainsmokers interrupts the story. Or maybe there’s a big battle and Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl” is mucking up the works. So, I don’t really have a writing playlist. When I do listen to music, I make sure to be extra cautious in my writing, but usually I listen to livestreams from YouTubers or just let the TV play in the background.  There you have it.

In any case, I figured I’d give you an update on the progress of my work. The Ender of Worlds is coming back; I ran into a bit of a road bump with that one when I added I character that I didn’t know how to deal with. But I got it all figured out now! Huzzah! I am working on chapter 9 of CoK: The River’s Tale, as well, and I think it will be a bit different than chapter 10 of the story’s previous incarnation, but in a good way. I’m going to try to resume working on the Warden of the West legend again, but that one I’ll only get to if I can keep up with my other work. I also plan on doing biweekly updates of A Blacksmith’s Adventures with Weapons of Legend. In addition to any chapters I release, I will also release a character profile for a relevant character from that story. Thanks, and enjoy the holidays.

Pantheon #8 (STRESS!)

Hey, all. Sorry this is coming to you so late. There has been some family drama on top of the usual busyness of the season, so I’ve been unable to focus on my writing. My apologies. I’ll try to keep up with the schedule as best I can, but I can make no guarantees at the moment. I should be able to make next Tuesday, but the 26th is a bit up in the air. Anyways, enjoy.

Showcase #8

Hopell

Hopell is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s promise of a better future. She was born in a time when the Progenitor still believed in the goodness of his firstborn, humanity. In the bleakest of night and the harshest of storms, Hopell shines like a beacon for those who dare to look beyond the cruel shadows and the crashing waves. In her heart lies the capacity for greater good and in her mind lies the confidence to strive for it. When joy fades and compassion retreats, still she keeps her vigil.

Religion:

Domain: Hope, Optimism, Aspiration

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Order: Mission of Hope

Native Magical Element: Growth

Symbolic Weapon: Tower Shield

Symbolic Gem: Alexandrite

Symbolic Bird: Song Thrush

Insignia: Bird Singing at Dawn

Appearance:

Body Shape: Straight, Small Frame

Eyes: Crystalline

Hair Style: Straight, Long

Hair Color: Jet Black

Skin Tone: White, Peach

Attire: Milky White Gown

Weapon: Tower Shield

Markings: None

Notable Features: Tallest of the Koeleth Sentimentals

Background:

Titles: Lady of Promise, Guiding Light, Friend of the Forsaken

Siblings: Joye

Significant Subordinates: None

Relationships: She hopes to find love some day, but with whom she does not know.

Antithesis: Despar

Notable Events:

Valor’s Friend: Amongst Valro’s first allies was Hopell. In the burgeoning young nation of Ekoalem she saw great hope and the will to withstand any trial. Where Valro was the force driving the Ekoalem forward, Hopell was the force shielding the Ekoalem from the chains of despair.

A Mission of Hope: Since the dawn of tragedy, there have been those who have wanted to carry the afflicted through it. With the introduction of Hopell into the equation, the Ekoalem united under one banner to bring aid to their suffering nations. The Mission of Hope serves as a show of goodwill by Koeleth towards it neighbors, even to those who they normally butt heads with.

Races of Eirmoda

The first thing to get out of the way with this post is that all races are ultimately human at their core. The world of Eirmoda is a vast, wild world, and, in order to survive, humans have had to rely on magically influenced evolution and adaptation. So when I say race here, it means about the same thing as it does in the real world: different flavors of human. Of course, any humans can reproduce perfectly fine with each other, regardless of race. Now, just to make this clear off the bat, these are fictional representations of humanity. They are not meant to be indicative of any real ethnicity or race. Now, let’s begin.

Fight the Rainbow: Races of Eirmoda

Ekloans: Ekloans are white skinned people descended from the Ekoalem branch of humanity. Though most are far enough removed from the Koelings to be seen as separate ethnicities, they are mostly descended from the first Ekoalem to rise up in the Valley of Beginnings. There are a few extant tribes of light skinned easterners who aren’t descended from the Ekoalem, but are just as old, however, for the sake of categorization, they too are considered Ekloans, because of the physical similarities. Most Ekloan peoples are a fair balance of cerebral and muscular in their build, and they typically produce the most balanced individuals.

Ariloids: Ariloids are the yellow skinned people descended from the Arilese branch of humanity. Though most are far enough removed from the Arilese to be seen as seperate ethnicities, they are mostly descended from the first Arilese to rise up in the Valley of Beginnings. There are a few extant tribes of yellow skinned westerners who aren’t descended from the Arilese, but are just as old, however, for the sake of categorization, they too are considered Ariloids, because of the physical similarities. Most Ariloid peoples are more inclined to cerebral pursuits than physical activities. They emphasize harmony and inner balance over power and physical strength.

Angmufids: Angmufids are the black skinned people descended from the Angmufi branch of humanity. Though most are far enough removed from the Nagybi to be seen as seperate ethnicities, they are mostly descended from the first Angmufi to rise up in the Valley of Beginnings. There are a few extant tribes of dark skinned southerners who aren’t descended from the Angmufi, but are just as old, however, for the sake of categorization, they too are considered Angmufids, because of the physical similarities. Most Angmufids are driven towards physical excellence in order to survive, rather than cerebral excellence. Savage beasts and cruel environments hone their bodies and minds for survival.

Elvair: Elvair are the fair skinned peoples of the forest kingdom of Elvairnian. Countless centuries of isolation from humans have led to a refined and unmistakable appearance; shimmering hair, bright eyes, pale skin, short in stature, small frames, and signature pointed ears. Despite their delicate appearance, Elvair are almost on par with humans physically and have slightly better dexterity and coordination. Beyond their natural agility and grace, the Elvair also have a stronger affinity for magic than most other humans. Their connection with their guardians is on par with that of the Trialians, whose guardians are the first ones gifted to humanity. The Elvair are the basis for countless legends featuring elves and fae.

Dwarvark: Dwarvark are the rough skinned peoples of the mountain kingdom of Orakdwarvark. Countless centuries of isolation from humans have led to a refined and unmistakable appearance; powerful hair and beards, appraising eyes, red skin, short in stature, stout frames, and signature sturdy muscles. Despite their gruff appearance, Dwarvark are almost on par with humans physically and have slightly better strength and constitution. Beyond their natural power and resilience, the Dwarvark also have a stronger affinity for crafting and appraising than most other humans. Their connection with their guardians is on par with that of the Trialians, whose guardians are the first ones gifted to humanity. Though many other cultures have influenced such legends, the Dwarvark are the basis of countless legends featuring dwarves and gnomes.

Bestalas: Perhaps the most different from other humans, Bestalas are the beast skinned peoples of the wild kingdom of Manibestaw. Countless centuries of isolation from humans have led to a refined and unmistakable appearance; thick hair, bestial eyes, brown skin, muscular bodies, lean frames, and signature fluffy ears and tails. Despite their bestial appearance, Bestalas are almost on par with humans mentally and have superior senses and athleticism. Beyond their natural instincts and skill, the Bestalas also have a stronger affinity for hunting and survival than most other humans. Their connection with their guardians is on par with that of the Trialians, whose guardians are the first ones gifted to humanity. Though abominations, druids and shapeshifters have influenced such legends, the Bestalas are the basis of countless legends featuring werebeasts and beastmen.

Titanolae: Titanolae are the stone skinned peoples of the island kingdom of Titanos. Countless centuries of isolation from humans have led to a refined and unmistakable appearance; no hair, large eyes, grey skin, tall in stature, large frames, and signature three fingered hands (plus thumbs). Despite their colossal appearance, Titanolae are almost on par with humans mentally and have superior strength and endurance. Beyond their natural power and toughness, the Titanolae also have a stronger affinity for seafaring than most other humans. Their connection with their guardians is on par with that of the Trialians, whose guardians are the first ones gifted to humanity. The Titanolae are the basis of countless legends featuring giants and titans.

Chapter 8: I Have A Dream…

Holy cow, it’s finally here. It’s about time that Matthew Matherne fellow got back to work, right? Jeez, what a lazy bastard.

 

Chronicles of Koeleth
Chapter VIII
Travelling Companions

“It’s going to happen again, Tommy Boy,” a voice called seductively, menacingly.

Tom knew the voice; he knew it well. She had haunted his dreams since…well, he did not want to think about then. He tried to ignore her—tried and failed.

“I know you can hear me, Tommy Boy. You look so cute when you’re trying to forget me. It’s going to happen again, darling. You know that, don’t you?”

The voice grated on his nerves, stirring up old memories, breathing life into new horrors. He saw visions of the past, of lost comrades and fatal mistakes. Blended in with them were foreboding images of a future yet to come, of great suffering and the fires of death.

“Do you see them, darling? Do you hear the shrieking? Do you feel their pain, Tommy Boy? Revel in it, as you once reveled in my affection.”

“No. No, no, no. No! NO!” Tom screamed, rousing himself from his restless slumber. “No…”

The nightmare was so real, so vivid. For a moment, he thought he was actually there, watching those horrors, reliving them, unable to change what happened. The warrior had little time to ponder this, however, as he became acutely aware of an unknown entity watching him from the shadows of his moonlit room. Carefully scanning the eerie darkness around him, his vision finally set on a pair of predatory eyes glimmering in the doorway. He was briefly unnerved by this visitor’s intrusion, until he remembered the youngest of his guests.

“Rydia, is that you?”

A timid whimper confirmed his suspicions.

“I’m sorry, did I scare you?”

Another squeal of affirmation.

“I just had a bit of nightmare. Yes, it can happen to adults, too. Now, what’s the matter? Why aren’t you with Grace and Dennis?”

The golden wolf let out a morose howl.

“Can’t sleep, huh? Well, you can stay here, and we can chat if you like. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep myself,” Tom admitted, throwing off his covers. Throwing on the clothes hanging off the bedpost, he sat at the edge of his bed.

The pup, illuminated by the light of the stars, cautiously approached Tom. After convincing herself that he was safe, she hopped up on the bed next to him.

“Look at you! I’ll bet one day you’ll be a real beauty! A natural heartbreaker, what with your lovely hair and gorgeous blue eyes! You’ll have to beat the boys off with a stick. And a few girls, I imagine. Or you could hit them with a war hammer, too,” Tom mused aloud. “Whatever suits your fancy, I suppose. I know a guy who makes great war hammers. Quality stuff, I’m telling you.”

Though she didn’t quite understand everything that Tom said, Rydia felt the kindness in it. She curled up beside the man, feeling very much at ease. Tom stroked her fur, trying to further reassure her—and himself—that everything would be fine.

“You know, you’re part of the reason I joined this adventure. You remind me of another little girl I made a promise to. In fact, you two could be twins. She’s a couple years younger, but other than that, she’s the spitting image of you. Same blonde hair, same blue eyes. Same timid disposition, even. Why, if I didn’t know better, I would say you were sisters.”

The wolf pup perked up her ears at this news. Another little girl that looked just like her? How much fun would that be?

“You might get to meet her, too! I managed to convince Dennis to let us run by Stonewall before we get on with the main journey. Assuming she hasn’t been adopted, she’ll be at the orphanage there. Won’t that be fun?”

Despite the encroaching weariness, the child began to wag her tail as vigorously as she could manage.

“You like the sound of that, do you? Well, that’s good. I think you two will get along famously.”

Tom talked with the little girl for a little while longer until he, too, began to feel the clawing demands of sleep.

“Well, little missy, my eyelids are getting heavy and my muscles are aching, so I think I’ll be getting back to the business of sleeping. It’d be best if you ran off to your room, I think. If you want to stay longer, I won’t stop you, but I’m getting back under the covers and studying the backs of my eyelids.”

Tom tucked under the blankets and rolled onto his side, accepting the warm embrace of the bed. For a few moments, Rydia contemplated going back to Grace and Dennis, but she was exhausted, and the bed was quite comfortable. She curled up in the crook of Tom’s legs, right behind his knees, where it was warm and inviting.

The next morning Tom awoke to a blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl laying sprawled across his chest. By some miracle of nature, he managed to safely escape without disturbing the child.

“Guess you didn’t quite make it back to your own bed last night,” he yawned. “I imagine this will cause a bit of a ruckus.”

He went about the business of preparing for his day, and, by the time he left his room, Rydia was beginning to stir. Walking into the hall outside his room, he heard a commotion coming from the door ahead of him. Just as he reached for the doorknob, Grace barged in, nearly breaking down the door in the process.

“What’s wrong?” Tom inquired, already having an inkling of an idea.

“We can’t find Rydia!” Grace shouted in panic.

“Rydia’s fine,” Tom said as he yawned.

“How do you know that? How can you be yawning at a time like this!?”

“She couldn’t sleep last night, so she wandered into my room. As luck would have it, I wasn’t sleeping either, so we chatted for a while. After a while, I decided to go back to sleep. She decided that the trip back to your room was too long, so she just curled up next to me. She’s still there now, if you doubt me.”

“By the guardians, you didn’t do anything to her, did you!?” Grace screamed in a panic.

The words were blurted out in fear, with no true conviction behind them, but Tom could not help but feel slightly insulted at the accusation.

“What!? No! Look, you can go check on her yourself.”

Tom had barely gotten these words out of his mouth when Grace shoved him aside and dashed towards the room. She discovered Rydia sitting on the edge of the bed, squinting in the sunlight. Grace ran up to her and hugged the confused little girl, right before collapsing from relief. Fortunately, the bed broke her fall.

After she had recovered, and everything calmed down, the company began to prepare for the day accordingly. Aside from a line for the bathroom, which Tom quickly resolved by allowing the use of his private bathroom, the morning went smoothly. Tom dragged Aaron along with him on his mission to collect his new gear and his companions. The rest of the company set about preparing for the journey ahead. By the end of the day, they were all gathered around the dinner table, sharing one last home-cooked meal before their long travels.

The next morning they found themselves loitering outside the gates of Ramsthrone, almost ready to embark. They were still waiting on one person, the only companion Tom could find to join them. With the clanking of armor and the shuffling of papers, two guards rushed towards the group.

“Halt!” the shorter, black-haired female commanded.

“Yeah, what she said!” the brown-haired male gasped.

“Um, okay. Wasn’t going anywhere anyways…” Tom muttered to himself before switching to a more cordial tone. “Is there something wrong, sir and dame?”

“You bet there is!” responded the man. “You were gonna leave without us, bro!”

“That’s a problem? I was unaware that you were a part of our company.”

“What this idiot failed to mention,” the woman responded, holding out some papers, “is that we were sent by none other than Captain Flowermaiden herself. She ordered us to join you for your mission.”

“Lilly sent you? How did she find out about our journey anyways?” Tom asked, flipping through the papers and eyeing Aaron suspiciously.

“Our deal contains certain…clauses concerning the exchange of information,” Aaron admitted cryptically.

“I see. Well, we appreciate your company, then. It might be helpful to know your names.”

“Absolutely,” the woman said. “I am Diane Shipswain, at your service.”

“And I” began the man, “am Arthur Foresthare, at your service. You can call me ‘Artie,’ though, bros and gals.”

“Nice to meet you, Diane and, uh, Artie.”

“Wait,” Dennis demanded. “How do you know we can trust them?”

“Lilly is utterly unconcerned with politics that don’t influence Ramsthrone. Either she is sending us these guys to help out a couple of friends, or, by helping us it either helps or prevents harm to Ramsthrone. Lilly knows me, she knows I have a blessed weapon, and she knows I can handle it well. She also knows Aaron, knows that Aaron would immediately recognize any deception, and knows that he would stop it if it were to his benefit. So, the chances of any trickery are low. Besides, do these two really seem like spies to you? I don’t think they even know what subterfuge is, much less how to use it.”

“True,” Dennis agreed.

“Hey!” Diane blurted out. “Rude!”

“Not cool, brotaku!” Artie exclaimed, turning to Diane and whispering, “What does ‘subterfuge’ mean?”

“…I am pretty sure we’re safe from subterfuge,” Grace sighed. “But are they any good in a fight?”

“We are former members of the Ramsthrone Castle Guard. We know how to fight, bro. Or is it ‘sis?’”

“Former? Why former?” Colin inquired.

Since Artie was still pondering the important questions about life and the universe, Diane answered.

“As you may have noticed,” Diane said sheepishly, her face the hue of a tomato, “we are lacking in tact and decorum, so there may have been an incident concerning a guest of Lord Ramsrest.”

“I heard about that,” Aaron interjected. “That was funny.”

“You can’t tell them!” Diane declared desperately.

Before Aaron could continue the story, another man approached the group, a big smile adorning his face; Tom recognized the man immediately.

“Theo! What took you so long?”

“Sorry, Tom. The man in charge had a few words for me before I left,” the man bellowed.

“But I’m here now!”

“I’m telling you, man, you should freelance with me.”

“What is he talking about?” Dennis inquired.

“Ah! My apologies!” the man said. “I am Lieutenant Theodore Mapleleaf of the Adventurers’ Guild, Ramsthrone Chapter.”

“He’s my best friend from the Guild. We go back to when he first joined the Cradle-of-the-Moon chapter, and he’s perfect for this mission,” Tom explained.

The man grinned again, his smile as large as the rest of his features. Though he was not much larger than Tom, his larger frame and overall appearance made him look like a giant. Standing an inch taller than Tom, and being a good fifteen pounds more muscle-bound, he definitely made an impression. The brown mane that framed his face was similar to Tom’s black facial hair, but Theodore’s head hair was notably better groomed. The warrior’s eyes had a unique mix of brown and hazel hues. His travelling robe was a clean, beige equivalent to the ratty, weatherworn black robe that Tom wore. The sleeves fit tightly on Theodore’s arms, in contrast to the loose sleeves on his friend’s, but that was due to his size and not a difference in style. A small pin on the neck of the robe indicated his rank in the Guild, and the shadow of one could be found on Tom’s robe, if one looked hard enough. The seasoned warrior carried a falchion on either side of his waist, indicative of his prowess as a dual-wielder.

“Good to meet you all!” Theodore announced in a booming, happy-go-lucky voice. “I assume this is only part of the company?”

“You assume correctly,” Dennis answered, shaking the man’s hand. “I am Dennis Starcurse, pack alpha.”

“And I am Grace Nightstalker, the neck that turns the head.”

Theodore dignified her with a bow.

“Your name fits you, fair lady.”

“Smooth as a landslide, Theo,” Tom jested.

“Oh, and your many relationships have been so successful?” Theo readily countered.

“Fair enough.”

“Joking aside, we have business to attend to, don’t we?”

“Yeah, let’s get that over with.”

The four of them discussed what little business there was left to discuss, and soon enough the journey truly began.

“Wait, you’re Theodore Mapleleaf? The Theodore Mapleleaf?” Artie asked, upon discovering Theo’s identity.

“The one and only.”

“Theodore the Sabertooth?” Diane eagerly pressed.

“Yep.”

“Theodore of the Twirling Blades?” Artie continued.

“That’s me.”

“Theodore the Twin Fanged Warrior? Theodore the Nightprowler!? The Hero of Blackfalls!? The Beast of—“

“I see you are fans of mine. Yes, yes, I am all those things,” the merry soldier interrupted.

“He’s not that great, guys,” Tom jabbed. “In fact, the reason for the title ‘Theo of the Twirling Blades’ is more humorous than it is heroic.”

“Yes, well, Thomas Riversedge the Golden Wall isn’t all that flattering either.”

“Wait…you’re the Thomas Riversedge?” the two fans said in unison. “Thomas the Bulwark? Thomas the Bloodless? Thomas—“

“The Hero of Shoreland, and many other titles, yes. Just titles, guys.”

“So you two are the famous Thomas and Theodore of the devastating duo, ‘The River Brothers?’”

“Yep, that’s us!” Theo laughed.

“So awesome!”

“I didn’t know you were famous, Tom,” Amelia declared in shock.

“I’m not. You earn a title for every mission you complete above a certain level in the Adventurers’ Guild, and I was really good at my job. So was Theo. These two are nerds just for knowing them all. Now let’s head out.”

The two star struck soldiers continued to babble on about the accomplishments of their idols as they left the city walls behind them. The company decided to push late into the night to reach the camp, arriving just in time to see most of the camp off to sleep. Gabriel remained awake so he could ensure that the newcomers were trustworthy. After a lengthy conversation, he was convinced that they were reliable enough to join them. Not that he had the power to make that decision, as Dennis reminded him. Agreeing that it was in the camp’s best interest to set out a guard overnight, they eventually decided on Theo, who was eager to do the job, despite his long day of travel.

The morning arrived without incident, and the camp packed up for travel. Aaron and Collin, who were unaccustomed to travelling with large camps, were shocked at how quickly they could pick up and leave. After another couple days of travel, with a quick stop at Pasture’s Edge to let Tom say goodbye to Cleo, the camp settled outside of Stonewall, as Dennis and Grace promised they would. While Tom had a promise to keep here, there was another valid reason to rest here. The whole of Darwin’s Expanse lay before them, and it was a harsh land. They would need to be as prepared as they could be, because it would be some time before they could rest in a safe place, near a well stocked town. After some discussion, the group decided that the camp would be safe enough near Stonewall that a few people would be better off staying in town, gathering supplies. Tom set up a few rooms at the local inn for himself and the other non-abominations. Grace and Dennis also rented a room, which they shared with Rydia, who refused to be left back at camp. They decided to use what was left of their first day in town to adjust their plans and to rest. The next day, while the others set about gathering supplies, Tom, Grace, and Rydia went to the orphanage. Tom knocked on the thick wooden door.

“Hello, welcome to—Tom!” Angela started, but was shocked by the face she saw. “I wasn’t expecting to see you for some time. I figured you would be off on one of your jobs.”

Tom detected a tinge of bitterness in that last remark, but Grace seemed oblivious. Nevertheless, she gave him a brief friendly hug while she said it.

“It’s funny you should mention that. I’m actually on a job now. I’ll be gone for a while, probably a couple months, so I figured I should drop in before I left.”

“Oh? What job are you on now?” Angela asked with genuine curiosity.

“I’m escorting some villagers to a new location. For reasons I’m not at liberty to discuss, they’ve been driven from their homes.”

“Oh, that sounds interesting. You’ll have to tell me all about it when you get back. By the way, you haven’t introduced your two companions yet,” Angela mentioned, motioning towards Grace and Rydia.

“Oh, man, I totally forgot! Angela, this is Grace. She’s one of the people I’m escorting.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Grace said politely.

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” Angela replied.

“And this is Rydia,” Tom said, introducing the abnormally excited little girl.

“Hey, there, sweetie! How are you today?” Angela leaned down and smiled at the little girl.

Rydia simply smiled in response, wagging her butt back and forth in a very doglike manner.

“Umm, I’m Angela, Rydia. You can call me ‘Miss Angie.’” Angela’s response rolled out awkwardly.

“Oh! Sorry!” Grace exclaimed, snapping to attention. “She’s mute. She can’t speak.”

“Oh, okay! Sorry, I didn’t realize,” Angela blushed at her own mistake.

Rydia kept smiling and wagging a non-existent tail, oblivious to the young woman’s mistake.

“Well, I imagine Tom brought you here because of your strong resemblance to Anna. Let me take you to her, and you’ll understand. And have a new friend, I imagine.”

Angela led them to a large open playroom where several of the orphans were playing. She called to a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. Anna was bashful and hid behind Angela at first.

“Wow!” Grace blurted out. “The resemblance is beyond surprising. Aside from the age, they could be twins!”

“Right? It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Tom said.

“I was shocked when I first saw Rydia myself,” Angela admitted. “I thought Anna
had run away.”

“Well, thank goodness she didn’t,” Tom expressed, “because it would be difficult for me to keep my promise to a person who wasn’t here.”

“Mister Tom! You’re really here to tell us another story?” Anna asked hopefully.

“You bet, but Rydia’s been waiting to see you, so I’ll tell it after you two get to know each other, okay?”

“Yeah! Okay! Hi, Rydia! Wow, you look a lot like me! What do you like to do for fun? I like to play with dolls, and I like Mister Tom’s stories, too.”

Anna’s quick change of attitude made Rydia ecstatic, and she began to “talk” back. Despite Rydia’s muteness, Anna seemed to understand her perfectly, and the two doppelgangers chatted for quite some time. When the two girls had become the best of friends, Tom and Angela gathered the children around them, and the young man began. As promised, the tales were much better than the last time. After several fairy tales and adventures, Tom drew his session to a close. Angela and Anna followed Tom, Rydia and Grace to the door.

“Bye, Rydia! Come back soon!” Anna gleefully exclaimed.

Rydia excitedly waved back.

“What, no goodbye for me? I’m crushed!” Tom declared with mock insult.

“Bye, Mister Tom!” Anna said, hugging him tightly.

“Bye, Anna,” he replied, hugging her back.

With a final smile, Anna darted back into the orphanage.

“Hey, Tom,” Angela spoke in a serious tone. “Be careful out there. I’ve heard that some dangerous criminal escaped from the Vanguard Prison. They don’t know where he headed.”

“Alright, thanks, Angela. I’ll keep my eyes out for anyone suspicious. And you take care of yourself, too. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I’ll do my best, Tom. Don’t forget about us here in Stonewall while you are on your journey.”

“Don’t worry. I couldn’t do that if I tried.”

Tom and Angela shared a brief hug and said their farewells. Grace jostled him a little bit about “cheating on” Amelia, but it was all in good humor.

“So, how did the visit go?” Dennis asked when they had reunited with the group.

“It went really well,” Grace chimed. “Rydia made a new friend. Didn’t you?”

Rydia nodded vigorously.

“Good for you,” Dennis replied. “We’ve gathered everything we can for now, so I guess we should head back to the inn.”

“Yeah.”

After a few minutes of walking, however, Rydia’s ears began to twitch, clearly in pain.

Even in human form, her hearing was sensitive.

“Is a noise coming from the camp?” Theo asked, his acute intuition coming into play.

Rydia morphed into her wolf form and ran under Tom’s legs to hide from the sound.

“Let’s go!” Tom said, scooping up the wolf pup in his arms.

Upon reaching the city gate, they all heard it: an ungodly screeching sound like nothing else.

“Alistair!” Dennis and Grace announced, locking eyes with each other.