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.
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."
"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."
"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." 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.
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."
"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?"
"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."
"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.
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 sho