Fragile ChaosBy: Amber R. Duell
The musky hint of smoke follows me through the ruined Kisken city, over twisted metal and jutting pipes. The once-bustling tourist destination is hard to navigate without moonlight, but there isn’t time to be careful. Not tonight. The handle of the sledgehammer digs into my shoulder as I find the edge of town and follow a line of olive trees toward the cracked highway.
With a deep breath, cold ocean air fills my lungs. War is a captivating, magnetic disorder. And it’s mine. Only the God of War can decide when and how it ends, and right now I’m perfectly happy to let it rage on despite what my brother wants. He may be older, and the King of the Gods, but this is my decision.
My muscles tighten at the sound of my sister’s voice—especially this sister—but I don’t break my stride. “What are you doing here, Astra?”
She catches up to me in steel gray fatigues, her honey hair braided and tucked under a black beret. A round, blue pin with a red triangle at its center is stuck through the stiff wool. “Working,” she replies.
“Right.” I raise an eyebrow and scan the uniform. It suits her, despite her small frame, but it’s nothing the Goddess of Love would ever think of wearing normally. Not with pride, anyway. “When did you enlist in the Asgyan army?”
She tugs at the wide, buttoned cuffs and crinkles her nose. “Most of the men and women deployed on this forsaken island have families waiting at home. If I have to wear this thing to bring a few of them peace of mind, I will.”
Of course she will. She loves mortals as much as they love her, even if no one believes we exist anymore. Love is the one true universal obsession. It’s said to overcome even death. Something to be longed for and placed on a pedestal. Something to live and breathe, fight and die for. But I prefer the cold, hard revenge that encompasses my heart. It’s made of stronger stuff. It’s reliable.
We walk in silence past barren fruit trees and thorny brush until we reach a rusted guardrail. I step over it while Astra scrambles to keep up with my long stride. Raw sewage assaults my nostrils. An icy breeze nips at the back of my neck and sends debris skating over the parched ground. The overpass isn’t much farther; the pillars black shadows in the distance.
“Where are you going?” Astra asks.
I shift the hammer to my other shoulder. “Don’t worry about it.”
She folds her arms across her chest. “It doesn’t mean you’re weak if you listen to Ebris, you know. This island has been a battleground for over a year now, and we’re all tired. The troops on both sides are at the end of their rope, and Kiskens are on the verge of extinction.” She motions toward the flattened city behind us. “I know you don’t like being told what to do, but he’s right. This war is too much. It needs to stop.”
“Ebris might like to think he owns me, but he doesn’t,” I snap. “He doesn’t own this.”
“If he wants to stop the war, he should talk to Drea. She created the famine that turned Asgya into a wasteland. If she had offered them any hope, they wouldn’t have turned to Volkana for help.” I focus on my destination to avoid my sister’s stare. It’s common knowledge the Volks take any opportunity to infiltrate another country, but no one expected the Asgyans to drag the Kiskens into it. Not even me. “I’m only playing the hand I was dealt.”
“Don’t be a child,” Astra says with an edge.
“A child? You’re nineteen. Don’t act like you know better than I do when you only have two years on me.”
“Two mortal years.”
A breath heaves from my lungs. Two years is still two years, even if time moves differently in our realm. “I don’t interfere with Ebris’ business or yours. I don’t deserve this,” I say.
Astra scoffs. “Ebris respects you; we all do. You’re our brother and we love you but—”
I grind my feet into the pavement. None of my siblings respect me. They think I’m too young, too angry, too reckless to understand the consequences of war, but they’re wrong. Understanding and caring are two different things. Lesser evils are still evil and hard choices are still hard, but someone has to make them. I turn to face her.