The Legend of the Verdant Sea
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In ages past, long before the war between flesh and steel, in a time when the scarlet empire had just begun to drown its rival cities in blood, there was a man at the court of the Red Priests, who asked a simple question:

Why do the gods thirst for blood?

The priests answered that the blood gives life to the gods, so that they may uphold the world.

The man laughed and spoke: There is no life in blood, only death. No field of battle has ever blossomed into a garden. The matriarchs of the empire let the streets run red, yet there are no trees within their cities. Blood is not a bringer of life but an emissary of death. So why should it bring life to the gods?

The priests responded that the fading life of the sacrifice was carried by the blood towards the gods, so their time would never end.

Again the man laughed. But are the gods not the ones who brought life to this barren soil? Why would they need to replenish that, which they are able to create? Which mother would devour her own children just to fill her belly again? If what you speak is true, then the gods are no gods at all, but mere thieves that steal the lives they claimed to have created!

The priests were enraged by the words of the man and drew their daggers, eager to offer up his blood to their gods, so he may account for his blasphemous words.

But the man had foreseen their actions, as he valued his life over the blessing of thieving gods. And so he left the Red Court and set off in search for the answer to the question that had burrowed its roots into his skull.

If the gods only stole lives, who was the one giving it?

And so the man wandered and wandered through the world, never staying long in one place for either the thirst of knowledge or the blades an enraged mob pushed him to continue his search elsewhere.

And so it came that the man arrived in a region only known as the sea of sand for there was nothing here but an ocean of dust. Yet as the man wandered the endless dunes, he discovered that there was life hidden beneath the merciless sun.

Within a small vale, he found a tree, whose bark was as black as the deepest night and whose leaves were as pale as the sun-bleached bones that littered the dunes.

Yet despite looking like an omen of death, the tree bore splendid fruits. Apples larger than the man’s fists hung from its branches and a scent heavy with the promise of a fruitful harvest filled the air around the tree.

With a smile on his face, the man knew that he had reached the end of his journey, for he had found life where there could and should be none.

And with a sigh full of relief the man allowed exhaustion and thirsts, which he had defiantly ignored for far too long, to finally catch up to him. Without preparing a camp for the night he fell asleep beneath the crawling branches of the tree.

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Hours passed within the blink of an eye and when the man finally awoke from his deep slumber the tyranny of the burning sun had been overthrown by the silver moon and his court of stars. As he waved the echoes of fading nightmares from his senses, the man found out that he was no longer alone.

During his nightmare twisted sleep, a strange visitor had approached the tree, which was now standing in front of the man. At first, the man thought his visitor to be another human and wondered what winds of fate might have caused such an unlikely meeting in the heart of all sands.

But as the silver light of the full moon cut into the shadows that surrounded his visitor, he saw a body not made from flesh and bone but one carved from bark and wood and the man realized that his visitor was many things but no of them were human.

In a mix of confusion and fear, he gripped the wooden sigil his parents had gifted him as a sign of protection by a god, whose name he had long forgotten. With a flame of zealous bravery, he thought long extinct, he held the wooden amulet in front of his unworldly visitor and shouted long forgotten phrases in the hopes they might banish the demon.

While his display would have impressed even the most faithful of priests, the creature appeared ignorant to the might of religious zeal that had just been rallied against it. With a slow but steady pace, the three legs of the creature brought it ever closer to the fragile human, which now leaned at the bark of the ominous tree to keep his shaking legs from giving up beneath him.

As the last of his hopes began to fade and the man already imagined his body being torn apart by the twisting serpents that formed the head of his demonic nemesis, the creature began to speak.

The voice was unlike anything the man had heard ever before, yet the voice felt as familiar as the one of his own mother.

Peace be upon you wanderer. I bear you no harm for I serve the one you search.

Like the petrichor heralds the arrival of new life after the first rain, the words of the otherworldly creature called the spirits of hope back to the heart of the man. Yet his aging mind would not accept that salvation would arrive so easily.

I spend a lifetime of running away from the lies of the gods, so spare me your twisting words and just finished the task that was given to you by your accursed master. He yelled at the created as he steeled his mind to meet the pain that would shortly follow.

But there was no pain, only a feeling of warmth as the creature spoke yet again; I am a servant to neither god nor demon. I serve only the Great Mother, so discard your idol of the false gods for you know it to be made of nothing but empty words.

Before the man could react the creature gripped the sigil he still held within his shaking hands and in front of his fearful eyes, the wood of the idol sprang to new life as flowers of iridescent beauty began to blossom from its rotten core.

At that moment the man understood that the creature in front of him was no demon, no servant of a vengeful god but an angel in service to the spring of life he had searched for his entire life.

But as the trumpets of triumph began to sound their hymns, a cold and cruel realization began to form within his mind. And so he began to weep bitter tears, for while he had found what he had searched; he would take his knowledge with him to the grave.

It looked like the gods, he rejected decades ago, had played a cruel trick on him, allowing him to find the truth beneath their lies only to die in the knowledge that there was nobody to hear it.

But the servant of the Great Mother only smiled at him and drank from his tears. With a voice like the wind blowing over a field of corn, he asked him why he would give in to despair.

With dry voice, the man responded that he mourned the end of his line as that there was no one to bear witness to the truth he had just uncovered and no one that would carry this beacon of truth through the eons yet to come.

The laughter of the servant was refreshing like the fruit of a citrus tree. You would worry of having no children to pass on your legacy in the knowledge of having found the tree of the Great Mother, who births life itself?

With arms like winding snakes, the servant reached out to the tree and plucked one of the splendid apples. With shaking hands the man took the sacred fruit that was offered to him. As his hands touched the apples red flowers began to blossom from the stem of the apple and the servant spoke with the voice of rustling leaves.

Like these flower blossom from the stem of a fallen apple, your lineage will blossom into uncounted numbers and you shall be known as the king of the verdant see with a thousand sons.

As the man prepared to take a bit out of the sacred fruit, the vines of the servant grabbed his hand and with a voice carrying the scent of an open grave the servant whispered a warning into the ears of the man.

Be wary before you taste the kiss of the night apple, as the blessing the Great Mother will bestow upon your lineage will come with a price that has to be paid once the night is right and the moon lies death.

What is this price you speak of? Does your Mistress too long for the flesh of an old man? The man asked with a shaking voice, as the claws of fear, began to once again grip his throat.

Fear not, for the Great Mother, has no taste for the flesh of man and the suffering of mortals holds no value to her. All the Great Mother demands are for her and her children to be allowed to dine at your table once your kingdom has blossomed.

For a moment the man hesitated, remembering old tales of foolish men and women that bargained with powers beyond their understanding only to meet a fate worse than death.

But had these bargains not been made with the thieving gods, who thirsted only for the demise of man? Why should the source of all life, play such a cheap trick on an old man on the verge of death?

And besides what fate could befall him, he who was already dammed for turning his back to the gods and exposing their rotten lies?

And so he bit into the black apple, which had been growing heavy in his hands. As the sweet flesh wandered down his throat, the man imagined hearing the cries of the lying gods as his soul was forever saved from their gnashing maws.

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In the years to come, the man, now a king ruling over a realm of endless green would remember this very moment with the same fondness as the birth of his first child. As the servant had promised the fertility of the man was not only restored but was increased to such heights that even brides that were shunt by other men for being infertile, were able to bear his children.

And as the tree of his family began to spring to new life, so too began the soil of the sea of sands to turn into fertile ground capable of holding endless fields of magnificent crops and fruits.

Where once only dust and sand had been, might cities blossomed like flowers made from marble and gold.

People from the frozen plains of Adytum to the burning sands of Sussyba, came to visit this miraculous land and paid tribute to his ruler. Even the Red Priests who had once chased the man from their ranks now kneeled in front of his throne.

And every month at the time of the hiding moon, a servant of the Great Mother appeared in the hall of the king to receive the price for the blessing which had allowed this great realm to prosper.

When the first servant had arrived at the birth ceremony for the king’s seventh born child a cold claw of fear had gripped his heart and the tales of foolish mortals once again rose within the king minds. In a moment of great shame, he even waged the value of his child against the weight of the Great Mothers blessing and found his child in the losing scale.

But to the king’s unmeasurable relief the servant had meant no harm to the child and had instead asked for but a handful of fruits, leaves, and seeds from the verdant fields of the kingdom to be offered to the Great Mother.

With the granaries of his realm bursting from their seams and the seventh harvest of the year quickly approaching, the king felt humbled by the humility of this sacrifice.

Therefore the king felt nothing but joy when at one night during the fortieth century of his reign not one but seven children of the Great Mother appeared within the halls of his palace. And when he heard the message that they brought his acclaim even surpassed the ones of his uncountable children.

For the seven servants proclaimed that the night was finally right and that as soon as the moon would vanish from the sky the Great Mother herself would descend from the Heavens to grace the king and his land with her presence.

The news of the appearance of the Great Mother spread like wildfire through the palace-city and every person from the highest of priests to the lowliest of beggars fell into an ecstasy of delight as a symphony of dance and music began to fill the streets of the city.

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When the middle of the night approached and the silhouette of the black moon began to take its place at the center of the firmament, a feeling of terrible fear began to stir within the mind of the king, but he waved it away reasoning that it would only be natural for mortals to feel fear upon the arrival of a deity.

As the Great Mother appeared the sight of the king became blurry from tears of joy as his mind became unable to comprehend the beauty of the entity which now covered the whole of the night sky. Clad in a cloak made from verdant leaves and surrounded by a halo of dancing flowers the Great Mother extended her uncountable hands made from roots and vines to caress the soil which she had blessed all those years ago.

When her sacred vines began to entangle the king, he offered no resistance for why should there be anything to fear from an entity of such godly beauty. As the vines began to elevate him towards the goddess hanging in the sky above, his love for the Great Mother grew to such heights, he was sure his heart would surely burst beneath his feelings.

And so the king opened his arms to embrace the Great Mother.

But when he finally embraced his otherworldly benefactor he felt neither the warm embrace of a gentle goddess nor the comforting closeness of a loving mother. Beneath his ancient hands, he only felt a hunger greater than the void of night and older than time itself.

He wanted to scream but his mouth was filled with a stream of nectar sprouting forth from a bed of flowers and so the king could only watch as the Great Mother began the meal he had promised her all those years ago.

Like her servant had assured him no harm was done to his children or his subjects, yet he could only watch in horror as fields, forests, and gardens were consumed by the mouth-lined vines of the Great Mother, while her roots drank the rivers, lakes, and cisterns of his kingdom.

Even the tears of the king's children as they cried for salvation from the terror, which had befallen the land they were destined to inherit, were consumed by the Great Mother leaving only scars of salt and dust.

An unholy cacophony of sounds never heard before filled the air of the palace. For the ears of man are deaf to the langue of flowers and the weeping of trees. Yet the vines of the Great Mother defiled and twisted leaves, barks, and fruits in such balefull manners that reality itself sang the requiem of the lost plants.

Upon the barren fields, which had been stripped of even the smallest seed, the children of the Great Mother performed their ruinous rituals, praising the Mother in their alien tongue, while sacrificing each other for her glory.

But no matter how frenetic they tried to tear each other apart, only malignant wood would grow from even the deepest of cuts, for in the presence of the Great Mother there can be no death.

And so the monuments of twisting wood grew larger and larger towards the sky, which was crawling with the vines of the Great Mother, spreading their malignant shadow over the whole of the kingdom, until the Great Mother decided to call her children back into her teeth lined embrace.

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When the sun rose again above the kingdom, the color green had become nothing more than a fading memory and the ripple of blue ponds was replaced by the death rattle of dried throats.

While his subjects began to quench their thirst with each other’s blood, the king, now the ruler of a starving kingdom, realized what the gods had understood eons ago.

There was no point in trying to conserve life, for life is eternally linked with death and only a madman would try to conserve a meal that is already destined to rot.

The king had begun his search in the hopes of revealing the lies of the hungry gods. Yet the truth he discovered tore deeper than the sacrificial knives of the Red Priests ever could.

As his flesh began to turn to wood he envied the servants of the thieving gods he had once mocked, for their service would end upon death, while his life would forever belong to the Great Mother.

For she is the womb in which life and death are one.

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