- Sometimes even heaven fears the truth.
The Last Titan is the 21st questing area in the game and becomes available upon completing Vornstaag on normal difficulty.
|Title||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5||Level 6||Level 7|
|Secrets in the Snow |
(Complete The Last Titan on Nightmare difficulty.)
|Gigantomachy Flashback||Used to summon Gigantomachy (Raid)||Gigantomachy quest boss|
|Jodis||375||375||469||Snow Angel: Chance for bonus damage; Extra damage against Giant raids; Extra damage against Gigantomachy raid; Increases Player's Defense by 200; Increases Player's Energy by 20||NM Gigantomachy quest boss|
|Mathala's Gift Sword||500||400||600||Gift of Gore: Chance for bonus damage against Giant raids; Extra damage for each piece of Mathala's Gift set worn.||Questing: The Last Titan NM|
|Mathala's Gift Axe||500||400||600||Gift of Gore: Chance for bonus damage against Giant raids; Extra damage for each piece of Mathala's Gift set worn.||Questing: The Last Titan NM|
|Mathala's Gift Helm||500||400||600||Gift of Gore: Chance for bonus damage against Giant raids; Extra damage for each piece of Mathala's Gift set worn.||Questing: The Last Titan NM|
|Mathala's Gift Panoply||500||400||600||Questing: The Last Titan NM|
|Mathala's Gift Vambraces||500||400||600||Gift of Gore: Chance for bonus damage against Giant raids; Extra damage for each piece of Mathala's Gift set worn||NM Gigantomachy quest boss|
|Mathala's Gift Legplates||500||400||600||Questing: The Last Titan|
|Mathala's Gift Sabatons||500||400||600||Questing: The Last Titan Minibosses|
|Mathala's Gift Ring||500||400||600||Questing: The Last Titan Minibosses|
|Brown Hunting Trophy||Craft x2 Stat Points (Collection); Mathala's Gift Charger (Mount)||The Last Titan quests|
|Grey Hunting Trophy||Craft x2 Stat Points (Collection); Mathala's Gift Charger (General)||The Last Titan quests|
|Green Hunting Trophy||Craft x2 Stat Points (Collection); Mathala's Gift Charger (General)||The Last Titan quests|
|Blue Hunting Trophy||Craft x2 Stat Points (Collection); Mathala's Gift Charger (General)||The Last Titan quests|
|Purple Hunting Trophy||Craft x2 Stat Points (Collection); Mathala's Gift Charger (General)||The Last Titan quests|
|Orange Hunting Trophy||Craft x2 Stat Points (Collection); Mathala's Gift Charger (General)||The Last Titan quests|
|Child of the Tundra||26||40||Nord Scavenger||1053-1287|
|Beyond the Eyes of Gods||26||40||Basileus Lizard||1053-1287|
|Anyone Who's Listening||26||40||Nord Scavenger||1053-1287|
|Of Gods and Titans||26||40||Nord Scavenger||1053-1287|
|Child of the Tundra||28||43||Nord Scavenger||1134-1386|
|Beyond the Eyes of Gods||28||43||Basileus Lizard||1134-1386|
|Anyone Who's Listening||28||43||Nord Scavenger||1134-1386|
|Of Gods and Titans||28||43||Nord Scavenger||1134-1386|
|Child of the Tundra||30||46||Nord Scavenger||1215-1485|
|Beyond the Eyes of Gods||30||46||Basileus Lizard||1215-1485|
|Anyone Who's Listening||30||46||Nord Scavenger||1215-1485|
|Of Gods and Titans||30||46||Nord Scavenger||1215-1485|
|Father Aecasius Bloodwyn inspected the vestments laid out before him, and saw that they were good. The pantherium's new maidservant... What was her name again?
"Felicity..." he said.
"Father?" The girl hovering by the door stopped holding her breath, shuffling her feet, and biting her lip. "My... My name's Florine, father."
Yes, Felicity... Florine (what a stupid name, he mused) had done a fine job of cleaning and preparing them. Perhaps she'd be a suitable replacement for that last girl after all. The cleric scrutinized her chest. Not as voluptuous, alas. But such was life. He glanced up, at a pair of reddening cheeks and widening eyes.
"You wear no religious icon, Florine?"
"Oh!" She bit her lip again, and Aecasius smiled within. "I... I wasn't sure..."
"Which deity to favor?"
"A blue dove of Karuss would suit your eyes."
She giggled, and blushed anew. Gods... Where did they breed these sweet little peasant girls? In his youth, the ones he'd rolled around with on his family's estate had been made of different stuff. They'd taught him the Writhing Wyvern...
"Is something wrong, father?"
"Ah..." He coughed and banished the wistful expression from his features. "I was just thinking of the benevolence of the gods, my dear."
She beamed, and nodded with such fervor that he almost expected her to break out in a hymn. Father Aecasius wondered whether he should take things slow with this one. On the other hand... He murmured a quick prayer to Rassys. Then he took off his tunic, dropped his pantaloons, and reached for his silken undergarment. Florine gasped.
"Father! I... I..." She averted her eyes and gasped again.
"Yes, my dear?"
One gasp might just be coyness, but two... He refrained from completing his undress. If she was this scandalized by a bare chest and legs, naked loins could send her screaming from the temple.
"Surely you know that the priest of a pantherium can't don his fine vestments alone? He must be dressed by another, as a constant reminder that he's a mere child in the eyes of the wise and merciful gods."
"Oh! Of... Of course, father..."
Florine scurried forward and fumbled with his cassock, in the manner of a woman forced to grapple with a troll. The cleric suppressed a sigh. The last maid had been magnificent. But he'd had no choice about sending her away, once she'd fallen pregnant. Foolish and ignorant as the townspeople were, he doubted even they would let him blame a god for that one. And he supposed there would be some pleasure in taking this new girl and seeing if he could temper her. After all, what good was a priest who couldn't win a convert to his cause?
He allowed her to help him into the cassock, savoring the little moments of trepidation whenever her soft, cool hands brushed against his bare flesh. Then he gestured towards the surplice. Florine nodded and lifted it with the tips of her fingers, as though it were gossamer.
"It's beautiful, father."
At least she had taste. Aecasius' predecessor had been content with a plain white garment -- a simple vestment for a simple, unimaginative, tiresome bore of a woman. He'd replaced it as soon as he was able. A 'donation from a pious and anonymous benefactor', in the eyes of his congregation. Idiots. Did they think the gods reached down from on high and took the collection plate up to heaven each week?
The girl gazed at the surplice for some moments, drinking in the sumptuous azure fabric, the gold and purple flourishes, and the embroidered scenes of heaven -- where gods reclined on clouds and angels flitted around them in sedate choruses. Aecasius smiled.
"Would you like a garment this fine, Florine?"
Her eyes widened further, and the cleric read pleasing possibilities in those dreaming orbs.
"Me? But... I'm just a maid!"
"The gods are no respecters of rank or station. If your faith is pure, and you carry out your sacred duties to the pantherium, they may reward your piety."
Florine glowed as she arranged the surplice about him, then set the stole around his neck -- taking care that its ends were level, the religious symbols on each side in perfect parallel. Father Aecasius knew many things about heaven and hell. But he flattered himself to think that he knew women better than either. She was his. If not this week, then the next.
With that cheerful thought in mind, he kissed her on the brow. A decorous, appropriate, fatherly kiss. She flinched, but only for an instant. He grinned as he led her from the chamber. That expression was still locked on his face when he stepped behind the lectern and watched the congregants pouring through the temple doors. Not even those foolish, slack-jawed peasants could ruin his mood. He went so far as to return the nods of the fat, insipid matrons who'd had their eyes on him for years, pestering him with questions about whether he'd ever thought of marrying. And he refrained from cuffing the children in the choir when they wiped their noses on their sleeves or spat in one another's hair. It was a good day to be a man of the gods. Thus Aecasius was prepared to bask in, and reflect, an appropriate degree of heavenly beneficence.
When everyone was finally settled in the pews, he coughed, bowed his head, and began the opening litany.
"Gods who gaze down on us from heaven..."
A thud echoed through the temple. And for a moment, Father Aecasius glanced at the vaulted ceiling, wondering if one of the divine immortals was answering his prayer. He'd heard of such things from other clerics, though they'd never occurred at his own services. Tales of divine intervention which ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime: Brough flooding a temple with strawberry custard; Rassys filling the worshippers with irresistible passion, until the whole town became one giant orgy (making the following morning very awkward for all concerned); Mathala sending a congregation into a warlike frenzy, inciting them to conquer the neighboring meadows (though the sheepish warriors handed it back afterwards, with profuse apologies). The cleric gazed heavenward, waiting to discover which such fate might be about to befall them all.
Instead, one of the temple's double doors flew open. And rather than revealing a god or goddess standing there, radiating the glory, might, and magnificence of their celestial nature, it disclosed a man with a filthy jerkin and a tangled mass of black beard.
Father Aecasius sighed. Mungo, the town lunatic. The dirty, disheveled wretch who spent most of his day lying in the gutter, muttering about walruses, orange eyes, and other absurdities. From the look of him, he'd returned from one of his brief bouts of employment. Clumps of manure caked his ancient boots. And... Yes, some of it seemed to be smeared on his face. A cloud of flies buzzed around his head, descending into the mop of hair which blended with his beard until the two became a single horrific mess that may have held the remains of a full week's meals between them. A wooden bucket hung from his right hand. His left tugged at that abominable beard as though seeking to tear it off his chin.
"He stinks!" a child at the back said. The youngster stood on his pew and made a great show of pinching his nose.
"Chuck him out!" a woman said.
The cleric would gladly have shouted his agreement, and had the nearest congregants kick Mungo back the way he'd come -- ideally into a lake, or possibly a volcano if one could be found in the vicinity. But alas, a servant of the gods couldn't very well turn the penniless and unclean away. The deities tended to frown on that sort of thing. Probably because they weren't the ones who had to smell the indigent.
"The pantherium welcomes all worshippers of the gods," he said. "Mungo, please take a seat..."
Mungo just stood there, glaring. Aecasius shrugged and continued the opening prayer.
"...who have always been and always shall be, creators and sustainers of the universe-"
"Lies! All lies!" Mungo ran down the aisle, heaving his bucket over his head. "The gods are crooks! Crooks!"
The assembly gasped, gawked, and raised a clamor. Some tried to scramble across their neighbors to forestall his blasphemy. Others threw shoes or hats. The blacksmith howled when a misplaced boot smacked her in the side of the head, and returned fire with her prayer book.
"Stop!" Aecasius said. "All of you-"
"The gods lie!" Mungo said.
He charged, past the groping hands of those sat at the ends of their rows, and hurtled at the cleric. Aecasius could only gawp.
The filthy lunatic heaved his bucket. Its contents flew at Aecasius in a vast, viscous torrent. The priest didn't even have time to cry out. Spoiled meat... Fish heads... Excrement! A dozen forms of filth drowned his once splendid vestments. They smothered his face, dripped off his chin. The terrible stench... The sickening texture... Gods, oh gods above, the taste! It was in his mouth! His mouth! His mouth!
"The gods lie!" the madman said. He ran back down the aisle, sprinting for the entrance, still brandishing his bucket as he looked back over his shoulder. "It's all lies!"
"Father!" Florine scampered towards Aecasius, holding out a cloth.
"Get out of my way, you frigid little fool!"
He shoved her aside. The maidservant fell to the floor, squealing. Aecasius' head snapped round, eyes glowering, seeking an instrument of vengeance. His hand closed around a hefty gold candelabra.
"I'll kill him! I'll..." The rest of his words degenerated into an inarticulate roar.
Father Aecasius ran down the aisle, barging through his flock, wiping chunks of sludge from his face, swinging his aureate bludgeon. He thundered out into the night. Mungo stood there, a dozen feet away. He wasn't running anymore. The town lunatic faced him, with a heaving chest but a calm visage.
"They're liars." The empty bucket dangled from his left hand. His right pointed up at the sky. "They don't deserve our worship."
The cleric's charge petered out. He stumbled to a halt, the rage flayed from his body by the cold, awful certainty in the man's eyes. The candelabra fell to his side and thudded against his thigh. He barely noticed.
"Mungo, what're you-"
"The gods are-"
Lightning flashed. Inconceivable brightness burst across Aecasius' vision. He dropped his weapon, pressed his palms over his eyes, and screamed. His voice disappeared in an immense rumble that shook the universe, engulfing him until sheer magnitude and omnipresence rendered it inaudible. A potent alchemical smell washed over him. Something clean, medicinal, and chilling. It overcame the stink that covered his flesh and vestments, burrowed up his nose and down his throat like a torturer's instruments.
He took his hands away from his face and blinked into the world amidst blooming splodges of color. Mungo lay on the ground. Smoke rose from his blackened flesh in snaking wisps.
"Father!" the blacksmith said. "What... What happened?"
He turned around. The lights spun with him, dancing into new arrangements, and monstrous echoes shuddered inside the cleric's skull. His congregants thronged the doorway -- the ones further back craning their necks to see, whilst those in front pushed back against the press, lest they be thrust from the pantherium's sanctuary.
"The... The gods smite the wicked!" Aecasius said. "We... We should all go inside and fill the collection plate. Give generously, lest such a fate befall you too!"
Thunder rumbled. The cleric looked up at the sky and gulped. If the gods were in a mood to punish the wicked, then maybe...
"I... I mean... Let's go inside and pray!"
"Lightning, Galba? I'm disappointed. You're usually more creative than that."
"Burn in hell, Brough."
The goddess stared into the scrying pool, clasping its rim so hard her fingers sank into the black marble. Soft blue light shimmered from the water. It painted the pale skin of her downturned face, and provided the chamber's sole illumination.
"Your curses are getting lazy too." The Trickster crossed the darkened room, lounged against the ebon stone, and glanced at the image on the pool's rippling surface. A charred, blasted corpse lying in the dirt. "Good aim though."
The goddess' red eyes flicked up at last, glowering.
"This isn't a game," she said. "For now it's only madmen and seers-"
"There's a difference? A lunatic's just a prophet no one listens to. That reminds me of a joke..."
"Brough! That man saw what we..." She let out a small hiss, revealing four sharp fangs. "He saw. He knew."
The Trickster rolled his eyes, but his grin faltered.
"That's happened before," he said. "Some of them see further than we do... That's a better prank than anything I've ever come up with. Mortals who see what gods can't..."
"A handful each millennium. Not like this... Three in as many days!"
"Lightning all round? Our worshippers will start to think we're getting strict. The sinners must be trembling..."
"No. One was a blind, deaf scholar-monk who scribbled everything on parchment. Serthine whisked him and his scrolls away. She has him somewhere, still writing. He doesn't even know he isn't in his arcane library anymore."
"Seers never see what's right in front of them... And the third?"
"The cyan-eyed drake. She's told her closest minions. But they don't matter. An enemy seeks them out."
"The hero? I like watching that one. Maybe I'll even lend %him% a weapon..."
He trailed his fingers through the pool, disintegrating Mungo. The madman's corpse parted into a series of colorful swirls. They revolved in kaleidoscopic blurs, before each one settled into a sharp, crisp image: a sword, a shield, a fabulous suit of armor, and what appeared to be a custard pie laden with metal spikes.
"But the dragon and these others aren't the real problem, are they?" he said.
"No. Something's causing this."
"If I knew, I'd be putting a stop to it, not wasting my time with a jester."
"I love you too, Galby."
Brough lifted his hand and struck the water. A dozen splashes flew from the pool, hung in the air, and merged into a bouquet of liquid roses. Mungo's blackened face shone on every petal. The Trickster sighed.
"At times like this, wouldn't it be wonderful if we really were omniscient?" he said.
Child of the Tundra
|"I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid."
The murmured words fled from Jodis' lips, wisps of steam in the icy air, and carried away any warmth or comfort they might have brought.
"I'm not afraid."
But the snow knew she was lying. It betrayed her to the world as it crunched beneath her small, furry boots.
*Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Yes* *You* *Are* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Yes* *You* *Are*
Further away, their footsteps -- stealthy, muffled, but audible all the same to a girl of the tundra -- formed a chorus.
*Crunch* *Crunch* *Af-raid* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Af-raid*
Water moistened the corners of her eyes. It hardened in an instant, forming chilling crystals that bit at her skin. She wiped a glove across her face, brushing them away before they could seal her lids.
*Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Stu-pid* *Girl* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Watch* *Her* *Cry*
"It'll be a harsh night..." Korgyr said. The innkeeper glanced at his wife, who smiled and nodded her head. "Stay here till morning. You can sleep by the fire."
Jodis bit her lip to suppress a groan. Stupid... Stupid... Stupid! If she'd stayed, spent the night at the inn where she'd sold the furs... If she'd accepted Korgyr and Birna's hospitality... But no. She hadn't wanted their pity, their charity. And now she was going to die.
Their footsteps hissed and whispered in the snow.
*Crunch* *Crunch* *Yes* *Yes* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Yes* *Yes*
"It's not safe," Birna said.
"I've hunted on colder nights than this," Jodis said. She reached for the iron doorknob.
"I'm not talking about the snows and the storms." Birna pressed her hand against the old wood before Jodis could pull it open, shutting out the tundra beyond, holding them both inside the warmth. Fire and candlelight shifted on her kind round face. "Gridig said the eastlanders are roaming. Breaking into houses, robbing travelers on the roads. Taking what they can."
Jodis snorted. That old woman prophesized doom every season. First it was the yetis, starved and ferocious, who'd descend on the villages and tear them all limb from limb. Then the werewolves, who wanted to carve out their own bloody lupine fiefdom across the western swaths of Nordent. Of late it had been the eastlanders. Gridig swore they'd come in roving bands, fleeing the destruction wrought by the Frost Wyrm Clan, carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs. Killing and snatching as they fought to survive in the unforgiving tundra.
Nearby, Korgyr turned the spit that rested over the big fire. A pair of skewered rabbits revolved, revealing hot, blackened meat, dripping with thick juices. Their scent wafted to Jodis. Her mouth watered and tongue tingled -- anticipating, yearning, begging. She looked from the viands to Korgyr's smiling face, then to Birna, whose eyes held only love and care.
"I'm not scared of the eastlanders..." Jodis said. Her gaze drifted back to the succulent meat. "I'd kill them..."
The warmth, the tantalizing aroma, the friendship, the love, the soft thick rugs by the roaring fire... Her hand faltered on the knob. This was a good place. All that awaited her beyond the door were miles of snow and a cold, empty house.
"Don't be silly," Birna said. She gave a little laugh, and raised her hand to stifle it. "Stay here, and-"
Jodis' eyes hardened. She tugged at the door, yanked it open, forcing the woman backwards. No one laughed at Sefa the Bold's daughter. No one! She strode out into the night, the cold, the snow.
"Jodis!" Birna stood in the doorway, framed by its oblong of heat and light. "Wait! Please!"
But the girl looked away and stamped a path through the whiteness. She didn't need them -- their meals, their fire, their shelter, their worried eyes. Soft. Weak. Children and grandchildren of innkeepers, merchants. Folk who'd always huddled together in their towns and villages while her mother hunted wolves, bears, yetis, and even sea serpents. Jodis sneered.
And now she was going to die.
Six pairs of boots ground the snow underfoot, telling the future. Singing their saga and her dirge. First Jodis' own tread, louder, crisper, harder. Then theirs, a series of soft, staggered echoes. Drawing nearer. She didn't look round. If they saw her turn, if they suspected they'd been spotted... Besides, she already knew what she'd see. She'd glimpsed them in the corner of her eye, when they first crested the rise. Four men and two women. Unarmed. Bedraggled. Maybe outcasts from a slaughtered tribe, scattered by the blue wyrm's servants. Gridig's terrors at last made flesh. That single glance had been enough. They weren't equipped to survive the snows, to rip their sustenance from the land like Sefa had and Jodis did. Nor did they call to her, beg her aid, ask after her people or for the nearest settlement. Offer labor for succor as wanderers sometimes did to earn fur, fire, and flesh.
They didn't want help. They wanted what she had. Her thick cloak... The knife at her belt... The short throwing spears on her back... Maybe even the meat around her bones. When men and women starved in the snows, their morals wasted away long before their muscles. For now fear or hope held them back. Jodis knew this. Fear that she might have kin nearby, invisible amongst the white mounds that could've hidden many dozen warriors. Hope that she'd lead them to greater prizes. But after the hills, when the land flattened into a soft white mantle and her dark, empty house appeared on the horizon...
*Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch* Their susurration flitted around her, quiet and callous. *Then* *You'll* *Die*
Jodis tried to shut it out, to shove their taunts out of her brain and ears. She focused on her own tread. The louder steps, the firm, hard grind of compacting snow, which now said something else.
*Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Se-fa's* *Child* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Se-fa's* *Child*
Her eyes narrowed. A low growl rose from her innards, shuddered inside her mouth. Jodis' hands clenched into fists. The snow hadn't forgotten her mother. And she wouldn't either.
She was going to die.
But she wouldn't die alone.
Beyond the Eyes of Gods
|Battle cries. Blades. Blood.
Penetrating the darkness.
Screams. Steel. Spells. Slaughter.
Strange dreams. The war... Still raging. She had to get up. Fight. Kill. Win... No. Not her war. Another. Murky, indistinct... Blurs of sight and sound, familiar yet alien. Visions of twisted realities.
Carnage. Flame and fury.
Horrors and heroes.
Flashing swords. Gushing wounds.
Slayers and slain, crying out... Calling names she knew. Karuss... Babilus... Brough... Detsaal... Rassys... Others screaming for anyone who'd listen. Anyone...
The darkness whirled. Her mind snatched at it, trying to make sense, to impose order. Intangible mysteries slipped away.
Blood. Slaughter. Screams.
Screaming for anyone who'd listen.
Her muscles twitched.
Her portal closed behind her, shutting out the rest of the heavens, and Serthine exhaled. The expelled breath seemed to coil in the air like a malevolent serpent. Stresses, frustrations, and a thousand worries snaked, hissed, snapped -- violating the sanctity of her secret place. But her library was powerful. She closed her eyes, breathed deep. The smell of pure knowledge filled her lungs. Earthy baked clay tablets... The musty scent of ancient papyri... The crisp, clean promise of recently inked paper... It was the greatest melange of perfumes in all existence, and its comforting aroma settled amidst the warm, gentle light of the arcane orbs.
Serthine opened her eyes, and the goddess of scholars walked the passages of her library. The library. The grand repository of which even the greatest mortal bibliothecas were mere echoes, built in image and homage. Most of her fellow deities were distracting themselves in their customary manner. Brough was in West Kruna, lurking around the countryside like a common brigand, leaping out at travelers and splattering custard pies in their faces. Then he'd flee laughing from the scenes of his crimes -- chased by irate orcs or humans who'd never know their quarry was a divine immortal. Mathala had grasped a weapon and challenged a hundred of her warrior angels to a contest of arms. Karuss was... Well, Serthine had seen him on his knees, and wondered if the Lord of Light was actually praying to himself.
But she cared for none of these things. She needed books.
Her right hand darted for the nearest shelf and brought out a thick, heavy volume. The dark green binding was coarse but not unpleasant to the touch. Troll skin. Treated with magic and alchemy, able to regenerate and repair any damage it might suffer over the centuries. Serthine smiled. Mortal ingenuity. Their cleverness and cunning surpassed some gods'. Then she opened the unmarked, unmarred cover, read the title page, and sighed. Either her subconscious or the library's own inscrutable mind was teasing her.
The goddess' fingers turned the pages, almost of their own accord. It was a wonderful work. Nameless scribes and illuminators had lent their art, their brilliance to the lauded poet's own. Each page, each line, every word a thing of beauty. The script wove through subtle transformations, changing in accordance with the content, import, and emotion of each stanza. Representing them in elegant curves of ink so potent and pregnant with meaning that they were almost living creatures, hissing, purring, growling, slumbering, or pondering as the mood took them. Breathtaking illustrations framed this calligraphy. Gold, blue, purple, green, red, and silver inks vied with the text in a battle for supremacy that became harmony through the dreaming souls and shared yearning of its combatants. They formed mystical forests, lofty mountains. Strong, sweeping oceans, and drifting clouds. Animals the likes of which the world had never seen, setting man's imagination above that of heaven.
An amazing book. One of many sublime tomes the mortals had brought into existence, celebrating the art, craft, and vocation of words, and everything those words could shape and share. So splendid that at another time it may've brought a tear to her immortal eye. But now... Now it made her wince. For the iambs and images chronicled the creation of the universe. There they all were -- the celestial pantheon. Even Serthine herself, so lovely in the illuminations that she blushed at the illustrator's long-ago love. She and the others, carving the land, the sea, the sky. Creating Tor'gyyl, heaven, and hell from raw masses of primordial matter. This was the story mortals told.
Yes, the universe was mocking her. She closed the tome, put it back on the shelf, and ventured deeper into the library. Towards the sound of the scratching quill.
The human sat and wrote in darkness, hunched over his table, clutching his instrument tight in gnarled, ink-blackened fingers. Radiance from the goddess' magic spheres flooded over him in a golden tide. But his eyes didn't flicker. They kept staring into space, while his pen scratched and inscribed.
A chill crept up the base of Serthine's spine. She stood there for perhaps a full minute, staring at the man's old, expressionless face and the ring of white hair framing his bald pate. Other gods had called for his death. And maybe they'd been right. For this frail creature frightened her more than any demon. She should admit her folly, cast him out of her sanctuary. End the sinister scratching. Banish those blank, unseeing eyes that made even a goddess shudder. Or obliterate scribe and script with a single blast of eldritch power. Destroy that terrible brain, eradicate his writings.
Yes... A voice whispered in her head. Snatch his manuscript, tear it, burn it. Because you don't dare read it, do you? You don't dare...
Serthine shivered. But she was the goddess of knowledge. Dread held her limbs, but something else held her mind. She had to know. So she approached his table, gazed over his shoulder, and felt her throat tighten.
--- I know you're there, goddess.
Goddess of secrets. Goddess of deception.
The truth is waking. Then what will happen to the lies of heaven? ---
Yaatu Capuc grinned. The tiny man and woman were invisible, hidden in the dense jungle that stretched before him in its vast tangles. But the growing volume of their shrieks marked the pair's approach through the undergrowth. So did the rustles and crashes beyond, just beneath the quivering canopy.
The giant lifted his bulk from the side of the step pyramid he'd been lounging against. His prodigious belly wobbled, protesting at the sudden exertion but rumbling at the thought of the coming meal. He grasped his cudgel's tree trunk handle and tapped a finger against the chunk of rock at the top. It was old, worn, and crumbling. But still good enough to bash things.
He stood, planted his feet, and waited.
"Save us, master!"
They burst from the bushes. Their pursuer smashed through a moment behind, scaly feet stamping down the foliage, stumpy arms flailing, big jaws snapping. Yaatu Capuc's eyes gleamed. Humans always made the best bait.
"Help!" the man said.
He stumbled and fell, sprawling in the dirt. The woman threw herself down and grabbed at his arm, trying to help him. Both looked up and screamed into the lizard's descending, widening maw.
The beast's head flicked upward, raising its jaws skyward. Relinquishing the meal as survival instincts overcame hunger. Its eyes fastened on the club an instant before the weapon struck. The thud and crack made Yaatu Capuc's mouth water. He howled his triumph while the man and woman scurried away from the monster's falling bulk. There would be good eating tonight! He tossed the bludgeon aside, making the humans yell and dive, then pulled the stone knife from his belt.
He braced one hand on the carcass and drove the blade with the other. Its sharp obsidian edge sliced through scale and meat, opening the lizard's abdomen. Yaatu Capuc was ravenous. But his empty stomach could wait a few moments longer. His chieftain would demand to know what he'd seen; the giant couldn't return with a full belly and empty words. So he reached within the dead beast, into the sticky, gooey mess of innards, and tore them into the light.
Reading the entrails was his gift. A talent that had won him respect, fear, and admiration over the centuries. Thus he poked and prodded, taking care as he arranged the viscera. Then he gazed upon the gore and let out a gasp.
"What... What do you see, master?" the woman asked.
The humans held one another in their arms, panting, exhausted, still trembling. Yaatu Capuc made no reply. He merely stared, and frowned. Something was happening... The entrails spoke of trials and tribulations. Of immense change and events of unconscionable magnitude.
"Master?" she said.
The giant couldn't lift his gaze. His eyes, wide, transfixed, read what was before him again and again, even as his absentminded hand reached out and grabbed the two humans.
"Wait! Please! Please!"
He shoved them into his mouth. Their cries disappeared amidst the crunching and splintering of bone. Yaatu Capuc stared at the future, munching and contemplating, and wondered what it all meant.
Anyone Who's Listening
|The cold was gone. Jodis' resolve burned inside her, coursing through her veins and arteries. Filling her heart, her stomach, her lungs, her brain, and every muscle she'd soon call upon. It was a familiar feeling. She'd felt it a hundred times before, facing the prey and predators of the tundra, when life or death hung on the cast of a spear. Familiar and comforting. Like the remembered scent of her mother's hair.
She was ready.
*Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Near-ly* *Time*
A long, low ridge of snow stretched in front of her. As a little girl she'd called it the white worm, pretended it was a fabulous and dangerous monster crawling across the tundra. The first spear she'd ever thrown had bitten into its powdery hide. Later, it became a bulwark. An alabaster fortification. Castle walls beckoning her inside whenever she returned with bloody weapons, welcoming her home. Tonight it would encircle her fate.
Anticipation surged throughout her body, nourishing the flames. But she didn't quicken her pace. Her sure tread, the tundra walker's stride, wouldn't betray her.
*Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Good* *Luck* *Child*
Cascades of snow came away from the slope, miniature avalanches shifting under her boots. A soft southlander might have slipped and tumbled. But not Sefa's daughter, who could chase a mountain goat up a hill and come back down with its hide on her shoulder and its meat in a sack.
She paused at the top. Their echoing footsteps petered out behind her, and the eastlanders' uncertainty hung in the air, infusing the atmosphere like the beginnings of a lightning storm. Jodis chided herself. This was a foolish risk. She knew she should keep moving. Yet she couldn't resist. One final moment of tranquility, one last look. Perhaps the first luxury the tough tundra girl had ever allowed herself. First and last.
The child of the north, daughter of the greatest hunter to ever walk its snows, gazed across the landscape where she'd played as a child. It was a barren realm. An endless stretch of white. But gods, it was beautiful. There in the distance was the place of her birth. The dark, aged log walls, the heavy thatched roof. And near it the mound, capped by a boulder which she'd had to roll a full mile. Her mother's grave.
It was time.
*Crunch* *Crunch* *Crunch* *Die* *Well* *Child*
For long, long seconds there was serenity. The night unbroken by any noise save for her own pounding feet and the snow's answering voice. Then the shouting started.
"Get her!" a woman said.
"Yes, eastlander," Jodis whispered. "Come and get me."
Someone swore. Jodis smiled -- knowing, just knowing, that he'd lost his footing and rolled down the white worm. She raced over the plain, laughing, marring its pristine mantle. Inscribing her passage. Behind, five pairs of stomping, scrambling boots merged into a single cacophony.
"If a god's listening," she hissed, "I-"
The clang, crack, and shriek answered her prayer before it was uttered. Jodis spun round, backpedaling away her momentum, and reached behind her shoulder.
One of the men was down -- beating the snow with three limbs like a petulant child demanding his toys. Ferocious iron jaws held the bloody, mangled wreck of his left leg. The other eastlanders shouted, swore, and staggered. Four pairs of horrified eyes scoured the ground in front of them. A woman with straggly red braids saw the next trap. Her eyes were keen, like a hunter's. Her feet weren't. She tried to stop, but the toe of her boot caught on the snow. Scarlet braids whipped the ground. Metal teeth bit back, and her skull gave way in a soft wet squelch.
A man with a burned, scarred mess of a face was more cunning than the rest. Whilst his maimed comrade sobbed and groaned, and the other two gawped at the whiteness, he ran through Jodis' footprints, roaring like a bear.
Sefa's daughter killed bears.
Her spear flew hard and true. The eastlander clutched the shaft, tried to pull it from his breast. But his weakening arms could only caress it as he toppled.
Jodis took her other spear from the sheath on her back. Two enemies left... She'd been lucky with the traps. Her cast would fell one; the other would close with her. Strong adult hands against her knife. There was a chance! Oh, gods -- she could live! Those thoughts, those existential calculations, flashed through her brain in an instant and almost overwhelmed her with their enormity.
The eastlanders made their own calculations. Their eyes met hers in a frozen moment, and the inscrutable kinship between hunters and quarry bound them together. The woman with short, cropped golden hair and a silver ring in the side of her nose. The man with a drooping moustache and narrow eyes, whose broad chest heaved with thews not weakened by starvation but strengthened by growing hunger. She sensed their intent as she'd sensed that of countless beasts. And they sensed hers.
They charged. Not caring about the snow, or any traps that might still lie beneath. And it was a good gamble, because Jodis knew no iron jaws guarded the space between them. There was only her spear. So she threw it.
The man's wide torso, a target she could've hit even when she was half her thirteen winters, torqued away from the missile with a warrior's speed and grace. The weapon sailed over the snow. Taking Jodis' life with it.
She drew her knife. Her mother's old prayer rang in her head.
"We make this offering to any god who's listening," Sefa said. Her blade cut deep into the dead wolf's throat, carving a second mouth. Blood poured into the snow and painted it crimson. "May they always bless our hunts."
"Any god who's listening..." she said.
The man lunged at her. Jodis jumped back and made a quick, careful cut -- missing his face but snatching her arm back before he could seize it, keeping him at bay. But the woman was fast too. Another warrior. Jodis turned, tried to evade. Too slow. A snapping kick whacked her forearm, sent a shock of pain along her bones. The knife flew from her grasp.
And the man's hands grabbed her. Big, calloused hands in worn, ragged gloves, like a bear's paws. Closing around her neck. Powerful, crushing fingers dug into her skin. A necklace of agony. Anguish shuddered through her entire skull, throbbed in her brow and eyes.
Jodis thrashed, clawed. But he was too strong. Arms like iron. Grasp unbreakable. Her boots left the snow, kicking in the empty air. The mouth beneath his moustache widened into a gaping grin. An abyss.
"Pl... Please..." The girl's splutter dripped from her mouth.
The world blackened, contracted. Choking just like she was choking. A strangled universe. One little tunnel of vision. The man's glaring face. And beyond it the woman, turning away, eyes shimmering with freezing tears. Jodis reached out, trying to touch her. But she was too far. Too far. Walking away, picking up the wasted spear. Wedging its shaft into the trap to try and help her sobbing friend. Comforting herself with that kindness, that mercy. Because tonight there would be no other.
He was laughing now. Laughing like a madman. Laughing and crying. Laughing, crying, and strangling. Jodis' hands grabbed, scratched.
"Please..." A rasp, a croak. A voice she barely recognized. "Any... Any..."
Darkness was taking her. Whisking her away, far from the tundra...
Rage. Blood. Killing.
Another dream. But different. Clearer, closer.
Warriors battling on the snow. No... Not warriors. Not battle. Wickedness. Murder. A child, a girl, fighting, struggling against...
Five, against a child.
Killing. Blood. Rage.
A child, calling for anyone who'd listen. Anyone.
Blood. Blood in the snow. Offerings. Blood and prayers. Familiar...
"We make this offering to any god who's listening."
Dreams. More dreams. Older, fleeting. Glimpses in the darkness. Half-heard, half-remembered, half-understood words. Mysterious but empowering.
Blood. Rage. Wickedness. Murder.
Anyone who'd listen.
Her body shook. The darkness crumbled.
Of Gods and Titans
|The world exploded.
A deep, distant part of Jodis, flickering in the darkness, managed a smile. The tundra was dying with her. Its keepers were both gone now -- and it would follow them. An immense pillar rising up into the sky. Leaving Nordent a drab, dirty land below. And where Jodis was going, where her mother waited, there would be snow. Beautiful, white, crisp snow. Snow forever and ever and...
She hit the ground and rolled in the coldness. It crunched beneath her, a low hiss amidst the cries and destruction.
*Cruuuuuuuuuuch* *Cruuuuuuuuuuch* *Waaaaaaaake* *Uuuuuuuuuuuuup*
She wasn't dead. The man had dropped her... Reality hammered at the darkness, forcing its way into her brain along with splutters of returning air and the groans from her bruised throat.
But the world was still exploding. The whole tundra, shaking. Shuddering beneath her. Shuddering and erupting. Avalanches. Earthquakes. And... Screaming. The man and woman were screaming, but so was the tundra itself -- drowning them out with a mighty, wrathful cry.
Jodis crawled, scrambling over the snow, away from the impossible cataclysm. Her home... The house throbbed in the middle of her blurry vision. Yes... Yes! Safety. Sanctuary. A shelter from the tundra's rage.
Her legs found their way under her. Stumbling, uncertain. She staggered, zigzagging, carving a snaking path with crumbling steps.
The world shuddered again. Another earthquake. Jodis fell, sprawled in the cold's embrace, and turned.
Masses of snow and ice burst into the air. Immense chunks, flying upwards like mountains being born. A heavy wave descended on the eastlander moaning in the trap, on the woman struggling to free him -- burying them, entombing them. Swallowing them. The man with the moustache and the murdering hands was stumbling like she'd been stumbling, leaping away from the churning, crashing landscape.
The ground rumbled under Jodis, shaking her bones. A white geyser bloomed overhead. She raised her arms, shielding her face as it rained down on her. The tundra was angry! It was going to take them all. Smother the whole of West Kruna. Inter them in an icy crypt and-
The man's scream penetrated her whirling mind. Jodis brushed a layer of snow from her face, casting it aside. The rumbling was gone. The tundra had settled, regained its serenity. And...
Jodis stared. Eyes wide. Mouth agape.
Snow and ice cascaded from her hair, her chiton, her limbs. It fell away like a shed skin, into the frozen pit behind her and onto the white mantle around her feet. Cool, crisp air stroked her flesh. Soothing, invigorating. The likes of which she hadn't tasted for...
She looked around. Her enemy was gone. Was the battle still raging? The war? Where were-
Movement at the edge of her vision made her glance down. A human was running, fleeing. Him. The man from her dream... The man with his hands around a brave girl's neck.
Thisne's eyes narrowed.
A single stride drowned him in her shadow. He looked up, and had time to scream before her heel crushed him.
She ground his remains into the snow, smearing it with redness. That gave her some small measure of satisfaction. But it vanished an instant later. She should've questioned him first, asked him where the others were. Now she needed to find another... Ah! The girl! She'd ask the girl.
Thisne's gaze swept the landscape, and alighted on a tiny dwelling.
Jodis slammed the door shut. Her arms moved by instinct, sliding the bolts, ramming the bar into place. But what good was that going to do?
She darted into the middle of the room, gazing around at the furs spread on the floor, at the horns, claws, teeth, and antlers mounted on the walls. Trying to find purpose, some kind of sanity. Quivers of throwing spears hung nearby, suspended from iron pegs. Jodis snorted. It'd take a ballista bolt to kill that giantess!
The girl began to mouth a prayer, her mother's prayer. But her jaws clamped together and bit it off. If that monster woman out there was how the gods answered prayers...
Maybe the giant hadn't seen her. Maybe she'd just go away. Yes, go away, back to... The snow. Had she really come from under the snow? The thought blazed in Jodis' brain. Under the snow... All this time... Beneath where she'd played, and learned to throw spears. It was impossible!
*Boom-crunch* *Boom-crunch* *Boom-crunch* *No* *It's* *Not*
Thunderous footsteps... Getting closer.
Perhaps she'd walk by. Perhaps she was just-
There was a crash, a crunch, and a gust of wind. Jodis gazed through the space where her roof had once been, into a pair of massive azure eyes.
"Where are the giants?" the monster woman said. Her voice was soft, almost melodious. But her lips... "Tell me, child!"
Her lips didn't match her words. They were forming strange, unknown shapes. Yet the voice in Jodis' head was...
"Where are they?"
"I don't know! I've never seen another giant! Only you!"
The woman's eyes flashed. Her hand filled the sky, rushing down to grab and destroy. Jodis cried out. She raised her arms, flailing, and cried out again as the floor fell away beneath her boots.
"If you mock me again, I'll crush you."
The tundra girl blinked. She was in the giant woman's fist, imprisoned by warm, powerful flesh, transfixed by her glaring blue orbs.
"It's true! I swear! I've never seen another giant! Never!"
No sight in Jodis' entire life had ever relieved her so much as that of anger draining from those eyes. The woman -- the giant who wasn't a giant -- sighed.
"Stupid girl. Do I look like those vile, ugly..." Her brow furrowed. "I'm Thisne, of the titans. Where are my people? Are they still fighting the giants?"
"Are all snow humans this slow-witted? Yes! The titans! Karuss, Mathala, Rassys, and all the others! Where are they?"
"You... You mean the gods?"
"Damn it, Galba!" Rassys said. The goddess of love sauntered through the hall of the gods. Serpentine lengths of colored fabric settled around her body, meshing together to form a gorgeous gown. "Just because no one in heaven or hell wants to sleep with you, doesn't mean you can send for me when I'm-"
Galba didn't reply. Nor did she turn from the basin of the grand fountain in the middle of the vast chamber. Other gods and goddesses stood around her, all staring into the pool. Rassys bit her lip.
"What is it? Has something-"
The group parted, giving her room, allowing her to see the image glowing on the water.
"Yes," Galba said.
"But she's d-"
"I don't know."
"Oh... Then what... Shouldn't someone..."
"I've summoned Mathala. She should-"
"She should what?" the goddess of war said.
This time all heads turned. Mathala stormed towards the fountain, clad in her grim panoply, red cape swirling behind her like blood gushing from a wound. Lesser deities scattered.
"Look," Galba said. She stood aside.
Mathala stared into the scrying pool. And Rassys swore she heard a soft, tiny little noise escape. She'd never heard the goddess of war gasp before.
"Thisne..." Her armored fingers brushed the water, rippling the titaness' chiton.
"We have to..." Galba shrugged. "...do something."
"What will you-"
But the warrior goddess was already gone.