Of Queens and Chaos Gods
She walked through the mountains, nearly naked, except for the demon armor she had through sorcery most foul, forced to do her bidding. It was now proof against wind, weather or weapons. In the fashion of its kind, it demanded in trade for its powers, the lust men knew for her, their depravity fed it, nourished it, empowered it. As men saw her nearly naked form, it feasted upon their lust; insidiously, invisibly stealing their life-force. Most times this was enough to maintain the demonic wards of protection.
If she neglected the demon, once a month, she must give herself to a man’s lust to slack its demonic thirst. As long as men lusted for her, her pact with the demon made her nigh-invulnerable in battle. She hated it, but needed the power. These things had nearly conquered her world. She would do anything to drive them away, endure any indignity. Rather than shy away from her pact of evil, she embraced it.
She was known for her lusts across the land and was feared just as well. Her beauty, though passed through the hourglass of time, still commanded the hunger of almost all men, the more pious, the more refined they were, the more they seemed to secretly covet her. She reveled in their destruction most of all. Her body, strong and hardened by both combat and sorcery promised nights of ecstasy to those brave enough to partake. Woe be unto the man who failed her tests of pleasure, though, they were never seen again.
Her armor affected feathered wings of iron which flapped about her during battle and where they swiped, flesh fell asunder, stunned screams as bowels flowed free from their confines and armored limbs pirouetted through the air momentarily escaping the force of gravity before returning to earth with a dull clank of meat and metal. In battle, she was a whirlwind of death and this was even before she drew her sword, a Lord of Chaos; bound.
She wore the heavy boots of the foot-soldiers of Nus. Finely crafted, extremely durable, supple, close-fitting, black as night. Her jeweled gloves, designed for battle hailed from the other side of the world, where the famed Necromancers of Weir taught her how to fill them with the raging spirits of the many men she has slain. Her powers of necromancy could free those tortured souls to do her bidding, stripping the flesh from her enemies, before retreating to the nether hells for which they were bound before she enslaved them. They welcomed release, prayed for it.
Her armored wings and helmet fluttering slightly, seeking to strike out, but sensing nothing, flapped momentarily and returned to quiescence. They had not adjusted to the coldness of the mountains. But for her, this was home. The crisp mountain air filled her lungs with memories and hidden in that breeze was the alien stink of her world’s usurpers. She assures her Chaos blade, drinking in the alien presence and eager for the battle to come, for its help, it would feast upon the souls of the invaders.
It was made for this purpose.
It released a screech of its chaos-flux in anticipation; space and time were undone nearby, stones unmade, and a fiery chasm opened before her. As she strode unmarred through the final mountain pass, she crunched on a gear beneath her boot, a remnant from one of the clockworks this area was once famed for. None had been made here in over three decades since the Astronomers of Kimber fell. The gear was still beautiful even as the patina of age wore on it. She slid it in her pack, a reminder of why she was here. She was a child when she fled from here so long ago…
* * *
“Tarth, bring the boy to me.”
“Yes, Mistress. It will be done.”
Tarth exited the tent with no apparent emotion about his mission. He undoubtedly knew what was about to come to pass. His footfalls were quiet but as he passed through the war encampment, silence followed him. They knew their mistress, her appetites and knew what was to come for one of their number.
He would assure their victory, but he would not live to see it.
As he passed, all dropped their eyes, and hoped inwardly that Tarth was but a shadow moving through the camp for another. No one wanted to look up and see him before them.
He walked for a long time, passing through the camp twice, looking at their faces. Some young, barely passed twenty summers, others grizzled veterans whose scars counted their decades of in a life of war and service. No matter their ferocity in combat, their capability in arms, they would rather face the most dangerous creature on their world before confronting Her.
She was their Mistress, their goddess of War and Chaos, bringer of death, agent of destruction, Pawn of Chaos, and harbinger of the End of All Things and tonight she would take her pleasures with one of their number. He would know esctasy beyond imagining. His screams of joy would resound through the camp and so would his cries of terror at the end.
Tarth stopped. He knew the tent. This was his third pass. He was only delaying the inevitable, for she had chosen his son. And she would not be denied.
Valric stood with his back to the flap of his tent, and sensed his father’s steps as he made his final approach. Valric knew she would call for him. He knew this the way the farmer knows the rain comes soon. He felt it in his bones. Strong bones, he was his father’s son, black as night, as bold as a hawk, as muscular as an ox, and a warrior without compare. Only Tarth had ever defeated Valric in combat. Tarth had a moment of pride as he saw his son, standing ready.
“I have given my arms to Halcin, the demonic armor will serve him well. We tamed it together and he is now able to take my place on the field, tomorrow.”
“He will never be able to take your place, my son.”
“I have bequeathed my elemental blade to Namas and my horse as well. The two of them will lead your standard bearers into battle. The rest of my equipment is yours to do with as you will, Father.”
“No words for your father?”
“What would you have me say? Will my words fly true and pierce your cold heart, allowing me to escape our Mistress? Will you do for me what you have never done for any other? Will you, Father?”
“No, my son. They will not.”
“Then we have nothing to discuss, Father. Take me to our goddess and my fate.”
He was his father’s son. Proud, arrogant, defiant even in the face of his impending and inescapable death. He would neither beg, nor run. Tarth had no fear of that. Some tried. Some would not serve her in the way she demanded. But Tarth was stronger and faster and could not be escaped. All would serve her in the end.
As they exited the tent, Valric’s men stood to bar the way. They were all armed. Some with glittering steel swords, others with huge Valmirian axes designed to slice horses in half. Several of the Chaos beasts stood there as well, slavering jaws ready to strike in their master’s name.
“Stand aside. You know there can be no resistance.”
“You would say that Tarth, you are her Mistress’ prize dog and have served her longer than any other. You would even give her your whelp to appease her. But we will not stand for this. He is our master and the mightiest among us. If we are to have any chance at all, it will be because he leads us.”
Valric stood silently, his eyes narrowed, his face revealing nothing but the slightest hint of pride in his men. But he already knew the outcome. If they resisted, whether they be ten or two hundred, Tarth would simply kill them all. He could not be defeated. His geas, his power was bound to her. As long as she stood, he would.
Valric moved in front of Tarth and smiled to his men. “We have covered half a world, fought creatures from the Abyss itself to stand here today. The enemies of our world lie in that valley below us. This is the last day of our journey and we will win our world or die tomorrow. If it means that I die tonight to give you a better chance, then I die willingly for you. You are my men. Today, I lead you into death. Die well, my brothers. Stand aside so I may do my part for you.”
Valric strode forward, his gaze strong and his men parted, each reaching out to touch him as he passed. A few turned away and wept quietly. His beasts howled as he passed and continued for the many minutes until they reached the Great Tent of their Mistress.
* * *
“I am here, goddess.” Valric’s voice betrayed no emotion save the slightest tremor of fear. He had watched her on the battlefield more than once. In action, she was death incarnate. But the fear he knew now was of a more intimate nature. No one knew what happened to her…liaisons. No bodies, no bones, no blood. They simply ceased to be.
“Enter.” her voice was exquisite, low breathy, pure sexuality. Yet is still contained a hidden steel that spoke of the inexorable nature of his fate. She stood without her armor in a soft and silky sarong, only a black metal headband and her armored bracers belied her near-nakedness. The scent of myrrh and sandalwood filled the air, masking a subtle narcotic he recognized from the pleasure tents of the army.
She stood with her back to him, facing a reliquary of the chaos god Aroch, the Dark God of Screams. Her powerful shoulders could not be hidden by her raven locks which flowed down her back to her waist. A hand maiden slid away, brush in hand and fled the tent, quietly. As he breathed in the smoke, he felt his anxiety fall away. He would embrace his death with dignity. He squared his shoulders back and approached his goddess.
“What do you know of your mother?” her voice still soft moved like smoke. But the question took him aback.
“My father claimed she was a doxy at a whorehouse and died in childbirth. He raised me because I bore the mark of Aroch as he did. He knew me as his son.”
She turned to face him and he was struck by her physical beauty. “Knowing this, did it distress you?”
“No, my goddess. My mother gave me life, my father gave me purpose.”
“And now you are here to serve a greater purpose, something beyond your ability to understand. I have watched you for twenty summers.” She approached him, looking him up and down. She touched his chin and her touch was cold, like ice. Valric shuddered.
“Good. In your heart you know the truth. Do you know why I take a man before every battle?”
“To slack your thirst, my goddess.”
She smiled, knowing this was one of the legends spread about the camp. “No. It is more complex than that. What if I told you I was sacrificing the man most likely to fail us at a moment when we were most vulnerable? What if I told you, the man who dies assures us victory by simply not being at a particular moment in space and time?”
Valric tried to understand. A man not being someplace would somehow turn a battle from failure to victory. Am I such a man? Would there be some point in the battle where I failed my warriors? It would never happen! “Goddess I would never fail you. No matter how the battle turned I would fight and die to assure our victory.”
She smiled, her dark eyes glittering in the candlelight. Her gaze turned toward the beautiful warrior trying desperately to survive to see the sunrise.
“And you would be correct. You would die to assure our victory. I have seen it.”
“Then why am I here?”
“To know the truth. Tomorrow we cannot win.”
“Then why bring me here? Why vex me with fears of my death?” Valric’s voice lowered and his brow furrowed, taking on the killing eye seen before battle.
“Your mistress did not bring you here to vex you, gentle Valric.” Aroch’s voice sprung from nowhere and everywhere. “She brought you here as a final sacrifice to me. We have an arrangement. I bring her victory against the aliens and she would give me what she valued most in the world.”
“Then you should check your scales, for she does not know me beyond the strength of my sword arm and my loyalty to my father.”
Aroch’s voice had the hint of a smile. “She did not tell you.” Valric’s goddess turned away from him, silhouetted in the candlelight. “She is your mother, boy. Did you not question your fortune, your prowess, your gifts with beasts and men? Did you take all of those things for granted? No matter, for what I have given, I will now return to me. You will be my body for this final battle.”
“I would rather die.”
“And you will.” Valric’s screams were heard throughout the camp into the early morning. One-eyed Tarth wept and polished his great axe for the coming day’s slaughter.
* * *
The Goddess strode from her tent. The battle had waged for hours and the Unliving creatures from beyond the Stars continued their unrelenting assault. As she looked to the sky, she saw their final craft in the distance. The vehicle which would take their bounty from this world. She would see it fail. But she already knew the truth.
Aroch/Valric strode from her tent. A great and terrible helm with a blue flame rising from it adorned his head. His armor black and foreboding was covered with tiny insects swirling about, their activity unnerving even to one such as she, versed in the dark arcana of these Chaos gods. Strange rags covered the rest of him, filthy, flowing and alive she could feel its hatred of her and all things living.
His weapon was a great polearm with a wicked axehead which moaned quietly in the noonday sun. “It is time, young goddess. This is our last battle. Where is your Champion?”
She turns her shield with the star of Chaos upon it and with a wave of her hand, the battle appears within it. “Tarth leads the Golums of Nus toward their landing field. He destroys the artillery protecting the site. They are reinforcing the area. He is surrounded. Our forces are holding but gaining no ground. We simply cannot stop them from moving their bounty to their staging area.”
“Stop holding troops in reserve. It is time. Commit all your men, give everyone a weapon, ever last man, woman and child must take up arms if there is to be any chance for victory. Send forces to that location, there.” He points off into the distance near the landing region and the strange buildings which seem to be a locus of activity.
“We have troops near there but their creatures hold us at bay. We cannot get any closer than you see now.”
“Send them now. I will aid them.” Aroch raises his arm and a sound, terrible come forth and the buzzing of wings as his armor produces a swarm, a seeming never-ending plague. Men standing near Aroch fled, a couple too slowly and those were eaten, to the bone, their screams lasting only seconds. “Follow this swarm, not too closely, for they are not choosy who they eat. When they are done, you will have a opening, for a time. Waste it not.” The swarm, now blackening the sky, flies away and forces form up, following it toward the line. Their roars welcomed the idea of combat against a foe who could now be beaten, cheered the Goddess. Her reverie was broken by a question.
“What about Tarth?” The Goddess was surprised to hear Valric’s voice come from the horror that was now Aroch.
“What about him?” Aroch replies seemingly to himself.
“He will die without our help. Goddess?”
“If you help him, little goddess, your chances against them diminish greatly.” Aroch’s normally smooth and sensuous voice was rough, ragged and coarse as if he struggled with a great weight.
The Goddess deliberated, but only for a second. “To me, my armor.” Her tent exploded, blown from its posts, the sound of a great beast’s wings beating. Her black winged armor flew to her and cupped her breasts and girded her loins. Her person guard lusted quietly knowing that to show emotion was to draw her attention and perhaps their death. But no man was unmoved by the action. Her armor drank in their lust, fitfully, like water to a thirsting man.
“Who here loves Tarth as I do?” She asked of her twenty Black Guard. They all stood ready.
Sehan her third in command spoke, his voice strong but old. He was a man of sixty summers. “My sword has guarded his back for two score years, my Goddess. My soul is willing to guard him as you see fit.” He strode to her dropping his spear and shield and she swept him into her winged embrace. A bright light flashed and when the Guardsmen could see again, nothing but an armor remained of old Sehan. And they were nineteen of this world’s fiercest warriors led by their Goddess and her God. What could stand against them?
For three days and nights, they fought.
But the enemy was both relentless and seemingly limitless. Tarth was saved, though the Golem of Nus were destroyed. Part of the landing area was taken once the Gods entered the fray, but they were unable to stop the onslaught of creatures unlike anything ever seen on this world. The Goddess had surrounded the landing field but the aliens were still loading their great ship. It would only be hours before they would escape with the souls of millions.
“Aroch, is there nothing else we can do? Our numbers diminish and they seem as fresh as ever.” The Goddess was wielding a black blade whose origins meant it would never break as long as fresh blood adorned it.
She was reluctant to draw her Chaos blade in the presence of Aroch, since it was a rival deity with no love of him. Aroch did not seem concerned one way or the other, and fought as men fought, sweeping his great axe across the field, slaying tens of the alien fungi. Aroch explained the creatures only looked as men. They were not. And that was their secret, they could make as many of these automata as needed to overwhelm them.
The army had been reduced from a hundred thousand to a mere thousand focused on breaching the walls of the command tower. Their assaults had garnered the attention of the aliens, for the efforts brought forth new creatures, things with many limbs, eyes, heads, creatures only Chaos could have created.
Aroch, though seemingly immortal and unstoppable could only plug the gap against so many. Tarth, with the help of the Black Guard, kept the Goddess safe and her winged armor lay waste to the enemy until they stood upon the dead, four deep.
“It is time, Goddess. You know what must be done.” Aroch could be heard over the din of battle and the roar of the great ship in the distance. “They are preparing to leave. If they do, all of the people who have lived on your world will have died in vain. Do it. You know there is no chance for these men. They are all doomed! Would you abandon your duty?”
“You speak of duty, Chaos God, but you have nothing at risk here. These creatures do not harvest your kin. They are destroying us.” The Goddess fought toward Aroch and Tarth and the Black Guard closed ranks. Of the remnants of the army, tiny pockets fought on, blasts of chaos fire, the screams of dying beasts in battle, could be seen in the distance. But the Goddess already knew the truth. This was their last night. By dawn they would be dead.
Aroch’s final sweep of his axe cleared away the last of the fungi and for a moment, silence was close at hand. “You speak of sacrifice, little goddess, do you know why I was chosen for this task?”
“Chosen?” Tarth interjected. Who could force you, great Aroch to take up a task you did not want? We were taught you were the king of the gods.
Aroch drew close and removed his helm. Valric’s face stared out from it. But in the eyes, there was the knowledge and sorrow of millennia. “I am now king of a failed group of gods. We are the second generation, weaker, smaller than our great forebears. We came to this world, chased from our own by beasts a thousand times more terrible than we were. We escaped in the last moments before our world was destroyed. Our arrival here did not go unnoticed.”
Aroch waved his hand and nearby fungi burst into flames. He sat next to them, looking over his shoulder as if to check the approach of any others. None appeared. “These creatures, the guardians of Yoggoth, they called themselves, brought creatures like you here and used you. You are not native to this world. None of you, no matter what breed, were all carried here for your essence, your genetic matter. Didn’t you ever question the Sacraments of your various peoples? How similar they all were?They were designed to expose you to their genetic material and to prepare you for use.”
“And what does this have to do with you, great Aroch? Tarth sat down, staring at the face of his son and the monster hidden within. “You seem quite comfortable. What makes you different than they?”
“We could not be heard by your people when you first arrived. It was only after their Sacraments could our spirits be heard by you. We taught you. We gave you science and mathematics. We protected you against their lies.”
“With your own secrets.” The Goddess sneered in the firelight, her contempt palpable. “You could have told us they were coming and what was happening.”
“Would you have listened? Yes, we used you. We turned you into a weapon. Young, vulnerable, strong, and your ancestors had worked with us, not always knowing what our plans were but participating once they realized something was wrong. The Witch of the Wastes was our first attempt but she failed to deliver. She could not do what was necessary.”
“With only a few hours left, will you tell us the plan? Will you tell me what I am dying for?” Tarth walked over to the Goddess and took her hand. She allowed it. She had missed it. Being a goddess was lonely work.
“For you to win, all we have to do is die. Simple as that.” Aroch stood and placed his helmet back on.
“We?” Tarth looked up as one of the Black Guard, spoke his inner thought.
“Yes, we. There will be no return to Chaos for me. They will be most vulnerable during their takeoff. That is when we will strike. Make your peace, for tomorrow we die. And unlike you, I know what waits beyond death and I fear it.”
“What is it? What waits beyond death for one such as you?”
“Stay to your Sacraments, they are a better lie than any truth I could give you.” He spoke no more on the subject. The remainder of the night passed quietly with only the hum of the alien starship nearby.
End of Part 3
Of Young Men and Hot Ambition
In a world shattered by war, a boy’s ambition to be one of his Valley’s best warriors comes to him at great price. (Part 2)
Of Old Men and Bad Dreams
An aged mystic discovers the boundaries between life and death, at least for dragons, can be quite permeable… (Part 1)
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning essayist, author and journalist for various online publications, anthologies and websites which fancy themselves having discriminating tastes in speculative fiction, non-fiction journalism and critical thinking.
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