Princess Sarah of Cornelia hears the voices of the world.
Such things are not acceptable for a princess, much less the direct heir to the throne, so she learns from a young age to hide it. She learns the skills of wearing an empty smile when her father's noble advisors compliment her, or a look of polite interest when someone explains a nuance of administration, all the while ignoring the snap of fire, the rush of water, the howling of wind, the groaning of settling earth that echo in her ears. They threaten, they cajole, they tease, they command. She ignores them all. She devotes herself to her duties, and buries herself in Cornelia's tiny libraries. She finds a thin volume full of breathless speculation about the powers of the Crystals, and whether those famous agents of balance might have destructive sides. The author claims to have been chased out of Mt. Gulg by a six-armed swordswoman haloed in flame; Sarah finds that assertion dubious.
Her father compliments her scholarship, and arranges for the famous Dr. Unne to visit when Sarah is thirteen, to advance her education. The good doctor teaches her many languages and many theories, but nothing that helps her understand the voices in her mind--neither the elements, nor the voice clear and soft as a crystalline bell that tells her she is the agent of balance, that she will find the warriors who will fight in her name and it is her duty to recognize them. Whenever that voice speaks, the others scream and snarl and try to drown it out, telling her she is naught but fodder for them. She likes the bell-voice, but hates the others.
When she is fourteen, Garland enters her father's service. He is a young man, only four years older than Sarah herself, and he is handsome. Sarah quite fancies him, and requests him as a member of her personal guard, but it is not for his looks that she asks (though her father thinks so, and laughs indulgently when he grants her wish.) When Garland stands near her, the bell-voice is louder, and the screams of the natural world ebb. She can walk with him on the parapets of the castle and not hear the wind threatening to throw her down to break on the stones below. The plants in the castle gardens dare not catch her skirts when he is near, and fire does not leap from the hearth to scorch her. She may swim safely under his watchful eye.
She grows up, and she hears tales from the ambassadors at her father's court that in the world outside the Central Sea, all is not well. The Crystals are fallen, she hears. The Warriors of Light, barely whispered of in legend, may yet come to pass.
Sarah plays the lute that has been passed down to the eldest daughter of Cornelia for centuries upon centuries, and its sound silences the screams. Garland likes to listen to her play, will kneel at her feet for hours as long as she plucks the strings. She thinks perhaps he has a secret like hers, for he watches her too long and too closely for mere fealty to explain, and his eyes are dark beneath his helm.
The bell-voice says that he is her opposite, her antithesis. Sarah thinks of him as her balance.
On her eighteenth birthday, Garland sweeps her away from the ball and carries her to the Temple of Chaos, where he explains it all: that they are two gods come to earth, he of chaos and she of harmony, and it is their fate to fight over and over again with proxies and pawns. He thinks to break the cycle, to fight her directly--but then he falters, and looks away from her, for she has never held a sword, and he is too much the knight to fight an opponent who does not threaten him.
"Perhaps we could end this cycle with peace, not war," she suggests, and already her voice takes on the chiming bells of Cosmos.
Chaos looks out at her from inside Garland's face, and snarls. Peace is not in his nature; it is his opposite, his antithesis.
Garland tells her that she is his balance.
When the warriors come, bearing Crystals shrouded in darkness, Garland fights them in her stead. She cannot help her cry when he falls beneath their blades, and when one of them cuts her bonds, she surreptitiously drops the fragment of phoenix down from her necklace onto him as they leave.
If they are to be opposites, they must remain in balance.
She gives the warriors her lute, and she waits quietly in the castle while they fight for her, compliant with her parents' wishes and the expectations of her station. The voices of the Fiends fade, one by one, as her Warriors of Light defeat Garland's Warriors of Chaos, and restore light to the world. For the first time in her life, Sarah experiences silence.
Yet even as she watches the world restored to its former glory, she cannot help but think how unfair it is, that Garland may fight and she may not.
Decades later, when they meet in the afterworld, and he kisses her hard with his fanged mouth and runs his clawed hands through her hair until it stands out in a halo of golden tendrils all around her, she tells him as much. He laughs, and promises her that next time he shall be imprisoned and she will lead the armies in his stead. And indeed, when the cycle repeats, it is Chaos's soul in Sarah's body, and Cosmos's in Garland's.
So they dance, on and on and on, until at last in the between-times at the edge of the world, her warriors break his manikins once and for all, break him, and he kneels defeated while her light shines from her warriors' hearts.
"We could have ended this centuries ago," she says, a bell chime for his ears alone; her warriors do not hear.
Chaos smiles even as blood drips from his wounds. "I have never been content with peace," he says, "though I would have tried, for you."
She holds out her hand and gasps when his claws pierce it, but together they return their warriors to their rightful lands, and themselves to balance.
Someday, she will again be reborn into a girl named Sarah; he will choose a knight named Garland. Someday, the story will have a happy ending.
Cosmos hears the voices of the world, and she is at peace.