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'For I say to you, children, there are only beasts on Earth.

For I say to you, children, there are no gods on Earth.

I made you lords of Earth, as I lord above you, children.

I, your father.

I, your mother.

Your only god.'

-Lordships, chapter 2, verse 9

"I've been all over the world, Batreh Torva, places you've only read about in your precious monastery, and I tell you that people make gods out of anything they will."

"Jerol, my son, the only--"

"Don't call me that. You're not my father, nor my priest." Torva sighed, and Jerol refused to meet his gaze.

"The only true god is Elloh. Do you not believe? Were you not also born in Makedon?"

"Sure I was, but what difference does it make? Everyone here believes in Elloh."

"My sources say otherwise. They say this southern kingdom is full of heretics." Torva lowered his voice so as to not rile the passing townsfolk.

"Who says they aren't? I mean to say what does believing devils have to do with believing in gods? Depends on who you throw your lot in with, now doesn't it?"

"Blasphemy," Torva muttered. Here, he waited for the approaching tavern wench to serve their ale before quoting from the Apoch Yara. "For I say to you, children, there are no gods on Earth."

"Not everyone's as well read as you, Batreh. If you intend to convert these people, you'll need to prove it."

"What do you suggest then?"

"That's your job, Batreh. You paid me to protect you, not advise you."

"You're particularly vocal for a hired sword."

"Keeping quiet costs extra. Not my fault I know better than you."

"Out with it, then. Tell me what you know about Styg and its people. Perhaps I'll have more insight on how to enlighten them."

Jerol crossed his arms. "Memory's not what it used to be."

"Drink is on me." Torva passed ten copper coins across the table.

"Ah, now I remember! It was something a mercenary from Kuph told me. Yuma was his name. He was guarding some weak-chinned noble fleeing one of the four Quadrant Kingdoms. I can't remember which. Anyway, they were ambushed by some barbarians near here. Not even one of the man's political rivals, but he made the mistake of carrying all his gold with him. Now, Kuphite fighters are tough as they come, but even Yuma couldn't beat ten wild Stygians alone - not fighting alongside Baebylans and Harkadians, softened by cushions and drink."

Jerol spit on the ground. "At least he survived. Luckily, he came into the care of some widow in her middle years. She patched up his wounds and fed him. Maybe she hoped to lay with him in exchange. Never told me if he did, the Kuphite dog. She did, however, tell him all about Styg and her people.

Sure, they believe in Elloh alright, but they don't see them as a beacon of righteousness and benevolence like every other kingdom. To them, they are a domineering God-king, obsessed with law and order."

"Heresy," Torva hissed.

"If you say so. But what's one god against three? Hold on now, before you you quote more scripture, listen to the whole story.

So, Elloh lives outside of our reality, yeah? Even outside the duality of man and woman? Think of them as the god of the outer realm. The Stygians here, they believe in four realms: Three on Earth and one outside of it. Now, we humans, we live here on Earth, along with all the other races - the norvolk and khazstanians and so on. What business does a god outside our world have in our lives? That's what they say, mind you."

"And you?"

"Doesn't matter what I think, does it? I'm just a sword." Jerol turned up his cup to drink the last of his ale.

"Every man must find his place, I suppose," said Torva. "But tell me more of these 'gods of Earth'."

"Well, you have your three earthly realms: Ocean, land, and sky. Each god presides over them."

"How these heathens dreamt up such nonsense is beyond me."

"Oh, they didn't dream it, Batreh, they saw it with their own eyes. Let me tell you what the widow told Yuma of Behaphis.

He's a giant, they say. Walks on all fours with a tremendous neck, and legs thicker than an ox. His hide is golden and leathery, but near impenetrable, even to norvolk steel. Atop his long neck is a serpentine head, and great horns that could gore an opponent as sure as the sharpest spear.

Behaphis not only represents the earthen ground, but also earthly delights. They perform orgiastic rituals here in Styg, but this is just a prelude to the most important rite.

Inside, there is a golden statue in the image of Behaphis as tall as a man. The neck is outstretched, curving toward the floor and back up again. Priests pick a virgin girl to be the sacrifice. She climbs naked upon the idol, straddling the figure's neck, and grabbing each of the horns while she grinds her body--"

"By Elloh, Jerol, enough! I understand." Torva gulped the last of his drink as well. Jerol laughed.

"Why so skittish, Batreh? Afraid they'll have you do the same?"

"I am not a virgin, nor do I believe in these fantasies."

"I told you they saw this with their own eyes, didn't I? Behaphis is real flesh and blood. If he wasn't, why wouldn't these would-be sacrifices simply walk back home?"

Torva was silent for a moment. "What of this god of the ocean, then? Did the widow tell Yuma of this as well?"

"Maybe. My tongue is awfully parched, though."

"Oh, out with it, man!" Torva tossed his purse on the table. "Drink to your heart's content. Now speak!" Jerol plucked out some coins and ordered another drink, which he slurped greedily.

"What do you know of the creatures beneath the sea?" said Jerol.

"As much as anyone else," said Torva.

"Then you wouldn't know of the terraaleok."

"I've never heard the name."

"Very few have. Even I haven't seen them myself, and Yuma refused to describe them to me. 'Better they are forgotten', he said. Suffice to say they are monstrous, amphibious creatures that harass the shores of Kuph. There's a reason Kuphites are such deadly fighters, dealing with those monsters on a regular basis.

The only other place they have been known to surface is right here. These people don't fight the terraaleok, however. Instead, they made a patron goddess of the creatures. She is Lyviamat, the deep sleeper.

For the longest time, the Stygians believed she was in the image of the terraaleok themselves, until the prophetess, Lyreh, caught a glimpse of Lyviamat in the flesh. I never forgot her description of the goddess.

'She is both terrifying and magnificent. Her rise from the depths came like several great waterfalls about her. My Lady's head was that of a skull. Her eyes were wide and gleaming, and her teeth were like so many daggers. When she spoke in that ancient roar, her shining, black body reflected the sun, and her wings extended prodigiously like webbed fins.'

Then Lyreh went on about some visions Lyviamat revealed to her. Poor girl's mind probably couldn't comprehend what she was looking at."

"A sea monster?"

"Whatever it was, it wasn't a terraaleok. She came back home and demanded her people demolish all the old relics that depicted Lyviamat falsely. That was some hundred years ago, but a few remnants of the smashed idols are sold to collectors and curators up north. Figure they can piece together what the terraaleok look like, but the best they can find is something tentacled and inhuman."

"They sacrifice to Lyviamat as well?"

"Well, it's hard to say. Yuma told me that there's not exactly a ritual they perform. Apparently what happens is the terraleok come to Styg and just..."

"And just what?"

"Just take people. Don't know where. Don't know why. Whatever they do, that's what happened to the widow's old husband. You didn't think he died in battle, did you? Sounded to me like more of a passive worship. They really want to gain Behaphis's favor, but Lyviamat, they just stay out of her way, it seems."

"Impossible," Torva scoffed. "The Apoch Yara clearly mentions only three sentient races apart from humans in the Book of Yiaom.

'The norvolk found lesser gods, and held them above blessed Elloh. They fled north, lost in the tundra. The khazstanian men believed themselves superior to women. They fled south, and Elloh cursed them with short statures to match their inadequacy. The morghuls, most wretched of all, were unsatisfied with the meats of the animals. They fled east, and feasted on their fellow man'. Yiaom, chapter one."

"And what about the canidor? What does your holy book say about them?"

"Silly fables," said Torva, "just like your dreaded terraaleok. Next you'll tell me green-skinned elves live beyond the edge of the Earth!"

Jerol's eyes wandered away from Torva, and turned toward the open gate on the edge of town. "Well, I've never been to the edge of the Earth, but I have been out west, past the Atlachia Mountains. The canidor are real. There's some things your books and fellow batrehs can't tell you."

"Nonsense! What proof have you? You won't even look me in the eye."

"It's proof you want then?" Jerol pointed his nose toward the gate.

"By Elloh!" There, before his very eyes, were two creatures walking upright past the gate. They were like men, yet unlike any he had seen before. Their ears were pointed, jaws extended into snouts, claws in place of hands and feet, and whole bodies covered in fur. The elder was grey and gloomy, but the younger had light brown fur, and a swiveling head watching for danger. "The wolves of the west!"

"Relax, you old fool. They're here for trade, see? Stygians give them iron tools in exchange for those pelts. Canidor claws may not be ideal for metal craft, but they are twice the hunters humans are."

"You've seen canidor before?"

"Seen them?" Jerol scoffed. "I've fought them. And what a fight, let me tell you!"

"How did you manage to defeat those beasts?"

"I didn't. One of them beat me. That's right, I lost, man on man. I wonder if it was even a challenge for him. Kept my shield locked on my sword with every swing like I was trained to do. Didn't make any difference to him, though. He slipped under every stroke like a wet fish. Knocked the sword from my hand when he had an opening. All that was left was my shield, but I held it strong. He just took it by the rim, swept me off my feet, and threw me overhead like a child's doll.

I was delirious for a second there. When I got to my feet, the warrior just waited for me, crouched low, claws like two snakes ready to bite. I knew when I was beaten, so I ran for the hills. You'll never find a more cunning fighter among the morghuls or the norvolk. Lucky for me, the canidor value mercy over wanton killing, otherwise I wouldn't be here now. Nor would the Stygians be so open to trade with them. That, and a sort of shared mythology.

I'm guessing those two are from the Lashiyong:ka tribe. Their fighting style is swift, evasive, and explosive. But they didn't figure it out on their own. Legends say that they learned it from a god who moved in much the same way. A god who moved like a dragon."

"The god of the sky?"

"Zymeia, the third and most elusive Stygian god. No human has ever laid eyes on him, and even the canidor can only describe him out of legends. All I know is that he is depicted with feathers of rainbows and obsidian talons. Above his four gigantic wings are three heads that resemble a sort of eagle with the maw of an alligator. He is weakest when the heads argue, but strongest when they think as one.

There's not much else they say about him, other than he's the most powerful of the three by far. The Stygians even believe his strength is equal to Elloh, and their combined power can overthrow the God-king of the outer realm."

"Impossible!" Torva's curiosity turned to righteous anger, and he cared little for who might hear him, now. "Outlandish heathen blasphemy! Surely you do not ascribe to such fairy tales?"

"Shouldn't I? Just moments ago you denied the existence of an entire race, and there they are, strolling through town. Who knows what lies south of Styg?

Behaphis and Lyviamat could be anything. Zymeia, though, is a bit more difficult for me to believe. A creature with three heads and wings of literal rainbows? Almost as hard to swallow as the idea of Elloh...

Don't give me that look, Batreh. I told you once already that people will make gods out of anything they will. Most humans throughout the kingdoms worship Elloh, but the morghuls will openly admit to worshiping some devil named Fol. The norvolk have too many gods to count. Hell, they might have a god of potatoes for all I know. And who knows what the khazstanians worship beyond logic and coin. The canidor, I can say for sure, basically worship nature around them.

You and every other batreh in Makedon want to divide things into plain good and evil, but the world isn't that simple. It's not a choice between god and evil. Religion is like a shell game to me, and I'm not one for gambling. I'm a fighter, and I believe in what I see."

Torva shook his head with a smirk, lamenting Jerol's narrow vision.

"The Apoch Yara instructs us not to curse the blind, but to pity them. After all, how can they see when their eyes are shut? I walk by the light of Elloh, and shall fear no more. Faith is my shield from the darkness of ignorance."

Jerol waved his hand dismissively.

"Have your faith protect you from the jaws of a beast," he said. "Stygians respect power. If you want them to convert, you'll have to prove Elloh is more powerful. Why don't you march south and bring the smoldering heads of Behaphis, Lyviamat, and Zymeia?"

"My son, faith is like a lantern through which to find--"

"No, no, no, I specifically heard you call it a shield not seconds ago. Go on, I'll be right here waiting to escort you back to Makedon."

"You won't come with me?"

"Batreh Torva, are you shaking?" Jerol grinned.

"I hired you to protect me!"

"From robbers and wildlife, yes. Be it man, or beast, or any in between, I can take them, but I wasn't paid to fight giants out of myth. On the other hand, if you'd rather give up this crusade and leave these people be, we can do that too."

"Not until I have achieved my purpose. Decades long of study and prayer have lead me to this moment, and I cannot falter now. The light of Elloh will shine upon Styg. No more will they consort with beasts, or worship debaucherous idols, nor sacrifice innocents to monsters from the sea."

"Then this is where I leave you, Batreh Torva. I told you I'd be here when you get back, but let's face it, it only feels right I should say goodbye. Thanks for the drinks."

The two parted ways while Jerol left his seat first. Torva soon after made his way toward the gate, where the two canidor had long since departed. The guards gave little resistance, as anyone traveling south to meet their death was their own business.

Jerol bought a room at the nearby inn for a few nights before returning north for home. The innkeeper insisted that Jerol leave his sword with him. He claimed it was a precaution to keep fights from turning deadly. Jerol saw a number of similar weapons tucked away in the corner, not having seen use or sharpening for months at least. Here, he insisted on keeping the sword with such determination that the innkeeper finally relented. Jerol was no fool, and would not be taken by the terraaleok like every other ignorant wayfarer before him.

Author's note: It is unknown what became of Jerol after that journey, but it can be assumed that he spent the rest of his days in Makedon. Batreh Torva, however, was found dead by our ground research team. We have taken it to be dissected in hopes of learning more of honimen physiology, and possible links to the more advanced honimen (or 'human' in their language) species that once ruled Earth millions of years before.

As for the so called 'gods' of Styg, we can confirm only two. Behaphis, or Aurumasaurus minotaurae, is merely one representation of an entire sauropod species. Given its solitary nature, the honimen of Styg have only ever seen one of its kind alone, and the reproduction of several aurumasaurus lead to the belief of the god's immortality.

Lyviamat has been difficult for us to find for extended periods, but our researchers have determined this to be yet another instance of an animal given divinity. Unfortunately, due to its deep water habitat, it seldom surfaces, making information on this creature scant. Similarities have been noted between the Stygian myth of Lyviamat and Ogan of Svartengår lore. More research is required, but it can be safely assumed, with what little we know, that these two are separate species.

The existence of Zymeia is highly questionable. Not only has this creature never been seen by any living eyes, but the suggested physiology is pure absurdity. We may assume the talons of obsidian are simply deep black in color, and the rainbow feathers merely multicolored rather than a body of literal refracted light, but three heads are impossible to reason. No such species has ever lived on Earth without being the result of a horrible mutation. Be it mutant, alien, or pure fabrication of honimen imagination, our research is inclined toward the latter.

As for the death of Batreh Torva, we have ruled out two possibilities. Firstly, the tooth marks embedded in his body are not consistent with those of Lyviamat. This is combined with the fact his body was found far into dry land; an area the ancient humans called Venezuela before the continental merge. Secondly, Aurumasaurus is an herbivorous species, and if one felt threatened by Torva, it would certainly step on him rather than bite him. We hypothesize that he was attacked by several yet unknown carnivorous land or avian reptiles. They would be significantly large and powerful, as his body was torn into three pieces.

Written by RCainTales
Content is available under CC BY-SA