Once the Flagrant Swordmaidens agreed to the invitation, nine of the exobeasts along with their beast riders plodded back into Mulak.
The city gates winched open, allowing the large creatures with Hokaz at the lead to return to their seat of power.
Naeduvis and Pirisa stayed behind to accompany the two groups of five sent out by the Vandals and the Swordmaidens.
All of them grew more apprehensive as they approached the huge and tall exobeast.
Its dark blue coloring had faded a little after the duel, but the creature still radiated a sense of formless pressure around its old and terribly powerful body.
Pirisa glanced at the armored forms of the visitors in fascination, paying a lot more attention to the Swordmaidens who adorned their armor with tribal trappings.
Pirisa for her part wore a simple dress made out of woven fabric and decorated her appearance with various metal jewelry including an exquisitely crafted circlet over her head.
The beast rider for her part looked beautiful and acted like a queen.
Her mixed heritage had given her a rich brown skin and her silky black hair had been put up in an elaborate bun that enhanced her stature.
I am Pirisa, the Gatekeeper of the River of Souls.
As a chosen of Naeduvis, we govern the life and death of every subject in Mulak.
Within our domain, you must remember that you live at the pleasure of our sacred gods.
If you offend Hokaz or Naeduvis, then nothing will save you from their wrath despite any assurances that we have made.
Therefore, do not offend the dignity of our sacred gods!
We understand. Captain Clarissa replied smoothly.
We respect the sovereignty and dignity of your sacred gods, though please forgive us for worshipping other entities.
We are strangers to these lands and your gods.
Would you please provide us with an introduction
Naeduvis suddenly released a low roar.
The low sound waves shook the ground and caused the Vandals and Swordmaidens to feel as if they ran through a malfunctioning sonic shower.
Naeduvis is pleased with your interest! She is happy to allow me to regale you with the majesty of our pantheon! Pirisa perked up.
Whether she understood the intentions of her exobeast through her roars or through an ongoing man-beast connection, nobody knew.
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Considering the fate of every spy drone the Vandals attempted to send near the beasts or into the city, these natives didn\'t seem as helpless against advanced technology as everyone had initially thought.
Activating any devices might get picked up by the scary creature who handedly outmassed a heavy mech.
Ves did not want to find out what would happen if one of its limbs stomped down on his head.
Let me start with the beginning. The beast rider said as they slowly walked towards the western gate of the city.
Naeduvis turned out to be surprisingly thoughtful and matched its pace to the visitors on foot.
Mulak is an ancient city that was founded by our ancestors in a time before our sacred gods descended from the vault of the gods.
It is the center of these wastes and home to several ancient treasures.
Many gods and men covet what we have claimed for ourselves, but none have fought against our sacred gods and won!
The group hardly made any progress towards the city gates.
They probably could have reached it by now if the visitors stepped on top of Naeduvis, but the sacred god probably didn\'t appreciate being ridden by strangers.
Hokaz is not the first sacred god who has ruled these wastes.
Many cycles before the time of my birth, our majestic god-king has challenged the sacred god who used to claim these lands! He easily won against the old and decrepit god, claiming all of the fallen\'s god crystals as his spoils! After driving off the weak sacred gods that have pledged to serve old god, Hokaz has claimed the title of Tyrant of the Wastes and attracted other sacred gods under his godly domain.
The way Pirisa referred to the exobeasts as gods left little doubt of her belief in their divinity.
She sounded genuinely respectful of them as entities beyond the reach of mortals!
Ves still couldn\'t figure out if the exobeasts like Hokaz or Naeduvis called the shots or not.
Were they actually sentient to the point where they exerted total control over the city and the surrounding lands
The Flagrant Swordmaidens preferred to believe that the beast riders only claimed to speak on behalf of the sacred gods, using their influence over the exobeasts as badges of authority.
Such an alternative sounded a lot more reassuring than dealing with thinking exobeasts that exhibited the intelligence of humans but remained affected by the instincts of beasts!
Naeduvis here pledged allegiance to Hokaz first after he bested her in ritual combat! Impressed with her godly powers, Hokaz also claimed Naeduvis as his mate more than ten cycles ago.
Since then, Hokaz has ruled the wastes as its god-king while Naeduvis rules over the ancient city of Mulak as its god-matriarch! So has our pantheon thrived from then.
The sacred union of Hokaz and Naeduvis has blessed us with three godly offspring, while five more gods have acknowledged Hokaz as their king and ruler!
How long is a cycle Captain Orfan asked.
She hadn\'t quite bought into the entire tale.
To her, the exobeasts were anything but gods.
They were merely overgrown lizards or creatures with a few extra tricks up their sleeves.
Once the Flagrant Swordmaidens figured out how they performed their metaphysical abilities, she had nothing to fear from these giant animals.
A cycle is a cycle.
I cannot explain to you what a cycle is.
All I can say that I have lived for four-and-a-half cycles.
A cycle is probably a local year. Ves concluded and performed a quick calculation in his mind.
One year on Aeon Corona VII lasts for 3249 days.
That\'s almost nine standard years.
Therefore, Pirisa is thirty-five years old!
The woman in question frowned at their use of unfamiliar terminology.
She looked a little older than thirty-five years old actually, but the Vandals and Swordmaidens chalked it up to their harsher living conditions.
Pirisa picked up her story again.
These lands may seem desolate and devoid of life, but the ancient city has managed to stand aloft due to its many treasures.
The coming of Naeduvis has invigorated Mulak and restored it to its prime! As the Life Giver, Naeduvis has generously enriched the city she rules over with the bounty of her godly powers.
While our sacred god has taken plenty of life, she is primarily known for giving them to our grateful subjects.
Seeing that Pirisa acted amiable enough to answer questions, Captain Byrd tried to encourage their friendly exchange by asking another question.
Naeduvis provides Mulak with access to water
Mulak has always been able to provide for its people, but only for a portion. The beast rider corrected.
Once Naeduvis lent her power, none of our subjects lack for water or food.
Our surplus is the envy of these lands, as we are able to feed the appetite of ten sacred gods!
It sounded like Hokaz was the warrior who kept their kingdom safe while Naeduvis served as the dutiful wife at home who caused their household to prosper.
Both of them excelled at different aspects, and their synergy was a match made in heaven.
From the orbital mapping by their fleet, The Flagrant Swordmaidens knew that most ancient cities settled next to rivers or rich lands surrounded by farms.
They expected these cities to be the most formidable ones to approach and perhaps the least friendly against visitors from the stars.
The Flagrant Swordmaidens thought that A27 or Mulak was one of the weakest settlements on Aeon Corona VII, but obviously they misjudged.
The arrival of a sacred god with the power to summon water from beneath the ground changed everything for Mulak, causing it to host a lot more people than it used to be able to provide!
Has Naeduvis chosen other people before you Ves asked the question that had been budding in his mind for some time.
According to Pirisa, Naeduvis hooked up with Hokaz several hundred standard years before.
The creature was so old that it was impossible for Pirisa to be alive back then!
She has chosen many people before my time.
I am part of a long line of supplicants who Naeduvis has found worthy to share some of her divinity in exchange for acting as her representative to her subjects! The beast rider answered with pride.
The rest of the supplicants that Naeduvis has passed over have still earned the right to tend to her needs.
It is an honor for them to wash her scales, bring over her food and clean up after her waste.
If Naeduvis finds me unworthy to serve as her mortal representative, then she will select her next chosen among her many supplicants.
Ves wondered how many of those \'supplicants\' turn out to be potentates, and if Naeduvis and the other sacred gods expressly seek out that potential.
The natives might have lost the means to test for genetic aptitude, as detectors that looked out for those markers were fairly complex machines.
By now, they had finally reached the open gate.
The double doors had been retracted by a large number of slaves in complicated mechanism that wouldn\'t look out of place in a historical drama!
The lack of powered motors suggested that the natives had slid back enormously during their isolation from the outside galaxy.
Even after thousands of years had passed under accelerated time, they hadn\'t regained their old base of knowledge nor developed it on their own!
That was clearly abnormal!
Captain Clarissa quickly shushed the men and women from mentioning the backwardness of the ancient city.
Telling Pirisa and her sacred god what a crappy place her city looked like would probably provoke the big beast.
The inhabitants of the city had come up to the wide streets to stare at the strange visitors and their outlandish-looking armor.
None of the inhabitants or beast riders wore any form of armor.
All of them wore a measure of basic clothes that could have been woven by simple low-tech textile machines.
In general, most of the locals didn\'t seem so different from the low-class laborers from planets like Bentheim.
They looked poor but fairly content with their lot.
Ves mainly distinguished them from the more affluent population by how fancy their clothes looked like and much jewelry they wore.
A small number of men and women stood apart and sometimes surrounded themselves with guards armed with sticks.
Ves mentally classified them as part of the middle class of Mulak.
Unlike the lower class who regarded the visitors with fear and superstition, the middle class looked at them with cautious hope, as if the entry of the newcomers might lead to opportunities to enrich themselves.
The tall metal structures dominating the main avenue looked even more rusted and worn up close.
Ves even spotted marks which used to be damaged but had been patched over with different sheets of metal.
This city must have survived several attacks over the span of its long life.
Nobody knew for certain when this city had been founded.
The most extreme estimates put its at almost three-thousand years, which was closely after the time the Starlight Megalodon had crashlanded on Aeon Corona VII.
Perhaps the initial survivors had been farsighted enough to recognize that they needed to settle this planet for the long term, and used their surviving vehicles and machines to settle the fifty-odd cities that existed to today.
That still didn\'t explain why the descendants of the initial survivors settled more lands outside of the cities.
This planet was big enough to accommodate a thousand times more cities without any of them encroaching on each other\'s territories, so why did they remain so sparse all this time
Ves and the rest hoped to hear the answer to this question soon.