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Fiction – Love is War 03:00:02:02

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

October 23, 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.

***

– 03:00:02:02 –

There was so very much to learn.

Sotaas Ygg was one of the greatest minds of his House, a friendly quiet sort who got on well with everyone. His House had given the Vanir nation their greatest trackers and scouts, a powerful need for motion driven into all those that could claim their blood. Sotaas had been gifted with a wanderlust of the soul that matched his drive to explore the physical world and he spent as much time reading and theorizing as he did mapping out the wild places of Midgard and settling the occasional Coeecian incursion.

House Ygg had always been close to House Wynn and, in fact, Sotaas had grown up acting as the personal scout for the soon-to-be Njord, Deeam. It was that connection that brought him to Wynn’s capital and to the chambers of his friend. Deeam rose with a smile when he was announced, foregoing whatever other conversations held him to clasp Sotaas’ wrist. Sotaas did likewise; there had never been a need for formal greetings between the two of them.

“My friend, my friend, I have need of you,” Deeam said. Sotaas smiled and rocked on his heels because, really, his friend had only to ask and Sotaas would do all he could to help.

“What do you need found?”

“An idea.” Deeam smiled, wrapped an arm around Sotaas’ shoulder and led him out into the dark. “There is an upcoming ball that I will ask you to attend in formal wear. I know you despise it, but I need you to meet someone.”

“Who?”

“Her name is Veskur Wyrd,” Deeam grinned. “You may have heard of her.”

“In passing,” Sotaas admitted. “Some distant hermetic noble. Has a connection with that noble from Jera everyone’s been talking about, the one with the deathwish.”

“Figo?”

“That’s the one.”

“What it I told you that Veskur was responsible for Figo’s successes?” Deeam asked. “That Veskur has invented a new science that has allowed Figo to claim victory after victory?”

“Well, first I’d ask if you were telling fables, but you wouldn’t have brought me here if this was some sort of passing fancy,” Sotaas looked out into the wilds. “Is this a high Science or a low science?”

“The former, I believe, though there is so little any of us know.”

“And why do we know so little?”

“Veskur Wyrd keeps it to herself.” Deeam paused, looking north and into the dark. “Her reasons are her own, certanly, but her reasons pale before the need we have of her secrets. Her discovery is clearly something that must be shared. Right now the only two people that are using her invention are Figo and Veskur herself, but think about the applications of such a tool – if those two alone are able to win so much, imagine the glory that could be claimed if all our nation possessed that knowledge.”

“I understand,” Sotaas said. “What would you like me to do about it? Speak with her? Steal her notes? Copy her designs?”

“All of those things have been tried,” Deeam shook his head. “I could show you the copies of her work that I already possess, repeat the information that she herself has given me. She’s mad, you see, completely and utterly mad, and Figo does not understand how she did what she did. I can’t make sense of her tales and neither can our best scholars.”

“Not even River Megru?” Sotaas’ tone hid nothing of his contempt for the man.

“Not even River has had any luck.” Deeam smiled and shook his head, the two of them standing on a balcony and looking down at the world below. “The world is changing. The world is constantly changing. The dominant nations long ago were far to the east, but now there are only us and the Darroken to uphold civilization. The Coeecians are a constant threat from the south and west and the Zaaerm in the north cannot be trusted. We need whatever Science Veskur has if we are to survive.”

“Alright,” Sotaas sighed. “What do you want me to do?”

“Talk to her,” Deeam said. “Get to know her. Map out the country of her mind the way your kin map the lines of Midgard itself. Define the boundaries and mountains of her Science and translate her madness into something understandable.”

“Is that all?” Sotaas asked, rolling his eyes. Deeam just smiled and let him go.

He went to the rooms that Deeam always set aside for him, washed the grime of the road from his skin and put on the formal wear that had been laid out for him. Short hair was spiked up, eyes hidden behind tinted glass, hands covered in gloves, his levl and a dryw resting at his hips. He studied himself in a mirror and grimaced; he would rather walk through the uncharted wilds than navigate the perils of court politics.

Still, when the time came he went and joined the ball.

A good collection of nobles had come. Not Figo or any of the predominantly military nobles, as all of them were on the frontlines of the latest Coeecian incursion. The Nauthiz Coven were there, the three of them as different from one another as they were from everyone else, yet still tightly knit, still ruling the world around them with their sheer force of presence. There was a man from Ansu that Sotaas had met but could not remember the name of, a couple from Fehu that he had never cared for. He scanned the mass of people, looking for the individual Deeam had put him upon.

She was standing off to one side, thrown over a chair haphazardly, a drink in one hand. Her formal clothing was a mess, her hair a tangle, but her eyes shone with a shy amusement. When Sotaas began moving towards her she noticed immediately but took no action, not running nor rising to greet him. She just sat there, waiting.

“Hello,” Sotaas said, and introduced himself. The other woman introduced herself as the Lady Wyrd and gave Sotaas leave to sit beside her before lapsing into a quiet that he found oddly comfortable. There was a strange sense of peace to be found in sitting beside this stranger, a feeling that he had known this person all his life and was only now remembering an old friend after a long absence.

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-01

“Any reason you’re here?” the Lady Wyrd asked.

“Deeam asked me to show up,” Sotaas admitted. The woman nodded, accepting this, her eyes brushing over the crowd. “How about you?”

“The same, actually.” She paused to sip at her drink, dipping her ungloved finger in the liquid and stirring. “I’d rather be at home, working, but my family seemed to think me coming here was a good idea.”

“You have other thoughts on this?”

“Clearly.”

The two of them fell into quiet again and Sotaas got the impression that the Lady Wyrd was not used to speaking with others, that she just let conversation ebb and flow as it willed instead of taking control of it. He wondered what would happen if the Lady was pressed and decided not to find out; he needed the Lady comfortable and pliant.

“What’re you working on back home?” Sotaas asked, keeping his tone polite.

“A little of this, a little of that,” the Lady answered, her posture turning reluctant. When Sotaas asked her to continue she blushed and looked away. “I’m told that I lose people when I talk about the stuff I work on. It’s pretty esoteric. Are you sure you want to know?” Sotaas said that he did.

The conversation wore on. Sotaas understood most of it and asked questions when he didn’t, getting answers until everything Veskur said made sense. He ended up being invited to the Lady’s keep up north, Veskur liking him due to his questions – she said that they made her think and consider things she wouldn’t have otherwise. Besides, the commentary Sotaas added furthered Veskur’s ideas in directions she would not have traveled otherwise.

Sotaas found herself liking Veskur, her shy earnestness and confident madness.

“What did you learn?” Deeam asked later, the two of them alone and sipping at some fine Fehu honey-wines.

“Much,” Sotaas answered. He smiled, running his finger along the stem of his glass. “You’re right, of course. She’s utterly mad, but very comfortable in her madness.”

“You sound like you enjoyed her company.”

“I did. There’s a lot to like there.”

“As you say.” Deeam paused, sat in a chair and sighed, ran his hands through his hair. “Be careful. Her madness may seem stable, but it is still madness and not to be trusted, never to be trusted. Especially when she holds a power as great as she does.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Be sure that you do.”

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351

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:02:01

Books & Writing, Projects, Short Fictions, Showcase

October 16, 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.

***

– 03:00:02:01 –

Life was a whirlwind of passion, sensation, joy.

This was a truth that Endrall Sahr had long believed and now that he was beginning to venture out from underneath his father’s shadow he was learning so very much. Grais, his first love, had proven to be nothing more than the poison that his father had warned him women acquired with age – the few missives she sent were filled with the blackest sort of bile. Endrall shouldered them with due grace and cried into the shoulders of Figo Jera and Veskur Wyrd, two people that were becoming her closest friends and confidantes, and other things as well.

He was young and beautiful, wise beyond his years, possessed of a mature air and charisma that drew others like motes around a star. He smiled and the world paused to watch, he laughed and all that would ever be chuckled along with him. He was quiet and lovely and shining – everyone said so – and worth so much more than what he had been born into. Given all that he was and all he could do he felt as if his talents would be wasted doing anything other than changing the world.

Sometimes, he considered what it was he wanted to do. His father and all his House were renowned healers, the best the Vanir had to offer. He could do what they did, be better at it than any other member of his line. He could turn his mind to the realm of politics, to the games the Houses played with one another, games that his House generally avoided. He could save his House, make it as mighty as Fehu or Wynn in the world of treaty and word.

Veskur told him that he was destined for greatness, and if anyone knew it would be her. He didn’t see why he couldn’t do both politics and healing, perhaps make one an extension of the other. Figo said it would be difficult to do that, but Veskur believed he was more than capable. Grais told him she hated him and all he was, despising him for his wandering heart, but while he had been moving, growing and becoming more, Grais had stayed the same.

Static things and people did not interest him. He put the idea of her on a mental shelf and resolved to come back to her later, when there was time or when he felt like it. He knew it didn’t really matter; he strongly suspected that other people existed only for his own amusement.

Figo sometimes stopped by to have small hurts healed. He had returned to the borderlands, picking up his fight with the Coeecian horde. His legend was growing and they called him the Prince of the Rose, his levl in his right hand, the glove that his Lady had made him adorning his left. The legend of him upon the battlefield was coming to rival that of even the fabled Golden Champion and he was much sought out, his soldiers coming to be known as the Band of the White Rose.

As for the Golden Champion, she spent much of her time in the back countries, passing on what she knew to the future leaders of the Vanir nobility. Endrall had yet to meet the woman, but he was sure their paths would one day cross.

Endrall had visited Figo on the rolling hills of southern borders, learning to heal along with the rest of his House’s nobility despite his father’s protests. Figo was as gentle as he ever was, eyes haunted and smile sad, the core strength of him always in evidence. Veskur came and joined them sometimes and the two of them would go out and walk the land together, leaving everyone else behind. The soldiers Figo commanded did not like this, but Figo assured them nothing would happen, that the Coeecians would not be able to touch them.

When the lovers were out of earshot Endrall learned it was not the Coeecians that Figo’s soldiers worried about.

He had heard the stories, of course, the many whispered horrors that people lay at the feet of Veskur Wyrd. His father had warned him and Farrell had warned him and the Band of the White Rose did nothing but repeat tales whispered in all the noble halls. Veskur made herself a simple target for innuendo, but Endrall had never asked her about any of it. The woman did not lie and he was not certain that he wanted to know the truth.

Figo took other lovers besides Veskur and Endrall. Some of them came from his Band, though none of those relationships bore the passion that bound him and Veskur together.

Endrall could sometimes see those ties that bound people, webs of light that shone different colors and blazed with the intensity of the sun. He was not certain what the colors meant – he had tried to keep track of them, thought they might be tied to emotions, but if there was pattern it was not one that he could recognize. The webs that tied Veskur and Figo were strong, stronger than any he had seen before or between anyone else.

He wondered what it would take to sever them entirely and claim both of them for himself.

There was no maliciousness in the thought, no intention to cause either of them harm. Endrall was a healer: he only wanted to make people stronger, better, to heal the wounds within themselves so that they could be more. Veskur spoke of things like that sometimes, when she was lucid and had remembered to do things like sleep and eat. Figo tried to make the people around him better, too, though Endrall warned him that he made it too simple for people to take him for granted. His soldiers especially.

Figo’s Band of the White Rose had the lowest number of casualties in any of the Vanir’s forces, Endrall knew, but not a one of them lay this remarkable statistic at the young noble’s feet. No one thought to credit the glove he wore for this, either, Veskur’s little mark of affection. Endrall wondered if he could talk Veskur into making him one, wondering what sort of power it would have.

It was with this in mind that he made his way into the northern wastes, a trek he made with more frequency than even Figo. He sought control of his own destiny, a mastery and completeness that had denied his father.

My life was set by your mother, Endrall’s father had said, narrowed eyes matching tight lips. I live this hell because of what that woman did to me. Despite his father’s misgivings, Endrall could not help but feel that Veskur held some secret, some bit of wisdom that would help him accomplish more than any other Vanir in history.

Veskur was not at her keep when he arrived this time. He was as late as he ever was, but still her absence annoyed him. Her servant had the gall to tell him that she had left to walk her lands after three days of fruitless waiting.

“When do you expect her back?” Endrall asked, not bothering to hide her annoyance. The man was only a servant.

“I will send her a message,” the servant answered, bowing his head. “After that, I expect it will be a matter of hours. She doesn’t like to wander far when she’s expecting you.”

“Well, there’s that, at least.” Endrall removed his gloves, finding the idea of her tied to her home for want of him amusing. “Still, it’s rude of her to keep me waiting. We will have words when she returns. A piece of my mind as a welcoming gift.”

“Which one?” the man asked.

Endrall blinked, not understanding, and the man left.

He was permitted free entry and made himself comfortable. He was one of the few people that Veskur let into her home when she was not present, one of the highest gifts that the Good Lady could bestow on anyone. A number of letters between her and Figo had gone missing during the time when that Raido noble had stayed with her and she had grown increasingly paranoid since, especially with Figo’s ever more frequent absences.

He knew that Figo was growing, but still felt tied to Veskur while Veskur assumed nothing was wrong – it was a surprising sort of stupidity from someone that was otherwise intelligent, one that Endrall was taking advantage of in order to sate his curiosity.

Veskur returned eventually, her face white and drawn. Endrall ripped into her anyway, watching her nervous eyes and the way her shoulders shook and felt nothing, nothing. When he took her in his arms he felt her melt, her breath on his chest. She wanted him so very much.

Only two people were allowed into Veskur’s laboratory when she worked – he and Figo. He followed her in while she worked, he telling her of the many things that were happening in his life. Sometimes, rudely, she would try to interrupt him to bring up her own little foibles, but she had never been the most social of creatures and so he forgave her this indiscretion before resuming his tales.

“Hey, Veskur?”

“Yes, Love?”

“You built Figo one of those gloves,” Endrall said. He swallowed, dropping his gaze as Veskur turned to look at him with her haunted, haunting eyes. “Could you build me one?”

Veskur was still for a long time. There was a single long sigh where Endrall thought there should have been a scream, and then a valley of silence.

“I sometimes think I made a mistake building Figo his,” Veskur admitted, the words a faint whisper. Endrall looked at her, her slumping shoulders and twitchy fingers. “There’s a weight to them, a terrible weight. Figo didn’t want his. Why do you want one?”

“Figo’s has let him take control of his world,” Endrall said, leaning forward on his stool. “I’d like that sort of freedom. And you’ve said yourself that I’m more your equal than Figo is.”

Veskur nodded; she had said that when she noticed how his body language mirrored hers, how the two of them processed information in ways that seemed to echo one another.

“If we are equals in mind and spirit, should we not be equal in capability?” he asked, staring at her and realizing that her gaze had gone distant, to some place only she could see.

“Even so.” Veskur blinked and shook her head, the madness that claimed her so much of the time shrugged off for the moment. “Do you know what these gloves do? How they work?”

Endrall gave a slight shake of his head, frowning. He did not like admitting his own ignorance.

“Every time you make a decision or perform an act, there is a chance that it will work and a chance that it will not work,” Veskur said, perching on the nearest surface. “For every choice or act performed by every person, this is true. We live in a world of endless possibilities where anything could be and the chances of success as are determined by circumstance as by skill.

“The glove creates a circuit, similar to the circuits used by lesser scientists, only this one eliminates all but one possibility – those other possibilities simply cease to have any weight or any chance of coming into being. Energy is focused through this tool to destroy a single possibility, the energy of that destruction then used to eliminate the next and the next until only the desired outcome is possible.

“I built the original glove, mine, with a sigil of my House working as the home for the circuit. This means that all energy that I move through and by the glove is shaped by the sigil itself. This resulted in a number of abilities, the greatest of which is the…” She paused, looked at him.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m trying to think of the easiest way to explain this,” Veskur said. She hopped off her perch, began pacing, waving her left hand around despite the lack of glove on it. “When you stare at the world, what do you see?”

“The world.”

Veskur looked at him, and for a moment he though he had said something wrong, but then she was ranting again.

“Alright. Alright. Fair enough. But everything large is made of smaller things, interlocking parts that go towards building a larger whole. If you divide down far enough, however, what are you eventually going to hit?”

“I don’t know. God?” They both laughed; the illusion of divinities that the other, lesser, nations clung to was proof of their base inferiority. Only the Zaerm seemed to share this understanding.

“The base line of everything must be nothing, which means that the entirety of what we live within is illusion. We are all ultimately made of the same stuff, but as that illusion moves through time it adheres to certain shapes, concepts, and equations. An act is taken, a consequence results. Even our behavior and the capacity of that behavior is defined by these equations, which would be so monstrously large that one could spend a decade working through the mathematics to predict the entirety contained within a single day for a single vector.

“However, the equations would deal more with ratio than a base equation with real numbers. There are certain events or outcomes that come more naturally to us due to the nature of the math behind us, certain capacities that specific individuals carry that others, by the nature of their math, do not. Moving energies through the sign of my House allows one to change those numbers, resulting in a chosen outcome rather than a passive one.

“So when you say you want to take control of your life I understand and there is more truth to that statement than anyone else should ever know. When I fought Jesam all those years ago? I saw the whole of his life; I saw all the possibilities in it. I took away the numbers that would have given him victory while making certain the only outcome for myself with success. And, with that glove, I can do that with any one at any time.”

Veskur paused and looked at him. Endrall realized that he was shaking and forced himself to stop.

“Figo can do this, too?”

“No. No, no, no, a thousand times no. His glove does something different.” Veskur walked over to a pile of books, sorting through her notes. “As far as I can tell, Figo’s glove lets him stop the flow of time around people, places, or things for a certain period of time as we understand it. Whatever that noun is simply ceases to exist within out continuity for a specific duration and is unaware of whatever passage happens around it. He can also reset himself. The reason so few of his people die isn’t his knowledge of tactics but rather his ability to reset things to a time before the death of his soldiers and, while they may not remember what happened, Figo will. He remembers the placement and movement of his enemies.”

“No wonder the two of you were always felt so confident walking off on your own,” breathed Endrall. “Even if there had been an ambush, Figo could have reset it so that you were ready and you could change the ratio of victory to favor you and fail them.”

“Or change things so that we avoided the confrontation entirely,” Veskur said, looking up at him with eyes that were all too sharp. She ran a hand through her hair, nervous. “This is not a power to be used lightly. The math, well, the math is terrifying and the powers being used are incredibly complex. I can barely wrap my head around it most of the time. I think… I think there’s a responsibility to use power like this sparingly, if at all.”

“How come?” Endrall asked. Veskur went quiet.

“There was a river by your family’s home, right?”

“The one we dammed, yes.”

“What happened when you dammed it?”

“There was some flooding,” Endrall said, remembering the consequences of that action. A village had been lost, a full fourth of the peasants who lived in that village caught by the change and drowned. Almost all the rest had been injured, but the end result had been exactly what the nobles of House Suwilo had expected – a source of fresh water to better clean the wounds of those that came to them for healing.

“Yes, some flooding.” Veskur hissed, pacing again. “Your House moved a river, a simple river. I’m moving the numbers that define everything. There is an important illusion that we all possess, that of choice. By using that glove I remove myself from the proper equations and make up my own as I go along. Figo, to a certain extent, is doing the same thing.”

“You’ve made yourself and Figo the gods everyone else claims to worship,” Endrall whispered. If he hadn’t been sitting he might have fallen as the enormity of what Veskur had done struck him, the full weight of what lay between them.

For a long time neither of them said anything.

“I tried to make Figo’s glove like mine.” Veskur sat on the floor, hugging her knees and rocking back and forth. “I tried to make Figo’s glove exactly like mine, with my House sigil on it. It didn’t work for him, it can’t work for him. There’s something in our intrinsic math that won’t let us use the sigils that are not our own.”

“What would my glove do if you were to make one?”

“I don’t know,” Veskur admitted, closing her eyes, her voice so soft that Endrall could scarcely hear it. He went to her, held her, felt her stiffen and then relax, her head pressed against his chest. “I won’t know until it’s built. If it gets built. It’s not a toy and it’s not a tool. It’s as much a weapon as a levl, but on a much grander scale. There’s a weight to taking such a thing. Are you sure you want it?”

Love is War 00-02-01

Endrall was quiet for a moment, considering.

“Yes.”

“Alright.” Veskur whisper was a slow sigh that went trickling along his flesh. “You know I can’t deny you anything, not really. You’ll have what you want.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t. Just… don’t.”

***

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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404

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:09

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

October 9, 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.

***

– 03:00:01:09 –

Thea’s plan was perfect. It was going perfectly.

He had spoken about it with River many times over. He would come up and live with the Lady Wyrd and she would recognize that they were meant to be together and they would fall in love and he would claim her again and again in ways that no one else ever would again. He would silence her madness, focus her, make her even greater than she already was. That’s what was going to happen. That’s what would have to happen. There was no other possibility.

It was Thea’s destiny to be Lady Veskur Wyrd’s lover.

Even Figo Jera had recognized that inevitable truth. His Lady had told him how her little toy had bowed out and away in order for Thea and his Lady to fully explore their love for one another, free of whatever ties might have otherwise bound her. It was a sign that he was right, that she would belong to him, that she would be his, that his possession of her was right and proper. She was so beautiful, so full of fire, and he would make that fire what he wanted and define her until she was exactly what he believed her to be so that everyone else could see her for the beauty that she was.

River and Thea had told his Lady Wyrd that they would work together five days out of seven, those last two days a chance for Thea to get out from under River’s domineering presence, but neither River or Thea had any intention of working together. The point of this exercise was to rescue the Lady from her unworthy lover and bring her to the attention of someone who could devote themselves to her as she deserved, not bask in the careless affections of some base noble from the pathetic House Jera.

And things had started exactly how Thea had dreamed they would. The Lady Wyrd met him at the gate of her home, showed him to the rooms that had been prepared for his coming. Her keep was smaller and colder than he would have imagined, but that was no matter; it just meant that they would be closer physically, making the happening of their inevitable union all the quicker.

He took a couple days to settle in and the good Lady played the perfect host during that time. On the third day, however, she turned back to her studies and when he went to be with her in her laboratory she ignored him for the most part, deigning to notice him only long enough to ask him to leave. The fourth and fifth days saw a pattern emerge, and on the sixth day the Lady Wyrd politely contacted River and arranged to take Thea to him on the eighth.

The Lady Wyrd was still polite but she grew more distant. Circuits that Thea was unfamiliar with were used to lock her laboratory when she was working within. On those oft time she wasn’t, Thea would wander in and look around, taking note of the wonders that his beautiful love had called forth from her mind.

He read his Lady’s notes and messages. He felt no qualms about doing so, as everything that his Lady was belonged to him, even if she did not realize this yet. He learned all about her love affair with Figo in greater detail than he ever could have wanted. He scowled at those messages, vowing that his Lady would never speak to or be seen with Figo ever again when he had claimed her fully. Having read the messages and come to his decision, he then burnt those messages until there was nothing left but ash. He was not satisfied until they were gone completely – there was no sense, he thought, in her dwelling on what would be useless dreams from the past, not when their future together was so full of light.

Love is War 09

Thea also learned of another toy from the healer’s house, some child named Endrall Sahr. He read the letters between those two and felt claws of jealousy tear at him; there was a closeness implied by those letters that he did not approve of, an echo that was not natural. Those letters he left alone for the time being, sorting through the rest of the messages that had been sent to his love.

A gold and silver seal caught his eye and he carefully unfurled a missive from Deeam Wsael, pouring over writings directed to his Lady from the future Freyr himself. The note dealt with some sort of glove, which mystified Thea – why would the future Freyr want to discuss keeping his hands warm with someone as wonderful as his Lady?

Only a handful of other notes had been kept over the passage of seasons. A surprisingly friendly series of notes with some noble from the Ygg line named Sotaas. Thea’s lips turned at that; the nobles of House Ygg were only barely better than the barbarians that festered outside the borders of Midgard.

He left before his Lady returned, returning everything he had not destroyed to the places he had found them. His Lady, if she noticed that he had been there, said nothing about it at all.

The eighth day came and his Lady took him to meet River. The other noble was leering and gregarious, alternating his attention between his instrument and his latest breathing toy. Thea was amazed at the skill with which he played both instruments, he looking up now and again to share one of his many observations regarding the Lady Wyrd and all her flaws.

“Why do you let him talk to you like that?” River’s toy asked. Wyrd had no answer. As she sat silently doing nothing, River pulled her apart with words. His Lady would later try to pull herself together, saying that River mocked others with the same hostility and thought that dogs used when marking their territory, but Thea knew exactly what River was doing and appreciated his efforts; his friend was ripping the Lady apart so that he would have the chance to put her back together as he saw fit.

They walked for some time afterwards, through the woods and buildings of the town they found themselves in. The summer was warm, a cool breeze rich with salt brushing over them from the southern seas. River, he knew, lived for moments like this one, shining brighter than the sun itself. And as for his dear Lady, well, so frazzled was she by River’s insults that she said nothing when Thea returned to her home without so much as a stopover with his friend.

She said nothing when he followed her into her laboratory the next day, complained not in the least when he dogged her every step. When social engagements forced her to go to Deeam’s Court he went with her, sitting in the same carriage. She looked more worn as the visit wore on, her eyes taking on haunted shadows, her conversation becoming more terse.

The way she lit up when they bumped into Figo made Thea’s soul burn.

Figo was crass enough to refer to Thea’s Lady by her first name, was disrespectful enough to touch her without his leave. He was a bore, a simpleton, the very worst sort of degenerate. This didn’t surprise Thea, as all his House were perverts. He was cruel with his words, hurling insults with a smile on his face – when Thea hinted at the truth of his uselessness he merely smiled and nodded and called him a dryw.

Well, not in so many words. The intent was there, though. The flash of hatred in his eyes, the knowledge that his Lady was with a real man and not the lie that he was. Thea expected his Lady to defend him, to set the record straight, but she said nothing for all that meeting, her eyes shining with an idiot light and an undeserved adoration.

He was glad when Figo was gone and spoke about how good it was to be away from such unworthy company at length. For some reason this only made his Lady withdraw further, so he gave her the space she seemed to crave when she went out to walk the lands around her keep. In truth, he was glad to let her go for a short time, anticipating their reunion with a breathless fever while taking the chance to prowl her laboratory without watching eyes.

There was a new missive from Figo that his Lady had not had a chance to look at. He burned it, deeming it unworthy of his Lady’s attention. Then he turned his gaze to some of the other notes, noted one from the healer’s scion, Endrall Sahr. They’d met briefly at one of Deeam’s functions, the young man tall and handsome and instantly making Thea ill with his presence and the way his Lady fawned over him. It was sluttish, whorish, a disgrace in comparison to what she should have been.

When he had tried to pull his Lady away she had turned to him, hissing, and threatened to kill him.

Endrall’s note had been opened, his Lady already penning a reply. The impertinent youngster had wanted to know whom his Lady thought would win in a confrontation between the two of them, Thea and Endrall. His Lady had favored the child over him.

Thea growled as she read and re-read the letter. The disloyalty evidenced in this letter was not something he could bear, the anger in him settling into an entropic storm that ate away at his calm, consuming his confidence. He reset all he had rifled through to where it had been and retreated to his rooms, a hundred curses exhaled with every breath, his vision swimming with pain. The slut knew nothing of loyalty, nothing of honesty, nothing of the destiny that was right in front of her.

Nevertheless, he would have her anyway. He would show her the truth.

Wiping the motes from his eyes, he swore that before he was done that his Lady would know that he was the only love she would ever know – and if he could not have her, no one would.

***

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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417

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:08

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

October 2, 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.

***

– 03:00:01:08 –

“She is insane, you know,” Farrell said, lazy and smiling. “She cannot be trusted.”

Farrell had returned to House Suwilo following his incarceration at the hands of the Coeecians, the same period of time that Lord Figo had been taken. Sahr Erison had listened to all of the fox’s tales as the creature spoke of all that they had suffered together, the young lord and the tricky healer. It was one of the reasons that Sahr had taken such care with Figo when he was brought in battered and wounded; that man had suffered enough, and continued to suffer if Farrell was to be believed.

Lord Figo had been enslaved by the Madwoman of the North, the Hermit of High House Wyrd. Sahr had heard all about that woman and all her madness, her use of narcotics to get what she wanted in any circumstance, the terrible science that she had used to win glory for herself in the highest circles of the Vanir. He had even read some of the woman’s works when she had caught his son, his precious son, reading them.

The ramblings had been that of one abandoned by sanity, barely coherent, nothing more than fictions. Sahr was certain of this because he did not understand it and he did not care for the woman besides. She was a woman and not to be trusted. The Vanir mindscape was taken with her but that would pass and hopefully she would be as forgotten as his former wife.

But now Lord Figo was repaying the care he had been given by offering Sahr’s son to that selfsame madwoman. His precious son, the only child he had sired who had proved loyal to him in the wake of his wife’s treachery.

He had married young, his paramour decades older than he. She had crippled him with her support, making his accomplishments less merely by being a part of them. Eventually she had proven more liability than use, the various resources he had taken her for becoming less, so he took everything she had selfishly thought to keep from him and then banished her from his lands, exiling her all the way across the breadth of Midgard where he would never have to look upon her again.

A child had stood between them during this separation, the first boy that he had sired. Little more than an infant, Sahr had taken him aside and explained to him why his mother was not to be trusted.

“I’m the only that loves you,” he had told the young boy. “I’m the only one that cares. You’ll see when you go visit your mother that she is nothing. And if you don’t do what I say, my son, well, the affection I feel for you and the only affection that is right or true in all this world may just wither and die.” The boy, Endrall, had looked at him with wide eyes before stepping into the carriage that would take him to visit his mother.

He had begged to return only days later. His mother was a drunken wreck, Endrall said, a ruin that could not rouse herself from the misery that had claimed her. When Endrall returned, Sahr swept the boy into his arms and gave him everything he wanted, rewarding him for his loyalty.

And so it went whenever the boy went to visit his mother and Sahr would smile to hear of what had become of his now shattered wife and the contempt with which Endrall spoke of her.

The boy had taken a lover eventually, but that was only to be expected. Sahr had instilled the boy with an inability to keep secrets from his father, so he knew all about Grais Rlied of House Raido long before the girl had been brought home to meet him. He had spoken with the girl at length and decided that she presented no threat to his authority. As such, he had consented to the union between his son and Grais.

However, this other woman, this Veskur Wyrd, she was something else again.

Intelligent, articulate, and old. Far too old for Endrall to even be thinking about and he knew – he knew – that Endrall was keeping something about the woman from him. Figo had taken Endrall to meet her at some social function and his darling son had come back with a sick light in his eyes that Sahr remembered, for he had once seen it in his own when he had been young and foolish.

He had tried speaking to the woman but found her utterly without merit. He invited Figo back under the pretense of checking his recovery but the Lord from House Jera had nothing but good to say of Lady Wyrd, though there was regret in his eyes whenever he spoke of her. Eri was not sure what to make of that but he knew – knew – that secrets were being kept from him. It was Farrell that he turned to for explanation.

Love is War 08

“She has bewitched Figo,” Farrell said. “She will do the same to Endrall.”

The boy had the gall to argue with him when he forbade him from seeing the silly psychotic bauble. They screamed and fought, his gentle son howling like the possessed. This was not the son he had raised, not the loyal child that he had cultivated. Sahr told the boy that his love for him would wither and that had bought him respite, though resentment and rebellion both festered in the eyes of his beloved son. It was not a thing to be borne, but he did not yet see what could be done about it.

Staring north, he stood at the top of his keep. There had to be something he could do. There had to be. He would find it and he would destroy this threat as surely as he had destroyed his wife and no one would ever again think to take his son away from him.

***

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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418

Love is War – 03:00:01:07

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

September 26, 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.

***

– 03:00:01:07 –

There were many warm mornings for Figo in the northern climes. He’d wake up and find Veskur nestling beside him, the madness that drove her in waking banished when fatigue finally overtook her and sleep became her only option. Typically when he visited, she would break from her reading and theorizing and testing to spend time with him, discussing esoterica with him that seemed somehow counter-intuitive, but whenever he thought of a question she had an answer.

He knew she barely slept and didn’t eat when he wasn’t there. Her manservant, Mika, told him so whenever he could free himself from the various engagements that held him away from Veskur. Mika always looked relieved to see him, always slunk off and collapsed in an exhausted heap. Figo could understand why; Veskur was very intense, sometimes too intense even for him. She didn’t understand the concept of the rhetorical query – everything was a challenge, a question to be answered. He could understand why her family had set her up here, in the middle of nowhere.

Nevertheless, he loved the woman, loved her intensity and her madness, loved the way she smelled and the way she moved. He loved the way she thought, the quizzical expression that claimed her features when she discovered some new question and the glee that danced through her when she figured out an answer. He loved the way she clung to him, the way she held him when he woke up whimpering and told no one of his weakness, whispering secrets in his ear.

At her word he could almost believe himself strong.

She understood when family matters called him away. Where the lovers he had taken before her would have pleaded to go with him, Veskur preferred to stay in the north, letting him to his life. Moreover, when he returned to the battlefields of his youth he had to smile at the sight of those boys and girls he found there; none of them knew how to handle themselves. Veskur had no military training but she somehow still managed to fit right in, a natural in a crisis.

Given the explosions that sometimes rocked her keep this was hardly surprising.

Veskur was a cynic, however, and refused to see the rightness of the Vanir cause. She called certain commanders bullies and would put up with not a single slight. She also fought on Figo’s behalf, refusing to let anyone make him less, though her definition of what that meant was different than anyone else’s would be. It was a bit of a relief to not have to deal with her sometimes, especially in front of others, especially in front of his old friends.

All of them questioned him about her, wanting to know about the woman that was too much a freak for even the strange House Wyrd to deal with. They saw her as craven and insane and sometimes, in the darkest hours when he had been away from her too long and he was in his cups, he could see what they meant. She was mad, completely out of any head that was not her own. He would resolve himself to ending things with her but then he would see her, see her happiness at his presence and remember the way she had walked over Jesam and taken him in her arms and he would melt into her warmth, her comfort, the solace that she and she alone could give him.

My beautiful, she would whisper, cradling him.

Your beautiful, he would agree.

You’re beautiful, she would murmur, and he would believe her with everything he was.

How could he do anything less?

Lately, she had been conversing with a distant noble that River Megru had introduced her to. Figo knew River mostly by reputation and didn’t much care for him, finding him spiteful and arrogant in story and casually insulting in person. This mysterious noble River had put Veskur in contact with was a young boy named Thea Raido, and he studied some of the same things that his lovely devoted so much time to. Worse, the boy had read all of Veskur’s works and commented on them, Veskur herself claiming that his words and insights had helped her with some of her most recent discoveries. Figo had tried to read Veskur’s tracts but had been unable to separate the cold writing from the woman he knew, always setting the papers aside with a sigh and promising himself that he would see to them later.

He never did.

Veskur had told him that Thea was planning a trip to the north to work with River, as he planned to do something similar to whatever it was that River did. The idea of this young boy from Raido seeking to become as much of a whore as River was strangely amusing, but Figo was uncertain as to how comfortable he was with Thea spending any amount of time with what was his. Veskur was blind to the affections that most people paid her but that did not mean that Figo was so ignorant – he knew exactly what Thea wanted and what River had planned, he just wasn’t certain what he could do about it.

Sighing, he had to admit that there was little enough at present. Family business had once again seen him dragged to the south, though far enough away from the Coeecian borders that the night terrors couldn’t find him. His brother, Nicu, wanted his help settling a treaty with House Ihwaz.

“What’re you thinking of?” Nicu asked, smiling lazy on his side of the carriage. It was the first time in a while he had spoken, his use of narcotics leaving glazed eyes and a slurred tongue. “Your far-away lady love?”

“More or less,” Figo admitted, resting his hand on his levl. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen her.”

“Is she really that good?”

“Better.”

“Perhaps you should let me try her,” Nicu giggled. “We’re family. We should share pretty baubles.” Figo said nothing, knowing that it was the addiction speaking and not his sibling. Nicu had spent far too much time in the company of men like River as a youth and, Figo knew, had always wanted the rewards he thought came with power without wanting to do any of the work to get them. It was far too common a fault within her House.

Figo steered the conversation to other topics, keeping Nicu’s mind on things other than his lover until they arrived at House Ihwaz. The entire city stank of horse, a smell that wasn’t terrible so much as it was present in everything. The Ihwaz had been impressed with the skill of Zaerm cavalry, the military force of another nation with a history nearly as rich as that of the Vanir. The nobles of Ihwaz had taken to keeping horses although they were not, in Figo’s opinion, any good at riding them.

They had other uses, though. No House offered scientists so ready for battle, so level-headed and calm in the midst of chaos. They also traded in the best venison in all of Midgard, soaking their fine meats in sweet and spicy sauces that made the long Vanir winters bearable. One of their green-coated nobles came out to greet them, a pretty woman with long silvering hair and deep blue eyes.

“Greetings, nobles of House Jera,” the woman said. “You are welcome here.”

“We both thank you for your kindnesses,” Figo answered, pausing to meet the woman’s eye. “And your hospitality.” The woman smiled, was about to voice some response when the Coeecians attacked.

It wasn’t a large assault, but even so Figo found himself terrified, a second too late drawing his levl to completely parry the attacker that came for him. He drew a dryw and slashed at his attacker, heart racing as the nobles of House Ihwaz lumbered out of their city to attack with their favored noble tool, the saer – a heavy block of metal attached to a long stick. Such tools were meant to destroy structures or force things together, but the damage they inflicted on the human body when in the hands of Ihwaz’s giants was terrifying to behold.

The Coeecians fell back, tried to regroup, giving Figo a chance to breathe. He remembered the things that his lover had told him: the Coeecians are cowards at heart, he heard her whisper. They require gods to justify themselves and protect them from their terrors, and one another to goad themselves into doing anything. Find their leader, kill him, and the rest will scatter.

Figo scanned the small group. Even now they were retreating from Ihwaz in a tight pattern while causing as much damage to the city as they were able, forcing some of their victims to stop and deal with what they left in their wake. He remembered the lessons that Hekro had given him regarding the Coeecian placement of troops, how their chaos only appeared as such. A single man stood in the center of the chaos, untouched by the madness happening all around him.

Running with all the strength in him, Figo edged ever closer to the Coeecian raiders, flanking them from the left. He hopped up a barrel, leaped up and caught the roof of a house, ran across the structure and jumped off it and into the midst of the Coeecian swarm. The leader had time only to blink before Figo’s levl lashed out and caught the man in the throat, crushing his windpipe. The man clawed at his neck, fell to his knees, keeled over when Figo booted him in the face, and then lay still.

The Coeecians broke and ran.

Something slammed into his spine.

His knees lacked the ability to hold him upright; he fell. He heard a woman scream in anger, the same woman that had greeted him earlier. Gentle hands spun him carefully, fingers cradling his neck. A giant, looking embarrassed, stood over to one side, cradling his saer, as the woman looked down at him and tried to say something that Figo could not quite understand. He tried to nod but couldn’t, his body tingling but otherwise without sense.

Nicu was nowhere to be seen.

He was placed back in a carriage and lost track of time. He knew he was being taken east but he did not know for how long he traveled. He heard himself ranting, sometimes, and felt himself uncomfortably hot. Blessed cold cut through the haze of that burning and, in his more lucid moments, he realized that someone was placing wet rags on his forehead. His fever broke at some point. He thought he might die anyway. He wondered what Veskur would do when she found out.

Figo was somewhat lucid when they reached their destination – an outpost of Suwilo healers.

Time passed; Figo was unsure how much. The moon had been dark when he had arrived at Ihwaz and it was almost entirely light now. His back felt sore and his throat felt dry but he could think again, was himself again. He tried to move, feeling soft hands press against his bare chest.

“Stay.” The voice was conversational, the tone one used when addressing animals. Figo tried not to feel insulted. “I am Sahr Eri of House Suwilo and I have been healing you. The idiots that brought you here kept your spine together but neglected another wound that, given the slightest bit of attention, would have been nothing. They ignored it and it poisoned.

“You should be glad they brought you to me. A lesser healer would have had to sever your arm. As it stands you will spend a moon and a half longer here and then you will have full motion again. You will feel stiff in that time. This is because I have had to rebuild your spine. The liars of Ihwaz tried to pass responsibility for your more serious injury to the Coeecians, but I know the sort of impact that an Ihwaz saer can have on a Vanir body.

“With a lesser healer you would be paralyzed for the rest of your days. With my aid you can move, though you will have to re-learn your body and you will experience a crippling agony sometimes – perhaps once a season. I will teach you to make a salve that will soothe that pain, though you will have to get someone else to apply it. I hear you have a lover. Perhaps they can do this for you.”

“Thank you,” whispered Figo. He felt the other man’s arm wrap around his shoulders, lift him up slightly while cradling his head. A cup was placed against his lips and he was commanded to drink.

He did as instructed. Moments later he was asleep.

When he awoke again he was introduced to Sahr’s young son, Endrall. The beautiful boy was meant to take care of him and guide him through his convalescence, but there was something to the boy, some echo of distant Veskur in the way the boy held himself, in the way he spoke and fell into quiet repose. He was lovely in ways Veskur was not and Figo felt his heart a traitor when he kissed the boy, when he drew the boy to him and found his passion matched and overcome.

12059745_780532335390138_1308323068_o

When both were sticky and spent and silent, Figo felt safe and warm, experiencing the same sense of belonging that he had when wrapped in Veskur’s arms. The boy even spoke like Veskur, using a similar cadence and turn of phrase, turning to similar topics that Figo understood but had not considered the full depth of. Like Veskur, Endrall thought too deeply about things, was driven to subjects that others would have thought without passion.

And, like Veskur, Endrall was alone.

There was sadness to him, a quality that Figo feared that only he could see. He sent word of the boy to his lover, confessing everything. If Veskur was hurt by his dalliances with Endrall she kept that pain to herself – and, in fact, seemed supportive of Figo’s wandering affections. She expressed an interest in meeting Endrall, a meeting that Figo felt was only fair; if Endrall and Veskur were echoes of one another, well, perhaps they could help one another come to terms with the individual passions that drove them.

Figo sent back word that he would make that meeting happen, fingers tracing the elegant scrawl that Veskur had sent back. The last portion of her words spoke of her love for him, the language much more flowery than he would have expected and the declaration of her feelings terrifyingly intense. Before it, however, was a note about the boy Thea Raido of that distant House. The boy was going to be working with River, but the boy did not want to travel or stay with his mentor due to River’s unsavory reputation; he had asked, instead, to stay with Veskur two days out of every seven.

He could see Thea’s plan. It was this bit that troubled him, as he had read some of Thea’s notes to his love and even spoken with him on a handful of occasions. The feelings the boy felt for Veskur were wild and uncontrolled, a burning sense of possession that refused to acknowledge any thought of failure, any doubt that Veskur belonged with anyone but him. Figo could not believe that Veskur could be ignorant of the young noble’s intent and here she was, inviting that noble into her home.

There was only one thing that he could think of to do, all things considered. His heart was healed, his courage certain. He had stood against the Coeecians and was now nearly hale once more, his passions sated in strong gentle arms during his recovery. If Veskur desired someone else, Figo had no choice but to accept that desire, his letter back the only permission that Veskur would ever require: a promise to be an absence in her life from that moment forward.

***

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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358

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:06

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

September 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.

***

– 03:00:01:06 –

Veskur Wyrd sometimes looked at other couples in love and saw that they often lived together. Her mother and father, for instance, had lived with one another for all of Veskur’s life. Figo’s parents had split up years ago, whatever romance that had once bound them long since turned to ashes. Wyrd suspected heavily that the mother had abused her child physically and knew for a fact that the father had abused him emotionally. She did what she could to help make up for both, though she knew her efforts were awkward at best.

Figo seemed to appreciate it, though, and that was more than enough to make everything Veskur felt and everything Veskur did somehow better. She felt her life complimented and perfect thanks to the presence of the young noble.

She was not arrogant enough to believe that she made Figo’s life better, but she hoped that she did, anyway. She knew she was strange to be around and most of the time she did not care, but she found herself making concessions for the sake of this other, behaving in ways that no one had ever been able to compel her to behave before. It was strange, how one person could make everything she felt seem so much more, how one person could fill her with feelings of joy that she would never have expected could be culled from a tie to another Vanir.

Her heart did not live with her. His parents approved of Veskur as a war hero but were leery of her House, and his allies and even his friends wanted nothing to do with her strangeness. This suited Veskur fine, as she found Figo’s entire inner circle vapid, empty, and spiteful. They took her heart for granted in so many small ways, undermining Figo without ever seeming to care or even acknowledge the hurt, and Figo accepted their abuse with a disregard for his own well-being that Veskur herself mirrored when it came to her own dealings.

For reasons she could not name, however, she refused to tolerate anyone treating Lord Figo with such disdain.

River commented on Figo’s absence sometimes, but Veskur understood that her heart had other things to do than be with her in the remoteness of her frozen home. It made her cherish those times that they could be together all the more, and there were some nights where she found herself restless and warm and would wander outside, singing her passion to the valley she had made and the snow that filled it. She would smile when she did this, overcome with a sense of giddiness that she never tried to tame.

Love is War 005

River, when he heard her sing, told her that she was deaf to any kind of tone.

Her old friend had given her the means to contact Thea and the two of them had exchanged tentative greetings before getting into the meat of things. As promised, the young Lord proved to be a quick study and a good scholar. Veskur was inundated with the events that plagued Thea’s life, his triumphs and tragedies, and found both impressive enough. The boy also expressed an interest in her that Veskur was uncomfortable with, her manner and oddities apparently taken as some form of flirtation. By the time Veskur realized what had happened it was too late to say anything about it while being polite, though she did try to decline without hurting the youth.

Thea pressed ahead anyway.

All the stories that the noble of House Raido told of himself ended with him victorious over whatever trouble presented itself. Veskur thrilled to the tales of the boy’s many victories, his accomplishments enough to sate the necessity of glory in any man thrice his age. Still he pressed on, never satisfied with what he had done and always looking for another horizon to overcome. It was admirable, though quiet Veskur was uncertain how to deal with such an outgoing and hungry personality.

River told her to accept the boy’s eager lust and be done with it, but Veskur had never been comfortable with the sort of passions that River explored and so declined time and time again. She did her best to keep Figo from learning of Thea’s desires, but that proved fruitless. Figo said he wasn’t threatened or bothered by his would-be rival’s affections and Veskur, taking hope from this, resolved to never hide anything from her heart ever again. She put it out of her mind.

She put it out of her mind.

Her work was still progressing, though perhaps not as quickly now that her attentions were divided. There were two things that mattered now instead of one and she was not nearly as upset about this as she would have expected herself to be. Figo’s warmth and presence, his laughter and light, his lips on her neck and earlobe, his hands running through her… all these things came to hold more value for her than she would have ever believed possible. She told him she loved him and meant it, was left breathless when he pressed his lips against hers and held her down and loved her, loved her, made everything in her feel like light and fire.

He was all that mattered. He was everything, everything, perfection made flesh in ways that she knew even he would never understand. She listed for him fifty things that she loved about him, covered her home in flowers and light to celebrate him, everything he was and everything he meant.

She was happier with him than she ever would be again.

***

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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452

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:05

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

September 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.

***

– 03:00:01:05 –

River eased out of the carriage, straightened his jacket and slung his bow over his shoulder. The weapon was a trophy from when he had raided the Coeecians hordes as a boy. Many mocked him for his use of what they thought of as a tool, but he had grown deadly proficient with the weapon over the years when it was strung. His fingers running across those strings could give death or incite lust and he imagined, in his maddest moments, that there was no finer tool for either task in all the world.

He was the kind of man who would be first in line to tell you all his strengths and would descend into hysterical anger when his weaknesses were noticed. Thankfully, the former were often in evidence and the latter were not. He also possessed a talent for reading the whims and goals of others, a peculiar understanding that honed in him an incredible skill for telling stories to inspire others in any of two dozen ways. This made him singularly useful to those higher in the pecking order than he, for he could identify those whose talents, ambitions or dreams would have otherwise gone to waste.

 

Deeam, and Deeam’s mother before him, kept River employed – traveling from House to House, entertaining the nobles while assessing their young. He took note of those he felt were gifted and passed that information on as he deemed fit. There had been, in all the decades he had performed this service, only a single Lady he had ever kept to himself, but the knowing of her was no longer a secret and her name was now whispered of in all the noble halls of Midgard.

“What do you know of Lady Veskur Wyrd?”

He grew ill every time the question was asked.

There were benefits to what he did, an indulgence that everyone around him was willing to overlook. He liked to think that he left a trail of satisfied youth in his wake, drilling into them with all the passion he possessed. He favored women over men, but as long as there was somewhere tight for him to put himself and they were willing, he was – so to speak – in. He played with those toys as easily as he played the strings, fine-tuning them ’til there was no language in them that was not composed entirely of vowel sounds and they would do anything, anything, to sate him in turn.

He sometimes mocked others for the degradations that they inflicted on their lovers, and found the Coeecian tendency to sate their lust with violence horrific. Even so, he loved driving himself into the rears of others and cleaning himself on their tongues. There was something in the profanity of that act and the look in the eyes of those that performed it that he found so lovely that it often quickened him all over again, leading to another lusty bout of sensation-til-bliss.

The one Lady he had never shared with anyone else had been the one Lady that had never given into his charms despite his very best efforts. He could seduce virgins without effort within hours, but this Lady had no time for his desires, wanted him only for his mind and tolerated only the slimmest amount of his warmth.

It was fascinating. It was frustrating.

It was all the more so both because he felt that she was an echo of he himself, what he might have been had he turned his fine intellect within instead of without.

And now he found himself on her doorstop again, the exiled Duchess-apparent of House Wyrd, sent to freeze in the isolated north, too busy with her own projects to care about the insult her family had dealt her. He knocked on the door, drawing the cloak he wore tighter across his shoulders. Snow fell in a weeping blanket, covering the world in a thick raiment of tears. It wasn’t until his fourth knock that the door opened, Veskur’s manservant opening the thick gate and staring at him with scathing apathy.

Lover is War 05

House Wyrd had never cared much for River, not since he had seduced one of their more promising warriors decades ago. He had never consummated that conquest, though the threat of doing so had been more than enough for Veskur’s thrice-bedamned father. His contempt had percolated through the rest of the bloodline, a sense only his estranged daughter did not share.

The manservant took his cloak and left him to regain some semblance of warmth. He shivered in the main hall of Veskur’s home until she came for him, sliding into his arms, he far too aware of the curve of her hip pressing into him.

As always, he tried to push her just a step further.

As always, she avoided him by not noticing.

She took him through her home and to his laboratory. Most Vanir would have stopped for a bite to eat or shown him to a bed to recuperate from his journey, but not the Lady Wyrd; for her nothing mattered save her work and there were few people that she ever shared her madness with. He was one of those lucky few, having to keep a straight face while she rambled on about concepts that probably only made sense to her.

If he hadn’t wanted to clean his manhood off on her face, he probably wouldn’t have put up with it.

“It’s exciting,” Wyrd was saying, leading him by the hand. “Do you remember how I was having trouble keeping the sigil straight on the backhand? I took some of your advice and got in touch with the dvergir and we discussed the problem at length and we came up with this.” She finished as they entered her laboratory; her creation was lying on a pedestal, an unimpressive looking tool given all the uproar it had caused.

“It does look more streamlined,” River lied. “Do you mind if I touch it?”

She gave him wordless permission to do so. He held it up and examined it, felt the weight. It had never been very heavy but it was less so now. The disc in the center of the glove was the sigil she spoke of, though in the case of High House Wyrd that sigil was more lack than presence – probably a joke of some kind given the general absence of the House in Vanir society.

From all she had explained of her tool and its workings, the sigil had to remain standing in order for the glove to manipulate the energies around it and work. If the sigil was not exactly straight it would damage not only the glove but the person using it; he remembered all too well having to summon the healers of House Suwilo to come tend the Lady’s wounds in the early days of her work.

Her manservant had been as useless then as he was now.

The Lady had added an intricate series of concentric metal circles to encase and hold the sigil. No matter which way he moved the glove, the circles kept the sigil straight and tall unless he held it flat and parallel to the ground. When he looked at her she shuffled one foot and held her hands behind her back. She said that it wasn’t perfect yet but she was working on it.

“Where’s Lord Figo?” River asked, replacing the glove. “I’d heard he was staying with you.”

“He’s, uh, a little tied up right now.” The Lady’s cheeks flushed a little as she spoke, her eyes lighting with something he had always wanted for himself. The fact that the Lady had given herself to someone else galled him.

“Does he still have all his teeth?”

“As far as I can tell.”

The best thing about dealing with the Lady Wyrd, River thought, was that she barely ever noticed when you were insulting her. She moped when she did, though, taking the insults of others to heart with a sickening lack of self. However, she never fought back, giving River’s quick tongue and sharp wit free reign to strike and peck at her whenever he felt the need to indulge himself in ways other than his favorite.

He liked the look of painful degradation in their eyes; he did, though he would never say so.

They left her lab, went and had dinner. The Lady Wyrd took care of all their arrangements and Lord Figo did not join them, the boy lost in whatever amusements the good Lady had prepared for him. The warmth in her voice when she spoke of the youth quickened River and he decided if he ever got the chance to sate his curiosity with the boy he would take it.

Conversation turned to esoterica as the meal wore on and River lost himself in the theories that Wyrd felt like sharing. Her eyes alight and her expression devoid of political thought, she blathered on about all sorts of things that she was discovering, the myths of the other dozen nations seeping into her thought processes. River knew some of their stories and so kept up, asking pertinent questions; he was a myth-head, a storyteller, and so he studied those aspects of other cultures and brought their lesser understandings into the greater Vanir narrative.

Some of the squawkings of the other nations made little sense to him, but Wyrd was able to give him the context he lacked by applying a scientific rationale, however flawed, to the mad beliefs of those other peoples. River returned the favor, giving flavor and definition to the sciences that Wyrd had culled from those other peoples and other lands. The two of them had been doing this for the better part of fifty seasons.

River remembered when he had met the gangly Lady, just as she was beginning to come into her own. The ruling body of House Wyrd had been visiting the capital of House Mannuz and she had wandered off, getting lost in the bric-a-brac shops that lined the longest road. They had met by chance, River sitting by a stall and composing his works as she walked in and they had struck up a conversation, dovetailing their interests. She looked to him like an older brother, a kindred spirit, and sometimes as a mentor. He found her interesting, intelligent, and utterly mad – fun to watch and, he was sure, fun to break, ultimately useful.

The Lady Wyrd was so very earnest, so very awkward, so very lonely.

She made it so very easy to use her or take her for granted.

He supposed he could see why she would be attracted to Lord Figo. He’d met the youth a couple of times, Houses Jera and Mannuz entering several trade agreements. Figo was the eldest sibling of a lesser line, much beloved and much maligned all at once. River had never been fond of anything he’d seen in House Jera, though their young ones were pliant enough when the time came. He wondered if that’s why Wyrd found her new toy so appealing.

“What about you?”

River looked up, smiled and blinked. He’d let his mind wander while the good Lady had meandered off through whatever insanity had currently claimed her. He believed that her interest in his travels was motivated by her lack – with his combination of intelligence and charisma, he supposed, there was no better person for her to live vicariously through.

“I just toured through the Ansu and Raido lands,” River shrugged. “There was little enough entertainment in either, really, though there was a young Lord I met that you might find interesting.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. He studies the lesser nations, as we do, and focuses on their stories, like I do. His name is Thea Raido. I have the means of putting the two of you in touch, should you like to speak with him.”

He watched as she studied him, saw that moment where she accepted what he said as fact merely because he said it. That level of respect quickened him all over again but he would never be able to seduce her, not with Figo visiting and stationary under her roof. Maybe, if he found Figo, he’d be able to have a taste of the youth before leaving – but that would only be doable if Figo could keep his mouth shut and River didn’t know enough about him to say if the boy could keep a secret.

They finished their food, settling in to discuss the finer points of the Darroken romantic fables concerning Esme and Garrahl, recreating the story and what it meant in relation to greater Vanir philosophies. Veskur left at one point and returned with her living toy, his cheeks flushed and red, his eyes glazed and his expression content. He joined the conversation and actually kept up, though he argued in favor of a happier interpretation than River or Veskur would have ever accepted.

River felt annoyance at the happiness and positivity the boy yearned for, especially in light of what the little fool had suffered. How could anyone who had endured such cruelty continue to be so naive?

They retired for the evening. Veskur and Figo left draped over one another, the two of them radiating an emotion that River knew for a fact was nothing more than illusion. Angry now, he went to his room and spent himself in Veskur’s sheets, then continued to harden and spend himself until his manhood bled. He imagined himself abusing a half dozen lovers, then Figo, then Thea.

Finally, as he drifted off into the darkness of sleep, he imagined Veskur’s face painted in the shame of his seed. His orgasm at that moment struck his body into breathless unconsciousness.

***

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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395

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:04

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

September 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.

***

– 03:00:01:04 –

Deeam Wsael, the Apparent of House Wynn, studied the ballroom around him with his usual aloof demeanor. He had made a study of contented stoicism, achieving in that air a perfection that all his House strove for. He was a good man, strong and graceful, his deep baritone a voice sought for song, his strong arm and amhr sought out on the battlefield, his warm presence sought out by the romantically inclined of both genders. The rigors of the world seemed too small for him in the eyes of everyone else, but he accepted all that came his way with an easy grace. Many sought his ear and consul, knowing that he was to be the Duke of House Wynn, and likely the Freyr of all Midgard thereafter.

He scanned those that had risen to this occasion, a celebration to mark the reclamation of Ashaewulo’sabberkena just a few seasons past. The combined forces of Houses Gebo and Hagalaz had used the worst defeat the Vanir people had ever suffered in that valley to springboard themselves to ever greater victories. Their revenge now assured Vanir dominance over that complete area of land. He was told that the thanks fell to a number of generals and heroes, though a very brave few – the ones he trusted the most – whispered that all that had been won could be laid at the feet of a single woman.

That woman in question was easy to spot; she kept towards the back walls, thinking herself out of sight but merely being out of place. She looked uncomfortable in the dress uniform of a soldier, her hair a tangled and barely woven mess. She had added a strange glove to her ensemble in a style Deeam did not recognize. A single cup was held in one hand, untouched, while she looked at the various people around her with a bewildered smile. This was not a noble who was happy to be here, Deeam realized, not a person who was used to dealing with other people.

Another noble hovered around the woman, keeping everyone else at bay. A young man that Deeam recognized, one of the up-and-comers from House Jera who had been given Ashaewulo’sabberkena in the past and lost it with the disgraced Hekro Gherlid. Unlike the Golden Champion, this young man had found himself a captive of the Coeecians, surviving his time with them somehow. There was still a shine to him, a touch of some grace that Deeam recognized, like calling to like.

“What was her name again?” he asked.

“Do you mean the boy? He’s Figo, son of someone, born of House Jera.” Deeam turned to find the speaker, River Megru of House Mannaz, smiling. The other man was older, bigger, a harpist and something of a rake, his reputation as a genius matched only by his reputation for breaking hearts. He was currently sprawled in a chair, his fingers roaming over the strings of a large harp. “Ah, but your pronoun was feminine. That implies your curiosity is focused on the woman currently trying to avoid contact with everyone else. That would be Lady Veskur, daughter of someone, born of House Wyrd. She’s the one no one wants to credit with saving the day.”

“Thank you. Informative as always. Perhaps you might tell me why not?”

“Well, she’s crazy.” River sniffed, strumming his instrument as he took stock of the room. Deeam had never met anyone better at reading or riling a crowd. “Not much of a people person, not much of a leader, not really much of anything. And, also, House Wyrd. Do you know them? No? They’re one of those minor Houses that never seem to do anything. The rest of us keep hoping they’ll die out. We’d be better off without them.”

“There’s warmth in your voice when you speak of her.”

“I think it would be fun to settle her nerves.” River grinned, plucking a few more strings. “I’ve met her a few times. She’s got her own little hovel up in the north, lives there with a single servant. He’s fun. She reminds me of what I might have been like at her age if I’d been a reclusive little shit.”

“And so you have a soft spot for her.”

“You could say that.” River sighed, a look of frustration crossing his features – Deeam had watched River in the past and been amazed at his ability to insult people into doing what he wanted, but he knew from that expression that his favored method of influence had meant nothing to the woman they were both watching. He ran a hand through his hair and let out a long sigh. “I don’t get her, but she’s a good head if you ever want to discuss theory of any kind. There’s little else to her. She’s no Golden Champion. How’s Hekro recovering, by the way?”

“Lucky to be alive. Sahr Erison is seeing to her healing.”

“I’ve heard even Sahr can’t heal all her wounds.”

“Four seasons past and she’s still in intense care.”

“Give her to me. I’ll see her healthy again.”

“I’m sure you would,” Deeam chuckled, shaking his head and hoping that River would take the hint. “What can you tell me about Figo?”

“He still has all his teeth.” River shrugged. “To be honest? Afore Figo tied himself to her, I thought our dear Lady Wyrd preferred the company of her own gender, or maybe her letters and books.”

“Charming. Anything of actual interest you feel like sharing?”

“Not especially. I’ll be checking the youth at House Raido next, seeing if there’s anyone there worth noting, but I doubt it.” River glanced around. Deeam knew that expression, knew that the man had already decided who he would be insulting into bed that night. “I’ll get back to you. Oh, and your betrothed is here.”

Deeam looked around the room, trying to spot the mysterious woman that he was set to wed, caught sight of her. Those of her House dressed like no one else among the Vanir nation, every inch of her and her line covered in dark violet and blue fabrics. The nobles of House Pethro had shared a long association with a distant nation that always covered themselves thusly when dealing with outsiders; Pethro and her descendants had adopted the behavior. Many thought it was a restrictive practice, but Deeam knew better. He’d had taken the time to learn about the ways and customs of the woman that he was to marry.

He had initially been insulted when he had discovered that the real reason that the nobles of Pethro kept themselves so covered was spiritual hygiene, an insult that had been mollified when he came to understand that those same nobles considered him spiritually pure; it was the reason they wanted one of theirs to marry him.

Glow Packrt was her name. He could feel her eyes on him, could see that brief moment of stillness as she took in all that he was, feeling her approval wash over him. They walked towards one another, locking arms as the assembled nobility muttered and whispered.

Most of them did not approve, Deeam knew, but none of them mattered. The marriage was arranged and the two of them had discovered a passion for one another.

“I missed you.”

“Missed you, too.”

He felt her fingers, her naked fingers, touch his and knew that there was no higher compliment that she could give him at that moment. He smiled, transcendent, the two of them making their way through the crowd. They moved with slow confidence, taking their time, pausing to dance when River stepped up to the podium to play his harp and sing, even Deeam even joined the rake from Mannuz on stage for a song or two. With two exceptions, there was not a single person he did not talk to in the early or mid-evening.

It was not until late evening that he finally managed to corner that final pair, but he had kept an eye on them all night.

“Good evening.” Deeam knew what to expect from them from what he had observed over the course of the night; Figo would take point, all smiles and friendliness, while Wyrd would stay behind and join the conversation as necessary. “I’m glad the two of you could make it.”

“Why?” Wyrd asked. It wasn’t a challenge, Deeam realized, but an honest question.

“He’s being polite,” Figo answered, rolling his eyes from Deeam to Veskur, his smile one of genuine affection. “It’s considered a good way to strike up a conversation with people you don’t know that well.”

“Oh.” Wyrd blinked, considering, then held out her ungloved hand with stiff politeness. “I’m glad the two of us could make it, too.” Deeam took her hand. She looked tall and frail but there was a manic strength to her, more a product of will than body.

“I hear you won back Ashaewulo’sabberkena for us,” Deeam said. Figo paled at the mention of the valley, but given what had befallen him at that place this was hardly surprising; Wyrd’s quick refusal, on the other hand, was.

“I just applied certain theories into practice that had been tested elsewhere.” She shrugged, looking pleased with herself. “The armies were the ones that actually fought. The generals and things. I just used Science.”

“What kind of science?” Deeam asked. Wyrd turned nervous and looked to Figo, who gave her a slight nod and him a quick wink.

“Okay. Okay.” Wyrd took a deep breath. “Current theory holds that everything is made up of energy that vibrates at different speeds in order to become different kinds of energy. This variation of vibratory speed results in different forms and a multiplicity of those forms. Holding those forms apart from one another requires a borderline structure, which I call rune structure.

“These structures funnel that core energy in different patterns, allowing it to interact with other forms in a set series of ways that are, potentially, infinite in their number. However, while the possible interactions are probably limitless, the circuits that the energies travel along are not, and, with the proper application of science and knowledge, one can make that energy travel in pre-determined ways. An application of this process of will over other is found in the common sciences.

“However, the common sciences are barbaric for the most part and the similarities between what our people do and, say the Coeecians and their rituals are matters of detail rather than knowledge. This is troublesome, as it implies that we are no more advanced than the Coeecians, or any of the other people that exist outside of Midgard. I believed that this fault was a matter of thought rather than a concrete rule, and so began studying these core energies, their applications, patterns, and behaviors.

“I discovered methods of solidifying the structures those energies traveled through into solid and definitive shapes that could not be broken. Common ritual searches through a plethora of possibilities and tries to bring the desired outcome to reality. By applying a solid form to one choice and only that choice, the scientist can destroy all other possibilities by creating a feedback loop from one undesirable possibility to the next, thus eliminating even the chance of those possibilities ever coming into being.”

“I see,” said Deeam, though he truly didn’t. Figo caught his eye and gave him a sympathetic smile as the Lady Wyrd, smiling and relaxed for the first time since he’d seen her, continued.

“This glove is a tool that allows those energies to be channeled in ways that I see fit,” she said, holding up her glove for his inspection. It looked like there were bits of wood woven into the fabric, and a blank disc was held suspended on the back of her hand. “It’s a circuit that summons forth whatever outcome I desire with respect to certain affinities while destroying any other outcome that might exist in any given action.

“For example, the structures that create living as opposed to unliving things have core behaviors and patterns with respect to the potential that they have as achieved through the applied chemical processes that we call birth. Different organisms of the same species possess different capabilities with respect to skills and ambitions, to say nothing of personality. Through the application of the equations and mechanisms that I have invented, one can influence, change, or define what those capabilities are and the tier at which they exist.”

“Interesting,” said Deeam, interrupting when Wyrd finally paused for breath. “There are other people that I still wish to speak with, but I would like to know more.” Deeam said this last only when he caught sight of the disappointment that festered in the woman’s eyes.

“I was planning to return home tomorrow to continue my work, but I could postpone.” Wyrd licked her lips, looking around nervously. Figo squeezed her hand. “Your Majesty.”

“That will be quite alright,” Deeam answered, nodding his head. “And, please, call me Deeam. I wouldn’t want to keep you from your studies but I cannot, regrettably, come to you. Why don’t I send someone your way who you can talk to at length?”

“The Lady Wyrd is uncomfortable with people she does not know in her home,” Figo said, a note of protectiveness in his voice.

“I can be mindful of that.” Deeam glanced around the room, caught sight of a certain rake and smiled. “I believe you know River Megru?”

“He is a passing friend, yes.” Wyrd glanced through the crowd, then bowed her head, her breathing unsteady.

“Why don’t I send him to you?” Deeam was pleased at Wyrd’s wordless response, though he noticed that Figo was less than happy at the suggestion. “You and he can discuss your theories at length. I believe he must make a stop at House Raido, then Isz, but I can have him veer north thereafter. I cannot imagine him taking longer than a season or two.”

“That will do, yes.” Lady Wyrd forced a smile. “I would be delighted.”

“Would you mind if I borrowed Lord Figo for a moment?” Deeam asked. Lord and Lady looked at one another. “It’s nothing of consequence. I just need to know some things about her House. I can leave you my betrothed as company, and it will only take a few moments.” Wyrd seemed uncomfortable with the idea until Glow brought up something having to do with the transference of energies, and then the two of them became consumed with their exchange of theory.

Lover is War 04

“Is she stable?” Deeam asked, as soon as he and Figo were out of earshot.

“Mostly,” Figo said, looking back at where the Ladies were talking. Deeam recognized the look of Figo, his sense of ownership when it came to the Good Lady Wyrd. “You can see why the others don’t like giving her accolades, though, right?”

“Yes,” Deeam said, studying the woman from a distance. “She’ll never be the type to rally the troops, will she? Never be social or comfortable around others.”

“She could be, she just doesn’t care to,” Figo shrugged, running a hand through his hair. “There’s passion there. Her House is thrilled that she’s let me into her home and that she seems to have taken an interest in me.”

“Do you care for her?”

“She saved my life.”

“But do you care for her?”

“She…,” Figo paused, considered the question. “There’s a surprising depth of passion in her, a hunger that I know she’s shared with no one else. She’s strange, brilliant.” Figo’s cheeks went red, his eyes distant. It was answer enough.

“Her glove… is it a simple mechanism or is there some trick to it?”

“I’m not certain. She keeps it to herself, though she’s told me she’ll make me one.”

“Figure out how it works,” Deeam said, looking around. “If one person wielding such a weapon can turn the tide of battle so simply, imagine what it would be like if all the nobility had such power? It would end violence among us.”

“Do you think so?”

“I know so.”

“I’ll do it.”

Deeam and Figo circled back to where Wyrd and Glow were still talking, the two Ladies discussing the applications of some form of what Deeam assumed was alchemy. Wyrd seemed excited again, her eyes bright as she smiled and admitted she knew nothing of what Glow was saying but that she would be eager to learn. Figo joined Wyrd and took her by the hand, leading her away, explaining that he and Glow would want to spend some time alone together, and the bewildered Lady followed her better half.

“What do you think of her?” Deeam asked his lover, but only once he was certain the other two were out of earshot but still within his sight. He could see how the two of them balanced each other, both of them naive in so many ways; Figo was as much diplomat as soldier, and his Lady would need both in the days to come. Still it was clear that Figo had been wounded by his time with the Coeecians – his savior was the perfect distraction, a rock upon which Figo could rebuild his world.

He thought that they complimented one another beautifully.

“She’s utterly mad.” Glow whispered. She was covered head-to-toe in the custom of her House, which made reading her expression impossible, but Deeam could see that she was shaking. “I am certain she knew nothing of the Lemurian concept of the soul, but the moment I began describing the basics she grasped it and started making sense of things that even I had trouble with. Have you heard the tales of her wondrous glove?”

“I have.”

“If anyone were capable of making such a weapon it would be she,” Glow whispered. “I’m not sure if her findings are a good thing or not. Did you hear what she plans on titling her application of Science?”

“What?”

Ethcinos. It’s a verb in the old Darroken tongue.”

“What does it mean?”

To Hope.

Neither of them took note of the winged guest who sipped at Deeam’s finest wines.

***

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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391

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:03

Books & Writing, Short Fictions

August 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.

***

03:00:01:03 –

Figo Jera vomited into the basin that Jesam had left in his chamber.

The Coeecian warlord had claimed the keep that Figo had been put in charge of when he had claimed Figo, leaving thousands of Vanir to die in a raven’s feast. He had issued a challenge and Figo had accepted, not noticing until after their weapons were locked that Jesam was not tired, was not wounded, was entirely rested. Figo had been battling all day, one duel after another, winning all of them – he had been flushed with his own strength and skill, so certain of victory, and Jesam had used that as a weapon against him.

Now, bound by his own honor, he was a prisoner among Coeecians. The only ally left to Figo was one of the ambassadors from House Suwilo, and that man was not even Vanir but some refugee from a far off nation, a fox that walked like and wore the face of a man. Farrell, the creature was called. Figo had never suspected him to be anything other than Vanir. He had been spared as a curiosity and now served as Jesam’s personal healer, his talents reserved only for Figo and Jesam himself.

After Jesam had taken him for the first time the Coeecian had looked deep into Figo’s eyes, smiled, and told him I do not love you.

Figo had wanted to fight, had wanted to scream. He did not know how long he had been kept, did not know how often he was pampered and proven weak by his savage Coeecian captors. They had handed him one of their practice blades and offered him escape if he could merely fight past them, had let him believe he was so close before a single blow to his back had rendered him incapable of movement. Jesam had driven into him that night, whispering mine mine mine over and over again while biting at his ear.

The healer had slaved over him for what seemed an eternity after that, stitching severed muscles together, teaching Figo how to use his arms again. His strength slowly returned but his confidence was shattered and there was a pain that never truly let him be, but he was alive and this was not the worst of what befell him.

No, no, the worst was his growing affection for the warlord that abused him at a whim, who displayed him like a jewel, who expected absolute obedience and offered him nothing in return save lesser abuses. Whenever Figo showed the slightest bit of resistance, Jesam would have him punished before taking him roughly, finally leaving the little lord to the wandering hands of Farrell.

The fox did what he could to ease the many pains of body and soul, but as one day bled into another Figo felt himself growing more and more distant. At first he was alarmed to realize that he wasn’t thinking for himself so much anymore, but even that sense of wrongness faded due to apathy. He sighed and accepted his lot, eyes downcast, listening to fewer conversations and not attempting to make any of his own, accepting the fate that had taken him.

He did not even react when he learned that Farrell had seduced Jesam and that the two of them were lovers. The fox never offered any excuses, becoming slightly abusive when dealing with Figo’s hurts. Figo barely noticed, becoming more and more the possession that Jesam saw him as.

Some things penetrated the haze that claimed his mind. As he knelt beside Jesam’s throne, the warlord’s fingers running through his hair, he learned a little of the Coeecian tongue, just enough to follow the gist of various conversations – but his understanding came too late in his captivity for him to do anything more than attempt to listen.

The Coeecians had rebuilt Jesam’s keep and were using it to do exactly what their betters had once done: stage raids outside of Ashaewulo’sabberkena while holding their ground inside it. Thus far no one had been able to take it from them. Jesam would sometimes toy with him during these meetings, and would beat him whenever a setback was suffered, hurting Figo in place of his people.

Figo could do nothing about any of this.

Jesam’s gentility was reserved more and more for Farrell, the scant care and attention that Figo received becoming ever more rare. Even Farrell’s kindness became more a mockery than anything that Figo could truly rely upon. He began to fear that he perhaps deserved this treatment, his sense of personhood melting into nothingness. The Vanir that came to try and defeat him were inevitably beaten back and Jesam used Figo as a sign of his dominance, presenting the fallen noble with every victory he claimed.

When it was said that a noble from some far off House was coming, Figo did not pay much attention. However, he did pay attention to the messenger, a tall and handsome figure dressed in blue robes, his hair and eyes as dark as coal, his feathered wings blacker than the darkest night. He sang instead of spoke, warning Jesam of what was coming. When Jesam offered Figo as an amusement, the beautiful stranger claimed him and toyed with him, but when Figo whispered the name of the coming noble the stranger spread his wings and fled.

Figo could have sworn he’d seen fear in those dark eyes.

Time passed. Figo could not have guessed how much. Though his House was obsessed with the ebb and flow of time and the passing of the seasons, he so rarely saw the sun or felt fresh air on his naked skin. Time passed and he was kept. Then, one day, the promised noble came.

Jesam had Figo brought out in chains, making him kneel before the warlord’s throne. He looked out at the assembled Vanir forces, armies from Houses Gebo, Elhaz, Wynn, and Jera, all assembled in a line and waiting. A single woman was pushed forward from their ranks. She had wild hair and even wilder eyes looking out from a gaunt face. She might have been pretty had she put in the effort, but it was clear from the annoyance she wore like clothing that she had better things to do. It took him a long moment to recognize the non-sigil of House Wyrd, a distant nobility that kept to themselves.

This lone noble had brought no army with her, stood alone without fear between the Vanir armies and the Coeecian horde. She looked at the wall, sizing it up, the levl at her hip an uncomfortable weight, the glove on her hand something that Figo had never seen before. She felt Jesam stiffen, heard his cruel laughter as he sized the woman up and found her lacking.

This is their hope?” The words were a muttered threat, the sign he gave his ritualists something that Figo had seen before. He felt sorry for the woman, for the doom that was about to assault her. The ritualists would take a minute, perhaps two, and then unleash forces unlike anything the woman could possibly deal with by herself. Figo managed to raise his eyes and caught the woman’s stare and froze.

Her eyes were hazel and without bottom. There was a mania there, a passion and genius that bordered on insanity that could not be withstood, could not be tamed, could only just be channeled into something that was nearly comprehensible. The moment the Coeecian magicians started their rites the woman smiled and met Figo’s eyes, the insanity there promising more than Figo could have dared to hope.

Moments before the ritualists unleashed their power the woman raised her gloved hand, speaking a word that Figo could not hear while slashing through the air. Light trailed after the glove, carving an etching into the world before her. Lightning gathered above her, called forth by the Coeecian shamans, a pillar of electricity that seared the breath of the world as it raced down towards her and split the earth around her – but the etching held and the lightning, the very fist of some mighty god that the Coeecians had called forth, shattered the land around her while letting her be.

Her laughter as the Coeecians and Vanir stared at her was full of a terrible madness.

She began carving the air once more and even Figo could feel the power that gathered in her hand, a power that should have been impossible to constrain in such a short time. Figo heard Jesam gasp and step back as the woman spread her fingers, a hurricane’s exhalation smashing into the earth and pushing it up, up, up into the stones of the wall, rocking the boulders, pushing them into the air and destroying the wall entirely. All this damage wrought by a single woman with her glove. She smiled as two nations stared at her in horror.

The woman drew her levl and began to walk forth.

Jesam shouted a battlecry, his people following his lead. The Vanir answered, two armies rushing forth on the battlefield, two entire nations forming a circle of quiet around the woman as she continued to walk directly to the place where Jesam still stood and Figo knelt.

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He called forth all the powers he could muster on short notice, wind and rain and lightning, but the walking woman ignored them all with a casual disdain. No Coeecian stepped in her way, the war between Coeecian and Vanir funnelled into the conflict between warlord and stranger.

When the woman was sixty feet away, Jesam drew his sword and screamed a challenge to duel. The woman smiled and accepted, carving her strange signs in the air, signs that could be seen one heartbeat and were gone the next. Jesam was a seasoned warrior, a ritualist who knew his way around a blade. The woman looked as if she had only just learned to hold her levl properly, like it had been shoved into her hands as the battle began.

Jesam attacked. The woman’s block was clumsy but it left her safe. Her attacks lacked all skill but still she penetrated Jesam’s defenses, surprising him as her left hand carved her strange etchings into the air. The look in her eyes said there could be no other outcome than this, that she would attack and attack and attack and that there was nothing that anyone could do to stop the woman from winning.

He died eventually, his wounds boring him down, blood leaking out of him as the light left his eyes. Figo remembered the look of the woman, the perfect clarity of her. Her stance, her technique, all implied a lack of skill that should have been her end, but she stood victorious with not a scratch on her. She knelt beside Figo and held him, just held him.

Are you alright?” she asked. Figo did not know how to respond, not remembering when he had last been given leave to speak. “It’s going to be okay now. You’re safe.” There was something in her eyes, some spark of compassion that Figo knew surprised them both. He fell into her arms, holding her while a war raged around them, the Coeecians calling retreat as they realized their warlord was dead.

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Click here to read the next chapter.

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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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537

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:02

Books & Writing, Short Fictions, Uncategorized

August 21, 2015

So, way back when, some rather good books were published a page at a time in newspapers. The Sherlock Holmes series, the Count of Monte Cristo, and the Three Musketeers are all tales that got their start in this fashion, and we’d like to follow suit. Every week, we’re going to post something new 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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– 03:00:01:02 –

They called her the Golden Champion.

Hekro Gherlid of House Gebo had lost count of the soldiers that had come to her and told her that they believed they would survive this war only because of her guidance. Sometimes she let herself believe their words but she knew a grim truth that would have broken the ranks around her; that she was not the giant that all these people made her out to be, was merely a Vanir noble doing what was needed of her, even though she did not feel she did it especially well. Her forces won more than they lost and she held her independence and lived up to her word. These were not qualities, she thought, that should have made her the object of such blind adoration.

Ages had past and she had served along the Coeecian border all her life, fighting against the hordes of savages that sometimes surged from the southlands. She had learned a little of their strange ways and even knew a smattering of their language. She even knew how to pass for one of their number from a distance – the ways they stood and carried themselves – but the blood of the Vanir ran proud in her veins and her features would never be mistaken for anything less.

She stood with arms at her side, one hand resting on the pommel of the levl she wore across her back, the preferred weapon of the Vanir nobility. She had fought many duels with the weapon and won all of them. Generals and Dukes sometimes came to study her form, to master the techniques that she had cobbled together on the battlefield so they could train their own warriors.

In her youth she had sought tutors in levl fighting and had studied all three major styles, taken from them what she could while most children were still learning how to hold the weapon properly. She was happy to pass on her knowledge to those that wished to stand with her on the killing fields.

Those who came to learn for their own political or social benefit she sent away.

Rare among her people, Hekro believed in the sanctity of certain concepts, places, or objects. The levl was one of the things in which she had faith. A two-and-a-half foot length of metal inlaid with runes and hardened to the point of unbreakability, infused with the blood of the Vanir it was made for. Levls were sometimes passed down through family lines but most of the time they were designed specifically for the noble who wielded them. She had been told that the grip was as sure as any lover’s caress but this was not a thing that she had any knowing of.

Not that anyone else needed to know that.

She sighed and walked across the battlements that were her most recent assignment. The Vanir bards had taken to calling her army the Band of the Golden Cross, for her pennant displayed two golden lines on a black background. She had marched her soldiers over three thousand miles of terrain to bring them here, a soft spot in the Coeecian border, a valley that had been mired in conflict for centuries. It had been handed to one noble after another, claiming life after life until the ground itself was soaked crimson and the air smelled of copper.

When songs were sung of this place, the bards called this valley Ashaewulo’sabberkena – the Shadow of Death.

The latest offering the Vanir had made to the valley was a young man from House Jera, a noble line that Hekro had never had much use for. A slight youth, Figo Jera was more cute than handsome. Despite his boyishness he had proven to be a quick study and a capable officer.

For all his good qualities, however, he was still young and terribly naive. His enemies took advantage of both flaws, drawing him into the Ashaewulo’sabberkena with every intention of spilling his blood on the unholy grounds of the valley. When Hekro had arrived she had found Figo taking risks where what was lost far outweighed what there was to gain, even if he had been capable of gaining whatever goal it was he sought.

Hekro had quickly realized the boy’s limitations; Figo was not brash, just innocent. The Coeecian in charge of the forces which opposed them had recognized that failing for what it was, had taken advantage of it to fully decimate Figo’s forces. The loss had been devastating and even more experienced nobles would have found their troops demoralized in such circumstances. To his credit, the boy had managed to maintain a surprising amount of control over his forces and, having now met and spent time with him, Hekro could understand why.

“Good morning, my Lady.” Figo approached from the east, his levl at his hip. It was the custom of many noble Houses to wear their levls in such fashion, but most nobles had not stood on the frontlines of the war. Fewer still had witnessed the horrors that House Gebo stood against on a regular basis. The nobles of House Suwilo did but they were healers, not warriors, a distant presence in every conflict. Hekro had explained the advantages to Figo at length but the boy was still a creature of his upbringing – another decade or so on the border, Hekro thought, would change that for the better.

“And you, my Lord.” Hekro clasped the boy’s wrist, a casual and friendly show of dominance that Figo had never sought to contest. The boy took his place at Hekro’s side and looked out over the assembled forces that waited on the lip of a distant horizon, their mass looking like nothing so much as a sea of chaos.

“Do you think they’ll attack today?” Figo asked. Hekro looked in the boy’s wide silver eyes and earnest expression; the boy was so very eager to learn.

“At twilight, yes.”

“How can you tell?”

“Do you see the pinions, there, there, and there?” The boy nodded. “See how they move north to south? They wobble a little, yes, and they look like they’re just part of the crowd, but the Coeecian’s method of war is a complex architecture. The swarming mass of chaos only looks that way. In truth we face three separate armies that have all fallen under the command of a single warlord. If we can find him and kill him, that force will disperse.”

“You know all that just from their pennants?”

“Yes. Coeecians put great stock in their leaders and the favor of their gods, but their minds are soft from their reliance on superstition. Hence, they dress up their forces to remind themselves of who is on what side and what they are doing. There is a language to their horde, and I have learned to read it – which is why I know that there are three armies down there, that they do not like one another, and if we kill their leader they will fight among themselves and then disperse.”

“Only to reform somewhere else.”

“We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it. One thing at a time, Lord Figo.”

The boy nodded, studying the mass and memorizing the pinions that Hekro had pointed out. Hekro could have told him not to bother – the Coeecians were a superstitious people, changing the color and designs of what mattered according to which of their barbaric castes was ascendant at any given moment in time. Hekro was able to spot the leader’s campfire with only a little difficulty and judged their enemy to be of the Skie caste, a group of mountain dwellers as known for their arrogance and sense of entitlement as they were for the powerful storms they could summon.

Figo had met that warlord in personal combat but, like so many Vanir, he knew none of the details that defined the Coeecian swarm and so had let his enemy go. Figo’s scouts had spent some time within Hekro’s, the combined force able to learn that their enemy’s name was Jesam and that he had developed an obsession with Hekro’s young charge, a powerful lust for ownership that had rewritten his view of this campaign.

Jesam emerged from his tent, his white robe coated in dust, the lightning blue cloak on his shoulders hanging loose around his throat. He kept his black hair spiked and, as he saw Hekro, waved and offered an insipid grin as he moved towards the ashes of an abandoned campfire. Hekro scowled and crossed her arms, knowing the man was preparing some sort of ritual working and knowing that she was too distant to do anything about it. She stood still when the rain started, remaining still when the chill seeped into her bones. She did not react even when Jesam looked up and raised his hand in a mock greeting.

Turning on her heel, Hekro went back the way she came and settled into her quarters. They had the high-ground, their walls on a massive embankment that would keep the Coeecians from any sort of direct attack. Some of their magicians were capable of great wonders but such magicians had to be in eyesight to make use of their most potent rituals, a limitation which would put them within eyesight of the Vanir scientists, who could then complete the circuits of science to crush their enemies. It was, in Hekro’s opinion, a stupid and endless cycle that rendered both groups completely useless – the best the magicians and scientists could do was annoy their enemies, like what Jesam had done with his little working.

Hekro returned to her quarters with the intention of sleeping, leaving strict orders that she was to be awoken the moment the Coeecians did anything out of the ordinary. She was confident that her soldiers knew exactly what she meant. She walked into her room and stripped off the jacket all nobles wore when going into battle, a thick fabric interwoven with metal thread. The weight of it off her shoulders brought with it a dull ache that she ignored, her well-muscled torso covered in old scars. She took note of them all, remembering those who had died to leave proof of victory etched into her skin.

Manuind Berhagala. Ashaewi Manuund. Iwasund Berkenaund

She was awoken by a knocking at her door, her hand gripping the levl beside her before her mind was completely aware of her surroundings. Long vigils all along the Coeecian border had taught her that sleep was a luxury and coming back to the waking world without a weapon at hand could be a costly mistake. She blinked at the empty room, shrugged into her jacket and sheathed the levl across her back before walking back among her troops.

“Report.” She looked at the fidgeting Lord Figo while fastening the jacket closed; the blush along the boy’s cheeks was both flattering and bearing clear evidence of his youth.

“We thought that the Coeecians were using the rain as a distraction,” he began. “But it, uh, seems that they’ve been using the storm to erode the earth out from under the keep.” Hekro snapped to attention, looking at the boy and considering the applications.

The keep they lived in was the centrepiece of Vanir presence in Ashaewulo’sabberkena, a bastion that had stood since before Hekro was born and had provided haven, refuge, and staging point for the Vanir nation. It had allowed the Vanir, even in the leanest of times, to keep the Coeecians from encroaching further into Midgard, the home of the Vanir people. The loss of the keep would be devastating both strategically and moralistically, a truth that someone like Jesam would know.

Hekro finished straightening her jacket, strode outside and stood on the heavy walls. Figo followed, chattering on about logistics. Hekro ignored him as she crossed her arms and looked outside. The rain was so thick that she could only just make out the Coeecians down below, using their tools and fell trickery to erode the base upon which the keep stood, and she knew that Jesam had trapped them – for if they went out there they would be walking into a trap, but if they kept behind their walls the walls would crumble and the Coeecians would swarm over them and kill them all.

She explained this to Figo, trying to decide if there was a way out of Jesam’s little gambit. Figo wanted to go out and fight, confident of his ability to win, but Hekro held him in place with a look. There was more going on here, some plan that they did not see.

“Figo Jera!”

The cry caught them all off-guard. A moment later twelve arrows were fired from down below, each of them striking the battlements. No other volley was fired and even Hekro could see that the arrows were tied with messages around them, the paper treated to resist the strain of water. She strode to the edge of the wall and claimed the arrow, ignoring the warnings of Figo’s men. The Coeecians would not shoot someone in the act of retrieving a message; they considered it bad luck.

She untied the string around the shaft and unrolled the paper, looking at the girlish Coeecian script. The Vanir held the Coeecian written language in contempt for its complexity and facade of elegance, preferring the economy of their own written codes, and most Vanir nobles would have had no idea how to interpret Jesam’s message. Hekro was not so ignorant, though she did have trouble with the strange curves and loops that the Coeecians used for their inert written sigils.

My Darling Figo,

As much as I admire your persistence in resisting my advances, I have to admit that I’m finding the drudgery of our game growing a little old. You know I want you and you know that there is nothing that you can do to dissuade me from getting what I want. How many more of your people must die before you turn yourself over to me so that we can both sate our desires?

Oh, my lust, my lust… can you not see that what I’m doing is for the best? You are so precious, Lust, a treasure. I will keep you safe, lock you away like the most precious of gems. Surely this is what you crave because it is what I crave for you. How could you want anything else?

I’ve spotted you speaking and walking with that blond harlot. I want you to know that she will not stand between us much longer; my plans have nearly come to fruition. Soon, we will be together and you will be mine and all will be well.

Until then, my Lust, know that the seed I spill I do in your name,

Jesam of the Skie

“They’ve been sending arrows like that every couple of weeks,” Figo said, looking over Hekro’s shoulder. “Our ritualists claim that there is no magic about them, but there must be some meaning to this act… is it some sort of superstition?”

“Yes, that’s it exactly.” Hekro felt no guilt at the lie as she crumpled the paper and tossed it into the nearest fire. His knowing the full details of Jesam’s obsession would benefit no one.

A deep growl rumbled underneath them, the earth giving way under the deluge that assailed them. Hekro’s hand immediately went to her levl, the weapon drawn as she walked towards the sound and ordered the soldiers on those walls back. No Coeecian rope or ladder touched the battlements above the sound as Hekro ordered her country-folk into position. For long moments nothing happened, nothing more than rain tumbling down from on high, liquid shattering on stone.

Then the world screamed as mighty stone walls were dragged out of sight by simple entropy.

She did not flinch when those walls fell. She held her ground and Figo stood with her, his own levl held at the ready. She did not turn to see how much of her people’s resolve had broken with the wall, did not take her eyes from the gaping emptiness that waited before her, a threat, a promise, a sigh made real. She held her ground and she knew that those behind her did so only in honor of her strength.

When the Coeecians swarmed through, a horde of them bashing through like rats, Hekro lifted her levl had howled a warcry, leading her people forward to meet the enemy. Bones shattered and blood swept out in arcs as she struck, cutting a swath through the invaders as an answering cry rose behind her, the Vanir finding their courage and joining their attack.

Time passed. The rain continued. Her limbs felt heavy, her breath coming in long and painful gasps. For the moment no Coeecian dared approach her. She stood straight, taking a moment to assess the situation. Piles of the dead lay all around her, Vanir and Coeecian blood co-mingling an offering to Midgard below. She glanced around, knocking stones out of the air with her levl as she assessed the situation. The Vanir, from what she could tell, were winning.

Hekro’s knowledge of the Coeecian war machine allowed her to know what they were doing and how they were moving. A few shouted orders stymied the efforts of those they fought, stuffing their games before they ever took effect. She caught sight of Jesam in the crowd, holding one of the short blades his people favored, his cloak free of the gore that coated everything else. Hekro scowled at him, envious – she would be bathing for hours to get the blood out of her hair.

Jesam smiled at her and vanished into the crowd, safe behind the lines of his people. She grimaced and forced herself onward, heading towards the spot where he had been. If she could kill that one man, the Coeecians would retreat, fighting among themselves until they had another leader to guide them. She got to that point, a small group of her own soldiers following her as best they could as she cut down the cattle that tried to stand before her.

She caught sight of him again. He wasn’t looking for her, she saw, his eyes on the figure of his obsession – Lord Figo Jera. The boy was holding his own, a credit to a noble line that did not deserve such as he. He stood, levl and dryw drawn, fighting his enemies one at a time. Unlike the rest of them, Hekro saw, Figo was fighting one duel after another. He was being worn down, being left mostly unharmed. She could see what Jesam wanted to do and felt bile rise in her throat at the thought of it.

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Pushing herself forward on limbs that were already screeching fatigue, she pressed through the crowd and broke past any fool that thought to stand in her way. She was halfway to Figo when she felt the blade enter her back and push through, steel exiting from her midriff. She spun, trying to backhand with her levl, but her killer ducked under the blow and used her movement and strength to make the wound he had inflicted upon her so much worse.

“I want you to know,” Jesam said, cradling her as the levl dropped from her fingers, “That I could never have done this without you. The Golden Champion, the Vanir who knows our ways. Did you ever think that perhaps the language of war could change? No?” He pressed his lips against hers, recoiling when she bit him and laughed when he tasted his own blood.

“Figo will stop you.” Her voice faltered but her glare did not.

“Doubtful.” Jesam smiled, his words slurring together in her ears. “He is a beautiful bauble, nothing more. Without his walls to protect him…?” His smile deepened. He left her there, among the corpses and the muck. She heard him shout out a challenge to Figo, demanding a duel to end the conflict. The boy, flush with the victories he thought he had won, accepted.

She tried to shout a warning but spat up blood, drowning herself. He had punctured her lungs with his blade. She could do nothing but lie there and die, listening as the beautiful Lord Figo was lost.

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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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