Hello again! I’ve been submitting to magazines, and around the rejections and awaiting rejections I’ve gotten some more writing done for here, too. Please enjoy this short tale of a solider, a goddess, and the mistake that brought them together.
Artwork above was commissioned from Kami, who is a pleasure to work with. I highly recommend their services (as long as their commissions are open).
The Goddess of Raya’s Biggest Mistake, by Ashe Mocaw
Last week, if you had asked Raya who the worst person in the world was, she’d have picked the entire population of Dess, Noowen’s longtime enemy and northern neighbour. That, or her older sister Fefim, who always manages to make Raya look pathetic. Last week, her biggest concern had been using her family magic to summon Danar, the Goddess of War, before the Dess managed to. Perfect Fefim had already summoned a god—not that Raya’s bitter she summoned the God of Storms mid-battle and saved their navy. With her sister’s ‘noble sacrifice’, the most important task of any war fell to her. She had stormed off to the temple in a huff, boasting of her talent and will, pledging to rendezvous with the army by the end of the month with good news.
Oh, how Raya misses last week.
“And what is this?!”
Raya pinches her nose, trying to block out the horrible goddess behind her. She had tried to summon Danar, the Strong, the Brave, the ‘able to kill people with a spear made of fire and darkness’. It had seemed so easy—and if Fefim could do it, so could she, right?
“Ahem! I asked you a question, human!”
Raya turns, trying to keep her face from freezing in a deep scowl. The goddess points a long finger at a broken sword thrust into the ground as if it had personally offended her. Which it had. Everything in Noowen offends Eode, the Goddess of Peace.
Raya is not bringing good news to the army. Not by a long shot.
“It’s a sword,” Raya drawls. “That’s a sharp pointy thing we humans use to kill each other. It’s fun.”
Eode puffs out her cheeks. “I know what a sword is! Why is it here?”
Raya spins and starts walking again, putting a hand on the hilt of her own sword. Eode squawks, rushing to match her pace. It’s only after a few deep breaths Raya answers her. “It’s here because, during a war, someone fought here. Or maybe two farmers got in a fight and decided to use weapons instead of words. Take your pick.”
“I can’t approve of this!”
“What a shock,” Raya mutters. She tunes out the rest of Eode’s rant about how horrible war is, how she can’t believe she’s trapped on the mortal plane until her quest is fulfilled, how she can’t believe the words were meant for Danar. Ugh. Eode has a litany of complaints about Danar, ranging from her snorting laugh to her eating habits. Meanwhile, Fefim has a nice, stoic god at her side, who never says anything longer than he needs to. And she has?
“—I can’t believe you humans are at war again. It’s only been thirty years since the last one. Do you know how long that is for us gods? A blink!” Raya doesn’t have to see Eode to imagine her pose: arms crossed, her deep olive-brown skin flush with anger. At some point she’ll flip her long black hair over her shoulder, and it’ll catch the light and shine like oil, blues and purples and greens.
Raya’s dark brown hair is short and matted and currently caked with mud. Her skin has no holy glow, and while it’s almost tanned, it’s only because of the sunburns that lace her pale cool skin. She picks at dried skin on her cheek as the goddess continues her rant.
“—and don’t get me started on Danar. I hope the Dess also fail to summon her, because then I won’t have to hear about her latest adventures in her vineyard. She never listens! It’s wine this, wine that, when she’s not in a fight. It’s like her ears are—”
“Can you stop complaining for five minutes?!” Raya stomps her foot down, landing squarely on a sharp rock. She winces, trying to pass it off as an angry flinch. She rounds on the goddess, ignoring the thunder in Eode’s dark eyes, matching it with the steely grey of her own. “Do you think I want you to be here? Huh? I’d have sent you back already if I could! It’s your stupid magic rules that bind you here until you finish your quest!”
“It’s not my fault the gods were so arrogant in ancient times. If I had been born before their silly little spat with you, not after, I could have resolved it much better.”
Raya wouldn’t call the gods trying to destroy all life a ‘silly little spat’. More like a ‘near apocalypse that still haunts the continent’. Her teeth grind together as Eode uses one perfect hand to flip her hair over her shoulder. That’s it. She’s done.
“Wait here,” Raya snaps, adjusting her gauntlets and boots before starting into the brush to the sides of the road. It’s a struggle to hide her limp. “I need to do some scouting.”
“We aren’t finished our conversation!”
“Oh, yes we are. I’ll be no more than an hour. Just stay out of sight and try not to make trouble.”
“Trouble?! I am the Goddess of Peace, not some two-bit trickster who—”
Raya stomps loudly into the underbrush, hoping the noise will drown out the complaints long enough for her to escape. Last week. She misses it more than she can say.
She does not actually do any scouting.
Raya shreds the leaves off a dead branch she’d tripped over as she storms blindly through the woods. Goddess of Peace. What did she even do? The Dess and Noowen have been at war for five hundred years—and Eode is easily a thousand. Has she ever even tried to stop a war? She was doing a terrible job of it, considering.
A sound, muddled by her anger. By the time she pauses to listen, to process it as footsteps, it’s too late. Raya’s hand is on the hilt of her sword as she’s slammed into the ground from behind. She struggles, throwing back elbows, bashing her head into something and earning a grunt from the perpetrator. She catches hints of white stripes painted on leather armour. A Dess.
Gods be damned.
She feels a rope wrap around her wrists, her sword kicked away, and she’s flipped onto her back. A blonde Dess warrior stands over her, her pale skin covered in black tattoos. Each one is supposedly to honour a different god and bring favour to battle. It’s a stupid tradition, but it seems to have worked for her this time.
“I didn’t expect a Noowen foot soldier this far from the fight.” The Dess, who Raya decides to call ‘Tattoo Face’, smirks and gives Raya a firm kick in the gut. Raya grunts, but keeps focused. There’s always a way out, so long as she can find it.
“And I didn’t expect to meet the Goddess of Bad Outfits in Noowen, but here we are.”
Another kick. Okay, she deserved that one.
“Normally I’d take you back to our camp, interrogate you, find out some Noowen strategy. But…” Tattoo Face looks her up and down and snorts. “You don’t look like you know much about war.”
“Untie me and you’ll learn exactly how much I know about war,” Raya growls.
“I’ll pass, thanks.” Tattoo Face draws a long dagger from behind her back. The steel glints wickedly in the light, her blonde hair glowing like an unearthly halo.
Great. Now Raya’s going to die in a ditch. At least it would mean the world would be free of Eode, too. You can’t keep a quest asked of you by a human when said human is bleeding out in the middle of nowhere. A small mercy, to spare the rest of Noowen Eode’s horrid commentary. But not one worth dying for.
As Tattoo Face brings the dagger down, Raya rolls to the side. She hops to her feet, managing to dodge another blow as it rushes past her ear. She steps to the side, and pain shoots up her leg: the injury from that damn rock. She stumbles, giving Tattoo Face a chance to slam her back into a tree, pressing her arm against Raya’s throat.
“Any last words, Noowen?”
“Your breath is terrible,” Raya hisses. Tattoo Face draws back, the dagger poised to strike. Raya braces herself, her eyes scanning for an opening, another opportunity, another blow to land—
There’s a bright flash of light. Raya blinks rapidly, blinded. The pressure on her neck increases, then fades. When her vision clears, Tattoo Face is collapsed on the ground. Behind her, an arm raised, stands Eode, surrounded in a holy light.
Raya stares. Her mouth hangs open, mouthing silent, nonsense words, until Eode snaps her fingers in the air. The light dissipates in an instant. “Hello? Are you going to say ‘thank you’? I just saved your life!”
“Did you kill her?!” The words leap from Raya’s mouth before she can stop them. She expects Eode to get angrier, but her face morphs to one of horror.
“No! Of course not! Oh, but humans are so much weaker… could I have…? By mistake? Oh!”
Raya has to stifle a laugh as the Goddess of Peace hikes her pristine black robes over her knees, rushing to kneel beside Tattoo Face to ensure she’s still breathing. When Eode sighs with relief, a hand on her chest, Raya doubles over laughing, unable to resist. That makes Eode angry.
“You did that on purpose! Getting me all worried, you should be ashamed.” Her cheeks puff out again as she gets to her feet. Even flushed with embarrassment, Eode manages to look regal and ethereal. “Come. Let me untie you.”
Raya dutifully turns around, letting the goddess struggle with the knot while pretending she has everything under control. Raya does her best to look over her shoulder. “I didn’t think you were capable of hurting someone.”
“I’m the Goddess of Peace, not pacifism. Sometimes the only peaceful resolution to a problem is knocking the perpetrator unconscious for a while.”
The rope comes off, and Raya gives her wrist a rub before fetching her sword. She’s quiet as she attaches it back to her belt, eyeing Eode up and down. Something bothers her, even more than the knowledge there’s a Dess camp this far inland.
“If you had let me die, you could have gone back, you know.” Raya keeps her voice low, staring over the goddess’ shoulder. “I know you don’t want to be here.”
“I don’t. You humans are horrible messes.” Eode brushes non-existent dirt off her shoulder, and then fiddles with a piece of her hair. She bites her lip, shakes herself, and continues. “But I am here, and while I am, I want to try and end this war. Even if it’s not the way you humans prefer. Perhaps I can manage to make all our lives easier. And I’ve… that is, you…”
Raya waits, but Eode closes her mouth, looking angrier than ever. She turns on her heel, picking her way through the brush in the opposite direction that the road lies. Raya gives herself a moment to be completely confused before shrugging it off. Goddesses.
Eode makes it almost out of sight before she notices Raya isn’t following, and her anger flares full force as she stumbles her way back. “How long were you going to let me walk before you told me I was heading the wrong way, human?”
“A little longer. I wanted to kick the Dess a few times before you got back.”
“You…! And don’t kick her! She’s unconscious!” Eode shoves her accusing finger squarely between Raya’s eyes, and she raises her hands in innocence. Mischief must glint in her eyes, though, as Eode throws her arms up in exasperation. “This is how humans treat the gods? No wonder we tried to kill you.”
With all the ranting done, Eode scans the horizon, completely focused and completely lost. Raya jabs a thumb over her shoulder with a not so subtle cough, and Eode takes the hint, tossing her hair as if it was her idea all along. As she walks by, Raya hesitates, then grabs her wrist. Eode’s dark skin is smooth as marble, warm like summer.
“Thank you, Eode,” Raya murmurs.
A long pause. “You’re very welcome, Raya.”
If Raya didn’t know better, she’d think the goddess was smiling. But when she looks up, Eode’s annoyed expression is the one plastered across her face, and the moment is gone.
Raya lets her lead the way, occasionally muttering the correct directions when she wanders off the path. Perhaps Fefim and the army won’t be too upset with the goddess Raya’s bringing back. Eode is still powerful. She can help. Raya feels herself smile. Maybe Eode isn’t the worst person in the world after all. Maybe—
“Why do you humans not have better paths? I swear, I—”
Or maybe she is. Raya will have to wait for this rant to be over before she decides.