“I don’t expect we’ll both survive this.”
Obvious, perhaps. But, it’s all the bravado I can muster and even as the words tumble from my lips I wonder how my voice isn’t shaking. High on her ledge, drenched in what should be too much blood, she is obscene enough to smile at me.
“You’re a bit late for pity.”
She has a point. There was a moment just outside her door when my hilt turned inside my leather palm and I made my decision. I thought the talking was over – that I’d left all the words back with my father, being tossed like blades across that wretched table.
It occurs to me, now, that I was hasty.
Still, there’s little time to rue my impetuous nature now my blade’s black and the room is on fire. Philosophy will have to wait: I’ve come this far, I can’t afford to waver.
So, I raise my sword and make a run at her. Tossing in a wrathful cry for good measure.
She flies; flexes her hips and springs away from me like tossed paint. A streak of red not quite falling against the marble.
When my feet won’t follow, my muscles burning as I finally stop, I surprise myself. Turns out I’m desperate – determined to know how she came to be like this. How she could grow in the same world as I, feed from the same sources, drink in the same sun, and come to curse it.
It’s on my face, it must be, as she spins behind her knife and seizes the moment.
“Is that surrender, then?” She quips in a ragged, breathy leer.
I’m silent and she devours the sudden pause I’ve brought into our battle. Something clicks inside my shoulder as I tilt my neck. I lean the strain out of a tendon, watching her wilt against the lintel; swallowing air like a starving man inhales the bread.
For a moment, I wonder if she hates me.
You have to understand, it’s not my intention to be generous. I’ve been as ruthless as the best of them, but there’s just something about a girl who’s truly wicked. Even in the wild light of swelling fire she’s not consumed – shining with her own, splintering heat. She wears deadly as a ballerina wraps herself with grace and it’s a more impressive kind of beauty: the kind that exists despite itself. The same inexplicable appeal of a predatory cat and it holds me, bound.
I arch an eyebrow at the sudden hunger crouching in my thoughts. I tame it, shackle it under my hands, and curl my shoulders back.
“Wait,” she says and somehow, I listen. Holding back the tension in my body, I eke the burst out of my muscles and let her reflect, “I’m sure you have your reasons, why not enlighten me? Surely you’ll taste much more pleasure in this, if we both know what brought you here.”
I knew the sword was holding her attention. My flashbomb furnace and the first bloody embrace left their impression, but she doesn’t know me. Her coy retreat and spirited banter fed my vanity, but it’s a hollow victory now. With a nod, my mouth cracks; a smile that hurts and splits me further.
“I’m with the guard. My husband…” Now? I almost choke, a laugh at the sudden lump I’d waited for, for months. The tears I thought were in glass jars that I suddenly feel; a sick and heavy warmth sloshing in my lungs. Where were they hiding? “My husband, too, until you killed him. He worked at the palace.”
I see it. The blank, slate, stare she tries to mask.
“Of course.” The smile is wry, hardly a comfort when she inclines her head, “Well, then I can understand-”
It’s enough to dispel the revelry. Wrath finds traction under my heels and I launch at her, aflame with something worse than murder.
It never mattered.
Who we were, or how she killed him. I never wanted her to know, I knew her sights were on much higher people – on greater planes than the serving, bleeding masses.
I didn’t need her to suffer; to burn her up inside a spark of fear and breath my lover’s name into her final moment. In truth, I’m full of questions. Deep, burning, hateful needs to understand and grieve and then forgive her.
But, I’ll surrender them; give it all to the great Black After to pay for this moment. A chance to take the sharp edge she carved in me and set it inside her.
To sever her days. To steal her heart like she stole mine.
And so, I do.