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Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:06

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

September 18, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:01:06 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is War 005

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

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

Thea pressed ahead anyway.

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

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

She put it out of her mind.

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

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

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

***

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

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464

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:05

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

September 11, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:01:05 –

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

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

 

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

“What do you know of Lady Veskur Wyrd?”

He grew ill every time the question was asked.

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

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

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

It was fascinating. It was frustrating.

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

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

Lover is War 05

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

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

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

As always, she avoided him by not noticing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does he still have all his teeth?”

“As far as I can tell.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about you?”

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

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

“Oh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

 

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409

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:04

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

September 4, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:01:04 –

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

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

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

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

“What was her name again?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I missed you.”

“Missed you, too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lover is War 04

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

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

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

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

“Do you care for her?”

“She saved my life.”

“But do you care for her?”

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

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

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

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

“Do you think so?”

“I know so.”

“I’ll do it.”

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

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

He thought that they complimented one another beautifully.

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

“I have.”

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

“What?”

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

“What does it mean?”

To Hope.

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

***

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

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400

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:03

Books & Writing, Short Fictions

August 28, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

03:00:01:03 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figo could do nothing about any of this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The woman drew her levl and began to walk forth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Click here to read the next chapter.

***

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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552

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:02

Books & Writing, Short Fictions, Uncategorized

August 21, 2015

So, way back when, some rather good books were published a page at a time in newspapers. The Sherlock Holmes series, the Count of Monte Cristo, and the Three Musketeers are all tales that got their start in this fashion, and we’d like to follow suit. Every week, we’re going to post something new for you to devour and read, with original art as a header, and then a collected version for purchase from our store when the book is complete. Questions? Comments? The writers are right here, and they’ll respond as they’re able. 

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:01:02 –

They called her the Golden Champion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not that anyone else needed to know that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“At twilight, yes.”

“How can you tell?”

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

“You know all that just from their pennants?”

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

“Only to reform somewhere else.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manuind Berhagala. Ashaewi Manuund. Iwasund Berkenaund

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Figo Jera!”

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

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

My Darling Figo,

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

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

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

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

Jesam of the Skie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LiW 002

 

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

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

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

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

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

***

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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599

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:01

Books & Writing, Short Fictions

August 14, 2015

So, way back when, some rather good books were published a page at a time in newspapers. The Sherlock Holmes series, the Count of Monte Cristo, and the Three Musketeers are all tales that got their start in this fashion, and we’d like to follow suit. Every week, we’re going to post something new for you to devour and read, with original art as a header, and then a collected version for purchase from our store when the book is complete. Questions? Comments? The writers are right here, and they’ll respond as they’re able. 

***

03:00:01:01

A storm was coming, the kiss of it cresting the horizon.

Lady Veskur Wyrd watched the gathering clouds for a time, trying to remember if the storm was something she had called. She did not remember and could not think of a reason why she might have, but then she had been very busy. Twitching, she pulled the blanket draped over her shoulders tighter and stood barefoot on the balcony of her lonely keep, her brown hair catching in the wind. She did not remember the last time she had been outside, did not remember the last time she had slept, did not remember the last time she had left her laboratory.

If she had been prone to look in mirrors her appearance would have surprised her, the light in her eyes a stark contrast to the lines of fatigue etched into her flesh, the pale sallowness of her skin. As it stood, however, none of it mattered. She was allowing herself this small break only because she had discovered a miracle that she knew no one else would understand. Her nation claimed to be one of rational intellectuals but not a one of them could have understood what it was she had wrought.

Oh, she had tried to explain it to them. She had taken her numbers and theories into the cities owned and operated by the Great Houses, sat before their councils and nobles and shared everything she had spent her lifetime unraveling. They had accused her of madness and dismissed her with winks and knowing smiles, eager to have her on her way. She knew they considered her a joke, good enough to call upon when they needed a laugh. She accepted this, as she cared nothing for their opinions.

There were times, uncounted by both her and the rest of her people, when they would come to her to fix their problems. She would come, solve their troubles, and leave. No one took note of these moments, least of all the lady herself. She cared nothing for debt, obligation, or tie. The only thing that mattered to her were the studies she had devoted everything that she was to; all else was empty distraction, noise without meaning, and the only reason she ever went in the first place was to fulfill her family’s obligations to the Vanir so that they would leave her alone.

It began to rain, sky-tears touching her face and spilling down her high cheekbones. She took note of it and enjoyed the sensation, taking a few more minutes to stand there until she was drenched and shivering. It was information, being cold and wet, and she accepted it for what it was before retreating back inside and fixing herself a hot cup of tea and an even hotter bath. Warmth within and without eased tensions that had been building in her for weeks, a gentle drowsiness seeping into her every pore. A simple application of her knowledge kept the water steaming. She drifted into oblivion, woke when the mood took her, dressed and went back to her one true joy.

She had been forced to take up weaving and metallurgy when none of her family wanted to help her with what they thought of as her wasteful efforts. They had moved her out into the wilds and forgotten about her, granting her the solitude she had needed from them almost by accident. She had shown anyone who so much as feigned interest on those rare visits the glove she had made. She tolerated their blank stares and hollow praises.

The glove had bits of wood woven on the outskirts of the fabric. She had found that only ash, yew, elm, alder, cedar, or rowan could shape the energies she had bound in the way she wished. Metal had been woven within the glove to channel those same energies, taking from flesh and moving it to the world outside the body. Gold, silver, or copper, exclusively – nothing else would accomplish the task.

The Earl of her House had seen her glove and asked her to explain why she had placed the Crest of High House Wyrd on the back of the palm. She had tried to explain it to him but he had just stared at her blankly, not understanding though willing enough to indulge her. She had a soft spot for the old man and felt a kinship to him she did not feel for any of the others; he had built their House from nothing and she, if they would just let her alone long enough, would change the world in his name.

She slipped the glove over her left hand and felt the energies coursing within and frowned. Her problem was one of proof – how could she explain that she had changed the world when the changes that she made had always been, particularly when considering something as subtle as the possibilities of greatness or failure within a lifetime? She had used the science she had invented to further her own understanding of things the rest of her nation could not even begin to fathom.

It was only a matter of time, she knew, before that understanding drove her irreversibly insane.

Her family had left her a single servant, a man of some passing handsomeness whose name she could never quite remember. She knew that her parents hoped that she would take an interest in him and for their sakes she had tried. He had ended up striking her as pointlessly dull and she had as little to do with him these days as possible, ignoring the sounds that came from his rooms when he brought yet another lover to her home and pretended to be some minor lordling. If they knew of his games the rest of her family would have had him killed; she politely ignored him and appreciated the same courtesy paid in kind.

But now that man was standing on the edge of her laboratory. He wouldn’t say anything until she acknowledged him, knowing how irate she could become when she was torn from her work, but his eyes weighed upon her. She was tempted to use her sciences on him in that moment but held back, knowing better than anyone else ever would the responsibility that came with knowing what she knew. She sighed and slipped the glove off her hand and looked up at him with polite impatience.

“There’s someone here to see you.”

“Who is it? Family?”

“No.”

He seemed uncertain of what else to say so she sighed and followed him to the modest greeting room that was mostly used by him. There was a figure there that she had heard of but never met. Handsome, coal black hair and beautiful eyes, slender elegant features with just a hint of roughness around the edges. He wore clothing that was entirely out of place with the Vanir people but that nonetheless suited him, draping down and around his slim build. The most notable thing about him, however, were the dark and feathery wings that rose from his shoulders, stretching out like clouds to flick the water off.

“Lady Wyrd, greetings,” the man said. “Do you know who visits you?”

“Your name is Lloykiel,” Wyrd said, staring at the figure, grimacing as she stumbled over the complexities of his first syllable. He nodded. There were tales of him, fables that her family had shared regarding some long ago war. He was said to have been involved in that war, somehow, and it was said that he had taken an interest in the war that her people were now enmeshed in with their uncivilized neighbors, the Coeecian people. No one she had spoken to knew what that interest was, only that he was out there and a part of it.

“So I am known here,” Lloykiel sang. That was another thing she’d heard, that he sang instead of spoke. There was beauty in the sound and she did not begrudge him this even if she did find it passing strange.

“What do you want?”

“I have a question.” He paused and stretched his wings out, accepting some steaming liquid that her servant brought to him. “It is about your studies.”

“What do you know of them?

“Only what you claim.” He paused, mulling over the cup in his hand. “There is use for you, a call that will credit you, give you acceptance.”

“Really.” Even she could hear the disinterest in her voice.

“I tell you the truth,” Lloykiel smiled. “To the south of here, battle. Use what you have learned.”

He finished his beverage and left, toasting her briefly before going. She considered his words at length and finally decided that while he had been interesting, his message was not. She returned to her laboratory and her work, noting equations that would aid her in her quest for discovery. She lost track of time, ignoring the world around her completely until her servant ran into her room, ignoring all sense of decorum.

“Yes, what is it?” she demanded. He merely stared at her.

“The C-Coeecians,” stammered the man. “Jesam. They’ve broken past the southern border, a surprise raid. They’re nearly here. They aren’t far from here, you can see them in the distance without strain.”

Cursing under her breath, Wyrd slipped on her glove and went to the top of her tower, throwing a blanket around her shoulders. There was wind and the storm she had enjoyed before and just as her servant had told her there was an army of Coeecians chasing down a small group of her people. She studied the Coeecians with some passing interest, having never seen one before.

Where her people were orderly and stringent, the Coeecians were dirty and chaotic, a mess of lines and flesh. Not one of them was dressed like another and they charged forward with less sense than beasts, much of their flesh exposed, their weapons poorly made and rusted and dented. She had heard they had a religion andthat they believed in some sort of higher power, but she had scoffed that any human people could believe in something so infantile – but looking at them now, she would have believed them capable of any sort of idiocy.

She scowled as she noticed her people running towards her tower. They would expect her to shelter them, distracting her from her studies while the animals on their heels battered at her walls. Her own people would attempt some sort of defence and would try and fail to engage her in conversation. They would go through her things looks for weapons. They would go through her things. It was all too much of a bother for her to want to deal with.

Though the glove she had made had been meant for quiet weavings, there were other more blunt uses that she could put it to. She had used a base bit of knowledge to keep herself warm in the bath, but what she crafted allowed for her to magnify that power a hundredfold with a quickness that everyone else had told her was impossible. When she had tried to prove her discoveries they had called her a liar and accused her of trickery. Unsure how to deal with their accusations, she’d retreated to the home they had given her and locked herself in her laboratory, gotten back to work.

It was her fault. She should have known better.

But now, looking out and over the plains below her and the two ravening hordes that were charging her home, she sighed and realized that she would have to put her theories to pragmatic use. Destructive power had always been the preferred sign of the Vanir’s strength and she called on that power now, forcing the unseen forces that coursed through every living body into the wires in her glove, into the wood and the etchings she had carved into them. Silver and elm, that was her preference. The sigil attached to the glove began to spin, light and lightning spilling forth and carving a place in the storm.

– a web woven of her will reaching far beyond the skies and into the black sea that the world itself swam through – debris floated there, drawn by a power called gravity by some and love by others, a circle around the world of endless yearning – Veskur Wyrd took one of those bits of rock and ice, pulling upon it with her will, bringing it closer to the earth, pulling it to where those that wished to disturb her were coming – this is what was meant to be, had always been, and none could dispute the claim –

11840634_752889074821131_139674472_oShe heard their screams over the wind when the gift her will had summoned came into view. Some among the Coeecians, she assumed, would know that someone among the Vanir had to be calling upon such power. She saw some of them falter and look for some sign of whoever it was that had brought forth the approaching cataclysm, hoping to destroy the primitive techniques they would have employed instead of the more civilized approach she had created.

One of them realized what was happening. She saw him stare at her and point, he still too far distant for her to see anything else before the end claimed them all. Her chosen weapon smothered them, the impact knocking her from her own feet even at this distance. She rose and looked towards the point of impact, but the cloud of dust and snow following the wake of devastation knocked her down again. She hissed in irritation, both from the growing bruise on her thigh and knowing that her laboratory would have suffered from the blast and been torn into disarray. She managed to stand again eventually, her leg protesting as she looked out and over what had once been a fertile plain and was now a blasted valley.

The people of her nation had survived, caught on the edge of the blast. They had been knocked to the ground and looked battered, but none the worse for wear. They were all looking at her and she could see the awe on their faces and knew that they would gather their courage and one of their number would be chosen to come and speak with her.

More time would be lost as she ran through the same explanations and the same condescending idiocy. Growling, she stormed into her tower and screamed for her servant, his trembling presence finally coming clear to her.

“Go out to those imbeciles and tell them I am not accepting company at this time,” she hissed. “Give them whatever supplies they need and then send them on their way. If you have dire need me, I’ll be in my laboratory.”

He may have stumbled over a response; she was not certain, did not care and did not stay to listen. She howled when she entered the only room in her keep that was important and saw the mess she had made of things. Taking a deep breath, she considered the clutter. As bad as the mess was, it did not appear as if anything had been damaged and the time spent cleaning would still be less than the time it would have taken to deal with the siege that would have happened otherwise.

Muttering under her breath, she took the glove from her hand and started re-stacking every last detail that had fallen.

***

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

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Interview with Peter S. Beagle – Author of the Last Unicorn

Books & Writing, Heroes of the Living Myth, Interviews, Short Fictions, Showcase

March 10, 2015

Interview with Peter S. Beagle

Date: April 21, 2014

(Back in April of 2014, Aaron Golden and Gregory Milne were lucky enough to get a chance to sit down with legendary writer, Peter S. Beagle, and his agent, Conner Cochran. They sat down and talked for a couple of hours about everything surrounding the creation, loss, and claiming of the Last Unicorn, but, sadly, the sound file of the interview was damaged. A lot of effort was put into saving that file, and we finally managed to get it transcribed a couple of months ago. At the time, we sat down and wondered about when the best time to release it was, now that we’d had to delay the interview so long, and considering what a gift we thought this interview was, it made sense to us, for us to release it as a gift to you. So, without further ado…)   

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