Bane War—Fury, Chapter One—Vertigo

Saffa opened her eyes.

The cold, indifferent void surrounded her. Pain like countless hornet stings mixed with many serpent bites swelled through her spinning, compacted body.

She tried to scream at whoever, or whatever, cast her into this abyss—no sound emerged. She clenched her teeth at the pain. What… the… fuck?!

The intense whirling shredded her vestibular system. Dizziness? Nausea? Mere child’s play. Her stomach wrenched, a river of burning sludge forcing its way up her throat, filling her mouth. Her jaw opened as a dam breached, freeing the nasty mass to its new, dark home. A sensation of warmth slurped down her chin.

So much puke I’m in… nothing. Who the Hells am I? Why can’t I remember anything? I hate being smooshed! She engaged her muscles to extend her limbs.

A force pushed back, holding firm with its uncaring grip.

Leather dug into her skin—her armor. Let go of me!

Silent darkness replied.

Tears threatened, but she refused them, her unseen countenance reforming with tenacity. Every fiber in her unleashed. Pushing. Straining. Fighting.

It compacted her like a sadistic vise.

Delirious from spinning, the pain blurred into numbness as her consciousness slipped away.


Saffa woke up, still spinning in the void, pervasive stings and bruising pain consuming her body.

Dread tugged at her heart. At her stomach. Yanking. Pulling. No… it’s not a dream. She bit her lip, limbs trembling while she strained for freedom.

It held.

Can’t move. Can’t even scream. No more! Her scream echoed in her mind’s cavern as she fought with every ounce of strength and pushed. Fire crawled up her spine and shoulder blades, faint pulses of light seeping through her leather armor. All muscles burned, her arms and legs stretching slightly. Yes! She poured it on, limbs moving. Stars circled in her vision, bright against the void. More extension. Almost there!

It forced her into the fetal position, a harsh stabbing pain raking her femur. She knew nothing.


Saffa, a deep voice rumbled in her mind. Wake up.

Slowly awakening with full body aches, her leg throbbing, she opened her eyes to the black, knowing her name again. I’m still here, spinning in nothing. At least I know my name now. Yea.

You’re not alone.

And I’ve lost it. Great.

You’re not crazy… yet.

Who are you? she thought, hoping dialog with herself would distract from the horror.

A prisoner like you. We must free ourselves.

Thanks for the offer, brain, but I almost had it last time, so I’ll get out on my own.

Saffa, I’m not you… I’m someone else—you need my help.

What’s your name?


The name sounded familiar. Still twirling, dizziness and nausea wracked her senses. Her stomach cramped as she silently wretched in repetition, and her consciousness waned.

The voice boomed in her head: Saffa! Stay awake!

Adrenaline spiking, she thought, It’s not me! I think my leg’s shattered.

Do nothing until the pain subsides. Remain alert.

How long will it take?

Several hours.

I can’t remember anything, but that feels fast to heal a bone break.

Call it a property of the void.

Do you remember things? Where are we?

So many questions—once we’re free, I’ll answer them.

Are you spinning too?

Yes, let me know when your leg feels better.

How did you get in my head?

With no response, she resigned to the fact she’d be spinning awake in this wretched void for hours.


Saffa’s leg tingled while she spun, dizzy in the void. The pain is gone.

When we push, we must do it fast with all our might, before it can react. If we hesitate, you might break more bones—we’ll have to wait hours again.

What about your bones?

On three, Saffa.

On or after three?

After three, the voice hissed in her mind. Understand?

Got it. I’ll count us off. Ready?


One. Two. Three! She pushed with desperation, her arms and legs extending partway. It’s working!

It pushed back, holding her limbs steady in a callous grip.

More Saffa!

Hot sensations came back, crawling around her spine and shoulder blades.


I am dammit! she thought, straining with eyes and teeth clenched. Cold sweat oozed from her pours, limbs moving again.


I. Will. Be. Free!

With a final adrenaline surge, her taut limbs straightened, spin reducing.

Fuck yes! she thought, punching while twirling. We did it! Are you still there?

Waves of force battered her body. Something tickled inside her brain, growing into tormenting shocks, and her involuntary scream produced no sound. Darkness came again.


Saffa awoke, bruised and spinning in the silent void. The brain shocks intensified.

I can’t breathe!

Warm air gusted against her skin.

She gasped.

Rumbles echoed in the darkness. Smashing and creaking noises grew closer.

Stone blocks?

Loud booms and crashes resounded. Torches and candelabras ignited, revealing a stone great hall with grand wooden doors—she spun in its center, a blur of leather armor: azure torso, yellow leggings, green boots.

She squinted from the brightness, spiraling down, long hair whipping about as her stomach rebelled, a spiral of sludge spewing from her mouth. She crashed down flat, her bare arms burning while scraping the floor. Her spin slowly stopped, but wooziness lingered.

The last zaps of her brain faded. “Worst. Vacation. Ever,” she groaned, spitting bile. “My head…” she said, pushing up to all fours, and standing. Her insides squeezed, and she dropped to her knees, breath pilfered as she projectile vomited a cocktail of fluids and chunks. “Blah…”

A glinting longsword caught her eye. She crawled through the mess, grabbed it, and sheathed it on her back. Again she rose, refusing to go down, arms out for balance.

More electrical shocks struck her throbbing brain.

“Not these again…”

Fire and ice hissed, crackling and whirling before her, forming a two-headed, rainbow-furred puppy. One head blazed red, breathing out steam. The other gleamed blue, exhaling frost.

She bonded with the creature in her heart, her shocks settling, but throbs remained. She massaged her temples, inhaling deeply. “Are you the voice?”

Tail wagging, their fiery head panted. “Not voice. Just Skadni.” The icy one tilted.

Astonished at a talking dog, she asked, “Skadni, did you hear a voice earlier?”

Their heads shook sideways. The fiery head nipped the icy one, eliciting a gentle growl.

“What do you remember?”

“Just know name,” their icy head said. “And you!”


The fiery head yapped, eyes bright. “You make Skadni!”

“Just now?”

“Yes,” said the fire head.

“I didn’t mean to make you. I’m Saffa, by the way.”

“Saffa,” said the icy head, sniffing her leg. “Friend.”

“Well, aren’t you the most adorable thing ever!”

The fiery head perked up. “This way!” The pup dashed to a set of doors, pawing them.

She stumbled ahead, braced herself, and opened one door.

The pup trotted, barking at a dim hallway ahead, adorned with torches and tapestries.

Head throbs intensified to pounding. “I don’t feel good.”

The dog halted, their fiery head tilting with concerned eyes. “Not good is… bad, right?” Both heads exchanged looks, their tail wagging. “But you’re moving. That’s good!” the icy head said.

“True,” she said, grimacing. “At least we’re exploring… wherever we are. Maybe we’ll find the voice.” She kneeled, patting the heads. Their fire and ice soothed her hands.

The pup returned her smile, eyes half-closed in delight.

She stood, wobbled, and reached back, gripping her sword’s hilt. Its touch grounded her. “I spent hours in darkness, spinning and sick.”

“Sorry,” said the icy head. “Sound like not fun.” The dog found a toppled golden chalice, sniffing voraciously. “Smell something,” said their fire head.

“What is it?” she asked, hobbling to lean on the wall nearby.

“Scent,” said the icy head, licking the chalice. “Yuck! Stinky blood!”


“Not person,” said their fire head. “Something else.”

“Blood and monsters. Sounds like a party. Any other smells?”

“Good you smell,” said the ice head. “All around.”

“Keep sniffing. Maybe you’ll find more scents.”

The dog led her to twin doors, splitting a symbol of a golden phoenix with blue moons by its long beak.

She read the caption: “Unity. Glory. Nightwind.” The symbol with its inspiring text stirred nostalgia. “Nightwind. My home, I think.” She pushed the doors open.

“This place,” said the fire head. “Your castle,” said the icy head.

“Or some version of it.” She entered a regal room, illuminated by ceiling braziers. Portraits of stern figures lined the walls, their red eyes tracking her. An exquisite spiral staircase with wooden railings flanking marble steps led up. Despite this room’s opulence, no windows existed, a detail she found strange, recalling no windows anywhere in this place. Mindful of the silence, she asked, “Where is everyone?” As she thought about it, the sounds earlier sounded like construction. This place formed around her. From the nothing. Somehow.

“Maybe they all left?” the fiery head asked.

“Nobody’s here except us. And the voice.”

“Glad be with friend,” said the icy head. “Follow.” Paws clapped on marble while the dog hobbled up the stairs, excited barks ringing out.

At the stair’s base, she looked up. Acid bubbled in her stomach, her insides lurching. “No, no, no…” Her stomach squeezed, contents rushing up her throat and spraying on the lavish green carpet below. “Better be the last,” she said, wiping her mouth.

Hands on the railing, she hoisted herself up, step by step, boots thumping on marble.

With her ascent finished, the dog darted down a short, wooded hallway illuminated by more braziers above, and the pup hopped around, heads barking in turn.

She focused on her feet to maintain balance as she staggered towards the dog. A single door awaited, and she grabbed a knob and opened it.

Skadni ran in and jumped upon a fine bed. Yellow silken sheets, a soft blue blanket, and pillows topped it. Darting to a corner desk, their noses twitched. “New smell!”

“Need sleep.” Creeping forward, she tossed her sword down with a clatter and rolled onto the bed, senses twirling.

The dog rested on her legs while she slept.


Ice in her ear and fire up her nose stirred Saffa awake. She tried to swat it away, but Skadni’s tongues delivered unyielding icy-hot licks. “Alright, alright,” she said, pushing their heads aside and sitting up in bed. “How long did I sleep?”

“Don’t know,” they said. “We dozed off too. Now we lick you awake!”

“What a typical dog.” Scanning the room with a sense of familiarity, she said, “You found my room.”

The fiery head barked, their icy counterpart nodding. “You strong scent here.”

“Thanks for leading me here. You’ve been a big help.”

They shook, releasing a cloud of frosty sparks on her bed. “Welcome.”

Her gaze settled on a corner desk made of polished mahogany. A plush, blue-cushioned chair lay in front. Rolling off her bed, she stood and ambled over.

The dog followed. Three items topped the desk: a charred leathery tome, a hairbrush with brown hair strands in it, and a green scrunchy. “Scent,” said their fire head. “Your scent. Another. Human.”

Noting the hairbrush, she figured it belonged to her. Perhaps a family member or friend touched it—and these items must’ve followed her to this place, organizing themselves during the construction. She sat, took the hairbrush, and began untangling the mess of her hair.

Skadni jumped in her lap. “Burn smell,” said the fire head. “Yours.”

“My burn smell?” she asked, wondering if she lit the book on fire and couldn’t remember.

“Yes,” said their fire head. “What in book?” asked the icy head.

Eager to find out, she finished getting knots out of her hair and secured it with the scrunchy in a tight ponytail. That’s better. Satisfied, she settled into the chair. Touching the cover, she read the title aloud, “Words of Power, Vol. I.” I wonder what words give me power? Thumbing through a few torched pages, she found one half-burned. What remained showcased a circle containing eight symbols just inside its edge. With a slow trace of her index finger, clockwise from the top, she whispered each name: “Flame, wind, heart, star, rain, stone, skull, eye.” Each symbol connected to a central, smaller silver circle with thin lines. She recited their names again, seeking memories, but the meanings stifled her.

Skadni hopped off and nudged her chair.

Frustration gnawed at her. “Are these spells? Elements? Not quite.” They hinted at broader notions. Without memories, their full nature remained elusive. The flame and rain symbols captured her attention. Visualizing them, an unexpected chill, like drinking crushed ice, coursed through her, followed by hot flashes. One hand burned while the other chilled. Flames and snow encircled them momentarily. She shook her hands thrice, attempting to summon these elements again, without success. Glancing at Skadni, she understood fire and ice permeated her ki, or lifeforce.

The pup growled, edging towards her bedroom door, eyes filled with apprehension.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, closing the book.

“New icky scent,” the heads said.

“The voice!” Protective of her dog, she retrieved her dropped sword.

The dog bolted away, their distressed barks and howls echoing.

She chased, following the pup to the royal sitting room below, on towards the great hall.

Scratching at the open door, they whimpered, “I—It’s near!”

Taking a vigilant stance in front, she entered the hall. At the other closed doors, she nudged one open with her boot, sword held forward.

A dim open space spread out, with a gatehouse looming ahead, flanked by two towers, topped with crenelations. To her right, a stone wall curved into shadow. To her left lay a cobblestone courtyard. Sporadic torches provided light.

 Gazing up, she frowned. “Perhaps this is the same black abyss as before.”

The dog yelped, speeding into the hall, their whimpers and clapping paws ever distant.


Saffa assumed Skadni ran off to safety in her bedroom. She advanced to the gatehouse.

It contained a dense-wood-iron gate, lacking any obvious latch or lever. Quiet rumbling came from behind, a frequency like the voice in her mind earlier.

Maybe opening it will reveal the voice?

Adjacent walls with rugged stones invited climbing. Hopeful of opening the gate, she secured her sword and ascended to the battlements, peering around. Blackness everywhere. No stars. I’m still in the nothing.

The quaint castle grounds contained the central great hall. Beyond it, a hallway connected to the royal sitting room and its upper passageway to her bedroom just right of the hall. The castle, hugged by a stone wall, boasted eight towers.

She leaned over the outside, gazing down into the darkness. Jumping crossed her mind—would she fall forever? She snatched a nearby torch, dropping it while counting one-thousands. Its bright flame shrank to a dot. Ten seconds. Must be endless. She pulled a nearby lever with two gears. Both turned before halting with a clank. A quick climb down and she noted a tiny gap in the elevated gate, with no visible obstructions.

A chill wind blew, tousling her hair.

She walked backwards, drawing her sword with a metallic ring.

The gate exploded in lightning, shadow, and flame. Debris grazed her, causing minor cuts. A deep buzz sounded, followed by a thundercrack.

She winced, ears fizzing.

The castle trembled, walls and towers shedding stones, the ground quaking beneath.

Light on her feet, she squeezed her sword’s hilt with anticipation.

A dark humanoid materialized, wreathed in flickering red sparks and shadows. Crimson eyes narrowed, his familiar voice permeated the air, serene yet unsettling, “Hello Saffa. Thanks for freeing me.”

“You’re the voice. Quite an entrance.”

“Yes. Apologies for the blast.”

Unconcerned with the damage, she asked, “What are you exactly?”

“A moroi.”

Unfamiliar with the term, she assumed it must be a type of ghost or wraith—the energy within him concerned her, perhaps unnatural for a spirit to possess. Saffa stood boldly, ready for dialog and answers. Despite their cooperation earlier, his appearance and essence conveyed consumption and destruction, so she remained alert. His knowing her name made one thing clear: “You don’t have memory loss, do you?”

“So intuitive.”

“Great. Tell me what happened.”

“A puppeteer brought us to this timeless abyss.”

“Who?” she asked, brows furrowed.

“A pitiful pretender. An ill-fated encounter,” he said, words woven with shadows. “In trust once more, we may find our way back.”

“What is this place?”

“An infinite prison.”

“How so?”

“Just trust me, Saffa, like you did in the void.”

“All I sense is death.”

“You’re so insightful. But in survival’s harsh ballet, even death might be an ally. Again.”

“Why do you deserve my trust?”

“Our destinies are entwined,” he said, his nebulous form flickering. “We’re each other’s only hope in this forsaken place.”

“I need evidence of goodwill.”

“An olive branch then. This castle in the void is but an echo of your home.”

“Like home, but smaller.”

“Yes,” he hissed softly.

“You can earn my trust by telling me about my actual home.”

“Work with me, and I’ll take you there.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“A trial,” he said, shadows shifting. “A second display of our combined might. Together, we can rip through the fabric of this realm.”

She considered working with him to find answers, maybe escape. But Skadni mentioned his stinky smell and ran off in fear—she trusted her dog more than him. “You’re foul Mortemir. Working with you smells counterproductive.”

“Saffa,” he said while undulating, “you underestimate cooperation’s power. A storm becomes most destructive when all its elements converge. Alone, we’re but wisps of wind and rain. Together, we are the tempest.”

Instincts told her everything: this being destroyed everything he touched. They could escape together if he didn’t attack her first, but she’d find another way. “I understand the truth of your words,” she said, sword pointing at him, “but I won’t dance with your wanton storm of death and destruction.”

“Wanton death and destruction? You’re one to talk.”

“What do you know about me?” she asked, his words piercing with hints of truth. “Explain!”

“It’s simple: we escape to your home, where all will be revealed. Will you cooperate?”

“Shadows can’t cloak your nature,” she said, imagining him backstabbing her. “Betrayal and treachery are your game. I will not cooperate.”

“Betrayal? Treachery? Such germane words. Our dance ends. Beg for death.” He drifted near, attentive eyes scanning while shadows writhed like snakes.

She charged with a cry, slashing her blade through him. It sparked against the stone floor. She stumbled back, bewildered.

“That tickles,” he said with rumbling laughter.

“Every monster has a weakness,” she said, sheathing her sword. “I’ll find yours.”

“I have none, leech.” Shadowy tendrils lunged from his hands, wrapping around her, cold and intangible, but holding tight.

She strained hard with her toned muscles in futility, but the chords tightened, sapping her strength. “And you call me a leech!”

Your fear tastes delicious, he thought, his presence noxious in her mind.

Intuition told her to stop struggling. To use kindness to cast him out. She stilled, love for Skadni filling her. Hi Mortemir. Welcome to my mind again. Taste some love.

Dark tendrils uncoiled from her, retracting into his hands. “You bore me. Love is weak—like you.” A crimson thunderbolt formed in his hand. “This will soothe your dark soul.”

“Dark soul? That’s you, wraith.” But his lightning worried her, and she dashed towards the great hall.

His depraved laughter rumbled behind.

She grabbed a torch from just inside the door and threw it at him. It disintegrated in his shadows.

“Pathetic,” he said, throwing his bolt at her.

She dove. It struck the floor with a thunderclap, leaving a long black mark while exploding stone shards against her skin and armor.

“You bastard!” she said, pushing past stinging cuts and ringing ears. She stood, slammed the hall door shut, and locked it. Fearful for Skadni, she sprinted to the other doors, shut them, and secured their lock before adopting a defensive stance, catching her breath. “Steel and torch fire are useless. What’s his weakness?” Circled flame and rain symbols appeared in her mind, her hands chilling. Burning. “My fire. My ice! But how do I summon it?” Gesturing with her hands yielded nothing.

The other doors exploded, spraying wooden shrapnel. He floated through the ruined entrance—an inky curtain appeared over it, a gloomy blade forming in his hand. “You’ve nowhere to run. Hold still while I carve you up.”

“Where are your manners?” she sneered, her eyes fixed on his shadowy form. On his red lightning crackling inside.

“Why bother with courtesies when death looms?”

“Death is near,” she said with arrogance. “Your death, Mortemir.”

Twirling his blade, he glided forward with nonchalance. “I am death.”

He just might be vulnerable to her elements—she must conjure the magic. How? Symbols in her mind answered: thought. One half of the catalyst. What about the other? Anger: it consumed her on arrival. Love: she felt it for Skadni. Wrath: she desired to inflict it upon him. Emotion! Her magical jigsaw puzzle snapped together. Thought and emotion sparked her magic. She growled, channeling anger at him.

He flew at her like a murderous gust, impaling her leg with his blade, pushing her down to the stone floor. Chilled pulses of his blade shocked her, the stabbing agony nigh unbearable. “Just a little longer… your misery will soon end.”

She clenched her teeth, heavy with breath and determination. “You won’t consume me.”

“I will,” he said, pushing his blade, causing wretched tearing sensations in her leg. “I’m consuming your pet next.”

“Not Skadni!” Threats to her dog kick-started every primal instinct within her. Fire emerged from her shoulder blades, spreading down her spine, smoking her armor. Hands glowing blue, she cupped them, imagining the hottest fireball. A small ember formed, ballooning into a blazing azure sphere.

The wraith yanked his blade from her leg, slashing at her arms.

“Consume this!” she said, shoving the fireball into his chest.

He staggered back, exploding with fire, his blade dissolving inches from her arms. As he battled her flames, he conjured two crimson thunderbolts. He threw them, slamming her against the wall, jolting her with electricity. She convulsed. Smells of blood and singed flesh seared her nose. Everything sounded garbled to her ringing ears.

She fought the blackness at her vision’s edge.

As he floated to the hall’s center, a howling tornado formed around him, blowing out all torches and candles. In the darkened room, his flickering lightning cast chaotic shadows through whirling, crashing debris. “Prepare for banishment, freak.”

Leg pain fueled her rage. “This freak,” she said, standing, hacking up blood while fighting high winds, “will put you on ice.” Cobalt mist radiated from her skin. The room’s surfaces iced over. Gripping her leg wound, she numbed it with icy fingers. Envisioning a blizzard, she leaped into the tornado.

Red eyes on her, he raised his hands. All lightning jumped to them, forging a bright orb of crackling crimson between. It strobed the room as torrents of thunderbolts shot up from it.

She swirled above him, thrusting her arms down with fingers splayed. “Eat snow!” Twin cones of winter burst forth, battling his assault in a furious clash. Some bolts forked off, tearing masonry apart. Ice and stone whipped around, cutting her. Pain and his encroaching storm motivated her to unload everything. Her magic merged with his cyclone, intensifying into a roaring blizzard, filling the hall. With a furious cry, she repulsed his attack—her barrage penetrated him. A frozen prison formed, silencing his tortured groan.

Winds calmed. Her snowstorm receded. She dropped, landing in a firm crouch. Frozen debris fell with cracks around the room. Silence came, save for an unpleasant, high-pitched hiss in her ears. The still iced room contrasted with the fierce battle.

She circled to admire her handiwork: an onion-shaped cage, glistening white, pulsing with swirling blue stripes. A whimsical, curled icicle glimmered, crowning the structure. Two red eyes glared at her from within.

Figuring a stab through his frozen head would end him, she angled behind and drew her sword—he wouldn’t see this coming. Fire spread up the blade. “Let’s do this quick and painful!” She vaulted high onto the frosty cage, kicked the icicle off, and drove her blade down to the hilt while shouting. With a loud snap, flames of azure and gold snaked out. Radiant shafts of the same colors soared.

The cage detonated, ejecting three layers. White ice smashed about. Blue fire erupted, combining with the ice to create a sauna of periwinkle fog. Red lightning sprang around in a last act. Concurrently, a violent shockwave catapulted her up, slamming her high against the wall as each layer pummeled her. She flipped in mid-air and crashed on the stone floor, her sword clattering down nearby. Shadowy mist vanished, leaving behind Mortemir’s final spectral words: “I’m free! Enjoy your infinite prison, Saffa!”

All went black.


Writing, characters, names, ideas © 2023-present by Jeff Johnson @jjxtra

All rights reserved.


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