Love is War 03:00:03:09
– 03:00:03:09 –
Iataad taohif aamgae. None may escape.
Those were the words her House had been built upon. The very first Vanir to bear their name had looked up at the stars and pointed, she had been told, and uttered those words. Years later they would hear them echoed among other nations, among the Swann, the Devinii, the Darroken. There was some ancient truth wrapped in those syllables, in that meaning. None may escape. She had sought to escape the prophecy of those words with her genius and her tools but now Veskur Wyrd stood alone and afraid, naked and revealed on the top of her tower. She had been undone, destroyed, her every tenant proved a lie by what the world had become around her.
Wind and storm and fire whipped the lands surrounding her home. Her nameless manservant had finally proven to be no fool; he had abandoned her, leaving her to her fate. His doing so had saved her the task of having to tell him to leave before the price of all that she had done came to claim her. No one else should have to pay for the consequences of her actions and yet so many had.
Her quiet valley, her refuge and solitude and all that she had ever wanted had been blasted beyond all recognition. There was no sign of the peace she had tried to cultivate. Soldiers and barbarians died all around her, their final screams waging war with the clash of thunder and steel, rain turning red as it met the sea of death that lapped at her tower. Hekro was out there, Risue, Jesam the first. Every hero of two nations had come here, at this moment, to take from her a power that they could not hope to understand.
Some among the Vanir wore gaurn on their left hands, tools that she had not made and had never meant to share. Jesam the First knew them for what they were but not how they worked. The Coeecians came to claim the Ethcinos Sciences for themselves while the Vanir came only to take the rest of what they thought she knew.
They none of them knew nothing.
Sometimes the price of knowledge was knowing.
Out there, somewhere, was Figo, lovely and light Figo Jera. The Rose Dragon. Who had loved him like she had? Who had cherished him, respected him, cared for him? No one. Thea had told her how he had given himself to Jesam the First, convinced that his sacrifice was noble. Veskur saw only the price of it: a holy radiance swallowed by darkness. She had told him again and again that he was perfect but he had always blushed and muttered dismissals of her description, claiming that no one could ever hope to reach the tiers she judged him worthy of.
“You idiot!” she screamed, her words echoing off the mountains and reaching the ears of the armies that even now waged war on her small home, Vanir and Coeecians thinking to wrest her knowledge from her while trying to kill one another. “You fool! I called you perfect because you were perfect even in your imperfection! You were the light that softened the edges of the darkness that I am, the joy that tempered the sorrow that I was so lost in that I could not even recognize it! I would have done anything for you, anything for you, anything for you, and this is where we are and this is what I have wrought! I miss you, miss you with everything that I will ever be, and there will never be another word for me, not from you, never from you!”
Thunder smashed the world around her keep as she slashed the very weavings of Creation itself with her gaurn, the nimbus that surrounded her tool burning with the intensity of a thousand suns and rendering the atrocity that had consumed her world in monochromatic silhouettes, either red or white or black. There was no mixture of color as two nations went to war with one another and with her, but as long as her tower stood, as long as she could keep herself in check, as long as she didn’t catch sight of the ones who had helped her become what she now was, it would not get any worse.
She weaved atop the stones of her keep, reeling like a drunk above the riot below her. She balanced herself on the battlements, staring down, counting the heroes that held their own: Hekro, Jesam, Risue, Leovi, Janwae, Darco. She knew they would fight until not one of their number was left, their clumsy groping violence as nothing compared to the horror she could unleash at any time, at any moment, if only she could find the will to do so.
Endrall Sahr would be out there somewhere. Ygg Sotaas. Possibly even Deeam Njiord and his fabled ahmr, smashing skull and heart with long arching swings, the deep baritone of his voice expressing only hatred.
Did it matter who won, so far as she was concerned?
Sotaas had told her of the rumors Endrall had spread above and beyond the taking of her name, knew that between her inherent strangeness and Endrall’s charisma that no one down there was fighting with her interests in mind; the entirety of the horror playing out below her was an action taken utterly without love.
She knelt, coated in a fine blanket of rain, clutching to the cold rock that made up her home as screams echoed throughout the world around her. She remembered Figo, how soft he was, how gentle, how kind. Veskur believed that he had been everything good and pure in the world but he was gone now, given up, driven to self-destruction by forces that she herself had crafted. She was responsible. She was accountable. The skeletal fingers of death that gripped the plains below her had been summoned by her, by the arrogance of her Science.
Perhaps, she thought, if she had been more careful or more subtle it would not have come to this. Perhaps if she had held herself in check instead of giving voice to her every wild imagining she would not have inflicted this final doom upon an undeserving world. Sotaas didn’t deserve this, or Hekro, or Risue, or even Endrall. And Figo, lovely lost Figo, well, the more Veskur thought about it the more she came to understand. She didn’t need Figo in her life, or Endrall, or any of them. She had lived alone and had been happy alone. She should have returned to her solitude. Instead, she had tried to weave herself into the lives of threads that were never meant to bear her weight.
She could fix it. With the power she could shape with her left hand she could fix all of it. She saw the plan unfold before her, the length of time it would take. She would have to remove herself from the equation but she wanted to do that anyway; she no longer wanted to be, to exist, to remember. All she wanted was quiet and emptiness. There was a place for her. Mathemagically speaking, there was a place that she could go that no one would ever be able to follow, another trick Sotaas had caught in her equations that she would have never noticed but had followed to finality.
Veskur Wyrd didn’t need to be a part of anything to win. All she needed to claim victory was for the people she cared about to be happy and she had never been able to view herself as a person.
She stood, brushing water from her shoulders, raindrops lost in the horror that painted itself below her, a landscape of entrails and screaming. No arrows were fired upon her, no one wanting to risk losing what they thought they were here to claim. She looked down upon them and felt an awful wrath set root in her heart, an anger that could never be undone, for upon standing she could see Endrall Sahr.
He stood in the midst of the carnage, walking towards her keep with a tingling disregard for all those that fell around him. He carved signs into the air with his gaurn, keeping himself removed from the conflict even as he moved through it, untouched and regal and all the more inhuman for doing so. She recognized him then, the true face that lay behind his beauty – a sadistic solipsist who hid behind the veneer of the humanitarian, the weapon crafted and honed for a heart’s battlefield by a bitter and childish father.
She should have been wiser. She should have known him for what he was.
“I trusted you!” she cried, the words torn from somewhere deep inside her, echoing down along the corridors of broken steel and shattered flesh. Endrall looked up at her, not even breaking stride.
“Then why did you leave?”
“You left me, remember?” Veskur screamed. “You left me! You used me as an emotional crutch and insulted me and insulted me and insulted me and then you got angry at me for being hurt, again, and you stormed out on me! I had to chase you down, to give you back your things!”
“You stopped speaking to me!” Endrall shrieked. “You replaced me and with what? Nothing? You stopped speaking to me without a word!”
Veskur stared down at the battlefield. Something broke in her, something that had been holding back the most terrible of whirlwinds. She slashed at the air, calling upon names and powers that she had only theorized but had never bothered to prove.
All of them answered her, all of them came at her word, and when she directed this collection of things that should not be into the world around her they hammered every soldier of two nations with an unthinkable onslaught, driving everyone to the ground until only she and Endrall were standing.
The energies she had called upon tore her skin and boiled her blood. Her world was agony but still she stood as those same energies tore at the fundamental laws of physics that held her together and scarred the crucible of her mind. She forced her will into her gaurn and rewrote everything that had ever been or could ever be – it was her destiny to be here and now, her destiny to have this conversation, and if it hadn’t been before it was now and it always would be.
More energies were called upon, more names. Endrall tried to shield himself from her wrath and maintained the structure of his poor Science. She might have been able to smash it but did not care to, instead wrapping her will around his and bringing him to her, dropping him on the roof of her keep so that they could stand facing one another.
“I thought that was an okay thing to do,” she whispered, releasing him.
“Why would you think that?” he spat, shaking, picking himself up on hands and knees.
“Someone told me it was okay.”
“That person was wrong.”
“That person was you!” Veskur cried. “That person was you! What makes it alright for you to treat me like that and wrong for you to suffer as I did? What makes it okay for you to hurt me, to dismiss me, to treat me like that? Are you even conscious of the injury and insult that you offer or is that behavior a fundamental aspect of the person you’ve become? Were you always like this? Did I just not see it or did I help twist you into this?
“Look around us, healer. Look at the world as we have made it, you and I in all our towering arrogance! Look what we have wrought and tell me that either of us could have ever been in the right!”
“You were wrong,” Endrall said, standing. “You were wrong. You were arrogant. This, this mess, this is what you made or allowed to be made. I didn’t make it and didn’t approve of it. This is always and ever your fault, just as everything is in your life is. All the miseries of Figo, all the miseries of me and of Sotaas, all of them are your fault. You could have made them better. You could have made this world better but you chose to make things this way and nothing you can do will change that now. You tried to make us all small. You wanted us to crawl before you, as if you were some giant or something worthy of love. You’re a monster. A process. Unworthy of trust and we were never friends.”
Veskur stared at her love for a moment and then stumbled back, laughing with a mania that frightened even her.
“Hypocrite,” she wheezed, spreading her arms. “Charlatan. You think I’m not aware of my sins? You think I don’t know what I’ve done, the mistakes I’ve made? You think I don’t know that every time death claims someone below us it’s my fault? I know this. I know what I have wrought. My choice not to decide has brought us here, but you… you’re every bit the monster I am. The only difference is that you don’t acknowledge the pain you cause. You’re not a person. You’re a weapon.”
“Coming from anyone else,” Endrall slurred, narrowing his eyes, “I might take that seriously.”
Veskur clawed at the air with her left hand, shattering every protection Endrall could think of with a fraction of the power that was hers to command. Energies rippled along her flesh, tearing it open, her blood bubbling out in steaming rivers, but still she stood straight and tall, a creature torn from the very fabric of nightmare.
A lifetime of anger at the ridicule and scorn she had suffered pushed its way to the surface, crawling out with talons tempered by the very fires of Hell. She was becoming something else, something both more and less than human, something indescribable to her shattered mind.
Endrall fell back, warding her fury off with his right hand, the gaurn on his left weaving patterns that rewove his wounded skin as soon as the backlash of Veskur tore it open. He struggled to do it, Veskur knew, and she could see the terror in his eyes – the knowledge that all the damage that he was suffering, the damage that he could only just repair, was only incidental. She smiled, feeling her body flaking into ash and held steady only by the Ethcinos Sciences that she knew better than anyone else could ever hope to.
She would not could not waver, not now.
A cry cut through the agonized orchestra below them, a single sound that caught the attention of them both. Figo Jera was down there, tied to the wrist of Jesam the First and held like an animal, his naked body covered in welts and scars. Veskur felt herself trembling to see the noblest man she ever knew reduced to such a whimpering state, felt her knees buckle, her right hand falling limply to her side.
Her left hand, however, cut her pain into the fabric of everything that could ever be.
Mountains trembled, brought low by fates they had not known moments before. Metal found flesh and released a whole new choir of screams, guided by destinies that had not been meant for them seconds before. As Veskur gave voice to the agony of a lifetime the world narrowed, the very idea of possibility and choice narrowed and thinned and culled until death hung in the air as a bone white haze, an entire field suffering for the unloved blame that Veskur had accepted as her own.
This was the world shifting, the monochromatic figures shifting color even as they watched. The gore that coated the ground fell white as snow, the Vanir bathed in the blood of their enemies, the Coeecian horde blacker than Endrall’s withered and unused heart. Veskur watched, stunned at the result of her power, and it took a few moments for agony to settle into her shoulder.
She turned and saw Endrall towering over her, a dryw in hand, the serrated double-edge of the weapon tearing into her flesh. She watched her own blood fall, covering her arm and shoulder, flecks of it painting Endrall. She stared at it in horrified wonder, not even wanting that part of her to touch the awfulness that she now knew him to be.
“I trusted you,” Veskur whispered, her voice cracking. “I trusted you and every word you said to me. I tried to get through to you, to let you know, and all you ever gave me was cruelty.” He struck her, sent her spiraling to the cold stone. She lay limp and dying on the ground, staring up at him as he panted above her, his eyes narrowing as he glared.
“How many times do we have to tell you?” He struck her with all his strength. “How many times did Figo tell you? Thea? River? Myself? How many times do we have to tell you that your feelings don’t matter, that you’re an arrogant and unworthy thing, a process more than a person, a concept more than an individual? You don’t matter and you never did! Any usefulness you might have had has long since passed. Die, Veskur. It’s all you have to do now.” He struck her at the end of every question, every statement, struck her until her face was as bruised as her soul.
She mumbled something, unable to make sense of the words that struggled to be heard through the blood she was drowning in.
“What was that?” Endrall asked, taunting. She glared up at him, left hand weaving furiously. It was not her destiny to die here. It was not her choice and death could only take her at a time of her choosing so long as she wore the gaurn on her hand.
“I said,” Veskur mumbled, catching Endrall’s wrist as his hand came for her again, “I said what a fool I am.”
She grabbed her levl and dryw as she kicked him off her and rose up, holding the weapons in a clumsy stance as she faced down the only enemy in her life that would ever matter. Endrall held a dryw in his left hand, keeping his right free to use the Ethcinos Science that she had given him. He was so much more graceful than she was, accepted by his House, trained to defend himself somewhat – but she was a power above and beyond anything that Midgard or any other nation would ever know.
“All this,” Veskur said, knowing that it was Endrall’s destiny to hear the words, “All this is because of you. I blame your father for twisting the person you should be into the person you are, and me for letting you define me. I gave you everything I had to give, everything you wanted, but you always wanted more. You were destroying me, unmaking me, turning me into something that I did not recognize and did not choose and I let you. Would you have been happy, then, with me dead? Is that why you brought two armies to my doorstep?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Endrall answered. The dryw in his hand was steady.
“I will try to end this quickly,” Veskur said, ignoring him. “I will try to set you free.”
She lunged for him, the damage her body had suffered not slowing her down in the slightest, but Endrall was so very fast and so very graceful. Every time she cut his flesh he used the gift she had given him to heal his hurt, mocking her all the while. He cut her right hand, stabbed through the back of the palm and kicked the levl away when she dropped it. She threw the dryw in her left hand at him but he casually batted it out of the way, falling back a step as he did so.
She did not have so much time to act in given the space between them.
Carving the air with her left hand, she began to call upon powers that would stagger even Endrall Sahr – but then he stabbed her, driving the dryw in his right hand into and through her ribs. Blood passed her lips, boiling into steam as it touched the air. He pushed her to her knees, laughing, pressing his boot against her heart to free the blade. She crumbled to the ground, whimpering as he put his boot to her, dancing up and down her frail fracturing body.
“Do you have anything else to tell me?” Endrall asked. “I can feel you dying. You don’t have much longer, so if you have any last words now is the time to speak them.”
A whisper lost to the rain passed her lips, a weak rattle before dying.
“What was that?” Endrall asked, voice cold and sure as he leaned down, holding his ear just above her lips. “I can’t hear you.” Veskur coughed weakly, cleared her throat, fighting to hold onto an ever dwindling consciousness.
“I still love you.”
Endrall fell back as Veskur pushed herself onto her stomach, pushed herself up on shaking elbows, forced her knees underneath her. Coughing tore her throat, spasms wracked her decaying body, but still she held herself, still forced her neck to turn so she could look up at him from hands and knees. He kicked her in the gut and she curled into herself, kicked her again until she fell onto her back and lay still.
“Why won’t you die?!” Endrall shrieked. “It’s the only thing left for you! There’s nothing else! Nothing else! You’re weak and pathetic and disgusting, a shell of a person, a rotten concept that corrupts and weakens and degrades with your presence! Filthy, disgusting whore! That’s all you are and all you’ll ever be!”
He stood over her, triumphant, feeling her heart falter and break, the pulse fading down to nothing. The woman below her was dead, a memory, and though a part of Endrall missed her and mourned her passing, he could not help but rejoice at the death of everything he knew was evil in the world.
“Enough.” The word came from below him, the steady voice that spoke it impossible. “Enough.” A force he could not name pushed him off the corpse of his enemy. He looked down and saw her eyes flutter open, her gaze boring into his soul.
“You can’t be alive!” Endrall cried. “I felt you die! I felt you die!”
“I don’t believe you.” Veskur picked herself up off the ground, the gaping wounds carved into her ignored. He could see tendons move within her, exposed muscle stretching with her every motion. “It is not my destiny or fate to die here. This world is what I choose it to be and I do not choose your reality. You think this is a fevered dream, a last ditch effort, and I know that because I put that thought in your head – you were fated to think it just now. Destiny and fate, the push and pull of choice and circumstance, are mine to do with as I will. I tried to play by your rules, I did, but I am done with your game.”
He wove shields around himself, drawing on the Ethcinos Science, but Wyrd broke his circuits, shattered his knowing, her will washing over the battlefield around them and crippling all those it touched. She rose into the air, eyes glowing with eldriss energies, her left hand burning with the fury of ten thousand suns. He screamed as his eyes broke, outlined images burned into his brain one after another as the world shifted, changed, broke apart and was remade as Wyrd desired it to be.
The stone they stood upon shattered, broken into dust that somehow held his weight for the span of a rapid heartbeat. He counted down those seconds, each as long as a lifetime before he fell through that dust towards the ground that waited to claim him. His bones broke as he struck the earth. There was no place to hide or flee from Wyrd, not now, not as she was. Her fury washed over the assembled nations and Endrall could only watch in horror as those around her were picked apart, skin and sinew washing away in a wisping cloud of white ash. Only the two of them remained untouched and whole and Endrall knew that this was not a mark of mercy.
He coughed up blood, forced himself to roll over as ribs strained and fractured under from the simple motion. Breathing hurt; his lungs were filling with blood, his fluids leaking out of holes in his body that should never have been. The woman watched him, still standing on the dust above him, her eyes alight with that same terrible energy, steam catching and reflecting the edges of her madness. His left arm twitched. He was too hurt to call upon the Ethcinos but still strong enough to use baser sciences to heal himself. He wept as his bones set and his flesh mended, whimpering as he rolled onto his stomach, forced his knees underneath him.
Calling upon the Ethcinos, he willed that energy into him, found a place where he was whole and unhurt and pulled that self to him, massacring even the possibility of anything else being there. He opened his eyes as phantom pains still assailed him, his real hurts now nothing more than dim flickering ghosts.
Veskur had reached the ground, now standing in a whirlwind of human ash. The rags she wore whipped around her, revealing flesh that was constantly being pulled apart and sewn together by the energies she had invited into herself. She stalked towards him, kicking up little clouds that had once been women and men, driving her foot into his chest as he struggled to stand, driving her heel into his heart as he lay on the ground and tried to remember how to breathe.
“Veskur,” gasped Endrall, trembling, looking up at the woman.
“There are no names between us,” the woman whispered. “The dead have no names.”
“You and me,” he said, tasting iron on his lips, “We can fix this. We can make it so it never was.”
“But this is what you wanted, isn’t it?” The woman looked around them, at the blasted landscape that had once been her refuge. Snow mixed with ash until it was impossible to tell the difference between them, coating ground and sky. She trembled, her every living moment an agony that she could not describe, mind-shattering and yet still not quite enough to dull the terrible ache this man had placed inside her. “Don’t you know that this is war?”
He quivered as she knelt down on top of him, straddling him, her fingers reaching for his flesh. He screamed and tried to buck her off him but it was no good – he knew with an awful clarity that it was not his destiny to escape her in such a way, that it was his fate to falter and die underneath her.
A circle of royal sigils burned into the snow around them.
Veskur looked up and screamed as searing light lanced into her from eight directions, thrusting through her skin and bone, holding her aloft. Endrall heard chanting – why had he not heard that chanting before? – and looked into the wilds. Freya, the Nauthiz Coven, Thea, and River were all standing there, using Science to bind the Good Lady and hold her in place, to inflict unspeakable pain upon her. It was only just holding her, their efforts, but Endrall knew that so long as those figures stood that Veskur would never break free, would never use her power before they ripped her apart.
He pulled himself to his feet, used his Ethcinos to finish healing himself. He walked around her in a circle, watching her suffer and smiling, taunting her with whispers that no one else would ever hear. He was so very careful not to touch the light of the sigils that were holding her, not wanting to risk her getting free, knowing what she could do with even a moment of liberty.
“You’re finished,” Endrall whispered, low and throaty, a tone meant for lovers. “It’s over and you’re done. Whatever plan lies within your heart will die with you.” She shuddered, her head lolling, and he saw that she was smiling down at him through narrowed eyes.
She flicked her fingers and there was a flash. For a moment, just a single moment, Endrall thought he saw a series of spiraling corridors that circled off into the infinite, winding corridors lacking any sense of floor or ceiling that nonetheless went off into forever. He saw as some of the heavy doors that were held in the oldest stones light into black flame and heard a terrible wailing from each, uncounted lives ending as each portal flickered and died.
The flash brightened as Veskur’s smile grew, the light becoming blinding.
When Endrall could see again the vision and the Good Lady were gone.
“Are you alright?”
Endrall looked up, realizing that he must have fallen in the Lady’s final moments. Thea was offering him a hand and he took it, letting the smaller man haul him up from the corpse-dust that had pooled around him.
“She’s gone,” Thea nodded, looking around. “She was driven insane and she had to be put down. I came up with the method of doing it, the Coven putting together the Sciences that would have to be enacted. A process for holding, a process for pain, a process to smother her actions, a process to destroy her, a process to banish her into a plain of infinite possibilities from which she will never escape.”
“You sent her to Yggdrasil?” Endrall asked, looking at Thea in horror. “Do you know what you’ve done?”
“I’ve cleaned up your mess,” Thea hissed. “She was perfect and you ruined her. Don’t tell me that you didn’t. She made the mistake of loving you over me and look what you did, what you brought her to. You’re a whore, a spoiled stupid whore who thinks only of himself. Do you have any idea what we lost in her, in her home?”
“Nothing of import,” replied the eldest of the Verra Coven. “We know how to make the tools of her Science, the gaurn, all of it. Soon all our nobles will have them and then where will the Coeecians be? Let them have a hundred Jesams, a thousand, and still we will meet them.”
“We should let her Science die with her.” River spat at the place where the Good Lady had vanished. “There are other ways, less profane.”
“You’re just angry because she never slept with you.”
“You never rode her, either.”
Endrall turned from their bickering, looking at the spot where his would-be lover had vanished. No one living knew Veskur Wyrd so well as he and that smile, that final smile, haunted him. The power and qualities that Veskur had known, Endrall knew, would not limit her from within a place that only she had mapped and theorized, a place that only she believed in.
The certainty of those around them was a lie.
The Ethcinos War had only just begun.
It’s over. The novella is done, and the novels still loom in the future. If you want something more to read, why not click here and try my novel? If you like the artwork, why not go and thank Meghan Duffy at duffyartdesign.com? She’s cool people. I’d like to dedicate this to her, AJ, Andy, Claire, Greg, Andrew, Kathleen, and Jaime. Thanks for reading, hope you liked it.
Living Myth Magazine
Originally Published: APRIL 21, 2017