Sunday, 6 July 2014

Chapter 5: The Play

“The Tale of the Warring Gods.”

The narrator sweeps his hand across the stage. At his command, the curtain rises onto a blank, black backdrop. Without warning, the scenery lurches forward and engulfs the audience, the pitch-black mass destroying their sight as it roars past them. Somn opens her mouth to yell for help, but the blindness dissipates as suddenly as it came. The restoration of their sight, however, was practically useless.

Luke jumps up in surprise, whirling around to take in his new environment. Gone is the clearing with its roaring campfire, log-seats and star-filled night sky. Instead, the young god and his friends are standing in the middle of--

“Where in Random’s name are we?” yells Neko. Beneath her feet is nothing but endless, starless space, the only light source that of the glowing godly aura emanating from that of the audience, including herself. The log she sits on creaks a little as Somn tightens her grip, her nails digging into the aged bark.

Somn screws her eyes shut. “Why,” she asks quietly, “are we in mid-air?”

Krill nonchalantly leans down and pats the empty space beneath him. “We’re not,” he says. “The log’s still here.”

“Smart kid,” echoes the narrator’s voice around them.

“Where is he?” asks Luke. His feet are standing on something solid, but all he can see around him is nothing but inky black space.

A shadowy figure fades into existence a few steps away from the audience. “Over here,” says the narrator, giving a quick wave. “Relax, this is all an illusion. The drama club likes their theatrics.You guys seem pretty off-balance though, so I’ll give you some time to settle in. Happens every year.”

Luke eyes the shadowy figure suspiciously but does as he is told, returning to his seat beside Fred, who currently is gaping in astonishment at the showcase of magic around him.

“I’ve seen them do illusion spells before, but never on this scale,” says Fred in awe.

“In that case, I don’t like illusions anymore,” mutters Somn. “Tell me when we’ve moved on or something.”

“They’ve switched,” says Neko. She chortles evilly as Somn opens her eyes, lets out a yelp and squeezes shut her eyelids again.

“Neko!” she shouts. “I told you not to do that!”

“Hey, you fell for it!” says Neko, grinning.

Luke feels a wave of anger rush through him at what he considers a breach of trust, but decides to give Neko the benefit of doubt. Instead, he turns to Fred. “Does she do that often?” he asks.

“Do what often?” asks Fred, slightly distracted.

Luke doesn’t quite know how to explain himself without sounding as if he is overreacting, even to his own ears, so he simply gestures and says, “That. Just now.”

Thankfully, Fred puts two-and-two together. “Not at every opportunity, but often enough. Somn doesn’t seem to hold it against her, though.”

The newborn god’s next train of thought gets disrupted by the narrator’s words.

“No response? Really?” asks the narrator impatiently. “Well, we’ve waited long enough. I’m starting now.”

The narrator pauses, and immediately the tension in the air thickens. He gives them a knowing smile and begins, his voice heavily infused with alluring magic.

“Time is in general irrelevant to us gods, but there is no doubt that to recall this memory from the elders would bring to mind an age where many of them were still young and naive. In such a time there lived two deities, powerful even by the standards of strongest past and present. Their story is that of control, chaos, love, deceit and tragedy.”

The narrator begins walking away, and with each step colour blossoms under his feet, writhing tendrils painting over the dark space and forming into patches of grass, fields and skies until the audience finds themselves sitting in a middle of a field, not unlike the newborn gods’ place of birth. Krill watches in astonishment as time fast-forwards its effects on the grassy meadow, causing a few houses to sprout from the soil. The houses seem to gather more compatriots until it becomes a bustling village, only for fire to erupt and consume the wood-and-thatch houses in a raging inferno.

There was no time to grieve, though. Like a phoenix rising from its ashes, the buildings rebuild themselves in front of Krill’s eyes into a town, stone and shingle replacing the flimsy cottages of before. The structures expand in size and become much larger and grander; marble, dark wood and gold replacing the practical stone and oak of the past  A slight gasp comes from the older newborns as they recognise the basic shapes of what is now Godville.

Without warning, the scenery flies through them, taking the audience into the heart of Old Godville, the edges of their visions becoming a blur.

“This is awesome!” shouts Neko gleefully.

“Where are we going?!” yells Somn, twisting her head about as she tries to catch random images of doors, steps, people passing by. Cobblestone paths twist and speed underneath her feet at an alarming rate, prompting her to pull up her legs before realising that it still is an illusion.

“Umm… guys?” asks Fred. “Is it just me, or is the crowd getting thicker?”

Ghostly images of people pass right through them, dissipating into wisps of smoke as their time in this world speeds to their end. More and more people start fading into shadowy existences around them as stalls begin constructing themselves along the side of the road. The scenery starts slowing down at a rapid pace until they come to a stop in a crowd of both mortals and immortals, all mingling among each other in this busy open-air marketplace, with traders peddling their wares and customers shouting over prices.

As if obeying a command, Krill finds his attention drawn towards a godly couple browsing the stalls-- a god with a tall stature and a debonair smile dressed in black, his hair the color of night and with wings of ebony feathers. Accompanying him is a goddess, fair and beautiful, her waist-long hair, tasteful dress and graceful poise lending her an air of elegance.

“The two were star-crossed lovers, and their romance transcended the very fabric of reality,” whispers the narrator’s voice sadly. “Yet this once-happy tale turned quite tragic. You see, the two had ideals so different that they couldn't help but clash."

The scene in front of them blurs, shifts and washes away to reveal a new location. Now the audience is standing with the couple under the moonless sky on top of a tower, the city of Old Godville glittering all around them.

"Never More, this has gone too far!” says the goddess angrily. “All this… this Chaos! The rules that were passed down from council to council lasted this long for a reason. We need the Order.”

“Sometimes, you don't wanna follow the rules, SarahAnne,” says Never More. There is a dangerous glint in his eye as he gestures towards the building behind them. “Sometimes... you just wanna explode!"

At his command, the building detonates and crumbles to the ground, the sound of the earth rumbling drowned out by the sound of screaming. With a flap of his wings, the black-clad god ascends and floats over to the rubble.

"I've had it with you, SarahAnne,” says Never More. “You defy reason. Hell, you defy basic decency in your quest for order. We're through, as is Godville, the epitome of your foolish order!" With a wave of his hand, a ring of buildings around Never More crumble to the ground. "It's time to bring a little Chaos to this place! It's only REASONABLE!"

"Never More, you monster!" SarahAnne says, aghast at the destruction her love has caused. "How could you betray me like this? No, not even me,” she says, drawing a blade of shining metal. “It is obvious you no longer care for me. How could you betray Godville like this?! You will see the wrath of the elders for this!" she declares, starting towards him.

Never More, unfazed by her threats, throws a blade at SarahAnne, slicing her side and pinning her to the nearest wall. He then jumps up into the sky and flies away, laughing. "You think you could harm me? Think again!" As he wings through the air, circling Old Godville, everything he flies over is rocked by explosions. Within just a few minutes, all of Old Godville is reduced to rubble. Only the council building and the academy, covered by powerful godpower shielding by the combined forces of most of the elder gods, survive.

"NO!" cries SarahAnne. The goddess yanks the sword out and rushes over to the edge, only to watch helplessly as the city of the gods falls apart before her eyes. Emotionally broken by the devastation unleashed upon Godville, she falls to her knees, crying in pain. "Why? Why? Why?!"

She continues crying into the dirt and rubble, but her wails of sorrow are heard by no one. Most of Old Godville has been destroyed, with much of its residents dead or injured. Only the lone silhouette of the academy remains, the council room at its peak shining as the lone light of hope, accompanying her as her crying dwindles into choking sobs. "Never More…." She drags herself up and stands unsteadily on her two feet, knowing that she is alone. Biting her bottom lip, the goddess begins to search in the rubble, dragging out both bodies and survivors.

The scene shifts yet again and the audience suddenly finds itself in the middle of a bloodied battlefield. Bruised and beaten armies march head-on, each bearing tall, worn-out banners. At the head of one is the goddess, now dressed for war with her dented armor, her long locks brutally chopped and shoved under a battered helmet. Leading the charge of the second army is the god, his eyes bloodshot and his wings tattered as he orders his army to a halt.

Seeing the dark army now at rest, the goddess raises her hand as well. At her signal, her silver army grinds to a stop. Her men watch their brave leader anxiously as she shakily walks forward, exhaustion taking its toll from the long march, for the scene before had shown her giving up her own horse early on to boost the faltering ranks of the much-needed calvary.

The raven-god swoops down and lands lightly in front of the goddess. He goes down mockingly onto one knee. “SarahAnne,” he greets, his smile clearly insincere.

“Never More,” acknowledges SarahAnne. “What is it you want? Is it too much for me to ask you to come to your senses? To stop this madness?”

Her ex-lover’s smile turns sour as he rises to his feet. “Senses? Madness? You’re the one who’s mad! Blinded by the elders’ propaganda!”

“I stand against you because I’m standing for what’s right. And for that you call me mad?” asks SarahAnne softly. “I’ve shed tears for you day and night, hoping you’ll see reason. That we can end this. Please, Never More, I’m begging you. End this war.”

Her enemy says no words. Instead, he lifts up her chin gently and presses his lips lightly against hers. “I’m sorry,” he says with a sad smile. “But I’m afraid I’m beyond your reason.”

The silhouettes of the two enemies and their armies breaks apart into dust, the particles blown away as the scene shifts again. The fine powder swirls and reforms around the audience, building itself into a large, circular room with high stone walls and a somber atmosphere. A heavy, round wooden table is in the middle of this room, with numerous deities sitting around it. The air is tense, each person here carefully weighing their words before uttering them.

“This has gone on for far too long,” says one of the most senior-looking gods. “Most would have expired by now, and yet Never More merely gains new power, enough even to crush our defences."

“Agreed,” says another. “SarahAnne may be our champion, but even with our strength behind her, she will not last much longer.”

“Nor will we,” notes a third darkly. “Something must be done.”

“We must admit it. SarahAnne alone is too weak to beat him,” says a fifth god. He pauses, ensuring that he has the attention of his fellow elders. “One of the young gods has been pestering me ever since this war started. He wishes to take part in the conflict.”

“Sticky?” asks the third deity. “He is too young! He himself hasn't even managed to decide what side he is on most of the time!"  

“He may be young, Nariya, but he was a close friend during their courtship, and one of the brightest minds we have seen in a long time,” shoots back the fifth god. “This is no time to be keeping aces up our sleeves. He undoubtedly will invent something where we have been grasping at straws. Or do you have a better plan? Would you rather go down there yourself and stand beside SarahAnne against Never More?”

The rest of the discussion consists only of argument, and when the room again breaks into dust, the scene returning yet again to the battlefield. This time, however, a young god not much older than the audience, is standing and fighting alongside the silver army.

The black army retreats, the silver-clad soldiers driving into their main force like a giant wedge. For a moment, it looks like Sarah has the upper hand against Never More. Then, Sticky stops, his entire body shivering. A malicious grin spreads across his face, his hair darkens a shade and his eyes take on a red tint. With a roar, he turns on the troops he leads and joins Never More, once again changing the tide of the war.   
The audience watches in horror as time flies past their eyes, the montage showing them how the attacks increase in desperation and fury, the stakes ever-rising. Every time one side was close to winning the war, Sticky was there to balance out their strength, prolonging the war, preventing either side from grasping victory. Eventually, the silver army suffers a series of close defeats, and Sticky settles and remains with them.

Time passes, and the camera view changes. Two persons are standing in a musty tent, the material worn thin and covered in stains and blood-splatters. The ground is muddy from the water that leaks through the seams and churned by the feet of the men that had just left the tent. Maps paper the cloth walls, held up by dull-coloured pins that tell a depressing story-- battle after battle lost to the advancing black tide of markers that seem to be swarming across the drawings from all directions.

All eyes fall on the magnetic figure in the center of the tent. Standing tall and proud, SarahAnne has her back turned to the the audience and the other deity in the tent-- a young god of similar age as the audience, clearly recognisable as Sticky. Simply by being in the presence of the tent, one can easily feel the intensity of her strength. “You’re not doing this of your own will, are you?” she asks quietly.

“What do you mean?” asks Sticky.

SarahAnne turns to face the young god, and immediately one can see the toil of the war taking its toll. She is no longer the youthful, hopeful goddess who had stood by uselessly as Godville fell apart. Instead she had been transformed into a world-weary, battle-hardened warrior. Fine lines criss-cross every patch of visible skin-- product of the dedicated medics’ thankless, never-ending work in their bid to keep their beloved leader alive. She purses her lips into a harsh, thin line. “Jumping back-and-forth between factions each time the tide shifts," she says. "I marvel at how Never More still takes you in, the so-called strategist he is.”

“To be honest, I wonder why myself,” admits Sticky. “I swear, my liege-- I never recall working with that traitor.”

“I know. I’ve had you tested,” says SarahAnne. Ignoring the shock in Sticky's eyes, she goes on. “I’ve been deliberately utilising whatever that fault of yours is, you know.” She takes a deep breath and sighs heavily, all her strength gone and replaced with world-weary tiredness. “Sticky, we’re running out of time,” she whispers. “We need to end this war. Now.

The scene suddenly shifts downwards into a large cavern. “Never More’s headquarters at that time was hidden inside an ancient tomb,” says the narrator, his voice echoing in the empty space. “No one knows where it was, or who was buried in there. It is said it was already ancient when time itself was young, when the world was born and the first Gods came into being.

“Never More had decided to launch his final assault, attacking the struggling heart of Godville itself. In his lair, he mustered his men, rebel gods and monsters, all of different origins, but of one goal.

The audience watches, slack-jawed as the laguz flies high above his army, the figures stretching far into distance. He eyes this impressive sight with a smirk, then raises his hand. There is a small explosion of light, and a portal roars into existence, a rip between the fabric of space and time. Through it, one can clearly see the pitiful collection of temples and rebuilding efforts that is now an unsuspecting Godville.


Needing no further encouragement, he army roars in ground-shaking assent and surges forward, the black mass swarming through the portal. The audience's view marches along with the army through the portal. As soon as they enter, their vision becomes white before clearing to reveal the Godville, now a battlefield. The land around the audience trembles with increasing magnitude until the very ground itself explodes, enormous stones, chunks of earth and lava flow sent flying into the air. A group of gods shriek as debris seems to fall on top of them but breaks apart just before it touches them.

Fred dares not even blink, awestruck at the effects. Behind him, amazement and terror paralyses Somn as she watches her surroundings erupt into utter chaos, nearly missing a large rock’s collision-course with her head before it gets disintegrated by a convenient spell.

“Godville was not prepared for such an attack,” says the narrator, his voice solemn. “SarahAnne in all her preparations had not anticipated Never More to assault the city itself. Her men had arrived too late.”

The audience watches SarahAnne as she stares in incredulity at the complete desolation around her, her body suddenly lethargic in its movements, her expression shocked..

No…” she whispers. “Not again...She takes a few steps forward before collapsing onto her knees, tears pouring down unbidden. Around her, all the things that she had sworn to protect are now burning, crushed and destroyed. The arena had fallen to the ground, temples that had once been the sight of awe now lay broken. She looks skyward and finds Never More laughing in the distance.

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