This is a short story I began about a year and a half ago, and just finished tonight. Probably going to change the title at some point. Enjoy!
Equality of Chaos
By Benny Blue
A long, long time ago, there were two domains of power: the Empire, and the Hordes. Four elements were divided between. To the Empire, the elements of Water and Air were bestowed, and so they played their magic in the role of order. To the Hordes went the powers of Earth and Fire, and so the Hordes fell to the depths of chaos, dragged down by the nature of their magics. War immediately broke out between the two domains. Horrible crimes were committed, countless lives were lost, and still the war dragged on.
At some point in the war – the exact time is a secret of the Empire – Demons appeared to the leaders of the Empire, and offered their services, claiming that they believed in a world of order. Their only condition was to be away from the front lines, and always provide support in long-range forms such as powerful artillery and supply drops. They intended to be kept a secret, but the Empire insisted that the demons be used first as a public boost of morale in a massive celebration of the new support.
Our story begins on the final day of the war. The Empire and the Hordes directed the entirety of their troops into a single province. A final gamble of strength, without strategy or purpose – an ultimate, simple clash of power would determine the fate of the war.
In this, the final hour, we follow the path of a single party of three warriors – the three strongest in the Empire. Solta, the cunning mage driven to destroy the Hordes by the loss of Citris, his wife, long ago. Gawn, the vigilant fighter who makes his way without magic, wading through his foes with a simple sword and shield. And Seras, the Lord Commander of the Empire, the greatest mage and fighter seen in millennia. They fight together and alone as the sole challengers of the Hordes’ center flank. They make their way through the legions of soldiers and inexperienced mages in the hopes of confronting a key figure at the rear – the Commander of the Hordes, a fearsome mage whose identity and abilities are but rumors. The Empire knows him as Dusk.
Now begins the story.
War. Ash carried on the summoners’ winds, sinking through the water to the ground below. A vicious battle waged without mercy in a valley no one would know was born of mountains or craters. A pitched effort between the greatest warriors and the largest armies. A valiant crusade born of vigilance, purity, and-
“Where the hell is our demon artillery?” Seras shouted. “I don’t want to flood this hole if I don’t have to!” He summoned a writhing wall of water, which flew off to his left to take out the barbarians poorly attempting to sneak up on him.
Solta spoke from his right. “I don’t know, Lord. We were promised artillery that would cut out half the flank, but it was due long ago.”
Seras turn to yell behind them, his voice magnified. “Gawn! Word from the Empire?”
A deep, throaty bellow rumbles back.
Seras sighs, and takes out an approaching Hordesman. He calls again, his voice even louder. “Gawn! Get over here!”
A moment passes. An enormous man falls out of the sky, sword in hand, shield on his back. He lands in front of Seras, kneeling.
A volley of arrows arcs from the edge of the valley. Solta and Seras stand to attention, and work quickly to build a dome of ice. The arrows batter harmlessly against the walls.
Seras turns to look at Gawn. “Any word from the Empire?”
“Nothing. And there’s plenty of chatter from the other groups – no one’s getting artillery.”
Seras eyes flash. He turns to look at Solta. “I think I know your thoughts on this.”
Solta snarls. “The Guot-Markin demons betrayed us.”
A red glow begins to show through the dome. Seras eyes his comrades. “Whether they betrayed us, or we betrayed them, it matters not. We came prepared for a portion of the enemy forces, and instead we’ll be taking the brunt of the army. We’ll need to prepare. Gawn, we’ll need you to-“
A violent red flash from outside illuminates the dome. A red-hot blade slices through the ice, and empties a jagged hole out of the protective cover. A black, clawed hand seizes Gawn’s sword arm. The talons turn red, and puncture his armor. He grimaces, and drops his sword. He locks eyes with Seras just as he is pulled through the ice, breaking the dome. As the dome falls apart piece by piece, a black hooded figure is revealed, with Gawn in their clutches. Gawn draws his shield, and attempts to club them on the head. They snarl, and easily knock away the blow. Gawn’s shield falls to the ground.
Seras and Solta run out to confront the figure. When they get close, the hooded figure jumps high in the air, still holding Gawn. A trail of fire appears in the air as they soar away. They land hundreds of meters away. Gawn is still writhing against their grasp.
A sword is swung. Gawn stops struggling. Seras and Solta stop running.
The hooded figure turns to them. Red flashes from under their hood. They flourish and twirl their sword. Flames climb up the hilt as it spins faster and faster. Flaming coals become visible under the hood.
Seras and Solta turn to each other. “Dusk?”
Seras nods. “Dusk.” He flexes the water gathering in his hand. “Here we go.”
Seras jumps into the air. Jets of water burst from his hands, and as they shoot out behind him, he flies towards Dusk. Solta takes massive leaps, boosting his progress with water and air.
Dusk turns to run, provoking an increase in speed from Solta. Suddenly, he whips around, and plunges his fists in to the ground.
Solta and Seras pressure on, unafraid. But, when a single leap would have Solta on Dusk, a massive wall of earth comes into their path. Seras dives out of the way, but Solta, unable to stop his momentum, crashes into it. He falls to the ground, which Dusk shapes into shackles that hold him fast. Solta passes out.
Dusk sends columns of Earth after Seras, but none manage to land. Seras rockets towards Dusk at blinding speeds. He extends his sword, ready to impale Dusk with incredible force.
Dusk jumps up to Seras in a single, flush movement. He grabs Seras’s throat, knocks away the sword, and flips Seras over his head into the ground, in a massive impact.
Ashes and dust mingle in the air. As the clouds clear, Dusk comes into view, standing over Seras. Seras is breathing heavily.
Dusk lowers his hood. Red hair falls down the back of the beautiful woman now revealed.
Seras is shocked. He’d seen her face before – in a photo Solta showed him on the day he enlisted, when they met. Solta’s lost wife.
She turns to him, furious. She raises her fist, shuddering.
A flash of movement.
Seras passes out.
Seras opens his eyes.
He is lying face down at the bottom of an enormous crater. The edge is easily a kilometer away. Ash crunches beneath him as he struggles to move. Citris is sitting cross-legged in front of him. He raises his head, and their gazes lock.
Her eyes are solid black.
“He is awake.”
The black starts to fade away, and her head lowers. A bank of ash passes over them, and by the time has cleared, her pupils have returned to the relative normality of a blazing red.
Too weary to comment, Seras continues to rise. Out of the corner of his eye, Seras sees Solta, bound in shackles of earth, still passed out. Water begins to gather in the palm of his hand.
Citris lashes out, clutching his hands.
“No.” she snarls.
Her hands alight, and Seras’s burn. He attempts to break the fire with water, but it simply turns to steam. He screams.
Suddenly, he breaks, and relinquishes control. What water still remains bursts into steam.
Citris lets go of his hands, and he collapses to the ground.
She stands over him, smiling.
“My dear Seras,” she says, sarcasm positively dripping from her lips. “Lord Commander of the Empire, the greatest water mage mankind has to offer… What else could you expect?”
He remains on the ground, perfectly still.
“Playing dead? How unlike you.” She crouches beside him. “Does our Lord Commander admit defeat so soon?”
He meets her eyes – an unspoken clash of hate and scorn. “No.”
And in an instant, his fist is embedded in a mound of earth – one inhabiting the space her face had a moment before.
She playfully looks at him over the top, sighing. “Mr. Empire, is that all you have? A fist and a syllable to save the world?”
She waves her hand, and earth climbs up his arm. Within seconds, his arm is buried, and the earth becomes still. His pupils blaze with hate.
“I think I’m tired of playing. Could we just sit and talk? Would that be okay?”
She sits down on a mass of dirt that rises up to meet her. Seras continues to writhe on the ground.
Citris just watches. She doesn’t see Solta stir. Seras does.
“You really think you’re better than me, don’t you?” He stops, and looks at her, silent.
“Or maybe it isn’t about you and me at all. You think your high and mighty empire is better than mine, my lowly hordes. Don’t you?
“Tell me: you truly believe you fight for good, and I for evil?” She looks at him expectantly. He stares back. A moment passes.
She stands up in exasperation. “I’m not being rhetorical, here! You can jump in at any time! I honestly want to know! Do you think you fight for good?”
Seras pushes up with his free arm. He looks at her with conviction. “Always.”
Citris sighs. “How naïve.”
Suddenly, her sword is in her hands. She strikes his face with the flat of the blade. He falls back to the ground.
“Your empire is not good.” She cuts at his chest.
“You are not a good man.” She kicks him in the ribs.
“You fight for order, just as I fight for chaos. The Empire of Order, and the Hordes of Chaos. That is all there is.”
“There is no good. There is no evil. There is simply order and chaos, and the endless war between.”
Seras starts to rise. Citris places her sword point on his back, and he has no choice but to fall back to the ground.
She snarls. “Don’t. Move.”
She sits back down on her makeshift chair.
“The Empire fights for order. The Hordes fight for chaos. You, you fight for order, but me…” She looks up to the sky. Gray clouds of smoke and ash are blotting out the sun. “I’ve found a higher calling.” She looks back at Seras.
“Oh, I still rally the troops and all – big, grand visions of freedom, fire and brimstone falling on the Empire, chaos everlasting – you know, the classics. Just what you do, except the precise opposite. Of course, I can’t talk with them like I can with you, since you’re about to die horribly. I have to be all…” Citris puts on her hood, and speaks with a mocking tone of manliness. “The hordes will roam free, forever more! March, march on the enemy! Sandwiches, shelving, sports for all! Forward! In the name of Dusk!” She takes off the hood, and laughs.
“Oh, I’m sorry, am I rambling? Sorry, I have some unfortunate tendencies since the…” She raises her hands to point at her head, and trails off. “Well, you know.”
She slaps her knees. “You know what? I know what the problem is! It’s just too comfy here! Come on, let’s get riled up! It’s your deathday! It should be something special!” Citris raises her arms up to the sky, and a stream of flames explodes upwards. It starts to rain droplets of fire. Within seconds, the entire valley is aflame. Seras starts to scream in pain.
“Now, that’s more like it! Fire and brimstone! Adventure! Pain! Today’s the day you die! You need to feel ALIVE!”
Suddenly, the fire turns to rain. Water streams down, extinguishing the flames. Citris looks at Seras in fury, but his eyes are somewhere else. She follows his gaze, and sees Solta, lowering his arms from the sky. He looks at her, pain and memory in his eyes.
“I’ve seen enough.”
He collapses to the ground.
Citris is speechless. She looks at Seras, then at Solta.
“Well, that’s…” She pauses. “Husband.”
She adopts a pouty expression. “That wasn’t any fun.” She looks at Seras. “He does know I can just do it again, right?” She stops to think.
“Should I go talk to him? I haven’t seen him in years, so he hasn’t seen me in years. It could be fun…” She looks at Seras. “You know what, forget him! We can have fun together on our own! Besides, I’ve got things to say, and I’ve rambled enough.”
Seras is still silent, still staring.
She looks at Seras. “You know, I had a speech all prepared, but it involved a fair bit of audience participation. I really am useless without an audience, but if half of you are silent, and the other half are just going to get in my way, I don’t think I’m going to waste it on you. I’ll work off the cuff.”
“You know, Seras, there’s a question you should be asking right about now.” She adopts her mocking, manly tone once again. “Where the hell was our demon artillery?” She meets his eyes. “That’s a very good question. Want me to answer it?” He stares back, listening, waiting.
“Well, let’s start with the fact that the demons were never working for you. Or rather, they never worked for you alone.”
“One day, a demon was waiting in your personal chamber. There was no warning, no reason. One day, after you tired of counting your losses, you went to your room, and there was a demon sitting on your bed. After certain words were exchanged, you proceeded to enter negotiations about how they’d win the war for you. This all happened in the space of a single day. Am I correct?” She stared at Seras. He stared back.
“I swear, every time I start to get in the groove, you just have to mess me up! Could you stop staring? It’s incredibly unnerving!” Still, Seras stared. “You must have some of your strength back by now. I know you’re just biding your time, probably waiting for Solta, but it doesn’t make this any more polite! You could at least do me the courtesy of nodding!”
Seras shook his head.
“Well, it’s an answer enough. I think I’ll get back to work, thank you.” She turned her back on him. Seras just stared.
“Now, how do I know all this? Simple: the same happened to me.”
She turned to Seras. “The Demons play humanity as a chessboard. They sway the pieces with delusions of control, and make us dance as we chase the crown. They give the king and queen a chair, and we, forever the fools, sit in it, thinking we must now be the players.”
She stands over him, looking down on him. “But no one is permitted to leave the board.”
Suddenly, ground climbs up Seras’s armor, and he sinks down into the ground. Nothing but his head remains above the ground.
He is clearly fighting to break free with all his might, pushing with all his magic, all his strength. But nothing happens. The ground isn’t disturbed in the slightest.
Citris begins to laugh. “Oh, Seras! You actually thought you were going to break free? Still, you resist, you persevere?”
She takes a step back, and pretends to sway. She practically drools sarcasm. “Oh, my Lord! Such devotion!” She kneels next to his head, but is still looking down on him.
“But what would you do, if you managed to break free? Strike me down? Of course it can be done, but what would it achieve?
“Would it win you the battle? Would it win the war? No.” She stands back up.
Suddenly, she whips around, and strikes the ground behind her. A cloud of ash is raised into the air, and nothing can be seen through the dust.
Eventually, the smoke and ash clears around them. Citris is still on the ground, fist in the earth. Above her, a cloud of ash remains that refuses to clear. She stands up, but the ash remains. The cloud refines itself, and edges become clear. Before her is clearly a giant scorpion tail, formed of swirling ash and air. The stinger is aimed directly at her chest.
Citris calls out behind her. “Husband! Is this you?”
Another cloud of ash dissipates, and Solta becomes visible, leaning on a staff of swirling ashes.
“Oh, darling, this is wonderful! Advanced air manipulation, paired with a magically sustained seal? I’ve never seen anything like it!”
Solta stares at her. “Oh, please don’t tell me you’re just going to stare at me, too? Can you say something? Please?”
Solta looks down at the ground, then back at Citris. “I looked for you.”
“Yes, but there’s lots of sad man-widows with missing wives, and all of them looked for their wives, too! So that… was an easy guess.”
Solta presses on. “I searched for you. I crossed the whole damn continent looking for you!”
“I joined the army so I could keep searching! I trained! I learned magic for you!”
Solta sinks to one knee, still grasping his staff. “And this is how I find you?”
Citris adopts her pouty expression. “Husband… I joined the army too, you know! I trained! I learned! But I… I became the Commander! I don’t feel like you’re as committed to our relationship as me. I’m really, honestly hurt.”
She looks at Seras. “Now, Seras and I are having a conversation. We’re committed. We’re going places. Can you let me monologue to him in peace?”
The scorpion tail twists and turns, angling itself towards her head. Solta puts his head down. “You are not the woman I loved. I… I have my duties, and I will follow them.”
Citris turns to the tail. “Oh, you mean with this? He’s a cutie…” Citris rubs the top of the tail.
“You know, honey… Since you got the house, and you got the money…” She turns to look Solta in the eyes. “Can I keep him?”
Citris waves her hand, and everything bursts into action. A wall of earth quickly rises between Citris and the tail. Solta motions, and the tail begins to hack and slash at the partition.
Citris places her palms on the ground, splays them, and raises her hands up to the sky. Earth and ground begin forcing their way up the tail’s neck, filling the seal giving it shape. The pressurized air inside becomes more and more dense, as the available space inside the seal lessens. The tail hacks out more and more of the wall, but with lessening control.
With each second that passes, the tail is more earth and less air. The wall, however, is almost broken. The air continues to hack and slash with ever-increasing strength, but its control over its own movements is becoming dangerously low.
The wall breaks.
Citris steps through the now-crumbling earth, out in front of the tail. She raises her arm, her hand right in front of the stinger.
Earth surges forward to meet her hand, but is restricted by the seal. The air loses control entirely, and is forced into a single, dense point at the front of the stinger. The pressure increases, pressure on a single point the seal was never designed to handle.
The seal breaks.
Solta crumples to the ground.
“Hello, cutie pie!” says Citris. The scorpion tail nuzzles up against her extended hand, and she rubs it affectionately. She turns back to Seras.
“Well, that was fun! We should do it again sometime!” She nods to Solta, now unconscious. “But, maybe without the baggage next time around?” Seras glares at her, hate and pain in his eyes. He struggles, but the earth remains undisturbed.
“Oh, stop it.” Citris waves her hand, and a tendril of earth whaps him in the back of the head.
“You know, I came here with something to say, and you two have been interrupting me all day! It’s incredibly rude, and I have half a mind to just tie and gag you both! I probably would, if it weren’t for the rather unfortunate fact that that would make me just as rude as you!
“Now, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to say what I came here to say, and I’m going to give anyone to tries to stop me an outright thrashing with my little cutie pie.” She noogies the scorpion.
“Does anyone have any objections?” She looks around. Seras stays silent. Solta stays unconscious.
“Excellent. Now, where was I? I think I was calling you a fool when I was so rudely interrupted. So, after that, it would be – ” Suddenly, a war-horn rumbles through the crater. A volley of arrows soars high over the crater rim. They head straight for the group.
“Are you KIDDING ME? I’m trying to do the right thing here, and THIS is what I get?” Citris looks at Seras, fierce anger burning in her eyes. “Well, one of us is going to have to take care of this… No, don’t get up. I’ll be right back.”
Citris walks away from Seras, who is struggling to keep her in view. She walks straight into the path of the arrows, and raises her arms. Fire gathers in her palms, and she weaves it between her fingers, as the clouds developing in her hands grow larger and larger. She continues walking forward, as the arrows grow closer and closer.
Suddenly, she stops. The clouds are twisting and writhing, struggling to break free of her hands. She angles her palms towards the sky, and pushes forward. The clouds burst forward, streaming into the arrows’ midst. Everything burns. Citris begins walking back.
“You never give up, do you, Seras? Even here, when I have you trapped, your Empire still endures, still resists, still pushes on. You fight on, with the determination and vigilance of good men, conquering the Hordes who can only be evil, because you MUST be good!” Ashes begin to fall over the crater floor, an endless snow of flame and death. Seras’s hair is coated in gray. Citris’s remains a vibrant red.
“And why do you fight, and kill, and destroy? I think I know: Because you seek an evil to confirm that you are ‘good.’ You need a villain; you need the Hordes to be the enemies of righteousness. You need assurances that you are good, and so you brand us with the denomination of evil, to justify your crusade.” She crouches beside him. “Oh, Seras…” she croons. “When will you realize your quest is in vain?”
Suddenly, she slams her fist onto his scalp.
“I am not the evil you seek.” She hits him in the face.
“The Hordes are not the evil you seek.” She hits him again.
“And the Demons, most of all, are not the evil you seek.” She grabs his hair, pulls him up to her face, and stares into his eyes.
She is snarling, rasping. Hints of black flit around her eyes.
“You believe there is some great evil responsible for the wrongs of the war.
“You believe that, if you smite enough men and women with evil in their hearts, the war will be won, and all will be right.
“But this is folly.
“There is no great evil. There is order, and there is chaos, and the demons lie between.
“The Demons have shown me a better world. A world of peace.
“The Demons believe in equality. In the immortality of a world without conflict.”
“They have chosen me as their champion.
“They have filled me with power, the power necessary to bring this war to a final, resolute end.
“And they have shown me how to clear the board.” Citris’s voice returns to normal. The black fades away. Her grip loosens slightly, but Seras is still held fast.
“Would you like to know how?”
She rises, and waves her hand. The earth rumbles, and Seras is dragged to his feet. His arms are drawn to the left and right, held fast by tendrils of earth. Citris unsheathes her sword and draws it over her shoulder, the point aimed at his chest. He is helpless. She could run him through at any moment.
“One final sacrifice, of the armies that stand and clash today.” Seras stares into Citris’s eyes, hate and fear pulsing behind his eyes.
“Smite all those who fight for order and chaos, and the lives that remain will have no draw to either. A world of good will arise.”
Seras pushes against the bonds with all his might. He screams in desperation. Air and water come to life around him – the last vestiges of his magic.
Air and water slash at the bonds of ground, but the rents they leave are filled instantly. Howling with pain and desperation, he surrenders himself to the effort.
Suddenly, he is spent. His body goes limp – apart from his eyes, which stare into Citris’s uncaring pupils with burning hate and desperation.
And then, even those abandon him. The strength to stare leaves him, and his eyes draw closed.
“Really? I give that spectacular speech, despite your complete lack of cooperation, and you just decide to check out? I think you need to take a class on rudeness.” She slashes an X on his chest, and raises his chin up with her sword. His eyes pop open. “Unfortunately, I just have time for a single lesson.” She aims back at his chest.
“I really should get on with this – I don’t even know why I’m still speaking to you. I mean, did you hear that ‘single lesson’ line? That was a perfect time to stab you! It’d be thematic and everything, and it’d certainly… abridge these proceedings. But I guess it just wasn’t good enough.”
Seras just stared, his eyes wavering between desperation and unfeeling glass.
“Y’know, this is stretching on, and I’m almost out of material here. It’s quite a conundrum – I’m a perfectionist, you know, and if my parting words to you aren’t to my satisfaction, I don’t see how I can kill you and feel good about it reveling in the afterlife.”
She wiggles her fingers while still holding the sword, and the scorpion’s tail waves back and forth as she ponders. “Ha ha – ‘feel good.’ That’s ironic.” She snaps her fingers. “You know what? I’ve got one more bit for you, so here’s the plan: I’m going to say to you the last words you’ll ever hear. After that, I’m going to kill you, no matter how good I feel about it. If I’m frolicking through the clouds of the Æther a few weeks from now, and suddenly realize what I should’ve said to you in a few seconds, that’s on me. Because frankly, this is just ridiculous.”
She lowers her sword, and backs away. “Now you…” she trails off, pausing, her mouth still open.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” Seras’s eyes widen, and strains to look at where Solta had fallen. He still laid there, unmoving.
Citris notices him looking. “Oh, you thought you were being rescued? Sorry, I guess I led you on, but that won’t be happening.” Seras’s eyes stare back at her, now world-weary. “I’m just mad that the transition I practiced this with doesn’t work so well without a little more… tension. And, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s creating tension where there isn’t any.”
She pouts, moves her mouth to start speaking, stops, considers, and smiles. “Oh, well.” She leaps up, and slams her fist down into the ground. The ground holding Seras begins to contract, cracks and snaps already audible from the bones in his hands and feet. She flashes him another smile from the ground. Her eyes are pure black. “Needs must when the demons drive.”
As Seras screams, and the earth works its way towards his torso, Citris draws her sword, and rises. She speaks in a resonant, guttural tone.
“Now you understand.
“The sacrifice is all that remains.
“The board stands ready.
“The sword stands firm.
“All that remains is the deed.
“I am Citris, Queen of Chaos, Warrior of the Hordes.
“You are Seras, King of Order, Lord of the Empire.” Citris raises her sword in the air. Fire bursts out where her hand meets the hilt, swirling around her blade, her armor, her hair.
“You are the King, and I am the Queen.” She kneels below him, sword held up from the ground, aimed at his bare chest.
“And it is my duty…” She rises, plunging in the sword.
“To keep you in check.” The fire swirling around becomes agitated by the new connection between Seras and Citris. It collapses into a single, writhing ball consuming Citris’s hand. Then, as soon as it does, it explodes out into a massive, expanding sphere, all-consuming. Citris, Seras, even Solta are destroyed in a single, visceral instant, their spirits released. And as the great ball of fire grows evermore, it soon comes upon the two armies, and consumes them as well.
In the space of a single second, the forces of order and chaos are forever lost to the world. And at that moment, the peoples of both sides, left abandoned by their leaders, see demons walk out into their cities and villages to speak of the new world that has just begun – born of chaos, forged by order, and yet, bearing of neither. Not order, not chaos, and not the good that Citris had been promised, although such a promise too is made to the people of the world. No, this is the day that evil takes the throne, and it will now revel in its victory by forever festering in a civilization everlasting – a civilization breeding children celebrating their goodness while steeped in the filth of wickedness. And one day, the demons will reveal to the world their true nature, and the people will accept it gratefully, because they will have been growing to be the same for generations. And on that day, tears of woe will be heard echoing down from the heavens. For only the souls that have been lost today will truly know the tragedy… of the new demon generation.