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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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248

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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493

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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415

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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392

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-09

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

December 11, 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.

***

– 03:00:02:09 –

Endrall tended to the wounded. It was what he did out on the front lines, far from where his father’s long shadow would drape over him. He worked under an assumed name and though some of the nobility he tended to recognized him, they respected his desire to remain incognito. He was there when the survivors from every battle came round; he was there when the Coeecians pushed forward with a large invasive swarm. The other lords barely discussed strategy with him, telling him that healers had enough to think about what with all the healing, but he snuck into a couple of their discussions anyway.

Veskur had taught him how to lurk unnoticed in the background.

He tried not to think about Veskur too much.

Life was difficult but good. He had lost the weight of Sotaas weighing him down; the Wanderer of Ygg had consistently missed the obvious, and had proven to be much less interesting than Veskur had insisted he was. He’d gone into Ygg lands a handful of times to collect old things, but none of the faltering nobles there seemed to know where Sotaas had gone. Not that Endrall cared. He just felt it was good to feign an interest in Sotaas’ well-being. He knew the nobles of Ygg were too stupid to recognize his performance for what it was – had he actually cared, well, he might have done more than simply ask after him.

It was arguments with his father over Sotaas that had finally driven Endrall out, arguments about Sotaas and Veskur. He didn’t want to discuss either with anyone but people kept bringing them up relentlessly, as if either of them were worth talking about outside of their relationships with him. It was frustrating. It was intolerable.

Veskur kept sending him missives, begging to be allowed back near him. He looked at them with the amusement they deserved and watched as she tried to mend the damage that lay between them. He insulted her and she flinched, saying nothing like the pathetic toy she was. Endrall kept her around on his terms, showing her the occasional flash of affection before insulting her thoroughly and reminding her of just how utterly without worth she was.

She deserved such treatment. Both of them knew it. Neither ever stopped to wonder why.

The only problem with Veskur was that occasionally she would stand up for herself, or express her feelings – as if her emotive state was something that Endrall was supposed to care about.

“You treat me like an ailing pet!” she would wail, staring up at him.

“I hate when you say that.” He did not deny the truth of her words. “I hate you.” He loved the hurt in her eyes. All he wanted, all he ever wanted, was for his favorite toy to be silent and accept whatever he chose to give her.

He ignored her most of the time. When he felt bad he went to her and she made him feel better, explaining anything, justifying his every want. She was wise in any way that was not immediately related to her, able to see and explain connections and events with a clarity that always amazed, and yet she was unable to do so much as walk into a room without doing something wrong or breaching some bit of protocol. She was an embarrassment, really, a connection that Endrall sometimes felt ashamed of in ways that he would never express or admit.

However, after he had finally grown tired of her pathetic begging and the ceaseless questions about her that others asked, well, then he had left the world he knew behind and entered the world he had been groomed for all his life. The work was difficult, yes, but he made real headway. There were nobles that knew his face and not his name, nobles that sought him out and spoke of him and owed him so much. They trusted him with their lives and their hearts and he healed both, soothing their hurts and calming the raging demons that sang within their veins.

It was Figo Jera that brought things to a head for him. Lovely Figo, one of the most successful of the Vanir Lords, one of the warriors that held the line on the killing fields of south and west Midgard. Endrall had made his way there only gradually, not knowing what to expect and not truly caring – what would be would be, and he was not trying to control his destiny so much as letting himself drift and learn from wherever his path took him.

Figo was holding a rocky cliff that was covered in brambles and thorns. In more peaceful times, those thickets would flower into a cascading fall of roses, daffodils, and ivies, but now those plants were trampled underfoot as men and the barbarians that assailed them made war. This cliff was widely considered an indefensible position by the entire host of the nobility, but here Figo was, holding it, keeping it safe, keeping the Coeecian mass out.

Losses were heavy. House Suwilo was already spread thin, the three lines borne of the House cast all across the borders of Midgard. Endrall could have ended up anywhere among the Vanir armies but he had ended up here and Figo had recognized him and retained him as a personal healer, respecting his desire for secrecy in public and granting them moments to satiate their hungers in private. They clung to one another, whispering secrets to one another.

Endrall wondered what circumstances would be required to destroy Figo utterly.

Figo wept sometimes when Endrall was holding him, clinging back with a painful strength. Endrall allowed this, stroking the general’s hair and whispering in his ear, calming him, offering solace as only those of House Suwilo could. Figo accepted this comfort and flung all the harder, desperate for even the smallest measurement of comfort.

“What is it?” Endrall would ask, when the sobs had left Figo and he had regained a measure of calm. “What is it that strikes you?”

“It’s just…,” Figo would pause, his grey eyes growing distant as his gaze turned to the gaurn on his hand. “You know what it’s like. What she’s like.”

“All too well.”

“I can’t help but wonder what I could have accomplished without the tool she gave me, but more than that, well, do you know what she can do? Yes? I wonder how many of my victories are mine, how many of the choices I’ve made were truly meant for me. I wonder if she’s influencing me even now, violating everything that I might ever choose to be or become.”

“And this upsets you?”

“It makes everything that makes me – me – invalid! There’s nothing I can do, no choice I can make, nothing that I will ever be that has not been defined or chosen by her! She’s ruined me, ruined me, and there’s no way to know if I’m right or wrong because even if I were to ask her I know she would lie to me, I know it.”

Endrall was all too aware of how often Veskur said she never lied.

“You could just walk away from everything.”

“I could never do that.” Figo licked his lips. “I could never do that. I could never walk away or put down my levl and gaurn and let them overtake me. There’s nothing in me or in who I am that would ever let me make that decision, which only raises the question of whether it’s me or something that she put in me.

“How much of who I am is who I might have been? How much that I have accomplished is actually mine? Even if she only did it once that would make me fundamentally different, because every decision that I would have made afterwards would have been predicated on the decision or the outcome that she made sure would come to pass. She’s violated everything that might ever define me – my will, my choices, my life. She’s violated me on such a fundamental level and there’s no one that will ever truly understand what it is she’s done.

“How am I to explain this to Deeam or Hekro or anyone else? No one really knows what she’s capable of, not even you or I. We think we know but she can radically change anything any time she feels like it. All the paths of our lifetimes are hers to play with, all the decisions and outcomes and eventualities are open to her, and she can write any of us any way she feels like it. And every time she does that to one person she does that to everyone, she invalidates everyone. Even if she changes something simple, it will ripple out and touch everything, change everything, make everything that follows a shape that she has sculpted.

“Do you see the scope of what she is? The monstrousness? I love her. I count my time with her as good and gracious. She was never anything more than willing and supportive and caring, but I cannot help but think that she manipulated circumstances in all those instances to make me believe that was what she was.

“And I know she was manipulative in her dealings with me. I know she never looked to anyone else for years, even when I told her I was leaving her, even when I told her that I had taken on other lovers and did not want her anymore. We’d speak or part ways and within the span of a moon or three, we’d be back together like nothing ever happened.

“She made that happen. I know she made that happen. Do you remember when you and Farrell told me just how badly she was using me? Do you remember that? I went home and thought about it and realized it was true. I was talking with her and she was telling me of her plans to celebrate me and I just couldn’t take it anymore, I couldn’t be around her. I asked her not to contact me or touch me or have anything to do with me and as far as I know she hasn’t and yet I can’t help but think that she’s just biding her time.

“She’s a monster, an utter monster. I don’t know what to do or think or feel. I drown myself in work. That’s what I do. That’s all that’s left to me.”

Figo was shaking at the end of this speech, his eyes glazed over and his skin pale. Endrall held him and held him and soothed him to sleep, using the Science that his gaurn gave him access to. He narrowed his eyes, waited for Figo’s breathing to steady, then took his leave to go and find the nobles of House Elhaz. They did not know him. When he asked them to take him somewhere quiet and alone they simply nodded, guided him there, and left.

Night had fallen. He was unsure when that had happened. Veskur had been trying to get a hold of him now for some time but he had ignored her, caring nothing for her, but now the Good Lady was going to get a piece of his mind. Endrall pushed his left hand forward and cut into the very fabric of the world, wrestling it to his will. His Science shaped that energy and he opened an avenue of communication with Veskur Wyrd, heard her intake of breath when she realized who it was that called upon her.

“You’re a monster,” he hissed. “You’re a beast, a savage, an animal. I do not trust you. You’re no better than Jesam was. I hope you die in horrible, horrible pain.” He severed the connection without another word. He could feel her trying to contact him but he did not answer, would not answer, ignored her until the war turned and the Coeecians pulled back. He could have gone home but chose not to, turning instead to the east and north, bordering the lands of the Zaerm.

It was from there that he called Veskur and bid her come to him.

She was working on something, that was clear. There were people in her home and, undoubtedly, whatever she had devoted herself to was something that she considered important. Still, she abandoned everything and came to see him, following his orders as she always did, appearing before him like the failed pet that she had become.

He motioned her closer and she came, hesitant, so very clearly wanting to touch him. Endrall held her at arm’s length. He looked into her eyes as deeply as he was able, watched her tremble, watched her shoulders slump, her lips part, and heard the beat of her heart thrumming like the pitter-patter of a weeping sky.

“Every time I look at you I’m going to see a rapist.”

The words rolled off his tongue, searing the air between them before striking her.

Fascinated, he watched as she collapsed in on herself. He saw it in her eyes, the trust she had for him, the way that she accepted his words as truth over anything she might believe of herself. He recounted what Figo had told him, twisting it slightly, perfectly, knowing how to hurt her.

She crumbled, fell to her knees and shivered so hard that Endrall thought she would break apart right then and there. She rocked back and forth, her breathing shallow, a low moan leaking past her throat.

She believed him, he knew, believed him more than she believed in anything else, believed in him more than she believed in herself.

Every time I look at you I’m going to see a rapist.

The words echoed between them.

Veskur’s eyes went dark, her musculature instantly slack. She tried to run, stumbled, mumbled incoherently, stopped herself and stuttered. She heaved forward and Endrall thought she might vomit but she didn’t, she didn’t, she just lay there and shivered and didn’t even hold herself and he thought he might have gone too far.

When he tried to move closer, to hold her, she waved him off and he narrowed his eyes at her. How dare she do this, deny him her, deny him the right to touch her. He tried again and she denied him again, this time a terrible violence barely held in check caught in that denial.

Endrall kept his distance after that.

He walked about for an hour, Veskur listlessly trailing after him. She shambled like a marionette, the core of her absolutely destroyed under the weight of what he had accused her of. He smiled at her and explained to her again why she was a monster as she meekly followed him back to his carriage.

“Did you want me to help you get home?” he asked her. She blinked, shook her head, fell away from another offer of physical contact, arms hanging limp at her sides. He shrugged and left her there, looking back at her as the carriage started away. She stood, shivering and alone, no longer one of the Vanir but a simple empty husk, a broken creature made of shells and shards.

He went back to the frontlines after that. The Coeecians had all but retreated. Months passed and there was no sign of the incursion that had once threatened all of Midgard. House Elhaz searched and searched but found no sign of them and the Vanir returned to lands they had been forced out of, began to rebuild.

During this peace Endrall fell into the company of a Nauthiz noblewoman named Secu, and the two of them got along splendidly. They were of similar age and temperament, sensualists assured of the world and their place in it. They went to markets and balls and dances, Endrall still hiding his name but basking in the glory that his skills had earned him. So many nobles knew him or of him, so many nobles welcomed him at their tables. It was intoxicating and wonderful to have such admiration.

When the Coeecians struck anew it caught everyone off guard.

They came seeking hostages as much as victims, killing Vanir peasantry as they went, binding the unprepared nobility as they were caught. Endrall knew his way around a levl but he was no warrior; he and Secu were taken, bound, dragged away past the confines of Midgard and deep into the Coeecian camps. He had heard Figo’s accounts of what happened to captive Vanir and he felt himself trembling and horrified. They brought him before a grinning warlord and forced him to his knees, interrogating him and beating him and keeping him bound for hours and hours.

He was locked away with Secu. They had established and confirmed her nobility by speaking with both her and others, but though Endrall Sahr had told them his name there was no one there who knew who he was and no one there that could vouch for his identity. A ransom was paid and Secu was given back to her parents, but Endrall was left alone on his rocky plateau.

The Skie, rulers of the Coeecians, did not believe in locking people away in the dark. They were the people of the storm and their ways were far more frightening and far more barbaric. Caves in their mountain fortresses were pushed out onto the mountain, facing a sheer incline thousands of feet up. There was no hiding from the wind and the rain where the Coeecians kept their captives; there was only a forced appreciation for the forces that they claimed were divine.

Four by four times the sun set and rose after Secu was sent home. Endrall was cold and wet and miserable, the foods they brought him tasteless and empty. His captors looked in on him only to see that he was still there, bringing him food once a day and expecting him to subsist on that. When he had complained they had told him that he could always go and kiss the storm. They smiled when they said it and gave him no more food that week.

03-00-02-09

He heard that there was talk among them concerning which of their lords would get to keep him. The thought terrified him but not enough for him to step out of his prison and plummet to freedom. He held himself, hoping that someone would come and save him.

No one did.

He was alone.

They had left him his gaurn.

Why wouldn’t they have? The nobles were all left with their weapons. There was no chance to use them. Besides, they did not recognize the tools for what they were and why would they do even that when only four such gloves existed in all the world? Endrall thought about saving himself but he could see no way to use the Ethcinos that he had been granted; what use was healing others in a situation such as the one he found himself in?

He could, however, cleave the energies and so find someone to come and get him.

He thought of his father, first, and used the Sciences he knew to craft the sending. His father looked at him with cool eyes over the distance that separated them, listened attentively when Endrall began to tell him all that had happened.

“You thought to make it on your own, child?” His father sighed, sat down and rubbed his temples. “A fine mess you’ve made of it, traveling without your name or my leave. You have nothing now and your life is over. Do you understand? Your life is over. I will not pay for you even if they were to believe me – my resources must go to healing those children that listen to their parents. You have built yourself a tomb. Perhaps you will make it out on your own, child. Perhaps.” His father looked at him, smiled, and severed their connection.

Endrall wept.

There would be no salvation. The one person that loved him, the one person that truly cared had left him here to this. He sat on the cold stone and cried until there were no more tears and then he heaved and was sick over the edge.

He considered jumping.

What was left to him, truly? What destiny could the world hold for him now?

He thought of Figo crying because all his choices had been taken from him and Endrall laughed with bitter mockery. He was the one that had been robbed of choice, left with only two options – suicide or submission. There was nothing else, nothing else that could happen, no one else he could turn to, unless…

Endrall stood and walked to the very edge of life. He held up his gaurn and tapped the energies once more, sending a desperate missive out into the world. It reached its destination, he could feel the response.

Veskur stared back at him in her laboratory, Thea behind him for some reason, and she looked at him with a hatred that melted the moment she saw him fully.

He tried to speak, failed, fell to his knees and wept. He heard Veskur telling him to breathe, to just breathe, and to tell her where he was. He heard Thea in the background saying that it didn’t matter, demanding that Veskur leave him to rot, but Veskur waited and waited, prayed and repented until Endrall was able to give her the knowledge she needed.

“Be strong, Love,” Veskur whispered. “I will be there as soon as I am able.”

The connection severed.

Another sun rose, all the promised warmth contained therein a lie. He froze and held himself, too exhausted to sleep or eat as the wind came, whipping all around him, and a violent rain arose from nothing to pelt the world with an unrelenting fury. Thunder doomed down all around him, shaking the earth and making him jump as lightning as thick as any keep slammed down into the earth, an onslaught that he would never have imagined possible had he not been there to witness it.

Not a drop of moisture touched him. Not a single breeze ruffled his hair.

Staring from the eye of the storm, he he could understand why the Skie dominated the Coeecian people and why the Skie worshiped the storms that ravaged their lands, but even they had seen nothing like this. He blinking, looking at roiling black clouds that shifted like an ocean tide, narrowing his eyes to see the impossible.

Riding the storm was a figure on a horse with hooves of lightning. She carried no levl, wore little more than casual clothing and a glove on her left hand. When she moved the storm went with her. The horse circled the mountain once, twice, blasting the stone and peak, and every time the horse went by electricity crashed into rock and Endrall could hear Coeecians scream and die.

Veskur Wyrd had come for him and she would not be denied.

***

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

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894

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-08

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

December 4, 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.

***

– 03:00:02:08 –

Veskur was tired, isolated, alone.

She had never minded being alone before Figo had come into her life, had handled being alone quite well, but now that she was used to basking in the love of others and had no others to bask within she found herself yearning. It was complicated, irritating, and something that she did not know how to deal with. Sotaas was gone and not to be found, using the very sciences that Veskur had shown him to vanish from Midgard completely. Figo would not speak with her. And Endrall…

Well, Endrall was vexing, troubling, at once attentive and apathetic. Veskur felt like a tolerated pet, something to be coddled on occasion and ignored the rest of the time. Endrall would come to her when his father’s latest atrocious behavior became too much to bear, or when some other person crossed his delicate ego and expected Veskur to make it alright – but, before leaving, he would injure her psyche, remind her of her place, keep her as low or lower than even River ever had.

She tried to keep all thought of Figo and Endrall out of her mind. She spoke more frequently with Thea, though those communications were as strained and frayed as they had ever been and soon lost much of their luster. Endrall accused her of keeping in touch with Thea only to assuage her sense of loneliness, but the truth was more based in guilt than adoration; although she no longer spoke with River, his final accusation haunted her and she had convinced herself that all of Thea’s miseries were born in her.

Veskur had difficulties determining who was responsible for what in most social situations.

She inevitably found it easiest to assume that she was at fault and never stopped to wonder why no one ever corrected her understanding of things.

Her work no longer provided the same solace for her that it once did. The equations crawled along her parchment, the ink drying long before she had finished so much as a page. The land no longer held the wonder for her that it always had and it became harder and harder for her to observe any of the social niceties that Figo and Endrall and Sotaas had taught her. She retreated further into hermitage, refusing to see anyone in her home and rarely venturing anywhere outside of the lands that she claimed.

When Deeam called upon her to visit him, though, she had to answer. He was almost Njord and he had visited her a few times for nothing more than the pleasure of her company. The more complex theories she worked on were as far beyond him as the social games he played with everyone else were for her, and there was something comforting about that. He relaxed around her, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths.

I like coming here,” he once confessed. “There’s nothing to deal with, no bargain to be made, nothing to keep track of. It’s quiet.” Veskur was not certain what he meant exactly. She appreciated his understanding and knowledge of myth, and so tolerated his company with more ease than she tolerated the company of anyone else.

Her manservant packed her off in her carriage, locking the doors and staying within all the while. She shambled into her dress clothes at the last possible minute, more than content to wear her sleeping robes the entire way to the capital. She stepped out of the carriage disheveled and exhausted, black in mood and eye. Still, she stepped off and out, walking through the halls of the powerful while ignoring the startled gasps and whispered recriminations of the other assorted nobles.

They meant nothing to her.

They. Meant. Nothing.

She went to Deeam’s throne room and he rose as she entered, walking down to embrace her.

“Are you alright?” he asked her, his booming voice dropping so that only the two of them would hear. “You look like you’ve lost weight and you never had very much to lose.” She said nothing, allowing him take her by the hand. His betrothed watched them with a keen interest, but did not seem jealous of their brief contact – not that Veskur was in any condition to notice any such subtlety.

They stopped in front of a map of Midgard, an outline of the place that detailed the various capitals of the noble houses. She looked at it with interest and then at the two other nobles that stood studying the expanse. These would have to be the Freyr and the Freya, counterparts and equals to the Njord that Deeam would soon become.

Veskur made polite noises when they were introduced to her, wondering what she was doing in a place where someone like Hekro or Figo or Risue would have served much more better. The Freya, mistress of both Science and War, was quick to tell her: those three and all the other heroes were serving along the front lines of the Coeecian border. During her self-imposed exile the Coeecians had marshaled their forces under someone calling himself Jesam the First and had made massive gains along the south and western borders.

She smiled as they told her that Figo was one of the only Vanir holding his own against the oncoming barbarian horde. Hekro Gherlid was another, called back to the frontlines by necessity and finding redemption. Risue, too, was apparently keeping his troops active and eager, but they were suffering heavy losses and were cut off from all retreat.

This was why they had brought her here – they wanted to know if there was anything she could do.

A number of nobles from the more peaceful Houses had been visiting Risue’s outpost when the initial assault had begun. They had managed to keep the horde back but those nobles were still captive. From the most recent information they possessed, Risue did not have it in him to wage another daring escape – though he had, reportedly, tried. A number of Vanir had fallen to the enemy in those attempts and none of the nobles they had been trying to lead out had escaped. A handful of other nobles had already tried to get in and a small group of healers led by Endrall Sahr himself were ready to provide succor along the borders, but were still unable to get through the siege.

Veskur studied the image in front of her for a long time. She had brought her gaurn and wore her levl across her back; she had seen Figo do that and had adopted the style for her own even if she only barely knew how to use the weapon. Her left hand twitched, the power that was hers to command ready and waiting to be summoned. With a sigh, the greatest individual power in Midgard told the greatest political powers that she would see what she could do.

At the very least, acting in this matter would distract her from the warzone quiet in her head.

She didn’t bother taking her carriage to the battlefront – even a single horse would have been slower than she was capable of traveling on her own, and the entourage Deeam offered her would have reduced her progress to a crawl. Instead, she tapped the power of the gaurn and touched the very forces that underlay the entirety of the world.

The first thing Veskur did was use her tool to draw a line in the air, adding length and width and depth and finally life. She heard gasps behind her but ignored them, feeding her own energies into the steed she had crafted by means of her own will. The horse had eight hooves that flickered lightning, electricity running all over a glowing white body. It was an aesthetic touch that served as much function as form, for the next thing Veskur did was turn her attention to the sky.

She had learned that Coeecian ritualists worshiped storms. Their dominant caste, the Skie, lived on a mountain and used their primitive sciences to control the weather, imposing their will on others through the vicious use of this power. The Jesam she had killed used those sciences and had been, from what she understood, very good at it.

Veskur believed herself his better.

The storm she crafted was the breath of a Coeecian god, a low rumbling thunder that shook the earth, heralded by lightning thicker than any human she had ever met. The rain struck the earth like an amhr, hammering and hammering, digging small holes in the earth and soaking the soil into a suckling maw. The Vanir nobles behind Veskur gasped and screamed, retreating from the deluge. Only one, she knew, would remain. She turned to face him as she climbed atop the creature she had crafted, nodding her head to the future Njord.

03-00-02-08

Deeam, grim-faced and pale, returned the gesture.

Her mount rose spiraling into the skies, hooves galloping on the clouds far above the torn earth. The storm itself announced her coming, the Coeecians at first taking heart from what they saw as a sign of favor. She laughed when she felt the pitiful wills of the Skie trying to wrest the storm she had crafted from her, struck at them with lightning and rain and wind, sending the leaders of the invading force running for shelter. She let them go.

They could tremble out of her sight. Veskur had learned well the lesson of turning joy into despair.

She descended to earth while her own people looked at her with dread and knew that this was all she could ever expect. If she had never known the pull of gravity, she thought, this was something she might have been able to live with, but now that she knew better she could not help but feel the pang of loss. She made herself cold, facing those that stared at her with wary eyes.

“I am the Lady Veskur Wyrd,” she announced. “I have been sent by Njord and Freya and Freyr to help you.” The tension between herself and her people eased only somewhat. One of their number, braver than the rest but still a trembling mass, came forward and told her about the treachery of the Coeecians, the terrible stratagems they had used to bring the Vanir of this place low. Veskur listened to the man, allowing him to take her steed before following him to the refreshment hall.

The Vanir were, by and large, a boisterous people. They enjoyed celebration and the company of their fellows and they put great stock in their stories, balls, and dances. A refreshment hall was often the heart and soul of any keep, and even reclusive Veskur took some solace in the whirling dances and happy laughter of such places.

No laughter existed in this place. There were moans and whimperings, the wounded brought here to either be tended or die. Endrall was somewhere outside, out along the borders surrounding this place, waiting. Veskur had no desire to seek him out; merely seeing her love would have been enough to knock her to her knees and make her useless in terms of what she would have to do.

“Who is in command?” she asked. There seemed to be some argument as to that, a silent series of glances moving from one face to another.

“I am.” The voice, normally a booming confidence, was now a pained whisper. A passage cleared in the standing bodies, a path that Veskur followed to where Risue Elhaz lay on a cot. He had put on weight, hard muscle turned to flab, his face pale but his eyes still sharp. “This is my responsibility.” The fire in those eyes warmed Veskur’s heart and she moved to her friend’s side, clasping his wrist. He tried to do the same but he was weak, so very weak.

“What happened?” Veskur asked.

“We thought this land was secure.” Risue grimaced, trying to make himself comfortable. Veskur removed a wet cloth from his forehead, wrung it out, replaced it with one soaked through with fresh cool water. “It was not. The Coeecians came up out of the earth. They dug tunnels below us, lay traps for us, but did not act until the nobility that wanted to visit was here.

“We tried to get them out using their own tunnels but they killed us by collapsing the tunnels on us after we had claimed them. We tried using science only to have their magicians counter our efforts, tried to sprint our way to safety only to have the tunnels we thought collapsed prove full of Coeecian spears. My soldiers died. We kept the nobles safe, but again and again my soldiers died.

“Some of the nobles went around us, thought they could make a deal with the horde outside, and were idiotic enough to think that the horde would keep it. The barbarians betrayed them and nearly killed us all, but I managed to rally the troops and hold the line. We suffered losses, though. There’s a skeleton crew here now and we’re running out of supplies. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll last.

“How did you get in? Can we use that method to escape?”

“No,” Veskur shook her head. “We can’t.” Even with the power on her hand, it would take more than she possessed to create transport for nine hundred people and call on a storm large enough to support that much mass. Risue looked heartbroken, but only for a second. He gathered his resolve, held it, the fury in his eyes promising a mass of destruction.

“Then we have no choice,” he said. “We cut our way out. Some of us might live to see the healers. If we stay here we are all going to die. We can use the same strategy I used before, the same strategy that worked just south of your home.”

“It won’t work here,” Veskur said, but before she could say anything further another voice cut her off.

“What are you doing?” said the voice, high pitched and arrogant and giving off a barely concealed contempt. “Reliving your glory days?” The woman might have been good looking at one point – at least she still had the glow of youth and a haughtiness that Veskur had come to recognize as common along those of House Nauthiz. She had a regal bearing but bore no levl.

Veskur tapped the Ethcinos, twisting it with her will to look upon the breadth of the newcomer’s life and the potential her future held. There was nothing of note in either direction. She saw the woman as she was betrothed to Risue, watched her accept that betrothal and take advantage of all the good that went with it – but the moment things had become difficult for Risue, Veskur knew, this woman had begun to chafe at his affections like the child she truly was.

No one went for her throat. No one spoke ill against her, doubted her, rose to challenge her words or to defend Risue’s heroism, and later and later again Veskur would curse herself for a coward when she, in that moment, did nothing. Instead, she ignored the girl, took her friend’s hand, and held his gaze.

“Get your men ready,” she told him. “There’s little chance of us holding this place but I can get the rest of you to safety.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll be fine.”

She let his hand drop, stepped away and outside and closed her eyes. Behind her, she could hear the grown child nattering on, wondering who Veskur was and why everyone was giving her so much space. When someone told her she laughed, each exhalation a blow.

“That’s the Lady Wyrd?” the grown girl giggled. “I heard she was monstrous but she’s just a disaster. How pitiful. Do you think she dresses and carries herself like that all the time or is she just putting on a show for us? I’m sure it’s the latter. She just wants the attention.”

Veskur pretended her quivering came from the rain.

She raised a hand, cleaving herself to the deluge and calling upon the very gods the Coeecians worshiped. She would show them a storm. She would pour all her anger and all her hate and everything else she was feeling into it, letting the storm wash her clean. She would do this thing, and when it was over and the Vanir were safe and the Coeecians were driven back, she would go back to her keep and try to remember what it was like to be among people that desired her presence.

***

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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440

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-07

Books & Writing, Short Fictions, Showcase

November 27, 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.

***

– 03:00:02:07 –

It was a strangeness, to be sure. Sotaas was uncertain how he felt about it, especially at first. There was a closeness between Veskur and Endrall that he didn’t want to get between, but Veskur seemed to be alright with it – or, at least, she seemed to be as alright with it as she was capable of being – and Endrall was all for it. The boy spent four days regaling him with reasons why they should be lovers but still Sotaas was not certain; they knew each other only barely and had nothing to fall back on if anything should go wrong, save their mutual tie to the Lady Wyrd.

However, Endrall was insistent, so much more insistent than Sotaas was willful. Endrall held him and he felt something he had not felt in so many long years – loved, wanted, desired, cherished. And though Sotaas was older than Endrall, the boy still seemed so wise, so powerful. He walked into a room and all eyes turned to him and there was something nice about being woven to someone possessed of such gravity.

So much of Sotaas’ depth was hidden. Like a mountain, much of what made him who he was, was kept safe from eyes that might otherwise search those qualities out. Betrayal and betrayal and betrayal had taught him to do this, and so he played to his own consul, living up to his ideals as best he could and never compromising those ideals in spite of the problems and troubles that continued to assault him.

The first five seasons he was in Endrall’s arms made him feel safer than ever he had been. Endrall made him feel like he could trust people again, like he could conquer the world. The gaurn that Veskur and he had made also helped: Sotaas found himself wandering the wild places with an ease that no other noble of his House had ever dreamed of possessing, leaving no sign or mark of his passage. Thanks to this new Science, he was now always able to find shelter or location, always knew what was around him and where he was. He had always been talented at navigating the stranger roads outside of Midgard, but now his House looked to him as if he were the greatest scout their line had produced.

He was not certain how to deal with the attention that consistently sought him out.

He and Veskur were still experimenting with his gaurn, still trying to determine what it was fully capable of. The survivability and alertness he experienced while wearing the tool, to say nothing of the capacity to fade into the wider world, were apparently not enough for the Good Lady. She seemed to think that there should be more to the wonders that this tool could produce, but Sotaas was not so certain. Wasn’t what they had accomplished enough?

Sotaas did not need to ask to know what Veskur’s opinion on that would have been.

Their work brought them closer and closer, though sometimes Veskur would pass on the chance to re-examine the equations that seemed to be her only joy so that they could look at the myths of faraway cultures. It was through these studies that Sotaas learned more about the Hsien and the Kami, the Trahmin and the Darroken, the Zaerm and even the Coeecians. These studies kept him amused. He wasn’t certain what Veskur was searching for in the lies that the lesser nations used to justify their place in this world.

In the quieter hours of the night, Sotaas admitted to himself that he didn’t care what Veskur was looking for. It passed the time, and gave him more of an excuse to wander further and further from the lands any Vanir knew.

When things turned dark with Endrall they would both turn to Veskur. Endrall would retreat and spend some time alone with her, and then the Good Lady would talk with him and then everything would be alright again, at least for a little while. Sotaas wondered what the two of them got up to, but believed that Endrall was up front about everything they did. Veskur herself sometimes asked Sotaas if he knew what the two of them were doing and Sotaas said that he did, confident that Endrall was hiding nothing from him.

It would be seasons later that he would learn otherwise.

Endrall was going to Veskur for physical affection in addition to whatever advice the Good Lady could offer. Outside what Sotaas had been told, the two of them were exploring one another with a desperate hunger that bordered on insanity. Sotaas sat still and quiet when he learned this. He could be forgiving. He and Endrall spoke of it for a time and then he went to confront Veskur, who shook and looked even paler than usual and would not meet Sotaas’ eyes.

“I thought you knew,” she said. “I thought you knew I thought you knew I thought you knew.” Sotaas looked at her through the senses that his gaurn offered and saw the hairline fractures that were beginning to form in Veskur’s psyche, the evidence of a terrible breaking to come. He knew, then, that he and Endrall were all of what was keeping the Good Lady from shattering completely.

Love is War 03-00-02-07

They talked everything out, Veskur confessing her entire litany of sins, of every time that Endrall had come to her for comfort. Sotaas listened and was reminded of the core betrayals that had shaped his life – the time his mother had abandoned him in the wilds to die, the time his closest friend had turned on him and tried to destroy him – but this was something new. His mother’s sin had been apathy and his friend had acted out of sheer malicious spite, but Veskur had believed they were being open with one another when they had not been.

It was damaging, terribly damaging to the tie between them, but that tie and the order of Deeam kept the two of them talking and they worked what crossed them to a parallel.

All that crossed between him and Endrall, however, was harder. Endrall berated him, mocked him, tried to make him feel less while depending on him for emotional stability. He tried to undermine every dream Sotaas built for himself, doubted the rightness of his decisions, made him question the purity of his vision or the strength of his will. And whenever he questioned him on this or pointed out the flaws in the boy’s logic Endrall would explode, yelling information that spun in circles before fleeing back to Veskur, still expecting the Good Lady to set things right.

The Good Lady always seemed to find the time to set things right.

When Endrall announced that he was going to the Darroken lands and that he intended to bring Sotaas with him, Sotaas was ecstatic. Here was a chance for the two of them to escape the confines of Midgard and talk things over without the shadow of Sahr Eri looming over them or the spiked balm of Veskur Wyrd there to soothe the fury in their hearts.

From the moment they left, however, things began to sour. Endrall sat back and expected him to handle everything. “You’re from House Ygg,” he would say, looking down at Sotaas with contempt. “You’re supposed to be able to find your way around wherever you happen to find yourself.” And, though he could do this even without the gaurn he had left behind, Sotaas’ victories were still not quick enough to satisfy the man that had brought him here.

Endrall grew sick as well as insulting. Farrell came and met them in the Darroken capital and spent his time drinking and seducing everyone around himself with a leer on his face. Sotaas never slept with the fox but the two of them went out often, whenever Endrall’s moods became too much for Sotaas to take. The two of them would crawl from one pub to the next. Farrell liked to get other people intoxicated so that he could have his way with them; Sotaas just wanted to dull the pain.

By the time they returned from the Darroken lands, things were over between he and Endrall. Endrall could not even be bothered to say anything that was not an insult. To add injury, the moment they were back he fled north and entered the Good Lady’s keep, falling into the eager arms of the woman that lived there. Sotaas would hear later about how Endrall cried and cried over how badly he had failed him, these claims made with a vehemence equaled only by Endrall’s accusations that the Good Lady had taken advantage of him in a moment of weakness.

It didn’t matter at that point. Sotaas wanted nothing to do with either of them or anyone else. He wrapped the gaurn around his hand and went to House Wynn, took Deeam aside and spat at his feet and told him that he was washing his hands of all of it. Deeam looked concerned, even offered to listen, but Sotaas was having none of it, not then, not ever again. Growling, he spun the sigil on the back of his hand and activated the Ethcinos Sciences that he and Veskur had been working on for so long, fading into the background and walking into the wilds.

No one would find him. No one would ever find him and he never wanted to speak with any of them, not ever again, not after the insult and the injury he had suffered at the hands of those people that had once claimed to love him as much as they loved their own lives.

***

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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455

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-06

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

November 20, 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.

***

– 03:00:02:06 –

Every time he said Sotaas’ name, Endrall shone.

Veskur watched this with amusement at first, catching Endrall in his darkest moments and mentioning the wandering Ygg noble’s name, smiling herself when the boy shone like the sun his House took their name from. That light was a balm to Veskur’s wounded heart, and when Endrall confessed that he loved Sotaas and wanted Sotaas as his lover, Veskur conspired with him that they might catch the object of Endrall’s passions.

Sotaas didn’t make it easy. He was as leery of emotional traps as River was eager to set them. Veskur brought Sotaas to her keep more and more often, even going so far as to make him a gaurn, even going so far as to include him in the process of that making. Sotaas asked intelligent questions, analyzed the flaws, even came up with a method of making the gaurn more sturdy that Veskur began to include in her design process.

Simply, the maths that Sotaas came up with were easy enough to fold into pre-existing formula, while still requiring Veskur to re-evaluate the entirety of her depths. It was perfect, perfect. She was all too ready to get lost in her work once more.

There was still no word from Figo, but Thea had come north to help fill that gaping void. River had been an absence in Veskur’s life since he had blamed her for all that had gone wrong with Thea’s last visit and Thea alternated his words between praise and hurt, favoring the latter more than the former. He questioned when Veskur stopped talking to him as much, cursing her, accusing her of not knowing her own destiny.

Veskur looked at the sum total of her work and wondered if he was right.

“Why call your little gloves gaurn, anyway?” Thea demanded. “What does that word even mean?”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Veskur admitted. “I just like the sound.”

“Your egoism is proven time and again,” Thea sneered. “Why not go vomit into your little healer’s mouth. Do you like the sound of him gargling on your puke, or is it the sound of your throat’s waste that gets you off?”

Such accusations were frequent, and Thea wondered why Veskur gave him nothing but silence.

Her gaurn and hers alone allowed her to see the long equations of each individual, the possibilities tied to the choices they made and the capabilities they were. Her gaurn gave her the power to change those equations, to map out the numbers behind every last act. She could explain everything, every thought and deed through the application of the mathematics that came so easily to her whenever she wore her invention.

While there was still a sense of giddiness to the thrill of discovery, a harrowing sense of terror was beginning to overtake her mind.

Changing even a single number could have consequences, long term effects that could change the very nature of a person, place, or thing in ways that Veskur could not predict while also changing the world around them in ways that were incalculable, not with her current understanding.

Sometimes, she looked at the weapon on her hand and wondered about her own destiny; she was fairly certain that she herself remained intact but she could not say for certain – her Science tore the delicate thread-work of all reality like a dryw sawing through a tapestry.

All of this made her fearful of doing too much. She sat in her tower, in her lab, head in her hands. It became her preference to do little and thereby maintain the integrity of what already was. There was too much that could go wrong and the initial excitement of re-crafting every possibility had long since worn off.

The other gaurns she had made did other things, none of them so blunt and changing as the one she wore on her left hand. She had studied them extensively, had kept from Sotaas what the other sigils of the Houses might do if such tools were to be made for them.

No more, she thought. No more of them will be made. No others will ever have to feel the weight I’ve place on my shoulders.

Figo, lovely Figo, might never have left her had she just let her work go.

LiW 03-00-02-05

Veskur was beginning to doubt that she had any real gravity; the tides that pushed and pulled the Vanir seemed to find no purchase within her and she was left adrift, wandering the lands around her keep. Endrall’s every visit became a broken promise as he increasingly voiced his desire of Sotaas while reminding Veskur that she meant nothing, would never mean nothing.

“We’re not friends,” Endrall whispered in her ear. Veskur nodded, taking the words to heart and slipping her guarn on her hand, using it to set the circumstances Endrall wanted.

When Endrall went and spoke to Sotaas next, they parted as lovers.

This relationship needed to work. Veskur needed it to work. She needed the vicarious sense of gravity in those that were closest to her. It would have to be enough for her, have to be enough even though whenever they kissed Veskur felt like someone was stabbing her in the chest and laughing.

She pretended not to imagine that laughing figure looking down on her from behind Endrall’s eyes.

***

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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397

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:02:05

Books & Writing, Projects, Short Fictions

November 13, 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.

***

– 03:00:02:05 –

Where was he?

Where was his darling child, his perfect son, the weapon that he had raised so perfectly? Lately he’d been acting like a dryw and Sahr sometimes wondered whether the child was worth keeping – he loved the boy, yes, but the boy was beginning to rebel and to hurt him with the same sharpness that he’d been taught to hurt his mother. It was intolerable, the things that young Endrall would say to him, the things he would do and the demands he would place. He was only a child; he should know enough to listen to his betters, his elders, the people that were wiser and smarter and just plain better than he was.

This wasn’t to say that the boy was not talented. Far from it; the boy was wise in ways that others, quite simply, were not. This was to be expected considering that Endrall was his son, and there was a certain amount of pride that Sahr accepted when it came to acknowledging whom he had sired, even if the mother had been a complete waste and even if the rest of Midgard now agreed with that sentiment. Still, Endrall should have known better. He should have been home days before this present moment.

Sahr immersed himself in what work there was for him to do, a series of wounded nobles that could afford his immediate care and other hurt Vanir that would have to accept lesser healers or wait for him to find a moment. Sahr didn’t care so much; he found the work a distraction from his worry and his anger, still coming to terms with the errant fact that the child he had raised and cared for and defined had once again stepped out of line.

How dare he.

How Dare He Do This.

Figo was back again. He’d been throwing himself into the thickest fights, winning ever greater glory while wandering deeper and deeper into Coeecian territory. Though he wore one of Wyrd’s stupid little fashion accessories he refused to speak of his former love, his bright eyes darkening whenever the Lady was mentioned. Farrell smiled whenever he saw that happen and even Endrall had looked amused when the boy had been present. Sahr sometimes wondered what those two knew that he didn’t, but could get neither of them to speak of what brought such cruel smiles to their faces.

The two of them only spoke briefly. Sahr got the increasing impression that Figo didn’t like him. Hekro certainly didn’t, or Risue, or the Nauthiz Coven, or any of the other nobles that came to see him for his talented hands. He didn’t much care, seeing them all as tools that were trying to take his son’s attention away from where it properly belonged. Endrall would have never been gone so long without word nor been late in returning before he had met them, and Sahr sometimes found himself cursing the time when he had left Lord Figo Jera in his son’s care.

He cursed only the Lady herself, his former wife, and Hekro Gherlid so often. The former for what she was, the middle for what she had done, and the last for the similarities she bore to his old wife. He had caught Endrall making eyes at the warrior, but his darling son had denied feeling anything for the old woman. He believed his child; he had raised him to have better taste in lovers than that.

Endrall was supposed to be visiting with the northern Lady, that stupid whore. He had contacted the Lady already and asked her where his son was, using the base sciences and circuits that the Vanir employed. He had learned how to do this specifically to keep track of his son. The Good Lady had told him that his son had left and would be home when he was home.

The Lady’s words left him wringing his hands with worry. Wasn’t he the only one that loved his son? Wasn’t he the only one who cared? Wasn’t he the one who had told Endrall this again and again, drilling it into him until he believed it with the same lack of thought with which he believed the sky was blue and the earth pulled down upon all that walked upon it?

“She’s drugged him,” Farrell would slur, quiet in his cups day after day. “She’s addicted to more narcotics that you can imagine or that I can name. That’s why Figo left her up there alone. She’s drugged him and will make him an addict. Everything that you think he might be he won’t be because he’ll prefer to be sheathed in her rather than doing anything you believe is of value.”

Sahr believed the fox. What did he have to gain from lying? Certainly not his son, not the way that Wyrd did. She would take him the way his wife had taken him, the lying dryw, and she would scar him, hurt him, and ruin his life.

He luxuriated in the things he had, seeping into the illusions of wealth in an effort to stay distracted. Every carriage was a broken promise that his son was home, building his rage into fury, cementing his anger into something as solid and painful and right as any levl. He wanted to burn the world. How dare Endrall do this to him. How dare his son betray him like this.

Love is War 03-00-02-05

When Endrall finally did show up weeks after he should have returned, Sahr walked away from the surgery he was performing and went directly to the boy, demanding leave to perform a physical examination on him right then and there. The boy protested but what the boy wanted did not matter – only Sahr’s needs mattered, only his will counted, especially given all the worry and frustration that he had felt. He ignored the boy’s protests and hysterics as the trivialities they were; the boy had no rights and no identity other than those that Sahr chose to give him, and right then he chose to give his child nothing.

The taint of the Wyrd woman was still on him, barely there but there all the same. He could find no traces of narcotics in his system but that meant nothing – she could have access to intoxicants from other nations, wilder nations, might have possibly infused Sahr’s child with poisons that Sahr knew nothing about. He went further than even this, tracing the marks that old villain had left on his child even as Endrall said that he had just lost track of time, a confession that proved the words the woman had given him a lie.

Endrall protested and screamed about how his privacy was being invaded but his ravings were the ravings of a child and safely ignored. Sahr summoned the guards and ordered Endrall confined to his rooms, and then used the Process to contact the woman that had tried to steal his son from him. Yes, Endrall had eventually returned and, yes, Endrall was now home and safe, but still the woman had tried to steal him away and had lied about that and who knew how many other things.

He used the Process but there was no response from that far away keep to the north. He screamed at Endrall, struck Endrall, forcing Endrall to try and contact the woman. There was no response. He turned his attention to the manservant that the woman’s family had placed in her home to keep an eye on her and was able to get a hold of him. He didn’t know where the woman was, but he told Sahr that he would have her contact him upon her return.

Sahr forced Endrall to his knees, forced the boy to remember that his father was the only one that would ever truly love him and that he was utterly worthless without that affection. The boy shook but refused to cry, refused to crack or bend. Sahr didn’t care, continuing to scream until the boy was shivering and holding himself in his silence. He reminded his son that women – especially older women – were not to be trusted and never to be taken as lovers, never to be loved or spoken to except in polite company. The boy said nothing but still Sahr could see the glimmering fires of rebellion in his child’s eyes.

“The woman is a coward,” Farrell told him. “She will not contact you. She will ignore you, forget you called, come up with some excuse. Come, I took some of her notes from Endrall. Read them for yourself. It’s plain to see that the narcotics she has ingested have driven her insane.”

Sahr read them, attempting an open mind, but with every word he read he imagined that woman’s tongue running along the flesh of his son. The words were senseless, the intent without meaning. The woman was clearly insane, a flaw. Endrall would have to be made to see that.

The good Lady used the Process to contact him within the week.

“I was out in the wild where no one could reach me,” she confessed. “I needed to get away.”

“From your sins?” Sahr sneered. The woman said nothing. “What you have done is deplorable. You are a coward and a fiend and a whore. I’ve read your writings and I know you to be nothing but some insane harlot, a charlatan hellbent on filling the empty void that exists where your soul should be. You are a liar, a thief, and a hypocrite and there is nothing you can offer my son except suffering.”

The woman said nothing in her own defense, undoubtedly seeing the truth in Sahr’s statements.

“It took guts for you to contact me,” Sahr admitted, willing to give her at least that much.

“It was the right thing to do.”

The simplicity of that reply infuriated him all over again.

A season later, he would talk to Figo about it, believing that the White Rose had to know more about the woman than anyone else after having spent so long with her. Figo would not speak of why he had left her but he refused to believe the truths Farrell offered regarding the woman’s addiction.

“She never lied to me when I was with her,” Figo said, his eyes shadowed. “I do not think she can lie. She hides much of what she knows and her beliefs are twisted but she does not lie, at least not of her own accord.” Sahr pretended to accept Figo’s words and then left him with whatever care a fool could be given – for he was a fool. He had to be a fool and he had to be wrong.

The alternative was not a thing to be considered.

***

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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423

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:02:04

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

November 6, 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. 

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Click here to read previous entry.

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– 03:00:02:04 –

Risue Nihm of House Elhaz was one of the best politicians in his family. He could talk and negotiate, carried himself with an air of confidence that often rolled right over lesser men. From the time he could speak he was pushed towards wheeling and dealing, accepting only the best as he dealt with the brightest children of the other noble Houses. He took to fighting with a levl early on, meeting Hekro Gebo as a child, the two of them learning from one another.

Perhaps it was because of his learning with Hekro, one of the best fighters in Midgard, that he developed a strongly defensive style. Perhaps it was where his own skills would have taken him anyway. The fact remained, however, that his preferred method of physical combat was in direct contrast to the way he spoke, and it often confused others.

It was through Hekro that he met Secu Nauthiz, a girl with long red hair and bewitching yellow eyes. She followed at his shoulder in all things, walking with him into meeting halls with the rest of the nobility and listening as he won favors for both their Houses. The elders of Nauthiz took note of him, met with him, deemed him a worthy match for their pretty scion and met with Risue’s father, seeking an engagement.

It was granted.

Life, Risue had thought, could not have been better.

He served along the Coeecian border as all noble youth must. His father made certain that he was sent to the north and west, a place where the barbarians did not strike all that often, and the few fights he found himself in were more exhilarating than terrifying. When a handful of Coeecians attacked and ran away his people thought nothing of it, riding down their enemies into a valley and thinking to finish them there. Never once did any of them suspect that Coeecian cunning had brought them into an ambush.

They came from the top of the valley, raining down boulders that crushed some of their mightiest. Primitive weapons followed their use of terrible chemical fires that no amount of water could quench. Scientists were targeted and picked off, leaving the remaining Vanir with no defense against the extant superstitions that the Coeecians could call from myth to reality. The Coeecian mystics tried to flood the valley and the Vanir tried to escape, and failed. The water rose and soaked them through to the bone, all of them shivering and pale, none of them able to remember what it had been like to be warm.

Risue came up with a desperate ploy, a quick run that cost them half their remaining number but saw them escape. He himself was injured in the process, some Coeecian savage shoving a pointed length of wood into his spine. He ran anyway, as fast as he could manage, further and further north as their enemies chased them. One of their number – a woman from House Dagaz that he had never learned the name of – said that there was a proper keep up in the most remote wastes. They ran for it, hoping that whoever lived there would give them shelter.

The Lady of that keep had emerged from her home and used some form of Science no one had ever seen before to flatten those that chased them. She called a mountain out of the sky and caused it to crash on top of the Coeecian horde, rattling the earth, tossing them from their feet, shaking the bones in their flesh. The Lady’s manservant, Jaso, had emerged from the Keep and told them that the Lady was not receiving guests and gave them every supply they asked for before sending them on their way.

It had been the first time that the Vanir people as a whole became aware of Lady Veskur Wyrd and her strange Science.

Love is War 03-00-02-04

Risue had been shipped home. The house medics could do nothing for him, and so he was sent to the nobles of House Suwilo. Eri Sahr himself had tended to his wounds, sealing the gaping hole in his spine and teaching him to walk again. There was pain, a lot of pain, and old muscle began to soften as the exercises he had done since childhood became impossible to perform. His mind and his tongue remained sharp, however, and that gave him some comfort even as the levl at his hip became something he carried more for comfort than practicality.

Seasons came and went and past and slowly, slowly, he came to terms with his new lot in life. The Golden Champion fell to Jesam, Jesam fell to the Lady Wyrd, a new Njord was named, and the White Rose became hero to the Vanir people. Risue’s father was never able to accept his new weakness, but Secu remained by his side. It was enough; with skill of word he created a web of contacts and contracts that brought both his House and Nauthiz wealth and honor.

However, the glory that he had hoped to win fell by the wayside. Worse, when Secu travelled, she did so under the protective arm and eye of a recovering Golden Champion. Risue pretended that it didn’t bother him to see his fiance walking with his friend, the friend that would recover physically where he could not. When it happened he forced a smile and kept on talking, relying on his quick wit to shield the agony he felt whenever he saw his love in Lady Hekro’s arms.

Life went on.

He did the best he could.

He brokered treaties with the Darroken and fermented trade through the Darroken lands with the strange eastern nations – the Hsien, Zaerm, and Trahmin peoples. He was important in the eyes of his House but not his father, and every time the old man looked at him he was reminded of how much he had lost and all that he might have been. He wondered if perhaps the world might not have been better off had he fallen in that valley so long ago, his blood soaking into Coeecian hands, but then he would shake his head and smile and get on with the business of leading his life.

It was harder and harder again to do so. He began to lose focus and confidence, keeping his word and charisma at the beginning of various encounters but becoming frustrated as people failed to live up to the expectations he had for them. They placed difficulties in his way, conspired against him, and he knew that they did even if he could not prove it. They did not pay him for his work and he felt exhausted, betrayed, and alone. Still he tried to be the best person that he could be, still he tried to live up to the potential that he had once possessed.

More and more his father set him out and away from the family holdings, traveling from one place to the next to carry the family banner. Lesser Vanir were sent with him to try and finalize the terms that Risue tried to set but the longer he was gone the more of what he tried to build crumbled.

Finally, he was sent far to the north and west, his father returning him to the place where his life had ended all those seasons ago, the place where his body had refused to lie down. Perhaps his father thought that by returning him to this place he would finally be able to rest, that the not-life that he continued to suffer would finally give way to the ending that should have been his.

And it was there, on the borderlands where he should have died, that he befriended Veskur Wyrd.

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