NATURE OF CHAOS
Lino was currently standing inside a throne-like room enrobed in tepid, drape-like shadow folding over the colossal pillars piercing the darkened sky, the whizzes and wails of all sorts of abominations surrounding him crying together in the most distorted symphony he’d ever heard. Right in front of him, stacked on top of the seat of thorns, a throne dyed jet-black stood erect, chains shackled in spikes and bladed edges wrapping around a little girl’s limbs and throat, piercing into her skin and causing ebony-colored blood to drip out slowly.
By her looks, Lino estimated, she couldn’t be older than eight, ten at most. She had milky-white hair dripping over her slender shoulders and five eyes, three of which were entirely closed -- one where eyes ought to be, and one on her forehead, with two extruding from her cheeks being half-opened. She had no mouth, but a strange, paper-thin skin draped over a hole where lips ought to be. It was ghastly yet eerily sad sight, and Lino couldn’t help but sigh inwardly.
Just as they’d surrounded the domain, a voice tore open through the void and spoke into his mind -- chilling, soft, melodic tone of a young girl backed up by a choir of distorted muffles and groans. He didn’t even need to ask the Writ as to who it was or what he was supposed to do, as he simply walked through the open void and found himself standing where he stood now, in front of a bleeding, shackled child of sorts.
Rather than feeling uncomfortable, he strangely felt at ease, as though he was home. Every breath enlivened him, clearing his mind up better than anything ever could. His cultivation within the domain of darkness skyrocketed, with him needing the assistance of the Writ to prevent himself from crossing into the Realm of Exalted by accident. All these shadows... abominations... the cries and wails... he felt warmth from them rather than chill. Like they were a family.
“... hel-hello, Father.” a young voice echoed out, yet she made no visible move. “I-I missed... missed you.”
“Hello, Umbra.” the Writ replied in the same, robotic tone, through Lino. “How have you been?”
“... g-gorgy... and tired... so... so tired...”
“You shouldn’t have woken just yet.”
“I... I did-didn’t want to,” her voice quivered and broke slightly. “But... b-but bad men found me, Father. They were.... were going to do-do bad... bad things to me.”
“Y-you don’t, don’t--don’t have to, apologize.” Lino recognized an array of emotions in that voice; longing, desire, pain, loneliness... she really was like a little child, Lino thought, who hadn’t seen her dad in a while. “Umbra... Umbra is just happy... happy she finally-finally saw you... saw you again. Is the Big Brother o-our new, new friend, Father?”
“Yes,” the Writ replied. “His name is Lino. Why don’t you two get to know each other for a while?” though Lino wanted to scream at the bastard for basically shuffling over the responsibilities, he held it back.
“H-hello Lino. I-I’m Umbra. It’s, it’s nice to meet you. He he.”
“It’s... it’s nice to meet you too, Umbra.” Lino said, chuckling lightly as he sat down into the shadows freely, whipping out a gourd of ale from the void world. “How are you?”
“Yeah... bad people woke you up.”
“They-they did... th-they woke me up, a-and... I... I had to, had to defend myself.”
“Of course.” Lino nodded lightly, feeling a slight twinge in his heart.
“I-I know... F-father said, he said not-not to harm o-others... b-but... they were, they were going-going to do bad, bad things t-to me...”
“It’s only natural you’d defend yourself,” Lino said. “Don’t feel bad about it.”
“He he... L-lino... you’re... nice.”
“Ha ha, thanks. You’re nice too. Tell me something about yourself.”
“Uh, I don’t know. What do you like to do?”
“I... I like... dreaming.”
“... dreaming?” Lino arched his brow as he asked.
“Y-yes... b-because, in dreams... I... I can be any-anyone. I’m not... not Umbra. I’m... I’m not... a Pr-prime. I d-don’t sleep a-all the... all the time. I... I’m any-anyone... anything... I wan-want to be... d-do you, like dr-dreaming, Lino?” she asked.
“... I do,” he chuckled. “I, too, can be anything I want in there. I’m not an Empyrean... I’m not anyone special... I’m just... another person, just another guy trying to live until he dies.”
“... i-is it fun?”
“It is, yeah, heh,” Lino laughed freely, tinkering with the ground without drinking any. “But, that’s what dreams are supposed be, right? Fun.”
“Y-yes... I-I think so-so too...” the little girl chuckled as Lino once again sighed inwardly. The whole ordeal was becoming too convoluted for him. “I-is it... hard, being Big-Big Brother?”
“... a bit, yeah,” he replied, chuckling. “But, it’s nothing I can’t handle. Don’t worry about it.”
“... o-other B-Big Brothers... said... said the same thing...”
“... and I’m sure they all meant it just as I do.” Lino said.
“B-but... they... all went far, far a-way... to a p-place Umbra... can’t foll-follow them...” a tinge of melancholy draped through the girl’s mumbling voice. “E-even Big Sister... Eve... d-disappeared...” though Lino didn’t recognize the name, he imagined he’d hear it sometime in the future.
“Do you miss them?”
“I’m sure they miss you too, you know? Wherever they are.” Lino said, taking a sip. “But, don’t say they disappeared, Umbra. How can they? We’re all parts and pieces of a big world, and when we run out of time... we simply return whence we came from. Whence you, and I, and even your Father came from.”
“... a-ah, Brother O’th t-taught me th-this! N-nature of C-chaos, he called it!” the little girl exclaimed jubilantly. “It-it’s, he said, that all-all things, a-all matter, energy, e-every word and th-thought and touch and even whispers,” her stutter due to the drowsiness seemed to have disappeared temporarily. “Every rainfall, and wind and storm, and every bolt of thunder... every breath we all take... naturally turn to Chaos, to be given to someone else...”
“...” Lino listened attentively for a moment, musing over the theory. “See? They aren’t gone. As the matter of fact, they’re closer to you than they’ve ever been.”
Lino continued to tinker with the thoughts silently, unsure of a lot of things. He very much didn’t understand the Nature of Chaos, or either of those terms as the matter of fact. He still continued to fumble and tumble in the dark, assuming a lot of things he very much knew weren’t true. Gaia... Fate... Chaos... Order... all these seemingly intangible concepts, ideas beyond life, seem more and more corporeal the further along he went. Whether they were -- are -- self-realized manifestations of themselves, or artificially made ones... he couldn’t say, nor did he deem the answer to that question all that important.
The more he had learned about the world, the more he began to doubt as to what he was supposed to do in the first place. He had long since began suspecting that his ‘mission’ had little to do with other Bearers, with the Holy Lands, or even with Gaia, that all of them were simply curtains hiding something else, or perhaps distractions... or even guides. He’d come to believe that whatever he had to do had nothing to do with him as the individual -- but rather what he represents. All things, he’d come to learn, orbited the idea of Chaos one way or another. And he, the crowned beholder of it, was at the center of the unfolding story; no, rather than to say he was, or even that the Writ was, it was better to say that what they represented was at the center.
“Don’t think too deeply about it, Big Brother,” as though having read his thoughts, Umbra spoke out with a chuckle. “All truths, regardless of how hard they’re to unveil, are in the end fairly simple. Ordinary. Even boring.”
“... you know what I’m supposed to do?” Lino asked.
“No,” the little girl denied. “Nobody does, not even Father. My Brothers and Sisters always said that Father was a fool for trying to find the truth behind all the lies, that it was a wasted effort that just led to one heartbreak after another.”
“You don’t?” Lino questioned, smiling faintly.
“What they never realized,” her voice turned warm and even shy for a moment. “Is why the Father was doing it.”
“It was for us,” she explained. “We, the aptly-named Eternal Sleepers. He wanted to know why the amount of Chaos diminished, forcing all his children to sleep. But, he couldn’t do it alone. He needed Big Brothers and Sisters to help him. Just like you are.”
“Will you promise me something, Big Brother?”
“I know that the Father always appears indifferent, distant from the reality of his decisions,” Umbra said. “But, just like you, he feels and fears, Big Brother. Just like how you feel mounting guilt over every new life you take, over every love you lose, over every mistake you commit... so does he. It’s just that you’re much worse at hiding it, unlike him who had quite a few eons of practice.”
“I know you’ll be fine,” she said. “You’ve met a lot of people who will help you chip away at your demons, bit by bit, until you’re entirely free of them. But the Father... has no one, Big Brother... no one except you. We can’t share his fears. That is why most of us grew distant from him... not from anything but due to shame we feel. Can you promise me, Lyonel... that you’ll help him?”
“...” Lino’s lips curled up in a faint smile as he realized he’d been played. He shook his head and disregarded the thought, finally taking a sip from the gourd. “Is this what life is all about once one reaches the absolute summit? Just a big game of chess?”
“... a little bit, he he.”
“Tsk,” he clicked his tongue a few times, shaking his head. “I suppose I ought to get used to it before I dive headfirst into the whole cesspool.”
“You ought to.”
“... I promise, though.” he said. “I’ll pester and bemoan him well into madness.”
“... thank you.” all five of her eyes suddenly opened, startling Lino. “I will help you become an Exalted, and help your friends with their own little problems. You’ll have at most a few hours to figure it out, and I won’t hold back anything. Afterwards, I’ll go back to sleep. I ask that you put me in the Pouch, so that my nap won’t be interrupted again.”
“W-what do you mean?” Lino started on his knees, somewhat frightened by the implications.
“Prevent me from sending out my Agents,” Umbra chuckled. “Isn’t that what you were planning all along?”
“Oh, you little devil...”
“Aren’t they going to help you as well? Right, do you want me to teach them a lesson?”
“... heh, no need, I’ve got that covered.” Lino shook his head. “It was pleasure meeting you, Umbra.”
“Likewise, Big Brother.”
“... it used to be endearing... now it’s just creepy... uh...”
“What, you don’t like when cute little girls call you Big Brother?”
“Yeah, you’re sick. I’m out. See ya’ in a couple of billion years when you’ve napped enough.”
“Good luck, Big Brother!”
“Fuck! You realize you just ruined that phrase for me?!! Now every time anyone calls me Big Brother, I’ll get the chills down to my soul?!”
“He he my ass!!”