From a young age, Tobias knew very well the power of language. His mother had shown him carefully with every storybook she pulled from their well-worn shelves, every sentence she weaved—her word placement endlessly methodical. They would sit by the lake, enwrapped by woody pine near the village, and she would say to him that one’s voice was a magic.
“To speak is to bend the world to your will,” she would say. To Tobias, powerless and meek at the peak of age five, this was everything. Often was he witness to the way his mother’s words carried their destitute family forward; she coaxed the haughty baker into handing her extra bread, and once even managed to secure a sick goat from the wealthier Caernton family. Somehow too did the goat prosper past illness. If by will of his mother’s words and prayers, Tobias could not tell, but he felt it to be an otherworldly security. She took this magic with her into the afterlife, chased into the woods by ravenous wolves when Tobias reached eleven. However, it was not all gone, for although her physicality was missed, his mother’s words remained, soaked in an ever-wisdom. Now Tobias would use words to carry his family, what was left: an intense, stout father and two soft-faced little brothers. He would do as his mother had done.
But soon enough he lost his way. He was too young, too much of a fool, entangled in his wit and abilities. Tobias found that if said convincingly enough, anything his mouth uttered could be crafted into a reality. Truth was a shapeshifter, and so long as the village people believed his words, it would bend and morph to him. This was not a magic. Tobias’ mother, wherever resting, would weep to see her son run about, fables and twisted tales passing from his lips. Sometimes he had purpose, other times he took pleasure in simply seeing how far a lie could take him. From feigned illnesses and faux signs of danger to damning rumors and tactical plays—Tobias was a boy greased in deceit, unwilling to become clean. From the nether, a pair of transcendent ears heard of his wagging tongue, and they were displeased. They descended.
One morning Tobias sat by the village lake, imagining his mother beside him still. He carried an ax, wary of wolves that might come his way with his mother’s lingering scent on their teeth. A great bubbling sound alarmed him, and he turned towards the crystalline water, ax poised for strike. He had never heard of wolves in the water. Suddenly his eyes lit at the prospect of another lie to conjure. Aquatic wolves near the lake, beware!
“Water wolves. Really now? Some tales are better left unspun, young one.” Tobias fell backward, a yelp escaping him as he crawled away from the voice. It came from a naked woman, risen out of the lake as if pulled up from heavenly strings. She smiled, amused.
“How are you standing? The lake is far too deep,” Tobias asked.
“My feet reach the bottom. Would you like to see?” She stepped closer, her skin gleaming an almost iridescent pearl like color. Tobias shook his head quickly, horrified.
“Who are you?”
“They call me Ymir. Do you know of me?” Of course, he did. Ymir, Goddess of deceit, queen of liars. She was not held in high regard among the legends. Her mere name proved a terrible omen.
Tobias’ face twisted. “Why do you appear here?”
“Because I know of you, small one,” she craned forward, resting her head upon her propped elbows. “You are using an unspeakable amount of my abilities, after all. Am I your favorite god, child?”
“No! It is Kaltus. God of power, master of discipline.”
“Ahh, but I am more powerful than he.”
“Are not.” he puffed his chest.
Ymir laughed, her shoulders bobbing like plums over water. Tobias noticed the lake had gone crimson, filled with the hue of her eternal hair. “But I possess a power he does not, a power no other god does. It is unique only to me.”
“And what is that?” Tobias shifted on his bare feet.
“I can lie.” Her lips pulled back in a sneer. “It is an ability I bestowed to the humans. The gods were quite cross with me about that one, but what can I say? Your meager little lives would have proved banal otherwise.” She arched backward saying his, looking at him with upside down eyes. “This is an ability you seem to find pleasing, yes?”
Tobias wasn’t sure what he was expected to answer to that. The queen of liars stretched before him, inquiring as to his fondness for lying. His skin stirred all around him and he scratched at himself with his dirty fingernails. It looked to him that she wasn’t too impressed with his usage of her skills. Noting that she stared at him expectantly, he finally nodded.
“Are you angry?”
“No, simply irritated. The art of lying is a privilege, and you’re nothing but a child, naïve in your abuse.” She splashed about playfully, chiming, “So I’ve decided, small one. I am interdicting you from any form of deceit. Your lies are completely forfeit.”
“You cannot! My words are all I have-” Tobias began, but was soon interrupted by a long, slender finger upon his lips.
“Do not fret, child. You cannot tell lies, and in that I mean to say, all that passes your lips will be unquestionably true, regardless of what it may be. Is this not what you wanted all along—to bend truth to your will?” Tobias took this in, his countenance shrouded in doubt and uncertainty. This seemed more a reward than a reprimand. It was as his philosophy declared; what he said was true so long as those around him gullibly believed it so. This was different, however. No one needed to believe his words any longer, as they would be true simply by nature of being spoken. This was Ymir’s punishment. He could not wrap his mind around such a curse, or what made it a curse to begin with. Of course he could not, for he was nothing but a child.
In the coming weeks, Tobias chose his words with much precision, settling into his newfound reality. He said his family would have feasts, and the village came together to provide assortments of food—in honor of his late mother, they explained. He said the wolves of the woods were dead, and a plague spread across the expanse of green, making it so. All Tobias needed to do was speak, and the world shifted accordingly. His words were a magic. He said his family was prosperous, and that the weather was kind. He said the lake was plentiful with delicious fish, and that nothing could harm his kin. Before long, Tobias became comfortable with his forever truths, and thus stopped the careful process of word choice that had kept him afloat for much time. He spoke: I am wealthy beyond anyone’s wildest imagination! This became so.
Tobias awoke to find nothing had noticeably changed. There were no piles of golden coin, or jewels strewn about the floor—no bronze statuettes or precious ore. He ran into the kitchen in search of his vast new wealth, clumsily crashing into his father. The man grunted, his eyes wide, looking around in bafflement. Tobias apologized, but his father looked past him, his confusion persisting. This behavior was unlike his father, who always greeted him upon sight. Tobias turned towards his siblings, but they paid him no mind. Their glossy eyes looked past his figure, seemingly not able to process his existence in the slightest. Tobias pleaded for any kind of attention, but his family trudged along, cruelly deaf to his cries. He suddenly understood that he was wealthy beyond imagine, so much so that no one could perceive him. His existence stretched beyond another plane. His wealth, and thus he, could not be grasped by anyone in this reality. The deep weight of this loneliness crippled him. Whatever he said, the world heeded to his words, no matter what needed to occur in order to make them true.
“I take it back,” he said, his voice slick with panic. This regret changed nothing. “I am wealthy within perceivable reason.” Then, gargling screams came from outside his home. Tobias sighed with relief when his father stood over him in a protective stance.
“Stay here,” he said. He rushed outside, and the screams grew more frantic. Tobias peeked through the window and witnessed carnage. Invaders from a land over, come to seek an incredible treasure they believed to have been stolen from them. Really, the horses that pulled their gold-filled wagons simply ran off course, galloping in haste across the fields and crash landing in exhaustion upon the space behind Tobias’ house. The wagon left a trail of gold all the way to the village, and now the villagers spilled beneath the invading swords and spiked flails. Tobias watched on in horror but did not fear for his father. He had already spoken that nothing could harm his family, but what could be said for the rest of the village?
Tobias’ breath pushed against his throat. “This isn’t happening.”
The world froze then, everyone stuck in place, some in mid slaughter with looks of agonized terror about them. Tobias walked forward, taking in the scene. A village of dancing massacre laid before him, and the string of words he needed to glue together to rectify it eluded him. He was so comfortable with words before, but what could he say now? My village is as it was before? He was not sure how far back that would take him, years perhaps. This slaughter never took place? What then would the invaders do about their gold? Would they enslave the village instead of slaughtering it? Tobias wept. He could not account for all the ways reality could morph to his words. He sat beside his father, who was frozen in attempted protection of a village child.
Tobias then stood, and landed on a phrase, “It is the sixth day of the Harvest moon, year 1811.” This was two weeks prior to the village slaughter, and so time wound backwards. Tobias found himself in the village square, amidst kind weather and amiable atmosphere. He fell to his knees, landing on another phrase, “I can lie when I please!” This was the worst sentence spoken yet, for it proved a paradox. A goddess had decreed eternal truth, and the subject of that had decreed a possible lie. The world snapped, shifting its sense of reality, bathing the world in unparalleled chaos. Tobias lost his footing, the ground beneath him rippling like the skin formed over simmering milk. The light of the sky strobed in saturated hues that Tobias could not hope to process, and the air was filled with a piercing shrill that was also violently quiet. His senses brimmed with everything and nothing at all, his tongue burning under a taste unknown to him. It hurt to be conscious.
“Quite the dilemma you find yourself in now.” Ymir stood before him, her torso floating in a pool of black. Everything ceased, and Tobias found himself occupying the same void as her.
“I do not want this anymore.”
“Lying is a privilege you abused, I will not return it.”
He looked at the pitch blackness underneath him, unable to meet her gaze. He laid down in nothingness, his voice but a whisper. “My mother is alive. She is here.”
Her mangled body arose from the dark liquid surrounding them, partially decayed. Bones jutted out from her stretched skin, and she released a strained sigh. Ymir stood behind them in quiet observation.
Tobias ‘mother croaked. Her sounds were guttural. He pondered a way to get her to speak, but her body was a mess, and her throat was gashed open by bite marks. Whatever voice could manage to arise from her, it would not be pleasant. They could only communicate through their gazes. His mother was in pain and did not understand what was happening. Tobias stared at her a long while, never feeling more alone than in this darkness, with his damned mother and a looming goddess. His eyes looked up to Ymir, and the nature of her punishment gagged him. He was a fool, entrapped in the power he so sought within his words. He could not lie, and he could not grapple with truths stretched beyond the horizon of his reality. This was hell.
After an eternity, Tobias sat. The space made no sounds save for the ragged breaths of his mother. He had lost, and he accepted this.
“I was never born,” he said simply. Ymir smiled, her body shimmering against the deep absence around them.
“The wisest thing you’ve said thus far, little one. Come child, rest now.”
And then instantly the world came into focus, but Tobias was gone, and the village was bathed in a serenity. The waters of the lake did not stir, and the breeze danced in the faces of flushed villagers. Somewhere deep and far along, for Tobias, there was nothing.
In truth, this was peace for a lying tongue.