June finds us, surprise surprise, back in your palatial living room with its vaulted ceilings and grand windows and the thick white carpet on which you kneel amidst a rose garden of blood stains, his crumpled body still warm in your arms, while I stand to the side and observe the scene in silence, alert to any clues which might reveal the method you used this time, maybe even the string of choices and repercussions which lead to this moment, but all I can think about is how many times we’ve been here, how many years now I’ve cataloged the details of his death first on clay and papyrus, then parchment and computer like a good scribe while you weep at my feet and I know we have both grown so weary of this passion play yet here we are again, again, again, repeating the same old lines, carrying out the same old gestures, not a single solution between us to change the ending, so for once can you just skip the mystery and suspense and show me the knife?
You do not need to know where we are. We could be in the alley, kneeling on cold, wet cement beneath a dying streetlamp; on the roof of the penthouse, perched at the top of a world of glass and steel; in bed, tangled among satin sheets, heartbeats straining beneath the press of hot skin. There are a thousand options yet in the end the setting is unimportant when we have played out this scene so many times. Imagine whatever you prefer.
You do not need to know how we came to be here. I will not recount the full details of the chase; not where it began or down what winding paths it led, nor how many fleeting moments or long hours passed in pursuit. If you must, imagine the way his rapid steps eventually began to slow, to stumble, the way he gasped for air and the frantic glances he threw over his shoulder. Oh, how the chase always sends such a thrill through me. He fights best when he’s desperate and the challenge makes the ending all the sweeter. After all, we do not want to rush things – and I do believe in a fair fight, despite what you might think.
All that is ancillary, however. Merely a prelude. What you need to know is how I do it this time, which is with the knife. It’s a wicked little thing, sharp as a crescent moon, and it slices his meat like silk. What you need to know is how good it feels as his blood spills over my hand and how his body tries to jerk away from the assault even as he clings to me with trembling fingers. The groan he bites down could be one of unbearable pain or unbelievable ecstasy… or both. He has never been good at discerning between them.
What you need to know is that beneath the storm of agony and exhaustion in his gray eyes is relief. And love.
“Happy solstice, darling,” I murmur as I drive the knife deeper and draw his bloody mouth to mine.
On this longest day of the year your priestesses take to the streets to celebrate the Sun triumphant. Clad in flowing silks and precious gems, skin glowing with gold dust, they blend their voices in lilting harmony as they sing your praises. Dancers dip and weave in time to the pounding of drums; tiny bells on their ankles jingle with each minute movement. Despite the heat of the day, torchbearers carry flaming braziers into which your oracles toss incense laced with poppy and nightshade. The procession treads on rose petals thrown by the gathered crowd until the marble boulevard gleams red in the sunlight.
Finally the litter bearing your statue comes into view and the cacophony of chanting, drumming, and clapping reaches a crescendo. Here you are in all your glory, white marble form adorned in gold and shining like a beacon. The writhing incense smoke makes your placid expression appear to flicker through emotions – wrath, sorrow, regret, compassion – as if even cold stone can be moved by the prayers of the masses. Those gathered call out to you as the litter passes, giving praise and begging blessings, or bow their heads and weep for the honor of witnessing your sacred statue with their own eyes.
Only one person who serves your holiness is not at this celebration. Do you notice my absence, Lord Sun? Does it offend you? Or are you pleased at least someone holds vigil with the corpse of your slain lover? Out in the streets they rejoice the godblood dripping on your hands yet only you and I know the truth of it. Let your priestesses and oracles exult in your victory today; your scribe will do right by the fallen Moon, even if I am the only one mourning the death of darkness on the longest day of the year.
I’ve dreamed each night the Moon dead and dying in his lover’s arms (early, isn’t it, this solstice blood filling my mouth) and as I drive to work the Sun admits to me, “I would rather burn him until there is nothing left but ash than cling to the shell he leaves behind”. I can’t blame him, not when my own arms ache from clutching the Moon’s lifeless body so tightly, not when my fingers so vividly recall the sharp edges of his jaw as I cradled his head against my chest. Were we to trade places, the Sun and I, can I say I would choose differently?
In another life I might have been a priestess, but the gods I serve don’t need a temple or a following. They need their story told. They need a scribe. So here I am.
I serve the Sun and Moon. The names they chose to give me are Tanim and Daren, though you will know them under other names: Satan and Lucifer, Will and Hannibal, Patroclus and Achilles, the Oak and Holly Kings. They’ve had many names and lived countless lives. Their stories may be familiar to you as well. Life, death; love, hate; sacrifice, betrayal.
On the winter solstice the Sun will die by his lover’s hand. The Moon started this cycle eons ago, though even I could not tell you exactly why. On the summer solstice the Sun will resurrect and slay the Moon in turn. Thus the wheel of the year is greased with blood, life paid for with life, death with death. Sometimes they go to their deaths willingly; others they struggle in vain against immutable fate; but always a solstice ends with death. Even gods cannot change such things.
As their scribe I record these deaths, whatever they show me in whatever form they dictate. Between solstices I continue to write for them, memories and dreams and scenes, anything they require. There’s not much here that’s lovely or light – it’s a mythos steeped in blood, full of cruelty and heartache, but there’s beauty in it too. And love, of a complicated sort. Love that cut down the host of Heaven and slayed a Dragon on a cliff side.
Take a dip into the dark river. See what my eighteen years as scribe have produced so far.
See past solstice pieces.
See everything I have written for and about them.
See pieces written from Tanim’s point of view.
See pieces written from Daren’s point of view.
Resurrected by the dying light and trailing the dirt of your grave pit, my corpse once more takes up its patrol. The alley; the living room; the bedroom; the roof. Finding no evidence of habitation, not even a drop of blood or the faint linger of cigarette smoke, it returns once more to the alley to start the round over again. Driven by duty to the approaching solstice, it will continue this pointless vigil no matter how much dust accumulates as proof of your final abdication. Such a dumb, brute thing! It simply cannot comprehend that you are never coming back. Yet I suppose I should not blame it – your instructions are carved into its bones, woven into its muscles, encoded in its cells. Even in death my poor corpse knows no rest and will limp along until its rotting limbs can carry it no longer. Foolish thing. Look what loyalty earned you.
All these tales about the moon killing the sun on the winter solstice, all these gruesome stories of betrayal and bloodshed on the longest night of the year… Did you never wonder why the sun seems to so easily succumb to his lover’s blade each year, knowing as he must when it will come for him? Why he has never chosen to break this cycle? It’s not because he can’t; it’s because he doesn’t want to. He needs me. He’s tried every other option, after all. Drugs, alcohol, nicotine; rope, blades, bullets; drowning, jumping, suffocating. Every method of suicide and every combination thereof. None of them work, you see, because fate long ago bound us together, I to be his killer and he to be mine. No matter how much he longs for death, I am the only one who can decide when and where he shall meet that end. So like a key into a lock, this is how it must be: my blade, his throat, our endless dance choreographed down to the last struggling heartbeat. It is a gift. One that no other can ever fully understand, true, but a gift nonetheless.
I can almost feel your breath as you murmur in my ear, What if it wasn’t murder in the first place? What if it was self-defense? Or revenge? Or what if it wasn’t the Moon at all who killed the Sun that first and most fateful time? What if they were a setup, the blade and the blood and the blame? You say there is a universe for every possible iteration, so why not these? Your laugh is a cold, serrated thing. What if you’ve been asking the wrong question all these years? No wonder you’ve never found the true answer. Foolish little scribe, you have always been so quick to judge my words as lies – did you never think my noble lover capable of deception as well? No, his tongue is sweeter than honey and sharper than any blade. But you will never learn.
Despite being both sun and moon, you are truly winter gods. You rule over a city of darkness and storms where summer is merely an abstract concept. Even the summer solstice is soaked in blood, after all, and the sun’s inevitable triumph is something to be mourned, not celebrated. Between the solstices are a succession of long, starless nights bleeding into short, rainy days. Or perhaps it is all the same day, the same night, the same moment drawn out into eternity; I admit it’s hard to tell. Either way, your realm is not for those who wish to honor the ever-turning wheel of the year and its balance of light and dark, death and rebirth. You are gods of death only. Each solstice is ushered in with blood and in between darkness reigns.
It is an ancient dance – white teeth and lolling tongue, sharp hooves and swift legs, predator and prey united in survival’s endless contest. Breath mists white in the cool morning air of a summer solstice while wolf and stag twist in choreographed ferocity; feint and fight, snap and stab, blood and brutality. Life, death, to nature it is all of a kind, one long revolution like the earth upon its axis. The stag does not begrudge the wolf his hunger. The wolf does not begrudge the stag his resistance. They were born for this combat, hunter and hunted, and without the one the other cannot exist. Thus when skill or chance contrive to spear leaping wolf upon lunging antlers, sharp tines sinking through flesh and muscle, there is neither regret nor animosity. Today it is the wolf who lays bleeding out on the tundra, but in six months the stag may just as easily take his place.
A dark stage. Tanim stares down into the glass in his hand, gives the amber liquid an idle swirl while I sought you in the last sip of laudanum, he muses aloud. From the darkness behind him, the snik snik and spark of a lighter. The flame catches, burns a small spot in the darkness to reveal Daren as he lights the cigarette poised on his lips, closes the lighter with a metallic snap. Tanim, oblivious, continues. I sought you in brothels and fight rings, and Daren, pacing, wreathed in smoke, they say madness is repeating the same action yet expecting a different result. I sought you nightly like a man possessed, Tanim finishes the drink in one long swallow, as if parched, yet you evaded me. That is not quite true, however. Tanim lifts his head, eyes searching, seeing nothing. The hand holding his glass shakes slightly less than his voice. I prayed to you; you did not reply. I prostrated myself before you; you turned your back. I courted you like a lover and yet you denied me time and time again. Daren drops the cigarette, madness is repeating the same action despite knowing you shall never produce a different result, leaves it burning in the background while he moves closer. I loved you most dearly of all hence we enter this dance again yet you are fickle, o death not because we hope to change the ending and I have winced in the light of so many unwanted dawns but because we know we cannot. Tanim, with a sigh, Can this be the end now? Can I be done? Come, fifth sword, and cut down this hanging man. I am so tired. Daren steps into the candlelight, lays a gentle hand on his jaw. Hello, brother, softly. Did I keep you waiting overlong? Tanim’s weak smile, oh sweet relief, oh final mercy. Never. They kiss. The gleam of the blade in Daren’s hand is the last movement seen before the stage goes completely dark. The glass hits the floor, shatters. The cigarette burns itself out.
Every solstice someone dies. On the summer solstice, the Moon; on the winter solstice, the Sun. Each time is different, yet each time is the same. I spend the weeks leading up to the solstice imagining death after death, murder after murder, seeking the scene that will be chosen for this iteration. Will it be suicide or fratricide – premeditated or a crime of passion? Will it involve a gun or a knife, poison or illness, violence or mercy? The Moon prefers small, sharp things that bleed his lover out slowly, while the Sun prefers to leave bullet holes or bruises on pale skin. And where will it take place? In bed, where they are most vulnerable? The alley, hidden within a curtain of pouring rain? Or on the roof, with all the dark city laid out below as witness? I cannot yet say for sure. Right now all I feel is the thin blade in my hand and all I see is the night sky reflected in his unfocused eyes.
There are times when I want to either be fully in that world or not there at all. Like now: I can watch him sink to his knees, but I can’t pull him away. His hands tremble now, no matter how steadily they held the blade a moment before, but I can’t take them in my own. I watch him bite back a sob as he folds over, hands fisting in his hair – wiping blood on black locks – and I can’t hold him or touch him or do anything of value. If I could, I’d fix him a drink; wash the blood from his clothes; get him in bed. Do… something about Daren’s body. If I have to watch this scene replay itself unto eternity, I at least deserve to be a player and not solely the audience. I wouldn’t stop things or try to change the outcome. I just want to clean away the blood so neither of them has to. That seems fair.
Why, I ask you, is the summer solstice so much harder to face than winter’s? Awash in red, you shrug and answer with that eternally sad smile of yours, Because we both love him. I expected this answer. I love you, too, I point out, but you shake your head. Not in the same way, and then, before I can respond, Don’t worry, I don’t take it personally. Over the body of your dead lover, I try to meet your eyes, match your smile, and fail. Three’s a crowd.
I serve the sun and moon, though not in any form from any myths yet told. This is not a masculine sun and feminine moon, fallow winter to fertile summer, balance and symbiosis. This is not The Lovers or The Wheel; this is The Hanged Man and the Five of Swords. I serve a sun and moon who usher in the solstices with godblood and death. I serve a cowardly sun and an apathetic moon. I serve an addicted sun and an ascetic moon. I serve a sun who burns too brightly and gives too much, and a moon who’s ever shadowed and gives too little. I serve cruel gods. Bitter gods. Rotting gods. I serve gods who are ever dead and ever dying. I serve gods who love and rage and sorrow with equal ferocity, and who demand offerings of blood and tears. I serve gods who would by no other be served, whose shackles are ancient and unbreaking. I serve gods whom no other would serve, and I would do so regardless of chains.
Chaos is necessity, you tell me, which sounds a lot like death is necessity, like free will is necessity, like even, perhaps, madness is necessity. Why did the moon kill the sun? You have a different answer every time I ask; they are all true and all false. I thought once that the answer might solve your mystery, but now I see it is merely the surface of something much deeper and much darker. Do I dare seek what waits beneath it?
I watch you wash a handful of sleeping pills down with whiskey and know you’ll wake in the morning, half-dead but still half-alive. I watch you pick fights in bars and know you’ll bleed and break and bruise but live to get the shit beaten out of you another day. I watch you dance every dance with death you can and yet always make it home at the end of the night. You think you’ve been stiffed, stood up, that even death doesn’t want someone like you, but you’re wrong. You above all are beloved of death, and yours is written in blood, in bone, in the very workings of the universe. You will know your death by the darkness of his eyes and the mercy of his blade – until then, abide. Your time approaches.
I imagine myself on that night, the longest night, in the place where I am forbidden to go (and yet, where a part of me lives always). I can’t see yet how you will die this time, so for now I only imagine you spread out on the soft carpet, blood on your lips, your chest laboring for each breath. I don’t want him to be angry at either of us (though anger is part and parcel of his love, isn’t it), but I reach for your hand anyway and hold it in both of mine. Your fingers spasm tight and between clenched teeth you utter a choked laugh. “You think you’d get used to the pain,” you say, “but you don’t.” I nod. I can’t share your pain, though I long to sometimes. All I can do is sit here beside you and listen to the liquid filling up your lungs, feel you shuddering with the struggle to hold on just a little longer. “Every time,” you say, “is like the first time. Over and over. Over and over.” Your watery eyes roll my direction, knocking loose the tears gathered on your long lashes. Beneath the blood, your smile is immensely sad. “I’m sorry,” you say. “We’re not good at this. No matter how many times… we don’t learn. It all resets.” Your grip tightens; your words grow desperate. “Do you understand? It all resets. Him. Me. Us. You. That’s why we don’t… why we never… Do you understand?” I don’t, not quite, not yet, but I don’t want to tell you that. Instead I nod, caress your trembling hand. Murmur small comforts. You laugh again, a haunting, haunted sound, and close your eyes.
Standing in the bedroom doorway, frozen: Tanim. Laying on the bed within, languid and smiling: Daren. Between them: the heady, noxious odor of gasoline.
“What’s going on?” Tanim asks slowly, taking in the glistening bed sheets, the soaked carpet. Daren lifts his arm to take a drag on the cigarette balanced between two long fingers; his wet clothing clings to his thin frame. “It’s so easy to mold the mind of a madman, isn’t it?” he replies as idly as if commenting on the weather.
“What are you talking about?” White-knuckled, Tanim grips the doorframe as if torn between running and coming closer. “What have you done?” Daren exhales a stream of smoke and blinks dreamily. “I think you know.”
“Come out of there,” Tanim extends a hand, frowning, and steps over the threshold. His shoes sink into the wet carpet. “Careful,” Daren waves the cigarette back and forth, the embers carving light trails in the dark. “I wouldn’t take another step forward if I were you.” He waits until Tanim has eased back before asking, “Does it anger you, that I got to it before you could?”
“You’re not making any sense, darling,” There is a note of pleading in Tanim’s voice, but Daren continues as if his lover hasn’t spoken. “What were you planning, anyway?” he wonders aloud. “A gun? Poison? Or perhaps something more intimate, like your bare hands?”
“You won’t know now, will you?” Tanim’s scowl is sudden and dark, his teeth bared like a predator whose prey has been stolen. Daren only sighs. “My loss, yes.” He holds his arm out over the side of the bed, dangling the cigarette between two limp fingers. His gaze is quite clear now, no longer lethargic and amused, but the smile remains as he locks eyes with Tanim. “You might want to run now, beloved,” he advises.
Tanim runs. Daren lets the cigarette fall.
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. ]
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.”
“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. ]
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! ]
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.
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… ]
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.]