Empire of Dirt
In all the days that led up to today's skirmish, the Duchess stood on this mountain of dirt, right up the hill path leading to the Tyrannian Plateau – a good place to watch the red, black and white show which she called war. Contrary to popular belief, she never participated in these time-consuming skirmishes. The War of the Obelisk had long since doused the fire within her, until she was but a pile of ash in a corner of the battlefield.
There was someone like her, someone important. There had always been something between them: an enmity, a tentative truce, a never-ending competition. There was antagonism. There was history. But above all there subsisted friendship – the most bizarre and colorful kind.
Their friendship started back when they were younger. He was always there, no matter what side of the same coin they were on. Though they disagreed in many different ways, he never forgot to join her on her empire of dirt. Soon, it became theirs and theirs alone.
It wasn't surprising that during the day of war, he was beside her, watching the spectres come and go.
"It's amazing," he breathed. A flash of light illuminated the battlefield.
"What's amazing?" asked the Duchess. She was used to his strange comments, yet she somehow liked them, reminding her of his presence.
"War," he answered. "I could not believe it, how war can change people in the blink of an eye. How it's caused by selfish reasons." His spectacles glinted as another burst of light lit the night sky, white against black. "Selfish reasons that lead to more selfish reasons."
The Duchess didn't seem to be fazed. "Like how I used the obelisk to satisfy all my prideful reasons."
"Or how apathy has made me feel like stone."
"This war between us will never be over," she assured him, tightening her grip on her bejewelled scepter. Red flags were up and white flags were down. The Sway's emblem lay on the ground, as well as neopets who fought bravely with them. They didn't know what they put themselves into, and they would never get the chance to know.
The empire of dirt that she and her companion stood on seemed to ascend rapidly into the air, making the battlefield look even bigger.
He was watching with her. They were floating on the same boat, no matter how old and rickety it was.
A moment of comprehension kept him with her. "You're right," he said. "Even if all this bloodshed ends, we will always be at war," He tapped his chest lightly. "– in here."
The Duchess remained silent. The more they watched, the more what's left of her was carried away by the scorching summer wind. She knew that someone had picked up the ashes she left and put them near the window.
The skirmish continued on without them. The Brutes fought valiantly, and the Duchess was again amazed by their sheer vitality, their dedication on making a good fight. The Seekers, armed with their knickknacks and their innate knowledge, defended the Obelisk for the sole purpose of preserving knowledge and knowledge alone. And there were they, the Sway...
Why were they here?
They won in the Great War, but they were still here, fighting for the Obelisk yet again, wasting their time when they could use it for an even greater purpose.
Why were they here?
For what reason?
The Brutes were here for war, the Seekers were here for knowledge. What was in store for them? What was in store for her? Were the Sway's reasons clearly misguided?
"I don't understand my reasons at all," she whispered. "If you can even call them reasons."
"You're here for power and riches, aren't you?" her companion asked.
"But that answer is not good enough," she commented, sitting on a rock protruding from the mountain of dirt. "Nor are your reasons, nor Commander Flint's. Nor Rasala's, nor Kanrik's, and especially not the twins'," she stated glumly, fingering the pendant that hung on her neck. "But for my pride's sake, I fight. Or for what is left of it."
"That is a good enough reason."
"I don't think so."
"My thirst for knowledge will never be quenched."
"So is my thirst for power."
"But as you say, these will never be good enough reasons," her companion stated. "And that at war, we will always be fighting selfishly." His gaze shifted on those who fight for the sake of fighting, to those who fight for power and riches, and to those who fight for the people they love. "But those neopets who fight for unselfish reasons... they are commendable. Their lives for another... they are the ones who have all the right reasons." He smiled. "Don't you think so, Duchess?"
Her pendant snapped, and the ruby red jewel fell on their empire of dirt with a loud thunk. It sank into the earth, a little halfway into the ground. "Maybe..." she slurred. She did not pick up the jewel. Let its red color tinge the brown earth like how her companion tinged her dark ideals. His was equally dark. "Maybe," she repeated. "Just maybe."
But her mind screamed "yes".
She knew that her empire of dirt would, if not always, be standing. It was her wall of pride, a wall that set her apart from others. Sometimes her companion, her friend, would step into her empire and remind her that she was still dirt, a part of the earth. Sometimes she planted a ruby to keep her aground and to add color to her earthy empire, that maybe she'll grasp the knowledge that there's a better reason for fighting despite her growing pride.
"Thank you," she breathed. The war was now over. The Seekers won. "Thank you... Lambert."
He smiled warmly at her. "No problem," he said. He adjusted his spectacles on the bridge of his nose. "As much as I would like to stay here and chat some more with you, dear Duchess, I have to reunite with my members. They'll wonder where I've been." He bowed, just like a true gentleman. "I am happy to have taken much of your time."
"I am happy to have taken yours, too," she said. "But I warn you, the next time we meet..."
"It will be in the battlefield, I know." He laughed. "But please, if you may, come down right after I do. The Sway needs a leader."
And as he went down to reap the benefits the Oracle had to offer, the Duchess felt her empire descend a little, if only barely. Maybe her mountain – her wall of pride – was not as indestructible as she thought it was. In time, it would descend, until it was in level ground, with her shiny, red jewel planted in the moist, warm earth. She knew that its luster would die down soon, like the other neopets who fought for this war. No shine. Different and dull. All it needed was a little polishing.
War, for the Duchess, was both a beautiful and terrifying thing. It might be one of the reasons for a person to change. It broke you, urging you to pick up the broken pieces; after that, you learned to never break again.
She smirked. Soon, her empire of dirt would crumble.