Robert Fortini

The Gods of War


Severin stood at the entrance of the labyrinthine fastness of Rein’s demesne. He peered into the blackness framed by the grey, rough hewn stone, and weighed his resolve to enter. He had no wish to resurrect the ancient conflict, but there was something that lay nascent, but beyond the sphere of his senses; something that seemed to demand his intervention. It crept into his sub-conscious like the smell of rotting meat, a scent that intrudes slowly and worries the mind indefinitely before it’s realized for what it is.

                Severin sighed in trepidation and indecision, but in the end he strode forward and rapped his impervious knuckles on the cold, hard stone. Three rumbling reports issued from his blows; a sound that was sure to travel miles. Severin sent his perceptions out into the dark maze of tunnels, and settled in to wait. He was unsure of whether his twin would even receive him, and in the back of his mind he thought of the dark times when their conflict had raged unchecked. A shadow seemed to pass over the sun, sucking the warmth from the afternoon, and Severin shivered despite the fact that no cold could ever touch his flesh…not without his leave, at least.

                His timeless face settled into a mask of boredom (an expression that was, of late, all too familiar), and the thought of leaving began to trickle into his forward thoughts. What did he owe his mad brother anyway-endless source of sorrow that he was? The fool had brought all their former glory to wreck and ruin! Why am I here, worried over some feeling of disquiet? Rein is disquiet.  But these musings steered clear of an actual remembrance of the dark times. If he were to relax and let the memories come, there would be no escape from an eon of holocaust. As it was, at the hint of remembering those awful times, a sharp pressure radiated from Severin’s tall form and flattened the stunted evergreens and ratty flowers bordering the opening in the mountainside.

                But something sensed form far away brought his control back into sharp focus and stopped him from venting his titanic rage. A being, from the feel of it one of his brother’s was approaching along the tunnel. Severin readied himself, suddenly cautious, expecting some devious trick. He was not physically afraid, nothing could threaten his immortal life, yet conflict with Rein had proven costly in the past.

                In time a quiet foot-fall could be heard, and soon a shadowed shape stood trembling before the in-thrusting shaft of noon sun that infiltrated the steeply diving tunnel. The creature was large: not tall, but thick and heavy. Severin sensed it weighted at least six hundred pounds. It was bi-pedal, its thick legs ending in flat round pads. It had thick arms that ended in hands that looked capable of crushing stone. It was covered in a thick, leathery hide that was colored a brilliant sky-blue at the extremities fading to a midnight black by mid-limb. Its head was hairless, topped by tall conical ears. Its eyes were redly luminous and had no pupils, and its wide mouth was set with shiny black fangs that dripped some caustic poison. Severin could see it jump and spit, dancing as it dripped onto the hard stone of the tunnel floor.

                “Do you know me, Door Warden?”  Severin asked tightly. His keen vision pierced the darkness with ease, and he studied the creature’s features, looking for some sign of treachery in its alien face.

                “You are my Lord’s brother, Sir,” the creature spoke in a voice like crushed rock. “You are my Lord’s enemy, Sir,” the creature said more softly, as if telling a secret.

                Severin was instantly intrigued, and his curiosity led him to riffle through the creature’s mind. He sensed fear, and hope, and much anger-the anger of the forsaken, in this being’s mind. He also gleaned a name. “I have come to see my brother, Surn,” Severin said softly, trying to put a reassuring note in his voice. “Will you take me to him?”

                Surn strode forward, his footsteps amazingly light considering his mass, and stopped in the mouth of the tunnel. The creature squinted its obviously dark adapted eyes, but continued to watch Severin intently. There seemed to be some kind of crisis within Surn, and Severin was tempted to probe the creature’s mind in depth. But, he held his curiosity in check, preferring to savor the slow unfolding of events.

                “My people are in a bad way, Sir,” Surn said haltingly. “We toil in the tunnels; we work as the Master has commanded. We work without complaint. That is our lot, and we accept this. It is why we were made…,” here Surn faltered as if what he had to say next was somehow cataclysmic in its scope.

                Severin was so curious; he had all but forgotten his reason for being here. “Please, go on,” he urged warmly. And with a small portion of his power, he sent out a reassuring wave of feelings at the creature.

                “Well, Sir,” Surn continued, his rocky voice somehow sounded fear stricken. “My people serve our Maker well, and in the beginning, he -the Master I mean- he took care of us,” Surn rumbled. “But, lately, these last few eons, he’s all but forgotten us poor delvers,” here a bit of resentment flavored Surn’s voice and the fear was swept away. “It just seems to me, Sir, that when one creates something, one owes a certain responsibility to one’s creations, yes?”

                Severin did not hesitate in his answer. “Absolutely, Surn. Assuredly, a creator has ties to the creation-a creator is morally bound to take responsibility.”

                Surn sighed, a sound reminiscent of steam venting in some deep, subterranean place. It was a sound of monumental pressure being eased. “Will you help us, Sir?” he asked in a quavering voice. “I will happily guide you to my Maker, even though to do so will surely mean my death, so long as you, Sir, will help my people.”

                Severin smiled sadly. “Surn, I will help your people however I may. Only, I can’t begin to chart the course of my brother’s whims.” Severin spread his arms and sent forth hopeful emotions. “I will remind my brother of his obligations to his creations, and if he does not recognize his debts, I will ask him to transfer stewardship of your people to me.”

                Surn took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and nodded his heavy head. “Then let us go forth into the labyrinth,” he said eagerly, “my Lord awaits us in his creatorium, where he has been sequestered these two eons.”

                Severin followed Surn into the inky blackness of the subterranean complex, and though the darkness could not confound Severin’s godly gaze, the twisting tunnels were created with a powerful enchantment, wrought by his brother Rein, and without the aid of Surn, he would have wandered long and convoluted paths until he was forced to use his own power to break the spell. But, that would have been a violation of the treaty he and Rein had hammered out after the long holocaust of their epic battles. It would have ruined a fragile and necessary peace.

                The tunnels were bleak, dark, and filthy. And Surn’s footfalls sent up thick black clouds of dust that filled the air with the acrid scent of disintegrated rock. But, the dust could not alight on Severin’s white robes; it could find no purchase with which to bite his lungs. He was immune to such mundane discomforts. But, there was another affect of this bleak place that he did find discomfiting; it was the fact that his brother had chosen a filthy hole blasted out of the very rock of the firmament as his home. This choice spoke of a mindset that had long ago eschewed aesthetics for harsh utilitarianism; it was a choice that spoke to Severin of an attenuation of all other things so that a tremendous amount of energy could be focused onto one, all consuming, idea. It was a choice that whispered of madness. And Severin could hear the echoes of his brother’s febrile thoughts oozing from the walls of this place like a foul effluvium.

                Surn led Severin through countless twisting tunnels, through broad galleries clotted with darkness and still, stagnant air, over narrow bridges of bedrock spanning broad gulfs whose lightless depths met the center of the firmament. All throughout this realm of darkness, side passages and steep stairways branched off from the main tunnel and led to nowhere. Their progress was halting and hindered as they made their way through the maze, as if they walked the convoluted surface of a diseased mind.

                And Severin could see the remains of his brother’s careless works: half finished projects left to molder in the dust and darkness, like the forgotten stillborn progeny of insanity incarnate, lay littered in recesses along the way –half created beings whose twisted forms conveyed a purpose and meaning that Severin could not even begin to guess at. It was a macabre museum of twisted, rotten organic sculpture that brought a cold sweat to Severin’s forehead.

                “I fear, Surn, that my promise to you may have been…premature,” Severin breathed in a whisper, as if the sepulchral shock of his brother’s realm had robbed him of his voice. “This place is the dustbin of a diseased mind.”

                Surn stopped and turned, and Severin could read the body language of dejection. “I have known no other master. If he is mad as you say he is, then all is lost for the delvers.”

                “I will do what I can,” Severin sighed. “It may be that my brother is not beyond all help.”

                Surn studied the god’s face for a moment before sighing in his tired way and turning to follow the twisting tunnels of Rein’s demesne. Severin followed along with disquiet growing in his heart like a gathering storm.

                Soon they came to a stretch of tunnel that ceased its downward plunge. The worked stone ended at a line of demarcation that appeared with a startling suddenness, as if a new realm had been reached. On one side was the familiar, rough hewn stone of the tunnels: dark, dusty, and smelling of ancient, acrid bitterness-and on the other was a tunnel contained in stone that had been polished to perfection, refined to a mirrored surface that glowed with an inner light of cold, pale blue. This was stone that had been worked by Rein himself, and in its chill, glassy surface, Severin could see the monstrous will of his brother: a will that had always been bent upon perfection, accepting nothing else, no matter the cost.

                “You need come no further, Surn,” he said, noticing the growing anxiety of his guide. “I can see that the enchantment ends here, and so I can find my own way.”

                Surn nodded with obvious relief. “I will await you here, Sir,” he said in a measured tone. “I wish you luck.”

                Severin grinned wryly. “I’ve faced him before, you know,” he laughed, patting the delver lightly on his massive shoulder. Surn said something else, but Severin did not hear him, all his concentration was focused now on his brother. He could feel him ahead, burning with a towering rage because he was aware that his enemy was trespassing in his realm. As Severin strode onto the pristine stonework of his brother’s private hallway, he could feel Rein’s grim readiness for conflict.

                *********************************************************************

                Rein stood as if transfixed. His arms were crossed over his powerful chest, his hands hidden in the sleeves of his shimmering chromatic robe. His clear, golden eyes burned within his flawless face like windows onto a soul in the throes of immolation, and for what was almost an eternity of mortal time, he drank in the lines of her beauty.

                She stood, motionless because he had not yet given her life, on the raised dais he had prepared for her, her perfect form casting the rest of the redly glowing creatorium into base shadow. Her flowing garnet hair cascaded down upon her lace-clad shoulders, her pale green-tinged cheeks rising in gentle planes to her piercing cerulean eyes. She was the masterwork of his almost limitless power, and as he gazed upon her perfection, he felt the burning lava- flow of desire fill his mind with a sort of madness: there was fear there too, a fear that he dared not give form to from thought, lest his hated rival come at last and lay waste the nexus of his immortal desires.

                They had destroyed much, the two of them, during their endless warring, and she had been the most painful casualty of all. Rein broke off this train of thought with a long practiced mental effort, and found himself standing rigid, arms thrust out to his sides as if he were suffering under the sway of a convulsion. With a growl, he thrust back the memories, fought back the hatred and rage. He had found his answer; he had shaped it from the very stuff of the firmament with the puissance of his will and the eternal desire of his heart.

                With a flick of a thought, Rein illuminated the creatorium to an almost painful brightness, not because he couldn’t see clearly (there was no darkness that could thwart his eyes), but because it was time. Now was the right moment, he could feel it. The very stones under his feet (salvaged from the firmament created by the Old Gods) seemed to thrum and vibrate, urging him on. “At last,” his clear voice, a voice that had ushered into existence whole universes of life, intoned forcefully, “It is time!

                Just then, as if in answer to his call, three loud, rumbling reports boomed through the bedrock. Rein knew instantly what those powerful thumps meant: his hated brother had come at last. Rein’s perfect visage fell into a mask of rage and incredulity.

                “What insane fate is this?” he cried, his shrill anger loosing small stones from the ceiling that clattered around him. “He knows! By all that is cursed, he knows!”

                But Rein’s rage was short lived. In a flashing instant, his face bloomed from incandescent outrage to crafty hopefulness.  “He can’t know,” he assured himself with certainty. “Not the whole of it anyway. He may have a feeling, but…,” With a cutting motion of his hand, Rein cast a billowy cloud of vapor over her form, obscuring her from sight.

                He’s here, that’s all, he thought to himself. It doesn’t mean anything in particular. Rein began to smile. “I’ll put him off,” he growled, flexing his fingers like raptor claws. “I’ll get rid of him the same way I always do.”

                All of their meetings ended the same way: Rein would tire of his brother’s presence and become querulous. It did not matter what the argument was about to Rein, though it usually involved philosophy (good and evil, law and chaos, the intentions of the Old Gods), and in the end Rein would escalate the argument by attacking Severin personally- trying to get his brother to respond in kind. Rein could always count on his brother leaving before their verbal sparring match became a contest of actual power. That was the edge Rein held over his brother: Severin feared a resumption of the war between them, he feared the destruction of all his loveable constructs. But Rein…well he had already lost everything he’d once cared for. For him there was nothing left to lose. Until now. Now that he had reconstructed her… 

                His thoughts were cut short; his senses told him that Severin had crossed the maze and stood now on the threshold of his inner demesne. “He must have had help!” Rein snarled, suddenly remembering his long forgotten delvers. “I’ll deal with them after I dispatch Severin,” he promised grimly. With no small amount of difficulty, Rein brought his ire under control and settled in to await his brother. He focused his thoughts to the task at hand, brought down the level of the light in the creatorium- letting the redly glowing lava that separated his inner sanctum from his private hallway provide all the ambient light, and cloaked his perfect creation in still more concealing mist.

                ********************************************************************

 

 

                The two brothers stood facing each other, separated by the wide channel of lava that flowed between tunnel’s terminus and the creatorium. For a long moment they did not speak, did not react in any way. They stood as if transfixed, as if the very sight of the other fulfilled some promise in the soul of both.

                “You’re trespassing, “Rein said finally, his voice carrying over the hissing rumble of the molten river, but still surprisingly mild. His face was a mask of alertness.

                Severin let his breath out, almost in a chuckle. “I knocked, but you did not answer.”

                Rein smiled wryly, almost sarcastically. “Why have you come?” he asked with a predatory suddenness. “You’re disturbing me, get out!”

                Severin’s half smile dropped from his face. “You know why I’ve come,” he snapped. “I could feel your danger from my own realm-clear across the firmament!”

                Rein’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Well, you can clearly see that I’m fine, that all is well…now, kindly be gone,” he said conversationally, his golden eyes boring into Severin’s, his will pressing like a palpable force, urging his brother away.

                Instead of departing, Severin took another step towards the channel of lava, letting his toes curl over the edge of the drop. He glanced quickly around the creatorium, taking in every detail in an instant. He saw the mist shrouded form on the raised dais, and knew intuitively that this was the source of both the danger he had sensed and his brother’s defensiveness.

                “What’s that?” he asked nonchalantly, pointing to the figure, watching his brother closely. He saw the sudden surge of fear in Rein’s eyes; he saw the blind hostility burgeoning like the cast off shroud of an exploding sun. And Severin knew that this confrontation would almost certainly end in violence.

                “My works are my own!” Rein cried, surging forward until he too teetered on the edge of chasm. “If you don’t leave instantly, I swear by the blood of our father: I’ll rip your prying eyes from your head!”

                Severin felt his pulse quicken, he did not like being threatened. Without volition, he felt himself rise into the air, readying for a cataclysmic battle. “You’ll do no such thing, Rein,” he promised coldly. “I’ll not leave quietly while you labor over some bane, some weapon to use against me.” And with a quick, savage gesture, he ripped the shrouding mist from the form on the dais.

                Rein screamed in a piercing voice, “You have broken our treaty! The peace is broken!”

                But Severin did not hear him; his mind had room only for the figure on the dais: Veloria.

Could it truly be her? Besides Severin and Rein, she had been the last of their kind; the others having killed each other or committed a kind of suicide in their eternal ennui. She had been a unifying force, the only element of the old order that kept civility between the brothers.  They had vied for her affections-but they had each shied away from the horrors of open conflict, intuitively knowing that her gentleness would not countenance their savagery if they exposed it.  To Severin, she had been the embodiment of hope for their dwindled kind: he had entertained visions of repopulating the firmament with fresh gods who would fire the forges of creation with young, enthusiastic minds. He imagined that with her, he could bring back the former glory of his people-and to some extent he had prideful visions of being the father of the new gods, the beneficent celestial ruler.

                Rein, on the other hand, had been obsessed with possessing her. He had a dark hunger for nothing more sophisticated than her private adoration. To Severin, Rein’s fixation with Veloria was bound up with extracting a victory over his brother: for Rein she was something to hold and keep, a beautiful prize to lord over his eternal rival and cherish in the privacy of his demesne.

                After millennia of being courted by the twins, Veloria had chosen Severin and they had gone to settle in his realm of opalescent towers, blue skies, and servile constructs.

                Severin remembered the wonderful years they had spent in the eternal afternoon of his realm: banquets in his crystal palace, masquerade balls attended by constructs of the most wondrous design Severin’s imagination could conceive, and long walks through his wild forests. They had wiled away a score of years, navigating the pleasantries of their courtship.

                But, like an unnoticed storm gathering beyond the curve of the horizon, Rein’s wrath at losing Veloria grew and festered in his immortal mind. It became a madness for him, and insult he could not abide. In a fit of maniacal rage, Rein had thrown Severin’s realm of light and tranquility down-smashing the whole beautiful manifestation of Severin’s will asunder.

                After the tumult of destruction, the three gods had stood upon the bare bones of the firmament-Severin and Veloria blinking in stunned amazement, Rein panting and leering in titanic rage.

                “You sought to steal her from me-blinding her with your worthless constructs and your meaningless flatteries!” Rein had snarled. “Now, Veloria, you may look upon us both without the distraction of his trickery!”  Rein spoke feverishly to Veloria, a rigid index finger pointing at Severin’s heart like the tip of a sword.

                Veloria had gasped-perhaps in shock at the effrontery of Rein’s actions, perhaps in finally being able to see both of the brothers without any distractions of the senses. Or, maybe it had been a gasp of despair as the truth of her future-the central piece in a war between two mad gods-set in.

                Severin felt a chill trickle of fear enter his soul as Veloria let her violet eyes close as if to shut out a too bright light or a vision of horror. “Veloria!” he called in a brittle voice. But, he was too late to dam up the flow of her despair. Veloria’s ethereal face screwed up in a horrific grimace of effort or pain, and in a space between seconds, she simply vanished-ripped from creation by a supreme act of self annihilating will.

                Severin could remember facing his brother as they stood on the empty plane of the firmament. There had been no screaming or crying, no histrionics of any kind. They had simply fallen to desperate, silent combat. All of their will bent upon destroying the other. Thus it had been for countless eternities: striving, fighting, and scheming. But they were too evenly matched; neither could gain an advantage against the other, and in the end they had each grown weary of battle. They had made a treaty, and in the absence of any other option, they had followed it for millions of years.

                Severin had resigned himself to being one of the last of his kind, he had accepted the fact that he would live out eternity loveless, lonely, with only his creations to keep him company. He felt victimized at times, he felt loneliness that threatened to sweep him into suicide, but he managed, he existed. And because he had practiced resignation until it had become an art, he was not swept into the trap of his brother’s madness at the sight of this perfect recreation of Veloria. Almost, his will crumbled, but as the snare began to tighten, he saw the trap for what it was: the weakness of self delusion.

                “Brother, what have you done?” he asked sadly.

                Rein seemed taken aback by this question; he’d obviously expected violence instead of genuine compassion and concern. “I’ve created perfection, brother,” he growled, “that’s what. You’ll not steal her from me this time!” He turned his head and spat venomously into the lava, which flared and sizzled.

                “Oh no, Rein,” Severin said forcefully. “I leave you to your…endeavors. I would only remind you, brother: this is not Veloria,” he said, pointing to the achingly beautiful statue of flesh.

                Rein chuckled; one short bark of vitriolic mirth. “True, she does not yet live, Severin,” he allowed. “But soon, I will confer a portion of my essence to this vessel-she will be one of us!” he crowed in triumph.

                Severin felt his stomach clench. “In that case, Rein, she will be you,” he said in bewildered revulsion. “What perversion will you perform by this act of narcissism? What you create will be a perversion; it will surely not be Veloria.”

                Rein stamped his foot in a sudden rage. The air around his head crackled with stunted bolts of lightning forming a sort of electric halo. “Don’t you defecate on my dreams and call them perversion, Severin!” Rein screamed, on the verge of cataclysm. “Be gone from my realm!” he cried with tears in his voice. “Leave me to my ‘perversion’.”

                Severin looked at his mad brother and tears started in eyes. He knew that there was no helping him now. After he had perpetrated this madness on himself, Rein would be forever reduced, doomed to spend eternity with a double of his psyche that he could not destroy. Severin could see the woven web of Rein’s future: he would love this hollow creation for a time, but soon the two of them, Rein and his psychic doppelganger, would turn on each other, falling to warfare without end, and falling further into the murky depths of insanity. In the end, Rein would come to Severin begging for him to kill the doppelganger and himself. And on that terrible day, Severin knew that he would finally administer the killing blow on his brother.

                “Will I do it with a pure heart, that is the question,” Severin breathed softly.

                “What?” Rein asked harshly, his paranoia growing with his rage.

                “Nothing,” Severin said, holding his hands before in a gesture of placation. “I have only thing to ask you, and then I shall trouble you no more.”

                Rein’s golden eyes flashed partly with victory, partly with increased suspicion. “What would ask of me?” he croaked.

                “The delvers,” Severin said nonchalantly. “I have need of their talents. Let me assume stewardship of their race.”

                Rein could not disguise his relief at such a petty request. “If I transfer stewardship to you, will you leave instantly?” he asked acidly.

                Severin sighed, mourning in advance his brother’s fall. “I shall,” he promised gravely.

                “Done,” Rein snapped, waving his hands. Severin could feel the transfer as knowledge of the delvers flooded his mind. “Now, for the last time: go!” Rein commanded threateningly.

                Severin bowed. “Farewell, my brother, my enemy. May you find peace, if only for awhile.”

                Rein did not reply, he only regarded his brother with his blazing golden eyes, willing him to leave. Severin turned and left his brother’s creatorium. He found Surn waiting nervously on the fractured stone of the labyrinth tunnel.

                “Go, and gather your delvers, Surn,” he commanded gently. “I am your master now.”

                Surn sighed another of his titanic sighs, and bowed low before Severin. “As you command, Lord,” he said in a shaky voice, before turning to lope down the tunnel.

                Severin watched Surn’s broad back as he departed. He felt a great weariness. If he felt sorrow over his brother’s fate, it was nothing compared to the grim future laid out before him. He would live on; the last of his kind- until he went mad or the firmament fell to dust beneath him. But he would endure… as long as he could.

               

 

 

                 

 

                                          

 

 

 

 

 

 

               

 

 

All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Robert Fortini.
Published on e-Stories.org on 25.08.2008.

 

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