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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.”

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Thomas Loud
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Author Works

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