Look, I know I seem selfish but you have to understand: I did my time, I paid my way. For thirty years I played the good eldest son to carry on my family’s legacy. I graduated first in my class, then summa cum laude; I played the violin and the piano, and spoke multiple languages; I went to every business and political function my parents asked of me, six nights a week and church on Sundays. I wore the right things, did the right things, said the right things day after day, year after year. I gave them the most formative and precious years of my life, shouldn’t that count for something? It was all lies, sure, but you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone who saw through them. Hell, even I believed them for most of that time. So it’s not like it was all for nothing, okay? Thirty years is a long time to constrain yourself to the service of others. I didn’t have a childhood, you know. I had boarding school and recitals and tutors and competitions. Every moment was spent preparing me for another moment somewhere in the future when I would inevitably be the CEO, the candidate, the husband of the pretty blond wife and the well-behaved children. That I made it thirty years before I broke is the real wonder, honestly – that’s what people should be amazed by, not the pointless shit that lead up to it. Did I handle things well, there at the end? Maybe not. But do I regret it? No. All I regret is taking so long to realize the choice was mine to make.
Life is one long slippery slope. I started at the top, but from the first my stance was shaky. I slid so early so easily and never managed to climb back up more than an inch – and that just to fall again anyway. Drinking to smoking to injecting, kissing to fucking to binding, it’s all downhill. Melancholy to misery to madness. Love to obsession to hatred. I’m not sure I’ll even know when I’ve hit the bottom; will it feel any different than where I am now?
The first time I made him bleed, I thought I would kill myself rather than live with the guilt. But I didn’t, and the second time that guilt weighed a little less on my shoulders. I barely felt it at all the third time; he knew the possibility was there, he could have prevented it had he truly wanted to. My point is, none of those instances felt like rock bottom. Maybe nothing will, until the time I unwrap my hands from his neck and he lays still and silent. I thought love might be the thing with which I’d climb back up that slope, but I was wrong. If anything, it only accelerated my descent.
I am getting very good at dying. Practice, after all, makes perfect. No, I will not tell you which methods are most painful; it is not the manner of death that hurts, but the person by whom it is caused. Nor will I tell you which method I most prefer; there are times when you want to feel nothing and times when you want to experience the death of every individual cell. And no, I will not tell you my most gruesome ends; death is a private thing, no matter how we treat it otherwise. (And besides, I have a biographer for that.) You ask how many times I have died by my own hand? Define hand. Define my own. Define died. You ask what was my longest death? But surely you know we are all dying from the first moment of our existence. How and why things accelerate near the end matters very little. Close your eyes and feel the cells in your body dying this very second, dying every second, dying every single day of your life. Do not worry about the hows and whys. Take it from someone who has died so many times I could not possibly keep track: only the devil is in the details.
[ The video opens on a room so dark nothing can be seen outside the harsh glow of the computer screen. Sitting in that glow, Daren seems another part of the darkness in the black shirt which covers him to the neck and wrists. Set against that darkness, his skin glows ghostly white. He stares absently off to the side as if he has not noticed the webcam records him. ]
I know what you’re doing. (speaking softly, as if to himself) I told you not to, and yet you persist. You are truly a foolish man.
(sighs and turns to face the screen, looking directly into the camera)
I know you’re here. I can feel you, somewhere in this city. I wonder what you do to pass the time? Do you wander these foreign streets in the hopes of sighting me in the crowd, or finding me in some back alley? Or do you lose yourself in drink and danger, hoping I’ll come to collect you before one of your nightly paramours goes too far?
(lifts his right hand into view, dropping his eyes to watch the little silver blade he weaves between his fingers)
I won’t come, you know. Not tonight, not tomorrow night, or any other night after those. I am not coming. You can’t seem to grasp that concept, which is a pity. You know me. You know I don’t change my mind once I have decided. And this is decided. I am not coming
(turns his eyes back to the camera, lips thinned in the barest scowl)
So instead, you came to me. That wasn’t the agreement. That’s not how this works. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough on our parting? But your scars should serve as a reminder if your memory fails. (thoughtfully, eyes on the blade again) Not that you can forget me, can you? I’m not an unkind man, though, so I’ll give you one more warning.
(snaps the blade shut and leans toward the camera)
Go home, Tanim. I am not yours to pursue. I left you alive once; I will not again. It would be best to remember that. After all, I keep my promises – even if you do not.
[ Daren rises to his feet and one white hand moves to shut off the webcam. The video ends. ]
[ The video opens on a smiling Mage seated in a computer chair, her feet propped up on the desk in front of her, fingers steepled beneath her chin. She sits too close to the computer screen for much of the dark room behind her to be glimpsed, but the shadowed items resemble the expected; weapons, armor, occult objects, and monsters that may or may not really be there. ]
Hello, friends. (wiggling fingers at the screen in greeting) You are, I expect, surprised to see me here. It’s true I usually favor more…indirect… means of communication, but this seems best for the task at hand. You see, (frowning) I believe there have been some misconceptions as to my motives in our past interactions, though I of course (placing hand on heart) take all the blame for the confusion.
(lowers legs and leans closer to the screen)
It’s not that we aren’t friends, or that I don’t like you. I do, really. You’re good people, even if you do have awful taste in music. It’s just… (gesturing vaguely at the computer screen) all this? It’s not tenable. I mean, Peter Pan, really? Is that really the fairy tale you want to emulate? The one with the gang of emotionally-stunted anarchist children lead by a predator who brainwashes kids into leaving their loving families to go die for the sake of his personal vendetta?
(mouths “wow” with clear skepticism, then sighs abruptly and gives the screen a sympathetic look)
Look, I get it. I had family problems too. Mother out of the picture, father who just didn’t understand me… it’s practically a cliche. But do you see me whining about how I never got a real childhood and was thrown out into the cold, harsh wilderness to fend for myself? No, (jabbing her finger at the screen) because I’m not a pussy. I didn’t wallow in misfortune, I used it to my advantage! I struck out on my own and made something of myself. A pretty impressive something, too (pointing with both hands to her body appreciatively). So don’t think I don’t understand. I’ve been there, too. I’m not doing this because I hate you. I’m doing this because, well…
(shrugs and throws up her hands as if helpless)
Your little fantasy world has to be destroyed. It’s nothing personal, that’s just the way things are. (waves hand at the computer screen, shaking her head) This world full of fairy dust and fireworks and free hugs and shit, it can’t be allowed to remain. (pointing offscreen) There’s a real world out there that you have to face one day, one full of concrete and pain and growing up–
–and I’ve been chosen to show you that world. To plunge you kicking and screaming into it, if I have to. But no hard feelings, right? After all, every story has to have a villain. Aren’t you lucky I’m yours?
[ Mage winks and leans forward to switch off the webcam. The video ends. ]