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A Petal Among Thorns

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"My lord, Chaos," Garland said softly, falling to one knee.

Ugh. The way he said that made the Emperor's skin crawl. He said it like a loving parent to a child. To the Emperor, it came as a disgust and a shock - he long thought Garland incapable of such emotions.

Either way, the Emperor swallowed down his nausea and begrudgingly knelt with the rest of them. He had appearances to uphold, after all. Casting discreet, side-long glances all around him, he checked the others' faces as they each mimicked Garland. Though, he wouldn't have said they showed respect, or even deference. Hardly any of them lowered their eyes. He certainly did not.

How pathetic. And mildly amusing, he thought, but he suppressed the grin, lest he draw attention to himself. The only one kneeling in true servitude of their 'master' was Garland. He clung to the monster's every word as though his very being depended upon Chaos' advice. The rest knelt in sheer terror. Especially Golbez. That sorry excuse for a vessel of discord was probably quaking in his armor. Even Kefka, who had a comment for everything, remained silent in Chaos' presence.

"I have gathered the others as you commanded. You wished to speak with us?"

Chaos didn't immediately answer, slouched sideways in his throne. One set of his arms, the top set, rested heavily on the arm rests. Right fist jammed into his cheek to support his head, pulling his lip up into a sneer. His left hand draped daintily over the front edge, while his lower set of arms loosely crossed over his stomach. Displaying a hilarious combination of 'bored out of his mind' and 'mildly interested'.

The uncomfortable silence seemed to thicken with each second they waited, clouding in the air like humidity. "Chaos?" Garland asked.

A distant grunt and a dismissive wave of one of his hands, and they all rose.

"A new cycle dawns in this world," Chaos rumbled. "The heroes of Harmony scrabble for a foothold in this conflict, still under the impression that they can, somehow, win these battles. Cosmos is weak, she is desperate, and she is acting foolishly. Just today, in fact," he said, moving his arms. He clasped the upper set over his mouth and leaned forward, as though sharing some dark secret. "She expended almost all of her energy in the summoning of a warrior. Just one."

Chaos' lips curled away from his teeth in a grotesque version of a smile. As though Cosmos' weakness was some running joke. In his silence, the Emperor checked his periphery again. Garland's eyes were fixed on Chaos, the Cloud of Darkness looked as disinterested as he felt, slowly stroking her snakes. Golbez's shoulders were tense - they weren't normally so close to his helmet. Exdeath, who knew what Exdeath was thinking? Kefka looked like he was bursting to say something, anything, and was practically quivering trying to hold it in, while Sephiroth kept his thoughts perfectly concealed, unreadable as per usual. Ultimecia had a playful glint to her eyes, obviously calculating for some plan of hers, while Kuja checked his nails and Jecht idly fiddled with the straps hanging from his uniform. They couldn't have cared less.

"We are on the brink of absolute victory. You know what I ask of you: extinguish the light. Only then can you claim this world to discord."

The Emperor very nearly snorted in disgust. He managed to choke it down to a mild huff. 'Extinguish the light?' Well of course they wanted to 'extinguish the light!' That was his purpose for calling them to the War of the Gods in the first place! How ridiculous. Chaos brought them there for that speech? He hadn't even called new warriors! And as if the ones already present hadn't heard it enough! A waste of his valuable time. He had plans. Plans he was eager to set into motion. He'd been saving his strength, waiting for the right moment. Once Cosmos and her ants were crushed, and Chaos sat goading in his throne, he would be strong enough to strike. Strong enough to challenge the god. Then he alone would lord over this world and this cycle, and all would be his to command.

Hmph. Such a pitiful god. Chaos barely peeled himself from that seat; why were his warriors so afraid? "They should be more afraid of me, when I am Master of this world." The Emperor's thoughts steeled him, and he spoke out against the god.

"Truly, Chaos? We must extinguish the light?" he said, dripping the sarcasm from his voice. "I believed our goal to be more amiable than that!" A soft growl grumbled in Chaos' throat, and he slowly slid back to his slouched position. Next to the throne, Garland shifted nervously, but the Emperor barely noticed his bristle. He let his annoyance drive his voice as he turned to go. "I've yet to hear one worthwhile bit of information from you, and I severely doubt one is coming. If you are finished wasting my time-"

Chaos raised a hand.

An electric shock jolted right through the center of the Emperor's mind and spread furiously through his body in an instant. His limbs went dead, his sight went black, no sound reached his ears, nothing reached him except for the screaming of the individual fibers of his nerve endings. He tensed from the mental attack, collapsing to one knee, and sucked in painful breaths as his sight re-colored. The deafening sound that returned was filled with the chuckles and snickers of the others.

Chaos heaved himself to his feet and lifted a new hand, then swept it to the side. The Emperor was pulled up from the ground and thrown flat against the hexagonal wall of the realm. His diaphragm collapsed, his breath rushed out of him, and with an ear-piercing clang, his staff fell to the grey slate. Chaos kept his hand raised, suspending the Emperor. He stomped over to him, bent down, and peered face-to-face with him.

"Do you take me for a fool?! Do you think I am not aware of why you're so desperate to leave? Had you thought me oblivious to your schemes to overthrow me?! No, I knew of your plans, for several cycles now! I am a god, you obnoxious mortal! Challenge me as you see fit! Fight me till your heart's content!" His hot, rancid breath hissed in the Emperor's face as he leaned closer, his fangs inches from the Emperor's nose. "In the end . . . " Chaos clenched his fist. An electric charge rocketed through the Emperor. His muscles clenched uncontrollably, he struggled and jerked in his frozen prison, unable to move as the shocks tore through him.

Finally, Chaos released him. He plummeted to the floor and landed on a knee before him.

" . . . you will always lose."

He spun around to face the others, his voice booming.

"You will do as I command without question! Or the consequences will be . . . " He turned back to the Emperor as he fought to catch his breath, " . . . severe. Let this be a lesson to all of you."

He peered into the face of the Emperor.

The Emperor stared back in defiance.

"Is that clear?"

" . . . P-perfectly, Chaos," the Emperor choked, still fighting for air. He picked up his staff, dropping his gaze to the floor. Chaos' hand shot out and gripped his chin, forcing him to look into the face of the wretched creature.

"Lord Chaos," the god sneered.

"Lord Chaos."

Satisfied, Chaos backed away from the Emperor. "Begone, mortals. Haven't you tasks to complete?" He lowered his massive frame into the chair.

The Emperor stood and dusted himself off, feeling the heat of humiliation rise in his cheeks. It was quiet, dead quiet, and he could feel everyone's eyes on his back. He refused to move. He didn't want them to see his face. And yet, he felt obligated to walk away with every shred of his pride he could find. As soon as he felt ready, he turned around. And met a gloved finger in his face.

The clown attached to the finger let loose the earsplitting fit of cackles he'd been restraining during the whole meeting. "WAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA!" The Emperor fought another wave of mortification but it won, coloring his cheeks again. Slapping Kefka's hand away, he pushed past him, and forced his way through the other warriors, and their laughs. Ultimecia's tinkling chuckle was the worst to him. The most assaulting to his ears and the most stirring of his embarrassment. Out of all of them, he hated looking weak in from of her most. He hated looking weak in front the only other strong warrior who could potentially contend with him. He didn't want her to think she was at all above him.

The Emperor reached the back of the group only to have his path to the exit blocked by Golbez. He strode up to the huge man expecting him to move, but Golbez merely crossed his arms in front of him, shoulders heaving with repressed laughter. The Emperor maneuvered around him. As soon as he passed, Golbez teleported away and vanished.

"Let them laugh," he thought bitterly, "When I rule this world, and all their pitiful lives, there will be no place for their laughter!"

Let his plans begin.