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442

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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446

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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423

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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509

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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444

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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491

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:09

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

October 9, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:01:09 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is War 09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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489

Fiction – Love is War 03:00:01:08

Books & Writing, Culture, Projects, Short Fictions

October 2, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:01:08 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is War 08

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

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

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

***

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

 

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466

Love is War – 03:00:01:07

Books & Writing, Culture, Short Fictions

September 26, 2015

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

***

Click here to read previous entry.

***

– 03:00:01:07 –

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

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

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

At her word he could almost believe himself strong.

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

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

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

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

My beautiful, she would whisper, cradling him.

Your beautiful, he would agree.

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

How could he do anything less?

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

He never did.

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

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

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

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

“Is she really that good?”

“Better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Coeecians broke and ran.

Something slammed into his spine.

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

Nicu was nowhere to be seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He did as instructed. Moments later he was asleep.

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

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

And, like Veskur, Endrall was alone.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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427

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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494

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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