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Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:07

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

April 14, 2017

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

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

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

When Thea shared these insights with Veskur she said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you asked him?”  

“He refuses to share his secret.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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384

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:06

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

April 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

Only this one thing stuck in his craw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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320

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:05

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

March 31, 2017

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

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

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

Both of them were gone now and she was alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endrall Sahr.

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

What’s wrong?”

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

You won’t know until you get there.”

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

Hekro arranged everything?”

He nodded. She sighed.

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

Why would Sotaas have a problem with it?”

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

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

He left.

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

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

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

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

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

Is it about Endrall?”

Yes.”

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

Endrall had already explained this to her at length.

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

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

You’re okay traveling with him?”

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

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

No, no, I’ll come up with something.”

This late?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He didn’t like me very much.”

Who? Sahr or Endrall?”

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

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

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

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

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

He’ll be here soon.”

Sure he will.”

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

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

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

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

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

What’s is… oh. You’re here.”

Is that any way to greet me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am less certain of that.”

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

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

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

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

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

And what is that, exactly?”

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

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

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

A long silence followed Veskur’s description.

Is cosm even a word?”

If it isn’t, it should be.”

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

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

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

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

Veskur and Sotaas shared a look but said nothing.

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

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

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

As much as can be,” Sotaas said.

Veskur said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So… I’m not important?”

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

He stared at her for a long time after that.

I don’t trust you.”

I know.”

We’re not friends.”

I know.”

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

Neither did I.”

Deeam must think very highly of you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her left hand twitched.

Endrall took no notice.

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the rush?” she asked.

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

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

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

Maybe moreso.”

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

Granted.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do.”

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

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

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

I do.”

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

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

Veskur of House Wyrd yields to Deeam Njord!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only then did she stop.

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

Are you alright?” he asked.

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

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

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

He’s not staying with you?”

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

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

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

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

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

My calves hurt.”

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

Okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veskur felt herself tense from silence.

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

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

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

How can you tell?”

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

Me? Angry at me? Whatever for?”

You broke his heart.”

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

What you made of him…?”

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

And to him.”

What’s that supposed to mean?”

Nothing.”

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

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

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

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

Once the vestments were returned Sotaas came to Veskur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veskur Wyrd woke up and wished that she were dead.

 

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295

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:04

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

March 24, 2017

Click here to read the previous entry.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was lying, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You could have let me know.”

Endrall shrugged. They moved on to other topics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you.”

Of course you do.”

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

 

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

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291

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:03:03

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

March 17, 2017

Click here to read the previous entry. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sotaas?”

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

“I know you’re here.”

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

“I came to a-apologize.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wouldn’t ask that.”

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

“Hekro.”

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

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

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

Veskur smiled and nodded, telling Sotaas everything she knew.

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

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550

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-03-02

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

December 28, 2015

Every week, we’re going to post some new fiction for you to devour and read, with original art as a header, and then a collected version for purchase from our store when the book is complete. Questions? Comments? The writers are right here, and they’ll respond as they’re able. 

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Click here to read previous entry.

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– 03:00:03:02 –

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

“I’m fine,” Veskur whispered. “Fine.”

Risue was polite enough to say nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Risue stared, his eyes going wide.

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

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

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

“Brilliant. Utterly brilliant.”

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

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

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

“Figo Jera,” Hekro wrote back.

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

“That’s a lot of information.”

“I know.” Veskur licked her lips.

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

“Or we could go ourselves.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

03-00-03-02

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

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

Then she turned and left.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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458

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-03-01

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

December 18, 2015

Every week, we’re going to post some new fiction for you to devour and read, with original art as a header, and then a collected version for purchase from our store when the book is complete. Questions? Comments? The writers are right here, and they’ll respond as they’re able. 

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:03:01 –

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

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

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

“You can tell me anything.”

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

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

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

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

It was intolerable but still Veskur did nothing.

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

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

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

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

Her lips bled when she smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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454

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-09

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

December 11, 2015

Every week, we’re going to post some new fiction for you to devour and read, with original art as a header, and then a collected version for purchase from our store when the book is complete. Questions? Comments? The writers are right here, and they’ll respond as they’re able. 

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:02:09 –

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

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

He tried not to think about Veskur too much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All too well.”

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

“And this upsets you?”

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

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

“You could just walk away from everything.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The words echoed between them.

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

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

Endrall kept his distance after that.

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

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

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

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

When the Coeecians struck anew it caught everyone off guard.

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

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

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

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

03-00-02-09

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

No one did.

He was alone.

They had left him his gaurn.

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

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

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

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

Endrall wept.

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

He considered jumping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The connection severed.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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970

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-08

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

December 4, 2015

Every week, we’re going to post some new fiction for you to devour and read, with original art as a header, and then a collected version for purchase from our store when the book is complete. Questions? Comments? The writers are right here, and they’ll respond as they’re able. 

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:02:08 –

Veskur was tired, isolated, alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They meant nothing to her.

They. Meant. Nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veskur believed herself his better.

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

03-00-02-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?” Veskur asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about you?”

“I’ll be fine.”

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

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

Veskur pretended her quivering came from the rain.

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

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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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505

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-07

Books & Writing, Short Fictions, Showcase

November 27, 2015

Every week, we’re going to post some new fiction for you to devour and read, with original art as a header, and then a collected version for purchase from our store when the book is complete. Questions? Comments? The writers are right here, and they’ll respond as they’re able. 

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Click here to read previous entry.

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– 03:00:02:07 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would be seasons later that he would learn otherwise.

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

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

Love is War 03-00-02-07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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