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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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544

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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1024

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-08

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

December 4, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:02:08 –

Veskur was tired, isolated, alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They meant nothing to her.

They. Meant. Nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veskur believed herself his better.

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

03-00-02-08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?” Veskur asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about you?”

“I’ll be fine.”

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

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

Veskur pretended her quivering came from the rain.

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

***

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

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578

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-07

Books & Writing, Short Fictions, Showcase

November 27, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:02:07 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would be seasons later that he would learn otherwise.

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

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

Love is War 03-00-02-07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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536

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-06

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

November 20, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:02:06 –

Every time he said Sotaas’ name, Endrall shone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LiW 03-00-02-05

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

 

 

 

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495

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:02:05

Books & Writing, Projects, Short Fictions

November 13, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:02:05 –

Where was he?

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

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

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

How dare he.

How Dare He Do This.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is War 03-00-02-05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was the right thing to do.”

The simplicity of that reply infuriated him all over again.

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

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

The alternative was not a thing to be considered.

***

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

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492

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:02:04

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

November 6, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:02:04 –

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

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

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

It was granted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is War 03-00-02-04

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

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

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

Life went on.

He did the best he could.

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

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

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

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

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

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484

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:02:03

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

October 30, 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.

***

– 03:00:02:03 –

The Vanir held a beauty that Veskur never would have guessed at. She had found wonder in mathematics, in ritual and form, in her countless theories and the frozen world that surrounded her remote keep. She never would have believed that people could be beautiful, that people could be miracles. She had noticed the ties between other people and thought it as little more than chemicals playing with foregone conclusions but now that she was in love…

She was in love. She smiled at the thought and still was not certain how that had happened.

There was Figo, lovely Figo. They would walk for hours and talk for days and all the raging voices in Veskur’s head would turn quiet when Figo was there, his very presence a balm on the disease of her soul. And Figo, as far as Veskur could tell, loved her back with a hunger and passion that tickled Veskur and filled her with feelings of worth that she had never had before.

Fifty seasons past and their love stayed strong, braving whatever troubles tried to cross them. There were times when the pressures of politics came between them, as Figo’s House did not approve of Veskur, but their connection always proved stronger than Jera’s social games. Those brief absences didn’t bother Veskur, for Figo always came back and, besides, she had never cared for any other member of Figo’s House or their closest allies.

And then, too, there was Endrall Sahr. He was a grace and a blessing, a sun among stars. He attracted people in a way that Veskur might have if she cared to and held them there to the benefit of all. An air of destiny clung to him like the thickest of cloaks and Veskur used her gaurn to reinforce it, making it stronger and stronger and stronger still. She had done the same for Figo and he had turned out to be excellent.

“You kiss the same way he does,” Endrall told her one night, referring to Figo. The two of them lay warm and together, as was their custom, staring into one another’s eyes. Veskur kept silent but smiled – she liked having someone who understood exactly what it was to love Figo. Endrall was perfect in that sense; Figo quieted the raging noise in her head but Endrall, well, Endrall understood.

Her life was better than it had ever been now that there were people in it. Thea had been writing from a far distance, sometimes saying horrible things to her and sometimes providing support. He was going through difficult times and Veskur lent him what support she could given the space between them.

River began to withdraw, not only from her but also from the Vanir as a whole; he spent more and more time in the far west, dealing with creatures that had no place in any waking world.

And then there was Sotaas, as solid in name as in deed. Veskur began to depend on him, finding in his presence a comfort that she simply could not find anywhere else. The two of them talked of everything and nothing and grew close, closer. For him, Veskur made the fourth gaurn, working the sigil of House Ygg into it. Sotaas took to the basics of Veskur’s Science quickly and began to theorize about how it might affect the natural world, the two of them inventing an entire language of math to try and encompass their theories.

Veskur found herself happy and smiling, a laughter that had never been easy for her settling in her throat and eyes. She became more talkative, more confident, more willing to deal with guests than ever she had been. Her House marked the change but thought nothing of it; few outside her inner circle did, for she was still reclusive enough that she would not fight for herself, only for those she cared about. For herself she desired only their company and the chance to continue her work.

A celebration was approaching for Figo in recognition of all that he had accomplished. He stopped by Veskur’s home and the two of them went for a walk, discussing the coming ball and the gifts that Veskur had put together for him – a levl she had forged for him herself and an invitation she had gotten to an exhibition of Darroken sorceries. They discussed the time of the latter, trying to figure out when they could both go, and Veskur found herself smiling and happy and content.

“I have to go,” Figo said, turning to her, stepping back and away. “I can’t do this anymore.”

And then Figo was gone.

Veskur thought it was a joke at first, some sort of game that she did not quite understand, but Figo did not respond to any attempt at communication; he was simply gone, an aching absence from Veskur’s life without explanation. She didn’t know what to make of this, but Endrall was there to hold her and whisper in her ear, pressing his lips to hers and sucking the sobs from her lungs. He was soft and lovely, a comfort that Veskur no longer felt that she deserved – for she must have done something to drive her love away, but no one would tell her what crime she had committed.

Sotaas, too, stood by her, getting closer and closer to the core of her. His presence was as constant as Figo’s had been, a regularity that Veskur could latch her wounded sanity to. She devoted herself to her work, pausing only to indulge the hungers Figo had kindled in her with Endrall, growing closer to Endrall even as the healer taunted her with stories of what Figo was doing.

In the quiet nights when no one but her manservant was present in her home, Veskur would shoulder on a heavy cloak and walk the land, staggered by the weight of what she had lost and would never find again. The fingers on her left hand twitched and her work was forgotten as she stared at her gaurn – she could change things, she knew, change the threads of destiny and fate until Figo came back to her. She reached out and touched the soft fabric of her Science but did not slip the gaurn on.

This was something she would never do; Jesam had done that to her love, taken all choice from him and forced him to be someone other than what he wanted, but what Jesam had done had only touched Figo’s flesh. Veskur – were she to act on this mad whim – would be touching her lost love’s soul and making him someone other than who he was. She could not imagine a greater atrocity.

Weeping, shaking, she fell to her knees in the wild places and huddled into herself, waiting for the pain to pass and knowing that it never would.

Love is War 03-00-02-03

Her work provided her a shelter from the passions that were now threatening to overwhelm her, and so she tossed herself into theory and language with reckless abandon. Sometimes Sotaas was there and sometimes Endrall was there but few enough of her old visitors came to her, the lot of them gone with Figo. Thea kept writing but his notes took on a denigrating slur. River, in one of the last moments that he would share with her, explained why.

“Thea went back home and tried to destroy himself,” River said, shaking, eyes flashing with anger. “This is your fault and your responsibility. If he’s hurting you, well, it’s only because you deserve it.”

Veskur could have mentioned how little River had seen the youngster during his visit, how he had ignored the terms that Veskur had agreed to beforehand. She could have mentioned how the handful of times Thea and River had been together had been for social affairs and that Thea had learned nothing of his stated goals from the elder noble. She might even had mentioned how River’s few moments with Thea had all been constructed only when Veskur had forced the issue.

She did not, however. She let River belittle her like he always did, the words striking her in the wake of Figo’s absence, a terrible sense of guilt washing over her and crippling her in ways that she could only begin to dimly recognize.

It did not appear as if Thea was doing any better.

As she began to spiral apart inside herself, Veskur clung to the only two centers of calm she had left: Endrall and Sotaas. She held to them both and sometimes did nothing with them when they came to visit, needing their presence to enjoy even the solitude that had once been her refuge. Slowly, slowly, she began to weave herself back together, the gaping wound inside her that Figo had left waning to a dull throb that would never entirely fade.

She looked to Endrall to finish that mending. The two of them even went to the Darroken exhibition that had been meant for Figo. He took the levl that had been made for the Jera noble, promising to give it to the man that had left. He held her and stroked her hair, soothed her madness and seemed to want to take Figo’s place. The warmth that had once been Figo’s began again, Figo’s heat not replaced but matched in Veskur’s heart. She was ready to give him anything, everything – whatever he wanted so long as he would stay.

He would hold her, his fine muscles pressed against her body. She would lean up to kiss him and he would push her away, then lean down and kiss her with all the heat inside him. He would melt into her, the two of them cradled against one another in the dark nights of the frozen north. He would toy with her, strum her like an instrument of string, and when she responded he would push her away. She pushed back, hungrier for his teasing, wanting so very badly, but always he would push her away and welcome her back and she would push further and further and further.

She noticed the way he looked at Sotaas. She noticed how when Endrall was temperamental and lost in the moods that sometimes took him that a simple message or word from Ygg’s wanderer could brighten his expression and paint a smile across his wonderful features. She asked him about it and heard his confession, his want, his hunger, and she vowed to do everything she could to help her love be happy. It killed pieces of her to do it, but Endrall wanted her help and she would give it to him because that’s what love meant.

It didn’t matter what she felt. It didn’t matter that watching the two of them together felt like a dryw in her heart. Endrall would be happy and Sotaas would be happy and she would be alone just like she had been alone before, cold and pure, cold and perfect.

That was all that she had ever been meant to be: cold and cold and cold.

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576

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:02:02

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

October 23, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:02:02 –

There was so very much to learn.

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

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

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

“What do you need found?”

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

“Who?”

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

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

“Figo?”

“That’s the one.”

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

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

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

“And why do we know so little?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction – Love is War 03-00-02-01

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

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

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

“You have other thoughts on this?”

“Clearly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You sound like you enjoyed her company.”

“I did. There’s a lot to like there.”

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

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Be sure that you do.”

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487

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:02:01

Books & Writing, Projects, Short Fictions, Showcase

October 16, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:02:01 –

Life was a whirlwind of passion, sensation, joy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which one?” the man asked.

Endrall blinked, not understanding, and the man left.

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Veskur?”

“Yes, Love?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?”

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

“The world.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Figo can do this, too?”

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

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

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

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

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

“The one we dammed, yes.”

“What happened when you dammed it?”

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

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

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

For a long time neither of them said anything.

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

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

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

Love is War 00-02-01

Endrall was quiet for a moment, considering.

“Yes.”

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

“Thank you.”

“Don’t. Just… don’t.”

***

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

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