Lysandraday, 26th of Snowmelt, 3830 AR

Duchy of Keldor


             Something was off.
             Veyd frowned at the horizon, unable to figure it out, and not liking it. It was bad enough, whatever it was, to kill her mood a bit and make her uncharacteristically serious. She had been feeling pretty happy when she awoke. It was the day before she was intending to leave, her “special garage” transformed into an enchanter’s room with its garage and doorway enchanted, her supplies packed, her affairs in order, and her vehicle prepared.
             “You alright?” asked Marty, one local boys nearby when she turned to look.
             “Sure am,” she replied and, with a wide smile, turned back to the five neighborhood farm boys who lived in Oakmudd. “Check out—” she pointed at her vehicle with both index fingers “—this!”
             “It’s a bike,” said Harry with a shrug.
             “Oh that’s brilliant, Harry!” she retorted. “Is the scholarship acceptance letter coming in tomorrow and the day after?” He, and the others, just stared at her blankly. “You’re kidding?” They weren’t and she groaned. “This isn’t just ‘a bike’ guys! It’s an ’82 Otomo Samurai!” They just continued to stare at her. “Are you fucking kidding me? This is the coolest ride ever!”
             “Maybe for a girl,” said Robby.
             “Ha, ha, ha, you take that ba-oh wait, I am a girl.” She laughed. “No, seriously, you don’t think this is cool?”
             “We think its okay maybe,” said Robby.
             “You are all killing me! You’re killing me right in the center of town with your evil words!”
             “I heard the ’88 is better,” said Carl. “That one is way too bulky.”
             “You are wrong!” she stated. “Oh sure the ’88 is good and super streamlined but it’s mostly gutted!” Veyd gestured to the larger version. “This is the pinnacle of the Otomos without the editing off of accessories and small parts that make the vehicle so amazing to begin with.”
             “I think it sucks,” said Carl.
             “You’re a dick, Carl,” Veyd replied and then laughed.
             The ’82 Otomo Samurai was a sleek vehicle despite Carl’s disapproval of its apparent bulkiness, the wheels seemingly more gripped by the bike than connected looking a whole lot one of those boots they put on cars that have parked too long in the wrong place. It was set low to the ground, spread out a bit when parked, but squished itself automatically to fit the rider, all slick and neat, and perfect. It was a vehicle almost merged with itself, beautiful and sleek, with a starship color system that could change to suit its owner.
             She had colored it a bright teal with black seats, the matching color of her eyes, like the ocean in the afternoon on a tropical beach. She had purchased a biker jacket, helmet and riding goggles that matched it perfectly the last of which was resting on her forehead.
             The vehicle was somewhat of a collector’s item after the Orion Corporation nearly destroyed the Samurai Company. The company still existed but they made financially safer more mainstream vehicles instead of the specialized Otomos although they remained very popular in motorcycle circles where there were rumors every year of a new model. Veyd guessed there were maybe a hundred thousand of the 3782 models or less possibly in all of Talayne.
             She had bought it from the Pritcheirs, the brother of the patriarch having inherited after said brother was executed by the Gray Queen’s agents over supposedly being involved with rebels, and she spent the last five days repairing every single part, adding a few things here, there and all over the place, including a hover system which it had a place for but did not come factory standard. It was a street vehicle but, like all good vehicles, it was made to be able to do much more than it was standardly built for should the owner desire for it to do so and she did.
             It was ready for her lengthy trip. The ’82 was better for that too because it had much more space. She had secured it with a variety of conventional, and personal made, security systems which included a DNA scanner set to her body, and she juiced up every part of the vehicle making it go faster, turn better, break better, and land from a far higher distance without breaking.
             Veyd was rather disappointed nobody seemed to think that it was cool.
             “In my father’s—grandfather’s—somebody’s day this would make you crap your pants at the sight of it.”
             “There’s no city around here,” said Robby. “It’s no good on dirt.”
             “Oh look at you, Mr. Motorcycle Expert. It is good on dirt with these tires and and I’ve modified it even it wasn’t.” Veyd sat on it, it smoothly squeezed together to fit her frame, and then flipped the switch that let the vehicle lift up on the hover jets that were not originally included in the ’82 Otomo. She did a clock spin, a perfect 360 degree turns smoothly in the midair like a quiet hand of a clock, and then stopped. She lowered the vehicle down onto the big black wheels and pushed the lever to make the breaks came out to steady it and then stepped off with a smile to look at their unimpressed expressions. “You seriously don’t dig this?” she asked.
             “You’re a girl,” said Carl with a shrug.
             “Am I?” she replied with a flicker of her hair that had cut down to her chin. “Is that what having a vagina means?”
             One of them walked up the vehicle, a boy named Holm who was actually the brother of the leader of the gang of girls who beat her up on that first day, and said, “It’s old. Fifty years old. Nothing fifty years old is worth a damn.”
             “Well, joke’s on you Carl, this is only forty eight.” She leaned on her vehicle with on hand on a handle, the other on the seat, and said, “It’s fucking awesome, is what it is! It’s bonerific!”
             “You’re a weird girl, Alice,” said Marty.
             “All girls are weird and weird is just the fun cousin of mysterious. If we weren’t we wouldn’t be so good at running and wrecking your lives.” She laughed. “Seriously, though, you really think this is lame?” They just shrugged. “You’re farmers. You’re supposed to think a new dumb tractor is cool. How is this not impress you?”
             “You’re a girl,” said Harry. “You’re supposed to think every new lame fashionable dress is cool.”
             “Touché, you evil bastard.” She laughed, looked down at her vehicle and said, “I love this motorcycle. I really do.” She had always wanted one, ever since she was a child the first time, and had planned to buy one but had been so busy with the asteroids, the curse destroying, the bodily mutilation and the decades long jail time she had never quite gotten around to it. Archibald II had one as a gift and he crashed the damn the first year but before that he refused, point blank, ever to let her ride it. God, that guy could lose a shooting the ground contest, she thought.
             “You are so weird,” said Holm.
             “You’re a dick just like you’re sister.” She made a fist and he bumped his with hers and then they made an exploding gesture with their fingers. “See you around, jerkoff.”
             “Later, quaff muffin.”
             She laughed, got into her Otomo and drove it at high speeds through the countryside. She was given permission to do so by the Pritcheirs who had evidently found her quite lovely and clearly had designs on marrying her to one of their grandsons. Something to do with her being the heir to a giant fortune and him being smitten with her she imagined.
             She had left Oakmudd, through the gateway between their giant farms, and shot down the road between the fields. People on her right were working in her fields, ordering the robots around, some using newly bought tractors, getting ready for the big harvest, while the Pritchers side were full of cows and sheep. Their business was dairy, wool and various other animal farming sort of businesses which Veyd did not focus on even on small levels in order to not compete with them and it was clearly something they appreciated from her “grandpappie” who they believed was running the entire business.
             Her vehicle made almost no noise and it was easy to hear her laughing happily as she shot down the dirt road like a bullet from a silencer.
             She had that feeling again suddenly and she turned north smoothly in an arc, flying along the Pritcheirs’ farms west of some trees, then slowed down, moved to the side, and tried to pinpoint that feeling.
             She looked over the fields to the west, saw her tower on top of the hill in the midmorning light, looked back to the south at the mountainous wall rising up the sky in the distance, and then over her shoulder to the right at the woods and through the tree to the rolling hills beyond.
             Veyd then looked at the manor house to north, a beautiful white block-like place with the Pritcheirs lived, and smiled. She liked that house, liked the people in it. She liked families in general because she never really had one, liked happy occasions and events that occurred there. The manor was tall, like ten stories, covered in veins in a beautiful way from the bottom up, and the gardens around it were well maintained and kind of blockish the way many country homes seemed to be. It had been there for generations and now countless happy moments.
             It was Keldor that made it possible for those events to continue.
             Keldor was beautiful because Keldor was clean.
             The curse did not affect Keldor anymore because in Keldor the pillar was broken, Kelea Forne’s pillar specifically. The main pillar, the one that Veyd had almost destroyed if not for Archibald Brotaine, was still standing: the goddamn support pillar of the whole fucking thing.
             That was why the Gray Queen was still alive and all the other pillars still stood strong. She was powerful enough to take advantage of Keldor’s healed state to make it her most profitable district but it was much more difficult for her to hold without her curse’s trick. The Duke of Keldor was her enemy and he had armies that, without her power over the landscape, required her to attack with an army of her own.
             So far they had created an awkward peace but everyone knew it wouldn’t last.
             Veyd needed to break a pillar or two before that peace broke. To do so would give a vast advantage to the Duke of Keldor.
             She stared beyond the manor house, set before endless rolling green holes and pointed mountain peaks that were blue with white from snow. Beyond that, and the space of the Keldorian Sea between Dorandar, the capital kingdom of Doran and where the curse originates from, the curse was strong.
             And the feeling of being watched came from something from there bother ugly and familiar. Yes, it was very familiar and it was also sane so Veyd was sure it wasn’t Wyienne. She sensed the watcher calculating things, a sense that came from her divine training: whoever was watching her was no longer human and touched on that world. If it was Wyienne, she wouldn’t have been nearly so subtle, so if it wasn’t Wyienne Veyd felt certain it could only be one other being and that gave her a reasonable certainty of just exactly what was going to happen when the sun went down.
             Somehow or another the bitch who caused all of this was going to appear tonight.
             She was the reason for Veyd’s dreams, the pretty girl with the scarred face, the beautiful woman sliced across the face like a line with a zero blade, a blade with such well-made unhealing runes upon it’s sides that it had “zero” chance of ever healing even magically. She had those dreams the last time she come close to seeing her appear so she would have guessed her anyway.
             Some part of the curse remained in Keldor so she could still find her way around there. The visitor would come during the night, slumping across the trails and roads, dragging her sins behind her, looking for her own doorway out but never finding it.
             “Tonight is sure going to be fun,” said Veyd with a weak smile.

*          *          *

             Veyd waited for her in the tower but after a while she got the sense she wouldn’t appear to her there or at least not in her true form. Around ten, after tricking Arthur and Francine into thinking she was asleep and letting them plug themselves in their own power sources to sleep in their own robotic way for the night, she slipped out.
             She was wearing jeans with her tall black biker boots, a black long sleeved t-shirt a pair of black gloves, and her dark teal jacket, with a steel amulet of Talia, the Goddess of the Sun with her symbol of the glowing fiery star, around her neck.
             In her right hand she carried her jet black multi-gun, which she called the Veyd Changer, which reached down to her ankles when pointed downward. It was a black rectangular weapon of her own design with a powerful scope on the top, itself with three different functions and multiple scopes, and five different types of firearms. The primary one was the central barrel with a laser that had stun capacity, and the others, built into the top, bottom, left and right of the laser, were all different things. The only two that were remotely normal were the laser in the center and the flame and ice projector at the very bottom.
             She thought that the bullies would be the victim of what was coming but she followed the feelings she got the bar and at around midnight, the witch’s hour, something happened.
             She stood in front of the window of Manwell’s Bar looking through the dimly lit interior and saw a woman there jerk suddenly, spill her drink, and bend over a pool table shaking violently.
             It happened only for a second and then the woman stood up straight.
             “There you are,” she whispered and then the woman turned, as if she could hear Veyd, but Veyd was out of sight before the stolen eyes saw her.

*          *          *

             The creature stepped out of the bar, a pale blond woman with long hair curled slightly and hanging down both sides with full pouting lips on a narrow face with large breasts cupped in a corset-like top over one of those long sleeves shirts that were cut to match it and tight black pants. She was beautiful, sexy, but somewhere in her mid to early forties.
             That was odd for this being thought twenty four was the oldest a female would have any value and she put immense stock in that and youth and beauty in her general.
             She walked out in her boots, swaying in a sensual manner in a walk that was hard to define, somehow striking to something akin to a woman who played female games in the way a man playing a sport obsessed with winning without no regards to cheating or courtesy.
             The woman stepped out in front of the alley, put her hands on her hips, and said, “Get the fuck out where I can see you, Veyd,” she said in a bitter voice. It was two voices really, one monstrous hearable somehow without ears, the other musical, lively, and full off an upper class accent that had no place on a girl raised out on a Corvian rural landscape. “Get the fuck out!”
             She cracked her neck, a roundabout kind of way that made several crack sounds, indicating something wrong with the gesture.
             “I know you’re here. Let’s talk.” She swallowed. “Make a bargain.”
             She started forward but her left leg didn’t work. She looked down at it, her face suddenly distorting in vicious hate, and punched herself in the stomach. Once, twice, three times and then moved her leg around easier. She slammed it down hard, making a clack sound on the cement, then started out of the dim light of the bar’s window into the dark of the alley.
             She held out her hands and magic that waitress never could have cast appeared in the palm of her hands, the color of ugly, greedy green, in two fiery balls in the palm of her hands that lit the walls of the alley as she walked. “I know you’re here some—” she jerked around the trashcans, a flaming green spear in both hands, and saw nothing there “—cute.”
             She tossed the spear into a cloud of smoke and started casting something else, waves of greenish ugly magic flying through the air, tainted by the condition of her existence. “I have no magic now but I can still cast through this bitch if I desire. You are not the magician I am.”
             All human beings had magic. Just because someone didn’t know how to use it didn’t mean it wasn’t there and that barfly was no exception.
             And she was right with that stament. Veyd was not the magician she had been which was, in technical terms, professional and since age eleven or earlier.
             “Where or where can little Alan be?” she mused and then she started to cast something but her hands cramped up against her will. The spell break, she let out a surprised squeak, and then the stun laser hit her in the back.
             She fell to her knees, let out a grunt of pain, and spun around awkwardly to face the footsteps of the figure approaching her from the light of the bar.
             Jessica Veyd stepped up to her with her gun held in both lit only by the light of some moon she did not recognize with no idea where Corvo the Walrus had wandered to that evening.
             The creature looked up at her with her stolen face three quarters away from the alley on her stolen backside, behind her a small space of path, a path behind the buildings left and right, between them and the slope of a hill covered in trees. “Veyd,” said the woman.
             “Marissa.” Veyd gave her an ugly grin that touch her eyes. “You sick, evil bitch. Taking over a barfly. Like aunt, like niece, right?”
             Her face distorted. “I am nothing like Wyienne.”
             “Wyienne the Insane,” Veyd replied and shook her head. “You are a monster, Marissa. Why are you here?” Veyd asked that question almost as a courtesy she was so sure she knew the answer.
             Marissa’s eyes narrowed and she thought before she answered. She had not liked Veyd when they first met and Veyd’s near success at breaking the curse that held her had not made her any happier or more trustworthy.
             She was Marissa Forne, former matriarch of House of Forne, mother of Allayne and grandmother of Kalea, who had been murdered when Veyd was thirteen the first time.
             Once, Marissa’s daughter had summoned her on a trip to the Walrus, once and only once, and they met that one time. They got the information they needed for the curse but she didn’t yet know what Veyd was going to do with it and Allayne did not tell her. She believed, and Allayne let her believe, it was something her daughter, who she believed she controlled, had planned.
             What does she believe now? Veyd wondered.
             Veyd reached up for her medallion and Marissa grabbed the waitress’s breasts with her own hands in a sudden savage move. Veyd could only stare at the hands sticking her long nails into them ready to rip and tear, her own hand frozen on her medallion. “The hell?”
             “I’ll rip this woman’s breasts right off her chest if you try to get me out!”
             Why Marissa would choose those as a threatening point Veyd could not say but it had something do with envy and sexuality. She could have just as easily gone for the face and, Veyd did not quite why, she thought most women would have done that. It seemed more of a male gesture to threaten with those and, maybe, Marissa was like a man in that regard, somehow viewing her own gender with the eye of a sexist male calculating every inch of a woman’s body like a degenerate pimp gaging every asset at his potential disposal.
             “You’re just jealous that you’re breasts sag and that—” she tossed the medallion, hit the woman in the head, and Marissa’s wraith jerked out of her body backward for a split second then went back on.
             “No!” she hissed. “I’m not done with this body yet!” She tried to scratch at Veyd but the hand was no longer obeying her, going weakly and off target from her no longer near perfect control. Veyd stepped forward and pressed the amulet against the woman’s head and watched the wraith jerk out behind her and land with one loud clank sound of her irons heard through Veyd’s mind.
             The woman stood up awkwardly, shaking on her feet, and clutching her stomach. She crumpled onto her hands and knees for a moment afterward, unable to keep her feet, then looked up.
             “Are you okay?” asked Veyd.
             “I’m fine,” she said with a daze, not even seeing the gun in Veyd’s hand. She was drunk, not blackout drunk but still drunk. It made possession easier and by the morning, if the stories were accurate, the woman would remember nothing for several hours before and after. “I’m—” she stood up shakingly “—fine.”
             “You need any help?” asked Veyd.
             “I’ll be fine, kid.” She patted her shoulder. “You should go home and get some sleep.” She moved aside and the wraith stood behind her glaring at Veyd.
             Veyd heard the woman whimper as she walked way clutching at her stomach. She was crying, probably didn’t know why, and when she turned the corner she went toward the houses to the left instead of right toward the bar.
             “I do believe you may have just given that woman the push needed for sobriety.” She tried to joke but it didn’t work. The woman was too sad for that. She turned back to the wraith and said, “By the way, you are looking great.”
             Marissa Forne was even uglier than she remembered standing there hideous, ancient, and monstrous, weighted in iron and chain that only she, as an incorporeal being, could feel.
             Her wraith form was that of a woman withered like dried fruit or jerky, covered in in huge spider webs of wrinkles across every inch of skin of visible so deep they were like scars from a blade. Her hair was mostly gone and flying up about her as if there was a wind pushing away from her body and her breasts and sexuality were withered to the point of being skeletal instead of curvy.
             Her wrists, neck, shoulders, feet, thighs and waist and part of her head, in something like a tiara, had iron or something heavier, weight made to look like parts of a dress that, aside from the weights, left her arms, shoulders and upper chest open. It form itself out of heavy chains that made up just below of what was left her breasts connecting, rather elegantly oddly enough, to every weight.
             She was a nightmare to behold but there was a time when she had been flesh and blood and had captivated the heart of a long dead Doranian prince.
             “Well if it isn’t Miss Talayne 3725,” said Veyd with a laugh. “Good gods, you didn’t just get beat by an ugly stick, you got murdered by it!”
             Veyd, Marissa said in a hollow, guttural voice that was as ugly as she was. She said that with a sneer revealing teeth that were missing sporadically like the posts of a fence surrounding a haunted house.
             There was something in her eyes Veyd had not seen last time or at least not at her.
             It was jealousy, intense jealousy, and while something of that had been aimed at her daughter, it was nowhere near the intenseness that it was then.
             Veyd rested the rifle on her shoulder and said, “Have no fear, beautiful. You can return back to your hole now and await the end.”
             The end?
             “I’m going to finish this—”
             You’ll waste that body, will you? She sneered at her, bending over painfully with her weights, and said, in mockery, It did not break the last time—
             “—because of Archibald Brotain, it did not. I broke one pillar all the same, the pillar made out of your granddaughter. She’s free now, living on Walrus 5, and has several daughters.” Veyd had read about it on the Walrus 5-15 News, the daughters of the “newly made young” queen’s court magician making big news on that little satellite. “Your bloodline lives on. You’re welcome.”
             Marissa almost certainly didn’t care. She almost certainly didn’t care about anything that didn’t directly benefit her. I know what you did for the Princess of Doran, Lady Lilia. I want you to do that for me.
             Veyd’s lips spread in something like a smile and the word “no” came out like “Neeeeeooooh—”
             You will give me a body, you little cunt, or I’ll take yours! she hissed.
             “Take mine? After all I’ve done for your family?”
             You are a man in a woman’s body! You are not a real female so it is only right it not be wasted on you!
             “Oh I bet the transgender community would just love you,” Veyd replied. She knew the body thing was going to come up sooner rather than later but Veyd had the sense that if Marissa could take her body she already would have. It was that look of jealousy that gave that away. Wyienne could have in her place but then again she wasn’t cursed or at least not cursed in the way Marissa was nor was she dead either. “I can’t give you a body and ‘Lady’ Lilia by the way is the Duchess of Keldor now and must be referred to as—”
             Can’t or won’t! hissed Marissa.
             “Both,” said Veyd. She slipped the amulet around her neck, noting Marissa didn’t try to possess her while it was just dangling in a chain around her fingers, then decided to find out more about her. She held out her left hand in a divine magical spell she knew from her first childhood, a spell to read the wraith’s position in the realm of the natural world. Marissa instantly hissed and repelled at that but it wasn’t a banishing spell she must have instinctively expected.
             Veyd stared, dumbstruck, at the curse as its secrets unraveled peculiarly easy in her mind. The fear of what would happen if she used it had been the reason she had not tried it before and Marissa herself wasn’t vital to the curse’s breaking so it didn’t matter. They needed information and Allayne didn’t want to send her disowned wraith mother off by letting her know the strange man she brought with her was a trained cleric at the third level, third being the highest level a mortal could get on his own level of divinity.
             Veyd saw the curse out clearly and suddenly burst out laughing. She laughed so hard she almost fell over, stumbling with her gun in her hand into the trashcans making a bang, barely able to keep herself from shrieking it and gaining the attention of the entire barn.
             Something funny—
             “You can’t possess anyone young!” she cried and there was shock on Marissa’s face. “You didn’t even know!” She laughed harder. “Forty-five is the youngest you can ever be, grandma! If I gave you a body it would have to be forty-five or older!” She could not stop laughing.
             Forty five was hardly old but to a beauty obsessed narcissist like Marissa Forne twenty eight was old.
             That is not true—
             “It’s very true!” cried Veyd a little too loudly. She looked around to see anyone saw her, laughed quietly again, and said, “Look, if you get a body, make sure it comes with a walker!” She burst out laughing and almost fell over again.
             Marissa was glaring at her, hands opening and closing, staring at her from her prison of iron. Why? Her voice cried out through the space between worlds. Why would I he cursed like that?
             “Oh I just don’t know,” said Veyd as she stopped laughing, wiping tears out of her eyes and sporting a large smile on her face. “Maybe, oh I don’t know, perhaps it might have something to do with you causing this curse—”
             I did not do that? she actually sounded surprised at the idea.
             Veyd burst laughing again. “Oh you’re serious.” She burst out laughing harder. “This is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!”
             She was suddenly thinking about the girl with the scar and decided it was the second funniest thing.
             “Oh gods I love this Walrus!” she said. “I love Him so much!” She turned her head and looked at the wraith that was once the Magician Marissa Forne. “Need I explain?”
             I asked, didn’t I?
             She didn’t, point of fact, but Veyd just grinned and shrugged and looked into that hateful face. When Veyd had been a man there had been a single moment away from Allayne where Marissa tried a kinder, falsely so, pleading face. She didn’t trust her daughter and was trying to use her womanhood against Alan Veyd but he had not been fooled and she didn’t have the beauty or charm to push him beyond his intelligence.
             Just—just give me a body, she seemed tired in that alley. Tired and very old. I don’t deserve this.
             Veyd rested her gun on her shoulder and said, “I dreamed of the girl you scarred.” Marissa’s face was full of something darker, a glare that hinted at potential violence had she been capable of it. If she were alive or still in that woman’s body she would probably have slapped her just for bringing that up. “You would married Prince Galeth if it wasn’t for—”
             Don’t you speak of what you do not understand! screamed Marissa. He was mine! Mine and that bitch stole him from me!
             “Still bitter, eh?”
             Marissa Forne had lost the Miss Talayne beauty pageant in 3725 to a very lovely, but very poor, girl who would have taken home the one hundred thousand livre, a coin sometimes called a “pound” or “Norvian,” worth 2.5 a dollar which was around thirteen gray discs a piece ending at a total of somewhere in three million gray disc area. Marissa had found a way, she was a magician and it almost certainly involved illusion, to slice her across the face with that zero blade, then revealed herself to her in that stupid proud way of hers, but left no evidence behind for the girl to prove anything. Marissa even had an alibi.
             The girl couldn’t win a beauty contest of that sort without a perfect face, obviously, and lost but so did Marissa even though she was the runner up. No one could prove anything but the girl told and they believed her, or knew in some other way that didn’t involve proof, and were not above kicking Marissa out on some stupid technicality. She left with nothing when she would have left with fifty thousand livres in second place.
             A few years later, Prince Galeth, the third son of a king of Doran, had fallen into her web, and the girl with the scar came back to haunt her. There were rumors of the engagement that had found its way on famous fashion magazines that reached all corners of solar system including the farm where the scarred girl lived back on the Namador Cluster on one of those eight moons of its and, after being unable to communicate distantly with him, actually came to the world to speak to Galeth and warn him of Marissa’s character personally.
             The story was that she had managed to catch him in an all-gods temple one day while praying, away from Marissa who was usually nearby, and convinced him of the truth. Over the days following they fell in love and he even married her. Even as the third son, he wasn’t too afraid to rebel against his father and marry below his level and his mother had long suspected, or perhaps believed was a better word, the dark truths of Marissa Forne’s character, and so he abandoned the monster that was creeping into his family for an infinitely kinder bride.
             The scarred girl was Lilia Marathir Merton, and the prince and her only surviving child became, in time, Queen Elliah Marathir Dethara. It was the mother’s Marathir bloodline being traceable to an ancient queen’a bloodline of Namador as the technicality that allowed the marriage of their parents. It wasn’t politically perfect but it was politically superior to Forne and she ended up being so well loved by the people that her granddaughter was named her despite the tradition of usually naming royalty after deceased royals.
             “Good gods, your life is a lesson in arrogance!” said Veyd. “You screwed yourself over every chance you got and every time it came back to haunt you!” Veyd laughed but that wasn’t a happy laugh. She pointed her left forefinger at her and said, “Especially that last time!” Her smile vanished to reveal an uncharacteristically serious expression. “You are a goddamn train wreck: a goddamn self-made tragedy.”
             Marissa glared at her from the end of a woman’s life whose greatest nemesis was the one who was living it but would not, for an instant, harbor the idea of such a thing.
             I do not deserve this, she stated.
             “Wow, gee whiz, what a surprise you think that.”
             The priests of Talia did this to me!
             “The priest can’t do anything of this nature unless the goddess allows it.” Veyd lowered the gun down, shook her head, and really looked at her. She examined her face for a moment, wondering if she should bother, then shrugged, shook her head and said, “The gods are not stupid, my dear, and when they cast that spell upon you it was at the discretion of Talia Herself. No divine curse works without a god or goddess’s allowance. We, as mortals, do not have the power to do it.”
             Why would she allow this to happen to me?
             Veyd sighed. “Wyienne was your niece, a Forne, and you fucking destroyed her over her looks. She was ugly but she wasn’t evil and Cydra—” she shook her head “—well, let’s just say she had a little too much of you inside—” Veyd’s face turned serious again “—and outside.”
             Allayne didn’t tell Veyd much about her mother and the past but others had. Notably, their former family servant who, as a personal favor, was given a job by the queen, and a few of Allayne’s older sister’s, Annewell Forne’s, apprentices who were still alive at the time of his asking.
             Tales of violence, abuse, obscene viciousness and things so cruelly spoken they were almost like poetry were told to Veyd. Annewell herself was a victim, as well as the younger sister, Alia, both being not that attractive but clearly the elder was superior mage as well as the elder sister which should have entitled her to be the next matriarch but Marissa’s will did not give her any such thing. She was not as pretty as Allayne and that was the only reason her mother favored Allayne and supporter her marriage and potential happiness. The three sisters had a secret code they lived by and the two younger intended to give the authority to her older sister when her mother died but since they died at the same time that was impossible.
             Wyienne, before she became the monster, was the biggest victim of Marissa Forne. “Ugly Bitch,” was the name her aunt usually called her and she would slap her or beat her if she ever took a superior tone or position against a prettier cousin or one of their children but those were actually small things in the long run, it seemed. It was the humiliation in front of others and the subtle, but somehow obvious, sabotaging of the woman’s life, which were aimed at destroying her chances for happiness and friends and making her, from her earliest childhood, hate herself and feel worthless. It had gone on for decades, emotional and physical abuse of a growing intensity both in the giver and the receiver as time and age took their toll, and she even made Wyienne her nursemaid because she had unsurprisingly never found marriage and, to Marissa’s eyes, too ugly to be good for anything but manual labor.
             She tried to do the same to Cydra who was almost as ugly and given the ugliest name of Allayne’s daughters due to magical predictions of her looks but Cydra saw the future in Wyienne and she tried to do something about it.
             Somehow somewhere around the time when Alan Veyd was a child in the single digits of age Wyienne’s mind snapped and she went mad.
             When the Pillars of Doran rose up the gods knew quite well who to blame.
             The priests of Talia failed to break the curse with that goddamn priest who twisted the meaning of their prophecy to one of personal glory that very much failed but they did not fail to curse Marissa as they went down.
             After her death she was given nine weights for her sins to her own blood: four for her murdered granddaughters, two for her own murdered daughters, one for her murdered son who was killed defending his sisters from her niece, and the one’s on each wrist were Wyienne and Cydra respectively: the two monsters she created.
             And then there were the chains for all the strangers and the curse itself, linked together, and dragging her down where she walked endlessly never to find rests for, except perhaps, the time she possessed someone, a gift something Wyienne unintentionally gave her, which, though probably doesn’t give rest exactly, perhaps has the effect likened to someone carrying a burden getting a ride for a short time.
             There was something to pity about Marissa Forne but damned if Veyd could see it. “Eh, fuck you,” she said. “No one is giving you a body and no one can despite the fact there might be a hundred without spirits needing one all young, nubile female bodies just like this one. This divine curse has the Dragon of Hell written all over it.”
             Her eyes were wide. At least she wasn’t so deluded and not understand that implication but then, perhaps, there were hints that even she couldn’t shake her mind away from. You lie! hissed the wraith.
             “I’m going to break the curse, Marissa, and then you can bitch to the Dragon about how all this wasn’t fault because you lost a beauty contest.” The Dragon of Hell, or sometimes just the Dragon, was a nickname for the Lord of the Underworld. He was one of the dragon gods, hence a dragon, but he was also the master of that domain’s darker dungeon area, the hell part of it.
             Those who ended up there under his private punishment were people who were involved, some way or another but usually directly, with the use of unnatural magic, which was what divine magic used by mortals was called when it wasn’t properly filtered through divine intermediaries that priests connected to. Mortals cannot use divine magic, also known the magic of creation, in such a manner without some degree of serious consequences and the Dragon was just the tail end of that. Not all of them ended up in agony, some people earnestly used unnatural magic for good and just ended up stuck there in something less than pain, some were even to some degree rewarded if they managed to stay away from descending into becoming a monster, but such power had, almost universally, corrupted the mortals who played with it.
             I did what I did to Wyienne because I loved her.
             Veyd burst out laughing. “I can’t fucking believe you! You are stupid as dog shit and twice as ugly. You have deluded yourself retarded! You cannot possibly believe that!”
             But she did, didn’t she? No one who was any less deluded would have ended up where she was.
             Veyd held up her hand and that time with a proper banishment divine spell. It filled the alley with sunlight, the light of Talia who was the goddess he had almost become a cleric of, and Marissa repelled against it.
             I’ll come back and I’ll get a body and then I’ll fucking kill you! she hissed.
             “Don’t forget your cane, Grandma!” The divine spell finished, shot out over her, filling with literal daylight blowing the wraith to pieces with intense power. It was only for a moment but Veyd could see the green grass, brown trunks and dirt, and gray rocks with such brightness the cone of light fired from her hand was indiscernible from a fully sunlight day.
             Veyd lowered her hand and looked stupefied. “Okay, that was more intense than I expected.” Good gods, the last time she tried that to get rid of a poor wayward self-repeating spirit trapped in a house but it had been just as powerful as a flashlight at that time. Maybe even a weak flashlight.
             What fired from her hand then was an actual ray of true sunlight. She would have killed a vampire with that thing.
             It was amazing to think that Marissa was gone forever but Veyd was not fooled. Marissa was attached to that curse as much so as the pillars but not central or a victim and thus not free-able, and she would reform, sooner or later, despite the power of that spell.
             It was just a matter of time before her wraith form reconnected itself and then she would wander Doran again, ignoring all opportunities for small redemptions to instead find a body, ruin its owner’s life with her escapades as Veyd’s research on her in prison led him to believe she would do, while feeling no guilt and adding a plan of murdering Jessica Veyd into her eternity.
             Marissa Forne would wander Doran in that state and form until the curse was destroyed and she along with it. No other force, save the gods themselves perhaps, could break her out of it.
             “Okay,” said Veyd. “This turned out a little darker than I thought.”
             It had gone badly as it could go and standing there in the dark Veyd realized she had expected to find Marissa humbled. She had expected the years of the weights and wandering with all that horror she caused would have turned her into someone repentant in some way. It had not been a conscious thought but she somehow either believed it or wished it were true enough at least to start to act on it but the instant she had seen her in the bar possessing that woman she had lost that, sensed it was not there, and with a very short time she knew that a clinging denial was in the place it would be for almost anyone else.
             It had been a mistake to speak to her at all. Mocking her or being polite made no difference because not being able to give her a body, which she really could not do, was the crime that made her an enemy and a very dangerous one at that.
             Veyd did not think being the single only person able to free Marissa from the curse would stop her from murdering Veyd. Some people could tell themselves anything and believe it and she was one of them.
             Whatever Marissa Forne told herself would be enough.



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