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Hanging by My Heartstrings

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At the edge of the Muse’s Valley, where the god of life and fertility resided, was a village. This village was known for its temple dedicated to not only Makara, but to Captor and the saints from the past. People from the surrounding area made their way to the temple to hear the stories or sermons spoken by the religious leaders who lived within this village. The families there were old, their bloodlines tracing back to when they first began offering tribute to Makara. Within this village, there was a man who was known throughout the surrounding area by name: Evocis.

He was reckless, rebellious, and – as some of the elders begrudgingly agreed – very good-looking. He was tall, dark, and handsome, the women said to each other late at night as they prepared for bed. The man was young and he was strong. He led the cows out so they could feed and once, he stopped a raging bull from running over a child. But, like a bull, he was strong-willed and he refuted what the elders and the priests said, arguing that what they believed in were nothing more than fairy tales and myths. Evocis went against what the elders said and as the time for the village to pay tribute neared, the elders made their plans.

On the day of the tribute, everyone in the village came to its center and the priests announced the tribute. The night before, the priests had ‘performed’ a series of rituals in order to pick the best person, like they always did. When they announced his name, he shouted vulgarities and told them to pick someone else.

“I’m no fair maiden, faint of heart and pure of soul! Pick another!” He called, but the priests explained that they could not pick anyone else. It had to be him. His voice grew stronger, louder, and people had to restrain him. They led him to the place where they set up the tribute. It was covered in fruits and vegetables, meats of all kinds, and strips of cloth and varying pieces of jewelry. There was a place set up for the human tribute in the middle of the gifts. They stripped him of his clothes and his anger simmered into resignation and slight embarrassment as he knelt in the middle of the gifts. His arms were tied together, the rope attached to the one tied around his ankles. He bowed his head and he closed his eyes. He struggled against the rope as the priests called to the god, telling them that they were offering up their tribute. After a while, they left the place and he lifted his head, looking at the edge of the cliff and at what he could see of the Muse’s resting place.

Time passed and Evocis struggled against his bonds every so often. He cursed the priests for leaving him out there, naked, cold, and without water. He shouted his curses until his throat was hoarse and dry and he hung his head, resigned and waiting for whatever wild animal decided to eat him first. He breathed in deeply, his thoughts finally silencing, when he heard something. He lifted his head, fear striking straight through him. He scanned the area for any movement, listening intently. The sound came again and he recognized it as claws against stone. He stared straight at the cliff edge, adrenaline racing through his veins as a large hand grabbed the edge.

Something lifted itself over the edge and his face paled. The thing was huge, nearly as tall as some of the trees behind him. Large muscles rippled under the thing’s dark skin and he stared terrified at the two horns on top of the humanoid’s head. Without a doubt in his mind, he realized he faced the god of life, Makara.

Makara stared down at the tribute, their eyes glancing over the food and the jewelry before lingering on the mortal kneeled before them. Evocis felt his face heat up in embarrassment, but he couldn’t look away from the god he denied for so long. The god dropped to one knee and grabbed a handful of some of the fruit. His gaze flicked over the long claws at the end of the god’s fingers and watched in wide-eyed terror as the god bit down through the fruit. Juice dribbling down their chin, Makara reached down again. Their hand hovered over Evocis and he flinched away and waited for the god to devour him. He flinched when he heard a crunch, but there was no pain in his body. He looked up at the god as they chewed on a stalk of celery. They frowned and crushed the stalk in a fist before dropping the remains and kicking dirt over it.

“Motherfucking hate that shit. Can’t understand why they all up and keep giving me it. Got no substance to it, you get me?” Makara picked the strings from in between their teeth and Evocis could feel his fear fading away. They bent down and searched through the gifts, taking the jewelry and strips of cloth. The man found the behavior strange, but he didn’t dare speak up. He wanted to keep his head, after all. Makara looked up at the human and leaned forward until their face was inches from his. The human swallowed nervously as the god stared into the other’s eyes, tilting their head back and forth as if trying to get a better look. Their gaze trailed down the bareness of the human’s body and Evocis felt his body flush.

When a large hand brushed over his chest he gasped and shut his eyes. This was it. The god was going to take him and do whatever they wanted with him. He’d heard the rumors of what the gods did with their tributes. But while the maidens never stopped talking about how they wished that Makara would carry them off, he was not willing. If the god tried to rape him, he’d fight back and he’d try and do as much damage as he could before the god killed him. He bared his teeth in defiance and, surprisingly, the hand pulled back. He opened one eye to see the god watching him. Their expression was unreadable, but it didn’t look as though they were going to harm him for defying.

The god smiled. It was a soft, almost disappointed smile, but Evocis saw… understanding. Understanding of what? A cold breeze blew between them and he hunched over, shivering. Something dropped over his back and he looked over to see one of the cloths over his bare shoulders. When he looked back to the god, they patted his head comfortingly.

“Can’t have a poor motherfucker freezing out here.” Evocis attempted to stand, forgetting that he was still tied up, and fell face down into the food. The god knelt down and pulled him up. Their calm expression turned into one of anger and Evocis flinched back, half-expecting them to hurt him now.

“All up and tied a motherfucker up too. Don’t those fuckers have any respect for the tributes they send me?” He felt the god untie the ropes from him and once he was free, he huddled into the cloth. The god looked down at them and sighed. “Gonna get you all back home. Get you warm and safe and tell them that this motherfucker ain’t happy with the shit they’re trying to pull.”

Evocis lifted his gaze to the god, his eyes wide in disbelief. They were… letting him go? They were going to let him go back home? They weren’t going to rape him? Makara noticed his expression and, after making sure he was okay with their hands on him, pulled him to his feet. He stumbled, his limbs numb from being held in one place for so long. The anger of Makara’s face deepened.

“Motherfuckers should fucking pay for this disrespect.” Below their feet, the grass turned brown and wilted. Their clawed fingers twitched and Evocis swallowed in awe and terror.

“I..” He looked away when Makara’s gaze snapped to him. “I… don’t understand. I heard that…”

“You heard what?” they bellowed. Evocis stopped, unsure how to continue. They narrowed their eyes and growled, impatient. He jumped at the sound with a yelp.

“I, uh, heard that you… rape your tributes.” Evocis’ voice dropped to a quiet whisper, his fear taking over again. He saw the god’s anger dissipate into confusion. They dropped to one knee and brought their face very close to his.

“Now listen here. You tell all your fucking village what I say, exactly what I say. Do you understand, motherfucker?” They waited for him to nod before they continued. “I do not rape my tributes. I don’t give the highest flying fuck if any other god does. That’s their shit they need to fucking get the hell over. I do not. Anything I do, everything I do, I do because I have my tribute’s consent. Rape is sick and disgusting and anyone who believes that it is otherwise or even motherfucking okay, I will rip their head from their body and shove an entire branch up their motherfucking ass and hang them from it and even that is a motherfucking mercy they’d be shown.

“I do not rape. And tell your leaders to send me someone else. A willing someone else.” And with that said, Makara summoned a large goat from the forest and sat Evocis on it. The goat hurried away and brought him back to the village. It took him to the religious leaders and Evocis explained what happened, attempting to hide his nakedness with the cloth. The leaders began to call him a blasphemer and attempted to rip the cloth from him when the goat bit down on one of the leaders. Its eyes flashed and the leaders fell to their knees in terror and prayed that Makara would not smite them. Evocis watched in awe and thanked the goat for bringing him back.

With the goat watching them intently, the leaders found someone else to be the tribute and the girl was much more willing than Evocis had been. She jumped on the goat’s back and it ran back toward the cliff.

Evocis walked back to his home and shut the door, his back pressed against the wooden frame. He closed his eyes and relived the moment he and Makara had first met face-to-face. It made his legs tremble and his heart speed up and flip over on itself in both fear and awe. Remembering the god’s eyes on him and their hands gentle on his body caused his knees to buckle and he dropped to the floor with a strangled gasp. He lifted a shaking hand to his still-bare chest and he felt the unsteady beat of his heart. It hurt, knowing now that the god he denied for so long was real. So real that they had reached out and touched him. He still remembered the feeling of their fingertips on his skin. His fingers closed so that a balled fist pressed against his chest. He needed to know that feeling again. He needed to feel them that close to him again.

He yearned for it, body, mind, heart, and soul.

With a new-found determination, he pushed himself to his feet and threw on some clothes. He grabbed a quick bite to eat and looked out at the darkening sky. Night was coming and he could feel a prickle of electricity in the air. There was a storm coming and he knew the perfect place to take shelter from it.

Evocis sprinted through the small village as the dark clouds swirled over him. He sprinted, a great gust of wind almost threatening to knock him over. With a grin on his face and his eyes bright, he ran dead into the wind. He ran to the temple just outside of the village and once he arrived at its great doors, he felt some of his courage drop away. But in the back of his mind he could still hear Makara’s booming voice and he pushed open the doors. The wind whipped into the main area, causing the candles to flicker out.

All but one. Kaedis turned to the open door, motioning for him to close it. She set down the flickering candle as Evocis shut the door. It was dark in the room and it smelled faintly of smoke. She’d have to relight the candles, but that was no troublesome feat. She had dealt with much worse.

“I did not think I would see you out and about this time of night, Nitram.” Her smile was faint in the darkness.

"Good evening, Maryam. Thought I'd... come and pray a little."

"Pray thanks to a god who did not decide to kill you once they found out you did not believe?" Kaedis smiled in the dim and flickering light. Evocis remained silent, watching as she relit the candles. As she passed by him, he dropped his head in respect. She acted as one of the links between the people and the gods. Specifically, she was their link to the Recorder, Dydelt. She spent most of her time in the temple, keeping up the adoration for em. Of the times she spent not in adoration, she told stories. She told the tales of the gods and of the spirits who resided in the Muse's resting place. It was for this reason that he had come to the temple. As she relit the last candle, lightning flashed through the windows and the crack of thunder made him jump in sudden fear. Kaedis laughed and stopped in front of him. He kept his head bowed, feeling extremely out of place in the dim light of the building.

"I find it odd that you would come here. Especially when there is a storm raging outside. You are not one to come anywhere religious to... 'pray a little'." He knew she was right. It was rare to see him anywhere near the temple or during any of the holy days. The entire village knew that he denied the existence of the gods for longer than he could remember. Even now, he was tempted to leave and run back through the rain to his home. He wondered if he should even be there. He didn't know if he was welcomed here and with the storm growing louder, he felt his body beginning to turn away from her. 

"Are you that afraid?" Her voice rang throughout the room, bouncing off of the walls. He stopped and turned back to her. He knew she could see the hesitation on his face. She sighed, her shoulders relaxing a little. Kaedis took a step towards him and held out a hand.

"What do you wish to know?"

They sat down amidst the candles and Kaedis took his hand. She offered up a prayer to Makara to thank them for keeping Evocis alive and well, if shaken up a little. She prayed to Dydelt, asking em to give her the ability to truthfully retell the stories ey wrote so that Evocis could relearn their history. Once finished with her prayer, she and the room fell silent. 

"Are you sure you want to follow this route? Once you go down this path, you will never be able to go back and be who you once were." Evocis swallowed, but nodded. "All right then. I will start from the beginning."

And she did. She told him the story of their world's creation. She told him how the Muse and the Lord battled against each other and how their bodies crashed into worlds not yet fully formed, how these rocks broke and shattered and collected together to form their world. She told him how the Lord threw the Muse down and how her body, her sweat, and her blood formed the mountains and the rivers and the oceans. She weaved him a tale as if she were a seamstress of words and he sat entranced like never before. She hardly stumbled in her tale and he felt as though he was standing right next to the body of the Muse and Kaedis retold how the ancient breathed her last and returned to the aether. Through her words, he saw the gods rise up from the remains of her body and he sat there in complete awe. Three beings, one of the sea, one of the air, and one of the earth. Kaedis paused, asking if she should go on.

"Please." He whispered breathlessly and she smiled.

That night was the longest Evocis had experienced. The storm continued to rage outside and he felt as though he was being swept away. He felt as though he lived a thousand lifetimes, seeing the creation of the creatures of the sea, the sky, and the earth. He saw the creation of the first humans and how the chaos in their bodies nearly caused the world to fall to its own destruction. But Kaedis told him how the gods brought together the finest of the mortals and the spirits. He saw how they built the first temples and shrines and holy grounds and the mortals began to believe in the gods that created them. He saw himself as one of those converts and he felt the warmth of the sun on his face as the storm outside broke.

Kaedis stood to her feet and stretched. She looked down at Evocis, his eyes wide in wonder and awe. Smiling, she helped him to his feet and she told him to go home and wash up.

"Prepare yourself. Your journey is beginning and I do pray that it ends well for you."

~o~

Evocis woke to the first rays of the morning sun on his face. He slipped out of bed, stretched, and went about his morning routine. Today was special. Today was the day to pick the tribute for Makara. The religious leaders were probably already there, arguing amongst themselves on who should be picked this time. He remembered Kaedis said something about not having a proper tribute this year, but he might have misheard her. His mind was focused on other things and he hadn't been paying the closest attention. After all, four years ago today he had truly converted to the religion. Four years ago he had come face-to-face with a god he never believed to have existed and he had come back to the village with a renewed sense of faith. He wanted to -- no, he needed to know the feeling of being so close to Makara he could have touched him. He needed to know the feeling of their hands against his body, even if it were to brush him aside. He paused in front of his door and pressed his head against it, feeling warm shivers run down throughout his body. He closed his eyes and imagined Makara's hands on him again and a fresh wave of shivers raced down his spine.

He walked quickly to the temple, raising his hands in greeting to those who were already awake. Many waved back to him and a few greeted him with a prayer of fertility on their lips. They knew what day it was, though it may not have been as special to them as it was to him. Every night for the last four years he prayed that he would one day know Makara's touch and he felt a tiny spike of envy for the person who would be picked today. They would know the god's touch and his heart burned in a way he could not explain. His shoes clacked loudly against the floor of the temple when he walked in and he bowed his head at the altar before heading into a side room. The religious leaders looked up when he entered and he greeted them warmly.

"Good morning, men. And Kaedis." Kaedis smiled in greeting, but it fell back into a frown. "What is wrong? Have you picked a tribute already?"

"Well, that's the thing." One of them hissed, their voice high and piercing. "No one is eligible this year. No one seems to want to be a tribute and we are not going to try to force anyone again." The others nodded in agreement, a few looking pointedly at him. His shoulders hunched defensively. Even though no one said it explicitly, they blamed him for what happened four years ago when they forced him to be the tribute. Kaedis saw his look and she shook her head. He sighed, defeated, and his shoulders relaxed. The leaders were arguing again on who should go.

"We could choose Daina, she'd make a fine tribute."

"No, she was last year's tribute. Plus, she has children she needs to look after."

"What about Terric?"

"He's out of town visiting his family. He's about a two-day's walk from here. We wouldn't reach him in time." 

The leaders continued like this, each raising their voice louder and louder until no one could understand what the other was saying. Kaedis rolled her eyes and gave Evocis a pointed look. He looked back at her, shrugging. Why was she looking at him? He didn't know what to do. She turned away from the leaders and walked around the room to where a heavy hammer lay. She picked it up, barely struggling, and brought it back to the table the leaders surrounded. No one paid attention to her, though Evocis raised an eyebrow curiously. She raised the hammer up and dropped it to the ground where it clanged loudly. The room fell silent and the leaders all looked back at her, waiting.

"Maybe we could have a volunteer." Her gaze locked briefly onto Evocis' and he felt a rush of warmth through his bones. Was she suggesting...?

"Who would volunteer that hadn't already gone?" One of the leaders hissed.

"Uh, I could go." All eyes turned to Evocis and he felt his face flush pink in embarrassment. "I mean, I, uh, I was picked to be a tribute. I'm sure you all remember that. But I... I was sent back. Now I am willing and, I could go." The leaders turned to each other and talked it over amongst themselves. Eventually, they agreed and turned back to him. They told him to go prepare himself. He would be leaving within the hour.

One hour later and he was led up the hill to the cliff. He stripped his clothes off and kneeled down amongst the gifts. The leaders raised their voices and called to Makara to come and receive their tribute. After they left, Evocis felt his body flush with excitement. He would be meeting Makara again! He had prayed fervently for this to happen and it was happening and warm joy spread throughout his body. And then a thought appeared in his head: What would Makara think about seeing him again? Would they be happy? Would they be angry? Would they want him as a tribute? His body turned cold at the thought and he prayed that that would not be the case. He prayed hard and fervently. Then he bowed his head and he waited.

He kept his head bowed, even as he heard the familiar sound of claws against stone. There was a soft ‘oof’ as the god pulled themselves up on the cliff. The man kept silent, listening as the god came up to the tribute and stepped around it. Makara circled the piles of gifts, their steps careful and the man heard them growl under their breath often.

“No ropes this time. At least they didn’t up and try that motherfucking shit again. Though…” The god trailed off and Evocis risked a glance upward, forcing himself still when he found the god inches from his face. Makara frowned, their lip lifting up in a snarl and they pushed away from the tribute. Evocis watched them walk away. They shook their head, a hand running through the obsidian hair in obvious irritation. They leaned to one side, their hand sweeping and raking through the air above the ground. Cracks in the ground followed their hand and a goat made from roots, twigs, and earth began clawing its way to the light. Realizing that the god assumed that he was there against his will again, Evocis leaned forward as if to get up.

“I volunteered!” He blurted and the goat stopped, half out of the ground. The god straightened and spoke without turning around.

“You… what?”

“I… I volunteered. There weren’t any people who we could offer up this time, but we knew we needed to send someone and I… I volunteered myself.” Slowly, Makara turned around as he explained, their brow furrowed. “I… After meeting you, after seeing you in all your glory the last time, I wanted to follow you. I wanted to have the chance, to see you again and I… I learned all I could about you. I listened to the stories again. I prayed and I worshipped you and I did all I could to be a good follower to you. I wanted this. I wanted to try this again.” Makara stared back at him and Evocis thought over what he said and realized that what he said was extremely informal. “I wanted to try this again, sir.” He bowed his head in respect.

“Don’t call me ‘sir’.” They growled after a beat and Evocis flinched, but nodded.

“I apologize, s--, uh…” Evocis bit his lip. “I thought it disrespectful to call you by your name, and—“

“Makara is not my name.”

“Uh, w-what?” His head snapped up and he stared back at them, confused.

“Not my full name. It’s part of the motherfucking title, god of fertility and life, got it motherfucker?”

“Then, what is—“ Makara laughed, interrupting him. It was a loud laugh, full of mirth and Evocis thought he saw a smile.

“You wish to know a god’s name?” The laughter died off and they took a few steps closer to him. “I only tell my name to those who earn my trust. As you can probably imagine, that’s not very motherfucking often.” They stopped in front of the pile of gifts and dropped to one knee. Their grin widened and Evocis’ heart sped up at the sight of the teeth that lined their jaws and the hunger plain in their eyes.

“Never had a volunteer,” They chuckled low in their throat. “So, tribute, are you sure you want this? You know what all this entails, correct?” Evocis nodded and a small, shaky ‘yes’ slipped from his mouth.  Makara closed their eyes and leaned in closer, breathing in his scent. His face flushed and he tried to keep his body still while ignoring the thrill that ran down his back at having them so close. They pressed a kiss to his neck and smiled against his skin when he leaned into the touch. They pulled back and looked into his eyes.

“Are you willing?” They asked, their tone serious while their voice was soft. Evocis nodded, his body shaking with his growing need.

“Yes.”

The kiss caught him by surprise. Makara pulled him close, hands splayed against his bare back as they deepened the kiss. Their lips pressed hard against his mouth and their teeth clacked together. Evocis struggled to press into them, his legs numb from kneeling for so long. With a quick movement, Makara lifted him up and adjusted him so that they cradled him in their arms. They bent down and kissed him deeply, their tongue flicking against his lips and tasting his teeth. Evocis moaned softly, but he had to pull away in order to breathe. Makara laughed; it resounded through Evocis, rattling him to his core. He looked up at them as they walked away from the tribute. He was adjusted again and their hand raked through the air again. Small, dark and quick creatures leaped from the earth and with barely a spoken command from their master, they gathered the rest of the gifts as Makara brought him to the edge of the cliff. He peered down the steep cliff face, swallowing nervously.

“Keep your eyes on me,” They bent down to press a kiss to his head. “And enjoy the ride.” They backed up a few steps, gripped him tightly, and sprinted toward the edge. Evocis gasped as they cleared the edge and plummeted toward the ground. A hand shot out and grabbed a branch, swinging the two around and slowing their descent. Makara landed on the ground with a thud and patted his head comfortingly. They peppered him with small kisses, asking if he was okay and when he nodded, eyes wide with fright, they squeezed him and whispered calming things into his ear.

They carried him through the valley, one of their thumbs stroking the outside of his thigh as they walked. Evocis hardly paid any attention to the scenery as they walked, lulled into a sense of security and safety while he was carried in the god’s arms. He glanced up at the sky, or what he could see of it through the thick canopy of leaves. The light that filtered down through the leaves faded as they walked and Evocis wondered how long they’d been walking. His gaze dropped to Makara’s arms and up along their bare chest. His gaze traced the outline of their muscles and the longer he looked, the drier his mouth got.

“Enjoying the view, little one?” Makara’s laugh was loud and deep and Evocis pressed his face into their chest to hide his embarrassment. “Hey, hey, little motherfucker. You don’t need to hide from me, my tribute. Your body is motherfucking gorgeous and I am honored to have a tribute like you.” They brought him closer so they could press their lips to his chest. Their mouth traveled up his collarbone until they were kissing him softly. He leaned into the kiss, attempting to deepen the kiss.

“Needy little motherfucker aren’t you? Don’t you up and worry your pretty little self. I’ll take care of you soon.” Their large hand stroked down his body, brushing up against his groin. He arched a little at the touch and they laughed again. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head. We’re here.” Evocis turned and his mouth dropped open in pure awe as he looked at the enormous tree. The tree was so tall that he had to bend his neck back to see the higher branches.

“Tree of Life. And currently my home.” Makara took him in between the roots of the giant tree and they entered a room large enough that their horns didn’t scrape the ceiling. The room was covered completely in blankets, furs, and a multitude of other cloths. The entire place was bright and colorful and Evocis could smell the sharp scent of ceremonial incense in the air. They set him down in the middle of floor and they stripped themself of what little clothes they wore. As they undressed, they looked over their tribute.

“Hmm, don’t wanna up and hurt the little motherfucker so not that… yet.” Evocis had no idea what they were talking about, but they were completely naked he had to pull back a moment.

“Uhm, forgive me for what I’m about to say, but aren’t you the god of fertility? Okay, so then why don’t you have a…?”

“If the word you’re looking for is dick,” Makara laughed as they got down on their hands and knees and crawled up to him. “Then I do. Just thought that it’d be too motherfucking big for you. I’d rather not break my tributes. Especially when I first bring them back.” They gently opened his legs, licking their lips as they looked up at him for confirmation.

“What, what do I do?” It was unnerving, having a powerful god between his legs and looking at his dick like it was something valuable. The god leaned up and kissed him, telling him to just motherfucking relax. When he felt their lips kiss his dick he leaned back, sighing happily. They kissed it, licking it and sucking at the sides carefully and lovingly. Evocis groaned breathlessly, staring up at the lanterns hanging from the ceiling. They were in varying shades of color and holy fuck what were they—? Makara chuckled deep in their chest and kissed his cheek.

“Calm down, little…” They pulled back, blinking rapidly. And then, grinning wide like a hungry cougar, they leaned against him, nibbling on his ear. “What should I call you, tribute? I need to know what to say when I’m moaning from the feeling of ya.” They wrapped their fingers around his shaft and squeezed gently. He groaned and looked at the god. Eyes lidded, breath hot and panting, and he kissed them and whispered his name against their lips.

“Evocis, huh?” Their deep laugh rumbled through his body and he pressed up against them, nodding. He rutted his hips up into their hand with a moan and Makara patted him. “Gonna all up and take care of you, Evocis. Gonna make ya feel good. Gonna take care of you, my tribute.” They pulled him up in their lap and held him against them, whispering pieces of praise in his ear as their thumbs rubbed over his tip. His hips jerked up and he moaned, low and quiet and Makara drank it up greedily. His moans tasted like sweet wine and they found themself already intoxicated. They whispered into his ear about how good he was, how beautiful he was, how they wanted to map out his entire body with their hands so that it would be branded into their skin. Evocis’ hips jerked erratically and they let him, allowing him the friction he needed.

When he came, he was almost silent save for a soft, breathless gasp. They slowed their motions, kissing him through his orgasm, whispering that they were only just beginning. He laid there trembling and wrapped up in their arms and he tilted his head back to look up at their face. Their pupils were blown wide and they bent down to pepper his face with kisses.

“Feel good?” They asked with a laugh and he nodded, gradually recovering from the aftershocks. “I do want to ask, Evocis,” A warm shiver ran down his spine from the way they lingered on his name. “Have you done this before? Are you a virgin, little one?” Evocis shook his head. He did not have a partner currently, but he told them he had been with others before. He had quite a few partners back a few years ago. He wondered suddenly if Makara would only accept virgins and he tensed up, fearing that the god would throw him out now. They frowned as he tensed and they stroked their hands up and down, soothing him.

“Why… Why do you ask, Makara?” They looked into his eyes and they must have guessed his fear by the way they blinked. Their expression softened and they pressed a kiss to his lips.

“Just want to make it as motherfucking pleasurable as I can. Don’t want to do nothing you’re not comfortable with. You tell me what you like best and I’ll do it all. Just for you, my tribute. Only for you, Evocis.” They squeezed him gently and kissed him again. “Virgins tend to not know how quick or how slow to go and they usually don’t understand that having me go faster might just break them. That and,” Now they spoke in between their kisses, their hands running up and down his skin. “Depending on… your… experience… you might be able to… reciprocate?” Evocis looked into their eyes, his mind still a little slow from his orgasm. They sighed, smiling, and guided his hand to their leg.

Oh.

His mouth parted and he licked his lips. This… this he could do. He adjusted his weight and slipped his hand down to their sex. He looked up once to measure their reaction and they nodded, waiting for him to continue. He stroked a finger along the edge of their slit and their hands gripped his sides. He kept doing it and they closed their eyes, their mouth parting with a soft gasp when his finger slipped inside. They already felt wet, but he wanted them to feel as good as they made him feel.

Finding the position awkward, he wriggled out of their grip. Their eyes peeked open at him and they watched as he kneeled in front of them. He stroked the inside of their thighs and they shifted, opening their legs for him. He breathed in a calming breath -- oh gods, this was happening -- and rubbed his thumb against their clit. Makara leaned back with a soft moan. He pressed soft kisses to the insides of their thighs and continued his ministrations, listening to the soft noises that spilled from their lips. Carefully, they slipped a finger inside, listening to their reaction. They leaned up to watch him. When he saw their gaze he turned away, a blush darkening his cheeks.

"You do not need to hide from me, Evocis." His blush darkened and they laughed, startling him out of his embarrassment. "Do you not like to be watched?"

"Well no, that's not... I... I'm nervous."

"Do I intimidate you?"

"Yes."

"Do I scare you?" 

"I..." Evocis trailed off, not sure how to respond to that.

"Would you like to stop?"

"No! I mean... I... I've waited four years for this. After you sent me back the last time, I wanted to know more about you. I wanted to... feel your touch again. I'm... I don't want to screw this up. I don't want this to stop so soon."

Makara stared at him for a long time before leaning down to look him in the eyes.

"You want this?"

"More than I want anything in the world."

"Then continue as you were." They leaned back, their legs spread for him again. He stared at their sex for a while, thinking through anything he could do that would be a worthy reciprocation. An idea passed through his head and he breathed in deeply. Yes, that's what he would do.

He pressed his thumb against their clit again, rubbing it in slow, teasing circles. Their legs twitched around him and he pressed small kisses to the inside of their legs, inching closer and closer to where his hand rubbed them. They made to sit up again to see what he was doing, paused, and laid back down with a groan. He scooted closer and leaned up, pressing a kiss to their hip bone. He breathed in again, inhaling their scent, and pressed a kiss to their clit.

"What ar-- oh, oooooh that's nice..." They rolled their hips gently as he mouthed the nub with his lips. His tongue flicked out and a soft moan slipped from their mouth. He did that again, suddenly wishing he could see their face. "Motherfuck... forgot how nice this is..." He smiled and hummed in agreement. They jerked at the vibration and he hummed again. A hand came down and cupped the back of his head and he stopped.

"Motherfucker, if you don't start going again I might just scream," They panted, their hand tightening in his hair. He hummed and started licking and sucking them again. Makara propped themself up and ran their fingers through his hair. "Good, so gooood, Evocis. Such a good tribute. So good, little one." They continued to praise him and he shifted, moaning as he brought up a hand to palm his growing erection. They noticed and, deciding to test something out, they pulled at his hair a little. He moaned and he sucked in a sharp breath. They pulled harder and he looked up at them, his mouth parted and his tongue drooping out of his mouth.

"Yes?" He asked, licking his lips and it took all of their willpower to not moan at the sight. 

"Stand, Evocis." He did as they said, his legs shaky and their hand fell out of his hair. They looked over him, smiling at the slight sheen of sweat on his body. "Come here, little one." He stepped closer until he stood in between their legs. They reached out and ran their fingertips down his shaft. He moaned, his legs shaking. The look they gave him was one completely full of hunger and lust and he couldn't help but rub his dick against their sex.

"Ready for round two, Evocis?"

"Please." He moaned in reply and their face lit up as bright as the laterns hanging above. He aligned himself with their entrance and slipped easily inside with a groan. Makara leaned back, a grin on their face and they rolled their hips, taking more of him. Once his hips pressed against theirs, completely inside, Makara closed their eyes. Evocis made to move, but they held up a hand and stopped him.

"Wha--!" He groaned as he felt them tighten down on him and he panted, his hands clawing at their skin as he waited for them to be done with whatever they were doing. They dropped their hand and told him he could continue. With a frustrated moan, he pulled back before sinking back into them. He kept up the slow rhythm until they told him to go faster, to go harder, and he complied. He pulled back again and slammed back into them. Back out and back in, hard, quick, and they filled the air with their moans and their pants. Evocis kept up his pace until he felt a tightness inside him and he moaned loudly. He leaned over them, adjusted, and quickened his pace. Makara ran their hands up and down his body, pleading and praising him. No more than a minute later their walls tightened down on his cock and their nails dug into his skin. They reached their orgasms almost simultaneously and he pressed deep into them, his legs trembling.

Eyes lidded and hands shaking, Makara grabbed a hold of him and carefully pulled him out of them. He groaned and they pulled him into their arms.

"So good, Evocis. You were so good. Beautiful, gorgeous, so good. Rest now, love. Rest now." They wrapped their arms around him and they slipped into sleep together.

When Evocis woke up, he was alone. He opened his eyes to see the dim lanterns still glowing above him. He sighed pleasantly and closed his eyes until his body alerted him to urgent bodily functions. He groaned, annoyed, but forced himself to get up. He left the pile he had fallen asleep on, grabbing one of the nearby sashes to wrap around his naked body, and went outside to relieve himself. He came back in the moment Makara returned and he froze. The god glanced at him and smile warmly, but walked to the other side of the room without a word. Evocis watched them, wondering what they were doing, which led him to wonder how long he was expected to stay there. His village and the surrounding area sent a tribute every few years, but he honestly didn’t know how long the tributes stayed with Makara. Was he allowed to leave whenever? Was he allowed to leave at all? Did he want to stay or did he want to leave?

“You hungry, motherfucker?” Makara’s voice brought him back to the present and that was when his stomach decided to growl loudly. They laughed loudly from some other room. Evocis followed their voice and peeked his head into the other room. This one was darker and colder. Inside, Evocis saw shelves packed with food, most likely from the tribute the village gave them. They tossed something over their shoulder and he caught it easily. When he looked down at it, he saw that it was an apple and took a bite from it. Makara grabbed some more of whatever was on the shelves and gestured for Evocis to move. They passed by him and frowned at the room. Shifting the food in their arms, they reached down to the ground and, like earlier when they pulled the wicker goat from the ground, they pulled up a table of sorts made from what Evocis assumed was tree roots. They laid out the food on the table and turned back to Evocis, smiling warmly.

"Take anything you want. All that I have is yours." He licked his lips and nodded, taking another bite of the apple. Makara patted him on the back and dipped down low to whisper in his ear. "You will want your strength for later."

The apple dropped from his hand as he blushed from head to foot. So there was more than just one time to this tribute thing. They patted his shoulder again and told him that they were going to grab some wine as well and they left him there to stare at the food and imagine what would be coming next.

What came next was much more than Evocis had anticipated. He had expected to be fucked by Makara, yes he had expected that. What he didn't realize was how much it was going to be. The day after their first time together, they edged him on for what felt like hours, always bringing him close but stopping before he could fall over the edge. He panted and whimpered and begged for his release, but they would remove their hands from his body. When they brought their lips to his ears and whispered in a voice so low it rattled his bones, he was gone. That orgasm was the longest and by far the most enjoyable one he'd had in his life and when he was done and he had come back to his mind, they rubbed their hands into his tensed muscles and soothed him out. They handed him wine and food, whispering in his ear how good he was and how they loved to see him writhe. Chills raced down his spine and he kissed them hard and passionately.

Oh and how he writhed. 

Teeth against his shoulder, claws scratching down his back, and he writhed for them as they fucked him into the floor. He clawed at the ground, seeking something to hold on to when they flipped him on to his back. They slowed, panting as sweat drenched their body, and they brought a hand to his face. He leaned into the touch, moaning softly and eagerly.

"Needy little motherfucker," they smiled and kissed his head before starting up the harsh pace from before. When they came, they pulled him into their arms and pressed their lips to his, swallowing his moans.

Once, after he had fallen asleep full and satisfied, he woke to the sound of quiet moans. He pulled himself to shaky feet with a groan and wandered about the room, half asleep. He had gotten used to sleeping naked; Makara told him they liked seeing the lines of his body. There was a light leading to another room and when he peeked his head in, he slapped a hand over his mouth after a loud gasp slipped from him. Inside the room, a woman was pressed against Makara, moaning behind the hand that covered her mouth as they thrust into her. At the gasp, they paused and turned to the doorway and saw Evocis staring at them. They sighed and the hand that covered the woman's mouth slid down to her sex and they fingered her until she came with a loud moan. Makara pulled out of them and let them rest on a pile of furs. They came over to where Evocis was and explained that the room was for the tributes who decided not to leave once their time with them was done. They paused and then corrected themself.

"There are other rooms in the tree where others sleep together. I am sorry that I woke you. She had been begging to see me and she is very loud." Evocis felt a pang of jealousy, but he swallowed it. They tilted their head and reached out to set a hand on him, but Evocis shook it off. He nodded and turned back to the main room, saying that he was going to go back to sleep. As he laid back down on the pile, he berated himself. Of course Makara would have other lovers. Of course! They were a god after all and he was only one of thousands of tributes they had. He wasn't important. So why did he feel jealous of seeing them with another? He covered his head and hoped he'd fall asleep soon.

When Makara returned, he was sleeping soundly. They wandered over to them and squat down next to his sleeping form. They reached out and cautiously touched his face, stroking his cheek with their thumb. He mumbled in his sleep, but nothing more. They did notice that he leaned into the touch and they smiled. They covered him in a blanket and left the tree behind. There were things they had to do tonight and they had a feeling it wasn't going to end well.

~o~

"That motherfucking piece of Muse-damned shit--!" Evocis woke with a start at the bellow. Makara barged into the main area, hands running through their hair and pulling at it angrily. They snarled, their hands clenching and unclenching as if they wanted to strangle someone. Evocis watched them, terrified and confused, and they turned in his direction and--

Their shoulders sagged and they sighed, covering their face with their hands and sat down.

"Muse-damned drider."

"Rough day? Or... night?" Evocis ventured. They opened their fingers to glare at him. "Also, a drider? There's a drider around here?"

"More like a hoard of them." They groaned, dropping their hands from their face. "Had to go deal with one of them. She was starting up motherfucking shit with the other spirits. Dydelt asked me to go... calm them the motherfuck down." Evocis walked over to where the god sat and hesitantly set a hand on their shoulders. They stood there in silence for a long while before Evocis patted their shoulder awkwardly and made to move away. Their hand wrapped around his wrist and they held him there, their gaze focused on the ground.

"I... I'm sorry, motherf-- Evocis. I assumed that you up and knew about the other tributes, being here and all. I didn't want to wake you; you were sleeping so peacefully and, fuck, I--"

"Why are you apologizing to me?" Evocis pulled his hand out of their grip. When they didn't look up at him, he grabbed a horn and forced their head to swing around to meet his gaze. "You're a god and you're apologizing to me, your tribute. I'm not exactly sure how this is supposed to work, but I don't think it works like this. I should be the one apologizing for acting as I did. I should not have presumed..." He trailed off and turned away from them, his hand dropping from their horn. "That I would be any different than another tribute." The words were spoken softly, but Makara heard them. They looked at him and really, truly looked at them. His shoulders were hunched over, his arms crossing over his chest. From what they had seen, Evocis was a generally open person. Strong-willed and headstrong, yes, but open and he had a smile that could make anything fall for him.

Including a god.

The realization did not come swift and it did not come slow. It did not come unbidden, but rather as if it was the next logical thing to think. Even so, they had to take pause at that and look at it again. They looked over him and they saw a familiar form. They saw a man who's ideals could have shaped and changed the world. The words that he preached had been revolutionary, had he wanted to start just that. Evocis had the same fire in his eyes Kekara had, but no one was calling him a heretic or a follower of the Lord. 

They thought back to the times they held Evocis in their arms. They thought back to how he rolled into them, crying out their title in his pleasure, asking for more and more and more, but only what they would be willing to give. He never demanded them to fuck him. He never lied and told them that he could take their speed and their strength and not be broken. He talked to them as if they were a friend. He was respectful, to the motherfucking highest degree, but that didn't keep him from shoving them to the side or telling them to stop when he couldn't take anymore. They remembered the first time he fell asleep in their arms and they had felt right. They had felt as though they didn't need to move or leave. They felt satisfied in more than just physical pleasure.

They felt something for him and they did not want that something to disappear so quickly before they could figure out exactly what it was.

"Who am I to you, Evocis?" They asked suddenly, watching as he turned back to them all startled and confused. They waited calmly for his answer, their eyes warm and welcoming, if a little nervous.

"You are the god of life, of fertility. You created humans and--"

"To you, Evocis. I did not ask for confirmation of who I am. I asked you, 'Who am I to you?'" Evocis opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, and then turned his head away to think. After a while, his shoulders straightened just the slightest and he spoke to the ground.

"You are the god of life and fertility. You created humans and--" They groaned in annoyance and stood to their feet with a growl in their throat when he continued after their interruption. "And yet, even though there are thousands of us and there will be thousands more of us, I... I got this idea in my head that... I would be different. I would not be just another tribute, one of thousands more. You, you ask me who you are to me and... I can only think of one thing." He turned to them and they saw tears in their eyes. This was not an easy confession for him, but he would not lie to you to protect his pride.

"You are my light in a dark world. In a few short minutes, you became my world, my all. I dropped everything I was, everything I used to be in order to know you more. In order for a chance at, at feeling your presence close to me again. You are a god and you are all that I could ever want."

It had been a long time since Makara was speechless. They were completely and utterly speechless and they could tell it was clear on their face from the way Evocis stared at them. They had to take a step back, both literally and mentally. Everything he used to be? They thought back to when they had first met him. He was bound up in rope, forced to kneel in front of them, expecting them to take him away and rape him. The memory still made them shudder in disgust.

But then to see him again? To come up the cliff side to find him kneeling there again, his head bowed and his skin shivering in the cold, they... They hadn't known what to think. They wanted to send down a thousand nightmares upon those who would force an unwilling tribute to come again, but then as they turned from him he had shouted back. He had shouted, "I volunteered!" and the implications of those two words hadn't hit them until now. Evocis, this mortal who had been forced once to come had come again of his own free will and he had come willingly. He had come more than willingly; he had come eagerly. He had come all bright eyes and ready to worship them. 

You are all that I could ever want. His words rang through their head and they felt their entire body just... melt. 

"Makara?" Evocis ventured, his brow furrowed and worried. They looked back at him and he straightened as they stepped towards him. They took another step towards him and he fell to his knees and prayed that whatever he had done, whatever offense he had committed would not cause his death. They stopped midstride and stared down surprised at him. 

"Please, please, I did not mean to offend you with my words. Makara I... I'm sorry, I... I sh-- wha?" His pleas died in his throat as Makara's arms wrapped around him and squeezed. They pressed kisses to his neck and his face, all the while whispering soft words into his ears.

"Evocis, Evocis, shhhh, love, shhh. You did nothing to offend me. You just... Motherfucker, you surprised me! You all up and surprised this old motherfucker and left me without my words. Evocis, please, listen to me. I'm not motherfucking sure how this all happened, but you are different. You are the first tribute I've had who volunteered to be here. While most are motherfucking ecstatic to be picked, but to volunteer themselves to me? Never has that happened before. And if I had the choice to pick the motherfucker who'd up and break tradition, I'm glad it was you. I'm motherfucking glad it was you." They continued talking, mostly whispering little nonsensical words to him, and they rocked him in their lap. As they sat there, Evocis felt something tickle his cheek. He pulled away to see purple primroses curling through Makara's hair. He laughed, bringing their attention to the flowers in their hair and immediately, they blushed and more bloomed. 

"Is this a normal thing for you?" He asked and they nodded, hiding their face in his shoulder. He laughed again and ran his fingers through their hair. "You called me 'love'." He said after a moment of silence. They nodded; the amount of primroses in their hair increased. "Do you call your other tributes that?" There was an edge of bitterness to his voice and they lifted their head to look into his eyes.

"I do not." Something flickered in his eyes, something akin to surprise and his mouth opened in an "O". 

"Then... why...?" A warm smile crossed their face and they leaned forward to press their lips to his head. 

"Because your words rang true in me. You are all I want. You and only you, my love."

Evocis leaned into them, his lips locked with theirs. Smiling into the kiss, they pulled him closer and shifted him around so that his legs were spread and wrapped around their waist. He whispered love against their lips and groaned when their hand palmed his cock. Makara pulled away and kissed his ear, asking if this was okay. Evocis laughed happily and slid his hand down between their legs to palm at their groin.

“Is this okay?” They grinned and continued, mouthing at his neck and gasped when his hand squeezed their cock.

“Uh, how… How do you want to do this?” He asked nervously.

“However you want to, love.” That sent a shiver down his spine and he squeezed them gently. They moaned softly against his neck and rolled their hips to encourage his hands to explore more. They found it funny how he was nervous. They had just spent a week together doing all of this and much more and now he decided to be nervous. But… it was different, they supposed. It was still them and him, Makara and Evocis, god and tribute. But it was different all the same. They wanted to be gentle with him and not because they were worried he wouldn’t be able to take it. No, they wanted to be gentle because it was him. It was Evocis and their old heart beat with love for the mortal. As he leaned up to kiss them, they were reminded again of Kekara. But when his lips crashed against theirs with a moan, the image disappeared and all they could see was Evocis.

They made love to him and his moans were like such sweet worship to the old god. They kissed him and they marked him as theirs and he returned the favor in scratches down their back as he rolled his hips up against them. Love spilled like moans from their lips as they thrust into him and he pleaded softly for more. Neither of them lasted long and when they were on the edge, Evocis pulled them close and kissed them sloppily, deeply, and lovingly. Love, they whispered and they fell over the edge.

When Makara woke again, they had Evocis wrapped up in their arms as they laid against the pile. He was still sleeping and they gazed down at him, a small smile on their face. They never thought that this would be how this tribute would end. Four years ago, he had been forced to be their tribute. Never in their wildest dreams would they have thought that they’d receive the same man as tribute and fall in love with him by the end of their time together. Their smile fell as they realized that today was their last day together.

Traditionally, tributes would come and stay with them for a week and then they would give the mortal a choice: stay and worship here or leave and worship from afar. They seized up in worry; would Evocis want to stay here? Would he want to leave? They looked down at him, pursing their lips. Would he feel forced to stay? You are all that I could ever want. His words rang through their head again, clear as day, and they pulled him close as they prayed that he would not leave them. They did not want him to leave, not after they just made love to him. Not this soon.

But ultimately, it was not their choice.

They would not force him to stay. They would not manipulate his decision. Even though it would mean that his leaving would break their heart, they would not choose for him.

“Mhmm Makara…” Evocis whispered as he snuggled further into their body. A beat later, they corrected him.

“Thavma.”

It took him a moment to process the word and he lifted his head up sleepily.

“What?” Evocis asked and they turned their head away. Small, pink primroses bloomed in their hair and they repeated it.

“Thavma. My name… is Thavma.”

His eyes narrowed in confusion, but they widened as he realized. Thavma took a shy glance at him and the blush darkened and his mouth dropped open.

“Oh,” was all he could say because really, what else could he say? A week ago they told him that they didn’t tell others their name. They only told it to those they trusted and even those were few and far in between. To be considered one of those few was a great honor. And still, all he could say was “Oh.” They smiled down at him for a while until they looked up suddenly.

“Oh yeah, we gotta get you cleaned up.”

“What?”

“Love, we’ve been together a week. Your time as a tribute is nearly over. You need to get all cleaned up and nice to go back.” A pause. “If you want to go back.”

“And if I don’t?” Thavma ignored the swell of hope that filled their chest.

“We still gotta get you all cleaned up. Best not to break another thing of tradition.”

Evocis groaned and fell limp on their chest. With a low chuckle, they picked him up and put him on his feet. He glared half-heartedly at them and dropped to the ground stubbornly.

“Evocis. Get the motherfuck up. Now.” He shook his head and stayed on the ground. With a jokingly irritated sigh, they bent down, scooped him up, and threw him over their shoulders. “Fine, doing it this way then.” They carried him out of the tree, tapping his naked ass with a hand, and walked through the forest.

“If I get ticks in my ass, it’s your fault M—Thavma.” They smiled when he said their name; it felt good coming from him. They wondered what it would sound like as a moan. They only patted his ass in response. Within a few minutes, they arrived at a hot spring and they set him down. As soon as he set foot on the ground, something flew into his face and started buzzing energetically. He tried backing away from it, but it moved closer and he lifted a hand to swat it away when Thavma’s hand came down between the two. They brought the thing away from his face and once his vision adjusted, he took a step back in surprise.

It was a fairy. It squawked and buzzed in some language at the god and they nodded and replied back in the same language. Eventually the fairy flew away from the two and Thavma led him to the spring. They stepped in first and led him in. He jolted at the heat, but once he adjusted to it he relaxed. Thavma pulled him close to their chest, their hands rubbing large circles over his back. They kissed him softly as their hands moved down his back. He had to lean forward, his face so close to the water the tip of his nose touched the surface. The combination of their hands and the hot water soothed his sore muscles and as their hands traveled down to his legs to massage the muscles there, he let out a few soft gasps and groans.

The whole ritual was silent, save for his noises and the water splashing around them. It gave Evocis some time to think. He thought about the entire week and how wonderful it had been. Sure, there had been some bumps along the way, but what relationship didn’t have that? He forced his mind to slow and he blinked at the thought. What kind of relationship was this? Was this even a relationship? Half of him believed that this was strictly a religious relationship, one between a god and their follower.

But… Thavma had called him ‘love’. They… They shared their name with him. He had asked before, back when he was on the cliff and explaining why he was there again. They had only laughed and told him that they did not trust strangers with their name. Even the tributes who had been there for far longer than him only called them Makara. No one back in the tree called them Thavma.

Except for him. Except for him who had denied their existence four years ago. Forced to meet them face-to-face and they showed him kindness the village did not. They showed kindness to a non-believer and that resounded so deep within him that he could not rest until he learned all that there was to know about them. Not only had he willing come as a tribute, but he volunteered.

You are all that I could ever want. They had repeated that to him, hadn’t they? You and only you, my love.

So what was this?

He let the thought sit in his head as Thavma finished cleaning him. They wrapped their arms around him and nestled their face in his hair, breathing calmly and evenly. Minutes passed of them sitting like that in the water before they their arms fell away and patted him on the shoulder.

“Come on, motherfucker. Time to go back.” They let Evocis stand and they stood up after him, shaking water out of their long hair and off their skin. They pulled him close and asked him if they could kiss him. He nodded and they pressed their lips to his damp forehead, whispering love to him. The two of them walked back to the tree, though Thavma eventually picked him up and carried him back so he wouldn’t get thorns in his feet. Once back at the tree, Thavma handed him a towel and walked into one of the rooms branching off from the main room. They came back with clothes in their arms, the fabric made up of shades of orange and brown, and they offered it to him.

“Can’t let you go wandering around naked all the time. Shit’s indecent. Had these made for you one of the times I went out. The fabric will never tear or wear out. Special shit for you, Evocis.” He accepted the clothes with a bow and began to dress himself. The fabric felt smooth and fine on his skin and he looked down at himself with a smile.

“Thank you, Thavma.” Evocis saw their chest swell and their face lit up in a smile. He smiled back, but he noticed that their smile fell and their shoulders drooped a little. It was a subtle difference and he knew what they were going to ask a breath before they asked it.

“So tribute of mine, will you stay or will you go?”

“I still get to keep the clothes, right?” They chuckled and the smile returned to their face, though it was smaller than before.

“Of course, love. I ain’t gonna up and take a gift from you after I gave it to you.”

“If I stay, how will that go?”

“I’ll find you a room to stay in and you’ll stay here. I will keep you well fed and taken care of, like all the tributes here. You would stay and do your worshiping here.”

“And if I leave?” Thavma’s entire body drooped and they sighed, but they answered his question.

“Then you go back home and you do your worship there.” Evocis gave it another breath before speaking again.

“You don’t want me to leave.” They lifted their head and stared at him, but they nodded.

“It is not my decision. I have had tributes stay and I have had tributes leave. It is their decision and I will not… use my desires to manipulate you. Yes, I do want you to stay, but if you leave I will not stop you.” Evocis thought over the choice a little while longer. If it meant being with Thavma for longer, he’d stay… but he had his herd to tend after. He had the village to watch over. But he didn’t want to leave, not after telling them how much he wanted them. He wouldn’t be happy if he chose to leave, but would he regret the choice to stay? He couldn’t decide.

So he decided to choose neither.

“Earlier, you told me that you were glad that it was me to break tradition.” Thavma lifted their head, confused. “What if I… just kept breaking tradition?”

“What the motherfucking hell are you talking about, Evocis?”

“Let’s say that I decide to leave. No, hold on, let me continue. If I decide to leave, does that mean I can never come back?”

“Are you forgetting that this valley is the motherfucking home to a myriad of magical creatures? And that one of the main guarders of this place is a motherfucking cluster of Muse-damned driders? I don’t think you could get in by yourself.”

“What if… you… let me in?” Thavma’s mouth closed and they sat back, listening now. “I mean, not as a tribute. As a,” he searched for the word, his hands raised midair as he was trying to pull it out of thin air. “As a… lover.”

“… Go on.”

“I don’t want me to leave either, but I have to go back and tend to my herd. There’s no one else in the village who’s able to do that right now. But maybe I could come back once in a while and… worship you better, er, properly.” Thavma gave a slow smile as they listened, smothering a laugh when he winked at the word ‘properly’.

“You would be breaking a couple centuries of tradition, love.”

“Sounds like a rebellion I’d love to be part of, Thavma.” They snickered and got up slow, walking over to him. They wrapped their arms around him and pulled him close, smiling lovingly down at him.

“Sounds like a motherfucking plan, love.”

Chapter Text

Evocis left the next morning on the back of large wicker goat adorned in ribbons and strips of brightly colored cloth. In its mouth it proudly held hyacinth stalks, rosemary stalks, fig leaves, and a small branch from a pine tree. He wore the clothes Thavma had gifted him along with the marks they left him from their worship session the night before. He was allowed out of one of the gates to the valley and he ignored the hungry gazes of the driders protecting the gate. A specific drider dropped into step next to him for a while. He pretended to ignore her, but he felt a strange pull on his mind and as he lifted his gaze to look into her eyes, the goat bucked and trotted away from her. He blinked, confused for a moment, but he let the feeling he felt around the drider go.

Kaedis was the first one to see him and she rushed to his side to help him down from the goat. It blinked at her and she bowed her head to it. Seemingly satisfied, the goat bleated once, turned around, and trotted off back to the valley. She opened her mouth to ask him how it went, but she remembered herself and didn’t ask. He gave her a little smile anyways and glanced back at the forest. He wondered when the next time he would get called back would be.

It was nearly a month before the god finally called him and he had gotten settled back into his daily routine again. A wicker goat bleated outside of his door one morning. He reached down to pet it and started for the herd. The goat got behind his legs and nudged him away from the herd and towards the forest. Evocis tried to move around it to go back the way he came, but the goat got underfoot every single time. He huffed out a breath and gestured at it to take him where he was supposed to go. It trotted off towards the valley and he followed it, a little begrudgingly.

The goat took him directly to the Tree. Right outside the crack in the Tree’s roots, Thavma sat with their back pressed against the trunk. They had their hand near a small cluster of fungi at one of the roots and he watched as they reached out with another hand and brought it close to the ground. As they lifted their hand, a sapling grew at an impossible speed. Evocis watched as they caused the sapling to grow through its intended life in a manner of minutes and the tree eventually fell over, its insides slowly rotting. It was only at this point did Thavma stop. They moved back to the cluster of fungi and carefully pried them off of the Tree. He was amazed to see that the fungi were not ruined and they redistributed them on the newly rotting tree. Thavma smiled gently at the fungi cluster and leaned back onto their feet, noticing for the first time that they had an audience.

Evocis waited as Thavma approached him, that gentle smile still gracing their face as they reached down and wrapped their arms tight around their lover. When they set him back down, they leaned forward and kissed him gently.

“How is my love this blessed morn?” Thavma gestured for him to follow them to the inside of the Tree. He answered their question as they walked, telling the god about a strange dream he had the night before. He dreamed that he had woken up in the middle of the night to this beautiful woman with such pale skin she almost looked gray and he told them how she had horns that curled like a ram’s on the top of her head. Thavma frowned a little at that and they asked if she said anything.

“I don’t really remember. She looked at me with this sad look on her face, though. I do remember that she opened her mouth as if to say something, but when I looked again she was gone. Then I woke up and it was morning.” He shrugged, but the frown stayed on their face. “Hey, is something wrong?”

“No, it is just that… Motherfucker, what are you doing?” Evocis had climbed onto their lap and was rubbing at their muscles.

“You looked tense. I thought that maybe a nice massage would loosen you up a bit.” He continued to rub at their muscles, his voice dropping low. They grabbed his shoulder, forcing him to pause, and they purred low at him.

“Oh, I know the best way to loosen me up, motherfucker.”

Thavma woke a couple hours later. They rolled over to their side and watched Evocis sleep. As a god, they didn’t need to sleep, but it was nice to let themself drop away into unconsciousness. They could feel the earth shifting around beneath them, the creatures that lived underground burrowing deeper every day and the world’s crust moving and crashing into the plates around it. They could feel the saplings and the oldest of the valley’s trees drinking in the water from the ground and stretching their leaves closer and closer to the sun. They could feel the grass trampled by animals and humans alike, the earth dug into as people redistributed flowers and plants and buried bodies deep within the ground, praying that the Muse would accept them into her lifeblood.

The god could feel their lover’s breaths next to them, the gentle vibrations as he moved closer to them in his sleep, and they wrapped their arm around him and kissed him gentle and sweet. It had been centuries since they last had a lover like this and they prayed to the Muse that she would not call for him for a long time. They kissed him one more time before slipping back into that peaceful unconsciousness.

Months passed and the two met together as often as they could. The duties of a god kept them from calling for Evocis constantly and though the religious leaders looked at him suspiciously every time he left, they kept their mouths shut as long as their fields stayed green and lush. The year passed without any troubles and Thavma found that they had fallen even more in love with the mortal.

Evocis leaned back against Thavma, turning his face to the sun. The air smelled of the earth and the rain from the storm last night. The god hummed an old tune he didn’t recognize. Thavma had sent for him with the promise of nothing planned. They simply yearned for their lover’s presence nearby them and he was happy to answer the call. His herd grazed off to the side, out of sight, but he could see the flicker of shapes moving through the trees; the herd was well guarded without his watchful eye on it. He shifted so that he was wedged between their chest and their arm. His gaze settled absentmindedly on the expanse of their arm and his eyes traced the familiar pattern of black and dark skin up and down its length. He reached out a hand and traced the swirling patterns with his fingers.

The humming continued, but now a hand moved and rested on his stomach, the thumb stroking the fabric there. Evocis continued tracing the patterns, fascinated by how it looked as though their very skin was darker along the patterns. He would have guessed it was paint or a stain, but it didn’t fade and it didn’t smear during their sessions.

“Thavma?” They grunted in response. “How did you get these? What are they made of?” They glanced down at their arm and shrugged.

“Oh, the tattoos. It’s just ink printed into my skin. Like when you and your priests write on parchment.”

“Tattoos?” Thavma hummed in his direction, their thumb continuing to stroke his stomach. “I want one.” The hand stopped and the humming died off.

“What?”

“A tattoo. I want one. Looks pretty badass, don’t you think?”

“Well yes, but motherfucker, it’ll hurt. It ain’t just a walk down the path. Shit could get infected if not taken care of properly.”

“Then teach me.” They groaned in annoyance, holding their face in their hands. Evocis nudged him, poking their side and kissing their shoulder when they didn’t answer. Eventually, their hands fell from their face and they glared at him.

“Fine, but only one. Only a small one.” Thavma stood to their feet and stretched with a groan. Evocis followed them up, pulling them down to his level so he could kiss them. They grinned and pulled him along towards the valley. They led him to another of the entrances to the valley, ducking under low-hanging branches and giving a nod to the cluster of driders watching the two. The driders parted the glamour webs and allowed the two in. Once they were within the valley, they replaced the webs so that they could keep unwanted visitors out.

They walked until they came up to a small shack and Thavma knocked on the door. There was some irritated chatter behind it and the door opened to reveal a small creature. The creature looked almost human, but with long, pointed ears and it looked as though it came up to Evocis’ hip in height. It came up to the god and knocked its hand on their arm.

“Come for another? The ink should not have faded already.” Its voice was rough like two stones rubbing together and Evocis flinched at the sound. The creature turned to him, wrinkled up its nose in disgust, and sniffed. “Human? Too far from the tree, Makara. Perhaps you should take your pet back and fuck it some more. Come back when your skin craves more ink.” Evocis flushed indignantly at the comment, but Thavma rested their hand on the creature’s shoulder.

“Cree, Evocis here would like to get a tattoo. A small one, if possible.”

“I do not work on your pets, Makara!”

“I can pay you.”

“You always say that. Where’s my payment for the last times? Work on human skin? Not a chance! I do not do pets.”

“Uh, I am not a pet.” Cree snapped its head in his direction. For such a small creature, Evocis was actually terrified of the glare it gave him.

“Human calls itself ‘not a pet’, but god takes it home and fucks it until it cannot move. It just lies there. No respect for hard work. Only pleasure for pet.”

“Except I do go back to my village. I come when T— Makara calls for me, but I don’t stay.” The creature was getting on his nerves and his voice lowered to a growl. Cree looked… pleased, actually. He felt a surge of confidence and continued talking. “You said that pets don’t respect hard work. I am a cattle herd and take the herd out every day so that they can graze. I am not a pet.”

“You respect my work?” It gestured to the tattoos on Thavma’s arms. He nodded and it smiled and, oh gods, there were too many teeth in its mouth. It hopped over and pulled down his arm and pushed up the sleeve, turning his arm over and touching the skin while muttering to itself. “Good, good color. Yes. I will work on you. Payment will be more, Makara. Now certain symbol or tribal like Makara?”

“Make it my symbol.” Evocis glanced up at Thavma who smiled down at him. Cree nodded and dragged Evocis over to a chair and propped his arm up on a table. It climbed up and poked him in different places, asking where to put the tattoo. Thavma leaned down and directed the creature, rubbing their hand against his other arm. The three of them eventually settled on the tattoo be placed on his shoulder. Immediately, the creature went to work. As the creature worked, Evocis turned to look at Thavma who had been shooed out of the area so Cree could have enough lighting. The god smiled and went back to tending to the plants around Cree’s shack.

It took far longer than Evocis had anticipated, but he was surprised that he had barely felt any pain. Cree muttered about the different places of flesh the process would hurt more. Its hand hovered near his groin – Thavma growled low in their chest – and it laughed that he would pass out if it put a tattoo there. He started to say that he wouldn’t, but Cree rested its hand on his shoulder with a look that shut him down and made him flush in embarrassment. When they left, Thavma handed Cree a small bag that it snatched out of their hand and grinned widely before it spun back into its home.

He looked over the tattoo as best as he could. It swirled in the looping shape of Makara’s symbol and he felt properly marked with it. Thavma brought him to a small stream, scooped up some water in a bowl they carried in the bag at their side, and pressed their lips to it, blessing it. They dipped two fingers into it and drew a circle around the tattoo, muttering quietly as they blessed him.

“There is nothing that should have my mark on it and not be motherfucking blessed immediately. Try not to touch the flesh there for a while. It will be sensitive yet. Though,” Their voice dropped into a low croon and their fingers skirted around his shoulder. “Seeing you marked with my symbol, lover mine, makes me want to bring you to the edge of ecstasy a hundred times over.” At their words, a thrill shivered down his back and left him breathless. As they leaned down to kiss him, the wind shifted and they froze. Their body tensed and they lifted their gaze slowly and towards the sea. All sense of lust and desire fell away as their grip tightened on his arm.

“Thavma?” He asked, concerned. They turned away from him, their grip on his arm disappearing as they began walking to the sea. “Thavma!” He reached out and grabbed their arm and they stopped. “Thavma, what is it? What’s—“

“Go home.” They growled without glancing back at him. Evocis started to speak again and they shrugged off his hand. “Go home, Evocis. There is a storm in the west and you must find shelter. Find your safety not in me.” Without another word, the god left the mortal behind, their attention turned to the sea. Evocis ran back to his herd as fast as he could and found the wicker goats that were protecting the herd shifting and shuddering, their forms growing and changing into things longer and much larger. He guided the herd back home, glancing back every so often as fear sunk deeper into his heart.

Once the herd was locked up in their corral, he ran to the temple. The wind picked up and he heard a howl of some unnatural creature and he was wrapped in a cold fear that threatened to paralyze him. He threw open the doors to the temple to find Kaedis praying. She turned at his arrival, took one look at his face, and ran to close the doors.

“Evocis, what is it?”

“Makara, they…” His voice choked off as he tried to catch his breath. She rubbed his shoulder and he flinched from her touch.

“Are you hurt? Did they hurt you?”

“No, it’s not that, I just…” He rolled up his sleeve to show her the tattoo on his shoulder. Her eyes widened and she muttered a quick prayer at the sight of Makara’s sign. “Something’s wrong. They… You know I’ve been meeting them, Kaedis.” His voice dropped to a whisper and she nodded, telling him that the priests and the religious leaders were out tending to one of the villager’s sickened relatives. He told her about Makara’s sudden change.

“They said there was a storm in the west. Something’s going on in the sea. Something’s wrong and they wouldn’t tell me.”

“Evocis, what the gods do and how they act is their business. I know that you and Makara – may their name bless our land – have gotten close, but we do not have the privilege to know what may or may not be wrong. They have no need to tell us.” She sat down next to him and rubbed his back. He sighed, but leaned into her touch anyways, grateful for it. They remained quiet for a while, just staring at the paintings of the gods on the temple walls. Makara rose above the altar, their hands raised high and green tendrils chased up after them. To their right stood the Recorder, Captor, with one hand holding a book open while the other spread out wide over an object. Eir mismatched eyes seemed to glow as ey studied the object. To Makara’s left stood Peixes, the sea goddess. Black hair cascaded down her shoulders and she grinned wide at the people below her, her teeth shark-like and she looked as though she stared at them like her next meal.

Along the side walls were paintings of saints for the gods, two of which stood out the most to Kaedis. Makara’s first tribute, Kekara stood with his hands folded together as if he were praying and the artist decided to add in the shackles at his wrists, along with the puncture wound from the arrow that killed him. Close to Kekara was Rilega who was said to be Kekara’s lover. She was painted as if she was one with the forest, only showing herself by holding out her hand. The two saints and the painting of Captor made Kaedis feel safe and at home. She didn’t quite understand Evocis’ worry for Makara, but she supported him and kept his secret safe. She rubbed his back soothingly again.

“They will come back, Evocis. Do not worry; they will be back.”

And they did come back.

They returned in the dead of winter during the worst storm Evocis had seen in his lifetime. The snow came down like ice and the wind whipped it nearly horizontal. His herd was hidden in the back where they would be dry and warm and he was outside trying to seal any cracks he could find when something howled. He turned and looked out into the storm, peering through it and trying to pick anything out. When he turned his gaze west, he saw them.

They were a dark shadow trekking through the snow. Their back was hunched over and they limped with every step they took. Their horns were lowered as if they were challenging the snow to overwhelm them and their goats were nowhere in sight. He started towards them when they stopped and swung their head in their direction. The wind died for a moment and what he saw made cold fear spike through him.

Blood dripped down over one eye and the corner of their mouth had been ripped open in a gruesome half-smile. One arm hung uselessly at their side and there was a huge gash down the side of their leg. Their eyes locked with his and he took a step back from them; their eyes glowed red like hot coals in Zahhak’s forge. Their head swung forward and they left him, limping back to the valley. The wind howled and the gust nearly threw him off his feet. Evocis looked back at his house, bit his lip, and made up his mind. He started forward, pushing against the wind. He barely made it a couple feet from his house when a warm hand pressed against his chest. He stopped and looked up, his heart stopping when he saw the woman from his dream.

Her hair trailed down in two long strips and they swayed as if she was standing in a summer breeze and not a blizzard. Her eyes flashed in multiple colors before settling on a golden color like Makara’s eyes. Her hand dropped from his chest as she shook her head. She opened her mouth and he leaned forward because there was no way he was going to hear her in this storm, but she spoke as clear as day as if the wind was not howling around them like a maddened beast.

“No, herder. Do not go to see them. It would not be wise.”

“Not wise?” He shouted, his voice nearly lost in the wind. “Are you out of your mind? Didn’t you see them? They’re injured! They need to be—“

“Left alone.” She replied calmly, almost sadly. He looked at her face again. She looked younger than when he last saw her. “There is nothing you could offer that would help them. They would mostly likely kill you on sight than allow you to come near.”

“But I’m…”

“I know.” Evocis stopped, staring at her as she gazed at him. He wondered how she could know or was she just saying that to get him to be quiet? While they never said that they were ashamed of their human lover, Thavma seemed set on making the other gods and spirits not see him as their favorite. When he asked about it, they curled in on themselves and refused to speak about it. He suddenly wondered who she was, this woman who seemed to be outside of the flow of time.

“I know you want to see them, but it would not be wise. You may know their name, but that does not make you above your own kind. You are no god and you need not be knowledgeable of the affairs of others not your kind. Do not find your safety in them. They cannot keep you safe.” Evocis lurched forward to grab her, but a red light blinded him and when he opened his eyes, she was gone. The wind howled around him and he turned around and ran back into his home. He sent a quick prayer to the Muse for safety. From what he prayed safety from, he didn’t know.

The storm finally calmed the night of the Midwinter Festival. Villagers from the surrounding area swarmed over Evocis’ village and set everything up as quickly as they could. Fires of all size burned brightly and one of the apprentices from the Zahhak’s forge threw in different metals that caused the fires to burn different colors. The air was filled with beautiful music while stories were told, children enraptured by both tale and food. Evocis’ mouth watered at the scent of cooking meat, but he hung back from the festivities. He had never stopped thinking about the night Thavma returned and the woman showed up to keep him from going after them. He wondered if she was a goddess, but when he described her to Kaedis she told him that there was no record of a goddess like her. Kaedis had mentioned that she might be some kind of creature like the driders or kelpies near the sea. Kaedis passed him, offering him some bread that he waved away.

“You do need to eat, Nitram. You are starting to look rather thin.”

“I’m fine, Kaedis.” He replied, glancing back at the valley. She sighed and shoved a roll at his face until he took it and had a bite of it. “Happy?” He asked as she walked away. She only waved back at him and he ate the roll, happy to have some food even if he didn’t want Kaedis to know that. Evocis eventually wandered around the festival, smiling at children who bumped past his legs to get at something. As he wandered, the music changed. Instead of the peaceful, calming tunes that had been playing before, Evocis heard drums pounding away rhythmically and the singers chanting something. He walked towards the stage in case there was something going on. When he came to a hill that looked down on the stage, he stopped.

There were a few actors on stage, playing out some battle the gods had fought against an evil spirit a long time ago. He barely remembered the tale, but Makara had played a large part in it. He braced himself against a tree and leaned down, attempting for a better view of the stage. He could see the actor playing Makara as they faced off against a monster and... Evocis’ breath caught in his throat.

The actor jumped back, horns lowered at their enemy, breath panting through sharp fangs. Their face was painted a terrifying mask and when Evocis saw the flash of their eyes, he swore he saw yellow. Before he knew it, he was running down the hill, avoiding rocks and winding in between the crowd. He apologized to those he bumped into in his rush to the stage, pausing only once he was the closest he could get to the stage. Above him, they clashed with the man-made monster, muscles rippling under ink-painted skin and they glanced down at the crowd. With a familiar smirk, Thavma shoved the monster away, roaring at it. They lifted their arm, a heavy, painted club held tight in their grip, and they called out at the beast.

“There are none but you and you shall be finished. You will harm my creation no longer.” Their voice held so much emotion that the crowd below them roared their cheers. Someone nudged him, saying how good the actor was. Evocis could only nod, his face brightening as he watched Thavma pretend in front of them. When the scene was over, Evocis waited for Thavma to appear again, but it seemed as though the actors were doing a new scene that didn’t include Makara. Evocis sighed, saddened that he wouldn’t be able to see the god again and he turned to continue wandering when someone grabbed ahold of his arm and pulled him through the crowd. Once they were out of the crowd and he could get a better look at the person, Thavma smiled lovingly at him. They wrapped their arms around him and pulled him to their chest.

“Hello, love.” They whispered and kissed his head. He kissed them in return, his hands on either side of their face. When he rubbed his thumbs along their cheek, the paint smeared and the pad of his thumb ran over a scar that stretched from the corner of their mouth. His face fell as he rubbed his thumb along the raised flesh. Thavma kissed his forehead and rubbed circles against his back. They took one look at his face before dragging him even further from the crowd. They stopped against a line of trees where a fire burned purple.

Evocis could barely see their face, but they kissed both his hands and pressed them against their cheeks. He stared at them a little longer before moving back. They let him go and he ran his fingers over both their arms, feeling the new scratches and scars there. He dropped to his knees and ran his hand over the gash in their leg and he felt something bubble up inside of his chest. He tried to suppress it as he stood to his feet. He pressed his hands against their cheek again and opened his mouth to speak.

“You…” was all he could get out before the tears came. He hid his face in their chest, his hands curling into claws against their face. They pressed a kiss to the top of his head and rested their chin in his hair, just holding him until he could speak.

“You left. You left without any… warning and I was so worried, but you wouldn’t tell me where you went and I…”

“I know. Love, shhh, I know.”

“You were gone for more than a year and I had no way of knowing… of knowing if you…” He trailed off as the tears flowed quicker. His shoulders shook with the force of his sobs and Thavma held him. They held him as his hands fell from their face to pound his fists against their chest. “And when you came back, you…!” He couldn’t get the words out and Thavma sighed, pulling him to their chest tighter. They kissed his head and let him cry. When his sobs had subsided, they spoke.

“There was danger in the west. The seas were churning and the people were praying for answers, but when I arrived, Skiela was nowhere to be found. Dydelt had gone to look for her and when we found her, she was up against a great beast turned mad. It had angered the leviathan and it was making the waters churn from its anger. Skiela worried that the leviathan would open its maw and let forth its cry.” Evocis’ had to remember how to breathe. There were stories started by the gods themselves that when the leviathan roared, both time and the world would cease. To think that something like that could happen at any time made his chest tighten up in fear. Thavma nodded at the look on his face.

“Now you see why I had to leave, love. I know, I should have explained, but even I didn’t know what was wrong. I apologize, my love.”

“But… your injuries?”

“The battle was intense, but I was able to make it back. My mind was not in its proper state otherwise I would have come to see that you were safe. I am healing still, but how could I stay away from this? My love, how I have missed you.” They tilted his head up and after asking for permission, they kissed him. He fell apart again during the kiss, but they didn’t let him go. They kissed his tears away and they breathed in his small sobs and sniffles and they pressed their foreheads together.

“This motherfucker must leave now, love. I will see you in the spring, when the flowers have up and opened their petals to the sun. I love you, Evocis. I will never stop loving you. Muse be with you.” They held him close one more time before letting him go and kissing his hand. He watched them disappear into the valley, soft music filling the air behind him.

~o~ 

Thavma kept their word. The first day the flowers around Evocis’ house bloomed, there was a goat outside his door. He reached down to pat its head and it huffed, but it let him go to the herd to check on them. He led them out to the cliff, the goat following his side quietly. Once they reached the cliff, Thavma was already there. They sat with their back against a tree growing at the edge of the cliff, their eyes closed as if they were sleeping. The herd spread out over the clearing and Evocis sat down next to the god, content to sit there with them. They sat in silence until the god spoke up, their voice soft.

“This motherfucker’s been thinking. I’ve gotta get up and go and get one of my tattoos re-inked. Fix up what was ruined. Maybe when Cree isn’t up and poking at me, you could get some more work done. I know you’ve been making plans to ask me, you’ve been eyeing the ones I got and I get ya. Funny little addiction when your flesh craves ink.” They glanced over to Evocis who looked up at them with wide, bright eyes. Thavma laughed, roughed up his hair, and whistled. Dark shapes flickered in between the trees; Thavma’s messengers would guard the herd while they were gone.

The god led him to one of the gates to the valley and he looked up at the driders sitting on their webs. A few of them hissed at the sight of him, but most eyed him hungrily and it made him shudder. One of the driders dropped down from the tree and barred their way to the gate. She bowed low and Thavma straightened, their calm demeanor completely changed to a hard, distant appearance.

“Good day, Makara. The gates have been cleared of all,” she looked pointedly at Evocis. “Unwanted visitors… as we waited for your return.” The drider spoke with an air of superiority and the other driders watched her as if with respect. She glanced at him again and he felt a sudden attraction to her. He felt his body move forward and when Thavma stepped in front of him, he tried to push them aside.

“You will stop at once.” The command pulled him up short and froze him in place. The drider seemed frozen too and Thavma stepped towards her. “You will leave what is mine alone or do you need a reminder of what happened last time?” Their voice dropped to a hiss and the drider visibly wilted. Evocis wondered what they meant by ‘last time’, but he didn’t get the chance to ask as the god pushed through the gates, their grip on his arm tight and commanding. He risked a glance backward and the drider frowned, but climbed back into the canopy.

When they came up to Cree’s shack, the goblin was outside painting something on a large plank of wood. The goblin glanced up as they approached and began to go back to work, but its gaze suddenly snapped up and it looked from Evocis to the plank and back again. It returned to its work as they approached, its movements stiff as if it was anxious. Evocis thought it strange, but he made no mention of it since the goblin’s ways were not his own. Thavma strode forward and talked quickly to Cree, never acknowledging the plank and they gestured at the fading ink on their arm. Cree jumped to its feet, grabbed its tools, and immediately began working on them once they sat down.

Evocis wandered around the shack while he waited. He knew it wouldn’t take too long, but he didn’t want to hover over the goblin while it worked. He thought that it made Cree nervous to have him stand there and watch. It definitely seemed anxious now. It made a point to not look at him, even as he walked over to the plank of wood it had been working on previously. He watched the goblin from a distance, noting how its shoulders were hunched and its face was screwed up, until his gaze was drawn to the painting in front of him.

The design was painted in thick, black lines that outlined the shape of a pair of fairy wings. At the image’s center, a circle was painted with much thinner lines. There were swirls within the wings that were much lighter than the main lines, but two lines sprouted from the top of the circle and spread up towards the outline. He whistled appreciatively and leaned down to inspect it closer. The design was large and it looked as though it could fit neatly on his back. When Cree clicked its tongue, he jerked back from the design, not realizing how close he had gotten.

“Apologies, but the design… it, er, it drew me in.” Evocis shuffled awkwardly as Cree eyed him. Its gaze flicked down to the wood for a few seconds and it squinted its eyes as if it was considering something.

“You like it?” Cree ventured, its focus back on Thavma’s arm as it continued working.

“Yeah, it’s really cool. I would love, er, be honored to wear it.”

“Does the human want it?” The goblin finished re-inking Thavma’s tattoo and turned to Evocis, waiting for an answer. He nodded and the goblin beckoned him over, telling him to bring the plank of wood. Thavma moved from the bench and watched with a worried frown, but they didn’t protest his decision. The goblin had him take off his shirt and lay down on his stomach. It touched his back a few times as if measuring it before crouching over him and beginning to work. As it worked, it told him that the inking would take a few days to finish since it was such a large tattoo. After a few hours, Thavma brought Evocis home, careful of his back. They stopped at his door and pressed their lips to his.

“I am sorry love, but I must leave for a few days. Skiela called for me the other night and said that she needed me. I don’t know what kind of things are going down in her territory, but you can be sure it’s going to be a clusterfuck. Thought she said something about a motherfucking clock…” They trailed off with a frown. They wrapped their arms around him in a tight hug. “Be careful, my beloved. I’ll send a goat with you to get that ink finished up, but be wary of your steps. I can’t always control the creatures who live in the forest.” They kissed him long and deep before they left, turning towards the sea.

A week later and Evocis was walking back to Cree’s shack, his tattoo almost completely finished by now. It was extremely hot that day and so he had his shirt tied around his waist, hoping that it would be much cooler in the forest. The goat led him to the gate at the side of the valley and began to go past it when one of the driders dropped from the canopy of webs. The goat bleated at her, but Makari shoved it out of the way as she approached Evocis. He froze, his heart pumping quickly and fearfully.

“Well, well, wellllllll,” she stretched out the last ‘well’ as she leaned close to him. “What do we have here?” Her fingers climbed up his chest, the sharp points of her claws pricking him with each word she spoke. When her fingers reached his chin, she lifted it up and grinned, her teeth tiny and sharp and her face was very close to his. “A human without anyone to hide behind but a goat. I’m very curious, Nitram, to know what your flesh tastes like when it’s stuck between my teeth.” Fear shuddered through him, but the fear seemed to freeze up when her hands ran down his sides.

“They aren’t here to protect you, Nitram, and,” she paused to laugh at the soft moan that slipped from between his lips as she grabbed his ass. “Seems as though they haven’t had time to play with you properly in a while…” She grabbed his face and forced him to look at her. Gradually, she slipped into his mind and felt around, looking around for weak spots to hook into so she could pull him away for good, when the goat jaws snapped hard around one of her legs. She jerked away from him and the goat let go so she could climb back up into the trees and amongst her cluster.

Once she was out of his mind, he stumbled with a gasp. The goat nudged him past the gate and away from the driders. He did not stop shivering until they were nearly to Cree’s shack, but he could not rid himself of the feeling of her inside his head while her fingers traced the outline of his flesh. While it felt disgusting and he felt violated, he also felt a little aroused. What she had said was true. It had been a while since Thavma had fucked him good and proper and, for all he knew, they were still with Skiela. His feet began to turn back towards the gate, curious, when Cree’s clicking startled him out of his trance.

The goblin squinted its eyes and breathed in deeply. It lifted its lip, disgust clear on its face, and beckoned Evocis towards its shack. He followed the goblin and laid down on the bench so that it could get to work. After an hour, Cree spoke up.

“Does human ever dream of… woman?” Evocis blinked and tried to turn over to get a good look at the goblin, but it smacked his head and pushed him back against the bench.

“Okay, okay, yeah. I get it: don’t move. But of course I dream of women! They’re really pretty and soft, but I don’t always – hey! What the hell?” Cree smacked him across the head again.

“Not women! Not plural! Gods on land and sea and sky, not women. Woman.” Cree clarified, but Evocis was still confused. “Gah, humans and their ways. Not knowing the things past their own lives.” The goblin growled, more focused on finishing the tattoo now. A couple minutes of silence passed before Evocis broke the silence.

“What woman?” Cree hesitated at the question, its hand resting over the completed parts of the tattoo.

“Woman of red clocks and woman out of time. Have you seen her, human? Gray skin like stone. Face rounded and horns of red and orange and gold curling up like ram’s.” Cree brushed at his skin and Evocis frowned. Horns like a ram… He had seen that before, he was sure of it. Was she the same woman he had seen in his dream? Was she the same woman who had prevented him from going to Thavma the night of that blizzard? Cree was speaking again and its words brought him out of his thoughts. “Saw her in dream. Strange that. Cree does not dream. But woman was beautiful and not at all soft and she… She showed me things. She showed me…” The goblin trailed off, its hands twitching around its tools and on his back.

“What? She showed you what?” He prompted, trying to turn over when a low voice stopped him in his tracks.

“Yes, Cree. What did she show you?” Thavma stood tall with their back straightened and their horns tilted forward in just enough of a threat. Cree’s mouth opened and closed and for the first time, Evocis saw fear in its eyes. Fear of the god of life and death who was obviously not happy. He didn’t understand it. Cree bent over and gently pushed him back down to the bench. It worked quickly to finish the tattoo and Evocis noticed the worried touches over the center of the design. The goblin once ran its finger around the circle in middle. Immediately, the hand jerked away and Cree whispered an apology. For whom the apology was for, Evocis didn’t know.

As soon as the goblin finished the tattoo and wiped him off, Thavma grabbed his arm and pulled him up, throwing a glare at Cree, and dragged him away. Evocis swung his head around to thank it, but the goblin was looking at the plank of wood the design had been painted on with a look of regret.

Thavma pulled him along through the forest without a word until he finally dug his feet into the ground and pulled back with all his strength. They tried to yank him forward, but he went limp and became dead weight. They growled at their lover and he shouted back.

“What in the Muse’s name was that about?”

“You will not go there, Evocis."

“’I will not go there?’ You will explain what that was all about! Who the hell is this woman and why does she—“

“I do not answer to YOU!” Thavma snarled. Evocis flinched back, his eyes wide. They blinked, the red in their eyes fading. When they stepped forward, Evocis crawled back. They took another step towards him and he backed away until he was pressed against a tree.

“Evocis, love. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare a—“

“You’re going to explain what the hell this is about or I’m leaving,” Evocis’s voice shook as he spoke. “And I will not be coming back.” Thavma stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed at their lover. Their lover who told them that he would never leave them without a way to return. They closed their eyes and reluctantly pulled away from them.

“Her name is Kriari and she is a curse to this land. She is a blasphemer and a traitor to the Muse and all she created. Kriari brings death to whoever she speaks to. You dreamt about her once and I, motherfucker I got so scared for you. Love, I was terrified she was going to take you from me and I couldn’t stand to lose you. I’d rather suffer death than see you die.” Thavma’s shoulders fell with the confession of their fear. Evocis looked at them, eyes wide and stood. He took a step towards the god, then another and another until he was a foot from them.

“I,” he began, but he trailed off, his gaze directed to the ground. Their explanation did not ease their terror of the angry god and it honestly left him more confused. This woman had shown up the night of the blizzard when Thavma came back from the sea and she had not done or said anything that implied she meant him harm. After a while, Thavma’s arms came up and they wrapped around their lover.

“I am sorry, love, Evocis. I did not mean to scare you as I did. Motherfucker, it terrifies me to think I’ll lose you one day. I…” They sighed; it was a heavy sound and it sat on Evocis’ shoulders like a weight meant to break even the strongest of creatures.

“I don’t want to go through that kind of pain any time soon. Not after Kekara. Not like him.” Evocis nodded and kissed them. The two stood there for a long time, no other words passing between them. They walked back to the Tree of Life and they spent the night together.

~o~

The sun rose over the valley, warming Thavma’s back as they left the Tree. It had been several years since they and Evocis had become lovers – they smiled at the memory of their first week together. Much had happened between them and within the world in those several years. The leviathan seemed to calm down and Skiela no longer bothered them. The last time they passed by there, she had not only commented on their stretched stomach, but on Kriari. Skiela had seen her passing by the edge of Dydelt’s territory a while back, the woman’s gaze trained on the high mountains. There was no telling what the woman was thinking about, but Skiela hissed and spat out her distrust.

A few before that meeting, Evocis had asked them about having children. He didn’t feel much of anything for the people in the village, but he wasn’t sure if gods could even bear children. Muse, even they hadn’t known. Dydelt had been called in and after some snark and frustration, they did learn that it was possible for them to bear a child, as long as they had all the proper parts. Thavma worked it out and within a few days, their stomach had begun to swell as a child grew within them. Months after their meeting with Skiela, the child had come forth, surprisingly not fully formed. Evocis tried to care for the child, but when Kaedis saw how he was caring for it, she had swooped in and carried it off, telling him not to worry. She’d make a fine Nitram out of it.

Now, it was nearing Thavma and Evocis’ anniversary and Thavma wanted to make it special for him. They had the entire day planned out and sent out one of their messengers over an hour ago to bring him to the Muse’s shrine in the middle of the valley. They sat next to the shrine, daisies and tulips and other flowers blooming at their feet. They kept glancing behind them at the entrance of the clearing, wondering what was taking their lover so long. Another hour passed and they grew worried, but they refused to leave. What if he came while they left looking for him and they weren’t there? No, they didn’t need to start a clusterfuck like that again.

And so they waited. And waited. And waited some more. The sun passed overhead and it was nearly noon when they finally heard their lover’s voice.

“Thavma?”

“Happy Anniversary, lo—“ They froze mid-turn, their arms swept wide in welcome when they were greeted by the sight of Evocis. He stood at the edge of the clearing, his gaze trying to focus on Thavma, but his eyes kept sliding to the Muse’s shrine. Thavma closed their eyes and reopened them, but there was Evocis, still as he was and Thavma was terrified.

They rushed over, their hands outstretched and their heart tight in their chest. Their hands reached for Evocis’ translucent ones, but they paused, shaking.

“No…” They whispered, their eyes meeting his and they could see right through him. “No, Evocis…” They whined, tears forming in their eyes. Evocis looked down at his hands and the god saw the exact moment he realized what had happened. He lifted his head up, his mouth opening and his eyes wide with confusion.

“I—“ was all he could get out before he vanished.

Chapter Text

Thavma… Thavma couldn’t think. They couldn’t form words. All they could do was stand there and stare at the spot Evocis’ spirit had been standing. They felt nothing where their heart should have been; their insides felt as though they had disappeared and they were left with an empty husk. They were left with nothing but numbed shock. Evocis… He was dead. There was no doubt about it: he was gone.

The realization slammed into him, the pain sharper and the despair heavier than the leviathan’s tail. Evocis was gone. Gone from this world and into the aether. Forever. Years they spent together and his life had been snuffed out in an instant. Forever. Their despair rattled their bones and it tightened their throat until they could barely breathed and a small voice in their head wondered “how?” How did he die? He had many years before the Muse would take him from them and they were gone. How?

They had to know.

They closed their eyes and breathed in deep, past their constricted throat and past their broken heart, down into the empty husk that was their body and down to trembling fingers and shaking legs. And then they ran. They forced their legs to move and they barreled through the valley. Their lungs burned and they forced themself to run faster. At the gate, they slowed only slightly. The driders glanced at them, worried – Makari wasn’t with them, the god noticed – but they ignored the creatures and they ran to the forest’s edge and straight at the cliff.

They slowed as they reached the end of the forest, glancing around frantically, searching for their beloved. When they spotted him, their body turned cold and they broke out into a dead run straight for him.

Evocis laid on his back at the bottom of the cliff, his eyes wide open and staring. His lips were parted as if he had screamed and his face was an entire expression of pain. Thavma’s gaze traveled down his body, flinching at the scratches that littered his exposed skin and…

“No…” Tears filled their eyes as they caught sight of the hole through his torso. They fell to their knees, their hands reaching out to touch him, but they jerked back in fear that they would… what? Harm him even further? A broken sound tumbled from their lips as they bent over; the hole pierced straight through his chest and blood soaked the ground he laid upon.

“Love,” they whispered as they carefully lifted his body to their chest. “My precious love, no. Evocis, beloved, not you. Not you too. Not this soon.” They cried into his chest, still hoping to feel his hand lift up and caress their face. They pressed an ear to his chest as if his heart would beat for them, ignoring the hole that still dripped with his blood. They kissed his cheeks and his forehead and his eyes and everything they could reach. They lifted him and found that one of his legs was missing and had been torn off at the knee. Eyes scrunched together and legs trembling, they stood. They stood and carried him away from the cliff. They carried him past his favorite spots in the valley, ignoring how his blood trickled down their arms. They carried him to the village.

The villagers stared up at him, their eyes wide in fear and confusion, until they saw what the god carried. People gasped and people wailed, seeing one of their own dead and broken as he was. Kaedis came from the temple to see what the noise was, but she stopped when she saw Makara. They looked down at Evocis in their arms and lowered him gently to the ground. Kaedis breathed in deeply and kneeled down, her fingers closing his eyes forever.

“We will hold a proper burial for him. You are of course welcomed to stay and prepare.” She looked up to see the god on one knee, their hand on his head. Their eyes were full of old and new sorrow; their eyes locked when they looked up and Kaedis had to look away. When she looked back, Makara was leaving them behind, the plants wilting slightly as they passed.

Evocis’ body was burned and his ashes thrown to the wind to be carried wherever it desired. For years to come, people would say that every year on this day, the wind would pass by and you could hear a howl of despair come from the god who had lost their beloved.

No one saw Makara for a long time after that day. The people noticed that the seasonal rains were heavier or never came at all. Plants and crops wilted and some died. The ones that didn’t die were too sickened to eat. Cries for help summoned Captor from eir library and ey went looking for the one who caused their creation to suffer through their grief.

Ey found them with their back pressed up against the Tree of Life surrounded by wilted plants and neglected trees and flowers. Rain showered down in an unending sheet and there was nothing but a puddle of rain and mud in front of them. Thavma stared at the puddle with dead eyes; the only way Dydelt could tell that they were still alive were the slow blinks and the rise and fall and hitch of their chest as they breathed. Even though ey was sure tears had long since dried, they still cried, their shoulders shaking.

Ey couldn’t imagine the sorrow they had gone through. Thavma had survived both their lovers and both had died cruel deaths long before the Muse should have called them. Ey had known, though, that those two would die. Ey hadn’t known exactly how, but ey knew that they would die. That was the nature of mortals, to die in ways they should not have. The circumstances were strange, ey would admit. One dead because he was wrongly accused of blasphemy and the other dead because of…

Well, that was why ey was here. Thavma never learned what had happened to their lover. They had only found him at the foot of the cliff dead and slightly mutilated. It didn’t take long for Dydelt to learn what had befallen him and it had taken even less time to find out who was responsible. Ey had watched them suffer long enough. The land was beginning to die and the mortals’ fear of famine grew with each passing day. Ey didn’t want to deal with their worshippers any more than ey had to and so ey thought that it was time that they knew. Ey thought that maybe it would help them let his death go and move on.

Dydelt dropped close to the ground, lifting eir lip up in distaste at the mud. Thavma didn’t move. Ey lifted eir hand and zapped them once. They didn’t flinch. It was as if ey wasn’t even there, as if they didn’t see em. Ey blew air through eir teeth in frustration and turned to look for something to throw at them. There was a fallen branch nearby and ey lifted it with eir psionics. As hard as ey possibly could, ey smacked it against their horns. Their trance snapped with a loud gasp and Dydelt flew back before they could retaliate. Their eyes flaring red, they grabbed the branch and swung it through the air, nearly smacking em in the leg. Ey grabbed them with eir psionics and held them in place.

“Thavma! Stop!” They struggled against the psionics and ey forced them to still. “Thavma, it’s me! It’s Dydelt. Now stop your struggling and look at me!” Eir voice reverberated through the trees and Thavma’s gaze caught on eirs. Their body slumped, all the fight gone out of them. Ey almost dropped them, but ey decided to be kind at the last minute. Ey lowered them to the ground and looked down at them sadly.

“Go away.” They whispered. It sounded so broken and tired and Dydelt almost followed the command, but ey forced emself to stay. Ey was there for a reason after all. Thavma noticed ey was still there and threw back their horns, all snarls and growls and bellowed, “GO AWAY!” Dydelt didn’t even flinch. Their rage seeped out of them with a sob and they hung their head.

“You’re not getting rid of me that easily.” Ey replied, smirking.

“Then why are you here? I do not have the patience to deal with your fuckery, Dydelt.”

“I’m here because I’m concerned about—“

“You’re concerned? Oh, you’re concerned. Just like the time I came to you with pleas for help on my lips and you shared your concern?” Dydelt frowned at the insult, but kept eir mouth shut. “Have you come this time with an entourage to point and motherfucking laugh?”

“That was one time, Thavma, and we were much younger then—“

“Don’t use that name!” Ey caught the hand before it hit em, squeezing and shocking it warningly. They only snarled back, horns bent forward in a challenge. Ey returned the challenge with eir own, eyes flashing and horns sparking.

“Thavma,” ey paused as they growled a warning. “I came here because I was worried about the one I was born with. I would not call you ‘brother’, but that does not change the fact that I came here in hopes to ease your suffering.”

“What could you give to me,” They were laughing now, the laugh of a broken man. “That could motherfucking ease this pain?” Ey wondered if this was the right path ey should choose. Ey closed one eye and took a quick look into the future. As ey hesitated, ey saw red. Ey saw the blood of innocents spilled across the ground. Ey tried to look into a different future, but a flash of red and the vision of a clock shoved em aside. This was eir only choice, ey realized. Ey had to tell them.

“A name.” Ey replied and they stared at him, confused but curious now. “I can give you a name."

“Whose name?” Thavma asked, a sudden desperation filling their previously empty being. They could feel something shifting beneath them, though they could not tell what. Ey felt it too, though in a much different light. This was a turning point in history. Once ey replied, the world would never go back to what it once was.

“The name of the one who killed your beloved.”

Thavma tensed at the mention of Evocis. Their heart broke open again and tears threatened to spill, but they asked again and it came out in a low growl: “Whose name?”

“Makari.”

There was no hesitation when they reached up and grabbed Dydelt by the shoulder and dragged em down to their level. At this height, ey could see their eyes burning red and their lip lifting in a barely suppressed snarl. When their voice came, it was surprisingly steady.

“How? How did he die?”

“You’re not going to like—" 

“Do you think I motherfucking care, you motherfucker?” Their rage burst from them in a roar. “Tell me now or I swear I’ll rip you limb from fucking limb!”Dydelt grabbed their hand, pulling at it and trying to scramble away. There were very few times ey was afraid of Thavma and this was one of those times. Sibling god or not, ey did not want to test the extent of eir immortality.

“She black widowed him. Raped him and then killed him by piercing his chest with one of her legs. Right through the tattoo on his back” Thavma brought eir struggling form to them, growling in their face.

“If you are up and lying to me, motherfucker,” they began, but Dydelt cut them off with a snarl of eir own.

“You think I would lie to you? Do you think me that foolish?” Red sparks zapped near their face, but they refused to move em away. “I can see the future and I can see the past! You think I would lie about this?” The two gods snarled and cursed each other until Thavma tossed em aside. Ey stabilized emself with eir psionics and watched Thavma pace and swing their head around, growling and muttering to themself about what they wanted to do to the drider.

“If I could offer one piece of advice,” ey started in a quiet voice. “Find her cluster. This world is extremely big and it’s been several years. She may have stayed and she may have escaped while you grieved. They may have some idea of where she has gone.” They nodded, their pacing ceased and their steps taking them toward the gate of the valley. “And, Thavma?” They turned back to where Dydelt floated inches above the ground.

“Be careful of where you walk. I’d rather not see the one I was born with fall into something they can’t get out of.”

Thavma nodded and walked away. Dydelt did not follow them and they assumed that was for the best. They didn’t want eir presence around while they looked for Makari. Eir fluidity was too unstable for them and they already felt as though they were teetering over the edge of something that would suck them under and drown them. As they walked, Thavma did slip deeper and deeper into their anger. It burned like fire underneath their skin and it only grew as they came closer to the gate. A few of the cluster were on the ground, fixing the webs of glamour over the wilting trees. As they approached, all but one of those on the ground bolted for the trees at the look on their face. They grabbed the last drider on the ground by the throat and pulled her close to their face. She struggled at their grip, but stopped when they squeezed.

“Where is she?” They roared, their eyes red as the blood they wanted to spill. The drider shook her head rapidly, gasping as she tried to speak.

“I don’t know! I don’t know! We haven’t – ack! – seen her since you lost—“

“Don’t say his name!” They snarled and their grip tightened around her throat. The rest of the cluster backed further into the canopy, some pretending they weren’t spinning glamour to hide themselves from the enraged god. “Don’t you motherfucking dare to speak his name in my presence!” Makara hurled her away and towered over her crumpled form.

“If you don’t know where she is, at least tell me where she went the last time you laid your filthy fucking eyes on her!” The drider on the ground curled up with a pained whimper, two of her legs twisted and another crushed. They leaned down, hands outstretched to grab her, when a voice spoke out.

“West.” Makara’s gaze snapped to the one in the canopy. She gazed down at them, blatant terror on her face. Her lips pulled tight against her bared fangs as she continued. “Makari went to the sea.” She remained standing tall even as Makara’s face screwed up in their anger. They turned from the gate, their hand raking down close to the earth as they called forth their most trusted messengers. The wicker goats that crawled out of the ground twitched, formed wrong and their hides tainted black and withered. Their lips pulled back too far and moon-white fangs were bared. Makara’s nightmares scrambled forth without a word from their master, chasing down those who might help the drider escape and warning others what would happen if they got in the way of the god.

In their anger, the land was scarred. Roots rippled and stirred up the earth. People watched on in first confusion and then fear as the god passed them. Makara seemed larger than life, a dark shadow passing under the sun as if they were a harbinger of death and destruction than the loving god the humans knew them as. At first, the people did not understand what had caused the god to change as they did. Villages called out to Makara as they passed, asking why they were angry. Those first villages saw the nightmares that ran throughout the countryside face to face as they were overrun.

Frightened and confused, other villages tried to offer tributes to the god. At first, they offered the typical tribute: food from the earth and material possessions the people created. Some even offered a human as part of the tribute, but those communities saw nothing but darkness and fire, burned to the ground like the fire that raged within the god. A rumor spread fast amongst the territory that one village had tried to offer a sacrificed bull and Makara slaughtered them all. In the quiet spaces between conversations and homes, people whispered that they had abandoned the Muse and some even wondered if Makara was now a follower of the Lord. Those who dared to utter that blasphemy were thrown out from the villages in fear that it would attract the nightmares and kill them too.

Makara paid no attention to the humans. Their focus was on following Makari, but they knew they were running out of time. She had been gone for the years they grieved and their only lead was that she had gone to the sea. They needed more than just that and they knew they needed some kind of help. They briefly considered Dydelt, but growled at the thought of attempting to gain eir help. The last time they tried that, it took decades. They didn’t have decades. They weren’t even sure if they had days.

As they walked towards the border between their territory and Skiela’s they came across a village. They glanced over it, considering moving past it and continuing on, but something in the village’s center caught their eye. The people were gathered in the center, bent down and praying. Makara couldn’t see anything more than that, but they were curious. To whom would they pray for and for what reason? A nightmare nipped at their hand, but they waved it away, their focus on the village.

They walked towards it, their red eyes betraying their deep anger, but they smothered it with the desire to know what these mortals were doing. No one noticed as the god entered the village; a dog whined as they passed, but they ignored it. It was only when they got close enough to hear the mortals whispering their prayers that the god saw the two women in the center. Both had their eyes closed and their faces lifted to the sky where the clouds swirled. Makara tilted their head as they listened closely.

“We lift these prayers so that they may carry upon the wind to the south where the gates of the Recorder’s library open. To Captor, may you bless us with enlightenment so that we may use your knowledge in order to protect our village from the anger that plagues the God of Life. Please have mercy upon us, sibling god of Makara.”

They couldn’t help but scoff at the prayers of the mortals. One of the women froze at the sound and opened her eyes. She jerked back at the sight of Makara, grabbing the other woman and shaking her until she snapped her head to the side to reprimand her.

“Jade, how many times have I told you not to interrupt me when I attempt to contact—what is it that you’re pointing at?” She hissed at the other woman, her gaze following the line of the other’s finger to where Makara stood. They grinned with all their teeth and the woman gasped. The villagers circled around them began to whisper to each other and look up and turn to see why the women had stopped. At the sight of Makara, the villagers scrambled away, some crying out in fear. Amused, Makara considered only killing a few if they tried any kind of tribute. They didn’t noticed the two women walk closer to them until one of them spoke.

“Makara, precious God of Life, we welcome you, but—“

“Why are you here?” The woman known as Jade interrupted the other one as she peered up at the god. This grew even more amusing as time passed and so the god decided to humor the women. Makara kneeled so that their face was level with Jade’s and asked her why she thought they were there. Jade opened her mouth to speak, but the other woman smacked her arm.

“Let me speak.” She turned back to the god, her expression unreadable. “We know about your anger and what you have done to those who believed it was their duty to calm you.” A warning growl rumbled in the god’s chest. “However, we wish to instead help you. We would believe that you had come as an answer to our prayers, but I can see that is not the reason why you have come.”

“You can ‘see’?” Makara questioned as their grin fell. “Explain.”

“I am a seer. I have seen your creatures of darkness circling our village for quite some time now and I knew that it was only time before you came for them.”

“Circling your…” Makara trailed off as they straightened and peered out over the village. The nightmares walked along the edge of the border, hissing and scratching at the ground as if they could not pass it. Makara frowned and turned their attention back to the seer.

“What is your name?” They asked, nodding to both of them.

“I am Rose and this is Jade. She is our link between the village and Captor and she has been shown wondrous insights.” Jade nodded, smirking at the praise. “I am sure you are wondering how we could possibly help you, oh great and powerful Makara. We only need to know what it is that angers you.”

Makara closed their eyes, breathing slowly through their nose. It had been weeks since they had last thought of Evocis and an image of his shit-eating grin and his body broken and treated like dirt left them with their shoulders drooping and their heart yearning for his touch. Their focus passed back to Makari and their chest tightened. They rolled their shoulders and straightened, looking down upon Rose and Jade.

“I am searching for someone. She took something dear and precious to me and she destroyed it. I want revenge upon her.”

“But?” Rose offered when they paused. Jade smiled over her shoulder. Makara had to admit; these two were amusing and they would love to meet them again one day. Maybe…

“I do not have the means to find her easily. Every day she slips further and further out of my sight. Perhaps, you little motherfuckers could help this old god out.” It was not phrased as a question nor as a hopeful offer. The two seemed to understand and Jade leaned over her friend’s shoulder, whispering to her. Rose smiled as if she knew something already and turned to the still kneeling people. She called out to them and asked them to lift up their prayers to Captor and give the two insight in order to help Makara. They people bent down and their voices rose in a chorus of prayers and pleas. Rose and Jade had their eyes closed and their hands interlocked, but the focus seemed to be on Rose. The seer lifted her hands up, her face following suit, and Thavma could see her mouth moving in what they assumed was a prayer. Jade had her face pointed down to the ground and Thavma couldn’t see what she was doing from where they stood. They circled the crowd until they could see the two women’s faces. When Jade began moving around, they tilted their head and watched her with immense interest.

At first, it was only her head that moved; it swung back and forth like a beast searching for a predator that circled it. As time passed, she began moving further and further from Rose, but their hands remained locked together. Rose was still muttering as Jade moved around her, her mouth pressed in a tight line. Something was frustrating her and Thavma immediately remembered Makari’s skill in weaving glamour. Could that be why they had lost her trail? The cluster had said that she had gone to the sea, but could she have left that region by now? Would they be chasing her for months and still not find her?

The rage that was smoldering within them suddenly flared hot and bright. They made to turn away from the crowd when the voices of the village fell silent. Thavma froze, glancing back at the two women. Rose was watching Jade, her mouth closed and her hands at her sides. Jade held her hands in front of her, her index fingers touching her thumbs so that she formed a box with her hands. She moved the box back and forth in the direction of the sea as if she were scanning her surroundings. Thavma followed her, their anger flaring up again. Small sparks of triumph mixed in until a steady flame crackled within their chest. They stopped when Jade stopped and they stepped to the side when she did the same. She didn’t look back at them; she was too focused on the task at hand.

“Come on, come on, I know you’re there. Where are you?” She whispered as her box passed by a small thicket. Once she was completely passed it, she stopped and cocked her head. Her hands moved back to the thicket and she grinned like a fox. “Rose!” She sang out and the other woman ran over, her gaze following the line of her arms to the thicket. She peered at it and smiled as well.

“Found you~” Jade sang. Thavma took a step in that direction, but Rose threw her hand out.

“Wait. Something’s wrong.” She closed her eyes and Thavma waited in frustrated silence. What was wrong? What was taking so long? They should already be gone, hurtling towards their prey. “She’s… You’re searching for a drider, yes?”

“Yes.” Makara replied with a growl, never asking how she knew that when they had not mentioned it.

“She’s talking to someone. I think…” Her eyes scrunched up and she leaned forward as if trying to hear their conversation better. “He’s not human. He smells of sea and salt and death. Lots of death. He… I lost it.” She breathed out, defeated. “I apologize Makara, but I lost the—“

“Good enough for me, sister.” They winked and whistled, calling the nightmares back. As they raced back, their forms shifted and twisted, their goat-like forms returning to their natural state. Thavma’s anger roared deep within them, spreading triumphant warmth throughout their bones. They kneeled down to the humans’ level and grabbed the container of paint they carried with them.

“For your help, I bless the two of you for the rest of your natural lives. May you never lose your insight and when your spirits do return to the Muse, may she be reminded of my blessing and judge you accordingly.” Makara painted their sign upon each of the women’s foreheads. They pulled back, tossed a thought around in their head, and then painted an old symbol on their hands. On Rose, they painted a golden sun. On Jade, they painted a white, twisting spiral. The god straightened to their full height, grinned with all their teeth, and then they raced from the village. They raced across the border and straight through the thicket, the wicker goats keeping pace with their master until they reached the port cities.

The sky was darkening by the time they arrived. The goats hung back, waiting until they were called again. This was not Makara’s territory. They could not do whatever they wanted here. Thavma reached into a pouch and pulled forth a small web of glamour. It was strong enough to disguise them from humans and at least keep their scent hidden from whatever creatures may be lurking around. They passed houses and an inn once while they hunted for the creature who smelled of sea, salt, and death.

As they passed one of the docks, they caught a whiff of the scent. Thavma moved back into the shadows of the boats and crept around, silent save for the creaking of the boards beneath their feet. They peeked out from behind one of the boats and stared out at the sight before them.

A man dressed in finery fit for royals led a woman out onto one of the docks. The man was handsome, extremely so, and his voice sounded like smooth wine poured out into a glass. But Thavma detected a slight… hissing at the edge of his voice. There was something subtly unnerving about him and when the god breathed in, they tasted sea, salt, and the faint tang of death. Thavma waited behind the boat and watched the man and the woman. The woman swayed around as if drunk.

“My dear,” the man whispered as he pulled the woman closer to the edge of the dock. “How I love the taste of your skin upon my lips.” He kissed her and she fell into his arms with a giggle. “You are so warm against my skin.” With every word he spoke, he took one step closer to the edge. Thavma felt a twinge of fear for the woman, but they remained behind the boat. “I would love to feel the pulse of your heart against my hand and I have wondered for nights about the taste of your flesh upon my tongue.” The woman pulled back, noticing for the first time the hissing underneath his breath.

“What…?” She asked as her heart raced and she attempted to pull away from him, but his grip around her body was as tight as irons. The man grinned and Thavma watched in disgust as the man’s face lengthened and transformed into one that was more horse-like than anything.

“For the leviathan, my dear.” With that, he dived into the sea and dragged her under while she screamed. Thavma jumped back into the shadows, covering their ears and blocking out the woman’s screams. Minutes passed and the docks were silent save for creaking wood and flapping sails. The god of life’s heart pounded so loud they were sure even the leviathan could hear them as it fed. They lifted their head up and watched as the spirit of the woman walk past them. They lifted their hand and drew a sign of blessing as she left and they waited for the kelpie to return.

When he came back to land, the kelpie pulled himself up from the sea, front legs scratching at the sand while the kelpie’s tail flapped, still in the water. He groaned and his muscles tightened and relaxed, tightened and relaxed until he started to transform into the appearance of a human. Once formed again, he brushed at the gills along his neck and his sides until they were folded down and he took in a deep breath through the nose. He huffed and straightened, immediately going to one of the smaller ships and grabbing a dry pair of clothes. He finished quickly and brushed at the jacket, admiring his face in the golden buttons, when a large hand grabbed him by the collar and carried him away from the docks. He struggled against the hands and was about to go so far as to bite it when he was slammed into the side of one of the houses and came face-to-face with Makara.

“Makara?” He squeaked and proceeded to clear his throat. “Ah, what are you doing here? I didn’t think that Skiela has had issues with the leviathan in years. Or has she called you here for another purpose?”

“I do not have time for your games, motherfucker. I’m looking for someone and a little seahorse told me that I could find her here.”

“Well, if you could set me down, I’m sure we could talk this out like… gentlemen?” Thavma growled under their breath and made no move to put him down. In fact, they tightened their grip on his collar. He choked slightly and pulled away as far as he could so he could speak clearly. “Ah, ah, ah, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

“And why not, you pompous motherfucker?” They slammed him into the wall again and pressed their face close to his.

“Because,” they laughed darkly, coughing as the god pressed on their windpipe. “I am Skiela’s favorite! You wouldn’t want to anger your sister, now would you?” Thavma growled, baring their teeth in warning. He snapped back, eyes fading into that of a sea dweller.

“I do not follow her orders. I do what I please.”

“But this is not your territory now, is it? You hold no power over here, Makara. You cannot harm me!” He laughed again and motioned at the ground. “Now put me down and we can properly introduce ourselves.” Thavma hesitated, but set the kelpie down and took a step back. “Such a good god,” he replied condescendingly. “As for introductions, you can call me Lagona. And you?”

“Call me anything other than Makara and I’ll separate your head from your spine.” Lagona’s smile was tight, he said nothing else so Thavma continued. “I am looking for a drider known as Makari Serket.” They did not add a “Have you seen her?” Lagona smelled enough like how Rose described and they were sure that Makari had passed through here. They just needed to know where she went.

“Never heard of her.” Lagona waved his hand dismissively. “Driders do not come here. I thought that at least you would know that.” He turned to leave, believing that they were done here, but the god grabbed him, their claws piercing through his jacket. He stiffened as Makara breathed against their exposed neck. He allowed them to turn his head so he could see the twitching shapes of Makara’s messengers moving around in the shadows. He swallowed dryly and was forced to walk back into the alley between the houses. When Lagona turned, Makara blocked his only exit and the nightmares barred his escape into the water.

“Now, I will say this again: I am looking for Makari Serket. I know you talked to her.” Lagona licked his lips nervously and Makara grinned. Caught you. “Where is she, fish boy?”

“I… I,” Lagona stuttered and Makara frowned. He was still going to pretend that he didn’t know anything? Fucking annoying. “I don’t know where she… is?”

“But you talked to her.” It wasn’t a question, but his silence answered them anyways. “You know,” they purred, sweet as sin. “If you tell me what I want to know, I’ll let you go.” His face lit up, hopeful.

“I…” He hesitated and Makara traced a claw over his exposed collarbone, smiling gentleness at him. “She wanted a boat. And a crew.” Their hand slid down his front, each of his claws catching on the buttons and cutting through them with a tick tick tick.

“Come on, tell me more.” Makara purred in his ear and that was it.

“She told me she killed your love out of jealousy and envy and she knew you were coming for her. She wanted a boat and crew, but I didn’t give her one.”

“Oh?”

“They are not mine to give. Skiela owns the boats and I told her that if I gave her one, I would be disobeying her and I… ahhhh.” Thavma tapped their claws on his neck, waiting for the rest. There was something else. They knew there was something else and it made their rage burn hot even as cold settled into the rest of their body. “When she heard that, she…” Lagona locked eyes with the god and his heart stopped. Makara kept tapping their claws on his throat as if keeping time. Their smile was gone and they could feel heat behind their eyes, but they urged Lagona to continue. He licked his lips, his eyes wide in terror, and he struggled to speak. But speak he did.

“She spoke blasphemous words about Skiela and the rest of the gods. And I…” Lagona saw his death in Makara’s eyes as the claws stopped tapping on his throat. He closed his eyes as he finished. “Fed her to the leviathan.”

Lagona fell limp at Makara’s feet, his throat crushed. They stared at it blankly before they lifted a foot and slammed it down on his head. In a few seconds, he was unrecognizable and they left him there for the dogs to eat.

Makari was dead. She was dead not by his hands, but by a fucktoy of the god of the sea and all that dwelled in its depths. Thavma felt numb. They were furious, but they were drained off all that anger. Their revenge for Evocis’ death had failed. Not only that, but villages were gone, slaughtered because of their anger. They had raged like Skiela had for centuries, striking fear in the hearts of the mortals so they would worship her in the way she asked for. Thavma wondered if they could stand going back home. Could they stand seeing the faces of their worshippers frightened and cowering beneath their shadow? No, they couldn’t. They wouldn’t.

But where else could they go?

They didn’t have an answer for that. And so they walked. They walked past the harbor, past the port city, past the thicket and past Rose and Jade. They wandered more than they walked, not paying attention to where they went. People hid as they passed and they paid no mind to them. Their body was numb and they wondered if this was what the rest of their life would be like? Would they have to watch those who they loved die in horrible ways? Would they ever find joy in this world again? Would they ever join Evocis and Kekara in the aether, or were they lost to them forever?

Chapter Text

Skiela came upon the mutilated body of Lagona several hours after Thavma had left. She pursed her lips, frowning at the remains of the kelpie and picked it up. She carried it to the docks and swirled the water below, calling for her messengers. The sea dwellers lifted their scaled head from the water, glancing at each other when she threw Lagona’s body in with them. She shouted orders to them, white teeth flashing behind fuchsia-painted lips. Three gathered Lagona’s body and dove down to where the leviathan rested. Two others swam to the mouth of the largest river and followed it to the mountains of the south where the nagas and Captor made their home. She stood tall above the remaining of her messengers, considering them and their fangs and their claws. She turned to the east and a smile spread slowly over her features.

It was time for the God of Life to be introduced to death once more.

Thavma rested on a rock that hung over a river. They stared down into the water as it flowed westward, thinking and not thinking. They tried not thinking about Evocis; that was a scab they refused to pick at, even if somewhere in their head they thought it might help. Instead, they thought on the stories they used to tell Dydelt. As they looked down at the river, they remembered the story that brought about the river’s name: Fieri. They had once followed the river to its source, deep within the mountains to the far northeast. A naga had told him that the river was named after a man who had tried to live amongst them and tried their food. Somehow, the man had survived, but he was not the same since. That man was said to have followed the river to Skiela, but they never heard the end of that story. They wondered if they could ask her about that some—

A body lurched out of the river, launching itself at Thavma as soon as it saw them. The creature grabbed ahold of them by their neck and screeched over its shoulder. The god barely had time to react before three more jumped from the river, their scaled bodies slipping over Thavma as they struggled. A clawed hand came down on the god’s back and they slammed their elbow into the sea creature’s body. It let out a strangled cry and went down. Thavma was on their feet in seconds, one hand wrapped around a creature’s throat and squeezed as another tried to yank them down. They twisted their arm with a roar and crashed the two creatures’ heads together.

The last creature hissed at the god, circling them as they glared back. A small thought came to them while the sea dweller continued to circle them: these were Skiela’s messengers. Thavma paused, squinting at the sea dweller, considering it and wondering what its purpose was when something yanked them off their feet and threw them to the ground. Two sea dwellers pounced on their back, their claws ripping at the skin on their back. They tried to roll over to crush them, but red and blue sparks flew at the edge of their vision and the sea dwellers fell back, screaming in horrible pain. Thavma tried to turn over – ignoring the pain on their back – but something heavy fell on their head and all they saw was black.

The next time they opened their eyes, Thavma was on their knees with their wrists bound with rope behind their back. There was a hand on each of their horns that forced their gaze to their ground. One of the hands squeezed and when they breathed in, all they could taste was sea salt. Two of the sea dwellers stood on either side of them. The god stared at the ground, almost expecting sand or rocks.

Instead, long grass waved in the slight breeze. They heard rustling leaves and when they looked up, they looked out at the Muse’s Valley. They were at the cliff where they received their tributes, where they met both Kekara and Evocis.

Their heart seized up and they glared daggers at Skiela. The sea goddess looked back, her mouth in a tight smile that spoke of venom than of the sweetest sugar as she fiddled with her trident. Thavma shook the hands off their horns and lifted their head proudly. A snarl rose in their throat when they noticed Dydelt floating off to the side, eir face turned away from them.

“What is the meaning of this, Skiela?” They asked, their horn’s lowering as their anger returned. The grass around them rippled roots from the trees twisting and stirring up the earth. Skiela laughed, the sound high and reedy.

“Oh, pike down, Thavma! Lemme enjoy this moment. It’s not every bay I get to see old mackerel on their knees.” Her grin was all teeth, sharp as a shark’s. Thavma growled as she strode over, her hips swaying in a way that would be seductive if they didn’t want to rip out her throat. Once she was standing less than a foot in front of them, she grabbed a horn and yanked them up to her eye level. Her gazed pierced into their eyes, fuchsia at purple, and that tight, sweet-less smile dropped.

“This is a lynching, Makara. You krilled something that was mine.” She hissed, her grip tightening on their horn. “I would have understood if Lagona was on your territory or if you had an actual rayson, but that was not the crayse.”

“He killed—“

“I don’t glubbing care who he keeled!” She jerked hard on their horn and brought their face close to hers. “You killed him on my territory! Crushed his neck and left him for dead and we have rules, Thavma. We made rules when we parted. You agreed to those rules and you broke them. I let you have your tantrum, but this I will not stand for.” She let go of their horn, straightening her back so that she towered over their kneeling form.

“You may be worshipped as a god of life, but you are not life’s master. Don’t speak that kind of blasphemy in my presence.”

“Blasphemy?” They bellowed, lurching at her. The sea dwellers at their side struggled to keep them from going for her throat. “I only wanted to keep what was mine. Makari killed my love and that piece of fish food threw her into the motherfucking jaws of the leviathan. Yeah, I know she spouted blasphemy, but she was not his to kill!” They ranted at her, all snarls and red eyes. Skiela listened to them, utterly annoyed and pissed off until she could take no more. As they opened their mouth to speak, she jammed her hand in, grabbing their tongue. Their words choked off, absolute disbelief clear on their face.

“Won’t you just clam up? Your voice is glubbing annoying.”

In response, they bit down on her hand. Her eyes wide, she grabbed their jaw and wrenched it away from her hand. Her hand clenched hard on their tongue and, with a quick flick of her wrist, ripped their tongue from their mouth. Thavma coughed, blood spraying from their mouth. They stared up at her in shock and she jerked her head at Dydelt. Red and blue sparked around them and lifted them up and over the sea goddess, her hand still firmly clenched around their tongue. They were gently set down at the edge of the cliff, next to a great, old tree. Dydelt stood next to them, eir gaze anywhere but on them. Eir psionics picked up a rope and held it before them.

At this point, Dydelt locked eir gaze with theirs. Ey opened eir mouth as if to speak, but ey couldn’t hold their gaze for too long. Eir shoulders drooped. A growl rumbled in Thavma’s chest and ey snapped to attention. Ey bit eir lips.

“I’m sorry.” Ey finally whispered. Ey looked up, hopeful, but Thavma leaned forward and bared their teeth with a snarl. Dydelt flinched back, eir gaze focused on the ground. The rope wrapped around Thavma’s neck and was tied to one of the branches that hung over the edge of the cliff. They looked down to where they had found Evocis, a touch of fear spreading throughout their body. They didn’t want to die.

“Oh, come prawn!” Skiela groaned impatiently and slammed the end of her trident into Thavma’s back. They fell off the edge of the cliff, the noose catching, choking them until their body stilled and went limp. Dydelt forced eir gaze away from the body, eir hand covering eir mouth as they tried not to wretch. Skiela huffed behind em as if this was just another troublesome day. Ey looked over eir shoulder at her and hissed, “I hope you rot,” before ey zapped away.

The body swayed gently in the breeze as a figure walked out from the forest. Her hair was tied up, save for two long strands that flowed out behind her. In one of her hands, she held two long, thin, white needles. Bright, red blood trickled down the needles, though her body showed no wound. Her eyes flashed a multitude of colors until she stood at the base of the tree, the god’s body hanging before her. She blinked and her eyes settled on rust irises surrounded by golden sclera. She lifted her empty hand to the body with emotionless reverence and she rested it on their arm. The god did not move and she knew that it would not move for an entire century.

Kriari sighed. She wished that there was another path the story could take, but there was no other road. It had to be this way. It had to end like this so a new beginning could start. She moved her hand to their chest and she wondered if their heart would beat the same when they woke again. She stepped back and gazed at them in silence.

“I apologize, Thavma.” Her head dropped as she hunched down over herself. “I wish that this could have ended differently for you, but,” A tear dripped down her cheek and she lifted a hand to wipe it away. At the sight of the bright red blood, her breath caught in her throat and she froze. She lowered her hand and remembered her duty.

“Things must follow the path they’re set on. This life is not fair and the story is cruel. There was nothing else you could do. Makari was to die that way, as was Lagona. I wish your life had not been filled with as much suffering as it was, but,” She paused with a sigh. “Perhaps the next life will have less suffering. You don’t know this yet, but Makara will live again. You will be needed once more. That is how the story goes. I do not know where you’ll be, but if you see your lovers, please. Stay with them. Be with them once again. The next time you see me, maybe you’ll understand who I am. Maybe you’ll understand this story a little better.” She took a deep breath, steadying herself. Just as this was their end, her end was coming.

“So stay with your lovers, Thavma. Be at peace for once, but don’t look for your safety in the story. It will not protect you.”

She left without another word and let the body hang. Life was not kind to her or to anyone else. She just hoped that their next life would be able to face it and come out the victor.