Maw sauntered along the worn rocky road, following as she Borscha’s memories recalled. The road was littered with glowshrooms, lighting the way. From Borscha’s memories, they were planted there by the fae. The bugmen also lived nearby and had many hives around, which they traded often. Borscha had acquired much of his gear and weapons through bullying. Borscha never went so far as deplete or devour the bugman traders, and risk either trade drying up or a full out hunt. These trows were more intelligent than she gave them credit. They hid it well behind bellowing banter and thuggish speech. She continued following the memory, remembering their interaction with the hermit spider. It was a petty altercation that turned into a brief siege. The spider had won with his silk and weaponry. They discovered the spider was also armed with the bugmen tech and had drove them off. She didn’t know his name, but would hopefully discover it later. She would need to figure out how to sneak in and observe him. It would be the perfect base of operations if she could sneak in. She would just need to dump her Borscha form and her flunkies and find a less threatening form, especially not one that had aggressed the spider in the past. For now, she’d keep them as deterrents to pretty much everything in a five-mile radius.
The hill they climbed peaked, showing them a shining forest of glowshrooms. Her eyes flickered, taking in the kaleidoscopic colors of the glowing caps. There they moved in, following the path down into the massive mycelium, or the mushroom garden. She stared in wonderment at the sights in front of her. She remembered if from Borscha’s point of view, but it did little justice until seen with her own eyes. The glowing of the mushrooms pulsed, the larger red glowshrooms stood well over fifty feet, shading everything with their caps. Two massive black eyes blinked at her, staring intently.
“Com’on boss, jus’ a shroom.” One of the Trows bantered.
“Shut it! We’re mov’in on!” Maw fired back, keeping in character.
As they walked deeper into the mycelium, they saw fleeting images of tiny sprites, floating spheres, and other strange creatures. She spotted the glinting wings of a humanoid creature briefly; it was gone within a blink. Many creatures appeared shy around the loud trows.
She remembered that not only wild beasts, trows, and bugmen inhabited the Underrealm. Spiritual beings of varying power made their home here. Faei folk. Elementals. Sentient plants. A mysterious guardian. Maw made a quick note that those were things better left alone. The mycelium began to tighten, with only the road being accessible. Space appeared to be a scarcity near the center. There inside the heart of the mycelium, the roads branched off like roots. Borscha took the rightmost path as he remembered before. He walked along, his plated scrap skirts jingling with each step. The walking stick would make a decent bludgeon, but she regretted not being able to harness his magic. If anyone who recognized him discovered she couldn’t imitate that, she would be discovered. She remembered the glowshroom from before and began focusing the bioluminescence in her empty hand. Her hand glowed violet, which was another dead give away. She looked to the other glowshroom, seeing red and orange hues. She brushed her hand against one, shaving off some molecules. The glow changed to a bright fiery orange. She focused, and brightened it, making it appear as a sphere of bright orange light in her palm.
The other flunkies made no comment on her testing, not drawing any attention to it. She appreciated the subtle touches.
“This way, boys!” She bellowed using Borscha’s voice.
The flunkies all fell in line, keeping up.
As they weaved around the winding road, the glowshrooms began to open up, their density decreasing in volume.
The center must be completely packed with glowshrooms.
There they caught a glimpse of a smaller figure, around five feet in height. He had darker green skin, clothed in slacks with suspenders and a collared shirt. He had large black mutton chops and black hair spilling out from his bowler. In his hand was an ornate pipe, gently billowing smoke. He was sitting among the glowshrooms, lounging.
“Top’of’the’wake to ya, Borscha,” The creature greeted with a very heavy sing-song accent. He sported a smug smile. The tone was less of a greeting and more of a challenge.
Maw turned, immediately recognizing the creature.
Basil, the Hogboon. To Borscha, he was an irritating creature, prone to verbal jousting.
“Basil,” Maw said, imitating Borscha’s sour temperament to the creature.
“Was’tha matter, goin’ to ge’your comeuppons again? The spider licke’ you twice already, no’use getting a thir’.” Basil said with a chuckle.
Maw had difficulty understanding the strange creature. As did Borscha in the past.
He breathed in deep on the pipe, blowing out a cloudy billow. He wound up, ready to speak at breakneck speeds.
“Hah, a licking? Mosshead! We’re huntin’. I has no use for a mosshead spider and frumpin’ webs. The smoke’s gon to your head!” Maw replied, taking on his character of banter.
“Ah huntin’, goo’ excuse. Huntin’ for wha’? Your malehood after it droppe’ off?” Basil fired back, blowing another billow of sweet smoke.
Maw felt the anger welling up as she ground her shark teeth. Borscha really didn’t like Basil.
“Shut it, Hogboon! We’re huntin’ for more boys.”
“I doubt’it. That woul’ mean countin’. You always struggle pas’ the firs’han’.” Basil fired back.
This is the part where Borscha would attack.
She steamed, pretending to have no other counters as she sauntered off with the flunkies.
“Nice trick with the glow. You sure you’re Borscha?” The Hogboon fired off from behind their backs. The Hogboon had narrowed his eyes.
Maw’s heartbeat skipped.
Did he know? Maw thought at lightspeed, trying for an excuse.
She knew in the past that Borscha never laid a hit on Basil. Even with greater numbers. She went through what Borscha knew of Hogboons. They were an offshoot of a goblin, focused mostly in the fae magical realm. They were confusing, befuddling, and downright frustrating.
Basil was suddenly standing in front of Borscha, off to the side.
“Wha’s’the matter? Guesse’ righ’? You’re a very strange creature,” Basil began.
“Shut it, mosshead. I’ll bash ya good!” Maw said, attempting to deflect.
“I mean, is’a goo’ imitation. The glow gave it away, as di’ your lack of- you know– tossing a heaping of fire at me as a hello.”
Maw stopped, her muscles tensing. Basil stood there composed.
“Also, is’no’just that. Is’the smell. An’the feelin’. You fel’off the secon’ I sense’ you.”
“Now. What’are’ya? And wha’happen’ to ol’ Borscha?”
Maw felt undone. Her disguise was perfect, but she had no way of fooling this magical being’s eyes as she now discovered. She gauged Basil’s power and found hers lacking in comparison. If she struck, even with her lightning burst speed, she doubted she would do little more than miss.
Maw looked down, pondering her next move. Basil looked on smugly.
Maw saw another choice. Instead of a battle of combat, she would try the battle of the hearts and minds.
She pondered what she could do, looking at the creatures she had absorbed. Finding a particular form that would suit the situation.
Borscha’s flesh began to shift and flow, the armor falling to a pile. The flunkies all stood there, staring vacantly as if someone switched them off.
Basil’s eyes widened at that, seeing what should have been Borscha had now become something else. Hogboon’s were no strangers to shapeshifting fae, the difference was that this was biological, and not magical.
“Diniel have mercy!” Basil shouted, stepping back.
She was tiny, standing at a foot in height, peeking over the pile of armor. She struggled to get over the pile, stumbling to the stoney ground. She was covered in fur, resembling her foxcatmole self. She had two yellow eyes. She looked fragile, weak, and unfortunate. Her neck was furry, in an attempt to hide the brand.
“I’m not sure what to say,” She began, her voice a whisper.
“If I ha’a’sorry a face as you, I’d shapeshif’ too.” Basil said in wonder, kneeling down to meet her at eye level.
“Those Trows, Borscha, tried to turn me into a coat. So I ate him. I didn’t want to, he just gave me no choice,” Maw spoke, her voice shaky and pitched like a child’s.
“Eatin’ someone in self defense, tha’sa new one. How’s tha’work?”
“Being honest with Fae is wise. I sense they can tell.”
Intended that from the start, but thank you. Maw responded internally to the suddenly appearing voice.
“Well, I’m not sure, but when I eat someone I then become them,” Maw explained.
Basil got up and took a step back. He eyed her with caution.
“Don’t worry, I don’t want to hurt anyone. I’m just lost.”
“Where’ya come from?”
“I think the surface. I don’t remember anything before. Or what I am, exactly,” Maw continued. She felt honesty was the best policy. If this creature could sense magic, he may be able to sense lies.
“And wha’about the trows- you know- behin’ you,” Basil said as he gestured to the other vacant Trows.
“I can either devour something or turn them into pawns,” She explained.
The other Trows broke down in horrific fashion, flowing as flesh slime to Maw’s feet. She absorbed them, leaving their clothing and gear.
“Cave’in’on’me’head! They’were all you?”
“Yes…” Maw said with a murmur, playing it up.
“Hmmm… You don’ remember anythin’ before comin’ down here. You ate Borscha- res’in peace you langa’- which means your tough’as’nails,” Basil began.
“Tha’means only one thing.”
“You’re a newborn!”
Maw was surprised by the strange hogboon’s lack of fear. A possible power gap, but in whose favor?
“Aye! We’ll nee’ to see Diniel.”
“Diniel -you know- the Angel of Lineage- blesser of newborns- He’s in charge of protectin’ all the children’ in Underrealm!”
“Angel?” Maw asked, thoroughly confused.
“Think of- well he is- a divine creature. Kingdom of heaven stuff tha’is!” Basil said hurriedly.
“Come on, we’re goin’!” Basil said as he started walking back to the center of the mycelium, pipe crooked under his armpit.
Maw didn’t like the idea of being displayed to a divine creature. She preferred to be skulking in the shadow. She followed, not wanting to spoil what she worked for.
“An’don’you worry, your secret’s safe with me,” Basil said, wiggling his bowler.
“No’poin’in bein’ a shapeshifter if everyone knows,” Basil added.
“Thank you. I only need a little bit of their DNA. A hair, a fleck of skin. I don’t need to completely devour something to gain their form. I just had to fight for my life against Borscha.”
Basil turn around walking backward as he took off his hat, placing it against his heart.
“Ah ol’ Borscha, the shtate. Mess’with a… “
Basil paused his eulogy at that.
“Oi lassy, was’your name?”
Basil nodded sagely at that and continued.
“Poor ol’ Borscha, was a miserable shtate. Messe’with Maw, he then met his fate. She then fel’so bad, of havin’ to clad, the skin of the trow she just ate!” Basil sang with a chuckle at his own limerick.
Maw perked up at that, letting out a soft laugh. Maybe isolation wasn’t the best option.
He tapped his long roman nose at that, cupping the bowler back on his head.
“Now’if only I ha’a moonbeam ale, we’hav’a proper drink in memory of our dear frien’,” Basil added snidely.
Basil walked to the center, with Maw in tow.
He mumbled as he did a circuit around the center. Maw following along, not sure what to expect.
Ah, here it is,” Basil announced as he walked right through the base of a large glowshroom.
Maw gawked at that.
“Basil? Where are you?”
“Come’along lassy. Just hop in,” A disembodied sing-song voice spoke.
She poked where the glowshroom should have been, but felt a strange tingling as her finger passed through. She walked through, feeling no worse for ware.
Basil stood in front of her, tapping his nose with a sly grin.
“Fae magic. Very tricky it is.”
They walked along on the inside of the glowshroom, the veins of the fungus glowed with orange light.
“Did it hurt it to carve a cavern?” Maw asked, feeling the walls.
“Nah, a Root Twiner di’the work. She- or he- even ask’permission of the glowshroom.” Basil explained.
“What do you mean he or she?”
“Well tha’s the thing, they’re a bundle of roots- how can you tell from a bundle of roots- they don’ speak often. So he or she.” Basil concluded.
“Root Twiner…” Maw murmured the name.
“Aye, they use powerful plant-base’ magic. Tha’sodd you have no magic. I’d expecte’ someone like you to have some.”
Maw was silent at that. She had piles of questions and no way of answering.
“Aye is’alrigh’. Diniel will set thin’s righ’.”
“I hope so. I’m not sure of anything.” Maw added.
The cavern of fungus was long and narrow, with the lights changing depending in which glowshroom you occupied. There was no gap in between as if the fungus had all grown and fused together. Something like that may have taken eons.
“Why are you helping me?” Maw asked.
“Because you don’ have bad intentions. You’were hones’ with me; a bit a innocence. And you gave tha’ shtate Borscha a goo’heapin’beatin’!” Basil said, smiling at that last bit getting into a boxer’s pose.
The fungus cavern opened up to reveal a grove with a large stone shrine in the center.
It looked like a small white stone church of gothic make.
“Aye, here we are.”
“You are now in the shrine of Diniel, the Angel of Lineage. Any an’ all infants receive his protection. Those that go after his wards meet swift punishmen’,” Basil explained.
Maw saw many different creatures, some were green, waddling on stumpy limbs. Others were beasts, or fae folk. Some were moving plant sprouts, while others appeared as wisps of elements. She stared in awe of the strange and beautiful creatures.
Many of the more spiritual based creatures shuddered at Maw and backed away. Some were visibly distressed.
“What’s wrong?” Maw asked.
“As I sai’- You’re’a strange one,” Basil explained cryptically.
Basil led the way to the shrine with the other spiritual beings giving her a wide berth. They entered the shrine seeing a large mass of creatures inside. There in the center was the angel Diniel. Maw could not look away from his glory.
He was clothed in silver armor plated robes, draped in a white stole vestment with gold patterns. He had four arms, two of which were twisted braidings made of silver that wrapped around his shoulders like a mantle. His hand had two index fingers, two middle fingers, and two thumbs in balanced symmetry. He held in one of his four hands a long silver scepter, adorned with a symbol of a lamb. He had a featureless curved face with a wide flat chin. A small tongue of white flame flickered above his head. A hazy halo of blue eclipsed behind his head. He had wings made of scaled plated silver.
He was knelt down, blessing a newborn with his scepter.
The angel’s head snapped to Maw and she felt a massive pressure against her, bringing her to her knees.
The angel addressed everyone in the shrine with a tap of his scepter as he stood at his full seven and a half feet height.
“Please, leave us. Basil has brought a guest, I would speak to them alone.” The angel ordered. The adults and children left, leaving behind a near-empty shrine.
“Come,” The angel ordered, his voice was soft but firm, like the soft canopy of a tree with hard branches beneath.
“I am Diniel, Angel of Lineage, guardian of the Underrealm and to the infants therin,” Diniel introduced himself.
Maw hesitantly made her way to the angel, seeing his face had not left hers since she came in.
“Basil, why did you bring this ancient being here?” The angel inquired.
Basil took off his bowler and addressed the angel respectfully.
“M’lor’ Diniel, This is Maw. I foun’her wanderin’ the roads, los’ and confuse’. She has little memory. I am asking tha’she receive your blessin’.”
“Do you understand she is not an infant?” Diniel began, gesturing to Maw.
“I ha’only assume’ she was new, as she -you know- has little memory of her past.
The angel turned fully to address Maw.
“Maw. Two things about you are false. Your form. Please show me your true form,” Diniel commanded.
This was not optional.
The power emanated from Diniel was not just a show of power. She felt he was holding back.
She turned to Basil, almost wishing she had run.
“I’m sorry,” She said, the regret evident in her tone.
Her flesh flowed like water, growing to a large mound. The fleshy slime formed into a large terrifying beast, seven feet tall at a hunch with long limbs and a massive quill mane. Her long and narrow bestial face had golden eyes with four pointed irises. This was her ravager form.
Basil backed away, concern etched on his face. Then knowing.
“Basil. I’m sorry. This was the form I woke up in. I thought If you saw me like this, you would have attacked me, just like Borscha,” Maw stated, justifying herself. Her voice changed to a deep feral pitch.
“That is not your true form,” Diniel stated.
Maw snapped her head back to the angel confusion etched on her face.
“What do you mean?”
“That this is not your true form. This is not the form you had in the past,” Diniel repeated himself.
“I have the ability to see your lineage, to see the paths you have taken. You were not always like this. Someone has changed you.”
“What happened to me?” Maw retorted, her muzzle pulling back.
“The details are like a fog bank, I can see only glimpses. Someone else has removed the details. That would mean their power is unmistakable,“ The angel explained.
Basil placed his hat back on, looking to Maw with deep concern.
“To not only change you but to also shroud the processes by which they did.”
The angel stepped in close, feeling her neck with his hands.
She almost snapped at him on instinct but resisted.
“You are a Seal holder. There is little wonder why you have been caught up in this trouble.”
“Seal… Holder?” Maw asked, gazing at eye level with the angel.
“That is the Seal of my Lord, the Seal of the Tetragrammaton. This allows you to have my Lord’s power and authority. In this case, it was given to you with the identity of The Matron. To care for others with a motherly love, an enduring strength that resists and overpowers any that aggress your children. It is fortuitous we, in particular, have met.” Diniel explained, gesturing to himself.
“Why?” Maw asked. She absently scratched at her Seal.
“Because a matron has a lineage.”
“I occupy the Angelic Realm of Time, the Realm of Ancestry, the Realm of Blessings, the Realm of Protection, and the Realm of Knowledge. Together they all make up who I am; the Angel of Lineage.
“Now, I will draw out your powers in the hopes of returning some of your memories,” Diniel explained.
The Angel paused, cocking his head.
“Whatever has happened, I sense the lineages of thousands of souls inside of you,” Diniel added.
“Yeah, I’was gunna ask, wha’ happn’ to Borscha’s mote? You know- when you ate him,” Basil asked, scratching idly at his head.
“I don’t know, I guess I picked them up. I could remember his memories, as if he lived inside of me,” Maw explained, narrowing her eyes at the thought.
“Diniel have mercy!” Basil said with raised eyebrows.
Diniel glanced back at the Hogboon.
“I guess’I’was wrong abou’you. You do have magic, a different sor’.”
“What is it?”
“You’re a Soul Cairn.”
“And what is that?”
“It is what happens when one has absolute depletion. Their Somatheonic self breaks down, collapsing into a soul mote. A Soul Cairn allows one, usually a divine or demonic being, to manipulate and store these souls.”
“In your case, you not only devour their flesh but their memories,” Diniel explained.
“And that brings me to the second falsehood.”
Diniel went in and touched Maw on her forehead.
“Yes… Your name is not Maw. It is…” He paused, getting close to her.
Basil held his breath, as did Maw.
The name rang in her head, causing her to stumble back. Something clicked in her head, like the sudden outpouring of a rockslide, with all the pain of being struck by one. She fell to the floor with a bestial wailing.
The voice spoke gently in her head, calming her.
“Do not resist. You need to remember.”
The voice spoke again in her head as she fell to the ground, stars floating in front of her eyes.
Ruth felt her new name, Maw, fall away like chaff. Her old name returned.
What happened to me? Ruth asked herself as her world went dark.