A Chronicle of Chaos
Chapter One - Elixir
The sky lit up in a radiant burst of red and yellow sparks which shot outwards then crackled gently to the floor in a shower of fire. The courtyard was filled with whoops of delight and murmurs of appreciation. Children squealed and yelled, allowed to run through the gardens freely. They charged after one another, waving wooden swords and ducking and dodging around the adults who strolled, carefree, across the vast palace gardens.
The sky was an inky black sheet, peppered with pricks of light and the occasional burst of fireworks illuminating the darkness. The courtyard and gardens of Nazaki Palace were lit with oil lanterns and dotted bonfires, billowing waves of smoke filling the air. Mixed in with the smoke was a tantalising aroma of roasting meat from food carts that sat amongst the well-pruned bushes and trees. The winding shale path led between stands, set up by local townspeople, selling all manner of delicious treats: sweetbreads, fruits, nuts, and skewers of roasted meat and vegetables.
Chaos Lennox walked through the crowds, enjoying the warmth of the summer evening. His keen dark eyes flickered over the gardens appreciatively, and he addressed his brothers who walked beside him.
“The people have done well. The grounds of the palace have never looked finer. This must be the largest turnout we’ve had in years.”
Mercury and Syfer Lennox nodded in agreement, stepping aside to avoid two children who thundered past them wielding toy bows and arrows.
“Yes, Callista has outdone herself, hasn’t she?” Syfer said, adjusting the high-necked collar of the loose orange shirt he wore.
Mercury’s eyes landed on one of the food stalls, and he wandered over, unable to resist the smell of meat juices sizzling on the fire.
He turned back to his brothers. “Come on, Chaos, Syfer, let’s get something to eat.”
They ordered skewers of roasted lamb and onions, salivating at the thought of such rich food when usually they dined on comparatively bland meals.
The three young adults continued to walk the grounds, tearing chunks of tender meat from the skewers with their teeth and eyeing the stunning dancers who performed in the courtyard. The gardens of the palace were one of the largest open spaces in the city of Nazaki, and tonight they were filled with a dazzling range of bright colours. The noblemen and women (the elite members of the Children of Light who ruled the nation of Alcherys) spent the year dressed in black and grey uniforms. It was only during festivals and celebrations such as this that they were able to don the designs and fabrics they chose. Constrained by such dull uniforms the entire year, most took advantage of the event to clothe themselves in beautiful flowing dresses and robes of vibrant and vivid colours.
Syfer and Mercury wore orange and purple respectively, but Chaos wore a perfectly tailored black suit despite the heat of the evening. His thick, dark hair was neatly styled, resting on his collar, long at the back but tidy and smart. He drew the eyes of women as he passed but paid them little attention. As a member of the royal family and the youngest soldier ever to be taken on as an elite commander, he didn’t often mix with the public and they were awed to be in the presence of him and his family.
His reputation for arrogance preceded him, however, and few attempted to speak with him. This suited Chaos perfectly as he spent his time at festivals such as this mingling with his friends and family and steering clear of the public.
The three young men passed a band of musicians, playing a beautiful melody on a series of drums and flutes. Chaos stopped in the centre of the path and allowed the music to wash over him. He closed his eyes to drink in the luxurious sounds but was pulled from his reverie by sniggers from his two brothers.
His eyes snapped open, and he fixed the twins with a dark glare. “What?”
Syfer smirked, “Look at you, lulled into a dream world by a flute. What great soldiers listen to flute music?”
The edges of Chaos’s mouth curled into a joyless sneer. “When you’re as successful as I am, you can tell me what ‘great soldiers’ are supposed to enjoy.”
The quip wiped the smile off Syfer’s lips, but Mercury eased the tension with a loud laugh, throwing an arm around each of his brothers’ shoulders.
“Come on. Father’s has already taken a seat.”
They headed towards the great stone amphitheatre at the back of the palace. With a capacity of five thousand, it was large enough to contain a good proportion of the people of Nazaki. Seats at the front were reserved for the Children of Light noblemen and soldiers—the highest ranking sitting closest to the front. The remaining 4500 seats were free for the public to use.
Around the grand amphitheatre, flags blew gently in the wind. The crest of the Children of Light—four daggers with their points touching in the centre, around the knot of infinity—was emblazoned in striking silver on an enormous deep purple canvas. It hung in the centre of the amphitheatre, and beside it two other flags flew, proudly sporting the shield of Avalanche and the dagger of Nightfall. These were the two elite factions that operated within the Children of Light, and Chaos felt his heart fill with pride as he looked upon Nightfall’s banner. To have his unit’s sigil hanging so closely to the Children of Light’s and Avalanche’s was an honour he had always dreamed of.
At the front of the amphitheatre, a man dressed in black trousers and a casual vest waved them over. Raven’s eyes were dark and brooding, even when his lips curled into a smile, and his strong, toned shoulders flexed when he crossed his arms.
“Good evening, Father,” Mercury and Syfer said, embracing him. Chaos hung back, smiling wryly at the show of affection between his father and his siblings. When his brothers pulled away, his father’s gaze fell on him and a smile broke out on his lips.
“It’s good to see you, Chaos. We don’t get many opportunities to meet socially these days. It’s odd to see you without a weapon in your hands.”
“We must schedule another training session soon, Father, I don’t like not having a weapon in my hands,” Chaos said, offering a business-like hand for his father to shake.
Raven laughed and batted Chaos’s hand away, pulling his son into his arms. Chaos returned the embrace, trying to ignore the sniggers from Mercury and Syfer.
When he pulled away, Raven smiled and pointed to the flags above them. “Do you see that, son? The Nightfall banner flying alongside Avalanche? I persuaded Callista to allow it.”
Chaos’s heart sank with the realisation that Callista had not chosen to honour his unit herself. She had been swayed by his father’s request. Raven caught the flash of disappointment in Chaos’s eyes.
“Success is success, Chaos, however it comes about. Tonight is your night, remember. Once the ceremony is over, Callista will assign missions and Nightfall will be honoured with new freedoms. I'm sure of it.”
Chaos gave no response and looked away, trying to stem the prickling nerves in the pit of his stomach.
A loud bell began to chime, the crisp, clear tones echoing throughout the gardens and courtyards. It was the call for the citizens of Nazaki to proceed to the amphitheatre, and within minutes people began pouring into the semicircular structure.
Chaos, his father and brothers took their places in the front row as the bell chimed again and silence fell across the crowd. Every pair of eyes focused upon the central stage.
A beautiful woman walked out onto the stone platform and, as one, the people bowed their heads, drawing their eyes away from her long, platinum-blonde hair and wide green eyes. Callista Nienna was the commander of the Children of Light and ruler of Alcherys. Though she looked in her late teens, her appearance was deceiving. She was not as young, innocent or pure as she seemed. She walked to the centre of the stage and held both arms out wide.
“Sons and daughters, grandchildren and heirs, people of Alcherys. As the head of the family that guides our nation, I welcome you to the Palace of Nazaki.”
There was a universal cheer and a roar of applause from the crowd, and Callista smiled as she looked upon her people. She ruled the nation of Alcherys with a firm hand but it was a fair one and the people adored her. She provided for them, ensured their livelihoods flourished and protected them from constant attacks by their enemy, the Brotherhood of Shadow. In return, she had earned their undying affection.
“Tonight, we celebrate a joyous occasion. Another young warrior joins our ranks and the Children of Light’s army grows ever stronger. Sho Nitaya, please step forwards.”
She gestured to the edge of the stage, and a young boy of sixteen years stepped forwards. He wore long white robes with a hood over his head, but his rich, brown skin and deep eyes could still be seen.
Chaos watched him closely as he stepped onto the stage and nervously joined Callista, their grandmother. Sho stood facing the crowd, and Callista placed a hand on each of his shoulders.
“Sho Nitaya, look upon the people of Nazaki, your brethren, your kin, your subjects. As a descendant of the Nienna bloodline, it is your right and your honour to receive the elixir of youth, so that you may serve the people of Alcherys for all time.”
She gently turned Sho by the shoulders and they stood, hands locked, face-to-face before the crowd.
Callista continued, “The elixir is not a gift, nor a privilege. It is the symbol of our undying dedication to protect our land and our people. It is our pledge to uphold our responsibility at all times, forsaking our own desires, our own goals and, if necessary, our own lives.
“Do you accept the burden of our people and promise to protect our borders for the rest of your days?”
Sho squeezed Callista’s hands tightly and began to speak, but his voice caught in his throat. He gave a croaking cough. “I do.”
Callista gave him a warm, reassuring smile then dropped his hands and took a step over to a small wooden table beside the stage. Upon it rested a metal goblet containing a liquid that gave off an aroma so rich and luxurious every member of the audience could smell it. Callista held it carefully in both hands and walked over to Sho. She stopped before him and fixed him in a serious stare.
“Sho Nitaya, once you drink of the elixir of youth, your fate and your future are sealed. You hand your life over to the Children of Light in exchange for everlasting youth. We extend your years so that your skills and knowledge can benefit our people and aid our cause, so the battle may be won and the world free of the Brotherhood's tyranny. But do not take this elixir lightly. It promises not immortality. Your body is fragile as all of mankind’s and you must treat it with respect.”
Sho stared up at his grandmother with wide, sincere eyes and nodded.
“Now, drink,” Callista said and passed him the cup, which he took carefully in both hands. Callista turned to the crowd. “Join me, people of Alcherys, as we recite the Eternal Verse from The Book of Alcherys.”
The people of the stadium rose to their feet as one, locked their hands together before them, closed their eyes and began to chant in unison.
“Let the ancients guide your actions. Let the elements nurture your soul. Let eternity be yours to hold, for the good of Alcherys and all beyond. Join us as one, in the arms of the light.”
The crowd opened their eyes and watched Sho closely. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves and drank the bitter liquid in one go. When finished, he held the empty goblet aloft and grinned as the amphitheatre erupted into cheers of joy.
Callista held a hand high in the air and the cheers halted abruptly. “Sho, you are now a fully integrated member of the Children of Light, a servant of Alcherys.”
Another immense cheer.
“Tomorrow, we discuss your future. You must decide whether you wish to be considered for apprenticeship to a master, or whether you will join the Academy. Take your time to think and choose wisely as it will affect the path your life takes. But tonight, celebrate! The night is yours, Sho Nitaya!”