The morning air was unusually cold when Nerduilye woke, shivering in the frost-covered grass. A campfire crackled only a few feet away and she bundled her blankets around herself to conserve her warmth. A quiet footstep crunching in the frozen grass drew her attention. She looked up to see a hooded figure standing over Xuvats, poking them with a stick. 

Nat 20: Dex Check - Hooded figure

“What the fuck!?!” She rolled deftly backward, onto her feet and took up her staff. “Back off!” She commanded, thrusting the tip of her staff toward him, and summoning a gust of icy morning wind that blew the figure back. 

“Whoa!” The man called out, holding a hand up in defence as he slid backward across the frozen grass. “Whoa, there!” He wobbled and held a hand toward the ground for balance but remained on his feet. He held his hands up to show that he was unarmed. “I mean no harm!”

“What the fuck are you doing here?!” She growled. Her eyes darted toward the still unmoving, frost-covered Plasmoid with concern. “Xuvats, are you alright?”

“I am unharmed, Nerduilye friend,” Xuvats replied cheerfully, They reshaped their globulous form into a vaguely humanoid shape, the frost on its membrane flaking and tumbling off. “He has been here for some time and has displayed no ill will or hostile intent.” 

“What is that!?!” The man jumped back at the sound of Xuvats’ voice and held up his stick in defence like it were a magic wand. His eyes darted between the Plasmoid and the young woman. Just as they had when meeting her, Xuvats transformed into a pale blue reflection of the hooded figure, “Hello, I am Xuvats, of Thoth M-99!”

Before the Stranger could respond, Nerduilye advanced toward him, thrusting her staff menacingly. “What are you doing here?” The man dropped the stick, stepped back, and lowered his fur hood slowly. A mop of curly black hair tumbled down the left side of his head, while long silver strands cascaded down his right. His eyes were piercingly green, and a red scar, which appeared to be still healing, ran from the part in his hair down his cheek to his lips, disappearing beneath a thick black mustache. He had a charming, fatherly smile and a thin silvery beard. “With respect, Miss,” He said, trepidatiously shaking the Plasmoid’s outstretched hand, “You are trespassing on my land.” The man remained focused on Xuvats as he spoke, “Now, please, come inside and warm up, this cold ain’t natural.” 

The man walked away and did not look back, and the ever-curious Xuvats followed a few paces behind. Exasperated and shivering, Nerduilye mumbled under her breath as she hurriedly gathered her things. “...don’t have time for this ... Fucking space demon … get me killed …. “ 

Her first introduction to Xuvats was terrifying. Worried that she would be stabbed by a passing stranger in the street, she had been hiding in a cave, hoping the forest's solitude would prove safer. Starving, she’d returned from foraging some meagre supplies, to find men ransacking her camp. She’d run through the woods for hours with them trailing her well into the night when she stumbled into the lair of the formless beast. Looking up into the shimmering blue darkness looming over her was like staring into the eyes of her own ghost. It had dispatched her pursuers with such casual ease, it never even looked away. She genuinely thought she’d met her death.

Death proved to be a sentient and courteous demon from the stars. In form, it reminded her of an alchemy experiment performed as a child, mixing the starch from corn with water, resulting in something that was both liquid and solid. Three times she tried to sneak away from it, despite her scholarly curiosity. Twice it reappeared in time to save her from predators, and every morning when she awoke, it was cooking her breakfast. In personality, she found Xuvats very much like a curious child, innocent and naive; yet capable of highly intellectual discussions on the fundamental nature of the material world, often speaking in scholarly terms and referencing terminology foreign to her.  Like a child, however,  they were capable of incredible brutality, remorselessly slaughtering man and beast alike to keep her fed and safe. 

In reality, Xuvats terrified her. She was thankful it saw her as a cherished friend, and for all of the protections that afforded, but having witnessed its alien temper up close, she worried what would befall her if that reverence faded. She did not revel in the thought of having her eyeballs ‘cataloged and indexed for the Greater Plasmoid Collective,’ The alien’s curiosity and this fog were the perfect opportunities to put some distance between them, but she was fucking freezing her tits off.   

They had camped at the edge of the forest, where it met the grasslands, and their guide led them east, through the morning fog, along the tree line.  After about fifteen minutes Nerduilye spotted a symbol carved into a nearby pine, but in her hurry to catch up with her companion, she couldn’t discern its meaning. A few feet later she saw another, this one a glowing glyph which she recognized as an alarm against intrusion.

A cabin in the woods

“So, you just found us this morning, Mr. ..?” She questioned him as they marched through a thin film of snow. Like an overbearing sibling, she trailed behind their guide, keeping Xuvats at her side with quiet commands and vague gestures. The repeated kidnapping attempts, the week of running and hiding, the endless hiking, and the sleepless nights were catching up with her. Her stomach churned with hunger and stress, and her heart raced toward panic at the coincidence of this man’s sudden appearance this morning.

“Of course not,” The man stated jovially, pointing ahead, “I spotted your campfire last night.” In the distance, she saw a small cottage just inside the treeline; veiled further in the fog by a light snowfall. “My name is Cuinga, and I asked a friend to keep an eye on you last night,” He replied calmly, glancing over his shoulder in her direction, but continuing forward. “For my own safety.”


The air was colder near the modest, single-storey building of timber and brick, with its delicate plume of smoke wafting up from the chimney and its small covered porch out front. It was set back in the trees, away from the clearing that she now realized, was likely a field of hay. A half dozen bickering chickens wandered about the front of the building and a goat picked at the grass that pierced the blanket of snow covering the property. There was a small fenced-in garden beside the cottage with a scarecrow made from old clothing, with a wooden bucket for a head. 

Nerduilye was a gifted researcher, and in her many years studying the arcane history of Barasea, she had become an adept spellcaster in her own right. As they approached, she identified more arcane glyphs carved into some of the trees and the corners of the building; these, however, were specifically targeted. “You have a problem with Elves, Mr. Cuinga?” 

Problem might be the wrong word, Miss Nerduilye,” The old man entered the unlocked cabin and hung his cloak on a wooden peg behind the doors, lingering there for just a moment with a deep, relaxing sigh. The air inside the little one-room cabin was warm and smelled of freshly brewed coffee and cooked meat. In one corner sat a small bed covered in fur blankets. A fireplace sat in the middle of the north wall with a small table next to it. On the opposite side was a small desk strewn with as many glass vials and copper tubing as there were books and scrolls. “I believe the correct phrase is allergic,” He smiled at her, “I am allergic to Elves. The beams in the walls were inscribed with the same arcane designs and formulae as the trees outside and were glowing, as if actively engaged in their duty. He crossed the smooth stone floor and pulled a few logs from a small wooden box to stoke the fireplace. “The problem, I guess, is that I, myself, am part Elf.” He collected a pot from the hearth and poured three cups, then gathered a covered pan and began laying out a small breakfast of venison and eggs. “Or rather, I am parts Elf.” 

“What is that supposed to mean?” She probed and he looked up to see that the woman, now inside his home, still had her staff trained on him. 

“You are a chimera!” Xuvats replied excitedly, taking a seat at the table. Though they retained their humanoid form the alien had let go of many of the finer details, like clothing or facial features, explaining the evening prior that these required more concentration to maintain. Nerduilye preferred the alien in this form. Though she often conversed openly with herself while reconciling new findings or scouring through old texts in the college library, she found conversing with a replica more disconcerting than a slime with a vaguely human expression. 

Parts Elf

“I am a chimera.” The man affirmed, smiling at the alien’s enthusiasm. “Parts of me are Elven and parts of me are human,” He didn’t wait for nervous Nerduilye to join them, instead heavily loading his plate with scrambled eggs and venison. “Unfortunately, my human parts do not tolerate my elven parts well," He motioned to the scar on his face. Here in the cabin, it seemed to have healed some, appearing less red and inflamed than it had outside. 

>“How can we< help you with that, Mr. Cuinga?” Nerduilye glanced at one of the glowing glyphs between him and herself. Still, in her cloak, she pulled her chair away from the table and sat with her hand on the dagger strapped to her thigh, trying to pass herself off as dangerous and worldly, but the warmth of the fire at her back betrayed her with visible shudders. 

“Ho!” Cuinga laughed, nodding toward the same glowing symbol on the wall, “They help, “ He ate enthusiastically, continuing through a mouthful of food. “But no, you can’t, help with that,” He glanced over his shoulder toward the messy desk in the corner, covered in alchemical formulas and glass vials, “I’m afraid that is quite beyond any of our abilities.” He returned to his coffee, waving his fork in the air for emphasis. “No, I’m talking about this unnatural cold.”

“We’re not really interested in your quiet little snowstorm, Mr. Chimera.” She growled offensively, Still clinging to the illusion of, her stomach echoed the sentiment. She hadn’t enjoyed coffee since fleeing her dorm in the dead of night, and meals since had consisted of mushrooms, berries and barbecued rodents, so the rich fragrance of roasted coffee beans, scrambled eggs with a hint of jodamia peppers, and served, salted venison before her. Watching the man talk through a mouthful of the last scraps from his plate, she was both horrified and jealous.

“No,” The man laughed, “I don't imagine you are.” He washed his meal down with a sip of coffee and sat back with his hands folded in his lap, looking her directly in the eye as he spoke. “But I could have put an arrow in your throat while you slept.” He paused just long enough to see a flicker of fear in her eyes, then he took up a small pipe and a small leather wallet from a small box on the end of the table near the wall. “Instead I invited you into my home and made you breakfast, so do me the courtesy of hearing me out, yes?“ Packing the pipe with dried leaves from the wallet, he lit a match and took a long draught from the pipe, leaning back and closing his eyes. There was a moment of silence as skunky smoke wafted lazily out of his open mouth before he expelled the rest up toward the rafters. When his gaze returned to meet hers the pleasant smile had returned, “And maybe I can help you with your problem as well.” 

“What problem is that?” She snickered, relaxing slightly. She was familiar with the alleged pain-dulling properties of Ash Weed and had even experienced them firsthand when her college flatmate had absently lit up in their dorm room. She also knew that was not the primary reason her classmates smoked and she thought little of it, or of those who partook of it. 

 “Well, I understand you’re looking to get off the Province, yes?” The man chided. The sudden shocked, and somewhat fearful look on Nerduilye’s face, softened him a little and he raised his hands in defence. “Hey, Your reasons are your own,” He took another drag from the pipe and offered it to her, blowing the smoke away out the side of his mouth “I just know you’re looking to leave, and you seem to want to do so quietly.”

Nerduilye declined the pipe, she was already paranoid and hungry, which she’d heard were both side effects of Ash Weed, and she wanted to be at her full faculties if this half-elf-man turned on them. “How can you help us?” She did, however, take on a much more polite tone, having found her baked classmates to be quite agreeable, and the coffee poured for her. Cuinga offered the pipe to Xuvats, who accepted it with enthusiasm.

Known as The Mad Province, The continent of Aren was surrounded by the Sapphire Sea to the north, The Sea of Souls to the west, The Pheana to the south, and The Fathomless Sea to the east; Cuinga explained that there were only two paths off the continent. One was to head south and try to cross The Dreaming Forest, a land bridge, four hundred miles wide, that connected Aren to The Branded Shore. The Dreaming Forest was believed to be haunted. A scroll Nerduilye once read shortly before choosing her thesis claimed that only one man in the past hundred years had entered the forest and come out the other side. He was found crawling beside the road near the Ruins of Caer Dumne, missing both legs and a hand telling tales of beautiful naked spirits luring him into passionate and fantastical orgies. Other scrolls claimed that all who entered returned within a few hours, raving like mad men about fantastical beasts, or did not return at all. “Assuming you survive the forest it’s only about 3800 miles from here to Kibarak, so it should take you …”

“... about a hundred and fourteen days to get to the Branded Shore on foot,”  Nerduilye finished his sentence, quickly doing the math in her head. Cuinga tapped his nose twice with his finger and haphazardly pointed to her, confirming the accuracy of her statement. The other option, Nerduilye knew, was to buy passage aboard a ship. It was not an idea she revealed, as it would take them into one of the coastal cities, increasing her risk of being spotted by whoever was chasing her. The partially elven man claimed that he could get them aboard a ship to any destination in the four seas in exchange for help with his snow problem. “And how do we know we can trust you?”

“That right there is Ash Weed,” He stated, accepting the pipe back from Xuvats, "It only grows in the ash of Mandereey,“ He took another drag from the pipe to finish it and tapped the ash out onto his empty plate. 

“You mean the Deserts of Nunnabu, “ Nerduilye cocked her head away from the half-elf, and Cuinga replied by tapping the side of his nose twice with his finger again. He explained that he got a regular shipment every few months from a smuggler on the east coast who owed him a favour. “That doesn’t answer my question.” She replied, “How do we know we can trust you?

“The real question, miss Nerduilye,” He asked, sitting back and taking a sip from his mug, “Can you afford not to?”

Xuvats spent the night in quiet observation, resting in a form resembling an old, sun-bleached jellybean. The evening had grown colder and the Plasmoid, who did not need rest for another thousand cycles, maintaining the fire for their companion, who had fallen asleep earlier. She was, no doubt, exhausted from the day’s hike through the forest, as she had left before dawn and spent much of it running, to the point that Xuvats sometimes struggled to keep up with her. 

Oh, but she was graceful! Lean musculature and tendons sprinting through the forest, on such a fragile skeletal structure. Given the endoskeletal limitations, Xuvats found human dexterity to be quite remarkable. On more than one occasion, they had imitated an encroaching predator just to watch the human woman jump and dash through the underbrush. Yes, Xuvats enjoyed observing the woman, even now. Her breast's subtle rise and fall as she slept was almost hypnotic. The quiet gurgling of her digestive process reminded Xuvats of a summer spent roiling in Heophanem, but that desperate gasp to push air through the lungs was truly fascinating! Sometimes she would forget to breathe entirely, oh the suspense was nucleus igniting! Was it even possible for a species to die because it forgot to respirate?! Xuvats wondered if it would be more beneficial to catalogue a first-hand account of this, or to rescue the pathetic creature for further observation. Other humans could be befriended and observed. 

Nerduilye rolled onto her back with a hitched breath and Xuvats became giddy at the thought that this might become one of those rare evenings of intrigue and suspense. Instead, they were treated to something far more wondrous, and comical. It started like a low growl and a whistle, and Xuvats had a quick scan of their surroundings to ensure it wasn’t a predator before they realized it was emanating from the soft palate of their companion.

The Plasmoid reached out a snake-like pseudopod, around the fire, down to the woman’s belt. Narrowing the tentacle to about the width of her smallest finger, Xuvats crept under the buckle, to the small hollow in its back. They felt for the pebble-sized nodule stuck there and plucked it, reabsorbing it back into their plasmasol. As Xuvats broke down the nodule there was a rush of data that flooded their nucleus. Navigation data about Nerduilye’s speed, direction, and elevation was absorbed, dust and particulate from the areas she travelled were extracted and analyzed, and a tiny six-legged insect with an abdomen full of blood was catalogued and indexed. As the nodule dissolved back into their endoplasm, Xuvats placed a fresh droplet of themselves back into the hollow, finding it much easier to track a sample of themselves than a human woman running for her life.

As Xuvats retracted the pseudopod, the air ruffling through Nerduilye’s soft palate made a loud sharp noise, akin to the snort of the boar they’d slaughtered for dinner the day prior. The sound was so sudden that it sent the local wildlife scurrying into the darkness. It also startled Xuvats such that the Plasmoid momentarily exploded into sharp spines like a sea urchin, making a noise very similar to a human fart. Xuvats giggled, at being so abruptly startled, at their reaction to the same, but mostly at the absurdity of such a ridiculous defensive tactic. 

Nat 20: Perception Check

Just before the star designated Utax C-131 crested the horizon, as the cold air turned the morning dew to frost, Xuvats felt the moisture on its membrane begins to crystallize. The sensation was exhilarating! Xuvats could easily absorb the moisture, or flush the plasmagel within them to increase their temperature and melt the frost, but the sensation of crystallization within their ectoplasm bordered on euphoric. It seemed simultaneously too pleasurable to bear and yet, too pleasurable not to. It was in this state of bliss that Xuvats watched the hooded figure approach through the fog.


“I don’t know when it started, exactly, but I noticed it about a week ago,” Cuniga sat back from his empty pipe and sipped coffee, as he stroked his beard he watched the Plasmoid with a look of curious fascination. “I had a few chilly days coming back from the mine but didn’t think much of it,” The food smelled delicious and the Plasmoid was excited to experience steak & eggs, as Cuinga had called it. Xuvats melted a hand into their plate, turning the food into a soup, then reformed it into a fist-shaped blob with the food trapped inside. The whole arm was retracted, pulling the food into the center of their chest, as a new arm grew from their shoulder to reach for the mug of coffee. 

“It had been getting colder but I hadn't realized how much until yesterday. I was out in the woods checking snares when I saw the snow.” Xuvats had only begun eating cooked meat at the behest of Nerduilye. The plasmoid had recently developed a taste for eyeballs, as they provided a wealth of nutritional benefits and a plethora of genetic and photonic data. Xuvats could catalogue several creatures in a matter of minutes and index their entire genetic makeup, in a convenient, snack-sized portion. Nerduilye, however, found the process revolting to watch. Though the Plasmoid could not differentiate how digesting a raw squirrel was different from a skinned and cooked one. Xuvats later realized it was a matter of optics, as the woman claimed the floating eyestalks gave her nightmares of something called a Beholder, so the Plasmoid began keeping their food vacuoles more opaque. This venison, however, was delicious, as the iron-rich blood had not been cooked out or reduced to a tasteless paste. The scrambled eggs were a fluffy delight to process, though resequencing the genetic material proved tedious. “It was just in this one place, about five miles in circumference and the deeper I went into it, the colder it seemed to get.” 

“So, what is it?” Their companion asked. Xuvats quite enjoyed observing the ongoing interaction between the two. Skittish Nerduilye was much more guarded than Rondell had been. It was unclear if this was a human trait but Xuvats had found that she seemed most at ease when the Plasmoid was quietly and passively present, like a puddle that moved out of her way. She would talk openly in those moments, and the Plasmoid had learned to watch and listen. When the Plasmoid would respond to a question or otherwise interrupt her, she would become guarded and defensive again, but if they remained silent for long enough, She would acclimate to Xuvats’ presence and share many of her thoughts. Today, however, she had been on the offensive since being startled awake. Xuvats knew that she did not yet trust the Plasmoid, but the introduction of the unknown threat this man presented had already begun to make her protective of the demon she knew. “What’s out there?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, Miss Nerduilye,” The man continued. Xuvats poked a pseudopod into their mug and quickly drew it from the hot coffee inside. They eased back in and had to thicken their ectoplasm before vacuuming it into an insulated vacuole. “The further from these wards I get,” He paused to touch the raised scar on his cheek, “The worse the pain gets.”

There was no wind, as the two walked north but the forest was hauntingly quiet and bitterly cold. Xuvats was mesmerized by the dance of ice crystals tumbling across air currents, each trying desperately to keep the delicate cargo aloft against the gravitational forces that called them down. “I believe I understand the word beautiful under new context,” Xuvats replied. “Such delicate play between fluid thermodynamics, and gravity, “ The woman snickered. “It is very similar to my own …” The Plasmoid trailed off, coming to a stop in the snow-covered wood. 

The Plasmoid played with the precipitous buildup on its membrane, allowing a few millimetres to build up in a thick flaky layer before using the heat from the coffee to melt the buildup. The cold air then froze the moisture in their membrane, calling back the euphoric sensation from earlier that morning. 

“Are you alright?” Nerdy asked quietly, turning back to wait for her companion. Her shoulder-length auburn hair was tucked under a knitted toque, and she wore Cuinga’s bear hide coat, which was just a bit oversized for her small frame. The sight brought back memories of a young Traohonian youngling, covered in parasitic Cocadine, just before the Permafrost of Gradus U9D ends, drooping with the weight of foreign fur. Nerduilye snapped her fingers, to get Xuvats' attention “Hey! Are you alright?

“My membrane is … tingly!” The Plasmoid responded, looking down at their hands, “Is your membrane tingly?” There was a sensation within their ectoplasm as if it were filled with millions of tiny crawling insects. Xuvats writhed and undulated, struggling to find and process the intruders before realizing that there were none. The Plasmoid looked at her with sudden concern. “Nerdiluye, I think I have been poisoned!”

“You’re not wrong!” The woman giggled, “The Ash Weed causes a euphoric sensation in humans,” She explained, with a curious smile. “I’m genuinely not sure what impact it will have on you!” She stepped to Xuvats, looking deep into the Plasmoids churning insides, “Have something to eat, you should be fine in an hour or so.” A frayed eyestalk popped into her face from a dark grey bubble and she stomped away in revulsion as the Plasmoid followed apologetically.   

Nat 20: Nature Check

As instructed, they followed the glyphs carved into the trees deeper into the wintery wood. For over an hour, the snow on the ground and trees deepened as they hiked. The air continued to grow colder as well, and the thick icicle buildup on the trees slowly increased until the trees were entirely encrusted with ice. Though they made a great effort to creep through the glistening crystalline forest, the soft crunch of their feet stomping through the thin shell of ice seemed to echo in the trees. 

Frozen Withering Gnoll

“Do you hear that?” Xuvats asked his companion, but before she could respond, there was the sound of something crashing through the ice-coated underbrush toward them. Xuvats tried to move away as the large beast of Ice and bones came crashing through the trees swinging a frozen tree branch like a club. The blow landed square in Xuvats torso with a splat, like slapping the surface of water that nearly disrupted their equilibrium. The blow infuriated Xuvats and the Plasmoid retaliated by thickening its membrane into a crustacean-like shell and extending a spear-shaped pseudopod through the creature's shoulder, smashing much of the ice covering the beast’s torso away. It snapped back, its teeth scratching gouges across the plasmoid’s chitin-like hide. 

Nerduilye, who dodged out of the path of the rampage, looked up to see a seven-foot beast, resembling a coyote, but assembled from the bones of other creatures. She recognized the creature from her research but this Withering Gnoll was coated in a thick layer of ice that chipped and cracked off at the joints as it moved. Behind the beast, in a small clearing, she spotted what looked like a fountain of cold erupting from between two mounds of snow, above which a massive icicle hung from a snow-covered pine. Something about the scene did not quite feel right, however, as the pine tree did not appear to be sustaining any weight, instead the Icicle seemed to hover motionless beneath it.

 “Is that …?” She hurled a fireball at the icicle striking it in the center with a blast that sent shards of ice flying. The icicle pitch shrieked, with a sound like that of pressing together two ice cubes. She tucked herself behind a tree for cover. She was not sure if it was the result of her fireball on the frigid surroundings or the Ice Mephit that flew up into the air after being hit with it, but a thick, localized fog formed in the air about the two piles of snow. Difficult to spot in the fog, the elemental Mephit, rose to about ten feet in the air and released a blast of icy wind from its frozen maw. 

While Nerduilye was able to hide behind her tree for cover, Xuvats, who was otherwise preoccupied, took the full blast. Dozens of tiny shards of ice riddled the Plasmoid’s Chitin-like hide, some exploding on contact and others punching through with a crack. Xuvats cried out, first from shock as they were thrust forward, but the rage-filled Plasmoid used the momentum to drive another Pseudo-spear through the icy armour on the large skeletal beast. With a sound like shattering china, the Beast’s ribcage exploded in a shower of bone and ice. The Gnoll responded by snapping at the pseudo-spear, catching it between its teeth and bringing its great frozen club down, narrowly missing the dexterous slime.

Nerduilye popped out from behind her tree and threw another fireball through the fog, missing the flying Mephit, then ducked back behind her tree for some cover. The Mephit flew up another ten feet in the air and moved away from the ice fountain to avoid the woman’s fireballs. The biting cold around them made the skin on Nerduilye’s face feel tight and fragile, it made her nose run and burned bare and shaking hands. Even beneath a decent layer of furs, the icy tree at her back chilled her spine and she desperately wished to be back in the half-man’s hermit cabin, drinking coffee by the fire. 

With a pseudopod still between the Gnoll’s grinding teeth, Xuvats balled the end up like a spiked mace, punching holes through the skull and snapping off part of the jaw and smashing out a few teeth. Then the Plasmoid swiftly retracted the appendage, the toothy snout exploded and the head separated from the spine. Xuvats cast off the empty skull in their fist as the Withering Gnoll collapsed into a pile of disconnected bones and broken chunks of ice.  

With the beastly Gnoll dispatched and the path to the ice fountain between the two mounds of snow clear, Nerduilye took a deep calming breath. She knew that with her shivering hands and chattering teeth, she would have trouble hitting the flying elemental at this distance. Instead, she slipped out from behind her tree and sprinted twenty feet to the fountain. With every step the cold grew sharper, she was not sure she would be able to get where she needed to, but she leaned in, closed the final feet and whispered as she leapt. 

Xuvats watched in shock as his quick-footed companion raced through the trees. In the fog, it took them a moment to process where the woman was going as she blew past the Plasmoid into the clearing.  Xuvats chased after her assuming she was after the second creature, but instead she leapt into an icy void and disappeared in a burst of silver mist. Xuvats lunged after her, to try and save her from her stupidity, but the intense cold made it increasingly more difficult for them to move, as their plasmasol coagulated with ice crystals. Instead of grabbing the woman by the ankle, the Plasmoid connected with something on the ground. Pain shot through Xuvats, lighting up their nucleus, and they cried out to the cold forest air.

Misty Step

“Surprise, Mother-Fucker!” She whispered, emerging mid-jump from a portal of silvery mist about ten feet behind the Ice Elemental. The air up here was calm and the snow and freezing rain seemed to hover, as if weightless. She threw her hand out, launching a ball of fire from her palm and struck the Mephit square in the back. It exploded with a screech, and the woman tucked into a ball and fell through the blast. Ice punched through her fur coat and pelted her arms and legs as she burst through the explosion. The ice fountain was no more and the fog beneath her was thrust away she unfurled as she dropped from the sky amid a shower of frozen debris, to see the blue alien directly beneath her. “ZOOVAUGHTS!”

“Are you harmed?” Xuvats asked, collecting themselves. The plasmoid felt cold and lethargic. Their ectoplasmic membrane still tingled with the forming of ice crystals, but the sensation was no longer pleasurable. It felt less like a ticklish caress and more like thousands of tiny needles. Nearly every part of them hurt to move and that movement felt distant and disconnected. Xuvats struggled not to transition into stasis, grasping their companion by the hand, “I think I have been poisoned.”  

The woman grunted, laying on her back in the cold snow. Her ears rang and stars danced across her vision. Her right shoulder ached and her arms and legs stung. Blood from fresh wounds trickled down her arms and matted her linen sleeves, it percolated between her fingers and she became suddenly concerned with the volume of liquid pooling there. Pain shot through her, emanating from the other shoulder. After some deep breathing, she bit down on her leather collar and, with a muffled scream, popped her shoulder back into its socket. She lay panting for another few moments before cradling the arm across herself and struggling to sit up. 

“Oh, That was higher than it looked!” The fog had already begun to dissipate and the air was calm. Tephes was past his Zenith and the sunlight on her skin was well missed, but looking up to greet it came with a wince and a jolt of pain. About her, the trampled snow was streaked with splashes of oily residue. “How are you doing, Blue?” A small oily puddle next to her gurgled beneath a thin film of ice. 

“Oh-SHIT!” Nerduilye scrambled to her feet wincing in pain. She quickly looked about as she tucked her wrist between the buttons of her coat to support the injured shoulder. Spotting the empty Gnoll skull, she used it to scoop up as much oily snow as she could fit. She wasn't sure if it would work. She even wondered, briefly, why she was trying to save the space slime since she’d spent the last three days trying to escape it. Still, she cradled the heaping skull-wrapped snow cone in both hands, smelled it like it was a hot beverage, as she whispered, “Good Soup.”

The bone bowl began to warm in her freezing cold hands and she took a moment to savour it. She accepted the warmth into her bones and it brought with it memories of warming her hands with a hot cup of Oolong and the chill of drafty old library windows at her back. The sensation of liquid seeping between her fingers brought her back from the past and she placed the slowly melting bowl of plasmoid on the ground. The spell cast on the skull would keep the vessel warm for about an hour, so she packed snow around it to hold it upright and insulate it, then gathered some sticks and branches to build a fire. 

Nerduilye gathered all of the oily snow and ice that she could find, including two remarkably well-preserved eyeballs that nearly made her vomit, and piled it together next to her fire. She built a snow reservoir to contain the sheer volume of the melting space goo. Between the two mounds of snow, she found a large frozen shard of the plasmoid that appeared to have snapped off, and as she gathered it to add to her makeshift snowman she noticed an old tin bullseye lantern, heavily encrusted in ice, that rattled as if filled with ice cubes. In the reflective cone, where the flame would be, she found a recess in the ice that appeared to fit a small orb and soon located it nearby. “What-the-fuCK!” Nerdy dropped the orb into the snow with a startled glare and then cautiously retrieved it again, shaking off the snow and holding up the glass eye to the sunlight. 

“Does that go ..?!” She moved to place the eye into the frozen socket within the lamp but the two objects began to rattle and shudder. She felt the arcane energies between them, like two opposing magnetic forces, and the more she tried to push them together, the colder they became until her still-cold hand could no longer tolerate the frigid temperature.  When Nerdy withdrew the glass eye the shuddering subsided. 

Xuvats was cold. The plasmoid felt thick and coagulated and not at all well. There was an incessant rhythmic thrumming noise that the plasmoid found both disorienting and painful,  “Do you not hear that noise?” The alien asked a neighbour, but the aqua was vapid and did not respond. Xuvats contracted as if tolerating a shooting pain.  “I do not like it,” The Plasmoid thought, the pain built as the fluid within them rippled uncontrollably until Xuvats could tolerate it no longer.  “Please, Stop!”

“Zoovaughts!” Nerdy shouted. She was genuinely excited to see the alien and rushed fireside to greet them. The Plasmoid wobbled, like a flickering, floating candle. The plasmoid was pale, all of its colour seeming to remain as rainbow hues in the slush beneath it. “Thank the Gods, are you alright?”

Xuvats assured his companion that they would be fine, given some more time in stasis. The Plasmoid rested and thawed while Nerduilye collected the miscellaneous equipment the Plasmoid had collected since arriving. They ate lunch together and filled each other in on what had transpired. “I do not recognize that energy signature.” Xuvats declared, referring to the thrum they felt from the arcane energy.

“I think I do!”


“My father was a miner,” Cuinga said quietly, staring at the lantern in the center of the table, as if staring into a dream. There’d been a long silence after the lantern was placed on the table as Xuvats watched the plethora of expressions that crossed the man’s face. The small firelit cabin was warm and Xuvats revelled in it. The Plasmoid, though able once again to move freely, with some effort, rested in an old wash tub Cuinga had brought in from the backyard as they listened and continued to recompile themself.  

“He chose this site for our home because he believed there was a diamond vein beneath it.” He rose from the table and retrieved a dark bottle and a couple of cups from the shelves on the wall. “He dug every day for decades, in a cave not far from where you found this, “ He poured two fingers of clear fluid into each glass and returned to his seat. He stared at the lantern and with a deep sigh, tossed back his drink and continued, “but he only ever returned with coal.” 

“It was enough to keep them warm in the winter and with some left over to sell, should the need arise.” Cuinga continued, Pouring another two fingers for himself. He told them what a cold and seemingly uncaring father he had been, but that the area had been a wonderful place to grow up, despite having no friends around to play with. The ground was fertile for farming and the forests were plentiful hunting grounds, so they never wanted for food. 

Nerduilye had grown a little more comfortable in the man’s presence. She had not wanted to return to Cuinga’s cabin, preferring instead to head straight for the Dreaming Forest, but Xuvats had spent the trip back from the cold convincing her that they would need to rest for the night. It took them until dusk to walk the distance back to the cabin, both of them being considerably wounded. Cuinga had dinner waiting for them, he had assisted in getting Xuvats into the metal wash tub and then checked on her dislocated shoulder and offered her some willow bark tea for the pain. She tossed back her whiskey, reached into her pocket and placed the glass eye on the table next to the lantern. Cuinga closed his eyes with another deep sigh. 

“My mother resented him.” Cuinga continued, snorting another shot of moonshine. “First for not telling her that he was half-elven,” He motioned absently to the pale scar on his face, “but mostly for moving us out here, to the middle of nowhere.” He picked up the eye and examined it, but Nerduilye noticed that he never turned the painted pupil toward himself. He went on to explain that his mother was a beautiful woman but a horrible racist and had a particular hatred for elves. He pulled the pipe and leather wallet from the box on the end of the table and continued his tale as he packed the bowl. “My mother called me her Elven Demon, and resented me almost as much as she resented him.” He lit the pipe and took a long draught, holding his breath as he offered the pipe to the other side of the table. 

Nerduilye accepted it as he continued, puffs of smoke emphasizing his words, ”My mother was a beautiful woman, radiant even, and the desire of almost every man she met. She hated being trapped out here in the woods with a disfigured child and a failure of a husband.” Nerduilye took a shallow drag from the pipe and inhaled cautiously, but she began coughing immediately and absently passed the pipe to Xuvats. “She grew hateful and abusive the longer we were out here, “ Cuinga continued, “Then one day when I was about ten, My father came home from the mine to find me unconscious in the forest.” He went on to describe how his mother had walked him out into the woods, away from the wards and intentionally left him out there. His father carried him home and the wards were enough to save him from his allergy. “It was the only time he ever raised his hand to her.” He placed the glass eye on the table but his own eyes grew distant, “He was different that day, quieter than usual, and more affectionate.” He took another snort of moonshine, ”I don’t know where he got the eye or how he paid for it, but I know it was incredibly expensive.” There was a long blank stare and a pause before he continued as if starting a fresh conversation. 

“They didn't speak after that, and when they did it was with cold resentment and barbed with hatred.” Cuinga described how she stopped eating soon after that and started drinking more. She began sleeping most of the day, until eventually, she stopped even getting out of bed. That winter she got sick and never recovered. “After she passed away my father was a different man.“ Cuinga went on, “Loving, affectionate, engaged, he taught me to hunt and fish, how to farm and care for the animals, he even had the glyphs extended so that I could come and visit him at the mine if I felt bored or lonely. Then one day he never returned.” paused to pour himself and Nerduilye another round, and accepted the pipe back from Xuvats. Cuinga was only able to get about six hundred feet down when he found the cave-in.” Her said snorting back the Moonshine, “It took him a week to clear enough of the debris to find his father’s body” He buried the bodies next to each other, near the Mine entrance, and placed the two objects on their cairns as markers.” 

A lantern with an eyeball for a wick

“Were the objects facing each other?” Nerduile asked him, but the man was unable to remember, though he admitted it had been a year or more since he’d gone to visit either of them. She turned the lantern so that the reflective cone pointed toward the eye, and the two began to shudder and rattle very slightly. Cuinga leaned away from the table, with a curious eye. Nerduilye then turned the glass eye to face the lantern and the entire table began to rattle. After a moment the entire cabin began to rumble as the table vibrated and shimmied on the floor. 

“Please, stop,” Xuvats asked with a pained expression. They had not smoked any weed this time, given their condition. Xuvats was happy for this when the thrumming returned and their still fragile membrane began rippling uncontrollably from the energy being thrown off. Nerduilye separated the two objects and the pain and rippling stopped. “When I found it,” Xuvats explained after a moment, “The lantern was lying between the cairns, spewing cold air.“

“I think the eye was inside the cone,” Nerduilye added, describing the ice pocket she’d found inside the lantern. Holding the lantern on its side, Nerduilye looked at them tentatively and tossed the eye over the side into the cone. There was a loud crack and a flash of arcane energy as the lantern began, once again, shooting a cone of cold air into the warm cabin. 

“Personal Energy Resonance” Nerduilye declared as she moved the lantern away from them and tipped the eye into her hand to stop the phenomenon. She placed the already cold lantern and glass eye back on the table, facing away from each other.  “I studied it at the College. A person can, over time, attune to a mundane item, especially in the presence of magic." 

"I doubt these ward …" He began but the Ash Weed had now kicked in and  Nerduilye was emboldened and continued without slowing down.

"Your home is about five hundred miles from the Equatorial Ley Line,” She explained to them both that the magic of Barasea comes from its Ley Lines, and proximity to one increases the strength of the magic. “That’s why the Capital cities are located where they are!” She declared with enthusiasm, “Salmyar, Catun, the fucking Fortress of Ziram! These are all located on Ley Lines! Hells, Bacot is on a bloody crossroads of them, that's why so many Oracles are born there!” She went on to explain that while most realms with magic had many ley lines spread about the globe, Barasea only had three, but they were extremely powerful by comparison.

“What does that have to do with these?” Cuinga interrupted, wiping water droplets from melted snow off the table with his sleeve. 

 "I think these two objects became infused with your parents' resentment for one another.” She described similar instances they had studied at the college, including a compass that led the holder to the thing they most desired. “Your mother’s cold gaze and your father’s single-minded focus were infused into these items over the years.” She couldn’t, however, explain how the items came together.

“There is one more thing,” Xuvats chimed in. Xuvats picked up the lantern and turned it upside down with a rattle. They unscrewed the bottom and poured out about a pound of small and medium-sized crystals.

Cuinga stared wide-eyed at the stones on the table.  He picked one up to examine it more closely, “Are those?!”

“Uncut diamonds!” Xuvats declared with excitement. “It seems your father found what he was looking for after all!”


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