A woman and her son are on opposite sides of an age-old war between secret societies, but she refuses to release him without a final ultimatum. A short story, 4700 words, set in my blood magic world called Haem.
My beautiful son,
Your mother is an Anuvite. You know that, of course – you have just never accepted it, despite my whole existence to the contrary.
But no matter – I have given up trying to convince you. Your mother is also dead, or she will be by the time you have read this. My companions in Anuva are coming for me as you insisted they would.
Your mother says no more. She is silent in her zeal to love selflessly, proud to plunge into oblivion for her son. But I, Refoan Omzynyes of Anuva, say to you: you cruel, blind fool. How do you presume that you can love your bride, sacrificing for her and glorying in her and crushing your soul for the smallest chance to make her life better, when you cannot even love your own mother? Of course, you would insist that I am not so worthy of love as Couryan is. Very well, then. Let us examine that hypothesis. I am not worthy of love, being an Anuvite with her fingers entangled in metal and numbers, so you never bothered to love me (though you could have if you had wanted, naturally). Meanwhile Couryan is worthy of love, being a very pretty Suyn girl with Sight, ethereal and half-lost in heavenly worlds – and so you will bother to love her, and you are sure that you can.
I have a different hypothesis. I say that I am worthy of love – I will even say I am as worthy as Couryan, an almost perfect Anuvite as she is an almost perfect Suyn. That you didn’t love me shows that you couldn’t love me, and so you cannot love Couryan. You will break her heart, too. She will also fall prey to her own companions, her Suyn companions, too gloriously devoted to her heavenly worlds to see or care that they come for her. But at least she is yours to crush.
Your father was a Suyn spy planted in my Anuvite cell. I realized this soon after I realized I was pregnant with you, but I had you anyways. You were my son to have, my chance to remake the situation. I was too good of an Anuvite to use our Anuvite technology. On you, at any rate: as it turned out, your father’s Suyn blood magic calling to the gods of Couryan’s heaven could do almost nothing against our Anuvite metal bullets that we’d shaped with our own hands.
There was little patience in Anuva for a young woman raising a child on her own while trying to contribute to the work. Our city Odiry was expanding back then, and they needed some way to cross the Huaryens river that ran just on the outskirts. Either we of Anuva would build a bridge, or Suyn would come in with their magic, muse over their Sight for a while, and then command the water or the animals or do something else deep and mysterious. We were fighting hard with them for Odiry’s public works department – no time for a small, whimpering child. I had you anyways. I stayed at home with you. I kept you out of the fight over Odiry, the bridge, the Huaryens itself. I chose to let you play in the Huaryens instead, bringing you there on bright summer days while I tried to rush through our engineering manuals and sketch out plans, distracted by your hair turning from blond to red and gold and by your first words: water, bird, grass.
When you were five Suyn got into the police department while we weren’t paying attention and framed and exposed our cell, and we were all being hunted down. Anuva’s scholars advised us to remain composed, stay together, keep our covers and let them question us so Anuva would not lose its foothold in Odiry altogether. Suyn didn’t have strong enough cases against most of us as it was, but they would if we fled in the night and were mysteriously missing the next day. But the scholars were true Anuvites and could not order us or force us. My colleague Zoanos, who went without sleep for days calculating forces and drafting the bridge that we built over the Huaryens, chose to stay in Odiry and was executed by Suyn. Not because of anything Zoanos did wrong – because my other colleague Diefen, who worked in her same division of the public works department and had rejected her years ago because Diefen was too intimidated by her brilliance, had become terrified and fled rather than choose his way rationally and hold his ground to protect his companions. We hated him. And then I followed him out of the city, for your sake, so that Suyn would not find you if they found me and make their usual ridiculous assumption that I would try to force a young child who couldn’t choose for himself into Anuva, where we are all there by choice.
You and I wandered for years. I had chosen to wander, and so I chose to make it an adventure, hoping that you would choose so too. And you did – you looked at the huge sunsets that washed over the fields of wild wheat near Namyuenes and saw fire, glory, and wonder; you laughed for delight at the swarms of indistinguishable grey-brown birds descending on spilled food in Renoin; everywhere there was nature or animals, you were happy, while my ears rang for lack of city noises and buildings clattering up from the ground and numbers rolling through my mind. I found an apartment in Sofyues, where one window looked out on a little garden of flowers for you, and the other at a building with Nurevian facades for me to stare at and dissect. We stayed there for four years before I saw, like a ghost, the face of the woman who had arrested Zoanos. You know her face very well: it is well reflected in her granddaughter Couryan.
We left the apartment with you in tears for your flowers – though you refused to acknowledge either the tears or the flowers as we left – and we wandered again. Your soul healed in the emptiness and continual surprises of the wild lands we traveled through, while mine clutched at every schedule, list, and semblance of order I could create in the rolling irregularity of nature. We came to Somony, which was so full of Anuva that every government department had one of us leading it and every grid-spaced, evenly paved street had a number. I felt safe, and I thought you would adjust soon and perhaps enjoy your lessons more coming from a teacher in a school than from your mother, but we only lived there for two years before Couryan’s grandmother was hovering in the corners of my eyes again. We moved to Eneyues. You asked me why we were moving again. I told you that there were people who hated me and wanted to hurt me, and might hurt you as well, and I had to protect us. You asked why they hated me. I said I couldn’t tell you for your own protection, and that I would tell you when you were older. Which was stupid, and set you on fire with curiosity, but what could I tell you? About Suyn and Anuva, hidden in every corner of your beautiful world, locked in eternal mortal combat? That your mother was Anuvite and you too were hunted and torn from every place-that-might-become-home because of Anuva, because you were with Anuva, because as far as they were concerned you were Anuva regardless of anything you did or chose?
I want you to make your own life, my son – and if that life is with Couryan of Suyn, then go live that life with all your being and energy and love. But if you cannot love, you cannot love Couryan and you cannot have the life you desire. You’ll only trap yourself again with a binding to pain you did not choose.
We went to Eneyues, which was also teeming with Anuva, and I threw myself into the cell there to make something more of my life than just fearing, running, reacting. I needed to be proactive. Unfortunately, Couryan’s grandmother was also proactive, and she was there in a few months. I packed up again – and then my Anuva colleague Tonoas appeared at my door and demanded to know why I was leaving. I told him about Couryan’s grandmother and a little about my connections to the disaster in Odiry, and gave a very impressive speech about how my priority was to protect my son first, and then he told me, “Well, of course. That’s my priority too, and that of any other sensible Anuvite I know. Stay right here and just see how safe your son will be.”
They started to trail Couryan’s grandmother, close in around her, pin her down. Tonoas tarried in our neighborhood, drifting by every now and then to intimidate any hypothetically present Suyn, and then he tarried in our apartment, and then my bed. As far as I was concerned, I had made the world I wanted: it was Anuvite, ordered, full of freedom for me to work and to love, and for you to go to school and learn all you wanted about the sky and birds and flowers. Even what the Suyn said about sky and birds and flowers – that they were messengers of heaven, not carriers of wildness, strange powers, and fear. Nature’s wildness started to infect you, and you thought it was heaven. The Suyn told you it was heaven, and you chose to say yes.
I didn’t know this was happening and that the Suyn were getting to you, even though the signs were obvious, because the signs were you. Nurturing plants in the dirt for hours while oblivious to your own safety, watching flocks of migrant birds from improbable secret hideouts you’d found, constantly yearning for open and fresh air and leaving doors and windows open to send disarraying drafts through my papers – that was your soul, your true will. I was happy for you because you seemed as full of freedom and delight as I was. As far as we were concerned, I had chosen Eneyues, and you had chosen Eneuyes, and I had chosen you, and you had chosen me, and I had chosen Tonoas of Anuva and you had chosen Couryan of Suyn.
I think you told me once, or else I overheard or saw when looking through your letters, that Couryan was like a bird herself or a sunset or a flower – beautiful, ephemeral, capricious – only she knew. Nature didn’t know its own nature – it simply was, blindly. Couryan saw who she was and sought for it with all her heart and mind. She did in fact See: she had Sight, she could See for all of nature and know what it was, and then push it towards its truth. You could say that Couryan chose who she was – except that her choice was always aligned with her Sight and always aligned with Suyn. She never wanted anything else, never worked, never struggled, never suffered. The choice was always sitting there fully formed in front of her for her to pick up.
In this case, the choice was you. You were obviously in love with Suyn’s loves, the wild unordered things – you fit in her Sight of heaven. And she fit with your common, mundane sight of heaven, with her golden hair and delicate, open face. You spent a great deal of time together at school, and then at Couryan’s house while I was delighted to suddenly have plenty of time to be with Anuvites and work for Anuva. Two years passed, Couryan’s grandmother only making very occasional appearances. Then my colleague Nonoany was murdered.
Anuvites have exceedingly little patience for murder. Suyn can have the same level of distate for it, for sure – unless the murder is part of their Sight of heaven, in which case it is as beautiful as a wave throwing itself into a beach or a tree crashing in a forest. Evidently, Nonoany’s body crushed by the stones of her house and splattered with blood was beautiful. And so Suyn made it so.
We of Anuva immediately went on the hunt for Suyn, trawling through every street of Eneyues for who could have done this to our companion. We can have a great deal of patience for killing, too, when it comes to someone who has broken every rational moral law by murdering an innocent human being. And so we eventually came to Couryan’s house – Couryan and her grandmother’s house. You were there when we got there. You were there with Couryan, playing with blood, playing with magic.
Everything was clear in a moment. An Anuvite mind is always running, collecting data and finding patterns, clicking together pieces of puzzle on the edge of awareness until suddenly a sharp image leaps out from the pieces and crashes through into your consciousness. It happens when I’m working on an engineering problem, trying this way, trying another way, this number or that number or this particular configuration or what can possibly – yes. The insight breaks through and consumes me for a moment. In the space of a second my will is one with the universe.
You crashed into my mind, you and Couryan and Suyn and Couryan’s grandmother and me and Nonoany – you with Couryan, you with blood and Suyn magic – you with the same Suyn magic that had killed Nonoany, you part of the same group we wanted to kill to avenge her – and I grabbed you and rushed past my Anuvite companions out of the house, firing my gun into the ceiling to distract them, except that some of the bullets bounced off and came hurling down into them, and I heard Tonoas scream, all of them screaming, really, either from their wounds or their shock. I didn’t even stop to get anything from our apartment. I just left. With you, horrified and terrified and angry with curiosity, but safe.
And you were right to be angry, and I knew it. I had snatched you away from the home, the people, and even the things you loved, violently and suddenly. I knew I’d have been angry if I were you. I couldn’t bring you back – you had already marked yourself as complicit in Nonoany’s murder by being with Suyn and using Suyn magic, and now I had branded myself a traitor too by trying to protect you and possibly hurting Anuvites in the process. So all I could do was tell you the truth about these mysterious people who hated me. You were thirteen; you were beginning to become a man with a fully-formed will.
I told you about Anuva, and I told you about Suyn, and I hoped that your experiences with Suyn might help to balance out the bias in whatever I said about them. I told you that I was Anuvite, and every choice I’d made to protect you I’d made because I was Anuvite and I was determined to make a good life for us and not give up my will into fate. I said I was sorry, deeply sorry for all you’d suffered because of me. I told you that I knew what you were feeling about Couryan because I was feeling that way about Tonoas. (You hugged me then, your red-brown-gold hair against my cheek and your awkward, stretched-out adolescent body pressed into mine its echo.) I told you that I didn’t want to force you into anything, that you weren’t Anuva unless you chose to be, and you shouldn’t let yourself be Suyn either unless you chose to be. In a perfect world you wouldn’t have already been treated and made to suffer because people thought you were Anuva or Suyn: but it was not a perfect world. It still isn’t a perfect world. Is Anuva, that I love so much, about to kill me now because I ever chose Suyn?
You hugged me. But you didn’t say anything. You released me, and we continued on our way down the endless road. We came to Denyory eventually, where I thought we might be safe because it was so Suyn. Surely Couryan’s grandmother and her granddaughter wouldn’t think to follow us there.
I don’t know how quickly they did, because you never told me. You ate your meals with me, and then you went out into the fresh air to do whatever you did. You had to go out, of course; I wanted to stay hidden, and somebody had to buy all the mundane things we depended on. I hated not having those small regular chores I could control to mark out my days and weeks, but I did it because I thought we were less likely to be caught by either Suyn or Anuva if I stayed inside.
I slowly started to integrate into the tiny local Anuvite cell, easing my way in with another name. You were probably part of the Suyn cell at that point. You were sixteen and very handsome, with strong arms from working in the ground and delicate fingers for handling flowers. Only my hands are strong – for writing, for drawing, for holding books, for adjusting machinery, for knitting even fabric and handling small, precise guns. I have good eyes, too – especially for surveillance, after Tonoas’s training. So I started to go out sometimes to watch for Anuva, hiding in dark corners and buildings and simply observing for hours at a time. I tipped them off to a plot to murder an Anuvite, and they started to trust me. Life seemed to be working. It was moving, at least. I was always afraid, and every hour you spent away from me made you seem more alien and opaque, but years were passing without Couryan’s grandmother appearing. My plan was working.
I’ve deduced by now that I didn’t see her only because they’d decided to get me through you, instead. I slipped out of Couryan’s grandmother’s fingers too easily when she went for me directly, but if my son could catch me instead? Remove a pesky Anuvite whose existence threatened heaven, and make a Suyn with nowhere else to go but that heaven. It was clear. I could see it even then. I just didn’t dare to speak about Suyn and Anuva again with you – to force your will, or see what it truly was. I wanted you to be free, and I was afraid to see how you were free. I remained in our apartment or my surveillance cubbyholes, silent.
I saw you one day, kissing Couryan. Your passion for her was too beautiful, too full of life – I snatched bits and pieces of it and then had to look away from the pain of it and my reverence for it and the knowledge of what it entailed. I was determined to let you love Couryan if you would. You came home every day with the same blank-faced and somber expression you’d learn to put on, and I wanted to throw my arms around you and scream at you to go and love Couryan and leave me to suffer in joy. But I was afraid of what it might do to your love, and of course what it might do to me, if it might spring the trap being built around me. Still, I couldn’t contain myself. I started to be sloppy as I left my cubbyholes, hoping you would see me. At home I didn’t pry about how you’d spent your day, but I talked to you about sunsets I knew you’d find beautiful and small daily rituals I knew you enjoyed, hoping you would notice.
Don’t you see that I loved you? I desperately needed you to realize it. But if you ever did, it only makes that way you’ve treated me that much more unlike love.
I think Couryan saw me first. I’m guessing that she started to pressure you into finally acting and getting me out of the way. I just kept letting her see me, and letting you see me, and aching for you to figure out for yourself that your joy would only expand mine. But you remained silent and stone-faced.
Then one night you suddenly turned to me and said, “Mother, you need to be careful.” Your face had emotion in it. In a moment, I was blinded with hope. “You’re so exposed here like this with no one protecting you if the Anuva from Eneyues ever want to go after you. You need to…” You trailed off.
You were giving me a chance. You had built in an escape plan, for me.
“You can’t trust Anuva to protect you,” you said. “You were afraid they’d kill you. They want to kill you, not protect you. You need to…”
You looked me in the eye. “You need to get out of Anuva. They don’t care about you; you need to get out of it before they kill you.”
In a moment, I wasn’t blind anymore. I saw clearly.
But my silence just encouraged you. You’d spent too much time with Couryan, who actually indicates agreement by silence; I never do that, I speak my mind. But you just continued, “You need to find someone else to help you. I could help you, I have so many friends here. Just leave Anuva, stop relying on them – I know you must be relying on them to protect you here. Then my friends can help you…”
This was the out you gave me. This was your idea of a chance. Of a choice, even, a free choice. Leave my very self, the reason I suffered and you suffered, the only thing that held the pieces of my life and memory together, the only reason you even exist – and have my son. Or lose him, the last person I love, as he kills me with his own trap that he made for me, but do it as myself.
This was your idea of a choice. This was your idea of giving someone a choice. This was your idea of love.
How will you love Couryan? What kind of choices are you going to give her? Perhaps you are already giving her something delightful like “keep your Sight and the aura of otherworldliness it gives you that keeps me so madly in love with you, or else lose me if you ever come just a little too much more down to earth”? Maybe you’re giving her the wonderful freedom to kill an innocent, frightened woman made foolish by love, or else make herself despicable to the man she loves by betraying everything he thinks she stands for? Or perhaps you’ve already participated in her liberation, her choice to seduce the strange Anuvite boy before she was even a woman with her grandmother egging her on, rather than go against everything she knows and leave alive the woman whose existence threatens heaven?
I have had to make such choices. I’ve made them over and over again, for you. I’m Anuvite and I have to make my life out of my choices, somehow, even if they are terrible, if they are not real choices at all. But my family and my companions, the people of Anuva, should fill my life with real choices. We are here together to give each other freedom and make the fickle world with its fleeting sunsets and wild flowers hold us down a little less. But Suyn wants to hold us all down, to fix us into their tapestry of heaven or cut us out if we don’t belong. Make our choices for us so we never even have to think about freedom.
Maybe you think that you love me. Maybe you think I should consider that better than hating me purposefully. No, it’s not better. If you think you love me, you have so misunderstood love that you are twisted and dangerous and you will trap Couryan forever in the frozen vision of heaven where she is already losing herself.
But you made your choice. And I made my choice. I said to you then, calmly, “I can’t leave Anuva. The people who want to kill me aren’t the only Anuvites. I’m still safest with them.”
You pled with me a little more. Not that much. You did at least make it obvious that you intended to do away with me by telling the Anuvites of Eneyues where I was, probably making it seem like killing me would make the whole Suyn structure in Denyory collapse. Instead, of course, your purpose was to get me out of the way and potentially have evidence to convict a whole cell of Anuvites of cold-blooded murder. If it came out that I was Anuvite, all the better – they were even killing their own. It was the kind of thing that got Anuva dragged out into the open, exposed to the horror of the public like had happened in Odiry.
Assuming the Anuvites of Eneyues would forget about the oddly helpful anonymous tip-off, however. They know you and Couryan and her grandmother, and the minute they got any whiff of you they’d start going after you too, as my Suyn collaborator. They’d only become angrier when they realized I had been innocent. We’d all be dead in the end, justice done.
Except that I told them first. I wrote a letter and sent it to Tonoas and everyone else from the cell whose addresses I’d had. I told them that I was a Suyn spy, that I had killed Nonoany, and that you were innocent. You were always a double agent, secretly working for Anuva while pretending to be Suyn like your mother. You embedded yourself deep into Suyn to keep your true loyalties safe and to learn as much as you could. But now you’re about to marry a Suyn girl, and you’re not sure you can keep up the deception any longer.
The letter’s in your handwriting, you see. I didn’t teach you how to write for years for nothing. It’s written in your voice, in your handwriting, with your signature, or at least what your handwriting could be extrapolated to have become in the three years since Tonoas has seen it.
This is the out I’m giving you. This is my idea of love. I’m going to die anyways – I’m sitting right now in the room where my letter in your voice said that I would be. The Anuvites are likely coming from Eneyues now. This way or your way, they are going to kill me – it is coming at me from every direction, unstoppable.
But maybe I can still make the world a little more free for you. You can stay with Suyn if you want, or you can choose my story for yourself and join Anuva of Eneyues. You could join them and then beg to simply be left to live in peace, severing connections to both organizations. A real choice always involves more than two options. You could also use the opportunity to ambush the Eneyues Anuvites as they travel back and help make the world a better place. You could do nothing, simply let them kill me and return in peace. You could join them and try to overthrow the Denyory Suyn. You could ambush them and try to overthrow the Eneyues Anuva. You could do anything.
But whatever you do, your bride is waiting for you, and you love her. You want to love her. You want to love her as much as I know I love you.
And this is how I think you can love her that much, creating your own love out of your own choices. Be Suyn, be Anuva, be anything, but this woman that you would transform your whole life for? Let her be free too.
I think it should go without saying at this point that I love you, and that I am of Anuva, both forever, until death. You should realize that by now. And so I choose to die for you.
“The world is evil, but the will is strong.”