The Passion Of LoversI never knew what I was until I met Cinder. Until I intentionally took her and her sister, Chigger, through some of the most difficult experiences anyone can be forced to endure, I always believed I was acting for what was right, for the only concept of life that I ever knew or had the chance to remember. A creature loved me when no one else would, or wanted to, for that matter. My knowledge of evil and what I did against those who were my own people, is unforgivable, yet the one I loved above all others, The fallen Dahlian Dancer, named Cinder, was able to do the inconceivable. She forgave me.
During my younger years, as I was being raised by the Jo’Han Eshlazi, he was all I knew in the world. He fed me, clothed me, protected me and taught me how to be an individual in the face of adversity. Very noble gifts, being that Eshlazi was an enemy of mankind, a Z’bri. The Tribes made us fear the unseen horrors that had enslaved us so many generations before; convinced us that the Fatimas’ grace and presence itself was enough to keep the beasts at bay. We had been told so many stories and Legends, speaking of the slavery and acts of depravity that our ancestors were made to endure. They were told as dark times when all hope and dreams were cast asunder and we had nowhere else to turn except to the strangers who walked amongst us and spoke of our salvation within the Goddesses arms. They spoke about how the Fatimas would come and save our people and liberate our race from the demons that ruled our very existence.
But, I knew different. Not all were the same faceless creatures we had been led to believe. There were factions within them, some with alliances and others with open shows of hostility and rage against their brethren. Even as the Seven Sisters fought amongst themselves, so too did the Z’bri fight and bicker. And so it seemed that my savior, the most unlikely of any, was cast out, that the Beasts had their own Fallen and Outcasts. He didn’t seek to harm me as I had witnessed him harm so many others. I was his entire world, his pathway to becoming something greater and more true to his primal roots. Through his love for me and my love for others, he would come to understand what it was to be human and, in so doing, achieve his own salvation. At least in theory!
The reality was far different. The means justified the end and I had been a major influence, nay, the active force in the demise of many innocent people that I had prematurely brought to Eshlazi’s attention. They were friends and companions that I sought out in the streets and havens of Bazaar and Hom. I thought that my inner feelings for them would keep them safe from the inherent perverse nature of my adoptive Father, but how wrong I was.
Often, they, the victims, would survive for weeks, in good health and apparent soundness of mind. Eshlazi would speak to them and caress them with gentle hands until he could no longer control his desires. The demon within overtook the demon without. It hurt him more than you can imagine. He wanted so hard to control himself from harming others, to control the fast pleasures of pain with the slower and often more difficult ones of caring and love. The task was too great, however, and all of those I took to him would, sooner or later, perish in the throes of his passion.
Now, after so many years of bearing the guilt of taking the lives of those who trusted me, I still couldn’t control my loyalty to the evil that lay within my heart. How could I betray he who never acted against me. Eshlazi was the one thing I held above all others. . . until I met Cinder. I loved her with a purity I had never felt before in my life. She was the shadows of my soul manifest and I lusted for the darkest recesses within her. Her fears masked my own pain and her joys were my cloak that protected me from the cold and the wind. I even loved her sister, Chigger, because of her innocence and youth. A youth that belied years of internal torture that she had locked away so deep that it was more a part of her than anything else. I don’t believe Cinder could see the broken shards within her sister, something that was likely close to my own experiences of abuse within the secret order of the Withered Rose. Chigger had many secrets that shaped her anger into an uncontrollable form that would one day consume her, much as it had almost consumed me. Except I had guidance and a place to weep, where she had none. I would seek to do to Chigger what Eshlazi had done to me. To feel her pain.
One thing held me back from taking her to Eshlazi himself - the fact that the one I loved would perish in the encounter. She held within her an artifact of ancient origin, forged by the Yagans in Mortuary. The Spear of Koon. The Spear of Blood in our tongue. It was a weapon of massive destructive power, and it would destroy both my Father and my lover, the two creatures I could not live without. I needed to ensure that Cinder would not force a meeting with Eshlazi and there was only one way for me to do that. To never leave her side and to keep her safe for all of the years to come, from both the Tribes who threatened her for the possession of the Spear and Eshlazi who would do everything in his power to either destroy her indirectly or take control of Cinder to use as pleased him.
So, we had come to a point where friendships were tested and ideals were put to the fore. The results were catastrophic. I didn’t blame Juniper for walking out on us at the Emporium. Mana also hated the Jo’Hans from the beginning, we had all known that to be true from the moment we had met her, and so, as the two left the cell in anger, I knew that I was the cause of the splitting of the cell. I knew that what I had instigated was the catalyst to the energy that exploded into a conflict of words that could not be reconciled. Chigger’s rage was complete and as her curses tainted the air, the invisible trust of childhood friends was shattered. Mana and Juniper left, perhaps for the final time.
I glanced at Cinder and she was on the verge of tears. She began to walk away in an entirely different direction and I could see that her intentions enforced my fears. I caught up to her in her flight and whispered with soft words, “Cinder, my love, please. . .don’t go to him. I cannot lose you. Your life means more to me than a sacrifice. . .a futile sacrifice.”
She looked at me with those brilliant eyes that wept with emotion, fear, confusion and, most importantly, love. Her hands were quivering as the grip on her composure fell away in waves, revealing the person within, naked and bare and defenseless against the world. She went to speak, but her words lingered in her throat, knotted and incapable of telling the thoughts and visions that swam chaotically in her mind and heart. I violently wrapped my arms around her and drained the energy which came spilling forth, understanding on an internal level everything she had meant to say.
I don’t know how long we stayed like that, time seemed to have no relevance for us. We were immortal at that moment and I understood deeply, that Cinder and I were two souls inseparable. It was beyond us now. Beyond the cell or the Tribes. It existed in a realm unto its own. My mind was distant from my heart, secondary to my spirit that was guiding me now. All practicality and intention was lost to the one feeling. The one thing that mattered and lived without equal. . .my love for Cinder. Her feelings were as much a part of me as my own and the choice was made with very little words. As we approached the enraged and tense Chigger, who sat with her arm-blades dug into the table and her anger floating around her, Cinder’s soft and melancholy voice spoke the words.
“Chigger, you are my sister and I love you. . .I have always loved you. But, Bastion and I have made a decision. We’re leaving, as well. It’s the only way.”
I looked deep into Cinder’s eyes and she had never before looked so beautiful.
Flaws of VirtueThere are certain elements within ourselves that we cannot overcome. Virtues and flaws that supercede any logical desires or wishes. Reactions that occur beyond our ability to control or recognize. Such virtues can often times manifest as flaws of the worst kind. A sort of paradox that exists for its own cause and survival. Perhaps we could even go so far as to call it a sickness or disease. One that aids in similar proportion to its more detrimental qualities.
I witnessed one such virtue in Cinder, my love.
Shortly after we left Chigger and her ever-present anger, Cinder was overcome by an irrational sense of loyalty and went looking for Juniper and Mana. Her aim was to mend the childhood ties that had fallen apart over the several weeks of my intervention. If she herself could not heal the future for the childhood companions, she rationalized that by our absence, meaning her's and mine, there was no reason why Chigger and Juniper could not continue their symbiotic anarchy.
I felt the loss that she felt for her sister. There was a deep underlying sense of guilt; that if she did not do anything to lay some form of protection for her sister's well-being, that she would hold an everlasting sense of responsibility for Chigger's fate. Be that as it may, I knew full-well the answer we would receive after we located Juniper and Mana at Theren's Den.
Juniper was supported by a liberated sensation that resounded like a scent. It was sweet perfume to his own senses, but to myself, its stench was overpowering and threatened to make me vomit. His arrogance sank into my very pours, and through the misty residue, I saw him for what he really was. . .scared. He had attached himself easily to the River Dreamers and his "liberation" from his true-cell was nothing more than a new camouflage for the lonely emotions that ate at him like termites on rotting wood.
Mana held a confidence that carried a justified purpose and a calm of resolve. Her stance was sad, yet honest. She knew that a chapter had closed, but she had changed so much from the idealist that we had first met. She was more humble and had an understanding of Cinder's request for her and Juniper to return to Chigger. Her eyes spoke of resentment towards Juniper as she supported this stance. As though she knew that the failure that was the cell was as much his fault as anyone else's. I also saw within her a stillness. I couldn't understand it, but it planted within me a fear of her righteousness.
I must have physically shivered, for it broke Cinder's concentration. A lapse that allowed Juniper to spiel a useless monologue that ran about itself and lost its focus as it continued in its maddening circles.
"Please, just don't harm her. She has done no wrong. Help her if you can, if you have the choice. You were once friends. Just don't do her harm," Were Cinder's parting words.
Outside Theren's Den, Cinder looked small. . . childlike. I let her walk on her own, maintaining a safe distance, allowing her to feel the space and emptiness around her. She was an exile to everything she knew, even herself. Her mind existed apart from her body, a stranger in a form that denied it some meaning or potential. The road ahead was gone, marked simply with the blasted asphalt that lay scattered like a dead corpse.
* * *
Of course, I mentioned earlier that a virtue often-times can be a paradox of sorts. This is what took place as we saw the Joanites place a large cart, blocking the entrance and main exit to the trade-inn that so many Fallen used as a haven during their time in Bazaar. The thought of the River Dreamers, Mana and Juniper, along with all the other hapless souls within, trapped and unaware of the danger that was so close to snapping its wicked jaws shut, shot through my mind.
" We have to warn them. We have no choice in this matter."
" I know my love. I know. . ."
Cinder led the two guards into the act that she played so well. I myself would have been unable to resist her dark charm. The thought of beating a Fallen (me, who was falsely bound by the temptress), with the pleasures of carnal passion induced and lavished upon from the tall dancer, was too much to resist. By the time they realized that the beaten were they themselves, I had knocked my assailant to the ground with a quick, adept series of strikes to pressure points that caused more pain than actual damage. The result was the same. He lay reeling on the ground, his world on fire.
Cinder dispatched her own victim with a quick pull of his sword from its sheath, a flick of the wrist, and a thrust. His eyes were wide with shock and confusion. They stayed like that eternally.
By the time we managed to wrap ourselves in Eminence and slip into Theren's Den, appearing as menacing as the Joanites who worked at quelling the riotous crowd, the Dream Weavers were engaged in a fight for their very lives. Cinder snapped orders in a voice that wasn't her own and distracted a Joanite long enough to allow Kreeg, the River Dreamer warrior, to send a wake through the pressing attack. She notified them that it was actually her, not a Joanite, and played out a chase that allowed our old friends to escape. I saw Meg look back at me, which caused Juniper to hesitate as well. She nodded in respect. The group fled into the night of Bazaar, safe, at least for a while longer.
We parted immediately after exiting the trade-inn, pointing down a remote alleyway and creating phantom sounds, that sent the Joanites who followed us into a hunt that would produce no quarry. The night was dark as it closed around us. Many times that same night felt as though the shadows were meant for other people and other things, but tonight it was meant for us. Me and my lover.