Book 2: Chapter 3

Moths to a Flame

Chaos stood at the center of the casino where all of his followers had gathered. Everyone had stood in a tight circle around him, listening with intent for the start of his speech. Their eyes were glued to the bold charisma of the man who had returned from jail unscathed. Although they surrounded him from every angle, they felt as if he was staring each of them in the eye. With strong conviction, he began to speak in the words and language of what they had so longed to hear.

“We’ve done it!” he shouted, “With my return, we’ve proven that we are the dominant power in this city. We have proven that no force, no matter how oppressive nor organized can hope to contain the strength of our collective wills! I know that each of you have fought - that each of you have struggled to reclaim this world from the corrupt grips of our masters. You have been oppressed! You have been told every moment of your old lives what you can and can’t do, and who you must answer to - but no more! Tomorrow is the start of our new lives where we answer to no one - a dawn that we will greet with fire! Meet me here at dawn tomorrow and we will give our new world the welcome it deserves!”

The crowd clapped fervently and cheers came from every direction. Kasumi in particular was smiling wide. This is what she had hoped for - a new world where no one would have to worry about oppression. They had been told that their struggle had been worth it, and they didn’t need to fight anymore. They had made it. And that whispering effervescent thought brought a tear to her eye.

Chaos disappeared in the crowd and absorbed the grateful stares of those gathered around him. He drank in their smiles like a light beverage. Perhaps in another life he could have been a charity worker, he thought. But these quiet smiles were too mild, he realized. They weren’t as powerful as the cries and existential screaming that left such permanent marks upon his mind. As he passed by his numerous followers that formed a crowd, he wondered to himself why such people followed him. Was it because they didn’t realize his grand plan? Or was it something deeper? Maybe in some way, they were as addicted to the bright crescendos of emotion as he was - forever drawn to the violent light of bursting passion entering their otherwise dull lives. Or maybe it was both? Maybe they liked the feeling, but not the conclusion - like unwitting moths flying towards a beautiful flame. He continued searching through the crowd until he came upon Fear , sitting alone on the steps. Chaos saw so much familiar potential in him.

“What is your name?” Chaos asked him.

Fear ?” Fear answered, unsure of what he was getting at.

“Yours,” Chaos questioned, “or theirs?”

Fear looked away, “I don’t know. Mine I guess.”

Chaos knelt to stare Fear directly in his eyes and lowered his voice to a hungry whisper, “Don’t guess.” Chaos ordered, “Decide. You don’t need to be dominated by weakness. You can turn that against them. When you make others feel … powerless, there is nothing more liberating. Fear should be your weapon, not your state of mind.” Chaos smiled as Fear kept staring down, “I see a lot of potential in you.” he said, “Don’t disappoint me.”

And with that, Chaos got up and walked away, leaving Fear sitting alone.

Across the hall, Gang sat alone, staring at the ground, until Witch sat by his right side.

“How are you doing?” Witch asked him, “I know you and Chaos have some history. To be honest, I was surprised to see you join his side.”

“I don’t want to talk to you.” Gang stated.

“So unfriendly.” Witch noted, “Need I remind you that unlike most of your old crew, I stayed and fought by your side? Do you really not trust me after that? I think I’ve earned that much.”

Gang shook his head, “I don’t know what to make of this.” he said to her, “I know Chaos is evil. I know he’s planning something terrible, but I feel like every time I make a move, I’m playing into his hands somehow. I don’t know what to do.”

“What specifically are you afraid of?” Witch asked.

“I don’t want him to do more harm.” Gang said, “I don’t want him to ruin anyone’s life the way he ruined mine.”

Witch glanced over at Fear , sitting across the casino and narrowed her eyes, “You see Fear, sitting over there? I heard that Chaos asked him to hide some of the food.”

“Really?!” Gang exclaimed, remembering how Chaos had asked him to hide a family heirloom as an initiation. He remembered the woman searching for it desperately on the streets. Now he imagined people searching for food just as desperately, but at the center of Gang’s anxiety was Fear . He looked towards the panic-stricken man and recognized all of the emotions he had as a young child. He couldn’t let Chaos destroy Fear’s life as he had his own.

“I can understand why you want to take him down.” Witch whispered, “It’s rational to want to stop him at absolutely any cost. When you decide you do want to take drastic action-” she said with a soft smile, “you come to me.”

Vault sat idly in her room as the sun began to set. She started reading a book that had rested on her nightstand about a princess that had taken a more empowered role in her government. It was a fantasy novel that was meant to be fantastical and empowering, but the joy and novelty that beget royalty seemed cliche. She put the book down as she became disinterested with its story.

Vault turned towards the window, and, as if on queue, she saw a rock hit against the glass. She opened the window and leaned her head outside where she saw Key standing excitedly below.

“Hey V” he smiled towards her.

“Hey Key” Vault said, smiling down at him. “What brings you here?”

“Well aside from you, I uh - I heard Chaos is having another event tomorrow. It’s supposed to be a celebration of everything that’s happened! I think it’s going to be fun! You should join me!”

“Are Glasses and Valentine coming?” Vault asked.

“Actually, I was just thinking of you and me going.”

Vault looked down with her face frozen, and her breathing slowed down.

“But if you don’t want to go-” Key started as his smile faded.

“No, I do!” Vault said, as her heartbeat sped up, “I uh, I just don’t know if it’s safe. After what happened at the concert … I just want to do the right thing, that’s all.”

Key smiled again, “Don’t worry about that.” he said, “Everything is going to be alright. We’re young, and we should seize every opportunity in front of us! Just tell me you’ll come with me!”

Vault smiled a sheepish grin, “Okay” she said, “I’ll come with you.”

Kitsune strode into the entrance of the hotel lobby where Hero , Superior , and Chem were patiently waiting. Superior and Chem each leaned against a wall with their arms crossed, while Hero stood alert. Order sat next to his table, with several papers stretched across.

Chaos has another event coming.” Kitsune said. “I don’t know what he has planned, but it can’t be good.”

“They should have more discipline than that.” Order said from his chair, “anyone should see that unstructured chaos is toxic for anything productive.”

“What can we do?” Chem said, “Putting him in jail doesn’t seem to work.”

“We make a show of force.” Superior said, “We’re stronger than they are. We can make them stand down.”

“Force alone won’t pacify them.” Kitsune said.

“Then what do you suggest?” Superior shouted, “All we have is Mr.Wont-give-an-order and the three best fighters here. I’m not going to wait around anymore and pretend we can’t get things under control ourselves.”

“Then I’m coming with you.” Kitsune said.

“No you’re not.” Superior retorted.

“I’ll go.” Hero said, walking up to Superior .

“Fine then.” Superior replied with his sword in hand. “Let's put this to rest.”

As dawn began to break across the city’s skyline, Chaos ’s followers gathered on the city street outside of the casino. Groups of people gathered in small clusters of excited conversation. After the concert, most people were emboldened by Chaos’s fast escape and excited for what he had planned next. Gang , in contrast, sat on the edge of the curb with a grim determination on his face. He stared down Chaos, who stood silently in the casino’s entrance. Then, Fear emerged from the casino holding a heavy box filled with bottles of vodka and dropped it off on the curb. Gang stood up and took an angry step forward.

“Woah” a man with a heart on his screen said, emerging from Gang's left side.

“What’s your problem?” Gang barked.

“My problem?” the man paused thoughtfully. “-is probably your problem right now.”

Gang noticed Chaos turn his head and narrow his gaze towards them.

“Come on, let's sit back down.” the man said. Gang begrudgingly complied.

“My name is Heart ,” the man said, “I saw that you were distraught the other day. I want to know if there is something you want to talk about.”

“Why would I talk to you?” Gang barked.

“Fine.” Heart said, “You don’t need to talk. I’m just going to say a few things and you can just listen if you want.” he paused. “It’s clear to me that you and Chaos don’t get along. You’ve been brooding by yourself ever since you got here. You seem like a loner. And maybe I’m overstepping here, but it looks like you’re pumping yourself up to do something - something rash. Maybe it’s even against Chaos. And since you’re not looking to open up, I’m going to take the first step.” he paused again, “If you did want to take down Chaos, I would agree with you.”

Gang turned his head in surprise to look Heart in the eyes.

“But if your plan is just a violent outburst against him, that’s not the right path. Not only could you lose, but even if you win, it wouldn’t be right.”

“What do you suggest then?” Gang rasped.

Heart paused and looked towards the sky. “That’s something I’ve often wondered myself. How should you affect change, when the forces against you only respond to violence? It’s a hard question, but I think it comes down to democracy and community. If a large enough group of people have conviction that their path is the right one, then history will look at their successes more favorably. Large groups can still be wrong of course, but I have faith in the moral center of humanity. And the more good people you have standing by your side, the more sure you can be that your cause is just. Just promise me one thing-”. Gang looked towards Heart. “Promise me you won’t do anything rash.”

“I won’t.” Gang said with conviction.

Vine strode past them aimlessly on the road, staring towards the sky, watching the night transition quietly into daytime. Witch jogged up to her, then slowed down as she made her approach.

“Hi Vine.” Witch said.

Vine backed up and put her hands in a defensive stance by her head.

“Ease up soldier” Witch mocked, “We’re all on the same side now.”. Vine slowly lowered her hands to her chest.

“Are you on edge?” Witch asked.

“A little.” Vine answered.

“That makes sense.” Witch said, “After all, you’re the best fighter on Team Chaos. I know I’d hate to be up against Kitsune or Superior ! Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I just want to give you a boost in case we get attacked, nothing dramatic, but I was a neuroscientist before all this. I can prep shots of adrenaline for you in case we get attacked.” “I mean, are you sure it’s safe?” Vine asked.

“Completely.” Witch said, “It’s peer-reviewed, and was even used by soldiers before everyone was plugged in. I think I’ll even take some myself.”

“Well, alright.” Vine said.

“Great!” Witch said, rubbing her hands together, “Just follow me and we’ll prep a dose together!”

Coder walked up the stairs to exit the casino where he found Chaos patiently standing by its entrance.

“There you are!” Coder said nervously, “I hope you’re not too busy.”

“What’s this about?” Chaos sneered.

“I heard there was an event happening today, but with your capture and everything, I want to recommend creating a formal military.”

“A military?” Chaos questioned.

“I think we should create an organized militant group, in case Order attacks us or tries to capture you again.”

“Do you really?” Chaos narrowed his eyes at Coder , “Because after what I told you at the concert, I thought you would hate me. Most people would call me a monster after what I said to you. Why do you think I need protection?”

“Well I’m just-” Coder lied and began to shake, “I’m just afraid of Order . He has too much power with Kitsune and Superior and I’m just afraid for the worst.”

Chaos stared intensely at Coder . His red violent eyes destroyed Coder’s false confidence and tried to take stock of his very soul.

“You’re lying to me.” Chaos stated, “I don’t know how, but you’re lying. In the old world, it was well known what I would do to liars. Maybe it’s time I regain that reputation.” he took out his knife and paused for a moment that felt like an eternity, “Fortunately for you, the event I’ve most looked forward to since we awoke is almost here, and I would despise missing it.”

“Come on!” Key shouted excitedly to Vault who ran closely behind him. The two stopped running as they could see the casino closely ahead. Several groups of people were standing or sitting quietly by the entrance, while a man with ‘caution’ on his screen placed a large box of dish rags on the sidewalk. The sun had begun to shine between the buildings standing behind them.

“Well it looks like we’re here early.” Key said smiling, as he put his hands on his hips to catch his breath. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m feeling good.” Vault said, who was also out of breath. “What do you want to do in the meantime?”

Key looked around the street and found the guitarist from the concert sitting alone against the curb with his guitar in hand. His screen was pitch black, and he wore a dark leather jacket.

“Hi, Ongaku ?” Key said. The man looked up. “Do you think you could play something for us? Something slow? Please, we’re such fans of yours from the concert.”

Ongaku smiled at Key and nodded. “How about this?” he said as he started to play a classical rhythm on his guitar. The cords began to sing a slow, elegant melody, as its smooth dignified chords echoed through the street.

“That’s perfect.” Key said.

“What’s this?” Vault asked.

“I thought we could dance?”

“Dance?” Vault asked, who was suddenly short of breath.

“Yeah.” Key said, “Have you ever slow-danced before?”

“I uh, no, I haven’t” Vault answered.

“Here.” Key said, “Let me teach you.” Key slowly walked up to her until they were inches apart. They could feel each other’s breath permeate in the summer air. “Let me take your hand.” Key said as he took Vault ’s left hand in his, and placed his right hand against her lower back. Vault’s cheeks turned red as she slowly placed her right hand on his shoulder. “There you go.” Key encouraged. The pair began swaying to the left and right with their cheeks almost up against each other. Neither of them dared to breathe too fast or too deep. They felt each other’s heat hang in the air while the entire city seemed to disappear around them as they nestled into their own private universe.

“Are we supposed to talk?” Vault asked.

“If you want.” Key said.

Vault paused for a moment and took a deep breath. “This was a nice surprise.” she said.

“I thought you’d like it.” Key said.

“Are you not enjoying it?” Vault asked.

“Oh, no, I’m definitely enjoying it.” Key started, “Even more than I knew I would.”

“Than you knew you would?” Vault taunted.

“Well, yeah, I…” Key and Vault looked straight over each other’s shoulders. “I mean, you’re a beautiful girl and all that. You know how much I like spending time with you.”

“I like spending time with you too.” she said. They each took a half-step back to glance in each other’s eyes as the music around them started to stop. After a long second, Key and Vault broke their gaze and turned towards the casino where Chaos stood before the crowd ready to speak.

“Attention, everyone!” Chaos shouted. “It’s time I tell you why we’re gathered here today. We’re here to celebrate! No more do we have to answer to Takahashi and the Triangle Company lording over us! No more do we have to fight and toil for our freedoms, for we’ve already won! Everything our predecessors have fought for has succeeded to bring us here to this individual moment.” Chaos turned to two crates on either side of him. “These crates contain molotov cocktails, and I” he paused, “have a lighter. Grab these bottles and set every building around you in flames! It’s time that we rejoice in burning down the pillars of our old broken world, and dance on the pyre of our oppressors!”

Chaos nodded to Ongaku who started playing loud guitar music that roared across the city streets. Several people approached Chaos’s crate and grabbed the bottles and turned to Chaos to light them.

“Come on!” Birdcage said, “We don’t want to run out!”

Kasumi eagerly followed. They each managed to grab a bottle and while Birdcage let Chaos light her bottle, Kasumi spotted Fear exiting the casino with another large case full of bottles with rags sticking out. Once Birdcage’s bottle was lit, she darted away from Kasumi and chucked the bottle at a nearby building. Upon impact, the building caught fire that began to spread to the nearby window, and Birdcage nodded to the rock music as the abandoned buildings caught fire. Then it was Kasumi’s turn to get her bottle lit. She turned to Chaos who flickered his lighter to catch her bottle aflame. She remembered the story Gang had told her, about how he thought Chaos had burned down the building she’d rescued him from. With his lighter in hand, she realized it was probably true. She looked up from her bottle to stare Chaos in the eyes. She remembered the first time they’d met. She told him she was hesitant to trust anyone named ‘Chaos’. She’d sensed evil in him then, and saw evil in him now. Why had she trusted him at all?

“Kasumi!” Birdcage shouted, “You need to throw it or it’ll explode!”

Kasumi panicked at the bottle in her hand as the flame spread across the rag towards the alcohol in the bottle. She randomly threw it at the first building she could see. The bottle hurled through a window and the flames spread through the adjacent room. Through the light of the fire, Kasumi spotted a crate of food through the window. She’d remembered the story Gang told her, about how Chaos had hidden a woman’s heirloom in the street and told her where to look so she would desperately search for it. As she watched the food burn in the flames, she couldn’t help feeling like that woman - knowing exactly where to look, but helpless to get it back.

“Nice throw” Birdcage said. Kasumi stared back at her with a grave expression. “What?” Birdcage asked.

“Look around.” Kasumi said as the music around her ceased. Birdcage turned her head to look around the street. Fires were burning everywhere. Every building around them, except the casino, was becoming consumed by flames. Orange sparks and bright flames were everywhere. Even the city streets were being lit ablaze by smashed bottles and random fires. People ran, panicked in every direction, either to grab more bottles or to evade the city burning around them. The only person not moving was Chaos , who faced towards the flames with his hands by his sides. He looked towards the flames with the widest grin Kasumi had seen. It was like he was watching a movie, and Kasumi realized that this had been his plan from the beginning. It was devastating to realize she’d been following a psychopath. It was heart-wrenching to see buildings around her so needlessly burning all around her, but the worst part was that she knew the fight wasn’t over. She’d wanted to believe that the hardship and the struggle of improving the world had been over, that they’d won, but watching the city streets devolve into chaos drove home a very hard lesson. The world hadn’t been fixed. It had just been restarted.

“Let's get out of here.” Birdcage said. Kasumi nodded and the two started running away from the fires, until they spotted two teenagers helping a man who was stuck underneath a block of rubble. Kasumi and Birdcage darted to their side.

“Are you okay?” Kasumi shouted at the man.

“Yeah” he grunted, “I’m just stuck.”

“Lets lift on three.” Kasumi said. Birdcage gripped the rubble to her left, and the teenage boy and girl grabbed the rubble on the opposite side. “One, two, three!”

With their combined strength, they lifted the block of wood off of the man, who managed to wiggle out with his guitar in hand.

“Are you alright?” Kasumi asked.

“Yeah”, the man grunted and gestured towards his guitar. “She’s alright”

“You two should get out of here.” Kasumi said to the teenagers.

“Yeah, definitely.” the girl said as they turned to jog away.

“What the hell was that?!” Vault blustered, “You told me this was going to be safe!”

“I - I know” Key replied, “I’m sorry.”

The pair ran past Superior and Hero as they walked up to the scene and bore witness to the entire block of buildings consumed by violent fire before them.

“Well this is theatrical.” Superior commented.

“Don’t be insensitive.” Hero insisted. “We need to ask how we can help these people.”

“I say we stop this now.” Superior said. He sprinted towards the outside of the casino, drew his blade and shouted loud enough for everyone to hear, “Attention everyone! Stop whatever you’re doing! Drop your flame grenades or I will cut you up with my sword myself! Do you understand?!”. Everyone around him froze in place and anyone with cocktails tossed them towards the ground. Superior looked around. “Now where the hell is Chaos ?!”

Witch led Vine into an old empty room with a dusty tarp around something in its center, and closed the door behind them. “I’m glad you’re willing to help.” Witch said, “Even though it’s perfectly safe, it’s very brave of you to volunteer.”

“Oh, well, as long as it’s safe, I’m happy to help.”

“And I love hearing that.” Witch said as she pulled away the dusty tarp. “Ta-da!” she exclaimed. Below the tarp was a dark steel frame in the shape of a cross with wrist bindings on each arm of the frame.

“What … is that?” Vine asked.

“It’s just to hold you in place while I give you a dose. Sometimes there’s some light convulsing and I don’t want you to hurt yourself in the process.

“I don’t … okay. Are you sure?” Vine asked.

“Of course, honey. I’m very sure.” she said, “Now put your wrists against the straps.”

Vine carefully backed up towards the apparatus and lifted her wrists up to the straps that Witch used to lock her arms in place.

“Perfect!” Witch said with a wide grin. “Now I just need to administer the dose.”

“What did you say you did at the Triangle Company again?” Vine asked.

“Oh, I was a neuroscientist. I invented the neurological mesh, which is an artificial human brain that we ran experiments on. It led to huge leaps in neurochemistry, not that people were awake to experience it. Anyway, that’s why the dose is going to be applied to your brain! It’ll alter your brain chemistry a bit, but you’ll run faster, jump higher. I bet you’ll give Kitsune and Superior a run for their money. Chaos is going to be so happy with what you can do.”

“Brain chemistry?!” Vine asked, “I don’t think I want to do this anymore.”

“Oh you can’t leave now.” Witch insisted, “You’re already strapped in!”

Vine pulled against the locks binding her wrists. “Let me out!”

Witch started to fill a syringe in her right hand. “Oh, but I’d really rather not.”

“You need to let me out now!” Vine barked, “If this does everything you say, I’m going to tear you apart.”

“Maybe you will.” Witch said, “It’s hard to know. If it works like I expect, you’ll be too blinded by rage to do much thinking at all.”

“Why are you doing this?” Vine asked.

“Let's just say Chaos and I have similar short-term goals.” Witch answered with a wicked smile, “Now keep your head still.” Witch injected Vine with the syringe from a small hole in the back of the screen. Vine’s fists clenched and her arms writhed back and forth. Witch walked around Vine to stare at her screen. “The Tamashi screen was designed to display the imagery of the user’s mind. I should know. I did the neurochemistry." she paused, “but I’ve never seen it … change before.”

Vine’s legs shook violently in several directions. Her arms and chest shivered as her body began to sweat as she began to grow muscle. Her screen flashed in every bright color imaginable, then it wavered between red and orange, and yellow, and orange, and yellow and orange. Eyes, teeth, and a nose began to take shape on Vine’s screen as the glow from Vine’s television lit the whole room in a violent orange glow. And as Vine’s screen settled on its new shape, Vine broke the bonds binding her wrists and let out a violent scream.