Life is full of difficult choices and making them is what defines us as people, as characters. Famous people in history are famous because they made key choices that influence the world and drive it in a particular directions. I remember back when choose your own adventure books were all the rage. It wasn’t your typical adventure there were consequences. Failure led to a bad ending an obnoxious loop of events or sometimes… death.
I remember being shocked at these books because it was my first real exposure to fates worse than death. It was pretty easy to understand the concept of death. It meant an end. To villains it is “a final failure of the weak”. To heroes it is a close to their story or a noble sacrifice. Well that’s the rub of difficult choices. You have to keep going most of the time.
You have to live with the choices you made, good or bad.
This short story came to me on this topic and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
A looming ball of flame hovered above me; the sky crackled with unstable power and the land beneath my feet shifted and groaned. The world threatened to tear in two and I was at the center of it. I pulled my woolen cloak closer to me, more to protect from flying sleet and biting winds than any chill.
The ground had risen to a fissure point to form an unnatural mountain. At its top was the source of all this destruction: The woman I loved. It fell to me to convince her to stop this madness, but I felt helpless to do so. I knew deep in my heart that she was right. The world deserved this.
A chunk of rock wrenched free from swirling magicks cascaded towards me, it flew away in two pieces from a well times cleave of my broadsword. I wouldn’t be stopped by a stone in this madness, there were people counting on me. I kept my sword drawn, the blade felt awkward in my left hand but I had no choice. I needed the plating that covered my off hand to protect against the elements. I could feel the impact of needle sharp flecks of ice rattling against my blade and exposed arm.
My cloak was enchanted, ironically by the very woman I was trying to stop. She had made it for me as an anniversary gift. It signified the eight year of our joining. Those were happier times. Times when I thought I would always be by her side.
Now my choices were to betray her or support her choice to destroy everything.
“Mara,” I called into the swirling storm of magic. “Stop this, please.”
There was no response from the tall, graceful figure standing at the eye of the storm. She was beckoning the end of all things. She was destroying the world as we knew it. Her silver hair laid flat against her bare back, the chaos had not touched her.
I winced as a chunk of ice pelted me, deflecting off my cloak but leaving a staunch bruise on my arm. “Mara. I know you can hear me.”
I had breached the storm and I stood it’s eye. She was close to me now, as close as the day I met her. She turned and faced me; her expression was as cold as her ice blue eyes. “Have you chosen?”
I had. But I needed to see something. I had to know why… why she wanted this so badly. I bolstered my resolution and pulled away the cloak from my face. The air was so still in the storm, my short blond hair did not catch so much as an errant breeze. “Why are you doing this? If you destroy everything we’ll be lost as well.”
I sheathed my sword; I did not want to portray threat. “Do you value life so little? Isn’t this just completing the work of those you hate? This is not the logic of the rational woman I have come to love. Please. Reconsider this. You know I stand with you, but I need you to think this through.”
“Are you betraying me? Now of all times?” She pointed at me. “Those that rule this country, this world more often think with that worm between their legs more than rational thought. This is a choice brought about by justice.”
I had no argument. I hated them as much as her. The leering, the oppression, the short sightedness fueled on a need for domination over not just women but each other. That was the very reason I abandoned the possibility of ever loving a man. Really, it was the reason I absolved to never love anyone. That was before I met Mara of course.
I served as a knight in the king’s army regardless and proved myself their better in every way. The trials I endured as a woman just for being a woman only served to make me stronger. It only served to push me past them farther than before.
“True, we owe them nothing. But we stand nothing to gain for this vengeance. Can you tell me with a clear head that this will accomplish anything other than petty vengeance? And on who? There are plenty that stand to lose from this destruction!” I jabbed an accusing finger at her. “By saying this is the only way to remedy this you embrace the belief that nothing can be done to right this wrong.”
Mara grew quiet and stared at me. “What proof have you that there is something that can be done?”
“We are the proof,” I said, “In the eyes of pigs we are mere women, powerless and frail. But the reality is we are no less capable of destruction than men. I have killed countless men with my blade in the King’s name… and you stand at the cusp of ending our world. Are you so desperate to flaunt your power and superiority that you will commit the same sins? I love you because you transcended that. Or I thought you had. But you are no less corrupt than the men we damn.”
I drew my blade. “I am done asking Mara. This is not a matter of sex. This is a matter of protecting what I have worked so hard to protect over the past decade. If I cannot reach your heart with words, I will do so with my blade.”
“And you are so much nobler than I it seems,” Mara said, fingers flexed and poised for spell casting, “You’re willing to pierce the heart you claimed over a disagreement of ethics. Perhaps you’ve forgotten our vows.”
“I have not,” I said, turning my blade into a readied position, “I’m just following a greater power on this one.”
“God?” Mara threw back her head and laughed. “Today I prove there isn’t one.”
“Nay, intuition,” I said, “I feel it in my heart. This is not right.”
“Yes. The weak will be hurt. The weak will die… but death is a great equalizer. It holds no prejudices. It is the only way this rotten world will know equality.” Lightning crackled along Mara’s slender arms. The same arms I once embraced with warmth and love. Moments of caring, moments of passion, moments of love, they were all gone. Now my arms meant to hold her, intended to kill her. She needed to die for everyone’s sake. I knew her real threat. I wasn’t some novice in awe of her talents. I was intimately aware of them.
With a simple flick of her wrist she sent a packed ball of electricity towards me. I had no choice but to recklessly dive forward. It exploded against the barrier of chaos, sparks scattered about like a cloud of flies. Three of them managed to latch onto my cloak. The hair of my neck rose in alarm as their threatening current tried to reach the steel of my armor. I tumbled on the ruined ground. My momentum and weight snuffed two of the sparks but the third was persistent.
With a gesture Mara lifted the stone beneath me and left no choice but to endure. I leapt again, forced to retreat away from her and watched the chunk of stone cascade into the looming ball of flame that would doom the world.
I made staggering impact with the ground when the spark burst sending stinging electricity through my body. I roared in pain. My blade stayed firmly in my hand but doing so only amplified the force of the current. No matter the pain I had to stand. I couldn’t let Mara win the day. I had buckled on countless arguments with her, but today the Gold Queen would have her way.
Mara seemed surprised, in a dull sort of way, when I charged her. The edge of pain added ferocity to my attack as my blade arched towards her unarmored body. A surge of wind caught me, her pushing gesture was literal and figurative. It urged me backwards and threat pulsed through me. I knew this… I knew what this meant. It would send me helplessly careening about the chaos around them. It would mean my death.
“No!” I shouted and lunged. I grabbed hold of her soft neck, unprotected by armor or cloth. “Stop the spell now or I will crush your throat!”
Her eyes widened in panic as my determination and the traction of my boots were the only thing keeping us from being cast away into the Chaos. It might have been an appropriate end but I wasn’t ready to accept that fate, not yet.
Mara struggled stubbornly casting the earth to seize her legs at the ankles. One of my boots mis-stepped and half of my body was whipped to one side. I had to twist my gloved hand to avoid tearing her throat out. Crushing her throat was a bluff I had to make, but I could never bring myself to cause harm to her in that way.
She saw that in my eyes and smirked, lightning surged across her flesh as she readied to finish me off. All I could do was drive my blade into the ground to serve as a makeshift cane. IT gave me the leverage to tighten my grip on her.
Lightning leapt from her and into me through my lone steel armguard. My vision blurred as I took the brunt of the electricity. It was eager to leave the metal and course through my flesh. Her devotion to her favorite element quelled the wind though. I shuddered as my muscles tightened in response to wave after wave of current.
My hand slipped from her throat as I lost control of my body. The lightning numbed me irreparably and all I could do was fall both knees and keep from toppling.
“It seems the Silver Queen shall be the victor. You have already taken to kneeling to me,” Mara said with a slow pant. I could see the read mark of my gauntlet on her throat. It was a sign of my failure. My weakness would doom the world.
I couldn’t speak. Black smoke wafted from my flesh and my voice was taken by spasms in my throat. I fell forward barely able to catch myself with my gauntleted left arm. I retched as my stomach muscles expanded and contracted uncontrollably. I brought my right up to keep myself from falling face first in my own vomit.
“M…Mara,” I said, “Stop this… I don’t want to kill you.”
“Kill me?” She said. “Look at yourself. You are beaten.”
“No,” I said with closed eyes, “I am resting. If you’re so intent on this folly, you have to kill me.”
“I’ve been trying,” she said, “I was hoping you could regain some sense in the afterlife. We can celebrate my victory then.”
“I love you too,” I said, “So be it. We’ll be together… but not how you think.”
I had taken the moment to get a handful of dust and tossed it into her eyes. She howled in pain bringing both hands to her face. It gave me the chance I needed. I reached back to my sword, freed it and drove the blade deep into her stomach.
The sword was a gift from the king. It was given to her by the one man she respected and loved. And now she had driven that blade into the flesh of her love, her very heart. She twisted the blade brutally and gritted her teeth. She had to make sure to fatally damage Mara’s precious organs. It was a practice she had done countless times to countless enemies.
Mara gasped and clawed helplessly at me. She was still blinded by the dust. I calmly wiped her eyes and let her bloodshot ice blue eyes look up at me. She felt so small in my arms. Death had this way of making someone feel tiny. I let go of the sword and held her. I had to leave the sword in her wound. I had to say my goodbyes. “You… you actually.”
I nodded, “I’m sorry. We’ve been together a long time… but… You can’t do this. I won’t let you do this. You can’t undo everything we’ve accomplished for petty revenge.”
Mara winced. She was in so much pain. She hadn’t endured the training I had to endure encroaching death.
“Shh…” I said, I pressed my finger on her lips. “You should save your strength. You’re going to need it. Just survive long enough for me to do this…”
Blood dribbled from Mara’s lips, they were coated with white frost concealing and amplifying the effect of her pale lips. She really was beautiful, even now. I ran a hand alongside her face. “Promise me, you’ll abandon this. I trust that you will after I show you how strongly I feel about it.”
Her eyes widened as I laid her down on the ground. I had to put her on her side to keep the blood inside her long enough to survive what needed to be done. I stood and took off the gauntlet that protected my left hand. Tattoos lined my arm from elbow to wrist; it had been a while since I really admired them.
“No! W…what are you doing? Stop! You’ve won… just let me…”
I shook my head as I flexed my hands. “The Gold Queen will have her way this day, but the Silver Queen will have her life.”
“Stop it… I don’t…” She closed her eyes tightly. Tears fell down her cheeks.
I roughly yanked my sword from her stomach. Blood flowed freely and stained the ground. I tossed aside my sword and carefully laid her back flat on the torn ground. I drew close and whispered. “Make this right once I’m done; I trust you.”
I kissed her. Her blood tainted the kiss but it was as sweet as any I shared with her. She whimpered behind it, but she was going to be all right. I pulled away from her and focused, my hands earned a faint glow as my silent prayer began. Light flooded into my body. My prayer had been heard. With gentle calm I placed the tips of my fingers between her breasts, My hands pointed in prayer. She convulsed and pleaded silently. Blood had filled her mouth and she was starting to drown.
The wound on her stomach shone with blinding light as it erupted from every part of her. The ruined environs vanished in a sea of light.
I could see her standing over me: Tall, blond, strong. The woman I fell in love with. She was more beautiful than me in my opinion but she carried strength men envied. Blood from a gaping wound spilled from her abdomen. A wound she gave me… or is that… I gave myself.
She fell, like a towering tree felled by a lumber’s axe. Her golden eyes were dim and devoid of life, but still beautiful. I reached out, too late, as she made impact with the cracked soil. But despite that her warmth was still with me. Her last kiss was on my lips and the gentle warmth of the light’s touch filled me with strength.
I cast my eyes upwards at the looming sphere of destruction and realized she was right. I had to stop this. I cast my hands into the sky. The Gold Queen would have her way.
“….but the Silver Queen will have life.”