She smiles. “Now you begin to understand.”
I do not ask why. I’m not ready yet to hear her say, “for you.” It seems she has done much for me of which I have been too unaware. But it makes sense, and I do not know why I did not see it before. Born a daughter of the earth yet cast out from that green growing place, she became a daughter of snow and sea, salt and storm. Ice water in her veins and unknown fathoms in her eyes. How?
Death, and rebirth. A grave in cold, dark depths, a new dawn on a far distant shore.
How did I not see it before?
The problem is, you are gods lacking in breadth of specialties. I can pray to you for the bright, bitter tastes of madness and misery, for a scrap of understanding when my body aches and my heart is too heavy to bear. I can seek you out when I am wounded, betrayed, raging, howling. But when I need a blessing? When I need divine intervention to breathe life and luck into a love I can’t afford to lose? I cannot turn to you. You are not such gentle, generous gods as Hathor or Aphrodite. You do not reign over the areas of love and health, hearth and home. You are gods of death and destruction only; long life and untainted love are beyond your ken. The problem is, I don’t have any other gods but you. Where do I turn when I need help, not harm? To whom do I pray when you are my entire pantheon?
[A knock at the apartment door. Tanim opens it to a girl who might have stepped out of The Craft; the plaid skirt of her school uniform is rolled to mid-thigh, her feet encased in black combat boots, her white dress shirt unbuttoned beneath a leather jacket to reveal a generous swell of breast. Her skin is caramel, her hair tumbling over her shoulders in dark chocolate waves, her eyes burnished copper flecked with gold. Someone more appreciative of the female figure than Tanim might say she has “curves in all the right places.”]
Tanim: You must be Remer. Please, come in.
Remer: Nice place. [She eyes the apartment as she walks inside. Her hips sway back and forth with each step.] Kinda stark, though.
Tanim: I prefer it that way. Would you like something to drink?
Remer: You got anything to smoke?
Tanim: Of course. [Tanim leads her into the living room, producing a cigarette pack as she stares out the tall windows. He hands her a lit cigarette, then settles on the couch.] So. Tell me about yourself.
Remer: [She recites the facts as if she memorized them for an oral report.] I’m eighteen, still in school. My father is a diplomat, so my family travels often. I–
Remer: [She glares at him.] What?
Tanim: Come on. You don’t need to lie to me. In fact, the whole point of this is for you to be completely honest. How old are you, really?
Remer: [She squares her shoulders haughtily.] Far older than you.
Tanim: I highly doubt it. Try me.
Remer: Three hundred and thirty-six, give or take. We don’t mark time the same way you do.
Tanim: Still just a child… [He politely changes the subject as her glare intensifies.] You say “we.” You’re a demon, yes?
Remer: [She makes a moue of distaste at the term.] A succubus.
Tanim: A succubus, sorry. And your real name?
Tanim: …”Remer” it is. So you send men to their deaths after a night of pleasure and vice? I could think of worse ways to go.
Remer: Not exactly. My tastes run to the more Sapphic.
Tanim: Ah. Yes, I think you’ll fit in nicely here. [He shrugs when she raises an eyebrow.] None of us exactly toes the heteronormative line. Even Mage is… well… Mage. So, do you have your eyes on anyone right now?
Remer: [She hesitates.] Um.
Tanim: I know that look. Who is she?
Remer: No one. Shut up. [She thumps down on the couch and drags moodily at the cigarette.] I don’t want to talk about it. …it’s complicated.
Tanim: Fine, fine. I’ve been in your shoes. Am often in your shoes, actually. I understand.
Remer: I doubt it. You probably don’t have to worry about accidentally giving in to your instincts and eating the girl you lo– like.
Tanim: That is a rather unique situation. Does she know you like her in a… non-culinary way?
Remer: [She sighs with exasperation.] No. She’s completely dense. I’ve tried everything; innuendo, pheromones, erotic dreams, skin to skin contact, changing my hair, my eyes, my body shape, my clothes… nothing works. I’ve never had this happen before. I’m powerless.
Tanim: Hmm… it’s like that, huh? [He smiles knowingly.] Well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out. [He reaches out as if to pat her shoulder, then seems to think better of it and stands.] I have business to attend to. Feel free to stay as long as you like. [He waves languidly and wanders off down the hallway.]
Remer: [She calls after Tanim.] Hey, what’s that supposed to mean? “It’s like that.” Like what? Where are you going? [When it’s clear he won’t be coming back, she glances around the silent apartment.] …this place gives me the creeps. [She exits the apartment, but not before pocketing the packet of cigarettes left behind by Tanim.]
“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. ]
When I look in the mirror I see a body that doesn’t feel like mine. A body that contains too many lives, too many loves, too many worlds to be bound to one frail, finite physical form. It’s not that these aren’t my eyes; it’s that my eyes are also emerald green and obsidian black and violent as the ocean in storm. And it’s not that these aren’t my lips; it’s that my lips should also be thinner, sharper, drawn back in a snarl or down in sorrow or up in a smile wicked and cold. I should be taller, thinner, stronger, paler; my hair should be white and black and tangled stiff with sea salt. It’s not that I’m not the girl in the mirror; it’s just that I’m not only her, either. So how can her body feel right, when it doesn’t belong to everyone I am?
Love is the most terrifying force in the universe, capable of tearing us apart on the microscopic level yet leaving us whole on the macroscopic, and I have consigned my heart thrice times over so that in the dark I wonder what have I done, what have I done?