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.
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– 03:00:02:09 –
Endrall tended to the wounded. It was what he did out on the front lines, far from where his father’s long shadow would drape over him. He worked under an assumed name and though some of the nobility he tended to recognized him, they respected his desire to remain incognito. He was there when the survivors from every battle came round; he was there when the Coeecians pushed forward with a large invasive swarm. The other lords barely discussed strategy with him, telling him that healers had enough to think about what with all the healing, but he snuck into a couple of their discussions anyway.
Veskur had taught him how to lurk unnoticed in the background.
He tried not to think about Veskur too much.
Life was difficult but good. He had lost the weight of Sotaas weighing him down; the Wanderer of Ygg had consistently missed the obvious, and had proven to be much less interesting than Veskur had insisted he was. He’d gone into Ygg lands a handful of times to collect old things, but none of the faltering nobles there seemed to know where Sotaas had gone. Not that Endrall cared. He just felt it was good to feign an interest in Sotaas’ well-being. He knew the nobles of Ygg were too stupid to recognize his performance for what it was – had he actually cared, well, he might have done more than simply ask after him.
It was arguments with his father over Sotaas that had finally driven Endrall out, arguments about Sotaas and Veskur. He didn’t want to discuss either with anyone but people kept bringing them up relentlessly, as if either of them were worth talking about outside of their relationships with him. It was frustrating. It was intolerable.
Veskur kept sending him missives, begging to be allowed back near him. He looked at them with the amusement they deserved and watched as she tried to mend the damage that lay between them. He insulted her and she flinched, saying nothing like the pathetic toy she was. Endrall kept her around on his terms, showing her the occasional flash of affection before insulting her thoroughly and reminding her of just how utterly without worth she was.
She deserved such treatment. Both of them knew it. Neither ever stopped to wonder why.
The only problem with Veskur was that occasionally she would stand up for herself, or express her feelings – as if her emotive state was something that Endrall was supposed to care about.
“You treat me like an ailing pet!” she would wail, staring up at him.
“I hate when you say that.” He did not deny the truth of her words. “I hate you.” He loved the hurt in her eyes. All he wanted, all he ever wanted, was for his favorite toy to be silent and accept whatever he chose to give her.
He ignored her most of the time. When he felt bad he went to her and she made him feel better, explaining anything, justifying his every want. She was wise in any way that was not immediately related to her, able to see and explain connections and events with a clarity that always amazed, and yet she was unable to do so much as walk into a room without doing something wrong or breaching some bit of protocol. She was an embarrassment, really, a connection that Endrall sometimes felt ashamed of in ways that he would never express or admit.
However, after he had finally grown tired of her pathetic begging and the ceaseless questions about her that others asked, well, then he had left the world he knew behind and entered the world he had been groomed for all his life. The work was difficult, yes, but he made real headway. There were nobles that knew his face and not his name, nobles that sought him out and spoke of him and owed him so much. They trusted him with their lives and their hearts and he healed both, soothing their hurts and calming the raging demons that sang within their veins.
It was Figo Jera that brought things to a head for him. Lovely Figo, one of the most successful of the Vanir Lords, one of the warriors that held the line on the killing fields of south and west Midgard. Endrall had made his way there only gradually, not knowing what to expect and not truly caring – what would be would be, and he was not trying to control his destiny so much as letting himself drift and learn from wherever his path took him.
Figo was holding a rocky cliff that was covered in brambles and thorns. In more peaceful times, those thickets would flower into a cascading fall of roses, daffodils, and ivies, but now those plants were trampled underfoot as men and the barbarians that assailed them made war. This cliff was widely considered an indefensible position by the entire host of the nobility, but here Figo was, holding it, keeping it safe, keeping the Coeecian mass out.
Losses were heavy. House Suwilo was already spread thin, the three lines borne of the House cast all across the borders of Midgard. Endrall could have ended up anywhere among the Vanir armies but he had ended up here and Figo had recognized him and retained him as a personal healer, respecting his desire for secrecy in public and granting them moments to satiate their hungers in private. They clung to one another, whispering secrets to one another.
Endrall wondered what circumstances would be required to destroy Figo utterly.
Figo wept sometimes when Endrall was holding him, clinging back with a painful strength. Endrall allowed this, stroking the general’s hair and whispering in his ear, calming him, offering solace as only those of House Suwilo could. Figo accepted this comfort and flung all the harder, desperate for even the smallest measurement of comfort.
“What is it?” Endrall would ask, when the sobs had left Figo and he had regained a measure of calm. “What is it that strikes you?”
“It’s just…,” Figo would pause, his grey eyes growing distant as his gaze turned to the gaurn on his hand. “You know what it’s like. What she’s like.”
“All too well.”
“I can’t help but wonder what I could have accomplished without the tool she gave me, but more than that, well, do you know what she can do? Yes? I wonder how many of my victories are mine, how many of the choices I’ve made were truly meant for me. I wonder if she’s influencing me even now, violating everything that I might ever choose to be or become.”
“And this upsets you?”
“It makes everything that makes me – me – invalid! There’s nothing I can do, no choice I can make, nothing that I will ever be that has not been defined or chosen by her! She’s ruined me, ruined me, and there’s no way to know if I’m right or wrong because even if I were to ask her I know she would lie to me, I know it.”
Endrall was all too aware of how often Veskur said she never lied.
“You could just walk away from everything.”
“I could never do that.” Figo licked his lips. “I could never do that. I could never walk away or put down my levl and gaurn and let them overtake me. There’s nothing in me or in who I am that would ever let me make that decision, which only raises the question of whether it’s me or something that she put in me.
“How much of who I am is who I might have been? How much that I have accomplished is actually mine? Even if she only did it once that would make me fundamentally different, because every decision that I would have made afterwards would have been predicated on the decision or the outcome that she made sure would come to pass. She’s violated everything that might ever define me – my will, my choices, my life. She’s violated me on such a fundamental level and there’s no one that will ever truly understand what it is she’s done.
“How am I to explain this to Deeam or Hekro or anyone else? No one really knows what she’s capable of, not even you or I. We think we know but she can radically change anything any time she feels like it. All the paths of our lifetimes are hers to play with, all the decisions and outcomes and eventualities are open to her, and she can write any of us any way she feels like it. And every time she does that to one person she does that to everyone, she invalidates everyone. Even if she changes something simple, it will ripple out and touch everything, change everything, make everything that follows a shape that she has sculpted.
“Do you see the scope of what she is? The monstrousness? I love her. I count my time with her as good and gracious. She was never anything more than willing and supportive and caring, but I cannot help but think that she manipulated circumstances in all those instances to make me believe that was what she was.
“And I know she was manipulative in her dealings with me. I know she never looked to anyone else for years, even when I told her I was leaving her, even when I told her that I had taken on other lovers and did not want her anymore. We’d speak or part ways and within the span of a moon or three, we’d be back together like nothing ever happened.
“She made that happen. I know she made that happen. Do you remember when you and Farrell told me just how badly she was using me? Do you remember that? I went home and thought about it and realized it was true. I was talking with her and she was telling me of her plans to celebrate me and I just couldn’t take it anymore, I couldn’t be around her. I asked her not to contact me or touch me or have anything to do with me and as far as I know she hasn’t and yet I can’t help but think that she’s just biding her time.
“She’s a monster, an utter monster. I don’t know what to do or think or feel. I drown myself in work. That’s what I do. That’s all that’s left to me.”
Figo was shaking at the end of this speech, his eyes glazed over and his skin pale. Endrall held him and held him and soothed him to sleep, using the Science that his gaurn gave him access to. He narrowed his eyes, waited for Figo’s breathing to steady, then took his leave to go and find the nobles of House Elhaz. They did not know him. When he asked them to take him somewhere quiet and alone they simply nodded, guided him there, and left.
Night had fallen. He was unsure when that had happened. Veskur had been trying to get a hold of him now for some time but he had ignored her, caring nothing for her, but now the Good Lady was going to get a piece of his mind. Endrall pushed his left hand forward and cut into the very fabric of the world, wrestling it to his will. His Science shaped that energy and he opened an avenue of communication with Veskur Wyrd, heard her intake of breath when she realized who it was that called upon her.
“You’re a monster,” he hissed. “You’re a beast, a savage, an animal. I do not trust you. You’re no better than Jesam was. I hope you die in horrible, horrible pain.” He severed the connection without another word. He could feel her trying to contact him but he did not answer, would not answer, ignored her until the war turned and the Coeecians pulled back. He could have gone home but chose not to, turning instead to the east and north, bordering the lands of the Zaerm.
It was from there that he called Veskur and bid her come to him.
She was working on something, that was clear. There were people in her home and, undoubtedly, whatever she had devoted herself to was something that she considered important. Still, she abandoned everything and came to see him, following his orders as she always did, appearing before him like the failed pet that she had become.
He motioned her closer and she came, hesitant, so very clearly wanting to touch him. Endrall held her at arm’s length. He looked into her eyes as deeply as he was able, watched her tremble, watched her shoulders slump, her lips part, and heard the beat of her heart thrumming like the pitter-patter of a weeping sky.
“Every time I look at you I’m going to see a rapist.”
The words rolled off his tongue, searing the air between them before striking her.
Fascinated, he watched as she collapsed in on herself. He saw it in her eyes, the trust she had for him, the way that she accepted his words as truth over anything she might believe of herself. He recounted what Figo had told him, twisting it slightly, perfectly, knowing how to hurt her.
She crumbled, fell to her knees and shivered so hard that Endrall thought she would break apart right then and there. She rocked back and forth, her breathing shallow, a low moan leaking past her throat.
She believed him, he knew, believed him more than she believed in anything else, believed in him more than she believed in herself.
Every time I look at you I’m going to see a rapist.
The words echoed between them.
Veskur’s eyes went dark, her musculature instantly slack. She tried to run, stumbled, mumbled incoherently, stopped herself and stuttered. She heaved forward and Endrall thought she might vomit but she didn’t, she didn’t, she just lay there and shivered and didn’t even hold herself and he thought he might have gone too far.
When he tried to move closer, to hold her, she waved him off and he narrowed his eyes at her. How dare she do this, deny him her, deny him the right to touch her. He tried again and she denied him again, this time a terrible violence barely held in check caught in that denial.
Endrall kept his distance after that.
He walked about for an hour, Veskur listlessly trailing after him. She shambled like a marionette, the core of her absolutely destroyed under the weight of what he had accused her of. He smiled at her and explained to her again why she was a monster as she meekly followed him back to his carriage.
“Did you want me to help you get home?” he asked her. She blinked, shook her head, fell away from another offer of physical contact, arms hanging limp at her sides. He shrugged and left her there, looking back at her as the carriage started away. She stood, shivering and alone, no longer one of the Vanir but a simple empty husk, a broken creature made of shells and shards.
He went back to the frontlines after that. The Coeecians had all but retreated. Months passed and there was no sign of the incursion that had once threatened all of Midgard. House Elhaz searched and searched but found no sign of them and the Vanir returned to lands they had been forced out of, began to rebuild.
During this peace Endrall fell into the company of a Nauthiz noblewoman named Secu, and the two of them got along splendidly. They were of similar age and temperament, sensualists assured of the world and their place in it. They went to markets and balls and dances, Endrall still hiding his name but basking in the glory that his skills had earned him. So many nobles knew him or of him, so many nobles welcomed him at their tables. It was intoxicating and wonderful to have such admiration.
When the Coeecians struck anew it caught everyone off guard.
They came seeking hostages as much as victims, killing Vanir peasantry as they went, binding the unprepared nobility as they were caught. Endrall knew his way around a levl but he was no warrior; he and Secu were taken, bound, dragged away past the confines of Midgard and deep into the Coeecian camps. He had heard Figo’s accounts of what happened to captive Vanir and he felt himself trembling and horrified. They brought him before a grinning warlord and forced him to his knees, interrogating him and beating him and keeping him bound for hours and hours.
He was locked away with Secu. They had established and confirmed her nobility by speaking with both her and others, but though Endrall Sahr had told them his name there was no one there who knew who he was and no one there that could vouch for his identity. A ransom was paid and Secu was given back to her parents, but Endrall was left alone on his rocky plateau.
The Skie, rulers of the Coeecians, did not believe in locking people away in the dark. They were the people of the storm and their ways were far more frightening and far more barbaric. Caves in their mountain fortresses were pushed out onto the mountain, facing a sheer incline thousands of feet up. There was no hiding from the wind and the rain where the Coeecians kept their captives; there was only a forced appreciation for the forces that they claimed were divine.
Four by four times the sun set and rose after Secu was sent home. Endrall was cold and wet and miserable, the foods they brought him tasteless and empty. His captors looked in on him only to see that he was still there, bringing him food once a day and expecting him to subsist on that. When he had complained they had told him that he could always go and kiss the storm. They smiled when they said it and gave him no more food that week.
He heard that there was talk among them concerning which of their lords would get to keep him. The thought terrified him but not enough for him to step out of his prison and plummet to freedom. He held himself, hoping that someone would come and save him.
No one did.
He was alone.
They had left him his gaurn.
Why wouldn’t they have? The nobles were all left with their weapons. There was no chance to use them. Besides, they did not recognize the tools for what they were and why would they do even that when only four such gloves existed in all the world? Endrall thought about saving himself but he could see no way to use the Ethcinos that he had been granted; what use was healing others in a situation such as the one he found himself in?
He could, however, cleave the energies and so find someone to come and get him.
He thought of his father, first, and used the Sciences he knew to craft the sending. His father looked at him with cool eyes over the distance that separated them, listened attentively when Endrall began to tell him all that had happened.
“You thought to make it on your own, child?” His father sighed, sat down and rubbed his temples. “A fine mess you’ve made of it, traveling without your name or my leave. You have nothing now and your life is over. Do you understand? Your life is over. I will not pay for you even if they were to believe me – my resources must go to healing those children that listen to their parents. You have built yourself a tomb. Perhaps you will make it out on your own, child. Perhaps.” His father looked at him, smiled, and severed their connection.
There would be no salvation. The one person that loved him, the one person that truly cared had left him here to this. He sat on the cold stone and cried until there were no more tears and then he heaved and was sick over the edge.
He considered jumping.
What was left to him, truly? What destiny could the world hold for him now?
He thought of Figo crying because all his choices had been taken from him and Endrall laughed with bitter mockery. He was the one that had been robbed of choice, left with only two options – suicide or submission. There was nothing else, nothing else that could happen, no one else he could turn to, unless…
Endrall stood and walked to the very edge of life. He held up his gaurn and tapped the energies once more, sending a desperate missive out into the world. It reached its destination, he could feel the response.
Veskur stared back at him in her laboratory, Thea behind him for some reason, and she looked at him with a hatred that melted the moment she saw him fully.
He tried to speak, failed, fell to his knees and wept. He heard Veskur telling him to breathe, to just breathe, and to tell her where he was. He heard Thea in the background saying that it didn’t matter, demanding that Veskur leave him to rot, but Veskur waited and waited, prayed and repented until Endrall was able to give her the knowledge she needed.
“Be strong, Love,” Veskur whispered. “I will be there as soon as I am able.”
The connection severed.
Another sun rose, all the promised warmth contained therein a lie. He froze and held himself, too exhausted to sleep or eat as the wind came, whipping all around him, and a violent rain arose from nothing to pelt the world with an unrelenting fury. Thunder doomed down all around him, shaking the earth and making him jump as lightning as thick as any keep slammed down into the earth, an onslaught that he would never have imagined possible had he not been there to witness it.
Not a drop of moisture touched him. Not a single breeze ruffled his hair.
Staring from the eye of the storm, he he could understand why the Skie dominated the Coeecian people and why the Skie worshiped the storms that ravaged their lands, but even they had seen nothing like this. He blinking, looking at roiling black clouds that shifted like an ocean tide, narrowing his eyes to see the impossible.
Riding the storm was a figure on a horse with hooves of lightning. She carried no levl, wore little more than casual clothing and a glove on her left hand. When she moved the storm went with her. The horse circled the mountain once, twice, blasting the stone and peak, and every time the horse went by electricity crashed into rock and Endrall could hear Coeecians scream and die.
Veskur Wyrd had come for him and she would not be denied.
More is coming next week. If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people.