by Grant Smuts
-The great fight is about to begin. But before that, Chaos meets an old ally.-
Before the Cycle
A Discordant Memory
I heard a voice speaking to me as I lay dying. And that voice was my own. My words were the only clue I had to the realm I found myself in – in which I assume time has been frozen for a millenium. In this era, I felt no desire to cure this world of its ailment. But this timeless waiting has become excruciating – it would lead to me to make the mistake I had made before, and thus set the cycle on its stagnant course once again. I see the manifestation of the Universal Truth above me, in the form of a tree, drawing together the invisible lines that form the seams of the cosmos. At times, I have wondered if its scatterings of powerful souls onto this realm is random, or if it is driven by some great and hidden will, some unknown and unguessed master of fate. Yet there had been no drive in me to uncover the mystery at the heart of it all. Instead, my instincts turned to baser things – to banal instinct, to fight, to betray and to be betrayed in turn. I lay dying on the ground, staring up at the cycle beginning anew, and question the pointlessness of it all. Yet as my vision faded, the voice grew stronger, and I saw myself standing over me. I see the hatred that I had so long ago, the hatred that brought me to the brink of delusion. Why did I ever call him here? Why did I ever try to master my despair? I was Chaos, god of discord. For me, there was no victory, and there could never be. Even if I gained my heart’s desire, it would leave me empty, until the day I filled it with destruction yet again. I see him, though, and he regards me as a failure. He thinks that he will succeed where I have failed. Just as I did, when I stood over my predecessor. I reach out to him. And for a moment, his eyes soften. Just a moment.
And that is all I can ask for. The darkness has grown all around me. I cannot fight anymore, and that is for the best.
I wonder if…
Chaos watched himself die, and he felt the memories flood into him of the previous cycle. This Chaos had come closer to anyone before him. His allies had betrayed him at the very end, stealing his light from him. He remembered them now. The silver haired man with a sword longer than he was tall, and the dark, armor-clad being, bearing a bright, golden ring. They had escaped the cycle, and were given something that no one else was – a choice. A choice to be free. Or a choice to return, if they so wished.
The hidden will that moved this engine of life and death and battle was inscrutable. But if they returned… if they returned he might have some answers from them.
He looked up, understanding the confluence of the eternal cycle meant that it would repeat itself, but with tiny differences. Sure enough, three lights fell to the Judgment seat. That meant he now had three allies. Perhaps among them was a soldier that could be trusted.
The Demon and the Torturer
He walked for a long time across the paths of rock and fire, planning his course for the struggle that was to come again. In time, he thought he caught sight of a familiar figure, standing outside one of the many caves that dotted this landscape of rock and flame. A great sword stood embedded in the ground beside him, and he wore a cloak that was, somehow, deeper and darker than the blackest midnight Chaos had ever known. His eyes narrowed, recognizing the truth of the garment’s hue – fuligin, the colour darker than black, marked this man as one who should have escaped the cycle long ago.
As Chaos approached the Torturer he knew as Severian, the man removed his mask, revealing a fair, chiseled face with deep, penetrating eyes that yielded no hint of the truths and the lies that twisted and turned in his mind. Severian, seeing Chaos, seemed to heave a sigh of relief and sat down on a nearby boulder, cradling his blade, Terminus Est, with the care of a man who knows that what he holds is the most honest and precious thing in this world of endless battle. But Chaos was not here to fight him, though the future might yet change that.
‘Severian,’ Chaos said by way of greeting. ‘It’s good to see you again, my friend,’ said Severian.
‘You were meant to escape this world,’ said Chaos. ‘I died believing that you had turned your back on me as well.’ ‘Alas,’ said Severian. ‘If you sought a measure of vengeance, then you would not find it here. There were only two conspirators that day. And two was enough. I stood in the way of their plans, and so I met my end, facing a man far beyond me.’
He shook his head. ‘I felt some dread when that day began. It’s possible that I had some presentiment of my future. Yet even armed with that dread, I could not stop what was to be my fate,’ he looked up at Chaos. ‘And yours as well, it seems.’
‘And now we have returned, and our paths cross again,’ Chaos said. ‘I feel there is no escaping this cycle.’ ‘We are what we are,’ said Severian cryptically. ‘And I have often thought that that was unforgivable. Yet, flawed beings that we are, we once stood at the brink of the infinite and gazed upon the mysteries at the heart of the universe. If there is to be no escape, then let us at least find meaning.’
He spoke of the end of the last cycle, Chaos realized, when he and Severian and the two betrayers stood poised to seize victory over and escape from the binding powers of this world. They had seen the mysteries of hell and heaven revealed to them, truth and justice and emptiness unveiled at the heart of every struggle. Yet it was difficult to remember any of it now. They had been cheated out of that knowledge. Rage burned once more in the heart of Chaos.
He held up his blade, and the pale firelight of this damned world lit the liquid metal within the groove of the blade – hydrargyrum, Severian called it. The liquid in the metal made the blade slow to rise, yet swift to descend. Severian explained it that raising the blade causes no harm, but the descending stroke causes death. Chaos thought it to be quite a ponderous and moralistic thing. How very like Severian, he thought. Yet the blade was meant as an executioner’s tool, not as a weapon for battle.
‘You believe that there is meaning to all of this?’ Chaos asked. ‘I do,’ said Severian, gazing at the lavish blade of Terminus Est. ‘And if that belief is but another deception?’ Severian smiled broadly at that. ‘Then I will have faith that time will turn my lies into truth.’ Chaos shook his head. ‘Come with me, Severian.’ ‘Later, perhaps,’ said Severian. ‘For now, I need to think on my future course, considering any alternative to battle.’
‘There isn’t any, I fear,’ said Chaos. ‘Whatever hidden will moves this plane, it seems to demand blood as right of passage.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Severian. ‘Perhaps not.’ Chaos frowned. ‘Severian. What do you know?’
Severian shook his head. ‘I caught a glimpse of something at the brink of infinity. I’ve been trying, desperately, to remember it. But I fear that whatever was there is not anymore. Yet I sense a truth deeper than mere battle at the heart of it all.’
Chaos sighed. Somehow he knew that the Torturor wouldn’t join him this time.
‘Very well then,’ he said. ‘Then I shall not linger here. I sensed three lights descending to this realm. I need to bind them as my allies if I am to escape for good and all.’ He turned from Severian and began to walk away.
He paused. ‘I will offer you the invitation again in the future, for the friendship we had before,’ he said. ‘But if you refuse then, then I will not be able to save you.’
Chaos nodded. Then walked on. He wondered if Severian was right. If there was a truth deeper than just the endless battles that repeated themselves ad infinitum. He wondered what he remembered from standing on the brink of infinity. His own memories were consumed by the sting of his ally’s blade, by the burn of their magic. For him, that yielded a truth of his own.
Perhaps it was best that Severian denied his offer.
‘The world is… unchanging,’ he growled.
In the distance, the lights beckoned to the demon, and he followed them. — CHECK OUT ISSUE V AT THE LINK BELOW http://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/39847536/troll-magazine-issue-v-july-2015