Figo Jera had always seen the world for its light.
In his eyes, everything was beautiful. Everything had meaning. There were darker shades but they were perversions, not true things in and of themselves. Most of those shadows were outside Midgard and therefore unimportant in the greater scheme of things, but there were some darknesses that would leak into even the brightest day, little black veins that touched the light and stood un-banished. Figo had known the edges of a darkness like that, having even come to love her for what she was, but he knew that the danger of losing himself to that sort of monster was simply too great to be borne.
He had not seen Veskur Wyrd for a very long time.
A figure from his nightmares had returned – the madman Jesam. He had been Figo’s proof of evil and arrogance, a figure so consumed by solipsism that the rest of the world was nothing more than a toy for him to abuse and break. Figo himself had been such a toy, left bleeding and pleading. He didn’t like to think of it. Light should have saved him from that darkness but instead a greater darkness had come and taken away everything.
Figo had discussed that at length with Endrall, Farrell, and the other nobles that he kept in his closest circle. He threw parties for them, hosted events for them, took care of their troubles and listened to their problems – and if they did not do the same for him, well, perhaps he had no problems worthy of that name or they trusted his strength to overcome the things that they could not.
He was strong, he knew that. The fingers on his left hand twitched as the fabric of the gaurn chafed his skin. His levl was secured along his back, the dryw he had carried no more than a memory. He had seen the hated tool drowned, holding it underwater and leaving it to the tides. He had not wished to carry something so traitorous with him. Many of his soldiers had followed this practice, taking to wearing shield-gauntlets on their left forearms as another echo of their commander.
“You’ve become an icon,” Hekro had told him, laughing. “Just like me. The Golden Champion and the Rose Dragon. What a pair we make.” She shook her head and clasped his shoulder. He wondered how much of that admiration was truly his and how much was a side-effect of his association with the Lady Wyrd, of the Science she commanded and the tool on her hand. He hated that he could not explain that to anyone.
He’d seen Wyrd thrice since abandoning her all those decades ago. Once had been at a public function; the two of them had resumed communication briefly over something silly and unimportant, sharing fables with one another. Figo had mentioned a time and place where he could be found, expounding on those details, but he had never meant for the woman to come.
She had anyway, keeping to the background. She watched with wide eyes, nervous as a colt, keeping to the back of the trees and looking lost, torn, and hurt. She had tried to approach him only once but had stopped immediately when Figo took a step back. She’s stared a moment longer, shaking, then simply waved and left, holding herself.
Endrall had heard of that moment, had told him that the woman was not to be trusted, that she was a monster and a foulness that needed to be kept at arm’s length. Farrell further drove that point home and Figo knew that if anyone would know these things and hold these things that it would be the two of them. Especially Endrall, who loved the woman in a way that Figo had once shared but now wanted no part of.
The next had been at random, sometime after Deeam had ascended to the position of Njord. He had been out at the markets of House Fehu when he had seen her, walking alone and shaking. He had caught her eye and seen agony writ there, a loneliness that he could not put a name to. She had looked at him and recoiled, had turned on her heel and shambled away like a corpse caught on a string. He didn’t like to think of that encounter. He didn’t like to think of that encounter at all.
What if his every moment since meeting her had been a lie, something she had created? Endrall was right; she could not be trusted and neither could anything that happened around her. Maybe she had set the entire thing up with Jesam the first time around, just so that he would accept her into his life the way he had. She was vile. She was a monster. She was completely capable of undertaking the actions that Endrall accused her of. Figo knew better than anyone that Wyrd was capable of anything.
But the look of her those last two times; the fatigue, the sense of defeat and longing. Figo was not certain what to make of that. He sighed and looked at the note that lay on the table before him, lit by flickering light suspended in the air through the application of Coeecian trickery. Vanir science could do similar things. Were they really so different?
Figo, the note before him read, Lovely Figo. You were taken from me so long ago that I have trouble remembering you – your face, your touch, the look of defeat in your eyes. I hear you’ve become a Lord and a General, a leader of the forces I fight, but we both know that’s a delusion born of the arrogance you’ve surrounded yourself with. The truth is and always has been this: you are nothing more than a whore, nothing more than my toy to use and abuse as I see fit.
Your mistakes are many but I, in my generosity, can be forgiving. You have some understanding of the damage I am poised to inflict upon your people, having seen first hand the advantage I have built myself since assassinating your previous king and taking advantage of the ceremony surrounding the crowning of your new one. Believe me when I say that the victories you have suffered are as nothing compared to what I am even now prepared to claim.
I make you this offer, my most precious whore. Come to me of your own accord. I am not saying that I will halt my plans – I will not – but if you come home to me I will cease my attacks for seven full seasons. Your people will have time to catch their breath, to mourn their dead, and you will have won that time for them. Come to me, whore, as I have commanded you. If you do not, then by the next turn of the moon I will have wiped your people off the face of your world, and still, whore, still I will take you for my own and you will not like what I do to you then.
Or perhaps you will. We know how much you adored the things I did to you.
This is the last choice that I will ever allow you to make.
For I am as I always was: Jesam the First.
Figo read over the note once, twice. The Vanir were losing – Jesam the First was an imposter, clearly, trading on the name of an old hero of his people, but his strategies were good ones. The Vanir were a hardier people but not quite so fast. The Coeecians fought brutal battles, digging in trenches and fighting for every inch of land. They cared nothing for actually winning, it seemed, striking at settlements, at civilians, at supplies, at anything they could and then running away at the first sign of trouble.
When Jesam the First said that he would end the Vanir as a people, Figo believed him. He remembered the way the first Jesam had claimed him, had touched him and used him. He remembered the illnesses he had suffered, vomiting every morning with the taste of Jesam and Farrell in his mouth, the dull throbbing ache that had dimmed the light of his eyes and shaken his spine and legs. He knew that if Jesam claimed that he could do a thing that he fully believed that he was capable of doing it.
He walked the length and breadth of his soldiers, silently naming them as he went. Many of them rose as he walked past and he smiled at them but waved off any attempt at conversation – there was no one he wanted to talk to at that moment and his men were wise enough to respect his desire for solitude. He reached the edge of his camp and looked south, into the far wilds where the collected marble that the Coeecians laughably called cities sat, tall and imposing. He thought of Endrall and Veskur, of Farrell, of Jesam and Hekro.
How many of his decisions were his own? Wyrd had always told him that she wanted what was best for him, that she wanted him to be happy. She had once explained that she didn’t need to be in his life to win – all she needed was for him to smile, to be the light that she could never be. He looked at his men again and felt like the sun, each of them a planet that reflected the light and warmth of he himself. Had Wyrd done that, too? Hekro had once said that the sort of charisma that he possessed was an inborn talent, that he had shined of greatness from the very moment that the two of them had met.
Wyrd could change that sort of thing if she desired. Figo knew she could.
Silent, he walked back through the camp. There was a way for him to win if he only possessed the courage for it, a way for him to escape all doubt while saving the whole of the Vanir nation. This method would not require him to stand and it would free him from the pain of thought, of choice, the horror that came with being a man.
He pulled the gaurn off his left hand, laid it on the desk and looked at it. How much of himself he had poured into such a complex tool and how simple it looked, a heap of inert fabric without his will to guide it. He unstrapped the levl from his back and laid it down beside the gaurn, staring at it – these were symbols, he knew, things that he would never surrender were the choice his own.
Whatever happened now was all her fault.
It took him longer than he would have thought, using Science without the gaurn to ease the process. He completed the circuit required for sending a message, directing it to what was left of the Nauthiz Coven.
To you what are left, he wrote, I have received word from Jesam the First that he is poised to destroy the whole of the Vanir as a people and to claim Midgard for himself. I believe that he is capable of doing this but he has offered to stay his hand for seven full seasons if I turn myself over to him. I am going to do this – but I am leaving you the key to our people’s salvation.
I know that you and yours have been eager to study one of the gloves that the Lady Wyrd has crafted, to study the limits of the Ethcinos Sciences that she has tapped into. I am giving you that chance; I will hide mine in a place that only one among you will think to look. Though it has been designed to work only for me, I will leave you some of my blood. Perhaps, you will discover its secrets. This is my wish.
In return for my sacrifice and my end, I ask only that you discover the secret of making and copying Wyrd’s tool, that you pass that secret to the rest of the nobility and that the Vanir, as one, stand strong against the Coeecian horde that threatens us and has now claimed me.
Endrall Sahr will be upset by my absence, as will Hekro Gherlid. I ask that you show this message to them, that they might know that I was thinking of them and that I loved them both for everything they had given me, everything that they meant to me. Tell them both that this is not their fault. Tell them both that this is my choice, made freely and of my own will.
He signed the message and sent it along with the note that Jesam the First had sent him, taking the glove with him when he snuck out of the camp but leaving his levl behind. His soldiers would find it. He hoped they would understand. His sentries stood to attention but they were looking without, not within – no one abandoned the Band of the Rose Dragon, all of them loyal to a fault. He felt a momentary twinge of guilt for abandoning them in this manner, but he knew they would all die otherwise.
Alone, out in the dark, he looked to the night sky and set the moon as his marker. He did not have much time. Shrugging out of the noble robes and leaving them and his birthright behind, he moved swiftly into the darkness of night and circumstance, the light within him guttering out with each step until there was no sign of anything other than the eternal black.