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Battle is an Art

Summary

Herah was many things: an artist, a zealot, a fighter, and now, an unwilling participant in Recompense.
What is Recompense?
Nothing special, just a high-stakes game created by Norwe, the Maker of Herah, which if won would grant her a single wish. 
Of course, with such a great prize on the line there was an equal price which had to be paid. 
Which meant loss equated to bye-bye universe.
This doesn't even account for how other participants, hostile environments, and pretty much all sentient life that wasn't herself would definitely be challenges that Herah would have to overcome to not only win but to survive. Recompense truly was a battle of the fittest.
But with a broken No.2 pencil, a nervous master smith, a too trusting liar and an honest, omniscient jackass, Herah had Recompense in the Bag.
After all, Herah was a master artist, and she 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. Dressed in a red tee and a pair of red jeans, the scarlet skinned and shiny red scaled youngling sat at her normal desk in the back right corner of her first class of the day.

A shiny pink scaled and bubble pink skinned Cendruex stood before Herah’s class at the respectful height of 8’2, wearing a pair of mint slacks and a dark pink dress shirt. The teacher was also noticeably fit with lean, strong muscles covering the entirety of her body. Happily speaking about the beginning of the current age in the history of the Cendruex, the teacher keenly watched each of her equally scaled and skin students as they wrote their notes.

“So it was with that experience that Violette began asking himself questions. Yes, La Flamme had cared for us during our early days, but our race, our species, had grown without her for many years with no help required. We had done so much more without her than with her, so why should we still give her praise? Why should we still fight and conquer in her name? Why should we still create monuments to her? And with this train of thought, Violette had a revelation. There was no reason at all to continue such things, and thinking this is what led Violette to become the first of the Ravivé.”

Herah, leaning on her right hand with a disgusted look on her face, scoffed at the words coming from the elder.

‘To sing praise for a heretic, your children have fallen far and hard my mistress. The Manquant de Chaleur are numerous and they continue to dishonor you, yet you still offer your love to them. Truly your benevolence knows no bound.’

These thoughts soon changed, however, as Herah returned to her previous task. As her pencil dashed to and fro across her paper, the youngling seeped into a hyperfocus  with all of her attention going into her latest work of art.

It was a portrait of Elder Rose, the teacher spouting history at that moment, and had yet to be completed. The parts of the teacher already completed was her soft, round face, pink slitted eyes and the hook-shaped horns that framed her head. Herah had also completed drawing the scales that covered Rose’s forehead down to her nose, and the bottom half of her face was completely skin so no real marks had to be made there. At the moment, the youngling was working on the elder’s smile. Just as the inattentive student got up to the last of Rose’s fangs, the subject of the portrait broke Herah’s focus.

“Mmmhmm.” Rose called out, sounding rather disapproving at the moment.

‘Wonder who caught Rose’s eye this time, the weaklings here normally behave this early in the morning.’ Herah shrugged to herself, ‘Welp, Rose doesn’t fuck with me anymore, so it’s none of my concern.’

Herah returned her focus back to her portrait of Rose, now working on the elder’s pink, single bun hairdo. Just before Herah could complete this part of her teacher, however, Elder Rose once again broke her focus.

“Mmmhmm.” This time, Rose sounded a bit more forceful and closer.

‘Ok, I swear, whichever one of you faibles bâtards it is, if you don’t look at her right now I’m going to hurt you.’ Herah thought to herself with a slight twitch before returning back to the portrait.

‘Now to just finish her eyelashes and I can add-‘

“Mmmhmm!” Rose said, now casting a shadow over both Herah and her desk which only helped to destroy her concentration once again.

SNAP!

Wooden pencil fragments fell to Herah’s desk, as smoke flared from her nostrils and a deep frown came to her face. Still looking down at her portrait of her teacher, Herah took a deep breath and began to speak low and with a slight growl.

“I swear to La Flamme, whichever of you dickheads isn’t paying attention is about to get launched to the fucking hospital.”

Herah raised her head to glare at whoever Elder Rose was attempting to capture the attention of, only to began blinking in surprise when her eyes found the teacher standing before her. The elder’s scaled covered arms were crossed and lips pursed while staring Herah down with what the youngling assumed was supposed to be an intimidating glare.

“Oh.” Herah winced slightly before pointing to herself and bluntly stating, “I’m that dickhead.”

“That you are Herah,” A somewhat masculine, cocky voice said with a chuckle from Herah’s right, five desk and students separating the two, “How does it feel to look like an idiot?”

Herah turned towards the Cendruex with a glare and a snarl, causing the students that separated the two to move their heads out of the way in fear.

This allowed for Herah to get a good look at Bleu, an extremely muscular and large youngling with ocean blue skin and shiny blue scales, dressed in an orange polo shirt with white stripes and a pair of blue jeans. The youngling was leaning on his left arm (which had his arrow-tipped tail wrapped around its large bicep) fist to cheek with a smirk on his face. Making direct eye contact with Herah, his entire body managed to take up much more room than the standard student. Herah cared little for this, however, and instead made note of the single bead of sweat that rolled down Bleu’s shiny bald head before grunting and dismissively threating him.

“Watch it poltron, or I’ll shove your head up Vert’s ass again.” Bleu flinched at Herah’s words, before quickly looking away from the youngling with several more beads of sweat now rolling down the side of his head.

“Please don’t!” A boyishly scared voice begged from the front-right desk, directly three desk ahead of Herah’s own. “I’m still having pains from last time, plus I haven’t even done anything to you!”

Herah turned her glare to the front, the three younglings that divided her and Vert moving their heads out of the way to reveal the lime green-skinned and shiny green scaled youngling looking at Herah with a terrified expression on their face. Vert’s dark green mohawk waved from side to side as his body shook in fear. This youngling was more of the standard look of their species, with noticeable, lean muscles covering his body. Herah also took note on how Vert’s tail was nervously wrapped around the entirety of his wine colored shirt and his neck, slight spasms occurring through the appendage at random.

“So it wasn’t you who gave Pourpre the idea to try and take something from my backpack, is that what you’re saying?” Herah asked drawing her lips while leaning on her scaled covered right arm with a look that made it clear that the youngling didn’t believe Vert.

Hearing Herah’s words, Vert began to frantically look around the classroom before turning back to Herah and fearfully asking her,

“Where is my sister?”

“In the nurse’s office,” Herah said with a slight smirk and annoyed twitch in her eye, “After I found the dumbass’ left arm pit deep in my backpack, I broke her jaw and stabbed in her the eye with one of her own ribs. Your sister should be back and up here any min-“

Herah paused in her sentence, her head suddenly turning to the door that was right next to the whiteboard with a smirk on her face. Not a second later, a knocking was heard  and followed by a nervous, feminine voice stating that they were entering. Once opened, Herah was able to get a good luck at her most recent topic of discussion.

Pourpre had grape purple skin and shiny purple scales covering her body. The youngling was 6’2 (around the average height of a female Cendruex of her age) and was noticeably fit. Pourpre wore a grey t-shirt with words that normally slandered Herah’s mistress and a frilly, black skirt that normally reached down to her knees. Now, however, The youngling’s shirt was filled with holes and covered in flakes of dried blood that marred anything that it had to say while her skirt now just reached down to just below her crotch. Pourpre’s normally long, straight and wavy plum colored hair was now in a state of disarray, with chunks of hair clearly torn out and it’s length shortened to the point that it didn’t even reach past her neck. The hair was slowly regrowing, but Herah knew it wouldn’t be anywhere close to its original state until after lunch.

Pourpre shuffled into the room while purposely avoiding eye contact with Herah as her legs took her to her seat in front of the door. Seeing Pourpre and her condition, Rose let out a sigh before turning to the student and sternly asking her,

“What happened to you Pourpre?”

Pourpre flinched before turning back to Rose and saying with a bit of shame,

“I got into a fight and lost Elder Rose.”

“Who was this fight with, if I might ask?”

“Herah.”

“Why were you and Herah fighting?”

“Because Herah is a rabid fanatic who attacks anyone who disgraces her mistress.” Pourpre spat out any previous shame gone and replaced with disgust, with particular venom being placed upon the words mistress.

“Bitch!” Herah shouted, popping her claws, “You know what you did!”

“Herah!” Rose turned to Herah with a glare on her face, “Can I handle my own class, please?”

Herah rolled her eyes at Rose’s words before sheathing her claws and looking away with a huff.

“Your lucky that I’m a Cendruex of my word, menteur, or I’d be kicking your ass again for that shit.”

Rose then turned away from Herah and back to Pourpre with an annoyed sigh leaving her. Levying a glare at Pourpre, Rose then asked,

“What exactly did you do to disgrace Herah’s mistress, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Pourpre began to fidget nervously under Rose’s prying stare.

“Nothing worth getting into a fight over th-that’s for sure.”

“Then you shouldn’t have any problem telling me what it is you did.”

Pourpre looked away from Rose and whispered so low that the ticking clock on the wall sounded louder than her. This did little to stop her from being heard by Herah or anyone else in the room. Even with everyone hearing what was said, Rose still decided to repeat Pourpre’s words aloud.

“Because you were in not just her locker, but her backpack as well.” Rose said, sounding rather irritated by what Pourpre was saying, “Why might you have been in her backpack?”

Pourpre once again whispered her reply, and Rose once again repeated it out loud.

“Because your brother figured that taking something of Herah’s and blackmailing her with it would finally shut her up about La Flamme.”

“YOU WHAT!?” Herah shouted as her fist slammed into her desk. Green fire began to leak from her nose and mouth, as a fury began to engulf her.

“HERAH!” The youngling turned to glare at Rose, who glared back at her with a growl. The youngling let out a small growl of her own, before stopping her flames and looking away again.

Now done with the pacification of Herah, Rose turned to Vert who now looked even more nervous than before with his tail twitching nonstop under Rose’s gaze.

“Is what your sister said true Vert? Did you really convince her to try and take something from another student?”

“But this is Herah we’re talking about!” Vert said, gesturing to the still very much pissed youngling, “She’s a complete and total bitch!”

Before Herah could do anything, Rose reacted.

“I’LL BE DAMNED BEFORE I ALLOW A STUDENT TO SHOW SUCH DISREGARD FOR ANOTHER’S PRIVACY AND POSSESSIONS!” Rose shouted, blue flames that bordered on becoming indigo flaring from the orifices on her face and shrouding her head for a brief moment before the teacher abruptly returned to her calm and collected visage.

Vert flinched and hurriedly looked away from Rose, his tail spasming wildly as sweat began to profusely run down his face. Rose then glared at both Vert and Pourpre before saying,

“You will both stay after school and hold a boulder over your head for two hours for your actions. Am I understood?”

“Yes Elder Rose.”
“Yes Elder Rose.”

The siblings said with meek and ashamed bows of their heads. Rose nodded at this before walking back over to Herah.

“Now, to get back to what I  was originally intending to do Herah.” Herah, having calmed down by this point, gave Rose a raised brow and curious look, “I’ve finally decided it’s time that me and you solve the issue that has risen between the two of us.” Rose said while looking at her student as professionally as possible. Herah responded to this professionalism with a smug grin and speech. “You mean the problem you have, plus, I figured our agreement to leave each other alone was good enough in that regard.”

“That was to never be the true solution. Just something so that I could finally catch fourth period up with all the other classes.” Rose’s cheeks gained a slight hint of red, “The endless debates and arguments between you and I was cutting into time I should’ve been using to teach your classmates.” Rose waved her hand towards the rest of the class before saying, “Now that I’ve caught them up I figure we nip what’s going on between us in the bud, peacefully.”

“Mmph.”

“Hahahahaahah!”

Rose could only snarl as Herah banged her head into her desk, the youngling’s body racked with laughter. Her laughter quickly switched into startled grunts, however, when attempting to pull her head up from her desk proved useless. With her horns now stuck in the desk, Herah began to attempt to pull them out which only made them dig in deeper. This continued for a bit until Herah (with a single forceful yank) managed to rip her horns from her desk. The entire time Herah had been attempting to remove herself from her predicament, everyone else in the room was laughing their asses off (excluding Rouge who just let out a few muffled chuckles).

Turning her head to glare at everyone in the room, a hush immediately fell over the laughing students. Herah then turned back to Rose and said,

“You want to 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,” Rose spoke curtly, “I would ask that you abandon you belief of superiority for a moment and open yourself up to some dialogue.”

Herah began to stare at Rose with a mock look of concern and began to speak to the teacher with a faux worried tone.

“By the sounds of it, you might’ve forgotten our customs.” Herah paused, giving Rose a faux worried expression, before shaking her head and throwing out her hand towards her teacher before continuing, “Nah. It couldn’t be that.”

Herah gave her head a bit of a tilt, a dramatized look of ponderous taking over her face before an equally dramatic smile and happy response followed.

“Oh! Maybe it’s not that, maybe you forgot exactly how this all went down. Well if that’s the case, allow me to 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 it up a bit since Rose had her beat by a few inches in height. Now in position, 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. You know, 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 began to whisper.

“Now, I understand you might’ve been surprised since, you know, younglings rarely ever perform Ash va s’installer when greeting an elder, especially in this day and age. 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 you’re 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.”

Rose managed to maintain a calm and cool expression throughout Herah’s entire little talk, only breaking this with a slight twitch of her lips when Herah said her last bit. Taking a deep breath, Rose backed away from her student just enough to look her in the eye and said,

“Herah, we both know that what you speak of is of time long past. Nowadays we solve our problems in a much more civilized manner than what you propose, and as your elder it would be irresponsible of me to be fighting my students.” Rose placed a hand on Herah’s shoulder, while giving her a small tilt of her head and smile, “How about I propose a different solution?”

“No deal.” Herah said before flippantly knocking Rose’s hand off her. “We either do it my way or no way.”

This caused Rose to frown at her student and for two puffs of smoke to shoot from her nose. The teacher said nothing for a moment allowing for her eyes to wonder until landing on what Herah had been working on. Swiping the paper off of her student’s desk, Rose gave it a brief look over before nodding to herself.

“HEY!” Herah called out to the elder, “What are you doing with my work?”

Rose turned back to Herah and brought her other hand up to Herah’s drawing, her fingers meeting just at the top middle of the work-in-progress art piece.

“I don’t like the thought of what I’m threatening to do, but I feel this is my best chance to get you to listen. Now Herah, if you agree to listen to my idea and at least think it over, I will put your really well-drawn picture down and leave it at that. However, if you don’t,”

SNICK!

A small tear appeared near the top as Rose’s fingers slid past each other.

“That tear will get a lot worse.”

“MY WORK!”

“Just comply with my demands Herah, I don’t want to make this any worse.”

“FUCK YOU!” Herah shouted, fire flaring from her mouth and nostrils.

Rose’s eyes narrowed at her student.

“Wrong choice.”

RRRIIPPP!

When Rose was done tearing, the tear reached down to the center of the paper.

“Hey,” Herah started, her voice and face doing a complete one-eighty, her tone now extremely soft and her head looking down, “If you really wanted to end this without violence you really fucked up.”

“Herah don’t you da-“

CRACK!

The sound of cartilage breaking was heard as Rose’s head snapped back from Herah’s fist. A stunned silence filled the room, as Rose slowly lowered her head back down to give Herah a snarl. Fire flared from her mouth and nostrils, as her voice took on an overtly hostile and serious tone.

“Two cycles I’ve dealt with shit,” Rose sighed in resignation, “Guess I’m really going to have to beat the respect into you.”

Finished with talking, Rose unfurled her light pink, leathery bat-like wings and launched herself towards Herah. Grabbing the youngling by her face, Rose forced 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 which crushed the steel with little resistance. Rose then began to drag the youngling’s head through these same lockers, leaving Herah covered in a mixture of school supplies, lunches, and personal medication. This short trip through her peers’ storage units went on until they reached the cement wall that ended them. Once their, Rose punched Herah’s head through the cement and followed this up by grabbing the downed youngling by her leg and throwing her into another set of lockers that sat on the opposing wall, the metal caving in like carboard.

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 debris was launched towards its creator. Growing a thin sheet of skin over her eyes, Rose flew down and through this cloud with a boom of sound which shattered all nearby windows. As her body was launched towards Herah, the teacher flipped and raised one of her legs to slam into her student. Unluckily for Rose, Herah caught her foot and threw her through the wall just behind the now destroyed stairwell.

Herah, still laying atop the rubble that used to be a stairwell, rose to her feet. Nonplussed by her teacher’s attacks, the youngling began to clean her hair and face of the accumulated debris. Exhaling a small sliver of yellow flames, the youngling commanded them to surround her hands. With her hands now ablaze, Herah grabbed her own braided ponytail and began burning away all of the dust and useless school supplies that had settled into it. With her red hair now clean, Herah let her ponytail drop back to its original length and moved onto her face. The youngling finally ended her brief cleaning session by doing her clothes, leaving only a pile of ash and herself now looking like any other student heading to the cafeteria.

Speaking of which, Herah casually walked through the hole co-created by her and began to look around in search of the elder. Youngling and elder Cendreux sat in their seats, none really reacting to the hole that had been blown out the wall, the teacher that had flown through it, or the student who walked through it soon afterward. That was until a random student recognized the look of one and the scent of both.

“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 occurring as Cendruex either paid up or got paid. Herah even saw some other teachers and staff present swapping cash, each of them flinching away at the disgusted snarl that the youngling gave whenever they made eye contact. Herah quickly lost interest in the teachers and began to search for Rose once again in the chaos riddled cafeteria.

After a few seconds of searching, Herah (who had gotten a bit 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 fully towards the commotion, 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 the elder’s leg and threw her away like earlier. A few seconds later, Herah heard more screams coming from another direction and turned 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, Herah went flying back through her still co-created hole with herself flat against one of the 9-foot cafeteria tables that filled her school’s lunchroom. Flipping both herself and the table while urpright sailing through the air, Herah managed to pull her horns (which had gotten stuck into it) out and land the table with only a slight bump. This now meant that Herah and the table was now speeding down the empty main hallway.

“Fight back!” Rose shouted in pursuit of Herah with blue fire that bordered on indigo bellowing from her nose and mouth.

Herah merely flared her nostrils, releasing a tiny spout of flames in response. The youngling then gave her elder a smirk and gestured for her to come at her. This got Herah a growl and a flamed head Rose in response.

As Rose flew towards Herah, the teacher blew fire into her hands and covered 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 sky 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. This caused Rose’s claws to bounce off Herah’s scales, and for her to then be grabbed by her shirt and punched in the stomach. Herah gave a slight stumble back as her clothing caught fire before grabbing Rose by the face and slamming her into the table. This action caused it to shudder and crack but not break apart. The elder responded to this by punching Herah in the wrist, causing the youngling to let go with a pained hiss and step back. This allowed the raging teacher to pounce upon Herah and knock her onto her back.

Now on top, Rose used her fist to smash Herah’s head through the table, causing the furniture to splinter and break apart. The still on fire Herah slammed headfirst into the floor, sliding forward as tile and flooring were 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 breath, a crater 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, hitting the student in the stomach with a flurry of blows, a boom released with each strike. Each punch Rose landed, dug Herah deeper into the floor, steadily uprooting tiles in the process. Rose then (once again) grabbed Herah by one of her legs and threw her through a set of double doors 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 heard the flapping of large wings and 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 within 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. Shouts and screams could be heard as the younglings scrambled for cover.

Herah and Rose paid no attention to this, each of their own focused solely on each other. Rose, still being held by the throat by her student, continued to glare at Herah. Her rage bled 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.”

Herah’s statement wasn’t wrong. Rose’s clothing was now covered in multiple tears and lots of dust, while the part of her face not covered by scales had cuts and bruises covering it. Herah gave a quick glance to the Rose’s torso and found the same to be true. In comparison, Herah looked none the worst for wear with the only part of her really damaged being her abdomen which was numbed at the moment.

Rose weakly clawed at Herah’s head, 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 allow a smile to come to her face.

“That!” Herah started, quite literally beaming at Rose, ” That right there is why I respect you!”

Rose gave Herah a bewildered stare, but the youngling just continued on not at all bothered by her teacher’s look.

“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?”

This question came from Rose, the teacher 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. Once done, a shroud of blue fire sprung up and around Herah.

“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, loss the flame shroud, and smiled at Rose.

“You lacking in both the faith and keen eyeness. However, I do know you possess a strong will and seek to stand by your convictions, 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. You wanted to be as non-violent as possible in fact, and only gave up when I threw the first blow. To be honest, your threshold for dealing with annoying things far surpasses mine and most Cendreux I know.”

“Really?” Rose shook her head in confusion, before lashing out, “Then why did you wait so long to say this!?”

“Because I really wanted to fight you and prove to you that I was your superior. It is with this loss that I hope you get stronger and use it to one day rise to the point by which I may see you as an equal.”

“Oh okay then,” Rose said, sounding just a tad bit confused still, “So now what?”

“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 having come 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 the blood of said teacher. The conscious 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 medical facility. As Herah stood next to the destroyed gym, the youngling watched in mild amusement as the ambulance drove away, not at all worried for her teacher.

“Herah War Hej, would you please report to the principal office?” A loudspeaker partly buried in rubble 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 with his tail resting comfortably on his lap.

“Noir, you asked for me?”

Herah’s brash tone and completely relaxed stance caused one of Noir’s eye to twitch. Noir sat forward and brought his arms in front of him, glaring at Herah as this was done. 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 began to speak.

“Young Hej, I know you know why you’re here, and we both know 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 giving 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 and opened it. Herah’s brow rose, feeling a bit 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 by the way, you two managed to create a hole that had a diameter of ten feet and was six inches deep in a fact enforced brick wall. You then 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.”

Noir paused and flipped to another page before continuing.

“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 once again this time to massage his forehead before continuing his reading of the report.

“Speaking of the first floor, you managed to create a hole in the wall of the cafeteria and-“

“I co-created that hole.”

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, is now splintered apart and spread throughout the hallway.”

Noir flipped to another page.

“Speaking of the hallway, while the entirety of it isn’t destroyed, over a hundred feet of tiles are 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.”

Noir then flipped to the final page.

“Finally 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.”

Herah watched Noir close and set the folder down, before turning his attention back on the her.

“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, his anger finally getting the best of himself. Yet even with his anger, Herah didn’t look the least bit ashamed about anything that had happened. In fact, the youngling looked completely unfazed.

“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 the last cycle to it, the stack would break through our roof.” Noir then leaned over his desk and glared at Herah, “Herah you can’t keep doing this.”

“Doing what? Fighting?” Herah asked with zero sense of actual confusion.

“Don’t act smart with me child!” Noir replied sharply, “Your adherence to old traditions and practices has been the cause of many headaches for me and damage to this school building!”

“Well someone has to preserve our traditions and teachings of the past!” Herah shouted back, slamming her hands into Noir’s desk, “Since most of you seem intent on just being rid of it!”

“We are abandoning that part of our people, our society for a reason!” Noir screamed before slamming his own hands onto his desk, the wood cracking at his power. “We are in an age of change, and whether you like it or not the time for actions like yours is nearing its end.”

“It only ends if we all abandon it, and I don’t plan on doing that any time soon!” Herah leaned in towards her principal, green fire now spilling from her nose, mouth, and ears.

“The age of the Gardien de feu ended long ago” Noir said, leaning in towards Herah till there was practically no space between their faces, “We moved on from La Flamme and towards a new and better life.”

“You disgust me,” Herah said while shaking her head no, “Cendreux like you will always make me admire the strength and love of our mistress. To be able to deal with your bullshit and your weakness in faith.” Herah scoffed, “Well weakness in general really. That’s why even with all the problems I’ve caused you, that the student body has caused you, you’ve yet to really do shit about it.”

Noir gritted his teeth before leaning his head away from Herah’s and saying,

“Well, I’m about to do something if you don’t convince me otherwise in a quick second.”

“What the ash do you want me to do?” Herah asked with a stony glare while also stepping back a few feet.

“Tell me why I should keep you here.”

Each word was said deliberately and drawn out, making it clear that this was Herah’s last chance. All the youngling did was raise her chin, look down on Noir, and give him her honest answer.

“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 blue 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 five centuries ago, 5,405 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 furious roar, a single tear of anger flowing down the side 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 having filled the younling. Herah then pointed Jeffery at Norwe the Log (the pencil stopping its silence to fill their creator's mind with sweet thoughts) with her teeth bared 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 as her shaky breath's returned,

"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 (or tear in Herah's case) 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.

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 10 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 at her feet. 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 threw 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. Marble fragments were launched every which way, as Herah tore 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 their 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 also 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 gesturing for her to come near.

The human shot down from her place near the ceiling and began to float on Herah's right while still 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 of annoyance,

"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 personal blood geyser once again before sending Jeffery out towards Moon to keep him at bay while her work was done. This caused a split in attention that Herah handled with little difficulty.

Jeffery shot through Moon's head, 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 the Oni priest, 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 top half 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 for Moon and themselves 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 shoot 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 rattling 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 as 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 and 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 washed over 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 around 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 shape of a whip 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 human had several burns of varying degrees all over her face and her hair was 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, both 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 Max 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 cuts 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 metal 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. Herah also noticed 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 and worried confusion and asked, "What... Did.... You... Do?"

The priest looked down at Herah with a sad smile and began speaking in an extremely apologetic tone.

"When you passed over the hand covering the hole, I shot a bit of into your head and 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 also 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."

Color is Added

"Uuuhh." Herah groaned out as starlight began to peak through the unbraided hair that blocked her vision.

"You need variety with the words you use to wake up ashbrain," Alex said with a nonchalant tone, the human being the first thing Herah saw after awakening and shaking her hair from in front of her face. Herah made note that the male twin looked perfectly fine sans the bags under his eyes and was staring at her with an uncaring look.

Herah then preceded to ignore Alex in favor of looking around, finding herself back in the clearing with the Donneur de Frêne. This time Herah was laying against one of the trees that sat at the edge of the clearing, with Alex standing before her without his jacket. Looking up at the human, Herah sneered,

"The ash do you want Alex?"

The human glared down at Herah while answering back with a voice laced with annoyance,

"Not shit from you certainly."

Herah rolled her eyes and gained an unamused expression before bluntly asking,

"Why are you acting like we haven't spoken to each other before?" Herah shook her head before beckoning for Alex with her right hand, "Get on with it already, what the fuck do you want?"

Alex huffed in annoyance before saying,

"I want to know what happened last night when you and Max went to the Oni base."

Herah grimaced before rubbing her forehead with her left hand, the feeling of skin on skin reminding her of just how the night before went. Herah brought her arm down from her head and glared at Alex with a snarl.

"Why don't you ask your sister?" Herah asked with hostility before looking around the clearing that was devoid of sentient life sans Alex and herself. "Where is your twin and Owen anyway?"

Alex huffed again before cryptically saying, "All I'm gonna tell you right now is that Max isn't in the best state of mind and Owen is trying to help her with that, I'll give you the finer details after I hear what happened."

Herah raised her brow before mockingly smiling at Alex and asking, "Why isn't her dearest brother helping her right now then?"

Sneering at Herah, Alex clenched his fist before taking a deep breath and allowed for his expression to settle into a neutral look. Now visibly calm, Alex spoke to Herah with a cold and measured tone.

"I'll tell you after I hear how your night went," The human sat down in front of Herah and gave her a small glare, "Now speak."

Herah almost retorted with more sass before thinking for a second and deciding against it. While the youngling found enjoyment in graving on the nerves of Alex, her curiosity and slight worry about what was going on with Max caused her to instead began relaying what had happened over the course of the prior night.

As Herah spoke, the youngling watched as Alex's expressions and body language changed. Alex listened at first with an impatient tapping of his foot that betrayed the neutral expression on his face, but quickly lost both once Herah began to speak of Moon. When Herah spoke of her and Max's first encounter with the priest, the human chuckled which Herah responded to with a one finger salute. As Herah spoke about the history lesson that Moon had imparted to her, Alex began to nod attentively and also started tapping his nose. The real reactions started when Herah began to talk about their fight with Moon and the conditions that Norwe had placed on it. By the end of it, Alex was looking absolutely livid with a snarl on his face and his fist clenched so tightly that Herah thought that the human might began to bleed. Instead, Alex spoke to Herah with a serious tone.

"Your story checks out with what Max told me. Fuck!" Alex turned away from Herah, "Do you know what this means?"

Herah had her own question, but decided to answer Alex's before asking any of her own.

"No, I don't," Herah said, a bit confused and miffed by what Alex was saying.

The human looked up to the sky and cursed once again, before turning back to Herah and saying,

"It means that avoiding fights are going to be that much harder."

Herah just blinked in confusion, getting an annoyed sigh from Alex in response.

"I'm saying that Norwe is likely to force any fights he believes will be entertaining to him, and judging by the punishment of not meeting the conditions he gave you for yours, the cost of failure isn't something any of us want to pay."

"Right you are on all accounts, my dear Soothsayer."

Startling Alex at her sudden rising and turning to the right, Herah growled at Norwe the Sloth. The Maker Sloth was laying on their belly, head down with their arms and legs splayed out as they lay in front of the tree to the right of Herah's own resting spot. The youngling immediately began to gather fire in her throat, the flames turning green as a few leaked out from her nose.

"You motherfucking, piece of SHIT!" Herah shouted, fire flowing out of her mouth at each word.

"Herah! Calm yourself!" Alex shouted at the youngling, having grabbed her shoulder before turning her to face him.

Herah, now facing Alex, looked him in the eye with a glare.

"Ack!"

And immediately afterward, grabbed him by the throat with her left hand.

"You coward! I can't believe you have that look on your face at this very momen-"

SHLUK!

"OW! You son of a bitch!"

Herah reflexively let go of Alex to pull out the kris dagger that had been buried into her wrist, the pain coursing through the youngling's sensitive nerves causing her to fall to a knee in agony.

"I can't believe just how quickly you lost your anger and allowed for it to be replaced by fear. Herah gritted out, attempting to rise only for her to slip on some of her blood and land face first on the ground. The youngling, after managing to lift herself up back to a knee, pointed at Norwe the Sloth, the Maker having raised their head to give a lazy smile, "This piece of shit set your sister up to die for their own fucking entertainment, and all you can do is look at him in fear!"

"I fucking know that! That's why I'm not antagonizing him." Alex growled out at Herah, slight anger towards the youngling tainting his fear towards Norwe.

"Hey Artist!" The Maker sloth called out to Herah with their voice giving clear indication that the sight before them was immensely entertaining. Now on their back while still wearing the same smile from earlier, Norwe the Sloth continued "While I do love the sight of discord, I appeared before you for a reason that doesn't just have to do with entertaining myself."

Herah's nostrils flared as smoke shot out of them, the youngling's expression becoming a scowl as venom began to pour from her lips.

"Oh really!? Then why the fu-"

"Herah you're an idiot." Alex's voice took on its signature feminine tone as his gift activated.

"-uuaah." Herah suddenly felt a switch flip in her brain as the curse that was leaving her mouth was suddenly lost to her along with much of her motor functions. Herah fell first onto the grass and drool began to pool around her head.

"Ahahahahahaha." Norwe the Sloth chuckled to themselves, "Huh. Soothsayer, you and the Artist are honestly some of the funniest parts of this Recompense. This kinda sweetens the reaction I got from your sister when I delivered the news."

Alex turned to Norwe with a curious look on his face.

"What did you tell her?"

Norwe chuckled once again before telling Alex,

"2 million were left dead in your sister's wake."

"I'm.... sorry?" Alex responded, disbelief ringing throughout his words.

While Herah had a hard time understanding everything, the youngling understood that what the furry creature that could destroy everything that was loved by her said was something serious. In response to this information, Herah let out a few unintelligible words.

"Your sister killed 2 million Oni last night with this gigantic fireball, that afterwards created a radioactive filled mushroom cloud that covered the entirety of the Oni city. Radiation poisoning is sure to take more of them in the coming days. The only reason you guys aren't currently dealing with the effects is because I was kind enough to keep all the grisly horror and general agony in the Oni city. And your sister, yes your sister Alex, caused all of that just so she could save your life. Yet, you aren't even trying to help her get through the severe mental trauma that she is going through right now. You're going to relegate it to my Artist, in fact. All because you feel that it's your fault that something of this magnitude has happened once again as a result of orders given by you to her."

Norwe said all of this with a playfully condescending tone, their smile never leaving their face. The Maker Sloth flipped onto their belly and pointed towards the near brain dead Herah. Herah felt the switch flip in her head as information and brain waves began to flow properly again.

"Uuuhh." Herah rubbed her head a few times before getting on both of her knees and looking towards Norwe the Sloth. The youngling then asked, in a disgruntled tone, "Norwe what are you, what are you talking about?"

The Maker Sloth just chuckled again before clicking its claws together. This caused a stone tablet to puff into the air before falling and hitting Herah's head. Wincing while picking up the tablet, Herah gave the carving in the stones a brief one over. Quickly understanding what it was, the youngling soon found herself confused as to why it had been given to her.

"Why the hell are you handing me one of my dad's old relics?"

"It's a reward for not only winning the fight but for also having that ingenious idea to erase your own head. I believe that this will help you in time to come, very close time to come." Norwe responded, sounding proud at Herah.

The youngling just let out another sigh, threw aside the tablet and asked in annoyance,

"How is this suppose to help me?"

The Maker Sloth's smile deepened before they disappeared from sight, leaving an expressionless Alex and an annoyed Herah alone in the clearing.

After a few seconds of silence, Alex picked up his dagger and nicked Herah right above her brow. Immediately afterward, both the wound in her wrist and the cut above her brow healed. Rising to her feet, Herah glared at Alex once again as the human didn't even seem to acknowledge her. Alex, only after a few more seconds, lost his expressionless look and let out a deep sigh. Herah noted how it was filled with a lot of loathing, most likely self-loathing. Allowing her eyes to narrow, the youngling asked Alex a question.

"What was Norwe talking about when they said you were going to ask me to help out with Max?"

Alex let out another breath before finally looking directly at Herah with a look filled with hate, sadness, but most importantly, a bit of respect.

"Thanks for saving my sister," Alex said, his words coming out twinged with bitterness.

"I'm.... sorry?" Herah responded, disbelief ringing throughout her words.

Alex growled at Herah in annoyance before saying, "I'm thanking you for saving the life of my sister twice. One when you lost your arm, and two when you saved her from a fall in lava."

Herah gave the human a weird look before cautiously saying, "I did say I would protect her."

Alex sighed and rubbed his head in annoyance, "Yes, but I honestly didn't believe you'd be of any help. I thought Max would have the good sense to just leave you outside while she did her thing inside their base." Alex paused and looked away for a moment, before saying under his breath, "I'm glad I was wrong."

Alex looked back at Herah and began to speak once again. This time his voice was much stronger and filled with the respect reflected in his expression.

"Herah you have earned a bit, let me make it specific, just a bit, of my respect and thanks, for not only saving my sister but for not taking the easy way out and attempting to kill her. It is thanks to this that I feel just comfortable enough to order you to help her through her current ordeal."

Herah glared at Alex and distrustfully said, "Why the fuck are you ordering me to help your sister?" Herah's eyes narrowed as the youngling accusingly asked, "Is what Norewe said true? Do you really feel guilty about what your sister did?"

Alex glared at Herah before taking another deep breath and saying with a bit of frustration, "That's partly the reason, but there is another one that is a bit more problematic."

"Oh really, what?" Herah asked, not at all believing what Alex was saying.

"Sis won't consider a word I say anything less than just talk." Alex let out another sigh, "Immediately after telling me what I needed to know to not kill you, since she showed up nearly naked and covered in burns with you not looking too worse for wear, she let me heal her then preceded to cry herself to sleep. I spent the rest of the night watching her as she cried silent tears in her sleep, offering what physical comfort I could. Not too long before you woke up, sis arose and darted off to where she and Owen buried the Oni you and I kill yesterday. Owen followed soon afterward hoping to help her out."

"You don't sound too confident in our resident smith."

Alex allowed another sigh to leave him, before speaking with a tired tone of voice.

"Because I'm not. Sis isn't too bothered by killing someone when she feels that it was their choice to attack her, but if she believes that they either didn't have much of a choice or that they aren't really deserving of death, she will try to avoid taking lives. If she does kill someone who fits the latter criteria, it tends to weigh on her."

"What does this have to do with Owen not helping?" Herah asked, sounding impatient.

Alex grunted in annoyance before saying, "Sis felt that the Oni she killed were undeserving of the death that they got, and knowing the number of dead will only increase her inner anguish. The last time something like this happened, the only person that was able to get her to listen to them was the one who was there with her when it happened. Plus, once Owen learns what she did he won't be any help at all, and even if he can get past that, sis will just lie to him. That's why I'm asking you, you were there when she was given the second condition and were also there when she went through with it. You're the best shot I have at getting my sister to level at which she can deal with what she did on her own."

Alex stepped back from Herah and bowed to her, his next words coming out with obvious effort.

"So I beg of you, yes I beg, please help my sister?"

Herah stared at Alex in shock for a few moments, the sight before her leaving her greatly confused. That was until a realization hit her.

"Your sister must be the world to you, huh?" Herah asked, her voice having softened and her tone carrying a sense of understanding to it.

Alex looked up to Herah, his eyes set in a grim stare as words filled with conviction left his mouth.

"She's all I got, and just like you would for La Flamme, I would damn an entire race if it meant keeping her. Without a moment of hesitation."

Herah couldn't help but chuckle at this, getting a raised brow from Alex in response. The youngling quickly answered his unspoken question.

"I just find it funny how me and you are probably not the greatest examples of our species. I mean we have some really skewed moral compasses by the sounds of what you just said."

Alex brought himself into an upright position, a small smile on his face as a knowing response emerged from his mouth.

"I think it's more that we completely disregard morality when it doesn't suit us. You know, between the four of us, five if we include Jeffery-"

"Don't, this isn't their Recompense."

"Four of us it is. Between the four of us, you and I are the most capable with dealing with all of the issues that come with what will most likely be required of us to succeed in this Recompense. After all, if either you or I had did what Max had, we'd be bothered for all of a minute before moving on as if it wasn't a problem."

Herah nodded along to this and said, "True enough."

Alex lost his smile and looked away towards where Max most likely headed off.

"But if Max has to do something like that again, her spirit and will will most definitely break." Alex took a deep breath, "You and Max saw a bit of it, but I talked a bit with Owen while you two were gone, and we came up with a plan to deal with whatever was left of the Oni after you and Max hit them."

Alex allowed a small smirk to come to his face.

"The little shit is a bit of a smartass, but underneath all of that, he is a really chill guy who wants to just help out where he can. We hit the topic of his smithing, and he told me how while he's great at creating weapons, he's more focused on creating tools of defense, things that can protect. He finds the thought of killing and harming others so uncompelling and scaring, that he rarely creates actual weapons."

Alex's smirk transformed into a pleasant smile.

"He might be way older than me, but I feel that I'm talking to a kind and innocent kid whenever we speak. Doing anything close to what Max just did would destroy him."

Alex turned back to Herah and smiled at her again, getting a fang-filled grin in return. The human then stook out his hand and said,

"So now I ask you for something else. I ask you this because I know that you consider those two your friends, and I hope that you care enough about each of them to accept my request. Will you help me in keeping those two whole throughout this hell we're going to be put through? Will you bear the sins alongside me that we'll have to take on to make it out alive?"

Herah looked down at Alex's hand before allowing a wholehearted laugh to leave her mouth and fill the clearing.

"It's weird that I feel we've managed to bond over our own mutual terribleness."

Alex waved his hand while smiling at Herah and said, "Annhh. Morality is perspective anyway."

The youngling giggled at this before looking at Alex's outstretched hand once again. After a few moments of comfortable silence, Herah took his hand with her own and shook it before answering every single question that Alex asked her with a single response.

"I'll try."

Max a menlogen aƶu Alex

Owen adjusted his tunic and hat in a nervous attempt to ready himself for a sight that he knew would definitely leave him upset. The gnome was standing behind a tree at the edge of a clearing that Max and himself had created to bury the Oni that Herah and Alex had killed. He was right behind one of the trees that bordered the clearing and hadn't seen what Max was doing but he could sure hear it. After a few deep breaths and slaps to his face, Owen marched out from behind the tree intent on helping Max, only to pause at the sorry sight that greeted him.

"I'm so sorry for my selfishness! I'm so sorry that I killed so many of your people! They didn't deserve it! I'm so sorry that I chose my brother over all of you! I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!" Max shouted as she sobbed on her knees before the makeshift graves of the four Oni that had attacked Owen and Herah the day before.

Max had her back to the saddened gnome, but he knew the only thing she wore was her trench coat, the original one that had been left before her mission. The sobbing brunette's hair had grown back after the quick stab from her brother's other knife, along with removing her wounds, so now it hung around her in an unruly and wild state.

Before Max there sat four graves with a silver sword buried where each lay being the only sign of their presence. It was what Owen's people did for their dead when they died, except they would normally also have the name of the deceased carved into them, unlike the ones that sat before him now.

Owen approached Max without her noticing, her sobs of pain and regret masking his slow approach. After getting to the point at which he stood right next to her, Owen got down and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Max?" The gnome asked, worry and pity filling his voice.

The human's sobs came to an abrupt stop. Shortly afterward, Max raised her bloodshot, teary, and exhausted looking face towards Owen.

"What do you, sniff, want?" Max asked, clearly not wanting to talk with him at the very moment.

"You weren't looking too good and I thought that you might need some company to talk with." Owen responded, awkwardly shifting in his stance.

"Well, I don't need your company so leave," Max's ire-filled voice suddenly switched to a sadden tone, "Please."

Owen nervously smiled at Max and began to speak.

"I kn-"

"Don't."

Owen blinked in surprise at Max's abrupt cutting off of his sentence. Looking at the human, he found himself even more surprised when he noticed the glare and sneer that was on her face.

"Umm. Max, why are you looking at me like that?" Owen asked, not too sure on how to respond to the current expression on Max's face.

"I'm looking at you like this because you were about to say something very stupid," Max responded harshly with barely restrained anger overtaking her previous emotions.

"What are you talking about?"

Max let out an uncharacteristic snarl as she rose to her full height and lifted Owen by the collar of his blue tunic, the gnome letting out a surprised yelp in response to this. The girl then brought his pudgy, scared face up to meet hers and said,

"You were about to say you "know" how I feel." Max dropped Owen unceremoniously and threw her hands into the air, before continuing with faux happiness, "Which is accurate! You know how I feel, but," Max bowed down to Owen, and brought her left hand up to his face while rubbing her thumb and middle finger together, "There is a very teeny problem you're not addressing." Max rose to her full height once again, her trench coat just barely covering her decency, and then yelled at Owen,

"YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!"

Owen raised both of his hands while slowly backing away from Max and said, "Max calm down."

The human shrieked in a blend of fury and pain before pointing at Owen and shouting,

"NO! You don't understand, I killed 2 million Oni with a nuke. I murdered 4/5 of their population just with the initial strike alone. Only Norwe knows how many will die from the severe radiation and injuries that I caused them."

Max's words threw Owen off completely since he had no idea that this was what had happened. The only knowledge the gnome had held when coming to Max was that she was in pain and that someone needed to help her out. But with what Owen heard coming from Max, he felt his phobia creep up again. His breaths became raspy, his thoughts became frantic, and he broke out in a full sweat.

"Th- That fireba- ball I saw last night. Th- That was yo- your doing?" Owen asked, his voice beginning to break into a stutter as fear continued to overtake him.

Max smiled painfully at the gnome and said, with tears rolling down her eyes, "Yeah. That was me." Max pointed to herself.

Owen just trembled before the human then asked a single worded question in a voice drenched with disbelief.

"Why?"

Max sucked in her lips while shaking her head with sorrow. She then gave her reply.

"For Alex. Because if I didn't drop that bomb, my brother would've been erased from existence and even his memory would be lost to me. And I know that being like this," Max gestured towards herself, "Hurts him so much. But I can't help it."

Max looked at Owen with her green regret-filled eyes and continued with the same pained smile from earlier with a mockingly depressing tone.

"And it gets worse."

Owen just shook his head and meekly asked, "How?"

"These Oni aren't just zealots who obey every whim and order of their god no matter the subject. They aren't just some wild band of monsters that are blindly obedient to some fucked up god, like bro rationalized to me and you when we were making our plan. The Oni are a race of beings just trying to not die."

Max pointed at the swords that were to her left, "For centuries, they've been fighting to not be wiped from the face of this planet. The Oni have been fighting to atone for mistakes just a few of them made, and destroying that tree was the last thing they needed to do to survive. To begin prospering once again."

Max pointed towards herself, "And I'm the one who has pretty much snatched away any chance for them to survive. Thanks to me, only 1/5, and that number is sure to get smaller, of the Oni are even able to attempt taking us on."

With that, Owen fell to his butt and just looked down in complete and total surprise, shock, and guilt.

"Oh Norwe," Owen looked back up at Max, "What have you done?"

Max bent her knees until she was at the same height as Owen, the gnome paralyzed in a whirlwind of emotions, and grimly stated,

"I. Robbed. An. Entire. Species. Of. Their. Future."

With those words, Max rose back to her full height and brought her hands to her face.

"Shit. This is way worse than what happened in Dallas." The human said under her breath.

This shook Owen from his stupor and caused for him to look up to Max in morbid curiosity.

"Wh- What happ- happened in Dallas?" Owen once again meekly asked.

Max turned back to Owen, nearly telling him exactly what he asked for, but stopped once her eyes settled on him. Owen watched in silence as a realization hit Max's eyes, and she put a hand to her mouth in shock and shame. The human began to hurriedly apologize to the gnome.

"Owen! I'm so- I'm so sorry for that. I completely forgot about your thantophobia." Max started smacking her head with her right hand, "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!"

Max bent her knees again, this time with the look of kindness and joy that normally was on her face and said,

"You're not bothered by anything I say Owen."

And just like that, Owen was fine. He blinked owlishly at Max a few times, surprised by both what happened to him and the expression she bore that looked so authentic but was definitely fake.

Maybe.

"What happened to you?" Owen asked in confusion, rising to his feet as he did so. "You no longer look bothered."

Max smiled at Owen then pet him on his head while saying, "Venting like that just really helped. Thanks for listening, I wouldn't have gotten over it without you."

"Really? Are you sure you're okay?" Owen asked, his surprise and doubt showing very clearly.

Max just smiled at Owen before spinning in a circle with her arms spread out, which caused for her trench coat to fly open and for her to fully flash Owen. Noticing this almost immediately, Max stopped and pulled her coat tight in embarrassment. Giving the gnome an apologetic laugh, Max smiled at Owen and offered up a quick apology.

Blushing back at Max, Owen smiled and said, "No problem, I'm just glad that you were able to feel better and calm down. We should head back."

"Sure thing," Max said, sounding peppy and relaxed.

Believing that the problem was solved, Owen turned around and began to walk out of the clearing with Max following closely behind. But just before the pair could leave, Herah emerged from the forestry and gave them both a fang-filled smile.

The youngling looked a lot different without her hair was in a braid, with it spreading out covering much of her face, and her horns missing. Her face also no longer had the shiny top part that was a show of the scales that were normally present there. Her arms now no longer matched up since one didn't have that scale shine that other had. Other than all of this Herah looked the same, and Owen was happy for that. He had been a bit worried when she came back the night before passed out and looking exhausted, so now that she looked better another of his fears had been rested.

"Hey Owen. Hey Max." She said, waving at both of them.

Owen waved back at Herah before bounding up to her and saying,

"Well no need to worry about Max anymore, she just needed to vent for a bit."

Herah smiled even harder, though Owen noticed that she seemed to lose some of her happiness as she did that.

"Are you okay Herah? You don't look too happy." Owen asked, a bit of worry popping up.

Herah bent her knees till she was eye to eye with Owen, and gave him a quick peck on the lips before her smile became a bit more relaxed and she said,

"I'll be fine Owen, and that kiss was for the piece of platinum. Thanks to you I could save my father and myself. Now why don't you head back to Alex, I want to talk to Max about the Moon I saw last night as we flew towards the Oni base."

Owen saw through Herah's lie instantly, so he looked at Max and got a thumbs up. Seeing that, Owen decided that whatever they wanted to talk about was something just between the two of them and walked out of the clearing towards where Alex was. The entire walk back the gnome was happy and unbothered by Max's earlier words.

Max eist tort

Herah listened until sure that Owen was out of earshot before turning to Max and glaring.

"What did you do to him?" Herah asked accusingly.

Max smiled at the youngling and said, "I had forgotten about his phobia, so I used a fib to make him not be bothered by my words. When he mentions it to bro it'll fade. Was that what you really wanted to talk about?"

Herah keenly studied Max for a few moments before nodding to herself. Max took this as confirmation of her question and began to walk out of the clearing. The human soon found her progress halted, however, by Herah when the youngling stuck her arm out into Max's path.

"Yeah, Herah?" The human asked in surprise with a raised brow.

In response, Herah turned to face Max with a smile and look that silently told the human this:

Max had been caught in her lie.

The next words to leave Herah's mouth only reinforced this, her laid-back delivery not even hiding their purpose.

"Max let's have a talk, you can braid my hair."

Laminating the Illustration

For five minutes, Herah and Max sat in silence as the human braided the youngling’s hair with the only real sound of notice heard being the scribble of Herah’s pencil on her sketchpad. Jeffery was laying in Herah’s lap, their creator rubbing their spine with the hand that wasn’t holding the pencil. Herah herself was chewing on her bottom lip, not paying any real attention to her drawing. Max was whistling to herself a merry tune, her earlier grief now seemingly gone.

On the surface level, anyway.

“So, how long have you been awake?” Max asked as her fingers danced through Herah’s red locks, taking great care with each strand of hair that flowed through her fingertips.

Herah stopped chewing on her lip and looked up from her drawing and towards the sky, noting that the planet’s red star was not too far from where it should’ve risen in the south. Looking back down at her sketchpad, the youngling provided a reply.

“Dammit, I wish your problem was something I could physically interact with, then I’d just kick its ass and be done with this. I really don’t want to be blunt right now, it might just make my job harder.” Herah told Max, her expression crinkling up in annoyance.

Max paused in her braiding to give Herah a confused stare.

“Herah I asked how long you’ve been awake.” Max spoke in an amusement.

Herah’s nostrils flared as twin puffs of smoke shot from them before rolling her eyes, and irritably responding,

“Two hours Max, that’s how long I’ve been awake.” The youngling then turned to face her human friend with a curious/annoyed look before deciding to ask her own question.

“Why do you ask?”

“Just making smaaall talk,” Max responded playfully while smiling at Herah innocently.

Seeing Max’s look, Herah’s left eye twitched before the youngling just threw both her hands into the air (which was immediately followed by a barrage of images from Jeffery making their anger very clear) and exasperatedly stated,

“Fuck it. I’m just gonna do me.”

“What’s wrong lava tits?” Max asked with a worried smile and tilt of her head.

“That fucking smile for one! It seems pretty authentic but I can’t see it as genuine!”

“What are you talking about lava tits?” Max with the same worried smile and her head still tilted.

“Stop.” Herah spoke with curt and angrily, twin puffs of smoke shooting from her nose in irritation.

“Stop what, with the nickname?” Max asked, now speaking with a combination of confusion and embarrassment, her head having tilted as her face contorted in confusion as well.

“Stop lying.” Herah responded with the same tone from before, her glare deepening and causing Max to flinch slightly.

“What are you talking about, I haven’t spoken a single lie to you.” Max was now just sounding immensely confused, her still confused expression in addition to her slight fidgeting with Herah’s hair showing no visible deceit.

“I meant lying with your body, your tone, your expressions.” Herah’s speech grew steadily louder as her anger grew, causing her to lean towards Max until just a few inches were between their faces. “You’re acting like you aren’t at all bothered by what you did last night, when not ten minutes ago you were balling your eyes out about it!”

“Lava tits, I’m perfectly fine.” Max said, backing up while raising up both of her hands with a smile on her face, “After talking with-”

SMACK!

Max reached up to her reddening cheek, complete and utter surprise upon her face. Herah herself still looked pissed but had to hold back a wince as pain spread throughout the palm of her left hand.

“What the fuck Herah?” Max mutely asked, her mouth now slightly agape and her eyes wide.

“You just lied to me.” Herah spoke back, her voice had returned to its curt and angry tone from before as her glare deepened.

“Come on,” Max opened her arms up wide and used her hands to point towards herself, “Look at me lava tits, do I give any indication that I’m anything but a bit irritated?” Max asked, her smile having gained a slight grimace with an annoyed twitch in her eye as company.

Herah continued to glare at Max in silence for a few moments before bluntly asking,

“One of the passives of your gift is to make your lies indiscernible from the truth, isn’t it?”

Max just smiled at Herah for but a few moments before turning away from the angry Cendruex and looking towards where her brother resided with a frown.

“Bro told you this, didn’t he?” Max asked in a disgruntled tone with her left fist clenching tightly, before continuing sounding immensely betrayed, “Sometimes I hate the fact he cares about me so much, his lips tend to loosen when my well-being is involved.”

“Your brother mentioned nothing about your gift,” Max turned back to Herah in surprise, “I just figured that all gifts came with passive abilities sense both his and mine have their owns.”

“You know bros passive ability?” Max disbelieving asked Herah.

Herah nodded with her lips set in a thin line before saying, “It’s not too hard to figure since your brother pretty much told me when we first met. “Just know that I’ll know when you’re lying to me.” It doesn’t take a genius to figure that one of Alex’s passives is to discern whether or not what someone says is the truth, isn’t it?”

Max shook her head yes before cautiously asking with a slightly abashed look, “What’s yours?”

Herah gave Max a brief one over, her stare critical and deep. It was almost as if the youngling was attempting to stare into Max’s soul. After a few seconds of this, Herah loosened her glare and allowed for it to become just a stare before saying in a plain and simple tone,

” 2.3e+28 protons and electrons make up your body and 1.8e+28 neutrons make up your body.”

“What?” Max blinked owlishly at her scarlet colored friend.

“One of my passive abilities allow for me to discern what makes up anything I view down to the subatomic level utilizing all of my senses.”

“Wow.” Was all Max said in response, still blinking and letting her jaw hang just a bit with what Herah assumed to be genuine awe coming from the human.

“Yeah, it’s pretty neat,” Herah said, clearly not feeling Max’s awe, “And it’s thanks to this passive ability and a gift from your brother that I was able to pick up on your lie.”

“What gift are you talking about?” Max asked her now sounding quite curious.

Herah merely raised her left hand as if offering it to the human, and soon afterward a ball of light floated up from within it and hovered just above the palm of her hand.

“Your brother gifted me with one of his light orbs from the Brigade of Enlightenment, this one is the one named Dope. Though I wasn’t told for what purpose, I now figure that it was to deal with your passive ability.”

“So it made you see through my lie immediately, huh?” Max didn’t sound too happy about the information that was just given to her, in fact, the human sounded a bit scared by what Herah had just said, which surprised the youngling.

‘Guess they don’t share shit like that with each other. Wonder why that’s such a scary thought to her.’

Herah shook her head no and said, “Nope, they seem to just cancel each other out. I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t specifically looking for something being wrong or off inside your body and even then I could only pick it up due to my particular gift.”

Hearing this Max breathed out a sigh of relief, before whispering to herself, “Then I still got time.”

Filing away those words for later, Herah began speaking to Max again.

“Now that you know that, it should be rather clear that I’ll see through every lie you try to pull over me. Uuh, I’m gonna have to tell Alex thanks for that now.”

Herah took the orb back into herself just as Max rose from her position on her knees. The youngling then watched in total silence as Max walked to the edge of the clearing and leaned her head against one of the outlining trees with a look twinged with jealousy.

“Ahahahahaha!”

Herah frowned at the sight and sound of Max’s bitter laughter against the tree, but still spoke not a word. After about a minute, Max finally got control of her laughter and turned back to the still seated Herah. Seeing the youngling’s frown, Max provided an answer to the unspoken question.

“I just find it funny how all it took to get you and my brother all buddy-buddy,” Max spat the last words out with venom, “Was me killing 2 million innocent people.”

“It took you killing two million people and feeling absolutely terrible about it actually.” This got Herah a flinch then a glare from Max that the youngling matched with her own before continuing,” Plus there is no friendship between your brother and I, ash, I know for sure neither of us likes the other. We just have a better understanding and a bit more respect for each other now.”

“So what, you’re attempting to help me because you’ve reached an understanding with my brother?” Max asked with snarkiness, her smile just as snarky. Which got a slight twitch from the Herah’s eye.

“Alex also ordered me to help you.” Herah bluntly stated, her expression resuming its plain stare from before.

“Oh, that’s even better.” Max said, her smile turning into a frown at Herah’s words.

“Of course neither of those reasons are primarily why I want to help you, just additions to give me even more incentive.”

Max gave the straight-faced Herah her own glare before stepping away from her tree and distrustfully asking, “Then why? Why do you want to help me?”

Herah looked down at Jeffery (the pencil had been giving her a tirade of images that continued to show their displeasure throughout her conversation with Max) and mentally told them to go bother Alex. When asked why, Herah had a simple response.

“Because you’re both assholes, now go make shit together.”

Luckily for Herah, Jeffery remembered that their creator had recently got out of a hairy fight so they just erased the top of her right pinky before disappearing with a burst of speed.

Setting aside her sketchpad and pencil, Herah watched as a small flame appeared on the top of her pinky and burned until the digit was back to it’s normal state. Herah then rose to her feet and turned to Max, breathing out a ring of fire that bound her still unfinished braid in place. With that done, Herah shoved both of her hands into her pants pockets and returned her attention to Max. The human stood up straight with her hands at her hips, an untrusting look on her face, and still only a trench coat covering her modesty.

“Max, I’m going to be frank.” Herah said still going on in her blunt voice, “I owe you a great debt, and both my parents and mistress teach that the greater the debt the greater the repayment owed.” Herah walked up to Max before kneeling before the surprised human and said with a voice filled with thankfulness, “Not only were you instrumental in saving my own life, but you are also the reason why I still have my father.” Herah then rose to her full height and slapped her arms down to her side and her legs together, making her body as straight as possible with a look of upmost seriousness on her face.

“What are you-” Max began but stopped once Herah breathed out a wisp lantern, reached out with her right hand and crushed it, and then slammed her fist into her chest. This caused a shroud of blue flames to engulf her. Herah’s tone became loud and proud as her next words were spoken.

“As both a devote follower of La Flamme and the child of Orange and Rouge Hej, I plan to repay this debt by helping you with your grief. Anyway I can.”

Max opened her mouth a response on the tip of her tongue but then paused with a thoughtful look on her face. The human then began running her hand through her hair while mumbling to herself. After a few seconds of this, Max snapped her fingers and looked back at Herah.

“So you want to repay your debt, correct?” Max asked sounding surprisingly cheerful while looking up at Herah with a lecherous smile.

“Yeah, and what’s up with that look? It’s just like my mother’s after a successful date with my father.” Herah said while leaning back a bit with a slightly disturbed look, her flame shroud having now dissipated.

“Lava tits, let me be honest here. You’re not the best person to try and talk with me about this. Both you and I know that you’re rather out of depth on this subject.” Max said to Herah, a bit of an apologetic look on her face.

“Yeah you’re right,” Herah said somberly, a small frown forming as a sigh left her lips. The youngling then pointed towards her sketch pad and said, “That was the main reason I grabbed my sketch pad in the first place, drawing helps me think of new ideas.”

“Well wipe that frown from your face and think no longer, because I already know how you can repay your debt to me.” Max cheerfully told Herah, causing the youngling to look at her in surprise.

“Really?”

“Yep, and it’s very action based. Hell, the only words you’ll have to say is my name,” Then Max raised her left hand and turned in from side to side, before quickly adding “And maybe a few oh my gods.”

“And this will help you?” Herah asked, giving Max a stern glare.

“Not only will it help me, but it’ll help all of us in our merry little band. Plus, it will be a very enjoyable experience for the two of us.” Max answered, her body just shaking in giddiness.

“Well if the thought of it seems to make you feel better, the actual thing must be great.” Herah said, before giving Max her own small smile and asking, “So, what do you want me to do?”

“I want you to sleep with me.”

“…”

“…”

“I’m…. I’m sorry?” Herah asked disbelievingly while giving Max a confused stare. Seeing the youngling’s expression, Max let out a sigh and shook her head while facepalming. The human then looked back at Herah and tiredly said,

“Ok, I guess that term only has its literal meaning where you come from. What I meant was-”

“I KNOW WHAT THE FUCK YOU MEAN!” Herah shouted at Max, causing to human to jump back in surprise. The youngling looked now extremely pissed, with her left eye twitching in irritation and a snarl on her face. Herah then took in a few deep breaths before allowing for her expression to settle in a mildly irritated state. Herah then glared at Max while biting her lip, before speaking with clear ire and annoyance.

“I’m just a bit, uuh, confused on how, umm, FUCKING YOU will help any of us!”

Max put a bit more distance between her and Herah while giving the Cendruex a pained and scared smile with both of her hands raised to placate Herah, any and all traces of her earlier happiness now gone. The human quickly and nervously spoke,

“Well you see, the way this helps us is that one, you get a pretty great lay if I do say so myself.”

“I don’t care.”

Max nodded okay at this, backing up a bit more as Herah began to advance on her with a glare. This caused for Max to give an even quicker reply.

“It’ll make me less of a liability.”

“How so?” Herah asked with a growl, having now backed a frightened Max into the tree that was recently used to rest her head. Max looked up at the angry Cendruex with a sad smile before meekly saying,

“As of right now, I’m severely limited in the use of my fibs.”

Herah blinked at Max in surprise before angrily asking, “What do you mean?”

Instead of replying, Max looked down and away from Herah. The youngling growled at this before slamming her right fist into the red-wooded tree right above Max’s head, her fist creating a hole not too much larger than itself. Still, Max just flinched and continued to look down. Grabbing the human by her chin with her left hand and lifting it up, Herah leaned down onto her nose and Max’s met. Emerald met green, one pair of eyes filled with anger, the other filled with shame and fear.

“What. Do. You. Mean?”

After a few seconds of no response from the human, Herah let out a sigh and let go of Max’s chin. The youngling then turned around and began to walk away from the human towards her sketch pad and pencil. After picking both objects up, Herah turned to Max with a plain and stony expression and began to speak in a blunt cold tone.

“Max, I want to make this clear to you. I want to help you not just because I owe you a debt, but because I consider you my friend. And at this very moment, I only have three. But I can’t help you right now or ever if you won’t tell me what’s wrong. Until you can do that, I’m going to go sit in our clearing and think of some other ways to help you.”

Herah then began to walk towards Max, who had put her head down once again. The youngling passed by her human friend in total silence, the soft treading of her bare feet through the grass being the only sound heard. Passing the newly damaged tree, Herah paused for a moment to look back at Max.

The human in question just stood still with her back to Herah, her trench coat hiding her naked body and her hair still in its frayed state. Standing still for a second more, Herah soon heard and saw silent tears hit the ground in front of Max. But not a word emerged from the human, so Herah turned away and continued on.

“Herah wait.”

The youngling paused midstep before turning back to face Max, who was already facing her. The human was still looking down slightly with Herah only able to see the twin tracks of tears rolling down her face, the nervous nibbling of her top lip, and Max’s droopy hair. Lifting her head up fully, Max looked at Herah with slightly reddened eyes that looked absolutely begging.

“What Max?” Herah asked, still sounding cold and blunt.

“I want your help. I can fake being happy and cheerful and unbothered all I want, but it won’t change the fact that I’m not.” Max rubbed her eyes while giving a quick sniff before continuing, “I need some help, and right now you’re the best I got. So please stay and I’ll fill you in so you know what my problem is. But,” Max looked away from Herah with a grimace before quickly looking back at the youngling, “There is one thing I need you to do before I say a word.”

“What is it?”

“I need you to promise me that you won’t tell my brother a word of what I tell you unless I tell you it’s okay. That’s all I ask.”

Herah looked back up at the sky, noting that not a lot of time had passed before looking back at Max. With twin puffs of smoke leafing her nose, Herah walked back up to Max and crouched until at her height. Leaning her head against Max’s, Herah breathed out a sliver of violet fire that flew around her head twice then back into her mouth before flying down into her lungs and finally stopping at the flame that birthed it. Herah then softly whispered something to Max.

“A la flamme qui brûle dans ma poitrine, je te jure. Je jure le silence de vos paroles à moins que vous ne les accordiez vous-même.”

Herah then gave a small gentle nip to Max’s nose drawing blood and a mild wince from the human, before swallowing the blood and completing her contract. Rising back up to her full height and backing up a bit, Herah looked at Max’s agape mouth and wide eyes with a small smile and chuckle that caused Max to shake her head to rid herself of her shock.

“What- What was that?” Max asked, looking down slightly while also raising a hand to rub the small scar that had appeared in the wake of Herah nipping her nose.

“Me making the promise you asked of me.” Herah replied as if it was just a simple action.

“You’re- Not going to ask any questions?” Max asked, now looking up at Herah while making eye contact.

“You obviously don’t share everything with your brother and him with you. So I’m perfectly willing to not tell him anything you don’t want me to.” Herah then gave Max a small grin, “Plus my personal pettiness also makes me want to have something shared to me by Alex’s sister that isn’t even known by him.”

This solicited a chuckle from Max, who now had a small smile on her face.

“Thank you Herah.”

Max then sat down cross-legged right next to damaged tree from earlier and patted the ground in front of her. Getting the message, Herah sat down with her legs crossed as well. Except only Herah’s left leg was fully touching the grass-covered ground while her right sat above it with only its foot on the ground, and both legs were bent at the knee.

With both now sitting and ready to talk, Max asked Herah one final question.

“Are you ready to listen?”

And Herah responded with a small smile and a wink before saying,

“Only if you’re ready to talk.”

Max took a deep breath and then let it out. Then Max took another deep breath and let it out. The human then repeated this process five more times before finally speaking.

“Ok so first I’ll start this off by saying one thing. The whole me not considering the words of someone who wasn’t with me when I did something anything less than talk is bullshit that I’ve led bro into believing for years now.”

Hearing this, Herah gave Max a surprised look and open her mouth to ask about it, but Max was already providing an answer.

“My reasoning for it is because the actual reason I never spoke with bro about Dallas would’ve broken his heart and I knew it.” Max sighed and looked away for a moment before turning back to Herah and saying, “I’ll tell you the reasoning when I get to the situation involving it. Right now I have a question for you, is that cool?”

Herah held back her own question and waved Max off saying, “Of course, ask away.”

Nodding at this Max looked down for a moment then back up at Herah and asked, “Does your gift come with any limits or price you have to pay when using it or if you overuse it and if it does can you tell me?”

Herah nodded yes before responding with, “Yeah. Whenever I use Traduire, depending on what I make, what it’s made with, and how detailed what I make is I lose a bit of myself. If what I make is on my sketch pad, there is very little cost to me no matter the creation. I usually just lose all the saliva in my mouth for some reason. However if what I use to create my art isn’t really harmonious or if what I create has a large scale effect, parts of myself will begin turning into paint.”

Herah tapped her left arm with her right, which caused Max to flinch.

“That was what happened to my disembodied arm in the cathedral. After creating those exploding hands and those goggles, a good portion of the arm had been converted into paint while the rest got washed away in the lava wave of yours. Good idea by the way.”

Max gave Herah a thankful smile and a nod before speaking once again.

“Well, my gift and I’m pretty sure bro’s didn’t come with any sort of limit when our old ones got replaced.”

This made Herah give Max another surprised look before it quickly turned into a questioning stare.

“What do you mean, when your old ones got replaced? You talk as if you had a different gift before.”

Max nodded yes to this before rubbing her arm and saying,

“Originally my brother and I had two gifts each, I could breath life into anything and create illusions while bro could control and condense light while also being able to reduce anything to its most basic form. These gifts had their own limits and for the many years that we grew up in our home orphanage we got into a lot bullshit and trouble because of them. We had our own little crew with bro, me, Artemis,” Max said the name with a bit of an uncharacteristic harshness, “And the two other guys Abigail and Sarah. Man, we were some little bastards.”

Max chuckled to herself and made a wistful smile. Herah, believing the human to be recalling fond memories, said nothing allowing for the two to sit in silence for a few moments. When the few moments were up, Max got right back to talking now sounding a bit sadder than before.

“Anyway, one day Abigail had this bright idea. You see, he had a gift he called Synergize that allowed for him to merge things together as long they would produce a new product. So he wondered what would happen if he merged bro and I’s gifts. Bro didn’t want to do it, so I did it first and I got my gift fib. It was a few months later when bro got his enlightenment.” Max stopped and refocused all her attention back onto Herah, asking, “Are you still following?”

Herah gave a thumbs up while scratching an itch under her shirt and said, “You and your brother had different gifts before your current ones and went on many adventures with your friends. One day one of your friends, who was also gifted, merged your gifts together and gave you your current ones, which don’t have any built-in limits or cost.” Herah then gave Max another questioning stare before asking, “I just want to know one thing. Before it sounded as if while you didn’t have any limits or cost to your gifts at the time, that your gifts do have them now. Is that true?’

Max smiled at Herah thankfully before saying, “Good. And yes. The first limitation to my gift actually came when my brother acquired his.”

Herah tilted her head, a small frown on her face.

“What do you mean?”

Max took a deep breath and said, “Bro’s gift naturally counteracts mines. I tell lies, he tells truths. Bro’s main part of his current gift has a passive and an active part to it. His half-truths require him to speak them and only last for a few minutes, while his actual truths are passive in nature and activate once he realizes that something is amiss. Bro’s gift is all about preserving the natural functions of the universe, that’s what he said anyway, which means his gift makes him immune and also able to reverse anything that goes against that. Stopping time, inverting the functioning of gravity, and reality warping are just a few examples. As long as bro is aware of any fib I tell, his gift will undo it. Just not the effects.”

Herah was once again shocked and was now rubbing her chin at the thought of what Alex could do. After a few seconds of contemplation, Herah nodded to herself and asked Max another question.

“Are those the only limits you have?”

Max shook her head no before letting out a pained sigh and gaining a crestfallen expression. The human then looked down at her hands and clenched them into fist before taking another deep breath and letting it out, her fist unclenching once done. Looking back up, Max began talking to Herah with a dismal tone.

“And that brings us to what happened in and to Dallas.”

Herah picked up on Max’s tone but still found herself curious and decided to ask her question.

“When you ask Jeffery about the nuke you dropped you mentioned that Dallas was a city. What happened to it?”

Max let out another sigh and looked up to the sky for but a moment before looking back down and at Herah with an expression filled with regret and sorrow.

“I caused its destruction. About 1.5 million people died because of me,” Fresh tears began to flow down the sides of Max’s face as her next words were spoken, “It’s believed by the general public that some type of massive terrorist attack occurred there, with much of the city being rubble and fire.” Max began shaking her head with a frown with little sniffles as company, “But that’s not at all what happened.”

Herah frowned at the now crying Max, rubbing the back of her head awkwardly before asking, “What actually happened then?”

Max let out a few more sniffles before rubbing her eyes and her nose with the sleeves of her coat. Once the tears had stopped and Max had calmed down, the human said to Herah,

“It’s about time I tell you about how I managed to destroy Dallas.”

Swallowing a gulp before letting out another sigh, Max looked Herah dead in the eye and said,

“More specifically, how I met my first and I hope my last, Abyss Walker.”

“What’s that?”

“A group of beings that are to me what you would consider family.” A gentle but serious, masculine voice emitted from right next to the sitting Herah and Max.

Both snapping their heads to the right, the pair found Norwe floating above the ground. But not in the form of sloth, no, the Maker had taken their form from earlier. The form with the six arms with stars on them that had all but one of their limbs folded across their chest, with the top left one stroking its chin. The form that now had a supernova occurring in the center of their stomach that was wiping out the surrounding galaxies. The form that now looked upon them with black holes for eyes that still had their welcoming sense to them from before, but now also held a scary amount of seriousness. The form that told the pair something that surprised and deeply scared Max.

“And they are the most powerful group of beings to exist in and outside of the Omniverse.”

Naming the Illustration

The clearing was filled with silence as Herah and Max sat at its edge, both giving disbelieving stares to Norwe who floated a few feet away from them in the first form the pair had ever seen the Maker in. Norwe, meanwhile, continued to stare at the two seriously with most of their arms folded against their chest, and a single one rubbing their chin. By this point, the vibrantly colored calamity that had started at the Maker's stomach had consumed the entirety of their torso, half of all of their limbs, and the bottom of their chin.

"The fuck do you mean they like to destroy universes!?" Herah shouted, standing up to glare at Norwe with a mixture of anger and confusion.

"I meant they like to destroy universes," Norwe replied, completely lacking in any form of enjoyment which Herah thought would make her happy if not for what was being said. Norwe lazily pointed at Max with their left middle hand, still looking quite serious, before saying, "The Abyss Walker you encountered, Anwir Alice, their plan after killing you was to rip your universe from my grasp and sink it into the Abyss. Afterward, your universe and everything within would begin to be torn asunder and consumed by the Abyss itself and the Abyss Walkers that inhabit it."

Herah gave Norwe a few wide-eyed blinks before shaking her head and turning to look back at Max. The human was still seated, looking down at both of her hands with a deeply troubled frown upon her face. Frowning at her friend, Herah leaned down and gave Max's shoulder a slight shove with her fist.

"What's wrong?"

Max jolted in surprise before looking up to Herah and giving her an awkward smile.

"A lot to be honest, but I was just thinking about how bro, Artemis and I just barely dodged a bullet there."

"That you did, if my Soothsayer hadn't been touched by The Third Maker and had his Presence at his will, that universe would've been lost and everything within, well, you already know."

Max and Herah turned back to face Norwe and found the Maker still floating with all six of their arms now at their side. Nearly Norwe's entire being had been consumed by the supernova at this point, the only parts of their body not covered by the stellar explosion being the two black holes that were currently consuming it and functioning as eyes for the Maker. It was with these eyes that Norwe continued to stare intensely at Max as they told her,

"Though I will admit, it would've probably taken a few more days and millions more dead before you ultimately lost your battle."

Herah didn't even need to look at Max to know that Norwe's words made her flinch. Instead, Herah growled at her Maker while also allowing for yellow fire to leak from her mouth and nose.

"Piss off." Herah told her Maker with malice.

Watching as Norwe's eyes continued to consume the supernova that was displayed across their body, Herah's eyes narrowed at the sight of a few bits of white light that somehow managed to not fade into the black holes. The lights instead floated into the center of the black dots and proceeded to twinkle like stars, Norwe's left eye even winking at Herah before the lights faded. This caused Herah to growl even harder towards Norwe, and for green flames to began spilling from her mouth and nose.

Noticing the changing color of Herah's flames, Norwe folded their bottom pair of arms under their back, their center pair at the center of their back, and their top pair of arms behind their head. By this point, the explosion that engulfed Norwe's body had much of it sucked into the Maker's eyes, leaving only the top half of their body still alight with colors while the bottom half was completely black. Norwe had also visibly lost their seriousness, so Herah wasn't too surprised when the Maker cheerfully said,

"I can see my dear Artist doesn't want my company, so I'll be on my merry way." Norwe winked at Max and told her, "Remember Liar, I'm always watching."

This caused Max to flinch once again, but this time the human gave the Maker a verbal response.

"Wait, Norwe, before you go I have a question," Max said with a bit of nervousness and curiosity.

Norwe took their top left and right hand from behind their head and instead folded them underneath their now tilted head, before beckoning for Max to continue with their middle left hand. Seeing her Maker's gesture, Max took a deep breath and asked her question.

"Why do you call the Abyss Walkers family?"

Specks of light floated into Norwe's eyes and began to twinkle once again. At this point, the Maker's body had mostly turned black with the last remnants of the supernova that previously engulfed it now surrounding Norwe's eyes and making something akin to a neon-colored shrinking mask. Norwe then tilted their head the other way with their top two hands still folded underneath it, and their left center arm now pointing towards themselves before giving Max an answer.

"Because before I was a Maker, I was an Abyss Walker."

And with those words, Norwe disappeared from his creations' sight and left a wide-eyed Max and a fuming Herah alone in the clearing.

"SON OF A BITCH!" Herah screamed, causing the green fire that was previously just flowing from her mouth and nose to engulf her entire head and flare up into a boulder-size fire.

Herah then felt something that felt like a slip of paper appear in her left hand. Bringing the hand to her face, Herah found her guess to be correct. In her hand, there was now a piece of paper that had a bit of text on it.

After reading the piece of paper, Herah felt her right eye twitch a few times then decided to crumple up and toss the piece of paper into the flames that surrounded her head.

"What did it say?"

Herah looked down at the sitting Max who gave her a mildly curious stare in return. After a second of this, Herah grunted and sat down in front of Max once again. Leaning back on both of her arms with her hair still partially braided, Herah gave Max an answer.

"Just some stupid shit about how if we want to know more we'd have to ask the fruit or the prick." Herah took both of her hands and dragged them down her flame covered face before looking up and huffing, "I'm pretty sure the bastard meant your brother and my father."

Herah looked back at Max and found her friend quietly laughing to herself while looking down.

"What's so funny Max?"

Max lifted her head and gave Herah a small smile before replying.

"I'm just thinking about how you look sorta like one of the Ghost Riders right now."

"What the ash is a Ghost Rider?" Herah asked with a raised brow, her head still engulfed in green flames.

"The Ghost Riders are these characters from Marvel comics with these flaming skulls covered in hellfire, and they're some of the most terrifying beings in that universe." Max made a twitching motion with her head, before giving Herah a small grin and saying, "I think at least."

Herah smiled back at Max and preceded to take a deep breath that ended up with her inhaling all the fire that previously engulfed her head. With her head now clear of flames, Herah exhaled then began speaking to Max once again.

"Speaking of terrifying beings, why don't you tell me about your encounter with the Abyss Walker. You said this event was what caused your others limiters, correct?

Max quickly lost her smirk and solemly nodded yes to Herah's question before taking her left hand and running it through her messy hair. For a few seconds, Max said not a word and continued to run her hand through her hair while Herah watched her friend in silence with a patient stare. After a few more seconds of total silence between the two, Herah spoke.

"What Norwe said really shook you up, huh?"

Max looked down and visibly shivered before retracting her arms into her coat and rubbing her shoulders. Max then looked back up at Herah and frowned before giving a quiet and slightly fearful reply.

"Just thinking about how that thing was so powerful and deadly makes me shiver." Max shook her head before taking a deep breath and given Herah a hardened stare, "But I need to get this off my chest, and I said I tell you what happened, so here I go."

"Before I began with our actual encounter, I'll start two weeks before. This is because it was around this time that my small gang of friends and I were exploring an abandoned building. While exploring the basement, Artemis began sensing something she said was weird and slight oppressive before crashing through the floor. After a bunch of seven-year-olds finished screaming in terror and worry for their friend, we found Artemis okay and more importantly in an underground cave of sorts."

"An underground cave? Was the Abyss Walker in there?"

Max closed her eyes at Herah's questions and took a deep breath before nodding her head yes and exhaling. Opening her eyes once again, Max continued.

"The underground cave we found was deep in the ground, it actually took Artemis like seven seconds to hit the cave floor I think. Anyway, the cave was also dark with zero natural light. The only reason we ended up being able to see down there was because Artemis summoned some moonlight to illuminate the place. And once that happened we found the cave to be a massive cavern with a shit ton of stalactites and stalagmites everywhere which left little space for places we could actually stand on. It was also super uncomfortable, I mean, it was very wet and the air was very humid. There were puddles and small ponds everywhere, and I ended up falling in a few on our first and second trip there."

"Uhhh Max," Herah began with a bit of pointed stare, "You seem to have gotten sidetracked."

Max raised both of her hands while offering up a few apologies before continuing on with her story.

"Anyway, so Artemis was still sensing the weird thing, and her and bro wanted to check it out since there were several tunnels that led out of the massive chamber we were in. Abigail, Sarah, and I, however, were getting creeped out by the very wet and very dark cave so instead, it was decided that we could wait for two weeks and explore the place on bro's and I's birthday as his present."

"Wait, you had this shitshow all happen on your birthday?" Herah asked, wide-eyed and scratching her head.

Max gave a small bitter laugh before putting a hand to her face and bitterly stating,

"Yep, by far the second worst birthday I ever had."

This got a weird look and tilt of the head from Herah which was followed by Max answering her unasked question.

"I spent my fourteenth birthday taking care of a deathly ill and extremely delirious Alex. It was by far the most terrifying experience I ever had and never hope to repeat."

"Oh."

Max gave a small smile while waving off any apologies that might've come from Herah's mouth.

"So anyway, two weeks go by and me and Artemis end up exploring the cave by ourselves. This was because bro, Abigail, and Sarah were covering for me after I turned one of the other kids in our orphanage into a pig that ran rampant throughout the building. Before we left, bro made me promise to tell him about anything we found down there as soon as we could. So Artemis and I ended up spending about half an hour, I think, before we found the source of whatever Artemis had been sensing."

"What was it?" Herah asked, now leaning toward Max in morbid anticipation.

Max closed her eyes once again, inhaled deeply, then exhaled before continuing on.

"We found a lonely small brown trunk that was in a surprisingly good condition. And when I say surprisingly good condition, I mean the trunk still had the smell of freshly polished wood on it. Of course, even though it looked fairly normal, the fact that a trunk in such good condition was underground with no clear reasoning made it very suspicious. Add to the fact that the trunk gave a very, umm, wrong feel off, I didn't want anything to do with it. However, I made a promise to my brother so I immediately gave him a call once we found it and asked what I should do with it."

"What did Alex say?"

Max began sucking on her bottom lip before getting incredibly fidgety, tapping her knees while rocking her body back and forth. Letting out a few breaths, Max suddenly stopped before looking Herah dead in the eye with an incredibly pained expression and shakingly stated,

"He, uhh, told me that, umm, it was probably something extremely dangerous. But since it was Artemis and myself, special emphasis on me being there, that we should be able to deal with anything that might pop out. At the time, and even now, I trust my brother to a fault. So hearing him say such a thing, I was able to put my fears aside and open the trunk."

"The Abyss Walker was inside, weren't they?"

Max put a hand over her mouth and nodded yes, her body shifting uncomfortably as her eyes looked on and through Herah in silent terror, making the youngling guess that Max was recalling the event. After a second of this, Max shook her head and began speaking once again, now sounding incredibly disturbed.

"Oh God, the first thing that happened after I opened the trunk, I-I still have nightmares about it. The Abyss Walker inside reached out of this trunk that could only fit, like, my head inside of it, and grabbed me with a rotten grey and massive eight-fingered hand that covered my face and began to crush my head. It happened so fast that I didn't have enough time to say a single fib before I blacked out."

"It didn't kill you?" Herah asked, extremely surprised by Max's apparent survival of the Abyss Walker's attack.

"The Abyss Walker didn't do any damage that was irreversible," Max replied quickly and curtly, her eyes narrowing with a slightly panicked look to them. Taking another deep breath and letting it out, Max continued on in the same disturbed tone as before.

"When I reawoke only a minute had passed, and I found Artemis battling against the Abyss Walker, who had for some reason, taken the shape of me. A bit of background information on Artemis, I didn't know this at the time but, uhh, she was a goddess. The Greek goddess of the hunt and moon, if I remember correctly. And she wielded a glowing silver bow that quite literally shot arrows apparently made of moon dust. What's most important about her, however, is the facts that she had impeccable aim, her arrows could fly like twelve times the speed of light, and they tended to destroy anything they hit."

"Why is this important?" Herah asked with a tilt of her head.

"Because the Abyss Walker, whose name is Anwir Alice by the way, was able to not only take hits from Artemis' arrows but also dodge and catch them."

"Damn."

Max nodded in agreement with Herah's response before continuing talking.

"As soon as Anwir noticed me, they disappeared and reappeared behind Artemis before shoving their right hand through her back and left breast." Max let out a pained breath before continuing, "Golden ichor splattered on the ground, followed by my own screams before Anwir threw Artemis down the tunnel and turned to me."

Taking yet another deep breath, Max reached up to Herah and brought the youngling's forehead to her own before closing her eyes and exhaling. Herah wasn't too disturbed by the smell of Max's breath, and instead focused on talking to Max.

"What're you doing Max?" Herah asked, worry creeping into her tone.

"Sorry lava tits," Max began, her tone soft and apologetic, "Whenever I think about my talk with Anwir and what happened next, I like to have physical contact. It makes me feel less alone. I apologize if this is uncomfortable for you."

"I have no real problem with this, except for the mild itchiness I'm currently feeling on my forehead," Herah said causing Max to open her eyes which the youngling responded to with a wink. This solicited a pleasant giggle and smile from Max which was followed by her continuing her story.

"So when Anwir turned to face me once again, they, uh, retook what I guess to be their original form. They were bipedal with two long and thin rotten grey legs that looked sorta like skin had been dragged from top to bottom and stretched out over the bones. They had feet but no toes, and the ends of their feet were like wedges. Their entire body was rotten grey now that I think about it. Anyway, their arms were also long and thin and both had eight bony and long fingers on them. Their torso was rather similar to their arms and legs with skin appearing to be stretched out over their bones and the Abyss Walker had a lot of ribs. Like they had fourteen ribs and it was creepy. Their torso was also shaped sorta like an upside-down pear with their waste being about as wide as a lemon. Their head was a horror show," Max shivered once again, "It was a mismatch of mouths and eyes with too many of both to count. They were tall at least ten feet and stood rather queer. Their arms and legs were constantly bending and moving, and they lacked any noticeable genitals."

Herah gave herself a few moments to imagine Anwir, and couldn't help but shiver before commenting.

"Sounds terrifying."

"It was, but only afterward."

"What happened next?"

"Anwir told me, in a distinctly high pitched and wicked feminine voice "Seeing that your Presence hasn't been fully consumed by me yet, I feel it best to introduce myself to my soon to be victim." They then bowed to me and introduced themselves as Anwir Alice."

"So, what did you do then?"

Max moved her head away from Herah's, before unfolding her legs and hugging her knees to her chest as her expression became steel-like yet managed to hold undertones of fear. Max then said, with a strong and slightly afraid voice,

"I began the hardest and most terrifying fight I've ever been in, though once again the terror only came afterward. The reason I wasn't able to instantly end the fight was because for some reason, Anwir would always come back from anything that I fibbed. Throughout our fight in the underground cavern, I tried erasing them from existence, turning them into different things like gold, water, dust, air, etc. At one point I said their entire being would combust and they did exactly that, before returning three seconds later ready to kill me. Artemis rejoined the fight after healing from her wounds, but even then nothing we did could put Anwir down. They shrugged off my fibs and Artemis' arrows with ease. Anwir would of course attack back, trying to rip us to shreds with their fingers, ejecting some weird black goop that seemed to eat away at the space around them from all over their body, and most importantly sending waves of what I'm now quite sure was Presence that would rip away at the very being of everything around us."

Max paused for a moment to take a few deep breaths before continuing.

"Then we got out of the cavern and that was when shit really hit the fan. I won't give you a play by play of the fight, but what I will tell you is a few highlights. At one point, I tried to trap Anwir in a time loop, which they didn't even seem to acknowledge. At another point, Artemis fired off nearly twelve thousand arrows in the span of a quarter of a second which Anwir apparently thought wasn't jack shit because they caught each and every single arrow and then flung the moon dust projectiles back at the both of us. At another point in the fight, Anwir enlarged themselves to the point that they towered over quite a few of the taller buildings in the city and then grabbed Reunion Tower, which was like 500 and a half feet tall, before attempting to smash me with it. And the final point I'll bring up is when I sent Anwir to the edge of the unknown universe and they got back within two seconds."

Herah was completely stunned by what Max was saying and probably wouldn't have believed her if not for how much talking about the fight seemed to visibly upset her friend. And the Dope orb was a bit of help in this as well.

"Sounds like a fight my dad's had with one of Le Plus Vieux Parent."

Max's eyes widened in shock before narrowing into a disbelieving glare.

"Are you sure?"

Herah met Max's glare with her own in return for Max's clear not believing of her.

"Yeah, dad once told me that in a fight with one that the pair ended up flying into a black hole that my father ended up freezing."

Max still didn't seem to believe what Herah said but instead laid the matter to rest by continuing in her own story.

"Anyway, as the fight went on the  city around us was destroyed and countless people died." Tears then began dripping from her eyes as her voice became drowned in guilt, "I didn't even notice in the fight. I was so focused on keeping myself and Artemis alive, that the people around us didn't really register in mind. And the fight dragged on for over an hour, with the destruction around us and the dead increasing dramatically in size as the fight progressed. As Norwe said before, the only reason so many more didn't die was because near the end of the fight bro joined in. When  I first noticed him, I was over four hundred feet in the air and rising because I was flying up the side of a building that Anwir had thrown when they leaped into the sky. Though bro was essentially a speck to me at that height, we've always had an extremely high awareness of each other so I immediately recognized him."

"Where the ash was Alex that entire fucking fight?" Herah asked in with a disbelieving expression and tone.

"He told me he ended up meeting this guy by the name of Kernel Sanders the Chicken God. Kernel Sanders ended up taking Abigail, Sarah, and bro (the last one by accident) through a  portal. Bro somehow fucked up the portal so he ended up stranded in a separate universe for a bit until he found his own way back."

"Seriously?" Herah asked, blinking a few times at Max. The human just nodded in response before continuing on.

"Anyway, I met up with bro and he told me to tell as many fibs as possible that would change Anwir without causing any straight up negative effects. I didn't quite understand how that was supposed to help us, but again I trust bro to a fault so I did exactly as he asked. By the time I was done, Anwir was a neon rainbow color, had a rainbow afro, had a red clown nose, had a clown jumper on, and had giant clown shoes with a whole lot of other very insignificant changes done to them as well."

By this point, Herah was giving Max an extremely confused and weirded out look.

"Why all the clown stuff?"

"Because I hate clowns and I hated Anwir." Was Max's quick and concise reply.

"Ok, fair enough. And how exactly did turning an Abyss Walker into a giant clown help kill them?"

At this question, Max nodded before returning her legs back to their folded position and answering Herah's question sounding as if the explanation was hard to put to words..

"Well, bro's gift has an interesting effect when too many things that go against the natural order occur to the same thing or area."

"What would that be?" Herah asked.

"In simple terms, he purges them from existence."

"But earlier you said you tried erasing Anwir from existence, and it failed," Herah replied with her brow crinkled and her eyes nearly shut.

Max nodded at this and said, "That's why I said in simple terms. I don't quite understand it myself, even after bro explained it to me, so I simplify it into that."

Herah nodded at this, before asking Max another question.

"So your brother purged them from existence and that was it."

Max nodded at this with a small frown and said, "Essentially."

"But when during this did you get those new limitations you spoke of?" Herah asked, thinking back to what Max had just said.

Max sighed once again, now looking down with a tired expression before quietly saying,

"I acquired them three days after the fight with Anwir. I had passed out right after bro got rid of the Abyss Walker, so I awoke in Arlington, Texas in the hospital. Bro and Artemis were passed out in some nearby chairs, and on the TV an episode of Iron Man Armored Adventures was playing, it had just come out that year. Not too long after I awoke a nurse came in and gave me a quick check-up. While doing this check-up, she switched the channel to the news. The headline of the time, I can remember it so well, read Terrorist Attack on Dallas, Leaves Over A Million Dead. That fucked me up pretty badly in the head, and the realization of what I'd caused triggered four subconscious triggers of mine that would begin to inhibit my gift. It would take me another week to realize what these triggers were and how to retrigger them so as to get my power back."

Max then unfolded her legs once again and laid back to look up at the sky. Seeing Max's behavior, Herah gave her friend a curious stare until Max pat the ground to her left. Getting the message rather easily, Herah got up and then laid down on Max's left. This meant the pair were now both laying on the edge of the clearing with the graves of the four dead Oni from before, with their heads still in the small clearing looking up at the sky.

"So are you going to-" Herah began.

"Loss of innocence, loss of guilt, loss of trust, and loss of fear." Max said, now sounding a lot calmer and disturbingly empty.

"What?"

"Those are the four limiters I currently have in place. Before we met, I had managed to remove three of them, but during our fight with Moon I regained one and after what I did to the Oni I got the other two back."

"How exactly do they limit your gift?"

Max let out a small huff before calmly stating,

"I'm gonna go through them in order which I originally broke them. Loss of innocence keeps me from causing damage, harm, or ill effects of any kind with my fibs. As of right now, I can't even create a fire with my fibs because that would harm atoms."

"Your kidding?"

Max held up her left hand and said with a deep and masculine voice,

"There is a fire in my hand."

Nothing appeared and Max put her hand down.

Seeing this, Herah let out a small wince at the pathetic showing of Max's gift.

"What's next?" Herah asked.

"Loss of guilt makes it so that I can't directly harm humans or beings I believe to hold characteristics of them."

"What falls under that category?"

"Everything not dead, never living, or plants."

"That is a lot of things you can't harm."

"Yeah, it's going to be a problem for a while."

"What was the next one?"

"Loss of trust makes it so that any fibs I tell will take up these slots and depending on the scale of the fib there will be a different number of slots taken up. I can mitigate this to a certain extent by substituting my cards for the slots but the same rule applies to them."

"That sounds extremely limiting."

"It is, especially since I only have 22 normal slots and 52 with my cards which I use to go through pretty quickly and still do from time to time. One caveat I got though, is that I've learned to manage it over the years since I dealt with it for so long."

"That's good, I guess. So what does loss of fear do?"

"Loss of fear is what put in place my slots, which I have to recharge by sleeping for an hour. And once I use up all these slots,  I can no longer tell fibs without erasing my self from existence in the process."

Hearing this, Herah shot up into an upright position and began to stare at Max with a worried expression.

"That is a very big and fucked up limitation! How the ash does your subconscious even do that?" Herah shouted in shock.

Max raised her left hand and lazily waved Herah off before calmly stating,

"Yeah it's a pretty steep cost, and you'd be surprised at what your subconscious can do to you. Like how Thanos lost the infinity gauntlet in the comics because he subconsciously didn't feel worthy of it. The guy lost omnipotence and omniscience because of that reason alone. It's weird what your mind can do without your control."

"I don't care about whoever the ash Thanos is!" Herah shouted grabbing at her hair in irritation, "And why the fuck are you sounding so calm and empty, it's creepy."

"Because right now I do feel very calm and empty, it's my intermission state," Max replied in the same tone as before.

"What the ash do you mean by intermission state?" Herah asked while flaring her nostrils in frustration, causing a small spout of yellow flames to shoot from her nose.

"I call it an intermission state because this is the only time in which my emotions are not really felt and it periodically occurs. I should be exiting it soon enough."

Herah let out a frustrated huff before laying back down and turning her head to face Max's with a slightly annoyed look on her face.

"So now that I know what is currently limiting you, how can I help remove them?"

Max turned her own head to face Herah's and replied with her calm and empty tone of voice.

"Well you can really only help me with one, and that's only if I'm right but I'm pretty sure I'm right so that's not really an issue."

Herah's eyes narrowed at Max's words before the youngling gave a prying response.

"Why can't I help with the other three?"

Max gave Herah a joyless smile before calmly stating,

"Because loss of guilt requires me to kill someone with my bare hands, loss of trust requires someone to betray my trust which I really hope doesn't happen especially in this current situation, and loss of fear.... Well, I'll just say that if I do ever complete that one, I'll be dead shortly afterward."

"So the only one I can help you with is loss of innocence."

"Correct."

Herah pursed her lips for a second, her eyes narrowing even more before the youngling exhaled a bit of smoke from her mouth. This got a bit of coughing from Max and caused her to sit up, with Herah joining her in an upright position with a satisfied nod of her head.

"So what do I need to do to help you?" Herah asked, now sounding satisfied and feeling a bit more understanding of Max.

And it was at this moment that Max exited her intermission state and began blushing heavily with a slightly embarrassed look on her face. Herah seeing this gave her friend a confused and worried stare, which Max was quick to give a reply to.

"Herah you like it when someone is direct with you, am I correct?" Max asked a bit awkwardly.

"Yeah." Was Herah's short but slightly curious response.

So then Max took a deep breath and told Herah as quickly as possible,

"I need your virginity."

This got Max a few blinks from Herah before the youngling asked in near disbelief,

"Why?"

Max gave Herah a nervous smile and began scratching the back of her neck before responding.

"That's why I call this trigger loss of innocence. I need to take someone else's "innocence" in order to reactivate the trigger. That's why I suggested it earlier."

Watching as Herah reached up to her chin and began to rub it while muttering to herself, Max began biting her lip nervously before rapidly stating,

"I know it's a big thing to ask for and al-"

"I'll do it." Herah cut in while nodding to herself and staring at Max with a small grin.

"Wait, really?"

Herah nodded again without saying a word.

"Oh," Max's eyes shifted from left to right, before inquiring "Does sex not mean anything too heavy where you come from? Is it because it's no longer required to have children?"

At this Herah frowned while shaking her head from side to side before responding.

"While what you said is accurate for the general public and for the very reason you put forth, I still very much care about who I sleep with and who takes my virginity. I believe it to be one of the greatest gifts I can offer to anyone."

Hearing this, Max began waving both of her hands while hurriedly saying,

"If that's the case, you don't really ne-"

"Max, you insult me by thinking that I wouldn't want to give it to you." Herah gave Max a keen glare before continuing, "As I said before, you're a big reason that both my father and I are alive right now. The only other person I know I could give my virginity to would be Owen, and I already have something else in mind for him. Plus, this could be the difference between life or death, so I'm really lacking in reasons to not fuck you."

Max smiled thankfully at Herah, getting a small smile from the youngling in response. Before Max could say anything else, however, Herah's head perked up and the youngling began rubbing her chin in deep thought. After a few seconds of this, Herah nodded her head and let out a breath.

"But before we fuck each other, I have to tell you something." Herah said with an air of seriousness.

"Is it that if we screw each other, I'm gonna get sprayed with lava and die a painful horrid death?" Max asked, sounding a bit fearful.

"What!? No! What the fuck!? Is this something you've been thinking about?" Herah responded, losing all seriousness while looking weirded out by Max's suggestion.

"Yep, and I'm glad it isn't true," Max thankfully said letting out a breath, before asking Herah, "So what did you have to say?"

"I have another way to help you, but its pretty intimate and a big commitment."

"What is it?" Max asked, her curiosity peeked.

"You have to court me." Herah said, staring as seriously as possible at Max.

"Like dating?" Max said, sounding as if her interest had peaked.

Herah made a kinda motion with her left hand, before saying,

"Not exactly, if you were to court me the end goal would very clearly be marriage."

"Oh," Max said sounding not as interested as before, "That's what you meant by big commitment." Max awkwardly rubbed her left arm, "Not to sound like a bitch, but how exactly does this help except for giving me a potential lifetime partner which might not be for long if Norwe has anything to say about it."

"I can understand your trepidation," Herah said, once again scratching the back of her head, "But there is a reason that would definitely benefit you."

"And that would be?"

"When courting a Cendreux, a bond is established that causes for the pair to share emotions. This means that when the pair feels tow separate emotions, the feelings are spread out between the two and effectively dulled in a way. On the other hand, when they have the same feelings the emotions are amplified."

"And why exactly is that a benefit for me?" Max asked, still sounding a bit put off.

This got the human a blank stare from Herah, who continued to stare at Max blankly for a few moments before simply stating.

"Max you're a fucking emotional wreck right now, and I can offer you stability."

"Ok, so the first point, I can't disagree with no matter what, but on the second one..."

"What?" Herah swiftly asked with a twitch in her eye.

"Well aren't you always kinda angry. Like most of the time I've known you, you've been frowning and growling."

"First of all, I'm mildly irritated and annoyed most of the time,"

"Bro said this exact same thing once."

"Max I want to help you, but that won't stop me from punching you in your fucking face."

Max immediately shut up.

"And second of all, I said stability. I don't fluctuate as often as you do and so my emotions should help to balance your constantly shifting ones out without any adverse effects on either of us."

Max nodded at this but still didn't look too sure, so Herah added a bit more information.

"If you want to, you can end the courtship anytime you see fit."

Max perked up and gave Herah a suspicious look.

"Seriously?"

"Yes, you don't even have to do any of the trials that would allow for us to marry when done."

"Trials?" Max asked a bit surprised by this new info.

"Yup, to woo me into marriage." Herah said plainly.

"What exactly are these trials?" Max asked, sounding as if something was planned.

"I don't know," Herah gave Max a questioning stare and tilt of her head, before jokingly asking "Why do you ask? Are you planning on marrying me?"

"No, I'm just curious."

Herah's left brow rose which the youngling then followed up by lifting her left hand and allowing for the Dope light orb to fly from within her hand. Seeing this, Max let out a small sigh and said,

"Ok, so I really don't have any plans on marrying you right now, I wasn't lying when I said that. I want to know because you seem to be really going that extra mile to help me, and I thought that if after I managed to get to know you better and really liked what I saw even more, then I might finalize it as a way of repayment."

"Max that is pretty much what courtship is, and you don't need to worry about that right now,"

"But-"

Herah put a finger to Max's lip, immediately silencing her friend. Herah then sternly told Max,

"No buts, I'm trying to repay a debt I owe you. You should feel no entitlement to repay me for what I do trying to pay you back.  So if you do end up pursuing the trials, do so because you want to. Do you understand?"

Max took a deep breath before nodding yes with a calm and collected expression. Seeing this, Herah put her finger down and asked Max,

"So, do you want to court me or not?"

Max closed her eyes and inhaled and exhaled a few times before looking back at Herah and giving her answer.

"Yeah, I'll bite."

Herah smiled at Max, clapped her hands together, and said,

"Great, so let's get down to business."

Both Herah and Max stood up, stretching as they did so, before Max looked up at Herah and asked,

"So how are we doing this? Do we screw first, or are we beginning our courting process?"

"We're doing both at the same time."

"Really?" Max asked sounding a bit confused.

"Yep, since you've already met the prerequisite we just need you to ask me during sex these words: Herah accepteras-tu mes tentatives pour gagner ta main. Afterward, I have to say Oui and it will be finalized."

"You have to say Oui?" Max asked with a coy smile while backing away from Herah further into the clearing.

"Yeah, and what's up with that look?" Herah asked while giving Max a questioning stare.

"I'm just thinking of how many times I'm going to make you squeal like a pig before we're done." Max replied, her voice taking on a sultry and pleasant tone.

"O-okay? You sound really weird right now, and was that an insult?" Herah asked, looking a bit weirded out.

Max just gave Herah a smile that the youngling thought was not too dissimilar from the one her mother would when messing with her father. Max then dropped her trench coat to the ground and stood before Herah fully naked, the youngling having to admit that her friend didn't look half bad in the nude with her hands on her hips and a smile still on her face.

"You look like you're really looking forward to this," Herah said, completely still and blushing lightly as realization of what was about to happen next finally hit her.

This got a sly chuckle from Max, who began walking up to Herah as slowly and as seductively as possible, which got a nervous chuckle from the youngling. Once Max reached Herah, the human grabbed her soon to be courting partner by her cheeks, dragged Herah's head down to her own height,  gave her a light peck on the lips, and then held her face just a few millimeters apart from Herah's. Herah developed a deeper blush, before asking,

"Max, what are you do-"

"Herah," Max spoke low and softly, cutting the youngling off, "I am very definitely looking forward to sex with you. Because not only are you helping me, you're also providing me with a source of pleasure and entertainment. Since you're doing all of that for me, it's only fair that I allow for you to enjoy this just as much or even more than I do. So please let me take the lead, and guide you through what will be the greatest sexual encounter you ever have."

Herah, hearing Max's statement, fought down her blush and gave her friend a smirk before saying,

"That's a bold statement you put forth, do you really think you can back it up?"

Max backed away from Herah with a smirk of her own before stopping a few feet away from the youngling and pointing at her.

"Lose the clothes lava tits. By the time I'm done with you, you're gonna be so thoroughly entertained and so satisfied that you'll worship me."

Shedding her own clothing, Herah took a deep breath before smiling at Max with a blush still on her cheeks and saying,

"We'll see."

  Max eist eiun Profi  

After thirty minutes of wild and inventive "fighting", Herah and Max could both be found in the center of the clearing lying in a pool of their own bodily fluids, wrapped around each other, and breathing hard. The pair smelled and looked like they had just done the deed (which they had), with their smelly and absolutely drenched hair being especially telling of this.

"So, puff, where is my worship, puff, lava tits?" Max asked with a small grin on her face, currently unable to see the twin grin that was on Herah's face.

"Oh great and, puff, wonderful Max," Herah jokingly began, raising her left arm in the air (since the right one was currently under and wrapped around Max) and flourishing her hand a few times, "I am blessed to have had the chance, puff, to bed you."

"Thank you." Max cheerfully responded, "We should probably, puff, get up. Laying in your own fluids, puff, isn't exactly a healthy thing to do."

"I can handle, puff, that,"  Herah said back to Max, before breathing out an orange flame that immediately engulfed the pair in a bonfire that evaporated all of the sweat and other liquids that covered their bodies before being inhaled by Herah. "See, puff, all gone."

"That's good," Max said, before chuckling to herself.

"What's so funny?"

"I'm just thinking about how, puff, fun you were. I mean, puff, I 've been around the block I won't lie. But you, puff, you managed to have some of my favorite combination of traits in a bedmate."

"And those are?"

"Stamina, dedication, sensitivity, and caringness."

"I'm glad I could, puff, satisfy you at least." Herah then lowered her tone, sounding a bit shameful, "Though I do feel that the work was disproportional."

"Don't feel bad lava tits, I'm happy with what I got." Max softly said while rubbing Herah's back.

"Max you came six times while I came thirty, someone clearly got the better deal in this one." Herah stoically responded.

"Yeah, well I have more experience so I'd naturally be able to outdo you. Don't worry about it,  I came out happy." Max then gained a slightly worried look before asking, "Speaking of thirty back-to-back orgasms, are you okay? I don't think losing that much liquid in such a short span of time is healthy."

"I'm fine, don't worry about me." A stray thought then came to Herah's mind, "By the way, why is your pubic hair shaved in the shape of an arrow?"

"So you know where to go on your trip down." Max said sounding immensely proud of herself.

"..."

"..."

"It's so you can say that, isn't it?" Herah asked.

"That is the only reason for it." Max happily said with a small laugh, before a stray thought came to her mind, "Speaking of pubic hair shaving, why is yours in the same shape as that thing on your shirt?"

"It's a wisp lantern, and it's my way of marking my body as one for La Flamme."

"Wow, that's some serious dedication right there." Max said, sounding a bit astonished.

"This was actually a common practice for both males and females of the Cendruex many, many years ago." Herah responded, sounding a bit down by her own words.

"Oh, why did they stop?" Max asked, sounding rather curious.

Herah didn't answer, instead, the youngling let out a sigh before unwrapping herself from Max's body and shakingly getting back up. This caused Max to let out a childish whine.

"Why did you get up?"

Herah stumbled over to her clothes, which had been thrown to the edge of the clearing during their "fight" and began putting them on.

"Because we need to complete the start of the courting, it won't began until you receive your trials."

"Oh," Max got up and caught her trench coat (Herah having thrown it to her) before putting it back on, "So who gives them to me?"

"My parents."

"How are you supposed to contact them?"

"Let me show you."

By this point, Herah had gotten completely redressed and had grabbed her sketch pad from its spot at the edge of the clearing and flipped through it until landing on a certain page. Nodding to herself, Herah ripped the page out and walked to the center of the clearing where they had previously laid. Herah sat the paper down and gestured for Max to back away. Herah then activated Traduire and felt her mouth turn dry.

The piece of paper on the ground glowed before a mirror that looked like an exact replica of Herah's bedroom mirror began to emerge from the sheet, and after a few seconds the mirror had fully formed and now stood proudly in the center of the clearing.

Walking up behind Herah, Max looked at the mirror and saw the reflection of herself and Herah for but a second before the mirror filled with white light.

With that done, Herah turned to Max and began to tell her,

"In a few seconds, we're going to see my father and maybe my mother. I want you to know that neither of them can't hurt you so don't act afraid. Let me bring them up to speed, ok?"

Max nodded yes so Herah turned back to the mirror and began to take deep breaths to calm and prepare herself for a talk with her parents.

With that said, Herah was totally not prepared for a Cendreux that looked like an aged-up and taller version of herself  dressed in a blue tunic to step out of the mirror crying out in joy,

"Herah! My daughter, you're okay!"

"Oh shit." Was all Herah could say before her mother, Rouge, wrapped her up in her arms and began hugging the youngling  into her chest while shouting,

"I'm so glad I can see you again! When your father told me that you were missing an arm and wasn't looking too good I started worrying!" Rouge put a completely terrified Herah at arm's length while hurriedly saying, "I mean I knew that you make it out and survive, but you're my daughter so I-"

Rouge paused as a scent from her daughter hit her nose. A bit confused by the smell, Rouge inhaled deeply through her nose a few more times to make sense of the smell. It was only upon the fourth time that realization of what it was dawned on her. Seeing what her mother was doing, Herah quickly tried to defuse the problem before it could begin.

"Mom wait, I need to tell you someth- HURRK!"

Rouge had moved her hands from around Herah's back and began to use them to strangle her daughter with righteous fury in her eyes and voice.

"YOU'VE BEEN MISSING FOR OVER A WEEK, AND THE FIRST THING I SMELL ON YOU IS THE SCENT OF SEX!"

Max watched in mute horror as Herah began grabbing at her mother's shoulders in an attempt to stop her from strangling her into unconsciousness. It was only after, Herah began to loosen her grip on Rouge's shoulders that Max tried to say anything to the raging mother.

But this was for not because before even a sound could leave her mouth, Max felt the temperature drop heavily. Frost began to appear on the trees, grass, and the swords that marked the graves of the Oni. A cold breeze blew through the clearing, causing Max to shiver and tightened her trench coat around herself. Rouge was feeling the cold as well since the mother began to see her own furious breaths materialize in front of her. Looking down at her legs, Rouge saw frost creeping up her clothing and tried to say something.

"Shi-"

But before Rouge could finish, both herself and her daughter were completely frozen.

Eyes widening at what had just happened, Max tried to shout but quickly shut up once someone else emerged from the mirror Herah had created.

They were an orange colored Cendruex, who was extremely burly, had scales covering every inch of skin on their body, and wore a white polo with the top two buttons unbuttoned and some khaki slacks. They had aquamarine eyes and wore what Max thought to be a kind smile. A large arrow-pointed tail hung behind them, moving from side to side almost lazily.

Yet even with such a laid-back look, the Presence released by the Cedreux was extremely oppressive and seemed to promise agony.

Immediately after stepping out, the Cendruex looked directly at Max with the smile on their face that never lost its kindness. The Cendruex didn't look too bothered by the cold that had enveloped the clearing, in fact, they walked right up to Max without problem, making sure to not bump into the frozen mother and daughter on the way.

Now standing before and towering over a shivering and very terrified Max, the Cendruex leaned down and looked Max directly in the eye before cheerfully stating,

"Hello my name is Orange, and I am the father of the youngling you've seem to have gotten extremely friendly with."

Orange then brought their left hand up and rested upon Max's right shoulder, the human looking back at him with greats amount of fear as frost suddenly covered the entire right side of her body. Max's fear only increased when her breath began to freeze solid soon after leaving her mouth, dropping and shattering at her feet each time a breath left her. Then the human's fear peaked when Orange spoke some kind yet sinister words.

"Would you please catch me up on what's happened? I want to know a bit more about the nature of you and my daughter's relationship before I decide whether or not to kill you."

The Illustration Joins a Gallery

“And then you asked me to catch you up on what had occurred so you could determine whether to kill me or not.”

Max stood before Orange with her trench coat wrapped tightly around herself since the entire right half of her body was now covered in a layer of frost. Shivering in a mixture of fear and cold, Max looked down at her feet where a pile of shattered breaths sat. It had managed to reach just above her knees by the time her vivid recounting of everything that had happened since meeting Herah ( only giving a very abridged version of her backstory and power explanation) had finished. Now Max was just waiting for Orange to give her his response. The father in question stood before Max clad in his partially unbuttoned white polo and khaki slacks, now rubbing his forehead with his tail while muttering to himself. After a few seconds of this, Orange took his tail from his head and lessened the weight of his Presence around Max.

Max let out an unfreezing sigh of relief as the frost that covered her began to recede and disappear alongside the pile of frozen air in front of her. No longer cold, Max lessened her grip on her coat and gave Orange a thankful smile. Orange let out another sigh before backing a bit away from Max and bowing deeply to her, his tail rigid and pointing upright.

“I thank you for saving my daughter and myself, and I apologize for the fear I’ve caused you.” Orange returned to a proper standing position and gave Max a small smile, “Alongside my daughter, I owe you a great debt and hope to repay it in any way I can.”

Max nervously chuckled at Orange before shaking her head and saying,

“Don’t worry about it, lava tits is being a big enough help already and-” Max gasped and put a hand to her mouth while staring back at Orange with an apologetic look. Bringing her hand down to reveal an awkward smile, Max offered up a small apology to Orange. The father just waved her off, before putting both of his hands behind his head while also allowing for his tail to wave lazily behind him.

“I have no problem with the nickname you have for my daughter,” Orange responded, before performing a deadpan stare, “It’s better than the one Iesha gave me at least.”

“Who is Iesha?”, Max asked with a puzzled look.

“A human friend of mine.”, Was Oranges quick reply.

This got a few surprised blinks from Max, which caused Orange to let out another chuckle before answering her unasked question.

“Yeah, I know what a human is and have met my fair share.”

“How?” Max asked, sounding surprised and curious.

Orange took his right hand from behind his head and placed it upon Max’s left shoulder. Giving Max a small kind smile, Orange tilted his head and told Max,

“Don’t worry about my past, just know that I’ve traveled my fair share of universes and met my fair share of humans.”

Max gave Orange a prying stare for a few seconds before shrugging her shoulders and asking,

“So, what happens next?”

Orange’s smile morphed into a serious stare as he took his hand from Max’s shoulder and shoved both it and its partner into his slack’s pockets. The Cendruex then told Max,

“Now I’m gonna tell you the bit about courting a Cendruex that Herah forgot to mention.”

Max’s eyes widened, with a question drenched in worry leaving her mouth soon afterward.

“What did she forget to tell me?”

“One thing my daughter forgot to tell you, was that once the courting begins a tattoo representing either of you will appear somewhere on both of your bodies and sear into your skin.”

“Sear into my skin?” Max asked, touching at her face with a wince at the thought.

Orange nodded yes before saying,

“Don’t worry, it’ll only hurt for a moment then the pain will fade as if it was never there.”

“Ok, so what will the tattoo be?” Max asked, putting her hand down in the process.

Orange just shrugged his shoulders and told her,

“It’s different for everyone, when my wife and I began courting,” Orange pointed behind him towards the still frozen Herah and Rouge “Rouge got a frosty doll on the palm of her left hand with my name on it while I got a partly assembled rifle that spelled out my wife’s name on my right arm.”

“Oh, okay, that doesn’t sound too bad.” Max told herself with a few nods of her head.

“Well that’s great, because the next thing might just be a deal breaker for you.”

Max gave Orange a narrowed stare, not even bothering to ask the obvious question.

“As time progresses, you two will begin to gain the other’s memories.”

“WHA-” Max stopped herself mid-shout and shook her head, before taking several deep breaths. After five breaths, Max nodded to herself and calmly asked, “How does this work exactly?”

This got a raised brow from Orange, followed by a small smile and an answer.

“Depending on how long you’ve been alive and how quickly you grow closer to each other, memories will begin to manifest. The more personal and deeply rooted the memory the longer it will take to show up and more vivid it will be when it does, though most will be insignificant and you won’t really be able to make much sense of them..”

Max began running her hands through her still unkept hair with a thoughtful frown on her face as she looked down. After a few seconds, Max looked back up but not at Orange and made an ah-hah noise.

“That means Herah won’t learn any more of my secrets unless I’m ready,” Max told herself in a whisper (Orange heard her nonetheless) while nodding her head before looking directly at Orange with a calm and collected expression and saying, “Okay, is that all I need to know?

Orange’s smile widened at Max’s words before he let out a hearty laugh that caught Maxto jolt in surprise.

“Why are you laughing?” Max asked, looking at the Cendreux in front of her with a tilt of her head and a befuddled look.

“Ahahahaha! It’s just,” Orange made a humph sound with tears of laughter pouring from his eyes, “It’s not very common that a non-Cendreux, especially a human, sticks around after hearing about the memory part of courting us.”

Hearing Orange’s words, Max allowed a small chuckle to leave her with a small smile following afterward.

“Orange, Herah,” Max tilted her head towards the still frozen youngling that was behind her father, “Has already done a lot for me.” Max put her hands to her chest, “She offered me an ear when I needed one and helped me get back some of my power by allowing me to take her virginity.” Max’s trailed down and looked through Orange and towards where Herah’s mirror sat while she subconsciously added, “Which also got me some pretty good sex, so it was a double win.”

“Max,” The human in question quickly looked back up at a visibly uncomfortable Orange, who had a pained smile on his face and spoke with clear discomfort and held back anger, “Please don’t remind me of the acts you recently committed with my daughter. The remnants of your scents on each other, the smell from that spot, and your very, very, detailed recount of the experience are good enough for my imagination….. And sanity.”

“Sorry,” Max apologized with a nervous chuckle and rub of her shoulder. “Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Herah has already gone that extra mile for me, and I would have to be a real ungrateful bitch to just bow out now. Plus,” Max looked around Orange and towards Herah with a smile, “I’ve already trusted lava tits with a few secrets, a few more over time isn’t that bad.” Max’s smile transformed into a small frown as she pointed at Herah, “But will she be okay with all of that?”

Orange turned back to look at Herah before moving next to Max and telling her,

“While I know for sure that she is perfectly fine with it, it never hurts to get verbal confirmation.”

And with those words, all the frost that had previously covered the clearing began to recede as Orange reigned his Presence back in completely. This left everything and everyone previously covered in frost free of it, including Herah and Rouge.

Rouge looked around in confusion for a few moments before turning her attention to her daughter (who she was still strangling) and giving her a few confused blinks.

“Herah why am I-” Rouge’s eyes widened as a scent hit her nose which was quickly followed by her remembering her reasoning for the choking of her daughter, “OH YEAH! That’s why I’m doing this.”

These words were soon followed by a snarl from Rouge and renewed strength and vigor in her strangling of Herah. Herah, unable to speak due to her mother’s hands, began the futile process of patting Rouge’s shoulders for mercy once again. Orange shook his head at his wife’s and daughter’s antics before letting out a whistle which caught Rouge’s attention.

“Sweety,” Orange began, his voice calm and smooth, “Please let go of Herah?”

Rouge turned to Orange with a smile of her own and told him with a surprisingly cheery voice,

“Sure thing sweety,” Rouge turned back to Herah (who’s cheeks had gained a purple tint at this point) with an unhinged smile and said with a sinisterly sweet voice, “Just as soon as she goes limp.”

“Rouge, please?” Orange asked in a slightly pleading voice with an equally pleading look.

Rouge took in Orange’s expression and words before closing her eyes and dropping Herah, who after falling to her knees, thankfully took in as many breaths as possible while muttering thanks to her father and La Flamme.

“Thanks sweety.” Orange told Rouge with a smile and wink.

Rouge let out a huff and rolled her eyes before walking over to Orange and Max. Stopping in front of the two, Rouge took a whiff of Max and glared at her with a disgusted look.

“So you’re the bitch who seduced and fucked my daughter, huh?” The mother asked in disgust.

“Rouge,” Orange sternly responded before Max could say a word. “Would you lower the hostility please?”

“Why should I?” Rouge demanded, turning to and looking down at Orange with a glare as she pointed at Max, “She not only screwed my daughter and took her virginity in one fell swoop, in addition to that, she seems about ready to begin courting my, no, OUR daughter.” Rouge lowered her head until she was next to Orange’s ear and furiously whispered, “You know how much those things mean to Herah.”

“Yes I know how much they mean to Herah,” Orange replied, turning to look at his wife with narrowed eyes and a stare, “Our daughter does as well, Herah chose to do all of this herself after all.”

“I know that,” Rouge said, her glare deepening as she grew steadily angrier, “But as a week ago shows us, Herah isn’t necessarily good at thinking her actions through! Why would she even do this, what about this human makes Herah want to do any of that!?”

“The human you speak of saved the life of both our daughter and myself. Herah is merely trying to pay her debt back,” Orange told Rouge, still maintaining his stern tone of voice.

“But do you really think that everything Herah is doing is equal in worth to that?”

“It does not matter what either of us thinks is equivalent to Herah’s debt, only she can determine the truth of that.”

Rouge let out a frustrated growl as she backed away from Orange and shoved both of her hands into her hair and began rubbing it frantically. After a few rubs, Rouge dragged her hands down her face and looked back at Orange while speaking with barely restrained anger.

“Orange if what Herah is doing goes wrong, she will be screwed! That facet of her life will go nowhere and she might never get over it.” Rouge put one hand to her chest while pointing the other at Orange, “One of our jobs as her parents is to help make sure she lives a fulfilling life and to help prevent her from ruining it or ending it short.”

Orange nodded at Rouge’s words with a straight face before letting out his own breath and calmly telling her,

“Another job we have, is to allow for her to make mistakes and grow from them. Rouge, that’s why we help and don’t actually do everything or make all of her decisions for her. In the end, it’s all up to her what she does.”

This seemed to not be the right choice of words, since Rouge’s response to this was jets of indigo flames shooting from her mouth, nose, ears, and eyes. These indigo flames began shrouding her head in the same vein that Herah’s fire had earlier. Rouge shouting at her husband,

“You don’t seem to get it Orange! She,” Rouge pointed at Max, “Is an unknown! Neither you or I know who she is. And Herah doesn’t either! And our daughter has not only given her her innocence, but she now plans on giving this human she barely knows her one chance at a true life partner!”

“Wait, wha-” Max began but a glare from Rouge immediately silenced her up.

“Sweety, I kno-” Orange tried to begin, but Rouge cut him off with her own words.

“Don’t you dare sweety me right now!”

This caused Orange to let out an annoyed sigh before he began opening his mouth again to calm his wife down only to pause when he saw what Herah was doing behind Rouge.

“I refuse to- What the ash!?” This time Rouge found herself caught off by the act of Herah reaching around the back of her mother and giving her a hug from behind.

Herah, at this point, had just finished catching her breath and offering her thanks to the proper individuals. Though Herah had most of her focus on doing the aforementioned activities, she had been listening to everything her mother and father said and had finally decided to add her own thoughts to the mix.

“Mom, I have something to say.” Herah said, uncharacteristically quiet and calm.

Rouge seemed to calm down just a bit at Herah’s words and almost calmed down enough to listen to her daughter.

Emphasize almost.

“Herah save your breath, nothing you say will change my mind.” Rouge told Herah shrugging her off, only to have her daughter hug her from behind once again.

“Herah sto-”

“Rouge!” Max called out to the mother, causing Rouge to direct her rage towards her.

“What do you want, you fuc-” Rouge paused in her shouting as soon as Max smiled at her and said, “You should listen to your daughter.”

The indigo fire that shrouded Rouge’s head dissipated almost instantly as her anger suddenly left her. Rouge then let out a tired sigh and allowed an apologetic look to come to her face before she said,

“Sorry my little flame. What did you have to say?”

This threw Orange and Herah for a loop, causing Herah to look around her mother and towards Max while Orange just turned towards the human.

“What?” Max asked, rubbing her shoulders at the looks from the pair.

“Don’t worry about it Max,” Herah said, before redirecting her attention to her mother who was looking down at her with a small frown. This caused Herah’s nostrils to flare as twin puffs of smoke left her nose. “I wanted to tell you that yeah, I know that what I’m doing could end up with me incapable of having a love life of any kind. But this could really help Max, and I owe her at least that much.”

Rouge broke away from her daughter’s hug and turned around to face her, crouching just enough that they were the same height. Emerald stared into emerald as Rouge sadly asked Herah,

“Do you really think you owe this girl Max so much from yourself?”

Herah allowed a chuckle to leave her as she smiled at her mother while happily stating,

“Yep.”

“Why?”

Herah leaned forward until her noticeably scaleless forehead touched her mother’s scaled one and their horns touched tips before closing her eyes and whispering to Rouge,

“Because in my eyes, you, dad, and La Flamme are worth all of me and then some. And even if our courting ends with us not married, I’ll still have the three of you. And that’s all good enough for me”

Hearing Herah’s words, Rouge let out another sigh before leaning away from her daughter and rising back up to full height.

“You do realize that if you begin courting each other, she will gain your memories and you hers.”

Herah looked shocked for a moment before a thoughtful expression came over her. Herah shook her head from side to side for a few moments before looking up to Rouge with a completely straight and serious face and saying,

“Fine by me.”

Rouge’s eyes gave Herah a scrutinizing stare for a few moments before she let out another sigh and stated,

“Fine, I’ll let you do this.”

“Great!” Orange cheerfully stated clapping his hands together while still staring at Max, “But before anything else happens, what the fuck did you do to my wife?”

“Oh the smile thing,” Max said before shrugging her shoulders, “I’ve always been able to calm females just by smiling at them,” Max offhandedly added, “As long as its authentic I think.”

“Why only females?” Orange inquired with a tilt of his head.

“Probably because I’m a lesbian.” Max nonchalantly responded looking Orange dead in the eye.

“Fair enough.” Orange replied with a nod of his head.

“Are you two done?” Rouge asked both Orange and Max with a glare, having turned to face the pair. Both nodded yes, causing Rouge to gesture for Max while saying, “Good. Now come with me Voleur de flamme, I have to tell you your trials out of earshot of my daughter.”

“Rouge!”

“Mom!”

“What did she just call me?”

Orange shook his head and used his tail to rub his brow before looking back down at Max and telling her, “Don’t worry about it, just,” Orange closed his eyes and let out a sigh before reopening them and pointing towards Rouge, “Just go with her real quick.” Orange turned to look at Herah with a small grin and said, “I want to talk with Herah one on one anyway.”

Max looked over to Herah, who was standing next to her mother shifting uncomfortably as her gaze was focused on her father. Noticing Max looking at her, Herah just waved her off and nodded for the human to go with Rouge. So Max walked over to the mother who quickly snatched her up by the wrist and dragged her out of the clearing into a more private area.

As soon as Orange was sure Max was out of earshot, he walked up to Herah, picked her up, and wrapped her up in a tight hug.

“I’m glad you’re alive.” Orange said to Herah with his chin on her shoulder and a wide smile on his face.

“I’m glad you’re alive as well.” Herah responded with a slight wince of discomfort and a smile of her own as she buried her face into her father’s shoulder. Orange felt a bit of wetness spread into his white polo as Herah allowed her silent tears to seep out of her eyes and into his shirt.

After a few more moments of the two hugging each other, Orange set Herah down on her feet and then sat down before her. Herah joined her father on the ground right after wiping away her tears and drying her face with a quick breath of flames.

“So sweety,” Orange began, still smiling at Herah, “I heard from Max what happened, but why don’t you give me your own account of everything that’s gone on since I last saw you?”

And Herah did exactly that, giving her father her own recount of the last day (or week in his case). Herah told Orange everything, except for Max’s history and the finer details of the “battle” between the two afterward.

“Did you just call sex a “battle”?” Orange asked with a barely restrained laugh, giving Herah an amused smile.

“Ye-Yeah! What if I did?” Herah replied defensively giving her father a glare with a small blush on her cheeks.

“Was that an attempt to censor yourself?” Orange asked, his smile widening as tears began to pool in the corner of his eyes with the Cendruex clearly on the edge of erupting into laughter.

Herah didn’t reply to her father’s question, instead, she looked to the side with her cheeks reddening even more. This sight proved to be the breaking point for Orange, as his body became racked with laughter and tears began pouring from his eyes as he bent over and held his stomach as tightly as possible. Blushing even harder, Herah glared at her father and crossed her arms.

“Fuck you.” Herah told her father, causing him to laugh even harder.

“Didn’t you tell Max that after your 3rd, 17th, and 25th orgasm?” Orange asked with laughter breaking up his speech regularly, as he returned to his sitting position

Herah’s eyes widened in shock as she stared her father down, her expression portraying shame as a realization hit her.

“How detailed was Max in her descriptions?” Herah asked, clearly knowing the answer and hating it.

“Glad you finally got to explore those fetishes you told me and your mother about when you were twelve,” Orange cringed as Max’s description came to mind, “Could’ve done without the play-by-play recount of your exploration though.”

“Flammedammit! You remember that!?” Herah shouted at her father blushing even harder at the memory of that specific conversation.

“Your mother has a recording of it that we sometimes listen to for shits and giggles. You sounded so proud when you told us.”

“I feel even worse about the fact that they’re now confirmed for you.”

“Don’t worry about it sweety, I still love you same. I mean, you share two of them with me.”

“Really whi- AAHH! AMMIT!” Herah shouted, as a searing pain suddenly appeared on her tongue and caused the youngling to stick it out. The pain lasted for a brief moment before completely disappearing without a trace.

“What the fuck was that!?” Herah asked as she stood up and ran a claw over her tongue.

“Oh yeah, forgot you forgot that part.” Orange said as he rose up and caught Herah’s extended tongue between the claw on his thumb and middle finger. Paying no mind to Herah’s bemused moan, Orange got a look at the tattoo that now sat on his daughter’s tongue.

The tattoo was that of a joker card, with a skull in the make-up and hat of a jester in the center of Herah’s tongue with Max’s name upside down at the right tip of Herah’s tongue and right-side up at the back left of Herah’s tongue.

Orange nodded in satisfaction at what he saw and let go of Herah’s tongue.

“What the ash was that for dad!?” Herah asked with an annoyed look on her face, before also asking,” And what the ash did I forget?”

“I’ll answer in that order, I wanted to see what your tattoo would be on your tongue and you forgot that when courting begins you both get tattoos somewhere on your body marking you as such.

Herah faced palmed at Oranges words, cursing herself for forgetting about that part of courting.

“Dammit! I forgot that and the memory swapping thing. Uuuhh! I’m a fucking idiot.” Herah shook her head, “I should’ve brought this up with you before even offering courting as an option to help Max, since the last time we talked about it was three years ago.”

This caused Orange to look at his daughter with a curious expression and ask her,

“Are you regretting your decision to court her already Herah?”

This got a grunt and puff of smoke from Herah.

“Of course not, even with those new things added on I’m still willing to go through with it.”

“But what do you think of Max, do you think you might’ve courted her if you weren’t trying to help her?”

This caused Herah to gain a pensive expression as she began rubbing her chin while looking towards where her courting partner and mother went. After a few moments, Herah found her answer and turned back to Orange to deliver it.

“No, not now anyway. But if Max kept showing me what she already has without too much deviation or issue, I probably would’ve asked her to court me after a month or so.”

“Why is that?”

This solicited a smirk from Herah, which the youngling followed up by offering her father her answer.

“Her clear admiration of my body really works to boost my ego, and the “battle” we had was absolutely wonderful, if a bit pride shattering.”

“That sounds rather shallow,” Orange said with a shiver at Herah’s last words.

“I know, but it is a something I like about her. I also find her vast power and ability to calm me done extremely attractive. Especially because Max doesn’t really flex either of them,” Herah made a sound of musing, “Maybe I find her humility more attractive.”

“That’s something you’re sorely lacking in for sure.” Orange responded in amusement.

“Shut up!” Herah told her father with a flare of her nostrils and twin puffs of smoke. This got her a snicker in response. Narrowing her eyes at her father, Herah continued, “Max is also one of the nicest beings I’ve met and her empathy is something I quite like.”

“You always were a big softy inside.”

“Will you shut up!?” Herah shouted at her father with a blush.

Orange put his hands up with a small grin on his face clearly having fun messing with his daughter.

“Max is also pretty funny and has shown respect for La Flamme, something uncommon for the average Cendreux in our current day and age.” Herah let a growl rumble deep within her throat.

“Herah, not now.” Orange said with a knowing look and sigh.

“Sorry,” Herah responded closing her eyes and taking a few calming breaths. Once done, Orange asked Herah a question.

“Is that all?”

Herah shook her head no, before taking a deep breath and saying,

“To be honest, the reasons I just gave you are just sprinkles compared to my main two.”

“And those are?”

“Will and faith.” Herah said looking down, each word carrying a significant weight to it.

“Oh really,” Orange said in surprise, before tilting his head and asking, “How so?”

Herah looked back up at her father with a smile of admiration on her face as she spoke.

“Max has shown greats amounts of both. I mean, nuking a population to save her brother from being erased is pretty hardcore and something I can respect. And what makes me respect her all the more is the fact that Max clearly knew it would cause her so much pain and suffering, Max felt that her actions were a grave evil that the Oni didn’t deserve. But even with all of that, Max nuked them anyway. Max committed a grand atrocity just to save her brother. Max knew that this would make her hate herself and weaken her severely, yet did it anyway because he meant that much to her.”

“What Max did reminds you of what La Flamme did for you, doesn’t it?” Orange asked his daughter, having noticed the tears that had begun dragging down her face as she spoke.

“Yeah,” Herah said nodding to herself while sucking in her bottom lip, “It does.” Herah then wiped away her tears and continued on, “On the topic of faith, well, Max entrusted me with a secret that her brother doesn’t even know. Max trusted me enough to hand me the truth to her gift and tell me a bit about her past. Ash, Max trusted me enough to began courting me even though this might now work to fully help her.” Herah let out a breath while smiling a wide smile and crying even harder than before. Herah then told Orange, sounding a bit delirious, “Dad, I think I just might have a crush.”

This got a pleasantly surprised chuckle from Orange, that he followed up on by patting his daughter on the head and saying,

“Well if you really feel that way, then I can only wish you two the best.”

“Thanks.” Herah said wiping away her tears once again and rubbing them out of her eyes.

“While still on the topic on how you feel about others, what do you think of your other two comrades?”

“Hmmm,” Herah said while rubbing her chin before telling Orange, “Owen is fairly interesting with his personality and work as a blacksmith, though useless in a fight by his own words and what I’ve seen from him. I’ll reserve my judgment on him for a bit more, but I do think Owen is a friend. Alex, on the other hand,” Herah let out a sigh before gaining a slightly worried look on her face that cause Orange a bit of worry.

“What’s wrong sweety?”

“Dad, I already know your answer but would you please just answer a question for me?” Herah asked with her eyes closed.

“Sure thing.” Orange said, sounding even more worried.

“Will you not look down on me for saying that Alex honestly scares the shit out of me?”

“I would never look down on you Herah, but why does Alex scare you so much? I thought you two reached an understanding with each other.”

“We did, and it’s thanks to the conversation where I reached this understanding and established this bond with Alex that I developed my fear of him.” Herah looked down at her left hand, the one she had used to shake Alex’s.

“Why is that?”

“I get the impression that Alex views me the same way the general populous views the Nettoyants.” Herah looked back up to Orange, “I get the impression that Alex sees me as a very, very, useful tool that is ultimately disposable.”

“And since you will obey all of his order’s no matter what for now, you’re afraid he might dispose of you if a situation calls for it as the best option.” Orange finished for Herah with a frown before putting his hands behind his head and looking up to the sky as his tail rubbed his chin. After a few seconds of this, Orange looked back at Herah and told her, ” If you’re truly that afraid of that outcome, then become his friend.”

“What?” Herah asked with a few surprised blinks. “Why?”

“Because that way he’ll see you as worth keeping around even after Recompense ends, which will lower your chance of being disposed of as you so believe.” Orange responded, before continuing, “Get to know each other better, find something you have in common, just do what you can to become his friend. I know you have some anger towards him and this fear, but becoming his friend won’t just improve your standing in his mind but also your team’s dynamic. But that’s merely what I suggest, it’s up to you to follow through with it.”

Herah thought over what Orange told her for a few moments before telling him,

“I’ll try.”

Orange gave Herah thankful nod before telling her,

“Your mother is on her way by herself, she wants to talk to you alone so I’m gonna go speak to Max for a bit. And you won’t have long with her since Norwe told us we can only stay for two hours here and I wasted most of it having Max recount what had already happened.” Orange moved to leave, but a hurried “Wait!” from Herah stopped him in his tracks.

“Yes, Herah?” Orange asked.

“How do you know Norwe?”

“They’re an old acquaintance.”

And with those words, Orange’s image distorted and bent as he disappeared at relativistic speeds, leaving Herah frowning at the information given to her by her father.

A few seconds afterward, Rouge reentered the clearing and walked up to Herah. Herah looked at her blue tunic wearing mother and smiled getting a smile in response before any words were said.

“How have you been and what’s happened since I’ve left?” Herah asked breaking the silence between the two.

“Firstly would’ve been nice to hear about the rotting smell before I left, nearly passed out when I caught the whiff of one of those destroyed clearings.” Rouge scolded Herah before answering her daughter’s question sounding a bit more caring, “I’ve been worried sick about you and since you’ve been kidnapped I got a raise, two Nettoyants have conquered an entire solar system with over four inhabitable planets, and you’ve had two visitors.”

“Glad you’re getting paid more money, fuck yeah, and who wanted to visit me?”

“You got a visit from that bitch Rose, almost choked the shit out of her when I saw her.”

“What did Rose want?”

“Your ex-teacher wanted to thank you for finally telling her you respected her and to offer an apology for being partially the reason you got expelled.”

“Oh,” Herah said, sounding a bit surprised, “That’s cool, who was the other one that visited?”

This caused Rouge’s eyes to narrow as twin jets of indigo fire shot from her nostrils as she begrudgingly stated,

“La Flamme.”

Immediately Herah’s breath caught in her throat, as she began slapping her breast with the palm of right hand. Euphoria flooded Herah as her breath left her and she dropped to her knees in excitement. Looking up to her mother with a look of zealous glee, Herah breathlessly asked,

“Mistress p-p-paid a v-v-visit to o-o-our house for m-m-me?”

“Yes,” Rouge grunted out with a frown, “Apparently, La Flamme knew immediately after you were whisked away what had occurred and ended up dropping by an entire 28 cycles early to give me something for you.”

Herah immediately jumped up and shouted in fanatical joy, dancing around her mother while singing in her ancient tongue about the wonders of La Flamme before Rouge put a brutal stop to it by slamming her fist into the stomach of her daughter before she could react.

“Ooowwww.” Herah groaned out on her knees before her mother, “That hurt.”

“Don’t care.” Rouge replied with a twitch in her eye and two more twin jets of indigo flames. “Now get up, I want to give you what La Flamme left for you.”

Herah immediately rose with a giddy smile on her face that got a disgusted snort from her mother before the elder Cendreux held out the palm of her hand. Not a second after doing so, a small pearl-sized rock with a surface that showed raging flames emerged from Rouge’s hand.

“Is that a-”

“Yes.”

“Did our mistress really-”

“Yup.”

Herah stared at the rock in silence for a few seconds with wide eyes and a dopey look on her face. That was until Rouge shoved it towards her causing Herah to look back up at her mother in disbelief and ask,

“Is this-”

“Yes it is, now take the stupid rock and put it into the front of your throat for me. Don’t ask why and tell no one where you put it.” Rouge said, sounding extremely pissed off.

Herah paid no mind to her mother’s ire, and simply took the signal de fumée from her mother’s hands and placed it on her throat. The signal de fumée sunk in without issue and made it seem as if Herah’s thyroid was now more pronounced.

Herah let a happy sigh leave her before quickly wrapping her angry mother in a hug that surprised the elder Cendreux while joyfully saying,

“Thanks mom. I know how much you hate La Flamme, and I’m happy you were able to set aside this hate and give this to me.”

This caused Rouge to let out a sigh before hugging her daughter back and telling her in a ,

“I might hate La Flamme’s guts but your mistress has done right by you, so I can’t ever just turn down doing something La Flamme wants me to do for you.”

“Thanks again mom.”

“No problem.”

After that, not a word was traded between the two as they just stood in silence hugging each other until Orange and Max arrived.

“Aaaah! That’s so beautiful.” Max said in adoration right after entering the clearing alongside a smiling Orange.

As soon as Max’s voice hit Herah’s ears, the youngling turned away from her mother to face her courting partner only to be hit by a wave of foreign emotions once her eyes landed on Max.

Rage, guilt, self-loathing, fear, inadequacy, and gratitude mentally slammed into Herah in massive waves that caused her knees to buckle and for her vision to blur. Herah knew that Max’s knees had buckled as well since panic soon joined and quickly overtook the numerous other waves that battered at the minds of Herah and Max. Both began to drown in the panic that flooded their minds and would’ve passed out if not for the quick actions of both Rouge and Orange.

SMACK!
“Max! Get a grip of yourself!”

Both Herah and Max were quickly snapped out of the flood of emotions that had nearly overwhelmed them and shakily rose back up to their feet. Herah felt the same emotions from before come into her mind, this time much weaker and more diluted with the exception of gratitude which was felt rather strongly by both Herah and Max. There were a few other very insignificant emotions that Herah felt from Max but ultimately found indecipherable. Blinking her eyes a few times, Herah’s vision cleared and revealed the worried face of her mother and the sensation of a stinging cheek.

“Mom, d-did you slap me?” Herah asked with a wince.

“Sorry, I freaked out.” Rouge said with a wince of her own.

“What just happened to the two of us?” Max asked, sounding immensely perplexed since both Herah and Max shared a sense of confusion.

“When the courting starts, your empathetic and memory link is established through one of you laying their eyes on the other.” Orange began explaining, “Once that is done, you will both feel a sudden rush of the other’s emotions (which you just did) which are amplified to a crazy degree before the link stabilizes and works as it is supposed to.”

“Why did you not tell us this?” Herah asked with an angry jet of green fire, the feeling of annoyance felt by both herself and Max being amplified.

“Forgot.” Rouge and Orange replied simultaneously with shrugs of their shoulders.

Herah and Max both let out an annoyed huff before curiosity overtook the emotion for both of them and Max asked,

“How did you forget that?”

“It’s been a couple of thousand years since Rouge courted me, so I think that might’ve been a thought that faded to the back of both of our minds after all these years.” Orange said with a shrug.

Herah felt a foreign feeling of weak surprise invade her mine as Max let out a surprised mmph.

“Oh yeah,” Rouge said, as a memory popped into her head, “That reminds me after the link stabilizes won’t they have several random nights where they enter what amounts to a heat?”

Orange thought to himself for a few moments before saying,

“Yep.”

Herah made sure to file that away before turning to her father, who now stood to Herah’s left, and asking,

“Is it time for you two to go yet?”

Orange nodded yes and walked up to his wife and Herah and wrapped them both up in a bone-crushing hug for a few seconds before setting both down and walking towards the mirror that had allowed both him and Rouge to meet his daughter. Rouge gave her daughter a quick peck on the cheek and joined her husband in front of the mirror soon afterward.

Before either stepped through, Orange turned back to Herah and asked,

“By the way, did you already do your morning prayers?”

“Yep, right before I met up with Max today.”

Orange turned to Max and told her,

“I’ll have your clothes repaired soon enough so you can finally wear something other than that trench coat, and I will add a few improvements.”

Orange then turned back to Herah and asked another question.

“What gave you the idea of courting to help Max anyway?”

“Norwe gave me the stone tablet on which you carved mom’s wedding vows as a reward for succeeding in entertaining him in my fight with Moon, and I got the idea from that.”

This got a narrowing of Oranges eyes and a few slow nods of his head from before he stepped into the mirror and back into his home universe.

Rouge turned to face both Herah and Max before focusing a glare on Max and saying,

“Remember the words I told you when you’re ready to progress to the next level of your courtship of my daughter and don’t fuck around with her emotions, or I’ll kill you.”

Herah felt a foreign feeling of terror enter her mind, that even after being weakened was still rather strong, signaling Max’s receiving of her mother’s threat very well.

Rouge then turned to Herah, who her glared softened upon and told her,

“Don’t die dumbass, and I’ll have some food made for you and your teammates soon. It’ll be in your room when you need it.”

Max’s stomach grumbled at Rouge’s words which got a bit of laughter out of Herah and Max and a glare from Rouge. Shaking her head, Rouge stepped into the mirror and back into her world leaving an empty clearing sans Herah, Max, a mirror that now just showed reflections, and four silver swords.

After a few seconds of silence between the two, Max walked up to Herah and wrapped her up in a hug while telling her,

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for your help Herah. I already feel a better already, but you should know this since you can feel all of my emotions anyway.”

And Max was right, Herah could feel all of her gratitude and joy through their link together and since these emotions were mirrored by Herah they ended up getting amplified as well. So Herah didn’t say a word and just hugged Max back.

After a few minutes of this, however, Herah decided to ask Max a question.

“Hey Max,” Max looked up to Herah with a pleasant smile, “Why exactly did you not want your brother to hear any of what you told me, have you never talked about that day with him?”

“Yeah.” Max told Herah in shame. Though the emotion was diluted between the two, it was still quite strong so there was no mistaking it.

“Why?”

“Herah, what emotions did you first feel when we established our connection to each other?”

“Rage, guilt, self-loathing, fear, inadequacy, and gratitude.” Herah listed without thought.

“That rage you felt is directed at Alex.”

This shocked Herah and caused her to unwrap herself from Max and put her at arm’s length so as to see the ashamed look on her face.

“Why?”

“Because even though it’s irrational for me, I blame my brother partly for what I did on both occasions. And for that reason, and that reason alone, I’ve never spoken about what happened that fateful day. Because I fear that I’ll begin to take that rage that I’ve hidden away for nearly a decade now and direct it towards him unfiltered and without mercy. And I fear that might ruin the relationship I’ve already built up with him. That’s why I’ve never talked about that day or of the following ones with bro.”

With those words, Max’s self-loathing and guilt returned as a few tears ran down her cheeks causing Herah to bring Max back in for a hug and give her a kiss on her forehead.

“Well, you at least have me to share this with.”

This got a chuckle and a bit of happiness from Max which Herah quickly added to with her own, amplifying the emotion and drowning out all others.

“Thanks Herah,” Max told the youngling before snuggling her head into Herah’s chest and letting out a few chuckles in between Herah’s breast which ended up with Herah letting out a few chuckles of her own.

After a minute or two of them hugging, Herah felt a new emotion come from Max which was quickly mirrored by the youngling, lust. Max backed up and away from Herah with a lecherous grin on her face and asked her,

“So Herah, want to go for a round two before we head back to my bro?”

This caused Herah to lose her own lust and groan externally and internally at the thought of having to deal with Alex after what had been done.

“Your brother is not going to be happy with me after learning what I did to help you.” Herah said looking towards their base clearing with a grimace.

“So, why not have a bit more fun before we go?” Max asked walking up to Herah and running a few of her fingers up the youngling’s arms.

“Uhh. I don’t know, maybe we should just get this out of the way and deal with Alex already.” Herah said, not sounding too into another “battle” with Max at the moment. “Why do you even want to go another round?”

Max let out a sigh before her expression scrunched up in concentration as one of her hands ran through her hair.

“What’re you thinking about Max?” Herah asked feeling Max’s confusion through their link.

“Just trying to figure out how to best explain, ah-hah!” Max shouted before saying, “So you know how right after surviving what you thought to be an inevitable death, you get this sudden rush and a greater appreciation for being alive?”

“Yeah,” Herah said dryly, recalling her own brush with death from the night before, “I know what you mean.”

“Well, I get that exact same feeling and a bit horny after my own near misses which I just had with your parents.”

“Oh,” Herah responded in understanding, “I guess that makes sense.”

“So,” Max began sounding immensely hopeful, “Can we go another round?”

Herah rubbed her chin for a few moments before smiling and telling Max,

“Only if we can do it on fire the entire time and I get to lick your armpits again.”

“….”

“….”

“….”

Max’s trench coat was discarded once again for the day.

“Deal.”

A Price is Set

'Note to self, sex on fire is really fucking cool and hot, but its also extremely taxing. Only do it for long periods of time when having a full stomach.'

Herah thought this to herself just as Max finished explaining everything that had happened since Owen had left the pair alone to her Alex. 

Both Herah and Max now stood before an extremely tired Alex, who now wore his blue windbreaker, with Jeffery floating above him while spinning without a care. Max wore what Herah knew to be a genuine smile on her face while radiating lots of joy towards her brother and Herah and a scary amount of lust solely towards Herah. The youngling also felt a slightly weaker tide of constantly swapping emotions beneath these two. Herah herself was barely able to stand, with her last round with Max leaving her on the verge of collapse. Though this exhaustion didn't stop her from wondering why there was a hole right next to Alex that looked like Owen could fit in it.

Alex let out a tired sigh that caught Herah's attention before saying in barely restrained anger,

"So let me get this straight." Alex lazily pointed at Herah and Max with his left middle and pointer fingers, " You two met up, talked about some shit, Norwe appeared and said some shit about Abyss Walkers then peaced out, you talked some more, had sex, Herah's parents appeared, Orange froze his wife and daughter and threatened to kill Max, Max gave him a rundown of the situation, Orange unfroze Herah and Rouge, both of you talked to both parents by yourselves, you all got back together, the beginning of the courtship was finalized, Herah's parents left, you two talked some more, fucked each other again, and finally you came back here. Is that all correct?"

"Yep." Max said with a smile, completely unaffected by her brother's very apparent anger.

 "Ye-Yeah." Herah said swaying from side to side.

GRRRRRRRR!

Herah saw and felt Alex's and Max's attention focus on her. Letting out an annoyed growl, Herah looked down at her stomach and shouted at it.

"Shut up! I'll feed you when I get food."

 "I see Max was exercising her finely honed talents once again." 

Herah looked back up at Alex who was now giving his sister a pointed stare. Feeling a small amount of suspicion through her link with her, Herah turned to Max who now wore a small frown on her face.

"What-" Max paused for a moment before giving Alex a small glare, "What was that bro?"

Alex gained a small smirk and mockingly asked,

"What was what?"

Max, instead of giving her brother a retort, just let out a sigh before allowing a pleased smile to come to her face.

"I'm just going to ignore that for now, because lava tits is clearly hungry and so am I." Max ran a hand through her disheveled hair, "I wonder if that food her mother made for her is ready yet?" Max walked behind Herah and placed both of her hands on the youngling's shoulders before giving her a gentle push forward, "Come on Herah, why don't you lay down against the tree while I get you one of the fruits from it?" 

Max began pushing a wobbly Herah forward and around her brother, but both found their progress stopped by a curious looking Alex sticking out his arm and asking Max a question.

"Why do you call Herah lava tits?"

Max's head shot over Herah's shoulder, allowing for the youngling to see her partner's beaming smile as a reply quickly flew from her mouth.

"Herah can lactate lava!"

Herah turned back to Alex and found him giving her a blank stare.

"What?" Herah asked with a heavy breath and another rumble of her stomach.

Alex shook his head and mumbled something about weird taste before backing up a bit and holding out his right hand towards Herah. For a few seconds, Herah just stared at Alex's hand.

'What the fuck does that mean?'

Herah looked back up at Alex with a confused grimace, which solicited an angry sigh and rolling eyes from Alex.

"Don't give me that fucking look right now Alex," Herah said only sounding slightly grouchy. 
"I'm tired, hungry, and suffering from a bruised pride. Right now, I can't understand anything that isn't straight and to the point."

 Alex rolled his eyes again and shook his outstretched hand before issuing Herah an order.  

"Give back my dope orb ashbrain."

With a small frown and drowsy nod of her head, Herah stuck out her left hand and held it above Alex's own outstretched one. Alex's gift floated down and out of Herah's hand and into Alex's own. Once his orb was back, Alex moved his hand up to his mouth as yawn left it and spoke once again.

"Quick question Herah, do you only lactate after having a child or is it all the time?"

Herah gave Alex a slightly confused look before telling him,

"All female Cendreux began lactating at the age of nine, but until we have a kid every time our breast reach half of their max capacity the magma will be added to our own body for personal use."

Alex looked away from Herah and began to tap his nose while mumbling to himself. Herah just shook her head before attempting to walk forward and towards the Donneur de Frêne once again. But before Herah could complete her step, Alex stuck out his arm once again to stop her progress.

"What Alex?" Herah asked, sounding and feeling only a tiny bit frustrated.

'Not being as angry as I usually would is weird and oddly discomforting.'

Herah gave Alex an annoyed stare which the human matched with another sigh and, surprisingly enough, a bow.

"I wanted to tell you that I am truly thankful for what you're doing for Max and that I'm pretty sure you did what you thought was best."

Herah just blinked in surprise at Alex before feeling Max's own surprise which was followed by the feeling increasing twofold.

"Really!?"
"Really!?"

Herah watched as Alex rose up from his bow, yawned, and rubbed his eyes before speaking to the pair.

"You both sound a lot more surprised then you should, I'm guessing it's because of the bond.

"Yep." Max said with a rapid nod of her head while Herah did a single slow nod.

"Hey sis, can you leave Herah and I alone for a bit? I want to do some one on one talking with her."

Suspicion immediately overtook the surprise that Herah felt through her link with Max, as the human walked around Herah and up to her brother with a scrying look upon her face.

"You're not going to do anything drastic, are you?" Max's words came out accusatory as if knowing that's exactly what her brother was about to do.

Alex, though very clearly tired, stared down his sister with a lighthearted smile and told her,

"I have no intention of killing Herah if that's what you're worried about sis." 

This did little to lower Max's suspicions, however, since Herah felt the emotion increase twice as much at Alex's words. Staring her brother dead in the eye, Max's stare deepened as a small frown came to her face.

"Bro," Max crossed her arms while speaking with an air of seriousness, "Me and you both know that killing someone is far from the worst thing you can do to them."

"True enough," Alex told his sister with an understanding nod before saying, "How about this, I have no plan to harm Herah at this very moment."

Herah felt Max's suspicion wane for a brief moment before increasing once again which was followed up with Max and Alex beginning a back and forth of sorts that Herah found herself too tired to care about. So Herah tuned the pair out and looked up to Jeffery and sent them a mental question. 

'Hey Jeffery, where is Owen right now?'

The pencil filled Herah's head with one of their memories, showing Owen using his hammer and chisel to blast a hole into the ground before jumping into it. 

'Thanks Jeffery. Do you mind knocking a fruit over to me, I'm running low on fumes.'

Jeffery floated over to the Donneur de Frêne and knocked one of the knot-shaped fruits off of it and towards Herah. Herah caught the metallic treat with little issue before quickly taking a bite and allowing for herself to just enjoy the taste.

'Ahh silver, extremely unhealthy but so tasty.'

Herah sent a mental thanks and request for another fruit to Jeffery, as her flame and body felt a bit renewed. After eating three more of the Donneur de Frêne fruits, Herah felt back up to one hundred percent and redirected her attention to Max and Alex.

"Why is so hard for you to say that nothing bad is going to happen between the two of you if I leave you alone?"

"Because I can't tell the fucking future and for all I know Herah might get hostile."

"Why would Herah get hostile bro? What could you do that would piss her off?"

Alex gained a look of complete disbelief before turning to Herah and gesturing towards Max as if to say: Can you believe what she's saying. Herah rolled her eyes and tapped Max on the shoulder, causing the human to turn and face her partner.

"Yeah, lava tits?" Max said with no small amount of affection.

Herah pushed the subtle narrowing of Alex's eyes to the back of her head before speaking to Max.

"Just go on, I'm pretty sure I know what your brother wants to talk about and its unlikely to end in violence."

This got Herah a feeling of surprise from Max and two looks of the same emotion from both Alex and Max. With pursed lips, Max gave Herah a stern face that made it visibly clear for everyone there that her feelings hadn't changed a bit. In response to this, Herah bent her knees until her eyes were level with Max's and asked her a question.

"Why don't you trust your brother on this one? Alex did say they have no plan on hurting me so I'll probably be fine if I just talk with him for a bit."

Max stern look grew even sterner, but Herah knew that it was an act from Max. This was because the youngling felt Max's suspicion become matched by a feeling of trust as her stare loosened and a sigh left her.

"Ok, I'll leave you two alone but," Max gave Alex and Herah a glare each, "I'll be back in fifteen minutes. By then you better be done, so we can make a plan."

Herah nodded in agreement to Max' words then looked over to Alex and found him nodding as well.

"Owen and I have the threads of a plan already, but we needed to know what the state of your gift was, how ashbrain's gift worked, and the exact physical capabilities of ashbrain first. Now all I need to know about is those last two things and that can happen when you get back so," Alex made a shooing gesture towards Max, "Shoo."

Herah didn't even need to look at Max to know that the human gave her brother a death glare before walking out of the clearing. As Max exited the clearing, Alex pointed up to Jeffery and asked Herah to get them to leave. Herah didn't even bother looking or telling Jeffery anything, the pencil just shot away on their own accord. 

With the clearing now empty sans herself and Alex, Herah gained a somewhat interested look, put both of her hands behind her head, and began popping the bones in her back. While doing this, Herah watched Alex walk up to her and give her a quick sniff.

"What the ash was that?" Herah asked Alex, as the human backed away from her and nodded to himself. With a couple of feet now between the two, Alex looked up to Herah and gave her a small glare.

"I just wanted to know whether or not you smell like you just fucked my sister."

"Was that all you wanted to know?" One of Herah's brow rose in confusion, "You could've done that with her here."

"Of course that's not all I want to know dumbass," Alex scoffed at Herah as the youngling growled back at him, "I wanted to know a few things, cheifly how my sister was actually doing."

"Max already said everything was okay, you don't trust her word or something?" Herah asked Alex with a slightly confused stare while popping the bones in her neck.

"Herah, I've known Max for seventeen years now," Alex shoved both of his hands into the pockets of his jacket before looking towards Max had left, "She tends to lie when she doesn't want me to worry about something." Alex let out another sigh as his left hand emerged from its pocket and gestured towards Herah, "I'm quite sure you experienced it to a certain degree when originally talking about what happened last night."

Herah stuck her left arm and crossed her right over it while looking towards where Max had exited the clearing, silently agreeing with Alex's assessment of his sister. Turning back to face Alex, Herah couldn't help but think about how Max blamed him for what had happened.

'I kinda feel bad for you asshole, especially since I'm quite sure you don't know exactly everything Max has lied to you about.'

"So what," Alex turned to look back at Herah who gave him a "really" stare while also switching her arms into opposite positions, "Do you just not trust anything your sister says?"

This got Herah a roll of his eyes and shaking of Alex's head.

"I'm just a bit more scrutinizing of anything Max tells me if she's been through something that I think would leave me upset for some reason or another."

"How often is that?" Herah asked now with her hands back behind her head.

"A little too often to be honest." Alex shook his head, before once again gesturing towards Herah with his outstretched hand, "Anyway how is she doing right now?"

"Your sister is feeling very worried and horny right now." Herah told Alex after taking a second to observe the link between the two.

"Which of us is she worried about?"

"Not sure," Herah said with a shrug of her shoulders, "I can only guess who her emotions are directed at."

Alex nodded at Herah's answer before sticking his left hand back into its pocket and asking Herah another question.

"Did Max tell you not to tell me anything?"

"Yep."

"Should I be worried about it?"

Herah thought to herself for a moment before giving Alex her reply.

"Yep."

"Will you tell me why she didn't want me to learn  about?"

"Nope."

"Why not?"

"Because that was one of the conditions of which Max would talk to me. I had to promise not reveal any information that wasn't confirmed by her to be okay."

"What if I ordered you to tell me?"

"I would die."

"I'm sorry." Herah watched as Alex seemingly short-circuited for a moment before taking a deep breath and letting it out, "Can you clarify?"

"If you ordered me to tell you what Max told me, I would die," Herah dryly said.

"Why?"

"Remember how I said that one of the most grievous insults I could ever levy on La Flamme was to go back on my word?"

"Yeah," Alex responded clearly not sure of where Herah was going with this.

"Well, there are repercussions I would suffer for such insults. For that one, in particular, my flame would instantly snuff itself out." 

Herah watched as Alex let out another sigh before looking away from her and beginning to tap his nose. Seeing Alex's reaction, Herah looked away from him and towards the Oni's home finding the most peculiar of sites.

'Why the ash is there a storm brewing right there, and why is it stationary?'

Herah thought about for a bit longer but couldn't think of a reason, so the youngling redirected her attention to Alex. The human had just let out another sigh and pinched his neck, looking none too happy by whatever his thoughts had led him to conclude. Alex then looked back towards Herah and asked her another question, this one sounding a lot more serious than the previous ones to Herah.

"How do you feel about Max?"

Herah looked back towards the direction Max had exited the clearing through before giving Alex her answer.

"I have a crush on your sister." 

Alex let out another sigh as a frown came to his face before asking Herah another question that seemed just as important as the one before.

"What do you plan on doing about this crush?"

"Nothing right now," Herah said, blinking back at Alex as if that was obvious, "My plans for Max at this very moment are helping her deal with the trauma of killing all of those Oni, getting to know her better, and screwing her."

"So you have no plans of attempting to be more than friends with benefits with my sister?" Alex asked sounding very hopeful.

"None right now, I might get one later."

Herah wasn't too surprised when Alex let out another sigh and his frown returned much deeper than before. Taking his right hand from its pocket, Alex covered his face while shaking his head in an exasperated fashion. 

"Ok Herah," Alex began, clearly annoyed by Herah's answer, "I'm gonna need you to keep  your current relationship status with my sister even if she meets your standards. I would actually prefer if you changed it to just friends by the way."

With those words, Herah lost her curious expression entirely and instead switched to a glare that lacked its usual strength.

"Why is that Alex?" Herah asked, tilting her head just a bit as a feeling of annoyance began to build up within her.

"Fatality amongst the participants is an almost certainty when in Recompense, after all no more than eight of the participants ever make it to the end alive. And that's usually when the pool is a lot larger than our current one."

"How do you even know this?" Herah asked believing the words coming out of Alex's mouth to be utter bullshit, "And what does that even have to do with me and your sister's relationship?"

"How I know does not matter, and the answer to your second question is quite simple. You have the highest chance of fatality in our group, and your death will be bad enough for her deal with as you guys are now. So let's not plant that fire hazard in a forest."

Herah began growling at Alex causing wisp of green fire to flow from her nose and for the same colored flames to began leaking from her mouth. 

"So what if I have a higher chance of dying than everyone else in our group, by the sounds of it that chance is already high enough to begin with. Plus, you were the one earlier who said they couldn't determine the fucking future, did you suddenly gain that power all of a sudden?"

"Hmmm," Herah watched as Alex began tapping his nose slowly and methodically, before snapping his fingers and giving Herah a wide smile and using a forcefully cheery voice, "No I haven't gained seer sight at the very moment. However, allow me to key you in on something I know to be certain."

Alex shoved his hand back into its pocket and crossed the few feet that separated him from Herah, maintaining his false demeanor right up and until reaching the youngling. As soon as Alex reached Herah, the human took his right hand from his pocket and rested it on Herah's shoulder. Alex's smile then turned into a condescending grin and his voice took on a more malicious tone.

"Myself and Max will make it out of this alive, you're... debatable at best."

Herah almost immediately shot back a retort, but a thought mid-shout caused her to pause. After a few seconds of mulling it over, green flames began to leak from Herah's eyes, and the fire in her mouth and leaving her nose flared. Flicking Alex's hand off of her shoulder, Herah glared accusingly at the human.

"This isn't at all abou-"  Herah shook her head, "No, this is partly about how my death could affect Max. But keeping me disposable is a larger priority in your eyes, isn't it? After all, that's why you asked me to make that deal with you earlier. You thought of me as a tool to use and throw away if needed, but I bet I fucked that all the way up when I started fucking your sister!"

"We're alone."

SNIKT!

Herah popped all ten of her claws and glared down at Alex now a bit on edge, with Alex looking back up at her with a cold expression. After a few seconds of the two just staring each down, Alex began speaking to Herah in an uncaring tone of voice.

"You are exactly fucking right." Alex held up a hand, stopping Herah before a word could leave her, "In my eyes, you're a weapon to be used and discarded at my leisure."

"Then what the hell was that about respect earlier, a fucking sham!?"

"Of course not, you just seem to have forgotten what I said.  You have earned a bit of my respect, just a tiny bit. Which is why I now see you as a weapon instead of a defective tool."

"Fuck you!"

"Sorry I'd prefer not to have my sister's sloppy seconds."

The fire leaking from Herah's mouth, nose, and eyes flared once again as the youngling snarled at Alex. Herah's next words came through gritted teeth.

"They only reason I'm not attacking you right now is because Max clearly doesn't want us to fight."

"Hmmm. Nice to see my sister has a leash on you."

"GRRRR."

"Down girl." Alex responded with a condescending tone and an equally condescending grin that didn't leave his face even when Herah shot her left hand out to allow for her claws to hover over Alex's throat.

"That leash you mention isn't too secure."

"Then maybe I should tighten the one I have."

"What!? Are you going to order me to not get close to your sister, to not challenge you or some shit like that?"

"No, neither would really solve the problem."

"I can agree with you on that. Neither would remove that stick from your ass. Something like that would take an  actual fucking miracle."

Alex backed away from Herah and pointed at her mouth.

"That right there is the problem."

"What, my mouth? How so?"

"You don't talk to me with respect. Which means my problem is you haven't submitted to me yet. As long as you believe you have the chance of taking me on, you won't be as useful as you could be and that's problematic."

"Well good fucking luck with that, because I'm sure as ash never going to willingly submit to you."

Alex nodded at Herah words looking none to bothered by them.

"I know, that's why I'm going to do what I'm about to do."

"And what would that be-"

"The magma in your breast should be melting them right now."

Almost immediately Herah knew something was wrong with her chest. It started with the feeling of several drops of hot, gooey liquid (that Herah definitely knew wasn't just magma) slowly rolling down the sides of her breast and towards her abs. Then the smell of burning skin filled her nose, and Herah began to feel steam filling her bra and shirt. This was followed up with Herah allowing her claws to retract and for all of the green flames coming from her head to stop flowing and dissipate in confusion. Herah then raised a hand to one of her breasts and felt what was for sure liquified skin and magma seep into and through her bra and shirt. 

"You can feel the pain."

A few seconds later the pain registered in her brain.

"AAAAAHHHH!"

The sound of a high pitched, distinctly feminine voice crying out filled the clearing. It took Herah a second to realize that it was her voice that filled the clearing as tears began to flow from her eyes. The crying was soon followed by her collapsing down to the ground and writhing in agony as white began to dot her vision. Then the feeling of her breast liquifying reached Herah and filled her with such pain and terror that the youngling dragged her shirt and bra off. With her head and hair now smeared with a mixture of gooey skin and magma, Herah tried to grab both of her breast only to feel them began to soften and meld into each other and her hands. A few more seconds passed before Herah felt one of her breast actually detach from her body and flop into the other one. This caused Herah's other breast to detach as well and for magma to began spilling onto the ground and around her. 

Herah had no idea where Alex was but found herself unable to care about it. Instead, Herah was more focused on the pain that was still felt from where her breast had previously been. Pushing through the agony, Herah forced herself onto her back and reached up and into the now exposed inner area of her body. Herah soon felt one of her fingers brush against a beating organ, the name of which took her a few seconds to come up with.

'My heart, this is my heart. So if I move a bit to the right, there is my flame.'

Herah's hand dipped into her flame and a certain sense of warmth began to feel her entire body as the red fire in her chest began to amplify and encase her in a shroud of itself. Herah's mind cleared up even more as her vision began to clear and the pain from before began to dull.

"The fire is in your chest and you're awake."

Herah suffered a mental whiplash as all the pain from before struck her without mercy and became so overbearing that her mind went blank for a second and her vision completely blacked out. Yet consciousness didn't escape her, Herah was sure of this since soon the sound of yet another agonized scream in her own voice greeted her ears. This time, however, the scream was for a different reason.

'Mo- Mo- Motherfucker! I can't feel- I can't feel my flame! I can't feel my flame!'

Herah cried out within the confines of her mind as more tears began pouring from her eyes. The disconnect from her fire had filled Herah with two feelings that the youngling absolutely hated.

Shame and powerlessness.

Both emotions overtook Herah as the youngling laid on her back unable to do anything but cry, writhe in pain, and scream until her voice was hoarse and afterward weakly whimper.

'Da-Da-Dammit! This wasn't even a fight.'

"You can hear."

Herah (still quite scattered brain and terrified) showed barely any reaction to Alex's words, but was able to figure out that the human now stood to her right with his mouth to her ear. Alex soon began to whisper harshly to Herah

"This is the power I hold over you. At any place, at any time, I can do this to you. I can leave you completely and utterly powerless. And you can't do a single thing to stop it. Nod your head if you understand me."

Herah let out a small whimper before shamefully nodding her head.

"Good, because this will happen to you, every time you challenge me. This will happen to you every time I get tired of your shit. And this will most definitely happen to you if you try to become anything more than my sister's close fuck buddy. Nod if you understand."

The tears running down Herah's cheeks began to flow much quicker as the youngling once again shamefully nodded her head.

"Good," Herah felt Alex raise his head away from hers and rise back up to his full height, "As long as we have this understanding we shouldn't have an-"

WHAM!

CRUNCH!

"GAAHH! Dammit! What broke my fucking arm!?" Alex let out a gasp,  "Je- Jeffery how the hell did you get here!? My eight minutes weren't up yet!"

All Herah could do was lay on the ground barely able to form a thought and completely unable to see, while a feeling of confusion began to join her shame and helplessness. Her confusion was only multiplied when the sound of someone running into the clearing greeted her ears. 

"Finally I made it here!" Max's voice blessed Herah's ears as the youngling began to cry harder with an even greater sense of shame building up, "What the fuck was that shouting abo- Herah! What the fuck happened to yo-" Max paused as if noticing something before speaking in a sickly tone, "Are those your breast? Mmmph! BLEEEHHH!"

Herah could only let out another whimper as the sound of Max emptying her stomach somewhere on the ground entered her ears. This was soon followed up by the sound of Max dry heaving reaching Herah which also made the youngling feel even more ashamed. Herah's shame pretty much tripled when her ears picked up on the sound of someone burrowing up from the ground a few feet away from her. A second later, the sound of burrowing became the sound of the ground breaking open which was immediately followed up by the sound of a soft, childlike voice.

"Hey Alex, I finished making the tunnels and- OH MY GODS! What happened to you Herah!?" Owen paused, Herah knowing where his focus most likely went, before continuing sounding much sicker. "Are those your- Mmmph! BLEEEHHH!"

Herah once again whimpered and began to cry harder as Owen retched onto the ground near her before joining Max in her dry heaving. 

"Great. Just fucking great." Herah heard Alex say, clearly irritated, "Everyone is here now. Somehow."

Herah then felt herself become encased within Jeffery's Presence, a soothing feeling overcoming all of her physical pain which restored Herah's connection to her flame, allowed for the youngling to finally collect her thoughts, and for her vision to return to normal.

The first thing to greet Herah's sights was the cloudless sky and the red star that bore down on Bizzare in the dead center of it. Herah then forced herself up into a sitting position so as to look down at herself and see the damage. 

 Herah couldn't help but wince at the sight that greeted her.

The entire top outer layer of Herah's torso had melted away, leaving the inside organs exposed to the environment. Herah's three-chambered heart was beating seemingly without a care, and her flame was red and burning strongly while her lungs took in air without too much of an issue. Taking in a deep breath, Herah flared her flame and turned it violet before her entire body was engulfed in the same colored fire. A few seconds later, Herah's breast were restored and all pain that had been felt was completely gone.

Now done with the observation of her own body, Herah looked around herself. A sense of revulsion filled her as her eyes went to an area a few inches to her left. Her original breast were there and made for a grotesque sight. Both had merged into a single disgusting, gooey mess that was steadily losing its shape and still giving off steam. Not too far away from her breast were her shirt and bra, now stained with liquefied flesh and magma. Herah frowned at the pounds of fat, bemoaning their condition in her mind. Within about a foot radius around Herah was a small pool of magma that was burning away at the grass and ground it touched. Making a note to clean that up, Herah then directed her attention to the others in the clearing.

First, Herah's eyes landed on Owen. The blue tunic and hat wearing gnome was standing, as Herah had figured, a few feet to her left with a freshly dug up hole that had just recently had vomit deposited into it. Wrinkling her nose at the twin smells, Herah noted that Owen had finished dry heaving at this point and now gave her both an extremely worried and confused stare. 

"What happened to you? And," Owen subtly pointed towards Max, "Is she okay now?"

Herah took a deep breath before letting out a sigh and allowing for a saddened look to come across her face. Looking down and away from Owen, Herah somberly answered his question.

"Max is better now, and... Alex happened, is all I will say."

 Looking back up at Owen, Herah found the gnome frowning for a second before taking his hat off of his head and depositing a piece of platinum the size of his fist onto the ground. Grabbing the metal in both of his hands, Owen tossed the platinum to Herah and tossed his hat back on. Herah gave Owen a muted thanks before chewing on her new snack and turning to find Max. Herah found Max standing of a couple feet behind Owen, still dry heaving over her pool of vomit. 

"Are you okay Max?" 

Herah watched as Max suddenly stopped mid heave before turning towards her with a disbelieving look on her face. Max raised a finger to her chest, and begin to speak sounding absolutely aghast at Herah's question. 

"Am I ok? Am I OK!? Herah I should be asking you that! I'm perfectly fucking fine, minus the even emptier stomach than earlier. Please don't ask how I feel, I'm not going to even verbalize it to you right now. You can check for yourself." Max turned to her brother with the same wide smile that was on his face earlier upon hers, "Somebody else, however, I feel needs to hear my words to get how I'm feeling."

Before Herah could say another word to Max, the human wiped her mouth and stomped over to her twin. Herah mentally called forward her emotional link to Max which had been pushed to the back of her mind.

'Oh shit! That's how you feel. What- What do I even call this?'

'Rage.' 

'No, that's too weak.'

'Livid.'

'Nah, still lacks strength'

'Mmmhh? How to describe it, how to describe i- Wait a minute.'

Herah pondered the word for a second before coming to a conclusion.

'That'll do. That's the perfect word to use.'

With those finishing thoughts, Herah settled on how to describe Max's current feelings at the moment.

An overwhelming feeling of wrath was what Herah felt from Max, the emotion was so potent, in fact, that Herah was unable to pick up even the tiniest hint of any other feelings through their connection with each other.

"What. The. Fuck. Is wrong with you?" Herah heard Max say, sounding nowhere close to as angry as her feelings clearly showed her to be. 

Herah's head whipped towards her right where Jeffery, Alex, and now Max were situated. Herah's eyes first landed on Jeffery, who was floating just in front of Max while rotating at such a high speed that their image appeared static in Herah's eyes. Herah quickly averted her attention away from Jeffery, however, as her shame increased ten fold and her pride took a devastating blow. Herah's eyes landed on Max, who had lost her smile and replaced it with a contempt riddled frown. 

"Nothing much," Alex replied nonchalantly, his previous annoyance nowhere to be found, "Just a broken arm, a few broken ribs, and some bruises."

Herah looked towards Alex and felt the tiniest fractions of satisfaction at his condition. Alex now laid against a redwood tree that was marked by an almost human-sized crater, sitting just beneath it. Alex was cradling his right arm with his left, which was the sight that drew Herah's eyes first. Alex's right arm was now bent in the wrong direction and was wrangled to the point that much of its flesh was marred by the many shards of bone that jutted out of it every which way. Even with the bones disfiguring the skin so severely, Herah was able to see that much of it now looked blue and dark purple. Herah moved her eyes to his head and found the same colors around his left eye which had now swollen shut. A bit of blood trickled from the left corner of his mouth and down his chin. Yet even with all of this damage, Alex looked more annoyed, if anything else, by his current circumstance.

"That's is not what I meant," Max told Alex through gritted teeth, her frown having turned into a scowl.

"Then what do you mean, dear sister?"  

"I mean why would you do that to Herah?"

"I wanted to get a point across." Alex laid his gaze upon Herah with a wide smile on his face, causing the youngling to unconsciously flinch which elicited a chuckle from Alex, "I think the message got through."

Max looked back at Herah, surely having felt her spike of fear, before turning back to her brother and kicking him in the throat.

"AACK! Dammit Max! I more hurt by the sight of your uncovered crotch than I am by your kick."

Max kicked Alex in the throat again.

"Oh god. That image will stay with me forever."

"What did you do to her!?"

"I used the magma in her tits to melt them and then gave her a few choice words."

"Why did I feel such a sudden spike of fear from Herah when you smiled at her?!"

"Because she now understands that going against me in any form or shape will end with her as she was not too long ago. Helpless and ashamed."

Max's wrath spike tremendously through her link with Herah before the human grabbed her brother by the scruff of his jacket and lifted him up into a standing position. Once there, Max brought her head back and slammed it into her brothers face.

CRACK!

Herah felt a tiny bit of delight as the sound of Alex's nose breaking filled the clearing. 

"Max please stop, you sh-"

Max turned towards Owen with a fierce glare and snarl, immediately shutting the gnome up. Turning back to Alex, Max found her brother giving her a slightly annoyed glare. Alex reached up to poke his nose with his left hand and winced slightly before speaking in a slightly nasally voice.

"I don't think the damage to my nose is that bad."

Max headbutted her brother again. 

"Nevermind, it's destroyed." 

"Dammit Alex! Why the hell would you do something like this to Herah!?"

"I already answered that one sis, try again."

"Alex, me and you both know that you only do shit like this when you believe a problem to be too big to be left festering. Simply showing Herah her place wouldn't ever get this type of reaction from you." 

Alex's annoyed glare changed into a more redrawn and serious expression as his gaze shifted away from his sister. When Alex spoke next, his words came out cold and harsh.

"What makes you think that putting someone as problematic as Herah in their place wouldn't solicit such a response from me?" Alex turned to look at Herah and glared straight through her, "I merely intended to make sure history didn't repeat itself."

"What do you mean history repeats itse-"

Herah watched Max pause mid-sentence as a feeling of realization flowed through their link together. This realization then morphed into a deluge of emotions as feelings of guilt, disbelief, disgust, and pain became all Herah could feel from Max.

That was until all these emotions were overtaken by a single new one, one Herah never expected could be directed at Alex from Max.

'Malice. Such strong and earnest malice. What the ash is Alex talking about? And why does it piss you off that much Max?'

Max didn't say another word, instead, Max allowed her brother to stand on his own before turning away from him and walking a fair distance away. Drawing her deck of cards from her pocket, Max tossed them high into the air.

"52 pickup."

All 52 cards became suspended in the air, before suddenly zooming towards Alex. Once the cards reached Alex, they began encircling his body at high speeds just far enough away to not cut him. Max turned back to face her brother with a cold and haughty look on her face that caused him to flinch much like Herah had earlier. In fact, pretty much everyone in the clearing had flinched when Max had turned back to face Alex.

"Alex," Max began, her malice poisoning the words that left her mouth, "Are you telling me that the reason that you did such a horrid, disgusting, downright sadistic thing to someone who is supposed to be our ally, someone who just finished doing us both a big favor, my friend, is because you didn't want to take any chance of Herah ending up like Artemis, Isis, or Hel?"

"Yes."

Max's eyes narrowed at Alex, who returned her stare with an apathetic one.

"You don't even sound like you regret what you did."

"Because I don't."

Herah watched in complete and total silence as Max nodded at her brother's words. Max then made all 52 cards rotating Alex freeze before closing her eyes.

"You arrogant."

THUD!
THUD!
THUD!
THUD!

Alex let out a pained grunt as his body was slammed and pinned to the damaged tree behind him by four cards through each of his pants legs and by the sides of his jacket.

"Self-centered"

SHUKK!
SHUKK!
SHUKK!

SHUKK!
SHUKK!
SHUKK!

"Dammit." 

 Alex closed an eye in pain as three cards struck either of his legs, soaking his jeans in blood.

"Narrowminded."

SHUKK!
SHUKK!
SHUKK!
SHUKK!

"Fuuuck!"

Alex coughed up a bit of blood as three cards burrowed into his right arm and a single one struck him in his liver.

"SON OF A BITCH!"

SHUKK!

"GAAHH!"

Herah actually winced again, when one more card shot through Alex's right eye while also making note of a thud made by Owen. 

With the last hit, Max marched up to her now pinned brother and began shouting at him even more.

"HAVE YOU LOST YOUR GODDAMN MIND!?"

"Probably."

"Will you stop with the smartassery and just give me a straight answer!?"

Alex gave his sister a one-eyed glare before scoffing and looking away, which caused Max to punch him in the stomach.

"ANSWER ME GODDAMMIT!

Herah suddenly felt a fur covered appear on her back and wrap its long legs and arms around her torso. Herah bristled at the feeling of the fur on her sensitive nerves and growled slightly at the feeling of the creature's breath touching her left cheek.

"It's Norwedammit, when will my creations call me th-"

Max turned away from her brother and towards Herah and Norwe the Sloth with a murderous look on her face.

"SHUT THE FUCK UP NORWE! I DON'T FEEL LIKE DEALING WITH YOUR BULLSHIT RIGHT NOW!"

"Fufufufufufufu," Norwe the Sloth moved one of his arms to tap at his mouth, "I just love it when my creations talk dirty to me."

"Norwe, get the fuck off of me," Herah told the Maker Sloth, wide eyed and feeling quite a bit disturbed.

"Ok, I'll leave  you guys to it." And with those words, Norwe the Sloth disappeared from the clearing.

With that distraction now gone, Herah redirected her attention to Max and Alex. Max now had the rest of her cards floating behind her, looking like they were standby, while glaring at her brother with an expectant expression upon her face. Alex just stared back at Max with what a defiant glint to his eye. After a few seconds of the two just staring at each other, Max impaled Alex through his left hand with a card which got another groan of pain from him.

"What you did was completely unacceptable!"

"I disagree," Alex's sole eye narrowed, "We can't afford to have any dissonance within our group. And Herah has shown she doesn't exactly care for me being the leader."

"I wonder why she might feel that way!?" Max asked her brother in faux confusion, "I see no reason at all for Herah to not want you as our leader!"

"Sarcasm is unbefitting of you, sis."

"Leadership is unbefitting of you, bro!"

 "I was merely quelling the ranks."

"In one of the most ineffective ways possible! Do you want a self-fulfilling prophecy on your hands!?"

"The hell are you talking about?" Alex asked Max, a bit of anger finally being shown, "I've thoroughly crushed any chance of Herah purposely making trouble for you or me."

SHUKK!

Another of Max's card burrowed into Alex, this time in one of his kidneys.

"FUCK!"

"Don't you fucking dare act like that you were doing this for me! And just because you knock someone down, that doesn't mean they won't get back up" Max rubbed her head while letting out a sigh of frustration, "Alex, I can understand why you're so hostile towards Herah, especially now. But that doesn't change the fact that right now, we need to be a team. And that doesn't just mean we have to grit our teeth and work together, we have to be able to treat each other with respect and some semblance of friendliness."

"Fat chance of that occurring between me and her. We've been here before sis, and I'd rather not take the chance of another knife in my back. So I decided to make her unwilling to even pick it up."

Herah watched as Max looked down and shoved both of her hands into her hair, making it an even bigger mess than before. Looking back up at her brother, Max let out another angry sigh before speaking.

"Fear is not the best method for preventing betrayal, especially with our current predicament! If you really want to avoid history repeating itself then why don't you try to do something you've never done before with the other three?"

"Kill her before she tries to kill me? I'm looking to not die sis, that's is very much counterproductive."

Max punched Alex in the throat.

"AACK!"

"No asshole! I meant why don't you try to befriend her."

"What?"
"What?"

Herah felt a flash of surprise and  Déjà Vu, as both herself and Alex gave Max bewildered stares. 

'Did- Did dad tell Max of my fears? Or did dad just mention something about becoming friends being the solution to both of our problems?' Herah's eyes looked to side as another thought came to her, 'Or did Max just think of this on her own?'

"Sis, I'm pretty sure that bridge was burnt very, very recently." Alex spoke while blinking at Max with a look of confusion still on his face.

"Why don't we ask Herah?" Max responded before turning to Herah and winking at her.

'That sadly confirms nothing.'

Alex turned to look at Herah as well and stared at her with an expression that just told Herah that the human thought there was no chance of her saying yes.

'Well, Alex is pretty right to assume that I want nothing to do with him right now.' Herah began to shake and felt rage come to her mind, before allowing it to fade and for a feeling of worry to appear, "But then again, Max did just hand me a golden opportunity to at least try to alleviate my now very much confirmed fears. But still,' Herah reached up to her bare chest, 'Am I just supposed to forgive and forget about what just happened?"

'Bien sûr que pas mon enfant.' A familiar harmonious, gentle voice rung throughout Herah's head, as Herah began to feel heat in her throat that wasn't from her fire.

Herah's eyes widened in shock before the youngling quickly bowed and responded to the foreign thoughts with glee and zealousness.

'Mistress you humble me with your contact, how may I help you?'

La Flamme, the mother of the Cendruex, Cendre, and Couver. The now mostly shunned goddess of the Cendruex. A direct descendant of Norwe. The being Herah considered her mistress. 

They were now speaking to her.

'Ne vous inquiétez pas de la façon dont vous pourriez m'aider, je cherche à vous conseiller.'

'Well what should I do then?'

'Je ne vous dirai pas quoi faire, mais je vais vous dire ceci Alex, l'homme, a agi plus de peur que de haine envers vous.'

'I can see where you're coming from on that front. Alex talks like I remind him of those three Max mentioned.'

'Et tout en disant que oui ne soulagera pas ses soupçons, cela pourrait créer un sentiment de doute dans son esprit.'

'True enough, I know what I will do. Thank you mistress, and may your flame ever burn eternally.'

'Et que le vôtre.'

And with those words, Herah felt the presence of La Flamme leave her head and for her throat to cool down.

Herah then rose from her bow and turned a steely glare onto Alex, who now stared at her in confusion.

'Probably because I bowed out of nowhere and for seemingly no reason.'

Herah then took a deep breath and spoke.

"I am willing to try if you are Alex."

Herah felt a spike of happiness emitt from Max as a smile came to the human's face. Turning back to her still pinned brother, Max began speaking to him cheerfully.

"See, the offer is there for you to take. So why don't you just apologize for what you did and I'll get you down from there and healed in a jiff-"

"No."

Herah wasn't too surprised by Alex's response, though the surprise that came from Max indicated that a no wasn't expected by her. This surprise was then overtaken by malice once again as Max swiped a single card from behind her and put it to her brother's liver, right next to the card that had hit him in that organ earlier.

"What do you mean no?" Max asked Alex, clearly lacking the patience to deal with any more bullshit from her brother.

"I mean no." Alex words came out flat and untrusting, "I'm going to need time to think that over. Give me till the day after tomorrow, I should have your answer by then."

"Dammit Alex! I will not let thi-"

"Max."

Max turned to face Herah, who shook her head and mouthed for her to let it go for now. Nodding at Herah's "words", Max turned back to her brother and gave him one final glare. 

"Ok then. After this conversation, I will not say a word to you until you apologize. And even after that I want something to be made clear," Max raised her right hand and turned the back of it to face Alex. Though Herah couldn't see it, the youngling knew upon the back of Max's right hand sat a tattoo of a pencil writing out her name.

"This is the tattoo that shows that me and Herah are courting each other. But for you, it will gain another meaning. This tattoo marks that Herah is not just a tool or weapon for you to use and discard. Herah is not disposable. And most importantly, we're now a package deal."

"What do you mean?" Alex asked, sounding none too happy by Max's words.

"If you get Herah killed, expect me to follow soon afterward."

A moment of silence filled the clearing as Herah and Alex stared at Max in disbelief.

'Where the fuck did that come from?' Herah thought while also picking up on the feeling of determination that was now flowing through their link together. Herah sent Alex a sideways glance, but got no reaction from him since all of his attention seemed to be on his twin. Alex's disbelieving look soon became a neutral one that displayed no emotion as a question was asked.

"Why?"

"Because I know even this conversation won't change your mind, and until something like that happens this is my way of keeping you in line. Do we have an understanding?"

"Yeah."

Max said nothing else to her brother before turning away from him and calling all her cards back into her hand. Sliding the cards into her pocket, Max walked up to Jeffery (who had stopped spinning at this point) and pointed towards the magma surrounding Herah. The sentient pencil quickly floated over to their creator and began to erase the molten rock that surrounded her. Once done with that, Jeffery released Herah from their Presence and began to hover just above her head. Herah offered a thanks to Jeffery, who sent her images of a thumbs up and a worried looking Rouge. Sending the pencil a mental okay, Herah looked back at Max who bowed deeply to her and began to apologize in rapid fashion.

"I'm so sorry for what Alex did to you."

"Max no ne-"

"I knew I shouldn't have left you two alone together."

"Max please yo-"

"I tried to come the moment I felt your emotions go haywire, but bro had done something weird with his gift so every time I tried to enter I would end up on the opposite side of the clearing."

"Max you did nothing-"

"The only reason I even made it in here was because Jeffery did this weird thing with his, I guess Presence, which allowed for him to just enter with me following shortly afterward. And then we came across you and the sight was absolutely terrifying, and I didn't know what to do, then I saw red, and I felt so, so , ang-"

"MAX!"

The human in question paused and tilted her head up to look at Herah.

"Yeah?"

"Don't apologize to me for anything your brother does, those are his actions and his actions alone. You don't need to take the blame for him." Herah told her, before rising to her feet and gesturing for Max to do the same.

"Ok." Max said, just before standing up to her full height and looking at Herah with a small smile.

"Oh and something else as well."

"Yeah?" Max asked, with a curious tilt of her head.

"Thanks for that by the way. You know, kicking your brother's ass and all of that for me."

This only caused for Max's smile to deepen, before playfully punching Herah in the arm that still had scales  and saying,

"Of course, can't just let my bro go around hurting my friend/ fuck buddy without repercussions." Max's eyes flashed to behind Herah, "And is Owen passed out?"

Herah turned back to the gnome and found him laying flat first on his face. Herah strained all of her senses to make sure that Owen was okay and figured that the gnome had most likely passed out in fear when seeing all of the blood that Alex bled from Max pinning him to the tree. 

"Well if he, is wake him up. It's time to talk over our plan, which means I'm gonna need a bit more information on you Herah."

Herah turned back to Alex and found him standing casually with all of his wounds now healed, though his clothes were still ripped and had blood staining them. Alex wore an expression that showed both displeasure and confusion towards Herah. Alex stood before Herah with seemingly no issue as a single sentence of his rung throughout her brain.

'And there is nothing you can do stop me.'

Herah looked back at Alex and felt shame, rage, and, most importantly, fear. 

'How the ash am I supposed to beat you, if all it takes is a word for you to beat me?'

Herah used a quick flame to burn away all of the liquids that coated her face and began to speak about her capabilities.

"I can lift nearly 500,000 tons, can run over 200 m/s, and react, see, and follow at speeds 58 times faster than the speed of sound. I can fly even faster than I run, going up to Mach 88 though I usually stay around 58 because afterwards it gets harder to control."

"Interesting." Alex said while rubbing his chin before giving her another wide smile that made her flinch once again.

'Is it even possible?'

Alex seis  fitig

After that Herah had told Alex her physical capabilities and about her gift. Following that conversation, Alex and Owen came up with a plan with occasional insight from both Herah and Max, then everyone got to work doing what they needed to do. During this time no apology ever came from Alex, and the Max gave no reply's to any of Alex's attempts to speak with her. On the other hand, Herah and Max spent the time getting to know each other better. 

Herah now knew that Max's favorite color was red, she once lost a bet to a goddess by the name of Hathor and ended up drinking a bucket of cow sperm (Herah did not need to learn that one), that both her and her brother owned a flag making company, and other random things about Max's life. 

The previous night, Herah got to expreince a few memories of Max's, the youngling's personal favorite being one of Max and Alex fighting each other over a red velvet cookie as toddlers. The fight had ended with Max suffering through some type of drug trip and with Alex lying in a pool of his own vomit with a monstrous migraine.

That last part brought Herah a very special sense of happiness.

It was now the very early morning of the day of the Oni attack. A cool wind blew through the clearing that Herah, Jeffery,  Alex, and Max currently resided in, but Herah was unbothered by this. In fact, Herah was spending this time attempting to meditate with the words her father had taught her for it many years previous.

'Clear your mind of anything not your own.'

Herah sat nude a few feet away from the Donneur de Frêne with Jeffery floating over her in their own dreamlike state, waiting for Herah to fall asleep and cuddle with them as usual. Herah took in a deep breath, and used the gathered air as fuel for the fire that had crawled up her throat and now stewed within her mouth gathering heat. As this happened, Herah deafened her hearing to the sounds of the twins breathing and Owen's smithing. Herah also forced the feeling of Max's own emotions down until they were unnoticeable so that only her thoughts and feelings were in her head.

'Focus on your emotions.'

Herah allowed for herself to disregard all thoughts that weren't focused on her feelings, and found that at the very moment tremendous amounts of rage, fear, and shame filled her. As Herah focused on these emotions, the youngling also willed the red flames in her mouth to seep from between her lips, through her nose, and out of her ears. This was followed by the red fire engulfing her body.

'Now grab these feelings and allow for them to overtake you.'

Herah didn't have to open her eyes to know that the flames around her were beginning to change color. First, the fire was red, then orange, then yellow, then green, then blue, then indigo, before finally settling on violet. As the flames changed color, they also grew in heat. Which meant by the time Herah's fire rested on the last color, the surrounding grass had already been turned to ash and had its ashes burnt away.

'Now stew in these emotions, ponder them, and try to accept them. Only once done should your flame recede back into you.'

But before Herah could begin to do such a thing, her focus was broken by the feeling of a stick poking her in the head. Annoyed and knowing of who poked her, Herah retaliated towards the stick wielder.

WHAM!

CRACK!

"Dammit! That hurt."

With her right fist still out in front of her the air and her body still shrouded in violet fire, Herah popped open a single eye and found herself greeted by the site of Alex looking a bit ruffed up.

Alex was laying against the only other damaged redwood tree that bordered the clearing with the Donneur de Frêne, wearing nothing but a pair of green boxers, which allowed Herah to get a better look at his body. While clearly nowhere close to Herah's own fitness, Alex had a noticeable hint of muscles covering his body that did nothing to detract from his overall gender-neutral look. Alex (with his hair down once again) glared back at Herah as a bit of blood dripped from his mouth and a bruise began to form on his left cheek.

"The fuck do you want?" Herah asked Alex in a severely aggravated, yet slightly shaky tone while taking her newly reassembled braid (courtesy of Max) from in front in between her breast to behind her back.

Alex continued to glare back at Herah in silence for a few seconds before losing his glare and letting out a sigh.

"I've finished pondering on what I was going to do about your offer."

Alex's words caused Herah to flinch as the memory of what happened to her after returning to him with Max came to mind. Shaking these memories away, Herah lost her glare and instead gave Alex a serious stare while subconsciously feeling nervous of what his reply might be.

"And?"

Alex got up and walked up to Herah before sitting just out of the reach of her flame shroud. Alex let out another sigh before looking away from Herah and speaking under his breath. 

"I'm sorry for what I did Herah, it was cruel and outta line and you really did little to deserve it. So, does your offer still stand?"

Herah blinked at Alex at a few times before saying the only words that could come to her head at the moment.

"Can, can you repeat that?"

"No. Fuck you."

"Fuck you too then!"

"Sorry, I don't screw animals."

"Apparently your sister does."

"I think it can be agreed upon that Max is a fucking weirdo."

"I know right, like your sister nonstop asks me the weirdest things about myself and my people."

"Like?"

"Do we poop and pee?"

"That is a weird thing to ask someone and should definitely be obvious."

"I know right? Like the Cendreux evolved outta creating excrement and urine a few generations before mine."

"Wait, really?"

"Yeah," Herah said with a nod, "My generation now utilizes everything that goes into our bodies or pukes it out. Anything that makes it pass our stomach usually never makes it past the small intestines and if it does it's fully absorbed into our bodies before it makes it even a fourth of the way through our large intestines."

"You know ashbrain, you have a very interesting anatomy." Alex said with keen interest while tapping his nose, "I've always enjoyed learning about how the bodies of other's worked. I think its's weird all the shit that a body will do, and it's useful knowledge to have when my gift is concerned. I'd love to talk about yours more if you mind."

"Sure thing Alex and- Wait," Herah paused and blinked at Alex in confusion before pointing between the two of them, "What just happened?"

"What do you me-" Alex did the exact thing that Herah just did, before saying, "I- I think we just started a casual conversation."

"Yeah, I didn't figure we'd ever make small talk. It's weird."

"Yeah, weird." Alex began tapping his nose once again, allowing for the two to sit in a comfortable silence for a few minutes before snapping his fingers and saying, "Herah if we survive our battle with the Oni later  today," Alex looked up to sky,"Judging by the placements of those definitely radiation filled clouds, I'll tell you about why I feel the way I do towards you." Alex shrugged his shoulders, "Maybe after that we could try that friend thing out. Cool with that?"

"Hmph." Herah smirked at Alex, "Might as well tell me now then, because, as much as I hate to admit it, with that plan you and Owen created victory is certain for us."

"Ahahaha," A smile came to Alex's face, "It's an arrogant thing to presume you know the future."

"It's not arrogance. I'm just keying you in on something I know to be certain."

This got a hearty laugh from Alex, which the human then followed up with by getting up and walking over to one of the sleeping bags Herah had created for the group with her gift. Alex shimmed into his sleeping bag, and before closing his eyes told Herah,

"Do me a favor, go get Owen and tell him to go to sleep. And also don't forget to put that necklace he made for you on, it's vital to our plan."

"Sure thing." Herah replied before standing up and allowing for a smirk to come to her face, "Night asshole."

"Night ashbrain."

Herah walked out of the clearing and towards the forging noise that hadn't slowed in tempo since it started late yesterday night. After about a few minutes of walking, Herah emerged into another clearing created by Owen and Max, with the addition of herself helping this time. 

The clearing was pretty similar to the one the Donneur de Frêne sat in, with one exception: there was no tree in the center. Instead, the clearing had a few of Owen's creations strewn about and laid everywhere haphazardly. Herah walked passed a pile of silver skulls that which was relieved of one of its many heads, jumped over a pile of bracelets that Owen had deemed imperfect, and skirted around several golden necklaces that Herah remembered Owen telling her were liable to explode if touched the wrong way. Once past all of this, Herah found Owen hammering away at something on his anvil, the forge that had previously sat in the center of the clearing missing.

"Gotta get this right Owen, can't mess this up."

CLANG!

"One of your new friends might die."

CLANG!

"It would be all of your fault."

CLANG!

"Don't think about all those who are going to die tomorrow."

CLANG!

"It's not your fault."

CLANG!

"It's you or them."

CLANG!

"Let their deaths be quick and merciful, please Norwe."

CLANG!

"Give them that mercy."

CLANG!

"I don't want to die."

CLANG!

"I don't want anyone to die."

CLANG!

"Mother Reese give me stre-"

"Owen," Herah called out to the gnome, interrupting him mid-word and strike.

"Oh, I didn't notice you there Herah. How can I help you?" Owen said, looking up from his anvil with a pair of welding goggles over his eyes and black gloves on his hands. The gnome also wore an apron, that smelled of coal, oil, and a variety of metals to Herah. The same could be said for Owen in general at the moment. Feeling her mouth water slightly, Herah shook her head and walked up to Owen. Smiling slightly Herah leaned down until her face was right before his and tapped him on one of his goggle lenses.

"Can you see me well with those on?"

"Nope, you're just the only person I know that can be on fire and as tall as you are. Let me take these off real quick." Owen reached up to his goggles and ripped them off of his head along with his hat allowing for Herah to see his hair in its now dirty and messy state. "Now with those off, what did yo- you- your- WHERE ARE YOUR CLOTHES?"

Owen looked away from Herah as quickly as possible with a blush dusting his cheeks, though the youngling noticed him give her a few quick glances. Herah smirked at this and began to taunt Owen.

"They're back in the clearing, why do you ask?" Herah said in faux innocence, rocking her body just enough to make her breast jiggle from side to side

"Well put them on! You shouldn't just walk around naked!" Owen proclaimed, giving Herah a few more side glances which caused him to blush even harder.

"Why not? Am I making you uncomfortable?" Herah asked, still playing up an innocent act while rocking even harder from side to side.

"Yes you are, now will you please put some clothes on?" Owen said sounding even more embarrassed, stealing a few more side glances from Herah and blushing even harder.

Herah appeared to ponder this for a few moments before shaking her head and saying,

"Nope."

"Why not?"

"Because I came to tell you to go to sleep, it's early morning and you need your rest."

"Really, I never noticed."

"Yeah, about that," Herah rose to her full height and gestured for Owen to follow her, his tiny and soft footsteps signaling his compliance. "What were you working on?"

"Just a little something that might help you out with your side of the plan tomorrow."

Herah perked up at this.

"Really?"

"Yeah, it should- A-A-ACHOO!" Herah heard Owen rub his nose, "Stupid allergies. They make me nervous."

"Why?"

"Because it makes me think about the changing seasons back on my homeworld since whenever spring comes around another war tends to start."

"Between who?"

"The Fae and the Trolls. Both sides usually come to us gnomes to create weaponry. I've always hated how my people tend to supply those meaningless battles. It's why I rarely ever create weapons for either side, usually enchanted armor and gear to keep them alive."

"Like the stuff you made for us."

"Yeah, it makes me feel like instead profiting of the deaths of others I'm profiting off of the survival of those who buy from me."

"You do realize you're doing both either way, right?"

Herah heard Owen scoff at her words.

"Of course I do, I've been doing it for a few centuries now. I just tell myself that so as to not feel as bad as I know I should."

"Speaking of feeling bad, what was that about before I arrived?"

Owen, still looking away from Herah while stealing glances towards her, let out a sigh and asked Herah a question.

"Will you not look down on me if I answer your question?"

"Of course not."

"I'm afraid."

"That makes sense. Of what exactly?"

"Dying. You guys dying. The Oni dying. Death."

"All rational fears, but don't worry about them too much. Stress won't do you any good later today."

"I know, I know, but- It's just-" Owen threw his hands into the air in frustration, "I don't like the options I have."

"Do tell me," Herah said, turning her head back so as to look at Owen.

"We either let the Oni walk up and destroy the Donneur de Frêne, which is likely to end up with the four of us dead and our universes all the more likely to be destroyed. We could fight and lose, which would end with all four of us dead and our universes more likely to be destroyed. Or we could fight and win, which would end with the death of the Oni. None of these options have happy endings. Two leaves us closer to the annihilation of our homes, one ends up with us dead, and one leaves us as assistance in the genocide of a species. All of them make us selfish assholes." Owen turned his head towards Herah, making direct eye contact as his fingers twiddled together. "How are you so calm about this, do you not care?"

"Of course I care. It's just that I care a lot more about my family, my mistress, and all of those that La Flamme loves a lot more than I do the Oni. And in my eyes, I can make that trade without problem because though I'm damning an entire race, I'm also protecting what I love. And that's a lot more important in my eyes."

Herah faced her head back forward, and the pair walked in silence until they reached their home clearing. Once there, Herah turned back around to face Owen, who immediately averted his gaze once Herah did that.

"Owen I don't have anything to say that might make you not feel bad about what's going to happen tomorrow and even if  I could I wouldn't tell them to you. Why? Because you should feel bad about what's going to occur, all those who die had things they wanted to do, dreams they hoped to achieve, and probably someone or something they loved. What you gotta do is be able to look past all that, however, and instead see that you no lesser of who you were before for it."

Owen nodded at Herah's words solemnly and began making his way towards his sleeping bag. But before Owen could pass Herah, the youngling set a hand on his shoulder. Bending her knees until at the same height as the gnome, Herah offered Owen a kind smile and said,

"But I can alleviate your fear of your own and the deaths of everyone else on our team. Why? Because I promise you that we will all make it pass tomorrow."

"How do you know that? There is no possible way for you to know that."

"Because you and Alex made an airtight plan, and I trust in you enough to know that even if it goes wrong we'll still make it through."

"Really?"

"Really, now head off to bed. You need to be well and rested for tomorrow."

"Yeah, yeah I do need some sleep." Owen said nodding to himself with a happy little smile on his face. Owen then walked to his sleeping bag and got in, and told Herah a quick thanks before quickly falling to sleep.

After a few moments, Herah returned to her spot in front of the Donneur de Frêne and let out a yawn.

"Did you tell the two of them that you trusted in their plan to alleviate any worries they might have or to alleviate your own?"

Herah turned to look at Max, who had been laying against the Donneur de Frêne the entire time.

"What do you mean?"

"While you believe what you say is true, you still have the tiniest bits of doubt in this plan they have devised, don't you?" Max told Herah with a smile, now wearing one of Herah's old shirts (That was too big for her) and an old pair of Herah's underwear, "Thanks for sleepwear by the way."

"No problem and you should already know the answer to your question, shouldn't you Max?"

"True enough," Max said with a quick nod, "But, I'd love to here my thoughts confirmed."

"Then yes, I still somewhat doubt their plan." Herah smiled at Max before nonchalantly stating, "But I'm pretty sure it'll work so it won't bother me too much. Think you can do what you got to do tomorrow?"

Herah noticed no visible change in Max's demeanor, but with a quick scan of their link to each other Herah knew that Max was feeling conflicted. It was only after going through a torrent of emotions that Herah felt Max settle onto one.

Acceptance.

Nodding at Max's nonverbal answer, Herah asked her another question.

"Anything else you want to know before I head off to sleep? Meditation was sorta a bust."

"Why did you feel so ashamed when you saw Jeffery after Alex had attacked you?"

This caused Herah to flinch before looking down and thinking back to when Jeffery had appeared after Alex's attack. It took a few moments, but Herah lifted her head up and asked Max a question.

"I haven't told you about how Jeffery works yet, have I?"

"Nope."

Herah then walked up to Max and sat right in front of her. Letting out a sigh, Herah then began speaking in a somewhat uncaring tone.

"Jeffery will only ever interfere in a situation without my calling of them for two reasons, and for two reasons only." Herah brought up her left hand, "Because they think they might have a bit of fun." Herah raised her right hand, "Or they think that there is no possible outcome to a situation where I win." Herah's voice became bitter and angry, "Guess Jeffery's reasoning for last time."

Max didn't say a word, instead, the human reached over to Herah and patted her on the shoulder while smiling at her. Herah returned Max's smile somewhat, before letting out another sigh.

"Seeing Jeffery was like a slap in the face. It told me just how far above me Alex truly was."

"Why do you want to beat my brother so much? Is it because you don't like the fact that he has such control over you?"

Herah shook her head no.

"At first, it was because I thought Alex was an asshole and I wanted revenge for the stabbing. During the fight to determine the leader, it was because I couldn't stand the thought of following someone who lost all of their will to fight so easily. After that, I wanted to prove to him that I wasn't just fodder to be rid of or a useless part of our team. But now," Herah raise her right fist up and stared at it intently, "After that little show of his gift, I want to defeat your brother to prove to myself that I'm still strong, that I'm not weak, and that I'm not just something to be used then discarded. I want to prove to myself that I can stand on my own, and the only way to do that is to beat him. Whether Alex likes it or not, I now consider him my rival and will continue to do such until either I'm dead or I've beaten him."

"Well Herah, allow for me to alleviate one of your fears. You're not weak at all, in fact, you're pretty fucking powerful. Bro just has more advantages than you, and those aren't impossible to overcome. I know you can beat him and if I can, I'll be there when it happens, so I can laugh at his face alongside you. He's been in need of an attitude adjustment for a while now, it'd be even cooler if it was because of you."

Herah chuckled and smiled at Max once again.

"Thanks, any more questions."

"Just one more."

"Ok, what is it?"

"You down for some spooning, it's a bit chilly tonight and you're the hottest thing around."

Herah began to answer Max's question but paused once a realization hit her. Herah's shroud of fire had receded. Smiling once again, more to herself than anyone else Herah gave Max her answer.

"Nah, Jeffery might get jealous."

A Perspective Buyer Appears

Daybreak had finally come for the group of gifted tasked with protecting the Donneur de Fréne, and each member was currently preparing themselves for the upcoming battle.

"Oh ma dame! Embrasse petit oh rouge moi. Oh ma dame! Embrasse-moi donc je ne serai pas libre. Oh ma dame! Les cendres me chantent. Oh ma dame! Les cendres sont mon destin."

Herah was on her knees before the Donneur de Fréne with a shroud of blue flames engulfing her, as she sung a battle hymn. The youngling now wore a solid black tank top and a pair of black cargo pants. The scales on Herah's left arm and the top portion of her face had grown back at this point along with her horns which had returned to framing her head while pointing upward. Herah had positioned her single strap backpack so that it sat comfortably in-between her folded wings, with the zipper slightly ajar for easy access. Herah also now wore a bracelet that Owen had fashioned for her the night before. It was completely iron and had a small amber gem embedded into it. Along with this bracelet, Herah wore a golden amulet with a copper cross in the center of it

"Lady Reese, may my work not fail me. Lady Walters, may my craft protect my friends. Lady Grey, may you not yet allow us into the grasp of death."

Owen sat not too far away from Herah with his head bowed and his hat off preying. The gnome was once again dressed in his blue tunic and was also wearing his own golden amulet. Owen had also sat the only silver skull that had been deemed acceptable in his eyes on his right.

FRRRWWWPPP

Max sat against the Donneur de Fréne in front of Herah springing her deck from hand to hand. The human was now wearing her newly repaired and improved clothing, courtesy of Orange.  Max's shirt was now red with white letters spelling out: DO YOU WANT THE LIE?, and her khaki cargo shorts had been changed into cargo pants. Max's trench coat still looked much the same, with the only real modification to it being the copper shoulder plate that was now on her left shoulder. Owen had made it and an accompanying brown glove that had a single rubber pad on the back of it. Around Max's neck sat another golden amulet with a copper cross in the middle of it. Herah felt a strong sense of calmness (which was mirrored by herself) come through her link with Max, along with some underlying feelings of dread and fear.

PING!

Alex sat crosslegged on the opposing side of the Donneur deFréne, tapping his nose while meditating with his Brigade of Enlightenment orbiting around his head. Every few seconds one of the orbs would change colors and make a high pinging sound that irritated Herah's ears. Alex had both of his daggers on either side of him and was wearing his newly repaired jeans and white shirt reading: DO YOU WANT THE TRUTH? while his jacket was sitting on his side. Alex also wore a golden amulet with a copper cross in its center.

Now done with her song, Herah opened her eyes and allowed her blue flame shroud to disperse. The youngling then inhaled deeply and let out an annoyed grunt once the overwhelming smell of rot greeted her nose, confirming something the entire group had planned on happening.

With only a 10 kilometer radius separating them, what had to be the remnants of the Oni army had completely surrounded the clearing. Herah knew from information gathered through something of her own creation that it would be another ten minutes before the Oni would begin their march to destroy the Donneur de Fréne.

Herah then turned her attention towards the now destroyed home of the Oni. Well, Herah's attention was more on something that was born from both the destruction of the Oni's home and the leader of the Oni forces gift. A massive storm had been advancing towards Alex's group for the last day or so and would be over them within another three hours by Herah's own predictions. 

Herah turned her attention away from the incoming storm and looked around the clearing.

Owen had finished up his own prayers and now stood with his eyes closed and his breathing steady. Feeling her eyes on him, Owen opened his own and looked back at Herah. The gnome then gave Herah a small smile and nodded his head, soliciting a grin and return nod from Herah. Turning away to face Max, Herah found her friend on her feet as well looking back at her. Since both knew how the other felt, all that was traded between them was a smile and nod. Herah then turned to the Donnuer de Fréne with a small glare. Walking over to and around the ash giving tree, Herah found Alex still meditating with his orbs of lights floating around him.  

"Alex, are you ready?"

Alex paused mid tap and opened his eyes. Leveling a small glare at Herah, Alex let out a sigh and stood up. The leading gifted then did a few stretches, before throwing on his jacket and putting both of his blades into his pockets. Now done with that, Alex turned to Herah and told her with a disturbingly emotionless tone,

"Yeah ashbrain, I'm ready."

Growling at Alex's nickname for her, Herah turned away from the human and walked back over to Owen while reaching into her backpack and redrawing her sketchpad and a pencil.

"Herah, what are you doing?" Owen asked, as the youngling opened up her sketchpad and allowed for her pencil holding hand to blur as it flew across the page. After a few seconds, Herah had completely finished her new illustration. Herah then used Traduire and immediately felt her left eye turn into paint.

"Herah!" Owen shouted.
"Lavatits!" Max shouted.
"Oh no. Her eye turned into paint. How will she ever come back from this?" Alex said in a completely uncaring voice.

Herah rolled her remaining eye and tossed her creation to Owen before reaching into her backpack and redrawing a single nugget of platinum. Herah tossed the metal into her mouth while also wiping away the paint that was now dipping down her face. Soon afterward, a small red fire appeared in Herah's empty eye socket and flared for a moment before dispersing. This revealed a new eye in place of her old one.

"See perfectly fine," Herah pointed at Owen, "Anyway that's for your protection in case some get past any of us."

"You mean you," Alex cut in condescendingly while still maintaining his lifeless tone, "My plan allows for no one to get past me and I know Max well enough to know that whatever she has planned will most definitely be an extremely humane and effective way of getting rid of them. You're the only one of us whose method of killing is inefficient enough that it might lead to stragglers."

One annoyed twitch in Herah's eye and a swift punch from Max to Alex later, Herah wrapped both of the twins in her arms and was preparing to take off.

"This a little to close for my comfort."
"Shut the fuck up brother, we're doing this."

Chuckling to herself, Herah unfurled her wings and launched herself and the twins into the sky, with Alex mumbling something that peeked Herah's interest under his breath.

"Now let's go earn our place in hell next to Hitler."

"Who the fuck is Hitler?"

ONI

Within a clearing that had been created the previous night, a lone Oni who was unlike the rest sat in the lead of her band of warriors. The soon-to-be combatants were currently either praying to the Log, doing whatever maintenance they could on their weapons, or looking just plain old depressed and desolate. This lone Oni however was staring off in the direction that Alex's group had to be. Her skin was the color of the sky that was blocked out by the storm that was slowly approaching their target. Her body was lithe with only hints of muscle appearing here and there across it. She wore a brown crop top that had white stars dotting it and a pair of gold-colored pants and boots. Much like her contemporary, Moon, this Oni lacked a mask, marking herself as a Keijo. This Keijo 's face was that of a matured woman that also retained some of the softness of a younger girl. Her hair was black and lime green with the black portions being stylized into two buns while the green portion was braided into two short braids that hung down on either side of her head. Her eyes were purple and pupilless, holding within them both rage and fatigue. Upon her face, she wore a grimace and ground her teeth together while mumbling to herself.

"Fuck this. Fuck me. Fuck that bitch Max. Fuck that coward Moon. Fuck you Norwe, I know you can hear me. Fuck you dad. Fuck you grandpa. Fuck, I just want this to be over."

"Cheif String," Hearing the cheery sound of one of the many Oni that followed her, the sitting Keijo felt a hand rest onto her shoulder and turned to find a lime green-skinned, female Oni with a slim body and awkward stance decked out in red-wooden armor covered in moss styled like overhauls looking down on her, "It'll be time for us to begin our advancement soon enough. Our soldiers could use some words from their leader, the great String Kujo, to inspire them." The Oni reached up and stroked the chin of her own mask while letting out a pondering sigh, "Maybe it'll help calm you as well."

String Kujo let out a sigh before smiling up at the other Oni and quietly saying,

"I'm hardly great C.C., though you're right. I need to inspire my people, not bitch about my problems."

String Kujo rose up to her full height, revealing that she was just a bit taller than C.C. Walking past the Oni, String looked over her band of warriors and got their attention.

TWEEEEE!

Immediately everyone paused and turned to face String. 

'I fucking hate how I can't tell anyone's expression thanks to their mask. It's annoying as all hell. Whelp, let's get this inspirational shit over with already.'

String took a deep breath and began to grunt loudly.

"I know that right now, shit has hit the fan. Shit has hit the fan then got all into the fan leaving the damn thing a completely broken mess. Of the 3 million Oni that used to be, we only have 5 hundred thousand left. Many of you lost loved ones in the Mushroom Massacre, that has effectively crippled our species. Many of you aren't even soldiers since most of our military was killed in the attack." String let a frown come to her face as she moved a hand into her hair and began to rub it furiously, "Fuck! That isn't very inspirational, give me a second."

String turned away from her soldiers (who were looking at each other in confusion) and began mumbling to herself.

"Damn it String! You need to fucking elevate these guys. You can't just tell them what they already know. Come on! Think of something inspirational, fuck I hate being the leader."

"String," The Keijo in question turned to face C.C., who once again rested her hand on her leader's shoulder, "Give yourself a moment, then try again. I know you can do it."

String let out another sigh before smiling at C.C. and nodding. Taking a few deep breaths, String turned back to the gathered Oni and found them all looking at her while shifting around restlessly. String took another deep breath and let it out, before grunting once again. 

"Look, I know that the odds are, at best, unfavorable for us. The enemy we face has a lot more power and skill in comparison to most of you. All we have are numbers and that could be more of a detriment to us than anything. But I also know something else. We have a chance. We have a chance to save our people from extinction. We have a chance to come back from this. We have a chance to once again prosper as a society."

By this point, the Oni had stopped with their restless movements and some had began to nod along to her words.

"Let me be clear on one thing. Most, if not all of us, will die here today. The odds are against us and we're on our back once again. But we've stayed strong through the drought that left us leaderless. We've stayed strong through the attack of Human and his subsequent followers. We've stayed strong through the years of distrust that was our trial of trust. We've stayed strong through the tumultuous years after my father's and Diavolo's death. So once again, we must stay strong no matter the outcome."

The gathered Oni were becoming rowdier. Some looked down at clenched fist while others let out approving grunts.

"To be honest, I don't know how this will end. By the end of today, that tree may or may not be destroyed. Our opposition may or may not be dead. Our people may be damned or saved. These are all things I don't know. But I do know one thing for sure, we will never lose our strength!"

A chorus of shouts filled the clearing as all the gathered Oni banged their hands against their chest while shouting out,

"KUJO!"
"KUJO!"
"KUJO!"
"KUJO!"

"Now it's almost time for us to begin our march. I expect for those catapults and archers to be here and armed by the time our company makes contact. The north and south companies should have either made it to the clearing at that point or met resistance. Remember, we have to arrive before the east company can do their part so get ready to move out!"

Immediately after her words were finished, all the gathered Oni rushed to get their stuff together and finalize any preparations they had started. String turned away from her forces and instead redirected her attention to C.C. with a reluctant smile on her face.

"I know you're smiling under that stupid fucking mask." 

"Ahahaha." String felt a wave of delight wash over her at her friend's chuckle, "You did great String! Norwe was kind enough to broadcast your little speech to all the other companies, so that should improve morale all around. Now, all we're waiting for is the signal to begin."

String felt her mood fall slightly at the mention of Norwe but shook her head and kept on smiling at C.C. 

"C.C., before I sound the attack I need to do something with you."

"What do you need Chief?"

String said nothing else, instead, the chieftain took her right hand and popped out the claw on her forefinger.

"Anata wa shōkan sa remashita." 

String then dragged her claw down the center of C.C.'s mask, a glowing blue line being left in its wake as it went. 

CRI-CRACK!

C.C.'s mask dropped to the ground, revealing a childlike face and slightly agape lips that sharply took in air. Her eyes were black and pupilless and were in the process of slowly widening. C.C. raised a single hand to rub her face, a gasp leaving her as her fingers touched skin that had felt nothing but a mask for all of its life. 

String let out her own chuckle at C.C.'s reaction and rested her hand on the stunned, newly made Keijo's shoulder.

"If I fall today, you must lead our people. As my most trusted friend, I believe that your hands are the best prepared to lead the Oni."

C.C. said nothing, instead, she looked down at her hands and nodded before looking back at String with a serious and thankful look in her eyes.

"Thank you for trusting me enough to lead in your stead." C.C.'s eyes took on a humorous glint, "But it won't be needed. We got this." C.C. sneezed, "Stupid pollen, I gonna miss my mask for that single reason I tell you."

String just chuckled at C.C.'s words before telling her to help prep for the catapults that would arrive soon. Once away from her friend, String looked back towards her objective while a scary thought came to her mind.

May I be forgiven for what happens next, and I hope not to use your sins father. That might prove disastrous.'

Shaking her head once again, String reached down to the center of her stomach just above her waist were a tattoo of an arrowhead had been carved into her skin. Giving the arrow a soft tap, the tattoo began to glow before a weapon appeared in String's right hand.

It was a nine-section chain whip, with each section being a 5-inch steel rod with three rings of metal connecting all of them together and to the handle and metal dart that ended it. The whip's handle was made of smoothed redwood and wrapped in black leather. The metal part of the chain whip was made of a steel/silver alloy that caused the metal to shine rather brightly in the starlight. On the dart end of the whip hung a red flag that somewhat concealed the end underneath it.

Entering a relaxed stance, String tossed the end of her whip to the side and began to twirl the chain in a tight circle on the right side of her body. As the soft whirring or her chain cutting through the air filled the clearing, String looked back at the warriors behind her finding that they all appeared to be at the ready, waiting for her command. Seeing this, String looked forward once again before whipping her chain towards the sky.

CRAAAAAK!

A red bolt of lightning shot down from the clouds above and struck Strings chain. The electrical charge rippled down the chain before seemingly disappearing into the handle. String let out a pleasured sigh as she felt electricity course through the entirety of herself, feeding her energy. 

With that done, String reached into the pocket of her pants and withdrew a pair of shades. Throwing them on, She then began to walk towards the clearing that held the Donneur de Fréne.

The Oni's attack had begun.

HALT

CRAAAAK!

As soon as Owen saw and heard the lightning, the gnome took his hat off of his head and threw it high into the air. Just as the hat reached the apex of its height, Owen mentally commanded for it to enlarge.

BOOM!

Owen stumbled slightly as the clearing shook with his hat now encompassing the entire area. With that done, Owen sat down and let out a deep sigh before grabbing his silver skull and saying,

"Grant me the sight loss by the Blind Devil Murdock."

Light appeared in the eyes of the skull before a blinding flash filled the clearing. Rubbing the blindness out of his eyes, Owen set down the skull and backed away from it.

After Owen had gone a suitable distance, the silver skull began to project a map that displayed what was to be the battlefield of the battle that would decide both the fate of the Oni and that of the Gifted. 

Allowing his eyes to start at the center, Owen found a large orange circle a blue dot within it.

'So nothing has reached the clearing as of now. Good.'

Owen then allowed for his eyes to go up the map where a single green dot lied in the path of a large horde of approaching black dots that was led by a single purple dot.

'Alex has yet to encounter the front forces of the Oni, I hope he's okay.'

Owen then looked more to the right of the map and found a single red dot not moving as a much larger horde of black dots were almost upon it. Owen reached up to his amulet and held his pinky to it. Closing his eyes, the gnome then sent out a mental message.

'Max are you okay? The Oni will be upon you in about four minutes.'

After a few seconds of nothing, Owen received a reply.

 'Yeah, I'm fine. And thanks for the heads up. Max out.'

Owen nodded at Max's words before allowing his eyes to roam to the left side of the map, where a single red dot stood between the clearing and a horde of black dots equal to that of the ones approaching Max. Owen once again took his amulet in between his pinky and thumb and sent out a mental message.

'Herah are you okay? A large amount of Oni are-'

'Now approaching me. I noticed. Thanks anyway for the heads up. And I'm doing fine right now, don't worry about me. Just remember to let me know when the east side of the Oni forces starts moving.'

Owen sent a mental confirmation to Herah before cutting their link and directing his eyes to the bottom of the map. It was here that the largest horde of black dots lied, unlike the other hordes, however, this one was not moving. Owen felt his eyes drawn to the very center of the horde, which homed a single silver dot that caused shivers to run up his spine.

'Yeah. I'll make sure to let you know.'

With his examination now done, Owen allowed his focus to shift back towards Herah's dot.

She would be the first to make contact after all.

ONI

Jacob lacked direction.

He lacked direction for much of his life. He only ever had direction when he was with his girlfriend, Audrey. To be exact, for seventy years Jacob had direction. That was until a day ago.

Radiation poisoning did absolute wonders to the Oni physiology.

So now Jacob was once again directionless, just going through the motions of life. Maybe that was how he ended up marching through a somewhat lit forest that for some reason had glowing black and white flowers sprouting sporadically in places while what he guessed to be ash covered much of the forest floor that his squad of 450 Oni warriors walked upon. A single leader led their squad, watching them from the treetops while also looking out for any danger that might be hidden within the trees. 

Jacob's body wasn't particularly fit and his skin was red. He was bald and his face was covered by a mask that was an exact copy of every other Oni's. He wore the same chainmail that most of the other Oni in his company wore and had a pair of kama hanging from his sides like most other Oni in his company did.  

'We have 50 squads all coming in from the general north, with about 100 meters separating each squad. This is supposed to make it so the enemy can only concentrate on a single squad at any given time. Depending on who we have to deal with this might or might not be effective.'

Jacob thought of this while also paying attention to what his two companions close to him were talking about.

"Damn." One blue-skinned Oni in front of Jacob began, this one much fitter than him and wielding a tachi hanging from his side, "String got me so pumped up for this fight! The only thing that brings this down is all this dirt or ash or whatever that seems to be covering everything, plus the black and white flowers are kinda scaring me."

"Sam, that's the fifth time you said something about what I'm pretty sure is ash, stop complaining about it logdammit. At worst, it's a minor annoyance." Another Oni, this one a female with yellow-skin and a katana at her side, responded to the Oni named Sam. "And while I will admit that the speech from the chief brings me some peace, I know that she could've told us to fuck off and die in a fire, and you would still be so pumped."

"Maybe I would. I mean that's one of the reasons I was chosen to be apart of our military."

"Which is now only 7% of the actual forces going into battle." Jacob intersected, sounding absolutely abysmal, "We're so fucked."

Jacob watched as Sam began clenching and unclenching his fist, causing a sigh to leave the simple Oni's mouth as he knew what was about to come.

"Every party needs a pooper, that's why we invited you."

"My one hope is that you die before me."

The yellow Oni turned to look back at Jacob with a hand on her hip and said,

"But seriously Jacob, can you not be such a killjoy right now. We all know what our chances are, but we should at least hold some sliver of hope."

"My hope died with Audrey."

Jacob heard both of his friends sigh, before Sam stopped and turned to face him.

"What do you wa-"

KRAKK!

Jacob's head snapped to the side, as his vision filled with white dots. The Oni then began to fall back, but Sam caught him by the bottom of his mask and pulled him back up.

"Stop being such a mopey bitch. You've been like this for the last two days and its just disgusting. How do you think Audrey would feel seeing you like this?"

Jacob looked down to the ground and let out another sigh.

"Like shit."

"Then pick your head up and try to act alive." The yellow Oni commented, "You stopped your job as a historian to come fight for her, didn't you?"

"Yeah, you're right Lucy." Jacob nodded his head before taking a deep breath and letting it out.

 "Hey!" Jacob and Co. looked up to the treetops where the squadron leader had stopped, "Get your asses moving already! An attack could occur at any moment!"

"We're at the back though," Another Oni not too far away from Jacob's group said, "We should be alerted to any attack before it even reaches u-" 

BOOM!

The sound of the sound barrier breaking set off numerous alarm bells in Jacob's mind, causing the Oni to look up towards where the sound came from. What he found wasn't what he feared, but something much worst.

The sky had become ablaze.

Balls of blue flames were now raining down from the sky and striking everything and everyone indiscriminately. Trees went up in flames within moments of contact and fire spread across the ground much quicker than it normally would. Jacob watched in horror as a fireball struck an empty spot between two groups of Oni not too far from his right and quickly engulfed them and much of the ground near them in flames that did nothing to silence their screams. Looking back up, Jacob gasped at the sight of his squad leader falling from the treetops covered in flames, screaming in agony right up until he struck the ground.

"Shit! This ash is flammable!" Lucy yelled before grabbing Jacob and Sam by their arms and dragging them out of the way of an incoming fireball, "Get your asses in gear, we can't stay in one spot too long or we're fucked!"

Any paralysis that held either of the two was broken with those words, and the trio began to run and dart through the hell that now engulfed their entire squad.

"Help me!"

"They're raining fire from the sky!"

"By the Log, don't let me die here!"

These screams and more filled the air as Jacob's squad broke up in disarray. Jacob himself had begun to gag and cough as the smell of burnt flesh and bones began to enter his nose and smoke began to fill his lungs. Looking around him, Jacob found that much of all he could see was smoke and blue flames.  He was just barely able to keep track of Sam and Lucy who were both ahead of him.

"Where are we going!?" Jacob heard Sam ask Lucy over the screams of dying Oni and collapsing trees.

"I don't have a destination in mind at this very moment since I don't really know where we are anymore!" Jacob heard Lucy respond as both he and her narrowly dodged out of the way of a falling tree branch that had caught fire.

"Just shut up and try to just survive right now, we can worry about where we're going when we have a moment to breathe!" Jacob said, adding his thoughts into the mix as another ball of flames crashed down and engulfed a pair of Oni that had been in front of them that had been coming from the direction they were heading.

The fire was endless as the trio continued to dodge the flames and debris that rained down from the sky. At one point, Jacob had tripped over a fallen branch and had almost gotten hit by a ball of fire, but Sam was quick to lug him up and out of the way. Jacob rushed past many dead bodies, sparing the dead no glances as his own personal survival took center stage in his mind.

Jacob knew not for how long he had run, but he had done it long enough that by the time the flames fell behind them and fire stopped raining from the sky he was exhausted. He was sweating profusely and his body felt like lead. Immediately after falling, he fell out on the ground and began to huff and puff as clean air filled his lungs. He heard both Sam and Lucy do the same alongside another pair of Oni he didn't even know were following them. Wiping the sweat from his eyes, Alex looked up to his two friends feeling grateful that they were alive.

"Fuck!" Sam shouted, being the first to catch his breath enough to speak, "That attack must've completely wrecked our squad, we lucked out by being near the back of it."

"Dammit!" Lucy shouted, banging a hand against her side, "Our plan is fucked!"

"What makes you say that?" Jacob asked, now able to speak.

"Our plan was made on the basis that they only have three fighters. That's why we surrounded them and approached them with four separate companies. The higher ups figured that they would only use a single of their fighters to take on a single front and that that would work somewhat, meaning that they wouldn't be able to guard all of those fronts successfully. Yet it seems as if they've countered our plan quite effectively already."

"What do you mean?" 

"What I mean, Sam, is that the enemy won't need to focus on our front at all now." Lucy pointed towards the torched area they had just escaped, with Jacob paying careful attention to the slowly approaching flames, "That right there is a barrier that is not impossible to get past, but extremely likely to end in death. If I had to hazard a guess, that attack also hit all of the other squad. They'll probably do something similar for the south side."

"Which means they can choke us through our west and east forces," Sam added, sounding incredibly displeased by that thought.

"Which now means that they would only need two of them to hold us back." Jacob finished the thought sounding just as displeased as Sam.

"So what, is it hopeless now? Are we just screwed right now?! Is everything over?!" One of the two other Onis present asked in fright.

"Get your shit together jackass!" Sam ordered the frantic Oni, causing them to immediately clam up, "Our leader isn't dumb enough to make just one plan. They'll probably switch to the one they had prepared just in case of this outcome."

"So what do we do now?" The other of the surviving Oni asked.

"We go meet up with west company and inform them of the situation," Lucy said before looking up into the sky and searching for something. Finding whatever she had been looking for, Lucy then rose up to full height and began to walk away, "This way."

Jacob rose up to his feet and began to walk towards Lucy but stopped when two wet squelch sounds and two soft thuds from behind him greeted his ears. Jacob then heard wings flapping softly and a low growl come from behind him as he began to profusely sweat once again. The sweat was cold and now terror gripped his heart once again. Jacob turned around and almost shit himself once he saw what was there.

A monster.

A monster with slit emerald eyes that looked upon him with curiosity.

A monster with red skin and scales.

A monster with the horns of a devil.

A monster with leathery wings that stood ready to launch her towards her prey.

A monster that had blood-drenched talons almost as long as his ring finger.

A monster with carnivorous teeth gleaming pearly white.

A monster that stood over the body of two of his kin.

A monster that he knew wanted to kill him.

Jacob saw red.

"You bitch I'll fucking ki-"

SQUELCH!

Jacob's eyes widened in shock as blood splattered across his mask and he fell on his ass.

"Dying to protect one of your own, I can respect that." 

Jacob's eyes widened at the cold words that left the monster's mouth, words that completely lacked in any sense of caring or regret. Jacob looked back to where he had stood and saw that the monster now stood before Sam, who had shoved him out of the way. She stood before Sam with a single of the talons on her left hand buried into the back of his skull. Tears began to poor from Jacob's eyes as he saw the lifeless far-out look that Sam now held. Jacob felt his anger leave him and become replaced by sheer suffering and pain. The monster then looked down at Jacob and let out a disgusted scoff.

"I saw the anger of a fighter in you, but you seem to lack the spirit of one."

Jacob flinched at the monster's words, a sense of shame washing over him.

"You bitch."

CRI-CRACK!

Both Jacob and the monster turned to face Lucy and found a stunning sight before them. Her mask had broken and fell to the ground, revealing the face of a furious and crying female Oni. Her eyes were glowing gold and lacked pupils, and yellow electricity began to ripple across her body.

"You killed my friend."

And with those words, Lucy launched herself towards the monster and gave a horizontal slash to the air between the two. A yellow arc shot from her blade and towards the monster, causing her to swiftly remove her talon from Sam's corpse and raise her arm to block the yellow arc of energy. 

BOOM!

The monster was engulfed in a yellow explosion that launched Jacob several feet away from both her and Lucy. While in his brief flight, Jacob heard the sound of a metallic thunk. After a brief tumble and subsequent shake of his head, Jacob was able to figure out why he heard the thunking noise.

The monster(who looked none the worst for wear) had blocked Lucy's blade with her arm and now stared back at the glaring Keijo with a glare of her own.

"You want vengeance bitch." The monster's eyes glared even harder, "Then let's go."

"Fuck you!"

Lucy withdrew her blade and took a step back before she began attacking the monster with a flurry of cuts and stabs, her blade blurring from Jacob's sight as she did so. The monster's left arm blurred as well, blocking each attack from Lucy with ease. She must've realized this as well since she leaped back from the monster and preceded to slash the air between them in rapid fire motions, yellow arc after yellow arc being launched one after the other with barely any time between slashes. The monster's response to this was to quickly wrap herself up in her wings just before the first arc hit.

BOOM!

Jacob was forced to close his eyes as a yellow explosion once again engulfed the monster, which was soon followed by 19 more. Dirt, grass, and wood went flying everywhere as anything not planted firmly in the ground was launched away, including Jacob and the dead bodies of his brethren. 

"OOF! Uuhh." Jacob groaned as his back smacked against a nearby tree before letting out another groan as Sam's body smacked into him. 

Pushing his dead friend off of him, Jacob rubbed his eyes and shook his head before looking back towards the monster and Lucy. 

What he found was the monster unwrapping her wings from around herself looking perfectly fine, and Lucy staring back at the monster with complete and utter rage on her face.

"Those blast of yours are doing little damage, you might want to try something different." The monster told Lucy in a taunting tone.

"Well if you want me to, then I will," Lucy said before yellow electricity began coursing through her again, "FREEZE!"

Jacob watched in shock as the monster was suddenly forced to her knees, and a deep cratered was pushed into the ground with her at the epicenter.

"So" The monster began, her voice strained, "You can multiply the weight of something that comes into contact with one of your slashes. And, from what I'm feeling right now, the number of slashes will equal the number by which the weight is multiplied. Am I correct?"

Lucy looked away from the monster for a second as an unsure look came to her face. After a second or two of thought, Lucy looked back at the monster and said,

"Yes, you are. And it seems that I'm gonna need to multiply it a few more times before it kills you." 

"Then what are you waiting for?"

Lucy then began launching arc after arc at the monster, the area shaking with each subsequent flash and explosion. By the time Lucy had stopped, Jacob had counted four minutes. By this point, fatigue had finally crept up on her. A  few trees had fallen from all the explosions and all that was left was in the area was dirt. The crater the monster was end had gotten even deeper, much deeper. Jacob actually felt a bit of hope, maybe, just maybe the monster had been killed.

"1639," The monster said, as the cloud of dirt around her cleared up, "That's how many time that you've hit with your arcs. I now weigh 464800 pounds."  

And then Jacob felt his hope die a brutal and bloody death. The monster was alive with barely noticeable tears in her clothing but otherwise fine.

The monster then rose to her full height with clearly no effort and looked up to Lucy, who glared back at her with even more anger than earlier.

"Fuuuck. Yoouuuu." She said through gritted teeth and heavy breaths.

"Hmmm. I'm impressed, it's honestly a shame what I'm about to do to you."

"And what would that be?"

The monster raised her right hand and reveal that within it she held a cylindrical black rod with a small arrowhead-like shape at its end.

"This. This is a pen. This fountain pen to be exact."

"And what are you going to do with it?"

"This."

The monster then flicked her wrist and Lucy's head exploded in a shower of blood and brains, with several of the trees that were behind her having huge sections ripped out of them.

Jacob could only watch in complete and utter shock as Lucy's headless body fell to the ground without grace. This was soon accompanied by the sound of several trees hitting the ground and kicking up plumes of dirt. Jacob then felt a presence approach and began to hang over him.

It was the monster, he knew it. And she confirmed it herself when she began to speak.

"You know, you're the last Oni alive from your company. The rest either died in the fire or by a poke in their brain stem from me." 

"Just end me already," Jacob sobbed as he balled his fist and shut his eyes tight. Tears invisible to the monster began to leak from in between his eyes lids, "You cruel bitch."

"No, I won't."

Jacob paused in his crying to look up at the monster and found her glaring down at him in disgust once again.

"I won't take pity on you. If you want to die then take one of these blades on the ground and do it yourself. Or let my fire eat you up, I don't care. But I will not personally kill you."

"Why?"

"Because every single one of your kin that I killed with my own hands, died trying to protect or fight for something. Those two next to you, I allowed both to see me coming to gauge their reaction and guess what they did?"

"What?" 

"They both tried to move to protect the other. I could respect that, I could respect that friend of yours who died shoving you out of the way. I could respect that Oni over there," Jacob looked towards where Lucy lay, "Who fought to get vengeance for her dead friend. I can respect each and every single one of the Oni that I've killed with my hands. But I can't respect you. Someone who just gives up, someone who just lays down and waits for the blade to strike. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I killed someone like you out of mercy." Jacob watched as a snarl came to her face, "So if you truly want to die by my hand, then find something to fight for, find something to protect." 

The monster then turned away from Jacob and spread out her wings ready to launch herself away, before leaving him with these parting words. 

"Because as of right now, I'm quite sure you're already dead."

The monster flew upward and quickly disappeared from Jacob's sight, leaving him alone with the bodies of his friends and allies as his only company. Looking up towards the sky, where the monster had disappeared, Jacob repeated just one thing that the monster had told him.

"Find something to fight for."

CRI-CRACK!

HALT

'Damn that pissed me off!'

Herah was now floating above the treetops of the forest looking down upon the blazing barrier that had been created to both block off and kill the east company of the Oni forces. At the very moment, the youngling was double checking for any survivors.

'Well except for that piece of shit.' Herah let out a snort of flames at the thought of the worthless Oni that had asked her to kill him, 'I can't believe that someone like that is even trying to fight for the fate of their people.'

Herah shook her head to try and alleviate some of her anger. Finding the endeavor useless, Herah reached up to her amulet and sent out a mental message to all connected.

'There's something you all need to know.'

Almost immediately, Max answered sounding rather worried.

'WHAT!? Is it why you're so angry right now?"

Owen was the next one to come in.

'Herah's angry, about what?'

Then finally Alex joined the chat, sounding displeased and dead inside at the same time.

'The fuck do you want right now ashbrain, I can't be distracted for long.'

'Oh my bad Alex. I don't mean to bother you as you do jack shit.'

'Don't think Enlightenment won't work on you through this link.'

'I would just love to hear what you have to say Alex.'

'How are those breast of yours feeling right now, lavatits?'

These taunting words immediately shut Herah up as a feeling of shame overcame her, but this also set off of Max who Herah felt explode with anger.

'ALEX! YOU BETTER FUCKING NOT!'

'Sis, I won't.' There was a brief pause, "As long as she doesn't waste my time.'

"Alex, I swear if you do it again I will beat you till you're in a coma.'

'Now sis, don't be lik-'

'STOP!' Owen cut in before anything else could be said, 'Max please calm down, we can't have you flying off the handle right now. Alex, can you please be an asshole when we're not in the middle of a life or death situation? And Herah, can you please just say what you meant to say and try not to set off Alex?'

Three collective sighs were felt through the mental link and three more yes were felt as well before Herah started speaking about her reasoning for contact.

'Oni seem to be able to become Keijo whenever extreme distress is felt.'

'What makes you say this ashbrain?' Alex asked, sounding a bit displeased by the news.

'One of the Oni I killed lost their mask after I murdered their friend, then began to shoot yellow blades of energy at me.'

'Hmmm.' Alex mused mentally through their connection, "That sounds like that could be a problem, but I don't think extreme distress is the only condition that has to be met.'

'Why not Alex?' Owen asked.

'Because if that was true then we would have a lot more Keijo running around due to what Max did.'

Herah felt Max's emotions spike into disarray as numerous feelings were all being felt at once. Luckily enough for Max, Herah focused on a memory of her own father teaching her the song Nettoyants would sing before going to work and allowed her feelings of content to flow over Max's own. Herah felt Max's emotions become stable once again.

'So what do you think the other condition is?' Max asked, a barely noticeable shift in her mental tone.

'I'd have to get a few more examples of this occurring before I could make any conclusions. But an even better option is to not let it occur, so make sure not to be sloppy... Herah.'

'Fuck off.'

'Anyway, have you taken out the north company yet?'

'Essentially.'

'What do you mean by essentially?' Herah could already imagine the narrowing of Alex's eyes.

'There is one left.'

'Well you know what to do.'

'Yep.'

'Does that mean you're going to kill them?'

'Nope.'

'Herah,' The youngling knew very well that Alex was gritting his teeth, 'Why not?'

'Because it would against my ideals at this very moment.'

'Did we not just have a talk about being sloppy? Leaving whoever it is you're not killing alive would be sloppy. It would be soooo sloppy.'

'I know, but I made a vow to La Flamme many years ago that I would stand by my ideals. And you already know the repercussions for breaking my vows.'

'Herah?'

'Yes, Alex?'

'I hate your fucking guts, I hope you die, and you're lucky I love my sis so much.'

'No love lost, I hope you live, and I know.'

'What I do to the west company is partly your fault, Alex out.'

And with those words, Alex left her mind.

'Herah?" Max called out with worry in her voice and through their link.

'Yes Max?'

'Alex has a point you know?'

'I do, but I'll stand by my beliefs even if it gets me killed.'

'I know, but will you stand by them even if they get us killed?'

'Yes.' Herah said without pause. 'The only thing more important in my eyes is the life of La Flamme and my family, and I'll be sure to handle it if this Oni if they become a big enough threat that they could cause me my life.'

'Still lavatits, maybe you should-'

'Max!' Herah cut in, anger coloring her tone, 'Stop now, my decision will not change. You already know that, don't you?' 

'I-I do.' Max sounded a bit sad, 'Just try not to get yourself hurt, please?'

'I will.'

'Max out.'

And then Max left her mind, somewhat.

'Herah?'

'Yes Owen?'

'I think you hurt her feelings.'

'I did, and I already feel like shit about it.' Herah let out a sigh and grabbed onto her right horn, 'Is that all?'

'Two more things.'

'Ok then, what?'

'Where is Jeffery? And the east company has begun to move.'

'I don't know where Jeffery is, and I'll be over on that side soon.'

'Okay then, Owen out.'

And then Owen left her mind.

Herah let out a sigh before rubbing the side of her head in frustration.

'I'm gonna have to apologize to Max later, that was sorta cruel of me.'

Herah then let out another sigh before launching herself towards the east company.

'I hope what you have cooked up for the south company goes smoothly.'

ONI

Ericka had a dream. 

Ericka had a dream that she would one day be able to live in a world where the two factions that made up her people weren't always at each other's throats. A world that didn't have to fear the threat of annihilation because of the mistakes of the past. A world that she could find love and hope filling the air. That's why she fought, that's why she joined the south company of the Oni attack forces. Destroying their objective would open the pathway to the future she dreamed of.

Ericka was an Oni with brown skin and a fairly fit body, with black hair styled into a bun that was held together by two needles. She wore armor that was a bit more superior to that of her companions. It was full plate samurai armor, red as Sendo (the star that Bizarre orbited) that lacked the standard helmet. On her side hung a katana and a wakizashi, both with red sheaths containing their blades. 

Ericka was leaping through the somewhat dim treetops looking down on her squad while also watching out for anything that could be seen as out of place. She had been doing so for nearly twenty minutes now and found herself a bit worried by the lack of any form of attack.

'Why hasn't the enemy attacked us yet, my squad is near the middle of the company and we're nearly halfway there. Did they not set up any defenses, or is this just one big trap?'

Any more thoughts of that nature were lost once Ericka caught sight of something that made her blood run hot.

Just a few branches away, standing atop a rather wide branch, was one of those who were trying to defend the tree her people were to destroy. The defender almost completely matched the description that Ericka had been given just before her squad had left their home, Jubokko. She was a brunette, had green eyes, wore a trench coat with a slight modification to it, had on what was called cargo pants instead of shorts, and had 52 cards floating around her. 

This was the one named Max. 

But it wasn't her identifying of Max that made Ericka angry. No, what made her angry was the apologetic and sad look that she wore on her face. A look that seemed to say, I'm so sorry for killing most of your population. I'm so sorry for causing such heartache and pain to your people. I'm so sorry for fucking you over.

But Ericka didn't need her apology.

Ericka needed her life.

With a furious yell, Ericka unsheathed her katana and launched herself towards Max. Once in sword range, the furious Oni tried to split her target down the middle. Max's response to this was diving out of the way and rolling into a crouch, while calling a single card to her hand and saying,

"This is a shield."

Almost immediately, an unpainted steel buckler appeared in Max's hand and was put to work as Ericka withdrew her blade from the branch and once again launched herself towards Max. Sparks flew as Ericka's blade skidded across Max shield, which was followed up by Ericka beginning a relentless assault upon Max. 

"Die you bastard!"

Ericka slammed her shoulder into Max's shield, knocking her target off balance. Seeking to exploit this opening, Ericka went for a quick stab at Max's chest that she deflected with a wild swing of her shield. Growling in anger, Ericka flipped her blade into a reverse grip and dragged it up in an upward slash that forced Max back another step, still off balance. Ericka quickly followed this up with a kick to Max's shield that launched her onto her back. The Oni then went for a stomp on Max's left leg that just narrowly missed due to Max rolling to the side. This roll left her back open for a brief enough moment that Ericka attempted to slash at it.

SHUKK!

"GAH!"

One of Max's card lodged itself into the back of Ericka's hand, stopping her attack and nearly causing her to drop her blade. Then the sound of something cutting through the air reached her ears, so Ericka turned around and deflected five more cards. This little distraction gave Max enough time to steady herself and ram her shield into Ericka's back.

"GAH!"

Ericka stumbled forward before whipping her leg around and smacking Max in the side and off the side of the branch. She watched as the human lost grip of her shield and tried to grab at the side of the branch but just nearly missed it.

"I can fly."

Ericka let out another growl as Max flew back up and landed a fair distance away from her. The Oni then clenched her teeth and sprinted towards Max once again, this time dragging her katana along the branch before going into an upward slash. This action launched several wooden chips at Max, causing for her to cover her eyes with her arms and leaving another opening for Ericka to exploit. And exploit this opening she did. Ericka slashed her blade downward, in another attempt to cut Max down the middle. Luckily for Max, she was able to move to the left just enough that the blade glanced out of her shoulder pad and once again buried into the branch. This luck quickly ran out, however, when Ericka used her left hand to withdraw her wakizashi, and slash Max across the abdomen.

"GAAH!"

Blood sprayed through the air as Max bowelled over and lowered both of her arms to cover her now open abdomen.  Ericka didn't give Max time to do much else because she then kicked Max in the face, launching her through the air and flat on her back.

"That was for all the Oni that died in your attack." Ericka said as she flicked the blood off of her wakizashi and slid it back into its sheath.

Ericka then watched in slight satisfaction as Max laid on her back and breathed hardly. This satisfaction soon left her though, when Max said,

"I'm as I was before."

And just like that, Max's wound healed and her clothes pieced itself back together. Ericka let out a growl and got ready to attack Max once again, but then she heard what sounded like an arrow striking the bottom of the branch they both stood upon.

"What the-

"We'll be safe from the explosion!"

BOOM!

Ericka was forced to shut her eyes as an explosion engulfed both herself and Max, and the branch they wore standing on blew up into shards. Now in freefall towards the ground, Erika opened her eyes and looked for her katana and to the nearest tree. Finding both within moments, Ericka snatched her blade out of the air and angled herself towards the tree. She then stabbed her sword into her wooden savior. Almost popping her arms out of their sockets, Ericka's arms jolted as she began to slow in her decent until she stopped just a few feet above the ground.  Letting out a few breaths, Ericka then planted both of her feet on the side of the tree she had used to slow her descent and wrenched her blade out of its unconventional wooden sheath. With nothing to stop the pull of gravity, Ericka then fell and landed on her feet with a practiced grace.  She then turned around and came mask to mask with one of her subordinates, a purple-skinned Oni with a large muscular figure and a bow at the ready and some arrows in his quiver.

"Apologies commander." His voice came out gruff but formal, "I figured when you shouted that one of the enemies must have been up there and in my haste to help I risked killing both you and our fellow soldiers."

Ericka shook her head at his words and replied with,

"Don't apologize, you had the chance to take out the enemy and you took it. Plus, your explosion reduced the branch to harmless wooden shards. Everyone will be fine." Ericka then looked up and growled at what she found, "Too bad you didn't kill her."

Ericka felt her rage bubble up once again as Max looked down on her and her squadron. Then the sound of Oni drawing arrows filled her ears as many took aim at Max. But before any could be fired, Max shut them all down.

"Your weapons are now floating in space."

Ericka let out a surprised grunt when her sword suddenly disappeared from her hand, which was soon joined by all the other nearby Oni.

"I'm sorry for what I did. And what I do next, I do not because I want to."

Then Max said,

"The ground is shaking."

As soon as the words left Max's mouth, Ericka heard a rumble and stumbled as the ground began to shake right beneath her feet. Ericka looked around and watched as many of her subordinates fell flat on their asses or face. She then looked back up at Max and found her pulling a syringe out of her pocket and injecting herself with some green liquid. But her attention didn't linger on this for too long, instead Ericka felt her eyes drawn to red sparkles that had begun to rain down from the leaves of the trees. 

Not quite sure of what they were, Ericka attempted to get away from them but ended up crashing into one of her subordinates and falling to the ground. This left Ericka open to inhale quite a few of the tiny red sparkles.

"Achoo! What the hell are theeese thiiings?" Ericka felt her eyes grow heavy and before she could say anything more, sleep took her.

......

......

...... 

......

"Wake up!"

Ericka's eyes shot open and she found herself looking up at a Keijo she had never seen before.

"Who," Ericka shook her head, "Who are you?"

"I'm C.C." The Keijo said with a surprising amount of cheeriness.

"What, what happened to me?"

C.C. tilted her head to the side slightly, almost as if pondering how to answer Ericka's question. After a second or two of thought, C.C nodded to herself and said,

"Well that Max chick ended up using some type of knock out dust that put the entire south company to sleep."

Ericka hurriedly sat up, nearly hitting C.C. in the head.

"What!? How long have I been out!?"

"About two hours."

"WHAT!?"

Ericka watched as C.C. flinched at her shout causing her to offer up a small apology.

"No problem, anyway I got some good news for you."

"What would that be?"

C.C. smiled at Ericka and said,

"We won."

Ericka felt her heart skip a beat at the words that left C.C.'s mouth. 

"Come again?"

"We won."

"Really?"

"Yup."

"How?"

"Some good ideas from myself and this Keijo named Jacob, some great sacrifices from Moon and String, and some good old fashion luck."

Ericka felt breathless at the words that left C.C.'s mouth. Tears began to prick at her eyes as she rose to her feet and looked around her. All around Oni were being awakened to the good news, some crying out in joy while others just nodded to themselves in silence. Ericka felt her mouth twist into a smile as her knees felt weak and she began to weep tears of joy.

Ericka had a dream. 

And now, she knew it could come true.

HALT

Max stood over the body of the Oni she now knew to be named Ericka, tears pouring down the side of her face as she looked upon a bubble that showed her the dreams of the dead Oni. 

"Tha-That's part of what the red sparkles do." Max said to the body as a sniffle left her, "The-They lull the victim into a coma before casting their mind into an unstable timeline that is formed from my gift and their hopes for the future. T-They will then progress through this timeline until their death within which cause the timeline to collapse. Wh-What occurs to their physical body is a near instantaneous and painless de-death."

Max then looked around herself and upon the sight of the many other Oni that had inhaled the red sparkles (which were still falling) with bubbles floating over all of their corpses.

"It-It's the least I could do for you after all I've done."

'Max?'

Max flinched at the sudden intrusion of Herah's voice. Immediately, she felt a spike of anger rise in her but found it almost immediately snuffed out by her own overwhelming self-hate and guilt. Reaching up to her amulet, Max began speaking to Herah.

'Yeah, Herah.'

Max winced at her thoughts, she knew that they sounded pained and heartbroken.

'I'm guessing you've done your part.' Herah sounded uncharacteristically cautious with her words.

'Yeah, you know earlier I thought I was ready to do this.' Max rubbed a few more tears out of her eyes, 'I thought that it wouldn't be that hard. But I was wrong, I was so wrong and I hate myself even more now.'

'Well don't Max, you allowed for each every single of those Oni to live out their dream. To live out a perfect future.'

'But it's an illusion!'

'But they'll never know, so it might as well be reality.'

'I killed them!'

'And you're going to have to just live with it.'

'Is that all you have to say!?'

'Of course not, what I'm trying to tell you is that you've already done it! So you can't take it back now. What you can do is accept what you did and move on.' Herah paused for a moment, 'Or at least try to. I know it took some time last time, so I won't bug you about it too much. We can talk about this after the battle, okay?'

Max sniffed again, before telling Herah okay and allowing for herself to focus on the link the two shared. A sudden rush of caringness and joy from Herah, allowed for Max to stabilize herself and not think about what she had just done.

'You rest yourself up, I think you're out of this fight for now. Me and Alex should be able to handle the rest.'

'Ok Herah and' Max smiled a small sad smile, 'Thanks for checking up on me.'

Max could feel the smile on Herah's face.

'No problem, Herah out.'

And like that, Herah was gone.

Max then floated up and over the treetops before looking back down and saying,

"Sweet dreams."

Max then turned where she knew her brother to be and felt a bit of worry. She saw that the storm she had used a fib to slow was just now reaching his location and that he would soon be doing his part of the plan.  

'Hey, sis?'

Speak of the devil.

'Yeah brother?'

Max heard Alex sigh.

'I can see you're still very much pissed at me.'

'What makes you think that?'

'You're calling me brother instead of bro. You only do this when especially pissed.'

'Ok, so what is that you had to say?'

'No, of course not! I wanted to check in on you after you started shaking your side of the forest and make sure everything was going okay.'

'I'll be fine.' Max lied, 'Is that all?'

Max knew that Alex was now rubbing his head in frustration.

'Is this about that exchange Herah and I had earlier?'

'Partly.'

'Why does that have you so miffed?'

'Because you two are supposed to try and become friends.'

'And I am, but you know she just pisses me off! I don't know how but she just pushes all my buttons.'

This time Max let out her own sigh.

'I know, but can you at least try to be less of a general asshole when dealing with her. For my sake?'

Alex let out one final sigh.

'Sure thing. Alex ou-'

'Before you go, brother, stay safe.'

Max could almost feel her brother's smile at her words.

'Will do. Wish me luck! Alex out.'

Alex left Max alone, looking off towards where his battle was to soon take place with worry still on her mind.

'Good luck bro.'

ONI

Manuel loved the look of fire.

Whether it be through firewood, matches, stoves, or starlight, he loved to see the flames at work.

It was the second most beautiful thing in the world to him to be exact.

Which is why when the bomb went off and engulfed a good portion of his home in the grandest fireball that he'd ever seen, he felt a perverse mixture of happiness and disgust. The sight was absolutely stunning, but its aftermath was such a horrid and painful affair for all that he hated himself a bit for liking how it looked.

Especially since he should've died in the initial blast. 

The only reason he was still alive was walking behind him, leading him and his fellow Oni warriors from the back as a black storm of her creation floated above and casted a massive shadow over them all. 

String Kujo had saved his life and he now marched in front of her, clad in black samurai armor that was supposed to make it harder to find all of him and his allies within the dense forest unless they had the same night vision that all Oni held. However, the enemy seemed to have seen through this tactic before it was even employed since much of the trees that had originally filled their planned out path was now missing. This left a path of dirt that only a single squad had taken due to a switch in plans. They ended up splitting their company up into five squads as a result. Four of these squads split off and were now traveling on either side of his own through the forest that bordered the path that had been created. String Kujo's squad was now the primary distraction while the other two were to pursue their objective.

Manuel was a rather large and buff grey Oni, years as a blacksmith having given him much training to develop his muscles. He walked in relative silence amongst his contemporaries and leader, the only noise made from him being the shifting of the plates that made up his armor. His group had been marching for a two hours now and nothing of worry or threat had appeared leaving him a bit antsy.

'I wanna kill the bastards who did this to us. That would be perfect repayment for what String did for me. Now if only one would appear.'

"Hey check that out! A single tree is standing in the center of the path! And one of the defenders is sitting in it."

Manuel looked up and found a single of the redwood trees that normally filled the forest standing in the dead center of their path with only about fifty feet between his squad and it. Upon a single branch of the tree, sat one of the defenders of the tree his people were set on destroying. From their look and attire, this one was Alex. The brother of the one that had bombed his people. He was casually swinging his feet to and fro and appeared to be looking down upon Manuel's squad.

"Halt!"

Manuel abruptly stopped alongside the rest of his squad at the sound of String's command. As soon as the squad stopped, Mauel saw Alex pause in the kicking of his feet and rise to stand up on the branch. As Alex did this, Manuel also heard String approaching from behind, walking towards the front of the squad. By the time she had arrived at the front, the storm that hung overhead had overtaken the tree that Alex stood in and was now inching its way closer to where their target lied. Looking up to Alex, Manuel watched as String called up to the defender.

"You're Alex aren't you!?"

"That would be me! I'm assuming you're String Kujo, the leader of the Oni." He shouted back down, sounding rather emotionless as he said so.

"That is correct."

"Good! Great in fact!" Alex shouted back down, lacking completely in the emotion that was supposed to be expressed through his words, "Do me a favor and don't die from my attack! Norwe would be pretty pissed if he missed one of the main events!"

And then Alex reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a box of something that Manuel couldn't quite make out. He then saw Alex reach into the tiny little box and pull out a stick before doing a motion that he himself had repeated many times before.

Alex struck a match.  

Immediately, Manuel found his eyes drawn to the tiny flame that he was just barely able to make out due to the distance. Though this didn't mean that he didn't hear the words that Alex said next.

"Before I do this, know that this is partly because of how pissed off I am at the idiot I'm leading and that your soldiers probably don't deserve what I'm about to do to them."

Manuel felt as if time slowed down, as the match fell towards the ground. He felt his mind enraptured by the sight of the falling flame as his eyes tracked it down until it was just eye level with him. By that point, Manuel found his concentration broken by the words of Alex.

"The fire on that match is just like an inferno."

Manuel's eyes widened in shock as a massive torrent of flames suddenly appeared and rushed towards his entire squad. It would be only a moment before the flame arrived and engulfed them, but yet again Manuel felt time slow down around him as he turned to look towards the one who had saved him from a situation very similar to this one not too long ago. Manuel felt no fear as the flames rushed towards him, because he knew that he would once again be saved.

String Kujo raised a single hand. 

Just before the fire could engulf String, it was forced upwards by a sudden and powerful gale that caused a massive pillar of fire to form just before the Oni. Manuel felt sweat became to seep from his skin as he stared in both wonder and excitement at the power of his leader. 

She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

After a few seconds, all of the fire created was forced up into the sky through the black cloud that hung overhead. For whatever reason, the fire didn't create an opening of any kind. The flames seemed to just have passed through.

Giving little thought to that, Manuel redirected his attention to Alex and found he couldn't make out the expression that the defender was making but could understand how he felt from his words.

"I'm honestly impressed!" Alex shouted down at them, the emotion that he was apparently feeling not at all being conveyed, "Weather manipulation, if I am correct?"

"I don't care for games Alex! I just want to get this over with already and go home!" String called back to the human.

"I agree wholeheartedly with you String," Alex shouted down, "That doesn't change the fact that we have to entertain for our survival though."

Manuel watched as String growled up at Alex before letting out a sigh.

"Ok, so what? Are you just gonna drop another one of those matches, I can block them with ease."

"True enough," Alex admitted, "So instead I'll do this."

"Your Oni warriors should be burning."

Manuel never realized he caught fire. 

Manuel never realized he fell to the ground.

Manuel never realized he died.

All Manuel knew before oblivion embraced him was that String was going to save them all.

She had to.

HALT

Alex batted not an eye as all the Oni before him, erupted into flames and fell to the ground. 

'Sorry guys, but you were in the way of what I hope Norwe believes to be an entertaining fight.'

"They're dying."

And like that every single Oni warrior on the battlefield was dead.

Alex looked down at String, who looked remarkably surprised and understandably stunned by what had just happened. During this period of inaction from String, Alex walked towards the trunk of the tree he stood upon and dived off.

Allowing himself to freefall a fair distance, Alex shot towards the ground with seemingly no care for his own person. That was until he was three-fourths of his way down the tree, at that point, Alex flipped upright and whipped out his kris dagger before impaling it into the tree.

POP!

Alex let out a slight hiss as he felt his right shoulder pop out of its socket at the sudden jolt that hit his body. Luckily enough for Alex, he had managed to keep his grip on his blade until he was just a few inches above the ground. Alex then let go of his kris dagger and proceeded to pop his shoulder back into place.

POP!

"Aaahh. That felt good. But it'll feel even better when Tara heals it."

Alex then reached into his left jacket pocket and withdrew his other dagger, Tara. It was a kila dagger. A blade of Indian design, made of enchanted iron and brass. The blade of the dagger was made up of three other blades coming together to create a tripled-sided stake design. Within the three corners of the blade was the image of a snake wrapping around another that never quite reached the tip. The handle had intricate designs carved into it and was separated into thee separate sections with slight indent at the end of each one. The pommel had the three faces of Vajrakīla, one joyful, one peaceful, one wrathful.

Alex flipped his dagger and stabbed himself in the side with it, his shoulder now having returned to its state before his fall. Alex then jumped up to the tree he had just been in and ripped out his kris dagger from it.

With all of his stuff back on his person, Alex turned to face String who had finally seemed to get over her shock and now looked upon him with complete and utter contempt.

'Good. Now your pissed at me. An angry enemy is likely to make mistakes.'

Alex then walked up to String, only stopping when there was about four meters between the two.

"You killed them."

"Not just those guys," Alex pointed at the still burning corpses then waved his hand all around, "All of your grunts are now dead."

"How!?" String shouted, another look of shock passing over her face, "These were the only ones anywhere close to your fire!"

Alex stared at String with zero emotion upon his face.

"It just works."

String looked down and balled her fist up in frustration, before looking up into the sky and shouting,

"Damn it!"

"Ok String cut the act." Alex rolled his eyes, "Me and you both know that these soldiers of yours already served their purpose."

Alex watched as String flinched at his words, another look of shock flashing across her face before it became replaced with a frown as she glared at him.

"Just because they accomplish what I set out for them, that doesn't mean I don't care what happens to them."

Alex rolled his eyes at String's words.

"Piece of advice, care for very few people. One is good enough in fact. Everyone after that should be considered disposable.

"What a sad way of thinking."

"Not as sad as what just happened to your forces."

Alex watched in with a distinct lack of amusement as String sighed in frustration and lost her glare before asking him,

"How much of my plan do you know?"

"My knowledge stops after you release the leash that you have on that storm of yours. Norwe wouldn't allow for Max to just learn your plan, so we had to use some surveillance of ashbrain's creation. We "mysteriously", Alex did air quotes with his hands, "Lost transmission not too long after learning your initial phase 1."

"But I never said anything close to what you imply during my planning of that phase with the others."

Alex nodded at String's words.

"True. I figured out the actual purpose of your plan after a bit of thought." Alex pointed at String, "But I would love to have you confirm it for me."

Alex watched as String narrowed her eyes toward him and cautiously stated,

"I'm listening."

A small hum left Alex before he continued.

"So your cover plan was pretty much to overwhelm us from all sides to make it so that we would have an area that couldn't be covered due to us having only three fighters. This plan functioned under the assumption that we would not find a way to eliminate one front in time for us to handle the other. That would've been the fatal flaw that screwed you all over if that was what was supposed to happen, but you knew this while making your plan. You also knew that I would be the one to attack your group and Herah would be the one to take on east company. But you also figured out that only Herah and my sis could ever hope to eliminate an entire one of your companies quick enough to make them no longer pose a threat. So that meant that those two would have to take on your north and south companies, whichever one either chose didn't matter."

Alex paused when he saw String raise a finger.

"Yes?"

"How exactly did Max and Herah eliminate those two so easily?"

"Herah took on your north company," Alex pointed towards the part of the forest that currently had plumes of smoke pouring up from it, "I had her cover the area we knew that your company would have to walk through with the ashes from the Ash Giver we're currently guarding. I'm not sure whether you know this or not, but the ash that tree produces is rather flammable. So it was child's play for Herah to turn that entire side of the forest into both a trap and grave for anyone on that side."

Alex pointed towards the opposing side of the forest, knowing nothing of real notice was occuring over there.

"I have no idea what my sis did, but I do know that it was a success."

Alex didn't flinch at the soul-piercing stare String gave him as a result of his answer. String then shook her head and said,

"If you knew what your sister was doing then that would cancel out the effect of whatever it is. That's how your gifts interact with each other isn't it?"

"Yup," Alex said with a nod of his head, "Now back to what I was saying. You know that my sister is the most dangerous factor we have in this fight, and that while Norwe will not allow for her to instantly let us win that she is still very much a threat to anything you throw in to try and surprise us. Another thing to consider is the danger of the storm that hangs above us," Alex pointed to the black clouds that hung overhead, "You did mention during your initial planning that a complex weather event like this storm would be near impossible to control after you released it and would function as a threat to everyone on the battlefield. So the entire point behind your initial attack was to eliminate Max from the equation by preying upon her guilt, while also making it so that only your enemies and yourself would have to deal with the dangers of your storm. Am I correct? 

"Yes."

Alex nodded at these words before saying,

"And for that reason and that reason alone, you have both my respect," Alex loosened the grip his Principle orb had on his emotions slightly, allowing for a frown to come to his face "And my hatred."

"Your pissed about how I made your sister's mental stability worse, am I correct?"

"That I am. In fact, that's partly why I chose to allow so many of your Oni to die by fire. Because I couldn't think of a way to allow for her to not take part in your initial attack that wouldn't leave us fatally open."

"Why do you say that, aren't I the biggest threat you know you'll have to face?"

Alex nodded his head once again before replying,

"Yes. You are the biggest threat that I know I'll have to face. But that doesn't mean that your the biggest one for our group."

"Who would that be, Alex?"

"Oh, you know. So do I, so does sis, so does Owen, and Herah especially knows who."

HALT

Herah stood in the center of a clearing, littered with numerous Oni corpses that were still burning.

'This had to be Alex, Max isn't in any condition to do anything on this scale at the moment.'

Herah looked around and rubbed her nose a bit.

"I fucking hate how all of you smell, it's weird not being able to rely on my nose like this! Why the ash do you even smell of decay in the first place!?"

Herah let out a growl of frustration while also looking around the clearing.

"And why the fuck haven't you showed up yet!?"

"Because I was trying to come to grips with what just occurred." A strong and smooth masculine voice from behind Herah said.

Herah turned around within moments, her claws unsheathing, her eyes changing into the mess of colors that symbolized her entering Renaissance à son Sommet, and a mental call for Jeffery leaving her as her eyes laid upon who her opponent was to be for this next phase of the battle.

"Hello Moon, it's been a while."

The priest, still dressed in his white cassock and wearing an apologetic expression, emerged from the dense forest. Herah noticed that his left hand had holes filling it that made her feel slightly wary while his right arm had taken the form of an axe. Once fully within the clearing, the priest levied his hole filled hand at Herah and said,

"Would you please back down? I would care for no more bloodshed today."

Herah just shook her head, before inhaling deeply and exhaling a light blue flame that took the shape of a wisp lantern. Herah reached out to this wisp lantern and crushed it, cloaking herself in a light blue flame shroud.

"Do you really believe you can beat me in five minutes Herah?"

Herah shook her head.

"Of course not, it'll take fifteen at least. But this is my only way to keep up with you, so I'll have to work around my time limit."

Herah then entered her battle stance, watching as Moon frowned back at her looking pained by the thought of what was to happen next.

"I guess our confrontation was inevitable then."

Herah watched as Moon let out one final sigh before getting into his own battle stance.

"I'll try to make this quick."

Herah frowned at these words, before growling at Moon.

"Don't underestimate me, it will get you killed."

And with those words, Herah launched herself towards Moon with a single powerful flap as Moon launched himself towards her. 

ONI

BOOM!

String looked passed Alex and up as a large dust cloud appeared where she guessed Herah and Moon to now be battling. She then watched as Alex glanced back slightly at the explosion behind him and shook his head, mumbling something under his breath about explosive idiots. He then turned back to String and told her,

"Well since it looks like the idiot and your priest have begun to fight, might as well get to ours then, shouldn't we?"

"You know," String reached up to her chin and rubbed it, "I can't help but feel pity for you Alex, Norwe told me about your teams current dynamic and it's just sad."

Alex, for the first time since meeting her, frowned and glared at String.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

String smiled at Alex, a small bit of happiness feeling her at irritating the asshole.

"I mean that the lack of respect from you towards someone who could save your life is so self-destructive. It's almost as if you want history to repeat itself."

This seemed to strike a nerve with Alex, because he let out an irritated sigh, his frown deepened, and he redrew both of his daggers. His curvy one being held upright in his right hand as it hovered over his shoulder while he leaned forward with his left hand holding his other dagger over his knee. 

"Well, I didn't ask for your fucking pity!"

String reached towards the tattoo of an arrow on her belly and drew her chain whip from it. She then straightened up her back and began spinning her weapon until it there appeared to be a large metallic fan spinning on her side. String then gave Alex a growl and released her hold over the storm that hung over them. The rumbling of thunder filled the air as rain began to fall upon String and Alex. 

String felt the hair on her arms began to rise and her chain whip began to hum and buzz, anticipation building up in her as she waited for just the right moment. 

5

The buzzing of her chain got louder.

4

Her braids were starting to rise.

3

The buzzing grew even louder.

2

Alex took a few steps back

1

String whipped her chain directly up.

CRAAAAK!

A bolt of red lighting came down from the sky and struck String's chain, traveling down until it reached her the handle of her weapon and disappearing just as it had earlier. String allowed a smile to come to her face as she thought,

'12 more and you'll be dead Alex.'

String then said,

"True, you didn't ask for my pity. But you might soon ask for my mercy."

The Illustration is Sold

Alex watched String closely as she returned her spinning chain whip to her side, annoyance at her weapon and the light rain filling Alex.

‘Chain whip. She just had to have a chain whip.’ Alex let out an annoyed sigh, ‘I fucking hate these things.’

Alex’s eyes drifted from String and to her weapon, easily tracking what he knew was probably a blur to its user.

‘What other reason would you attach something as noticeable as a cloth to your dart?’

Alex allowed for his eyes to drift back to String’s face and began reading it. Though her eyes were covered by her shades, Alex figured through the way String’s mouth moved and twisted to the side that she was currently analyzing him like he was her.

‘Let’s see,’ Alex mused to himself, ‘Reasonable to assume that she is a good tactician and strategist. Most definitely a trained warrior, but lacking in actual combat experience. Mid-Ranged combatant but I do think its reasonable to assume that her weapon can probably fit both close-quarters and long-range needs. Gift will be problematic but nothing I can’t handle.’ Alex inclined his head upwards to the dark clouds overhead, ‘That lightning will definitely make this battle hell and the rain will probably get progressively worse as we fight.’

Alex looked back down and at String before using his right hand to zip his jacket up and put on his hood. Returning his hand to its position above his opposing shoulder, Alex took a deep breath and let it out.

‘I have the advantage in combat experience and reflexes. She has the advantage in range and power. We should be equal in speed and while I’m pretty sure I’m more intelligent you can never be too sure.’

With their comparative strength now gauged, Alex formed a plan of attack in his mind not too soon after and was just about ready to enact it when an interruption occurred.

“Hold up!” Norwe called out from all around, “I have something to tell you two.”

Alex felt terror well up within him as he felt the Maker manifest himself upon the back of String, the clouds parting around the two allowing for starlight to beam down on their small area. Outside of this illuminated area, the rain appeared to triple in speed.

‘Please don’t be here for what I think you’re here for.’ Alex mentally pleaded, watching as String’s mouth opened in surprise then twisted shut in anger came as Norwe the Sloth peeked his head over her shoulder with a lazy smile on his face.

“Guess why I’m here?!”

String grabbed the Sloth Maker by his head and flung him forward with an angry shout. String followed this up by swinging her weapon overhead and swiftly launching its weighted dart into the back of the falling Maker.

“DON’T TOUCH ME YOU PIECE OF SHIT!” String shouted as she returned her chain whip to its spinning position on the right side of her body.

Alex felt a wave of shock overcome him at String’s action which was quickly followed by a wave of grave fear. Looking up from the fallen Maker and to String with terror written all over his face, Alex shouted at String.

“What the fuck is wrong with you!?”

CRAAAAK!

A bolt of red lightning shot down from the part of the sky still clouded and curved towards Norwe’s to strike him, leaving a small crater in the ground that had the skeleton of a sloth within its epicenter.

Alex thought little of the irregular lightning behavior, and instead began furiously tapping his nose before pinching his neck and shouting at String, “You must be as suicidal as Ashbrain!”

“Fuck off Alex! I don’t need shit from you of all people right now!” String shouted back, her stance becoming exceedingly hostile as she growled at him.

“Screw you Jojo rip-off!”

“Who the hell is Jojo!?”

Before another retort could leave either of them, Norwe’s skeleton began to speak.

“HEY!” Norwe’s skeleton shouted, “I love the Herah and Alex dynamic you two got going on right now, buuuut I did come here to say something and I need you to listen.”

“FUCK YOU NORWE!” String shouted causing Alex to groan at her stupidity, “I don’t want to hear shit else from you unless it’s the words “I’m leaving you the fuck alone.”””

Bound Star.

Alex flinched and felt his breath quicken as Norwe’s calmly spoken words and Presence weighed upon both himself and String, the Keijo in question taking the weighing much worse than the human. Immediately following Norwe’s words, she had dropped her weapon and fallen to her knees with her breath now coming in raggedly as her body seemed to become choked of air.

After a few moments of relative silence, the only sounds heard being the distant clashes of Moon and Herah and the heavy breathing of the two leaders, Norwe lessened his Presence to its normal level and began to speak once again.

“I really do love your willingness to defy me, it honestly fills me with such joy. Especially since my good ol’ Soothsayer seems incapable of such actions.”

Even with the very clear insult towards him, Alex found himself incapable of directing any emotion that wasn’t fear or a close relative to it towards the Maker. After another small pause, Norwe’s skeleton opened its mouth and let out what sounded like a disappointed sigh.

“Anyway, as much as I love your hate boner for me, I came here to give you a bit more incentive in your battle with each other.” Norwe moved one of his skeletal limbs to point towards himself, “It is for my entertainment after all.”

Alex felt his fear increase at his Maker’s words, his immediate thoughts being that he would be forced under the same conditions that Max, Herah, and Moon had been when they fought each other.

“What? Are you going to threaten to erase someone we both care about if we don’t reach an arbitrary number on some bullshit measuring stick that quantifies your satisfaction with us!?”  String said while still on her knees, a strong bite to her words.

Still tapping his nose and pinching at his neck, Alex briefly wondered if Norwe would think it funny if he just said that String smelled like she was rotting. Norwe’s skeleton chuckled and said,

“I would think it hilarious, Soothsayer.” Norwe said with a jolly tone before suddenly whipping his skull towards Alex and changing his voice so that it maintained its jolliness but became more threating , “I would also fell cheated of a great fight.”

Alex found that train of thought quickly abandoned.

“And to answer your question String,” Norwe swiveled his skull towards her, “That is not what I was going to say. Good guess though.”

Alex’s eyes widened in surprise before he paused in his tapping and pinching.

“What?”
“What?”

Norwe’s skeleton began to chuckle, a disturbing clacking sound filling the area as he opened his jaw and his top row of teeth began hopping out and smacking into his bottom teeth before returning to their original positions and repeating this.

“I’d have no reason to do that for you two, since you both already want each other dead and will do your best to entertain me during your fight.”

“Then, if I may ask, why would we need more incentive for our fight?” Alex asked, his mind racing to find an answer.

“Simply because I feel like it.”

Alex lowered both of his hands to his side and began to say something before deciding against it and just shaking his head.

“So would you mind just telling us what it is you have to incentivize us and piss off already.”

Alex gave String a death glare which she returned in kind, if the way her lips drew tightly together were any indication.

“Well I have two prizes for whichever of you win your fight.”

“And what would that be?” String asked while scrying the ground around her for (if Alex’s guess was correct) her chain whip.

“Well if you win Bound Star, I’ll not only give you back all the Oni that you lost in this battle and Max’s bombing but I’ll return to you your father and grandfather.”

String paused in her searching to look at Norwe’s skeleton in a brief moment of surprise before her lips stretched out into a frown.

“Are you- Are you being serious?” String asked, shifting uncomfortably as she spoke.

“I’m nothing if not a Maker of my word.” Norwe replied, sounding rather pleased at String’s response.

“What do I get if I win?” Alex asked with his own feelings of wariness on display.

“A list and I’d also return something of yours that was lost long ago”

“A list of what?”

“A list of your opponents and their gifts for the trial after this one.”

Hearing this, Alex instantly knew that he was being offered what would no doubt be a boon of great benefit.

“And what will you return?” Alex asked.

“Now that’s a surprise. With that said, why don’t you two get back into your positions and I’ll let you know when you should begin to fight. By the way, this entire conversation took place within a tiny sphere of slowed down time, if you didn’t notice.”

String (having found her weapon) rose to her feet and began spinning it once again as Alex resumed his stance and immersed himself within his orb of Principle.

‘Principles, fundamental truths that care not for your emotions or beliefs.’ Alex’s mind became purely analytical as he went over the information previously gathered once again, with one new bit of data added. ‘It’s only fair that this orb deadens my emotions and leaves only a machine.’

Alex’s eyes drifted back to String’s weapon.

‘Chain whip can turn whatever it strikes with its dart into lightning rods. Has a three-second delay before strikes occur.’

Alex began formulating a plan as the opening in the clouds began to close, and rain began striking him once again. Just as the last bit of starlight was once again covered up by the black, stormy clouds that loomed overhead and Alex finished finalizing his plan, Norwe spoke.

“OPEN THE GATES!”

An orb of light appeared before String and exploded in a flash before she could even react.

You’re blind!” Alex shouted as he charged forward through the muddy ground. Alex managed to get just in front of String and began slashing at her head before a sudden and powerful updraft yanked him into the air and above the treetops. Flipping head over heel as he shot upwards, Alex waved his hand through the air and spoke.

I can control the wind.”

Alex felt a mental link form within his mind as he began to feel the surrounding air gain a sense of familiarity. Alex used this familiarity and called for the wind that wasn’t under String’s control. Controlling this wind, Alex wrapped himself up in a downwards draft that carried him out of String’s upward draft and dropped him a reasonable distance behind her. Before Alex even touched the ground, String turned around and sent out a miniature tornado that Alex rid himself of with a casual wave of his hand. Alex followed up this dismissal by creating a dome of rapidly rotating wind around String that began to fling mud everywhere.

“Fuuuuck!” String groaned out as she fell to a knee and began gasping for her rapidly depleting air.

Alex decided to make String’s condition worse by slowly shrinking her dome around her and increasing its rotating speed. By this point, String was on her hands and knees still struggling to take in air.

‘Come on String,’ Alex thought, ‘Don’t tap out so early on me.’

Though unlikely she heard his thoughts, String made it clear she wasn’t down for the count yet by summoning a pillar of wind from the sky and slamming it down into Alex’s wind dome. The dome broke apart with a massive burst of wind that launched chunks of mud everywhere, including onto Alex’s face. Wiping away the sodden dirt as fast as possible, Alex found that String had gotten into swinging distance with her chain whip and was now spinning through the air while dragging the dart end towards his head. Alex sidestepped this attack and closed the distance between himself and String before cutting at her throat. String leaped back from this and dragged her chain whip back before spinning it in front of herself.

Alex made to step forward but the sudden buzzing of Nike and Tara as well as the feeling of his hair beginning to rise halted his advances. String stepped forward as her weapon began to buzz and hair began to rise as well, seemingly uncaring of the incoming lightning strike.

‘Dammit, I’m gonna have to move back.’

Then another thought popped into Alex’s head and he knew just what to do after that. Alex leaped back as far as possible and kept going as String leaped forward into his original position and stopped.  Just as Alex’s weapons stopped buzzing and his hair went flat, String launched the end of her weapon into the air.

CRAAAAK!

I have cells in front of you.

CRACK!

Within the span of two seconds, Alex saw several things occur. During the first second, Alex appeared before String just after the red bolt of lightning struck her chain, and then attempted to gouge out one of her shade-covered eyes with his dagger. Within the next half second, String yanked her chained back down, dodged around Alex, and kicked him in the bottom of his back. Within that final half-second, Alex was launched forward nearly 30 feet before striking the ground.

“GAAAAHH!”, Alex shouted in pain as his body struck the ground and bounced a few times, covering him from head to toe in mud. After finally skidding to a stop, Alex let out a pained groaned and reached towards where String had struck him. Groaning at the pain that was felt from his back and the lack of feeling from his waist down, Alex redrew Tara and stabbed himself.  Sighing in physical relief, Alex did his best to clear his face of mud and rose to his feet while shivering and letting out a few visible breaths.

‘Wait a second?’ Alex thought as he exhaled a few more times, his breaths still coming out in visible spurts, ‘When did it get colder?’

“I see you’ve noticed that the temperature is lowering.”

Alex looked up at String and found the chieftain casually walking towards him, looking down on him with a satisfied smirk. Narrowing his eyes at the Keijo, Alex said,

“Lowering the temperature can’t be all you wanted to do, what more is there to this?”

String let out a low, cruel chuckle.

“This.”

She then raised her left hand towards Alex and pushed towards him. From behind her, a wave of black and muddy snow came rushing forward and around her towards Alex. Just before the wave of snow reached him, Alex forced it apart with two diverging gales that left his sides surrounded with a flood of snow.

‘She must be using the water from the mud all around to create this snow.’ Alex thought to himself as he slid Tara and Nike into his jacket pockets and pulled out his box of matches. Getting low to the ground and taking a match from the box, Alex struck it before quickly shoving the box back into his pocket and using one of his hands to cover the flame. Alex looked down to the tiny flame that he was currently protecting and shook his match very slightly, before saying,

I can create and control fire.

Feeling the same feeling he had felt earlier when establishing his bond with the wind, Alex crushed the match in his hand and created a much stronger flame that engulfed him in a shroud of fire. The flames burnt away at the mud that caked his clothing and skin while also warming him up to a comfortable degree. With his counter prepared, Alex briefly unimmersed himself from his orb of Principle.

‘This is going to be a fucking drag,’ Alex grimaced slightly, ‘I hope at least that Herah is having it worse than me.’

HALT

BOOM!
BOOM!
BOOM!

It had been over a minute since Herah and Moon had begun to fight, the pair having clashed and separated many times with a loud boom and explosion of force occurring at each meeting.  Every time the two met, a furious exchange of blows would occur for but a moment before they broke away from each other. Their battle had taken them out of their original clearing and all over the east side of the battlefield. Numerous craters now dotted the forest floor and countless trees had been destroyed in their wake.

Now, Herah (still cloaked in flames) was flying up and around one of the trees with Moon following closely behind. By this point in their fight, Herah’s clothing was filled with multiple holes and the few bruises gained in the last clash with Moon were being healed. Looking back at the pursuing priest, Herah took note of the rapidly healing cuts and slashes that had been her return for his attacks. Her eyes then went down to his left arm, confusion and weariness filling her as one of her hands went up to rub its accompanying ear. Herah then looked past Moon and towards the ground where a few of the Oni corpses which had been there were now gone, and replaced with a single tendril having yet to fully assimilate to the priest.

‘I need to put some distance between us and remove at least some of his supply. And also get rid of that stupid arm of his, or at least figure out how it’s causing me pain in this state.’ Herah thought to herself before suddenly flipping upside down and using the claws on her hands to stab into the tree beneath her. As Herah’s ascent slowed, the youngling also gathered fire in her mouth causing her cheeks to puff up. Moon was upon Herah in an instant, his left hand darting out and waving just before her face causing Herah to wince at the sharp pain that assaulted her ears. Moon then attempted to follow this up by spearing Herah with his right hand, the limb having taken the form of a spearhead. The youngling counteracted this by suddenly firing a blast of green fire from her mouth that took the form of a massive hand and shoved Moon down and towards the ground. Herah then flipped back around and launched herself up high above the treetops stopping just below a cloud.

Looking back down to the forest, Herah thought the trees were akin to ants from her current height. Even with the great distance between them and the numerous leaves that hid him away, Herah was able to locate Moon with little issue before initiating the next phase of her attack. Herah inhaled deeply before puffing up her cheeks as the fire shroud around her changed from blue to green. After a short moment of gathering and stoking the flames within her cheeks, Herah exhaled a ball of blue flames that was twice as large as the clearing with the Donneur de Frêne. Despite its size, the fireball struck the ground in nearly an instant.

BOOM!

And just like that, an explosion of blue flames that reached higher than the treetops and engulfed what Herah figured to be just over 800 acres worth of forest.

BOOM!

The sound barrier broke as Herah launched herself into the flames and slammed into the ground. Herah’s impact kicked up a cloud of ash that was batted away with a single flap of her wings, which also cleared away most of the surrounding flames.  With the air now cleared, Herah began searching for Moon.

The youngling now stood within a substantial crater. The entirety of it was just filled with fires of varying sizes and ash. The youngling paid little attention to the large plumes of smoke that filled the air, her eyes trying and failing to find any sign of her opponent.

Using Réunir on her nose, Herah let out a tiny huff of satisfaction as the smell of ash, smoke, and fire filled it. Returning her attention back to the situation, Herah crouched down to the ground and began looking down at it and running her hands through it while licking and smelling at the air. Two seconds of observation later, Herah let out a huff of dissatisfaction and began to expand her area of view.

‘All I could find were some dead blood cells and tissue. Where the ash did you go Moon?’

WHIRRR!

What sounded like a minigun barrel spinning from a fair distance away was all Herah had as warning before having to dash out of the way of a storm of bullets. Ash and dirt was kicked up as Herah continued to outrun the rain of ammunition that bared down on her. While running, the youngling began searching for Moon near the rims of the destroyed area and found him within mere moments. The priest was crouched just where the destruction ended with his right arm transformed into a miniature minigun with tendrils of black connecting his arm to several of the nearby trees. With the priest now in sight, Herah reached towards her back and redrew her sketchpad and a pencil. Herah began to change her direction so that she would be in the center of the crater by the time her attack connected. Quickly drawing out a rod with intricate designs covering it and a lantern at the end of it while she did this, Herah used her gift to bring the picture into reality. The taste of paint filled her mouth as one of the fangs in the back of it turned into the oilily liquid. Disregarding this taste, Herah shoved both her sketch pad and pencil back into her backpack before aiming the lantern end of her rod towards Moon and shouting,

“Accepter une offre du Ventre de la flamme!”

From within the lantern, a small fire came to life. Blue light then began to gather and condense at the tip of it before a beam of blue light was fired out.

SZZZZASSSK!

The beam shot cleanly through Moon’s brain, stunning him for merely an instant. Before even 4 hundredths of a second could pass, the youngling appeared before Moon and lopped off his left arm. This was then followed up with Herah hitting the priest with a barrage of claw jabs, a new fist-sized hole filling the priest with each strike. Every attack was immediately cauterized due to flame shroud that covered Herah and they came so fast that Moon was unable to heal most if any wounds suffered. Herah’s barrage ended once the youngling, with a single swipe of her hand, chopped off Moon’s head and allowed for the shroud that surrounded her to flare indigo for just a brief enough moment that every piece of his body was turned into ash. Herah’s shroud quickly turned yellow as Herah began to breathe a bit harder than before.

‘Shit! Not the best idea and that cut my time down to a minute.’ Herah looked towards the trees that Moon had connected himself to and noticed that parts of them were beginning to turn into (what the youngling could only assume to be) him. Herah took in another breath before breathing out a stream of yellow flames that set all the nearby trees alit. ‘And now I need to find Moon again, that couldn’t have been his only body.’

WHOOSH!

“What the- SHIT!”

BOOM!

With a flap of her wings and another sonic boom, Herah launched herself back and away from a tree that had come crashing down from the sky. Before the youngling could attempt to catch her breath, the tree exploded into what had to be thousands of black rods. Folding her wings in for protection, Herah dodged around and deflected all the rods heading towards her. Once done with that, Herah unfurled her wings and, with another sonic boom, launched herself into the air.

“MOON! ARE YOU THROWING FUCKING EXPLODING TREES AT ME!?

3 more exploding trees were the only response received.

Weaving through the thousands upon thousands of black rods that filled the air, Herah quickly tracked the trees to their origin and found Moon ripping another tree out of the ground. Angling herself towards the priest, Herah flapped her wings and launched herself towards him with yet another explosion of sound.

WHOOSH!

Twirling around a newly thrown tree, Herah hit the ground with a roll and came up to Moon waving a hole filled hand before her face.

“AAAAHHH!” Herah shouted as pain filled her ears before Moon slammed a fist into her face and her head into the ground, a crater forming at her impact. Moon’s fist began to break apart and cover the entirety of Herah’s head. The youngling struggled under the pressure of Moon’s strength, flaring her shroud green and grabbing at his arm to rip it off her face as her airways were beginning to clog up.

CRACK!

Moon’s arm shattered under Herah’s grip and his arm began to burn away. Herah’s vision cleared up just long enough for her to see several tendrils sprout out from Moon and into the nearby trees. Herah’s vision was then blotted out once again, as even more tendrils than before began to cover her head and the pressure from Moon remained in full force.

“Herah please, don’t make this any harder than it has to be.” Moon begged Herah as the feeling of her face being broken down set her into a frenzy, her shroud flaring blue to little avail. Just as Herah felt her first scale completely break down, the image of a helpless and flailing ashling entered her mind.

WOOSH!
SHLUK!
WHAM!

Herah flared her shroud once again, burning away what covered her face and setting Moon’s now detached arm aflame. Ripping the burning limb off her and making sure to burn away whatever of Moon remained on and in her, Herah leaped to her feet as Jeffery lazily floated next to her.

“What took you so long!?” Herah asked while looking towards a line of broken trees that the youngling could only assume went on for at least 2 miles.

Jeffery’s response was an image of a racing line followed by numerous flashing images of celestial bodies and finally of both themselves and Norwe floating in space with a sign reading start floating not too far in front of them.

“Were-were you racing Norwe through space this entire time?!” Herah asked with a furious shout while also noting that her flame shroud had now turned orange.

Jeffery’s response was the image of a thumbs up.

“When did you even decide to actually head over here?!”

Herah received a third person image of both herself and Moon, showing her just beginning to turn her shroud blue before Jeffery entered the image and smacked Moon away.

“Are you telling me you waited until the very last moment to head my way!?” Herah screamed, fire flaring from her mouth and nose.

Jeffery just sent Herah an image of herself followed by the image of a dunce cap.

“FUCK YOU TOO!”

WHAM!

Herah didn’t even wince when Jeffery struck her head, instead choosing to just grumble for him to give her control. With their only reply being an image of Herah rolling her eyes, Jeffery floated into Herah’s hands and handed control over to her.

Just as Herah wrapped her fingers around Jeffery, the youngling found herself using them to deflect a punch from Moon downwards. This action caused a resounding boom to fill the air and for another crater to dig into the ground beneath them. Herah slammed her knee into Moon’s chest before bisecting him with Jeffery and spearing him through his torso. Before Herah could do any more, Moon waved his hand before her face once again causing her to falter just long enough for the priest to shove and elongated claw into her left eye. Herah barely reacted to the loss of half of her vision and instead just slammed Moon’s top half into the ground and let out a torrent of yellow flame upon him. Herah, with a single flap of her wings and accompanying boom, shot into the air and did a repeat of her earlier aerial strike with an orange fireball.

BOOM!

This time the explosion was only a third of the size of the original and there were a few things still burning in the wreckage. Herah landed on the ground and checked with Jeffery to confirm that Moon had been caught in the blast and turned to ash. Ripping her companion from the ground, Herah gave Jeffery a small twirl and rested them over her shoulder just as her body exited Renaissance à son Sommet.

“Uuuhh.” Herah groaned out as the fatigue hit her and her footing became unstable. Falling to her knees, the youngling began speaking to herself, “I’m gonna need to recharge before I do anything el-” Herah’s nose wrinkled as several replicant scents began to approach her at a high-speed, “SHIT!”

‘Herah!’ Owen’s voice suddenly rung through her head, ‘Moon’s signature just multiplied like crazy!’

Herah let out a growl of frustration before raising her left hand to her amulet and responding to Owen.

‘I noticed.’ Herah said, sounding and feeling slightly annoyed, ‘How many are there in total? I noticed ten are heading towards me now.’

‘There are fifty Moons in total.’

‘WHAT?!’

Just as the thought left Herah, two Moon’s stopped before her, two other’s landed behind, two landed on either side of her, and four floated above with their newly grown black-dove like wings.

“Herah,” They all called out at once, “We both know that in your current state and my own, you will not win another battle with me. Please just stand down and have Owen put away his hat.”

‘Herah?’ Owen asked, sounding rather worried.

‘What Owen?’ Herah responded sounding not as frustrated as she felt she should have, ‘I’m not in the best situation to be talking with you right now.’

‘Activate that bracelet I gave you.’

Herah’s eyes turned to look at the bracelet that hung around her right wrist with the purple gem sticking out of it.

‘How?’

‘Crush the amethyst and it should activate.’

Herah took her hand from her amulet, raised it to her bracelet, and crushed the gem that was placed into it. Once her hand moved away, the bracelet began to quiver and shake before being overtaken by a glow and shattering. Before Herah could even think to begin cursing Owen’s name, the fragments that had been her bracelet began to float and glow before bathing her entire body in a flash of white light.

Before the blindness even left her, Herah felt a cool, tight latex-like substance cover her entire body. Even her wings now had whatever it was covering the rest of the youngling’s body. This feeling soon disappeared and was replaced by the feeling of absolutely nothing covering her body, though Herah didn’t gain any feeling of herself being exposed to the elements in any way. Once her blindness disappeared, Herah began checking herself over.

‘Is this black latex?’ Herah thought to herself while looking up and down her body. Whatever covered her was much more metallic than glossy in its look, though the way it held tightly to Herah’s body and moved with little sound or issue made the youngling think that latex was the more probable material for her new apparel. Upon a closer study, Herah found her assumption to be incorrect and that whatever covered her was something that the youngling had never seen before. Elongating one of her talons and raking it along her chest, Herah watched in fascination as the material hardened under her ministrations before quickly returning to their less rigid state.

‘What is this?’ Herah asked Owen, her talon now touching her amulet which had not been covered in the weird substance.

‘What’s covering your body is a special metal named after Gaashbenirium.  It has the special property of absorbing and storing energy, though it is normally unable to release this energy. I treated the Gasshbenirium that covers your body to be transparent through the interior, more flexible, and to release the energy that I stored into it when your flame is low.’

‘How does that help me?’ Herah asked while raising a talon to tap at her eyes, finding that the substance really did cover her entire face.

‘Herah,’ Owen began, sounding as if the answer to his question was already known by himself, ‘It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that ingesting fire can increase the strength of the flame in your chest, would it?’

‘No.’ Herah thought back, exactly sure as to the reason of Owen’s question.

‘Good because when you say the trigger phrase to activate your suit, it will begin to fill your pores with fire. The armor you’re wearing also has another purpose to it.’

‘What?’, Herah asked while returning her attention to all the Moons that surrounded her, all of them now tensed for battle but still not moving.

‘It’ll double your physical and mental capabilities by forcing your body to go beyond its limits.’

Herah blinked at these words before a grin came to her face.

‘What’s the trigger phrase?’

‘Before I tell it to you Herah, you need to know that the armor you’re wearing is not invulnerable. Even with it releasing the flames into you, it can still be overwhelmed causing it to explode. And once that occurs your body will most likely collapse from overstraining itself, so be careful.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’ Herah thought somewhat impatiently, ‘Trigger phrase Owen.’

‘Farande Woverak.’

‘Thank you, and when I’m fully charged I’m gonna need you help  to locate all the different Moons if I want to get him out of this battle.’

‘Yeah, I’ll be here when you need me. But first, I need to inform Alex of something. Owen out.’

Now giving all the gathered Moon’s her full attention, Herah allowed for her grin to turn into a frown and said,

“I told you not to underestimate me Moon, that sounds exactly like what you’re doing right now.”

All of the Moon’s frowned at Herah before saying,

“I mean no disrespect Herah, but that armor your wearing will do little to make up for your drop in speed and strength.”

“We’ll see about that.”

All but two of the Moons morphed their arms into various states. The two that didn’t were in the air, with their arms now filled with holes.

“I apologize for what I will do to you next.”

Herah’s frowned deepened into a snarl.

“Farande Woverak!”

ONI

CRAAKK!

‘Three more bolts to go then I won’t have to deal with this shit anymore.’ String thought to herself as she returned her chain whip to its spinning position and used winds to pick up and compress some snow into a sizeable ball before using these same winds to catapult it into ball of fire that Alex had thrown at her.

The chieftain was currently sailing atop a wave of snow through the nearby forest with Alex following closely behind her, riding on a gust of wind with a shroud of fire around him while sending blades of wind and fireballs her way with every chance he got.

“I’m not sure whether I should feel respected or annoyed at the very clear killshots your aiming at me!” String shouted at Alex as she wiped away the rain that covered her shades and used her muddy snow to sail up a tree

“You think these are killshots!?” Alex shouted back, his tone dead and serious as he went around the tree and cut it in half with another blade of wind, “A killshot would be creating a blade of wind just in front of your neck and waiting for you to run into it decapitating yourself!”

String, thinking quickly, leaped from the now falling tree and used a current of wind to launch her upside-down self away from Alex while using her chain whip to strike one of the trees she passed by. Flipping herself upright, String once again called a wave of snow to her feet and began riding atop it once more.

CRAAKK!

A bolt of red lightning struck the tree String had hit, causing it to launch burning shards of wood everywhere and for whatever wasn’t launched to be reduced to ash.

“A killshot would be me simply igniting the air around you with a thought!”, Alex shouted as he dodged around the flaming shards with ease and even took control of a few and launched them towards String. The chieftain crouched down and allowed for some snow to flow over her and take the attacks. Pushing the snow from above her to her sides, String abruptly stopped and flung herself into the air with a strong updraft.

Once just above the trees, String flipped herself upside-down once again and began spinning with her chain whip striking all the nearby trees. Once done, String quickly switched the wind currents to carry herself along and above the trees while also diverging her attention to create a massive wave of muddy snow that immediately began to rush towards herself and Alex. As the first bolt of lightning struck, String continued to spin upside-down while hitting each tree she passed with the dart end of her chain. Alex followed from beneath the trees, just staying ahead of the wave of snow, lightning that came down and the flaming pieces of wood launched at each strike.

FWOOSH!

String’s eyes widened in shock as she paused before a wall of fire that had shot up from the ground to block her path.

“A killshot would be me simply telling you that you’re going to die!” Alex shouted as he shot up into the air and swiped at String’s feet. String simply let go of the winds holding her up and went into a freefall looking up Alex as he followed closely behind. String swung her weapon at her pursuer, but the human managed to lean just out of the way of her dart-end before grabbing the chain part and disarming String with a sharp pull.  Throwing the chieftain’s weapon higher into the air, Alex fired a ball of flames at String that she blocked by calling the snow from the ground and around her to form a thick dome shield. Steam filled the air as String opened up the bottom of her dome and called for another draft a wind to carry her out of the way of the falling sphere of snow.

Landing with a graceful roll, String came up and raised a hand into the air as a current of wind carried her chain whip back into her grasp. The now abandoned dome of snow and Alex hit the ground with a cloud of steam following shortly after their impact. String used this steam to her advantage, rolling forward and whipping her chain towards Alex’s chest.

CLANG!

Sparks flew as Alex was forced to use Nike to deflect String’s attack. As String reeled her weapon back in, she spun to side as Alex’s dagger flew past her and into a nearby tree. Spinning towards Alex, String tried for an overhead swipe with her weapon and only hit air.

“ACK!” String gasped out with Alex having closed the distance between the two and slammed his right fist into her stomach. He then followed this up by creating a blade of wind with his other hand and swiping at the side of String’s head with it.

SHIRK!

CRAAKK!

“SON OF A BITCH!” String screamed as Alex spun around her and used some wind to diverge the flaming wood shards that flew towards himself and String to get to his dagger. The chieftain felt warm blood rushing down the right side of her face, the liquid gushing from where Alex had cut off her ear. Pulling her weapon back in towards herself and spinning it at her side, String used her left hand to put pressure on the wound as she turned to face Alex.

“As of now in our fight, not yet have I come at you with the intent to kill.” Alex said lacking in any real sense of emotion, a blank look on his face, “If you truly think that anything that I’ve done up to this point was anything less than attempts in inconveniencing you, then you’re both dumb and suicidal.”

Before any more words could be said, String’s wave of snow finally reached the pair and came crashing down. With a snarl on her face and a light blush on her cheeks, String dropped the temperature in the area drastically as she took all the rain and air moisture within a fifty-meter radius, turned it into snow, then added it to the wave she currently had bearing down on herself and Alex. String knew that (just like herself) Alex was using wind to keep the snow from coming down on him, so she concentrated on the wind that Alex had surrounded himself with and for a single second dispersed it.

“Fu-” But before Alex could finish his sentence, he was swept up by the waves of snow.

String hopped on her own wave and followed after Alex as she directed her wave of snow high into the air, above the trees and towards Owen’s hat. Within half a minute, String and her wave of snow had arrived back onto the cleared out path that Alex had created. Looking towards the massive hat, String assumed she was a little over a mile away from her target. Just as she came to this assumption, String was forced to halt herself and her snow as a pillar of fire appeared in her path.

Alex sat in the middle of this pillar of flame, looking remarkably dry (despite the copious amounts of rainfall) and emotionless. Rising to his feet, Alex thrust out a hand and created a wave of flame that rushed towards String reducing all the snow in his path to steam. Just as the fire reached her, String created a powerful updraft of wind that shot it into the sky. Dispersing this fire and wind, String began to breathe heavily as she returned to applying pressure to the right side of her head with her left hand.

“Well that was annoying.” Alex said dispassionately as he dispersed his shroud of fire. “I haven’t hated snow this much since I fought and killed Khione.”

“Who the hell is Khione?”

“She was a goddess of snow,” Alex did a quick tilt of his head, “Now she is dead.”

String adjusted her stance to stand taller, while maintaining a glare on Alex. Alex only gave String a blank look as he asked her a question of his own.

“How the hell are you able to see me by the way? I know for damn sure you should be blind right now.”

“I am.”

Alex’s expression showed no visible change, though he began tapping his nose directly following her statement. As Alex studied String closely, she did the same to him with a single thought going through her mind.

‘Glad my assumption that you don’t know the full extent of Forecast was confirmed. That makes this much easier.’

Still watching Alex closely, String allowed for a tiny bit of her focus to be taken away from her fight to concentrate on everywhere else her storm covered. With the storm’s center having reached Owen’s hat, String was now aware of the entire battlefield. Owen was sitting before a map that showed everyone on the battlefield, Max was napping against a tree with tears streaming down her face and her strange shoulder pad glowing as if charged with energy, Moon was using multiple bodies to just decimate a latex-wearing Herah, and-

‘What the hell? I thought Alex killed all of you?’

-a newly born Keijo was sprinting towards the general area that Herah and Moon fought.

‘You can thank me for this one’s survival.’ String growled at the sudden intrusion of Norwe into her mind, ‘What he has planned is just too interesting to have ended because of a little thing such as well thought out attacks.’

‘Fuck off, you piece of shit!’

‘Just answering questions and telling you that your fight is getting sorta stale.’

‘Yeah yeah, I noticed! I’m waiting for something to be done before I do anything else.’

‘I know, just informing you of how I feel.’

Now alone in her mind once again, String directed her smidgen of focus towards a small area at the very edge of her storm that she had a gentle breeze going through. Within this area, C.C. appeared to be giving directions to a small group of Oni, some archers and the rest technicians for the catapults that were still being set in position.

String returned her full attention to Alex, the human having only placed his empty hand on his amulet in the five seconds that she had spent observing all the others. Studying him closely while also keeping the pressure on her still bleeding wound, String called out to Alex.

“Why are you so afraid of Norwe?”

Alex didn’t even seem startled by this question, though his eyes did narrow at String before he dropped the hand that was tapping his nose and aimed it towards her. Summoning a ball of flames to his hand, Alex asked String his own question.

“Why the fuck do you care?”

String prepared herself for an incoming attack from Alex before saying,

“I thought it strange how you seem to harbor no hate towards him. He told me himself that all you ever feel when in his presence is fear, nothing but fear. I was curious as to why this might be.”

Alex snuffed out the flame in his hand and returned to tapping his nose. For a few brief moments, nothing was said between the two until Alex snapped his fingers and said,

“I’ll answer if you answer a question of mine.”

String appeared to ponder this for a moment before nodding yes. Seeing this, Alex let out a sigh and looked down at his hand lighting it with fire once again.

“Because control is something I value deeply,” Alex held out his hand towards String, the fire within it taking the form of a marionettist controlling a marionette, “Being in control of my situation and of the outcome of it is one of the few things that bring me joy in life. And Norwe, well he is able to take away all of that control,” Strings of fire sprouted from the marionettist and into a large hand of fire above them, “Without a single thought.”

As Alex dispersed his flame, String felt her glare lessen as she thought over his words. But before String could really delve into them, Alex asked his question.

“Why are you doing this?”

String’s brow scrunched up as she blinked at Alex a few times.

“Doing what?”

“Fighting me, attempting to destroy that tree, anything really.” Alex tilted his head to the side once again, “Your expression throughout most of our fight really tells me that you’d rather be anywhere but here.”

“”We elect you, String, to be the leader of our people!”” String quoted, looking down towards the ground as she spoke.

“What?”

“That was what I was told after I killed my father to complete my trial.” String looked up towards the sky, not at all irritated by the downpour that caused her clothing to cling to her body, “My people chose me to lead them to salvation. My father asked me, if chosen, to accept, just like he did when my grandfather died.” String looked down and towards Alex, “I do this merely out of obligation. To be honest, I’d love to just laze about and help keep the weather good for my people until my dying days. That would be a satisfying life for me to lead, in my opinion.”

“Hmmm.” Alex allowed for a smile to come to his face, as his voice loss its lifelessness and gained a tone of a honest pleasantness, “That does sound like something I’d be happy with myself. It’s too bad that this sense of obligation far outweighs your own desires.”

String could only nod as she allowed for a bit of her attention to drift towards C.C. and the others, with their weapons at the ready. Finding this, String quickly scrawled out the coordinates of their position in the dirt in front of C.C. with wind before giving her full attention back to Alex. The human had started nodding to himself in the brief moment String had taken to message C.C., and before String could ask another question she found her eyes actually looking at Alex. A quiet gasp and a few silent, surprised blinks left String before she then heard Alex say,

“Judging by your slightly agape mouth and that gasp, I assume that your vision has returned. This means my wind and fire manipulation will disappear soon enough. I’m also guessing that your archers and catapults are ready to add steel and earth to this rain.” String flinched at Alex’s words, getting a smirk in return, “I knew you were stalling for time, and I allowed it due to my need for stalling since I needed a bit of info from my sister.”

This set String on edge almost instantly, causing her to ask,

“What did she tell you?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

String let out a low growl.

“Don’t worry, it’ll be real soon. Speaking of real soon,” Alex’s voice and expression once again loss all sense of life, “Our fight is about to end, so its about time that we both get serious. Wouldn’t you agree?”

String removed her hand from the side of her head and entered a battle stance, just as Alex reached down to the ground and punched it.

I can control the ground.”

The ground around Alex began to break apart as rocks shot out of it and began to form a half dome of dirt over his head, just as String started to create more snow and begun to create several small tornados around herself while also generating strong wind currents to speed of all the projectiles that were heading her way. Once again, String’s chain whip began to buzz as her hair started to rise. Launching the dart end of her weapon into the sky just as the lighting stuck, String felt the energy course through her as she acknowledged that only two strikes were left.

“I agree.”

ONI

What Moon considered his central body was currently sitting cross-legged within the first hole he had drilled when going under Max’s diamond wall. Very little of his focus was actually on this body, instead, it was currently being split in between the fifty-one bodies that were on the battlefield.

One of Moon’s bodies slammed Herah into the ground with a hypersonic punch, creating a crater that went deeper than the trees were tall. This was then followed up with another of his bodies falling atop Herah with all of its limbs transformed into drills that only dug her deeper into the ground. This body was moved to allow for a giant claw to enclose around Herah and whip her out of her hole and into the sky above the clouds. With the Cendruex now in the air, Moon sent four of his flying bodies after her. The first to arrive had their arms transformed into massive, spiked maces, which it preceded to use to slam Herah higher into the air. This one was then followed by two more bodies, both having their arms filled with holes to strike Herah in her front and back as many times as possible. The barrage of attacks were without mercy, though each punch only let out the tiniest of sounds and vibrations on contact. By the point these bodies were pulled back, they and Herah were surrounded by the black void of space with the planet of Bizarre now in full view below them. Herah’s momentum away from the planet was only slowed once the final body shot past and behind her before using his leg to catch her by the chest. Once that happened, this final body reared back his right hand and struck Herah full force in the stomach with a punch.

BOOM!

Just before 3 seconds went by, Herah struck the center of the first crater she had created. At her impact, a huge cloud of dirt and ash was kicked up into the stormy sky. Moon had the 46 bodies he was currently using to attack surrounding the edges of the crater before morphing two of their heads into giant fans and waving away the dust and ash cloud. Once cleared, all that Moon could see with his collective bodies was a hole in the center of the crater that was visibly very deep. A second later, Herah flew out of the hole and landed right next to it. The youngling angled her head towards one of Moon’s bodies before respectively calling out,

“You manage to punch me an entire kilometer into the ground, good for you.” Herah’s voice took on a more cocky undertone, “Too bad that didn’t actually do anything to me.”

Moon could only sigh at this while also focusing on Herah’s new look. Whatever she was wearing seemed to just absorb most of the force that she was supposed to suffer, while the amount left over seemed to just move her about.

‘This armor of hers is proving to be a problem.’ Moon thought to himself, ‘And Jeffery is doing his best to make my plan to combat it not come to fruition.’

Moon set his bodies back to work attacking Herah as his focus shifted towards 4 other bodies he had doing something at the very moment. 3 of them were darting around ripping as many trees as possible out of the ground and throwing them towards the final one who was floating in the air with a massive ball of black, shifting mass held above his head that only grew larger and larger with each added tree. The problem this group was facing was the near endless barrage of attacks that Jeffery would lay upon all of them, mostly the stationary body that was forced to use large chunks of the mass gathered to constantly heal itself.

“Father Jashin.”

The eyes of Moon’s main body snapped open as the sound of an Oni calling came to him. Keeping just enough of his focus on his other bodies to maintain proper control, Moon created a small tendril with an eye on the end of it to peak out of his hole and peer at a plain looking female Oni. She had grey skin and was on the short side, with her white hair short, messy, and dirty. She was dressed in a skirt of leaves and a bark shirt covered in moss.

“How may I help you my child?”

“I’m in need of a confessional, your holiness.”

Moon, for but a moment, showed a hint of surprise before quickly retracting his eye and telling the lady to sit before the hole and began her confession.

“In the name of the Log, and of the Seed, and the Leaf. This is my first confession.”

Moon heard the Oni let out a sigh.

“My name is Baka,” Moon blinked confusingly, “And I am ashamed to admit that I’ve lost faith in our lord. I have also been faking this faith since the loss of my mother. To be honest, I actually hate the Log. They’ve taken so much from me, they haven’t ever helped me, and at times I feel that they want me to suffer. I’ve come to question why I should even attempt to follow them, attempt to show them love, when I don’t feel like they’ve given me anything like that. Especially when my mother loved them so much, she idolized our creator. She would hear nothing bad about them. And most especially she loved them. Yet, she’s gone now and all I have left of her is a single photo. I question how could someone so dedicated and passionate towards the Log, be forced to suffer such a terrible fate. And sometimes I wonder if my mother loved me less than the Log, and wish, oh so terribly, that she loved me more. I am sorry for these and all the sins of my past.”

Moon felt tears run down his face as he listened to the Oni speak. She spoke with such shame and self-hate for the way she felt, it honestly just reminded Moon of himself. In fact, much of what she said hit an uncomfortably close distance to home.

Moon rubbed his eyes and gave a few sniffles before taking a deep breath and beginning his side of the confessional.

“To atone for your sins,” Moon couldn’t help but feel hollow as he said his words, “You shall-” Moon had to pause as he tried to find an answer he believed would help. After a brief moment of thought, Moon began speaking again. “You shall first drop these pretenses of faith, dishonesty of this magnitude with others is unacceptable. Next, you should do some self-reflection. This will surely help in the settling of your emotions and how you feel. After that, you should pray to the Log personally, to not just ask for forgiveness but to also lay your problems out in the air. This should help alleviate any remaining guilt and leave you bare enough to be an effective tool for our Maker. Once all of this is done (if we still remain), come back to me or whoever becomes priest in my stead and tell them you’re ready for your true atonement to begin.”

Now done, Moon let out a tired sigh as he waited for Baka to end her confessional.

“Aaahh False Priest, so you already know how to solve your problems.” The Log’s voice suddenly called out in place of Baka’s, causing Moon to leap up in surprise and for his eyes to widen as he sent an eye tendril back up and found the Log floating there, judgingly.

“Log-sama? Why do you manifest before me, if I might so humbly ask?”

“You know,” The Log began sounding rather happy, “I always find your shriveling before me far more entertaining than the Soothsayer’s. After all,” The Log’s voice took on a taunting tone, “I’ve always been able to feel the underlying hatred you hold towards me.”

Moon broke his main body down into black tendrils and then slithered out of his hole and before The Log before reforming.

“Why do you manifest before me?” Moon asked once again, sounding just a tad strained in his speech.

The Log shook with laughter before replying to Moon’s question.

“Because you might be dead by the end of this, and I figured I might as well finally talk to you about your problems with me.”

For a few moments, Moon could only stare at Norwe in stupefied awe. But once these moments passed, the priest felt just a miniscule fraction of the anger that he held for the Log finally slip.

“After all these years of me begging and begging for your reasons, for an answer, only now are you ready to provide such?” Moon asked, anger seeping into his voice, “Only now, when we stand at the edge of oblivion, do you wish to ANSWER ME!”

Moon at this point was glaring down at The Log who had stopped their shaking and now hung still in the air before the furious priest. After a few moments of silence, The Log gave a reply that Moon found frustratingly simple.

“Yup.”

CRACK!

Moon looked down to the wooden smithereens that remained of The Log, his expression having transformed into a furious snarl.

“IS THAT ALL YOU HAVE TO SAY! AFTER ALL THE BULLSHIT YOU PUT ME THROUGH, EVERYTHING YOU’VE TAKEN FROM ME! AFTER MAKING ME KILL M-Y MY-MY-”

Moon fell to his knees as tears began to pour down the sides of his face, grief filling him as he cried before the now reassembling pieces of The Log.

“Ah breakdowns, still I have yet to lose interest in them.” The Log said with a surprising lack of joy.

CRACK!

“TELL ME WHY YOU HAD ME KILL HIM!” Moon shouted with his eyes to the ground, his left hand buried in the already wrecked floor of the cathedral.

“Because just as he loved me, I loved him.”

Moon’s could only look at the ground in shock, The Logs words ringing through his head as his eyes slowly widened and his tears stopped pouring. And then a slight quiver ran through the priest’s body. This was then followed up by another.

Then another.

And another.

And another.

Until Moon was just quaking before The Log with his fist balled up and his tears gone with only their tracks left in place. And when Moon lifted his head to look upon The Log, all that could be found within his eyes were 1,594 years worth of rage.

“DON’T LIE TO ME!” He shouted, as The Log finalized their reassemblage before his eyes.

“You anger is understandable, but I’m being completely truthful when I say that I did love him.” The Log replied, an uncharacteristically seriousness carried in his tone.

Before even a second could pass, Moon morphed his left hand into a large mallet-like head and smashed The Log so hard that their entire being was pulverized into sawdust. Transforming his hand back into its normal state, Moon began to cry even harder than before as he shoved the same hand he used to crush The Log into his mouth and bit down.

CRUNCH!

Blood spewed into the air as every digit, excluding Moon’s thumb, was bit off and chewed a few times. The blood spray had managed to paint Moon’s face and mix with the downpour that came from his eyes, making it look as if he was weeping blood and tears. Moon swallowed his fingers before looking down at the ground and shouting in rage once again, this time at himself.

“DAMMMIT! WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LOVE THEM LIKE HE DID?! WHY CAN’T YOU BELIEVE IN THEM LIKE HE DID?!” Moon focused his eyes on the bloody droplets that were beginning to pool below his head, memories of Diavolo’s bloody tears before his own death coming to the forefront of his mind.

“Because it’s kinda hard for any being to love someone who hurt them so unapologetically, especially in the way I hurt you.”

Moon slowly lifted his head to look back up at The Log, with another shout on the cusp of his lips.

“WHY DO-”

But he found himself at a lost for words when he saw that what greeted his eyes were not the form of The Log, but that of Norwe the Maker. The entity sat before Moon with his legs crossed and his two bottom pairs of arms laying atop of them, while his top pair were crossed before his chest. The black holes that Norwe used as eyes stared at Moon with an intensity that lacked any sort of joy or glee that was expected by the priest.

“Moon, I appear before you to put some demons of your to rest. So, calm down and ask away.”

Moon could only gape at the Maker before him, disbelief replacing his rage at the thought of what Norwe was offering. Cupping his hands (the fingers having grown back on the one he bit off) and dropping his head into them, Moon began a rhythm of steady, deep breaths. With each intake of air and subsequent release, Moon felt his anger drop and drop until it was just a simmer. Absorbing the blood that covered his face back into his body, Moon lifted his head and gave Norwe a hard stare.

“Why?”

“Why what?” Norwe asked, somewhat tauntingly.

“Why did you have me kill Diavolo? What is the full reason?” Moon asked, staring even harder at Norwe.

Norwe pat the ground before him and said,

“You should sit down, this isn’t a short explanation.”

Moon sat down before his Maker, not exactly sure of what to expect from them.

“So?”

“Tell me what goal did Diavolo pursue throughout his entire tenure as priest of your people, if you remember of course?”

Moon nodded without a single thought, “Of course I do. He sought to one day rest within the Palo Santo.”

“You’re both wrong and right in your statement.” Moon gave Norwe a confused stare, “You said what Diavolo told you, but not what he meant.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s not that Diavolo sought to go to Palo Santo, it’s that he sought to “Rest Within The Palo Santo.””

“What does that even mean?”

“It means to rise above your own mortal values and submit yourself entirely to me.”

Moon blinked at Norwe in shock, before frowning at the Maker.

“That sounds like Diavolo through and through already.” Moon gained a confuddled expression, “Why would he pursue something that he had already achieved?”

Norwe shook his head and said,

“Because while he had mostly the mindset for his dream, he ultimately failed to complete the steps required to achieve it.”

Moon began to rub his head in frustration. “What were these steps and why couldn’t he complete them?”

Norwe’s eyes began to sparkle with the stars that had fallen into them as the Maker answered Moon’s question.

“Well, Diavolo was able to complete all but one of the four steps required to “Rest Within the Palo Santo”. One, be barren enough to receive my word. Two, kill your predecessor in my name. Thr-”

“WAIT!” Moon looked upon Norwe with an astonished expression, “Diavolo would never kill Frozen Light, unless you willed it. Are you telling me that he was actually the reason that his master died?”

“Nope. Frozen Light died before Diavolo ever learned of that step.” Norwe said, throwing a hand out dismissively.

“Thank the Log,” Moon whispered to himself.

“You’re welcome,” Norwe replied, quickly shifting in and out of his Log state.

Moon blinked at his Maker a few times, before just shaking his head and saying,

“What were the other two steps then?”

“Three, decry you hold no ill will towards me and mean it. And four, you’ll know when it happens.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s the only step that you can’t fail no matter what, and you’ll know what it is when it happens.”

“So are you not going to tell me then?”

“Yep.”

Moon looked back at Norwe with his mouth slightly agape, mild disbelief filling him at the Maker’s unwillingness to speak which quickly turned into grudging acceptance. Closing his mouth and taking a quick gulp of air, Moon blinked a view times and gave Norwe a long stare.

“Earlier you said you had me kill Diavolo because you loved him, but you just told me that he wasn’t able to complete his dream before death. Why would you have his life ended before he could complete his dream?”

Norwe leaned back and looked towards the ceiling before beginning their reply.

“The main catalyst has to do with how much faith Diavolo held in you.”

Moon pointed to himself, with his face crinkling up as he shook his head.

“What do I have to do with Diavolo’s dream?”

Norwe looked back towards Moon and a few more stars fell into his eyes and began to twinkle.

“Why the only reason that he died peacefully was because he figured that you would attain it for him.”

Moon’s expression became even more confused before he replied,

“But you’re only telling me this now! And, let me be honest with you, step three is currently not a possibility for me.”

“Oh I know,” Norwe said, the stars in his eyes twinkling brighter than before, “But I have an easy solution to it.”

“What would that be?” Moon asked with caution, trepidation filling him at Norwe’s words.

The stars in Norwe’s eyes began to twinkle even brighter.

“I’m about to let you talk with him.”

“What do-” But before Moon could finish his question, he saw Norwe disappear and felt a new presence within the cathedral. A familiar presence at that.

“Moon my child,” A matured and calming masculine voice called out from behind him, causing Moon to freeze at the familiarity of the voice and words, “Turn around and look at me. By your current look, I already know it’s been some time since I died.”

Taking a gulp of air, Moon slowly and stiffly turned to face the one speaking to him. As soon as his eyes landed on the figure, Moon felt tears well up as a hand went up to his mouth which began gnawing on his fingers.

Standing near the doors to the cathedral was a Keijo who stood just a bit taller than Moon, being 6,11 with green skin and a slim but muscular physique. Unlike Moon and String, this Keijo had long sharp ears that framed his head and a set of orange spiky hair that stood right up.  Atop his forehead was a clover-like design and his pupiless eyes were a distinctly bright, blood-red color. The Keijo’s expression was one of acceptance and pleasantness, his eyes showing a distinctly jolly stare and his mouth was morphed into a smile that just radiated satisfaction.

“Di- Di- Diavolo?”

Moon watched Diavolo’s image visibly warp and bend before the stopping before him with a single one of his hands now grasping Moon’s damaged one.

“I always did hate this nervous habit of yours,” Diavolo said, gently taking Moon’s hand from his mouth and looking down at it. Moon had already bitten his digits to the point that they were bloody and that bone was clearly visible. Diavolo frowned at this and gently placed his other hand atop of Moon’s chewed one. Green tendrils began to emerge from the appendage, seeping into Moon’s wounds and fixing the damage wrought on them. Within a second, all that remained of Moon’s biting was the green skin that had grown in to replace Moon’s own.

“Now,” Diavolo raised his face to smile at Moon, “Why don’t we- Hmph!”

Moon wrapped his arms around Diavolo tightly, before beginning to sob into the Keijo’s shoulder. Diavolo’s smiled deepened as he wrapped his arms around Moon and said nothing while the sound of his student crying filled the cathedral.

It was ten minutes before Moon’s crying had pittered out to the point of sniffles.

“I’m so happy to see you.” Moon said with a teary smile, after his last few sniffles left him.

“Same,” Diavolo said with a beaming smile of his own.

Backing away from Diavolo, Moon felt more tears began pouring from his face as he began to just let out everything he wanted to talk about.

“I’vebeensoconvusedsinceyoudied,sinceIcouldn’tfindagoodreasonastowhyithappened.I’vemadesomanymistakes,likegettingsomeofmyappprenticeskilled,tryingtofightMaxandHerahsoastoavoidaconfrontationlateron,butinsteadnearlygettingyouerasedandgettingabombdroppedonus-”

“Moon,” Diavolo caught the frantic priest by the shoulder, “Speak slowly, it wouldn’t do to exhaust yourself so quickly after we’ve reunited.”

Moon took a few deep breaths before smiling thankfully at Diavolo. The previous priest then sat them both down on the ground, with Moon sitting with his knees close to his chest and Diavolo with his legs underneath his body and his knees to the floor.

“Before you go any further, I want to know just how long its been since I’ve died.”

“1 century, 594 years, 15 months, 13 weeks, 57 days, 15 hours, 13 minutes, and seven seconds.” Moon said with no hesitation or struggle, his expression blank.

Diavolo let out a huff and began rubbing his chin, before dryly chuckling to himself and saying,

“Norwe-sama really does not have any sense of agency.”

“What do you mean?” Moon asked with a slightly confused look.

“I asked our wonderful Maker to let me speak to you after my death because I knew that you wouldn’t be in the best places afterwards and figured some words from me would help you out. I also had a request of you, but we can move onto that later.”

“Norwe already told me what you want of me and I-” Moon looked down and away from Diavolo, “I don’t think it’s possible for me to do such a thing. I’m sorry.”

“Hmm,” Moon felt Diavolo’s hand grasp his chin and lift it until their eyes were level with each other, the previous priest nodding his head with a small smile on his face, “I know you think you can’t, but I’m pretty sure I can help you get past that. Of course,” Moon watched Diavolo let go of his chin and look away from him with a small frown on his face,

“That’s only if you want to do it after you learn exactly why I asked Norwe-sama to have you kill me.”

Moon’s eyes widened at these words, the shock of Diavolo’s words running through him. Tears began to prick his eyes as feelings of rage and denial  began to fill him. As fresh tears began to leave his eyes, Moon began to furiously shake his head.

“What do you mean, you asked Norwe to have me kill you?” Moon asked, heavy sounding words rapidly shifting to a more frantic tone. “Why would you- Why would you- WHY WOULD YOU-” A sob left Moon as he shoved his other hand into his mouth.

CRUNCH!

Another spray of blood filled the air as Moon bit off more of his fingers and began crying harder. Stopping his head shaking, Moon took his wrecked hand from his mouth and rose to his feet before he began to shout at Diavolo.

“WHY WOULD YOU EVER WISH SUCH AGONY AND PAIN ON ME!?”

Moon shoved an unsurprised Diavolo (he having jumped up shortly falling Moon), the prior priest being launched off his feet and across the entire cathedral towards the door. Flipping his body upright, Diavolo slammed his feet into the already wrecked floor, adding another pair of gorges to it and slowing to a stop just before the entrance.

“WHY LEAVE ME TO DO WHAT YOU DID SO MUCH BETTER THAN I EVER COULD!?”

Diavolo’s image once again distorted and warped before stopping just in front of Moon, the furious priest slapping away Diavolo’s attempt to rest a hand on his shoulder.

“WHY WOULD YOU BE SO CRUEL!?”

Moon made to shove Diavolo again, but missed and stumbled as his predecessor stepped out of the way of the shove.

“WHY WOULD YOU LEAVE ME SO CONFUSED AND SO LOST!?”

Moon regained his footing and furiously swiveled to face Diavolo, one of his hands rising to point towards himself.

“DID I NOT MATTER TO YOU ENOUGH!?”

Moon pointed towards the stained glass windows depicting The Log.

“DID YOU LOVE NORWE MORE THAN YOU DID ME! OR-

Moon abruptly halted in all of his movements, tears now blinding his vision as he felt all of his anger and fury bleed out of him, leaving only despair as he fell back into his previous sitting position and shook his head.

“-Did you ever care about me in the first place?”

“Of course I care about you Moon,” Diavolo looked down and away from the weeping priest, “But I did ask Norwe to have you kill me for a reason.”

“Why?! WHY!? WHY!?” Moon begged, looking down and balling both of his fists up before smashing them into his knees until they were bloody paste on the ground.

“Because I’m selfish.”

Moon paused in his actions to look back up at Diavolo who had stuck out his hand to the point that it stopped just before Moon’s face. The appendage broke apart into green tendrils that began to repair Moon’s fingers and legs. Once done, the Keijo lifted his newly repaired hand and watched as his now green digits flexed a few times. Moon’s eyes drifted to his knee as his hands parted his robes slightly to allow for his now green kneecaps to be seen. Looking at all of this, Moon allowed himself a few breaths to calm down. Moon then looked back up to Diavolo and said,

“Explain.”

Diavolo let out a sigh before returning to his own seated position and resting his unhealing hand on its matching knee.

“My selfishness is something that shows itself in two ways.” Diavolo’s voice was quiet and somber, “The first has to do with me finally learning how to achieve my dream and realizing that I could not bring myself to do it.”

“To do what?” Moon asked, confusion ripe within his tone.

“That reason is very much connected to the second way by which my selfishness manifest, so I’ll tell you that when I get there.” Diavolo took a deep breath before renewing his speech, “When I realized I would be unable to ever complete my dream, I lost much of my reason to live.”

“What about your dream was so important that life wasn’t worth living!? Why does Resting Within the Palo Santo matter so much to you?!” Moon shouted, anger and frustration flowing throughout his voice.

“Because I know that achieving that state is the greatest insurance the Oni could ever have.” Diavolo answered, his expression now stern and serious. Moon gained a look of surprise at the deep stare that Diavolo now gave him.

“What do you mean?” Moon asked, his brows crinkling in frustration.

“To Rest Within Palo Santo is to submit your entirety to Norwe-sama, bare and unprotected.” Diavolo looked towards where Norwe had previously floated, Moon looking towards the same spot in response, “This is considered the greatest show of faith imaginable, which is why when doing such a thing Norwe-sama awards you by making you his avatar.”

“What does that entail?” Moon asked, a bit miffed by the continued increase in questions.

“It entails you the ability to manifest Norwe-sama’s one true power. To be an expression of what Norwe-sama is all about.” Diavolo turned back to face Moon, his seriousness still in full effect, “It entails you to CHAOS. With it, the world would contort and change from your mere Presence.” Diavolo let out a sigh and turned his eyes downward, “Being unwilling to ensure such a boon for us hurt me very deeply. It made me feel as if I wasn’t giving all that I could.”

CRACK!

“Bullshit!” Moon shouted, burying his fist into the floor before redrawing it and pointing accusingly towards Diavolo, “Your entire time as priest you gave all that you could for our people and Norwe. You helped lead and protect our people through two of our trials, helped to create an entirely new batch of followers in The Log, and helped to keep the morale of our people at its highest! You gave so much to everyone!”

“But that was not everything I could give,” Diavolo quietly stated, his voice filled with a gentle sadness, “Earlier I said one of my reasons were because I couldn’t achieve my dream. That was not the best way to state my point. What I should’ve said was that one of the reasons was because I felt I would be unable to rest peacefully and soundly if I didn’t somehow ensure the achievement of my dream.”

“If this was truly such a big thing,” Moon began still not fully understanding Diavolo, “Then why could you not carry it out? Why could you not complete what you worked your whole life to achieve?”

Diavolo let out another sigh before raising a hand and resting it on Moon’s shoulder. The prior priest closed his eyes for a moment and when they reopened Moon found them to be filled with a strange mix of love and disappointment.

“I found that the only other way to Rest Within Palo Santo was to kill you.”

Moon’s eyes widened in shock at these words, a gasp coming to his lips. Diavolo tightened his grip on Moon’s shoulder before he continued speaking.

“I found that replacing Frozen Light with you was a perfectly acceptable condition since they both accomplish the same task.”

“What- What would that be?” Moon asked, already sure of the answer.

“To be rid of the one that might most stand in the way of Norwe-sama’s will. It’s an exchange afterall, so why not trade the one who has the most sway on you?”

“But you love Norwe,” Moon asked in disbelief, “Why would you allow me to ever stop you from achieving what you so vehemently wanted?”

At this point, Moon saw tears began to creep out of the corner of Diavolo’s eyes as the previous priest gave Moon a wide smile filled with ambivalence, the two emotions being sadness and happiness.

“Because as much as I love Norwe-sama, I love you more.”

“What?”, Quiet shock filled Moon’s voice as he gave Diavolo a bewildered stare.

“I helped you grow for over a thousand years Moon, and during that time I came to view you as my child.” Tears began pouring from Diavolo’s eyes “And I’m not as carefree as Norwe-sama or as selfless as Stardust, so I knew I could never “Rest Within Palo Santo.”

“You really think of me as your own?” Moon asked, fresh teardrops springing anew from his eyes as a smile appeared on his face.

“That’s the main reason why I’m asking you to carry out my dream,” Diavolo said, his head tilted to the side as tears now poured sideways down his face, “So now it’s all out, and I want to know how you feel.”

“It makes me feel abandoned,” Moon started with a stark sharpness to his voice, a small sniffle coming from him, “It makes me feel betrayed. But,” Moon’s voice lost a bit of its edge, as tears increased even more in their downpour, “I understand, I can forgive you, but I can’t simply forget what Norwe has done so quickly.”

“Will you try?” Diavolo asked, a bit of worry creeping into his voice.

“Of course.” Moon answered nodding his head yes.

“That’s all I need.” Diavolo said with the widest of smiles on his face.

Moon and Diavolo then embraced each other while still sitting and cried tears of joy into each other’s arms. For a good long while, the pair just wept together enjoying each others company. But eventually, both of their tears dried and the pair separated with the widest of grins on their faces.

Rising to his feet, Diavolo let out a saddened sigh as he looked around him.

“I’ve missed this place, even if it does look like a wreck.” Diavolo looked back at Moon who had risen to his feet, “I hate that I’m going to have to leave it and you once again.”

The edges of Moon’s grin tilted downward slightly at these words as tears once again began to well up in his eyes.

“How much longer do you have?”

“Hmmm.” Diavolo rubbed his chin for a second before shaking his head, “I don’t know for sure, just not long.”

“I’m sorry that you have to go so soon-” Diavolo interrupted Moon in his apology by setting his hand on the priest’s shoulder.

“You shouldn’t apologize for what’s out of your control. In fact,” Diavolo flicked Moon on the head, “You should stop being so regretful for what you do. You’ll never find any semblance of personal peace if you don’t.” Diavolo gave Moon a stern look, “Do you understand?”

Moon just nodded, thinking over Diavolo’s words and attempting to take them to heart. Diavolo then embraced Moon once again, and this time the pair hugged each other in silence.

Then, with no further warning, Moon no longer felt the embrace of Diavolo.

He only felt painfully empty air.

Letting out a sigh as fresh tears ran anew, Moon shook his head as he felt Norwe reappear behind him.

“Thank you,” Moon said, his voice quiet and low, “For letting me see him again.”

“No problem.” Norwe said, before floating through Moon and stopping with their back to the priest. Quickly turning to face Moon, Norwe asked, “So is that third step still impossible for you?”

Moon gave Norwe a glare, though the priest knew that it had lost much of its strength after his talk with Diavolo.

“No, but it’ll still be a challenge.”

“Great,” Norwe clapped all six of their hands together, ” That’s all I need. Are you ready to get back to your battle?”

Moon’s eyes widened as he returned more of his focus back to his bodies and found the most puzzling of sites.

“Nani!?”

All of his bodies, no the entire world alongside them seemed to be going much slower than before.

“You can thank me for that,” Moon returned his attention back to his body that was dealing with Norwe, and returned to the sight of Norwe with his black holes twinkling again, “I sped up time within the cathedral instead of slowing it everywhere else because Alex would undoubtedly be annoying me by constantly speeding it back up, and I just don’t want to deal with that right now.”

Ignoring most of what Norwe was saying, Moon redirected a good chunk of his attention to the only other body he had that was currently not in combat with Herah or Jeffery and found that it was almost at its destination.

“I can’t wait to see how that’s going to go,” Moon once again directed his attention back to his central body finding Norwe’s eyes twinkling even more than before and their tone overtly joyful, “You mind giving a message to Owen when you see him?”

Moon gave Norwe an unsure look, before shrugging his shoulders and saying,

“Sure. What do you want me to say?”

HALT

Owen was currently seated, being forced to multitask as he watched over both Herah’s and Alex’s dots, the pair jerking around sporadically within their separate battlefields, Jeffery who was darting across the entire projected map at such speeds that it gave Owen a slight headache, String who seemed to be partially tracking Alex, and the numerous bodies that Moon was running across the entire forest.

RIZZZZ!

“What the-”

Just as a completely new dot representing Moon appeared on his projected map, the ground a few feet behind Owen burst open as a Moon shot out of it with his left arm transformed into a massive drill. Flying a few feet into the air, Moon quickly morphed his arm back into its normal state before landing in front of a very surprised Owen.

‘Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!’ Owen thought, scrambling to his feet as Moon morphed his other arm into an axe and began to walk towards the gnome. For some strange reason, Owen immediately noticed the tears tracks on Moon’s face with the saddened expression he wore being the second thing Owen noticed.

With greats amounts of fear and terror filling Owen, the gnome held his left arm down to his side as his hand opened wide and a purple square with yellow runes of celestian filling it. Before Owen could make another move, Moon spoke.

“Norwe told me to tell you that the moon has completed its phases.”

Owen felt a fleeting sense of worry at Moon’s words.

‘He is a part of this too?’ Owen asked himself before shaking his head and calling upon magic from the Goddess Reese to fill the spell he was prepping. ‘If I can convert his kinetic energy into potential I should be able to halt him until I can signal someone to hel-‘

Owen found his thoughts cut short by Moon’s axe hand appearing in front of his face before he could react. Moon lowered his blade until it was under Owen’s chin and used it to tilt Owen’s head up to look at his own.

Owen’s breath began to come in rapid, short bursts as his pupils dilated and fear filled his entire being. His body quivered as tears began to drip from his eyes at the thought of what was most likely to happen to him.

‘Is he going to kill me?’ Owen frantically thought, as he barely noted the strange feeling of his left ring finger heating up, ‘Oh Lady Grey, let this not be my end.’

Owen watched unable to move from his own fear as Moon moved his other hand to his mouth and bit down on his left pinky.

CRUNCH!

Owen’s eyes widened further as he slowly watched blood fly into the air and splatter partly on Moon’s face. Before Owen could even think another thought, Moon flicked a single drop of blood onto his face.

As soon as the blood drop touched his cheek, Owen’s body froze and his mind halted any and all thoughts to just focus on the speck of blood that now tainted his face.

‘Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood. BLood. BLood. BLood. BLood. BLood. BLood. BLOod. BLOod. BLOod. BLOod. BLOod. BLOOd. BLOOd. BLOOd. BLOOd. BLOOD. BLOOD. BLOOD. BLOOD! BLOOD!-

BLOOD!

Owen could think of nothing else as Moon walked past him while saying,

“I’m sor-” There was a brief pause, “No. I need to stop apologizing for what I do. This is for myself and my people.”

Owen paid little mind to Moon’s words, his body paralyzed and all of his attention still being held by the tiny droplet of blood that now ran down his face. He did not move when Moon’s footsteps stopped, or when he heard the priest shift his feet around as he readied the strike that would end the battle in the favor of his people, nor did he move when the smell of smoke greeted his nose.

It was only when Moon swung at the tree that Owen moved, though not willingly. Before he even realized it, Owen’s left hand shot up and forcibly turned his body to face Moon. Mid-turn, a bunch of smoke began to billow from Owen’s left ring finger just before a sharp click was heard, quickly followed by one phrase.

La Gloutonnerie.”

VRRRMMM!

By the time Owen’s brain had caught up with his body, Moon was completely gone from the clearing and a soft burp came from his finger.

Dix minutes avant que ma nourriture soit digérée.

Owen looked down to his finger and towards what Herah had handed him right before leaving for battle in shock.

It was a ring.

More accurately, it was a small dragon that was made of jade and had multiple joints covering it. Its entire tail wrapped around a third of his finger starting at the base of the digit, while the rest of its body covered his finger with its four legs slightly wrapped around his finger and its wings folded-in laying atop its back. The dragon’s head sat atop the top of Owen’s fingernail and was just a bit larger than it. There were also wisps of smoke pouring from the dragon’s mouth, nearly making Owen cough when it flew into his mouth and nose.

‘This ring saved us all.’ Owen thought to himself before shaking his head and reaching for his amulet.

‘Herah!’

‘Owen!’ Herah mentally shouted back sounding a tad happy, ‘Glad you checked in when you did, I’m about to begin my counterattack and I still need your help locating each of the Moons. Especially because half of them are now somewhere not attacking me.’

‘Before any of that, I have to say thank you.’

There was a brief silence on Herah’s end before she responded.

‘While I will never need a reason for someone thanking me since I’m just so fucking great,’ Herah’s slightly pompous tone switched to a more modest one, ‘It would be nice to know exactly what I’m being thanked for.’

Owen quickly wiped away the blood on his face doing his best not to think about it.

‘Your dragon ring saved us all.’ Owen thought, sounding immensely grateful, ‘Moon had appeared and almost destroyed the tree. He was only stopped thanks to your ring.’

‘It’s a Cendre ring, I don’t know what a dragon is,’ Herah said sounding a bit confused before shifting to a more cheery voice, “But I’m glad both you and the tree are safe.’

‘Anyway, I need to get Max over here with me real quick before I check back in with you. Let me know when you need me.’

‘Okay then, Herah out.’

As soon as Owen felt Herah leave his mind, the gnome gained an expression of shame and disappointment, as he thought about what had just occurred. A single tear sliding down the side of Owen’s face, as he voiced a thought that bothered him down to his core.

“It’s only thanks to Herah that he was stopped.”

ONI

“This isn’t looking good,” Moon said to himself as his central body let out a grunt of irritation at what had just occurred. Just before the body could destroy the Donneur de Frêne, it got swallowed into what amounted into a void and had been flayed to the point of non-existence. He had only gotten past Owen’s surveillance system by digging around and just out of its thirty-kilometer radius until close enough to get in with little issue. The sudden loss of one of his bodies had also caused for Moon to redraw 23 of his bodies attacking Herah and to immediately send them towards Owen and his hat. That was until he lost the 23 he had still attacking Herah before half a second could pass, which was then followed up with who Moon only assumed to be Herah completely shredding his 23 other bodies before half a second more could go by as well. Jeffery had also had a drastic increase in speed, ridding the world of his 3 bodies gathering extra mass before completely blitzing the ball of mass that Moon had worked so hard to create.

Seeing all of this, Moon sent a finger to his mouth and bit it off. Right after chewing it for a bit and swallowing the end of his digit, Moon let out a sigh and said,

“I didn’t want to do this, but it seems I’ll have to draw on my last resort if I want to win this.”

Moon then raised the same hand he had just bit off of and waited for his finger to regrow. Once done, Moon initiated his last resort with a single action.

SNAP!

ONI

“FUCK YOU ALEX! I THOUGHT WE HAD SOMETHING FOR A MOMENT THERE!”

BOOM!

String, now fuming in rage, directed the snow wave she was surfing on just out of the way of another falling tree as she also shouted her head off at Alex. The Keijo had spent the last four minutes dodging around the copious amounts of trees that had been falling from the sky.

Each and every single one of them courtesy of Alex and Max of course.

The rain that blanketed the battlefield had drastically increased in its fall to the point that String could no longer visibly see anything more than a foot in front of her. Muddy craters, huge chunks of the trees that had previously been floating in the sky strewn across the ground, broken and unbroken arrows, and muddy snow now covered much of the battlefield. Several tornados were still moving across the ground in an intricate pattern that had nearly caught Alex several times, and arrows and trees would regularly fall from the sky, though String found that the tree she had just dodged had been the last of those.

“You sound as bout as hurt as you look String,” Alex responded with his unlively voice, “This isn’t looking too good for you at the moment.

String’s current state of wear could not disagree with Alex’s words, with her clothes being filled with rips and tears from several near collisions with the falling trees and some very well timed rock shots from Alex. Blood and bruises also now covered her body, with much of the bleeding being non-threatening on its own but a serious danger altogether with the bruises being much of the same case. This didn’t even account for String’s very much still detached ear.

The only good thing to occur to String so far was another electrical charge being gained.

Alex was currently riding atop a mound of unstable shifting mud and dirt, with a makeshift suit of rock covering much of his body that had quite a few arrows and bits of the wooden debris from the now wrecked trees stabbed into it. Most of the arrows had struck weak points within the gear that Alex was wearing and only a few had actually drawn blood from the human, the most damaging being one that had cut a gash into his cheek. Arrows were all Alex was attacked with now, since boulders had proven to be more fuel than weapons against in regards to Alex.

Speaking of which, String sensed an incoming hail and began preparing herself for her attack. Just as the sky darkened even more, Alex raised a single hand and pushed towards the arrows. A large chunk of the ground condensed itself into a massive boulder and was launched towards raining steel. String made this a futile effort, however, by creating several drafts of air that diverged all the arrows in seemingly random directions before setting them all on a crash course with Alex. The human immediately flipped off of the ground he rode and hunkered down before throwing both his arms out and clapping them over his head, creating a dome of rocks around himself. String ended up making this a moot point as well though, by creating several drafts of winds that worked as pressurized drills that easily tore into Alex’s dome. This, however, didn’t do String any good since Alex had burrowed underground at this point, the arrows only striking the area he had originally stood.

“Dammit,” String grunted out, her eyes but more her mind scrying the ground in search of any shifts or movements that would betray Alex’s position. “Where the hell are yo-”

The ground beneath the snow that String surfed upon exploded as Alex shot out of it and through String’s snow until right next to her. With Nike in hand, Alex made for swipe to String’s head but the chieftain leaned just out of the way of his attack and struck him with her own weapon right on the tail end of one of the arrows that had just lightly stabbed Alex’s left shoulder. String then followed this up by slamming Alex towards the ground with a heavy down current of wind.

“That was impatient of you Alex!”

Before impact could even occur the ground beneath opened up to swallow Alex, so String hit Alex with a gale of wind going sideways that launched him towards one of the nearby tornados String had created. Before Alex could reach the tornado, he raised one of his hands to his shoulder, used some of the rock covering him to cut off the end of the arrow String had hit, and fired it out of the draft pushing him.

CRAAAK!

A bolt of lightning struck the area between the battling duo just as Alex was caught by the tornado String had launched him into. This tornado just so happened to be filled with hundreds of arrows and wooden shards. String watched as more and more arrows and wooden shards began to chip at and stab into Alex’s protection. Alex, in his turbulent spinning, managed to stick one hand out and make a gesture upwards. A gigantic hand of mud and earth emerged from the ground and wrapped around Alex before pulling him towards its origin. String cut this short with several mini-tornados being created and sent through the base of the rocky hand. With the hand of land now destabilized, String created heavy downwards and upwards draft that slammed into each other with the hand caught in between the two. The hand began to flatten under the pressure of both currents but just before it got to a surely fatal point for Alex, the ground once again shifted as two more massive hands of land came up and (somehow) gently wrapped around the mass of dirt that Alex was held within.

“Oh no you don’t!” String shouted before increasing the pressure of her currents tenfold, causing the hands to lose their stability and to flatten the dirt and mud that Alex was trapped within.

When no immediate response to String’s last attack came, the chieftain found herself instantly on edge. Making sure to not stop her snowy mount and placing a large amount of her focus on the ground beneath her, String used several drafts of wind to rip the gigantic dirt/mud clump apart.

As the Keijo ripped away at the mud and dirt, she noticed that it got steadily redder and redder until-

“Oh shit!” String said, as her eyes widened at what she found in the dead center of the clump.

Alex’s very, very damaged corpse.

The first thing that String really noticed was just how flat Alex looked. He couldn’t have been more than an inch or so thick, with much of his body soaked in his own blood and several of his organs having exploded out of several very visible holes. The next thing that drew String’s attention was the fact that his eyes seemed to have exploded with only a bloody grisly mess being left in his now much tinier but wider sockets. The last thing that really captured String’s attention was how even in death, Alex’s flattened head held no real expression.

String let Alex’s body fall gently to the ground as she took herself down and allowed for the snow she rode to stop in its movements. Walking over to Alex’s corpse with the tiniest bits of trepidation filling her, String made sure to never stop in the spinning of her chain whip. After reaching his body and giving it a few nudges with her feet, String backed up and struck it with her whip. The next three seconds were completely uneventful, with the only thing that really happened being a decrease in the downpour around String.

CRAAAK!

The bolt of lightning struck Alex’s corpse incinerating what remained and leaving only ashes that were quickly diluted by the rain. Looking around, String found both Nike and Tara a few feet away on either side of Alex’s body.

“I- I won.” String let out a small chuckle, that rapidly divulged into full out joyful laughter, “I fucking won!” String’s left hand went up to cover her shade-covered left eye as she leaned over laughing even harder, “I took the bastard down!”

After a few more moments of laughing, String got herself back together and scrawled a quick message before C.C. of the good news. Letting out a breath, String dismissed the several tornados she still had going while also prepping for her advancement towards the Donneur de Frêne.

“One down, two more to worry about.” String said to herself as she took a single step, “Hopefully I can just get in and take out the tree without running into either.”

cri-CRACK!

SHLUK!

A very much alive Alex shot out of the ground in front of String with Nike slashing upwards, cutting a deep gash into the left side of String’s face that went right through her shades and left eye.

“GAHH!” String shouted in pain as she stumbled back just a bit, though not too far so as to save herself. The chieftain then used a strong current of wind to slow Alex’s ascent and flip him over causing him to unwillingly cut at her face again. However, a slight miscalculation had been made by String so that instead of Alex just lightly nipping her on the right cheek he ended up cutting a twin gash to his earlier on String’s right side. Unlike before, String held in her shout and instead created a draft of wind that slammed into Alex’s chest with such force that he was shot away like a bullet with blood spittle being all that he left behind.

Sailing over 50 feet away before bouncing off the muddy ground a few times, Alex finally stopped after an ungraceful slide through the mud. Rising to his feet with a bit of effort and standing on unsteady and uncertain footing, Alex quickly shed his rocky armor, redrew Tara, and stabbed himself with it before putting it back where it came from. After the subsequent reversal of damage occurred, Alex stood up straight and firm with his arm raised towards String with Nike tight in his grip. Crimson liquid dripped from the blades edge, causing String to mentally bemoan the fact that it was hers.

“How-” String, now physically blinded in both eyes, wiped away the blood pouring from her face, as her breaths came in much harder and her mind began to fog up, “Did you, puff, pull that one, puff, off?”

“When the pair of hands wrapped around me, I immediately descended into the ground leaving behind a muddy look-alike of myself that I used my gift to make into a carbon copy of me. After that, I used my connection with the earth to sense your movements and waited for you to start heading towards Owen and the tree before making my attack.” Alex said this all while looking completely expressionless, before reaching for his nose and tapping it a few times and asking, “By the way, you purposely made me cut you twice with Nike. Do you know what she does?”

“That dagger, puff, decreases the luck of, puff, whoever you cut with it, puff, by an extreme degree, puff, until you cut them with, puff, it again.”

“Hmmm,” Alex paused in the tapping of his nose, before saying, “It’s kinda unfair just how much knowledge Norwe gave you on us, though it probably balances out with how much more powerful my group is in comparison to yours.”

Hearing this, String couldn’t help but to scoff as thoughts ran rampant in her head.

‘Shit! That might’ve not have killed me, but that last attack of his sure as hell did some major damage.’ String looked towards the sky, a buzzing sound now coming from her weapon and her hair rising to stand on end. ‘At least I gonna get my final charge, though I’ll need Alex within two-meters if I want to hit him.’ String returned her focus back to Alex, ‘He’s a fair distance out of range.’

String threw the end of her weapon into the air.

CRAAAK!

Just as all the previous times, a bolt of red lightning came down from the sky and disappeared into the wooden hilt of String’s chain before a feeling of energy began to course through her. Unlike before, String gained a purple shroud of energy and her eyes (even being the mess that they were) turned green with visible yellow arcs of electricity coursing across her body. String also felt her pain bleed away and her mind uncloud.

Alex took one look at String and said,

“You better hope that whatever you get from that new look of yours isn’t stopped time, because if it is I’m going to brutalize you.” Alex did a quick twirl with Nike, “Nothing against you personally, it’s just that stopping time is a crime against nature I will always willingly punish,” Alex did a quick tilt of his head, “Unless it’s Max, I’ll just punch her.”

“Why would you even think that was what I could do?” String asked, giving Alex a bemused stare.

“Don’t worry about it,” Alex responded, “Though something tells me that your range is two meters with whatever you can do, so I’ll just be staying out of range of you until I see the perfect opportunity to take you down, which should be in about 10 minutes. If your wounds are anything to go by.”

String flinched at Alex’s words, the question leaving her mouth without a thought.

“How did you know about my abilities range?”

“Max likes comics and media surrounding them,” Alex pointed towards himself, “I like manga and the media surrounding it.”

“What?”

Alex just shook his head and began to back away from String.

“Don’t worry about i-”

BOOM!

“The hell!” String shouted in surprise as Alex and a significant amount of area around him was suddenly engulfed within an explosion that launched a wave of snow and mud twice as tall as String towards her. Just as the wave reached her, the Keijo crouched down to the ground and quickly shoved her arms in a diving gesture towards the ground with the back of her hands together and spread them apart. This caused the incoming wave to split in halve and around String, with the work being done by twin diverging gales. Just as the mud passed by her, a thought came to String’s mind as to what had just happened.

‘Moon must’ve done that pollen shit of his.’ String’s eye-sockets widened, ‘Which means that I should be able to close the distance between us without issue now.’

String, using just the smallest bits of the energy that now flowed through her, quickly rushed forward, with the smoke clearing just as she made it to the 60 foot deep crater that Alex now laid in, a smell that was both pungent and pleasant emerging from him.

Sliding down a bit until she was just a meter away from Alex, String looked down at her opponent. What she saw was Alex’s entire body covered head to toe in burns. Starting at the top of his head, all of his hair had been burnt off and his scalp was black and charred. Moving down to his face, the right side of it was a mishmash of pink and red while the left was entirely blackened with his eye sealed shut while the right one was burnt away. Moving down to his torso and arms, Alex’s left arm, elbow down, had been blown away with a blackened stump being the only indication of any previous extensions. His right arm was burnt to the point that the skin covering most of it was gone with only bits of skin covering burning bone. Alex’s torso was shown to be a colorful array of red, pale, pink, white, tan, and black, his shirt and jacket having been burnt away entirely. Though String did notice that the amulet Alex wore remained with little issue. Moving down to Alex’s legs, his pants and underwear (if he had any) were reduced to ash as well, with his right leg much like his left arm and his left leg much like his right arm.

“Ooh,” String said, wincing at the condition of Alex’s crotch, which was completely blackened, “That must hurt like a bitch.”

“No shit Joseph.”

String flinched when she heard Alex’s croaky voice respond to her.

‘If his lungs still work he can use Enlightenment, I’m gonna need to hit him quick and hard.’ String took a deep breath before beginning to spin her chain high above her head and thinking, ‘Alex, it’s your time to die.’

Tachiagaru!

HALT

‘The fact that I can tell that the power of that explosion was just over 2 tons, really says too much about how often this has happened to me.’

This thought passed through Alex’s mind alongside the (what many would consider anyway) to be mind-numbing pain that he felt throughout much of his body. Alex was unable to see anything at the very moment, with one of his eyes unwilling to open and the other not showing anything even when he was sure he opened it.

‘I’m more worried about the numb areas than anything else really,” Alex thought to himself as he relinquished the grip his Principles orb had over his mind and whispered, “I’m aware of the area around me.”

Suddenly, Alex’s mind filled with a complete 360 few of everything within five feet of him and of his own body.

‘Well I look like shit.’

Then String appeared in all her purple glowing glory, sliding into his radius of awareness before stopping about 3.3 feet away from him.

‘I have the strange feeling that you’re not going to help me out on this, are you String?’

“Ooh, that must hurt like a bitch.”

‘Your deductive reasoning skills astound me String,” Alex thought to himself, ‘Truly only a great mind like yours could make such a conclusion.’

“No shit Joseph.”

Watching String flinch at his words would’ve brought a smile to Alex’s face, if he still had lips anyway.

‘Though, something tells me I’m about to find out just what exactly she can do with this powerup of hers, and I’m ninety-nine percent sure it’s probably fatal. I should heal myself fir-‘

Tachiagaru!

Alex’s perception of time slowed to its absolute limits, a third of a nanosecond, but even with him being able to perceive anything that occurred within that span of time he still wasn’t able to perceive over 10 thousand dart-sized holes filling his body until after they had all been made. 4 of these holes had been made straight in Alex‘s throat, severing his vocal cords.

‘You smart bitch!’ Alex thought to himself, as his perception of time returned to normal, ‘Guess our battle is about to reach its end a bit earlier than I expected.’

String had gotten out of Alex’s perceivable range within the first second leaving him, for the last two seconds, with his body and the crater he laid within being the only thing he knew.

CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK!

A bolt of red lighting came down from the sky and struck Alex’s body, lasting for a total of five seconds before dispersing. Though Alex knew none of this, having lost all of his awareness within the half first second of the lighting striking him.

Alex knew not.

Alex thought not.

Alex was dead.

HALT

“So that ring Herah gave you swallowed the Moon who had tried to take out the tree?” Max asked Owen, having just teleported herself into the clearing to find Owen holding on to his amulet while looking gravelly ashamed and disappointed.

“Yeah, I was completely useless throughout the entire encounter,” Owen responded, looking away from Max as he spoke.

“Don’t be like that Owen,” Max said with care while crouching down to place her hand on his shoulder, “You’ve already done all you’ve needed to help us get through this. Hell, our survival actually hinges on these-”

BOOM!
BOOM!

Both Max and Owen were engulfed in explosions of their own, with Max’s engulfing the entire clearing while Owen’s only engulfed half of it. Before falling to the ground, Max saw that Owen had been completely incinerated by his blast with his clothing, ring, and amulet being all that remained of him. Max herself knew that her clothing had actually suffered no damage from the blast thanks to Orange’s work on them, though her body had been considerably and fatally damaged by what she knew to be Moon’s attack. Especially since there had been another much smaller explosion within her throat, this one having completely roasted her vocal cords.

‘You’ll see Owen, you saved us all in the end.’

Max and Owen knew not.

Max and Owen thought not.

Max and Owen were dead.

HALT

Herah felt drunk on power as her body and mind moved faster than they had ever done before. Combining the effects of Renaissance à son Sommet and the Gaashbenirium armor together had done exactly what Herah had wanted it to do, allowing her to completely eliminate all but one of the Moon’s bodies before even a full second could pass, with Owen keying her into the position of those who hadn’t been in her immediate vicinity.

Standing within an area completely uprooted of trees with no life around her at all, Herah looked towards Moon’s final body. Herah found that the ball of black they held above their head looked to be over 100 meters in size at this point, though it was rapidly shrinking in size thanks to her use of Jeffery.

‘It’s about time I join them up there I think,’ Herah thought to herself as her wings spread out behind her and a single flap was performed.

A sonic boom shortly followed her swift departure from the ground and towards the priest, a crater and cloud of dirt being left in her wake.

‘Let’s get this battle over with.’

But just as Herah’s claws were inches from the priest’s throat, everything went wrong.

BOOM!
BOOM!

Two explosions simultaneously went off in Herah’s ears, completely driving her deaf and stunning her to the point that she lost control of both her own movements and that of Jeffery. This was then followed up with the ball of black, shifting tendrils that Moon held above their head breaking apart and revealing thousands of Moons ready for battle. Before Herah could even get a grip of herself, all of these Moon’s descended upon her with a barrage of attacks that slammed her down into the ground much deeper and quicker than when Moon had knocked her back down from space earlier.

BOOM!

This time the hole Herah was in was five times as deep as before, but Herah focused less on this and more on this grand feeling of loss and emptiness that filled her as Max’s emotions completely disappeared from her mind. Though Herah’s attention was drawn from this feeling when something else began to fill the hole that had been dug with her body.

WHIRRR!
WHIRRR!
WHIRRR!
WHIRRR!
WHIRRR!

Hundreds of thousands of rounds of black bullets were now battering Herah even deeper into the ground. It would only take 4 seconds of relentless fire for the youngling’s armor to break, the gear exploding and dispersing as the bracelet reappeared on her arm.

“GAAHH!” Herah shouted as the agony filled her body due to the overstressing of it and the continued pelting of it with Moon’s bullets. With her mind now blank, Herah didn’t even know where anything or herself was until hearing Moon’s voice talking to her.

“Herah,” The youngling’s eyes managed to come into focus just enough that Moon’s face was just a tad blurry to her, as his left hand was wrapped around her neck with his right being positioned just over the pocket in her chest that stored her inner flame, “The battle is over.”

Herah’s response to this was just a weak shaking of her head, her mind being drawn to the feeling of Moon’s tendrils spreading throughout her body from the numerous bullet holes that filled her. This didn’t stop her from seeing the frown that came to Moon’s face as more words came from his mouth.

“Alex, Max, and Owen are dead.” Moon said, sounding surprisingly cold to Herah, though the youngling was able to detect the barest hints of regret in his voice, “And you’ll be joining them very soon. You’ve lost.”

“Phase, huhh, three, huhh, is about, huhh, to, huhh, begin.”

Herah watched as Moon’s eyes narrowed at her before the priest shook his head and softly said,

“You shouldn’t die in denial, Herah. It’s a terrible way to go.”

“I’ll be, huhh, right, huhh, back,” Herah said, a look of steel in her eyes.

Moon gained a pained expression as his hand began to push into Herah’s chest, his cold façade breaking when his next words left him.

“I’m sor-” Moon paused and shook his head before looking back at Herah with his own look of steel, “No more apologies.”

This got a chuckle from Herah and these words.

“Finally, huhh, you’re not acting, huhh, like such a, huhh, bitch.”

Moon then completely shoved his hand into Herah’s chest and wrapped it around the youngling’s flame, snuffing it out after a few seconds of burning. Herah felt her body begin to break down and return to her species namesake, before losing touch with herself and everything around her .

Herah knew not.

Herah thought not.

Herah was dead.

The Oni had claimed victory.

ONI

String, having lost her shroud and reached the edge of Alex’s crater heading towards her home, directed just a bit of her attention towards Alex’s ashes. The remains were rapidly being washed away by the rain that still beat down upon the entire battlefield, with some remorse filling String as she watched it occur.

“You know Alex, I think I would’ve liked to get to know you better. If to just answer some questions you left me with.”

String then made a half step forward before her fatigue from her wounds nearly made her fall. Halting in place, String instead decided to rest while standing and allowed for attention to drift over to Owen’s hat and found the burnt corpse of Max and the ashes of who she presumed to be Owen just resting near a remarkably undamaged Donneur de Frêne.

“Moon will handle that. Speaking of which,” String allowed for her focus to drift towards where Moon had been battling Herah and found-

“Of course you’re doing a rights thing,” String said with a groan as she found the thousands upon thousands of Moons bowing before a pile of slightly shifting ashes that had previously been Herah with a single one of the Moon’s saying some type of prayer. “Welp I’m gonna head home and tell everyone the good ne- THE HELL!?”

A massive pillar of violet fire suddenly emitted from Herah’s ashes engulfing many of the Moon’s within the area.

“What the fuck is going on-”

I have cells in front of you.”

SHURK!

“Ack!”

Pain exploded in String’s abdomen as she hurriedly brought her focus back to her own body and found a completely restored and nude Alex standing before her with Nike buried in her gut. Making sure that her face was looking at Alex, the chieftain let out a choked sound before asking,

“How?”

Alex reached up to his amulet and tapped it.

“Within the center of this amulet previously sat a copper cross. When the one who wears the amulet dies, the cross will break and the power of the Goddess of Life from Owen’s world will resurrect them. It’s a one time deal though, so I can’t ever use that to cheat death again. Now,” Alex took his left hand and used it to tilt String’s head up before withdrawing Nike from her stomach with his right hand and placing the blade at her throat, “While your efforts were valiant, they, in the end, were ultimately-”

SHLUK!

Nike was swiftly drawn across String’s throat, blood rapidly pouring from the new wound as Alex let go of her and allowed for her to fall onto her back.

“-pointless.”

With her death rapidly approaching and her strength fleeing her, String didn’t even bother attack Alex, assuming that it would be a waste to attack someone who very much would expect such a thing. Instead, the chieftain hurriedly diverted all her attention to a single area. She used wind currents to scrawl a quick message for C.C. explaining what had just happened to her and passing on the mantle of chief onto her. Tears poured from String’s destroyed eyes at the sight of her close friend falling to her knees and crying before her message, but the Keijo dared not stop in her actions and instead quickly scrawled out another message that read: And if you fall, the sins of our forefathers shall be our last line of defense. Whatever you do, do not fall. Our species might not survive our last resort.

With that now done, String returned her attention back to her dying body. Alex hung over her, studying her very closely, not saying a word a single word. Seeing this, the chieftain raised her right hand and tried to touch Alex’s face but found the task not within her limits. Realizing this, String spat out a glob of blood that struck Alex right on his forehead.

Watching as the human reached up and rubbed away the blood, String was somewhat surprised when she heard him say,

“You’re a spiteful one aren’t you?” Alex said before twirling Nike a few times in his right hand and bringing it down.

SHULK!

And on that day, at that very moment; String Kujo, the third chieftain of the Penance seeking Oni, died at the hands of Alex, a gifted participating in Recompense.

HALT

Alex shivered slightly from the rain pouring across his nude form as he pulled Nike from String’s corpse, no real feeling towards her flowing through his mind.

Instead, Alex reached up to his amulet and got back into touch with his allies.

‘How is everyone doing?’

‘Death is terrible, I never want to do it again.’ Owen quickly replied, sounding rather stressed at the moment.

‘You’ll have to do it again eventually Owen,’ Alex responded, before quickly adding, ‘Hopefully no time soon though.’

‘Thanks,” Owen said, sounding rather ungrateful, ‘I needed that.’

Alex rolled his eyes as Max was the next to respond.

‘Not too bad to be honest. Dying has so far been the least worst part of my day. Though the break in connection and reestablishing of connection with Herah was bit jarring, especially since I’m feeling a lot of motherly fear from her right now.’

‘Glad you’re okay sis,’ Alex said, ‘Though a bit surprised by your response. Dying was an… Unsettling experience for me.’

‘Maybe I’m just more resilient than you in that way, brother,’ Was all Max said in response.

Alex felt a bit surprised by Max’s response, but chalked it down to her just being irritated at him still.

‘Death wasn’t too bad for me, since I got to talk with La Flamme for a bit.’ Herah spoke sounding on edge and worried, ‘Though one of the effects of it is really fucking with me right now.’

Alex let out a groan before asking Herah, in a severely irritated tone.

‘Will it interfere with phase 3 of our plan too much?’

‘It will interfere very much,’ Herah said, now sounding a lot more worried than before.

‘What happened Herah?’ Max asked, sounding just as worried as Herah.

HALT

Herah stood within a massive crater lined with hundreds upon hundreds of Moons that looked down on her with very surprised and confused expressions. Herah herself had all of her clothing now gone and her hair down once again. The youngling also had a little something new held to her chest. Jeffery floated protectively above her, with control having been handed back, the writing utensil on just as high alert as their creator at the moment.

“Dah, dah dah, dah, dah, dah.” A very young and blissfully ignorant voice called from with Herah’s gasp.

Herah looked down to what filled her hands, tears of joy and fear falling from her eyes at the sight that greeted her. In response to Herah looking at them, they stared back up at her with a small giggle leaving their mouth as they reached up with their stubby and short arm, pulling at a stray lock of her hair.

“Dammit!” Herah shouted at herself more than anyone else as a matching pair of slit, emerald stared into her own, “I wanted to wait way longer to complete this part of my list.”

‘What happened Herah?’ Max asked, her worried voice sounding wonderfully soothing to the youngling, who could only respond with a single sentence at the question asked.

‘I’m a mother now.’

The Slave is Still Bound (new)

‘Explain.’

Alex did his best to make his ire as clear as possible as he stood completely still, the bone-chilling rain that covered his skin and the toe freezing mud he stood in not even registering in his mind.

‘When a Cendreux dies, their body turns to ashes.’ Max, surprisingly enough, replied, ‘From these ashes, a new Cendreux will always be born.’

Alex only blinked a few times in annoyance before a disturbingly wide smile came to his face.

‘And neither of you thought to mention this to me, for what reason?’

‘I only learned about it while I was napping. It was through a memory of Orange explaining reproduction to Herah, and I didn’t think too hard about it.’ Max said, sounding a little sheepish at her oversight.

‘I figured that when I came back that the baby would not be here!’ Herah defended herself still sounding worried and afraid.

‘Well it didn’t!’ Alex snapped back, ‘And now we have to deal with your stupid kid!’

‘Don’t you dare call Écarlate stupid!’ Herah shouted back, now sounding furious.

‘Oh you already named it!? Well that’s great! ‘ Alex said condescendingly before becoming deathly serious, ‘Now get it out of your hands, it’s putting both you and itself in danger right now.’

‘What do you suggest then?’ Owen cut in, sounding nearly as worried as Herah.

Alex let out a sigh before asking Herah,

‘What’s your current situation?’

‘I’m standing in the center of a crater with several hundred Moon’s surrounding the edge of it.’ Herah replied.

‘Where are you Max?’ Alex asked.

‘With Owen,’ Max replied sounding a tiny bit confused, ‘Why is that important?’

Herah has cells near Max.”

‘Where are you now Herah?’

‘Where am I now? Still in the middle of this fucking crater that’s where!’ Herah thought back in sounding even angrier than before.

Alex let out a grunt of annoyance.

‘Norwe is stopping me from using my gift to just get you out of the crater, and I can only assume he’ll do the same for Max attempting something like that as well.’

‘Dammit!’ Both Herah and Max shouted over the groups’ mental connection.

‘Shut up complaining you two and give me a few seconds to thin-‘

WOOSH!

Alex whipped around and used Nike to perfectly slice an  arrow aimed at his head in half, his perception of time slowing to a crawl as he felt an electrical charge spread from the arrow, to Nike, to himself. Feeling this, Alex flipped Tara into a reverse grip and stabbed himself just as the two split halves of the arrow struck the ground behind him.

KRAAAK!
KRAAAK!
KRAAAK!

Alex let out a grunt of pain as the twin feelings of having himself both shocked and baked alive filled his mind, his body being trapped within a cycle of destruction and reconstruction that lasted for but a second.

‘That’s weird, I still feel a bit overcharged almost as if I was marked or something.’ Alex thought to himself as soon as he felt the lightning end. ‘Since I’m not being struck by lightning right now, that probably means this isn’t something that can damage me. I’ll have to see how this affects me further before I can conclude how this works.’

Stumbling only slightly, Alex walked out of his small crater and looked back towards where the arrow parts had struck. Two craters of similar size to Alex’s now remained, with the split halves of the remarkably well-looking arrow planted in the center of each one.

‘You guys are on your own,’ Alex thought as he looked towards where he knew the arrow to originate from, ‘I got to handle the remnants of the Oni army and it seems a new Keijo is leading them.’

‘Really?’ Owen asked over the link, before hurriedly following his question with, ‘Shit! I haven’t been looking at the map! One of the dots within that group of Oni has changed into a pink one’

‘Yeah, it looks like I’ll have to handle it.’ Alex said, dodging between several more arrows that came down from the sky, the subsequent bolts of red lightning being completely ignored by him. As he began to sprint forward, Alex asked, ‘Owen, what is the distance between me and this last Keijo?’

‘They’re appearing on the outer edges of the map, so you should have about 9 kilometers to go.’

‘Wait! Alex before you go,’ Max called out over their link, now sounding worried once more, ‘Do you have any idea what we should do with this kid?’

‘Hmm. Give me a second.’

Once again, Alex slowed his perception of time. With his mind now processing information so fast that the rest of his body seemed to be stuck in a freeze frame, Alex began to think.

‘Let’s see, let’s see. Simply trying to pass the kid off to Max or Owen would just endanger all three, I’m pretty sure Norwe would just spit the kid back out if Herah tried to send them back to her room through that backpack of hers, and simply leaving the kid alone while she fought would put it in more danger that it needs to be in.’ A sudden thought came to Alex’s mind, his perception of time returning to its normal speed as he hurriedly turned his head to look towards the blue flames that had managed to encroach upon his battlefield area, all the trees that he dashed past covered in fire, ‘That’s the perfect place for a child!’

“That it is, my wonderfully intelligent Soothsayer,” Alex felt dread swell up within himself as Norwe the Sloth appeared on his back, furry arms slowly wrapping around his torso as the body connected to them were jostled, “Too bad I’m not allowing you to give them anything more than a hint.”

“Why not, if I might so humbly ask?” Alex asked, jumping over an arrow and ducking under another one at the same time and not faltering in the slightest when the lightning bolts struck in their wake.

“Because if you simply hand them the answers it wouldn’t be any fun. So the only way you can communicate your findings right now, is through charades and saying, “That’s your answer.” Norwe gained a lightly threatening tone, ” Understood?”

Alex only nodded silently, causing the Maker Sloth to chuckle a quick “Bitch!” and disappear off his back.

Alex felt his fear leave him as he dodged a few more incoming arrows and said,

I own matches.”

Alex quickly opened his mouth and bit down, catching the box of matches that had appeared between his teeth. Shifting Tara over to his right hand, Alex continued to dodge the increasing amount of arrows coming at him as he pushed the matchbox open with his tongue. Swiftly reaching up to the box and taking a match out, Alex closed and then turned the box around in his mouth and struck the match.

This match is lit with a fire at its tip.”

Even as rain repeatedly struck the fire on the end of the matchstick and Alex ran without slowing or covering it in any way, the flame refused to go out.

Alex then looked back towards where he figured Herah to be and prepped his hand to throw the match.

I’m throwing this to Herah.”

Alex then threw the match, the burning stick sailing high into the air and out of sight within fractions of a second.

‘That’s your answer, Herah.’ Alex thought over the link, only getting a response three seconds later.

‘You gave me a fucking lit match. What am I supposed to do with this?!’

‘Figure it out, but understand that what I say next is a direct order ashbrain.’ Alex shoved his bare feet into the muddy ground beneath him, sliding to a stop just before three arrows struck where he would’ve been if he hadn’t stopped.  After tracking the bolts of lighting till the end of their rather short journeys, Alex thought, ‘I better not see you without that kid when I get back.’

There was a moment of silence, before Alex heard Herah laugh over their line and reply,

‘I’ll do that happily fuck head.’

‘You need a better nickname, Alex out.’

Now disconnected from the rest, Alex spit out the box of matches still in his mouth and dodged around four arrows much quicker than any of the earlier ones that came down from the sky and attempted to hit him.

‘With the distance between the two of us, I’m gonna need to speed up much more than I already am.’ Alex thought to himself, just before saying,

I can control my speed.”

BOOM!

Alex felt his bones creak as the sound barrier broke around his body, his speed reaching Mach 5 before Norwe’s voice filled his head.

‘Right there Soothsayer,’ Norwe whispered in Alex’s mind, ‘Don’t go any faster, give them a chance to take you out. Though this only accounts for how your travel, dodge as you usually do.’

Alex held back a gulp of fear and found his attention caught by the darkening of the expansive shadow that hung over him. Looking up Alex let out a curse at what now filled much of the sky.

WOOSH!
WOOSH!
WOOSH!
WOOSH!
WOOSH!

Thousands of arrows were now coming down, their speed having increased to near his own.

‘Herah, you better kill Moon by the time I finish this. Or I’m melting your tits again.’

ONI

“Hey Corge, could you watch over my shop for a day? My sisters feeling sick and she needs someone to watch over her.”

“Sure thing, that’s why I’m named Corge after all.”

“Thanks! You’re a lifesaver.”

“Before you go, her sickness isn’t too bad is it?”

“Nah, it’s just a minor inconvenience. She’ll be fine in a few days.”

……

“Hey Mio, where is Haruto? I haven’t seen or heard from him in a while. And are you feeling better?”

“He’s dead.”

“Wha- What?”

“The sickness I had, Haruto came down with it himself. However, his immune system wasn’t able to combat it and no amount of praying could save his life.”

“Oh- I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Yeah, I bet you are.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means, that my brother is only the tenth of those to die after having you replace them.”

“Are you implying that I’m causing them to die!?”

“I’m implying that you’re bad luck. I’m implying that maybe you should only replace the dead or dying. Because they’re the only ones who don’t have a chance of survival.”

“Are you being serious?”

….

….

“Yes.”

“Then, I’ll just take my leave.”

‘I hate the fact that you were right Mio.’

‘I hate the fact that no one has ever come back after I’ve substituted for them.’

‘And I hate the fact, that I’m now subbing for my best friend.’

‘I hate it all.’

With her original flood of tears now puny drips in the corner of her eyes, C.C.  let only a sniffle leave her as she got back to ordering the Oni soldiers under her command.

“Get me more arrows on the double! And start loading those catapults, I’ll ground them when they’re ready to fire!”

C.C. stood in the lead of her brethren, an electrically charged longbow in her hands and a nearly empty quiver of arrows strapped to her back. The Oni behind her were moving frantically, a small few bringing quivers to C.C.’s sides while the rest were busy readying their catapults that sat just behind her to fire.

Drawing out a single arrow, C.C. brought the tip of the projectile to her lips and gave it a light kiss.

PZZZT!

A jolt of electricity suddenly started where C.C.’s lips met the arrowhead, traveling up the nerves on the left side of her face to her left eye. Once done with this trip, C.C.’s eye turned from pitch black to electric pink back to pitch black. With this change in eye color now complete, C.C. strung her arrow and aimed upwards in the direction she assumed Alex to be.

“Norwe, may you allow my aim to hold true.” C.C. whispered to herself just before another jolt of energy passed through her, this time from her brain to her hands to her bow and finally into what she had nocked. Releasing her arrow into the sky, her shot disappeared from her sight before even a second could past. Then C.C. blinked, and her left eye returned to it’s pink coloring. With this change, C.C. became acutely aware of the exact location of the arrow she had just shot and everything within a certain distance of it. Within the span of two seconds, her arrow had already sailed half of the distance she had intended for it to fly. It would take two seconds more for her arrow to reach its target.

“Dammit.” C.C. cursed to herself, as she watched Alex whip around and cut straight through her arrow and stab himself with his healing knife before the split halves of her shot could strike the ground and trigger her gift, Grounded. “I didn’t think he could be anywhere close to that speed.”

C.C. then let out an exasperated huff, before allowing a small grin to come to her face.

“At least I’ll be able to keep track of him now that he’s been marked.”

C.C. felt her awareness of her first shot leave her, this attention now being given to Alex as she rapidly nocked and loosened several more arrows towards him. C.C. felt her anger at Alex rise as he continued to dodge her arrows.

‘I’ll kill you for what you did to String you bastard!’  Thoughts like these went through C.C.’s mind as she watched Alex began rushing forward, dodging past a few more of her arrows before suddenly whipping his head to the side where blue flames  had managed to just spread seemingly undaunted by the ever-present rain.

‘Why did a furry monster just appear on your back?’ C.C. thought to herself as Alex seemed to falter slightly before avoiding two arrows that she thought for sure were going to hit him.

“Fully loaded Chieftain C.C.!” A lean and tall, tan skinned Oni called from behind the Keijo just as she loosened several more arrows towards Alex.

‘I wish you wouldn’t call me that.’, C.C. thought to herself as she wordlessly turned around and quickly moved past the arrows around her feet towards the first loaded catapult. With a single light tap, the bolder that was held within was grounded. C.C. did the same for the other boulder before returning her attention to Alex, who was now biting down on a box of matches. Finished with her preparations C.C. reached up to her quiver and found it empty. Dashing back to where she had originally stood, C.C. swiftly strung up, grounded, and loosened thirty arrows. Even with the dramatic increase in projectiles, Alex dodged every single one, even stopping just before the three C.C. had purposely made fall short.

‘I need to get faster,’ C.C. thought to herself wearing a grimace. ‘But how?’

“Why don’t you use your gift on yourself?”

C.C. jolted in shock and a brief flash of fear when she felt the hands of a small furry creature wrap around the area just above her chest. As the creature did this, C.C. noticed that everything around her began to slow until it was at a stop.

“Norwe is that you?” C.C. asked a bit freaked out at the apparent stopping of time.

“Yup.”

“What are you right now?”

“A sloth.”

“What’s a sloth?”

“Me.”

C.C. just blinked to herself a few times before shaking her head and asking,

“What do you mean, use my gift on myself?”

“The way in which Grounded works, great name by the way, is that it turns whatever you charge into a lightning rod that will call down a bolt of lightning whenever it stops moving and is touching the ground.” One of the furry limbs wrapped around C.C. began to slowly unwrap.

“I already know this.”

“That you do, but what you don’t know is that your gift has the side effect of making whatever you ground directly extremely resistant to being damaged by electricity and heat.” The limb by this point had begun to inch towards C.C.’s bow-filled hand.

“So how does grounding myself increase my speed?” C.C. asked, a bit unsure at what Norwe was asking of her

“Well,” C.C. heard and felt the light tapping of a claw against her bow, “I’ll just do what I did with String’s weapon all those years ago to your bow, with a bit of a change.”

“What’re yo-“

SNAP!

C.C. felt her bow break in her hand before quickly reforming itself into something new. Looking down at her weapon, C.C. found that her bow had now taken on a much more elegant design. Her weapon had changed from a longbow into a sleek recurve one, with the limbs, riser, and grip white, while the string was red.

“Now take a few steps forward and ground yourself Sub.” Norwe the Sloth said in a vaguely insulting tone.

“What did you just call me?” C.C. asked, sounding a bit peeved by the Maker Sloth’s words.

“Just do it, I don’t feel like speeding up time around you forever.”

C.C. let out a low curse before taking seven long steps forward, booping her breast, and activating her gift.

KRAAAK!

C.C.’s vision flashed red and her eardrums seemed to nearly burst as the bolt of lightning struck her. While C.C. was left blinded and deafened by the bolt, she felt only the barest hints of pain. In fact, C.C. felt only mildly irritated by the bolt striking her. After blinking away all the white dots that filled her eyes, C.C. proceeded to look around and at herself. C.C. found that she was now standing within a small crater with the barest hints of smoke rising up from her body. Looking at the surrounding Oni, C.C. saw that they were still looked as if they were frozen.

“How do you feel Sub.?” Norwe asked, with a slight giggle.

C.C. said nothing, instead, looking down at her empty hand and clenching and unclenching it. The power she now felt flowing throughout was invigorating, it made C.C. feel millions of time faster and stronger. Looking back up, C.C. felt another grin come to her face as she let out a breath and said,

“I’m feeling great.”

“Good, because Alex’s has a surprise for you.¨

C.C. barely made note of time returning to its normal speed before quickly moving to the edge of her crater where her arrows were just out of reach. Rapidly notching and loosening four arrows as a quick test, C.C. found that their speed had increased to the point that their flight only took two seconds.

Even still, Alex dodged around these arrows before shooting forward with a sonic boom. Seeing this, C.C.’s eyes narrowed as she raised a hand in accordance to fire the catapults. Before the boulders were even done being launched, C.C. had nocked and loosened over 5000 grounded arrows all aimed at Alex.

¨Try dodging all of that you bastard.” C.C. nocked, grounded, and loosened 80 more arrows, “And if you do, you better hope that my little experiment doesn’t work.

HALT

Alex inwardly groaned as he was forced to slide under a handful of arrows, before using his left hand to push off the ground with a tight frontward flip over seven more. Quickly landing on his feet, Alex was then forced to zigzag around forty before having to deflect eighteen and stab himself with Tara.

KRAAAK!

And this all happened before even the first arrow could hit the ground.

‘Is everyone in that last bit of army firing on me or something?’ Alex thought to himself as he continued his mad dash down the muddy path through the storm of arrows. It seemed almost endless, with Alex being forced to plan out every millimeter that he moved his body.

Speaking of his body, even with all of his running and sliding through mud and the constantly heavy rainfall, Alex often found his still nude body clean more often then not thanks to the plentitude of lightning that had struck him way more often then he’d prefer.

Looking up, Alex saw that two boulders were now falling towards him at a much slower pace than all the arrows that he was still dodging.

‘Those shouldn’t be too hard to dodge.’

Then two arrows struck the boulders.

KRAAAK!
KRAAAK!

The boulders fragmented as the lightning struck them, their remaining shards now going faster than the surrounding arrows while also striking them and creating a chain reaction of increasing and decreasing the speed of any they struck.

“Did you really think that with me as your maker. That’s just begging to be jinxed.” Norwe the Sloth said to Alex, reappearing on his back for but a moment before disappearing.

Alex paid no mind to this and instead slowed his perception of time once again, his focus solely on the death that was falling from above.

‘If I take drop speed, the rain, angle changes, and the wind into account, where I need to hit is right- THERE!’

Just as Alex returned his perception of time to normal, he threw Nike towards a seemingly inauspicious falling rock shard.  As soon as Nike struck the rock, both the dagger and shard bounced off of each other and into several arrows and other rock shards. This continued until a very clear counter chain reaction to the previous one had begun, leading to all the falling arrows and rock shards that got anywhere close to Alex to just miss him without any real dodging on his part being required.

‘Well that won’t be a problem for  a while at least, and without the need for dodging I should be there in about two seconds now- ‘

KRAAAK!
KRAAAK!
KRAAAK!
KRAAAK!
KRAAAK!

“OH COME THE FUCK ON!”

Alex hopped slightly before slamming his feet into the ground-

BOOM!

-a crater nearly twelve times his size forming at his sudden stopping.

Alex was then forced to once again begin his furious dodging as he slowly moved his way up to the edge of the crater that he had created and towards his reasoning for stopping.

“Looks like I”m gonna have to find a way around this.” Alex said to himself as he contorted his body around seventeen arrows and deflected three. Before Alex was a line of eighty arrows being struck by bolt after bolt of lighting, with the window of time between each strike being near non-existent.

Alex looked towards the side of the forest covered in flames as he continued to dodge around the ever falling arrows intent on skewering him.

‘Nope, too difficult and annoying to navigate as is and getting rid of any of that fire would endanger Herah’s kid… If she was smart enough to figure it out.’

Alex turned to the other side of the surrounding forest before shaking his head no once again.

‘I run the risk of upsetting whatever Max did over there.’

Alex turned his eyes to the sky.

‘So I only have two options to go. If I do air, I have a lot more maneuverability and detecting arrows becomes a lot easier. However, lighting becomes an even greater problem and if I do get hit I’m probably going down. I could always just control electricity to mitigate lighting entirely, but Norwe would most likely either buff the enemy or debuff me in steed of that. ‘

Alex’s eyes then went to the ground.

‘Using those tunnels Owen made makes my travel path more difficult to discern and if I’m being tracked through something in the air then I’ll probably turn invisible to them.’ Alex concentrated on the slight overcharge that still filled him, ‘That’ll definitely help me determine what this thing does. There is also the potential benefit of the chance of the arrows having a much more difficult time getting through to me and the chance that many wouldn’t actually make it to me. However,  I could just end up setting myself up for a dangerous trap and might end up blind to their arrows, among other things. Though-‘

Alex focused on the feeling of his feet moving through the mud beneath him, concentrating specifically on the vibrations that the arrows landing near him created.

I can feel the arrows striking the earth.”

Alex let out a breath as a tingle ran up his spine and the feeling of a new sensory input began to enter his mind. With every arrow that struck the ground, Alex was now able to tell how hard they struck, exactly when they would stop, and where they were going.

‘Owen,’ Alex thought, the knuckles of his left-hand lightly rapping his amulet, ‘I need your help real quick.’

‘Alex!’ Owen responded sounding both glad and a bit worried, ‘Oh man, do I have something to tell you.’

‘Is Herah or Max dead?’ Alex asked,  slowly moving back into his crater as the arrows began to become too numerous near the lightning wall.

‘No, but-‘

‘Is Moon dead?’

‘Well the answer to that question is kinda funny-‘

‘Yes or no?’

‘No.’

‘Is my help an absolute must right now?’ By this point, Alex had neared the center of his crater.

‘Not yet.’

‘Then as much as I would like to make small talk with you, I need the location of the nearest tunnel you created stat.’

‘It’s directly under you, approximately a mile deep into the ground before you’d reach it.’ Owen quickly thought back, ‘Do you need me to create an entrance for you?’

‘No need, and thanks for the help Owen.’

‘No problem Alex, always happy to help.’

‘Alex out.’

Now done with his conversation, Alex slightly crouched and then leaped off the ground.

BOOM!

Alex’s newly deepened crater was left behind as he bent and contorted his body around the hail of arrows that he now flew past until high above the treetops. By that point, Alex told himself,

My target is the ground.

Alex turned to face the ground and reared back his fist, before snapping the appendage and subsequent limb forward faster than even his own eyes could track.

BOOM!

‘Well, that definitely dug to where I wanted.’ Alex inwardly mused to himself, the twenty-foot wide hole in the ground beneath him so deep that he couldn’t even see the bottom.

I’m falling.” Alex said before his body sharply plummeted towards the fresh hole.

‘Hey Owen, I need a quick check of something then I’m leaving again.’

‘Oh really, what?’ Owen responded, sounding a bit curious.

‘How deep is the hole I just created?’

‘Two miles.’ Owen thought back, with little delay.

‘Holy shit.’ Alex thought to himself, a bit surprised, ‘Thanks for the help again.’

‘No problem. Good luck!’

‘Thanks and Alex out.’

WOOSH!
CLANG!
CLANG!
CLANG!
CLANG!

Sparks briefly illuminated the pitch black tunnel that Alex was falling through as he deflected several arrows that had come down from the sky.

I’m falling towards the tunnels.”

Alex felt his body slightly shift towards one of the walls to his left as he continued to fall.

‘Let’s see how they handle this one.’

ONI

“Corge is nice to see you here.”

“Hello String, how’s your day going?”

“It’s going fine. Though I know a way it could be going better.”

“Oh, if that’s the case, how can I help you?”

“Follow me.”

……

“So you want me to take a few shots with this bow?”

“Yep, you’ve always had a good eye and your fingers are rather dexterous.”

“How exactly would me doing this make you happier?”

“Don’t sound so doubtful, just take a few shots and tell me how you feel afterward.”

“Ok then.”

…….

“Okay, okay. That was pretty fun.”

“I thought you would like it. With that said….”

“What?”

“I wanted to ask you a question Corge.”

“Yeah?”

“Since you’re not only my greatest friend-“

“I’m your only friend as you are mine.”

“Don’t make me punch you.”

“My bad. You can keep going.”

“As I was saying, your not only my greatest friend but my most trusted ally.”

“Where are you going with this?”

Corge.

“Apologies.”

“What I’m trying to do Corge is offer you a position by my side.”

…..

“String you know I don’t like replacing others, especially if they’re still alive.”

“Of course I do, hence why you’re replacing no one.”

“What?”

“It’s a position I had created recently that fits you perfectly.”

“What is this position?”

“My right hand.”

……

“Neither my father, nor his father ever had anyone they truly felt they could trust. Hence why, to this day, no one has ever stood at the side of the chieftains. I want to change that, because I not only need someone to help me as I lead, but I also trust you enough to give you that much power and control.”

“Are- Are you being serious?”

“Completely. So will yo-OOMMPH!”

“YES! YES! YES! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THIS MEANS SO MUCH TO ME!”

“I know, I know. Now get off of me.”

“NO! I’m gonna keep loving on you.”

“Corge don’t make me hurt you.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll let go.”

…..

…..

“Then fucking do it.”

“Yeah okay.”

“By the way, I have something else to offer to you. A gift fitting for someone in the position I’m about to give you.”

“What?”

“A last name, you know, that thing that only I or Moon could give.”

“You- You would really do that for me?”

“Of course, and I already have the name picked out.”

“What is it?”

“Combatant.”

‘Thank you String.’

‘Thank you for being such a great friend.’

‘Thank you for the name.’

‘And thank you for trusting me.’

‘I won’t disappoint.’ C.C. thought to herself as she furiously fired shot after shot through the ground, all in an attempt to impede Alex.  Many arrows were fired directly towards the human, each being dodged or deflected with little issue on Alex’s part.

‘Luckily, those aren’t the arrows that I really care about.’

C.C. watched as Alex was once again forced to take a different path in the expansive tunnel system that he traveled, often due to either a collapse in the structure or a single arrow creating a wall of lightning.

‘Do you even realize that I’m routing you baka?’ C.C. thought as she saw Alex’s expression slowly become angrier and angrier. ‘Or do you know already but realize that it’s much too late for you to do anything?’

C.C. watched as Alex seemed to stumble for a moment, one of his daggers flying forward out of C.C.’s view of him while a ball of white light shot out of his back and away from him to somewhere unknown.

‘I wonder where that light is go- Wait a second! That was the one he uses to heal himself!’ C.C. quickly loaded and fired off an arrow as soon as the dagger entered her area of sight surrounding Alex. This halted his attempt to grab his weapon, which he sped past with a visible but inaudible curse. Alex had also overextended when reaching for his dagger so he stumbled once again, this time launching his other one way away. This caused for a repeat in Alex failing to grab his dagger once again.

‘You’re a dead man Alex,’ Another shot from C.C. forced him to once again change directions, ‘And soon my friend will be avenged.’

HALT

‘Okay, so whoever is tracking me is most likely aware of anything within about a meter of myself and is most definitely using that slight overcharge I feel to keep this awareness.’

Alex spun out of the way of another arrow as it exploded from the roof of the tunnel, before being forced to head down another path due to the one in front of him collapsing as a result of a sudden lightning striking behind him.  Alex also made sure to exaggerate his anger, the severe irritation he felt being portrayed as genuine rage.

‘I’ve had nearly four hundred different paths blocked off at this point, with only three viable options left before I’m completely trapped. My opponent is very clearly routing me to get me down a path of their preference.’

Alex was forced into a frantic dance as more than a hundred arrows began to explode from the roof and, sometimes, the walls of the tunnel. After managing to just barely dodge every single one of them, Alex was once again forced to abandon his path for another one as many more bolts of lighting followed. Another curse left Alex’s lips.

‘So once I reach that path, I need to have figured out how to not only get rid of their sight on me but also how to get past either the collapsed passage or lighting wall they create.’

Alex then forced himself into a roll, as several arrows had come down aiming for his head, before coming out of the roll into a jump just before several arrows could strike where he would’ve rolled into. Alex was once again forced to abandon the now collapsing path,  his face looking like that of a raging bull at this point.

‘Hmmm. What’s the best way to work past this? It needs to be interesting, it needs to be dramatic, it needs to be- THAT’LL WORK!’

Immediately following this last thought leaving Alex, a single arrow landed ahead of him and began to be repeatedly struck by bolt after bolt of lighting.  But instead of slowing or attempting to turn around, Alex said,

My speed won’t hurt me or the world around me. I’m aware of myself. I can speak.”

And sped up.

And sped up.

And sped up.

And sped up.

He sped up until speeding up was no longer logically possible.

And at this point, Alex felt himself completely filling an infinite number of area across only a single direction. He felt himself filling the area between a star trillions of lightyears away, he felt himself filling the area at the very edge of the universe where a random stop sign read: Jeffery Won! was just floating.

I’m in two places at once, and I’m not the original.”

Alex saw himself looking at his own back for but a moment before an arrow struck him in the head and a bolt of lightning incinerated him.

ONI

“Got em.” C.C. whispered to herself, a small grin coming to her face.

C.C. let out a pleased huff of breath, a sense of elation filling her as she lost sight of Alex’s ashes.

“What was that chief?” A female Oni, this one magenta skinned and wearing a mossy shirt and bark pants, called out from behind one of the catapult.

C.C. lowered her bow and turned around to face those that remained with a wide smile on her face.

“I said that I got em-“

SHLUCK!

“CHIEF!”

C.C. felt a strange pain blossom right between her breast. This feeling was then followed by a thick liquid trickling down from where C.C. felt the pain. Looking down, C.C. found one of Alex’s daggers, the wavy one, portruding from her chest. This got a few confused blinks from C.C., the Keijo’s brain fogging up.

“Where did-“

“That would be mines.” Alex said from behind C.C., the sound of the ground breaking apart soon following as he merged from it behind her. Alex then walked up to C.C., and removed his blade with a single wet sounding yank. C.C. stumbled a bit, her mind fogging up even more as confusion began to be overwritten by nothingness. Even with this, C.C. was acutely aware of Alex as he walked around her and rested a hand on her shoulder. 

“What?” C.C. asked, sounding incapable of much else at the moment. 

“You seem to be a bit confused as to what’s happened, I see. So allow me to enlighten you.” Alex said, lifting her chin with the same blade that he had just removed from her back before saying,

You’re dead.”

And on that day, at that very moment; Corge Combatant, the fourth and final chieftain of the Penance seeking Oni, died at the hands of Alex.

Just like her predecessor.

HALT

As C.C.’s corpse fell over, Alex turned to face the rest of the gathered Oni. Though Alex wasn’t able to read their expression, the fear that all the Oni around him felt was palpable. No one moved, they all just stared at Alex like sinful humans staring upon the wrathful God. 

‘Hmm. I rather like that simile.’ 

Alex began to twirl Nike, his eyes rowing over all the Oni with glance before he began to speak once more.

“Hey, you guys want to see a trick?”

No one moved, even as Alex took a single arrow from one of the only not empty quivers remaining and waved it before all of them. The human felt all their eyes leave him and look towards the arrow he held. Twirling the arrow two times, Alex lightly tossed it into the air before catching it again.

“Now I’m bet you’re wondering just what exactly the trick was?” Alex asked, before allowing a mirthless chuckle to leave him, “Who am I kidding? No, you’re not, you shouldn’t even be able to understand me. And even if you did you still wouldn’t.”

“I mean you can’t do much with the living when you’re dead.”

Forty headless Oni fell to the ground.

Letting out a tired sigh, Alex fell on his ass and chuckled, a bit more joyful this time. 

“And I’m done.”

KRAAAKKADOOOOOM!

The mountaintop that hung near the Oni’s home exploded into rubble, immediately causing Alex to groan. An enormous, bleach white hand shot from the top of the mountain, struggling to break through the break the chains that bound it.

 “KUUJOOOOOOOOOOOO! ” A monstrous yell grated against Alex’s ears.

BOOM!

The side of the mountain exploded outwards, with a massive silhouette nearly as tall as the mountain becoming visible through the enormous cloud of debris and dust that filled the sky. 

“Aaah Fuuuuck!” Alex shouted as a massive, bleach white-skinned creature with a sack on its head swiped through the cloud that had covered it. 

A Human had just appeared.

“I don’t feel like dealing with you right now!” Alex shouted, jumping to his feet and reaching towards his amulet, “I’m gonna at least regroup with the others before-” 

KRAAAKKADOOOOOM!

Alex was immediately on alert, though he found that nothing else had appeared yet.

“Please don’t tell me-” Alex’s eyes immediately snapped upwards to another massive, bleach white-skinned creature, this one without a sack on its head falling from the sky. 

“Motherfuck-“

THOOOOOMMM!

Alex got low to the ground and covered his head as the ground beneath his feet was broken and shattered and a wave of dust washed over him.

The dust is clearing.”

Almost immediately, all the surrounding dust dispersed, allowing Alex to find that the newest addition to the fight had landed only a step away from where he now stood. 

A step for a Human at lest.

“Oh no, oh fucking no.” Alex told himself as he picked himself up and tried to find an easy footing.  

“Well look at that,” Norwe the Sloth appeared a few feet away from Alex, lying atop some rubble, “It looks like they had one last gift for you. How do you plan on handling this one, Soothsayer?”

“After I flay this fucker’s very being, I’m not doing shit else for the rest of day.” Alex told himself, not even hearing what Norwe said to him or seeing the Maker Sloth at all. After finding a somewhat stable foothold, Alex dropped Nike to the ground and said, “You can hear and understand me.”

Cupping his hands to his mouth, Alex shouted out,

“Hey Doughboy! I want to ask you a question?!”

The Human looked down at Alex before letting a snarl leave its mouth. Saying not a word, the Human reared back its right fist and swung it down towards Alex.

KAABOOOMMMM!

“Hey, asshole.” 

The Human looked to their left shoulder, finding that Alex now stood there looking back at it with an expression of complete and utter irritation, his eyes glowing green as a controlling and guiding Presence was felt coming from him.

“Allow me to show you a little something before I ask that question of mine.”

Alex held out his left hand, an orb of light floating up from within it. The Human reacted to this by opening its mouth and beginning to intake air. But before the Human could even take a slight huff. Alex cut it off.

AXIOM!

A flash of light engulfed the pair in both of their entireties. As this occurred, the light ripped away at both of their very beings, stripping away the layers that made them up. It stripped away their flesh, their minds, their thoughts, their souls, until only something remained. By the time the pair had reached this point, concepts no longer applied to them and reality was but an illusion. And it was only at this point, in which one of the somethings asked a question.

“What are you?”

……

……

……

“Nothing.” 

And with that response, the something that responded became absorbed by the something that had questioned. Afterwards, the layers that had made up this something were once again added until the flash of light finally cleared and all that remained was Alex, standing alone with heavy breaths and smoke wafting off his naked body.  Turning towards the only human to remain, Alex once again fell onto his ass and reached towards his amulet, thinking only one sentence.

‘I hope you guys are done with Moon, because that final human is all yours.’