Murn, by which I mean Ciel'ostra, Goddess of Blades, contacted me as soon as she had time to herself. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she had little interest in godly spaces and speaking as shadows, and she just wanted me to appear, as myself, in her tent, so she could properly chew me out. She communicated this in a kind of ephemeral godly communication that was, again, vaguely analogous to a text message, although she would not, could not have understood the reference. It was just a single burst of intentions, and she made her intentions clear.
The odd thing was, I refused. I had been expecting it, and anticipated going, but when it came down to it, her message was grouchy and implied much violence, and... with me now retiring from the army, she couldn't command me one way or the other. Suggest, or ask, certainly. But she seemed to think it was her right and her due that I would follow orders. So I refused, at least 60% out of pure spite.
The second request was more forceful, with more undertones of violence, but as long as we were going to have an argument, I figured I might as well have it on my terms. As soon as she made that connection, I dragged her into a shared meeting space. At this point I had never seen Ciel'ostra's Avatar, and I was split on exactly what to expect from her appearance.
"Belly dancer surrounded by thousands of swords" was not high on my list, but there you have it.
The only other goddess avatar I'd seen was Alanna, and there was no real comparison. Mostly, although Ciel'ostra was dressed in a seductive fashion, her body was muscled, scarred, and the blood around her fresh--so fresh I could hear the death cries of men and women radiating out of it. And although the literally thousands of swords around her were mostly out of arm's reach, I could swear she was prepared to lift and throw any of them at me on a moment's notice. She was sitting on ground that sloped towards me, one knee up and one crossed under it, feet bare or in thin sandals, leaning back on her hands. Her face was human, but I got the impression that if I wasn't human, the image would change.
I made a mental note to figure out that trick, it seemed neat.
When she spoke, Ciel'ostra's voice purred with seduction, a plain contrast to the violence around her, one she was obviously very comfortable with. "Oh, I see," she said with plainly hollow gentleness, "you don't feel comfortable coming to see me. You prefer this world over the real one, don't you? Rythva?"
Her use of my Real Name™ bothered me a little bit, but I had no reason to look down on her abilities. Most likely, I reasoned, powerful gods could simply do things like that, and she was a goddess of war in the middle of her own army, an army she had led for who knows how many years of war. So yes, I was sure she had an abundance of flame--
"It's not power," she said simply and although she didn't move a muscle, two swords from behind her lifted off and crossed in front of her, point down, blades at me, in case she should decide she needed to cut me in half. "Once again you simply are not paranoid enough to survive in this world, Offworlder, and it is a great surprise to all who know about it that you survived even one battle, let alone two. Yet here you are, and your arrogance speaks volumes about you."
Arrogance? I bit back a reply, but of course that didn't help.
"Oh yes," she said. "So eager to run to war, and of course so eager to blame others for your misfortune. Did you not enlist in the army of your own accord? But still it is me who is arrogant when I tell you--"
"Cowardice," I snarled in return, feeling like I knew myself, and she did not, "is not arrogance."
"But of course it is," she said, as though she had had this exact conversation before. "You believe you know, and you are wrong. Isn't that what arrogance is?" She only paused a moment, long enough for me to catch my breath (if that were a thing here) before continuing. "You have a number of options, oh blessed God of Eyes," she said, her voice dripping scorn, "and yet you argue about how few you have, how you were led here by circumstance and fate. No, this is your doing. Deny it at your peril--after all, my swords sing when you tell a lie, do they not?"
Somehow, above all else, I wanted to tear this woman down, but that thought was trouble, and I knew it. In that mental space, I closed my eyes. bowed my head, and took a breath, and tried to collect my thoughts.
It was a harder thing than I expected it to be, trying to form an argument while knowing that if I lied, even without meaning to, she would win. Somehow, the argument I was going to have felt dead on my lips. I had not intended to lie, but I would have. I didn't feel like I was wrong; I felt like my argument was true. But the way I was going about it was misleading, selfish, egocentric.
How do I phrase it any other way, though?
"I understand power," I said suddenly, and there was a stillness that surprised Ciel'ostra far more than me--a lack of ringing swords, and a sense that I was saying something True. "I understand that there were more options available that I didn't take. And... you're right," the admission was hard, "in pretending that I had no options, I did myself a disservice. Perhaps it was arrogance, or momentum, or cowardice, but I chose the option in front of me rather than searching for more."
"But," I said suddenly, still not meeting her eyes, "you haven't asked why. When you say I am wrong, are you certain that was wrong--that my path was wrong--or do you suggest that cowardice is wrong?"
Ciel'ostra thought about it for a moment, but there was no heaviness to her. It seemed like she was considering what to have for dessert, when she finally replied, "You were arrogant to believe you would survive on my battlefield."
I met her eyes, and I got the impression there was an intensity to mine. "I didn't believe that," I said simply. "Nor did I ever say it or suggest it. Do you honestly not understand your own people, Ciel'ostra? General Murn? Soldiers are all too often ready to die on the battlefield, all too eager to see life be over and done with. And I," and for reasons I couldn't describe, one of Ciel'ostra's swords leaped out of her side of the meeting space and into my hand, and I leveled it at her, "I am not a soldier. I did not come to fight. I was content to count boxes of grain and bandages, until the moment your army needed me."
For a moment, I thought she was about to crawl backwards deeper into the field of blades, but she did no such thing. There was, however, a light of fear in her eyes.
"Tell me then, and tell me true, is it mere arrogance to suggest that my actions saved not only my own life but that of all the soldiers around me? Would we have survived if I had done anything else? Certainly, yes, I could have run away--always an option for a non-warrior like me, a coward, I admit freely. And your supply chain would have been severed, deep in enemy territory. What awaited you there? Did you, in the shadow of our success--my success, through my vicar Raine--find more success on the front lines?"
Ciel'ostra's frown suddenly became a snarl, and a good thirty swords reared up into the air to hang over me. "Do not bandy words with me, God of Eyes," she said. "You know not of what you speak."
"Where would you be if your supply chain were cut? No lies."
Instead of replying, she slashed at me with half of the blades, forming a stream, but I willed away any semblance of self in this place--so if she cut me, it would mean nothing, because it proved nothing. "Where would you be?"
"I am a goddess of war and death," she screamed at me, "and death is no stranger to me! Do not have such arrogance, to say to me that you saved me in spite of all your mistakes, in spite of all--"
"I have said no such thing," I replied, and as her swords cut into me, my body vanished, leaving only a pair of eyes in the darkness. "I asked. And you are afraid of the answer, when I am not."
Throughout the exchange, I could feel something a little like a tug-of-war between us. Where one god feared the other or was hurt, their power flowed away just a bit. But Ciel'ostra was not an intellectual goddess, and for all that she had a very solid will as far as killing and death was concerned, she was not ready for a battle of words, not unless she could win with sheer willpower.
Of course, willpower was not all she had. She was, after all, a very old goddess, and she knew fighting.
"You want an admission? Fine. Without supplies, we would have been beaten back, again. I sensed we were walking into a trap, although I didn't know what. If that Rakshasa you killed was really a mage, the kind that can use their own spells... an intelligent, calculating one, then they weren't there on accident. Our enemy was in league with them." Behind Ciel'ostra, another fifty or a hundred blades lifted into the sky, hanging like glittering death angels in the air. "The only thing worse than the fate they had in store for us is the fate you only just barely avoided--handing a Key over to the Rakshasa."
"They are not an army, Rythva." The swords swung around like enormous glittering steel angel wings swept forward, and those furthest forward dropped like anvils and impacted the ground behind me, the next swords impacting one step closer, forward and forward until she and I were penned in by a fence of swords. "They are a plague. They do not desire to capture our lands. They intend to slaughter--" the swords rang with blood, and the blood screamed, "--every last living thing on the surface. What you almost handed them--"
I fought her.
The sword in my hand was suddenly ten, although I didn't understand the metaphor, and I leaped at her like an animal, like one who didn't understand sword fighting (I didn't, although I took fencing lessons once, more than a decade ago). My attack was amplified, somehow, because of the swords that I had.
But she had more.
When she swung her sword, it was a chainsaw of flying blades, and if I managed to block with the swords I had, it was just barely enough to hang on. She finished the sword stroke with her blade held aloft, and those swirling, churning swords shot skyward, then fell like artillery towards me. I could see her attack, but I simply could not be fast enough to block them all.
So I left, not the shared space, but the battlefield within it. I was suddenly in the sky, getting perspective on it all. The blades that were falling continued to fall, but the blades still going up started to home in on me, hanging in the sky above her.
With all the fighting it was almost lost on me that this was metaphor, that this was somehow us still having that conversation. But, somehow, the fight itself wasn't what I was focusing on. It seemed like that whole part of the battle was being handled mostly on Ciel'ostra's side of things. If I won or lost the combat, it was because I was winning or losing the argument... in theory.
I guess that's just how a goddess of blades handles arguments in mental space.
"You didn't know either," I replied, as the swords came for me. "You are trying to say that this is my fault, but..." I paused, and thought, and after a moment shook my head. "A battle always has two sides. There are our mistakes, yes... and our enemy's strengths. Those would have both contributed to a loss... if we had lost."
And then I dived forward, flying through the storm of blades that Ciel'ostra had thrown at me. With a kind of macabre fascination, I took a little control over my actions, reaching out to grab one of the heavy two-handed swords she had flung at me, snagging it out of midair by the hilt. In my hands, unlike the ones I had been swinging on the ground, this was incredibly heavy. Probably two or three times as heavy as a real sword that size, not that I had ever lifted one.
The weight of responsibility. Time slowed down as I judged the item in my hands. Every swing of this sword would mean using up enormous energy. But, I didn't really need to swing it, not yet. I simply shifted it until it was between me and the incoming attacks. It was, after all, her blade, her responsibility.
"You want me off the battlefield? Fine. Do you think I'll be safe away from here? You didn't know the goblins were here. Where else are they? Unlike me, you are not only a goddess, but a general. Protect your people." I didn't need to put a lot of power behind the swing, I just chopped a little as the next blade came towards me, and it was knocked away like it was a cheap imitation.
"You may not have known at the time, but you know now--that I am young, foolish, vulnerable. What do your instincts tell you, general? That your rear is safe?" I snorted. "You thought that days ago, and you were wrong. Where is safe? Where should I go? How do we, together, keep the people safe? How do we defeat the enemy?"
"I am not even a soldier, General. I am a very young god. And you want to lay responsibility," The tempo of the incoming swords somehow changed to match my speech, and I knocked three swords aside one after the other, each with small chops, "at, my, feet? You, a general, want to blame your near-defeat on me? A raw recruit? A non-combatant?"
Suddenly, I was through the storm of blades, and Ciel'ostra was there, a sword in her hand, looking up at me as I fell. With all of the momentum behind me, I could have skewered her and rent the ground asunder for miles. I didn't. I threw it aside, getting rid of all my momentum, and tumbled to the ground a little ways away. It didn't hurt--it was just illusion--but it was a bit disorienting as I stood up to face her. Again, somehow, a sword was in my hand, and dozens more behind me.
I sheathed the weapon in my hand, fighting the urge to have another one appear in my hand. "I am not a warrior, Ciel'ostra, and I don't want to fight you. I am not your enemy, and I'm not your competition." I summoned up the energy I had been "winning" from her and pushed it back in her direction--all of it. "I accept your criticism. I was foolish, and I should have known better. I would like to benefit from your wisdom and your assistance moving forward. That does not mean I will accept abuse or assault from you. I would like to be friends, or at worst, cordial acquaintances." I stepped forward and offered her a hand to shake.
She seemed to genuinely not understand what was going on, and we sat there awkwardly for a long time.
"But..." she didn't really finish the thought, but I could tell she was thinking, I lost.
"Neither of us lost," I said. "We aren't enemies. We have an enemy--defeated for now, but they will return. We don't need to fight, general. We are on the same side."
Numbly, slowly, she stepped forward and reached for my hand. When finally she took it, I noticed that she felt cold, very cold. The kind of cold that spoke of standing watch alone, on cold nights when you dared not light a fire. The kind of cold that killed soldiers, but she dared not light a fire, dared not sleep, dared not trust the watch to someone else. Freezing cold nights alone with nobody to trust in.
Touching her hand felt like finding a soldier like that in the wilderness and offering her a coat. Not enough, but far, far better than nothing.
"Maybe. We'll see," she said lamely, and dropped out of the shared meeting space. All that was left was an image of her--Ciel'ostra, dressed in silks and surrounded by blades--freezing, alone, in the middle of a battlefield, clutching her shoulders and shaking silently, alone, forever.
I wanted to put my hand on the image, to comfort even that echo of a metaphor, that image of an image, but it vanished when I came close to it, as though I was erasing a drawing she had left on the whiteboard that was this place just by existing. By the time I realized that, it was too far gone to study any longer.
I dropped out of the meeting and rolled over in my bedroll. It was a lonely life, that was certain. Murn handled it with her harem, and that probably kept her sane, but how many soldiers had she lost? How many people she trusted to keep watch had let her down? As goddess of blades, she watched people get cut down in their prime all the time. Worthy, likable people were just as mortal as everyone else, even with her blessing.
As I drifted off to sleep, all I could think was that if she was looking for help keeping watch, she had somehow stumbled onto exactly the right god, seemingly in spite of everything else.
Support "God of Eyes"
- Pseudonymous bastard
A lost soul looking for a path through life. My history has not provided a stable foundation quite yet, so who knows when it will all collapse. Hopefully not soon!
I have been writing stories since I was a child but I wasn't really encouraged or taught. I have developed bad habits and gotten lost inside myself, but still intend to keep fighting and trying to get myself set upright. Fortunately and not, I am not quite alone, but it's always hard to have the wrong kind of help, isn't it?
Best of luck to anyone silly enough to find this page. Work hard and don't end up like me. It has its upsides, but it's really not worth it...