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End of Éretlen

Not all histories are written in the books

By JD BicklePublished about a year ago 24 min read
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JDB - Midjourney

They crashed through the forest, snapping at each other. Their bodies whipped around trunks, leaving deep gashes behind and marking a path of violence. As long as the battle remained within the trees, they were evenly matched. She was larger, her greater growth a result of years of tricking him out of the best morsels. But he was still faster, better at using the surroundings to his advantage. Strength grasped at speed, tooth scraping at claw. Vihrein could feel his sister’s fury. It raged and beat at the edge of his mind. Gone was the slyness of their youth, her endless machinations and belittling tricks. Raa’alle had given herself over to raw anger in her attempt to trap him in fear, beat him into submission.

It was her final play, the culmination of a decades-long attempt to break him. Vihrein felt the temptation to rise to her anger, match it and throw himself into a deep well of righteous violence. He had good reason, so many memories of her cruel teasing, her attempts to dominate not just through her physical size but also through displays of mental superiority.

What she had not known, would never know, was that her every success at driving him away in hurt and shame had instead led to his salvation.

Years ago he had discovered his strength at the bottom of a deep loch far from the Odú, where their mother watched her children’s games of dominance in silence. In the dark and heavy water, he would compress the burning humiliation into a small ball of passion and let it pass through him into the cooling waters.

In the quiet that came after, Vihrein did not need his eyes to see in the inky darkness because he could feel. Thereafter, each time he was overwhelmed by Raa’alle’s bullying and his mother’s silent disapproval he would throw himself into the lake, quenching his anger and tempering his spirit.

Raa’alle was now trying to distract him with a web of illusions while she tore at his chest with her massive talons. Vihrein’s body twisted just before each stroke connected, allowing the thick scales on his chest to turn aside most of the damage. He closed his eyes, shutting out the chaos of his sister’s reality-bending images.

A memory briefly rose, unbidden, of a time when they were no more than hatchlings. He had returned to the Odú, so proud of the bright vermillion snake that he had charmed. It was draped about his neck, a bright necklace of living emerald. In his pride, he had brought it back to show his mother his newfound mastery over the woodland creatures. Instead of approval, he saw nothing but disdain in her eyes. In the midst of his confusion came peals of laughter from Raa’alle, as she dropped her illusion to reveal the stench of feces. Not long after, Vihrein found himself at the bottom of a lake, hiding his shame and cleansing the stink from his scales.

A great blow brought the present back into focus. Raa’alle battered him with her sinuous tail and spewed her toxic breath into his snout while trying to force him into the air. He was immune to her venom, but her goal was to fill his lungs with gulps of choking gas and panic. Vihrein had already locked his lungs, expanding his ribs to their full size. He felt no distress as he squeezed the muscles at the back of his mouth. He had the confidence born from long experience that he could continue the fight even with his throat closed to the air.

In her attempts to bring him close and force him to breathe in her noxious breath, Raa’alle had inadvertently exposed a small chink in her armor. It was almost beyond notice, no more than a small scar from a childhood mishap hidden underneath her right foreleg. It had resisted healing over all these years, leaving a small gap between her almost perfect, viridescent scales. Vihrein used it to his advantage now. He poured the focus of his passion into the small, ragged scar and felt a deep satisfaction as he pulled, flesh parting under the point of his talon.

He felt Raa’alle’s scream. Her wings battered against him as she pushed away and began a steep dive in retreat. Vihrein opened his eyes, wings beating to clear the air around him, teeth still clamped in a rictus, now turned into a silent howl of victory.

*It is done*

The thunderous sound of his mother’s mind rang in his head, shockingly loud after decades of silence.

*Éretlen is over. It is, as it should always be*

*It is, as it should always be,* came Vihrein’s response.

*... is … should …* replied Raa’alle, as her mind slipped into the distance.

Vihrein was hurt and battered, but buoyed by his victory. He pushed aside the weariness that lay underneath. Now was the time to claim his prize, his birthright. As victor, the ways decreed that his chosen part of the Zöld, with its ancient trees and verdant life, would now be his. Even his mother wouldn’t encroach on his territory for the next century.

Vihrein slipped down below the canopy. Quickly, silently he made his way to a grove of ancient oaks. There, beneath a massive trunk, he became still. His awareness flowed out of him, down into the ground, through the mesh of roots and mycelia, ever outward across the Zöld. He lost himself in it, becoming one with it. His mind expanded, noting every step, every brush, every growth. His wounds healed, his mind calmed, and Vihrein became the true master of his domain.

Under Vihrein’s mastery, the Zöld, the creatures living under its massive canopy, and Vihrein himself, thrived. The great green dragon’s awareness permeated the forest. He spent time living in each niche and nook. Sometimes he took on the shapes of various denizens of the woods. He learned his forest through the web of the spider, the nighttime screams of the bat, the scents investigated by the ant. He saw prey scurry along the brush with the raptor’s eye, and learned the world of scents as a grizzly. The Zöld sustained him, and Vihrein grew.

Occasionally, parts of the wood needed culling to keep the trees and plants vibrant and healthy. Vihrein would pass through, spouting great gouts of his noxious breath. Birds would drop from the sky, rodents would fall silent in their burrows. Even the insects would succumb. Afterwards, Vihrein fed on some of the choicer morsels. However, in the wake of the dragon-induced die offs, life bloomed.

Decades passed and Vihrein lost himself as he became one with his domain. Seasons turned, shadows danced with light, and creatures lived and died. For him, it all happened within a series of deep breaths, a deep stretch of body, mind, and identity. And then, a sudden shock brought him crashing into the present.

Vihrein was in the center of his oak grove, his massive body intertwined with the ancient trunks. At the edge of his awareness, there was a sudden chasm in a space that had once been so full, he hadn’t even been conscious of its existence. At first, the change was puzzling. He lifted his snout to sniff the wind, spread his awareness through the roots of the trees in his Zöld, listened with all his being. However, there was nothing new under the sun, not in his part of the world.

Then he turned his awareness outside, back to the Odú and the time before the end of Éretlen. Where there once was a massive presence, now there was nothing. Vihrein waited, but the void remained. Time passed. The emptiness continued. Finally, Vihrein decided to venture out past the boundary established by ancient rite. Encroachment upon his mother’s domain as an adult should have meant an instant fight to the death. But as Vihrein approached the site of his mother’s Odú, the sense of emptiness increased.

The Odú was indeed vacant. It already had a sense of disuse. There was also a lingering stench, one which was unnatural and foreign to his old home. Vihrein followed it outward, beyond the hunting grounds of his youth, far off into unfamiliar territory. There he found a green hill. As soon as he touched down on the hill, Vihrein knew he was at his mother’s final resting place. In the distance, smoke from numerous chimneys rose into the sky from a newly cleared edge of the forest, carrying with it the scent of char and the tang of iron.

This was … something that needed much consideration. Vihrein returned to his center, back to the oak grove. But instead of finding a retreat to assist him with understanding the implications of his Dam’s death, he discovered something even more unsettling. Raa’alle had trespassed in his absence. Her subtle marks left in his territory screamed of transgression in every sense. At the center of her invasion was a scent that would always be connected to his mother’s death.

Although he could sense Raa’alle’s spoor at the very edge of his domain, he could not feel her presence. The source of the strange stench was another matter. Vihrein went to investigate. He kept his full dragon form, blending it into his forest in case his sister awaited in ambush. He approached in such stealth that none of his woodland creatures were aware of his passing. Every part of Vihrein’s being tingled with awareness. A part of him hoped that his sister was going to try a challenge although he knew that she would never be foolish enough for a direct confrontation within his own demesne.

At the edge of his forest, in a small clearing, was a little figure curled up into a hollow formed by woven twigs and sticks. Its head was covered with a shock of bright, yellow hair. Vihrein looked down at the little thing and sniffed the air. He could still sense remnants of Raa’alle’s presence, but the overpowering scent came from the little thing sleeping in front of him. It smelled vaguely of sheep, soured milk, and a muskiness reminiscent of the odor that Vihrein had encountered at his Dam’s empty lair.

Once he was assured that Raa’alle had truly retreated far from his kingdom, he returned to the small figure she had left for him at the edge of his woods. He doubted it was some sort of offering. His sister’s enmity was assured for the coming millennia. Vihrein had hoped that once the time of Éretlen had passed and they were no longer under their Dam’s wing, Raa’alle would retreat to some far part of the world to lick her wounds. But it appeared that his sister’s anger and jealousy had locked her into a low orbit around the objects of her envy.

Raa’alle’s efforts were never what they seemed at first sight. There was a whiff of sleep magic about the thing, but Vihrein believed that was the extent of any underlying enchantments. It seemed the trickery was laid in the nature of the creature that she had placed here. The arrangement of sticks and twigs appeared to be some sort of basket or altar. Raa’alle knew the creed. Things that had no place in the order of things should be culled.

Vihrein leaned down to look closer at the manling. It was sleeping peacefully, small chest rising and falling. It was pale, with white skin over curved cheeks. It was wearing a wooly, white cloth that had been gathered close to it with a small belt. In many ways, it reminded Vihrein of a beetle grub, fat and helpless.

“Why are you here, little one?” Vihrein whispered over its head. “You do not belong here.”

Raa’alle would expect him to kill it, as it would find a place and gain purpose by adding nutrients to the soil. Or, she might expect him to be inquisitive. Even though hominids were not native to his demesne, their occasional migrations through the edge of the Zöld merited a peripheral study.

More importantly, the scent of Man was connected to their mother’s death, somehow. Vihrein could not imagine how such lowly creatures could achieve such a feat. If he were to investigate further, chances were that investigation would also lead to discovering more of her trickery.

Vihrein needed to act in a way that his sister would not expect, but he could not ignore the necessity of investigation. If man had learned from the ants, banding together to kill creatures many times their mass, he needed to know. Vihrein decided his best course of action would be to do something that his sister would never expect of him, something that was antithetical to their nature.

He reached toward the child, talons forming into fingers, scales morphing into leather-clad human flesh. Humans were not highly dimorphic, and taking on a female form would make it easier to feed the child. If Raa’alle was waiting somewhere far ahead, her sister might be fooled into thinking that the toddler had been found by a woman wandering in the woods.

Vihrein carefully lifted the toddler from the basket, and the child instinctually cuddled into her arms. She felt warm and soft snuggled against Vihrein’s chest. Her lips curled into a small smile as she strode off in the direction of an ancient, abandoned dragon’s nest.

Although her new body was not particularly well suited for the forest, Vihrein found that it was remarkably easy to maintain a steady, loping run that ate up distances. Vihrein had taken the woolen tunic and belt that had been left with the child and fashioned it to hold the child close as she ran through the woods. Raa’alle’s sleep magic had long worn off, but the rocking motion of Vihrein’s running did wonders for keeping the child calm and peaceful.

Occasionally, the child would start to squirm in discomfort, and the two of them would stop. Sometimes the child would become fussy with hunger, but there were moments when it was clear that the little one just needed to move around a bit on her own. Vihrein’s body also needed nourishment, but the forest was full of food to keep her current form fit and full of life. Her new body was remarkably adaptable to the environment.

The toddler also seemed to glean a great amount of joy from the forest. She would run about on her stubby little legs, cooing in delight at various shiny or colorful things on the ground. Once, she pointed at the root of a tree, and cried out in delightful laughter. The little girl looked up to see if Vihrein was watching, and then bent down to pick something up. She had found a large, shiny metallic green beetle which easily evaded the child’s clumsy attempts to catch it. Vihrein bent over, grasping the beetle by its sides and turning it for the child to see.

“Pretty!” the child exclaimed, and then broke into laughter as Vihrein set the beetle down, letting it scurry off into the forest. This particular beetle was an important hunter, as it fed on caterpillars that would decimate the forest if they went unchecked. In some ways, the beetle was a distant reflection of Vihrein’s true nature. There was a surprising tug at the center of her chest, a small indication of warmth. Virhein felt a … desire to show this smiling little girl more of her forest.

The next few days fell into a comfortable pattern. The leagues didn’t exactly fly by, but Vihrein found the trip to be almost pleasant. She was learning to see the world through the rather limited senses of humans. But she was also learning to see the world through the eyes of a small child. It was a world of immediate emotions and unending wonder. Vihrein remained vigilant for signs of Raa’alle although her powers of observation were now focused on the child. The girl had no sense for danger, and her curiosity about the forest was intriguing but annoying. It was a wonder that humans survived in great numbers.

Vihrein took a path that headed directly for the hillside that was created from the death of a great green dragon. Their route rounded past the verdant, knotty hill of mosses and boulders. At the base of the far side of the hill was a game trail, marked by a string of fragrant white flowers. Upon sighting them, the little girl squealed in delight and started to squirm.

Vihrein set her down, and she ran towards the flowers, laughing and chanting “li-li, li li!” She picked a few of the small blossoms. They were indeed beautiful, and Vihrein felt a strange compulsion to weave a few into the little girl's hair. It greatly improved her smell, which was certainly more important than the smile it put on the child’s face.

They set off along the path, white flowers catching the light under the thick trees. About two leagues down the trail, they came to a small hut that had been fashioned from slices of stone stacked on top of each other. It was a small, square little building. Vihrein did not need acute senses to tell that it was currently occupied, quite possibly by more than one person. Vihrein stood underneath a large nearby tree, observing. There were at least four men rummaging around the little structure. From their activity, they were clearly looking for something.

“Bah, there’s nothing here,” said one of the men inside.

“This place was cleaned out long ago,” said another. “Old Leonard was a hermit, I doubt he had anything of note to his name if he lived in a hut like this.”

“Someone would have us believe that he was just a simple hermit, but look at this,” said a third man. “These are ink stains. There is a pile of rotting oak galls outside. I think the crazy old man was making his own ink.”

“Well then, it appears there are perhaps secrets to uncover here,” said the fourth man. “Alwin, Godwin, I want you to search every stone in the hut. Perhaps old Leonard had a spot to secret his parchments. Edmund and I will search the grounds for any other clues.”

The girl at her chest once again squirmed, wanting to get out of her sling. Out of habit, Vihrein set the child down, right as one of the men rounded the corner of the little stone hut. He was dressed in boiled leather, with metal strips stuck to it for added protection. A breeze came up behind him, and the full combination of his scent reached Vihrein. The tang of the metal combined with the oiled leather and the musk of a human male confirmed Vihrein’s suspicion. Men had been at his Dam’s nest.

“Aelfred!” the man cried out. “We aren't alone! There is a woman here, and a child!”

There was a scrambling in the hut, and the remaining three men ran outside. They were all dressed in a similar fashion. All of them were armed with long daggers and short swords at their belts. One of them was holding a bow with an arrow nocked and ready.

“Easy now, lass,” said the one with the bow. “Why are you out here in the woods? This is not a good place for a woman and a child.”

A short chuckle came from a large brute of a man. “We can offer you and your child protection, for a small fee, of course.”

Vihrein’s awareness stretched out, finding their minds soft and open. It only took a moment to read their intentions. They would do violence with no provocation, they were men who only lived in the pursuit of pleasure. Their leader, the one who called himself Aelfried, had a much more disciplined mind, a byproduct of an education before he left what he called “the Church.” Aelfried’s more focused mind proved to be only a slight challenge.

Vihrein was absorbed in all the new information, picking up on elements of the men’s life. The men slowly drew closer, mistaking Vihrein’s inaction for helplessness.

“And who are you, little one?” the brute named Alwin asked. “Are you the little lady Aanand? If so, your mother will pay a pretty piece of coin to have you back.”

As the men approached, the girl had pressed herself to Vihrein’s leg, finally displaying a sense for danger. Aelfried cast searching eyes toward the child. His attention was so focused, Vihrein found it easy to pick out an image of what he was looking for. A heart-shaped royal birthmark on the girl’s right leg.

Suddenly, the nature of Raa'alle’s trap became clear. Somehow, she had stolen the youngest girl child from a royal family. Raa'alle was manipulating the humans to work toward her own ends. Vihrein’s mind branched out, searching through threads of future possibilities that radiated out from this one act, much like the roots of a great tree through the ground.

As Aelfried approached, trying to get an identifying look at the small brown heart on Anand’s left leg, time slowed to a standstill. Vihrein’s mind explored a future dominated by humans who had learned much from the ants, breeding in great numbers and turning their surroundings into vast hives. A mass of little bodies that would sting and crawl and chew their way across the earth, bringing every part of it under their dominion. Behind it all, Vihrein could sense Raa'alle's desire for control and domination.

Vihrein made a decision. She reached down and caught Aanand as the humans all crumpled into a deep sleep. Vihrein took the sleeping child and placed her in a nook created by the roots of a nearby tree. Then, she picked up the sleeping men and carried them back to the little stone hut. Vihrein then paused for a moment, remembering the men’s certainty that the hut hid a secret space.

It wasn’t hard for Vihrein to find. There was a stone in the wall that concealed a small space, big enough to store a rolled up piece of parchment:

My Confession

I write this with all the agony of one who has been betrayed by his own base desire. For years, I have lived a life of peace in this part of the forest, doing my best to find communion with God through the beauty of his creation. Alas, I believe that my sin of Pride, a conviction that I would be chosen, hath brought me to ruin. I have been visited by a magnificent beauty, who I thought to be an angel from above. She told me that I had been chosen to defeat a great Wyrm. She bade me venture out on a quest to uncover a holy relic, a bone from a great saint that was filled with quicksilver. From this, my angel instructed me in the construction of a spear to defeat the Beast. To my shame, this great weapon was destroyed in the fight. I was gravely wounded, and the poison of the Wyrm seeped into my system despite the blessings of my benefactor. In the throes of battle, I saw not one, but two great beasts fighting in the wood. I now suspect that I was not led by an angel of heaven, but instead by another great demon. My last memory of the fight was an evil laugh of triumph. As I slowly succumb to my wounds, I know I have been abandoned by my benefactor. I can only pray that my pride has not let loose some other evil on the world.

May God have Mercy on my soul.

Leonard of Limousin

With this proof that Raa'alle had indeed been involved in the death of their mother, Vihren was overtaken with a sense of great purpose. She staged a grisly scene inside the hut. A setting that depicted men of violence coming to a deadly disagreement and perishing from their ire. Then, she stole a bear cub from a nearby lair, stripping it of meat and fur. With the sleeping Aanand as the model, Vihrein softened and molded the bear cub’s bones, shaping them into the likeness of a small child.

Then, Vihrein returned to the Zöld with the young Aanand to raise a future queen that was intimately familiar with the harmony of the forest.

From the Encyclopedia Mundica:

Queen Aanand, Legendary queen of Mercia

Aanand, also known as Aanand the Green, Aanand ap Pyd, and Aanand le Fey, was a legendary queen from the 6th century. There are many conflicting historical accounts surrounding her birth, but the 7th century historian Beda in her Canonical Historie of the Viridis collected local narratives detailing stories about her abduction as a young child and reappearance 13 years later. According to legend, a great faerie took pity on the starving child, as her abductors were fighting over how best to ransom her from King Creoda and Queen Cearo. What is certain are the historical records of Aanand returning to claim the throne as the only surviving child of Creoda and Cearo, whose four other children had died in their youth. Her claim to the throne was confirmed by Queen Cearo’s recognition of a royal heart-shaped birthmark. Aanand’s ascension to the throne has spawned many legends of her ties to the faerie world. Most notably, her story is considered the inspiration of the modern Green movement, and elements of her story have been used as a source for many children’s books.

Vihrein sat at his desk, looking out through the glass windows that provided a stunning view of a wide valley that was thick with trees and tall buildings. His office, cradled between thick limbs of a great live oak, was simply decorated. Unlike humans, he had no great love of things except for books, one of his few indulgences. But Vihrein was fascinated by the sheer variety that their endless ingenuity could produce. On his desk, a massive solid slab of burled oak, was his phone, a few folders containing confidential briefs, and a large book open to one of his favorite passages.

The descendants of Aanand had stayed true to her teachings. In the millennia that had followed, they had developed and grown, but they remained in harmony with the forests around them. They had discovered great medicines and powers by uncovering the secrets hidden in bark and fungus. They had found ways to harness the power of the sun to do so much more than produce the growth of plants. Now, they were even turning to the stars, ready to explore new worlds.

By embracing their development, Vihrein had grown with the humans that he had taken as his charges. Once again, his sister’s attempts to lead him to ruin had instead led him to a harmony and balance that he would not have dreamed possible without her machinations. She had led him to a place where he was surrounded by humans who loved him, even if his very nature remained an enigma to them. In turn, he loved them not as individuals but as agents of balance and growth.

He now felt intimately connected with all of them. He had raised them out of their childhood, through their own time of Éretlen and now into adulthood as a species. Vihrein was proud of his children, who would thrive for countless eons, growing in balance as they spread across the universe.

There was one last task to complete. The RA corporation had just unsuccessfully attempted another hostile takeover of his company. A few well-coordinated poison pill provisions from a large number of loyal investors easily deflected RA corp’s aggression.

With a sigh, Vihrein tapped out go orders to key personnel. The time had come to move past Raa’alle’s contribution to his balance. She had indeed created her own demesne, one made of corruption, deceit, and exploitation. The price to her rise in power was paid by humanity through disasters. Vihrein tolerated her violence, as it led to die offs in various places around the planet, keeping the human population in balance. But humans finally had reached an equilibrium, growing past their destructive nature.

Tomorrow morning, Vihrein’s followers and allies were going to launch a massive dawn raid in a bid to take over RA corp. A coordinated media release would follow, proving RA corp was covering up numerous industrial accidents and leaching heavy metals into the environment. RA corp would have to pay massive amounts in greenmail to avoid a takeover because his sister would never relinquish control of it or dilute her stock. Then RA corp would collapse while fending off fines, litigation, and a PR disaster.

He felt a twinge of regret for his sister, momentarily. If only she had learned that life is a great interconnected web, stronger and more resilient when each part was understood and nourished. Instead, she continued to choose a reliance on her own strength, clawing her way to the top through fear and domination.

Viherin looked forward to leaving her in the past as his children reached for the stars.

JDB - Midjourney

Fantasy
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About the Creator

JD Bickle

Half the time I'm stuck in my head, the other half I'm just being entertained by the world around me. If you look up, I'm the one who isn't glued to my phone.

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Outstanding

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