1697 – Winter Solstice

It starts in an unfamiliar city, a maze of empty streets and gaping alleys and the sick yellow of dying streetlights. As he walks he can sense the presence pacing him, never close enough to glimpse in the darkness yet never far enough to lose track. He does not quicken his pace, only casually slips hands into pockets to grip the switchblade’s cool metal. He knows better than to run from a predator of any species – and has no intention of becoming anything’s prey. As he walks, trees begin to appear along the road and alleys, the leafless skeletons of deep winter. Snow begins to collect along the pavement and black branches; soon it covers the ground and drifts lazily from the sky. His feet crunch as they break through the top layer of ice. Still he walks, and still the presence keeps pace, its own footsteps silent. With a slow and subtle motion he removes his hands from his pockets, the knife hidden inside the cradle of his fingers.

Eventually the buildings are left behind and the forest becomes the landscape, bare trees and snow covered earth stretching into darkness in all directions. In the way of dreams, the streetlights continue in an unbroken line, their weak light offering only enough illumination to pass through the treacherous landscape safely. He follows the path of the lights as if in search of their destination, but all of his senses are focused on the creature moving out in the darkness. He can hear faint breathing now, coming first from his left, then his right, then behind and ahead. Whatever follows him moves through the thick snow with practiced ease. It is fast, he thinks. Is he faster?

A low growl rumbles in a throat too close for his comfort and he comes to a stop beneath one of the anachronistic streetlights. The cone of light flattens the surrounding shadows into a two-dimensional wall, but sight isn’t the sense he relies on now; instead, he closes his eyes and strains for any sound beyond the soft hush of falling snow and the last notes of the growl. There is only silence… silence… silence… and then the nearly inaudible sound of a foot depressing the snowpack. Eyes snapping open as quickly as the blade in his hand, he whirls toward the sound and brings the knife up just as a hulking black wolf leaps from the darkness. For a moment they are almost one, man and wolf, white teeth descending and silver blade rising…

…and then the moment passes and they are falling past each other to collapse on opposite ends of the circle of light. Bleeding from long scratches to his face, neck, and shoulder, he stumbles to his feet and turns, blooded blade raised to ward off the next attack. But the next attack does not come, and will not. Across the circle, disturbed snow turns black-red around the unmoving body of the wolf and the beast’s thick fur masks the gash with which the sharp little blade felled its foe. Seeing the hunter turned slain prey, he sinks in exhaustion to his knees once more in the snow. Overhead, the streetlights wink out one by one.

– – – –

Daren woke with the sharp awareness of someone used to assuming danger’s nearness. He lay still for a few seconds, letting his senses process and report the all clear. His hands felt strange and he flexed them, noting his right gripped the knife kept always beside the bed. When he touched the fingertips of his left together he felt the tacky wetness of drying blood. Only now did he turn his head to the warm weight curled beneath the blankets at his side. Tanim lay motionless as if in a deep sleep.

[ And so another solstice passes. ]

#1606 – Summer Solstice

A living room in an apartment in a dark city of glass and steel. Battle lines drawn, Daren standing rigid on one side and Tanim the other. Interrogator and suspect.

“So what will it be?” Daren’s voice flat, arms crossed. “Have you decided?”

“Yes.” Tanim averts his eyes. Answer enough.

“You’re going to do it, aren’t you.” Daren scowls, disgust in the curl of his lip, the narrowing of his dark eyes.

“It’s complicated.” Tanim’s hands open and close at his side as if grasping for words. Daren doesn’t allow him time to find them.

“Complicated!” A short, harsh laugh. No humor in it, only mockery and pain. “Oh yes, you would say that, after the promises you made.”

Tanim, head flying up, “I never promised–”

“Please.” Daren’s hand cuts the air between them. “Lying doesn’t become you, darling. If you respect me at all, you’ll at least forgo deception.”

“…fine.” Tanim’s shoulders slump, eyes turn away again. “I was wrong, and for that I am sorry. I thought we could fight this. I thought we could change the ending. But we can’t.” A glance up, beseeching, hopeful of understanding if not acceptance. “It’s a cycle, we both know that. It’s necessary–”

Don’t tell me she made you do it!” Daren’s voice louder than ever before, teeth bared and finger pointed in accusation.

“What else would you have me do?” Anger now in Tanim’s raised voice as well, an animal backed into a corner.

“I would have you choose me!” A step forward, snarling, all threat in the lithe form. “Or at least own your sin, you coward!”

Chaos, then. One lashes out first, or maybe the other. Fists falling, fingers clawing at flesh, raking eyes, brawn versus speed. Then the slim little blade, always somewhere on his person, and Tanim leaps back with a cry of pain. Blood running down his arm, down the knife gripped in Daren’s hand. One heartbeat in between; before Tanim reaches, before the thunder. Before Daren, mouth open in silent shock, looks down to the blood stain spreading quickly across his chest.

He falls before Tanim can catch him.

Blood washes away battle lines. Tanim kneels, the gun forgotten, the argument likewise but for the glaze of rage and disappointment in Daren’s eyes. Blood on his lips, he finds energy enough to draw breath, hiss, “This was your choice and no other’s.” Another breath, shallower. “Remember that.” And a final one, a struggle but he manages. “I do not forgive you.”

#1517 – Winter Solstice

Tanim slid the deadbolt home and turned slowly, surveying the apartment with a critical eye while one hand moved to pull the gun from his coat pocket. He checked the locks on the living room windows first; they appeared secure, as did those in the library and bathroom. Neither the closets nor the dark spaces beneath furniture contained phantoms lurking in wait. He moved on to his bedroom, checking both walk-in closet and balcony with the gun drawn and ready, yet nothing leaped from the shadows. With this last room secure Tanim finally let himself relax enough to set the revolver down on his bedside table and reach for a cigarette.

“Need a light?”

Tanim whirled around, grabbing desperately again for the gun and aiming at a shadow by the balcony door which he had most certainly checked just a moment ago. From its depths a figure stepped, clad in a long black coat with a hood which concealed the wearer’s face. Tanim scowled, leveling the revolver toward the hidden visage. “Fucking assassins. Can’t you people use the front door for once?” The figure chuckled, but it was not a kind laugh. Nor was it an unfamiliar one. Before Tanim could speak the name burning his lips, two pale hands rose to fold back the hood and he found himself staring into eyes as dark and hard as the shadows which had just obscured them. He swallowed, fighting to keep the hand holding the revolver from trembling noticeably. “So. They finally sent you.”

Daren shrugged languidly, his expression unreadable. “You’ve managed to kill the last three, and they were not novices. What did you expect?” A smile flickered over his thin lips. “But of course, you did expect this. Why else the fear? The paranoia? Those emotions are not becoming to someone so high in the Templar ranks.”

“Skulking in the shadows is certainly becoming to you,” Tanim spat. “Did they send you because they think I can’t harm you? I can. I will, if I have to. If you make me.”

“If you recall, I am the only one who can make you do anything,” The assassin moved forward with a slow, easy stride, hands loose at his sides as if this were nothing more than an old lovers’ spat. “And you so enjoyed the things I had you do…” He chuckled lowly as Tanim backed away, edging toward the open bedroom door in an attempt to keep as much distance between himself and Daren as possible. That Daren had not made a grab for the revolver yet was no comfort; Tanim had little hope he could hit him even at this distance, as fast as Daren was – not to mention the man would sense his intention before he ever fired and likely throw off his aim. He had to get out of the confines of the apartment. “I remember you rather enjoying them as well,” Tanim quipped back, buying time as he came in line with the doorway. “And yet, here we are.”

“Yes,” The wry twist to Daren’s mouth could not quite be called a smile. “Here we are.” Without another word the assassin shot forward. Tanim fired rapidly; when he felt Daren’s hand knock the revolver from his grip, he turned to flee toward the back of the apartment. Daren’s cold laughter followed him as he burst through the private roof access door, though Daren himself did not seem to be in pursuit. He climbed the stairs two at a time, throwing open the heavy metal door at the top and stepping out into the chill night. Perhaps he could jump down to one of the adjacent roofs, or–

“Come, Tanim, this farce makes fools of us both. Stop running from your own desire,” Tanim whirled around. Framed against the city lights, Daren’s silhouette stood like a scrap of darkness atop the roof ledge. The assassin had not donned the iconic hood again, though Tanim found himself wishing he had; it was easier to fight back when his opponent was just another faceless enemy. Yet there could be no denying the history between them, and when Tanim spoke his voice lacked vehemence. “Desire?” He managed a bitter laugh. “Yes, this is what I want; to die at the hands of someone who once loved me and now hunts me like an animal.”

Daren held his hands out, encompassing the whole of their stage. “And yet you ran up to the roof, from whence there is no escape, instead of down to the street.” Tanim had no snide response to that; turning his back to Daren, he surveyed the glittering city skyline and tried to ignore the accuracy of Daren’s observation. An inexplicable weariness settled over him and the urge to flee numbed to a dull ache of regret.

“Aren’t you tired of running, Tanim?” Daren’s voice issued from directly behind him, though Tanim had not even heard the assassin step down from the ledge. “They will never cease hunting you. Better that it be myself who does the deed, don’t you think? You know I will be quick.” Tanim shuddered at the familiar sensation of warm breath against his neck but refused to glance back. Instead, he closed his eyes and shook his head ruefully. “I suppose it was always going to come to this end, wasn’t it.”

“We are what we are,” Daren replied, and Tanim imagined he could almost hear a note of remorse in the words. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter as cool fingers slid along the line of his jaw, hesitating over but never quite touching his lips. It was all he could do not to lean back into Daren’s embrace, let alone pull away or manage a struggle. He wondered if things might have been different, had they not been driven apart by this ancient enmity. Somehow, he doubted it, and that thought gave him a queer comfort.

When the assassin spoke next, his voice was a low murmur against Tanim’s ear. “Requiescat in pace, frater.” Daren’s hidden blade made no sound as it slid from its sheath against his arm, nor as he drew it across Tanim’s neck in a single swift movement.

[ For those of you who have started following my blog since the summer solstice – hello! welcome! you might regret this! – you can read the solstice myth to understand better why my characters murder each other so gosh darn frequently. ]

#1429 – Summer Solstice

high above the city, the world, if it must be done then just let it be done spoken with a weary sigh to the chill night, silent night, one way or another, what does it matter? holiest night and the sun long set, where is the sun? by my hand or his, blood or bruises, or just one simple step off this edge no sun, just the darkness and the wind tugging at hair, fingers, clothing like a lover’s supplication but I don’t want simple, not this time gentle yet insistent, urging him to take that one step into oblivion no, I want to fight, I want to rebel, even if it means falling I just want to live a different kind of lover’s supplication as the hand closes around his wrist, if you fight, I fight at your side and the wind picks up, fate demanding submission to the ritual death, howling for blood, how dare they defy? but I choose the dawn not this time, not this night, destiny denied as the Moon steps down and the Sun releases his wrist, kneeling in allegiance, adoration and abdication, and I choose you, always

 

[ I have a number of new followers, so to those of you who are new to my characters, here! Have a tragic solstice myth! ]

#1339 – Winter Solstice

Do you know why the Moon first rose up to slay his lover the Sun? Some say it was sorrow or jealousy or fear that moved his hand, or that the Moon had gone mad in the darkness and did not know himself again until he knelt with the dying Sun in his arms. There may be a fragment of truth in all of these – does love not encompass all such emotions? – but I have glimpsed another sliver of truth. Perhaps the Moon raised his blade not to punish or sacrifice his lover the Sun, but to spare him. To save him. Perhaps the Moon wanted only a way for them to never be parted, to cease the chase which kept the lovers forever a horizon’s length away, and did what he must to change their fate. Can you deny that it is better to perish in your lover’s arms, rather than never feel their embrace at all? At least in death the Sun remained with the Moon, as the Moon would remain with the Sun when his turn came to embrace the blade and spill his silver blood. An ill fate, yes, but no worse than the agony of constant separation.

You must hold tight to the thing you love, for it can be taken from you without warning. Do you understand, now? I cannot allow you to be taken from me. It is better, this, than leaving our luck to fate. I spared you the blade, though, and I doubt you ever tasted the powder. (Though I wonder, darling, if even knowing, you would have drank anyway?) The Moon required suffering for his pact, but not I. You need not bleed, darling, only drift to sleep and fear neither pain nor loneliness; I am with you in this, as in all things, and I will hold you safe. You are mine, now, and only mine.

#1248 – Summer Solstice

If I stick a knife through your eye, beloved, will the darkness within come spilling out to fill our lungs and drown us both?

If I put a bullet through your temple, darling, will the nightmares inside break free and raze the world as they’ve razed your mind?

If I crack open your sternum, angel, will the ice in your heart creep out to cover us over in an everlasting winter, freeze us in a grotesque tableau?

If I cut your throat, dearest, will the screams you’ve choked down all these years finally burst forth in a banshee’s wail to haunt me in waking and dreaming?

If I slit your wrists, lovely, will the sickness coursing through your veins infect my blood as well, rotting me from the inside out?

Would I drown for you? Be razed and frozen, haunted and rotted, for you? Oh, I would, Daren, I would infect myself with your madness to know just once the richness of your blood, the tremble of your whimper, the wet warmth of your last dying gasp. Let me cut you, my love. Let me break you. Let me rend and tear and open you wide. Let me know you inside and out.

 

 

[ Ah, another solstice. A good excuse for Tanim’s darker side to come out and play. There’s as fine a line between love and obsession as between the Sun’s heat warming one’s skin and burning it to a crisp… ]

#1157

There comes a moment in every man’s life when he must decide between the easy way and the hard. It seems I have faced more than my fair share of these moments and my preference has always been to choose the path of least resistance. Not out of laziness, I assure you, or uncertainty, but simply because the leaf which allows itself to flow with the river’s current worries far less than the one striving for shore. It is safer to become an anonymous component of the greater whole than draw attention by pushing upstream.

This, too, was the easier path, though I doubt the man at my feet would agree. He took the hard way every time; that’s why we would never have worked. We were always pulling each other in different directions like prisoners chained at the wrist, one wanting to run and the other to stand and fight. Sometimes the only solution in a case like that is to hack off a hand and be on your way. Might hurt, sure, but it’s better than being bound to someone else for the rest of your life, vulnerable to their influence, their fallibility, their loves and fears and cruelties. That’s the ultimate hard path and not one I desire to walk any longer.

“It’s easier this way, darling,” I explain, forgoing metaphor or elaboration; there isn’t much point in either now. His reply is the bubbling of blood out his lips, the slight twitch of fingers that may long to wrap around my neck or pull me close for a final embrace, who knows? Those expressive eyes are already dulling over, fear and confusion faded to a kind of understanding, or perhaps simply resignation. Maybe he does understand. A knife in the chest tends to clarify things, or at least clear out all the unnecessary thoughts and worries you’ve held onto for so long. Maybe now he’s seeing how much easier, how much better it is to let go, to stop fighting. Not that he has much choice.

“Love’s a bitch,” The sticky blade in my hand feels strangely light for all a man’s life gleams and drips from its edge. “One way or another it ruins you. I’m just hurrying things along.”

[Another winter solstice, another bloody death for poor Tanim. You gotta love tradition.]