Skip to main content

Battle is an Art

Summary

Herah always considered herself a master artist, be it a painting, sculpture, portrait or whatever, Herah could make it without problem. 
Combine this with her gift to make her art into a reality, her great combat prowess and her infinite amount of willpower, she was clearly a no brainer to participate in Recompense; a series of trials that if one won would grant the winner anything they wanted.
With each trial being not only a battle to win but to survive, and the fact that the losers got a prize as well, that most really didn't  want, and the Cendruex had some stiff competition.
But with a broken No.2 pencil, a nervous smithing apprentice, a too trusting liar and an honest, omniscient jackass, Herah had Recompense in the bag.
After all, Herah was a master artist, and she always considered battle exactly that: an art.

 

Getting the Idea

Herah had five simple wants in life.

One, and this is most important, to honor La Flamme.

Two, the ability to create her art in peace, for it was a source of great pride.

Three, meet a space Cendre, because that would be fucking awesome.

Four, forge weapons and armor worthy enough to be wielded by a Nettoyant.

Five, have or meet someone to continue whatever legacy that will be left in her wake.

Herah also had three simple responses to anything that tried to stop her from completing these wants.

Harm it.

Beat it.

Or in extreme cases,

Kill it.

It was Tarkos, the second day of the week, and Herah's second cycle at Noir E. Blanc Academy. The youngling was in class with her teacher, Elder Rose, doing what was normal for her for the last quarter cycle in Rose's class, ignoring the pink skinned and scaled elder while also entertaining herself. The youngling's source of entertainment for this very day being a portrait of her teacher, which was nearly finished.

Parts of the teacher already completed, were the eyes and horns, which had pink irises with slit pupils and were curled on the side of her head respectfully. Herah had also completed drawing the scales that covered Rose's forehead down to her nose, the rest of the face being covered in skin. The youngling was working on the elder's full-teeth smile. The youngling had just gotten up to the last of the elder's fangs when the subject of the portrait broke the younglings focus.

"Mmmhmm."

Normally, this sound would've been ignored, since it was usually directed at other students, but the youngling heard it in such close proximity to herself that Herah couldn't help but turn her head up from her art to see whose attention Rose was attempting to get. This led Herah to be rather surprised when her eyes made contact with Rose's glare, the elder's arms crossed in front of her.

"What are you doing?" Herah asked her teacher, genuine confusion laced within her voice and expression, not only because of the fact that Rose had interrupted her working, something very few did in fear of a beating, but because it also broke the deal the two had made. The teacher only continued to glare at her unproductive student, causing Herah to glare back.

All of the other students in the room immediately stopped whatever they were doing to watch the duo, some even swapping cash while others placed new bets. The air was becoming thick with anticipation at was going to happen next, neither of the two subjects of interest caring. They just continued to stare at each other until Rose said, "It's about time we resolved the problem that you and I have.

Herah's glare transformed into a smug grin, her response being, "You mean the problem you have, and I'm all down for it, but my condition hasn't changed."

"I will not call you elder, for you are not above me, and I will never admit such a lie." Rose's glare lost a bit of its edge, "I just want to solve this without needless violence."

"Mmph."

"Hahahahaahah!"

Rose snarled, watching as Herah bang her head into her desk, the youngling's body racked with laughter. Her laughter quickly switched into startled grunts however, as Herah tried to lift her head back up. The youngling's horns seemed to dig deeper into the desk at her attempts to pull her head away. This continued with Herah adding more force to pull her horns from her desk, letting out a growl at the sounds of Rose and the rest of her class laughing at her predicament.

Turning her head to glare at everyone in the room, causing a hush to immediately fall over the class. Herah then turned back to Rose and said," You want solve this peacefully then do what I said, because I'm not changing my condition. The customs of the Cendreux, our people, determine that the only way we're solving this "issue" is through obeying my demands, as the superior Cendreux, or one of us defeating the other." Herah began to stare at Rose with a mock look of concern, and began to speak to the teacher with a worried tone, that both knew was faked, " But by the sounds of it, you might've forgotten our customs." Herah paused, giving Rose a faux confused expression, before shaking her head and throwing out her hand towards Rose before continuing, "Nah. It couldn't be that."

Herah gave her head a bit of a tilt, acting as if pondering Rose's question then cheerfully said," Oh! Maybe it's not that, maybe you forgot exactly how this all went down. Well if that's the case, allow me refresh you on the events that led to my "belief" of superiority."

Herah got up from her desk and stood right next to Rose, turning her head towards the elder and tilting her head up a bit since Rose had her beat by a few inches in height, Herah whispered condescendingly, " The first day we met, I walked into this class and blew three rings of fire at you, the first step to Ash va s'installer, the common greeting from one Cendreux to the other when looking to shape first impressions. You answered back by backing away in fear, not shock or surprise, but full on fear. I was left rather intrigued by this, I mean, you are my elder, you're supposed to show me my place, assert your dominance, and ash state me as your equal, anything but what you actually did."

Herah walked around to Rose's other ear and whispered, "Now, I understand you might've been surprised, since, you know, younglings rarely ever perform Ash va s'installer, when greeting an elder. I mean, the mere fact you're an elder is usually confirmation enough to tell us to respect you." Herah then pointed at herself," But not for me, you see this school is filled with elders who do not deserve the respect and attention I would normally give to someone of that status. My "belief" as you so believe is non-existent. Because I don't believe your beneath me." 

Herah then moved in front of her teacher, giving her a smile filled with a vicious delight, her next words were filled with such confidence that they might as well have been concrete,

"You. Simply. Are."

Nearly two cycles worth of rage flooded Rose's mind at that statement, causing the teacher to immediately rip the portrait of herself in half and grab Herah by the front of her sleeveless red tee, bringing the youngling face to face with her. Herah quickly lost her smile as her focus settled on the two falling pieces of paper. Only once the destroyed art fell to the floor did Herah look at her teacher, gritting her fangs while growling out, her voice now much deeper and feral,

"MY WORK!"

"That. Doesn't. Matter." Rose said, mocking Herah's earlier words, "What matters is getting you to understand how this works!" Rose yelled back, the elder's anger on full display, gritting her fangs as her grip on Herah's shirt remained tight. "You will learn to respect me, because I'm sick and tired of your shit!"

"Hey," Herah started, her voice and face doing a complete one-eighty, her tone now extremely soft and her head looking down, "You remember what happened to Toby when that bastard spilled some water on a drawing I was making three weeks ago, don't you?"

"Of course, it happened right outside my class. Toby just returned from the hospital today. What does that have to do with anything?" Rose answered back, now a bit confused.

"Well guess just how much worse you're going to get for that." Herah said, her voice still lacking life as one of her claws pointed towards the ripped pieces of paper that used to be Rose's portrait.

Rose turned her head towards the scraps of paper, not realizing that her grip loosened up enough for Herah to grab the teacher by her head and force the elder's face to meet her knee.

CRACK!

The sound of cartilage breaking was heard as Rose's head was snapped back upwards in an instance, leaving the teacher reeling, which caused her to release Herah to cover her broken nose. After returning to her senses, the elder glared and snarled at Herah, who herself looked downright pissed, and shouted, "You know what?! Fuck it! I realize not that my hope for a peaceful solution isn't going to happen. And as much as I hate to admit this, the only way my message will get through your thick skull is if it's beaten into it!"

Finished with talking, Rose unfurled her wings, a pair of bat like limbs that were a lighter tone of pink than the teacher's skin, and with a single powerful flap Rose launched herself towards Herah. Grabbing the youngling by her face, Rose caused the duo to fly through her whiteboard Herah first, launching chunks of the lesson plan every which way as the two smashed into the lockers outside of the class. Not yet finished, the teacher took Herah's head, and smashed it into the lockers again, crushing the steel with little resistance. Rose then began to drag the youngling's head through the lockers, leaving Herah covered in mixture of school supplies, lunches, and personal medication. This short trip through the lockers went on until they reached the cement wall that was next to the lockers, which the teacher stopped at, then punched Herah's head through. Rose followed this up by grabbing the downed youngling by her leg and throwing her into another set of lockers that sat on the opposite wall, completely caving them in as a result.

Rose refused to let up in her assault, dashing over to Herah, who had fallen out of the ruined lockers and stood up seemingly unaffected by the attacks, and drop kicking her down the hallway and into the fourth-floor stairwell. Herah crashed into the steps, leaving a few destroyed and the rest with the youngling embedded into them. Rose then flew over to the stairs and punched Herah down and through them.

BOOM!

A sound not unlike that of a bomb was heard as a dust cloud full of dust and debris was launched towards the one who had creating it, causing Rose to Rose used her wings to launch herself towards Herah, breaking the sound barrier, causing nearby windows to shatter. As her body was launched towards Herah, the teacher flipped and raised one of her legs to slam into Herah. Unluckily for Rose, Herah caught her foot and threw her through the wall just behind the now destroyed stairs.

Herah, still laying atop the rubble that used to be a stairwell, stood to her feet not at all nonplussed by her teacher's attacks and began to clean her hair and face of the accumulated debris. Herah did this by taking a deep breath and exhaling a small sliver of flames into her hands, and then simply thought of the fire covering them. With her hands now ablaze, Herah grabbed her own braided pony tail and moved her hands along it, burning away all of the dust and useless school supplies. With her red hair now clean, Herah let her ponytail drop back to its original length ending at her tailbone. Herah then moved onto her face and began to burn away the mess that covered it, until all that was left of it was a pile of ash. The youngling was then left with cleaning her shirt and red jeans, which left another pile of ash on the rubble and Herah looking like just another student going to lunch.

Speaking of which, Herah walked through the hole co-created by her and began to look around in search of the elder, not really caring that they were in the lunchroom. Youngling and elder Cendreux sat in their seats, none really caring for the fight that was going on, that was until a random student, recognizing the two called out,

"Hey! It's Herah and Elder Rose. I told you that they would crack before even a fourth of a cycle was over, didn't I Lach, now pay up!" Suddenly everyone cared about the fight, a mass exchange of money suddenly occurring as everyone either paid up or got paid. Herah even saw some other teachers swapping cash there, who once they saw Herah looking upon them turned away with nervous looks on their faces. The youngling scoffed, disgusted with their behavior. Herah quickly lost interest in the teacher's and began to search for Rose in the chaos riddled cafeteria, wanting a bit more entertainment from the angry elder.

After a few seconds of searching, Herah, who had gotten distracted by a pair of student's that were arguing over how much one owed the other, found her attention drawn to the shouting of several Cendreux students to her right. Turning that way, Herah was not at all surprised by the sight of Rose flying at her, with one of her legs reared back for a kick. Sweeping her foot through the air, Rose attempted to send Herah flying however the youngling easily caught Rose's leg and threw her away. A few seconds later Herah heard more screams coming from another direction, turning to face what her guesses led her to believe to be Rose once again. This time however, her guess was wrong.

Very wrong.

SMACK!

As if her entire body was slapped, Hera went flying back through her still co-created hole as the 9-foot table struck her, her body flattening against it like a pancake and her horns piercing the wood. Flipping both herself and the table while sailing through the air, Herah managed to get her horns out and land the table with only a slight bump, now speeding down the main hallway.

"Fight back!" Rose shouted, Herah merely flared her nostrils, releasing a tiny spout of flames in response while giving the elder a smirk, finding amusement in her teacher's reactions. And Herah had all the reason to, Rose didn't look to good, her mint slacks and dull pink dress shirt had many tears covering them. Her head was also covered in dust and debris and had a few cuts on the scaleless parts of her face, all of this from being thrown through a wall once. This was in stark contrast to how Herah looked, the youngling being completely clean and her clothes perfectly intact, adding that even after all of Rose's attacks Herah had no visible cuts or bruises on her body, the odds seemed in Herah's favor.

As Rose flew towards Herah, fire was blown into her hands covering them much like Herah had earlier as the elder landed upon the speeding table. Herah stared at the flames covering the woman's hands and gave a snarky remark, "Don't tell me you forgot that burning me with fire is not a possibility, ash you can't even do that to scaleless newborns." Herah held her hands up, as if praising the air, and smiled with maniac joy while continuing her sentence in a frighteningly joyful voice, "Our ability to breathe fire is a gift from La Flamme herself, and our mistress would never give us such power without the ability to protect against it!"

Rose let out a snort of flames and swatted at Herah's head, causing the youngling to bring up her arm in response, making Rose's claws bounce of her scales. Rose then grabbed Herah by her shirt, causing flames to spread across all of her clothing, and punched her in the stomach. Herah gave a slight stumble back and then grabbed Rose by the face and slammed her into the table, causing it to shudder and crack, but not break apart. The elder then punched Herah in the wrist, causing the youngling to let go with a pained hiss and step back, allowing the raging teacher to pounce upon Herah, knocking the youngling onto her back. Now on top, Rose used her fist to smash Herah's head through the table, causing it to splinter and break apart. The still on fire Herah slammed headfirst into the floor, going forward as tile and flooring was uprooted. Rose jumped off and flew above Herah as this all occurred, and after a few seconds slammed feet first into the youngling's gut. As a result of this, Herah abruptly lost her momentum and breathe, a crater was forming where her body stopped. Rose jumped into the air again, and as the teacher did so, Herah instinctually used Rompu to disconnect the nerves on her stomach. Rose came back down and began to wail on Herah, punching the student in the stomach in rapid succession, releasing a boom with each strike. Each punch Rose landed, dug Herah deeper into the floor, steadily uprooting tiles in the process. Rose then grabbed Herah by one of her legs and threw her through a double door and into the gym.

A still flaming Herah skipped across the floor a few times before twirling about and landing on her feet, sliding a bit as the action was completed. Herah, hearing the flap of large wings, looked up towards the gym door. What the youngling found was Rose, hovering a fair distance from the ground, slightly hunched over and breathing heavily. The teacher used one of her flaming hands to clean her face, then pointed at Herah and haggardly said, 

"You will respect me." With those words, Rose launched herself towards Herah, leaving a sonic boom in her wake. As soon as Rose was in arms reach, Herah caught her teacher by the throat, not even allowing the elder to attempt to punch her. 

BOOM!

The back wall of the gym exploded from the force generated by Rose's sudden stop, launching bricks out into the student filled courtyard it was right next to, causing shouts and screams to be heard as they scrambled for cover.

Herah and Rose paid no attention to this, their attention was solely on each other. Rose, still being held by the throat by her student, continued to glare at Herah, her rage bleeding through her eyes as they attempted to stare the youngling to death. Herah, her clothes no longer on fire thanks to Rose, glared right back at her teacher.

"Are you done?" Herah asked, "Because the only one of us who looks hurt here is you. And that's just sad." Rose weakly clawed at Herah's face, dragging a claw upon the youngling's face scales. Exhaustion had finally caught up with her body, but not with her will, defiance still in the eyes of the elder. Seeing this Herah, couldn't help but feel a deep amount of respect for the teacher, and after all of this, Herah felt it about time to share these thoughts. 

"That!" Herah started, quite literally beaming at Rose, " That right there is why I respect you!" Rose, gave Herah a bewildered stare, as the youngling continued "Your will far surpasses that of any of the other elders and younglings in this school, and I can respect that. You seem to believe that because I see myself as your better, that there is no possible way for me to respect you." Herah just shook her head, continuing on in her words," But you're wrong! I do respect you, I just don't respect you because you're an elder." Herah then backed away from Rose, stood at attention and exhaled a flaming flower. The flower was no bigger than the younglings fist and made of blue flames, with four petals creating a parachute-like design with the connecting purple stems that merged into one, creating a small opening with what looked like a red orb in its center.

" A wisp lantern?" Rose asked, not exactly sure of why Herah summoned the religious flower. In response Herah crushed the flower, the blue flames shrouding her fist which the youngling then slammed into her chest. This caused Herah to gain a shroud of blue flames.

"As a devote follower and worshiper of La Flamme, I require three things." Herah then brought up a single finger, "One, an unwavering faith." Another finger was raised, "Two, a keen eye." A final finger was raised, "And third, an eternally strong will."

Herah than brought her hand down, losing the flame shroud, and smiled at Rose. 

"While I don't know how strong your faith is, and I know for sure you're not the most aware Cendreux, I know you possess an eternally strong will, and anyone with that has earned my respect. After all, you've dealt with so much of my shit for nearly two cycles without ever attempting violence. To be honest, your threshold for dealing with annoying things far surpasses mine and most Cendreux I know."

"Now you know that I respect you, but-" Herah then balled her fist and slammed it into her hand, her smile suddenly becoming vicious.

"You still owe me for the portrait." 

Ten minutes later, another teacher appeared, coming to see how the fight ended. What they found was Herah standing next to a bloodied and unconscious Rose, with her scaly hands covered in blood. The teacher then called the hospital, letting them know that Rose needed to be picked up. It was another ten minutes before an ambulance arrived and transported the elder to a hospital. As Herah stood next to the destroyed gym, the youngling watched in mild amusement as the ambulance drove away, not at all worried for the teacher.

"Herah War Hej, would you please report to the principal office?" A loud speaker sounded out from next to Herah, causing the youngling to groan and began her walk to the office in question. After a brief trip down the destroyed hallway, Herah flew herself up onto the fifth floor and turned left into the office.

Once Herah stepped inside, the youngling found herself face to face with her black scaled and skinned principal, wearing his white suit and sitting in his white leather chair. 

"Noir, you asked for me?" Herah said, her brash tone and completely relaxed stance causing one of Noir's eye to twitch. Noir then sat forward, bringing his arms in front of him, glaring at Herah as he did so. After a bit of Herah staring back him unimpressed, Noir looked away from the youngling with a sigh. The elder then turned back to the student and said,

"Young Hej, I know you know why you're here, and we both how this all began. So, let's skip right to what I need to get out of the way, why don't we?" Noir said, with Herah simply give her head a lazy nod.

"I understand that you and Elder Rose got into a fight that left a bit of wreckage, bit being an understatement. So, I'll be going over the damage you two manage to create." Noir then took out a moderately thick folder that Herah rose her brow at, surprised at the fact someone managed to record all the damage they had created that quickly.

"On the third floor, where the least damaged was created, you two managed to create a hole that had a diameter of ten feet and six inches deep in a fact enforced brick wall, you managed to cave in and wreck fifty lockers, forty of which you apparently had your head smashed through, that were made of fact enforced steel. We then move onto to the stairwell and windows you two destroyed, a combination of fact enforced rebar, concrete, and glass but for you two they might've as well have been paper, since it's currently spread across the entirety of the first floor." Noir paused to massage his forehead before continuing, "Speaking of the first floor, you managed to create a hole in the wall of the cafeteria and-" "I co-created that hole." Herah interrupted, a completely neutral expression upon her face as the statement was said. Noir only stared at the youngling in confusion, seeing this Herah continued, "I co-created that hole, you said "you" created that hole, it was a collaborative effort between me and Rose." Noir merely rubbed his forehead again and continued his overview of the damage created, "Anyway, after the cafeteria wall, which was made of proven bricks had a hole fifteen diameters wide "co-created" by you, a cafeteria table of plywood reinforced so heavily with facts that it might as well have been five hundred pound steel table, which is now splintered apart and spread throughout the hallway. Speaking of the hallway, while the entirety of it isn't destroyed, over a hundred feet of tiles uprooted and stabbing into all the lockers, walls, and even the ceiling near it. And that crater, wow just wow, an eight-foot-deep crater that managed to create twenty feet worth of damage. Then we get to the gym, the place in the school most specially built to deal with large amounts of physical activity, which had the entirety of the back wall destroyed, which was made of even more heavily proven bricks than the cafeteria wall. I tell you all of this because this is your most destructive, in control, incident yet. All of this damage caps out at about," Noir paused for a moment to make sure the number was right, "2.9 million dollars. We're not funded by our government and this school isn't made of money!" Noir finished, sounding absolutely livid.

Herah didn't even have the decency to look ashamed, instead the youngling said, with a completely straight face, "You're acting like you can't have the geology class fix it free of charge, plus I haven't caused the school that much damage." In response to this, Noir reached under his desk and took out a stack of papers that had to be at least five feet. "This is recordings of all the damage you've caused to this school, just this cycle. If I added last cycle to it, the stack would break through our roof." Noir then leaned over his desk and glared at Herah, "Why should I let you stay at this school?" Each word was said deliberately drawn out, making it clear that this was Herah's last chance. Herah realizing this only, glared back at Noir, looking down upon the elder and said,

"You shouldn't."

Clearing the Canvas

"I'm home!"

"You finally managed to get expelled, I see." A charmingly, smooth and masculine voice greeted Herah.

"You say that as if it wasn't her choice to pretty much expel herself." A distinctly brash, yet feminine voice, much like Herah's if it was older, responded back.

Herah walked into her house and was immediately greeted with a pair of aquamarine and emerald eyes, from her father and mother respectively, staring her down. Her father, Orange, a well built and muscled orange colored Cendreux, was standing in the kitchen chewing some meat, while her mother, Rouge, a much slimmer but still muscled, red colored Cendreux of the same vein as Herah, was sitting on their couch glaring at her daughter, her emerald color eyes filled with both annoyance and disappointment. Herah seeing this glared back with a light blush upon her cheeks, slightly annoyed at the accusing stare. Herah then looked back to her father, rolling her eyes at his clothing. The Elder was wearing a light blue polo shirt with the top two buttons unbuttoned, and his khaki slacks that had a few new rips and tears. Orange saw Herah staring at him, and turned his smile towards her. The father then used his tail to rub his unruly, neck long hair, a few strands of it sticking out wildly, before pointing towards Rouge with his four foot appendage. Herah turned to her mother, who was still glaring at her with a small snarl in place, now standing up with her arms crossed. This allowed Herah to see Rouge's green tunic, which had a bit of gun powder on the sleeves and the scent of oil upon it.

Herah said nothing else, only walking into their home, a modest two-story house, and throwing her backpack next to her couch. The youngling then walked into the kitchen the pursuit of food on her mind. 

Their kitchen was small, only able to fit four Cendreux into it at any given time, which was perfectly fine, since there was only the three. The tiled floor was cool, something Herah found soothing to her bare feet. There was some meat defrosting on the center area which the family used to place groceries they recently picked up, quarry Orange had recently hunted, or food that was to be eaten soon. Orange was standing at the bar still chewing on the meat from earlier when Herah walked up to her father and asked,

 "Hey dad, what're you eating?" 

Orange looked back at his daughter and said, still chewing,

"Tendon."

"Where does it come from?"

"Animals."

"What animal?"

"The type you eat."

"Species?"

"Edible."

Herah, seeing that her father wasn't going to give her the answer, turned to her mother who, once the elder realized Herah was staring at her, said, "I'm not talking to you about anything except for what happened at school and what we are going to do now, so unless that's what you're asking about, you're getting nothing out of me." Herah rolled her eyes in response, and sniffed her father's food.

"You finally got around to killing the boar, I see." Herah stated, grinning cheekily towards her father, who rolled his eyes and grinned right back at his daughter, letting out a small chuckle at their exchange.

"Oh wow! You managed to use your nose, should I get on my knees now and worship the all mighty, all knowing Herah?" Rouge mockingly asked Herah, flourishing her hands in an overly dramatic fashion, as the elder walked over to the bar and leaned onto the counter.

"Piss off." Herah said, feeling a bit fed up with her mother's hostility.

"Was that a challenge I heard my dear daughter? Unlike that pathetic teacher of yours, I can actually beat your ass and I'll do it rig-"

Crack!

Orange's tail shot through the bar counter, stabbing at Rouge's eye while the elder launched his hand towards Herah's face, his claw just tapping her chin. Both Herah and Rouge began to breathe hard, puffs of cool air coming out of their normally warm mouths. Their pupils also changing from their normally slit states, to a more circular form and enlarging as well. Frost began to form on the red duos' scales and clothing, slowly creeping up from their legs and towards their heads. Herah was terrified, her father's Presence rapidly changing from playful and nice to deadly and bloodthirsty. The two stared at Orange, who was the only thing seemingly unaffected by the sudden shift in temperature of the room, the only thing different about him being his glowing and pupil-less aquamarine eyes. The father then shifted his eyes back and forth between them a neutral expression adorning his face.

"No fighting in the house. Herah grab your food and go into the living room. Your mother seems rather intent on talking about the school thing, so let's do exactly that." Orange said, his normally smooth voice, now a flat monotonous tone. The elder Cendreux then moved his claw and tail away from the mother and daughter. The room returned to its original temperature, the frost that had appeared out of nowhere disappearing as it came. The only evidence of what had occurred ever happening being the two Cendreux still catching their breath. Once back to normal, Rouge gave a small huff, and walked back over to the couch. Herah began to say something but stopped herself and just grabbed some food instead. Herah might've been hard headed, but when it came to her father obedience was always given, definitely once subjugated  to his Presence.

Herah grumbled to herself, reaching into the fridge and cutting some tendon off of the recently killed boar with one of her claws, before walking back into the living room. Herah gave said room a sweeping glance as everyone went to sit down. It was a much larger than the kitchen, able to fit a three-Cendreux couch, loveseat, coffee table, lamp stand, recliner, and a modestly sized TV. The walls of the living room followed the same pattern as the rest of the house, being a dim yellow, and the floor being spruce wood. The furniture was all white while the table, TV, and stand were black. The living room was directly connected to the kitchen, the only separation being the bar. The couch was a few feet from the bar counter, the coffee table right in front of it, and the TV in front of that. The decliner was a suitable distance to the right of the coffee table, facing the TV, with the lamp and lamp stand just on the left of it and a window on the right. The loveseat was to the left of the coffee table and facing the recliner, it also had two yellow pillows on it, which Orange immediately laid against after getting into the living room and sitting down. Rouge had moved over to the recliner and angled it towards the couch, which Herah sat upon chewing her tendon as the three stared at each other.

After a few awkward moments of Rouge glaring at Herah, Herah glaring back and Orange just watching the two do this, Herah folded her arms and asked,

"So, what do you want to talk about?" 

Orange seeing this smiled and answered back. "Well, I think it's a good idea to try and get you back into that scho-

 "No."

Orange said nothing in response, the elder just gave Herah a look making it clear an explanation was needed and it was supplied.

"I made the decision to leave, and I refuse to go back on it. I'm not fickle enough to tell someone to do one thing, then ask for them to do the complete opposite. Actions and behavior such as that are not befitting of one of La Flamme's most devote follower."

"Sweety, I'm pretty sure La Flamme won't look down on you for choosing to go back on your decision, it's not as if this was a premeditated thought," Orange paused briefly, " It wasn't, was it?" Orange said, only causing Herah to nod no.

"No, I only thought about it when Elder Noir asked why I shouldn't be expelled."

Rouge hearing this then asked Herah, "What did you think you should be expelled for anyway? It's not because of the destruction you two created is it? After all you've caused more damage on your own way before this. I remember you managed to destroy over half the school once when you went into one of your feral rages. The only reason you weren't expelled for that one was because it was found out you had the wrong medication to deal with it."

Herah shook her head once again, and answered back, "For a while now, I've known and acknowledged the fact that most of our instructors are completely and utterly undeserving of their jobs. They rarely ever stood up for themselves, just allowing the students to do whatever they wanted if they deemed them too "troublesome". As if! Those weaklings, might've been able to hurt a teacher if they weren't so passionless. Nearly every Cendreux in that school was utterly useless, and I refuse to allow their way of thinking rub off on me."

Herah stood up and began gesturing to herself and towards the ceiling, "I want to be able to show my appreciation for La Flamme, by forging weapons our Nettoyants, those handpicked by her to expand her will beyond our galaxy. But that school taught me absolutely nothing about smithing, just how to add and subtract rational expressions and how to speak and read a language I already know." The youngling then spat out the final sentence, her disgust very clear, "Going back is definitely not an option."

Rouge sighed in irritation, bringing her palm to her head, and matter-o-factly stated, "You know what, you seem so fucking sure on what you're not going to do, do you have any idea what you're going to do?"

Herah paused for a moment, then somehow blushed even deeper, as the youngling realized that getting expelled was the farthest her thoughts went. Rouge immediately caught onto this, and made it clear,

"You didn't think ahead, did you?" Rouge mocked Herah, standing up and wagging one of her fingers in the youngling's face, causing Herah to growl and bite at the extended digit. Drawing her finger back, Rouge gave a victorious smirk as Herah began to shake in anger and embarrassment.

"Shut up!"

"Make me!"

"AAAHHHH!"

"Don't throw a tantrum now, it's not my fault you're an idiot."

"Fuck you!"

"Well you're the only one getting fucked right now. You don't even know what to do with yourself! In fact, I bet you wo-"

But before the mother could insult her child any further, Orange glared at Rouge again, forcing his Presence upon her at the same time, causing his wife to halt in her statement and for her body to rapidly gain a frost cover. Orange then walked over to Rouge and hooked one of her frozen horns with a claw, giving it a light tug to make her face him. Rouge turned her terrified face towards Orange, who shook his head disapprovingly with a small snarl upon his face.

"Stop verbally assaulting our daughter. I know your frustrated with her, but acting like a cunt isn't going to make you or anyone else here right now happy." Orange said, ire very clearly laced within his voice. Orange then redrew his Presence, his glare and snarl losing all anger in the process, and transforming into a knowing look. Orange continued, his voice now much kinder,

"Just tell Herah what's bothering you, we're not going to get anywhere if you two just keep yelling at each other.

Rouge, hearing this, turned away from both Cendreux, and began to frown. After a few seconds of this, Rouge turned back to Herah her frown still in place, but her expression less hostile. Letting out a breath, the elder Cendreux began to speak, her tone losing much of its brashness and anger,

"I'm not apologizing for what I said, but I will say I might've been a bit unreasonable. It's just," Rouge looked away from Herah, and let out another breath before continuing, "You're a very, and I mean very, proud Cendreux and while I'm happy that you're so sure of yourself and La Flamme, I'm afraid that this self-assurance is going to limit your vision, and leave you with no options. Remember when you told us that you wanted to become a blacksmith, we tried to get you an apprenticeship under some of the local blacksmith. You were so sure of the fact you would be apprenticed under one of them, that you had no other options when every single one of them turned you down. The only reason you ended up at Noir Academy was because we had managed to pull a few strings. Herah, you only ever consider the now and the distant future, never in between and that keeps biting you in the ass." Rouge then crossed her arms and gave a them a nervous rub, looking away from Herah with a surprisingly sad look upon her face.

Herah, both seeing and hearing her mother's reaction, looked away and frowned. After a few seconds of this, Herah found her face turned back towards her mother, by Orange, who was giving the two his "make up" stare. Herah and Rouge looked at each other, pensive expressions covering each of their faces, this awkward standoff lasting until Rouge opened up her arms and gestured towards herself with her hands.

"Come here."

Herah looked at her mother for a few seconds, then awkwardly shuffled up to her, hugging the elder Cendreux just as awkwardly. Orange seeing this, gave a big happy smile, showing each and every single one of his blood covered fangs to the two hugging Cendreux.

"See isn't that better. You two always argue, but we always end up here. No shouting, no anger, just hugging. Now get ready for me, cause I'm coming in for my own." Orange said, his voice back down to its original smoothness. The elder then threw the last of his tendon into his mouth, and crushed the hugging duo in a hug of his own. Though Rouge was taller, being 8'10 compared to his 7'11, Orange's naturally superior strength allowed him to lift up both his wife and child, and swing them around in a circle.

After a few seconds of this, Orange sat the two down, Herah and Rouge stumbling a bit as they did so. After Herah and Rouge regained their balance, the group of three returned to their seats and spent a while talking about what to do now that Herah made it clear Noir E. Blanc wasn't an option.

"Maybe we could try the apprentice route again, a new blacksmith just moved in from out a town. Maybe they'll take you-"

CRASH!

"Dammit Jeffery!" Herah shouted, the sound of glass shattering being heard as the figure in question was swiped out of the air as they tried to fly by the youngling. Rouge looked at their now shattered living room window that was next to Herah, then back to her daughter with a look that was clearly not amused. The elder then told her with a flat tone, "You're fixing that."

Herah snarled and threw Jeffery at her father, walking over to her backpack to get supplies to fix the window. Orange caught Jeffery with one hand and laid them across his lap and began to rub their spine, while speaking to Herah, "You should treat your art supplies better sweety," Orange then threw Jeffery back to Herah while giving her a smirk, "I hear it's unbelievably hard to get your hands on giant pencils nowadays, some might even say impossible."

Herah caught Jeffery with her free hand, the other occupied by a sketchbook and pencil. The youngling then twirled Jeffery and tossed them into the air.

"Stay still." Herah said as Jeffery righted themselves in the air. Herah then gave the pencil a glare, looking them up and down to get her point across. This examination also allowed her to make sure nothing new had been added to the pencil, especially red, as often happened when they were left alone. Jeffery was still the same color of an average pencil, no spots or lines of any other color running across their orange jacket. Jeffery's eraser was still red, no signs of discoloration or the sort which Herah was happy about. By the look of it, Jeffery was still 6'4 and they were no thicker or thinner. The last thing Herah checked for was Jeffery's lead, which was still as sharp as possible.

Seeing that Jeffery had no changes (that were perceivable by her) made to them, Herah turned back to the broken window and tossed her normal sized pencil into her now unoccupied hand. After giving the window a bit of an examination, Herah began to sketch a version of the thing that wasn't broken. The design was simple enough for Herah, a square with a four by four design that had a different flower for each pane. The top left pane had a white dandelion that covered the entirety of it, the top right a white lavender that ran from the top left to the bottom right of the pane. The bottom left, the pane that had been broken, had a white rose in the center of it, in the process of blooming. The final panel had another flower, this one being the only one that wasn't white. It was a wisp lantern, as blue as the one Herah had blown that morning.

Herah finished up the sketch in a second, her hand blurring as it drew each detail down to the exact scale. Now finished with the sketch, Herah began to shade the drawing in, this taking just a bit longer than the creation of it. After the shading was done, Herah erased the sketch lines and found herself with a drawing that replicated the unbroken state of the window perfectly. With that finished Herah activated her gift,  Traduire, on the drawing. It then glowed for a brief instance, afterwards the paper seemed to slowly push it out. As the drawing was pushed out of the paper, it grew until it was the same exact size as the original window.

"Jeffery, help me install this." Herah ordered the giant sentient pencil, causing them to fly over to the original window and begin to erase at it. And erase it they did, after a few seconds of Jeffery's eraser scribbling at the window all that was left was a perfect opening for another one to be placed. Seeing this, Herah lifted up the new window without even a grunt and slid it into where the other used to occupy. Herah then looked at Jeffery and nodded her head. Jeffery in response to this outlined where the new wall was placed and then tapped the outline with their head. The outline gave a brief glow then sealed the window back into place.

Throughout the entirety of this, Rouge and Orange just watched in silence, a small tinge of wonder filling both of them as it always did when they got to see their daughter's gift at work. After the youngling finished, Rouge walked over to the window and gave it and the area around it a light shove. Seeing everything still in place, Rouge gave a small whistle and turned to Herah, her face dancing between subtle joy and wonder in rapid succession.

"No matter how many times I see it at work, I always find your Traduire fascinating." The mother said, her voice still retaining some of its brashness that was offset by the same wonder that filled her. Rouge then shook her head and began to walk out of the room.

"We can finish talking about what to do with Herah later. I'm going to go take a nap. Care to join me, sweety?" The elder asked her husband, who gave her a brief look then shrugged yes. Orange then got up and followed Rouge, giving Herah a wide, fatherly smile as the two left the living room and went up the stairs to their bedroom. Herah watched this then turned to Jeffery, who was just floating in the air besides her and glared at them. Jeffery, noticing this, flew over to the wall and began writing. Once Jeffery was finished the message came out to be: What? You want to go? Cause I'll go right now. Herah read the message then glared even harder at Jeffery.

WHAM!

¨Ouch! Dammit Jeffery, that hurt!" Herah shouted, rubbing the top of her head as a bruise formed where Jeffery hit her with their eraser. The bruise also proved to be a trigger for the youngling's body to Réunir. This meant that flurry of punches Rose gave to Herah's stomach earlier in the day came back with a vengeance, the signals the nerves on her stomach had tried to send to her brain earlier, finally being received.

Herah let out a groan, doubling over in pain and holding her gut with both of her arms, the surge of pain leaving her shocked. Jeffery seeing this, quickly erased what they wrote on the wall and flew over to Herah, allowing the youngling to lean onto them for support. Herah gave a few wobbly steps before falling over, Jeffery darting under her arms being the only thing that stopped her from being splayed across the spruce floor. With both of her pits resting atop the giant writing utensil, Herah was raised from the first floor to the second, completely bypassing the stairs and guard rail. After reaching the second floor, Jeffery flew Herah down the decently sized hallway, the walls lined with a variety of hunting trophies her father had created, mostly boars since Orange had some sort of vendetta against them, and a few of her mother's gun designs. Jeffery eventually stopped at the door to Herah's room, located at the end of the hall, perpendicular to the restroom on the right wall. Herah used one of her arms to open the door to her room then allowed Jeffery to carry her in.

Herah gave her small room a brief once over, making sure her mirror hadn't been moved while at school. Her walls and ceiling were completely white, this couldn't be seen however due to the numerous pieces of art that covered everything that wasn't the floor. The left wall when entering the room was covered with an assortment of fully covered and lifelike portraits of every Cendreux Herah had ever encountered that carried any significance with her. Both Rouge and Orange were on the wall, as well as Rose. Each of the blacksmith who had turned her down for an apprenticeship were on the wall as well. They were also multiple portraits for each Cendreux, and they all tended to overlap with each other. The wall right across from the portrait gallery, as Orange called it, was where Herah stored the weapon and armor schematics normally kept in her sketchbook, removed once they filled up about a hundred pages in her sketchbook. Some of the designs were simple, a set of steel armor for example, while others were rather outlandish, example being a sword made of swords. Orange dubbed this wall: A Blacksmith's Dream. The back wall was covered in works Herah didn't finish, many of them half colored, painted, shaded, etc, it was called To Be Continued.... Herah's room also had a bookcase full of sculpture of the Cendreux in her portraits, that sat in the dead center of her gallery wall. The youngling's closet door was on A Blacksmith's Dream and Herah's bed was in front of To Be Continued... with her mirror and window on right and left side, respectfully. The entire floor was covered in a white fur rug, that had quite a few paint stains from some of Herah's projects.

Jeffery carried Herah into the room and over to her mirror, allowing her to stand on her on once in front of the mirror. After the brief trip up to her room and a few deep breaths, the crippling pain Herah had turned into a light throb, allowing her to move with only slight discomfort. After taking off and throwing the red tee to the side, Herah began to examine her reflection. Since Herah only had a green sports bra under the shirt, Herah was able to get a good look at her abdomen. There was no visible damage shown causing Herah to let out a satisfied sigh, glad that her healing speed wasn't affected in any way by her fight with Rose. The youngling then became distracted, as would often occur when her reflection was involved, and began to watch herself run a hand over her ab covered stomach, tracing each of her six wonders with her claw. The reflection then began to pose and flex, showing off the lean, strong muscles that cover the entirety of her body. After a few poses, Jeffery, who had been floating next to her the entire time, gave Herah another whack on the head, sending an image of one of Herah's earlier sketches into her head. It was of one of her first drawings and showed a crudely drawn image of a teenage Herah doing the exact same as her current self. It was quite clear that Jeffery meant this as an insult, and Herah responded in kind.

"I'll kill you!" 

The youngling shouted, chasing the pencil around her room for a few minutes, only stopping because of Rouge yelling at them to do such. After this, Herah decided to lay in her bed for a quick nap, seeing that it was around the evening. After laying down on her back, Jeffery floated into Herah's bed, preparing to be cuddled. Paying Jeffery no mind, Herah stared at her ceiling.

The ceiling to Herah's room was different when compared to the walls because it was covered in a single art piece, a real time, mentally manipulated display of her solar system. It had costed Herah an arm and a leg, but it was worth it. The center piece, also being the center of the system, was the white dwarf star named Ellon. Ellon had four paths of orbit around it, or four layers, on the first layer Herah's home world, Incendié, was located. Incendié wasn't too much larger than Ellon, and was one of three planets with life on it that orbited the star. Incendié's model was mostly a grainy grey, with a small blue octagon to the left of the north pole, representing the only significant body of water for the planet. There was also a slightly larger perfectly round green circle, located right on the equator of the Incendié, representing where most of the plant life, and animals dependent upon them lived. The rest of the planet was covered in ash, hence the grey coloring.Directly across from Incendié and on the same layer, was the planet most Couver who gained infamy on Incendié fled to, simply named Flint. Flint when compared to Incendié was mostly green with quite a few pockets of blue, representing the plant life and significant bodies of water respectfully. The next planet was on the layer after the ones before it, and this one was completely green, but not because of plants but because of the incredibly toxic atmosphere it held. This planet was four times larger than Flint, and had no natural life on it. A few Cendre lived on the planet, and being a solitary bunch exploration was nearly impossible. The next planet, this one located on the final layer was named Bious. Bious was by far the largest, twelve times the size of Incendié in fact, and this was where many Cendre went to live once they outgrew Incendié. Bious itself was constantly growing, at a rather small pace, thanks to the Cendre who lived wrapped around it's core. This Cendre also provided enough heat to allow life to develop on Bious, this life being only plants. Bious was mostly blue with large chunks of green covering the rest of it.

Seeing all of this, Herah chose to focus on Incendié and called for the map to zoom in until it was on her room. Herah's ceiling now showed her lying in bed and staring up. Herah watched as Jeffery lazily spun themselves next to her as the youngling tired to think to herself about what was to be her next course of action now that school wasn't an option.

POP!

Herah let out a gasp of surprise as the ceiling showed a mass of black appear in front of her door, causing the youngling to look up and directly stare at it. As soon as Herah did this, the mass began to suck her in.

"Fu-" But before the youngling could finish, her body was sucked into the mass, leaving the room with only Jeffery inside. Once Herah was gone, Jeffery floated into the air, and down to the living room, grabbing their creator's backpack and then zooming back up the stairs. After making it back into the room, Jeffery organized a few supplies, and then flew into her parent's room.

After an awkward pause, Jeffery wrote out a message to the duo about what had happened to Herah, causing Orange to quickly redress and secure the bag to Jeffery. After this was done, Jeffery shot out of the ceiling, leaving a substantial hole in their wake as they left to help Herah.

Rouge saw the hole, herself now dressed, a bit worried about her daughter but also miffed about the damages and said,

"Dammit Jeffery."

Gathering the Supplies

“-uck!”

THUD!

Herah let out a groan as her third headache of the day came over her. After a few seconds more of laying face first on what the youngling assumed to be a floor, Herah sat up and got a look at her surroundings.

Herah’s first thought on the room was that it was extremely plain. The walls and ceiling were an annoyingly bright white, the floor was equally white, except for a dark grey carpet that sat under the coffee table in front of her. The room also had two tan couches on the wall to the left and right of Herah and an equally tan recliner behind the table. It seemed to be about the same size as her living room back home, but Herah wasn’t too sure. Space, for whatever reason, seemed weird in the room.

Rising to her feet, Herah began to look around the room but quickly gave up after realizing that there were no noticeable exits. Another thing that Herah realized, was that the room was empty sans herself.

After sending a quick message to Jeffery, Herah decided to check the time. Walking up to the coffee table, Herah used one of her claws to carve a rectangle into it, afterwards using Traduire to create a replica of her oven’s clock.

“The ash? It’s five in the morning.” Herah shook her head and sighed, “Doesn’t matter how this happened, no matter the situation, prayer to La Flamme must be done.”

With those words, Herah turned away from the table and walked to the wall that was behind her. After getting there, Herah took a deep breath and created a wisp lantern. After crushing the flower and slamming her fist into her chest, Herah was covered in blue flames. The youngling then fell to her knees, looked up, closed her eyes and began to sing.

“Vous êtes venus de loin, comme une supernova, vous avez vu notre maison, et l’a transformée, et après elle a été brûlée, couverte de cendres et de cendres. Nous étions nés. La Flamme nous vous remercions pour le feu à nos coeurs. Le cadeau qui nous donne la vie et nous permet de vous doucher de la louange et de l’adoration que vous méritez.”

As Herah sung, both her voice and the flames covering her began to change. Her voice became more melodic and divine as the song went on, while the fire covering her changed colors. First, it was blue, then it was red, and once Herah had finished her prayers the flames surrounding her were purple.

POP!

“-it!”

“-hell!”

Herah jumped up, her flame shroud dissipating as two peculiar looking creatures with the same face fell onto one of the couches. One looked pissed and confused, the other just looking confused.

Herah found her sights drawn to the creature who looked pissed, immediately dubbing them Fureur. They had pale skin (No signs of scales anywhere on their body) and was a brunette; their hair in a ponytail and reaching down to their back. Fureur also looked rather androgynous, with their wiry frame and lack of any gender-specific features. Fureur’s green eyes reflected a cold intensity that Herah found a bit unsettling, but not enough to make her look away.

Fureur was wearing a green shirt with the words: DO YOU WANT THE TRUTH on them in white letters. Over the shirt they wore a blue windbreaker, that was left unzipped.

Done with her one over of Fureur, Herah turned her attention towards the other creature and found that they were essentially Fureur’s doppelganger. The only thing that was really physically different between the two, was the slight bumps on her chest area and her confused expression. So Herah dubbed her Confus.

Regarding Confus’ clothing, her shirt had the words: DO YOU WANT THE LIE on them in green letters and they wore a pair of khaki cargo shorts. Over this, they wore an open trench coat.

The one thing that really caught Herah’s attention, however, was the new pairs’ feet. Neither of the two had toes, just black things in the general shape of feet.

Before Herah could contemplate the peculiarity of Fureur’s and Confus’ feet, her instincts screamed at her to move.

It was a good thing too.

THUNK!

Or the cut on her cheek might’ve been more severe.

The youngling turned to face the wall behind her, finding some type of blade buried to the hilt where her neck had been not a second before. Herah turned her head back towards the two creatures and slipped slightly. This caused the youngling to began to fall forward and allow Fureur, who had been rushing towards her, the chance to grab her by her curled horns and slam her chin into their knee. This left Herah so heavily dazed that Fureur was able to slam her into the wall next to where their blade was and then pull it from the wall and put it to her throat.

A voice sounded from in front of Herah, but to the youngling the words were unintelligible. As her vision blurred, the sound of Herah’s heart filled her ears. An unbridled rage began to flow through her. Thoughts tempered by this rage began to fill the youngling’s mind.

‘Who the ash does my attacker think they are?’

‘What the ash do they take me for?’

‘What the fuck is wrong with ME!?’

As all these thoughts filled her brain, Herah’s heart continued to be louder and louder in her ears, until it was as if an enormous drum was being methodically beaten inside of her noggin. But even with this noise, Herah realized what must be done.

Herah would burn the two till they were ashes.

Then Herah would burn the ashes.

Deep inside of Herah, in a pocket right next to her heart, a soft red fire burned. And with each beat of her heart, the flame grew hotter, slowly changing colors and intensity as it did so. Eventually, the flame swarmed into Herah’s lungs, through their connecting passage, and up to her mouth. Small wisps of violet flames leaked out, as Herah’s cheeks puffed, ready to release the wave of fire.

But just before the youngling could open her mouth fully, a bit of dust from the wall flew into her nose.

“Achoo!”

Herah saw and felt several things happen after her sneeze. One, the air between her and Fureur ignited, causing the blade at her neck to slit her throat and for her head to be filled with a ringing noise. Two, both Herah and the creature were launched back, with burns covering all of the creatures exposed skin and Herah being embedded into the wall. Three, Confus caught the now burnt Fureur in their arms. Four, Confus reached into the pocket of Fureur and pulled out another blade. Fifth, and most surprisingly, Confus stabbed Fureur with the blade.

After giving the ringing in her head a few minutes to stop, Herah pulled herself from the wall. Giving a light shake of her head to clear her vision, Herah rose to her feet and walked over to the two look alike creatures. As the Cendreux neared the pair, Confus noticed her, and jumped up, putting up her hands as if to stop Herah from advancing. The youngling paused and gave the Confus a cautious stare, not too sure of what they could do. Confus then began to speak,

“Okay,” a voice neither distinctly feminine or masculine came from her mouth, her tone rightfully cautious, “I know you might be pissed at my brother over there.”

Confus then pointed at who Herah assumed to be her brother and continued,

“But he was just freaking out, he’s never seen anything like you.”

Confus gave Herah a nervous smile and asked,

“Umm, with that said, what are you exactly?”

Herah continued to stare at the creature in front of her, not too sure what to do about them. Seeing that Herah wasn’t answering, Confus gained a pensive expression and begun to run her hands through her ponytail.

Herah slowly edged towards the creature, allowing one of her claws to extend in preparation to attack Confus. Slowly inching closer, until they were at arm’s length, Herah prepared to strike. But before Herah could attack, Confus made an ah-hah noise and looked back at her. Upon her face, Confus wore a kind smile that immediately made the youngling stop in her attack. Herah found Confus’ smile too kind and welcoming for it to belong to a threat.

“Why don’t we exchange information?”

Confus then pointed towards herself and continued,

I’m what you call a human, a human female to be exact, my brother, though hard to tell, is a human male. We come from the planet Earth!” The now named human then gave Herah a bow and said, “My name is Max, my brother’s name is Alex and I deeply apologize for his unprovoked attack.”

Herah moved to speak but found herself interrupted by another voice.

“Why do you always try to make friends with everyone we meet? Especially after I’ve attacked them.” A voice sounding exactly like Max’s came from behind the human.

Herah leaned to the side and glared, doing her best to hide her surprise at his condition. Alex, the human who had attacked her, was now standing looking perfectly fine. The only indication of his earlier burns being his hoodie’s mostly burnt sleeves and his missing pant’s leg. Alex had seemed to calm down, his face set in a weary and watchful expression. The human walked up to stand next to his sister, his eyes examining Herah’s neck.

“Could’ve sworn I cut you with my kris, but I see no wound. Even if there isn’t one, ” Alex then pointed at Herah accusingly, his voice coming out distinctly more feminine and angelic, ”Your throat should be filled with blood right now."

Right after the human finished speaking, Herah felt a thick liquid began to clog her throat. The youngling fell to her knees and began to cough heavily, but what the Cendreux presumed to be blood, was already clogging her throat. Herah thought quickly, allowing flames to flood her throat and boil the blood. After allowing the steam to exit her nose and forcing the blood clumps down her throat, Herah rose to her feet and jumped back and over the coffee table. This landed Herah right in front of the other couch. Alex followed this up by pulling out the dagger that Herah was pretty sure cut her and pointing it at the youngling.

Herah saw that the blade was an asymmetrical, wavy shape with many curves that would cause a terrible gash to be left in its wake. The blade also had an intricate pattern upon it, with layers of irregular lines and circles covering its entirety. The thing about the weapon that caught Herah’s attention the most, however, was the material of the blade, since it smelled of mostly iron and a bit of nickel. Herah assumed this was what caused the pattern on the blade to have a silvery look that had a heavy contrast with the black backdrop of the rest of it.

Now done with examining his weapon, Herah stared back at Alex as the human did the same to her. Alex brought his kris up to his left shoulder so that it was hovering right above it. He leaned forward with his left leg and brought out the dagger that was stabbed into him earlier, holding it in a reverse grip over his left knee.

Herah herself had already leaned forward until nearly on all fours, with her right hand out to her side, hovering just above the floor in a claw-like shape that pointed towards Alex. Her wings were at the ready, unfurled just enough to give her a quick speed boost if needed.

As the two had their standoff, Herah noticed that the room seemed a lot larger than it was before. Everything was where it was supposed to be, there just seemed to be more space between the couch and table.

A lot more.

But these thoughts quickly left her mind once Alex began to charge at her. Herah responded by forcing all her weight unto her legs and then slinging herself forward with her arm, her body leaving the floor. After this the youngling unfurled her wings fully and gave them a partial flap, using her five-foot wingspan to guide her towards Alex. Just before the two could meet in the center, a card flew by Alex’s head, giving him a little cut on his cheek, and in-between the two.

"That card is a burst of wind." Max said, her voice much deeper and masculine.

Just as the human finished the sentence, a burst of wind appeared between Herah and Alex, causing them to be launched back into the couches.

Having landed with her legs over her head, Herah rolled off the couch and growled at Max, who now stood between the two on top of the coffee table. Max hearing this turned towards Herah and put her hands up, just like before, and smiled while hurriedly saying,

“Please ignore my prick brother, he’s just hostile towards everyone and I’m so sorry he used Enlightenment against you in such a way. It just wasn’t-”

“Max!”

Both Herah and Max looked towards Alex, who was now standing up and looking even more pissed off than earlier. The angry brother then pointed at his sister and told her,

“Get away from that fucking demon.” Alex then pointed towards Herah and continued, “I might not be exactly sure what type you are, but I’ll be damned before -”

Herah held up her hand, causing Alex to pause in surprise. The youngling then took a deep breath and pointed at herself,

“I am not a demon.” The youngling said, her voice filled with mostly annoyance and twinges of anger.

Alex gave Herah a hard stare before looking away and giving a curse under his breath, Max, who was now standing next to her brother, smacked him across the back of his head. After matching her brother’s glare with her own, Max turned back to Herah, once again smiling, and kindly said,

“As you can see,” The sister gestured towards her brother,” My dick of a brother thought you were a demon.” The human then hurriedly added, “Which you’re clearly not if my brother’s reaction is anything to go by.”

Herah gave the pair an apprehensive look, then asked,

“Why is your brother so trusting of my words, you do realize demons can lie right?”

Alex then gave an annoyed sigh and said,

“Don’t worry about it,” The boy gestured towards Herah, “Just know that I’ll know when you’re lying to me.”

Max smacked her brother across the head once again. Then the human gave Herah another smile (which was starting to creep the youngling out), and began to speak once again.

“Now since we know you’re not a demon, would you mind telling us your name and,” The girl gave an awkward shake of her hand towards the entirety of Herah, “What you are?”

Herah pondered this for a few moments. While the youngling was still quite angry at Max’s brother, Herah found herself not too disliking of Max herself. Giving the idea a bit more thought, Herah blew six rings of fire towards both of the pair, three for each.

Max gave the rings a curious stare, even sticking her hands through their centers, which caused the rings to dissipate. Alex’s reaction was completely different, swiping through all three of the rings that flew at him with a glare adorning his face. Seeing both of their reactions, Herah gave a deep bow and said,

“Through the act of Ash va s’installer and prior experience, I recognize you,” Herah turned towards Max, “As an equal and potential friend, Max.”

Max gave a delighted laugh and bowed back, hers a bit more dramatic than Herah’s.

Herah then turned towards Alex, giving him his own bow, and glared, the next words coming out of her mouth through gritted teeth.

“And through the acts of Ash va s’installer and prior experience,” Herah said the next words with steely pride flowing clearly throughout them, “I recognize you as my equal and potential rival, Alex.”

Herah rose up, Alex matching her glare with a rather dismissive look that caused a feral growl to emerge from her throat, but nothing else. Allowing herself a few moments to calm down, Herah sat down on the couch behind her and began to speak.

“I come from a race called the Cendreux, and my-” Herah found herself suddenly interrupted by Alex.

“Your race calls itself the Ashen?” The human asked, one of his brows lifted in mild curiosity, causing Herah to give him a surprised look before speaking once again.

“How do you know our ancient language?” The youngling asked, a bit on the edge at the fact Alex was able to understand it.

Alex gave the confused Cendreux an exasperated look, and replied,

“Because it isn’t ancient, that’s just French without the accent. Why would that language be-”

The human then paused and began to tap his nose. After a few seconds, Alex looked back up and snapped his fingers. The human then turned to Herah and asked in a voice filled with curiosity

“You’re not from our universe or our planet at least, are you?”

Herah shook her head, a bit off-put by Alex’s flip in tone.

Alex then turned to his sister, who was looking about just as confused as Herah was, and said,

“That’s why earlier she was talking about rivals and friends and shit from earlier she said, ash shall settle. ” Alex then added, “In French.”

The brother then pointed towards Max and exclaimed,

“Hah! I knew those five years of studying it was going to pay off, but someone thought otherwise.” Alex then got up into Max’s face and said, “I know the ancient language of an entire species, and you just know dumb old Japanese. Who was wasting their time no-”

“Urrk!”

Alex fell onto the couch massaging his punched throat, as Max gave him an annoyed glare with a slight blush on her cheeks. The human then turned towards Herah and gave her an apologetic smile, which now had Herah half convinced that it was the girl’s natural expression, and said,

“As I said earlier, please excuse my dick of a brother. He often interrupts people when they’re talking.”

Herah gave a small smile and added her thoughts,

“While such blatant disrespect is annoying, this isn’t the first time, I’ve dealt with someone who constantly inter-

CRASH!

“Dammit Jeffery!”

A sound not too dissimilar to glass shattering was heard as Jeffery shot down from the ceiling, shards of it falling towards the floor and fading away as they neared it. Jeffery stopped themselves short of impaling Herah through the head, flipping over to hover right next to her instead. Herah seeing her stuff tied to him, took it off, which Jeffery immediately took advantage of by writing out a message for the youngling on the wall behind the couch. It read: Herah! I finally found you. I can only destroy so many planets and solar systems before I’m annoyed.

Herah, after reading the message, shouted in surprise. Jeffery then erased and wrote another message on the wall: Don’t worry, they were all uninhabited so the only thing that died was some rocks and stars. Herah, after a few seconds of staring, just shrugged her shoulders and grabbed Jeffery, before gently running her hand along the length of their body.

“So Hera is your name, huh.” Herah turned back to the twins, noticing that Alex had been the one to speak. The youngling glared at him, shaking her head and answering back,

“It’s pronounced here-ah.”

Alex gave Herah a dismissive nod, causing the Cendreux to growl at him, before turning towards Jeffery. Herah watched as Alex studied Jeffery with a sense of measured caution emitting from him, causing Herah to stew silently in anger.

The youngling then smelt an unfamiliar scent approach her, it was mostly unique as often was for any living thing but had the smelled of anemone and carnations apart of it, causing her attention to shift towards Max who was now standing next to and looking at the youngling with a single eyebrow raised.

“What?” Herah asked, a bit confused by the twin’s look.

“Oh, nothing.” Max responded, causing Herah to let out an annoyed grunt. The youngling then asked,

“Why do you smell of flowers?”

Max gave Herah another genuine smile, causing one of the youngling’s eyes to make an unconscious tick. Max after giggling at Herah’s reaction, answered the Cendreux’s question,

“Me and bro were tending my garden when we were sucked into whatever brought us here.”

Max then gave her head a slight tilt before asking,

“Do I have the smell of any particular flower on me, and if I do, do you recognize it?”

Herah looked back towards Alex, who now seemed to be studying where Jeffery had come from while tapping his nose, before answering back.

“Yeah. You smell of anemone and carnations.”

Herah heard another small giggle come from the human. Max then said,

“Those two are my favorites, I especially like red anemone and striped carnations.”

Herah gave a small nod of understanding before looking back at Alex, who still had his attention on Jeffery. Herah glared at Alex, getting another dismissive look from him in response.

“Why the ash are you staring at Jeffrey anyway?” Herah snarled, finally fed up with Alex’s silent staring.

“I’m trying to figure out why something so powerful has bound itself with someone so,” Alex stared at Herah disappointment clear in his expression, ” What’s the word I’m looking for, lacking.”

“Brother!”

Herah saw red, but before the youngling could act on her rage, Jeffery shot up and nailed Alex in the face with their eraser. This launched the human into the couch behind him. The couch, thanks to Alex’s speed, was propelled into the wall leaving a few cracks on impact.

Jeffery returned to their position in Herah’s hands, the youngling ’s anger dissipating in surprise of Jeffery’s actions. Jeffery noticed this and wrote her another message. It read: What? You think I’m just going to let some little human piece of shit mouth you off without worry. Only I and your mother can do that. 

The gigantic pencil then floated back into their master’s hands, allowing themselves to enjoy more rubbing. Herah directed her attention towards Max, who had walked over to her brother and poked him.

“Uuhh.”

After hearing Alex groan in pain, Max looked back at Jeffery and said,

“Thanks, bro can get insufferable sometimes.” Max then looked at Herah, giving another one of her damn smiles, and continued, “I know I’ve apologized for him before, but I still feel I must repeat it for what he has done.”

Herah, seeing the smile again, felt her guard immediately lower. The youngling waved the girl off, saying that Max had nothing to be sorry about. Max then sat down next to her comatose brother and began to stare into space, allowing Herah to direct her attention towards Jeffery.

“Hey,” The youngling said, gently patting the giant pencil, “Do you know where we are?”

After a few seconds of nothing, Herah found an image of a pocket invading her mind. Not at all bothered by the foreign thought, the youngling gave Jeffery a questioning stare. Noticing this, Jeffery showed her the image of a cube. Herah just blinked in confusion, causing Jeffery to float up and smack her across the head with their eraser. The youngling let out a yelp (causing Alex to finally come back to his senses) before swiping at Jeffery. The pencil flew over to the wall behind the twins and stabbed through it with their eraser. Pulling out of the wall, only darkness was revealed to the room’s occupants.

“That tells me nothing!” Herah shouted, both hands directed towards the hole.

“Well it does tell me something,” Alex said, the human now tapping his nose, “We’re either in a pocket dimension or the belly of a Kilonia. And since I don’t hear the wailing of children, I’ll assume we’re in the former.”

Herah gave Alex a surprised glance before saying,

“Ok, not even going to ask about the wailing children, but how do you know that this is a pocket dimension?”

Alex gave Herah an unamused glance before looking back at Jeffery, “I’ve been in a few before this one, and once while inside she,” Alex pointed towards his sister, “Managed to bust a hole in the side of it, we saw the exact same thing.”

The human then began to tap his nose, his expression becoming thoughtful as his finger tapped out a rhythm upon it.

“Of course, I might be wrong, but that’s unlikely.”

“Oh really, why should I beli-”

But before Herah could finish, her breath hitched and her knees buckled. Everyone, except for Jeffery, fell to their knees, breathing now a much more arduous task than before for the three on their knees.

“Shit. This feels like dad. Just without the freezing.” Herah said, her voice strained and hoarse.

“Fuck! I’ve never felt a Presence this powerful.” One of the twins said, but Herah wasn’t able to tell which, her vision beginning to fill with black dots.

Then suddenly, Herah felt another Presence engulf her, this one very familiar and welcoming. With this, Herah was able to force herself to her feet and began to breathe regularly again. The youngling summoned Jeffery to her hands, the pencil responding without delay. Herah twirled Jeffery above her head and then held them their with her left hand where their pain ended and her right just after Jeffery’s center. Herah leaned back on her right leg, with her left pointing forward and tilting her pencil’s tip slightly towards the ground.

“Thanks Jeff.” Herah said, her eyes searching for whoever was releasing such a Presence.

“Ahh. My young Artist, it’s always a pleasure to see one of my creations able to stand in my Presence. Even if a little help is required.”

A rather gentle, masculine voice came from behind Herah, causing the youngling to whip around, and face the one who was speaking.

The entity, Herah felt that was what best described them, was unique in their appearance. They were bipedal and stood at a rather imposing height of 9′3, with the entirety of their body having a black backdrop. Herah saw it as a backdrop because upon their skin, if it was even that, was a collection of galaxies and stars, slowly moving across. The figure had six arms, each limb covered in stars of increasing size, that started small and white at where they connected to the torso and ended upon the palms and back of their hand’s as large red stars. The beings legs showed an asteroid belt wrapping around each of them. The torso had two slowly moving galaxies on it, a third emerging from the right side. Upon the face of the entity were two dark spots that Herah presumed to be black holes and the being’s eyes.

The entity stood with its bottom set of arms hanging from its side, the center pair playing rock-paper-scissors against each other, one of the top set waving at Herah and the other arm working as the referee for the middle two. The entity’s eyes held a sorta mischievous curiosity to them, that was eerily welcoming. It was as if Herah was staring at one of her ancestors, a rather ancient one at that. However, this didn’t stop them from looking regal and eternal.

Though somewhat familiar, Herah still perceived whatever was in front of her as a threat and keyed them into that idea as well.

“Who the ash are you?” The youngling growled, baring her teeth at the figure.

In response to her question, Herah heard laughter, in the same gentle voice from earlier, come from the entity. They then spread all six of their arms out in a grandiose display before saying,

“I am known by many names. God. Allah. Yahweh. Krishna. All-Mighty. Maker. Bois D’allumage by your people. But the name I gave myself, my personal favorite, is what you shall call me.”

The entity began to glow, before releasing a bright light that briefly blinded Herah. Once her vision cleared, in front of Herah stood someone completely different than before.

It was a Cendreux, who stood at a respectful 8′5 and had grey scales and skin. They were wearing a simple white t-shirt that said Embrasse Moi en Français, and some black sweats. Their black hair was short but messy, and they had a grey tail as well. The Cendreux looked rather different than the entity from before but had the same expression as them, now with a grinning mouth and sapphire eyes. The entity now looked below average for a Cendreux, lacking any sorta of defined physique. They stood slightly hunched over as if they were just lazily holding themselves up, while staring at Herah with a soft grin and a laid-back composure. The Cendreux then spoke in the same voice as before stating,

“Call me Norwe, and who am I?”

Norwe made a dramatic pause, using both of their hands to cover their face before bringing them away and winking at Herah, their expression set in a lazy grin as they did equally lazy jazz hands.

“The creator of your universe, that’s who.”

Choosing What's Needed

“Damn.” Alex started, his voice showing quite a bit of nervousness, “I never thought I actually meet another Maker. Kinda hoped I wouldn’t.”

After Norwe’s introduction, their Presence over the others had lessened considerably. With the Maker’s shift in Presence, another thing changed as well: the room.

It now resembled a dining room, with a rectangular, brown table in the center which had six seats around it. On one end sat Norwe, who was cleaning out one of their ears with their pinky, on the other sat Alex, in his still burnt clothing, twirling his kris in one hand as his other tapped his nose. On Alex’s right and in the chair closes to him, Herah, who was still only in her green bra, sat staring at the other person who had come with Norwe. Max sat next to the shirtless youngling doing the same exact thing to Norwe. Jeffery lazily floated above Herah, doing nothing of interest. Across from the three, sat the person who had captured Herah’s attention.

They had been with Norwe when the Maker had first arrived, using the leg of the Maker and their small stature to hide from the other’s view. They looked like a tiny human, an extremely tiny one. His little face was rather pudgy and childlike, with freckles all across it. To Herah, the gnome, that’s what Max had called him anyway, looked to be about 2′8, and was dressed up rather strangely.

Sitting upon his head was a soft, blue cone-shaped hat, that had a little white ball on the tip. The gnome also wore a blue tunic that sounded as if it had been lined with metal, the soft metallic clinks Herah heard and the smell of a metal coming from the little guy leading her to this conclusion. Though unable to see them anymore, Herah remembered that the gnome was wearing some things called shoes, each as soft as his hat with a tiny part of them curling upwards where his toes were. Both shoes, much like the gnome’s hat, had a small white ball atop of them.

Before sitting down, Max had given the gnome a look and said they looked like a toddler, this caused them to blush deeply and use their hat to hide from her, which they were still doing. The gnome hadn’t said anything since his arrival, just looked around at the gathered group nervously before Max had scared him. His behavior had caused a chord to be struct within Herah, bringing up some uncomfortable memories.

“So Norwe,” Alex began, “Why exactly did you, presumably, bring us all here?”

Herah directed her attention towards Alex, who was looking at Norwe with a look not too dissimilar than the one Jeffery had received when the two first met. The human had set his blade down, but was still tapping his nose.

Norwe gave a small yawn, drawing his ear from his pinky before giving the group another lazy smirk. Norwe then provided an answer in their soft voice,

“Well, I have brought you here,” Norwe gestured to the room, “To explain to you what exactly you’ve been dragged into.”

“And that would be?” Max piqued in with her own question, clearly not as wary as her brother of the newcomer.

“Recompense.”

Herah watched as Alex suddenly stopped tapping his nose and reached for his neck pinching it, before giving his sister a concerned glance. Herah directed her attention towards Max, who’s brow had crinkled immediately after her brother pinched his neck, however the sister still seemed unaware of what exactly was going on. Directing her attention back to Alex, Herah saw his attention back on Norwe, who had been giving him an amused smile. Norwe then began to speak once again,

“I see my Soothsayer knows what’ s happening, “Norwe then gave everyone else in the room a glance, “But does my Liar, Artist or Creator know the same?”

The three others sitting at the table simultaneously felt their breaths hitch at the titles given to them. Herah gave her own glance towards the two others who had done the same as her, pretty sure as to who Norwe had been referring to when naming each. Herah then directed her attention towards Alex and tensely stated,

“You seem to know what’s going on, mind letting the rest of us in on this?”

Alex seemed surprised by Herah for but a brief second, his expression quickly morphing into that of anger. Alex opened his mouth to respond to Herah’s thinly veiled accusations, but Norwe quickly puts an end to them before the human could speak.

“Now now now,”

“What the-”

“Hurrk!”

Two things occurred rapidly, one moment Norwe had been sitting in their seat, the next they were crouched next to Herah with their hand around her neck. The Maker’s grip left Herah unable to breathe as her face was forced to face Norwe’s. Spiteful emerald met playful sapphire as Norwe bore down on Herah. Though Norwe still had a cool expression, their hand made it quite clear that while this might be entertaining to them, they had some things they weren’t tolerant of.

“My dear Artist,” Norwe gave Herah a soft pat on the head, “Don’t be so quick to turn on my wonderful Soothsayer, he, and I would advise you to get used to hearing those type of words, had no idea when I would force his universe to undergo Recompense, or how it would start. It would be such a shame if-”

Herah saw Norwe pause, finally acknowledging what else had happened in the instance that they had moved.

“Now old friend, don’t worry I won’t kill or erase her, can’t really thanks to you.” Norwe gave Jeffery a wink, the pencil moving its tip from the Maker’s neck in response and floating back to its place above its creator. Herah sent a quick thought of thanks to Jeffery, before sending another regarding the two’s relationship, curious about how they knew each other.

‘Why did they call you old friend, have you met?’

“That pencil of yours gets into quite a bit when they’re not with you.”

Herah’s head whipped towards Norwe who had returned to their seat at their end of the table. They gave Herah a little wink before letting out a soft breath.

“Back to business,” Norwe pointed at Herah, Alex, Max, and the gnome. “You four will be participating in Recompense.”

“You still haven’t told us what that is?”

“Max!”

“I’m sorry bro but he hasn’t.”

“Do you want to be erased from existence!?”

“No! But I would love to know what’s going on.”

Herah watched in amusement as the siblings bickered, letting out a few giggles at their behavior.

“Recompense is essentially a way for me to entertain myself.”

Immediately, everyone’s attention was back on Norwe, the Maker’s soft grin seeming a bit more threatening. The Maker then clapped their hands together before saying,

" So, why don’t I start with why I chose you guys.”

Norwe gestured to the table, causing several large spheres with galaxies upon their surfaces to appear above it.

“Each of you though created and birthed from one of my children, have all been touched by me.”

Norwe then pointed at a single sphere, causing all the others to fade away and for the remaining one to enlarge. With the sphere now nearly the size of the table, Norwe zoomed in on one of the galaxies.

“La Flamme!” Herah, seeing her mistress once again, shouted in surprise.

La Flamme was currently in her travel state: a supernova. To be exact, La Flamme looked like a supernova given direction, a mass of white light was in her center with an array of colors circling around it as the chieftain of the Cendreux propelled herself through space like a beam.

“That,” Herah looked away from her creator and back towards her Maker. “Is the ninth out of 589,786,890 of my children and whenever I feel like it, I pick a random number of these universes and select however many of their gifted are alive at the time. These will be the participants for Recompense.”

“Sti-”

“Shut up sis! He’s explaining.”

Norwe just smiled at the two, entertainment at the two clear in their eyes.

“Depending on how I feel, the selected groups might go through twelve or only one event, which I call acts. In your case there are twenty universes, each somehow only having two gifted. You’ll be in groups of four and you have ummm,” Norwe’s brow crinkled slightly before they just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Sixteen. Let’s go with sixteen acts.”

Norwe raised one of their hands, the image of La Flamme disappearing, and images of Alex, Norwe, Herah, and the gnome replacing it.

“Each of you possess a gift, one given to you by me through that touch I mentioned earlier. Your gifts were formed out of one of the many possible timelines that you could travel down. Luckily for most of you, your gifts were the perfect fit. Onwards, when creating your groups I had to see how each of your abilities would mesh with each other.”

The gnome, Herah, and Max disappeared, leaving Alex to be enlarged.

“My Soothsayer is really the only one of you whose gift is really good at playing off the others, working especially well with my Liars gift.”

“Umm, excuse me.”

An extremely soft childlike voice sounded out, causing everyone else in the room to turn towards it. The gnome, with an extremely shy glance towards everyone their, voiced his thoughts.

“What about me and the pretty dragon lady?”

After the gnome finished his sentence, his eyes met Herah’s, who winked at him causing him to hide under his hat once again. Norwe chuckled slightly before stating,

“I just threw you two with them, no real thought put behind it.”

This caused Herah’s eye to twitch in annoyance, before her mind was drawn towards one of Norwe’s earlier statements.

“Why exactly,” The youngling started, causing attention to be directed towards her, “Do you call this Recompense? What exactly are we repaying you for?”

Herah, though unable to see him, heard Alex make a noise not too dissimilar of that of a dying pig. Norwe’s grin transformed into a full-on smile, this one for some reason rubbing Herah the wrong way. It wasn’t hostile or anything like that, Norwe’s smile just seemed foreign.

“Your existence. You’re repaying me for your existence” Norwe said, snapping his fingers as Alex’s image was replaced with a single universe.

“About fifteen millennia ago, I found myself,” Norwe began to roll their hand, until seemingly finding the word they were searching for, “Bored. So with this boredom, I decided to do what I usually did, immerse myself within my multiverse.”

Norwe then took the single universe into their hands and ripped it apart, causing a multitude of universes to surround them, each covered in its own unique set of galaxies and stars.

“Experiencing omniscience and omnipresence is different than explaining it, so I won’t, but what I will tell you is that while doing this I simply asked myself, “What would entertain me?“”

Norwe snapped their fingers, causing each and every universe surrounding them to disappear.

“And I instantly knew what to do. So I went and bothered a few of my siblings, asking for them to make me some empty universes and give me all but omniscience over them. Only the God of Abraham, Benny, and Lucifer were willing to supply but that was good enough for me.”

As Norwe spoke, their voice maintained its softness but their face showed a steady increase of excitement, a sight that was somewhat startling to Herah. Norwe made no notice of Herah’s surprise as they continued on, conjuring up numerous empty globes as they spoke.

“I then took these empty universes and put them on standby while I chose three others filled with life by my children to participate.” Norwe conjured up three universes in a row and tapped each of them, a blurry shape appearing above each.

Norwe pointed at the universe to their left and said,

“From this universe, came 28 individual gifted.” The blurry shape above the universe became the number 28.

Norwe then pointed towards the planet to their right and said,

“From this universe, I brought 20 individual gifted.” A 20 appeared above the universe.

Norwe then pointed at the universe in the center and said,

“And finally, from here I brought two individual gifted.” A two took shape above the empty universe.

With Norwe’s final statement, Herah gave Norwe her own weird look which was mirrored by everyone else who had a face in the room, excluding Norwe themselves. Paying no mind, Norwe waved their hand. This caused the three universes to fade away, which were quickly replaced with twelve others that were empty.

“I divided each of my fifty participants into groups of two,” Lights began to appear in a concentrated area on each of the universes, “Then I had these groups undergo a series of twelve acts, each more terrifying and deadlier than the last.”

Herah watched as the universes started to disappear one after the other, until only a single one remained.

“Until finally at the last act, the universe with only two gifted won.” Norwe said, waving their hand.

“What happened after that?”

This question came from Herah, who was left a bit confused as to why they were being told this story.

“Well the victors got a single wish from me, which could be anything except for omnipotence or omniscience.”

“Wait,” This time it was Max interrupting Norwe, ” Why isn’t omnipresence off the table?”

“Sis!”

“It’s a perfectly valid question!”

Herah paid little attention to the arguing twins, hers was solely placed on Norwe who was watching the twins. The reason for Herah’s attention being directed towards the Maker was due to how peculiar Norwe was to her. After all, this was the parent of La Flamme and the apparent Maker of her universe. But they acted nothing like what the youngling’s expectations led her to believe one of such power would. Norwe came off as just some average Cendruex, floating through life as just another face in the large crowd that made up her species.

This reality might’ve been better than what her people’s story said about the being, but it still rubbed Herah the wrong way.

Terribly.

So, Herah decided to do what was normal for her when rubbed the wrong way.

The younging tried voiced her thoughts.

“Why are you-”

Luckily for Herah, Jeffery heard the thoughts going on in her head and decided to intervene before anything suicidal came out of her mouth.

WHAM!

“YOU FUCK!”

“Ahem.”

Herah paused in her attempts to strangle Jeffery, and redirected her attention to Norwe who was giving her a knowing stare.

“Now that all attention is back on me,”

Alex nervously chuckled at this.

“Omnipresence is allowed because it wouldn’t interfere with my control.”

“Ok, I can understand that.”

Herah rolled her eyes at Max statement before getting the group back on track.

“You were telling us what happened after the winners were chosen.”

“Right,” Norwe began, “After granting the winners their wishes I returned them to their universe.”

“Um, excuse me.”

All eyes were directed towards the gnome, who had raised their hand.

“Yes, my Creator?”

“W-What happened to the losers?”

“Oh, they lived,”

Herah watched as both the gnome and Max sighed in relief.

“I erased their universes however.”

Herah watched the two’s relief become replaced by terror and surprise. Herah directed her attention towards Alex, who had a grim expression upon his face but nothing else. Herah was surprised like the other two, but that quickly turned into downright angry. The thought that someone got screwed because of another’s action not only pissed her off, but went against one of her key principals.

Just as one’s victories were their own, so were their fuck ups.

“Why the hell did you do that!?”

Norwe turn towards Herah, no surprise at her outburst shown. In fact, they looked like they expected it.

“Four reasons,” Norwe began, “One, it has worked as great motivation for a good portion of the participants. Two, the mere act of participating in Recompense is how you guys repay me. Third, I like to have a set number of universes and this allows for me to add more. Fourth, this adds another factor in the entertainment.”

“What?!”

“Herah shut up!”

“Dammit Alex!”

Enraged, Herah got out of her chair and marched over to the human sitting at the other end of the table. The youngling then grabbed him by his shirt and lifted him up. The youngling stared into the human’s eyes, finding inside of them something that made her completely disgusted.

“Earlier I acknowledged you as an equal, not just because of the fact you were able to take me down so easily. It was because I saw that you were not only confident, I also saw that you were brave.”

Herah let out a snort of smoke.

“But now I just see a little bitch.”

Alex didn’t look at all bothered by Herah’s statement, the human just glared at the youngling harder.

“Well sorry for wanting to live, goddamit!”

“Norwe dammit please, God is my sibling.” Norwe piqued in.

Ignoring Norwe, Herah continued to focus on Alex.

“The hell does that mean!?”

“Are you fucking with me or are you really that retarded?”

“Just answer my damn question!”

Alex shoved Herah away from him, straightening his shirt back out after doing so. The human then looked back at Herah and said,

“Norwe is a Maker. Specifically our Maker.”

“Yeah, they said that already. What are you getting at?”

“GRRHH!” Alex pinched his neck several times in rapid succession before continuing, “It means that he,” Alex pointed towards Norwe, “Has complete control over us.” Alex pointed at himself, “He could with a snap of his finger, make me disappear.”

Alex scoffed before sitting back in his seat. As the human sat down, Herah heard him say under his breath,

“I don’t see why you don’t get that.”

Herah almost continued in her questioning, but after hearing Alex’s words decided not to. Herah might’ve thought his actions unbefitting, but that didn’t mean that the youngling was going to push him anymore.

For now.

“My Soothsayer” Herah turned to Norwe, the Maker grinning softly as they continued, “The reason why my Artist is so willing to talk back is due to how I’m perceived in her universe.”

“What do you mean Norwe?” Alex said, now visibly calm and collected, but clearly still on edge.

Norwe then gestured towards Herah, the youngling understanding that this meant that the Maker wanted her to continue. Though not too liking of Norwe at the moment, Herah would never past up a chance to spread the reach of La Flamme.

So with those thoughts, Herah walked over to Norwe’s end of the table and turned to face everyone else in the room. All eyes were on her, Max and the gnome staring at her with clear curiosity in their eyes while Alex watched her with his ever-searching glare.

But Herah did’t speak.

Herah preached.

“Bois D’Allumage,” Herah began, her voice filling the room as her tone became deep and powerful, “Is considered the parent of La Flamme, the creator of my species. Our tales tell that at the beginning of our universes life-span it was just a piece of coal. This coal piece was infinite in mass and held a conscious.”

Herah then brought one of her hands to her chest, her voice rising in tandem with her excitement. Her eyes sweeping the small dining room as her story went on.

“My people called it Bois D’Allumage. And for eons, it was perfectly fine with its existence.”

The youngling then brought her other hand to her chest and clinched both fists, her voice taking on a sorrowful tone.

“This feeling of satisfaction however slowly changed into sadness and depression. And as the centuries went by, these feelings compounded until finally, Bois D’Allumage couldn’t take it anymore.” The youngling placing special emphasis on the last part of her sentence.

“So what happened next?”

This question came from Max, who looked to be getting into Herah’s word as much the youngling herself. Herah smiled at Max in response, always happy to see someone willing to listen, before continuing with her sorrowful tone.

“They ignited themselves. And began to burn”

Herah smirked as the sounds of the gnome’s and Max’s surprised gasp graced her ears, her eyes making a slight twitch at the dismissive grunt Alex made. Herah brought her hands to her side and continued, her tone now like it was in the beginning, powerful and heavy.

“As Bois D’Allumage burned, pieces of it began to fall away still engulfed in flame. And while most of Bois D’Allumage burnt away and gave way to our universe. ”

Herah sent a quick message to Jeffery, the pencil responding by launching her backpack towards her. Herah caught it without problem and drew out her sketch pad and pencil. Within moments, Herah had drawn and used Traduire to bring five pieces of coal into existence. With her mouth now dry, the youngling took the pieces of coal and ignited each of them with her fire.

Throwing the now flaming pieces of coal out and over the center table, Herah continued to preach,

“However five of these falling pieces didn’t burn away. Instead, they changed and as they changed they gained sentience, recognizing each other as siblings.”

The five burning pieces landed in the center of the table, each one beginning to take a different form. Herah sent another message to Jeffery, the pencil responding by lining up its eraser with the form that was closes to the youngling before launching it at her.

Herah caught the flaming form, which caused its flames to extinguish. This revealed the fossil of a dinosaur’s foot that was the size of Herahs palm. Allowing everyone in the room to see it Herah said, her voice still loud but much more gentle,

“The first of the coal fragments to take form was Le Dinosaure. The eldest of the siblings”

Herah dropped the piece and caught another of the flaming coal pieces, but unlike the one before, the coal didn’t lose its flame covering. Instead the coal burnt away until there was only fire left sitting in Herah’s hand.

“The second coal fragment to take form became La Flamme and later went on to create my race.”

Herah dropped the fire next to the fossil, the table not catching fire, and differentiating from before caught two of the burning coal fragments. One of them burnt away to reveal a palm sized bubble held miraculously by Herah’s middle and thumb claw, while the other revealed a scorch mark on the youngling’s palm.

“Two of the final three coal fragments became Le Serre and Le Scorch, the twins of the group.”

Herah let go of the bubble and flipped her hand while over the table. The bubble floated down to rest next to the still burning fire, with the scorch mark landing right next to the bubble. Jeffery launched the final coal fragment at Herah, and the youngling caught it without problem. This time, like the first, the flame was immediately extinguished.

“Is that a diamond?”

“Pretty.”

“Can you make me one?”

Herah rose a brow at the reactions of the three mortals in the room, not seeing what was so big about the what the final coal fragment turned into. Shrugging her shoulders Herah named it.

“And the final piece, the youngest of the group, became Le Diamant.”

Herah dropped the diamond next to her other creations before finishing her sermon.

“With the creation of these five, Bois D’Allumage died and left the universe to the will of these five siblings, who we call Les Frères et Sœurs à base de Carbone.”

Herah then created a wisp lantern, crushed it in her hand, and brought it to her chest in order to create her flame shroud. After letting Max and the gnome give their little oohs and aahs, Herah bowed to the group and said, “Let your flame burn eternally.” The shroud disappearing with these words, Herah rose back up and moved back to her seat.

After sitting down, Herah looked back at Alex who was tapping his nose once again. Not a word was said by anyone else, the entire room silent as everyone just watched each other. Alex, of course, was the one to break this silence.

“Your people don’t believe that Norwe is all-powerful, do they?”

Herah shook her head, and spoke,

“Amongst the Cendreux the idea of something or someone being unbeatable is not only unaccepted, it’s frowned upon greatly. We believe that all can be surpassed.”

“Even your god, The Flame?”

Herah nodded her head.

“Especially her, La Flamme isn’t even the most powerful of her siblings.”

Herah used the flame still burning at the center of the table to launch the diamond near it into her hand.

“That honor goes to Le Diamant, who is also the most durable. La Flamme is the most loving of the siblings, hence the reason my planet was the first to gain life that worshipped one of the siblings. We were created due to her sense of loneliness.”

Alex nodded, before turning his sights towards Norwe, at least that’s what Herah assumed.

“Are you okay if I ask one more question?”

“Sure.” Norwe answered, their voice showing no form of annoyance, “It’s best if you learn as much about each other as possible, it’ll allow for better collaboration.”

Herah watched as Alex nodded his head, before setting his sights back on Herah.

“So the five siblings are, in this order: the dinosaur, the flame, the scorch, the greenhouse, and the diamond, right?”

“Yeah.”

Alex leaned forward, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“How do you know about the others exactly?”

Herah immediately noticed the suspicion and growled at the human.

“La Flamme told us.”

“Told one of your ancestors right?”

Herah gave Alex a blank stare before saying,

“Of course La Flamme did that, but our goddess also showed up eight cycles ago to spread the word herself.” Herah smiled softly, “I met with her personally.”

Alex blinked in shock before tapping his nose like crazy, presumably a lot more questions being created by that statement. Herah heard a gasp come from both the gnome and Max. This caused Herah to look at Norwe in confusion, the Maker answering her unasked question.

“Where they come from their gods rarely interact with mortals, and even when they do, they don’t it on the level in which my daughter does.”

Norwe then checked a clock that they got from nowhere, and said,

“Now look at the time,”

“Where did you even-”

“He’s a Maker sis.”

Norwe shook his head in amusement before continuing,

“It’s about time that you guys got to your first act.”

With those words, Norwe snapped their fingers causing a black mass to appear in front of the table and suck the gathered group in, excluding Norwe and Jeffery.

Norwe turned to Jeffery and said,

“You better get going old friend, my Artist will be needing your help.”

Jeffery scribbled a message on the wall before flying up and out of the pocket dimension in search of Herah, her backpack on their back.

Norwe didn’t even look at the message on the wall, already knowing what it said. The Maker just said,

“I forgot to fix the Soothsayer’s clothing.”

The Maker then thought briefly and added,

“Also the Artist needs to put a shirt on.”

Creating a Sketch

Within moments Herah and Co. appeared in a forest.

To be more specific, the group appeared above the forest.

"Shit!"

"The hell!"

"Ash!"

"OH MY GODS!"

Everyone yelled as they began to fall towards the forest floor. Luckily for Herah, her reflexes kicked in and with a flip and quick unfurling of her wings, Herah caught herself before the canopy could engulf her. Unluckily for everyone else, Herah was the only one who could fly so the other three fell into the canopy. The youngling spent a few moments observing the forest tops, looking for anything that could be seen as a threat, before swooping down into the canopy herself.

After breaking through the treetops, Herah found Alex, Max, and the gnome on the forest floor, seemingly waiting for her. After landing, Herah checked everyone over to see if they had sustained any damage from the fall, and after seeing none Herah asked them about it.

"How did you guy's get down here safely?" Herah gave the group another look over," None of you look too durable."

"I lied." Max said.

"I told the truth." Alex said.

"I created." The gnome said.

With those helpful answers, Herah rolled her eyes and asked another question.

"So I know we're in a forest, if my textbooks are anything to go by, any idea where this forest might be?" They youngling asked while looking around.

"Well," Herah found her eyes drawn to an animal that had appeared out of nowhere and was currently hanging from a low hanging branch from one of the trees.

"Huh, a sloth. What strange choice in form."

This comment came from a confused Alex and while Herah had never seen one before, the youngling thought the animal was absolutely beautiful. Before it could make another sound, Herah had snatched it off of its branch and held it in front of her face while smiling at it, her carnivorous teeth reflecting in the creature's eyes.

"You look absolutely wonderful, with your tan coat and cute little snout." Herah said her tone calm and observant, while her words weren't really focused on the sloth, "And look at your limbs, they're so long and furry and have the most beautiful claws attached to them." Herah sat the sloth in the crook of her arms, examining the claws to the best of her ability. "These three little guys help against predators, don't they?"

Herah then put the sloth back onto its branch and watched as it slowly got back into its hanging position. Once finished, Herah began to talk to the sloth directly.

"So Norwe, what did you have to say?"

"You knew that was Norwe?! Why did you pick him up like some sort of pet?!"

Herah rolled her eyes, not even looking at the overreacting human, and said, 

"Yes I knew Alex, but he didn't look as threatening as before and I've never seen a sloth, as you called it, so I decided getting a closer look was a perfectly fine thing to do."

"Nice to see you two bonding," Norwe the Sloth said, their mouth, not all opening to communicate these words.

"What the-"

"He is a Maker sis." Alex droned out.

Herah gave Alex a sideways glance, the youngling getting an annoyed glare in return. Herah looked back at Norwe and stated,

"Yeah, no."

Norwe the Sloth shrugged, before dragging itself into a sitting position atop of its branch and holding its arms out towards Herah.

"Carry me."

"Why?"

"You're going to take me to what you are going to be doing."

Herah looked at the other three there, getting a confused shrug from Max, a nervous smile from the gnome, and a terse nod from Alex. Herah turned back to Norwe the Sloth, thought what the fuck and picked them up, holding the sloth Maker in the crook of her arms. Norwe then pointed where they needed to go, and Herah began to walk that way, the others following shortly after.

For a while the group traveled in silence, allowing Herah to appreciate the nature that was so rarely seen by those who weren't hunters from her world. One of the few things that really stuck out to Herah was just how green and red everything was. From the plants, bushes, and small trees that littered the floor to the massive trees, with there numerous branches and vines, that reached up to the sky, all of it was either completely green or had green leaves with red bark. The trees blocked out huge bits of the sun with their leaves, but allowed just enough sunlight to enter, that the traveling quintet didn't have too much difficulty traversing through the forest floor.

Another thing that Herah noticed about the forest was its lacking in something that Herah thought was a mainstay for any massive area with lots of plants. This thing was the forest's seeming lack of life other than the plants. Herah had sniffed the air to check as they were walking and found that the forest had no form of animal scent in it. Which was strange due to how some trees showed scratching in certain areas while the ground was paved as if regularly traveled by something.  Adding to this train of thought, was the fact the group had walked through several clearings that could have only been destroyed by something like an animal, with all plant life in them destroyed and dead. Each one had a pungent rotting smell that caused Herah to use Rompu upon her nose so as to not pass out.

"Hey bro," Max began, Herah directing her thoughts from the last destroyed clearing the group had walked through to the human, "What exactly is a Maker? You mentioned them a few times but have never gone into detail about it."

"Well my wonderful Liar," This answer coming from the resident Maker, "Makers are a group of beings with the capability to create and manage universes."

"No shit."

"The hell, Herah!?"

"That was an obvious statement and you know it."

"But-"

"You should learn to lighten up around me Soothsayer," Norwe shifted in Herah's hold until facing behind the youngling, "I'm not the type of Maker to erase those creations that insult me." 

Norwe returned to their original position in Herah's arms before extended their arm to the point in which it could reach Herah's head and began to pet her.

"I find it rather entertaining." Norwe then turned back to Max, "The biggest difference between a Maker and other beings that can create universes is the way in which we do it."

"What's the difference?" Max asked, not too sure of what the answer was going to be.

"Presence."

"What-"

"We're here," Norwe said making it sound as if their voice was meant to have excitement. 

The group exited the dense forest and entered another small clearing. This clearing, unlike the others, was filled with living plant life. It had grass and a few peculiar flowers growing around. The plants were peculiar due to the fact that half of them glowed white, while the other half glowed black. The plants grew in no particular order or pattern, with their being groups of only black or white, groups that had a mixture of the two, or just flowers by themselves. In the center of the clearing was a tree.

"That tree looks like a Donneur de Frêne. Wait a second." Herah dropped Norwe, getting a yelp out of the Maker, and pointed at the tree in question, "That is a Donneur de Frêne!"

The tree was quite a bit smaller than all of the other full grown trees in the forest, about half their size in fact, and its trunk was much smaller than the surrounding trees as well. The tree also had a shape that was quite different. The five largest branches of the tree were spread out in the shape of a star, with their grey leaves gathered at their flat heads creating clusters of leaves that looked dense enough to be sat upon.  Above this branches were a slightly slimmer branch that created a large bush as the treetop for the tree. There were a few other branches, the closes one to the ground being about six meters from the ground, each with leaves gathered at their very tips. The tree itself had smooth grey bark with several large knot-shaped objects running along its trunk, no real order or structure to them at all.

"Why is this tree called an ash giver?" Alex asked, being one of the two others there who understood Herah's language. 

Herah walked up to the tree and gave it a sound kick. As a result, the entire tree shook, causing the leaves to began dropping ash onto the round, this included Herah.

"We call them as you said, ash giver because these trees have leaves that drop highly flammable ash that tends to seep into the nearby soil, causing local plants around them to become black and white."

Herah then reached up and grabbed one of the knot-like objects on the tree. After a slight pull, the knot came off causing a bit more ash to come off the tree. Herah lifted the knot towards the four others there, who had gathered a fair distance behind sans Norwe. The Maker Sloth currently crawling past her.

"Where I come from its rather dangerous to try to harvest these fruit from Donneur de Frêne if you don't have any type of resistance or immunity to fire or heat, due to how anything flammable will ignite rather quickly on my planet."

Herah gave the air a quick lick, before shaking her head and continuing.

"That shouldn't be too much of a problem here, this planet is too cool to cause any sort of ignitions to the ash naturally."

"Well enough of your talking Artist," Herah turned to Norwe the Sloth, who had finally made it to the tree and was crawling up the base. After that sentence, Norwe said nothing else until they reached one of the branches. After two minutes, Norwe the Sloth had finally reached their branch and was now hanging from it.

"Where was I?" the Maker Sloth began, "Oh yeah, so what you guys will be doing for this trial is protecting this," Norwe gave the tree a slight smack, causing more ash to fall onto Herah, "From a clan of Oni."

"What the ash are those?"

Alex gave Herah a strange stare, probably at her word choice.

"Big, ugly, and cruel Japanese demons."

"Thanks jackass, I definitely know what the fuck Japanese is." Herah sarcastically replied.

"You seem to understand the concept of demons, however." 

"Fuck off."

"Excuse me," Norwe's smooth voice interrupted the two, causing Alex to immediately clam up in fright, "Thank you."

"Now this group of Oni you will be facing is very different then you're used to, in the cases of my Liar and Soothsayer, or something you've never faced, in the cases of my Artist and Creator." 

The Maker Sloth then sat up and created an image of what Herah presumed to be on overview of the forest they were currently in.

"Exactly 20 centuries, 405 years, 36 months, 15 weeks, 56 days, 30 hours, 40 minutes, and 8 seconds ago, I created life only plant life on this planet. It grew without issue for 15 of these centuries before I introduced the Oni to spice things up a bit." Norwe directed their attention to Max, who was now slightly in front of Herah, raising her hand, "Liar, do you have a question?"

"Um yeah, what's up with the wonky times?"

Norwe the Sloth tilted their head to the side slightly, bemusement at the human's statement somehow clearly communicated through their expressionless face.

"What makes you think that every universe conforms to your ideas of time or even the same laws as yours?"

"Oh."

Norwe slowly waved the human off, saving everyone time by speaking as they did the motion.

"Anyway, the way these Oni spiced things up was through their intense hatred of any plant that doesn't have a certain strand of DNA found in most plants here. That's why those clearings we walked through earlier were wrecked, the native Oni had gotten to them before you arrived."

Norwe then used one of the claws on their arm that still hadn't completed its wave, to tap a small spot on the map that they had created earlier. A purple dot was left in the hand's wake.

"Oh, that's definitely not freaky."

Herah mentally agreed with Max, the pair looking at where a giant purple beacon had appeared in front of where they were facing on what appeared to be a distant mountainside.

"That's where the Oni reside." Norwe the Sloth held up one of their paws "In three days time, these Oni will set out to destroy this tree, and I made sure of this by removing every other tree that didn't have the strand from this planet. It took a while, but I got all of them," Norwe the Sloth paused briefly, "I think. Anyway, it should take them a few hours to reach you after they began their march."

Norwe the Sloth dropped down from the tree onto the ash covered ground. The Maker Sloth then lifted their body into a sitting position and addressed the gathered gifted.

"Now before I go, I need to tell you the two rules I have for Recompense." 

The four gifted all perked up in response to this, none really knowing that there were rules to the acts.

"No killing of teammates and no attempts to escape. That's all." And with those words, Norwe the Sloth disappeared.

With the Maker now gone, Herah heard Alex release a breath. Herah turned to face the human, everyone else there already doing the same. Alex seeing that all attention was on him began to speak,

"Well if we're going to be working together, we need to be able to coordinate ourselves properly."

Herah had an itching feeling of what was about to happen.

"So we're going to need a leader."

Herah held up a hand.

"What?" Alex replied, clearly not amused.

"I know what you're going to say, so tell me," Herah pointed at Alex, "You don't plan on trying to lead us, do you?"

"What's your problem with that?" Alex said, a noticeable air of restraint in his voice.

"What, have I not gotten across the point that your bitchy behavior from not even a minute ago pissed me off? I'm not following someone who seems to lose all of their willpower at the drop of a hat."

"I show the respect that someone of Norwe's status deserves, unlike you!"

Herah growled back at Alex, before pointing an accusing finger into the air.

"Respect is earned not given, and that Maker Sloth hasn't done shit except show themselves as someone who obviously doesn't deserve to have the power that they do! They erase the universe of the loser of this bullshit tournament just because they think it makes for proper motivation and entertainment!"

Herah then took her raised finger and jabbed it at Alex, her expression becoming all the fiercer as her anger was fully directed towards Alex.

"And I know you know this, but you're so weak-willed and minded that you'll just roll over if it means survival. Why? Why are you so afraid of speaking your Flamme forsaken mind, you fucking bitch!"

Alex began to humorlessly laugh, stomping up to Herah with contempt in his eyes. After reaching her, Alex gave Herah a vicious smile, his eyes looking up at Herah with twinges of amusement. In response Herah glared down at him, her expression filled with anger. 

"Why the fuck should I share my mind with fodder?" Alex said, his smile becoming all the more menacing at the words that left his mouth.

Herah let out a snarl, grabbing the human and lifting him up to her height. Alex mirrored Herah's expression even as the youngling began to shout,

"You lack the surprise you had when we first met, do you really think you can take me now?"

Before the two could get any further, Max walked up to Herah and put her hand on the youngling's scaly arm.

"Now guys," Max began, "Let's not get into any fights with each other. You two obviously need to cool down, so why don't we separate for a bit and meet back here once both of you have chilled out?"

Herah almost didn't listen to Max's words, but one of her damn smiles left the youngling unable to feel any sort of anger.

"Okay Max," Herah took a deep breath "I'll do exactly that."

With those words, Herah dropped Alex, turned away from the group and began to go her own way.

Chink!

Chink!

Herah paused at the soft sounds of metal bouncing off of metal was heard approaching her. Herah turned back to see the gnome running towards her causing her brow to raise as the small creature stopped in front of her. The Cendreux stared down at the gnome, the small human-like creature staring back up at the youngling.

"Though you don't seem to know a lot, you do seem to wear your heart on your sleeve." The gnome gave Herah a shy smile.

The gnome then looked away, twiddling their thumbs and feet.

"Plus, it's a bad idea to just hang out by yourself here. Never know what might get you."

Normally, Herah would have felt insulted by the implication that her skills weren't up to snuff, but the way the gnome acted reminded Herah too much of her younger self for the youngling to be irritated.

Herah softly sighed, before asking,

"If you're coming with me, I can't keep thinking of you as "the gnome". What's your name?"

"I'm Owen, Owen Vulcan." Owen shyly stated.

Owen held out their hand, "Nice to meet you."

Herah shook Owen's tiny hand with her much larger one, the one unoccupied by the fruit from earlier. The youngling's grip and shake much gentler than how it normally was.

"I'm Herah, Herah War Hej." 

Then Herah released his hand and began to leave, the gnome following suit as Herah finished her greeting.

 "It's a pleasure to meet you as well."  

Redrawing the Sketch

Herah and Owen had entered another wrecked clearing about a hundred yards away from the one with the Donneur de Frêne before stopping. It was destroyed recently by the feel of the place to Herah.

The tracks in the area were still fresh and headed off to where Norwe had placed their beacon. The uprooted soil felt soft and moist under her feet, another clear indication of the recent destruction of the clearing. Herah hadn’t used Réunir on her nose yet, so the youngling was incapable of knowing the smell, but assumed the clearing smelled much better than the ones before due to its lack of dead plants. The tree that had clearly been the target of the Oni was decimated, the only thing remaining of the plant being parts of its trunk. One of which Owen sat on, leaving Herah standing.

“What’s up with you and Alex? That’s the twin you were arguing with, right?” Owen said his voice still childlike but filled with what Herah thought to be a surprisingly confident tone.

“Before I answer that, what happened to that shyness from earlier?”

“Oh that,” Owen waved his hand in a dismissive manner, “That was just an act, as a gnome I’m constantly surrounded by beings a lot more physically capable than myself. So from birth, my people are taught to act shy and fidgety around potential threats, it usually causes them to empathize or underestimate us.”

“So you were faking, huh?” Herah growled out, her eye giving an unconscious tic as the youngling barely restrained herself from punting Owen into a star.

Owen, noticing Herah’s anger, held up his arms as if attempting to get the youngling to settle down and spoke before Herah could act on any unsavory thoughts in her mind.

“I guessed that would make you angry. That’s why I dropped the act, you seem like someone who expects that if working with another they be upfront. I find that’s a good idea and helps to build trust.”

Herah’s nostrils flared causing several puffs of smoke to fly from her nostrils. The youngling regained a bit of her calmness with each puff released. After a few more puffs, Herah began to speak to Owen again.

“So if you’re not a nervous and shy little shit, what are you?”

Owen gave Herah a wide childlike smile as they stood from the trunk they sat upon and did a little bow, their clothing creating a distinct chink noise as they brushed against the trunk.

“I am Owen Vulcan, a gnome prodigy and master blacksmith.”

Herah perked up at those words, still a bit angry but now very interested in the gnome.

“You’re a blacksmith? Wow, I never thought someone so young could possibly have already completed all the training and work needed to become a smith.” Herah said with surprise and a tiny bit of admiration. After finishing speaking, Herah noticed that Owen was now blushing.

‘Hmm. I guess that reaction wasn’t faked.’

“You also seem easily flustered.”

Owen smiled while rubbing his head in embarrassment before replying,

“I’ve never been good at taking compliments.” Owen lowered his hand and tilted his head, “I heard that admiration for the art of smithing, what’s up with that?”

Herah looked away from Owen, her anger at the gnome from earlier now gone and replaced with a fiery passion towards their current subject. The youngling began to smile maniacally, throwing both of her hands into the air as her answer flew from her mouth.

“Blacksmiths are the primary source of weaponry for the Nettoyant!” Herah then brought both her hands to her chest, her hands curling into a fist, “And I hope to one day forge the weapons that a Nettoyant might use to subjugate our enemies!¨

Owen gave a hearty laugh, probably entertained by what Herah knew to be her fanatic ramblings. After a few minutes of Owen laughing, the gnome wiped tears from his eyes. Owen then asked,

“What exactly is a Nettoyant?’”

Herah’s already wide smile got even wider, her giddiness at talking about her people taking center stage in her head.

“Nettoyants are those handpicked by La Flamme to spread her will throughout our universe, as the best of the best,” Herah said, her voice filled with a terrifyingly high amount of joy.

“How do they do that?” Owen said, the caution in his voice somewhat registering with Herah.

“By conquering neighboring planets and subjugating them to our rule.” Herah stated blankly.

“Oh.” Owen began, the surprise in his voice easily read. “They, they do that now.” Owen shook his head slowly while replying with carefully thought out words, “Your people must really love your goddess if they’re willing to war with other planets just to spread her will.”

Herah shook her head, before continuing.

“It’s quite the opposite really.” Herah’s tone suddenly lost much of its joy and cheer, the youngling visibly deflating.

“What do you mean?” Owen asked, the gnome making no visible notice of Herah’s decline in attitude.

Herah shook her head again before turning away from Owen to look towards the purple beacon. After a bit of silence, Herah turned back to Owen and asked a question.

“Why don’t you tell me a bit about your people?”

Owen clearly noticed the change in subject, but decided not to comment on it. Instead, the gnome responded to Herah's question.

“Gnomes are greatly varied and different when compared to each other, as any race should be, but we do tend to have a few things in common. Like the fact that no gnome ever gets any taller than 3′3, or that we all have an affinity with minerals and metals.”

Owen said nothing else after this, causing an awkward silence to fall over the two.

“Is that all?” Herah asked, a bit confused at the lack of information.

“You said a bit,” Owen replied with a cheeky smile.

This caused the youngling to giggle before saying,

“You’re a smartass aren’t you?”

Owen shrugged his shoulders while saying,

“That’s what father tells me all the time.”

It started off as a small snort of amusement from Herah, which Owen followed up with his own. Then the two both chuckled lightly and after a few more transitions the pair eventually devolved into body-racking laughter. The Cendreux and gnome continued laughing, only stopping when they both ran short on breath.

Hera, back at full height, smiled at Owen while scratching her abbs, an itch having started on her shirtless torso.

“Owen, I haven’t had a friend in years, and though I might’ve started something with Max, her brother will probably destroy any foundation I build. I say this so that I can extend the same offer I extended to Max and, to a lesser degree, Alex.”

Herah then commenced with Ash va s’installer, Owen giving the rings of fire a curious stare as they floated towards him and dispersed. Herah gave Owen a deep bow and said,

“Through the act of Ash va s’installer and prior experience I recognize you as an equal and potential friend.”

Herah rose from her bow and offered her hand to Owen. Owen took Herah’s hand with a pleasant smile.

“I hope to be good friends Herah,” Owen let go of Herah’s hand and returned to his seat atop of the tree trunk.

“Now back to you and Alex, wha-”

WHOOSH!

Herah’s right hand intercepted an arrow that had been aimed at the side of her head. Herah turned her head to look towards the direction the arrow had come from, but before the youngling could begin to search, the arrowhead imploded.

BOOM!

The clearing was engulfed in an explosion that could be heard throughout the forest. After the smoke had cleared, Herah stood in the epicenter of a crater, unharmed, blind, numb around her entire torso, and pissed. The youngling immediately used Rèunir to get back her sense of smell.

Immediately, the smell of grass, soil, and wood greeted Herah, but the youngling found her mind focused on four distinct smells that all shared a common factor: rot. One was to Herah’s right, right beneath where the now destroyed trunk Owen had originally sat on used to be. This scent by the sounds Herah was hearing was digging itself out of the ground. Another was in the tree 12 feet behind her, and the final two were 100 feet away in front of Herah.

With this information in her mind, Herah quite literally leaped into action. The youngling, with a backflip, leaped out of her crater and towards the tree behind her before landing in front it. The youngling then, with the length of her arm, severed part of the tree from its trunk.

1

Herah leaped over to the other scent and heard two limbs fly towards her before her feet could touch the ground.

2

Herah caught both limbs, the feeling of tough skin and large muscles spreading throughout her hands. Herah kneed the creature in the face, the sound of something breaking and a wail of agony greeting her in return.

3

Herah landed and, with the creature’s arms still in her hands, brought them towards her until its throat was at her mouth. The youngling then tore into it, a small gurgle replacing the wailing.

4

Herah disregards the taste and spray of her assailant’s blood and their corpse, just in time to catch two arrows aimed at her head. One with her fist closed over the arrowhead, and the other by its shaft. Herah threw one of the arrows back towards her assailants.

5

The sound of two explosions; one muffled by her hand, the other with no filter signifying the deaths of two of the three remaining assailants.

6

BOOM!

The last scent was now immobile.

Walking in the direction of the fallen tree, Herah shed the skin that had covered her eyes. Herah found her assailant pinned down between two other trees with Owen peering down at them with a scrying stare from atop of the trunk.

The gnome’s hat was gone, allowing his neat and orderly brown hair to be seen. The green tunic Owen wore had a few rips and tears in it, revealing the iron plating underneath it. Owen also had a scratch on his head, a bit of blood dripping down the side of his face.

“Owen!” Herah shouted, smiling at them gnome while mentally kicking herself for forgetting about her new potential friend.

“Herah! And- Oh.” Owen said surprised before hastily turned away from Herah, a blush upon his cheeks.

Herah looked around confused for a second before turning her attention to herself.

“Flamme dammit!”

Herah was in her birthday suit, her bra and pants having been blown away by the first exploding arrow, leaving her scaly legs and scaleless torso revealed for all to see. Before Herah could make any more comments on her lack of clothing, her attention was caught by the sound of the two twins approaching. Alex, his clothing now fixed up, entered the area first.

“It took you twenty minutes to get into some shit, please don’t let this be a tren-” Getting a good look at Herah, Alex paused.

The human the pointed at the youngling and said, “What the fuck happened to you?” Alex turned to Owen and said the same thing.

Herah opened her mouth to speak once again, but found herself interrupted by Max.

“We came as soon as we heard the noise, what’s going-” Max got a good look at Herah, then the fallen tree, then Owen. After cycling through these three things, two more times Max asked, “Were you two doing something, and this tree just fell or...”

Herah gave Max a deadpan stare and aswered,

“No. We were attacked.”

Max did a fist pump motion, a barely audible yes exiting her lips. Ignoring Max’s amusing behavior, Herah walked over to where her final assailant lay. Max and Alex joined her and Owen to get a good look at them as well.

Herah’s assailant had green skin and looked rather burly. Their height was hard to decipher, but Herah thought the assailant had to be around her own height. They wore a shirt that smelled partly like bark but had green moss growing over it, Herah was unable to see if they were pants. Their most defining feature was their face, well more the mask that covered it. The mask was white with black eyes and a gaping maw. Within its mouth were a small set of teeth, with two enlarged fangs framing their teeth and hanging from the roof of its mouth and the bottom.

“Are they dead?” Max asked.

“Nope, I hear breathing coming from the opening in their mask,” Herah answered.

“How the hell can you hear that?” This question came from Alex.

“All of my senses are enhanced bitch, I’m guessing yours aren’t.”

“Including your nose?” Alex asked, a small edge of curiosity to his question,

“Definitely my nose, when sight fails me, it’s always my handy second,” Herah smirked at Alex, pettiness just rolling off of her. “Your inferior version has nothing on mines.”

“Be glad I need you alive,” Alex replied, his tone monotonous.

Herah disregarded him and lowered her face so that it was inches from the Oni’s.

“Who are you?”

“GRRWW!”

Herah raised her head, cursing at her luck under her breathe before letting out a yelp as Alex shoved her out of the way. Stumbling towards Max, Herah righted herself and tried to stomp over to Alex, intending to give the human a piece of her mind. Max stopped her however by grabbing Herah by the arm, which caused the youngling to turn towards her, and then giving her another one of smiles. Herah’s anger rapidly bled away until the Cendreux was just slightly pissed. Max then moved the two away from Alex, Owen following.

“Don’t worry, bro got this.” Max inclined her head towards her brother.

Herah turned back to Alex, the human now in the same position Herah had been in earlier when trying to speak to the Oni.

“Who are you?”

“GRRWW!”

“Your brother seems to be getting the same exact result as me.”

“Patience beautiful.”

Herah looked at Max and got a wink in turn. After smirking back in response, Herah redirected her attention to Alex and saw that the human was tapping his nose before suddenly snapping his fingers.

“GRRWW!” Alex said, perfectly copying the sound the Oni had made earlier.

“GRR?” The Oni responded, confusion easy to read.

"I know Onish.” Alex answered his voice becoming melodic and angelic like before, before making a completely different sounding growl towards the Oni. The Oni responded in kind and the two began to have an animated discussion, at least that’s what Herah thought they were doing.

“How the ash did your brother learn their language that quickly?!”

“Well Herah, that’s what my bro’s gift, allows for him to do.”

Herah turned back to Max, still quite confused and said,

" Enlightenment, that’s what you called it right,” Max nodded yes, causing Herah to point back at Alex and say, “Allows for him to learn languages instantly?”

Max giggled in response, shaking her head while saying,

“No. It allows for him to tell the universe the truth, well what he believes to be true.”

Herah turned back to Alex, now studying the human with all the more confused. Owen then butted into the conversation,

“But your brother doesn’t really know Onish, does he?”

Max rubbed her chin, her expression not really sure. Then Max just shrugged her shoulders and said,

“He knows Onish for the next eight minutes in our time.”

Herah raised a brow.

“Your time?”

Max looked back at Herah, her expression becoming confused before the human smacked her head and answered,

“You know how Norwe said time didn’t necessarily run the same in every universe-”

“I never said that.” a calm, and gentle voice interrupted Max.

“Holy fuck!”

“Shit!”

“By the five!”

Norwe the Sloth had appeared between the group, a lazy expression on their face lazy face. The Maker Sloth took the time to look at the gathered group before beginning to crawl up Herah’s leg, the youngling giving the Maker Sloth a strange look before completely disregarding their actions as some other weird shit Norwe did.

“I said “What makes you think that every universe conforms to your ideas of time”, in all actuality, a second is a second in all of my universes. Of course, a second in one universe might equal a year in another.” Norwe the Sloth stopped their climb briefly to pat Herah on her bareback, “That’s why my Artist is as exhausted as she is in comparison to you three, it has been a long day for her.”

“Fuck off.”

The other two listening turned to face Herah with concerned looks on their faces.

“You don’t look exhausted,” Owen said before quickly turning away with a blush.

Norwe the Sloth, having finished their climb up Herah and now sitting on the youngling’s shoulders responded,

“My Artist isn’t physically exhausted or mentally, no she,” Herah let out a low growl, “Has a little flame right next to her heart that slowly burns away throughout the day.”

Norwe the Sloth lowered one of their arms so that it’s claw could tap Herah’s left bare breast, causing Herah’s already red skin to darken in intensity around the area of contact.

“Don’t do that. Just because I can’t feel them that doesn’t mean they can’t react.” The youngling said, the annoyance clear in her words.

Norwe the Sloth ignored Herah and continued speaking,

“To my Artist, it had been 18 hours since any form of substantial sustenance has been applied to this flame, combine this with her little fire show before and after I arrived in the pocket dimension with you three inside and you get someone who’ll crash within the next hour or so.”

As much as Herah hated to admit it, Norwe the Sloth was right. When the youngling felt for her flame it was much dimmer than optimal. Herah probably would’ve been able to go on longer if nor for her attempt to kill the twins. To attempt to use indigo flames always left Herah exhausted afterward, even if not released at max power. The fire was what allowed her to live after all, even if Herah lost her heart or brain, as long as that fire burned Herah would heal from it all. But the second that flame was gone, Herah would be a goner.

“Speaking of your sensitivity,” Norwe caught Herah’s attention once again, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea for you to put some clothes on? As you are now, once your nerves reconnect life is going to be hell, sorry I meant ash, for you.”

Herah let out a snort of flames, before answering Norwe the Sloth’s question,

“I’ll be fine once Jeffery gets here, until then,” Herah did a little spin throwing her arms into the air as her wings unfurled from her back and began to flap them methodically. This left Herah floating a few feet above the ground. “I’ll let my wonderful body get a bit of air, I always hated the feeling of clothing.”

“I second that thought,” Max said, raising one of her arms as if voting.

Norwe the Sloth rolled their eyes and fell off of Herah, landing on their back.

“Do what you must, and eat one of those fruits from the tree already. I’d be sad if one of my gifted met their end due to pride.” With those words, Norwe the Sloth disappeared, leaving a naked, still mostly numb Cendruex, a weird human and a blushing gnome all alone.

After a few seconds, Owen said something about being right back before scurrying away. The gnome returned a few minutes later with his hat and what Herah presumed to be the fruit that was in her hands earlier. Owen handed it over to her, still refusing to look her in the eye. Herah said a quick thanks before biting down into the fruit.

CRUNCH!

The sound of wood crunching and metal being shredded rung throughout the hearing, causing Alex to tell them to quiet before returning to his conversation with the fallen Oni. Ignoring her twin, Max asked Herah a question,

“What’s in that fruit exactly?”

Herah raised a finger, chewing a bit more before swallowing.

“These fruits always have an extremely heavy amount of metal in them. This one, in particular, is very heavy in silver.”

“What! No way!” Owen shouted.

“You eat silver!?” Max added in.

“DON’T MAKE ME COME OVER THERE!”

This caused Max and Owen to apologize before redirecting their attention to Herah. Max gestured for the three to huddle together, Herah being forced to lean over a bit while Owen had to jump up and use the twos arms as supports. With the three now huddled up, Max began to whisper.

“Why do you eat metal, and is that blood on your face?” Max said, her attention suddenly on Herah’s blood covered face.

“In order, a Cendreux body is capable of taking any and all metals in order to strengthen our bones, and yes this is blood.” Herah gave Max an amused stare, “What the ash did you think was covering my face?”

“I thought you were blushing,” Max answered meekly.

“Same,” Owen said, sounding sick.

Herah looked at the gnome and found his face completely white. Owen looked at the blood and began to heave, falling to the ground and landing on his butt.

“Yo- you killed someone.” The gnome stuttered out, seemingly out of it.

“What’s up with you?” Herah asked peering down at the gnome her tone becoming slightly worried.

Though they had only met recently, Herah had made a quick friend of Owen, even if not directly stated. This was someone who wasn’t her father, mother, or Jeffery and would hate to lose it so quickly. Of course, Herah had spent most of her life without friends sans one a long while back, so the loss of one so quickly after gaining them wouldn’t hurt her.

Too much.

“I have hemophobia and thanatophobia, both death and blood scare the hell out of me. Its why I’m a blacksmith and not an actual fighter, I freeze up at the sight of both.” Owen replied, bits of color returning to his face as his statement was spoken.

“Well, hate to break it to you,” Herah began, her tone and stare now very gentle, “But by the sounds of it, there is going to be a lot of blood loss and death during Recompense.” Herah then lost her gentleness and said, “So you’re going to have to find a way to manage them.”

Owen shook his head nervously in response, all of the color having returned to his face but his expression still shocked.

“As much as I hate to agree with ashbrain-”

“The fuck you just call me?”

“You’re going to be useless to us if you are constantly bothered by the dead we will most definitely leave in our wake.” Alex finished, now coming towards the trio. Herah, Max, and Owen turned to face the approaching human.

Once Alex reached the group of three, the twin began to speak once again.

“By the way,” His attention now on Herah, “You sounded like a mother for half a second there, what happened to all of that “badassery” that we usually hear coming from you?”

Herah glared at Alex before replying with her own snarky response,

“It’s right here,” Herah flipped Alex off, “I’ll shove it up your ass if you want to keep track of it.”

“Sorry, but I actually understand the concept of decency.”

“Guys,” Max looked between the two a tired look on her face, “Can you stop with the verbal sparring for a minute, please?”

Both Herah and Alex stopped, the two now looking at Max expectantly. Seeing this Max shook her head happily before pointing at her brother.

“So what did you get out of the Oni?”

Seeing that Alex was about to speak, Herah began to walk away. Max noticed this and said,

“Where are you going?”

“Away, listening to information provided by your brother is working with him and I made clear that wasn’t happening.”

Herah then continued to walk away.

“Wait!”

Herah paused once again to face Max. The human was running her hand through her dark brown hair, clearly trying to figure out a way for the youngling to stay.

“I have an idea.”

Everyone turned to face Owen, the gnome being the one who had spoken. Seeing that everyone was waiting for him to speak Owen continued,

“What if me and Max work as emissaries between our two groups. This would mean any information gathered or ideas thought would go through either of us.”

“That would still be us working together.” Herah and Alex said together, causing the two to glare at one another again.

“Come on, don’t either you have any way to resolve this?” Max begged the two.

This caused Herah to think back to what had just happened this very morning.

“Well my people do have one way we can resolve this,” Herah shrugged her shoulders, “It’s essentially trial by combat.”

Max immediately began to shake her head,

“Ok, anything but that.”

Herah briefly ignored Max, directing her attention towards Alex, who was tapping to his nose. After a minute or two, Alex snapped his finger, Herah knowing this signified that a decision was reached.

“I’ll take that option.” Alex held up a single finger, “Under one condition, I can choose the location.”

Herah just shrugged yes, causing Alex to gesture for everyone to join him walking out of the clearing. After a brief walk past the tree, they were to be protecting, the group found themselves in a clearing full of dirt and surrounded by a circle of the large red trees that filled the forest.

Giving the clearing an overlook, Herah figured it to have a diameter of at most 200 feet. Just large enough that if any of the thirteen trees that surrounded the place were to fall they would fit into the clearing.

“How did you know about this clearing?”

“Max and I found it after the four of us splintered off.”

“Speaking of me,” Max interjected, causing the two soon-to-be combatants to look at her. “Do you really have to do this?”

Herah nodded yes before saying,

“Your brother has failed in his show of will, so I’ll test his capabilities,” Herah nodded her head towards Alex, ” If Alex is capable of taking me down without me being surprised and tired, I’ll follow his lead.”

“But do you have to do this through violence?” Owen asked, his tone now clearly worried.

“Don’t worry Owen,” Herah said, cockiness shining through, “This’ll be over quick.”

“That we can agree on,” Alex added.

Herah walked to one end while Alex remained at the end the group had entered through, cutting a small gash into the tree at the same height as his chest. Alex then walked to the side of the tree and carved something else into it. After adding his final mark, Alex began to lean on the front of the tree. Max and Owen had both moved so that they were near the center of the clearing, right next to another of the large trees that worked as the edge of the what was to be Herah’s and Alex’s battlefield.

With everyone now in position, Alex asked a question.

“So how does this go?”

“It’s simple really,” Herah pointed at herself then at Alex, “You and I will fight until one of us is unconscious or submits.

“So the winner is captain?” Alex asked.

Herah rolled her eyes and said

“Yes, the winner is captain.”

Alex nodded yes to the conditions before standing from his tree and pulling out his kris from his newly repaired jacket. This caused Herah to finally make note of his fixed clothing.

“When the ash did your clothing get fixed?” Herah asked.

Alex looked at himself before shrugging his shoulders and saying,

“Oh this, Norwe dropped by not too long after you left and fixed my clothing up.”

“Oh, so they visited you earlier as well,” Herah said, causing Alex to give her a confused stare.

“The fuck are you talking about?”

“Norwe the Sloth dropped by while you were interrogating the Oni, you didn’t hear them?”

Alex just shook his head, before taking his windbreaker off and wrapping it around his head, allowing just his eyes to be uncovered. Alex followed this up by crouching down, just below his gash in the tree and using his right arm to point towards the youngling. Alex then used his kris holding hand to make a come-at-me motion.

In response to Alex’s taunt, Herah got into the same exact position as earlier, when the two had attempted to fight the first time. With her nude body nearly parallel to the ground, most of her weight placed on her toes and her right arm in front of her to fling herself forward, Herah unfurled her wings. After a flexing her wings a few times, Herah used her leading arm to fling herself towards Alex, releasing one single powerful flap to boost her speed.

‘This is going to be easy.’ the youngling thought to herself.

Alex, evidently seeking to prove Herah’s thoughts wrong, eye smiled and said, the jacket not at all muffling his voice,

"I cut through this tree." The tree behind him began to fall towards the two, but Herah paid little mind to it, knowing that it would take the tree longer to reach the ground than it would take for Herah to reach Alex.

Alex seemed to know this as well because the human added a comment to his statement.

"This tree is accelerating."

The tree began to fall even faster, causing Herah to dart to her left in order to avoid being crushed, while Alex used his crouching stance to role to Herah’s right.

BOOM!

"There is dirt floating in the air.”

Herah flew into the air to avoid the cloud of dirt generated by the tree striking the ground. Floating above the cloud covered clearing, Herah noticed that the dirt wasn’t falling towards the ground or dispersing. Cursing Alex’s ability, Herah gave a powerful flap of her wings. This caused the cloud of dirt to disperse, revealing just the fallen tree and no Alex in the clearing.

But before Herah could attempt to sniff Alex out, twelve orbs of light suddenly appeared around her, and all simultaneously detonated, bathing Herah in a gigantic flash of light. This flash of light left Herah blind, stunned, and with some words that Alex had most likely spoken.

"You don’t know where I am."

Herah, after a few moments, attempted to sniff out Alex, only to find no success.

“What the hell? How did you erase your scent?!”

“Hey Herah,” Alex began, his voice seemingly coming from everywhere at once to Herah, “Random thought, you know, while I didn’t hear you talking to Norwe, I did here you talking to Max and Owen about the fruit.”

Herah ignored the human frantically searching for any indication of where Alex could be.

“From what I heard, you eat a lot of metals to strengthen your bones, right?”

Herah continued to ignore Alex, an idea coming to her mind.

‘I’ll just burn the entire clearing, a soft orange flame should do enough harm to make him show himself without killing him.’

Herah began to take a deep breath, the flame in her chest changing to orange as fire built up in her throat. But before Herah could accumulate enough flames, Alex finished his thought.

“So from my understanding,” Herah felt a sense of dread come over her, “That means Your bones are heavy." And with those words, Herah shot down towards the ground her bones suddenly a lot heavier than before. As Herah fell, the youngling wrapped her body with her wings, in the hope that their strong scales could take the brunt of the fall damage that her body would undoubtedly suffer.

BOOM!

Another dirt cloud was created as Herah smashed into the ground, which also caused for her to Réunir.

“FUUUCK!” Herah screamed, the pain from earlier and the flying nearly causing her to blackout, as her wings unwrapped her body.

"This dirt will disperse soon.”

Tears of pain welled up in Herah’s eyes as the dirt cloud disappeared and her ears caught the sound of someone approaching.

Only after their shadow hung over her unclothed body, did Herah realize who it had been approaching her. Right before the youngling passed out, Alex, with his jacket now off his head and his entire body covered in dirt, brought his face down to meet Herah’s. With a huge smile covering his face, the human left Herah with these parting words.

“Look at me ashbrain,” Alex’s expression transformed into an all-knowing smirk, the human bringing up his left thumb to point towards himself.

“I’m the captain now.”

Outlining the Sketch

"Uuuh." 

Herah rubbed her head as her senses returned to her. After blinking away her drowsiness, the youngling found herself to be fully clothed in one of her white t-shirts that had a wisp lantern on it and a pair of red and white cargo pants. Looking around, Herah found herself in the clearing with the Donneur de Frêne, the youngling leaning against the tree. As Herah awoke, the youngling accidentally elbowed the tree, getting an ash shower in return for her troubles.

"Hey, Herah's awake!" Owen said, causing the Cendreux to turn her attention to her left. 

Owen, Max, and Alex were sitting around a small fire eating, from what Herah's nose was telling her, beef. Herah used a quick spout of flames to ignite the flammable ash covering her before rising to her feet and walking over to the trio. After reaching them, Herah sat down next to Owen, ash free, and looked at everyone else surrounding the fire.

Owen had taken his hat off, allowing for his neat hair to breathe once again, and had also removed his shoes, his tunic looking newly repaired. The gnome had already finished his beef and was now staring intently at a piece of raw ore in his hands. From its smell, Herah knew the ore Owen held was pure platinum. The gnome, seeing Herah eye it, offered the platinum to her with a smile. The youngling took it with a thanks and then threw the ore into her mouth.

CRUNCH!

Herah began to chew the piece of metal as her eyes moved over to the twins. Alex had taken off his windbreaker and tied it around his waist, while Max had just sat her trench coat to her side. They had also both let down their ponytails, their silk-like hair reaching down to their backs and framing their face a bit. Both now looked distinctly more feminine, with Max smiling at Herah nervously, while chewing on her half-eaten piece of beef and Alex watching Herah cautiously, his right hand hovering just above his kris as his left held a stick stabbing through his piece of beef.

Herah took this all in and had to chuckle at the group surrounding her. One was an asshole human who had managed to kick her ass so soundlessly and easily it was embarrassing, the other was a nice human who had stopped Herah and Alex from killing each other multiple times, and the final one was some tiny little shit who could be seen as a coward or another smartass. Sans Max, they were a group of asses, now led by an asshole. It was amusing, but annoying as well.

"You got something to say ashbrain?"

"Yeah fuck head," Herah swallowed her last bit of platinum, "How'd you win the fight?"

Alex chuckled slightly, the human's amusement easy to read.

"Easily, that's how."

Herah rolled her eyes before replying with,

"Har fucking har, how'd you hide yourself from my view jackass?"

Alex began to tap his nose, and after a few seconds snapped his fingers and answered Herah's question.

"When I had went around to the side of the tree and carved into it before our fight, I carved a circle into the bark. When the tree had hit the ground, I used the sound it made as a cover to say that the tree had bark carved out of it, which I followed up by hiding in the tree," Alex pointed to his left at his twin, "Max told you a bit about my Enlightenment, or so I heard from her. You should know what happened next."

Herah nodded in understanding before asking another question.

"What about those orbs of light you shot at me?

Alex shrugged his shoulders before saying,

"You don't need to know."

WHAM!

"Fuck, that hurt!"

"Oh hey Jeffery, I guess you're the reason I'm currently clothed, huh?"

Jeffery, having just entered the clearing, was floating above Alex, who most likely had a concussion from the pencil's attack. The sentient pencil sent an image of a dunce cap and the youngling herself to Herah, getting a growl of anger from their creator.

"Fuck off Jeffery, I already know I lost a fight. Don't be a prick about it."

WHAM! 

"Oh come on! I just woke up." 

The image of two furry, small animals mating followed by an image of Herah was the pencil's response. Ignoring Jeffery, who now floated behind her and Owen while also trying to ignore her growing headache, Herah directed her attention back to Alex.

"Are you going to tell me or not?"

"I really have no reason-"

Jeffery floated until just above the fire and began to write on the air. Once finished their message was: Tell her about your gift, or I stab you. Seeing Jeffery's message, Alex cursed under his breath and supplied Herah with an answer.

"Be glad you have your pencil," Alex snapped his fingers, causing twelve orbs of light to emerge from his body and begin circling his head.

Herah looked at the orbs and saw that they were all white and the size of her fist.

"Max named them the Brigade of Enlightenment, each of these orbs hold a different name and a specialty," Alex said, not at all sounding happy about the name his sister had given his ability.

"Bro," Max interrupted, her voice extremely giddy, "Do the thing! Do the thing!"

"No," Alex answered back, his voice monotonous.

Max got on her knees and began begging her brother.

"Please."

"No."

"Please."

"No."

"Please." 

"Please." Alex responded.

"No," Max answered.

Alex put up his hands as if giving up and said, 

"If you insist."

Max rose up and shouted in victory, then stared intently at her smirking brother for a few seconds before realization washed over her face. Max turned away while grumbling under her breath about asshole brothers. Alex just chuckled and snapped his fingers again, causing the light orbs to sink back into his body. The human turned back to Herah and said,

¨Those orbs work as a way to extend my range since I need to in some form or shape make contact with something in order for my Enlightenment to interact with it,¨ Alex turned to Jeffery, ¨Are you satisfied?¨ 

The sentient pencil wrote out a quick yes, before erasing everything it had wrote on the air. Jeffery then returned to their position behind Herah. The youngling in question nodded her head yes to Alex's statement before asking another question.

"So fuck head," Alex rolled his eyes, "What do you have planned?"

This earned Herah a decently surprised look from Alex, which the human quickly covered up. 

"Forgetting the sass, you are acting rather compliant with me." Alex said in response, his voice becoming slightly accusatory as his eyes glared at Herah, "What are you planning?"

Herah's expression became extremely peeved, a low growl rumbling in her throat as her fangs were bared at Alex.

"You insult me by even considering I would go back on our agreement," Herah looked away from Alex, an angry puff of smoke leaving the youngling nose as her tone and expression took on a more frantic persona. "As a faithful servant of La Flamme, to go back on my word would be one of the grievous insults I could ever levy at her."

Herah brought her left hand up to her face and stared intently at it for a few seconds, the cackling fire being the only audible sound for those few seconds.

"You compare me to the Manquant de chaleur, those worthless ungrateful pieces of shit." Herah growled out, wisps of flame beginning to emerge from her nose, mouth, ears even her eyes were leaking fire. 

"I never said anything like that." Alex responded, his tone extremely cautious and on edge.

Herah rose to her feet, still staring intently at her left hand. The youngling preceded to clench this had so tight, that her talons had to retract so as not to break against her scales. The flame in Herah's chest turned green, as green fire began to flood from her ears, nose, eyes, and mouth.

"That definitely isn't good." Herah heard Owen say, the gnome rising from next to her and slowly backing away.

Herah ignores Owen and points towards Alex with the same hand that had been clenched, the human and his twin already having risen in face of Herah's new look. Just as the flames flowed across her head, rage flowed throughout her expression with Herah baring her teeth at Alex. 

"You accuse me of HERESY!" Herah screamed at Alex, causing her flames to intensify and began to engulf her and the fire in front of her. 

"Oh great! She's a drama queen!" Alex shouted, the green flames rushing towards him. Luckily for the twins, Jeffery floated in front of them with the clear indication for the two to climb atop. Riding the pencil like a mount, the twins were carried towards the edge of the clearing joining Owen. 

"Jeffery, put Alex down so I can roast him," Herah demanded, her tone now low and threatening.

Herah got the same image from earlier, of two furry animals mating followed by herself as a response.

"Alex, you're the one who wanted to be leader. Do something!" Owen franticly, shouted while looking up to the human.

"I would love to, but the words currently coming to my mind all end with her dead! And something tells me that mine and the rest of the groups personal safety won't be a good enough excuse for Norwe when I kill her! I'm not even taking into account how the pencil would react if his master croaked!" Alex shouted back, clearly irritated by the fact that his mind was hotwired to kill at the moment.

The youngling watched as Jeffery sat the very annoyed Alex and extremely worried Max down next to Owen, the gnome back in his hat and shoes. After this, Owen threw his hat up into the air, the head wear doing something Herah never expected.

BOOM!

The green hat enlarged, allowing it to encase Owen, Max, Alex, and Jeffery. The hat now stood at twenty feet high, now serving as an annoying barrier.  

"What the- What the ash is this Owen!?" Herah shouted, still very much pissed but now also greatly confused.

"It's my hat!" Owen's slightly muffled shout sounded from within, a bit of pride in his tone.

"I know that, dipshit! What the fuck happened to it!?" 

"It grew," Owen stated as if it was obvious.

"Owen! Be glad I only want Alex."

"That makes me feel so much better." The gnome responded, genuine relief being expressed through his words.

"So move the hat, or I will burn through it."

"No can do Herah."

Herah glared at the hat, her mind dead set on ending Alex.

"So be it."

Herah willed her flames to converge onto the hat, the green fire engulfing it with no problem. There was a tiny issue however.

"Owen!" Herah yelled, confusion and anger once again filling her voice.

"Yes Herah?" The gnome responded in a slightly afraid tone.

"Why is your hat not burning?" The youngling asked, her irritation very clear.

"Well you see," Owen began, his voice long and drawn out before his answer came out rapid fire, "My hat has several enchantments. One allows for it to increase in size, another decreases it, another allows for me to see outside, and the final one allows for my hat such heat resistance that it could survive in a neutron star." There was a brief pause, "For a minute or two."

"Enchantments?" Herah replied, even more confused than before, "There is nothing magical about this hat. Nothing at all."

"Wow ashbrain! I knew you were stupid but I thought you would at least know magic when you see it."

"VA TE FAIRE FOUTRE!" Herah bellowed out at the human.

"That's what my sister wants to do to you, in fact she'd love to eat yours and for you to do the same to her!" Alex shouted back, Herah's expression becoming surprised for but a moment before switching back into rage.

"What did Herah say?" Herah heard Max ask in suspicion.

"Don't worry about it sis." Alex replied, sounding amused.

Herah, done with listening to the group talk, reached out with her fire towards Owens hat once again. This time however instead of attempting to burn through the hat, Herah created a hand with her flames and grabbed it. The youngling was able to lift the hat a few inches off the ground before Alex interrupted.

"Your flames cannot become corporeal enough to grab this hat."

Herah's fire hand lost its grip on Owen's hat causing a soft thud to sound out through the clearing.

"We now have eight minutes before she gets in here, and burns us all to death. Brain, why do only give me solutions that involve death." Alex said, his ire and annoyance clearly heard by Herah. 

"My fire will only burn you Alex," Herah's voice dropped in volume but got slightly deeper, "You, only you have slighted La Flamme and myself, so my flames will only ever seek out and burn you."

"Fire can't be-"

Alex was suddenly cut off, followed by Max saying,

"Let me handle this bro."

Herah's flame burning away at the clearing was all that could be heard for a few seconds, until Herah heard Alex say,

"If you die, I'll go all the way to wherever your soul ends up, resurrect you, then kick your ass. All after killing your potential booty call."

WHAM!

"Thanks Jeffery," Max said, the sound of Alex's (presumably) unconscious body hitting the ground following afterward.

Herah let out a small snort, her anger leaving her for a brief instance before coming back in full force.

"Herah," Max began, her voice sounding soft and pleasant to the youngling, "Your flames won't burn me if I come out there, will they?"

"No Max, they only seek your brother."

"I'm in front of you Herah."

"No, you're inside-" 

Herah nearly flinched at Max's sudden appearance a few feet in front of her, the human quickly becoming swarmed by Herah's flames.

"They feel warm," Max said, the human walking through the fire towards Herah. The youngling made sure to not look at Max's face, the person in question picking up on this.

"Herah," Max continued to speak softly to the youngling, "Come on, look at me."

"No, I know the second I see your face you're going to smile, and all of my anger will leave me. I don't know how you do it, but I refuse to let your brother get by with no problem"

"Is letting go of your anger really so bad?" Max said, now within reaching distance of Herah.

In response, Herah jumped back a few feet and answered Max's question, "Your brother has insulted La Flamme and myself, retribution must be paid."

Max continued to walk towards Herah, the youngling visualizing the green fire that engulfed the entirety of the clearing parting and wrapping around the human like a breeze. 

It would be beautiful to look upon. 

"Come on Herah, you know if you kill him we're all screwed, right?"

"Stop. Using. Logic." Herah growled her rage slowing calming at Max's words.

"Herah look at me."

The youngling didn't.

Herah heard and smelled Max stopping in front of her, once again within arm's length of the Cendruex.

"La Flamme means a lot to you, doesn't she?"

"Don't call her that." Herah said back, her anger still dropping.

"What? She?" Max asked, her tone quiet and patient.

Herah merely nodded, her anger now at the stage of severe irritation.

"Ok. I won't call her that. So why don't we talk this anger out of you?" Max spoke, as one of her hands rose to grab Herah by her left shoulder. This caused the fire that covered Herah to spread to Max's body, the human not at all bothered by her flame covering.

Herah lost her snarling expression and replaced it with a slightly calmer one. The youngling then turned to face Max, all of her anger leaving her as soon as her eyes saw Max's pleasant smile, the youngling matching it with a small smile of her own.

Letting out a deep breath Herah began to speak to Max,

"I don't react well when I believe someone has insulted my dedication to my mistress," Herah gave a small humor-filled chuckle, while gesturing to the burning clearing, "But you can clearly see that."

Max chuckled a little herself, before smiling at Herah once again.

"Your people are truly wondrous if they all have this same amount of dedication for your mistress, as you called her."

Herah chuckled once again, this one, however, lacking in any sort of humor and the youngling's expression becoming a bit more somber.

"The fact that what you just said isn't true is actually part of why I responded the way I did," Herah said, her voice filled with self-deprecating mirth and tiny bits of anger.

Max gave Herah a baffled stare.

"What do you mean?"

"2 percent."

"What?" Max asked, even more confused than before.

"Only 2 percent of my people still show any kind of worship to La Flamme. Those who don't are known as the Manquant de chaleur, by those who still do."

"What really!?" Herah turned to face Owen's hat, the sound of Alex's muffled voice emerging from it. "What the hell is wrong with your people!?"

Before answering Alex's question, the youngling opened her mouth as wide as possible and inhaled. 

"WHOA!" Max shouted, as all the fire that had spread throughout the entire clearing and to some of the surrounding trees flowed into Herah's mouth, and with a single swallow, disappeared down her throat.

"Get out here so I can tell you the answer to your face!" Herah yelled at inhabitants of the hat, "I won't kill you Alex, your sister calmed me down!"

Immediately following this, Owen's hat floated off the ground while rapidly beginning to shrink. In an instant, the hat was back to its original size atop of Owen's head. Jeffery floated over to Max and began to send the image of cash and the human they were next to, to Herah.  Ignoring what Herah assumed to be Jeffery fucking with her, the youngling waited until Owen and Alex reached the three before continuing to speak. Alex stopped to Herah's right, while Owen got in front of her with Max on Herah's left. Jeffery floated behind Herah as usual.

"La Flamme," Herah began, her tone and expression now extremely somber, "Is much like a mother in both her actions and outlook. My mistress created my race 2.6 billion cycles ago, and have cared for us since."

"First off, your species is old as hell. Secondly, get to the point." Alex said, getting an elbow from his sister for his troubles.

Herah allowed a snort of now red fire to fly out of her nose in amusement at the twins, before continuing on.

"The problem was that La Flamme acted as any mother should, and after three millennia of caring for and protecting each of her three groups of children La Flamme left us, to grow, adapt, and flourish on our own."

Herah looked upon Owen, Max, and Alex, watching each of their expressions. Owen had a look of understanding on his face, while both of the twins looked confused, Alex tapping his nose in deep thought while Max ran her hands through her ponytail. Alex briefly stopped his nose tapping, another question flying from his mouth to Herah.

"But you said she" Herah growled, her emerald eyes becoming a bit shinier, "I mean your mistress, returned, didn't you?"

Herah nodded yes, her eyes back to normal, and said,

"Yes, every 30 cycles La Flamme returns for 10 more to see how we're doing and to help us with any problems."

Alex then threw both of his hands up in frustration.

"Then why have they abandoned her?!"

"Remember how I said that we don't believe that any one being is truly all-powerful."

And like that, Herah watched the links click in Alex's head, the human letting out a disbelieving laugh.

"What's so funny bro?"

Alex pointed at Herah, still laughing, and proclaimed,

"Those fucking idiots believe that they've risen above their god! They think that La Flamme is now inferior to them, don't they?"

Herah nodded yes, her somber look now much angrier.

"That's why I'm so volatile when I believe that someone has insulted her, my mistress doesn't have many followers left and those who remain treasure her with all of their being."

"Oh that's fucking rich!" Alex shouted, still stuck on Herah's earlier statement, "Not only does this fucking god helped to cultivate and protect your species for years, but they also drop by every 3 decades to see if you need any help, yet they not only abandon her but believe that they've risen above her. I've heard some stupid shit in my life, but this is very close to the top."

Alex's laughter tapered off into small giggles, Herah turning from him to Max, who looked saddened by what Herah said, and Owen, who was looking at Alex with zero amusement.

"Okay," Owen clapped his hands together, then pointed a Herah with one hand and Alex with the other, "You two need to apologize to each other."

Herah and Alex looked each other for a brief moment before looking back at Owen, who gave them a "do it" look before both turned back towards each other. Both looked as if they had no intentions of doing such, until an elbow and a whack on the head caused them to began, begrudgingly of course, apologizing to each other.

"I'm," Herah showed a clear amount of struggle attempting to speak, "Sorry for trying to burn you to death."

"Apology accepted."

"Alex?" Both Owen and Max said, waiting for his apology. In response, the human rolled his eye and said, with just as much struggle (maybe even more) as Herah had,

"Sorry, for insulting your goddess."

"Great," Max said, walking around Herah to clap her hands on both Alex and the youngling's shoulders "So now that apologies have been spoken, why don't we inform Herah of our plan?"

"What plan?" Herah asked, a brow going up at this new bit of information.

"Well ashbrain," Herah growled at Alex as the human left his spot to Herah's right and walked in front of her to point towards the purple beacon behind the youngling that still hung over where the Oni were supposed to be located, "We decided that you and Max would be sent to the Oni base to make a preemptive strike."

Now back to her normal brash self, Herah pointed at Max then herself and said,

"Why the two of us?"

Alex pointed at Herah, "You can get in and out much quicker than everyone else here, thanks to your wings," Alex then used the same hand to point towards Max, "And sis is the best at stealth amongst us."

Herah nodded her head, happy with Alex's reasoning. The youngling then asked another question.

"When are we supposed to leave?"

"Tonight." Alex looked up at the moon that was in the sky, "You have about six hours of twilight left, but before you two leave I need to let Herah know something about the Oni."

"What?" Herah said, sounding not too caring of the information Alex was about to present to her.

Alex's eye made a visible twitch but nothing else before the human began speaking once again.

"The reason the Oni attack trees without a specific strand of DNA is because those are the only trees by which they can reproduce." Alex nodded his head in the direction Herah had gone when attacked by the Oni earlier, "That was why the Oni were in that clearing that had been recently destroyed, the trunk Owen told us he had been sitting on was to be used to birth more of their own."

Herah turned to face the purple beacon that hung over the Oni base, her eyes narrowing on it before asking her own question.

"Do they know that the Donneur de Frêne is the only tree remaining that they can use to repopulate?"

"Yep, Norwe told them," Alex replied, sounding a bit miffed.

This got a surprised reaction from Herah.

"They what!?"

Alex nodded his head and continued.

"Apparently while Norwe was bringing us to the ash giver," Alex pointed towards the beacon, "He was telling the Oni up there that there was only one tree left that they could use to repopulate and that in order to get more they needed to destroy it and sacrifice it to him."

"Why didn't they just attack today then?" Herah asked.

"Thought the same thing, the Oni said that Norwe told them that if they attacked any earlier than three days from after he told them, that he would destroy their entire species."

Herah balled her fist up, a spout of fire shooting out of her nose as her anger was barely held in check. Before Herah could speak again however, Jeffery sent her the image of currency and Max once again.  

Her anger at Norwe forgotten, Herah turned in a complete circle to face Jeffery and shouted,

"What do you want?!"

WHAM!

Jeffery wrote a message in the air. It read: Don't talk shit to me! I'll fuck you up." Herah only rubbed her head in pain and groaned.

"Then write out what you want me to do! You know your messages are hard to understand sometimes."

Jeffery sent Herah the image of a dunce cap and herself before flying over to Alex and writing out: How much for your sister? Herah watched as one of the human's brows rose in amusement before saying,

"She's not for sale."

Max, having read the message herself asked,

"Why do you want to buy me?"

Jeffery pointed his tip towards Herah, the youngling giving them an incredulous stare in response.

"In that case-" Max began, but Alex shut her down just as quickly.

"No."

"But bro-"

"Hell no!" Alex turned to face his sister, his twin giving a begging stare.

"Still no, I'm not selling you to a pencil," Alex paused for a brief moment before continuing, "And I never expected to have to say that sentence, ever, in my life." 

Shaking his head, Alex turned back to Herah and told her,

"So that's all you need to know right now. I would like for you two to leave as soon as possible."

Herah held up one of her hands and said, "I got to do my night prayers first."

Alex rolled his eyes and said,

"Ok but hurry up, you got work to do."

"I'll take as long as a Flamme-damn have to," Herah said, a look of no amusement flashing over her face.

Herah then unfurled her wings from her back and took flew into the air. After getting about 50 feet off the ground, Herah took a deep breath and began her night prayer to La Flamme.

"Tu nous as donné la vie." Herah's voice gained its melodious tone once again to honor La Flamme, "Et comme une mère élevée et protégée. Et finalement tu es parti, pour que nous puissions prospérer." Herah threw both of her hands into the air and began to sing even louder, "Mais encore vous revenez, pour voir ce que nous avons fait. La Flamme, ma maîtresse, ma première mère, je t'aimerai toujours comme tu m'aimes!"

And with those words, Herah began to spin in place while spewing flames from her mouth. As the fire flew from her mouth, Herah forced it to take the shape of a wisp lantern the size of the clearing. The four petals were the size of small boulders and made of blue fire, while purple flames made up the arm thick stems that came from the bottom of each leaf. Each of the four stems made a small loop before meeting up in the center, creating a placeholder area that an orb of red fire a bit larger than Herah's hand sat. Herah herself floated just above this orb with her eyes closed and steady breathing. After a few seconds of this, Herah gave a huge flap of her wings, causing the wisp lantern to disperse into the night air.

Herah landed on the ground right in front of Owen, Max, and Alex, Jeffery having disappeared to wherever during Herah's prayer. 

"You do that every night?" Alex said, still looking up at where the wisp lantern had been.

"Yup," Herah responded, while nodding her head. The youngling turned to Owen, the gnome looking absolutely marveled by Herah's prayer.

"Owen, do you have any more platinum or just metal in general, I can eat?" Herah pointed towards the sky, "Night prayers eat up a lot of my fire's heat and the flames from earlier didn't really help."

Owen, after a small jump of surprise, nodded yes and took his hat off . The gnome then preceded to flip the hat over and squeeze the white ball that was on its tip. Out came a ball of platinum that was nearly two times larger than Herah's fist. Owen squeezed the white tip again before placing his hat back on his head, and took off both of his shoes. Reaching into both, Owen drew a hammer and a chisel from his left and right shoe respectfully. Owen then placed his chisel over the ball of platinum and struck it his hammer, Herah noticing that chisel gained a red-energy cloak for a jiffy.

CRACK!

The ball of platinum was cut in half perfectly, leaving two perfect halves to a sphere. 

"How did you-" Herah began, Owen cutting her off with an answer.

"It's my gift, Nexus." Owen picked up both halves and held them out to Herah, "It allows me to create links between anything." Owen pointed at his hat, "This is linked to a dimension that can create matter in its rawest form," Owen spun the chisel in his right hand, "This chisel is linked to a dimension of infinite energy and the hammer is its key." 

"That was a very loaded answer, but thanks," Herah took both halves from Owen, before looking at the two pieces of platinum and asking, "Why did you cut it in half?"

"One is for now, the other is if you get hungry later."

Herah gave Owen a thankful nod, and sent a mental message to Jeffery. The pencil flew back into the clearing and went behind the Donneur de Frêne and came out with Herah's backpack. The pencil stopped in front of Herah, dropped the bag at her feet, and flew off once again.

"Where is he," Herah growled, causing Alex to roll his eyes, "They going?" 

Herah just shrugged her shoulders, tossing the piece of platinum that was in her left hand so as to grab her backpack and sling its single strap over her head and onto her back.

"Jeffery goes where they want to, when they want to, and I never ask. I know they'll always be their for me when I need them most and that's good enough for me."

With the backpack now secure, Herah caught her meal and bit into it. After a few bites, leaving only a handful of the platinum left, Herah threw both the mostly eaten piece of platinum and the uneaten piece into her backpack. After the backpack unzipped and rezipped itself, the youngling's food inside, Herah turned to Max, who was a few feet to her left, and indicated it was time for the two to take off.

"Something else before you go," Herah paused and looked back at Alex, "You never did answer as to why you were being so compliant. Lets talk about it away from over here" Alex gestured towards the edge of the clearing.

Herah turned back to Alex, and followed him to the edge of the clearing. With her expression as stern as the words that left her mouth, Herah began to speak.

"I follow you because that was the condition of my loss. I honestly still don't trust you to lead me, but I don't go back on my word." Herah turned away from Alex and towards Max, indicating it was time for the two to leave again, "I'll follow your orders until they either get me killed or I defeat you." Herah let her voice drop a bit before saying, "I really hope for the latter. Happy with that answer?"

"It'll do for now. But know this," Alex's voice getting deeper and actual threatening as the human reached up and gripped Herah by the shoulder, "If you get my sister killed on this little attack of yours, and managed to make it out yourself. I'll make sure you join her consequences be damned."

Herah knocked Alex's hand off her shoulder, looking down upon the human with a smile lined with amusement and tiny bits of respect.

"You care for your sister, I can respect that. So I'll make sure that you don't lose her as a fault of my own, consider it a show of my skills. I know you still don't believe I'm worth too much."

Alex chuckled a little as Max arrived to the pair, clearly curious about what had been said between the two.

"Is everything cool between you two?" 

Herah continued looking down on Alex as the human looked up to her, both smiling threateningly at each other.

"Though I've made up my mind, I'd love to see you prove yourself more than just muscle and fire. I do like some surprises." Alex said, clearly amusement at Herah very clear with his laugh.

"And I can't wait to prove you wrong." The youngling responded with a bit of a growl.

Max looked between the two a bit worried, and said,

"Ok bro, shoo! I'm afraid you two might try to kill each other again."

Alex turned to his sister, his smile becoming more caring as his arms wrapped around her to give her a hug.

"Stay safe sis."

Alex then walked off and towards Owen, the gnome looking as if deep in thought.

"You know I won't." Max said after her brother. The human then turned to Herah and asked,

Picking up on Herah's signal, Max asked, 

"So how are we doing this flying thing, am I on your back or..."

A puff of smoke exiting Herah's nose in amusement and a small grin was the response Max received. This just left Max confused, the human walking up to stand in front of the youngling. Herah smiled down at Max and said,

"You won't be riding on my back, I need to be able to access my backpack and flap my wings without problem. However, you can choose how you ride in the front."

Max immediately wrapped her hands around Herah's hips, flattened (attempted to at least) her body against the youngling, and said,

"Ready to go!"

Herah gave a hearty laugh before unfurling her wings, and, with a single flap, launching the pair into the starry night, towards the purple beacon left by Norwe.

As they flew off, Herah heard Alex say,

"The tree is okay, right?"

"Its fine Alex, the tree is fireproof by the looks of it." Owen answered nonchalantly.

"Oh thank God. We would've been-"

"Thank Norwe. I'm your maker."

Herah let out a snort of amusement at Alex's definite feminine scream, causing Max to ask,

"What's so funny and was that my brother?"

"In order, I believe they are named, sloths, and yes."

Erasing the Sketch Lines

"Now, bro and I had both gotten stuck in between an angry goddess and a group of pissed off FBI agents, so the only thing we could do was detonate the bomb on the Hollywood sign," Max unwrapped her hands from Herah's back briefly so as to mimic an explosion, "Boom. The letters came tumbling down, working as the perfect distraction for the pair of us to get away."

Herah held back a snort of fire so as not to burn Max's hair, as the duo ducked into the treetops while flying towards the Oni base. They had been flying for about twenty minutes and Max had decided to tell Herah a bit about some of the things the two had done before Norwe had forced them to take part in Recompense.

"Haha!" Herah took one of her hands from around Max's waist to wipe away a stray tear, "So you're telling me that you and your brother went around your country, just destroying national monuments."

"Accidently," Max emphasized as Herah flew out of the treetops once again to make sure they were heading in the right direction, "We have the weirdest of luck when it comes to monuments and us. But it really bothered bro, it was the first monument we ever destroyed and marked us as terrorist, so my bro's dream of being a movie actor went out the window."

Herah smiled a bit as they pair swerved around a tree, asking a question that had arisen from Max's statement.

"What is a movie actor?"

"You don't know what a movie actor is?" Max asked, sounding appalled at the question.

"Nope," Herah answered frankly, tucking her wings in and performing an aileron roll to avoid a particularly narrow space between two trees.

"TRAVESTY!" 

Herah winced at Max's scream, nearly hitting a stray branch as a result.

"Sorry." Max apologized, now much quieter.

"No problem Max," Herah replied, going back up through the treetops once again to check and see if they were heading in the right direction. As Herah flew above the trees, the youngling looked down at Max, the human wearing an apologetic look and said,

"No problem, just watch the shouting it sounds like an explosion going off in my head."

"Really I'm sorry," Max repeated, "I just find the idea of your world not having actors and movies strange."

"Oh don't get it wrong Max," Herah said, now looking back up and once again within the treetops, "We have actors, just not what you call movie actors." 

"Oh," Max began, sounding a bit happier, "What kind of actors do you have?"

"Voice actors, for video games," Herah said while dodging out of the way of a thicker than normal tree.

"So you have video games, but not movies. What your world has and doesn't have is weird," Max responded, sounding extremely confused. 

Herah just rolled her eyes, her focus being spread between holding Max to her and not hitting the passing trees.

"Speaking of things you don't have," Max began, "Sorry about the lack of underwear, I couldn't find any when I reached into your backpack."

"Oh, you dressed me," Herah said surprised, "Thanks. And I don't wear underwear, I see no point."

"Oh," Max responded, clearly surprised, "Never?"

"Nope."

"Periods must be a bitch."

"What's a period?"

There was a long pause, the only noise either of them hearing being the rushing wind and the occasional brush of Herah's wings with some leaves and twigs. 

"You lucky bitch." Max responded, sounding vastly jealous of Herah.

"Why am I so lucky?" Herah asked, extremely confused.

"YOU DON'T-" 

Herah let out a curse as the pair veered left, nearly hitting a tree. The youngling glared down at Max, causing the human to give her an apologetic smile.

"Sorry about that, but you don't bleed for like a week straight from your, you know, bush?"

"What?"

"You know, your cooch," Max said, placing emphasis on cooch.

"What are you on about?" Herah asked, greatly confused.

"Your cockpit?" Max tried once again.

"What the fuck is that?" Herah answered, now even more confused.

"Your love button?" Max seemed to be becoming frustrated.

"I don't have one of those," Herah responded, now weirded out.

"Your garage?" Max's voice began to rise.

"Do I look like a house?" Herah asked, lacking in amusement.

"Your goop chute?" Max begged Herah.

"That sounds disgusting."

"DO YOU BLEED FROM YOUR NETHER REGIONS?!"

Herah had to force herself to stop, so as to not crash into any trees. While just floating under the treetops, Herah raised her left hand to her ear and came back with blood.

"Dammit Max!" Herah shouted, ire flowing through her voice.

"Sorry." 

"And to answer your question, no. Why would I even bleed down there?"

"Oh, so you get that one!?" Max asked, the human irritated by how long that part of their conversation ended up being.

"Answer my fucking question!" 

"To rid yourself of your unfertilized eggs. You know, after your body has done the preparation for pregnancy and then realizes it did that for nothing so it decides to be petty and tells you to go fuck yourself." 

"My family stopped using their ovaries to create eggs after their 9 millionth and 8 millionth generations for my father and mother respectfully," Herah then paused, a thought coming to her mind before continuing, "Though there was a chance I could have still done the same since my father was born about a million generations before that happened with his bloodline."

Herah began to fly once again, shooting up through the treetops and finding that they were much closer to the purple beacon, it being about only a mile away.

"So how do your people reproduce then?" Max asked, the two now traveling at a faster speed than before.

"You saw my horn right?" Herah asked Max, the human answering with a yes, "They're the closest things to actual eggs that we have."

"Isn't it kinda a bad idea to wear your eggs in the open like that?" Max asked.

"They're the closest thing to eggs, not the actual eggs themselves, and the only way these horns are coming off my head is if I shed them or if something with the force of a meteorite entering the atmosphere hits them."

"One, that's weirdly specific. Two, you shed your horns?" Max asked, greatly surprised by this statement.

"Yep, I shed them every quarter cycle since they've fully developed, they usually take about two weeks to grow back. I can shed them sooner if I'm ready to have a child, but only if."

"What're the specifics of how a new, umm, Cedreux is born?" Max asked Herah, the pair now flying much closer to the forest floor.

"Why are you so curious?" Herah asked, looking down at Max with a curious look.

Max looked back up to Herah with a happy smile and said, "One of my favorite things to learn about is how different things reproduce. Like plants, bacteria, and in your case, an extracosmostrial pretty dragon lady" Max gained a passionate look to her eyes, "I think that that reproduction is a beautiful thing."

Herah smiled at Max, the youngling gaining a bit more respect for the human that was held in her arms. Looking back up, Herah said, "Ok, I'll tell you."

"Yay."

"Ok. So the way we normally reproduce starts off with us shedding both of our horns. Next, the horns are grounded into dust. After that, the two parents will add a handful each of their blood to the dust. Then, with a single breath, the fire is ignited." 

"Huh, sounds like you use blood magic to reproduce."

"You mean hematology."

"I'm sorry?"

Herah let out a frustrated sigh,

"You meant to say "sounds like you use hematology to reproduce". Just like earlier you're mixing up magic and science."

"Wait Herah," Max asked, an idea apparently coming to mind, "What does magic mean where you come from?"

"The textbook definition is, and this is a long one, the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment." Herah droned out, sounding as if it was remembered by heart.

"Why do you know the textbook definition?"

Herah gained a disturbingly intense look on her face as her answer was delivered in an equally intense and disturbing tone.

"The day right before I was expelled, I took a test on the differences between magic and science. I stared at that damned definition for two hours straight just I so could remember it."

"Oookaay," Max said, a bit weirded out by Herah's serious " So, what is the meaning of science?"

"Why are you asking these questions?" Herah asked, sounding extremely bugged.

"I'll tell you after you answer the last one." 

Herah let out an annoyed sigh, rolling her eyes as her answer flew from her lips.

"The textbook definition is "the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces." Herah formed a small frown, "Will you answer my question now?"

"It seems like the meanings are flipped between our universes," Max answered.

"What do you mean?"

"Where I come from, magic means science and science means magic."

"What?" Herah asked, her lips becoming tightened from her frustration at how confusing Max was being.

"Don't worry about it," Max paused for a moment, "Where were we?"

"The birthing of my people," Herah answered back, a questioning frown still upon her face.

"Oh yeah, so after you ignite the ash is that it?"

"Nope," Herah responded, "After the fire is lit, the parents must maintain that flame for a quarter cycle and after that a newborn has been born. In all their scaleless, toothless glory."

"Didn't you say that your people ingest metal to strengthen their bones?"

"Yep."

"So how does a baby get their daily dose of metals, if they're toothless?"

Instead of responding verbally, Herah took one of her hands from around Max and squeezed her own breast.

"What, you have very metallic breastmilk?"

"Cendreux are lactose intolerant." 

"Then if milk doesn't come out, what do you lactate?"

"Magma."

There was another long pause, with the only sounds Herah heard being the passing wind and what the youngling thought to be noises from the Oni base. As they got closer, Herah used Rompu on her nose as to avoid the rotting smell that would be especially pungent in the Oni base. Now relying primarily on her nose, Herah heard the sound of wood being carved, the grunting noises that Herah knew to be the Oni communicating with each other, and the sound of flesh striking flesh as the Oni, presumably, sparred amongst themselves. But Herah found her attention more focused on the sound of metal striking metal, the clanging music to her ears as her brain immediately recognized what that sound was: a blacksmith at work.

"Herah?" Max said, breaking Herah's attention on the smithing at work and bringing it back to Max.

"Yes?"

"I nickname you lava tits."

Herah made an expression before responding with, "Why?"

"Because you have breast that can spew out lava. Which is freaking cool!" Max said, Herah able to hear the sly smile on her face.

"You're weird Max, but it's nice to know someone other than me sees how wonderful my body is," Herah began to slow in her speed as their objective came into sight, "We've reached the Oni's base." 

Herah swooped up into the top of one of the trees near the edge of the forest, and set the pair down on a branch that could hold them without too much of a problem. Herah furled her wings back into place, and then slung herself under the branch. This allowed both Herah and Max to both near the edge of the branch, so as to overlook the Oni's base, with Max standing atop of the branch and Herah hanging under it with a single arm.

"Great," Herah began, not sounding too happy, "It's a Flamme-damn fortress we're attacking."

"I didn't even know these things could get as large as cities," Max added, in surprise.

A fortress was exactly the best way to describe what the pair looked upon. Two massive rocks, only half the size of the trees and partly slanted like slabs, functioned as an entrance to the Oni's home, a pair of the creatures standing in front of it. Many of the structures were made of stone, that was most likely taken from the mountain that sat to its right.

Herah was sure that the place had to at least cover 200,000 acres. To the left of the entrance, Herah found the origin of the carving noises. What looked to be thousands of Oni were surrounding a pile of logs so large, that it took three minutes for one of the logs to knocked from the top to the bottom. 

It started with a group of 4 to 5 Oni, all with massive muscles, moving their log of choice down the enormous stack it sat upon. Once fully removed, 10 to 20 Oni, this group composed of much thinner and lankier than the group before, would descend upon the logs and began carving into them with small, sharpened stones. Once a mask was carved out of the log, the Oni wa=ould place it into a vat of suspicious looking white liquid. After a quick dip in the liquid, a  completely different Oni takes the mask from its creator and over to one of the many large empty spots that existed between the groups of working Oni. The mask is then placed onto the ground, and after a second or two, the mask shoots out multiple black tendrils that gradually take the form of an Oni. 

The end results seemed randomized, with the Oni that formed from these mask ranging in stature, build, and color. Herah watched as a recently placed down mask took the form of a lithe and feminine looking, yellow Oni, while another created an overly buff, red Oni. The only thing that the two shared in common were what all the Oni had in common: their mask.

Even from the distance that was between them, Herah was able to notice that each and every Oni had the same exact mask covering their faces. They were just like the one Herah had a close up look on, completely white with black eyes and a gaping maw.

Not too long after being born, the new Oni were greeted by another, who would began to grunt at them. After a brief exchange, this new Oni would be handed a shirt and shirts that looked very similar to the Oni that Alex had interrogated. The shirt and shorts were both covered in bark.

"Huh, so that's how they're born." Herah said with admiration, from her place beneath the tree. "What beautiful mask they create, they're all masterfully crafted."

"I agree the mask are beautiful, but what a wonderful and articulate process of creation," Max responded, her voice enthralled. Still covering her nose, Max pointing to the right side of the fortress, "But that over there is our objective." 

Where Max had pointed sat a variety of buildings, some looking like houses made of stone while others looked liked hotels. No matter the look of the building, however, Herah could tell that they were all teeming with life. From these building, Herah was able to hear the steady breaths that functioned as the telltale signs of slumbering individuals, and the irregular breaths that functioned as the telltale sounds of awake individuals. And outside of these buildings were streets and roads, full of what Herah figured were the nocturnal bunch of the Oni. Some seemed to be conversing with each other, while others looked as if they were celebrating. 

It looked like a full-on functioning society.

"Those are the homes of the Oni," Max gestured towards herself and Herah, "We're blowing those and, sadly enough, that lumber up so that when they attack, their numbers are much more manageable."

"I mean, I could take these guys on by myself, no problem." Herah said, confidence oozing throughout her words as a prideful smirk came over her face, but on the inside Herah wasn't too liking of what they were doing.

Max looked down at Herah and chuckled at the younglings words, getting a dirty look from her in return. In response, Max laughed even harder, a growl of anger coming from Herah at the thought of being made fun of, even as the youngling picked up on the slight deliriousness in the laugh.

It seemed as if Max wasn't too liking of the idea either.

"While I don't think it would be too hard for you to take on 2 million Oni by yourself, it would be much easier for the rest of us if their numbers were a bit smaller," Max said, clearly attempting to placate Herah.

"I was going through with it, either way." Herah said, her face scrunching up in irritation.

"Really?" Max asked, surprised by Herah's statement.

"Of course. Why make something harder when it doesn't need to be?" Herah shook her head in amusement, happy at her ability to surprise Max, "That's just time-consuming." 

"Huh, Owen told us about how your people conquered other planets," Max made an embarrassed look, "I kinda figured that-"

"We dropped in screaming "We here to convert and conquer! All those who don't submit will die!" Herah interrupted Max, getting an embarrassed nod in return.

Herah allowed a small chuckle to exit her lips, shaking her head in amusement again as more words left her mouth.

"That is a terrible way to spread the will of La Flamme, I'll tell you how after we get back. I get rather passionate when speaking about the Nettoyant and their quest to spread the will of my mistress." Herah looked back out towards the Oni base, her eyes narrowing as they came upon the center of the area, "While I can't see past that huge building, I hear the sounds of smithing. Should we stop by their and fuck up their weaponry?"

"Yeah," Max answered, the human made a hmmph sound before continuing, "It's kinda weird that they have a cathedral in the center, don't you think?"

"Don't know what a cathedral is, don't care," Herah swung her self up onto the branch behind Max. 

The twin turned to face Herah, a playful smile on her face.

"Soooo," Max said, dragging out the o, "I bet you're wondering how we're supposed to get rid of our objectives since we quite lacking in the firepower department?" Max asked, her tone tinted with sadness.

Herah noticed this and decided that since Max was her friend (after that hour long flight there was no way they weren't), it was up to her to cheer up the sad human.

"Lacking in firepower?" Herah asked, raising her left bicep while pointing at it with her right hand, "What do you call this?"

"A sexy bicep." Max said with a wink and a slight giggle, the human sounding a bit better.

"Yes my arm is very sexy, but what can it do?" Herah responded, a small smile on her face.

"Be even sexier."

Ther was a brief moment of silence between the two before it was broken by a giggle from Herah. After that, the dam seemingly broke and the pair collapsed onto the branch, laughter filling their bodies. After a few moments of their laughter the two trailed off into to giggles then comfortable silence.

"Better?" Herah asked.

Max smiled and began to reach down to her side, before her face became puzzled. The human began to look herself over and seemed to realize something was missing. Looking back at Herah with an embarrassed smile, Max said,

"I seem to have forgotten my coat," The twin reached up to run her hand through her hair, "And the scrunchy that bound my hair." A nervous laugh came from Max's mouth, " Let me get those back real quick."

"In my right hand, I hold a scrunchy. In my left, I hold a trench coat." 

Even before her second sentence finished, a scrunchy filled her right hand. After her second sentence was finished, Max was holding a brown trench coat in her left. After putting on both the coat and the scrunchy, Max also said,

"The pockets of this coat are linked to my original coat."

"Is that your gift?" Herah asked, a smirk on her face.

"Yeah, I named it Fib. My gift is going to be the main component behind our taking down of the Oni base." 

"What exactly does your gift do, I'm not really too sure." Herah said, a slightly puzzled look overtaking her smirk.

"Oh, it's the direct opposite of my brother's current gift. I can lie to the universe."

"What exactly does that mean?"

Max began to run her hand through her now ponytailed hair, Herah waiting for Max to find her thought. After a few seconds, Max made an ah-ha sound and said,

"I can warp reality."

Herah tilted her head and asked, "To what extent?"

Max smiled at Herah, her eyes taking on a glint that Herah was a too familiar to the youngling.

Max had the eyes of a maniac.

"Color has inverted," With that single sentence, Herah felt a suspiciously soft and pleasant Presence wrap around her. The Presence was so pleasant in fact that Herah closed her eyes in pleasure at how wonderous it felt, and it even made the youngling want to just keep her eyes closed. 

Herah forced her eyes open, as Max's presence faded, and saw that the human's skin had begun to darken until becoming black. Her hair, on the other hand, became bleach white.  Max's white shirt became black, with the DO YOU WANT THE LIE becoming nearly as red as her eyes. The twin's trench coat had even become violet.

Herah looked at herself, finding that her scarlet scales and skin had changed their color into aqua. Her yellow shirt had become purple, the wisp lantern it also inverting in all of its colors. The youngling's cargo pants were now green and black. 

Herah began to look around and found that the sky had become white with black stars. The tree the pair stood in now had green bark with red leaves, and the shadows of the leaves were now white. Herah turned to look down at her own shadow, finding that it was also white.

Color had truly inverted itself.

With Herah realizing this, the Cendreux also realized something else. Something that Herah found to be much more terrifying than the universe swapping its color palette.

Max was the second, maybe the third, most powerful thing Herah had ever met.

"What the ash are you?" Herah asked, the youngling poorly hiding her terror at what had happened.

"Don't freak out Herah," Max said slow and deliberate, her attempts to sooth Herah falling to sooth Herah falling to deaf ears.

"I'm not freaking out!" Herah shouted, very clearly freaking out. The youngling was looking left, right, up, down, wherever possible to find something that told Herah what the youngling was seeing wasn't real.

"I know this is really weird but everything will back to normal," Max paused, "Now."

And with another blink of the eye, everything was back to normal. The night sky was once again black with white stars, Herah's scales and skin had returned to their scarlet hue, and Max had returned to normal.

"See," Max said, a peppy smile on her face, "Everything's back to normal."

Herah let out a relieved sigh while saying, "So it isn't for long, that's good." Herah nodded her head, "That's good."

"Actually," Max began matter-of-factly, "Unlike my brother's half-truths, my lies are permanent. Bro just picked up on my lie, so his gift kicked in."

"What're you talking about?"  Herah asked, already not liking what Max was saying.

"I'll tell you when we get back," Was all Max said, getting a grunt of annoyance from Herah.

"We will talk about this later," Herah placed special emphasis on will while pointing towards Max. The youngling then let out another sigh before asking, "So how are we using your gift?"

Max gave another sly smile, drawing two cards from her pockets

"Well you see,"

 

Drawing the Details

CLANG!

CLANG!

Herah held back a squeal as the shirtless Oni beneath her continued their work on what looked to be an axe of some type. While observing the smither at their work, Herah had allowed all of her senses to focus on the numerous Oni at work in the massive forge that nearly took up as much room as the birthing area. The forge had thousands of workers on it, some making axes (like the one Herah was currently watching) others swords, shields and arrows. The Oni seemed to be preparing for a war.

A war with Alex's group to be exact.

The sound of metal striking metal rung through Herah's ears like a wondrous melody, the taste of the metallic fumes were absolutely delightful on her tongue, and the sight of the hammer striking hot steel was simple enticing to the youngling. Herah had even had her nose Reunir, the aroma of hot steel and iron causing Herah to bite her lips and close her eyes in pleasure.

Herah spent a few more minutes watching the Oni finish up bending and drawing the ax head a bit more before deciding to leave. Herah flew up from the area (the youngling made sure to Rompu her nose) and towards the cathedral where Max and herself were to meet back up.

Herah thought about how it was rather easy for the two to infiltrate the base. Max had simply said: Within the Oni base, we're unnoticeable to them. Herah had felt Max's Presence wash over her for a brief moment (Herah had actually let out a pleasant snort of fire when it came over her), and immediately decided to test out Max's lie.

Herah kicked one of the two Oni guarding the "entrance" right in between the legs.

A squeal of agony and several laughs later, Herah and Max split up to take on each of their own objectives, using two of the human's cards that were now ear pieces to communicate. It was now two hours since the two had split up, Herah scoping out her part in just thirty minutes of that time. Afterwards, the Cendreux spent the rest of it watching the Oni blacksmiths do their work.

"Herah," The youngling in question winced slightly at Max's voice appearing in her ear, "I finished scoping out the Oni creation plant. I'm heading towards the cathedral now."

"Ok," Herah responded, "I'm already heading there myself."

"See you soon, lava tits."

Herah gave a small chuckle before focusing on her surroundings once again. The youngling was flying right above the building that her and Max were to meet each other.

The cathedral (as Max called it) had an interesting design to Herah. It had four rising towers located on each of its four corners, each rising up to the height of the trees that surrounded the Oni fortress. This was just the boxing for the real attraction, however, the center building. It looked like it was made mostly of stone, with hints of metal here and there. The building held the general shape of a sword with the hilt and guard in an obtusely round cast. Herah flew down into the front where a tiny courtyard sat in front of the building. Herah flew in through this entrance and landed on the edge of a grass-filled courtyard, just ten feet away from where a peculiar Oni stood in the center, seemingly grunting to themselves while staring off into space.

The peculiarness of this Oni started with their clothing. Unlike most of the Oni Herah had seen, this one wore what looked to be a white cassock, a religious garb that the youngling often saw on priest of La Flamme. More importantly, Herah knew it was made of wool, which should've been impossible due to the lack of animals on the planet.

The next thing about the Oni that was peculiar was their physical features. The Oni were many colors, but this was the only one Herah had seen that had completely black skin. They had a very slim physique and had to be around 6,7, just beating Herah's height by two inches. The Oni was also the only one Herah had seen that had hair, it was bleach white and cut so short that it was like a small rug atop of their head.

The most distinguishing feature of this Oni, however, had tp do with what they were missing.

This Oni wore no mask on their face, revealing a face that was very human in appearance. It was soft and round, causing the Oni priest (Herah named them, due to their attire) to have a rather boyish face. Their eyes were a dull silver, the priest lacking in pupils of any form or shape. They held a small smile upon their face, allowing Herah to see the flat and wide teeth that filled the priest's mouth.

Herah heard the approaching sound of footsteps, folded her wings back in, and turned to face Max, the human wearing an extremely perverse smile.

"Why are you smiling like that?" Herah asked, finding Max's expression a bit disturbing.

"There are male and female Oni," Was all Herah got in response.

"I'm not going to even open that can of worms." Herah nodded towards the Oni priest, "Check this out, I think I found a weird one."

Max looked at the Oni priest, and asked, "Is it just me or is he looking directly at you?"

Herah turned back to face the priest and emerald met silver. Herah's eyes widened in surprise before narrowing into a glare. After a few seconds of eye contact, Herah, with a flap of her wings, disappeared from Max's sight with a the tell-tale signs of the sound barrier breaking signaling her speed. The youngling near instantaneously reappeared in front of the Oni priest, her left hand in a spear-like shape as it zoomed towards the priest's throat for a quick kill.

"Please," The priest spoke with a strong and smooth masculine voice, their left hand snatching Herah by the wrist before her hand could reach him. The Oni held Herah's wrist tightly as the youngling tried to force her hand into their throat, ¨As the only priest and communicator to our lord, Log-sama, I only partake in violence as a last resort.¨

In response, Herah flexed her claw muscles.

SNIKT!

Herah's middle, ring, and index claws shot from their fleshy sheaths and into the throat of the priest. The youngling only got an apologetic smile in return for her troubles as the priest easily ripped her claws from his neck, crimson rolling down his throat for but a few moments before tiny black tendrils sewed the wound shut. The priest then followed this up by raising Herah off the ground by her wrist, and saying,

"Please calm yourself, let us have pleasant chat."

"Herah maybe we should-"

For his troubles, Herah attempted to spear the priest with her other hand. This attempt ended like the last, with the priest's hand holding her wrist and an apologetic smile on his face. Herah continued in her attempts to physically overpower for a few more moments but decided to abandon that endeavor for another.

Herah began to take a deep breath, but before her flames could even begin to travel up her throat, black goop shot from the priest's forehead and onto Herah's mouth. Herah squirmed a bit at the feeling of the goop stretching out over her mouth and then becoming more skin-like in its texture.

"Please?" The priest asked, "Let's not fight."

"MMMM!" Was Herah's muffled response.

"52 Pickup."

Both the priest and Herah turned towards Max (both having forgotten that the human was there) and found her surrounded by a whirlwind of cards. With a snap of her fingers, the cards around Max stopped and all pointed towards Herah and the priest.

"Please, I do not want to engage in violence." The priest told Max with a small frown.

"Drop lava tits and uncover her mouth, then we can talk this out."

"I would, but I feel it better if we gave your friend some time to-"

SNAP!

And just like that the cards shot towards the Oni priest and Herah, speeding through the air at the speed of bullets.

From the priest back, four black tendrils (these as thick as ropes) shot out and created a large black buckler shield in between the pair and the speeding cards.

THUNK!
THUNK!
THUNK!

Herah groaned at the sounds of the cards bouncing off of the shield hit her ears.

"There is a fireball falling towards you from above."

Herah and the priest both looked up to see a fireball the size of a boulder appear in place of one of Max's cards.

"Log protect m-"

BOOM!

The pair found themselves enveloped in a tiny inferno, causing the priest to drop Herah (the youngling landing in a crouch) and for whatever covered her mouth to burn away. Herah then speared the priest in the chest with her left hand.

"Ack!"

Blood poured from both the Oni's newly added wound, as the priest continued to look at Herah with an apologetic smile, the youngling growling and twisting her hand in response to this.

"Please," The priest sounded as if they were absolutely begging, "Let's just chat, see if we can talk this out."

The begging in his tone, caused Herah to pause for a moment and think to herself.

'Dammit! By all rights this priest is our enemy.'

Herah stared the priest in his eye, not finding anything even remotely threatening in them at all.

Herah let out a sigh as the realization hit her.

This priest truly and honestly had no intention of fighting the pair.

"Max," Herah turned towards the human, the buckler the priest had made from earlier obstructing his view, "Reel your cards back in and come here."

"Is he still alive?" Max asked, Herah noting the tiny bit of hopefulness in the human's voice.

"Yes, but I gave him a pretty bad chest wound. I need you to come here and get something from my backpack."

"No need for that now."

Herah turned back towards the priest, and found him smiling happily at her.

"What do you mean?" Herah had pointed towards her left hand with her right, "You kinda have a hand-sized hole in your chest."

"I have to agree with Herah," Both turned to Max (who had been forgotten once again) and saw her wincing at the priest wounds, "I don't exactly think that you'll be walking that off. How do you plan to heal from that."

The priest just continued on smiling before suddenly backing up from Herah, pulling himself free from Herah's hand. Before either Herah or Max could do anything else, the black shield that the priest had created from earlier began to revert back into four tendrils that retracted back into the back of the priest. After the four tendrils were back inside of the priest, Herah and Max watched as small tendrils began to fill the hole Herah had put in the priest's chest. After a second, the wound was gone and even the hole in his cassock was fixed.

"See, I'm fine." The priest said, before walking towards the doors of the cathedral and gesturing for the two to follow him, "Now let's go inside and have that chat."

"GRRWW!"

The trio paused and turned towards the entrance of the courtyard, where two Oni had appeared.

"GRRWW!" The priest responded, seemingly calm while gesturing towards Herah and Max.

"GRR?" One of the Oni responded, this one red-skinned and wearing only a loincloth.

"GRRAAN?" The priest asked, once again pointing towards the pair next to him.

The pair just shook their heads.

"GRRWW?" Another Oni, this one blue and wearing pants and shirts made of leaves, pointed towards the scorch mark left by Max's fire.

"GRRUUM." Was the priest response.

This seemed to satisfy the two Oni, who turned around and walked off.

"What the fuck were you guys talking about?" Herah asked.

"They asked what had happened." The priest responded while opening up the doors to the cathedral.

"What did you say?" This question coming from Max.

"I told them that I was communicating with Log-sama." Was the priest response before gesturing for the two to go inside.

Max went right ahead, but Herah paused to look back at the burnt grass. This was because the burns had somehow created a spiral pattern in the grass. Shaking her head at this, Herah also made note of a spot where the grass was completely gone. It wasn't too large, just around the size of her hand in fact.

"Are you coming lava tits, that's what your friend called you isn't it?" The priest said to Herah in an unassuming tone.

Herah filed away the empty patch of grass into the back of her mind, before turning back to the priest and saying,

"My name is Herah War Hej, and never call me lava tits again."

Herah then walked past the priest and into the cathedral, the Oni following closely behind after closing the door.

"So what did you want to talk about?" Herah asked, looking around at the layout of the cathedral.

The trio were walking down a long aisle of marble that seemed to extend towards the very end of the cathedral, with pillar after pillar framing the walkway

"Let's reach the apse first. Until then, why don't you just admire the interior of the cathedral, Log-sama tells me you like it." Was the priest's answer, Herah noticing a hint of nervousness in their voice. Filing this to the back of her mind with the absent grass, Herah decided that her questions could wait.

Admiring art would always take center stage when La Flamme wasn't involved.

The interior of the cathedral was made of statuary marble, this went for the floor, walls, and pillars. In between each pillar were rows of benches, that took up most of the room in the large open space the group walked through. The benches were made of the same trees that filled the forest, and every single one had a log carved into the back of them (which Herah smiled at, recognizing it as an artistic signature).

Continuing her walk down the aisle, Herah looked up at the chandeliers that hung above her on the roof of the cathedral, numerous lights filling each one. Herah also got to get a look at what looked to her as narrative art. The paintings looked to have started at the very beginning of the cathedral, but the one Herah had started at looked to be the beginning of a separate story. It shows a single Oni standing amidst a pile of what looked to be its dead brethren. The Oni was extremely muscular with red skin and a loincloth.

"What happened here?" Herah asked pointing up at the painting.

The priest looked up at it and said, "That was how my people's second penance began."

"Penance?" Max asked, the entire group now looking at the painting that was above. "What are you paying for?"

The priest looked down from the painting and directly towards Herah as his answer left his mouth.

"Abandonment."

Herah's eyes widened in surprise before narrowing in suspicion.

"What do you know?" The youngling asked, her suspicion at the priest running high.

The priest gave Herah a sad smile before saying, "That a majority of your people did the same thing, and that your goddess was a lot more accepting of it. That you hate the Nettoyant for their actions. And the reason you're so dedicated to La Flamme is because-"

The priest paused to swerve his head out of the way of an incoming fist from Herah, the youngling holding murder in her eyes.

"Whatever you learned from Norwe," The priest gasped in surprise, "About me, keep to yourself."

"Why don't we," Both the priest and Herah turned to Max (who they had forgotten once again), who was pointing up back at the painting, "Get back to the story?"

The priest nodded at this before looking back up at the painting atop of the ceiling and beginning the story.

"When an Oni does enough evil, such as massacring a group of their brothers and sisters, they began to change." The priest walked up a bit, Herah and Max following behind, to the next painting.

This one had the same red Oni from the first painting beginning to change. Their neck down to their fingertips was bleached, while the rest of the Oni's body maintained its red coloring. The Oni's mask had a crack down it, looking as if it was just falling off of their face.

"Their skin becomes white, while their mask breaks apart and they began to grow until they dwarf the trees that fill our home."

The priest walked forward once again, to another piece of the ceiling art. This one showed the Oni after finishing its transformation, rampaging through the forest with a tree in either hand.

"We call them Human, named after the one in this very painting."

"What happened to it?" Max asked

The priest walked forward and pointed towards another piece of the art. This showed a green-skinned and extremely fit Oni dressed much like the priest, battling with the Human. The priest was much smaller in comparison to the Human, wielding a strange axe with what looked to be tree branches growing out of their back. Herah also noticed that another Oni seemed to be coming from behind the Human with what looked to be a massive chain.

"Diavolo Giovanni, the priest before me and the Kijo you see with the sickle, held off the Human for 29 days as our leader had chains forged to contain them. This was Diavolo's first trial of penance as our priest, and the second one that we completed."

"You admire this Diavolo, don't you?" Herah raised a brow at the admiration (that the priest didn't even try to hide) the priest clearly held towards Diavolo.

"He was a close friend and role model to me." The priest looked down with a small smile on his face, "Diavolo never once doubted Log-sama, never thought once that maybe we didn't deserve what we were going through wasn't fair to us." The priest looked back up at the painting above his head, "Diavolo was much like you, always able to worship and praise our lord without a second thought." The priest's tone softened, "To be honest, I'm jealous."

"Of what?" Herah asked, the youngling havingng an inkling of why.

"Don't worry about it." The priest responded quickly, his voice regaining its strength and smoothness. "Back to the story, where happened next?" The priest paused to think, tapping his chin in deep thought with his mouth slightly agape. Herah watched as the priest's finger got closer and closer to his mouth. Until it was right over it, and with swiftness his teeth bit.

CRUNCH!

"What the ash?!"

"Are you okay?" Max asked, freaking out.

"Huh," The priest looked at both Herah and Max, blood dripping from both his mouth and missing forefinger with his expression being confused. "Oh this," The priest indicated towards his missing finger, "It'll grow back in, right about now."

And just as the words left his mouth, several small tendrils shot out of the what was left of his finger and merged into each other until a new finger was grown entirely.

"See good as new," The priest showed off his finger to the two, "Nothing wrong at all."

Herah just shook her head while Max gave a nervous smile to the priest. 

"Just, please don't do that again," Max said, "Self-mutilation doesn't rub me the right way."

"My apologies." The priest bowed, before flinging his body into an upright position with a smile on his face, "I remember now. Diavolo held off the Human for 29 days, and on the following day our leader of the time, Stonedust Kujo, brought out the chain that would bind the Human."

The priest walked forward once again before reaching another painting on the ceiling. This one showed the human bound in chains, with a sack over its head inside of a darkened area.

"And once our leader arrived, both he and Diavolo bound the Human in chains and dragged them away to be imprisoned. And with that trial ended, we had paid penance for our lack of integrity."

"Lack of integrity?" Max asked.

The priest looked down from the painting and kept walking forward, Herah and Max following not too long afterward.

"Integrity, obedience, patience, trust, and love. These five things my people were found to be sorely lacking in. So these five things we must pay penance for." The priest paused briefly, a thought seemingly coming to him, before turning to the two behind him," Would you like to know the history of my people?"

Herah and Max traded a quick look with each other before both nodding yes to the priest question. The priest nodded back, before turning around and continuing towards his destination. The Oni began to speak once again.

"About three centuries ago, 3,405 years to be exact, a being of magnificent power and knowledge cut eight masks from a tree and gifted them with life. These were the first of my people and the being who made them went by the name of Norwe at the time."

The trio finally reached the end of the path, where a large room in the shape of a half dome sat. A small set of stairs led up to an altar, that sat right in front of the stone back wall. Atop of it sat a small statute (just a wee bit larger than Herah's head) of a log made of gold.

"But as the years went on my people began to call the being by a different name," The priest walked up to the altar and grabbed the golden log, raising it above his head and saying, "Log-sama. After creating those eight Oni, Log-sama only asked of us three thing. Never abandon them, never attempt to replace them, and always remain on this planet, Bizarre is what we call it." The priest sat the log back down on the altar before turning back to Herah and Max, the two standing below the steps looking up at the priest.

"For one and a half of those centuries, my people did exactly as asked. We worshipped Log-sama, we built this cathedral for him, as a designated place of worship in fact." The priest waved his hand through the air, gesturing at the entirety of the cathedral, "However, around the middle of the second century after my people's creation, a movement began to abandon our past. To abandon Log-sama and pursue other things. Their biggest push was towards leaving the planet to find a better supply of trees and water."

The priest pointed toward his right, towards where the massive pile of logs the Max and Herah saw earlier was located.

"Those logs over there are a result of three long centuries of hard work, and we've had to be slow with the process in which we add Oni. Since we can't supply as many as we could produce with the proper space or water to live a fulfilling life. Normally that area is mostly empty with a single Oni being made every two days."

The priest lowered his hand.

"Back to what I was saying, this new group was led by the predecessor to the current chief and the one before her. His name was Ripple Clacker and his group nearly caused the destruction of all Oni as we know it." The priest, while clearly attempting to not show it, held intense hatred for Ripple Clacker by the sounds of it, "Another group led by the priest who came before me and Diavolo, Frozen Light, challenged Ripple's group. A civil war broke out that ended after four years with Ripple's group on top.

The priest leaned his back on the altar, a look of sadness on his face as it stared back at a solemn-looking Max and a glaring Herah.

"What happened next?" Herah asked.

"For about two hundred years, we, surprisingly enough, prospered. Under the lead of Ripple Clacker, all those of the group who fought against his could live. They just had to abandon their worshipping of Log-sama. Ripple's entire reasoning for abandoning them in the first place was because he felt that the way of our lord was holding us back. So most of the group accepted and just quit, but not Frozen Light. Frozen Light worshipped Log-sama in secret, begging our lord for forgiveness. As the 200 hundred years went by, my people made advancement after advancement in technology, but as soon as we reached the 200th year Log-sama reappeared. And they weren't happy."

"What did he do?" Max asked, biting her nails in nervousness.

"Log-sama almost erased my people from the face of our planet. Instead, they decided that to have mercy."

The priest stood up front his spot on the altar, turned around and looked up towards something, causing Herah and Max looking up in response. And when Herah saw it, the youngling couldn't help but let out a whistle of appreciation.

The trio looked upon a circular window made of stained glass. From the edge of the window towards the center were long panels of green, yellow, blue, and purple stained glass. In the center of all this was a log made up of tiny diamond-shaped red and brown stained glass.

"They appeared to us in that form and told us that thanks to Frozen Light, our people would be given a second chance in the form of what they called penance: a series of five trials. But we would have to face these trials without any of the knowledge gained from our years of abandonment." The priest with his back still towards Herah and Max, raised his right hand and snapped it, "And with those words, Log-sama robbed us of all of our advancements and the knowledge that allowed us to create them.

The priest turned back towards Herah and Max, and raised his left hand with two fingers in the air.

"We've already completed four of our trials. I showed you integrity, and before that one, Frozen Light and Ripple led us through the trial of patience. It was a ten-year long drought that ended with both leaders dead, due to another civil war between the two. Afterward, their proteges, Stardust Kujo and Diavolo became our leader and our priest, respectfully."

The priest raised another finger.

"Eighty years after the trial of integrity, Stardust and Diavolo led our people through the trial of trust. This trial had an unknown murderer appear among us that we had to figure out who was which. It was during this trial that I was born and began to study under Diavolo to one day replace him."

The priest gained a wistful smile before continuing, "It was three days after I was born when we first met. I had stumbled into this very cathedral, and had found him praying. Since I was a new born, I had little to no knowledge regarding pretty much everything, but Diavolo decided then and there that I would be his protege."

The priest let out a content sigh before continuing on in his story.

"It was only thanks to him, and not that bastard Stardust, that our people didn't devolve into senseless slaughter and another civil war. The trial ended after ten murders and years, with the killer being found and punished." 

The priest once again gained a wistful smile, the Oni rubbing his eyes a bit as well. The priest then walked around to the back of the altar and grabbed the golden log that sat atop of it. It was about the size of his torso and the priest held the log to his chest tightly.

"It would be another century before my first trial as priest occurred. Throughout this century, Diavolo taught me to love Log-sama. He taught me about how Log-sama cared for us greatly and only asked for simple things. He taught me that as long as I loved and trusted in Log-sama I would be lead to happiness. Diavolo taught me to believe that Log-sama rewarded obedience, and never did wrong to those who followed them without problem." The priest let out a small, extremely bitter chuckle before continuing with a heavy voice, "Diavolo was the most devoted of all of Log-sama's followers that I'd ever known. Definitely more than myself."

DRIP!

Herah and Max watched in silence as tears began to pour from the eyes of the priest, his expression becoming that of an emotionally wrecked child. HIs next words came out dripping with sorrow.

"Then, the trial of love rolled around. And the current chief and myself had the most simple of objectives. It was prove our love for Log-sama exceeded all else." A choked sob escaped the priest mouth, his silver eyes pouring tears down his cheeks. "So the protege had to kill Stardust Kujo while I had to kill Diavolo."

"Damn." Herah said, the youngling having become extremely uncomfortable over the breakdown that was happening before her very eyes. The youngling looked towards Max and found that the girl was crying silent tears, her empathy clearly getting the better of her.

"After that, we both replaced our respective mentors. String Kujo became our current chief while my mask broke, confirming my transformation into a Koji. This allowed for me to become the new priest of our people." The priest had now calmed down, tears still streaming down his face as another bitter chuckle left him, "The absolute worst part of it was how okay Diavolo seemed to be perfectly fine with it. When I came to strike him down, he just smiled at me." The priest plastered a somber smile onto his face, "He smiled at me and said it was okay. Just trust in Log-sama and everything would be fine."

"What-" Max began, herself sounding absolutely heartbroken, "What was Diavolo to you?"

The priest's smile changed from sorrowful to melancholy, as even more tears poured down his cheeks.

"He was my father. That Koji raised me and loved me, and I miss him so much."

The priest let out a deep breath, allowing for the breath to calm himself down. After a few more deep breaths, the priest bowed to both Herah and Max and said,

"I apologize for that, I'm still not over Diavolo's death." The priest returned to his standing position and placed the golden log back on the table. "After becoming the priest of my people, I began to hear the whispers of Log-sama. The Maker would provide bits of information here and there, but usually they whisper sweet nothings. This was why I sent out Gold Experience, Under World, Sky High, and Bohemian Rhapsody to scout your group out, but since they never returned I'm guessing they're dead. I'll make sure to prepare their tombs later."

"Where was I again?" The priest thought out loud, his voice lacking its strength from earlier and sounding, just, lost.

CRUNCH!

Herah watched in pity as the priest bit off his middle finger, the missing digit growing back soon afterward. The Koji (as named by himself) looked lost, the priest clearly not in the best state of mind. Herah heard Max wince in discomfort as the priest bit off another finger, before deciding to help the priest out.

"You had just told us about how Norwe whispers to you." Herah offered up, and the priest grabbed at this.

"Oh yes, so now here we are." The priest waved his hand over the entire cathedral, "With only penance for lack of obedience left to be completed. And if done, my people will be saved and Diavolo's death would be for something."

The priest took another deep breath before leaning onto the altar and giving Max and Herah a long stare. After a few moments of awkward silence, the priest began to speak once again.

"I bet you're wondering why I told you all of that, huh?' The priest asked, clearly attempting to lighten up his voice.

"Yeah," Max answered while using the sleeves of her coat to wipe her nose, as sniffles began to leave her.

Herah just nodded yes.

"I tell you all of this," The priest began, "Because I hope knowing all of this might convince you to stand aside and allow for my people to take down that tree. If you stand by, we won't have to hurt each other."

Both Herah and Max looked at each other, Max giving Herah a begging look while the youngling grimly shook her head no.

Turning back to the priest, Herah answered with another question, "Do you know why we here?"

"To participate in Recompense, in order to save not only yourselves but your universes."

Herah nodded before saying,"We're supposed to be entertaining Norwe and I don't believe they find peace between us too entertaining.

"Log-sama doesn't find the idea too exciting." The priest answered, clearly unhappy with his Maker's answer.

"Plus," Herah added, her voice toneless "I'm not willing to risk La Flamme for anything. As someone else who devotes their entire life to their creator, I hope you understand."

The priest gave Herah an understanding smile and said, "That's why I'm jealous of you and Diavolo. Nothing can get in between you and your mistress. I hope to one day do the same. I know that if I can get my people through this trial, that I will finally be able to give myself to my lord completely."

"I'm sorry." Max said, her voice small and quiet.

"Don't be," The priest responded, his voice now soft and sorrowful, "I should be the one to apologize.

"Why is-" Just before Max could finish, Herah's senses began to yell at her to protect Max.

WHOOSH!

SNIKT!

Herah grunted in pain, now standing in front of Max with her left armed raised and being pierced by a spear-like tendril that had replaced the priest's right hand. The priest drew his spear tendril back before turning it into a hand once again.

Herah looked at her arm, blood dripping from a hole in her wrist that had some of the priest's black tendrils rapidly spreading throughout it.

Thinking quickly, Herah threw her arm into the air and yelled.,

"JEFFERY!"

WOOSH!

SHLUK!

Herah bit back a scream of agony as pain exploded from her left elbow as Jeffery completely tore off her arm from the elbow up.

"Herah!" Max shouted in shock.

"Don't worry, puff, about, puff, me." Herah said haggardly before taking a deep breath, "I'll be fine."

Herah raised her right hand, calling Jeffery to it. The sentient pencil flew into her hand, while sending her an image of an ambulance and herself.

"First, we need to, puff, handle this. I know you hate, puff, fighting with me in fights, puff, you think I can handle, but I need you."

Jeffery sent Herah an image of herself and themselves with a thumbs up following afterward.

"Thanks, Jeffery." Herah (still standing at the base of the stairs) pointed her pencil at the priest, "Max, get ready."

The human nodded in response and pulled out her deck of cards. Max then threw them into the air and said, "52 Pickup."

All 52 cards stopped and began spinning around Max, surrounding the human in a whirlwind of cards.

The priest looked down at the pair with a long face before letting out a sigh.

"Allow me to introduce myself," The priest pointed at himself, "I am Moon Jashin, the current priest of Log-sama, and I hope you accept my sincerest apologies." Moon raised his left hand, the limb breaking apart into black tendrils before reforming as a massive four-bladed claw.

"Because I'm going to kill you now."

The Sketch Becomes an Illustration

Moon leaped from behind the altar and down towards Herah, the youngling rolling under and stabbing him through the chest with Jeffery before slamming him into the marble floor with the pencil pinning him to the ground.

"That really, puff, fucking hurt!" Herah grunted out at Moon as pain filled her mind.

In response, Moon broke his body down into tendrils before traveling up the length of Jeffery and Herah's remaining arm before reassembling himself behind the youngling with his left hand reared back in its claw form, ready to cleave her apart.

SNIKT!

"There is a firebomb inside your back."

"There is a forcefield around me."

Max then sent one of her cards straight through the firebomb that was buried in Moon's back.

BOOM!

A fiery explosion engulfed all four individuals beneath the steps of the altar, fire lashing out wildly as it spread.

"Max are you, puff, okay?" Herah asked, looking around as smoke filled the air. Herah pulled Jeffery from their bizarren sheath, labored breaths leaving her as her body was wracked with the pain of her recently cut off arm. Herah then unfurled her left wing and with a single flap cleared all of the smoke from around her.

Herah stood still in front of the steps of the altar, a few tiny fires covering the scorched floor around her. With the smoke now cleared, Herah found Max lying on her back unconscious. The human had a few singes on her clothing and had a bit of blood marring her black hair, but was otherwise ok.

Walking over to her companion with slow shaky steps, Herah poked Max with the butt of Jeffery a few times.

"That is the fifth time I've done that." Max said after the sixth poke, a groan of pain following shortly afterward as her body awakened along with her mind. 

Herah flipped Jeffery over and held out their tip towards Max, the human grabbing onto it so Herah could pull her up. With Max back on her feet, Herah looked to see what was left of Moon.

Which was nothing, not even ash was left in the spot Moon had stood, just a massive scorch mark.

"Well that's, puff, that." Herah said, turning towards where they had originally come from. "Didn't really, puff, need you, puff, Jeffery. My, puff, bad." 

Jeffery gave Herah no response, which immediately set Herah on alert. Jeffery only went mute on Herah when the youngling believed a fight to be over when it wasn't.

Which meant Moon wasn't dead.

Herah did her best to push the pain of from her severed arm to the back of her head, the youngling utilizing all of her senses to check their surroundings (Herah having immediately used Reunir to get the functions of her nose back), finding the issue quickly.

The first bench on the right aisle had been broken down into tendrils and was taking the form of what Herah guessed to be Moon.

Max noticed this as well and said, "Herah come on let's get out of here, we don't need to-"

"Oh, but you do!"  A familiar voice laced with excitement that filled everyone, sans Jeffery, in the cathedral with dread.

Herah spun around, twirling Jeffery above her head before attempting to spear whatever was behind her. Sadly for the youngling, a spike of pain shot through her body just as her spin was finished causing Herah to go wide with her stab.

"Oh, oh, oh!  It seems my dear Artist isn't feeling too good. Well, she can fix that in a hurry" Norwe the Log said, his voice as gentle as always.

And yes, Norwe was currently in the form of a floating, perfectly cut, average size log.

"I'm not going to even say anything," Max said as soon as her eyes glimpsed the Log Maker, the human just shaking her head in shock.

"Good! Then we can get straight to what I want to happen." Norwe the Log responded with greats amount of cheer and excitement, before spreading his Presence all across the room. Everyone was set on edge as soon as they heard the sound of a giant lock being locked where the cathedral doors were located.

Herah's breath hitched just a bit as her Maker's presence engulfed her, the feeling not as threatening as when first subjugated, it was just a bit unexpected. On first contact, Norwe's Presence made Herah feel as if the Maker Log was an older relative who had paid her surprise visit after being gone for a while (which wouldn't work because all of Herah's relatives were dead excluding her parents). But this feeling quickly passed and allowed for Herah to get to the deeper roots of her Maker's presence. Which in short terms, could be described with one word.

Chaos.

Herah felt just how unrestrained, unfocused, and wild Norwe was at their core. The Maker's presence didn't wrap around her like Max's, engulf her like Jeffery's, or weigh on her like her father's. It just struck Herah at random, as if it acknowledged her existence as something to poke and prod out of interest.

Not a welcoming thought considering whose Presence this was.

Herah, now using Jeffery as a makeshift crutch, looked over to Max and found the human's reaction surprising. Max looked peaceful and calm, a far cry from her earlier sad and slightly frantic state, looking over to Moon, Herah found the same thing to be true for him.

"Now, my dear Liar." Herah turned back to Norwe the Log, "Since Moon was nice enough to tease me with the idea, I'm gonna run with it. If any of you want to leave this building alive or otherwise, you must have an extremely entertaining fight for me. And by that I mean want to see even more blood, tears, and effort placed into it."

"I also want to see some tactical thought, Artist that was a jab at you. I know you can do better."  Norwe the Log said, sounding like a teacher that was disappointed with their students' performance in whatever subject they taught because they knew that student could do better.

"Another thing, I want a fight that lasts and has an actual impact. That means no cop-outs for any of you, especially miss reality warper over here." Norwe the Log said this as if Max was a common offender of this exact thing. "And finally, try to throw some curve balls. They don't have to surprise me, though I'd prefer if they did, but I would love to see surprise run across each of your faces.

"Also, for added motivation to do exactly that, I've added to your stakes. So if my conditions aren't met, these three will cease to exist in any form or shape, not even as memories will they live on."

Three blurry images appeared behind of Norwe. 

One unblurred and revealed Alex sitting with his back against a tree while having an animated discussion with Owen. Both were smiling at each other and seemed to be enjoying each other's company. Max lost her composure and let out a sad whimper, her eyes tearing up at the realization that her brother's life was in her hands.

The next image to unblur was of who Herah guessed to be Diavolo, it showed the same extremely muscular and green-skinned priest from the earlier painting, smiling and waving at Moon. Herah bristled uncomfortably at the choked sob that came from the priest, the sound of tears striking the floor really leaving Herah feeling like even more of an ass than before. 

The final image to unblur erased any uncomfortableness Herah felt and replaced it with fear and anger. It was of her father, Orange, and it revealed him sitting on his daughter's bed meditating. Herah let a small smile come to her face at the sight of her father showing his worry, since that was the only reason Orange would ever meditate. Then Orange opened his eyes and looked towards his daughter, surprised aquamarine met even more surprised emerald before Orange stood on the bed and gave Herah a heartwarming smile and wave.

Herah waved back with a pained expression before watching as Orange noticed her current state, his happy look switching to a panicked one. Orange then looked at Norwe the Log, recognition flashing in his eyes before his expression turned pained. The father looked back at his daughter and mouthed a heartbreaking apology before all three images abruptly faded.

"RAAAWWWRRRRR!" 

The cathedral was filled with the sounds of Herah's agonized roar, tears freely flowing down the sides of the youngling's face as her head was turned up to the ceiling.  Herah turned back to Norwe, utter contempt towards the Maker Log filling her as tears continued to flow down her face. The youngling pointed Jeffery at Norwe the Log (the pencil stopping its silence to fill their creator's mind with sweet thoughts) while baring her teeth and said with a low and hate-filled voice,  

"I. Despise. Your. Existence."

"Aah. My dear, dear Artist." Norwe the Log's voice rung with absolute delight, "Don't despair just yet, just entertain me. Plus, I have that said to me so many many different times."

The Maker Log floated up to Herah's face, and said with an extremely out-of-character tone of foreboding and, even more surprising, desperation,

"What are you going to do about it?"

Herah was stunned into silence, that last bit of emotion that the youngling picked up completely throwing her for a loop.

A translucent meter gauge appeared in front of each of the three mortals in the room with five distinct values on each of them.

Zero percent. 

Twenty-five percent. 

Fifty percent. 

Seventy-five percent.

And one hundred percent.

Each of their gauge's had a tiny white number showing the exact value hovering just above them and all were set at a different value. Moon had the highest, his at sixty-eight percent with Herah's being at thirty-eight percent and Max's being at forty percent.

"If a single one of your gauges reaches one hundred, the doors will automatically unlock. However, if the other two leave without their gauges at full it will automatically reduce to zero. Once a gauge reaches zero, I will erase whichever of those three I showed before you care about most after two minutes and then kill you." Norwe the Log spoke, their voice back to its gentle yet excited tone.

Herah watched as both Max's and Moon's gauges faded from her sight, before asking Norwe, her shaky breath's returning,

"Why, puff, two minutes?"

"Thanks for asking Artist, this is because I am not without mercy so I'm gonna tell you each your own separate condition that you can meet to automatically set your gauge at one hundred percent, here it is now."

Herah blinked in confusion for a few seconds before letting out a wince at the feeling of something invading her mind.

'End Max, that is all you have to do.'

Herah glared at Norwe the Log even harder while thinking back,

'Do your rules mean NOTHING to you?'

'Not really, I tend to enforce them whichever way and whenever I want.' Norwe replied with a nonchalant tone, 'However, you wouldn't be breaking my rule.'

Herah let a disgusted grunt leave her.

'That's a lie and we both know it.'

'Oh my dear Artist, you have yet to differentiate between the truth and the lies.'

With those cheery words, the Maker Log floated up and disappeared, but not before leaving the three with some parting words, their joyful and expectant tone making Herah hate them all the more.

"Let's do this in one take. SHOWTIME!"

Moon made eye contact with Max and Herah, all three looking shook up whether by the alternate condition or the primary conditions Herah knew not. Then together they all wiped away their tears and nodded their heads. Though Moon was their enemy and they were Moon's, there were no hard feelings at all coming from either of the two groups toward each other.

They were all just fighting for what they loved, and they all could never be angry at someone for doing exactly that.

Three massive tendrils shot from Moon's back, each piercing three benches before breaking them down into even more black tendrils. Moon then slammed his hands into the ground before him, the marble cracking and breaking apart as hundreds of beams of red wood shot towards Herah and Max.

In response, Max sent out ten of her 50 remaining cards and said, "There is a diamond wall between us."

The beams thudded uselessly against the red diamond wall 's jagged surface that appeared in place of Max's cards.

Max turned to Herah, who had returned to using Jeffery as a crutch while breathing heavily, and looked at the youngling's bleeding stump. The remaining limb was gushing so much blood that a large puddle was beginning to take shape beneath the youngling's feet.

"That wall is ten feet thick, Moon won't be getting through any time soon." Max pointed at Herah's arm, "I can fix that for you Herah."

The youngling shook her head before taking a deep breath and saying, "I'm gonna need the blood for this fight."

Max gestured towards Herah's  profusely bleeding wound and shouted in worry, "But at the rate you're losing blood, you'll bleed out before you can do anything!"

Herah shook her head once again and replied, "The only way, puff, to kill a, puff, Cendruex is to eliminate, puff, the fire that, puff, burns inside, puff, of us." Herah took a deep breath, "The biggest danger this wound poses to me is leaving me blacked out from either pain or blood loss." Herah took another deep breath, "I can mitigate both of those issues however."

Herah closed her eyes and took another deep breath before letting it out. Herah then repeated this three more times, with each breath let out causing the pain to lessen and lessen until it eventually just felt like a slight tingle.

Herah stood from leaning on Jeffery, her breathing no longer labored and struggling and opened her eyes once again. This got a surprised yelp from Max, who pointed at Herah and said,

"Your, your eyes. They've changed."

Herah nodded at this, the youngling already knew that her eyes had lost their pupils, irises, and sclera. Now they were replaced by a mess of red, black, yellow, and white. The colors arranged themselves in a way that it looked as if flames had been painted on the surface of her eyes.

"Renaissance à son Sommet, that is what I named this state of being. The name is in honor of a period time that was all about revigorating love for La Flamme, to be more specific I've named it after the point in time which could be considered the movement's apex. Not only does this state make all pain I suffer a slight tingle, but it also pushes my body to the max, no pun intended,  for five minutes straight while forcing my body to function no matter what for those five minutes."

Herah picked up Jeffery, the pencil sending Herah images of a clock counting down from 5 minutes. The youngling then walked towards Max and set Jeffery aside, leaving the pencil to just float alongside her once again. Herah dipped her right fore finger's claw into the pouring blood from her stump before raising it to Max's neck.

"Max, I'm gonna use my blood to tattoo something onto your neck, your skin is the best canvas I can access in short time for my gift. Is that okay with you?

Max thought for a second before nodding yes.

 Herah began to drag her finger along Max's neck with keen precision. This allowed for the Cendreux to draw an incredibly detailed tattoo of blood-red welding goggles with red tinted lenses and a red strap around Max's neck without causing the human any pain and within seconds. 

Herah tapped Max's new tattoo causing Traduire to activate, and cause for the tattoo to glow for a spilt-second before poofing out a real-life version of the same goggles, removing Max's tattoo in the process.

"Those goggles will allow for you to keep up with both Moon and me as we fight, optically anyway. Moon apparently isn't a normal Oni so you need to fib again to hide from his sights. Also, can you find a way to move around quickly?" Herah's words came out serious and slightly on edge, the youngling on high alert for Moon's attack.

Max nodded yes before saying, "Moon can't perceive me, anything I do or my cards. I have a hoverboard."

Herah didn't even blink when a slender, red polyester board appeared next to Max, the youngling taking note of the two cards that disappeared with Max's lie. This left her with 38 cards. Herah nodded at the board before ordering Max, "Stay as far away from the fight as you can unless I call you back to myself so I can draw something else on you, otherwise just hit Moon with fibs from afar." Herah took off her backpack and handed it to Max, who put it on her own back. "Hold this for me, I won't be able to do too much with it in this fight." 

Max nodded before jumping onto her board, the hoverboard floating the human up towards the ceiling.

Herah took another deep breath, making note of the fact that Jeffery's counter was now at 4 minutes and 5 seconds. 

'I know you hate handing control over to me, but thanks for letting me use you Jeffery. Sorry this couldn't be more entertaining'

Herah got the image of herself shaking her head and a puzzle that Herah had not quite figured out when younger. Herah shook her head with a small smile as her right hand twirled Jeffery once again in preparation for whatever Moon was planning on doing. Herah also took note of the fact that her gauge had gone up to 45%, most likely due to the simple plan that Herah had set up with Max and how the human was to deal with the speed. 

Herah swung her bleeding stump in front of herself creating a bloody arc in front of herself. Herah looked at the wall of diamond then at the arm that Moon had cut off, making note of the fact that two of her fingers had turned to paint.

RIZZZZ!

Herah felt the vibrations from beneath her feet just before leaping back, but not soon enough because Moon burst from beneath where Herah had been standing with a hand in the shape of a drill and one in its normal form. Using the normal hand, Moon grabbed the youngling by her left leg and then throwing her at the red wall of diamond.

CRACK!

Several fissures appeared at Herah's area of impact, the youngling falling to the ground and landing on her knees while letting out an annoyed grunt at the tingle that was felt from her back and wings due to her impact. Herah looked down at her recently created arc and added a bit more blood to it since it's shape was messed up by her landing.

BOOM!

"Herah look out!"

Herah spat out flames covering her arm just before raising her head and her arm (having dropped Jeffery after hitting the wall) just in time to block a hypersonic punch from Moon.

KRRSHHH!

The red diamond wall shattered, filling the air with diamond shards and dust, as Herah was launched through all ten feet of it. Just after managing to steady herself in mid-air, Herah noticed Moon sailing towards her through the air and activated Traduire

"ACK!" Moon shouted in pain as Herah's red arc from earlier smashed into his back and shattered. Herah then mentally forced each of these fragments to rapidly form into a ball before smashing them down onto the priest's head, causing marble fragments to fly into the air as Moon's cranium smashed into the floor. Herah herself bled off most of her speed by flipping through the air, but still ended up slamming into the floor feet first. The youngling sent marble fragments every which way, leaving two twin gorges in the floor before skidding to a stop just before the cathedral doors.

Looking down at the leg Moon had grabbed, Herah spat out a ball of normal fire to burn away the black tendrils that were beginning to reach her stomach. Herah looked back at Moon and found the priest rising to his feet. Before the youngling could do anything, Herah heard Max shout and found the priest frozen in a block of ice. This was quickly rectified by Moon himself, the priest having sprouted a multitude of drills from his body that broke the ice surrounding him. Letting out a low whistle, Herah summoned Jeffery back to herself. This caused for the sentient pencil to blow a hole straight through the right side of Moon's head, grey matter, blood, and black skin flying from the priest's head and into the surrounding area. 

Snatching Jeffery out of the air, Herah held the pencil behind her back with his tip to the floor as her eyes observed how Moon (now soaking wet and missing the right half of his brain) seemed stunned for a second before moving towards a bench that sat in a row to his right, and breaking a bit of it down so as to patch up his skull. Herah noticed her gauge go up to 50%, letting out a slightly pleased breath at her progress.

'So Moon doesn't need his brain to function, but damaging it causes him to be stunned for a moment. I can use this.'

"Max!" Herah shouted, causing the one in question to jump a bit before looking at Herah gesture for her to come here.

The human shot down from her place near the ceiling and began to float on Herah's right while on her board.

"Yeah Herah?"

"Raise your shirt."

Max blinked in surprise.

"I'm sorry?"

Herah said some curses under her breath before glaring at Max in annoyance and asking with equal amounts.

"I need you to raise your shirt all the way up, your neck and head don't have enough room for what I'm about to create."

"But I don't have a bra on, and we're in the mi-" Max attempted to explain.

"Max!" Herah shouted, clearly out of patience.

"And this shirt is going up." The human in question said, giving up in her explanation.

Max lifted her shirt over her head, while Herah dipped the same claw from earlier into her blood geyser once again before sending Jeffery out towards Moon to keep him at bay while her work was done, causing a split in attention that Herah handled with little difficulty.

The pencil shot through Moon's head once again, the priest then used a bench to heal himself, which was followed by Jeffery blasting through his head once again. This began a vicious cycle that left a lot of blood and brains on the surrounding benches and floor before Moon eventually stopped attempting to heal himself and instead focused on combating the speeding writing utensil known as Jeffery. Luckily for Moon, Jeffery could only go as fast as Herah perceived when under her control, which meant that after a few strikes that Moon was able to predict and counter the pencil's attacks. 

After Herah attempted to spear Moon through the stomach with another mental command from Jeffery, the priest leaped atop of the tip of the pencil and tried to break it down by transforming his legs into tendrils and attempting to pierce into Jeffery. Herah had a  quick response to this, however.

WHRRRR!  

"Nani!?"

CRACK!

Jeffery had begun to rotate at ridiculous speeds, causing to two to form something akin to a demented rotating hoe. This meant that Moon's head and a good portion of his upper torso were repeatedly being smashed through the marble floor, which caused a lot of marble dust and fragments to drive into the nearby walls, pillars, and benches.

Herah let a glad smile come to her face, her gauge had begun to decline when her attacks became overly repetitive. But now, with her idea for Jeffery and Moon to spin the way that they were, Norwe seemed to find it entertaining. Herah's gauge was at 75%. Herah checked with Jeffery (the pencil a bit miffed about what Herah was currently doing with their body) for her time and found it to be 3 minutes and 20 seconds.

"Annnd, done!" Herah said, once completed with Max's new tattoo before taking a moment to give it a loving stare.

It was of a chain with hands the size of normal ones going up and down the sides. Two hands were on either side of Max's flat abdomen, with two more on either side of her rib cage, and the final two atop both of her breast.

Shaking the admiration for her art from her head, Herah tapped the hand on Max's left breast. The human was blushing deeply at Herah, and began to blush even harder once Traduire brought the hands and chain to life. 

A soft jingle was heard as the chain that ran from Max's neck down to the center of her abdomen took form on the human's skin, the only thing keeping it from falling off being the six actual red hands that now grabbed at Max's entire torso. This didn't last for long, however, since the hand Herah had tapped broke off from the chain and leaped onto its creator's hand before using its fingers to crawl up to her elbow and turn itself back into a tattoo that disappeared shortly afterward. This same thing happened with the rest of hands, each crawling onto one part of her body before turning back into a tattoo and disappearing.

"What was that all about?" Max asked, pulling her shirt down in hopes of returning some semblance of modesty to herself. The human wasn't exactly quiet during Herah's tattooing process, and not a single sound made was of discomfort.

"Those hands are going to help when I'm fighting," Herah nodded towards her own gauge, "My gauge is at 75%, how's yours?"

Max let out a wince and responded with, "It's gone down actually, my gauge is currently hanging out at 25%. I don't think Norwe is too liking of your hide on the ceiling strategy and helping from there, it's pretty boring after all."

Herah let out her own empathizing wince, before saying, "Do you have any way you can think to raise it?"

Max thought for a few seconds, before asking Herah, "What was your next move?"

"I was going to engage Moon in close-combat as a distraction while I planned on you taking out all these benches around us. Do you have a way to eliminate all of them, preferably in one fell swoop? Anything less and Moon might try to counteract us."

Max went into deep thought, running her hand through her hair for just a second before snapping her fingers.

"Herah, how do you feel about being naked right now?" Max asked, her tone completely serious.

"I would prefer not to, but if your plan involves it, I won't bitch," Herah responded with an uncaring voice.

Max nodded before floating off and into the air above while speaking in a whisper, for some odd reason, "I'll do it once Moon is fully distracted, go on."

Herah nodded before redirecting her attention to Jeffery and Moon, the latter having been flung off and into a pillar. Nodding to herself once again, Herah unfurled both of her wings and flew towards Moon while also summoning Jeffery back to herself. Herah and Jeffery met halfway towards Moon, allowing for the youngling to furl her wings back up and spin through the air like a sideways spinning top while spinning Jeffery counter-clockwise to her own spin, around her body.

As soon as Moon rose from the pillar that had stopped his flight, the priest had Herah sail over his head with Jeffery erasing a good portion of his skull as they spun around Herah's body. Stunned, Moon was not prepared for Herah to land behind and spear him through the chest with Jeffery's tip. This did, however, bring him out of his stupor and caused for Moon to sprout hundreds of spikes all over his body, causing Herah to step back while dragging Jeffery through Moon's side by the tip of their eraser. More blood sprayed across the marble as Moon let out a gasp of surprise before morphing his right arm into a whip and launching it into a bench. 

"What the ash!?" Herah shouted in surprise, diving to the side as another Moon (created from the bench the original had struck) drove a black sword that had replaced the forearm of his right arm straight through the chest of his creator in an attempt to do the same to Herah. Herah then launched herself away and towards the altar with am unfurl and flap of her wings, the two Moon's following on her heels.

"Max! Anytime now!"

"There is a wave of lava rushing towards you."

All three turned towards the front of the cathedral and the Moons let out startled cries, a massive wave of lava rushing through the cathedral towards the trio. One of the Moons shot his left hand out (having morphed it into a massive version of itself), quickly grabbing and chucking a single bench into the entrance hole Moon had created earlier before using the same hand to cover the hole. The other ripped the one who had saved the bench in half, taking their right side and breaking it down then transforming it into some type of black armor that covered their body. Two full seconds later, the wave of lava crashed into the three and the altar.

Herah stood her ground, not moving an inch as the wave crashed into her. Bright orange was all Herah could see for but a second before her vision quickly cleared and revealed the cathedral's makeover. The floor was covered in 3ft worth of lava (something which would be no problem for Herah to navigate through), the air had become extremely humid, and the marble pillars were beginning to break apart. While most of the benches were gone, a few were laying in the lava slowly burning and sinking into it. Herah also noticed the fact that her gauge had risen up to 77%.

Before the youngling could look around anymore, the sound of something cutting through the air behind her caused Herah to duck and roll through the obscenely hot floor.

Herah rose to her feet and to the sight of Moon covered in some type of black armor. It wasn't large by any means, quite form fitting actually, and seemed to exist as a single piece. The armor also seemed organic, Herah noticing how it seemed leather-like with tiny tendrils occasionally appearing on the surface. Herah took note of his left gauntlet, it being black with spikes on each of its knuckles. The other gauntlet went a slightly different route, with the hand being replaced with the same claw Moon was using earlier in the fight. Atop of his head, Moon now wore a completely black helmet that had a little visor, blocking his eyes from view. The only part of Moon that Herah could still see was his eyes, the silver still looking dull and sad.

"Your wound hasn't cauterized," Moon said, his soft voice carrying a ring from within his helmet. 

Herah looked down at her still profusely bleeding arm, before looking back up at Moon and casually saying,

"I can't be burnt."

Moon looked towards the window which immortalized Norwe the Log before saying, with a deeply somber tomb,

"I'm sorry I dragged you two into this."

Herah shook her head, calling Jeffery back to hand before holding the pencil behind her back with their tip pointed to the ceiling. The youngling then bluntly stated,

"Don't be, you were just doing what you felt was needed."

"You're quite understanding towards someone who is actively trying to kill you." Moon responded with a slightly joking tone.

Herah chuckled lightly, giving the lava a soft kick before telling Moon, with the same tone of voice, 

"Yeah, well I spit in the face of your offer for peace. By my standards, we're both assholes in this situation."

Moon responded with his own chuckle and apologetically said,

"Well, by my standards at least, I'm about to be an even bigger asshole in a second."

"What makes you-"

Moon raised his left hand and snapped.

"Aaaah!"

Herah's eyes widened in shock as Max fell off of her hoverboard, the human covered in flames, and towards the molten covered floor. Thinking quick, Herah threw Jeffery at Max just in time for the human to land on and tightly hold onto the sentient pencil. Herah then turned to Moon, who had reared his right arm back to launch it towards Max, the limb having taken the ship of a ship with a claw at the end. The youngling snorted out green flames that were sent to cover her remaining arm, which Herah then used to punch Moon squarely in the face. This punch sent the priest into the altar, the object being destroyed in the process of all of this.

"What did you do to her?" Herah growled out at Moon, as the priest shakingly rose to their feet.

"I just ignited the pollen that I had stuck to her body from earlier. When she had walked over to the two of us after our brief battle in the courtyard, I had my shield release a bit of the stuff."

The priest then launched himself towards Herah and tried to hit Herah with a jab. The youngling didn't move in the slightest, even as his fist neared her head. Just before contact, one of the red hands that Herah had created earlier appeared on her face and gave Moon a fist bump that completely halted his attack.

"Nani?"

BOOM!

The pair were engulfed in a fiery explosion, that began to burn away at Moon's armor. But that was the least of his worries since Herah delivered a brutal uppercut to his chin with her still flaming right arm. This time Moon was launched towards the ceiling, crashing right into the blank spot that was supposed to depict his current trial.

After a second, Moon fell from the ceiling towards Herah with both of his hands now claws and ready to pounce. The youngling looked up at Moon but didn't move, waiting for just the right moment to deliver her next attack. However, someone else had other ideas.

"A minivan is about to hit Moon!"

HONK! HONK! 

A red minivan appeared out of nowhere, before ramming Moon straight into the wall beneath the window art of Norwe the Log.

"I'm not on fire right now." 

 "Max your okaaayyy....." Herah turned to get a good luck at the human and winced, "Ish." 

Max, who was standing atop of Jeffery looking extremely pissed off. The girl had several burns of varying degrees all over her face and her hair burnt to the point that a ponytail was now no longer required. The human's legs were missing much of their skin, with large pink and black areas covering the length of the limbs. Her arms weren't in too much better of a condition, the limbs mostly black. Max's torso took the worst of it, however, her abdomen completely pink and both of her breast black and charred. 

Max's clothing wasn't in the best condition either. Her cargo shorts were just gone, leaving the girl in a pair of red boxers that had been burnt to the point that they almost resembled panties. Max's coat wasn't in a much better state, with the trench coat having the bottom of it burnt to the point that it now reached to right beneath Max's chest and its sleeves were completely gone. Max's shirt might as well have been none existent due to the fact that it was essentially just a hole-filled rag that was held together by unstable cotton and miracles.

"I am in so much pain right now, but that isn't important. Let's fill up our gauges and get out of here. I got a brother to save." Max responded, sounding both pissed and determined. 

The human leaped off of Jeffery and onto her hoverboard just as Moon knocked the van away from himself.

Herah nodded yes to this before calling Jeffery back to herself and going on the offensive. With a boom that created a shockwave that in turn created another wave of lava that went opposite of herself, Herah launched herself towards Moon and attempted to spear him through the chest. The priest dodged around Herah's attack and tried grabbing at her arm with his left, only finding a high five from a disembodied hand and another explosion for his troubles. Following this up, Herah used Jeffery's eraser to once again rid Moon of part of his head, this time the entire right part of his head from his cheek to his hair. Max, having moved to hang over the pair, dropped two cards and said,

"Those are lightning bolts that will only hurt Moon."

Herah blinked as two bolts of red lightning struck both herself and Moon, crackling filling her ears as Moon began to twitch like crazy with Herah suffering zero damage or effects. Taking advantage of his extended paralysis, Herah struck Moon in the chest with leg a covered in red flames which launched him away from herself and through one of the already breaking pillars. Landing next to one of the burning benches, Moon used a part of it to heal the damage that Herah and Max dealt to him.

Max snapped her fingers, causing her remaining 23 cards to engulf Moon in a whirlwind invisible to himself that added small all over his body, his crimson lifeblood beginning to boil as the heat of the lava reached it. With his entire body covered in cuts, Moon broke the rest of the burning bench next to him down into tendrils before layering them atop of his armor and slamming his fist together.

CLANK!

The metallic ring of his now metallic gauntlets filled the cathedral as the cards began to just bounce off his armor. Hearing and seeing this, Max redrew her cards back and Herah unfurled both of her wings before giving one mighty flap in front of herself that launched a wave of lava at Moon. Before the wave could even reach him, Herah shot towards the priest with a boom that created another wave of lava in the direction opposite of herself. Using the wave as a cover, Herah shot through it with Jeffery in hand spearing Moon once again in the chest. After spitting out a glob of blood that sizzled as it fell into the lava, Moon attempted to grab Herah by her neck, but found his hand stopped by another red hand that slapped his away and then blew up in another explosion of fire.

"Herah! Move!" Max shouted to the youngling.

The youngling tore Jeffery out of Moon through his head, once again spraying blood, grey matter, and gore into the air before leaping away and back towards Max. With Herah out of the way, the human launched two cards towards Moon that flew just over the surface of the lava and said,

"Those are lava swimming sharks that only eat Moon."

Two massive sharks appeared in the liquid floor, attempting to devour Moon by jumping up from the lava and diving through the air towards him.

"Suck it, you nice asshole," Max said, clearly struggling with consciousness.

As if to just spite Max, Moon's stunned state faded, and the priest used both of his claw hands to pierce both sharks and break them down into tendrils. Moon then used the tendrils from the sharks to create some type of black tree trunk with many holes in it next to himself. 

For a moment, Herah just stared at the tree before noticing that the lava had dropped an inch in height.

"How the ash?"

"Two hundred years ago, my people found a tree just like this one. It was useless for making mask, but had a peculiar property that allowed for it to ingest lava. I broke it down and still remember its genetic code to this day."

By the end of his explanation, all the lava that had covered the cathedral floor was now gone. This left a cracked and hot floor of marble in its wake, and everyone in the cathedral (save Jeffery) were on their last leg.

Herah's time was at 1 minute, Max was going to pass out from her burns soon, and Moon was all out of things to break down.

"I won't pass out in the next thirty minutes"

Ok, only Moon and Herah were on their last leg.

Realizing this Herah looked at Moon who was back in his normal clothing, the priest having broken down the mass from the armor and stored it somewhere else. The youngling also so that, for some odd reason, his eyes were now glowing silver and steam was pouring off of his shoulders. Herah didn't put too much thought into this before checking her gauge and finding it at 88%. Herah wasn't too liking of the number but figured a bit more fighting would fix it. And if not.....

Herah looked at Max, the human now floating next to her and looking back at Herah gave the youngling a firm shake of her head and a small smile. Herah looked back at Moon and shook her head.

That wasn't even an option. 

Everyone was back in their original position before the fight had started and all were geared up for the fight to end. Moon was standing where the bench that had made him his first new body used to be, his tree to his right and the giant hand from earlier covering the hole in front of him. Herah and Max were once again in front of the steps leading up to the most definitely destroyed altar.

Herah unfurled her wings, Max called all of her remaining 20 cards to surround her, and Moon looked ready to pounce.

Herah made the first move, launching herself towards Moon with a boom, that just destroyed the floor even more, and readied Jeffery to erase the priest's head. But just before Herah could reach Moon, a problem occurred.

SNIKT!

Something shot through the youngling's forehead and burrowed straight into her brain, causing Herah to suddenly lose control of her wings and crash at Moon's feet.

"Herah!"

The youngling refurled her wings, rolled onto her back and looked up at Moon in innocent confusion and asked, "What... Did.... You... Do?" 

The priest looked down at Herah with a sad smile and said with an extremely apologetic tone, "When you passed over the hand covering the hole, I shot a bit of into your head and it has now pierced your brain. In about fifty seconds, I will have complete control over your body and once that comes I will use you to kill Max. Because while I can't perceive her, you can. The only way to get rid of it will be by destroying your brain, but that would kill you. I'm sorry, but I win this one."

PING!

The sound rung throughout the entire cathedral which quickly followed by the sound of the front doors unlocking, meaning that Moon was the first to reach 100%.

"Herah doesn't have whatever Moon put in her head, in her head!"

For a split second, Herah felt Max's presence take hold and start causing something to happen, but it was quickly put to a stop by a pulse of someone else's presence.

"Dammit Norwe, what the fuck did you do to my gift?" Max cried out in what Herah thought to be uncharacteristic rage, the human almost sounded like her brother had when they had first met.

"Sorry Liar," Norwe the Log's voice rung throughout the building, not at all sounding apologetic, "But I'm not going to let you rob my False Priest of his victory, the only way Herah's getting out of this one is if she has an even better, even more, surprising plan."  

'No. No. No NOOOO!'  Herah screamed in her mind, despair quickly overtaking it, 'I can't let this happen, if I lose now not only are me and Max fucked but so are Dad and Alex. I am not letting them get baisée because I couldn't entertain this piece of shit Maker! Think! Think! THINK!'

Herah's eyes widened once again, an idea coming to her mind. It was a stupid, but it would definitely surprise Norwe. 

Herah hoped at least.

The youngling gave the control back to Jeffery and asked them for a favor. After hearing her favor, the pencil sent Herah an image of herself and a dunce cap but complied in the end. 

"Max!" The youngling shouted, "Give me..... What Owen...... Gave me...... Earlier!"

Though Herah was unable to see Max, the youngling knew that the human was confused.

"What?"

"I'm hungry Max! Feed me!" Herah shouted, hoping that human understood her.

"I get it! I get it!" Max shouted back, giving Herah even more hope, "I don't know what you have planned but here you go."

Herah watched as Moon's eyes widened in shock before a dome of black surrounded the two.

"I'm sorry Herah, but I can't allow for you to do what you have planned." The priest said apologetically, small tears forming in his still glowing silver eyes.

" Stop...  Apologizing.... Asshole."

"This is in Herah's mouth."

CRUNCH!

Herah bit into the half sphere of platinum that Owen had made for earlier, chewing and swallowing it before signaling Jeffery.

The pencil shot through the rough of the black barrier Moon had made and straight through Herah's brain before shooting back up and through what remained of it.

For a few moments,

Herah knew not.

Herah thought not.

Herah was not.

But after these few moments, a great and powerful violet fire shot from inside of Herah and out of the pores that covered her skin. The fire then wrapped around her body before exploding outwards, immediately incinerating Moon's barrier, Moon, his tree, and all of the ashes that they left behind. From this fire, Herah's body repaired itself, using the flames to regrow her brain, her brain's surrounding skull, and her arm. Each part coming back scaleless and extremely sensitive.

Herah opened her eyes and sat up in shock, before laying back down and letting out a groan of pain. Looking at her gauge, the youngling saw that it had filled up to 100%, meaning that her father was saved and that leaving the cathedral would no longer end in death for herself.

"Ahahahahaha. I'm gonna have to kiss Owen when I see that little fucker again." Herah laughed in joy, tears rolling down the sides of her face. Max soon stood over Herah, tears rolling down her face at the sight of the Cendreux being alive.

"Oh shit! I thought you were dead!" Max said, joy also filling her voice.

"I told you, the only way to kill a Cendruex is by snuffing out the fire in our chest." Herah looked up and saw Jeffery floating just above Max's head, "Thanks Jeffery, you're the best."

The pencil just sent Herah the same image of herself and a dunce cap, followed by a thumbs up. Herah looked back at Max and said, 

"Now let's get out here before any other Oni arrive," Herah looked back at Jeffery, "Can you carry us? I'm gonna pass out soon from that healing so I'm not a reliable flyer right now."

Jeffery sent Herah an image of another thumbs up and gestured for Max to put her on them. Max complied, losing her smile in the process. Just as Max got Herah onto Jeffery, Max asked in a voice laced with bits sadness,

"Jeffery, do you know what Dallas is?"

The pencil sent Herah an image of herself shaking her head yes.

"They said yeah. Why the ash are you asking them this?" Herah said, a bit confused by Max's current behavior. 

"Don't worry about it Herah." Max jumped onto Jeffery behind Herah, wrapping her arms around the youngling's back while putting her still burnt face to Herah's back. The human then asked, "Can you tell me when we get out of the blast radius of a nuke, if you know what that is, that can take out a city like Dallas?"

Herah got the same response. 

"They said yeah to both, what is up with these questions?"

Max gave Herah a small, but painfilled smile and somberly said,

"Herah, I only got my gauge up to ninety percent."

Herah's eyes widened in shock, before the youngling hurriedly said,

"Max, how are-"

The human in question raised one of her fingers to Herah's lips, the digit completely black and shushed her with a soothing tone of voice.

"Herah, you're falling asleep."

Herah's eyelids began to grow heavy, and just before sleep overtook her, the youngling heard Max say with a tone filled with resigned determination,

"I have a condition to meet."