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Fiction – My Bad Dream

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

May 13, 2017

Beyond the end of the world, the end of all the worlds, is a place where they all meet. All manner of creatures and beings come here; it is a place of refuge, of shelter from the storm. And there is always a storm somewhere.

Among them, strangely even for this strange place, is a child. A girl of eight or nine in a nightdress, flaxen-haired and blue-eyed, the very picture of innocence. One might be worried in this place that she is somehow a trap, a monster hiding, but it is not so. Goldie really is a little girl, but she is a dreamer.

Goldie fell asleep one night. It was a strange falling asleep, but she remembers nothing more about it. Then the terrors began. Night after night, week after week. The teeth in the woods, the house of blood, the gray faces, each more terrible than the last, the nightmares haunted and tormented her. Even in sleep, there was no rest.

But time passed. It always does, even if it moves strangely beyond the veil of worlds. One can eventually get used to anything, and though Goldie really is a little girl, she had been a little girl now for a long, long time. One day, with the teeth snapping at her heels again, she tired of the chase. She sat under a gnarled, blackened tree, picked up one of the fallen branches, and waited.

The snarling and howling stopped the moment she sat, and in short order, intrigued, the nightmare appeared to her, taking the form of a tall, dapper man whose body seemed to be made of black fire.

Why do you not run? it said, the words being remembered without ever being spoken.

“I’m tired.” she replied.

But you are asleep, it said, For years now. How can you be tired?

“Not sleepy,” said she, “Tired. Tired of running. Why do you torment me?”

The nightmare paused. This was something it had never considered. How could it? Do fish wonder why they swim, or flames wonder why they burn?

Finally, it spoke, without speaking: I am your Nightmare, it said.

“Mine?” Goldie asked.

Yours and yours alone, it said, as long as need be.

The girl stood. “You… are mine? You belong to me?”

Confused, the nightmare nodded, for was that not what it said?

Years of darkness change anyone, even someone who really is a little girl, and there in the gloom and the dark Goldie smiled for the first time in years, and ran forward, embracing the burning man who did not really burn.

“You’re MINE!” she said. It was the first time she could remember that anyone or anything was truly hers, even from before the strange sleep began. And the Nightmare, for it was made of her dreams as much as her fears, to its surprise wrapped its burning but not burning arms around her and hugged her back.

This, gentle traveler, is how you may meet the dreamer who has been young for so long in the place beyond the end of the worlds. Beside her always is her traveling companion, her Nightmare, which brings her from dream to dream wherever darkness touches, teaching her now the joy and laughter that lives where light doesn’t reach, for it already taught her everything it could about fear and pain. The nightmare is itself, himself, young in many ways, and does not always understand the places they travel. But it knows two truths that are clad in iron.

Firstly, he is HER Nightmare. Without her, he does not know what he would be, perhaps the nameless dread in the dark again, and it would be awful to go back to that sort of nonperson after finding this richer life.

And secondly, he looks really good in that hat.

 


Abbey St. Brendan is the sort of monster that would bake you a pie. She improvises, acts, performs regularly in the comedic end of geek fandom, and in this case writes. Her collaboration with Living Myth Magazine is kismet. You can contact her on Twitter @abbeykadabra.

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Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:09

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

April 28, 2017

Click here to read the previous entry.  

 

Iataad taohif aamgae. None may escape.

Those were the words her House had been built upon. The very first Vanir to bear their name had looked up at the stars and pointed, she had been told, and uttered those words. Years later they would hear them echoed among other nations, among the Swann, the Devinii, the Darroken. There was some ancient truth wrapped in those syllables, in that meaning. None may escape. She had sought to escape the prophecy of those words with her genius and her tools but now Veskur Wyrd stood alone and afraid, naked and revealed on the top of her tower. She had been undone, destroyed, her every tenant proved a lie by what the world had become around her.

Wind and storm and fire whipped the lands surrounding her home. Her nameless manservant had finally proven to be no fool; he had abandoned her, leaving her to her fate. His doing so had saved her the task of having to tell him to leave before the price of all that she had done came to claim her. No one else should have to pay for the consequences of her actions and yet so many had.

Her quiet valley, her refuge and solitude and all that she had ever wanted had been blasted beyond all recognition. There was no sign of the peace she had tried to cultivate. Soldiers and barbarians died all around her, their final screams waging war with the clash of thunder and steel, rain turning red as it met the sea of death that lapped at her tower. Hekro was out there, Risue, Jesam the first. Every hero of two nations had come here, at this moment, to take from her a power that they could not hope to understand.

Some among the Vanir wore gaurn on their left hands, tools that she had not made and had never meant to share. Jesam the First knew them for what they were but not how they worked. The Coeecians came to claim the Ethcinos Sciences for themselves while the Vanir came only to take the rest of what they thought she knew.

They none of them knew nothing.

Sometimes the price of knowledge was knowing.

Out there, somewhere, was Figo, lovely and light Figo Jera. The Rose Dragon. Who had loved him like she had? Who had cherished him, respected him, cared for him? No one. Thea had told her how he had given himself to Jesam the First, convinced that his sacrifice was noble. Veskur saw only the price of it: a holy radiance swallowed by darkness. She had told him again and again that he was perfect but he had always blushed and muttered dismissals of her description, claiming that no one could ever hope to reach the tiers she judged him worthy of.

You idiot!” she screamed, her words echoing off the mountains and reaching the ears of the armies that even now waged war on her small home, Vanir and Coeecians thinking to wrest her knowledge from her while trying to kill one another. “You fool! I called you perfect because you were perfect even in your imperfection! You were the light that softened the edges of the darkness that I am, the joy that tempered the sorrow that I was so lost in that I could not even recognize it! I would have done anything for you, anything for you, anything for you, and this is where we are and this is what I have wrought! I miss you, miss you with everything that I will ever be, and there will never be another word for me, not from you, never from you!”

Thunder smashed the world around her keep as she slashed the very weavings of Creation itself with her gaurn, the nimbus that surrounded her tool burning with the intensity of a thousand suns and rendering the atrocity that had consumed her world in monochromatic silhouettes, either red or white or black. There was no mixture of color as two nations went to war with one another and with her, but as long as her tower stood, as long as she could keep herself in check, as long as she didn’t catch sight of the ones who had helped her become what she now was, it would not get any worse.

She weaved atop the stones of her keep, reeling like a drunk above the riot below her. She balanced herself on the battlements, staring down, counting the heroes that held their own: Hekro, Jesam, Risue, Leovi, Janwae, Darco. She knew they would fight until not one of their number was left, their clumsy groping violence as nothing compared to the horror she could unleash at any time, at any moment, if only she could find the will to do so.

Endrall Sahr would be out there somewhere. Ygg Sotaas. Possibly even Deeam Njiord and his fabled ahmr, smashing skull and heart with long arching swings, the deep baritone of his voice expressing only hatred. 

Did it matter who won, so far as she was concerned? 

Sotaas had told her of the rumors Endrall had spread above and beyond the taking of her name, knew that between her inherent strangeness and Endrall’s charisma that no one down there was fighting with her interests in mind; the entirety of the horror playing out below her was an action taken utterly without love.

She knelt, coated in a fine blanket of rain, clutching to the cold rock that made up her home as screams echoed throughout the world around her. She remembered Figo, how soft he was, how gentle, how kind. Veskur believed that he had been everything good and pure in the world but he was gone now, given up, driven to self-destruction by forces that she herself had crafted. She was responsible. She was accountable. The skeletal fingers of death that gripped the plains below her had been summoned by her, by the arrogance of her Science.

Perhaps, she thought, if she had been more careful or more subtle it would not have come to this. Perhaps if she had held herself in check instead of giving voice to her every wild imagining she would not have inflicted this final doom upon an undeserving world. Sotaas didn’t deserve this, or Hekro, or Risue, or even Endrall. And Figo, lovely lost Figo, well, the more Veskur thought about it the more she came to understand. She didn’t need Figo in her life, or Endrall, or any of them. She had lived alone and had been happy alone. She should have returned to her solitude. Instead, she had tried to weave herself into the lives of threads that were never meant to bear her weight.

She could fix it. With the power she could shape with her left hand she could fix all of it. She saw the plan unfold before her, the length of time it would take. She would have to remove herself from the equation but she wanted to do that anyway; she no longer wanted to be, to exist, to remember. All she wanted was quiet and emptiness. There was a place for her. Mathemagically speaking, there was a place that she could go that no one would ever be able to follow, another trick Sotaas had caught in her equations that she would have never noticed but had followed to finality.

Veskur Wyrd didn’t need to be a part of anything to win. All she needed to claim victory was for the people she cared about to be happy and she had never been able to view herself as a person.

She stood, brushing water from her shoulders, raindrops lost in the horror that painted itself below her, a landscape of entrails and screaming. No arrows were fired upon her, no one wanting to risk losing what they thought they were here to claim. She looked down upon them and felt an awful wrath set root in her heart, an anger that could never be undone, for upon standing she could see Endrall Sahr.

He stood in the midst of the carnage, walking towards her keep with a tingling disregard for all those that fell around him. He carved signs into the air with his gaurn, keeping himself removed from the conflict even as he moved through it, untouched and regal and all the more inhuman for doing so. She recognized him then, the true face that lay behind his beauty – a sadistic solipsist who hid behind the veneer of the humanitarian, the weapon crafted and honed for a heart’s battlefield by a bitter and childish father.

She should have been wiser. She should have known him for what he was.

I trusted you!” she cried, the words torn from somewhere deep inside her, echoing down along the corridors of broken steel and shattered flesh. Endrall looked up at her, not even breaking stride.

Then why did you leave?”

You left me, remember?” Veskur screamed. “You left me! You used me as an emotional crutch and insulted me and insulted me and insulted me and then you got angry at me for being hurt, again, and you stormed out on me! I had to chase you down, to give you back your things!”

You stopped speaking to me!” Endrall shrieked. “You replaced me and with what? Nothing? You stopped speaking to me without a word!”

Veskur stared down at the battlefield. Something broke in her, something that had been holding back the most terrible of whirlwinds. She slashed at the air, calling upon names and powers that she had only theorized but had never bothered to prove. 

All of them answered her, all of them came at her word, and when she directed this collection of things that should not be into the world around her they hammered every soldier of two nations with an unthinkable onslaught, driving everyone to the ground until only she and Endrall were standing.

The energies she had called upon tore her skin and boiled her blood. Her world was agony but still she stood as those same energies tore at the fundamental laws of physics that held her together and scarred the crucible of her mind. She forced her will into her gaurn and rewrote everything that had ever been or could ever be – it was her destiny to be here and now, her destiny to have this conversation, and if it hadn’t been before it was now and it always would be.

More energies were called upon, more names. Endrall tried to shield himself from her wrath and maintained the structure of his poor Science. She might have been able to smash it but did not care to, instead wrapping her will around his and bringing him to her, dropping him on the roof of her keep so that they could stand facing one another.

I thought that was an okay thing to do,” she whispered, releasing him.

Why would you think that?” he spat, shaking, picking himself up on hands and knees.

Someone told me it was okay.”

That person was wrong.”

That person was you!” Veskur cried. “That person was you! What makes it alright for you to treat me like that and wrong for you to suffer as I did? What makes it okay for you to hurt me, to dismiss me, to treat me like that? Are you even conscious of the injury and insult that you offer or is that behavior a fundamental aspect of the person you’ve become? Were you always like this? Did I just not see it or did I help twist you into this?

Look around us, healer. Look at the world as we have made it, you and I in all our towering arrogance! Look what we have wrought and tell me that either of us could have ever been in the right!”

You were wrong,” Endrall said, standing. “You were wrong. You were arrogant. This, this mess, this is what you made or allowed to be made. I didn’t make it and didn’t approve of it. This is always and ever your fault, just as everything is in your life is. All the miseries of Figo, all the miseries of me and of Sotaas, all of them are your fault. You could have made them better. You could have made this world better but you chose to make things this way and nothing you can do will change that now. You tried to make us all small. You wanted us to crawl before you, as if you were some giant or something worthy of love. You’re a monster. A process. Unworthy of trust and we were never friends.”

Veskur stared at her love for a moment and then stumbled back, laughing with a mania that frightened even her.

Hypocrite,” she wheezed, spreading her arms. “Charlatan. You think I’m not aware of my sins? You think I don’t know what I’ve done, the mistakes I’ve made? You think I don’t know that every time death claims someone below us it’s my fault? I know this. I know what I have wrought. My choice not to decide has brought us here, but you… you’re every bit the monster I am. The only difference is that you don’t acknowledge the pain you cause. You’re not a person. You’re a weapon.”

Coming from anyone else,” Endrall slurred, narrowing his eyes, “I might take that seriously.”

Veskur clawed at the air with her left hand, shattering every protection Endrall could think of with a fraction of the power that was hers to command. Energies rippled along her flesh, tearing it open, her blood bubbling out in steaming rivers, but still she stood straight and tall, a creature torn from the very fabric of nightmare.

A lifetime of anger at the ridicule and scorn she had suffered pushed its way to the surface, crawling out with talons tempered by the very fires of Hell. She was becoming something else, something both more and less than human, something indescribable to her shattered mind.

Endrall fell back, warding her fury off with his right hand, the gaurn on his left weaving patterns that rewove his wounded skin as soon as the backlash of Veskur tore it open. He struggled to do it, Veskur knew, and she could see the terror in his eyes – the knowledge that all the damage that he was suffering, the damage that he could only just repair, was only incidental. She smiled, feeling her body flaking into ash and held steady only by the Ethcinos Sciences that she knew better than anyone else could ever hope to.

She would not could not waver, not now.

A cry cut through the agonized orchestra below them, a single sound that caught the attention of them both. Figo Jera was down there, tied to the wrist of Jesam the First and held like an animal, his naked body covered in welts and scars. Veskur felt herself trembling to see the noblest man she ever knew reduced to such a whimpering state, felt her knees buckle, her right hand falling limply to her side.  

Her left hand, however, cut her pain into the fabric of everything that could ever be.

Mountains trembled, brought low by fates they had not known moments before. Metal found flesh and released a whole new choir of screams, guided by destinies that had not been meant for them seconds before. As Veskur gave voice to the agony of a lifetime the world narrowed, the very idea of possibility and choice narrowed and thinned and culled until death hung in the air as a bone white haze, an entire field suffering for the unloved blame that Veskur had accepted as her own.

This was the world shifting, the monochromatic figures shifting color even as they watched. The gore that coated the ground fell white as snow, the Vanir bathed in the blood of their enemies, the Coeecian horde blacker than Endrall’s withered and unused heart. Veskur watched, stunned at the result of her power, and it took a few moments for agony to settle into her shoulder.

She turned and saw Endrall towering over her, a dryw in hand, the serrated double-edge of the weapon tearing into her flesh. She watched her own blood fall, covering her arm and shoulder, flecks of it painting Endrall. She stared at it in horrified wonder, not even wanting that part of her to touch the awfulness that she now knew him to be.

I trusted you,” Veskur whispered, her voice cracking. “I trusted you and every word you said to me. I tried to get through to you, to let you know, and all you ever gave me was cruelty.” He struck her, sent her spiraling to the cold stone. She lay limp and dying on the ground, staring up at him as he panted above her, his eyes narrowing as he glared.

How many times do we have to tell you?” He struck her with all his strength. “How many times did Figo tell you? Thea? River? Myself? How many times do we have to tell you that your feelings don’t matter, that you’re an arrogant and unworthy thing, a process more than a person, a concept more than an individual? You don’t matter and you never did! Any usefulness you might have had has long since passed. Die, Veskur. It’s all you have to do now.” He struck her at the end of every question, every statement, struck her until her face was as bruised as her soul.

She mumbled something, unable to make sense of the words that struggled to be heard through the blood she was drowning in.

What was that?” Endrall asked, taunting. She glared up at him, left hand weaving furiously. It was not her destiny to die here. It was not her choice and death could only take her at a time of her choosing so long as she wore the gaurn on her hand.

I said,” Veskur mumbled, catching Endrall’s wrist as his hand came for her again, “I said what a fool I am.

She grabbed her levl and dryw as she kicked him off her and rose up, holding the weapons in a clumsy stance as she faced down the only enemy in her life that would ever matter. Endrall held a dryw in his left hand, keeping his right free to use the Ethcinos Science that she had given him. He was so much more graceful than she was, accepted by his House, trained to defend himself somewhat – but she was a power above and beyond anything that Midgard or any other nation would ever know.

All this,” Veskur said, knowing that it was Endrall’s destiny to hear the words, “All this is because of you. I blame your father for twisting the person you should be into the person you are, and me for letting you define me. I gave you everything I had to give, everything you wanted, but you always wanted more. You were destroying me, unmaking me, turning me into something that I did not recognize and did not choose and I let you. Would you have been happy, then, with me dead? Is that why you brought two armies to my doorstep?”

I don’t know what you mean,” Endrall answered. The dryw in his hand was steady.

I will try to end this quickly,” Veskur said, ignoring him. “I will try to set you free.”

She lunged for him, the damage her body had suffered not slowing her down in the slightest, but Endrall was so very fast and so very graceful. Every time she cut his flesh he used the gift she had given him to heal his hurt, mocking her all the while. He cut her right hand, stabbed through the back of the palm and kicked the levl away when she dropped it. She threw the dryw in her left hand at him but he casually batted it out of the way, falling back a step as he did so.

She did not have so much time to act in given the space between them.

Carving the air with her left hand, she began to call upon powers that would stagger even Endrall Sahr – but then he stabbed her, driving the dryw in his right hand into and through her ribs. Blood passed her lips, boiling into steam as it touched the air. He pushed her to her knees, laughing, pressing his boot against her heart to free the blade. She crumbled to the ground, whimpering as he put his boot to her, dancing up and down her frail fracturing body.

Do you have anything else to tell me?” Endrall asked. “I can feel you dying. You don’t have much longer, so if you have any last words now is the time to speak them.”

A whisper lost to the rain passed her lips, a weak rattle before dying.

What was that?” Endrall asked, voice cold and sure as he leaned down, holding his ear just above her lips. “I can’t hear you.” Veskur coughed weakly, cleared her throat, fighting to hold onto an ever dwindling consciousness.

I still love you.”

Endrall fell back as Veskur pushed herself onto her stomach, pushed herself up on shaking elbows, forced her knees underneath her. Coughing tore her throat, spasms wracked her decaying body, but still she held herself, still forced her neck to turn so she could look up at him from hands and knees. He kicked her in the gut and she curled into herself, kicked her again until she fell onto her back and lay still.

Why won’t you die?!” Endrall shrieked. “It’s the only thing left for you! There’s nothing else! Nothing else! You’re weak and pathetic and disgusting, a shell of a person, a rotten concept that corrupts and weakens and degrades with your presence! Filthy, disgusting whore! That’s all you are and all you’ll ever be!”

He stood over her, triumphant, feeling her heart falter and break, the pulse fading down to nothing. The woman below her was dead, a memory, and though a part of Endrall missed her and mourned her passing, he could not help but rejoice at the death of everything he knew was evil in the world.

Enough.” The word came from below him, the steady voice that spoke it impossible. “Enough.” A force he could not name pushed him off the corpse of his enemy. He looked down and saw her eyes flutter open, her gaze boring into his soul.

You can’t be alive!” Endrall cried. “I felt you die! I felt you die!”

I don’t believe you.” Veskur picked herself up off the ground, the gaping wounds carved into her ignored. He could see tendons move within her, exposed muscle stretching with her every motion. “It is not my destiny or fate to die here. This world is what I choose it to be and I do not choose your reality. You think this is a fevered dream, a last ditch effort, and I know that because I put that thought in your head – you were fated to think it just now. Destiny and fate, the push and pull of choice and circumstance, are mine to do with as I will. I tried to play by your rules, I did, but I am done with your game.”

He wove shields around himself, drawing on the Ethcinos Science, but Wyrd broke his circuits, shattered his knowing, her will washing over the battlefield around them and crippling all those it touched. She rose into the air, eyes glowing with eldriss energies, her left hand burning with the fury of ten thousand suns. He screamed as his eyes broke, outlined images burned into his brain one after another as the world shifted, changed, broke apart and was remade as Wyrd desired it to be.

The stone they stood upon shattered, broken into dust that somehow held his weight for the span of a rapid heartbeat. He counted down those seconds, each as long as a lifetime before he fell through that dust towards the ground that waited to claim him. His bones broke as he struck the earth. There was no place to hide or flee from Wyrd, not now, not as she was. Her fury washed over the assembled nations and Endrall could only watch in horror as those around her were picked apart, skin and sinew washing away in a wisping cloud of white ash. Only the two of them remained untouched and whole and Endrall knew that this was not a mark of mercy.

He coughed up blood, forced himself to roll over as ribs strained and fractured under from the simple motion. Breathing hurt; his lungs were filling with blood, his fluids leaking out of holes in his body that should never have been. The woman watched him, still standing on the dust above him, her eyes alight with that same terrible energy, steam catching and reflecting the edges of her madness. His left arm twitched. He was too hurt to call upon the Ethcinos but still strong enough to use baser sciences to heal himself. He wept as his bones set and his flesh mended, whimpering as he rolled onto his stomach, forced his knees underneath him.

Calling upon the Ethcinos, he willed that energy into him, found a place where he was whole and unhurt and pulled that self to him, massacring even the possibility of anything else being there. He opened his eyes as phantom pains still assailed him, his real hurts now nothing more than dim flickering ghosts.

Veskur had reached the ground, now standing in a whirlwind of human ash. The rags she wore whipped around her, revealing flesh that was constantly being pulled apart and sewn together by the energies she had invited into herself. She stalked towards him, kicking up little clouds that had once been women and men, driving her foot into his chest as he struggled to stand, driving her heel into his heart as he lay on the ground and tried to remember how to breathe.

Veskur,” gasped Endrall, trembling, looking up at the woman.

There are no names between us,” the woman whispered. “The dead have no names.”

You and me,” he said, tasting iron on his lips, “We can fix this. We can make it so it never was.”

But this is what you wanted, isn’t it?” The woman looked around them, at the blasted landscape that had once been her refuge. Snow mixed with ash until it was impossible to tell the difference between them, coating ground and sky. She trembled, her every living moment an agony that she could not describe, mind-shattering and yet still not quite enough to dull the terrible ache this man had placed inside her. “Don’t you know that this is war?”

He quivered as she knelt down on top of him, straddling him, her fingers reaching for his flesh. He screamed and tried to buck her off him but it was no good – he knew with an awful clarity that it was not his destiny to escape her in such a way, that it was his fate to falter and die underneath her.

A circle of royal sigils burned into the snow around them.

Veskur looked up and screamed as searing light lanced into her from eight directions, thrusting through her skin and bone, holding her aloft. Endrall heard chanting – why had he not heard that chanting before? – and looked into the wilds. Freya, the Nauthiz Coven, Thea, and River were all standing there, using Science to bind the Good Lady and hold her in place, to inflict unspeakable pain upon her. It was only just holding her, their efforts, but Endrall knew that so long as those figures stood that Veskur would never break free, would never use her power before they ripped her apart.

He pulled himself to his feet, used his Ethcinos to finish healing himself. He walked around her in a circle, watching her suffer and smiling, taunting her with whispers that no one else would ever hear. He was so very careful not to touch the light of the sigils that were holding her, not wanting to risk her getting free, knowing what she could do with even a moment of liberty.

You’re finished,” Endrall whispered, low and throaty, a tone meant for lovers. “It’s over and you’re done. Whatever plan lies within your heart will die with you.” She shuddered, her head lolling, and he saw that she was smiling down at him through narrowed eyes.

She flicked her fingers and there was a flash. For a moment, just a single moment, Endrall thought he saw a series of spiraling corridors that circled off into the infinite, winding corridors lacking any sense of floor or ceiling that nonetheless went off into forever. He saw as some of the heavy doors that were held in the oldest stones light into black flame and heard a terrible wailing from each, uncounted lives ending as each portal flickered and died. 

The flash brightened as Veskur’s smile grew, the light becoming blinding.

When Endrall could see again the vision and the Good Lady were gone.

Are you alright?”

Endrall looked up, realizing that he must have fallen in the Lady’s final moments. Thea was offering him a hand and he took it, letting the smaller man haul him up from the corpse-dust that had pooled around him.

Is she…?”

She’s gone,” Thea nodded, looking around. “She was driven insane and she had to be put down. I came up with the method of doing it, the Coven putting together the Sciences that would have to be enacted. A process for holding, a process for pain, a process to smother her actions, a process to destroy her, a process to banish her into a plain of infinite possibilities from which she will never escape.”

You sent her to Yggdrasil?” Endrall asked, looking at Thea in horror. “Do you know what you’ve done?”

I’ve cleaned up your mess,” Thea hissed. “She was perfect and you ruined her. Don’t tell me that you didn’t. She made the mistake of loving you over me and look what you did, what you brought her to. You’re a whore, a spoiled stupid whore who thinks only of himself. Do you have any idea what we lost in her, in her home?”

Nothing of import,” replied the eldest of the Verra Coven. “We know how to make the tools of her Science, the gaurn, all of it. Soon all our nobles will have them and then where will the Coeecians be? Let them have a hundred Jesams, a thousand, and still we will meet them.”

We should let her Science die with her.” River spat at the place where the Good Lady had vanished. “There are other ways, less profane.”

You’re just angry because she never slept with you.”

You never rode her, either.”

Endrall turned from their bickering, looking at the spot where his would-be lover had vanished. No one living knew Veskur Wyrd so well as he and that smile, that final smile, haunted him. The power and qualities that Veskur had known, Endrall knew, would not limit her from within a place that only she had mapped and theorized, a place that only she believed in.

The certainty of those around them was a lie.

The Ethcinos War had only just begun.

 

It’s over. The novella is done, and the novels still loom in the future. If you want something more to read, why not click here and try my novel? If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people. I’d like to dedicate this to her, AJ, Andy, Claire, Greg, Andrew, Kathleen, and Jaime. Thanks for reading, hope you liked it, and stay tuned for more original fiction here at Living Myth Magazine.  

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401

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:08

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

April 21, 2017

Click here to read the previous entry.  

 

Figo Jera had always seen the world for its light.

In his eyes, everything was beautiful. Everything had meaning. There were darker shades but they were perversions, not true things in and of themselves. Most of those shadows were outside Midgard and therefore unimportant in the greater scheme of things, but there were some darknesses that would leak into even the brightest day, little black veins that touched the light and stood un-banished. Figo had known the edges of a darkness like that, having even come to love her for what she was, but he knew that the danger of losing himself to that sort of monster was simply too great to be borne.

He had not seen Veskur Wyrd for a very long time.

A figure from his nightmares had returned – the madman Jesam. He had been Figo’s proof of evil and arrogance, a figure so consumed by solipsism that the rest of the world was nothing more than a toy for him to abuse and break. Figo himself had been such a toy, left bleeding and pleading. He didn’t like to think of it. Light should have saved him from that darkness but instead a greater darkness had come and taken away everything.

Figo had discussed that at length with Endrall, Farrell, and the other nobles that he kept in his closest circle. He threw parties for them, hosted events for them, took care of their troubles and listened to their problems – and if they did not do the same for him, well, perhaps he had no problems worthy of that name or they trusted his strength to overcome the things that they could not.

He was strong, he knew that. The fingers on his left hand twitched as the fabric of the gaurn chafed his skin. His levl was secured along his back, the dryw he had carried no more than a memory. He had seen the hated tool drowned, holding it underwater and leaving it to the tides. He had not wished to carry something so traitorous with him. Many of his soldiers had followed this practice, taking to wearing shield-gauntlets on their left forearms as another echo of their commander.

You’ve become an icon,” Hekro had told him, laughing. “Just like me. The Golden Champion and the Rose Dragon. What a pair we make.” She shook her head and clasped his shoulder. He wondered how much of that admiration was truly his and how much was a side-effect of his association with the Lady Wyrd, of the Science she commanded and the tool on her hand. He hated that he could not explain that to anyone.

He’d seen Wyrd thrice since abandoning her all those decades ago. Once had been at a public function; the two of them had resumed communication briefly over something silly and unimportant, sharing fables with one another. Figo had mentioned a time and place where he could be found, expounding on those details, but he had never meant for the woman to come.

She had anyway, keeping to the background. She watched with wide eyes, nervous as a colt, keeping to the back of the trees and looking lost, torn, and hurt. She had tried to approach him only once but had stopped immediately when Figo took a step back. She’s stared a moment longer, shaking, then simply waved and left, holding herself.

Endrall had heard of that moment, had told him that the woman was not to be trusted, that she was a monster and a foulness that needed to be kept at arm’s length. Farrell further drove that point home and Figo knew that if anyone would know these things and hold these things that it would be the two of them. Especially Endrall, who loved the woman in a way that Figo had once shared but now wanted no part of.

The next had been at random, sometime after Deeam had ascended to the position of Njord. He had been out at the markets of House Fehu when he had seen her, walking alone and shaking. He had caught her eye and seen agony writ there, a loneliness that he could not put a name to. She had looked at him and recoiled, had turned on her heel and shambled away like a corpse caught on a string. He didn’t like to think of that encounter. He didn’t like to think of that encounter at all.

What if his every moment since meeting her had been a lie, something she had created? Endrall was right; she could not be trusted and neither could anything that happened around her. Maybe she had set the entire thing up with Jesam the first time around, just so that he would accept her into his life the way he had. She was vile. She was a monster. She was completely capable of undertaking the actions that Endrall accused her of. Figo knew better than anyone that Wyrd was capable of anything.

But the look of her those last two times; the fatigue, the sense of defeat and longing. Figo was not certain what to make of that. He sighed and looked at the note that lay on the table before him, lit by flickering light suspended in the air through the application of Coeecian trickery. Vanir science could do similar things. Were they really so different?

Figo, the note before him read, Lovely Figo. You were taken from me so long ago that I have trouble remembering you – your face, your touch, the look of defeat in your eyes. I hear you’ve become a Lord and a General, a leader of the forces I fight, but we both know that’s a delusion born of the arrogance you’ve surrounded yourself with. The truth is and always has been this: you are nothing more than a whore, nothing more than my toy to use and abuse as I see fit.

Your mistakes are many but I, in my generosity, can be forgiving. You have some understanding of the damage I am poised to inflict upon your people, having seen first hand the advantage I have built myself since assassinating your previous king and taking advantage of the ceremony surrounding the crowning of your new one. Believe me when I say that the victories you have suffered are as nothing compared to what I am even now prepared to claim.

I make you this offer, my most precious whore. Come to me of your own accord. I am not saying that I will halt my plans – I will not – but if you come home to me I will cease my attacks for seven full seasons. Your people will have time to catch their breath, to mourn their dead, and you will have won that time for them. Come to me, whore, as I have commanded you. If you do not, then by the next turn of the moon I will have wiped your people off the face of your world, and still, whore, still I will take you for my own and you will not like what I do to you then.

Or perhaps you will. We know how much you adored the things I did to you.

This is the last choice that I will ever allow you to make.

For I am as I always was: Jesam the First.

Figo read over the note once, twice. The Vanir were losing – Jesam the First was an imposter, clearly, trading on the name of an old hero of his people, but his strategies were good ones. The Vanir were a hardier people but not quite so fast. The Coeecians fought brutal battles, digging in trenches and fighting for every inch of land. They cared nothing for actually winning, it seemed, striking at settlements, at civilians, at supplies, at anything they could and then running away at the first sign of trouble.

When Jesam the First said that he would end the Vanir as a people, Figo believed him. He remembered the way the first Jesam had claimed him, had touched him and used him. He remembered the illnesses he had suffered, vomiting every morning with the taste of Jesam and Farrell in his mouth, the dull throbbing ache that had dimmed the light of his eyes and shaken his spine and legs. He knew that if Jesam claimed that he could do a thing that he fully believed that he was capable of doing it.

He walked the length and breadth of his soldiers, silently naming them as he went. Many of them rose as he walked past and he smiled at them but waved off any attempt at conversation – there was no one he wanted to talk to at that moment and his men were wise enough to respect his desire for solitude. He reached the edge of his camp and looked south, into the far wilds where the collected marble that the Coeecians laughably called cities sat, tall and imposing. He thought of Endrall and Veskur, of Farrell, of Jesam and Hekro.

How many of his decisions were his own? Wyrd had always told him that she wanted what was best for him, that she wanted him to be happy. She had once explained that she didn’t need to be in his life to win – all she needed was for him to smile, to be the light that she could never be. He looked at his men again and felt like the sun, each of them a planet that reflected the light and warmth of he himself. Had Wyrd done that, too? Hekro had once said that the sort of charisma that he possessed was an inborn talent, that he had shined of greatness from the very moment that the two of them had met.

Wyrd could change that sort of thing if she desired. Figo knew she could.

Silent, he walked back through the camp. There was a way for him to win if he only possessed the courage for it, a way for him to escape all doubt while saving the whole of the Vanir nation. This method would not require him to stand and it would free him from the pain of thought, of choice, the horror that came with being a man.

He pulled the gaurn off his left hand, laid it on the desk and looked at it. How much of himself he had poured into such a complex tool and how simple it looked, a heap of inert fabric without his will to guide it. He unstrapped the levl from his back and laid it down beside the gaurn, staring at it – these were symbols, he knew, things that he would never surrender were the choice his own.

Whatever happened now was all her fault.

It took him longer than he would have thought, using Science without the gaurn to ease the process. He completed the circuit required for sending a message, directing it to what was left of the Nauthiz Coven.

To you what are left, he wrote, I have received word from Jesam the First that he is poised to destroy the whole of the Vanir as a people and to claim Midgard for himself. I believe that he is capable of doing this but he has offered to stay his hand for seven full seasons if I turn myself over to him. I am going to do this – but I am leaving you the key to our people’s salvation.

I know that you and yours have been eager to study one of the gloves that the Lady Wyrd has crafted, to study the limits of the Ethcinos Sciences that she has tapped into. I am giving you that chance; I will hide mine in a place that only one among you will think to look. Though it has been designed to work only for me, I will leave you some of my blood. Perhaps, you will discover its secrets. This is my wish.

In return for my sacrifice and my end, I ask only that you discover the secret of making and copying Wyrd’s tool, that you pass that secret to the rest of the nobility and that the Vanir, as one, stand strong against the Coeecian horde that threatens us and has now claimed me.

Endrall Sahr will be upset by my absence, as will Hekro Gherlid. I ask that you show this message to them, that they might know that I was thinking of them and that I loved them both for everything they had given me, everything that they meant to me. Tell them both that this is not their fault. Tell them both that this is my choice, made freely and of my own will.

He signed the message and sent it along with the note that Jesam the First had sent him, taking the glove with him when he snuck out of the camp but leaving his levl behind. His soldiers would find it. He hoped they would understand. His sentries stood to attention but they were looking without, not within – no one abandoned the Band of the Rose Dragon, all of them loyal to a fault. He felt a momentary twinge of guilt for abandoning them in this manner, but he knew they would all die otherwise.

Alone, out in the dark, he looked to the night sky and set the moon as his marker. He did not have much time. Shrugging out of the noble robes and leaving them and his birthright behind, he moved swiftly into the darkness of night and circumstance, the light within him guttering out with each step until there was no sign of anything other than the eternal black.

 

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345

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:07

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

April 14, 2017

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The woman was an idiot. That was the only explanation.

Veskur and Thea had been in constant communication for decades, the letters they shared so much shorter than they once had been but still providing Thea with a sense of completion that he otherwise lacked. Even after River and Veskur had fallen apart he had continued to hold them both in high esteem, speaking with both, trying to bridge the gap that loomed ever longer between them. River was polite enough in mixed company but when given the chance to speak his mind, he could wax for hours on Thea’s favorite subject.

She’s a self-obsessed ninny,” River would say, lounging over his latest conquest. “She’s an idiot and she isn’t worthy of your time. She’s a coward who’s afraid to take anything except the misery that other people heap on her and who wouldn’t want to heap it on? She never fights back. She’s a simpleton playing at being a genius. There are better things our people might do and better people you should share your genius with.”

When Thea shared these insights with Veskur she said nothing.

She’s a hateful, spiteful little witch and I hate her,” Endrall told him, the one time that the Prince of House Suwilo came by looking for information. “She’s a dryw. You can’t trust her. She never does anything for anyone unless she can hold that person in debt for the act. She lies and spreads rumors, she’s deceitful, and she hurts people without ever really thinking about it. She’s double-faced, double-edged, a monster and a monstrosity.”

Thea wanted to strangle him; instead, he smiled and waited for Endrall to go away.

Coeecian offenses reigned down from all over Midgard. Risue was of the opinion that Jesam the First had used Deeam’s ascent to the position of Njord to place his agents all throughout Midgard. Thea agreed with him but knew that agreement meant as little as Risue’s supposition – what had happened had already happened and Thea considered Risue a failure, a rank failure in his chosen arena. Still, others listened to him, paid him the respect that they should have saved for finer minds.

We had wondered why the Coeecian front was quiet during our Njord’s ascent,” Risue droned on. “Now we know. Jesam the First used our relaxed guard to move his scouts into our lands without them drawing attention to themselves. Our intelligence informs us that they’re using some sort of trickery to communicate with one another at a distance, their number waiting for orders from their Skie warlord. What we need to do is find him but he’s been clever and gone into hiding.”

The supposedly greatest military minds of the age were quick to agree.

It was a clever move,” Hekro muttered. “We expected some sort of large scale assault, the usual stupidity and reliance on brute force that the Coeecians are known for, not this low cunning. Our scouts are searching for them, but only Sotaas Ygg has beaten their methods, yet the means of the accomplishment remain unknown to us.”

“Have you asked him?”  

“He refuses to share his secret.”

All eyes turned to Figo Jera and the gaurn on his left hand. His lips twitched, fine muscle tight on his body. Thea hated him, hated his collected presence and poseur confidence, hated the way that eyes that should have belonged only to him had once looked with such adoration at this simpleton.

Thea told none of them what he thought. Instead, he told Veskur, the same way he always had.

Jesam the First was striking throughout Midgard, small little bands of his barbarians striking quickly and fading away, the lightning of destruction followed by a slowly fading thunder. There seemed little that anyone could do to stop him. The Golden Champion herself could do little to stop these attacks and they quickly took a heavy toll on those who suffered them. A full half of House Wyrd was wiped out over the course of a single moon. Houses Verra and Ygg followed, nearly driven to extinction. Gebo, Hagalaz, and Ansu followed. Only Elhaz and Ehwaz were holding their own, the former too stubborn to die and the latter too difficult to find.

House Raido, ever the fastest journeymen among the Vanir, were pressed into service as messengers. They used their knowledge of the roads and their private Sciences to spread information across all of Midgard, to and from every Vanir noble. No one seemed to notice if one messenger or another rifled through the information that they carried; no one had time to do so.

It was in this manner that Thea learned almost all of what was going on in the world around him and came to understand more than almost any other living Vanir because there was no one – not even in his House – that could move so quickly as he.

The Vanir were being hammered into submission, only a few nobles holding their own against the tide of barbarism that threatened to wash them all of them away. There was Hekro Gherlid, of course, to the east. Figo Jera to the south. Sotaas Ygg wherever he felt like showing up, his appearances more random than the attacks of the Coeecians themselves and harder still to trace. Endrall Sahr seemed to be assuming more and more power as the other nobles panicked and fell by the wayside, his handsome features keeping the Vanir stable.

Veskur Wyrd stayed hidden in her keep, silent and moping. If only she had taken him as a lover… he would have propped her up, made her smile, given her the courage and the strength to go and fight the Coeecians as she had so many times before. He would have kept her from fracturing into the broken shell that she had become.

A rumor passed across Thea’s desk, a claim that Jesam had offered to give Midgard a chance to rebuild in exchange for some unknown thing. No matter how hard he looked, he could find no sign of what it was they were supposed to trade. He did, however, read a message from Endrall to Figo that spoke of it.

Don’t you dare do it, Endrall had written. Don’t you dare. I will never forgive you.

Figo wrote nothing back to the man who many now considered the Freya’s left hand.

Two of Veskur’s brothers were slain and the lady that another brother had been in love with, though at least her death had saved a handful of that House’s few surviving nobles.

It’s a shame you weren’t among the dead,” Thea told the woman that should have belonged solely to him. “I understand why many people would want to kill your family and particularly you, but don’t worry – neither you nor your kin are worth that sort of attention. I mean, look at Endrall Sahr. He succeeded to the ultimate degree only once he was done with you. Perhaps the same will hold true for me. Anyone else would beg me to be with them but instead you, in all your insipidity, claim that you feel nothing for me. Liar. Fool. Charlatan. We would all be better if the Coeecians had taken your life instead of your kin’s.”

Midgard would be a better place for my lack,” Veskur agreed with him.

It was the last message Thea would get from her before the entirety of Midgard fell apart.

 

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318

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:06

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

April 7, 2017

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A month passed and Veskur had not yet replied to any of the messages that Endrall had sent her. Sotaas not responding to him he could kind of understand; the man was constantly out in the wild, whatever power that Veskur had inflicted upon him making it impossible for even the most careful Science to find him. Veskur, on the other hand, never left her damn keep out in the northern wastes.

Perhaps the woman was busy. Who knew better than Endrall how Veskur could lose track of time? Yes, the woman had always been quick to come to attention whenever he called her, dropping whatever unimportant foolishness had claimed her this time around, and thus it was entirely possible that whatever project currently held her interest had robbed her ability to notice anything else.

He would talk to her about this the next time they saw one another. He was too important to be treated thusly, especially by someone as pathetic as her.

The projects that he was working on claimed most of his time now, but there was so much adoration being paid to him that he barely noticed. The Vanir intelligentsia had taken note of his work and theories, weighing them and finding them to be of merit. It was everything that he knew he deserved, everything that he had been born to claim.

Only this one thing stuck in his craw.

Hekro, the Golden Champion, was speaking to him again. She had to – his raw charisma and talent had made him much sought out among her friends and allies and some trick of the gaurn on his hand made him excel at strategies and tactics in a way that soldiers three times his age could not. She became a fixture at meetings of import, where the Freya herself discussed the wages of war as the struggle with the Coeecians continued. He even saw Figo from time to time, lovely Figo, though he kept a polite distance. Endrall sometimes found himself wondering what was behind that, but at least that beautiful man had not cut him off the way he had Veskur.

Farrell sometimes accompanied him when he went out, mostly at his father’s insistence. He never minded this, not really. Farrell had a deep insight into the nature of those around them, was quick to find the fallacies others had adopted into everything they did. They played games, sometimes, undermining the structures and bindings that others had made for their own benefit. House Suwilo benefited greatly during this time, Endrall further cementing his name.

The Vanir ceased to think of him as Sahr’s son. They started to think of Sahr as his father. It was a slight distinction, one he knew that Veskur would have appreciated above and beyond anyone else. If only the damned woman would answer him…

After nearly sixteen seasons of no contact, he took a moment to send her another message, letting her know that he was angry with her for her failure to contact him. This was meant with silence. Annoyed, he went and spoke with Thea to see if he had any insight into whatever stupidity had currently gripped the heart of his pet. Thea would tell her nothing, merely smiling as if that stupid expression should be enough to explain everything.

He sent another message, threatening to go to Veskur’s house, to force a confrontation. It was an empty threat; he didn’t actually care enough now that there were other people paying attention to him. Who needed Veskur, with her annoying ways and annoying questioning and her irritating way of talking? She made noises sometimes and operated under the illusion that she was a person, not a process meant to make him better. If she couldn’t be bothered to remember that, well, perhaps she didn’t deserve his company at all.

There were things that he had left at her home. He sent her another message, asking if she had seen them, but even this received no immediate response. Instead, another couple of seasons slipped by before a box arrived on his doorstep. Within was everything he had ever given her or left at her home, along with a note written in some language that he did not recognize. He contacted her again, let her know that this was not okay with him, that he expected better, that he was disappointed in her and everything she was and why wouldn’t she speak with him…?

He had done so much for her, couldn’t she see that? He had put up with all of her inanity and all of her insanity. She owed him more than this, was indebted to him and always would be. After all the acts of kindness he had performed for her, this was the sort of behavior she thought he was entitled to? Didn’t she realize that he was the most important thing that would ever be in her pathetic little life? Hadn’t he reminded her of that often enough, hadn’t she acknowledged the truth of those very words again and again over all the time they had known one another?

The Coeecians struck again. Figo went missing. Jesam the First seemed to have an understanding that Veskur Wyrd was a threat and he went after her House, wiping out half their number in short order. Somehow, the Skie Warlord had placed forces deep within the heart of Midgard and he lashed out with them. Gebo, Nauthiz, and Ehwaz were the hardest hit after Wyrd, their infrastructures and their peoples thrown into wild disarray. The Nauthiz Coven was devastated, those nobles left in their wake turning to him for guidance, a noble from another House – a thing completely unheard of in all the history of the Vanir. Endrall sent Farrell to act as his liaison between them, turned to Hekro and Risue to organize what forces were left.

Deeam contacted him, told him that he had tried to contact Veskur Wyrd and failed. The rest of the Honored Guard had come when called but Veskur was still cowering in her tower up in the frozen north, unreachable, unassailable, a power that sat bloated, accomplishing nothing. Endrall merely sneered when Deeam asked him to go and collect the Good Lady; he told the Njord that there was nothing good about Veskur and that there never had been, that they were better off without her. He named her dryw and now no one would speak in her defense.

She had no honor, no function, and no reason for being.

Endrall knew that Midgard, like himself, would be better off without her.

 

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225

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:05

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

March 31, 2017

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Veskur Wyrd wore the very power of creation itself on her hand.

The gaurn she had crafted made the world around her a loom, each thread something that she could pull at, weave, color, or remove as she saw fit. But acting on one thread, she had learned, forced all the others to move as well and she did not possess the mathemagics necessary to predict the consequences of each movement. Difficult enough to know what results her more mundane actions would craft – when playing with the very fabric from which creation was wrought, well, who could say how long each thread was and how many other threads it was attached to?

She was becoming more and more hesitant to use the power she had granted herself, for she feared that each use violated the choices of those around her – thereby making her a rapist of the soul, something worse than Endrall could ever have accused her of being. She had seen the chance of Endrall and Figo becoming her lovers, of being with her into her old age. All she had needed to claim this future was patience but she had forced events to come sooner, not understanding what would happen because of her one selfish choice.

Both of them were gone now and she was alone.

Hurt, but wiser. More cautious. She would not use the power she had taken so lightly ever again.

Figo remained an absence in her life, leaving an aching emptiness in place of the joy his mere presence had once engendered. She mourned him often, dreamed of him, gentle words and soft skin, his laugh and smile. She could barely remember the sound of his voice, the taste of his laughter.

At least things seemed to be working out with Endrall. The man held her, kept her, made her feel wanted and all he wanted was to treat her as she deserved to be treated – and whenever she forgot why she deserved to be treated so, he was there to remind her. He held her and pushed her away, kept her close and whispered of his affair with Hekro. Veskur suffered these stories in silence, knowing better than to express any discomfort; whenever she tried to express anything save approval Endrall would remind her that she was disposable, that they were not friends, that she was not a thing to be trusted.

It was alright, Veskur thought. As long as Endrall was happy it was alright; nothing was more important to her. She had done so much, crafted so much harm out of her base loneliness. Endrall was right. Endrall could be trusted in ways that she could never be, not even by herself. The proof of her monstrousness was in the thing she wore even now and the knowledge her creation gave her.

Still, with Sotaas and with Endrall back in her life, she had some reason to keep moving. She started going out of her keep again, a feral presence tolerated in proper society through the auspices of those two people. River had left her, no longer speaking to her due to what had happened with Thea. Thea praised her with one breath and insulted her the next, treatment that Veskur was certain that she deserved. Sotaas argued otherwise. He was a dam against the abyss that Figo had left behind, supportive and honest.

It was through Sotaas that Veskur learned of Deeam’s coming union with Glow and received an invitation to the event. The two of them planned to go there together, Sotaas pressing Veskur into making the arrangements, knowing that she needed something to take her mind off the thoughts that had thrown her mental state into civil war. She took to it with gusto, with passion, making certain that they had transport and a place to stay, seeing to all the small details personally. Deeam himself got in touch with her.

There are treasures that the Darroken are lending us for the occasion,” Deeam said, sitting in the quiet of Veskur’s kitchen. “I know you’re familiar with that nation. Would you mind collecting them?”

Veskur said that she would be honored, made the necessary arrangements and spoke to Sotaas. The two of them would go and claim what was needed before heading south and west, into the lands where Deeam would wed his blood to his bride and ascend to the position of Njord. Sotaas was pleased with the promise of this escort mission and all that it entailed. It could mean much for both of them.

A week before the journey was to begin Veskur was working in her laboratory, trying to reconcile the mathemagics she had crafted to predict the extent of the changes she had already made. It was heady work, engrossing, and she felt a passion for it that echoed what had once driven her from one sleepless night to the next. She didn’t notice when her manservant interrupted her.

How long have you been there?” she asked him.

A quarter hour,” he replied, offering a lopsided grin. “There’s someone at the door to see you.”

Curiosity overcame passion. Very few people came to see her any more – Sotaas, Deeam, occasionally one of the Nauthiz Coven. She had been having trouble re-acclimatizing to the isolation that had once been her whole world but now, caught within numbers she had been forced to invent to describe meaning no one else would ever understand, she had lost all sense of time.

Following her manservant to the front gate of her keep, she pulled her cloak a little tighter around her body. Already she could feel the chill from outside, the chill summer wind and whispering snows that haunted her home even in the warmest months. Her manservant drew open the door, introducing her guest.

Endrall Sahr.

I can’t stay long,” Endrall said, removing the gloves from his hands. “I was visiting Hekro to the west and, well…” He stopped, looked at her.

What’s wrong?”

Hekro,” he paused, swallowed, came closer to her and waited until she had taken him in her arms. “Hekro left me. I have an invite to Deeam’s wedding but I don’t know if I can go now. I had planned on entering with the Golden Champion beside me. How am I to face the Nauthiz Coven, or Secu and Risue, or any of the others? What will they think of me if I enter alone?”

You won’t know until you get there.”

I don’t even have means of getting there, not this late. No way to get there, nowhere to stay, no means of holding ground.”

Hekro arranged everything?”

He nodded. She sighed.

You can come with me, I suppose,” Veskur said slowly. “I need to check with Sotaas first, make certain that’s alright, but I’ll see what I can do about getting you there, making certain you have a place to stay, and giving you the means to stand your ground.”

Why would Sotaas have a problem with it?”

You broke his heart,” Veskur sighed when Endrall just stared at her, eyes brimming with hostility. “Let me speak with him. I should be able to manage something.”

Alright,” Endrall nodded. “I’ll be in touch.”

He left.

The first thing Veskur did after he was gone was go back to her lab to tidy things up and retrieve her gaurn. She went to her manservant, told him that she would be gone for a few days, packed a light assortment of snack food and stepped out of her home. She looked at the horizon before holding her gaurn aloft and calling on the power of the ethcinos.

In the wastes, back in the wild places where the Coeecians and Vanir were not known, out at the edge of the world was where Ygg Sotaas had settled. No one else could find him there, lost in a self-imposed exile. They were siblings now, two whom had made each other more and, like lodestones, they would find one another, be drawn to one another. It was the destiny of one to find the other, writ in the fabric of everything as if it had always been. So mote it. So mote it. So mote it.

She found Sotaas on her third day of travel. The Wanderer of Ygg came up on her from out of the green, appearing as an extension of the woods that he had made his home. They fell into one another’s arms – there were ways, now, that Sotaas completed Veskur that not even the Lady herself understood. They walked in silence for a time, learning about one another merely by being in the other’s presence.

What’s bothering you?” Sotaas asked. Veskur bit her lip.

I have something to ask you,” Veskur said. “You’re not going to like it.”

Is it about Endrall?”

Yes.”

You know he took your name from you?” Sotaas asked. “He calls you a dryw to anyone that will listen.” Veskur choked on this insult, shaken. She closed her eyes, swallowed and accepted. She deserved to be named thus.

Endrall had already explained this to her at length.

I didn’t know.” It took her a moment more to find her voice. “He wants to come with us to the wedding. Hekro left him, doesn’t want anything to do with him right now.”

And he doesn’t want to be alone,” Sotaas snarled. “He needs female approval because the mother surrogate he was rutting with left him. Whatever.”

You’re okay traveling with him?”

No, but I’ll go to make sure he doesn’t do anything to you on the way up.” Sotaas paused, looking off into the green for a long while. “I won’t sleep under the same roof as him.”

Do you want me to make other arrangements for you or us?”

No, no, I’ll come up with something.”

This late?”

You know as well as I do that there is very little that you or I cannot accomplish,” Sotaas said, holding up the gaurn on his hand. Veskur smiled, hugged the man and left him to wander the wilds a few days more.

When the day came the two of them met at House Raido to collect their things. Veskur had taken care of their transport while Sotaas had plotted their path – they would head east, into the Darroken lands, then travel south and west to collect Endrall, loop up north to High House Wynn. The journey to the Darroken lands was simple enough, their claiming of what Deeam sought equally easy. The importance of what it was they held, however, was not lost on either of them.

The Darroken were considered the most trustworthy of the other nations and existed outside the politics that defined so much of Vanir interaction. As such, the Vanir elders trusted this other nation to look after the vestments used to proclaim a man or woman as Njord, Freya, or Freyr, vestments that were as old as any of the Vanir houses, as old as Midgard itself. They both held the fabrics with a sense of awe and gratitude, knowing how rare it was for any Vanir to so much as see what they now held.

When a Vanir noble ascended to any of the three dominant positions he or she set themselves outside the normal politics and games that existed in Midgard. Their sole responsibility was to tend to the Vanir nation as a whole; they cut ties with their former House, gaining instead all the Vanir peoples as a home. The Njord was given the task of mapping the constant change of Vanir borders, of keeping those borders pure while exploring other lands and developing Vanir interests. Over the ages those that had become Njord had furthered the obligations that came with the position, exploring the avenues of science and lore as much as physical geography and the passings of history.

The ceremony that marked a new Njord saw a long rope tied around the Vanir’s shoulders, starting on the left hand, looping up the arm and around the shoulders and then down to the other hand. The rope represented the ships that the Vanir had used in the earliest days. A sleeveless cloak was then draped around the neck and down the shoulders, leaving the back exposed. The cloak had writ on its length the sigils of all twenty-seven Houses, from hedonistic Fehu all the way to meditative Dagaz. Finally, a walking stick and oar woven together of elm and ash, symbolizing the willingness to wander every last corner of the world and leave nothing unexplored.

Veskur and Sotaas held these treasures in their hands with great care. With reverence they packed them, knowing that they would have to keep the nature of their burden secret from everyone else and understanding the honor and trust that Deeam was placing in them. They were both moved to the point of giddy exhaustion, each vowing to see the sacred fabrics to their destination even at the cost of their last breath.

The Darroken lands were well maintained, the roads peaceful and trustworthy. Nonetheless, the two kept a careful eye on the world as they crossed back into Midgard, heading to the far west and into the lands held by House Suwilo. Veskur had arranged to meet Endrall far afield from the capital, not wanting to chance bumping into Sahr Eri. If anything, Sotaas was even less enamored of that prospect.

He didn’t like me very much.”

Who? Sahr or Endrall?”

I don’t think Endrall is actually capable of loving anyone, never mind liking,” Sotaas said, frowning at a gathering ring of clouds. “But, no, I meant Eri.”

Oh, good,” Veskur said, shaking her head. “I thought it was only me that he despised.”

He really did, but only because you’re as erratic as his banished wife.” Sotaas sighed, climbing to the top of the carriage and lying down. “He thought you were going to ruin Endrall’s life the way that his wife ruined his.”

Eri is the most celebrated healer of our age, right?” Veskur asked. Sotaas muttered something that might have been assent. “Just checking.”

Good on you. I’m going to sleep until darling Endrall arrives. Wake me up when he gets here.”

He’ll be here soon.”

Sure he will.”

Sotaas was lost to slumber long before Endrall’s arrival, this casual notation of his faults something that Veskur passed the time thinking about. There had been a time just after Figo had left and she had been devastated that Endrall had offered to come and care for her. The day he was supposed to be there came and went, time stretching out as she waited and waited, thought and repented, but still there was no sign of the man that would claim that they were not lovers despite them being everything that lovers were supposed to be.

She had tried to contact Endrall by means of every Science at her disposal but had learned and found nothing. In despair she had retreated to the wilds around her keep, seeking solace in wander, but she had been only a day into her wandering when Endrall had contacted her. He had been furious to find her home empty of her, demanding that she return instantly before severing all contact. He’d spent the next day yelling at her, letting her know that she was inconsiderate, evil, and valued only so much as he saw fit.

Veskur had believed him then, in the wake of Figo’s absence.

She wasn’t so certain that she believed him now.

A full day came and went before Endrall appeared. He came in the company of Farrell, though the kitsune begged off coming with them – it had merely served as an escort. This was a good thing, as Veskur was uncertain how long she would have been able to not kill the creature. Everyone else seemed to have forgotten that the kitsune had betrayed them all once upon a time but Veskur had heard the broken words spilling from Figo’s sleeping lips, had heard her former love recount the crimes this creature had committed. Endrall kissed its cheek before glancing at the carriage, offering only a brief nod of approval as Veskur poked Sotaas.

What’s is… oh. You’re here.”

Is that any way to greet me?”

Yes. It is, in fact, the perfect way.”

Veskur stood by and said nothing during this exchange. Sotaas climbed into the carriage beside her, Endrall sitting opposite them. Sotaas’ hand briefly touched Veskur’s, some form of Science that Veskur was not familiar with allowing the man to implant words in her mind: He is not to be trusted. He is going to try and hurt you. Do not let him touch you and we will get through this together. Veskur was not certain how to respond so she merely nodded, trying to make the motion look casual. She doubted Endrall would catch such a slight twitch but a quick trace of fingernail along her hand let her know that Sotaas understood.

The journey took a total of four days. They spent all that time moving, Sotaas and Endrall resting while Veskur kept going – the same endurance that let her spend weeks awake and working in her laboratory serving her here in turn. The roads were quiet, all of Midgard hushed in anticipation of the new Njord’s ascent. Even the Coeecian borders had been relatively quiet, the madness named Jesam the First keeping to himself as Deeam prepared to become so much more than he now was.

Endrall spoke of his hopes for the future, the things he had learned while serving along the Coeecian border and then back in the lands of his House. Veskur listened with more interest than Sotaas, though the Wanderer of Ygg made polite noises where appropriate and seemed to relax his guard somewhat as the days wore on. By the second day, he was even volunteering some of his own stories, speaking of far off lands that he had traveled to since his exile.

Far to the east, past the Darroken, there are people that live in huts made of thick cord,” Sotaas told them as they dipped into and through a valley. “There are poles that stretch dozens of feet into the air and hundreds upon hundreds of these cords are woven together to form cities inside, though the ways into those cities are secret and hidden. Men there are seen as little more than work animals. Their entire culture is built around the domination of men by women.”

What a strange people,” Endrall said, catching Veskur’s eyes with an indulgent smile.

It’s true,” Sotaas continued. “They live the way they do because of the weather. For a full third of the year, they are battered by winds and rains that put the worst storms that Coeecian trickery can cobble together to shame, while for another third the naked sunlight withers and blackens all human life that it touches. Their structures bend with the wind and do not fall while the cords release the heat they suffer during the hot months.

I stayed with them for a full year but I never learned their language, only their culture. They subscribe to a strange series of beliefs, thinking that the energy of their minds leaves their bodies when they die only to be reborn as something or someone else. I asked them what the purpose of such a process would be and they claimed they were working towards some form of transcendence, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

The women maintain their control of their nation through the secrets of those cords – the weaving of the individual lengths and the combining of them into structure. Though they respected me for my skills, they would not teach me or even allow me to witness their most secret craftings. I might have pushed but, to be honest, those same women have a means of fighting that can only be likened to a spider trapping things in a web. I would not like to fight them within what they have woven and have never seen the purpose in rewarding hospitality with hostility, even if the shelter offered is offered by barbarians.”

But they are only barbarians,” Endrall scoffed. “I’m certain, were we to bend our minds to discovering their secrets, we could take their weavings apart and put them back together.”

I am less certain of that.”

I’ve read about the people you describe,” Veskur said. “They were involved in that war the Darroken were fighting forty generations or so ago.”

I hardly see what bearing the ancient history of a backwards people has on the modern world, though they sound interesting enough,” Endrall said, resting his chin in his palm. “Do they really abhor males so badly?”

Yes,” Sotaas said. “The Nauthiz Coven would feel right at home.”

What about you, Lady?” Endrall asked, leaning back to best show the line of his musculature. “What mad dreams have been driving you forward?”

Equations, mostly,” Veskur admitted, shy. “I’ve had to invent three mathemagical languages to fully explain what it is I’m trying to do.”

And what is that, exactly?”

Well, we know that there had to be a prime cause of which we are all echoes,” Veskur said. “Various other Scientists have tried to cast their numbers backwards to describe what was, but the future has always interested me more than the past. It seems to me that there should be equations that could be used to predict what is going to happen, seeing that matter and energy are consistently moving forward and behave in certain causal patterns.

The truth of this knowledge proves free will a lie. We are doing what we’re doing in accordance with forces that were set in place long and long before any of us were born and will continue to move thus when we are all gone and dust. The illusion of decision, of discovery, of experience is simply that – an illusion brought upon by a pre-determined lack of understanding. Though we are advanced enough as a people to recognize that truth we are not moved past the primitive superstitions of our own history to recognize that truth completely, which is why we still think that we are making choices.

My recent passions, which are not mine so much as they are an echo of whatever the prime cause was, have been trying to trace the passage of one thing to determine the passage of another. Cause and effect chain together, you see, and if something happens in the macrocosm there will be a mirror of that in the microcosm and vice-versa, as well as everywhere in between. If one can find the equations that describe the precursor of a macrocosmic event, then an understanding can be applied using those equations to predict what is going to happen in our immediate cosm.”

A long silence followed Veskur’s description.

Is cosm even a word?”

If it isn’t, it should be.”

Their talk turned to lighter topics thereafter – the weather that followed them, the quietness of the road ahead, the lingering taste of food eaten and processed. Sotaas‘ hand found hers, fingers tapping out a certain beat to let Veskur know that he wanted to continue speaking of those equations at some future time when they had left behind unwanted company. For all his brilliance, Endrall did not notice this silent intimacy between the two that he had abandoned for reasons of his own.

We’ve known forever that there is iron in the blood of both the Vanir and the people of the lesser nations,” Endrall said. “Father has had some small success using magnets in the healing of various aches and wounds, but my studies have actually taken me a step further than that. It seems that the movement of blood within the body creates a slight magnetic field that traces the outline of the body that it moves through. This field can be tested via a series of techniques that I’ve been developing.

The testing of this field can be used to determine the necessity of surgeries and the places those surgeries would best be performed. It can be used to chart the movement of energy within the body and discover those places where the flow of energy has been disrupted, thus allowing those of us with the proper knowledge to fix whatever they problem might be, or at least make a definitive diagnosis.

My imprint in the field of medicine will be so great that it will make my father’s efforts look like the urgings of primitive trickery when compared with our Sciences. This is the length and breadth of my genius and the glory I will win for it, well, it is a good thing that the two of you know me. My accomplishments will make you both great by the simple virtue of your association with me.”

Veskur and Sotaas shared a look but said nothing.

The three of them travelled to Njordheim, the place where every Njord since the dawn of the Vanir nation had ascended to that position and where they all ruled from once they had given up their old House and home. Soldiers from honorable Gebo were waiting to greet them, providing an honor guard for the two as they carried the treasure they had retrieved between them. A pouting Endrall was not allowed to accompany them on this journey. Instead, having spotted the Nauthiz Coven, he made his way over to them in order to exchange pleasantries.

Deeam was waiting for them in his private chambers, his back to the door and his hands clasped by the base of his spine. He wore a simple long vest and a pair of pants and somehow managed to look regal despite this; his mere presence and the perfection of his being flooded the room.

You have retrieved what was needed?” he asked, his deep baritone caught by architecture and booming around them, a rolling thunder that Veskur was sure he must have practiced. They nodded, dropped to their knees, presented him with what they had collected in his name. “Excellent. I also see that the two of you came here with Endrall. This is good – I had feared in the wake of what happened with Hekro that he would not be here. Does this mean the ice that lies between you has thawed?”

As much as can be,” Sotaas said.

Veskur said nothing.

Deeam had questions for them after that, wanting to know the state of things elsewhere in Midgard and what troubles threatened from the other side of the Coeecian border. He seemed bothered when they spoke of how quiet it had been.

Jesam the First has proven to be a cunning opponent,” Deeam admitted, clasping Veskur’s shoulder. “If only you had the chance to destroy him the way you destroyed his predecessor, eh? I’m sure the chance will present itself if we give it a little more time.”

Conversation turned to lesser things thereafter. Deeam wished to speak with Sotaas for a few minutes on his own, so Veskur left the two of them to go and wander the halls to look for Endrall. The two of them would have to settle the arrangements that she had made for them sometime in the near future and Veskur, for all her insight and knowing, was beginning to trot along the edges of exhaustion.

She found Endrall chatting up the Nauthiz Coven. The eldest of them caught her eye, her typical hostility mingling with curiosity. There was a conversation there, Veskur knew, and she did not need to use her gaurn to know that it was not meant for that moment. Endrall was reluctant to leave, enjoying himself despite the quiet tension of the three ladies that he was speaking with.

I was just starting to get comfortable,” Endrall muttered as they climbed back aboard their transport. Veskur said nothing, getting the vehicle moving and taking them to the small cabin that her own contacts had allowed her to acquire.

Endrall nodded acceptance as they entered, clearly deciding that their surroundings would do for this venture. There was a single bedroom, a kitchen, and a greeting area.

I’ll take the bedroom,” Endrall declared as Veskur unloaded their things. “You can have the greeting area.” Veskur had secretly been hoping that she would have been able to fall asleep in his warmth but she accepted Endrall’s terms – to do or say anything else, she thought, would have made her the rapist or the dryw that Endrall had named her. She gave him his things and found a place to lie down and was asleep almost instantly.

She awoke one day later to find Endrall preparing for the festivities to come. He had left dishes for others to clean and no food for her to eat, but she struggled out of the sleep haze and found something to drink, using Science to boil some water and make tea. As the fog of sleep faded she looked to her own things, retrieving the clothing that she would be expected to wear at the ceremony.

We’re out of food,” Endrall said, emerging from the changing rooms and straightening a cuff. He glanced at her, frowning. “How do I look?”

Perfect,” Veskur said, staring and not bothering to hide her hunger. He spared her an amused smile, walked forward and took her hand in his. There was something in his eyes, some small fracture that made a lie of his perfect confidence. “What’s wrong?”

It was,” Endrall swallowed, closed his eyes, was silent a moment. “I don’t know if I can do this. There are a lot of people here that have direct ties to, well, Sotaas or House Elhaz. They hate me, I know it. They hate me. The Nauthiz Coven and all the rest.”

No one hates you,” Veskur said, wrapping Endrall in her arms. “No one here is going to hate you on behalf of another; we’re all Vanir here, not barbarians.”

I hear them whispering,” he pressed. “I heard them whispering yesterday.”

We’re crowning a new Njord,” Veskur said. “There’s a lot to be done. I’m not even going to pretend to know the full scope of the preparations and things that are happening but I can tell you that no one has time just now to hate you. There’s too much else to do, too much else to focus on.”

So… I’m not important?”

You are to me,” Veskur said, cupping his cheek in her hand and looking into his eyes. “You are the most important person in any room you walk into. There is nothing and no one in my sight that will ever be more – you walk into a room and nothing else matters.”

He stared at her for a long time after that.

I don’t trust you.”

I know.”

We’re not friends.”

I know.”

But, well, I will say this: you’re sweet.” Endrall frowned as he noted the clothing that had been prepared for her. “I did not realize you were going to be among the Honored Guard.”

Neither did I.”

Deeam must think very highly of you.”

Veskur muttered her agreement, taking what had been laid out for her into the washing and changing rooms. She let water soak into her hair, scrubbed the aches and fatigues of her body out, left the pools of water and pressed herself with discarded clothing until she was completely dry. Sighing, she began wrapping herself in the traditional garb of the Honored Guard, the willowing sleeves and the long jacket, the pocketless pants and tall boots. She tied her hair back as best she could, raised the hood at the back of the jacket over her brow just so, set the rings that had been laid out for her right hand onto the proper fingers and studied her reflection in the water she had left.

The only thing that looked out of place was the gaurn that graced her left hand.

She studied this for a time, deciding it was not something that she was willing to relinquish.

Endrall was waiting for her when she emerged from the room. He watched her with his piercing eyes, measuring her. She turned when he asked her to, his eyes roaming over her as if she were nothing more than meat for him to devour. He nodded approval at the ended of it.

You look beautiful,” he said, and for the first time in her life, Veskur believed those words.

They joined hands and walked to the waiting transport. It struck Veskur that she had to look like something from a fable as she helped Endrall aboard, the uncomfortable weight of the levl an awkward presence at her hips. They spoke but sparingly on the way to the center of Njordheim but of this Veskur took no note; she was lost in her own thoughts, thoughts that inevitably turned to the man sitting beside her.

In spite of everything, she knew she wanted him. She wanted to see him smile, to hold him, to take him inside of her. She gave no thought to her own pleasure; even before Figo she had found more gratification in the giving of pleasure than in the taking of it. She wanted to wake beside him, for him to wake beside her. But most of all she wanted him happy, regardless of what that meant, regardless of what that took.

Her left hand twitched.

Endrall took no notice.

They arrived long before the gathering crowd, Veskur able to find a place to rest their carriage and helping Endrall down from that height. They spotted the Nauthiz Coven chatting with Rock and a handful of others and wandered over – Sotaas, too, bore the markings of the Honored Guard.

You look good,” Endrall said, sizing the Wanderer of Ygg up with a terrible light in his eyes. Sotaas ignored him, turned to Veskur and told her that Deeam was waiting for him and a handful of others, those that had been named as the Honored Guard. Nine such people had been chosen by Deeam, another nine by Glow.

Is there anyone else in their number that we know?” Veskur asked.

No one you’d be familiar with,” Sotaas said. “Follow me, I’ll introduce you.”

There was a moment, a single moment, where she turned back and saw that same fracture of vulnerability in the eyes of the man she was leaving behind, but then Sotaas had her by the arm and was dragging her away.

What’s the rush?” she asked.

Deeam wants to speak with all of us, to prepare us for the ceremony to come.” Sotaas paused, looked at her. “Do you understand what Deeam has done by naming us among his Honored Guard?”

Not really, no.” Veskur let her confusion show on her face when Sotaas continued to stare at her. “I’ve been a virtual hermit all my life, remember? Until I invented the gaurn no one wanted anything to do with me. So, no, I have no idea what being named an Honored Guard means. I never before had reason to care.”

Alright, granted.” Sotaas’ lips twisted in a small smile. “I keep forgetting that you’re just about as reclusive as I am.”

Maybe moreso.”

Given that you don’t know even this? Probably.” Sotaas sighed, started to run a hand through her hair and got his fingers caught in the hood that covered her scalp. “So annoying.”

Granted.”

Cute.” He shook his head. “By naming us his Honored Guard, Deeam is announcing to the rest of Midgard that he views us as the most competent, trustworthy, and skilled Vanir that he knows. Should he decide to quest, it is we that he will call upon, and should he decide to go to war, it is we who will be expected to raise and lead his armies.”

I don’t know the first thing about leading armies.”

You spent five decades with Lord Figo Jera, the most feared general this side of the Golden Champion, and you know nothing about leading armies? You must have picked up something. Anyways, in times of formal duress you’ll be asked to provide protection and advice to the Njord, to occasionally act in his interests or as his ambassador, and in certain instances you will speak with his voice or act on his behalf.”

Do the people that Glow picked as her Honored Guard do the same thing?” Veskur asked, wondering if she could ask for a transfer.

You’d hate their end even more,” Sotaas grinned. “Those chosen by the Njord’s spouse stay with the Njord and their chooser at all times, keeping them both safe.”

You are utterly correct in my not wanting to do that.”

I know. Follow me. There are some protocols we’ll be expected to go through.”

They spent the morning rehearsing the things that they would do over the process of the coming union – protect the young couple, escort them from place to place, and deal with any problems that might surface. Glow’s chosen had to deal much more with the latter, for which Veskur was grateful. Most of what she ended up doing was standing around, looking important, while Deeam and Glow drew every available eye – which, Veskur thought, was exactly as it should have been.

Rings and oaths were exchanged under a sheen of lightning and a slight drizzling rain. The falling water caught the flashes of light within them, twinkling like stars as they fell down around the new Njord and his presumably lovely bride. Veskur could feel the eyes of Sotaas and the Nauthiz Coven sometimes glancing at her but she ignored them. Her attention was divided solely between the new royal couple and the healer’s scion that sat prim and watchful. She could not help but feel that she was being judged.

Do you, Deeam of House Wynn, accept the vestments of the Njord, with all the circumstance and consequence that comes with it, knowing that your life up until now and the life of your lover are forfeit? Do you relinquish all ties to House and all ties to man, forsaking all in the names of Midgard and the Vanir nation as a whole?”

I do.”

Know then that Midgard accepts you as such. Deeam of House Wynn is no more and is gone as though he had never been. Standing, Deeam Njord, and remember always that you are an extension of the land and all that the land might be.”

I will prove worthy of the name you have given me.”

And do you, Glow of House Pethro, accept the lot of keeping the Njord in check, to provide consul and confidence, to hold his secrets and guide his hand? Do you forfeit all that you were, House and name, and wed yourself to Deeam Njord as conscience and sobriety to better guide and serve the names of Midgard and Vanir?

I do.”

Then rise, knowing that Glow Pethro is dead and will be struck from all record and all knowledge. Instead there is only and ever has been only Glow Skathi, extension and compliment of Deeam Njord. Rise and let it be so.”

The two new powers took one another’s hands and turned to face the assembled Vanir nation, Deeam raising the hand of Glow as the crowd cheered. White flower petals fell from every tower in a shimmering cascade. In their multitudes the falling tide looked as a massive snowstorm, the sight of it catching Veskur’s breath and holding her still for several moments until Sotaas poked her. She noticed everyone looking at her, wondered when everyone had quieted, remembered what it was she was supposed to do.

Veskur of House Wyrd yields to Deeam Njord!”

The next member of the Honored Guard did the same until all of them had spoken that oath, pledging themselves to the service of the new Njord until either he was dead or they were. Veskur wasn’t certain what she thought about this and so tried to silence her mind. The skin underneath the gaurn on her hand itched horribly but she held herself steady, ignoring the weight at her hips, the pull of her clothing, the sweat on her skin. There would be time to tend to herself later.

At that moment the only thing that mattered were Deeam and Glow.

The roar that followed the end of the ceremony was deafening, the release of petals that accompanied that conclusion making the previous downpour of same seem as a river compared to an ocean. Every noble present raised their weapon in salute of the Njord and his love, every peasant there fell to both knees and bowed their head. The pure scope of the adulation presented in this moment rocked Veskur to her very core – she had never in her life imagined that so many people could exist, never mind gather for a single event. When she stumbled, it was Sotaas who steadied her.

A series of large meals followed the ceremony proper, a massive celebration that lasted for several days. The Honored Guard came and went as the days wore on; working in shifts so that three of their number consistently surrounded one of the two they were now sworn to. Petals were kicked up with every step, giving the illusion of treading in an ocean, some trick or science keeping those colors from fading, wilting, or ever touching the earth. In what quiet moments she could find Veskur experimented with those petals she could grab, trying to figure out how the effect had been accomplished.

She did not have very much time to herself. The Honored Guard worked in shifts of six hours on and twelve off. The idea, as she understood it, was to keep them all fresh and active. She and Sotaas ended up working alongside a woman named Sas Ansu, who at least proved to be adequate conversation and a sharp wit, so that wasn’t awful.

How do you think they do it?” Veskur found herself asking. No matter how hard she pressed down upon the color in her hand it would not touch the ground.

Which? The thing with the petals?” Sas shook the hair out of her face. “I heard it’s some secret science that the nobles of House Pethro keep to themselves. You could ask some of our opposites among Glow’s Chosen, though I would recommend waiting until after the celebration is over.”

Why’s that?”

They’ll be easier to ply then.” Sas’ voice was wry. “I mean, it’s not like they’re going anywhere. I imagine they’ll be starved for any sort of conversation in a year or two.” Sotaas smirked, saying nothing. The three of them were called away then, acting as guides for the other nobles, allowing some to go and greet the new Njord, barring others long enough for Deeam and Glow to collect themselves that they might better speak with those who sought them.

Veskur didn’t much see the point. Most of what she heard said was simple empty congratulations and everyone there seemed more eager to be seen than heard. Sotaas muttered something about social hierarchies that Veskur didn’t quite understand or care to; she just stood there, ignoring the questioning looks that surrounded her, fulfilling her role and counting down the moments to her periods of freedom.

Endrall inevitably sought her out whenever she was trying to sleep, speaking of the people he had seen and spoken with, asking for her opinion on his interaction with them. He would tell her everything, every last little detail, and ask her to analyze what had been told. He was looking for justification, for edification, for proof that he was as liked and admired and respected as he knew he deserved to be. Veskur told him the truth as she knew it and let herself fade into sleep when she was able.

Whether for sleep or for honor, he always seemed insulted when she had to leave him and when she awoke it was inevitably alone.

She missed Figo. She looked for him but neither he or Hekro were there. Her heart had always ever focused on his duty and this moment was no exception to that rule; she heard tell that he was still on the Coeecian front, watching for incursion, and that while he had been invited to stand witness he had declined the invitation. Endrall, in those quiet moments they shared, was quick to let her know that she was the reason for his refusal. Veskur could have brought up the delicate subject of Hekro but never did, not once in a thousand heartbeats.

On the final day of the festival, when exhaustion had claimed those who were there only for reason of politic or politeness and all that remained were those that truly loved Deeam or Glow, the new Njord called for musicians and invited all those with the will or means to abandon themselves in the mania of song and dance. Veskur circled around the assembled group, the Nauthiz Coven and Endrall Sahr, Ygg Sotaas and Sas Ansu, Roch Elhaz, and Gvin Berkano. The lot of them moved in graceful circles around the royal couple, singing along with the music, rocking out as hard as they were able.

Veskur stood apart, claiming a strip of floor that was not wanted.

Every time she had danced before this had been out in the woods and private, a duel between herself and music that only she could hear, but now she was sick from exhaustion and sick of people and sick with observations she wanted nothing to do with and there would be no stopping her, not now. Sliding one foot behind the other, bringing her hands around in a half-circle, she closed her eyes and let the music carry her.

She heard startled gasps as she moved but she did not open her eyes, wanting to know nothing in this moment save the joys of movement and noise. Whispers surrounded her, calls of insanity, of insult, of injury, but she refused to let those voices touch her, refused to identify any of those who spoke. She did not want to know that Endrall was insulting her. She did not want to know this.

The music fell and the music rose and she lashed out against it, seeing it as something to fight, something to rail against. Voices rang around her and she heard her own join them, warbling off-kilter and out of tune. Her face broke into a wild grin and she heard herself laughing as she leapt from one place to the next, every turn and strike in time with the music around her.

People came to the floor and left but she remained constant, a tempest brought to life. Soaked in sweat, all muscles aching and still she moved, still she sang. The sun came and went and came again and still she moved, still she smiled and laughed. This was her moment to by happy and that emotion filled her with emotions she had not felt since Figo had finally left her, since Endrall had told her that he would be happiest beside her closest friend. She danced and leaped and spun until her entire being was a throbbing fatigue and all movement itself was impossible.

Only then did she stop.

Things were quiet after that, Deeam thanking them all, Glow letting them know that they could move on with whatever it was they were meant to do now and so they did. Endrall let Veskur limp away to claim their carriage, then return to claim her in turn. Deeam went with her.

Are you alright?” he asked.

Tired, but otherwise fine,” Veskur murmured. “I have enough to get back to the cabin, but after that I’ll sleep for a day or so. Why? What do you need?”

I was going to ask you to take the vestments back to the Darroken,” Deeam said, studying her. “If you’re too tired, though…?”

No, I’ll be fine,” Veskur said. “I’ll come to claim them and Sotaas in the evening tomorrow.”

He’s not staying with you?”

He’s uncomfortable sleeping under the same roof as Endrall.”

I see.” Deaam glanced back to where the young healer was waiting and watching them. “And you’re alright sleeping thus?”

I love him,” Veskur said, the words rolling off her tongue. “I love him. I love him. I’d howl that from any rooftop I could if he would let me.” Veskur thought that Deeam looked like he might have said something else but then he thought better of it and said nothing. She shrugged it off; she was tired and there was a good chance she was seeing phantoms.

Deeam accepted the ride back to his new home. Veskur held the door open for Endrall, found Sotaas and told him what they had yet to do and asked if he was interested in making the return journey. He said that he was and told Veskur that he would be waiting come the following evening before shooing her away.

Go to bed,” Sotaas ordered. “You’re weaving on your feet.”

My calves hurt.”

The way you were moving, you’re lucky that’s the only thing causing you pain. Go.”

Okay.”

Sotaas helped Endrall back to the transport, saw both she and Endrall off. Endrall was silent the whole way back, the two of them travelling through the darkest part of the night in perfect quiet. Endrall’s fingers found hers and curled around them and Veskur’s heart fluttered from the slight contact, the sense that maybe now everything would be okay between them.

They arrived in utter darkness, even the lights meant to stand sentinel in the night long since guttered out. Endrall led her back into their small cabin, keeping her from stumbling over her numb feet and exhausted thoughts. Veskur held the keys to the door and managed to fumble their house open but nearly collapsed thereafter. Endrall’s gentle hands lifted her, held her, and guided her to the bed.

It’s lumpy anyway,” Endrall whispered. “I’ll take the living area.”

You can,” Veskur swallowed, tried to focus her eyes. “You can stay here if you like.”

Even in the darkness and through her exhaustion Veskur could see the cold that touched Endrall’s eyes at that invitation. The boy left her without another word.

She drifted unconscious thereafter, letting the tide of dreamless sleep overtake her and shatter her upon the unknowable shores of oblivion. When she awoke, it was still to darkness and the sound of hushed weeping. Exhausted, she forced herself off the slab of a mattress, creeping through the black to where Endrall sat.

Are you alright?” Veskur asked, keeping herself balanced on the entryway to the living area. Endrall looked back at her, a silhouette held by morning’s first sliver of light.

He hates me, doesn’t he?” Endrall said, holding himself. “Sotaas hates me. Just like you do. I know you do, and that’s fine because I hate you. I don’t trust you. And you know, that’s fine. That’s alright. I’m so much better than all of you. It’s jealousy, it will always be jealousy…”

He drifted off as Veskur came to him and rested her head in his lap, letting him know that she loved him, that she had always loved him and would always love him. She held his shoulders, whispering in his ear every oath of devotion she could think of, every promise writ in her heart, and all the words that passed from her lips she meant. She whispered and held and promised until he was sleeping, silent in her arms.

She knew this was the closest she would ever get to him. It would have to be enough, and it was. Exhausted, she bent over and pressed her lips against his forehead, crawled back to the room she had been given and let sleep take her once more.

When next she woke the sun was creeping past its zenith, seeping back towards earth. Endrall was still asleep as she slipped to his side, kneeling beside him and resting her head parallel with his, matching his breathing. His eyes opened a crack, a sliver, and she wished him good morning, told him she was going to get Sotaas, and asked him if he wanted to come with her. He begged off, desiring nothing more than rest. She kissed his forehead once more, her mouth brushing his skin, and then she was heading outside to where their chariot waited.

The passage back to Njordheim was quiet and simple. The vast majority of Vanir that had come here had already taken their leave, returning to whatever homes they had left behind. Only the best and brightest had stayed behind – the full complement of the Honored Guard, the Nauthiz Coven, and a handful of others. They were feasting when Veskur arrived, eating the remnants of the grand meals that had come before, and they welcomed her to their tables.

Where’s Endrall?” the youngest of the Nauthiz Coven asked.

Sleeping,” Veskur answered, catching a hint of mischief in the question. “He was very tired.”

I can imagine,” the middle member of the Nauthiz Coven said. “But he is unharmed?”

He’s fine,” Veskur replied, buttering a slice of bread. “He just needed a little more sleep.”

Endrall Sahr, Endrall Sahr,” the eldest member of the Nauthiz Coven smiled. “Who do we have to thank for his talents, really? Who do we have to thank?”

Veskur Wyrd did not reply to this, realizing that some sort of game was being played while remaining ignorant of the intent and the rules. She didn’t care what point they may have been trying to make and instead turned her attention to other things. Sotaas was there and speaking with Deeam, the two of them getting on as well as they ever did, and Veskur found herself wondering if anything had truly changed.

She could have looked into the future or changed it. The means of doing so was on her left hand even now, but she did not think she was worthy of that sort of power, not anymore; her use had caused so much change and she would never know if her violation of the illusion of choice had caused more harm than good. She suspected it had. She suspected there was no crime more profane than the one she had made with every use of her power, her only solace lying in the simple fact that no one around her could even comprehend what it was that she had done.

No one save Sotaas, as close to her as breath, and Endrall, the one she loved above all else.

The rest of her time there passed without incident. She spoke briefly with Deeam and Glow about nothing of real import, she packed the holy vestments of the Njord away with Sotaas and exchanged means of contact with Sas Ansu. Once all of that was done, she and Sotaas boarded the transport, piloted it back to where Endrall Sahr was waiting for them and began the long ride back.

Endrall tried to make conversation with Sotaas the entire way back. Veskur kept silent, allowing the man to try and mend that bridge as best he could. It was clear enough to her that Sotaas was merely being polite, friendliness meant merely to make the long journey back more bearable. If Endrall took note of Veskur’s silence or lack of comfort, he shared no care of it. Sometimes, he would turn the conversation to a direction that Veskur found downright insulting but still she kept silent.

She could have used the ethcinos to fix things, used her power to settle the distance between her two passengers, but the one who stood to benefit the most from such passage had already insulted her beyond all reckoning for doing such things. He still did not understand why there was even a modicum of chance that his doing so had been wrong. Instead of speaking her mind, Veskur tried to mend their wound with words but words alone had never been her weapon of choice. Nothing was fixed. Endrall blithely continued to speak and insult and demean, Sotaas kept up a passively insulting tirade that Endrall missed entirely.

Veskur felt herself tense from silence.

They crossed over into the Darroken lands, their strange little party. Sotaas insisted that they were being followed and even pointed out where there pursuers were. Endrall grew quiet after that revelation, fearing Coeecians, and the Wanderer of Ygg left them to scout around, promising to be back before daybreak. Veskur settled up for the night, made camp, and let Endrall wrap her in his arms.

Do you think he still likes me?” Endrall asked, voice very quiet.

You do yourself no favors by insulting others,” Veskur replied.

How can you tell?”

The way his jaw clenches when you do. The way his breathing changes, the slight narrowing of his eyes. He doesn’t much care for it though sometimes he forgets how angry he is with you.”

Me? Angry at me? Whatever for?”

You broke his heart.”

I know you’re delusional. I did everything for him. I supported him, I brought him into a world he would have never known, I brought him into the Darroken Lands long before you and he decided to go back there for whatever mad reason currently drives the two of you. I was the one that pushed him, that drove him. I hate you. He should hate you. You tried to keep him a child while I made him a man and now that he’s all interesting I feel like I don’t get to enjoy what I made of him.”

What you made of him…?”

Interesting. I made him interesting. Everything he is now I made and he won’t even speak with me. He should love me, he should be grateful. He should recognize me for everything that I did for him. But he doesn’t trust me, the way I don’t trust you, and why should he treat me thus? He shouldn’t. Not after everything I did for him.”

And to him.”

What’s that supposed to mean?”

Nothing.”

Sotaas returned as promised. He told them that there had been Coeecians out and about, a handful of spies moving quietly through the wild places, living off the land and avoiding contact. They had been following their party out of a sense of curiosity but had not recognized them for who they were, finally concluding that they were nothing more than a collection of young and stupid wandering nobles. The Coeecians had broken away from their path, having no desire to pass into Darroken land; the spies had been wise enough to recognize that as their destination.

Veskur caught Sotaas’ eye and knew they hadn’t been. Sotaas had used the ethcinos to change things, to make what he had said the truth. She felt her fingers itch beneath the gaurn on her left hand and fought the urge to see what might have otherwise been.

They crossed over into the Darroken lands without further incident, Endrall trying to patch things up with Sotaas and making things more awkward, Veskur keeping herself to herself, Sotaas subtly eager to be done with the journey and with Endrall Sahr. Veskur found herself wondering if the entire fight with Hekro had been a ploy to buy him this time, to allow him to reclaim Sotaas into his life.

If it had been, she thought, than Endrall had deeply miscalculated.

Once the vestments were returned Sotaas came to Veskur.

I’m going to go find out where the final destination of those Coeecians was,” Sotaas said, clasping her shoulder. “I will come to you after I know for certain.”

I’ll be waiting,” Veskur said. The two embraced and then Sotaas was gone, using the power of the ethcinos to vanish into the woods. Veskur felt her left hand clench. Where was the line to be drawn? When was it alright to use the power that she had discovered? She no longer knew. Too much of who she was now was wrapped up in Endrall Sahr, and Endrall, well…

Where’s Sotaas?” Endrall asked. She had left them to grab some refreshments, had even been kind enough to pick one up for Veskur. Sotaas had wanted nothing from him.

He went to spy on the Coeecians,” Veskur said. Endrall glared.

I can’t believe he didn’t even have the nerve to say goodbye,” Endrall said. “That dryw.”

Don’t talk about him like that,” Veskur said. “He’s going to find out why the Coeecians have quietly invaded Midgard. I think that’s a little more important than saying farewell.”

I do not think so,” Endrall spat. “He could have waited another second or two.”

Veskur shrugged and said nothing, enjoyed the refreshment that had been provided her and offered to finish taking Endrall the rest of the way home. Grumbling, the boy accepted.

They left the next morning, setting out in silence and with a light sprinkling of rain complimenting a golden sunrise. The emerald leaves of the trees along their path whispered above them in a thousand strange tongues, a poet’s miasma of promises only barely understood. In spite of everything, Veskur still felt her bond to Endrall, still desired the touch of that man’s hand on her flesh.

Nothing happened. They left the Darroken lands and re-entered Midgard, passed through lands dominated by several noble Houses before returning at last to the territories claimed by House Suwilo. The words between them turned once more to Ygg Sotaas, and Veskur felt herself shaking even as she said nothing.

I know I have to watch what I say when I’m talking to you about Sotaas,” Endrall said. “I don’t want you to confuse the ties that bind me and him with the ties that bind me and you.”

A terrible wave of fury bled over Veskur Wyrd and held her.

It was one line among many, one insult in a multitude. It was not a phrase that on its own would have poisoned whatever wells of emotion lay between the two of them but after everything else there was nothing left in Veskur save a terrible sense of cold. She swallowed, bit her tongue as Endrall continued talking, continued to insult, continued to hurt with the clear expectation that Veskur would bear whatever injury he chose to give her.

I think that Sotaas and I should get back together,” Endrall said. “I think that it’s time for the two of us to be together now that he’s a little more worthy of being with me. Not like you. You’ll never be worthy, were never really worth very much to begin with. You know that, don’t you? What do you think?”

Honestly?” Somehow, she managed to keep the bile and hate out of her voice. “If you work really hard at it, the two of you might become good friends. The two of you will never again be lovers.”

I can’t believe you’d say that to me,” Endrall said. “This is why I don’t trust you. Why I hate you. Why we’re not friends.” He glared at her once more before storming out of the transport and leaving Veskur alone. She stared after him for a moment, realized he’d left most his things behind, so she grabbed them and chased after them, handed them to him. He took them, glaring all the while, his entire posture meant to hurt, meant to cripple and make her less, but so consumed by hate was she that she took no note.

She returned alone to the transport, uncertain as to whether Endrall watched her or no. She did not care. She forced the vehicle to move and took it out into the wild emptiness, using the ethcinos to enhance her knowing of the world around her until she was certain she was alone. Holding herself, she fell out of the carriage and to the earth below, clutching herself until she bled, weeping until sight itself was not possible. She was so angry, so impossibly angry and hurt and she did not know what, if anything, to do about it.

As exhaustion and fatigue claimed her in an attempt to stave off the threat of madness, a message found her, some missive sent to her by the man that had brought her so low.

I’m sorry I wasn’t going anywhere good. I love you a lot. You know that.” A handful of seconds later another followed. “I didn’t mean to be reactive. You’re irreplaceable to me and I want you to be happy.”

She laughed until blackness claimed her, until senselessness rescued her from the hysteria that had overwhelmed her. When she awoke the carriage was gone, everything was gone. She lay on a mountaintop close to her home, an empty place coated by snow and invaded by her body and the gaurn that she was cradling.

Veskur pushed herself up on bleeding arms, looked up at a sun that gave light and no heat and knew it was empty as she felt. She was shaking as she remembered everything, every last detail playing out in excruciating detail.

I want you to be happy. Some people wished for things that would make them happy, Veskur knew. Some people wished for things and she had never thought much about what she would wish for if given the chance, but right them she knew with absolute certainty.

Veskur Wyrd woke up and wished that she were dead.

 

Click here to read the next part. If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people.

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219

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:04

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

March 24, 2017

Click here to read the previous entry.  

There were moments, so many small moments, where Endrall missed Veskur.

He didn’t understand why the woman just couldn’t keep her mouth shut and accept whatever treatment he chose to give her. Didn’t she understand that her every moment with him was a gift that no one else anywhere in Midgard could give her? He stood outside her keep one night, scared of knocking on the door, terrified of being turned away. Finally, he screamed at the woman he had abandoned.

I don’t think you’re a rapist!” he cried, again and again. He saw Veskur appear on the battlements and so he pressed on. “I never thought you were a rapist and I already apologized but you’re never going to accept that apology, are you? You want me to crawl. You want to make me small. What do you want me to do? Beg to be in your life? Everything you have was given to you, I was given to you!”

The silhouette of her vanished and was gone. No matter what he said or how he called, she did not return. Her manservant came out eventually and told him to leave. He felt like stabbing the man, ending his life and entering the place that had felt like home for so long, but in the end, he shouldered his coat and walked away. The healers of House Suwilo had never tried to be fighters and he didn’t even have a levl, only a dryw. The other man would have torn him apart.

Dejected, Endrall went home. In his talks with everyone else, he took to referring to Veskur as the dryw, refusing to address her by any other name or title. His father merely looked at him and said nothing. His mocking smile and wise glances spoke volumes in and of themselves. Veskur had never had many friends or allies and Endrall was charming, the heir to House Sahr. It didn’t take much effort to poison the hearts of everyone else against her.

Soon, people that had never met or even seen the woman were speaking against her and Endrall found some comfort in that – but in the darkest hours of morning, when he was alone and he could not hear even the heartbeats of anyone else, he would hold the gaurn that she had made him and rock back and forth. Why had she rejected him? He couldn’t understand it. It was infuriating. How dare she? How dare she?

Sotaas had finally re-emerged from whichever hole he had gone to hide in. Endrall had sent him letters, not bothering to try and look for him or even enter the lands held by House Ygg. He had liked some of the people there and the things they did for him, sometimes comparing Sotaas to members of his House and telling the scout how he came up short.

There were things that Endrall had left with Sotaas and things that Sotaas had left with Endrall in turn. The wanderer of Ygg came to House Suwilo alone to collect what was his. Endrall tried to speak with him about Veskur and all that had happened, getting nothing more than half-hearted monosyllables in return to his witticisms and soothsaying. Sotaas said something about how he had done the bare politic minimum to contact him during his long absence and that he was well aware of this.

Don’t you know my efforts, no matter how slight, are equal to the greatest efforts of anyone else?”

Sotaas did not respond to this truth. It was probably too large a concept for his feeble and empty mind, Endrall thought. Glancing at the gaurn on his hand, however, Endrall said nothing more. For all that Sotaas was more feral than rational, the man still had access to the ethcinos and Endrall had never learned what it was, exactly, that Sotaas Ygg was capable of.

Veskur’s birthday came and Endrall knew better than most how often people forgot that day, knew how much the Good Lady tried to pretend that the lack of well-wishers didn’t bother her. He used Science to contact the woman, wishing her joy in the coming year. It didn’t surprise him when Veskur responded, her words not entirely hostile. They spoke a little longer but never in person – always through intermediaries or through the Sciences that the Lady had developed, refined, and perfected.

They spoke like that for some small time, Endrall taking the time to feel the Good Lady out and get a handle on her fractured psyche. She was still weak, still wounded, still nothing more than a pet. She mentioned how angry she was at how she had been treated but told Endrall again and again that she loved him and would do anything for him.

She was lying, of course.

His father was the only person that would ever love him.

Even knowing that, however, Endrall felt that there was still some use to be taken from the Lady Wyrd. He played along with her game, dismissing her complaints and ignoring the lies of her pain. He knew she wasn’t really real, wasn’t a real person. She was just a toy, a pet, something to be used – and when she remembered her place she made him feel better, sang his fears away and eased away his doubts. He would ride her and tease her again, he knew, and though he would be sated, he would never sate her and she would thank him for it. He was certain of it; certain he could make her see things the way he wanted her to.

When he proposed that they meet somewhere neutral she agreed to do so, the feel of her so very eager. He made the arrangements, picking a spot not too far afield from the seat of Suwilo influence. They had not seen one another in five full passings of the seasons.

Lady Veskur Wyrd was much as Endrall remembered her – unkempt hair and ruffled clothing, eyes maddened from far too little sleep and far too much energy. She stepped out of her carriage and ran a hand through her hair, walked into the inn that he had told her to go to, people that believed the lies he had told them looking at her with narrowed eyes. Veskur didn’t notice them, took a seat, ordered something to drink, sat and began to mull things over; Endrall watched over her for a time. He had arrived hours previously but he affected being late, going so far as to apologize for it before wrapping her in his arms.

He felt her stiffen and he smiled as he felt her resolve slowly vanish, the scent and presence of him overwhelming her pathetic need to stand apart. She told him she had brought him a gift once they had parted and showed her what had been wrought; an offering of power, a draught of the liquefied life-force of Midgard herself. Endrall eyed it and smiled, the two of them settling in to eat as she stumbled her way through a conversation. She was trying so very hard.

They talked at length about many things; why Figo had left her and what had happened to him since, about Endrall’s heated affair with Hekro. It secretly pleased him to know that Veskur had not been with anyone since he had left her to rot in the northern wastes, but that very leaving was an event that had stuck in her craw, a lack she felt the need to hold against him.

You left me,” Veskur said, holding one knee against her breast at the table, staring at him with eyes that held far too much to be real. “You were an absence in my life in every way. I couldn’t get a hold of you. You clearly didn’t want me anywhere near you. So why am I here now?”

This is why you can’t be trusted. I don’t owe you anything for this,” Endrall said, waving one hand in casual dismissal, taking the tone of an adult speaking with a difficult child. “I was angry with you. I hate you. I don’t trust you. It’s perfectly okay for me to not be in your life when I’m angry with you.”

You could have let me know.”

Endrall shrugged. They moved on to other topics.

Endrall told her about what he’d done with his time since escaping Jesam the First, how he had returned home to a hero’s welcome and how even his father had been there to greet him. Veskur listened with rapt affection, asking the occasional question as Endrall waxed about his accomplishments in the field of healing. Already he was beginning to eclipse the works of his father; his theories were bearing fruit in every field of medicine that House Suwilo practiced and many felt it was only a matter of time before his works dominated the studies of every noble in his House.

He asked Veskur what she thought of that but the woman was not gushing enough in her praise, so he interrupted her, speaking for her. He knew from long experience that anything that she had to say would just anger him – he told her this, looking into her eyes.

It’s not just what you have to say,” he told her. “It’s how you say it.”

She started whining about being spoken to in such a way, so he paid for his own food and left the inn, staring in the window as the woman sat there dumbly, staring at the gift that he had neglected to take and the emptiness that was where he had been. Eventually, she struggled to her feet, dropped some gold for her meal with the innkeeper and shuffled out after him.

You speak with too much flair,” Endrall told her. “What you say, what you feel, it isn’t that important and it certainly isn’t as deep as you make it sound.” She said nothing, merely following him as he walked away from the city and into the woods surrounding it.

She said nothing, merely following him as he walked away from the city and into the woods surrounding it.

See, here’s the thing with you, Veskur. You make it sound like you’re so much more than you are by speaking in terms of poetry and philosophy, but we both know you’re little more than an empty shell. You whine and moan about being so tired, so lonely. You talk about how Figo abandoned you but we both know you never cared about Figo; you just liked having him around to boost your own ego. If you had cared about him, well, you never would have done what you did.

But you did do what you did. And, no, I don’t have to apologize for what I said then. I don’t think you’re a rapist and I never said that but I do think that you’re a monster. You’re incapable of even the most basic kindness without expecting something in return, you like putting people in your debt. It’s why I don’t trust you, why we’re not friends, but it is simply who and what you are. You should be hated for it, but you know what? I love you anyway. I love you because I’m kind, because I’m great, because I’m the one of us that’s worthy.

I don’t trust you, Veskur. You talk about yourself too much, the things you feel and the things you think, and you talk about them as if either of them matter. Yes, you can hold me. Do so now. I’ll tell you everything important, share with you all my deepest secrets. I’ll rely on you, take comfort in you, be supported by you, but you must remember that you are not worthy of the trust that I have chosen to give you. We are not friends. You understand this? We are not friends.

I read your missives and they were all poetry, all asking which of us had it worse. It’s you that does, a thousand times you, and do you know why? Because, in the end, I have my father’s love. I have Figo and Hekro and I’ve had Sotaas in ways you never will. I touched their hearts in ways that you’re not capable of. And look at you, all alone, rotting away in the wastes that your parents gave you.

My father loves me, supports me, but he never gave me my own keep. He never really gave me very much beyond love and support. So, you see, I’m better than you. I’ve built everything I am while you just accept everything that comes your way. You suffer the abuses that you do because you think you deserve it and you are absolutely correct in that thought.

And you love me, right? You love me. Say it. Say it. Say it.”

I love you.”

Of course you do.”

He held her, drew her into his arms, and he knew in that moment that everything would be alright for the people that mattered.

 

You can read the next chapter by clicking here. If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people.

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219

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:03

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

March 17, 2017

Click here to read the previous entry. 

Sotaas watched as it all unfolded. There was nothing that could be hidden from him, not a moment that passed that he was unaware of. Oh, the warlords of the Coeecians thought they were secretive when they met in their eyries or caves or tents, but there was always wildlife around them and anywhere life prevailed he could see. Even in those places where there was no life he could go, slipping between their moments of awareness.

No place was safe from him. There was no where to which he was unattached, no distance he could not cross with a thought. All space was a single space to him, though as he become more aware of that it was harder for him to focus on a single location. There were times he felt like letting himself unravel, sinking into every measurement of length and width and depth until there was nothing left of him. Some sense of things always held him back, however.

Some sense of things. He wondered if he was going mad.

His left hand ached, sometimes, but still he refused to take the gaurn off. He had left the civilized world to calm himself and sort through his feelings for treacherous Veskur and unfaithful Endrall, but his efforts in that area had been underwhelming at best. A terrible anger grew in his heart, a rage and a hatred that no one would be able to withstand should he ever let it free.

Sotaas’ reasons for remaining in the wilds were, he would have thought, obvious.

Members of his House sometimes came looking for him. They were the best trackers and scouts in all Midgard, a House that prided itself on such activities. He stood in the midst, sometimes, and listened to their words, cobbling together a picture of what was happening among the Vanir as they made war on the Coeecians.

It all seemed so trivial out here and in the wilds. The idea that thousands and thousands of people were dying in every battle over some imaginary border, over which way of living was right. Couldn’t the Coeecians see how wrong they were? Were their thought processes too flawed to understand the superiority they consistently threw themselves against? It baffled Sotaas, left him thinking that there was some part of their physiology that was wrong. No matter how many of them he dissected, however, he was unable to discover what that mistake was.

So he wandered along the borderlands, unseen by all – his nation, his House, his Njord and Freyr and Freya. No one could find him due to his mastery of the ethcinos and he vowed that he would never know a personal tie again, never be bound by thought and heart to anyone that he could love. There would be no more friends who betrayed him, Njords that asked him to do unsavory things, lovers who soothed with words while stabbing into his guts with a smile.

He moved east and further east, past the Darroken lands and into the Middle Kingdom of a people called the Hsien, then further east still to a nation of shattered islands. It was here that the sun was born every day and here where he set down to watch light vanquish darkness every last mourning. There was something soothing about the birth of light, a vision taken in absolute solitude as the days slithered past and bled together.

“Sotaas?”

The voice startled him. The question in it wasn’t one of presence; the speaker knew he was there but wasn’t certain of his exact location. Sotaas turned and stared from a place of hiding, wondering if this woman – the inventor of the Science that kept him hidden – could see through that very Science. He did not think so, but had learned long ago that it was never wise to believe that a Lady like Veskur Wyrd had any limitations at all.

“I know you’re here.”

Sotaas circled her, his consciousness wandering through the world around her. Veskur was sitting down in a natural break in the woods they were in, her bum resting on the grass, her eyes downcast. She was trembling, frightened, though of what exactly Sotaas was not certain. He drew a dryw as he circled, considered jabbing it through the skull of his old friend as he stalked around her prone form. The Lady had to know what was happening but she offered no defense, did not even raise arms or head.

“I came to a-apologize.”

Sotaas stopped. He was not certain if he had ever heard that note of quiet desperation in Veskur’s voice – he had kept tabs on Endrall and Veskur only enough to know that there had been some sort of falling out between them. Endrall, he knew, had half-heartedly tried to contact him for a while, but even the ghost of attention that Sotaas paid the darling of House Suwilo allowed him knowledge of his old lover’s thoughts; when Endrall spoke of Veskur it was in nothing but insults. He had even taken Veskur’s name away, referring to her as the dryw.

“There’s a peace offering. Will you drink with me?”

Slow, gentle, Veskur shrugged a pack off her shoulders and opened it, producing a bottle of fine wine and two glasses. She possessed none of her usual arrogance right now, Sotaas saw, held none of the manic confidence that had always been her air and armor.

“Please? I’m sorry, Sotaas, I’m sorry for everything. I don’t, I didn’t…”

Sotaas was not certain when he took Veskur in her arms. They held one another for a time, grasping at one another, holding one another steady in the face of their separation. They discussed everything, leaving no truth unlit no matter the ugliness of it. They spoke for days, the sun rising and sleeping over them as they banished all the things that stood between them.

“I can forgive you,” Sotaas said, finally. “I can forgive you because you understand that you were wrong and you came out here to find me. Do not expect me to forgive him.”

“I wouldn’t ask that.”

“Did you know he asked me not to take a lover after he left?” Sotaas felt bile rise in his throat. “He told me it would break him to see me with someone else. And then, not a moon after his absence, he was lying with an echo of his mother.”

“Hekro.”

“If that is her name.” Sotaas scowled, clenched and unclenched his hands. “What has been happening in Midgard?”

“Much. Where would you like me to begin?”

“Politics and succession. I would like to know what sort of jungle I’m getting into now that I am rejoining the rest of the Vanir.”

Veskur smiled and nodded, telling Sotaas everything she knew.

Click here to read the next chapter. If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people.

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461

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-03-02

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

December 28, 2015

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. 

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:03:02 –

“Are you doing okay?” Risue asked, looking at the ragged woman that stood beside him.

“I’m fine,” Veskur whispered. “Fine.”

Risue was polite enough to say nothing.

He knew all about Veskur and Endrall’s falling out. He had heard the story from both sides, but tended to favor Endrall; he was prettier, better spoken, and more fun to be around. Veskur was, at best, a lunatic that meant well. An idiot savant – someone to be used, perhaps liked or even appreciated, but never fully trusted; the insanity that threatened to overtake her was so much more promise than threat.

“Did I tell you I’ve been talking with Figo?” Veskur asked for what felt like the ninth time. “I was tired and contacted him on a whim nine days ago. We’ve been in pretty much constant contact since then, talking about all kinds of things. Silly things. Light things.”

That degree of happiness was something that Risue was not used to hearing in this woman’s voice and he was not certain what to make of it, or of her.

She’d shown him some of those missives, hastily scrawled on both their parts, paper passed back and forth through scientific means long since established. He wondered how the Ethcinos she was blathering on about would effect such tried and true sciences, but he bit his tongue and read the single sentence responses. There was more wit than he’d expected from with party, even if he did not know the particulars of what they were discussing, but Risue had met Figo enough times to know that if he didn’t want this conversation then he would not be having it.

If the circumstances surrounding this conversation had been reversed, however, Risue was not so certain that Veskur would have had the presence or wherewithal to entertain no as an answer.

The Coeecians had stepped up their aggression in recent months, Jesam the First hammering his Vanir betters with a series of hit and run assaults that had forced the nobility back and back and back again. None of the other leaders had been able to pick out a pattern to the onslaught, but he had been acting as a go between for Hekro and Veskur. Those two had taken to drawing the strikes out on a map, weighing the days and patterns and distances that lay between one attack and the next. The two of them theorized that there was a pattern, just one they could not see.

Risue stared, his eyes going wide.

“His pattern is based on a Coeecian folk song,” Risue said.

“Really?” Veskur did not look convinced. “How can you tell?”

Risue walked around the table they had drawn the map upon, humming a tune, hitting the table with an amhr in time with the music. Veskur’s eyes went wide.

“Brilliant. Utterly brilliant.”

Risue smiled, shrugged, and did not mention that she had been the one to introduce that tune to him. She was forgetting more and more these days. He wondered if there was anyone still around her enough to notice it.

Turning back to the map of Midgard and its tributaries, the two nobles plotted out where they thought the next attack would come. It didn’t take them long to figure out – a forested area in the south, flatland with a keep towards the north and east. Risue made certain to send a copy to Hekro, the two of them waiting to see what the Golden Champion with a question.

“Do you know who’s posted there?” Risue had written.

“Figo Jera,” Hekro wrote back.

“I know this,” Veskur said, the excitement in her more infectious than any virus. “I knew I knew this, I knew. He told me this. Figo did. I know how many troops he has, their movements, their arms, when they watch, who goes on patrol, all of it.”

“That’s a lot of information.”

“I know.” Veskur licked her lips.

“We could send a message to Figo, warning him.”

“Or we could go ourselves.”

Veskur looked at him, her eyes burning with an intense mania.

“He did give me all that information, like an invitation,” Veskur pleaded. “This is just an excuse to go there. Besides, if we’re right and Jesam the First does attack, well, we can see that attack firsthand. We could figure out how to counter his raids, take back the parts of Midgard that have been lost.”

It was the idea of seeing the Coeecians’ new formations that got Risue to agree.

They took Risue’s carriage – House Raido had the best transportation technologies in all of Midgard, no disputing that. They rode in comfort, talking over what they had discovered, double-checking the evidence that supported what they now knew.

No one challenged their passage and there was no sign of the horror that they thought was coming so very quickly to this place. Risue was recognized by some of the troops, those soldiers that had fought with him back when he had not needed a cane to walk. He was greeted with smiles and clasped wrists, a greeting of one soldier to another. Most recognized Wyrd, as well, but there were fewer greetings for her. She was known for her strangeness, for her power and her madness, and these three things would always set her apart.

Figo was giving a speech when they arrived, rallying the troops. They found him easily enough. He was a young commander who stood tall and proud, a power and a presence that deserved love, admiration, and respect. On his left hand was a glove similar to the one that Endrall and Veskur both wore, a tool that Risue knew had something to do with Veskur’s invented and advanced Sciences but a tool that he did not yet possess. There was talk of someone having figured out how the gaurn worked and how to make them, but those that had heard those whispers knew better than to repeat them around the Good Lady Wyrd.

03-00-03-02

Figo was in mid-sentence when he noticed Veskur. He paused ever so briefly; staring, he shook his head quickly and resumed his speech as though nothing had happened. Risue caught the moment because he was good at reading people, as good as any of the more politically minded nobles that frequented the courts and not the killing fields. He turned to the woman beside him, wondering if she had noticed the response and saw instantly that she had.

“I shouldn’t have come here,” she whispered.

Then she turned and left.

Risue went to Figo and gave him the warning they had come to give, but he could tell that the other man was not really listening, that he was badly shaken by the appearance of his former lover. He asked a few polite questions and then excused himself, clearly not wanting to be around anyone at that moment, and Risue was kind enough to let the young commander retreat. There was terror in his eyes where there had been none before, a resignation that was terrifying in scope.

He searched for the woman he had come with but she had vanished. No one had seen her and no one seemed to have any idea as to where she might have gone. Risue gave up after some time; Veskur spent much of her time walking in the wild places and was almost as good as an Elhaz at not being found when she did not want to be. He returned instead to the troop formations, leaning heavily on his cane, speaking with the soldiers as they lazed about.

Not one of them believed that the Coeecians were coming. Not one of them was willing to listen to what he had to say to the contrary. Irritated by this lack of respect, Risue retreated to a high point and paused to watch and wait – and when the attack came he was in the perfect position to see everything that happened under the mad leadership of Jesam the First.

It was only his quick thinking and Figo’s leadership that saved the Vanir from being overrun completely.

***

Click here to read the next entry. If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people.

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387

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-03-01

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

December 18, 2015

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. 

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:03:01 –

Thea had yelled and yelled at her, calling her a coward, a hypocrite, a liar. He had belittled everything she was while telling her again and again that they were meant to be together and that it was only with him inside her that she would ever be complete, that she would ever be whole, that she would ever be at peace. Veskur had sat with her head bowed and listened, offering no defense.

She had told Thea everything, hoping for some moment of peace and getting none. The boy had traveled across the breadth of Midgard to come and see her and she had ended up telling him what had happened with Endrall. This was not something she had wanted to do, but Thea was not and never had been an idiot – he was able to read her moods, knew that something was wrong and had wanted to know what it was.

“Are you sure?” Veskur had asked him. “You’re not going to like it.”

“You can tell me anything.”

So Veskur had told him everything and now Thea was hurt and upset and lashing out, his wit sharp as any dryw. He ripped her apart with words, flaying her mind, unable to see anything past his own desires. Veskur accepted this. She deserved it. She deserved all the crosses and nails and agonies that Midgard could offer her for the crimes she had committed, the things she had discovered, the sins that were so very uniquely hers. All ten thousand swords of humanity’s hatred could be sheathed in her and then, perhaps, she would begin to pay the penance for all that she was.

Dropping everything to go get Endrall had been a big part of the problem. Thea had screamed and cried and hit her, told her that she was abandoning him for a man that did not care about her, had never cared about her, and was incapable of caring about her. Veskur had considered all that was said and finally decided that whether what Endrall felt was truth or lie did not matter; what mattered was what she herself felt, and she knew above all other things that the passion she felt for Endrall Sahr was truth.

She had called upon the Ethcinos and created storm and steed, riding out to save the man that had come so very close to destroying her. It had hurt to see him so badly wounded and she mended him on the way back to Midgard, making sure that he was safe at home with his father before retreating back to her keep. Thea was waiting to berate her, injured and insulted that she had once again left him behind to deal with what crossed her.

“You only like him because he’s taller than me,” Thea claimed, sniffling all the while. Veskur was uncertain how to deal with the degree of that insult – belittling her emotions by claiming that they were based on nothing more than some physical attribute. The shallowness of it… Her guest continued to be insulting, to push boundaries, to hurt both himself and his host. He expressed remorse but then continued to cycle through the same sins, the same sins, the same sins.

It was intolerable but still Veskur did nothing.

Thea eventually left and then she was alone again, but there was no peace in that solitude. She discovered that she did, indeed, have a bedroom in her own home and went nervously inside it. The stone walls felt cold and empty, the bed something that she had never touched. There was probably some method for creating light in that small space but Veskur did not know what it was and did not care; she wanted to curl in the dark, alone and empty, both inside and out.

She was not certain how long she lay like that, trapped in a void of her own making. She shook and shivered and did not sleep, did not rest, did nothing but quiver in an echoing agony of her own making. Endrall and Thea’s words rang accusingly in her head, Figo and Sotaas’ absence a burning lack that she was all too aware of. Her servant checked in on her, bringing her food she did not touch. She withered, muscles atrophying as no one called on her, no one wanted her.

It had been so easy before, to be alone. It had been so easy for her to know no one and dwell within the equations that had once been her passion. It had been a mistake to let people into her life, she could see that now. It had been an error to love Figo, to care for River, to rely on Sotaas, to welcome Thea, to hear Deeam, to embrace Endrall. She should have known better but she did not and now she was stuck with this terrible sense of absence.

“Where is my ending?” she would sing to herself, her broken voice a rasp in the endless shadows around her. She started hallucinating shades of darkness, terrors that she welcomed and hoped would be her death. “The thing that defines us? The sense of closure, the only thing left… to us…”

Her lips bled when she smiled.

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When the light came, she was too far gone to fight. Her servant took her in his arms and washed her, forced her to eat, and took her on walks. Slowly, slowly, her mind came back and she was once again aware of the pain that had driven her to a starving ennui. Her servant looked at her and she knew he would save her from that slow suicide no matter how many times she gave into it. She scowled at him and he smiled at her with thin eyes, daring her to try and escape him.

She took to the land, walking the woods that had been her comfort and company back when she had been ignorant of all that she had missed and now was far too aware of. The forest and the night were not the solace that she had hoped for, not quite, but they did soothe the ravaging wounds of her soul. There was comfort to be had there and she accepted it, began to rebuild herself, and for the first time in her life she felt anger on her own behalf.

It scared her. She was uncertain what to make of this swelling emotion, this terrible fury that rose out of her like a reaping whirlwind. She went into the drifting snow around her home and screamed into the wilds, taking a savage delight when her rage caused avalanches. She wondered how those around her could claim that this was love when all they had done was take and take and take, when all they had tried to do was define her as something that she would and could never be.

Still, when Endrall contacted her there was a fluttering in her heart, a joy that sang to her and wanted to lay that simmering anger to rest. They spoke only briefly, setting a time and place for their meeting.

Humming to herself, Veskur cleaned up, dressed up, did everything she could to be everything that Endrall deserved. They met at neutral ground and Veskur took the younger man out for an evening meal, the two of them discussing what had happened and the fallout of it. His father and he were estranged, Endrall claimed, and he laid the blame for that estrangement at Veskur’s feet. Veskur paid for their food and they walked outside and began to discuss everything else.

“I don’t have to apologize for what I said,” Endrall told her. “I just hate when you’re like this. I hate you. I have every right to say what I said. I’m sorry, but I don’t mean that, not really. I stand by my statement.”

For two days Endrall said exactly that. They walked and spoke about everything, but where once their conversations had been a flowing and lively process whereby all seemed understood, now Endrall refused to understand how there could possibly be anything resembling even the tiniest sliver of an iota of wrongness in what he had said. He drove that point home again and again, that he had been right to say what he had said, and that whatever pain Veskur had suffered because of it was her own affair.

When Veskur tried to express any opinion that did coincide directly with Endrall’s, he mocked her and laughed at her, touched her the way a lover might while telling her that she was in the wrong and always would be, would whisper that whatever she felt counted for nothing.

“I meant what I said,” Endrall told her, holding her. “We’re not friends. You get that, right? I don’t have to apologize for that, but I will anyway. I want you to understand that I’m not actually sorry.”

The repetition sank into Veskur’s head and into Veskur’s heart and she fell into silent acceptance. Hekro came to collect Endrall eventually – the two had become lovers at some point – and he left in her arms. Veskur walked away and did not look back, could not have looked back even if she had desired to. She found somewhere quiet and curled into a ball and shivered and shook, tearing at her arms, wishing she could pull her veins from her flesh, wishing for silence unending.

She made it home somehow, screaming and kicking with an insanity that she could recognize without the ability to do anything about it. She managed to hide her gaurn and her levl, told her servant to flee and then lost herself to the madness. She did not know how much time had passed when she was next able to recognize her own thoughts, but everything in her keep had been destroyed and her body was covered in scars and blood. She was standing in the main hall, dressed in rags and looking into a window, the light behind her turning the glass into a mirror – and what she saw there terrified her, a nightmare granted skin. She fell to her knees, hugged herself and wept.

I meant what I said. I don’t have to apologize for that but I will anyway. I’m not actually sorry.”

***

More is coming next week. If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people.

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