Every week, we’re going to post some new fiction for you to devour and read, with original art as a header, and then a collected version for purchase from our store when the book is complete. Questions? Comments? The writers are right here, and they’ll respond as they’re able.
– 03:00:01:03 –
Figo Jera vomited into the basin that Jesam had left in his chamber.
The Coeecian warlord had claimed the keep that Figo had been put in charge of when he had claimed Figo, leaving thousands of Vanir to die in a raven’s feast. He had issued a challenge and Figo had accepted, not noticing until after their weapons were locked that Jesam was not tired, was not wounded, was entirely rested. Figo had been battling all day, one duel after another, winning all of them – he had been flushed with his own strength and skill, so certain of victory, and Jesam had used that as a weapon against him.
Now, bound by his own honor, he was a prisoner among Coeecians. The only ally left to Figo was one of the ambassadors from House Suwilo, and that man was not even Vanir but some refugee from a far off nation, a fox that walked like and wore the face of a man. Farrell, the creature was called. Figo had never suspected him to be anything other than Vanir. He had been spared as a curiosity and now served as Jesam’s personal healer, his talents reserved only for Figo and Jesam himself.
After Jesam had taken him for the first time the Coeecian had looked deep into Figo’s eyes, smiled, and told him I do not love you.
Figo had wanted to fight, had wanted to scream. He did not know how long he had been kept, did not know how often he was pampered and proven weak by his savage Coeecian captors. They had handed him one of their practice blades and offered him escape if he could merely fight past them, had let him believe he was so close before a single blow to his back had rendered him incapable of movement. Jesam had driven into him that night, whispering mine mine mine over and over again while biting at his ear.
The healer had slaved over him for what seemed an eternity after that, stitching severed muscles together, teaching Figo how to use his arms again. His strength slowly returned but his confidence was shattered and there was a pain that never truly let him be, but he was alive and this was not the worst of what befell him.
No, no, the worst was his growing affection for the warlord that abused him at a whim, who displayed him like a jewel, who expected absolute obedience and offered him nothing in return save lesser abuses. Whenever Figo showed the slightest bit of resistance, Jesam would have him punished before taking him roughly, finally leaving the little lord to the wandering hands of Farrell.
The fox did what he could to ease the many pains of body and soul, but as one day bled into another Figo felt himself growing more and more distant. At first he was alarmed to realize that he wasn’t thinking for himself so much anymore, but even that sense of wrongness faded due to apathy. He sighed and accepted his lot, eyes downcast, listening to fewer conversations and not attempting to make any of his own, accepting the fate that had taken him.
He did not even react when he learned that Farrell had seduced Jesam and that the two of them were lovers. The fox never offered any excuses, becoming slightly abusive when dealing with Figo’s hurts. Figo barely noticed, becoming more and more the possession that Jesam saw him as.
Some things penetrated the haze that claimed his mind. As he knelt beside Jesam’s throne, the warlord’s fingers running through his hair, he learned a little of the Coeecian tongue, just enough to follow the gist of various conversations – but his understanding came too late in his captivity for him to do anything more than attempt to listen.
The Coeecians had rebuilt Jesam’s keep and were using it to do exactly what their betters had once done: stage raids outside of Ashaewulo’sabberkena while holding their ground inside it. Thus far no one had been able to take it from them. Jesam would sometimes toy with him during these meetings, and would beat him whenever a setback was suffered, hurting Figo in place of his people.
Figo could do nothing about any of this.
Jesam’s gentility was reserved more and more for Farrell, the scant care and attention that Figo received becoming ever more rare. Even Farrell’s kindness became more a mockery than anything that Figo could truly rely upon. He began to fear that he perhaps deserved this treatment, his sense of personhood melting into nothingness. The Vanir that came to try and defeat him were inevitably beaten back and Jesam used Figo as a sign of his dominance, presenting the fallen noble with every victory he claimed.
When it was said that a noble from some far off House was coming, Figo did not pay much attention. However, he did pay attention to the messenger, a tall and handsome figure dressed in blue robes, his hair and eyes as dark as coal, his feathered wings blacker than the darkest night. He sang instead of spoke, warning Jesam of what was coming. When Jesam offered Figo as an amusement, the beautiful stranger claimed him and toyed with him, but when Figo whispered the name of the coming noble the stranger spread his wings and fled.
Figo could have sworn he’d seen fear in those dark eyes.
Time passed. Figo could not have guessed how much. Though his House was obsessed with the ebb and flow of time and the passing of the seasons, he so rarely saw the sun or felt fresh air on his naked skin. Time passed and he was kept. Then, one day, the promised noble came.
Jesam had Figo brought out in chains, making him kneel before the warlord’s throne. He looked out at the assembled Vanir forces, armies from Houses Gebo, Elhaz, Wynn, and Jera, all assembled in a line and waiting. A single woman was pushed forward from their ranks. She had wild hair and even wilder eyes looking out from a gaunt face. She might have been pretty had she put in the effort, but it was clear from the annoyance she wore like clothing that she had better things to do. It took him a long moment to recognize the non-sigil of House Wyrd, a distant nobility that kept to themselves.
This lone noble had brought no army with her, stood alone without fear between the Vanir armies and the Coeecian horde. She looked at the wall, sizing it up, the levl at her hip an uncomfortable weight, the glove on her hand something that Figo had never seen before. She felt Jesam stiffen, heard his cruel laughter as he sized the woman up and found her lacking.
“This is their hope?” The words were a muttered threat, the sign he gave his ritualists something that Figo had seen before. He felt sorry for the woman, for the doom that was about to assault her. The ritualists would take a minute, perhaps two, and then unleash forces unlike anything the woman could possibly deal with by herself. Figo managed to raise his eyes and caught the woman’s stare and froze.
Her eyes were hazel and without bottom. There was a mania there, a passion and genius that bordered on insanity that could not be withstood, could not be tamed, could only just be channeled into something that was nearly comprehensible. The moment the Coeecian magicians started their rites the woman smiled and met Figo’s eyes, the insanity there promising more than Figo could have dared to hope.
Moments before the ritualists unleashed their power the woman raised her gloved hand, speaking a word that Figo could not hear while slashing through the air. Light trailed after the glove, carving an etching into the world before her. Lightning gathered above her, called forth by the Coeecian shamans, a pillar of electricity that seared the breath of the world as it raced down towards her and split the earth around her – but the etching held and the lightning, the very fist of some mighty god that the Coeecians had called forth, shattered the land around her while letting her be.
Her laughter as the Coeecians and Vanir stared at her was full of a terrible madness.
She began carving the air once more and even Figo could feel the power that gathered in her hand, a power that should have been impossible to constrain in such a short time. Figo heard Jesam gasp and step back as the woman spread her fingers, a hurricane’s exhalation smashing into the earth and pushing it up, up, up into the stones of the wall, rocking the boulders, pushing them into the air and destroying the wall entirely. All this damage wrought by a single woman with her glove. She smiled as two nations stared at her in horror.
The woman drew her levl and began to walk forth.
Jesam shouted a battlecry, his people following his lead. The Vanir answered, two armies rushing forth on the battlefield, two entire nations forming a circle of quiet around the woman as she continued to walk directly to the place where Jesam still stood and Figo knelt.
He called forth all the powers he could muster on short notice, wind and rain and lightning, but the walking woman ignored them all with a casual disdain. No Coeecian stepped in her way, the war between Coeecian and Vanir funnelled into the conflict between warlord and stranger.
When the woman was sixty feet away, Jesam drew his sword and screamed a challenge to duel. The woman smiled and accepted, carving her strange signs in the air, signs that could be seen one heartbeat and were gone the next. Jesam was a seasoned warrior, a ritualist who knew his way around a blade. The woman looked as if she had only just learned to hold her levl properly, like it had been shoved into her hands as the battle began.
Jesam attacked. The woman’s block was clumsy but it left her safe. Her attacks lacked all skill but still she penetrated Jesam’s defenses, surprising him as her left hand carved her strange etchings into the air. The look in her eyes said there could be no other outcome than this, that she would attack and attack and attack and that there was nothing that anyone could do to stop the woman from winning.
He died eventually, his wounds boring him down, blood leaking out of him as the light left his eyes. Figo remembered the look of the woman, the perfect clarity of her. Her stance, her technique, all implied a lack of skill that should have been her end, but she stood victorious with not a scratch on her. She knelt beside Figo and held him, just held him.
“Are you alright?” she asked. Figo did not know how to respond, not remembering when he had last been given leave to speak. “It’s going to be okay now. You’re safe.” There was something in her eyes, some spark of compassion that Figo knew surprised them both. He fell into her arms, holding her while a war raged around them, the Coeecians calling retreat as they realized their warlord was dead.
More is coming next week. If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people.